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During the Snowstorm

6.4

You in the Story

94

Yin Guo's heart raced with excitement as they settled into their seats. This was the first time she would be riding a train with Lin Yi Yang, and she couldn't help but steal glances at him, admiring the way his strong jawline and chiseled features looked even more handsome in the dim light of the train cabin.

 

The rhythmic clickety-clack of the train wheels on the tracks filled the air, and Yin Guo watched with fascination as the passing scenery changed from lush green fields to towering cityscapes as they sped past Philadelphia. She couldn't believe how quickly the time was passing, and the reality that they would soon arrive in New York began to sink in.

 

Yin Guo gazed out of the window, admiring the scenic views that flashed by. However, as the train halted to welcome more passengers on board, she couldn't resist glancing at Lin Yi Yang.

 

Meanwhile, Lin Yi Yang remained glued to his phone, monitoring their journey on Google Maps with unwavering focus. He constantly checked the remaining distance and time, even though the data was being updated in real-time.

 

"What's on your mind?" he asked, his eyes meeting hers.

 

His throat felt rough like he had swallowed a handful of sand. He had talked too much the night before and hadn't rested enough.

 

Yin Guo could sense that he was trying to read her thoughts. She leaned in and whispered in his ear, "You know, you look quite handsome with a beard."

 

Yin Guo couldn't help but marvel at how Lin Yi Yang seemed to defy age as she studied his features. His ruggedly handsome face was still marked by the same traces of recklessness and youthful charm that she had been drawn to all those years ago, yet there was now a hint of weariness that spoke of the many battles he had fought and won.

 

Sitting beside her, Lin Yi Yang's fingers grazed her cheek in a gentle caress. "Really?"

 

She felt a shiver run through her, but he quickly withdrew his hand, not wanting to indulge in public displays of affection.

 

A faint shiver ran down Yin Guo's spine as his rough fingertips brushed over her face and ear, but she kept her composure. "Yes," she replied softly to his question, feeling a tinge of embarrassment at the realization that he had noticed the change in her lingerie.

 

Lin Yi Yang's piercing black eyes bore into her with unwavering intensity, not shying away from their locked gaze. "You changed to blue?" he inquired, his tone playful yet suggestive.

 

Confused at first, Yin Guo soon remembered that she had indeed swapped her usual bra for a blue one today. As she reached up to adjust the strap that had slipped from her shoulder, she felt a flush of warmth spread across her cheeks.

 

Yin Guo felt a slight chill in the air and pulled up her collar. "You can't be any more rogue?" she whispered, giving Lin Yi Yang a playful look.

 

He chuckled and lightly pinched her cheek. "Next time, you'll know," he whispered back, his eyes shining mischievously.

 

Their playful banter was a stark contrast to the deep intimacy they had shared the night before. Yin Guo felt her heart race as she realized how much she was beginning to care for this man.

 

"Next time" naturally referred to the day they would see each other again the next week.

 

Their conversation often shifted to this topic.

 

She pulled out a book from her bag, the cover of which had seen better days, and flipped through it, her eyes skimming over the small black printed letters. However, her thoughts kept drifting back to the previous night.

 

She remembered how Lin Yi Yang had come back after washing his hands with a clear intention of sharing deep intimacy with her. Although she had let him kiss her, she had put a stop to anything else. Despite his initial disappointment, he had kept his promise to let her sleep peacefully. Yin Guo couldn't help but feel grateful for his consideration.

 

Despite his reputation as a rule-breaker, he had never pressured her in bed, always respectful of her boundaries. She appreciated that about him.

 

"Are you coming to my game?" Yin Guo asked, hoping he would say yes.

 

Lin Yi Yang paused for a moment, checking his schedule on his phone. "I'm sorry, I won't be able to make it," he replied regretfully.

 

Yin Guo felt slightly disappointed, but she understood he was busy with work. She nodded and smiled.

 

They arrived at the train station at 2:00 pm.

 

As Lin Yi Yang accompanied Yin Guo back, they took the train together. However, when it was time for him to depart, he opted for a cheaper and more convenient bus ride instead. Despite this, he didn't want to tell Yin Guo the truth and instead came up with an excuse to make his departure appear less suspicious.

 

"I have a friend nearby who needs me to bring something back. It will only take another ten minutes," he said.

 

Yin Guo looked at him skeptically. "Where can we go in ten minutes?" she asked.

 

Yin Guo and Lin Yi Yang found a corner with benches to sit on in the train station's waiting hall. Yin Guo, who was very thin, couldn't sit for long periods, and the journey back had already exhausted her. So she stood while Lin Yi Yang sat, holding hands.

 

As she looked up at the star map on the ceiling of the train station, she recognized a few familiar constellations and asked, "Are those constellations on the ceiling?"

 

Without looking up, Lin Yi Yang answered, "Yes," he had been to this train station many times and knew it by heart.

 

"What month were you born in? What's your zodiac sign?" she asked, feeling guilty a second later. They were so intimate, and she didn't even know his birthday. Yin Guo had been meaning to ask him for a while now.

 

Lin Yi Yang smiled and told her, "I was born in February, so I'm an Aquarius."

 

"Oh, February. What day?" Yin Guo asked.

 

"February 12th," he replied, watching her closely.

 

"Then, we've already met on that date." They first met in late January when they arrived in New York, "I can't seem to recall what I was doing that day," she said. Yin Guo fished out her phone, hoping to jog her memory by looking at their chat history. "Do you remember what we talked about on that day?"

 

Unfortunately, the passage of time had blurred their memories, and despite her efforts, the details of that day remained distant and elusive.

 

"We didn't really talk about anything before we met," Lin Yi Yang replied. "In fact, we hardly know each other at all."

 

"We've met before?" She couldn't recall their previous encounter.

 

Lin Yi Yang smiled, tilting his chin upwards as he handed her his phone, letting her browse through their chat records to confirm their previous conversation.

 

"Are you still trying to keep me guessing?" she thought to herself

 

She scoured through the phone's chat logs, determined to find the conversation in question.

 

As she scrolled, she realized with a jolt that the conversation took place on the same day they met - the day they shared a bowl of ramen. At the time, she had just returned from Washington and assumed Lin Yi Yang had negative opinions about her, so they hadn't communicated for almost ten days. It wasn't until he had dropped her back at her hotel in Queens that they started chatting on WeChat.

 

"We hardly talked about anything significant that day," she remarked. "We mostly chatted about trivial things like whether the watch scratched my ear or whether the chicken soup noodle was better than the pork one."

 

Then, she looked up in surprise and said, "Wait, that day was actually your birthday? Why didn't you tell me?"

 

Lin Yi Yang chuckled in response. "Didn't I treat you to noodles that day?" he teased.

 

Initially, Lin Yi Yang had only planned to invite her for a cup of coffee. But to his surprise, he had run into her in Flushing.

 

Lin Yi Yang was a 27-year-old man who had spent many years wandering and didn't know how to celebrate his birthday. His friends were a rough bunch of guys who didn't pay much attention to specific birth dates. Moreover, Lin Yi Yang had never really celebrated his birthday since he was young, and Wu Wei naturally wouldn't have known about it. So, when the two of them accompanied him to eat noodles that night, they didn't realize what day it was or what they were celebrating.

 

"Was inviting Meng Xiaotian and me for coffee also related to your birthday?" she asked curiously.

 

"It was just a coincidence," he replied, his words leaving room for interpretation.

 

His response seemed both true and false at the same time, leaving her to wonder what he meant. In reality, it wasn't a coincidence at all. He had planned several things that day but didn't reveal his intentions to anyone.

 

Lin Yi Yang didn't make a big deal out of his birthday, but he would still invite his friends to have a meal, drink, and enjoy each other's company. As Yin Guo looked at him, she couldn't help but feel sorry for him. She didn't find the idea of being deceived into eating noodles on his birthday romantic; rather, she thought it was sad that he didn't even celebrate his special day.

 

Feeling a bit unsure of how to react to this sudden rush of emotion, Yin Guo lightly kicked the edge of his sneakers and asked, "Why didn't you tell me that it was your birthday?"

 

Lin Yi Yang chuckled, "On that day, you were still introducing yourself as 'I am Yin Guo' on the subway. Considering our relationship then, do you really think I would have told you?"

 

Yin Guo couldn't argue with that. She couldn't deny that their relationship was quite different back then, and she was still trying to figure out how she felt about him.

 

As Lin Yi Yang checked his watch, he announced it was time to go. He took her hand and patted the back of it as if he wanted to say something, but there was nothing that needed to be said at that moment. Any words he wanted to say could be conveyed via WeChat.

 

Still feeling guilty about not celebrating his birthday, Yin Guo asked, "Are you leaving now?"

 

Lin Yi Yang nodded in response.

 

"Let me know when you arrive," Yin Guo said, holding his hand.

 

Lin Yi Yang squeezed her hand tightly in response, his eyes conveying his gratitude.

 

As he stood up from the bench, Yin Guo took the initiative to slip her hand inside his coat and hugged him tightly. She inhaled the mixed scent on his body - a combination of dust and sweat from a long journey - which wasn't particularly pleasant, but she probably smelled the same.

 

In the embrace, Yin Guo could feel Lin Yi Yang's heartbeat, but she couldn't find the right words to say.

 

Lin Yi Yang sensed Yin Guo wanted to say something, so he lowered his head to accommodate her height. She looked up at him, feeling his hand patting her back, and in the heat of the moment, she blurted out, "Next time... let's give it a try."

 

At that moment, Lin Yi Yang was transported back to the hotel room in Washington, DC, from that morning. Yin Guo had crawled out of the quilt, still in a daze, trying to climb over him without realizing that the curve of her waist had opened up the neckline infinitely. He watched as a patch of snow-white flesh appeared before him, then helped her waist and let her straddle him before they continued their passionate moment.

 

"Why are you not speaking?" Yin Guo lightly kicked his sneakers, not putting much force into them.

 

Lin Yi Yang smiled but still didn't say anything. Instead, he firmly pinched her waist and said, "Okay."

 

......

 

The ache was secondary to the awkward position and Lin Yi Yang's sensual touch. It wasn't that she didn't want to say it; it was that his response made it seem like he was teasing her. Yin Guo tried to wriggle out of his grasp, but Lin Yi Yang tightened his hold on her and spoke in a low, husky voice, "Are you trying to prevent me from getting a good night's sleep all week?" His tone had a hint of amusement.

 

Yin Guo buried her face in his chest, unable to say a word.

 

She knew she had brought this on herself with her impulsiveness, and she would have to deal with the consequences later, perhaps next week.

 

For now, all Yin Guo wanted was to cling to Lin Yi Yang, savoring the warmth of his embrace. They stayed hugged for half a minute on the bench against the wall, exchanging no words, but their bodies communicating a sense of longing and affection that words couldn't express.

 

When it was time for Yin Guo to leave, Lin Yi Yang walked her to the train station, holding her hand firmly, making sure to savor every moment of their fleeting time together. As she boarded the train, he stood by the roadside, watching her car turn the corner and disappear from sight, feeling a sense of emptiness as she left.

 

Taking a deep breath, Lin Yi Yang turned around and headed towards the bus station located downstairs of a nearby shopping building, his thoughts lingering on the precious moments they had shared together.

 

Lin Yi Yang arrived at the Washington clubroom at nine o'clock in the evening, finding it empty except for the receptionist on the counter. Sun Zhou, who was in charge of the accounts, wanted to leave early to celebrate his wedding anniversary.

 

"The key is here, and there's a box of vegetable salad in the fridge that I didn't have time to eat for lunch. I also left some bread slices and apples, so please help yourself," explained Sun Zhou, fearing Lin Yi Yang would starve to death.

 

Lin Yi Yang sat on a high stool by the counter, feeling the familiar atmosphere of the clubroom settle over him. He opened the fridge and found the salad and other snacks, grateful for the small act of kindness from his employee.

 

He saw that Sun Zhou was about to say more, so he waved his hand and pointed to his own throat. The strain in his voice was evident, and he didn't want to push it further.

 

The meaning was, "Stop talking nonsense and go quickly to make up with your wife." As for Lin Yi Yang himself, he honestly couldn't speak anymore.

 

Sun Zhou looked at him with concern. "Isn't it better now? Yesterday you could still talk."

 

Lin Yi Yang shook his head. "Just tired," he replied, knowing he had pushed himself too hard yesterday while showing Yin Guo around Washington.

 

He shook his head again, signaling he didn't want to talk.

 

Sun Zhou noticed the exhaustion written all over Lin Yi Yang's face and assumed he had been up to something with his girlfriend. He gave a knowing smile and patted his back, saying, "Looks like you two had a busy couple of days."

 

Lin Yi Yang picked up on the suggestive undertones in his words and shot Sun Zhou a stern look.

 

Sun Zhou had been meaning to ask Lin Yi Yang about his post-graduation plans for a while now, but seeing the exhaustion etched on his face, he decided against it. He knew that Lin Yi Yang had been torn between his plan to join Xinhua News Agency in Washington and the recent offer he received from Duke University. If he were to choose the latter and pursue a Ph.D., the club would have to find someone to take over his responsibilities.

 

Before departing, Sun Zhou issued a final reminder to Lin Yi Yang regarding the club's affairs. "Just one more thing," he said, his tone serious. "They left for New York today together."

 

Lin Yi Yang nodded in acknowledgment. Everyone was aware of Lin's habit of not watching the game. Therefore, he was not expected to attend the tournament. Sun Zhou was simply letting him know that the team had departed for the event.

 

As Sun Zhou made his exit, Lin Yi Yang gave him a friendly wave, indicating that he should go home and spend time with his wife.

 

Lin Yi Yang closed the iron door behind Sun Zhou and turned the key to lock it. He walked to the small kitchen area of the clubhouse and opened the fridge to find some leftover vegetable salad. Pouring it onto a plate, he added some sliced fruit and grabbed a fork. He sat on a high stool behind the counter and slowly ate his dinner, feeling the exhaustion of the day set in. He had traveled to and from New York, spending over nine hours on the road. Taking off his coat, he felt a wave of heat hit him.

 

As he ate, his phone buzzed with a notification from WeChat. He fished out his phone from his jacket pocket, glancing at the message. It was from Yin Guo, asking if he had arrived home safely. He smiled, feeling a warmth in his chest, and quickly typed out a response.

 

Red Fish: Training's over~

 

Red Fish: I found watching you practice yesterday and this morning particularly helpful. Now, when I look at the competition data of these local players, I seem to understand their thought processes better.

 

Lin: That's good to hear.

 

Red Fish: Lin, why is there such a big difference between you on WeChat and in person?

 

Lin Yi Yang smiled and took a moment to type back a response.

 

Lin: "Is there really a difference?"

 

Red Fish: Of course. If I showed our WeChat conversation to someone else, they would definitely think I'm pursuing you.

Lin felt a little embarrassed at the thought but appreciated Red Fish's candidness.

 

Lin: Is that so?

 

Red Fish: Are you busy? You're typing so little?

 

Lin smiled, realizing that he had a tendency to be brief in his messages.

 

Lin: Not really. Just not a big fan of chatting.

 

Red Fish: I'm back in my room, just by myself.

 

Lin: Video call?

 

Red Fish: Hmm.

 

Lin was aware of the video call feature on WeChat, having observed his roommates use it in the past. But as he tried to initiate a video call for the first time, he struggled to remember how to do it. After a few attempts, he finally managed to send the invitation and waited expectantly for Yin Guo's response.

 

Unfortunately, the call quality was poor, and Lin could barely make out Yin Guo's voice, which kept asking him, "Can you see me? Is the signal bad?"

 

Despite his efforts to adjust the camera angle and his phone's position, the screen remained black. Frustrated, Lin decided to end the call.

 

Yin Guo quickly sent another video call invitation.

 

It was only this time that Lin Yi Yang made sure to connect to the wifi in the billiard room, improving the signal quality significantly.

 

......

 

As soon as the video connected, Yin Guo's face lit up with a warm smile. She had positioned herself in front of a desk lamp that emitted a soft, flattering yellow light, making her look even more beautiful. Her phone was mounted on a metal stand, which held the device steady on the desk.

 

After making some adjustments to the camera angle, they realized that the video was showing the bar counter in the billiards room. They could hear the sound of water, but Lin Yi Yang was not visible on the screen.

 

The sound of water continued in the background as Yin Guo leaned closer to the screen, trying to catch a glimpse of Lin Yi Yang. "What are you doing?" she asked, her eyes fixed on the phone.

 

Lin Yi Yang had been washing glasses, hoping to multitask by chatting with her while finishing his work and leaving early. But he forgot that his voice was in bad shape again. He did not want to let Yin Guo know he was feeling discomfort again. He immediately disconnected the video.

 

"Is the signal really that bad?" Yin Guo asked with a hint of disappointment.

 

Red Fish: Doesn't anyone complain about the poor signal in your billiard room?

 

Lin Yi Yang found a hand towel and dried his hands before responding.

 

Lin: Most people don't complain because the boss has a short fuse.

 

He picked up his phone and the cloth used to wipe the billiard table, enjoying a lighthearted conversation with Yin Guo as he meticulously cleaned each of the more than ten billiard tables in the room. After finishing the cleaning, he neatly arranged the cues on the cue rack while chatting with Yin Guo.

 

Lin Yi-yang carefully placed the black box filled with chalks back in its designated spot, ensuring everything was neat. He then proceeded to switch off the lights one by one, plunging the billiard room into darkness.

 

In the northeast corner of the room lay a cozy resting area consisting of old sofas, a television set, a DVD player, and a makeshift bed. Sun Zhou often stayed here when he had a disagreement with his wife or didn't feel like returning home.

 

As Lin Yi Yang stood in the darkness, he contemplated spending the night there rather than trekking back to his apartment. The only source of illumination was the glow from his phone's screen, casting a faint light on his surroundings.

 

Red Fish: It's getting pretty late. Are you planning on staying at the pool hall all night? You'll be back home so late if you leave now.

 

Lin: I don't plan on going home tonight.

 

Red Fish: Are there beds at the billiard hall or something?

 

Lin: Yeah, there are some makeshift ones.

 

Red Fish: Honestly, I feel bad for you. You have to drive me here and then go back.

 

Lin Yi Yang leaned back and rested his head on his left hand.

 

Li: Are you saying that out of pity or because you miss me?

 

Red Fish: ...Maybe a little bit of both.

 

Red Fish: By the way, can you take a picture of your tattoo for me? I want to use it as my phone screensaver.

Red Fish had a playful idea.

 

Lin: Sure thing. Do you want a picture of the top or bottom part?

 

Red Fish: ...You're such a rogue.

 

Lin: ?

 

Red Fish: Nothing, forget it.

 

Lin turned over with a smile, reaching for the wall lamp and turning it on to get a better view of his tattoo. He took a picture of his right arm and was about to send it when he saw that Yin Guo had sent him another message.

 

Red Fish: By the way, the competition schedule is out. I'll send you a screenshot later to see if you can make it. I've been studying it for a while now, and you might not make it for the group stage. Keep your fingers crossed that I make it to the quarterfinals on Saturday.

 

Red Fish: You should come on Saturday.

 

Red Fish: There will be many people there to watch.

 

Yin Guo's first professional game was significant to her, and Lin Yi Yang could sense it. He had been uneasy all day, feeling as though the sealed memories of the past were being opened up and poured out like hot tea.

 

In the dimly lit room, Lin Yi Yang fumbled around for a new cue stick from the shelf and approached the nearest pool table. The light source was far away, casting long shadows over the colored and black balls. He attempted to aim and shoot, but he still couldn't hit a single shot after half an hour.

 

In his ear, voices overlapped with urgency and frustration.

 

"Old Six, just apologize if it's your fault," one voice implored.

 

"Brother Six, please," another begged.

 

A teacup shattered against the ground, the sound echoing through the room. Hot tea cascaded across the cement floor, soaking into the porous surface and leaving behind a mess of wet leaves and shattered ceramic.

 

......

 

That year, he was a typical teenager in his worn jeans, not a fancy brand, just something borrowed from Jiang Yang's wardrobe. His only pair of sneakers lasted him a whole year, and he washed them when they got dirty before resorting to slippers for school. Back then, Saint Laurent meant nothing to him; he only knew the street name, "Street," which he often misspelled. His English was so poor that he struggled to keep up in school.

 

It was during that year while standing at the entrance of his room in Dongxincheng, that he made a vow to himself - he would never return to this place or step into the arena again. No one heard him utter those words, but they remained embedded in his mind for over a decade.

 

As he left, tears streamed down Lin Yi Yang's face outside the East New City gate, but he quickly wiped them away and put on a brave face for the unknown journey ahead.

 

His focus returned to the billiard table as he lined up another shot, determined to sink the black ball this time. He pulled back the cue stick and hit the ball with precision, watching as it rolled smoothly towards the pocket, but again it missed by a hair's breadth.

 

Frustrated, he leaned on the table and let out a deep sigh, his mind wandering back to the past. Meanwhile, Yin Guo patiently waited for his reply, propping her chin and bathing in the soft glow of the desk lamp.

 

After what seemed like an eternity, a single sentence finally appeared on the screen, indicating a weak signal in the billiards room.

 

Lin: I'm heading to the club room to practice.

 

Xiaoguo: What's the occasion?

 

Lin: Trying out the new cue sticks.

 

Xiaoguo: Why not use the ones in the club room? They have good cue sticks there.

 

Lin: Xiao Guo

 

He suddenly called her, and Yin Guo felt her heart skip a beat at the sound of her phone buzzing. She quickly glanced at the screen and couldn't help but smile at the sight of his name.

 

Yin Guo: Hmmm?

 

Lin: Can you give me a chance to correct my mistakes if I make one in the future

 

Lin: I'm not talking about something like cheating. It's just that sometimes I say or do things without thinking, and I don't want to lose your trust

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