A Thousand Paper Cranes
By Reiko Anne Nguyen
Date: January 23, 2011

Author's Note: So, in ONE entire day, Benny gets kidnapped by the varsity team, is left on a wheat field to freeze, gets pwned by his father, runs away from home, gets attacked in the desert…& it's still goin' on. O.O

Summary: Benny never thought he'd find another adventure quite like pickling the beast. Little did he know that freshman year would prove to be anything but ordinary. Varsity hazing trials, dead bodies, and town secrets are bound to be revealed.

Chapter 10: A First Date in Disguise
"He studied Janie's profile under the moonlight,
and then he asked himself how someone considered so plain,
if not a bit odd, could be so lovely to only one person."

Unable to see Janie get hurt, Benny found the will to kick the man in front of him. He then got up to punch the next man in line. Surprisingly, he felt no pain to his knuckles, but when he turned to swing at the presence behind him, he felt his fist crack.

"Ah, shit!" Benny screamed as he nursed his hand and glared at the giant he had mistakenly tried to clout. The man must have been at least seven feet tall!

"Grab the trouble maker!" Someone yelled. The giant shoved Benny back onto the ground where twice as many men held him down.

Benny turned to look at Janie, who had been left to wrestle an old man and a midget.

C'mon Janie. You can at least handle that, Benny thought as more vagabonds piled on top of him. He groaned and shut his eyes as the weight increased, making it harder to breath. It was when he finally couldn't take it anymore that a high-pitched voice echoed above the riot.

"Argh! She stabbed me!"

Silence filled the atmosphere, and Benny—who was beginning to feel dizzy, felt the weight above him diminish. He opened his eyes and tried to look for Janie, stunned to see her standing over the old man's limp body.

Did she seriously just kill someone? Benny thought as he watched her mumble incoherently.

"I—I'm sorry," she whispered to the group. "He was just so short, I—" Then she stopped to look at the midget not too far away.

The entire group turned to look at the little man, including Benny, and began to laugh.

"Ay, she stabbed ye in the arse, man!" One of the gypsy-clad men announced.

Benny watched as the midget looked down behind him and found not a blade, but a green syringe wiggling from his buttocks. In a panic, he pulled it off, mouth agape as he noted the length of the needle, and threw it at Janie's feet.

"She injected me with something!" The midget's high-pitched voice rang again. "I—I can feel my heart pounding. Ah, it's getting hot!" He began to panic.

"And it's gonna get a lot worse, pal," Janie yelled as she stood up and grabbed the tube from the floor. "Let my friend and I go, and we'll give him the antidote," Janie said calmly as she raised the syringe like a knife.

The vagabonds, who had no idea what Janie had in her hand, pulled Benny to his feet and shoved him towards her.

"Your Epi-Pen, Janie?" Benny whispered irritably as he recoiled behind her. "Are you kidding me?"

"A shot of epinephrine isn't gonna kill him, Benny. The midget will be fine."

"And what about that non-existent antidote, genius?"

Janie paused as she tried to formulate another lie.

"In the bag," she said cautiously as she pointed towards Benny's duffel behind the giant. The group of men guardedly turned around and walked towards the sack.

"In the bag," Janie began again, "…is nothing! Run Benny, run!"

Benny and Janie ran as fast as they could towards the highway. He held her hand tightly, knowing her shorter legs could not match his pace. He tried to encourage her to go faster, but when he heard footsteps gaining on them, Benny tugged harder on Janie's hand. The act caused her to stumble forward, taking Benny down with her, and within seconds they were being heaved by their collars and dragged back to the motley crew.

"Interesting," the balding man who had first spoken to them laughed. It seemed that laughing was all this man could do. "You two seem like a lot of trouble. I like trouble."

"You sick man!" Janie yelled. "We're only fourteen!"

"The younger, the better," he sneered, causing the entire group to chuckle at his crude remark. "Ah, Jofranka and the women have finally caught up!" He announced as another group emerged from the side of the highway.

Benny watched as a silhouette of people suddenly regretted running away from home, taking fault for bringing Janie into this mess. There was no way he could get her out of it.

Time felt slow as the group approached, and while Benny expected that these women would be clad as strangely as the men who were holding him captive, he did not expect them to be as beautiful as they were.

"Jofranka!" The balding man opened his arms and walked over to one of the women—a thin, dark-haired vixen clad in red and purple silks. She raised her tan arms to hug the man, revealing her bejeweled abdomen, before unexpectedly smacking him in the forehead.

"What do you think you are doing?" She said a mild accent that Benny couldn't quite identify. Perhaps she was Indian? Maybe Ukranian? If anything, she reminded Benny of a beautiful Arabian princess.

"I am—ah—collecting labor," the man chuckled as the woman named Jofranka crossed her arms.

"Leave them alone, Liam. They seem like good children."

"Good enough to eat," someone in the crowd jeered, earning him laughs and agreeable hoots from other members. The women, on the other hand, didn't seem too enlightened.

"I am serious, Liam. They are too young for our circus."

"CIRCUS?" Benny and Janie screamed in unison, but their voices remained ignored.

"Jofranka," the man named Liam sighed. "We need someone tae dance with the elephants, and ye still need that protégé for the butterfly show. These runaways are perfect! And it's not like we'd be kidnappin' them."

"Then why scare them?"

"Because it's funny, Jofranka. Did ye see the look on this boy's face? I thought he was goin' tae piss his pants."

The group laughed again, and this time, Benny couldn't help but feel annoyed at them for showing no other emotion than jolliness.

"Well now the fun is over," the woman named Jofranka scolded. "Ask them properly."

"Bah, okay, okay," Liam said. "Will ye, ah, would ya like tae join our circus?"

Benny and Janie shot him a blank expression, unsure of his seriousness.

"Are ye deaf? Ya wanna join or circus er not?"

"Yes," Janie replied instantly. But Benny replied otherwise.

"No. Janie, we need to go home. You can't join the circus!"

"Why not?" She said as she waved her hand in front of him. "It beats getting raped or eaten or whatever the hell it was we thought they were gonna do to us. Besides, I've always wanted to join the circus! And if I remember correctly, you're running away from home. Isn't that how the plan usually goes? You run away and join the circus?"

Benny scratched his head in annoyance and watched as Janie left his side to stand next to Jofranka. "I'm gonna be a circus person!" She announced, earning her cheers from the group.

It was just like Janie to disregard logic in order to chase adventure, Benny thought. He remained standing for a while, glancing at Janie's frazzled appearance. Even with a smile on her face, Benny knew she would flip if she could she how filthy she was.

Well, she's not going to survive a day scraping elephant shit, he thought to himself.

"Fine, I'm coming," Benny dully agreed. "I'm gonna be a circus person too."

His decision to join earned him another enthusiastic cheer from the group, and before he knew it, he was walking a mile down the highway with strangers before hitching a ride to God-knows-where.

Benny held a small grudge towards Janie throughout the entire car ride to "The Circus," if that's where they really were going. He couldn't believe that, without hesitation, Janie would just ride away with strangers who threatened to hurt her.

So much for being the school genius, Benny mumbled to himself as he felt the gravel beneath the van change before coming to a stop,

"We're here!" Liam said as leaped of his seat and opened the door. "Welcome to Santa Monica Pier!"

"Santa Monica Pier?" Benny whispered to Janie, who shot him an excited expression before jumping out of the vehicle.

"Oh, it's beautiful!" Benny heard her say. He waited for the other people in the van to leave before stepping out himself, but when he did, he was unprepared for the sight that was ahead of him.

Lights illuminated the pier, astonishing Benny as he mindlessly walked towards Janie's side. He heard bells ringing, people laughing, music playing in the distance. It was a sleepless bustle of amusement sitting over a tranquil body of water.

"Come this way," Jofranka gently nudged Benny and Janie towards the carnival. "Why don't you walk around first," she said with a secret smile. "I'll come look for you later so we can tour the circus, okay?"

Benny and Janie could only nod their heads in excitement, eager to explore the pier ahead of them.

They ran towards the rides first, reflecting on how much larger this carnival was compared to the one they had in the valley. They spent money on games as well and, at one point, Benny was able to use his pitching skills to win Janie an oversized teddy bear. She thanked him by paying for their cotton candy, and by the time they had gone through the entire pier they found themselves walking along the sandy beach, silently talking in comfort.

"I've been wondering," Benny said as he felt the ocean water rise up to cover his bare feet. "How did you know I was in Point Mugu?"

"What do you mean?" Janie asked nonchalantly.

"Your dad told me you called him while he was in Point Mugu's Naval Air Station. You must have known where I was." Janie nodded her head as she followed his train of thoughts.

"Yeah. Phillips told me about the kinds of induction ceremonies that were being done by the sports teams."

Benny furrowed his brow, ignoring his hatred for Phillips. "How'd he know?"

"Supposedly, his older brother was part of the baseball team a couple years back. It seems like every ritual the team does takes place in Point Mugu, although I can imagine why."

Benny gave her a puzzled look, causing her to continue.

"Suppose they accidentally kill someone during these rituals?"

"Oh, Dylan told me Point Mugu was an…unincorporated area?"

"Exactly. No one would really think about searching for missing people there. Anything to avoid cross-jurisdiction, I guess."

The thought of Benny possibly dying and having his body hidden was unbearable, and so Janie mustered a smile and tried to change the subject.

"Despite everything that's happened tonight, I still owe you some congratulations. Good job on getting into varsity, Benny!"

"Thanks. I'm hoping it'll be alright."

"Really now? Does that mean you're not joining the circus?"

Benny chuckled at Janie's slight show of disappointment. "Sorry, but no. Subconsciously, I don't think running away was my real intent. I just needed time to myself."

"Oh," Janie's voice dropped. "Well, I'm sorry I dragged you into this mess."

"Don't worry about it," Benny flashed her one of his crooked grins. "It was surprisingly fun."

"Yeah, it was." Janie smiled before nervously cleared her throat. "You know, going to a carnival at night and walking along this beach—it's something I've always wanted to do on my first date."

"Oh yeah," Benny suddenly remembered. "Sorry it had to be with me then."

She giggled apprehensively. "Oh well. Better you than some first love who's gonna end up breaking my heart anyway."

"Don't say that, Janie. No one's gonna hurt you, cause I swear to God, if anyone tries to break your heart, I'm gonna break their legs."

Janie had to laugh out loud. "Aw, well thanks, buddy. And I'm glad that even after everything that's happened today, you're having fun with me here."

"'Course! Five years from now, we're gonna look back on this, and I'm gonna say, Hey, remember that one time you shot epinephrine into that midget's ass?"

Janie burst out into laughed, burying her face into her large brown teddy bear. "Oh God, I can't believe I did that! Poor guy!"

"Yeah well, it was quick thinking, Janie. You saved me again."

"You saved me too, Benny. I told you we're good together."

The two of them smiled at one another and continued walking in silence. Benny wondered what Janie was thinking, and what she meant by her last statement. We're good together.

Did she mean it the way he sounded in his head? Nah, that can't be. I'm over thinking this. But what if? What if…?

Janie continued to ramble on and on about school, mainly about her detestation for Phillips and how they couldn't keep their baby egg alive for more than a couple of days. Strangely enough, though, Benny didn't seem care. At least, at the moment, he didn't care about Phillips. Phillips who?

No, Benny was much too distracted. He studied Janie's profile under the moonlight, and then he asked himself how someone considered so plain, if not a bit odd, could be so lovely to only one person. To him. He had always thought Janie to be pretty, but he never lingered on that thought.

Until Now.

He admired her naturally curved brows, the thick lashes the framed her large brown eyes, the hollow under her rosy cheek bones, the pert nose that belonged to neither of her parents, and the fullness of her lips.

Her lips.

He strayed there for a moment, and suddenly felt a longing to taste them…

No way, Benny mentally yelled at himself as he tried to shake away his mounting train of thoughts. Get your head out of the gutter, man! She's like a sister. LOOK at her like a sister please.

As if talking to himself wasn't going to work, Benny lifted his hand up to smack his cheeks.

"Doofus, why are you hitting yourself?" Janie laughed.

"I—ah—I'm just trying to stay awake," Benny lied. "Talking about Phillips bores the crap out of me!"

"Alright, then I'll stop talking about him," Janie said before turning her attention back to the pier. "Oh look, Benny! A fortune teller! Can we see her? Please?"

Benny shrugged his shoulder and ate the last of his cotton candy. "Sure, why not."

The two of them walked back up the pier and jogged towards the fortune teller. Benny didn't understand Janie's fascination with it, but he kept his mouth shut and let her have her fun.

"Welcome, child," the old, wrinkled woman greeted from behind her cloth-covered table. "I've been waiting all night to see you."

"See me?" Janie exclaimed in surprise as she sat in front of the old woman's crystal ball. "You saw me coming?"

"Yes. I predicted you would come."

Oh brother. Benny couldn't help but roll his eyes at the stupidity in front of him. Janie's totally buying it.

"Can you read my future?" Janie asked excitedly as held out her hand. "Then maybe you can read my friend's future, too!"

"Of course. Of course. That is my specialty, my dear."

The old woman lifted her wrinkled hands from under the table to grab Janie's softer one. She then closed her eyes, all the while feeling the creases of Janie's hand.

"I see trouble," the old woman croaked. "Beware of heroes who are not as they appear. Trust only your true savior, for he will be the one to save you from death."

Janie's eyes widened in shock. She stared at the woman with her mouth agape before turning to Benny for help.

Sighing with impatience, Benny grabbed Janie's hand away from the old woman and tossed a dollar on the table. "Janie, tell Jofranka we're going home. Now!"

Janie shook her head obediently and ran off towards the circus, unwilling to argue with Benny after all the stress he had gone through.

"The hell kind of reading is that?" Benny snapped at the old woman. "Aren't you supposed to come up with some kind of fortune cookie bullshit? Reach for the stars, success is in your near future? Stop looking, the love of your life is right in front of you? Anything but death?"

The old woman only sat in silence, eyes watering with what Benny could only identify as guilt. "You," she croaked as she pointed at Benny. "You are the savior that will keep her alive. A dreamer like her cannot always use her brilliance to save those around her."

Benny paused in bewilderment. "What did you say?"

"She is too idealistic, too compassionate and too trusting. Her logic has its limits when her heart is in control."

Benny gulped in alarm. It was truly frightening how this stranger could say so much about Janie and be precise.

But then again, wasn't that her job? To read people's body language and to make judgments? Well, of course it was! After all, it didn't take a genius to know how naive Janie was.

"Right, then," Benny tried to laugh it off. "Almost got me there."

And then he ran off, trying to convince himself that it was all a part of her profession. There was no way she could read the future. Totally unreal.

After locating Janie standing at the circus entrance, Jofranka took the initiative to drive them back home.

"It is a shame you cannot stay with us," Jofranka said once she had parked in front of Janie's house. "You two would have been excellent acrobats."

Benny and Janie apologized for their inconvenience and properly said their goodbyes. They then snuck up their tree before silently climbing over their balconies, unable to believe the flow of event that had led them back home.

"Whatta day," Janie whispered as she dropped her arms on her balcony rails. "First you get kidnapped by the varsity team, then they leave you in a field to freeze and die."

"My dad chews me out and pretty much calls my dream a waste of time."

"You run away from home and get attacked in the desert."

"Yeah, my knuckles are still sore."

"And you join the circus before coming back home to tell the tale. My goodness, Benjamin Rodriguez. Would you say that this is the worst day of your life?"

Benny blinked for a moment and thought about it. And then he smiled. "Yeah, it's the worst day."

But it's definitely the best night of my life, Janie.

Disclaimer: "The Sandlot" was written and directed by David M. Evans. I do not own anything related to the movie other than this fan written fiction and the original characters I have created through my own imagination. I assure you that this piece of work does not make any profits, nor will it be published in the future. Copyright infringement is not intended.