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During the Snowstorm

9.3

The Day of the Return of the King

65

The following day, she left home a little after 5 am, assuming that Lin Yi Yang would still be adjusting to the time difference, she didn't contact him.

 

She was occupied in the morning, and while they were descending the mountain, several cars got stuck on the way. As a result, Yin Guo, who had been following her mother's car with her grandmother, got off to switch places with her younger aunt. Her grandmother's confusion was increasing with time, and her mother wanted someone to keep an eye on her.

 

Yin Guo had to exit the car and exchange seats with her younger aunt. In reality, she understood her mom's true intentions.

 

Her younger aunt was originally riding in Uncle Li's car, and by swapping seats, she and Li Qingyan would be in the same car. Yin Guo had been avoiding this arrangement from the beginning, but now she had no choice but to go along with it.

She sent a message to Lin Yi Yang, but he didn't reply.

 

Could he still be jet-lagged?

 

Li Qingyan had the same training schedule as Meng Xiaodong, and it had been over a year since Yin Guo last saw him. They exchanged a few words about training, and when no adults were around, Yin Guo whispered, "Don't mention him to your parents."

 

At first, Li Qingyan didn't understand, but after a brief pause, he gave her a profound look and replied, "With his current world ranking, what do you have to fear?"

 

Yin Guo didn't want to delve into the details of Lin Yi Yang's past. Fortunately, her younger aunt descended the stairs and invited her to pick seafood together, providing her with an opportunity to slip away.

 

She and her younger aunt proceeded to the first floor to observe the crabs in the glass water tank.

 

Suddenly, a pair of tiny hands enveloped her left leg from behind. Her heart skipped a beat as she turned around to find a little girl, approximately two years old, with wide blinking eyes and a charming smile.

 

"How adorable!" Yin Guo crouched down, locking eyes with the little girl who clung to her left leg. They gazed at each other, their eyes shining brightly.

 

"Where are your family members?" Yin Guo inquired gently.

 

A pair of dark red sneakers came into view. "They're here," a woman's voice announced.

 

Yin Guo pondered how there could be someone with a voice so strikingly similar to his or if her longing for him had grown so intense that anyone even remotely resembling him would evoke memories. However, as her gaze traveled upward from his black casual pants to his short sleeves and finally settled on his face—a face that exuded both mischief and charm...

Her heartbeat echoed loudly in her ears.

 

Her expression remained composed as if they were not well acquainted, but beneath the surface, tumultuous waters rushed like a mountain torrent, colliding wildly with the surrounding boulders, carrying mud and sand, threatening to overpower everything in their path.

 

Their eyes locked, and for a fleeting moment, she experienced a disorienting sense of time and space.

 

Just when she thought there couldn't be any more surprises, he always managed to appear at the most improbable times. While this might be a chance encounter for ordinary people, her fingers tightened involuntarily, and she even felt a tingling sensation from being excessively startled.

 

Her gaze remained fixed on his face as she inquired, "Are you visiting relatives here?"

 

"My younger brother's," he bent down and lifted the little girl, placing her on his arm. "I just pointed in this direction and asked her who she liked, and she came running over on her own."

 

Lin Yi Yang playfully pinched the little girl's cheek. "Couldn't stop her."

 

With his newly-shaved head and visible tattoos beneath his rolled-up sleeves, Lin Yi Yang already stood out in the bustling restaurant. And now, he held a tender and adorable little girl in his arms.

 

He possessed a talent for capturing people's hearts at first sight, regardless of the time or place. Inappropriately, Yin Guo pondered to herself, "If they had met today, would I still have to pursue him?"

 

Lin Yi Yang couldn't help but feel pleased as he caught his girlfriend gazing at him in that manner.

 

Earlier that morning, he had impulsively shaved his head after Yin Guo complimented his appearance with a crew cut in their Washington apartment. It suited him well.

 

As they engaged in conversation, the younger aunt gestured towards a few items and signaled the waiter to take their order. She smiled and nodded at Lin Yi Yang, assuming Yin Guo had bumped into an old classmate. Those who were always studious seemed to possess an advantage in defying the effects of aging, even with a six-year age gap.

 

"You're here? Just passing by?" Yin Guo inquired, feeling a sense of comfort conversing with him as the aunt walked toward the far end of the water tank.

 

"I came to visit my parents' graves," Lin Yi Yang replied. "It's been three years since my last visit."

 

This region boasts several mountains and numerous gardens with auspicious feng shui.

 

During the Qingming Festival, it was common for six or seven out of ten people from nearby cities to travel here, so his statement didn't come as a surprise.

 

"Why he was able to locate this place isn't difficult to guess," Lin Yi Yang remarked. "Whether it's through Meng Xiaotian or Meng Xiaodong, either of them could have informed him. All our relatives are buried here, so you can casually ask Uncle and Aunt for more information."

 

"I wish you had told me earlier," Yin Guo expressed her guilt. "I would have bought flowers for your parents."

 

A smile shimmered in Lin Yi Yang's eyes.

 

"There's no need for that," he reassured. "I just told my parents about it, and I'll bring you over next year."

 

Their conversation remained brief, whispered words that went unnoticed by anyone else.

 

The aunt didn't take long before her gaze shifted toward them, and she entertained the thought that since Yin Guo didn't have a boyfriend, this guy seemed like a good choice. He possessed first-rate looks, but what about the little girl he held? Nowadays, college students may get married on campus, but they surely wouldn't be having babies on campus, too, right?

Within a matter of moments, the aunt had constructed a character assessment of Lin Yi Yang in her mind, forming thousands of words.

 

Meanwhile, the little girl on Lin Yi Yang's arm suddenly desired to extend her arms and embrace Yin Guo, but she was swiftly pulled back by Lin Yi Yang. Softened by the little girl's gesture, Yin Guo pleaded, "Let me hold her."

 

"With her tiny arms and legs, do you still want to hold her?" Lin Yi Yang calmly squeezed Yin Guo's wrist, in a position hidden from view, within the blind spot formed between the two of them, the little girl and the water tank.

 

Since their farewell at the airport yesterday, the two of them had been caught in a state of both familiarity and distance. It wasn't due to any issues in their relationship but rather the result of not seeing each other for a while. Upon suddenly reuniting, their whole beings screamed that this person was their beloved, yet there lingered a sense of unfamiliarity.

 

Now, as he tightly held her hand, it was as if he was reminding her to snap out of it and affirming that he was her boyfriend.

 

His warm fingertips brushed against her hand. "Let's stay in touch whenever you have the time," he said, his expression serious as he noticed her aunt approaching.

 

Feeling their fingers interlace, she tightened her grip and casually remarked, "You still have my phone number, right?"

"Of course," he chuckled, finding amusement in her playacting.

 

Eventually, he released her hand.

 

The little girl had yearned to hug Yin Guo, but it didn't happen. She watched as Lin Yi Yang took her back into his arms, and then she burst into tears.

 

Lin Yi Yang was now at a loss. The last time he had to comfort a child was over ten years ago when he had to frighten and confront the child's father to do so. Soothing a little girl was something he had no experience in. He whispered something in the little girl's ear, making her cry even harder.

 

Just when everything seemed harmonious, with the adorable contrast between the large and small figures, it now resembled a menacing hooligan kidnapping a child.

 

"This guy seems nice. Is he the child's father?" the aunt inquired.

 

Yin Guo shook her head, gently brushing her hand. "He just graduated and isn't married yet."

 

As the little girl's cries gradually subsided, Yin Guo seized the opportunity to excuse herself and went upstairs to send him a message inquiring about something.

 

Lin Li Guo: What did you say to the little girl? Why was she crying so hard?

 

Lin: I told her that her aunt doesn't like her and that I have to take her away.

 

Lin Li Guo: ...

 

Lin: Just kidding, like you always do.

 

After Yin Guo and her aunt placed their food orders, there was only one seat remaining next to Li Qingyan, and everyone purposely arranged for the two of them to sit together.

 

Ever since Lin Yi Yang appeared, Yin Guo had felt uneasy, dreading the possibility of him encountering her mother.

 

As fate would have it, her fears became a reality.

 

The waiter promptly escorted a group of people upstairs, with Lin Yi Yang leading the way, holding the little girl. Yin Guo and Li Qingyan, positioned in a way that allowed them to see the stairs, were the first to catch sight of Lin Yi Yang's arrival.

Lin Yi Yang had covered his tattooed arm with a coat before ascending the stairs.

 

Both Yin Guo and Li Qingyan locked eyes with him simultaneously, momentarily taken aback.

 

"Does Qingyan know him?" someone inquired.

 

Li Qingyan responded curtly, "Yes... He's acquainted with Meng-ge and has met him before."

 

"Oh, so he's not one of Xiaoguo's classmates?" the aunt chuckled. "He was also chatting with Yin Guo downstairs for a little while."

 

Yin Guo's mother glanced at Yin Guo.

 

"We met in New York," Yin Guo offered a concise explanation, opting not to fabricate falsehoods that might lead to more complications later. "He was watching the game."

 

Fortunately, the game in New York hadn't been televised in China, so no one at home had witnessed it.

 

Lin Yi Yang's group was then seated at their table.

 

Yin Guo observed as Lin Yi Yang picked up the teapot and poured himself a cup of tea.

 

Then, she witnessed him approaching their table. He reached their vicinity but didn't direct his gaze toward Yin Guo. Instead, he raised his teacup and offered a polite smile to Yin Guo's mother.

 

"Teacher Wu," Lin Yi Yang addressed, "Upon spotting you here, I felt it appropriate to come over and extend my greetings based on seniority."

 

A momentary silence ensued.

 

With a warm smile, Aunt Yin responded, "Today, we're all family here, so there's no need for formalities."

 

"Of course," Lin Yi Yang stood up beside the table, his gaze shifting towards Yin Guo's mother. In his eyes, he saw not only a mother figure but also a reflection of their shared experiences and challenges on the court. There was respect, nostalgia, and an underlying sense of apology. "I've made numerous mistakes in the past during my time on the court, and I want to express my gratitude to Teacher Wu for his leniency in the rulings, which granted me an opportunity to redeem myself."

 

"You needn't thank me, Xiaolin," Yin Guo's mother responded firmly. "The person you should be most grateful to is your coach. He's nearly 70 years old, yet he went to the association and pleaded on your behalf. It was truly heart-wrenching to witness. And let's not forget Teacher Wang. He's never had any conflicts in his professional career, but his eyes were red backstage that day. He also pleaded for you and deeply regretted your retirement."

 

Lin Yi Yang fell silent for a moment, nodding in acknowledgment. "You're absolutely right," he admitted.

 

He raised the glass in his hand, the half-full cup of freshly poured Pu'er tea.

 

"Since I'm driving today, I won't pour any alcohol," Lin Yi Yang said, his voice dropping. His throat seemed constricted, whether from the weight of past memories or the emotions stirred up by their conversation. Regardless, he found himself at a loss for words. With a few swift gulps, he drank most of the tea as if it were the strongest liquor, leaving only a trace of it behind.

 

Yin Guo had never witnessed Lin Yi Yang speak so formally or seen him behave in this manner.

 

As he finished his tea, the conversation came to a close, marked by a nod from Yin Guo's mother.

 

The adults at the table, feeling obliged to engage in conversation after Lin Yi Yang had made an effort to pay his respects, lingered a while longer.

 

The referee assigned to oversee Lin Yi Yang's table during that particular match happened to be a male referee who shared a good relationship with Yin Guo's mother. Yin Guo often referred to him as Uncle Wang. Initially, Yin Guo's mother, serving as the head referee, was not present at that table. However, she hurried over when she learned of the situation. By the time she arrived, Lin Yi Yang had already concluded his argument with the referee and left his opponent behind before departing.

 

"If this had happened in the current climate, he could have faced a three-year ban," Yin Guo's mother remarked, directing her gaze at Yin Guo. "Uncle Wang is someone who values talent. I heard he was genuinely pleased when Lin Yi Yang made his comeback."

 

"Did he really participate in a rigged match?" Li Qingyan's father interjected, breaking the silence.

 

"No," Mrs. Yin Guo replied impartially. "Every incident has its own explanation. He received the ban for colliding with the referee."

 

Upon hearing this, Grandma expressed concern. "Does Xiaodong have a close relationship with him?" she asked worriedly.

 

"They might not be particularly close," Sister Yin Guo explained. "They are merely colleagues who know each other."

 

In fact, Yin Guo, who rarely spoke up, added, "He has always adhered to the rules in his matches, and there hasn't been any negative news surrounding him."

 

"Let's drop this topic now; it's none of our business," Yin Guo's sister interjected, attempting to steer the conversation away.

"And besides," she continued, hoping to provide a more balanced perspective, "I had a conversation with him about billiards in the US, and it was clear that he has a genuine passion for the sport."

 

"Didn't we ask you to stop discussing it?" The older sister's expression grew stern.

 

Being pushed back by her sister's disapproval, Yin Guo felt frustrated and decided to refrain from further comments. She lowered her head and focused on taking a few bites of her food.

 

Yin Guo's family was a blended family, with an older brother and sister from their parents' previous marriages, while Yin Guo was their biological child. In her younger years, when she didn't fully comprehend the situation, she used to follow her siblings around, often becoming the target of their teasing. Although her parents were aware of this, they showed more leniency towards the older two children, as they were not their biological parents. They would lightly scold the older siblings and move on. As a result, the relatives present at the table had grown accustomed to the dynamics between the sisters.

 

"Alright, let's change the topic," a relative intervened, attempting to defuse the tension.

 

Observing Yin Guo's apparent distress, Li Qingyan's father gestured to his son to serve her a braised dish, knowing it was one of her favorites. However, Lin Yi Yang noticed the gesture from a distance.

 

Later, Lin Yi Yang excused himself and went downstairs, not returning to the gathering.

 

After the meal, Yin Guo's younger siblings remained at the table while the rest of the family engaged in conversation. Feeling restless, Yin Guo couldn't stay seated any longer. She used the excuse of needing something from the car to request her mother's car key and hurried downstairs.

 

She paced around in circles before finally reaching the vacant area behind the restaurant where cars were parked. As she passed several vehicles, a discarded cigarette butt landed at her feet. Curious, she turned around.

 

There she saw Lin Yi Yang leaning against the edge of the open trunk of his SUV, seeking shade while smoking. This was why she hadn't noticed him when she walked by earlier.

 

"Looking for me?" Lin Yi Yang inquired.

 

She knew he was aware. Gently nudging the extinguished cigarette butt onto a small pile of other discarded butts and boxes nearby, she surmised that it was a designated spot for kitchen staff to smoke and would be regularly cleaned.

 

As she stepped on the gravel, closing the distance between them, she mustered the courage to voice her concern. "You never respond to my messages," she remarked.

 

He cupped her face with both hands, his gaze intense. "Why are you searching for me?" he inquired.

 

In a desperate attempt to ground herself, she clung to his waist, her hands tightly grasping for support. The uneven gravel terrain beneath their feet shifted and crunched as they engaged in a passionate kiss, creating a rattling sound.

 

Lin Yi Yang's breath was hot and heavy against her face, leaving a searing imprint. With fervor, he skillfully explored her mouth, holding her firmly within his embrace, seeking solace in the narrow shadow cast by the open trunk lid. After a brief moment, the intensity of their entwined lips subsided, and he gently inquired, "Why did you come looking for me?" His palm caressed her cheek before their lips met again.

 

Meanwhile, two chefs in white coats emerged from the kitchen for a smoke break. They exchanged cigarettes, stealing glances at the amorous couple engaged in their passionate display.

 

Lin Yi Yang was unaccustomed to being seen in such an intimate moment, yet he refused to release his grip, not even slightly.

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