Third and Final Time
When I started my life again, I noticed that one thing had changed - I now had a birthmark, right above my heart, one that no one else could see.
It was shaped like a spiked wheel and, over time, it had started to slowly turn a deep shade of red.
It depressed me every time I saw it - a constant reminder of the pact I’d made with the devil, and one that signalled the eventual end of my life.
My 3rd 15th birthday had passed a week before the new semester and I spent it with just my parents.
10 years was all I had left to live and I couldn’t be more disappointed in myself.
I thought I’d finally changed in this life, but things had strangely reset themselves to the same state as usual.
I had a few close friends in elementary school, but they all ended up moving away shortly after we graduated. They didn’t have smartphones or any social media, so we ended up losing contact quickly.
In middle school, I had managed to find a small group of girls to hang out with but, after a certain incident, they stopped talking to me.
As for what that was, well…
I slowly removed my pyjama top and looked at myself in the mirror.
Right beneath the birthmark on my heart was an intense, white scar that remained from when I had been badly burnt. After an unfortunate science class, I got this wound from protecting my dear friend, Ami, but she never thanked me.
Whenever I tried to talk to her, she’d run away or just shrink into her chair, trying to hide herself from me.
…I think I know why, but I don’t understand.
I did it to protect you and I don’t regret it, so why do you look so hurt whenever you see me?
After that incident in our first year, I was largely left alone.
I had tried joining clubs once again, but they all said they couldn’t accept me for various reasons. I thought I’d impressed them with my abilities, but perhaps it was the opposite effect?
I’m getting ahead of myself; let me go back to the beginning.
I took extra careful measures to make sure that I acted like a normal baby would, though I did end up speaking my first words very early on in life - at three weeks old.
I’d learnt to walk on my own perfectly by the time I was nine months old, and my parents praised me as a genius.
I wish they didn’t, at first.
Then, I saw the look of joy on my mum’s face and I couldn’t bring myself to act like someone I wasn’t.
So, I decided to forgo my plan of acting like an average child and met my mother’s expectations at every turn.
I never bragged or acted overly humble about it, and I even offered to coach or teach my classmates how to improve themselves, an offer that many accepted at first.
As time went on though, only my three close friends asked me for help in elementary school and no one did in middle school.
I was at the top of our year’s grades and I was among the top three most athletic students too, though I did notice something peculiar about my physical condition.
I had somehow gotten stronger and faster in this life, despite following the exact same training regime I did in my 2nd.
Perhaps it was a gift from the devil or perhaps it was a factor outside of my control, but it continued to make me isolated from my peers.
I did try and talk to them, but my conversations were either cut short by the other side or a bit too stiff for teenagers to engage with.
…After a particular rough day after Ami and my old friends stopped talking to me, I came home and threw myself onto the bed, depressed and unable to bring myself to do anything.
Often, I wondered why I couldn’t get along with the girls my age and then realised the sad truth - I’d never had a social life as a teenager.
I didn’t know how to interact with them, so of course my more mature conversations and attitudes would bore them.
Even the way I handled the Ami incident was too much, and it was my fault that they stopped talking to me.
Our class had been brought to the science lab to perform a perfectly standard, normal test where we were using bunsen burners in a science test I’d done twice before. We got into groups and had to test the effects of heat when applied to certain substances like foods or liquids, and that’s when it happened.
The class idiot, Hayate, had decided it’d be a funny idea to use his deodorant spray on the Bunsen to see if they actually turned into flamethrowers like in the movies, and our group happened to be set up directly across from his.
Ami, I and the other three in our group told him not to and threatened to tell the teacher, but he and his mates were idiots and just laughed. When I called the teacher, Hayate decided now was his only chance to try it out and he did - except the flames went further than he expected.
When I saw that Ami was directly in the line of fire, I moved before I’d even realised.
I threw myself between them and the flames jumped onto my skin; thankfully, one of my friends was quick to help tear my blazer off my chest and help beat out the flames, but I passed out soon after that.
Hayate was, of course, expelled and his mates were given three months detention for not stopping him.
I had to spend two months in the hospital recovering, though Ami never visited me.
My other friends did, my teachers and parents did, many of whom praised, and scolded, me, but Ami never did.
I know she blames herself somehow, but it wasn’t her fault.
It was mine from protecting her and Hayate’s for being an idiot.
When I finally came back to school, everyone was anxiously watching me, unsure of how to speak to me.
I tried to talk to them like I usually would, but would only be met with gazes of sympathy and questions about my health or if I was in pain.
I was, but not from my wound.
I spent three weeks trying to talk to Ami, but ended up distancing myself from her and my old friends.
They did try to get us to talk and bring the group back, but I decided to cut ties with them.
“Thank you for everything up until now,” I said with a polite bow. “Goodbye.”
Before I turned my back to them for the last time, I thought I saw Ami’s face crumble and her arm reach out to me.
I never made eye contact with her or my old friends again, and often spent my days alone.
I often noticed that Ami was looking my way and that my old group of friends were just as isolated as I was, but I didn’t reach out to them again.
And that caused my depression to grow even worse.
Whenever I wasn’t at home, I was miserable.
I said little to anyone but mother and father, and didn’t do much more than play games by myself or read books that I missed in my two previous lives.
My mother noticed how depressed I was and often asked if I was okay, but I didn’t want to betray her expectations and so smiled, “It’s nothing.”
Secretly, I called a therapist during my lunchbreaks and on my way home from school, but it only dampened the pain a little.
If I wanted to get proper treatment, then I’d need more scheduled one on one therapy sessions and medication, which would mean having to tell my parents the truth.
I couldn’t do that.
I couldn’t break my mother’s heart.
So, I kept it all bottled up inside and never told anyone the truth.
Now, most days, I don’t feel alive.
If anything, I feel closer to a corpse.
It’s so cold inside my chest that it hurts.
No, Akane, stop it!
I lightly smacked my cheeks and looked at myself in my brand new, dark navy high school uniform once again. I checked that my hair was nicely combed and straight, that my hazel eyes didn’t have bags under them and that I dressed like a prim and proper high school girl would.
Today, for the third time, was the start of my high school life and there was no way it could go worse than my middle school one did.
I even drew up a list of goals I wanted to achieve before my three years were up.
1 - Make friends for life; they can’t just be for your high school years. They have to stay your friends until the day you die.
2 - Find a boyfriend or girlfriend, and have a long, healthy relationship with them.
…I winced a little as I recited that one in my mind.
Ryuuji had rarely left my thoughts and neither had the pain of losing my child.
Perhaps, I thought, it’d be best to seek a girlfriend in this life.
As long as I loved them and they loved me, the rest didn’t matter.
3 - Join a club; if you fail to make friends among your classmates, then why not make them in your club?
If I can join one this time, that is.
4 - Enjoy a school trip with people mentioned above
There were exactly 3 trips during my previous lives in high school, one for each year and all fell on the exact same week. I believe the justification was that the principal wanted the whole campus to be given a thoroughly deep clean, and so it was easiest to do that with no one but the cleaners on site.
Each trip lasted 3 days and 2 nights, and I wasn’t going to spend that time all by myself this time.
5 - Do not become a loner.
I smiled weakly at that thought.
6 - Do not make your classmates feel resentful towards you.
I need to keep to this one at all costs.
I can’t go through that pain I went through with Ryuuji again.
Six simple goals to live my third life by.
Once I recited them again, I grabbed my bag, packed my lunch, bid my parents goodbye and walked briskly to school.
First impressions meant everything and I had to make this final chance count.
Life doesn’t work out the way you want it to.
My mother told me something like that during my first life.
Unfortunately, people from my middle school had come to the same high school, including Ami and my old friendship group of all people.
I didn’t know because I’d never paid attention to the other students taking the exams, but it’s clear now that my 3rd high school debut might go down like a lead balloon.
By the end of the first day, rumours had already started to spread.
By the end of the second, people were staring and whispering about me.
Some praised my talents, others talked about my middle school life.
I tried talking to a few people, but they seemed a little uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s because of how suddenly I approached them, but I panicked and didn’t know what else to do.
As long as people from my middle school were here, the stories from that time would never fade from my life.
Come the third day, I’d started applying to all sorts of different clubs, a few of whom had heard my name already.
I impressed the archery club captain, and the track and field one, so much so that they asked me to join that day. I ended up joining the archery club, but I still asked if I could come to the track and field club sometimes; the captain said yes very enthusiastically.
That cheered me up a little bit after the crushing feeling of isolation I felt in my own class grew significantly.
Ami and my old friendship group were in the same class, though they were sat very far away from me.
I was in the very far back corner of the classroom by the window, perfect for a loner like myself, while they were all gathered down at the front of the classroom.
I rarely spent time inside my classroom during the day.
I was either eating alone on some bench or quiet corner of the school grounds, or I was practicing my archery skills in the clubroom. When the school day ended, I packed my bags and left for practice immediately, trying my best to ignore the stares and whispers surrounding me as I left.
After that first week, I started bringing my headphones to school.
I couldn’t take it anymore; I had to tune the rest of the world out.
It helped me escape into my own world, one where I didn’t have to worry about the way people looked or spoke about me.
I could escape the anxiety in my chest a little bit, and I had an excuse to ignore Ami and the others too.
…Akane, is this how you really want to spend your final life?
I laughed quietly to myself as I ate my lunch alone in a small clearing, a few tears falling from my eyes.
“Of course, it isn’t.”