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During the Snowstorm

9.4

The Day of the Return of the King

90

The chef discreetly withdrew, putting an end to their conspicuous display of intimacy.

 

He kissed her with an unusual intensity, filled with passion.

 

As their kiss came to a close, he released his hold on her and purposefully questioned, "Did you miss me, or did you come to console me?"

 

Suppressed by her sister's remarks and feeling a wave of distress, Yin Guo grew increasingly upset. Observing him rummaging through the trunk without any words to offer, she watched him intently and responded, "There's nothing. I didn't need to find you."

 

Lin Yi Yang halted his actions, pivoting to face her. "If there's nothing, then go back upstairs. I'm leaving," he declared.

 

In a stiff tone, he continued, emphasizing the urgency of his departure due to his younger brother being in another province and needing a ride back. He stressed the importance of the child's early bedtime.

 

Yin Guo stared at him, sensing his palpable anger. His eyes were turning red from his rage. When she attempted to depart, he once again seized her wrist. Lin Yi Yang sought to kiss her, but Yin Guo turned her face away, firmly stating, "You've been smoking. I don't want to kiss you."

 

Lin Yi Yang firmly held her hands behind her back, restricting her movement. With his free hand, he retrieved a black chocolate bar from his pocket and raised it before her eyes.

 

"Wait for it," he gazed at her intently.

 

Using his teeth, Lin Yi Yang tore open the wrapper and took a bite of the chocolate.

 

...

 

"Chocolate won't do either. It's embarrassing to kiss with chocolate on my lips. Everyone can see," she remarked, aware of the people around them.

 

Lin Yi Yang slowed his actions, but he didn't release his grip. He savored the chocolate slowly, seemingly abandoning the idea of kissing her. Nonetheless, his hold on her wrist tightened noticeably.

 

"Ouch, it hurts. Let go of me," she pleaded, genuinely experiencing pain rather than sulking.

 

Suddenly, his grasp on her wrist loosened.

 

Lin Yi Yang consumed the remaining chocolate and crumpled the wrapper before tossing it onto the mound of cigarette butts. He then turned around once more to search for something in the trunk.

 

Observing his lack of response and engagement, Yin Guo simply pivoted and strode away.

 

"Xiao Guo-er," he called out to her from behind.

 

She had an urge to halt, but her anger persisted.

 

"Yin Guo, stop right there," he uttered in a low, weighty tone.

 

She remained silent and accelerated her pace even further after his words.

 

Lin Yi Yang couldn't call her name loudly or pursue her from the rear of the SUV, and he grew anxious.

 

In his possession was a bag of cherries he had procured from a secluded village, washed, and intended to offer her for a taste. The cherries were so delicate that they would rupture with a gentle squeeze of his fingers...

 

After holding onto the fresh and delicate cherries for a while, Lin Yi Yang eventually discarded them onto the cluster of cigarette butts.

 

As Yin Guo stepped into the restaurant, her family was descending from upstairs. She stepped aside, intending to ascend and retrieve her bag. However, her aunt, who happened to be the last one descending, held her bag and said, "I have it. No need to go upstairs."

 

Auntie swiftly approached Yin Guo in a couple of strides and whispered, "Are you still upset with your sister?"

 

Yin Guo realized her countenance was less than pleasant and replied softly, "No."

 

"You were down there for quite some time. What did you do?" Auntie was perplexed because when she descended, Yin Guo mentioned going to retrieve something, yet she returned empty-handed.

 

"I can't find it," Yin Guo casually remarked, "I suppose it's at home, and I forgot to bring it."

 

Auntie was about to say something when a smile formed on her face, and she nodded toward the person standing behind Yin Guo. "Your friend is quite amusing; he came to our table searching for you."

 

When Yin Guo turned around, she caught sight of Lin Yi Yang holding his coat and courteously nodding to her aunt. "The child doesn't know any better. Please forgive him," he uttered in a subdued and restrained manner, still maintaining his politeness toward strangers.

 

Lin Yi Yang ascended the stairs on Yin Guo's right, casting a final glance at her before proceeding straight upstairs.

 

Yin Guo felt a sense of injustice and avoided looking at the array of seafood crates. She still refrained from making eye contact with him, but she sensed that he halted at the corner of the staircase, gazing in her direction. She could also perceive that he lingered there purposely, observing her...

 

However, their connection was swiftly disrupted by the descending customers, who inadvertently intermingled with the two groups, shoving Yin Guo aside and obstructing her view of the stairs.

 

She glanced upwards once more, only to find that he had already ascended.

 

The journey back was unusually hushed. Yin Guo's mind was consumed by thoughts of Lin Yi Yang—this marked their first disagreement, and it left her feeling unhappy...

 

Beside her, her grandmother suddenly inquired, "Regarding that young man, Lin Yi Yang, can you enlighten grandma further?" Her grandmother held particular concern due to Meng Xiaodong's involvement.

 

"I'll share the details when we arrive home," Yin Guo responded softly, "I'm feeling a bit queasy from the car ride."

 

The sister seated in the passenger seat interjected, "Xiaoguo, are you quite acquainted with him?"

 

"We have a good rapport," Yin Guo replied.

 

"Doesn't Meng Xiaodong look out for you?" the sister asked from the front seat.

 

Yin Guo rested her hand against her face and gazed out the window. "Brother Xiaodong is quite familiar with him."

 

"Didn't Meng Xiaodong ever mention it to you?" the front-seat sister suddenly inquired. "When he was a child, Lin Lin hit him with a brick, and both Lin Yi Yang and Lin Lin accompanied him during the medical treatment."

 

Yin Guo was taken aback.

 

"That's him," Grandma chimed in, expressing sympathy. "I was so frightened at the time. I thought Xiao Dong had offended someone."

 

"But that's all in the past," Yin Guo argued. "Xiao Dong and Lin Lin have a good relationship now."

 

"He's had more than just that one incident; he's had issues since he was young," the sister paused and glanced back at Yin Guo. "It seems like you really have a favorable impression of him."

 

......

 

Yin Guo sensed the strong disapproval her older sister held towards him. She wanted to continue arguing, but her mother interjected, "I've told you many times, don't argue in front of your grandmother."

 

"We're not arguing, Mom," Wu Tong countered, "we're having a discussion."

 

"I wasn't arguing," Yin Guo clarified, "I simply wanted to explain a few things to Lin Yi Yang, who genuinely came to serve tea today. Mom," she hesitated before continuing, "both you and my sister work at the Sports Bureau. If you both hold a grudge against him, wouldn't that be unfair to him?"

 

Yin Guo's mother smiled and replied, "Do you think your mother would allow personal biases to affect him?"

 

"No," Yin Guo replied, but she worried that her mother's attitude could influence her colleagues and indirectly impact him.

 

"Your mother doesn't know him personally, nor has she had any conflicts with him," her mother explained. She briefly paused at the toll station, took the change handed to her by Wu Tong, and handed it out. "However, I genuinely dislike him. Let's set aside Xiaodong's situation for a moment. I used to be a referee and can't appreciate someone who has clashed with her professional peers. Perhaps I won't say much about your friend because she loves you, but my opinion won't change."

 

As her Mom drove past the toll booth, she continued, "Xiaoguo, you're growing up, and you need to understand that no two people share identical thoughts and positions in this world. Everyone has their own perspectives, personalities, and life experiences, even those close to us."

 

Yin Guo maintained her silence, absorbing her mother's words.

 

"Furthermore, regarding what you just mentioned, remember that you can discuss it here in the car since we're family, but you shouldn't bring up those matters in public settings like the bureau, association, or other official events. I'm serious about this, and it's important that you remember," Yin Guo's mother emphasized, glancing at her elder daughter in the front passenger seat.

 

Even Wu Tong refrained from speaking up.

 

"Is the China Open starting soon?" Yin Guo's mother turned her attention to Yin Guo.

 

"Yes," she replied, "it begins next week."

 

Lin Yi Yang's return coincided with the upcoming China Open Snooker tournament, and that was the reason for his presence.

After dropping off his brother and his family, Lin Yi Yang returned to the snooker room where Jiang Yang was still present.

 

The previous night, Lin Yi Yang had mentioned his plan to visit his ancestors' graves, successfully persuading his friends, who had been carrying several boxes of alcohol, to go back to sleep. Only Jiang Yang remained with him, as he had recently completed a closed training session and was currently living alone. Jiang Yang greeted Lin Yi Yang with delight upon his return, seemingly prepared to spend some time together.

 

The third floor of the snooker room had been renovated just last month, while the second floor had experienced a delay due to the late relocation of the hotpot restaurant. As a result, the upper floor was fully equipped and had the appearance of a proper snooker room. Additionally, there were two rooms located in the far north corner of the third floor, complete with a bathroom.

 

Jiang Yang had already arranged some furniture in advance, temporarily filling the space. The furnishings were simple yet stylish, giving the impression of a cozy home.

 

Unable to sleep, Lin Yi Yang leaned back on the sofa and retrieved a note from the middle of his wallet. The tape on one corner of the note was stained with black, indicating its frequent use.

 

"Have you played it?" Jiang Yang inquired, noticing Lin Yi Yang holding the note as he got up to use the restroom.

 

Lin Yi Yang remained silent, not offering a response.

 

Jiang Yang anticipated that Lin Yi Yang wouldn't respond, so he proceeded to search for the bathroom light switch. From behind him, he heard Lin Yi Yang's voice saying, "My body is already not in good condition, and hearing myself speak will only further anger me."

 

Jiang Yang couldn't argue with that statement. The coach hadn't mentioned Lin Yi Yang's name explicitly. Although he had casually mentioned Lin Yi Yang's comeback this year, it was a passing remark without delving into any further details. One was the coach, and the other was the junior brother; their personalities were too similar for Jiang Yang to interfere. After a while, Jiang Yang located the toilet in the northeast corner by the moonlight and entered without turning on the light.

 

Meanwhile, Lin Yi Yang toyed with the notepaper in his hand for a while before stowing it away. Exiting the room, he paused by the nearest nine-ball table, specifically set up for Yin Guo's practice. He had even played a few shots with Chen An'an the previous night. The balls were scattered across the blue felt of the table.

 

Lin Yi Yang grabbed a nearby ball with his right hand, threw it forcefully along the table, and struck the airborne black ball. With a resounding clang, it dropped into the pocket. The sound of the ball falling reverberated throughout the vast hall spanning hundreds of square meters.

 

Jiang Yang removed his glasses, massaged his forehead, leaned against the door, and peered at the indistinct figure illuminated by the pool table light in the dimness, as if searching for a ball.

 

"Is something bothering you?" he inquired.

 

"Just go to sleep," Lin Yi Yang replied.

 

From his tone, Jiang Yang sensed that Lin Yi Yang carried a weighty burden on his mind.

 

Throughout the night, Lin Yi Yang didn't search for her.

 

Despite the arguments Yin Guo had with her mother and sister during the journey home, he didn't approach her or even raise his gaze.

 

Originally, she was scheduled to join the closed training camp in the afternoon. Sporting two prominent dark circles beneath her eyes, she had arranged for a seven-seater business car with several senior sisters and departed early for the training base.

 

During the car ride to the training base, the conversation among the occupants flowed, eventually converging on the Chinese Open Snooker Championship.

 

When the name "Lin Yi Yang" was mentioned, one of her senior sisters discreetly nudged her arm and inquired why Lin Yi Yang hadn't participated in the championship the previous year.

 

Yin Guo shook her head, stating that Lin Yi Yang had never discussed it.

 

"What a shame," added the senior sister sitting beside her, "If he had participated last year, his ranking would definitely have been higher than Jiang Yang's."

 

"It's hard to say," Yin Guo smiled, "Jiang Yang has always been in good form."

 

The car made a stop at a highway rest area halfway through the journey, and they took a thirty-minute break there.

 

Situated at the border between two provinces, this rest area was quite spacious and housed shops selling local specialties from both regions, along with several fast-food restaurants. Since their group had departed early and had ample time, everyone dispersed, agreeing to reconvene in half an hour.

 

Each person went off to purchase snacks and regional delicacies to stock up during the closed training.

 

The driver noticed Yin Guo remained in the car and asked with a smile, "Shall I open the door for you so you can stretch your legs as well?"

 

In the end, she was the only one left inside the vehicle.

 

Wearing a fisherman's hat, Yin Guo sat by the open car door, basking her legs in the sunlight.

 

Half an hour ago, Lin Yi Yang had sent her a WeChat message on her phone.

 

Lin: Are you awake?

 

Lin: I want to talk to you.

 

She hadn't responded all this time.

 

Her lack of reply was twofold. Firstly, she was upset that he hadn't come to find her throughout the night. Secondly, with so many people in the car, it wasn't convenient for her to make a phone call. Holding her phone in her hands, she stared at the two messages, contemplating a response.

 

As if sensing her thoughts, a new message appeared.

 

Lin: ?

 

He knew her daily schedule well, and it was around the time she should have been awake. Gathering her courage, Yin Guo decided to make a voice call to him.

 

The call connected, and she could hear the faint background noise, suggesting he was outdoors, possibly by the roadside.

She remained silent.

 

"Are you still angry with me?" Lin Yi Yang's voice came through the phone.

 

Still, she said nothing.

 

"I'm outside your neighborhood," he revealed. "Whenever you're ready, just come down. But there's no rush."

 

......

 

"I'm not at home," Yin Guo adjusted her hat to shield herself from the sunlight, feeling her heart gradually soften. "I'm currently in closed training, and I've already left the province."

 

There was silence on the other end this time.

 

"I'll be back in time to catch the second half of your tournament," Yin Guo assured him.

 

After a long pause without any response from him, she murmured, "Why didn't you come find me last night? I was so angry that I left early this morning. Otherwise, we could have met for a while today."

 

Half a minute passed, and still, he didn't speak.

 

Yin Guo noticed the driver approaching the car and whispered, "You need to answer quickly; someone is coming. It's not convenient to talk on the phone."

 

"Let me know when you're back," the man on the other end finally spoke, "I miss you."

 

During the morning, Lin Yi Yang had familiarized himself with the entrances and exits of Yin Guo's community, both the front and back gates, as well as the two access points of the underground parking garage.

 

Yesterday, Jiang Yang had driven them in his car, but today he opted for the subway. Lin Yi Yang didn't feel rushed, so he strolled along a small road by the back gate and crossed a stone bridge over a river to the other side. He wanted to explore the paths that Yin Guo usually walked and unexpectedly stumbled upon a motorcycle shop.

 

In the morning, the motorcycle shop was relatively quiet.

 

Several high-end sports bikes and a few Harley-Davidsons were showcased at the far end of the store. The owner, observing Lin Yi Yang's attire and assuming he was a motorcycle enthusiast, approached him and introduced a new all-black Harley model and an Aprilia.

 

The owner also recommended a scenic road for him to ride on. With his long legs, Lin Yi Yang swung onto the motorcycle, donned his helmet, and started the engine. Amidst the roaring noise, he rode out of the store.

 

Upon his return, many people gazed at him while he kept his helmet on, almost like a living advertisement. He removed his helmet and rested it on the bike, then leaned against it as he asked the store owner, "How long does it take to obtain a driver's license in China?"

 

"You can complete the entire examination in a single day. Afterward, you'll only need to wait a few days for the license to be issued. If you want any modifications, just let me know in advance," the store owner replied.

 

Lin Yi Yang requested the shop owner to adjust the handlebar to a lower position, align it with the seat, and pay the deposit using his card. He also expressed interest in purchasing a black helmet, glancing around before adding, "I'll also order a white helmet."

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