She’s not going to write about me and Miss Grundy in the paper is she? Like she did with Chuck?
Dude seriously, c’mon. Think about what you’re asking. Look, if there was even an iota of a chance that something could hurt you in any way, Betty wouldn’t do it.
Archie had never truly appreciated or realized what he had with Betty. But this story isn’t about Archie. It’s about me and the girl next door – the girl next door to him.
Do you recall that night when seven minutes in heaven for Veronica and Archie turned into seven minutes of hell for Betty? When it wasn’t just one heart that was broken, but two?
Well, I don’t know when it actually happened, but sometime after Archie discarded her that night, something shifted. In me. In her.
It was if the walkway where those two broken hearts had come crashing down had just turned to sand and engulfed them, allowing for a shift between us.
Oh, it was a slow change. Barely perceptible. And I think one of us may have shifted slightly faster than the other.
It certainly didn’t happen on the night when Archie and I joined the girls at Pop’s soon after Betty decided to start talking to him again. Veronica drinking a decadent double-chocolate milkshake while Betty sipped on an old-fashioned vanilla one. Dark and light. Innocent and probably not so innocent. Each enthralling Archie in their own way. Soon, one of them would end up enthralling me in her own unassuming way.
The girls were opposites. So were Archie and I. He was noticeable, easily drawing the attention of these two beauties. Me? Unnoticeable. My presence was irrelevant. The same conversations would have been had with or without me. How many times had I faded into the background in his presence? Did I like it there?
No, we definitely hadn’t shifted yet. Not that night. I was completely off her radar.
It must have started when Betty lassoed me into her latest pet project reviving the school newspaper. The good old Blue & Gold. She enticed me with the opportunity to write about the Jason Blossom case, which I was already doing for my novel. But why did I agree to do this? Especially given that Betty didn’t actually agree to let me have complete creative control over my own contributions? I still don’t know what had truly motivated me. Perhaps it was because she had always been nice to me.
In the end it didn’t really matter the reason. I was roped in – hog-tied and bound to a project I grew to love. We started working more closely together, spending more time together, investigating the case of the mysterious death of one of Riverdale High’s own.
I think this increased proximity between Betty and I laid the foundation for the shift. But when did it start? And who really went first?
I know Betty was still stuck in the quicksand that was Archie Andrews for a while. She was distracted, worried about his affair with Miss Grundy at a time when I was dealing with the fact that the end of my days at the Twilight Drive-In Theater was fast approaching. Normally, Betty would fight for a worthy cause, and my unofficial residence was a cause worthy enough for her fight. Deep down, I knew she had to have cared, even as I sat at Pop’s, the only one raging on about the injustice of it all. A lone wolf crying out in the night, wondering what would grace the screen at the Twilight the night of its final sundown. When prompted, she was able to tear herself away from her thoughts of Archie’s troubles for a brief moment and offer up a cinematic suggestion for me. A classic movie. We shared a smile.
But that’s all we shared – only the briefest of moments. I tried not to be sad or mad at the loss of her support – support I knew I would have had if the life of her newly relegated best friend hadn’t been rending apart just as the rug was simultaneously being pulled out from under me.
Rebel Without a Cause. I played it for you, Betty.
Despite the fact that I missed you - that I could have used the support of a friend as I tried to save my shelter. Despite the fact that you weren’t even there to see the old reel that I carefully loaded onto the projector just for you, too caught up in the drama that was Archie, Miss Grundy, and your mother that night.
But that also meant you weren’t there to see me move out of my make-shift home the next morning either, which was a blessing. I angrily spray painted the words “Jughead Jones Wuz Here” as one final, but temporary way to leave my mark on the place before moving out of the Twilight’s projection booth for good, glad to be spared the shame of you knowing that I had ever lived there.
I tossed the can. Then I got down to practicalities, wondering where I’d find my next meal.
Remember that I said we had shifted at different times?
I think I may have shifted first.
I found myself doing a lot of frowning around the time of your highly anticipated – thanks to Veronica – date with Trevor. You kept denying it was a date, which annoyed me to no end. I clearly heard you tell him “It’s a date.” Why did you do this? Why did you insist that it wasn’t really a date? To spare my feelings? Were they showing already?
Regardless, that whole scene was frown worthy.
Had I shifted?
I don’t know. I may have. Just a little.
But I definitely know when you did.
It was sometime after you told me about the conversation you had with your dad when he first told you about your sister, Polly. When he told you that Jason had driven her to attempt suicide. That was hardcore. Tough to listen to, but I did. I couldn’t believe you came to me and not Archie with this. Had we really grown so close? Did I dare to dream?
By the next time we saw each other, ready for our mission at Jason’s memorial, you had shifted.
No girl had ever given me the kind of attention you did when you smiled at me, sizing me up in my formal wear. Yes, that suit really was the best I could do – glad you approved. I couldn’t help but smile back. We had shifted indeed.
And although I had no clue at the time, by then we were inevitably tumbling towards our first kiss.
You, jumping back in fright at the sight of Jason’s grandmother lurking in that ever so cold room we were trying to pilfer clues from. Jason’s room. We weren’t supposed to be in there.
The icy chill of the dead. Was that what made us jump so close together in fright? Instantly. Without thinking. Like a reflex. Or was it the growing intimacy between us that had crept up on us just as stealthily as that old woman had in her wheelchair?
Me, with my hand steady on your shoulder, my nose almost in your hair as I whispered “The Horror. The Horror.” Little blonde strands tickling me as I spoke. My cheek so close to yours.
Only when that woman encouraged you to move closer and you were comfortable with that did my hand drop from your back.
Unbeknownst to us - or at least to me - this newly found familiarity we discovered within each other’s personal space had been speeding us towards the inevitable meeting of our lips.
From that spooky encounter with Jason’s grandmother, you were able to catch your father in a lie about Polly, so we decided that we needed to see her ourselves - to get the truth directly from her - and made plans accordingly. Starting with having me over for a breakfast designed to distract your mother so that we could gain information about where she might be without her knowledge.
Now, your mother hated me. Intentionally emphasizing the syllables of my nickname-turned-name in the most condescending way. I hated when people did that. So your mom doing that to me? No big surprise. But I could deal. Especially because I rather enjoyed a certain side effect of having to implement this part of our plan – the side effect of having to eat pancakes. I ate a lot of them. I think you might have noticed.
At school that day, you nourished me once again – letting me eat off of your lunch tray after I finished off my measly bag of chips. I think you were unaware that I was actually starving. Silent looks and barely discernible gestures comprised the discourse of that little interaction.
You nourished me not just with food that day.
We had definitely shifted. So much so that even though Archie was at our table, he was excluded from our conversation about what we were going to do next about seeing Polly. He even tried to jump in, even offering to help. But when I shut him down, explaining that this operation of ours required stealth, not the entire Scooby gang? You supported me, Betty. Distracted him so that his attention was instead on Valerie and his upcoming performance so you and I could go back to our own little world. So different than the days of the Twilight Drive-In and Miss Grundy. Yes, the ground had certainly shifted. Even under Archie’s feet. Things were good between us. Better than I had dreamed. Remember I had let myself dream?
That may have given me the audacity to come on a little too strong with the Romeo and Juliet when I climbed the ladder into your bedroom. But we had just seen Polly and I knew your family would be driving you crazy. I knew you needed me . . .
Yet, even then I was completely oblivious that I would be kissing you within mere minutes.
But, once I told you not to let your family get to you, reassured you that you didn’t have to be like them, it happened.
I opened my mouth to speak, but hesitated. The word I tried to say got stuck in my throat. Completely mesmerized by your bottom lip, I suddenly knew what I wanted. What felt right. Yet still, I hesitated. Fear. Fear had been the mantra for the day and it was paralyzing me in place. Just standing there, I knew I wanted this, wanted you, but I was so afraid that I’d ruin everything.
But then, somehow as I looked down at you and you looked back up at me wondering what was going on and smiled nervously, your blue eyes shining, somehow that freed me from my self-imposed restraints, my immobilizing fear. I reached out for you, bringing your lips to mine, and we had our moment. The one that had been coming. The one that lingered.
Finally, the shifting ground had settled firmly beneath us.
Jughead closes the file, hovers the pointer over its icon on the desktop for a moment, deep in thought, and then finally drags it over to the recycle bin. He takes a deep breath and closes the lid, a small smile playing about his face.