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During the Snowstorm

11.1

Tide of Fate

49

Chen An'an felt if he kept watching, he'd end up with eye strain.

 

"Half a pack of cigarettes makes them this happy?" He was just making conversation.

 

"Tobacco tax is high here, making cigarettes expensive," Lin Yi Yang told him. "A pack that costs about ten yuan back in China is over sixty here."

 

Homeless people, without a steady income, naturally seldom buy them.

 

Having this explained, Chen An'an felt a surge of sympathy, prompting Lin Yi Yang to buy two new packs for the homeless men. He even had Lin Yi Yang translate for him as they chatted with the homeless men for most of the night.

 

Back home, still buzzing from jet lag and alcohol, Lin Yi Yang, concerned his excitement might affect his performance in tomorrow's matches, somehow persuaded him to go to his room and rest.

 

Once Chen An'an entered the house, Lin Yiyang sat on the sofa, his mind filled with curiosity about what Yin Guo had mentioned about "precautions." Unable to contain his curiosity any longer, he couldn't help but ask her about it.

 

Yin Guo cautiously pulled out a small box of contraceptive patches from her luggage for him to see.

 

Lin Yi Yang examined them, noting their resemblance to small medicated patches. Given Yin Guo's chronic shoulder and back issues, he initially mistook them for therapeutic patches.

 

As he pondered deeper, the door opened again.

 

"I still can't sleep..." Chen An'an noticed the close proximity of the two, with one sitting on the sofa and the other crouching nearby, their faces almost touching. He immediately fell silent, feeling a sense of intrusion.

 

"Which one of you sprained something?" Chen An'an attempted to initiate a conversation, noticing what Lin Yi Yang was holding. "My waist hurts too. I didn't sleep well on the plane. Can you give me a patch?"

 

Yin Guo quickly took back the box and patches from Lin Yi Yang, stashing them away, and then ran off.

 

Confused, Chen An'an whispered, "Is Yin Guo upset?"

 

Lin Yiyang glanced at Chen An'an and asked, "Is your waist really hurting?"

 

"Ah... a bit," Chen An'an admitted, not daring to deceive him.

 

Lin Yi Yang stood up, searched a plastic cabinet on the wall, tossed him a box of genuine medicated plaster, and, without another word, went to bed.

 

Starting from Tuesday, they entered the schedule of the group stage matches.

 

Yin Guo exhibited an unstoppable momentum throughout, securing a string of victories. On the final day of the group stage, she faced off against the renowned American player, Ashly. This highly anticipated match drew a large crowd as Yin Guo mounted a remarkable comeback from a 5-10 deficit. She battled fiercely and fought her way to match point, winning four consecutive games. In the end, she successfully overturned the score to 11-10, emerging victorious.

 

As a foreign player, on that day in the sports arena, all the local fans rose to their feet, offering thunderous applause and cheering for her.

 

With her exceptional performance, Yin Guo effortlessly advanced to the quarterfinals without any suspense. Surprisingly, Chen Anan also displayed remarkable skills, reaching the quarterfinals for the first time in the tournament.

 

On Saturday, the semifinals of the men's and women's divisions took place.

 

At 1:25 PM, just before her first match, Yin Guo changed into her competition shirt and pants. She then returned to her designated resting area in the corner, pondering over the whereabouts of Lin Yi Yang. He had been in Washington attending to matters concerning the squash court there, reconnecting with old classmates and friends. They had agreed that he would return today to watch her and Chen Anan's match. However, Yin Guo couldn't shake off her uneasiness for some reason, fearing that he wouldn't arrive in time.

 

Her phone was not with her, as it had become her pre-match habit to leave it behind, leaving her unable to contact him.

 

At 1:30 PM, adhering to her usual routine, she entered the venue 30 minutes early.

 

Accompanied by several female players, including Su Wei, who shared a close relationship with Yin Guo, they made their way through the corridor, guided by the staff, and headed towards the court.

 

"I ran into Lin Yi Yang outside," Su Wei, aware of Yin Guo and Lin Yi Yang's relationship, quietly shared in Chinese, "Did you know? A couple of days ago, a reporter in Washington released news that he might not participate in local nine-ball tournaments anymore." Su Wei sounded regretful.

 

"Yeah, he mentioned it briefly," Yin Guo replied, "After all, one has limited energy."

 

Lin Yi Yang's unique playing style earned him countless honors over the past year and introduced a fresh technique and attitude to this niche community, attracting many new fans to the nine-ball pool.

 

His announcement of leaving at the pinnacle of his career undoubtedly became an important news story, with online fans responding passionately, trying to persuade him to stay. Among the responses, certain individuals failed to understand his decision and expressed their strong disagreement. However, many well-wishers eagerly anticipated his return, yearning to witness his breathtaking performances on the grand stage.

 

Since Lin Yiyang does not maintain public social media accounts, the comments were left solely under news articles. Yin Guo briefly skimmed through them, driven by the discussions among some billiards enthusiasts in her circle of classmates. Intrigued, Zheng Yi dedicated an entire evening to observing the comments. By the end of her effort, reading the heartfelt messages from fans left her heartbroken, prompting her to offer a candid assessment, "Honestly, your man can be quite ruthless."

 

...

 

As Yin Guo and Su Wei chatted, they moved through the corridor.

 

The noise from the stands caused the entering female players to pause, and Yin Guo looked up as well.

 

Her entrance point was right at the southern end of the stands, blocking her view and forcing her to wait for the crowd to move forward. However, she clearly heard someone calling "Lin."

 

Soon, he appeared amidst a crowd of enthusiastic fans.

 

Lin Yi Yang, dressed entirely in black with dark red sneakers and donning a black baseball cap for a bit of discretion, was easily recognizable by his hardcore fans. Despite his attempt at a low profile, his presence in local tournaments and Yin Guo's international participation attracted real, local fan support...

 

Requests for photos and autographs abounded, but most were content with a handshake.

 

The southern stands buzzed with chants of "Lin, Lin," drawing attention from all spectators.

 

Seeing Lin Yi Yang interact with fans for the first time, Yin Guo watched with fresh eyes, mimicking a little fan girl as she tried to get a better view.

 

Among the crowd, Sun Zhou was the first to spot Yin Guo. He exerted effort to navigate through the throng and tapped Lin Yi Yang's arm, shouting, "Sister-in-law is down there. Look below!"

 

As Lin Yi Yang looked down, he saw Yin Guo waving at him from the arena, stirring his heart and prompting a deeper look, attracting the attention of fans to her as well.

 

Yin Guo was momentarily stunned.

 

Su Wei quickly pulled her away, "Want to get exposed today?"

 

"No," she blushed, "It's just my first time seeing him interact with the local fans here. It's amusing."

 

"Amusing, huh?" Su Wei teased with a smile, "Who was it that insisted on showing me their WeChat conversation, claiming there was nothing between them?"

 

"At that time... there really was nothing."

 

Su Wei looked unconvinced, leaving Yin Guo at a loss for words.

 

Soon, she was led to her own billiard table.

 

There were twenty minutes left before the match.

 

On a small table beside her, the staff had politely placed two glass cups, indicating they were for Yin Guo's use. She smiled and thanked them, took out her thermos, and poured in some hot juice, preparing to drink it during the match breaks.

 

The thermos was set aside.

 

She sneakily glanced at the spectator stands to see how he was doing.

 

The fans in the south stand gradually calmed down, and Lin Yi Yang finally made his way to his seat. Not only Sun Zhou but a few students from his billiard hall were accompanying him. He was quietly discussing the hall's matters with Sun Zhou, half of his face obscured by the brim of his hat, trying to blend in as an ordinary spectator.

 

However, the enthusiasm of the fans caught the attention of the director.

 

Since the primary source of income for such events was from selling broadcast rights, the presence of a star player like him was something the director wouldn't overlook.

 

"To all our viewers watching the live broadcast, my colleague has informed me that we have a VIP guest at today's tournament. Please turn the camera to our Lin."

 

Suddenly, the corner where Lin Yi Yang was seated was magnified on the big screen.

 

Sun Zhou was startled and nudged Lin Yi Yang with his shoulder, signaling he was on a live broadcast.

 

Lin Yi Yang was also surprised.

 

"Lin, won't you greet everyone?" the commentator asked with a laugh.

 

In the camera, Lin Yi Yang's eyes were not very clear, obscured by the brim of his hat. He politely raised his right hand, greeting the spectators in the other three stands and those watching the live broadcast.

 

The applause that erupted lasted for a full half-minute.

 

A staff member took the opportunity to run over and offer him a microphone.

 

Lin Yi Yang waved his hand, declining it.

 

But clearly, no one was willing to let him off: "Lin, are you here today to see off an old friend on the court?"

 

Another female commentator picked up the conversation: "The male players on the court today have almost all crossed paths with him. They must all be regretting not being able to face him in the US Open—"

 

The female commentator suddenly stopped, and after three seconds of silence, she laughed joyfully: "Barry just posted on Facebook—thanking Lin for not signing up for the Open, saying no player wanted to face him, not at all."

 

Everyone laughed.

 

Amidst the laughter, the female commentator's voice grew louder, and she excitedly read the text on her phone. "Barry posted another message—We must find the recording of last year's Open, the final match of the women's group. We will uncover a shocking secret."

 

Yin Guo's grip on her glass tightened.

 

She knew what they were talking about...

 

In less than half a minute, amid the anticipation and restlessness of the audience, an old clip appeared on the big screen—

The girl who had just won her match put down her cue and ran towards the south stand in the first moment after the match. In the clip, all that could be seen were three Asian men in the stands, and last year's commentator explained: "There are two Asian male players in the stands. It seems our female player wants to celebrate with a high five."

 

The commentator at the time believed it to be true and did not focus the camera.

 

But today, upon rewatching, everyone recognized the one Asian man who was unknown last year as Lin Yi Yang.

 

No close-up was necessary; the fans would not mistake him, even if only a silhouette was shown.

 

It was unclear who started applauding and whistling first, but the entire venue erupted into applause, whistles, laughter, and continuous calls of Lin, making the event unprecedentedly lively.

 

Su Wei also laughed non-stop, pushing her from behind. She knew more than the audience and, naturally, was more excited.

 

Yin Guo turned around, pushing Su Wei's hand away, but her palms were already sweaty.

 

She had never imagined being the center of such attention. It was terrifying.

 

Amid the lively noise, the commentator directed attention to the female protagonist of the incident: "The girl in the replay is now sitting among us in the stadium, about to face her semifinal today. In her group match the day before yesterday, she pulled off a miraculous comeback, defeating the champion of the previous Open."

 

The camera split the screen.

 

One half was focused on her.

 

"The camera is on you," Su Wei reminded her.

 

Yin Guo reflexively lowered her hand, trying to maintain the image of a champion seed player.

 

Her complexion betrayed her; an Asian girl's skin is naturally fair, and now her cheeks were bright red, her eyes full of tears, clearly overwhelmed by the attention.

 

"So, Lin, who were you here for last year?" the commentator threw a direct question.

 

In the other half of the screen, Lin Yi Yang laughed when asked.

 

"Hard to answer? Then let's change the question," the female commentator continued smiling, "Who are you here for today?"

 

Knowing he could no longer evade, he proactively reached out to a staff member for a microphone.

 

Amid the applause and laughter around him, he held the sleek black microphone. After a moment of silence, he slowly began: "Since it's all been seen," his voice echoed throughout the stadium, "do I still need to answer?"

 

Applause and uproar rose to a new climax.

 

"Of course, we'd like you to say it," the commentator responded, not to be outdone.

 

In the frame.

 

Lin Yi Yang switched the microphone from his left hand to his right, looking towards the field, gazing at her distant figure.

 

Yin Guo held her right wrist with her left hand, holding her breath, unable to guess what Lin Yi Yang was thinking.

 

Her cousin had been bypassing the firewall at home these past few days to show their grandmother her match live. Therefore, the answer Lin Yi Yang gave at this moment, today, would surely be known by her family.

 

She was waiting, along with everyone else.

 

Lin Yi Yang, on camera, slowly switched the microphone to his other hand again, his gaze always on her in the middle of the field.

 

Because the stands were high and the field was low, he appeared to be looking down in the broadcast, making it impossible for anyone to see his expression.

 

"Last year, I caught sight of her in a small bar nearby. Though I didn't enter, I gazed at her through the glass window for about three or four minutes," Lin Yiyang's voice resonated throughout the stadium. "But she had no idea."

 

An unusual silence accompanied his words.

 

"At that moment, I thought, I must get to know this girl. I wanted to go in and offer her a drink, to get her contact information that evening. I was very clear that I wanted to pursue her, yet I didn't know how to express it. She was so beautiful, I was afraid I'd mess it up."

 

A few seconds of silence followed.

 

He continued, "Believe me, I was really afraid I'd mess it up."

 

This was the stadium where he had won many honors, surrounded by his local fans. Yet here he was, openly admitting his caution and excitement at that time, without any pretense...

 

Yin Guo's eyes were filled with tears, her lips trembling slightly. She tried to bite them but was unable to.

 

"So, you've succeeded today," the commentator said with a laugh.

 

"I hope so," Lin Yi Yang laughed too, looking up at the live broadcast screen, where half was himself, and the other half was Yin Guo, tears filling her eyes, "I believe I will succeed."

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