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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3. Quicksand

    “So what’s your favorite part of gymnastics?” I asked Jayna as we walked down the stairs half an hour later.  
    “Floor,” she responded immediately.  “Definitely floor.  After that, I’d probably say bars.”
    “Really?” I asked.  “Floor is probably my least favorite.”
    The girl stared at me like I’d grown a third eye.  “You’re kidding me.  So what do you like?”
    “Beam.”  I grinned.  I had a love affair with the balance beam that went way back..  “Bars are my second favorite too.”
    “I’m not so good on the beam,” Jayna confessed.  “I mean, it’s not bad, but I like floor better.  It’s more… me.”
    “But it’s so fun when you can do anything on a four-inch-wide piece of wood that’s four feet off the ground.  You have to really know your center of balance.”
    We were passing the kitchen at that point, and a laugh from within made us stop.
    Addie came to the doorway, wiping her hands on a towel.  “Gymnastics already?”
    I grinned back, my normal reserve tugging at my conscience.  Carefree gymnast, I reminded myself.  Aloud, I asked, “What else?”
    “Yeah, Mom,” Jayna chimed in.  “You mean there’s anything else to talk about?”
    Nothing that either of you would want to tell me—if you even know, I thought.  Although… if Jayna’s twelve-year-old vivacity didn’t kill me, she might let a couple things slip, whether she knew their importance or not.  
    “I’m gonna show Carrie around a bit,” Jayna said, interrupting my thoughts.  “We’ll be back soon.”
    “Don’t drag her everywhere,” Addie called after her daughter as she started towards the door.  “She might want to take it easy for a while.”
    “It’s fine,” I said, following Jayna.  I turned back and mouthed, “Really.”
    Addie smiled and disappeared back into the kitchen.  
    “Come on,” Jayna called from the top step and I hurried to join her before all the air conditioning slipped out of the house.
    “Okay, so anyhow,” she said as we walked down the steps, “I don’t like the whole four inch thing.  You know, the sixty square feet is more my style.”
    I laughed.  “Whatever, girl.”
    “So do you have a boyfriend?” Jayna asked suddenly.
    I tripped on a rock—we were crossing the driveway at that point.  “Are you kidding me?  Ninety-nine point seven percent of the guys at school are terrified of me, and they’re so stupid they can think what they want.”
    “And the other point three percent?” Jayna teased.
    I rolled my eyes.  “That mainly consists of my best friend, Ben.  And he is only a friend.”
    “Don’t you like anyone?”
    God save me from twelve-year-olds.  “If there was someone to like, then I’d like someone.  But right now, there’s not.  Do you like anyone?”
    Jayna’s caramel-colored face darkened considerably.
    “Jayna, what’s his name?”
    Staring straight ahead, she blushed even more and mumbled, “Noah.”
    “Is he cute?”
    “Anyhow, this is the garage,” Jayna said, indicating the building we’d been standing in front of for a while.  “It connects to the kitchen.  That’s the door Caleb wants—the door we normally use.”
    “Is Caleb strict?” I asked.
    “No, but…  Well, not really.  Most of the time he doesn’t really mind what we do.  He just wants the house to look nice.  Most of it makes sense, really.  But he’s grouchy.”
    The last sentence was said in such a little-kid voice in comparison to the rest of the conversation that I looked at Jayna in surprise.  Her bottom lip butted out mutinously.
    “How long has he been married to your mom?” I asked softly.
    Her pout deepened.  “Four years.”
    “Why did they get married?”  Let’s see what you’ll let slip.
    The pout disappeared and Jayna shrugged.  “He’s not that bad, really.  He just doesn’t like kids.  You’ll see.  You’re old enough; he’ll probably like you.  Come on, I’ll show you the barn.”
    The barn held extra farm equipment.  “It’s not ours,” Jayna told me.  “One of our neighbors rents the farmland—it’s his.”
    I just nodded, not mentioning that I already knew most of that.  Uncle Tom had said the hardest thing was not saying how much you knew about things you shouldn’t.  That was a dead giveaway.  
    We skirted the garden, and Jayna pointed out a small orchard.  As we came around the west side of the house, completing boobs our circle, an old grey Ford truck pulled into the driveway and stopped next to my truck.
    “Toran’s home,” Jayna said.  She looked at me slyly.  “You know, he doesn’t have a girlfriend.”
    I repeat, God save me from twelve-year-olds.  
    Before I could say anything, Jayna called out, “Hey Toran!”  She walked towards him, and I followed.  “Oh,” she added, “don’t call him Tory.  He doesn’t like that.”
    “Hey, Jay,” he responded, looking me over—not like I was a potential girlfriend, though.  No, Toran’s dark gaze was suspicious, almost hostile.
    And oh my God.  Tall, dark, and handsome, anyone?
    That look, complete with high cheekbones, a backdrop of caramel skin a shade darker than his sister’s, a frame of dark floppy hair, and a strong jaw did weird things to me.  Mostly, though, I wanted to start arguing; see if I could get that suspicious look off the handsome face.  I could probably do it, if I had to.  I thought.
    But that would give too much away.  So I did the next best thing.  I smiled.  “Hi,” I said.  “I’m Carrie.”

    Of course I’d known there was a son that was a year older than me.  There’d been a paragraph on him in the information Uncle Tom had given me.  A graduated high school senior with a 4.0 GPA, varsity wrestler, and starter for the soccer team, blah, blah, blah.  I could recite all that.  I’d never taken the time to really consider him, though.  Now that he was sitting across from me at the supper table, two things came to the front of my mind.
    One, this guy might be the only teenage male with the ability to drive me crazy, and two, he might be involved in his step-father’s crimes.  Which, of course, effectively over-ruled number one.
    “That’s a nice-looking truck that you have,” Caleb said, looking up from his cheeseburger.  Correction—his juicy, scrumptious, mouth-watering cheeseburger.  It didn’t help my objectiveness about Toran when Addie could corral him into making food like that.
    “Oh, thanks,” I said.  “My dad and I got it last fall.”
    So far, Caleb Grahm seemed pretty normal, not that I had any other financial consultants to compare him to.  He was several inches shorter than Toran, heavyset but not quite fat—an average middle-aged man.  Tanned and slightly wrinkled skin, brown hair with a thinning patch on top, a thin mouth, and small green-hazel eyes, I recited in my head, prepping myself for the description I’d write later.
    “I wish Toran would find a truck more like that,” Caleb continued.  I noted his now nearly-empty wine glass.  “That grey thing is going to hit retirement age soon.”
    As Toran looked at his step-father, a muscle twitched in his jaw.  He glanced at me, meeting my eyes for less than a second, then went back to eating his green beans silently.  Something told me it was an old conversation he’d given up on.  The truck had looked fine to me.
    Okay.  So neither step-child was a big fan of the man at the head of the table.  Unless, of course, Toran was in on it…  Thinking about him, I glanced up automatically for a second.  The next second, Jayna’s foot tapped mine, and I stifled the urge to groan.
    It was only my first day here and I already felt like I was ankle-deep in the family quicksand—and sinking.
    The early morning sun made my borrowed room look even prettier as I got dressed the next morning.  I chose dark wash cut-offs and my favorite lime green gymnastics shirt, and let my hair stay down for once.  It was the first day of camp, but Jayna and I didn’t have to be at the gym in Iowa City until one-thirty.  
    Jayna’s door was closed as I slipped out of my room, but Toran’s stood ajar.  I stopped on the landing briefly and studied the painting before finishing the descent and padding into the kitchen.  The stone-tiled floor changed to wood—a change my bare feet welcomed.  The stone was cold!
    Addie was sitting at the table, drinking a cup of coffee and reading a photography magazine.  She looked up as I came in, eyes darting to the clock.  “Wow Carrie, you’re up early.  I doubt we’ll see Jayna before nine-thirty.”
    I followed her gaze—the clock read seven-twelve.  
    “Toran’s already left, of course, and Caleb has too.  But I guess I expected you to sleep in a bit more.”
    I pulled out one of the chairs and sat down, wishing I could sit on the counter like I did at home.  “I’m an early riser,” I said.  “My brother is the night owl.”  I hesitated, then added, “So where are the guys?”
    Addie set her magazine down and took a sip of coffee, then wrapped her hands around the mug.  “Caleb eats breakfast at Hattie’s Café in town during the week—he says it’s his personal time before the work day starts.  And Toran is working the route—garbage route—this summer with his friend’s dad.  He’ll be home around noon.”
    “Mm,” I said, moving from the chair to the floor.  
    “So did you have to give up a summer job for camp?” Addie asked.  I extended my right leg in front of me, tucked my left leg in, and put my nose to my knee, counting slowly to fifteen.  
    I sat up, feeling my muscles loosen up.  “I waitressed at a place in town for the last two summers,” I said, switching legs.  “It wasn’t exactly a dream job.”  I counted to fifteen again.  I like this summer job better, I thought as I sat up and swept my legs out to the sides, leaning forward and stretching my arms out in front of me.
    “Well, we’re glad to have you here.  It will be so nice not having to drive Jayna back and forth every day.”
    “Thanks.  It’s great getting to stay here.”  I stood up and briefly stretched my arms.  Addie directed me to the bowls, spoons, cold cereal, and milk.  As I sat down at the table, I glanced sideways at her.  I wondered if my host would be glad I was here by the end of July.

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