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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5. Robbie the Grasshopper

    “Maybe we shouldn’t have gotten here so early,” Jayna whispered.  She was half a step behind me as we walked towards the gym.  I’ve never understood why, but just knowing someone else is nervous makes most of my fear go way.  Besides, a lot of lying can really pay off—sometimes I even believe myself.  
    So it was easy for me to shove the butterflies in my sTomach back where they belonged (aka the curb, helpfully painted yellow) and grin at Jayna as I reached for the doorknob.  “Nonsense,” I admonished.  “It’ll be fine.  It’ll be awesome.”
    “Amazing,” she said, smiling a slightly wobbly smile.
    “Spectacular,” I said.
    “Fantastic.”  She gave a real smile now.
    I smiled back.  “That’s my girl.”  Then, before either of us had time to think, I grabbed the doorknob and pulled the door open.
    Oh.  My.  God.  For a moment I forgot Jayna was standing behind me.  I forgot gymnastics was not the only reason I was here this summer.  I even forgot that my mother had a brother.  It was hardly more than a split second, but it was there.  That alone told me how impressive this place was; I never let myself lose control in any way.  
    “Wow,” Jayna squeaked from behind me, peering over my shoulder.  
    I nodded, recovered myself—especially this summer, forgetting was a luxury I couldn’t afford—and stepped into the room.  It was painted dark blue.  The walls were decorated with photos and posters.  Shawn Johnson’s larger-than-life poster covered the wall next to a trophy case.  I recognized other faces around the room, too—Nadia Comanichi, Bela Karoli, and Mary Lou Retton were just a few of gymnastics’ represented superstars.  I noted the tiled floor, the gymnastics rug, the three long picnic tables, the two doors presumably leading to restrooms—and then my gaze caught on the open door right across from it.
    The door to the gym.  Somewhere on the other side music played.  I hesitated, nerves threatening to overwhelm me, and at that moment a woman appeared in the doorway.
    “Hi,” she said as I took in her outfit—sweatpants over a leotard, her hair in a bun, “are you here for the camp?”
    I nodded and walked towards the beckoning hand.  Halfway across the room I realized that something was different about the far wall.  Curtains the same dark blue as the room but with tiny silver stars covered built-in windows.  
    Awesome!
    “I’m Cher,” the woman said.  “Come on in, we’re getting to know each other while we wait for everyone.  What are your names?”
    “I’m Carrie Bennett,” I said, thankfully sounding much more confident than I felt.
    “Jayna Sweeny,” Jayna said nervously over my shoulder.
    Cher gave Jayna an especially encouraging smile and turned in the doorway.  “All right, everyone,” she called.  “We have more new people.  This is Carrie and Jayna.”  She ushered us through the door.  “Now, this may seem repetitive, but everyone introduce yourself again.  The more times we hear it, the faster we learn.”
    “What do you mean, we?” a pretty brunette in a rose-colored velvet leo and black warm-up shorts called.  “Everyone should know by now that you have no memory for names.”
    “Okay then, Morgan, you can introduce everyone,” Cher said.
    The brunette grinned.  “Hailey, Shelby, Mara, Meghan, Paige, Tina, Alicia, Ellie, Demi, Christopher, Jordan, Donna, Zoë, Shane, and Leah.”  She stopped for breath, then smiled.  “You’re Carrie and Jayna.  I’m Morgan.  This is my normal gym, so Cher thinks she can pick on me.  I have to show her she’s wrong.”
    I smiled back and looked the group over like Tom would.  There were seventeen total; thirteen were girls.  I ran through my memory the way Uncle Tom had taught me and came up with names for eleven of the girls.  The boys’ names were easy.  Not bad—but not great, either.
    The door to the outside opened behind us and Jayna and I joined the group while Cher went to greet the newcomers.
    “More girls,” Jordan said, poking Christopher.  “The choices are getting harder.”  I didn’t look at him, but Jayna did, startled.  They noticed and laughed.
    Rolling my eyes, I looked around for a friendly face and headed towards a group that all seemed to look nice, keeping both boys in the corner of my vision.  
    “Hey, you can put your bags by the wall if you want,” one of the girls—Demi, I was pretty sure—said.
    “Oh, thanks,” I replied.  I followed Jayna over and dropped my bag with the others, peeling off my T-shirt and leaving it with the rest of my stuff.  
    “Leave your shoes there as well,” Cher said, reappearing in the door with a girl in a bright pink leotard and a boy in neon orange.  Both were blonde with green eyes—twins?
    “Everyone, this is Craig and Justine.  Could you all please say your name?”
    Everyone complied, and I got the two names I had missed—Ellie and Meghan.  The twins dropped their things beside mine as Jayna and I kicked off our shoes and rejoined the rest.
    From what I could tell, there were two groups: those from age eleven to fourteen or fifteen and then age sixteen to eighteen.  So shyly I could hardly believe what I was seeing, Jayna slid out of my shadow and joined the younger crowd.  I walked over and stood next to Morgan, the girl who had introduced everyone.
    “Hey, that was pretty impressive,” I said as way of greeting.  Not a lie—she’d be good for spy work with that kind of recall.
    Morgan smiled.  “Thanks,” she said with a wry smile.  “Half of the people will probably think I’m weird and a show-off now and avoid me like the plague.”
    Okay.  So far I liked her.
    “They’re just jealous because they couldn’t remember all those names,” I said, eyeing the brightly painted gym.  All seven windows were right below the high ceiling.  Florescent lights were in three rows down the ceiling.  The room had originally been painted white and dark blue mats padded the walls to shoulder height.  Above that, there were large splashed of bright colors.  I wondered how much work it had taken to make the room look like several giants had just finished an epic paintball fight. 
    Morgan caught the direction of my look.  “It’s awesome, isn’t it?” she asked, grinning.
    I nodded.  “I love it.”
    “We had so much fun painting the splotches.  I got covered in neon green paint and looked like a space monster.”  Morgan’s face brightened; she was obviously remembering.   “We redecorated last summer,” she explained after a moment.
    “So this is actually your gym,” I remarked, glancing around at the well-used but still obviously good-quality equipment.  I looked up at Morgan, who nodded, looking slightly embarrassed.  Someone obviously didn’t want special treatment.  “Well, I’m jealous,” I added.
    Morgan smiled vaguely and asked about my gym.
    We were still talking gymnastics, along with three other girls, when Cher told us all to spread out and take a seat.  
    “Stretching,” several people muttered.  I grinned.  I liked stretching.  It always hurt so dang good.  
    Three more people came in as we found our spots, bringing the total to twenty-three.  Only six were boys—the three dorks, Craig, and two newcomers, Jimmy and Ryan.  The last girl was Angie.  
    I had nearly shifted into my “gym zone” and was focusing on nothing farther away than my toes when a tiny out-of-place noise caught my attention.  I frowned, lifted my nose from my knees, and glanced around.  Everyone was in the middle of stretching, even the rowdy boys.  Everyone, that is, except Morgan.  I could see her profile, and she was grinning, looking towards the door.
    Pretending to move into my next stretching pose, I glanced in the same direction.
No one was in the doorway; Cher had closed it behind herself and I was sure it hadn’t opened since.
    Then I saw him: a small man in black rolled sweatpants and a light blue T-shirt.  He was short, probably no taller than Jayna, and wiry.  I doubted he had an ounce of unwanted fat anywhere.
    The man looked out at all of us.  He winked at Morgan and I saw her smile widen from the corner of my eye.  Then his eyes—a brilliant blue even from this distance—met mine and widened, surprised to be seen.  He smiled and put a finger to his lips.
    I smiled back automatically.  Then my mind kicked into gear and I realized who this had to be: Robert White!
    I glanced over at Morgan.  She grinned, eyes sparkling, and mouthed, Watch.
    I nodded almost imperceptibly, tucking my left leg in and reaching my left arm over my body to touch my right foot.  It was the ideal stretch, because I could see Robert White perfectly.  
    He was wearing socks, and I guessed that a man like that could move almost silently when he wanted.  Apparently, I’d guessed right.
    One girl—Leah, I was pretty sure—was leaning forward, her nose on the floor and her legs almost straight out to either side.  Robert White tiptoed up behind her and paused, checking to make sure no one else had noticed.  I switched legs and bent in the opposite direction, chancing a quick look at Morgan.  She was staring, fixated, body slightly tenser than a stretching gymnast should be.
    I turned my head back towards Leah just in time.  Robert White poked her in both sides, lightning fast.
    Then I understood why Morgan had been tensed.  Even though I’d guessed what was coming, I still jumped as the silence evaporated with Leah’s scream.  Several other girls screamed as well; I suspected Jayna was one of them.
    Morgan tucked her chin into her chest and leaned forward, hiding her face, but I knew she was laughing from the way her shoulders shook.
    Robert White was laughing as well.  He threw his head back and nearly exploded with guffaws.  
    I never knew such a big laugh could come from such a small person, I thought wryly.
    Finally, semi-calm returned.  Robert White touched Leah’s shoulder, still grinning, and asked if she was okay.
    Leah shuddered and wrapped her arms around her middle, but she nodded.  I caught the hint of a smile, too.  
    Then Robert White straightened.  He crossed his arms and looked out at all of us.  “Welcome to summer training camp.  Cher, my lovely assistant”—she curtsied as well as anyone could in sweatpants—“and I are pleased to see all your bright, shining faces.”  His joking tone dropped then, face becoming deadpan serious.  “We’re going to work hard people, but that’s because we’re going to play hard in between.”
    Someone in the group of boys snickered.  The piercing blue gaze focused in that direction, eyes narrowing.  The snickers stopped.
    “I don’t want to be the evil dictator, but if I have to be, I will.  I want all of you to learn as much as you can.  Oh,” he paused, then grinned.  “If you haven’t guessed, I’m Robbie White.  I respond to Robbie, Whitey, and Grasshopper.  Robert and Mr. White are unacceptable.”
    “What about ‘Coach?’” someone called: Mara.  
    Robert White—I realized I’d been calling him by his whole name in my head, undoubtedly due to awe—considered.  “I’d prefer Grasshopper,” he said.  “But sure, Coach would work.”
    “Where did you get the name ‘Grasshopper?’” Jordan asked, obviously ready to laugh.
“That’s a story for another time,” Robert Wh—no, Robbie, said.  “And right now I want some hardcore stretching.  There are walls all around you—use them.  I want to see leg swings at least, and if you have ankle problems, stretch them very well.  Any questions?  No?  Good.  Get moving.”
    Right about then, I decided I definitely liked Robbie the Grasshopper.  Grinning, I started stretching again.  Thank you, Uncle Tom.

 

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