It was the final five minutes of the game between the girls teams of Enoshima and Umisho, which, due to certain circumstances and compromises, had been moved up to the following week following Saturday, the day after Koichi had been released from the hospital. Being played at Enoshima, it was currently a tie game at 5-5, both teams having performed exceptionally well.
"The clock is winding down fast! Only 5 minutes left to go." Yukinari announced "Number 7, Keiko Aizawa, is pushing forward past one defender at a time."
"This is it, the tie breaker." Keiko thought as she passed the ball to Yukari
"Hayakawa receives Aizawa's pass and shoots!" said Yukinari "The Keeper bumps it, but Akitsuki jumps up and heads it in! Goal! 6-5 for Enoshima!"
"Look at who started it all: none other than Keiko Aizawa! She got past a few players, and then spotted the advancing Hayakawa. The following shot was punched away, but Akitsuki comes into the right place at the right time to head the rebound into the open net." added Kirie
"A crazy soccer game that offered 11 goals to today's attendance. What a match! Can Enoshima hold on this lead now?" Yukinari announced
Exhausted by the back and forth action that made most of the 11-goal thriller, Umisho never recovered enough energy to carry on one last serious attack against Enoshima.
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEEEEP
"There's the whistle!" said Yukinari "Enoshima wins!"
"Nice one, you three." said Yuki as they walked off the field
In the shower room later;
"Keiko was also good today." said Akane, as they took turns taking showers "Three goals and one assist. You're easily one of the best forwards we've got."
"Thanks Akane." Keiko replied as she ran soap on her arms "But the entire team was excellent today, not just me."
"What she said." said Haruhi
"Are you guys going to stand there much longer?" Momoko asked
"You're not the only one who wants a shower!" said Miki, who also hadn't taken a shower yet "There are twenty of us and only that many stalls."
"I expect we'll be seeing more fights over them as the days get warmer." said Tsukasa as she got out of one of the stalls
"I know." said Nagisa "Hard to believe May's already here, along with this uniquely warm weather. We've had to change to our summer uniforms early this year."
"By the way, Keiko." said Suzuka as she wrapped a towel around herself, having finished with her shower
"I've recently come to notice that unique scent of yours."
"What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean." Suzuka said slyly "Only the scent of a full-fledged woman."
Keiko blushed and turned away "What are you talking about?!" Keiko asked
"Come on, we've all noticed how close you've been with Saito lately." said Moka
"It's no secret that you two are going out now." said Amuro as Keiko got out of her stall "Even Yuki confirmed that you two are a couple now."
"Yuki!" Keiko said as she glared at Yuki
"They were going to find out anyway." Yuki told her, not daring to look at Keiko at this moment
"So, really," said Suzuka as she started pulling on her uniform "have you guys done it yet?"
"Alright, we did." Keiko said annoyed as she dried herself off "We're not virgins anymore. Happy now?"
"Yes. Pay up, Miki."
"Darn. That was my last thousand." said Miki as she handed a ¥1,000 note to Suzuka.
On the way home later;
"You really shouldn't have told them, Yuki." said Keiko as they walked home
"I told you, they were going to find out anyway." Yuki retorted "Amuro was right, it was really no secret. I'm more interested in knowing how you two got together in the first place."
"After he aided in saving Koichi, a few more things happened, that's all." Keiko told her
"I see. Speaking of your brother, he was released yesterday, wasn't he?"
"Yes. The doctors were amazed at how fast he recovered, but he still has to take it easy for a while."
"True. Anyway, I'm going this way. See you tomorrow, Kei-chan." Yuki left, and Keiko continued home.
"I'm home!" Keiko called when she walked in the door a few minutes later. She removed her shoes and proceeded to the dining room, where her parents and siblings were waiting "You should've seen today's game. It was...." she noticed that they had two guests with them. It was Taeko Ishiki, and Mai "Mama, Papa, why is Taeko Ishiki in our house? And, Coach, what are you doing here?"
"So you know who I am, huh?" said Taeko
"Keiko, please sit down. There's something we need to discuss." said Nana, and Keiko did as she was told "Now, as you're no doubt aware, Tae-san is the coach for Nadeshiko Japan." Keiko nodded "She, along with Mai-chan, was also my teammate during those days I played for them."
"Tae-san also allowed Mai to make recommendations for potential players from your school to join the team." Kakeru told her "And Mai, with our approval, recommended you."
"My recommendation was accepted, and after she saw your match against Kamakura middle, it was official." said Mai "She also saw our match against Umisho today."
"Seeing your performance there made it even more so." said Taeko "And so, I'm now here to offer you a place in the ranks of Nadeshiko Japan."
"Me?" Keiko said perplexed at this "I'd play for Nadeshiko Japan?"
"That's right. Technically, you'll be part of the U-20 team, but we'll be calling you up to play with the regulars every once in awhile."
"We're so proud of you, Keiko." said Kakeru
"So are we." said Hiroki
"We knew you'd get a spot." said Ryo
"This is your chance to become a representative player." said Mai
"But coach, the Inter-High Qualifiers are coming up this month." said Keiko "I can't just stop playing for Enoshima."
"You won't have to." Mai assured her "You can continue playing for Enoshima while having a spot as a Nadeshiko player."
"B-bu-but, I don't have what it takes to be a representative." Keiko said desperately
"If any of us believed that, Mai wouldn't have recommended you, and I wouldn't be making you this offer." said Taeko. At this point, Keiko refused to meet anyone's gaze "Maybe this isn't a good day." Taeko said as she passed a brochure in front of Keiko "You don't have to answer now. Take some time and think about it. Kakeru-kun, Nana-chan, it was great seeing you again." There was a pause in which Taeko and Mai rose to their feet and then "She really is your daughter Nana-chan" Taeko and Mai then left the house without another word
"Papa, Mama, why did you let this happen?" Keiko asked when Taeko and Mai were gone
"We were against it at first, but it would've been wrong of us to deny you a chance like this." said Kakeru
"But you're a representative player, should it be relevant at all?"
"I'm not going to be a representative for very much longer." Kakeru told her "I've already made plans for my retirement."
"Keiko, we're thirty-five years old, we're going to be an old man and woman." said Nana "You, Ryo, Hiroki, and Koichi have your whole lives ahead of you. I retired when I learned I was pregnant with you, after only five years on Nadeshiko Japan. Since then, I've been a housewife. Your father's been playing much longer, and is now long past his prime."
"Our time in the spotlight has come and gone." said Kakeru "It's time for you and your generation to take your place on the world stage, and make names for yourselves."
Keiko was unable to say anything. She just grabbed the brochure, got up from the table, and left for her room.
"Kei-nee." Ryo called after her sister
"Let her go." said Kakeru "She really needs to think."
Her head filled with confused thoughts, Keiko spent the next day, Sunday, out of the house and on a date with Saito. Saito could hardly fail to notice that his girlfriend was worried about something, but, not wanting to ruin their date, didn't bring it up until lunch at school the following day.
"Alright, Keiko-chan, out with it." said Saito as they, along with Yuki, Yuzuki, and Miho, sat down in their classroom for lunch "I could tell, all through our date yesterday that something was bugging you."
"Something's been bugging you?" said Yuki "You seemed fine when we walked to school this morning."
"I didn't want to worry you." said Keiko as she took a bite of her lunch "It's just, I was given something to really think about on Saturday evening."
"Come on," said Miho "What's got you worried? Your weight?"
"No." Keiko replied
"Your monthly?" Yuzuki suggested, and Keiko gave her a look of annoyance "Oh my, did a pregnancy test come out positive?" Saito spat out the juice he was drinking at this
"First of all; God no. And second; Saito and I took every precaution when we lost our virginity."
"What? They knew?" Saito asked wiping his mouth
"Thanks to someone." Keiko told him, and Yuki grinned embarrassed "And another thing; boyfriend or no, if I catch you peeping in on the team while we shower again, you're gonna regret it."
"Pervert." said Yuzuki
"And, in any case, none of you are correct."
"Then what is it?" Miho asked "If is a problem we can help you with...."
"Can't you at least tell us, just so we can understand?" Yuzuki asked
Keiko sighed and said "Alright. Coach and Taeko Ishiki came to my house on Saturday evening. Ishiki-san had come to offer me a place on Nadeshiko Japan."
"WHAT?!" the four of them exclaimed, and, by the time practice started, the entire team, possible the whole school, knew
"Thanks for telling everyone, Yuki." Keiko told her as they, and the team, changed into their bathing suits in the clubroom
"Forgive me." Yuki asked as they both took off their bras "But they were going to find out,"
"Her usual argument." Keiko thought as she removed her skirt and panties
"There was no way it was going to be kept quiet."
"Agreed." said Suzuka as she tied her bikini bra in place "And let me, as the captain, be the first to congratulate you on being the first of this team to make it."
"I haven't actually given an answer yet." Keiko told her as she slipped on her bikini bottom
"If it were me, I'd go for it." Suzuka told her, securing Keiko's bikini bra in place for her
"But I'm not you. But I don't think I can be a representative."
"If the coach didn't think so, she wouldn't have recommended you." said Tsukasa, who had finished changing
"That's exactly what she said." Keiko mumbled to herself
Practice was not one of Keiko's best that day. By the time she got home later, she was in a surly mood. Ignoring her parents completely, she packed her personal soccer ball in a bag and went to the park to practice more on her own.
"Nobody gets it." Keiko thought as she bounced the ball on her knees "I can't be a representative. I just can't." she gave the ball a kick toward the wall "What can I contribute to Japan?" She made to retrieve the ball, but before she could, someone else put a foot on it. It was Nana.
"Mama?" Keiko said, she then noticed what her mother was wearing "That's...."
"My old Nadeshiko Japan uniform." said Nana "And it still fits." she then came right at Keiko with a dribble. Keiko, seeing what she was doing, tried to stop her, but Nana slipped past her easily.
"I still got it." said Nana when she stopped behind Keiko
"That was incredible." said Keiko
"Of course. Where do you think you get half your skills?"
"Even after all these years, you're not rusty at all." before talking more, both of them sat down on the swings "Why did you retire? You could've continued playing while raising me, couldn't you?" Keiko asked
"Yes, I could've," Nana confirmed "but I chose not to. I won't deny that both the team and the Japanese Football Association were sad to see me go."
"Then why? Why did you retire?"
"Because I was selfish. When I learned you were inside my body, I was overcome with joy. No thought of aborting you ever came into my head. And even if it had, I would've decided against it. It was also then that I decided to quit Nadeshiko Japan."
"You only cared about raising me." Keiko concluded, and Nana nodded "Then answer me this; why did you and Papa allow Mai to recommend me? You said yourself that you were against it."
"I said that because, as your mother, I worry for your safety." Nana told her "Soccer can be dangerous if you're too reckless. As for allowing the recommendation; Keiko, the day you were born, it was the happiest day of my life. When I first saw your beautiful little face, your tiny hand squeezed my hand so tight, like you never wanted to let go. It reminded me of how happy I was when your father and I had won the World Cup. And ever since then, your father and I have watched every step, every struggle, and, I've dreamed of the day you would wear this; Japan's Warrior Blue Uniform."
"I know your father and I said we were against it, but we didn't really mean it. The honest truth is, seeing you wear this uniform, representing Japan on the field against other countries..., nothing would make us happier."
"Nothing." Nana said. She then stood up, took off her shirt, and held it out to Keiko "Here, try it on." Keiko then stood up, took off her own shirt, took the blue one from Nana, and put it on "It really suits you. Very very well."
They both went home after that, and the first thing Keiko did when she walked in, her mind made up, was grab the phone and dial the number that was on the brochure.
"Hello?" Taeko asked over the phone
"Ms. Ishiki, it's Keiko."
"Oh, Keiko-chan. Have you made your decision?"
"I have. I'll do it. You've got yourself a new player."
Upon hearing this, Ryo and Hiroki exchanged high-fives, and Nana embraced Kakeru, tears of joy in her eyes.