Innocent Eyes

Tom Parker is a top-notch FBI agent and his 17-year-old niece’s hero. When he suspects a former agent of plotting for revenge, Tom makes full use of Carrie’s interest in his work. Before she knows it, Carrie is living three hours from home, attending a gymnastics camp with the suspected man’s step-daughter. Everyone in the household loves her, except for the person whose help she needs most. Toran Sweeney is a year older than Carrie and the first boy she has ever been interested in. Unfortunately for her, he thinks she is there to work with the step-father he hates. And that is only the beginning. As the summer goes on, Carrie begins to realize that nothing is what it seems. Innocent Eyes beings and ends with a chess game, but it is in between that the true game is played, with much higher stakes than bragging rights.


6. Fairy Jo

    Ten minutes later my muscles felt loose, warm, and thoroughly stretched.  It had been interesting to watch everyone stretch; there were warm-ups I’d never seen before and some that I never would have imagined existed.
    “All right, people,” Robbie called from his perch on top of a set of uneven parallel bars.  How he had gotten up there without anyone noticing, I had no idea.
    We all looked up from what we were doing, then finished the stretch we were on and formed a loose semi-circle around our eccentric instructor.
    “We’re going to break into four groups: beam, bars, vault, and rings.  Boys, the rings are on the north wall, that’s your group.  Girls, split up.  Start off at your favorite—and before you ask, we’ll do floor a different day.  Move!”
    We all moved.  I made a beeline for the balance beam.  Jayna, I noticed, looked like she might follow me despite what she’d said about disliking beam.  Then one of the girls about her age—Zoë, I thought—grabbed her arm and pulled her into the group staying at the uneven parallel bars.  The two of them grinned.
    Good.  I wouldn’t have to worry about Jayna.  
    My group consisted of five other girls: Hailey, Justine, Alicia, Tina, and Meghan.  I saw Morgan go to the vault.
    Cher followed us.  “Good choice, ladies,” she said.
    I glanced back at the other groups.  Two other adults—one man and one woman—had materialized.  The man followed the boys to the rings and the woman joined the vault group.  Robbie did some flip-y thing that was way too fast for my eyes to catch and landed on his feet beneath the bars.
    “We have four beams, girls,” Cher said, stating the obvious.  “I’d like you to stay off the one on the far east.  For those of your who are directionally challenged, I mean this one.”  She patted the beam closest to the wall.  “Now, find a beam.  Two people on each one, please.  Oh, good, that will come out even.”
    “Ooh, we’ll go together,” Tina said, linking arms with Meghan.  They headed for the first beam—the one closest to the boys.  
    I rolled my eyes and turned to Justine, who was closest to me.  “Want to share a beam?”
She nodded and we went to stand by the third balance beam.  Hailey and Alicia took the middle one.
    “Do any of you wear beam shoes?” Cher asked, perching on Hailey and Alicia’s beam.
We all shook our heads.
    Cher shifted on the beam and continued, “We’re starting with the basics, girls.  After today we’ll figure out your exact skill level and work from there.  But right now, all of you are going to do front rolls the whole way across the beam.”
    Meghan crossed her arms and pouted.
    “You can go first, Meggie,” Cher said.  “You’d be surprised how difficult some of the simplest-seeming things can actually be.  First people up on the beam.”
    I glanced at Justine; she stepped back, so I hopped up.
    “Start,” Cher said.
    No one had asked me to do somersaults along the length of the beam in ages, but Lisa, my coach, had recently made my entire class work on nothing but basics on floor for an entire week.  Somersaults certainly weren’t hard, but keeping your balance on a four-inch-wide board could be a challenge no matter what you were doing.
    I took a deep breath to steady myself and tucked my chin to my chest.  I gripped the sides of the beam with open palms.  Tuck, roll, recover briefly.  Tuck, roll, recover.  Slowly I made my way down the beam.
    “Don’t forget to stop before you roll off the end,” Cher said, her voice startling me.  I completed my roll wobbling slightly, and hopped off the beam before I could embarrass myself, just in time to see Meghan tumble onto the mat.
    “Oops, shouldn’t have said anything,” Cher said.
    Meghan came up with a priceless look on her face.  I immediately flicked a mental switch and turned my expression off, pretending to fix my hair.  I really didn’t need enemies here as well as the ones I’d undoubtedly make at Caleb’s house, and Meghan was the type remember anyone who laughed at her, however much she deserved it.
    Tina, Alicia, and Justine went next.  Justine surprised me—she was the fastest of everyone.  Alicia fell off right at the beginning but finished well.  Cher watched everyone, then leaned back against the wall and folded her arms.  I got the feeling that for a person who came off as happy-go-lucky, Cher didn’t miss much.
    We continued basic things for the next hour.  Then Robbie, who was standing on the lowest uneven parallel bar, called, “All right, gather around.”  He waited until we were all headed in his direction before continuing.  “Let’s hope no one wants to leave us yet.”
I caught Morgan’s eye and grinned.  No way would I be leaving.  
    Morgan sidled up next to me.  “What put that look on Tina’s face?” she asked in a whisper.
    I didn’t bother turning; I could see her from the corner of my eye.  She was standing a good fifteen feet away, arms crossed and face somewhere between a pout and a scowl.  “Cher wasn’t impressed with her back walkover on the beam.  At least, I think that’s it.”
    “Girls, girls, listen up,” Cher called over the conversations that had begun.  “Yes, that means you too,” she told the rather indignant boys.  “You can talk later.”
    “Thank you, lovely assistant,” Robbie said.  “Now that we have everyone’s attention”—he looked pointedly at Jayna and Zoë, who both flushed and quit talking—“I’ll explain what we’re going to do for the next hour and a half.  Everyone is going to go around to each event.  You’ll give a demonstration of your highest-level skills.  No suicides, please.  We want to see what you can do without harming yourselves seriously.”
    “Or harming yourselves at all,” Cher put in.
    “How about hurting someone else?” a boy—Shane—called.  Several people snickered.
    “No way, no how,” one of the other instructors said.  
    “People!” Robbie called.  Everyone turned their attention back to him.  “You’re all going to get a sheet of paper with your name on it.  Then everyone is going to rotate through all the, hmm, let’s call them stations.  I’ll be here on uneven parallel bars, Gabby will be at vault, Cher will be at the beam, and Brett will test the boys on rings.  Then he’ll move over and supervise you hooligans that want to work on floor.”
    “Awesome,” I heard Jayna whisper.  
    “Grab your papers from me and split up, people,” Gabby said.  “Don’t forget to go everywhere, even if you don’t normally work on or compete in a certain area.”
    Yeah.  Like floor.  At least I didn’t have to do that yet.
    “Now, on three, I need everyone to clap and say, ‘let’s go,’” Brett called.  “One, two, three…”
    Clap.  “Let’s go!”
    They’re trying to incorporate some summer camp things to start with,” Morgan told me as we walked over to the vault.  “I’m betting that most of that will disappear in a week.”
    “Good,” I said emphatically.  “I don’t like summer camp.”
    “My mom wanted me to go ride horses and make lanyards in Vermont or something like that.”  Morgan made a face, then grinned.  “But I’m lucky.  Robbie and Cher kind of forced her into letting me come here.”
    “My instructor flipped out when I told her I could come,” I said.  “I’ll probably be stuck teaching half my gym anything and everything I learn.”
    “Ouch,” Morgan said as we joined the group at the end of the runway.  I noticed the tape measure permanently stuck to the floor and marked my spot, ninety-one feet from the springboard.
    “It’s not so bad.”  I shrugged.  “I mean, it pays for most of my lessons.”
    “Let me have your sheets, ladies,” Gabby said as she joined the group.  “Here’s the deal: everyone can have one run-through.  Don’t hurt yourself.  Then go back and this time I’ll judge your pass.  This isn’t a competition, we’re just trying to put you in groups by skill level.  Please, no one freak out.  And if you could all tell me your names once, I’d appreciate it and hopefully I won’t call you by the wrong name.”
    Everyone complied, then formed a line.  My run-through reminded me that I hadn’t focused on vault much in the last month, but my “official” pass went well.  I waited for Morgan and we moved on to the beam.
    “Good job,” Cher told me with a smile as I took my sheet back from her after I completed the beam routine I’d been working on this spring.  I smiled back, then waited once again for Morgan.  
    “You’re good,” I said as we walked over to the bars.
    She grinned.  “Thanks.  From what I saw, you’re pretty awesome yourself.”  It was barely there, but I caught the quick glance she shot my way.  If I had to guess, I’d say Morgan was waiting for me to get annoyed with her.  Either I gave of a monster vibe, or she was a bit of a misfit—like me.
    “I know,” I said, grinning back.  “I rock.”
    “Maybe,” Morgan replied, her voice as lighthearted as mine.  “But I really rock at bars.  I mean, it’s totally amazing.”
    “Oh, really?” I asked, watching Justine stumble slightly on her landing.  “Prove it.”
“I can beat you,” she said.  “Easy.”
    I raised an eyebrow and studied her.  She probably could; Morgan didn’t seem like the person to boast unless she could live up to it, and while I was good at bars, I knew I could stand to improve.  Nevertheless, I stuck out my hand and said, “Deal.  Shake.  You have a competition.”
    Morgan gripped my hand firmly.  “It’s on.”
    I went first, doing a routine I had used for competition last winter.  I managed to stick the landing and dusted the excess chalk off my hands.  
    Robbie handed me my paper.  “Not bad.  What’s your name again?”
    “Carrie?  That’s boring.  What’s your full name?”
    “Caroline Jo Bennett,” I said somewhat reluctantly.  My whole name, put simply, was boring and a bit old-fashioned.  
    Apparently Robbie agreed.  “Hmm…”  He put his hands on his hips and studied me.      “Your name is now,”
    I steadied myself.
    “Fairy Jo!”
    Okay.  It could have been a lot worse.  I rolled my eyes good-naturedly and smiled.
    “That’s it, Fairy Jo,” Robbie said, patting my shoulder and turning back to the line.  “Let’s see what you’ve been working on, Morgaborg!”
    “Morgaborg?” I mouthed at Morgan.  
    She rolled her eyes at me and handed her coach the sheet she held.  “You think I’m ready for that one?” she asked over her shoulder as she rubbed chalk into her hands for better grip.
    “Go for it, girl.”
    Watching, I could tell right away that she was good.  I crossed my arms, impressed.  Then one hand slipped on the top bar.  Morgan steadied herself and dropped to the mat.  She brushed chalk from her hands and shook her head.  “Not quite ready yet,” Morgan told Robbie, who nodded, agreeing.  She looked past him to me.  “You won this round, Fairy Jo, but I’ll win next time.  Now come on, I want to work on floor.”
    “I want you to work out that routine by the end of camp,” Robbie said.  He handed her the sheet.  “Have fun, Morgaborg.  Don’t torture Fairy Jo too much.”
    “Who, me?  Never.”
    “So does he give everyone nicknames?” I asked as we handed our sheets to Brett, who was collecting them.
    “Yeah.  All the kids learn everyone’s nickname and even use some of them, but parents get really confused.  I think the worst was Maggot.  Ooh, goody, we get to work on floor.”
    I made a face.  There were four balance beams; two vaults, each with a runway and landing mat; and three sets of uneven parallel bars, complete with chalk.  All of the stations had springboards for every piece of equipment, unlike the two springboards we drug from place to place at my gym.  There were a trillion things I wanted to work on, and none of them included floor exercise.
    Morgan saw my face.  “Aww, come on,” she said.  “Did you do gymnastics when you were little?  Or dance?”
    “I’ve done gymnastics since I was seven,” I said, trying to find her point and failing miserably. 
    “Remember how fun it was to just play when you had free time, even on the playground at recess?  You had to have done that.  Please tell me you know what I mean.”
    I nodded, remembering the numerous times I’d earned bruises or scrapes, doing moves I wasn’t advanced enough to do without a soft mat and a spotter.
    “So don’t worry about skills or whatever it is,” Morgan said.  “Just go have fun.  Come on, let’s see if I can teach you anything new.  Maybe you can even teach me.”
    I blinked at her, wondering where this side of Morgan had come from.  “Fine.  You win, Miss Kindergarten Teacher.”
    Morgan grinned.  “I knew there was hope for you.  Now come on.”  She grabbed my hand and I let myself be towed out onto the floor mat.


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