Mr. Dixon paced on stage, sheet in hand, while anxious middle school students sat nervously in the auditorium, awaiting his final decision. Who was going to be cast in the lead roles?
Betty kept nervously sitting forward, and then forcing herself to sit back, trying to look calm.
"Hey, you can relax, Betty," Jughead said, slouching in his seat calmly beside her. "You'll be happy with what you get. I just know it."
She scoffed. "Sure, you can say that. You don't even want a lead role."
"Nope," he said nonchalantly and blew upwards at a curl that had come loose from his beanie cap. Then he sat forward a bit. "But Betty, you did fine –"
"Let's cut to the chase," Mr. Dixon broke the tension. "I'm going to announce the lead roles first, so if you wanted one and didn't get it, you can run off crying and be back in time to learn what role I actually did give you."
Betty looked at Jughead warily. He just shrugged.
"In the role of Emily Webb, I've cast Elizabeth Cooper."
Betty clasped her hands together and squealed.
"Quiet now," Mr. Dixon admonished from the stage.
"Sorry," Betty said, still smiling brightly. Jughead smiled back at her.
"And in the role of George Gibbs, I've cast Forsythe Jones."
Jughead groaned. And not just because Mr. Dixon refused to call him by his proper name again.
Earlier. . .
"Young man," Mr. Dixon impatiently raised his voice. "I asked you once – I'm not going to ask you again. What is your background in the theater?"
"I'm still trying to get it for you," Jughead said, nervously pulling at the piece of notebook paper stuck deep in his pants pocket. He finally got it out and handed it to the new drama teacher at his middle school.
Mr. Dixon took the crumpled 8 x 11 ½" notebook paper in his thick fingers and eyed the very extensive list.
"Train bearer for George Washington in . . . ? Wait. When was this?"
"My first role, sir. I was in kindergarten."
"Did you have any lines?"
Mr. Dixon grunted.
"But the rest were all speaking parts," Jughead hastily added.
"The rest?" Reggie Mantle scoffed. "Didn't realize you were such a thespian, Jughead."
"Shut up, Reggie." Jughead made a move to get the paper back from Mr. Dixon. The list was embarrassingly long. "It's nothing. My mom used to run The Sunnyside Community Theatre. She made me do all those parts."
"Made you?" Mr. Dixon asked. "That almost makes it sound like you don't like to act."
"I want to direct."
"Don't they all," Mr. Dixon scoffed, and handed back the paper to Jughead.
Jughead was really disappointed at having been cast in a lead role.
"Dammit," he said to Betty as they left the auditorium together. "I auditioned for Simon. Why didn't I get Simon?"
"Maybe your portrayal of the town drunk was just so moving that Mr. Dixon thought you could handle a bigger role." She did a little skip ahead of him, still elated at having landed the exact part she had wanted. Turning back to Jughead she said, "I thought you did a great job with that, myself."
"Thanks, Betty. It's just that I wanted a smaller role. I wanted to be able to sit back and observe Mr. Dixon directing us all. See what's involved in running a play from top to bottom." Then he said bitterly, "But as George I'm going to be too busy acting."
"Why would you need to do that, Jug? You just admitted to everyone that your mom put you in a bunch of shows over at The Sunnyside Theater."
"Yeah, but that's community theater, here in Riverdale. Mr. Dixon used to do big productions in NYC. He's the real deal. I want to learn from him. I'd never have tried out for the school play if it wasn't for that."
"You don't like acting?" Betty asked, her brows knitting together seriously.
"It's not that." He hesitated. "Well, not exactly. It's just I want to direct films someday . . . and I know this is a play, so it's not quite the same, but watching him will be good experience for me, you know? Seeing how a pro does it."
"Aw, Juggie. Aspiring to be the darling of the cinephiles someday, eh?"
"Something like that," he answered and shrugged. "Tarantino had to start somewhere, right?"
"Dude, it's supposed to be out on Christmas Day."
Jughead was in a booth at Pop's when he overheard Reggie talking to some other jocks about Quentin Tarantino's new movie, The Hateful Eight, and its roadshow release. He shook his head. Like any of these losers even knew what that was.
"Yeah, bro, my dad's going to take me and three of my closest friends down to NYC to see it in one of those special theaters."
Cinerama, Jughead thought.
"Are any of you my closest bros? Ah! Ah! You know you are, right? Right!" Reggie started fist pumping each of his friends in turn.
This idiot has no idea how lucky he is. He has the means but not the soul to truly appreciate a 70mm film in all its glory – all that extra space that allows one to tell a much richer story by playing in the margins.
It all just made him so incredibly sad. He was going to have to wait for The Hateful Eight's wide release and see it on a regular, digitally projected screen, almost a full week later at the Bijou, not even at the Twilight Drive-In on film. He had just started helping out there and his love for film had only intensified when he got to work in the projection booth, handling the reels, holding someone else's vision in his hands. Those movies were more than just mere pixels – more than just fleeting images on a screen – they felt like something permanent, coiled up there in their round metal cases.
"Yo, Jug!" Archie said as he slid into Jughead's booth, Betty in tow. She sat across from the two boys. "Whatcha doing?"
"Oh, me too." Betty said and pulled her script out of her bag. "We're rehearsing Act I tomorrow!"
"Heard you two got the leads," Archie said.
"Yeah," Jughead answered.
"I've got a meaty scene with 'my mother' Midge tomorrow." Betty said.
"And I've got one with 'my father.'" Jughead snorted. "Can you believe Reggie got the part of my dad?"
"Reggie can act?" Archie looked surprised.
"Apparently." Jughead answered. "I'm going to have a hard time keeping a straight face as he admonishes me though."
"It's called acting, Jug," Betty said sternly. "I'm sure you can manage it."
Jughead gave her a wry smile and tilted his head. "I'm sure I can. You don't have to take everything so seriously though, Betts."
"Yes, I do."
Archie and Jughead just laughed good-naturedly as she proceeded to ignore them and opened up her script.
"So . . . If you two are the leads in this play. . . what is it? Our Town . . . ?"Archie asked
"Yeah, Our Town," Jughead said. "Basically, Riverdale minus one hundred years."
"Yeah, so if you two are the leads . . . are you like romantic leads or something?"
Betty sank down in the booth and hid her face behind the script.
"Yeah, we get married," Jughead said casually.
"Cool," Archie answered.
"Yeah, we're rehearsing this scene together tomorrow . . ."
"Yeah?" Archie asked.
"Where we run into each other outside our respective houses and all – cause we're next door neighbors. . ."
Betty sank further.
". . . and we kinda flirt." Jughead said and shrugged. "No big deal. But that's the beginning of it."
"Hey Betts?" Jughead called out to the girl with her face behind a script. "Wanna run through that scene right now since we're both here? Maybe we can help each other memorize those lines?"
"No," she answered in a voice so small he almost missed it.
The first time Betty and Jughead took the stage together, it was for that flirty scene in Act I. Mr. Dixon worked out the blocking with them, telling them where to stand, where to walk, where to face, etc. and then told them the rest was up to them.
"You're teens, right? You can figure out how to flirt."
Betty blushed a little and shuffled her feet, not sure she really did.
He allowed them to refer to their scripts that day, but told them they only had one week that they would be allowed to utilize that crutch. After that, they were expected to have all of their lines for Act I memorized. Period. Betty gulped.
Jughead (as George): "Gee, it's funny, Emily. From my window up there I can just see your head nights when you're doing your homework over in your room."
Betty (as Emily): "Why, can you?"
Looking into Jughead's eyes the thought just entered her mind. Does Archie watch me while I study?
"Elizabeth!" she heard Mr. Dixon say strictly. She must have lost her train of thought.
"Continue," he grumbled.
When they were done with the scene Betty asked Jughead offstage, "Did that go alright?"
Jughead answered grimly, "I don't know. He never gave us any feedback. Maybe he will once our lines are memorized."
Sometime later, a frantic Betty practically barreled down Jughead before school had even started.
He laughed a little while she stood there, shaking the script in the air, just sputtering.
"What Betty? Spit it out."
"Have you read Act II yet?"
"Uh, no. We're not working on that yet."
She rolled her eyes at him.
"What?" he protested. "Some of us aren't straight A students, Betty. I'm not a slacker just cause I'm not as prepared as you. Not everyone does all their homework in advance."
"Act II is the wedding."
"The WEDDING. Juggie, we have to kiss." She almost whined.
"Yeah, oh. Big 'OH.' Look!" She held out the script and pointed.
The stage is suddenly arrested into silent tableau.
"Do you really think he's going to make us do it, Juggie?"
"Kiss?" He looked at her with a weird smile. "Of course."
"Oh God." She put a hand to her forehead and swiveled around to sit down on the ground, cross-legged. He joined her.
"Betty, what's wrong?" he asked softly.
"Do you like anyone, Juggie?" she asked without looking at him.
"Like? What do you mean like?"
"Like, like like."
"Oh that," he nodded in understanding. "My mom's always joking with me that I haven't discovered girls yet. So . . . no."
"Well, I like someone, Juggie. I like, like like them, you know?"
She blushed a bit. "You CANNOT tell him Jug."
"I can keep a secret Betty, believe me." Jughead said, looking down and away for a second. Boy was he good at keeping those.
She gave him an odd look, but continued on. "Juggie, I think I kinda like Archie."
"Archie?" Jughead looked back at her, surprised. "Really? Aren't you guys like best friends though?"
"Well, yeah, but . . ." she said a bit defensively, unable to say much more than that to explain it. She couldn't tell him why she liked Archie – she didn't even really know herself.
"Oh, don't worry, Betty. I'm not judging you. I'd never do that." He smiled lightly. "It just seems strange."
"Yeah, well. There it is." She shrugged.
"So why did you have this burning desire to tell me about Archie all of a sudden?"
"Because of the kiss!" she answered emphatically.
"What about it?"
"Ugh. Boys! Why are you all so dense?"
"Did you just insult me, Cooper?" Jughead asked her, narrowing his eyes.
"No. . . Maybe. . . Probably. I don't know." She took a deep breath. "Look Juggie, I don't want Archie to see us kiss. Onstage or anywhere else. It makes me feel weird knowing he'll be watching."
"It's just a play, Betts. It doesn't mean anything."
"Yeah, but also . . ."
"I've never been kissed," she said with tears swimming in her eyes.
She took a deep breath.
". . . and I don't want my first kiss to be with you," she continued.
Why did that hurt?
It shouldn't hurt. They were just friends. And he understood about Archie, really he did.
So why did he feel so . . . rejected?
Betty (as Emily): "Oh, Mama, that's not what I mean. What I mean is: am I pretty?"
Midge (as Mrs. Webb): "I've already told you, yes. Now that's enough of that. You have a nice young pretty face. I never heard of such foolishness."
Betty (as Emily): "Oh, Mama, you never tell us the truth about anything."
Midge (as Mrs. Webb): "I am telling you the truth."
Betty (as Emily): "Mama, were you pretty?"
Midge (as Mrs. Webb): "Yes, I was, if I do say it. I was the prettiest girl in town next to Mamie Cartwright."
Crap, what's my line? Betty worried anxiously.
Mr. Dixon shouted out. "Elizabeth! Focus."
Betty shuffled her feet for a second, wracking her brain, but then just resignedly looked over at Kevin standing in the wings with the script. "Line."
Kevin started it for her. "But, Mama, you've got to say something about me –"
"Got it," Betty nodded. "Thank you."
She turned back to Midge and got back into character. Continuing on in a breathy, dreamy voice she said, "But, Mama, you've got to say something about me. Am I pretty enough . . . to get anybody . . . to get people interested in me?"
Like Archie, she thought silently. That line hit too close to home.
Midge (as Mrs. Webb): "Emily, you make me tired. Now stop it. You're pretty enough for all normal purposes. Come along now and bring that bowl with you."
Betty (as Emily): "Oh, Mama, you're no help at all."
She pouted, picked up the bowl, and started to follow Midge off-stage.
"Elizabeth, come downstage please." Mr. Dixon said gravely.
What proceeded was a thorough tongue lashing by Mr. Dixon. Her lines were supposed to have been memorized two days ago. She should not have been asking Kevin for them anymore.
"Jug, it's just so difficult to memorize all of these lines." Betty pouted as they sat together eating hamburgers and fries at Pop's. "It's not like I haven't been trying. And that was an easy scene, too - compared to what's next. Do you know how many lines I have in Act III? It's like all monologue."
"I know, it's not easy."
"You don't seem to be having any problems with it."
"Well . . ." he said carefully. "It IS harder than anything I've done before."
"Well, at my mom's playhouse I'd get maybe one or two lines that I'd have to know per play. That was it. This is the first time I have a major role – and there's so much my character has to say. It's an adjustment – to say the least."
"So how do you do it?"
"I don't know, Betty," he said uncomfortably, not wanting to make her feel worse about herself in comparison. It obviously came easier to him. "I just do."
Betty pouted, looking down at the table. Finally, in a small voice she said, "Maybe it's just that line. Maybe that's what tripped me up today."
"The 'am I pretty enough' line."
Jughead just furrowed his brows and grabbed another fry, shoving it into his mouth.
"Cause that's how I feel about Archie," She went on, looking so forlorn.
"Hey," Jughead said, leaning forward. "That's what makes you so good in that scene I think."
"You can relate to Emily's perspective. What she's feeling in that moment. Just ignore Mr. Dixon's hang-ups and fixations on having perfectly memorized lines right now. We've got weeks of rehearsal before opening night. You're doing really well, Betty."
"Do you think so?"
"Yeah, I do. There's a reason you got the lead."
Suddenly, Jughead had an idea.
"Hey, maybe if I run lines with you, you'll have an easier time memorizing them. Would you be up for doing that outside of rehearsals?"
Betty smiled back at him and it was decided. That was exactly what they were going to do.
Running lines with Jughead had definitely improved Betty's ability to memorize them and they were actually able to work out how they wanted to approach their characters as well. They bounced ideas off of each other, tried things and such, so that when they hit the rehearsal stage they were more than ready. Mr. Dixon rarely offered any direction on how he would like them portray their characters anyway, so it seemed like they were expected to figure it all on their own. Jughead told her he found his extremely hands-off approach odd. Especially for a group of middle schoolers – most of whom had never acted before.
And now Betty was in the auditorium watching Jughead rehearse his major scene with Reggie, his onstage father. It was always an emotional scene to watch, but this time it was mindblowing. She watched in awe.
Reggie (as Mr. Gibbs): ". . . And you eat her meals, and you put on the clothes she keeps nice for you, and you run off and play baseball – like she's some hired girl we keep around the house but that we don't like very much."
Jughead broke out into a very loud sob. Louder than Betty had ever heard him do in this scene before. Reggie put a hand on his shoulder and spoke a little softer.
Reggie (as Mr. Gibbs): "Well, I knew all I had to do was call your attention to it."
Jughead started crying REAL tears. Betty could see them from where she was in the auditorium. She sat forward, her mouth making a little 'o,' her hands coming up to her lips. Was he . . . was he alright?
Reggie (as Mr. Gibb): "Here's a handkerchief, son."
Betty met Jughead backstage after the scene. His nose was a little red and he kept wiping at it.
"Are you okay?" she asked him.
"Sure," he answered, not really looking at her.
"But. . . your tears?"
"You're sure that's all it was?"
"Yes," he answered harshly. "Leave it alone."
But she didn't. Betty remembered what he had told her that one day about keeping secrets.
"Jughead, remember what you told me about using how I feel about Archie to find the right emotions for the 'am I pretty' scene?"
"Yeah," he said guardedly.
"What emotions did you tap into back there? That was a stunning performance, but you've got me worried now."
"Oh, don't worry Betty," he laughed a little bitterly. "It's just that prick Reggie gets to see The Hateful Eight in Cinerama when it premieres Christmas Day and he won't even appreciate it. While I, probably the only kid in this town who even knows what 70mm is, am left out in the cold, awaiting its general release on New Year's at the Bijou."
"And that makes you . . . cry?"
"Of course, it does, Betty. I'm pissed." He stomped off.
As she watched his retreating back, she knew he was lying.
Note: Sorry for the mid 1980's Jr. High speak in parts. I'm so old and out of touch I don't know how middle schoolers talk these days, except they probably use even more F bombs then we did, if that's possible (I left those out of this story). Hopefully my ancient use of the English language didn't take you all out of the story, but I didn't know how else to write dialog for 13-year olds. Sorry!
Chapter 2: Act II
"What the hell's wrong with you, Forsythe?" Mr. Dixon shouted at Jughead. "Don't you know how to shave?"
"Uh, no," Jughead replied sarcastically. They had only just started rehearsing Act II and he was getting very frustrated with Mr. Dixon. "I'm only thirteen years old."
"Well, what you're doing here –" Mr. Dixon grabbed the prop razor out of his hands roughly. "– is all wrong. Unrealistic. Ask your dad about it."
Jughead just gave him a very dark look. Betty shuddered.
"Hey, Arch," Jughead said and nodded at his friend, who let him into his house. "Your dad around?"
"Sure, why do you want to talk to my dad?"
"I just do, Archie. Can you let it drop?"
"Sure, Jug. Lemme get 'em." Archie bounded up the stairs in search of his father. He knew better than to ask too many questions of Jug sometimes. And this seemed like one of those times.
Fred came down the stairs after a minute. "Jug?"
"Uh, hello Mr. Andrews . . . I uh, I was wondering if you could teach me how to shave?"
"Sure, son," Fred said without missing a beat. "C'mon."
Then came the day they had to rehearse THE SCENE. Betty had been dreading it all day.
She and Jughead didn't have what she considered to be any real lines for that part. It was mainly just the rest of the cast giving their thoughts on weddings, and marriage and such. And then . . .
They hadn't even rehearsed it on their own yet because they really didn't have any lines and they weren't expected to have anything memorized on Act II yet for another week anyway. But Betty wondered if perhaps Jughead had been nervous too, because as they went over an incredibly long scene prior to it, he kept messing up in the same place.
Jughead (as George): "I . . . I'm glad you said it, Emily. I never thought that such a thing was happening to me. I guess it's hard for a fella not to have faults creep into his character."
They took a couple of steps downstage and paused, silently building the tension between them.
Betty (as Emily): "I always expect a man to be perfect and I think he should be."
Jughead (as George): "Oh . . . I don't think it's possible to be perfect, Emily."
Betty (as Emily): "Well, my father is, and as far as I can see your father is –"
Jughead interrupted yet once again with a snort and then partially delivered his next line with a bitter laugh. "– Men aren't naturally good."
"Forsythe! Mr. Jones. Please." Mr. Dixon looked like he was going to pull his hair out. "Focus. Let's get through this scene, okay? You have the script in your hand for Christ's sake!"
"Sure," Jughead replied, sounding like he didn't have a care in the world.
"Juggie," Betty pleaded with him softly, anxiously. He looked at her carefully.
"Okay, Betts, for you," he whispered back and they got through the scene.
Jughead (as George): "I do."
And then before Betty knew it Ginger had finished delivering her lines as Mrs. Soames and it was time. Jughead held her shaking hands to steady them for a bit.
"It's okay, Betts," he whispered incredibly softly as he put the stage ring onto her finger.
She did the same for him, but was shaking so hard she almost dropped his ring in the process. Once it was on, he held her hands steady again. She knew what was coming next. She was so scared she wanted to cry. A nervous beat passed between them.
"What are you two waiting for?" Mr. Dixon said impatiently. "Kiss already."
"Give us a moment," Jughead said, turning back towards him.
Then back to Betty.
"You ready?" he asked her in that insanely quiet voice again. She just looked up at him with tears in her eyes.
Mr. Dixon came up to both of them, grabbing them by the back of their heads. "Look guys, it's simple. Mr. Jones, you lean down and kiss Miss Cooper . . . Put. Your. Lips. On. Hers. Simple. Choreography. Don't go Method on me here, guys."
He released them and Betty ran from the stage and out the door.
"I'll go get her," Jughead said to Mr. Dixon urgently, already starting out, in a hurry to find her before she got too far.
"Yeah, you do that. And you two better be prepared for this scene when we regroup next week. I don't need any more of these childish antics on my stage."
Then don't teach middle schoolers, Jughead thought to himself, but held his tongue.
He found her crying in the grass in a corner of one of the school's baseball fields. That particular corner was slightly secluded due to the trees that hung over the fence there.
"Betty?" he said carefully, when he was close enough to hear her sobs.
"Oh, Juggie, I'm so embarrassed," she said, standing up and wiping at her eyes.
"There's nothing to be embarrassed about, Betty. You were nervous. It was your first kiss."
"Yeah." She flopped her hands around, frustrated. "And I didn't want it to be you –"
Once again, that actually hurt.
"– and not in public, and not like that –"
"Betty, hey," he reached out and touched her shoulder.
"There were so many people watching us, Jug. So many!"
He grinned wryly. "That's kinda the point of being onstage."
That made her laugh.
"Yeah, you're right, I guess. But the first time I kiss someone . . ."
"I really want it to be a private moment."
"A private moment with Archie."
"Ideally, yeah. But –"
"I think it's going to be with you."
"Mr. Dixon said 'don't go Method on me.' Do you even know what that means, Jug?" Betty asked him.
"Uh yeah, sure," Jughead said. "He's talking about Method acting. Where you FEEL the emotions of your character in the moment, so as to portray them authentically. So, it's not just 'choreography' as he said."
"Like when you told me I did well because I could tap into my feelings for Archie in that 'am I pretty?' scene?"
He smiled. "Yup. Exactly."
She wondered if he had 'gone Method' that day he had broken down and cried real tears onstage. She was willing to bet he had.
"Okay, let's practice," she said. "Let's get this over with."
"Okay, but I think we should work out the blocking first."
"But Mr. Dixon already did that for us. You put my ring on. I put you –"
"I meant the blocking of the kiss. The choreography if you will."
"Oh," she said and blushed.
"Okay, let's try –" he put a finger under her chin to tilt her head up, drawing her to him. That was awkward. "No wait. That won't work. Let's try –"
He placed his hand on her cheek and stroked it a bit with his thumb while their eyes locked. She started to feel . . . something . . . and then got really nervous as he started to tip his lips down towards hers, and his eyes started to close. She let out a nervous giggle and he stopped.
"Okay, that won't work either," he said and nervously chuckled himself.
Once they got all their laughter out, and shook it all off, he said, "Okay, in all seriousness. Let's try this."
His hand was on her face again, but this time it slid into her hair. And this time, it all happened so fast. He drew her to him so easily . . .
When their lips met, it wasn't at all like she expected, what she dreamed her first kiss might be like. She could feel all the little ridges of his lips, just pressing into hers. And it wasn't moist or weird at all, like she had been told to expect. It was just soft . . . and tender.
She started to feel . . .
Betty pulled away with a nervous laugh.
"Was that okay?" Jughead asked.
"Yes," Betty answered softly.
"For your first kiss? Did I do okay?"
"Oh good," he sounded relieved. "If you must know, it was mine too."
A blush crept up his cheeks.
Betty couldn't recall a time she had ever seen Jughead blush.
And she had no idea that it was his birthday either.
Reggie, Betty, and Jughead were sitting in the back of the auditorium together at the start of rehearsal. Jughead's shaving scene was about to come up. Of course, Reggie, playing his father, would be narrating his actions. They sure had a lot of scenes together.
"What a dick, huh?" Reggie asked them.
"Yeah. I can't believe what he did to you guys last week." Reggie looked around to make sure he wasn't overheard. "Hey, do you guys think that's why he left NYC?"
"Unfortunately, no one gets fired for treating actors like crap, Reggie," Jughead sad sarcastically. "No one."
"Reginald. Forsythe. You're up!" Mr. Dixon called from right behind them, startling them.
Jughead (as George): "I do."
Once Ginger had finished off her lines, and Jughead had placed his ring on her finger, Betty confidently put her ring on his. Then it was time.
She looked up into his blue eyes.
"It's just you and me, Betts," he said in that almost inaudible voice.
She nodded ever so slightly in reply. She was ready.
His hand found its way into her hair and –
"Stop stop stop!" Mr. Dixon called out. "Don't use your hand like that."
"What?" Jughead said, turning away from Betty and putting his hands on his hips, staring down Mr. Dixon in challenge.
"It doesn't look right - whatever you're doing." He waved dismissively. "Just try something else."
"You mind telling us what WOULD look right?"
"I have confidence you can figure it out," Mr. Dixon said with an evil smile.
Jughead groaned and turned back to Betty. "Ready to try something different?"
"Ready if you are," she replied.
And then someone pulled the fire alarm.
"Well, I guess this means we might have more time to practice now - more time to figure out some new choreography for this kiss of ours," Jughead said to Betty and shrugged as everyone assembled, waiting for the all clear to go back inside.
"Will you help me run lines, too? I'm having a devil of a time memorizing everything I need to in Act II. And Act III is seriously going to kill me."
"Not a problem."
As Jughead had suspected, they ended up having to wait so long that rehearsal was cancelled. So they decided to go back to that little corner of the baseball field to rehearse by themselves.
"So how do you want to do this?" Jughead asked her.
"Well, Mr. Dixon doesn't like your hand where it was so maybe we could go back . . . ?"
"Yeah, go back to something you tried earlier. You know, where your thumb did this?"
Betty reached up and cupped his cheek. As she traced a tiny circle on it and locked eyes with him he gulped. His heart raced a little. This was just Betty. What was going on here? He told himself to calm down. It must just be a little second kiss jitters.
But then, without thinking, he grabbed on to both sides of her face, bent down, and kissed her. And it felt as good as before . . .
Betty pulled away from him, laughing a little. "Silly, I don't think that will work."
"What? Why not?"
"Mr. Dixon didn't like one of your hands on my face. I doubt he'd like two."
"Oh yeah. That. Sorry."
They both shuffled their feet a little awkwardly.
"Try it again," Betty said. "You know, with your thumb . . . you know."
"Uh, yeah. Okay."
He placed his hand on her soft cheek and took in her blue-green eyes. As he moved his thumb in a little circle he felt . . .
Something. He couldn't put it into words.
He bent down and touched his lips to hers.
"Guys!" they heard a cheerful voice boom out.
"Oh my God, Archie!" Betty screeched, rapidly pulling away from Jughead's kiss.
"Wathca doin'?" Archie asked them.
A blush burned on Jughead's cheeks. But why should he feel ashamed? They were only rehearsing. And it's not like his best friend had shown any interest in Betty. He felt bad for her though. Looking over at Betty, he saw her cringing and took in her mortified face, her hand covering her mouth.
"We were just rehearsing that play. You know, Our Town," Jughead said.
"Oh, yeah. And you guys are smoochin' cause you're the romantic leads, right?"
"Uh huh," Betty said and nodded weakly.
"That's right," Jughead said in a strong voice. "If you want to Archie, you can hang out with us while we run some lines. Betty's got some pretty heavy stuff in Act III."
"No, I gotta go. Just noticed you guys and wanted to say hi was all. Catch you later."
They both waved to Archie as he cheerfully went on his way.
"Well that was embarrassing," Betty said.
"Yeah, sorry about that," Jughead answered. "But hey, there is one bright side."
"Oh yeah? What's that?"
"Now you don't have to be embarrassed about Archie seeing us kiss onstage," Jughead said. "He already has."
Betty smiled and almost laughed, breaking the tension, "You make a good point there, Jones."
"That I do."
And Jughead was right. She had no more fear of kissing him onstage anymore. Although as opening night grew near, she wondered if that would change once she knew Archie was in the audience and would see them again.
And she was getting confused . . . in those moments when she and Jughead would kiss as George and Emily . . . she felt like she was 'going Method,' which thanks to Mr. Dixon's initial criticism, held a great stigma for her. In those moments, she felt like she WAS Emily, a girl deeply in love with Jughead . . . ahem, George. She wondered if he felt it too, yet hoped and prayed that he didn't.
But she liked Archie, she kept telling herself. Jughead wasn't her type. He was a nice guy and all, they'd been friends for years, but still. She was probably just getting her feelings for Archie all confused when she was caught up in Jughead's kiss. And it was not good that they had to hold it so long as the stage was caught up in that 'silent tableau.' It only gave her more time to be in that moment with him, his lips pressed up against hers ever so softly. . .
Chapter 3: Act III
Opening night. Jughead kept nervously peeking through the curtain out at the audience as if he was looking for something. Betty finally came and hauled him away by the elbow.
"Jug, what's –"
"It's nothing." He changed the subject on her rapidly, distracting her. "Is Archie going to be here tonight?"
"Yeah," she said, feeling a little nervous at the thought and grabbing her elbow tightly across her body.
"Hey," Jughead said softly. "It's just you and me up there when it happens, okay? Just you and me."
She nodded. Yeah, that pretty much happened. Everything else dissolved away. Every time.
But would she be able to ignore Archie staring at them from out there in the audience in that moment? Or would her cheeks burn in shame at kissing the wrong boy?
"We've got this," Jughead reassured her.
"Is your family going to be here tonight?" she asked him.
He blanched. "Uh, no. I don't think so. But maybe . . ."
"How do you not know?" she gave him a teasing smile.
"Uh, my dad, he uh works strange hours sometimes."
His hand was frozen on her cheek, thumb mid-circle, and their lips were pressed gently together, just holding steady. And it was just the two of them as he promised. Jughead and Betty. Emily and George.
It wasn't until they broke and headed downstage together triumphantly to the exuberant sounds of the Wedding March did she realize that she hadn't thought of Archie at all. She smiled. She was going to be fine.
But then, as she sat backstage during intermission, awaiting the start of Act III with Jughead beside her, she realized she should say something.
"Jug," she started. "I . . . I need to tell you something."
"I . . . oh God, I'm so embarrassed, but I think I'm 'going Method.'" She looked at him with a little bit of fear in her eyes.
"Nothing wrong with that, Betty."
"No I mean it. I . . ." How to explain? "Look Jug, you know the scene, right before the wedding were I say desperately, 'Well, if you love me, help me. All I want is someone to love me.'?"
"Well, in that moment, I've been FEELING Emily's feelings, Juggie. So desperately."
He studied her carefully for a minute before speaking. "Betty, I think that's just your feelings for Archie bleeding over."
"No, I'm pretty sure it's not," she muttered quietly to herself, hoping he hadn't heard what she said immediately after she said it.
What? He almost didn't hear her. What did she mean by that?
There were some parts of this play where he found himself 'going Method' too. Disturbingly so. Like the kiss. He never thought he'd enjoy kissing so much. It seemed like such a girl thing to like. Like romance novels.
But what she said stayed with him as they went into the second show that Saturday, when they got to that scene she had mentioned . . .
Jughead (as George): ". . . Emily, I'm going to do my best. I love you, Emily. I need you."
. . . he found he was actually feeling those feelings for her too.
Betty (as Emily): "Well, if you love me, help me. All I want is someone to love me."
In that moment he found really wanted to help her find love . . . so desperately.
His eyes teared up for a brief moment and then he said (as George): "I will, Emily. Emily, I'll try."
"Whoa, that was intense," he joked with her as they waited out intermission together.
"It always is, Juggie," she said almost nonchalantly. Then she changed the subject. "So what are you guys doing for Christmas?"
"I'll tell you what I'm NOT doing," he said sardonically. "Seeing The Hateful Eight in a proper theatre."
"That really means a lot to you, doesn't it? You really want to see it that way – in Cinerama?"
"Yeah. That's how it was meant to be seen – Tarantino's vision, you know. He's my idol," Jughead said quietly, then shrugged. "But it's not in the cards. Guess I'll just go catch a movie at the Twilight instead."
Betty laughed lightly. "Silly, they're not open on Christmas."
"They are if I'm running the projection booth," he joked and they shared a smile.
Closing night Betty noticed that Jughead was even more keyed up than usual. He could not keep his hands off the curtain. He just kept peeking out at the audience and pacing.
"Jug, you gotta settle down. Mr. Dixon will –"
"Fuck Mr. Dixon. He's not my dad. I don't have to listen to him."
He waved at the curtain dismissively and headed back to the wings. "It's okay, Betty. I'm fine."
But he wasn't – she could tell. And when he did that scene with Reggie . . . ?
Reggie (as Mr. Gibbs): ". . . like she's some hired girl we keep around the house but that we don't like very much."
Jughead's sob rang out into the auditorium at Reggie's fatherly admonishment. The crowd gasped. They weren't expecting such an intense portrayal of remorse from a mere fourteen year old boy.
Reggie hesitated for a minute, not sure what to do. But then he put a hand on Jughead's shoulder and got through the scene.
Reggie (as Mr. Gibbs): "Well, I knew all I had to do was call your attention to it."
Jughead was literally breaking down on stage. Betty was horrified for him.
Reggie (as Mr. Gibb): "Here's a handkerchief, son."
Everyone watching knew that a handkerchief wasn't enough. But Jughead took it solemnly from Reggie's hands anyway and just stared at it pitifully for a beat. Then he started to lose it again as Reggie finished his lines.
"Oh my God, Jug, are you okay?" Betty asked him at intermission.
"Sure, fine. Why do you ask?" In reality, he was spent. And so happy it was closing night. He couldn't take another second of this play. He couldn't wait for the final scene, where he'd be lying prostrate at Betty's feet, grieving for his dead wife, Emily. It would be such a relief - hopefully as cathartic as funerals were supposed to be.
"Why do I ask? Jughead, I'm worried."
"It's nothing, Betty," he said bitterly. "I was just Method acting."
There was so much sympathy swimming in Betty's eyes as she reached out and touched his shoulder. Sympathy for him. Someone actually cared. Imagine that. No one in his family did, apparently. No one had come to a single performance of his.
But he shrugged away from her touch. "I've gotta go get some water."
She called him five days later. On Christmas Day. Not only to wish him a Merry Christmas, but to check in on him that night. She was still so worried and she hadn't heard from him since the play ended that Sunday.
"Hello?" He sounded weary, tired.
"Hey Jughead, it's me, Betty."
"I know. I saw the number." He sighed loudly.
She heard a loud crash in the background and Jughead winced.
"Betty, this really isn't a good time –"
There was a loud booming voice yelling out something in the background that she couldn't make out. She heard Jughead try to muffle the phone with his hand, but he obviously didn't succeed, because she could still hear him yell out in protest a few seconds later, "Dad!"
Then she heard the phone fall onto something hard and even more incoherent yelling. She hung up. She figured Jughead would want some privacy – that he didn't want her to hear any more of whatever was going on. But it didn't mean that she still wasn't worried as hell about him.
As she sped out into the night on her bike she kept trying to talk herself out of all of this. Thank goodness snow hadn't yet fallen in Riverdale – it had been an unseasonably warm winter – but nonetheless, her heavy coat barely provided enough warmth as the cold night air whipped past her. But her nagging intuition was insistent – Jughead would be at the Twilight Drive-In – and she had to go. He had never showed up at Archie's that night – she had kept waiting – looking out her window anxiously. She knew that sometimes he crashed there. But not tonight.
She really hoped her mom didn't bust her for sneaking out so late on Christmas Night.
Jughead was in the projection booth, lost in sorting through the stash of classic movies the Twilight had on hand, when he heard a knock at the door. He was startled and almost dropped a reel. Who could that be?
He opened the door on Betty and gave a sigh of relief. "I thought you might be a Serpent."
"The Southside Serpents are around here at night?"
"You have no idea. It's slowly becoming part of their turf."
"That can't be good for business."
"It's not." He took her in. She looked like she was still dressed in formal wear from her Christmas celebrations earlier that day underneath her red wool coat. "What are you doing here, Betty?"
She shrugged, and looked away nervously. "I don't know."
What is that supposed to mean? Man, girls are weird.
"Here, come watch a movie with me. I'll even let you pick it out."
They discussed a bunch of selections and he gave her his full opinion on each one as he went through various reels for her to pick from. Thoroughly.
"I'm sorry you didn't get to see The Hateful Eight today," she interrupted him at one point.
"Yeah, well, that's just one more thing in a long string of disappointments lately." He sighed with defeat.
"What else has got you down?"
"Well, thanks to Mr. Dixon I don't want to be a director anymore. That's for sure."
"But you love cinema, Jug. Don't let that part of you die just because of one bad experience."
"Okay then, I think I'll try my hand at writing screenplays." He shot her a wry smile.
"You do that. I think you'd be great at it." Intentionally ignoring his sarcasm, she smiled encouragingly and then picked up one of the reels. "I think I'd like to watch this one. I love classic stuff."
"Rebel Without a Cause, eh?" Jughead smiled a bit. "He was a Method actor, you know. James Dean."
"Yup. A Method actor playing an angsty, misunderstood teenage outcast." Jughead said and then smiled and tipped his head, letting her in on the joke. "According to Wikipedia."
"Just like us." Betty smiled back at him.
"Me, maybe," Jughead replied. "But you? No, never you."
Then Jughead instructed Betty on how to thread the film through the projector because she was interested in knowing how it all worked - she didn't want to just sit back and watch him do it all.
"You're a natural," he said at one point, smiling. "I've barely showed you anything, and there you are just threading, locking, and clicking it into place all by yourself."
"I'm a gearhead, Jug. You know that."
"Yeah, but a projector isn't a car."
"Close enough," Betty said and shrugged. When she was finished she flick-flacked her palms together and said, "Well, that was easier than changing out a timing belt, that's for sure."
"I don't even really know what that is," he said, shaking his head.
They settled in to watch the movie from the booth itself, each taking a side. The sound of the film flickering through the machine was soothing, calming. By the time it was over, she was sleepy. She had come out here to check in on Jughead, and he seemed fine – so she figured her work here was done.
"Juggie, I've gotta get home."
"Okay," he said.
"You coming too?" She asked when he didn't make a move to leave himself.
"No, I brought my sleeping bag," he said and pointed to the floor where indeed he had a sleeping bag. And a very full backpack.
"You're going to sleep here? Why?"
"Don't want to disturb anyone, getting in so late, you know." He shrugged, looking away. "It's for the best."
She eyeballed the floor. There was space, but there were also likely creatures. She shivered. "Hey Jughead?"
"Let me – let me –" she looked around her surroundings carefully. She saw all the right materials in various forms. Yeah, she could do it. "Let me go get something from my bike. I'll be back in a second."
"Done!" Betty said with satisfaction and wiped her brow, wrench in hand.
"Betty, I don't know what to say," Jughead said, looking down at what she had transformed into an off-the-floor cot just for him and his sleeping bag.
"Just say thanks." She smiled brightly.
"Here, let's test this thing. Grab your sleeping bag and get in."
He did as she instructed.
"Looks good, looks good," she said nodding. Then she yawned involuntarily. "Well, I should let you get some sleep before I fall asleep myself on my bike ride home."
"Okay, thank you, Betty."
"No problem. Just so you know, that thing's only temporary – I don't know how long it will hold up so don't make sleeping here a habit, okay?"
"Yes, Mom," he answered wryly.
They laughed together for a bit and then she started to head out. But when she got to the door, she paused and turned around.
"Jughead, I wanted you to know. . ."
"I'm glad you were my first kiss." She looked away for a bit and did a weird little sway thing before turning back to him and saying, "I think everything worked out the way it was supposed to."
He smiled softly at her and then she turned away and let herself out.
He stayed on the make-shift bed that Betty had built for him just staring at the ceiling, deep in contemplation. They play was over now, he had grieved for her one last time, face down in the cemetery, and they had no more reason to . . .
The corners of his lips drew down. Once he fully realized just how disappointed he was that he would never get the chance to kiss Betty again, he reached for his phone and and sent out a text.
Mom, I think I have finally discovered girls.