Chapter 1: Prologue: Forget All We Used To Know
September 6th, 2017.
“History is made up of fragments and absences. What is left out is as significant as what is included.”
Life moves on, with or without you.
I learned this lesson during the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school. I watched as everyone I knew and cared for swept passed me, outgrowing the space we’d previously occupied together, and leaving me behind in their dust.
As I stared up at the familiar facade of Riverdale High, I couldn’t suppress the feeling that I was adrift. I had the sinking feeling that I had been left back at the end of Sophomore year as everyone I knew had left to seek out new horizons, new perspectives. I watched as my friends grew and stretched, and all the while I felt myself shrinking into myself, coiled tightly into my core. I felt I was becoming less and less myself as the years passed, growing inwards rather than out. I had lost my anchor, lost my sail, and now I was both adrift on the open seas and going nowhere, moving to slowly to catch up to the rest of the world.
Familiar faces were swarming all around me, but there was something changed about them. It wasn’t just that it had been two months since I’d seen them last. Most of these kids I’d known since before they could spell their own name, and a height spurt or new hair colour didn’t do much to phase my perception of them. I’d seen them change and grow over fourteen summers, and each year things had been different and yet still, comfortingly, the same.
This year, however…
This year, Jason Blossom’s murder hung in the air, tense, like an elastic, pulled taught, waiting to snap. Everything was still the same, and yet still everything was different somehow. It was as though the thin, misty haze that had enveloped Riverdale before Jason’s death has dissipated, and we were finally seeing the town for all its grit and dirt and secrets. The murder investigation had cast intense scrutiny upon Riverdale, and people were finding themselves waking up to a town that no longer resembled the one they’d known. Everything was sharper now, somehow, less fuzzy around the edges, and details were suddenly more obvious and important. A new sense of unease was growing, too, as the details of the murder were revealed. Tensions were rising, and suspicion now clouded each and every one of our interactions with each other.
Yes, it is safe to say that Jason’s death changed Riverdale.
Maybe it was because we’d foolishly assumed that nothing this bad could ever happen in a town like Riverdale: sleepy, safe, familiar Riverdale. Maybe it was because we’d all abruptly realized, on the Monday of July Fourth weekend, that Riverdale’s fuzzy and serene facade had masked something altogether different, something darker, something unnerving.
As I stood in front of the doors to my hold high school, I swore I could feel the tension and unease in the air, enveloping me like a thick, stifling blanket. This feeling of unease was — and still is — difficult to reconcile with the Riverdale I used to know.
I remember the Riverdale of my childhood quite clearly. When I close my eyes, I can still see the fuzzy haze that enveloped the town, blurring the edges and making everything seem softer, somehow. The Riverdale I see behind my lids is calm, serene, a town tucked away in a forest of maple trees, seemingly both stuck in the past, and also existing outside of time altogether. I see snapshots of memories, always in familiar places: a booth at Pop’s, at Sweetwater River, in Archie’s basement. In the Riverdale of my past, we were still kids, still grappling with budding romances, and varsity sports, and driving licences, still unsure of our footing even as we grew into ourselves. In that Riverdale, I knew my friends, and they knew me.
In that Riverdale, I knew myself.
But this is not a story about the Riverdale of my past, and I won’t bore you with anymore details of the town I used to know. After all, what purpose would that serve? Riverdale no longer resembles that town, and we no longer resemble those kids.
Instead, I’m choosing to write about what happened after Riverdale was forever changed. On the morning of the 6th of July, we awoke to find ourselves adrift in a world we used to know like the back of our hand, tethered together only by our memories of the past and a place we used to call home.
I set out originally to document the murder that shook the town’s foundations: Riverdale’s very own In Cold Blood. Factual, gripping, suspenseful, and impersonal.
Instead, I unwittingly wrote you a coming of age story, a love story, a murder mystery sidelined by changed relationships, a changed town, changed people, all of which have both everything and nothing to do with the murder of Jason Blossom.
I apologize in advance.
- Jughead Jones
“I want to talk about what happened without mentioning how much it hurt. There has to be a way. To care for the wounds without reopening them. To name the pain without inviting it back into me.”
Chapter 1: The Snow Buried Our Neighbourhood
September 6th, 2017
09:10 am, Riverdale High
The sound of someone calling my name echoes across the busy hallways of Riverdale High. It richochés over the metal lockers, bouncing over the heads of students crowding the hall, cuts through the music coming through my headphones. I feel myself stiffen, the muscles in my back growing tenser, and I instinctively stand taller. My eyes quickly scan the crowd for the source, flitting over a sea of classmates I’ve known since we were all too young to spell our own names, but it isn’t until I see the telltale ponytail that I identify the caller.
Betty Cooper makes her way through the throng, her blond hair swishing behind her. The crowd naturally parts to let her through, and she both fits in and stands out seamlessly, wearing only her cheerleading uniform and a contagious smile. Her eyes are bright, and blue, and they’re glued firmly on mine as she nears.
I pull out an earbud.
“Jug!” As soon as she’s close enough, she throws her arms around me, sending me stumbling a step backwards. I take a surprised breath in, smelling sugar cookies and chai, and barely register my arms coming up to return the hug. She feels familiar and comforting and warm, and I feel myself sinking into her touch, hands wrapped around her waist.
Something is ... different.
“I’ve missed you,” she sighs into my chest, and stands still for a moment, her arms tucked firmly behind my neck. After a few seconds, I cough, and she’s quick to drop her arms, taking a step back. Up close her smile is a little tight, her eyes a little tired, but she’s still the same old Betty, with her signature hairstyle and soft voice. I notice a couple of changes — she’s grown, maybe an inch or two, and her hair is longer, lighter. Her eyelashes are thick, covered in some makeup gunk I’ll never really understand, and her lips are slightly fuller. The cheerleading uniform is new, too.
“Hiya, Betts,” I manage, and it sounds a little weak to my ears. I cough again to mask it, and gesture to her outfit. “I see you made the team this year, congrats.”
She’s been vying for a spot on the River Vixens since freshman year. Her sister Polly was on the squad, and Betty frequently said she wanted nothing more than to share her older sister’s love for the sport. She’s tried out every year, without fail, but this is the first time she’d actually made the team. I wonder briefly at how she managed to change Cheryl’s mind.
She smiles. “How was your summer, Jug? I haven’t heard from you in ages.” Her tone is isn’t accusatory, but I’ve known Betty since before she had enough hair to twist into a ponytail. Her mouth pulls a little to one side, and she blinks a couple of times. She’s hurt, although she’s trying not to show it. I immediately feel the guilt rise like bile from my stomach.
“Aw shucks, Betts,” I saw, lifting a hand behind my head to readjust my beanie, and scratch at my hair. “I didn’t mean to fall out of touch, I just …” She blinks as I trail off. “Some stuff came up and I, uh, was just super busy and preoccupied. I just kind of went MIA for a while, and you know me, I’m awful at staying in touch. I’m sorry.”
She smiles, a small smile, but it’s genuine. I feel the tension ease out of my shoulders. “You’re forgiven, Forsythe, but only if you tell me what it was that had you so preoccupied.”
I blink. “Oh, uh, I started a new job. At the drive-in?” Betty nods. I had shared the news with her at the very beginning of the summer, before everything went catastrophically to shit. She obviously remembers. “I was just working a lot, you know, late nights and sleeping during the day. That type of thing.”
Betty purses her lips, and I can tell she’s going to press it. She isn’t a Cooper for nothing, after all. A shiver runs down my spine, and I scramble for an excuse, anything to satisfy her for the moment. I’m about to make a quick exit, but before I can conjure up something decent, Betty’s eyes flit over to something behind my back. From the way her face lights up, I know before I turn who she’s looking at.
My shoulders tense back up, and my head turns involuntarily to follow her gaze.
Archie Andrews turns the corner, his red hair slightly wet, his letterman jacket newly washed and pressed. It fits him better than it did at the beginning of summer, probably since he’s been training for football and working for his dad for two months. He’s grown too, not only in height, but in musculature, and his jaw is shaper, his cheeks more angular. He’s walking with Reggie and Moose, and a couple other guys from the Varsity Football team, and they all laugh as Archie finishes talking, his hands gesturing rapidly as he concludes his story. From the looks of it, they’ve just finished practice. I’m quick to turn around before we can make eye contact, and find Betty frowning.
“Since when does Archie hang out with Reggie?” she asks, and I can’t do anything other than shrug. Her lips purse.
“I don’t really know,” I say, and it’s sincere. I don’t really know much about what Archie is up to these days. “Probably since Varsity training started?” I guess.
Betty’s frown is now directed at me. I can tell the gears in her head are turning: her brow furrows, and she gets this glint in her eyes as she narrows them that tells you she’s just about to solve some grand puzzle. She’d get the exact same look when she forced Archie and I to play pretend detectives (Nancy Drew, she’d insist we call it) when we were younger, or when she’s working on a particularly difficult math problem. I suppress a gulp.
“Listen, Betts, I gotta go,” I rush out, an arm on her shoulder as I make to brush past her. “I’ve got to swing by my locker before first period, and I don’t want to be late.” Don’t let me ruin your reunion with Archie, I want to add.
Before she can protest, I’ve already stumbled past her, my one hand clutching my backpack as I try to push my way through the crowd. Unlike Betty, it doesn’t magically separate to let me pass.
But then again, that isn’t really a surprise.
I push my earbud back in, letting the soothing sounds of The National muffle the noise from the hallway. If Betty calls back to me, I don’t hear it.
Before nearing the corner, I can’t help but turn to look over my shoulder. It’s the briefest of glances, but it’s enough time to confirm that Betty has found Archie, and to watch as she wraps him in a tight hug. He hugs her back, lifting her up and spinning her, and Reggie and some of the other football boys jeer and hoot. I can tell by the way Archie’s back is shaking that he’s laughing, too, and I catch sight of Betty’s smile, wide as it ever has been, as she beams down at him.
I tuck my head down and trudge on.
Some things, I guess, haven’t changed at all.
September 7th, 2017
10:00 pm, Pop's Diner
“I’m kind of terrified I lost my best friend tonight.”
I’ve got one earbud in, the other dangling loose, Frank Ocean singing softly into my ear, and my fingers are hovering over the keyboard of my old laptop as Archie speaks.
The diner is unusually empty, just us and the night owls, bereft of purpose, enticed by the sweet smell of Pop's greasy and delicious food. Most nights I find myself tucked into a booth at the back, the one with the worn down seats and a lone plug, typing away on my laptop until close. Pop offers me free coffee refills, and almost always gives me a discount on food, and besides the diner is air-conditioned, whilst my current living space is not. The diner is a safe place for me, comforting, familiar. I love it here, have since I was a child, too short still for my legs to reach the floor when I sat at the booths. There's an old jukebox in the corner, which might still work, but Pop usually sets up his IPod and plays good diner classic playlists, with crooning voices and soothing tunes. After the diner crowd leaves, the diner is usually empty, and lately it's almost as much my 'home-away-from-home' as the drive-in is.
Pop's is where Archie finds me, at 10 pm on a Wednesday night, and he looks distraught as he asks if he can sit. I gesture to the seat across the both, and he slinks into it, head bowed, frame wilted. It takes him a while to build up to what's bothering him, but when he does, he utters a single phrase that makes me feel like I would rather he had punched me in the face.
I school my face to remain as impassive as possible as I let Archie’s words sink into me, heavy and bitter tasting. I know he isn’t talking about me, and loath as I am to admit it, it stings. I swallow down the first comment that comes to mind, a truthful but bitter wouldn’t be the first time, would it, Arch? Instead, I stop to take in the boy in front of me, a boy I used to know like a brother.
Archie’s eyes are lined with unshed tears, and he curls himself deeper into the booth. He won’t meet my eyes, but I take in his furrowed brows and sagging shoulders, and I can see the tension and guilt etched into his face. Guilt, I know, can only mean one thing.
“If you mean Betty,” I say, and I can’t help but pause, waiting for Archie to deny it. Instead, Archie’s face is all I need for confirmation — he wrings his hands nervously, and refuses still to meet my eye.
There was a time when the title of best friend would have applied to me, too. There was a time I might have cared about whether or not Archie Andrews considered me his best friend. But that was then, and this is now.
I ain't a kid no more, Frank Ocean croons in my ear. We’ll never be those kids again.
Archie’s eyes are downcast as he stares a hole into the table in front of him. I take a steadying breath, let it out slowly. “Whatever happened,” I say, although it’s fairly obvious what happened, “just talk to her. You know, it’d go a long way.”
I take a sip of coffee, which is steaming hot and almost burns my tongue, as I attempt to collect my thoughts.
In truth, I’ve been waiting for this confrontation to go down for years. Betty has never been reserved in her affections, her goals, and dating Archie fit perfectly into whatever crazy 25-year plan her mother had drafted for her, a cookie-cutter plan for her perfect, cookie-cutter daughter. Graduate, go to college, get married to your high school sweetheart, have two point five kids and a white picket fence, and you’ll never be troubled for anything.
I wonder if the plan is still the same, now, knowing that even in Riverdale, even to perfect nuclear families, the unimaginable can happen.
Knowing Alice Cooper, I suspect not.
Personally, I’ve always felt Betty was too large to fit the mould imposed on her by her mother. Betty would be wasted on a nuclear family, a nuclear life. Her brilliance, her wit, her compassion, her intelligence, her determination could — should — take her far, far away from Riverdale, from boys like Archie Andrews, who will never, ever see the Betty behind the perfect girl-next-door mask she so brilliantly hides herself behind. Betty’s light is only dimmed by this small town, and all the expectations people have placed on her. Archie included.
Betty deserves to be cherished, loved, for her imperfections, for her own dreams and beliefs, for herself, and not for someone else’s idea of her. She deserves to be treated like the sun shines out of her every time she speaks, because, well…
It sort of does.
But, since the world was cruel, and since Archie is perhaps the most oblivious person on the planet, I have no doubt she is currently alone in her room, crying over the redheaded boy in front of me. I feel something akin to anger stirring in my chest, resentment towards Archie for how easily he hurts his friends and the people who care about him. And I feel something... something else, something more primal, more akin to jealousy, there as well, and it's unwelcome but not unusual.
A small part of me wonders, briefly, if this was how Archie felt when he’d set fire to 16 years of friendship at the beginning of the summer, without so much as a warning.
Somehow, I can't picture it.
I put down my coffee. “Would’ve gone a long way with me,” I say, and I know it sounds bitter, and I know it’s hurtful., and yet I watch Archie’s face fall more, and can’t contain the deep sense of retribution I feel stirring inside me. I nod quietly as he mumbles his goodbye and slinks out of the booth, probably off to find Betty, or the new Lodge girl, or any one of his numerous new football buddies. Someone who might be more understanding, maybe.
Or maybe just someone who doesn't know him as well as I do. I go back to typing away on my laptop screen, illuminated only by the neon lights of Pop's diner and the faint glow of the street lamps outside.
Later, when I've crawled back to my cot and am alone with my thoughts, I tell myself the jealousy I felt was over Archie’s friendship with Betty, and his concern for her feelings, when he clearly hadn’t been bothered by mine. In truth, I know this is only half of it. Pretend as I might, there is a very small part of me that wishes Betty had confessed feelings for someone other than Archie that night. Someone who might have returned her affections, someone who might actually see her for the girl she is, instead of the girl she pretends to be.
I fall asleep with the memory of Betty’s smile, her face, as she beamed down at Archie in the hallways only hours earlier.
September 8th, 2017
09:05 am, Riverdale High
The next day I find myself knocking on the door to the office of the school newspaper, the Blue and Gold. Betty swings the door open, a brilliant smile on her face, though her eyes are a little red and puffy. Without meaning to, my mind immediately jumps to the conversation I had with Archie last night. I fight the urge to pull her into a hug and ask her how she's coping.
"That was a cryptic note you left in my locker, Betts," I say instead, smiling as she pulls me into the dimly lit office. There are a few computers scattered about, probably older than I am, and the archives of the newspaper take up the entire back wall. The rest of the room is taken up by empty work benches and tables, a cork board with some pictures pinned to it, and a large printer. Everything, including Betty, seems to be covered in a layer of dust. I watch amusedly as Betty launches into an explanation of her master plan to revive print journalism at Riverdale High, watching dust particles float around her every time she motions with her hands. I'm not entirely sure what this all has to do with me, and when she finishes her monologue, I tell her as much.
“I’m hoping you’ll come write for the Blue and Gold,” she says, her hands wrung nervously together, and her smile is small and tentative. Her eyes are wide and gleaming, and she’s pouting. I find myself momentarily distracted by her lips, and it takes me a couple seconds to register her offer.
“Will I have complete freedom?” I ask, because, hey. Betty Cooper’s puppy-dog eyes could convince any man to do her bidding, but I have to maintain some artistic integrity. If I’m going to write, I want to it to be with my voice, my perspective. Even if only for a high school newspaper no one reads anymore.
She smiles, her lips tilted slightly, and it’s like she’s already won. “I’ll edit, and make suggestions,” she says firmly, “but it’ll be your work. Your voice.”
I smile. “That doesn’t sound like complete freedom,” I tease, but I’ve already agreed to it, and she knows it. She’s barely concealing a smirk, the one she gets sometimes when things go exactly according to her plan. Her lips pull up, and though she’s trying to hide it, I can tell she’s already celebrating her win on the inside.
I sigh a long, suffering, exaggerated sigh. “I suppose it could be fun,” I say, and I mean it, even if my tone is teasing. “Do I at least get to pick my own assignments? Or do you already have one for me?”
The slight pause on Betty’s face answers my question. I shake my head, fondly, and Betty reaches out to touch my bicep, determined to convince me.
“Look, Juggy, there’s one person that was at Sweet Water River on July 4th that no one is talking about,” she starts, and I’m already there with her. I had been thinking the same thing earlier this morning, in homeroom.
“Dilton Doily, and his scouts,” I finish for her, and I watch as her face contorts with mild surprise before she beams at me.
“Yes, exactly. I think we should make use of the one thing Sheriff Keller and the Blossoms don’t have,” she explains. “The students of Riverdale High, starting with Dilton. Someone in this school must know something they haven’t told the Sheriff.”
I nod. It’s a little weird how closely Betty’s thoughts follow my own. I’d made a list of all students who might be worth talking to only a few hours ago, and for Betty to be on the exact same page is a comfort. It would be nice to have an ally in this, one whose thoughts follow my own. As she talks on, I find myself momentarily distracted by her hair as flicks to one side and the next, as she talks animatedly, gesturing in the air. I force myself to snap out of it when I realize I’ve been staring at her lips for what feels like an eternity.
“I’ve compiled a list of my notes on the case,” Betty is saying, and before I can blink she is handing me a large manila envelope, thick and discoloured with use. I untie the string holding it closed and slip my hand in it, pulling out a stack of papers with coloured tabs and sticky notes pocking out of the side. “I was hoping…”
I glance up from the envelope and it’s content to find Betty’s eyes on mine, uncertain. She’s gone back to wringing her hands together, a nervous habit she seems to have picked up recently. Since the summer. I frown.
“What is it?”
Betty eyes search mine for a second, and then she takes a breath in, balling her hands into fists. Her eyes grow noticeably determined, even in the dimly lit office of the Blue and Gold. “I was hoping maybe we could go over them, compare your notes with mine? Maybe over a burger at Pop’s?”
Her voice is strong, firm, but I notice a hint of uncertainty. Coming from Betty, it seems misplaced. She’s always been so sure of herself around Archie and I. I try to smile my most reassuring smile as something in my gut twists.
“As long as you’re treating, I’m in,” I say, hoping that my tone sounds joking, but it comes off a little stiff. She smiles in response, but I can tell this one doesn’t fully meet her eyes, so I put the envelope down to reach for her arm. Her eyes flit from my face to where my hand is resting, wrapped loosely around her forearm.
“Hey,” I say, and she blinks a couple of steadying blinks, her face perfectly blank. “I won’t ever say no to grabbing a burger with you, you know that, right?” I hope I sound as sincere as I feel, and I gaze down intently at Betty as I speak, watching as the expression on her face morphs and is shaped into something like relief.
Her eyes are so, so blue, and she’s peering up at me through her lashes. I watch as some of the tension leaves her shoulders, and she sags a little, her hands fall limp to her sides. Her eyes fall to the floor for a beat, and when she looks back up, she offers me a real smile.
Only one look from her, and I feel shaken to my very core, like I momentarily forgot who and where I was and I've only just returned to myself. I feel warmth radiating from her, and it's grounding, in a way. Makes the moment feel more real.
I’m suddenly aware of how close we’re standing, of my hand still wrapped around her arm, of my breathing, which is growing shallower by the minute. I can’t seem to shake myself out of the trance, and it’s Betty who breaks first, after a beat, taking a step back and turning her back to me as she collects her things.
“Well, why do you think I specifically mentioned burgers?” she teases as she swings her shoulder bag over her back. “I figured it was a good way to reel you in. After all, when have you ever said no to a burger?”
I still haven’t moved, but I don’t think she notices. Instead, she gathers up her papers and heads for the exit, her ponytail swinging with each step she takes. She pauses beside me, and I think she’s about to add something, but instead she just reaches up to place a quick kiss on my cheek.
Unlike every other time she’d done so, this kiss burns my skin, and I find the air is knocked out of my lungs.
Opening the door, she turns to me before leaving the room. The office of the Blue and Gold is dark, so dimly lit, and Betty stands stark against a bright background, seemingly glowing, her face shadowed. She offers me a smile.
“Right,” I say, my eyes glued the way the frizzies of her hair light up around her in a halo. “That’s me, I’ll do anything if there’s burgers involved.” Even to me, my voice sounds a little flat.
“Be there at seven!” she calls, and just like that, she disappears out of the doorway and into the hall. The door slowly closes behind her, until I’m left all alone in a dimly lit office, my eyes still glued on the spot she just vacated.
I take a shaky, steadying breath.
This was new.
Song mentioned is "Ivy", by Frank Ocean.
Band mentioned is The National, in my mind Jug is listening to "I need my girl".
Quote was taken from "It's Complicated: A Love Story and Memoir", by Izzie BeBe