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During the Snowstorm

2.2

The World Under the Snow

33

While Yin Guo observed the game, she realized that Lin Yi Yang was playing 9-ball, her specialty.

 

Su Wei leaned in and whispered to Yin Guo, "He's an amateur. Barry said he's challenging a regional champion here."

 

Yin Guo gave a small nod, realizing that Lin Yi Yang was indeed an amateur player. Su Wei continued relaying what Barry was saying, "The regional champion has already won three games in this billiards room. It's his lucky place. And Barry thinks that three thousand dollars is too much to bet on this game."

 

Yin Guo remained quiet, not knowing the amount of money that was being wagered on the game.

 

Three thousand dollars was a substantial amount.

 

Lin Yi Yang held an orange ball and passed a yellow ball to his opponent. Yin Guo knew that they were about to compete for the serve. The two players walked to one side of the table, each placing their ball on the service line.

 

The room fell silent; Yin Guo and Su Wei stopped their hushed conversation. They both knew that in 9-ball, the serve was crucial and whoever got it would have a greater advantage in the game. The rules were straightforward: both players had to hit their ball from the service line simultaneously, and whoever's ball stopped closest to their own side after both balls hit the opposite ball bank and rebounded back would win the serve.

 

In the stillness, two soft thuds echoed as the balls rolled out, leaving a straight trail on the blue billiards table as they hit the opposite cushion evenly and rebounded back. The speed of the two balls gradually decreased until they came to a stop.

 

Yin Guo watched in awe as Lin Yi Yang's orange ball inched ahead of the yellow ball belonging to the regional champion. Her heart raced as she waited for the outcome, and she couldn't help but hold her breath as the balls came to a stop.

 

With a resounding thud, Lin Yi Yang's ball came to a halt just a hair's breadth away from the edge of the table, perfectly aligned with the ball bank. The yellow ball, on the other hand, was just a mere centimeter behind.

 

Yin Guo let out a sigh of relief, it was clear that Lin Yi Yang had won the serve.

 

"Who's going to be the referee?" Lin Yi Yang confidently picked up the white ball and placed it on the cue line.

 

Barry, who was cheering Lin Yi Yang on from the sidelines, eagerly offered to do the honors, "I will, I'll do it."

 

He was originally there for the regional champion, but after watching Lin Yi Yang's impressive shot, his excitement only grew. As a referee, he was there to ensure fairness, but he couldn't help but question whether Lin Yi Yang's shot was just beginner's luck.

 

A long light hung low over the pool table, casting a soft white glow on the blue felt surface. The light was so low that it only illuminated the area below Barry's waist as he swiftly arranged the balls into a neat diamond shape.

 

He grabbed some green chalk and rubbed it onto the tip of his cue.

 

Leaning over the pool table, Lin Yi Yang's eyes were locked on the white ball. With precision, he lined up his cue and shot. The satisfying thud echoed as the ball dropped into the pocket. In one fluid motion, Lin Yi Yang circled the billiard table to the right, already lining up his next shot. Another ball fell into the pocket with a satisfying clack. Quickly moving to the next position, Lin Yi Yang shot again, the smooth arc of the cue, the steady hand, and the precise aim all coming together to send another ball into its designated pocket.

 

Is this a fast shot?

 

In the high-stakes world of professional billiards, few players take risks with fast shots. Stability and accuracy are crucial when careers and world rankings are on the line. However, in the local pool halls, you might encounter an expert who prioritizes speed and style, yet still achieves perfection in their positioning and aim.

 

The faster you move, the more accurate you need to be.

 

As Lin Yi Yang stood at the pool table, his eyes locked onto the 9-ball, the final obstacle between him and victory. The rules of 9-ball were clear: only the lowest numbered ball could be hit. One by one, he methodically knocked each ball into the pockets, his precision never wavering. The tension in the room rose as he approached the final stretch, with only the 7, 8, and 9 balls remaining.

 

In one fluid motion, he lined up his shot, striking the 7-ball with the cue ball and sending it careening into the 9-ball. The two balls dropped into the pocket, eliciting a burst of applause from the onlookers. It was a thing of beauty, a testament to Lin Yi Yang's mastery of the game. And in 9-ball, the winner was whoever could sink the 9-ball. Lin Yi Yang had done just that.

 

He had won, with a clean sweep of the table.

 

She stood there, watching as Lin Yi Yang turned and reached for the chalk, preparing for the next round.

 

In official matches, each shot was crucial, requiring focus and precision. Chalking the cue was a ritual, helping to steady the nerves and steel the mind for the next shot.

 

But tonight was different. It was a performance, a show of skill and grace.

 

"It's not too late folks!" Barry's voice, tinged with excitement, called out in English, a wide grin on his face. "Let's raise the stakes! We've got fifteen rounds left. Don't miss out on the fun!"

 

The room erupted with laughter as money started exchanging hands, bets being made.

 

Lin Yi Yang's first round had left everyone in awe, even the regional champion. He may have been the reigning champion in this hall and the region, but tonight was shaping up to be a match unlike any other.

 

...

 

Su Wei couldn't help but whisper in awe, "He really looks professional."

 

As Lin Yi Yang continued to play, his shots became faster and more fluid. With each shot, the balls fell into the pockets effortlessly, as if guided by an unseen hand. He didn't pause to aim; his movements were smooth and seamless. This was the first time Yin Guo had seen someone play fast balls up close, and the sight was breathtaking.

 

In the tenth inning, everyone's eyes were fixed on the table as Lin Yi Yang took his shot and the 9-ball fell into the pocket with a satisfying thud.

 

Lin Yi Yang straightened his tall frame, his face a picture of quiet satisfaction. Even without completing the full 15 innings, he had already won the bet for the night with a flawless performance. The perfect ending to a truly remarkable show.

 

The regional champion, who had been observing the final round intently from his seat on the billiards chair, stood up and approached Lin Yi Yang with a smile. Despite his defeat, he was filled with excitement at having encountered a worthy adversary.

 

"It was an honor," Lin Yi Yang replied as he firmly shook the champion's outstretched hand, all the while gracefully holding onto his cue stick with the other.

 

"Young man," the champion said, giving Lin Yi Yang's arm a friendly pat, "will you be competing in this year's American Open? Have you already signed up?"

 

Lin Yi Yang chuckled and shook his head. He returned the cue stick to its place on the rack.

 

Unlike the professional players who came with their own personal cues, Lin Yi Yang was betting such a large amount but relied on the public cue provided by the billiards room.

 

The room owner giggled, handing him a towel and a cup of hot water, which Lin Yi Yang had requested just before the final round because of his thirst. He took a small sip and quenched his dry throat. The intense focus and energy he had exerted during the game had taken a toll on his body, leaving him severely dehydrated. After drinking half the cup, he lifted his head, his gaze finally meeting Yin Guo's, and a warm smile appeared on his face.

 

"Hi," he greeted her, as if just noticing her presence.

 

Yin Guo was taken aback by Lin Yi Yang's sudden greeting. She nervously replied with a small wave, "Hi." She could feel her cheeks flush, as she wasn't quite sure what to make of the interaction.

 

Lin Yi Yang's voice was hoarse, betraying the nervous energy he had been holding in while watching the game. He cleared his throat, trying to find his footing.

 

Su Wei was surprised at the exchange and asked, "Do you know each other?"

 

The regional champion, who had just lost the game, chimed in, "Are you friends?"

 

Lin Yi Yang, with a serious expression, looked at Yin Guo and spoke to the crowd in English, "We just met, but I really hope she considers me a friend."

 

"Of course," Yin Guo admitted with a hint of embarrassment, her sincere tone and upright attitude catching everyone's attention. "We have always been friends."

 

Lin Yi Yang couldn't help but grin at her seriousness, switching back to Chinese with a lighthearted tone: "Just kidding, don't take it seriously."

 

Yin Guo let out a soft laugh, also switching back to Chinese: "I thought I recognized the wrong person at first."

 

Lin Yi Yang let out a chuckle and didn't say anything else, but his good mood was evident as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a half-sticky note. He handed it to the regional champion and explained that it was a classmate's account and that the bet they lost could be transferred to this account.

 

The regional champion gratefully accepted the offer, and with a broad grin, he proclaimed that he would save up for their next match.

 

"Unfortunately, there won't be a next time," Lin Yi Yang said with a touch of finality in his tone.

 

His opponent just grinned and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder, "Well, you know you're always welcome here."

 

With that, the crowd began to disperse, each person eager to get back to their own game. The hum of the room returned to its previous buzz as players resumed their battles on the felt. Lin Yi Yang and the others were left in the quiet corner of the room.

 

Yin Guo made the introduction, "Su Wei, this is Lin Yi Yang." Lin Yi Yang gave a nod of recognition.

 

Lin Yi Yang summoned the waiter with a flick of his wrist, leaning in to whisper something. In a matter of moments, two drinks were placed in front of them. Lin Yi Yang handed one each to Yin Guo and Su Wei, who both thanked him before Su Wei was pulled away by Barry for a game.

 

As Su Wei walked away, she couldn't help but turn back and give another round of thanks before being completely absorbed in her game.

 

Yin Guo was now left alone, sipping on her drink through a straw as she took a seat beside Lin Yi Yang at the billiards table. She leaned back on the billiards chair, her feet resting on the crossbar, as she watched the players at the next table.

 

Lin Yi Yang, who had been focused on his own game, suddenly realized that he was alone. He looked over at Yin Guo and offered a warm smile.

 

Lin Yi Yang leaned against the pool table, playing with a white ball as the room settled into a peaceful quiet. This was the first time the two were alone, without the presence of Meng Xiaotian.

 

Lin Yi Yang picked up the white ball and placed it on the starting line. "How did you end up here?" he asked, referring to the distance between the billiards room and Yin Guo's hotel.

 

"Barry, who you were just talking to, brought me," Yin Guo replied, "I heard there were a lot of contestants here tonight, so I came to take a look. Actually, I signed up for the US Open," she added.

 

Lin Yi Yang nodded in understanding. He had a hunch that the pair of cousins were here for the US Open, given that he spotted a cue stick box in the corner of the bar on their first day there. It was only logical that a custom cue stick would be present during a snowstorm for the purpose of the tournament. He initially thought that the cue stick belonged to the younger cousin.

 

Yin Guo sipped her drink through a straw, her thoughts swirling with questions she felt hesitant to ask.

 

Lin Yi Yang took the billiard balls out of the bag and arranged them in a diamond shape on the table. She thought he was getting ready to start a new game, but he simply tidied up the table before retrieving his warm coat from the chair.

 

"Does your friend, Su Wei, live at the same hotel as you?" Lin Yi Yang asked, glancing in Su Wei's direction.

 

Su Wei was bent over, focusing on the ball she wanted to hit, at a nearby table by the door.

 

"No, not in the same hotel, but it's not too far away," she replied, "But she's staying in Flushing tonight, at her boyfriend's house. I think I'll have to find a way back by myself."

 

Lin Yi Yang, who had already put on his warm coat and zipped it up, said, "I'll give you a ride."

 

"Really? Are you sure it's not out of your way?" asked Su Wei, surprised.

 

It's definitely out of the way. The first night when they hailed a taxi to drop off the cousin at the hotel, they had to take the long road to Queens.

 

"As a man, it doesn't matter how late I get home," Lin Yi Yang glanced at the wall clock, "but it's different for you."

 

It's getting late and a friend warned her that in New York, a girl shouldn't go out alone at night, especially if you're not in Manhattan. And knowing that Yin Guo has to practice at the billiards room until dark every day, her friend also reminded her to have Meng Xiaotian pick her up every day.

 

"But it's too far from the hotel, and I don't want to impose on you," Yin Guo said, looking concerned.

 

Lin Yi Yang jokingly said, "Don't worry, I won't sell you."

 

"No, it's not that," Yin Guo quickly replied, "I just don't want to trouble you."

 

"It's no trouble at all," Lin Yi Yang assured her, "it's a man's responsibility to send a girl home safely."

 

Lin Yi Yang gestured towards the billiards chairs, where Yin Guo's clothes and bags were stacked, signaling her to get ready to leave. He picked up the cue bucket and strode over to the front desk to settle the bill with the manager.

 

As per tradition, the winner of the game was responsible for paying the rental fee for the table.

 

Yin Guo quickly returned her cup to the bar and went over to say goodbye to Su Wei. She quickly put on her down jacket, picked up her bag, and followed Lin Yi Yang out the door.

 

Within minutes, the snow was already falling heavily outside.

 

"Hold on a sec, let me call for a ride," Yin Guo fished out his phone from his down jacket pocket.

 

"You've been here for a while now, why not try taking the subway?" Lin Yi Yang suggested.

 

"I tried that last year and ended up taking the wrong train multiple times. I was so lost I don't dare take it again," Yin Guo admitted with a hint of frustration.

 

She was well aware that the hotel's entrance was just steps away from the subway, but the thought of navigating the trains filled her with anxiety. The subway system in this city has been in operation for hundreds of years and boasts a rich history. However, many of its carriages have seen better days and are in a state of disrepair. Yin Guo isn't bothered by the dirt, but the lack of electronic display screens in the subway carriages is what worries her. The station names aren't in her native language, so she has to listen attentively to make sure she doesn't miss her stop.

 

The biggest problem is that, in these old carriages, the station loudspeakers are often broken, making it difficult for passengers to know when their stop is approaching. This can be especially challenging for Yin Guo who, on two separate occasions, found herself on subway trains without electronic displays or functioning loudspeakers. To make matters worse, she even encountered a subway malfunction that caused her train to stop every four stations, leaving her feeling like she was being taken away on a black car.

 

In the midst of the swirling snowflakes, Lin Yi Yang let out a laugh. He grabbed Yin Guo's phone, pointed at her hat and said, "Put it on, we need to walk three blocks to reach the subway station. It'll take about fifteen minutes. Follow me, I won't let you get lost."

 

With that, he slung Yin Guo's billiards cue stick bag over his shoulder and ventured into the blizzard.

 

Yin Guo pulled on her hat, following close behind, her hand firmly tucked in her pocket to avoid the bitter cold. Her boots left fresh footprints in the freshly fallen snow, trailing behind Lin Yi Yang's footsteps. Lin Yi Yang, who was used to walking at a quick pace, slowed down as he noticed the petite boots keeping up with him. He had never before altered his speed for anyone, but tonight, he found himself doing just that.

 

As the pace slowed, Yin Guo let out a sigh of relief. They walked in silence for five minutes, the only sounds being the crunching of snow under their feet. The silence was a bit awkward, so Yin Guo searched for something to talk about.

 

"Are you into billiards betting?" she initiated the conversation.

 

"Sometimes," Lin Yi Yang replied.

 

"Are the stakes usually this high? Is it common for such big bets here?" Yin Guo inquired, still astonished by the hefty sum she had heard earlier."Nah," Lin Yi Yang shook his head. "One of my classmates bet and lost a hefty sum. He was too ashamed to show his face, so he begged me for help for weeks."

 

As they walked and chatted, they arrived at an intersection. A red light signal meant they had to stop and wait for the green.

Lin Yi Yang turned to Yin Guo, noticing her sudden silence. "What's on your mind?"

 

"Just thinking," Yin Guo replied. "Your friend must be really close to you if he needed your help that urgently."

 

"To make a trip from Washington to Far Rockaway, New York, he must be quite important," she added, and Lin Yi Yang nodded in agreement.

 

"Nah, it's just because I wanted to take someone out for a meal, but I didn't have the cash to do it," he replied, noticing the light turning green. He gently placed his hand on the back of her waist, guiding her across the road. "Think of it as a trade-off."

 

As they walked, Yin Guo considered his words. She realized that Lin Yi Yang truly loved treating others to meals, even if it meant making a long journey.

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