Don't Tell Anybody You Saw Me Naked (PG-13)

We were hanging out at the Hillsboro Boat Club waiting for the Fourth of July fireworks to be shot off a barge in the Blue River. I was tagging along with Frog, Tanner and Bazooka, the quiet sidekick who didn't mind playing second fiddle to those guys. I was a shy kid and I let them run the show. Frog was the confident flirt, Tanner the brainy know it all, and Bazooka the loudmouthed bully, but we'd been friends since fourth grade and I was used to my role in the group which was pretty much going along with whatever they said.

We listened to the music, had some hot dogs, and goofed off while waiting for the fireworks to start. Half the town was there and we bumped into kids from school and the neighborhood, Frog making sure he said hello to every girl while Tanner explained the science of fireworks to them.

Lexie and her crew were there, of course, The Brat Pack from the Hill as we called them. Lexie was a stuck up creep who was mean, condescending and insulting to me whenever she had the chance and I wanted nothing to do with her. Lexie was best known for her expensive and attractive wardrobe. She was always well dressed with attractive hair and fancy hairdos. She was wearing make up in fifth grade and her image reinforced her personality: better than everybody else.

Lexie's pack consisted of Jessie, Danielle, and Annie, good looking girls who weren't as bitchy as Lexie but they had the same mentality - upper middle class, snobby, well to do girls who looked down at us like we were illegal immigrants or some sort of deviants. I was intimidated and afraid of them, embarrassed just to be around them.

"Good thing it's starting to get dark," Lexie said meanly when she saw me hovering in the shadows. "I don't have to see your ugly face."

As usual, I didn't say anything but Frog was happy to make small talk with the girls while I hung back behind him and the other guys and quietly listened to them joke around. I didn't know how to talk to girls and I rarely bothered to try.

The boat club knoll was mobbed and I got separated from the guys a few times, wandering aimless around the grounds. I noticed that Lexie was hanging out with Biz Boswell which was nuts but I guess since Lexie was going to be a freshman in the fall she figured it was time for her to upscale to the older group even if Biz was a felon in waiting.

Biz was good looking and he played football but he hung out with guys who were gang material - Birch who had already been suspended a half dozen times, Henderson who was borderline mental, and Riggs who was always drunk. I noticed that the rest of the Brat Pack wanted nothing to do with Boswell and they left Lexie on her own but she seemed to be fine on her own, wrapping herself all over Boswell. She was a fool but I wasn't about to say anything to her.

I caught up with the guys and the fireworks finally started. It was a great show as always but as soon as it was over there was mass chaos and confusion as a thousand people headed for their cars. I lost Frog and the other guys in the crowd again but it wasn't a big deal. I'd just walk home and catch up with them later. I decided to cut through the unlighted section of the boat club where some of the overflow cars parked. I was in the shadows when I noticed Lexie being pressed by Biz up against a car and he had his hands all over her. She looked freaked and I could tell she didn't want the jerk to be manhandling her like that but he wasn't listening to her pleas and as confident and bossy as she was as an eighth grader, it was obvious that Lexie was no match for an older high school guy.

I could have snuck off and let Lexie fend for herself. I certainly owed her no favors considering she had gone out of her way to humiliate and insult me for years and she didn't think much of me but what kind of guy would I be to leave any girl in peril?

"Is there a problem here?" I called out as I stepped from the shadows knowing I was about to commit suicide.

Biz turned and saw me approaching. I must have looked like the all time idiot nerd.

"Get lost, jerk," Biz warned. "This doesn't concern you."

"Lexie?" I asked. "Do you need help?" I couldn't believe I was getting involved or that I was speaking to Lexie as if we were friends or something. I think it was the first time I actually spoke to her.

Biz was right. This was none of my business but it was too late now. I was involved. Biz kept his body against Lexie even though she was struggling to break free.

"You really don't want to be here, Zitman," Boswell said through clenched teeth.

Everybody poked fun at me for my excessive acne, changing my name from Pittman to Zitman but I was surprised a high school guy like Boswell was aware of the eighth grade nicknames.

"Maybe you should just let her go," I said, my voice shaking.

"Maybe you should kiss your ass goodbye," Biz laughed.

Somebody punched me in the ribs from behind and then a blow to the back of my knees knocked me to the ground. Somebody kicked me a couple of times and then I felt two sets of arms lifting me to my feet. Boswell's posse had arrived. A few blows to my stomach and a crack across my head had me dizzy and dazed and I fell to the ground again, curling into the fetal position to protect myself from the kicks that were striking my body.

"What do you want to do with him?" Somebody asked.

"Throw dufus in the back of the car," I heard Boswell order.

They dragged me across the ground and tossed me onto the floor in the back of the car. A bunch of people piled into the car and somebody was kicking me and stepping my head. It was dark and confusing and I wasn't sure what was going on but when I opened my eyes I realized I was looking right up the legs of Lexie who was being pinned in the backseat by at least two guys. She was still struggling and I could hear her whimpering and crying. It sounded like somebody was covering her mouth but all I saw was her yellow underwear under her dress.

"Well, this was a mistake," one of Boswell's friends laughed.

An empty beer can bounced off my head and somebody belched.

"What do you want to do with these losers?" One of them asked.

"Drop me off," I heard Biz say from the front seat. "I'm done with this. I don't care what you guys do."

"I told you eighth graders weren't worth it," one of them laughed. "They aren't ready for a real man like you, Bose!"

The car pulled over and I heard the front door of the car open. "What are you guys going to do with them?" It was Biz asking.

"Don't worry about it, Biz," somebody assured him. "We'll take care of it."

"Bobby, please, don't leave me with these bastards!" Lexie pleaded.

"Ow, the bitch bit me," somebody laughed. "Shut up, you little twat."

I heard her mumbling again and I knew they were covering her mouth. I heard the door close and the car sped off again. Somebody kicked me a few more times and at least two of them kept their feet on my head. I heard more beer cans open and I could smell pot as the car sped through the night. There was laughter and talking but I think I faded in and out of consciousness a few times.

One of the guys in the back climbed into the front seat and whoever was left in the back had Lexie pinned across the seat while keeping their feet on my face. I decided to play dead to avoid more body blows.

The car eventually came to a stop and I heard the car doors opening. Lexie screamed as they dragged her out of the car and then somebody was grabbing me by the hair and arms and dragging me out too. It was late but there was a bright moon and stars in the sky and I could see that we were in a pasture somewhere. I saw the outline of a barn ahead of us. They threw me to the ground and kicked me a few more times.

"Stop it! You're hurting him!" I was surprised to hear Lexie coming to my defense.

"Oh, is this zit faced loser your new boyfriend now?" One of them laughed.

My blurry vision cleared enough to see that Birch and Riggs were holding Lexie who was kicking her legs at them to no avail. Henderson and a guy they called Dimwit dragged me to my feet.

"What's the game plan?" Riggs asked.

"Make them walk home," Dimwit laughed.

"That's prety lame," Birch decided.

"We need to show these two little freaks that you don't stand up to us," Henderson announced. He punched me in the gut and then stepped closer to Lexie. "You're one of those stuck up little bitches who thinks her shit don't stink," he complained. "You're so full of yourself that if I squeezed your head shit would come out of your ears."

"You're disgusting and perverted," Lexie foolishly barked.

I shook my head trying to warn her to shut up. You don't lip off to a psychopath like Henderson and get away with it.

"Oh yeah?" Henderson asked with a frown. "You got anything else to say to me, you little bitch?"

"You can't do anything to me," Lexie dared him. "You're all talk and no action."

"Lexie!" I yelled. "Don't!"

"Too late, Zit-face," Henderson replied. "She's gonna see exactly what I'm going to do to her."

"Drop dead," Lexie replied.

Henderson reached out and ripped the white dress Lexie was wearing off of her in one quick move with such force that for a moment she didn't even realize what had happened. Before she could even react, Birch tore her bra off.

"Stop!" I yelled, starting for Henderson but Dimwit tripped me and pushed me to the ground and then he jumped on my back with both his feet.

A laughing Henderson leaned over and pulled Lexie's panties down until she was totally naked, screaming until Riggs slapped her across the face and told her to shut up.

"Can't do anything to you, huh, you stupid little jerk," Henderson laughed. "You're lucky we don't have a camera with us."

"I have a photographic mind," Birch said with a grin.

"I thought that was a pornographic mind!" Riggs joked.

"You fucking son of a bitch bastards!" A horrified and suddenly hysterical Lexie screamed. "I'll kill all of you!"

Henderson slapped her across the face again. "You're not doing anything, bitch," he warned. "Or we will kill you."

She spit in his face. Henderson wiped it off with his hand and smeared it down her chest and that caused Lexie to burst into tears.

I couldn't believe they had done that to her and I couldn't help but gawk from where I was sprawled on the ground, pinned by Dimwit. I had never seen a real person naked before and here I was staring at Lexie Dyson, a girl I actually knew, in the raw. She was a girl I loathed and resented but now I felt sorry for her even if I couldn't take my eyes off of her.

"You too, Zitman," Henderson ordered as Dimwit pulled me to my feet and tore my tee shirt off over my head. Another blow to the back of my head knocked me to the ground and somebody was pulling off my sneakers, socks, jeans and underwear while the rest laughed.

They pulled me to my feet and dragged me into the barn after Lexie who was struggling against Birch and Riggs who had her by the arms. All I could see was her naked buns as the laughing Henderson and Dimwit dragged me along. Riggs opened up a hatch door in the floor inside the barn and they tossed Lexie into it as if she was a sack of flour. The others pushed me toward the hole in the floor and I felt someone boot me in the naked ass as I did a header into the dark abyss.

I'm glad I didn't land on Lexie. I probably would have killed her. Instead, I landed in soft dirt and old hay. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings. We were in some sort of cellar room with no doors. There were windows with bars on top of two of the four walls that allowed enough light for us to see each other although I heard Lexie before I saw her white flesh standing in the corner sobbing. I let her have her private moment understanding that she had every right to be upset and mortified. I needed to gather myself too. I was sore, dazed, hurting and bleeding, plus I was stark naked just like Lexie.

I had never been naked in front of a girl before and this was beyond awkward and embarrassing but there wasn't much I could do about it now. I slowly picked myself off the ground and instinctively covered my groin with my hands even though Lexie had her back to me. I couldn't help but glimpse at her tush as she quietly sobbed in the corner and I explored the room hoping to find some sort of escape route but there were no doors. I found a broken broom stick and tried to poke the hatch door above but our insane captives had obviously secured it to keep us trapped.

Lexie continued to cry and it was starting to get on my nerves. There was no point crying all night and she needed to pull herself together and deal with the dilemma we found ourselves in.

"Lexie," I said gently, staying far from her.

"Don't talk to me," she snapped. "Don't look at me either."

"I've already seen you, Lexie, so there's no point being bashful now."

"Shut up and don't talk."

"Hey, this isn't easy for me either, you know," I said with annoyance. "But right now there's more important things to worry about than our pride and humility."

She kept standing in the corner with her back to me like some fourth grader being punished and I chewed on my lip wondering if this is the way we were going to spend the entire night.

"What are we going to do?" Lexie finally whispered after an unbearable amount of silence passed.

"We're going to have to wait until morning," I replied. "Maybe then we'll be able to see something we can't see now or maybe somebody will come by."

"We're out in the middle of nowhere," she moaned.

"Maybe one of those assholes will come back," I said hopefully.

"Criminals never return to the scene of the crime," Lexie said angrily, her back still to me.

"Could you please come out of the corner?" I requested.

"No," she replied bluntly. "I'm ashamed and humiliated."

"Just be grateful all they did was shame you," I told her. "At least they didn't do anything sexual to you."

There was more quietness and finally a heavy sigh resonated from the corner. Lexie finally slowly turned around, her hands over her lower privates just like me as I stood in the middle of the room but her milky and pert white breasts glowed in the moonlight.

"I won't tell anybody if you don't," I said, trying to keep things light even though we both wanted to die.

"It's cold," Lexie remarked, moving her arms up and wrapping them around her chest, revealing the bottom half of herself now.

It was cool and damp in the hole. I glanced around and noticed some hay piled in one of the corners.

"Maybe we could lay under some of that," I suggested.

She was hesitant and looked at me suspiciously.

"I'm not like those guys, Lexie," I told her. "I'm not going to try, say or do anything. You can trust me."

"I don't even know you."

"I think you're getting to know me now," I said sarcastically, still keeping my hands over my groin.

She frowned and looked at me as if all of this was somehow my fault but this wasn't my idea for a great first date.

"Look, I know you don't like me but can we just try to survive this tonight?"

"I never said I didn't like you," she said defensively.

"Sure you did," I replied with a sad sigh. "Every time you insulted me, made fun of me, ridiculed me, and ignored me."

She opened her mouth as if she was going to say something but she seemed to be at a loss for words. She was going to see my rear but there was nothing I could do about it so I turned and went to the pile of hay in the corner, gathering it into a larger pile.

"Why don't you snuggle under the hay?" I suggested.

"Who knows how long and how old that stuff has been there?" She protested. "There could be cow turd or mice or rats or spiders in there."

"Are you going to stand there like that all night?" I asked.

She squeezed herself tighter and I saw that her eyes were getting all watery again. "I should just kill myself now."'

I couldn't help but take it personally. I bet she wouldn't be so upset if she was trapped naked with Biz Boswell standing before her with his balls hanging there for her to see like me now.

"I told you it could have been worse," I said. "What in the hell were you doing with that guy anyway?"

"None of your business," she grumbled, obviously unhappy be stuck with me of all people.

I shook my head with resentment and climbed into the pile of hay, trying to cover myself as best I could. She once again turned her back to me and I could hear her quietly whimpering.

"I don't feel any mice or other rodents and it doesn't stink," I let her know.

She didn't move for a few moments, stubbornly standing in the middle of the room and I let her sulk knowing there was nothing I could do about it. Finally, she walked to the pile and collapsed into it a good five feet away from me, keeping her back to me and trying to cover herself with the hay like I had. I glanced at her and I could still see her tush. I knew I shouldn't keep looking but I couldn't help myself. I had a better chance to win the million dollar lottery than I did having something like this happen to me.

"The eighth grade cheerleaders got to cheer with the varsity during the Thanksgiving game last fall," Lexie revealed after a prolonged silence. "Bobby talked to me a few times on the sidelines. I couldn't believe a junior like him was talking to me. I thought he really liked me."

"I think any high school guy who talks to a junior high girl can't get a girl his own age," I said cynically. "The high school girls knew he was an asshole loser."

"What the hell do you know?" She asked with annoyance. "I've never seen you with a girl."

I was crushed but I didn't say anything.

"He talked to me after that," she said. "Outside of school a few times. Once at Johnny C's Diner. Another time when I bumped into him at Donovan's Department Store. Another time at Fontaine's Grocery."

"Okay," I said, acknowledging her.

"It never occurred to me that he might not care about me," Lexie admitted, sounding betrayed and violated.

"Any kid in the eighth grade would be happy for any attention you gave them," I told her.

"For christsakes," she complained. "Most eighth grade boys are incapable of even holding hands with a girl," she complained. "I thought I was ready for something more."

"I guess you thought wrong," I replied.

She turned her head and squinted at me. "What?" She demanded angrily. "What did you know about him?"

"Nothing, really," I admitted. "Just a comment here or there. Locker room stuff. But when you hear the same stuff about a guy over and over you kind of figure it out for yourself."

"What kind of stuff did you hear?" She wanted to know, apparently upset that I knew something she didn't.

"That he was a jerk," I replied with a sigh. "One of those guys who could get away with it because he was good looking and popular."

"You hate him for the same reason you hate me," she pouted. "Class and status."

"I hate you because you're a creep," I replied automatically.

It was something I thought all the time but I was surprised I came right out and said it to her. I heard her suck in her breath but she didn't say anything for a few moments.

"Do you remember the first thing you ever said to me?" I wondered.

"Of course not," she snapped. "You were never that important."

"I do," I let her know. "Sixth grade spelling bee. I spelled relish wrong and you yelled out 'Sit down, Relish face!'"

"That was sixth grade," she said defensively.

"You called me ugly just a few hours ago," I pointed out, trying not to sound hurt.

She didn't respond to that one either.

"I'm sure you're feeling violated, exposed, humiliated and vulnerable because of what those perverts did to us tonight," I said with sympathy. "But this isn't wasn't half as hurtful as some of the stuff you and others have said to me over the years."

"I find that hard to believe," she said with a heavy voice. "What could be worse than being seen naked by a bunch of disgusting retards?"

I wasn't sure if she was including me in that group.

"All I know is I'd rather be a loner by choice than have to listen to such hurtful words," I said.

"Maybe you're just over sensitive," Lexie said with what I took as insensitivity.

"All I know is that the stuff you said made me avoid people all the time," I revealed. "It killed my self-esteem and social skills."

"I doubt I have that kind of power," she said with annoyance.

"Your words do," I said. "School was absolute hell because of that sort of stuff. I've skipped lunch, hid in the library, and pretended to be sick during gym," I sighed. "I even stayed home a few times."

"Because of something somebody said?" She asked with disbelief.

"It often feels like people are out to get me or laugh at me," I admitted. "The worst part isn't even the pain," I told her. "It's the loneliness of it."

"You have your friends," she said quickly.

"They don't understand and half the time they're guilty of it too, in the name of fun."

"You can't tell me nothing has humiliated or shamed you more than this," Lexie argued.

"I just did," I said with frustration. "I'll stay quiet and out of sight and feel shut down and emotionally numb about some crack about my crater face long after I've stopped worrying about you seeing the crack of my ass. I just want to be respected instead of being used and walked all over."

"Everybody's been on the receiving end of some bad jokes made at their expense," Lexie said. "Some people like to have an audience."

"Like you?" I asked.

She didn't reply to that one either and I wondered if I was getting her to think about this sort of stuff.

"There's nothing worse than having your pride injured," I said.

"What in the hell do you think happened to me tonight?" Lexie asked angrily.

"Are you insecure?" I asked her.

"Of course not," she said defensively. "I'm pretty, I'm popular, I'm smart...why would you think I'm insecure?"

"Well, because quite frankly most of the girls who are mean are insecure and they feel like they have to pick on others who aren't like them."

"You don't know what you're talking about," Lexie snapped and I knew I had pushed her too far.

It was a quiet for a long time and I thought maybe she had fallen asleep.

"I had to get braces in the fourth grade," Lexie revealed quietly. "And I wore ugly glasses because I was as blind as a bat."

"You didn't move here until the sixth grade," I reminded her. "Nobody here knows."

"I was four eyes and metal mouth," she said bitterly. "Kids were mean."

I lifted my head up and propped myself up with my elbow trying to make her out in the dark. Her back was still to me. "If you knew how it felt why would you do it to me?"

"Because I swore that I would never be that vulnerable again," she said angrily. "I promised myself that I would never let another kid get the better of me."

"So you attack before you're attacked," I realized.

"Maybe," she admitted softly. "But it didn't work, did it?"

"Not if you're known as a bitch," I said.

"I never thought something like this could happen to me," she sobbed. "I never thought guys could be so cruel and mean. I never thought Bobby Boswell could be so uncaring."

"I'm sorry this happened to you," I said softly, dropping my head back into the hay with a sigh. "You didn't deserve it."

There was a long period of silence and I assumed our conversation was over.

"I'm sorry," I heard her whisper after the longest time. "For all the mean and terrible things I said to you. You have every right to hate me. I don't blame you. I guess tonight was your revenge just as much as it was Henderson's."

"I take no pleasure in any of this, Lexie," I told her. "I wouldn't wish something like this on anybody. I'm just as embarrassed and humiliated as you are by all it. But, thank you for saying that."

There was no more talking and eventually I fell asleep.

The sun shining through the window woke me in the morning although I had no idea what time it was. I was stunned to find that Lexie was nestled against me with her tush implanted in my groin and I didn't know what to do. I wasn't sure who had moved in the hay and I feared that Lexie might go nuts when she woke up and found us like this but I was too afraid to move. Never in all of my wildest fantasies and dreams did I ever think I would be in a position like this with a pretty girl like Lexie. She had been mean and cruel to me but here she was naked and pressed against me. You couldn't make this sort of stuff up.

I don't know how long I lay there feeling her warm body against mine, her soft skin like a warm blanket, her smell tonic to my senses. I wanted to cry and I wanted to cherish the moment because I knew it was one of those once in a lifetime moments never to be repeated again, a first time experience never to be forgotten. A gift from God to sooth my soul and heal my broken psyche.

Lexie began to move and I held my breath waiting for her to be grossed out or to say something terrible to me about me. She turned her head and looked at me, giving me a look that was a mix of surprise, comfort, fear, and shock.

"It's morning," I let her know.

"It was cold last night," Lexie explained nervously.

Neither of us wanted to move because we both knew that as soon as we did we would both see each other naked again only this time in the light of day. We stayed quiet for a long moment.

"One of us is going to have to move eventually," I finally said.

"This is beyond awkward and awful," Lexie admitted. "I never thought I would feel this weird ever."

"There's nothing we can do about it," I sighed.

"So what are we going to do?" Lexie asked.

I thought about it for a moment. "I'll count to three," I decided. "And then we'll both move and get up."

"I have to go to the bathroom." I thought she was going to start crying.

"You go over to that corner," I said. "I'll keep my back to you and I'll go in this corner."

"Promise you won't look?" She pleaded.

"I promise," I said gently. "One...two...three..."

We both moved quickly and I rushed to the corner I was facing where I took a leak against the wall. I could hear tinkling in the other corner but I didn't look. I also heard her passing gas but I pretended I didn't hear anything. It seemed like an eternity passed.

"What are we going to do now?" Lexie asked.

"Are you done?"

"Yeah."

I glanced over my shoulder and saw her standing on the other side of the room, her back still to me. I couldn't help but admiring her tush yet again although I knew it was wrong of me.

"We need to see if there's a way to get out," I said.

"Okay," she agreed.

"We can't do that if we can't even look at each other."

"I've never seen a guy bare before," she confessed.

"You saw me last night," I reminded her.

"I never really looked, actually," she admitted. "I was too embarrassed and afraid. And it was dark. And I closed my eyes. Or looked at your face."

"I bet it was the first time you were glad to see my zits," I joked.

"And I bet you saw my tits," she sighed with resigned humiliation.

"I won't tell anybody," I assured her. "This never happened, okay?"

"Okay," she said, her voice breaking.

"So, if I count to three again, we can turn around, okay?"

"No," she said desperately. "I'm really embarrassed."

"I am too," I told her.

"So this is how you feel when kids say mean things to you?"

"Kind of."

"Well, that's how I'll feel if you look at me again."

"We can keep our hands over our privates," I suggested.

"I don't want you looking at my breasts again," she cried. "It's bad enough you keep seeing my butt."

"Okay, I understand," I said. "So, without turning around, we need to feel the walls and see if there's some sort of hidden door or passage or something," I said. "I checked the trap door up there last night. It won't budge."

"Okay," Lexie sighed. "Why don't I move to the right and you move to the left and we'll both go around the room?" She suggested.

"Okay," I agreed. "Try to see if there are any lines, levers, holes or rings in the walls."

We both moved around the room in opposite directions facing the walls with our backs to each other and looking for any evidence of some sort of escape route but there was no indication that there was anything that could help us.

"You'd better watch where you walk over there," Lexie warned with humiliation when I got closer to the corner where she had gone to the bathroom. I saw that some hay had been raked into a small pile covering something and from the odor I guessed that she had gone number two.

"What are we going to do now?" Lexie wailed when she realized we found no exit route.

I looked up at the windows above us. "Maybe I could boost you up and you can see if any of those windows are loose or rotted or something," I said.

She didn't respond for a moment, apparently pondering my idea. "Don't turn around," she requested.

I nodded even though I knew she had her back to me and couldn't see me nodding. "Okay. I'm going to walk over to the far window on this wall," I told her. I'm going to kneel down and I want you to step up onto my shoulders and then I'll boost you up and you can check the windows."

"What if you drop me?"

"I won't," I assured her, walking to the wall and dropping to my knees with my back still to her. "You're gonna have to turn around to see where I'm at."

"I'll just follow your voice," she said.

"I don't want you falling over me," I said. "It's okay, Lexie. We can't be bashful when it comes to survival."

I heard her sigh and I felt her vibration as she walked across the room. I lifted both of my arms up over my head and I felt her hands clasp mine.

"Okay, step up on my shoulders like a ladder," I instructed.

"I don't want to hurt you," she said with worry.

"I got the shit beat out of my last night," I told her. "I think I'll live with you on my shoulders."

I felt one foot on one shoulder and then the other on the other as she squeezed my hands tightly.

"Okay, I'm going to stand on three," I let her know. "Be ready. One...two...three..." I thrust myself up so I was standing straight. "Can you reach the window?" I asked.

She let go of my hands and I heard her grunt. "Yeah. It won't budge."

"Let's try the other one," I said. Stay standing and I'll walk along the wall. Use your hands to walk the wall."

"Be careful," she said. "And don't look up."

I walked along the wall carefully until we got to the next window. "Shake it," I said.

I heard something snap.

"Oh wow!" Lexie exclaimed. "It broke!"

I looked up without thinking and saw that she had pushed out the window. I saw some other stuff too. "Can you boost yourself out? Can you fit through the window?"

"Give me a push," she said excitedly.

I put my hands on her ankles. "On three," I said. "One...two...three..."

I pushed her with my shoulders and with my hands by lifting her legs up and I looked up again to see her scrambling through the window. I also saw everything there was to see as she kicked her legs and attempted to squeeze through the opening.

A moment later, she poked her head through the window. "Can you get out?"

"Reach your hand out," I instructed as I trotted to the other end of the room.

I ran as fast as I could and leaped, practically walking up the side of the wall and grabbing a hold of Lexie's hand. She helped pull me through the window and we both lay in the dirt trying to catch our breaths but the important thing was we were out of the barn cellar.

I stood and reached my hand out to help Lexie to her feet. There was no turning our backs to each other now so we both had our hands over our privates but her breasts were practically staring me in the face.

"You've got bruises all over you," Lexie observed.

"You said you weren't going to look," I replied.

"It was kind of hard not to making our escape," she explained. "You've got a fat lip and it looks like you have a shiner. There's welts and bruises all over your ribs and legs."

"Those guys were pretty physical last night," I said.

She lifted one of her hands up and touched one of the bruises on my face and I tried not to look at her bush.

"We should go see if they left our clothes," I said.

"You first," she said. "In case somebody's there."

I took her hand and pulled her behind me as we walked along the side wall of the barn to the front. The place was deserted without a soul in sight. I was both relieved and disappointed when I saw our clothes strewn around the dirt. I knew once Lexie put her clothes back on she wouldn't be vulnerable anymore and she might even go back to treating me like a loser.

She skipped past me and grabbed up her clothes as if she was on an Easter egg hunt. She turned her back to me one more time and hastily dressed while I stole one last glance at her lovely buns before I quickly got my clothes on so I wouldn't be the only one naked. Her dress was torn but she managed to jury ring it to stay on.

We found her purse dumped out with the money gone and her cell phone smashed into a million pieces.

"What are we going to do?" Lexie asked.

"Start walking," I replied, taking in a deep breath. "We're free."

I had no idea where we were but we started walking along the dirt road that led away from the barn. It was mostly woods and it was already a warm summer morning but I figured we'd come out somewhere eventually. Neither of us talked for the longest time. I guess there wasn't anything more to say. We had both been stripped to the bone, exposed and humiliated, our secrets revealed, our most personal space violated. It was difficult to look at her even with her clothes on.

"What are you going to tell your parents?" I asked.

"Annie will cover for me," Lexie replied. "I'll just say I stayed over there and overslept."

"What about the dress?"

"I'll borrow something from Annie," she said. "What are you going to tell your folks?"

"Nobody will have noticed I was gone," I said.

"What do you mean?" She asked as we walked. She was going barefoot, holding her sandals in her hands.

"My mother left a long time ago and my father doesn't really pay attention," I explained.

"Your mother left?"

"Yeah," I replied. "It's kind of hard to believe in yourself when your own mother doesn't want to be your mother anymore."

Lexie didn't say anything and we walked quietly for a while.

"Why did you get involved in the first place?" She finally asked.

"I don't know," I admitted.

"Well, it was pretty brave of you."

"Brave?" I couldn't help but laugh. "Actually, it was pretty stupid, wasn't it? I probably should have just snuck off."

"I'm glad you didn't," Lexie said with meaning. "Who knows what would have happened to me."

"Look at what did happen to you."

"At least I wasn't alone," She pointed out.

"Maybe I should have gone for help."

"He might have gotten me in the car and taken off before you got back," Lexie said. "I think what you did was courageous and admirable. Especially since you think so little of me. You showed guts and character, sticking up for someone you don't even like."

"Oh, you're not so bad, I guess," I said lightly.

"I think you should play football this year," Lexie announced.

"What?" I stared at her with disbelief. "I'd get laughed off the football field."

"No you wouldn't," Lexie said.

"I'd be ridiculed and picked on. A tackling dummy."

"I think you're tough and can take a hit," she countered. "They practically killed you last night and you'd didn't give them the satisfaction of giving in or showing pain. You'd be a great player."

It was the first time anybody gave me any sort of encouragement and I felt like I was walking on air from her compliment.

"You really think so?" I asked with amazement.

"Yes, I do," she replied.

The old grown over dirt road emptied out onto a larger but seldom used paved country road.

"Which way?" Lexie wondered.

I looked both ways and then up into the sky. "Let's follow the sun," I said.

"I like that," Lexie said with a smile as we turned to the west and started walking

"Somebody's got to come along sooner or later," I said.

"I hope so," Lexie replied.

There were a few cow pastures and rolling fields but no signs of houses or civilization.

"It is pretty," I said, enjoying the picturesque countryside.

"Where did your mother go?" Lexie wondered.

"I don't know," I answered with a sigh. "My father never talks about it. My sister says she just didn't want to be married or a mom anymore and so she left."

"How old were you?"

"Ten."

"I'm really sorry."

I shrugged. "My sister does a pretty good job filling in. She's two years older than me. She cooks and stuff."

"What does your Dad do for a living?"

"Factory work."

"Oh."

"He's a nice enough guy and all that but I guess he's sort of like me," I sighed. "He doesn't know what he's doing."

"I think you're too hard on yourself," Lexie said.

I laughed out loud. "Well, I get a lot of help in that department. My Dad tries. He just doesn't expect too much and I guess I don't either."

"I think my parents expect too much of me," Lexie revealed with a sigh of her own.

"What do you mean?" I asked as we walked along the road.

"Honor roll and all that stuff," she said. "I have an older brother who is the best jock ever and an older sister who was winning beauty contests and skating competitions by the time she was eight. There's a lot of pressure for me to follow that success. Until last night, I thought I was well on the way."

"Last night was a fluke," I said. "Don't let it derail you or define you."

"I was dumber than my pet rock," Lexie replied. "I deserved what I got for being so naive and stupid."

I was surprised she was sounding so vulnerable even with her clothes on.

A flat bed farm truck rambled down the road from behind us and we turned in anticipation, hoping it would stop for us. Much to our relief, it did.

"You kids lost or something?" the middle aged guy behind the wheel asked. He was wearing a green tee shirt under some coveralls and a soiled John Deere ball cap

"Sort of," I admitted.

"Where you headed?" the guy asked.

"Hillsboro," Lexie offered.

He whistled. "Man, you are far from home! I'm going as far as the Farmer's Market in Greenville if you're interested."

"Where are we?" I wondered.

"South County, son," the guy replied. "Hop on the back."

I jumped up first and helped Lexie up by grabbing her hand. The guy put the truck in gear and we rambled down the country road, Lexie and me sitting among hay bails and buckets of various fruits and vegetables. The wind caused Lexie's hair to flap in the breeze.

"My mother loves summer because of the farm stands," Lexie said as we watched the scenery go by.

I realized that I had talked more with Lexie in the last ten hours than I had with all the other girls in my life combined! I enjoyed the interaction and the conversation and the crisis of our situation had caused me to forget about my shyness and insecurities. It almost felt like Lexie and I had been friends forever in a strange way.

"Have you been to a dermatologist?" Lexie asked, catching me off guard since she asked the question out of the blue after some quiet moments between us.

"My father said it will go away on its own," I sighed.

"Do you watch what you eat?"

"Yeah, my sister keeps after me about that stuff," I revealed. "But lets face it, I have terminal acne."

Lexie smiled. "You should do that more often."

"Do what?" I asked with confusion.

"Make fun about it," she replied "Joke about it."

"It's kind of hard to laugh when some kid is asking why I never take a bath," I sighed.

"I know I've been cruel, mean and unforgiveable to you, but one of the reasons why I did it was because I knew I could," Lexie revealed. "Last night was the first time I ever saw you take a stand or show any backbone. I think if you did that more, kids wouldn't pick on you so much."

"You think I'm a push over?" I asked.

"I thought you were very timid and insecure and a easy mark," Lexie admitted. "But I see now that I was wrong."

I nodded, appreciating her insight. Any compliment from a girl like Lexie was like a magic potion to me.

We reached Greenville and the truck pulled to a stop at the farmer's market on the town common. Lexie and I jumped off the back of the truck and waved to the driver as he climbed out of the cab of the truck. But we were still five miles from home.

"We could take the bus," Lexie said.

"No money," I replied.

"Maybe we'll bump into someone we know," she said hopefully.

"I don't know anybody," I said, poking fun at myself like she had suggested. "Besides, what are the chances?"

"Oh, look, it's Danielle and her mom!" Lexie said on cue.

"Alexis!" Danielle shouted when she saw us approaching. She ran and gave Lexie a hug. "What happened to you?" Danielle asked with surprise when she saw Lexie's tattered and dirty dress and my bruises.

"Nothing, Dannie," Lexie said. "It's okay."

Danielle looked at me and then back at Lexie with confusion. "What are you doing with him?" She asked judgmentally. "Where's Bobby?"

"Don't worry about it," Lexie advised. "Can we get a ride home with you?"

"Yeah, sure," Danielle said, looking at me suspiciously. "You're not going to get any zit puss in my car are you?"

Remembering Lexie's advice, I spoke up before Lexie could run interference for me. "I hear it's good for automobile upholstery."

"That's disgusting," Danielle protested but Lexie laughed and it felt good to be in charge for a change.

I was amazed that I wasn't feeling hurt or insulted by Danielle's remark. Instead, I felt uplifted and freed laughing at her comment instead of being destroyed by it like in the past.

We waited a few minutes for Danielle's mother to finish picking out what she wanted with Danielle staring at me the entire time trying to figure out what in the heck I was doing with Lexie.

Danielle's mom drove us home to Hillsboro and Lexie asked that we be dropped off in front of Annie's house.

"Call me later," Danielle insisted to Lexie as we climbed out of the car. "I want to know what's going on."

Lexie waved as the car drove away and then turned to me. "Well," she said, "I guess this is it."

"It is?" I said with disappointment realizing my fantasy come true was ending just as suddenly as it had begun.

"I need to get going," she explained. "Borrow something from Annie and then get home."

"What are you going to do about Boswell and his jerk offs?" I asked.

"Nothing," she replied. "And don't you do anything either."

"They shouldn't get away with what they did to you," I said.

"I just want to forget about everything," she said and I realized she was referring to me too. I would always serve as a reminder of her ultimate humiliation.

"Okay, I'll see you then," I said with a sad sigh as I started to walk away.

"Hey, Larry?"

It was the first time Lexie ever called me by my given name.

I turned and looked at her. "Yeah?"

"Thank you," she said quietly, leaning up and giving me a quick peck on my lips.

"Better be careful," I said with a smile. "You once said that nobody would ever kiss me because they'd get zit lips."

"I'm sorry I said that," Lexie said with sincerity before heading for Annie's house.

I sighed and headed home.

That night I spent with Lexie changed my life and I became a different person because of it. The experience gave me a new found confidence I had never known before and I approached life with a different outlook. Seeing Lexie naked as a jaybird was a secret gift that gave me insight and knowledge that fueled my ability to see things in a new light. I remembered every moment and experience of that night and I put everything she told me to the test.

I went out for the football team that August, stunning my friends and introducing myself to an entirely new philosophy. I was good enough to make a difference and I became an accepted member of the squad, playing with Bazooka. Tanner had gone off to the Sun Rise Lake School for Boys and we didn't see much of him anymore but I stopped being a wallflower and was more like my friend Frog, able to talk with the girls with authority and comfort. I was by no means a lady's man but I dated some in high school and I was much less paranoid, frightened, or paralyzed by my insecurities and fears.

I heeded Lexie's advice and developed a sense of humor about my faults, refusing to take things so personally or seriously and kids stopped picking on me. Eventually, my face cleared up and my image as The Zitman was forgotten. I figured no matter what happened to me nothing could be as soul searching or as exposed as my night trapped with Lexie when I was stripped of my dignity and left naked on so many levels in front of Lexie. I had survived that humiliation and learned that I could function in front of a girl. I carried on a conversation with Lexie that night and I discovered that I had something to offer. And once Lexie got past my zits and her pre-conceived perceptions she had about me she was willing to treat me with kindness, sympathy, and equality. If a girl like Lexie could give me the benefit of the doubt I realized that I stood a chance with others too.

My fantasy, of course, was that Lexie would fall head over heels in love with me after we had had shared such an intimate experience together and we would become a couple but that didn't happen. Lexie stopped making fun of me but she also avoided me and once we made the transition from junior high to the larger high school environment, I didn't see much of her. She wasn't as popular as she had been in middle school and I noticed she stopped cheering although I saw her name on the student council and her byline in the school newspaper. She also dressed much more modestly in high school and rarely wore make up.

I couldn't blame Lexie for wanting to avoid me. I had seen more of her than her gynecologist, more than I had a right to see and I'm sure the only way she could forget about that night was to forget about me too. By the time senior year arrived I had pretty much forgotten about my miserable years too. My sister was out of the house and it was just me and my Dad. We had an easy going relationship but he pretty much let me do my own thing. I was popular and well liked within my class thanks to my football success and newly discovered social skills. We had a good season on the gridiron and I was accepted at Green College. I had been working part time at Miller Auto Sales cleaning cars and doing janitorial work through high school and I was looking forward to studying for a future career.

I enjoyed my senior year and made the best of it knowing once it was over I couldn't go back. As graduation approached, I looked back with no regrets and I felt good about my high school career. It had been a good experience.

I was standing at my locker a week before graduation when I heard a voice behind me. "Hello, Larry."

I closed the locker door and was surprised to see Lexie standing in front of me. Her hair was darker and shorter but she was as pretty as ever although it struck me that she didn't look as happy as I remember her back in middle school.

"Lexie! Hello!" I said with a grin. "How are you?"

"I'm okay," she said with a nod and a nervous smile. "How are you?"

"I'm good, thanks for asking."

She nodded and then gave me a long look. "I was wondering if you'd be willing to do me a favor."

"Sure, anything. What's up?" I asked with enthusiasm, thrilled that she was talking to me after such a long time.

"Would you be willing to be my graduation partner?"

"Really?" I was surprised yet flattered. "Sure. I'd be honored."

"Oh, okay, great, thanks," she said nervously. "I'll see you around then."

"Sure, Lexie," I said. "I'll see you around."

She walked down the hall and I followed her with my eyes, amazed that she had approached me in the first place.

We had a couple of rehearsals to make sure we knew what we were doing on the big night. Being Lexie's graduation partner meant that we processed into the gym together, sat next to one another during the ceremony, and I followed her to the podium for our diplomas. Everybody was excited and happy and in good moods and I was tickled to be hanging around with Lexie again although I had to confess I had no idea why she had asked me to march with her.

We had our last rehearsal and then we processed in for Awards Night. Lexie had been unusually quiet (at least a lot quieter than I remembered her from the old days) during our times together. She'd smile when I made a comment or joke and she'd make abbreviated small talk in response to a question or remark I made but she seemed subdued and perfectly content to observe what was going on around her but not necessarily participate in the conversations or activities. She seemed chagrined when she was given a couple of awards and scholarships but I clapped and cheered for her as best I could. She was attending Green College too, it turned out.

We had a final assembly as a class to make sure we were all on the same page for the graduation ceremony and then dismissed at noon the day before graduation, free until the ceremony itself.

"I hear Katie Mitchell is having a big party at her house this afternoon," I told Lexie as we exited out of the gym. "You interested in going?"

"No, I'm not up for parties," Lexie replied.

"Oh," I said with some surprise but I didn't want to let it go so easily. "Are you hungry?" I asked. "Wanna go to Johnny C's for lunch or something?"

She shot me a look of interest while she pondered my invite. "Okay," she finally agreed. "I'll meet you there."

I nodded and headed for the student parking lot realizing that it would be the final time I would be leaving Hillsboro High School as a student. What a journey it had been.

I waited for Lexie in a booth at Johnny C's for quite a while and I was starting to think I'd been stood up when I saw her finally come through the front door.

"I was just about to give up on you," I admitted when Lexie slid into the booth across the table from me.

"Yeah, I'm sorry, I almost didn't come," she revealed with a slight blush.

I rubbed my hand along my cheek. "But my face cleared up," I said lightly.

"That's not it," she said, slightly embarrassed.

"Well, what is it then?" I wondered.

"Pretty much the same reason we haven't seen each other for four years," Lexie answered.

The friendly waitress came and took our order - Lexie went with a chicken salad sandwich with fries, I went with my standard double burger with fries.

"So," I asked once the waitress was gone. "Why exactly haven't we seen each other for four years even though we are in the same class at the same high school?"

"Because it was easier that way," Lexie responded.

"Not for me," I said, giving her an admiring look.

"You seem to have turned out okay," she replied.

"None of those guys turned out to be anything," I told her. "That must give you some satisfaction."

"Not really," she admitted.

"Henderson is dead," I said. Birch works at Tire City. Riggs is in jail. Boswell flunked out of college."

Ironically, only Dimwit seemed to have found success, attending Blue County Community College and then getting a pretty good job at the credit union.

"Nothing can change what they did to me," She said sadly. "A day doesn't go by when I don't think about that in one way or another."

"Really?" I asked with surprise. "I'm sorry to hear that."

"You never told anybody, did you?" There was a look of panic on her face.

"Of course not," I assured her. "You?"

She shook her head no and her eyes watered.

"Did you ever run into any of those jerks again?" I asked.

"I avoided them even more than I avoided you," she revealed. "Boswell tried once or twice freshman year but I made it clear I wanted nothing to do with him."

"Yeah, I had to play football with the bastard," I said. "We never talked though."

The waitress came with our lunch and I thanked her before she left.

"Why did you ask me to be your graduation partner?" I asked with interest.

Lexie shrugged. "You're the only one I trust."

"Only one?"

"Guy."

"Oh come on, Lexie," I said with surprise. "Please don't tell me you let that night destroy your romantic life."

"Pretty much," she confessed. "Nothing beyond the first date or two anyway."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"I was never the same after that night, you know," she told me.

"What do you mean?"

"I just felt so violated and so exposed that I became paranoid and insecure," she said. "I never wanted to be seen naked again. I remember those assholes laughing at me that night. I felt like puking just thinking about them seeing me like that."

"Is that why you stopped cheering?"

"I didn't want to put myself out there like that anymore," she confirmed. "I didn't want to call attention to myself. I didn't like showing off my assets. I didn't feel pretty or attractive because of what happened."

"I think you're very pretty."

She swallowed hard but didn't reply.

"I also think you're very talented. You did good work with the student council and on the school newspaper," I observed.

"I felt a need to do justice," Lexie replied. "To try to make a difference."

"I didn't realize that night affected you so profoundly."

"It was the worse night of my life," she confessed.

I bit my lip and stared at her for a long moment. "Please don't be offended by this but it was the best night of my life."

"They beat the shit out of you!"

"I know," I said, nodding my head.

"They stripped you naked and threw you in a hole in the floor."

"I know."

"How could it possibly be the best night of your life?" She wanted to know.

"Because I was with you," I said softly.

She sat back and stared at me. "What are you talking about?"

"You gave me a gift that night, Lexie," I said purposefully.

She was puzzled and confused.

"I know it was awful and humiliating and embarrassing and a huge violation for both of us being trapped like that - naked and vulnerable, but being able to see you like that was like looking at a goddess."

She blushed. "We were only fourteen, Larry."

"You were just as beautiful then as you are now," I assured her. "And you were nice to me. We had a couple of meaningful talks that night. You apologized to me for making fun of me and you gave me some good advice."

"I did?"

"I played football because of you and I started to joke about my acne because that's what you advised me to do," I told her. "After that, it was like I had been set free. Because of you."

"Well, you kind of helped me too," Lexie revealed. "Because of your example and my shame that night I vowed never to be a bitch again."

I laughed but then I looked at her seriously.

"But you avoided me for four years," I said, trying not to sound hurt.

"It was just too painful," Lexie told me. "You saw me...totally naked. All of me."

"Well, you saw me too," I said.

"It's not the same thing, Larry," Lexie said.

"No," I agreed. "I guess not."

She looked down at her food and I could see how mortified she was even after all these years.

"I have no regrets, you know," I said.

"You're crazy," she replied.

I grinned. "I'm glad you asked me to be your graduation partner."

"Thank you for saying yes," she said modestly. "Nobody else wants anything to do with me, a prude."

"You're not a prude."

"I can't even change in the girl's locker room," she sighed. "I don't want anybody to see me naked. I have Gymnophobia."

"The fear of gym class?"

"No, it's the fear of seeing naked or seeing others naked," she said with embarrassment. "I've had it ever since that night. These feelings of profound embarrassment about my body."

"Well, I can understand why," I said with sympathy. "That night must have sparked a feeling of awkwardness for you."

"You didn't feel that way?" She asked with interest.

"It was pretty uncomfortable and embarrassing," I admitted. "But afterward, I have to be honest, I found it to be exhilarating. Freeing."

"Why?" She asked with confusion.

"Because you didn't laugh at me," I explained. "You didn't make fun of me. You were just as shy as I was. And knowing you had seen me and I had seen you made me feel okay about myself because we had shared something personal. A similar secret."

"I felt nothing but stress and anxiety even in my dreams and that's taken a toll on my life and has only grown in its intensity over time" she revealed.

"Well, what happens?" I wondered.

"I just have a fear of situations when I'm around naked people or when I have to be naked," she explained. "I get intensely anxious of sexuality and that's made me reluctant to get into intimate situation with any one."

"I'm really sorry, Lexie," I said. "I had no idea."

"I'm overly sensitive about things like taking a shower or changing clothes in front of people."

"I guess the emotional trauma from that night really did a number on you."

"It's made me appreciate all the mental anguish you went through about being zit boy," she said.

"You know, it's only a phobia," I told her gently.

"Yeah, that involves rapid breath, shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, feelings of dread and irregular heart beat," she sighed. "Did you feel inferior when everybody made fun of you?"

"Of course," I admitted.

"Well, that's how I've felt since that night," she confessed. "Exposed and unprotected. Modest to a fault. Demured to the extreme. Prudishto the nth degree. A body shame that is beyond pathetic."

"You have nothing to be ashamed about," I said.

She kept her head buried in her food.

"You need to follow the same advise you gave me," I said after a few quiet moments.

"What do you mean?"

"It comes down to redirecting your unconscious mind," I said. "You must know your being naked fear is illogical, right?"

"Yeah, I guess," she said.

"But it persists because your subconscious has linked a whole load of powerful negative emotions and fear to the very thought of nudity to the point you can't even function."

"Yes," she sighed.

"Just like me before with my terminal acne," I reminded her. "You just need to reprogram your thoughts the way you told me to reprogram mine about my zit factor."

"Too bad I have no idea how to do that," Lexie replied.

"You're a very beautiful person," I told her. "You just need to regain confidence and overcome your anger, sadness, fear, hurt, guilt shame and anxiety just like I did. These feelings have haunted you long enough and you need to break that cycle of negative thinking."

"What do you want me to do?" She asked sarcastically. "Run down the street naked?"

"No, of course not," I said with a smile. "But why don't you come over to my house when we're done eating?"

"Why?"

"I just want to try something," I replied. "You have nothing to lose, do you?"

"Just my sanity," she replied.

Lexie followed me to my house in her car and I led her into the house. My father wouldn't be home for hours and I knew we had some private time which would give me a chance to test my experiment.

We sat around my room chatting about school and graduation and her plans for the future and it was quite relaxing and laid back. I got some sodas for us and put some soft music on in the background. I kicked off my shoes and sat on the bed and after a while she kicked off hers too and joined me on the bed as we looked through the yearbook. I signed hers and she signed mine.

I peeled off my socks and she didn't even notice and after a while I pulled my tee shirt off over my head but she kept her eyes on the yearbook and we continued to talk about school.

After a while, I stood and slipped out of my jeans and again she didn't look.

"So what usually happens when you feel your Gymnophobia coming on?" I asked.

"It varies," she replied. "Palpitations or an accelerated heart rate. Sweating. Shaking. Lightheadedness. Stomach pains. Chills."

"What are you feeling right now?" I asked as I stood in the middle of my bedroom in my underwear."

"Weird," she said, but there was a lightness to her voice. "How do you feel right now?" It was almost a tease.

"Stupid," I admitted. "But I want to help you."

"By getting naked?" She frowned, still not looking at me.

"You saw me naked for hours that night," I reminded her. "Maybe seeing me naked again with be sort of like an antidote to your feelings."

"I doubt it."

"And maybe if you got naked again in front of me just like that night – but in a controlled, gentle, non-threatening way, you will rid yourself of your fears."

"This is nuts," she said.

"You said you trusted me, Lexie," I reminded her.

Taking the biggest chance of my life, I stepped out of my underwear.

She gave me a quick glance and then looked away. "Oh my God," she said. "You're older now."

"We're stuck in time, Lexie."

"You want me to take something off?" She asked with disbelief.

"You already took your shoes off," I said. "Nice bare feet you have."

She smiled. "You think?"

"You can take off your shirt, too, if you'd like," I said gently.

"I don't think so," she replied forcefully.

"Come on, don't leave me standing here all alone naked," I pleaded. "I don't want to get Gymnophobia!"

Several moments passed and Lexie sat on the bed like a frozen popsicle but finally she slid off the side of the bed and slowly she pulled her shirt off over her head and stood in her bra.

I turned my back to her. "Okay, turn your back to me," I said.

"Okay," she replied.

"On the count of three, take off the rest of you clothes," I said.

"I don't' know, Larry."

"We did it together that night, remember?"

"I remember." Her voice sounded like a mouse's.

"One….two…three…" It took my thirty seconds to call out the three numbers.

"Are you naked?" I asked.

"Yes," she said with a mixture of relief and fear in her voice.

"And you haven't passed out?"

"No."

"No heart attack?"

"No," she laughed.

"You haven't fainted yet?"

"No."

I glanced over my shoulder and was surprised to see that she was looking over her shoulder at me. "You looked!" I said.

"Sorry, I couldn't help myself," she admitted.

"Well, that's a good sign," I replied.

"You looked too," She complained.

"Four years is a long time, Lexie."

"Now what?" She wanted to know.

"On the count of three, we both turn around," I said. "That should allow you to take a big step toward defeating your Gymnophobia."

"I'm afraid and embarrassed," she sobbed.

"It's me, Lexie," I told her. "Zit boy."

"Don't call yourself that!"

"One…..two…three…."

I turned around and there she stood facing me, this time with her hands by her sides.

I don't know how long we stood there looking at each other, but it was a long time. At first our faces were frozen and sullen but after a while I began to smile and slowly I saw her mouth begin to move a little too.

"It's not as bad as the last time," I finally said.

"No, we're older now," she admitted. "It doesn't hurt as much, does it?"

"No," I agreed. "But let's get dressed now."

"Okay."

A moment later we were both dressed and I led her to the door.

"So, I'll see you at graduation tomorrow night," I said.

"Yeah," she replied. "I'll see you at graduation."

I watched her walk down the front steps of the house and I waved at her when she looked back at me.

She smiled sadly and waved too.