you change all the lead/
sleeping in my head/
- neighborhood #1, arcade fire
Summer arrives suddenly in Riverdale that year, spring chill one week and a record heat wave the next. The air turns thick, soupy with heat and humidity, and North and South-siders alike crowd into Pop’s for free air conditioning and milkshakes. Riverdale isn’t healed, not quite, but it’s thawing.
Betty was supposed to be a counselor at Riverdale Summer Camp like she had been for the past three summers, spend her days herding energetic eight year olds and swatting mosquitoes off her neck. Instead, she’s forced into attending town-mandated therapy three days a week, evading the psychiatrist’s questions in favor of tracing the silver scars that still mar her palms. Betty’s about sixty percent certain her mother’s found a way to find out everything she says, anyways.
When Betty’s not in the sterile, cold doctor’s office, she’s with the rest of the gang. It’s Veronica’s first summer in Riverdale, and the brunette’s always itching for something to do- swimming, picnics, parties at the newly rebuilt Blossom manner. Ronnie is all sunscreen and cherry popsicles and the sort of phenomenally tiny outfits that make Archie’s eyes pop out of his head. The two can’t get their hands off of one another, and Betty quickly learns that Veronica is likely to ditch whatever they were supposed to do in favor of doing a certain redhead.
Jughead’s there too, of course, going along with Veronica’s schemes to have a barbecue or go mini-golfing with only mild complaining. The sweltering heat isn’t enough to make him abandon his beanie, and Archie and Veronica tease him mercilessly for it. His serpent’s jacket is gone, traded out for ratty band t-shirts, but his snake tattoo is not so easily forgotten.
Betty and Jughead relearn one another, slowly. They spend lazy afternoons stretched out on Jughead’s twin bed, talking about those three months apart, the way it felt like hacking off a limb. They walk home from Pop’s and he tells Betty about the way Toni kept him afloat when he was drowning. Jughead spits out toothpaste and she explains to him that first phone call, how she didn’t know that fear could feel like a blow to the head. It hurts to talk about, all the wasted time and the terror, but it’s the pain of drawing out poison from a wound. Bloodletting , Jughead calls it, and Betty leans in to kiss him.
It’s not the same as it once was. It’ll never be the same as it once was, the days of hey there, Juliet and thoughtless kisses. Betty still startles at the ringing of her phone, still wakes up in sweaty sheets, voice hoarse from screaming. And Jughead still second guesses their relationship, lashes out when he feels insecure, resorts to cruelty when backed into a corner. They’re still a little cracked, a little scarred, and their relationship will never again be casual or innocent. But, watching Jug nap with the late afternoon sunlight slatted through the shutters, Betty thinks it might be something much, much better.
Alice Cooper, however, has not forgotten the winter so easily.
Her protective instincts reach an all-time high, intent on keeping her remaining daughter out of harm’s way. Betty comes home one day to find iron bars on her bedroom window and doesn’t know whether they’re to keep the world out or her in. She’s to return home before the sun sets each night, no exceptions, and Alice checks her text messages and call log obsessively.
Betty tries to remember that this is the way her mother shows concern, but the constraints chafe at her, make her anxious. Her mother’s rules and the thick, stewing heat and the whispers whenever she goes into town press down on Betty, make Riverdale feel oppressive in a way it never has before. Even Veronica’s forced cheer starts to wear down at her patience, makes her grit her teeth in aggravation. By the time mid-June rolls around Betty finds herself pressing careful fingers into her palms, resisting the urge to break skin.
Jughead notices, in the careful way he notices everything about her.
The sun is low and simmering on the horizon, bathing Riverdale in the sort of light that flatters every angle and almost makes Betty forget the darkness that lingers in the town. She’s methodically resorting her bookshelf, bored and vaguely anxious, when she sees Jughead out her window, rolling up in the truck he’s started to favor over the motorcycle.
Betty jogs downstairs to meet him in the driveway, eyebrows knitted into a question. He kisses her long and slow, like it’s an answer.
“Jug? What are you doing here?” Betty asks, a little breathlessly.
He smirks, features twisted with that peculiar blend of arrogance and insecurity Betty has come to know so well. The afternoon light slants across his features, rendering him golden, and Betty finds herself a little more enamored with the elegant curve of his jaw, the murky green of his eyes.
“My novel’s at a standstill, and I heard travelling is a good way to cure writer’s block,” he says, “Fancy going on a road trip?”
Betty gapes at him. “A road trip? Juggie, my mother barely lets me out of the house, never mind going on-”
“So we don’t tell her. Leave her a note, and then call as soon as we get out of state.”
Betty hesitates, and watches as Jughead’s grin begins to fade, as the anxious clockwork of his mind begins to stir. “I just figured you might want to get out of Riverdale for awhile. Go somewhere no one knows who we are, eat at some shitty diners-”
Betty decides, suddenly, that she hasn’t survived all she has to keep blindly following Alice Cooper’s rules. She cuts him off with a kiss, cupping his face between her hands. Betty is struck, once again, by how much she loves Jughead Jones, the way he senses what she needs without her having to say anything.
“A road trip sounds perfect,” she assures him, “Let me grab some stuff before my parents arrive back.”
Jughead waits in the car, smoking a cigarette, while Betty dashes upstairs. She stuffs an old duffel bag with pastel t-shirts and denim shorts, body thrumming with a nervous sort of excitement. After she’s packed she quickly scribbles a note to her mother on a pink sticky note, making sure to emphasize that she isn’t being kidnapped.
Ten minutes later and Betty is sliding into the passenger seat, out of breath from having to wrestle with the stuck car door. She leans in to kiss Jughead, but she’s smiling too hard to really manage it. Instead, she laces their fingers together and squeezes tight.
“Alright, Kerouac,” says Betty, “Let’s hit the road.”
new york, new york
They arrive in New York City that night.
Jughead’s never been before ( Never had the money he says wryly) and Betty watches as he takes it all in, sees a world brimming with neon light. Betty is hit with a flood of memories of this place- Broadway musicals with her grandparents, her and Polly at the American Girl Doll store for birthday parties, her parents taking her out to dinner. The city has always been kind to Betty.
They stop at the first diner they see, an abandoned place with greasy menus and fingerprints on the windows. The fries are soggy and the fluorescent lights keep flickering out, but there’s a real, vintage jukebox, advertising the top hits of the 50s. Betty ignores her food in favor of picking songs, emptying her pockets of loose change in the process.
She claps her hands in delight when some old Billie Holiday song comes on, grinning at him so tenderly that Jughead feels like his chest is cracked wide open, exposing the raw mess inside. She takes the two steps necessary to reach him and places his hands on her waist, hers coming up to rest gently on his shoulders.
Jughead’s dancing abilities are limited to a sort of graceless sway, but Betty doesn’t seem to mind, tucking her head into the crook of his neck, her hair tickling his nose. I’ll be seeing you i n every lovely summer’s day crackles the jukebox, and Jughead shuts his eyes, forgets that their sour waitress is casting them increasingly judgemental glances. Betty smells like vanilla and car grease and clean laundry. He loves her so much he can hardly stand it.
“I love you, Betty Cooper,” he says, putting words to the ache behind his ribs. The statement is a ghost of an earlier time, and they both smile at the memory.
The song ends abruptly, cutting off into static. Betty giggles, and then Jughead is snickering too, and suddenly they are both laughing, disentangling themselves from their embrace, snapped back into reality. They pay the check quickly, and walk out hand in hand, feeling young and in love in the way they have never quite allowed themselves to be.
They splurge on a motel room, the sort of place with paint peeling off the walls and a roach problem. Betty makes a valiant effort not to wrinkle her nose, but doesn’t quite manage to hide her upper middle class roots when she spots a suspicious stain on the carpet.
“Is this alright?” Jughead asks, feeling keenly the lack of bills in his wallet.
Betty twines their hands together, tries to bridge all the gaps between them. “This is perfect,” she assures him.
He flops onto the bed as soon as they get into the room, not bothering to take off his shoes. The tacky floral wallpaper is yellowing and Jughead is pretty sure the carpet wasn’t originally brown, but it’s a place for them to be alone, away from Riverdale. He takes a moment to bask in the feeling of anonymity, a whole goddamned city where no one looks at him and sees F.P Jones instead.
“Tired, Juggie?” teases Betty, carding a hand through his hair, dislodging his beanie in the process.
“Mhm, you would be too, if you had to drive seven hours listening to the classic music station ,” he mumbles into the pillow, voice a fond sort of exasperation.
Betty sits on the edge of the bed, pointedly avoiding eye contact. “Well, we’ll have to think of some ways to wake you up,” she says, voice laced with insinuation. Jughead feels electricity surge through his nerves, his stomach doing a tricky sort of swoop, because did she just say what he thought she said .
He casts a glance up at her. Betty is already blushing furiously, and the sight of her lower lip trapped between her teeth does interesting things to his heart rate. Jughead sits up slowly, presses a kiss to her shoulder, and then her mouth when Betty turns to face him. Betty wraps her arms around his neck, tilting her head to deepen the kiss, and he teases the soft slice of skin between her shirt and jeans to make her shiver. The air crackles around them, charged with a new sort of tension.
He flips them suddenly so that Betty’s flat on her back, her giggle dissolving into a moan when he sucks a bruise into the delicate skin of her neck. She tugs insistently at his shirt until he yanks it off, and then does the same, exposing the pretty blue lace of her bra. Jughead cannot quite believe that this is really happening, that he gets to touch her like this, see her look at him with those fathomless, trusting blue eyes, glassy with desire.
Jughead licks his way back into her mouth, bitten pink and slick with vanilla scented lip gloss. She is soft and warm under him and he has to stop himself from groaning aloud when she guides his hands up to her breasts. She nods once at him, smile shy and a little teasing, and he flicks open her bra with one hand. Betty arches an eyebrow, impressed, and Jughead doesn’t have the heart to tell her that he and Archie spent a summer practicing the skill with old pillows and a bra found in the boys’ locker room.
He takes a pink nipple into his mouth, teasing the other with his fingers, and Betty moans , tugging insistently on his hair, not quite hard enough to hurt. It’s quick-paced and frantic and Jughead wants more , wants her naked and stretched out under him, wants to catalogue every sound she makes. Betty fumbles with the button of his jeans, a little desperately, and Jughead has to help her, fingers shaking. He tugs them off, using a foot to push down the stuck leg, and then Betty’s peeling hers off too, and there is nothing between them but bare skin, acres and acres of it.
He has the foresight to turn to the bedside table and fumble for the condom he’s had stashed in his wallet since the eighth grade, when his father had thrown a box at his head with a wry smile. Jughead had been mortified at the time, but he sends up a silent thank you now.
He turns back to Betty, suddenly struck by nerves. “Betts, are you sure you want to do this?” he asks, because he has to be sure , has to know she wants this as much as he does.
Betty kisses him, slow and impossibly soft. “I’m sure, Juggie,” she says, mouth upturned in the tender, secret smile she reserves only for him. She trails her nails down his stomach, leaving goosebumps, and heat surges again through his body like a rush of blood to the head. He kisses her, more hurried than before, sliding his tongue into her mouth in a way that makes her breath hitch.
Jughead tears the foil of the condom open, and Betty’s hands settle on his hips, warm and solid. He pushes into her slowly, the sensation enough to make him want to cry. She pants into his neck and he forces himself to stay still, to give her time to adjust. “I’m good,” she says, after a few beats,“I’m fine, Juggie, just go slow.”
Jughead rocks into her, and Betty’s legs slide up to wrap around his waist, her heels digging into his back and fingers fisted tightly in his hair. He’s already so far gone, and she feels so good around him, hot and tight and wet. She whines, high in the back of her throat, and Jughead is gone, hips stuttering as he kisses her sloppy and wet.
He comes down slowly, Betty whispering sweet nothings into his ear and scattering kisses along his jaw until he’s spent. He disposes of the condom and returns to bed with a renewed vigor, wants to make her feel just as good as she does for him.
Jughead gets her off with his fingers, trying to go off the sounds she makes and what he remembers from Archie’s oversharing. She arches off the bed when she comes, fluttering around his fingers with her hair a mess and skin flushed pink.
She tucks her face into his neck afterwards, breath hot against his jaw. Jughead is wrecked with how much he loves her, can’t help but smooth a curl of hair behind her ear and press a kiss to her forehead, their legs tangling under the covers. Words have always been Jughead’s native language, the place he feels most comfortable, but this moment- drifting into sleep on scratchy sheets, Betty tucked against his side- needs no definition.
Betty, unsurprisingly, is the first one awake the next morning, stirring just as pale sunlight is just starting to wind its way through the room, illuminating the truly shocking amount of dust on the dresser. She tugs on Jughead’s discarded shirt and stretches, feeling at peace for the first time in months.
Just in time, her phone starts to buzz with an incoming call. Betty freezes, but only for a second, and then she’s flipping over to the phone to see it lit up with Veronica’s contact picture. Her stomach twists, already anticipating her her best friends’ reaction to finding about her and Jughead leaving on a spontaneous road trip.
She walks to bathroom to keep from waking Jughead, perching on the sink as she answers the call, bare heels kicking idly at the faux-wood cabinets. .
“Just so we’re clear, a text reading left with Jughead, I’ll be back in awhile does not count as a suitable explanation for disappearing overnight, especially not for your bestie,” Veronica starts, sounding thoroughly energized despite the early hour.
“I’m sorry, V, I know it was vague. Jug picked me up yesterday and asked if I wanted to go on a roadtrip. We’re just gonna drive out west for a little while, get out of Riverdale,” Betty explains apologetically.
Veronica hums, pitches her voice a little lower “You really are with Jughead, right? This isn’t some sort of kidnapping thing, because if it is-”
“I’m really with Jughead, entirely of my own free will,” Betty assures her, the trace of laughter in her voice warmed by fondness for her best friend.
“Alright, well, just say the word and I’ll be on a private jet to come get you,” Veronica says, only half kidding.
“Thanks, V. I’ll call you in a few days, okay?”
“I’m expecting a full report. Stay safe, B. And use a condom!”
“Veronica!” Betty protests, blushing, but the girl in question has already hung up the phone, doubtlessly going to inform Archie that they don’t need to go on a two-man rescue mission.
Betty stretches and eyes herself in the mirror. Her hair is mussed and there’s a lurid hickey blooming on the side of her neck, but she doesn’t feel much different. Betty smiles at her reflection for the first time since she can remember. Jughead is still sound asleep when she reenters the room, so she crawls back under the covers, snagging one of Jughead’s books to read while she waits for him to wake up.
He finally starts to stir around 10, blinking blearily at her and rubbing a hand over his face. “Morning, Juggie,” Betty says. She’s 150 pages into The Goldfinch, but she puts it aside to press a kiss to his mouth. His mouth quirks up into a smile, wry and flustered and a little ridiculous.
They drink lukewarm coffee in bed, Betty taking a pointed sort of delight in how horrified her mother would be if she could see her. Afterwards, they split a shower with the thinly veiled excuse of conserving hot water, kissing lazily and complaining about the water pressure. Betty thinks she could get used to this, could get used to waking up each morning and finding Jughead next to her, hair rumpled and making absurd literary references.
Betty buys a book of maps from a convenience store as they leave, spreading them out over the dashboard so that she can direct them out of the city. She’s a ruthless navigator, rattling off directions miles in advance while Jughead is reminded keenly of the fact that he doesn’t technically have a license.
When they finally hit highway Betty switches her attention over to budgeting out their cash- a limited combination of her babysitting money and his paychecks from bartending at the Whyte Wyrm. She punches out precise rows of numbers and figures on the back of a takeout menu, gnawing at the end of her tiny golf pencil while she thinks. Jughead marvels at the way her brain works, her ruthless ability to think her way out of any problem.
When all’s said and done, they have enough money for food and gas, but just barely. “No more splurging on motel rooms,” Betty says firmly, triple checking the numbers.
“Considering the place we stayed last night, I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing,” Jughead quips in response, and Betty feels the anxious knot in her chest start to unravel.
Pennsylvania is miles and miles of nothing, the highway unspooling endlessly into the distance. After three days of driving, time begins to stretch and soften, days melting into one another with little interruption. Betty’s never had a life without a strict schedule, and the freedom is as dizzying as it is addictive. Despite the absurdity of it all- two sixteen year olds on a spontaneous, cross country road trip- Betty and Jughead settle into a routine of sorts.
They wake up early each morning and brush their teeth at the side of the road, shrouded in comfortable silence as the sun comes up. Their budget doesn’t leave room for luxuries like breakfast food, so they buy cheap, unbelievably bad cups of coffee from whatever gas station or truck stop they come across, masking the taste with truly appalling amounts of hazelnut creamer.
Sometimes, if the highways are empty, Jughead attempts to teach Betty how to drive. He doesn’t have a license, officially, but he’s been driving since he was fourteen and F.P had thrown him the keys. It’s a slow process, mostly because Betty hates it. She knows the mechanics of cars, can take apart an engine and reassemble it with her eyes closed, but the actual act of driving is a vastly different matter. She drives too slowly, or else twenty miles over the speed limit with no in-between, and refuses to use turn signals. Jughead’s pointers have very little effect, and by eleven each morning they’re both more than eager to suspend their “lessons” for the day.
Betty spends the long afternoons reading aloud, working her way through the stack of
novels shoved in an overflowing laundry basket in the backseat. Jughead learns to mark hours by the steady cadence of her voice, the subtle changes in inflection as she narrates Orwell and Keats and Capote, faint strains of the 70s rock station in the background. Books and Betty Cooper- the two great loves of Jughead Jones’ life.
When the sunset starts to unfurl over the horizon they find someplace to eat, usually some run-down, small town diner that never quite compares to Pop’s. Sometimes, the sight of checkered tiles and the smell of fryer grease makes Betty homesick for Riverdale, makes her long for Veronica and Archie and regular access to showers.
But most nights, crammed into one side of the booth with Jughead and making up stories about the other restaurant patrons, Betty feels the safest she’s ever felt. Like she could exist forever in a tiny, cheap restaurant with vanilla milkshakes and the boy she loves stupidly, impossibly, unconditionally.
Most nights, they sleep on a mattress they bought for twenty bucks on the side of the road after Betty had checked it for bedbugs eight times and doused it in lemon Lysol spray. The nights are sticky enough that they don’t need blankets, and Jughead balls up raggedy t-shirts to serve as makeshift pillows.
They talk for hours, springs digging into their backs and sprawled out in a mess of tangled limbs. Jughead points out the constellations, the ones his father taught him when he was small and his family was still whole and happy. He can’t remember much, anymore, so they make up stories, invent their own myths when memory fails.
“That one looks like Cheryl Blossom, stabbing someone to death with her shoe,” Jughead says, gesturing at the Big Dipper and Betty snorts, unladylike.
Sometimes, when they’re sick of the stars, they talk about their own personal mythologies; the secrets they’ve never told anyone before. Jughead shows Betty the tiny scar on his left wrist, the work of a broken bottle, and she tells him about the time her mother slapped Polly during one of their arguments, the way that the air crackled around them and how Polly had cried.
Betty has nightmares- terrible, seething dreams that leave her starting awake in the small hours of the morning, eyes deadened and gasping like she’s run a marathon. Sometimes they talk about nothing, or get back in the car and drive until Betty can fall asleep in the passenger seat. But most nights, Jughead rubs her back with a warm, callused hand, scattering kisses in her hair and humming tunelessly until she can drift back off into an uneasy sleep.
It’s a pattern, a loose order that keeps Betty from being completely knocked down by all her newfound liberation. The days are all melting vanilla milkshakes and gnarled dirt roads and Jughead - talking in a terrible Southern accent to make her laugh and humming along with The Eagles and writing cryptic remarks in the margins of paperback books. There’s a danger, in how easy it all is. Like Betty could spend the next seventy years swapping driving shifts and breezing through dead end towns, chasing the American Dream in a rusted pickup.
pendleton, west virginia
Pennsylvania gives way into West Virginia suddenly, easily, and with it the landscape becomes lush, greener than Betty thought possible. She spends hours with her chin propped up on the open window, watching the world go by and debating with Jughead over the ideal apocalypse scenarios (her: natural disaster, him: zombies).
It’s still early morning on a Tuesday, the sky a clean, heart-stopping shade of blue, when Betty says urgently “Pull over, Juggie!”
He does as asked and soon realizes that there’s a river, deep and still and completely unpopulated, tucked just behind the trees. Jughead maneuvers the truck over to the side of the dirt road, Betty looking eagerly at the secluded little beach.
“Do you want to stop for the afternoon? We could have a beach day!” Betty says enthusiastically, already digging around for her pink sunglasses.
“I dunno, Betts,” Jughead replies, eyeing the murky blue-green of the river with trepidation, “It all seems a little High School Musical , don’t you think?”
Betty doesn’t say anything, just looks at him with her eyes wide and pleading and already brimming with excitement, and Jughead resigns himself to an afternoon of sunburn and sand in places it really shouldn’t be.
They ditch the truck and make their way down to the water’s edge, just out of sight of the main road. When they reach the beach Betty shyly tugs off her overalls and t-shirt, making Jughead’s mouth go dry in the process. She wades easily into the water, diving in as soon as it gets deep enough with the kind of precision possible only from a decade’s worth of swimming lessons.
“Come in, Jug! The water’s nice,” she calls after resurfacing, wrenching her hair out of its damp ponytail.
Jughead acquiesces, tugging off his clothes and beanie only half grudgingly. He learned how to swim from summers at the public pool with Archie, but he still never quite mastered it the way Betty did. There’s always been something dangerous about water to him, a shiver he can’t quite name. He prefers not to dwell on the symbolism.
The water is cool and unnaturally still as Jughead wades in, an unexpected relief on his sun-warmed skin. Betty wraps her arms around his neck when he finally reaches her, tasting like lakewater and sunshine and something undeniably and unexplainably her. Of course, she splashes him as soon as he’s distracted, which leads to him trying to dunk her, and suddenly they’re in a full-out splash war, laughing and kicking water at one another like they did when they were little kids.
Betty, always a sucker for silly competitions, ropes him into having underwater handstand contests with her and seeing who can stay under the water the longest. She’s unfairly good at both, and Jughead soon finds himself loudly pronouncing that the events are rigged, Betty, and frankly an insult to the tenets of democracy our great nation was built upon.
When Betty and Jughead’s fingers are pruned from the water and they’re both breathless from the splashing they head back up onto the tiny beach. There aren’t any towels, so they lay out on a patchwork of their clothes instead, waiting for the sun to dry them. They split a bag of potato chips and Twizzlers for lunch, and Betty forgets to worry about the calories.
Jughead complains about the lack of real food and Betty laughs at him, promising greasy diner food as soon as they’re back on the road. But neither seems too keen on leaving, content instead to watch the afternoon sunlight thicken like honey, stretched out on their makeshift towels.
“Alright, Camus, was the beach really as bad as you thought?” Betty asks, rolling on her side to face him.
“I concede that it has its occasional upsides,” he says, and Betty flicks sand at his ear in retaliation.
“Ready to get going? The road beckons.” Jughead says at five in the afternoon, Betty nodding her assent. They hike back out to the car, lazy and tired in the way that swimming tends to do. Betty has a sunburn across her nose and Jughead’s hair is tangled with sand, but he can’t help but lace their fingers together, smiling faintly.
Betty gets in the driver’s seat when they finally reach the truck, insisting that she can do it, Juggie, really and Jughead presses a kiss to her forehead.
“Good day?” Betty asks, and Jughead knows her well enough to know that it’s a loaded question.
“Good day,” he assures her, watching as the faint lines of tension melt from her shoulders, surprised to find how deeply he means it.
They realize, driving through some hick town, that there’s some sort of West Virginia celebration that night. Jughead buys a bottle of off-brand whiskey with a not-entirely-legal ID he got during his time with the Serpents and they camp out in the back of the truck to watch the fireworks display.
Betty takes a tentative sip, wrinkling her nose but not flinching at the burn. They trade the bottle back and forth, not quite enough to get drunk, just warm. They really don’t have the money to spare, but It’s a national holiday, Betts.
He goes down on her for the first time that night, all shaking fists and stuttered moans, so good that Betty forgets to be embarrassed. Stevie Nicks is playing softly in the background and firecrackers are still popping and fizzing overhead, but they might as well be the only people in the world.
He starts taking photos of her, using the beat up old camera Toni had gifted him when she had upgraded. They’re not even interesting- photos of her filling up the car with gas, eating cold soup from the can, talking to their elderly waitress about her seven grandchildren and how they never visit.
She’ll be standing in a supermarket aisle, asking him whether he wants to get Cheerios or Frosted Flakes when the shutter goes off. They’re in the car talking about how they miss Archie’s bad jokes when he’s taking a photo of her with the light streaming in the driver’s seat window, driving with one hand and eating a Twizzler with the other.
In the dark he’ll turn the flash on, taking shots of her sitting on their shitty mattress, holding the notebook where they write down their budget, sweeping her hair back into a ponytail, gesturing as she tells him about the first math test she ever failed. In the day he’ll take photos of her pointing excitedly at the map, petting a stranger’s dog, laughing, eating pretzels, imitating Veronica as she tells a story.
“I look terrible,” she tells him once, shielding her face with her hands and laughing as he points the camera at her. Her hair is damp from washing it in a truck stop restroom and the sunburn is just starting to peel. Her shorts have a spaghetti sauce stain on them and her shirt is wrinkled, but Jughead still thinks she’s quite possibly the best thing he’s ever seen.
“That’s not possible,” he answers, and something warm curls its way down through her toes.
They’re in a KMart at the three in the morning, the sort of liminal, fluorescent bleached place where time doesn’t feel quite real, bantering and buying groceries, when it happens.
Jughead is mid-remark about the selection of off-brand vests when Betty freezes next to him, dropping the can of Spaghetti-Os she was holding. Lollipop, lollipop, oh lolli-lollipop chimes the overhead speakers, manic in its horror, and Jughead feels the realization sink in like a sucker punch. The can bursts on the floor, seeping red into their shoes, but Jughead’s attention is laser focused on the girl next to him.
Betty thrums with tension, eyes glassy and impossibly hollow. The world slows down frame by frame, colors too vivid and sound echoing like she’s underwater. Distantly, she realizes that her nails are clawed into the soft flesh of her palms, silvery scars burst back open and sticky, too-bright blood dripping steadily onto linoleum tiles, mixing with the mess of spaghetti sauce on the floor.
There’s a woman in a store uniform in front of her, asking her questions, but Betty is caught in the feeling of being six feet under, the months where she lived backed into a corner with no escape routes. The middle class propriety Betty was bred into, the instinct to ease those around her, is buried under the waves of terror ricocheting through her brain, and she finds herself unable to respond, unable to breathe.
Jughead offers no explanations, just shoves a handful of bills into the employee’s hands and shepherds Betty out the automatic doors, into the night air. He’s unreasonably gentle, barely touching her, as he sits her down on the sidewalk outside the store.
Betty thinks someone might be talking to her, but it’s buried under the sound of Give me a name, Betty looping through her brain on repeat, the drone of an inhuman, bloodcurdling voice. Her lungs refuse to work properly, humid air getting caught in her throat, and she grinds the raw, bloody palms of her hands into the pavement, trying to tether herself back to reality.
She starts to cry- a gasping, terrible sort of hysteria. It’s almost a relief, forcing her to suck air into her lungs, and Betty tries to seize control over the fear that seems to live in her bones. Sobs wrack her frame, childlike and desperate, and she wishes suddenly and terribly for her mother. The thought sends her into a fresh wave of panic, and air seems to disappear from the atmosphere again, making her choke on the emptiness.
“Betts? Betty, breathe , it’s okay,” Jughead pleads, panic surging high in his chest. He rubs a firm hand across Betty’s back, attempting to comfort her, but she flinches violently at the gesture, scrambling away.
“Don’t touch me,” she gasps, her voice a mangled thing, terrified and furious. Jughead snatches his hand away as if he’s been burned, watching helplessly as blood stains cement, gritty with dirt.
“Betty? Betty, it’s me. It’s Jughead,” he pleads, voice high and strangled.
Betty doesn’t look at him, eyes unblinking as she stares off into the distance, empty as if the soul had been leached from her body. Jughead crouches next to her, and thinks for one dizzying, heart-stopping moment, I don’t know who you are at all.
“You’re safe, Betts. It’s just me. Betty, Betty, look at me.”
She doesn’t respond, doesn’t even acknowledge that he’s spoken, and Jughead’s heart feels like someone’s hand is wringing the life out of it. He draws in a ragged breath and digs his phone out of his pocket, dialing with unsteady fingers.
Toni’s a veritable panic attack expert, and Jughead’s watched her countless times, comforting some Serpent in the back of the Whyte Wyrm.
“Hey, there Kerouac, how’s the American Dream?” she drawls into the phone after a few rings, voice betraying no signs of exhaustion.
“Toni, I don’t know what to do, she’s not answering me and she flinched when I touched her and-”
“Slow down,” she commands, instantly alert, “What happened?”
“It’s Betty. She’s um, she’s having a panic attack, I think. I can’t get her to...she’s not answering me. Something happened, and it’s like I’m not even there. I don’t know what to do.”
“Deep breaths, Jughead. She’s gonna be fine. You said she spazzed when you touched her?”
“Yeah. Yeah. It was like she didn’t even recognize me.”
“Okay. Listen to me. She’s going to be fine. Just give her time and space and let her come out of it on her own, alright? Make sure she drinks a glass of water.” Toni instructs, not unkindly.
“Alright,” Jughead replies, “Okay. Sorry for calling so late. Or early, I guess. Sorry.”
“It’s fine, Jughead. Try not to worry too much. Betty’s tough; she’ll be alright.”
“Thanks,” Jughead says quietly, disconnecting the call. He digs the heels of his hands into his eyes until he sees stars and tries to convince his body to stop trembling.
Betty isn’t sobbing anymore, but tears continue to drip from her glassy, fathomless eyes. Her palms uncurl slightly, and Jughead watches as a hiccup disrupts her hyperventilating. The minutes tick by devastatingly slowly, but eventually Betty’s able to suck in a deep, jagged breath, and then another.
“Betts?” Jughead finally hedges when her breath has finally evened itself out and she’s no longer hunched over herself.
Betty turns to face him, her face drawn and too pale.
“I’m so sorry, Juggie,” she breathes, “I don’t know what happened. One minute I was fine, and the next,” she trails off, uncertain how to finish the sentence.
“Don’t apologize. You have nothing to be sorry for, Betts. I’m the one who should be sorry. I didn’t know- I didn’t know what to do. How to help you”
She leans into his side, soft and warm, and Jughead is reminded achingly of the first time she did this, after showing him her secrets in the warm glow of Pop’s.
Jughead brings Betty a lukewarm, half full water bottle from the truck and she sips at it slowly, seeming not to notice the way her blood smears on the plastic. They sit like that for a long time, not speaking, until the universe starts to feel okay again.
When the sky begins to go gray with the impending dawn, they head back to the car, ready to get the hell out of Illinois. Jughead texts Toni quickly ( she’s okay. thanks again.) and then they’re back on the road.
Betty digs around in the glovebox until she finds Jughead’s pack of rarely used Marlboros, a nearly forgotten bad habit. She lights one with some effort, and takes a long drag, coughing hard on the exhale.
Jughead doesn’t say anything, just watches as she tries again, and then finally manages a drag without her lungs seizing up. She pulls her legs up onto the seat to curl into herself, looking younger than she really is. She blows smoke out the window, inelegant, until the cigarette is burned all the way down.
They pull into the truck stop parking lot at five in the morning, just across the Indiana border. Jughead buys bandaids and and too many types of medicine for her hands while Betty heads to the bathroom, desperate to get clean.
She runs the water to get rid of the first, rusty wash, leaning over the sink to get a good look at herself in the mirror. Her face is disfigured where the black spots on the ancient surface cover it. She can't see herself clearly. Betty closes her eyes to keep the memories away. She mentally replays the night’s events, and wonders, not for the first time, if she’ll ever be normal again.
When she whisks a few strands of her hair away from her face, she notices her massacred palms again. Slightly orange in the lighting of the bathroom. Caked with blood. There’s gravel stuck in the wounds, grit and dirt from the sidewalk. Down on the sink, the orange stains from where her hands come into contact with the wet, dirty porcelain.
She takes a breath, and places her hands under the now clear, running water. Eyes closed, she rubs them together. Blood stains are difficult to remove. Impossible, even. Her mother would be furious if she could see.
She doesn't realize that she's rubbing them too much, and the sore of the wounds are starting to bleed again.
Her eyes are still closed when Jughead enters the bathroom. He turns off the faucet, takes her wet, raw hands in his. She leans back into his chest, tipping her head up to rest on his shoulder. He keeps his hands wrapped securely around hers and tucks his chin onto the top of her head, a sort of backwards hug.
The moments stretches until it breaks, and then Betty is pulling forward, turning around to face him. She silently accepts the plastic bag.
“ Interstate Travel Plaza’s finest,” Jughead quips, but the joke rings hollow.
Betty studies her wounds in the grimy light, hissing through her teeth when she probes at one of the lacerations. The half-moon cuts are deep enough that she knows they’re going to scar over, worse than before.
She pours hydrogen peroxide onto the wounds unflinchingly, smearing on an antibiotic cream when she’s done. Tears well in her eyes, but her fingers remain steady as they clean out the deep lacerations. Betty goes to open the box of bandages, but Jughead grabs them before she can.
“Let me,” he says, voice soft.
Betty turns her open palms to him, feeling the most vulnerable she has all night. It’s ridiculous, really, that after all they’ve been through, showing Jughead her injuries should terrify her as much as it does. But Jughead’s face betrays no disgust, no desire to run away from her, just careful focus as he presses floral print band-aids to the ugly cuts.
He balls up her hands in his when he’s done, and presses his mouth to their intertwined hands.
“What are you thinking?” she asks, uncertain.
“I just wish,” he says, not quite looking at her, “That I could say the right thing, do the right thing, to make this easier for you. Whatever you want from me, I want to give it. I want to be there for you, for all of it.”
“There,” she says softly.
“What?” he says, finally looking at her.
“What you just said,” Betty whispers, “That was perfect.”
“Well, that’s good, because I’m not sure I have an encore in me. What part, exactly, was perfect?”
Betty feels herself smile, lip quirking up at the side. There’s something so Jughead about the statement- his curious mix of arrogance and vulnerability, of bitterness and resilience and devotion.
“I just want to know,” she hears herself say, “That you don’t think any different of me. Any less.”
Jughead flinches at the statement. “What? No. No. You’re brave and brilliant and I love you. I just love you,” he says, urgent and all too earnest.
He kisses her after, quickly and quietly as the gas station lights flicker above them- the exact opposite of what she had dreamed as a child, watching those romantic comedies that Polly loved- but she thinks to herself that she’s in love , and the quiet confession of a lip on a lip is all she needs as proof.
“Do you ever think about not going back?” Betty asks, voice too casual and gaze fixed pointedly out into the distance.
They’re somewhere in the middle of Indiana, surrounded by endless stretches of tobacco fields. Betty has her feet propped up on the dashboard, the pale pink polish on her toenails chipped beyond repair, her hair loose around her shoulders ever since her last elastic snapped. They ran out of quarter to do laundry, so she’s wearing one of his shirts, slipping off one slim shoulder and tucked into her denim shorts. He looks at her and all the sonnets suddenly make sense, even the weird, allegorical ones.
“All the time,” he tells her honestly.
They’re weaving their way through Michigan (“the sixth toe of this great nation”) when Betty tells him to pull over. He does as she asks, by now familiar with Betty’s impulse adventures, and quickly realizes that the dodgy parking lot they’ve stopped at belongs to an incredibly seedy tattoo parlor.
Betty arches an eyebrow at him, smirking at him in the way that she does when she has an idea, and Jughead feels trepidation slide down his stomach.
“Didn’t think you were the tattoo sort, Betts,” he says, “What will the good people of Riverdale think?”
“I don’t care what they think,” she says, the creeping edge of a bite in her voice, unexpectedly serious, “Besides, you have one too.”
“Mine wasn’t exactly voluntary, ” he says, slanting his gaze towards her, wondering at the comparison.
“Still. I want something to remember this summer. To remember what it’s like to exist out of Riverdale.”
Jughead pencils in a new variable to an old equation, reevaluates, once again, the puzzle that is Betty Cooper.
“Alright then, Queequeg. Let’s get you some ink.”
The tattoo parlor is even sketchier up close, the door nearly hanging off the hinges and classic rock booming from the speakers inside.
“Bet you can get a two in one deal here. STD and a tattoo all in one.” Jughead stage whispers. Betty tries to look disapproving, but she’s unable to hide the edges of her mouth kicking up in a smirk.
It’s almost a comical sight- Betty waltzing into the ramshackle tattoo parlor, pretty and blonde and surrounded by a horde of bikers, all of whom are looking at her as if she has three heads. She’s undaunted by the scrutiny, just rolls her shoulders and walks up to the front, her posture severe and chin jutted forward in a way that reads as arrogance.
“Do you take walk-ins?” she says politely, directing her attention to the largest of the men, who has a tattoo on his bicep of a shark eating a man alive.
“I think you’re in the wrong place, sweetie,” he leers, grinning meanly with all three of his teeth.
Jughead goes to step forward, but Betty places a hand on his knee, keeping him in place.
“I don’t think so,” she says coolly, “This is a tattoo parlor, and my friend and I are looking to get tattoos. We have the money, so there shouldn’t be a problem.”
The man looks her up and down, more analytical than skeevy, and seems to come to some sort of assessment. “I’m Gasoline,” he says, and Betty shakes his hand warmly.
They go into the back, earning curious gazes from the various other customers, all massive and covered in tattoos. Betty presents the design, scrawled in pen on the back of a paper napkin. It’s a tiny globe, rendered in clean, precise lines.
Gasoline examines the sketch for a few moments. “I can do that,” he says finally, voice betraying no emotion.
“Wait,” Jughead says, “I want one too. The same one.”
Betty presses a hand into the side of his neck, a comforting gesture. “Are you sure, Juggie?” she asks, “Don’t feel like you have to, or-”
He cuts her off with a kiss, drawing it out a little too long. “I’m sure,” he tells her softly, “I want to choose what goes on my body, this time.”
Gasoline looks deeply unimpressed by their entire display. He disappears into the back, converting the design into digital.
Betty goes first, clambering onto the leather chair that’s seen better days. “I want it on my hip,” she tells the tattoo artist, pulling up the hem of her shirt to expose the area. He nods, swabbing the area with an antiseptic that makes her shiver, and then pasting on a picture of the tattoo. It looks just like the temporary tattoos he and Archie used to buy at the dollar store, back from the days when they were pretending to be superheroes.
A second later and the needle starts to buzz. Betty’s eyes widen to the size of dinner plates, but she relaxes a minute later. “Like a cat scratch,” she says, more to herself than anyone else.
The tattoo only takes about twenty minutes. When it’s done, Betty probes at the patch of reddened skin, a small, curious smile on her face. Gasoline applies a bandage to the area with careful fingers, the harsh planes of his face given way to a kind of calm trance.
Jughead goes next, getting the same design inked onto his forearm. He reclines in the leather seat, Betty perched neatly on the arm of the chair. The needle digs into his skin and the experience tangles with memories of the first time he got inked, dredged up flashbacks of his first days as a Serpent. For a brief, silvery moment, Gasoline looks all too much like Tall Boy, branding Jughead with a snake.
He almost gets lost in the sensation, but then Betty takes his hand, squeezing once. He opens his eyes and the memory fizzes out, dissolves into thin air.
“Juggie?” she asks, placing a small, warm hand on his shoulder.
“I’m good,” he replies, covering her hand with his own. Gasoline grunts, shooting Jughead a sharp glare for moving.
He ghosts careful fingers over the patch of skin when he’s done, wondering at the permanence of it. There’s a certain kind of poetic justic, he thinks, to getting a tattoo as an individual choice, free of coercion and mob mentality, so unlike the last one. Betty’s work, delicate and meticulous, mirroring the heavy, blunt serpent print on his other arm.
Bettys pays, thanking Gasoline warmly for his services and tipping with the remainder of their emergency budget.
“Y’all come back now, if you ever want some more ink,” he says, shaking Jughead’s hand harder than strictly necessary.
They’re back in the car in just under an hour, but Jughead feels like something small has shifted in him, another piece sliding into place.
“Romeo and Juliet, with a happy ending,” he says that night, pressing a kiss to her hip. Betty giggles in response and drags him back up to kiss her.
“You know what I miss? Food that can be refrigerated,” Betty says, part of their ongoing game of Things in Riverdale That Didn’t Completely Suck.
“Not bad, but I’ve got you beat. Beds with real pillows on them.” Jughead replies, Betty humming her assent.
“You know, we could turn that dream into a reality.”
“Ah, if it weren’t for the looming specter of capitalism and the fact that we can’t afford ramen noodles,” Jughead snarks, voice lofty and affected.
“Well, I may or may not have built in an extra $150 into our budget,” Betty says with a sly smile, “How do you feel about Holiday Inn?”
“Betty Cooper, you’re a goddess.”
They’re at a hotel within the next hour, near giddy with the prospect of sleeping on a real bed. It’s nothing special, but after endless weeks on an unfurnished mattress, Betty and Jughead regard the place as a virtual Eden. Betty all but skips as she swipes the key card into the room, taking in the knockoff art on the walls and Keurig cups residing on the mahogany desk.
“I don’t know what I want to do first,” Jughead groans, already sprawled out, face down, on the mattress, “Sleep, eat, or shower.”
“Shower first,” Betty advises, flipping idly through a guidebook advertising nearby attractions, “It’s been three days.”
Jughead murmurs his agreement and enters the pristine, white bathroom, leaving Betty to flip through television channels. He carelessly sheds clothes on the floor, turning up the water as hot as it’ll go.
Jughead hops under the water while it’s still lukewarm, desperate to rinse off multiple days worth of sweat and grime. He ducks his head against the spray, letting the water beat at his skull and relishing the feeling of adequate water pressure. The water goes from hot to near-scalding, and Jughead gets lost in his thoughts in the way he sometimes does, lazily pondering sentence structure and bits of imagery.
A hand in his hair jars him from his daydreaming, and he cracks his eyes open to see Betty standing in front of him. She’s naked, impossibly lovely with mascara smudging under her eyes and the fine baby hairs along her temple curling from the humidity. The sight of her curls a low, simmering heat through Jughead’s gut. She smiles- that enigmatic, Mona Lisa half smile that so rarely makes an appearance- and yanks the shower curtain shut.
Jughead kisses her, hard, his hands coming to rest at the dip of her waist. Her mouth opens under his, tongue sliding deftly into his mouth, but she pulls back only a second later.
“C’mon,” she says, grabbing one of the mini bottles of shampoo and smiling broadly at him, “I’m dying to get clean.”
They scrub their hair, efficiently, if not quite gently, but by the time Betty gets to her body there’s more kissing than there is cleaning. Jughead feels loose and happy and a little ridiculous, making out in the shower with a trail of suds dripping down his jaw. Betty turns her face away, and Jughead chases the rivulets of water down her neck, sucking a bruise into the delicate skin. Betty’s fingers clench convulsively at his sides as a shudder wracks her frame, the frantic edge of a whine creeping its way into her exhale.
Jughead bites down at the juncture of her neck, and Betty turns her head into it, a high, breathy moan escaping before she can reign it in. Jughead smiles into her neck, and Betty must feel the twist of lips against over sensitive skin, because she tangles deft fingers into his hair and pulls his head away.
She presses a hand flat against Jughead’s abdomen, and pushes, backing him up until he’s out of the spray and pressed against slick, chilly tile. She scatters a neat line of kisses down his jaw, his throat, and then lower. She makes her way down his abdomen, fingers tracing precise circles that make him shiver, until she’s down on her knees.
“Tell me what you like,” she says primly, ghosting a kiss over the jut of his hipbone before wrapping her mouth around him.
“I like that, ” he says, a huff of laughter mixed into a groan, his hand scrubbed over his face.
Betty starts again with a renewed vigor, listening to the sounds he makes, the way he twitches under her. It takes a little adjusting, but eventually she gets a good rhythm going, bobbing her head up and down. Jughead’s hands thread into her hair, yanking almost painfully hard at one point, and then trailing down the back of her neck to caress her skin, making Betty shiver.
He tries to push her away when he’s close, but she doesn’t let him, keeping her mouth on him until the very end, feeling his body relax around her. When it’s over he slides down the shower wall, spent, and she straddles his lap to kiss him, pleased with herself.
Jughead grimaces at the taste of himself on Betty’s tongue, but he’s more than happy to burn it away with his mouth. They make out lazily on the shower floor, content, and he gets her off twice with his fingers and mouth, making her squirm against him.
When the water finally starts to run cold they get out of the shower, wrapping themselves up in the thick, fluffy white towels provided by the hotel. After a month of truck stop bathrooms, it’s an unprecedented luxury.
Jughead orders enough room service to feed the entire Southside, and they eat in bed, watching bad television and curled up under the covers in their underwear. Jughead keeps a running commentary on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and Betty throws french fries at him when he makes particularly cutting remarks.
They have sex twice more, lazy and slow and content, all long kisses and quietly murmured curses, tangled up in the bed sheets. It’s nice, not being rushed, not being worried about all of the exposed space around them.
“This has been the best summer of my life,” she tells him, afterwards, tracing the elegant planes of his face with her finger as they lay in bed. She feels his smile under her fingertips, and she can picture exactly how he looks in her mind.
“Me too,” he replies, casting a glance down at Betty, sweet smelling and still rumpled from sex. Sleepy and sated, he thinks idly that he might like to spend forever in this moment. For her he would do any number of impractical things- rob a bank or live on Mars or eat lunch with Cheryl Blossom.
They fall asleep early, that night.
“What day is it today?” Betty asks suddenly, one hand pressed to her forehead to block the waning afternoon sunlight. They’re in a diner called Mariella’s , splitting an order of fries and playing hangman on the back of a paper menu.
Jughead stops glowering at the paper to look up at her, brow creasing. Betty smiles softly, tracing the wrinkles in his forehead with her finger until they smooth.
“I have no idea,” he says, returning his gaze to the game, “Why?”
“Well, we have to return to Riverdale at some point,” Betty chides gently, watching in confusion as Jughead’s face darkens, “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to go back,” he replies petulantly, “Let’s not.”
Betty ponders the idea for only a minute, pictures her and Jughead, on the road forever. She immediately dismisses the fantasy as a mere pipe dream, her mother’s face and the dangerous connotation of ‘dropout’ embossed in her mind.
“We have to,” she sighs, her mind trying to fit her and him back into the confines of Riverdale.
“I hate school,” Jughead mutters, shredding a paper napkin with his fingers, “We were both so screwed up in that place.”
Betty winces, and Jughead presses a kiss to her temple in apology.
“I’m sorry,” he says, finally, “That’s not what I meant. It’s just- I don’t want to go back to the way things were. Forgetting that there’s an entire world outside of Riverdale.”
Betty thinks about everything they’ve left behind and all the people she loves, and the darkness that still pulses through their hometown. Thinks about Veronica’s easy affection and Archie’s broad smile and Polly, who’s probably given birth by now.
“We won’t,” she says, “I promise.”
There’s a sort of bittersweet in Betty’s mouth as they pay the check and leave the diner, hand in hand. The sunset is bleeding out in the sky, red waning into a nocturne sort of blue, and Betty is so happy that it’s a kind of sadness.
Jughead sits in the back of the truck, using the last shreds of daylight to read while Betty lays out every road map they’ve ever picked up. She weighs down the edges with rocks, trying to find Riverdale on any sort of map, tracing lines through highways with a thick Sharpie.
Jughead breaks the silence to read a particularly striking sentence aloud to her, and it strikes Betty like a baseball bat to the brain that it will never be like this again: Pink Floyd playing on the radio because Jughead won rock-paper-scissors and cicadas singing in the night air and a box of condoms shoved in the glovebox. That tomorrow or the day after she will be back in her room, in her own bed, and he will be sleeping all the way across town instead of centimeters away. That they will have to go to school and play by the rules of people who never really understood either of them. Watching Jughead, gnawing at a pen cap and scribbling in the margins even though he knows she hates it, Betty thinks it might be the worst thing in the world.
She hops into the bed of the truck to kiss him, so suddenly that Jughead drops the book into the dirt.
“It won’t be like before,” she says urgently, “I promise, Jug. Riverdale won’t change us. Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending, remember?”
Jughead stares at her, not like she’s something precious or untouchable, but like he knows her, all the way to the bone. Like she’s the only person he thinks he might like to spend forever with.
“With a happy ending,” he echoes and kisses her, less frantic than before.
Nobody would know about that summer except for them. Nobody would remember the hundreds of miles they drove, Betty’s feet propped up on the dashboard and all the windows rolled down. Nobody would remember the nights where they curled around one another for warmth- and nobody would remember the mornings where they were tired and hungry and didn’t know what the hell they were doing. Nobody would remember Jughead caressing her hair while she was sleeping. Nobody would remember the way his hands traced her thighs, so tender that Betty could cry from the feeling. Nobody would remember cups of bad coffee and diner food and so many words that Betty could get lost in them.
But they existed , Betty thinks to herself, climbing into the passenger seat, and the existence is memory enough.
“Alright,” she says, stealing a drag off of one of Jughead’s cigarettes, “Let’s go home.”
as the day grows dim
i hear you sing a golden hymn
it’s the song i’ve been trying to sing