A Thousand Paper Cranes 2
By Delilah Anne Marie

2009, March 30

Author's Note: TPC needs a new title that's actually relevant to the plot line. Suggestions would be nice. :]

Summary: Benny leads a life of happiness. He's popular with his friends, talented in baseball, and has the adoration and support of the love of his life. All of that changes, however, after he rescues an unhappy and naive girl whose intentions may not be as innocent as Benny thinks.

Chapter 7: Homecoming

Despite the heavy rain and constant rolls of thunder and lightning, Benny and Janie managed to sleep soundly.

"Benny," Janie whispered as she lightly nudged his arm. "Benny, wake up. It's morning."

"Mmhmm," Benny mumbled as he kept his eyes shut, intent on keeping her in bed. "I'm sure it's a beautiful morning, Janie. Now sleep with me."

"Benny, you can't be sure that it's a beautiful morning when you haven't even opened your eyes yet. Wake up!" Unwilling to follow her orders just yet, Benny harshly pulled her body closer to his and held her firmly.

"Baby, any morning where I wake up next to you is beautiful. Now go back to sleep." Giggling at his stubbornness, Janie shut her eyes and followed his command. Unfortunately for them, they awoke an hour later to the shrill ringing of Benny's alarm clock with the realization that they had only minutes before Sue would be checking in on her daughters. Janie hastily slipped into Benny's discarded polo shirt from the night before and picked up her clothes, making sure not to miss an article. She then followed Benny, who helped her cross the balconies and spent a great deal of time saying goodbye to her.

"I'll see you in an hour," Janie giggled when Benny refused to release her from his arms. "It's not like you won't ever see me again."

"I know, I know," Benny said as he continued to press kisses down her neck. "I just can't stand another second to waste." Janie smiled in elation. She loved Benny's ardent tenderness, no matter how cheesy he could be. She loved him just the way he was.

Once they had finally found the will to part again, Benny returned to his. After showering and stuffing a bagel in his mouth, Benny picked up his bag and said goodbye to his parents before leaving the house to pick up Janie.

"So, you never got around to telling me what happened the night before yesterday," Janie said as they were driving to school. "Where'd you go?"

Benny explained the chain of events that followed on the day he met Mr. Green and the extravagant party he had been invited to. He even made sure to tell her about how he met Maddy, and how he had found her again on school campus. At the end of his story, Janie had smiled at him and kissed his cheek.

"I'm happy that you found the opportunity to meet scouts, Benny. But really, you didn't have to keep it a surprise for me."

"I know," Benny shrugged. "But I didn't want us to get our hopes up. Telling you would have made me want it more, because you would have been counting on me, right?"

"I suppose. But still, it was incredibly unfair for Mr. Green to turn sour on you just because those scouts preferred that Sweetwater pitcher."

"Yeah. The kid's a complete dirt-bag."

Silence hung in the air as Benny continued driving. Although Benny made it seem as if losing the baseball draft was nothing to him, it hurt more than it should have. He was slightly embarrassed at the way Mr. Green had easily shoved him to the side. He was also dismayed that he had lost the opportunity to do the occupation he wanted most, and was now back at square one. Community college with an undeclared major. But most importantly, he was sad. Had he been drafted into professional baseball—and the chances were slim, but not impossible—he could have started a stable life, and then maybe Janie would have considered marrying him.

Still, he had to try and look at the bright side. Mr. Green didn't deserve his attention, nor his respect anymore. Community college was much cheaper, and transferring was still an option. As for marriage, Janie had much bigger goals to tackle anyway, and he wanted her to be great, even if it wasn't in her heart. Yes, things had changed in the past couple of years. He was still "The Jet," but it was obvious now that he wouldn't be moving onto "bigger and better" things.

Benny and Janie made it to school on time and parted ways. The topic of their conversation had bothered him throughout most of the car ride, but by the time he had made it to homeroom, his mind had shifted to more pleasurable thoughts. More specifically, he fantasized about the events that occurred the other night.

Just when he thought he was recalling the way Janie had whispered his name over and over again, he groaned and released the breath he had unknowingly held. And that's when another voice caught his attention.

"Benny? Oh Benny? Hello? Are you alright? You're breathing seems kind of shallow."

Snapping out of his train of thoughts, Benny looked up and found himself facing Maddy Green's shy face.

"Ah, hey Maddy!" Benny greeted, slightly embarrassed at her observation. "I didn't realize you were in my homeroom class."

"Yeah, I had to change homerooms if I wanted to avoid Tracy and Felicia. I want to thank you again for what you did the other day."

Benny shook his head. "Think nothing of it. I'm glad I was of service. And if I didn't say it yesterday, I'll tell you now. You're a good kid, Maddy. You deserve to be treated with more respect."

Maddy smiled meekly and gave a nervous giggle as she dropped her head, causing her stringy locks to cover her face.

"Actually, there's another reason why I approached you," she said quietly. "I just wanted to know…if…well. I heard Homecoming is coming up in a couple of weeks. You probably have a date already. But just in case! I wanted to know if you could…if you could come with me."

Benny sat in place a little surprised. He didn't expect someone as timid and shy as Maddy to be making first moves. It even surprised him more that she would suddenly show interest in him. But that could be just an assumption.

"Oh, man, Maddy," Benny began as sympathetically as he could. "I honestly wouldn't mind taking you. Really. It's just that I've already asked Janie to go with me. She's my girlfriend, and so we go Homecoming together every year, you see."

Benny stood up and put his hands on Maddy's shoulders as a sign of comfort. She smiled through the crack of her hair, although Benny could tell she was forcing it. He felt awful for turning her down. Especially after the things he had told her about deserving something better.

"I'm really sorry, Maddy. But if it's any consolation, I would take you to Homecoming if Janie wasn't going." Okay, so it was a lie. But a white lie at that.

Maddy gently shrugged Benny's hands of her shoulders. "It's alright, Benny. I should have been more observant. Of course you'd want to go with your girlfriend. I was just hoping I could go with a friend, and you're the only one I know." Benny inwardly cringed, feeling guilty for Maddy's feeling of loneliness. He wanted to say more to comfort her, but she quickly turned away from him and walked back to her seat.

Benny walked down the crowded hall on his way to lunch. He saw Janie standing on a wooden ladder some ways off trying to hang banners for Homecoming. He watched in concern as she reached forward, afraid that she would tip over and fall. It was always like him to be paranoid when it came to Janie. But when he saw her figure immediately jerk forward and crash into the crowd below, he panicked and sprinted forward to the site of the accident.

"Janie!" Benny yelled as he approached her body sprawled next to the fallen ladder. "Janie, sweetie. Oh God, are you alright?"

"Yeah," Janie managed to groan as Benny gathered her in his arms. "I'm fine. I just need to stand—OUCH!" Janie collapsed again on the floor after Benny had tried to help her up. "Oh, my ankle. My ankle really hurts." Benny turned his attention to Janie's ankle, then to the ladder. Tied to the base of the ladder, however, was a suspicious looking plaited rope. He eyed the rope and noticed with distrust as it trailed down the west side of the hall and around the corner. This didn't seem like an accident, he thought doubtfully.

Unfortunately, this wasn't the time to be investigating. In one smooth move, Benny gathered Janie in his arms and carried her towards the nurse's office. She needed care first.

Nurse Carol suspected Janie had a sprained ankle and Mrs. Reynolds sent her to a doctor. Now, Benny sat next to Mrs. Reynolds in the hospital lobby as they received news of Janie's condition.

"She sprained her ankle, Sue," Mr. Palledorous said as he put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I assure you, it's quite common. She'll need to wear a brace for a week or two, of course, followed rehabilitation."

"Oh, I hope it won't affect her dancing. There won't be any lasting after-effects, will there, Martin? My daughter has a very important scholarship to Juilliard, you know?"

Mr. Palledourous smiled. "It's only a first degree ankle sprain, Sue. She'll be dancing ballet for Juilliard in no time." The comment caused Mrs. Reynolds to let out a sigh of relief. "You can see her now."

Benny stayed with Janie a little longer than Mrs. Reynolds had. It was when Janie's mother had finally left that Benny began to shower her with attention.

"Goodness! I'm not dying," Janie pointed out humorously inbetween Benny's brief kisses. "It's just a broken leg."

"I know, but you fell from a pretty high level, Janie. I think a sprained ankle is the luckiest situation you could get yourself into."

"Well don't sound so negative about it. I'm alright. But then again, I probably won't be able to go to Homecoming with you."

Benny chuckled at her feigned pout. "It's alright. We don't have to go to Homecoming this year. The school will have to go without their Homecoming King and Queen."

Janie rolled her eyes. "Please. We all know the only reason we get voted is because nobody wants the good-looking, popular people to get crowned."

"Really? I thought it was because we're an adorable couple."

"No. We're the likeable, tolerable couple. Benny, are you sure it's alright to be skipping Homecoming. It's the last one you'll have before graduation."

"It's totally alright, Janie," Benny assured her. "It wouldn't be a memorable experience without you. In fact, I actually got asked to the dance today. And if I turned it down then, I'll turn it down again."

Janie shot him a look of surprise. "Someone asked you to the dance? Not to sound overprotective or anything, but everyone knows we always go together. Who asked you to go so late into the school year?"

"Maddy did," Benny said with a little hesitation. "She said I was the only friend she really had, and so I guess she was only trying her luck."

Janie nodded her head in understanding. "You know, Benny, after what she's been through, I think it wouldn't hurt if you took her to Homecoming instead."

"Say what?" Benny asked a little perplexed.

"Just as friends, I mean. Come on, Benny! This would be the perfect opportunity for her to mingle."

"And…you're totally okay with it."

Janie sat back and sighed. "I'll admit that I would be a tiny, itsy bitsy jealous. But if it means helping her out, then I guess I'm fine with it. Besides, we can have our own Homecoming celebration whenever we want."

"Are you sure?" Benny asked, knowing full well she was sucking in her pride for the sake of a total stranger. "If I'm not mistaken, I remember you once told me to skip our dinner date so I could watch a movie with the guys."

"Yeah. I remember that. I was mad at you for, like, five years!"

"Janie, that was two years ago."

"Which means you've got three years left, buddy!" Benny burst into laughter. "Okay, I'm kidding. But honestly, you should consider asking Maddy to Homecoming. Show the girl a good time and introduce her to people."

Benny smiled in understanding and planted a kiss on Janie's forehead. "Thank you, baby. But I've already considered it."

"And?"

"And you'll find out soon. Gotta go! I'll come back tomorrow. That is, if I get caught sneaking in tonight."

Janie spent a week wearing her brace and, much to her relief, was recovering much faster than expected. She had been forced to stay at home, though, where she rushed through most of her class work and, out of boredom, reread her favorite books and even knitted a scarf. She only had visits from Benny to look forward to, and even a couple from Ham, Smalls, and Squints. Even so, she needed company during the day when everyone was at school, and so it was a complete relief when Evelyn Rodriguez dropped in with a basket of cookies and a vibrant expression.

"Hey there, little sister! How are you holding up?"

"Hi Evie. You coming to see me before your trip back to Berkeley?"

"Of course!" Evelyn said as she took a seat next to Janie on the bed. Evelyn had always been a sister figure to Janie. The older girl had done everything sisterly possible from lending her fashionable clothes to helping her with homework and projects. Perhaps it was Evelyn's influence that contributed to Janie's personality. Considered as the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood, Evelyn Rodriguez was an intelligent and liberated individual. She had been accepted to Harvard School of Law, but declined it to major in theater. If anything, Janie felt motivated to be just like Evie.

"Gosh, I feel really bad about what happened to you," Evelyn began frantically as she began digging through her large plastic bag. "And to think, I was complaining about being cut the other day by a Dorito!"

"It's really nothing, Evie. Doctor Palledorous said it's not the worst he's seen."

"Of course, of course. I just meant that it's horrible how someone could do that to you on purpose!"

Janie rolled her eyes and sighed. "I'm guessing Benny told you his conspiracy theory? That someone pulled the ladder from under me?"

Evie shrugged her shoulders. "You can never be too careful, love. Now hold still while I do your hair."

"Excuse me?" Janie raised a quizzical brow.

"Uh, hello! Homecoming is tonight? With that ugly brace on your ankle, we're going to have to focus most of the attention on your head. Now, I have two dresses. One from Spiegel and one from Sears. But now that I think about it, I think the white strapless frilly frock with the ice blue lace and filmy nylon stole would go better with your ugly brace. It has a boned bodice, too, so it would go really nice with your slim waist. What do you think?"

Janie sat in silence as she tried to take in Evelyn's calm words. "I don't know if Benny told you this, Evie, but I'm not going to Homecoming with Benny. I told him to take someone else, and I'm assuming he's taking Maddy."

"Assuming?"

"Yeah. He wouldn't tell me who he was taking. He said it was a surprise, although I can't see why it would surprise me—oh no."

"Oh yes. Goodness. And I thought you were the school braniac. Now, as I was saying. Frilly frock from Spiegel, or crepe dress from Sears?"

Evelyn spent the next two hours preparing Janie's hair and makeup, much to Janie's reluctance. She repeatedly told Evelyn that she couldn't possibly go to the Homecoming dance with a recovering ankle, to which Evelyn shrugged her off and asked, "are you doubting my fashion abilities to make you look gorgeous regardless of that hideous brace?"

An hour later, Lexi came home to help out. Her job: keep Janie distracted.

"I don't know how you can stand Scott Phillips," Lexi began. "The guy only has two volumes. Loud and louder. I mean, you guys are talking in a room and his voice just keeps getting louder for no reason. He doesn't stop getting louder until the whole world can hear your conversation. Or until I have to yell from the next room for him to shut up. Then, he goes back to the quietest 'loud' volume and the vicious cycle starts all over again."

"You know, I think I can see why you and Benny get along so well when Scott comes over. You're both in league against him, huh? But then again, I wonder what Benny would think if he found out you have a slight crush on Scott."

Lexi held back a strangled gasp. "I do not! He's a stupid senior who can't carry a single intellectual conversation. No, he's stupid. I just hope he doesn't fail and end up in my graduating class. That stupid head."

Janie gave an amused smile at her stuttering sister. "Lexi, Scott has the seventh highest ranking in my class. The guy's a genius."

"What?" Lexi gasped again. "How do you know that? School rankings are personal, aren't they? If anyone should be stalking him, shouldn't it be me?"

Janie gave Evie a knowing glance before returning her attention to her magazine at hand. Lexi had successfully put Janie in a moderately good mood, and the three of them continued getting her ready for Benny's arrival.

Benny picked up Janie at dusk and, as always, had his breath taken away, much to Evie's satisfaction. He helped her slowly walk into his truck, and the two of them drove to the school gym where Homecoming was taking place. Almost immediately, the royal court was announced and, as predicted, Benny and Janie were crowned. At the moment, they stood in the middle of the gym floor, dancing to their first song as the crowd watched around them.

"God, I feel so self-conscious right now," Janie whispered as Benny slowly lead the dance. "I feel like everyone's making fun of this ridiculous brace. You're one sneaky fellow for planning this all out."

Benny gave a mischievous grin. "You didn't think I'd actually go to Homecoming with someone other than my girl, did you? Of course not! And don't feel self-conscious, because you look far from ridiculous. You look absolutely, incredibly, heart-stoppingly lovely."

"There's no such thing as 'stopping-ly,' Benny. I still feel awkward at all these stares."

Benny chuckled and pulled her closer to him. "Please, baby, don't ruin the mood," he whispered. "And if you'd like, I can always take you back home. Mom and dad are driving Evie back to Berkeley and won't be back until tomorrow afternoon."

"Oh really? And what do you suppose we do in that kind of situation," Janie responded coyly. Benny didn't have to answer. Instead, he gently pressed his lips to hers, a promise of what was to come. Every observer in the area seemed to watch the loving couple with something akin to hopefulness. Yes, Benny and Janie were the ideal couple, and although they were envied by some in the most thoughtful way possible, there was one silent observer who despised the scene unfolding before her. With one, disgusted look at the happy couple, Madison Green turned around and left the gymnasium. She hated the way Benny lovingly glanced at Janie, and she hated the way Janie would return the look with her large, doe-eyes. It made Madison want to go out and shoot a deer.

With an expensive, but over-sized pink crepe dress and stringy brown hair draping over her face, she looked frail and harmless as she stalked out the building and towards the school parking lot. Her expression, however, was anything but harmless, and she entered her limousine before throwing her purse down in vexation.

"Winston!" She barked once the driver had started the engine. "You better take me back home in record time! I don't give a damn about this speed limit crap you've got hanging over your license."

Winston the driver nervously murmured his respects and accelerated out of the parking spot, causing Maddy's purse to fall off its seat and onto the ground next to the plaited rope she had forgotten to discard.

Ending Note: Sorry for the choppy dialogues. This chapter is basically two crunched into one.

Ah, btw, I finally watched "The Sandlot 3" last week. I've got to admit, it wasn't as good as the first one (although I think everyone already agrees that the original is GOLD), but it had its moments. Here are my favorite lines:

Sandlot Boy: Who's the greatest baseball player of all time?

Tommy "Santa" Santorelli: I AM!

Sandlot Boy: Well I wouldn't care if you were Steve Garvey. It's Babe Ruth!

Tommy "Santa" Santorelli: NO! It's Santa!

Tommy "Santa" Santorelli: Where's my PDA?

Officer Pork Chop: You're what?

Tommy "Santa" Santorelli: My BlackBerry?

*Officer Pork Chop looks around and grabs a flavored snowball from Two Ton.

Two Ton: Hey! That's not black berry! It's strawberry-banana!

It was a decent movie, although I wasn't too pleased with how they said Benny only got as far as he could because he could run fast. Pft…Benny was a great baseball player! Right girls?

Lastly, I added a new piece in chapter 8 of Thousand Paper Cranes (which really needs a better, more relevant title). It involves the game Spin the Bottle and was added in an attempt to make things mushier. :]