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Healing Hearts

Thursday April 3rd,

It has been a few weeks since Keiko and the national team returned home from their victory at the Algarve Cup. It had also been a couple days since the beginning of the new school term all over Japan. Keiko was now an Nippon Sport Science University Sophomore, and member of Nippon Sport Science University Fields Yokohama. It also meant another thing: after two days of recruitment efforts, it was time to welcome in new recruits.

"Alright, kids." said the team captain, Junior year Eiko Suga (英子 菅) "Welcome to Nippon Sport Science University Fields Yokohama, also known as Nittai Ladies. As you may know, we were promoted to Division 2 of the Nadeshiko League in 2015. It's taken all the effort of us and our predecessors to maintain that, yet regrettably we haven't advanced into Division 1. But if we work hard, we can change that. This team has also turned out a few pro players, including Sophomore Keiko Aizawa there."

"Was that last part necessary, Eiko?" Keiko inquired

"Yes!" Eiko replied merrily

As Eiko continued on with her rant about the merits of the team, Keiko, with Suzuka right behind her, took this opportunity to get a better look at the thirty recruits they got this year.

"Yuki told me she failed to get in again." Keiko thought as her eyes swept over the new recruits "She also told me she doesn't care about college anymore. This year's batch doesn't look bad, I heard some of them came from neighboring prefectures." All of a sudden, Keiko eyes fell on a familiar redhead and an heterochromatic. It was Noriko Kishitani and Rikka Togashi, Keiko's kohais from Enoshima. Relieved that someone she knew had joined the team, Keiko discreetly texted them to meet her later.

Later in the campus cafeteria, Keiko, Suzuka, and Keiko's other friend, Chiho Maou, a member of the Women's Basketball Team, were settling into their seats when Noriko and Rikka showed up.

"Aizawa-senpai!" Rikka exclaimed as she ran into Keiko and hugged her "I'm so glad to see you!"

"Okay, okay, Rikka, I'm happy to see you too." Keiko replied as Rikka gazed up her with her differently colored eyes, blue in the left and green in the right

"Alright, that's enough, Togashi." Noriko said as she pulled Rikka off Keiko

"Welcome to Nittaidai." said Suzuka as the two freshmen sat down

"Happy to be here." said Noriko "I don't see any other familiar faces."

"Most Enoshima High schoolers don't enroll here." said Keiko "What about the other girls from your year? we haven't heard much since we graduated."

"Aki and the Getto triplets were scouted by JEF United Ichihara Chiba Ladies." Noriko explained "I still can't believe they were scouted by such a high level team. Chisa and Yuko were recruited by Yokohama F.C. Seagulls, and have already made the starters. Nono and Waka went to University of Shizuoka, where I hear they joined a local club. I don't know about everyone else."

"Sounds like they're still going strong though." said Suzuka

"I heard Nonomiya failed to get in again." said Chiho

"She did." said Keiko "And it pains me to say it, but that also means she's through with soccer now."

"Why?" Suzuka inquired "She was such a good player."

"And I can vouch for it, but according to the JFA, she's not good enough." Keiko said "She's failed to get into Nittaidai twice and she can't get into any other college now. You and I, to no avail, tried to appeal to our superiors on Nadeshiko Japan to give her a spot on the team, but things just aren't going her way right now. Though she admitted she doesn't care anymore."

"Is she still working at that Japanese-Indian place as a belly dancer?" Noriko asked

"She is. And apparently she gotten so good at it, and so senior, she's been given frequent raises. She can now pay her rent effortlessly, and has plenty to spare."

"Impressive." said Chiho

"Shall we go check it out later?" Suzuka suggested

After the afternoon training sessions, the five college students went to Tenjiku, which had become a frequent hangout for Keiko and her friends.

"Ah, Aizawa-san, usual spots?" said the waiter

"Onegai." Keiko replied

The waiter led them to a round corner seat and took Keiko, Suzuka and Chiho's usual orders while Noriko and Rikka chose their own, though they had a hard time choosing since the place was an Indian restaurant, and therefore served mostly Indian cuisine.

"This place really has an Indian feel to it." said Rikka

"Well it is an Indian restaurant." said Chiho as the curtains of the stage started to lift and the music started

"And here comes the entertainment." said Suzuka

On stage were five belly dancers, including Yuki. Yuki was in the middle, barefoot, bare bellied and wearing a black dancer outfit with jangling ornaments. The four girls flanking her were dressed similarly, but all were wearing different colors. At first glance, there was no apparent sync to their dancing, but Keiko could tell that they had rehearsed this.

"She really gets into it when she's up there." said Keiko "The first time I came here, I just couldn't believe it. I'd never seen her look so alive. Her boss told me she's the most popular girl."

"Perhaps that's why she's been able to keep this up for four years." Chiho suggested

"That reminds me, congratulations at the Algarve Cup last month." said Noriko "Although, you could've played better, Keiko."

"Don't remind me!" Keiko replied through gritted teeth

"On that note, Noriko-chan and I are gonna try for the Olympics this year." said Rikka

"More rivals to compete with." Suzuka said to Keiko

"Don't say that. Having them on the team would be a real asset." Keiko replied

"You seem under the impression that your spot is secured, when the trials aren't until June." said Chiho

"I admit I've been a bit rough lately, but I'm trying to fix that. On a related note; I'm having Yuki to teach me Arabic in our spare time."

"And how's that coming along?" Noriko asked

There was as pause, and then "Those paintings are nice." said Keiko

"I knew it." said Noriko

"Speaking of paintings; how're things with Saito-kun?" Suzuka asked, a recently lit cigarette in her mouth

"What's taking so long with our orders?" said Keiko

"Don't dodge the issue!"

"Didn't you say you were going to quit smoking?"

"Don't change the subje-"

"Akitsuki-senpai." Chiho interrupted with a hand on Suzuka's shoulder. Chiho then silently shook her head and the matter was dropped

"By the way," said Noriko as their orders finally arrived "Nittai Ladies has the day off on Saturday I heard. Wanna visit Enoshima?"

"I've got work in the morning, but I'm game." said Keiko "I've been wanting to see how the team's doing. Good work on both Nationals last year, by the way."

"Don't bring it up! That last match was terrible!" Rikka said with her hands over her ears.

With plans to visit Enoshima on Saturday, Keiko, Suzuka, Noriko and Rikka were excited to visit their alma mater. Yuki, also on a day off, came along as well. Chiho was the only one not coming since the basketball team didn't have the day off.

Saturday April 5th;

"Takes me back." said Suzuka when they arrived at the gates

"No kidding." said Yuki

"Rikka and I were here just a month ago, so we can't really share your nostalgia." said Noriko "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to check on the soccer team."

"I'll join you." said Suzuka

"Then I guess it's just us three." said Keiko as Noriko and Suzuka left for the fields

Keiko, Yuki and Rikka then entered the school, after changing their shoes with slippers they brought with them

"I heard from Hiroki that he, Saki and Ryo are in class 2-D." said Keiko as they entered the second year floor

"What about Michiru-chan?" Yuki asked

"I'm right here!" came Michiru's voice behind them "What are you three doing here?"

"We can't visit our alma mater on our day off?" Keiko inquired "We've already got permission."

"You could've called." Michiru replied playfully "Is it just you three?"

"No, Noriko-chan and Akitsuki-senpai are checking on the soccer team." said Rikka

"Excuse me." came a voice from class 2-D's door in front of them. It was a female second year flanked by two other girls "Are you... Hiroki-kun and Ryo-san's older sister?"

"That's me." Keiko replied

The three girls squealed in delight and asked for Keiko's autograph "Arigatogozamasu!" the three girls squealed as they retreated back into class with Keiko's signature

"Even after your performance in Algarve, you're still as popular as ever." said Yuki

"Can it." Keiko replied as she peered into the class. She didn't see any sign of Hiroki, Ryo or Saki "Where are those three?"

"School's about to call it a day, so most people have gone to club activities by now. Hiroki-kun's training with the boys team, Saki-chan's with the swim team." said Michiru "I think I saw Ryo-chan heading up to the roof with Soichi-kun."

"Who?" the three college girls inquired

"Soichi Awashima-kun (そういち 淡島). Ryo-chan's boyfriend."

"Her what?!" Keiko asked, glaring at Michiru dangerously, their faces an inch apart

"Perhaps I shouldn't have told you that." Michiru whimpered

Keiko led the way up to the roof.

"Keiko-chan, please! I'm sure Ryo-chan had a reason for not telling you." Michiru pleaded as they neared the door

"Should you really bug her?" Yuki asked "I thought you and Ryo-chan weren't on good terms right now."

"If you cowards want to turn back, fine. But I need to see Ryo about this." Keiko reached out for the handle, but before she could touch it, they heard voices from the other side

"Hey, keep still." said a voice that wasn't Ryo's "Come on, quit struggling."

"No! Don't squeeze so much!" came Ryo's voice

"Sorry, I'm not used to this..."

"Th-That tickles."

"If you're too loud, someone will hear us."

"I know, but getting licked like this... Ah, that hurts!"

"Are they doing it?!" Rikka asked in alarm

"I didn't realize your sister got so bold." said Yuki

"Break it up, you two!" Keiko exclaimed as she burst through the door, but the sight that met them wasn't the one they were imagining.

In front of them were Ryo and an effeminate looking boy that could only be Soichi Awashima. Both of them were holding a cat each: Soichi a snowy white cat Keiko recognized as Ryo's Shiro, and Ryo a calico Japanese Bobtail, which was biting her finger.

"Kei-nee? Yuki-nee? Michiru and Togashi-senpai? What are you doing here?" Ryo asked as she yanked her finger out of the bobtail's mouth

"What is going on here?" Keiko asked

Ryo went on to explain that she and Soichi had set up an omiai for their cats.

"So it was just for the cats. That was so misleading." said Yuki as they watched the cats play

"Why're you here in the first place?" Ryo asked Keiko

"We simply came to visit Enoshima on our day off." Keiko replied "Then Michiru let slip you had a boyfriend, so I wanted to see him. By the way... why's he hiding behind you like that?" Indeed, Soichi was trying, and failing, to hide behind Ryo

"(sigh) I guess I was gonna have to introduce him sooner or later." Ryo stepped aside so they could see Soichi better. Soichi was a lean black-haired boy with blue eyes and an effeminate face "Ladies, this is my boyfriend, Soichi Awashima. Soichi-kun, this is my sister, Keiko, and the girl next to her is Yuki Nonomiya."

"Hello!" Yuki said cheerfully, but Soichi seemed too nervous to speak

"Okay then, I have a couple questions." said Keiko "First; what happened to Hidehiko-kun?"

"I ditched him a long time ago." Ryo replied "I never even liked the boy in the first place. He transferred to a different high school in December."

"Okay then. Second; is he really a boy?"

"You gotta admit, he looks like a cross-dressing girl." said Rikka

"I- I am a man!" Soichi exclaimed, speaking for the first time since the girls appeared. Even his voice, while lightly deep, sounded a bit feminine

"He is a boy!" said Ryo

"You girls want further proof?" said Michiru turning up behind Soichi and grabbing his pants "He might look like a girl... but feast your eyes on this!" Michiru debagged Soichi, revealing his crotch and the largest thing any of the girls had seen while it was limp

"Oh. My. Gosh!" Yuki exclaimed, half-hiding her eyes

"NOOOOO!" Soichi yelled, his face flushing crimson in embarrassment, covering his crotch with his hands and squatting down

"What's with that reaction?" Michiru asked "A thing that big is something to be proud- Ouff!" Keiko just punched Michiru in the gut "I went too far. I got it." Michiru groaned as Keiko withdrew her fist

"Are you alright?" Keiko asked Soichi after he got his pants back on again, but Soichi just hid behind Ryo again "Not the bravest man, are you?"

"Just as I'm not so good with boys, Soichi-kun is scared of girls, save for me." Ryo explained

"And what makes you so special?" Keiko inquired, but no one answered "I can't accept this. I can't accept that this poor excuse for a man is dating my little sister."

"Well, get used to it."

"I won't let you date a man this weak! Break-up right now!"

"I will not!"

With school closing for the day, Keiko parted ways with her friends and followed Ryo home, all the way trying to get her to break up with Soichi.

"Will you just give it a rest!" Ryo exclaimed as they walked into the Aizawa house

"I will not!" said Keiko as Ryo let Shiro out of her bag "Why are you so set on that weakling?"

"I like him and he likes me, isn't that enough?!"

"What's going on here?" Nana asked, poking her head out of the living room, but no one answered her

"Since I was twelve you've been urging me to get over my aversion to men and find a boyfriend. Now I finally find someone I like, and you're acting like it's a crime!"

"If you continue to date a guy like him, even though he's really a boy, his appearance will cause your sexuality to be called into question." Keiko continued

"I don't remember you ever caring about appearances." Ryo then got a look on her face as a thought sprang into her head "No, you don't care. You're just jealous."

"Jealous!?"

"Who's Keiko jealous of?" Kakeru asked Nana, but Nana just shrugged

"You're acting like a child about this because you're not on good terms with Saito-nii right now, you've practically broken up, you're jealous of the fact that I'm entering a steady relationship and...." Ryo stopped talking as Keiko's face started streaming with tears. It seemed that Ryo had crossed some sort of line "Uh... Kei-nee...?"

Keiko fell to her knees and started sobbing into Ryo's chest "I know!" Keiko sobbed "I know Saito and I are on bad terms but... but I don't know what happened to us! We just stopped talking one day last year, started seeing each other less and less. Then one day I went to Geidai to try and patch things up, and I found him surrounded by girls. I knew it's wasn't what it looked like, I knew it, but I just couldn't handle that sight. I never saw Saito again after that.... I don't know what to do anymore." Keiko was so overcome that even Ryo couldn't stay mad at her.

Meanwhile at the Shirayukis';

"Is your stomach alright?" Ushio asked when Michiru walked in the house, clutching her stomach

"I'll be fine." Michiru replied "I just got punched in the gut for going too far with a joke."

"I told you that would land you in trouble someday." said Saito, who, for once, had come home to see his family. He was sitting in an armchair with a blank canvas on an easel in front of him

"Excuse me while I go change." said Michiru as she marched upstairs

"Any new ideas?" Sanae asked as she peeled an orange

"Nothing. I've had no inspiration for months." Saito replied glumly

"Need a model?" Sanae asked hopefully, but Saito gave her a look that told her to drop it "Right."

"Don't rush yourself." said Soji

"It's good that you're home for once, but I don't think we can provide you with ideas." said Ushio

"Sorry, Mom." Saito replied as he moved the easel aside "I know I need to get out of this block, but I just don't know how."

"Maybe because your favorite model hasn't posed for you lately." Soji suggested with a laugh

"Not funny, Uncle." said Sanae as the doorbell rang "Who could that be?"

"We're not expecting anyone, are we?" Soji asked, and Ushio shook her head

Soji and Ushio got up and went to the front door. Soji looked through the peephole, gasped, and backed off.

"Who is it?" Ushio inquired

Soji opened the door, revealing a woman wearing a suit with black hair with narrow dark-grey streaks near the base of her head, and a face similar to Ushio's "Your mother." said Soji

"Mom?!" said Ushio "What're you doing here?"

"Is that any way to greet your dear old mother?" Ushio's mother asked with a smile before stepping over the threshold and hugging her daughter

"Nogizaka-san, what brings you here?" Soji asked

"Please, Soji-kun, call me Himeko." said Himeko Nogizaka

"I must go."

"Oh, don't leave on my account."

"No, I really have work to do." Soji put his shoes on and left closing the door behind him

"He seems to have the wrong idea about me." Himeko said to Ushio

"Gee, I wonder why." Ushio replied sarcastically

"So, we gonna just stand here, or can I meet my grandchildren?"

"Mom, who's this?" asked Michiru, who had just come down the stairs nude

"Um, Michiru, um, ahh, (sigh), meet your grandmother." Ushio relented

"Grandma!" Michiru exclaimed running into Himeko and hugging her

"Ohh, so energetic." Himeko said happily, hugging Michiru back "Your youngest inherited our naturism too I see."

"We've been trying to get her out of it." said Ushio

"Did we hear someone say 'grandma'?" Saito asked, appearing in the living room door

"Saito." said Himeko, freeing herself of Michiru and hugging Saito "Eighteen long years since I saw you. You've grown into such a fine young man. And Sanae." Himeko let go of Saito and proceeded to hug Sanae in her wheelchair

"Oh, Grandma." said Sanae

"This is our... grandmother?" Saito inquired of his mother

"Himeko Nogizaka. My mother." said Ushio "But, Mom, what are you doing here?"

"I simply wanted to see you and my grandchildren." Himeko replied "You would've locked the door and ignored me if you knew I was coming."

"True." Ushio admitted

"Are we expecting anyone else later?" everyone shook their heads "Good." Himeko began stripping down right there

"Mother, what are you doing?!"

"We're all blood, why not."

"Sanae and Saito don't do that anymore, plus Saito's a man!"

"I don't see any problem. You used to go bare with me all the time when you were young."

"The only reason I got my nudist tendencies was because you rarely clothed me when I was a child."

"Mom, just join in." said Sanae, who was starting to strip too

"Not me!" said Saito

"C'mon, Onii-chan!" Michiru exclaimed as she tried to strip Saito "You too, Mom.

"Alright, alright."

Ushio relented and stripped with everyone. Even Saito relented on the ground that he wore a towel on his lap. Finally, everyone was naked. Himeko took up one of the arm-chairs, Saito, Ushio and Michiru were on the couch, and Sanae was still in her chair, which was now motorized, since she'd been going outside on her own more often since she got her sight back

"I never got the chance to say it before, but you made three beautiful kids." said Himeko

"Regretfully, we share the blood of that bastard you and Grandfather paired mom with." said Sanae, and Saito nodded in agreement

"I was against the union too, but it was out of my hands."

"I don't recall you coming to my aide when Father forced me into the marriage." said Ushio

"Ushio, I'm sorry. I wanted you to choose your own husband, but your father overrode me." said Himeko "I'm sorry. Can you ever forgive me?"

"You'll earn it. Where is Father anyway?"

"Oh, that straight-laced douche? I ditched him. We divorced ten years ago."

"Really?" the Shirayukis inquired

"I don't know what I ever saw in him to begin with. When I first married him, my own father, who passed on three years ago, was a member of the Diet, in the House of Representatives. Your father, apparently, only married me to increase his standing in society. Which is also the reason he married you off to Kazuto, to increase his standing. After you ran off to Italy, he forever ranted about how you brought shame to us. A decade back I finally got fed up with it and cut him away. Not that he cared, it didn't take him long to replace me with the daughter of some other Diet member, who was twenty years younger than me."

"Oh. Sorry, Mom." said Ushio

"Don't be, I'd had enough of him." Himeko said in a tone at ended the matter. Michiru then walked up to Himeko and hugged her "Michiru, what..."

"Grandma's skin's so smooth, and your boobs are so soft." Michiru helped herself to Himeko's body

"I have to admit, you look good for a woman your age." said Sanae. Indeed, Himeko's skin was so tight and pale that she still looked as young as Ushio

"Miracles of modern medicine. Plus a few operations here and there. Sixty-five is the new thirty." said Himeko as she let Michiru fondle her breasts

"How did you afford all that?" Ushio inquired

"I'm now the owner of a fancy Italian restaurant here in Kamakura. A ballroom restaurant called 'Girovagando per Anima'. It means 'Wandering Soul'."

"No way!"

"Way. I got the idea of opening it from you when you ran to Italy. Which also means, as my kin, free dining." Himeko then turned to Saito "It would be a good place to bring your girlfriend too, Saito." Saito looked away in discomfort "Did I say something wrong?"

"Onii-chan's not on good terms with Keiko-chan right now." Michiru told Himeko

"Why, what happened?" Himeko asked in concern

"We don't know, and Saito refuses to tell us." said Sanae

"Saito, I respect that you want to keep this to yourself, but bottling it up won't do you any good." said Ushio

"Can you at least give us an understanding?" Himeko asked

With the women of his family all looking at him imploringly, Saito couldn't hold it in anymore.

"It was my fault. It all started when Keiko wasn't chosen for the World Cup last year."

"Does he mean, Keiko Aizawa?" Himeko asked Ushio, who nodded

"She was seriously depressed." Saito continued "I figured the tactful thing would be to not talk about it until she got over it. But, after that we hardly talked at all. We started seeing each other less and less. Finally she stopped coming home, instead staying with her friend Yuki-chan. Then, one day, she came to Geidai just to see me, but she caught me at a bad time. A bunch of girls in my class were trying to ask me to let them model for me, and Keiko saw it, and got the wrong idea. No, she knew it wasn't like that, but that scene was too much. I never saw her again after that." Saito started weeping as he finished

"You miss her, don't you?" Himeko inquired, but Saito was too overcome to answer

"He wants to fix it with Keiko-chan, and I'm sure Keiko-chan wants to as well, but neither of them know how."

"A drawn out case like this can't be settled by the individuals alone. They need a third party to give them an opportunity." Himeko replied

Three days later, Tuesday April 8th;

Keiko just returned from her day at college, training and last minute work at her modeling agency, and was coming back to the Aizawa house for dinner.

"I'm home." said Keiko when she walked in the door

"Welcome back." said Kakeru as Keiko sat down in the dining room "How was the shoot?"

"Went without a hitch."

"It's been six months, but I still find it hard to believe you're a gravure model now, in addition to being an athlete. You used to complain about being put on display, saying 'I'm an athlete, not a model', but you accepted the job with little hesitation."

"It's so that I can pay for college myself instead of relying on Soji-san. It's also to be financially independent once I graduate. It's actually kinda fun sometimes. And I made it clear to them that it's not to clash with my training schedule, or I'll quit immediately. What's for dinner?"

"Your favorites." said Kakeru "It's great that you're coming home more often. Ever since Hiroki and Chloe-chan moved out, this place has been feeling more and more empty."

"I was surprised that Hiroki and Saki moved into Sakagami last February. A good thing for them. As for Chloe, she couldn't freeload off you forever."

"But she moved all the way to Saitama." said Nana

"She had to. Getting signed on by Urawa Red Diamond Ladies was an opportunity she couldn't pass up. Plus, it's hard to miss her when she calls and texts every other day." at that moment, as if right on que, Keiko received a text from Chloe telling her about her latest game "That French-girl. Where's Koichi and Ryo?"

"Koichi's eating out with friends." said Kakeru "Ryo's eating out with her boyfriend."

"How does Soichi-kun look to you? What's your opinion?"

"I don't know. Ryo hasn't introduced us yet."

"Really?" Keiko inquired

"And speaking of boyfriends, your aunt's eating out with her latest man."

"¥10,000 it doesn't last a month."

"Deal." Kakeru down-fived Keiko

"Don't go gambling against Mito-chan, you two." said Nana right as the doorbell rang. "Who could that be?" Nana left to answer the door, then called back into the living room "Keiko, sweetheart, it's for you."

Keiko got up and joined Nana at the door. In the door frame was a man wearing a fancy black suit

"Can I help you?" Keiko asked uncertainly

"I have come to deliver a package for you, Aizawa-san." said the man, handing Keiko two different sized red boxes

"But... I didn't order anything." Keiko replied

"It is a gift, a dress. The sender wishes for you to wear it to her restaurant, Girovagando per Anima, this evening."

"I've heard of it. Why am I receiving a dress and invitation to a restaurant I could never afford?"

"Actually, your recent Pro paycheck would more than cover it." Nana whispered

"Am I allowed to refuse?" Keiko asked the man

"Yes. Although your beloved would be very disappointed if you do."

The word "beloved" made everything clear to Keiko: someone was giving her and Saito and chance to reconcile. Keiko went upstairs to change. The dress, worn without a bra, was a black and backless, and the front had a long loop of fabric that was worn around her neck, covering her breasts. The dress also came with matching black shoes that Keiko would put on in the entrance.

"Oh, Keiko, you look wonderful!" said Kakeru when Keiko came back downstairs

"Um, thanks, dad." Keiko replied awkwardly as she put her new shoes on

"We'll be hoping for good news." said Nana cheerily

"Don't hold your breath." Keiko replied as he closed the door

Keiko then got in the car the man had and he drove her to Girovagando per Anima.

Meanwhile at Girovagando per Anima; Saito had already arrived, wearing a formal party suit borrowed from Soji.

"Excuse me." Saito said to the restaurant guide "Buonasera, I'm Saito Shirayuki."

"Buonasera. Do you have a reservation?" the man, who had a British accent, asked

"Surely there must me a table or two open, Reginald." said Himeko, who just appeared at Saito's shoulder

"Signora Nogizaka!" the man named Reginald exclaimed in surprise "What a surprise!"

"Saito is my grandson. Open a table at once."

"Sì, Signora. Nessun problema. [Yes, Ma'am. No problem.]"

"And there's one more thing. Saito's girlfriend will be here shortly."

Saito pulled something out of his pocket and showed it to Reginald

"Ahhh, Vedo. [I see.]"

"My girl and I are going to eat first, since I need to... butter her up, shall we say. We haven't been on good terms lately. But when I signal you, like this," Saito made a hand gesture that would be the signal "Bring out two small white plates like you would for desert-"

"And put this on her plate." Reginald concluded, taking the object from Saito

"Make sure their drinks are soft drinks." said Himeko "They're old enough to drink, but we can't have them getting drunk. Until then, guard that."

"With my life." said Reginald

"Grazie, Reginald."

Saito was led to a table that had just had it's reservation cancelled and was seated to wait for Keiko.

"Alright, now I just need to think about what I'm going to say." Saito thought "But, damn, nothing comes to mind. What can I say that would make up for all these months?!" Saito sat there for almost ten minutes, but nothing in the nature of a brainwave occurred to him. Finally, Keiko arrived. "Oh, God, Buddha, there she is! Grandmother's got good taste, Keiko looks great in that. She's being led this way. She spotted me! What to say, what to do!?"

Finally Keiko sat down. Both stared at each other, both too nervous to speak. Finally, Saito found his words.

"Um... it's been a long time." Saito said with a slight laugh

"Yeah, it has." Keiko replied

"Stupid!" they both thought

"Um... I'm amazed to be invited here?" said Keiko "Um... why are we here? You could never afford this place."

"Uncle Soji lent me some.... Actually... my grandmother, Himeko Nogizaka, owns the place."

"Your grandmother!?"

"My mom's mom. She actually a bit cooler than she made her out to be."

"Really?" Keiko said

"C'mon, enough chit-chat." Himeko mumbled to herself by the entrance

"She's the one who gave you that dress." said Saito "And I must say, you look great."

"Um... thanks."

It seemed that neither could hold back the topic anymore; both bowed their heads and said "I'm sorry! No, I'm sorry!" both of them sputtered a bit and laughed briefly, but it was quickly replaced by soft dry sobs

"How did we end up like this?" Keiko asked through a sniffle "We haven't seen each other for months."

"It was me who started it. But let's eat first and calm down." said Saito, and Keiko nodded in agreement. Both of them ordered Pesto Fettuccine as their first course and ate in silence for over a half-hour. Finally, after their second course of Cotoletta, they had regained themselves and were ready to talk "(sigh) It started after you didn't get accepted onto the squad for the World Cup. You seemed so depressed. I thought the tactful thing would be to not talk about it, so I didn't."

"You were right. But I don't recall you trying to make me feel any better."

"I took it too far and we stopped talking altogether. I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry too." said Keiko "A while back, I came to Geidai to try and patch things up, and I saw you surrounded by all those girls. They were just asking to be models, weren't they?"

"Yes. And honestly speaking, I haven't been able to paint or draw anything since that day. The look you gave me then, I thought you must've hated me then."

"Saito, I could never hate you. I love you." Keiko's eyes seemed to be close to tears again "I love you and nothing will ever change that."

"I love you too." As Keiko turned away to dry her eyes, Saito gave the signal. Two men came over, one took their plates away and the other placed two small white ones in their place "I swear, I will never let you go again."

"I'm pretty sure I've heard that before." Keiko said with a slight laugh. Just then she noticed the plate in front of her. In the middle was a gold ring with a small diamond "Saito?"

Saito got up, walked to Keiko's side, knelt on one leg, and took Keiko's left hand. He moved Keiko's amethyst ring to her middle finger. Keiko's heart was pounding against her ribs.

"I swear, I will never leave you alone or make you sad again." Saito placed the diamond one on Keiko's ring finger "Keiko Aizawa... will you marry me?"

Too overcome with joy to speak, Keiko slid off her seat and kissed and hugged Saito, which Saito took as a yes.

At that moment, the band started to play "You Raise Me Up", and several couples took to the dance floor below. Keiko jerked her head in that direction and they joined the crowd.

♫ 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.

"Maybe now our families will be happy." Keiko whispered to Saito as they slow danced to the music

"I don't care what they feel, as long as we're happy together." Saito replied

♫ 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. ♫

(music intermission...)

♫ 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.... ♫

With their relationship repaired, once again, Keiko and Saito, at long last, became engaged. Since getting the blessings from their families was almost assured, the couple were the happiest they'd ever been.

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