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During the Snowstorm

3.1

The Scenery After the Snowstorm

104

One week passed, and with Wu Wei's assistance, Yin Guo finally secured a suitable and convenient place to stay. A short-term lease was signed with the landlord for a two-room apartment, valid until the end of April. The lease agreement specified that if Meng Xiaotian's college admission went smoothly, they would renew the lease for a full year. The clarity and simplicity of the contract brought a sense of relief and excitement to Yin Guo.

 

On the day of the move, Yin Guo felt grateful for Wu Wei's help and wanted to express her appreciation. So, she took him out to the local noodle restaurant for a meal. The aroma of spices and sauces wafted through the air, tempting their appetites.

 

Just as they were about to begin their meal, a plate of succulent mustard squid was placed in front of Yin Guo. The restaurant owner beamed at her, speaking in broken English, "For you... miss. Enjoy!"

 

Yin Guo's eyes widened in surprise. The dish looked incredibly delicious, with the mustard sauce glistening in the light and the squid rings perfectly fried. "I bet this tastes good," she thought, eagerly picking up her chopsticks.

 

Yin Guo couldn't help but smile as she received the plate of mustard squid from the boss. "Thank you so much," she said, feeling flattered.

 

The boss just grinned and went to attend to other customers, leaving Yin Guo and Meng Xiaotian to enjoy their meal.

 

"Sis, you really have good connections," Meng Xiaotian said, looking envious.

 

Yin Guo turned to Wu Wei, who was now sipping his soup. "Are you guys regulars here?" she asked.

 

Wu Wei shook his head, "Lin Yi Yang is friends with the owner. He stayed here one night after sending you because he couldn't go home."

 

Meng Xiaotian's eyes widened in surprise. "Really?" He said, clearly surprised by this information.

 

Wu Wei chuckled, a hint of mystery in his voice. "At first, I was just as confused as you. I couldn't understand why Lin Yi Yang would suddenly have to leave like that. He was saying something about an emergency. But then the supposed emergency wasn't addressed, so he just returned home." He shook his head, still smiling as if he knew something that others didn't.

 

That day, Wu Wei was having terrible luck. His phone was frozen and wouldn't turn on, making it difficult for him to get around in a city where the subway system was unreliable. The last thing he wanted was to navigate a dozen disrupted subway lines to get home. So, instead of going home, he decided to drink the night away at a bar.

 

When he stumbled back to the noodle shop in the early morning light, he saw Lin Yi Yang sound asleep at the noodle shop. Fortunately, Lin Yi Yang has friends everywhere and can survive regardless of his circumstances.

 

But then, something dawned on Wu Wei. He realized there was definitely something fishy going on that night.

 

"Man, we really owe Brother Yang one," the younger cousin sighed, taking the blame on himself. "When's he coming back? I want to treat him to a big feast as an apology."

 

"Next time?" Wu Wei replied with a chuckle, "It's hard to say. He's busy studying and earning money, so he doesn't have a lot of free time. Every time he visits, it's just a quick stop, and he's only here for a day or two before leaving again.

 

Don't worry about it," Wu Wei added with a grin, "When he comes back, he'll crash at my place, and you won't be bothered."

 

Yin Guo nodded with a relieved look on her face.

 

Yin Guo couldn't shake the thought of Lin Yi Yang out of her mind. She had heard that he lived in the same neighborhood, and the possibility of bumping into him was high. The thought made her both excited and anxious.

 

She briefly talked to Lin Yi Yang on that night at the noodle shop, but then the topic faded, and the communication stopped. A whole week had flown by, and Yin Guo was torn on whether or not she should reach out. On the one hand, she wanted to see how he was doing and catch up, but on the other hand, she wasn't sure if it was too forward of her.

 

"You can thank him," Wu Wei said kindly. "The landlord agreed to rent the place to you for a short period, and Little Yang spoke highly of you."

 

"We'll thank him. We'll definitely thank him," the younger brother echoed Wu Wei's sentiment. "We'll do it next time Yang Ge comes back."

 

As they spoke, Yin Guo sat listening while waiting for her noodles to arrive. She reached for her phone and pulled up WeChat, opening Lin Yi Yang's chat window.

 

Xiaoguo: Hey! We just moved into the apartment today, and Wu Wei mentioned that you helped us out with the landlord. Thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

 

The response came back quickly.

 

Lin: With pleasure.

 

Upon seeing the two words from Lin, Yin Guo reflexively stopped. Fortunately, this time, Lin started the conversation himself.

 


 

Lin: I'm actually in class right now. Can we chat after?

 

Lin: [Coffee]

 

Xiaoguo: [Happy]

 

Yin Guo couldn't help but smile as she gazed at the cute coffee emoji on her phone screen. She placed the phone aside and reached for her chopsticks, absentmindedly picking up a piece of wasabi-flavored squid and stuffing it into her mouth.

 

As the intense flavor of wasabi hit her, tears welled up in her eyes and streamed down her face. The two men watched in amusement as she struggled to handle the spiciness.

 

"This wasabi... it's very authentic," Yin Guo explained through tears, feeling embarrassed. She wanted to die of embarrassment.

 

After dinner, the house was tidied up. It was time to get back on track with activities like training.

 

Wu Wei could read Yin Guo's mind, so he didn't have to ask. He immediately grabbed the cue stick and led her to the nearest billiard room near the apartment.

 

Billiards isn't a widely known sport, so finding a good place to play in this area was a bit of a challenge. But thanks to Lin Yi Yang's recommendation, they found an apartment close to a suitable billiard room, making it convenient for Wu Wei to train during his free time.

 

As they walked into the dimly lit billiards room, the owner recognized Wu Wei and greeted him with a warm smile. Wu Wei had already made arrangements with the owner, informing him that he was Lin Yi Yang's "female friend" and reserving a table for their daily training sessions. The table was Lin Yi Yang's favorite, a proof to the good relationship he had built with the owner during his time as a billiards instructor.

 

"Lin Yi Yang used to work here, teaching billiards," Wu Wei explained to her. "So he has a pretty good rapport with the owner. His name carries more weight here than mine would."

 

"He worked here?" she asked, surprised.

 

"Yeah, you thought he was a rich kid?" Wu Wei chuckled. "International students aren't allowed to work formal jobs during their first year. So, teaching billiards is one way for them to make some extra cash."

 

At first, she had the image of Lin Yi Yang as a wealthy and privileged student who had everything going smoothly for him. But Wu Wei's words shattered that opinion and revealed a completely different side of Lin Yi Yang. He shared the story of Lin Yi Yang's journey from a struggling junior high student to a top high school student through sheer determination and hard work. Despite all the difficulties, Lin Yi Yang dedicated himself to his studies and only kept playing billiards as a personal outlet.

 

After graduating from university, Lin Yi Yang had successfully paid off all of his high school debts and college student loans from the savings from his scholarships and awards. Despite being in a better financial position, he returned to poverty and worked hard to make money again. With his determination and hard work, he was able to apply to study abroad.

 

Wu Wei stood by the pool table, handing over a chalk to Yin Guo. Yin Guo took the chalk, gently wiping his cue stick.

 

"Lin Yi Yang is the most admirable person in my life," Wu Wei said with admiration. "I admire him for daring to work himself to death."

 

Wu Wei looked at his watch, "Okay, you can go on with your practice. I have to head to work now."

 

As Wu Wei stepped out of the billiard room, Yin Guo was left to practice by herself. The owner of the billiard room soon came over to check on her and reminded her that she could always ask for help if she encountered any trouble or harassment. Yin Guo smiled and nodded, grateful for the owner's concern. The owner then patted her shoulder affectionately, saying, "A friend of Lin is a friend of everyone here."

 

It was clear that she had entered Lin Yi Yang's world all at once, surrounded by people who had a connection to him. As she continued to practice billiards alone, she couldn't help but reflect on how much of an impact Lin Yi Yang had made on those around him. The night passed by as she honed her skills, lost in her thoughts.

 

Despite the late hour, she felt safe enough to walk back to her apartment and decided to practice for an extra hour. The sound of balls clicking, the smell of chalk, and the adrenaline rush from sinking a shot brought back memories of her training in China. So, she stayed put, determined to get back into the swing of things.

 

As the night progressed, the billiards room filled with people, and the sounds of laughter, clinking glasses, and the whoops of excitement echoed through the walls. The billiard room owner, who had been so friendly and welcoming earlier, closed the door to the small room where she was practicing.

 

But the wooden door offered little protection against the noise. The sounds of men drinking and shouting loudly, with the occasional crash of a broken cue stick, only added to the energetic atmosphere of the place. This was familiar to her, reminiscent of the crowded and noisy billiards halls back in China. Despite the chaos, she felt right at home.

 

As a child, Yin Guo was hardened to the raucous environment of billiards halls by her cousin Meng Xiaodong. He would take her to the rowdiest establishments, where smoke and shouting filled the air, and watch as she was thrown into games against random small-time thugs at the innermost billiard table. This regular occurrence helped her build her mental toughness for competitions. So, the current noise outside was a walk in the park for her, almost soothing.

 

Since her cousin opened a club, she had become accustomed to a more refined environment. Suddenly, she was taken aback by the sound of Chinese songs outside. The music stirred up childhood memories, reminding her of a song she used to listen to, "Troubled Times Star." She was surprised to hear it in this foreign billiards hall.

 

As she leaned over the billiard table, her focus was entirely on the three perfectly placed balls before her. With a sharp crack, she struck the cue ball, sending the other four balls careening toward the pockets. And just like that, they all dropped neatly into their respective holes.

 

A smile spread across her face as she straightened up, feeling pleased with her shot. She hummed the same tune from her childhood memories, still echoing in her mind

 

As she bent over the pool table, the sound of the door being yanked open caught her attention. She straightened up and was momentarily blinded by the bright light overhead. When her vision adjusted, she saw a familiar figure entering the room.

 

It was Lin Yi Yang, his imposing form filling the doorway. The song she had been humming in her head died on her lips as she gazed at him.

 

He strode with a warm smile on his face and placed a beer bottle down on the nearby table. "You sing well," he said, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

 

He walked in with a sense of casual ease, his hair messy and unkempt as if he had been running his hands through it all week. Despite the disheveled appearance, there was something undeniably stylish about how the hair on his forehead nearly obscured his eyes. It was clear that he had spent much of his life in the presence of pool halls and had picked up nonchalant, rebellious energy along the way. Though he had matured over the years, moments like this hinted at the mischievous streak still within him.

 

As he shed his jacket and gloves, revealing his toned physique beneath a simple black T-shirt and jeans, it was clear that this was a man who lived and breathed billiards. His long legs, accentuated by his attire, carried him with confidence toward the pool table.

 

She hesitated for a moment before asking, "Didn't you have class?"

 

It seems like Lin Yi Yang appeared out of nowhere. He turned his head to meet Ying Guo's gaze.

 

"I just got out of class and came here," he said, trying to avoid eye contact to avoid being too forward. "I heard you were practicing, so I came to check it out."

 

He gently tapped the pool table as he spoke, "Do you need to make some adjustments when playing here?"

 

Each pool hall has its own unique set of pool tables, and Lin Yi Yang was concerned that Yin Guo might have had trouble adjusting when she first arrived.

 

"The differences aren't significant," Yin Guo gestured towards a nearby public cue stick, "I've used public cues before, and I always have to get used to them."

 

"How long have you been practicing?" Lin Yi Yang leaned against the side of the pool table. "Are you planning on heading back soon?"

 

"I practiced alone today," Ying Guo smiled warmly at him, "If you have some free time, would you like to play a game with me?"

 

"Me?" Lin Yi Yang raised an eyebrow in surprise.

 

Yin Guo nodded with a confident smile.

 

"Not afraid of being beaten by me?" Lin Yi Yang chuckled.

 

Yin Guo was shocked "I... my level is pretty good."

 

At least she's a semi-professional player. She won't cry even if she can't win.

 

"Well then, I accept the challenge," Lin Yi Yang picked up the public cue and twirled it in his hand. "I'll be your training partner."

 

These past few years, he had spent his time either practicing by himself, gambling on billiards, or teaching others how to play. However, he had a strict teaching style and avoided teaching girls because he didn't want them to be upset by his methods.

 

So, how many balls should he give as a handicap? This was his first time as a training partner, and he had to weigh his options carefully.

 

Yin Guo observed as he picked up the chalk and wiped down his cue. Despite her initial excitement, she couldn't help but feel a twinge of unease at the situation unfolding before her.

 

Yin Guo had come to the pool hall with the intention of bonding with Lin Yi Yang over their shared love of billiards. However, as she watched him expertly prepare for their game, she couldn't help but feel intimidated. Her plan to play casually for fun started to feel like a challenging prospect.

 

"Hey, let's grab a bite instead," Yin Guo suggested, a hint of disappointment in her tone. "I totally forgot that you just got off the train; you must be starving."

 

Lin Yi Yang shook his head, "I'm good, thanks." He reached into the pocket and retrieved the colored balls, starting to set them up on the table.

 

Yin Guo watched as he methodically placed the balls in a diamond formation, using a frame to ensure they were arranged correctly.

 

Finally, he placed the white ball on the shot line and pointed at it. "We'll play best of five or best of ten. The one who achieved three wins in five innings or six wins in ten sets wins. Let's make this a serious game."

 

He exuded an air of confidence reminiscent of his older brother.

 

As the song playing in the background restarted, Yin Guo hummed along to the lyrics, "I am born to love, being arrogant as I am... I am born to love, competing with fists. Conquer around all by my abilities..."

 

As Yin Guo looked at Lin Yi Yang standing confidently at the billiards table, she couldn't help but think that the song playing in the background, "Young and Dangerous," fit him perfectly. He exuded the same level of confidence and attitude as the lyrics described.

 

Yin Guo shook her thoughts and approached the table, gripping the cue stick tightly in her hand. She bent down, carefully positioning herself and adjusting her grip on the cue before taking her shot.

 

"Do you want to play fast or take it slow?" Lin Yi Yang's sudden question caught Yin Guo off guard just as she was about to take her shot.

 

She took a moment to think before answering hesitantly, "Either way works for me."

 

Lin Yi Yang nodded, "This year's women's group has a strong contender who plays with a fast-paced style. I'll go first to let you get used to it."

 

Yin Guo's eyebrows shot up in surprise as she looked at him with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension.

 

Yin Guo couldn't help but be intrigued by Lin Yi Yang's insight into the women's pool scene. But she quickly refocused her attention on the task at hand. The white ball became her sole focus as she lined up her shot. The sound of the cue hitting the ball echoed through the room as four colorful balls fell into the pocket.

 

A promising start, she thought to herself with a smile.

 

Yin Guo stepped up, her heart raced with excitement. It was her first time playing with him, and she felt nervous but eager to show off her skills.

 

With no formal competition or betting involved, they took turns making their shots. In the first round, Yin Guo struggled to sink a ball but eventually managed to eke out a win. Lin Yi Yang was a force to be reckoned with in the second round, clearing the table with one swift shot.

 

Feeling discouraged, Yin Guo lost the third round. But as the fourth round began, she noticed a change in Lin Yi Yang's demeanor. He seemed to be playing more aggressively, giving her the space to make her shots. It was then that she realized that he was letting her win.

 

Although she appreciated his kindness, Yin Guo wasn't someone who couldn't handle losing.

 

Lin Yi Yang approached the billiards table. His eyes fixated on the 9-ball that lay tantalizingly close to the bottom pocket. All he had to do was hit the 4-ball, and the game would be his. There were three ways to win a nine-ball game. The first was to hit the balls in numerical order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and finally sink the 9-ball into the pocket. The second was to target the lowest-numbered ball on the table and indirectly sink the 9-ball. And the third, the most daring and risky of all, was to play a direct shot and hope that the 9-ball would drop into the pocket on its own.

 

"Don't sell yourself short," she said with a smirk, "I'm sure you're more than capable of giving me a good challenge, no need for a handicap." She was confident in her abilities but didn't want to underestimate Lin Yi Yang's skills either. After all, he was known for his billiards prowess.

 

Lin Yi Yang hesitated for a moment.

 

He had been trying to figure out a way to fake a mistake and make it appear real, but the situation was too perfect to fake. As he watched Yin Guo's reaction under the bright lights of the billiards table, he felt a sense of relief.

 

Yin Guo cheered in appreciation of his shot.

 

Lin Yi Yang took care of the final details, returning the cue and paying the bill for their game of pool.

 

Yin Guo attempted to grab her cue case and pay her own way, but Lin Yi Yang stopped her with a gentle hold on her arm. "You are a guest. Today is your first time here. Allow me to treat you," he said as he took her cue case.

 

Yin Guo's reluctance to let Lin Yi Yang pay was still evident. However, the boss of the billiards room had already returned the money to Lin Yi Yang with a warm smile, insisting that it was his to pay.

 

Lin Yi Yang and the boss were close friends, and their conversation was lighthearted and full of laughter as they chatted. Together with Yin Guo, they stepped out of the billiards room into the frigid night air.

 

The temperature had plummeted even further since Yin Guo's arrival, making her shiver. The snow forecast seemed to be coming true, as she could see the flurries starting to swirl in the sky.

 

With a smile, Yin Guo turned to Lin Yi Yang and said, "I've got hot pot waiting at home for us tonight. Let's go enjoy a warm meal together." And, with that, the two made their way to her apartment, braving the snow and the cold.

 

Lin Yi Yang agreed to join Yin Guo for a hot pot. As they walked to the apartment, Yin Guo brought up a topic of conversation.

 

"Actually, I have a good friend who went to the same school as you, an alumna from the law department," said Yin Guo.

 

"Your cousin mentioned her," replied Lin Yi Yang.

 

Yin Guo was not to blame. Meng Xiaotian had talked so much about her that it was no surprise that he already knew about her friend.

 

"Well, I have two chatty companions, Wu Wei and Meng Xiaotian, who will be at home to liven up the atmosphere," she thought as she eagerly anticipated the hot pot dinner.

 

However, they were met with darkness when they arrived at the apartment. The lights were off, and the room was pitch black. The small hot pot that Yin Guo had prepared before leaving was still on the table, along with the uncut vegetables.

Where were the people who were there before she left?

 

Yin Guo took the opportunity while Lin Yi Yang was turning on the lights to quickly wash her hands at the sink and retrieve her phone. She sent a message to Meng Xiaotian, inquiring about his whereabouts.

 

Tian Tian: Wu Wei took me to see a Broadway play this afternoon.

 

Xiaoguo: Haven't you seen it a few times already?

 

Tian Tian: No, I haven't seen the whole show yet. I'm glad I have someone to accompany me this time. In the past, I always come alone. You might have to eat dinner alone.

 

Thankfully, Lin Yi Yang is here. Otherwise, all this food would go to waste. She sighed, putting down her phone in disappointment. "They're both not here. Do you still want to eat?"

 

Lin Yi Yang nodded naturally, "Yes, I do."

 

Lin Yi Yang rolled up his shirt sleeves and turned on the faucet. As he washed the dirty dishes and plates that Wu Wei had left in the sink, Yin Guo couldn't help but notice a flower tattoo on his right arm. The last time they met in Flushing, he was wearing thick clothes, and the sleeves only covered part of his arm, so she hadn't seen the tattoo before.

 

"That looks great," said Lin Yi Yang, noticing her gaze.

 

He shook off the water droplets on the plate, picked up the cloth, and dried the plate while looking back at her.

 

Feeling a bit embarrassed, Yin Guo quickly turned around and said, "I'll go prepare then."

 

She couldn't help but wonder why she kept staring at Lin Yi Yang today.

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