She could have walked away.
Just stood up and walked away, but she didn't. Mrs Allen, fifteen years into a sentence as a junior high school teacher, had seen japes and shenanigans before.
This time, seven on one, surrounding the boy, shouting and jeering, pushing and shoving, calling hi(more)m weak, mocking his tears.
She knew the boy, a hard scrabble kid who was never going to be on the right side of any track. He'd lost his mother to a vague medical tragedy, but his father made sure he was at school every day. The boy was always early, and stayed late, until he was picked up or walked home. Bright enough, she'd noted, but neither blessed with good looks nor social graces.
The few times she'd managed to crack his shell, Mrs Allen saw the boy had a sensitive manner, and a generous heart, admirable qualities both, but no match for bad teeth and a tendency to panic sweat.
She knew there was a tendency to meanness in the school hallways. Tribal loyalties and shifting allegiances, teenage intrigue and high hormones, all made a potent social obstacle course.
She pushed through the indifferent and the curiosity-sated walkers and followed the jeering to it's source.
The girl continued to call the boy names and poke at him, a couple of sharp jabs with the knuckles grinding into the same point on his shoulder over and over.
She looked up and read the contempt in Mrs Allen's face, let the boy go. He slid to the floor, shaking and wretched.
The teacher fixed the girl with her gaze and helped the boy to his feet.
She was a good student, straight A, from a good family.
Mrs Allen looked at the girl for a long time.
Finally, the girl's tears started.(less)