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During the Snowstorm

12.4

Dusty Pride

55

That night, Lin Yi Yang and Meng Xiaodong stood side by side outside Yin Guo's house, both feeling the surrealness of the moment they had just experienced.


Lin Yi Yang offered him a cigarette, something Meng Xiaodong hadn't touched in ages, but feeling unusually happy today, he accepted it.


As they locked the door, Yin Guo rushed out and embraced Lin Yi Yang from behind.


She was so ecstatic that she felt like she could fly.


"Thank you, bro," she didn't forget to thank Meng Xiaodong, the big benefactor in this situation, "for convincing Tian Tian to come back."


"For Tian Tian's part, he should thank himself," Meng Xiaodong pointed to Lin Yi Yang, "You handled my little brother well; you have great skills." He had convinced his brother, Tian Tian, to come back and help Lin Yi Yang win over his family.


Meng Xiaotian didn't hesitate; he packed his bags and returned to spend a whole week convincing their grandmother. After finishing his cigarette, Meng Xiaodong left on his own.


Yin Guo watched Meng Xiaodong's car disappear and then turned her attention to Lin Yi Yang. "My brother never smokes," she remarked.


Lin Yi Yang patted her head, finding her innocence endearing. "Your brother wears a mask when he's around you, of course."


"Let me take you somewhere," he motioned to her, leading Yin Guo away from the fountain in the residential area and down a small path towards a small gate at the back.


Yin Guo walked slowly, feeling the night breeze as she noticed he was half a step ahead of her. Watching his back, she couldn't help but wonder how she ended up with such a precious person.


He fulfilled all her expectations of a man, even surpassing everything she had ever imagined.


There was no one else around them.


Seeing her walking slowly, he turned back, thinking she might have sprained her foot. "What are you doing?" he asked, smiling at her under the moonlight and streetlamp.


He reached out and held her arm.


Sliding down, he found her hand and held it tightly.


"You're really familiar with my neighborhood..." she remarked.


"On your birthday, I walked around here," he said with a warm smile.


It was that night when he first came back to China to see her on her birthday. After a brief meeting at the hotel, he drove her back to the community entrance and watched her enter. Then, he exited the car and walked around the outer wall, entering through the northwest side gate.


Lin Yi Yang's former home didn't have property rights; it was a rented place belonging to the factory's housing. Rows of old buildings were closely connected in the community, with small flower beds no more than half a meter wide, but there were no flowers planted. The dry soil had flower pots and the belongings of the first-floor residents scattered around.


In contrast, the neighborhood where Yin Guo's home was located was secluded and elegant. Half of the community was filled with tall trees and shrubs, and the roads between the buildings were wide. That night, he wandered around, reminding himself that this was the place where Yin Guo had lived since she was little.


It was the result of her parents' efforts for most of their lives, creating such a living environment for her.


And in the future, with him, she could only have a better life, not a worse one.


Yin Guo noticed Lin Yi Yang unbuttoning his cuff and rolling up his sleeves. "You've wanted to undo this all night, haven't you?" she remarked.


Lin Yi Yang smiled.


In reality, it wasn't a big deal. Tonight was too important, and he didn't have time to worry about these minor details.


The two of them exited through the small gate, crossed the white stone bridge, and walked towards the other side of the river.


At first, Yin Guo thought he was reluctant to leave and wanted to wander around. When they arrived outside the motorcycle shop, the owner warmly greeted them. Still not fully present, Yin Guo asked, "You bought a motorcycle?"


"More than just buying," the owner smiled when he saw Yin Guo. "Take a look at this."


Yin Guo followed Lin Yi Yang behind the shop counter.


The owner brought out a small white helmet, exquisitely designed and clearly custom-made.


Yin Guo had never ridden on a man's motorcycle in her life, but now she had a helmet even before owning the motorcycle. She picked it up, examining it from all angles with excitement. She tried it on and ran to the mirror on the right side of the shop, looking at herself from the front and back, asking him repeatedly if it looked good.


Lin Yi Yang tilted his head, signaling her to follow him outside.


Yin Guo took off the helmet, held it in her arms, and followed him, already certain that Lin Yi Yang wanted to take her for a ride.


In the late night, almost eleven o'clock, there were no streetlights on this small road and no pedestrians.


All the shops on this row were dark, except for this one, with light shining through the windows, illuminating the outside space. Looking at the dim surroundings, Yin Guo thought of suggesting that they go for the ride tomorrow since it was too late and it was dangerous without streetlights.


However, she didn't want to dampen Lin Yi Yang's excitement.

Suddenly, he raised his hand and pointed to a tree on the side of the road in the distance.


Yin Guo followed his gaze but saw nothing.


A passing taxi's headlights confirmed her suspicion—there was nothing there.


Yin Guo's eyes widened as Lin Yi Yang used his finger to hook a string of stainless steel ornaments, waving them in front of her. He had just been teasing her, but now he was serious about giving her something.


It was a string of red cherries, swaying in his palm, and under the lights, each cherry sparkled with a metallic sheen.

Below the ornaments was a key, a door key.


......


She recognized this key.


When they were renting the apartment, Wu Wei collected it from the previous tenant and helped the landlord give it to her and her cousin. Later, when Yin Guo moved out, she left the key directly to Lin Yi Yang.


Upon seeing the key, she was puzzled for a few seconds, and a guess came to her mind. He wouldn't have impulsively bought this apartment, would he? No way.


"When are we going, and when are we moving in?" Lin Yi Yang confirmed her guess.


"Did you really buy it?"


He didn't deny it. "I bought it in a hurry, but I didn't have enough for the full payment, so I took out a loan. But by the end of this year, I should have paid off most of it."


But there was still one thing he hadn't said.


Once the loan was paid off, he could give the apartment to her. It was originally meant as a gift for her.


"No, no..." Yin Guo was almost incoherent, "You don't live there; isn't it a waste of money?"


Yin Guo looked at him, and he was smiling. He held her hand and placed the key with the pendant in her palm.


The unspoken words in his mind were:


Since the moment she dragged her suitcase down the stairs from the New York apartment, hesitatingly looking back at the laundry room, and from the time she got into the taxi and kept flipping through pictures of the laundry room, he had this plan. After graduating and getting a good job, the first thing he did was save money to buy an apartment in that building. Ideally, it would be the same one she had lived in, but if not, it had to be in the same building.


Yin Guo knew that this was definitely not something he bought today or after returning to China. She guessed he had been saving money for this since he started playing his first match. Sometimes, she couldn't quite figure him out. His thoughts jumped quickly, and he was so open-minded that he often spoke and acted unexpectedly.


But when it came to her, he was just a big fool, and there was no need to guess.


Clutching the key, Yin Guo was still trying to come to terms with this fact. "You... You really know how to make money. You even bought an apartment here first. Who buys a place they won't live in first?"


Lin Yi Yang smiled, his hand resting on her waist. "Here?"


His dark eyes drew closer. "Are you talking about our future home?"


......


"Who said anything about buying a wedding house?" Just entering the house, and he's already talking about a wedding house? It's like a giant leap forward.


"If I don't buy it, who will?" He chuckled, "Would it be suitable if you buy it?"


Being rebutted by him sentence by sentence, Yin Guo had no room to argue back at all. Feeling flustered, she blurted out, "I'm not discussing marriage..." Wait, why does it sound even more twisted now? "I never said anything about getting married."


"Not getting married? Then why did you bring me home?"


......


The shop owner was inside, wiping the motorcycle, and he couldn't help but eavesdrop on the conversation between the two of them. He found it amusing, like listening to a comedic skit, and couldn't figure out what this young man did for a living. He appeared carefree and extravagant, seemingly a second-generation rich playboy but surprisingly devoted to his girlfriend. Especially after seeing the true face of this young girlfriend tonight and observing their interaction, they looked like student lovers or at least had been together since their student days.


Usually, when a boyfriend buys a house, the girlfriend will just be happy about it. Everyone is independent, and giving a key is about sharing love space. But Lin Yi Yang was different. Yin Guo understood him well. For someone with his personality, getting him to buy a car would be easy, but buying a house carried a special significance, a profound meaning. That key symbolized "returning" something to her, preserving the memories of their early days together and starting anew.


They couldn't bear to part ways as they returned to the underground parking garage in the residential complex. Standing by his car, with one inside and the other outside the open driver's door, they didn't want to separate.


She tightly held a few of his fingers, shook them lightly, and whispered, "Congratulations, Captain Lin."


Lin Yi Yang smiled, placing his index finger on his lips, signaling her to come closer for something more intimate. Glancing around to ensure no one was nearby, she stepped forward, and he wrapped his arms around her waist.


Without waiting for her to make a move, he lowered his head and kissed her. Their lips met first, then their tongues, and after a moment, he moved to plant a kiss on her forehead. His warm breath, separated by her bangs, pressed against her forehead.

After a while, he chuckled softly and said, "I really want to take you back with me."


He didn't want to let her go.


As they got out of the elevator, she was reaching for her house keys when suddenly, the sound of a WeChat message notification rang.


"Weren't we driving just now? Why is he sending me a message?"


She turned the key to unlock the door, silently pushing open the heavy reddish-brown security door. By the entrance, she saw the message he had sent:


Lin: 30 days of happiness.


30 days?


Seeing this precise calculation of the days, she was taken aback.


First kiss, first night? They were both too far away. His return to the country? That was over two months ago.


She suddenly thought of the most fitting timing— the day they first met in person.


She only remembered it was about a month ago, but she didn't count it so meticulously. He, a grown man... could actually pay attention to such details?


Lin Yi Yang's car had been parked on the small road outside the residential complex's garage for a while. He opened the car window and looked at the deserted street at eleven o'clock at night.


There were streetlights but no pedestrians. There were shops, but no lights.


In other words, at this time, on this small road, he was the only person with a car. He noticed it had started to rain, and raindrops were hitting the car window.


Lin Yi Yang watched through the car window as the raindrops formed streaks on the glass, gradually washing away the entire windshield. He turned on the wipers to clear the water out.


Suddenly, he felt a sense of trance. What kind of day was this? It seemed like he had been waiting for this day since he left Dongxincheng over a decade ago.


The closed training for the Asian Games will last for seventy days. This is also the first time Yin Guo will train together with players from various disciplines in the field of billiards. In other words, it's her first opportunity to train alongside Lin Yi Yang.


Yin Guo came with several senior sisters from Beijing.


Although each event can only have two slots for participation, all the players from each event's national team will participate in the training together. After all, the opportunity to gather the best players from various disciplines is rare, and it also provides a chance to nurture new talent.


Yin Guo changed into her training attire in the female athletes' dormitory and tied her long hair in front of the mirror. She briefly thought about sending a message to Lin Yi Yang to ask what he was doing, but then she realized she would see him very soon, so she decided to leave a little surprise.


Meeting him during the national team training was something she had never thought of before.


The small auditorium at the training camp was filled with many athletes. The coaches sat in the front row while the athletes scattered around, some chatting with familiar faces and others smiling shyly as newcomers.


As soon as Yin Guo entered the room, her senior sisters from Beijing pulled her to join their group. Meng Xiaodong and Li Qingyan were in the front row, with several boys and girls behind them. On the other side, the athletes from Dongxincheng occupied their space, and the area in the middle was left for new athletes and those participating in individual events.


This arrangement wasn't a deliberate club-based grouping; it simply allowed people from the same place to be more at ease with each other and engage in easy conversation.


......


Suddenly, someone clapped their hands, signaling for silence; the head coach had arrived.


He was a man in his fifties, previously in charge of the snooker program, whom Yin Guo hadn't seen much before. Walking by his side, wearing the national team sportswear, was Lin Yi Yang, who stood a full head taller than the head coach.


The head coach walked to the center of the room, smiling at the gathered athletes, and spoke with a warm tone, "Welcome, everyone! I see many new faces here; for some of you, I'm also a new one."


His words elicited a round of laughter.


"This marks the first meeting of our billiards and snooker team for the Asian Games after many years. I had the opportunity to participate in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou as well. It's a pleasure to see all the players from various billiards disciplines gathered here for this joint training," the head coach continued with a smile.


Meng Xiaodong, who was familiar with the coach, led the applause, and the rest of the room followed suit, clapping in unison.


"Let's keep it simple. I am the head coach of the national billiards and snooker team for this year, Zhou Bin," the head coach said, giving Lin Yi Yang a gesture to introduce himself.


Lin Yi Yang raised his eyes, scanning the coaches in the first row of the small auditorium, and then turned his gaze to the rows of players behind them. With confidence in his voice, he introduced himself, "Hello, everyone. I am Lin Yi Yang, the captain of this year's national billiards and snooker team."


No unnecessary words, no elaborate self-introduction. His reputation preceded him, and everyone present was well aware of his achievements. His registration covered all five events for men, and his resume spoke for itself.


In her eyes, Yin Guo saw the formidable opponent, a person described, remembered, regretted, and defeated by every competitor, including Meng Xiaodong and Lin Yi Yang himself, on the competition field.


At that moment, Yin Guo felt the return of Lin Yi Yang, who once dominated the competition, now fully present and ready for the challenge ahead.

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