"[Name], I need you to meet someone." Your cousin said after walking in through the front door with a smaller figure next to him. You slipped a bookmark into the magazine you were reading and set it on a nearby coffee table as you slid your feet off the futon. Curiously, you looked up at your cousin as you walked toward him.
Since you lived with your cousin, it wasn't unusual for him to walk into your house because he owned the place after all. He took you in after both your parents died two years ago when you were about eleven years old. Since then, it had always been the two of you living together. However, this was the first time he had such a calm yet urgent tone when bringing over a guest.
"What is it?" You asked him and turned your attention to the Canadian boy next to him. He was about your age with long brownish blond hair and pale skin. His sad blue eyes were downcast but looked blank as he stared at the ground. You noticed he was wearing a coat that was several sizes too big for him and recognized it as your cousin's coat. Aside from the coat, the boy had a ragged appearance to him. His shoes needed replacement; his hair was bloody and messy and needed a wash. The large sleeves of the coat and his fraying pants hid the rest of his skin well, but as you glanced at his face, you could see a purple bruise on one of his cheeks.
"This is Matthew Williams." Your cousin gave you a small smile. "He will be living with us from now on." He turned toward the child next to him. "Matthew, this is my cousin, [Name]. Now that we are here, please feel free to make yourself comfortable with your new surroundings."
The boy stayed silent as he slowly followed your cousin into the living room. Matthew finally stopped next to the futon you were originally lying on and stood there, continuing to stare at the ground. You wondered if he didn't want to sit down. Soon your cousin came back toward the front door where you were still standing dumbfounded. Your cousin could be strange at times, that was true, but this was something completely unexpected.
"Cousin, I don't mind him being here, but what do you mean by 'living with us'?" You asked him quietly. Your cousin sighed and for the first time that night you realized how tired he looked.
"I didn't formally adopt him but I am his legal guardian as of now, just as I am of you." He replied. "I didn't want to make him feel he had to think of me as his father. His… his parents aren't alive anymore, you see."
You nodded to show you understood. So the young boy's parents had passed away as well, you thought, remembering your own. It was about a couple years ago when you were at home from school and your parents were driving back from work. The next thing you knew, your cousin was ringing the doorbell and solemnly delivering the news that your parents were killed in a car crash by an unknown driver. No matter how much you screamed and cried and begged to see your parents at the hospital, your cousin was incredibly patient. It was about a month later when he decided to be your caretaker that you officially moved into his house. You wondered what Matthew's parents were like.
"You must understand why he is like this though, [Name]. He has been through too many traumatic experiences tonight." Your cousin rubbed his forehead with his fingers. He looked strained.
"Traumatic? What do you mean?" You asked.
"He… he comes from a broken home. His parents abused him, both physically and mentally. My co-worker and I intervened with his family just in time when his drunken parents were threatening to hit him with a gun. We saved the boy but his parents were afraid to face charges… so they killed themselves. "
You were left speechless. It was obvious the young Canadian looked greatly disturbed, but you didn't expect him to witness the deaths of his own parents. Or that they abused him.
"I'm sorry… I-I didn't know." You said softly. Your cousin just gave you a tired smile.
"Anyway I offered to take custody of him so he will be our new housemate. Can you tend to his injuries?" He asked. "I need to make a phone call." You nodded again in response and walked to the living room to finally greet the Canadian.
"Hello, Matthew." You said kindly. He didn't respond but shifted his gaze from the ground to you. "I'm going to help you with your coat." You spent the next few moments bringing down the zipper and loosening the coat off his shoulders. During that time you accidently grabbed onto his arm and he jumped back in shock, watching you. You looked at him in surprise. "I-I'm so sorry. Did I hurt you?" You kept your hands to your side until he stepped back toward you, allowing you to finish removing the coat.
You noticed the cuts and bruises he had on his arms as you took a soft cloth and proceeded to wipe and bandage his injuries. Even his forehead had a long cut across it, which was probably the reason why his messy hair and its long curl were stained with blood. You wondered what his lifestyle was like when your cousin returned to take the boy to the bathroom and help him wash himself. You, who couldn't obviously do that, went the kitchen to make dinner. You weren't sure what type of food the boy would want to eat so you made sandwiches and soup to keep things simple.
Dinner started out pretty calm with you and your cousin setting the table and making light conversation. Matthew, who was now cleaned, bandaged, and dressed in your cousin's old clothes, sat between you two at the table, not touching his food. You wondered if he wasn't hungry or wanted someone to feed him. Of course, you didn't want to end up hurting him again or accidently choke him by stuffing the sandwich into his mouth.
"Matthew?" You turned to him. "If there is something you want to eat, I'll happily make it." You gave him a smile. He looked at you, the blank expression still on his face. He shook his head and picked up his sandwich before he started eating it. You weren't sure what to make of his quietness but felt yourself inwardly smiling. It seemed he was hungry after all.
After dinner was the matter of sleeping arrangements. Your cousin's house had a guest bedroom but unfortunately the room had no bed or furniture. Your cousin offered to let Matthew use his bed but you told the Canadian you were fine with him using yours. After forcing your cousin to go to sleep after his long day, you gathered a spare blanket and pillow and walked to the living room. You were going to sleep on the futon.
It was about an hour after you settled into bed when you heard a shuffling sound during the night. You woke up and turned toward the sound to see Matthew walk into the living room. You wondered if he needed something.
"Matthew…? Is something wrong?" You asked him, rubbing your eyes. He looked at you and shyly squeezed the pillow in his arms.
"I-Is it alright… if I sleep next to you?" He asked you, his voice incredibly faint. You sat up, surprised he had said anything at all, much less offer such a request.
"Um… yes. I don't mind." You replied and got to your feet. Since the futon was too small to hold both of you, you gathered your things and followed him back to your bedroom. Setting your pillow next to his, you climbed into bed next to him, the bed just big enough to accommodate both of you. As you laid your head down, you realized the young Canadian had already fallen asleep. "Goodnight, Matthew." You said softly before rolling over and closing your eyes.
Due to living in the same house, the two of you grew up together over time. You walked with him to school, helped him with homework, and defended him from bullies or anyone who tried to hurt him. You kept him company when it seemed he was alone or needed it but also made sure to respect his privacy. Since your cousin bought him his own bed, you two didn't sleep in the same one anymore. However, you always remembered to say goodnight to him before you went to sleep.
As he grew older, he returned the favor. Matthew was incredibly shy so he couldn't really help with bullies. However you loved the pancakes he made in the mornings as well as his cute obsession with the polar bear plush you got for him for his birthday. Sure he was really shy and soft-spoken, and you often freaked out thinking you lost sight of him because he was good at hiding, but he talked more and became a gentle and patient person. Whenever you were hurt or sick, he always stayed by your side. He made sure to take good care of you.
You realized by that time he had opened up to you.
"Geez, Matthew." You told him teasingly one day. "If you put maple syrup in all your foods, you won't remember how to taste anything else."
"B-But maple syrup tastes good with everything!" He replied in his soft voice while hugging his polar bear plush against his chest. You noticed he was smiling and smiled in return. He had changed so much from how he was like when he first came home. He definitely seemed more happy and at ease.
The peaceful moment was shattered when your cousin came in with the news that the driver of the car that killed your parents finally stepped up and admitted his crime. You learned that he was trying to rush his pregnant wife to the hospital that day and ended up crashing into them. That he was afraid of the money he would have to pay since he couldn't afford it and drove away. That his own wife was injured in the crash and the baby almost died. That after years of guilt and depression, the man was finally willing to face up to what he had done.
You were in numb shock. Your eyes were downcast and a pained expression spread across your face. As much as you hated the man for what he did, the anger had already started to dissipate. He wasn't sadistic or evil as you originally thought. He was just another person who suffered just as much as you.
"[Name]…" Matthew said softly. He slowly wrapped his arms around you. It was a gesture he didn't do too often due to his shyness but here was meant to comfort you. You were so overwhelmed with sadness and frustration you couldn't stop your shoulders from shaking. You cried into his chest, needing time to collect your thoughts.
Years later, as you and Matthew were finishing through high school you realized you loved the Canadian. It had built up in all the years you spent getting to know each other. You didn't know how he felt toward you but often wondered why he always seemed sad and disappointed toward any guy who tried to date you or become more than friends. Despite how friendly and adorable he was and how many girls he attracted, you also wondered why Matthew never got a girlfriend.
Soon college was going to start and you two would have to part ways. You knew that although you and he would come to visit, it won't be the same. Even though your cousin was still his legal guardian, someday Matthew would have to move out of your house and settle with his own family. You will be left behind.
"[Name], I need to tell you something." Matthew said one day when you two were taking a walk. You turned to look at him, surprised at how serious and more assertive his tone of voice was.
"Yes? What is it?" You asked.
"I wanted… to thank you… for everything you did for me since the day I came to live with you and your cousin. I never properly said it before." He replied, giving his shy smile and looking down at the ground.
"You've done a lot for me too." You said, smiling sadly. "I… I don't want you to leave."
"Won't you be leaving as well?"
"I don't mean college. I mean… after." You two stopped walking. Matthew turned to look at you.
"I'll come back."
"One day you'll be gone for good."
"No, I won't." He smiled and stroked his fingers through your hair. "I won't leave just like that."
"How are you… so sure?"
"Because." He hesitated for a moment before he finally leaned forward and kissed softly you on the lips. "I love you."
You felt a warm feeling course through your body, now knowing that the boy you grew up and fell in love with felt the same way about you. The initial fears and worries you had melted away. You knew neither of you would be left behind.
"Then I won't be leaving either." You smiled and kissed him back. "I love you too."