As I stare at the fake wood paneling, taking in every detail of the occasional stray, fraying material poking out between the seams, I refuse to think about Betty. What is being taken from me had been for her. Now she will never have it. Never.
I frown deeply and will myself not to cry.
My dad’s trailer had been “reserved” for the event. Some of the Serpents had been charged with decking it out for the party celebrating my upcoming initiation into my father’s gang and were already there tonight.
“Juggie, please don’t go.” Betty leaned into my shoulder and sighed. We were sitting on her porch, fingers entwined.
I raised them and kissed her knuckles. “You know I have to, Betts.”
“Why does it feel like something terrible is going to happen? Like I’m going to lose you?”
“You know you can come. Make sure nothing does.”
“Jug, you know I can’t. Mom –“
“I know I know. Your mom would lose her shit if she found out she’d lost you once and for all to a Serpent.”
Betty looks up and smiles softly. “You know it’s more than that. She cares about you, too.”
I quirked my lips.
“I think she cares a bit more about my father . . .”
Betty batted me on the shoulder. “Will you stop it with that nonsense? They did not date in high school.”
“If you say so . . . “ I smiled. I loved to give her a hard time.
“Anyway . . . the point is, she wouldn’t want to see you become a Serpent. You know I know full well that they aren’t to blame for everything here in Riverdale, but sometimes they get mixed up in bad stuff.” Betty gulped, looked down, and shrugged self-consciously. “I don’t want to see you get mixed up in it too.”
She looked back up into my eyes, “I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“Hey, I won’t,” I said and tried to rub her shoulder reassuringly. But it wasn’t enough. She looked so sad. “C’mere.”
I touched her cheek and turned her lips towards mine. Her hand came up to cradle my neck as we kissed. Softly, sweetly, and oh so innocently. It was to be the last time we would kiss.
Her garish red lipstick is pressed into harsh streaks across my lips and tears out over their borders.
My pleas to ‘stop’ are muffled by her mouth tasting of stale used up cigarettes, booze, and the slimy wax of the grease coating her lips.
It is distasteful.
When I arrived at the trailer, the party was in full swing.
“Uh, am I late?”
A bunch of drunken voices greeted me. They must have been here a while to get this drunk. I looked around. Was ANYONE sober?
“No, man! The party’s just started.” A Serpent held aloft his beer bottle and yelled to the crowd. “The man of honor’s here!”
There was a round of cheers.
“Man, huh?” someone close to me said. I turned to look at him and saw a red-headed, gap-toothed man leering back at me. “Looks like he’s just a boy to me. You ever had any pussy, son?”
There were some uneasy chuckles from behind me.
“I. . . uh. . .” I didn’t know how to answer that.
“No worries,” the man clapped me on the back. “You ever heard of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies?”
“Uh, yeah. Aren’t they a band?”
That got a good laugh from the few people who were still paying attention. Most had turned back to their drinks already.
“No worries, son. Us Serpents’ve got our very own Cherry Poppin’ Mamas. Oh yeah.”
What the hell did that mean?
I was soon to find out.
As I lie on my back, her nails dig deeply into my chest as my hands are held above my head by the other one. Her nails are cherry red and cut deep marks into my flesh, drawing blood painfully as if from a hymen that’s not ready to break.
“I’m fine,” I said nervously as two women who looked like washed up prostitutes ushered me into my dad’s bedroom, serenaded by catcalls. “Really, I don’t need –“
“Shhh . . .” said the one who would end up on top of me in just mere minutes. She put her dagger of a nail to my lips. “We take care of all the Serpent boys, Jughead.”
The other one closed the door. I sized them up. Sure, I was a guy, but I was still slight for my age. These two older women who’d obviously been through some tough life experiences were hardened and could easily take me. I felt caged.
“Even Joaquin?” I asked sarcastically. I was starting to get scared and getting salty was my instinctual defense mechanism.
They both laughed. The one by the door answered, “He prefers a different type of snake.”
“Let’s be real. He just prefers snakes.” The one next to me snorted as she pushed me down onto the bed. “But you? We need to make you into a man.”
I tried to scramble away from her, but there was nowhere to go. “You don’t need to. I . . . I have a girlfriend.”
“Has she taken care of you?”
“What?” I asked, momentarily confused by the question, frankly, by the entire situation. Were they really going to . . . ?
“That’s a no.” The one by the door gave the other a wry grin, came over, and held down my wrists. Then she smirked. “Have at it.”
And so it began . . .
I just want it to be over. I know it can be if I can just make myself finish. I can’t look at her – I just can’t bear to look at the woman on top of me – she is garish. Horrific. I need a different visual . . .
I try to picture hot women from various films. Why are they all blonde? Blonde is too much like her - too much like Betty. I don’t want to drag her into this. Even in my mind.
But I need to be released.
Please . . .
I approach Betty from behind, her creamy neck in full view. I stroke it softly then lift her ponytail up and out of the way to plant a soft kiss right where it meets her shoulder.
And I am released.
I curl into a tight ball as that horrid woman peels herself off of me. I scrunch my head up into the corner where the wall meets the bed. I wind into myself tightly and cry once I’m certain the two of them have left me alone in this room. In disgrace. Ashamed for even thinking of Betty.
No one from the party comes in to check on me.
And I don’t show up for initiation the next day either.
“Where can he be, FP?”
I pace in front of Jughead’s father’s cell, agitated. We are both very worried and have been trying to come up with places for me to look for Jughead around Riverdale and the Southside. It’s been days since either of us have heard from him.
“I’d check the trailer again,” FP suggests as he runs his hands through his hair.
“Again?” I ask incredulously. “I’ve already been there twice.”
“Yes, again. I just have a feeling.”
“Something happened to him, FP. Something bad happened. What was it?” I bite my lip.
“I don’t know,” he says menacingly as he tugs on his short beard. “But when I find out . . .”
Turns out FP was right. I find Jughead at the trailer. Buried in a sheepdog.
I hear a soft growl through the dark as I let myself in.
As my eyes adjust to the lack of light, I see him sitting on the couch clinging to the neck of the very sheepdog that came into his life along with the Serpents’ offer of brotherhood: Hot Dog.
He doesn’t answer me, doesn’t say anything, doesn’t do anything. That is, until I try to sit next to him.
Then he flinches, grabbing Hot Dog even tighter, who barks at me in warning.
“Okay,” I say carefully and back away, removing myself from the couch. Instead sit on the floor in front of him.
I realize he’s crying . . . has been crying . . . as he tries to take solace in that dog. I notice something else too.
“Juggie, where’s your hat?”
“I lost it,” he says.
“It’s gone. Forever.”
He sounds so forlorn – like he’s lost so much more than that.
“Oh, Juggie,” I say and reach out for his leg, some part of him that I can comfort, some part of him that’s not wrapped up in Hot Dog. As if panicked, he snaps it away and there’s another low growl from the huge dog above me on the couch.
“I want to be alone, Betty. Please leave me alone. I can’t bear to see you right now.”
“You haven’t even looked at me. Not once.”
“Exactly.” He lets out a ragged sigh that wracks his entire body as he clings to the sheepdog, who stands steadfast.
This is very hard, but I realize that his request is coming from a very real place. He doesn’t want to have me here right now for whatever reason. I take in a deep breath. “Okay, Jughead. I’m going to leave you here with Hot Dog because that’s what you want right now. But you need to understand that I’m coming back. No matter what happened here, whatever happened to you, I’m not letting you go. Do you understand me?”
Jughead just clings to Hot Dog even tighter and starts crying really hard. It’s so hard to see him like this. I lift a shaking hand to my mouth. I want to comfort him so badly … but I can’t. I know that if I try to reach for him again it will only make things worse.
Eventually he says quietly, “Betty, you’re wasting your effort. You can’t fix this.”
“I don’t want to FIX anything, Jughead. I love you and I’m not leaving you. It’s as simple as that.”
But I do leave him behind in that dark trailer just for the night because it's what he wants, hoping that that dog loves him as much as I do.
Jughead hangs around the trailer for the next few days. Wherever he had been hiding out before, he doesn’t seem to go back. Sometimes I just watch from afar, without going in. He’s changed and I’m trying to figure out why. The biggest clue I get happens one day when I see him returning to the trailer after taking Hot Dog out for a walk. He is approached by a couple of women. Hot Dog goes ballistic as Jughead just stands there cowering, finally letting go of the leash.
I’ve never seen a sheepdog get vicious like that, but Hot Dog easily runs those two women off, scared for their lives. Afterwards, Jughead just leans against the trailer, looking like he’s struggling to catch his breath. He’s white as a sheet.
That’s it. I come out of hiding.
“Juggie!” I call out as I approach the trailer.
He shoots me a panicked look – it’s the first time I’ve seen his eyes since . . .
He ducks into the trailer and quickly locks the door behind him and Hot Dog.
I knock on the door softly, “Jug, please let me in.”
There’s no answer except two definitive barks.
“I have a key, you know,” I point out.
After an almost painfully long silence he says, “Okay, let yourself in.”
I do and notice that he’s resumed his position with Hot Dog on the couch, the sheepdog’s long bushy hair effectively hiding his eyes and face from me yet once again.
“May I sit?”
With a trembling voice he says, “As long as you don’t . . .”
I know what he’s asking. “I won’t touch you, Juggie. I promise.”
I carefully sit down. He pulls himself and Hot Dog back as far as he can from me even though I’m in no danger of actually touching him.
“I wish you hadn’t seen that. Outside . . .”
“It’s okay, Juggie –“
“No, it’s not okay, Betty! Don’t you understand? We can’t be together anymore.”
“I can’t –“ He starts to choke up. “I won’t . . . Not ever. Do you understand?”
“You’ll never be able to touch me again?”
There’s a long silence before he says, “Well, I don’t know about that exactly . . . But I do know I’ll never be able to be with you . . . In that way. I just can’t.”
“It’s okay,” I say softly and get down onto the floor. I just want to be able to see his eyes. Maybe I can look up into them. . . “Jughead, it’s okay. I love you. I don’t need to have sex with you to be happy with you.”
And there they are. His face breaks free of Hot Dog’s fur and I can really see them. His poor tortured eyes. Finally.
“It’s okay,” I say softly, wanting to reach up, but holding back, waiting for him. “Your love’s enough.”
He releases Hot Dog’s neck and pulls me into a fierce hug, crying onto my shoulder for a very long time. I am astounded, yet pleased that he’s even touching me as I reach up to stroke his hair in an attempt to soothe him.
Then he says, “This is all I can give you, Betty. This right here. Would it be alright if I just hold you? Will it be . . . ?”
“It’s enough, Jughead. It’s enough.”