To me, there's no specific definition of cute. It's not just being cute or not cute to me. I look at cute as a form of―how should I say it?―irrationality. It's unreasonable. Illogical. Something you can't define.
Every time I look down at my small old dog, walking around slowly on the rug of my living room, still brown and white in fur color, I think "aww", or sometimes even say it aloud. Just once is never enough. Nobody else ever sees me do this. Nobody sees the true side of me, which is generally a wild nature when it comes to anything remotely cute. If I had siblings, I'd bet anything we would be close pals who "aww" at everything in sight, even after the first time. But that's not what I want. I loathe this side of me.
It's when I found her. My ideal step sister. She's insufferable, but cute, though not in the way I imagined.
Frail in appearance, but fierce and tough in attitude. My ideal girl. I didn't think she'd be my sister.
My parents and I are sitting in a spacious, elegant restaurant at a big round table, along with my parents' current spouses and the other family's daughter. By 'other family', I mean the spouses. They were once married to each other before meeting my parents, and just a week ago they had swapped partners. My mom is now married to my new step sister's dad, and my dad for her mom.
I have a really hard time believing it, and I'm even less willing to accept it. Especially when I see my sister for the first time. It seems she doesn't care one bit about that, however. Only that I'm not the right type for her ideal brother.
Ella Croft has long dark chestnut and somewhat curly hair. Gray almond-shaped eyes. Small, impish face with cheekbones that sat square in the middle of her features, neither too high nor too low. Equally small and short body.
Like I said, frail. Inside, heart and mind, however, she's a totally different person. She talks like a boy, acts like a boy, probably even thinks like one. More manly than I can probably ever be.
As we begin to get acquainted, I find that we have nothing in common except for our parents' weird, obsessive love for their spouses and even each other. I have always wondered why they're so close to one another.
"Mommy, you can't be serious. This―This can't be my bro!" she says to Mrs. Wells upon being introduced to me, turning to face her. "I don't want a brother!"
"He's your new brother," Mrs. Wells replies reasonably. "Both of you are seniors, so soon enough you won't even have to see each other."
Ella's disappointment to my step mom's patience.
"Well, I don't want a step sister, either," I say, immediately regretting it, "much less a cute one."
"Cute?" She blinks. "Did ya just call me cute?"
My geniality to Ella's displeasure.
"I hate it when people call me cute. Damn it!" She throws herself at the back of her wooden chair, glaring at me. "Why do you get to be so big and tall?"
While we talk, my parents and step parents are speaking to one another on the other side of the table. Ella and I are seated across the table from each other.
"Not my fault," I say with a sardonic smile. "Why are you so small and short?" I don't want to admit it, but I know why I sound mean when I say this to her.
"Shut the hell up!" She sits straight in her seat now, rage flashing in her eyes. "That's not my fault, either! Damn you!"
My dad, when he hears this, turns around in his seat next to me and looks at her. "If I may ask, why don't you want my son as your brother? He's athletic, smart, and charming. I don't see what's wrong."
"Look at him! He's huge!" Ella exclaims, pointing a finger at me. "I'm jealous of all tall people. If I get a brother, I want one who's younger and smaller than me."
I'm only 5'9, but comparing that to her 4'9 or so height, I guess that is a pretty big difference. Now I want to stand and look down at her, just to see her reaction.
"She's always had issues with the shortness that runs in our family," Mrs. Wells tells my dad apologetically. "I'm so sorry for her behavior, honey."
"Oh, that's all right! You've apologized for her many times in advance already, right, Rayna?" My dad laughs along with my mom. "Besides, dear, I would actually resent it, too, if I was a short guy. No offense, Oz."
My mom answers for him, calling out in amusement, "He'll never be offended, Drake! If not for it, I would never have fallen for him! I love how short you are, Ozzy." She gazes across the table at him adoringly.
Mr. Croft gets up from his chair right away and rushes to her side, dropping down to his knees and grabbing both her hands in his. Dramatically, he calls out in just the same volume she spoke, "Oh, honey! Oh, my heart can't take it when you do that! By the time you stop looking at me with those lovely eyes of yours, I'll be dead at your feet."
"Ozzy!" My mom shouts tearfully, "I'll never stop looking at you this way! You may as well get used to it. You had 6 whole months to do that."
And, on cue, my dad and Mrs. Wells dote on each other as if the display of affection between my mom and Mr. Croft turns a switch on them as well. Like it always does. It has become a daily routine whenever I see them.
Ella and I roll our eyes, then we both turn away to face the center of the hushed dining room on the second floor of the restaurant.
Our table is placed at the edge of the big room, next to huge glass floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooks most of the city. We're set up in the middle between five other round tables that sit all along the windows we're in front of. All around, the ever-present noises of clinking glasses, soft music, and quiet conversational voices drift over to us.
Now that I'm no longer busy studying Ella, I cast a cursory eye over the rest of the room. This is my third time being in the elegant Lee's Restaurant, and as before, it looks just as expensive as my first time seeing it.
The table linens are all creamy brown in color, almost like cocoa, and there is a large circular tray in the middle of each table that allows you to turn it every time you want to pick out certain food. There must be fifty tables in all, spread out everywhere in the room. Between each chair in the middle of the room, there is little space to squeeze around.
Suddenly I'm glad my parents reserved a window table, which they always do whenever we come here.
I half turn so that I'm facing the room and the table, then notice that Ella is staring at my parents with shining eyes. I can't tell if she looks like she's crying or laughing.
"Hey, what's wrong?" I ask her.
Suddenly, she shouts at her parents, in a rather unnecessarily loud voice, "Hey! Mom! Dad!"
Both turn to look at her from across the table, Mrs. Wells deliberately tilting her head and Mr. Croft standing up to his full 4'8 height.
"Ella?" Mrs. Wells says with her head tilted at an odd angle, not an ounce of concern or confusion written on her face. They're clearly used to her yelling at them.
"Have you guys gotten each other anythin' for Valentine's Day, yet?" she asks them, looking at my parents to include them in the question.
The four of them gasp in unison. Here we go. All hell breaks loose now. Mrs. Wells and my parents knock down their respective chairs to the carpet as they jump to their feet.
"Valentine's Day!" my mom screams. Her makeup smudges as she rubs at her eyes, pretending to cry. "Oh, my! Ella, I wish you didn't mention it. Now I can't surprise my Ozzy!"
"Rayna! Rayna, it's alright, hon!" Mr. Croft goes up to squeeze-hug my mom. "Don't you cry now."
It'd be kind of comical seeing him reach up to only her chin if I'm not so desperate to try avoiding a scene. Obviously too late for that.
"Ah, man, I completely forgot about it," my dad is moaning.
With his hand moving hard back and forth across his forehead and his head being held in his other hand, you'd think he was getting fired from his job or something. This is actually the equivalent reaction to when my parents once lost their house back in the beginning of their marriage.
Mrs. Wells, for her part, comforts my dad, keeping one of her arms wrapped around his shoulders as she coos to 'Drakey' forgiveness and endearments.
This situation would last for nearly the rest of the night.
"You see? You see what you did?" I'm telling Ella in an accusatory voice, meanwhile. "You knew this would happen, and yet you did it any―" I cut myself off, noticing that her eyes are still looking glittery as she stares at our parents.
In fact, they're even brighter than before! Is she really...crying? Really? No, wait. It just looks like...longing? Is that the word for it?
Her new overall appearance...The way she seems to have gotten smaller, shrunken, helpless―
No! It's my cuteness impulse making its way out.
Wait. What's this all about? She's getting bigger all of sudden. And bigger. Bigger. Her shoulders begin shaking, but she's not crying at all. Then, out of the blue, she bursts into loud, wailing laughter. There are no stifled giggles here, no forced chuckles. Ella's actually pounding on the table hard with an open hand, palm face down, and no doubt her legs are kicking below.
What is wrong with me? I'm 'awwwing' now?! Really?
"What's so funny?" I ask her.
"Ohhh, you―you know..." she takes the time to say shakily, before bursting into more laughter.
"What is so funny?" I insist on demanding her, just to divert my 'cuteness impulse'.
"Y-Yeah, not that fun―nyyy, huh?" Still laughing her ass off.
"What is so funny?!"
As the last of her aching laughs trail off, she glares at me with an almost serious face. "How many ways are you gonna ask me the same damn question?"
"What was so damn funny?"
"I swear, if you ask me that one more time―" She lets her threat hang in the air between us for all of three seconds, then shrugs and says, "I don't know what I'd do. Anyway, I like pulling stuff like that. Our parents are so easy. Makes this stupid dinner less, you know, boring."
"You're like a kid. No, wait," I say, retracting that statement. "You're a guy. A total tomboy."
"Wha―! No, I'm not! I hate sports!" she protests indignantly, adding, "I totally suck at them. I'm not very fit, either, and―and my hair's not that short, and I think pink's kinda cool."
I raise an eyebrow. 'Pink's kinda cool'?
I tsk at her, then wag an index finger. "What about cute stuff? You know, teddy bears, babies, kitties. Puppies?"
She tilts her head in confusion. "Cute stuff? Huh." She seems to realize, or remember, something, as a slow smile begins to stretch across her face. "My boyfriend! Ah! So cute! The cutest thing in the whole wide world!"
Now I feel both my eyebrows raising all the way up my forehead. Her boyfriend is the cutest thing in the world? I imagine a little eighth grade boy, even shorter than she is, with big innocent eyes and a childish voice. Unusual for an eighth grader, but hey, she says she likes the little ones, right? It's obvious she's crazy about him.
"Hey, if it's Valentine's Day, why the hell are you hangin' around with us? I take it you two haven't gotten together today."
At this, she makes this adorable little pout with her lips, crossing her arms over her chest and slumping in her seat.
"Actually," Ella sighs. "I can confide in you, right? You seem―dependable. Well, whatever. You're right. I haven't seen him all day, so I haven't given him my present, yet."
"Hmm," I say by way of telling her to continue.
"Welllll, we're sort of in this situation where his mama won't let him see anyone, especially an older girl. His papa died when he was a baby, so it's like she's gotten stricter with him ever since then. The neighbors tell him that his parents used to be so close and loving and sweet," Ella explains to me, gesturing randomly in the air with her small hands. "Now it's c―complicated, and, well, since she found out about us, she hasn't been letting him go outside except during school. He's so shy, but he's like, the nicest guy I've ever met."
"So, he insisted on me going to meet my new step brother tonight." She glares at me as she says this, as if I had anything to do with her boyfriend. After a moment, she continues, "I was texting him about what a waste of time that'd be when I could be spendin' it with him. And you know what he said?"
"Uhhh, no?" I say uncertainly, wondering if she wants me to guess or something.
"Here. Long text," she says, then begins to recite the message she clearly has memorized, "'Go meet your brother! I want to know if he's a nice guy or some bully who's gonna give you trouble. Think of today's holiday as some kinda good luck charm, and if he turns out to be bad news, I'll just find some way around it when I come give you your gift tonight. Talk to him 'bout it. Any worse I'll just beat him up.'" She gives me a sly little wink here before continuing, "'And while this whole thing with my mama blows over, you'll still be waiting for me on every other Valentine's Day, right?'"
"What'd you say?" I ask curiously, because honestly, I truly don't know. I have a feeling that last part's supposed to be really romantic, but me being a guy even with a fondness for cutesy things, I'm still clueless.
"'Course I said I would! I'd wait for him forever if I had to!" she exclaims at me in disbelief, as if there isn't any other choice.
"Why?" This, also, is an honest question.
"Weren't you listening?" she asks in exasperation. "I love him. I am, from head to toes, completely, utterly, unconditionally in love with my boyfriend."
I don't correct her with "It's 'head over heels in love'" when the thought pops into my head, but instead, wonder what it is I'm missing out on when Valentine's Day comes around the corner.
Not once have I ever had a girlfriend, not even a date. I never bother myself with relationships, not just because of my fear to reveal my 'cute' side, but also because of my experience with my parents and step parents. After what she said, I watched the five of them for a moment.
For the first time, when love is mentioned, I'm not getting that usual panicky, itchy feeling, but something that more resembles longing.
And now, though I can't believe I'm saying this, my heart is aching painfully tight with the loss of 19 years without love. Loss? I never even had it.