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During the Snowstorm

12.2

Dusty Pride

73

They looked at each other, with Yin Guo's brows furrowed in fear.


"Take your time," he said, placing his right hand behind her head, speaking softly, "I'll go outside for a smoke."


He guessed that waiting by the door might pressure her even more, so it would be better to step outside.


Once outside, he patted his trouser pocket, finding it empty.


Claiming he was going out to smoke without actually bringing anything to smoke with. He randomly chose a dorm, knocked on the next door, pushed it open, and asked the group of shirtless men lounging inside, "Got a cigarette?"


The room was filled with men who had just finished training, some watching blockbuster movies on their computers, others viewing lewd content. Dirty clothes scattered everywhere. "Yeah," one of them quickly responded, handing over a cigarette and lighter.


"Watching this stuff in broad daylight, aren't you afraid of weakening your kidneys?" Lin Yi Yang joked, nodding towards the computer in the corner.


"Come on, Brother Six, don't judge us single guys just because you're in a relationship," someone protested.


Lin Yi Yang left amid their teasing, closing the door behind him.


Stepping outside, he intended to light the cigarette but felt too distracted to follow through. Clutching the cigarette between his fingers, he didn't bother to smoke; instead, he watched the traffic flow by.


Tired of standing, he sat on the steps, and only then did he notice ash falling onto his shoe. He considered lighting another cigarette when suddenly, arms wrapped around him from behind.


It was like reaching the peak of a roller coaster, slowly hanging at the apex.


He froze, even forgetting to smoke.


"Negative," the girl's voice, laden with relief, whispered in his ear, "Negative." She then asked anxiously, "So it's all good, right?"


This roller coaster of life had circled around, soaring and diving unexpectedly, before abruptly reaching its end.


Or rather, it came to a sudden stop.


The initial rush of emotion that reached his throat was forcibly pulled back, leaving an indescribable feeling.


Disappointment? Yes, but not much. Relief? More so.


He had been preparing mentally on how to apologize profusely to her family, to endure any scolding or punishment, and even how to convince his parents to let him marry her. Clearly, it wasn't going to be an easy hurdle.


Turning such a potentially joyous event into something so complicated made him feel sorry for the young girl.


Fortunately, it didn't come to that.


Lin Yi Yang stubbed out the cigarette back into the pack and snapped it shut.


He let out a gentle sigh, smiling.


He turned around and touched her face: "Are you happy now?"

He smiled, too, after feeling her smile.


Yin Guo, turning to look at him, teased, "It seems you're quite happy to know it's negative, aren't you?"


"Of course." Naturally, he preferred things to proceed step by step.


"Then why did you say you'd be very happy if it's positive?" Yin Guo couldn't help but laugh.


"Being happy about that was also true," he said, smiling without feeling any conflict.


He sat there and thought back to when he was twenty-two. He had just graduated from college with a decent job that didn't satisfy him, contemplating another effort to earn more and study further.


If he had paused his life that year, there wouldn't be a Lin Yi Yang as known today.


The paths he had taken, the worlds he had seen, and the friends he had made would all be entirely different. He wouldn't have the ease in facing the media, the calm before international broadcasts, the composure and broad vision of a man who could shoulder Dongxin City.


He would just be an ordinary middle-aged man who once won a national championship.


He would never be content to stop at twenty-two.


And Yin Guo, who was far more remarkable than before, has even greater potential for greatness.


Having children could wait; she was still young.


But marriage needed to be scheduled, perhaps after the Asian Games? That would be about right.


When you love someone, of course, you want to give them the best, including following the steps, winning over the parents, planning a proposal sincere enough to be repeated seventy or eighty times if necessary, as long as she's happy.


Unaware of Lin Yi Yang's considerations about marriage, Yin Guo wrapped her arms around his neck, pondering if the old man was beginning to speak in contradictions. Given his age, he probably wanted children, right?


Resting her chin on his shoulder, she felt that the hug felt different after their recent scare...


When someone entered the dorm building and saw Lin Yi Yang, they casually mentioned, "Brother Six, you're here? Cheng Yan was looking for you earlier and said it was about discussing the Asian Games registration."


Lin Yi Yang acknowledged.


Yin Guo nudged his shoulder with her chin, wanting to say something but hesitating, not wanting to seem petty or irrational...


Lin Yi Yang had been nothing but open and honest.


Yet, she remembered how Cheng Yan looked at Lin Yi Yang the last time they met on the stairs... It's unsettling when outsiders covet the "cabbage" in your own garden, no matter how many fences you build.


Feeling her alternating between rubbing her face and chin against his back, Lin Yi Yang found it amusing. "She's the deputy captain of the nine-ball team," he explained as he put the lighter back in the cigarette pack for her, "It's unavoidable."


"I didn't say anything," she defended playfully.


She was suddenly lifted off the ground, her legs dangling as Lin Yi Yang hoisted her onto his back. His height meant she almost bumped her head against the door frame.


"There are so many people," she struggled, panicking, "Put me down quickly!"


"Are you jealous?" Lin Yi Yang pointed out, walking back along the corridor, "I'm giving you a sense of security."


It was a busy time in the dormitory.


He did it on purpose.


At the staircase, several girls from the nine-ball team stopped in surprise.


The man who had just been passing messages to Cheng Yan, now being stopped by a junior sister to discuss official matters, noticed Lin Yi Yang carrying Yin Guo back to the dorm and immediately followed with concern: "Did sister-in-law hurt her foot? Should we call the team doctor?"


"No need," Lin Yi Yang said seriously, "She's mad at me; I'm just trying to cheer her up."


...


The men were all thinking: Damn, the old rascal is different...

And the women: I want someone like Uncle Six too...


It was meant to tease her.


But carrying her from the entrance to their dorm ignited a fire within him, fueled by her initial struggles and eventual resignation. They hadn't seen each other for two weeks, and their last intimate moment was in a New York apartment.


Entering the room, he tossed her onto the soft quilt and turned on the air conditioner.


His hands busied themselves with her shirt while pulling out a small box from the bedside drawer. After securing a package under the pillow, he pressed down on her, kissing her.


Yin Guo's shirt was pulled open, and she felt a desire for him as well.


Her heart raced, but her feelings for him deepened after that turmoil. In those few seconds of waiting for the result, she even thought that marrying him wouldn't be so bad.


His caresses made her also feel hot. She wanted him, truly: "Watch the time... it'll be a traffic jam later."


Before him, her cheeks blushed faintly. Still shy after all their encounters, she hardly made a sound, except for the low, husky breaths during their most intense moments right by his ear, under his chin.


...


Later, without noticing, she hit her head against the headboard. Thinking he hadn't noticed, but when she hit her head again, she found his warm palm cushioning the blow.


"Does it hurt?" he asked, his voice husky and breathy.


It was just a moment, a simple gesture.


Yin Guo felt emotionally emptied by it. Suddenly overwhelmed, her eyes reddened, and she bit his arm.


She couldn't understand why such a small action made her emotions uncontrollable. It was a minor detail, yet it seemed to show his constant attention and care, instinctive and thoughtful...


Seeing the redness in her eyes, Lin Yi Yang chuckled lowly by her ear, "Not hard enough, try again."


Before she could respond, he silenced her with a kiss.


Now, in mid-May, especially today, it was unusually hot.


Yet, Lin Yi Yang dressed in the long-sleeved shirt and trousers prepared the night before, aiming to make an excellent first impression on her family, trying to be as presentable as possible.


He parked in Yin Guo's family's slot in the residential complex's underground garage, attracting the attention of a curious and enthusiastic neighboring uncle before they even got out of the car.


After parking and locking the car, Lin Yi Yang felt the neighbor's gaze. He adjusted his shirt collar and, carrying a few bags of gifts, nodded politely to the neighbors greeting Yin Guo.


"Is this your boyfriend?" the neighbor asked with a smile.


"Yes," Yin Guo, already nervous from the scrutiny, felt her palms sweat before even leaving the garage.


She led him upstairs, turned left, swiped a card, and entered the elevator, whispering, "I forgot to tell you, my mom has a meeting at the bureau tonight; she won't make dinner."


Lin Yi Yang nodded.


"The Asian Games are coming up, and the bureau is busy," she added, "but she specifically mentioned waiting for her. She wants to see you when she gets back."


He nodded again: "Okay."


Both focused on a notice about gas pipe maintenance between the elevator doors, reading intently. Yin Guo was far more nervous than him, feeling the thrill of bringing her boyfriend home for the first time.


...


Upon arriving home, Meng Xiaodong had arrived first, already having tea with Yin Guo's father.


Clearly, Meng Xiaodong came specifically to ease the atmosphere for Lin Yi Yang's introduction, smoothing over the initial awkwardness. Lin Yi Yang, after setting down the gifts and politely greeting them, shook hands with Yin Guo's father.


Yin Guo's father was favorably impressed at first glance.


Having not seen Lin Yi Yang compete, his impression of him was still based on a suspension for throwing a cue in anger. However, upon Lin Yi Yang's entrance, his posture and gaze indicated the young man's education and personal cultivation were of a high standard.


"Your teacher often mentions you, and I've been on the phone with Yin Guo's mom," Yin Guo's father directed him to the sofa, "Life is full of ups and downs; one must be open-minded. Sit."


With Meng Xiaodong facilitating, Lin Yi Yang was served tea, and the conversation flowed easily.


Starting with the reforms at Dongxin City, Yin Guo's father, having once been passionate about making real changes in his sports association, related deeply to Lin Yi Yang's experiences with opposition. The conversation bridged the gap between generations, finding common ground.


The discussion was so engaging they continued talking through dinner, with Yin Guo's elder sister, Wu Tong, coldly observing until then, serving rice to their grandmother and gently suggesting, "Dad, the guest is here. Let's eat."


"Yes, yes, let's have the guest eat first," the grandmother also chimed in, smiling warmly at Lin Yi Yang, "Little Lin, thank you for taking care of Little Tian in the United States. Tian Tian grew up beside me. His mother passed away early. The boy is naive and not as worldly as Xiaodong. You must have had a hard time."


"Grandma, it's what I should do," Lin Yi Yang said, "Without Yin Guo, Xiaodong and I have been friends for many years."


"Yes," Meng Xiaodong added, "Friends since childhood."


Wu Tong glanced at Meng Xiaodong and served some dishes for the grandmother but remained silent.


After dinner, Yin Guo's father, still having engagements, expressed his wish for Lin Yi Yang to visit again when he was free and then left. Yin Guo went upstairs with her grandmother. Meanwhile, Meng Xiaodong received a call from Yin Guo's mother and stepped out to the balcony to take it.


In the living room, only the sister remained.


She sat opposite Lin Yi Yang.


"Were you from No. 7 Middle School?" Yin Guo's sister suddenly spoke, "We've met before."


Lin Yi Yang glanced at her: "When I first heard your name, it did sound familiar. Yan Fu's girlfriend?"


Wu Tong felt like someone had touched a sore spot in her heart, a foolish teenage affair she didn't even understand why she entered, not even a liking: "I haven't been in contact with him for a long time."


Lin Yi Yang nodded and then returned to watching sports news.

With that, the exchange and reminiscing came to an end.


He indeed had a certain aura, somewhat oppressive, not giving face to those he didn't care to engage with.


In New York, Xiaotian mentioned a few times how Little Guo was bullied by her sister when they were younger, leaving him with a poor impression. No need to be overly polite. Moreover, he and that "Yan Fu" were just friends of friends, their only meeting at a small billiard hall near Drum Tower and a barbecue shop, barely speaking, no old acquaintances to catch up with.


Yin Guo came down from upstairs and immediately became anxious upon seeing her sister sitting near Lin Yi Yang, protectively calling out: "Lin Yi Yang."


Lin Yi Yang looked up, watching her hurry down the stairs, desperately waving and signaling to him: "Come to the kitchen, help me with the fruit platter. My mom will be home soon."


Lin Yi Yang smiled, thinking, I'm a grown man. Do you really think I can be bullied? Do you think everyone is like you, a little fool who can't create an argument?


He followed Yin Guo into the kitchen.


Wu Tong remained seated on the sofa, picking up the remote control and intending to change the channel but didn't, lost in thought about her teenage self during the sports news broadcast.


She and Yin Guo attended the same key high school, while No. 7 Middle School was known for its delinquency closest to their school. Yet, it produced a student praised by the district, invited to give presentations and play exhibition matches. That day, on the steps in front of the key high school's auditorium, a slim, tall boy not wearing their uniform stood out, with a buzz cut, in a white shirt and No. 7 Middle School trousers, attracting the gaze of girls from almost every classroom.


At thirteen, winning a national championship and directly securing a spot in a key high school. Terrible at studies but overly confident.


Lin Yi Yang of No. 7 Middle School, how many girls had harbored a crush, scribbling his name on draft papers and inside their school uniforms, even Lin Yi Yang himself wouldn't know...


Yin Guo was busy preparing fruit in the kitchen.


Lin Yi Yang, having had a great conversation with Yin Guo's father, was in a good mood, knowing he had cleared any potential barriers. Seeing her busy, he wanted to tease her, so he patted her head, leaned in, and in a voice, only she could hear, jokingly asked: Did it hurt this afternoon when you bumped your head?


Yin Guo blushed, elbowing him away.


Suddenly, there was a knock on the open kitchen door.


Both turned to see Yin Guo's mother, just returned home.


"Xiao (Little) Lin, sorry for keeping you waiting so late," Yin Guo's mother could see the unmistakable atmosphere of young love between them, "Come upstairs. Let's talk more leisurely. Xiaodong, you too, all of you come to the study room with me."

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