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During the Snowstorm

10.4

The Return of the Glory

66

Upon landing in New York, Lin Yi Yang received dozens of calls inviting him for interviews.

 

It was only when Yin Guo heard about these invitations that she truly realized the fact—even having distanced himself from snooker, Lin Yi Yang, who had swept nearly ten nine-ball awards last year, had already become an undeniable figure of interest here.

 

Regrettably, he declined all interview requests, uniformly responding that he was on a private schedule.

 

Lin Yi Yang took her and Chen An'an back to their original residence.

 

Nothing in the apartment had changed; everyone's rooms were as they left them, untouched, including Yin Guo's.

 

Over the year, Lin Yi Yang had become quite close with Meng Xiaotian, so much so that when Meng Xiaotian saw the brown apartment door open and Lin Yi Yang and Yin Guo step in together, his first greeting was "Brother-in-law," leaving Yin Guo, his actual cousin, somewhat sidelined.

 

Of course, his next words were, "Brother-in-law, could you help me review a paper? I'm leaving soon."

 

"Where to?" Yin Guo asked, noticing his suitcase, a sign of a long journey ahead.

 

"Back home, my brother's calling me."

 

Thus, the siblings bid farewell after only five minutes of reunion.

 

......

 

Lin Yi Yang rummaged through the fridge and cabinets for something to eat, gauging what needed replenishing from the supermarket. Yin Guo sat at the bar, chin propped on her hands, watching him. Both were accustomed to long flights and weren't particularly tired.

 

Only Chen An'an was exhausted. Nearing retirement, with fewer competitions and even fewer long flights, the jet lag hit him hard; he couldn't even keep his eyes open. Skipping a shower, he went straight to Lin Yi Yang's room, locked the door, and fell asleep.

 

Thus, within ten minutes of arriving at the apartment, only he and Yin Guo remained in the living room.

 

Yin Guo glanced at Lin Yi Yang's room door and whispered, "Letting him sleep in your room, isn't that openly telling him... that you're sleeping with me?"

 

Lin Yi Yang closed the fridge door, puzzled, "If not with you, who else would I sleep with?"

 

While the fact was one thing, she and Chen An'an weren't close; they hadn't exchanged more than ten sentences during nearly a month of training. Suddenly, living under one roof and openly sharing a room with him in front of Chen An'an—

"It's strange," she thought, feeling uncomfortable.

 

To Lin Yi Yang, Yin Guo was already like his wife-to-be, oblivious to the "strangeness" she felt.

 

"I'm going to shower first; you sit for a while."

 

He pondered cleaning the bathroom first. Meng Xiaotian had lived there for a month, likely leaving it less than clean, and he wanted to tidy up before letting her use it.

 

Lin Yi Yang moved from behind the bar to the sofa, searching his suitcase for jeans and a T-shirt to change into, setting aside a stack of short-sleeved shirts.

 

Yin Guo followed, squatting to sift through his brought clothes, all familiar, all old.

 

This man, flashy with cars but frugal with clothes, only wore branded outfits for competitions, still the same piece Yin Guo had given him. Truly, the epitome of a plain man.

 

"That short-sleeve, the one I took, why did you buy it?" she asked, recalling the purchase was odd given his financial situation then.

 

"It wasn't bought," Lin Yi Yang, unbuttoning his shirt to toss it into a red laundry bin, said, "A kid won a regional championship and bought it with his prize money. Considered a gift from a student to his teacher."

 

Given Lin Yi Yang's nature, he wouldn't have accepted it, but the kid was Canadian and later returned to Canada, making it a keepsake.

 

No wonder.

 

He began to unbuckle his belt.

 

"Go inside to undress, go to the bathroom."

 

Lin Yi Yang was amused by her "unreasonable request" again; it's not like she hadn't seen it before.

 

Seen, yes.

 

But the reasoning remained; should Chen An'an suddenly emerge to find Lin Yi Yang in his underwear talking with her in the living room—it simply wouldn't do.

 

As Lin Yi Yang entered the bathroom and the sound of the shower started, Yin Guo mused—men, no matter how handsome or dashing, once they become "yours," seem determined to parade around the house as scantily as possible, utterly disregarding their image.

 

Within the bathroom's cascading water sounds, she leaned on the bar, browsing her Weibo and friends' circles.

 

Surprisingly, there were photos of Lin Yi Yang at the airport today...

 

From the second floor of the airport, someone captured him from behind, looking towards the tarmac, only showing a distant view of him in a white shirt, black trousers, and leather shoes. Another from the first floor, likely from the southwest corner, captured his profile; his high nose bridge lifted the upper half of his black mask, hiding his emotions as he looked down at his phone.

 

She found the shots artistic and saved them to her album.

 

Someone shared the post-match press conference on her friends' circle, commenting: "This guy's got it good, lucky girlfriend."

 

Yin Guo felt a surge of emotion, clicking to watch.

 

The video was noisy, filled with background chatter among the reporters, not an official recording, hence shaky, with the videographer complaining, "Don't bump me, you're shaking the camera. Lin Yi Yang's arrived!"

 

Flashes of camera lights created a continuous glow.

 

Lin Yi Yang and the association president, led by the host, walked behind the red interview table and sat down.

 

The empty seat to his left, presumably for the coach, remained vacant. At the same time, to his right sat a leader from the billiards association.

 

Upon sitting, his first instinct was to unbutton his cuffs, but he seemed to remember something, smoothly transitioning the action into a cough, sitting upright to begin the interview.

 

Yin Guo noticed this little episode and watched it with amusement.

 

The journalists' questions were sharp, but his responses were succinct.

 

"During your decade-long hiatus, you weren't familiar with the competitive scene or the players. Have you ever felt powerless?"

 

"No."

 

"Now you're twenty-eight and just starting. Do you worry about your age?"

 

Again, the answer was "No."

 

...

 

Finally, someone directly addressed the past—

 

"It's said you retired disheartened due to a ban. Is that true? Will you clarify rumors of fixed matches today? Why choose to return after such a long retirement? Is it to counter past rumors or because you couldn't bear retiring under those circumstances?"

 

After a few seconds of silence, Lin Yi Yang unusually spoke at length: "Everyone has their speculations about the past. Even if I clarify a hundred times here today, you won't fully believe it. You might think it's a perfect answer polished by PR. I can't convince everyone here, nor can you. Let's leave the past in the past; truth or falsehood doesn't matter."

 

Lin Yi Yang continued: "The path of an athlete is tough. One can't last long if it's just for 'retaliation' or 'dissatisfaction.' Negative emotions can't support a person through all hardships; only love can make one swallow all the bitterness and reach the end."

 

"The only reason I came back today is that the path belonging to Lin Yi Yang isn't finished," he paused, then concluded, "This path is mine, and I must walk it myself."

 

Yin Guo was deeply moved, and the applause in the video was loud.

 

The host timely concluded in such an atmosphere: "Thank you to the journalists here today, and thank you to Lin Yi Yang for the exciting match and the post-match interview—"

 

Suddenly, a journalist interrupted the host: "There's one last question."

 

The microphone was passed over.

 

"As a star athlete, managing your public image isn't the only concern; personal affairs also get exposed, causing trouble for many sports stars."

 

The journalist smiled, and so did everyone else; they were about to delve into gossip.

 

As the laughter subsided, the journalist got to the point: "Before you returned, Jiang Yang and Meng Xiaodong were the most popular domestic players in this field, and neither has a girlfriend, thus always discussed online. Are you mentally prepared to become, like them, the most eligible bachelor in this field after your return? Or do you feel pressured to expose your future relationships to the public?"

 

Lin Yi Yang, elbows on the red table, fingers interlocked, listened attentively. After the journalist finished, he half-joked, "Whether Jiang Yang and Meng Xiaodong have girlfriends... I'm not sure."

 

Everyone knew the three grew up together. Saying "not sure" implied there might be secret relationships??

 

Instantly, three or four journalists asked simultaneously—

 

"Is it true Jiang Yang has been divorced?"

 

"Is the rumor of Meng Xiaodong's secret marriage true?"

 

"People have captured Meng Xiaodong training overseas this year with his wife and daughter following. Is that true?"

 

Lin Yi Yang laughed and waved his hand, suggesting it was just a joke, not to expose these two any further.

 

He redirected the question back to himself, providing a definite answer: "But one thing is for sure, I'm not single."

 

Another explosive revelation.

 

Instantly, all journalists began to ask questions, creating an indiscernible noise, all inquiring, leading to a loud uproar.

 

The video abruptly ended. It was finished.

 

Yin Guo's heart raced, wanting to rewind and replay the last minute.

 

"Enjoying it?" the man in the video asked next to her face.

 

Her heart skipped a beat, turning her head to look at him, and at the most fluttering moment, he kissed her. The phone was pulled away, and he continued to kiss her long hair...

 

"Wait for me to shower first." She suddenly dodged. After more than ten hours on a plane, she felt filthy.

 

Lin Yi Yang didn't mind; he had already showered and never found her anything but pleasant. To him, she always smelled nice.

 

Yin Guo thought otherwise, feeling her own scent was unpleasant, a mix of airplane seats and cabin air. She managed to send him away and entered the bathroom with clean clothes.

 

The bathroom was cleaned well, and the floor tiles were wiped dry.

 

Only the mirror's fog remained, not fully cleared.

 

Looking down at the sink, his razor and blades seemed to take her back in time. Yin Guo ran her fingers over them, seeing her reflection in the mirror, thankful for her straight hair, not the curls from last year, or she might believe time had reversed.

After quickly showering, she returned to her room.

 

The furnishings hadn't been moved.

 

The beddings had been freshly changed by Lin Yi Yang. He sat by the window on a small sofa, holding a laptop, correcting Meng Xiaotian's English paper.

 

Yin Guo wanted to dry her hair but didn't want to disturb Chen An'an's sleep, so she refrained.

 

"Take a break. You're helping him with his stuff as soon as you arrive."

 

He smiled, "Wasn't I waiting for you?"

 

Her fingers fluttered in front of his eyes.

 

Finally, Lin Yi Yang looked up to see her squatting before him. The laptop's top half obscured some view, but not significantly. She wore only one of his men's short-sleeved shirts, exposing her legs, and the white T-shirt hinted at the color of her undergarment, except she... wasn't wearing any. He was very familiar with the curves of her body.

 

The physiological need disrupted by the paper was successfully rekindled by the scene before him.

 

"What do you want to do?" he asked softly.

 

"Sleep," she provocatively replied, "I'm tired."

 

He laughed.

 

He snapped the laptop shut and tossed it onto the sofa.

 

Without another word, he lifted the hem of his short-sleeved shirt and took it off. Bare-chested, he embraced her, their bodies separated only by a thin layer of pure cotton fabric, their body heat penetrating through, both temperatures rising.

 

The zipper of his jeans brushed against the skin on her waist, the cold metal buckle pressing against her.

 

"Wait," he murmured into her ear, responding to her fervor with the palm of his hand, his voice lowered. He was indicating they should wait, as the protective measures were still in the suitcase, not in this room.

 

Yin Guo's tongue boldly ventured deeper, kissing him, not giving him a chance to leave.

 

Her hands roamed over his jeans without restraint... Lin Yi Yang was caught between laughter and helplessness, kissing her while pushing her down onto the bed, pulling her hands above her head: "What's with you today?"

 

After speaking, he huskily commanded: "Listen."

 

"It's okay..." she whispered faintly, indicating she had been taking additional precautions on time since his return to the country, wanting to be doubly sure to avoid any accidents.

 

So even without the things in the suitcase, there was still a layer of protection.

 

Lin Yi Yang's breathing grew heavier, no longer speaking, and bent down to kiss her.

 

His dark, glossy eyes stayed locked on her body and face. The light from outside the window cast shadows overhead, his features and short hair highlighted against the light.

 

Her heart raced faster than it did the first time, feeling more like their first night together, giving him her complete trust.

 

Or perhaps it was a ritual, both bodies fully open and accepting each other without barriers. For a man, the significance of being with the girl he loves like this for the first time is profound and understood only by those who have loved.

 

...

 

Everything was overwhelming. Then, silence ensued.

 

The rough pads of his fingers still caressed her face, his breathing heavy and uneven. Yin Guo's heart beat slowly in this silent intimacy, feeling his face pressed against hers, tenderly rubbing, then kissing softly.

 

As he prepared to pull away, she suddenly held him tighter, wanting him to stay a bit longer.

 

Lin Yi Yang seemed to understand, smiling.

 

His fingers gently massaged behind her ear, whispering, "I didn't even take off my jeans, they'll need washing now."

 

This time, they'd have to be hand-washed, tossing them into the laundry wouldn't be appropriate.

 

She shook her head, her hair spreading over his arm and the bedsheet. He didn't move, just held her, resting together, no longer thinking of leaving. There was no need to rush; considering Chen An'an's condition, he would sleep until evening.

 

They still had plenty of time to linger here, tidying up was unnecessary.

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