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Excerpt: 'Click,' Chapter 1




"I can't believe you're not going to open it!" Jason said. "Don't you want to know what it is?"

Maggie tightened her hands around the brown-paper-wrapped parcel on her lap. It was a little smaller than a shoebox, and yes, she did want to know what it was —

But not here. Not now, with Mom and Dad and Jason all staring at me. . . . I need to be by myself. And I need to be on the couch.

"C'mon, Mags." Jason changed his tone to a wheedle. "You got to see mine."

He'd opened his gift right away — a bunch of photos of famous sports stars. Really famous — people like Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong and Michael Jordan, all the photos autographed with a personal message to Jason. Gee must have been collecting them for years.

Grandpa Gee, a photojournalist. For almost fifty years he'd traveled all around the world taking pictures. War. Nature. People. Sports. There was no subject he wasn't interested in. His real name was George — George Keane — but he'd always signed his photos G. Keane, so everyone called him Gee.

Jason and Maggie were Henschlers — Gee was Mom's father — but Gee's name was part of theirs. Jason Keane Henschler and Margaret Keane Henschler. Maggie liked that Keane was her middle name, not hyphenated. She loved Dad's family too, but in her heart — in the middle of her — she felt like she was mostly Keane.

Mom and Dad had been to see Gee's lawyer and brought back the gifts Gee had left to Jason and Maggie in his will.

"Jason," Dad said, "Maggie's call."

"Yeah, yeah," Jason muttered.

Maggie looked at Dad gratefully. Then she took her parcel and went to sit on the couch in the study, where she'd been spending most of her time since the funeral.

After the service, the house had been full of people and food — why did people always bring food when somebody died? Maggie sure as heck hadn't felt like eating. It was nice of them, but she'd had to get away from all those people looking at her sorrowfully, the sympathetic murmurs — He and Maggie were really close. Poor little thing.

So she'd slipped into the study and closed the door. She'd fallen asleep there on the couch, waking the next morning to find that someone, probably Mom, had covered her with a blanket but otherwise left her undisturbed.

Now, three days after the funeral, Maggie was sort of living on the couch. Not all the time, of course. She had to leave it to go to school, to go to the bathroom, to fetch something from another room. But otherwise she stayed curled up on the right cushion, where Gee had always sat. She did her homework there, listened to music, read, sometimes hearing the back door bang as Jason came and went. She ate dinner from a tray. Every evening Mom stuck her head in the door and said, "You all right?" Maggie would nod wordlessly; Mom would look at her for a few moments, then sigh and disappear.

Maggie put the parcel down carefully on the lamp table next to the couch. She sat down and picked at a loose thread on the worn tweed seat cushion.

Nobody understands.

Mom with her new job, now that Maggie was in junior high and old enough to look after herself. Dad and his fancy promotion, away so often at conferences and meetings. Jason, a big-shot senior, always busy with his friends and his after-school job and never any time to hang around the house. Gee had been the only one in the family who had listened, really listened, to Maggie. Their story swap, her favorite thing ever.

And he had to go and die on her.

A heart attack, no warning. At least none that she knew about. Mom said later that Gee had called and mentioned feeling tired, but Maggie hadn't thought anything about it at the time. A week later, he was gone.

Maggie sat on the couch, staring at the parcel. She picked it up and shook it gently to hear a faint rattle. Then she turned it over and lifted the first piece of tape.

No. When I open it, it will be like my very last contact with Gee.

Not yet.

She pressed the tape back in place.

Maggie couldn't remember a time without Gee's visits. Mom would say, "Gee's coming over tonight." Gee, back from one of his many trips to far-off places, always came to see Maggie's family on his first night home, always right around eight o'clock.

Maggie would watch for him. As a toddler, standing on the couch to see over its back out the window. A little older, climbing to sit on the couch's upright cushions — the one in the middle still saggy from those years.

When she saw his car coming down the street, she'd bounce off the couch and run to the front door. She had to be standing on the porch before Gee was out of the car. That was the rule. They'd go into the house, where Gee would say hello to the rest of the family. They'd chat for a few minutes while Maggie waited.

Then Gee and Maggie would go into the study and sit on the couch for the story swap. Gee always had lots of stories about the strange and beautiful places he'd been. But before he'd tell her anything, Maggie had to tell him a story, about something she'd done or seen or read since the last time they'd been together.

Jason used to join them too. Not anymore. In the past year or so, Jason hadn't wanted to do anything at all with the family; it was almost as if he couldn't stand the sight of them.

It had taken Maggie a while to get used to the story swap without Jason. She realized that he had often said things during the swap that he never mentioned any other time. She couldn't understand it; Jason had loved the story swap as much as she did. Okay, so now he had a real job that kept him pretty busy, but did that mean he also had to become a complete jerk about everything? What was the matter with him?

Still, the story swap had gone on without him. Whenever Gee was away, Maggie did her best to stay alert. To watch and listen, to try new things, to pay attention to what she read so she'd have a good story to tell him when he got back. No matter what it was — something that happened in school, a movie she'd seen, the recap of one of her soccer games — Gee always listened carefully to every word.

After Maggie was finished, it was Gee's turn. His stories almost always started out with a photo, or some little object that he took from his pocket. "Guess what this is?" he'd say.

One time it was a delicate cage of mesh and bamboo small enough to fit in the palm of his hand. "A cricket cage," Gee said. "In Japan and China, some people keep crickets as pets. To hear them sing." Another time, a picture of a girl about Maggie's age, soaking wet, her face turned toward the sky, her mouth wide open with laughter.

"Guess why she's so happy?"

"She's been swimming in the ocean." Maggie loved the ocean.

"Good guess. But no, something way better than that. It's the first time it's rained in her village in almost two years."

When Maggie was little, Gee's stories were always about things that were funny or pretty or nice. Lately, though, some of his stories had been different. Like with the photo of the wet-faced girl. It had been last year — in the spring, maybe? After they had looked at the photo together, Gee put it on the coffee table in front of them. He was silent for a few moments. He started to speak, stopped, and was quiet again.

Then he looked at Maggie — hard, like he was trying to see through her eyes right into her brain. Maggie was puzzled but stared right back, trying not to blink.

Finally Gee glanced down at the photo and began to speak. "The people in this village — they had to keep moving to find water," he said. "They would walk for miles and miles. Most of the time, the water they found was bad — dirty, full of germs. But they drank it anyway — it was so hot, a hundred twenty degrees sometimes, and they were so thirsty. . . ."

A pause. Gee was looking at the picture, but Maggie could tell that he was seeing something else in his mind. "This girl, she had a brother. Just a little guy, maybe three or four years old. Wouldn't let me take his picture. He'd hide his face whenever he saw me coming." Gee shook his head. "I really wanted to — he had a great face. But I finally had to give up, he was that stubborn."

Gee cleared his throat. "He got parasites from drinking the water. I mean, he wasn't the only one who got them, but he was so little, he wasn't strong enough. . . . Two days after the rain came — two days after I took that picture of his sister there — he died."

He hunched his shoulders. "Should have shot him anyway," he muttered, so quietly that Maggie could barely hear him. "Stupid. I could have done it so he never noticed. . . ."

Maggie stared at the photo. The girl was still laughing, but now some of the drops on her face looked like tears.

Excerpted from Click. Chapter © 2007 by Linda Sue Park. All rights reserved. Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.

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Linda Sue Park