A/N: I've always adored the ClueFinders since I was little, so I just had to write a cute, fun oneshot. Blatant hints at Joni/Santiago, and a teeny tiny hint at Owen/Leslie if you tilt your head and squint and read really really closely. Enjoy, and please review!
Of Saloons and Cinderellas
Joni wiped her sweaty palms on the fabric of her skirt. The patched brown muslin didn't serve her as well as she would have liked, and failed to remove all the moisture from her palms. She stood behind the wooden backdrop of the stage – tonight was the opening night of the school play. Now a sophomore, Joni was set in one of the lead roles.
Their play – ridiculously enough – was a Wild West version of 'Cinderella'. Well, kind of. Cinderella, in this case, was named 'Stacey', a ragged barmaid who worked in a saloon, and was always overshadowed by the flamboyant saloon girls. Stacey ended up falling for the famed Vaquero in their town, a cowboy by the name of 'Santiago'. The rest of the play at least attempted to mirror the classic fairytale, with varying degrees of success.
Joni assumed the role of Stacey in this play. Yes, she had been cast as the damsel in distress, when real-life Joni was anything but. To be honest, it was a big role, but not as challenging to get as one might think. This Wild West version of Cinderella had quite the collection of prominent and eccentric characters, many of which more experienced members of the Drama club had set their sights for (Joni was only a sophomore, had only been in drama since the start of the year, making this play her second one). While her friends and family had convinced Joni to try out for more than just a background character – and had even convinced her to join Drama in the first place because of her fear of appearing in front of crowd, one of her very few fears – Joni had been anxious at the time, but went through with it anyways. She was fairly certain her singing had won her the part – that and the fact that most of the others wanted the more interesting characters.
Oh yeah, singing. It was a musical too – as all spring plays were at their school. Joni was about to go onstage for her first big number – called "Hero of This Town". The narrator had explained that Stacey was a poor barmaid, orphaned young and working young. Then it had been the opening scene, with her scurrying about, mostly silent and only speaking to say "yes, Ma'am" or "No, sir". Other characters were introduced, including the Vaquero Santiago. After that scene, it was one with Santiago and his fellow cowboys, and him saving a wayward child from getting trampled but a rogue horse. After that scene, it was the Stacey's first song – and Joni's first big solo.
"Hero of This Town" was about how wonderful Santiago was, and how he always came to the rescue of people just in time, and how handsome he was, and lots of other sappy stuff, like how Stacey had been in love with him for a long time now. Some lines, like "if you'll only ride up to me, galloping on your white steed, and take me away from here, just come and save a damsel in need," made Joni want to gag.
Whoever wrote the song deserved to be forced to sing it in front of a crowd. But Joni had promised herself that she would go through with it, and she refused to back out now. Even though singing a song about how much she was in love with 'Santiago' was a little uncomfortable, given that it was her best friend's name. Especially since some of her friends had teased her about singing that song to her best friend, which made her face red as her hair in embarrassment. People were quick to suggest more-than-a-best-friend relationship between Joni and Santiago, given their closeness and the fact that they were both "teenagers with, like, hormones. It'd only be natural if there was something more!" according to one of Joni's classmates.
The cue came, and Joni shook her head to clear it, stepping on stage and dragging her feet in the imaginary dusty lane of the Wild West town. Her hair was tied back in a simple bun of the lower-class ladies of the time, and she did not wear her glasses but instead wore contacts that she got especially for the play.
The piano and fiddle music started, and took a deep breath, swallowing down her fears, and started to sing. She followed the melody and hit the notes – just as she'd been practicing. The song went off almost flawlessly – the only tricky moment was when Joni nearly stumbled on the uneven floor set.
It seemed to be mere moments before she was rushing off stage, ducking backstage to clear the way to the set could be switched by stage hands. A couple of her friends in drama patted her on the back, whispering their congratulations in the dark.
Meanwhile, Santiago, Leslie, and Owen sat in the audience. Being Joni's closest friends, they wouldn't have missed it for almost anything. Next to him, Leslie was applauding thunderously, and Owen was whooping his support as Joni finished her song and disappeared off-stage. Santiago applauded with them, but his brain was occupied elsewhere. Hearing his best friend sing a song about how much she loved someone named 'Santiago' – even though he knew it was a play, and she was just taking on the role of a character – was rather peculiar. He was partially amused, because some of the lines were so girly and sappy, and Joni was anything but. Another part of him was amazed, because he'd never heard her sing like that before. Sure, he'd heard her humming a song or singing it under her breath once in a while, but she'd never really and truly sung in front of him before. He really liked her singing.
And finally...well, it wasn't like he could honestly say he'd never thought of them getting together. They were almost seventeen now, and there had been a couple moments over the past few years where it seemed like there was something more.
Just last week, in fact, while Joni had her dress rehearsals, he'd stopped by to hang out with her while she had a short break. She'd been in her "ballgown" - or the rough "Wild West" equivalent of it – a frilly saloon girl outfit in bright blue. She explained they wanted it to be pink, originally, but it had clashed so badly with her naturally flame-red hair that they'd been forced to switch it with another girl's costume, and embellish it so that it stood out sufficiently. He thought the blue looked good on her, matching her eyes and contrasting her hair. Speaking of which, her hair was down, a rare thing for her. Although she rarely wore her hair in the two braids so common to her in childhood, it was almost always up – in a ponytail, in a single braid, tied in a messy bun.
"Hey, Santiago," she greeted with a smile. "Help me with something?"
"Of course, what's up?" he responded, shaking off the momentary surprise at her appearance. Let down, her hair was longer than he anticipated, reaching past her shoulder blades, thick and wavy, and as always, very, very red.
"I need this necklace put on, I can't clasp it myself," she admitted sheepishly. Joni handed him a sparkly costume choker. She then turned around.
Santiago reached out, sweeping her hair to the side. It was softer than he imagined, and smelled faintly of something sweet – he guessed her shampoo. He then reached over her head with the necklace in hand, closing the clasp in the back. Good lord, did she smell nice. His hand lingered on the back of her neck a split second too long, and Santiago drew his hand away sharply as soon as he realized it. Joni turned to face him, a smile still on her face, but for a moment when their eyes met, that smile seemed to freeze on her face. For that short moment, it was as if there was something tangible between them, and all they had to do was for one of them to summon up the courage to reach out.
And then the sound of the door to the school theater opening made them both jump. Joni's smiled renewed, and she gave a weak laugh.
Darkness fell in the theater again as the scene onstage changed, bringing Santiago back to the present. He leaned over as Leslie whispered at him.
"I had no idea she could sing! Did you?" the petite girl asked.
"No, I've never heard her really sing before," he returned, shaking his head.
"Dude, she's kinda incredible. When did that happen, man?" Owen chimed in.
"I don't know," Santiago whispered as the curtain opened once more.
The rest of the play whirled by for Joni. The "ball", which was really a tavern dance, came and went, and the two "step-sisters" who were really just the spoiled daughters of the local wealthy rancher, made fools of themselves and tried to stop 'Stacey' from participating in the dance and meeting the Vaquero. From there, although the play was nothing if not eccentric, it essentially followed the plotline of the animated Cinderella.
Stacey was rescued by the Vaquero from drudgery amongst the shrieking and chaos of the rancher's daughters, and as the script said, they rode "off into the sunset, tumbleweeds dancing alongside.
Oh yeah, there were students dressed as tumbleweeds, literally doing a choreographed dance in the final scene. It was a very strange take on Cinderella.
Then it was the curtain call, and Joni's pounding heart finally began to settle. She had done it, made it through the whole play without being sick or forgetting lines or bumbling or missing a note. A true smile spread across her face, and she felt more accomplishment than she had since leading the ClueFinders' last real adventure.
The applause from the audience died out, and the actors were free to seek out their friends and family. Joni's parents weren't in attendance that night – they said they would attend tomorrow, and had a special dinner planned for that night so as not to keep her up late on a school night. Regardless, Joni was thrilled her three best friends were waiting for her, and rushed to change into normal clothes as soon as the curtain fell for the final time.
"Joni! Over here!" she heard Owen's voice holler over the crowd. The boy had grown up significantly since their younger days – gone was the bowl cut and odd purple glasses, replaced by short, slightly spiked hair. The confident smile (which quickly turned into a smirk in the presence of an attractive girl) remained the same. Leslie had changed too, and although she was still small-built, she didn't look quite so young anymore. Natural-looking makeup enhanced her graceful features, and her dreadlocks were replaced by many tiny braids that reached her shoulders. Santiago looked much the same, although his face had lost some of its roundness with age.
Joni rushed at her friends, all three of whom were beaming at her. She was enveloped into a hug, first from Owen, then Leslie, and then Santiago.
"You were amazing!" Leslie exclaimed.
"Yeah, Jonzi, when'd you get so good a singing? I thought you'd screech like a parrot, if anything," Owen teased good naturedly.
"Great job," Santiago offered with a beaming smile.
"Thanks guys. I'm just relieved I didn't pass out," she replied with a laugh.
They smiled and assured her they couldn't tell at all that she had been nervous. As she talked with her closest friends, a few people from the play came by to congratulate her, and she returned the sentiment. Nearly twenty minutes passed before she headed away from the theater, accompanied by Santiago. Owen and Leslie left five minutes earlier, Leslie receiving a call from her father that he was there to pick the two up.
As they walked to their respective cars, they chatted quietly but easily. When they pulled up alongside Joni's silver truck, Santiago paused with her, and without knowing quite why, reached for her hand. She turned, watching him curiously.
"Joni, really, you were amazing. It was awesome to see you overcome your stage fright," Santiago smiled gently at her, still grasping one of her hands.
Joni blushed and shyly returned the smile.
"Thanks. It was harder than I thought it would be, but I still did it," she admitted, a rare display of weakness, even in front of her closest friend.
"And it was incredible," Santiago responded, hugging her tightly. She hugged him back, resting her head on his shoulder, and Santiago felt his stomach flip uneasily. Her hair still smelled good, and he liked hugging her close like this. He could feel himself blushing.
"Well," he said as he finally pulled back. "I'll see you tomorrow. I know you're gonna knock 'em dead," he grinned at her. Joni beamed back at him, and his heart rate sped up.
She really was pretty.
A/N: All done! I wasn't really sure what the best way to end it was - I didn't want to do something too sappy, but I do love how this turned out. I think it ended up cute and sweet without being all syrupy and gross. XD Enjoy and review, my friends!