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During the Snowstorm

2.3

The World Under the Snow

53

As Lin Yi Yang and Yin Guo made their way through the busy street, the sounds of rushing footsteps and the rustling of umbrellas surrounded them. But the two stood out from the crowd, strolling at a leisurely pace as if they had all the time in the world. Lin Yi Yang, familiar with the neighborhood, led the way as they turned left and stepped onto a narrow sidewalk, guiding Yin Guo to his right.

 

On their left was a line of apartment buildings, each with a staircase that descended into the basement. On days like this, when snow covered the steps, they became difficult to see, and one misstep could lead to a dangerous slip. But Lin Yi Yang was mindful of the danger and kept Yin Guo on the right side of the sidewalk while he walked on the left side.

 

Of course, Yin Guo remained clueless about Lin Yi Yang's intentions as they walked.

 

She couldn't help but notice the strange way he walked, alternating between the left and right sides of the sidewalk. She thought this was probably a behavior stemming from some obsessive-compulsive disorder.

 

After another turn, she saw the narrow stairs at the subway entrance.

 

Lin Yi Yang made his way down the steps with ease, leaving behind a trail of wet footprints in his wake. Yin Guo followed close behind, leaving her own print. When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Lin Yi Yang stopped and waited for her, his eyes watching her carefully.

 

Inside the subway station, three homeless men huddled in the corners, finding refuge from the cold in the warm, fluorescent lights of the station. One of them slept soundly beside the ticket machine, with a peaceful expression on his face.

 

Yin Guo fumbled with her credit card, eager to insert it into the vending machine and purchase a ticket. Lin Yi Yang gave her the privacy she needed and politely stepped back two steps away.

 

"Follow me," he said firmly, "the train is here."

 

The subway rumbled into the station, its tracks grating against the concrete as it screeched to a stop. In the chaos of a New York subway during a heavy snowstorm, missing a train was not an option. Lin Yi Yang quickly grabbed Yin Guo's hand and pulled her away from the ticket machine, deftly swiping his subway card through the turnstile.

 

Yin Guo was whisked into the train before she even had a chance to catch a glimpse of the platform. The doors slammed shut behind her, and she was left to survey her surroundings. The train car was old and outdated, with no air conditioning or electronic display screens in sight. She wondered if the loudspeaker even worked. This was not the train she had imagined taking.

 

Yin Guo settled into her seat, and she couldn't help but notice the emptiness of the train car. The only other presence was Lin Yi Yang, who sat beside her. He leaned back against the hard plastic of the bench, with his cue stick case resting by his feet.

"It's just us," she thought, feeling a hint of unease in the stillness of the car. She glanced over at Lin Yi Yang, who appeared unfazed by the solitude. He was so carefree, traveling all the way to Flushing with nothing but his phone, wallet, and a cue stick case that technically belonged to her.

 

The snow remnants from their shoes melted onto the floor, creating small puddles at their feet. Yet, even in the midst of this disheveled state, there was something intriguing about Lin Yi Yang's presence.

 

The train carriage was devoid of connectivity - the silence was only broken by the soft hum of the wheels against the tracks. With no signal and no internet, Yin Guo and Lin Yi Yang were left with nothing but the emptiness of the train car to pass the time. The darkness outside the window was all-consuming, with no glimpse of scenery to distract from the monotony of the journey.

 

Lin Yi Yang was known for his reticent nature, preferring to keep to himself. Over time, Yin Guo became accustomed to this personality aspect. She often plays the role of the lubricant, easing the conversation between them.

 

Breaking the silence, Yin Guo stuttered, "W-we haven't formally been introduced yet."

 

Lin Yi Yang turned his gaze toward her, studying her face intently. With pale skin and a flush of red on her cheeks, Yin Guo had a delicate, youthful appearance. Her small nose and large, almond-shaped eyes were framed by prominent double eyelids, and her tied-up hair accentuated the roundness of her face. Her chin was not sharp, giving her a charming look without a hint of aggressiveness.

 

"How would you like to get to know each other?" Lin Yi Yang fixed his gaze on her.

 

"My name is Yin Guo," she replied.

 

"You already mentioned that in your first WeChat message," Lin Yi Yang reminded her with a hint of amusement.

 

Yin Guo felt a flush of embarrassment. She had momentarily forgotten their prior conversation. "Right, sorry about that. Let's see... my younger cousin and I are in the same grade, senior high school. He probably told you the rest."

 

Both of them were in their second semester of senior year, without any classes due to the required internship period. Yin Guo had aspirations of becoming a professional billiards player, while her younger cousin wanted to study abroad, leading them both to apply for internships in New York.

 

Lin Yi Yang nodded in understanding.

 

After Yin Guo finished speaking, Lin Yi Yang took a moment of silence before he spoke. He asked, "You have seen all my valid documents. What else do you want to know?"

 

His tone was warm. His eyes held a hint of humor but also a slight urgency.

 

All his personal information, such as his nationality, date of birth, and place of birth, are all listed on those documents. He even showed her the magnetic card from his school. The only thing he can think of that's not listed is the major he's studying.

 

"Oh, I wasn't paying close attention that day and didn't see your private information," Yin Guo replied, feeling slightly embarrassed.

 

In truth, all she knew was that Lin Yi Yang was 27, which made him six years older than her.

 

Lin Yi Yang gave her a gentle smile in response.

 

"I finished my undergraduate degree in China, but after a couple of years working, I found myself unsatisfied. That's when I decided to pursue further education in communication, part-time, here in the US. This year marks my last year of study," he leaned back in his chair and explained. "I'm mostly based in DC, but I do come to New York from time to time."

 

He took a moment to think, considering if there was anything else worth mentioning. Ying Guo waited in anticipation.

 

"That's about it," he concluded, "Feel free to ask me any questions you might have."

 

"I have nothing more," she said with a shrug and a smile.

 


 

As they continued to sit side by side, the arrival of the subway train at the station brought Ying Guo's attention to something more pressing. She had been in a rush earlier and failed to send a crucial WeChat message.

 

With the train at a stop, she frantically searched for a signal on her phone, waving it back and forth. She couldn't tell if the weak signal was due to the heavy snow or the notoriously bad network at this particular station. Neither her mobile network nor the station's Wi-Fi seemed to be working.

 

"Can't get it to send?" Lin Yi Yang noticed her frustration.

 

"Yeah, it's been like this," Ying Guo sighed, showing him her phone. "No signal at all."

 

Lin Yi Yang took a quick look.

 

The screen displayed a failed WeChat message she had tried to send earlier.

 

Xiaoguo: Are there any instant noodles in the room? If not, could you bring me a pizza on your way back? The pizza store will probably be closed once I get back.

 

Feeling frustrated, she asked Lin Yi Yang about this, "Is it harder to connect with a domestic phone number?"

 

Lin Yi Yang weighed her question and responded, "It might have a bit of an impact, but you could try waiting until you change trains and send it again once you get off."

 

With a sigh of disappointment, Yin Guo put her phone away. Just then, Lin Yi Yang pulled out his phone and began making a call as the train rumbled through the tunnel. As he ended the call, he turned to her and asked, "Are you hungry?"

 

Surprised, Yin Guo took a moment to respond, then remembered her failed WeChat message. Understanding dawned on her, and she replied, "I'm okay. I can hold out until we reach the hotel. I should be able to grab something there."

 

"Hold on to what?" Lin Yi Yang chuckled, "for some pizza?"

 

Yin Guo pondered for a moment, not sure what to do.

 

"I'm not sure about that. Our hotel is in a pretty remote area, and it's already so late. The only place that sells pizza is the convenience store at the gas station."

 

Lin Yi Yang momentarily paused before saying, "Wu Wei, the guy with glasses from that day, asked me to grab some noodles. Want to join?"

 

"Right now?" Yin Guo hesitated, "Isn't it a bit late for that?" she asked, still unsure.

 

"This stop is just a few stations away," Lin Yi Yang leaned back and glanced at his watch. "Why don't we grab a bite before getting back on the subway?"

 

Yin Guo's stomach grumbled at the thought of food, especially noodles, on a chilly, snowy day. She couldn't resist the comforting image of steaming broth, tender pork, savory seaweed, tangy pickled cabbage, and sweet corn.

 

She weighed her options as she listened to Lin Yi Yang's suggestion. While it was one thing to be hungry herself, she didn't want to be rude and let Lin Yi Yang go hungry, especially while he was taking good care of her. Plus, she was hungry too, so it made more sense to get off the train and solve their hunger rather than settling for dry pizza. With this in mind, she decided to follow Lin Yi Yang and grab a bite to eat.

 

The two of them stepped off the train and made a spontaneous decision to forgo their transfer and take three more stops to indulge in a piping hot bowl of ramen. The prospect of warm broth and savory noodles was too tempting to resist, especially on such a cold and snowy day.

 

As they approached the ramen shop, they saw that a crowd had formed outside, huddled in the snow, eagerly waiting for their turn to savor the delicious food within. Undeterred, Lin Yi Yang and Yin Guo pushed through the crowd and made their way into the basement-converted shop.

 

The moment they stepped inside, the delicious aroma of the ramen hit them, causing their mouths to water. Every table was occupied, and each steaming bowl of ramen was an evidence to the establishment's popularity. The narrow aisle was hot and steamy, making it the perfect choice for that day.

 

Wu Wei greeted them with a smile and a warm wave, inviting them to join him at the table he had secured. Yin Guo, who had met Wu Wei once before, greeted him amiably and went to the bathroom, leaving Lin Yi Yang alone with Wu Wei.

 

Wu Wei's demeanor changed as soon as Yin Guo was out of sight. He leaned in, lowering his voice to a whisper, "You've got some nerve! I've changed my clothes and shampooed my hair, and you're yanking me out here just to hog a spot? All for a bowl of noodles?"

 

Lin Yi Yang simply chuckled, "Come on, let's enjoy the noodles. We're here now, might as well make the most of it."

 

Lin Yi Yang removed his winter clothes, hanging them on the back of the chair. He then approached the owner, greeting him warmly in Japanese. The two engaged in a brief conversation, and Lin ordered a sake.

 

When the owner asked if they were ready to place their order, Lin declined and said they would wait for Yin Guo to return before deciding.

 

Wu Wei couldn't help but ask, "But weren't you in Flushing for a ball game? How did you run into this beautiful girl?"

Lin replied, "We met at the billiard saloon."

 

Wu Wei listened intently as Lin explained the situation in a few more words. It wasn't long before Yin Guo arrived back at the table, just in time to join in on the conversation

.

Wu Wei's expression immediately transformed, putting away his 'watch the show' expression and into a friendly grin as he asked, "So, I heard that you're participating in the open competition as well?"

 


 

"Yes," Yin Guo replied with a smile, settling into the seat across from the two men. "I'm in the women's group."

 

Wu Wei beamed, "I'm also on the list," extending his hand, "Fate, I tell you. Let's shake hands."

 


 

Yin Guo took his hand with a smile and firmly shook it, "Good luck."

 

"When I walked in that day, your younger cousin started talking to me, and I was a little skeptical at first. But then I noticed the cue stick sitting on the box, and I felt a lot comfortable," Wu Wei said with a chuckle, recalling the night of the snowstorm. "I initially thought the cue stick belonged to him, but I never imagined it was yours."

 

As they continued their conversation, Yin Guo realized that her cousin had formed a close bond with them over their shared experiences. Yin Guo's curiosity about Lin Yi Yang was also satisfied by the insightful information Wu Wei imparted.

 

Wu Wei revealed that he was a student at New York University, and it was Lin Yi Yang who had helped him prepare for his studies. Lin Yi Yang had arrived a year before Wu Wei to pursue a three-year master's program, while Wu Wei only needed to study for one year. Despite graduating, Wu Wei had decided to remain in New York, waiting for Lin Yi Yang to finish his studies so they could return to their home country together.

 

"Honestly, I'm just an average 9-ball player. I learned to play when I was younger, but since 9-ball is big in America, I went along with it." Wu Wei said with a grin.

 

He was only being honest.

 

While many Americans have pool tables in their homes and enjoy playing nine-ball, not many are interested in snooker. When Yin Guo stumbled upon Lin Yi Yang in the billiards room, she noticed that there was only one snooker table that wasn't being used. It was a surprise considering the standard billiards rooms had multiple pool tables. Even at professional tournaments, snooker doesn't seem to generate much interest.

 

On the other hand, Yin Guo plays the American pool and considers the American nine-ball open to be of great importance.

However, Wu Wei's words hinted at the fact that he was a professional snooker player who primarily plays English pool. It reminded Yin Guo of her cousin. If Lin Yi Yang is surrounded by professional players, why did he never pursue it as a career?

 

Yin Guo's gaze landed on Lin Yi Yang, who sat quietly with a small semi-transparent blue sake bottle in his hand. He took a couple of sips, and most of the liquid was already gone. Lin Yi Yang appeared indifferent to their conversation, but as soon as Yin Guo looked at him, he nonchalantly pushed the menu toward her. "Order first before you chat," he said with a casual tone.

 

Wu Wei chimed in, agreeing, "Yes, let's order first."

 

As Yin Guo scanned the menu, she couldn't help but marvel at how accessible ramen had become globally. The pictures accompanying each dish made it easy to choose the perfect noodles and sides. She passed the menu over to Lin Yi Yang, but he merely waved his hand and called a server to take their order.

 

Wu Wei and Lin Yi Yang seemed to be frequent patrons of the restaurant, as they ordered without even glancing at the menu. After placing the order, Wu Wei transitioned the conversation to their daily lives in New York and expressed his concern for Yin Guo's housing arrangements.

 

"It's probably still the same hotel," Yin Guo mentioned, "the one I'm currently in."

 

"Renting a hotel for three months can be quite costly," Wu Wei suggested. "Have you considered renting a short-term apartment instead?"

 

"I've thought about it," Yin Guo responded, "but three months is a bit in-between. I'm concerned about the hassle, and I haven't been able to find a suitable one."

 

"Well, I rent a three-bedroom apartment," Wu Wei said. "Two of the rooms are currently occupied by the pair of sisters who are moving out this month. I could ask the landlord if you could rent it for a short period. Not only would it save you money, but it would also be a great option if your cousin gets an offer from New York University. The location is great, and the transportation is convenient."

 

Yin Guo was touched by Wu Wei's kind offer.

 

When Yin Guo first arrived in the US, her friend had recommended short-term renting, but they couldn't find a suitable house due to inconvenience. Finally, they gave up on the idea. However, now that there was a trustworthy housing source, Yin Guo was happy to consider the cost-effective option of renting a house. She thanked Wu Wei and added his WeChat contact.

 

"Let me ask the landlord first, and I'll give you an update tomorrow," Wu Wei said.

 

They quickly finished their noodles and headed back to Yin Guo's hotel. The late-night hangout had made it already 11 o'clock by the time they arrived.

 

Her hotel was located in a less bustling neighborhood, surrounded by repair factories and lit only by the flickering light of a small gas station. They had to traverse a dimly lit road for three to five minutes from the subway station to reach the hotel.

A chilly wind whipped up in the still of the night, making Yin Guo feel uneasy.

 

Lin Yi Yang escorted her to the hotel entrance, where two female bartenders were taking a smoking break. Upon seeing them approach, the bartenders quickly extinguished their cigarettes and swung open the heavy, black, lacquered iron door for Yin Guo.

 

She hesitated at the entrance to the hotel, turning back to Lin Yi Yang. "Do you need to take the subway back?"

 

Lin Yi Yang took off the cue stick case from his shoulder and held it securely, his hand resting on the strap. "The subway runs 24 hours," he replied.

 

Yin Guo couldn't help but study Lin Yi Yang's hand, which was calloused from years of practicing his passion for billiards. She remembered how he effortlessly handled the golf club, the grace and precision of his movements revealing a level of skill honed through years of dedicated training.

 

Just as she was lost in thought, the sound of knocking on the glass door behind her jolted her back to reality.

 

She turned around and saw her cousin waving at them through the glass door. Lin Yi Yang stepped forward and opened the heavy iron door for her, escorting Yin Guo into the hotel's warm interior. He handed the cue stick case to her cousin, Meng Xiaotian.

 

"Thanks, Yi Yang Ge, for bringing my sister back safely," Meng Xiaotian expressed his gratitude with a friendly smile.

 

Lin Yi Yang responded with a nod, his way of bidding farewell. He then stuffed his hands into his pockets and walked back towards the dimly lit road next to the gas station.

 

Yin Guo touched her ear, Lin Yi Yang had just pulled the door, and the zipper of his sleeve scraped her ear.

 

"How come you're down here?" she asked

 

"Yi Yang Ge sent me a WeChat message saying you were on your way and asked me to come pick you up," Meng Xiaotian explained. "I guess I mentioned the bar downstairs in our hotel, and he didn't want you to run into any drunkards."

 

Yin Guo was taken aback by the unexpected answer.

 

Yin Guo gazed out into the night. Lin Yi Yang was bracing himself against the frigid gusts, pulling his hat down to shield his face. Beyond him, the gas station cast a warm glow on the lonely street. Lin Yi Yang gradually receded into the blizzard, his form disappearing amidst the swirling snowflakes, on his way to catch the subway.

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