On Tadashi’s first Valentines Day at school, he writes cards for all his friends, and doesn’t understand why the teacher scolds him for calling it “Friends Day”.
“It’s not really a day for friends,” she says, sounding flustered.
“Then why did you make us write cards for each other?” Tadashi asks, bewildered. She shakes her head and walks across the room to praise the glittery red heart Tamika is drawing.
For the first time in months, he goes home upset.
“Your teacher sounds quite unprofessional,” his mother tuts. “If she asked you to make cards for your friends, then how can she be upset by you doing exactly that?”
Tadashi explains, and watches as Maemi’s eyebrows draw together, like when she’s been looking at her work tablet for too long and doesn’t hear Tomeo call her for dinner. “Of course it’s a day for friends,” she says slowly, “but… not just friends. Adults usually see it as a day for married or dating couples, like your father and I. That’s probably why she got upset.”
“But I’m not an adult,” Tadashi points out. He’s a reasonable child. “And I’m not married or… dating. What’s a dating couple?”
“It’s when you have a girlfriend or a boyfriend,” Maemi tells him, then stands up and ruffles his hair. “You’ll have one when you’re older.”
But I have lots of girl friends and boy friends, Tadashi thinks, but he doesn’t say. This is the first time he thinks that there’s something wrong.
A few months after Hiro is born, on Valentines Day, Maemi and Tomeo go out on a date, which Tadashi has learned all about in the last three years. But he isn’t really thinking about it, because their parents going out means they get to go to Aunt Cass’ house, which is actually a café, and Aunt Cass is the coolest person ever.
Aunt Cass comes to pick them up while his parents are still running around trying to find ties and earrings, and she laughs at her brother when he almost trips over the rug. Tadashi runs forward to meet her, but carefully, because he’s carrying Hiro and doesn’t want to disturb him.
“Hi Aunt Cass,” he whispers. She looks at Hiro, then back at him, then winks and puts her fingers to her lips. Aunt Cass is the coolest.
They spend the night eating junk food and watching monster movies that Tadashi’s parents won’t let him see, and Hiro wakes up after a while and Aunt Cass lets him feed Hiro his dinner, which his parents only let him do sometimes.
The monster movie ends and Aunt Cass gets up to change it to the next one, and Tadashi fidgets as much as he can without waking Hiro up again. “Aunt Cass,” he says. She pauses and turns to look at him.
“You don’t have a girlfriend or a boyfriend, do you?” he blurts, before he can change his mind. Aunt Cass tucks her hair behind her ear and smiles.
“Nope,” she says, and presses the Start button.
“Are you ever gonna have one?” Tadashi presses. Her eyes crinkle a bit, and she drops to kneel in front of him.
“Probably not,” she says, and Tadashi sighs in relief. She puts a hand on his shoulder and says, “What brought this on, huh?”
“Mom said I was gonna have a girlfriend or a boyfriend one day, but I don’t want one,” he says. It’s okay to say it to Aunt Cass, because she’s the coolest and doesn’t have a girlfriend or a boyfriend.
She smiles and squeezes his shoulder. “Well, you’re still just a kid,” she points out, and his heart sinks. “But,” she adds, “that doesn’t mean you don’t know what you want. If you don’t wanna date anyone, you don’t have to.”
Tadashi grins, and holds out his arms for a hug, careful not to dislodge his brother, still sleeping in his lap. Aunt Cass’ hugs are great, because she squeezes really tight and always smells like honey.
Aunt Cass is the coolest.
When the fifth grade rolls around and all his friends are suddenly more interested in dating then playing Robot Ninja Destruction on the playground, Tadashi feels pleased in an extremely guilty way that he lives with Aunt Cass, who’s really just Aunt Cass now.
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” she says through a mouthful of ice cream. Today, Lucas had ditched Tadashi to go hold hands with Alex, even though hand holding was boring and there was nothing boring about pretending to be Robot Ninjas. He’d told Lucas that, but because it was Valentines Day he had to go do boring stupid Valentines Day things. Tadashi pokes his ice cream with a spoon dejectedly, then smiles at Hiro’s sprinkle-covered face. If his four year old brother has any curiosity about what they’re discussing, he doesn’t show it. “It’s just how some people are. It’s – have they given you The Talk yet? Do they still do that in school?”
“The puberty one?” Tadashi says, and pulls a face. It’s not like he hadn’t already known all that stuff from his anatomy books, but it was gross hearing Mr Gambull drone on about it. “Yeah. They talked a little about dating, but not much.”
“It’s not that complicated,” she says with a shrug. She’s always saying how she doesn’t know anything about kids, but it means she treats him and Hiro like real people, so she’s still the coolest. “Some people like girls, some people like boys, some people like both, and some people-” She taps him on the forehead with her spoon, and he giggles. “-don’t like either. That’s us. A lot of people don’t think that’s a real thing you can do, though.”
“That’s silly,” Tadashi says, and slurps his ice cream.
“People are silly a lot of the time,” Aunt Cass agrees.
“Can I have some more ice cream?” Hiro asks. Aunt Cass laughs and ruffles his hair.
“Sure, it’s Valentines Day,” she says cheerfully, then stands and collects their bowls. “Come on, I’ll grab some more and then we can get the movie marathon started.”
On Hiro’s first Valentines Day at school, he meets Tadashi at the front gates and thrusts a messy scribbling of a heart at him, accompanied by a surprisingly good depiction of the two of them holding hands. “Miss Sofia told me I was the best little brother ever, because no one else drew their big brothers cards,” he explains, and squeals when Tadashi scoops him up into a hug.
“So you had a good day?” he asks. Hiro pulls back and grins, showing off his missing front tooth.
“Yeah!” he shouts, then squirms until Tadashi puts him down. He’s been growing rapidly lately – Tadashi is hoping for a growth spurt of his own soon, otherwise Hiro will get too big to pick up. “Did you get me a Valentines present too?”
“When we get home,” Tadashi tells him. The three boxes of chocolates he received from red-cheeked classmates are a little melted from the heaters at school, but he doesn’t think Hiro will mind.
Tadashi collects his friends at SFIT slowly, over the course of a year, and it isn’t until Second Year that they really become a group, rather than just mild acquaintances connected through himself. So it isn’t until Second Year that he asks them, as a group, “Anyone doing anything for Valentines Day tomorrow?”
It’s half a polite question, half a tentative reaching out. He’s never actually asked anyone other than Aunt Cass what their preference is – he hasn’t even dropped a casual question to Hiro, who’s edging on eleven now and still hasn’t shown anything outside of indifference towards the concept of romance. He’s waiting to ask because Hiro also hasn’t shown anything outside of indifference towards the concept of having friends.
“Hell no,” GoGo says first, taking another bite of her sandwich.
“I was just going to bake myself some cupcakes and have a bath,” Honey says.
“I was thinking about going to a club,” Fred adds. The conversation pauses while the others laugh hysterically over the image of Fred in a nightclub.
“Well, I for one have a date,” Wasabi says finally, wiping a stray tear of mirth from his eye. The others stare. “… with a Sam Frood the Science Dude marathon.” They all groan.
“What about you?” Honey asks Tadashi, leaning her chin on both hands. He shrugs.
“Me and my aunt usually just eat ice cream and watch Kaiju movies with Hiro,” he says with a smile. “Aunt Cass usually has the whole café decked out for the holiday, so she gets sick of it quickly. It’s kind of traditional.”
“What, like, every year?” Fred asks, looking away from Wasabi. “You’ve never had a Valentines Date? But you’re, like…” He waves a hand frantically at Tadashi’s face. “… you.”
“He’s got a point,” GoGo says drolly. Tadashi blinks.
“Uh, actually, I’m…” Here goes. “I’m aromantic. And asexual,” he adds lamely.
It’s not that he’s expecting a round of horrified gasps or anything, but the reaction is… slightly underwhelming.
GoGo pops her bubblegum. “Nice,” she says, over Fred’s cry of “Oh, cool!”
“Same here, man,” Wasabi says, and leans forward to offer a fist bump. Tadashi bumps it automatically. “I mean, I’m ace. I don’t know what aromantic means.”
“That’s where you don’t like anyone romantically, right?” Honey asks. At this point, he’s gone into a slight state of shock, but he nods anyway.
Then Wasabi’s wristwatch goes off, warning them that class will begin soon, and they hurriedly pack their things. Honey gives Tadashi a hug and a wide smile before rushing off, and Fred gives him a casual shoulder punch. He waves to them all and starts walking in the opposite direction.
Once he’s out of hearing range, he pulls out his mobile and hits the speed-dial. It goes to voicemail, but the message is comfortingly familiar, and he knows she’ll check it soon enough. “Hey Aunt Cass,” he says. “I was wondering if we could have a few more people at dinner tomorrow night..?”