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.
 
 GLADIATORS
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 HAPPYTRAILS
 
 PERSPECTIVE: A COLUMN BY TOM FRENCH
 

Gladiators

On the face of it, the odds seem stacked against seventh-graders' having much of a romantic life. Their comings and goings are closely regulated. Their transportation options are limited at best. Somehow, though, they find a way. Especially now that the temperatures are rising.

"When spring hits," says Mrs. Scribner, the choral teacher, "they all fall in love."

For Carlo, there is no escape. Romance is blossoming everywhere around him. It's happening next to his locker, where the couples keep making eyes at each other. It's in the halls, where they're acting all breathless.

It's even in Carlo's second-period social studies class, where he opens his textbook and stumbles across a secret message, left for someone else. On Page 727, in a section on the South Pacific, the book shows a photo of a beautiful New Zealand beach. Scribbled over the photo, in a girl's curlicue handwriting, is the following:

This is where I want to go w/you alone.

My # is ...

The other members of the Pink Dinos continue to charm the school's female population. Ricky Reed, one of the two lead singers, recently finessed a first kiss with Brittany, his older girlfriend. That night, when his father came home, Ricky was waiting for him, grinning.

"I finally did it," said Ricky.

"You did not," said Mr. Reed.

"Yup. I did."

His dad gave him a high-five. His mother, who had advised her son to wait a little longer before crossing this particular threshold, was not so triumphant. She wasn't mad at Ricky; it was too late for that. Nevertheless, she heightened her vigilance. The day after the first kiss, when Ricky came home from school, Mrs. Reed could not help noting that he had traces of glitter - the kind middle school girls sometimes sprinkle over their skin or into their hair - rubbed all over his face.

Forbidden love, it seems, is springing up all over. Even Jaclyn Robinson is not immune.

Officially, she is not allowed to have a boyfriend. Jackie's mother, conservative even by mom standards, has made that rule clear. But at school, such rules are easily bent.

Jackie's romances are decidedly seventh grade. She doesn't go out on dates with these boys; she doesn't go anywhere with them, aside from walking with them between classes. Still, the dance is familiar enough. She writes them teasing notes, lets them bask in her glow for a moment, then pushes them away. An hour later, she'll be smiling at them again.

At the moment, Jackie is juggling two suitors. One of them is a boy on Booker T's flag football team. His name is Byron. All of Jackie's friends, including Danielle, know that she and Byron are an item.

The identity of the other boy - indeed, the very fact that there is another boy in Jackie's life - is a secret.

Jackie is on the verge of a coup. She is reeling in one of the most desired prizes of the seventh grade.

The one and only Nelson Renderos, otherwise known as the Boy of the Year.

Next
Jackie’s mom says a prayer, the Pink Dinos come down to earth, Kalie finds a new boyfriend, a hippie girl plots a revolution. Part 3: DOUBLE SECRET BOYFRIEND

 
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