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During the Snowstorm

2.1

The World Under the Snow

55

Lin Yi Yang was intimately familiar with the area, his feet leading him through the streets with practiced ease. The bustling sounds of the city faded into the background as he honed in on his destination. Before he knew it, the quaint little shop came into view, nestled between two larger buildings.

 

Stepping inside, he was greeted by the warm, rich aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans. The store was simple, yet inviting, with a spacious open floor plan. A glass counter, housing a range of products, stood to the right, while the checkout counter occupied the same area. To the left, shelves lined the wall, showcasing locally sourced products. The ambiance mingled with the scent of jute bags filled to the brim with rich, dark coffee beans. Each bag was adorned with a white label, written by hand, detailing the coffee's name, origin, and flavor.

 

At the moment, the store was relatively quiet, with only a young couple occupying the space. They whispered excitedly to each other as they examined the coffee beans, pointing out the names, origins, and flavors written on the white wall above the bags. The girl picked up a bean, placed it in her boyfriend's mouth, and watched intently as he savored the flavor.

 

Lin Yi Yang approached Yin Guo, his eyes fixed on her as he picked up two coffee beans and placed them in her palm. "Go on, give it a try," he said, gently gesturing towards her mouth.

 

With a small nod, Yin Guo bit into the bean, savoring the rich and complex flavors as she chewed. But the intensity of Lin Yi Yang's gaze made her feel increasingly uneasy, and she found herself slowing down her chewing. As if he could sense her discomfort, Lin Yi Yang shifted his gaze and picked up two sweet and sour berries, offering them to Yin Guo with a gentle smile.

 

Yin Guo took the berries from Lin Yi Yang's hand and held them in her palm but decided it wouldn't be wise to try them again this time.

 

As the young couple made their way out of the store, only three customers remained within its walls. Yin Guo and Lin Yinyang lingered near the rows of coffee beans, while her cousin busied himself with selecting gifts from the last shelf.

 

Feeling out of her element, Yin Guo struggled to savor the flavor of the coffee beans she had tried. The remnants of the beans lay in her palm, crumpled into a ball of tissue.

 

Her awkward moment did not go unnoticed. The man standing next to her, observing her actions, pointed discreetly to a small corner on the left side of the counter, indicating where the trash can was located.

 

Yin Guo threw away the tissue ball and heard the man beside her ask, "What does your friend want?"

 

There was an overwhelming option. She was about to research the pronunciation of the names and ask the store clerk for help when Lin Yi Yang beat her to it, asking the clerk himself.

 

Pointing to several bags of coffee beans, Lin Yi Yang engaged the clerk in conversation with a friendly smile. Yin Guo listened intently as the two chatted, her ears picking up snippets of information about the beans' origins and the fact that they were selling well in the store.

 

Soon as they approached the checkout counter, Lin Yi Yang's hand went to his wrist checking the time on his watch. Yin Guo noticed the gesture of urgency and kindly offered, "If you're in a hurry, go ahead. I've already bought what I need."

 

Throughout their time together, she had noticed Lin Yi Yang repeatedly glancing at his watch, as though he were counting down the minutes. He had clearly rushed to meet her, skipping lunch, and hastening through his coffee and sandwich. Though he hadn't voiced it, the urgency in his manner hinted that he had come all the way from Washington.

 

"Maybe we can catch up again when you have more time?" he suggested, his eyes flicking back to his watch.

 

Yin Guo nodded in agreement, as Lin Yi Yang reluctantly said his goodbyes and made his way out of the store.

 

Lin Yi Yang stepped outside, the door to the coffee shop closing behind him with a quiet hiss. Ying Guo watched through the glass as he strode across the street, his long legs eating up the pavement with purpose. He didn't bother hailing a taxi, instead opting to head towards the nearby subway station, his destination unknown.

 

The sight of him walking away brought back memories of the night they first met. She could picture it as vividly as if it had happened just yesterday. Lin Yi Yang's friend, with glasses perched on his nose, escorted them onto their ride, their luggage carefully packed and stored. And then, later, settling the bill at the bar.

 

Through the double panes of glass, from the bus window and the bar, Yin Guo watched as Lin Yi Yang drained the remainder of his drink, scribbled his signature on the check, donned his winter hat, and stepped out into the crisp night air.

As he made his way across the snowy road, the wind whipped up the freshly fallen snowflakes, encasing the cars and pedestrians in a white veil that quickly dissipated. Lin Yi Yang quickened his pace, sprinting a few steps before darting across the street and making his way towards the waiting bus.

 

The driver turned to him, his expression questioning. "Where to?"

 

"Queens," replied Lin Yi Yang.

 

The driver's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "In this weather? You're sure you want to take the long way?"

 

"Yes," he said firmly. "Let's take the long way."

 

....

 

"Sis?" Her younger cousin returned with the souvenirs, and a look of surprise washed over his face as he noticed Lin Yi Yang was nowhere to be seen. "Did he leave?"

 

Ying Guo nodded, reaching for her wallet to pay the bill. "Yeah, he was in a hurry."

 

She held onto two coffee beans, the rough texture digging into her palm as she debated whether to return them to the burlap bag. However, the thought of someone picking them up and trying them without knowing where it went made her uneasy. It wouldn't be sanitary.

 

With nowhere else to dispose of them, she tucked the two coffee beans into the small pocket within her book bag.

 

After the coffee-buying adventure, Yin Guo and her cousin went their separate ways. Meng Xiaotian continued to explore the vicinity, while she headed straight back to the hotel.

 

She retrieved her cue stick from the room, gathered her phone, wallet, and keycard in a small bag, and made her way to the ball room. The last time she had visited America, she had enrolled in the youth group of the American 9-ball Open tournament.

 

This wasn't her first time in America. The previous year, she had participated in the youth group of the American 9-ball open tournament. These youth and junior divisions were more about nurturing emerging talent, offering prizes without official world ranking points. Despite the registration and travel costs hardly covering the prize money, she remained undeterred. This year, she took a bold step and registered for the professional group.

 

This marked her debut in professional competition, and she was grateful to have a familiar face around. Su Wei, a Singaporean girl she had met during last year's youth competition, was also competing in the professional group. Su Wei had even suggested the ballroom where they could train together for a mere $15 in the afternoon.

 

The reason they chose this American ball room is that they can observe many local American world champions training and occasionally participate in small competitions, making it a fun and informative experience.

 

Before leaving, Yin Guo checked the weather forecast, which warned of a cold wave and local snowfall. As she stepped out of the coffee shop, the sun was shining, and it appeared to be a beautiful day. However, by the time she arrived at the ballroom door, the sky had already darkened, even though it was not yet three o'clock.

 

As she entered the room, someone from a corner of the billiards room called out her name, "Yin Guo." Su Wei pointed in the direction with her eyes and sat quietly on a billiards chair. She was watching Barry, an American local champion currently observing his opponent play. "Yesterday, you said you want to meet someone in person, and today, she's here," Su Wei said, smiling and greeting Barry in English. "This is my friend I just talked about, Xiaoguo"

 

Yin Guo approached Barry and greeted him with a warm smile. The seasoned billiards player was in his mid-40s, exuding maturity and friendliness as he struck up a conversation with the young woman.

 

The billiards room was filled with men, except for their table, where the only female players were Su Wei and Yin Guo. The two blonde girls at the nearby table were simply there to flirt, while Su Wei and Yin Guo were both competing. Su Wei was of mixed heritage, standing tall and striking with her unique features, while the two local girls flaunted their long legs and ample bosoms. But among the four women in the room, Yin Guo was the petite, youngest player.

 

She remembered the first time she walked into the billiards room, the attendant had asked if she was registering for the under-14 competition. But over time, no one asked that question anymore. Her skills spoke for themselves, and although she was not on par with the regional champions and celebrities who frequent the room, she held her own and proved to be a formidable opponent.

 

In billiards, one's true character shines through. And on the billiards table, age is just a number.

 

Perhaps the only age restriction in place is for the tournament sign-ups. The upper age limit ensured fairness in competition, with those over fourteen unable to participate in the youth group and those over twenty-one unable to participate in the young adult group. Despite this, Meng Xiaotian's older brother, Meng Xiaodong, had managed to compete in the professional group at the young age of fourteen.

 

Yin Guo had arrived late due to an afternoon tea, but was determined to make the most of her time and extend her stay in the ball room until eight o'clock. Unfortunately, plans can change quickly and just after six, Barry had gathered his things and was eager to invite Sue and Yin Guo out for dinner at Flushing, a popular gathering place for Asians known as New Chinatown. Since it was quite far, she had never been there before.

 

Sue's boyfriend lived in Flushing, so when she went there, she could stay with him, avoiding the inconvenience of having to return late at night and deal with any potential hassles and safety concerns. "Listen, in Flushing, my boyfriend has a Chinese restaurant that serves delicious Sichuan cuisine. Their boiled beef is to die for."

 

The prospect of a hot bowl of Sichuan boiled beef was too tempting for her. She had been craving authentic Chinese food for days, and the thought of delicious, boiled beef had her salivating. Nonetheless, no matter how delicious it may seem, there's no reason for her to go so late. She can always visit the area tomorrow.

 

Barry saw that she was still hesitating and whispered to Su Wei. Su Wei then leaned towards Yin Guo and found another reason to tempt her, "And on top of that, because of the open tournament, there is a party tonight and you'll get to see many professional players from all over the world. You can see them ahead of time."

 

Yin Guo's eyes lit up at the thought of the opportunity. "I must go then," she said excitedly.

 

She made a swift decision, confirming their location with Meng Xiaotian through WeChat. She instructed him to grab his cue stick, toss it into his backpack, and follow them.

 

The journey was lengthy, but upon arriving at the Chinese restaurant, they were greeted by the mouthwatering aroma of Sichuan cuisine. However, as soon as they sat down, Su Wei had barely begun ordering when Barry's phone rang with several urgent calls, beckoning him to the billiard ball room.

 

They reluctantly left their hopes of savoring the renowned boiled beef behind and settled for a quick plate of fried rice. After quickly devouring their meal, they paid the bill and hastened to their next destination. The location of the night's party was a Chinese billiards room, owned by a former famous snooker player from China.

 

As they approached the entrance of the billiards room, the sounds of laughter and chatter grew louder. A group of men were gathered near the garbage cans, smoking, and talking amongst themselves. One of them noticed Barry and called out, tossing his cigarette to the ground. "Hey man, come quick! There's a good show happening inside!" he exclaimed, pointing towards the glass door of the billiards room.

 

Barry pushed open the door, and he and his companion stepped into the room. The space was expansive, with billiard tables arranged in neat rows from the entrance all the way to the far end of the room. Most of the tables were a forest green, with a few blue ones scattered in the interior. There was ample room between each table, with roughly two meters of cue space. Water-brown billiard chairs were placed on either side of the tables.

 

As they made their way further into the room, they soon realized that the attention of the entire room was focused on one blue billiard table in the corner. The games at the other tables had been left unfinished as everyone had crowded around the match, chatting, and laughing amongst themselves. The excitement was palpable, as the room was alive with the buzz of anticipation.

 

Barry bellowed, "Hey man, who's playing?"

 

A voice in the crowd replied, "It's the regional champion playing for a three grand bet."

 

Eagerly, Barry asked, "Who is it?"

 

The other person answered with a clear description. Barry let out a joyous laugh as he put down his backpack and cue, eagerly pushing his way into the throng of spectators. He was clearly a well-known player in the local scene.

 

Yin Guo had only just put down her cue case and hadn't even taken off her hat from her down jacket yet, when she caught a glimpse of the player through a gap in the crowd. She whispered to herself, "Is that him?"

 

As Yin Guo made her way through the crowded room, she couldn't help but feel a sense of familiarity with the person standing by the billiard table. Despite the bustling atmosphere and the sea of unfamiliar faces, something about the black hair and hooded sweatshirt was all too recognizable. She had seen that same outfit just earlier that day when she met with the person.

 

As she got closer, she could see that the person had their sleeves rolled up to the elbows, revealing toned arms. It was then that she caught a glimpse of the back of their head and her heart skipped a beat. Could it be?

 

Just then, she felt a strong hand push her forward and she found herself at the front of the crowd. It was Barry, her friend, who had shoved two of his buddies aside to give her a clear view. He was laughing, clearly in a good mood. The game hadn't even started yet, but the excitement in the air was intense.

 

He stood before the billiard table, expertly dusting talcum powder on the head of his cue. The blue powder was twirled in his hand and applied drop by drop, evenly covering the surface with a seasoned touch. He spoke up to the unfamiliar faces in the crowd, his voice confident and in control.

 

"Today's betting limit is set at five thousand dollars," he announced in English. "I only raised three thousand, so anyone here who wants to bet for me is welcome to do so at any time."

 

It was him, no doubt about it. She recognized the voice that told her about the stories of fallen literati earlier that afternoon. But now, it was different. The tone, the content, the entire persona exuded a relaxed, confident demeanor, as if he was certain he could win this game, and those present could place their bets with the assurance of steady gains.

 

The talcum powder was carefully placed on the edge of the billiard table, and he turned his head. His gaze locked onto her, and she knew without a doubt that it was really him.

 

Yin Guo watched as Lin Yi Yang came alive as soon as he stepped up to the billiards table. His movements were smooth, confident, and full of energy. He held the cue with a steady hand and moved it slowly to line up his shot. The two balls he had picked up from the table were now placed on their starting positions, ready for the game to begin.

 

Lin Yi Yang's challenge to his opponent was bold and confident. His words echoed through the room, "Come on, let me see your skills." It was as if he was saying that the regional champion was no match for him. The room was filled with a sense of anticipation as everyone eagerly awaited the start of the match.

 

Despite not having eaten dinner and not being in a great mood, he seemed to have transformed into a different person as soon as he stepped up to the billiards table.

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