“Your bike is so cute!”
To Maya, everything was ‘cute.’
Kat thought, ‘It’s like she knows seven words and four of them are ‘cute.’’
“Maya, is there anything that isn’t cute? Bugs are cute. Babies are cute. Puppies are cute. Dimples. Shoes. Band-Aids. Rats. Anything?”
Kat knew Maya had mastered the back-handed compliment. Calling something ‘cute’ didn’t mean she valued it. Maya’s use of ‘cute’ was nuanced.
Maya assessed Kat’s response. She had deflected from the ‘cute bike’ to the use of ‘cute’ itself.
She parried. “What I mean Kat, it’s not like a real bike. But more like a toy bike.” Maya loved a good verbal joust. “That’s what I mean by ‘cute.’”
Kat said, “But it’s not cute. It’s kind of ugly… Two wheels and a seat. Faded paint. Nothing to recommend it.”
Maya pressed her advantage. “So, that’s its color? Or is it rust?”
“Not rusty, just faded. Original.”
“So, it’s old. When are you gonna get a new one? Are you poor?”
“I like it, Maya. It was my Mom’s first bike. Called an ‘heirloom.’ But it isn’t cute. Only you would say that.”
Kat hated her bike. Maya was right about everything but ‘cute.’ She’d die before admitting it.
‘You like it so much, let’s trade? Even-steven.’ Kat knew Maya would never surrender her beautiful bike. Not for this clunky old thing. ‘A girl can dream…’
Kat knew exactly what she wanted. She dreamed of a full-sized, girl’s bike with sparkly pink paint. A wicker basket would carry flowers or a teddy bear. Decorative streamers would trail behind the seat. She’d announce her arrival with both a bell and a bulb horn. And maybe a pennant on white pole mounted on the back fender.
She’d lead the pack on her sleek bicycle, leaving the others laboring to keep up.
Kat dreaded riding that ancient contraption for another summer. All her friends rode shiny new bicycles.
At night she lay awake pondering how to escape the shame of riding this hand-me-down, faded bike. Two wheels and pedals might look like a bicycle. But Kat wanted style.
No one cared what anyone’s mother rode at ten. Might as well have been a chariot. They come with horses, after all.
Pedaling home, Kat considered her options. ‘Better friends? Maybe. A better bike? Definitely!’
At dinner she announced, “I need a new bike, Dad.”
Dave, her father, looked confused. “Replace your mother’s bike? Honey, it’s a keepsake.”
“It’s an antique. And not in a good way. Please?”
Her mother, Lynn, said, “We talked about this, honey…”
“What’s wrong with it? It’s got air in the tires. That’s all it needs.”
“They laugh at me. Everyone has cool bikes. Not clunky ones.”
“Clunky? You mean ‘classic,’ Kat. Look up bike design history. Your bicycle’s designer was a genius. That bike is the Porsche of bicycles.”
“Was his name, Flintstone?”
Lynn said, “Your birthday’s coming. Let’s see what that brings.”
“Oh boy! Another summer spent getting asked why we’re poor.”
Her parents exchanged looks. Dave mentioned the Dodgers, but no one cared.
The next day, Kat sat in her room, swiping through Instagram.
Lynn leaned in at the door. “Enough moping, kid. It’s summer. Come to the flower show with me. Brighten your outlook.”
Kat rolled her eyes.
At the show, they strolled down aisles of flowers. It appeared every bush had won a ribbon.
Kat wasn’t in the mood for flowers, however beautiful. And her mother kept finding photo ops, posing her before endless displays, that all looked the same.
Lynn said, “Why such a mope? You used to enjoy this.”
“After a while, Mom, they smell the same, look the same…”
She couldn’t stop thinking about her perfect bicycle.
“Why you don’t enter your flowers, Mom? They’re pretty as these.”
Lynn smiled. “Guess I don’t care that much about winning,” she said. “I get ideas though.” She pointed to a lush rose bush bearing a blue ribbon. “Stand by that one.”
“Just do it.” She raised her phone, in photo mode. “Look at those colors. I’ve never seen anything like them.” Kat shuffled to the display. “Turn around. You’re beautiful!”
Kat leaned into a model’s sullen stance.
Her mother laughed. “Watch out Vogue. Here she comes!” She snapped a picture. “Stand by beautiful things and people take note.”
Movement behind her mother drew Kat’s attention. A laughing Maya made a little wave and turned away.
Kat realized the winning roses were owned by Maya’s mother.
“Oh look!” Lynn rushed to another display.
Kat snapped a blossom laden stem at its base. She winced as a thorn drew blood. She left the flowers dangling near the floor.
Kat followed her mother.
“What happened, Kat? Are you okay?”
“Yeah. That rose bush bit me.”
Lynn handed her a kerchief. “Use this. Press it to stop the bleeding. Let’s go get you cleaned up.”
Soon after arriving home, Lynn heard Kat groan as she entered from the garage.
“Mom! Someone stole my bike!”
“Oh, no! How could that happen? Did you put it away?”
“I thought I did.”
“Well, there’s nothing to do about that now. How’s your hand?”
Dave said, “Guess someone appreciated it more than you…”
Lynn said, “We’ll shop for another tomorrow, honey.”
And so they did. Kat got her new bicycle. It wasn’t everything she’d wanted, but the upgrades pleased her. Being the right color, she no longer dreaded insults about that clunky, old thing.
Her parents agreed, “She’s happy. We’ll get some peace.”
Kat couldn’t wait to show it off. Riding to the park and stretching her legs felt glorious. She greeted her friends.
Maya cooed. “Cool bike. Didja get it on sale?”
Kat didn’t care. She would fit in now.
Noticing Kat’s bandage, Maya asked, “What did you do to your hand? Does it hurt?”
“It’s nothing, Maya…”
Tiffany rode up on her new wheels. She did a mini-wheelie and slid to a stop. Its metal flake, pink paint sparkled. Colorful streamers shimmered in the breeze. The classic design spoke for itself.
Tiffany rang the handlebar bell. Her sun glasses wearing teddy bear rode in the wicker basket.
Maya said, “It’s so cute!”
“I know. Dad fixed it up for me.”
Kat immediately recognized it. Her hated, ‘stolen’ bike had returned.
Intending never to see it again, she abandoned it in a dumpster behind a shop.
What could she say? It looked new. Exactly as Kat imagined. Perfect. And perfectly out of reach.
Her new bike suddenly felt dull. Her mother’s bike was a classic. It was Kat’s classic. But no longer hers. Tiffany didn’t know what she had.
Kat knew exactly what she wanted. Her bike. Her old bike.
She bit her lip and nodded to Tiffany. “Cute!”