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During the Snowstorm

13.6

Voice of Youth

35

Within the sports arena, the three most resolute men coincidentally seized a ten-minute breather.


They all converged upon the spectator seats in unison.


This was the same after the China Open, when Lin Yiyang disappeared and nobody could find him. Without needing to guess, Jiang Yang led a group of younger players from Dongxin City to the spectator seats and caught him red-handed.


A habit fostered during their teenage years.


Lin Yi Yang settled into a well-situated chair, Jiang Yang nestled beside him, and Meng Xiaodong occupied the outermost edge.


Amidst the empty space of the sports arena, the cheers dissipated, and the applause waned, vanishing like fleeting echoes.


Lin Yi Yang finally shed the constricting shirt and short sleeves that had encumbered him, donning sports pants and a short-sleeved shirt. His right arm remained cautiously still while his left arm found solace on the chair's backrest. His gaze rested upon the illuminated pool table. "I envy you all for never straying."


Life offers only one golden age. Regret is a futile companion—once it's already gone.


Meng Xiaodong offered a faint smile, his gaze following Lin Yi Yang's. "Yet, I envy your natural talent. I've harbored jealousy since our youth."


Meng Xiaodong, who had sailed through life with ease from a tender age, learned the true essence of "defeat" from Lin Yi Yang.


Jiang Yang removed his glasses, his eyes feeling dry and uneasy after a day spent wearing contact lenses during the matches. Leaning his face on one hand, he also directed his gaze toward the pool table. "Why do we have two prodigies complimenting each other?"


In this domain, those gifted with talent secure championships at twelve or thirteen. Jiang Yang, however, only entered the scene at fourteen—an enduring source of regret. He and Lin Yi Yang had become disciples the same year, yet Lin Yi Yang clinched a national championship a year ahead.


Despite his unwavering dedication, Jiang Yang was often viewed as a "hardworking and determined" player with limited natural ability, only seizing his first championship at the age of eighteen.


"What's been happening to you all these years?" Jiang Yang inquired of Lin Yi Yang, "Do those old injuries still linger?"


"Is there an athlete out there without injuries?" he retorted. "Count yours, and I'll bet my injuries will not be fewer."


Tens of thousands of repetitive motions, day in and day out—eventually, even machines give in. We're all in the same boat, facing the same reality.


Meng Xiaodong cast a fleeting glance at the duo.


Jiang Yang and Meng Xiaodong had squared off for years, affording them an unparalleled understanding of one another. "What's your point?"


"At the end of the year before last, I went through surgery as well," Meng Xiaodong disclosed, a secret only his father had been privy to.


"I was curious why you disappeared for a year of isolation abroad," Jiang Yang finally grasped, the pieces falling into place as he comprehended the reason behind Meng Xiaodong's inconsistent performance. "Evidently, the first son's responsibilitis are larger than life."


Meng Xiaodong met Jiang Yang's gaze in silence. Yes, being a sibling isn't always a walk in the park.


......


Indeed, Jiang Yang could still exert tight pressure on Meng Xiaodong. Nothing had changed.


The arena's personnel started making their way onto the field, methodically extinguishing the lights one by one. The surroundings grew dimmer, yet the moonlight and external illumination appeared even more brilliant.


With the final light snuffed out, they finally spotted the trio gesturing below, signaling it was time to depart. The announcer motioned toward the billiard hall's exit and boomed, "Your fans are still waiting outside."


Jiang Yang grinned in agreement and gave Lin Yi Yang a reassuring pat on the back. "Let's head out."


Meng Xiaodong and Jiang Yang made their way toward the stands' exit.


As for Lin Yi Yang, he chose a different route, descending from the opposite side of the stairs into the arena. He lacked the strength to clamber over the railing today, so he simply leaped down from the stands. Nonetheless, he followed his usual path, proceeding from the arena toward the backstage area.


"Why do you always pass through the center?" This mystery had perplexed Meng Xiaodong for years.


"He wants to connect with the billiard table. He does it every time after a match." Each athlete has a unique way of commemorating victory, but Lin Yi Yang doesn't have one. At most, he just waves his hand, and that's that.


His celebration comes post-match when the crowd has dispersed. He strolls through the arena, bidding his farewell to the billiard table.


......


Emerging from the arena's shadow, Lin Yi Yang brushed his fingers along the edge of the billiard table, lost in a moment of contemplation. Beyond this realm lay lights, fans, and his fellow competitors from bygone years.


Yet here, his mind wandered back to the backstage oasis of his thirteenth year.


The younger ones clustered on the outermost row, by the wardrobe near the door, taking a respite.


Jiang Yang reigned as the previous year's champion, encircled by a retinue in the rest area. Even before his arrival, Meng Xiaodong bore the title of Beijing's young prodigy, a subject of ceaseless discussion. And then there was Lin Yi Yang, seated in a corner chair, sans dress shirt or slacks, his cue untouched and conversations ignored—a nameless youngster.


That day saw Fan Wencong and Wu Wei present, with Chen An'an still in her early years, not yet poised for competition.


Wearing small glasses, Wu Wei sat back-to-back with Lin Yi Yang, their study books resting on their laps as they delved into their exercises. Just as Fan Wencong barged into the rest area, brandishing a borrowed cue from a referee, he hollered, "Behold, my Golden Cudgel has descended! Where's the Buddha? And the Heavenly Soldiers and Generals?"

All eyes turned towards him.


Doesn't he fear making a fool of himself? Jiang Yang mused.

Is this how folks from Donxincheng behave? Meng Xiaodong pondered.


...Lin Yi Yang couldn't be bothered to entertain it.


The echoes of the youthful voices, whether in laughter or uproar, still resonated.


In that very tournament, he had been the one who marched through legions, who strode across heaven and earth, who stumbled and was pinned beneath the weight of the Five-Finger Mountain, and who, after enduring endless trials and tribulations, had returned here.


Without exception, every ounce of glory in this world must traverse countless trials.


The Chinese team remained in place in the backstage area, joined by several groups from other countries. The fervent fans outside were being kept at bay by organizers concerned about potential crowd issues. They decided to wait until the fans had dispersed before allowing anyone to leave.


For those hailing from cities without regular open competitions, this could be their only chance to glimpse numerous Asian sports stars. As a result, no one was eager to leave. With the matches concluded and access to WiFi, everyone seemed engrossed in watching movies, playing games, and scrolling through social media.


Upon spotting Lin Yi Yang, the team doctor reprimanded him in hushed tones and guided him to sit on a couch in the rest area, cautioning him to remain still and not roam around.


Although Lin Yi Yang scanned the area, the person he sought was nowhere in sight.


His phone vibrated, almost as if it had sensed his thoughts.

A friend request notification from Yin Guo appeared - "Lin Yiguo."


Lin Yi Yang couldn't help but chuckle.


That girl had quite the imagination...


Suspecting it to be Yin Guo's secondary account, he accepted the request.


Lin Yi Guo: Check out my Moments.


Seated on the couch, Lin Yi Yang opened the Moments section of the alternate account.


His thumb glided over the screen, and he had a moment of hesitation before coming to a halt. Each word that appeared before his eyes seemed like a lure, beckoning him to pause and read.


It was a tale of their long-distance relationship, and fortunately, he persevered until the very first post.


Day 1, an image of an airplane ticket to return home.


"Zheng Yi gave me a shot and mentioned how none of the long-distance relationships she knows have worked out. Are we going to be the exception?"


Zheng Yi? Oh, her closest friend.


Day 2.


"What's keeping you busy?"


Lin Yi Yang glanced at the timestamp. What else could he be doing... except sleeping.


Day 3.


"I'm thinking of paying him a visit. Zheng Yi thinks I might be out of my mind."


I should really meet this best friend of hers. Does she ever say anything positive?


......


He realized that these brief diary entries were worth revisiting again and again.


And then, there's a gap.


Day 60.


"He called me today, and a woman's voice was in the background, chattering away with a heavy accent. I couldn't make out much. When I asked him who she was, he said he didn't know. Was she just someone looking for a one-night stand???"


Lin Yi Yang recalled that the girl had straightforwardly asked him if he wanted to come over to her place to drink and spend the night together. Yin Guo had asked him about it, and he just told the truth because he was holding the phone then, assuming she could hear too. He didn't have any intention of hiding it.


Day 61.


"Today, I tried a few probing sentences, but he didn't want to say much... signs of a breakup..."


This is really a misunderstanding. That day was a party, and the girl gave up when she saw he wasn't interested. Later, she had fun with someone else. Someone had tampered with her drink, and Lin Yi Yang dropped a hint to a classmate. The classmate negotiated with the individuals who spiked the drink for a while and ensured the girl's safety. He didn't think there was much to discuss about it, so how did it turn into a sign of a breakup?


Lin Yi Yang gazed at this date for a moment, finding it a period of three months filled with turmoil and uncertainty.


Day 62.


"Today, on video, he was shirtless, showing me his tattoos. Problem resolved."


... Resolving a problem seems surprisingly straightforward.

Lin Yi Yang's fingers casually scrolled the screen, searching for the days around her birthday.


After their shower, she playfully shooed him away, caught up in the early stages of their relationship. She wasn't ready for him to see her dressing, particularly with the added consideration of dealing with a girl's period.


In the brief window it took her to get ready, Lin Yi Yang had dozed off once again. He had rushed back from the open tournament without a moment's pause. Despite the weight of a lost match dampening his spirits, he had persevered just for the opportunity to be with her. The shower had eased his tension, leaving him to let go of the day's stress, and as he lay against the pillow, his eyelids surrendered to exhaustion.


Before long, a faint sound at the door reached his ears. It appeared she had used her key card to step out briefly and then return. In her hand, she held a bag... In a blink, the bed shifted ever so slightly, and her legs, encased in a woolen skirt, brushed against his fingers, sending a fleeting shiver up his arm.


Her touch carried a comforting warmth as she carefully secured the edge of the plaster with her fingers.


Having just emerged from the shower, he had replaced the old plaster, an observation she hadn't missed. Curiously, she inquired if it was from an earlier injury.


Lin Yi Yang's gaze flicked towards the box, the same kind he always kept in his medical kit since his time in New York. She had seen it before, even making a mental note of it, likely searching for it outside. "I have a better one," she remarked as she worked the ointment between her palms before applying it. "I'll send you a few boxes next time."


His hand traced upward from her calf. "Another victory? At the open tournament?"


Her eyes shimmered with laughter as she gave an affirmative nod.


Meanwhile, he had been on the losing side in that match.

Yin Guo gathered the remaining pieces of the transparent plastic film from the plaster and returned them to the bag. Then, pulling out her phone, she leaned against his left shoulder, a proud smile on her face as she displayed her small collection of winnings: "Care to guess how much I've managed to save up?" Like someone showing off a treasured possession, she showcased her online banking app to him, her finger pointing at several entries. "All these are investments with same-day withdrawals."


"Usually, investments with same-day withdrawals come with lower interest rates. You might want to think about long-term investments," he suggested. She was indeed quite young, and her circumstances didn't demand much – living at home with minimal expenses, no imminent need for a house or a car. Opting for some long-term investment options might be wiser.


"What if you can't handle it in time? Wouldn't that be a hassle?"

Her voice was right beside his face, close and carrying a gentle warmth.


Similar words had been spoken a year ago in a Washington hotel room:


"If you can't manage it in time, just give me a heads-up."


Lin Yi Yang remained silent, his body sinking into the comfort of a white pillow, exhaustion etched on his features. His hand lingered on her waist, the warmth of her soft sweater seeping into his skin. As he traced the fabric, he couldn't help but muse about the beautiful garment, realizing that he hadn't been the one to buy it. He had noticed a pattern since meeting her – her clothes, shoes, bags, and even jewelry, none of which were his gifts. So, what had he used to win her affection? Was it charming words? Unlikely. His appearance? It had lost some of its youthful appeal.


A lavish seafood dinner? A glass of wine? The expenses were relatively minor.


He was deep in thought, contemplating his actions.


Wrapped in his embrace, she found herself admiring the stack of winnings he had amassed over time. However, glancing at the clock revealed it was time to part ways. Tilting her head, she met his gaze, and in response, Lin Yi Yang leaned down to plant a tender kiss on her lips. Their kiss held no burning desire, just a gentle exchange of affection. As they broke apart after a lingering moment, smiles played on their lips.


He had never witnessed her blend of sadness and joy so vividly.


"What's troubling you?" he asked.


"Are you really heading back to your country?" she inquired, her voice tinged with concern.


With a single sentence, the most significant concern lingering in both of their hearts that night came to the forefront - their unease about the future.


He nodded, his hand gently stroking her long hair.


And that was the essence of that night.


Lin Yi Yang couldn't bring himself to continue staring at it, although he would revisit those moments countless times in the future.


With a sigh, he closed the image.


He noticed that on the same day, after returning home, she had posted another entry on her friend circle, a line in English.


"you know, you know I love you so."

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