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During the Snowstorm

10.1

The Return of the Glory

54

Yin Guo's intensive training this time was for this year's 9-ball World Championship.

 

Over 30 players participated in the training, and several national team coaches also arrived. As a sparring partner, Lin Lin was stationed at the base for the entire duration.

 

Lin Yi Yang dropped her off outside the base's main gate.

 

To facilitate their conversation, he turned off the engine. From outside, one could see two people sitting inside through the front windshield, but their identities were not clear. Just then, Lin Lin drove across the street, entering the base right before his eyes.

 

Lin Yi Yang's car had never been temporarily registered, nor had it been driven on the road. Naturally, Lin Lin had never seen it and wouldn't spare it a second glance.

 

He thought about flashing his high beams at Lin Lin to chat with her for a bit but then decided against it.

 

"Why didn't you call her?" Yin Guo was in the car, tying up her long hair.

 

He didn't seem to care much: "It's not like we won't see each other again."

 

Speaking of his childhood friends, she truly envied them: "You all have such a great relationship, just like real brothers and sisters. Beijing is entirely club-managed, with the survival of the fittest applying to both students and coaches."

 

Lin Yi Yang smiled without saying anything. He habitually touched the back of her neck, where some stray hairs and soft skin felt pleasing to the touch.

 

She squirmed under his touch, pushing his hand away. His eyes, reflecting in her shiny pupils, were all on her: "Lin Yi Yang?"

 

He responded.

 

With the engine off, the air conditioner was also off.

 

The air was stagnant, naturally making their unique scents more pronounced.

 

"It seems like after getting married, there will be a lot of quarrels." She thought of her former sister-in-law.

 

During her confinement at home, Yin Guo's sister-in-law happened to be on winter break. That whole month was filled with discontent, arguing over who would change diapers, which brand of formula to use, whether the mother should work in the future, etc. The sister-in-law, financially independent and strong-willed, prepared the divorce papers during her confinement, took the child, and remarried within a year.

 

Yin Guo's surroundings were like a comprehensive guide to divorce and remarriage, with all sorts of examples, none repeating.

 

Lin Yi Yang replied: "People are different."

 

"What if we just never get married?" she pondered, "If the relationship is good, we stay together; if not, marriage won't help anyway."

 

Before Lin Yi Yang, she had thought this way: play sports, compete, travel, have a boyfriend to accompany her, someone who also has his own business, not interfering with her competitions and training.

 

Especially considering her family's opinion of him, she didn't want him to constantly face rejection. As long as they didn't marry, her family really couldn't interfere.

 

With one hand on the steering wheel, Lin Yi Yang was illuminated by the streetlights, casting a glow on his short hair. He seemed to be seriously considering her words but then suddenly pulled her wrist to his waist, pressing it down.

 

The car was dimly lit, yet Yin Guo's cheeks flushed. She tried to pull her hand away, but he held it tighter.

 

"Have you seen anything here," Lin Yi Yang said with a low chuckle, "As for whether I desire it or not, that's a decision for you to make."

 

Outside, the streetlight shone on the windshield, lighting up the interior.

 

He kept one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding hers, looking at her in the light from outside. For a long time, he didn't let her go.

 

The training would be long, and they wouldn't see each other for at least two weeks once she left.

 

Yin Guo also didn't want to leave him. Still, they were already at the gate, where cars and people were constantly passing by, all familiar faces from the billiard world. It would be embarrassing to be seen and worse if it reached their families' ears.

"I'm really going." She said.

 

"Stay a bit longer," he replied, "Two more minutes."

 

When Lin Yi Yang returned to his own billiard room, Jiang Yang had just finished showering, bare-chested, and was flipping through a prepared home purchase intent document, throwing it onto the green billiard table: "Take a look."

 

"Haven't I seen it already?" He had seen the electronic version before coming back.

 

"Nevertheless, considering it's a significant matter, take another look," Jiang Yang said as he put on his gold-rimmed glasses, peering at him through the lenses. "In my opinion, I should pay more, and you less."

 

Lin Yi Yang leaned on the pool table, gesturing dismissively: "Fair deals between brothers."

 

Jiang Yang laughed: "You and I are closer than if we were born to the same mother."

 

"Then we definitely need to keep accounts clear, no room for anything that might affect our relationship,"

 

Lin Yi Yang flipped through the agreement, "We're adults now, you should understand this better than anyone. Friends don't mix money, and money can end friendships."

 

They looked at each other.

 

Jiang Yang sincerely sighed: "It's different now, little brother, not like when we were kids."

 

Lin Yi Yang took a pen from Jiang Yang, flipped to the last page of the contract, and pointed to a spot: "Here?"

 

"Yes, sign six copies, all of them."

 

"Give it here." He said.

 

He quickly signed all of them, pushing the stack of contracts back to Jiang Yang.

 

Under the light, between the two of them, was a stack of home purchase intent documents, a belated gift from six disciples to their master. Lin Yi Yang had five senior brothers who didn't catch the good times and had retired before achieving fame and success in their careers, just like their teacher, He Wen Feng, who was renowned but penniless.

 

Lin Yi Yang and Jiang Yang, being younger, were fortunate to enter the master's door when He was in his sixties, catching up with the era's development and the industry's economic boom. Therefore, under the leadership of Lin Yi Yang and Jiang Yang, with each of them paying half of the house payment and the four senior brothers as witnesses, they purchased this house. They planned to gift it to their master after the China Open, in the name of the six disciples.

 

He had joined Dongxin City in the second grade, inheriting everything from manners to billiards skills from He Wenfeng. Despite any complications, nothing outweighed the teacher's kindness. A man nearing twenty-nine, wishing to repay, knew his aged teacher desired little. Having been through so much in society, he could only think of such material yet sincere gestures.

 

Of course, considering the teacher's temperament, giving the gift was a challenge. But with Jiang Yang around, there was always a way.

 

Lin Yi Yang leaned on the pool table, looking at the stack of papers in front of him, pondering that this deed could have been accomplished at least five years earlier if he hadn't left this place.

 

......

 

Life is said to be full of anticipation, yet time is merciless.

 

"What are you thinking about?" Jiang Yang asked.

 

Lin Yi Yang chose the easiest way to dismiss the question: "It's time to get serious and focus on what's important."

 

The China Open in snooker began in April.

 

After a reform in the snooker competition format, this year saw as many as 20 world-class professional tournaments.

 

This year's China Open boasted a total prize fund of over one million pounds, drawing attention from around the globe and attracting star players from all over the world.

 

The public's attention converged on China at the beginning of this month.

 

As usual, the top 16 ranked players automatically qualified for the main event, bypassing the preliminary rounds.

 

Therefore, Lin Yi Yang did not appear until the day of the main event.

 

At the Olympic Sports Center backstage, a tall, thin Chinese man with a crew cut, carrying his ever-present black sports bag slung over his shoulder, along with a cue case and a black suit bag, walked into the backstage entrance.

 

Several European and American players greeted him warmly when they saw him: "Hi, Lin."

 

Over the past year, he was always seen in casual black attire backstage, or in the summer, he might take off his black jacket to reveal a simple white T-shirt. He liked to wear colorful sneakers, in dark red, white, deep blue, and so on.

 

His outfit indeed resembled that of an athlete, but not quite like a world-class player in a gentleman's game.

 

He passed several dressing rooms before stopping at the one designated for Chinese players, pushed open the door with the silver handle, and entered the room belonging to the China Open players.

 

Inside, several men were changing clothes or resting in chairs.

 

There were top 16 players and newcomers who had fought their way through the qualifiers. Everyone greeted Lin Yi Yang warmly as he walked past them to find his spot, placing his cue case down and hanging his suit bag containing his match uniform on a hanger.

 

He took out his phone, opened an extremely boring game, and played casually to pass the time.

 

Meanwhile, he waited for his first-round group match opponent—Meng Xiaodong.

 

Fortune seemed to smile on him, bringing him an old rival for his comeback match.

 

Meng Xiaodong, just back from the restroom, was fully dressed in slacks and a white shirt, with a fitted waistcoat, missing only his tied bowtie, which lay on the table, waiting to be put on before going on stage.

 

Meng Xiaodong found his thermos, sipping hot tea to soothe his throat: "Ran into Yin Guo's family the other day?"

 

"Yes."

 

"How did the first meeting go?"

 

"It was okay." Lin Yi Yang's plan was to greet the elders humbly, letting them have a look at him. The goal of the first meeting was achieved.

 

Meng Xiaodong nodded: "My aunt is very strict, much like Teacher He. The idea of victors and losers doesn't apply to her."

 

Lin Yi Yang understood Meng Xiaodong's point: "It's normal to have this attitude just coming back. It's not like I can say I have a world ranking now, and everyone should suddenly change their opinion, thinking that success makes a good person. I wouldn't believe it either."

 

He added: "I believe in the survival of the fittest on the field, where the victor is king, but I don't like this mentality in society."

 

After all, to change perceptions, sweet talk is useless.

 

Smart people observe what those around them do, not what they say.

 

Lin Yi Yang glanced at the wall clock, stood up, zipped up his suit carrier to the bottom, and took out the shirt, trousers, and waistcoat inside.

 

He changed clothes, first removing and then putting on the new attire, buckling his trousers, and fastening his belt.

 

He remembered his first return to the competitive scene at the Australian Open qualifiers. At that time, Lin Yi Yang entered the backstage unrecognized, with no one greeting him.

 

Players like Jiang Yang and Meng Xiaodong, with top world rankings, didn't need to participate in any qualifiers and wouldn't be seen in that gymnasium. In a foreign land, after a long journey without a familiar face, even his opponents were strangers, let alone his brothers knowing he signed up for the qualifiers.

 

Changing his shirt in the dressing room, he pondered whom to inform about his upcoming match.

 

It seemed necessary to announce his return to competition after so many years.

 

The only person he could think of was Yin Guo.

 

"The first time I competed in Belgium, I called your sister from the dressing room," he buttoned his shirt up to the top, securing each one firmly, "I didn't tell her where I was, just said—Little Guo, I think I still want to compete."

 

He also told her that returning to competition after many years might not be as simple as imagined. The world was changing, the competitive scene was changing, the opponents were changing, everything was uncertain. Perhaps, it was a misstep.

 

Choosing to pursue a Ph.D. at Duke was a safe bet. His best undergraduate senior brother had earned his Ph.D. at Penn and was now an associate professor at Duke, waiting for him. Their capabilities were comparable, so following his senior brother's path wasn't an issue.

 

Returning to competition, however, was full of uncertainties.

 

"She was quite happy about it, so I said, what if I don't perform well, it could complicate the future. Guess what she said?"

 

"What?"

 

"She said, it's okay, go for it. When you first pursued me, you were a poor student, and I was nothing either. Together, we can't be worse off than we were back then."

 

She reassured him, "Last year, I ranked third in the World Association's standings. Even if you perform poorly, you'll still be the third-ranked boyfriend in the world." The little girl who was once homeless during a blizzard, now carrying a cue stick and conquering half of the world, said it with seriousness. Yin Guo was Lin Yi Yang's anchor in life. As he moved forward, he knew he had someone behind him—Yin Guo.

 

Meng Xiaodong smiled with amusement: "My sister is a treasure. Finding her is your good fortune."

 

Lin Yi Yang smiled: "Let's go." His features, framed by the formal shirt and trousers, appeared slightly more composed, yet his eyes still held his characteristic determination.

 

They left the dressing room side by side, entering the corridor and were led by the staff into the arena.

 

The snooker competition demands absolute silence, with spectators required to turn off their mobile phones upon entry. In the quiet, even applause is restrained. Whether players stand up, strike the ball, sit back down, or contemplate alone, everything is related to silence.

 

In the hushed gymnasium, the attendance rate was over ninety percent.

 

In this domestic open tournament, the audience naturally knows more about the local players. Both Meng Xiaodong and the suddenly returning Lin Yi Yang are the reasons for today's high attendance rate.

 

The referee, dressed in a tailored black suit and wearing white gloves, approached them with a serious expression and shook hands to signify the start. A minute later, Lin Yi Yang successfully won the right to break.

 

Carrying his black cue, he slowly approached the table. The green baize, a different gymnasium, yet the same homeland. This was his first time standing in the homeland's arena after coming back and participating in over a dozen competitions.

"Your teacher is here," Meng Xiaodong whispered, audible only to him, "Look to the north."

 

A shock went through him, and he turned to look.

 

The arena was bathed in light, yet as he looked towards the stands from within the brilliance, he saw only an elderly figure. Thirteen years apart, and the first time the master and disciple met was here, on this competitive stage.

 

Lin Yi Yang couldn't see his teacher's face or expression clearly, because of the distance, because his eyes were filled with tears, because...

 

The man gripping the cue stood still as if sculpted, then silently, deeply bowed. He bowed towards that indistinct corner.

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