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Look After You

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Ed was almost home, and he was feeling dejected. It was raining and he had no way to get home other than to walk. The slot he had scheduled at a local bar’s open mic had been canceled in favor of some band who bribed their way into it, and it was too late to catch a bus back to his apartment. With his hood pulled tight over his head and his guitar case weighing him down almost as much as his frustration, he was more than ready to turn in for the night. He was about three blocks away from his place when a slight figure caught his attention.
 
Ed lived in a busy city. It was hardly a rarity to see people ducking into alleyways, but something about this person made Ed pause. He stepped closer to the alley and got a better look. He looked like a kid. Ed might not have been the greatest judge of age but he was certain that the person in front of him couldn't have been any older than seventeen. Normally, when he saw people out on the street or in alleyways he did the smart thing and kept to himself.
 
But this kid was ducked under an old fire escape, hunched in on himself, and wearing nothing but canvas sneakers, ratty jeans and a thin zip-up hoodie over a t-shirt. He looked like he was ninety pounds, soaking wet. Ed was a sucker. He approached the boy cautiously.
 
“Hey,” He spoke gently but still loud enough to be heard over the rain falling against the metal of the fire escape.
 
The boy startled, his eyes were wide and frightened as he stared at Ed.
 
“Hey, hey, don't worry. It's okay. My name’s Ed. I don't want anything from you. I just want to ask you a question.”
 
The boy remained frozen. He was clearly wary of Ed, and Ed couldn't blame him, the kid almost looked like a wild animal. Ed didn't even know where to begin to guess how long it looked like he had been out on the streets.
 
“Is it okay if I ask you a question?” Ed stepped just the slightest bit closer.
 
The kid didn't reply, he just stared at Ed.
 
“What's your name?” Ed went ahead with his question.
 
“Harry.” Came a quiet reply.
 
Ed smiled warmly, wanting Harry to feel comfortable and not regret interacting. “It's nice to meet you, Harry. I'm sure you're cold out here in this weather.” He got just the slightest nod in response. “You know, I was just about to go get some dinner, and I’d love some company. Are you hungry?” It was a lie. Ed wasn’t hungry in the slightest, but it was plain to see that Harry wasn’t exactly getting regular meals.
 
Ed knew it was a slim chance that Harry would say yes. The odds of the stranger inviting you off the street to eat with them having good intentions were not often very high. But Ed just felt drawn to try and help Harry anyway.
 
Harry glanced Ed up and down once more, and he must have assessed Ed wasn’t much of a threat. He nodded quickly and stepped closer to Ed, indicating he was going to follow him.
 
Ed lead Harry just two blocks in the opposite direction of his apartment to a 24 hour diner. He tried to walk quickly so that they wouldn't be in the rain for too much longer, but not so quickly that he left Harry, who was very timid even with the steps he took, trailing too far behind.
 
Once they were sitting in a booth in the diner, Ed was finally able to get a better look at Harry, seeing how he was no longer shrouded by the shadows of the city buildings
 
Now that he saw the boy’s pale skin and wide green eyes, Ed was beginning to suspect he overestimated Harry’s age. In the fluorescent lighting, Harry barely looked fifteen. His cheeks still had the slightest bit of baby fat to them, as if he still had one more growth spurt to endure before adulthood. His curly hair was damp and ratty, no doubt from living outdoors for who knows how long, if Ed had to guess he’d say it had been a couple weeks since Harry last washed it.
 
A waitress with a tired smile approached their table with two menus.
 
“Hey there, my name’s Deborah, and I’ll be your waitress tonight. What can I get you boys to drink?”
 
“I think two waters,” Ed said, wanting to Harry to be hydrated, but he also did not want to choose for Harry. So he turned to look at him and gage his reaction. “What do you think, Harry? Water?”
 
Harry just nodded, barely looking up at the waitress. Ed’s mind kept racing at each new mannerism he noticed in Harry. He was clearly shy and seemingly innocent and trusting. Ed picked up his menu and Harry mirrored him. “What do you think you’re going to get?” Ed asked, wanting to get Harry talking at least a little.
 
Harry looked up with a puzzled look on his face. ‘You mean… I get to pick?”
 
Ed’s brow furrowed. “Of course you do. Do you see anything you like?”
 
Harry didn’t reply, he seemed to be lost looking at the pictures of the menu items. Ed noticed Harry’s eyes lingering on the picture of the kid’s option for pancakes, with chocolate chip eyes, a strawberry nose, and a whipped cream smile. Ed liked the sound of pancakes, and he had a creeping suspicion that Harry would be too shy to voice what he wanted. So he figured he would try to ease that.
 
“I think I’m gonna get chocolate chip pancakes. They’re my favorite. Do you like chocolate chip pancakes?”
 
Harry smiled and nodded, and Ed was sure to return his smile, especially as Harry began to voice a thought.
 
“B-but I like blueberry the best.”
 
“Well you're in luck,” Ed found himself speaking in an excited tone, the same way he speaks to his friend’s young children. “This place has great blueberry pancakes.”
 
The waitress returned then and Harry shrunk back into himself, accepting his water without looking up from the tabletop.
 
“Are you ready to order, or do you need a few more minutes?” She asked sweetly.
 
“No, I think we're ready. I'll have some chocolate chip pancakes and a side of bacon.” Ed answered.
 
The woman nodded and jotted down his order. “And you, dear?” She looked to Harry.
 
Harry nodded to the menu in front of him and pointed to the picture of a stack of pancakes. “Blueberry, please.”
 
The woman smiled gently at the boy before closing her notepad. “Sounds good, I'll get those out to you in a jiffy.”
 
“Oh, and could we get whipped cream on both those orders?” Ed spoke up sending a sly smile and a wink to Harry and getting the boy to giggle.
 
“Sure thing!” The waitress grinned before walking away.
 
Ed was almost certain now that Harry wasn’t just some homeless teenager. The way he acted, especially in reaction to Ed’s gentle encouraging made it more and more clear to Ed that he was probably a little.
 
Ed had never actually met a little. The odds of someone being a little was about equal to someone having naturally red hair. Common enough to not be an oddity, but still rare. Of course, he had seen littles. Living in a city as large as he did he could see a caregiver or a caregiver couples walking down the streets with their littles either walking hand in hand or sitting in strollers whenever the weather was nice. The littles always seemed exactly that, little, from afar. They would wear childish clothing; onesies, tutus, overalls, big bows, even bibs, all with bright colors and wild patterns. They were almost always loud and open, happy to see new people and interact.  
 
And even though Harry was wearing dirty, oversized clothes and seemed to shrink into himself at even the slightest chance of interaction, Ed was all but positive. But he couldn’t just ask Harry whether or not he was a little. It was way too personal a question, even if Ed had known Harry for years. So Ed figured he would treat this like an experiment, and he needed to test his theory.
 
Sitting on the table, by the wall, were all sorts of things expected of a diner to have. There was a napkin dispenser, condiments, specials menus, and, to Ed’s satisfaction, there were kid’s activity sheets and two small boxes of cheap crayons. He grabbed one sheet to start off with and opened the crayons so he could pour them out onto the table. There were only four colors but Ed wasn't picky. He grabbed the blue crayon and began to scribble in the fur of a cartoon cat.
 
Harry stared as Ed did this, clearly confused that the older man would do something so childish without worrying who saw.
 
Ed pulled out another activity sheet and placed it front of Harry. “D'you want one?”
 
Harry bit his lip, thinking it over before nodding and grabbing the second box of crayons on his own. He seemed put off at the lack of color options but began to fill in a cartoon garden scene anyway.
 
Ed made sure to pay close attention to Harry as he colored, glancing up at him every few minutes as to not make it too obvious. The boy probably wouldn't have noticed, though, if Ed did just stare straight at him. Harry had his brow furrowed and his tongue sticking out just slightly in concentration. His hand was clumsy as it gripped the crayons. Part of Ed was expecting the colors to be all over the place and sloppy like a child’s but it still took him by surprise when he saw Harry’s handiwork.
 
Harry had filled in most of his picture and looked awfully satisfied with himself. He was so focused on his drawing at he almost didn’t react to the waitress approaching the table. She seemed unfazed by two boys well past childhood coloring on the activity sheets and just placed a bottle of maple syrup and their orders down in front of them with a smile on her face.
 
“You two enjoy, and let me know if you need anything.” She said as she walked away.
 
Harry startled when she spoke and his whole face turned red when it dawned on him that she saw him coloring. Ed just thanked her and smiled politely as she walked away. He grabbed the maple syrup and once he covered his stack he held it out to Harry who just shook his head, his mouth already full of blueberry pancake.
 
After they were both about halfway through with their pancakes, Ed decided to start a conversation and steer it in a way to learn more about Harry.
 
“So, Harry, it’s okay if you don’t want to answer this but, I have to ask.” He started, doing his best to keep his voice calm and reassuring.
 
Harry still looked wary as he nodded in understanding. He slowly lifted his fork back to his mouth, but his hand shook just slightly as he did and he ended up with whipped cream smeared at the corner of his mouth.
 
“Have you been living outside? Or do you have a place you can go where you can sleep?”
 
Harry kept quiet.
 
“Harry, did you run away from home?”
 
The last word out of Ed’s mouth seemed to have struck a nerve with Harry.
 
“I… I, um,” Harry looked much more like that frightened kid from the alleyway than he did a minute ago. He swallowed thickly before looking Ed in the eyes and quickly looked away. “I… P-please… Don’t… I,” Harry stammered, clearly trying to communicate something.
 
“Hey, hey, hey,” Ed cut in. “Don’t worry. You’re okay.” He saw tears building up in Harry’s eyes.
 
“I don’t wanna go back.”  Harry whispered, his small voice thick as if he was about to start sobbing.
 
Ed’s brow furrowed, this opened an entirely new door of insight into why Harry’s been acting the way he has been acting.
 
“I won’t make you go anywhere, buddy. But I do have to ask you another question, and it is very important that you tell me the truth, alright. Do you understand?” Once he registered the slightest nod from Harry, he spoke again. “Did your mom or dad hurt you? In any way?”
 
Harry’s face fell. “Don't have ‘em”
 
“You don't have what?”
 
“Don't got a mommy and daddy. Got Mis’er and Miss-us Cow-wool” He explained, articulating the names slowly, as if he was worried about getting them wrong.
 
Like a foster home? Ed wondered. He didn’t ask because he wasn’t sure if Harry would even have an answer. “And would they hurt you?”
 
“When ‘m bad.” Ed’s heart almost shattered at the tone of Harry’s voice.
 
“Harry, I have a friend who works somewhere that helps kids like you find safe places to live, away from people like that.” Ed didn’t specify that by ‘kids like you’ he meant littles. “If you want, you can stay the night at my house, and I can take you to meet her tomorrow.”
 
Harry looked skeptical and worried, he glanced down at his almost empty plate and the activity sheet that he has swept aside. He looked back up to Ed. “She’s like you? She’ll be nice?”
 
“Of course, Harry. I promise everyone who works there is very nice.” Ed signaled to the waitress that he was ready for the bill.
 
Once the bill was paid Ed led Harry out of the diner, happy to see that the rain had let up. By the time they reached Ed’s apartment Harry had yawned at least four times. He followed Ed almost blindly from room to room as Ed dropped his guitar off in the living room, walked through the kitchen, and into Ed’s bedroom. Ed picked out some spare pajamas and showed Harry the bathroom and how to work the shower. While Harry cleaned himself up Ed rummaged through his hallway closet for sheet and blankets to put on his couch. Now that he was alone, he took a moment to think and really let the events of the night sink in. He hoped to god he was right in his assumption that Harry was a little. He sent a text to his friend, Perrie, who worked at a shelter/adoption center that provided a safe haven for homeless kids as well as helped families looking to add littles to their homes. He let her know the situation he was in and that he would bring Harry by tomorrow.
 
Ed heard the shower cut off and several minutes later Harry emerged from the bathroom, looking fresh faced now that his skin and hair were clean and he was in new clothes. Although the t-shirt Ed leant to him was inside-out, but Ed saw no reason to comment on that. He explained to Harry how the couch was ready for him to sleep on and how if he needed anything Ed showed him one more time which room was his bedroom. And with that he said goodnight to Harry.
 
;;
 
The next day, after Ed made quick breakfast, the two headed out to meet with Perrie. At the beginning of the day Harry seemed to be in a good mood. Despite waking Ed up in the middle of the night crying and pacing the living room because he had an accident in his sleep. (Cementing Ed’s decision to take Harry to the little adoption center.) Ed supposed he handled the situation well, considering Harry was much more lively than the night before, and responded vocally to almost everything Ed said to him.
 
Harry’s good mood lasted up until they were standing in front of the tall building. It was almost as if he wanted shrink as he tried to hide behind Ed.
 
“Hey, don't be like that.” Ed said calmly. “Remember, my friends in there are nice. I promise.”
 
Harry looked up to Ed and back at the building. He didn't look very confident but he still nodded, ready to follow Ed inside.
 
Inside, Ed was quick to explain Harry’s situation and how they were here to meet with Perrie. The secretary was happy to give both of them the passes denoting they were here for ‘consultation’ and point them in the direction of Perrie’s office.
 
The entire first floor was just offices and conference rooms, Ed remembered Perrie telling him once. She explained that all of the bedrooms and nurseries and playrooms for the littles were on the upper floors for safety reasons.
 
Harry seemed to grow anxious the farther down the hallway they went. Ed knocked on the door marked ‘Perrie Edwards’ once began it was opened.
 
Perrie was smiling brightly as she welcomed Ed and Harry in and asked them to sit in the plush chairs in front of her desk.
 
“You must be Harry.” She spoke gently with a warm smile, doing her very best to put him at ease.
 
Harry only nodded, but he did look calmer than he did in the hallway.
 
“I just have a couple of questions to ask you, alright. Don't worry if you aren't sure how to answer. Just tell me if you're not sure and we can move on to the next question.” Perrie explained, typing something into her computer.
 
“Okay.” Harry answered, wringing his hands together.
 
“First one is super easy. What is your full name?”
 
“Harry Edward Styles.” He sounded out each syllable.
 
“Alright,” Perrie continued to type. “When is your birthday, Harry?”
 
“‘S Feb-yoo-wary first.”
 
“Okay, and how old are you going to be on your next birthday?”
 
“Um… sic-sixteen,” Harry sounded like he was asking more than telling.
 
Perrie asked Harry more questions, which Ed recognized as questions that would help determine Harry’s status as a little without him catching on.
 
“Okay, Harry, thank you for answering those questions for me. Now, are you hungry at all?” Perrie asked looking at Harry.
 
Harry seemed a little confused but nodded and subconsciously held a hand to his stomach.
 
Perrie giggled at Harry’s reaction, causing Harry to smile in return. “Well, it's about lunchtime for some of the kids. Would you like to go get some food while I ask Eddie here a couple more questions?”
 
This had Harry even more confused, but after Perrie’s continued smiling along with an encouraging nod from Ed the boy agreed to go get some lunch. Perrie called in one of her coworkers to escort Harry there.
 
Once Ed and Perrie were alone in the office, Perrie looked at Ed with a steely expression. “You were right to bring him here, Ed.”
 
“Okay?” Ed was glad to hear this, except Perrie’s tone was anything but congratulatory.
 
“I looked him up and found his file almost instantly. It isn't good.”
 
“What do you mean? Like he’s some delinquent?”
 
“It's not Harry that’s wrong with the file, Ed. Tell me, how long did it take you to figure out Harry was a little?” Perrie raised an eyebrow.
 
“I don't know, fifteen minutes? I guess. I mean, that's when I started thinking maybe he was one. It wasn’t till the middle of last night when I knew without a doubt.”
 
“So, fairly quickly, especially considering you’re not a professional. Not very long is the point I’m trying to make. According to this, Harry has been in the system since he was four years old. That's eleven years he has been around social workers and not one has made the connection he isn't just another teenager?” Ed could hear the agitation growing in Perrie’s voice.
 
“Well, I mean…” Ed started to speak but he had no idea what to say.
 
“It says that his legal guardians are a foster family that he was placed in the care of when he was twelve. And according to this, they don't foster littles. They're just a standard foster couple! Typically, twelve to thirteen is when the first signs of someone being a little show up. And by the time they reach fifteen or sixteen, it's confirmed by whether or not those signs still show. Harry’s fifteen and I can say without a doubt that he is a little. He should have been moved to a facility like this or a little-centric foster home years ago.”
 
The passion Perrie had as she explained all of this had Ed feeling like he was being lectured for responsibility over Harry's situation.
 
“I can also say without a doubt, after what you told me he said, and his own answers to my questions, that wherever that kid ran away from, before you found him, scared him shitless. Best case scenario is that his foster family didn't catch the signs that he was a little and as his potential headspace traits began to manifest, these people were not prepared to handle them, so they just treated that little boy like any other thirteen or fourteen year old.”
 
“And the worst case scenario?” Ed asked slowly.
 
“I don't even want to begin to speculate the worst case scenario, Ed. I hate to be a pessimist. But, I can't deny the truth probably leans toward the worst. I mean, you said he looked like he’d been on the streets for a while, and nothing came up about him being reported missing. There should have been something!” Perrie cut herself off and took a deep breath.
 
“What matters now is that you got him where he needs to be. Now that he’s here, I’m going to contact some people to launch an investigation into his old foster family, make sure that it was just them being misinformed or ill-prepared and not something worse. I also need to get started on Harry’s enrollment here. I need medical files, contact information, might need to call in a specialist. Have to figure out his exact headspace” Perrie began to move around her desk, finding a pen and notepad, at this point she was talking more to herself than to Ed.
 
Ed stuck around to fill in what details he could about Harry. Before long, Ed was leaving the adoption center with a promise from Perrie to let him know how Harry handles the change.
 
;;
 
Harry liked Miss Perrie’s friends. Ed was right, they were all nice. After he had answered a couple of questions in her office, a nice lady named Miss Caroline helped show Harry to a brightly colored room upstairs. There were already a lots of other kids sitting at the tables eating a very yummy looking lunch. Harry felt a tight feeling in his tummy looking at all of the new people, he froze.
 
“Do you like mac and cheese?” Miss Caroline asked him, drawing his attention away from the full tables.
 
Harry nodded slowly and took a few steps when he felt her hand on his lower back. “There’s a seat right over here for you.” She led him to a table with three littles.
 
“Benji, Lexie, JJ? I have a new friend here; his name is Harry. Would you three like to eat lunch with him?” Caroline spoke to the other littles, smiling encouragingly.
 
“Okay!” One of the little boys said right away with a grin before he scooped some macaroni into his mouth. “Hi Harry!” This caused Miss Caroline to give him a stern look for talking with his mouth full, but she didn’t even scold him for it, Harry noted.
 
Harry sat down next to the girl, who introduced herself as Lexie, and said a quiet thank you to Miss Caroline when she placed a sectioned plate and a sippy cup in front of him. He looked down at the food on his plate, there was macaroni, blueberries and halved grapes, and little pieces of grilled chicken. It looked so good, Harry could hardly believe it was all for him. He looked around at all the other boys and girls eating theirs before he tentatively picked up a piece of chicken and put it in his mouth.
 
He looked around more as he chewed. The walls were decorated with drawings and paintings. One wall was covered with colorful handprints with names written neatly underneath each one. Finally, Harry looked over at the far end of the room and noticed that some boy and girls weren’t sitting at tables at all. They were each in their own chairs that sat taller than the tables and some of them were being fed their lunch by workers instead of feeding themselves. Harry stared until he heard his name being called.
 
“Hellooo!” Lexie was waving her hand in Harry’s face.
 
“Sorry,” Harry dropped his gaze.
 
“You didn’ answer, Harry.” Benji pointed out.
 
“Answer what?”
 
“Lexie asked you your favorite color.” JJ supplied. “Mine’s orange because I like tigers. They’re orange except for their stripes, those are black.”
 
“I like blue,” Harry said after a beat. “Really pretty blue, l-like the sky when the sun is outside.”
 
Lexie nodded before giving her reason why blue was also her favorite color. Harry listened more than he spoke as lunchtime continued but for once, he liked listening to the people around him talk so much, they all seemed very nice.
 
“All right, boys and girls,” A man said loudly drawing the attention of all the littles in the room. “Finish up and start cleaning up, lunchtime is almost over. And you know what that means!”
 
“After lunchtime, we get playtime!” Benji explained to Harry.
 
All of the other boys and girls carried their plates to a tray by the door before falling into an excited line.
 
Harry followed closely behind Benji, feeling anxious again, but not in a bad way.
 
Before the man opened the door to lead the line of littles to the playroom, Miss Perrie showed up and immediately headed over to Harry. She gently placed her hand on his shoulder. “Harry, sweetie, before you go have playtime, I need you to come with me for just a little bit.”
 
“Oh, okay.” Harry stepped out of the line.
 
“But Miss Perrie!” Lexie whined from behind the two boys. “Harry was gonna play with us!”
 
“Now, Alexa,” Perrie responded in a calm, authoritative voice. “We’ve talked about having an attitude.”
 
“Sorry, Miss Perrie.”
 
“It’s okay, sweetheart. Don’t worry, Harry will be back to play before you know it.”
 
Harry was led back downstairs but not back to Miss Perrie's office. Instead she showed Harry into a room of about the same size. Though it looked bigger because it didn't have a desk or any chairs. Perrie sat down on the fuzzy carpet next to a toy chest and invited Harry to sit down across from her.
 
“Playtime in here?” Harry asked, his eyebrows furrowing as he sat down. He ran his fingers through the fuzzy carpet.
 
“Sort of,” Perrie explained, pulling out a few toys out of the chest. “I want to talk to you again, but I thought we could have fun while we talked. What toy do you want to play with? Pick whichever one you want.”
 
Harry spent a long time looking over all the toys in front of him. His eyes were drawn to the building blocks. They were big and made of foam and there were lots of different shapes and colors. He tentatively grabbed a yellow cube and held it with both hands. He looked up at Miss Perrie, who returned his smile and began to slowly stack more blocks on top of each other to encourage Harry to play along. It took a few minutes before Harry let go of the yellow block. It took gentle words from Miss Perrie but he finally reached to place the block at the top of her little tower. Harry grinned as he added more. As he looked at the tower, an idea popped into his head and before he could weigh the options and outcomes, he acted. He pushed his hand out against one of the lower blocks in the tower and watched as the foam blocks came crashing down onto the carpet.
 
As soon as he did it he froze, scared Miss Perrie would get upset with him for ruining their tower, but, to Harry’s surprise, she cheered as the tower fell.
 
“Wasn’t that fun? Let’s make another one!” She said enthusiastically.
 
Harry couldn’t believe she wasn’t angry with him. But he did not want to risk her losing this good mood, so he continued to play and helped build another tower, adding more blocks this time. After he had placed a pink triangular block on top, Miss Perrie looked at him expectantly, and he pushed one block out of place to make the whole thing toppled down. He giggled as Miss Perrie cheered again.
 
Harry played this game for quite a while, and when he grew bored of it, Miss Perrie suggested a new one. Harry couldn’t believe all the fun he was having. Throughout his playtime in this room, Miss Perrie would ask Harry questions as they set up each new game. She had told him that they needed to get to know each other. She would ask him a question about himself and if he wanted to, he could ask her anything he wanted to know about her in return.
 
She asked Harry about lots of things. His favorite foods, the ones he ate for very special occasions, and his favorite things to have for ordinary meals; any vacations he’d been on, and all the different places he’s moved to; what he liked to learn at school, his favorite classes and pastimes, how he got along with classmates. She even asked a few questions about the house he used to live in before he met Ed. Harry didn’t want to talk about that, but he knew Miss Perrie would be sad if he stopped talking to her. He wanted to be her friend, so he gave the shortest answers he could for those questions.
 
It wasn’t long before Harry was having trouble focusing on the toys in front of him. He had had a lot of juice at lunchtime and that had been so long ago! He could feel the pinching sensation just below his belly and he started to squirm on the carpet, having no idea what to do. He had an accident at Ed’s house last night and he had been so scared when he woke up in the middle of the night to soaked pants and a wet spot on the couch. He was terrified that Ed would get furious and kick him out.
 
But Ed didn’t do that at all. He had calmed Harry down and loaned him another set of pajamas and even let him sleep in the bedroom while Ed cleaned the couch and fell asleep in the recliner. Harry remembered being so shocked by all of that. Ed was probably the nicest person he knew, and Perrie and Ed were friends, so surely she would be just as nice if he did have an accident. But still, he didn’t want to make a mess, so he began to build up his courage to ask her for some help.
 
“Uh…” He looked up to meet the woman’s eye line but just as quickly, he dropped his gaze back down to the toys in front of him.
 
“Harry,” Miss Perrie placed a gentle hand on Harry’s wrist. “Do you need to use the bathroom?”
 
Harry felt his face flame, but he was too concerned with the risk of having an accident to deny it. He felt so stupid being so obvious, but he couldn’t focus on that for long. He nodded and Miss Perrie immediately helped him to stand up and led him out into the hallway to a door marked to be a family bathroom. She opened the door for him and waited patiently for him to finish.
 
When he came back out of the bathroom, Miss Perrie explained that she just had a few more things to talk with him about and then he could go back upstairs with everyone else.
 
“Harry, I don’t want you to be embarrassed but I need you to answer honestly. Know that no one here is going to make fun of you okay? Do you sometimes have trouble making it to the bathroom in time?”
 
Harry gnawed at his lower lip, refusing to look Perrie in the eye as he nodded.
 
“Like I said, sweetheart, no one here is going to make fun of you. Most of the other little boys and girls here wear pull-ups and diapers.”
 
Harry’s eyes widened at the mention of diapers. “Not, no… N-Not a baby.” He muttered, his eyes growing damp.
 
“Oh, Harry, did the people you lived with make it seem bad to be a baby?”
 
“More trouble th’n ‘m worth,” Harry dropped his gaze back to the carpet, but Perrie placed her hand under his chin to have him look at her as she spoke.
 
“Harry, it’s very important that you listen to me. Whatever they told you about being a baby, it was not true. Understand?” Perrie had a very serious look in her eyes but her tone remained calming for Harry’s sake. “Did you have fun eating lunch with Benji and Lexie and JJ?
 
Harry nodded eagerly. That was an easy question for him to answer. Those three had been so nice to him right away, and they were even disappointed when they learned he would have playtime with Miss Perrie instead of with them.
 
“Well, did you know that Benji, Lexie, and JJ all need diapers? Mhm, and they sleep in their cribs at night, just like babies should. And you would never make fun of your new friends for any of that, would you?”
 
Harry shakes his head desperately. He would never ever be mean to those three, especially if they all wanted to be his friends.
 
“Exactly, and I promise you no one is going to make you feel bad for using things you need. But if they do, you can tell me or Miss Caroline or any other worker and we will help you.”
 
“Promise,” Harry mumbled.
 
“Yes, Harry, I promise. It is my job to make sure all of the little boys and girls here are well taken care of, happy, and find good parents to live with.” And with that, Miss Perrie led Harry back upstairs to join the other littles for the rest of playtime.
 
;;
 
Harry liked this new place. He had been living at the adoption center for over a month. It took him awhile to get used to. He still wasn’t totally used to wearing his diapers, and getting diaper changes, or sleeping in the soft crib-like beds provided for the younger headspaced littles. No one was mean to him and the food was always good. He was confused the first time he noticed a little was no longer living at the center. He got scared when he noticed Rosie was gone, for good according the other littles. But Miss Perrie easily explained that everything was okay and Rosie had been adopted by a very nice mommy and daddy. She explained that two or three times a month, caretakers would come to the adoption center and meet the littles in an open house of sorts. And if the caretakers took to a particular little they could request to meet with the little and get to know them one-on-one. If that went well, then the adoption could be processed.
 
It was all a very strict process. Caretakers could only attend open houses after having an application approved, which in itself was rather complicated. It involved a paper application, an interview, and a home inspection. And one-on-one sessions with a little could only happen if the little agreed, and a worker at the center would be right outside of the room if the little became uncomfortable. It gave this adoption center a very prestigious and sought after reputation. Not that Perrie explained all of that Harry. She did, however, explain to Harry that he could go to the next open house in a few weeks, if he wanted to.
 
Harry wasn’t sure if he wanted to. It sounded nice, sure, the way that Miss Perrie described it, but Harry’s mind could only connect it to going to live in foster homes. The very temporary and bleak places he would be moved to time and again throughout his childhood. The idea of being permanently apart of a happy family was still a very new concept for Harry. It was exciting to him in a frightening way.