Chapter 1:

A Curse Disguised as a Blessing

Third and Final Time


One could say that I lived a blessed life from the moment I was born.

My mother, who had three failed pregnancies and two miscarriages before I was born, said that I was a gift from God.

I’ve always been academically gifted, even when I was in pre-school, something my parents always took great pride in.

We were, in many ways, a blessed family.

My parents worked good, high paying jobs, we had a large house in the suburbs of Tokyo and we were always happy.

Well, I imagine that’s how it looked on the surface.

My mother’s love was a collar around my neck.

I was her only child, and she would never risk trying to have a second, which meant I got all of her suffocating affection.

If I asked for something, I almost always got it but it started making me more miserable than anything.

One time, I purposefully tried to upset my parents by breaking a valuable vase they’d bought for a few hundred thousand yen - my mother just asked if I was okay and was happy I hadn’t been hurt.

I wish I had been.

At school, I was always alone.

No one could compete with me academically and those who could physically in PE I quickly surpassed through hard work.

People always seemed to like my hardworking classmates, but no one spoke to me.

I tried to talk to them, but they’d ignore me.

I don’t know what I did wrong, but I cried all the way home.

When my mother asked what was wrong, I told her it was nothing.

When I left pre-school and elementary school, I told myself I’d find friends in middle school.

I tried out clubs and I researched how to make friends, but nothing worked.

I didn’t know why, so I kept working hard at everything again.

I studied harder than anyone, spent more hours practicing on the school fields, and I tried talking to as many people as I could, but nothing worked.

It was only then that I realised what I’d done wrong - I had tried too hard.

Everyone can relate to someone trying their best, but no one can relate to someone who is undoubtedly the best.

I felt alone.

And I was about to become even more alone than ever.

When I was 14, my parents died in a car crash.

A truck barrelled into their car and they’d died instantly, or so the police told me.

The news said it was a much more brutal scene and I couldn’t get the image out of my mind.

I stayed home from school for two weeks, crying almost every day, begging them to come home.

I wanted to hear my mother’s voice again, I wanted to see my father’s smile when he bought me something.

I just didn’t want to be alone.

No one ever came, except for a few police officers.

They asked if I wanted to go into care, but I ended up looking into getting myself emancipated.

It was a long, legal battle, but I won and got to keep our house and my parent’s assets as a legal adult.

When I finally went back to school, no one talked to me.

They’d left a big ‘Sorry for your loss’ card and some presents on my desk, but it was all bought out of courtesy.

I threw it all away when I got home.

I should’ve felt something, perhaps a faint light at the end of a dark tunnel, that maybe I had a chance to get along with my classmates for once, but I felt nothing.

So, I decided that I’d change my life around once I got into university.

I spent six years in middle and high school alone, not associating with anyone more than necessary and no longer caring what people said or thought of me.

Those who tried to talk to me I ignored.

Those who tried to apologise for ignoring me, I pretended not to hear.

As far as I was concerned, this wasn’t my life.

My life would begin when I got into Tokyo University.

And I got in with the highest grades on my business course.

Once again, I tried to fit in and I even went as far as not trying as hard on my exams and athletics, but it didn’t work.

I went to a few drinking parties in the first few weeks, but people stopped inviting me after a while. Men and women would hit on me, and I was flattered, but I didn’t know how to properly respond to their feelings.

What I hadn’t realised was that I’d never had a proper conversation with other people before, and that’s something human beings are only capable off after spending years of talking with other people.

Humanity is a social species that evolves over time to fit into our society and I hadn’t adapted like the rest of my peers had.

Needless to say, I spent most of my time at university alone too.

I even heard a few people talking about the ‘Lonely Snow Princess’, an abysmal nickname that I hated hearing.

So, I gave up on finding happiness with strangers and instead spent time researching what made other people happy and came to one conclusion - family.

I remember how happy my parents lived their lives and how they doted upon me, and I wondered if I would be the same if I had a child.

I started looking into artificial insemination and adoption, and I ultimately settled on the former.

Before I could even consider having a child though, I needed to get a job and earn a living for myself.

After graduating with the highest honours, I went straight into the world of work and quickly rose through the ranks at my company. By the time I was 28, I was a member of the board and, by the time I was 35, I was listed as the 98th wealthiest person in the world.

Of course, by then I’d taken over the company and had expanded our trade all over the world, but I never once took pride in my work.

It was, ultimately, a means to an end.

When I turned 33, I tried artificial insemination for the first time but, much like my mother before me, I lost the baby.

She had been stillborn.

I tried again two months later and prayed to God that he’d protect my child, but it didn’t work.

I had two stillborn babies before I turned 35 and I was too scared to try again.

After that, I looked into adoption but I couldn’t do it.

I was scared.

Not because I’d lost my own children, but because I felt empty.

My mother’s love suffocated me, but would I be able to even love a child if I got one?

Mother was able to because of how much it took for her to have me, but would I feel the same?

When I realised that I’d never find happiness with a family, I gave up.

I spent five years trying to find ways to fill the ever-expanding void in my heart, but I failed.

So, I decided to close it.

I went to the top of my company’s building and took off my high heels; I didn’t bother leaving a note because I knew no one would care.

If anything, I imagined they’d rejoice.

All that wealth and no one there to inherit it.

But just before I took that step off the ledge, a God descended before me.

Wearing a beautiful white dress and with curly golden hair was a woman with a gentle smile on her face.

“A pleasure to meet you, Akane Yuri. I am this world’s God and I was moved to tears upon seeing your sorrow. This is a bit sudden, but I would like to offer you a chance that few others have ever received - a chance to start your life again from its very beginning, a chance to lead a happy life.”

I don’t remember what else happened that night except that I cried.

The next thing I knew, I was back in my mother’s arms as she thanked me for being born.

God wasn’t lying - I had been given the chance to redo my whole life from the very beginning.

But it didn’t work.

I didn’t make the same mistakes; I made new ones.

I tried to act like a normal child would in pre-school, but ended up being called creepy.

In elementary school, I always made sure to finish in the top 10 in tests and in PE, but that made other people upset.

In high school, I failed with my debut because I was too awkward with people.

My conversations always felt forced and, after a while, I couldn’t take it anymore and ran away from the people I tried to make my friends.

Eventually, few people spoke to me and those who did weren’t my friends.

Several weeks into the first term, I tried to take a cutter to my arms but stopped when I remembered my mother’s smiling face and my vow to the God who gave me this chance.

If nothing else, my parents were still alive and that was enough.

Just like my first life, I lived my high school years alone and vowed to change in university.

Except, this time, I succeeded.

My university debut was a massive success.

I was sociable, I performed well, but not too well, at academics and sports, and I even managed to find someone to fall in love with.

Ryuuji Sakamoto.

He was tall, handsome, had a great smile and he was the sweetest man I’d ever met. He always knew when something was wrong, he always listened to my worries and accepted me for who I was.

I thought about telling him that this was my second life, but ultimately decided against it - I didn’t want to ruin what little happiness I’d managed to get by telling the truth.

Even if I did, I imagine he’d think I was lying or crazy, so it was best not to.

When we graduated Tokyo University, we got married and both went to work at the same company.

We both rose through the ranks, though I was always a few months ahead of him and we were looking to start a family after I turned 28.

Once we started trying for a baby, I vowed to regain the wealth that I’d had in my previous life and I knew exactly how to do it.

I knew which stocks to invest in, which companies would go bust, who to hire and fire, and I quickly found myself on the board of directors again.

Ryuuji tried his best to keep up with me, but he stopped advancing through the ranks after becoming a senior manager.

I encouraged him and tried to cheer him up, but Ryuuji had started to change.

He went from saying ‘Don’t worry about it. I love seeing you do your best because it makes me want to do my best’ to just smiling coldly at me and saying ‘I’m happy for you.’

I wasn’t so dense that I didn’t know what was happening, but I could only do so much to try and help ease his worries.

I overheard people at work, including my fellow board members, make cruel jokes about how the wife isn’t meant to overshadow the husband, with many questioning if Ryuuji even was a man or if he was just content living in his wife’s shadow.

I told them to stop, filed complaints with HR and even went to the CEO, but no one really helped.

They told me nothing substantial had happened to warrant opening an investigation and that was that.

On my 30th birthday, Ryuuji and I took the day off and I discovered that I was pregnant.

I was unbelievably happy, but Ryuuji was strangely indifferent.

No, perhaps I just wish he had been.

He was cold.

So much so that he didn’t even hug me back when I told him and excitedly grabbed him.

At the time, I thought that perhaps he was just tired, but that soon turned out not to be the case.

The very next morning, Ryuuji told me not to push myself as hard at work because of the baby, but I said that I’d be fine, that I wouldn’t overdo it but he seemed to be angry with me.

When I asked what was wrong, he yelled that nothing was wrong and went to work early.

A few weeks later, some colleagues of mine asked if it was alright for me to be working this hard now that I was expecting, and I said I was okay. I’d even gone to my doctor to get her opinion first and showed them the note saying I was fine.

For some reason that I wouldn’t learn until much later, people seemed upset by my answer.

It was only 6 months later that I learned the truth from my drunk husband.

Ryuuji had been telling people that I’d been feeling weaker since I’d gotten pregnant, even using my mother’s issues with childbirth as proof that it wasn’t safe for me to put any stress on my body.

I don’t know if I’d ever been so angry in my entire life before.

I screamed and shouted all manner of things at him and he responded in kind.

“You just don’t get it, do you?!” He finally bellowed after our lengthy argument. “I told them all those things so they’d send you home with pay! I didn’t want you there.”

“Why?!”

“Because you’re too perfect, Akane!”

…Perfect - the word I hated hearing the most.

“Perfect?!” I laughed bitterly. “What, because I do my job? Because I put in effort and get rewarded for it?”

Ryuuji spat to the side and thrust his finger at my face. “Do you have any idea what it’s like to be compared to your spouse every single day of the god-damn week?! Every day I have to hear about how well you’re doing and how useless I am compared to you. Do you have any idea what that’s like, little Miss Perfect? Huh?!”

“Ryuuji!”

“Shut up, Akane!” He started chuckling and holding his head. “And you even want to be the CEO one day. What, so you can continue to lord over me how much better you are than me?! So even more of my mates can laugh at me?!”

The night ended with me in tears and Ryuuji giving a half-hearted apology.

A few weeks later, I came home from work and found him with a packed suitcase and a sealed brown envelope.

I burst into tears.

“Ryuuji…please, don’t.”

Don’t leave me alone!

Ryuuji didn’t meet my gaze and just left the papers on the sofa.

He whispered “Sorry” as he left but I still cried and begged him to stay.

I tried to run after him, but I tried and fell down the stairs onto my stomach.

The last thing I remember is blood and my deafening scream.

Even then, Ryuuji didn’t come back.

I found out a few days later that my baby wouldn’t survive and that they needed to cut him out or else he’d pose a serious risk to my health.

I agreed and cried when I saw my deflated stomach and the ugly scar that marked where my happiness had died.

After that, I did end up becoming the CEO again and drowned myself in pleasure to distract myself from the pain.

I spent tens of thousands of yen a day on alcohol and hundreds of thousands on prostitutes, both male and female. I held extravagant parties and paid people to act like my family.

None of it filled the void.

It just kept tearing it open wider and wider.

I was drowning on dry land.

So, I climbed to the rooftop again.

God didn’t descend this time.

So, I begged and screamed and pleaded my lungs out.

“Please, God, if you’re there, answer me! What did I do wrong?! What else could I have done differently? Is there something wrong with me? Where did it all go wrong? Why aren’t you here, God?! You said you came because you saw my sorrow and wanted me to be happy, so where are you?! Answer me!”

God appeared behind me with an expression overflowing in pity.

Stop it.

Don’t look at me like that!

“God, please…”

“I know what it is you want child, but I cannot give you what you seek.”

“What?”

“It’s unfortunate, but there’s nothing else I can do for you.”

And then, the Devil appeared.

“I shall give you one more chance, Akane Yuri, one third and final chance. If you fail this time, then you’ll never get another. Of course.” The Devil with the vacant red eyes laughed. “It doesn’t come cheap.”

“Whatever the price, I’ll pay it!”

“Akane, don’t listen to her! Even if she could give you that chance, it’d be a cursed life, one filled with even more misfortune.”

“And what’s the alternative, my dear God?” The Devil grinned. “Eternal damnation in my world or eternal emptiness?”

“Eternal emptiness?” I repeated.

“You see, child of man, God can’t accept you into heaven as you are. All she can do to show you mercy is obliterate your soul and leave you in the void, returning you to a state of nothing. All of the pain and suffering you’ve endured would end, but no one would ever know of your pain or struggles, and you’d become nothing.”

…Become…nothing…

“It is a better fate than letting her spend eternity in the halls of fire you call home, Devil,” God fought back. “At least, this way, her suffering would be over.”

“Wow, what a wonderful existence you’ll have led, Akane Yuri. Nothing but misery and then, well, nothing at all.” The Devil laughed. “I have a much better deal, child. Should you accept, you will get one more life, right from the beginning again, but there are two small stipulations.”

“Which are?”

“Akane, don’t-”

“First, no matter how well you live your life, you will not live past the age of 25. Even if your life is one overflowing with happiness, you will die the moment you turn 25. The second is thus - you will return with me to the underworld when you die and never leave. It’s not a bad offer, no?”

“Akane, please listen to reason. I know that the Devil is offering you something that sounds appealing, but it is a trick, a cruel trap designed to snatch away your happiness forever!”

“And what’s your alternative, God? Nothing. I think Akane’s smart enough to know which offer is the better deal.”

“It’s fine, God,” I said with a small smile. “I’d already decided which offer to take a long time ago.”

“Akane-!”

I took the Devil’s hand and once again returned to the past for my third and final life.