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During the Snowstorm

1.3

From Storm to Clear Skies

113

Lin Yi Yang and Wu Wei stood next to a parking lot, waiting for the bus to arrive. The sun had set, and the temperature had dropped, a chill wind biting through their clothes. Wu Wei's hands were buried deep in the pockets of his thick winter coat, trying to keep warm as he shivered. Lin Yi Yang, however, seemed unfazed by the cold. He was engrossed in his phone, a small smile playing on his lips. Wu Wei couldn't help but feel curious, trying to sneak a peek at Lin Yi Yang's phone, but was met with a playful elbow nudge from his friend.


Just then, a Chinese bus rumbled by, its windows crowded with passengers. The driver, catching sight of Lin Yi Yang and Wu Wei waiting by the side of the road, pulled over and stuck his head out the window. "Heading to New York?" he called out. "Hop on, I'll give you a ride.


Lin Yi Yang, still on his phone, shook his head and raised a hand in refusal. "Thanks, but your bus is already full," he said, dialing another number as he spoke.


The driver let out a chuckle and flicked his cigarette out of the window. "Fake politeness," he muttered.


A red arc of embers traced through the air, narrowly missing Lin Yi Yang's clothes as he stepped back quickly to avoid it. As the call connected, he spoke urgently into the phone, "I need you to take care of two kids for me. Something came up, and I can't make it. Yeah, the bet, I agreed to it."


....


You agreed to it?" Yin Guo said with a hint of surprise.


The elevator doors slid open, and Yin Guo and her cousin stepped inside. As they made their way to their floor, two men dressed in business attire stepped in, taking up the center position of the elevator, separating the two. The sudden presence of these strangers made Yin Guo feel uneasy, and she leaned closer to the elevator wall.


"Quickly tell me," Yin Guo whispered in Chinese.


Her cousin looked at her. "Nah, he said a buddy would cover it," the younger cousin handed his phone over to Yin Guo, bypassing the two men. "I told him it's cool to have a friend come, but I'll handle the expenses."


Yin Guo's eyes scanned the message, a sense of relief washing over her as she realized that her cousin had handled the situation.


She quickly scrolled through the chat history on her phone; she couldn't help but notice Lin Yi Yang's short and succinct responses. He had mentioned that he was on his way but didn't reveal much else. In his reply to Meng Xiaotian, Lin Yi Yang had emphasized that it was only natural for him to extend an invitation to guests visiting from far away. This is a traditional Chinese etiquette, and it should be upheld even when abroad.


Meng Xiaotian had initially offered to take Lin Yi Yang out for a meal, but Lin Yi Yang had politely declined. The conversation then shifted to the duration of their stay in Washington, with Meng Xiaotian explaining that Yin Guo couldn't be away from New York for too long and they had only booked a one-night stay. He asked Lin Yi Yang when he would be back, but Lin Yi Yang couldn't give a definite answer.


Lin Yi Yang's last message simply read,


Lin: We'll see each other again.


As the night went on, Meng Xiaotian couldn't shake off the thought of that restaurant Lin Yi Yang had recommended. Despite rejecting the invitation, he couldn't help but be curious about the food and atmosphere. He pulled out his phone and tried to book a table, but to his disappointment, it was fully booked.


After a mediocre meal in the hotel's restaurant, Yin Guo and Meng Xiaotian strolled down the walking path near the White House, taking a few photos together. As they returned to their hotel room, Meng Xiaotian noticed the discomfort of their sleeping arrangements. The previous night, they had rushed to book a room and the only option left was a double bed. He and his cousin had slept at opposite ends, but it was a less than ideal situation. As soon as they arrived in Washington, Yin Guo had requested two single beds, finally able to get a good night's rest.


Soon as Yin Guo slipped into bed, she turned to her brother and said "Don't forget, we need to wake up early to visit the nearby museums. There's so much to see." With that, she drifted off to sleep.


The next morning, when Yin Guo woke up, the bright sunlight streaming through the window hit her face. She stretched out her arms and sat up, rubbing her sleepy eyes. As she looked around the room, she noticed that the small table and desk were covered with take-out boxes. It looked like her brother had ordered food for them last night, but he was nowhere to be found.


Feeling a little confused, Yin Guo grabbed her phone and dialed Meng Xiaotian's number. It rang a few times, but there was no answer. She decided to send him a message on WeChat: "Where did you go? Museum?"


A few moments later, she received a reply from Meng Xiaotian: "I'm in Georgetown."


Yin Guo felt a little surprised. She quickly typed out another message: "Did you go by yourself?"


Meng Xiaotian replied: "No, Lin Ge woke me up early this morning and had a friend drive me there. He said, in case I don't get into New York University this year, I can try this school next year."


Yin Guo couldn't help but smile. She typed out another message: "He's really nice to you."


Meng Xiaotian replied: "Yeah, a great person. Wait for me, I'll be back soon, and buy you lunch downstairs."


Yin Guo lazily rolled out of bed, her mind lingering on the thought of Lin Yi Yang. Despite his cold exterior, he truly looked out for Meng Xiaotian. She shuffled into the bathroom, grabbed a new toothbrush from the drawer, and began her morning routine. As she brushed her teeth, she decided that it is only appropriate to send a message of gratitude to Lin.


Xiao Guo: "Thanks for arranging for someone to take my brother to visit the school."


Lin Yi Yang: "No problem, happy to help."


Xiao Guo: "I appreciate it. [smiley face]"


Lin Yi Yang: "No problem. [coffee cup]"


The exchange was brief and to the point. Seems like there is not much for the two of them to talk about.


Yin Guo couldn't shake off the feeling of unease as she leaned against the wall, her phone gently tapping against it as she scrolled through her messages. Lin Yi Yang's cold demeanor had always intimidated her. It was rare to come across someone who spoke so little. She wondered if her cousin and Lin had more in common than she thought. She tried to push the thoughts out of her mind; she had already thanked him for his help, and there was nothing more to say.


From that day on, Yin Guo avoided any one-on-one interactions with Lin Yi Yang. She saw him as her younger brother's new friend in America and nothing more.


After the two returned to New York, the hotel had extra rooms, so Yin Guo quickly took advantage of this and requested for the big room to be exchanged into two small ones. She filled the rooms with various daily necessities and officially began her short-term stay.


Last time she came, she had Zheng Yi as her guide and they visited all the famous landmark buildings as part of a standard tourist itinerary. This year, however, she didn't want to go to those places again and decided to let Meng Xiaotian explore on his own. With Google Maps at his disposal, she knew he wouldn't get lost.


Every morning until noon, they'd explore the city, primarily on the hunt for good food. In the afternoons, they'd go their separate ways. Yin Guo still had competition tasks to complete and needed to stick to her training schedule.


In the following week, Meng Xiaotian occasionally mentioned Lin Yi Yang's name, sharing all the recommendations he had received during his solo travels. With this new friend around, Yin Guo found her travels became much easier. As she listened to Xiaotian's excited chatter, she gradually grew accustomed to Lin Yi Yang's presence. It was a stark contrast to their initial meeting when she couldn't help but feel a twinge of guilt for whatever had transpired between them.


On a lazy Saturday morning, Yin Guo woke up to the distant buzz of her alarm. Groggily rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she stumbled out of bed and headed to the bathroom to brush her teeth. As she scrubbed her teeth with her toothbrush, her cousin Meng Xiaotian knocked on her door, ready to discuss the day's plans.


"Where should we go today?" Yin Guo asked, her words slightly muffled by the foamy toothpaste in her mouth.


"Let's check out the area around New York University," Xiaotian suggested, leaning against the door frame.


Yin Guo finished rinsing her mouth and dried it off with a towel. "Haven't we been there a few times already?" She asked.


"It's supposed to be a fun spot," her cousin enthused, showing Yin Guo a screenshot of a café on his phone. "Caffe Reggio. I want to check it out."


She studied the photo, a vague sense of familiarity creeping over her. "Sure thing," she replied, shrugging. "I don't have any specific plans in mind."


"Oh, and by the way," She added. "We'll be passing by the bar we went to on your first night here. You know, the one where you got lost."


Meng Xiaotian's eyes widened in surprise. "Really? I don't remember how to get there at all."


"Don't worry, I'll show you the way," she reassured him with a smile, as she ran a brush through her hair, deftly braiding it into a loose bun. She always does this on days when it's supposed to snow, that way she can wear a hat without worrying about ruining her hairstyle.


As they left the apartment, she let her mind wander to the nearby specialty shops and boutiques, wondering if her cousin would be interested in a little tour. When they finally reached the entrance of Caffe Reggio, she couldn't help but remember why the name had sounded so familiar to her in the first place: the striking green façade of the building was hard to forget.


The café, Caffe Reggio, stood out with its striking green walls and canopy. As Yin Guo and Meng Xiaotian approached, they noticed that most of the outdoor seats were empty, with only a couple of young people chatting in the wind while wrapped in down jackets. Inside, the café was bustling with customers, with very few empty seats to be found.


"No seats?" Yin Guo looked inside, a hint of disappointment in her voice.


But Meng Xiaotian smiled mysteriously. "It's okay," he said. "Lin Ge has made a reservation."


Yin Guo looked at him strangely. With so many people in the café, why was he still so confident?


"Lin Yi Yang? Did you make a reservation with him?" she asked, still not quite believing it.


"He made the reservation for us," her cousin said as he led her into the café. "He wanted it to be a surprise. He said if he could make it, he'd come see us, but even if he couldn't, we could still grab a coffee together and make the most of our time."


As they walked through the door, the warm and inviting atmosphere of the café enveloped Yin Guo. The walls were adorned with beautiful decorations and the sound of people chatting and laughing filled the room. Despite the crowd, her eyes immediately locked onto a familiar figure sitting in the corner.


Lin Yi Yang was seated under a large portrait painting, his tall frame taking up most of the space on the dark red couch. He was dressed in a black hat and coat, and his winter jacket was hanging off the back of the chair. The small table in front of him seemed almost inadequate for his size, as he had to position one arm on the table and the other on his knee.


As Yin Guo walked into the café with her cousin, Lin Yi Yang immediately picked up on the sound of Chinese being spoken. He knew they had arrived. He looked up from his seat and locked eyes with Yin Guo, noticing that she seemed to hesitate for a moment before approaching the table.


It was their second formal meeting, but despite their previous conversations through text, they were still strangers in person. The familiarity of their features and body shape came from the initial impression they left on each other at the bar, but in the daylight, there were slight differences.


Lin Yi Yang's gaze never wavered from Yin Guo as she made her way to the table and sat down next to her cousin. The table was small and cramped, but she hung her backpack on the chair beside her, making herself comfortable despite the tight space.


He pushed a menu towards her, "Take a look, what would you like to order?"


Yin Guo hesitated, "You order, you're more familiar with this place. I haven't been here before."


Lin Yi Yang nodded, and without hesitation, ordered tiramisu and coffee for them, and a panini for himself. It was clear that he had not had lunch yet as he came straight here.


The conversation between the three of them was stilted at first, the tension in the air evident. Yin Guo didn't want to have a cold and uncomfortable conversation, like the one they had had over WeChat, so she lowered her head and looked at her phone. She flipped through her friends' posts on social media, refreshing her Weibo and eventually returning to delete conversations. She found herself deleting their conversation from ten days ago. The last message from Lin Yi Yang had simply been [coffee].


It was unexpected that they would meet again, and it would be over a cup of coffee.


Meng Xiaotian, noticing the silence, couldn't help but break it. " Hey guys, let's chat a bit. It's a bit uncomfortable with all this silence. "


He initiated a conversation with Lin Yi Yang, talking about their university majors and the coffee shop they were in. Lin Yi Yang shared that the coffee shop was built in the early 20th century and had been a gathering place for artists and writers over the past century. He mentioned that it was possible that a literary figure like Ernest Hemingway had visited the place before becoming famous, or that parts of the book "The Catcher in the Rye" were written here. Places with history often have a certain legendary feel, and the presence of famous people makes them even more interesting.


Lin Yi Yang casually mentioned this and didn't elaborate further. But Yin Guo looked around the table in front of her and at the decorations on the walls around her, and felt that what he said was quite true.


As the coffee arrived at the table, Yin Guo's phone buzzed with a message from Zheng Yi.

She asked Yin Guo where she was today and upon hearing that she was on the New York University side, she remembered that she needed to purchase something. Since Yin Guo was already there, she decided to take the opportunity to save herself a trip. The only problem was, she couldn't remember the name of the store.


"Hey, why don't you ask Lin Yi Yang?" Zheng Yi suggested. "I'm sure he knows the place; he was the one who recommended Caffe Reggio after all."


Feeling a bit embarrassed, Yin Guo turned to Lin Yi Yang. "Hey, my friend mentioned a small shop around here that sells coffee beans. Apparently, a lot of restaurants get their beans from there, and they even put the shop's name on their sign to promote it. I'm having trouble finding it though, you wouldn't happen to know where it is? "


Lin Yi Yang thought for a moment before replying, "I'll take you there."


"No need to trouble yourself," Yin Guo quickly declined, "just give me the name and I'll look it up on my map. I'm sure I'll be able to find it."


Lin Yi Yang offered, "I'll come with you, if you'd like some company."


She was conscious of not wanting to keep him waiting, so she quickly finished her remaining half cup of coffee and said, "Alright, let's go."


But her actions came across as being too eager to leave, making it seem as though she was rushing. Lin Yi Yang smiled and gave a subtle glance towards her empty coffee cup, as if to imply, "In such a hurry?"


She couldn't help but notice the familiar gaze from Lin Yi Yang. It was the same one he had given her on their first night meeting, when she was so engrossed in her drink. Unconsciously, she pulled her long hair behind her ears, feeling a mix of discomfort and nostalgia.


Meanwhile, Meng Xiaotian was completely oblivious to the brief yet meaningful exchange between the two. He finished his cake and coffee swiftly, not noticing the coordinated movements of Lin Yi Yang and Yin Guo as they stood up and put on their coats.


"Wow, you two are really quick," Meng Xiaotian exclaimed, a hint of surprise in his voice.

Meng Xiaotian couldn't shake off the feeling that she was intruding on something intimate between Lin Yi Yang and cousin Yin Guo. He couldn't help but wonder, "Why do I feel like I'm in the way?

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