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During the Snowstorm

4.4

Affairs of the Rolling Red Dust

41

It was late at night, and the quietness of the small apartment was almost palpable. Yin Guo had already turned off the main light, leaving only the dim glow of the small lamp on the bedside table. The sound of the person next door snoring could be heard faintly, but otherwise, there was no noise.

 

Lin Yi Yang sat on the cushioned sofa with his leg stretched out, his pants rolled up to reveal the long, shallow wound on his shin. He attempted to stick the adhesive bandages horizontally across the cut, but each time he tried, the band-aid failed to cooperate, crumpling into a ball in his hand.

 

"I can do it myself," he said, trying to keep his voice steady, but his voice broke on the last word.

 

Yin Guo heard the catch in his voice and glanced over at him. The usually composed man looked vulnerable in the dim light, as if the day's events had chipped away at his armor. She reached over and took the band-aid from his hand.

 

"It's alright," she said softly, her voice soothing. "Let me help you."

 

He nodded mutely, grateful for her offer. As she began to apply the band-aids to his wound, he couldn't help but feel a strange mix of emotions bubbling up inside him. It was rare for him to allow himself to be vulnerable, but here in this small room, with the soft light and Yin Guo's gentle touch, he felt like he could let his guard down.

 

Despite his initial reluctance, Lin Yi Yang realized that it would be best to use a bandage. He carefully opened the medical gauze and wrapped it around his leg, but it was too thin, so he added another layer. As he wrapped it up, Yin Guo noticed that he had forgotten to bring scissors.

 

"I'll go get them," Yin Guo said, throwing the sentence over her shoulder as she tiptoed out of the room. She didn't turn on the light, instead using the bright light from her phone to navigate her way to the scissors. After finding them, she returned to the room, where Lin Yi Yang had already tied the bandage.

 

Taking the scissors from her, he carefully cut the gauze to the appropriate length. He then deliberately leaned the scissors against the wall so that Yin Guo wouldn't accidentally step on them.

 

"Are you sleepy? Can we talk for a bit?" he asked.

 

"I'm wide awake." Yin Guo pulled a square cushion over, positioned it on the floor, and sat before him, hugging her knees.

 

Lin Yi Yang's legs were too long for the sofa, so he stretched them out on either side of her body and rested his arms on his own knees. In this way, she sat between his legs, facing him.

 

"I don't have many relatives. My parents have passed away, and my younger brother got married last year."

 

"That's quite early, isn't it?" Yin Guo asked.

 

Lin Yi Yang fixed his gaze on Yin Guo, his mind wandering as she spoke. She wasn't surprised to hear his story; he suspected Meng Xiaodong had something to do with it.

 

"My brother is several years younger than me. When our parents passed away, he was taken in by a relative who had no children and raised him like his own. He's doing well, and when he got married, I tried to give him some money, but he refused to take it. He didn't want to be a burden to me," Lin Yi Yang said.

 

"He must care about you a lot," Yin Guo nodded, understanding his brother's reluctance to accept help.

 

Lin Yi Yang gave a small smile. "Yes, he's always been good to me. I don't have to worry about taking care of a big family as some people do."

 

Yin Guo responded with a soft "uh-huh," a pang of sympathy hitting her as she thought about his past struggles.

 

Their self-introductions felt awkward and forced as if they were on a blind date and exchanging family backgrounds. Yin Guo vividly recalled having a similar conversation with Lin Yi Yang on the subway, but this time it felt different.

 

Lin Yi Yang anticipated her hesitation and said, "If there's anything you want to know, just ask me. I'm an open book."

 

Yin Guo noticed he was still staring at her and shifted in discomfort. "No, it's fine. I don't have any questions at the moment."

 

As the silence lingered, Yin Guo felt the weight of the air pressing down on her. She fidgeted with her fingers, unsure of what to do next. Lin Yi Yang's eyes scanned the room, taking in every detail as he tried to break the awkwardness. There was a white porcelain table lamp owned by the landlord. His gaze settled on the pink cotton bedsheet, most possibly bought by Yin Guo, and he couldn't help but wonder if it was her favorite color.

 

Realizing that they couldn't stay in the room any longer, Lin Yi Yang made a move to leave. He didn't want their night to end with an uncomfortable silence. As he got up and gathered the medical supplies, he felt a sense of relief, knowing he wouldn't have to face the awkwardness anymore. But just as he closed the plastic cabinet, the door creaked open behind him.

 

Yin Guo's heart raced as she silently walked over to the bathroom, feeling guilty about what had just happened between her and Lin Yi Yang. She closed the door behind her and stared blankly at herself in the mirror. She hadn't slept all night, and her face was greasy from the stress of the situation. She splashed some water on her face and started to lather up the foam, listening intently to any sound coming from outside.

 

As she waited, she couldn't help but wonder what Lin Yi Yang was doing. Was he going to bed now? She rinsed off the foam and stood still for a few moments, trying to compose herself before leaving the bathroom. She turned off the light and stepped out into the hallway, only to find Lin Yi Yang waiting for her, which almost caused her to scream in surprise. However, she managed to hold it in thanks to her years of competing and mental resilience.

 

"Aren't you going to sleep?" Yin Guo leaned against the doorframe, speaking in a low voice that made her feel like she could apply for a job as an intelligence officer.

 

The person in front of her approached but remained silent. He lowered his head and took a deep breath, inhaling the fragrance of facial cleanser from her forehead.

 

Yin Guo's heart quickened as she subconsciously leaned back against the doorframe. He continued to stare at her wordlessly.

 

Nervously, she bit her lip and whispered, "Why don't we go to my room?

 

"Why?" he asked.

 

"So we can speak a little louder," she whispered, "It's better than here."

 

Wu Wei's room is right next to the bathroom, which can be frightening to someone when they come out.

 

Lin Yi Yang didn't answer.

 

Yin Guo waited for his response, but he remained silent. "Or maybe there's nothing urgent... we can talk about it tomorrow," she whispered, hoping to break the silence. "You're not leaving early in the morning."

 

Lin Yi Yang's gaze wandered over her features in the darkness, and he leaned in to smell the lingering scent of her facial cleanser. Yin Guo could feel her heart pounding in her chest as she subconsciously leaned back against the doorframe.

 

Sensing her unease, Lin Yi Yang searched for her lips with his own, his breath warm against her skin. Yin Guo's mind raced with conflicting thoughts and emotions, but before she could respond, a loud ringing sound pierced the silence.

 

The ringing phone in Wu Wei's bedroom jolted them both back to reality. Yin Guo pushed Lin Yi Yang away, her heart pounding in her chest. But instead of stopping, Lin Yi Yang kissed her directly, his lips urgent and insistent. At first, it was just a simple kiss, but soon they were exploring other things, their passion ignited by the intense chemistry between them.

 

Yin Guo's heart was racing as Lin Yi Yang's lips moved from her mouth to her tongue, lightly sucking on it. She wanted to fully immerse herself in the moment, but the fear of being caught by Wu Wei was always present in her mind. When they finally pulled away from each other, she took a deep breath to calm herself.

 

Wu Wei's voice broke the silence, complaining about the time difference and the need for sleep. But the person on the other end of the phone continued to speak, determined to keep the conversation going. Yin Guo felt torn between the desire to stay and talk more, and the fear of getting caught.

 

"Aren't we just waiting for something to go wrong? Yes," the person continued.

 

......

 

As the sound approached, Yin Guo's heart pounded with anxiety, her senses sharpening to a heightened state of alert. It was as if the world had slowed down, and she was acutely aware of every detail of her surroundings. The sound receded, leaving her ears ringing and her body trembling.

 

Lin Yi Yang's right hand cradled the back of her head, his fingers brushing through her soft hair in a tender caress. Their gazes locked, and Yin Guo's breath caught in her throat. She felt a rush of emotions, her heart racing as she struggled to make sense of what was happening.

 

Her legs shook with the intensity of her feelings, and she felt as if she was suffocating, struggling to draw in a full breath. With his eyes fixed on hers, Lin Yi Yang whispered urgently, "Quick, go inside."

 

Finally, Yin Guo understood his message and released her grip on his sports jacket. They made their way through the living room, barely avoiding the high stool beside the bar counter until they reached the bedroom and locked the door behind them. As she exhaled a breath she didn't know she was holding, Yin Guo felt the throbbing pain in her right hand's knuckles, which were sore and swollen from how tightly she had been holding onto Lin Yi Yang's clothes.

 

Lin Yi Yang stood motionless momentarily, running his hand through his hair, and then checked the small alarm clock on the bar counter. Its digital display showed 3:17 am.

 

As they were catching their breath, the door to Wu Wei's bedroom creaked open, and he stumbled out, half-asleep. "I knew you were out there. Help me get a bottle of iced coffee. It takes at least three hours to recover from every time you scold me," Wu Wei said as he turned around and collapsed onto his bed. "Oh, go ahead and keep scolding. I'm all ears."

 

Lin Yi Yang paced around the living room, feeling restless and uncertain. He kept glancing at Yin Guo's bedroom door, unsure what to do next. Following Wu Wei's suggestion, he grabbed two cans of iced coffee and returned to the bedroom. He tossed one can on the bed and sank into the sofa, popping the tab on the other can and taking a swig. The bitter taste of the drink washed away the lingering taste of Yin Guo's kiss but did little to calm his racing thoughts.

 

He pulled out his phone and scrolled through his contacts, hesitating for a moment before dialing Yin Guo's number. He figured she, like him, was probably still wide awake, her mind filled with night events.

 

Wu Wei appeared at his side, pressing the speakerphone button and tossing the phone on the floor between them. A voice crackled from the speaker, the familiar voice of their friend Lin Lin, affectionately known as "Zong Zong." She launched into a lengthy tirade scolding Lin Yi Yang for his reckless behavior, and Wu Wei leaned in with a grin, whispering, "Since she's scolding you, let's just listen together."

 

Lin Yi Yang leaned back in the sofa chair, crossing his legs and gesturing for Lin Lin to lower her voice. "Hey, keep it down," he said, nodding towards the door to signal that he didn't want to wake anyone up.

 

Lin Lin let out an annoyed huff, scolding Lin Yi Yang for being ungrateful. Even though she was the only girl among the boys in the ball club, she had a fiery temper that rivaled even the toughest guys. She and Lin Yi Yang were the same age, but they didn't attend the same class. When Lin Yi Yang first joined the club, he was only eight years old and was placed in the second grade. He didn't perform well during his first and only stint in the youth group and decided to train in seclusion until he won the professional championship at the age of thirteen.

 

Before that, no one in the circle paid attention to him, and he was just another face in the crowd.

 

There was an instance when Lin Yi Yang was playing billiards at an outdoor hall when a group of thugs harassed Wu Wei.

Wu Wei fought back despite the odds, but not without taking a beating. Lin Lin was the only one having lunch at the club when the coach announced that Lin Yi Yang had gone to get a tetanus shot for his injuries. Lin Lin immediately dropped her chopsticks and rode her white bicycle to the scene, picking up a brick from a construction site on her way. She charged in and started a brawl, not hesitating for a moment.

 

"Whoever lays a hand on my friends, I'll make sure they regret it!" Lin Lin shouted as she swung the brick with incredible force. Her ferocity stunned everyone, and the bullies were no match for her. Even after they'd been pummeled by Lin Yi Yang, they still ran into a fierce woman.

 

Meng Xiaodong, who had been trying to pull her out, ended up getting punched in the face by mistake, thinking that he was a part of the hooligans.

 

When asked if she was afraid of taking on a gang, Lin Lin retorted with a famous saying, "Those who fear the strong fear the stubborn. And those who fear the stubborn fear those who fear nothing." Fearless, she was willing to risk everything to protect her loved ones.

 


 

Before that incident, Lin Yi Yang and Lin Lin were just two unknown kids in the ball society.

 

But after that incident, everyone in Dongxincheng knew about the Lin siblings, both good-looking and tough, who had taken on a group of thugs and emerged victorious.

 

......

 

Lin Yi Yang smiled as he listened to the woman's voice on his phone. It was Lin Lin, and her tone was as tough as ever. Wu Wei, sitting on the floor next to the sofa, turned down the volume and sipped his iced coffee, holding his knees. He looked up at Lin Yi Yang, who was staring at his phone screen.

 

Lin: Did I disturb you?

 

Yin Guo replied instantly.

 

Red Fish: Actually, I can't hear you very well.

 

Lin: :)

 

Red Fish: Are you still not asleep?

 

Lin: Wait until dawn.

 

Red Fish: Why?

 

Yin Guo lay on her bed, the only illumination coming from her phone's screen as she chatted with Lin Yi Yang. Her level of excitement was high, and it was clear that sleep would not come easy to her. She would likely stay awake until dawn and risk falling asleep on the train the following day. Lin Yi Yang didn't respond right away, leaving her to her own thoughts.

 

Feeling restless, Yin Guo clicked on Lin Yi Yang's profile picture, considering changing his nickname. She mulled over potential new names but ultimately decided against them.

 

Xiaoguo: Did you not get my message?

 

Lin: Of course I got it.

 

Xiaoguo: So, why didn't you reply?

 

Lin: What did you want me to reply to? Why wait for daylight?

 

Xiaoguo: Oh, I see.

 

Lin: I can't sleep.

 

Soon, he responded with just three words.

 

Lin: Because of you.

 

Yin Guo nestled her chin onto the soft pink cotton quilt, her gaze fixed on the last two sentences. The weight of those three little words sent a shiver down her spine.

 

Yin Guo pulled the soft pink quilt up to her chin, trying to shake off the memories of the kiss outside the bathroom door that kept haunting her mind. The thrill of the moment was almost too much to bear, her heart racing and her nerves on edge. She was constantly afraid of being caught or heard by someone, but at the same time, the excitement was overwhelming.

 

But now, as she lay in bed, she couldn't bear to dwell on the memories any longer. She had been in this bedroom all night while Lin Yi Yang was in the other bedroom outside the living room. They were both wide awake and unable to sleep. Yin Guo managed to doze off for a mere ten minutes before dawn, but her restless mind quickly woke her up again.

 

Despite feeling exhausted, Yin Guo's mind refused to let her fall into a deep slumber. It was no wonder that Zheng Yi had warned her that the early stages of a relationship could be like taking stimulants, leaving one unable to eat or sleep. And now, she knew exactly what he meant.

 

The first rays of morning sun streamed through the window as Yin Guo reached for her phone, squinting at the bright screen. It was 6:20 am. The message from Lin Yi Yang brought her fully awake.

 

Lin: You can come out now that you're awake. I'm in the living room.

 

She threw off the covers, and as she got up, she took a moment to straighten her wrinkled pajamas.

 

She grabbed the mirror from the nightstand and checked her reflection, relieved to see that she didn't look too disheveled. With a deep breath, she opened the door and stepped out into the living room.

 

It was a completely different scene from last night. The room was awash in sunlight, and Lin Yi Yang was busy preparing coffee. His messy hair and slightly bloodshot eyes were evidence that he had been up late too.

 

He noticed her and gave a casual wave, inviting her to join him at the counter. Men can stay up late better than women. Apart from a hint of redness in his eyes, he was not much different from last night, just a little tired. He stood leaning against the bar without paying much attention to his posture.

 

"Did you sleep well?" he asked in a hoarse voice.

 

"Um," she said reluctantly.

 

Lin pointed to a bag of beans next to him. "Try this. It works quickly."

 

Yan Guo recognized the packaging. It was the same store where she had bought coffee beans for Zheng Yi last time. But they didn't have it at home yesterday. She leaned against his arm, picked up the bag of beans, and looked at it. "When did you buy this?"

 

"Yesterday, I took a detour before coming back," Lin said, a hint of playfulness in his voice. In fact, It was more than just a detour. He remembered how he had taken the scenic route from the train station, wandering through the streets and taking in the sights before making his way back to the apartment.

 

Yin Guo couldn't help but smile at his words. She watched as he tended to the coffee, the aroma wafting through the air. When he saw her still holding the bag of coffee beans, he bent down to show her more options. "Here, try them out when you have the chance. I'm always on the lookout for new flavors," he said with a smile.

 

Yin Guo's heart was filled with warmth, and she looked at him with pursed lips, feeling grateful for his thoughtfulness.

Lin Yi Yang glanced at his wristwatch, calculating the time to turn off the stove, and said, "Don't always stare at me."

 

Although he told her not to look at him, he turned his head and whispered, "I've been trying to restrain myself."

 

I didn't kiss her when she walked over, Lin Yi Yang thought to himself.

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