“Taylor, did you get your toys packed?”
Mom was coming up the stairs. Taylor carefully fitted the last pack of Legos into the moving box. Next to him sat another box labeled “DONATE.” He avoided looking inside that one.
Mom reached into it and pulled out a dirty stuffed dog with no tail. “You decided to leave Mr. Buttons after all, huh?” She stroked the patchy fur, faded from vibrant brown-and-white to a dull grey. “That’s probably for the best. You’ve had him for a long time.”
“Yeah.” He smoothed the tape down over the cardboard, trying to get all the wrinkles out.
“Let’s get you some new toys in Connecticut,” she said, putting the dog back. Mr Button’s eyes were so bright they looked wet.
“I don’t want to go,” he said for like the hundredth time. What was in Connecticut? Even the word was sharp and unfriendly. Con, like a trick. Cut, like a knife.
“I know, baby.”
I am not a baby. He didn’t say it aloud because Mom was trying to be kind. Only babies talked to stuffed animals. Growing up meant he had to let Mr. Buttons go.
“It’ll be fun meeting new kids, right? A fresh start for all of us.”
What if Connecticut kids were bullies? How could Mom help? She was always at work. Mr. Buttons would know what to do. He always did. He’d been right about Taylor’s dad, who had a new family now. And about Liam, his best friend who wouldn’t talk to him anymore.
Mom ruffled his hair. “Let’s go, Tay. Leave the boxes for the movers, they’ll take care of them. Sibyl’s already in the car.”
“Don’t go,” said Mr. Buttons in a voice that sounded just like the whine of a puppy.
Heart racing, Taylor followed Mom down the stairs. Their house was narrow, with only two bedrooms. They had to downsize after Taylor’s dad left. Mom promised the house in Connecticut would be bigger. Mr. Buttons was going to stay in the box this time.
The station wagon was packed with clothes and supplies for the cross-country road trip. Mom pretended it would be fun. It was going to take five days. Five days in a crowded car stuffed with junk with Mom and Sibyl. It sounded like the opposite of fun. And when it was over he’d be stuck in Connecticut, alone. What would happen to Mr. Buttons? Mom said another kid would love him, but Mr. Buttons was so old.
Sibyl was big enough to sit in the front seat now and she was already there, on her phone.
His booster seat was in the back and he climbed in. Was Mr. Buttons right about the kids in Connecticut? What if they were all like Liam? The last time they’d talked, Liam rolled his eyes and scoffed. “You need to grow up.” It still ached in his stomach, a dull pain that was always there.
What if the movers threw Mr. Buttons away? What if Mr. Buttons got angry at him?
“Wait,” he said, undoing his seat belt, almost in a panic. “I’m getting Mr. Buttons.”
Mom sighed. “Hurry. I want to hit the road before traffic starts.”
He raced up the stairs and grabbed Mr. Buttons.
“I knew you’d come back for me, kid.” His voice was rough and warm and grateful. “I knew you wouldn’t leave me. I love you, kid, you know that?”
He hugged Mr. Buttons, tucking the familiar head under his chin the way he had when he was three years old. “I don’t want to move. I wish we could stay here.”
“Is that what you want, kid? For real?”
He knew it was childish but he couldn’t help it. “Yeah. But we can’t.”
“Sure we can. I’ll take care of it.”
The confidence in his voice comforted Taylor. “How?”
“Look out the window, kid.”
Taylor pulled the blinds up. The station wagon rested in the driveway, back door open like an afterthought. Mom stood by the driver’s side, hand on hip, staring down at her phone. Maybe checking the directions to Phoenix, their first stop, to visit Grandma.
Taylor sucked in his breath as a boy bounced out of the shade of the porch onto the driveway. The boy had sandy hair that shone in the sun and wore Taylor’s favorite orange-and-yellow striped shirt. He held up a Mr. Buttons.
Taylor looked down at the real Mr. Buttons, who winked. “See?”
“Wait,” Taylor said.
The fake Taylor got into the car. Mom came around to close the door. How could she believe that other kid was him?
He banged on the window. “Hey! That’s not me!”
“I thought this is what you wanted,” said Mr. Buttons, sounding hurt. “Isn’t it?”
Mom paused, hand on the door handle, and cocked her head, listening. Taylor smashed his palms on the window pane. “I’m still here!”
Mom peered up, shading her eyes from the sun. Then Sibyl said something and Mom got into the car. The door shut.
He ran to the stairs. “Careful, kid,” said Mr. Buttons from behind him. “Watch your step!”
He stumbled on the top stair and barely caught himself on the bannister. His breath wheezed and his eyes were full of tears so he couldn’t see. He ran to the front door. It was locked. He hammered on it with his fists. He screamed.
Outside, the car’s engine started and it pulled out of the driveway. He heard it go down the street. Turn the corner.
From upstairs, Mr. Button’s voice floated down to him, like dead leaves falling. “Aw, kid. It’s just you and me now. It’s going to be great. I promise.”