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
ROLLERCOASTER
 HAPPYTRAILS
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 PERSPECTIVE: A COLUMN BY TOM FRENCH
 


Raw joy surges through Carlo. He can hardly believe Kalie is here, in his house, at the edge of his pool. A Scrunchie hangs demurely around her left wrist.

Happytrails
photo
THE HOME STRETCH It’s hard to tell who’s being drawn to whom, but slowly Carlo Ottanelli, above, and Kalie are moving closer to each other.
Story by Thomas French, Monique Fields and Dong-Phuong Nguyen

Photos by Krystal Kinnunen

© St. Petersburg Times published May 25, 2003

The first glimmer of hope -- the moment when the stars finally begin to realign in Carlo's favor -- comes at the pool party.

The change announces itself just after 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 20. That afternoon, Carlo is hosting a long-overdue birthday celebration, more than two months after he turned 13.

A collection of his friends, including the Pink Dinos, is gathered at the Ottanelli house in Temple Terrace, wrestling and laughing and doing their best to avoid thinking about their exams and the pressures of the talent show and every other question mark hanging over the last few weeks of seventh grade.

"Could we not talk about school?" says Carlo’s friend Eric. "It’s called the weekend."

The boys are conducting group therapy in the pool, thrashing one another with assorted loose objects, when the afternoon takes a wondrous turn, almost out of a fairy tale.

A shimmering white carriage -- okay, a white Mazda Protege -- draws up in front of the house. A slender girl steps out, and bids goodbye to her chauffeur, who happens to be her dad.

Walking down the sloping driveway, Kalie Wells appears to be holding her breath. Is this a good idea, or a disaster in the making? As she approaches the front door, she can already hear the boys' raucous cries. Beside the front walk, she sees their skateboards, lined up on the grass like a row of carelessly parked cars.

Kalie knocks, and one of the parents in attendance lets her inside and takes her out back to her host, who is in the pool. When he sees her, the birthday boy goes still.

"Hey Carlo," she says. "Happy birthday."

Raw joy surges through Carlo. He can hardly believe she is here, in his house, at the edge of his pool. A Scrunchie hangs demurely around her left wrist.

Kalie is still going out with Gio, but so what. Carlo has been beside himself for days, hoping she would come. Now he has no idea what to say. The other boys also have been rendered mute. A searching silence descends on them all.

Then, all at once, the boys are getting out of the pool and drying off and hurrying out front to ride their skateboards. Kalie watches as they take turns zooming down the driveway, riding their boards on their stomachs and on their backs, doing whatever they can to impress the only girl at the party. The boys place four of the boards side by side and then race forward, competing furiously for position as though they're reenacting the chariot scene from Ben-Hur.

Kalie tries to figure out her role in this scene. Is she supposed to be joking with the boys? Cheering them on? She sees Carlo's dad, off to the side, and wanders over. Desperate, she tries to make small talk.

"My dad says hi," she says. "And ... whatever else he said."

Mr. Ottanelli rescues her, inquiring after her parents, saying he is delighted to see her. He makes a point of laughing at the boys.

"You guys are really pathetic," he tells them.

"No," says Kalie, her nervousness evaporating. "Just easily entertained."

Emboldened, she commandeers a skateboard and takes off down the driveway. With that, the spell is broken. Soon Kalie's taking more turns on the boards, and the boys are chasing her. A few minutes later, two more girls show up, and then all of them are heading inside for cake and ice cream and presents and another round of group therapy in the pool.

Kalie excuses herself and makes her way to the bathroom. Behind the closed door, she checks herself in the mirror. For a second, she studies a plaster impression, hanging on the wall, that shows an impossibly tiny handprint. Below the print it says:

Carlo
1992

The arc is there, for any visitor to see. The 3-year-old boy who made the handprint. The 13-year-old outside, trying to drown his friends. All of it.

Kalie rejoins the group, and they retreat into the bedroom of Carlo's little brother Vittorio to play video games. The room is jammed, the kids standing shoulder to shoulder while they wait their turn, their eyes fixed on the screen.

As the minutes pass, a subtle shift unfolds. The room is so packed that every time the players switch, there is a reconfiguration of bodies, positions, proximity. Slowly, Kalie is moving closer to Carlo. Or else Carlo is moving closer to Kalie. It's hard to tell who's being drawn to whom, or whether the whole thing's just a coincidence.

Another person gets up from the game, and then Kalie and Carlo are sitting side by side. They don't say anything; they're not even looking at each other.

Still, Carlo's face is luminous.

***

The following week, the word races through the halls of Booker T.

"Gio and Kalie broke up yesterday," says one girl, passing it on in Mrs. Tuller's second period social studies class.

According to the grapevine, Gio has dumped Kalie. Allegedly he has accused her of flirting at Carlo's party, a charge Kalie denies. Both parties confirm they are no longer a couple.

Carlo remains calm. He is down in the band room, finishing another one of Mr. Dickson's band sessions. Putting away his trumpet, Carlo talks quietly about how he doesn't want to make any assumptions about Kalie's sudden availability. One thing he does know, though.

The spring dance is a week away.

***

 
 
 
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