Kirsten has spent her life trying to forget. But mercy begs her to remember.
Kirsten cuts to remember and to forget. She cuts to remember the tragedy that shattered her family when she was 16, and she cuts to let out the pain that builds up under her skin until she could scream. After she finds out her long-term boyfriend/almost fiancé Wes cheated on her with her best friend, she self injures to relieve the pain but accidentally cuts too deep when Wes barges into the bathroom. In the wake of her suicide attempt (a term Kirstin strongly disputes), doctors discover her self-injury scars and recommend a course of psychiatric treatment. A local minister advises another way and puts Kirstin in touch with Sister Frankie, a nun who helps people through physical labor, faith, and therapy while they stay at her sheep ranch for 30 days. Kirsten leaps at the chance to get away from the doctors who want to medicate her, not realizing that Sister Frankie will break open barriers she's hidden behind for years as she learns to listen for God's voice on the wind and to open herself to new friendships and a new relationship. VERDICT Grammy and Dove Award-winning St. James (Wait for Me: Rediscovering the Joy of Purity in Romance) and Christy Award winner Rue (The Reluctant Prophet) tackle a tough topic with sensitivity and forthrightness in an intense novel about self-injury, self-esteem, and the numerous shades of love. Highly recommended, with crossover appeal for New Adult readers.
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The Merciful Scar
By REBECCA ST. JAMES, NANCY RUE
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Nancy Rue and Rebecca St. James
All rights reserved.
It was the only real fight Wes and I had ever had. Actually it was the only fight I'd ever had with anyone. That's probably why I wasn't very good at it.
Now discussions ... we'd had those, and that's how it started out that night. Another conversation about Wes moving in with me.
I should have known that was where we were headed when he tugged at the back of my shirt and pulled me against his lean self and said, "You know what I love about your couch?"
"That you never have to get off of it from the minute you walk in the door?" I said.
He let his blue eyes droop at the corners until they teased at his cheekbones. That was Wes pretending to be hurt. "Are you saying I'm a couch potato?"
"I'm saying I wait on you like you're the couch prince." I leaned forward and picked up the all-but-licked-clean plate from my IKEA coffee table. "More quesadillas, your highness?"
Wes scooped me into him, plate and all. "It wouldn't be that way if I wasn't a guest, Kirsty."
Yeah, there it was. Again.
"First of all," I said, "you know I hate it when you call me that. It makes me feel like I'm on a Jenny Craig commercial."
"Kirstie Alley. She was their poster girl before Valerie Bertinelli—"
"You're getting off topic."
Wes scooted himself sideways so he could face me without letting go. He knew as well as I did that I was about to wriggle away and go do ... something. Anything to not have this discussion for the ninety-sixth time.
"Come on, babe, you know what I'm talking about. It doesn't make any sense for me to get an apartment for the summer when you've got room here."
"I have one bedroom." Which, may I just add, was incredibly difficult to say with his long-fingered hands holding my face and his nose headed for mine for that irresistible pre-kiss thing he did. "And I need my other room for my studio—"
"And you also know where I am on this."
"I do. You've been there for three years, six months, two weeks, four days, and ..." He glanced at his watch. "Twenty-seven minutes."
He let his lips bounce off my nose and onto my mouth but I talked right through the kiss.
"It's going to be another however long," I said, "so get over it."
This was the part where he was supposed to say, You're killin' me, Kirsten. Killin' me. And then I would let him kiss me one time and then I'd get up and make another batch of quesadillas. That was how this déjà vu conversation was supposed to go.
But Wes stiffened all six foot two of himself and took me by both shoulders and set me away from him like he was stacking a folding chair. I watched him step over the coffee table and shove his hands into the pockets of his cargo shorts and pace to the back window where he stopped, rod-necked and tight-lipped, his blondness standing stiff on his head. It wasn't a pose I'd ever seen him take. That's when my skin started to burn.
"What does 'however long' mean, Kirsten?" he said.
Until we're married. That was the answer, stuck in my throat where it had been for three years, six months, two weeks, four days, and twenty-seven minutes. I just closed my eyes and crossed my arms so I could rub both shoulders. The burning kept on.
Wes faced me now, muscles working in his square jaw. "Do you know how hard it is to love you and not be able to ... love you?"
I attempted a wry look. "Uh, yeah, I do."
"Then what the—" He crossed to the coffee table and sat on it. "Look, I think I've been way more patient than any other guy would be."
"Good thing I don't want any other guy," I said.
"Stop it, okay? Just stop it."
"The cute remarks and the little dance you always do. I want to talk about this. Now."
I pressed myself into the couch. "We've talked about it a thousand times, Wes. We've worn it out."
"So you just want to keep on dating forever?"
I swallowed, hard. "Way back when we first started dating, we both agreed that neither one of us wanted to have sex outside of marriage."
Wes let his mouth soften and took both my hands. "How old were we then, babe? Eighteen? Nineteen? I think we were pretty naïve."
We'd never gotten this far into the discussion. If we had, I might have come up with a retort to get us out of it. Something along the lines of No, naïve is when you think you can lose ten pounds before Christmas. But here we were, and my determination that I wasn't going to be the first one to say it seethed under my skin.
"I thought we were being true to the faith that, if you'll recall, you introduced me to," I said.
"I'm not buying it," Wes said. "We haven't been to Faith House since you started grad school. What's that, nine months? When was the last time we went to church, either one of us?"
"That doesn't mean I don't still believe—"
"Nuh-uh." Wes let go of my hands and waved his palm like he was erasing my words. "That's not what this is about. You want me to marry you, don't you?"
My throat closed in on itself. At least once a day during those three years and twenty-seven minutes or whatever it was, I had imagined Wes broaching the subject of marriage. The images went from Wes on one knee amid glimmering candlelight to a proposal tucked into a Big Mac. But none of them had included an accusation in those blue eyes or all my anxiety mobilizing under my flesh.
"That's it, isn't it?" he said. "Why didn't you just come out and say it?"
"Because I wanted you to say it first!"
The words sliced their way out of me before I could stop them, and they seemed to want to keep on slicing all on their own.
"I don't want us to be like everybody else—just having sex and living together and then someday deciding we might as well get married. Look at Caleb and Tess. They're like a pair of reclining chairs. I'm not doing that, Wes. I'm not."
He was staring at me as if I was a stranger suddenly intruding on the conversation that had long since stopped being a conversation.
"Y'know," he said, "I've been practically begging you for, like, forever to open up with me and tell me what's on your mind."
"I wanted it to be on yours." My words had lost their edge. Others spun in my head. Clever, Kirsten, very clever. You picked a fine time to, I don't know, grow a backbone.
Wes sagged onto the couch beside me. "Look, babe, I'm not in a good place for this. I didn't graduate—I have to make up the class this summer—I don't know what I'm gonna do after that."
"I know all that—"
"But you—you're set. You always are. That's why you're my rock. I just need you to be here for me just a little while longer. Can you do that?"
What does that even mean? I wanted to scream. But I'd done all the slicing I could do for one night. It was more slicing than I'd done my whole life. At least, that kind.
"Okay, look, I'm gonna go," Wes said.
Nice touch. Pathetic is always good.
"Now." Wes gave me half of his usual who-loves-ya-baby smile. "Before I get you drunk and take advantage of you."
My reply was automatic. "Like either one of those things is gonna happen."
Again, that was his cue to say, You're killin' me, babe. But what he said was, "Yeah." Just yeah.
He pulled me up from the couch and walked ahead of me to the door. Hand on the knob, he turned only slightly toward me. "A bunch of people from my class are hiking the M tomorrow."
I groaned silently. Hiking the M was a Montana State graduation tradition that entailed making one's way up a steep trail and a long ridgeline in the brutal Montana sun to get to a huge M made from white rocks, and then partying and turning around and coming back in the now even more brutal Montana sun to party some more. I'd skipped that when I graduated the year before; I would actually rather poke a fork in my eye than have that kind of fun. Since Wes had missed graduating by one class, he hadn't gotten to have that kind of fun either.
"I'm sorry," I said.
"No, they want me to go with. What's three credits? To them I'm there. I just didn't have to sit through a bunch of speeches in a bathrobe with a board on my head."
"I don't even know what to do with that," I said. "So what time?"
"We're leaving Caleb and Tess's at seven." Wes lifted a sandy eyebrow. "If I can get them out of their reclining chairs."
Ouch. Bet that gotcha right in the heart.
"You want me to pack a picnic?" I said.
Wes's gaze shifted away and he ran a hand over his flattened blond spikes.
"Or we can grab something at the store in the morning," I said.
"Here's the deal ... I think I just need to go single. Most of these people I'll never see again, which is weirder for me because I'm staying here. I don't know, it's just a thing."
Right in the heart fell far short. I was stung to the bone. I didn't want to go. I just wanted him to want me to go.
Beyond pathetic. We've moved into pitiful. I mean, way in.
"Okay, so ... okay," I said.
"I knew you'd get it." Wes kissed my neck. "You always do."
The Nudnik voice didn't wait until Wes was out the door before she started in. I always thought of it as the Nudnik, which was what my kindergarten teacher used to call us kids when we pestered her to the brink. Nicely done, the Nudnik said now. Ya made everything all right when it clearly isn't. Another layer of unadulterated bad stuff, right under your skin.
Forget it. I'm not doing it. I haven't done it for—I don't know—a long time.
Not since Valentine's Day when yet again our sweet Wesley didn't come through with a ring. Or was it Easter? Yeah, you did it on Easter. But then, who's keeping track?
You are! I wanted to say out loud. But I always stopped short of audibly answering the Nudnik. If I did that, I really would have to admit I was crazy.
But she was right. I'd been holding back for six weeks, since the beginning of April. I promised myself that was the last time, because I was so sure Wes would propose when he graduated. And then he didn't. He'd spent last Saturday hiding out here playing Scrabble with me instead of walking with his class to receive his diploma. It wasn't a good time for a proposal. Clearly there never was a good time.
The Nudnik was quiet now, although she couldn't have been heard over the screaming of my skin anyway. It needed my attention more.
I made sure Wes's Mini Cooper, the one I loved to watch him fold his lanky self into, was gone before I slipped into my bedroom and closed the door. Even alone in my tiny cottage, I always ensured my privacy. This was one thing that was all mine.
The instruments were in a polished African mahogany box under my bed, but I didn't take it out yet. I sat on the rug and pulled off my turquoise top that Wes always said made my eyes look like blue topaz. How could someone so certifiably romantic be the cause of so many scars?
But as I ran my fingers over the fine remnants of delicate incisions on the tops of my shoulders, I stared down at the less precise ones on my belly. Those didn't come from man trouble. I could, in fact, name every one of them.
The wobbly ones that traced the lines of my ribs were drawings of freshman year panic, when I suddenly found myself alone here in Bozeman with four years of expectations stretching out before me like an endless road up a mountain.
The staccato dashes below my belly button were the beat of the summer before my sophomore year, when I went back home to Missouri for the last time.
And the long clean cuts on my sides, those were the hopeless trails of the first week of that sophomore year, when I was running out of both hope and places to relieve the pressure where no one could see.
All of those happened before I met Wes. Those and the ones I didn't look at now—the faded but still harsh scars on my thighs. And the one on the inner left that I'd promised the night I made it that I would never look at again. They were as old as the pain itself. Only the ones on the tops of my shoulders belonged to Wes.
Yeah, blame poor Wes, whose crime is wanting to get you in bed. What is wrong with that red-blooded American boy, anyway?
I didn't blame Wes. I actually didn't blame anybody except myself. Really, what did I have in my life that was so bad it raced under my skin until I couldn't stand it anymore and I had to give it a place to come out? I didn't know. At moments like this, when my flesh cried out for relief, I didn't have to know. I just needed to make it stop.
I lifted the pleated bed skirt and pulled out the wooden box. Inside, the instruments were lined up on a folded snowy-white pillowcase, still sterile and gleaming from Easter night.
Let the surgery begin. Nurse, scalpel, please.
But it wasn't like that, not really. It was nothing so clinical. This was release, and the longer I lingered over the silver straight razor and the pewter letter opener and the pen with its so-very-fine tip, the more my skin pleaded for help. I selected the calligraphy pen, a graduation gift from Wes that I'd never used for anything but this. I was on my way to the bathroom with it, silently assuring myself that soon it would be all right, when my phone jangled out blues piano.
Wes's ring. Pen still in hand, I ran for the kitchen counter where I'd left my cell and answered with a breathless hello.
"Babe?" he said.
His voice rattled as if something in him had been jarred loose. I pressed my hand to my throat. "Wes, what's wrong?"
"I can't—I don't want to talk about it over the phone."
"Do you want to come over? It's okay—you can come over."
"No, not now. I just want to say—I love you, Kirsten. You know that, right?"
"Yea-ah. Baby, what is it?"
"Just say you know it."
"I know it."
My free palm left a sweaty imprint on the granite countertop.
"Okay. Okay, just don't ever stop loving me, you got that?" he said.
"Why would I?"
"Because of the way I acted tonight. I'm sorry, babe, believe me."
He didn't give me a chance to say whether I did or not. My throat was closing anyway. "Here's what I want to do," he said. "Tomorrow I'm going to clear my head, okay?"
"And then I want to come over—maybe have a nice dinner together. I'll help you ..."
I couldn't even remind him that he didn't so much as know how to operate the microwave. I just kept saying, "Okay."
"And then I want to talk to you. Seriously. I'm ready to talk about the future."
That called for more than an okay. "What happened since you left here?"
"It just hit me how much I love you. We have to talk. Tomorrow. I'll be there at six."
"Six," I said.
"Say you love me."
"I love you."
"Thank you, God," he said.
I didn't realize until he hung up that I still had the calligraphy pen in my hand. I opened my palm and let it roll to the counter, where it landed next to the pottery cookie jar that Wes could never stay out of.
Wait, let me get this straight: you're about to implode with your little neurosis and then Mr. Wonderful calls and you're magically healed. In what universe does that happen?
In the universe where you held out for what was right and the man you thought was wonderful really turned out to be wonderful. In the universe that had suddenly stopped spinning so fast I couldn't hold on.
I returned the pen to the box and slid the whole collection back under the bed. Tomorrow I'd get rid of all of it.
Before I went to bed, knowing I wasn't going to sleep much anyway, I wanted to tell Isabel. My best friend. All right, let's face it, my only friend, the one girl I trusted not to dis me on Facebook. We'd been close since junior year when Wes and I met her at Faith House after she transferred in from a community college, and we'd become more so since we were both accepted into the M. Architecture program. She was the only person in the world who knew the agony I'd been in over Wes. She called it Wes Angst.
I texted her: Xpect good news soon!
Her reply would be instantaneous. She lived with her thumbs on her phone. I had actually seen her move them in a dead sleep like she was texting her dreams.
When I didn't get an answer after two minutes, I texted her again: R u trapped under something heavy?
I snickered to myself. The only time Isabel didn't text me back within a nanosecond was when she was with a guy. At twenty-three she was convinced she was going to be, as she described it, "a spinster with seven cats and hemorrhoids" if she didn't snag one soon. I was never sure how the hemorrhoids fit in, but her social life was like a buffet of potential candidates for the husband position. Curly-haired and tiny and pert—my exact opposite in looks—she was adorable enough to have been married multiple times, except that she was beyond picky about the groom.
Excerpted from The Merciful Scar by REBECCA ST. JAMES, NANCY RUE. Copyright © 2013 Nancy Rue and Rebecca St. James. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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