It wasn’t Maeve’s fault. Melty had wanted to come into the restaurant instead of staying all alone in the car—to be possibly kidnapped or at least lonely. And of course he’d wanted to sit at the table with them, and he wasn’t big enough to sit on a regular chair, so they had needed a booster seat. Which Mom had said was asking too much, but the waiter hadn’t minded at all, and Maeve wasn’t the kind of barbarian that would make her small friend sit in a seat too low to see over the table. Melty was a hedgehog, so named for his backside, where his acrylic fur had gotten too close to the radiator one winter. Mom had offered to get Maeve "a new one," but Maeve had embraced her friend, faults and all, and rechristened him Melty. Because you can't just replace friends when they're injured. Melty had always been a bit of a scaredy hedgehog, which was annoying to brave Maeve, but she knew how to take care of him, and she didn’t really mind it when he wanted small favors, like to be unpacked and brought inside. If she was being honest, she did like having him with her, even though he was supposed to be just a nighttime friend these days. And it wasn’t exactly Maeve’s fault that it had taken them so long to eat. She couldn’t control when she was hungry or not, and she had offered to not eat and that they could just get back on the road. Her parents where the ones so insistent on her eating an entire piece of pizza even when she wasn’t hungry and it had broccoli on it. In fact, she would have noticed earlier in the car ride that he was missing, if she hadn’t been reminded every thirty seconds that she still should be eating her pizza, which they had taken to-go and put in the back seat with her. By the time she’d noticed, they were already in Canada. "Melty!" "What is it, Maeve?" Dad asked. "He's still at the restaurant!" "Who is?" "Melty!" "Her hedgehog, hon," Mom said, her hand going to her temple. "I thought it was Hedgy. Hedgy the Hedgehog." "Melty." Maeve said. "Melty the Melthog. He's. Still. At. The. Restaurant." "He'll be okay,” Dad said. “But we can't go back there right now. We’re already in Canada." "So?" “So, I’ll call the restaurant and we’ll get him back. I’ll—ask them to mail it. Or something. “But he needs me!” "Maeve," Dad said, "I need you to be big right now. I know you miss Melty, but we can't get him right this minute." "He's scared, I know he is." Dad glanced at Mom. “Josilyn, can you…?” Mom turned around to Maeve. "He'll be fine. Dad will call them when we get to the cottage. That’s going to have to be good enough for now.”
Maeve sulked all the way through the car ride, though Prince Edward Island was an appealing green and every little house was pointed and looked like a doll could live there. Mom kept saying things were “quaint.” It seemed like a nice place to be a farmer. Their cottage was a gray house with straight sides, alone in a field of dandelions, but so close to the ocean. It was a little dark already but as they pulled up a motion light came on, greeting them. There was one lighthouse friend just within sight, and then a village a little farther if they took the car. Anne of Green Gables would have lived in this house, even though the gables weren't green. They were dusty pink, like the curtains, which were also dusty. They ate takeout that night, prepared to find a grocery store in the morning. "And maybe we can go to the beach?" "Of course we will. We'll go to the beach every day. It's right there."
It wasn't until bedtime that Maeve remembered Melty. "Did you call the restaurant?" "I left a message." "What did they say?" "They haven't called back yet." The comforter on Maeve's bed was pale pink and pilling. It felt like somebody else's blanket. She cried, quietly this time. "I need him." "You'll be okay. Just for tonight."
But she wasn't okay. An hour later she went downstairs, to where her parents were having a nightcap. "I can't sleep." “Yes you can, Maeve,” Mom said, not turning from her place at the table. “I can’t. Not alone.” “Geo, can you…?” Mom said, almost under her breath. “Maeve,” Dad said in his almost-angry voice. “Go to bed.” They didn’t care about her at all. Hot, silent tears running down her face, Maeve stomped up the stairs. She got back into bed, leaving space for where Melty should be. Go to bed Maeve. As if it were that easy. She tried to hug herself like she was someone else. She closed her eyes and felt her smooth body for the melted patch, but it was no good. She couldn’t be herself and Melty. Maeve climbed out of bed and began rifling through her duffle bag. She wasn’t crying anymore. She pulled out her spare footie pajamas and began stuffing each limb with clothing, creating a lumpy, sheep-printed creature. When it was almost full, she zipped the front up and found elastics to close the arms and around the top of his neck. She held him up to be sure. The execution was a little haphazard, but the bond was instant. She hugged him to her chest, whispering, “Big Boy.” Before she could properly tuck Big Boy in, there was a sharp knock on the door and Mom’s voice. “Maeve! Lights out!” “I will!” She opened the door. “What are you doing awake? Look at this mess!” Maeve hugged her new friend protectively. “Maeve.” Mom flicked the light switch on and off. “Go to bed.” The door slammed as she walked downstairs. Maeve climbed up into the bed and Big Boy followed, cuddling into her. She would fall asleep easily in this new friend's arms. She didn’t even miss Melty, not really.
“I hate her.” I know. “They don’t care that I’m all alone up here. They wouldn’t even notice if I died.” But you’re not alone. I’ll take care of you. “I know you will. I love you Big Boy.” She squeezed him around his fleecy waist. He snaked his arms around her neck as she drifted off.
The next day, they went to the ocean, Big Boy and all, Mom rolling her eyes. It was a short walk from the cottage through an expanse of scruffy grass that petered out and became a wide beach, stretching long on one side, with some rocks and cliffs on the other. The sand was dark, almost red. Maeve had only seen pale beaches before. Within minutes she’d stripped off her shorts and tee shirt and ran to the water, trailing Big Boy after her. The water wasred too. Big Boy stopped short. The water is bloody. They watched the wave of dark red ocean foam onto the sand, becoming clear water only as it thinned at the end of its path. “It’s not blood, look,” Maeve pointed. “Just lots of little red floaties.” Looks bloody to me. Big Boy opted to stay propped up near the water’s edge while Maeve swam. It was cold, but she stayed in, letting the water pull her out and wash her back in. There was no one else on this part of the beach, and her parents didn't come in, preferring to sit around in their chairs. As she swam, the little puffs of pinky-red floated all around her, tickling, sticking to her arms, soggy when they came out of the water with a lifted hand. They added to the pulling feel of the ocean, like fingers guiding her out and away. And then back in. She was moving to the left, towards the cliffs. Slowly. Maeve liked seeing the ocean's process of taking her where it would. But she'd have to go back soon. When she was almost past the rocks, she let one big red wave push her all the way back in, bowling her over as it broke, stronger near the rocks. "The ocean has cold fingers," she told Mom, between chatters afterward. "What?" Maeve allowed herself to be wrapped in a thick towel. "Cold bloody fingers!" "Oh, Maeve. Gross." Maeve ran back to the shoreline to wrap Big Boy in the towel too. She pictured them as a two-headed monster before remembering, as she wrapped him, that he didn’t have a head. They were a two-bodied, one-headed monster. She swung him around in the towel, his feet skimming out the bottom. “Maeve, please don’t get your clothes wet!” Dad called, coming up behind her. “I took them off back there,” Maeve said, as she and Big Boy stepped nearer to the rolling red. Big Boy wanted to go in. “Maeve!” Dad snatched Big Boy’s sleeve-end and lifted him above a swell. “I meant these clothes.” Maeve grabbed Big Boy around the middle and yanked him and the towel down into the water with her. “Don’t you touch him!” she screamed.
Big Boy, of course, had to be taken back to the house, disassembled, washed, and dried. Maeve spent the better part of the afternoon watching parts of her beloved’s body spin violently—first in the washing machine and then in the dryer, which she blocked with her body until Mom agreed to run it on delicate with no fabric softener. “It’ll poison him!” “I’m sorry,” Maeve whispered to Big Boy’s tumbling parts. She kissed her hand and pressed it to the window, where a stray pajama arm stuck momentarily to the glass.
Maeve had the door open before the dryer had finished buzzing. She searched out the footies first, and found the elastics still on. She was tempted to crawl inside the warm, empty skin herself—to be Big Boy. But nobody could be Big Boy but Big Boy. Sock by shirt, she reassembled her friend. The carefullest surgeon with the dearest patient. It was as though Big Boy knew how close he had come to not existing anymore, the way bits of him staticked together, and to Maeve. They’re bad for us. –a sock, irresistibly puppeting on her hand. “I said I’m sorry.” They want to keep us apart. –a tee-shirt clinging to her legs. “I know.” I can’t help you if you let them take me to pieces again. –a tumble of cloth out of a poorly fastened arm. “I won’t let that happen.”
She brought Big Boy upstairs to dinner and sat him next to her in the extra chair, pulling it close. She caught Mom rolling her eyes, but she didn't care. Dad glanced at Mom and said something about calling the restaurant in Maine again and asking about “Hedgy. Maeve stopped herself from correcting, Melty. She knew he was looking for an excuse to get rid of Big Boy. But she didn’t need that winy little hedgehog anymore. She held Big Boy's hand tighter. They were having veggie burgers, which were pretty easy to eat with one hand, even if it was her left hand, and potatoes that could be speared. Some vegetables that she wouldn't be eating anyway. Maeve's parents went on about museums they could go to—a fox museum, "full of foxes?"; a potato museum, which just felt like dinner again; an Acadian museum, whatever that was—something historic. Maeve knew that all those places would involve a lot of reading boring things nailed to walls. "Is there a children's museum?" she asked, reaching awkwardly over her plate and spilling her juice across the table. "Maeve," Mom jumped up and grabbed a rag. "Sorry." "Help me clean this. Please." Maeve glanced at Big Boy, still holding her hand. "Maeve," Dad said. "Please help." Maeve slid off the chair, letting her feet trickle to the floor, but didn't give up Big Boy's little paw of elasticked hand, unwilling to go back on her word. "What's going on with that thing?" Mom asked, resisting her frustration. "His name is Big Boy," Maeve said. "And he’s…shy, so I said I'd hold his hand." "He'll be fine while you eat dinner." "I'm keeping my word." "Maeve." Mom went to the chair and lifted Big Boy up by the armpits. "I'm sorry, but Big Boy needs to go upstairs for now. He's distracting you." "No!" Maeve cried. But she felt Dad's hand on her should, gentle but with a clear message. Maeve swallowed hard and wiped her area of the table, wide, violent strokes with her balled-up napkin.
It was a long dinner, followed by a period of coercion and a shower. Maeve resented their power over her, though the shower was very warm and pleasantly scented, and there were more thick towels at the end of it. She wrapped one of these around herself and went back to her room. Big Boy lay on the bed, facing the wall, and Maeve jumped onto the stiff mattress with the lumpy body. She squeezed Bog Boy around the middle, but it didn't hug back this time. It felt cold, stiff like the mattress. Maeve's heart caught in her throat. She had abandoned him and he knew it. She squeezed a little harder. "I'm sorry," she whispered, and this time he hugged back, and tightly. That was when Maeve began making more promises.
A glass broke in Josilyn’s dream—or was it a slamming door? She sat up, suddenly awake. The house was still. Outside, the motion light had come on. Maybe Geo had stepped outside for something, couldn't sleep? But he was right there, also still. Josilyn went to the window. She put her hand to the glass when she saw them. "NO." Two figures stepped out of the circle of yellow created by the motion light before becoming one shape in the darkness; the girl and her creation moved arm-in-arm through the grass, hurrying merrily in the direction of the ocean.