When Betty is eleven, she gets her first kiss.
She’s at a sleepover at the Lodge mansion; Veronica’s got the boys over as well, at least until it’s bedtime (when they’ll go into another room in the vast mansion), so it’s Betty and Archie and Veronica and Reggie and Midge and Jughead and Moose and Ethel and Chuck and Nancy and Dilton and then Betty again, sitting in a circle in the Lodges’ huge living room. The girls are all cross-legged on sleeping bags, the boys are on the white carpet between; the lights are low, and Veronica’s parents are in another part of the mansion entirely.
They’re all seventh graders and they’re nervous and they’re giggling; Betty can see Veronica shooting Archie looks, and Reggie trying to get Veronica to pay attention to him, and it’s the same thing that’s been happening since they were little kids except it’s different now, somehow. They’re older than they were and sometimes Betty thinks about kissing Archie, kissing somebody, and she wants it so bad it makes her stomach hurt sometimes.
But right now her stomach doesn’t hurt, it’s fluttering, because Veronica has set out an empty Coke bottle in the middle of the circle and announced that they were going to play spin-the-bottle. It makes sense, of course, that this would happen at Veronica’s house, at Veronica’s party: she’s the most grown-up of them, or at least she tries to be. Veronica is always reaching towards adulthood and shooting towards it like a launched rocket, and Betty—Betty is just standing in the ground, watching her go.
She knows Veronica has already kissed a boy, though she wouldn’t tell Betty who, and when she asked slyly if Betty had kissed anyone yet, she’d lied and said yes. But she hadn’t. She still hasn’t.
“I’ll spin first,” says Veronica confidently, and she leans forward and flicks the bottle casually; it rattles around and eventually points itself at Chuck.
Nancy looks a bit annoyed, but Chuck’s game, and so is Veronica; as Betty watches, the two move toward each other, and Veronica kisses him quickly on the lips, like every kiss she gives is a gift, and every kiss she gives means nothing.
Chuck’s turn to spin now, and the bottle winds up on Reggie. Everyone looks at each other slightly uncomfortably—Betty doesn’t see anything wrong with it, really, but they’re all at the age now where they’re uncertain and they know that it doesn’t matter if a boy kisses another boy, but everything around them tells them that it should.
Chuck and Reggie laugh awkwardly, and finally Chuck pecks Reggie lightly on the cheek—so lightly that his lips might not have touched Reggie’s cheek at all. Reggie flushes and grabs the bottle, and spins it roughly, and it rachets around and around until, tap-tap-tapping its neck on the wooden board they’ve got it laid on, it points at Betty.
Betty stares at it like it’s a monster from another dimension, like it’s her death and her doom laid before her eyes—or at least that’s what she’s telling herself as the blush creeps up her cheeks.
“I don’t want to,” she says, and her voice sounds too loud to her ears, and she’s not looking at anything but the bottle, not at Reggie’s dismayed face, not at Ronnie’s confusion, not at Archie’s slight expression of relief.
“You what?” asks Veronica.
“I—I don’t want to.” Betty gets to her feet. “I’m—going to go to the bathroom.”
“Be that way,” grumbles Veronica as Betty walks away from the circle, so lightheaded that she feels like she’s walking on clouds.
It’s not that anything is wrong with Reggie, she thinks a bit resentfully; nothing is wrong with him, she just—he’s never been on her list of Boys Betty Wants To Kiss. He’s okay—self-absorbed and has a bit too much belief in his own greatness, but considering that Betty’s best friend is like that, she can’t dislike him on those grounds. He’s cute, but that’s it.
So it’s understandable that when she realized she actually did sort of want to kiss him, it scared her—right?
When Betty comes back from the bathroom, the game is over; the boys are standing awkwardly in a group, talking under their breaths, and Veronica is talking to her dad in a corner, looking a bit upset.
“What’s going on?” Betty asks Nancy as she takes her seat on her sleeping bag once again. She doesn’t look at Nancy, though, she looks at the boys in their group; her eyes meet Reggie’s for just a moment, and then they both look away from each other, more quickly than what’s normal.
“The boys are going to the other living room now,” says Nancy in a tone of voice that makes it plain that she thinks the concept of ‘the other living room’ is absolutely ridiculous.
“It’s not because of you, Betty,” Nancy says quickly, reaching out to touch Betty’s knee. “Remember Mr. Lodge said they had to leave at ten-thirty for the other room—it’s almost eleven now.”
“Oh,” Betty says again, and draws her knees up to her chest and doesn’t look at anything or anyone until Ronnie comes back to the circle of sleeping bags and the boys leave the room.
Things proceed pretty typically of sleepovers after that; the girls tell ghost stories and pretend to be scared, they play truth or dare (which doesn’t get all that far), they tell each other their secrets. And finally, they sleep. Midge stops talking first, then Ethel, and then one by one they are all quiet in the darkness but for soft breaths and rising chests—all except for Betty, who can’t sleep. She lies in her sleeping bag for a while, trying to, but she can’t do it.
Finally she decides that maybe going to the bathroom will help—she can splash cold water on her face or something—so she gets up as quietly as possible and creeps out of the room, over the soft floor, barefoot, a shadow in a baggy t-shirt and shorts. The darkness swallows her up, makes her insubstantial, a ghost haunting the mansion.
She’s alone, the only person awake, and that knowledge comforts her.
Except, as it turns out—she's not.
There’s a shadow approaching the bathroom, from the other end of the hall; Betty finds a light switch (she’s memorized the layout of this house nearly as well as Veronica herself) and flicks it on. There, at the end of the hall, blinking in the sudden light, is Reggie.
Betty feels heat creep up her cheeks and she quickly turns the light off, and she’s about to turn around and run away when she hears: “Betty?”
She can’t go now, so instead she keeps walking forward, towards Reggie, just as he’s walking toward her. “Evening,” she says, trying to sound casual and adult and absolutely not like she’s terrified to see him again after that spin-the-bottle mess.
They look at each other in the dark, the barest outlines of their faces visible; Betty wonders what exactly he looks like right now. Does he look as sure of himself as he always does? Or is Reggie different in the darkness?
“I’m sorry about earlier,” she says after a moment, when they’re standing just a couple of feet apart, right in front of the bathroom door.
He shrugs; she can barely see the movement. “It’s okay. The game was kind of stupid anyway.”
“Yeah,” she says, and then she leans forward without knowing what she’s doing and he leans toward her and suddenly she’s kissing him, Betty Cooper is kissing Reggie Mantle, and he’s not red-headed or freckled and he’s not who she wanted her first kiss to be with but darn if this doesn’t feel, in this moment, completely right.
They break apart after a moment, and she sees the shadow of Reggie’s hand raise itself to his lips, and she realizes that this is the first time she’s ever seen Reggie caught off-guard. He can’t use his self-obsession to protect himself. She likes it—she likes seeing a surprised Reggie, one who didn’t expect a girl to actually just kiss him without him wheedling her into it first.
“It was a stupid game,” she says, and grins. “Good night, Reggie.”
Betty walks away, leaving him stunned in the hallway. She feels oddly like Veronica: self-confident, someone who can kiss boys and stun them and grin afterward. And it was Reggie Mantle, who doesn’t get flustered, who always has some smart-aleck remark to make; it was Reggie Mantle and she kissed him and he shut up and oh my god, that was her first kiss.
Once she gets into her sleeping bag, she falls asleep nearly right away, a grin on her face.
When Archie asks her, months later, if she’s ever kissed anyone before, she tells him no.