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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4ureyes only
13 CANDLES Just out of the pool, Carlo Ottanelli (left) and Jourdan Jayashekaramurthy light the candles on a birthday cake for Sean Simpson, right, the Pink Dinos’ bass guitarist.

The days are speeding by. Somehow, the second semester is already half over.

In the predawn darkness, Danielle Heffern's alarm goes off again. She heads into the bathroom, washes her face and brushes her teeth, gets dressed. As usual, she puts on the blue Mickey Mouse sweat shirt. The house is quiet. No one else is up yet.

Every morning, her routine is the same. She makes her own breakfast, packs a lunch for school, heads for her bus. But this morning is different. Danielle doesn't feel like packing a lunch. She wants to buy something; she is thinking about the cheese pizza they sell in the Booker T cafeteria. Last night, she asked her parents if she could have some money. But they said no.

Danielle heads down the hall. She is walking through the family room when she notices some spare change on the end table. She counts the coins: $1.55.

She picks up the money and puts it in her purse. She gets her backpack and leaves the house, locking the door behind her.


Second period, language arts class.

Jaclyn Robinson, the girl who likes shortcuts, is playing catch-up again. Her teacher stands in front of his students, asking which of them has brought their assignment from the day before. A forest of hands shoots into the air. Jackie's is not among them.

Mr. Arnold gives her the stare.

"Where is your homework?" he says.

"At home."

Her teacher frowns. He knows this girl is intelligent; he sees it inside her. So why is she struggling in his class?

He opens his grade book and makes a tiny mark beside her name.

"You better have it tomorrow," he says.

Jackie nods. She's not worried. Not really. She sees herself as unstoppable. She thinks there will always be second chances.

At 13, it is still possible to believe such things.


Carlo plunges into the void, Danielle stops at the brink, the Pink Dinos go back in time, Jackie scores a coup. Part 2: GLADIATORS
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