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.

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8. Family Matters

    I widened my eyes and shoved my phone into my pocket.  “Shit!” I exclaimed, grabbing Ricky’s shoulders and kissing him as briefly as I could before I ran up the stairs.  “I gotta go!  Mom’s gonna kill me.  I’ll see you around if I’m lucky.”  All this came out in a nice Minnesotan accent and a lisp, thanks to my retainer.  
    I raced down the alley and hopped in my truck, stopping only to toss my still-full coffee cup into a trash can.  I headed north out of town.  Ricky, I had to admit, had deserved the kiss.  He’d given me more than he could guess.  Still, that didn’t stop me from wiping my lips thoroughly and shoving a stick of gum in my mouth.
    Pulling onto a B-grade road, I transformed Gina’s truck back into mine.  All the magnets and the bumper sticker came off, and I removed the danglies from the rearview mirror.  
    Then I set about turning myself back into Carrie.  The glasses and wig came off first—thankfully Ricky had left my hair alone.  Scrunching down in the truck cab, I changed back into my sundress, this time taking off everything underneath except for my underwear and bra.  Luckily, my clothes and the wig had caught most of the smell.  Going on smell alone, I guessed that there had been marijuana and meth in the room under Hattie’s.  
    Speaking of which… Caleb would know that smell.  Heck, even Jayna might know it.  I needed to do something before it transferred to my truck.  Sighing, I stuffed my disguise into a plastic grocery bag and stuck it in a clump of trees next to the road.  Returning to the truck, I reached under the seat and grabbed a wet washcloth in a Ziplock bag.  Then I started scrubbing the color off my eyebrows and every other inch of skin that I could reach.  Only when I couldn’t smell the drugs anymore did I stash the washcloth as well and head back towards my temporary home, windows wide open.
    I thought as I drove.  That hadn’t been a lab—it was a place to buy and sell.  I bet that Caleb had somewhere inconspicuous to park his car nearby.  People would get used to the car being there and not notice it anymore.  It also explained why I hadn’t seen him in the café.  Caleb didn’t go to Hattie’s for breakfast.  No, he went below Hattie’s to deal.

    It would have been a lot more convenient for me if Jayna had been asleep, but I still managed to get into the shower without running into her.  When I walked into the kitchen, hair dripping, she was flushed and sitting on the counter, eating a Pop-tart.  
    “I have a feeling I should tell you to get off the counter, but I’d rather know why you look so pleased with yourself.  What did you do when I was gone?  And how many of those have you had?”
    Jayna took another bite of Pop-tart and smiled, showing me a mouthful of crumbs.  
    “That’s just gross.”  I grabbed half a blueberry bagel and dropped it into the toaster.  “Come on Jayna, you know you want to tell me.”
    Jayna swallowed.  “I drove the four-wheeler,” she mumbled, immediately taking another bite.  
    “You stole a car?” I asked.
    Jayna choked, putting her hand over her mouth.  She grabbed a glass and gulped some water.  “Don’t do that!” she finally managed to exclaim.  “I drove the four-wheeler, okay?”
    I held my hand out palm up.  “High-five, girl.  You’re not supposed to do that, I take it?”
    “Someone else is supposed to be home,” she admitted.  “But, I don’t know, I guess I just felt like ‘being rebellious.’”  She rolled her eyes.  “Caleb thinks I’m always trying to ‘be rebellious.’  It’s annoying.”
    “What does your mom say?” I asked, taking my bagel out of the toaster and buttering it.  I hopped up on the counter next to Jayna.
    She made a face.  “She likes Caleb.  He’s nice to her.  He helps a lot with the bills.  I’m sure they have sex on occasion.”  
    “Jayna!”
    “Well, it’s true!”  This was followed by the best “gag-me” face I’d ever seen, and I had grown up with a brother who loved to make faces.  “And I think they’re—she’s—content,” she continued.  “We just try to stay out of his way.  Husband, wife, and obedient kids.  It’s a win-win situation all around.”  Her voice, however, was bitter.
    “Not for you.  I doubt it is for Toran, either.  Has Caleb ever been likeable?”  I’m sorry I have to use you for information, but I need all of it that I can get.  And I really do care, honestly.
    Jayna shrugged.  “He wasn’t bad at first.  I heard him tell Mom I was cute.  Apparently I wasn’t rebellious when I was nine.  Toran actually liked him.  He was thirteen, I think, and wanted a guy to look up to.  Mom didn’t do things like take him along on hunting trips or buy four-wheelers.  Caleb was on the way to being Toran’s hero.”
    “What happened?”
    She shrugged again.  “I don’t really know.  Everything was fine.  Then Toran got food poisoning or something and had to stay home one day instead of going to soccer practice.      Whatever happened, they’ve hated each other ever since.”
    “What does your mom think?”  What does your mom know?
    Jayna made a face and hopped down from the counter.  “She things Caleb might be onto something with the rebellion thing.  She says she was never a boy, so Caleb probably understands better.  And Toran isn’t home much.  He and Caleb sort of have a ‘mutual avoidance system.’  And yes, I’m quoting my mom.”
    So Toran knows, I thought.  He knows something.
    “Your mom doesn’t care that they hate each other?”  I didn’t have to pretend to be incredulous, even though I’d noticed something similar in the week and a half I’d been here.  
“She doesn’t want trouble.  Mom hates fighting.  She says they have an understanding.  Hey, I have to clean my room before we go or Mom will murder me, trouble or not.  Don’t let anyone catch you on the counter!”
    She skipped out, which was probably good timing.  I slid down slowly and followed.  I went up the stairs in a daze, trying to imagine what it would be like to be part of this family.  How did Jayna discuss something that made her sad and still skip off, as full of light and life as ever?  Did she know?  Did Addie know?  Did Toran really hate his stepfather?  Were all of them in on it, or did Caleb have them all in the dark?
    I walked down the hall, massaging my temples.  I ducked into the bathroom and flipped on the light, not really sure why.  My reflection stared back at me.  Even now my expression was masked, bland.  Jayna had an open face—I’d watched her try to lie.  She’d believed everything she told me.
    Shutting off the light, I walked down the hall to my room and pulled out the notebook with my observations.  I needed to record everything—kiss and all—while it was still fresh in my mind.  

    I worked on the uneven parallel bars that day.  The week before, we’d all figured out routines, and now we had about eight weeks to perfect them.  Everyone was required to perform in each area, which I wasn’t very excited about but accepted as a training exercise.
    My bars routine wasn’t coming as well as I would have liked.  I’d loved bars ever since the days of penny drops, but I hadn’t worked on it much lately, and I was paying the price.
    “Hey, Fairy,” Morgan called after my third failed attempt at a twist-and-release move.  “If you’ll work with me on beam later I’ll see if I can help.  It has to be a tiny thing that you’re missing.”
    I swallowed my pride—rather painfully—and rubbed a bit more chalk into my palms.  “You know what, Morgaborg?  You’ve got a deal.”

    Toran’s truck was gone when we got home at 4:45.  Sitting in his regular parking spot was the four-wheeler.  
    Jayna frowned at it.  “We always put it away,” she said.  “Toran freaks out more than Caleb if I leave it out.”
    I parked and turned off the engine.  “Maybe it’s out for a reason,” I said, climbing out and shouldering my bag strap.  
    The door to the house opened as Jayna and I walked into the garage and Caleb came out.  “Hey, girls,” he said.
    I counted swiftly in my head and realized this was the third time I’d seen Caleb wearing anything casual.  “Hi, Mr. Sweeny.”  Nice jeans, I added in my head.  Whatever brand they were, they certainly weren’t Carhart or Lee.  
    “Hi,” Jayna said, a hint of caution in her voice.
    “I thought Carrie might like to take a ride on the four-wheeler,” he said.  It seemed like the comment was aimed at Jayna, but he kept his eyes at me.  
    So I kept up my act and grinned.  “Cool.  Jayna’s been telling me about the four-wheeler.”  What the hell is up with you? the voice in my head—the true me—screamed.  
    “Go drop your stuff off.  You might want jeans and definitely tennis shoes.  I’ll be out here.”
    I shot Jayna a confused look after the door closed behind us.
    “Don’t ask me,” she said as she kicked off her shoes.  “He does this sometimes.”  She grabbed her bag and ran off upstairs.  “Enjoy it while it lasts,” she threw over her shoulder.  I didn’t have to be spy-perceptive to hear what she didn’t add: because it won’t last long.  
    Sighing, I picked my bag up and followed her.  The longer I was here, the more I realized how weird this ‘family’ was.
    Caleb was talking on his cell phone when Jayna and I came out of the house together.  He looked excited, even through the calm mask he was wearing.
    “Have you ever ridden a four-wheeler before?” he asked, after ending the call with an abrupt, “Got to go.  Talk to you later.”  Huh.  Polite or suspicious?
    I nodded.  “My cousins have one.”  My dad’s brother had two boys, and they were hard-core into expensive toys.
    “How about driven?”
    “Not really.  My uncle used to let me steer when I was little, but no one would ever trust me with all the control.”  I rolled my eyes.  Being the lone girl with three guys had always been an experience.  Especially because they were all older and generally just wanted me to go away.
    “Well, I’m sure we can trust you now,” Caleb said.
    Note to self: laugh later when it wouldn’t look suspicious.  
    “And seeing how you drive that truck, it should be easy as pie.”
    I remembered what Jayna had responded to that phrase and looked up, my face dead serious.  “I can’t cook.  My mom makes a great lemon meringue though.”
    Caleb chuckled.  “Hop on.  If you fail miserably, Jayna can give you a tour.”
    “But not behind the cornfield,” Jayna said.  “Never behind the cornfield.”
    He nodded, giving her an approving look.  “It’s too far away and marshy sometimes.  I don’t want the four-wheeler to get stuck, especially where it might be hard to pull out.”
    Toran pulled up then with an especially harsh scowl for me—what the heck?—and I made one more mental note.  Somehow I needed to get behind that cornfield with time to look around.  Maybe it was marshy.  Or maybe there was something there that Caleb wanted to hide.

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