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Chapter 8: Family Reunion

Saturday May 18, 201X

4:48 PM BST

One of the advantages of living in West Didsbury was that the A5103 road was nearby, which then led to the M60 motorway and to Manchester Airport. In all, Kakeru, Nana and Noriko got to the airport by car within 12 minutes. Once they arrived at the terminal where the KLM flight is scheduled to arrive from Amsterdam in a few minutes, Kakeru was about to meet Noriko's parents.

Noriko spotted her parents in the middle of the small crowd at the arrival area of the terminal and then called for them: "Mom! Dad!"

"There you are, Noriko. Look at you!" Mrs. Lewis replied as she and M. Lewis walked their way towards the youngsters.

"I’m really glad you could make it in time." Noriko said.

"Anything to help my daughter's friends." M. Lewis replied in excellent Japanese to his daughter before he turned towards Kakeru and Nana. "It has been some time, Nana-chan, Kakeru-kun."

"We're pleased to meet you again, Mister Lewis." Nana said to Noriko’s parents.

At the time, Kakeru saw Noriko's parents for the first time when he supposedly met them before in the current reality. Noriko's father was a 6-ft tall slender British man, with blue eyes, and light brown hair although a little bald on top of the forehead. Meanwhile, Noriko's Japanese mother had the same height, slender body and haircut as her daughter's.

"Me too, Mister Lewis." Kakeru added while keeping the act as if he met M. Lewis before.

"So you and Nana-chan are in the squad for tomorrow's match. Do you feel ready for a first experience with the first team?"

"A was little overanxious a very short while ago, but I'm fine now." Kakeru replied.

"Good." M. Lewis said before he spotted the KLM plane arriving towards the arrival zone. "It looks like the flight from Amsterdam has landed."

The plane finally docked at the terminal indeed. For a few more minutes, everyone had to wait for the arriving passengers to go through the customs and pick up their luggage at the baggage claim area. Finally, the Aizawas and Mrs. Mishima arrived first.

"Mom! Dad! Mito!" Kakeru exclaimed as he ran towards them.

"Kake-nii!" Mito replied as she jumped in embracing her older brother first while Nana went hugging her mother.

"You look great, Kakeru. We really missed you." Mrs. Aizawa said.

"I missed all of you too." Kakeru replied as he embraced his mother while his father was ruffling Kakeru's hair at the same time.

After a few seconds, Kakeru started introducing Noriko and her parents. "Oh, this is Noriko. She's our friend and roommate in Manchester. The people standing with her are her parents."

"Nice to meet you." Noriko said as she bowed to the Aizawas.

"Nice to meet you too." Mrs. Aizawa replied before she turned to Kakeru and whispered to him with a smirk on her face: "I see you found yourself another pretty girl to hang around with. You really are a magnet for pretty girls."

Kakeru was flustered by what his mother said. "Mom!"

"I don't want to sound rude or anything. But are you... that actor from Game of Thrones? You look quite like him." M. Aizawa asked M. Lewis in English.

M. Lewis chuckled before he answered the question by showing his Japanese skills. "Well, you're not the first one saying I have an uncanny resemblance with actor Stephen Dillane but for the eye color. No, my name is Robert George Lewis and this is my wife, Sayuri."

"Pleased to meet you." Mrs. Aizawa and then Mrs. Mishima replied when they introduced themselves to the Lewis family.

"With respect to Japanese tradition, we still use last names and honorifics when we are hanging around people we just met. However, I personally don't mind if you parents call me by my first name. After all, I’m an Englishman living in England." Robert said.

"Your Japanese is excellent, Robert-san. Where did you learn the language?" Mrs. Aizawa asked.

"My wife taught me when we were dating during our years at the old Victoria University of Manchester. I was in business school and she was in nursing school. We also spent 9 years in Japan when I was working with the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan before we came back to Manchester a couple of years ago."

"Thanks for greeting all of us here, but you didn't have to make all the effort." M. Aizawa said.

"Oh no, it's fine. And by the way, we are also waiting for someone else taking the same flight as yours, but we haven't seen her coming out of there yet." Robert said.

"Hey. Where are Mai-chan and Ishiki-san?" Nana asked.

"They were waiting to find their luggage on the carousel... Ah, I see Mai-chan coming." Mrs. Aizawa replied.

"Sorry! They took a while before putting our luggage up on the carousel." Mai said.

"It's alright, Mai-chan." Mrs. Aizawa replied.

When Mai saw Kakeru, she quickly dashed towards him and hugged him tightly. "Kakerucchi! I really missed you. You know that?"

"Mai-chan, please stop! Why... Why are you doing this?" Kakeru begged.

"I was just kidding, Kakerucchi. I know you are very happy right now with Nana-chan." Mai said as she released him.

Meanwhile, Robert spotted Taeko Ishiki finally coming into the arrival area. "Hey, Taeko-chan!"

"Uncle Robert! Aunt Sayuri! Noriko-chan! It has been some time since I saw all of you in one place." Taeko replied before she went to meet them with a few hugs.

"Wait, Tae-san. You say that Noriko-chan's parents are your uncle and aunt?" Nana asked.

"Yep! Aunt Sayuri is my mother's sister. It also means Noriko-chan is my cousin, and she’s almost like my own little sister. After all, she lived at my father's place for the last 2 years before she finished high school." Taeko replied before she turned towards Noriko. "You told me that you got accepted in medical school. So are you still taking the lead in your course material like you always did?"

"Always, Tae-itoko. Since Kakeru and Nana-chan already started medical school with the long distance education program, I sure don't want to fall behind."

"Same old Noriko-chan!" Taeko exclaimed.

"Well, we originally planned to drop everyone's luggage by your hotel before we all go have dinner in a Japanese restaurant in Downtown Manchester. But there's one place where we want to take all of you first." Kakeru said.

"Where is that, Kake-nii?" Mito asked.

"It's a place named The Theatre of Dreams by many people." Kakeru finished.

"You have our tickets, son?" M. Aizawa asked.

"Since Thursday, yes." Kakeru said before he handed out the envelopes containing the tickets to his parents, Mito, Mrs. Mishima, Mai and Taeko. "Make sure you don't lose your tickets."

"We'll keep them safe, Kakeru. Well done." M. Aizawa replied.

"So, as I just told Mito, who wants to see the stadium?" Kakeru asked.


5:22 PM BST

As Noriko previously told Kakeru, her parents came to the airport with their Nissan Qashqai SUV in order to have enough space with 2 vehicles to carry everyone through Manchester. Mai and Mito were up in the same vehicle as Noriko, Kakeru and Nana when they finally arrived in the eastern parking lot outside of Old Trafford, only 15 minutes away from the airport.

"Wow! The stadium's huge." Mito said.

"It holds a total capacity of 75,765 seats in the current configuration. The ground was first opened in 1910, but the most recent renovation work leading to what you see here took place between 1995 and 2006." Noriko told Mito the details about the stadium.

"How do you know all of that?" Mai asked.

"She’s a devout Manchester United fan, Mai-chan." Kakeru replied. "You won't find a girl more passionate about this club than her."

As everyone left the vehicles in the parking lot and walked towards the Megastore, they walked by a statue of 3 players standing opposite to another statue across the street, just in front of the stadium’s megastore.

"Who are the people represented by the statues, Noriko-chan?" Nana asked.

"The United Trinity: George Best, Denis Law and Sir Bobby Charlton. They played together in the 60s. My dad was named after Charlton and Best. And the statue across the street is Sir Matt Busby, the man who first built the club's good name as the manager in the same era." Noriko replied.

"Legends from a time when the game was played only by true lovers of the game, am I right?" Mai asked.

"Indeed, Murasaki-san." Noriko replied.

When everyone entered the Megastore, no one could feel otherwise but being in awe. Spread over 17,000 square feet, the store was selling everything from shirts to scarves, hats, various clothes for all ages, posters, mugs, DVDs, toys and other souvenirs with the crest of the club on them.

"If you want to buy anything, go ahead." Kakeru said.

"Kake-nii. I'd like to have one of those personalized shirts where you have your name printed in the back." Mito said.

"I can ask the printing guy to do it after you choose your shirt size. What number do you want?" Kakeru asked.

"I'd go with ‘MITO 9’ in the back."

Once Mito picked the shirt with the right size, Kakeru then asked the people to have her name and number 9 printed at the back of the shirt using the lettering font of the Premier League. In a matter of minutes, the print was ready and Mito could enjoy the first item she'd keep as a souvenir of her first trip in England.

"This is really awesome, Kake-nii." Mito said.

"I’m glad you like it. Tell the others to wait for a moment; I have to see someone for a couple of minutes." Kakeru replied.

Meanwhile, Nana was looking at Mai and Taeko looking around at other kinds of clothes for themselves. "What are you buying, you two?" Nana asked.

"I'll take the Red Devils diamante hoodie here, Nana-chan." Mai replied.

"On my part, I'll just buy a retro scarf. I already have a shirt in my luggage." Taeko added.

"You still have the red Solskjaer shirt from the 2006-07 season, Tae-itoko?" Noriko asked.

"Yep!"

After Kakeru's parents and Mrs. Mishima bought their share of furniture, Kakeru came back with news about the next part of the visit.

"Hey, everyone. I spoke with the people working at the stadium. Normally, the tours are finished for the day. However, since I'm a player at the club, the security guys are allowing me to let you have a peek inside for a few minutes. So let me show you what it looks like when you are seated inside the stadium."

"All right! Let's see the belly of that beast!" Mai exclaimed.

Once reaching the seating area of the East Stand, not far away from the Megastore, Kakeru's parents, Mrs. Mishima, Mito and Mai were overwhelmed with the same feeling Kakeru felt 4 days ago. The sight was impressive to say the least because of the size of the stands as well as how close the pitch was to the stands. It was something that they could not enjoy in Japan because most Japanese stadiums maintain some distance between the front rows and the pitch, mostly in the shape of a race track.

"Really impressive, isn't it?" Robert asked.

"It really is. We’ve never seen something like this before. It feels like a cathedral or a giant shrine for any fan of the game." M. Aizawa replied.

"It was also my feeling when I came here for the first time many years ago." Sayuri said.

"To make it even better, your seats will be over there, not too far from the players' tunnel." Kakeru said as he pointed towards the seats that correspond to their tickets.

"So close to the pitch? It can only be good." Mrs. Aizawa said.

"It will be great, auntie. The experience will be worth it" Nana replied.

"To think that you will be in the squad for the occasion is already great. No matter what will happen tomorrow, we are already proud of you for making it this far, son." M. Aizawa said.

"Thanks a lot, Dad. It really means a lot to me." Kakeru replied. His eyes sparkled as his father's answer matched what Araki told him earlier during the day.

"If you told me in March that you and Kakeru-kun would have a chance to play once here before the end of the season, I would have said that you’re in dreamland. Yet, you finally did it." Mrs. Mishima said.

"I know, Mom. We'll enjoy every minute of it." Nana replied.

"I really envy you on this, Nana-chan. You might play soon enough in front of almost 76,000 people, which is by far a lot more than our few thousands in Kobe." Mai said.

"If I succeed, you might get your chance in a big club someday too, Mai-chan." Nana replied.

"You got that right. Thanks for putting things into perspective, Nana-chan."

"This place brings back memories for me." Taeko said.

"Why is that, Tae-san?" Mai asked.

"I'll explain later." Taeko replied.

"I'm starting to get hungry right now. Did you find a good restaurant just like I asked on Wednesday, Kake-nii?" Mito said.

"Yep! I just know a place." Kakeru replied.


6:55 PM BST

After the little visit at Old Trafford, the party took the drive towards the hotel in Downtown Manchester where the Aizawas, Mrs. Mishima, Mai and Taeko made room reservations for a few days. After they got their room keys and left their luggage safely in their rooms, everyone was ready for a dinner night.

"Where are you taking us, Kakeru?" M. Aizawa asked.

"Since I wasn't sure whether you’d be able to enjoy the local food or not, I looked around and Noriko-chan recommended me a Japanese restaurant named Sapporo Teppanyaki." Kakeru said.

"From what is said, it's the best Japanese restaurant in Manchester and I agree with that." Robert said.

"You can trust my husband. He wouldn't say that if I didn't think the same too." Sayuri added.

"If you say so, I trust you on this." Mrs. Aizawa said.

After a little walk away from the hotel, the group arrived at the restaurant. When arriving inside, the first noticeable thing was the fresh and sophisticated Japanese-style décor before the host would lead everyone to the teppanyaki table, where the meals would be cooked before their eyes after orders are taken.

"What will it be for you, young ones?" the chef asked.

"Let’s see... I'll take the Yakitori chicken with sauté potatoes, vegetable stir-fry, egg fried rice, and a tofu salad." Kakeru replied.

"Same for me, please." Nana added.

"Excellent choice, people." the chef replied before he turned to Noriko. "And what's for you, young lady?"

"One Okonomiyaki and one Miso shrimp soup, please." Noriko replied.

"Not bad of a choice, Noriko-chan." Nana said.

"They don't quite have one my favorites, oden, but they have Okonomiyakis. I'm crazy about Okonomiyakis" Noriko replied.

"Do you have to follow a certain meal plan when you're a professional player, Kake-nii?" Mito asked.

"Of course I have. Still, this one fits within the limits of what the club's nutritionist would recommend." Kakeru replied.

"If the old Araki-san was here, he would go nuts with the food served in this restaurant." Nana said.

Kakeru and Mai laughed at Nana's remark as they remembered how Araki used to be fat. "You got that right." Kakeru replied.

"You sure tricked him quite many times with all kinds of stuff to make him lose weight. At least, it worked out well for him." Mai added.

While waiting for the food to be ready after all orders were made, the parents took time to get acquainted and know each other a little better.

"So, Aizawa-san, what are you doing for a living?" Robert asked M. Aizawa.

"Just your typical Japanese office worker, but I have a good salary coming with my years of loyal service in the company. My wife is a housewife, and Nana-chan's parents are mostly the same as we are." M. Aizawa replied.

"By the way, why is Nana-chan's father not with you?" Robert asked.

"He has to work on Monday; it was not negotiable with his boss. However, he will watch the game on TV." Mrs. Mishima replied.

"Oh. That's a little bit of a shame, but at least he will see his daughter play if she gets the nod." Sayuri said.

"Robert-san already told us what he does for a living, but what about you?" Mrs. Aizawa asked Sayuri.

"I work mainly as a registered nurse, but I'm also a lecturer for the nursing school. When I was in Japan, I worked for 9 years at the same hospital and yet I was quickly adopted as a senpai for the younger nurses. They were sad to see me return to Manchester with my husband. However, I still keep in touch with the girls." Sayuri added.

"Do you miss Japan?" Mrs. Mishima asked.

"We fly back to Japan at the first vacation break we get. It’s not so bad. Besides, I adopted Manchester as my home too." Sayuri replied.

Meanwhile at the other end of the table, Mai asked Taeko about what the latter said earlier: "Tae-san. When you said about bringing back memories, what did you mean by that?"

"I came to Manchester a few times when I was younger." Taeko replied.

"When?" Mito asked.

"Sometimes when there is a game at that stadium on a December 26, Uncle Robert would buy a few tickets for me and my parents to go see the game. It was also a good reason to celebrate Christmas together." Taeko said.

"That’s really nice. I guess it was a party atmosphere in there." Mai said.

"It was indeed, Mai-chan. And tomorrow will be the first time in a long time since I last went to a match there. You'll see what a typical English football atmosphere looks like."

"And don't forget about me: I'll show you how to create the atmosphere by singing at matches like a true 'Manc.'" Noriko added to Taeko's last phrase.

"I look forward for it." Mai replied.

"By the way, Mai-chan, how's your season with Leonessa?" Nana asked.

"So far, I'm doing really well as a second striker behind Tae-san. Besides, it's easier when a number of our Nadeshiko Japan teammates play for Leonessa. That team is built to compete against the best women's soccer clubs out there."

"Right now, we look forward to win the Nadeshiko League, the League Cup and, hopefully, international club competitions." Taeko added.

"I hope both of you will succeed in everything that will come next." Nana said.

"Thanks, Nana-chan. I look forward to see you in the upcoming summer with Nadeshiko Japan using this new dimension of your game too." Taeko finished.


After dinner was finished and the check was paid, the group walked back towards the hotel. It was not late in the evening yet, but neither Kakeru nor Nana wanted to miss out a good night of sleep as part of the match preparation process. Once in front of the hotel, it was almost time to part ways for the night before the day of the big match.

"Well, this is where Seven, Noriko and I have to go back home now." Kakeru said.

"Thanks a lot for the visit at the stadium and the dinner, Kakeru. We really enjoyed everything." Mrs. Aizawa replied.

"We'll see you and Nana-chan at the match, son. Good luck out there." M. Aizawa said.

"Thanks, Mom. Thank you too, Dad." Kakeru replied.

"Better enjoy a good night of sleep to recover from the jet lag first. If you want, Sayuri and I will come back here and take you for a little tour of Manchester tomorrow before we all go to the Sam Platt's." Robert said.

"What is the Sam Platt's?" Mrs. Mishima asked.

"It's a pub where a large number of fans gather before a home game at Old Trafford. It's one of the best places alongside The Bishop Blaize for a little pre-game party where fans are singing out loud, typical English stuff." Robert said.

"We would really appreciate it. Thank you, Robert-san." M. Aizawa replied.

"If you come onto the pitch, try to bring on some magic." Mito said to Kakeru and Nana.

"We will do our very best, promised." Kakeru finished as he and Nana patted Mito's head.

Finally, Kakeru and Nana bid goodbye for the night to their parents and friends. As Noriko drove her friends on the way back to their apartment, all local radio shows were still buzzing about the upcoming Manchester derby that was only less than 19 hours away at the time. Tired with the radio, Noriko switched to her iPod and played an old rock song performed by a local band named The Stone Roses.

"What is the name of the song? It sounds... very lifting." Kakeru said.

"You're right: it lifts you up when you listen to this." Nana added.

"The song is titled This is the One. I always play this song ahead of a very big match; it's a habit of mine since my time as a team manager in Japan. The song's also played at Old Trafford ahead of kickoff." Noriko replied.

If only she’d believe me

Bellona belladonna

Burn me out or bring me home

"Really, bring on tomorrow!" Kakeru finished.

Meanwhile, Noriko started singing along with the song:

This is the one

This is the one

This is the one

Oh, this is the one

This is the one

I've waited for…

Listening to the song, Kakeru and Nana started visualizing the game ahead, training their minds for what might happen the following day with a possibility of taking on the biggest challenge of their professional lives so far.

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