Betty let out a full body sigh as she watched Archie and Veronica skate around the frozen lake. Unsteady on her feet, Veronica’s arms windmilled. The flash of panic was replaced by laughter when Archie caught her around the waist. They’d been on the ice almost from the moment they’d shown up at Cheryl’s Sweetwater party, while Betty had taken up her lonely vigil at the bonfire.
Tonight was the first time Betty had seen Archie look this radiant. A pity, really. Because for the longest time, she thought that it would be her that would bring that look to his face.
“You did a good deed, Coop,” a voice said from behind.
She turned and found Jughead holding out a steaming cup. Betty took it and wrapped her gloved hands around the cardboard, eager for anything that would ward off the late season chill.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said loftily. She took a sip of the drink - mocha latte, extra shot. Of course he’d know what she’d been craving. Jughead Jones was never one to carelessly offer food.
He rolled his eyes as he settled down onto the log next to her. “You really want to tell me that Reggie’s carburetor mysteriously disappeared, defying reality and quantum physics, a mere ten minutes before he was supposed to pick Veronica up for their date?”
While Jughead was talking, Betty pulled his arm tight around her against the wind. He’d long since given up trying to convince Betty that the Jones’ did not, quote, snuggle. (Said conversation had been held in third, fifth, and ninth grade. Despite it being a well refined argument, Jughead had resigned himself to the fact that Betty (and Veronica and Toni) had dubbed him the human furnace at Archie’s first homecoming game.)
“Must have been a Christmas string-theory miracle.”
He snorted, and Betty felt a small rush of pride in his confidence. After all, sabotaging Reggie’s carburetor was the only logical thing anyone could accuse her of. The rest was a mix of cajoling Polly into various coincidental spells to make sure the cold front blew in early enough to freeze the river (and to put a bug into Cheryl’s ear about one last winter blowout before graduation); Betty stealing Archie’s letterman jacket, only to return it with a luck charm sewn in the lining; and to make sure the jalopy worked well enough to make it to Veronica’s without a gasket blowing out.
“You gonna be okay with this?”
Betty glance at Jughead. “What do you mean?”
“Your long time crush dating your forever best friend.”
She sighed and pulled him closer. The wind gusted around them and Betty considered whether he’d let her steal his beanie.
“He’ll never look at me that way. It just took me fifteen years to realize that.”
A sharp whistle caught their attention and they turned to find Sweet Pea and Kevin making smooching noises at them. Betty gave them a beatific smile as she lifted her hand in a one finger salute. Sweet Pea cackled. He threw his arm around Kevin’s shoulder, more than tipsy at this point, and left to harass someone else.
Jughead squeezed her waist, and the movement made her squirm against him.
“You’re a good egg,” he said softly.
They sipped at their quickly cooling drinks while the party swirled around them, content to be alone among the crowd. As night began to fall, the food truck Cheryl had rented closed up. The teens began to disperse as girls in thin leggings wrapped themselves in letter jackets, all the while cajoling their dates to get out of the cold. Veronica and Archie had disappeared long ago, red-faced and glowing, while others talked about a promised Blossom wassail tasting.
The pain Betty had earlier when she realized just how perfect Veronica and Archie were together had subsided to a dull ache. A reminder that no matter how perfect she tried to be, no matter how relatable, no matter how friendly, she’d never be what Archie wanted. But sitting next to Jughead, just enjoying the night, it was nothing more than an overstretched muscle. An unsightly bruise to both her pride and ego.
“Walk me home?” she asked Jughead when the fire was nothing more than a few embers.
He nodded and stood. Holding out his hands, he took the empty cups in one and pulled Betty to her feet with the other. On their way to the trailhead he tossed them in an overly full trashcan and let her lead them towards the dimly light hiking trail.
“Any plans for break?”Jughead asked.
Betty slipped her hands into his coat pocket and wrapped her fingers around his. He shivered at her cold touch.
“Just the Cooper traditional Christmas Eve feast followed by four hours at midnight mass. Then six hours in a car for Christmas brunch with Dad’s family. You?”
Jughead shrugged his shoulders and Betty felt a catch at her heart. The last he’d mentioned the Jones’ were trying at being a family again, but history had proven that didn’t mean anything.
“Mary invited me and Arch up to Chicago. Thought I might take a look at some colleges while we’re there,” he said evenly.
She squeezed his hand, a silent apology for asking. He squeezed it back. Such a simple motion, but one that put her at ease about the next few weeks.
It wasn’t until they reached town that they realized snow had begun to fall around them. The first natural snow of the season, Betty realized. One untouched by magic. It was a sure sign that the holidays were just around the corner. The one time of the year where Betty was permitted to stay in bed late, curled around a stack of the latest best-sellers; when her parents acted like teenagers, openly flirting while they decorated their house, tipsy on egg nog. The only time when Polly still wanted to curl up with her in their grandmother’s oversized recliner and gossip; when her father handed her a cup of hot chocolate spiked with Schnapps while they watched Charlie Brown’s poor tree loose all of its needles.
This was her favorite time of year, and she refused to let something as silly as disappointed puppy love, as silly as Archie get her down.
With a laugh, Betty tugged them towards the town square. Jughead stumbled, but had no trouble catching himself with his long legs. Halfway to the square she scooped up what snow she could off a parked car and threw it at him, shrieking with delight when he managed to come up with a properly made snowball. Shoppers taking advantage of the later holiday hours on Main Street shook their heads at such childish exuberance, but even crabby Ms. Crabapple pulled a smile when they ran by.
Panting, they made their way to Elm Street. Betty stuck her tongue out and managed to catch a snowflake on her first try.
“Show off,” Jughead teased.
She winked and slid her arm through his. One by one, the lights on the houses kicked on. Puzzled, he stared at the houses.
“Did you do that?”
Betty shook her head. Magic had nothing to do with this, but even she couldn’t deny the strange sense of wonder the lighted block brought out in her. She pulled Jughead closer; for once, Betty was happy to have someone decidedly not Archie to experience this with. (And, perhaps, it wasn’t just any someone so much as it was a particular someone, she was slowly beginning to realize.)
“Must have been some real string-theory holiday magic,” she said with a contented smile.