It is very seldom that a person loves anyone they cannot in some way envy.
"Stop glaring," Kevin says, and Jughead startles.
"You've been glaring for, like, thirty seconds." Kevin lifts a fry from Veronica's plate and pops it into his mouth, smirking. "I'm worried you're going to get a headache."
Jughead scowls, continuing to glare at the window, but that only serves to brighten Kevin's mood. The lines in his forehead deepen, and Kevin outright laughs at him.
"Calm yourself, babes," he says, inclining his head toward the glass where they can both see Veronica walking - no, not walking, more like sidling, striding, strutting - toward Betty and Archie. Her black hair is lit up in red from the neon sign and it makes her look strange, it makes her look like a moving photograph. "That's just how Veronica is."
Jughead turns back to Kevin, staring at him blankly. "Who said anything about Veronica?"
Kevin rolls his eyes, but says nothing else.
The first time he meets Veronica Lodge -
The first time he sees Veronica Lodge - he cannot fucking stand her.
As soon as she walks into the school - sidles, strides, struts, what-the-fuck-ever - she has everyone turning their heads. Veronica Lodge Of New York City, With The Burberry Scarf And The Father In Prison. Veronica dresses and moves and speaks in the language of money, and Jughead sees her and all at once decides he cannot stand her.
By the time they first meet she only confirms what he had initially suspected. She holds her hand out to him, prim and proper, superficially polite. But rather than standing up to let him in the booth or scooching over to give him space, she remains firmly planted in her spot, that brilliant, artificial white smile fixed on her face.
Jughead catalogues this in his mind, filing it away in box he's labeled Residents of Riverdale - Misc. and hurdles over the back of the booth to get in. She doesn't deserve her own cabinet, like Betty and Archie do. She's not that important. And if he's learned nothing else from living in Riverdale, it is this: if no one gives you space, make it yourself.
"Veronica Lodge," she says, her voice delicate and crisp. The language of money. Jughead wants to know what exactly his two best friends see in this girl.
"Jughead Jones," he says, "the Third."
Betty and Veronica have become something of a dynamic duo, which means Jughead keeps finding himself in Veronica's vicinity whether he likes it or not. It is mostly fine, mostly amiable, until the rare moments that Betty or Archie or both leave them alone together.
"So," Veronica says, stirring her strawberry milkshake. When Jughead says nothing, she tries again. "What's up, Jug?"
He sighs briefly. "Nothing."
She pauses, as if suddenly thinking of something. "Is Jughead your real name?"
"Yes," he deadpans. "My mother and father decided they wanted to name me Jughead. It's on my birth certificate and everything."
Veronica narrows her eyes at him. "Alright, you physical embodiment of the concept of "teenage wasteland," you try making conversation with me. Otherwise we'll just sit here in awkward - nay, tragically awkward - silence."
"I'm good with silence." Jughead smiles, stabbing a french fry into his milkshake rather viciously. "As long as it's with you, Ronnie, my dear."
"Oh, great comeback. How many joke books for the unbearably hip did you read before you found that one?"
"I thought of it all by myself actually. Not all of us need to gorge ourselves on pop culture before we find a sense of humor."
Veronica face falls, but almost as soon as he notices this she smiles again, waving Betty over to their table. Jughead does not feel bad, not even for a minute. Not even for a heartbeat.
He tells himself this, anyway.
At lunch, he calls her "knockoff Audrey Hepburn," and she bristles, she hisses, she spits back, "knockoff James Dean," and he wants to genuinely laugh but stops short of actually doing it.
Betty grins triumphantly at her success in creating a friendship where a friendship daren't exist. "I knew you two would get along."
Neither of them corrects her on this mistake, but they both smile meanly across the cafeteria table. Jughead hears Kevin mutter to Veronica, "Kitty, retract those claws."
Veronica smiles innocently at Betty, all sure we do don't we just love each other, but she still kicks Jughead underneath the table. This time, he does laugh, spitting Coca-Cola into his glass.
The night after they close the Twilight Drive-In, Jughead spends hours walking around Riverdale, trying not to fall asleep on his feet. Eventually, he ends up in a booth at Pop's typing on his laptop and nursing a milkshake because he needs to justify his existence there. It's close to one when Veronica walks in, and it's really kind of unfair, that she can walk into so many places and make it seem cinematic, effortless. Like she has her own personal slow-motion machine.
She falters a little bit on her way to the counter when she sees Jughead there, but almost immediately regains her footing, flagging down her mother with a wave of her hand.
Jughead keeps typing, and he does not look up. Only once or twice does he steal a glance. Maybe a few times more than that. Veronica and her mother are arguing in hushed tones, Veronica's hands closed into tight fists and her face flushed. Finally, Mrs. Lodge says loud enough for him to hear, "We'll talk about this at home, mija," and turns on her heel to bring a plate of burgers to a table full of drunk teenagers.
Veronica runs a hand through her hair as if to smooth it, but all it does is make her seem more disheveled. She notices him staring and snaps, "What the hell do you want, Jughead?"
"Nothing," he says. "I don't want anything at all from you."
Her face crumples, and for an overlong moment it seems like Veronica might cry. Jughead prays she doesn't, prays she'll turn heart of glass ice witch again, and eventually she does.
Her heels click loud on the tiled floors, and with a jingle of the door she is out of the restaurant and practically sprinting to her car. Jughead watches the progress and types. The rich girl, deletes it, The raven-haired girl, deletes it, Veronica Lodge was the poorest little rich girl anyone had ever seen, deletes it again.
Veronica Lodge, he types at last, was an ice queen. Only despite her best efforts, she remained the kind who could shatter at any moment.
And I wanted to make her shatter, he types, and then deletes the sentence before the thought can fully form.
Eventually, Pop seems to realize Jughead has no other place to go, and one night, at three in the morning, he drops a set of keys on top of Jughead's laptop and murmurs, "There's a couch in my office. I brought some sheets from home."
Jughead nods at him, blinking fast. He feels like the Grinch, his heart growing several sizes too big, until he blinks again and suddenly notices Mrs. Lodge watching the interaction from behind the counter.
He grabs the keys, clenching them in his fist until he can feel the ridges digging into his skin.
"Not a word," he says to Mrs. Lodge over the cash register. He does not want to plead with her, but he thinks maybe she understands now just how far you can fall without a safety net.
Mrs. Lodge just takes the few dollars he has waiting in his palm. "Not a word about what?" she says.
"Which is better," Veronica says one day, waxing poetic over her burger and fries while she watches her mother flit from table to table, smiling bright and fake for the dollar-fifty she gets in tips, "to have had money and lost it or to never have had it at all?"
Jughead stares at her, and he hates her so strongly in that moment it almost blinds him. "What a stupid fucking question," he says, the words ground out through his teeth.
The first rule of documentary filmmaking, or nonfiction writing, or any kind of so-called "objective" media, is to edit yourself out as much as possible. When Jughead first read In Cold Blood, he was struck by that, how Capote had strived to eliminate himself from the story. Later, he read criticisms of the book, accounts that Capote had invented, exaggerated, duped his audience into believing something that was half fiction. Jughead was disappointed at this - that real life could not, after all, hold a candle to art. That he could not eliminate himself, his biases, entirely.
Jughead rewrites the scene in the diner, the scene where he first meets Veronica Lodge. There were four people in the booth. Try as he might, he can't pretend he wasn't there.
Veronica Lodge, he types in Pop's office, the computer propped up against his bent knee. Veronica Lodge has nothing to do with Jason Blossom, or anything else in Riverdale. Veronica Lodge told me at lunch one day weeks later that I looked like a knockoff James Dean and then she kicked me underneath the table. Veronica Lodge has a way of inserting herself into stories where she doesn't belong.
Veronica Lodge, he types, and then he deletes the whole damn paragraph.
Veronica always sits next to Jughead when Archie is there, and always sits across from him when Archie isn't. Jughead informs Veronica of this observation one day at lunch, while they're waiting for Archie to return from the bathroom and for Betty to get back from office hours with their science teacher. Veronica's eyebrows raise a little, like she's impressed. According to Cheryl, Veronica's eyebrows are very good ("At once Frida Kahlo and Salma Hayek playing anyone besides Frida Kahlo," she'd said), but Jughead does not focus on these so much as he does on the darkness of her eyes, her hair.
They are nearly black, those eyes. It makes her face more distinct. A lesser man might write a sonnet about her face, maybe try his hand at something more Neruda-esque (even though Veronica doesn't speak Spanish, something he'd listened to her talk about weeks ago to Betty).
"Look at you, Sherlock Holmes," she drawls after he points out his Archie observation. "You've cracked the case of me trying not to upset Betty."
"I just think it's interesting," Jughead says. The fact that they're sitting next to each other makes it seem perfectly natural for him to angle his body toward hers, his legs splayed out while hers are crossed primly. Properly. "Why go through the effort? We both know that Archie doesn't want Betty like that."
"Because -" Veronica starts off too loud, too annoyed, but quickly lowers her voice again. "Because even if that's true, which I am not saying it always will be, I'm not going to be the bitch who fucks the guy her best friend has been crushing on for years. That's not me anymore."
"Oh, so that was you at some point." He clicks his tongue, as if in disapproval. "You know what they say about old habits."
"No, but I do know what they say about people who can't shut their fucking - oh hey, Betty!" Veronica stands up to hug Betty, and Betty's hand taps lamely on her back.
"I just saw you like two hours ago," she laughs, taking the seat across from Jughead.
"But we really missed you," Veronica replies, and after that she doesn't look at Jughead for the rest of the period.
Jughead, though - it's like he can't keep his eyes away.
There is something wrong with the book.
He realizes it when he reads what he has so far, the sum total of his hours of effort, hours of observation and research and erasing himself from the story. It's total shit: stream of consciousness even Jack Kerouac would call self-indulgent, and more boring than any Johnny Depp movie post-Pirates of the Caribbean.
"Well," the English teacher says when Jughead explains his problem, "it's difficult to write a book about something as it's happening. Because you don't know what will be important about it until it's already over. You tend to include a lot of extraneous details that way."
"What do I do then?"
The teacher shrugs, purses his lips like, what are you gonna do. "Just keep writing. Figure out what it is after it's finished."
Betty Cooper, he writes. Archie Andrews. Kevin Keller. Cheryl Blossom. Jason Blossom. Veronica Lodge.
After a moment of thought, he adds in, Jughead Jones III.
Veronica is always wearing something expensive. In spite of the scandal surrounding her father, in spite of her mother's fall from grace, Veronica never looks anything less than flawless. She makes sipping a strawberry milkshake look elegant. She makes all of them look a little less put together, just by comparison.
Betty says one day as they edit the newest paper, "It's not fair." She sighs, her shoulders slumping. "Veronica isn't fair."
Jughead knew she was referring to more than the money - that she was mostly referring to Archie, how he had instantly fallen for her.
"So it goes," he says, and Betty throws a pencil at his head. Her aim is true, and the pencil sticks him in the cheek before clattering on the desk.
"Don't quote Vonnegut at me." She tosses her ponytail over her shoulder, marking something down on her paper. "What do you think of Veronica, anyway? You two don't seem to talk much."
He shrugs. "She's alright, I guess."
Betty nods, her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Mhm."
"So she's not my best friend, so what. We don't all have to be so chummy with each other, Elizabeth."
"Aha!" Betty exclaims. "So you don't like her!"
"I never said that," Jughead protests momentarily, but immediately gives up on the charade. "Okay, so I don't like her."
Betty sputters. "Why not?"
Jughead shrugs again, this time more dramatically, shoulders touching his ears, his hands open, as if to say beats me. Betty huffs, but she doesn't ask him about Veronica for the rest of the afternoon.
One night, he forgets to lock the door to the office. Jughead knows Veronica is something of an amateur sleuth, he knows her mother works in the diner every day, and he knows Veronica has noticed how often and how late he stays in his regular booth. Yet he forgets to lock the door.
So really, it's his fault.
He's writing his novel on the couch when Veronica comes in. He sits up immediately, nearly throwing his laptop across the room in the process. Her eyes flit from his shoes on the floor, to his backpack in the corner, to the blanket and pillow he has draped over his body. He can practically see the gears shifting in her head, can pinpoint the exact moment that she realizes what he's doing there.
"Jughead," she says quietly, "tell me this isn't what I know it is."
"Okay," he says. "I am not living here."
She sighs heavily, her hand flitting to her forehead. "Alright, Jughead. Alright." Veronica crosses the room, and in spite of his protests she sits next to him. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry. This - this has got to suck."
Jughead actually laughs at that, a real laugh. It surprises her as much as it does him, by her expression. For once, he appreciates her inability to sugarcoat. "Yeah, it really does."
"Okay." Veronica claps her hands, standing up. "Come on, we're going."
"Uh, no thanks, I'm good."
Veronica crosses her arms, unimpressed. "Uh, no, you're not. So here's what's going to happen: I'm going to buy us some burgers and fries because I am fucking starving, we're going to take our food to go, and then you're going to sleep in a real bed tonight." At Jughead's raised eyebrows, she groans. "Not in my room, perv. We have a guest room. You can stay there for now.
"And," she adds, tapping her heel on the ground, "if you don't come with me I'll have to raise all kinds of hell."
"What will you do, pray tell?"
"I'll figure something out, Forsythe Pendleton." When he blanches, Veronica smiles. "Oh yeah. County birth records. I believe that's what the kids these days call a checkmate."
She waves at him to follow, and after a minute of pondering whether or not any of this is worth it, Jughead follows her out the door.
He calls her a knockoff Audrey Hepburn again at lunch, and this time she laughs before calling him knockoff James Dean.
Betty grins, excited at them seemingly getting along, and Jughead rolls his eyes. He continues typing, trying to think of synonyms for raven: pitch-black, midnight, onyx, sable, ebony.
Across the table from him, the sloe-eyed, sable-haired, crimson-lipped girl catches his eye and smiles conspiratorially.