Dolls are perfect. They'll always be perfect. Whether porcelain or plastic, they're perfect. James wasn't perfect. Not to himself.
"Daddy, please don't."
Cold skin, porcelain skin, unblemished skin. On his face. But, beneath long sleeves and thick sweaters, the boy's skin was dark and twisted from when his father held too tightly.
"Mommy, I don't like it when Daddy touches me."
But, what lovely eyes. Large, green eyes. Like pools of emerald, fields of grass, and leaves in spring. How pretty, how perfect he was. How lovely little James was.
"I ran out of bandages again, Mommy."
Rounded face, slim body, long hair. James, the prettiest boy in the world. If only he stopped bleeding, if only he could sit right. If only his mommy would put down that bottle. If only his daddy wouldn't swear.
"I'm sorry, Daddy. I can't stop crying."
James liked dolls. They didn't hit him. They didn't send him false compliments. They didn't shove beliefs down his throat. They were perfect, even with round faces and slim builds. They smiled, even in the face of true terror.
"D-Daddy. St-stop it. The t-teacher told me Daddies aren't supposed to do this."
James hit Katie. He hit her twice, then the teacher asked why. He smiled, that lovely smile. That warm smile. So trustworthy was his smile.
"She looked at me like Daddy did this morning," he replied. "I'm sorry, Ms. Smith."
"How does your daddy look at you?" Ms. Smith asked.
James wasn't smiling anymore. He chewed his bottom lip for a minute, before looking down.
"Like he used to look at Mommy," he whispered.
Ms. Smith called James' dad. He didn't answer. After James didn't come to school for a week, the school board told her they moved. They told her they'd launch an investigation.
James, after they asked him, told them he didn't know what they were talking about. The bruise on his wrist? He'd accidentally tripped and hit it against the table. His father and mother both loved him. The teacher had misheard him. They had no choice but to leave.
They weren't there when James' wrist bled. They weren't there when he cried. They weren't there when Daddy hurt him. When Daddy touched him. When Daddy put blemishes on the scraped porcelain. When Mommy drank on the couch, screaming for them to keep quiet. They couldn't stop James' choked sobs. They couldn't stop Daddy if they were there.
Daddy said that if James was gonna be girly, might as well be all the way. The knife was where James drew the line. Daddy was shaky on his feet, so James easily pushed him away. Daddy had been drinking, as he had so often lately, so he was always shaky on his feet. James cried when he pushed Daddy away. James cried harder when he allowed Daddy to come closer again.
After all, Daddy promised that he'd be happy with one more time.
Daddy always had been a liar.
Daddy had never been able to keep a toy in good shape, even as a child. His porcelain doll, however, was beyond cracked. It was bruised. Its mind was crumbled. Its will was wilted. James, the darling little porcelain doll with such pretty hair, was more than bruised.
Daddy made sure that his porcelain doll would never doubt its chill. He made darling James, who hit Katie and Ricky in the same hour, as lifeless as the teddy bear beside his bed. He made James, darling James, sweet James, cold and lifeless.
Sweet James, with that smile on his face, shot Daddy twice. Beautiful James, dressed all in black, slipped the toilet cleaner into Mommy's next drink. Loving James, with a hug and a kiss, told me that he would keep me safe from the bad people.
I believed him, my sweet doll. My lovely doll. My perfect doll, James, who held my hand as the house burned behind us. If Mommy and Daddy weren't gone to Idaho, like James told me, they definitely would be dead by the time the fire station found them.
Somehow, as we walked away, I thought I heard a scream behind me. James smiled kindly, so sweet and innocent, and told me that the night was young and we should celebrate.
"After all," he told me softly. "Mommy and Daddy will never see the stars again. We should count them for them."
I agreed. After all, sweet James would never lie to me. Mommy and Daddy had always gone to bed early.