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“If you could pick between flight or invisibility, which superpower would you choose?” the teacher asked as a warmup for the first day of sixth grade. Lombard Pierce already had those superpowers. He instead chose to stand up, push in his plastic blue chair politely, and pluck the bathroom pass. He could feel torrid blood permeating the tips of his ears and painting them flaming red. As he opened the classroom door, Lombard paused to kick the noisy door stop and watch it tremble. He wanted to exhibit minor symptoms of a meltdown. Storming out of the classroom without pushing in the chair could create a fire hazard, but a simple lengthy trip to the bathroom would be both suspicious and gross. The rattling spring was a compromise, he thought. Lombard cracked the door open just enough to ensure that the airflow into the classroom diffused the aroma of obliviously pubescent armpits. It was the respectful thing to do.
Once he had escaped the school building, Lombard stumble-walked through the yard, checking his hands every so often for drizzle orbiting his knuckles. The air outside was hotter than expected after the rainstorm the night before., but it tasted like raindrops waiting for their curtain call. Lombard made sure not to kick stones as he walked. The last time he had kicked a stone, an ant had tumbled helplessly from the surface until it hit it’s abdomen on a sharp pebble and stopped moving. Lombard had cried the whole way to his destination. He vowed from then on to only kick stones if he had the time to carefully inspect each one for ants.
Lombard Pierce didn’t have the time that morning.
The molasses blueberry bread fumes in the post-rain air acted as perfume, buttering his wrists and neck. He wondered why adults stood behind and in front of other adults for over an hour, eating the moisture of each other's foreign carbon-dioxide yet only making eye contact with pictures of people and dogs on their phones, just to taste that famous molasses crunch blueberry bread. But, Lombard Pierce was glad they did it. He mirrored the rigid, noble pout of a suit-wearing gentleman second-to-last in line.
Now he was perfectly poised to climb the medium sized tree outside the bakery. It was a blank slate kind of a tree. No one ever dangled sneakers from it, graffitied on it, hung their underwear from it, or leaned against it at the least. Lombard didn’t lean against the tree either. It wasn’t the kind of tree one leans on. But the chipped saturated bark formed natural foot holds and the tree-warts were just swollen enough for three of Lombard’s fingers.
The hardy branch at the top of the tree diffused the fragrance of a different pastry every time Lombard sat on it. This time it was Clementine Cake. He was fond of the sweet smell mixed with soil and fog, but he never relished baked treats themselves. Swallowing them was distressing. Lombard lovingly pinched the soggy tree bark and water dripped from it’s branches, magnifying the Clementine Cake smell. Now he finally had time to think about the question the teacher asked in class. He had time to despise the question, and then ask himself the question of why he despised it. Then he had time to think about that question. He peered at the adults in line and waved down at the peculiarly pale zigzags separating each half of their hair, happy they’d never notice him. He enjoyed the freedom of being visible yet unseen.
Lombard thought back to the first time he had been invisible: His dad was on live television, predicting rain storms overnight and the next morning and sunny but partially cloudy in the afternoon. Lombard’s fourth grade teacher was having him and his classmates watch the weather forecast while she responded to urgent emails. The students' eyes followed Lombard’s father’s finger as it traced animated raindrops, mesmerized that someone on live television was the parent of the kid sitting beside them.
Suddenly, as Lombard’s dad glided across the screen, a person behind the camera said: “Director just told me there’s no sun tomorrow afternoon. I think you’re reading the forecast for next week, bud.”
Lombard’s father smacked the projection screen with the back of his hand forcefully, his ears growing darker red each second. He kept slapping the projection as if it was going to instantly correct his mistake, until his hand was almost as red as his ears. Then he ran off screen.
Lombard was too afraid to inhale. He couldn’t even swallow.
“So that’s where you get it from, Lombard?” Snickers fluttered through the classroom.
“Stormy Lombard and his red ears!”
The buzz of malicious laughter made Lombard want to disappear. He squeezed his own hand, blinked with his eyes closed, and rolled his tongue into the back of his throat. Then he sat peacefully on the itchy carpet and no one said anything else. No one jokingly punched his arm, or flicked him awake. The teacher didn’t even pat him on the head as she reclaimed her spot at the front of the classroom. Lombard was invisible.
Lombard suddenly realized that his eyes were closed and he was beginning to lose balance on his tree branch. His jean shorts were soaked through as he juxtapozed his five senses from the fourth grade carpet back to his place in the tree. The man with the dignified pout who was in the back of the line last time Lombard looked was now third in line. Two crows made their conversation audible to Lombard and everyone in the bakery line. Their wings pounded through the air and sent wind up Lombard’s nostrils. He remembered what it was like to fly.
The previous winter, Lombard’s mother suggested that he was afraid of food.
“I try to prepare you dessert,” she said. “And you ask for seasoned cauliflower.”
“I like seasoned cauliflower.”
“Most kids like ice cream too. And cake for their birthdays. Most kids like dessert.”
Lombard shrugged and tugged his syrupy hair over his ears to conceal the reddening.
His mom kept going. “Maybe talking to a doctor would be good. Or a therapist,” she said. “I just want to make sure you’re okay. I just want to buy more groceries besides cauliflower. Your dad doesn’t like cauliflower that much.”
Lombard deployed each of his finger and arm joints one by one until he was a rippling crow. And, majestically, he flew up the stairs and into his room. Then he dove beak first under the silky covers of his bed, flying all the while. He curled his wings around himself and confirmed that he, indeed, could fly.
Lombard's eyes were closed again, but the branch was firm and unmoving. There was no need for flight at that moment. There was no need for invisibility. The tree seemed to subdue these hidden superpowers. It was a habitat where Lombard felt the bubbling breeze beneath his arms, lifting them just enough to remind him he could fly, but providing no reason to.
Suddenly, Lombard heard a husky and gentle voice from the line below him. It was too loud to be featured in casual bakery line conversation. He scanned the sidewalk for an erratic person yelling, but didn’t see any. His eyes jerked, and he found himself looking directly into the gaze of the suit-wearing man. Lombard had been spotted.
“How odd!” the man called. “A boy in a tree! I’d climb up there too if I knew it was legal. I’d climb up there and eat my blueberry bread. I would.”
Lombard wasn’t invisible. He thought that he was always aware of simply being visible yet unseen, but he realized that all along he’d been subconsciously believing he was fully invisible. He wanted to melt into damp tree bark or evaporate into fog. All of a sudden he remembered he could. Lombard squeezed his hand, closed his eyes and blinked, and made his tongue into a cold knot. This had to work.
“So you hungry, boy in tree?” the gentleman hollered again. “Or are you sleeping?”
Lombard squeezed his eyes harder and blinked with his eye sockets ferociously. It wasn’t working. But, it had to work. Then, he thought of flight. Maybe invisibility wasn’t the right superpower for the situation. Lombard opened his eyes and stretched out his arms, but they didn’t ripple. He lost balance for a second and yelped as his leg scraped against a small branch, and he stared back at the gentleman in the suit.
“I trust you!” the man said. “Seems like you do this frequently. You know your way down; just trust yourself.”
“Can you see me?” Lombard called. “Am I flying?”
The man beamed in his pouty manner and shook the paper bag of pastries like a cat treat.
Lombard steadily scooted down the trunk of the tree, less gracefully than usual. When he reached the ground, the man in the suit was gesturing for the others in line not to stare.
“So you’re a life sized person! You looked small in that tree. Not life sized,” he said, spinning around on his black leather shoes to greet Lombard. “Anyhoo, I got some extra blueberry bread for my coworker but he said he’s not coming. I’d be hungry if I were you, smelling the bakery for this long. Do you want to try some, boy in tree? It’s a tourist attraction.”
Lombard gulped. The last time this had happened, flying had worked. He had really, truly flown, and had never been asked about his fear of sweets since. Lombard’s ears were burning and he looked nervously at the paper pastry bag. The man reached in and offered the molasses crunch blueberry bread to Lombard. He accepted it and took a cauliflower sized bite out of the bread. It was unnatural to swallow at first, but the kind man’s pouty grin encouraged Lombard to take the risk.
“I enjoy it,” Lombard Pierce said, surprised to utter those words. “I enjoy pastries. And, I enjoy molasses crunch blueberry bread.”
“Are you in school?” the man asked abruptly.
“I left my first class for good reason, but I plan to go back,” Lombard said. “I know what I want to say.”
“Impressive,” chuckled the man. “Well, I can walk you to the building so you don’t get distracted and climb up more trees. I don’t have to though. I trust you.”
Lombard nodded and gave the man a wobbly thumbs up. “You can.” He morphed into a reflection of the gentleman’s dignified pout once again, and they walked together in happy silence. Once they reached the schoolyard, Lombard forgot not to kick the stones. He merrily sent a pebble flying through the air when halfway through it’s departure he remembered the ant.
“Oh no oh no oh no!” Lombard whimpered. He ran to where the rock landed and searched everywhere for the massacre of an ant. But, there were no dead ants. “Oh,” he sighed. “That was kind of fun, kicking that rock.”
“You kicked that stone quite high, and quite far. I think it’s your superpower,” said the gentleman, shaking his head wisely. “Well, you seem to have many superpowers. We can’t forget your tree climbing ability or your excellent taste in pastries. Those are powers, too.”
Lombard took another bite out of the bread and quickly hugged the man goodbye as he raced back through the cracked door of his classroom. Class was almost over, and the students that weren’t doodling were tapping their fingers on their desks to the ticking of the clock. Lombard pulled out his blue plastic chair and sat, pouting nobly.
“Lombard, you’re back,” the teacher announced disdainfully. “Would you like to share your answer to our warmup? Invisibility or flight.”
Lombard inhaled the stuffy air, disappointed to still distinctly smell armpits, even after leaving the door cracked open. Each armpit was attached to a student, gawking at Lombard’s long departure and his poised return. “I’ll pass,” Lombard Pierce said finally.
“Okay,” said the teacher. “Class dismissed.”