Chapter 19: Epilogue - The Proposal
A few years later
On a personal level, the relationship between Kakeru and Nana kept growing stronger. Despite being sometimes recognized by many people as players, both Japanese youngsters managed to live a relatively quiet and yet happy life when off the pitch. Although several media suspected their relationship to be more than friendly, Kakeru and Nana managed to keep it for themselves away from any indiscretion. Noriko proved to be a great help in helping both her friends to settle down in Manchester, and avoid anything that could lure too much media attention. Kakeru and Nana also managed to keep solid grades in their undergraduate medical studies despite their current professional obligations. Even United's team doctor saw Kakeru and Nana as good pupils whenever he took his time to give them a few tips about his job. Both Japanese youngsters quickly learned a few tricks regarding the job of sports a doctor in a high-level discipline.
Since Kakeru and Nana made the jump to become professional footballers, they quickly became leaders in the Manchester United Under-21 team. Alongside a group of young players of around the same age and despite strong opposition from players who didn't see Nana's arrival as a good thing, both Japanese youngsters dominated the Under-21 Professional Development League. After a period of time in which the first team underperformed under Sir Alex's successors and was stricken with a severe injury crisis, Kakeru was finally given his senior debut in a match in the Europa League. Kakeru's first match with the first team was memorable as he scored 2 goals, including the game-winning goal.
Ian Darke: Towards Memphis, bouncing around. Mata got to it, back again, and AIZAWA has got the dream goal that he was looking for in his debut! And one that he will never ever forget! Written in the stars!
Ian Darke: Lingard again... towards Varela. Clever movement so far by Manchester United, and THERE HE IS AGAIN! KAKERU AIZAWA... AT THE DOUBLE!!!
Just a few days after Kakeru's debut, Nana was given the chance to start alongside him in her own debut. It was a Premier League match against Arsenal at Old Trafford.
Martin Tyler: It could be in early. And it pulls... Oh, ho! Kakeru Aizawa does it again! An instant response to a loose ball. He hits, he doesn't miss.
Martin Tyler: Varela... back for Lingard again. Arsenal trying to keep pace with him... Oh, goodness me! Unbelievable! A double double for Kakeru Aizawa!
Martin Tyler: Mata... Good run by Aizawa making the pass possible. Taking on Gabriel here... Now to Nana MISHIMA!!! Oh, that's superb from the 2 Japanese. And Aizawa this time assists, added to his 2 goals, to allow Nana Mishima to steer in the third, and widen the divide between United and Arsène Wenger's Arsenal.
Later in that season, United won their first trophy of the post-Sir Alex era - the FA Cup. By accumulating solid performances even when they don't score, Kakeru and Nana became important members of the main squad that needed fresh energy to support a few ageing players.
Nana's signing with the club also acted as a boost for the reintroduction process of Manchester United Women's FC. Since the women's team was reintroduced, several female players from England as well as from abroad joined in. From time to time, Nana came to those women's training sessions and gave her share of good advice while training alongside them.
Several things have changed at Manchester United over the years. A number of players moved on or retired since only to be replaced by others. Among the older ones, Ryan left the club in order to follow his own path as a manager for the Welsh National Team while Paul and Rio became TV pundits. Nevertheless, Paul taught Nana the technique to fire powerful long-range shots during a short spell in 2014 as a first team coach. Although Nana eventually mastered the technique, her finesse continued to be her best asset as she took her place as a force to reckon with, not least as a dead ball specialist for both club and country.
Martin Tyler: Mishima... long way out! Oh, fantastic goal by Mishima! Not too far for her.
Rob Hawthorne: It is Mishima! Her shot flew over the top of the wall and straight into the top corner of the net. 2-0!
Martin Tyler: Mishima takes the free kick... Köhler coming in! Mishima set it up for the German international, who completes with a thumping header.
Meanwhile, Kakeru was quickly growing into one of the most lethal strikers in England despite fierce competition within the team.
Rob Hawthorne: And here it is with Aizawa. He's onside this time... and Kakeru Aizawa takes Manchester United home and dry. 3-0!
Rob Hawthorne: Given away to Aizawa... Skips past a challenge, and a second... BRILLIANT! What a goal! What a superb goal for Kakeru Aizawa.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa with the HIT! Manchester United are level now. 2-2!
Martin Tyler: Good cross... Aizawa! It's Kakeru Aizawa again!
Since Kakeru and Nana arrived, chemistry was interestingly not much of an issue between both Japanese newbies and the other players.
Martin Tyler: Mishima, Aizawa... brilliant pass to Romelu Lukaku... Goal! Talk about being on the same wavelength, it was perfectly synchronized.
Rob Hawthorne: Aizawa breaks through... can he score here? He passes it to Jesse Lingard... So unselfish! What a great link-up play between Aizawa and Lingard for the goal.
Needless to say, the combination between Kakeru and Nana on the field is almost out of this world.
Rob Hawthorne: Aizawa to Mishima... and back again to Aizawa, BRILLIANT! Great combination by the 2 Japanese youngsters!
Rob Hawthorne: Mishima... It's Aizawa again! YES! Two for Manchester United, 2 for Aizawa.
Martin Tyler: It's the ball that they want from Martial to Mishima. Nana Mishima, Aizawa is there, Mishima squares it to Aizawa! Goal!
Kakeru and Nana performed so well that both were the 2 prime candidates for the PFA Young Player of the Year Award. Despite the mutual competition for the individual award, neither Kakeru nor Nana cared too much about who wins the award as long as they worked on revitalizing the first team with energy alongside other youngsters.
With a flair for drama and heroics, both Kakeru and Nana strengthened their reputation by scoring late key goals.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa... Oh, it's Mishima! Aizawa and Mishima combined and got the game level with 2 minutes to go.
Martin Tyler: Mishima... Oh, and Aizawa runs past Reid. Ogbonna trying to stop him... AIZAWAAAAAA!!! Absolutely magnificent! It's a complete turnaround deep in stoppage time.
Rob Hawthorne: Great ball through for Aizawa... Off the post, MISHIMA'S THERE! GOAL! We've seen Nana Mishima now in the 94th minute. United have done it to Arsenal again.
Faithful to his old habits, Kakeru's finest moment in his relatively young professional career came in a match in which he scored a late winning goal that clinched his first Premier League title.
Rob Hawthorne: Long ball by Mishima to Aizawa... Can he lift it above the goalkeeper? OH, WHAT A FINISH!!! Only 3 minutes to go, he scores the goal that could send the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford! They can almost taste the champagne.
Although Kakeru and Nana made their way into the first team and did well so far, they were still looking for that elusive Premier League title. Complacency was not something allowed to enter their lives either in football or academics. They still remember all the efforts they both had to make to get there, and thus they still live every day as if it was the last.
Old Trafford, Manchester, UK
Sunday May 13, 201X
On the final Sunday of the season, all Manchester United players were gathering one last time on the pitch to salute their fans. Some of the players brought their spouses and children to walk alongside them on the pitch. Manchester United ended the Premier League season in second place. Nevertheless, it was the club's best season since Sir Alex's final campaign in 2012-13.
That day also marked the end of Michael Carrick's career as a player. Being the club captain in the season that just ended, he chose to become a first-team coach for the upcoming season. The man from Wallsend, who was the last survivor of the team that won the 2008 UEFA Champions League, took the microphone to deliver an emotional farewell speech.
Michael: I think I'm going to keep this one brief. I got a little bit of stick for speaking too much at my testimonial last year, so I'll try to keep it quite short. First things first. On behalf of the players, all the staff, the manager, and the coaching staff, we'd just like to thank you for the support again this year. We have had our ups and downs this year, but we finished second. We thank you very much.
The Old Trafford faithful gave a round of applause to acknowledge the words of their club captain.
Michael: On behalf of myself, I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone. Your support over the years, both here and away, has been absolutely unbelievable. I've got a lot of memories now to cherish. Some of them I'll never forget, especially in this place. It's an amazing place to play football. It's the greatest club in the world, and I thank you for your support for the last 12 years.
Then the crowd cheered and applauded even louder before they started chanting the Michael Carrick song to honor the man of the moment.
Michael: Just quickly as well. I have been here for 12 years, but I've obviously played football a bit longer than that. I want to say a massive thank you to my family, to my friends, to those 2 little superstars and my wife. There's a lot of sacrifices that go in to become a footballer and playing for this club. You've got to devote a lot of your life to it. It's great to see all the kids and the families here on the pitch because, without their support, we wouldn't be able to perform like we've performed for so long. To everyone up there, I'm grateful for everything you've done for me. Thank you.
The crowd gave another sober round of applause.
Michael: Lastly... Lastly. I said I'll keep it brief, but lastly... It has been a tough week for everyone. When I'm talking about family, it has been a tough week for everyone at the club. A major part of the family is Sir Alex, and he's had a tough week this week.
The crowd stood up to cheer for Sir Alex and then sing "Every Single of Us Loves Alex Ferguson" in full voice. A few days earlier, Sir Alex had been admitted for an emergency surgery following a brain hemorrhage. Fortunately, reports indicated that Sir Alex did not suffer any particular long-term debilitating effects.
Michael: I would just like to say... he's probably watching it somewhere or he'll hear about it anyway. I'm sure he appreciates all the support you have given him. Not just today, but pretty much the whole time he's been here. Support's amazing. I just want to say: all our thoughts and prayers go to Sir Alex and his family. We wish him a speedy recovery, and we want to see him sitting back up there some time soon.
The Manchester United supporters then gave another round of applause.
Michael: And finally for me... In terms of performance, I'm retiring today, which... It wasn't the best today, but that's what it is. It tells me the time is right. But my role changes this week, and I need to thank the manager for giving me the opportunity. It's an unbelievable opportunity for me. So I need to thank the manager an awful lot. I look forward to work with him and learning of him. He's one of the very best. I'm sure he's going to teach me a few things, and we're gonna have some success in the near future. I'm certain of that.
One more round of applause came up before Michael made his last intervention.
Michael: The only thing left now in the season is obviously a trip to Wembley next week. I know a lot of you are going there to support the boys, and we appreciate it. So we will do everything we can next week to bring the FA Cup back here. Thank you very much!
The crowd gave the team one long round of applause, to which the players replied with applauses of their own. After the applauses, the players and their families made one last lap on the pitch. At one time in the lap, Kakeru and Nana stood a little separated from their teammates.
"I really wished that Carras could end his career on a better note, Kakeru." Nana said.
"I know. But we can still win the FA Cup next week. And if not, there's still more to do for us ahead: play to win the Premier League and also the Champions League. There is always more to strive for." Kakeru replied.
"That's true, Kakeru. I tasted victory before, and I sure don't want the taste of victory to become a far memory."
"I really look forward to pursue those dreams of more silverware even if they may take forever to make it. I'm glad to have you by my side for this." Kakeru said. "But still..."
"What is it, Kakeru?"
"Seven... When you came back to Japan during middle school, it was the first positive thing that happened to me in a long time. Little by little, things kept improving in my life since that time. I don't think I can ever thank you enough for the unwavering support you've shown towards me over the years since. I wouldn't be here today if you weren't there for me.”
"I don't think I would have made it here without you to support me all this time either, Kakeru. I was also running away just like you, but you gave me the courage to push forward." Nana replied as a slight blush appeared on her cheeks.
"Whenever I have you by my side, I feel I can do anything. It's a feeling which I want to last forever." Kakeru said as he unveiled a small box in his right hand. Struck by pure shock, Nana clapped her hands over her mouth anticipating what would happen next.
"I must admit that I'm not the best at doing this. Yet, I've been thinking about this for a while and I thought this would be the right moment to give you this. I wish both of us to continue this journey together forever." Kakeru said as he opened up the box, revealing an engagement ring with a diamond on top of it.
"Nana Mishima... Will you...?" Kakeru asked nervously.
"Kakeru... Yes! I want to! I've been wishing this to happen for years. I can't think of anybody else to love, to have a family with, and to grow old with. You are the one." Nana replied immediately with tears of joy in her eyes.
Happy to hear such positive response, Kakeru took the ring out of the box and put it on Nana's left ring finger. Then both lovers gave each other a short kiss before they hugged each other tightly like never before after the kiss. Within a few seconds, several fans in the stands and a number of people on the pitch saw the moment and cheered loudly in response.
"Way to go you two! That's the stuff of Legends!" Noriko shouted from her seat.
Kakeru and Nana turned their gazes towards all the people cheering and applauding, including all of their teammates and their respective families. Although Kakeru and Nana's first reaction was a mix of surprise and slight embarrassment, they looked into each other's eyes and then laughed out loud at the moment itself. By the time both Japanese players broke the embrace, Michael Carrick had already stepped forward to congratulate the newly engaged couple.
"Kakeru, Nana. Well done and congratulations."
"I thought all of you guys would be shocked after this, Carras." Kakeru replied to his captain.
"A number of us always knew there was something special going on between the two of you since the day you came to Carrington for the first time. So it wasn't really a surprise for us even though you kept it secret to the public so well for that long."
"If you say so." Nana said.
"So, when will the wedding take place?" Michael asked.
"We just got engaged, so it's certainly not for this upcoming summer. I say the one after that." Kakeru replied.
"Is there anything you two would like more than anything before the great day?"
"I know that we have to think about the FA Cup first. However, one pledge I would make is that I will do everything I can to win all big trophies for next season." Nana replied to Michael's question.
"Yeah, me too. I want to see us go all the way next season, and that's my promise." Kakeru added.
"A little ambitious, but I always like that."
"Thanks, Carras." Kakeru finished before he and Nana each gave their old friend a high-five handshake.
Then the players continued their lap of honor for a few more minutes. Just before he walked his way to leave the pitch with the rest of the team, Kakeru looked up to the sky.
'Do you see us from where you are, Nii-chan? I always wanted to propose to Nana on this ground ever since we arrived in Manchester. I know I still have more to do, but I know I can do anything. Will you help me live long enough to fulfill those dreams?' Kakeru asked in his thoughts.
"For sure and even far beyond, Kakeru. I'm still your guardian angel, and I'll make sure you'll continue living on for as long as you take good care of both Nana and yourself. We are bound by a miraculous compatibility with this heart after all." Suguru's voice replied in Kakeru's mind.
'Thank you, Nii-chan.'
"Now go and join her, Kakeru. She's waiting for you." Suguru's voice finished.
"Kakeru?" Nana asked.
"What are you thinking?" Nana asked.
"I was thinking about one big dream coming true for me... you and I being engaged." Kakeru replied.
"My biggest dream outside of the game has become reality in this place today, and I'm really glad it happened here of all places." Nana replied.
"This really is the Theatre of Dreams indeed, Seven. So let's walk towards this future and fulfill those dreams together." Kakeru said
"Yep! Let's go." Nana finished as she bore a radiant smile on her face.One week later, Manchester United lost the FA Cup final after a hard-fought contest against Chelsea. Nevertheless, it was the beginning a new chapter in Kakeru and Nana's lives. With their hearts full of hope as they walked off the field, Kakeru and Nana vowed to accomplish great things together. Knowing how strong they are and despite any setback that might hit them, no obstacle would stop Kakeru and Nana from climbing together to the top in the future. The real journey has just begun.
Listen, baby, ain't no mountain high
Ain't no valley low, ain't no river wide enough, baby
If you need me, call me, no matter where you are
No matter how far, don't worry, baby
Just call my name. I'll be there in a hurry
You don't have to worry
'Cause baby, there ain't no mountain high enough
Ain't no valley low enough, ain't no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you, baby
Remember the day I set you free
I told you, you could always count on me, girl
And from that day on I made a vow
I'll be there when you want me some way, somehow
'Cause baby, there ain't no mountain high enough
Ain't no valley low enough, ain't no river wide enough
Ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no valley low enough...
Kakeru and Nana will return in THE ROAD TO THE PROMISED LAND