It was her bright smile that broke him to pieces. She doesn’t remember me at all, he thought to himself. It’s all my fault. I said reckless things that broke her heart.
Derik didn’t even feel his tears. As he watched the girl before him smiling brighter than the sun itself, he was reminded of how she was the only light in his life—and he had broken her. Now, he could hear his own heart shattering, like a glass globe being dropped onto the floor.
“Why are you crying? I said you seem like a good person.” Ekko, still smiling, reached out and wiped his tears. “Oh, right!” She bounced off the bed and rushed out into the living room. “Where is my dog?” She looked around for her dog—which had been given away to her relative when Derik and her moved in together—and broke into tears when she couldn’t find him.
“He’s…he’s with your aunt, Ekko. He’s fine.” Derik forced himself to move away from her room, to soothe her anxiety. It must be discomforting, waking up one day to find your beloved pet gone, replaced by a stranger…
“Really? You’re not lying to me?” She faced him now, pouting to stop crying.
“Yes. He’s safe. Trust me.” Derik gave a small smile.
“Thank you!” her smile returned. “You are kind!”
At that moment, he decided. He would protect that smile, no matter what. He would take full responsibility for the damage he had done to both of them. Up till then, he had relied on Ekko to set his life straight. It was time for him to be the man now.
Ekko fumbled in her drawers for a long time after dinner, trying to find something. “Where is it? Where is it?” Even her eyebrows became knitted together.
“What are you looking for?”
“My pack of crayons. Mr. Derik, do you know where it is?”
“Uh…Derik is fine. Um, I don’t think you have crayons. I’ll go buy them for you, wait here.”
“I’ll go too!” She stopped searching to look at him.
“R-right. I don’t know which brand you like. Come along then.” He tried his best to smile at her.
Along the way, he didn’t dare hold her hand. He feared that she would find him a creepy man and push him away, and then run away and never return again. To stop himself, he put his hands in his pockets. He wanted to bow his head too, but he didn’t. He needed to be on the lookout. After all, it was night. They passed by some neighbors, who gave them strange looks—the Ekko they were familiar with was not like this. He ignored their looks, and bought the pack of crayons for her. She didn’t seem to notice.
When they got back home again, it was late. “Whatever you’re drawing, can you leave it for tomorrow?” he asked. “It’s late. You should take some rest.”
“I’m not sleepy yet.” Ekko held her new pack of crayons in glee, spinning in a circle. “Derik can sleep first.”
“You just recovered from a fever,” he said with worry. “Can you rest tonight? Maybe you can get up early tomorrow to draw. It’s the same.”
She gave a look of unwillingness. She sat on the couch and hugged her knees along with the crayons, glaring at the ground. “No.”
You’re acting like a child, he wanted to say, but didn’t. Whose fault was it in the first place? Derik asked, “Are you mad at me?”
“No!” Yet, when she looked up at him to answer him, she was glaring blades and daggers.
He felt tears well up in a second. He couldn’t take her glare. He surrendered, walking to her and hugging her lightly. “Don’t be mad at me, please? I’m only asking you to sleep now because I want you to be healthy.” He said it as gently as he could.
It took what seemed like half the night for her to respond. The new Ekko put her crayons aside, and hugged him back. “Don’t cry. I’ll sleep.”
“There’s a good girl.” He ruffled her hair. She beamed at him.