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During the Snowstorm

4.3

Affairs of the Rolling Red Dust

74

Lin Yi Yang felt like a towering giant next to Yin Guo, so he stooped a little to match her height.

 

As he turned his head, the alluring aroma of Yin Guo's perfume filled his nostrils. The fragrance was a mix of fruity scents, light and sweet, and emanated from her chin and neck.

 

After a grueling four-hour train ride, coupled with the long wait for the train and subway, Lin Yi Yang felt exhausted. It would take a total of six or seven hours for a one-way trip, making it a twelve to thirteen-hour round trip every week, almost equivalent to the flight back to China.

 

In a desperate attempt to block out the fatigue, he closed his eyes and focused on the sounds around him, trying to amplify his hearing to drown out his weariness.

 

As Lin Yi Yang listened through the noise of the billiard room, he could hear the chattering of people still discussing his intense match against Meng Xiaodong. Intrigued by the game, some of them were inquiring about the rules of snooker, keen to try their hand at it.

 

In the midst of this, the owner was rummaging through his belongings, searching for the disk that Lin Yi Yang had previously copied for him. When he found it, he put it into the stereo and played the soulful melody of "Years of Friendship."

 

The music filled the air, and Lin Yi Yang's heart stirred with nostalgia. He had always been an avid fan of the "Young and Dangerous" movie franchise, which was popular among his generation. Whenever he worked in the billiard room, he selfishly included all the movie's soundtracks for the boss to play.

 

Listening to the song, Lin Yi Yang reached for his lighter in his pocket, absentmindedly playing with it while reminiscing about his youth. The flickering flame of the lighter illuminated his hand, casting a warm orange glow.

 

The sound of music enveloped the pool room, its upbeat tempo lifting everyone's spirits. Suddenly, someone piped up with a question, "Hey, can we use Lin's private room since it's not being used?"

 

The owner of the pool room shook his head, "No, Lin has made it clear that nobody is allowed in there except for his girlfriend."

 

Yin Guo was taken aback by the owner's response, her mouth hanging open in disbelief.

 

Then, Lin Yi Yang leaned toward her and whispered softly, "Can I get a hug?"

 

......

 

She felt her heart flutter, but she was determined to keep up her guard. Deliberately, she responded in a soft voice, "No."

Lin Yi Yang's smile faded slightly as she spoke, and he turned his head to look deeply into her eyes. The intensity of his gaze was almost overwhelming, and it felt as if he was gazing right into her soul.

 

Meanwhile, two young people appeared from around the corner, their carefree laughter and lively chatter disrupting the moment. They were heading towards the billiard room, looking for a spot to play.

 

Lin Yi Yang and Yin Guo were leaning against the left side of the door, causing the two young men to take a half-step in the opposite direction to avoid them. But the entrance was narrow, and the two guys accidentally collided with Lin Yi Yang and Yin Guo, causing her heel to be kicked. In a polite gesture, Yin Guo took a half-step forward, finding herself leaning on Lin Yi Yang's chest.

 

Lin Yi Yang couldn't help but smile and teasingly remarked, "You said no, but you're still leaning on me?" Despite his words, his right hand remained by his side, behaving itself.

 

As the breeze flowed through the room, Yin Guo felt its cool touch against her face and hair. Realizing the intimacy of their position, she quickly withdrew her hand from Lin Yi Yang's grasp, feeling flustered by the sudden closeness. "It's too narrow here," she explained, trying to distance herself from the awkward situation.

 

Yin Guo turned to the food cart and suggested, "How about we grab a hot dog?" She stared at the boss, waiting for his response, her palms sweaty with anticipation and anxiety. She had to show some consideration for the business.

 

Lin Yi Yang noticed the worry on her face and decided to take action. He straightened up, called over the boss's son, and asked him to bring out the clothes he had prepared for the trip. The clothes were quickly sent out as if they had been waiting behind the door for this exact moment.

 

"I'll take you to Koreatown," Lin Yi Yang said to Yin Guo, offering her a reassuring smile. This time, they wouldn't be taking the subway. He had arranged for a car to pick them up and take them to their destination.

 

Unfortunately, Lin Yi Yang's plans were foiled by a big demonstration that completely blocked the road in Manhattan. As they sat in the car, their driver turned to Lin Yi Yang and asked if they should take a detour or walk to their destination.

 

Deciding to walk, Lin Yi Yang and Yin Guo paid for the fare and stepped out of the taxi. As they made their way through the streets, they were met with a heavy police presence. The officers were holding bundles of white ropes and wooden sticks, guarding the area and making it clear that the situation was not to be taken lightly.

 

Yin Guo's heart was pounding as they approached the mass of people holding up signs and chanting. "Why are they protesting this time?" she whispered to Lin Yi Yang.

 

Lin Yi Yang's face betrayed a hint of boredom. "Protests happen all the time here, and the reasons are different each time," he replied. "Sometimes they're positive, like the National Day parade, but other times they can be dangerous. I remember when I first arrived in San Francisco, there was a violent incident with fighting and looting at night during the winter."

 

As they made their way through the crowded Manhattan street, Lin Yi Yang kept a protective hold on Yin Guo's arms, keeping her close and shielded from the throngs of people holding various signs and chanting slogans. Despite the chaos around them, his tall frame allowed him to navigate the crowd with ease, and he kept a watchful eye on their surroundings.

 

As they approached a particularly congested intersection, the air was thick with tension and the sound of shouting. Lin Yi Yang could see a group of protesters engaging in a physical altercation with some police officers up ahead, and he knew they needed to get out of there quickly.

 

With a firm grip on Yin Guo's arm, he deftly steered them off the main road and onto a side street, away from the chaos. Despite the tense situation, he kept a cool head and managed to navigate their way to safety.

 

As the chaos ensued and the crowd jostled them, Lin Yi Yang's voice appeared next to Yin Guo's right ear, "Quickly, turn right and take a different route." But before she could even react, someone accidentally stepped on her foot, causing her to yelp in pain. Then, someone bumped into her left shoulder, making her stumble.

 

Feeling her distress, Lin Yi Yang instinctively pulled Yin Guo into a tight embrace and led her to the safety of a nearby restaurant. He knew better than to run on the road amidst the ruckus. Instead, he found a corner that was not easy to disperse and gently pushed Yin Guo against the wall, with his back facing the road, acting as a barrier to protect her from the unruly crowd.

 

Yin Guo could feel her heart racing against her chest as Lin Yi Yang pressed her against the dirty wall. Her breathing was labored, and her ears were ringing from the chaos of the crowds around them.

 

Lin Yi Yang held her protectively, shielding her from the jostling of the people pushing past them. He could feel her hot breath through the fabric of his shirt pocket, and his own heart was pounding against his chest. He didn't dare let his guard down, not even for a second.

 

The noise was deafening, and people were still pushing and shoving, but Lin Yi Yang's gaze was fixed firmly on the main road. He needed to keep a clear head and judge whether the situation was worsening and whether they needed to move on.

 

Luckily, it was just a small-scale disturbance.

 

As the commotion died down, Lin Yi Yang loosened his grip on Yin Guo, allowing her to take a deep breath. She turned her head, still feeling shaken, to see the procession moving forward.

 

"It's alright," Lin Yi Yang reassured her. "There's a minor scuffle. Nothing to be afraid of. Those who ran away were probably scaring themselves."

 

He surveyed the surroundings, checking for any signs of further trouble. Satisfied that the situation was under control, he turned his attention back to Yin Guo and let her go.

 

Yin Guo's gaze darted nervously from side to side, her heart still racing with fear after the chaotic scene they had just escaped. As she turned her head to survey their surroundings, she let out a small gasp of relief to see that the procession was still moving forward and the situation had not escalated.

 

Yin Guo tried to steady her breathing. " Let's just go somewhere safe and grab something to eat."

 

Lin Yi Yang nodded and thought about hugging her to cross over, but then he felt it was not appropriate. Lin Yi Yang stepped closer to her and held her right arm gently but firmly, guiding her through the bustling street. The crowds still jostled around them, but he deftly navigated their way through the chaos. He pushed open the glass door as they approached the restaurant, ushering Yin Guo inside to safety.

 

The restaurant was small and bustling with locals. The owner, a portly man with a warm smile, saw Lin Yi Yang's gesture and led them to a cramped table by the wall. As he handed them the menus, the aroma of stir-fried dishes wafted through the air.

Lin Yi Yang quickly scanned the menu and pointed to a few items. "How about we try the chicken wings and French fries?" he suggested.

 

Yin Guo nodded, still shaken by the recent chaos outside. Lin Yi Yang continued, "And the pasta? You once recommended it to me. Do you remember the shape you liked?"

 

Her mind still reeling, Yin Guo gazed blankly at the menu under the bright, yellowish light of the restaurant. The memory of being pressed against the wall, her face buried in his chest for protection, and then being pulled close to him as they navigated through the trash-strewn sidewalk left her feeling disoriented.

 

Yin Guo couldn't help but feel flustered when she locked eyes with Lin Yi Yang. The intensity of his gaze caused her to daydream and blush, and she soon realized that she had fallen completely for him.

 

As they perused the menu, Lin Yi Yang listed off the different types of pasta available. "There's long and flat ones, penne, spiral ones, and layered ones," he said.

 

"Let's go for penne," Yin Guo picked one that sounded appetizing.

 


 

But as soon as Lin Yi Yang ordered the penne, Yin Guo regretted her decision. She realized that she actually hated eating penne and felt disappointed that this would be the worst meal she had eaten since coming for the competition.

 

It was Yin Guo's first official date with Lin Yi Yang, and they had chosen a local restaurant with a homey ambiance. As soon as their pasta arrived, Yin Guo's appetite was completely ruined by the unappetizing look of the dish and its overwhelming size. The same was true for the chicken wings and fries, distasteful but massive compared to typical restaurant servings.

 

Lin Yi Yang had only ordered these three items and a drink, knowing well the quantity of food that would be served.

 

As Yin Guo struggled to eat even a third of her meal, Lin Yi Yang watched her closely and finally spoke up when she put down her fork.

 

"You like it that much?" he asked with a wry smile.

 

He had finished off the chicken wings not because they tasted good, but because he didn't want to let them go to waste. It was clear to him that this restaurant had a reputation for oversized portions rather than quality cuisine.

 

She took another sip of the lemon tea and watched as Lin Yi Yang finished the rest of the chicken wings. "Mm," she said, trying to sound appreciative. "This lemon tea is tasty."

 

Lin Yi Yang chuckled. "Glad you like it. I should've known better than to bring you to this place."

 

Yin Guo felt lost in his features as she looked at him. His striking eyes, sharp nose, and chiseled jawline all seemed to complement each other perfectly. Even his messy hair and rugged beard, now groomed and shaved, looked good on him. How had she never noticed how handsome he was before? No wonder Meng Xiaotian always called him "Dashuaibi."

 

Yin Guo bit the straw, and as their gazes met and shifted, she found herself staring at the peeling wall next to him. The crowded restaurant suddenly felt smaller and more intimate.

 

"It's just okay, not really to my taste," Lin Yi Yang replied, pushing away the plate. "I'll whip up something better when we get back."

 

"Wait, you can cook?" Yin Guo looked at him with surprise.

 

"I can manage simple stuff," he said, picking up the bill and heading to the counter.

 

As they returned home, they found Wu Wei waiting with a spread of late-night snacks on the table. Wu Wei gave Lin Yi Yang a disdainful look as she handed him the bill. Lin Yi Yang had messaged him to prepare a second meal after finding the chicken wings at the restaurant to be subpar.

 

Yin Guo was still full from the pasta they had for dinner, so she didn't eat much of the snacks. She left the rest for her cousin and Wu Wei to devour.

 

As soon as they arrived home, Yin Guo felt a sense of unease with the additional presence of Wu Wei and her cousin, who watched them with scrutinizing eyes. The awkwardness continued throughout dinner, with Lin Yi Yang and Yin Guo struggling to find common ground. In the middle of their meal, Yin Guo's phone rang, interrupting their conversation. She excused herself and went to her room to take the call from her coach, discussing her training progress.

 

When she returned to the living room, Wu Wei was already packing up, and Lin Yi Yang was engrossed in a conversation with his professor over the phone. Their brief exchange left them with an unspoken yearning for more time together. After a long day, they retreated to their respective rooms to shower and sleep, but not before exchanging a few words.

 

Yin Guo hesitated before sending Lin Yi Yang a message, "Are you leaving tomorrow?"

 

Lin: Yes.

 

Yin Guo: In the morning or afternoon?

 

Lin: Same as last week.

 

Yin Guo thought Ok then. If I don't wake up, I'll be a no-show.

 

Yin Guo: Good night. See you tomorrow.

 

Lin: Night.

 

They said good night to each other and turned off their phones but couldn't fall asleep.

 

Yin Guo tossed and turned in bed, her mind buzzing with thoughts about the upcoming competition. She checked her phone and scrolled through the club's large group chat and the nine-ball small group chat. It was the afternoon in China, and everyone was discussing various competitions during their training breaks, chatting passionately.

 

The biggest recent competition in nine-ball is this open tournament. In the group chat, everyone confirms each person's arrival time in New York.

 

In the following days, the anticipation for the upcoming competitions was palpable among the players in the group chat. Yin Guo silently observed their discussions and updates, feeling a mixture of excitement and nervousness for her own competition the week after.

 

Knowing Yin Guo is asleep, no one talks to her directly in the group chat, except for Coach Chen, who left her a message on WeChat two hours ago.

 

Coach Chen: I'll be landing at the airport tomorrow afternoon if there are no delays.

 

Coach Chen: When I arrive, I have arranged for you to move to the hotel, where a room has already been prepared for you. We'll need to adjust your training plan to prepare for the competition. We can discuss the details when we meet.

"Move over?"

 

She had planned for the possibility of having to move out when she and Wu Wei rented the apartment. Despite having rented the room until the end of April, it was only to satisfy the landlord through Wu Wei. They knew it wouldn't be wise to rent it for too short of a time.

 

She realized that they would have to move out by the end of the weekend at the latest, and most likely by the following week.

 

Yin Guo looked up and stared blankly at the door to her room. She could see a crack of light coming through the bottom of the door.

 

Curiosity got the better of her, and she attempted to probe who was in the living room by sending a message via WeChat.

Xiao Guo: Are you asleep?

 

No response, so she assumed it wasn't him.

 

She turned off the bedside lamp and rested her head on the pillow. However, as soon as she did, her phone vibrated on the nightstand for a moment. She quickly sat up and checked her phone.

 

Lin: Just saw it.

 

Xiao Guo: So, are you outside the door?

 

Lin: Yes.

 

Lin: Are you coming out?

 

Yin Guo flung her phone onto the nightstand, hastily threw on a sports jacket, and crept towards the door, her hand tightly clutching the cold brass handle. She slowly turned the handle and opened the door just a sliver when she felt someone suddenly push it open.

 

A tall figure slipped inside and softly shut the door, leaving it slightly ajar to avoid the clicking sound of the lock.

 

"It's me, your brother," he whispered, his voice barely above a murmur.

 

The sound of slippers dragging across the floor reverberated through the hallway, coming closer and then slowly fading away until the only sound left was the soft hum of the air conditioning.

 

"Why didn't you turn off the lights?" Meng Xiaotian grumbled groggily, shutting the door behind him.

 

Lin Yi Yang followed closely behind him, silently closing the door behind him.

 

The room was enveloped in darkness, with the curtains drawn tight and no natural light filtering in.

 

Yin Guo stood frozen in front of Lin Yi Yang, feeling as though she could hear her own heart beating. In the complete darkness, she could barely make out Lin Yi Yang's form in his white sportswear, which he must have changed into after he had already fallen asleep.

 

Both of them waited silently for Meng Xiaotian to settle down in his bed, so that they could talk without being overheard.

 

The footsteps eventually faded away, and Yin Guo let out a quiet sigh of relief. She turned her attention back to Lin Yi Yang, who stood in front of her in his white sportswear. Despite the room's darkness, she could see the outline of his face and the glint of his watch in the moonlight.

 

"Are you still awake?" she whispered, breaking the silence.

 

"Looking for medicine," he replied, his voice just above a murmur. He had been jostled in the crowd earlier and now had a cut on his hand.

 

"Are you sick?" Yin Guo asked with concern.

 

Lin Yi Yang held up his hand to show her the cut, revealing a small gash on his palm. "Just a small cut," he reassured her, showing some ointment, gauze, and band-aids on his hand.

 

Lin Yi Yang scanned the dimly lit room before pointing toward the small sofa by the window. "Mind if I sit over there?"

"Please, go ahead," Yin Guo said as she made her way to the main light switch.

 

But Lin Yi Yang took her hand and pointed towards the bedside lamp. "This will be enough," he said before sitting down on the small, soft sofa. He carefully placed the things in his hand on the floor, revealing a wound on his ankle.

 

Yin Guo couldn't help but notice that this was Lin Yi Yang's first time in her room, despite Wu Wei renting it for quite some time. She had purchased the small sofa as soon as she moved in, but it was little more than a big cushion. While it was comfortable enough for her, Lin Yi Yang's presence made it look even smaller and out of place.

 

Yin Guo squatted beside Lin Yi Yang and examined the wound in the dim light of the bedside lamp. The cut was long but not deep, as if something sharp had sliced through the fabric of his pants. She furrowed her brows and whispered, "How did you get this?"

 

"On the train," he replied nonchalantly, avoiding giving away too many details.

 

"You only noticed it now?" Yin Guo asked in disbelief. "You've been walking around with an open wound all this time?"

"It doesn't hurt, so I didn't realize it," he said with a shrug.

 

Despite his nonchalant attitude, Yin Guo could see the discomfort etched on his face, making her worry. She watched as he applied ointment to the wound and thought about how she could help.

 

Lin Yi Yang decided to use a few adhesive bandages to cover the wound and avoid touching it during his travel the next day. He tore off some bandages from the stack and tried to figure out how to stick them on horizontally.

 

"I'll help you," Yin Guo whispered as she crouched beside him.

 

Not hearing her, Lin Yi Yang looked up and saw her face in the dim light. Her eyes were filled with concern, and she was looking at him with a tenderness he had never experienced before. The way she offered to help him with his wound was so natural and caring that it touched him in a way he couldn't explain.

 

"I'll help you," Yin Guo repeated, noticing the look on his face. "Let me apply the band-aids."

 

Lin Yi Yang felt his heart skip a beat as Yin Guo gently took the band-aids from him and started to stick them on his wound. It was a simple gesture, but it made him feel strangely comforted. No one had ever offered to help him like this before, and he didn't know how to respond.

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