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.
 
DOUBLE SECRET BOYFRIEND
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 HAPPYTRAILS
 
 PERSPECTIVE: A COLUMN BY TOM FRENCH
 

Dong-Phuong Nguyen on the the kids' parents.

Double secret boyfriend
photo
OOPS (OH MY) Danielle Heffern, center, dances with Miranda Olivier in the back yard at Mattie Heil’s slumber party. With no boys around, the girls don’t have to worry about how they will be judged.

After dark on a barefoot Friday night. The ancient rites, unveiled once again beneath the stars.

Danielle and the other girls have broken bread with the evening's first slices of communal pizza. They have lifted the chorus of their voices, singing along with the Spice Girls about how they can work out any deal they endeavor and how boys and girls feel good together. This CD came out when these kids were in second grade, but Danielle and the others play it anyway. Moving on, the girls have removed their shoes for the delicate work of painting one another's toes. They have brushed a fresh coat on their fingernails as well, and plucked their eyebrows, and stared deeply into one another's faces, searching for blemishes, wayward lashes, any flaw that might stand between them and eternal happiness.

Now the slumber party spills onto the back patio of the Valrico ranch house. The host tonight is Mattie Heil, a fellow seventh-grader from Booker T.

The night is warm and soft. The sky, clear in every direction, swims with galaxies. Someone turns on a radio, and the first few bars of Tweet's Oops (Oh My) begin to play. Suddenly the girls are turning the patio into a dance floor.

Oops, there goes my shirt up over my head. Oh my.
Oops, there goes my skirt droppin' to my feet. Oh my.
Ooh, some kinda touch caressing my face. Oh my.
Ooh, I'm turning red. Who could this be?

As the song pulses forward, restraint falls away. The girls are bootie-bumping. They are laughing and screaming and slapping behinds. One of them is actually taking a belt and smacking it against the back of someone's jeans. Bedecked in jewelry, the girls sparkle in the moonlight. Rhinestones are tacked to their jeans and shirts. Almost all of them are wearing hoop earrings, necklaces, bracelets, anklets, rings, whatever shines.

Tonight, almost anything is possible. There are no boys watching, no one to judge them or compare them. They can test boundaries without embarrassment. They are free to act as wild or silly as they like.

Soon they tire of dancing and move back inside. Some of them head for Mattie's room; others linger in the kitchen, near the tortilla chips, salsa and Pepsi. Miranda, an eighth-grader and therefore the elder of the group, sits in front of a computer in the living room. She has only been online for a few seconds when she gets an instant message from a friend.

hey, ho, types the girl on the other end of the modem line. if you're here, who's running hell?

Miranda taps out her response.

umm ... my mom.

Reading over Miranda's shoulder, Mattie has an idea about how they can play a prank on the other girl. Pranks have been a staple of slumber parties since the dawn of time, but this one's perfect for a bunch of girls bonding in the early days of the 21st century. Mattie points out that her mom has a second computer in the garage. How about if she gets online and instant messages this girl at the same time? The girl knows Mattie and is familiar with her usual screen name. But what if Mattie uses one of her other screen names, thepoopie101? The girl won't know who she's talking with. Oh, the possibilities.

Mattie hurries to the garage while Miranda stays at the first computer, stringing along their victim.

what are you doing on line? asks the other girl.

talking to you, types Miranda. i'm so bored. mattie went to the store with her mom.

In the garage, Mattie is already typing at her keyboard, saying hello. The victim sees the new screen name and takes the bait.

who's thepoopie101? she asks Miranda.

Miranda says she has no idea. In the other room, Mattie is messing with the victim's mind, telling the girl she knows who she is, where she lives, what's in her bedroom.

i love you, Mattie writes.

It doesn't work. The friend isn't falling for it. No stranger to such maneuvers, she already thinks she knows who thepoopie101 might be.

miranda?

nope, writes Mattie. don't think so.

mattie? i know it's you, mattie.

The rest of the night follows the time-honored conventions. The girls play truth or dare. They call cute boys, flirting without shame. They ad-lib their way through a satire of The Jerry Springer Show, casting themselves as characters named Hobo Marie and Ivana Humpalot. The show makes no sense whatsoever. Still, it's a chance for the girls to mock the world the grownups are leaving them; also a moment for one of them to stuff balloons under her shirt and for all of them to giggle at jokes they could never share in front of their parents.

"Ivana Humpalot, you know I love you, and you're my baby's daddy," says one girl, playing a guest on the show. "But I have something to tell you. I've been cheating on you with my cousin."

A make-believe cat fight breaks out on the make-believe set.

"Ivana Humpalot," says someone in the audience. The girls love saying the name; they have taken it from the second Austin Powers movie. "I think you should hit the ho over the head because she's a skank."

The girls read one another's palms, looking for portents of doom. They snap photos of themselves lounging on Mattie's four-poster bed under her Precious Moments calendar. They flip through CosmoGirl, the seventh-grade girl's Bible, the latest issue of which offers skin secrets and boy-snaring techniques and features Josh Hartnett on the cover. In the centerfold, the young movie star lounges on a white leather couch, gazing into the camera with a sultry fire in his deep brown eyes. Though he is fully clothed, Hartnett honors the centerfold custom of sharing personal details in the accompanying text.

Sign: Cancer
Hometown: St. Paul, Minnesota
Underwear: Doesn't wear any

They talk about nothing. They talk about everything. They trade their tales of romantic woe.

"He broke up with me," says one girl.

"I don't see why Tromonte is that big a deal," says another.

Then Danielle speaks up.

"I like somebody," she tells the group.

No need to say who. Nelson, Nelson. With Danielle, it's always about Nelson.

She doesn't get it. It seems like he's always flirting with her, always trying to keep her interested, even though she knows he has at least one girlfriend, maybe more. Is he just trying to lead her on? Or does he really like her, too?

"What's the point?" Danielle is saying now. "Why does he want me to like him when he likes somebody else?"

The other girls hear her, but they have no words of wisdom. The conversation moves on to other boys, other problems.

Danielle leaves it alone. Despite her frustrations, the slumber party has been fun. She has laughed with the other girls. She has danced under the heavens. When they were doing makeovers, she even let one of the girls work on her face, plucking and primping.

Her friends are always telling Danielle how beautiful she is. Tonight she can almost see it. In Mattie's room, as the others jump around her, Danielle studies herself in the mirror.

She gazes into the hazel of her irises. She looks at the arches of her eyebrows, how each slowly ascends and descends. Appraising herself, she turns to the left. Then the right. Then left again.

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