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During the Snowstorm

2.4

The World Under the Snow

84

Yin Guo stepped into her hotel room. She was met with the familiar scent of home. She quickly removed her clothes, eager for a warm shower to wash away the chill of the night. The hot water cascaded down her body, providing both comfort and relaxation. She dried herself and changed into her comfy pajamas, ready for a good night's sleep.

 

However, before she could fully settle in, she remembered that she needed to talk to her friend Zheng Yi about the possibility of renting an apartment. She picked up her phone, ready to send a message, but noticed that Zheng Yi was yet to reply. She checked the time and estimated that she would have to wait another half hour.

 

As she waited, fatigue weighed heavily on her eyelids. While the time difference between the two countries had evened out, jet lag still had its grip on her. She struggled to keep her eyes open, scrolling through her phone to catch up on her friends' messages. However, as she lingered, her fingers gradually slowed and eventually came to a halt on a specific post. There was a short text on it.

 

Wu Suo Wei: Xiaoyang has someone in his heart.

 

She remembered the name Wu Wei as a recent addition to her WeChat contacts. "Yang?" she thought to herself, "Could it be Lin Yi Yang?"

 

Good thing she didn't like the post. She almost made a blunder once again.

 

But her thoughts are interrupted by a sharp pain in her ear. She kicked the remote control off the bed in a moment of distraction and sat up too quickly, causing the pillow to scrape against her ear.

 

Yin Guo rubbed her ear, feeling the tender swelling. She slid out of bed and shuffled over to her luggage in search of erythromycin ointment. But as she tried to twist off the cap, her grip slipped, and the bottle cap fell into the depths of the box.

 

With a sigh of frustration, Yin Guo rummaged through her belongings, but the cap seemed to have vanished. She settled for just applying some of the ointment directly from the bottle, hoping it would soothe the ache in her ear.

 

Yin Guo, back in bed, was scrolling through her phone, waiting for Zheng Yi to reply to her message about the possibility of renting an apartment temporarily. Just as she was about to put down her phone and try to stay awake, a notification from Zheng Yi lit up her screen. Excited to hear her thoughts, she quickly opened the message and read:

 

Zheng Yi: Hey, I've been thinking about it, and I think it's okay for you to rent an apartment with your cousin. You're familiar with everyone there, and they're all good people. Although the dorm is safer, it's also more expensive.

 

Xiaoguo: I was thinking about that too. But if we move, we'll have to find a new place for the billiard room.

 

Zheng Yi: Don't worry about it. Wu Wei is competing soon, right? I'm sure he'll be able to introduce you to a great place to train.

 

Xiaoguo: Yeah, that's true.

 

Zheng Yi: Alright, I've got to run now. Talk to you later!

 

With nothing better to do, Yin Guo's mind started to wander back to that WeChat circle of friends. She couldn't resist the urge to take a look again.

 

Scrolling through her feed, she stumbled upon Wu Wei's page and noticed that there was only one visible message. Out of curiosity, she clicked on it, eager to see what it said.

 

The message read, "Delete it, she can see." with the sender being Lin Yi Yang.

 

Yin Guo was convinced that Wu Wei was talking about Lin Yi Yang having a crush on someone. A minute later, she refreshed the page out of pure curiosity and was disappointed to see that the message had indeed been deleted.

 

It was as if the message had never existed. She couldn't be sure how many people had seen it, but she was one of them, and now she was pretending she never did. The idea of someone else seeing such a personal message made her feel uneasy. It burdened her.

 

Yin Guo leaned back on her bed, her phone turning in her hands as she thought. The idea that Lin Yi Yang might have feelings for someone else didn't come as a surprise to her. He seemed to open up more freely with her cousin than with her. He probably wants to avoid any suspicion.

 

The thought of revealing this to her friend briefly crossed her mind, but she quickly dismissed it. What was she thinking? She didn't want to risk ruining their friendship by getting involved in his personal affairs. With that in mind, she put her phone aside and tried to shake the thoughts from her mind.

 

Lin Yi Yang was sitting in the crowded subway car, surrounded by the hum of excited chatter. The only two people within earshot were two teenagers chatting loudly and animatedly. Yi Yang couldn't help but admire their confident demeanor and how their bodies seemed to come alive as they spoke.

 

He lowered his gaze to his phone, seeking a network signal that would allow him to check his social media and see if Wu Wei had deleted anything. He needed to remind the young man not to be so reckless with his words. As he waited for a signal, Lin Yi Yang raised his wrist and glanced at his watch. He had always been fond of wearing a watch on his right hand, but at one point, he had broken the glass of the watch case. He briefly considered switching to wearing it on his left hand, but after a few days of feeling awkward, he ultimately abandoned the idea.

 

Lin Yi Yang unfastened the metal buckle and removed his watch, lost in thought. It was then that he remembered Yin Guo and realized that his watch might have scraped her ear.

 

As the subway pulled into the station, Lin Yi Yang's attention was immediately drawn to his phone. He quickly checked his social media and breathed a sigh of relief as he saw that Wu Wei had deleted the post as requested.

 

The two teenagers got off the train. He opened the chat window with Yin Guo on WeChat to check if she had been affected by anything during their previous encounter.

 

Lin: Hey, did I hurt your ear earlier?

 

Red Fish: No, you didn't. You just bumped it a little.

 

Lin: [Sends coffee emoji]

 

Red Fish: [Sends happy emoji]

 

Lin Yi Yang tried to evaluate his conversation with her, but he couldn't figure out where he had gone wrong. It appears like he was not very good at chatting with girls. Despite his efforts, their conversation quickly petered out.

 

With a sigh, he put his watch on his left wrist and pondered for a while, unsure what to say next. He estimated it was time for her to sleep, so he put his phone in his pants pocket and leaned back in his seat.

 

Back at Wu Wei's apartment, Wu Wei was in the middle of a workout on a cramped yoga mat next to his bed. Sweat dripped down his face as he pushed himself to the limit.

 

Just then, Lin Yi Yang entered the room and, without a word, threw his heavy winter coat onto Wu Wei. Wu Wei let out a sigh and lay flat on the mat, feeling defeated.

 

"I was just two minutes away from finishing," he complained. "You came back just in time."

 

Wu Wei picked up the winter coat dotted with snowflakes and studied Lin Yi Yang's expression. He seemed alright, and that was a relief.

 

"I sent that message on purpose," Wu Wei announced.

 

Lin Yi Yang shot a warning look at Wu Wei.

 

Wu Wei watched as Lin Yi Yang opened a drawer, searching for coins.

 

"What... are you going to wash clothes now?" Wu Wei asked.

 

Lin Yi Yang ignored Wu Wei's question, took the coins, and found a crumpled paper bag lying on the bed. He gathered the dirty clothes scattered around the room and stuffed them inside. He picked up a zippered sports jacket from the bed, put it on, and picked up the paper bag, ready to leave.

 

"Wait, you haven't answered my question yet," Wu Wei asked from the yoga mat, "Do you have an interest in that little beauty?"

 

Lin Yi Yang glanced at Wu Wei with a knowing look.

 

"Right? When you start thinking about it, it's expected." Wu Wei continued.

 

But before he could receive a reply, the door to the room closed, cutting off Wu Wei's words.

 

As Lin Yi Yang made his way down to the apartment's laundry room, he was greeted by the sister who shared the apartment with Wu Wei. She was in the middle of a lively conversation with her friend and said goodbye as they were moving out the next day.

 

Lin Yi Yang politely chatted with her for a couple of moments before inserting five coins into the washing machine and putting in the dirty clothes. He set the timer and started the wash.

 

After the two women left, Lin Yi Yang sat in the middle chair, leaned against the wall, and pulled out his phone. He saw a post from Yin Guo in his friend circle, a repost of a donation of desks and chairs to an elementary school campus.

 

Lin: Still awake?

 

Red Fish: ...Can't sleep.

 

Lin: Jet lag?

 

Red Fish: I've been here for over ten days; I've already adjusted to the time difference. I guess it's because of how delicious the noodles are?

 

Lin: That place is average in terms of taste.

 

The noodle restaurant is located right under Wu Wei's apartment building, and both he and Wu Wei are regular customers, so it's most convenient for him to go there first.

 

Red Fish: The noodles were spot on. I really enjoyed them.

 

Lin: The chicken soup base tonight doesn't quite compare to the traditional pork, though.

 

Red Fish: I didn't even realize it was chicken soup.

 

Lin: Yeah. You seem pretty familiar with noodles.

 

Lin: I like to try out different places.

 

Lin Yi Yang took the time to search for more noodle joints that are worth trying. He found a handful of great options and promptly sent her their addresses.

 

Red Fish: Thank you so much!

 

Lin: If we get the chance, I'd love to take you to try one.

 

Red Fish: ?

 

Lin: Is everything okay?

 

Red Fish: ...You really do love treating people to food, don't you?

 

Lin chuckled at her remark.

 

She made a misconception that he loved treating others to food. But the truth was, he was very particular about dining experiences. For him, eating was a personal and intimate affair, and he would only invite those whom he had known for years to join him at the table. He rarely enjoyed dining with people he wasn't close to. Even if he was forced to, he would only have a drink for the sake of it before heading out for a more private dining experience.

 

Unsure of how to respond, Lin simply sent a coffee emoji. As expected, Yin Guo replied with a happy emoji.

 

Lin couldn't help but reflect on the rarity of this conversation. It had been long since he'd had a chat like this, especially with a woman. Most of his friends were billiard players, and he had very few female friends. Wu Wei was the closest person to him.

 

That stormy night, he was feeling restless and yearned for a place to have a drink. He called Wu Wei, and the two of them headed to Red Fish. As they approached the bar, he caught a glimpse of a girl through the foggy window - black hair, dark eyes, petite, wrapped in a scarf, talking on the phone. The steam from the window obscured her eye color, sparking his curiosity about this mysterious stranger and leaving him wondering if she was Asian or Chinese.

 

On a blizzard day, when everything seemed to be going wrong with his mood at its lowest, the city's traffic paralyzed, company shut down, and schools suspended, he found solace in the bar where he frequently visited and unexpectedly met a heart-stirring foreign girl of the same ethnicity and ancestry.

 

It was a glimmer of comfort amidst the chaos of the blizzard.

 

His curiosity was piqued, and he longed to get to know her. And it all started with that thought.

 

He wanted to ensure her safe arrival at the hotel, and then an idea struck him. Initially, he had plans to stay out for an all-night drink, but he ended up telling Wu Wei that he had an urgent matter to attend to and asked Wu Wei to inquire with the girl's younger brother if he could "give them a ride" while he was at it.

 

Those few days were a dark period in his life. He was feeling irritable and didn't want to be bothered by anyone, especially by an old friend who had come to visit New York. He spent his days in seclusion, drowning in liquor and billiard games until he finally booked a ticket back to Washington, eager to escape the city and his past.

 

However, just as he was about to leave, a stranger sent him a friend request on social media. This strange encounter piqued his curiosity, and he found himself exchanging messages with her on the train ride back to Washington.

 

It wasn't until tonight that they got to know each other better. Lin Yi Yang was filled with questions. What did this mean for him now? He was lost in thought when another person entered the laundry room, disrupting his solitude. The continuous sound of people doing laundry in the middle of the night only added to his confusion and restlessness.

 

Lin Yi Yang was impatient and couldn't wait any longer. He grabbed an empty paper bag and made his way upstairs. As he passed Wu Wei, he threw five coins at him and instructed him to keep track of the time and go down to the laundry room to dry the clothes. Once done, he was to bring the clothes back up for Lin.

 

Lin spread out a cozy cotton quilt on the couch and curled up, letting sleep take over. When he woke up, he realized it was morning.

 

The sound of moving furniture filled the room as the two sisters busily packed up. Wu Wei was still fast asleep, snuggled under the covers with no intention of getting up. Lin himself turned over, not bothering to say goodbye, and drifted back into a deep sleep. The noise outside eventually died down, and Lin couldn't tell if it was because he was sleeping too soundly or if everyone else had finished moving.

 

At around eleven, the sound of his cell phone alarm jolted Lin Yi Yang out of his slumber. He rubbed his bleary eyes and sat up, covering his face with both hands for a full minute before the sounds of laughter outside reached his ears.

 

Yesterday, he had just recovered from a fever and raced back to catch the train, pushing himself nonstop throughout the day and night. The exhaustion he felt before bed had come back in full force. He rubbed his face, feeling the mess of his forehead hair, and put on his slippers.

 

His sports jacket, worn all night, felt hot and uncomfortable, so he took it off and threw it on the bed before getting up and opening the door. He was searching for a drink of water. In an instant, the world became quiet and peaceful.

 

In the living room, he saw a group of young people - three men and two women - who appeared to be around 17 or 18 years old and two others who looked to be about 13 or 14. Behind the kitchen bar, Wu Wei was leaning against the refrigerator, deep in conversation with a man in his thirties.

 

As soon as the door opened, all eyes in the room turned toward him.

 

The boys on the couch were in awe, thinking, "Wow, it's Little Uncle Shi (or little uncle teacher); he is even taller in person."

 

The girls on the couch couldn't help but blush, thinking, "Little uncle shi. He is even more handsome than we imagined."

 

The mention of Lin Yi Yang's skills in billiards echoed through the halls of the billiards club whispered among the older patrons as the teacher's sixth younger student. They recounted his incredible rise to fame, starting with his championship win at just twelve years old in the juvenile group. By thirteen, he was already competing with the professionals and, alongside their mentor, dominated the competition with a championship win and runner-up finish.

 

In the billiards club, everyone knows him by a different nickname, reflecting his mastery over the game. They call him Little Yang Ye, Stunner (Duncuo), Sixth Older Brother, Sixth Uncle, or Old Six, each name reflects his skill and reputation within the club.

 

Everyone in this room knows that the person in those stories is Lin Yi Yang.

 

The sight of these strangers in his home caused his eyebrows to furrow in frustration. However, his attention was quickly drawn to the 30-year-old man standing at the kitchen bar, Jiang Yang. Dressed in a crisp shirt and western pants and sporting white-rimmed glasses on the bridge of his nose, Jiang Yang was known to Lin Yi Yang as the teacher of the children sitting on the couch.

 

"I heard you guys came by last week and didn't run into Lin," Jiang Yang said with a smirk. "I thought you'd be making another escape this time."

 

Lin Yi Yang opened his mouth to reply, but his throat felt suddenly dry. He cleared his throat, ready to speak, but the words wouldn't come.

 

He trudged over to the bar, his slippers slapping against the floor with each step. Desperate for a drink, he opened the refrigerator door, only to find it barren of water. He settled for a bottle of beer, cracking it open and taking a deep swig.

 

Moistening his dry throat, he leaned against the bar and cast his gaze toward Jiang Yang. In a raspy voice, he asked, "Here for the competition?"

 

"Yeah, mostly to bring the kids here," Jiang Yang gestured towards the group on the couch, "They're all my pupils."

 

"Little Uncle Shi!" they chorused, their voices filled with reverence and respect.

 

Lin Yi Yang waved his hand dismissively, correcting them, "I left the billiards club a long time ago. There's no 'Little Uncle Shi' here. If you think I'm young, call me 'Sixth Older Brother.' If you think I'm old, call me 'Sixth Uncle."

 

Jiang Yang chuckled, "And what should they call me if they call you 'Sixth Older Brother'?"

 


 

Lin Yi Yang simply smiled, not bothering to answer.

 

As Lin Yi Yang took another long swig from his beer bottle, his gaze locked with Jiang Yang's, the two men sizing each other up. After all these years, they had thought that their connection from the past had faded away, but as they stood there, in that moment of reunion, they both realized that the memories of their youth still burned bright within them.

 

They thought back to the early mornings, getting up at 5 to practice at the billiards club, racing to school on their bikes with backpacks in tow. Those memories were etched into their bones, never to be forgotten. The reunion with fellow disciples and close friends only brought those memories back to the surface.

 

The burning pain in Lin Yi Yang's chest, a reminder of all the emotions and experiences he shared with Jiang Yang, had never really gone away. They both became disciples of the billiards club in the same year, just a week apart, with Jiang Yang arriving first and Lin Yi Yang following shortly thereafter.

 

That night, he braved the falling snow, bundled up like a cozy dumpling, and made his way to the billiards club on his bicycle. As he entered the club, he saw Jiang Yang wiping down the billiards tables with a cloth. When Jiang Yang spotted him, he strode over and gestured to his height with a smirk, "So short, did your parents approve of you coming here? Better go back and call them. The teacher only takes on disciples with their parent's permission."

 

The young boy, who had just entered the club, replied, "I don't have parents."

 

Jiang Yang was taken aback. He momentarily became speechless

 

The senior who tried to intimidate him was named Jiang Yang, which had a different pronunciation from the last Chinese character of his name. That year, he was in the second grade, while Jiang Yang was in sixth grade. Comparing height in that manner is not gentlemanly sporting behavior. However, being a young kid, he doesn't yet understand what it means to be a gentleman.

 


 

Lin Yi Yang was only a young boy when he stumbled upon the game of billiards. At the time, the sport wasn't exactly associated with gentlemen in China. The billiards halls were often filled with the smell of smoke, loud noises, and rough language. But he had heard that there was money in this game, and so he was determined to give it a try.

 

Despite the rough atmosphere, he persevered and worked hard to become the last apprentice of his teacher. With his hard work and dedication, Lin Yi Yang eventually proved himself a talented player.

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