I always like to read the first few pages of a book before I buy it. It's what convinces me to buy a book (or not). Read on for a taste of Scars, an edgy, realistic, and hopeful novel about a teen survivor of sexual abuse who uses self-harm to cope.
"Someone is following me." I gulp air, trying to breathe.
Carolyn leans forward, her face worried. "What makes you say that?" There's a hesitation in her voice that stings me.
"You don't believe me!" I spit the words out at her, then look away, twisting my hands together to keep them from trembling.
"I didn't say that. I don't know enough about this yet to know what to believe. Why don't you tell me about it?" So you can go tell my parents?
But she won't; I know she won't. Client-therapist confidentiality and all that. And I trust Carolyn; I really do. But does she trust me?
I run my tongue over my dry lips. It almost doesn't seem real, now that I'm sitting here in her air-conditioned office. But I didn't imagine it. I couldn't have.
"I hear footsteps behind me when I'm out walking alone. Heavy footsteps that stop when I stop and start when I start." Carolyn nods, her gaze never leaving mine, and I know she's taking me seriously.
My breath is so shallow I'm almost dizzy. "I keep looking back, but I never see anyone watching me. But as soon as I start walking again, the footsteps are there."
I know how that sounds. Like I'm paranoid. Crazy. I'm so afraid I'm imagining all of this, that it's just an echo from the past. But that doesn't make the watched feeling go away. It's only gotten stronger.
I look out the window, away from Carolyn's worried eyes, and stare at the buildings across from us, at the dirty red bricks, the storefront windows, the parking signs shaking in the wind. My arm throbs with pain beneath my long sleeve.
I usually feel so safe in Carolyn's office, but nothing is working today-not the soft green ferns on her bookshelves, not the smell of peppermint tea and honey, not even the soothing sound of her voice. If I could draw her office right now, I'd use the dark, heavy lines of charcoal and the foggy greyness of an ink wash, not the bright, happy colors of gouache that I usually see here.
I shiver. "I heard the footsteps again this morning-but I was too scared to turn around."
"That sounds terrifying." Carolyn crosses her legs. "But have you thought of the possibility that someone was just going the same way as you?"
"It didn't feel like that. . . . " I'm shaking now, trembles coming from deep inside me, spreading outward. "Do you believe me?" I feel like a little kid looking for reassurance, not a fifteen-year-old who's in the top ten of her class. Carolyn looks at me with so much compassion that I want to bolt from the room. I want to accept her caring, to just gather it in, but I'm afraid to. I'm afraid of how much I need it-and how much it'll hurt if she stops.
Carolyn touches my hand, her wedding ring as warm as her skin. "I believe you, Kendra."
"You do?" My shaking stops.
"I do. You've never given me any reason to doubt you."
But having no reason to doubt me is not the same as believing me. The shaking starts up again.
"Do you have any idea of who it might be?" Carolyn's voice is soft, like she knows I want to run.
A door snapping shut. His hand on my wrist.
"It's . . . him."
"The man who molested you?"
"Yes." I wince and clench my trembling hands in my lap, digging my nails into my palms. But the trifling pain isn't enough to distract me.
"It must be terrifying for you to think he's out there somewhere."
"It is," I whisper.
"But Kendra, pedophiles don't usually come after their victims, especially not years later. They like easy access and frightened, compliant children who they can manipulate-not active teen girls who might fight back."
"I know. But-" I glance at my sleeve, make sure the white bandage isn't poking through. "I just have this feeling-this gut sense-that it's him."
Carolyn looks at me steadily. "And your intuition is more finely tuned than most people's. It had to be, for you to survive."
I shrug, but I know she's right.
A door snapping shut. His hand gripping my wrist. A handkerchief falling. I squeeze my fist; the stiff skin beneath my bandage screeches, spreading pain through my whole body. I clench my jaw and breathe out slowly. Can't let the pain show.
"What're you thinking right now?" she asks.
"Nothing!" I squeeze harder, hoping the pain will clear my head.
"It looks to me like something's going on."
I don't know how she knows when something's wrong, but she always does. I've got to tell her something, anything just to keep her away from my arm. His hand, gripping my wrist. His breath against my cheek. "I've got to remember who he is."
"That will come when you're ready."
But what if I'm never ready? What if he gets me first?
"Do you want to explore your memories? We have time."
"I will kill you if you tell."
I snatch my backpack off the ground and rummage through it, looking for my sketches, my doodles, for anything I can use to distract her-to distract us both.
"I mean-I don't think I'm ready." But I have to be. I have to figure out who he is. So why do I feel like I'm going to vomit when I think about it?
I yank things out of my backpack-a bruised apple, an English test, an overdue library book, but no sketchbook. I dump my backpack upside down; pens, pencils, my dirty gym socks, a half-eaten granola bar all fall out. I shake my bag harder. Then a bright square of paper falls out.
It's a deep magenta, almost red, folded into stiff squares. I've never seen it before. I pick it up by its shiny edges and open it. It makes a crackling sound.
There are only a few words typed on the page, but they cut through me like a blade: "You have broken your promise."
My breath shudders in my throat. His hand gripping my wrist. His lips against my ear.
"What is it?" Carolyn asks, from far away.
I hand her the note with unsteady hands. "It's from him."
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