An Unexpected Encounter :Previous Chapter«Home Page»Next Chapter: Farewell, Only a Beginning

Chapter 17: Noriko, The Decision

Thursday March 14

In the following morning and with no strange dream happening during the last night, Kakeru woke up at around 8:00 AM. It was quite early for a day without school, but Kakeru only had one thing in mind: meet Nana and discuss everything together ahead of taking a decision at crossroads on their future. After getting dressed and having a quick breakfast, Kakeru was about to leave the house around 8:30 AM when the doorbell rang. When he opened the door, the person who rang the doorbell was the only one he wanted to see at the time.

"Seven? What are you doing here early?" Kakeru asked.

"I wanted to speak to you about the offer from yesterday. Did you have an appointment somewhere?"

"No, no. I was thinking of doing the same thing by walking to your place and then have both of us going to one place in particular." Kakeru replied.

"Where is that?" Nana asked.

"You brought me there the first time when we prayed for good fortune ahead of my final middle school match: at Nii-chan's grave. I thought it would be a good place to pray and ask him to help us take the best decision."

"Right, I also think we should go there, Kakeru."

Kakeru and Nana then left the house en route to the cemetery. On their way, they started discussing about everything that happened recently.

"How are you feeling?" Nana asked.

"OK, but still a little shocked. Sometimes, I wonder if that dream from 2 nights ago was somewhat a premonition of that tryout, about what life would look like on the training ground and perhaps beyond as a player for a big club, and about what mistakes I should avoid making once I get there. I haven't told anyone else about the dream except you. Nii-chan used to have premonitions, but it was the first time something close to it ever happened to me." Kakeru said.

"Well, I really don't know how I would have reacted if I was the one having that dream instead of being told about it. Nevertheless, it could help you since it looks like it was a taste of what to expect. Either way, I was very surprised that such a club would have enough faith in me to do something that has never been done before." Nana replied.

"How did your father react when he learned about everything?" Kakeru asked.

"He couldn't believe it at first, but he was very happy after Shibata-san explained the situation. However, I also told him that I wasn't sure about this." Nana replied

"How did they respond?" Kakeru asked.

"Well... After we talked for a while, they told me that either choice is OK as long as I'm happy because I have the talent to do anything I want of my career. What about you, Kakeru?"

"They basically told me that they would support me in whatever I'll do. After all, this is about how I can find my own happiness in the choice I'll make. Do you have a better idea now about what you want to do, Seven?"

"I put some thought about it and I told myself: well, I only want to follow you wherever you'll go. After all, I would be covered in my playing career and in my studies following either choice. As long as I can fulfill my playing and academic potential at the same time I do it with you, I will be happy. So what do you say?" Nana asked.

"Now that you say this, I..."

Before Kakeru could elaborate on his answer, someone suddenly ran into him off the street corner and both fell onto the ground as a result. By the time Kakeru realized what happened, he saw that it was a young woman who just collided with him. She was wearing a pink and black tracksuit for her jogging session.

"Are you OK?" Kakeru asked.

"Glasses... My glasses... Where are they?" the young woman asked as she was on all four with her back shown to Kakeru while she was looking for her eyeglasses.

Kakeru looked around and found the woman's eyeglasses on the ground. As soon as he picked them up, he immediately went giving them back to the girl. "Here they are." Kakeru said.

"Thanks. I can't see well without them." the young woman said as she put her glasses on and then turned to face Kakeru. "I'm very sorry for running into you like that. It was careless of me to be jogging like that."

"No, it can't be..." Kakeru said softly. It absolute shock and Kakeru's transplanted heart started pounding strong when he saw the girl's facial features. She was around 18-19 years old, had long dark brown hair tied as a ponytail and blue eyes just like the one Kakeru saw in his dream from 2 nights ago.

"Wait. Are you... Kakeru Aizawa and Nana Mishima?" the young woman asked.

"Yes." Nana replied.

"Yeah... But are you... Noriko Catherine Lewis?" Kakeru returned the question.

"How do you know my name? It's the first time we meet each other." Noriko asked, but then suddenly felt her heart skipping a beat. 'What is this feeling?' Noriko thought.

"You were born in Manchester and lived there before you were 7 years old. You grew up as a Manchester United fan. Also, after a match between Kamakura Middle against Daichi Junior High over 5 years ago, you met my older brother Suguru and he said that you'd make a great sports doctor. Am I right?" Kakeru asked further questions.

"Yes... But how do you know all of that? I don't even know who you are except for your name." Noriko was baffled by how much Kakeru knew about her.

"What's going on, Kakeru?" Nana asked in confusion.

"It's a very long story. I think it would be better to talk about it somewhere else." Kakeru replied.

From that moment, Kakeru, Nana and Noriko walked their way to a nearby park and then sat down on a bench before they started discussing about how Kakeru apparently knew so much about his new acquaintance. "So we're here now. Can you explain how you know so much about me? Suguru-san always made sure that he never spoke about me to anyone else." Noriko asked.

"It will sound strange, but I made a dream 2 nights ago. In that dream, you told me in full detail about how you met my brother: a match between our respective middle schools, you and Nii-chan stayed behind in the stadium to talk more about each other, about your career potential and his difficulties in coping with his status as a genius. I never knew about your existence before I made that dream, I swear." Kakeru said.

"That doesn't make any sense to me." Noriko replied, but she then started crying. "It was already so painful for me when he died. I could not even gather the strength to say goodbye to him. Why did you have to remind me of that when I'm trying to bury the past?"

"I'm really sorry, Lewis-san." Kakeru apologized. "You have the right to know the truth about my brother Suguru."

"Kakeru, are you sure about this?" Nana asked.

"She is the only person outside of my family and Mine-sensei who ever managed to know him well enough. I'm sure he loved her a lot although he was not the most expressive guy about this. It's all right." Kakeru replied.

"What is this about?" Noriko asked.

Then Kakeru explained to Noriko the circumstances of the accident, the heart transplant, how he had to cope with a new reality at the time, how Suguru always had faith in Kakeru's potential beyond all the harsh treatment, how everything changed in Kakeru's playing career since, and also further details about the dream he made. Noriko was quite in shock and awe after Kakeru revealed everything.

"Sometimes, I made dreams about his past life as if I was revisiting some of his memories. You see now why it was quite a shock when I saw your face for the first time." Kakeru said.

"It's now clearer to me. After I saw you, my heart felt that familiar presence and I had not felt it since the days when Suguru-san was still alive." Noriko said as she wiped her tears away.

"There are times when Nii-chan's heart inside me is pounding as if he wants to send me a message, just like when I saw your face."

Noriko sighed. "All those years following the accident, I tried to bury the past. Yet, I worked harder and enlisted myself as manager for the girls' basketball team at Kamakura Jogakuin High as he would have wished me to do. I thought of giving up everything because I didn't want to think about him, but I guess that keeping my promise to Suguru-san was stronger than I ever wanted to admit to myself. Am I right?"

"You're a medical student?" Nana asked.

"I will be, at the University of Manchester in September." Noriko replied.

"I believe that your promise to Nii-chan was a catalyst, but you were the one who chose your career path because you always loved both medicine and sports just as he saw it. In the end, everything you did to get into medical school was your own doing while all he did was to set you a long-term goal to follow. Just like you, I thought of giving up until Nii-chan showed me the path and reminded me of how far my potential could lead me if I regained my confidence. At times, he 'lent me a hand', but I was the one walking the path in the end." Kakeru replied to Noriko's previous question.

"Do you think that he always believed in my potential?" Noriko asked.

"He truly believed in you just as much as he did with me and Nana. It has always been in his nature to see one's potential and help that person fulfilling it by all means possible and even against all odds. I'm sure he would tell you to continue pushing forward and enjoy life without any regrets if he was here today. It has always been your dream to become a sports doctor, so live it to the fullest."

Noriko took a few seconds to assimilate everything that was just said and then realized that Kakeru was right. "Thank you... for everything you told me just now. I'm glad that I now know the truth and see how he is still very influential, even today. It's almost as if a part of me came back to life, thanks to you."

"Nii-chan will always be watching over us while we reach our goals with the potential he recognized in all of us." Kakeru said.

"I think it would be a good idea if she can come with us." Nana whispered in Kakeru's ear.

"I agree." Kakeru replied before he turned back to Noriko: "We would like you to accompany us to a place unless you have some business elsewhere."

"No, I only intended to go buy some groceries after my jogging run. It can wait. Where are you going now?" Noriko asked.

"Visiting someone who was dear to all of us. This is your chance to say goodbye to him." Kakeru replied.

With nothing important on her original schedule, Noriko joined Kakeru and Nana on their way to the Aizawa Family Grave in the cemetery. They knelt and spent a few minutes praying silently in front of the grave. After the prayer, Kakeru asked Noriko something unexpected:

"Lewis-san, if you want to take a few minutes to say goodbye to him, please do it. After all, it’s the first time you come here since he passed away."

Surprised at first, Noriko agreed. Meanwhile, Kakeru and Nana pulled themselves a little further back to give Noriko a few minutes for herself in front of the grave.

"Hello, Suguru-san. I'm really sorry that I didn't come here before. I was so devastated when you passed away that I never had the courage to come here until today. I met your younger brother and his girlfriend today. After a little talk with your brother, I realized how you believed in my own potential just like you did for him. I know that you'll always be there for me now and guide me through hard times, Suguru-san. Long ago, I promised to myself that I'd sing this special song for you on the day when I feel strong enough to move on and say goodbye. Thank you, always." Noriko said out loud before she started singing.

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;

When troubles come and my heart burdened be;

Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,

Until you come and sit awhile with me.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;

You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;

I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;

You raise me up... To more than I can be.

'Are you listening to her, Nii-chan? This song really fits you well. Thank you for always recognizing the potential in each of us. We are now ready to follow our paths without any regrets because we know you'll still be watching over us even through bad times as always.' Kakeru, with his heart pounding strong, said in his mind to Suguru.

While still clinging onto Kakeru, Nana also added her voice to Noriko's interpretation of the contemporary hymn used mostly in church services.

There is no life - no life without its hunger;

Each restless heart beats so imperfectly;

But when you come and I am filled with wonder,

Sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;

You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;

I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;

You raise me up... To more than I can be.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;

You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;

I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;

You raise me up... To more than I can be.

You raise me up... To more than I can be.

Since Kakeru couldn't attend Suguru's funeral over 4 years ago because of the recovery, what just happened made up for it in a way. Finally, it was time to leave after they finished paying their respects to Suguru.

"That was beautiful. I'm sure Nii-chan was deeply moved by this song." Kakeru said.

"I know. Thanks." Noriko replied.

"Thanks, Kakeru. I think we should leave now." Nana said.

Now outside of the cemetery, Kakeru, Nana and Noriko started talking about what they were praying in front of the grave.

"I guess we all prayed hard enough." Nana said.

"I agree." Noriko added.

"What did you ask in your prayer?" Kakeru asked Noriko.

"I asked Suguru-san to give me the strength to carry on with my dream of becoming a sports doctor, and allow me to enjoy all the things I missed in life. To be honest, I didn't have much of a social life since he passed away. However, rest assured that I won't take Aizawa-san away from you, Mishima-san. I don't think Suguru-san would have approved it, anyway." Noriko replied with a wink.

"That's good to know. Also, I think it would be better if we call each other by our first names from now on." Nana said.

"I agree, Nana-san." Noriko replied. "What did you ask Suguru-san for?"

"I asked him to help me going through the challenges coming next in my professional and academic quests." Nana said.

"What are you studying?" Noriko asked

"Kakeru and I are admitted at the Tokyo Medical University. First semester's starting in April." Nana replied.

"Two fellow medical students and football-crazy people at the same time, that's nice." Noriko said.

"What about you, Kakeru?" Nana asked.

"I asked Nii-chan to watch over and help all three of us earn our future success... in Manchester."

"Kakeru… Are you sure?" Nana asked.

"I know it sounds strange, but everything looks clearer now after the twist of fate. I realized that when we were told about the tryout and the pre-contract offered to both of us... I was happy even though I was shocked as well. It will be the hardest route, but I know everything will be fine if we work hard together and make the most of this opportunity as we always did." Kakeru replied.

"Well, in that case... count me in!" Nana said as she jumped into Kakeru's arms with a big smile on her face.

"You were talking of the TMU, but now about a tryout. What do you mean?" Noriko asked.

"There are some things that we haven't told you yet. Let me explain to you the original reason why we went to visit Nii-chan's grave and pray. You will certainly like this as a Manchester United fan." Kakeru replied.

"Meanwhile, I'll call Mom and Shibata-san and ask them to meet at your house, Kakeru." Nana added.

10:22 AM

At that time, Kakeru, Nana and Noriko finally arrived at the Aizawas' house. "We're back." Kakeru said.

"Ah, welcome back, you two." Mrs. Aizawa replied before she noticed Noriko. "Oh, I don't think I've seen you before. What is your name?"

"My name is Noriko Catherine Lewis, Aizawa-san."

"She was one of Nii-chan's closest friends before the accident, Mom." Kakeru added.

"Well, Suguru's friends are always welcome in our house. Please come in." Mrs. Aizawa said.

"Thank you, Aizawa-san." Noriko replied.

Then the doorbell rang once again. Kakeru and Nana had a good idea about who just came by. When Kakeru opened the door, Miwa and Mrs. Mishima were waiting at the doorstep.

"You were lucky that I was in the area, both of you. I also picked Mishima-san up on my way here." Miwa said.

"Thanks for picking up my mom." Nana replied.

"Please come in, everyone." Mrs. Aizawa said.

"So what is the fuss all about?" Mrs. Mishima asked.

"We have come to a decision, but we want everyone to hear it at the same time we give the phone call to Sir Ferguson." Kakeru replied to Mrs. Mishima's question before he turned towards Miwa. "Is Sir Ferguson still in Japan?"

"He has to take a plane from Narita Airport just before noon, but he's still in Tokyo. So, yes, you can call him now."

"Can you tell me which one of the numbers Sir Ferguson gave us is his cell phone number?" Kakeru asked.

"Of course." Miwa replied.

After Miwa indicated the right number, Kakeru grabbed the phone and dialed the number to reach Sir Alex's cell phone.

"Hello?" Sir Alex asked over the phone.

"Sir Ferguson, this is Kakeru Aizawa speaking."

"Oh, Kakeru, hello. I wasn't expecting you to call me today."

"I'll put my phone on speaker. Please hold it for a second." Kakeru then put the house’s phone on speaker mode so everyone could hear Sir Alex speaking while Kakeru and Nana would speak to him. "OK, it's set."

"Have you made a decision regarding what we talked about on yesterday?" Sir Alex asked.

'It is Sir Alex's voice, indeed.' Noriko thought.

"We have. What you ask from us would certainly require a huge effort from us to adapt ourselves in a new environment and fight our way to earn our places among some of the best players there are." Kakeru replied to Sir Alex.

As Kakeru stopped his reply for a few seconds, those few seconds seemed like an eternity for Mrs. Aizawa, Mrs. Mishima and Miwa. Finally, Kakeru continued: "Nevertheless, it would be an honor for Nana and I to call you 'Boss' or 'Gaffer' from now on. We accept taking the tryout with the firm intent and strong desire of both making it at Manchester United."

"Just as Kakeru said, we are both ready to accept the challenge with hopes of playing for such a great club." Nana added.

Mrs. Aizawa and Mrs. Mishima tried very hard to contain their joy as their children confirmed the first big step into their professional careers by taking on the challenge of a lifetime right away.

"That's wonderful, you two! Has M. Gill been informed of your decision?" Sir Alex asked.

"We wanted you, our parents and our agent to get the news first at the same time. We will call M. Gill after this and sign the pre-contract deal later on. We promise to repay your faith by making a very good impression on you in May, Boss." Kakeru replied.

"Great! I can't wait to see you in May."

"Thank you for giving us this opportunity, Boss. Have a safe flight back to Manchester and good luck for the match on Saturday and for the rest of the title race." Kakeru said.

"Thank you. We won't lose those 3 points and we will win the League, I swear. Until I see you in May, take care." Sir Alex finished.

Immediately after the phone conversation ended, Mrs. Aizawa went hugging Kakeru, her eyes filled with tears of joy. At the same time, Mrs. Mishima did the same with Nana. The 2 mothers were overwhelmed with pride as they realized how all the sacrifices they made allowed their children to have a chance of becoming part of one of the best clubs in the world.

"Congratulations, Kakeru-san and Nana-san!" Noriko exclaimed

"I'm so proud of you, Kakeru." Mrs. Aizawa said.

"I'm not there yet, Mom, but it's a first step towards that direction and I'll make the most of this opportunity. Thanks to what you and my friends said yesterday as well as Seven's willingness to take on any challenge by my side, I'm now ready to do this. And besides, we have a new friend who will be coming with us." Kakeru said as he turned his gaze towards Noriko.

"Is she?" Mrs. Aizawa asked.

"Lewis-san, or Noriko-san I should say, was not only more than good friends with Nii-chan. She is also a Manchester native and a medical student at the University of Manchester beginning in next September. For some reason, I know that we will be in good hands with her to guide both Seven and I through the English culture during those 2 weeks and, hopefully, beyond that." Kakeru replied.

"I lived in Manchester for the first 7 years of my life before I arrived in Japan. I went back over there several times during family vacation over the years. I'd be more than happy to help my new friends settling down in Manchester for as long as they will need it. I also look forward to become Manchester United's team doctor someday." Noriko added.

"Since you look so determined, Noriko-chan, I entrust you with the task of supporting my son and Nana-chan through good and bad times alike once you'll get there." Mrs. Aizawa said.

"It's a promise, Aizawa-san, Mishima-san."

"In return, we'll also support Noriko-san through her good and bad times too." Nana said before she and Kakeru looked into each other's eyes in agreement.

"Thank you, guys."

"Well, I guess we should sign the pre-contract, get back in training soon and start preparing ourselves for the month of May." Nana said.

"I'll gather videos of United's first team and reserve players so you can see what to expect from playing against them in training. I also know a number of training methods used by professionals in Europe, so I'll help you with those." Noriko added.

"I also know people working for the Urawa Red Diamonds who can give you access to the Ohara Training Ground and supervise your training sessions in Saitama." Miwa said.

"Thank you, everyone. Let's do this!" Kakeru finished.

Later that day, Kakeru's father, Mito and Nana's father were informed of the joint decision. They were very ecstatic when learning the news of Kakeru and Nana both accepting the pre-contract which links them to a tryout at Manchester United. The road ahead was not going to be easy, but everyone knew that nothing was impossible for both Kakeru and Nana.

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