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During the Snowstorm

1.2

From Storm to Clear Skies

146

As the train chugged along, Meng Xiaotian's breathing grew steady and deep. He had quickly fallen asleep, his face obscured by the coat he had pulled over himself. The rhythmic swaying of the train and the hum of the wheels on the tracks had done their job.


The ticket inspector made his way down the aisle, checking each passenger's ticket with a practiced eye. Yin Guo reached over and gently pried Meng Xiaotian's phone from his lax grip, scanning for the electronic ticket before handing it to the inspector. She then placed the phone back in Meng Xiaotian's hand, making sure he was still comfortably asleep.


She sat up straight, her eyes glued to her phone as Lin Yi Yang's message came through on WeChat. "No need to be polite," he wrote, his words brief and to the point.


Yin Guo's heart sank as she saw the notification on her phone that the money transfer had been rejected.


Her fingers lingered over the screen for a moment before she put her phone away, feeling dejected. She couldn't help but think, "I'll talk to him when I see him." As the train came to a stop at a small station, she looked around the carriage and saw that, with only a few passengers boarding and others getting off, the carriage now had less than ten people in it.


She leaned over to her brother and gently nudged him awake. "I'm going to the restroom," she said softly. Meng Xiaotian groggily acknowledged her before making her way to the bathroom.


Yin Guo carefully lifted her bag from the ground and slung it over her shoulder, the straps digging into her flesh as she adjusted it to rest snugly against her back. She then turned to her cousin, Meng Xiaotian. She leaned down and gently pushed the backpack carelessly under his legs.


As she stepped away from her seat for a couple of minutes, a familiar face boarded the train.

The man with glasses scanned the passengers as he made his way through. He was the one they had encountered the other day. As the train moved along its tracks, Meng Xiaotian's head lolled against the window, his face obscured by the thick coat he had draped over himself, shrouding his features from view. The man with the glasses walked passed him, completely oblivious to his presence. He was solely focused on following the instructions on his phone as he searched for Lin Yi Yang's luggage.


He moved through the next two carriages, then he eventually spotted Lin Yi Yang's bags resting beside an unoccupied seat.


He then looked towards the window and saw Lin Yi Yang, sitting alone, the African-descent woman who had been sitting next to him, holding a child, had just disembarked from the train.


I'm glad I made it," Wu Wei exclaimed as he pushed Lin Yi Yang towards the window, taking a seat next to him. He breathed heavily as he undid his coat, "I was afraid I wouldn't catch up with you.


Lin Yi Yang knew exactly why Wu Wei was there and remained silent, avoiding eye contact.


Wu Wei leaned in, his tone serious, "Everyone's there. Why did you leave? What's going on?"


Lin Yi Yang pulled up the collar of his sportswear, concealing his face from Wu Wei's inquisitive gaze. He rested his head against the window glass, attempting to evade the impending conversation.


Wu Wei, undeterred, persisted in trying to pull Lin Yi Yang's clothes down.


Lin Yi Yang let out a sigh and whispered, "I spent all the money buying drinks for a girl that day and didn't have enough left for a train ticket."


Wu Wei's face softened with understanding. He pulled out his wallet and opened it for Lin Yi Yang to see. "I'm in the same situation, buddy. Look, all I've got left is pocket change. But hey, we'll manage. Stick together through thick and thin, right?"


Lin Yi Yang reluctantly sat up straight and took a look at the pitiful contents of Wu Wei's wallet. The two of them were truly struggling, with only a small amount of money between them.


....


The train pulled into Washington D.C. station and the dull grey light of early evening filtered in through the windows. Despite the blizzard that had hit the city, causing work and classes to be suspended for two days, life was slowly returning to normal.


Meng Xiaotian got off the train and headed to the hamburger chain store that Lin Yi Yang had mentioned. He walked through the crowded station, looking for the familiar brand.


After a bit of searching, he found it conveniently located next to a Starbucks. He felt relieved as he entered the store. As a small treat for his cousin, he decided to buy her something to eat. After checking the time, Meng Xiaotian figured it wouldn't be an issue and stepped inside.


Meanwhile, Wu Wei grabbed Lin Yi Yang's sports bag tightly and briskly walked towards the bus station, "Come on, let's go. Time is running out."


Lin Yi Yang reluctantly walked alongside Wu Wei, his hesitation evident.


"Listen, I know I didn't have enough money for train tickets," Wu Wei explained, his voice low and urgent, "But I've worked something out. I managed to snag two discounted bus tickets while we were on the train. However, if you decide not to return to New York with me, it'll say a lot about you as a brother. It would mean you're heartless, ungrateful, and selfish. You'd have the reputation of someone with a heart of stone and no sense of loyalty."


Lin Yi Yang listened to Wu Wei's relentless persuasion, enduring a barrage of Chinese idioms for a full hour.


Familiar with Wu Wei's tenacious nature, Lin Yi Yang likened him to a persistent adhesive plaster, unwilling to let go until he achieved his goal. Despite his initial resistance, Lin Yi Yang recognized that there was no escaping the situation; he would have to return to New York with Wu Wei.


As Lin Yi Yang stood there, he couldn't ignore the gnawing hunger in his stomach. He noticed a hamburger joint in the distance, its vibrant sign beckoning him. He briefly contemplated whether to grab a quick meal but ultimately decided to wait until he was on the bus. Perhaps, he mused, he might come across a budget-friendly slice of pizza, if luck was on his side, and it would only set him back a dollar or so.


"Is there anything to eat in the bag?" Lin Yi Yang asked, his eyes scanning the area for any sign of food.


"Of course there is," Wu Wei replied as he opened his backpack and rummaged through it. He pulled out a third of a chocolate bar and handed it to Lin Yi Yang. "It's not much, but it'll hold you over until we can find something better."


Lin Yi Yang took the chocolate, his stomach grumbling even louder at the sight of it. He unwrapped the foil, revealing the broken pieces of chocolate inside. He took a bite, the sweetness of the chocolate mixing with the bitter taste of disappointment in his mouth. He knew that Wu Wei had probably scavenged it from somewhere, but he didn't want to ask. He crumpled the foil into a ball and tossed it into a nearby trash can.


"Come on," Wu Wei said, slinging the backpack over his shoulder. "Let's find a bus station and get out of here."


Lin Yi Yang nodded and followed Wu Wei, his stomach still grumbling as they walked towards the bus station.


Two minutes later...


Meng Xiaotian emerged from the hamburger joint, clutching a burger, while Yin Guo focused on flagging down a taxi. The scent of the freshly grilled patty wafted through the air as he savored a satisfying bite.


"What do you think we should treat him to? Have you discovered any great places to eat in Washington?" Meng Xiaotian inquired, taking another substantial bite of his burger.


"It's all pretty average," she said. "This city isn't really known for its food. If you want something good, you're better off in New York.".


Meng Xiaotian nodded, understanding the sentiment. He then decided to take out his phone and ask Lin Yi Yang's opinion. After all, they were planning on inviting him to eat, so it would be good to let him choose.


"Oh no!"


"What's wrong?" Meng Xiaotian showed the chat history to Yin Guo, who looked puzzled.

Tian Tian: Hey Lin, my sister and I are here in DC now. How about we grab dinner together tonight?"


Lin: Sorry guys, I'm back in New York already. Have fun though!


Meng Xiaotian and Yin Guo exchanged a disappointed look, both knowing that their plans for the evening had just fallen through. Yin Guo glanced down at the Uber app on his phone, noticing that their ride had just arrived. He sighed, feeling a sense of helplessness wash over him.


"Where should we go now?" Meng Xiaotian inquired, his tone tinged with uncertainty. He found himself at a loss regarding their next steps.


Yin Guo proposed, "Let's make our way to the hotel." The weather in Washington was notably more pleasant than in New York, and she hoped to enjoy it to the fullest. "We've already booked it, so we might as well make the most of our trip."


Despite her suggestion, Yin Guo couldn't conceal her disappointment. She turned to Meng Xiaotian, her frustration evident in her gaze. "This has been such a waste of time and money."


Meng Xiaotian hung his head in shame, knowing he had messed up. "I'm sorry," he muttered, his voice low.


The pair of cousins looked at each other for a moment, before bursting out laughing. This trip to Washington D.C. was definitely not what they had expected. Still, it amuses them how they can make a sudden trip like that.


As they walked through the bustling area, Meng Xiaotian couldn't help but take in the sights and sounds around him. The bright lights and bustling crowds made it feel like a never-ending adventure. He was determined to take as many pictures as he could to capture the memories of this trip.


"I'm giving you five minutes to take all the pictures you want," Yin Guo said, pointing to the various landmarks and sights around them. "I'll wait for you over there," she added, pointing to a nearby hamburger shop.


Meng Xiaotian eagerly took out his camera and began snapping photos of the train station. He took pictures of the grand architecture, the bustling crowds, and even the food vendors selling delicious treats. He wanted to make this trip one to remember.


As he snapped away, his sister Yin Guo patiently waited for him, munching on her own hamburger. After finishing her meal, she looked for a trash can, but before she could found one, her cousin had already returned. "Let's go," she said, and he hummed in response. As they walked away, Yin Guo realized that the trash can was actually behind her and that she had been blindsided. She quickly wrapped the hamburger wrapper into a ball and threw it in the trash can before leaving the train station with her brother.


Before they left the station, Meng Xiaotian specifically took a picture of the hamburger shop and happily posted it on his social media.


"Just tried out this burger joint recommended by one of the most handsome guys I've seen in my entire life. [Heart]"


Yin Guo loves to playfully argue with him, she is used to it and always counters him.


Xiao Guo: [puckering lips] He's not that handsome. You are deceiving your followers.


Zheng Yi replied to Xiao Guo: Got any pictures? Your younger brother's been talking about him for days, and I'm curious to put a face to the name.


Tian Tian replied to Zheng Yi: I wouldn't lie to you guys. If I were a girl, I'd definitely be into him.


Xiao Guo replied to Zheng Yi: My little brother has a tendency to exaggerate when it comes to ordinary-looking people.


Tian Tian replied to Xiao Guo: C'mon, be honest.


Zheng Yi replied to Xiao Guo: Yeah, give it to us straight. don't bring personal emotions into it.


Xiao Guo replied to Tian Tian: Fine, fine. He's not bad, I'll give you that.


Meng Xiaotian sat in the front row; his eyes fixed on Yin Guo as she admitted defeat with a playful grin on her face. He couldn't help but let out a chuckle as he turned to give her a wink, eliciting a ghostly expression from Yin Guo as she gestured towards the car window, silently urging him to take a picture quickly.


As the car glided down the street, Meng Xiaotian couldn't help but crane his neck to take in the impressive architecture that surrounded them. Museums and grand buildings popped up with increasing frequency, each one more awe-inspiring than the last. The driver, a middle-aged white woman, must have noticed his interest, because she slowed the car down and began pointing out the names of each structure as they passed.


Meng Xiaotian listened intently, his phone held up to snap pictures of the impressive sights. The driver, noticing their lack of luggage, couldn't help but ask if they were in the city for a study trip.


As their conversation turned to the topic of George Town University and the cost of education, Meng Xiaotian's mind wandered to his friend Lin Yi Yang. He knew that the Lin family was well-off, but he couldn't help but wonder just how much money was necessary to attend a school like this. He glanced over at Yin Guo, who was listening intently to the driver's words, her expression thoughtful.


"Did you hear what she said?" Meng Xiaotian murmured, leaning in closer to Yin Guo.


She nodded in agreement, her eyes still fixed on the passing scenery. "It's crazy to think about how much money is required to attend a school like this," she murmured, "But I suppose that's just how it is. I remember when Zheng Yi came here for her first year, the cost for tuition, living, and even skiing vacations added up to a fortune. But I suppose that's just how he is, and it's hard to set a standard."


Meng Xiaotian nodded, his mind turning to Lin Yi Yang once more. He couldn't help but think that Brother Lin must be incredibly wealthy to be able to afford a school like this. But he pushed the thought aside.


As Meng Xiaotian and Yin Guo stepped out of the car and into the grand lobby of the hotel, Meng Xiaotian couldn't help but feel a sense of excitement. The marble floor gleamed beneath their feet, and the grand chandeliers above cast a warm glow over the luxurious space.


Yin Guo, however, was all business as she made a beeline for the front desk. She quickly confirmed their room reservation and handed over their passports and credit cards to the staff. She communicated the details of the booking and waited for them to process the check-in procedures.


As they waited, Meng Xiaotian couldn't help but notice the constant stream of notifications on Yin Guo's phone. Curious, he leaned over and saw that she was scrolling through her social media feed. He couldn't help but chuckle when he saw a post about a hamburger joint and a comment from someone named Lin, suggesting a restaurant called OLD EBBITT GRILL near the White House that was worth trying.


Lin: If you're ever near the White House, be sure to check out OLD EBBITT GRILL.


She felt her face flush with embarrassment as she remembered that Lin Yi Yang could see everything she and her cousin had said in their friend circle. She couldn't believe she had been so careless, discussing his looks right in front of him. It was even more awkward than the time she had checked his ID that night. She reread her message several times, feeling mortified and unsure of what to do next. How could she have forgotten something like this? She couldn't believe her own carelessness and wished she could disappear into the floor.


Meng Xiaotian saw her constantly looking at the hamburger picture and realized belatedly that Lin Yi Yang had left a message. He couldn't help but burst out in laughter, his chuckles shaking his entire frame. "Luckily you were honest in the end, otherwise it would have been worse," he exclaimed, still in stitches.


Yin Guo felt her face flush with embarrassment, her anger boiling over. She fiercely elbowed Meng Xiaotian in the ribs, trying to silence his laughter.


The hotel receptionist completed the formalities and handed over the passports, room cards, and bills to Yin Guo. But her mind was elsewhere, still reeling from the comments on her friend's post.


Automatically, she signed her name on the bill without paying attention, her thoughts preoccupied with the thought of deleting the comments or leaving them there for everyone to see.


"How's this restaurant? Have you ever been there?" Yin Guo's cousin asked her, but she was too preoccupied to hear him.


Meng Xiaotian noticed her distant expression and decided to ask the receptionist for more information about the restaurant. "Excuse me, can you tell us more about the OLD EBBITT GRILL? How far is it from here and is it worth visiting?"


The brunette beauty behind the counter perked up at the mention of the restaurant. "Oh, Old Ebbitt Grill is a century-old restaurant located close to the White House. Many congressmen dine there, so it's definitely worth checking out. Plus, it's just a short walk from the hotel."


Meng Xiaotian was impressed. "That sounds great. I'll check my phone and make a reservation."


But Yin Guo, still preoccupied with the message incident, was not interested. "Let's go tomorrow. I'm too lazy to move," she said, her voice distant.


She returned the receipt to the staff, took back her passport and credit card, and looked down at the room number on the door card. Things are barely registering in her mind, still lost in her own thoughts.


As they walked towards the elevator, Meng Xiaotian was engaged in a hushed conversation over the phone. Yin Guo couldn't quite make out what he was saying, but she could see the hint of a smile playing on his lips. As they stepped into the elevator, Meng Xiaotian ended the call and turned to her with a grin. "Da Shuai said sorry for making us come all this way for nothing, he'll treat us to dinner," he announced, his voice filled with excitement.

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