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To All The Girls I've Loved Before

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The first day of school is always the hardest. Waking up early after sleeping in the entire summer. Rushing out the door to beat traffic and not get stuck behind a school bus. Having to scarf down whatever breakfast he can manage to get his hands on, which in Jughead’s case, are overdone scrambled eggs and soggy toast that he manages to pull together by the time his little sister descends the stairs.

“Come on Jelly, we’re going to be late,” he says shoving a plate in front her as she slowly takes a seat at the table. It’s the first day of middle school for her and he would venture to say she’s less than thrilled.

“These eggs taste like leather,” she whines and shoves the plate away.

Jughead rolls his eyes but grabs a muffin off the counter and tosses it at her. “Eat it on the way, let’s go.”

Just as they are barreling out the front door toward his car, their dad’s work truck pulls into the driveway, stopping quickly as he jumps out. He’s been putting in long hours on a big project for the the construction company he works for. “I didn’t miss it!” he shouts running up to them.

“Jughead made leather eggs for breakfast,” Jellybean says as their dad pulls her into a tight hug.

“It’s the thought that counts, Jelly,” Jughead mumbles under his breath.

“Okay. Let me look at you both,” FP says holding Jellybean out at arms length, standing her right next to Jughead. He gives them both a once over and Jughead can’t help but straighten his shoulders under his dad’s eye. “Gosh, eleventh grade and sixth grade. Where has the time gone?” he asks wistfully.

Jellybean and Jughead groan in unison. FP, for all his hard lines and tough demeanor, is nothing but an old softy at his core. He cries at weddings, when they watch movies and an animal dies, and anytime one of his children accomplishes something new or grows another year older. His eyes get misty. Jughead knows that part has more to do with the absence of their mother, but still.

“Alright, dad. We have to go now,” Jughead says ushering Jellybean along. They climb into his old car and he pulls away. Jughead watches his dad wipe a tear from his eye in the rearview mirror, as a smile spreads across his face and he continues his drive to school.

After dropping Jellybean off at the middle school, he makes it to his own with just enough time to find his locker and get to homeroom. He’s a junior this year, and he’d be lying if he said it didn’t feel different. Freshman year, everyone is fresh meat, everyone is new and trying to figure it all out together. Sophomore year, you’re still among the lowerclassmen but you know your way around the school and at least you aren’t freshman. Junior year is arguably the best and most important year. You’re officially an upperclassmen, but not so upper that you have to set any kind of good example. Grades matter most this year because it’s the ones colleges will look at.

Cliques that have been forming over the last two years are pretty much cemented this year. Not Jughead cares about any of that, at least not outwardly. Sure, he works hard to keep his grades up to secure him a place at NYU, but that stuff-- school stuff -- has always mostly come easy to him and as far as cliques go, he’s had one singular best friend since the start of high school and that was cemented long ago, long before the pressures of high school.

“Jones!” He hears his name being hollered down the hallway just as he’s about to enter homeroom. It’s his best friend, Toni Topaz, and her girlfriend, Midge Klump. He swallows hard at the sight of them approaching, hands interlocked.

Toni and Midge have been hot and heavy since the middle of Sophomore year. He’d never admit it to Toni, but the truth is, he saw Midge first. He had been harboring a secret crush on Midge Klump since the end of Freshman year when, at Cheryl Blossom’s end of the year party, she had been unceremoniously knocked into Jughead’s lap by a rowdy group of seniors. His hands had so easily slipped around her waist as her own landed on his chest, her face just a few inches from his. Her hazel eyes met his blue ones and he was gone for her. He spent the next year an half pining from a distance, never able to work up the courage to ask her out. When Toni came over one night last year and announced that her and Midge had hooked up at a party and then became official a week later, he knew it was time to put his crush to rest so he did what he always did.

He wrote a letter.

Since middle school, after he and Betty Cooper spent seven glorious minutes in a closet at Cheryl Blossom’s eleventh birthday party, kissing for the last three, he’d been writing letters to his crushes in an effort to move on. In truth, they were goodbye letters, a way for him to close that chapter of his life. He would slip them into an envelope, address them if you knew their address, and slip them into a shoebox he kept in the back of his closet, never to be seen by anyone but himself. There are five in total.

The first was Betty, of course. When she and Archie Andrews, his now ex best friend, but still current best friend at the time started “going steady” in the seventh grade, he had been heartbroken. Archie, like Toni, of course had no idea he was harboring a crush. He never told anyone. Jughead just wasn’t the crush having type, at least not in the way all of his other friends were. So when Archie and Betty showed up to Ethel Muggs tree house holding hands, and Archie announced they were boyfriend and girlfriend, Jughead went home and penned a goodbye love letter to Betty.

Dear Betty,

I want you to know that I saw you first. You were my first kiss and I think I was yours as well, maybe not. It was at Cheryl’s birthday party when we played seven minutes in heaven and you waited a whole five minutes before you leaned forward and kissed me.

You’re lips tasted like vanilla and cherries and I think I fell in love with you right in that moment and I think we could have been a really cute couple.

In class yesterday, Ethel Muggs called you and Archie Barchie and I think that sounds really dumb. We could have been Bughead and I think that sounds really cute.

I wish you weren’t so pretty and your hair wasn’t so shiny, so I wouldn’t like looking at you so much. You wear it in a ponytail all the time but when you wear it down, I like it best because the light catches it and it almost looks like a halo around your head. Like you’re an angel or something.


I don’t think you and Archie will last. You guys don’t have a lot in common but me and you do. We both like to read and vanilla is our favorite flavor milkshake. Archie likes chocolate.

After this I won’t like you anymore. Or at least I’ll try not to. I’ll try to focus on the annoying things you do. Like when you tell me to tie my shoe, or make me eat my carrots at lunch. It’s also really annoying how nice you are. You are just so nice to everyone and not everyone deserves it but you are anyway. That’s annoying.

Anyway, I hope you and Archie are happy, or not.

Love, your first kiss (I think) Jughead.

He hadn’t had to try very hard to get over Betty because four months later, his dad moved him and his little sister over to the Southside. Back then, it was a whole group of them, Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper, Toni Topaz, Cheryl Blossom, Reggie Mantle, Ethel Muggs, and occasionally, Chuck Clayton. They were the neighborhood crew. When Jughead moved, they all mostly tried to stay in contact but without being able to walk over to each other houses, the group kind of fell apart.

He and Toni had stayed close, mostly because she spent an equal amount of time on the North and South sides, her parents being divorced and her going back and forth between their houses. He and Archie had even given a good attempted to stay close. That was until one day, Archie stopped answering Jughead’s calls. To this day, he’s not sure what happened or why Archie no longer wanted to be his friend.

“Who did you get for history?” Toni’s voice pulls him out of his head, where, truthfully, he spent too much of his time.

“Mrs. Katinsky. What about you?” It takes all of his willpower not to look at Midge. Even after writing his goodbye letter, he’s still found it hard to not like Midge.

“Same! Poor Midge got Mr. Butthole.” Mr. Butthole was the nickname given to Mr. Butler, the oldest teacher at Riverdale High. He tended to drone on and spoke way to slowly. Kids always fell asleep in his class. He’s not sure where the nickname Butthole came from though.

“Yeah, I tried to get a transfer but Smith said there’s no room,” Midge explains.

“That’s the worst,” Jughead manages to choke out.

The bell chimes and the three of them wave goodbye as they head off to homeroom. The day goes on mostly without a hitch. At lunch, Jughead isn’t paying attention and runs right into Archie. He scoffs and wipes off his letterman jacket, as though Jughead just bumping into him got it dirty. Beside him, Betty gives Jughead a sweet apologetic smile that says I’m sorry he’s an asshole and they walk off. After school, he picks Jellybean up and they head home where their dad is just waking up.

“So how was the first day guys?” he asks as Jellybean and Jughead walk through the door.

“It sucked,” Jellybean says at the same time Jughead says “It was good.”

He rolls his eyes. Ever since their dad said no to a puppy two weeks ago, Jellybean has been in a sour mood. He’s trying to be sympathetic. He remembers what it’s like to be eleven and feel like you're getting older but you are still too young and you have no control over anything. Of course, at eleven Jughead felt more like fifteen. He was already cooking and cleaning and giving Jellybean a bath and teaching her ABC’s. Their mom up and left when she was two and he was eight and ever since Jughead’s had act as a second parent, instead of just a big brother. He didn’t get to just be his age.

“I’m sorry your first day sucked, sweetie. How about I make chocolate chip pancakes for dinner?” Jughead hates the way his dad coddles her. It’s like he’s trying to make up for something that’s not his fault, at least not completely.

The way Jughead remembers it, or at least the way FP has told it to him, was that their mom left because FP had a drinking problem. Jughead has somewhat hazy memories of his parents fighting, though he’s never quite sure of what. Once, after his mom left, he’d come downstairs to find FP passed out on the couch. As a child, he’s just assumed his dad was asleep. Of course, now he knows his dad had probably been drinking.

What he’s not able to wrap his mind around is why, if FP’s drinking problem was so bad his mom had to leave, would she leave her two children behind with him? It’s a thought that comes to him mostly at night when he can’t sleep. He knows there’s more to it, but it’s not a topic he’s ever been able to bring up with FP.

Jellybean’s expression brightens as she nods her head vigorously at the thought of pancakes for dinner. Jughead simply rolls his eyes and heads upstairs to his room. There’s no homework,  it was only the first day, but he has other plans.

With his door shut and locked securely behind him, he goes into his closet and procures the old beat up shoebox he’s had to duct tape back together a few times. It’s tucked behind a box of his books he no longer has room for on the shelf.

He opens it slowly, looking over his shoulder even though he knows the door is locked. The envelopes are right where he left them. He pulls them out gingerly and holds them for a second. Each one has a unique importance to the story of his life thus far. He sifts through until he gets to the one addressed to Midge Klump.

This is what he does when he feels the old flames of his crush on her start to heat up again. He pulls out the letter he wrote and rereads it as many times as he needs before he places it back in the envelope, back in the shoe box, back behind his books, at the back of his closet.

Dear Midge,

Yesterday Toni came over and told me you and her are officially together. In the back of my mind, I knew this was coming. I knew it last week when Toni told me about you and her hooking up. The smile on her face was one I hadn’t seen in a while. I can’t help but feel happy for her while also feeling sad for myself.

The truth is, I liked you first. Do you remember that party at Cheryl's when you fell into my lap? I know it sounds cheesy but I swear I felt something between us in that moment. Even after, every time I saw you, there was something there.

Toni is my best friend, my person, which is why I’m writing you this letter. To say goodbye to what could have been between us. It’s a funny feeling, saying goodbye to something you’ve never had, and never will have, but it has to be done.

Before I do though, I want to tell you all the things I like about you. I like your short hair. It’s different than all the other girls at school. I like how you don’t seem to care. You’ve got the prettiest hazel eyes I’ve ever seen, they always seem to change depending on the light and your mood. You read a poem you wrote in class a few weeks back and it was so good, the best. I wanted to tell you, but I couldn’t.

I hope you and Toni last for a really long time. For two reasons. One of them is selfish I know, but I can’t help it. If you last for a really long time than it will be easier for me to get over you. I can’t like my best friend’s girlfriend. I also want Toni to be happy. She deserves happiness and if you make her happy, than I want that for her.

So, I’m letting you go, Midge Klump. I’m saying goodbye to what could have been and what never will be again.

Goodbye.
Jughead.

He reads the letter over and over until he doesn’t even have to look at it because he has every word memorized. When he puts it back in the box, he takes a moment to look at the others. The letter to Toni makes him smile. He had written it the week before Freshman year started, the same night he realized he had developed feelings for her. They had spent the entire summer together, going camping, swimming at the community pool, just doing everything best friends do. It was a Friday night, the last Friday of summer, and they were at the Twilight Drive-In camped out on the hill behind the cars where teenagers who don’t drive yet or families with lots of little ones sit. There was something different about that night.

Toni had dyed her hair pink a week prior and it gave her a whole new look. This was before she had developed her bad girl aesthetic, the one she rocks with near ease now. She wouldn’t stop fidgeting with her hair, playing with it, looking at the ends.

“What up with you?” he had asked her.

“Do you like my hair? I mean the pink? Does it look okay?” Toni was never the type of girl that worried about her appearance, at least not outwardly. So the question felt like it came from left field.

“Yeah, it looks great,” Jughead replied without really even looking at her.

“You didn’t even look at me. Come on, Jones, really look at me. Tell me what you think.” She sat up then, in a criss cross position, and he did the same.

He still remembers to this day the first thought that flitted through his head in that moment. Wow, she’s beautiful. It entered his brain without warning at the same time he felt his stomach do a backflip.

“You look- it looks,” he swallowed hard, his mouth suddenly feeling as dry as the desert. Why was this so odd, giving your best friend a compliment? “It looks beautiful Toni, you look beautiful,” he had said quickly before he lost his nerve.

For the briefest of moments, a light entered Toni’s eyes followed but a look of, what could only be described as, discomfort. “Thanks, but don’t ever say that again.”

They turned their attention back to the movie and Jughead turned his attention inward, trying so hard to quell his bubbling feelings.

After writing the letter, he had found it oddly easy to move on and not like Toni in that way anymore. Even now, he’s not sure if it was a real crush or just a fleeting feeling. Either way, the letter exists, so he guesses that makes it real.

He can hear the tell tale patter of Jellybean’s footsteps coming up the stairs and he rushes to shove all the letter back in the box and put it back in it’s hiding spot. She’s already at his door, jiggling the locked handle by the time he was situated.

“What’s up?” he asks, opening the door.

“Why was your door locked, weirdo?”

He plays dumb, ‘“It was locked?” He looks down at the handle as if the idea is utterly ridiculous.

“Were you masturbating?”

Jughead nearly chokes on his own breath as he feels his whole face flush. “Forsythia! Don’t say masturbating! And no, I was not!” Forsythia is her real name, but it only gets used when she’s in trouble.

“What about masutbating?” his dad asks coming up the stairs.

“Jughead’s door was locked because he was masturbating,” Jellybean says matter of factly.

“Oh my God. Kill me now. I was not mastubating and my door wasn’t locked,” he lies. About the door, not the masturbating.

“Jug, masturbation is a healthy part of sexual exploration. Nothing to be ashamed of,” his dad says and he wants to dig a hole, crawl into it and never leave.

“I’m going to go die now.” He’s about to turn and head into his room when Jellybean cuts him off and dives onto his bed in a belly flop.

“Get dressed. We’re going to Pop’s for dinner,” she says rolling over and hanging her head upside down off the side. “Your room looks cooler upside down.”

“I thought we were having chocolate chip pancakes?” Not that Jughead minds going to Pop’s, it’s his favorite place to eat.

“No chocolate chips,” Jellybean supplies as an explanation.

Jughead nods before heading off to the bathroom. “Give me five minutes.”

The first week of school seems to fly by. By Friday, he’s got his route to each class down. He’s pretty content with his schedule, though why he’s being forced to take a home economics class he’ll never understand. He figures, at the very least, he’ll get to eat a lot of delicious food and maybe it’ll help him cook better, more healthy meals for Jellybean on the nights their dad is working late, which is most of them.

He’s sitting on the couch in the living room. Jellybean is painting her toenails and watching some reality TV show.

“Shit,” Jellybean says.

“Don’t curse Jelly- what did you do?!” Next to her foot black nail polish is spilling onto the hardwood floor. Jughead jumps up and runs to grab paper towels from the living room.

“It was an accident,” she cries, tears already streaming down her face.

“You need to be more careful, Forsythia,” he says a little louder than he intends. He doesn’t mean to scold her. Parenting a younger sibling is never something someone wants to do, but when you are given the circumstances he has, it comes with the territory.

“Don’t yell at me and don’t call me that!” Jellybean is full on hysterical at this point and between her crying and the sound of the TV, which always seems to be turned up just a notch too loud, he’s having trouble reigning in his temper.

“Than don’t be so careless!” he barks and she jumps, her face twisting with anger a second later.

She wipes her cheeks with the back of her hands. “You’re always yelling at me. I hate you!” She stomps off up the stairs, not bothering to help clean up the spill and he throws his hands up in defeat. This is how every one of their conversations ends lately and he’s growing more and more tired of it. More and more tired of being a parent and not just a normal teenager.

It’s at that moment his dad walks through the door with a few bags of groceries. “What was all the yelling? I could hear you guys outside.”

“Jellybean spilled nail polish on the floor,” he explains wiping up the last of it.

“Well okay, it was just an accident though, right?”

“Of course, but still. She’s careless.”

“She’s ten Jughead. Of course she’s careless. You need to cut her some slack.” Jughead rolls his eyes and refrains from saying what he really wants to say. No one cut me slack at ten. “Come help me put these away.”

Jughead helps his dad put away the groceries. They never really do big shopping trips, it’s always just his dad grabbing what they need on his way home from work, or leaving Jughead some money on the counter when he knows he’ll be working late. It’s probably not the best way to save money, but it works for them.

A little while later, he walks into his room just as Toni is climbing in through his window. “Why don’t you ever use the front door?”

“It’s not as fun,” she says straightening her clothes. “Get dressed loser, we’re going to a party at Cheryl’s.”

Jughead scoffs and plops down on his bed. “Pass.”

“No pass, get up. It’s the first big bash of the year and you aren’t going to sit at home with your nose buried in some true crime novel you’ve already read a thousand times shoveling handfuls of potato chips into your mouth until you pass out in your clothes.”

He gives her a blank stare. Is he really that predictable or have him and Toni just been friends for far too long?

“You know I’m right,” she says crossing her arms over her chest.

He rolls his eyes. “Fine, but I’m not staying long.”

“Atta boy.”

Cheryl Blossom is Riverdale’s ’It’ girl. Mostly because she’s filthy rich. Her family are among the first settlers of Riverdale and made a fortune early on by tapping maple trees and making Blossom Maple Syrup, a staple at every breakfast table in town. Her house, an estate called Thornhill, sits about a mile outside of town. The main house is technically a mansion, though even the pool house could be considered one as well, but that’s not where Cheryl holds her parties.

Thistle House sits on the furthest outskirts of the property. It was originally built as a second home for Blossom relatives who wanted to come and stay, or even live temporarily. Nowadays, it’s serves primarily as Cheryl’s residence, having moved out of the main house her freshman year, after her twin brother died in a car accident.

Jughead has always felt as though the Blossom’s were The Addam’s family, only way more creepy. The Blossom’s are known, not only for the maple syrup, but also for their striking red hair, and there’s a rumor that Cheryl’s dad has a different wig for each day of the week because he’d gone grey years ago. There’s also been a lot of rumors circulating about the relationship between Cheryl and her brother, the word ‘twincest’ being thrown around, but they mostly died when he did.

Like always, the place was packed. Students from Riverdale High, as well as the neighboring towns of Greendale and Midvale coming together to celebrate the first week of the new school year being over. Jughead and Toni make their way to the backyard where Toni can smoke a cigarette. There are people swimming in the pool in varying states of undress, others scattered about smoking pot and drinking. Jughead himself doesn’t really partake in any of those things, so he finds a seat near Toni and people watches.

Midge shows up at some point and the three of them are deep in conversation about the latest episode of Game of Thrones when the sound of Betty Cooper yelling catch their attention.

“Are you serious right now, Archie?” It’s clear she’s upset, even in low lighting of the lanterns strung all around the yard, he can see her eyes brimming with tears.

“Betty, please. Let’s go talk about this somewhere else, somewhere private,” Archie pleads, trying to keep his voice low. At this point, everyone’s stopped talking and somewhere someone even cut the music that had been playing. It’s like they’re all in the movie and the record scratches to a stop.

“I don’t want to go anywhere with you!” Betty walks off, Ethel Muggs and a small group of girls trailing behind her. Archie stands there rubbing the back of his neck. Behind him, Reggie Mantle and Chuck Clayton stay silent, sipping from their cups.

“Shit, that was entertaining,” Toni says beside him. After a beat, their conversation and the ones around them resume, the previous interruption completely forgotten.

Jughead makes it home just after midnight, much to Toni’s dismay. He’s never really been the party type, but Toni always seems to have a way of making him do things he doesn’t want to do.

It’s Wednesday went it happens. He’s walking back from the football field after eating lunch on the bleachers. Midge had a lab assignment to do, so Toni had decided to ditch to get Subway.

“Jughead.” He stops when hears his name being called but is isn’t until Betty Cooper is nearly right in front of him that he realizes it’s her calling him. “Hey,” she says a bit out of breath.

“Hey,” he replies though he has no idea why she’s here, talking to him. They haven’t really talked since he moved to the Southside in the seventh grade.

“So listen, I think you’re a really great guy, and any girl would be super lucky to date you but it’s just not gonna happen.”

Huh?

She’s fidgeting and it’s not until he looks down that he sees her holding a yellowed envelope with his return address. It’s hits him like a punch to the chest; his letter. “Oh my God.”

“And I’m really flattered, I mean what you said about my hair,” she blushes and tugs on her ponytail a bit. Jughead cringes.

It’s been almost five years since he’s written the letter and he can’t for the life of him remember much of what he’d written. “Betty, I don’t-” He stops short when he, over Betty’s shoulder, can see Midge walking up. His eyes immediately shoot down to her hand. She’s holding the same yellowed envelope.

His letters.

They are out.

This is not a drill.

Betty is talking but he’s having trouble hearing her over the sound of his own heart beating in his ear drums. This is his worst nightmare come alive and his fight or flight response is rapidly kicking in. He can’t face Midge. If he does, she’ll know his feeling for her are still very present and it will ruin his friendship with Toni.

Midge is still a few feet away. “Betty, Betty stop. Stop talking,” he says as fast as he can placing his hands on her shoulders. “I don’t like you. That letter- it’s old, you were never meant to see it.” Midge has slowed down, her eyes moving back and forth between Betty and Jughead when he realizes how they must look, standing so close with his hands on her shoulders. That’s when the idea pops into his head. He looks back at Betty. “And please don’t take this the wrong way but, I’m going to kiss you right now. Is that okay?” He knows he sounds crazy. He can see it on Betty’s face that he sounds and looks like a crazy person right now.

“Um, yea sure,” she says nodding her head.

Before he can second guess himself, his lips are landing on hers. She tastes like vanilla and cherries and suddenly he remembers what he’d written in his letter. They don’t kiss for long, though Betty’s hands do somehow make it to the back of his neck.

When they part, Midge is walking in the other direction and he sighs in relief.

“Okay, what was that?” Betty is standing there expectantly, her fingers hovering over her lips when the bell chimes.

“I- I’ll explain later.” He takes off toward the school in a jog. He’s not sure where the sudden athleticism comes from, but he runs all the way into the school, out the front door, and into his car.

Metaphorically, he doesn’t stop running until he’s home, barreling into his closet and tearing through it in search of his shoebox. It’s not there. The letter aren’t there. Not even the ones he didn’t address.

He sits down in the pile of clothes on his closet floor and buries his head in his hands, “SHIT!”

 

Chapter Text

Jughead is pacing back and forth in his room trying to figure out how something like this could even happen when Toni comes tumbling through his window.

“Explain yourself freak,” she says tossing his letter at him. The envelope had been ripped open.

If it was possible for the world to open up and swallow him whole, it would be great if it could happen right now. He couldn’t even look at Toni. Unlike Betty’s letter, he remembered exactly what he had written in Toni’s. He’d never be able to scrub that from his mind.

Dear Toni,

I think I fell in love with you tonight. Maybe it’s not love but it’s something. We’ve been best friends for as long as I can remember but, until tonight, I had never looked at you like that. I don’t think you feel the same though and that’s okay.

I really like your hair pink. I meant it when I said you looked beautiful, even though I know it made you feel weird.

Obviously, I know we will never be anything more than best friends, and that’s probably for the best. That’s why I’m writing this letter. I just wanted to get these thoughts and feelings down so that I can remember that I had them.

Who knows, maybe when we are like forty years old, if we are both still single, we can get married and it will be our time. I think that would be really cool, even if the idea of still being single at forty is a little sad. At least we’d have each other.

I love being your best friend, Toni. I just hope that one day when you fall in love with some smooth talking bad boy you don’t forget me.

I guess that’s all.

Love,
Jughead.

Jughead clears his throat before speaking. “For the record, you were never supposed to see this.” He pulls at the sides of the crown shaped beanie that had had a permanent spot on the top of his head since his mom knitted it for him a year before she took off. It’s like a security blanket-- a nervous habit he can’t shake.

“I mean, I think that’s pretty obvious. But like…” She makes a what the hell face as she gestures toward the letter in his hand.

He’s never told anyone about his letters, he’s never had to. They were something personal, something he did just for him and now that they’re out, it’s like he’s standing in front of a room full of people, completely naked. Toni isn’t the judgmental type, she’s lived through way too much, but the idea of telling her about the letters, about why he wrote them make him feel like a child again and he doesn’t like it.  

“I wrote it like a week before Freshman year. I know in the letter I say I fell in love with you, but honestly it was just a crush and it was over so quickly.”

“So then why did you decide to mail it out now?” she asks with a lighter tone that instantly makes Jughead relax.

“I didn't. I have no idea how this got out,” he says and it’s the truth. He doesn’t tell her about the other letters. If he doesn’t tell her about them then he doesn’t have to lie about the letter to Midge and, for now, that seems like the best plan.

Toni takes a minute to let this all soak in. “Well, I mean, yeah.”

“Yeah, what?”

“If we’re still single when we’re forty, I will gladly marry you, lover boy,” she says as a smile spreads across her face and Jughead falls backwards onto his bed, covering his face with his hands.

“Stop. Can we please pretend this never happened?”

“Fine by me,” she says and starts making her way to the window. “Man, I can’t wait to tell Midge about this.”

Jughead’s blood runs cold. Midge. If Toni tells Midge about her letter, then Midge will tell Toni about hers. Before he can do anything, she’s already out the window and down the latter. He’s not even sure if he can do anything. He doesn’t want to confront Midge. Having to deal with Betty and Toni had been bad enough, but those crushes were old, the letters had put them to bed long ago.

It wasn’t so simple with Midge.

While all of his other letters had done their job in helping him close that certain chapter of his life, the one to Midge hadn’t. It’s almost a year later and his crush is still going strong. Not that it matters, he’d never do anything to mess up his best friend’s relationship, but he knows that if Toni found out about the letter, if she confronted him, she’d see it in his eyes. She’d see that he still had those feelings and everything would be ruined. Well, maybe not ruined, but nothing would be like it is now.

It’s Wednesday,  that means that Midge has swim practice until late. Unlike his or Toni’s parent’s, Midge’s are pretty strict. They were okay with her dating a girl, even if they weren’t too fond of Toni, but they had rules that had to be followed. She wasn’t allowed out on school nights and he knows this isn’t something Toni, or Midge, would want to tell the other over text. He figures he can count his lucky stars on that one. He’s got a least another day before his whole life blows up.

Jellybean had guitar lessons after school and had made plans to eat dinner at a friend house after and his dad had texted earlier saying he’d be working late, but that he left some money on the counter for Pop’s. Jughead can’t think of a better way to drown his sorrows than in a chocolate milkshake and a greasy burger, so he grabs the money and heads to Pop’s.

It’s pretty dead, though that didn’t surprise him, it was the middle of the week after all. After giving Pop his order, Jughead takes a seat in a booth in the very back. He’s brought his laptop and three different books. He’s determined to get his brain to hyper focus on something other than the fact that his life is about to implode.

He’s about to take the first bite of his burger when Betty Cooper slides into the booth across from him.

“Hey there.”

He freezes. In all the panic about Toni and Midge, he’d completely forgotten about Betty. More specifically he’d completely forgotten about the fact that he’d kissed Betty.

“Hi.”

She reaches across the table and steals a fry from his plate, dunking it in his milkshake before popping it in her mouth.

“So, I’m going to try this again. Just so we are crystal clear. Your letter, it was super sweet, and that kiss was,” she pauses, her cheeks flushing slightly as she looks away from him briefly, “something. But Jughead, this isn’t going to-”

“Please stop. Are you about to reject me right now?” he asks, putting his burger back on the plate. It will have to wait.

“Well, I wouldn’t say rejecting, but yes.”

“Betty, I told you. I don’t like you like that,” he says tugging on his beanie.

“Well yeah, you did say that, but then you kissed me.”

Jughead rubs his hands over his face. She has a point. “I kissed you so that the person I do like wouldn’t know that I like them.” Now that he’s saying it out loud he realizes how ridiculous it sounds.

“Wait. What?” she says leaning forward. “Who is it that you like?”

Jughead shakes his head.

“Out with it, Jones. I let you kiss me. You owe me the truth.” She crosses her arms over her chest and fixes him with a look.

She has another point.

Jughead sighs for the tenth time today, now using both hands to tug on his beanie. Clearly he’s uncomfortable. “Midge Klump.”

“Isn’t she dating Toni? Who is, like, your best friend, right?”

Jughead is slightly impressed that Betty knows this. “Yes. Which is why you can see my dilemma. She got a letter too and--”

Betty’s jaw dropping stops him mid sentence. Why was he telling her this anyway? “You wrote Midge Klump a letter, too? Wow. A girl starts to feel special and she finds out he wrote another girl one as well.” She scoffs.

He rolls his eyes. As if Betty Cooper didn’t feel special enough everyday. “I actually wrote five letters.” Again, why was he telling her this?

Her eyebrows shoot up to her hairline. “That’s-- wow.” She shakes her head and steals another fry from his plate. That’s two fries since she sat down. “So what are you going to do about it?”

“I have no clue, but it’s not something you need to worry about.” He signals for Pop to bring him a to go box. If he sits here any longer, he won’t have a fries left.

Betty watches while he packs up, chewing on her bottom like she’s lost in thought. “Well, thank you for earlier, and um, see you around,” he says before getting up to leave. She simply nods and smiles.

He’s just about to start his car when a knock on his passenger window makes him jump. It’s Betty again. He leans over and rolls down the window. “Did I forget something?”

She reaches in, unlocks the door, then pulls it open and climbs in all before Jughead has a chance to object. “You kissed me so that Midge would think something was going on between us right? So she wouldn’t know you still like her?”

He nods. “I hadn’t exactly put that much thought into it but, yea basically.” Where is she going with this?

“So, what are you going to tell her when she asks about us?”

He hadn’t thought of that. “I-- I don’t really know. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. Why do you care, Betty?”

She’s chewing her lip again, fidgeting with her fingers in her lap. “Well, what if you didn’t tell her anything? What if you just let her think we’re together?”

Jugheads brows knit together. “What?”

“Hear me out,” she says squaring her shoulders. “Since you kissed me, Archie has apparently been blowing up everyone’s phones. He’s jealous. If he thought we were actually dating, well that would just drive him insane.”

Jughead scoffs. “So, you just want to use me to make Archie jealous. Come on Betty, that’s ridiculous.”

She scoff right back. “I’m pretty sure you used me first. Besides, you’ve got more at stake in this game than I do. I just want to make Archie jealous, piss him off for a bit. You’re trying to keep your friendship intact.”

He hates to admit it, but she has a point. That was the reason he had kissed her in the first place and it worked, even if only for the moment. If Toni thought he was already in a relationship with Betty, than the letter wouldn’t mater.

He shakes his head. No. Sure, he had started this by kissing her, and that was wrong of him, but he couldn’t take it that far. A fake relationship? Is his life becoming a poorly written fanfiction trope?

“That’s--“

“Don’t say anything,” she says quickly, holding up a hand to cut him off. “Just, think about it.” She’s out of the car and sprinting off back toward the diner before he can even blink.

The whole drive home, and the rest of the night, he can’t stop thinking about her ridiculous proposal. Is it crazy? Absolutely. Could he even pull it off? Probably not.

That’s the kicker for him. He’s not sure he’s a good enough actor to pretend to be in a relationship with someone. He’s never had a girlfriend before and has only ever kissed two girls.

Who would even believe them? It’s not like he’s popular like she is, though he knows that doesn’t matter as much he pretends it does. He’s not exactly a loser and Betty has only ever been nice. In fact, the whole group of them that used to be the neighborhood crew, aside from Archie, have always been at the very least, cordial. Slight nods to each other in passing, half smiles from across the cafeteria when accidental eye contact happened.

Still. Fake dating Betty Cooper just isn’t something he could do.

It’s lunch time the next day and he’s back on the bleachers by the football field. He’s strategically avoided Toni and Midge to the best of his ability. There’s no way Midge hasn’t shown Toni the letter by now, so when he spots Toni stomping over to him, he knows the figurative shit is about to hit the fan.

Anger is radiating off of her and he quickly stuffs his half eaten ham and cheese sandwich back in the bag, his appetite now long gone.

“What the fuck, Forsythe,” she says throwing the letter at him.

Jughead fumbles to catch it before it hits the wet ground. “Just-- wait, it’s-- Toni, it’s not what you think.”

“It’s not? Jughead that letter isn’t like mine. It’s recent, fresh. More.. mature.” Her face scrunches up on the last word. “You said nothing about writing Midge a letter when I was over last night.”

“Because it was too weird. She’s your girlfriend, Toni. I just--”

“Do you still like her?”

There it is. The question he knew she’d ask. He knows her to well and she the same for him. “No,” he answers after probably a beat to long.

“I don’t believe you,” she quickly replies, crossing her arms over her chest and shifting her weight to one hip.

“I like someone else.” The words come out of his mouth with so much ease that even he feels surprised.

Toni’s eyebrows shoot to the sky. “Who?”

This is it he thinks. He’s doing it. “Betty Cooper.”

Years down the road, when he’s amid his midlife crisis, he figures he’ll look back on this as the exact moment his sanity started to slip away from him. Surely there’s got to be something wrong with him to be actively engaging in what has got to be the most ridiculous thing he’s ever heard. Betty will be pleased, he’s sure.

“Betty Cooper?” If this were a cartoon, Toni’s jaw would be on the floor. “So, Midge was right?” Her voice raises slightly at the end of that sentence.

Instinctively, he goes to tug on the edge of his beanie but he knows Toni will see that as a sign of nerves. Instead, he chooses to rub the back of his neck and try to smile in that charming dude way. “Yeah, she uh, she found me after she got her letter and we just, like, talked and it turns out she kinda likes me, too.”

“Wait.” She closes her eyes and shakes her head like she’s trying to figure out a really difficult math problem. “You wrote Betty Cooper a letter, too?”

He answers with a shrug and a nod.

“Is that it or at there more? And what was the point of them?”

He sighs and sits down and gestures for her to do the same. She’s hesitant, but she takes a seat next to him, sliding her bag to the side. “I’m not like most guys.” He cringes. Worst line ever. “That’s-- I don’t mean it like that. I’m not charming or smooth. I’m definitely not any kind of ladies man.” He uses his fingers to quote the last phrase. More cringe. “Whenever I had a crush on a girl, to get over it, because I mean I was obviously never going to act on it, I would write these letters as a sort of goodbye to that crush. A way to get over it. And it worked, mostly.”

“Mostly?” she questions.

It didn’t work for Midge, but he can’t say that. “Yeah I mean, I guess it didn’t really work for Betty.”  It doesn’t feel good to lie to his best friend. What feels even worse is how easy it seems to be. He thought for sure she would be able to see right through him.

Toni is quiet for a while as she takes it all in. Jughead fights off the urge to tug on his beanie, even sitting on his hands to keep them still. “You should have told me.”

He turns to her. “Should have told you what?”

“That you liked Midge, asshole,” she says punching him in the arm. He rubs at it. “I wouldn’t have dated her.”

He shakes his head quickly. “Stop. I was never going to act on my crush on Midge.” That much is the truth. “If I had told you, we would both still be single and miserable and what good is that?”

“So you and Betty Cooper, huh?”

He smiles. “Yea it’s, a-- it’s something right?”

“Yeah. It’s something.”

He doesn’t have Betty’s cell phone number. He knows where she lives but he’s almost positive after school on most days she has cheerleading practice on the football field so that’s where he finds himself after the last bell has rung.

He still can’t believe he’s going to go through with this. What will fake dating Betty Cooper even be like? The only thing he really knows about her is that she’s a cheerleader, she writes for the school newspaper, and she’s Archie’s girlfriend-- ex-girlfriend. As kids, she was really into playing detective and looking for clues. He always liked that about her. That and the fact that she always had snacks or was baking cookies. He wonders if she still bakes.

“Betty!” he calls to her as he approaches the group of cheerleaders spread out on the side of the football field stretching. The football team isn’t too far off, practicing for the game Friday night.

She straightens up and closes the gap between them. “Hey there, Romeo,” she with a smirk.

He groans. “First of all, don’t call me that. Second, let’s do this.”

She seems surprised, her mouth dropping open a bit. “Are you sure?”

No. He’s not sure. Not even a little. Not at all. But at this point, that doesn’t matter much. “Yup.”

A slow, creepy smile starts to spread across her face. She looks around for a moment, for what he’s not sure, and then without warning her lips are on his. They’re soft and warm and her hands are already tugging on the hair at the nape of his neck. He’s not sure what to do with his own so he just settles them on her waist. The kiss doesn’t last long and when she pulls away she winks.

He wonders if this is what kissing someone is supposed to feel like. There’s no fireworks or bolts of electricity running through his body, though his lips tingle a bit. It was just nice .

“Just let me grab my bag and we can go,” she says before running off.

He can feel everyone’s eyes on him. The cheerleaders, the football team, the people in the stands just hanging out. They’re all just looking at him, watching. Archie Andrews is standing in the middle of the field glaring at him.

“Come on,” Betty says once she’s returned. She takes his hand in hers and interlocks their fingers.

They find a bench under a tree in front of the school. Betty pulls out a notebook and a blue sparkly pen and writes CONTRACT at the top.

“Contract?” he questions her.

“Yes. I think it’ll be important just to lay down some ground rules. Just so we both know what to expect from this.”

He nods. It makes sense. He pulls his half eaten sandwich and bag of chips from lunch out of his bag and starts eating it. Betty reaches over and steals a chip.

“Okay first rule, you need to stop stealing my food,” he says moving the bag of chips away from her.

“Seriously?” She’s offended.

“Yes.” He dead pans.

She sighs and rolls her eyes at that but then writes down Betty Cooper will not steal Jughead Jones food.

He smiles approvingly. “Thank you.”

“You have to come to the football games and watch me cheer AND come to parties with me,” she says pointing the end of her pen at him.

“All the games?” he groans.

“Just the home games. We don’t cheer at the away ones.” Turning her attention back to the paper she writes it down. Jughead has to attend all of the home football games and go to-

“Some parties. I’ll go to some of them with you. Not all,” he says before she finishes.

-some parties with her. At least two a month. She looks up at him for approval and he nods.

“What else?” she asks.

He thinks for a moment when it pops into his head. “I don’t think we should kiss anymore.”

“Wait, what? People will never believe we are in a relationship if they don’t see us kiss!”

“They’ve seen us kiss, twice now. Besides, if anyone asks, we can just say I’m not into PDA. This is a fake relationship and kissing is, well it’s just too real.” The truth is he’s never been in a relationship and a part of him doesn’t want all of his firsts to occur within this fake one. If he’s going to kiss someone on a consistent basis, he wants it to be real.

“Fine, but you have to give me something. Archie and I were very physical and if we don’t at least show a little PDA, no one will believe it.”

He cringes. Gross. “I don’t want to hear about you and Archie being physical. We can hold hands, and hug, and all that stuff, just no kissing. I could even put my hand in your back pocket, like that movie with the candles.”

Betty face lights up. “Sixteen candles! That’s actually really cute, Juggie!” He ignores the nickname as she writes down, NO KISSING. Jughead will walk with his hand in Betty’s back pocket. Hand holding and hugging okay.

“I want you to write me notes,” she says.

“What kind of notes?”

“I don’t know.” She suddenly looks very shy and he can see a faint blush on her cheeks. “I just always wanted Archie to write me notes everyday and he never did.” Now she looks sad and it makes his heart pang.

“I’ll write you notes,” he says.

She smiles and writes down, Jughead will write Betty notes.

“Last rule. Most important,” he says straightening up. “Under no circumstances can anyone ever find out this relationship is fake. I mean, even after it’s over. It’ll be too embarrassing and completely undo everything it was meant to do.” If Toni ever found out he entered into a fake relationship just to avoid telling her the truth, she’d never forgive him.

“Deal,” she says and writes it down.

After she’s done, she signs it and passes it to Jughead to sign. He reads it over quickly and signs under her name. It’s official, he’s fake dating Betty Cooper.

They both start to get up when Betty asks if he can drive her home and he agrees, as long as she doesn’t mind tagging along to pick his little sister up from guitar lessons. She doesn’t, so they make their way to his car and drive across town to the music store to pick up his sister.

Jellybean climbs into the back seat and instantly leans forward and says to Betty, “Who are you?”

“Jellybean!” Jughead scolds.

“I’m Betty Cooper. I’m Jughead’s girlfriend.”

Jughead and Jellybean both seem to choke on nothing. “Girlfriend? Jeez Jug, how did you manage that? Did you pay her?”

Betty giggles beside him and he rolls his eyes. “Sit back and put your seatbelt on.”

She laughs but does as she’s told and he pulls out of the parking lot. He drops Betty off at home first. He’s not sure if he should get out and walk her to the door or what, but she solves that by leaning across the seat and giving him a goodbye kiss on his cheek before getting out. A kiss on the cheek, a loophole, he supposes.

At home, he cooks spaghetti for himself and Jellybean. It’s her favorite to eat and his favorite to cook since it’s so easy. They are sitting in the living room eating when their dad comes through the door.

“Jughead has a girlfriend!” Jellybean announces. He shoots hers a look.

“Really? That’s awesome kid,” his dad says taking a seat next to him. “Who is the lucky gal?”

“Betty Cooper,” Jellybean replies before he can.

“Really, Jelly?” he says giving her another look. She mouths sorry and turns her attention back to the TV, shoveling large bites of pasta into her mouth.

“Cooper, Cooper, I think I went to school with a Cooper,” his dad says rubbing his chin.

“I don’t know her parents names,” Jughead says.

“Well you should find out. And invite the girl over for dinner. I’d love to meet your first girlfriend,” his dad says, patting him on the shoulder before getting up and heading into the kitchen.

Jughead is still stuck on the words first girlfriend .

It’s the next morning and Jughead is at his locker when Betty comes stomping up. “What gives?” she says, her arms crossed.

“Good morning to you do,” he replies.

“Don’t ‘good morning’ me. Why didn’t you pick me up for school?”

He stares are her blanky for a minute. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know I was picking you up. It’s not in the contract.”

Betty puts her hand on his mouth, looking around suspiciously. Her hands smells like coconuts. “Don’t talk about that outloud. Not everything has to be in the,” she pauses looking around again and then moves closer and drops her voice to a whisper, “contract.” She removes her hand from his mouth but doesn’t back up. “I’m your girlfriend, you’re supposed to give me rides to and from school.” She tugs on the lapels on his unbuttoned flannel shirt.

To anyone passing by or glancing over, they probably look like a couple having an intimate moment. It’s surprising to him how easy it is to make it look real. Really all he has to do is stand there and let Betty do all the work, it would be so easy.

He tucks a strand of hair that has escaped her pony tail behind her ear and then lets his knuckles drag softly along her jaw before saying, “Sorry. Won’t happen again.”

Betty freezes for a millisecond, smiling and biting on her bottom lip, before whispering, “Wow. That was really good.”

Jughead can’t help but laugh. She again takes his hand in hers and they makes their way to first period English. This is the only class they have together, which coincidentally, they also have with Toni, Midge, and Archie. This will be the first test, the real test, on whether or not they can sell this.

Jughead let’s Betty lead him into the classroom. The moment he steps inside the door he can feel the energy in the room change. He knew being attached to Betty would make him more visible, he just hadn’t expected it to be this visible. Toni and Midge are the first ones he notices, their eyebrows raised, jaws nearly on the floor. Toni seems almost impressed but there’s a different look in Midge’s eye, something he can’t place. Archie is, of course, steaming. He’s shooting daggers at the pair while Reggie and Chuck simply look amused.

“Everyone’s staring at me,” he whispers to Betty as they take a seat at a table in the back.

“That’s kinda the point, isn’t it?” she whispers back.

He tugs on his beanie, “Yeah, I guess.”

She seems to sense his unease because she grabs his hands under the table and squeezes, offering him a gentle smile. It’s a sweet gesture, really sweet and he smiles back without realizing it.

The rest of the morning goes about the same. Each time Jughead enters a classroom, he feels the heat of everyone’s gaze fixed on him. It’s an uneasy feeling but he figures eventually, he’ll get used to it.

He’s standing at the doorway to the cafeteria when Betty slides up next to him and tugs on his sleeve. “Hand. Back pocket. Now,” she whispers.

He cringes internally. Ideally, it sounds like a simple enough task but as he’s sliding his arm around her, his hand searching for her back pocket, he realize he’s essentially going to be groping her ass and suddenly feels flustered. Betty reaches behind her and directs his hand into the pocket and they walk like that over to an empty table.  

They sit down and Betty starts unpacking her lunch as Jughead digs his out of his backpack. “Another ham and cheese sandwich?” she asks looking over at his lunch.

“Yeah, what's wrong with that?” he replies. In front of her, Betty has a salad. “Better than a salad,” he says poking at her bowl. She shoos his hand away.

“So, let’s talk about tonight. Reggie is having a party and I know for a fact that Archie will be there. I’m pretty sure Toni and Midge will be too. So, two birds, one stone,” she says before forking a piece of kale and shoving it into her mouth.

Jughead makes a face. “Yeah, Toni may have mentioned something about it.”

“Reggie said it starts at eight, but I figure we could show up at like ten? Maybe grab some burgers before hand. He never has any food and you do not want to drink on an empty stomach.”

“I don’t drink at all, but yeah, that sounds fine,” he replies through a bite of his sandwich.

“You don’t?” She questions. He shakes his head. “Hmm okay. Good thing you’re driving than.” He rolls his eyes.

They eat their lunch in an amicable silence, glancing over at each other every so often and smiling. Being around Betty in general is easier than he had expected. He thinks he remembers that about her, how easy and outgoing she was, but it was so long ago he can’t be sure. When they finish, he throws away their trash and she waits for him by the door.

“Hey so, I just thought of something,” he says, easily sliding his hand into her back pocket this time.

“What’s that?” she asks.

“I don’t have your number.”

Betty looks up at him and laughs, throwing her head back. It’s not for show, she’s genuinely laughing and he finds it’s oddly endearing.

“We’re the worst fake couple ever,” she says softly burying her face into his side.

He can’t help but laugh in return catching sight of Archie looking their way over his shoulder. He’s not sure why, but it feels good. Seeing Archie angry, jealous even, makes him feel good. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea, he thinks as they make their way out of the cafeteria.

 

Chapter Text

Jughead groans, throwing his head back like he’s in pain as Betty pulls him along, her fingers interlocked with his. It’s not that he doesn’t want to go to a party at Reggie Mantle’s -- well okay, that’s exactly it. Never once has Reggie personally invited him to a party, not since middle school, at least before Jughead moved over to the Southside and became an outcast. The only reason he’s going tonight is because of the contract, as Betty’s plus one.

“Stop acting like a child,” she says when they reach the door. A bass heavy song can be heard from outside.

“If I continue to act like a child, will it get you to let me go home?” he whines.

“Not a chance. Give me your phone,” she demands. He huffs but pulls his phone from his back pocket, unlocking it with his thumbprint as he hands it over. Betty pulls up the camera, switching it to selfie mode, and then positions it out in front of her as she tilts her head to the side and smiles. She only takes one, which surprises him, and when she hands it back, the picture is now his lock screen. She then takes out her own phone, repeating the first steps, only this time she turns so she’s standing in front of him a bit.

“Smile,” she says and he does as she quickly snaps the picture. A minute later, she holds up her phone and shows him her lock screen set with the picture they just took.

“Is that all really necessary?” he asks.

“Yup,” she answers simply. After she quickly checks herself in her phone again, she slips it back into her purse. “Ready?”

Jughead’s gut bubbles with anxiety. He tugs on the edge of his beanie and responds, “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

Reggie’s house is nothing compared to Cheryl’s but it’s still one of the biggest in Riverdale, definitely bigger and nicer than anything on the Southside. Jughead remembers the basic layout from when they were kids, and as far as he can tell nothing has changed.

Inside there are at least fifty people from his class, most of whom he recognizes. Betty leads him through the different groups of people gathered in the living room to the backyard where there are some people swimming in what he’s sure aren’t bathing suits. There’s a hot tub as well that seems to be heavily occupied. He assumes the pool is heated as well because even though it’s not freezing outside just yet, it’s definitely too chilly to swim.

“Jug!” He hears his name being called and turns to find Toni and Midge camped out around a small fire pit. Toni smiles and waves as she blows a cloud of smoke into the air.

“Do you mind?” he turns to ask Betty.

“Go ahead. I’ll come over in a second. I just want to go say hi to everyone,” she replies. He nods and goes to turn away but she pulls on his sleeve before leaning in close and kissing him on the cheek. It’s soft and slow, deliberately so, and when she pulls away she’s biting her lip. He feels his cheeks burn hot and hopes anyone watching will interpret the nervous smile he gives her as affection and not embarrassment. He makes sure to watch her walk away for a moment before he heads over to Toni and Midge, knowing they will be watching him.

“Hey guys,” he says taking a seat next to Toni. Before, he would have chosen to sit next to Midge, not because he likes her, but because he doesn’t like breathing in Toni’s smoke, but now, it feels like the better choice to keep his distance.

“I cannot believe you and Betty fucking Cooper are a thing,” Toni says taking a drag of her cigarette and blowing the smoke straight up. “You’re into that?” she gestures with her hand toward Betty. He watches the red glow of her cigarette bob as she waves her hand up and down.

“What do you mean?” he asks.

“No offense, but I never pegged you as the type of guy who would be into the whole ‘girl next door’ thing.”

Jughead glances over toward Betty who is standing between Moose Mason and Reggie, laughing about something. Tonight, she’s wearing a pair of dark denim skinny jeans with little-heeled boots and a pastel pink sweater that fits kind of snug. In truth, he thinks she looks nice, pretty even. Her hair is down, which is a change from the ponytail she usually wears and she looks happy and casual. He hasn’t really looked at her like this since they were kids, but now that he is, it’s clear how beautiful she really is.

“Whoa! Look at him swoon,” Midge says, interrupting his thoughts.

He rolls his eyes and adjusts his beanie. “I wasn’t swooning.” He wasn’t, but he guesses it’s actually fine if they think he was.

“Yea right. Look up the definition of heart eyes in the dictionary and you’ll see the way Jughead Jones looks at Betty Cooper ,” Midge says and there's an edge to her tone that he doesn’t really like. Toni doesn’t seem to notice it, laughing as she puts out her cigarette and he decides to ignore it.

They sit and chat about nothing in particular for a little while before Toni declares she needs to pee and get something to drink. They head into the house and he’s left sitting by the fire mostly by himself. Betty had wandered off from where she was standing a few minutes earlier with Veronica Lodge.

He finds that interesting since the week before Betty and Archie broke up there had been a rumor that Archie and Veronica had hooked up over the summer. Obviously, he has no idea if it’s true or not, though a part of him wants to ask Betty about it. He’s just about to text her to ask if they can leave yet when Archie, Reggie, Moose, and Kevin Keller come walking toward him.

“Jughead Jones! You haven’t been to one of my parties in years, dude! How’s it going?” Reggie says a little more enthusiastically than Jughead is used to. He slaps Jughead hard on the back as he takes a seat next to him.

“It’s going good Reggie, how about you?” he says rubbing the back of his neck. From the corner of his eye, he can see Archie, standing off the side leaning against the house with his arms crossed over his chest, looking bored.

“Man it’s great. I’m always great. So dude, come one, you gotta spill. You and Betty Cooper? When did this happen? HOW did this happen?” The rest of the group seems equally as interested in the details of his and Betty’s relationship, leaning forward a bit in anticipation.

Jughead suddenly feels like his chest is tightening. In all their planning and making of contracts and lock screen changing, they hadn’t even once managed to discuss what they would tell people when they asked. He clears his throat, resisting the urge to reach up and touch his beanie. “I mean, you know,” he starts, trying desperately to stall. It seems his brain has chosen this exact moment to stop working. “We just, uh, started hanging out a few weeks ago, and um, the rest, as they say, is history.” He immediately cringes.

“No, no, no no no. You gotta give us more than that. Come on man! How on earth did you manage to steal Betty Cooper away from Archibald over here?” he says gesturing toward Archie who looks like he’d rather be chewing glass than be present for this conversation.

“I.. I..” he starts to say.

“Hey guys,” he’s cut off by Betty approaching and slipping into his lap. She wraps her arms around his neck and he does the same with him on her waist. He’s never been happier to see her before in his life. He’s so happy he even squeezes her a little, pulling her even closer. “Juggie,” she says with a giggle.

“Hey Coop. We were just trying to get details out of your man about how you guys ended up together,” Reggie says leaning back in his chair.

“Oh boys, unlike some people, Juggie doesn’t kiss and tell,” she coos and then gives him a wink. He snorts trying to suppress a laugh. She’s too good at this.

At that Archie scoffs and stomps away.

“Ignore him. He’s just butthurt that he managed to lose Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge in a matter of one week,” Reggie says and instantly the tension in the air changes becomes static. He can feel Betty stiffen in his lap and Kevin and Moose look to each other like they’ve just seen a ghost. Reggie doesn’t seem to notice it at all. “Alright, I need more beer. You drinking, Jones?”

“Nah, I’m good. Thank you,” Jughead replies.

Reggie nods and walks off, Kevin and Moose following close behind.

Betty stays unmoving in his lap, wringing her fingers together.

“Hey, Betts, you okay?” he asks softly rubbing her side with his thumb. This seems to pull her out of her thoughts and she instantly brightens up.

“Yeah, I’m great,” she says and he knows it’s a lie.

“I’m starving, why don’t we go. Grab some chili fries at Pop’s.” It’s not a lie. They stopped at Pop’s and had a burger and shakes before coming but that was nearly two hours ago and his stomach was starting to rumble.

If Betty thinks this is odd she doesn’t say so. Instead, she says, “Yeah, that sounds good,” before getting up off his lap. His legs instantly feel chilly. “Um, just let me go find Ethel and,” she pauses looking around for a moment, “Veronica and say bye.”

Jughead nods. “Yeah, I should go find Toni and Midge.”

They go their separate ways, Betty off further into the yard and Jughead back into the house. It’s slightly more packed than it was when they had arrived and Jughead has to weave in and out of the throng of people. Midge and Toni aren’t in the kitchen. He knows they’ve probably wondered into some bedroom and already half undressed, the idea of walking in on that making him feel uneasy, he makes a beeline for the bathroom, thanking the universe there’s no line.

The door is shut so he knocks twice with his knuckle and when he’s about to ask if anyone is in there it swings open dramatically, revealing Archie behind it.

“What do you want?” Archie asks, with a stone cold expression.

“To go pee if you’re done,” Jughead says matter of factly.

Archie doesn’t move, instead stands there, appraising Jughead, like he’s trying to figure out how he managed to get with Betty Cooper. It’s the same look Jughead has seen on everyone’s faces today and he’s starting to hate it.

It’s not like he’s ugly, though he knows beauty and what people consider attractive are subjective. Still, he’s been told before he’s got nice eyes and he’s aware that his dark hair and olive skin are something a lot of people enjoy looking at or wish they had, as well. His style might be lacking, but it works for him. While Archie seems to be built like a Greek God, Jughead is lankier, defined well enough he thinks.

He’s not the hit the gym type of guy, but he enjoys running and during the summer sometimes, to pick up some extra cash, he’ll go along with his dad to help out on construction jobs. It seems to be enough to keep him in halfway decent shape. He’s also taller than Archie by a few inches, which he knows is a plus.

He shakes his head trying to rid the mental comparison list he was going over. He doesn’t want to be compared to Archie. “Are you going to move or would you like to join me?” Jughead asks in a clipped tone.

Archie seems taken aback but laughs to cover it up. “It won’t last.”

“What, my ability to hold my urine while you stand there checking me out? You’re right. Now, please move,” he says feeling his temper.

“You and Betty. She’s only dating you to make me jealous which,” Archie pauses once again giving Jughead a once over, “I don’t know why she chose you.”

Jughead’s had enough. “Maybe if you got your head out of your own ass and stopped looking in the mirror for five fucking minutes you’d realize Betty is so much more than what you think she is. You might be what everyone else considers the ‘hottest guy in school’ but that doesn’t matter when you have zero personality.”

Archie’s jaw clenches and his face burns as red as his hair. “You guys have been together for five fucking minutes, so don’t pretend like you are some expert on Betty.”

“Careful Arch, your jealousy is showing,” Jughead says before turning on his heel and quickly walking away.

He’s not sure why but the whole conversation has him on edge, needing to expel some sort of physical energy. He wants to punch a wall or Archie’s face or something.

When he steps out onto the front porch he spots Betty sitting on the front steps, her shoulders hunched forward in defeat. It knocks the anger right out of him. He’s starting to realize there might be some truth to the stories about Archie and Veronica and it leaves a bitter taste in his mouth.

“You ready?” he asks.

“Yeah, let’s go,” she replies.

It’s after midnight on a Friday night and Pop’s is quiet. Most teenagers are out at parties while most families are tucked into bed. There’s only one other customer, an older guy sitting in a booth in the very back with a laptop in front of him and a lone cup of coffee, typing furiously.

When Pop brings the order of chili fries Jughead asked for, and two milkshakes he hadn’t, he dives right in, taking a large bite. Betty sips gingerly at her milkshake. “Aren’t you going to eat any?” he asks through a mouth full.

“Rule number one,” she says after swallowing. Jughead gives her a bemused look and she explains, “Betty Cooper will not steal Jughead Jones food.”

He rolls his eyes. “It’s not stealing if I offer you some. Plus I ordered these for both of us. Now eat,” he says sliding the fries toward her.

She rolls her eyes but takes a fry anyway.

They eat in silence for a bit, the question on the tip of his tongue. He wants to know what happened and if the rumors are true. He also wants to know why Betty would ever think dating him would make Archie jealous, though he’s not particularly proud of that thought.

“I know you want to ask me,” Betty says suddenly.

“Ask you what?” he replies pretending like he doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

“Don’t do that. Don’t handle me with kid gloves. I know you want to know what happened between Archie and Veronica and why we broke up in the first place.”

Jughead swallows a mouthful of fries. “I didn’t mean to handle you with kid gloves, I just didn’t know if it was okay to ask.”

She shrugs. “It’s not like it’s a secret. I went away for a few weeks this summer,” she says using a napkin to wipe the corners of her mouth before settling into the booth a bit more. “I had a young writers internship out in LA. It was seriously the best experience of my life.”

Jughead smile mirrors the one on her face. She lit up like he’s never seen before. “That’s awesome, Betty.”

“It really was. I even got to meet Toni Morrison. She’s by far my greatest literary inspiration,” she casts her eyes downward before bringing them back up, almost like she’s embarrassed. “Anyway, when I came back there were these rumors. Reggie had let it slip at a party one night when he was drunk that Veronica and Archie had hooked up. I didn’t believe him at first but,” she trails off like the memory is painful.

“Was it true?” he asks.

“Veronica cracked first. In fact, she cracked before I ever even asked her. They had apparently played spin the bottle or seven minutes in heaven at Cheryl’s and she forced them into a closet and, yeah. Veronica swore it was just a kiss but Archie was different after. I could tell that he liked her.”

Jughead cringes. “Man, that sucks. I’m sorry.”

“The thing is, if he hadn’t lied when I asked, I wouldn’t have been so mad. Not to mention, when he finally told me the truth it was at Cheryl’s and everything was so--” she pauses searching for the right word, “public. I was so embarrassed.”

“You have nothing to be embarrassed about. Archie is a dick. And Veronica,”

“Don’t. I’m angry with Veronica, and I’m struggling to move past it, but she’s my best friend and she’s kept her distance from Archie ever since.”

He nods.

“So what about you, Romeo?” she asks.

“I thought we agreed you wouldn’t call me that,” he groans. Betty smiles and sips her milkshake. “What about me though?”

“How long have you been harboring a secret crush on your best friend’s girl?”

He feels like the wind has been knocked from his lungs. He tugs on the edges of his beanie.

“Did my question make you nervous?” Betty asks. “You always mess with your hat when you’re nervous.”

“Yeah, I guess it’s just a habit,” he replies instantly dropping his hands.

Betty reaches across the table and plucks the beanie from his head, placing it on her own. She takes a minute adjusting it before fixing him with a smile. “There, now you can’t mess with it.”

Something in his gut twists and clenches at the sight of Betty wearing his beanie. It doesn’t look bad on her, in fact, it looks downright adorable.

“What?” she asks with mild panic. “Does it look that bad?”

“No, not at all,” he replies softly.

She smiles and he can see a slight blush creep up on her cheeks. “Okay well, spill.”

He scrubs his hands over his face. “Technically, I started liking Midge before they started dating. I just never said anything. Then when they became official, I just moved on. Or at least tried to.”

“You still like her though, don’t you?”

An image of Midge smiling, the dimple in her left cheek more prominent than ever, and his heart twists. “Yes, I do.”

“It must be hard for you to watch her with your best friend,” Betty says, though it doesn’t seem like it’s to him. Her eyes are focused on the table.

“It is what it is. Toni is my best friend and that is what’s important.”

Betty seems to think on this for a while before blurting out, “So is Midge a lesbian?”

He laughs, “Actually I think she’s bisexual. I know she briefly dated Moose Mason freshman year. Honestly, though it’s not my place to speculate. Toni I know is for sure bi. She’s very keen on making sure people know that.”

“I forgot they dated. I think that’s awesome Toni is so sure of herself.”

“It’s one of my favorite things about her,” he replies.

An hour later he pulls up out front of her house and cuts the engine. She’s about to say bye when he remembers something. “What are we supposed to be telling people?”

“What do you mean?” she asks adjusting herself so she’s facing him.

“Like about how we got started. I mean, I told Toni that you got your letter and it turned out you like me too, but I don’t think that’s what I want to tell everyone else. I only ask because Reggie was hounding me about it earlier.”

She thinks on this, tapping her lips with her index finger. “Maybe we just tell them we had a meet-cute!”

“How could we have a meet-cute when we already knew each other?” he counters.

She huffs. “Good point.”

“I mean I ended up telling Reggie we started hanging out a few weeks ago and it went from there, but I don’t know if that’s enough.”

“I think that’s fine. If people press we can simply say it was so romantic we just want to keep it to ourselves,” she says with a wink.

He rolls his eyes. “Fine.”

“Good night, Juggie,” she says before opening the door and climbing out. He watches her walk up the long walkway and into the house.

It isn’t until he’s back at home, laying in bed that he realizes she never gave him back his beanie.

Saturday afternoon, Jughead is sprawled across the couch in the living room reading a book he picked up from the dollar bin at the thrift store when Toni comes walking down his stairs.

“The front door, Toni,” he simply says, though he knows it’s pointless. Toni has been coming in through his door since before her parents divorced when they used to fight at all hours of the night and she would just need a place to escape to.

“Midge and I got into a fight after you left,” she says, ignoring his comment as she plops down on the couch next to him.

Jughead adjusts himself on the couch to give her more room. “What about this time?”

Toni fixes him with a look. Since the beginning of their incarnation, Toni and Midge had gotten into fights on what Jughead could consider a regular basis. From what he could tell, it mostly stemmed from Toni’s own insecurities. “Cheryl Blossom.”

His snapped in her direction. “What?”

“After you left, a bunch of us got together to play spin the bottle. I know I know, it’s juvenile but when you’re drunk everything sounds like a good idea. Anyway,” she says waving her hand in the air, “when it was my turn to spin it landed on Cheryl. I was more than happy to spin again but she was all the bottle doesn’t lie so I just went for it. I kissed Cheryl Blossom.” Toni face doesn’t look disgusted, or regretful like Jughead expects it too. Instead, she seems to be almost blushing as if recalling the memory is enjoyable.

“I take it Midge wasn’t happy about that?” he asks.

Toni sighs, her eyes rolling to the back of her head. “She lost it, dude. Said it was cheating and that I was a jerk who didn’t care about her feelings. I swear that girl, sometimes I just don’t get her. We were having the best night and then, not long after you and Betty showed up, she just started having this attitude. It’s exhausting!”

“I bet,” he replies somewhat uncomfortably. He had noticed an edge to Midge’s voice at the party and maybe even a slight shift in her demeanor, but had tried not to think much of it. It was clear now it had something to do with him.

A soft knock on the front door pulls them both from their thoughts. Jughead hops up to answer it, peeking through the peephole. Standing on his front porch he could see Betty, wearing a light grey sweater, with a matching beanie, his beanie , on top of her head. He swings the door open.

“Hi,” she says with a smile. “I believe this belongs to you.” She points to her head where his beanie is sitting, just as it had been last night when she got out of his car and walked up to her front door.

He rubs the back of his neck. “ Ah yes, that it does.”

Toni appears before next to him, pulling to door open wider. “Elizabeth Cooper,” she says, one hand on her hip.

“Antoinette Topaz,” Betty replies without missing a beat, earning her a sour look from Toni. No one has called her that since the fourth grade.

“Betty was just bringing me back my beanie,” he says.

“Dude, you don’t need an excuse to have your girlfriend over. Come on in Betty, we were just talking about my insane relationship.”

Betty gives Jughead an unsure look but he simply shrugs his shoulders and moves to let her in. Aside from Toni and Midge, he’s never had a girl in his house. Not that Betty counts. She is a girl, but she’s not his girlfriend, though Toni doesn’t know that.

They all make their way to the living room, taking seats around the old sectional sofa. At first, Jughead sits directly in between Toni and Betty, about two feet between him and both girls, but then Toni gives him a funny look and gestures for him to scoot closer to Betty, so he does. It’s one thing pretending to be Betty’s boyfriend at school or at a party, but he had never anticipated having to do it in his own home.

Betty snuggles into his side easily, giving him a small smile. “So Toni, you were saying you were having relationship issues?”

They both turn their attention to Toni, whose attention is focused on her phone. For a moment, Jughead thinks she hasn’t heard Betty, but then she jumps up, depositing her phone in her back pocket before saying, “Uh yeah I was. Listen, it was nice seeing you Betty. Also, I can’t remember the last time I saw Jug without his beanie so thank you for that.”

Self-consciously Jughead’s hand flies to the top of his head when he remembers his beanie is still sitting firmly on Betty’s. She tugs at the edges and winks at him. “And I mean, let’s be real, you look way hotter in.”

Jughead feels a tug of something sour in his gut but he’s not sure what it is. “Well, thank you,” Betty says with a laugh.

“No problem. Gotta run. I’ll text you later, Jug.”

Before he can reply she’s out the door. He stares at it for a moment before Betty shifting away from him pulls his attention back to the moment. He moves his arm from around her and sits up, an awkwardness settling between them.

“She hasn’t changed at all since we were kids,” Betty says finally.

Jughead smiles. “Not at all,” he replies simply.

The silence between them stretches until he’s sure he’ll explode. “Thanks for bringing back my beanie, “ he says at the same time Betty says, “I should probably get going.”

They both laugh awkwardly. Jughead is about to say something more when the front door opens. Jellybean comes through first, with his dad close behind carrying a few bags of groceries and Jellybean’s swim gear. He jumps up to help his dad.

“How did your swim meet go?” he asks as he takes a bag from his dad. He doesn’t realize it at first but Betty is right beside him. She takes the bag from his hand and places it on the counter.

“Dad, this is Betty, Jughead’s girlfriend, since he doesn’t know how to introduce people,” Jellybean says taking a seat at the breakfast bar.

“Hello Betty, I’m FP, it’s meet you,” FP says.

Jughead still hasn’t said anything, instead, he stands there awkwardly with his hands in his pockets sweating nervously. He’s never brought a girl home before, mostly because he’s never dated a girl, or anyone, for that matter before.

“Uh yeah, Betty, Dad, Dad, Betty,” he says gesturing between them.

“A little late there buddy,” Jellybean says through a mouthful of potato chips.

FP snatches the bag out of Jellybean’s hands. She pouts. “No junk food before dinner, you’ll ruin your appetite. Speaking of,” he turns to Betty, “will you be joining us for dinner Betty?”

Betty looks to Jughead expectantly and he’s about to tell his dad Betty can’t stay when he sees something in her eye that makes him stop. “I’d love to Mr. Jones,” she says when Jughead doesn’t say anything.

“Well, alright. You kids go hang out and I’ll get started on my famous lasagna. You like lasagna, right Betty?”

“I love it,” she replies with a bright smile Jughead can’t help but mimic.

Diner goes by without a hitch. FP only mildly embarrasses him and Jellybean is only slightly annoying with how much she tries to impress Betty with her witty banter. Betty is, of course, amazing, acting wildly interested in FP’s work, even going as far as asking questions about his current job, full home renovation. He wants to tell her she doesn’t have to try so hard, that just being here is proof enough, but when she dives into a story about how she helped build a small house with Habitat for Humanity last year, he realizes she really is interested.

After dinner, they are sitting on the front steps for a bit, letting the large portions of lasagna fully digest. “That was by far the best lasagna I've ever had,” Betty says, her hand resting on her stomach.

Jughead laughs. “It’s his best dish.”

A short silence stretches between them, only this time it isn’t awkward. A station wagon pulls up in front of his house, the driver looks strikingly similar to Betty and he realizes right away it must be her older sister.

“That’s my ride,” she says standing.

He does as well, his hands fidgeting at his sides. “Good night, Betty.”

“Good night, Juggie,” she replies and he watches as she walks to the car, opens the door, and keeps watching as the car pulls away.

Back inside, FP is seated on the couch in front of the tv, watching a movie with the volume turned down way too low to be able to hear. “Were you eavesdropping?” he asks FP.

Jellybean appears next to him. “No, but I was.” He rolls his eyes. FP laughs.

They both take a seat on the couch next to their dad. Jellybean lays with her head in Jughead’s lap and her feet in FP’s. He cards his fingers through her thick black wavy hair. It’s something he’s been doing for her since she was a baby. After their mom left, there was a long stretch of time where Jellybean wouldn’t fall asleep unless Jughead ran his fingers through her hair over and over again.

“I like her,” Jellybeans says. Jughead feels a pang in his heart. He doesn’t want Jellybean getting attached to Betty. Their relationship, or fake relationship, has an expiration date and when that comes, he doesn’t want Jellybean caught in the pretend fallout.

He’s not sure what to say so he just smiles, focusing on the movie on the TV as his hand's card through her hair. It’s not long before she falls asleep. FP scoops her up and makes his way toward the stairs.

“Hey, Jug,” he says softly before heading upstairs.

“Yeah, dad?”

“I like her, too,” he says simply. A moment later he’s gone.

Jughead sits there for a long time silently going over all the ways this is going to end badly in his mind. Maybe he can find a way to tell Jellybean and his dad the truth. That he and Betty aren’t real and explain why they did it. Of course, that would violate their contract and he’s not sure how Betty would feel about that.

He exhales, reaching a hand up to tug at the edge of his beanie. It only takes him a second to realize it’s not there and for the image of Betty climbing into her station wagon, his beanie still firmly atop her head to come to the forefront of his mind.

“Dammit,” he says to himself, only he’s not really all that upset. Toni wasn’t wrong, Betty certainly looked better in it, maybe even hot . He shakes his head and then scrubs his hands down his face before shutting the tv off and making his way to bed. He can always get the hat back tomorrow, or Monday at school. Besides, if Betty shows up to school wearing it that might be better than any public display of affection.