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During the Snowstorm

8.1

Crossing the Mountain and Seas

129

Alcohol can give you a euphoric high, but the morning after, it can leave you feeling low and drained, affecting your physical abilities. Even looking at the bright sun can be unbearable, and the girl next to him seem blurry and distant.

 

"Do you know how much you have been drinking? Nearly two bottles of 40-degree alcohol," she said, her voice laced with concern. "We've given you three doses of hangover medicine."

 

Lin Yi Yang's mouth felt like it had been stuffed with cotton, and his head was pounding like a drum. Lin Yi Yang groaned, feeling the full weight of his poor decision-making skills. "Taking hangover medicine now won't do much good," he mumbled, regret lacing his words.

 

He spoke condescendingly to her, thinking she was clueless.

 

"I know, but what else could I do?" she replied.

 

Adding to his troubles, he threw up all three doses of hangover medicine and couldn't keep any of it down.

 

Later on, his friends discussed taking him to the hospital if he still felt unwell in the morning. Luckily, Lin Yi Yang had a robust constitution and could metabolize the copious amount of alcohol himself. His friends kept him hydrated with water, fearing the alcohol might burn him out.

 

Yin Guo arrived at the competition feeling disheartened and dissatisfied. However, Meng Xiaodong quickly offered encouragement, saying, "I have faith that you'll do well today." Having watched Yin Guo's growth over the years, he knew that her pre-competition discontent often fueled her motivation, almost like reverse psychology.

 

As anticipated, Yin Guo and a senior sister teamed up and advanced to the top four of the competition, proving that her drive and determination were a force to be reckoned with.

 

Yin Guo looked at him with concern and asked, "Do you remember if you showered?" She lifted her arm and looked at him. He shook his head, lying to her even though he actually remembered.

 

"Do you even remember eating noodles?" She continued to feed him spoonfuls. He still shook his head slightly, sitting up a bit more.

 

His upper body was in a shirt, but all the buttons were undone. Yin Guo had unbuttoned them so that he could sleep more comfortably. The blanket had slipped from his collarbone to his waist.

 

He reached for the bottle of unopened water on the bedside table behind the lamp, twisted it open, and took a big gulp. His body was so thirsty that he could truly feel a cool stream of water flowing down his throat, entering his stomach and seeping into his organs.

 

As he quenched his thirst with the cool water, he savored the refreshing sensation that spread throughout his body. It was a much-needed relief from the intense alcohol-induced hangover he had been suffering from.

 

But this was nothing compared to the fierce "Up Horse Wine" and "Down Horse Wine" he had experienced while traveling to the west of China. The strong liquor had burned his throat like pure alcohol, leaving him gasping for air. He had also tried the locally-produced raw beers, which were deceptively easy to drink, but packed a stronger punch than any foreign wine he had tasted before.

 


 

This time, he had succumbed to the lure of "heartbreak wine," drowning his sorrows until he passed out. He had feared that if he didn't consume all the remaining bottles, he wouldn't be able to achieve the desired level of drunkenness. As he lay in bed, recovering from the ordeal, he realized that he couldn't always turn to alcohol to numb his pain.

 


 

"Everyone is living for today and waiting for tomorrow. Yesterday is gone and useless," he thought as he put the mineral water bottle back on the bedside table. He couldn't help but wonder what the girl in front of him was thinking.

 

He waited patiently, listening intently to what Yin Guo had to say. Finally, she asked, "Do you remember what we did?"

 

Yin Guo asked the question out of guilt, wanting to bring up the fact that Lin Yi Yang acted indecently while drunk. But in the end, she was too shy to say it and hesitated for a long time. The joke didn't work out and instead made the room fall into an unsettling silence.

 

"What did we do?" he asked, his curiosity piqued.

 

The man's hands, rough at the fingertips and edges, grazed her lips gently as he urged her to tell him what had happened.

 

The first time they met, he affectionately referred to her and her cousin as "little kids" in front of Wu Wei and others. His outlook on life was unscathed by the harsh realities of the world, and he saw people as innocent and naive, like a child.

As Lin Yi Yang spoke, his hands moved towards his belt, unbuckling it and unzipping his pants. Suddenly, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her left hand under the blanket. Adrenaline surged through her body as her fingers touched the fabric of his trousers, then the cotton fabric above it.

 

Panic overtook her, and she blurted out, "I was just kidding."

 

Lin Yi Yang held her tiny hand and clasped her fingers tightly. "Did Jiang Yang and the others say anything a while ago?" he asked, his voice low and urgent.

 

"No... they didn't say anything," she replied, her heart racing as she tried to control her breathing.

 

Her heart raced, pounding in her ears as she struggled to compose herself. The sight of the tattooed arm in the apartment should have been a warning of the fierce beast hidden beneath the gentleman's exterior.

 

Despite her nerves, the conversation continued, expertly led by Lin Yi Yang.

 

"What day is it today?" he asked.

 

"It's Sunday, around noon," she replied, her voice slightly trembling.

 

"And is the competition over?" he inquired further.

 

"Yes, it ended this morning," she answered, still trying to calm her racing heart.

 

The two-week U.S. Open Nine-ball Championship had come to an end, and the Chinese team had achieved remarkable success. The women's team had secured both silver and bronze medals, with her winning the silver medal - the best result among Chinese players in the women's group. However, he chose such an inappropriate time and place to bring it up that she had no interest in discussing it.

 

All she could think was, "Hurry up and get it over with."

 

In the stillness of the room, she became acutely aware of the small sounds that often go unnoticed. The heavy rhythm of his breathing, the rustling of the sheets against her skin, and the sound of her movements were all amplified.

 

Suddenly, he broke the silence. "Come here, kiss me," he said.

 

As if in a trance, she leaned towards him, ready to kiss him. However, he grabbed her head with one hand and pulled her in for a deep, passionate kiss. His muscles flexed under his skin, and the powerful scent of male pheromones filled the room, enveloping her in a dizzying haze.

 

Despite the window being slightly ajar, there was no breeze to relieve the sweltering heat of the day. The sun blazed down on her back, making her feel uncomfortable and sweaty. Yin Guo's breathing was ragged as she gazed at Lin Yi Yang, feeling as though she had been drained of all her energy by the heat.

 

Lin Yi Yang's throat constricted, and for once, he didn't feel invigorated. Instead, he felt an even stronger urge to hold her close. He spoke softly, "Go wash your hands."

 

With that, he released her.

 

At the speed of a hundred-meter dash, Yin Guo rushed into the restroom and lathered a small square gift soap over every inch of her skin. She was still thinking about how foolishly she had spouted that nonsense and tried to provoke him.

 

Yin Guo's heart raced as she scrubbed her skin with the gift soap, trying to wash away the embarrassment from her earlier behavior. The frothy lather coated her fingers and palms as she rubbed and rubbed, lost in thought.

 

She heard the bathroom door creak open as she rinsed the soap from her skin. Lin Yi Yang walked in, carrying a fresh set of clothes. She couldn't bring herself to look at him in the mirror, feeling too ashamed of her earlier actions. She hastily tossed the soap into the ceramic dish and made a run for it.

 

Lin Yi Yang emerged from the bathroom, dressed in jeans with his slippers dragging on the pristine white floor. As he settled next to her on the edge of the couch, he couldn't help but admire her perfectly polished toenails resting on the couch's edge. The desire to carry her to bed after taking a shower grew stronger.

 

"Take a break, and I'll take you to see the sunset," he said with a smile.

 

Yin Guo was a bit confused, "Sunset? It's still noon now. Why watch the sunset?"

 

Lin Yi Yang chuckled, "Yes, sunset. Let's go to Hawaii." He then went to the bathroom to collect his dirty clothes, bundled them up, stuffed them into a hotel paper bag, and prepared to send them to the dry cleaner in the lobby later and pick them up when they were ready.

 

Hawaii? Yin Guo was surprised. Clearly, Lin Yi Yang had already made all the arrangements before coming to watch the game. He had even asked Meng Xiaotian for Yin Guo's passport information, booked the flight and hotel, and everything was set for the end of the game.

 

He yearned to take Yin Guo on an adventure to the Big Island, where they could witness the raw power of the Kilauea volcano as it met the ocean, stand on the edge of an active crater that could erupt at any moment, and sleep in a tent amidst the pungent smell of sulfur. They would bask in the beauty of the sunset and gaze at the twinkling stars of the Milky Way.

 

With only three days remaining until their departure, Lin Yi Yang was determined to make the most of their time. Luckily, Yin Guo was already in the United States, making it convenient for them to travel together.

 

So in this early April, after Yin Guo had won the silver medal, she embarked on a long-distance flight from her city with Lin Yi Yang. They endured a layover and more than ten hours of travel and rest, equivalent to the time and distance it would take to return to China.

 

At 5:46 a.m. on Monday, Yin Guo exited the cabin door and descended the long escalator with the other passengers, searching for Lin Yi Yang in the bustling airport. They had only brought a backpack and thick winter clothing for their adventure to Hawaii. As they made their way through the crowd, Zheng Yi's messages on WeChat still buzzed on Yin Guo's phone.

 

Zheng Yi: Are you sober?

 

Xiaoguo: Yeah.

 

Zheng Yi: Are you doing well?

 

Yin Guo paused for a moment, unsure how to respond.

 

Xiaoguo: ...

 

Zheng Yi: Are you buying condoms? You can act as a purchasing agent for adult products.

 

Xiaoguo: Don't worry...

 

Zheng Yi: I'm worried, thank you.

 

Xiaoguo: Didn't you say the faster you sleep, the faster you shake it off?

 


 

Zheng Yi: At one point, I had the thought that even if I came across a real jerk, I should still go ahead and sleep with him. I mean, who knows? What if the world ends tomorrow, and I miss out on the chance?

 

Xiaoguo: I just got off the plane. I can't sleep.

 

Zheng Yi: ????

 

Xiaoguo: He took me to see the sunset.

 

Zheng Yi: ???????

 

Zheng Yi: Does he have any brothers? If not, I can settle for a sister.

 

Xiaoguo: He has quite a few... I'll introduce you to them when there's a chance.

 

As they emerged from the airport, he quickly secured a rental car, a sleek deep gray vehicle, near the exit. Without hesitation, he pushed Yin Guo into the car, switched on the navigation, and drove directly to the hotel for check-in. The left and right sides of the road were shrouded in black volcanic ash, and the path ahead stretched endlessly.

 

In the warm, orange sunlight, Yin Guo listened attentively to the English navigation, its voice guiding them step by step. Gradually, she drifted off to sleep, lulled by the gentle rhythm of the car. When she woke up again, she was jolted by the sound of raindrops pelting against the car window. Turning her head towards him, she softly asked, "How long have we been driving?"

 

"About twenty minutes. You can keep sleeping," he replied, his voice calm and reassuring.

 

As Lin Yi Yang drove, he steered the wheel with his right hand, a habit he had developed over the years. She couldn't help but notice the complex and beautiful constellation tattoo that adorned the outer side of his arm. She had asked about it before in their apartment, and he had told her it was done by a friend who took three sessions to complete.

 

Lost in her thoughts, she stared at the tattoo for a while, then rubbed her eyes and adjusted her focus to make it clearer. As she looked out of the driver's side window, she saw a large bunch of red flowers or grass appearing on the black and barren land. It was a sight to behold, almost like a dream.

 

This man, she caught a glimpse of him at the airport the previous night, leaning nonchalantly on a towering check-in machine. Was it a dream? Ever since the city was blanketed in snow during the late January storm, she had been haunted by a vivid and surreal dream of a man named Lin Yi Yang, his gloved hand gripping an old and weathered metal door handle, his body and hat dusted with snow.

 

......

 

The rain was beating against the windshield with increasing intensity, making it hard for Yin Guo to see the road ahead.

"Let's chat to keep you awake," Yin Guo said softly, glancing over at her with concern.

 

The navigation continued to prompt them to go straight ahead, even though there were no forks in the road. Yin Guo flexed his driving hand, revealing slender fingers loosely gripping the steering wheel. Yin Guo remembered how he had held her hand earlier, their fingers interlaced, and the warmth that had flowed between them as they lay beneath the soft white blankets.

 

"Can we pull over here?" she asked, pointing to a small clearing on the side of the road.

 

As they drove along the winding road, she caught sight of a sign pointing toward a lava flow and an underground cave. Without hesitation, she suggested they park and explore. Since this island was a popular destination for self-driving tours, she knew rest stops and parking lots were abundant.

 

Lin Yi Yang smoothly applied the brakes and steered the car toward the roadside parking lot. The landscape was dominated by black volcanic ash with no sign of vegetation except for clumps of grass that stubbornly grew on any patch of soil they could find.

 

The car's engine hummed steadily with a faint vibration as they stepped out of the car. "Let's check out the magma terrain and see the volcano flowers," Lin Yi Yang suggested, unbuckling his seatbelt with a press of his thumb. The safety restraint snapped back into place as if it didn't want to interrupt the two of them.

 

"I'd like to chat with you," she said.

 

"Sure, what would you like to talk about?" he asked, leaning over to help her unbuckle her seat belt.

 

As the seat began to recline, she felt his warm breath on her face. "Do you want to talk about something mature or something more innocent?" he asked.

 

After leaving the hotel, the two of them were on the road all the time, on the plane, at the airport, and never had a quiet, uninterrupted private space. When their bodies touched, kisses were no longer enough to satisfy their hearts, and they craved inexhaustible freshness and an unquenchable desire for understanding.

 

It seemed like he hadn't touched himself for more than ten hours.

 

Yin Guo gazed at him and asked, "How was it for you yesterday?" Her voice was soft, and her eyes were curious, wondering if there was any difference between her and others.

 

She idly traced her fingers along the collar of his shirt, creating small wrinkles on the cotton fabric that gathered and dispersed at her fingertips.

 

The rain pounded relentlessly on the car roof, its force seemingly capable of piercing through it.

 

They didn't know who the car belonged to or who had ever sat in it before, but right now, it was theirs to command.

 

He responded without hesitation, "It was comfortable."

 

"What's the difference between doing it alone and with someone else?" She asked, breaking the silence in the room.

 

He turned to face her, his eyes meeting hers. He wondered for a moment how to answer her question. The physical sensation was similar, but there was a deeper satisfaction when it was shared with someone else. With her, it was different. Being with her made everything feel more alive, more intense.

 

"It's hard to say," he replied, a small smile playing at the corners of his lips. "It's kind of the same."

 

Yin Guo was left feeling a bit unsatisfied after hearing his vague response. "I guess that doesn't really answer my question," she said with a slight frown. Though she knew she hadn't done much during their encounter, it was still frustrating not to have a clearer answer.

 

Her mind wandered again, wondering if the experience would be the same with someone else. It reminded her of a drunken question Lin Yi Yang had once asked her, similar to her hypothetical query. She wondered if he had ever felt that she was different from what he had imagined and if the novelty of their relationship would wear off over time.

 

"Genuine first love is both exhilarating and nerve-wracking," he replied, taking her by surprise. "It's a mix of wholeheartedness and anxiety. Before experiencing it, you don't know how to give it, and after experiencing it, you don't know how to give it in the same way again."

 

"What about with someone else?" Yin Guo asked, curious about his answer.

 

......

 

Lin Yi Yang helped Yin Guo fasten her seatbelt once more. He gripped the steering wheel with his right hand and merged onto the highway, the rain falling heavily and lightly, a symphony of near and far sounds. He turned to her and teased, "Hey, little girl, be honest. What do you really think I am? Do you think anyone can just come up and touch me a few times?"

 

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