The thing is, it wasn’t as if there was some big, shiny magic barrier that divided the North and South sides of Riverdale. That, Jughead thought, would make some people, like Alice Cooper sleep easier at night, but nothing was ever that neat. He used to think about those lines whenever he went from home to school and back again. But now he’d passed over, irrevocably in the eyes of many Northsiders, beyond the veil and his world was the South side of town.
Sometime after he’d officially pledged the Serpents, he’d stopped playing at switching sides, wore his leather jacket with a flannel shirt tied around his waist and went after dark. Before the sun set, there were ways to blend in, but he had stopped feeling like he really passed when he got inked.
He would have asked his dad how he’d managed to play both sides for decades, but FP really hadn’t been able to pretend not to be from the Southside, and he had only tried for Mr. Andrews. Besides, his dad was more or less keeping himself out of the picture these days. The White Wyrm was where most of the older Serpents hung out and the next generation was still figuring out where they could lay claim to turf.
“Pop’s is out,” Sweet Pea said sullenly. He had been stealing fries from Toni’s plate until she slapped his hands away.
“But we love Pop’s,” Fangs said through a mouthful of hamburger.
Toni glanced at Jughead and they rolled their eyes in unison. “It’s on the Northside,” Toni pointed out.
“It’s neutral territory,” Jughead said. “Pop isn’t going to take sides, but let’s not put him in a position where he has to.”
“Where are we supposed to go? The drive-in’s gone,” Fangs said.
“I’m not hanging out by the river or some shit all winter. It’s too damn cold,” Sweet Pea said.
“If we end up at the library doing homework, this will be the lamest teen rebellion of all time,” Toni said.
Jughead didn’t scoff at them, mostly because it would have been pointless and he didn’t want to hear Sweet Pea’s rant on how he was putting on ‘Northside airs.’
“The lack of recreational facilities for the youth population is appalling, but there’s another option," Jughead said.
Toni narrowed her eyes.
One side of Jughead’s mouth turned up slightly as he tilted his head at her. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
After leading the rest of the vocally dubious Serpents through the school, Jughead flung the door to the Red and Black open with a drumroll and sauntered in. “Presenting our new and very dusty base of operations.”
Fangs gaped at him, or more likely the boxes of papers Toni and Jughead had been ruthlessly purging when they had time between running from drug raids and homework.
“This dump?” Fangs said.
Toni leaned around Sweet Pea to thump Fangs’ shoulder with a fist. “Dude, we’ve all seen your room, this is a palace.”
Sweet Pea ignored the scuffle happening around him and surveyed the room silently.
Jughead hopped up onto a desk and watched them.
When Sweet Pea stepped forward, arms crossed, he and Jughead stared at each other.
Toni groaned. “Cut out the posing you two, Jughead and I have been cleaning this place up and it’s gonna work.”
“Our hideout is at school,” Sweet Pea as if he was announcing Mystery Meat was on the lunch menu again.
“It’s kind of lame,” Fangs said.
Jughead raised an eyebrow. “That’s the point. We’re the Junior Serpents, nobody expects we’ll do anything like study or make anything of ourselves. And they definitely don’t expect we’re going to do our plotting at school.”
Sweet Pea hadn't uncrossed his arms. “So what, we get good grades and show them up?”
“Why not?” Jughead asked. “Not everyone makes it out of the South Side, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do it our way.”
“Plus the Ghoulies aren’t going come after all of us on school grounds,” Toni said.
“Just the cops,” Fangs said.
“It’s not perfect,” Jughead said heavily. “But it’s the best option we’ve got until we work stuff out.”
Sweet Pea nodded slowly.” The older Serpents are pretty shaken over what we did to Snakecharmer. Smarter to lay low until they get their shit together.”
Toni shoved past the almost-touching moment they were having and dug into her bag. “Okay, so if we’re going to win over the principal and make sure that the Red and Black stays in Serpent hands, we need to work out who’s doing what.”
The boys stared at her, then Sweet Pea grinned and Jughead sat up straighter.
“So let’s get this done,” Jughead said.
Between avoiding his dad, school, the paper and Serpent business, there wasn’t a lot of time for Jughead to mope around. He might not have as much time as one of them, but there were plenty of Serpents who seemed to have accepted him as an authority figure. It wasn’t a position he was totally comfortable with, but he was learning fast and getting better at not falling on his ass so often.
One of the things that could potentially trip him up was in a big box labeled ‘the North Side.’ He hadn’t texted anybody from his old life there in a week or so, not since the Register was full of the story of how Betty and Archie had foiled the Black Hood through combination of ‘heroics and dangerous guesswork,’ according to Alice Cooper. But that didn’t mean there wasn't’ the chance they would pop up just when he least expected it.
Even though Alice Cooper’s controlling tendencies were annoying when it came to Betty being able to do any kind of investigative journalism or stay out past 9pm, it did mean there was less of a chance she and Jughead would run into each other. The word was that parents on the Northside were almost universally in favor of putting up a wall to separate the town. The capture and death of Mr. Svenson, aka the Black Hood, was probably all that the major could use as proof city officials weren’t completely incompetent. Nobody expected the calm to last, but it was worth enjoying for the time being.
Then the Riverdale School Board closed Southside High School and announced all students would be transferred to Northside for the remainder of the school year.
The announcement came while Jughead, Toni, and Sweet Pea were pooling their desserts to see if they had anything that actually made a decent snack.
“This isn’t even half the food pyramid,” Toni said as she stared at the food they’d piled on the table between them.
“What’s a pyramid got to do with it?” Sweet Pea asked. He nudged a carton of chocolate milk into the mix - he’d it swiped off one of the Ghoulies’ trays when they weren’t looking.
“She means this is a truly pathetic assemblage of food,” Jughead said.
Toni leaned her chin on one hand and stared at him. “I can’t tell if you’re being pretentious or not.’
“It’s a toss-up, hunger’s overwhelmed my higher brain functions,” Jughead said. “Is this it?”
Toni shrugged. “My uncle’s been keeping an eye on leftovers, but I can probably sneak some of it out if I can put it in your fridge.”
Jughead and Sweet Pea winced, but the former nodded. “No problem.”
The three of them were dividing up their spoils when the loudspeaker crackled and hissed. The principal’s voice could barely be heard over the feedback from the speakers. Then he raised his voice.
“Attention students. As of tomorrow, the Riverdale School Board is shutting down Southside High School while the building is evaluated for renovation or possible demolition.”
Around their table, other students began murmuring and glaring at the loudspeaker.
“What the fuck?” Sweet Peak said.
“I am aware this will not be popular with many of you, but the decision is final. Your transcripts will be transferred to Riverdale High by the end of this week. Good luck.”
The loudspeaker clicked off and for a second there was silence as everybody in the cafeteria waited to see if there was any more news. When nothing else issued from the loudspeaker, the room erupted in conversation and debate.
Sweet Pea was the first one to speak. “This is bullshit.” Then he started ranting in Spanish. Fangs echoed him or nodded emphatically.
Toni sat back to wait it out. This was nothing new with Sweet Pea, most of the time it would blow over. In this case, though, he had a point.
Jughead dug into a pudding cup while Sweet Pea ran out of breath. When he opened his mouth again, Toni shoved a handful of fries in it and raised her eyebrows.
“Are you done?” Jughead asked. “Now we need to decide how to handle this.”
“I’m not playing nice with a bunch of stuck up rich jock assholes,” Fangs said.
Toni pointed at him and nodded vigorously. “Agreed. Not happening.”
“We don’t start fights,” Jughead said as he dipped a bunch of Toni’s fries in barbecue sauce.
Sweet Pea jabbed a fork into the flan his cousin had made for Christmas. “Then what?”
Jughead leaned back on the bench and looked hard at the rest of the Serpents. “I said we don’t start fights, that doesn’t mean we can’t finish them.”
Sweet Pea and Fangs grinned. “That I can handle,” Sweet Pea said.
It was still dark the next morning when the Serpents pulled into the Riverdale High parking lot on their motorcycles. Those of them who wore helmets - Jughead and Toni, slung them under their arms and the four of them looked at each other.
“Let’s do this,” Jughead said. It wasn’t the most inspiring or original speech, but it was also Wednesday and he just wanted to get through the rest of the week with a minimum of bloodshed. Potential psychological trauma aside, this week’s budget didn’t include another trip to the laundromat.
The main hallway was crowded with students grabbing books, stuffing things into their lockers and basically avoiding looking at the clock as it counted down to the first period.
Whispers followed them like the wake of a boat.
“Is that Jones?”
“I thought he got suspended!”
“Looks like the Southside dumped their trash on us again.”
Fangs let out a snort at that comment but kept his eyes facing forward. The four of them had hashed out how to make their big entrance, and why it mattered.
“We’re going to attract attention,” Jughead said. “Even if we weren’t Serpents, we’re from the ‘bad side of town,” he added, fingers doing air quotes. “I’ve gone to school with most of these kids since we were little, and they’re going to be watching everything we do.”
“You want to show them up,” Toni said. She smirked. “Makes sense.”
Jughead shrugged. “Maybe a little. Plus, the jocks are going to be a huge pain in the ass until we establish some territory.”
Sweet Pea saluted Jughead with two fingers. “Can do.”
A small group stood in the center of the hallway, plainly waiting for something.
“Who’s that?” Fangs asked in a low voice.
“The welcoming committee,” Toni said.
“Don’t joke, they’ve actually got one of those,” Jughead said.
“Fucking rich people,” Sweet Pea said.
The Serpents came to a stop just in front of Veronica, Archie, and Kevin. The former smiled, but Kevin and Archie glanced from Jughead to the rest of the Serpents and even moved a little closer together.
“Welcome to Riverdale High,” Veronica said brightly and waved a hand as if she was welcoming them to her home or maybe a country club. “I’m here to give you a tour of your new school.”
Toni crossed her arms and Jughead raised an eyebrow at Veronica. “I do know my way around, I went here a month ago, remember?”
Veronica’s smile became more fixed. “Yes, but your friends here are new.”
Fangs snorted. “It’s a school. Pretty sure we’re not gonna get lost.”
Sweet Pea stepped forward and loomed directly at Archie. “If we do, we already know who not to ask for help.”
Behind Archie, Kevin twitched. He cleared his throat twice before he spoke up. “You guys already know each other?”
Archie and Sweet Pea glared at each other.
“We’ve talked,” Archie said.
“And he punched me in the face,’ Sweet Pea said.
Veronica narrowed her eyes. “You were in the fight.”
Sweet Pea narrowed his eyes back at her. “And you were the girl with the gun.”
Kevin stepped forward and waved a hand in everyone’s faces. “Guys, can we continue this somewhere that’s not the middle of the hallway?”
Sweet Pea stepped forward and bared his teeth at Archie. “Anytime you want another round, Northside.”
Archie set his jaw and put his shoulders back.
Jughead put a hand between the two of them. “Give it a rest, you guys.”
Archie settled down, used to listening to someone else being the voice of reason. Sweet Pea didn’t do the same and Jughead put a hand on the taller boy’s chest.
“I said, that’s enough.”
“Fine.” Sweet Pea stepped back to stand at Jughead’s shoulder. As moves to show loyalty went, it wasn’t subtle, and even Archie picked up on it.
“Wait, are you two friends now?” Archie asked.
Jughead tilted his head at Archie. “It happens.”
Veronica glanced from Archie to Jughead and clapped her hands twice just as Archie opened his mouth to reply. “Well, as the chairwoman of the Welcoming Committee, I would be thrilled to show you around school.”
“It’s a nice gesture, Madame Charwoman, but we’ve got this,” Jughead said. He stepped around Veronica and ignored Kevin gaping while Archie stared at him in what was either confusion or disappointment.
Fangs, Sweet Pea and Toni followed Jughead’s lead.
As she passed the staring trio, Toni wiggled her fingers at them. “Later, Northsiders.”
If students weren’t sure how to deal with the ‘invasion’ of Southside students, then Riverdale High’s teachers rallied impressively. Mrs. Gale, who had been Jughead’s Literature teacher before he was involuntarily transferred, blinked only once when he came in, Serpents sticking close. The four of them took seats in the back row of the classroom and dared anyone with looks and gestures to come too close. Staff policy was to keep troublesome students apart as much as possible, but here were enough overall issues with integrating two high schools that Mrs. Gale looked to be ceding that battle without a word.
As Reggie and Moose filed in to take their seats, she visibly braced herself. “All right, people, please take your seats,” Mrs. Gale said.
The Bulldogs had moved toward the back row and their customary seats, only to find they were already taken.
“What the hell,” Reggie said, not at all quietly.
“Sit down, Reggie,” Mrs. Gale said sharply. “We’re all waiting for you.”
Reggie looked in the Serpents’ direction again to discover Jughead and the boy to his left - tattoo not hidden by the collar of his jacket were staring back.
Jughead didn’t flinch, and that wasn’t new, but the boy next to him leaned close and whispered something in his ear that made Jughead smirk. That was different, and Reggie wasn’t sure why, but it made his stomach clench a little bit.
Moose grabbed Reggie by one arm and yanked him into a seat. “Are you serious?”
“That freak show came slithering back and brought all his friends,” Reggie said.
“Maybe so, but it’s only first period. I’m not awake enough for this crap,” Moose said and slumped down in his chair under Mrs. Gale’s censorious gaze.
“Reginald, I won’t ask again. Turn around so we can begin,” Mrs. Gale said.
There were snickers from students around the room.
Reggie spun around in his seat but not fast enough to miss the way Jughead and his friends were still staring him down.
Mrs. Gale took roll and Reggie’s eyebrows rose when she came to the Serpents’ names.
“Sweet Pea?” he whispered to Moose. As a good friend and occasional co-conspirator, Moose shrugged but looked like he was close to dozing off already. His commitment to first period was tenuous at best even with this kind of shakeup of the world order.
Reggie was similarly amused by ‘Fangs,’ but ‘Toni’ sounded normal enough, and everybody already knew Jughead was a weirdo. Expect now he had company. That was definitely new, and Reggie had to clamp down on the urge to turn around and make sure he wasn’t imagining it.
The rest of class went by without any other chances to figure out what was going on with Jones and the other kids from Southside.
When the bell rang Reggie packed up his stuff and headed out with Moose. He caught sight of Archie coming down the hallway and waved to him.
“Hey, Reggie,” Archie said.
Reggie nudged Archie’s ar as the last students ambled out of History class. “Did you know about this?”
“I found out they were transferring when you did,” Archie said.
“But what’s with Jones having actual friends?”
Archie was always kind of sensitive about Jones a and he either snapped back or sometimes, like in the student lounge when Reggie had pushed at Jughead, actually shoved back.
“Jughead’s always had friends,” Archie said, eyes narrowed. He clenched one hand around the edge of his books.
The kid with the tattoo on his neck glanced their way as he walked by.
Reggie rolled his eyes. Archie was a solid guy, but he was hopeless when it came to keeping a low profile. “No, he had you, Andrews. That’s it. Up until Mini-Cooper and Veronica took him on as a charity case.”
The passing bell rang and drowned out most of Archie’s denials that Jones was unimportant or a genius, etcetera. Reggie tuned most of it out, but he did catch a couple of things that made him frown. “You said Jones’ new friends were Serpents, does that mean he is too?”
Normally Archie’s face was easier to read than a sign. Now he closed down and walked silently ahead of Reggie.
Moose and Reggie shared a look behind Archie’s back. This was worth checking into if just to make sure the new kids weren’t going to be a problem.
Riverdale High was mostly what Sweet Pea had expected, students included.
A few of them had rolled out a welcome mat, but then there had been the football players. None of them had done anything at first, but when he and Jughead were heading toward P.E., Sweet Pea caught one of them following them.
He nudged Jughead in the shoulder. “What’s up with him?”
Jughead glanced over and his lip curled. “There’s a time-honored tradition of pitting us against each other in the name of athleticism.”
The tall kid with dark hair and a sneer glared at Sweet Pea.
“Guess they’ve been waiting for this,” he said.
“It’s one of Reggie’s favorite hobbies,” Jughead said flatly.
Sweet Pea narrowed his eyes right back at Reggie. “Not anymore.”
The gym at Riverdale High was twice the size as Southside’s, but the way the jocks arrayed themselves on one side, looking way too excited about throwing things at other people wasn’t a surprise at all.
Toni leaned in when two jocks tried to stare them down. “We probably shouldn’t beat up the whole football team on our first day.”
“How about just those two?” Fangs asked with a nod toward Reggie and one of his friends.
“That would send a message,” Jughead said.
“So we’re good to go,” Sweet Pea said.
“You’d also get detention, and knowing Reggie, it would go on your permanent record,” Jughead added, arms folded and still wearing his beanie, even with t-shirt and sweats that had a hole in one knee.
“Does he hate Southsiders or just have rage issues?” Toni asked.
“Reggie has made it his mission to screw with me since grade school,” Jughead said. He rubbed a hand over his face. “He’d hate you guys a little less if we weren’t friends.”
Sweet Pea took another look at Reggie, who stared back, not even trying to hide it.
“Well, this is gonna be fun,” Fangs said and clapped his hands together.
Keller, standing a few feet away jumped and moved further away from the field of fire.
Jughead glanced from Fangs to Sweet Pea. “Is this where you draw your prey in before striking?”
Sweet Pea didn’t roll his eyes because he hadn’t ever done that when F.P. got going about what snakes did or didn’t do. Sometimes he got the urge to ask if their leader watched too much Animal Planet when he was drunk, but he knew better.
Then there was FP’s son, who had taken to Serpent rules like they were a sermon from a church he’d never thought would take him in and it was hard not to understand that, even if it got a little intense sometimes.
“Nope, but Fangs and I have a bet about who can tag Mantle and his buddies first.”
Jughead’s eyes widened slightly. “I both approve of this plan and will offer my support from somewhere that isn’t within range.”
“For fuck’s sake,” Fangs said. He grabbed Sweet Pea and Jughead by the back of their shirts and yanked them back behind the first line of students. “Let’s shut up already and get ready to kick some jock ass.”
Reggie was glaring at them so hard he might have been trying to burn them with his eyes when Coach Clayton blew on his whistle.
Sweet Pea ducked the first ball hurled at him and sent one flying back that Reggie barely missed.
Fangs darted to one side and took out a stocky football player who yelped as the ball hit him in the ass.
“Cute,” Sweet Pea said.
Fangs smirked and dodged again.
By now it was obvious that the football team was out to get anybody from the South Side, but mostly the Serpents. The other students kept out of the way or were tagged out early in the game.
That left Keller, a stocky girl with curls and a nervous expression on her face and a couple of other people who tripped one another to get themselves tagged out facing a bunch of jocks, including Andrews.
Coach Clayton didn’t cheer the football players on outright, but he did look interested in seeing what was about to happen. “Come on, people, this isn’t study hall, wake up!”
Moose stepped to the front with Reggie and tossed a ball from one hand to the other. He looked at Reggie, who made a ‘come on’ gesture.
Moose turned to the rest of them, shrugged and chucked the ball at the huddle of Serpents - or more specifically, at Jughead and Sweet Pea.
It wasn’t a bad throw, and if they hadn’t been ready for it, the ball would have hit one of them.
It was obvious what Moose had tried to do, and Jughead, who had been largely acting defensively for most of the game didn’t back down. Sweet Pea wasn’t sure that he knew how even when he should.
“What the hell, Moose? Since when have you had it in for me?” Jughead asked.
Moose rubbed the back of his head. “It’s just a game, man.”
“That’s not what it looks like from here,” Andrews said.
“Stop standing around,” Coach Clayton yelled. “Participation counts toward your grade!”
Reggie grabbed another ball and jabbed a finger at the Serpents. “We’re just waiting on you lowlives.”
“Screw this,” Jughead said. He glanced at Sweet Pea and they made their throws in unison.
The balls struck Reggie in the legs and stomach and he went down swearing. The rest of the team gaped for a second and then charged across the gym.
When it was over, two students had blood noses, a couple more had wrenched an arm or leg and everybody involved, including the coach, was sitting in Principal Weatherbee’s office.
Apologies for the lengthy wait between chapters.
As always, comments are welcome.