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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Kirsten has a Fender Stratocaster. And she knows how to play. Even Sean, who is not easily impressed, acknowledges the expertise she would bring to the Pink Dinos’ lineup.

Double secret boyfriend

Three weeks after their triumphant debut, the Pink Dinos have officially entered their troubled middle period.

They have another concert coming up. This time they have been asked to play in front of a youth group at Crosstown Community Church in Brandon. Ricky Reed, one of the band's lead singers, goes there; the youth minister, a guy who calls himself "Super Chad" on his voice mail greeting, seems to think Ricky and his friends have promise.

There's just one hitch. The Pink Dinos have been banned from their lunchtime practices down in the band room. Mr. Dickson, the school's band director, held onto his patience as long as possible, despite the growing numbers of students who congregated in the room to watch the rehearsals. Then, one of the Pink Dinos -- Cameron, the drummer, who also plays the drums in the school's concert band -- forgot to bring in a permission slip for a district band competition. For Mr. Dickson, that was enough.

"I told them," he explains one day, "that I didn't think they should come into the band room for their own personal needs when they're not contributing to the program."

Fair enough. But now, the Pink Dinos have a gig on the horizon, and no place to practice. Logistics and school policy have conspired against them. Since Booker T is a magnet, the boys' homes are scattered all over Hillsborough County, as far north as Carrollwood and as far south as Riverview. It's not feasible for them to load up all their amps and drums and other equipment and then ask their parents to drive them to somebody's house for a couple of hours of rehearsal, then drive back. They could ask, but their moms and dads undoubtedly have better ways to spend their Saturday afternoons.

As if that's not enough, the Pink Dinos have been struggling to attract some new talent. The boys are aware that their musical skills lag behind their enthusiasm. Even before their exile from the band room, they didn't sound nearly as good as they wanted; Brett Gardner, the band's leader, has especially high standards and longs for the band to kick it up a notch.

Brett and the others know a seventh-grade girl who could help them. Her name is Kirsten Austin. She has a Fender Stratocaster, the same legendary guitar once played by Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. More impressive, Kirsten knows how to play. She's has been practicing since elementary school; she still takes lessons with her dad once a week.

The girl is committed. Even Sean, who is not easily impressed, acknowledges the expertise she would bring to their lineup.

"Kirsten," says Sean, "is a good guitar player."

Only problem is, Kirsten keeps putting them off. She has this whole age-of-Aquarius thing she's got going. She dresses like a hippie, circa 1969; she's got the sandals, the peace symbols, the aura of inner tranquillity. None of the boys' pleas seem to stir even a ripple inside her.

Kirsten hasn't said no. But she definitely hasn't said yes, either.

"Let me think about it," she says, smiling shyly.

Finally there is the Carlo debacle.

A few days back, when he first heard the terrible news that Kalie was going out with one of the Pink Dinos, it wasn't true. At least, it wasn't true yet.

Gio Molina, the band's other lead vocalist, does in fact like Kalie. But that afternoon, when the rumor of his interest spread, he hadn't done anything about it yet.

The moment presents itself one morning, just after third period, when Gio sees Kalie walking down the hall with one of her girlfriends and pulls her aside, asking if she'll go out with him. Kalie says yes, and that's it. The two of them are officially a couple.

The very next period, Gio happens to be in phys ed with Carlo. In a classy gesture, Gio does not avoid the awkwardness. The boys are running around the P.E. field, and during one of the laps, Gio catches up with Carlo and tells him he's sorry.

Carlo assures him it's fine.

"I don't care," he says.

But after Gio moves on, Carlo turns to Sean, running beside him, and begins to rail away, swinging his arms, hitting his friend's shoulders, getting it out.

Sean, the wisest of the Pink Dinos, lets it be.


A Wednesday afternoon, and the minutes are dragging.

Knowing that report cards are to be distributed at the end of the day, students around the school are staring at the classroom clocks, waiting, stressing.

Danielle is distraught, because if her report card's bad enough, her stepdad has already decreed that she'll have to rake the yard during the next nine-week grading period. Nelson's nervous because he's not allowed to bring home any C's. Jackie is already resigned to bad news.

After eighth period, the three of them meet in their homeroom, where the grades are to be issued. Their teacher, Ms. Kasey, summons them forward, one at a time.

"Danielle," she says.

Danielle walks up, takes one look at her report card and throws her hands down in disgust.

"Oh, I hate Mrs. Enterline!" Her French teacher. "She gave me a D!"

Ms. Kasey tells Danielle, no, she doesn't hate Mrs. Enterline. What she really means is she hates not doing well in Mrs. Enterline's class.

A lecture. Ms. Kasey is actually giving her a lecture, as though the D isn't punishment enough.

"That's what you get," the woman is telling her. "You get what you work for."

Danielle plops down in her seat, defeated. Nine solid weeks of raking stretch before her.

When his turn comes, Nelson looks at the report card, balls his left hand into a fist and gnaws on a clenched knuckle.

"What'd you get? What'd you get?" Danielle says.

"Awww man, I got two C's!" he says, knowing already that he'll be grounded and won't even able to use the phone.

Finally Jaclyn Robinson's name is called. She takes the report card.

"See," she says. "I told you."

Jackie has already warned her mother. Knowing how poorly she was doing in language arts, she's done her best to prepare her. Still, who knows how her mom will react when her eyes stop on that one letter.



Down in the band room, in a little practice booth in back, the hippie girl cradles her beloved Stratocaster.

The guitar is midnight blue, Kirsten's favorite color. Just below the bridge, she has applied a sticker showing a winged creature. Her guitar fairy, Kirsten calls her. For luck. For inspiration.

Kirsten plays on and on, never tiring. The tips of her fingers are dotted with callouses. Her cheeks are adorned with two temporary tattoos. Each is a Chinese character; one stands for "unity," the other "clarity."

She has reached a decision. She's going to tell the Pink Dinos that she can't accept their invitation. She has songs of her own, ones she has written herself. Inside her, a plan is stirring.

Time to start a revolution.


The final three installments of this series will be published Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Jackie makes up her mind, Nelson cleans house, Danielle courts fashion disaster, a surprise awaits the Pink Dinos. Part 4: SINCERELY, NELSON RENDEROS

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