Chapter One

The little girl sitting in the hard, plastic chair next to the industrial green wall at the end of her mother’s hospital bed looked exactly like her mother except for her coloring. Where her mother’s skin was nearly white as porcelain, the girl’s was the color of honey. Her almond-shaped eyes were dark brown and framed by thick black lashes, while her mother’s eyes were the same shape––but cornflower blue with blonde lashes. The girl’s thick wavy hair in its long ponytail was dark brown while her mother’s was platinum blonde––and perfectly coifed in an elegant style swept back from her face. But there was no mistaking their similarity. Each had cupid bow lips, though the girl’s were pinched tightly as she stared down at her hands clenched in her lap. Their noses were both classic Roman. Both had lovely oval faces, delicate and beautiful.

 

The explanation for the difference in coloring was standing next to the head of the bed, gently holding his wife’s delicate hand in his big brown meaty fist. The look on his face was one of adoration as his wife gazed at him with a slight smile. His extra thirty pounds was obvious, making his face look jowly and slightly puffy. Worry didn’t help. The creases between his heavy black eyebrows seemed to pull his face toward its center, accenting its roundness. Twenty years ago he would have appeared manly, if not handsome. The contrast between his Nordic wife and his strong Latino looks was pronounced. But the match produced a child with the potential look of a Modigliani painting. On her, the combination was the face of a wary, solemn, somewhat elfin, girl. Not a child exactly, but more than a hint of a beauty in the making. On such a small face, her dark eyes and other features were almost outsized.”

 

She kept them down, avoiding any eye contact with either parent, if possible. Eleven years had taught her to observe everything, but keep very still and as unnoticeable as she could make herself. She saw everything and seldom reacted if she could help it.

 

Had a stranger entered the room, they would have interpreted the scene as one that was played out in many hospital rooms every day. The bad news had been delivered and the family was coming to grips with it together. The supportive husband was sheltering his lovely wife in his arms. Their daughter was being brought into the crisis for support and to understand.

 

But if they studied the little girl, they would see her nearly uncontrollable tension and fear. She bound her body with her thin arms tightly wrapped around her small stomach. Her legs and ankles were crossed and stuffed under her chair. She made no eye contact and played her mantra in her head. Be still. Don’t let them see you studying them. Prepare to run. Listen. Watch. Don’t look up.

 

Eliza Mendoza gazed at her husband’s face hovering over her in the hospital bed with a wry smile. It was a look she had perfected decades ago. It spoke of fondness and a great deal of need. But no matter how greatly she wanted her husband to believe in her love, she simply couldn’t force herself to go as far as faking that. She harbored no ill will against her husband. She was completely incapable of returning the love he showered on her. He didn’t matter to her other than a manageable means of support. In fact, Eliza was incapable of almost any type of feeling, except anger and frustration, and at times, uncontrollable fury. She vaguely remembered occasional feelings of warmth when growing up, but by the time she reached her teens, even those had utterly vanished. After several puzzling incidents of her unexplained cruelty to siblings, other school children, and animals, her parents had taken her to a psychiatric clinic where she was diagnosed as a sociopath and given lithium. It was also determined that she had an extremely high level of intelligence. After several months she was released. The

most important lesson she learned in the clinic was to be very careful to conceal any symptoms of abnormal behavior. Her parents kept her condition a secret from the rest of the family and certainly from any outsiders. When she rejoined the family after her stay in the hospital at the age of seventeen, her older siblings were so uncomfortable around her that they all made excuses to leave home.

 

Her parents despaired of their youngest daughter finding a life that would be fulfilling. Their earlier hopes that her condition was temporary had been replaced with a feeling of dread. Their love for their child was being diluted by the constant fear that she would never be normal. They feared her exploits and they had begun to fear her. Eliza sensed their love for her was ebbing and she began to resent them. They became two more people she couldn’t trust.

 

Eliza looked up at the man who had fathered her children and saw the worship in his eyes. But behind it she also saw his fear, his determination, and best of all, his anger at the news of her cancer. Yes, he was the right choice. Even after nearly thirty years of marriage, she knew she had been right about him, no matter what her parents wanted. He had never wavered in his devotion to her. She always came first. In fact, there wasn’t a second. Not their children, his position as Pastor of the South Sacramento Church of Christ, his volunteer work, nor even his religion mattered when compared to Eliza. She had managed her life perfectly, she thought. Eduardo Mendoza had been the ideal choice. He had horrified her parents while fulfilling her two main goals. The first was finding a provider who would try to fulfill her every wish. The second, and most important, was finding a man who would repel her Aryan parents. Eduardo filled the bill perfectly.

 

She often entertained herself by remembering the look of shock on the pale faces of her wealthy German father and Swedish mother when she told them she was marrying big Eduardo Mendoza, part-time gardener and theology student. Even better, he was so completely enraptured by his wife’s constant petting and touching when they were with her parents, he ignored his own reticence to be around their obvious disapproval.

 

They eventually handed their daughter off to Eduardo with a mixture of relief and horror. As years went by, the contact with them became less and less. As they became used to Eduardo they even began to pity him. But they never admitted what they knew of their daughter’s condition. They left the state before grandchildren began arriving and never visited.”