“Before I do this, I need you to know that I have always loved you,” Jughead says from the passenger seat just as Betty cuts the truck’s engine off and shifts so that she’s facing him fully. He’s fidgeting with the hem of his flannel shirt and staring out the window, his eyes fixed on the red door that Betty used to call hers when she still called Riverdale home. “In case I don’t make it out alive.”
He finally turns to meet her gaze, bottom lip worried between his teeth. She leans forward and cups his cheek lovingly before smoothing her hand down to his lap to catch his fingers.
“I know, and you’re going to be alright,” she replies in what she hopes is a soothing voice that doesn’t betray her amusement.
They’ve spent the entire ride from New York to their old hometown in comfortable silence, only ever disrupted by Betty commenting on the weather and Jughead grumbling passive-aggressively at the radio station. This is normal for them, they haven’t felt the need to fill silences for years -- there’s no need to. What’s not normal, though, is the way he had spent the entire car ride arranging and rearranging his hair, checking to see if he had missed a button on his shirt, or casually peering into the box of marigold cupcakes from Alice’s favorite coffee shop in the city to make sure they haven’t been smudged, even if it had sat securely on his lap for the entire time. Betty had watched all of this unfold from the corner of her eye with a giggle hidden away in her chest, next to her fluttering heart.
He scoffs and rolls his eyes at her, his demeanor playfully accusing. “You say that because you don’t have to go in there and face the beast. Also, don’t you Leia me. I’m about to march into Alice Cooper’s house of horrors, I at least deserve an I love you too.”
Betty giggles softly and shakes her head, recognizing his teasing tone as stalling for time. She twirls her left hand purposefully in the space between them, watching as Jughead’s eyes zero in on her ring finger.
He catches her hand in the air and kisses the ring that has been sitting there for almost a month now. The tenderness of his touch makes her heart beat a little faster than before and once again she thinks she might be the luckiest girl in the entire world.
“Juggie, I’m already wearing the ring. Isn’t that an eternal declaration of my love to you?”
“I suppose,” he scoffs out. “It’d be nice to hear it, that’s all I’m—“
With a swift roll of her eyes, she sets the box of cupcakes on the dash and swings her legs over his. Almost as in on instinct he wraps an arm around her waist and pulls her into his lap, where she snuggles close to his chest. “Stop it, I love you,” she whispers against the fabric of his shirt. They stay like this for a few blissful moments, until Betty notices that he has transferred his fidgeting from his shirt to her hair. He twists it and turns it delicately in his fingers, repeating the motion over and over again.
“You’re not having second thoughts, are you?” She intends to throw a teasing glint into her voice, but it comes out sounding strained instead. Betty would be lying if she said that question hadn’t popped up in her head a couple of times in the last month, and she supposes that has something to do with her sudden quiet tone.
He snorts close to the crown of her head, his warm breath teasing the baby hairs there. “No Betts, this is just a stupid tradition. You know your mom puts me on edge.” He lifts her chin up gently so he can drop a kiss on her nose.
Her eyes dart to the faded scars on her palms, the ones she hasn’t reopened thanks to a therapist, but most importantly, thanks to him and his endless support. He notices this and holds her a little tighter against him.
“Hey, at least you don’t have to worry about my dad,” she jokes, but her voice catches inexplicably on the last word. Maybe it’s the fact that she’s sitting outside her childhood home, enveloped in Jughead’s warm arms waiting for him to go in and ask her mother for her hand in marriage, a picture she always imagined would involve her dad standing up and shaking Jughead’s hand. But it won’t, and it never will, because her dad is locked away in prison for life for committing murder.
Betty knows it was a poor attempt at lifting the mood, and she can see it in the way Jughead’s eyes soften that he doesn’t think it was a joke at all. He stays quiet though, rubbing smooth circles on her back as she nuzzles against his neck and blinks away her tears.
“Are you sure you want to marry me, Juggie? I come with a lot of baggage,” she whispers against his skin, idly wondering if it’s hot enough in the car for him to be getting sweaty only to realize the saltiness is coming from her eyes.
“Betts,” he starts in an uncharacteristically soft voice. “I grew up not being sure about a lot of things, you know. I wasn’t sure if there would be food in the fridge when I came home from school, and I wasn’t sure if my dad would come home at night after drinking. I wasn’t sure if my mom would ever return, or if I would see Jellybean again one day. But you want to know one thing I could always trust on?” he pauses and waits for her to nod. “I could always trust on you to be there for me, every single time. You’ve been my rock for years, babe, of course I’m sure that I want to marry you. We both have baggage, but we’ve accepted that long ago.”
Betty lifts her head from his shoulder and smooths the crease in his forehead with her fingertips. “I know, and it’s the same for me. I just – what happened with my dad –“
“We’re not our parents, remember? We never will be,” Jughead tells her, and she’s instantly taken back to a time where he had uttered those exact same words to her, one cold afternoon in their Blue & Gold office. She decides to do what she did back then and holds on tight to his words, taking a deep breath and drawing strength from his conviction.
“You always know just what to say,” she says, affection clear in her voice as she smiles up at him. “Thank you, Juggie. For doing this, I think – deep down, this means a lot to her.”
Alice Cooper had been through hell and back and the effects were still palpable. She had never quite returned to being her old self after her husband got sent away to prison, after the press ridiculed the award- winning investigative journalist for not figuring it out earlier that the man she shared a bed with went around killing people. On top of that, Polly had decided to move away from Riverdale and start fresh in Boston with her twins, drifting farther and farther away until she became almost an estranged relative. Betty hears from her during most major holidays, but she knows for a fact that her older sister has cut all contact with their mother.
Betty had moved to New York with Jughead to attend NYU,basking in the newfound freedom of not having her mother breathing down her neck at all times. She had pushed all thoughts of Riverdale and her family to the side to focus on Jughead and her career,but they ocassionally came back to haunt her during stressful times. Her therapist recommended mending her relationship with her mother to bring some closure into her life, something Betty refused to do at first.Eventually, she extended an olive branch and began to rebuild her relationship with Alice. They weren’t close by any means, but she figured having her mom involved in her engagement would mean a lot to her –and to herself too, if she were being honest.
“Anytime,” he responds simply, inching closer and pecking her lips. He checks the time on the dashboard clock and sighs, reaching for the box of cupcakes again.
Betty cracks the door open and jumps off his lap; her feet hitting the sidewalk she used to set her lemonade stand on every summer. Jughead climbs out after her, and she can tell he’s on edge again.
“You know,” she says in a flirty tone, looping her arms around his neck as he leans against the open door. “There’s always plan B. We can get in the car real quick and go to Las Vegas.”
This startles a laugh out of Jughead. “You mean that, Coop?”
“Sure, why not?” she fires back teasingly. “I hear good things about Vegas weddings. And I’ve always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon.”
He pretends to contemplate it for a second, tilting his head to the side. Finally, he shakes his head thinking that his fiancée has to be the only person in the world that thinks of Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon before any other thing, and leans in to kiss her giggle away. “I’ll keep plan B in mind as your mother interrogates me.”
She gives him one final kiss and dusts off imaginary dirt from his shoulder, giving him a playful salute. “Good luck, soldier.”
“You know, I actually have a pretty good feeling about this,” he replies, a smirk on his lips. He gives her shoulder a squeeze and marches up to the small stairs that lead to the Coopers’ front door as Betty makes her way to the driver’s seat. The engine roars to life at the exact moment that Alice Cooper swings the door open, and Betty can see her mother’s mouth form the word “Forsythe” as her perfectly arched eyebrows raise in surprise, but she steps to the side and ushers him in. She chuckles to herself and starts driving in the direction of Pop’s, deciding that she can enjoy a vanilla milkshake as she waits for Jughead. She’s rounding the corner that leads to the Chocklit Shoppe softly humming along to the voice of Morrissey when her cellphone dings next to her on the seat.
Well, I guess we’ll have to save Vegas for our vows renewal or something.