‘I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.’ Josh attempted to plant his hands on his hips but the bulk of his enormous hedgehog costume prevented it.
‘The leggings and footwear combo are particularly sexy.’ I tried to hide my smirk but failed abysmally. ‘I promise you won’t have to wear it all afternoon. Just an hour or so.’
There was a knock on the lounge door and my best friend, Hannah, poked her head round it. ‘Just checking how you’re… Oh my God! Josh! That’s hilarious. I need pictures.’ She whipped her mobile out of her jeans pocket.
Josh groaned. ‘Veterinary surgeon morphs into giant muppet. What a come down!’ There was laughter in his tone and I knew he didn’t mind really.
After Hannah left, laughing at the photos, Josh turned to me and smiled. ‘If at any point in the future, you have even the tiniest doubt about how much I love you, picture me wearing this costume and know that I did it just for you. This right here?’ He indicated the outfit. ‘This is what true love looks like.’
I stood back, taking in the padded furry costume with curved spines down the back, the brown leggings and long-sleeved T-shirt clinging to his muscular legs and arms, the large paws on his feet and the matching paws for his hands. His face and a tuft of dark hair peeked out from the underside of the hedgehog’s head and my heart melted.
‘Every day you amaze me and every day I love you even more.’ I gently kissed him, laughing as the head from his costume dishevelled my hair. ‘Ready to introduce Mickleby the Hedgehog to his public?’
He screwed his face into a mock-mortified expression. ‘Ready as I’ll ever be.’
I squinted in the bright sunshine. It was such a beautiful early May day with a cornflower-blue sky and a few wispy clouds floating lazily on the gentlest of breezes. Pulling a bobble out of the pocket of my dress, I scraped my long, dark hair back into a loose ponytail.
Josh stumbled as we crossed the farmyard and I felt a twinge of guilt that he was dressed like a giant football mascot while I was wearing something much more understated and weather-appropriate. He’d given me some hedgehog-themed dresses as a present yesterday and I’d selected a blue short-sleeved one with a red and white hedgehog print for today. I’d combined it with the hedgehog wellies that my good friends Rich and Dave had given me as a housewarming gift when I moved out of their cottage and into the farmhouse a month ago.
As we approached the large stone barn that housed Hedgehog Hollow Rescue Centre, there were several high-pitched squeals and suddenly we were surrounded by children, stroking Mickleby’s spines and trying to grasp hold of his paws.
A stream of children followed us, as though Mickleby was the Pied Piper, as we made our way to the side of the barn. We’d created a meet and greet space there using a woodland backdrop and some wooden red and white spotted toadstools borrowed from the performing arts department at Reddfield TEC – the local college where I’d worked as a Health and Social Care Tutor since September last year. The scene was perfect for parents wishing to take photos of their children with our new mascot in exchange for a small donation towards the running of our charity.
Hannah and her husband Toby had volunteered for ‘crowd control’ duties. Their eight-month-old daughter, Amelia, was fast asleep in her buggy under the shade of a gazebo. I took a quick peek and smiled at the outfit they’d chosen: a pink cardigan with a hedgehog on each side worn over a pale blue pinafore dress with a giant hedgehog and butterfly on it. She looked so adorable lying there with her fists scrunched up against her cheeks and her lips intermittently smacking together.
Peeling my eyes away from her, I stood back and watched Josh for a while. As a vet, he was understandably superb with animals but this was the first time I’d seen him around children. He was such a natural, getting down on all fours so the smaller ones could stroke his spines and pretending to snuffle for food round the toadstools.
All around me, the sounds of laughter and chatter warmed my heart. We’d really done it. Hedgehog Hollow Rescue Centre was now fully operational, taking in poorly and injured hedgehogs and orphaned hoglets. When we’d officially opened yesterday – a low-key event