As I stare at the fake wood paneling, taking in every detail of the occasional stray, fraying material poking out between the seams, I refuse to think about Betty. What is being taken from me had been for her. Now she will never have it. Never.
I frown deeply and will myself not to cry.
My dad’s trailer had been “reserved” for the event. Some of the Serpents had been charged with decking it out for the party celebrating my upcoming initiation into my father’s gang and were already there tonight.
“Juggie, please don’t go.” Betty leaned into my shoulder and sighed. We were sitting on her porch, fingers entwined.
I raised them and kissed her knuckles. “You know I have to, Betts.”
“Why does it feel like something terrible is going to happen? Like I’m going to lose you?”
“You know you can come. Make sure nothing does.”
“Jug, you know I can’t. Mom –“
“I know I know. Your mom would lose her shit if she found out she’d lost you once and for all to a Serpent.”
Betty looks up and smiles softly. “You know it’s more than that. She cares about you, too.”
I quirked my lips.
“I think she cares a bit more about my father . . .”
Betty batted me on the shoulder. “Will you stop it with that nonsense? They did not date in high school.”
“If you say so . . . “ I smiled. I loved to give her a hard time.
“Anyway . . . the point is, she wouldn’t want to see you become a Serpent. You know I know full well that they aren’t to blame for everything here in Riverdale, but sometimes they get mixed up in bad stuff.” Betty gulped, looked down, and shrugged self-consciously. “I don’t want to see you get mixed up in it too.”
She looked back up into my eyes, “I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“Hey, I won’t,” I said and tried to rub her shoulder reassuringly. But it wasn’t enough. She looked so sad. “C’mere.”
I touched her cheek and turned her lips towards mine. Her hand came up to cradle my neck as we kissed. Softly, sweetly, and oh so innocently. It was to be the last time we would kiss like this ever again.
Her garish red lipstick is pressed into harsh streaks across my lips and tears out over their borders.
My pleas to ‘stop’ are muffled by her mouth tasting of stale used up cigarettes, booze, and the slimy wax of the grease coating her lips.
It is distasteful.
When I arrived at the trailer, the party was in full swing.
“Uh, am I late?”
A bunch of drunken voices greeted me. They must have been here a while to get this drunk. I looked around. Was ANYONE sober?
“No, man! The party’s just started.” A Serpent held aloft his beer bottle and yelled to the crowd. “The man of honor’s here!”
There was a round of cheers.
“Man, huh?” someone close to me said. I turned to look at him and saw a red-headed, gap-toothed man leering back at me. “Looks like he’s just a boy to me. You ever had any pussy, son?”
There were some uneasy chuckles from behind me.
“I. . . uh. . .” I didn’t know how to answer that.
“No worries,” the man clapped me on the back. “You ever heard of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies?”
“Uh, yeah. Aren’t they a band?”
That got a good laugh from the few people who were still paying attention. Most had turned back to their drinks already.
“No worries, son. Us Serpents’ve got our very own Cherry Poppin’ Mamas. Oh yeah.”
What the hell did that mean?
I was soon to find out.
As I lie on my back, her nails dig deeply into my chest as my hands are held above my head by the other one. Her nails are cherry red and cut deep marks into my flesh, drawing blood painfully as if from a hymen that’s not ready to break.
“I’m fine,” I said nervously as two women who looked like washed up prostitutes ushered me into my dad’s bedroom, serenaded by catcalls. “Really, I don’t need –“
“Shhh . . .” said the one who would end up on top of me in just mere minutes. She put her dagger of a nail to my lips. “We take care of all the Serpent boys, Jughead.”
The other one closed the door. I sized them up. Sure, I was a guy, but I was still slight for my age. These two older women who’d obviously been through some tough life experiences were hardened and could easily take me. I felt caged.
“Even Joaquin?” I asked sarcastically. I was starting to get scared and getting salty was my instinctual defense mechanism.
They both laughed. The one by the door answered, “He prefers a different type of snake.”
“Let’s be real. He just prefers snakes.” The one next to me snorted as she pushed me down onto the bed. “But you? We need to make you into a man.”
I tried to scramble away from her, but there was nowhere to go. “You don’t need to. I . . . I have a girlfriend.”
“Has she taken care of you?”
“What?” I asked, momentarily confused by the question, frankly, by the entire situation. Were they really going to . . . ?
“That’s a no.” The one by the door gave the other a wry grin, came over, and held down my wrists. Then she smirked. “Have at it.”
And so it began . . .
I just want it to be over. I know it can be if I can just make myself finish. I can’t look at her – I just can’t bear to look at the woman on top of me – she is garish. Horrific. I need a different visual . . .
I try to picture hot women from various films. Why are they all blonde? Blonde is too much like her - too much like Betty. I don’t want to drag her into this. Even in my mind.
But I need to be released.
Please . . .
I approach Betty from behind, her creamy neck in full view. I stroke it softly then lift her ponytail up and out of the way to plant a soft kiss right where it meets her shoulder.
And I am released.
I curl into a tight ball as that horrid woman peels herself off of me. I scrunch my head up into the corner where the wall meets the bed. I wind into myself tightly and cry once I’m certain the two of them have left me alone in this room. In disgrace. Ashamed for even thinking of Betty.
No one from the party comes in to check on me.
And I don’t show up for initiation the next day either.