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an SAT/ACT vocabulary novel

Chapter One

Part 1

Ask anyone—well, anyone who knows me—and they will tell you that I have this uncanny ability for finding the fun. It doesn’t matter how sedate the situation, how staid the participants, I, Kim Stratford, will inspire laughter where there is only misery. I can bring effervescence to places where boredom seems to permeate the very walls. I am the indomitable mistress of mayhem.

Examples? You ask for examples? No problem. I have a plethora of good stories.

How about last year when we were all forced to sit through career planning with Mr. Winters, the guidance counselor of doom, and I reduced the entire classroom to hysterics by repeatedly insisting I wanted to pursue a career in high-end porn? (I know. It was ingenious.) Or when my mother and I went to Aunt Renee’s for Thanksgiving and I refused to give up until I persuaded even my execrable Uncle Morgan to play charades. (He did a killer Jaws, by the way.) Last summer, I even got the crowd giggling at the funeral of my best friend, Corinne, when I brought up her macaroni-and-cheese obsession during my eulogy. Okay, so maybe I didn’t find the fun for myself that day—it was next to impossible—but I did find it for other people.

So why, I ask you, why was I sitting there for the fifth afternoon in a row, watching yet another appalling, mind-numbingly stupid soap opera? Had I really sunk so very low?

It was my first ever winter break from college. One month back at my house in Connecticut, where there was virtually nothing to do, I was facing four whole weeks sequestered from all the new friends I’d made at Stanford University in the first few months of my freshman year, and I was wallowing. I’m not proud to admit it, but I was. It was about twenty degrees outside and I abhor the cold, unless, of course, I’m on the slopes with my snowboard, sporting some sleek, sexy and impervious boarding gear. I had already read every last book I would be required to read in next semester’s American Writers course—ten heavy and mostly tedious tomes that were a serious pain to lug across the country—including the unabridged version of Moby-Dick, which, let me tell you, will make you want to scratch your brain out through your ear canal, it’s so oblique.

My high school friends had been expunged from my life over the past semester, for which I take the brunt of the responsibility. I hadn’t been very fastidious about returning phone calls and emails, preferring not to be reminded of senior year and of Corinne. I was ready to move on. And when I first stepped off the five-hour flight to California I was overjoyed by my fortuitous choice of schools. Stanford was so far away from the Ivies on the East Coast where most of my friends were going that I’d never be expected to see them. It was a new life for me. A new start.

Now, of course, I was paying for it. They all had given up on me, for good reason, and there was no one I could call, no one to distract me from the talk shows and the turgid dramas of these horrid over-actors. My life had become so insipid I could hardly even stand to be around myself.

I glanced around the impeccably kept living room—my mother is a neat freak while I tend toward the messy—looking for something to inspire me. Mom’s many awards of service, extolling her virtues as a policewoman, lined the walls. My karate and track trophies were displayed with pride along the mantle. The eclectic collection of books and videos we had amassed since I was a kid—everything from Free to Be You and Me to Charlie’s Angels 1 and 2—packed the shelves adjacent to the fireplace, but none of them was interesting enough to stir me from the comfort of the couch. The effulgent sun glinted off the snow-covered lawn outside, blinding me whenever I made the mistake of looking toward the window. I squinted and covered my eyes. This was sad. I was becoming allergic to sunlight.

Okay, Kimbo, time to get off your ass, I told myself. Mustering all my energy, I pushed myself from the comfy faux-suede cushions and padded over to the mirror to check my reflection. It was beyond mortifying. My skin was so pasty you’d think I was a nocturnal being. Tr_s vampiric. My short brown hair was mussed into spikes on one side. I even had the pattern of the plaid throw pillow imprinted on my cheek. It was time, as they say, to get a life.

At that moment one of those ebullient commercials came on the TV, touting the energizing effects of some nutritional supplement for the elderly. I saw the reflection of the screen in the mirror and caught a glimpse of an ancient couple riding their bikes along a path, smiling all the way. Suddenly I had an epiphany. I could do that. I had a bike . . . somewhere. So what if it was subzero temperatures out there? I had to do something.

I changed into a pair of warm leggings, my favorite Stanford sweatshirt and my windbreaker, got my hair under control with a ski hat and headed out to the garage. It took a few minutes to excavate my dirt bike from the back of the room, which served as a storage place for all discarded furniture, appliances and sundry items that my mother couldn’t seem to part with but refused to keep in her meticulously clean house. By the time I’d filled the tires with air and checked the brakes, I was raring to go.

As soon as I was out on the road I felt a million times better. The cold air in my lungs and the pumping of my muscles brought on a light-headed kind of euphoria. How had I forgotten how much better exercise always made me feel? I definitely needed to get out more. I rode to the end of my block, slowing down as I passed the houses of my former friends—homes where I’d attended dozens of slumber parties, obsessive Buffy viewings and countless junk food fests. When I came to Corinne’s house I pedaled a little bit faster. There were certain things I just couldn’t ruminate on.

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