The photo used in the number of the title plaque is by Maarten De Boer.
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.
The photo used in the number of the title plaque is by Damon Baker.
"Why did we break up again?" Jughead asked and approximated a smile, trying to be casual about it. Betty's company was good for him. He was glad she had stayed the night, just lying on the living room floor, talking with him. Somehow, it had helped. If only a little.
"I don't know, Jug," Betty said a little uncomfortably. She sat up from the floor. "Do you have a toothbrush I can borrow?"
He started to sit up. "Yeah, let me show y –"
"No, just tell me," she said firmly and stood up.
Betty closed the door to the bathroom. Closed it on him. Because he had followed her anyway. She looked at herself in the mirror and took a few deep breaths.
Her hair was matted as if she had had sex, but she hadn't. She smirked at the irony. She and Jughead hadn't even touched each other once his hand was feeling a bit better – they just lay there on the floor all night, their glowing eyes the only connection between them through the darkness. But now her eyes were bloodshot and she was so tired. And the light creeping in through the bathroom window wasn't helping.
"What are you doing, Betts?" she said softly to herself and hung her head.
"Betty?" there was a little nudge at her shoulder. It took her a while to adjust to her surroundings. Oh, yeah. The trailer. Jughead's bed. She had finally crashed here this morning. What time was it now?
"Betty, your phone keeps ringing. Someone's trying to get ahold of you." Jughead was sitting on the edge of the bed and held out her phone to her. "Someone named Gregg?"
"Uh, yeah," Betty gingerly took the phone from Jughead's hands. "Let me call him back."
She steeled herself for this. But why should she have to steel herself? She hadn't done anything wrong.
"Yeah, sweetie it's me," she said when Gregg picked up the phone. She felt Jughead stiffen and looked over at him. He was staring straight ahead at the wall.
"Uh huh, yeah. I saw Archie. Yes, and Jughead, too." She nodded. "Yeah, I know, Gregg. But it's a bit harder than you think."
She hung up.
"Juggie, I have to tell you something."
"He's your boyfriend, Betty." Jughead sarcastically swung his head to the side. "I think that's pretty obvious."
"No, Juggie . . . He's my fiancé."
He glanced down at her left hand. There was no ring there. Diamond or otherwise. "So?"
"What do you mean 'so'?"
"Does it even make a difference, Betty? You left me long ago –"
"I did not!"
"You did," Jughead said firmly, angrily. "So, what does it matter now?"
"It matters because –" she choked on a sob. "Because I came here to say goodbye to you and now I'm finding I can't just leave you. You're a wreck."
She brought her hand to his cheek, but he slowly reached up and removed it without saying a word. Then he got up from the bed and moved towards the front door of the trailer. She followed him.
"Jughead, please talk to me. Tell me what's wrong. What happened to you?"
Her only answer was the slamming of the door behind him.
The photos used in the number of the title plaque are by Damon Baker.
She paused for a second staring at that closed door. She was supposed to be closing a door here . . .
She sighed and shrugged her shoulders. She just couldn't. Not yet.
She opened the door.
Jughead was rummaging around underneath the trailer, having pushed aside part of the wooden cross-hatched fence at the base of it. He came out muddied, but with a full bottle of whiskey in one hand and something else tucked into his pocket. He sat down in the chair beside the dilapidated gnome, twisted the cap off the bottle, and took a huge swig of the booze. Pulling the bottle back down he looked at Betty with a dare in his eyes.
She just stared back at him, silent. Jughead noticed she didn't look angry or disappointed. Just calm. Why? He must not be trying hard enough. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the pack of cigarettes he had just retrieved from his stash beneath the trailer. He lit one and took a deep drag, followed by another swig. Well, to be honest, it wasn't a swig – it was about five gulps.
"So, you smoke now?" Betty asked him.
"Only when I drink," he took another drag and blew the smoke towards her.
"Really?" Betty asked.
"Fine, you got me." His voice was just beginning to slur, but he pushed through it, pointed at her, and said angrily. "If you must know, I only smoke when I drink AND I'm pissed at you!"
He took a violent swig of the bottle – it was already half gone. He lit up another cigarette.
"You wanna know why?" he jeered.
"No," she answered firmly. "Not when you're in this state."
"Say it, Betty."
"You're drunk Jughead – and I don't want to have to take you to the hospital just because you finished off that whole bottle by yourself within mere minutes."
"Pfah!" He waved an uncoordinated hand dismissively. "I'm fine."
She helped him to lie back down on the bathroom floor again – the only place he wanted to be – after his latest session of vomiting, his head propped up high enough in her lap to be safe, and then wiped his lips clean as he passed out once again. Jughead was not going to become another Bruce - not on her watch.
When Jughead had passed out on the grass, falling onto the empty whiskey bottle, she panicked. Not because he might have crushed the bottle into shards of glass beneath him – he could probably live through that – no, it was because she knew he had drunk so much alcohol that he was going to have to throw up and she didn't want him to die.
She had begun tugging at him frantically, hurriedly getting him into a seated position. And then she just held him there in the grass and cried. She had been so scared.
Senior year in Riverdale had been difficult for Betty and she started to process her emotions once she left. And she learned soon enough the numbing power of alcohol. The first time she got drunk, she nursed her drinks from the quiet corner of an empty sofa at a college party, where no one bothered her. Soon the nagging thoughts of everything that had gone wrong in Riverdale were replaced by . . . something. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but it felt GREAT to not be burdened by them anymore.
So, this was the appeal of alcohol . . .
It wasn't the last time she got drunk either. Whenever the dark thoughts were especially overwhelming, she would find a party. Bruce, Mr. Party Animal, was usually there because they travelled in the same circles. Betty would often find herself wondering what demons he was trying to keep at bay – why he hated himself so much. But she never found out.
One night near 4am, a scream rang out at a party and a voice called for help. Betty ran back to a little bathroom where a she saw a girl kneeling over Bruce, shaking him, and yelling "Breathe! Breathe!"
Betty looked down in horror at the scene. Vomit encrusted his mouth. His lips and parts of his face were turning blue – very blue. She didn't know a human being could look like that.
"Oh my God," Betty gasped, bringing her hand to her mouth. "I think he's dead."
And he was. Bruce had passed out and then suffocated on his own vomit. No one had been in the bathroom to take care of him - they were all too wasted.
Betty stopped drinking that day.
And now Jughead lay on the bathroom floor, passed out in her lap. It was horrifying to revisit this. Especially with him. She couldn't bear the thought of her first love dying.
"Oh, Juggie," she said and reached down and stroked his cheek. "Why are you hurting so much?"
Vomiting was done now and she'd been plying Jughead with drink while he lay in bed. Of the H2O variety. He always resisted at first, but she was firm.
"If you don't drink this, your hangover's going to be ten times worse."
"What if I don't get a hangover?" he joked.
"Oh, you're getting one of those, believe me."
He took a big gulp out of the glass of water she was holding to his lips and then started up again. "I loved you so much, Betty. Why did you -?"
"Uh-huh. I told you. Not while you're drunk. Don't ask me again until you're sober."
Her phone rang. Gregg.
Jughead looked down, still frowning.
"I was going to call you. I'm going to be out here in Riverdale a little while longer."
Gregg was loud enough on the other line that Jughead could probably tell how upset he was. She stood up and walked as far away from him as she could while still keeping him in sight. She was mortified that he might hear her getting in trouble with her fiancé.
"Look," Betty said firmly into phone, trying not to yell back. "It's complicated and I'm not leaving yet."
Jughead muttered dejectedly from the bed, "Just go back to him."
Betty looked over at him, creased her brows and tilted her head. "Jug."
"You don't want to deal with this mess," he answered her, weakly touching his chest to indicate himself, the most pitiful look in his eyes. "Really, you don't."
"Gregg, I gotta go." Betty hung up the phone as Gregg was still yelling. She put it on silent and laid it facedown.
"Jug, I DO want to deal with 'this mess' – with you. But we have to talk about it when you're sober, okay?"
"Okay," he looked up and gave her a weird, sad little smile. "Betty, when will I be sober again?"
The photo used in the number of the title plaque is by Conor Leslie.
There was only one time Jughead had ever really yelled at her - and she had deserved it.
She had been in her darkened bedroom alone, sitting in front of her vanity mirror. She'd been doing a lot of that lately – gazing at herself, wondering why she was so evil – and passively hating herself for it.
"Honey," her mom called to her softly from the door. "Jughead's here to see you."
She gave a slight dip of her head in assent, but said nothing. He came up behind her and met her eyes through the reflection of the mirror.
"Betty," Jughead said with tension running through his entire body. He was as tight as a wire. "Why?"
He sounded broken, shattered. She had no answer for him. There was no why.
"I don't know."
"'I don't know?' That's all you have to say? Hot Dog is dead! Didn't you care about him? Don't you care about ME?"
"I guess not," she answered vacantly.
"You know," Jughead's voice rose a few decibels. "I've had enough of this. You've iced me out all year. And for no reason apparently."
She just stared at him.
"And now you've killed my dog," his voice broke. "And you don't even care!"
"Guess not," she answered again.
"You know, I've been trying here, Betty - trying so hard with you - but now I'm done!" he yelled. "You killed my dog. I'm fucking done!"
Then he charged out of the room, slamming the door.
She leaned forward and addressed herself in the mirror, "See how evil you are, Betty?"
She woke to a sober Jughead. He was bringing her some tea and toast - her favorite breakfast. He remembered.
"What do you see in him anyway? In Gregg?"
I need to be punished, Betty thought. After what I did to you, I need to suffer for the rest of my life.
She found she couldn't answer him.
"You came here to say goodbye, Betty?" He looked perplexed and hurt at the same time. "What does that even mean? Why are you really here? You left me ages ago."
"You left me," she stubbornly insisted.
"A technicality. You stopped loving me, caring about me, for more than an entire school year before I finally got the picture and gave up on you."
"I didn't –"
"You didn't what, Betty?"
"I didn't stop loving you," she said in a quiet voice.
He stood there, his mouth agape for a minute. What? He asked her very quietly, almost a whisper, "What are you trying to say?"
"Don't you see, Jughead?" she looked up at him, tears swimming in her eyes. "That's why I'm here. Gregg insists I find a way to let go of you – of us – or else he refuses to marry me."
Her eyes widened in horror as she realized she had said too much – way too much – and got up and ran to the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.
She was having trouble breathing and gripped the white porcelain of the bowl beneath her until her knuckles went white. Her heart was pounding through her chest. She felt like she was going to die.
She looked up into the mirror and saw her flushed face - her flushed frightened face. She was no longer dead inside and it was terrifying. The woman looking back at her was not the girl who had broken Jughead's heart back in high school. No, her raw emotions were boiling to the surface with incredible intensity and she hadn't been used to feeling them for so long.
"Betty?" Jughead knocked softly on the other side of the door. "Please come out and talk to me."
She looked back at the door, hesitating. She couldn't bear to reject him again - not even in the slightest way - she needed to face him. At the very least he deserved to know why she had hurt him all those years ago.
She opened the door and stared up at him, gulping. His emotions were so clearly exposed on his face. Raw and open. It was all too much. When their eyes connected, it made her swoon. Literally.
Jughead grasped onto her just in time to break her fall as she slumped to the floor.
He was tracing a finger over the inside of one of her palms when she came to, fascinated by the fact that her scars were gone. He was relieved that at least she had healed in that way. But given all that had happened their senior year, before she was whisked away to college, it was not what he had expected.
"Betty?" he said softly and started stroking her hair as she awakened. He helped her to sit up when she was ready. "I thought I lost you there."
Betty laughed lightly. "No, you can't get rid of me that easily. Not this time, Jones."
He laughed a little with her, but it wasn't really a joke. He knew that she was talking about their break-up. He thought he had wanted to talk about it, but suddenly found himself quite nervous. No wonder it was called 'liquid courage.' When he had been drunk yesterday, he had kept hounding her for the truth. But now, in stark sobriety, he was scared – and pretty sure he didn't want to know. So, he deflected.
"I noticed, um . . ." he lifted up one of her hands and softly ran his fingers over her palm. "You don't seem to have any scars anymore."
"Yeah," Betty looked down as if thinking carefully about what to say next. "I replaced that habit with alcohol and numbness for a while. And then I just . . . stopped."
She cleared her throat, still not touching the subject of their break-up either. It seemed like she also may not be ready to talk about it just yet. He was glad.
"So, I understand the alcohol, Juggie and I'm not judging you – really I'm not. I just know that you're hurting." She paused and looked at him with clear eyes. "I was."
He was definitely not ready to talk about THAT.
They sat in a heavy silence together on the bathroom floor for quite a long time.
The photo used in the number of the title plaque is by Alex Hainer.
"Jug?" Betty said after a bit.
"Yeah?" he was a little nervous about what she might ask him and started to shake a little. But to his relief, she went somewhere else.
"When I was in college – back when I was still drinking – I knew a guy named Bruce . . ."
As the horror of her story unfolded, Jughead reached out for her. When the tears came he pulled her close to his chest. When it was finished, he wrapped his legs around her too, and they clung to each other in a ball, and he just rocked her, soothed her.
He stared over at the toilet, remembering her care that previous night, when he was basically passed out drunk. He felt like such an asshole. He almost winced as he held her tighter and whispered into her hair, "I'm so sorry, Betty."
"I was so scared," she sobbed. "So scared you were going to die."
"I know," he whispered. "I know."
He started to cry a little himself. "I'll never do that to you again."
At that she stiffened a little and pulled back. She wiped her eyes. God, she looked miserable. What had he done?
"Don't make that promise to me, Jug. I'm not in your life anymore, remember? If you decide to stop, you need to do it for yourself."
She extracted herself from him and headed back to the bedroom. With one brief glance back at him, she closed the door.
She let herself cry a little more after collapsing against the closed door. Little did she know that Jughead was right behind it, with a palm on it, trying to comfort her, if only in his mind.
"Oh, Jug," she said and one point and his heart just broke. He couldn't help but cry a little too.
When she moved away from the door, he went to the kitchen and pulled out all the bottles of booze he had on hand. He started dumping them down the sink. Now his tears were coming in earnest. He had to keep wiping them away between bottles, rubbing at his nose and sniffing.
How many times had he seen his father do exactly this?
It never worked. Was he really an alcoholic now just like his old man? Was he that far gone already? He didn't know. He was going to go on the assumption that he wasn't as bad as his dad and that he'd be able resist the urge to restock. He had to. For her. Even if they were never going to be together again.
Because it wasn't about that. It was becoming clear to him that she really did still care about him – and she was one of the only people that still cared about him. He wished he had known that during these past five years. It might have made things easier. He might have been able to get through if he'd known he had someone . . .
He let out a sigh and did a final wipe of his eyes. It was all gone – except for his emergency stash under the trailer. He'd have to take care of that.
He almost jumped out of his skin. Betty took in all the empty booze bottles. "What are you doing?"
"Being my dad," he quipped.
Her brows furrowed.
"In order to not be my dad."
"I don't get it."
"Here, help me," he said and waved her outside the trailer. He moved the little cross-hatched fence aside and crawled through the opening towards his emergency stash of booze and cigarettes. "C'mon."
She followed him in on her hands and knees. It's not like she hadn't followed him into worse places. Thankfully the stash was small and it looked like they would be able to carry it all out in one trip between the two of them.
"What about the cigarettes, Jug?"
"You mean my angry cigarettes?"
He looked at them carefully. He didn't know. Would he still need them if he stopped drinking?
They were both on their hands and knees, shoulder to shoulder – and there was some mud. The next thing they knew, Betty slipped and Jughead ended up right on top of her. He could feel her heart racing through her chest. His was too. He had just held her and comforted her, but this was . . . different.
His hot breath was on her face and her lips were so close . . .
She started to move a bit, probably to get out from underneath him, but the feel of her body moving beneath his – for the first time in so long – brought back memories of tender caresses and passionate moments between them. He wanted her to stay there underneath him. His body did too. He rolled away before it became too obvious.
"Sorry," he said awkwardly.
"It's okay," she said just as awkwardly.
And then, practicalities. They got all the booze out from underneath the trailer, but left the cigarettes behind.
After all the rest of the booze was dumped down the drain, Jughead said, "I can't believe I did that to you last night, Betty. I feel so bad. I wanted to let you know that I am going to quit drinking"
He put up a hand. "But I'm not doing it for you, so don't worry. Well, I am . . . but I'm not."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm doing it for myself. And it truly is for me. I don't want to be the type of person who would ever hurt you like that." He looked down and away. "So, trust me, I'm not really doing it for you. We're not even together."
That last one came out a little bitter, but there it was.
Sometime later . . .
"You wanna go for a drive today?"
"A drive? Sure, but . . ." She shook her head. "I really should have brought my overnight bag here, instead of leaving it at my hotel. I'm going to have to wear some of your clothes, I'm afraid, unless you want to -"
"No, it's okay." They walked into his bedroom, where he dug around in his dresser drawer, finding an old grey T-Shirt of his that he threw to her. She remembered it from high school.
"The letter S suits you," he said, nodding. Then he tossed her some drawers and asked, "You ever wear Gregg's underwear?"
That got a belly laugh out of Betty. "No. He'd die."
Jughead smiled. "Let's go for that drive."
"You'll have to give me some privacy so I can change."
"I've seen it all before," he said smugly.
"Not lately you haven't!" she said and playfully threw his own pillow at him. "Now get."
As they drove into town, Jughead had an idea. A grand gesture - one that might get her to talk. He hadn't even known Betty still cared until she showed up two days ago. Maybe they could heal . . . and more. But God, he wished he knew what had really happened their senior year. It had scarred him for life. He really thought he was ready to hear it now.
They stopped by A. Andrews construction.
"Jughead! Betty! What are you two doing about town?" Archie smiled broadly when they walked in. "Better yet, what are you still doing here, Betty? And in Jughead's clothes no less."
They all chuckled a bit.
"I haven't finished what I came her for," she said cryptically and shrugged.
"You're looking good, Jughead," Archie said and clapped him on the back. "I haven't seen you this way in –"
"Archie," Jughead interrupted. "I need a favor. Can you excuse us, Betty?"
Jughead had left Archie and Betty alone to have a late lunch and catch up. And he was quite late getting back. The sun was starting its slow descent down when he returned to A. Andrews construction.
"Ready?" he asked Betty.
Why did this feel like a first date?
"Yes," Betty agreed, a little flutter in her stomach, and gave Archie a quick peck on the cheek in goodbye.
"Take good care of her, man," Archie told Jughead.
"Always," Jughead said and smiled.
They visited old haunts well into the evening. Sweetwater River, Riverdale High, the building where her parents used to run the Riverdale Register, and Pop's of course. When it was well past twilight, Jughead asked Betty, "Wanna go to the drive-in?"
"They have a drive-in here in Riverdale again?"
"Kinda," he answered cryptically.
"Kinda?" she asked and her eyebrows shot up a bit.
They paid Pop Tate for their strawberry and vanilla milkshakes and got back into Jughead's truck. It was quite an upgrade from FP's old beater. Betty didn't get the urge to go to town on the engine like she had every time she had ridden in Jughead's dad's truck. She noticed that Jughead had put a bunch of blankets and pillows in the flatbed. He must have planned for this trip to the drive-in before they had even left. It wasn't spontaneous like all the other stops had seemed.
They drove up the road that led to the old abandoned SoDo project, where the Twilight Drive-In had been for most of their youth. Getting a little suspicious, Betty said, "Juggie, where are you taking me?"
"To the drive-in."
"There's nothing back here." And without any lights, frankly, it looked a little eerie.
"Okay . . ." she said warily.
The pulled into a parking lot full of crumbling cement. The frost heaves caused by a series of harsh winters had not been kind to it. Jughead parked in the middle of it, seemingly randomly.
"I'll be back," he said and got out of the truck.
A chill ran through her spine. This was really creepy.
"Jug!" she called, getting out of the car.
"Go ahead and get in the flatbed, Betty. I'll just be a sec."
She did and then looked out into the night, towards where his voice had been, seeing nothing. Then suddenly light – huge, bright light splashed up against the side of a building.
"It that . . . is that a projector screen?" she called out.
"Yeah, part of one," Jug answered.
The beginning of a movie started playing and Jug was back at the truck in a jiffy, tuning his radio to the correct frequency and turning it way up so they could hear the film he was playing, Rebel Without a Cause.
"Just like old times, eh?" Jughead grinned as he joined her in the flatbed.
She opened up her blanket, inviting him to join her under it. "Well, not really. The Twilight was gone by the time we were together."
"And you missed Rebel Without a Cause on closing night."
"I'm sorry about that," she said and without thinking she cuddled into him, wrapping her arm about his waist and tucking her chin under his neck. "We'll have to make up for that."
He hadn't been sure she was serious, but make up for lost time they did. He cuddled into her as well, arm about her shoulder, cheek upon her head. It was almost as if they were dating again – only this time with the Twilight Drive-In intact.
He had driven them to the very spot where it used to stand, borrowed a part of the old projection screen he had been able to beg Fred not to throw away back in the day, and had had some of A. Andrews' Construction workers help him put it up. And of course, he also jury rigged a projection system. All for her. So, that they could have this moment. However fleeting. . .
"Betty," he interrupted the movie. After holding her through more than half of it, he finally had the courage and he needed to know.
She looked up at him expectantly.
He was hoping that if she answered just this one question they would have a chance to heal. "Why?"
Her face crumpled.
"Do you remember what happened to the twins, Juggie?"
"Yes, how could I forget? I was with you at the funeral. You were devastated."
"It was the last time I let myself feel, Jug. Really feel. And it hurt so much."
He rubbed her shoulder.
"I can't believe Polly did that to her own babies. No one could. It was horrific." Betty shivered.
"Yes, but she's safely locked away now."
She let out an irritated breath. "That's not the point, Jug. That's not where I'm going with this. At all."
"Okay, sorry," he replied, like a child who had been chastised.
"No, I'm sorry," she corrected. "It's just . . . this is just really difficult for me to talk about. But it needs to be done."
"I understand," he said softly and kissed the top of her head, waiting for her to go on.
"After the funeral, I was just numb . . . and then suddenly Mom whisked us away to that damn retreat for the entire summer before Polly's trial." Betty said angrily.
"Yeah, I missed you and I was worried about you," he said. "I texted you . . ."
She heard the sob he held back, felt it right there on his neck, where her forehead had been resting. Her guilt was overwhelming. She knew that was where the hurt started with him. Her first act of neglect.
"And I slowly stopped texting you."
"Yeah," he said forlornly. "When you returned . . ."
"I was a shell. I was gone, Juggie."
"But you were still hurting, I only wanted to help." He didn't hold back his sob this time. "I loved you and I wanted you to feel better, but –"
"I wasn't there. Me - Betty Cooper - was gone. It wasn't your fault that I pulled away, you did nothing wrong." She reached up to wipe away one of the tears on his cheeks. "Nothing."
"I couldn't help you. I couldn't make it better."
"No one could have, Jug."
He hugged her tighter for a bit, but then pulled away, putting some distance between them. She knew he was preparing to ask the question she was dreading.
"What about Hot Dog?" He looked so haunted.
She just couldn't face that and started to look away, but he stopped her, guiding her chin back with a gentle finger. "Betty, don't. I need to know."
He sat back and crossed his arms, waiting for her to speak.
"Oh, God," she choked out. At that very moment, her chest heaved and tears came racing out of her eyes so fast her cheeks were immediately drowned in them. Her guilt was immense. "Oh, God, I can't believe I did that to you."
Upon seeing her torrent of tears, he cried a little too, but didn't reach out to comfort her. Because no, she didn't deserve that. She knew she didn't deserve that.
She could still hear Hot Dog whining, standing over his bowl, looking at her forlornly. Begging to be fed. No matter how pathetic he looked, she just couldn't bring herself to do it. She knew he was starving, knew he was suffering. Deep down she knew what was happening and wanted to alleviate his suffering, but she couldn't bring her body to do it. She wasn't eating either. She couldn't care for anyone anymore. Not Jughead. Not Hot Dog. Not herself.
They had found her passed out on the floor when they returned after a week. Her mom had called Jughead right away to come and take Hot Dog to the vet – he had been in very bad shape. But Betty refused to go the hospital like her parents wanted her to, just locked herself away in that dark room, waiting for Jughead to finally do it. To finally let her go because she was pure evil and didn't deserve anyone. Ever. Especially not him.
"Betty, I don't know what to say," Jughead said quietly.
The picture of Lili in the number of the title plauqe is by Conor Leslie and the one of Cole is by Damon Baker.
"Why did you leave him with me?" Betty demanded desperately through her tears.
Jughead was still sitting there with his arms crossed, trying to let this all sink in. His own tears had stopped - he couldn't touch her. He just . . . couldn't. And then without warning, all the anger came back. The wounds felt fresh, raw. Hot Dog had died because of her neglect.
"Why? Because I didn't want you to be alone!" he yelled. "I was fucking worried about you with your family taking off like that and I wasn't going to be around either. I thought Hot Dog –"
She quickly got away from him. Jumped off the end of the flatbed and just started running. Into the dark. Into nothingness.
After a second, Jughead ran after her, screaming her name. He was losing sight of her. Oh no . . . Suddenly he panicked. This was all wrong. So terribly wrong.
"Betty please! Please don't leave me. I'm sorry," he screamed into the void when he could no longer see her. "I'm sorry."
He dropped to his knees and wept. "Oh God, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to . . ."
Betty stopped running and stood there panting in the dark. She didn't realize that Jughead yelling at her would do that - that it would cause her to panic. 'Cause she deserved it - she fucking deserved it. She had needed to come here and face him - to apologize for the worst thing she had ever done in her life.
Even though she had been unable to feel the hurt until much later - when she found she needed to numb herself with alcohol - it had still hurt so damn much when he left her. So much. She started sobbing at the memory. "Oh God, Juggie. Please don't leave me. Please."
It didn't take long before he found her in the dark, scooped her into his arms and held her, whispering into her hair, "I forgive you, Betty. It's okay. I forgive you."
"You can't," she spat and tried to pull away.
He didn't let her get away. He held her firm. "It's not your decision, Betty. I forgive you."
The picture of Cole in the number on the title plaque was taken by Angelo Sgambati.
"It was depression." It wasn't a question.
"Yes," Betty said forlornly, lying on Jughead's chest as the sun started to rise. It had been a very long night and they were still in the flatbed of the truck. "But I didn't figure that out until much later. I hated myself so much, Juggie. And in all honestly, after what I did to Hot Dog –"
His arms tensed around her.
"- I still do."
"You couldn't help it."
"But I've felt terrible about it for years. It's why I started drinking."
He just held her in silence.
"I hated myself, Juggie. Absolutely hated myself."
"Shh . . ." he said and kissed her head. "Let's not talk about it."
"But I want to. I think we need to."
He knew she wasn't talking about herself anymore and shifted uncomfortably.
"What's going on with you, Jug? Why do you hate yourself so much?"
He pressed his lips together tightly and he sat up. He couldn't do this – not with her.
She put herself squarely in front of him, lifting a hand tenderly to his face. "Juggie, please talk to me. I've been so worried about you."
He lifted his chin in defiance. "And once you aren't?"
"Aren't worried anymore." His chin quivered. "Then you're just going to leave, aren't, you?"
"Jug . . ." she said softly, dropping her hand.
"This was what you came back to Riverdale for, right? To get. . ." He took a deep breath, thinking of her revelation in regards to why Hot Dog had died in her care. ". . . THAT off your chest. And now you have. You can go."
"I can't leave you Jug –"
"What? You still think I'm a mess?" He snorted bitterly. "Afraid I'm going to go back on my promise and find my way to the bottom of a bottle again if I don't spill my guts to you now?"
There was a long pause before she said, "Yes."
"You can't ask that of me, Betty."
Silent tears fell down his cheeks for a while.
"Don't you understand that the anticipation of you leaving –" He hiccuped loudly and wiped at his nose. "That's what's killing me, Betty."
She took his hand gently.
In a very quiet voice he continued, "I don't want to be all alone with all of that again. Please don't do that to me."
"When were you all alone?" she asked softly.
He just kept crying and banged the back of his head against the glass of the cab a couple of times before resting it there.
"No," he said weakly. "No, I can't go there. Please."
And then Betty did the most astonishing thing. She pulled out her cell phone.
He could hear the harsh tones of her dick fiancé on the other line. "Betty, what are you thinking? Calling me at the buttcrack of dawn like this? What is wrong with you?"
"Are you still in Riverdale?"
"Have you finished up your business with Jughead? Are you ready to move on?"
Jughead lifted his head up.
"No, Gregg. I won't be moving on," Betty said firmly. "Goodbye."
The photo of Cole in the number of the title plaque was taken by Dani Brubaker and the sketch at the end was done by Rainystripe. :-)
"Betty?" Jughead stared at her, totally confused. Did this mean?
She took his hands firmly, leaned forward to kiss him, and then said, "I'm not going to neglect you in a time of need, Jughead. For any reason. Ever again."
A tentative smile started to form on his face. She looked almost vulnerable herself when she asked him once again, "When were you all alone, Juggie? Please tell me."
He thought his world had fallen apart when Betty had begun to pull away from him, even more so when Hot Dog died at the expense of her neglect, and especially when he dumped her for it. But he was not prepared for the day when it actually happened.
Betty was off at college, and Archie was going out of his mind as it looked like the gunman who shot his father may get off. His mother had come to take him away from the madness for a while. Although Jughead had already lost the two people he thought were the most important in his life, he was not prepared for more.
It had been a rare day of not just peace and quiet between his parents, but something akin to love. He was almost jealous. His dad had stayed sober for a record length of time after being released from incarceration and what had seemed like just wild promises his sophomore year actually came true by his senior year. His mom came home, Jellybean came home. And they bought a new house, leaving the trailer and that entire life behind them.
But even though they were all living under the same roof again, his parents would still fight something fierce. Yet on that particular night his parents were almost . . . cuddly . . . as they left for the bedroom together. His mom grabbed an ashtray on the way in, since her cigarette was still lit and she didn't want to put it out just yet. Normally, she never kept ashtrays in the bedroom. Jughead heard laughter and what sounded like the two of them falling onto the bed.
"Okay, time for bed, JB," Jughead said at 10pm.
"What gives you authority over my bedtime?" she said saucily.
"I'm eighteen," he said and crossed his arms.
"Oh, I suppose that makes you all legal-ly and guardian-ly?"
He smirked at her. "Get."
"Fine." She sighed and dramatically rolled her eyes. He just chuckled. Middle schoolers.
Jellybean picked up her sketch pads, and went back to her bedroom down the hallway. Jughead laid down on the couch and tried to watch TV, but his mind kept drifting, wondering how Betty was doing at college. She must be starting classes soon - the summer was nearing an end. He was still mad at her though. Very mad.
He restlessly turned over and smushed his face into the back of the couch.
"Oooh, that left a mark," he could almost hear Betty say, upon discovering this habit of his, peeling his face away from the couch where he had accidentally fallen asleep in that position, leaving an indentation of the fabric pattern behind on his cheek.
He could almost feel her kiss him softly and reached up into her hair, drawing her head down even deeper into the kiss, sighing as he pulled her on top of him. Her weight was warm and comforting –
A sharp smell invaded his nose and he sat up. The TV illuminated the room with a strange light, made all the stranger by the roiling black cloud on the ceiling. It was almost mesmerizing. Until he couldn't breathe.
He felt like a dragon all of a sudden - blowing fire from his chest. And when he stood up, it got worse. He almost blacked out. Oh Shit! FIRE!
He couldn't stand because the cloud above him was dropping soot, and descending ever lower – and he couldn't breathe in that thing. He crawled down towards the hallway as fast as he could, but flames were licking at its border. He kept reaching, trying to crawl in, down the hallway to save his little sister, but his reflexes were too good. Every time he tried, not only was he singed, but he involuntarily pulled back. He was incredibly frustrated in that moment. Weak. Impotent. Why couldn't he push through? He would have screamed out for his sister, if his lungs would have let him, but his throat, his mouth, everything was too dry.
Suddenly, he was pulled up from the floor, encircled by huge, strong arms.
No one ended up making it out alive except for Jughead. It had been too late. He had slept too long. Couldn't push through the flames licking at the hallway. He had failed his family. He had failed his sister. He pulled the blanket tightly around himself in shame.
One of the firemen approached him. "Son, it appears that the fire was most likely caused by a lit cigarette that fell into your parents' bed – and it probably went unnoticed and smoldered until after they were asleep. Once a mattress fire like that ignites, you don't have long to save them. And your little sister was right next door. This fire spread fast."
Jughead looked up at him and wiped the ash and tears from his cheeks. How did this man know what he was thinking?
Then the fireman bent down and handed him something – the charred remains of one of Jellybean's sketchbooks. She had just started drawing in it - only a few pages were filled in and the edges were black, crispy, and falling away in his hands as he turned the pages.
And then he came to the page that would haunt him forever.
Jellybean had drawn a picture of him kneeling down to hug Hot Dog, with Betty by his side, her hand on his shoulder. She was smiling, eyes no longer vacant. And he looked content. A happy little made up family. The one he had always wanted. His sister had drawn it for him.
The images of Lili & Cole in the title plaque were taken by Conor Leslie and Damon Baker respectively.
Jughead cried in Betty's arms after he told the story. After it was all out. He felt hollow. And he was ashamed.
Betty stroked his hair and rocked him saying, "There's nothing to be ashamed of, Juggie. You did nothing wrong. You couldn't have saved her. You couldn't have saved them."
"No," Betty said firmly. "There was nothing you could have done. Nothing."
"But I'm still alive and they're –"
Betty hugged him fiercely. Somehow, she knew those feelings too. Those little twins. Those two, poor little red-headed babies. Betty had secretly wished her own sister was dead instead of those innocent babies. Or even herself.
How she had been allowed to survive her sister's manic rage that night and they hadn't was beyond her. Polly had killed her own babies, yet just passed over her as if she had been anointed in sheep's blood. It defied explanation.
"It's not fair, Juggie. It's totally not fair. We're here and they're not."
He pulled away to look at her. "Who Betty?"
"Your family, Jellybean . . ."
"Those babies. Polly's babies. Why did I live, Juggie? Why did you?"
He looked at her very carefully. Like the day he had mustered up the courage to kiss her that first time.
"Because of this," he said and pulled her in closer. He bent his head down, touched the tip of his nose to hers for just a beat, and whispered, "Because of this."
Then his lips seared into hers and they melted into each other, so many years of pain, and torment, and longing burning between them.
"Betty, are you sure you want me back in your life? Or is this all too much?"
"I already told you, I'm not leaving you, Jug. You're going to have to beat me off with a stick."
"A stick it is," he said and smiled.
As they walked down the little pathway through Riverdale's own pet cemetery, Jughead joked, "Not as cool as the book."
Betty poked him in the ribs. "Come on, be serious. Be solemn. This is a graveyard afterall."
"I'm not serious. I'm not wired to be serious," he parodied one of their favorite lines from their first fight so many years ago. It had long lost its sting, and had instead became their own little meme. It felt nice to be using it again.
"You're Jughead Jones. If you're not wired to be serious, none of us are."
"Here we are," he interrupted. The joking mood faded quickly. Betty had come to pay her respects to Hot Dog.
The Jones' hadn't had enough money for a real marker, so Hot Dog's place was marked by a flat stone they had found on the ground near their home that Jellybean had decorated for him. But most of her work had faded away by now and it was barely distinguishable from any other rock.
Betty squatted, reached out, and placed her hand on it, saying a silent prayer and asking for forgiveness. Jughead stood over her, bearing witness. A part of him finally felt closure. He hoped Betty did, too. Now he understood just how much this had haunted her over the years as well. It wasn't just he who had been in pain.
"Thank you," she said and stood up.
He took her hand.
She nodded resolutely. "And now for those cigarettes."
Jughead nodded glumly in response.
As he leaned under the trailer, partway through the hole he had made by removing that little cross-hatched piece of fence, he began to hyperventilate. He clearly saw that cigarette in his mom's hand again, trailing ashes as she pulled it into the bedroom along with the ashtray she had just grabbed.
Betty pulled him back out and stroked his face to soothe him. "Breathe, Jug. Breathe."
He nodded at her, but it only got worse. He felt the burn in his lungs. It seemed like he was breathing fire again. Weakly he choked out, "Help."
"Okay. It's okay," Betty said, sitting him down on the ground and rubbing his back as he struggled to catch his breath. "You'll make it. Just be patient with it."
He nodded again and closed his eyes, willing himself to stop seeing what had happened that day. But that never worked.
After a time he heard Betty say softly, "I'll go in with you."
Her thumb brushed his cheek to wipe away tears he didn't know he'd shed. "When you're ready, I'll go first, okay?"
Taking his hand, Betty led the way in. They crawled over to where he had left his cigarette stash. When they got there, he just sank back onto his heels. He looked so deflated.
Eventually he reached out for one of the two packs that were still there with a shaky hand. The open one. "These were my mom's brand."
He took a cigarette out and twirled it in his fingers. Solemnly he said, "These things kill. Sometimes sooner rather than later. I think a part of me wanted to die."
Betty reached over and hugged him fiercely. Even though it was cramped and awkward, this time they did not slip and fall into the mud. She held him tightly as he convulsed.
"Why am I still crying?" he asked, frustrated. "Haven't I cried enough?"
"Because healing takes time. Your feelings aren't going to go away overnight. Trust me. Once you face them, they still take time to process."
He grasped back onto her tightly.
"It's okay to cry, Juggie," Betty said soothingly, fingers now deep in his hair, bringing his head to her breast and rocking him. "This is a big one. It's okay."
The picture of Cole & Lily in the number of the Title Plaque is by Jay L. Clendenin.
Standing over the garbage bin Jughead said bitterly, "I wish I could burn them."
"Jug –" Betty started.
"But it wouldn't be right. It wouldn't be fitting. They belong in the trash."
And that's where they went.
Now that the booze and the cigarettes were finally purged from Jughead's trailer, Betty turned to him and said, "Do what you need to do to not fall back into those bad habits, okay? I'll be here for you and I love you, Jug, so, I'll support you, but I won't enable you. You need to do the work."
What she said gave him pause. "You say you still love me, Betty. But do you really - after all these years?"
"Of course I do. What kind of question is that?"
"Well, senior year – it seemed pretty obvious to me that you had stopped." The corners of his mouth pulled down into a frown. Despite everything, that old pain was still there. The pain from when it all started - from when she had let their relationship wither and die. It surprised him how much it still hurt. And it made him very insecure all of a sudden.
"Juggie, I wasn't acting like myself –"
"Stop. Listen. You don't know. I hated myself then, Jughead. HATED. I was so numb . . . at least on the surface." She hung her head. "But in my brain I knew how I really felt. I knew I was starving Hot Dog, neglecting you. It was killing me to know that these things I was doing were bad, but to not be able to feel them, not be able to act in order to fix them. Do you understand?"
"I don't know." Jughead shrugged his shoulders hopelessly.
She touched his cheek, softly.
"I LOVED you Jughead. I never stopped. Not even to this day. I was just hurting so much after what happened with Polly I couldn't access those feelings. They were there, but I couldn't reach them, and I couldn't reach out for the lifeline you were throwing me."
She reached out, took both of his hands, and shook them lightly. "I'm so glad you tried to be there for me back then, Juggie. I'll never forget it."
She teared up a bit and Jughead tried to hold back some of his own tears. He was successful, but still, his voice cracked when he said, "But it didn't matter if I was there for you or not, Betty. It didn't change anything."
"Not then, no," Betty admitted. "But knowing that you had still loved me through all of that . . ."
"It gave me the courage to come here. To see you again."
"Just to break my heart," he said with irony and a wry little smile. They were past that, he knew, but he still felt the need to dig it in.
"No, to set things right between us. I just didn't realize . . ."
Her lip quivered a bit. "Just how much I still love you."
There was a long silence between them. He looked at her very carefully before making a decision.
Finally he said, "I think I need to show you something."
He led her to a hall closet in the trailer and took down a box. He was shaking.
"Jellybean?" Betty guessed.
"Yeah, her sketchpad is in here. And . . ." He turned away from her.
"And something else."
"Can I see the drawing?" Betty asked quietly.
Jughead fiddled with something before turning back to her.
"Sure," he said. He sounded a little nervous, but handed her the burnt sketchpad, clutching something else tightly in his fist.
Betty opened it carefully, getting soot on her hands.
"That always happens," he said.
"That's okay." She easily found the page with Jughead's 'fantasy family,' herself included, and her eyes welled up, but not with sadness this time. "It's beautiful, Juggie. Jellybean was really talented."
"Yeah, she was." He smiled softly at the memory of his sister constantly drawing something, anything. Like she was possessed with the most insistent muses. Even at the tender age of eight when she got in trouble at school because she couldn't stop doodling on her desk. "Jellybean gave me something I thought I could never have at that point."
"A happy future with you."
She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him.
"Okay, this is going to sound a little bit weird, and probably a lot creepy, but please bear with me."
"I only did this because I was hurting so much – because I missed you so much."
"Go on," she said.
"When the insurance money came in for the house after the fire, and I was the sole heir to the 'Jones fortune' . . . " He chuckled. ". . . I purchased something very specific. The money wasn't enough to buy a new home and we still owned this trailer outright, so I moved back into it, dilapidated though it was."
"And I took part of that insurance money and had something made. Something that felt permanent – because you had been so ethereal. I had no one. I was alone. I needed something to hold on to. And I loved you. . ."
"What was it?"
He hung his head. "You're going to think I'm a fool, Betty."
"Never," she said softly.
He opened up his palm slowly.
"It's pink because you always wore pink."
She pulled it out of his hand to inspect it. "Is that a topaz?"
"No it's a diamond, Betty."
"What?" She almost dropped it.
"I wanted to marry you, so I bought the ring." He took it out of her hands and just stared down at it for a bit. "Even though I never gave this to you, in my heart I did. I wanted you by my side for life."
"I don't know what to say."
He looked back up at her, serious as a heart attack. "Say yes, Betty."