The first time Jughead meets Veronica Lodge, he’s left feeling sort of unimpressed.
He’s not exactly sure why, but for some reason, this comes as a bit of a disappointment to him. Maybe because in the wake of Jason’s death, things in their mundane little town had become just a bit more interesting. Maybe it was because of the way Archie’s eyes had lit up like fireworks against a dark blue sky when he talked about the new girl, once again completely oblivious to the pained glances Betty kept shooting his way.
Whatever it is, Jughead had definitely been hoping for something more than the raven-haired girl sitting upright in a booth at Pop’s, all at once looking entirely at ease and like she has just stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine, something so glossy and shiny and so un-Riverdale that it almost hurts to look at her.
“Veronica Lodge,” she starts, and she actually sticks her hand out at him like she’s Grace Kelly bestowing a favor upon the beaten and the damned, and, no. This is Jughead’s territory they’re in. He’s not about to let some New York City socialite who’s fallen from grace make him feel like an intruder in the closest thing he has to a home.
So he climbs over her and into the back of the booth like he’s a kid at the playground again, and Betty and Archie smile at him fondly, like he’s just being Jughead, like he’s not trying to prove something.
“Jughead Jones the Third,” he says eventually, and when he’s settled down into his seat, he turns towards her, and she doesn’t look fazed in the slightest.
“Jughead Jones the Third,” she repeats slowly, drawing his name out like she’s testing the feel of it on her tongue. It sounds almost like a challenge, and in that moment, he wonders what the hell he’s just gotten himself into.
Because Veronica has somehow decided that she’s now Betty’s new best friend, Jughead finds himself in her orbit more than he ever wanted to be. He’s not even entirely sure why he doesn’t like being around her, can’t put the sense of unease that fills his gut into words. Which in itself is surprising, because Jughead’s always got something to say.
“But the two of you could be such great friends if you tried,” Betty stresses, somewhere between the fifth and sixth time he’s turned down another invitation to hang out at the Lodge residence, some snooty apartment complex with a noun for a name.
“I don’t think so, Betty,” he replies, shaking his head.
He’s not even being petty or petulant, either. Every single interaction they’ve had outside their first encounter has more or less devolved into a verbal sparring match, cutting remarks and thinly-veiled insults being tossed back and forth so frequently, their friends might as well have been watching a tennis game.
The most recent one had started with her informing him, rather pointedly, that suspenders and the whole grunge look has been dead a long time, like it isn’t all he can afford to wear. He’s not trying to look homeless. He just is.
Objectively, he knows there was no way for her to know that. But that hadn’t stopped him from lashing out at her pearl necklaces, because, seriously, Ronnie, didn’t those go out of style when the Titanic sank?
Betty, who had been sitting in between them, watching the whole exchange with a smile on her face, you know the one, the one that tells him she knows something he doesn’t, just singsongs, “Whatever you say, Jug.”
It’s nearing midnight and Jughead’s sitting at a booth in Pop’s, keeping a half-eaten plate of fries next to his computer so no one will question why he’s still hanging around by himself. Pop has disappeared into his office and the only other person on duty is Mrs. Lodge, counting change by the register. She seems about as tired as he feels, dark circles under her eyes, weariness seeping its way into her pores.
The door swings open, the bell tinkles with a telltale chime, and in walks the other Lodge, as picturesque and runway-ready as always. Brows filled, hair shining underneath the neon lights, lips carefully painted a deep, dark red.
Sometimes he wonders how this girl is real; everything about her screams artificial.
Then she notices her mother still working at the counter and smiles, this genuine, bright, bright thing that shows entirely way too much teeth. There’s something else in there, too, Jughead notes. For the first time, he thinks he catches a flash of the real Veronica Lodge, the persona hidden underneath all the glitz and the glamour.
When he forces his gaze back to the screen in front of him, he finds that the words no longer make sense. Everything has blurred together into one huge haze of black and white, and he squints, trying to make it all right itself again.
He pretends he doesn’t notice her make her way over to his table, but he’s not sure who exactly he’s trying to fool. It’s impossible not to notice a girl like Veronica. Even she knows that.
“Seriously,” she demands, hands on her hips, one leg cocked outwards, “do you ever leave this place? Sometimes I think you’re gunning to be a protagonist in a Murakami novel.”
This, oddly enough, is what catches his attention. “You read Murakami?” he asks skeptically, not even bothering to hide the disbelief in his tone. “Or was that an attempt to move past pop culture references into something intellectual?”
“Tell me how you really feel,” she counters, sliding into the seat across from him in one fluid motion. Jughead thinks about protesting, but doesn’t. That’s Veronica for you, always inserting herself into places she doesn’t belong. “And to answer your question, yes. I’m actually a big fan of his work.”
He leans back in his place and stretches his arms above his head, cracking his fingers together. He’s not sure what compels him to do so, but he’s bored and tired and thinking that maybe Veronica isn’t as one-dimensional as he’d initially thought.
“Favorite book.” He doesn’t phrase it like a question; more of a demand, really. But it’s still the most he’s ever wanted to know about her.
She only hesitates for a second, like she’s waiting for the malice that usually accompanies any statement he throws her way. “Norwegian Wood,” she tells him, drumming manicured nails against the surface of the table.
He snorts. “Typical.”
She arches an eyebrow cooly at him, as composed as ever. “There’s something to be said about wanting someone you can’t have,” she says simply, and he can sense the layers upon layers of subtext buried beneath those words. But he’s no archaeologist and she’s not about to tell him. “What’s yours, then, Mr. Oh-So-Hipster?”
His mind immediately goes to the battered and worn-out copy of Kafka on the Shore he’d kept in the projection room at the Twilight Drive-In. He thinks of the imprints he’d left on those pages, how he’d thumbed through them every night, always immersing himself into a world of writing far beyond his own capabilities. There hadn’t been space for it in his rucksack when he left. He wonders now what the construction team will do with it, a book lying there, gathering dust.
“Kafka on the Shore,” he finally grits out, because telling her feels too personal all of a sudden. Like she’ll be able to see all the way into what’s left of his soul with that one confession.
Veronica hums thoughtfully, gaze boring into his with such an intensity that he’s almost forced to look away. Almost, but not quite.
“You’re an escapist, huh?” she comments eventually. It’s probing and inquisitive, but there’s also an element of uncertainty to it, like she’s wondering how far he’ll let this conversation go.
He laughs, a sharp, brittle sound that doesn’t hold much weight and even less humor. “If only you knew.”
See, the thing that pisses him off the most about Veronica is that, try as he might, he can’t pin her down.
Which only serves to both infuriate and intrigue him because before the summer, before she waltzed into their lives and everything changed, Riverdale had pretty much been the textbook definition of a small town. He likes his friends, but even he’s gotta admit that they’re easy enough to compartmentalize into stereotypes. Hell, he himself is, too. Don’t even get him started on Reggie and the rest of the football team.
But Veronica wears stilettos to class like it’s not completely impractical and she storms into boys’ locker rooms and tears Cheryl Blossom to shreds only to end up hugging her like a long-lost sister a minute later and Jughead just doesn’t get any of it. Betty’s told him a bit about her life Before Riverdale (the emphasis hers), and he thinks maybe what he’s seeing is the space in between who Veronica was and who she wants to be.
“She’s—I dunno, man, she’s really something else, isn’t she?” Archie says one day, grinning lazily at Jughead from across the booth. Jughead will be the first to admit that Archie’s got a killer smile, can see why girls fall so hard and so fast the way they do with him.
“Yeah,” Jughead grudgingly replies, because while he may not be the best with words, he likes to think he’s prolific in a sense; he always has something to say. But try as he might, he can’t capture the essence of Veronica Lodge in just a few short fragments. Maybe not even a paragraph or a page would be enough. She just is. “Yeah, Arch, I guess she is.”
It’s unbelievably hot one day, hot enough for Betty to have ditched her cardigan in favor of a strapless top that has even Archie staring in awe. The sun sits high atop white clouds, casting its sweltering rays down on the helpless teenagers below. They’re sitting around their usual lunch table, Kevin fanning himself with his history paper while Jughead contemplates tearing his hat off.
“Seriously, you guys,” Kevin gripes, wiping his forehead dramatically, “if it gets any hotter, I am going to melt like the Wicked Witch of the West.”
“You said it, girl,” Veronica responds, voice languid as she props her chin on her fist, eyes unfocused and glassy.
She’s been out of sorts all morning. Jughead hates that he’s the only one who seems to have noticed. It’s the first time he’s seen her with her hair pulled back, dark, dark locks spilling out of the loose bun at the nape of her neck.
“Are you sweating?” he demands, a sardonic smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. “Glad to know you’re not actually the Snow Queen.”
There’s a flash of something that immediately rolls through Veronica’s expression, a slight pursing of her lips, her forehead pinching together. Whatever it is, she doesn’t meet Jughead’s gaze when she says, “You have no idea.”
He supposes it was only a matter of time before someone figured it out. It just strikes him as ironic that it’s Veronica who does so first.
He’s been getting by spending his nights at the town’s public library, the old treehouse in what was once his backyard, still standing there even with his house now dark and empty. Sometimes he’ll brush his teeth in the bathroom at Pop’s, late at night when no one other than Mrs. Lodge is around.
It’s another one of those nights, the clock ticking over to one, and he’s just about to drop dead from exhaustion. He’s standing in the aisle, rummaging around in his backpack for his toothbrush, and so out of it that he barely hears the bell above the door chime.
“Oh my God, seriously, what are you still doing here?” a voice from behind him says. Sadly, Jughead would know that voice anywhere.
He’s not disappointed when he turns around and finds Veronica in front of him, wearing a cape of all things.
“That’s it, I’m taking you home,” she adds. “My mom isn’t done with her shift, and you look like you’re about to—”
Then she pauses, her eyes zeroing in on his open bag stuffed to the brim with clothes, the way he’s standing there frozen like a deer caught in the headlights, his eyes wide. Her gaze flicks from the bag to his face and back in rapid succession, and he can practically hear the gears in her head turning, whirring to life. “Oh my God.”
The difference in her tone is what snaps him back into reality. “It’s not what it looks like,” Jughead hurriedly tries to explain, but even he knows it’s a weak excuse. He just sounds tired.
“So you’re not homeless?” Veronica counters, her eyes flashing.
“Okay, no, I technically am, but…” He trails off, unable to come up with a single decent explanation. Truth be told, this whole thing just fucking blows.
“Right,” she answers back, voice clipped, and Jughead wonders if she’s just going to spin around and disappear into a puff of black smoke, if the two of them will be able to pretend nothing happened.
But he also forgets that he’s supposedly dealing with the New Veronica (the emphasis his), the one who apparently takes it upon herself to liberate women from the shackles of the patriarchy and opens her home to lost and wayward boys.
“Oh, shut up,” she snaps when he tells her as much.
Jughead, much to his surprise, actually does. He figures his self-preservation instinct was bound to kick in at some point.
That’s how Jughead Jones the Third finds himself living in the guest room at the Lodge residence, a snooty apartment complex with a noun for a name, a raven-haired former rich girl in the bedroom across the hall, and a whole lot of complicated emotions running through his mind.
“You and Veronica seem to be getting along,” Betty remarks off-handedly, but Jughead’s familiar enough with the inquisitive gleam in her eye to know when she’s digging for information. He should have never encouraged her to get into sleuthing.
It’s been over a week and he still hasn’t managed to wrap his head around the whole thing. Veronica’s never mentioned it in public and barely acknowledges it with him. Even then it was just to let him know that he was welcome to have dinner with her and Mrs. Lodge any time.
Besides, he knows Betty’s referring to their most recent lunch together, wherein he had tried to make a Fight Club reference, and when Veronica admitted that she’d never seen it, instead of using it as an excuse to rip on her like usual, Jughead had instead launched into an in-depth analysis on why David Fincher was basically the best thing to ever exist and how she should definitely check it out some time.
“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind,” she’d said, her eyes never leaving his face.
But Betty’s still watching him expectantly, waiting for a response, so Jughead just mumbles, “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” before ducking into the chemistry lab.
He settles himself down at his usual table, and when he hears the familiar sound of heels scraping against the floor making its way over to him, he looks up at her and smiles.
Just because Jughead’s gotten kind of used to sleeping at the Pembrooke, doesn’t mean he’s familiarized himself with it well enough. He almost never leaves his room, always makes sure to head out before anyone gets up, trips to the kitchen in the middle of the night notwithstanding.
But Veronica’s apartment is huge and complicated, sprawling out over three floors, hallways and sitting rooms and powder rooms interconnecting and blending into the next, pale walls and classy furniture all over. It’s confusing as hell trying to navigate the whole place, even more so in the dark.
Which is how he finds himself stumbling into the kitchen one night, his heart almost pounding its way out of his chest when he flicks the light on and finds Veronica leaning against the counter, eating cereal from the box with a spoon.
It takes Jughead almost a full minute to recognize her, and even then he has to take a step back and refocus. Veronica’s standing there in an oversized T-shirt and fluffy pink slippers, the tops of which have little flamingoes sewn on them. Without the four-inch heels, she’s a lot smaller than he’s used to.
For her own part, she does look a little embarrassed to have been caught like this, and a faint flush spreads across her cheeks. In that moment, she looks so unlike the cool and collected Veronica he knows that Jughead feels his head spin.
“Is that—” she starts, finally breaking the silence. Her gaze is trained on something above his head. “Is that what your hair looks like?” she demands, and it’s only then that Jughead realizes he doesn’t have his hat on.
“No,” he retorts automatically. Then when Veronica raises an eyebrow at him in response, which, considering her outfit, is a lot less imposing than usual, Jughead adds, “Flamingoes, really?”
“Never pegged you for a Snoopy fan,” she counters, gesturing at the print on his T-shirt.
The two of them lock eyes and stand their ground, Veronica in her fuzzy slippers and less-than-average height, and Jughead with his bare head and sweatpants.
There’s a beat of silence, Veronica’s lips twitch slightly, then they’re laughing so hard they’re practically doubled over, and Jughead didn’t think it was possible to ever feel so at home in such a foreign place.
The following day at school, Veronica sits beside him at lunch, her hair brushed, dress pressed, platform heels on, looking every bit as put together as she normally does.
When Kevin calls her out on it, she tosses her hair back with a blithe, “Well, you know me.”
But when she slides in next to Jughead, her leg brushing against his briefly, she shoots him a conspiratorial smile. Feeling suddenly self-conscious, Jughead tugs on the ends of his beanie.
She wanders into his room one night, her arrival as inconspicuous as the rest of her. But Jughead’s starting not to mind it so much, has learned to take Veronica Lodge for who she is.
He looks up from his computer screen and sees her waiting in the doorway, looking around the guest room curiously. “Hey,” he greets, sitting up. “What are you doing here?” Ever since that night in the kitchen, they’ve been talking more and more, but it’s still the first time she’s actually sought him out.
“I’m bored,” she declares, flopping onto his bed and stretching her arms above her head. In the dim light from the lamp on his bedside table, she looks young, her features softer than what he’s used to. He thinks he might like it better than all the gloss she normally has on. “Entertain me.”
“I’m not Smithers,” he replies dryly, because did he mention that the Lodges have an actual butler, too? “You can’t tell me what to do.” But he sets his laptop aside, anyway.
Veronica decides that now’s as good a time as any to begin her David Fincher education, so Jughead hooks his laptop into the ridiculously complicated television set he has in his room, and the two of them start off sitting with their backs pressed against the headboard, a foot of space in between them.
But as the movie goes on, Jughead finds himself whispering facts and pointing out elements of the film’s production process, Veronica nodding along in time with his voice and asking her own questions, moving over to slug him on the shoulder when he refuses to answer them.
By the time Tyler Durden tells the Narrator that they’re actually the same person, Veronica’s close enough to grab onto his wrist in shock, her eyes wide and her attention focused solely on the screen as she repeatedly chants, “No, no, no, no, oh, fuck no.”
Jughead stares down at their joined skin, feels the rush of warmth and steadiness that her very presence provides, and thinks to himself, Yes.
When Cheryl slides into the vacated seat across from him, he knows he’s not going to like what she has to say. He’s not disappointed when the first thing that comes out of her mouth is, “You’re living with Veronica. How did that happen?”
“What?” Jughead asks, a little stupidly. Denial has always been second nature to him, and he falls back on that now. “Where’d you get that idea?”
Cheryl just rolls her eyes so hard that he’s afraid they’re going to fall out of her head. “I know everything that goes on in this town,” she briskly replies, flashing him an artificial smile. “Besides, her mother just mentioned a new resident at the Pembrooke,” she goes on. “Maybe next time you should tell your future mother-in-law to keep her mouth shut.”
“It’s not—it’s not like that,” Jughead says, because God forbid it’ll ever be anything else. Besides, Archie still talks about Veronica with too much of a sigh in his voice, and Betty will never forgive him for taking advantage of her best friend. “I had nowhere else to go.”
Cheryl gives him another quick glance, sharp and assessing, before her face softens just a fraction. Jughead thinks this might be an expression of understanding, but he’s not too sure.
“There’s always room at Thorn Hill,” she responds, and then she’s gone before he has the chance to process the implications of her offer.
That might have been the nicest thing Cheryl Blossom’s ever said to him. He can’t wait to add this to the novel.
When Veronica walks into his room that night, he immediately knows there’s something wrong. It’s a strange thing, the way people acquaint themselves to the habits of others so easily. It’s only been a month of her coming and going, but he thinks he knows her better than he’s ever known anyone.
“My parents are getting a divorce,” she tells him, because Veronica’s never been one to beat around the bush.
Even so, he can see how much this hurts, has listened to her hushed confessions whispered in the dead of the night, her hopes for everything to go back to normal. The same way she’s listened to him talk about his mom and Jellybean, how he wonders if he’ll ever see them again.
For all that he’s a writer, he’s kind of shit at making people feel better with words. He’s pretty sure Veronica wouldn’t be interested in a sarcastic comment, either, so instead he pulls her close and wraps his arms around her, because he doesn’t have a house to reach out to her with, just this, and he hopes it’ll be enough.
Veronica falls into his hold and curls in on herself, all at once vulnerable and open and small, and Jughead’s gut flips over in a manner that is not completely unwelcome.
“Forsythe Pendleton,” he says eventually, and he can feel Veronica stir against his chest, shift around so she can blink up at him in wonder. “The Third,” he tacks on as an afterthought. “It’s my real name. After my dad.”
Veronica sits up, watching him carefully, her eyes brightening like a lighthouse in the middle of a raging storm. The look on her face, it’s like he’s seeing her for the first time—no. The first time he saw her, all he could see was the money and the entitlement and the way she had stuck her hand out at him like he was nothing to her.
No, this is him seeing the Veronica who loves movies as much as he does. The Veronica who’ll drag him out of his room to slide along the newly polished floors in just her striped socks. The Veronica who, despite what she projects, just wants her family back together again. The Veronica who taught him that maybe home isn’t a place, it’s a person. This is him seeing her for real.
“If it’s all the same to you,” she begins slowly, voice barely above a whisper, like she’s trying to hold onto something fragile, “I think I’ll stick to Jughead.”
Then she kisses him.
Jughead’s read a lot of books; he’s read The Iliad, about the Trojan War, about Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships, about all the men who went to war in the name of one girl. He’s never really seen the point until now, that burning need to protect those you care about.
But Veronica would scoff and tell him she didn’t need him to fight her battles for her. More than that, she didn’t want him to. This, Jughead realizes, is what he likes best about her to begin with.
There’s a brand new copy of Kafka on the Shore lying on his bed a week later. He picks it up and flips through the pages, a flash of purple catching his attention as he skims through it, and he holds the book up to the light so he can see it better.
On the first page of the novel, written in her looping cursive, is, Read! Underneath that, printed in smaller letters, she’s added, XO, V.
Jughead falls back onto the bed and starts from the beginning, thinking all the while of the seaside and other four-letter words.
“The thing is,” Jughead says, disentangling himself from Veronica’s surprisingly strong grasp and banging his head against the back wall as he does, “I think I like you,” he adds, which is admittedly a rather strange confession to make, considering how much kissing has gone on between them lately.
There’s also the fact that Veronica is practically on top of him, her lipstick smeared all over his mouth.
She shoots him a puzzled glance before sitting back on her heels, assessing him carefully. “Everybody likes me,” she replies, and when Jughead lets out a groan, she surges forward and bridges the gap between them again.
They haven’t gone beyond kissing, tentatively moving things along at his own pace rather than hers, for which he is eternally grateful because there’s still some things about himself he needs to figure out. But they’re learning each other, piecing together all the ways they fit, and that seems to be enough for her.
She breaks away from him and rests their foreheads together, breaths mingling in the air. “You’re a writer,” she murmurs, lips dangerously close to his. “I’m sure you can read between the lines.”
That pretty much sums up whatever romantic declaration Jughead was going for, so he quickly pulls her back towards him and lets his lips do a different kind of talking, her smile imprinted against his mouth as he does.
The first time Jughead met Veronica Lodge, he was left feeling sort of unimpressed. By the time he gets to know Veronica Lodge, he’s left feeling sort of in love.
But maybe he’ll save that confession for another time.