Of course Jughead wanted Betty. Probably most of the guys at school wanted Betty. Wanting her wasn’t the problem. Want was easy. And when that want wasn’t returned, it was even easier. If she didn’t want him back, he could hold her at a distance. Because it didn’t matter. Because it didn’t mean anything. He’s removed from it, like watching a movie of himself falling for Betty. It’s the easiest God damn thing in the world. Or at least, it was supposed to be.
He wants to say that befriending her wasn’t smart, but he couldn’t actually remember the act of it. Befriending her.. He could remember the severing of it; it was less severe than with Archie, but in quick succession, and hurt all the same. Not that Jughead was innocent in the whole mess. He knew he had put up walls, but now he was lowering them. So maybe that’s the real issue. Not being her friend in the first place, but being her friend again. Maybe he had opened himself up for this, but he has a memory of her on a swing-set when they were seven, and can still remember the flash of blonde hair in the sunlight – almost blinding – and knows that probably, somewhere deep down, he had just always liked Betty. Full stop.
As Jughead pondered this, he watched slight sway of Betty’s ponytail as she typed. Each letter on the keyboard was being pressed decisively – harder than it needed to be. He tried to look over her shoulder at what she was writing but the font’s too small to make out. There’s a lot of it though. Her words. Better than he could have imagined. She impressed him. Betty could be a writer if she wanted to, but probably shied away from her talents because of Alice. While Jughead always liked to think of himself as perceptive, anyone could’ve guessed that if they had met her mom for even half a second. He tries not to hate Alice for being Alice – after all, every princess comes with a dragon to slay. And Jughead couldn’t think of a scarier, or scalier, dragon than Betty’s mom.
“Got a big scoop?” Jughead asked her.
She gasped slightly at the interruption. The room had been silent for what felt like forever. Maybe she had forgotten he was even there. Jughead always had a way of blending in – of being forgotten about. Most of the time he didn’t mind it – and some of the time it even helped – though he wished, just a little bit, that Betty wouldn’t be one of those people. Maybe that was being unfair, but he’d been sleeping on the floor of The Twilight Drive In for too long and was quickly running out of patience with his own sad situation. Could anyone begrudge him a smile like that when he didn’t even have his own bed anymore – or a hot meal at night – or a family? Of course not. But then again, it’s not as if anyone really did know. He would rather die than have that information get out. Life was hard enough as it was being the weird kid.
“Jeez, you scared me!” Betty laughed, putting a hand over her heart as she turned to look at him. She shook her head both at herself and in answer to his question. “No, this is just a paper for History class.”
“On the Blue & Gold’s time? And you call yourself a journalist. For shame, Betty Cooper.”
“I don’t call myself a journalist. In fact, that’s why I hired you to be the journalist. Which would make me, in the grand scheme of things, your boss.”
She’s smiling. Jughead smirked in return, but had to stop himself from grinning. He didn’t want to seem too eager for her approval. He didn’t want her to know. He tapped his pen on the pad of paper in front of him to give his hands something to do.
“Guess I better get back to work then,” he said.
“I’d definitely recommend it,” she responded as she swiveled back to her computer. “Don’t make me fire you."
Jughead let his grin loose now that she wasn’t looking to see it. He hadn’t wanted to work for the Blue & Gold. He had his own novel to write. His own digging to do. But she looked at him with those big green eyes and he didn’t have the heart to say no. Jughead thought of his father hurling words like Soft or Sucker at him – even Bitch – but since his father had never stood in front of a happy Betty Cooper, he could never understand. Betty was a rare gold coin. Jughead’s father had never done an honest days work in his life. He couldn’t understand what a girl like her was really worth. Nor Archie, who never had to try at, or work for, anything.
Jughead turned back to his writing and tried not to concentrate on the pit opening in his stomach, or the despair that pools there. It had been happening more and more when he thought of Archie and Betty together – even though that’s what she wanted. What she’s always wanted. And everyone knew it. Not even Jughead, who tried to stay on the sidelines of Riverdale, had been spared this reality. He continued to type, word after word, not really paying attention – trying like hell not to watch the sway of her ponytail. Maybe she hypnotized him with it.
Yeah, want was easy. Seeing her across the room – or down the hall – or cheering – was easy. Thinking about kissing her was nothing new. Or taking her hair down from its ponytail. Or making her laugh. But hope was hard. Hope that it could happen. And the worst part was that Jughead didn’t even know where this hope came from, only that it was stubborn, and insistent, like dandelions growing between the cracks of a sidewalk – blooming somewhere between flower and weed. But then, still, Betty had always loved dandelions…
Betty had always hated her bedroom. It was too pink, and too frilly, and too childlike. It reminded her of an innocence she wasn't sure she ever had. She'd let her mom decorate it because she'd learned it was easier to go with the flow. Even before her sister had her breakdown, talking back was an exercise that resulted in screaming and nails cutting through palm to stay quiet -- so it was easier just to be quiet to begin with. The only comfort had been that her window aligned with Archie's, but even that wasn't comforting anymore. It'd begun to feel more like a wound you had to ignore while it healed, or else you'd end up scratching it.
Most days, Betty felt as though she was trapped in a plastic Polly Pocket toy with no way out.
Her mother's voice broke through her self-pitying thoughts just in time for Betty to plaster on a fake smile. As she stood, she smoothed her skirt down self-consciously, not wanting to give Alice anything to criticize.
"Hi, mom. What's up?" Betty asked.
Her mom entered, pushing the door that had already been slightly ajar fully open. She ran her finger over the white vanity, checking for dust before speaking.
"You have a very curious visitor," her mother said, mouth turning down at the corners as though she had been sucking on a lemon. Disapproval. It was one of the only looks she got from her mother these days. "Jughead Jones? Or was it Bowlhead? He claims he's here to work on the school paper with you."
"Oh, wow. It's already four?" Betty said, glancing down at her small gold watch. "I'll go get him. Thanks, mom."
"Have you taken your medication, Elizabeth?"
Betty ground her teeth together so hard she feared they would crack. Any time she forgot anything, her mother's response was more medication. Her purse was beginning to sound like an oversized Tic-Tac container, so she'd started cheeking her pills ever since a late night viewing of Girl, Interrupted -- after all, if her mom thought she was crazy, Betty might as well learn how to play the role to her best advantage.
"Yes. I just got distracted cleaning up, that's all. You don't have to worry," she said gently.
"I'm your mother. I'll always worry," Alice said, looking at her daughter with hard eyes. "Is that what you're going to wear, dear?"
Betty looked at her reflection in the mirror. A pink cardigan, white top underneath and white skirt. It looked fine -- she thought she was the perfect Polly -- toy or sister, she couldn't be sure anymore -- but either way, she was scrubbed so clean that she gleamed.
"What's wrong with it?" Betty asked in a small voice, feeling hurt despite herself.
"Nothing. It's just maybe not the best for your shape. We should start running together again. Wouldn't that be fun?" Betty hummed, neither agreeing nor disagreeing before her mother continued. "Anyway, please keep the door open, Elizabeth."
Finally her mother disappeared out of the room and down the hall. She waited until she heard the click of Alice's heels going down the stairs and completely out of view. Betty let out the breath she had been holding slowly, like a balloon with a slow leak. She steeled herself, smiling so wide it hurt, and went to retrieve Jughead, who she imagined was standing awkwardly just inside the front door. Instead, she found him in the hallway, right next to her bedroom.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, startled. "I thought you'd be downstairs."
"That is where she left me, but I decided to practice my sleuthing skills."
"You were eavesdropping, you mean?" Betty said as she walked back into her bedroom.
Betty watched Jughead shrug out of his messenger bag as he sat on the edge of her bed. He looked so unabashed and mischievous. She wondered what it would be like to go through life like that -- taking what you wanted. Jughead always seemed so... free, to Betty. She envied that. Of course, there was a darkness around him -- one that she related to (quietly, privately).
"So, did you bring them?" Betty asked.
"Obviously," he replied, pulling a manila folder out of his bag.
They weren't working on stuff for the school paper -- or at least, nothing that would be in the school paper any time soon. This was about Jason Blossom; the specter that had spread over the town like fog, making every block of it seem like a gruesome mystery. In the folder were new reports -- new claims -- people who had saw something, or heard something... or maybe people who just wanted a slice of the spotlight, however perverse. It was their job to figure out which -- well, theirs, and the cops, Betty corrected herself.
"How did you get all these?"
"Haven't you heard, Betty? There's no rest for wicked," he said with a roguish smile, beanie slightly askew atop his head.
For the next hour or so, they flipped through pages, circling promising leads in green and the ones that seemed false were crossed out in red. Betty especially enjoyed the crossing out aspect. There was something satisfying about it. After her mother's first pass across her room, Betty had slid off the bed and onto the floor -- not wanting to incur her wrath -- and now her butt was completely numb. She stood up, stretching, and looked over at Jughead who had been watching her with sharp eyes.
"Guess it's about that time, isn't it?" Jughead asked her.
"You know, where your family sits down and eats a meal together? I believe they call it 'dinner' around these parts."
"Right," she said. "I could ask my mom if --"
"It's alright, I wasn't fishing. I just don't want you to get in trouble for me overstaying my welcome," he said, gathering the pages together.
"If it were up to me, you couldn't overstay your welcome. I mean -- you'd be welcome any time."
"Thanks, Betty," he said with a genuine smile.
The folder was put into his bag and his jacket shrugged back on. Betty wished he could stay. Jughead felt like one of the major missing puzzle pieces in her life the last few years. His presence always made her feel... more genuine; less pull-string doll and more person.
"I'll see you tomorrow at The Blue & Gold, before classes?" she asked.
"You got it, boss,"
"Goodnight, Jughead," she said. "I can walk you out if you want?"
"Nah, I can handle the dragon on my own."
"Dragon?" Betty asked, feeling confused.
"Ah, your mom, that is," Jughead said sheepishly.
"Alright. Watch out though -- she's eaten more than one visitor whole," Betty laughed, making him smile.
Jughead exited, leaving her standing alone in the room she hated, in a life she wasn't sure would ever be fully her own. Betty felt her anxiety creeping back in, tightening her muscles, when suddenly Jughead popped back into view -- just his face around the edge of her door.
"And Betty," he said quietly, so her mom wouldn't overhear, wherever she was, "I thought you looked nice today, for what it's worth."
And just like that, he was gone again.
The morning was gray and raining halfheartedly -- a slow misery, making all those who braved it tired and put-upon. When Jughead entered the office of the Blue & Gold, he brushed the water off his beanie before securing it back on his head. Though Betty wasn't there at the moment, he saw two coffee cups sitting next to one another on the desk; the one marked with a light pink lipstick was already opened and steam billowed from it. He must have just missed her.
Jughead could hear her walking down the abandoned hall. The soft sound of her flats hitting the tiled floor echoed off the lockers. Even most teachers didn't show up this early, but they had one thing the teachers no longer did: Passion. They had a mystery to solve -- a story to tell. It was going to take time -- a lot of time -- and a lot of dedication. Luckily, they had plenty of both.
"Help yourself," Betty said from behind him. "Did you see the doughnuts?"
"Wait, there are doughnuts? Where?" Jughead asked, turning to look at her.
"Right here," she laughed, holding the box open to him. "I can't believe you passed them!"
Inside the box there was a large variety of flavors. Twelve total. He marveled at her willpower. Had he brought a box of doughnuts, half would've been gone already -- maybe more. His father called him a garbage disposal, and he wasn't wrong. Jughead was a bottomless pit, but being homeless always helped a growing boy's appetite.
"Wow, you're the best boss ever."
"Well, I know you liked everything, so I got everything," she joked. "I just want that powdered one with the strawberry jam."
"What if I want that one?"
"You can have the other eleven. It'll be fine."
"Fair point," he smiled. "But thank you, really. You didn't have to."
"I know, but I was there anyway."
Betty walked past him, setting the box down next to the coffee and sitting. He watched her pick up the powdered doughnut daintily, with more grace than he had ever seen anyone pick up a doughnut before and bit in, sighing happily. Jughead was glad her mother's unkind words hadn't stuck in her head for too long. Betty Cooper was beautiful, and beautiful girls deserved doughnuts. He pulled up a chair across from her and smiled.
"Good, huh?" he asked.
"Mmm," she responded, tongue peeking out remove the powdered sugar from her bottom lip. Jughead felt the movement in the pit of his stomach -- like the anticipation before the drop of a roller-coaster. He thought about kissing her, passively, strawberry jam somehow cutting through the bitter of his black coffee. He always had a vivid imagination.
"Looks good," Jughead said without thinking.
"Fine, Juggie. Go ahead," she sighed, holding her doughnut towards him. The jam leaked out from the perfect crescent bite she had taken. It wasn't what he meant, but he wasn't about to turn down Betty Cooper offering him food from her own hands.
Jughead bit gently, trying not to get her fingers. The strawberry jam had tasted exactly how he had imagined it -- maybe better. He grinned. Betty rolled her bright green eyes at him.
"I won't sue you, you know," Jughead told her.
"For sexual harassment. That was completely inappropriate in the work place. I mean, the power imbalance --"
"Oh my God," Betty groaned, her face flushing pink. "Shut it, Jughead, or I will never buy you coffee again, let alone doughnuts."
"This is a very hostile environment," he tutted, but turned his gaze back down to his work.
The hour they had set aside passed quickly. Jughead did devour most of the doughnuts, but Betty had went back for a second, which he had enjoyed witnessing. They didn't speak much, just putting the pieces together -- passing papers back and forth, nodding. About ten minutes before the bell, Betty began to gather her stuff up, tossing her empty coffee cup in the trash.
"Are you sure this isn't going to overlap too much with your novel?" Betty asked. "Because I don't want the work we're doing here to get in the way. I know how hard you've been working on it."
Jughead felt a tender ache, the same one he had felt when the first teacher had told him he had a gift when it came to words. It made him feel special. And knowing Betty thought of his novel -- took it into consideration -- made him feel special too.
"Don't worry about it," Jughead said. "The novel is a different beast. There's still plenty information to go around."
"Good," Betty smiled. "You going to Pop's tonight?"
"Yeah -- can't leave my booth unattended for too long. She might begin to think I don't love her. What about you?"
"Yeah. Veronica and I were going to stop by for dinner. Should we say hi, or will you be too busy?"
"Nah. Say hi. Always say hi," Jughead said.
"Alright, well, I gotta run and grab my books before math class."
He picked up his coffee and finished it, throwing the cup out afterwards. Jughead wondered how he ended up here -- not in the office -- but with Betty. She was more courageous than he remembered. More complicated. Hard to look at sometimes, like staring directly into the sun. He wasn't used to so much light, but his eyes were adjusting.
Jughead wondered if she thought similarly of him -- as if he were a dark room that she had now stood inside of long enough to be able to make out the details. While it was true that they had always been close, in the way that two people with the same best friend always became close... this was new. Separate. With Archie no longer in between them so much, it was as if they could finally see each other clearly.
And it was kind of beautiful.
The reflection of Pop's neon lights lit up every puddle in the parking lot. There were students gathered around outside, talking loud, and eating hamburgers off car hoods -- leaning hip against bumper and reclining. Betty already knew there would be no free booths. It was one of those nights where everyone had the same thought, and everyone wanted the same thing. Veronica commented on the bustle, saying it almost reminded her of home, and linked her arm through Betty's.
"You think Jughead beat the rush?" she asked Betty.
"I hope so."
While Veronica stopped to chat with Josie and Melody, Betty swung open the door to Pop's and looked for that familiar crown beanie in the crowd. He wasn't hard to spot. Jughead always favored the last booth, and the glow of his laptop screen illuminated the dark corner like a spotlight on his face. As she walked closer, she could see his furrowed brow and the serious set of his jaw. She understood while people referred to him as brooding -- at least the people who didn't know him.
"Hey, Juggie," Betty said once she reached the booth.
He looked up from his keyboard and smiled at her -- a smile that was more a smirk than anything else. She wasn't surprised Jughead had beaten the crowd. While everyone had the same thought, Jughead always seemed to have that thought first. He was completely original and unbothered by being different.
"Betty," he greeted. "You gonna pull up some red?"
Betty laughed and slid into the open side of the booth across from him. His coffee cup was almost empty and she could tell he had already been here for a while. He had that look about him -- the comfortable slouch to his shoulders.
"So, I know I was only supposed to stop by to say hello, but would you mind if we joined you? Pop's is crazy tonight," Betty asked.
"I'll consider it."
"I'll treat," Betty offered. "My dad's still been giving me guilt twenties every time my mom goes off, and I am flush with cash. Seriously, whatever you want."
"I've never had a girl work so hard to buy me dinner before."
Betty fought down the blush that was creeping into her cheeks and tightened her ponytail. She knew he was only kidding, but something about it made her feel silly -- like she had tried too hard. He would've let her sit with him for free. Betty knew that -- she just hated imposing.
"Technically, my dad's buying," she joked lamely.
"Well, I've also never had a dad try so hard to buy me dinner," he joked back flatly.
Betty couldn't help herself -- she laughed. Snorted even. It wasn't a nice thing to do, to laugh at his family problems. She probably should've admonished him, or tried to ask him how his father was doing. Were they okay? Betty did wonder that, but she knew he would never tell her the truth. And the joke was proof enough, all was not right at Jughead's castle.
"So, that's what does it for you, huh? Jokes about my sad home life?" he laughed genuinely, as though she had surprised him. "Duly noted. Maybe I can move into your mansion tomorrow."
"Well, it'll have sixteen bedrooms, so that won't be a problem."
Veronica showed up at the booth in a graceful flourish of cape and heels. Betty moved over to let her slide in next to her and watched as she removed her hood, sending water droplets flying.
"Can you believe it's raining again?" Veronica asked to no one in particular. "What were you guys talking about?"
"Betty bribed me to keep company with you. I will have a double cheese burger and a chocolate shake," Jughead said.
"Well, I'll pull my weight and have my mom throw us some extra onion rings on the house," Veronica chimed in. "But in that case, I should save her the pain of coming over. What do you want Betty?"
"Grilled chicken burger and a diet Coke, please."
"Oh, come on, B," Veronica laughed. "The agreement is we all eat poorly tonight and never mention it. That's why we came together. And Jughead won't tell anyone, right?"
"Who would believe me?" he said, smiling at Betty. "You should get a double cheese burger, too."
"Yes! And a vanilla shake!" Veronica agreed, clapping her hands with excitement. "Three double cheese burgers, two chocolate shakes, one vanilla -- and complete secrecy."
With that, Veronica was off before Betty could say anything. Her mom would kill her if she knew that she not only had doughnuts for breakfast, but was indulging so heavily for dinner. Maybe she should start running again.
"You shouldn't have encouraged her," Betty scolded. "You're aware I had doughnuts for breakfast, right?"
"I'm a bad influence, I know," Jughead admitted as he closed his laptop and stuck it back in his messenger bag. "I take full responsibility."
"You aren't going to be the one running with my mom tomorrow," Betty groaned, tilting her head back and sliding down the booth.
"Run fast. Then you'll be running alone."
"You're not welcome in my mansion anymore," Betty told him with mock seriousness.
"Story of my life," Jughead retorted, rolling his eyes at her.
Betty turned to see Veronica at the counter, talking to her mom. The order had probably already been taken, but she still held the notepad in her hand. Betty was jealous sometimes of their closeness, but no family was perfect, and that's why they were in Riverdale in the first place. Veronica's dad was in prison, but still, she somehow seemed untouched in Betty's eyes -- unaffected. Betty would never be able to handle something like that with so much composure.
"Penny for your thoughts," Jughead's voice cut into her inner-monologue.
"I'm just glad Veronica is happy here. And her mom. They're really making a go of it, and I respect that. They're tough, aren't they?"
"You're tough, too," Jughead told her -- knowing, somehow, exactly what she had been thinking.
"Not like that," Betty said as she turned to face him.
"No, not like that. You're different. You're Betty Cooper."
Betty gave him a weak smile. Jughead meant well, but he didn't know what went on behind closed doors. Medication she didn't need, bleeding palms, and sometimes hours of staring into her mirror trying not to see Polly's face staring back at her, like something that surfaced from the bottom of a cold, dark sea. Some days it felt like she was just trying to survive, and nothing more.
"You don't buy it, huh?" he asked her.
"I mean --"
"Hold on, I want to show you something," he said, unearthing his laptop again, and then added, "Veronica is still preoccupied, right?"
Betty turned and saw Veronica talking to Archie now. She wasn't sure when he had come in. She usually had a sixth sense when it came to her red-headed neighbor.
"Yeah," she said, with no further explanation.
Jughead turned the computer on and after a few clicks he turned the screen towards her. An untitled document was open before her, with one highlighted section in particular.
"Is this your novel?"
"Yes. Now read the part I highlighted," he said. "And be kind, as I am an artist and therefore sensitive underneath all my sarcasm and bullshit."
Betty Cooper is the human personification of sunshine, and as one who usually favors darkness, I do not say that lightly. She is supremely kind, generous, and beloved in Riverdale by all those who know her. And there are a lot of people who would stop there, who would think I have described her perfectly, but they would be wrong. Betty Cooper is smart, unbelievably so, and her spine is made of straight steel. She is unafraid and unique; flawlessly walking a tightrope of badass and girl next door -- completely singular -- and sadly unseen by most, even herself... but not by me.
Betty blinked back tears, the rest of his novel swimming before her eyes. Jughead Jones had written this... about her? Plain old Betty Cooper? She looked up at him with an unsure, watery smile and found him watching her intently, chewing slightly on the nail of his thumb.
"Wow," she said, wiping at the corner of her eyes with the sleeve of her cardigan. "That was beautiful, Juggie. I think you may have oversold me a bit."
"I didn't," he said succinctly, turning the computer to face him and clicking it shut. "And one day you'll realize it, Betty Cooper."
Jughead woke up on the thin mattress he had smuggled into the drive-in months ago. He was shivering. The weather was beginning to turn into the wet, cold dregs of Autumn – the time of year that had once, what felt like a very long time ago, been his favorite. He loved the crisp crackle of energy in the air, the smell of fallen leaves and damp earth, but now, it only served to remind him of how badly he needed to find a heavier blanket. He worried about what he would do in the winter, when the snow started to creep in through the one window he could never get fully shut.
Outside there was a dense, rolling fog over the ground. It made the parking lot look like a horror film to Jughead, who was always inclined to see things through the lens of a video camera. He gathered what he would need for school, and took off early, fantasizing about the hot shower he would take when he got there. Despite the hunger gnawing at Jughead’s stomach, he couldn’t afford Pop’s today. He only had a handful of quarters left and he tried not to despair, imagining the scanty amount of ramen he would have to sustain himself on until he got paid again.
Jughead almost didn’t see Betty at first, being so busy thinking about bacon and eggs and pancakes – and burgers, of course, always burgers, no matter the time of day – but there she was, running laps on the school’s track. Her pale legs pumped her forward in long, confident strides – and suddenly it was the smooth expanse of skin he was distracted by, and all thoughts of hunger disappeared – at least, for food.
“Hey!” he called out, jogging over to the track. “Hey, Cooper!”
She didn’t hear him at first, but saw him soon enough. Betty pulled her earbuds out and came to a stop in front of him, face pink and chest heaving. He wondered if she was cold in her shorts, but saw the sweat pooling at the neck of her sweater. It seemed as though she had been here long enough to not be cold anymore.
“Hey, Juggie,” she said, panting slightly, trying to catch her breath.
“Nice performance out there, sport.”
Betty smiled but ignored the comment otherwise. Without preamble, she plopped onto the wet grass and stretched her legs out. Jughead watched her, completely transfixed.
"What’re you doing here so early?” she asked him, breaking him out of his thoughts.
“I could ask you the same thing.”
“Well, I think my answer would be obvious given the running,” Betty said.
“Fair enough. But why the running?”
“Well, complete secrecy in Riverdale isn’t really a thing, and someone told my mom I was eating take out for dinner, and it was run the track or run with her.”
“She’s warped,” Jughead said, anger at Alice pooling slow and hot in his stomach. He wanted to tell Betty she was beautiful – incomparable, really. Completely beyond every other girl he had ever seen. But unsurprisingly the words got caught in his throat.
“Well, we are those crazy Coopers, you know,” she said with a self-depreciating smile. “But you still haven’t told me what you’re doing here.”
“Leads,” he lied, vaguely. “Always leads. The news waits for no man.”
Betty tightened her ponytail before checking her watch. Jughead knew it would only read 6:30 a.m. It was the earliest you could get into the school. He had timed it perfectly, allowing maximum shower time. He hoped she hadn’t been here too long, but the shadows under her eyes told a different story.
“When did you get here?” he couldn’t help asking.
“Uh…” Betty stalled. “It was early.”
“Well, my mom gets up at five. So I got up at four. Out by four-thirty. I left a note – it’s safest that way.”
“Ignoring the fact that it’s unacceptable to be getting up at four in the morning, you do know that you could leave and not actually spend your time running. Unless she checks the tread on your shoes. Which now I wouldn’t put past her.”
“I just…” Betty shrugged, standing up but refusing to make eye contact with him. “I’m a Vixen now, Juggie. And I only even really got in because of Veronica. I have to be able to keep up.”
“I saw you at the last game. You kept up fine.”
“You came to the football game?” Betty asked him, smiling.
“I felt the scene needed the juxtaposition of an outsider looking in,” he told her, trying like hell not to look awkward.
Yes, Jughead had went to watch her bounce around in her little skirt. He wasn’t above such things. He wasn’t unaffected – the dream he had that night was proof enough of that. But Betty didn’t need to know. Not how he had watched or, or how he had taken off her skirt in his head, letting it pool in a puddle of blue on her bedroom floor.
“Do you want to get breakfast?” Betty asked suddenly.
“Breakfast. First meal of the day. I skipped it and now I’m starving.”
“You shouldn’t skip meals,” he scolded her, stomach growling at the mention of food. “However, I’m broke and I already owe you for Pop’s last time.”
“Well, actually, you don’t owe me anything because I bribed you to socialize, remember? So really, you’d just owe me for breakfast, which would put you just as in debt as you already thought you were.”
“Come on, Juggie. You shouldn’t skip meals,” she told him with a grin, echoing his own words back to him.
“What if your mom finds out?”
“Who’s gonna be at Pop’s this early beside Pop?” she grabbed his hand, pulling him forward. “I’m going to buy you bacon. And you can’t stop me.”
He wanted to argue, but how could he? Betty Cooper was holding his hand, and talking about breakfast foods. Maybe it didn’t beat the dream of peeling her cheerleading skirt down and off the curve of her hips, but to Jughead, it was pretty damn close.
Betty sunk into her bed like a stone into water. It had been a long day, spent bleary-eyed and exhausted, counting the moments until her head could finally hit the pillow. She didn't surface again for a few hours; Betty only sat up when a crack of thunder shook the house, and stretching, noticed it was now growing dark. Confused, she padded downstairs, only to find her parents gone and piece of paper in their place.
Gone out of town for work. We will be back on Monday, and expect you will have spent your time wisely on school work. Dinner is in the fridge, and we've left some money just in case. - Mom
Betty rolled her eyes and crumpled the note up, dropping it into the trashcan. Most likely they were visiting Polly, and didn't want to deal with the fall out of telling her. Still, the quiet house would've been nice had it not been for the storm. The rain now accompanied the thunder, pelting the windows, and she knew it was only a matter of time before the lightning rolled in. It's wasn't that she was scared of storms, but she felt as though she couldn't trust Riverdale anymore; it was the same reason she had locked the doors when she came in, even though she had been dead on her feet.
Flicking the lights on one by one as she went back to her room, she reached for her cellphone. Instead of Archie, who she usually would've texted in a situation like this, she clicked into her sparse text messages with Jughead. They usually only texted about times to meet up to work on the paper, so Betty hesitated slightly before sending out her message.
Betty: Hey. ☺
She set her phone back down on the bed and anticipated having to wait a few minutes before there was a response. However, the ding of her phone was almost immediate.
Jughead: Hi. Did I miss a meeting?
Betty: Oh, no. Sorry, not at all. Just saying hey. Is that weird?
Jughead: The weirdest. How're you liking the rain, Cooper?
Betty: It's something.
She bit her lip, trying to think of something else to say, but before she could begin typing again, another messaged popped up right as her screen had started to turn black.
Jughead: You okay?
Betty: Of course. I just wanted to know if you wanted to use your detective skills this weekend and come work on the paper with me.
Jughead: Sure. When?
Betty: Literally whenever. My parents are out for the weekend, so I mean, even now would be okay. If you're not busy. Or tomorrow is fine, too.
Jughead: And this has nothing to do with the fact that you're home alone and it's storming out?
Betty: I've got pizza money?
Betty felt her face grow hot in embarrassment. Jughead, as always, could deduce a person's true motives without any real effort on his part. She should've just been up front, but she was worried about how it would've sounded. "Hey, my parents are out of town. You want to come over?" As if that wouldn't have made her want to crawl under a rock and die.
Jughead: It's not like you have to bribe me, Betty.
Then, in quick succession another messaged popped up.
Jughead: Get extra pepperoni. Be there in 30 minutes.
She smiled in relief, bounding up onto her feet to get ready for Jughead's arrival. She made quick work of straightening her bed, throwing her hair back up into a ponytail, and dialing the number for pizza place. In the end, Betty had settled on an everything pizza (with extra pepperoni).
Having some time to kill, she began pulling out the folders she had kept the news clippings in; as well as the ones for the interviews and their own theories. She brought them downstairs onto the dining room table and spread them out, pleased for a moment at the bright red, yellow, and blue against the dark hardwood.
Betty was just setting some canned soda out next to the plates when the doorbell rang. Not knowing whether it was Jughead or the pizza, she stopped briefly to pick up the cash and pocketed it. When she opened the door, it turned out to be Jughead, who was both early and wet, despite the sad umbrella dangling at his side. He smiled at her crookedly.
"Hope you checked to make sure I wasn't a serial killer," he said to her.
"Oh my god, get in here," Betty responded, pulling him in by his jean jacket. "Hold on a second, I'll grab you a towel, okay?"
When she came back down the stairs, fluffy white towel in hand, Jughead had taken his soggy beanie off and she stopped dead in her tracks. His dark hair fell over his face, making his eyes look greener than usual. He was cute...
"What?" Jughead asked, looking at her.
"No crown," she smiled, trying to brush off the thought.
So what? She thought he was cute. He had always been cute, really. Betty just hadn't noticed. She had other things on her mind -- red-haired things, that lived next door. She threw the towel over his head with a laugh that sounded more nervous than she had intended, and thanked God when the door bell rang again.
The pizza guy was not talkative. Given the rain and the lightning, she couldn't blame him. When she turned around, pizza box in hand, Jughead was already sitting at the dining room table, red folder open. She smiled to herself and placed the box down next to him.
"I got everything," she said. "And extra pepperoni."
"Nice," he commented as he flipped the lid open. "Looks good."
Betty watched him eat for a moment before grabbing herself a slice and dabbing the top with a napkin, trying to get the grease off. He looked content to just sit there quietly, eating pizza, and flipping through news articles. However, Betty felt the needed to break the silence.
"You got here fast," she said.
"You were scared," he responded simply.
"Not really scared," Betty huffed, shoving some pizza into her mouth and chewing. "It's just unsettling, you know, after everything."
"I'm not complaining," Jughead said. "I like hanging out."
"Me too," she nodded. "I didn't know if we were at that place yet, where I could just ask you over without all this."
"We are. But I don't mind all this, either."
They settled into a comfortable routine, passing papers back and forth, careful not to get pizza on them. Betty was finally completely relaxed as the storm continued on outside -- at least, she was until the power stopped. The darkness enveloped them like the snap of an elastic band, sudden and sharp and completely taking her breath away.
It was Betty's gasp that startled him more than the power going out. Immediately he fumbled for his old cellphone, lighting up the small space between them -- looking at her face; her big, worried green eyes. But it was just them. No danger, only the sudden dark, like spilled ink blotting out all the details of the rooms around them.
"You alright?" Jughead asked her.
"Yeah," she laughed a little, hand over her heart. "Just freaked me out for a second. I wasn't expecting that."
Jughead got up, going to the window and looking out over the dark row of houses. The rain continued to fall in sheets around them, pelting cars and trees, making the empty street sing. He turned back around to find that Betty had taken her phone into the kitchen and was rummaging around in the cupboards.
"Well, the whole street is out," he told her, leaning against the door frame.
"Good to know it's not just us," Betty responded.
She pulled out five or six candles and lit them with a long lighter -- one most likely used in their family barbecues when the grill was being stubborn. Jughead wondered what that looked like; the Coopers, milling around in their spacious backyard, making turkey burgers, or something. The blondness of the image was almost blinding.
Betty seemed to glow in the candlelight like an angel atop a Christmas tree; luminous and pure. Beautiful. Jughead cleared his throat and moved to the other side of the counter so he was standing in front of her. She smiled at him.
"You guys have a lot of candles," he said, feeling stupid as soon as the words had left his mouth.
"We lose power a lot. My dad always says he's fixing it, but I think he just liked to hang out in the basement by himself. Which is less creepy than it sounds, because the basement is basically a rec-room."
"Figured it was needed," she responded dryly. "I'm going to leave one of the candles in the kitchen. Can you grab the other?"
She picked up three in a graceful, practiced movement that showed their house did, indeed, lose power frequently enough. Jughead grabbed the last one and followed her. Betty left one on the dining room table and moved quickly into the living room, placing another on the coffee table.
Jughead followed suit and set his down next to hers. He sat on the couch, watching her go into the downstairs bathroom and deposit her remaining candle inside it. She came out and plopped down beside him. The motion sent the subtle scent of vanilla wafting in the air, and he looked down at his hands, trying not to think about it.
"Jeez, Juggie. I'm sorry about this. You don't have to stay, you know."
"You were freaked out by the storm to begin with, so you think I'd leave you while it's still storming and there's no power? Yeah, right," Jughead snorted. "Besides, it's been a good night. Why cut it short?"
"Okay, good," Betty smiled. "So... what now?"
Jughead could think of a few things. Her mouth on his. His hands in her hair. Maybe, then, his lips on her neck and her taste on his tongue. Her soft breath, like a warm August breeze, heavy with lilac and want. Instead he shrugged his shoulders.
"How are things with Veronica?" he asked.
"Great. No more drama. It was dumb to begin with."
"Are she and Archie...?" he trailed off, unsure whether or not it was smart to be talking about this.
"Last she and I talked about it, there's nothing going on. If there were though, I'd be okay with it. I just want everyone to be happy."
Jughead turned his head to look at her, trying to assess whether or not she was being genuine. She looked back at him easily, lips upturned softly at their corners.
"What about you?"
"What about me?" Betty asked him, tilting her head to the side.
"Are you happy?" he questioned.
"Mostly," she said in a small voice, pulling the sleeves of her shirt down around her knuckles. "And when I'm not, it's not because of any of that."
Jughead wanted to ask what made her sad, but he had a feeling he already knew. After all, her sister's face still lingered in the picture frames around them -- and here Betty was, all alone. He knew the kind of hole a fractured family could leave inside a person.
"It'll get better," he said quietly. "You know that, right?"
"Of course," Betty said, smiling bravely. "Did you have other plans for tonight?"
"No," Jughead responded, accepting the change in topic. "I was just going to be writing."
Betty hummed, pulling her legs up under herself to get more comfortable. She looked so different in her house -- in a moment he would usually not be afforded. Softer, somehow, and more real. His hands ached to touch her, but he cracked his knuckles instead, laughing when she winced.
"Bad habit," he said.
"I've got some of those," she laughed.
"No way! Not you. I don't buy it," Jughead joked.
"Alright, I'll take your word for it, Cooper," he conceded. "What about you? No plans tonight?"
"I passed out right when I got home, which I'm sure doesn't come as a surprise," she laughed. "I thought my parents were going to be home, but when I woke up, all they left was a note and a casserole."
"Good move with the pizza then," he commented.
Suddenly there was a loud pounding on the door that broke them apart. Betty's brow furrowed and she shrugged her shoulders, looking at Jughead. He held up a finger to his lips and gestured for her to sit back down on the couch. Once he silently made it to the door, he looked through the peephole and inwardly groaned. Opening the door, he let the other boy in.
"Hey, Archie," he said, forcing a smile to his face.
"Oh, uh -- hey, Jughead," Archie said, running a hand through is red hair and flicking the water off it. "What are you doing here?"
"I invited him over," Betty said, coming in out of the living room.
"Okay," Archie said, spotting their papers spread out on the dining room table. "Oh, you were doing news paper stuff. That makes sense."
"Not officially," Betty said, standing next to Jughead. "We were just hanging out, really. But Juggie found some new articles, so we busted everything out and then boom, the power goes off!"
Jughead's chest felt warm at her correction -- especially since it was not done in a spiteful way, or to make Archie jealous. He knew she wanted Jughead to feel welcome in her life, just as much as Archie. He smiled.
"Yeah, it's off for a few blocks. I just wanted to make sure you had candles and everything," Archie said.
"We're all set, Archie," Betty smiled. "Thank you for coming to check on me though. I appreciate it."
"Right, uh, well, I guess I'll get going. It's getting late and I promised my dad I'd help him out tomorrow."
"See ya, man," Jughead said.
"Bye, Archie," Betty called as he walked out. "Thanks again!"
The pair went back to sit on the couch. Jughead wondered what Archie must have made of the scene he walked in on. Jughead, in Betty Cooper's candlelit house, just hanging out. The whole night had been surreal.
"He's right you know," Jughead said.
"Yeah, Betty. It's getting late."
"It's only nine," she argued. "Unless you have to get up early, too."
"I don't," Jughead said.
"Then why don't you just stay?" Betty asked shyly. "I mean, it's still pouring out. If your dad wouldn't care, why not just wait it out and go in the morning?"
Jughead's mouth had gone dry. Stay here. Stay the night with Betty. He had no misconceptions about what she was asking, but it still made his head swim. She wanted him to stay. And God knows, he didn't want to leave.
"He wouldn't care," Jughead managed to say. "He'll just assume I stayed at Archie's."
Lying to her didn't feel great, but he didn't have another option. She nodded as though that was taken care of and curled back up on the couch, bringing the throw blanket down between the two of them.
"I'm glad you came over," Betty said. "Not just because of the storm. I hated that everything got all tangled between the three of us."
Her voice was low. The kind of voice you used for telling secrets. Jughead let himself sink back into the cushions of the couch, his knuckles bumping her knee and resting there, between the couch and the fabric of her dark blue jeans.
"Me too," he admitted. "And I'm glad..."
"About what?" she prodded, when Jughead hesitated.
"That we're kind of, I don't know, doing stuff on our own. It was always the three of us. Never really just you and me, without Archie. I feel like I missed out on getting to know you as well as I could've back then."
"I know!" Betty agreed. "I don't know what we were waiting for, huh?"
Thanks everyone for all the kind notes & the patience to re-read this fic since it had been so long since I updated. You're all awesome. Hope you enjoy this chapter ;)
Betty woke up at three in the morning, a tangle of limbs – both her own and Jughead’s. The lights must have turned back on at some point, because the house was now bright as midday, and she wondered briefly if that was what roused her from sleep. Jughead’s arm, which was behind her back and pulling her close to his chest, tightened when she tried to move.
When had they fallen asleep? She looked up at his face, but from this angle could only really make out his chin. The lights weren’t disturbing him any, but now that Betty knew they were on, she itched to get up and turn them back off. Maybe a small part of her even wished they hadn’t came back on in the first place, because she had been warm and comfortable, and Jughead smelled clean without reeking of cologne or body spray. But to close her eyes now would make this intentional, and not accidental, and that wasn’t okay. Right?
“Juggie?” she whispered, trying to wake him. “Jughead?”
After a moment or two, his eyes snapped open, more alert than she would have assumed anyone’s eyes could look after sleep. When Jughead registered not only where he was, but where certain parts of him physically were, she saw him blush slightly and move away.
“Sorry. I – uh, you know –”
“It’s fine, Jughead,” Betty said, trying to smile reassuringly at him. “My one leg was all over you, too, if it makes you feel less awkward.”
“Marginally,” he admitted, clearing his throat.
“I think the lights just came back on,” she said, getting up from the couch and stretching with a yawn. “I’m going to go turn some of them off.”
Betty quickly made a beeline for the kitchen and stopped for a moment, leaning with her back against the fridge. Her heart was racing, but she didn’t feel anxious – still, the urge to dig her nails into her palms to calm herself made itself very known. Instead, she filled a glass from the cupboard with lukewarm tap water and downed the whole thing. Don’t be a lunatic, Betty told herself.
“That looks good,” Jughead said from behind her, making her whirl around. “Sorry. I thought you heard me.”
“With your sleuthing skills?” she joked weakly.
“Can I have some?”
“Oh, yeah. Of course,” Betty said, reaching into the cupboard for another glass. “Do you want some ice? Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to drink it straight from the tap like a barbarian. That’s just something I do.”
Jughead laughed – a sound not heard often enough. It reminded her of days long since passed, spent on the playground with him. It was sincere. A laugh she had often walked in on, between Jughead and Archie, that died off at her approach. But now –
“Thanks,” Jughead said, drawing Betty out of her thoughts.
She must have went on auto-pilot, filling the glass with ice water, and passing it off to him. It was unlike her. She wondered briefly about the medication in her purse – maybe she did need it – but quickly pushed the thought away. Betty watched as he swallowed, the pull of his adam’s apple against pale skin caught her eye. Interesting.
“What?” he asked, wiping his mouth against his hand.
“What?” Betty echoed.
“You look distracted.”
“Maybe I’m just not awake yet,” she laughed and spun around, rinsing the cup out and putting it on the dish rack. After drying her hands, she took her ponytail out, fearing how it had survived their impromptu nap. She ran her hands through it and saw Jughead staring. “What?”
“What?” Jughead echoed.
“Now you look distracted.”
“Maybe I’m just not awake yet,” he teased with a smile.
“True, maybe this is all just a dream.”
“You know, it wouldn’t surprise me,” he said, sounding like he was speaking more to himself than her.
Betty walked out, telling him to turn the light off after he was done. She flicked the dining room light off, as well. Jughead came out of the dark kitchen a minute later, sitting on the couch, holding up the corner of the blanket for her to slide back under. Betty hesitated for a moment before joining him.
“I hope you didn’t pull anything sleeping sitting up like you were,” she said to him.
“Nah,” Jughead shrugged. “It was comfortable. I can sleep anywhere, anytime.”
The silence settled around them. It felt awkward – No, Betty corrected herself, it felt… tense. Jughead cracked his knuckles again, not looking at her, as Betty tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. The night did have a heavy quality to it. Dark and full of… something – something she couldn’t quite name. Unconsciously, she curled her fingers into her fist until she could feel the nails pressing softly.
“You alright?” Jughead asked. “You look like you’re about to swing at me.”
“Oh!” Betty said, unclenching her fists. “Don’t worry. I’m not about to attack you, Jughead.”
“Good. Because I’m a lover, not a fighter, so you undoubtedly would kick my ass.”
Betty, whose body was angled towards Jughead, rested her face against the couch cushion and watched him stare steadily back at her. Her stomach clenched. She wasn’t sure what she felt – it was reminiscent of Archie, but completely different. Stranger and more complex. Layered. And still, unreturned – whatever it was. She lowered her eyes first and forced herself to speak.
“I guess I should go up to my room now. Then you can actually stretch out,” she said, patting the couch.
“Oh – yeah. Alright,” he said, standing as she stood. “Goodnight, Betty.”
In a moment of impulsiveness, she hugged him, wrapping her arms around his neck. She felt him freeze and then melt into the embrace, his own arms coming around her waist, pulling her closer. When Betty finally tried to step back, about to leave, she felt Jughead’s hand on the side of her neck, thumb rubbing up and into the thick of her hair. Looking into his green eyes was like staring into the sun. How did anyone ever look directly at Jughead Jones? The only thing she could think when he lowered his head, about to kiss her was, Maybe this was all just a dream...
Jughead Jones wasn't sure what he was doing -- didn't know how he ended up with his hands in Betty's soft, blonde hair. There was a voice in the back of his mind that told him, Stop! You're going to ruin everything. However, there was a louder and more convincing voice shouting over that one that said, Shut up! We're kissing her! And that was the voice he chose to listen to; slowly lowering his mouth to hers and tentatively pressing their lips together.
In that moment Jughead knew two things to be irrefutably true. The first was that there were two worlds in which he now existed: kissing Betty Cooper and not kissing Betty Cooper. The second was that one of those worlds was vastly better than the other, and it didn't take a genius to figure out which. So when Betty sighed quietly, tilting her head to meet his for better access, Jughead took full advantage of it without hesitation. He traced her bottom lip with his tongue and her mouth fell open, still sweet somehow after tap water and sleep, and then he stopped thinking all together.
Suddenly, his body took over, moving as though from muscle memory. He cupped Betty's face in his hands, not wanting to let her go. Jughead could feel her hands just under his ribs, around his back, pulling him in closer by his t-shirt, except there was nowhere closer to go. He settled for a soft nip of her lip -- just the slightest graze of his teeth, before he forced himself to pull away.
Their faces were still so close he could feel her unsteady breath on his skin -- so close he could almost count the eyelashes on her eyes as they fluttered open, gazing at Jughead in a way he had never seen Betty ever look at anyone. Pride swelled in his chest. Still, he untangled his hands from her hair and moved back a step, not wanting to overwhelm her.
"I -- uh," Jughead coughed, clearing his throat. He tried again. "I hope that was okay?"
"It was great," Betty murmured without thinking. Jughead laughed quietly as she turned pink, realizing what he had been asking. "Oh, I mean, uh, it was okay. I was okay with you doing that."
"Good," he responded.
"Why did you -- I mean --"
"It just felt right," Jughead said, cutting her off softly, reaching out to run his hand down her arm. He wasn't sure if he could pull off tucking her hair behind her ear -- not yet. "I just want you to know I didn't think this is what you wanted when you asked me over. It was, uh, an act of impulsiveness. That I don't regret."
Betty smiled, making the anxiety in his chest loosen. He had always had a way with words on paper, but out loud -- to people -- it was often a different story. Still, she always seemed to understand exactly what he meant and rarely took anything he said the wrong way. For that he was immensely grateful.
"You're not the kind of guy to assume those sorts of things. I was just... curious. I mean, it's not often we kiss. In fact, we have a solid track record of having never kissed right up until this moment in time."
"After that kiss, it is not a track record I'm proud of," he said, grinning boyishly at her. "We definitely should've been doing that sooner."
Betty moved to sit back down on the couch and he followed. She brought her legs up to her chest and rested her chin on her knee. Jughead could tell her mind was racing, trying to figure out what had just happened between them. Maybe he should've thought about that a bit more before he had went off, mouth first, and kissed her.
"What does this mean for us?" Betty asked.
"What do you want it to mean?" Jughead responded, trying not to sound wracked with nerves.
"I don't, uh, I don't know," she said thoughtfully. "Just, two friends can't kiss and not have it... affect their... friendship. I mean, I don't think that usually works, at least."
"I'm sorry," Jughead forced out with a wince. "I wasn't really thinking about that."
"I don't want you to be sorry, Juggie," Betty said, reaching over to squeeze his hand comfortingly. "I just think maybe we should... think about it. Before we... I mean, I do have some experience almost ruining a friendship because of this... stuff."
"And we just... kind of got each other back, if that makes sense. I don't want to mess it up. Your friendship, it means... so much to me. You don't know how much."
"I understand," Jughead said, feeling a sick throb in his heart. How could he have lost her before he ever really had her? But here he was, losing her, more and more every second. "No more kissing."
"It was a great kiss, though," Betty said, standing up. "I mean, who knew we could... uh, do that. But I should go to bed now. It's really late. Don't leave without saying goodbye, okay?"
"Everything's fine, Betty. Honestly."
She smiled at him one last time, full of equal measures hope and doubt, and hurried away, up the stairs and out of sight. Jughead pushed his head back into the cushion and covered his eyes with his hands, breathing deeply, trying to shake off the sting of what had just happened. Why didn't you just tell her you like her? he asked himself. And the answer came easily, Because I didn't know how. That's why I kissed her.
Jughead could still taste her -- could still feel her, pressed against him. How was he going to face her in the morning? How was he going to face himself now, and for the rest of his life, knowing he had fucking blown it? He knew it was wrong, but he gathered up his stuff, as quietly as he could and locked the front door before shutting it behind him.
As the rain fell around him, slower than earlier but still just as cold, Jughead knew three things to be irrefutably true. The first was that there were two worlds in which he now existed: kissing Betty Cooper and not kissing Betty Cooper. The second was that one of those worlds was vastly better than the other, and it didn't take a genius to figure out which. And the third was that now he had to figure out how to live again, without looking back, to the one time he had actually been allowed to kiss her, and had finally felt at home.
On top of the stairs, just a little behind the wall, Betty thought it felt like million miles from the living room. She didn't want Jughead to leave -- she didn't -- but when she heard the soft click of the front door, she also didn't stop him. Betty couldn't find the words; maybe she had left them all in Jughead's mouth. She groaned softly, sliding down the wall and onto the hallway floor to sit dejectedly.
"What the hell?" she muttered to herself.
She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes, attempting to push the tears back in. How had this happened? Jughead had kissed her. He had really kissed her -- and she had definitely kissed him back. Like her brain had stopped. Like all that existed were their mouths, and the warmth of his hands, and his worn t-shirt fisted in her own. Betty sniffled wetly, wiping her cheeks and tilting her head towards the ceiling -- staring without seeing.
Jughead couldn't imagine how much she had wanted in that moment. How swift it had came, how naturally. Like the tide of the ocean flowing forward -- the elemental force of it all. And in that moment, pressed against him, she couldn't think of anything else. Just his lips, and his tongue, and his teeth. When they parted, how cold reality had been, creeping back in.
Betty had just narrowly avoided losing her friendship with Archie over her crush. There were days where she thought she would never be able to look at him again and not feel her heart sinking like a ship in the wasteland of her chest. And that was without kissing him -- without touching him, or having him touch her -- without knowing what he tasted like. Was it wrong to wonder how she and Jughead would survive one another? They’d only recently reconnected. And she was so enjoying their time together. He made her feel... real. As though she wasn't just "perfect" Betty Cooper, but a person.
When she remembers that night, in her pretty pink dress, having Archie look at her sadly... she doesn't think she could take it again. Especially not from Jughead. Betty tried to picture him shaking his head, unable to meet her eyes, and immediately felt sick to her stomach. She clenched her fists to distract herself, letting her nails break skin and sink in -- the sharpness of it took her breath away.
Okay. That's enough, Betty Cooper, she thought. Forcing her fingers to relax, she breathed deeply, trying to stop the crying which had slowed to big, sad tears and no sound. Finally calmed down, she stood and went into the bathroom, pressing toilet paper to her palms and wincing with regret. Maybe I just should've showed him this, she added somewhat spitefully to herself, then he wouldn't have kissed me in the first place.
Dragging her body back into her bedroom, light now on, she threw herself onto the bed and considered texting someone. But who? Betty’s first thought was Veronica. But what could she even say? V, what would you do if a boy you didn't know you liked until he kissed you, kissed you... and you're afraid of messing up your friendship? She would demand details. Not to mention Betty was sure Archie would divulge the candlelit evening at some point, even if she herself managed to withhold the details, and it would all become far too apparent. Betty turned off her cellphone to curb the temptation.
She curled up in the fetal position, not bothering to change out of her clothes, and tried to concentrate on quieting her intrusive thoughts. Still, whenever she closed her eyes, she could see Jughead's face so close to her own. Betty didn't know how she could go back to before. It seemed like that place was so far away now.
The alarm clock counted the minutes as they passed. First ten, then fifteen, then thirty. Betty had given up on sleeping, though her eyes burned with the effort of keeping them open. At exactly forty five minutes since she laid down, she heard a loud crash that sounded like it was coming from downstairs. Her body sat upright without any thought and she strained to hear anything else. Maybe it was just lightning, she reassured herself. Or maybe that old oak tree out back fell up against the house and now our kitchen is a giant, gaping hole.
Betty unplugged her bedside lamp and wielded it, just in case. She padded noiselessly down the stairs, heart racing in her chest. Don't be stupid, she told herself. I'm sure it was just the storm. It wasn't until she reached the bottom of the staircase that she heard muffled cursing and her breath caught in her chest. Moving silently she peered into the living room, thanking God the lights were still on.
There Jughead stood, soaking wet, amongst the upturned end-table and shattered family photograph. She wheezed out a laugh in relief, and watched as he spun to look at her, face pale and uncomfortable. Betty waited for him to speak.
"I -- uh, sorry about that. I just went out for a minute -- to get some, uh, fresh air. And I locked the door, like an idiot. And I knocked, but you -- uh, I guess you were asleep," he rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably, clearing lying through his teeth. "So I just, you know, popped the window open and thought I could just quietly come back in and you... you know, wouldn't notice."
"I hated that picture anyway," Betty said, trying for a touch of levity.
Her heart ached with fondness. Seeing that he was still frozen to the spot, Betty stepped forward to try to help him but he held his hand up to stop her.
"Don't," he warned. "There's glass everywhere. I'm such a moron."
"It's fine, Juggie. I'll go get the broom, okay? Don't try to pick it up with your hands."
"Alright," he promised.
As Betty turned away, she couldn't help the grin that crept across her face. He had looked so sheepish standing there, dripping water onto the floor. In that moment, she knew that everything would be alright -- they would be alright. He came back, she thought, smiling, as she grabbed the broom and dust-pan. Jughead came back for me....
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Welcome to my trash fic, where I post very sporadically, because I'm also trash.
The dreams that visited Jughead that night were nothing short of sheer torture; an endless loop of kissing Betty and losing Betty and the cold, hard rain. When he finally woke, it was heartsick and to the smell of pancakes. For maybe the first time in his whole life, he wasn't hungry -- but he could at least pretend.
Betty seemed happy enough when he walked into the kitchen. She was humming a song he faintly recognized, but couldn't place -- blonde ponytail bouncing to the soft bop of her head. Like nothing had happened. Because maybe, to her, it had been nothing. He cleared his throat, causing her to flinch and turn around.
"Hey, Jughead," she smiled. "It's almost ready."
"Great. I'm starved."
"I figured you would be."
Nice. Consolation pancakes, Jughead thought as he leaned against the counter, watching her wield the spatula deftly. Nothing like a heavy breakfast, soaked in butter and syrup, to really shove your feelings down.
"Can you grab me some fresh plates?" Betty asked. "They're in the cupboard."
Jughead followed the finger she'd pointed and grabbed two plates. Setting them down next to her, he watched as Betty served the pancakes. Of course, they looked perfect -- and now he would always have this depressing memory attached to them. Jughead rolled his eyes, berating himself in his head. Now was not the time to mourn the memory of breakfast foods not yet past.
They carried everything into the dining room and dug in. After complimenting Betty's cooking abilities and Betty thanking him, they had run out of things to say. The awkwardness now seemed to hang heavy in the air. The scrape of his fork and knife echoed -- grated -- and overall, pointed out the silence with a heavy hand. As if he wouldn't have noticed otherwise.
"Do you have any plans for the rest of the weekend?" Betty asked.
"I guess just catching up on my novel, since I didn't work on it last night."
"Sorry," she said quietly, not meeting his gaze.
"I didn't mean it like that."
Betty nodded, mustering a smile so fake it seemed to crack at the edges, completely out of place given the tight knot of her shoulders. Jughead wondered if it was better to say nothing -- if they could go on like that -- but he knew it wouldn't work. The air needed to be cleared and that was on him.
"I'm sorry about last night," Jughead said, looking down at his pancakes. "Because I don't want you to feel like your friendship isn't enough for me. It is."
"Oh, Juggie, I know. You're not like that."
"I won't say I regret it -- because I don't think anyone could kiss you and ever regret it -- but it wasn't my intention to make you uncomfortable. Okay?" he asked, forcing himself to face her.
"And you're right. Romances can completely destroy friendships. Romances can destroy a lot of things. So I get it. We'll leave it behind us."
Betty nodded again, saying nothing, and took another bite of her breakfast. For the first time, Jughead couldn't read the look on her face, and it worried him. Suddenly, she swallowed and began talking about Jason Blossom -- going over things they'd already gone over a million times, probably to fill the void that now stretched and yawned between them.
It went on like that until they were standing in the doorway, still as statues, trying to figure out how to say goodbye. Jughead tried not to notice the sun lighting Betty up from behind like a halo. Or the way her folded arms made him want to grab her hands and unfold her. Or how, despite the sickening sweetness of Riverdale's finest syrup, all he could taste was her mouth -- still -- somehow -- after all this time.
"Well, I hope there's no more storms in the foreseeable future," Jughead managed.
"Yeah," Betty laughed hollowly.
"And that I don't get you in trouble, you know, for the picture."
"The photograph is fine. I just need to get a better frame. If it's nice enough, my mom will just assume she bought it herself at some point."
"That sounds like mama Cooper."
"Well, it may shock you, but it's not the first broken thing in this house that will have been secretly replaced," Betty said in a hushed whisper
"I'll take you on a tour next time."
"Now that I'll look forward to," he replied easily.
Finally her smile was genuine -- warm -- and wholly Betty. It made his heart ache, like someone pressing on a tender bruise. Damn, he wanted to kiss her again. More than anything. Here, on her porch, in the sunshine. His hands in her hair -- holding nothing back. And then suddenly, before he could stop himself, he was speaking.
"I just... want to say something --"
"Jug..." Betty cut him off, voice warning.
"I need to say something, and then we can leave it behind us -- never to be talked about again, okay? I promise. I just need to say it."
"Alright," Betty nodded, looking directly into his eyes, brows drawn together in confusion.
"I'm not Archie," Jughead spat out, running a hand through his hair. The words had fallen out of his mouth before he knew where he was going with them, but he persisted. "I know that sounds stupid, because you should already know that, but maybe you don't. Not really. Betty, I'm not Archie. If you had come to me that night, in your pink dress, and told me you wanted to be with me? It would've been a different ending -- hell, it would've been a completely different story. And you should already know that."
"You deserve to know that."
Without waiting for a response, he turned and began to walk back to the drive-in. He wanted to turn around so badly -- to see her face -- to try to figure out what she may be thinking. But it didn't matter, did it? She wanted to be his friend, so they would be friends. And a man should be so lucky to have half as much of that. But still, God, what could have been...
Archie Andrews' bedroom window had meant a lot of different things to Betty over the years; a source of comfort, longing, and even -- sometimes -- misery. But looking at it now, it was just a glass pane; his bedroom curtains thrown open wide. How many times had she imagined herself on the other side of the glass with him? How many nights had she wasted trying to will his lights back on?
I'm not Archie.
Standing there on Sunday evening, Jughead's voice kept circling her thoughts like a vulture. Betty pressed her fingertips against the glass, trying like hell to shut it out. It was over. They weren't going to talk about it anymore -- that's what he'd said. But it hadn't felt like a giving up speech.
It would've been a different ending -- hell, it would've been a completely different story.
So Jughead liked her. Maybe he had liked her for a long time -- since the dance, at least. He had watched her go soft over Archie and said nothing. Watched them dance, maybe, from the bleachers. And that would've hurt. And he said nothing. Jughead Jones, always saying nothing, until he says too much. And Betty didn't know what to do with her heart.
It felt like she was standing on the edge of a cliff, waiting for a strong breeze to push her over. Betty wished she could live as fearlessly as Veronica -- or even Cheryl. Literally anyone else; even Polly, seemed more brave when it came to matters of the heart. But Betty just pushed it down and ignored it until she was sick to her stomach.
Did it always have to be this hard? Or was it just her, making things worse for herself? Deep down, she knew the answer. And she couldn't even blame it on Archie -- or what had happened between the two of them -- because she knew she was the one who let it go on as long as it did, terrified about what it could do to their friendship -- the exact same as she was doing now, with Jughead. And it wasn't fair to anyone, including herself.
Turning, she flopped back onto her bed and stared at her silent phone. She had expected something after he left. Not a phone-call, but a text maybe. Some sort of apology for his outburst, but none had came. She clicked past the lock screen and into their messages -- typed 'Hello' -- and then erased it -- and then typed it again. But the letters stared back at her, falling short of meaning, and made her feel like a coward. Betty pressed the power button and tossed the phone away from her.
It wasn't more than a minute before her phone lit up, and she knew it was him already. Because this was her life, and she wasn't a lucky person. So of course he had seen her typing, and erasing, and typing, and erasing. Because that made perfect sense, on a cosmic scale, because she was Betty God damn Cooper.
Jughead: Just say it.
Betty: If I had known what to say, I would've said it.
Jughead: What were you typing, then?
She could picture him, smirking, dark hair falling over his forehead. Why was she suddenly terrified of him now? Because you like him, a voice inside of her said impatiently. Betty shook her head, trying to clear it. She hesitated for a second before she started typing.
Betty: I know you're not Archie. I never thought you were.
Now she was the one smirking. Betty saw the chat bubbles appear, then disappear, then appear again for a long time. Betty wondered what he was writing. It seemed to go on and on, but maybe that was only her anxiety slowing time.
Jughead: Do you really want to go back to how it was before, Betts?
Betty: I'm scared.
It looked stupid staring back at her on her screen. She immediately wished she could take it back. Or add something to it -- undo the damage. But her mind went blank, and any further words simply refused to come. So she looked at it -- her own fear --staring back at her. Mocking.
Jughead: Betty, do I seem like a fair-weather friend to you?
Betty: No. Of course you don't. You're one of my best friends, Jug.
Jughead: I promise we'd be alright. If literally everything fell apart, you would still always be Betty Cooper to me.
She felt like crying. Something about his words always seemed to cut her like a shaft of light through a dark room. Illuminating everything with truth. And she knew he was honest when he said it - that no matter what, they would be alright. Whether they went forward, or backwards -- or nowhere at all, she would always be Betty Cooper to him. And he would always be Jughead Jones to her, though what that meant was changing faster than she could keep up with.
Would it be so bad to take a chance? Maybe it would work out. Maybe they could be really happy together. And maybe, even if it ended, it would be worth it. Maybe the memories they would make together would be the ones that kept her warm when she was old and gray, like Rose in Titanic. Maybe that could be enough reason to say yes.
Betty: I liked how it was before. And I liked how it was when you kissed me, Jughead.
Betty squeezed her eyes shut after sending the risky text, unsure of how he would respond. Her heart felt like it was slamming itself against her ribs, trying to escape her chest. It was stupid. She already knew he liked her. Why was she so nervous? Betty heard the ding of her phone, but ignored it for a second, trying to pull herself together.
Jughead: Then maybe I can do it again sometime.
Betty: Alright. I think I'd be okay with that. As long as we take it slow.
Jughead: Since I don't do emojis, I want you to know I'm smiling right now.
Betty: Me too.
It was silent for a moment before her phone dinged again.
Jughead: Alright. Screw it. ☺
The temperature was tenuous, starting to feel as though the spearmint snap of winter had taken over the air. Jughead woke cold and stayed that way until he was under the showers at school, heat loosening his tight shoulders and seeping into his bones. Despite all of this, nothing could ruin his mood. He had fallen asleep still holding his phone long after the girl on the other end had went silent. Part of him had been waiting, maybe, for Betty to take it all back, but she never had.
It wasn't until he saw Archie standing by his locker that his good mood started to evaporate... just a little. Forcing his feet forward, he approached his friend -- trying to look happy to see him. It was earlier than Archie usually showed up for school. Only the kids on the edge of town, who had taken the early bus in, were starting to mill around the halls half-awake and miserable. Jughead couldn't blame them. If he had any choice in the matter, he wouldn't wake up until after noon.
"Hey, man," Archie said.
"What brings you in so early?"
Archie looked mildly uncomfortable and shrugged his shoulders, smiling sheepishly. So, it was exactly what Jughead had suspected: an inquisition. Opening his locker he shoved his bag inside, grabbing his well-worn copy of Nine Stories and put it in his back pocket. After he had closed it again, he leaned against the door and regarded Archie.
"That was weird this weekend, huh?" Archie asked, straining for casual.
"You and Betty, dude. I mean, I knew you worked on the paper together, but I didn't know you were like, hanging out."
"Ah," Jughead said. "Well, we were friends before. And she's around all the time: lunch, class, group hang-outs, the paper. I mean, it can't be that big of a shock."
"I guess not," Archie said, running a hand through his hair uncomfortably.
Jughead could tell what he was really asking, and if it were up to him, he would've answered it honestly. He would've told Archie he had kissed Betty. He had kissed her because he liked her. And he had liked her for as long as he could remember, in one way or another. But it wasn't just up to him, it was Betty's choice too, on what got said and how.
And then, as if summoned from his thoughts alone, Betty Cooper walked down the hallway -- bright and beautiful, holding two cups of coffee. Her steps faltered when she saw Archie, but picked back up before the redhead even noticed her. She stopped in front of them, passing one of the steaming cups off to Jughead, before turning to Archie.
"Sorry, Archie. I didn't know you'd be here or I would've brought you one, too," she said.
"That's alright. You know it takes me two cups minimum to even get out of the house," Archie laughed.
"Right," Betty said with a small smile. "Veronica told me she wanted to talk to you. We got here together, but she was ambushed by Cheryl. I still can't tell if they're friends or not."
"Guess I'll go save her, then," Archie said, taking one last look at the pair of them, and then heading down the hallway out of sight.
Betty, who had been busying herself taking a long sip from her coffee, finally looked up at him and the tension crackled in the air. He wanted to kiss her -- slow -- taste the cream and sugar on her tongue, feel the unbearable heat of her mouth. But instead he stood there, smiling stupidly, trying to bring himself back to current time.
"That was weird. He's never here that early," Betty remarked.
"He's onto us, Nancy Drew."
"You mean he knows?" Betty said, whipping her head around to look back down the hallway so fast her ponytail almost smacked him in the face.
"He suspects," Jughead corrected. "He was waiting here for me and started saying how weird it was that we were hanging out."
"It's not weird," Betty said with a small frown.
"That's what I told him -- and that's all I told him, Betty. I assume your definition of "slow" doesn't include telling everyone about the kiss."
"The kiss?" she asked, smiling again, all soft and sappy around the edges.
"Capital T, capital K.”
"I just think if it gets to that point, that we should tell him together," Betty said. "Is that okay?"
"More than okay. I wouldn't have expected any less."
"Thanks, Juggie," she said, placing her hand on his arm for a moment. He could feel the warmth of her hand through his shirt, and his whole body wanted to strain towards it, like a flower in Spring, but he contained himself.
"You know," Jughead said, low enough for only her to hear, "I'd really like to kiss you right now."
He watched her blush -- a faint rose that started in her cheeks and traveled down, down, down... Fascinating. Jughead wondered how far down the pink went. Betty shook her head, less to say no than to clear her thoughts.
"I would really like that too, if we weren't here," she said.
"I actually have something to show you in the Blue & Gold office."
"Oh," her mouth formed a perfect circle. "A lead?"
"A hot one."
He didn't remember how they got there. It was as if they were teleported, rematerialzing against the frosted glass of the door. He pressed her back against it, tracing his thumb across the sharp line of her jaw. He could feel her shaking slightly, already out of breath. How is this real? he thought. Jughead kissed her right under the ear, a soft brush of lips and tongue against her racing pulse. When he raised his head to look at her, Betty's eyes were closed. And when he finally got to kiss her slow -- to taste the cream and sugar on her tongue, to feel the unbearable heat of her mouth -- she dissolved. He could feel her hands on his back holding on, up under his shirt slightly, and he wanted to die. Maybe he already had. Likely this was heaven.
It was the first time in a long time that Betty had been late for class. After the bell had jolted her and Jughead apart, she had walked on shaky legs to the bathroom where she now stood, in front of the mirror, trying to wipe the wild off of her mouth. Nothing worked. Each touch seemed to leak through her, like Sharpie on sheet of lined paper -- floating just beneath the surface, telling just enough of the story that everyone would know what she had been up to. Still, she couldn't stop herself from smiling.
Maybe this is how people stopped being scared of liking someone. By kissing them. All the time. Until they couldn't think of anything else -- and their heart beat like a rabbit's caught in a snare -- and they were so full up with wanting that they shone with it, scrubbed clean with gold and gleam. At least, it was working for Betty because right now, all she could think about were his hands and not the havoc they could potentially wreak on her heart. In her mind, they were too busy with other parts of her body: the sharp of her shoulder blades, the small of her back, the swell of her hips. She wasn't greedy, but the aching seemed brand new and altogether endless.
And now she was supposed to go to math? Learn trig? Sharpen her pencil as if she knew nothing about the inside of Jughead's mouth? Betty walked over the the sink and splashed some cold water on her face. Get it together, Cooper, she told herself, people do this sort of thing all the time. But she hadn't expected this: how the desire would slam into her belly like a freight train, or how much she would welcome the smoldering wreckage, burning hot and low and lovely.
Suddenly, as loud as a bullet from a gun, the door swung open making her jump. She turned back towards the mirror and saw Veronica entering, head down, texting. Shit. Betty tried to slow her breathing. Just act normal. You can do this. She spun around to face the brunette.
"Who're you texting?" Betty asked, voice cracking.
"You!" Veronica said with a little laugh, whipping her head up. "Mr. Mackey is about to send a search party out for you."
"Because you're late. And you never skip. And you're the only person who actually listens to him, or cares about math, and he probably needs that in his life," Veronica said, depositing her phone into her purse. "Are you alright? You look..."
"I was going to say flushed."
"Oh," Betty said, tightening her ponytail and regarding her reflection again. She pressed her hands against her cheeks. "I guess I do."
"Do you feel sick?"
"No, it's just -- uh, my head hurts a little," she lied. "I took some Advil and just needed a minute before I faced the rest of the student body."
"Well, as truly iconic as your ponytail is, maybe you should let your hair down then, Rapunzel."
"No, it's alright. I'm feeling better already. Anyway, we should probably go before Mr. Mackey sets up a candlelit vigil for me."
Veronica followed her to math class, saying very little, but Betty could feel the distrustful silence around her -- as though Veronica could tell, just from her face, that Betty was keeping something from her. How was she supposed to take it slow with Jughead, when everyone could sense the shift in the air? How was she supposed to hide it when everything rippled around them?
At lunch, Betty tried not to look at Jughead too much, which likely resulted in her not looking at him enough, but no one said anything. Kevin was talking animatedly about... something. God, she tried to listen, but Jughead was across from her, popping chips into his mouth one by one, sometimes sucking on the pad of his thumb. She wondered what the salt would taste like.
Veronica and Archie seemed engaged in a conversation with one another, for which Betty was thankful. Still, every now and them, she could feel the redhead looking at her -- gaze bouncing between her and his best friend. The thought of telling him sat in her stomach like curdled milk -- heavy, and sour, and far too whole. She knew Archie didn't want her -- he had said as much himself -- but she couldn't shake the feeling that, at the end of the day, Archie didn't have to want her to not want her date someone else. She could feel herself frowning.
She felt a slight nudge against her foot, but it didn't started her. The lunch tables weren't very wide. The occasional foot, or knee, bumping against one another was par for the course. The second time, she tried to ignore it. The third time, feeling the foot lined up against her own so carefully, her eyes shot up and she caught Jughead smiling at her, ever so slightly -- barely more than a smirk.
"Are you sure you're feeling alright, Betty? Because I can take you home," Veronica said, loud enough for the group to hear.
"Are you sick?" Archie asked, looking at her, eyebrows furrowed together with concern.
"No, I just had a bit of a headache," Betty tried to explain.
"I found her in the bathroom splashing cold water on her face before first period," Veronica told Archie, as if Betty hadn't spoken at all. "She looked flushed. Like now."
"You do look a little flushed, Betty," Jughead said, draining all the humor from his voice.
"See, B?" Veronica asked. "I'm not the only one who thinks so."
Betty placed her foot on top of Jughead's and pressed down until he choked slightly on his chips. She smiled at him sweetly before turning back to Veronica and Archie, assuring them again, that she was fine. It had just been a headache, and it was gone now. Slowly the group dispersed until it was just Betty and Jughead sitting at the small table.
"So, were you trying to cool down after our kiss," Jughead said quietly, leaning forward on his forearms, "or trying to drown yourself?"
"What do you think?" Betty asked with a small smile.
"Well, it was nice knowing you."
"Remember me fondly," she teased.
"As if I could do anything else."
They walked together to their next class, a careful gap between their shoulders, but she could feel herself being pulled to him. She wondered whether it was magnetic, or the tectonic plates shifting to bring them closer, or maybe just plain old gravity. But still, she couldn't believe how hard it was not to touch someone. It was as if the whole world wanted her to fall in love.
Maybe a hint of plot inside of this random fic... you'll have to wait and see.
Jughead's father was a splash of darkness against the side of the drive-in, and suddenly, he wished he had went to Archie's, twenty questions be damned. Clutching the strap of his messenger bag he marched himself forward, trying to pull his stomach up from out of his knees. Jughead wracked his brain trying to figure out why he was here -- what was wrong -- because something had to be wrong if his dad was here. His father flicked his still burning cigarette onto the ground.
"Finally remember my birthday was three months ago?" Jughead asked, trying to keep his emotions in check.
"Yeah," FP said. "Your pony's out back."
The two stood uneasily, regarding one another as if they were strangers, not flesh and blood -- not bone -- not sorry. The smoke still made Jughead's lungs burn like he was a kid, wondering why his father couldn't quit and just get straight for once; like a kid who knew too much about disappointment and was tired.
"So, what do you want?" Jughead asked. "I don't have any money. Obviously."
"Damn it, Jug, I don't want money. This is serious."
"Is it Jellybean?" he forced out of his tightening throat. "Mom?"
"No, no. They're fine -- last I talked to them, at least. This is about you."
"The Ghoulies --"
"So, this is about you," Jughead corrected. "Because I sure as hell have nothing to do with that."
"You're my son, aren't you?" FP asked.
"Unless mom is playing a really cruel joke on me."
"Would you cut it out, kid?" his father spat, stepping forward into Jughead's space. "Things between the Serpents and the Ghoulies -- they're not looking so great --"
"Do they ever?"
"Things are about to go sideways, Jug -- I can feel it. And I don't want you getting caught in the middle. It isn't safe for you here," he said emphatically.
"You mean, the minor living in the Twilight Drive-In isn't a good idea?"
"I can make sure you're safe," his father went on, ignoring Jughead. "I can look after you."
Jughead swallowed back a thousand memories, each one more bitter and jagged than the last. His father passed out again. His father shouting. His father, and the Serpents, talking low outside the trailer window. His father's silence as he ran his mother and Jellybean out of their lives. His father's rage as a fist through the wall, too close to Jughead's shaking body. His father as a shadow, more darkness than man and unwilling to change. Not for anyone. Not even his son, who had stayed, when everyone else had left.
"I left because you can't take care of yourself, dad -- let alone me."
"Thanks, though. For the warning, or whatever," Jughead said moving towards the door, opening it, and then stopped. "Don't get yourself killed, alright?"
Jughead didn't breathe until he heard his father's motorcycle ripping down the road -- its subtle fury radiating like a warning. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes tightly, as if he could wish this situation away. His dad had never showed up with Serpents business. Not ever -- not once. What does it mean? Is it going to be bad? Am I safe here? The broken lock on the door spoke for itself.
He went outside for fresh air -- to settle his stomach, which now was tying itself into knots -- and ended up in front of Betty's house before he even knew where he was. Acting on instinct alone, he dragged the beat-up ladder from the side of the house and climbed his way up to Betty's window. He saw her sitting, looking lost in thought when he knocked, startling her. Betty hurried towards him, smiling as she opened the window.
"Hey there, Romeo," she joked. "The nurse is off duty. You could've used the door."
He climbed in, wincing at his shoes on the cushioned bench seat of her window -- hoping they were clean of mud. He stood there, inside her bedroom, looking around as if noticing where he was for the first time -- like waking from sleepwalking. He blinked.
"You okay?" Betty asked him. "You look like you've went full Cuckoo's Nest on me. And I say that as a Cooper."
"He's crazy. My dad... is crazy," Jughead settled on saying, not wanting to get into the full details.
"He's a parent. They're all crazy."
"I guess. Sorry to just --"
"Show up at my window, like the stuff of teenage dreams?" Betty said with a small laugh.
"You dream about guys coming in through your window ranting about their fathers?"
"Well, if you drop the last part, it is kind of romantic," she said, twirling her necklace around.
"Maybe there's something to it," Jughead agreed, grabbing her hand and holding it. "I just mean, I'm sorry to have added on the last part."
"Just do it again sometimes," Betty smiled shyly.
Jughead leaned forward and kissed her softly -- gently -- the words of his father, and the threat of the Ghoulies melting away in the presence of her light. Nothing else existed. Not when Betty Cooper was kissing you. Her free hand was creeping up underneath his jacket, warm and alive. He felt the touch everywhere.
"I'm so glad you changed your mind," Jughead said, breaking away to lean his forehead against hers. "I don't know how I would've been able to stop kissing you."
"I'm glad too," she responded, kissing him again, quicker but just as tenderly. "But do you want to talk about your dad?"
"In the middle of our moment?" Jughead asked, laughing. "No, I definitely don't want to talk about my dad right now."
"Gross," she huffed out, slapping his arm. "That's terrible."
"You're the one who brought up my dad in the middle of making out. Maybe I should be worried."
"I know you're just deflecting because you don't want to talk about it, but I have to insist you acknowledge how disturbed you're being right now."
"You have to insist?" Jughead mocked.
"I have to," Betty said with a nod, her ponytail swinging.
"My apologies then, Elizabeth Cooper."
Suddenly, the sounds of her parents filtered through the house. Her mother called her name and Betty's eyes widened in horror. Jughead smirked, kissing her soundly once more, before heading out the window. From the quick turn of Betty's back against the glass, he just made it out in time -- but here, on the damp grass of the Cooper's yard, reality began to intrude again.
What the hell am I going to do? Jughead wondered.
The morning came too early and all at once -- bright and unyielding -- demanding Betty's attention. Her mother's voice floated up from downstairs, also too early and all at once -- maybe not bright, but certainly unyielding. Impossible to ignore. And somehow, she found herself fully dressed at the breakfast table, moving the fruit in her fruit salad around and around. The kiwi and strawberry were too heavy in their natural syrup -- too sweet, somehow. They made her teeth ache.
"Elizabeth," her mother said from across the table. "Don't play with your food."
"Sorry," Betty muttered as she set her spoon down.
"Are you feeling alright, sweetheart? You seem... distracted."
That word made Betty snap her spine straight. She blinked her eyes bright again, forcing a small smile. Get it together, she hissed at herself. Her fists tightened under the table, but she tried to relax. The wounds weren't healed yet -- still scabbed in middle, dry and full of pain upon passing. Deep breath.
"I'm fine. I just didn't sleep very well," she settled on saying.
"If you're having a hard time, we can always go see Dr. Greene," her mother started, mouth tightening at the corners. "Maybe they can increase your dosage, or whatever it is we pay him so much to do."
My hands are bleeding, Betty thought to herself with a start. She grabbed her napkin with a forced calm and pressed the pristine white cloth between her palms under the cover of the table. It's just a bad morning, get it together. Get it together.
"I'm fine, mom," she insisted. "Really."
"We just want to make sure you don't end up --"
"Like Polly?" Betty snapped.
"... sick," her mother snapped back.
The two sat, an uncomfortable mirror of one another. Alice took a small sip of her water, eyes narrowed, glittering cold like diamonds under the dining room light. Her father said nothing, behind his newspaper -- maybe things looked better back there. Betty kept the napkin between her hands, protecting the soft of her palms -- or what was left of it. I have no control, Betty thought, I need to get out of here. I need to get out now.
"I have to go. I have the paper before class," she forced out, trying to smile.
Betty took the napkin with her, praying her mother wouldn't say anything about it -- though Betty knew it would be cataloged away somewhere in her head. Just like every other movement her daughter made. She grabbed her bag and was almost out the door when her mother called her name. Betty spun around to face her once more.
"I'm going to call Dr. Greene after work," her mother said with a tone of finality.
Her father, out of the range of Alice's glare, finally peeked out from the side of his paper. He shook his head, smiling tightly -- a signal they had, had since Betty was a child. I'll talk to her, it said. Or at the very least, I will bring home wine and say nothing and she'll forget about it by tomorrow.
Betty said nothing and closed the front door behind her quietly. She didn't wince pulling the napkin from where it had fused to the dried blood on her hands. She watched the red swim to the surface of the cuts as if from some deep, dark bottom. The napkin was ruined, like most things in her life. Blood in patches, like some sort of ink blot. What do you see, Elizabeth? she thought with a dark laugh.
She didn't realize she was crying until her nose started running. Betty sniffled and shoved the napkin into her bag until she could find somewhere safe to throw it out. Once on the sidewalk, she looked at the Andrews' house, considering. It had once been safety -- comfort. Now it looked like nothing in particular. Probably because there was nowhere she could go with this. Not Archie -- and definitely not Jughead.
Betty walked on, towards the school, wanting like hell just to run in the opposite direction. And go where? she asked herself. And do what, when the school calls? The morning had been bad enough. She couldn't imagine coming home to her mother learning she had skipped class. That would be a guaranteed trip to the doctor, which she wanted so badly to avoid.
Is this what they did to you, Polly? she asked the empty space where her sister should've been. She could still remember coming home to her parents that night, how they told her Polly had been sent away -- "to get better." When she asked what was wrong, her mother had said Polly was sick, but Polly had never seemed sick. Then again, neither had Betty -- to anyone -- and maybe she wasn't sick, but she was something.
She looked at her hands miserably, tears coming again. By the time she reached the school, they had stopped completely, but she could tell her eyes were a red mess, puffy and swollen. Betty decided to sit on the bleachers -- pulling her jacket closer around her body. She had time. Time to think. Time to put herself back together, piece by piece, until she could smile passably again.
The football field looked bigger without people in it, more ominious. Gray skies loomed over its expanse and promised a cold rain that you could already feel in the air. Betty pulled the napkin from her bag again, wetting it with bottled water, and set about cleaning her hands just enough that she wouldn't set them off bleeding again.
Jughead said her name like a crack of lightning, scaring her. She scrunched the napkin back up in her hands, thankful he had come in from behind her. He didn't see anything, she told herself. He couldn't have seen anything. Betty didn't have time to do anything else with the cloth except hold onto it and hope like hell.
"H-hey, Jug," her voice sounded warbly, even to her, as if it was coming from underwater.
"I thought that was you," he came around the fence and stood at the bottom of the bleachers. He studied her face from a distance and she didn't know what to do. She smiled, tight around the edges, as if happiness was a thing that could crack open and darker things would crawl out of. Maybe it was. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, of course," she said as he climbed up the steps and settled next to her. "What are you doing here so early?"
"I was going to use the printer for my history paper."
"Oh," she said quietly. "What was it about?"
"Betty, seriously," he said, leaning down a little to meet her eyes. "What's wrong?"
"Jughead, seriously, nothing."
The pair sat quietly for a moment -- Betty lying and knowing Jughead knew it. And Jughead, letting himself be lied to. He exhaled sharply, tugging on his beanie. Way to go, Cooper, you're upsetting him, she said to herself. But then another colder voice countered, What else would you have me do? No response came. She tried to breathe evenly -- the napkin as heavy as a stone in her hands.
"You can talk to me, you know," he said, offering the words like a promise. "I might be crap at it myself, but I'm a terrific listener, Betts."
"I know you are. There's just nothing to say."
"That's why you've been crying then?" Jughead asked, not looking at her, but foward into nothing -- voice tight.
"I haven't --"
"Come on, Betty," he insisted. "I'd be the wrong person to try to solve a murder with if I couldn't tell when someone's been crying."
Don't say too much. Don't say anything. What if you open your mouth and it all comes out? You could lose him -- what little you have of him -- he could tell someone. Another crazy Cooper girl. The anxiety in her chest felt like it was about to burst but she couldn't do anything about it. Not with him here.
"So that's how it's gonna be, huh?" Jughead pushed on. "I talk to you, but you don't talk to me? I don't want that."
"I don't know what you want me to say."
Betty squeezed her fists together without thinking. The truth! As if that was that easy! The napkin flattened and seeped out the side of her one fist, but she didn't notice. 'Hey Jughead, I know we've just started... well, not even dating, not really... but I just thought you should know that I'm a complete head-case.
"Did you hurt yourself?" Jughead asked her, unassumingly.
"That looks like blood," he pointed out.
Betty's heart sank so low there wasn't a word for it. She scrunched the napkin back up, hidden out of view, head spinning. Lie, you idiot! she shouted at herself.
"Uh, just a scratch. This morning," Betty scrambled.
"Let me see," Jughead said, putting his hand out for her to lay her own in, but Betty didn't move. "Come on, Betty. That looked like a bit more than a scratch."
"I said it was a scratch! Just leave it alone!" she snapped at him, standing up suddenly.
"Betty, what the hell?" he said, confusion in each syllable. "You're acting --"
"Crazy?" Betty supplied for him.
Jughead looked as if she had slapped him. Completely stricken, as if he was just understanding that maybe this was more than a singular bad day or particularly bad case of PMS. She climbed down off the bleachers, careful not fall and heard him behind her. Of course.
"Betty! I wasn't going to say that!" he insisted. "You know I wouldn't."
Betty ignored him, walking down the field in the direction of the school. She had a few strides on him and he was hurrying behind her, desperate to catch up. This is why you shouldn't date anyone, she hissed at herself. You think he deserves this?
"Betty, stop," he said, finally able to grab her shoulder and spin her around. "Would you just talk to me? Please?"
"Don't you get it? I don't want to talk to you."
"Then who do you want to talk to? I can get Veronica for you -- or Kevin?"
"I don't want to talk to anyone!" she shouted.
When she turned to leave again, he grabbed her arm lightly -- careful not to press or bruise. Always careful. Betty pushed at his chest and wanted to die when the napkin fell between them. It landed on the ground to a terrible silence, and Jughead, who couldn't look away from it.
"Betty?" he asked, voice small. She went to pick it back up, but he was faster than her. He held it between them. "What happened? What is this?"
"Give it back," she demanded, reaching for it.
He grabbed her hand, and she flinched as though burned. The movement, like everything else, was not lost on Jughead. She squeezed her fingers together to cover her palm and almost whimpered at the contact. Oh my god, it hurts. What did I do to myself this time?
"Let me see, Betty," he demanded quietly, trying to nudge her fingers open with his own. "Open your fist."
"Let go of me."
"It's okay," Jughed said quietly, looking at her. His eyes were determined -- and somehow, gentle. "It's okay, Betty. Just show me what happened. I want to make sure you're okay."
With all her strength, she pulled her arm back to herself and stood facing him. He looked like he was in pain. This is what you do to people, Betty, when they get too close. You hurt them.
"I'm okay," she said. "I'm okay. I am."
"Then show me your hand."
"If you don't stop, you're going to ruin this," Betty found herself saying softly, like a warning. "You're going to ruin us."
"Then I'll take my chances."
Betty shoved her hand up under his nose, palm open. The wounds were fresh -- some oozing red. It was an ugly sight -- she was an ugly sight. The marks her nails made looked like little crescent moons. Blood moons. And for once, Jughead didn't say anything. His face paled in a way that made her sick to her stomach -- as if he finally realized liking her was a mistake. That she was crazy, like everyone said.
"See?" she said, tears leaking out of the corners of her eyes.
Betty ran blindly past him, away from the school. She could hear him calling her name -- his feet, hitting the pavement after her -- but eventually, it stopped. She looked around herself and she was alone.
Finally, it started to rain.
Jughead: Betty, where are you?
Jughead didn't go to first period. Or second. Instead he stayed in front of the school and waited. He thought Betty would come back -- after all, where else would she go? Jughead knew she wouldn't risk her mother's wrath if she showed up unexpectedly at home, or if somehow, word got back to her. But by lunch time, it was apparent Betty had no plans to return.
Jughead felt sick to his stomach.
He had tried calling her and had been sent straight to voicemail, where he left a choked up message, exactly six words long: Betty, please call me back. Please. Several texts, all unread and unanswered. Jughead decided if she hadn't responded yet, he would head off and look for her. His heart sank when he opened his phone only to see his own desperation staring back at him.
Jughead: Please answer me.
Of course there was no response. It wasn't surprising. Why didn't you say something? he asked himself and then, God, why did you let her go? He finally started walking, listing places in his head the blonde might go. The most obvious was her house, though he couldn't picture it. Instead, he headed towards Pop's. When she ran, it would've been near the end of the breakfast rush, with a decent lull before lunch rolled around. Somewhere Alice Cooper was guaranteed not to show her face. It would be a good place to collect herself.
Jughead didn't want to think about it: her hands, always small and sweet, and their hidden wreckage. Like a sky with four moons, all in a perpetual state of waning, all fogged with red -- a sign of the end times. Why hadn't he kissed her then? Or held her? Why hadn't he done something? Because I'm a fuck-up, he hurled at himself. He tried to force the images away, but they kept floating to the surface. His girl, hurting so badly, in secret. Part of him wanted to shake her, to shout, I'm right here, Betty! I've always been right here! but he didn't think that would help matters any.
The anger in his gut was heavy. Anger at the world which would drive someone so pure to do something like that herself. Anger at her mother, who always made her feel less than, and pushed and pushed. How much was one person supposed to take on their own? Apparently, Betty thought all of it. She should be able to take it all -- but she was only human and she needed help. His help, if she'd let him. Jughead hated to think of what he would have to do if she turned it down.
By the time he reached the parking lot of the diner, he was soaked through with rain. Jughead removed his beanie, wrung it out and shoved it into his bag -- school books be damned. And then he saw her, at the back booth -- his booth -- staring straight ahead at nothing, milkshake untouched. He hurried forward into the diner, nodding at Pop as he went and sat down across from Betty, hoping to God she wouldn't run again. Her big green eyes flicked up to his.
"I thought you would come back, that's why I didn't -- that's why I took so long to track you down. I was waiting," the words tumbled out of Jughead's mouth faster than he could stop them. "Why didn't you give me a chance to say something?"
"I think your silence said plenty," Betty said in a strained voice.
"And I get it. I really do. That's why I wasn't ever going to tell you. Just... please don't say anything to anyone, okay?" she pleaded.
Jughead felt like crying. If she thought that he wouldn't like her because of this -- because she was a little dark underneath it all -- she was wrong. Jughead was used to darkness. All he wanted to do was get her through to the other side of it, where she belonged. Unmarred. Face upturned to the sun.
"I'm an idiot, okay?" Jughead started. "I just froze for a second, that's all. It just -- it hurt me to see you hurt. To know... you're doing it to yourself. That you didn't come to me. Betty, you can always come to me, okay? Just don't do that again, please."
"I don't even know I'm doing it sometimes, Jug," she said with a watery voice. "Not until it's too late."
"Is this it? You're not --"
"No," Betty said quickly. "It's just my hands. I get so -- sometimes, it takes so much to not --"
"I know," Jughead said.
"Hey, don't apologize to me," he responded.
They sat silently for a moment. Pop was cooking burgers in the back, and the heat from the kitchen made the windows fog around them. The sound of the rain picked up until it was a gentle roar in the background. And all Jughead could see was her beautiful face -- eyes red from crying, lips bitten with worry. And her hands, on the top of the table, intentionally limp. He reached forward, running his thumb along the raised line of her delicate knuckles.
"So you still want -- I mean, I know we're not... dating -- but you still want to do this?" Betty asked him.
"Yes. I want all of you, Betty Cooper," he said -- immediately flushing at his own words. "Just call me first -- or text me -- or find me before it gets to critical mass. Can you promise me that?"
"I promise, Juggie."
Her eyes were full of truth -- strong as anything, and Jughead knew she would be okay. This was just a blip in the timeline of the girl next door -- our friendly neighborhood Hitchcock blonde. Even if she didn't know it just yet, Jughead would know it for her. And he would help her up, out of the darkness, as many times as she needed until it was nothing more than a memory.
"Nobody," Jughead quoted, lifting her hand to his lips and pressing a kiss against her ivory skin, "not even the rain, has such small hands."
The walk to Betty's house was quiet and filled with something tender, like an aching bruise. Jughead kept glancing at her out of the corner of his eyes, not moving his head, as though she wouldn't be able to feel it. But she did. The rain fizzled out and seemed to hang suspended in the air, like a curtain you could draw back and walk through. When they confirmed the driveway was empty, the pair climbed up the stairs, where not so long ago Jughead had changed her whole world with his words. She unlocked the door and let him in first.
Toeing off their shoes, he followed Betty into the kitchen. The answering machine waited, blinking red -- a message of doom narrowly avoided: Hello Mrs. Cooper. This is the receptionist at Riverdale High. Your daughter Betty has been absent from all her morning classes. Please give us a call if she's ill, so we can mark it down. Thank you. Betty reached towards the phone, but was cut off by Jughead's hand on her arm, just below the shoulder.
"Let me, Betts," he said. "They'll be less likely to question it."
Betty nodded and slipped onto the stool at the kitchen counter. It made sense. She was talented, but Betty couldn't pull off a convincing man's voice. A small smile teased at the corner of her lips, watching Jughead dial, wondering how many times he must've done this himself growing up. Enough to get caught, apparently.
"Hello, this is Hal Cooper," Jughead said, lowering his own voice only slightly. She tried not to laugh. "Yes, Betty's home today -- she was feeling a little under the weather. My wife told me to call, but you know how it is.... Right? Sometimes I wonder if I'd even remember to wake up without her. Right... of course. I'm pretty sure she'll be back tomorrow. Alright, thank you... Goodbye."
"That was impressive," Betty said once he had hung up.
"Not my first rodeo. What time do your parents usually get home at?"
"Four, at the earliest. Sometimes they come home for lunch, but we would've missed that already."
After a brief conversation, they decided to go upstairs. Betty wanted to change out of her damp clothes -- and though there was little she could do about his jeans, she offered him an over-sized Bulldogs sweatshirt that was warm and dry. She slipped into her bathroom, changing into jogging pants and a t-shirt, trying not to think about Jughead in her bedroom, undressing. She brushed her hair, biting back a yawn, exhausted. I guess emotional breakdowns can do that to you.
When she came back out Jughead had hung his shirt from her vanity chair, attempting to dry it out. He was sitting on the edge of her bed, looking around, taking in all the details he had missed in the past. She winced a little when his eyes landed on the night light, but he turned to smile at her -- looking softer than she had ever seen him in the light gray hoodie.
"Jellybean had one like that," Jughead told her as she sat down next to him. "I mean, not exactly the same, but close enough. I wonder if she still has hers."
"I'd bet on it. They're hard to get rid of, even when you don't use them anymore. Which I don't."
"Oh yeah?" Jughead asked her, teasing. "You're not scared of the dark anymore?"
"Nope. Just of the things that live inside the dark."
Jughead laughed along with her, and she let her head droop onto his shoulder. She meant for it to be brief -- just for a second -- but when he started running his fingers through her hair, Betty leaned further in. She could smell his cologne, mixed with her own scent that clung to the sweatshirt. She wondered at the end of today, if it would smell more like him or her.
"I really am sorry about today," she whispered past the lump in her throat.
"Stop," Jughead said firmly. "This doesn't change anything for me. Not in the slightest, Betty."
"Okay," she nodded, sniffling softly, biting back another apology.
Jughead nudged her head up and kissed her quietly, filled with something tender, like an aching bruise. And she could feel everything he wanted her to feel, that he pressed against her skin with his lips and hands. Betty had never felt so loved -- even if he didn't love her yet. Even if he never did. She would always remember this moment -- she just knew it.
When they broke apart, they held their faces close together. Betty blinked her eyes open to look into his -- blue and gray -- watching her so closely. His hand on her hip stroked up and under her shirt, just barely, raising goosebumps everywhere. And when she went to kiss him again, he pulled back, just slightly.
"We should," he said.
"In the diner, you said you knew we weren't dating. And I know you don't want to tell anyone, and you don't want to move too fast -- but we should. We should date. I'm not going to push you, or anything. I just want you to know that I want to be your boyfriend. And I'll wait, hell, I'll wait. But I don't want to."
"Alright," Betty said, biting the inside of her cheek. "I still don't think we should tell anyone right away... not until we know exactly what we want to say. But I like being with you, Juggie. Just... you're sure?"
He laughed, breathlessly, and kissed her again. Betty wondered how it was possible to go from so sad to so happy. She didn't know if this was the right move -- saying yes -- but she knew she wanted it. Jughead Jones was her boyfriend. Maybe they would hurt each other -- maybe even badly -- but it was hard to feel scared in his arms.
Eventually they settled in to watch Netflix on her laptop. One second Betty was following the plot of Stranger Things, and the next she woke up to her mother sticking her head in her bedroom. Jughead was gone, but her comforter had been pulled up around her. She blinked blearily. Her hoodie was slung over the back of the chair where his wet t-shirt had hung.
"I'm sorry about this morning," Betty said to her mother. "I didn't mean to start a fight."
"It's alright, Elizabeth. You should get up now though, or you'll never sleep tonight."
Betty sighed in relief when her mom shut the door. It seemed as though her father had gotten through to her, or else Betty would've gotten an earful. She got up and looked out her window, into the yard, but Jughead was long gone. She picked up her phone and couldn't help but smile at the text waiting for her. It was a picture of the two of them -- she was asleep against his chest, and he was pressing a kiss into her hairline. Neither of their faces were very visible, but intimacy radiated from it in waves. A boyfriend and a girlfriend. Jughead Jones and Betty Cooper. Underneath the picture was another text that said simply: Never been so hard to say goodbye.
Betty pulled on the sweatshirt and breathed deeply.
The story continues, and like always, I continue to be a nightmare when it comes to updating.
It shouldn't have been a surprise. That's what Jughead kept telling himself as he took stock of the small room at the Twilight Drive-In that he called home. He warned me. I shouldn't be surprised. The mattress was cut open, stuffing torn out and strewn across the scuffed hardwood. The desk was ransacked -- the little food he'd kept inside of it, now gone. Jughead ground his teeth together so hard his jaw cracked. The wall was tagged, of course -- the spray paint dry -- and though not a word was said, the message was very clear: We're coming for you.
Jughead shouldered the bag he had only just dropped to the floor and walked out. Nothing worth keeping had been left, or at least, not left whole. He tried not to think about it as he walked the familiar path back to his father's trailer. When he got there, it was just starting to get dark. He could see the light inside glowing -- it looked warmer than in his memories. After knocking, he waited until his father opened the door.
"I told you, son," was the first thing FP said.
"Well, congratulations on always being right about the wrong things."
"You gonna stay?" his father asked.
Jughead wanted to hurl back, What do you think? or Do I look like I have any other options? but he bit it back instead. He was too exhausted, and the heat when he stepped into the trailer made him want to curl up and sleep for a year. Inside, he noticed the distinct absence of beer bottles, but didn't say anything.
"Is my room still...?" Jughead trailed off, looking down the narrow hallway.
"I haven't touched it," FP said, and then just as quickly, "I haven't had the time."
"Great. I need to go to sleep."
"Do you want some dinner first?" his father asked, looking uncomfortable. "You know I can't cook for shit, but I have enough cash to swing a pizza or three."
"Alright," Jughead said warily. "I'm gonna shower first, so you can order it now..."
Jughead could hear his father through the flimsy bathroom door asking for extra pepperoni, so he turned the water on to drown it out. He took out his cellphone and clicked into his messages with Betty. She had texted him back a little heart which was pinker than her pinkest sweater. He looked at the picture he had sent her, of the two of them, and tried to summon that same feeling of safety and comfort again but came up just short.
Jughead: I hope you're feeling better. I'm about to take a shower, stuff my face with pizza, and then pass out.
He undressed quickly and stepped under the hot water, letting it relax his muscles gradually. Jughead swore if it wasn't for the smell of the shampoo, he would've fallen asleep standing up. He wasn't sure how long he was in there for, at least a half hour, but by the time he had dried off and dressed again, Betty had returned his message.
Betty: Much better. I hope you sleep well. I know I had a great nap, thanks to someone, so I'll probably be up for a while. Text me if you can't sleep.
Jughead: If I didn't fear for my life being found asleep inside of your bed, I'm sure I would've had a fantastic nap too.
When he came back out his father was sitting at the small kitchen table, eating what looked to his third piece of pizza. Two large boxes sat underneath the opened first, and Jughead's stomach twisted. He thought about how many nights he had went to bed hungry, or collected change off the ground, or bummed meals off of his friends -- Betty in particular -- and had to shove the anger back down his own throat.
"You use all the hot water?" FP asked him.
"Probably close to it. Been a while since I had the luxury."
His father looked down at his pizza, saying nothing. He suddenly looked older than Jughead could ever remember him looking, even when Jughead had been very small and everyone who wasn't a kid looked very old. He wondered how many nights his father sat here eating dinner, and thought about his son, possibly not being able to do the same. Maybe a lot. Maybe not so much. Either way, it wasn't worth wasting pizza over.
"I never stopped you from coming back, Jug," his father said, suddenly looking him in the eye.
"You never really asked me to come back either, though, did you?" Jughead shot back, grabbing a slice and taking a bite, barely tasting it.
"I'm a fuck-up, kid. That can't be news to you -- not with the way you look at me," FP responded, muttering the last part.
"I'm too tired for this, dad," Jughead snapped. "I'm exhausted, okay? I'm exhausted all the time. And I don't want to fight with you right now. I'm here. You're here. Can we just let that settle for a while?"
"Fine," FP said, continuing to eat his pizza.
The silence wasn't unwelcome. The two of them were used to silences -- and wide berths -- and distance. They existed comfortably inside of their strained relationship, always brimming with anger ready to spill over. Jughead wasn't sure how much pizza he ate, only that his stomach hurt by the time he went to his room, falling face first into his bed, which felt so much like home he could've cried if he had the energy. Instead he rolled onto his side and pulled out his phone.
Betty: Smart move. My mom woke me up, so that would've been awkward, to say the least.
Jughead didn't have to wonder what would've happened if he had been found in Alice's youngest daughter's room. Surely she would've been locked away, like many a fairy tale princess in the past. It was part of the reason he had forced his drooping eyelids open, but mostly, he had just wanted to look at her. Relaxed. Pressed into his side. The shape of her hand on his stomach. He wanted to keep it all. The picture would help, but pictures couldn't recreate feelings. Not the soft of her heat, or the quiet sound of her breathing which he wished could've went on forever.
Outside of his room, Jughead could hear the muffled sound of the television. He felt safer physically than he had in a long time, but emotionally, he knew he was playing with fire. How many more times am I going to let my dad burn me? Jughead wondered, flipping onto his back only to stare blankly at the ceiling. And as he finally began to fall asleep, the answer floated up from some dark, unfathomable place: At least once more.
Jughead was kissing her, slow and all at once, like the sun rising. His hand was underneath her head and she could feel the slight sting of his fingers closing against her hair. He was pulling at the blonde strands, tilting her head back so he could bite and suck at her neck. Betty felt like she couldn't breathe. His body on top of hers made her dizzy -- the lean razor-wire of his muscles, hard where she was soft, taking everything. Her hips pressed up and into him, shamelessly, needing closer. And when his free hand dragged across the sensitive skin of her belly, just above the button of her jeans, Betty forgot the word for aching and instead, became it.
"Sweetheart!" Alice called from the doorway, and Betty whipped back into consciousness, blurry eyed and on edge. "You need to get up!"
"Sorry, mom. My alarm didn't go off," she responded.
Once the door was shut, Betty cursed softly and threw herself out of bed, eyeing it suspiciously -- as if the pillow top mattress held sole responsibility for her dreams. She tried to put Jughead out of her mind and showered as mechanically as possible. By the time she was dressed, hair pulled back tighter than usual, her parents were gone.
"Thank God for small miracles," she muttered to herself.
Right as she was grabbing her bag, the doorbell chimed. Betty raced to it, expecting to see Jughead, but was surprised to find Archie instead. Against the gray morning, his red hair seemed to shine and he smiled at her in a way that used to make her weak in the knees. She blinked. There was no response from her body, as though a clean scrub had been done to her heart, and any other part of her that used to want Archie Andrews -- knees included. Impressive, she thought.
"Hey, Betty," he said. "Walk you to school?"
"Yeah, sure," she agreed.
The majority of their walk was in relative silence. Betty tried to push down the anxiety blooming in her stomach, carefully minding her hands. Archie wanted to say something. She had been friends with him long enough to recognize it. Please don't ruin this, she begged silently, staring straight ahead. Things are getting so good for me. Please don't ruin it.
"So," Archie started, "you and Jughead have been spending a lot of time together, huh?"
"Yes. I mean, being friends and doing the paper together... I guess it adds up," she responded carefully.
Betty hummed non-committally -- she didn't trust her voice at the moment. Suddenly, the school appeared and she tried not to sigh audibly with relief. Archie however stopped abruptly on the sidewalk and grabbed her arm, effectively stopping her with him.
"What is it, Archie?" she finally asked.
"Just... be careful with Jughead, okay?"
"What do you mean?" Betty responded.
"You're my best friend, but so is Jughead. Both of you, for as long as I can remember. And I just always got the feeling Jug kind of liked you, Betty," he rushed out.
"Wh-why would you say that?" she forced out, tilting her head to the side.
"I know everyone thinks I'm completely oblivious, but I'm not. And after what happened with..." he gestured between the two of them, grimacing slightly, "... you should be aware that sometimes people will want more from you than you can give."
"Archie --" Betty started, trying to cut him off.
"I'm sorry. I'm not trying to bring all of that up again. It's just... I just don't want what happened between us to happen between you and Jug. Because, Betty, I'm not sure Jughead will come back from that. We could actually lose him this time."
"I understand," she said. "I'll be careful, Archie. I promise."
"I knew you'd get it," he said, smiling fondly at her. "Well, I gotta go meet Ronnie before class."
Betty purposefully shook her hands out and then tightened her ponytail. Shit, she swore to herself. She stared blankly at the school, trying to keep her breathing even until she could face the general population -- especially Jughead. She had a feeling he would be able to read the truth all over her face.
"That looked intense."
Betty whirled around, facing Jughead, her boyfriend. He stared at her shrewdly, eyes narrowed, and Betty wished she could sink into a hole in the ground. She knew he wouldn't appreciate the things that Archie had said to her -- and now, somehow -- she was stuck in the middle. She bit down on a hysterical laugh. Where the hell did he even come from? she thought.
"It wasn't. Just my turn to be ambushed," she fibbed. "But am I ever glad to see you."
"Really? Because from where I was standing, it looked like a lot more than an ambush."
"Well, it wasn't," she sighed impatiently. "What are you worried about?"
"Oh, I don't know. How about Archie changing his mind about the two of you because he senses he's losing his opportunity?"
"Lost," she corrected firmly, placing a hand gently on his arm. "Not losing. Lost."
Jughead sighed and suddenly, all the fight went out of him. His shoulders slouched and he smiled, just a little, at the edges of his mouth. It was astounding how soft he looked in that moment. Softer than she ever could have imagined him -- softer than she had ever seen him -- even when he had been quoting Cummings to her, with her hand pressed against his lips.
"I'm sorry," he told her. "I just... being a stereotypical boyfriend, aren't I?"
"Maybe a little," she allowed.
When he reached out and touched her hip, quickly, Betty's faced turned pink. She remembered him in her dream, above her, licking and kissing just under her ear. How his fingers had trailed the pale of her skin, just above the zipper of her jeans, and how much she had wanted him in that moment to peel them off her. Suddenly, she wanted his hands everywhere.
"What?" Jughead asked, staring at the expression on her face curiously.
"You just... I..." she blushed harder at her own stumbling. "You just reminded me of... something."
"Yeah," she nodded, moving towards the school without him.
"Wait," he called, hurrying after her. "What did I remind you of?"
"Just a dream I had."