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During the Snowstorm

7.5

The Passion Remains

102

After losing both of his parents and having his younger brother adopted by another family, Yin Guo is the only person he has left in his life. He often finds himself regretting the loss of his favorite cue sticks from many years ago, and now he fears losing Yin Guo as well. But how can he keep her by his side?

 

Feeling a dryness in his throat, he straightened up from the edge of the pool table and reached for the cue stick that was leaning against it. He sauntered to the cue rack and placed the cue stick in the last position on the far right end. Without turning back, he waved his hand to Li Qingyan and walked away, lost in his thoughts.

 

As Lin Yi Yang stepped out of the billiard room and onto the elevator, he was lost in thought. He was deep in contemplation about Yin Guo and their complicated relationship, and before he knew it, he had absentmindedly pressed the wrong button.

 

The elevator doors opened on the first-floor lobby, and Lin Yi Yang stepped out, realizing his mistake. Was his subconscious trying to lead him out of the hotel and away from his problems?

 

Looking around the bustling lobby, he saw people coming and going, some with cue cases and suitcases in hand, checking in and out of the hotel. These were players who had been eliminated from the group matches earlier that day. Lin Yi Yang couldn't help but feel a pang of envy at their freedom to leave and move on from their losses.

 

But his mind was clouded by alcohol, making it difficult for him to differentiate between past, present, and future. The city outside was wet from the recent rainfall, and the reflection of the neon lights on the streets created a surreal atmosphere. Lin Yi Yang wondered how he ended up in New York and if he would ever find a way out of the labyrinth of his own thoughts.

 

It seemed just like yesterday when Lin Yi Yang had been drinking at an unknown roadside stall, and the owner had kindly taken him in, letting him sleep on a bench until he woke up. It was in his hometown, and he woke up in the middle of the night, still drunk. The owner's wife had kindly removed his school uniform and put it in his messenger bag, warning him to be careful not to get caught by the teacher and punished.

 

The memory was hazy. The present-day was today, and he was at the Plaza Hotel. He had come to buy some dessert at the lower-level shop called Lady M for Yin Guo, but he wasn't sure how he ended up there.

 

Wu Wei had warned him not to bother, saying there were already many branches in China, and Yin Guo would see through his plan. But he still wanted to buy it for her. What if she had never tasted it before? The one here was from the original place, and the taste might be even better.

 

......

 

As the clock struck past ten, Yin Guo found herself tossing and turning on the hotel bed, plagued by an uneasy feeling. The reunion party of old friends from two billiards clubs had just begun, and she couldn't help but feel nervous. What if they all got too drunk and things got out of hand?

 

Desperate for some assurance, she took out her phone and sent a message to Lin Yi Yang, but to no avail. She then messaged Meng Xiaodong, but surprisingly, he didn't respond either.

 

In the end, she turned to Wu Wei for answers.

 

"Hey, how much have you guys been drinking?" Yin Guo typed out. "My brother and Lin Yi Yang haven't replied."

 

"Just come over here," Wu Wei replied. "We're at table 1000."

 

"Come over?" Yin Guo repeated in her mind as she read Wu Wei's message. Her heart skipped a beat at the thought of seeing Lin Yi Yang again. She quickly changed her clothes, grabbed her phone, and rushed out of her hotel room.

 

As she arrived at the door of room 1000, a large group of people was pouring out. She spotted Li Qingyan and Xiaozi and pulled the latter aside, urgently asking, "Is Lin Yi Yang still inside?"

 

"He's inside," Xiaozi replied, but before she could say anything else, Yin Guo pushed her way through the crowd, repeatedly saying, "Excuse me," as she squeezed through the twenty or thirty people.

 

When she finally made it into the suite, she was surprised to find three people lying down. Meng Xiaodong and Chen Anan were asleep on one side of the bed.

 

Lin Yi Yang was lying on the sofa, sideways, wearing a clean set of clothes that Wu Wei and the others got for him. The gray trousers and white shirt were all from Jiangyang. His shirt collar was loose for ventilation, and he was resting his head on his left arm, unsure if he was sleeping or awake.

 

Yin Guo quietly walked over to the sofa and squatted down, placing her palm on his sweaty forehead. She noticed a wet towel draped over the sofa's armrest and took it to wipe his face. As she did so, Lin Yi Yang spoke in a low voice, enunciating each word carefully and slurring slightly, "That cake... doesn't taste good if it's left for too long. You go and get it for Xiaoguo."

 

Yin Guo was puzzled by his words. What cake was he talking about? They were already this drunk, yet he was still concerned about a cake?

 

"Don't say I'm drunk," Lin Yi Yang whispered in a barely audible voice.

 

Yin Guo gently placed a cool towel on his forehead, hoping it would ease his discomfort. She didn't want to disturb him and remained silent, knowing it was best not to talk to someone heavily intoxicated.

 

As Lin Yi Yang lay there, his breathing grew heavier, and Yin Guo could tell he had fallen asleep. She quietly got up and walked towards the door, but before leaving, she turned around to take one last look at him.

 

Suddenly, Lin Yi Yang stirred and furrowed his brows. "Didn't you hear me?" he asked in a slightly slurred voice.

 

Yin Guo wrinkled her nose, a sour feeling taking over her senses. Why was he so good to her? They hadn't been together for very long. Didn't he understand the art of playing hard to get? The game of push and pull? He was so handsome, yet he wasted it all by being stupidly nice to her. He was such a fool, and it broke her heart.

 

"Okay," she cooed softly to him, "you can eat soon."

 

Lin Yi Yang was slow to respond, his eyes tightly shut for a few seconds before opening them slowly. His black pupils reflected her figure, as if he didn't recognize her, looking at her...

 

"You drank so much," she whispered, "didn't anyone stop you?"

 

Lin Yi Yang's high cheekbones and nose bridge, more prominent among the average Asian ethnicity, added to his peach blossom-shaped eyes and double eyelids, created a striking appearance. Though he wasn't conventionally handsome, at this moment, he had an inexplicable charm that dug deep into Yin Guo's heart.

 

It was no surprise that many girls couldn't forget about him. Whether playing billiards or sitting on the steps outside the pool hall with a cigarette, just a prolonged gaze from him could make any girl worry about him for the rest of her life.

 

As she wiped his face and hands with a slightly cold towel, Yin Guo considered warming it up with hot water. Suddenly, Lin Yi Yang's right hand wrapped around her neck, pulling her face towards him. His forehead touched hers, and with a heavy drunken tone, he called her "Xiao Guo Er," a term of endearment.

 

In the midst of his discomfort caused by the alcohol, Lin Yi Yang caught a glimpse of Yin Guo and wondered if he was hallucinating. He paused for a moment before posing a question, "Do you have feelings for me now?"

 

From the kiss they shared outside her apartment restroom to the present moment, it had been precisely fourteen days since they had started dating. Lin Yi Yang's inquiry probed deeper into her emotions. Did she truly have genuine feelings for him?

 

But the room was not empty, and Fan Cong and Wu Wei were also present, attending to the other three drunken individuals. Meanwhile, Jiang Yang had brewed tea for Yin Guo and came in to keep her company. All three of them overheard Lin Yi Yang's question to Yin Guo.

 

Lin Yi Yang was known for his obstinacy, which had led him to take a detour in life. For him to ask such a question spoke volumes about how much he desired and was uncertain about their relationship. It also revealed how much he truly cared for the girl before him.

 

As Yin Guo was about to respond, Lin Yi Yang suddenly tugged at the collar of his shirt, his face contorting in discomfort. She watched him use the back of his hand to shield his eyes from the light, and within seconds, he had fallen asleep.

 

Confused and concerned, Yin Guo squatted in front of the sofa, the cold towel still in her hands. She had noticed that he had been in good spirits when they had left earlier, so she couldn't help but wonder what could have caused this sudden change.

 

After a few moments, she got up to check on Meng Xiaodong, one of the other drunken men in the room. When she turned around, she saw that Jiang Yang had already prepared a cup of hot tea for her and had jokingly opened Lin Yi Yang's phone, placing it on the round table.

 

"Come on, let's eat," Jiang Yang said with a smile, trying to lighten the mood.

 

......

 

Yin Guo was puzzled as she looked at the phone screen, which was filled with pictures of cakes - layered matcha, rose, crepes, and more. Wu Wei saw her confusion and pulled her to the table, eager to share the story behind the photos.

 

As Wu Wei recounted, in the dead of night, Lin Yi Yang had ventured out of the hotel and walked several blocks to find the Plaza Restaurant to buy a cake for Yin Guo. Despite the restaurant still being open, the cake shop on the basement level had already closed for the night.

 

Jiang Yang and Wu Wei found Lin Yi Yang slumped on the steps outside the restaurant, curled up in a small corner and dozing off, looking no different from a homeless person. When they woke him up, he handed his phone over to Wu Wei, with all the pictures of cakes he had saved while sober. He pleaded with her to buy one for Yin Guo and then collapsed into their arms.

 

Without hesitation, the two men carried Lin Yi Yang back to the hotel without calling for a car.

 

As they entered the room, they were met with the sight of a few inebriated individuals. Yin Guo and the others quickly went into action, tending to Lin Yi Yang's drunken state and helping him change into clean clothes. In a moment of recklessness, Lin Yi Yang downed the remaining alcohol in the bottles on the table without any resistance.

 

It was evident that Lin Yi Yang was heavily intoxicated, having consumed two bottles of strong liquor in total. Jiang Yang, who knew Lin Yi Yang well, estimated that he would not wake up for at least a day and a night.

 

Initially, Wu Wei didn't want to involve Yin Guo and expose her to Lin Yi Yang's pitiful state. However, Jiang Yang insisted on speaking with Yin Guo about something Meng Xiaodong had said earlier.

 

Wu Wei gestured to the empty bottles on the table and explained, "I used his card, but I didn't dare to buy anything expensive. This pile of bottles is still not worth that small cup he bought for you to drink back then."

 

Upon examining the bottles, Yin Guo was under the impression that Lin Yi Yang had splurged on expensive whiskey for her cousin. However, on closer inspection, she realized it was just the inexpensive and common whiskey found in supermarkets.

 

Jiang Yang spoke softly, "Lin Yi Yang truly cares about you, Yin Guo."

 

"He's not just caring. He's done so much for you that you don't even know about," Wu Wei chimed in, completely agreeing with Jiang Yang and working with him. "It's been almost twelve years since he left Dongxincheng, and during that time, he's never carried any money with him, except for this year when he made an exception."

 

Wu Wei paused, looking at Yin Guo intently. "Do you remember? He did it for you."

 

Yin Guo was stunned, not only because he gambled for her but more importantly because he had never gambled with money before...

 

Yin Guo sat there, her eyes fixed on Lin Yi Yang's sleeping form. She couldn't help but wonder what had led him to this pathetic state. Wu Wei and Jiang Yang exchanged glances; then Wu Wei let out a chuckle.

 

"He wouldn't be this poor if he really gambled on billiards, would he?" she said. "In Flushing, he didn't ask for a penny and had people transfer money to his classmates' accounts."

 

Yin Guo was surprised to hear this. She had assumed that Lin Yi Yang was poor because of his gambling addiction, but it seemed that wasn't the case.

 

"That night, a single game cost $3,000, and he played several games weekly," Jiang Yang continued. "He could have become rich if he had continued."

 

Yin Guo looked at Lin Yi Yang again, wondering why he had given up such a lucrative opportunity.

 

"You're not from Dongxincheng, so you probably don't know," Jiang Yang said, turning to her. "When my teacher brought him into Dongxincheng, they had an agreement: he is not allowed to gamble, he should never fix games, and he couldn't break the law."

 

Yin Guo nodded, still trying to process everything. She had never heard this part of Lin Yi Yang's story before.

 

"This is just the beginning," Jiang Yang said, his voice low and serious. "What I want to tell you is the entire story of the past."

 

In his fourth year as a professional player, Lin Yi Yang had hit a wall in his career. Despite winning two championships in the previous years, he unexpectedly fell into a slump without warning signs. As a young prodigy, he was no stranger to the ups and downs of an athlete's career. But this valley was different.

 

Lin Yi Yang's competitiveness was unmatched, and his drive to win was insatiable. But when he began losing several critical games in a row, rumors started spreading that he was accepting money to throw games. His peers looked down on him, and even in the locker room, he could hear their whispers and discussions about his slump. After another devastating loss on the court, he had a huge argument with his coach, and then he quit the team for good.

 

In his final professional game, Lin Yi Yang's temper flared, leading to a conflict with the referee that resulted in a six-month ban. After June, he vanished from the circle, leaving everyone wondering what had happened to him.

 

"Everyone knew he had given up since the night he left Dongxincheng," Jiang Yang explained.

 

Yin Guo could see the sadness in his eyes as he continued, "Why didn't he explain? Because only a few of us knew about this incident, and we only found out in Mr. He's office that day. He did indeed play a game with money by the roadside. He was wrong."

 

Yin Guo couldn't believe what she was hearing. Poverty had driven him to gamble with money, and his intentions were pure. "Why didn't anyone help him?" she asked.

 

Wu Wei sighed. "He was really broke during that half year. Relatives had just adopted his younger brother, and he wanted to visit but couldn't afford the ticket. Later, he told me that at the time, he thought he just wanted to buy a ticket to celebrate his brother's birthday, and with the leftover money, he could buy some exercise books to practice English and math."

 

The room fell silent as everyone took in this heartbreaking story. The past few years had not been kind to Lin Yi Yang, and it was clear that this incident still haunted him.

 

Yin Guo had heard stories from her cousin about the hardships that athletes faced in the past. In those days, the industry was not doing well, and players would resort to extreme measures to make ends meet. Without commercial sponsorship, a domestic player's annual income would only be around 20,000 to 30,000 yuan. They still had to travel to various competitions, buy clothes and equipment, and support themselves.

 

One of Meng Xiaodong's friends had faced a similar situation when he played pool to earn money for the hotel the night before a competition in Quanzhou. He ended up losing all his money and had to spend the night at the billiard hall. The next day, he went straight to the competition without any rest.

 

If even adult players could face such difficulties, imagine the pressure, Lin Yi Yang was under as a high schooler. Lin Yi Yang's pride and unwillingness to borrow money from his brothers led to his challenging situation.

 

......

 

He was wrong, just plain wrong. But no one gave him a chance to correct it, and he didn't either.

 

The sun's rays beamed onto Lin Yi Yang's face, and his parched throat yearned for a sip of water. He instinctively stretched his arm to his right as if in the comfort of his apartment. From this vantage point, he thought he was reaching for the coffee table by his bed. Normally, he would prepare a glass of water alongside his drink to hydrate himself and avoid a hangover the following day.

 

His fingers reached out, but he felt no table or glass. For a moment, he froze. He realized he was in a hotel room, not his apartment.

 

What time was it? Had he slept for one or two days? He vaguely remembered waking up in the darkness with no one in the room. The stench of his body made him self-conscious that his partner would smell the alcohol on him when she returned from the competition. So he took a shower to freshen up.

 

Upon opening his eyes, Lin Yi Yang's gaze immediately fell on Yin Guo, snuggled up with a pillow beside him. She lay on the white cotton bedsheet, facing him with a dark blue or black T-shirt.

 

"She looks like a porcelain doll with dimples on her face. The kind that used to be sold at temple fairs when we were kids, except those dolls had two red dots painted on their cheeks, and she doesn't. 'I'm afraid you'll sleep too much, stupid,' she said."

 

Her little hand shook in front of his eyes. 'Are you really that stupid?

 

"The arm full of flower tattoos pulled Yin Guo over and pressed her face into his neck. 'If I don't straighten you out, you'll never learn,' he said."

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