Excerpt from Eye Contact by Cammie McGovern, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Eye Contact

By Cammie McGovern

Eye Contact

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“Oh,” Cara said, pulling her bag into her lap, scooting down the bench.

Afterward, Suzette rolled her eyes. “Like those girls are so great. Please. They have nothing going for them, except they’re all skinny and have good hair.” Suzette had no use for the popular girls at their school, or anyone else for that matter. She wanted to work with animals someday. “Like in Africa,” she said. “Animals are honest. They want food, they eat you.”

Though Suzette wouldn’t have understood this distinction, Cara didn’t long for popularity so much as an ease with people, a way to move more smoothly through the world and be like her fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Simon, who once taught a whole morning with her fly down and laughed afterward when she realized. “So who heard a word I said?” she joked. For Cara, a mistake like that would have clung to her for days, become an explanation for the conversations that piled up in her head, the words she never spoke to the people she spent all day watching.

In Kevin’s first week back, Cara watched him as much as she could. Every time she turned around on some fabricated excuse in her mind—she needed to remember where the pencil sharpener was, needed to glance at the clouds out the windows—he was staring at her, his bro-
ken face wearing the same half smile. Privately, she began to doubt the business about brain damage. When she looked into his eyes, she saw depth there, intelligence, a perfectly fine brain trapped in a half-collapsed body.

At the start of the second week, Miss Lattimore began class by whispering, “I need to ask one of you to be Kevin’s helper this week.” Though Kevin wasn’t there (he still arrived at school an hour late every day), she leaned toward the class as if this were a collective secret, something they shouldn’t speak of outside their room. Cara’s hand shot up, a lone pillar in a sea of uncertainty. To date, Cara had made no mark in this class, had distinguished herself as nothing beyond being the one person with clean fingernails the day Miss Lattimore discussed hand-to-mouth transmission of cold germs. (“I’m not afraid to shake hands with Cara,” she’d said. “The rest of you, I’m less sure of.”) Now that would change. Miss Lattimore called her up for a private conference at the teacher’s desk. “Try to think about things he might need, and help him before he has to ask. I think that’s the nicest way.” Cara nodded and planned to be the best Kevin-helper ever, so good that no one else would need to apply for the job, it would be hers for the rest of the year.

As it turned out, though, Kevin didn’t need much help and hardly ever asked for anything; in fact, he hardly seemed to talk at all. Twice Miss Lattimore called on him in class, and both times everyone watched the concentrated effort that talking required. Both times he failed to get any words out, and Miss Lattimore said, “It’s okay, Kevin. Thanks for trying. Maybe next time.” They ate lunch together as Miss Lattimore had told them to do, and Cara kept up a steady stream of chatter she’d planned ahead of time to fill what would otherwise be a silent meal. She told him everything she’d been thinking about recently: That she wasn’t interested in having tons of friends, that she’d rather be nice than popu-
lar, and sometimes, she’d learned, you can’t be both. To her surprise, in Kevin’s silent presence, words came easily, opinions, thoughts; suddenly, she had lots of them. She sounded like Suzette, who everyone knew was the smarter of the two of them. She told Kevin she was thinking about being a nurse when she grew up, or a marine biologist, based on visiting tide pools last summer and surprising everyone with the fearless way she reached in to touch the textures that couldn’t be predicted ahead of time. “Some anemones look squishy, and then you touch them and they’re hard as a bone. Like touching a skull, which would be weird. Who’d want to do that?”

Excerpt from EYE CONTACT by Cammie McGovern. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from EYE CONTACT Copyright (c) Cammie McGovern, 2006

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