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During the Snowstorm

5.1

The Tide of Time

93

At first, Yin Guo was puzzled, her mind racing to figure out what Lin Yi Yang meant. It took her a few seconds to grasp his subtle hint.

 

Stretching out his right hand, Lin Yi Yang gestured for the bag of coffee beans. Yin Guo handed him the paper bag, their hands briefly touching. He placed the bag in the drawer but didn't release her hand.

 

Before Yin Guo could react, Lin Yi Yang pulled her towards him; their bodies were now inches apart. She could feel his breath on her face, and she couldn't help but think, "No, I haven't brushed my teeth yet."

 

"It looks like you can turn off the heat on your coffee," Yin Guo said, trying to find an excuse to avoid him.

 

"This batch didn't turn out quite right," he replied in a low voice. "I'll pour it out and start over."

 

Yin Guo was still hesitant. She knew she needed to brush her teeth first. She shook her head and dodged away again.

 

At first, they were both shy and unsure of how to communicate their thoughts. Yin Guo didn't feel comfortable directly telling him she needed to brush her teeth before getting closer. But Lin Yi Yang could see the troubled expression on her face.

 

He turned his head and looked into her eyes. "Changed your mind?" he asked, his tone soft and inviting.

 

The door to the restroom creaked open, breaking the tense silence in the room. Wu Wei stumbled out, his eyes darting from Lin Yi Yang to Yin Guo, taking in the scene before him. Lin Yi Yang shot him an annoyed glance as he turned off the heat and waited for the coffee to cool. Yin Guo stood at the counter, her eyes fixed on the empty bar top, lost in thought.

 

Wu Wei couldn't help but wonder if they had been up to something under the counter. He also couldn't shake off the memory of where Lin Yi Yang had gone the previous night before making the phone call.

 

Lin Yi Yang kicked the drawer shut and cleared his throat, his voice sharp as he warned Wu Wei to mind his own business. Wu Wei coughed nervously and rubbed his neck. "Good morning," he muttered.

 

Yin Guo looked up from the empty bar top, her eyes still a little dazed. But as soon as she saw Wu Wei, she managed a polite smile.

 

"Did we disturb you yesterday? My sister called," said Wu Wei.

 

"Not at all. I didn't hear a thing," she replied, her voice still a little husky from sleep.

 

Wu Wei seemed relieved at her response. "Oh, that's good. It was Lin Lin who called. She's also a nine-ball player," he explained.

 

Yin Guo nodded, her interest piqued. "Yes, I've heard of her. Maybe we'll cross paths at the competition in Hangzhou at the end of April. She'll be there as a referee," she said with a smile.

 

Lin Lin was a legendary player in women's nine-ball, consistently ranking among the top few in the world. She had won three major competitions in a row before retiring and becoming a referee behind the scenes due to poor health.

 

As Yin Guo listened to Wu Wei's mention of Lin Lin, her mind began to wander. Could Lin Lin and Lin Yi Yang have an unusual relationship? The thought lingered in her mind as she glanced at Lin Yi Yang.

 

"Has your brother mentioned her in recent years?" Lin Yi Yang suddenly asked, breaking the silence.

 

Yin Guo's mind scrambled for a moment, confused by the sudden question. "Is my brother close to her?" she finally managed to ask, trying to make sense of the situation.

 

"Not just close," Wu Wei spoke up, now that Lin Yi Yang had opened up about the topic. "Lin Lin has been pursuing your brother for many years," he added, his tone suggesting that this was common knowledge.

 

Yin Guo's eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

 

"Is Lin Lin your sister?" she remembered Wu Wei calling her that.

 

"It's just my term of endearment," Wu Wei said, "but her relationship with me is no different than a real sister."

Lin Yi Yang chimed in, "When we were young, Wu Wei was brilliant in academics, but he was also timid and often bullied by local hooligans. Lin Lin would always stand up for him, so he's always considered her as a true sibling."

 

Wu Wei nodded in agreement, "That's right. I owe her a lot."

 

Then, Lin Yi Yang added, "Lin Lin even risked her life to protect Meng Xiaodong once."

 

Wu Wei pulled up his sleeve and pointed to a spot on his shoulder blade, "That's true. She has a tattoo there which she got to cover up a scar from a fight with some hooligans who held a grudge against your brother."

 

Yin Guo was taken aback. "Wow, that's quite something. My brother has never mentioned her at all,"

 

Yin Guo furrowed her brows, racking her brain to recall any mention of a woman named Lin Lin. However, she couldn't seem to connect the dots.

 

As Lin Yi Yang and Wu Wei exchanged a knowing look, Yin Guo couldn't help but feel like she was missing something. "Did my brother have any feelings for her?" she asked hesitantly, lowering her voice so as not to disturb her cousin's sleep.

 

Lin Yi Yang hesitated before shaking his head. "I'm not entirely sure," he admitted, pouring three cups of steaming coffee and placing them on the table in front of them.

 

Yin Guo gazed at Wu Wei with a furrowed brow, hoping to find some answers in his eyes. But all she got was a shake of the head.

 

"Who knows what your brother was thinking? He's always been closed off emotionally. He is too focused on sports, yet he's only in fifth place now. Jiang Yang has been outperforming him all year."

 

Yin Guo felt the need to defend her brother. "That's not entirely true," she said. "Jiang Yang is only in fourth place this year. Two years ago, my brother even surpassed him."

 

Wu Wei chuckled, "Yes, yes, let's not get too caught up in their rankings. We've been arguing about it for years."

 

Lin Yi Yang listened to their conversation silently, sipping his coffee, seemingly unaffected by their discussion.

 

Wu Wei finished his coffee with a few sips, picked up his keys, and announced that he should go. Yin Guo watched him leave before turning back to Lin Yi Yang.

 

Silence lingered for a moment before Lin Yi Yang spoke up. "Are you tired of hearing about my past?"

 

Yin Guo shook her head. "No, not at all. I find it interesting. Would you get tired of hearing about my childhood stories?"

 

Lin Yi Yang shook his head. He likes hearing anything about her. It's just unfortunate that no one was willing to tell him.

 

The early stages of a relationship are magical, full of excitement, and the thrill of discovering everything about the other person. Every story shared by Wu Wei was like music to Yin Guo's ears, whether it was about Lin Yi Yang or the man sitting across from her. She hung on to his every word, eager to learn more.

 

Lin Yi Yang slid the coffee cup towards her and gestured for her to take a sip. Yin Guo suddenly became self-conscious, realizing she had forgotten to brush her teeth. "Wait, let me brush my teeth before I drink," she said, hurrying off to the bathroom.

 

As soon as the door closed, Lin Yi Yang couldn't help but chuckle to himself.

 

"She's so adorable," he thought to himself.

 

Yin Guo emerged from the bathroom to find Meng Xiaotian awake and chatting with Lin Yi Yang. Lin Yi Yang noticed her and quickly went to brew another pot of coffee since the previous one had cooled down. As she waited for the coffee to brew, Yin Guo and Lin Yi Yang shared a brief moment of eye contact across from her cousin.

 

"Wait a sec," Lin Yi Yang said, gesturing toward the coffee pot.

 

"Sure," Yin Guo replied.

 

As they waited, Yin Guo remembered that she was moving out that day. "I have to leave today," she informed him, "the club's main team has arrived, and the coach wants us to stay at the hotel for a team gathering."

 

Lin Yi Yang looked at her, his eyes flickering with concern.

 

Meng Xiaotian was surprised by Yin Guo's sudden departure. "You're leaving already? My brother is really causing you so much stress just as soon as he came," he exclaimed.

 

Yin Guo's explanation seemed to make sense, prompting Lin Yi Yang to offer, "Pack up. I'll take you there."

 

"But what about your train back to school?" Yin Guo asked, concerned.

 

"I can take you there first and then catch another train back to D.C. if needed," Lin Yi Yang assured her.

 

"Thank you so much," Yin Guo said gratefully. "I'll go pack my things now."

 

Yin Guo looked at her watch and realized she needed to hurry if she was going to make it to the hotel in time. "This way, I can pack before lunch and still have time to get to the train station," she said to her cousins.

 

Lin Yi Yang nodded in agreement. "Go ahead."

 

Meng Xiaotian shifted nervously as the others made plans, unsure of what to do next. Yin Guo took a step towards the door, ready to leave, but Lin Yi Yang grabbed her wrist and pulled her back. She paused for a moment, enjoying the taste of her coffee, before turning to face him.

 

As she turned back, she felt Lin Yi Yang's grip on her wrist tightens. He hadn't let go of her hand since he pulled her back. She tried to pull away gently, but he held her firm.

 

Meng Xiaotian finally spoke up, noticing the tension between Yin Guo and Lin Yi Yang. "Okay, sis, go ahead and pack. I'll visit you at the hotel after my brother leaves. I'm starving, so I'm going to grab some food first. Don't worry about waiting for me."

 

Without wasting any time, Meng Xiaotian quickly left the room.

 

As he made his way down the stairs, he stumbled upon a group of people from Dongxincheng engaging in their morning exercise routine.

 

The group had taken over the nearby billiard hall for their training session, with the younger ones focusing on their skills and the older ones enjoying a free meal. Yin Guo had retreated inside to pack her belongings, hoping to avoid any more scrutiny from Lin Yi Yang's friends.

 

Meanwhile, Lin Yi Yang sat outside, lost in thought, as he sipped his second cup of hot coffee. His friend Jiang Yang tried to strike up a conversation, but Lin Yi Yang wasn't in the mood for small talk. "I didn't sleep all night," he muttered absentmindedly. "You guys stay here. I'm going to take a nap."

 

Without a second glance at Jiang Yang, Lin Yi Yang got up and disappeared.

 

Yin Guo sat nervously in the apartment, anxiously checking her phone for any updates. She knew that if she ran into the group of men outside, she would be outnumbered and vulnerable. So she messaged Lin Yi Yang, hoping he had a solution.

Xiaoguo: When are they leaving?

 

Lin: We'll leave first.

 

Xiaoguo: ...I don't feel comfortable going out.

 

Lin: ?

 

Xiaoguo: I feel embarrassed.

 

Lin: I'll have them go to the restroom. You can leave, and they'll come out later.

 

Xiaoguo: No, no. We won't be able to see each other again in the future if we do that.

 

Xiaoguo: Oh well, I'll just have to muster up the courage to go out.

 

Lin: :)

 

Lin: Alright, let's go then.

 

Xiaoguo: Okay.

 

Yin Guo finished packing and was eager to leave. Lin Yi Yang rummaged through a drawer and fished out a spare key, tossing it to Jiang Yang. "I'm heading back to school," he announced. "You guys can do whatever you want."

 

He grabbed Yin Guo's suitcase and strode out the door, leading the way.

 

As Yin Guo emerged from the apartment building, she felt a group of eyes boring into her back. She fought to maintain her composure and, with a stiff upper lip, turned around and waved farewell to the people who had ordered takeout and shared a meal with them.

 

As the door clicked shut, several burly men exchanged puzzled looks. "Did Lin Yi Yang go back to school, and the girl followed him with a suitcase?" one of them mused aloud.

 

Lin Yi Yang was notorious for his rebellious and unconventional ways, which extended to his approach to love. His reputation preceded him, and his friends knew it well.

 

As they discussed the matter at hand, Jiang Yang quipped, " Dongxincheng can't lose face. Prepare a red envelope, guys."

 


 

Fan Wencong, the practical one in the group, quickly checked his savings on his phone and asked, "How much should we give?"

 

After some consideration, Chen Anan replied, "Let's use our bonus from this year."

 

Jiang Yang readily agreed, feeling that it was a good start and a proper way to congratulate their brother for finally finding someone.

 

Fan Wen quickly checked the rankings and had no objections about being ranked fourth globally. He silently sighed as he put away his phone, knowing that his own ranking was far lower. He grumbled to himself about how he will give Lin Yi Yang a sizable amount of red envelopes, yet they couldn't even spare a closer look at his future wife. "What a waste," he thought, "I didn't even look properly. Next time, I'll make sure to take a good look and see what she really looks like."

 

......

 

The tournament had a specific hotel that offered discounted rates to guests, which was why foreign players usually chose to stay there and train at the hotel's billiard room or the two nearby ball rooms. Upon arriving, Yin Guo discovered that her coach and clubmates were all in the hotel billiard room. Seeing that Lin Yi Yang didn't object, she took him to the third floor.

 

Today, the people from Beijing had just arrived, and Meng Xiaodong had arranged for everyone to practice and adjust to the local time difference. As Yin Guo pushed open the door, she saw that all eight nine-ball tables and four snooker tables outside were packed. Everyone was standing there. Upon seeing the junior sister arrive, they waved and said hello.

 

Yin Guo's eyes widened with surprise as she gazed at the familiar faces gathered around the snooker table. "What brings you all the way here?" she asked, her voice laced with bewilderment.

 

One of the players spoke up, his tone hinting at a touch of mischief. "We were all set to compete in the touring championship, but our boss had other ideas. Liu Ge insisted we should head to the United States first, you know, to cheer you on."

 


 

Yin Guo's cheeks flushed with gratitude. She knew all too well the importance of having a solid support system in the cutthroat world of professional billiards. "That's really thoughtful of you all. Thank you so much," she replied.

 

"Liu Ge" referred to her older cousin, Meng Xiaodong, a seasoned pro himself. "Is my coach inside?" she asked, eager to reunite with the man who had trained her tirelessly over the years.

 

"Yep, he's in the lounge," came the response from one of the players. "Go ahead. They are all waiting for you."

 

Yin Guo scanned the room and noticed a row of chairs by the window. She gave a quick wave to Lin Yi Yang and whispered, "I'll be back in twenty minutes or so."

 

Lin Yi Yang gave her a reassuring pat on the head, "Take your time. I'll be right here."

 

Yin Guo smiled and reluctantly made her way toward the door, feeling the scrutinizing gazes of the people in the room. Unlike her, who felt at ease in the billiards room and didn't notice any differences or scrutiny, Lin Yi Yang was well aware of the attention he was drawing.

 

He walked over to the window but didn't sit down. Instead, he leaned against the glass and observed the players from Beijing, particularly those practicing snooker.

 

Lin Yi Yang had lost interest in sports tournaments over the years. However, because Wu Wei was still playing, he occasionally mentioned the new talents in Beijing and showed him a few videos. After watching them, Lin thought they played in a similar style to Meng Xiaodong.

 

One of the players he had seen in the video, named Li Qingyan, was now at the green snooker table, using chalk to prepare his cue. From the moment they entered, Li had been staring at him and Yin Guo without any pretense, his gaze unwavering.

 

As Lin watched Li play a few shots, he realized that, like Meng Xiaodong, Li's rhythm was stable, and he strictly controlled his shots to be within 25 seconds. That day, after discovering Meng Xiaodong's new habit, Lin had looked up the rules of various snooker competitions.

 

He found that the Super League had particularly strict regulations, including a 25-second time limit for shots. It was evident that Meng Xiaodong was training himself and his players to compete under the most rigorous competition rules.

 

As Lin Yi Yang stood watching the players, two big boys approached him from the Nine Ball area. Yin Guo recognized them and smiled in their direction. The taller one leaned in and extended his hand, introducing himself.

 

"Brother, nice to meet you. Do you play billiards?"

 

Lin Yi Yang saw that these two were still friendly, and out of curiosity, he leaned against the wall and casually replied, "Occasionally."

 

Eagerly listening, everyone thought that he was an amateur.

 

Yin Guo had always been the object of attention, not only for her beauty but also for her remarkable skills. It was no surprise to them that even in New York, she had caught the eye of an amateur enthusiast. As the group of players gathered around, it was evident that they all assumed Lin Yi Yang was just another amateur too. How would Li Ge, who grew up with Yin Guo, feel about it?

 

Next to the snooker table, the opponent who had been practicing with Li Qingyan, Xiaozi, picked up a ball and smiled, pointing at the green table before him, "Anyone who enters our Beijing private room has to make a shot as a formality."

"I don't play snooker,"

 

Lin Yi Yang's refusal to play snooker drew curious stares from the other players. No one dared to challenge him, even Meng Xiaodong, who had only asked him to step back a bit. Lin's reputation preceded him; his skill in billiards was legendary, and he was well-known among the professionals.

 

"Nine-ball?" Xiaozi pointed to the nearby blue table.

 

Lin Yi Yang considered the offer for a moment before declining.

 

The players on the other side of the nine-ball table were all young and energetic participants in the same open tournament. Lin Yi Yang knew it would be unfair to play casually or let them win. Still, it would also be unwise to play seriously against professional players before the tournament.

 

Lin Yi Yang shook his head again, declining the offer to play nine-ball.

 

Everyone looked at each other and thought he wanted to play Chinese eight-ball.

 

"Give him a Chinese eight-ball rack," Xiaozi said, "using the nine-ball table."

 

After Xiaozi finished speaking, everyone looked at Li Qingyan.

 

Li Qingyan cleared his throat, drawing everyone's attention. "Those who enter our exclusive club are either our people or friends," he said, fixing his gaze on Lin Yi Yang. "If you want to be friends, take a shot. Otherwise, it's hard to win the hearts of everyone here."

 

Xiaozi chimed in, "But if you've never touched a pool cue before and don't understand the game, we won't force you."

 

Lin Yi Yang sauntered over to the snooker table, where Li Qingyan and Xiāozi were deep in concentration. He rapped his knuckles against the wooden edge. The room hushed.

 

"I'll take this," he declared, nodding towards the table.

 

Li Qingyan quirked an eyebrow, a smile playing at the corners of his lips. "I thought you weren't interested in snooker," he remarked.

 

"Right, I'm not," Lin Yi Yang shrugged nonchalantly, scanning the room for a cue stick. His eyes fell on a battered one in the corner, but before he could reach for it, Li Qingyan spoke up.

 

"Use mine," he said, pushing his cue toward Lin Yi Yang. Xiāozǐ handed the cue stick to Lin Yi Yang, his own match still in progress. "I still have a match, so take it easy," he said.

 

Lin Yi Yang took the cue stick from Xiāozǐ and gave him a grateful pat on the shoulder. "Thanks."

 

As he approached the table, he could feel the tension in the air. Only three balls were left on the table, and he cleared them away with a quick swipe of his hand, leaving only a red ball and a white ball behind.

 

Turning to the others, he said, "You can put the red ball anywhere you want. I'll take the shot."

 

The onlookers were stunned by his bravado. Who was this guy who dared to take a shot after the ball was placed anywhere? But Lin Yi Yang was undeterred. He picked up the cue chalk from the table's edge and added,

"Fifty shots. If I miss the pocket three times, I'll count it as a loss."

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