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During the Snowstorm

4.1

Affairs of the Rolling Red Dust

63


 

After her practice at the billiard ballroom, Yin Guo entered the apartment and was met with an empty space. The silence seemed to echo throughout the room, making it feel much larger than it actually was.

 

She went to the bathroom and immediately noticed Lin Yi Yang's uncollected razor lying on the counter as if abandoned in a hurry. Yin Guo picked it up and examined it, wondering if it was bad for the blades to be left out like this.

 

She didn't have the experience to know the right thing to do, so she leaned against the door and opened WeChat to ask Lin Yi Yang.

 

As she typed her message, she couldn't help but notice the three messages still sitting there as their last conversation.

 

It felt like those words were staring back at her, urging her to reply, to continue their conversation. Yin Guo sighed and put down the razor, her heart heavy with the weight of their unspoken feelings.

 

Yin Guo's mind was still reeling from the events of the day. She replayed the moments in her head, the way they walked around the beach together, the conversation they had about the Ferris wheel, and the way Lin Yi Yang had followed her onto the subway just to ensure she didn't get off at the wrong stop.

 

As she leaned her head back against the bathroom door, Yin Guo couldn't help but wonder if what they did together could be considered a date. Her thoughts wandered, and she realized she had been so lost in her thoughts that she almost blurted out, "I don't have a boyfriend" to him on the train.

 

But as much as she wanted to broach the subject, she couldn't find the courage to talk to him about it. Yin Guo wondered if he had felt something between them, too. Maybe he would understand if she asked him to message her when he got to Washington, just to let her know he was safe.

 

Leaning against the door frame, Yin Guo looked up and felt a little uneasy. She took out her ponytail and let her hair fall down, then stared at the razor for a while before thinking of Lin Yi Yang.

 

Suddenly, her phone vibrated, and it was Lin Yi Yang who had sent a message with his location. He had arrived at the DC train station, just as they had agreed upon before parting ways. A sense of relief washed over Yin Guo, knowing that he was a man who kept his promises.

 

As she contemplated what to reply, Yin Guo's thoughts turned to the day they spent in Brooklyn. She wondered if Lin Yi Yang felt the same way she did. Just as she was about to overthink things, she decided to be honest and typed out a message. Before she could change her mind, she pressed "send."

 

Xiaoguo: By the way, I saw your message last night. I don't have a boyfriend.

 

Before she could even catch her breath, Lin Yi Yang replied.

 

Lin: I already know.

 

Xiaoguo wondered how that could be possible.

 

Xiaoguo: Who told you? Did you ask my younger brother?

 

Lin: If you had a boyfriend, you wouldn't have gone out with me today.

 

Lin continued, "Doesn't my conclusion make sense?"

 

The dim yellow light cast an intimate glow around the room as Yin Guo leaned against the bathroom door, her phone clutched in her arms while laughing. She was still thinking about last night's conversation, which had turned today's simple lunch into something more special.

 

Then, just as she was about to reply to Lin Yi Yang's message, the front door creaked open, and Wu Wei walked in with a bag of packed dinner. Yin Guo was bundled up in a winter coat, scarf, and hat, making it hard to tell if she was going out or had just returned. Wu Wei looked up at her with a hint of confusion in his eyes. Yin Guo pulled down her scarf to reveal half of her face, "You're back?"

 

"Ah, right, so you're-" said Wu Wei, "going out or just came back?"

 

"Just came back," replied Yin Guo. She left the bathroom like she was up to something and went back to the bedroom.

Wu Wei couldn't figure it out and peeked into the bathroom to see what made the girl so happy.

 

......

 

Meanwhile, on the second floor of a hamburger shop, Lin Yi Yang was sitting at a four-person table by the wall, unwrapping the paper around his hamburger and taking a bite. As he chewed, he looked down at his phone and noticed that he had received two new messages.

 

Wu Suo Wei: A girl was standing at the bathroom door, giggling, and I looked at her for a long time, but I didn't understand why she was laughing. By the way, I put away your razor, which doesn't need to be in the bathroom. It's going to be dull. As a return, you must tell me one thing, did you kiss her?

 

Red Fish: Hmm

 

Wu Wei's message was filled with words, but the latter message from Yin Guo was more lively, and Lin Yi Yang could even imagine the sound of her "Mhmm." With a smile, he took a sip of Coke, savoring the familiar taste.

 

As he was lost in thought, his classmate arrived and sat across from him with a smile. "They said you're going to join Xinhua News Agency? The Washington bureau?" the classmate asked.

 

Lin Yi Yang confirmed the news with a nod.

 

The classmate smiled and nodded. "That's good. Congrats, man," he said before turning to look at the menu.

 

The idea of going to the Washington branch was good before he met Yin Guo.

 

His senior was also at the Washington bureau of Xinhua News Agency. He had helped him during the interview. His senior's family was in China, and he planned to stay in DC for two years before returning. When he filled out his intention, he chose to settle in DC.

 

Lin Yi Yang took a big bite of his hamburger and chewed it slowly. In recent years, he had lived his life by taking things one day at a time, not worrying too much about the future. He believed excessive planning and worrying could weaken one's ability to execute plans.

 

But now, he realized he needed to think more about his future.

 

......

 

The week flew by quickly, with the monotonous training filling each day. Yin Guo didn't directly ask Lin Yi Yang if he would visit her this weekend, but she subconsciously made adjustments to her schedule. She finished her training early on Friday and arrived home by six o'clock.

 

Skipping the elevator, she climbed the stairs to her third-floor apartment and paused outside the door to listen.

 

It was quiet, and she guessed that the group of people from Dongxincheng had probably closed-door training for next week's competition for the youth and junior groups, so they wouldn't come over.

 

As she took out her door key, her cousin's voice interrupted her thoughts, "Sister is in the billiard room."

 

Yin Guo's eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "Who is he talking to? Could it be Lin Yi Yang?" she thought to herself.

 

As Yin Guo turned around, her eyes widened in surprise to see her cousin coming up the stairs, followed by a man in a casual black suit with a black cashmere short coat on top. The man looked up, and her heart skipped a beat.

 

"Brother..." she whispered, feeling a mix of emotions rises within her.

 


 

"Mm," Meng Xiaodong responded, his face inscrutable.

 

Meanwhile, Yin Guo's younger cousin ran up flatteringly, took the key from her hand, and obsequiously opened the door for his own brother, eager to impress him.

 

"This apartment is awesome, right? I was thinking once I'm all settled in school, I'm gonna renew the lease for another year. What do you think?"

 

Yin Guo's heart sank as she realized who was standing before her. It was none other than Meng Xiaodong, the person who struck fear in the hearts of all the children in their family. He had always been an exceptional child, so gifted that he seemed blessed by the heavens. Even the parents of unruly children in the family would entrust their little ones to him for discipline. Many had even suffered the sting of his wrathful fists. Yin Guo's younger cousin, Meng Xiaotian, had borne the brunt of his eldest cousin's fury the most, and as a girl, Yin Guo had been scolded by him more than once.

 

Yin Guo cautiously stepped aside and asked, "Are you coming in?"

 

Meng Xiaodong walked in, followed by Yin Guo's younger cousin. The apartment was empty. Yin Guo's cousin switched on the lights while Meng Xiaodong looked around.

 

"I'm not here to see you," Meng Xiaodong replied. "If you can't even handle this kind of competition, why bother playing professionally?"

 

"I didn't say I can't handle it either," she thought to herself.

 

Yin Guo felt annoyed but tried to maintain a friendly tone as she asked, "So, are you here to watch the competition for the youth group?"

 

Their club's competition was set to start the following Saturday, so they arrived late in the week, allowing themselves a few days to adjust to the jet lag before heading straight to the arena. It was unlike the team from Dongxincheng, who arrived early and enjoyed a relaxed time exploring the city.

 

Meng Xiaodong gave an unexpected response, "I'm here to find Lin Yi Yang."

 

Yin Guo's heart skipped another beat at the mention of his name, and she tried to compose herself.

 

"Where is he?" Meng Xiaodong asked.

 

"I'm not sure," Yin Guo replied vaguely.

 

"When will he be back?"

 

"I can't say for sure," Yin Guo answered.

 

"Aren't you both close to him?" Meng Xiaodong asked, his voice taking on the edge of suspicion.

 

Yin Guo tried to maintain a composed expression despite the unease inside her. "We have a pretty good relationship with him," she said slowly, "He seems to come back every weekend, probably around this time on Friday." She exchanged a glance with her cousin for confirmation. "Right?"

 

Her cousin nodded, playing along with the ruse. "Yeah, that's right," he chimed in.

 

Meng Xiaodong eyed them skeptically. "Do you have his contact information?" he asked, his piercing gaze locking onto Yin Guo.

 

"I do, bro, I do," her cousin interjected eagerly, sensing the tension in the air.

 

Yin Guo's cousin was like a younger brother to her; in critical situations, she always felt the need to protect him. As they exchanged glances, Yin Guo's heart raced, trying to decipher the intentions behind Meng Xiaodong's request.

 

"Ask him when he'll arrive?" Meng Xiaodong instructed his cousin, "Don't mention that I'm here."

 

Yin Guo couldn't help but wonder, what are you trying to do? Her heart thumped rapidly as she quickly exchanged glances with her cousin.

 

Meng Xiaotian had no choice but to obey and sent a message to Lin Yi Yang, who responded almost instantly.

 

"He's downstairs," the cousin cleared his throat and reported back to Meng Xiaodong.

 

Meng Xiaodong strode across the room, his crisp white shirt contrasting sharply against his dark trousers. As he unbuttoned his shirt, Yin Guo couldn't help but notice that he had left one button undone, a rare sight for the usually meticulous and fastidious man.

 

Yin Guo's mind raced with worry. Why was he unbuttoning his shirt? Was he really going to fight? They were in their teens when they were considered rivals, and they hadn't seen each other since high school. It didn't make sense for them to fight now.

 

Feeling too scared to speak, Yin Guo quickly sent a WeChat message to Meng Xiaotian, but he was too stunned to check his phone. Yin Guo decided to act and kicked her cousin's shoe with her foot to get his attention. He looked down and saw her signal to check his phone, finally noticing the message she had sent him.

 

Xiaoguo: Your brother has a bad temper, so if he starts a fight, remember to stop him.

 

Tian Tian: I can't stop him...

 

As they were talking, the sound of the door lock drew their attention, and they turned to look at the entrance.

 

Lin Yi Yang walked in with a sports backpack, looking tired and disheveled from his train ride. He let out a deep sigh and stretched his neck, trying to relieve the stiffness from his uncomfortable position on the train. His fingers went back and touched his chin, where there were new stubbles that he had forgotten to shave for two days.

 

The first person Lin Yi Yang saw was Yin Guo. She was standing at the doorway with her long curly hair tied in a ponytail, which made her face look extremely small and beautifully contoured.

 

Lin Yi Yang was taken aback to see Yin Guo standing at the door, and his voice was barely audible as he asked, "Aren't you coming in?"

 

Yin Guo hesitated and kept glancing toward the living room.

 

"This is my real brother," Meng Xiaotian said, stepping closer to his sibling. "I'm Meng Xiaotian, and he's Meng Xiaodong."

 

When Meng Xiaodong arrived in New York, he had claimed to know Lin Yi Yang, but Xiaotian was unaware of how they knew each other. Among the four people in the room, only he, an outsider, didn't seem to understand.

 

At the sound of Meng Xiaodong's name, Lin Yi Yang turned his attention to the old friend who had been scrutinizing him for some time.

 

Despite the years that had passed, Meng Xiaodong remained unchanged. His passion for billiards was the only constant in his life, and he dressed for it accordingly. Even off the field, he preferred to wear a sleeveless vest and tie to look the part.

 

And what about him? Meng Xiaodong frowned and looked back at Lin Yi Yang's outfit. He examined the sports hoodie, the casual jacket on the outside, the black sneakers, and, most notably, the jeans. Lin Yi Yang's disheveled appearance was a far cry from the neatly-dressed individuals he usually encountered in his high-end social circles.

 

Several seconds passed in tense silence.

 

Lin Yi Yang hurled his sports bag against the wall with a resounding thud. The bag was already dirty, and he had planned on washing it this time, so he didn't care where it landed.

 

He pointed to the collar of his shirt, indicating that Meng Xiaodong had not buttoned his shirt correctly. "I don't like your style," he quipped.

 

"It's too hot inside. I removed it myself," Meng Xiaodong replied defensively.

 

Lin Yi Yang unzipped his jacket and casually shrugged it off, tossing it onto the armrest of the sofa with nonchalant air. "It's a bit hot. I'm going to wash my face. Please, sit down," he said, indicating the empty couch.

 

Meng Xiaodong's face turned cold at Lin Yi Yang's politeness. "We're both men. No need to be so polite," he remarked, his tone icy.

 

Lin Yi Yang rubbed his stiff neck, still sore from the train journey. "It's not about being polite. My neck really hurts. I was hoping to use a hot towel to soothe it," he explained, motioning towards the bathroom.

 

Without waiting for a response, Lin Yi Yang strode into the bedroom and shut the door behind him. "Just wait if you need me," he called out, his voice muffled by the closed door.

 

Meng Xiaodong felt a sense of unease as he watched Lin Yi Yang take off his jacket and throw it carelessly onto the sofa.

 

It was a stark contrast to the composed and dignified person he once knew. Even his interaction with Yin Guo at the door felt strange, a side of Lin Yi Yang that Meng Xiaodong had never seen before. He wondered what could have happened to change him so drastically. He learned to leave room for others and to understand human affection, but in the eyes of Meng Xiaodong, he was like a plucked bird, from an eagle soaring in the sky to a sparrow hiding in America.

 


 

Without another word, Lin Yi Yang disappeared into the bathroom, leaving Meng Xiaodong alone in the living room. Meng Xiaotian announced his fatigue and retreated to the bedroom. Yi Guo also entered her room. While inside, she acted like she closed the door and nervously sat on the bed, peering out of the slightly ajar door. The minutes ticked by agonizingly slowly, each one feeling like an eternity.

 

After a few minutes, Yin Guo caught a glimpse of movement through the crack in the door as the bathroom door opened, and Lin Yi Yang emerged wearing long sports pants and no shirt. The crack was too narrow to reveal much detail.

"Yin Guo," her cousin called out from beyond the door.

 

Just as she was about to respond, her cousin spoke again.

 

"Close the door."

 

Yin Guo complied, shutting the door with a soft click.

 

The lock engaged, muffling any further sounds from the other side of the door.

 

Lin Yi Yang stood in the living room, shirtless and freshly shaven, holding a hot towel to his neck. He rummaged through a plastic cabinet for something to prop him up and relieve the soreness in his neck. "What do you need to say to me that you need her to close the door?" he asked, glancing over at Meng Xiaodong.

 

Meng Xiaodong hesitated before responding, "I don't know where to start."

 

"Take your time," Lin Yi Yang said calmly, the two men speaking softly to avoid being heard by the two people in the bedroom.

 

Lin Yi Yang discarded the cold towel and opened a box of "Voltaren" tubes, squeezing a small amount onto his neck and massaging it in. He disappeared into the bedroom to change into a clean shirt and emerged moments later, looking more put-together.

 


 

"Have you figured it out?" he asked.'

 

"I came to find you. I haven't heard from you in years. If Xiao Tian hadn't mentioned that he knew two older brothers, I would never have thought that you and Wu Wei would be in New York," Meng Xiaodong said, his voice tinged with disappointment.

 

"You're not playing billiards anymore?" asked Meng Xiaodong straightforwardly, "Don't you think it's a pity?"

 

Lin Yi Yang closed the drawer, trying to mask his irritation. "I've been playing all along. Betting on billiards is a quick way to make money." Both men fell silent, avoiding each other's gaze.

 

Meng Xiaodong didn't appreciate the mention of gambling: "Let's not talk about that. You know I have a bad temper."

 

Lin Yi Yang glanced at him sideways: "I'm just trying to chat with you, and you're already getting defensive. Do you even know what fake politeness is?"

 

Their eyes met, and the two former opponents examined each other in silence for a moment.

 

Years had flown by, and they had both changed yet remained the same.

 

Looking at Meng Xiaodong, Lin Yi Yang was reminded of how different they were. Back then, Meng Xiaodong had an effeminate appearance and a serious character, while he had a rebellious face and a difficult personality. Only Jiang Yang was able to settle their disputes. But now, Jiang Yang was nowhere to be seen.

 

The false composure Lin Yi Yang had built over the years was about to break down in the face of Meng Xiaodong's honesty. He let out a sigh, trying to defuse the tension. "You're a world champion. What do you have to prove against someone like me, who's nobody?" he said.

 

"Are you making fun of yourself now? What happened to the old Little Yang?" Meng Xiaodong asked, not falling for Lin Yi Yang's attempt to defuse the tension.

 

"We're almost 30 years old. Can't we move on from the past?" Lin Yi Yang joked, attempting to lighten the mood. "Let's drink and catch up, but leave the old grudges behind."

 

"Okay," Meng Xiaodong unexpectedly agreed.

 

His next sentence was, "Let's talk about my younger sister."

 

......

 

He didn't say anything. His eyes were fixed on the other person, seemingly sarcastic. It was hard to read what he was thinking, but Meng Xiaodong was used to his friend's nonverbal cues.

 

For a rare moment, after entering the room, Meng Xiaodong showed a smile. It seems he was saying to the other party that he wasn't stupid.

 

On the way here, Meng Xiaodong had already deduced a lot from the information given by his younger brother. When Lin Yi Yang came in, he noticed his friend's uneasiness and the worried expression on Yin Guo's face, which raised his certainty even further.

 

At this moment, the expression on Lin Yi Yang's face made him completely certain. "Did I guess it right?" Meng Xiaodong followed up.

 

Lin Yi Yang cracked a smile and replied, "Meng Xiaodong, are you being childish or what?"

 

Meng Xiaodong chuckled, "It's rare for me to catch you off guard. It feels good." He picked up his coat from the sofa and said, "I heard there's a billiard room downstairs. Let's see if you still have what it takes to stand out among the many suitors."

 

Lin Yi Yang's expression soured, "If you're looking for an excuse to play billiards with me, you don't have to beat around the bush."

 

Meng Xiaodong didn't object to Lin Yi Yang's response and simply said, "See you downstairs." He missed the days when they used to play billiards together.

 

Mentioning Yin Guo was just an excuse. As opponents, they had become the best of friends, the kind of profound friendship forged in countless matches.

 

As he left, Meng Xiaodong couldn't help but make a playful comment: "Put on a shirt. I won't play billiards with someone wearing that," referring to the short-sleeved shirt Lin Yi Yang was wearing.

 

After Meng Xiaodong had gone and the door was closed, Lin Yi Yang couldn't help but think that his old friend still had the same sarcastic edge. "He really deserves a beating; that hasn't changed," he thought to himself.

 

Lin Yi Yang stood up and walked towards his bedroom, leaving his empty cup on the coffee table. He opened the closet and started searching for a shirt to wear. With Wu Wei being his size, there were many options to choose from, most of them for competitions. He dug through the shirts, looking for something appropriate. After a few moments, he pulled out a plain black one, unbuttoned it, and took off his short-sleeved shirt.

 

Lin Yi Yang held the dress shirt up and inspected it closely. He ran his fingers over the fabric, feeling the smooth texture. The sensation brought back memories of his youth when he would wear the most ordinary clothes and have to iron out the wrinkles before each game.

 

His emotional attachment to his competition attire was evident in the fact that he hadn't bought a single dress shirt or trousers for himself in years. Instead, he would borrow them when needed, unable to let go of the importance he placed on his game-day clothing.

 

Lin Yi Yang carefully followed the competition dress code as he wore the long-sleeved, pure black dress shirt. He made sure to fasten all the buttons, including the cuffs, and tuck the shirt into his dark trousers. The fabric felt crisp and cool against his skin, and he couldn't help but admire the quality of the shirt.

 

As he finished dressing, Yin Guo approached his room and quietly pushed open the half-closed door. She couldn't help but gasp as she saw the transformed Lin Yi Yang. The half-open curtains allowed light to shine on his bare upper body as he buttoned up his shirt one by one. The black fabric accentuated his sharp features, making him look even more handsome and mysterious.

 

Yin Guo's voice trailed off as she struggled to find the words to describe the striking image before her. The contrast between his disheveled appearance and his current polished look was stark, leaving her momentarily speechless. "Did my brother do anything to you?" she finally managed to ask, breaking the moment's spell.

 

Lin Yi Yang's eyes were fixed on Yin Guo as he spoke in a hushed tone, his voice barely above a whisper. "Can you still see through this outfit?" he asked, the words dripping with a hidden meaning.

 

Yin Guo was taken aback, unsure of what he meant. Did he think she was blind? she wondered. Before she could ask, Lin Yi Yang stepped closer, his body language making it clear that he was talking about something else.

 

With a nod toward his black dress shirt, he said, "I'll wear this one."

 

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