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The Story Inverted

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He saw his dad one more time before the sentencing, and by then they already knew that FP would probably be in jail until Jughead finished college. If Jughead went to college. He could still be the first Jones to do it, FP told him awkwardly.

When FP spoke like that, some other dad poked through his exhausted voice. A vaguely alien, less neglectful dad. Maybe the dad FP had always wanted to be.

"I'll visit you," Jughead said. His dad looked surprised.

"Be better if you didn't," FP said, after few seconds. "If you want to wash your hands, Jug--"

"I don't," Jughead said.

People were always washing their hands of the Jones family. Even the Jones family had, if you counted his mom, not that Jughead could blame her. So for a long time he'd set up two buckets in his head: the people that don't care and the people that do. The second bucket had been him, mostly, and for a little while he thought Fred Andrews, and usually Archie and Betty. That was it. But now his dad fit back in there. It shouldn't make him happy, but it did. It was just the kind of happiness that came tinged with pain.

Fine. He'd take it.

"They say they're gonna help you sell the trailer," FP said. "Since I told them I won't need it now. But that money's for you, you hear? I don't want those people taking it."

Over the past week, they'd encountered a formless cloud of state agency types that neither of the Joneses was inclined to trust very much. Because he wasn't an adult yet, or because they were in the papers now and now people had to pay attention, social workers and child welfare people were materializing out of nowhere. They put him in subsidized housing for more or less emancipated minors. They were talking about weekly counseling. Jughead wasn't sure he had the option to refuse. FP was sure of even less. From what Jughead heard from the public defender, he was more concerned with making sure none of the social workers fucked over his kid than he was with how much time he'd serve.

Jughead couldn't figure out when his dad had turned back into this person. Back into a dad. If he were to write about it, he might dramatize it, say it was the second FP wrapped a cold, stiff young body up in plastic and became more than complicit in Jason Blossom's murder. Some combination of guilt and mortality acting on him like magic, making him want to be better for his own kids.

But who knew? Jughead didn't understand narratives anymore. He used to think he wasn't a part of Riverdale's, not really, that he was just an outside observer. That had been dead wrong. It turned out that he was at the center of the town mystery, his life almost traded away. Like Jason's had been.

"Your book," FP said. "You finish it?"

"I think it's going to stay unfinished," Jughead admitted.

Another flash of surprise, and then his father looked grimly satisfied.

"Good," he said. "Write something else. You've got a million stories in you. Always did, when you were a kid."

But he couldn't come up with anything else. Over Halloween his dad was sentenced, and the week after that he moved into a studio apartment and started the social worker's program of counseling and regular check-ins at the Children's Center in Greendale. The trailer got sold, but he kept the truck. Weatherbee started making noise about classifying him as a kid with trauma, and they made Jughead sign a paper that said he'd be evaluated in exchange for getting to go back to school.

The social worker said he didn't have to sign, that technically they couldn't kick him out. This was CYA stuff for them. Jughead could make it hard by refusing. But he was tired. He'd been living out of Archie's garage, awkwardly, because Fred didn't want to kick him out, but now he knew Fred didn't want him there either. And his mom didn't want him in Toledo, so if they weren't going to keep him out of school, he didn't see the problem. Not being barred was way, way better than not being wanted.

"You should fight it," Betty insisted. "They should be the ones to change . They should be training on how to deal with students who have family trauma. They shouldn't be pushing all the work onto you."

"Is it so bad if they evaluate him? They'll just give him extra tutoring to catch up for the time he was suspended or something," Veronica said disinterestedly.

Her own father was being released in a month, and this consumed most of her thoughts. Jughead had tried to write a few lines one night about how the thing he wanted more than anything -- his dad home -- was apparently catastrophic for Riverdale's resident ice princess. But the sarcasm dried up, and when he looked at his prose he thought it was trying too hard. He deleted the whole thing.

"They can give you tutoring?" Archie said, after a few seconds. "Can I get tutoring?"

Betty stared at him, exasperated.

"It's an honest question," Veronica pointed out.

"I'll give you my tutoring," Jughead said. "You wear the hat. They don't know the difference."

But that wasn't true anymore, because people did know who he was now. Son of the infamous FP Jones. His dad not being guilty of murder didn't make his dad any less a gang leader, and since Clifford Blossom was dead it was his dad's trial the papers followed. Including the Register. That made Betty furious. She somehow contrived to get her mother off the Blue and Gold in retaliation.

In Jughead's novel, Betty was:

- perfect,
- the girl next door,
- the friendly neighborhood Hitchcock Blonde.

It still fit, that balance of sunny exterior with something intense, focused, and vaguely subversive underneath. But he could no longer pretend that she represented some kind of ideal Riverdale, some sunlight-soaked childhood they'd never had. She was tougher than that. She was a reaction to the new Riverdale, a truth-seeking teen sleuth who wanted to hold the town accountable for its sins.

They fought the second week in November, because he couldn't shake how exhausted he was, and she couldn't shake how badly she wanted him to be by her side, to be better. To not be so gloomy and resigned.

And then after that they couldn't make up the fight. Or he couldn't.

After Jason Blossom had been murdered, he'd spent nearly four months trying to get his friends back, or trying to get the old Riverdale back, or just trying to make sense of it all. And he didn't have anything back, not even his dad. And nothing made sense, least of all the idea that this could be a universe where Betty Cooper would ever really settle for him.

So by December they were officially not together, or as official as it got when two people just didn't address a breakup and made a unified show of changing the subject whenever anyone else brought it up. Archie fought with Veronica around the same time. By Christmas break he was trying to awkwardly cover up the way he looked at Betty, and Betty was frosty with Archie and also with Veronica, and Jughead watched the narrative settle into something nearly normal.

The story the way it was supposed to happen. Betty Cooper, perfect and perfectly untouchable. Archie Andrews, good and decent, if not decent enough for her. Veronica Lodge, the beautiful interloper who somehow belonged with both of them.

And Jughead, the oddball they occasionally consulted with, always available at Pop's between spates of avoiding the counselor and the tutor and the makeup homework and -- really, a lot of things.

There wasn't any happiness in that, but there also wasn't any pain. His dad had said Jughead had something good with his friends, and he'd been right. Jughead had a consistent routine, an ease, a world that didn't have to be especially dark even if it didn't feel especially light either.

He spent the day before Christmas with them, dodging Archie's clumsy attempts to invite him over for Christmas itself and Betty's attempts to ascertain whether he was going to have a good Christmas even if he wouldn't be spending it with the Andrews family.

He saw his dad on Christmas. It was probably the best Christmas he'd ever spent with FP. No alcohol allowed, and FP looked healthier than he had in years. He was getting regular meals, the kind that even came with salads.

Then, after the prison visit, Jughead got a call from his mom. She sounded tired and said that if he waited until she got that promotion, maybe then she could send him something. He told her she wouldn't have to (which they both knew he would say), and that he was sending Jellybean a vintage Doors T-Shirt he'd found in a thrift shop by Centreville, which was the kind of thing Jellybean liked.

Pop's was open for Christmas dinner. There Jughead picked up a cheeseburger and sat with his laptop, trying to celebrate by writing something.

He hadn't written anything since early October. He didn't have anything to write. His dad still told him to make things up, make up some stories that were bigger and better than Riverdale. But Jason Blossom had been the story he knew best, because it was just the story of Jughead Jones, but inverted. Instead of the outsider who had lived, the insider who had died. But still the same creeping darkness around the edges, still the questions and mysteries. Until the mystery had dried up, the murder more or less solved.

Snow coated the outside of the windows and the jukebox blared Little Jack Frost, Get Lost. It almost drowned out the tinkle of the door. Almost.

Jughead looked up.

Cheryl Blossom, who had transferred to a fancy boarding school more than two months ago, slid into place at the counter.

And just like that, Jughead was thinking in phrases again. He tapped out a sentence about red neon gloom. About gothic heroines. About what happened when you tried to bury a secret beneath holiday cheer, but then it adjusted its furs and walked back into town anyway.

"So what's up with you, teen vagabond?" Cheryl said, sliding into the booth across him without preamble. She'd acquired a strawberry milkshake.

It had two cherries. On a whim, Jughead took one.