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During the Snowstorm

3.4

The Scenery After the Snowstorm

107

If you ask Yin Guo about the time she realized that she had feelings for Lin Yi Yang, it was undoubtedly that day in that crowded billiard room. The sound of the chatter and music filled the room, yet Yin Guo's mind was elsewhere. She put down her phone, only to pick it up again moments later, unable to resist the urge to reread the message from Lin. She read it repeatedly, each time feeling a flutter in her heart.

 

Lin Yi Yang was on his journey back to Washington, seated on the train. He leaned back in his seat, lost in thought, as he gazed at the overhead luggage rack. The realization hit him that his feelings for Yin Guo went beyond just a simple curiosity to know and understand her better. Ever since he left the billiard room, he couldn't shake the thought of returning for a few more minutes to have a proper conversation with her. Ideas, such as inviting her to taste the delicious fried chicken at the ballroom entrance, kept crossing his mind.

 

Lin Yi Yang chuckled to himself as he reminisced about his childhood. Growing up in poverty had left an indelible mark on his character, instilling a deep appreciation for simple pleasures like a delicious meal.

 

He gazed at his reflection in the train window, observing the gentle lines etched into his face and the messy hair that refused to be tamed. Despite the passage of time, he still looked good.

 

Lin Yi Yang sat on the train, lost in thought. Despite living in an era where relationships are formed with ease, he was paralyzed by fear at the thought of asking the girl he was interested in whether she was single. He didn't want to risk facing rejection, but at the same time, he couldn't help but wonder about her relationship status. It was a strange paradox that left him feeling stuck and indecisive. The thought made him smile wryly to himself as he realized that even in this digital age, some things never change. The fear of rejection and the uncertainty of love are still as real as ever.

 

He heard a WeChat notification sound and was jolted back to reality.

 

Excitement filled him as he checked his phone, recognizing the distinct tone of a message from Yin Guo. He had set his phone to Do Not Disturb for everyone except for her, so the sound could only mean it was from her.

 

As he opened the message, he saw a screenshot of a restaurant's location near the Brooklyn Bridge, complete with the address of a well-known eatery not far from the popular carousel.

 

Red Fish: Hey, have you been to this place before?

 

Actually, he has been to Brooklyn a lot, but he hasn't tried this place yet.

 

Lin: No, I haven't. What about you?

 

Red Fish: Want to go together next time you're in town?

 

Lin: Sure, that sounds good.

 

Red Fish: Next time you visit, let me treat you. My friend swears by the lobster pasta here. She's a huge fan of Italian food and has tried plenty of places, but she says this one takes the cake. Don't even think about treating me; that's what friends are for, right? Let's just enjoy a meal together.

 

Lin leaned against the first row of the train window alone. With a soft smile playing on his lips, he gazed out at the passing scenery. He then lifted his left arm, using it to prop up his head as he settled into a comfortable position. His eyes were fixated on his phone screen, reflecting the light as he began to type out a message.

 

Lin hit the "OK" button on his phone and leaned back in his seat. As he watched the scenery pass by outside the train window, a feeling of contentment washed over him. Despite the simplicity of his response, it held within it a sense of excitement and anticipation.

 

After that, Yin Guo had put her phone away.

 

Yin Guo was eager to finalize the plans for the evening. That night, she took a detour and confirmed the restaurant's address with a friend as a precaution. Together, they used the Dianping app to preview the menu and selected several dishes, even choosing a bottle of red wine. Excitedly, she recorded the details in her memo and eagerly awaited Lin's return.

 


 

As the open competition drew near, Yin Guo fine-tuned her training regimen, opting to split her daily six hours of training into two sessions of three hours each, in the morning and afternoon. Her cousin Meng Xiaotian, aware of her upcoming competition, gave her space to focus. He decided to travel to the West Coast for two weeks, making new friends along the way.

 

On Friday evening, Yin Guo completed her training at the ballroom, wrapping up at around 7 p.m.

 

She purchased a bowl of Spanish mixed rice from a roadside eatery and finished her meal at 8 p.m. before returning to her apartment. Upon reaching the door, she heard laughter coming from inside. It appeared that there were people, likely friends of Wu Wei. She nonchalantly inserted her key to unlock the door and stepped into the apartment. But she quickly froze, taken aback by the man sitting on the coffee-colored sofa.

 

Jiang Yang was lounging on the caramel-colored sofa, sipping from a cup of steaming hot coffee. As he glanced up and saw the door open, his eyes fell upon a girl dressed in a white winter outfit, holding a cue stick case and a cue stick. He was momentarily stunned, trying to place her face in his mind.

 

Meanwhile, Fan Wencong, who was searching for food, turned around upon hearing the door but didn't immediately recognize the new arrival.

 

Yin Guo greeted Jiang Yang with a friendly smile, "Hi there!"

 

Jiang Yang was still trying to grasp why Yin Guo was here, but he recovered quickly and replied with a polite smile, "Hi!"

Fan Wencong, looking puzzled, asked Jiang Yang for clarification.

 

Jiang Yang smiled, "She's Meng Xiaodong's younger cousin."

 

Wu Wei, who had just come out of the bathroom, heard the commotion and quickly made his way over. He didn't expect to be faced with two big men when he emerged shirtless.

 

"Can you make something clear here?" Jiang Yang gestured toward the door of Yin Guo's room with his chin, "What's your relationship with her, and why are you sharing a living space?"

 

"That's not my story to tell," Wu Wei slipped on a half-sleeved shirt and took a seat next to Jiang Yang, speaking in hushed tones, "It's all because of Duncuo."

 


 

The unexpected turn of events once again caught the two men off guard.

 

"Is the situation under control?" Jiang Yang shot a curious look towards the closed door and questioned the relationship between Yin Guo and Lin Yi Yang.

 

"Are you kidding?" Wu Wei confidently replied, "Do you think he would be unprepared? Have you ever seen Lin Yi Yang here act scared?"

 

Jiang Yang chuckled. It wasn't easy to say for sure, but judging from Lin Yi Yang's behavior and the way he spoke about Yin Guo in the ballroom, it was evident that he had developed feelings first. Jiang Yang would never have thought that the person in question would be Yin Guo.

 

Life's surprises never cease to amaze, and it seems that this destined encounter was inescapable.

 

When Lin Yi Yang made his debut on the professional billiard scene, he participated in three tournaments. The three reigning champions at the time were Jiang Yang, Meng Xiaodong, and Lin Yi Yang himself. The three were evenly matched, each with unique skills and strengths, making it a thrilling competition as they fought for the top spot. Over the course of the three competitions, the championship title and runner-up positions shifted between the trio. Despite the fierce competition, Lin Yi Yang emerged as the strongest of the group, with one championship victory and two runner-up finishes to his name.

 

Jiang Yang approached the game of billiards with a level head, recognizing that wins and losses are just part of the competition. Despite being evenly matched in skill with his opponents, Meng Xiaodong and Lin Yi Yang, the outcome of each match was unpredictable and dependent on performance and luck. While Jiang took each victory and defeat in stride, Meng was left feeling dejected after losing to the unexpected rising star, Lin Yi Yang. With a family legacy rooted in running a billiards club, Meng couldn't bear the thought of losing to a newcomer like Lin.

 

For three intense years, Meng and Lin engaged in fierce competition, their rivalry only ending when Lin suddenly decided to retire. Had it not been for that surprising turn of events, their intense competition would likely have continued until this day.

Jiang Yang cast another glance at the door, a mixture of confusion and curiosity in his gaze.

 

"Well, well, little Yang, you sure know how to choose your spots," he muttered to himself.

 

Meanwhile, inside the room, Yin Guo was utterly bewildered.

 

"What's going on here? Isn't he playing snooker?" she thought. "Why is Jiang Yang here? And why is he watching a nine-ball match?"

 

Yin Guo sat cozily in the warm brown bed, intently listening to the sounds outside as she opened her laptop. She wanted to wait until the two guests left before emerging from her room. As the clock ticked past 8:30 p.m., everything outside seemed to have fallen into silence.

 

Barefoot, Yin Guo tiptoed towards the door, her ear pressed against the wood as she tried to discern what was happening. Satisfied that the coast was clear, she cautiously cracked open the door.

 

However, what awaited her was a surprise. The living room was bustling with more people than ever before.

 

The silence in the living room was deceiving; the place was filled with people from Dongxin City. Although everyone was adhering to the strict orders given by Fan Wencong, the room was far from quiet. The buzz of quiet conversation filled the air, and the soft sounds of video games mixed with the faint clicks of chess pieces as Wu Wei and Fan Wencong played a game. Meanwhile, Chen Anan, the team leader who had switched to playing Nine-ball, was warming up by the heater and chatting with Jiang Yang. The living room had transformed into a lively but hushed entertainment hub where everyone was fully engaged in their activities.

 

As Yin Guo opened the door, all eyes in the room shifted toward her. A familiar figure appeared from the opposite room, Lin Yi Yang, holding a fresh set of sportswear in his right hand. He looked drowsy and not fully awake, with unkempt hair and bleary eyes. He had planned to take advantage of Yin Guo's sleep and freshen up with a quick shower. But upon seeing her, his steps faltered, and both he and Yin Guo gazed at each other from a distance, desperately struggling to remember the day of the week.

 

The silence in the room was palpable as Lin Yi Yang, and Yin Guo stood on opposite ends, their gazes locked in a tense moment. The older generation present in the room exchanged discreet glances, while the younger generation observed the scene with wide eyes, full of curiosity.

 

Breaking the silence, Lin Yi Yang finally spoke, "I'm going to take a shower." His voice was barely above a whisper, yet it echoed through the room's stillness.

 

Yin Guo, still in a daze, nodded her head unconsciously as she watched Lin Yi Yang make his way toward the bathroom. The attention of everyone in the room was focused on the two of them, making the atmosphere even more awkward.

 

As Lin Yi Yang disappeared into the bathroom, Yin Guo couldn't help but think, "Wasn't he supposed to be away for the whole week?"

 

Suddenly, Wu Wei interjected with a laugh and asked Jiang Yang if they should order takeout. He intended to give Yin Guo an opportunity to escape the awkward situation she was in, as being surrounded by people like this could be overwhelming, and she might feel the urge to retreat to her room and never come out.

 

Jiang Yang, with his hands resting on the bar, replied, "Sure, let me call the delivery guy."

 

"Okay," replied Fan Wencong, fully understanding Wu Wei's motives.

 

With this lighthearted distraction, the room started to buzz with conversation again, as the older generation chimed in, and the younger crowd became lively.

 

Yin Guo retreated to the privacy of her room and collapsed onto the plush red couch, scooping up a spoonful of ice cream as she listened to the sounds of the lively living room filtering in through the crack of the door.

 

Meanwhile, Lin Yi Yang emerged from the shower and was met with Jiang Yang, asking about his food preferences. Lin declined, stating that he had already eaten and didn't require further attention. The sound of his footsteps faded as he retreated to his room, indicating that he was no longer part of the ongoing conversations in the living room.

 

The phone on Yin Guo's knee lit up suddenly.

 

Lin: Hey, what are you doing?

 

Yin Guo placed the ice cream carton beside her feet and picked up her phone to respond.

 

Xiaoguo: Just having some ice cream.

 

Lin: Meet me in the laundry room.

 

Xiaoguo: Sure, I have some laundry to do too.

 

Lin: You go first. I'll come in a bit.

 

Xiaoguo: OK.

 

She took care of her unfinished ice cream, throwing the carton into the trash bag. In search of a bag to carry her dirty clothes, she found a big paper bag neatly stacked behind the door. She swiftly gathered the clothes from the bed and sofa and placed them in the paper bag. After grabbing some coins from the bedside table drawer, she took the bag of dirty clothes and walked through the living room as if nothing had happened, exuding calmness.

 

She dropped the coins into an empty washing machine, tossed in the bundle of dirty clothes, and set the machine in motion. The laundry room was empty, save for a few pieces of clothing hanging from the drying racks. It was quiet, with only the sound of the machines filling the space.

 

Yin Guo spotted a row of chairs against the wall and a blue plastic table in the center. She pulled out a chair and sat down, waiting for Lin Yi Yang. Soon enough, he entered the room, holding a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He was dressed in fresh sportswear, with his hair still slightly damp from his shower. He looked relaxed and carefree, with nothing but the smoking items in his hands, as if unconcerned with daily life's burdens.

 

He put the cigarette pack and lighter onto the blue plastic table and took a seat next to Yin Guo.

 

Lin Yi Yang lit up a cigarette, inhaling deeply as he leaned back in his chair. Although it had been two years since he last smoked, he wasn't craving it. He simply wanted to give off a bold impression in front of his friends.

 

As they sat at the corner of the table, each facing the other, the conversation flowed easily between the two of them. The sound of the washing machine and dryer humming in the background provided a moderate hum, while the air was thick with the smoke of Lin's cigarette.

 

"Just now, Jiang Yang mentioned that he's seen you," Lin Yi Yang said, taking a puff of his cigarette.

 

"Yeah, he saw me twice when he played against my cousin in China," Yin Guo replied, looking at the dryer whirring nearby.

 

"How's your cousin doing these days?" Lin Yi Yang asked.

 

"He's doing well," Yin Guo said, a hint of pride in her voice. "My cousin wasn't happy with his previous club's location, so he opened a new one. My uncle has retired and invested only half, so he leaves the big decisions to my cousin."

 

The atmosphere in the laundry room became tense as the burly man entered and took a seat at the far end of the plastic table. Yin Guo stopped talking as the stranger approached, and a sense of unease settled over the room.

 

Lin Yi Yang played with a cigarette box, seemingly lost in thought, while the burly man idly watched the dryer, his eyes blank and uninterested. The quiet buzz of the washing machine and dryer filled the room, adding to the eerie silence.

 

She grew increasingly restless as she waited for the clothes to dry. Her gaze kept shifting from the window to the washing machine, counting the minutes until the task was complete. Meanwhile, Lin Yi Yang pulled out his cell phone from his pocket and started scrolling through its screen. In no time, a notification from WeChat lit up on Yin Guo's phone.

 

Lin: Why aren't you talking?

 

Yin Guo raised her eyes and met his gaze. She held her phone tightly in her hands, her lips curling into a small smile as she replied to him.

 

Xiaoguo: You're not talking either.

 

Lin: I'm listening to you.

 

Xiaoguo: ...I'm done speaking.

 

Lin cleared his throat, catching Yin Guo's attention. She thought he was about to say something, but instead, she received another message from him on WeChat.

 

Lin: I'm not sure what you want me to say.

 

Xiaoguo: Let's talk about anything. It's just a casual conversation between friends. You're making it so intense. It's making me nervous.

 

Yin Guo sent the message and then coughed, feeling a slight itch in her throat.

 

She was transported back to her high school days as memories flooded her mind. Back then, she was too shy to speak up in class and would only communicate with her back-desk partner through notes filled with idle small talk. But that was with a girl, not with a man like now.

 

The burly middle-aged man, who had been waiting for his clothes to dry, stifled a yawn and cast a glance at the "young couple" seated at the other end of the plastic table. He surmised that they were currently in a state of tension, each occupied with their own devices.

 

Coincidentally, the middle-aged man's clothes had finished drying, and he began removing them from the machine and stacking them on the long table in front of Yin Guo and Lin.

 

Lin shifted in his seat, leaning against the table and picking up a lighter lying there, absently flipping it over in his hand.

Yin Guo, meanwhile, continued her conversation with Lin, her chin supported by one hand.

 

Xiaoguo: I give up. Can we start speaking now?

 

Lin: You've been pretending to be mute until now, might as well keep pretending.

 

Yin Guo thought. This might be better. If they suddenly start talking now, it's likely to startle someone and make them very embarrassed. Let's continue pretending instead. The middle-aged man seemed to be almost finished folding his clothes.

She continued typing on her phone.

 

Xiaoguo: Why don't we go upstairs? We still have to wait for an hour, and there's nothing to do here.

 

Lin: It's crowded upstairs, not convenient for talking.

 

Xiaoguo: You haven't been talking here either, so it's the same thing.

 

Lin: : )

 

Lin: Let me ask you a question.

 

Xiaoguo: Speak.

 

Yin Guo waited for a while, but she received no message.

 

Yin Guo raised her head in confusion and just happened to catch Lin's gaze. Lin had a slight smile on his lips and used his index finger to tap on the screen of his phone, implying for her to look at it.

 

What's the big secret? Why is he being so mysterious?

 

She smiled and cast a glance, surrounded by the light of the laundry room, the sound of the washing machine, and the booming 90's rock music sung by the middle-aged man.

 

In the chat box, a sentence appeared next to Lin's profile picture –

 

Lin: Do you have a boyfriend?

 

Her fingers stopped mid-air as she read Lin's question.

 

Lin: Or should I say,

 

Lin: Isn't it obvious that I like you?

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