The road back to Riverdale.
Betty sat quietly in the backseat of the car wondering what had become of her old hometown. She hadn't been back in years. When she went to NYU for college her annoyingly overbearing family decided to follow her to New York City. She had hoped by moving to the big city she could finally escape them, but alas, that didn't happen. Her mom had blatantly told her they'd follow her anywhere – they had the resources. There was no point in even trying.
It seemed that no one escaped their fate. Archie was immediately handed the reigns to Andrews Construction following his father's murder - a responsibility he had been in no shape to bear at the time. The company had quickly gone under while he raged in grief against the gunman who had left his father bleeding in his arms on the floor of Pop's diner all those years ago. But at some point, Archie had picked himself up and started his life over in the business that had been in his family for generations. He had never left Riverdale.
But Veronica had. Betty had no idea what had happened to her best friend, only that she and her mother had gotten wrapped up in a vicious scandal shortly after her father's release from jail and then they all went into hiding together. Knowing Mr. Lodge, it was posh and luxurious - a gilded cage - but a prison to Ronnie nonetheless. Hiram had abruptly severed all contact between Veronica and Betty and she had worried about her best friend all these years, having no way of knowing if she was okay or not.
Josie and the Pussycats had risen to international fame as expected and lived life on the road, no longer a Riverdale staple. But Josie was still never good enough for her father. Betty suspected that he was actually jealous of his daughter's success and wanted to 'keep her in her place' with his bitter, stinging words of disappointment, trying to rationalize to himself that he was still somehow superior to her even though the world saw it differently. Betty admired Josie for her strength in prevailing despite of all of that.
And then there was Jughead.
"Stop the car," Betty instructed as they approached A. Andrews construction.
"Yes, ma'am," said the driver.
She paid the man and got out and was enveloped in a great big hug before she even reached the door.
"Man, it's so good to see you. What's it been? Five years?"
"Something like that."
"How're you doing? You okay? You happy?" Archie asked enthusiastically. He looked quite happy himself. Settled.
Betty cocked her head and really took him in.
"Sure," she said noncommittally. What was happiness anyway?
"I'm fine, Arch. I'm fine." She gave him a reassuring smile. "It's just you can't be happy one-hundred percent of the time, you know? It waxes and wanes."
Archie furrowed his brow. "Do you plan to see Jughead while you're here?"
Her stomach tensed at the sound of his name. She wasn't expecting that. "Maybe."
"Uh, I should warn you then . . ." He paused.
"What, Archie? Spit it out."
"Just don't expect him to be as you left him."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"He's not happy one-hundred percent of the time."
Betty snorted. "Was he ever? This is Jughead we're talking about here."
"He was happy with you, Betty. For a time." Archie shuffled his feet nervously. "I just don't want you to be surprised when you see him."
She had learned that Jughead was still living at FP's old trailer and wondered how that thing was still standing. On the ride out there, she was a ball of nerves. Her stomach kept constricting, she felt light-headed, and sometimes when the driver took a turn too fast she felt like she was going to throw up. Why was she doing this? Trying to see him after all these years? It was literally making her sick.
The car pulled into the Sunnyside Trailer Park – but only one car-length into the front entrance.
"I won't go any further ma'am."
"Thugs. Bangers. Drug runners. The usual. I'm not going any further." She turned back and took in what Betty was wearing. "You got someone to meet you here? Cause dressed all fancy like that, honey –"
She slapped some money into her hand and said a quick 'thank you.' She didn't have the time to sit there and be judged.
And then she stood there, in the grass, looking out towards FP's, now Jughead's trailer. She was keyed up, tense, as she began to walk towards it. She focused on the blades of grass tickling her ankles as she took each step. This was only Jughead after all. There was nothing to be afraid of.
Except her feelings.
Her heart lurched when he came into view. He looked so . . . old. He stared at her calmly with almost dead eyes. It absolutely unnerved her and she began to shake a bit, so she crossed her arms in an effort to hide her mounting anxiety.
This was torture. Why was she even here? Why did he look so beaten down? The backdrop certainly didn't help. FP's trailer was in bad shape and Jughead was sitting outside of it in a wifebeater near a sad, grotesque little gnome and a wash bucket with something black and nasty inside.
Sitting there, looking as broken as the busted up hand mower beside him, Jughead said in the most defeated voice she had ever heard, "Hey there, Juliet."
The light did not come back into his eyes , but at the mere sound of his voice, something shifted inside Betty and her anxiety immediately dissolved.
Suddenly they were just Jughead and Betty – as they always were.
"Juggie," she came up to him and gingerly took his hand. The one he'd been wrapping in a bandage as he had sat there, watching her approach. "What happened?"
"Bar fight," he replied as if that should be no surprise. But it was. Her eyes went wide. "Yeah, shocking right? That FP Jones' son should find himself in a bar."
He pushed himself out of the chair and went inside the trailer. She hesitated for a second out there in the grass. Did he want her to follow him in?
She entered the trailer and saw him pull a bottle of vodka from the freezer in the kitchen. He slammed it onto the counter. It landed where they had passionately connected when the Serpents came knocking that day. It was one of 'their places.' She did not like seeing that bottle of vodka there. Not one bit.
"Juggie, are you an alcoholic now?" she asked him directly.
He laughed bitterly. It was such a hollow sound. "I'm skirting that edge, Betty. Skirting that edge."
"How far are you across it?"
He looked her in the eye and held her gaze as he picked up the frosted bottle - beads of condensation had broken out all over it.
And then he held it to his sore hand.
She let go a breath she didn't know she was holding. "Here let me help you."
She looked for something she could make an ice pack out of and got to work. When she had what she needed, she unbandaged him, put the vodka back in the freezer, and placed the ice pack on his hand instead, holding it firmly in place.
He placed his other hand on top of hers. She was close enough to smell that he hadn't been drinking that day. But last night?
"Why? Why are you skirting that edge?"
"Please don't make me talk about it, Betty. I just . . . can't."
"Okay," she said softly and they just stood there for what seemed like an eternity, both of them holding the ice pack to Jughead's hand together, fingers almost entwined.