Late Bloomer (by Bob Bentley)

Late Bloomer. Suzie Jones hated the expression.

She heard it often enough from her parents and even aunts and uncles began to say it. She knew they meant well. They seemed to think that the expression would console her somehow. But it really just made her feel worse.

The only person in her family who did not call her a “late bloomer” was her younger brother. Unfortunately he came up with a number of names that were worse.

Suzie lay awake in her bed that morning after turning off the alarm. She simply lay there and looked up. She didn’t want to go to school. Especially today. She wished that she could finish her senior year at home but she knew her parents would never agree.

Suzie’s thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door. Her mother called, Suzie? Are you awake? You don’t want to be late again.”

Yes, thought Suzie, I really do want to be late. But she called out, “Yes, Mom. I’m getting up.”

Suzie got out of bed, took a deep breath, let it out then looked into the mirror over her vanity. Looking back was a frowning girl in faded pajamas.

With disapproval Suzie said to her reflection, “Late Bloomer.” She avoided the mirror for the rest of the morning.

When Suzie finally stepped out of her room she was wearing her school uniform. It consisted of a white blouse and red plaid skirt. She also had on her red knee socks and black flats. Around the collar of the blouse she wore the tie with the school logo and a symbol that designated her as a senior.

As Suzie passed the foyer she came upon her father who was checking the contents of his briefcase. Suzie knew he worked with computers somehow and was vaguely aware that it involved computer graphics of some sort.

“Morning, Pumpkin,” her father said with a loving smile. “Why the sad face?”

“Today is Thursday,” she replied gloomily. This wasn’t the first time they had had this conversation. They both knew that Thursday meant gym class and that meant showers. Suzie hated the open room design of the showers.

“It just emphasizes to all the girls what a late bloomer I am.” She said.

Her father gave her a hug. “Oh, honey,” he said with earnest compassion, “It will be alright.” Then, not knowing what more to say he hoped to cheer her by saying, “Mom made waffles.”

Suzie gave him a little smile. Not because she loved waffles but because she knew how much he wanted her to be happy.

“Look, Pumpkin” he said, “I have to go to work for an early meeting.” Then he gave her a kiss on the forehead and left. She watched as he got into the car then she went to the dining room.

Suzie sat at her usual place and pored a glass of juice. The scent of waffles floated from the kitchen where she could hear her mother.

“Mom?” Suzie called out, “Can we talk?”

“Sure, Honey,” her mother called back, “I’ll be right there.”

“Mom,” Suzie continued, “When am I going to be invisible like all the other girls?”

* * *

Suzie’s mother emerged from the kitchen. She wore a light green robe and, like any other woman in Clearview, she was invisible. The sleeves of the robe seemed to point at a floating plate a few inches from them. The plate, covered by a fresh waffle, was placed before Suzie.

“Oh, Honey,” her mother said, “You know it happens at a different time for each girl.”

“Yeah,” Suzie replied, “But didn’t you vanish at 14? I’m almost 17.”

Suzie’s mother sat down at the table. “You can’t go by that. Why, when I was your age I was worried about my small bra size.”

“Mom,” Suzie said as she straightened up and gestured to the front of her blouse, “My breasts are fine. Maybe too big. But I want to be invisible like everyone else.”

“Darling, it’s not something you can rush. It will happen when it happens.”

“What about that lotion they show on TV?” Suzie asked.

“Don’t believe those silly advertisements.” Her mother said, “It’s not something you can rush.

At the moment, Suzie’s 13-year-old brother, Todd, entered the dining room.

“Mmmm. Waffles!” he said, “I could smell them upstairs.”

Todd then made a show of looking around the room. He then said, “Where’s Suzie? Has she finally vanished?”

“Hey! Be good!” Hs mother scolded.

Todd was happy enough to get a waffle of his own and decided not to torment Suzie for the rest of the morning.

* * *

At Clearview School for Girls, Suzie went to her locker for her Pre-calc book. That was her first class after homeroom. Suzie was closed her locker when she heard the familiar voice of Molly Norman, her best friend.

“Suzie, I forgot my gloves. Let me borrow yours.”

Sure enough the image before Suzie was a headless school uniform without hands.

“Sorry, Moll,” Suzie shrugged. “I stopped bringing them. I figured, what’s the point?”

A pair of white cotton gloves were part of the school uniform. Likewise, it was the custom for all women in Clearview to wear gloves when out in public. Maybe there was a law about it. Suzie wasn’t sure. She just knew that her Mom never went outside the house without gloves. Even if it was simply to get the mail.

However, the school rules exempted girls who were too young to be invisible. Therefore gloves were optional for Suzie in her present state.

“I used to bring a pair every day,” Suzie explained. “Just hoping that I’d actually need them someday. But after this long, I just gave up.”

“Cheer up, Suzie.” Molly said momentary distracted from her own dilemma. “The way I figure, you’re due.”

“Don’t you keep a spare pair in your locker?” Suzie asked trying to be helpful and forget her own problems for the moment.

“Well, I used to,” Molly said. “But, I used them last week when I forgot my gloves then.” As she was saying this she started to pull at the ends of her sleeves. “Maybe no one will notice if I pull my sleeves way down.”

“Maybe some one else has a spare pair,” Suzie suggested. She really didn’t want her friend to face the wrath of Ms. Machiavelli, the homeroom teacher. No student deserved that. She was the meanest teacher in school by far.

Molly suddenly hid her sleeve ends behind her back. “Oh, great,” she said. “Here comes real trouble.”

Suzie turned to look in the direction Molly was facing. She saw the unmistakable sight of Veronica Mayfair strutting confidently down the hallway. Veronica, like all the cheerleaders, was allowed to wear her cheering uniform in place of the usual school uniform. She swayed her hips just enough to give her red and white pleated skirt a rhythmic swing. Her posture was straight as she seemed to show off her pert breasts through the school logo on her white turtle neck sweater.

A step behind her, one on either side, were two of her cheerleader friends. All three made a bold stepping rhythm in their white vinyl boots. And they were heading straight for Suzie and Molly.

“Well, well, well,” said Veronica. It’s fleshy girl and her dorky friend. How are things in fleshy-town?”

“Listen Veronica,” Suzie pleaded, “Why don’t you give it a rest.” Then an idea occurred to her. “Maybe you could be nice for a change and loan me a pair of gloves. I’m sure you’d have a spare pair.” Veronica usually kept a pair of cotton gloves for class and a pair of white leather gloves for cheering. The leather ones, which she wore now, made a louder sound when clapping and had better grip for props.

Veronica gave a short and condescending laugh. “And what would you do with a pair of gloves? I don’t see any empty sleeves on your blouse. All I see is big ugly hands hanging out.”

Molly stepped forward and said, “Veronica, just wait till you forget your gloves and see if we help you.”

“Oh, I get it now.” Veronica said haughtily to Molly. “You forgot your gloves again.”

Then, before they could discuss the issue further, the bell sounded.

They entered the homeroom and took their seats. Suzie looked around and once
again felt singled out by the fact that she was the only girl without an empty collar on her uniform.

At the front of the room stood Ms. Machiavelli. She looked stern as always in the way she carried herself. She even looked stern in the way she dressed. Today she wore a white blouse that sort of looked Victorian with its high collar and long sleeves that were loose above the elbow and tight with nearly a dozen buttons below the elbow. She also wore a straight black skirt that reached down to her black leather boots that had pointed toes and a narrow heel. Her outfit was completed by short black leather gloves.

“Alright now,” she announced. “Everyone quiet down.”

When every girl was still, she continued.

“There is only one announcement today. You still have time to purchase Prom tickets so don’t wait till last minute.”

Prom. Great. That’s just what Suzie needed to hear about. She knew she’d never find a boy who would take her to the Prom. Still visible at 17. What boy would want to be seen with her?

“Miss Jones.” The teacher said interrupting Suzie’s line of thinking.

“Yes, ma’am?” Suzie responded.

“I understand you parents have volunteered to act as chaperones this year?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Suzie said.

Veronica leaned back and whispered, “Guess you’ll have the house to yourself. Maybe you can have a slumber party for the other freshmen.”

“Shut up, Veronica.” Hissed Molly from behind Suzie.

“Is there a problem Miss Norman?” said the teacher to Molly.

“No ma’am. Sorry.”

Ms Machiavelli paused then said “Miss Norman. Put your hands on top of your desk, please.”

Molly sighed and placed her hollow looking sleeves on her desktop. One or two girls in the room giggled.

“Well, well, well,” said Ms. Machiavelli walking over to the cabinet. “Let’s see if we can find you a spare pair that might help you to remember next time.”

This was the worst part. Every girl knew that in the bottom drawer of the cabinet. Ms. Machiavelli kept the most hideous gloves imaginable. At the beginning of every year she made a point of pulling out a few samples just to keep the girls in line. Suzy recalled the long blue satin pair with a row of pink puffballs running from the wrist to the sleeve. And there was another pair of brown leather with a wide gauntlet style cuff that was trimmed in rhinestones. That drawer contained every color, every material and every length Suzy could think of.

Ms. Machiavelli reached in with her own black-gloved hands and pulled out a short orange dress glove. Molly breathed a sigh of relief. It could have been much worse.

“Oh but I only seem to have one of these.” The teacher announced and reached back into the drawer but keeping the orange glove out.

So far this year only a few girls had to wear unusual “loaner” gloves from Ms. Machiavelli, but at least each pair was a matching set.

Finally, she pulled out a glove of thin brown wool that was about mid-arm length. She then handed the mismatched pair of gloves to Molly and said, “Be sure to return them tomorrow while wearing your white gloves.”

* * *

At gym class Suzie once again felt self conscious. Like all the girls she wore shorts and a tee-shirt but hers didn’t appear to float above white socks and sneakers as there’s did. And off course, every girl wore white gloves except for Molly who wore her mismatched gloves.

They reviewed the rules for field hockey then divided into teams. Suzie actually did well and scored two goals during the game. But all too soon came the time she dreaded. When the game was over it was time for showers.

In the locker room all the girls around Suzie were silent as they undressed. Each girl seemed to dissolve into nothingness while Suzie felt painfully visible. Fortunately, the mouthy Veronica was permitted to practice cheerleading and was not part of Suzie’s gym class.

Suzie finished stripping and made her way to the shower holding her towel over her breasts letting it hang to cover her to the knees. She quickly moved along with other floating towels and got into the showers. She tried to forget about how visible she was as she washed. As the showers turned on, one by one, the rough image a girl could be made out in each field of spray.

Then Suzie noticed a towel being carried in by an orange glove and a brown glove.

“What are you doing, Molly?” Everyone knew that gloves were not required in the privacy of the locker room.

“Well,” answered Molly as she turned on her own shower, “I figure these aren’t too bad and I’d rather not loose them and end up with something worse.” Then she laughed and added, “At least they aren’t leather or something that can’t get wet.”

* * *

After school Suzie got off the bus and found Billy Winslow waiting for her. She and Billy had been friends for years having grown up in the neighborhood together and being the same age.

“Hey Suzie.” He said. “Can I walk you home?”

“Sure.” Suzie was very comfortable around Billy. Although he might give her a friendly teasing about a great many things he never teased her about her appearance.

They walked along for some time and talked about bands they liked and teachers they hated. Suzie told Billy about the gloves that Molly had to wear.

“Maybe I’ll start carrying mine just so I can loan them to her whenever she forgets.”

“Hey, Suzie.” Billy started as if something had been on his mind. “Well, um, I was wondering…”

“Yeah,” she prompted.

“Well, like, I was wondering if you have a date to that Prom.”

“No,” Suzie said, “I wasn’t going to go.”

“Well, um, if it’s cool and all, I’d like to take you.”

Suzie smiled. Billy was a nice friend. He didn’t care what she looked like.

“Sure,” She said, “That would be cool.”

* * *

The month before the Prom passed quickly. Molly only forgot her gloves twice but each time Suzy was ready with a spare pair.

The night of the prom was a busy night in Suzy’s house. As chaperons her parents were also busy getting dressed at the same time that Suzie was getting dressed. Suzy had picked out a long pink gown and put her hair up. When she went down to the living room her brother was there playing a video game.

“Hey Sis,” he paused to say, “How about I take your picture.”

“Well that would be very nice, Todd.”

“Yeah,” he continued, “I’ve got some software that can erase your head and make you look normal.”

She tossed a couch pillow at him and he just continued his game.

Behind her, Suzie heard her father come down the stairs.

“Gee Dad,” she said, “look at you in a tuxedo and all.”

“Thanks Pumpkin.” He said pulling on his cumber bun. “But I think it may have shrunk a little over the years.”

In a moment Suzie’s mother came down. She wore a long gown of hunter green with long black velvet gloves. In one hand she carried a pair of long white kid gloves.

“Suzie, don’t forget gloves.”

“But Mom, I don’t need to…”

“Oh, but these are special gloves. These are the pair I wore to my Prom.”

Suzie took them and thanked her Mom. She decided not to ask why Dad was trying to hide an impish smile. No doubt it had something to do with that Prom night that he and her Mom had shared so many years ago. Suzie was sure she didn’t want to know.

As Suzie pulled on the gloves she noticed how the soft leather hugged her hands. These were the most comfortable gloves she had ever worn. Indeed, when Billy came to the door, himself looking sharp in a white tuxedo, the first comment he made after “Hey Suzie” was “Cool gloves.”

At the dance, they met Molly and her date, a tall boy named Thomas. Molly wore a gray gown with one long white glove and one long black glove. She and Suzie laughed and recalled the day Molly had to wear a mismatched pair in school.

“I think I’ll make it my thing from now on,” laughed Molly.

And of course Ms. Machiavelli was there. She wore a black gown with long black leather gloves that actually laced up the sides.

“I should be polite and dance with Suzie’s teacher,” Suzie’s Dad said.

Suzie’s Mom quickly responded, “Why don’t you put your eyes back in your head and dance with me first.” They laughed as they held and moved onto the dance floor.

After the first dance, Suzie noticed Veronica in a red satin gown with matching lace gloves. She looked perfect as usual. Billy saw her, too.

“I’d understand if you wanted to dance with her.” Suzie conceded. There were plenty of boys eager to dance with Veronica Mayfair and Billy might as well be one more.

But Billy looked into Suzie’s eyes and said, “I don’t think so. I’d happy just to dance with you all night.”

At that Suzie smiled broadly and pulled Billy a little closer for a kiss. He was about to kiss her when he suddenly held her at arms length and exclaimed, “Suzie! You’re invisible!”

“What? Really?” She pulled
off one of her long white gloves and felt her hand. She could feel it but not see it.

“Wow!” she exclaimed. “I am invisible.”

Then she said in a cautious tone, “You do like invisible girls don’t you, Billy?”

“I sure do. Who doesn’t?”

“But Billy, don’t get me wrong but I just have to ask. Why did you ask me to the Prom?”

Billy smiled and said, “Because no matter what you look like, you’re special Suzie.”

At that she hugged him tightly and they kissed. A moment later they were interrupted by the sound of Ms. Machiavelli’s voice.

“Miss Jones! Gloves on, young lady.”

Suzie pulled on her glove and said, “Gladly, Ms. Machiavelli.”

Then Ms. Machiavelli came close by and said quietly, “Congratulations Miss Jones.” It almost sounded as if she were smiling.

Suzie pulled her glove on hurriedly then returned to the matter of kissing Billy.

On the other side of the room Suzie’s Mom and Dad were dancing but still watching.

“Oh, our little girl is growing up,” said Mrs. Jones.

“Yes,” Mr. Jones agreed with a touch of concern, “In more ways than one.”

“Oh be good. There’s nothing wrong with a girl kissing at the Prom. We did plenty of kissing on our Prom night.”

“Mmm, we sure did,” he said now looking at his invisible wife as he held her. He looked down at her hunter green gown and smiled.

“Have I told you how wonderful you look tonight?”

“Mmm,” she responded, “what is it that you men find so fascinating about invisibility?”

“Well let’s just say, after twenty years you still look as beautiful as the day we met.”

And with that, Suzie’s parents kissed.

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