A Distant Shore by Karen Kingsbury

CHAPTER ONE


Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

—Psalm 23:4



The long ago moment danced and breathed and lived inside her.

Mama’s voice singing in the warm Belizean breeze, the way it had every afternoon at this time, calling them in from an afternoon of gathering eggs and tending to the chickens. “Lizzie James, dinner! Bring your brother!”

“Yes, Mama!” And Lizzie was shading her eyes so she could see her mother standing in the distance, just outside their small thatched-roof house. Long brown hair blowing over her shoulders. Eyes the same pale blue as Lizzie’s. Happy eyes.

And in this, her most precious memory, Lizzie was grabbing hold of her little brother’s hand. “Let’s go, Daniel. Rice pudding for dinner. Your favorite.”

In the memory, Lizzie was eight and Daniel was six, the two of them inseparable. Half the day they sat side by side at the village schoolhouse learning their numbers and memorizing Scripture. The other half they worked the fields or played in the grassy school yard.

But in this moment, before their daddy moved away—all they wanted was to be home for dinner. Daniel was running beside her, laughing because their cousins’ Labrador retriever puppy, Milo, was galloping out to greet them, and just ahead their mother was waiting for them. Smiling at them, arms wide, and she was pulling them close.

Of all God’s gifts, she was saying, you two are my favorite.

Lizzie blinked and the images disappeared. Again.

She wasn’t in her mother’s arms and Daniel wasn’t beside her and they weren’t about to eat Mama’s rice pudding. Milo was long gone and this wasn’t her Mennonite village. She hadn’t been there in a year at least. Instead she was nine years old, standing on the smallest beach in all of Belize. And no one called her Lizzie Susan James.

She was Eliza Ann Lawrence.

Mennonite men never leave their families. That’s what Mama said. But Lizzie’s daddy had left them and moved here for his very important job, here to Belize City. Where Mama and Daniel died out in the ocean. And where Lizzie’s life had become one unending nightmare.

“Get into the water, Eliza,” her aunt Betsy yelled across the sandy beach. She sat on a beach towel, dark red lipstick and sunglasses. Aunt Betsy waved her hand, frustrated. She was always frustrated. “Go! Girls at the Palace need their sunshine. Even you.”

Girls at the Palace.

Lizzie turned and faced the ocean. Sixteen girls worked at the Palace, but she wasn’t like any of them. No, she was a little princess. That’s what her daddy had called her ever since Mama and Daniel died. Eliza had her own wing at the Palace because she was the daughter of Anders McMillan. That’s what he called himself now. Not Paul David James like before.

Her daddy was an evil man. That much Lizzie knew, because the other girls always told her. Bad things were happening at the Palace, Lizzie was sure. Things she couldn’t talk about or even think about.

“You’re a princess, Eliza,” Dora told her yesterday. “Men don’t visit you at night.” Dora lived on the third floor of the Palace. She was fourteen and blond like Lizzie.

Dora was right, the men who came and went from the Palace didn’t visit Eliza. Her daddy said they never would. “I’m saving you for someone special, Eliza,” her daddy had told her when she moved in after losing Mama and Daniel.

So Lizzie was safe from the men. At least for now. But even so, every day after her time at the beach she was scared to go home to the Palace. Because what if this was the day the men were allowed into her room? Also, Aunt Betsy was mean and sometimes she yanked Eliza’s long blond hair if she didn’t walk fast enough on the way back.

“Hurry up, Eliza. Your father is expecting you.” Aunt Betsy was her daddy’s sister. They both had the same angry face. Aunt Betsy’s breath smelled like sausage and onions.

For now Eliza had an hour alone in the water. A tear slid down Eliza’s cheek and she took a step toward the sea. “You lead me beside still waters…” The words were a whisper, something left over from the life she used to live.

Eliza still wasn’t sure how everything had gone so bad, so fast.

First, her daddy left and Mama cried for a long time. People in Lower Barton Creek would talk in quiet words and give sad looks at Mama and Daniel and Lizzie. Then her father’s sister Aunt Betsy came to visit. It was the first time any of them had met the woman. In front of other grown-ups, Aunt Betsy laughed a lot and used her hands when she talked. And that day, she had a dolly for Eliza. “Come to Belize City to see your father,” Aunt Betsy had said before she left. “He’s a very important businessman. He wants his family with him.”