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During the Snowstorm

6.1

You in the Story

188

The man behind the counter was caught off guard for a moment. It was as if Lin Yi Yang had dropped an atomic bomb on a peaceful morning, and nobody knew how to react.

 

After about ten seconds of stunned silence, the man finally found his voice. "Sister-in-law hasn't had breakfast yet? Let me go upstairs and see if there's anything that she'd like to eat."

 

He rushed into the elevator, and a few moments later, he returned to ask Lin Yi Yang if he wanted anything for himself. "No need," Lin Yi Yang replied. He had already eaten something on his way to the supermarket and was more interested in spending time with Yin Guo than in filling his stomach.

 

The young men's eyes lingered on Yin Guo, their interest clear on their faces. They seemed to be enjoying the idea of Lin Yi Yang having a sister-in-law and were eager to know more about her. However, Lin Yi Yang's expression indicated that he hadn't planned on introducing her to everyone yet, at least not during breakfast. He didn't want them to disturb her, so they all kept their distance and simply watched her.

 

Lin Yi Yang picked up a tall stool with one hand and placed it behind Yin Guo. She silently sat down on it, but inside, her heart was in turmoil, with countless emotions rising up within her.

 

Lin Yi Yang turned to her and looked deeply into her eyes, "Are you unhappy?" he asked, concerned.

 

Yin Guo shook her head, her hands instinctively rising to cover her hot cheeks. She felt embarrassed to be the center of attention in a room full of strangers, especially with Lin Yi Yang calling her their sister-in-law so casually.

 

Lin Yi Yang leaned in closer, his elbow resting on the worn wooden counter, and teased her with a hint of mischief in his voice. "Shaking your head means you're happy. Or are you still unhappy?"

 

Ignoring his playful banter, Yin Guo propped her face up with her hands and focused on the scratches on the counter. She knew her blushing was noticeable, but she couldn't help feeling flustered around Lin Yi Yang. Despite her efforts to hide her feelings, she couldn't shake the butterflies in her stomach.

 

Yin Guo asked softly, afraid of guessing wrong, "Is this billiard hall yours?"

 

Lin Yi Yang nodded, "Originally, it was the youth hostel owner's place, but I took over after it was poorly managed by someone else. I'm not here often, though, as that person in charge is responsible for running the business."

 

Yin Guo could sense that the billiard hall wasn't making much money, given that billiards wasn't a popular sport in the area. She could see the burden on Lin Yi Yang's face as he spoke about his struggles to keep the place running. She couldn't help but admire his determination to keep going despite the financial difficulties.

 

As Lin Yi Yang continued to talk about his situation, Yin Guo could feel her respect for him growing. She realized he had more to him than just his good looks and charming personality.

 

The past two months had been difficult for Lin Yi Yang as he had to pay six months' rent at once. The business had been slow for several days due to consecutive heavy snowstorms that caused a power outage in the area. He had to use up all his savings and even withdraw Wu Wei's savings to cover the deficit.

 

It was during this tough half-month that he met Yin Guo. Lin Yi Yang had agreed to go to Flushing to bet on a game of billiards with a friend in exchange for the friend hosting Yin Guo's cousin. Although the friend didn't manage to invite Yin Guo's sibling to dinner, Lin Yi Yang still fulfilled his promise and bet on that game in Flushing.

 

Looking back now, it was fate. The heavens destined him to make a trip to Flushing, destined him to meet Yin Guo again there.

 

"You already have a billiards room. Why did you go to Flushing to gamble?" Yin Guo asked curiously.

 

Lin Yi Yang smiled at her and didn't say anything. He thought to himself, "Actually, I went to gamble in Flushing to treat someone to a meal."

 

And that person is you.

 

Sun Zhou, the person in charge, swiftly brought a generous serving of fruits and cereal, along with milk and empty bowls. This was the most nutritious breakfast option he could think of for the girls. As someone who rented a bed in the youth hostel and watched over the billiard room, he often observed the girls eating in the communal kitchen. He believed that you could never go wrong with fruit when providing a healthy meal.

 

In the morning, Lin Yi Yang's usual routine consists of practicing playing ball. Depending on whether he has classes or not, he wakes up early or late. He doesn't have any specific drills to follow and simply plays whatever he feels like.

 

Playing billiards has become a long-lasting hobby for him that he couldn't give up. It helps him to relax, pass the time, or clear his head when he feels overwhelmed. Even when he's too tired to hold a cue stick, he still finds pleasure in sitting in the pool hall and listening to the sound of the balls colliding with one another.

 

Perhaps this is why he used up all his savings to take over the pool hall.

 

As Lin Yi Yang enjoyed his breakfast with Yin Guo, he felt a sense of familiarity and comfort settle in. He was used to being in the billiards room, used to the people who came and went, and even used to the distinct scent of the place.

 

While she ate, Lin Yi Yang wandered over to the counter and opened a small drawer that was his alone. He retrieved a piece of dark chocolate, unwrapped it, and popped it into his mouth, savoring the rich flavor.

 

Lin Yi Yang nodded and offered her a piece, "Want to try some?"

 

Yin Guo shook her head and said, "I'm afraid of getting fat."

 

Lin Yi Yang held up the chocolate package to Yin Guo and explained, "It's not that fattening. The calorie count isn't high. Just don't eat it on an empty stomach in the morning. It's not good for your stomach."

 

He had developed the habit of eating a piece of chocolate before playing pool every day since he experienced low blood sugar during morning practice in high school. Dark chocolate not only refreshed his mind and provided energy, but it also had heart-healthy benefits. In fact, sometimes, when he didn't have time to eat a proper meal, he would eat two pieces of chocolate and an apple, drink water, and consider it a meal replacement.

 

As they ate cereal with milk in the pool hall, Yin Guo observed Lin Yi Yang eating chocolate on the other side of the counter. It was a simple moment that revealed his most down-to-earth side. It was a far cry from the glamour of buying drinks at Red Fish bar or ordering a glass of wine from her birth year. It was just a quiet morning spent enjoying each other's company.

 

As Lin Yi Yang ate his chocolate, Yin Guo couldn't help but notice his outfit. He was wearing a black jacket and a white shirt with English writing on the chest that read "Saint Laurent" in black font. She couldn't remember ever seeing him in branded clothes before.

 

Lin Yi Yang finished his chocolate quickly and crumpled the wrapper before throwing it into the trash can in the corner. He then picked up a glass and turned on the faucet, filling it halfway with water. He took small sips, enjoying the coolness of the water in his mouth.

 

The memory of last night lingered in Yin Guo's mind as she sat across from Lin Yi Yang at the communal table. She couldn't help but recall how he had kissed her neck and ears, sending a shiver down her spine. She had been tense with anticipation, her fingers instinctively pinching his back in response. He had felt it and whispered in her ear, asking if it was painful or pleasurable.

 

His informal tone had made her realize that this man, six years her senior, was not just handsome but also charming. Compared to the small-time hooligans she had encountered in the billiard hall before, he was a cut above the rest.

 

Yin Guo's mind was lost in a romantic memory, causing her to blush unexpectedly while stirring her cereal. The simple kiss on the neck was enough to ignite a hot and wet memory that distracted her from her meal.

 

Lin Yi Yang noticed her unfinished cereal and asked, "Can't eat anymore?"

 

Yin Guo nodded, hoping to conceal her thoughts from the night before.

 

Lin Yi Yang took her bowl and spoon without asking and lifted the pink bowl to his lips, taking a sip directly from it. His bold and unrefined behavior showed he wasn't concerned about social norms. He didn't bother with a spoon and drank the cereal directly from the bowl. The cereal was thin enough to drink, and Lin Yi Yang finished the entire bowl with another sip.

 

Lin Yi Yang placed the empty bowl in the sink and announced, "I have class in the afternoon, so I'll leave after lunch." Yin Guo nodded absentmindedly, still focused on the image of him finishing the cereal leftovers. It was a small act, but it spoke volumes to her.

 

Her mind wandered to memories of her childhood, where her mother would often chastise her for wasting food and pour the leftovers onto her father's plate. Seeing Lin Yi Yang clean his plate reminded her of how rare it was to see such conscientiousness. She wasn't sure if other people's boyfriends acted the same way, but it didn't matter. At that moment, she was grateful to have him in her life.

 

In front of her, Lin Yi Yang's fingers snapped, bringing her thoughts back to reality. "What's on your mind?" he asked, looking at her quizzically.

 

"I was just thinking about the competition," Yin Guo quickly came up with an excuse for her momentary lapse of attention. "There are so many local players I don't know."

 

Nine-ball is a popular niche sport in the United States and Asia. As luck would have it, this is where it originated, and many players in the area stick to local competitions, forming their own small circles. It's a lot like Chinese chess, where they play amongst themselves.

 

In many tournaments in the Asian region, she couldn't even catch a glimpse of their playing style. It left her feeling bewildered.

 

Yin Guo was lost in thought, weighing her chances of success against the local players in the upcoming nine-ball competition. The variables in the game were huge, and sometimes a serve error could lead to losing seven or eight games in a row and ultimately, the game. It was different from snooker, which required more stability from players.

 

Lin Yi Yang noticed her apprehension and said, "Their shot selection isn't anything new. I'll show you in a bit."

 

"Really?" Yin Guo's eyes lit up with hope.

 

Lin Yi Yang chuckled and mockingly said to her, "Can it be fake?"

 

He had initially planned to go to New York this week to be Yin Guo's practice partner, but his sudden illness jeopardized that plan. However, Lin Yi Yang was confident in Yin Guo's abilities and believed that she would become familiar with the local routes and the competition's rhythm with a bit of guidance.

 

He was careful not to influence her too much in his way. Lin Yi Yang believed everyone has unique characteristics, and losing them would make things dull and uninteresting. He didn't want Yin Guo to become just another competition machine.

 

As they spoke, the young boys and men around the pool tables couldn't hold back any longer. They clamored over, complaining about the dry breakfast and their thirst, but their true intention was to get a closer look at the woman who had appeared out of nowhere or had been hidden away for too long. One of the boys, urged on by his friends, joked, "Can I call her sister-in-law Brother Yang?"

 

Lin Yi Yang's throat was already dry and scratchy, and he had to force himself to speak to Yin Guo. Faced with these kids, he didn't feel like talking. He grabbed a large glass bottle, opened the tap, and filled it with water.

 

It only took him ten seconds to complete the task, and he knew exactly how to handle the boys. They fell silent and dared not make a sound.

 

Lin Yi Yang's billiard club was unlike any other. He didn't take a percentage of his players' competition winnings but only asked for goodwill donations to support the club during major tournaments. He saw the club as a home and himself as a free coach to everyone who walked through the door.

 

The room was silent, and Yin Guo fidgeted in her seat, feeling like she was sitting on needles. Finally, she broke the silence, "I'm Yin Guo. You can just call me that."

 

Upon hearing 'Sao Zi's' introduction, the room erupted in a flurry of excitement. People eagerly crowded around Yin Guo, introducing themselves in a mix of Chinese and English and offering to shake her hand.

 


 

"Hello, Sister-in-law. I'm Zhou Wei."

 

"Sister-in-law, I'm Li Qing."

 

"You look really young, 18 or 19 years old, right?"

 

"Sister-in-law, do you play in competitions too?"

 

......

 

Yin Guo felt a sense of gratitude for growing up in billiard halls and being accustomed to the male-dominated environment. Otherwise, she would have been completely overwhelmed by the throngs of boys surrounding her, each one calling out "Sao Zi." The crowd in front of her eagerly waited to shake her hand.

 

As she looked around, Yin Guo noticed that even the guests from the youth hostel in the distance who were playing ball had taken notice of the commotion and were curious about the identity of the celebrity who had arrived.

 

Thankfully, Lin Yi Yang intervened and saved the day by placing a blue glass bottle on the counter and asking, "Are you all thirsty?" The offer was enough to break the tension and diffuse the situation.

 

His eyes swept around the room, searching for his target without singling anyone out. Wisely, the crowd scattered, and one person went to get a cup, symbolically pouring water to moisten their throat before returning to their billiard table. Even though they had left, they still couldn't suppress the excitement in their hearts. Whispering to each other, they discussed Lin Yi Yang's recent practice schedule, eventually discovering something suspicious. No wonder he wasn't here even on weekends. Rumors had it that he had a date with a beauty.

 

......

 

Lin Yi Yang slipped out of his coat and gestured for Yin Guo to follow him toward the billiard table that had just been wiped clean. He selected a cue stick from the rack and positioned himself near the edge of the table. "Break," he ordered, gesturing for her to take the first shot.

 

Yin Guo had already readied her cue stick and was glancing around the table's perimeter. Lin Yi Yang noticed her searching gaze and quickly surmised her intentions. He located a new box of face powder on a nearby windowsill and tossed her a fresh green compact.

 

Typically, Lin Yi Yang would search for half-used chalk around the room to use during his games. As the owner of the billiard room, he would collect any forgotten or unneeded items left behind by others and repurpose them for his own use. However, he didn't want to inconvenience Yin Guo and decided to provide her with a fresh supply of chalk for their game.

 

As the training session came to an end, Lin Yi Yang quickly made arrangements for Yin Guo's stay. A car was called, and they drove to the hotel together. Yin Guo was surprised to find out that the room had already been booked for her that morning. She wanted to ask Lin Yi Yang more about it, but he seemed to be in a rush and had other matters to attend to.

 

As he dropped her off at the hotel, Lin Yi Yang promised, "I'll pick you up at 7."

 

One minute after she arrived at her room, Lin Yi Yang sent her a WeChat message.

 

Lin: I didn't sleep much last night, so I'm going to take a nap in the afternoon.

 

Xiaoguo: I didn't finish what I was saying earlier. Can we split the bill? I don't want you to keep paying.

 

Lin: :)

 

Xiaoguo: This is a society of gender equality. If you keep doing this, I'll feel burdened.

 

Xiaoguo: You are still a student, and Sun Zhou just told me that the billiards room is losing money, and you're putting more money into it.

 

Lin: Do you regret it?

 

Yin Guo smiled back. She finds his overthinking somehow cute.

 

Xiaoguo: Who hasn't been a poor student before?

 

If it weren't for her special circumstances, she wouldn't have been able to earn prize money so early, and she would still be a poor student.

 

Lin Yi Yang didn't respond, but Yin Guo wasn't too worried about it. She assumed he had entered an area with a poor signal. She decided to take advantage of the quiet moment to catch up on some sleep.

 

Lin was right. Yin Guo didn't get much sleep the previous night and was feeling the effects during her morning training session. Despite this, she pushed through with Lin as her training partner, knowing that one hour with him was worth three hours with anyone else. Despite feeling relaxed after the session, her muscles were sore.

 

In an attempt to wind down and relax, she turned on some music on her iPad. However, as soon as the song "Years of Friendship" began playing, memories of the day when Lin held her outside the billiard room flooded her mind.

 

"Come to forget the wrong and miss the past. I have always had fun in the troubled days... In the rushing wind and rain, uninhibited wakefulness and drunkenness, all the stories seem to have happened in the wandering years..."

 

She took out a white cloth bag from her backpack, which contained clean clothes, and threw the bag onto the bed before heading to the bathroom.

 

Ten minutes later, her phone made a notification sound. Even while blow-drying her hair in the bathroom, she could hear it. Since last week, she had set everyone's notifications on WeChat to "Do Not Disturb," except for Lin Yi Yang's. So this sound could only represent a message from Lin Yi Yang.

 

She dashed out of her room, frantically searching for her phone. When she finally found it, she saw several notifications from Lin, including a few pictures. As she opened them, she realized they were screenshots of bank deposits, some from the pool hall and some from Lin's personal account.

 

Lin: Apart from the pool hall, this is everything.

 

Without a care in the world, Lin had even left his account information visible. Yin Guo was both touched and overwhelmed by his generosity. Tears welled up in her eyes as she gazed at the screenshots. She felt like crying her heart out at that moment.

 

Yin Guo felt like the weight of everyone's opinions about Lin Yi Yang's financial situation was bearing down on her. She couldn't shake off Wu Wei's indirect comment about Lin Yi Yang being a poor student, fearing that Wu Wei might also view Lin in the same way.

 

Even her cousin, Meng Xiaodong, had questioned her, "How's your development going? Don't always spend his money. It's not easy for him to make it this far. I heard his school is quite expensive."

 

And then there was Coach Chen's comment, "It's a pity back then. The benefits weren't good. He had better grades than your brother but didn't get much prize money. If it were now, he would have bought several houses. It's okay. He's young and has a bright future."

 

Yin Guo couldn't help but feel burdened by the expectations and opinions of those around her. She wondered if they truly understood her and Lin's relationship or if they were simply judging them based on their own biases and assumptions.

 

......

 

Yin Guo felt the weight of the world's expectations and judgments bearing down on her. Everyone seemed to fear she would look down on Lin Yi Yang and judge him based on his financial situation. But to her, he was a hardworking and excellent man with nothing but positive qualities and traits.

 

As she opened her online banking app and took a screenshot, she knew she had to show Lin that she valued him for who he was, not for his money. Sending the screenshot with the caption "Mine" was her way of reassuring him that their relationship was not based on material things but on love and respect.

 

Actually, Yin Guo didn't have as many savings as Lin Yi Yang did, but at least it was purely from her personal income and didn't have to support the operation of the billiard hall.

 

Feeling a little uneasy about their financial situation, she messaged Lin Yi Yang, offering to help if he needed it. But he didn't reply.

 

Yin Guo decided to take a relaxing shower to ease her mind. As the warm water washed over her body, drowsiness slowly overtook her. She turned on the TV, intending to watch for a while before sleeping, but fell asleep holding her blanket after just a few minutes.

 

She was abruptly awoken by the sound of knocking on the door. At first, she thought it was just the neighbor, but as she slowly regained her senses, she realized it was coming from her own room. She sat up suddenly, thinking it was already 7 pm, but the bright sun outside reminded her that it was still early in the day.

 

Yin Guo's eyes fluttered open, the hazy disorientation of a nap clinging to her thoughts. She fumbled for her phone to check the time, surprised that only 20 minutes had passed since she had closed her eyes.

 

As she stood up, her gaze instinctively went to the peephole, revealing Lin Yi Yang in the hallway, looking unchanged from earlier in the day. He carried a jacket and wore the same white shirt, the fabric lightly rumpled.

 

She opened the door, surprised to see him so early. "Didn't you say seven o'clock?" she asked, still groggy from her interrupted nap.

 

Lin Yi Yang met her gaze, his expression unreadable. "Yes, seven o'clock," he replied with a hint of a smile.

 

As he stepped into the room, Yin Guo felt a flicker of uncertainty. She watched as he took off his watch and turned the hands back more than six turns, pointing to seven o'clock. The gesture felt meaningful, though she couldn't quite grasp its significance.

 

Without a word, Lin Yi Yang closed the door behind him, and Yin Guo knew he wouldn't leave her side until he saw her off on the train back to New York.

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