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The Winter Tournament Qualifiers

Saturday October 9th;

Autumn had set in. Daily temperatures were going down, and Enoshima High had switched back to winter uniforms. Two days before the Qualifiers for the winter tournament would start, it was the penultimate day of training camp for both teams. Everyone was doing their best to be ready for their first opponent, but some were having difficulties.

"How are things going?" Mai asked Mina as she appeared at the bench of the training camp field

"Shouldn't you be at home resting?" Mina asked as she helped Mai sit down "You went on maternity leave because you're due in a month."

"I know I told the girls that I could rest easy leaving it to them, but I still want to check their progress now and then. This team is my pride and joy."

"I understand."

"So, how are the girls?"

"Most of them are doing fine. I have a clear image of the starters I want to use for the tournament. But Keiko...."

"What?" Mai looked out to the field where the girls were practicing. Keiko was having a heap of trouble. Keiko got the ball stolen from her several times a bit too easily. She also fell over people and herself a bit more often than was natural for her.

"Keep your head in the game, Keiko!" said Suzuka

"Gomen'nasai." Keiko replied

"What's wrong with Keiko? I've never seen her so sloppy." said Mai

"I know. It's like her head is elsewhere." said Mina "I might reconsider if she does a bit better, but at this rate, I can't let her be a starter."

"That's gonna hit her hard."

Later in the AV Room;

"Alright. I've decided on the starters for the Qualifiers." Mina announced to them team "We're going with your traditional 2-5-3 formation, and no one's getting her number changed. Our keeper will be Momoko Ninagawa."

"What?!" Amuro exclaimed

"At least four goals a game last Summer, Okiura?" That shut Amuro up "Our defenders will be Moka Aono and Miki Hattori."

"Yes!" Miki exclaimed as she high-fived Moka

"Midfielders will be Yukari Hayakawa, Haruhi Suou, Kiyomi Yura, Miho Kusakabe and Akane Saotome."

"No surprise for me." said Yukari

"Can it, Yukari." said Nagisa

"And finally, our forwards will be, Suzuka Akitsuki, Tsukasa Tachibana and... (sigh) Chloe Lafayette."

This announcement caught everyone by surprise.

"Hey, what's going on?!" Yuki asked

"Yeah! Why am I taking Keiko's place up front?" Chloe asked

"Need you ask?" Mina replied "Keiko's playing all through this training camp has been abysmal."

"I know I haven't been playing my best, but-"

"But nothing. My decision is final." Mina cut Keiko off "Your head's not in the game, so I can't let you be a starter. If you even want to be a sub, then show me some results."

Keiko, devastated, couldn't say anything back. She had been feeling uneasy ever since the festival and had allowed it to affect her playing. Now she had lost her place on the starting lineup.

Later in the showers;

"Again, Kei-chan?" said Yuki as she Suzuka and Chloe found her in the showers that evening.

"Leave me alone." Keiko replied coldly

"Hey, I didn't ask to be a starting forward." said Chloe "I was sure it would be you."

"I'm not holding it against you. I'm the one who has been playing poorly."

"Yeah, you have been playing like a girl." said Suzuka

"We're all girls!" Yuki exclaimed as Keiko turned off the shower dried herself

"Not remotely what I meant. Keiko, I'm sorry you lost your spot but there's nothing I can do. On that note, it's not like you to be so sloppy."

Keiko didn't answer

"Is it what happened at the festival?" Yuki asked

"(sigh) Saito assured me that he didn't know that girl, but part of me isn't convinced."

"Meaning you don't trust him?" Chloe asked

"I want to trust him... but...."

"Acting like a wife already, are you?" said Suzuka

"Suzuka."

"I'm kidding. Nevertheless, it's irresponsible to let personal matters interfere with your game."

"Who are you to lecture me?" Keiko asked as she started getting dressed

"What did you say?!"

"Calmez-vous! [Calm down!] Both of you!" said Chloe "I think I have an idea on how Keiko can still prove herself."

The other three looked at Chloe in confusion.

Monday October 11th;

It was the first day of the Winter Tournament Qualifiers

"Welcome all to the first round of the qualifiers for the Women's Winter Championship." said Kirie as both teams took to the field "I'm Kirie Sasaki and I'll be covering the women's tournament, while my usual partner, Yukinari, covers the men's tournament. Today's game is Enoshima High vs. Shouko Girls High."

"Alright everyone, good luck out there." Mina called to the team as she took a seat on the bench. A second later she noticed Chloe still sitting next to her. "Chloe? If you're here, who's..." Mina looked out to the field and saw Keiko there "Keiko?!" Mina tried to get up to call her back, but Chloe held her back by the arm

"Lassen Sie es. [Leave it.]" Chloe said in German, much to Mina's surprise.

"You speak German?" Mina asked sitting down

"A bit, but very little. Look, I know we went against you, but give Keiko a chance to prove herself again."

"(sigh) Did Suzuka know about this?" Chloe nodded "Then the four of us are gonna have a little talk later. That, and if Keiko proves more of a hindrance than asset I'm taking her out at once." Chloe nodded again

On the field;

"Keep your head in the game this time." Suzuka said to Keiko as she got in place after doing the coin toss with the Shouko High Captain

"Right." Keiko replied

Shouko High kicked off. The first twenty minutes weren't too bad for Enoshima. Though Keiko's play was still rough, she scored two of Enoshima's goals in the first ten minutes, then the other three were scored by Suzuka, Tsukasa and Yukari. Shouko meanwhile had scored only once on them

"You seem to have gotten your groove back." said Yukari as they prepared to kick off again after thirty minutes

"Not completely." Keiko replied. She kicked off with Yukari and took the ball down Shouko 's side. Just meters from the penalty area, Keiko glanced her surroundings and saw something that made the bottom of her stomach drop: up in the stands was the girl who was kissing Saito at the festival. The memory of the incident flashed through her head and she lost awareness of her surroundings, causing the ball to be stolen.

"Keiko, wake up!" Suzuka shouted, and Keiko came back to her senses. Keiko and Suzuka chased down Shouko's players, but she had recovered too late. Shouko had slipped past Miki and Moka scored on them by they caught up. The score was now 5-2. "What was that?! You suddenly stopped and stared at something."

"I-I-It's nothing." Keiko said hastily

"Like hell it isn't."

"Suzuka, I swear, it won't happen again."

But that little shock had more of an effect on Keiko than she thought. Knowing that girl was still there, the memory of that day kept flashing in Keiko's mind and she couldn't focus. Her distraction messed up more than a few plays as a result. By the end of the first half, Shouko was leading at 5-7.

"You've lost focus again, Keiko!?" said Suzuka as they sat down for half time

"I'm sorry."

"Sorry won't cut it! If you're going to let personal problems interfere with yourself you can't be a Forward..."

"Enough!" Mina shouted, quieting them down "Do you understand now? This is why I took Keiko off the starting lineup. The four of us are gonna talk later."

Chloe went in for Keiko in the second half. Enoshima was able to pull ahead again, and the game ended with a 10-7 victory for Enoshima. Keiko, Chloe and Suzuka didn't enjoy Mina's lecture that afternoon but promised not to do something like this again.

The week went by and Enoshima advanced through the Qualifiers, Enoshima pulling off two shutouts and a hat trick. The short animosity between Suzuka and Keiko had fizzled out at last and they were being perfectly friendly again, but Keiko still wasn't able to play at all. Finally it was the last game before the main tournament. They were, once again, facing Yokohama High.

Friday, October 15th;

"Aizawa's not playing?" Miyamoto asked Suzuka as they prepared to kick off

"Shut it!" Suzuka called back

On the bench;

"Keiko, I know it's frustrating to sit here, but I want this team to get through the qualifiers." Mina told Keiko "It's not that I don't have faith in you, but with the way you're playing.... If you can prove yourself again during the intermission, maybe I'll put you on the starters for the main tournament."

"I promise I won't disappoint you again." said Keiko, not taking her eyes off the field as the game kicked off

On the field;

Yukari and Chloe tore down Yokohama's side of the field. Since Yokohama was unfamiliar with Chloe's playing, they were left confused by her movements and Chloe, Yukari and Suzuka each scored twice on them within the first fifteen minutes. The score was 6-0 for Enoshima.

"C'est tout ce que vous avez? [Is that all you've got?]" Chloe asked Miyamoto

"Damn foreigner!" Miyamoto replied

"That's not very nice." said Tsukasa as they kicked off again

Miyamoto's ego was really starting to get the better of her and wasn't cooperating with her team. By the time the first half ended, Enoshima had scored twice more.

On the bench;

"8-0. Not bad at all, everybody." said Mina

"Someone doesn't look too happy though." said Momoko

"Can we just drop it already!?" said Keiko

"Alright girls, we've got such a huge lead that there's no need to overdo it in the second half." said Mina "Starting now we'll play defensively and hold the lead."

"That's no fun." most of the team chorused

"Alright, alright." said Mina, half laughing "Play to what your hearts desire."

"I can't believe I'm just sitting here!" Keiko thought as Suzuka and Tsukasa scored the first goal of the second half "I've got so much pent up energy and I can't use it." Keiko glanced at Saito, who was still being as quiet as a clam "Saito's still quiet. I never thought I'd miss the sound of his voice." Saito hadn't been expressing his opinion in any of the matches since the tournament started, and Keiko and Saito were still not talking to each other since that day.

The rest of the match went on, Enoshima scoring once more, bringing the score 10-0. In a last desperate attempt to score, Yokohama abandoned all formations and charged forward together, catching Enoshima completely off guard. In the last remaining moments, Yokohama broke Enoshima's lines and scored just before the whistle blew.

PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEEEEP

The final score was 10-1, and landslide victory for Enoshima.

"Well done everyone!" said Mina "With this, we're in the main tournament in two weeks time."

"I see you girls have learned your lesson about not relying on me." said Keiko

"We did our best to do your share of the work too." said Miho

Later after they changed in the locker rooms;

"I'm going home first." said Keiko as she put her bag over her shoulder

"Just wait up, Suzuka-senpai and I will go with you." said Yuki

"Sorry, but I need to be alone right now." Keiko left without another word

"That girl has some issues to work out." said Nagisa

Keiko made her way to the parking lot where Saito was supposed to be waiting for her. When she found Saito, she found that girl getting all over him again.

"C'mon, Saito-kun. Come play with me." said the girl

"Yuri-san, I can't. I'm waiting for Keiko." said Saito

"Why don't you just dump that girl already? I hear she's been unfaithful."

"Yuri-san, please."

""Yuri-san'?" Keiko repeated, catching their attention "'Yuri-san'?!"

"K-K-Keiko, wait, please."

"You said you didn't know this girl, but you're actually on a first-name-basis with her?!"

"S-s-she wouldn't tell me her surname." Saito said hastily

"Just stand there and lie!" Keiko walked off and Saito broke free of Yuri to go with her, but Keiko just gave him the cold shoulder all the way home.

Later in their apartment that evening;

Saito was making them dinner while Keiko just sat on the bed, neither of them saying a word to each other. Finally, Keiko broke the silence as Saito put the plates on the table.

"How long have you known that girl?" Keiko asked as Saito put the plates down

"I hardly know her at all." Saito answered "She just came onto me one day."

"Like that day at the festival? She really seemed to know you."

"I'm telling you, it's a misunderstanding!"

"Well what am I supposed to believe?! That the rumor isn't true at all. Circumstantial evidence says otherwise."

"On that note; the other half of the rumor says that you've been unfaithful as well." said Saito catching Keiko off guard

"T-that's a false accusation!" Keiko exclaimed, getting up at last

"Is it? Did you think I wouldn't notice? Every so often you've been going out and not coming back 'till late or the next morning. What am I supposed to make of that?"

"That was-"

"What? And don't say you were with friends, because I know all your friends and they will speak the truth."

"Where I go is my business!"

"And I'm not allowed at least a word of assurance?! How am I supposed to know if you're not out with other guys?!"

Keiko had had enough. She stormed off toward the door and put her shoes on

"And where are you going?" Saito inquired

"Home!" Keiko spat back and throwing the door open

"What's all the yelling about?" Natsumi asked

"Can it, Natsumi!"

"I don't know if you're having a lover's quarrel, but don't take it out on me."

Keiko hopped on her bike and rode straight home to the Aizawa house. Once there, she tried her best to regain her composer before ringing the bell

"Coming!" came Ryo's voice when Keiko rang the bell. A few seconds later, Ryo opened the door "Kei-nee? What are you doing here?"

"Hey, little sis. Mom told me to come home every so often." Keiko replied

"But... why are you crying?"

Keiko suddenly became aware that tears were running down her face "Oh, this? It's nothing. It's... it's...." Keiko couldn't hold it in any longer. She fell to her knees and broke down sobbing on Ryo's shoulder, attracting attention from the rest of her family.

"Have you calmed down now?" Nana asked offering her daughter a drink in the living room, after sending Chloe and the kids to bed so they couldn't interfere

"A bit." Keiko replied weakly

"That was quite a surprise." said Kakeru, who looked a bit thinner than when Keiko last saw him "I know we told you to come home every so often, but this isn't quite what we pictured."

"Tell me something I don't know."

"But, sweetie, what exactly happened?" Nana asked "I heard your team made it past the qualifiers today. But to come home in tears not even four hours later...?"

"(sigh) Saito and I... we had a really big fight."

"A lovers quarrel, huh?" said Kakeru

"Kakeru!"

"What?"

"What was the fight about?" Nana asked

"(sigh) Lately there's been a rumor going around school that Saito and I have been cheating on each other. And lately this strange girl he claims not to know has been getting awfully attached to him. And because I've been going out late every so often for various reasons, Saito's starting to believe half of it. I don't know what to think anymore."

"Geez. Rumors like that will stir anyone." said Kakeru

"I want to trust him... but I just...."

"It's okay, Keiko." said Nana, putting an arm around Keiko "You can stay here for now until thinks get sorted out."

"Why? Why did I have to fight with Saito... over something like this?" Keiko started crying into her knees

Keiko would be staying in her family home for the time being, but with what was to come the following week, she wouldn't be going back to Sakagami for a long time.

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