Sunday September 23
West Didsbury, Manchester, UK
10:20 AM BST
On the previous day, Manchester United defeated Huddersfield Town by a score of 3-0 (September 22) in a visit to the market town from West Yorkshire. As Noriko promised after the match against Everton just 8 days ago, she was preparing to join Yusuke on their way to spend the day doing all sorts of things in Manchester. Just as Yusuke said himself, it was his way to make things up with Noriko and to start their friendship on a better footing.
'I hope he will like this outfit.' Noriko thought as she looked at herself in the mirror. She was wearing a turquoise sweater and dark blue jeans, both highlighting her beautiful womanly frame.
Noriko then went down the apartment stairs where she came by Kakeru and Nana.
"Ohayou." Nana said. "That's quite a nice outfit you're wearing. Is it the first time you put it on?"
"I never wore this before, so yes."
"Are you going on a date or something?" Nana asked.
“N-no! Yusuke-san and I are going for a tour in Downtown. But you can be sure it's not a romantic date." Noriko replied firmly.
"OK. I guess we can say it is just a 'normal' date." Kakeru replied.
"What do you mean by that?"
"It's nothing at all, Noriko. The first time I went out with Kakeru, it was just a shopping tour, and then we went to eat together in a fast food restaurant, It was nothing like a date as some would like it to be, but it was both an enjoyable day and a good start in the end." Nana said.
"If anything, I was the one who thought of it as a date back in the days." Kakeru added.
"Whatever..." Noriko said boringly just as the doorbell rang.
Noriko went to answer it. As she expected, Yusuke was standing in front of the door, dressed with a black jacket, a white t-shirt, and jeans. "Hi, Noriko-san. You look nice today.”
"Thanks. I was going to say the same thing about you." Noriko replied before she turned towards Kakeru and Nana. "Well, I'm off now."
"Have fun, you two." Nana replied before Noriko left.
"Are you thinking of doing what I'm thinking about?" Kakeru asked Nana nearly a minute later.
"I do. Let's go!"
Meanwhile, Yusuke started driving the Chevrolet Camaro he was given when he just joined Manchester United. He and Noriko were on their way to Manchester city centre.
"So how was Friday night with your friends?" Yusuke asked.
"It was good, like any occasion for women to sit and talk about everything in our lives around a few glasses of good wine. What about you after the Everton match? I read in the papers that you had a team dinner."
"The team dinner was a moment to get the team together outside of matches. Many brought their wives or girlfriends with them. Others like me are still single though, but we still feel as part of the family."
"That's good to know. It’s that feeling that is the bond for any great team." Noriko said before she heard a particular song being played on the car’s radio. "Can you turn up the volume? I love this band."
"Who are they?"
"A Manchester-based band named The Courteeners. I still enjoy a lot of Japanese music as well as plenty of pop songs in English when they sound any good. But when it comes to music from Manchester, they are the only ones I listen to as a true fan."
"Sure, let's listen to it a little louder." Yusuke turned the volume up.
We could go walking
You could put your arm through mine
We'll take a bottle, and forget about the time
And sway home later.
I'll take a picture, and you won't want me to
I'll take another, God you look amazing you
You look amazing, you.
It could just be us two
We could make some plans
I could laugh at your jokes that I don't understand
Make demands of me
It's not just your beautiful
It's not just your beautiful head
That makes me feel this way.
As Yusuke caught the meaning of the song's lyrics, he turned his gaze towards Noriko while the latter was enjoying the song. 'You're very beautiful, but there's really more inside of you indeed.' Yusuke thought.
"So where are we going first?" Noriko asked.
"Well, I thought of starting with a coffee and a little pastry by Deansgate. What do you say?"
And so Yusuke completed the 20-minute drive between West Didsbury to a café located just by the main and longest road known to the locals and tourists as Deansgate, going through in the heart of Manchester itself. Having found a place to park the car, Yusuke and Noriko went inside the café.
"Is there something you like? I'll pay for both of us." Yusuke asked.
"You don't have to..." Noriko replied.
"With my wages, I sure can afford it. I really insist for this time." Yusuke added.
"Well... I like the little mixed berry mousse. For a drink, the macchiato will do fine."
Then Yusuke made the order to the clerk at the front counter: "One macchiato, one cappuccino, and two mixed berry mousse cakes please. It's my treat."
"Right away, sir." the young woman working as a clerk replied. After Yusuke paid for his order, the clerk looked towards her colleague. "The man who just bought the mousse cakes and the coffees... Is that him?"
"In real flesh." the colleague confirmed that it was Yusuke, the Manchester United player, indeed.
Yusuke and Noriko sat quietly across from each other at one of the tables near the front window. For a moment, they stared at one another in an awkward silence, and neither could think of anything to say.
'This is not good. I need to find something to talk about, fast!' Yusuke thought.
'Is he going to make the first move? I don't know how to react in something like this.' Noriko thought as well.
Yusuke took a sip of his cappuccino, and then initiated the conversation: "So, Kakeru told me about your dream to become a future first-team doctor at United. It goes well hand in hand between your fan side and your skills. Still, who is your role model, if there's any, in your way to become a sports doctor?"
"There are a few, but there is only one woman who does what I aspire to become in a big club in professional football. Her name is Eva Carneiro; she used to be the first-team doctor at Chelsea Football Club." Noriko replied.
"Yeah, I remember now. I always wondered who the woman on the Chelsea bench was, so thanks for the answer."
"It's my pleasure, Yusuke-san. How is the adaptation to life in Manchester going in general?"
"It's really going well. Besides, I have the best friends I can have around in Kakeru and Nana." Yusuke replied.
"So far, I have seen you borrow a couple of video games from us. Besides that, is there something else you do in your life outside of football?" Noriko asked after sipping her coffee.
"I'm currently taking a couple of long-distance classes in economics. I just can't be too sure of how well a playing career goes, so I have to prepare myself for anything."
"Speaking of playing career, I read that you once were a part of Borussia Dortmund's academy after the middle of your second year in high school. How did you get recruited by them?" Noriko asked.
"I went to play with a team of the best players from Japanese high schools, and we played in the Youth Soccer Conference in Germany. We won the tournament over there against the Bayern Munich youth team in the final. Of course, Bayern had their scouts watching. However, Borussia Dortmund also had a scout watching me, so he showed me the facilities, and allowed me to train with their youth setup for a short time. I was impressed, so I signed all the papers to make the jump official in that summer."
"Kakeru told me you were one of his fiercest opponents in high school, and that you had everything it takes to succeed over there especially after he learned you spent time studying in Dortmund. What didn't turn out right in Germany, Yusuke-san?"
Yusuke took a pause, and took another sip of his cappuccino before he gave his reply: "In Dortmund... When I joined their academy, I was taught many good tips to improve my game to top professional level. Even to this day, I use what I learned from their coaches, and then I build upon it by myself. However, adaptation to a full-time life in Germany proved to be more challenging than I expected to be after joining Borussia despite having spent some time there."
"Did you have a girlfriend there? It could have helped you to settle down a little bit."
"No. I only thought about working hard to become a much better player, and I cut myself off from anything that could distract me, so much that people around me gave me the nickname 'M. Serious' back then. However, I forgot that I was still a teenager with many things to do and enjoy in life outside of the game. In the end, I was very homesick, I was depressed, football became a job rather than something to enjoy, and then my performances suffered a lot as a result. The higher-ups at Borussia finally lost faith in me, so that's how I ended up in Yokohama. It was only when I got back to Japan that football became something fun again for me instead of being a job. And then you know the rest of the story."
"My... That was quite a ride." Noriko said.
"Yeah, but it was not the best ride. I was clearly not ready to something as drastic as that at such a young age." Yusuke replied.
"Do you think you are ready for this new chapter in Manchester because of that past experience?"
"I always believe that everything in life comes for a reason, that everything any of us goes through is a preparation for what’s coming next. Perhaps I would be a Dortmund player by now, and then I would not be in Manchester with my best friends if things turned out differently. What happened in Dortmund is in the past now, so I can say that I moved forward. There are no regrets."
"That's a good way to take life as it comes indeed." Noriko replied, which got Yusuke smiling.
While the conversation between Yusuke and Noriko was going on, Kakeru and Nana already arrived in the area at a short time ago. Standing well hidden behind a car and wearing a hat to conceal her identity, Nana was having a clear look at the scene through a small pair of binoculars.
"I knew they would stop by Pâtisserie Valérie. Yusuke was there once, and he really liked the place. Noriko always goes there for a snack when she goes shopping at the Arndale with her friends." Nana said.
"How is it going between them?" Kakeru asked. He was wearing shades and a baseball cap to conceal his own identity as well.
"There was an awkward silence at first, but it looks like they are getting more and more comfortable with each other in a one-on-one conversation. Noriko's body language is looking good as well."
"If you say so, then it's a good sign." Kakeru said.
"After they are finished here, where do you think they will go?" Nana asked.
"Well, Yusuke told me that he wanted to wait for the right time before visiting one particular place in Manchester as a soccer fan. Coincidentally, it is the one place outside Old Trafford that would get Noriko reacting like a kid in a candy shop every time. I would not be surprised if they go there today."
"Oh, it looks like they have finished their cakes. They are leaving now." Nana remarked.
Back to Yusuke and Noriko:
"So where are you leading me now?” Noriko asked.
"It's a place that I'm sure you will love to be in although it will be my first time there. I was surprised when I was told that the Museum was moved to Manchester in 2012." Yusuke replied.
"I think I know where you're getting at, and I can't wait to be there." Noriko finished.
After leaving Pâtisserie Valérie, Yusuke and Noriko took a short drive towards a parking lot on the site of the Manchester Arndale Shopping Centre. From there, it was only a short walk through the most buzzing area of all Manchester during the day.
"A good thing you told me about this shopping mall. It will save us a long walk." Yusuke said.
"Since we have plenty to do in the area, it’s better to park the car there." Noriko replied.
Walking further outside of the mall, the massive building that hosts the National Football Museum came in sight. The museum itself is a 6-story building with a distinctive sloping form and fully glazed facades. In less time than it took, Yusuke and Noriko arrived in front of the main entrance located at the bottom end of the massive sloping structure.
"Admission is free, but the guide pamphlet costs £1." Noriko said to Yusuke.
"Fine by me. Let's make sure we both buy an unlimited individual day pass each if you want to take on the different mini-games that involve a ball. I read it's only £10 each."
"I don't know if..."
"If you're not interested, then I'll just buy one for myself." Yusuke said.
"It's OK. I'll buy one as well." Noriko replied.
After going past the main entrance and buying a guide, Yusuke and Noriko arrived into a lobby that is dubbed as the Hall of Fame. It is the place where are honored the players, managers, and teams that made a lasting and unique contribution to the game, the characters, the innovators, the winners, and the entertainers. Even on a Sunday, lots of people and families were among the visitors.
"There's a touchscreen here. Is there someone in particular you want to have a look at?" Yusuke asked.
"I know more or less everything there is about United. However, Dad told me a lot about Brian Clough being the best coach around when he was a teenager. Let's have a look at Clough."
Upon clicking the link on Brian Clough's name, video clips, and a description of Clough's career highlights appeared.
"His best feats are about taking Derby County and Nottingham Forest, 2 struggling provincial teams with little winning history, to the top of English and even European football. That would be like if Sunderland or West Bromwich Albion won the Premier League, and then go on to win the Champions League." Noriko said.
"He promoted Derby County from the second tier league to the top tier league in 1969, and then won the title in 1972 with them. That's quite impressive to go to the top in 3 years after promotion, even by today’s standards." Yusuke remarked.
"Yeah, but he reached his full potential as a manager at Nottingham Forest: 1 First Division title, 2 European Cups, 4 League Cups, and more. Dad always liked the man for his charisma and outspokenness despite all the controversial things he said, even when it was about Sir Alex Ferguson." Noriko replied.
As the video clips continued playing, a classic interview extract from the BBC came up.
BBC reporter: How do you react though when someone, you know, from your playing staff comes up, and says "Boss, I think you got... I think you're doing this wrongly?"
Brian Clough: Good. Well, I ask him which way he thinks it should to be done. We get down to it, and then we talk about it for 20 minutes. And then we decide that I was right.
"That's quite a reply." Yusuke said between chuckles.
"My dad would say 'Classic Clough.'" Noriko replied.
"Hey, we're just getting started. Let's go and look for more stuff upstairs."
Moving up one floor through the escalator, Yusuke and Noriko arrived to the first floor of the museum. As they walked their way towards the entrance of the first zone to visit, they came up facing with quite the most unexpected feature for a museum that is dedicated to the history of the beautiful game.
"A statue of Michael Jackson... Why is this here?" Yusuke asked.
"It's because Fulham's then owner erected a statue of his friend Michael Jackson after the latter passed away. This statue was placed in front of the Craven Cottage stadium between 2011 and 2013, the year the new owners bought Fulham F.C."
"I see. That owner sure valued his friendship with the King of Pop very highly if he honored him in such fashion."
The tour of Level 1 started with Yusuke and Noriko visiting a zone where artifacts, such as the first written book of laws of the game in 1863 or the shirt of the first ever international match, are displayed. Then they went ahead to the zone named "Fans", then to an area with interactive screens about most league clubs in England, and towards a small theater where they watched a 10-minute video showcasing a month in English football at all levels. Finally, Yusuke and Noriko arrived at the first zone where a vast selection of club trophies was shown.
"Plenty of pieces of silverware here are famous, but there are also others that are not." Noriko said.
"I recognize the Premier League trophy here. This is what Kakeru, Nana, and I are fighting for 38 matches. But what are the other trophies shown here?" Yusuke asked.
"There's the FA Cup here, arguably one of the most important trophies to fight for. We have also the League Cup, but it doesn't have the same prestige as the FA Cup. There's the old Championship trophy." Noriko said before she spotted the most ancient trophy in display. "And here's the original version of the FA Cup from 1896. It's the oldest trophy here."
"It really is the most impressive trophy cabinet I've ever seen."
"Yeah, but there's one feature that I like more than anything in this particular area: lifting one of the trophies." Noriko said.
"How can you do that, Noriko-san?"
"Right here: the Lift the Trophy feature allows people to virtually lift a trophy, and get photographed with it. All I have to do is scan my ticket, and then pose in front of the camera with the tablet associated with the virtual trophy. It will look like I'm posing with the real trophy. The photo can be downloaded after I use my ticket's code at home. Is there anything you want to pose with, Yusuke-san?"
"I'll pass on that one. I don't want to touch a trophy, not even virtually until I win the real thing myself. A little matter of superstition, I guess." Yusuke replied.
"If you say so, I'll go with the Premier League trophy for myself. We last won it in 2013, but it feels like an eternity since I saw our former captain Nemanja Vidić hoisting that trophy."
After taking the picture, the visit continued. Yusuke and Noriko went in the section dedicated to international football, and saw several items such as Pele's shirt from the 1958 World Cup, the balls from the first World Cup final in 1930, Maradona's shirt from the 1986 match with the "Hand of God" incident, a red shirt worn by one of the English players in the 1966 World Cup final, and a replica of the Jules Rimet trophy – the original FIFA World Cup. Before they left for the floor above, Yusuke and Noriko made one last stop.
"The Match of the Day Commentator Challenge... I guess this is where you take over the real commentator in a classic moment. Am I right?" Yusuke asked.
"Yep! There's the script of the original commentary written at the bottom of the screen, but people can also improvise while your performance is recorded, and then you can download the short clip at home just like the photo. The classic moments are more about English football, so I don't think there’s anything interesting for you."
"Well, since you speak English without a foreign accent, I would like to see you try." Yusuke said.
"You really want me to do it?" Noriko asked.
"Sure. I will have a go next time when my English has a lesser accent." Yusuke replied.
"OK then. Just don't laugh at me though."
After Noriko moved to the designated area, and chose her classic clip, the feature started with a standard pre-recorded introduction by the real host of Match of the Day, Gary Lineker. Noriko only had to do as if Gary Lineker introduced her to the viewers, and then just do the commentary.
"Hello. Welcome to this special National Football Museum edition of Match of the Day. We've got a treat in store for you today: a classic match with a very special commentary. And this is who we had in the studio. Hello there." Gary said.
"Hello, Gary." Noriko replied to keep some broadcasting authenticity as her face appeared on the video.
"It's a commentary I'll never forget. Let's see what you think."
The recording then moved on to the featured video clip.
"Thanks, Gary. Welcome to Old Trafford for this World Cup qualifier. It's England, in white, against Greece, in blue. Let's get back to the action."
The clip showed the very last moments of the last qualifying match for the 2002 FIFA World Cup (October 6, 2001).
"You can feel the tension. All England supporters are praying for a goal. It's the 93rd minute, and David Beckham will take the free kick... Beckham... YEEEEEESSS!!! DAVID BECKHAM'S DONE IT IN STOPPAGE TIME!!! We're tied at 2-2! England may go automatically to South Korea and Japan! David Beckham deserves this goal; he has virtually played Greece on his own. This is a fantastic moment for David Beckham and for England. Back to you, Gary."
"That wasn't too bad for a first attempt, was it? That certainly had me glued to the screen. Brilliant! Well, that’s all for me. Thanks for watching this special National Football Museum Match of the Day Commentator Challenge, and I hope we'll see you again very soon." Gary gave the concluding comments to the video recording.
When the recording was done, Noriko went back to Yusuke. "It was a clip from the time when I was still living in England. Even today, I still have goosebumps watching it; it was huge in the whole country." Noriko said.
"You did that very well. I liked that. I guess I would have lost it too if I described a match with Japan scoring a late goal to clinch a World Cup berth." Yusuke replied.
Moving on to Level 2, Yusuke and Noriko took on a few more zones with various themes such as the penalty shootout, the rules and tactics over different eras, how the game is played by people of all abilities, the medical side of the game, and the evolution of the player's equipment. In the penalty shootout mini-game, Yusuke displayed his ruthless finishing from 12 yards. However, Noriko also proved to have a good shot of her own when she stepped up in the mini-game. In the shot stopper mini-game, Yusuke and Noriko took turns as the game was about putting your hand quickly on the ball as it appears on the screen. Neither Yusuke nor Noriko had the best goalkeeper reflexes, but they had fun in the end.
"Well... If there's one position I would never play as, not even among friends, it would be as a goalkeeper." Noriko said.
"Me neither, but it was fun." Yusuke replied. "Before we go up to Level 3, I saw a spot for freestyle skills earlier. Let's have a go there."
Meanwhile, Kakeru and Nana were already in the museum, and they were watching their friends from a safe distance.
"Yusuke and Noriko are really enjoying their time here." Kakeru said softly into Nana's ear.
"Wait until they get to the freestyle zone. Noriko won't be able to resist her instincts even if she shows some reluctance." Nana replied.
As Yusuke and Noriko reached the freestyle zone, the latter was greeted by voices coming from 2 children: "Noriko!"
"Brendan! Claire! Hello! What are you doing here?" Noriko asked in reply.
"We're going to test our skills in this zone. Mom and Dad are with us, and they have the camera to film us." Claire replied.
"Hello, M. and Mrs. Walker."
"Hello, Noriko. Nice to see you around." Mrs. Walker greeted back.
"Same about you, Mrs. Walker."
"Is that Yusuke Saeki with you?" Brendan asked.
"Yes, I am." Yusuke replied to Brendan.
"Are you two together like my mom and my dad are?" Claire asked.
Keeping her cool, Noriko replied: "No, Yusuke and I have just become friends not so long ago. He is a very good friend of Kakeru and Nana since they were a lot younger."
"Nice to meet you, M. Saeki. I'm Timothy Walker, and this is my wife, Olivia. Our 11-year-old son's name is Brendan, and our 10-year-old daughter's name is Claire. We also live in West Didsbury, and we have known Noriko, Kakeru Aizawa and Nana Mishima since they arrived from Japan. We are all from the same neighborhood as good acquaintances." M. Walker shook hands with Yusuke as he introduced himself and the rest of the family.
"Nice to meet you all." Yusuke replied before he turned to Brendan. "So, Brendan, do you want to show me how good you are?"
Before each visitor took his or her turn, a difficulty level is selected. Then the freestyle coach working at the museum shows each person the best tips and techniques to improve ball control, and the visitor has 30 seconds to match the freestyle coach's moves. In the allowed time span of 30 seconds, Brendan started with a reverse toe bounce before he started juggling the ball, and then performed a few head flicks in succession with the ball. However, he lost control of the ball twice in the process. When it was Claire's turn, she started with a pendulum flick up, and then she juggled with the ball. Claire did a couple of chest flicks before juggling the ball at her feet again after every chest flick. Where Claire outperformed her older brother was that she only lost control of the ball once for the full 30 seconds.
"That was very good, Claire. Where did you learn to do that?" Yusuke asked.
"Nana Mishima showed me a number of tricks when I see her playing with us and other friends in the park. She says I'm getting very good at this for my age." Claire replied.
"I sure can see why Nana thinks that way." Noriko said.
"Do you want to try, Noriko? I know you can do this." Claire asked.
"Yeah, Noriko. Please do it." Brendan added.
"Don't push Noriko, you two." Olivia said to her children.
"It's fine. I will do this." Noriko replied.
"What difficulty level for you, Miss?" the freestyle coach asked.
"Let's go for expert." Noriko replied.
'Expert? I hope she knows what she is doing.' Yusuke thought perplexedly.
After the freestyle coach showed 2 of his most advanced individual moves, Noriko took her place in the middle of the small arena, and waited for the signal to begin. Given the go, Noriko immediately performed a Maradona 7, in which she played the ball with her right foot, then the left foot, then the right thigh, then the left thigh, then the right shoulder, then the left shoulder, and finally the head.
"Genius, Noriko!" Brendan exclaimed.
'She is really good with this.' Yusuke thought.
After Noriko dropped the ball back to her juggling feet, she performed a difficult move called the Alternate Lemmens Around the World, in which she kicked the ball up with her weaker foot, then performed a really high jump, and then circled her strong foot twice around the ball in mid-air without a middle touch between the 2 revolutions before she regained control of the ball, and continued juggling. The crowd of visitors watching could only give a round of applause at the sight.
"That was awesome, Noriko!" Claire exclaimed after Noriko was done with the display.
"Very tasty!" Brendan added.
"Thanks, guys. I'm glad you enjoyed it."
Then Yusuke did his own display, and showed his top class skills with the ball too. After he was done, Yusuke, Noriko, and the Walkers had one last talk before they would go into different directions.
"So, where are you two going now?" Olivia asked Noriko.
"We are done with Level 1 and Level 2, so we are going up the stairs, and see the current exhibitions there. We should be done very shortly."
"I see. We still have a big chunk of this floor to visit yet. See you around then." Timothy said.
"Yeah." Noriko replied to Timothy before she turned her attention to the 2 children. "I'll see you next time soon then. Take care."
"Thanks. See you next time too." Claire and Brendan said altogether.
"I didn't bring a marker to sign autographs for you, but I will keep that in mind for next time. I promise." Yusuke said.
"Nice! Thank you." Brendan replied.
Then Yusuke and Noriko moved on.
"I didn't know you were that good with the ball. If you combine that display with the good shots you took in the penalty shootout area, have you ever thought of playing for a women's team? I think you would have done well." Yusuke asked.
"Nope. I love this game as a fan, I know I'm a good freestyler, and I use football to keep myself in very good shape, but that's about it. I don't think I would have enjoyed being part of an organized football team as much as Nana does. I'm fine being both a medical student and a fan of the game."
"If you say so, I fully respect that, Noriko-san. Still, you have my admiration after what I saw of you today." Yusuke replied with a big smile on his face.
Back to Kakeru and Nana, watching Yusuke and Noriko from some distance inside the museum:
"What did I say? She just couldn't resist it." Nana said.
"From the looks of it, I think Yusuke was also impressed by Noriko. He will be the first to acknowledge it." Kakeru added.
"I know. Even I was impressed when I saw her showing those skills for the first time a few years ago. It's a little bit of shame that she only sees playing football as a hobby."
"I agree; she would have been a top class player." Kakeru finished.
After a rather quick visit of the exhibitions on Levels 3 and 4, Yusuke and Noriko walked outside of the museum after what was a very enjoyable 90-minute visit for them. For the next thing to do, they were not quite decided on it yet.
"So do you have a preference on what to do next? I have a few ideas in mind, but I would like to have your word on it first." Yusuke asked.
"I don't have one. What do you have in mind?" Noriko returned the question.
"I thought of going to the Printworks for a movie, but I wasn't sure if they have good movies these days."
"Not really. It's better to wait until October up to December for good movies. Even then, my favorite place for movies is the AMC Cinema on Deansgate. Nothing against the Printworks, but I enjoy movies at the AMC more." Noriko replied.
"Then I will keep that in mind. There used to be a Ferris wheel not far from here, am I right?" Yusuke asked.
"Yeah, there was one at Piccadilly Gardens, just 2 streets south from the National Football Museum. It has been dismantled some time ago, and I can understand that since they wanted to make way for more green space in the area."
"I agree with them. Piccadilly Gardens is a very nice spot as it is now." Yusuke replied before something came into his thoughts. "Well, if you want, we can go to the Arndale, and see if they have a few good things that we can buy."
"That sounds like a good idea. Let's go in there." Noriko finished.
After a short walk, Yusuke and Noriko got back into the Manchester Arndale, still unaware that Kakeru and Nana were still following them. The first stop was a small store selling clothes for both men and women.
"Something's interesting you?" Yusuke asked.
"Yeah, there's a beige 3/4 trench coat. It will be very handy for the upcoming fall and then spring. Want to see me wearing it?" Noriko replied.
Noriko then put the trench coat over her sweater. The product was a perfect fit for her.
"You look really nice with this on." Yusuke complimented.
"Thanks. I'll buy it then. Want to give me your appreciation if I try a few sweatshirts?" Noriko asked.
"No need to ask."
Noriko picked up a few sweatshirts, and wore each one for Yusuke to give his impressions. Yusuke liked some of them, but also was not shy in letting his facial expression speak when the choice didn't look good on Noriko. After Noriko finished trying her clothes, Yusuke went looking for men’s clothing as well.
"You seem to like leather jackets since you're looking thoroughly at their stocks." Noriko said.
"I do. I especially like this black bomber jacket."
"I think it will suit just fine with you."
Suddenly, Yusuke turned around, and looked for someone. However, there was nobody in sight.
"What's wrong?" Noriko asked.
"Nothing... I had the impression that we have company." Yusuke replied.
"It must be your imagination. Anyway, I'm sure some people would easily recognize you in this city."
However, what Yusuke unknowingly felt was Kakeru and Nana's presence. They came really close to the store before they backed off into some distance.
"That was really close. I thought for a moment that he saw us." Kakeru said.
"I know. Too close." Nana added.
After buying clothes, Yusuke and Noriko moved to the food court for lunch. However, a stranger accidentally ran into Yusuke.
"I'm sorry, mate." the stranger said.
"Well, make sure to be careful next time." Yusuke replied.
"Are you okay?" Noriko asked.
"Yeah, but I wonder how he managed to run into me with that much space..." Yusuke said, but then put his hand in his jacket's pocket, and realized that his wallet was stolen by the stranger. "HEY! THIEF!"
The pickpocketing stranger started running as he saw Yusuke running after him.
"HELP! THAT MAN STOLE MY FRIEND'S WALLET!” Noriko shouted to call for help in the mall.
Meanwhile, Kakeru and Nana saw what happened, and the thief was running towards them. Without any hesitation, they quickly tackled the thief down, and stopped him in his tracks.
"I think this belongs to my friend.” Kakeru said when he took Yusuke's wallet out of the thief's grasp.
"You won't get away with this, especially not with us around." Nana added.
"Kakeru? Nana? What are you two doing here?" Yusuke asked as he positively identified his friends as the ones who stopped the thief.
"Well... We just arrived for shopping when we heard someone calling for help against a thief and..." Kakeru tried to make believe that he wasn't aware of the date's whereabouts. "Is this yours?"
"Yes indeed." Yusuke replied.
"Why are you two here?" Noriko was also surprised to see Kakeru and Nana in the shopping center.
"It's... it's just a coincidence, that's all." Nana defended herself.
Alongside Noriko, a few security guards also arrived on the scene. The security guards took the thief into detention before they asked Yusuke, Noriko, Kakeru, and Nana to explain what exactly happened. Once everything was solved about the thief incident, the 4 friends had lunch in the food court. Finally, Kakeru and Nana explained what they did during the day. Obviously, Noriko was mostly upset.
"I just don't believe it. I told you it was not a romantic date, and yet you spied on us since we left?" Noriko asked.
"Gomen, gomen (Sorry, sorry). I admit that it was mostly silly from us. It’s just that we never saw you interacting with a man like this before, so we wanted to be sure everything would be alright." Nana replied.
"We really are sorry. It won't happen again, we promise." Kakeru apologized.
"For crying out loud..." Noriko mumbled.
"Well, I guess we can let it slide for this time, Noriko-san. After all, I owe Kakeru and Nana that for stopping that thief. The day could have been a lot worse if it wasn't for them." Yusuke said.
Noriko said nothing for a few seconds, but then gave her answer: "Fine, but just for this time."
"Thank you." Nana said.
"Anyway, it's a good thing that you two are here. We need to buy groceries, and having 4 pairs of hands for that is welcome." Noriko said.
"Fine by me too." Yusuke finished.
After shopping and groceries were all done, Kakeru, Nana, Yusuke, and Noriko carried their bags to the parking spot where Kakeru's Nissan Qashqai was. After Kakeru, Nana, and Noriko's groceries were loaded in the vehicle, Noriko gave Nana the bags containing Yusuke's own groceries.
"What are you doing, Noriko? That's Yusuke's groceries." Nana asked.
"I know. It's just that Yusuke-san and I have another place to go, and we can't afford to risk the ice cream to melt while we're still out. Just put it in the fridge until we're back." Noriko replied.
"Where are you going then?" Kakeru asked.
"That's only our business as far as I'm concerned." Yusuke replied before he gave Kakeru the bags containing Noriko's clothes. "Make sure to take these clothes back home too. They are Noriko-san's."
"Why do we have to do this?" Kakeru was still puzzled.
"Well, my Camaro doesn't have enough space in the trunk for everything while your compact crossover has plenty of space. I think you can bear with it after what happened today, Kakeru. Am I right, Noriko-san?"
"Yep!" Noriko replied.
"Let's go now, Noriko-san." Yusuke said before he and Noriko got on the move towards their parking spot.
"Hey, wait!" Kakeru begged for a reply that never came.
"It was a really stupid idea. Who thought about spying on them in the first place?" Nana asked.
"We were both thinking the same thing at the same time, so we both deserved this." Kakeru replied.
Both Kakeru and Nana sighed as they realized that their common idea led to this little "retribution" from their friends.
When Yusuke and Noriko left the Arndale, it was around 4:00 PM. Located in the Salford borough and following a 17-minute drive, the last destination to be visited was a place named MediaCityUK. That massive complex of buildings and television studios was built on part of what used to be the Port of Manchester, on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal. Yusuke and Noriko were taking a walk on the banks of the Ship Canal and at the heart of the complex.
"You picked quite a wonderful place for a walk. It's a shame that I never really paid attention to this particular place after all those years." Noriko said.
"When the people from Manchester United flew me on a helicopter tour over the city on the day I signed. I really enjoyed seeing MediaCityUK from above, so you can imagine how it's even better for me to be here at ground level. It's a really nice place for a walk." Yusuke replied.
"I know." Noriko said before she started laughing at the thought of something.
"What's funny?" Yusuke asked.
"I still can't forget the look on Kakeru and Nana's faces right before we left the Arndale. That was priceless in the context."
"Yeah, I agree. Just that little punishment was fine, but it was quite funny to see their reaction indeed."
"At least, they are not watching us for this part now." Noriko said.
"You know what? I think we can drop the honorifics between us now. After all, I really enjoy speaking to you as a friend."
"If you say so, Noriko, I'm glad to."
"What did you want to say, Yusuke?"
"I'm really happy that we are getting really comfortable around each other after quite an awkward start between us. Still, I wonder if there was a reason why you were not comfortable with me at first. No matter how you will answer, I will take your word." Yusuke said.
Noriko hesitated for a few seconds, but then she saw Yusuke's sincerity in his eyes, warming her to give a genuine answer.
"To tell you the truth... When I saw you in person for the first time, you reminded me of Suguru-san somehow. I know it doesn't make any sense, but I was very troubled. I'm trying to get over the last step of the mourning process, but it's also the hardest step for me to make. So you can imagine why I felt uneasy around you when I felt something that reminded me of him." Noriko said.
"Back when I entered middle school, I looked up to Suguru-san as my senior and a role model. Once I was depressed because I was unable of getting through the opposition's defense, but Suguru-san was the first who came to cheer me up and say that I am really tough to play against. Since that day, I aspired to become like him as a player and as a person. I used to mimic all of his techniques, but I also learned with time that what I really wanted to do was to become an inspiring force for others, not only on the pitch, but also off it. Making others around me becoming better in what they do, that's Suguru-san's real legacy, and I want to hold it up." Yusuke described his side of the story.
"I see; that's why I felt a similarity between you and him when I first saw you. I really hope you will succeed as long as you remain who you are, Yusuke."
"Thanks. I know that I may never be as good as he would have been. But if I can live up to his legacy while remaining true to myself, I will be happy."
"By going this far after you endured failure in Dortmund, and then climbed back up to become part of a bigger club, you already achieved a lot. Also, you are not alone in your path to become the player you were meant to be. That's important." Noriko said.
"I really enjoy talking with you like this. You know that?"
"Same for me, Yusuke. Now that I think of it, I somewhat regret that we didn't enjoy a time like this earlier after we first met."
"Me too." Yusuke said before he took a look on his watch. "Oh, I think we should head home now."
"Yeah, I think we have done quite a lot for today." Noriko replied.
From there, Yusuke and Noriko moved the car, and went on for a 20-minute drive between MediaCityUK and West Didsbury. Arriving in front of the duplex, Yusuke already parked his car, and followed Noriko until down the stairs at her doorstep. Yusuke had to wait for his groceries, which were kept by Nana inside the apartment.
"There you go." Noriko said as she handed Yusuke the groceries bag. "Kakeru and Nana are not really mad at us based on what I saw of them."
"I think they will leave you alone from next time on." Yusuke said.
"I had a really great time today. Thank you a lot, Yusuke."
"You're welcome. I really enjoyed it too."
"Going out today with you is a nice belated birthday gift." Noriko said.
"Oh, when was your birthday?"
"It was on Thursday. September 20 is my birthday. That's why I was with the girls from medical school on Friday evening." Noriko replied.
"Well, even if I'm late to wish it... Happy Birthday, Noriko."
"Thank you, Yusuke."
"Should we have this kind of time together again?" Yusuke asked.
"Yes, I would like to. Next time, I will be the one showing you other places."
"See you soon then, Noriko." Yusuke finished.
Noriko then turned on her heels, and walked up the stairs and towards her own doorstep. Meanwhile, Yusuke had something else in his thoughts: 'If she looks back now, it means she's genuinely interested. Come on, give me that smile, and be on your way.'
As if instinct guided Noriko, she turned around, and glanced at Yusuke with a smile. In return, Yusuke smiled and waved at Noriko before the latter entered her apartment.
"Yes! It might be only one step, but things are going for sure in the right direction." Yusuke happily said to himself out loud.
It's not just your beautiful
It's not just your beautiful head
That makes me feel this way.
But we're excited
We're exalted and united
Let's fill our boots
And start all over again.