Pine Hollow was alarmingly quiet. Joey knew all the horses would be out for the night by now, so that explained the lack of whinnying, but it was a little odd that nobody was hanging around like usual. Joey parked out front, just where the light from the barn ended – and after taking a deep breath, she locked her car and headed inside.
"Hello?" Joey called as she walked in. Most of the lights were on, but nobody was in sight. She hesitated before calling out again. "Is anyone here?"
Red poked his head around the door at the end of the barn. Joey sighed and approached him, full of determination. "What are you doing here?" he added, just before he stepped around the corner; and Joey stopped.
"I think the better question here is," Joey answered, "what are you doing shirtless?" Not that she minded, of course. In fact, the longer she looked, the more all she could think was abs. Who the heck is Taylor Lautner? Oh my Voldemort, he's got abs! Seriously, what had Sophia put in her water at that stupid restaurant? Vodka? That was so illegal. Ah, yes, the restaurant…
"Oh yeah," said Red, glancing down as if it was just dawning on him that he was half-naked. He looked back up, reddening quickly. "Er, sorry about that, I was moving the sawdust pile back there. And what are you doing here all dressed up?"
"Don't be apologizing," said Joey, wondering what dressed up meant for him. She'd taken her hair down in the car and it was messily curling and frizzing all over the place. That didn't sound quite dressed up to her. "I just came from my date, at which I happily enjoyed an entrée, a glass of water, and a nice long chat with the waitress." She walked toward Red, not really desiring to shout halfway down the barn hallway in order for him to hear her. "But there's gotta be a learning curve, right?"
"He stood you up?" Red asked, also approaching Joey. She nodded. "Son of a bitch," he muttered.
Joey stopped. "Did you just curse?"
"Wow," said Joey, raising her eyebrows. "You really don't like that dude. I have never heard you curse and I have now known you for practically a month and a half."
Red shrugged a little sheepishly. "Yeah, well." He furrowed his eyebrows and tilted his head slightly in an adorably quizzical way. "What are you doing back here, anyway? Did you just come to tell me that?"
"Nope," said Joey. "You may not like it, but I came to tell you that your girlfriend was on a date with the guy that stood me up in the same damn restaurant."
Red opened and closed his mouth several times, looking like a fish out of water. Finally he said: "Oh my God. She was serious."
"Hey, did you just hear that?"
Red looked at Joey, clearly confused. "Hear what?"
"That huge crack."
"I think it was the sound of a Commandment breaking."
It took Red a minute to figure it out, but when he did, he laughed. "I always forget that one," he said, shaking his head. "That one Commandment, I mean. That's probably why everything always goes wrong for me."
Joey shrugged. "Everything pretty much goes wrong for everyone around here, apparently."
"Maybe I'm just a bad luck charm."
"Okay, now that is something I seriously doubt." Joey recalled what Red had been saying before she'd cracked her joke. (1) "What did you mean earlier when you said she was serious?"
Red sighed. "Do you remember when I was talking to Denise on the phone?" Joey nodded attentively. "She was asking me if we had an 'open relationship' and if we were allowed to 'see other people' at the same time we were dating."
Joey cringed. "Ouch," she said, shaking her head. "She really took that Justin Timberlake friends with benefits movie way too seriously." Joey hesitated before asking her next question: "So does that mean she basically broke up with you?"
"No," said Red flatly.
"I don't mean to pry…" Joey began, rocking back and forth on her heels, "…okay, I really do mean to pry, but are you going to break up with her?"
"Of course!" Red exclaimed as if this was an obvious fact. "She was really great at first, but then she started coming by practically every day and getting all clingy, and then she was a total bitch to you for no reason, and then she goes asking me if she's allowed to see other people, and then she actually does it! How stupid could a person get?"
Joey found that she was grinning hugely. She tried to wipe the stupid smile off her face, but it was pretty hard. Red had actually noticed how mean Denise had been to her. For some reason this made her want to melt to the floor in a puddle of Joey. Wow, Joey thought when she realized how sappy she was feeling. This is completely cliché. What is this, one of those unknown Disney movies they air in the middle of the night?
"What are you smiling about?" asked Red.
"Nothing," said Joey, trying to shrug it off.
"It sure doesn't seem like nothing to me."
Joey had to work, but she managed to lose the silly grin. "Hey, guess what? At the restaurant, that really nice waitress I mentioned earlier – I told her about the whole Denise and Patrick thing, and you'll never guess what she did."
Red smiled faintly. "What?" He hooked his thumbs through his belt loops. For some reason this brought Joey's attention back to the fact that he was shirtless, and she was momentarily distracted, her mind going fuzzy for a second due to the cobwebby hormones trying to take over.
She realized that she'd let his question relax for a little too long and tried to quickly make up for it. "So she tells me to wait in the front, right, so I do. She goes to the back then walks back out with this massive plate of spaghetti. Then she walks over to Denise and Patrick's table and after saying something or other to them, she dumps half the plate on Denise's head. I don't know how she did it, but then she dumped the rest of the plate in Patrick's lap."
Red laughed. He didn't just snicker, he full-out belly-laughed. Joey wondered if Sophia had somehow snuck vodka into Red's water too. "Okay, it's not that funny," she said, seriously beginning to wonder about Red's sanity.
"Yes it is!" he gasped back. "It's hysterical!"
Joey stared at him for a second, practically rolling on the floor, and then she started to laugh. She couldn't help herself. Red's laughing was downright hilarious in itself. It was ludicrously mismatched, going up and down and up and down in pitch. Soon enough, both of them were howling, and neither of them really knew why.
They both stopped laughing around the same time, gasping for air. "Why is that so funny?" Red asked, sounding as if he'd just finished a triathlon without having practiced beforehand.
"I have no idea," Joey answered.
The pair of them stood there and looked at each other for a second, the smiles fading from their faces. Red ducked his head shyly. "You know," he said, so quietly that Joey had to strain to hear him, "I wouldn't have stood you up."
"And I wouldn't have assumed you'd say yes to being friends with benefits," Joey said with a sigh. "Really shows that we know how to judge people, right?"
Red snorted. Silence settled over them for a second. Joey finally asked, "So do you want help with that sawdust pile back there?"
As if this reminded him, Red looked down again, following that up with another blush. "Yeah, that'd be great." He frowned. "But aren't you going to get your dress and your shoes all nasty?"
"Who the hell cares?" was Joey's response. "It's not like I'm going on a date." She grinned crookedly in Red's direction, and he returned the look. They headed toward the back of the barn, Joey wondering what the heck she could possibly say now. A timely interruption saved her from having to say anything at all.
None other than Denise McCaskill appeared in the front of the stable, hands on her hips and spaghetti on her shirt. "Red, I have to talk to – what are you doing here, Redwood?"
Red and Joey stopped walking and looked at each other. It was as if they were sharing some inside joke. Denise clearly did not appreciate this look that they shared, because she quickly added, "And Red, why are you shirtless?"
"Hi, Denise," said Red and Joey at the same time. Joey gave Red the floor.
"Look, Denise, Joey just showed up to tell me about you and some Patrick guy at a restaurant," said Red pointedly. "And I have something to talk to you about first. I don't know what you thought, but I really don't appreciate it when you randomly run around while still going out with me and date other guys." Denise started to say something, but Red cut her off. "I'm not done yet. Denise, I'm officially breaking up with you."
It was Denise's turn to look like a fish out of water. Finally she managed, "Good thing I came here to tell you the same thing." She sneered at Joey before whirling around and storming back outside. "Have a nice rest of your life, Redford O'Malley!"
Joey said the first thing that came to her, which happened to be, "Your name is really Redford?"
Red nodded slowly. He looked as if he didn't know what to do with himself. "Well," he said with a heavy sigh, "I guess it's good that that's over and done with." He turned around rather mechanically and started toward the back of the barn again, hands crammed into the pockets of his jeans. Joey followed, unsure of herself now that Red was completely and totally available.
Instead of saying or doing anything, though, Joey got to work, helping him move the sawdust pile. It took a little over an hour to finish with the both of them at it. If Joey hadn't shown up at Pine Hollow, not only would Red maybe not have broken up with Denise, he also might have been working until eleven or twelve.
When they were finished, Joey was pretty much coated in sawdust. She looked down at herself. "Well," she said sarcastically, "I bet I just look wonderful." She started to pick sawdust out of her hair with a little sigh.
"You do," said Red unexpectedly. Joey glanced over at him; predictably, he blushed. Joey smiled at him a little shyly.
"It won't take you long to get over Denise, will it?" Joey half-asked and half-mumbled to the ground.
"I don't know," said Red. He sounded quite thoughtful about it. "How long did it take you to get over Patrick?"
"About forty-five minutes."
"You know," Red said, nodding to himself, "I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing, but I kind of got over Denise a long time ago. I think I've passed my forty-five minute time limit."
"That explains a lot," Joey admitted. Red looked over at her, confused. "I mean, well, we've been blushing at each other practically since my first day at this job. I don't think you've been exactly hoping to accomplish all of Denise's hopes and dreams."
Red winced. "That obvious?"
"I might not have noticed it until right now, but now that I think about it, kinda," Joey said. She glanced at Red, who happened to be glancing at her at the same time. "I guess it couldn't have been too obvious if I didn't notice it, but, well, you know what I mean." She began to pick shreds of sawdust out of her hair again, for lack of anything else to do. To her surprise, Red stepped over and started to help her.
They both worked at pulling sawdust out of her hair for a few minutes in silence. For the first time Joey noticed that Red somehow managed to be taller than her even though she had heeled boots on. And then Joey realized that she'd stopped moving and was just standing there staring at Red, who was staring back in slight puzzlement.
"Umm, sorry," Joey stammered awkwardly, blushing.
"I'm not," said Red, uncharacteristically brazen. And then, of all the things that he could have done, he took her hand, tucked a stray curl behind her ear, and kissed her.
Joey was surprised, but it was a very, very pleasant surprise. The kiss was pretty much perfect by her standards. It was soft and gentle and ridiculously sweet. His hands didn't wander and he didn't try to stuff his tongue down her throat. Yeah, it was perfect.
"Well," said Joey when Red pulled back, "that was pleasantly unexpected." The pair of them grinned at each other. "See you at work tomorrow?"
"Hope to see you afterwards, too."
Okay, so maybe sometimes things really did work out.
(1) Hahaha, I only realized after I typed this that it was a bad pun! ;D She "cracked" a joke! Haha, I fail! ;P
And that, my friends, is the end! Yeah, I know I suck at endings. That's probably because I hardly ever finish anything so I haven't got much practice with writing good endings. Anybody got any ending-writing tips? Also, yes, I do realize that this chapter is pretty darn cliche, but that's what makes it cute, right? ;) Thank you for reading my fanfic! :)
I will never, ever own Saddle Club, not in this lifetime or the next. I don't even own it on Planet Stori, and that's my own freakin' planet!