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Jughead's Circular File

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She’s not going to write about me and Miss Grundy in the paper is she? Like she did with Chuck?

Dude seriously, c’mon. Think about what you’re asking. Look, if there was even an iota of a chance that something could hurt you in any way, Betty wouldn’t do it.

Archie had never truly appreciated or realized what he had with Betty. But this story isn’t about Archie. It’s about me and the girl next door – the girl next door to him.

Do you recall that night when seven minutes in heaven for Veronica and Archie turned into seven minutes of hell for Betty? When it wasn’t just one heart that was broken, but two?

Well, I don’t know when it actually happened, but sometime after Archie discarded her that night, something shifted. In me. In her.

It was if the walkway where those two broken hearts had come crashing down had just turned to sand and engulfed them, allowing for a shift between us.

Oh, it was a slow change. Barely perceptible. And I think one of us may have shifted slightly faster than the other.

It certainly didn’t happen on the night when Archie and I joined the girls at Pop’s soon after Betty decided to start talking to him again. Veronica drinking a decadent double-chocolate milkshake while Betty sipped on an old-fashioned vanilla one. Dark and light. Innocent and probably not so innocent. Each enthralling Archie in their own way. Soon, one of them would end up enthralling me in her own unassuming way.

The girls were opposites. So were Archie and I. He was noticeable, easily drawing the attention of these two beauties. Me? Unnoticeable. My presence was irrelevant. The same conversations would have been had with or without me. How many times had I faded into the background in his presence? Did I like it there?

No, we definitely hadn’t shifted yet. Not that night. I was completely off her radar.

It must have started when Betty lassoed me into her latest pet project reviving the school newspaper. The good old Blue & Gold. She enticed me with the opportunity to write about the Jason Blossom case, which I was already doing for my novel. But why did I agree to do this? Especially given that Betty didn’t actually agree to let me have complete creative control over my own contributions? I still don’t know what had truly motivated me. Perhaps it was because she had always been nice to me.

In the end it didn’t really matter the reason. I was roped in – hog-tied and bound to a project I grew to love. We started working more closely together, spending more time together, investigating the case of the mysterious death of one of Riverdale High’s own.

I think this increased proximity between Betty and I laid the foundation for the shift. But when did it start? And who really went first?

I know Betty was still stuck in the quicksand that was Archie Andrews for a while. She was distracted, worried about his affair with Miss Grundy at a time when I was dealing with the fact that the end of my days at the Twilight Drive-In Theater was fast approaching. Normally, Betty would fight for a worthy cause, and my unofficial residence was a cause worthy enough for her fight. Deep down, I knew she had to have cared, even as I sat at Pop’s, the only one raging on about the injustice of it all. A lone wolf crying out in the night, wondering what would grace the screen at the Twilight the night of its final sundown. When prompted, she was able to tear herself away from her thoughts of Archie’s troubles for a brief moment and offer up a cinematic suggestion for me. A classic movie. We shared a smile.

But that’s all we shared – only the briefest of  moments. I tried not to be sad or mad at the loss of her support – support I knew I would have had if the life of her newly relegated best friend hadn’t been rending apart just as the rug was simultaneously being pulled out from under me.

Rebel Without a Cause. I played it for you, Betty.

Despite the fact that I missed you - that I could have used the support of a friend as I tried to save my shelter. Despite the fact that you weren’t even there to see the old reel that I carefully loaded onto the projector just for you, too caught up in the drama that was Archie, Miss Grundy, and your mother that night.

But that also meant you weren’t there to see me move out of my make-shift home the next morning either, which was a blessing. I angrily spray painted the words “Jughead Jones Wuz Here” as one final, but temporary way to leave my mark on the place before moving out of the Twilight’s projection booth for good, glad to be spared the shame of you knowing that I had ever lived there.

I tossed the can. Then I got down to practicalities, wondering where I’d find my next meal.

Remember that I said we had shifted at different times?

I think I may have shifted first.

I found myself doing a lot of frowning around the time of your highly anticipated – thanks to Veronica – date with Trevor. You kept denying it was a date, which annoyed me to no end. I clearly heard you tell him “It’s a date.” Why did you do this? Why did you insist that it wasn’t really a date? To spare my feelings? Were they showing already?

Regardless, that whole scene was frown worthy.

Had I shifted?

I don’t know. I may have. Just a little.

But I definitely know when you did.

It was sometime after you told me about the conversation you had with your dad when he first told you about your sister, Polly. When he told you that Jason had driven her to attempt suicide. That was hardcore. Tough to listen to, but I did. I couldn’t believe you came to me and not Archie with this. Had we really grown so close? Did I dare to dream?

By the next time we saw each other, ready for our mission at Jason’s memorial, you had shifted.

No girl had ever given me the kind of attention you did when you smiled at me, sizing me up in my formal wear. Yes, that suit really was the best I could do – glad you approved. I couldn’t help but smile back. We had shifted indeed.

And although I had no clue at the time, by then we were inevitably tumbling towards our first kiss.

You, jumping back in fright at the sight of Jason’s grandmother lurking in that ever so cold room we were trying to pilfer clues from. Jason’s room. We weren’t supposed to be in there.

The icy chill of the dead. Was that what made us jump so close together in fright? Instantly. Without thinking. Like a reflex. Or was it the growing intimacy between us that had crept up on us just as stealthily as that old woman had in her wheelchair?

Me, with my hand steady on your shoulder, my nose almost in your hair as I whispered “The Horror. The Horror.” Little blonde strands tickling me as I spoke. My cheek so close to yours.

Only when that woman encouraged you to move closer and you were comfortable with that did my hand drop from your back.

Unbeknownst to us - or at least to me - this newly found familiarity we discovered within each other’s personal space had been speeding us towards the inevitable meeting of our lips. 

From that spooky encounter with Jason’s grandmother, you were able to catch your father in a lie about Polly, so we decided that we needed to see her ourselves -  to get the truth directly from her - and made plans accordingly. Starting with having me over for a breakfast designed to distract your mother so that we could gain information about where she might be without her knowledge.

Now, your mother hated me. Intentionally emphasizing the syllables of my nickname-turned-name in the most condescending way. I hated when people did that. So your mom doing that to me? No big surprise. But I could deal. Especially because I rather enjoyed a certain side effect of having to implement this part of our plan – the side effect of having to eat pancakes. I ate a lot of them. I think you might have noticed.

At school that day, you nourished me once again – letting me eat off of your lunch tray after I finished off my measly bag of chips. I think you were unaware that I was actually starving. Silent looks and barely discernible gestures comprised the discourse of that little interaction.

You nourished me not just with food that day.

We had definitely shifted. So much so that even though Archie was at our table, he was excluded from our conversation about what we were going to do next about seeing Polly. He even tried to jump in, even offering to help. But when I shut him down, explaining that this operation of ours required stealth, not the entire Scooby gang? You supported me, Betty. Distracted him so that his attention was instead on Valerie and his upcoming performance so you and I could go back to our own little world. So different than the days of the Twilight Drive-In and Miss Grundy. Yes, the ground had certainly shifted. Even under Archie’s feet. Things were good between us. Better than I had dreamed. Remember I had let myself dream?

That may have given me the audacity to come on a little too strong with the Romeo and Juliet when I climbed the ladder into your bedroom. But we had just seen Polly and I knew your family would be driving you crazy. I knew you needed me . . .

Yet, even then I was completely oblivious that I would be kissing you within mere minutes.

But, once I told you not to let your family get to you, reassured you that you didn’t have to be like them, it happened.

I opened my mouth to speak, but hesitated. The word I tried to say got stuck in my throat. Completely mesmerized by your bottom lip, I suddenly knew what I wanted. What felt right. Yet still, I hesitated. Fear. Fear had been the mantra for the day and it was paralyzing me in place. Just standing there, I knew I wanted this, wanted you, but I was so afraid that I’d ruin everything.

But then, somehow as I looked down at you and you looked back up at me wondering what was going on and smiled nervously, your blue eyes shining, somehow that freed me from my self-imposed restraints, my immobilizing fear. I reached out for you, bringing your lips to mine, and we had our moment. The one that had been coming. The one that lingered.

Finally, the shifting ground had settled firmly beneath us.

Jughead closes the file, hovers the pointer over its icon on the desktop for a moment, deep in thought, and then finally drags it over to the recycle bin. He takes a deep breath and closes the lid, a small smile playing about his face.

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“Stranger things have happened.”

I have never been so happy in my life. I’m like smiling all the time. I don’t even recognize myself anymore.

That epic first ever fight I had with Betty had been triggered by me being afraid of this very thing – of good things happening to me. Even though at times I may find it difficult to keep my urge to short-circuit at bay, I will heed my father’s words: “Do not run away from it. You got something good here, with her, with your friends. Something that we could never give you.”

But you’re giving it to me now too, Dad. Whether you realize it or not. I can’t believe I’m actually sitting here waiting for you to come home from work – how many days has it been now that you haven’t missed work? – so that we can do the most commonplace of things. Meet Betty’s parents tonight for dinner before the Homecoming dance. How mundane is that? Chuckle.

This will be the first official meeting of our two families. ‘Cause we’re a family again, Dad. You and me. You know that, right?

Betty’s family has been having trouble as of late, but she’s been holding them together.

The day she came to me, feeling the brutal pain of them starting to splinter, I held her tight, reassured her of her strength, begged her to not let go because she is the very glue that is holding them together. I don’t think I can bear to watch her go through what I have with our family. She doesn’t deserve that.

I wish we had had a Betty back then, Dad. Back when mom had split with Jellybean. I wish I had been strong enough to make her stay. Strong enough to make you stop drinking. But I’m no Betty.

And perhaps we don’t need a Betty. Perhaps reconciliation is in the air. Heck, it looks like even Archie’s mom is back in the picture. That’s the last thing anyone expected.

So is this place – your trailer. You’ve kept it clean, you’re still shaving. Apparently you’ve gotten your life together. It’s nice. It gives me hope.

Hope that Mom and Jellybean can come back – that we can really make this work someday. Can we?

FP opens the door to the trailer, gives Jughead the once over, and bellows out a jovial “Let me show you how to straighten that tie, Son.” Jughead smiles, saves the document, and closes the lid. “Sure, Dad.”

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“To think I was going to pass on moving to Toledo with my family for you.”

I was naïve enough to think that we had something to “figure out together,” something important to talk about after the dance, Betty. As a couple.

When I told my dad that I thought I was ready to move back in with him, he mentioned getting our family back together in Toledo. He thought he could really pull that off. He had even looked into getting work there.

I was stunned. Stunned and happy. Even happier than before. Until I realized that fulfilling my dream of reuniting with my family in Toledo would mean leaving you behind in Riverdale. And I wasn’t sure I was willing to do that.

Remember I told you that you were the glue, Betty?

Well now I’m not so sure that even you can keep us together.

You LIED to me tonight, Betty. I don’t care if you think you did it to spare my feelings. I can suck it up – I can handle a little disappointment. Been doing it my whole life. If anyone can handle crushing disappointment, it’s me, Forsythe Pendleton Jones III. That’s ‘Juggie’ to you.

Setting up my dad like that? What were you thinking? What were you all thinking?

Turns out you were all right though . . . right? He’s been arrested for murder.

Yup. Do you find that surprising?

My word should have been enough for you, Betty. You said you believed me about my dad – believed in my faith in his innocence. I can’t believe that wasn’t enough for you to at least give me a heads up about what your mom was planning. Even if it turns out that I had been wrong all along.

My dad was right when he said, “You know what happens to people like us in Riverdale, Jug. We get chewed up.”

He was right for wanting to leave.

Jughead slams the laptop shut, presses a fist to his mouth.

“Toledo. What a –"  His voice catches in his throat, so he doesn’t even try anymore. Just sits there in the booth staring out the window of Pop’s.

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“Yeah . . . Mm hm . . . No, I . . . No, I understand.”

Toledo. What a crock. What a pipedream.

Dad got arrested and I went . . . home. Not mine, obviously. It’s beyond clear to me now that I will never have a home. This shouldn’t be a surprise to me – I never really had one in the first place.

No, I went to his place, the trailer, and trashed it.

I can’t believe I thought my father was getting his act together this time. That I had fallen for that crap. God, I even thought he actually cared. LMAO. Was it because he read my manuscript? Seemed to take an interest in what I had going on with Betty? Because he was finally paying attention?

He tore me down like I tore his place down. Ripped me up inside. And I cried. BECAUSE HE FUCKING DESTROYED MY LIFE.

But Mom . . .

It pains me to say it, but Mom was the biggest disappointment of all tonight. Desperate, and still foolish enough to hope, I bought a ticket to Toledo and called her. I needed a place to crash while all this shit rained down over Dad. I needed a place to stay. I needed her. I needed Jellybean. I needed my family.

Whatever semblance of it was left. . .

But no. Nope. Jughead Jones doesn’t get that. Your own son doesn’t get that. Doesn’t deserve even that.

You pushed me away.

I am not Betty. I am not glue.

Whatever I am just bounces off of me and NEVER sticks to you.

Or anyone.

About an hour passes while he slowly sips his coffee, occasionally wiping at his nose until there is no more need. The dark night stares blankly back at him. With a sigh, he turns back to the computer and opens the lid. He finds what he had written that night, saves it, closes it, and drags the file to the trash.

His eyes flicker over a document labeled ‘Happiness.’ The one he had written earlier that night, while he had waited in eager anticipation for his father to get home so it could begin. Homecoming. He snorts bitterly and drags that one to the trash bin as well.

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What’s in a name? Or a word for that matter? Does calling something by a specific word or phrase give it more than just a meaning? Does it give it gravitas?

Betty would disagree, but calling her meeting at Pop’s with Trevor a date certainly made it more than just a friendly little tete a tete, especially for Trev. He was expecting something more  - it was obvious. But she would argue that point with me vehemently.

But that point was moot now because she was with . . . me?

I think.

It hadn’t been decided. It hadn’t quite been defined. But I had had a guilty dream about it the night before Archie pulled me out into the hallway to ask me about Betty, the girl I had potentially ‘stolen’ from him. He had noticed the shift between us, but honestly, even I didn’t quite know what it was just yet.

“We may have had a moment,” was all I could really tell him. It was torturous admitting just that.

Later, when we were all searching in the woods for Polly, I was walking behind him and Betty when I overheard him say to her, “Hey all this stuff with your sister . . . I’m sorry you had to go through that - that I wasn’t there to help you.”

Just like in my dream, I felt a pang of guilt for stabbing my best friend in the back. I had been there for Betty in his stead and that’s why we even had a chance to have our moment – it’s why I reached out and kissed her that day. But he didn’t really want her, did he? Nonetheless, the wiggling steak knife jammed in between his shoulder blades from my vivid dream still haunted me.

But something really good happened tonight that somehow took my mind off of the guilt – a defining moment that made me smile.

I walked Betty home after her parents’ press conference under protest. She didn’t understand why I was walking her home.

Well, there was a killer out there . . .

But the real reason? I was holding her hand and I thought . . . God, there was no definition for what was between us, so I stumbled through my words. “Isn’t this what … you know …  what ... people like us ...who have gone through what we’ve gone through ... do?”

I re-grasped her hand for emphasis. I could always seem to manage to find the right turn of phrase when I was writing, to say what I meant to say, but in real life sometimes, in the moment, it could be very hard to find the right words. Especially around her.

She responded with silence.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.  “I mean, besides everything?”

She had been very worried about where Polly may have run off to – it had been distracting her. We talked about what would happen when Polly would do this as a little girl and suddenly a light went on and Betty smiled. Talking through it with her had given her an idea of where to look for her sister. I was glad I could help. But what surprised me?

She reached out for me and pulled my face to hers with both hands. And she kissed me . . .

She kissed me.

There’s definitely something between us. It may not have a name, but it’s there.

I watched her walk away in the rain with a smile I couldn’t seem to wipe off my face, try as I might.

Jughead closes the lid of his laptop with a smile.  

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Well, it’s official. I’m Betty’s boyfriend.

Dad had asked about her that night we took him and Fred Andrews out after work, teasing me, hitting too close to home. When we were still undefined. “Oooh. Who is Betty? Is that your girlfriend?”

Archie tried to answer for me – without really knowing the answer – and I cut him off. I was not going to let him define who Betty was to me.

But even well before Veronica had dubbed me Betty’s boyfriend, I already felt like it. When Sheriff Keller pulled me in for the murder of Jason Blossom and I was practically pissing my pants, Betty was there, grasping my hands, telling me she believed in me, that she would fight for me. I was scared, but I believed her with all of my heart and it felt like we were in it together. The two of us.

When my dad showed up drunk afterwards and made that huge scene, Betty was there to witness it all. I was mortified, but there was no judgement from her, only caring. When it was all over, she came to me and cupped my cheek. When we walked away together it felt like we were truly partners, not just mere friends.

So, when Veronica dubbed us a couple in the student lounge, I shouldn’t have been surprised. No one should have been. But I think Archie was.

“So, am I expected to come to this thing?” I asked Veronica when she was discussing the baby shower she was planning for Polly.

When she answered, “Of course, you’re Betty’s boyfriend,” Archie shot me a perplexed look.

I turned towards Betty, who had whipped her head back to look at me and was beaming. I couldn’t help but smile back. One of my legs migrated to her lap and she stroked it as Veronica exclaimed through the silence, “Oh my God, relax. It’s just a word that starts with the letter B.”

Like Betty. Now my favorite word in the English language. And clearly defined. As my girlfriend.

Jughead smiled and saved the file.

Sometime later he found his last two entries and shook his head at the insecurity and sappiness of it all. At this point he felt pretty secure in his relationship with Betty and feeling he no longer needed these musings, he dragged them to the trash.