13 St. Petersburg Times: Interactive Special Report
Love. Identity. Secrets. Loyalty. Sex. Betrayal. Power. Grades. Rivalry.  Glory. Parents. Subterfuge. Divorce. God. Guitars. Life at the edge of everything.
 
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 HAPPYTRAILS
 
 PERSPECTIVE: A COLUMN BY TOM FRENCH
 


Sean understands the glow is not going to last. He had a girlfriend last year. He does not speak fondly of the experience. “The biggest mistake of my entire career,” he says.
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His friends have done their best to teach him some basic strategy. They have told him that the way to get her attention is to go after someone else. They have explained, over and over, that it never works to throw yourself at a girl's feet.

Even Sean - the sage among their group, whose counsel everyone seeks - is at a loss on how to set his poor friend straight.

"It's just sad to watch him now," says Sean, shaking his head. He knows Carlo is hurting, knows he's vulnerable. But what can they do?

"A little baby bird," Sean calls him.

Carlo himself struggles to explain what's happening inside him. When someone presses him to articulate why he is so drawn to Kalie, and only Kalie, he answers with vague generalities.

"I think she's pretty," he says. "Her face and everything. Her hair. She could be a nice person."

It's not like Carlo's a loser. During his time at Booker T, he has been actively pursued. But when he asks out Kalie, the answer is always a polite no. She tells him she just doesn't feel that way about him.

Through it all, Carlo has remained undeterred. He e-mails, he calls, he sends messages through couriers. Last semester, at a school dance, he asked her to dance with him, and for one song they were together. Ever since, Carlo has refused to wash the shirt he was wearing that day, because Kalie's body touched it. Well, her hand at least.

"Her hand counts as part of her body," he insists.

Not long ago, one of Carlo's friends - a friend who shall remain nameless - approached Carlo with a plan. If Kalie wasn't willing to go out with him, this friend said, then perhaps it was time for Carlo to resort to other methods for getting close to her. Specifically, the friend said he knew a way in which Carlo could touch Kalie.

The friend's proposal was simple. He and Carlo would walk down the hall behind Kalie; the friend would "accidentally" trip Carlo; Carlo would fall forward, making sure that his hands landed on the seat of Kalie's jeans.

Carlo said no. Showing a maturity that would have made his parents proud, had they known about it, he decided the plan was no good.

"She would have hated me for the rest of my life," he says.

That is not what he wants from Kalie. What he wants, he says, is just for her to talk to him and maybe go out with him. He wouldn't particularly care how long she allowed him in her presence. He says he would gladly just be hers until whenever she tired of him.

He also admits he wouldn't mind a kiss.

"On the lips," he says.

Has he ever kissed a girl before? No, he says. Not really.

"Does my mom count?"

When Carlo says this, he is not joking or being cute. He really wants to know if, in fact, a peck from his mother qualifies as a true kiss. His uncertainty on this point is undeniably sweet. Unfortunately, it may also explain why Kalie won't come near him.

One night, hanging out with his friend Eric, Carlo talks openly about his attachment to this girl. He does not say he likes her. He says that what he feels is love.

"A deep love," he says.

Eric hears this and scoffs. There's no way, he says, that anyone their age can be in love.

"You don't really mean it when you're in sixth or seventh grade," he says.

Carlo looks down at his shoes.

"I mean it," he says softly.

***

 
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