Betty was generally an upbeat person. She really was. When Archie needed someone to fix his car, she was happy to help. When Reggie needed a pitcher for pick-up baseball, she was glad throw in. When Jughead needed help babysitting Jellybean, she enjoyed playing hide 'n seek and baking them both cookies, even if half the cookie dough was sacrificed to their appetites before ever making it to the oven.
So that it had come to this showed how far she'd fallen. Betty poked morosely at her sundae and repeated, "I'm fine, Jughead."
Jughead eyed the sundae, melted into a morass of browns and reds; Betty, trying her tired best to drudge up a convincing smile; then the sundae again. His look was one of concern, one of horror. It said, despairingly: This is a problem not even ice cream can fix.
"Archie broke you," Jughead said. Then, "I'll break his kneecaps."
"Okay, I won't," Jughead agreed, allowing that violence wasn't his style, "but I can replace his car battery with lime Jello. I bet Reggie would help."
She definitely looked desperate, Betty knew, if Jughead was volunteering to team up with Reggie. "You're his best friend," Betty reminded Jughead.
"And you're my friend," Jughead said. "Friends stick together."
Betty dunked a maraschino cherry with her spoon. "It's not Archie."
Jughead took her at her word, settling back. After she dunked the cherry a third time, he stole the spoon and the glass boat, slurping up the mess with relish. "So?" he said.
He was developing an ice cream soup goatee, and Betty's lips quirked at the corners despite herself. "No point in letting good food go to waste?" she asked, a small bubble of humor breaking free from the harsh grip the butterflies of nausea held over her stomach.
"None at all." Jughead pointed the spoon at her and said, "Now tell Uncle Jughead all about it."
"There's no 'it.' I'm fine."
"Is it Reggie?" Jughead looked almost gleeful at the prospect of starting up another prank war.
Betty shook her head, leaning back into the booth and wondering how she could distract Jughead from the subject if seven hamburgers, two shakes, and a melted sundae failed to do the trick.
"Good," Jughead said. "You have better taste than that."
"It's not boy troubles," Betty said, flagging down Pop Tate for another chocolate shake.
"Tell me you're not fighting with Veronica again," Jughead said.
"I'm not fighting with Veronica again." Technically, this was true. Veronica might be the cause of Betty's current funk, but she had no clue.
That was where the trouble lay.
In a way, Betty was content for the longest time to fight with Veronica over Archie.
Archie would generally choose Veronica first, but Veronica was usually fairly whimsical, throwing Archie over at the least provocation. In the sprints, Veronica won handily with her handbags and four inch heels. In the distance running, Betty hunkered down for the long haul, still going even when Veronica broke a heel and decided she'd rather flag down a passing taxi than deal with all this hard work and sweat-of-the-brow business.
Betty had always thought that someone else would catch Veronica's eye, and in the end, Betty would have her small-town, girl-next-door wedding. Veronica would naturally stand at her side, the best bridesmaid a girl could have. It would be the perfect happily ever after.
She'd always thought, in a way, that she and Veronica were agreed. After all, Ronnie was the one who'd told Archie that the two only fought over unimportant matters, like boys.
Jughead had a big mouth, and not just for food.
"Are you sure," Archie asked, handing her a rag, "that you don't want to talk about it?"
Betty wiped her hands and closed the hood. "Why," she said in the most patient tones she could manage, "are you really missing your spark plug?"
Archie looked nervous, never very good at lying, and Betty sighed. She thrust the greasy rag back at him and shook her head over having such well meaning friends. "Yes. I'm sure."
Reggie was even worse. "Dining. Dancing. A dashing young man." He swept his hand from himself to hold out to her, a preening smile stretched across his face. "How could you say no?"
"No," Betty said.
"Maybe not dancing. I have tickets."
Betty sighed. She was doing that a lot lately. The smile didn't leave Reggie's face, only grew wider. Despite herself, Betty matched it. "What row?"
"I knew you couldn't resist my company." Reggie swept her arm into his own.
The only dining was hot dogs; the closest they came to dancing was the wave. At the end of the night, Reggie having pulled his car into the Cooper drive, the nearest he usually came to walking a girl home, Betty was still smiling at the home-team win. It was completely unfair what happened next.
"I'm not that guy," Reggie said quietly before Betty could say good night, "the one the girls go to to talk or figure things out. But I'm your friend, and if you need to . . ."
Her first, worst impulse was to agree with his former words, that Reggie was not that guy. Her second was equally intolerable. In the end, though, she granted him a faded version of her former grin and leaned across the seat to peck him on the cheek. "Thanks."
Reggie was worse, because Betty actually considered it.
Cheryl called. She was in the Alps with Jason, and she and Betty discussed skiing, the weather, and what Cheryl was bringing back for souvenirs.
"I don't need any," Betty said. "Really."
"Don't make me call Veronica," Cheryl said. Then, "No, really, I'll have coffee with her for your sake, but I don't think we've upgraded to friendly phone calls yet."
Betty laughed. "Fine. A bar of chocolate. Whatever you can pick up at the airport."
"I'll surprise you," Cheryl said decisively.
Betty almost thought she would get away with it, that Cheryl hadn't spoken to anyone else yet, but at the end of the phone call, just before goodbyes, Cheryl said, "I can always come back early." She paused meaningfully. "If you need me to."
Cheryl let it drop. "You'll be even better when you see my surprise."
This is when Betty realized she'd gotten it all wrong:
Veronica was standing next to Archie, leaning in against his arm, smiling, laughing at some unknown joke. Betty was used to this ache in her heart at the two together, to the little flare of jealousy in her breast, to the pain at the knowledge that Archie always chose Veronica first. But then Reggie pulled up and shouted over to her, "You know that show you wanted to see--" and Veronica practically pushed Archie away, excitedly asking, "You were able to get tickets? It's sold out!" Archie always chose Veronica first, but Veronica never did the same. Betty should have gained comfort from the confirmation of their lopsided triangle, that Betty wanting Archie wanting Veronica, who wasn't serious about anyone at all.
Betty didn't feel the familiar relief. Instead, watching Veronica slide into Reggie's car and throw her arms around his neck, she felt worse, like pain had joined up with its cousin misery and punched her in the stomach.
Reggie's car took off as fast as he'd arrived, and Archie turned to Betty, beamed to see her standing there. "Hey, I don't know if you have plans, but--"
For the first time, Betty considered that maybe--maybe it wasn't Archie she'd been fighting for all along.
If there was anything Betty expected from Veronica Lodge, it was not her climbing in Betty's bedroom window on a Saturday night. Betty had to help Veronica over the sill, entirely unsure of herself in the face of Veronica's glare.
"This has gone on long enough," Veronica declared once she'd regained her balance. "I've let you sulk and ignore my calls and partner someone else in physics. But no more. I just ruined my second favorite pair of stockings for you, so you," and here she stabbed a finger into Betty's shoulder, "are going to talk if it kills us both."
Betty cleared her throat. "I didn't make you climb that tree. You could have used the front door."
"Talk." Betty recognized that look from when they were nine, right before Veronica had pushed her into the mud. This couldn't end well.
Betty perched on the end of the bed, staring at the pom-poms on her dresser, because it was better than helplessly staring at Veronica's lips and wondering how long she'd been making a habit of it without ever noticing. Her eyes twitched back to Veronica, because she really couldn't help herself. Veronica tapped her foot and made a motion with her hand that said to get on with it. "Ronnie--"
Veronica's anger seemed to flow out of her at that unhappy sound, settling onto the bed next to her. She put an arm around Betty's shoulder, drawing her effortlessly in. Betty wondered how she'd managed to stay away so long. "What are we going to do with you?"
From here, Betty could smell Veronica's perfume, some tropical mix of oranges and coconut today, like she planned to bring back summer by sheer force of will. "You're my best friend. You know that, right?"
"Of course I am."
Betty snorted into Veronica's shoulder. Of course Veronica never once doubted it.
Veronica petted Betty's hair. "The thing about boys," Veronica said, and Betty realized with a distant horror that Veronica was still trying to get her to talk about it, "is that they come and go, but us--we last forever. And if ever there was a, a boy that got in the way of that--" Veronica paused.
Betty wondered if Veronica was working her way up to offering over Archie, and wondered how to break it to her that Betty wasn't that interested anymore.
"I'd completely destroy him. You know that, right?"
Betty laughed. "That's a little extreme, don't you think?"
Veronica looked utterly serious. "No, I don't." She looked away, for a moment, her fingernails scratching gently against Betty's scalp, then back, as if she'd made up her mind about something. "Jughead said," because Jughead had apparently gone to everyone, "that it wasn't boy troubles." She briefly pressed her lips together, voice a little unsteady, but fingers continuing to move. "I wondered if it might be girl troubles instead."
Betty's eyes were wide, so wide that she couldn't miss the fluttering of Veronica's eyelashes, the way her irises thinned with something like fear, something apart from it entirely; her eyes stayed open through the first soft, sticky press of lips to the corner of her mouth, Veronica's tongue edging against Betty's, the taste of orange lip gloss. It was rude to stare, Betty had always been told this, but she couldn't look away as they tumbled down against the matress and kissed and kissed and kissed.
"You should have just talked to me," Veronica said smugly much later.
"You're seriously saying I told you so?" Betty asked disbelievingly.
"I'm saying," Veronica rolled them over, her hair a curtain blocking out everything but her brilliant smile, "that we could have been doing this much, much sooner."
After a moment of consideration, during which Veronica nibbled her collarbone, Betty could only agree.
"I don't want to know," Jughead said, pushing a shake across the diner table.
"Don't want to know!" Jughead said quickly. He sipped his own shake pointedly, then added, "I don't do the happy relationships thing. But--I'm happy you're happy."
Betty smiled. (In truth, she hadn't stopped.) "I am."