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During the Snowstorm

7.1

The Passion Remains

124

Lin Yi Yang carefully placed the cue sticks in their designated spots, taking after the habits of Old He, his respected teacher. New cues were always placed on the left, while he himself used the oldest one on the right. He even followed the same practice of searching for used chalk around the court and offering new ones to younger players.

 

Old He's principles of caring for the younger generation and passing on the glory of the sport as a teacher had earned him great respect in the circle. Lin Yi Yang had learned much from him and tried to emulate his ways.

 

With the cues finally arranged, Lin Yi Yang turned his attention to his phone, which he had left on the billiard table. He saw that his Xiao Guo-er had replied.

 

Red Fish: Okay. Three times.

 

Red Fish: Ten times is also fine.

 

Red Fish: Just kidding. I have a good temper and don't like to get angry. Buy me something delicious, and everything will be okay. I'll forget about it in less than half an hour.

 

After sending the animated image of the cartoon bear, Yin Guo waited for a reply from Lin Yi Yang, but it never came. She shrugged her shoulders and went about her business, gathering up her dirty clothes from her trip to Washington.

 

Meanwhile, Lin Yi Yang sat staring at the cartoon bear on his phone screen, eating naively, a small smile lingering on his lips. He didn't reply because he was lost in thought.

 

......

 

Yin Guo unpacked her bag, pulling out the pile of dirty clothes from her trip to Washington. She sorted through them and discovered an unopened plastic box containing a pink apple-shaped charging cable. A smile spread across her face as she held it up to examine it.

 

Her roommate, who had just swiped her card to enter the room, chuckled at the sight. "What's so funny? Is it a limited edition or something?"

 

The roommate rolled her eyes. "You can still laugh, even though you've been assigned to the Purgatory Team,"

 

The lottery results were in, and Yin Guo's group was facing off against seven fierce players, all ranked among the top in the world. Just thinking about it sent chills down her spine - it was like being thrown into a group from hell. But Yin Guo remained unfazed, putting away the charging cable and saying, "We'll have to face them eventually, so it's good to meet them early."

 

After checking the time, she realized it was still early, so she grabbed her cue stick and returned to the hotel's billiard room. As she walked, she mentally prepared herself for the upcoming matches, reminding herself that no matter who they faced on the group stage, their ultimate goal was to win the championship.

 

As the youth and junior competitions ended, the Beijing organizers allotted each competitor their own billiard table for the remainder of the week. Yin Guo arrived at the billiard room and observed that half of the tables were vacant, while the other half was occupied by players from various countries. She searched for an empty table and settled down for practice.

 

At the adjacent table, she noticed a woman named Cheng Yan from Dongxincheng. Cheng Yan was a seasoned veteran in both nine-ball and eight-ball, but Yin Guo didn't know her, so they didn't exchange greetings. Nevertheless, Yin Guo couldn't help but feel a sense of admiration for her skillful moves.

 

The two of them practiced in silence for a while, intently focused on their games. After half an hour, Yin Guo's cue ran out of chalk, prompting her to walk over to the box by the window in search of a fresh one. Upon returning, Cheng Yan finished her game and sat down, smiling warmly at Yin Guo. "I heard you're in the Purgatory Group. Are you feeling nervous?" she asked.

 

Yin Guo returned her smile politely and said, "I'm doing alright so far."

 

"Ah, my junior brothers told me you're quite familiar with Lin Yi Yang," the seasoned player continued.

 

Yin Guo felt a hint of suspicion when Cheng Yan asked about Lin Yi Yang's performance. "Quite familiar" sounded like an insinuation, but she politely answered, "Yes, I know him."

 

"He's a smart guy, isn't he? I heard he has been winning many competitions lately," Cheng Yan commented.

 

Yin Guo relaxed a bit, realizing that Cheng Yan was probably just making small talk. "He's doing well. He graduated with a master's degree this year and also got an offer to pursue a Ph.D.," she replied.

 

Cheng Yan started another game, and Yin Guo returned to her practice, but her mind couldn't help but wander. She wondered if Cheng Yan was trying to gather information about Lin Yi Yang and her team. Was she a spy for another country's team, or was Yin Guo just being paranoid? She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts, and focused on her shots.

 

Yin Guo decided to put down the cue and sat on a nearby chair, thinking for a moment before deciding to bring up Cheng Yan's question directly.

 

Xiaoguo: Hey, I ran into Cheng Yan in the billiard room, and she asked how you're doing.

 

Lin Yi Yang's reply came almost instantly as if he had anticipated the question.

 

Lin: Still practicing at this late hour?

 

Yin Guo felt a twinge of irritation at his dismissive response, but she continued the conversation nonetheless.

 

Xiaoguo: Anyway, I have nothing else to do, so I'll practice a bit more.

 

Lin: Don't overdo it with training.

 

Xiaoguo: It's only half an hour. I'm not overdoing it.

 

Yin Guo's fingers hesitated over the keyboard as she debated whether to send her message or not. "Were you very familiar with her in the past?" She eventually decided against it and deleted the text. How could two regulars at the same billiard hall not know each other well? Her intuition told her that there was more to the story, but she couldn't tell if it was just her jealousy talking.

 

Lost in thought, Yin Guo sat in silence on the chair.

 

A minute later, Lin Yi Yang's message appeared on the screen –

 

Lin: She pursued me.

 

Yin Guo's heart sank as she read the message.

 

Lin: Xiaoguo.

 

Yin Guo: Hmm.

 

Lin: The first time I saw you, I wanted to get to know you.

 

Yin Guo's heart skipped a beat. She couldn't believe what she was reading.

 

Lin: I saw you at a bar through the window, and I wanted to get to know you. We had never met before. That night at Red Fish, I wanted to talk to you more, but I had no experience talking to girls. All I could do was buy you a drink.

 

Yin Guo felt a mix of emotions - surprise, excitement, and confusion. She didn't know what to say in response. This was the longest sentence Lin Yi Yang had ever written to her.

 

Out of the blue, a message popped up on her phone screen.

 

She stared at it momentarily, trying to process what it meant. It was a heartfelt statement from Lin Yi Yang that caught her off guard.

 

She looked around the billiard hall, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. People were still playing billiards, and the sound of balls falling into pockets filled the air.

 

Yin Guo's mind raced as she tried to recall their interactions from the past. She couldn't remember any hints or signs that he felt this way.

 

The small episode late at night had turned into something much more significant. Her fingers gripped the phone so tightly that they started to hurt. She had a lot to think about.

 

Another vibration and Yin Guo assumed it was another message from Lin Yi Yang.

 

Wu Suo Wei: Are you in the hotel billiards room?

 

Xiaoguo: How did you know?

 

Wu Suo Wei: What do you think?

 

As the door to the billiards room was pushed open, Wu Wei made his way down the stairs wearing white hotel slippers. Yin Guo knew that because the competition was set to begin the following week, Jiang Yang had required Wu Wei to stay in the hotel during the schedule, so he could be easily reached by Lin Yi Yang in case of an emergency.

 

"Hey, Junior Sister is here," Wu Wei exclaimed, grinning at the sight of Cheng Yan and Yin Guo.

 

Cheng Yan returned the smile and asked, "What brings you here, Wu Wei? I'm leaving."

 

"I couldn't sleep, so I came down for a quick game," Wu Wei replied before turning to Yin Guo. "Oh, and let me introduce you. This is Yin Guo, Brother Six's wife."

 

Although it was common knowledge in Dongxincheng, it still sounded strange to her ears. Cheng Yan seemed to sense her unease and refrained from mentioning it.

 

"Nice to meet you, Sister-in-law," Cheng Yan said politely, extending a hand toward Yin Guo.

 

Yin Guo reciprocated the gesture with a smile, "Please, just call me Yin Guo. I'm younger than you."

 

The tense atmosphere in the room made Wu Wei feel as though he was being punished on behalf of Lin Yi Yang. As for Cheng Yan, she seemed uncomfortable and quickly excused herself, grabbing her cue stick and leaving.

 

Once they were alone, Wu Wei let out a sigh of relief and leaned against the billiard table, his voice dropping to a whisper. "It's quite a coincidence, isn't it? So many people from Dongxincheng, and yet you happened to run into Cheng Yan."

 

Yin Guo shrugged. "It's not that surprising. We would have met on the court eventually, if not today." She tried to keep her composure, but her face betrayed her nerves.

 

Wu Wei chuckled, "Let me give you a heads up. Lin Yi Yang has always been quite popular, especially with his looks, and back in school, a lot of people had a crush on him. But here's the thing: if someone's into him, they're into him, and even if they still have feelings for him, there's nothing you can do about it. However, you should be proud of yourself for being the one who made him fall for you and no one else."

 

After uttering his previous sentence, he paused for a moment and felt uneasy. So, he added, "And he was the one who pursued you."

 

But then he reconsidered and still felt uneasy, so he added another sentence, "Or maybe he had his eyes on you from the very beginning."

 

When he saw a gleam of a smile in Yin Guo's eyes, he continued, "Do you know what he has saved you as in WeChat?"

She shook her head, intrigued.

 

Wu Wei grinned, "Red Fish."

 

It was the bar where the two of them had met.

 

A man's true depth lies in his intentions, especially when he is unconventional.

 

Yin Guo sat in the chair, absently tapping her feet on the small crossbeam beneath it. She felt a softness in her heart as Wu Wei approached her.

 

"Hey, are you happy? Let's go grab some fried chicken wings," he said, tossing the ball onto the billiard table and beckoning her to follow. "I scouted out a great place nearby last night."

 

As they walked to the restaurant, Wu Wei regaled Yin Guo with a colorful tale of how Lin Yi Yang had been pursued by many admirers in Dongxicheng. His storytelling skills were like a bandit taking advantage of a fire, embellishing the story with vivid details.

 

So, was Wu Wei here to sabotage or to save the day?

 

......

 

As they gear up for the group stage matches starting next Tuesday, the open tournament has drawn in an impressive 318 players from all corners of the world. Of the entrants, 109 are female players, with seven hailing from China.

 

Yin Guo, the sole representative from China in the 'purgatory group,' is a newcomer to professional-level competition. Despite having previously won a third-place medal in a youth competition, she hasn't received much recognition from the public. However, by Friday, her name had become synonymous with excellence among those watching the open tournament, cementing her status as a rising star in the Chinese team.

 

The purgatory group was the epitome of excitement in the group stage, boasting remarkable matches with competition intensity rivaling that of the finals. Each day, elimination was inevitable; losing meant being knocked out of the competition. But Yin Guo persevered, fighting her way through with determination and resilience to reach the final match of the group stage on Friday.

 

Come Friday, Yin Guo had three matches to play.

 

In the morning, she played two matches and emerged victorious in both. She defeated a seasoned player from Russia with an astonishing score of 11-3 before moving on to beat a player from Poland with a comfortable 11-4 lead. When she returned to the Chinese player's lounge, she was greeted with resounding applause and congratulations from almost everyone present - not just from her own team in Beijing but also from the Dongxincheng and other clubs throughout China.

 

Yin Guo sat unobtrusively in the corner. Her eyes focused on her meal while the bustle of the lounge swirled around her. Many players had arrived solo or with just one coach, but a handful came as part of larger teams from prestigious clubs and associations. The Dongxincheng players chattered animatedly together near the entrance, while the northern players remained subdued, dealing with their wins and losses in their own way.

 

The group from Beijing was at the center.

 

Yin Guo had found a small stool tucked away by the wall, back to the rest of the lounge, and was enjoying a box of prepared fruits and a freshly heated sandwich. Her earphones were in the melody of a song keeping her company. Unlike many others, her phone remained tucked safely away in her bag.

 

Throughout the competition week, Lin Yi Yang had been considerate of not disturbing Yin Guo's matches and training and would only spend a brief ten minutes chatting with her at night to alleviate her boredom. However, they never talked about the competition during their conversations.

 

Picking at the fruit with a white plastic fork, Yin Guo selected a slice of mango and savored it slowly as a form of mental preparation. She was aware that her desire to win was strong but acknowledged that such an attitude could be hazardous.

Maintaining a neutral disposition was her most significant asset.

 

Yin Guo focused on her food, her mind consumed by thoughts of making it to the quarterfinals. She wanted to play on Saturday, so Lin Yi Yang would have a chance to watch her compete.

 

Taking a deep breath, she continued to chew slowly and calmly, adhering to her philosophy of eating during competitions. She didn't want anything to distract her from performing at her best.

 

Just then, the door to the rest area was pushed open, and a man walked in.

 

Wu Wei was sitting with his legs crossed, chatting away with Chen Anan and a group of kids, when he suddenly noticed someone entering the room. He jumped up from his chair in surprise, and the rest of the Dongxincheng team soon followed suit.

 

Jiang Yang, who was in the middle of consoling two girls who were eliminated from the group stage, also stopped talking and straightened up as the man entered. As the leader of Dongxincheng, Jiang Yang tried to maintain his composure, but his eyes were betraying his emotions.

 

As his first reaction, Jiang Yang reached for a cigarette but remembered that he was indoors and couldn't smoke. He took a deep breath instead, trying to steady himself, and then asked in a trembling voice, "Has Old Six returned?"

 

Lin Yi Yang's eyes welled up with emotion as memories flooded his mind. He took a deep breath and smiled, trying to compose himself. "Yes, I'm back," he said, his voice quivering with emotion.

 

It was a moment that transcended words. The return of Lin Yi Yang was an event that would forever change the team's dynamic. As they looked at him, his former teammates saw the boy they used to know, the one who had inspired them with his passion and dedication.

 

For a moment, everyone was silent, lost in their own thoughts. Then, as if by unspoken agreement, they all stood up and walked towards him, their arms outstretched in a gesture of welcome.

 

On his face, distinct contours and sharp edges gave him a commanding presence. He rarely smiled, opting instead to roam the rest area in a white short-sleeved shirt and jeans, eschewing formal attire unless he was going to play. Sitting among men in suits and dress shirts, he stood out like a sore thumb.

 

Lin Yi Yang rarely engaged in conversation, preferring to greet everyone upon his arrival before finding a corner to sit in and wait for his match. Today was no different.

 

The entire team of Dongxincheng was present, and upon seeing Lin Yi Yang, they all stood up in unison, pushing back their chairs and setting aside their lunches and phones. They called out "Brother Six" and "Uncle Six" repeatedly in greeting.

 

Lin Yi Yang patted the shoulders of several kids who were standing close to him, scanned the field with his eyes, and headed to the corner of the north city on his own.

 

Among the coaches, there were those who knew Lin Yi Yang. They whispered and communicated briefly to their athletes, explaining that he was the man who had defeated Jiang Yang and Meng Xiaodong back in the day.

 

As he walked, he noticed several curious glances cast his way, including that of Cheng Yan. Despite this, he kept his head down and continued to make his way toward the north corner of the field.

 

Yin Guo swayed her head to the music, her dimples peeking through as she smiled to herself. She was lost in her thoughts until she heard a few murmurs of "Sixth Brother" behind her, mistaking them for Meng Xiaodong's arrival.

 

A tap on her shoulder broke her out of her reverie, and she reached for a strawberry with her fork while whispering, "Brother, I think I'm too eager to win, to get into the finals, to let him watch me play." Frustration crept into her voice as she thought about the pressure she had put on herself.

 

Suddenly, her left earphone was taken off.

 

Yin Guo's heart raced as the man she had been secretly berating for being a womanizer bent down with a teasing smile. "What did you call me? Brother?" he asked, his eyes twinkling mischievously.

 

Yin Guo turned to face him, feeling a rush of blood to her head. She tried to collect herself but found it difficult to focus on anything other than his captivating presence.

 

How can she compete like this...

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