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.
 
 SINCERELY, NELSON RENDEROS
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 HAPPYTRAILS
 
 PERSPECTIVE: A COLUMN BY TOM FRENCH
 

Sincerely, Nelson Renderos
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AN ACT OF HER OWN Kirsten Austin has told the Pink Dinos no, but she is not giving up her musical ambitions. She practices after school, a plan in mind.

The assembly of doom spurs Jackie to action.

A few hours after hearing the principal's dire warnings about being kicked out of Booker T, Jackie reaches a decision on her boyfriend impasse. Time to simplify her life.

That very afternoon, Jackie tells her girlfriends that she's made up her mind. She doesn't want to hurt Nelson, she says, but he has to go.

To soften the blow, she decides to enlist Danielle's help. Danielle is Nelson's friend; maybe he won't be so upset if she's there to comfort him.

The next day, when she gets home from school, Jackie calls Danielle. Explaining her plan, she asks Danielle to stay on the line for a three-way conversation with Nelson. But when they call Nelson's house, they can't reach him. He's home, but he's still grounded for his poor grades and isn't allowed to come to the phone.

Which means that Jackie will have to wait until first thing Monday morning, when all three of them will be in Ms. Kasey's homeroom.

Jackie's plan has only one flaw: her choice of allies. She knows that Danielle likes Nelson, but not how much. Jackie doesn't realize that Danielle is so taken with Nelson that her first allegiance lies with him.

Once Jackie shares this inside information with her, Danielle knows what to do. On Monday morning, she gets off her school bus and stays out front, waiting for Nelson's bus. It usually pulls up two minutes before the bell rings, so she knows she doesn't have much time. Jackie is already down in homeroom.

Nelson's bus appears. Nelson steps off. Danielle rushes up.

"Jackie's gonna dump you today," she says breathlessly. "You might want to dump her before she dumps you."

They walk down the hall toward Ms. Kasey's classroom. Nelson agrees he has no choice. But he insists that he had already decided independently to dump Jackie. He even told one of his friends over the weekend.

"I thought it first," he tells Danielle. "You can ask Marcos."

Now it's only a matter of who's quicker on the draw. Once he and Danielle get to homeroom, Nelson sits down without saying a word to Jackie, who's on the other side of the room. Nelson takes out a sheet of paper and begins to scribble.

A few moments later, he folds the paper in half and passes it to Danielle, who just happens to be sitting between Nelson and Jackie, which means she's the obvious choice for delivering his message. Danielle opens the paper and reads it.

A standard breakup note. Nothing fancy, nothing flowery, just Nelson telling Jackie how he doesn't think they should go out anymore and how he hopes the two of them can still be close, etc.

At the bottom, in a boyish scrawl, it says:

Sincerely, Nelson Renderos

Danielle folds it back in half and passes it.

Jackie holds it in both hands and reads. Then she rips the paper in half. Again and again.

***

Nelson wants a clean sweep.

Now that he's broken it off with Jackie, he has also decided to dump Sandra, his girlfriend from another school. He's still on phone restriction, so he gets a friend to call her and give her the bad news that very afternoon.

The next day, the news of his double breakup spreads through the cafeteria. One of the boys at Nelson's table tries to put the pieces together.

"Who dumped who?" he asks Nelson.

"I dumped Jackie."

"You dumped Jackie?"

Nelson nods. "And I dumped Sandra."

The boys are stunned. Not only were they unaware of the dumpings, they didn't even know their friend was seeing Jackie in the first place.

They're also slightly hurt.

"The little retard didn't tell me," one says, shaking his head.

"You never tell me your crap," says Nelson, looking around the table at them all.

"I have no crap to tell you!" says one of the other boys.

This is true. Compared to Nelson's web of entanglements, their romantic lives are a barren plain. They have no one to dump, and no one who would even bother dumping them.

"Dos semanas, and it's over?" says one boy, gazing at Nelson with a combination of envy and adulation. "Two weeks, and they're gone. Out the door."

What Nelson doesn't tell his friends is that he's already got his eye on someone new. He knows her from church. Her name is Shakyra.

Asking her out will be difficult, given the phone restriction. But he knows he'll think of something.

True love always finds a way.

***

The Pink Dinos are pushing on.

In the days after the Gio vote, the boys move quickly to get back on track in time for their upcoming concert. They make arrangements to rehearse at the church; they work on their set list.

With no regular rehearsals, Brett has more time for Clarissa, his willowy girlfriend. The two of them eat lunch together every day; they seem to be growing closer by the hour. The other Pink Dinos are getting a little antsy, watching their intrepid leader grow so enamored. Even Clarissa's friends are complaining about how much time the relationship is consuming.

"Where's Clarissa?" someone will ask, and the friends will exchange a knowing look and then say, "Oh, she's bretting."

What better proof could be offered of the band's place in Booker T's collective imagination? Their lead guitarist has been transmuted into a verb.

Without question, the past week or so has not been easy. On top of all the other turmoil, Kirsten Austin has finally RSVPed to the Pink Dinos' invitation to join the lineup. She told the boys she likes them and wishes them well, but she prefers to go her own way.

Still, the Pink Dinos are regaining their glow. They've got the church concert coming up, and then at the end of the year Booker T is putting on a talent show, offering the boys yet another chance to shine.

Brett, usually intense, seems almost contented. The band has survived; Clarissa is at his side. At lunch one day, he sits at his girlfriend's table, squeezing into her chair as usual. For some reason, he is wearing a paper crown. Like the other boys, Brett loves props. He wears bow ties; sometimes he brings in masks.

Today, though, he is playing a monarch. Around him, the lunchroom spirals with noise and movement. At other tables, the students are arguing and flirting and calling out and throwing food.

At the center of it all, Brett reigns happily, his crown cocked slightly to one side as he shares his throne with Clarissa. He whispers something into her ear, then she whispers something back, and then he grins.

She is his queen. This is their kingdom.

***

The planet turns.

In her corner of the band room, Kirsten Austin practices on. Like the Pink Dinos, she is thinking about the talent show. She has decided to give the boys a little competition.

She is forming her own band. They don't have a name yet, but they're working on it. It'll be her and two other girls.

One is her friend Dana.

The other is Clarissa.

***

Next:
Carlo makes a breakthrough, Kirsten goes looking for a rock star, Kalie finds herself in a fix, things fall apart at the Magic Kingdom. Part 5: ROLLERCOASTER
 
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