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Lydia stared into her only friend’s shiny black eyes. James seemed to stare back at her with inhuman love and compassion. She hugged him tight, and kissed his tiny, fabric nose. She giggled slightly when his floppy ear flipped over again. That smile, though, faded into a frown as she looked into her reflection in her rabbit’s perfect, clear eyes.
â€˜Oh, James,’ she thought, â€˜surely they will come soon. They have to. Do you remember my mother?’ His gorgeous eyes seemed to twinkle in response. â€˜Yes, I know, you have told me so many times before. She was the prettiest woman on the west side of town. Every girl admired her, and every man wanted her for himself. What about Father?” Lydia liked saying â€˜Father’; she could cherish the name longer than just â€˜Dad’. Also â€˜Father’ seemed more proper, and her father, according to Lydia, must have been the most respected black man in this town. She smiled a proud smile. â€˜Someday they will come back. They will take me home to a grand mansion, and it won’t matter anymore what color you are or who your mother and father are or how you dress or who your friends are. In fact everyone would be friends because nothing would matter!’ Lydia started to cry.
Of course, the other children in the orphanage had no idea what was going on, for Lydia had never spoken a word to the outside world, although she heard perfectly well. She was completely unaware of this deformity and thought people merely refused to answer her many questions.
“Hey, Lydia! Wanna play?” James called. This James, however, was not a rabbit and was in fact a human. He was the only other black child in a newly integrated white orphanage, and he always asked Lydia to play. â€˜No. Thank you, though,’ she thought. James shrugged, like he always did, not hearing her response. Lydia had decided long ago that all nice people are named James. She decided her father’s name was James, named her patchwork rabbit James, and knew the nice boy in the orphanage was named James.
â€˜Come on, James. Let’s go upstairs,’ Lydia told her rabbit. The slight twinkle in his pearly, black eyes seemed to agree with her. She appraised him now, from the tips of his polka dotted ears to the ends of his striped toes. The old orphanage master had made James for Lydia when she was about 2 years old, so she could have a friend. (Lydia, however, liked to believe her mother made it for her, out of all of her gorgeous dresses). He was made of the clothes other orphans had destroyed, with only small bits of usable fabric left. Each of the patches he was made of were beautiful to Lydia, no matter what they were from, for all people (which included her rabbit) by the name of James were beautiful to her.
â€˜What should we do today?’ Lydia asked her stuffed rabbit as they were walking down the hall. As if on queue, the school bell rang. â€˜I don’t want to go to school! What is the point? They ignore me and won’t teach me more than two plus two. It is awful.’ She did not know that it was not the teacher’s problem but rather her own, for once again she did not talk in a technical sense. She was incredibly smart for her age but could not verbalize this; the only way she knew to speak was through her mind, and she had only been taught to write her name so far. â€˜It’s so boring. Don’t look at me like that! You know I hate it.’ His eyes twinkled with encouragement. Lydia felt obligated to go, and, like always, she looked at him angrily, only to become overcome by love for the stuffed rabbit and kiss him gently on the nose. â€˜Fine. Just let me make my bed first. It takes a while for everyone to settle down, anyways.’ James seemed to agree, so she continued down the long hall.
Lydia made her bed quickly. She stared at it afterwards. â€˜It seems so… dull. I don’t like it. Not at all,’ she told her rabbit. She began to imagine her bed, her real bed, the bed in the house she would live in with her parents, the bed she would come home to after long family vacations, maybe even with James, the boy from the orphanage… A tear dripped down her chocolate cheeks. â€˜It’s no use, James. It just makes me more sad than happy. And with that she left the room, trying her hardest to only concentrate on the class ahead.
“Oh really,” she heard the orphanage master say sarcastically around the corner. Although Lydia was afraid of being caught listening in on another’s conversation, it seemed like a good idea at the time to distract her from becoming more upset about being an orphan.
“Yes. They’re coming for a child tomorrow,” said a voice Lydia did not recognize.
“Not on my watch. Who do these people think they are? The orphanage brochure specifically says to request an invitation to come at least a month in advance!”
“But what am I supposed to say? They came here all the way from England! It takes big cash to get here, and you know it.”
“I don’t care. They have no right to come here on short notice.”
There was a pause while the second of the voices decided what to say.
“You know, they’re interested in adopting an African American child.”
“I suppose it is incredibly important we work around adopter’s schedules,” said the orphanage master, suddenly changing her mood, “Especially if they would rid us of some of the filthy blacks here. I do hate this new integration rule.”
Lydia almost cried. She didn’t, though, for two reasons: she absolutely hated the new orphanage master, so why shouldn’t the orphanage master hate her too; and, if she were to cry, she would find herself in the deepest trouble she could imagine.
“I’ll call them right away, ma’am,” the other voice replied, walking away.
“Wait! Ask them what they want, a boy or girl. If they say boy, we’ve got a chance. There’s no way they’ll take the mute, though.” With that, the other person left and so did Lydia.
She ran straight up to her room, completely forgetting about school, and clutching poor James as hard as she could. She slammed the door, jumped on her bed, and cried, hugging her rabbit. â€˜I sure don’t know what mute means,’ she told James, â€˜but it can’t be good. Does it mean my skin’s brown, or I’m not smart? But I am smart so it has to mean something different. It must mean I’m not pretty, because even I don’t know if I’m pretty or not. All I ever see is my reflection in your eyes and I can hardly tell how I look in it. Do you think I’m pretty? Oh, but if they take James, what shall I do? He’s the only one here who likes me other than you.’ She went on like this for hours until she fell asleep, still crying and hugging dear James right next to her heart.
Lydia awoke early the next morning, an hour or two before the rest of the orphanage would wake up. There was, however, a commotion down in the lobby. Holding James’s arm, she walked slowly down the hall still thinking of the last night.
When she came to the lobby, she saw the loveliest couple she had ever seen, a beautiful woman and respectable man. â€˜James!’ Lydia said to her rabbit, â€˜they’re perfect!’ It was then that she saw James, the orphan boy, running over to her.
“Lydia! I’m getting adopted! Isn’t it wonderful! Aren’t they wonderful?” Lydia nodded but didn’t know what to think. She was happy for James but jealous and upset he would be gone. Until then she had not noticed the orphanage master filling out adoption forms and the lovely couple filling out other forms of various types.
James was ecstatic. “I’ll invite you over every Christmas and Easter and Halloween and... and all the other kids, too! It’ll be great!” He kissed her on the forehead.
Nothing else, other than perhaps her mother leaving her at the step of the orphanage seven years ago, left as great an impact on Lydia’s life than that kiss. With it, she realized what she was losing and snapped out of her dream world. Lydia stood there stunned for what felt like hours. She hadn’t realized James’s human hand was in hers until it started to slip away.
“Don’t leave me!” she yelled, shocked at the loudness of her own voice, her real voice. The whole room turned to face her. “Don’t…” she trailed off, now shy and quiet.
The next few moments were a blur for Lydia. She only caught small fragments of speech, like “What do you think, honey?” and “Adopt her?” then later “Fill these out,” and “Where’s the doctor information?” Lydia was fine, though, because James was beside her and was taking her wherever he went.
The ride to her new home was long, and she did not know where they were going nor what they would do there, but she was content. She had a family now: Mother, Father, and James. They talked most of the way, and Lydia enjoyed having responses, something she had not realized she missed so much. It was about four hours into the drive when Lydia realized the patchwork rabbit she had loved and cared for was still lying on the floor in the orphanage lobby where she had dropped him. She sighed but did not tell anyone. She had a family now, and James the rabbit would be able to make some other girl happy, like her, some other time. â€˜Thank you, James,’ she thought.