Thereafter

|Thereafter| Second Week

It was a quiet morning. Derik opened his door to stand frozen in shock. The ceramic-colored walls and floor were covered with colorful marks of crayons. He paused mid-yawn, glancing to his left to see Ekko still drawing on the wall with an intensely focused expression.

Discretely, he sneaked up to her, then gave her a sudden pat on the shoulders. “Boo!”

“Waaah!” she squealed and turned around. “You scared me!” Then, she laughed.

“Gotcha.” He smiled back at her, but his smile vanished almost as soon as it appeared. In the past, Ekko would never be caught off guard by such acts. “Ekko, I’m going out today. I’ll pick you up later.”

She nodded happily. “I’ll be good,” she promised.

He returned near noon, and invited Ekko out. When they were outside, he asked, “Can you take my hand?”

She agreed promptly. “So that I don’t get lost!”

He didn’t even try to correct her.

It was a Saturday, the day when he had time to take her out and spend the whole day with her outside. He took Ekko to a nearby park, a perfectly ordinary park, but where a lot of memories were created.

It was a Saturday, the day when many of their neighbors would also go outside. While Ekko was innocently blowing at a daffodil a few feet away, a neighbor walked to him.

“Is that girl crazy or what?” she asked. “I thought your girlfriend was more mature.”

“She was.”

“Then why this?”

“It’s my fault.”

“She’s crazy. You know you could just hand her over to her family or the asylum.”

“I don’t care if she’s crazy.”

“You love her that much?”

“I do. And…she deserves all the joy in the world, even if she takes it this way.”

At that moment, Ekko appeared to have suddenly remembered Derik’s existence. Laughing happily, she wheeled around and waved a daffodil at him. He waved back. Seeing that there was someone else next to him, Ekko ran to them and greeted the neighbor—who walked away without saying anything.

Confused, Ekko asked him, “Why did she turn away from me?”

“Don’t mind her.” He stroked her hair.

“Yes, sir!” She saluted, giggling.

“Ekko,” he said that evening. “Remember when I went out this morning?”

“Yes.” She nodded.

“I bought you this.” Derik took out a large sketchbook. “So you can keep track of your drawings. Look, the house is full already.” He gestured around the house. It looked like a huge piece of graffiti or warzone now.

“Thank you!” She squealed in delight, taking it with both hands.

“I’m glad you like it. And, Ekko, I want you to know just one thing.”

“What is it? Do you want me to draw something for you?” She blinked in anticipation.

He returned her blink with a soft smile. “I want you to know that, you can rely on me.”

It wasn’t that he had expected her to respond in a serious or mature manner, but he was just slightly disappointed when she chuckled like a child. “Of course!”

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