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sand blast!

They spend most of the day waiting for the night. They lie around as long as they can stand it, sunning themselves like reptiles on rocks.

College guys prowl the shoreline and stop to chat. They lean over the flowered bikinis like starving men at a buffet, not knowing whom to flirt with first.

It's a tradition among Tampa prep school students who head to Pinellas beaches after school is out. They call it Beach Week but couldn't care less about the surf or the sand or the sun. Especially the sun.

Beach Week is not about picking up college guys or getting a tan. It is about high school kids _ rich ones _ in a tradition older than themselves. They book expensive condos, swap bikinis and play their music too loud. The girls giggle and gossip and exchange alcohol and saliva with boys in baseball caps.

When it's over they go home to Tampa, to their boyfriends and curfews and rules. But here, for a limited time only, commitment is a weakness, not an ambition. They hold kissing contests and keep score; bragging rights are the only reward. Girls with boyfriends don't have to take part. Sometimes they do anyway.

Dona McClellan, 16, explained the phenomenon to T.J., a boy who came to Beach Week with a girl but had lost her by Thursday.

"It's, like, all the guys you want to be with during the year but you can't because you have a boyfriend," she says. "That's what Beach Week is for."

Dona and seven of her friends from Tampa Catholic made the trek to Redington Beach with her mother, Virginia McClellan, and another chaperone, Margaret Jones. They do Beach Week in style, from a two-bedroom, $700-a-week penthouse atop the Redington Surf Resort.

They were lucky to get a room at all. Ed McGraw, who owns the building, circled Beach Week in red on his calendar and tells most Beach-Weekers there isn't any room. And he absolutely won't rent to teenagers without their parents. No way.

"It's just not worth creating havoc on the other guests," he said. From his bedroom near the office he can hear their trucks rumble down the street, bass quaking the pavement, and he doesn't want them in his parking lot.

Virginia McClellan understands. And loud music is the least of her worries. Before she agreed to chaperone the trip, she had each girl's parent sign a release absolving her of liability, just in case.

She knows what Beach Week is about because she's been there. It was 1967, the week after her high school graduation, and the first time she drank enough to regret it.

Back then, only seniors came to Beach Week. It was the first week of the rest of their lives. Now it's just the first week of summer vacation. McClellan's daughter has been coming to the beach since her freshman year.

Some things haven't changed. Mother and daughter went to private school, like almost everyone on the beach tonight. For the most part, the kids have strict parents, heavy responsibilities and school uniforms. At Beach Week, they let go.

"I think we were wilder," McClellan said. "But that's probably because I don't see everything they do."

The chaperones try to stay out of the way. And the teenagers know better than to whip out the vodka in front of Mom. They go condo-hopping after dark and drink upstairs in private. Their hormones bring them down to the beach.

"I just hope to God when we get home no one ends up pregnant or something," McClellan said.

The chances of that are slim, because the games they play aren't much more serious than spin-the-bottle. This is like spring training for college spring break.

As one girl put it, "You can't just kiss. You have to actually make out." But no going all the way.

McClellan keeps her eyes open. She knows the routine.

"The boys go from one girl to the next; a different one every night," she said. "And the girls aren't smart enough to figure it out. They get in fights over these guys."

Jessica Jones and Jennifer Suarez can testify to that.

Jessica, 16, and her friends, who are sharing the penthouse, huddle on beach towels and talk about Jennifer, today's Public Enemy No. 1. They say she is beautiful. They say she's ugly. They say a lot of things good girls shouldn't. They would like to rip her eyes out. Those disgustingly beautiful Ty-D-Bol colored eyes.

Jennifer has done a terrible thing. She hooked up with Jessica's ex-boyfriend, Frank. Not her boyfriend at the time, just her ex. But this violates some sort of unspoken teen code.

Jessica knows about it because Jennifer keeps records, in the form of a chart on her wall. The girls in Jennifer's room use the chart to keep track of their kissing contests: Most Guys in a Night and Most Guys in a Week.

When Jessica saw Frank's name on the chart, she punched a wall.

She's having a hard time getting over it, but she'll put in a good effort tonight. She's leading her room's kissing contest, with more boys on her list than Dona, Jackie, Amy, Rachael, Jennifer, Melissa or Ericka.

The girls have some standards, but they aren't always high.

"The more (guys you can kiss) the better," Jessica said. "A point is a point."

Just after 10, the clusters have already formed in the sand behind Sea Oats Condominium. Hundreds of teenagers, mostly from Tampa private schools like Jesuit, Tampa Catholic, and Academy of Holy Names, gather in the same groups they gathered in at school.

They don't come to meet new friends. They come to get reacquainted with the old ones. Even if it's just for one alcoholic, spit-swapping night. Or part of a night.

One of the girls sharing the penthouse is there in a white halter top and Bongo denim shorts, faded just so. Her face, painstakingly painted and powdered, is buried in her boyfriend's chest. She clutches his neck the way a drowning man would a lifeguard. She's not passionate; she's too drunk to stand up by herself.

He calls her name quietly, as if to a child.

"Do you want to go find your friends?"

No response.

"Come on. Let's try to walk."

He leads her away in an awkward, shuffling dance.

Nearby, a blond goddess sits on the sand next to a boy in a baseball cap. They watch the flirting and groping and cheating from a distance but don't join in. They say since they found each other they don't need anyone else.

Before she met Frank DiLuna, Jennifer Suarez says, she was leading her room's contest _ five guys in three nights. Frank had kissed two girls. One he liked, the other bought his affection with a Jack Daniel's Country Cocktail.

Then they met, and they Jet-Skied all day and partied all night. When they finally started kissing it was dark. When they stopped the sun was up.

Jennifer says she's sorry if she didn't stop to ask Jessica's permission before she latched onto Frank. Not.

Somewhere across the mob Jessica holds hands with a boy named Kevin. She seems to be getting on with her life.

The girl who had trouble standing is still stumbling around; she can't find her boyfriend.

"I am going to find (him)," she says to no one in particular. "And if my mother sees me I will be grounded for eight years."

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