“If we get caught I’m blaming you.”
Betty giggled and shifted closer to him in the small bathroom. “No one will believe you, Juggie. Remember the frog escape last semester?”
The memory of all those frogs jumping down the hallways and away from their certain fate as Dr. Beaker’s freshman project brought a ghost of a smile to his lips. It had been worth the three weeks of detention just to watch the chaos that unfolded.
Jughead’s small smile fell as he realized he’d been the only one in detention. Somehow, Betty had managed to slip away unseen and he’d become the patsy, the fall guy for an ethical protest he didn’t really care all that much about. This time around, though, it hadn’t been hard at all to convince him the something really did need to be done about Reggie and Moose. Especially since they’d stolen his hat and played keep away with it for almost a week before one of the teachers finally stepped in.
If this worked, he’d be her patsy again. He was the obvious suspect. Assigned to the same room, had access to a door key. And no matter how much he might plead, no matter how he might argue, he’d still be the only one to fall under the microscope of the horror that was chaperone suspicion.
This blonde was far more cunning than even he gave her credit for. If it had been anyone else, Jughead would have already stormed out the door. He was already in enough trouble for falling asleep in Burberry’s freshman ‘Esteem And You’ course.
But, as Betty had pointed out earlier, even if this did go sideways it wasn’t as if they’d be able to ship him back home. Mrs. Andrews had already paid for Jughead’s spot on the field trip. The worst that would happen is he’d be shuffled into one of the parents rooms to sleep on their couch, and even without getting in trouble that was preferable to the hell on earth that was sharing a hotel room with Reggie and Moose Mason.
“Cooper, you are an enigma.”
Betty laughed, her smile brighter than it had been in ages (he missed her smile), and reached into her coat pocket to pull out a blue bottle. Her elbow grazed his chest in the confined space. All he wanted to do was grasp her forearm and say something witty, charming, sly.
But this was Betty, and he was Jughead. In every universe imaginable she ended up with some stand up guy who wore brand new designer clothes, had three degrees from Harvard, and defended those who couldn’t defend themselves. Probably someone named Chad, or Adam, or Archie. While he? Well, so long as he had a hot cup of coffee, a burger, and a pen and paper he’d be able to make it through another day.
That knowledge planted his feet to the laminate tile beneath him while he watched Betty pour Reggie’s overpriced mousse down the drain. Carefully, she screwed the lid off her own bottle. A foul stench crowded the room around them and Jughead reached across her to flip on the air vents.
“Are you sure this will work?” Jughead asked through coughs.
Betty nodded, her cheeks red from the stench. She tipped the bottle over the mousse and poured a thick, pink liquid into it.
As she was screwing the lid shut, the hotel door opened with a bang that rattled the bathroom mirror. Betty and Jughead glanced at each other, eyes wide. The sounds of the football team were loud as a train with the door open. Jughead cursed himself for not resisting Betty insistence that he be in the bathroom with her.
“Hide,” he hissed.
He herded her into the shower. Just as he’d pulled the curtain behind them the bathroom door opened and brought with it two of Jughead’s least favorite people.
“What’s that stench?” Moose asked loudly.
“Probably Jones and his cheap shampoo,” Reggie said with glee. “Must be why he wears that stupid hat all the time. His hair probably smells to much without it.”
Jughead slid down to sit in the tub. He stared at the space between his feet because it was easier than seeing the pity on Betty’s face. No matter where he went, it seemed, he couldn’t escape the reality of his financial situation. He’d known for a long time his family had gone without things his classmates had, but it wasn’t until high school that his realized it. And once they had, Reggie and his ilk had pounced on it.
Betty sat down across from him. She reached for his hand and squeezed it.
“What’s in the blue bottle? Looks too expensive to be Jones’,” Moose asked in the same way he’d asked the literature teacher what a cliche was.
“Whatever it is, don’t touch it or you’ll end up a poor weirdo too,” Reggie said with a braying laugh.
The shower curtain shifted as one of the Dumb and Dumber crew shoved at the other. God, they were wrestling while he and Betty were stuck in a shower having to listen to their
Jughead couldn’t imagine a way he could be more embarrassed. But if there had been, Reggie and Moose would be the first to find it if they looked in the shower. They had been the bane of Jughead’s existence the moment he’d stepped into Riverdale high. While the pair had taken Archie under their wing in an attempt at bro-ification, Jughead had been their designated object de ridicule from day one.
The situation could be worse, it would always be worse. His parents had taught him that. But the overall experience still wasn’t pleasant
He dared to glance up at Betty, and found her simmering with the same rage she’d had when she found out just what, exactly, had been put in the cafeteria’s vegetarian options. When she caught him looking at her she smiled at him, the same closed lip mask she’d worn since the day she’d been outfitted for braces in sixth grade. Jughead knew that Betty didn’t care about his socio-economic status, but it still stung for anyone else to hear the same jeers he was subjected to in the hallways of Riverdale.
He dropped his eyes to the tub between them and Betty nudged his foot with her own as if trying to get his attention. When he looked up again, Betty mouthed something that looked a lot like ‘Moose next?’
Jughead nodded. Even if she’d called him a goose-head, or wanted to go get juice after this he’d still agree. He’d agree to almost anything so long as she’d still be his friend after everyone found out just how great she was.
Eventually Moose and Reggie took their repressed flirtation out of the room, all the while rating girls on their hotness level. Betty rolled her eyes, her cheeks growing redder and redder as the pair went through the rest of their grade. Jughead mimed gagging himself and Betty bit her lip to keep from laughing.
The hotel door slammed shut and Jughead reached for the shower curtain. Betty caught his arm and shook her head.
"They might have forgotten something," she whispered.
Jughead dropped his arm, and a flare of happiness went through him when Betty didn't move her hand.
True to her words, Moose scrambled back into the room a few moments later and hustled into the bathroom. He left as quickly as he’d come and finally Jughead was allowed to move the shower curtain back.
The pair clambered out of the tub, the jovial atmosphere from before Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum’s interruption long gone. Their words echoed through Jughead’s mind and he hated how it got to him. They’d all known on some level that the Jones’ family wasn’t as well off as the Andrews or the Coopers, but it wasn’t until middle school that it became tangible.
Archie’s family could afford the cost of sports equipment and trainers, while the Coopers could afford band and woodshop and Polly’s cheerleading expenses.
When Jughead asked his mother if he could sign up for the yearly school trip in seventh grade, a cost of $30 for the day, she’d only sighed and taken the form from him. She stuck it the refrigerator and promised to find the money somehow.
Two years later, the form was still on stuck to the fridge’s door buried beneath layers of overdue bills and collection notices. His mother had left both the bills and her son six months ago, leaving nothing but empty promises in her wake. Jughead still hadn’t the heart to take the yellowing form down. Some childlike, hopeful part of him wondered if she’d remember it one day and try and make it up to him. It was a lie he told himself whenever he caught sight of it.
“They’re idiots. Both of them,” Betty huffed as she pulled Reggie’s overfilled bathroom bag towards her. “I can’t believe Polly had a crush on either one of them.”
Jughead watched as she unscrewed another bottle labeled with unfamiliar script and poured half of it down the drain. She uncapped the blue bottle and poured its contents in. With the skill of a pharmacist, she screwed the top back on and handed it to Jughead.
“Shake this really, really well.”
Betty then reached towards Moose’s zip lock bag, helpfully labeled with a cartoon moose drawn on it. She pulled out a bottle of conditioner and opened it only to dump half of it into the sink.
“I thought you just wanted to get back at Reggie.” While he wasn’t opposed to the idea, Jughead was amazed that Betty would be so willing to pull Moose in on the prank as well.
“If they’re close enough to bad mouth you, they’re close enough to suffer the same fate,” Betty said as she poured out the rest of the blue bottle. “Besides they both stole your hat together. If we leave Moose out of this we’re no better than they are.”
She screwed the lid back onto both bottles and slipped the blue one into an inside pocket of her jacket. The other she picked up and shook vigorously, a mirror image of Jughead.
“How do you think they’re going to react after this? Desolate, despair, rage?” she asked. She leaned against the bathroom sink in thought. “I’d like to think they’d fall into each other arms, sobbing, and promise to change their ways.”
Jughead snorted. “The only thing that would change their ways would be a restraining order and a stint in juvie.”
Betty tsked and place her bottle back into Moose’s bag. “Where is your faith in humanity, Jughead? Didn’t Charles Dickens teach you man can always change for the better?”
He set the other bottle back into Reggie’s bag. He zipped it up and set it back in the corner where it still covered almost a third of the counter space.
“Yeah, once they’re old and have ruined a thousand people’s lives. Nothing like a Christmas dinner to shed off years of emotional abuse of your employees.”
Betty sighed and leaned her head against Jughead’s shoulder as she looked over her handiwork. “Well, maybe it won’t take that much. Maybe once they’re both bald they’ll realize how important a hat is in winter.”
“Maybe,” Jughead said softly.
They both knew it wouldn’t. Nothing could knock either Reggie or Moose off the top of the social pile, but at least this would bring the rest of the school some joy. Not to mention ruin their yearbook pictures.
With their task taken care of, Betty tugged at Jughead’s sleeve. Together they made their way to the restaurant downstairs where Archie was waiting for them completely unaware of what had transpired.
To the disappointment of both schemers, the rest of the weekend went without incident. On Monday, though, neither could contain their amusement as Reggie and Moose walked through the halls with their own beanies pulled down low over their ears.
As they passed, Betty turned to Jughead and loudly said, “Looks like beanies are in this year.”