Greg was confused. He’d been confused for a long time, probably his whole life. The world didn’t make any sense to him. Being confused wasn’t new.
But he was especially confused now. Nobody had ever been nice to him. Not like this. He’d been housed and fed and fostered and sent to school and all that. But always grudgingly. Or because someone had wanted something from him. Or for some reason. It was never just because people were nice. People weren’t nice, not to Greg.
And yet Darby and his family were being nice to Greg for no reason. He didn’t understand.
“Do you want more potatoes, Greg?” Mrs. Trapp asked, offering him a bowl.
Greg shook his head politely. “No thank you, Mrs. Trapp.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Greg agreed. He glanced at Darby, who’d just snuck some carrots onto his plate.
Darby smiled, and signed something at him.
“He says you should eat more,” Owen translated for him. “Though he also doesn’t like carrots and wants you to finish his for him.”
Which was probably why Gavin had put more carrots on Darby’s plate while Darby had been looking at Greg. “I’m really okay,” he promised. “I’m used to not eating much, so…”
“That’s a lot of words to say you’re still hungry, young man,” Mr. Trapp said. He and Mrs. Trapp were Owen’s parents, who’d given him a room in their bed and breakfast, which was also their house, even though he had no money or anything, and told him he could stay as long as he wanted.
“I…” Greg didn’t need to eat anymore. He was fine. But they obviously wanted him to, so he put a few more potatoes and a small piece of chicken onto his plate to make them stop looking at him like that. “It’s good food,” he said, because he didn’t want them to worry that he didn’t like it or think he was ungrateful. “Thank you.”
“You don’t need to keep saying that,” Mrs. Trapp said kindly. She seemed like a kind woman. Greg was afraid of her.
“Don’t be sorry. What’s ours is yours.”
Greg swallowed, shifting in his chair. He didn’t understand what they wanted from him. “It’s, it’s not, though. It’s yours. I’m just a…person who woke up here.”
“Greg,” Owen said, voice gentle for such a big guy. “My parents wouldn’t have let you stay here if we didn’t want you here. You don’t have to act like you’re imposing, you’re not.”
“But…” Greg put his fork down. Darby was watching him. “I don’t…understand. I don’t understand why.”
“Why you…care,” Greg whispered. “Why you care about me. I don’t understand what you want me to do.”
“We don’t want you to do anything,” Gavin said. “Except feel better, if you can.”
“And what if I can’t?” Greg asked, looking at the carrots.
“That’s okay too. We’ll still be here for you.”
“That’s not…” Greg shook his head, his vision blurring. “But that’s not how it works. That’s not…” He couldn’t. Greg got up from the table and bolted from the room.
He stopped at the front door. Shoes, and a coat. He needed to dress to go outside if he was going to go…where was he going to go? Last time he’d run like this he’d collapsed in a park and woken up here. What was he going to…
Greg jumped when arms wrapped around him, but it was Darby, and all he did was hug Greg from behind, holding him in place. Greg could have fought him off, made him let go, but he didn’t want to hurt Darby, who was nice. So he just awkwardly stood there, letting Darby hug him for a while. After what seemed like a few minutes, he tried to turn around, and Darby let him go, looking worried. He pulled out his phone, typed something and handed it to Greg.
“I…” Greg swallowed. He could taste carrots. He took Darby’s phone and typed. I can’t stay.
Darby shook his head, and typed, Why not?
“I don’t…” Greg shook his head. “I don’t belong here.”
Owen had told him Darby couldn’t read lips in English, and it was too dark in the hallway besides, but he must have understood, because all he did was hold up his phone again. Why not?
Because Darby and his family were nice people. They had a nice house and a nice life and someone like Greg wasn’t meant to be part of that. Greg was only going to make them unhappy by being here. He was only going to break things and ruin things and make everything all…
Darby was looking at him, and he looked so sad. He was such a nice person, Greg knew that after just a few days with him. He didn’t deserve to have Greg in his life. None of them did.
While Greg stood there, not knowing how to say any of that, Darby was typing on his phone again. He put it in Greg’s hand, and stepped back, as if giving him permission to go.
You matter, Greg.
Greg’s hands started shaking when he read that, so badly he had to put Darby’s phone on the table by the door. He’d…he’d never been told that before. Greg started to cry, and this time he was the one who started the hug, wrapping his arms around Darby, who hugged him back. “Thank you,” he whispered, even though Darby couldn’t hear him.
It was a good while that they stood there like that, silently holding each other. A good while before Greg felt composed enough to go back in the kitchen, Darby holding his hand. All four of them were still there, waiting for him to come back. “I’m sorry,” Greg said, trying to breathe normally. He couldn’t quite look at any of them. “I, I’m not used t-to people being nice because they can. You’re all, you’re all really nice.”
“Listen,” Owen said, facing Greg. “I know we’re all a bit overwhelming. But we just want you know that as long as you’re here, this is your home too, okay? You don’t have to apologize to us for anything.”
“You don’t even know me,” Greg said, shaking his head.
“We don’t need to, young man,” said Mr. Trapp. “Everyone deserves a home where they can be safe. If you don’t have one of those, you can make it here.”
“And if you’re really not hungry, you don’t have to eat just to make us happy,” Mrs. Trapp added with a smile.
“And,” added Gavin. “If they get to be too much, you can come stay at my place. You can go days there without seeing another person. Darby has a bedroom there too.”
Greg didn’t know what to say. Darby pulled him to the table. “We don’t want anything from you, Greg,” Owen assured him. “You’re welcome here. For as long as you want.”
“I…” Greg sat down. He was so confused. But…he felt nice. It was warm and nice in here. It was nice here. “I don’t like carrots either,” he said, not sure what else to say. “Could…I have some more green beans instead?”
All Greg could think, as he sat there at the table where nobody wanted anything from him and everyone thought he mattered, was that this must be what having a family was like.