The Unfortuante Girl in the Cruel Hall (PG-13)

Toby Brody remembers the exact moment when he stopped being a bully.

The funny thing was he didn't even consider himself a bully at the time. He thought of himself as a popular and well liked high school athlete (read: jock) who was able to use his skills, talents, popularity, success, and fame to ride the road of easy street, garnering special treatment and favors from people in positions of power, authority, and influence just because he was an exceptional football receiver, basketball shooter, and baseball third baseman.

Toby's well known status enabled him to move through the halls and classrooms of his high school without worry or concern. His position of celebrity among the elite allowed him to ignore the little people and the truth was he wasn't even aware that he was receiving special treatment at the expense of others.

It wasn't that Toby Brody was always a trouble maker, goon, wise ass, or problem person but he definitely hung around snobby elitists who were and that arena of influence earned him a reputation of typical jock: oblivious to the realities of life around him. Toby caught the football, shot the basketball and hit the baseball and while he was proud of his achievements he didn't realize that he was allowed to walk on water and given a free pass because of his skill set. He thought his peers and classmates honored him because of his talents not because they were afraid of him or resented the hell out of him.

And then one day it all played out for him in front of his very eyes and even though he wasn't an active participant in the memorable incident he never forgot the shame and disgust he felt and the cruel moment became one of those life changing events that made him a completely different person than he might have been otherwise.

It was just another day at school. Toby was walking down the hall oblivious as usual, skylarking with his friends, bantering without a care in a world. There were seven or eight of them goofing off and they had just come around the corner to the girl's locker room when some poor girl was thrown out the locker room door….completely naked.

Toby saw that two of his jock friends – Sarah Malloy and Ginny Davis - were the bullying culprits who had tossed the unfortunate victim out the door. Both girls were laughing with amused satisfaction and they showed little mercy when they slammed the door in the poor girl's face.

The victim was crying and screaming and smacking on the door begging to be let back in but there was only laughter from the other side as Toby's mean friends were playing the ultimate game of shameful and humiliating bullying on their hapless prey.

Usually, Toby would have gone along with the gag thinking it was funny and part of the carefree game of being oblivious but for some reason he thought this one went over the line although he had no real insight why. Maybe it was the look of total humiliation and anguish on the girl's face. Toby was embarrassed for the unfortunate girl who he didn't recognize. She must have been an underclassman he never noticed before. He saw her white ass cheeks as she threw herself against the door time and time again screaming to be let it only to be denied with laughter from the other side.

Toby noticed that his friends around him were also laughing at the unfortunate victim, pointing at her with delight while offering cat calls and insults making fun of her nudity situation as if it was one big funny joke. Was this the kind of person Toby really was? Were these the people he really wanted to be hanging around with? Where was their sense of morality? Where was their soul?

Toby wondered how many times he had willingly (or unknowingly) inflicted this sort of cruel treatment on others. How many times was he mean, insensitive, insulting, inappropriate, egotistical and pathetic in his attitudes and behaviors? He shuttered at the realization that he was just as bad as the rest of them. Disgusted by what he was witnessing, Toby suddenly felt strangely humbled and extremely vulnerable as the scene unfolded in front of him.

Toby pushed himself through the gaggle of laughing students who were watching the poor girl's humiliation as if it was some entertainment show. Toby took off his lettered jacket and wrapped it around the shoulders of the naked bullying victim who had collapsed into a blob on the floor. He was up close and personal now and he could see her breasts through her arms that were wrapped around her chest and a touch of her pubic hair sticking out from between her closed legs. She was shaking and sobbing with her face buried in her chest.

"Stand up," he whispered, helping her to her feet.

The coat was big enough to cover her vulnerables and some of the onlookers groaned, disappointed that the show was over. A teacher finally showed up too late as usual and the door to the locker room was suddenly unlocked. The humiliated girl disappeared into the locker room with Toby's coat while the teacher shooed away the onlookers as if she was clearing the scene of an automobile accident.

"Well, aren't you the noble one?" Toby's friend Cindy snidely remarked when Toby returned to his group of friends.

"Yeah, what'd you do that for?" Johnny wanted to know. "That was pretty funny."

"She had a boney ass," Jake determined.

They all laughed and Toby stood in silent disgust as he watched his heartless friends move off in giddy amusement.

Sarah and Ginny emerged from the locker room trying to stifle giggles and laughter.

"What did she do to you?" Toby asked the two mean girls.

"Nothing," Sarah laughed. "She's just one of those quiet mice girls who probably thinks she's better than us."

"But she didn't say anything or do anything to provoke you?" Toby wondered.

"She breathed our air," Ginny reported. "She should have known better.

Both girls burst out into laughter as they disappeared down the hall.

"Hey, you coming?" Dan The Man asked, glancing over his shoulders at Toby who stood in the middle of the hallway experiencing a out of body moment.

"Na," Toby decided on the spot. "You guys go ahead."

And that's when Toby Brody decided that he wanted to be a different type of person than he had been before the unfortunate naked girl was thrown out of the girl's locker room in a cruel bullying prank.

###

Toby never saw the girl again. He never got his letter jacket back either, a $150.00 expense.

Rumors spread that the nude girl quit the school in shame, victimized to the point of being traumatized and too ashamed to return and be seen by students who had seen her naked. Toby never learned her name or her plight but he never forgot the look of anguish, pain, shame, hurt, and horror on her face and it haunted him the rest of his school career.

Toby stopped hanging out with his circle of friends and he joined the Student Mediation Team even though he only had a few months of school left before he graduated. He wrote an article about bullying for the school newspaper and he made personal amends to kids that he felt he had been mean, cruel, insensitive, or heartless too over the years. He volunteered in the Career Counselor's Office and in The Student Safe Zone area, offering his advice and input to underclassmen who were struggling with various aspects of their school life or had been victimized by bullying.

Toby didn't see a point in trying to explain himself to his friends who resented him for apparently shunning them. They were clueless and dismissive about what happened to the unfortunate girl in the cruel hall and Toby knew nothing he said was going to make a difference.

The naked girl incident so profoundly affected him that Toby changed his college major to social work. He wanted to work with kids to help prevent that sort of incident from occurring in the future. There had to be a way to reach kids and affect their souls, character and behaviors so they wouldn't be so quick to humiliate a fellow human being for no reason whatsoever the way that poor girl had been humiliated.

Following college graduation, Toby landed a job as a school counselor, working with high school students as a mentor, advisor, counselor, and mediator in an attempt to help them make the right decisions in their lives, some of whom were vulnerable and at high risk.

Toby's main goal as a school counselor was to reach kids and make a positive impact in their lives. He didn't see his role as Superman. He knew it was the parents who had the primary responsibility for disciplining their children and it was his purpose to figure out creative ways to communicate and partner with both parents and students to make sure the needs of everybody were met.

Toby's goal was to empower students to strive to be the best they could be, to avoid the perils of peer pressure, to be their own person, and to understand that there was a power and an influence larger than themselves to help direct them along the right path.

He often created bonds with the kids but there were many challenges being in a leadership role and there were some days when Toby wondered why he bothered trying.

Toby witnessed plenty of small miracles over the years and that kept him going. No sky opening Jesus appearing moments, but instead little examples of character, Faith, love, compassion, fellowship, friendship, and hope would happen and Toby would be reminded that there was a reason to be doing this sort of work.

Toby tried to lean something new every day. He knew that his fellow teachers were some of the most amazing people around. They gave their time, energy and talents to educate and influence students who didn't always thank them or even realize the sacrifices being made. The teachers were present to model example and hope and Toby appreciated their hard work and commitment.

###

Toby Brody was beginning his twelfth year as School Counselor at Hillsboro High School. He was popular and well liked among his co-workers, peers and the students. He had established himself with a strong and steady reputation as a caring and sensitive counselor who related well with the students.

The School Counselor shared offices with the Career Counselors and this year brought a new Career Counselor to Hillsboro High – Alexis Compton. The Secretary, Betty Mitz, pointed her out when Toby came into the school a few days before classes began to get his office ready.

Ms. Compton's office was next to Toby's so he decided to introduce himself to his new co-worker. He stepped into her doorway and knocked on the door frame.

She looked from the computer screen on her desk at the sound of his fist on the wood.

"Ms. Compton?" Toby asked.

"Yes?"

"It's nice to meet you, Ms. Compton," Toby remarked. "Welcome to Hillsboro High!"

"Thank you," she said politely. She seemed to be a shy and quiet person based on her lack of eye contact and her nervous presentation.

"I'm your new neighbor," Toby said cheerfully, gesturing to the office next to her.

She stood and offered her hand so Toby stepped into the office to accept it in a shake.

"I'm Alexis Compton, Career Counselor," she said plainly.

"Nice to meet you," Toby said again. "I'm Toby Brody, School Counselor."

A funny look came across Ms. Compton's face. She seemed to go white for a moment and she actually fell into her seat behind her desk.

"You okay?" Toby asked with concern as he stepped closer to the desk. "You look faint."

"I'm….I'm okay," she said when she was able to catch her breath. "It must be hot in here or something."

"The air conditioner is on," Toby replied with a frown. "You sure you're okay?"

"Yes, yes, I'm fine," Ms. Compton insisted.

She was a small woman and she was noticeably thin. She took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes for a moment. Toby glanced at his watch and noticed it was after noon.

"Have you eaten?" He asked. "Maybe that's why you got lightheaded."

"Yeah, maybe that's it," Ms. Compton reasoned.

Toby could tell that she was a few years his junior (he was thirty-five) and that she was attractive in a plain way. She wore her hair in a bun on the back of her head and she was wearing a conservative pants suit even though it was late August and about ninety degrees outside. Her hair was black and she had deep brown eyes behind her horn-rimmed glasses.
"I'm sorry," she finally said. She looked up at him with tired eyes and a resigned smile on her face.
"It's quite alright," Toby insisted. "I hope you're feeling better."

"I am," she said with a polite nod. "Thank you."
"Can I get you some water or something?"

"No, really, I'm okay," Ms. Compton replied.

"Well, again, Welcome to Hillsboro High. Remember, if you need anything, I'm right next door. I've been around this place for a while so I could show you the ropes, introduce you to people, and help you when you need it."

"That's very kind of you," Ms. Compton replied.

She was looking at him as if she was looking at a ghost and Toby felt a shudder go down his back.

"You sure you're okay?" He asked, suddenly feeling strange for a reason he couldn't put his finger on.

"I'm fine," she replied.

She returned her attention to the computer screen on her desk.

"Okay, I'll see you around," Toby replied as he left her office but he could feel her eyes on the back of his head as he left.

###
The school year started and Counselor Toby Brody was back in the grove. He didn't like hanging out in his office eight hours a day and when he didn't have an appointment or office hours he was usually out and about in the school building, interacting with students in the cafeteria, library, auditorium, and other common places where they could informally shoot the breeze and hang out.

He'd say hello to Ms. Compton each morning but she was a quiet introverted person who spent most of her time squirreled away in her office either on the computer or on the phone when she didn't have a student in there.

She did give in and let Toby give her a tour of the school early on and occasionally they would bump into each other in the teacher's lounge but unless Toby made it a point to stick his head in her office every morning and say hello, he'd probably never talk with Ms. Compton!

Toby noticed that Ms. Compton was a hard worker. She was already in her office when he arrived most mornings and she was still at the computer when he was getting ready to call it a day. Sometimes he'd hang out and walk her to her car when she finally did leave late in the afternoon.

Ms. Compton wasn't one for small talk or socialization. She was never seen standing around the coffee pot in the outer office or chatting it up with the two administrative assistants. Even with Toby, she wasn't interested in carrying on a meaningful conversation beyond hello or goodbye.
One of the advantages of working in a high school, Toby had learned long ago, was that he was able to use all the accessories and features. He could swim in the school pool, use the work out machines in the boy's weight room, take a shower in the boy's locker room, watch television in the teacher's lounge, and grab a meal in the cafeteria.

Sometimes he would stay late and hang out with some of the after-school social and activity clubs or with some of the athletic teams during their practices. He tried to be present for as many games and other events as he could so the kids would see that he was active, present and available whenever they needed him. That way, when there was a school tragedy (the death of a student or a popular faculty member), everybody knew who he was and that they could talk to him about anything.

One afternoon, Toby hung out with the football guys (he was still one at heart) during their practice. Then he changed into his workout clothes and put in an energetic hour on the machines, took a quick shower, slipped back into his street clothes, and went back to the office. By then, it was well after 5:00 and he expected the place to be empty but the lights to the outer office were still on and so was the ones in Ms. Compton's office where she was still seated at her desk typing away on her computer keyboard.

"Ms. Compton," Toby said, sticking his head in his office.

"Mr. Brody?" She asked, glancing up.

"You really should go home," he remarked.

"Look who's talking," she replied as she returned her attention to the computer screen.

"I live alone," he revealed. "I don't mind killing time here sometimes."

"Me too," she replied.

"You mean you live alone or you don't mind killing time here sometimes?"

"Both," she said. She looked up. "Not that it's any of your business."

He held his hands up. "Hey, I'm cool," he replied.

But for some strange reason, adrenaline flooded Toby's veins as he watched the glow from Ms. Compton's computer screen lighten up her face. She was wearing her usual business pant suit with her hair pulled back in a bun but now she was preoccupied with something on the screen and she set her hands on the desktop and arched an eyebrow high.
"Something wrong?" Toby asked.

"Just this kid's grades," she sighed. "It's like he's on a roller coaster."

"Turn that thing off," Toby suggested. "It's time to go home."

She sighed and sat back in her chair. "I suppose you're right," she said. "It will still be here tomorrow."

"Would you care to go out for a drink on the way home?" Toby daringly asked.

She peered up at him with disapproval. "I don't drink."

"Well," he said, unaffected. "How 'bout a bite to eat then?"

"No thank you," she said quickly.

"Come on, you said you live alone," he replied. "Certainly eating alone gets old sometimes. Have you been to Johnny C's yet?

"The diner?" She asked with surprise.

"Hey, they have the best food in Blue County," Toby said with a grin.

She offered him a withering gaze and he laughed in response.

"Really!" He assured her. "It's a great place! Trust me, you'll love it."
"What exactly are you doing?" She wanted to know. "Asking me out?"

"I'm not asking you out, Ms. Compton," Toby replied. "I'm asking if you're hungry."
"Um...well, I've been here since seven this morning," she said. I'm feeling pretty beat, actually. I think I'll just go home."

"Oh come on," he said. "You've got to eat." His smile was playful and kind but the weariness in her eyes was hard to ignore. "It won't take long."

She sighed with resignation. "Okay," she finally agreed. "I'll meet you there."

"Great!" Toby said with enthusiasm.

He waited for her to gather her belongings, secure the computer and turn off the lights in the office. He walked with her from the office to the staff parking lot and escorted her to her car although they didn't speak. His car wasn't that far off and by the time he drove to Johnny C's, Ms. Compton was already there, waiting for him in the parking lot.

"You're going to love this place," Toby assured her when he met her by her car and walked her through the door to the bustling diner.

It was dinner time so it was busy and they had to wait ten minutes for a booth. Toby spent the wait pointing out various people to Ms. Compton – parents of current students, older siblings of current students, former students now turned adult, and other members of the community. Ms. Compton didn't say much, just nodded her head occasionally and made a general comment or two. Finally, it was their turn when a booth opened up and they sat across from one another.

A waitress came to the table and Toby ordered a soda while Ms. Compton ordered an Iced Tea. She studied the menu for a few moments.

"It's awfully loud in here," she said as she turned the menu pages.

"Yeah, isn't it great?" Toby laughed. "Small town perfection."
"Do you come here often?" She asked, looking at him over the top of her menu.

"A couple of times a week," he said. "I usually cook a casserole or crock or something on Sunday. Then I'll have leftovers for a few days. Maybe I'll come here on a Wednesday night. Then again on Friday, sometimes. Maybe breakfast on Saturday mornings. Sometimes I'll take a student here for a conversation over a burger and fries."

She nodded her head in understanding.

The waitress returned. Toby ordered the spaghetti with chicken and Ms. Compton ordered a Cesar's Salad.

"You sure that's going to be enough?" Toby asked with concern.

"It's plenty," she replied.

"What do you weight?" He wondered. "One-o-two?"

"That's certainly not a question a gentleman asks," she protested.

He laughed. "Opps, my bad," he grinned. "No offense."
"So, you're not from here, are you?" She asked.

"No, I moved here after college," he said. "For the job." He peered at her. "You're not from here either."

"No, I'm not," she confirmed.

"Well, where are you from?" He asked to make conversation.

"The middle part of the state," she answered.

"Me too!" He grinned. "Webster. Ever hear of it?"

"Er, well, I….." She seemed flustered for some reason.

"Anyway, the job brought you here?"

"Yes," she said. "I was working for a charter school in Vermont."

He nodded. "Well, it's nice to have you on the team," he said. "You're obviously a hard and dedicated worker."

"I try to be a good counselor for the kids," she said.

"Me too," Toby smiled.

The waitress brought them their food and Toby wasted little time digging in to his meal.

"I'm starved," he announced.

She smiled and ate her salad much more slowly.

"So, I have heard good things about you," Ms. Compton let him know.

"Oh?" He smiled. "Well, that's a relief!" Then he turned serious. "We do important work here, Alexis," he said.

It was the first time he had called her by her first name.

"I know," she said. "What made you interested in this particular field?"

"Oh, you don't need to hear that story," he said, waving his hand away.

"I'd be interested," she said, eyeing him with a look of curiosity.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," he said sheepishly.

"Try me."

"Trust me, this is the last job I thought I would be doing when I was in high school," he laughed. "I mean I had some good coaches but I never took the teachers or counselors very seriously."

"Why not?" She asked.

"Because I was a jock," he revealed, saying the word as if he was saying 'because I was a complete asshole'.

"You mean an athlete," she said.

"No," he replied. "See, there's a difference between an athlete and a jock."

"And what's that?"

"Athletes play sports," he explained. "Jocks are dipshits."

She peered at him with interest. "What do you mean?"

"Come on Alexis, you see them around Hillsboro," he groaned. "Egotistical know it alls who think they're king and queens because they're good at playing sports. Condescending elitists who think they're better than everybody else."

"Yes, I know the type," she said and he sensed coldness in her voice.

"Well, I was one of those assholes," he said.

"Oh?" She examined him like she was sitting in a jury box.

"It's true," he sighed. "I thought I was hot shit because I was good at sports but it turns out I was the biggest loser in the entire school."

"You're being awfully hard on yourself."

"No I'm not," he replied. "It's all true."

"So you became a school counselor to stop other kids from becoming…..jocks?"

"I became a school counselor to try to help kids not make the mistakes I made," he clarified.

"What kind of mistakes?" She asked with interest.

He shook his head. "It doesn't matter now," he replied.

"Okay," she said, continuing to eat her salad.

"Something terrible happened one day that made me change my ways," he revealed after a few quiet moments of pondering and reflection.

"Something terrible?" She asked.

"A bunch of my friends did something uncalled for," he sighed. "Something mean and unforgiveable."

"I'm sure it wasn't that bad."

"They threw this kid out of the locker room…naked."

She was looking at him with a stone cold look on her face. "Who?"

"I never knew her name," Toby confessed. "I never saw her before or after that day. But I'll never forget the look on her face."

"What did you do?"

"Everybody else was laughing at her," Toby said quietly. "They thought it was funny. Like it was some kind of peep show or something. I felt sorry for her. I was embarrassed for her. And I hated my friends for being so thoughtless and heartless. I was wearing my letter jacket."

He looked like he was in a daze now as he thought back on that day. "I took it off and put it around her. She was crying and shaking and she probably wanted to die."

"You did a good thing," Ms. Compton said just as quietly.

"She haunts me," Toby sighed. "I've always thought about her, the unfortunate girl in the cruel hall. I wonder what happened to her. I hope that things turned out okay for her. Something like that can really traumatize somebody."

"Yes," Ms. Compton agreed. "It can be terrible." She studied him for a long moment. "What would you say to her if you had the chance?"

He smiled sadly. "I'd thank her," he said with a sigh. "She changed my life. Put me on a completely different path. Changed my attitude one hundred and eighty. I'd apologize to her for my friends' cruelty. I was pretty tight with the two chicks who did that to her but I wanted nothing to do with them after that. I would just want to know that she's okay."

"I'm sure she dealt with it," Ms. Compton said.

"I don't know," Toby said with worry. "She disappeared after that day. Nobody knew what happened to her. Did she go off and kill herself for being so ashamed and humiliated? Did she end up in a mental hospital or something? I've always wondered."

She was looking at him with her mouth hanging open.
"What?" Toby asked, feeling uncomfortable and uneasy.

"Nothing," she said, seeming to snap out of it. "You just seem like a really nice guy. Someone with a conscious. Somebody with some sensitivity."

"Well, the unfortunate girl in the cruel hall is the one who gave it to me," Toby replied with a shrug. "She really had an effect on me."

"I can see that," Ms. Compton replied.

"Oh well," Toby said with a heavy sigh. "I'll never know."

"It probably doesn't matter," Ms. Compton decided.

"What do you mean?"

"The moral of the story is that she changed you," she said. "What happened to her is irrelevant."

"Not to me," Toby muttered.

Ms. Compton kept staring at him like he was some sort of freak.

"Anyway, isn't the food here great?" He asked, deciding to change the morose subject.

"It is," she admitted.

"I told you!" He laughed. "I bet you'll be back!"

"Maybe," she said with a small smile.
The rest of the meal passed quickly with idle chatter about school activities, events and personalities. After the bill was paid, Toby walked her to her car.

"Thanks for dinner," she said as she climbed into her car (he insisted on picking up the entire bill instead of going Dutch as she had wanted).

"My pleasure," he replied happily. "See, I have a commission with the owner. Whenever I bring in a new customer."

She laughed. "I see," she said.

"Good night, Alexis."

"Good night…..Toby," she replied, calling him by his first name for the first time.

He watched her leave and he took in a deep breath before finally allowing himself to relax. He rarely told the unfortunate naked girl in the cruel hall story, feeling like he was violating the poor girl's privacy and re-violating her whenever he told the tale even though he had no idea who she was.

Toby thought the dinner had gone well. He hadn't been in a relationship for a while and it felt good to be out in the real world again with a woman even if it was a shy and quiet co-worker.

###
Toby looked forward to seeing Alexis at the office. They both continued to work long and unusual hours and they met for dinner at Johnny C's a few times on their way home. Toby noticed that Alexis began making her way into his office more often than before and he enjoyed her little visits. They often masked their conversations with discussions about mutually shared students but they also managed to talk about personal stuff occasionally – what did you do this weekend, what did you bring for lunch today, did you see the article in the paper about…etc.

One night, Toby stuck his head in Alexis' office at around 5:30 in the afternoon.

"Okay, let's pack it up," he ordered. "We're out of here!"
"Um, okay," she agreed, shutting down her computer and grabbing her coat.

"Johnny C's?" Toby asked hopefully.

"I guess," she replied.
By now, the waitresses had gotten used to their appearances and Alexis was learning names and faces of some of the regulars. She was also more comfortable saying hello to them and some of the students she recognized.

"You're really starting to fit in around here," Toby remarked with a grin once they were settled in their booth.

"Maybe a little," she agreed.

"I get the feeling you didn't come to Hillsboro just for the job," Toby said.

"What do you mean?"

"I'm guessing it was a love affair gone bad?"

She blushed and looked down. "Something like that," she muttered.

Alexis sat back, took a deep breath and exhaled. Then she actually smiled, a wistful grin that showed the tension she was apparently feeling from answering his question.

"Well, I hope you're doing better now," Toby said kindly.

"What about you?" She asked after a moment's pause. "Why aren't you with somebody?"

"I was," Toby revealed. "We broke up."

"How come?"

He shrugged. "We just grew apart, I guess," he said.

"I hate that," Alexis groaned. "What the heck does that mean?"

"Well, for me, I just got tired of her politics."

"Her politics?" Alexis asked with surprise.

"She's gotten much more...militant in her attitudes and opinions in recent years," Toby sighed. "Obsessed, almost. She started getting involved in causes and protests and campaigns. She was practically addicted to the computer with all the blogs and political pages. She was always debating and arguing with me, often over crap I really didn't care about. It was almost like she had become a political...bully in a way."

"We are much more polarized as society than we used to be," Alexis admitted.

"Anyway, it just got to be too much," Toby said. "She cared way too much about that stuff and I got tired of listening to it 24/7. I mean, I follow the news and I pay attention but I don't want it dominating my life. Everything became a political argument. We could never agree on anything. She really became brainwashed."

"That's too bad," Alexis remarked.

"Not really," he smiled. "I don't miss it at all."

"Well, I'll be sure not to bring politics up with you!" She laughed.

"You probably think I'm crazy," Toby said.
"Not at all," she replied. "I know you're a really good guy."

Toby looked her right in the eyes. "How would you know that?" He teased.

"I just do," she replied with surprising seriousness.

They enjoyed their meal over small talk and friendly conversation and when they were done Toby walked Alexis to her car.

"Have a good night," he said as she climbed in the driver's seat.

"You too," she replied with a smile. "Good night."

He watched her car drive away and he smiled contently to himself. This felt nice. Relaxed. No expectations. No stress. Just friendly company.

It continued that way for several more weeks. Co-workers at school and occasional Johnny C dinner companions a few times a week at night but after a while Toby wondered if he should just let things go along as they had been or if he should see if Alexis was interested in taking their 'relationship' any further. Did he want to risk blowing a comfortable working relationship by making it more personal or should he just let things remain as they were?

Toby occasionally stopped by the school on a Saturday, especially if there was some activity or practice going on. It was another opportunity to interact with the kids in an informal setting. Sometimes he'd stop by the office to catch up on paperwork. On this particular Saturday, he stepped into his office and was surprised to see Alexis in hers. She was standing by a filing cabinet going through some files, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt. It was the first time he had seen her looking informal. Her hair was not in a bun like it usually was. Instead, it was hanging loosely down her shoulders and back.
Alexis looked up when she saw Toby standing in the doorway.

"What are you doing here?" He asked.

"The same thing as you, apparently," she replied, sounding sheepish.
"Damn workaholic."

"Look who's talking!"
"Just catching up."

"You need to get a life."
"Now look who's talking!" he laughed.
"Hey now! I have a life, thank you very much."

"Oh yeah?" He teased. "Is it as boring as mine?"

"I don't know," she replied. "How boring is yours?"

She tried to hold in the laugh but it burst out in a smile that brought out her natural beauty.
"Actually, it hasn't been that been since you arrived," he admitted honestly.

She blushed and looked away and he was surprised at how shy she really was. Toby stared at her for a moment, one eyebrow slightly raised while waiting for her to say something in response. She finally looked up at him with a delicate smile on her face.

"I should finish up," was all she said as she went back to the files.

Toby went into his office and did what he needed to do but he felt distracted knowing that Alexis was in the office next to him. It seemed stupid that they were both wasting their Saturday afternoon doing school work on their day off when maybe they could be doing something together.

Toby turned off his computer, turned off the lights to his office and headed to Alexis' doorway. She was at her desk on the computer.

"Are you going to stay here all day?" He asked.

She shrugged. "I guess not," she said.

She turned off the computer and gathered her things.

"Would you like to do something this afternoon?" Toby boldly asked. "Together?"

"Like what?" She asked with surprise, stopping in the doorframe and looking at him as he took a few steps back.

"I don't know," Toby sighed. "But we should do something."

"Why?" she asked.

Now it was his turn to shrug. "We seem to like each other," he offered.

She waited, as if this wasn't enough of a reason.

"It seems that maybe we have things in common," he said.

"Like what?" She asked, sounding interested now.

"I don't know," he sighed. "We both work a lot. We like our jobs. We're dedicated. And maybe we're both a little…lonely."

She glanced at her watch. It was after two.

"Did you have lunch yet?" She asked.

He smiled. "No, I guess I worked through that."

"Would you like to come over to my place?" She asked. "I could make us something."

"Okay," he agreed, a bright smile filling his face, surprised but pleased by the invitation

Toby walked Alexis to her car and then followed in his vehicle to her place, a handsome townhouse apartment complex in the flats section of town. She led him into the first floor apartment with its own entrance and he was struck by the attractiveness of her well decorated apartment. It was small but hospitable and comfortable.

Toby followed her into the living room.

"Make yourself at home," Alexis said pleasantly before she continued into the kitchenette area.

Toby glanced around the apartment, checking out her choice of books and peering at some of the photographs on the bookcase shelves. It appeared she came from a nice looking family.

"Do I pass the test?" Alexis teased when Toby finally took a seat on the bar stool that divided the living area from the kitchenette and watched while Alexis finished making sandwiches for their lunch.

"Sorry," Toby said sheepishly. "I wasn't checking you out or anything."

She nodded as she put a sandwich and some chips in front of him and then sat on the stool on the other side of the counter.

"You're the first one who's been here," she said as she poured them some soda from a two liter bottle.

"Really?" He asked with surprise. "It's a nice place."

"I lived in a big old farm house when I was in Vermont," she said.

"Oh yeah?"

"The person I was with and I rented it with a few other people," she said.

"So, I guess you downsized a little," he observed, glancing around.

She smiled. "Yeah, but I like the quiet quaintness. Sharing a place with other people can get old after a while."

He nodded in agreement.

"So, where do you think that girl is now?" Alexis asked.

"What girl?"" Toby asked.

"The unfortunate girl your friends threw out of the locker room naked into the cruel hall." She glanced at him with interest.

"What made you think of that?" He asked with surprise.

"I was just wondering," she replied.

He thought back on that day again. "My fear is that she was traumatized for life," he sighed. "That she went off the deep end."

"She turned out okay," Alexis told him.

"I don't know," Toby said with worry. "I've always wondered."

"How come?"

"Well, like I said before, she really had a profound affect on me," Toby said.

"Maybe you had a profound affect on her too," Alexis suggested.

"I just wanted her to feel safe," Toby sighed.

"She did," Alexis said. "You restored her faith in people. That no matter how terrible some people can be there are always going to be other people out there who care and do the right thing. "

"You think?" Toby asked hopefully.

"I know," Alexis replied.

She left her stool and went into her bedroom, returning a moment later with a letter jacket on a hanger which she held up in her hand.

Toby nearly choked on the last bite of the sandwich he was chewing. He knew as soon as he saw the school colors and the letter on the side of the jacket that it was his coat.

She turned out the collar and showed him the inside tag. Toby Brody was written in black magic marker across it in his block style. He gawked at her with his mouth hanging open.
"You?" He finally asked, feeling stunned and amazed at the same time.

"Small world, huh?" She asked timidly. "When you told me your name in the office that day I almost fainted."

"Why didn't you say anything?" Toby asked, taking a sip of soda to sooth his dry throat.

"I needed time to process it all," she admitted. "I wanted to be sure I could trust you before I told you."

"You can trust me, Alexis."

"I know," she said. "You really are a nice guy. Someone with a conscious. Somebody with some sensitivity."

"I'm really sorry that happened to you," Toby said, standing and giving her a hug which she accepted.

"Me too," she replied, returning the embrace.

She broke the hug and handed up the jacket. "Here," she said. "This belongs to you."

"You kept it all this time?" Toby asked.

She nodded affirmatively and then headed into the living room. Toby followed her and joined her on the couch, tossing the coat on the back of it.

"What happened to you after that day, Alexis?"

"Well, I didn't have a mental breakdown as you feared," she was quick to point out. "I mean, yes, of course I was embarrassed and totally humiliated. I was a fifteen year old sophomore for heaven sakes. I don't know how many kids saw me out there like that."

"Not that many," Toby said.

She looked at him and rolled her eyes. "You don't have to keep protecting me, Toby."

"But you disappeared after that day," he said.

"Sure, I transferred to the Catholic school," she replied. "I didn't want to be around kids who would do something like that to other kids."

"Oh," Toby said with some relief. "I thought maybe something bad happened to you."

"Well, something bad did happen to me!" She said. "But I handled it as best I could. Yes, of course I was affected by what happened. I was very shy after that and very modest about my body. I didn't get naked in front of anybody for a very long time and even now I'm still very self conscious about it."

"Well, I'm glad things turned out okay," he said with obvious relief in his voice.

"What do you think the chances are that we would meet again?" She wanted to know.

"I didn't even know who you were," he admitted.

"When you said your name that day in the office I almost died," she said. "I tried to block what happened that day out of my mind but when I met you again it all came rushing back."

"I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault," she said openly. "You want to know what I remember most about that day?"

"What?" he asked tentatively.

"Your kindness," she said softly. "I think that's why I kept your jacket all this time. To be reminded of the kindness of strangers."

"We're not strangers anymore, Alexis," Toby said.

"I suppose not," she agreed. "I've been thinking lately that maybe we were supposed to meet again."

"Really?"

"That's why I decided to finally come out of the closet," she smiled. "I mean, bring the jacket out of the closet."

"I'm really glad we finally met," Toby said with conviction. "It was one of those things that always bothered me."

"Well, you can let it go now, Toby," Alexis told him. "I'm okay."

"I'm glad."

"And thank you for what you did that day," she said. "Thank you for caring."

After that, everything fell into place. The guilt and remorse flowed from him in a freeing release. They stared at each other for a long moment and then Toby finally leaned toward her, tentatively, not sure how she was going to react. She leaned into him until they were literally nose to nose to one another and she stopped less than an inch away, not touching as he soaked in her smell and the very essence of her presence.
Toby put his hands on her knees that sent a jolt through her body. He slowly moved his hands up her thighs, across the curve of her hips, up and across her breasts and then up to her collar bones and neck before finally sliding his fingers into her hair and gently pulling her face to his. When their lips met, the tension both had been feeling released and Alexis met Toby with a desperately hungry mouth with her pushing tongue and nipping teeth, her hands flying into his hair and across his arms and down his chest but her hands were shaking
Toby let his hands fall from her black hair and he found the bottom of her sweatshirt but she put her hand down to stop him.

"I can't," she said.

"Oh," he said with disappointment.

"Not because I don't want to," she said. "But, I really…..can't."

He looked at her with confusion and he saw her eyes tearing up.

"Maybe tonight," she whispered. "When it's dark. And you can't see me. Under the covers."

"Alexis," Toby sighed, leaning his forehead onto hers. "You really aren't okay, are you?"

"They laughed at me," she sobbed. "The laughter. I've never forgotten the laughter."

He hugged her and kissed her on the top of her head. "I never laughed," he whispered. "I wanted to cry."

She looked up and into her eyes. "Really?" She asked.

"I remember thinking to myself 'Why are they doing that to such a beautiful girl,'" he admitted.

"I'm not," she insisted.

"You are!" He rebutted.

"They don't laugh at beautiful girls."

He lifted her chin slowly so she was looking into his eyes again. "You are," he said. "I've never forgotten."

"Is it really okay?" She wanted to know.

"Yes," he said. "I want to see you again."

"I can't," she sobbed. "The laughter."

"Go into your room," Toby said softly. "Close the door. Take off your clothes."

"What?"

"Just do it," he said gently.

She got off the couch and tentatively went into her room, glancing over her shoulder at Toby as if he was crazy. Once she was gone and he heard the door to the bedroom close, Toby stripped out of his clothes. Naked, he took the letter jacket from the back of the couch and walked into the hallway.

"Are you naked?" He asked gently.

"Yes," Came her mousey voice.

"I am standing in the nice hall," Toby told her through the door. "The safe hall. There's only me waiting for you. Please come out."

"I can't," she moaned painfully.

"I don't want you to be embarrassed."

"I can't help it," she sobbed.

"But it's just me," he said. "You're not embarrassed when it's me, are you?"

"No," she said after a quiet moment. "Not when it's you."

"I already saw you, Alexis," he reminded her. "I'd like to see you again."

For what seemed like an eternity, nothing happened. Toby patiently stood naked in the hall holding the letter jacket. He was just about to give up on his idea when the door slowly opened a crack. Alexis stuck her head out and her eyes went wide when she saw that he was standing there naked.

"Come out," he urged softly. "It's okay. It's the safe hall."

Another eternity passed and then slowly the door opened a little farther and tentative and slowly, Alexis backed her way out of the bedroom, revealing her white tush to him. It was just as he remembered it even though she was a woman now.

"It's okay," He said quietly.

She closed the door and then leaned against it, sobbing.

Toby stepped up to her and put the jacket over her shoulders. He kissed the back of her neck.

"Shh," he said gently. "It's okay. We're in the safe nice hall. Nobody can hurt you here."

He could feel her shaking.

"You're beautiful, Alexis," Toby told her.

He could hear her let out her breath and he felt her tears on his hands where they were placed on her shoulder. They stood like that for the longest time. Occasionally, Toby would nibble on her ear or whisper something sweet into it. After a while, he gently pulled on the jacket so it slipped off her shoulders and fell to the floor.

He could feel her shutter.

"Shh," he said. "It's okay. You're safe. We're in the safe hall. It's quiet here. It's peaceful."

He dropped to his knees and wrapped his arms around her waist from behind. He kissed her softly on her buns and then rested his head against them.

"You're beautiful," He said, his voice cracking. "You're beautiful."

He stayed like that for a long time. Finally, he noticed that Alexis had stopped shaking and sobbing. Slowly, she turned around and faced him, his head in her crotch now. He looked up past her breasts and looked into her eyes and she glanced down at him.

"Thank you," she said happily. "You're beautiful."

He got up off his knees and embraced her in another hug. Her hands landed in his hair, holding him to her as he gently kissed her.

###

It was dark outside as they lay in her bed together, cuddling and snuggling and hugging.

"He left me because I'm frigid." There were tears in her eyes.

"Trust me, after what I just experienced with you, I can definitely say you are not frigid."

"I was," she revealed honestly. "You cured me."

"I doubt that," he replied.

"I was the unfortunate girl in the cruel hall who was traumatized about what happened to me," Alexis confessed quietly. "I avoided relationships. I shunned intimacy. I've never even worn a bikini. I hated my body. I was ashamed because of what happened to me. I never forget the cruel laughter."

He hugged her tightly. "I think you're beautiful," Toby said. "Always did."

He felt her tears on his shoulder. "Thank you," she whispered.