Toshiya had long realized that a taxi ride to the stadium was always a good time to relax a bit and think. He had his own car, but sometimes he preferred to let someone else do the driving, particularly when he wanted to spend some time in quiet reflection.
Today, however, his thoughts were more on the coming game than the decision he was in the process of finalizing. It was never a good idea to let worries about the future affect the present, particularly when the present was a fast-approaching game with a team equal in strength and skill to the Warriors. Toshi let his mind dwell on possible strategies for the upcoming battle on the diamond, and put aside thoughts of the Majors.
As the taxi drew up to the stadium entrance, Toshi saw the usual crowd of fans waiting for him. The group consisted largely of young girls who squealed and waved, trying to catch his attention, but there were a few young boys as well, along with their fathers, who waited eagerly for a chance to ask for an autograph. Toshi smiled, and signaled for the driver to let him out so that he could greet his fans.
He always tried to be welcoming of the fans' attention, and willingly signed autographs and chatted briefly with the awestruck girls who hung around the stadium, hoping to see him up close. Today, it seemed to take longer than usual, but at last he had signed the last ball and nodded to the last girl, and was free to head into the stadium.
As he passed through the entrance, a young woman approached and fell into step beside him. Toshi smiled a welcome when he saw it was Haruka.
"I see you are as popular as ever with the fangirls," Haruka laughed. "How many autographs was it today?"
"I lost count!" Toshi exclaimed. "It did seem to be more than usual this time..."
"Well, it's an important game today, is it not? Important games draw bigger crowds, and that means more adoring Toshi-kun fans!"
"I suppose you're right," Toshi agreed with a smile. "I'm glad to see you, Haruka. I was wondering if you would be coming today."
"When have I not made it to a Warrior's game played at home?" Haruka demanded good-humoredly. "You know I am one of your most faithful fans! I never miss a game if I am in town."
"I know," Toshi replied. "I wasn't sure if you were back from your trip as yet."
"Just got back today. Sorry I didn't call you... but I knew I'd see you here."
They walked in companionable silence until they reached the passageway leading to the locker room.
"See you after the game?" Toshi asked.
"Of course!" smiled Haruka. "I'll wait for you in the usual place. While we have a bite of something to eat, you can tell me what you've decided to do."
Toshiya laughed. "How do you know I've made a decision? I haven't said anything about it..."
"You don't need to say anything, I can tell," Haruka replied. "It's just... well, you don't look worried anymore!"
Toshi blushed a little at the realization that his inner turmoil had been so evident to all.
"I should have known you'd notice something like that, Haruka," he said. "I do have much to tell you..."
"Very good!" Haruka answered, pleased. "Until then, Toshi, do your best in the game! I'll be cheering you on for a win!"
Toshi gave a little bow before turning to head down the passage.
"I'll definitely do my best, Haruka. I'll be counting on your cheers, as usual."
"You and your teammates played well today, Toshi," Haruka commented, looking at Toshiya as she sipped her cup of steaming hot tea. "It's too bad in a way that they didn't provide more of a challenge."
"It was a good game, we were ready for them. But it's true - it didn't turn out to be quite the challenge I was expecting from that team. Even so, it was fun."
"Fun isn't quite good enough anymore, though, is it? That's why you've decided to go to America - for the new challenges it will offer."
"Yes, that's it, really," agreed Toshi. "I had a feeling you wouldn't be surprised, but for you to read me so easily..."
He scratched the back of his neck, a sheepish smile on his face.
"How long have we known each other? Besides, it's shown on your face, each time the NPB's stronger teams have failed to challenge the Warriors."
"Ah, so I really am easy to read," Toshi sighed. "Still, it wasn't so easy to connect feeling... insufficiently challenged with feeling an itch to challenge the Majors. If Grandfather hadn't spoken so bluntly, that time..."
"Oh, I think you would have figured it out eventually," Haruka reassured him. "But your grandfather probably prevented a lot of unhappiness and uncertainty on your part by calling that need to your attention now rather than later. He's a very wise man, your grandfather!"
"He's wise indeed," Toshi nodded in agreement. "I've leaned on Grandfather and Grandmother countless times since coming to live with them. I''m so thankful they've been there for me. Although... now their advice seems to be sending me far, far away..."
"I'm sure they realize that - and they still are supportive of your decision. You've told them what you have decided, I imagine?"
"Oh, yes. They know I have decided to go to the Majors in America. I told them my decision on that as soon as I was clear on what I wanted to do. They are happy for me. Not happy that I'll be leaving them, of course! But they're glad that I'll be going to a place where I can continue to test and challenge myself in what I love doing most. That's how Grandfather puts it, anyway."
"I told you he was a wise man!" laughed Haruka.
"I still worry about leaving them, though," Toshi went on thoughtfully. "They keep reassuring me they'll be fine, but..."
"Of course it's going to weigh heavily on you!" Haruka said sternly. "They are your family and you'll miss them! Not only that, but you've felt responsible for seeing to their well-being for a long time, and it certainly won't be easy to set that aside to pursue your own dreams. That's one of the things I like about you, Toshi. You take your responsibilities seriously, and you care for your family. But I think your grandparents would say along with me that you should not forget about yourself when you consider your responsibilities."
"Yes," Toshi said ruefully. "You are all in agreement on that score."
He was silent for a moment, then smiled.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to neglect what I want for myself, even as I continue to be concerned for what my family needs!"
"I'm glad to hear it, Toshi," Haruka smiled back. "I will hold you to that, okay?"
"So which team's offer will you be accepting? Have you decided that yet?"
"No, not yet," Toshi sighed. "I'm still working through my options. It helped a lot to talk it through with Daisuke the other day, but I still can't quite make up my mind. Maybe I've been looking at it from the wrong angle..."
He glanced at Haruka and grinned.
"I think your reminder to take into account what I myself want couldn't have come at a better time. I'll be sure to keep it in mind while sorting through what information I've gathered about each team."
"Keep in mind, too, that you need to let me know as soon as you decide," Haruka urged. "I'm quite curious to know which team you will choose."
"I will definitely keep that in mind!"