“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.”
Chapter 2: A Bad Haircut and A Beanie
The first day of school brought with it many things. A brutal new schedule after the lazy months of summer’s freedom. New, at least to Jughead, clothes and shoes now that he’d grown out of the old ones. Empty notebooks and cheap pencils from the dollar store. A library full of books and a cafeteria full of food The return to the ins and outs of Riverdale Elementary was rote now that he’d gone through this four times before.
Every year, like clockwork, there was something that went awry. Jellybean’s early birth the night before first grade kept Jughead and his father anxiously waiting through the difficult birth. The day before second grade found Archie breaking his arm from falling out of the treehouse while Jughead broke his ankle trying to catch him. And last year found Reggie Mantle, his goons, and Betty Cooper, already overly zealous in her environmental awareness, sneaking into the school to release all class animals back into the wild.
(Still one of the highlights of life in this boring town, an even that many had tried, and failed, to top since.)
This year promised something different. Something lighter and better. Now that Reggie, Moose, and Jason had moved onto middle school Jughead finally began to believe he could enjoy lunch and recess. He tied his flannel around his waist, a decisive fashion choice for the more conservative halls of Riverdale, and stepped out into the cloudy morning light.
The crisp hint of fall tore through the oppressive heat of summer. He’d always loved the fall and the changing of the leaves, but mostly because of the fairs that brought fried foods and sugary treats along with it.
It was looking to be a good year.
That is, until he came upon the Andrews’ residence.
As he drew nearer, a soft keening sound called his attention towards the hedge row to his left. He was struck by the oddity that neither family would leave a small animal in such distress. Jughead glanced up at the Andrews’ porch, no Archie to be found. As he neared, he saw the light in Archie’s room was still dark. Next door, the Cooper’s residence was locked up tight against the outside world.
He glanced at his watch and found he was 15 minutes early, another oddity to the day considering his father had returned early enough from his nightly escapades to wake Jughead this morning. A quick glance proved he was the only living creature on Elm Street, leaving him with a moral dilemma he’d rather avoid. His better nature, and his curiosity got the better of him and he wandered towards the hedges to investigate. Still too short to peak over the bushes he squatted down and peered through the trunks.
Whatever it was he’d been expecting, it wasn’t a bright pink pair of overalls underneath a mass of blonde, shaking hair.
The wailing paused, and she turned to look at him. Her face was covered in bright red splotches and tear tracks, a sight that still broke his heart of ice no matter how many times he’d seen it.
Swaying movement at the edge of his vision caught his eye and he squatted closer to the ground for a better look. A fringe of hair stood at attention on the top of her head, defying gravity. The overall look was as if a flamingo and a cockatoo had gotten into a fight and come out the other end as conjoined twins.
Jughead bit his cheek to keep from laughing. Betty’s lower lip trembled and new tears welled in the corners of her eyes.
He cleared his throat of humor before he spoke again. “What happened?”
The responding sniffle was enough of a warning Jughead was able to brace himself against the onslaught of verbiage he didn’t realize anyone was capable of this early in the morning.
“Cheryl and Jason came by to pick up Polly to go to school, even though Polly knows we’re not supposed to let anyone in the house if they’re not home, and Cheryl put her gum in my hair and Polly didn’t want to be late for her first day and Mom and Dad already were at work so I tried putting some of Polly’s hair stuff in my hair to get the gum out, but that didn’t work, so then I tried cutting it out and now I look like a weird space alien and Mom’s going to kill me and look at my hair it’s ruined forever and everybody’s gonna hate me -”
Betty came to a crashing stop, finally running out of air. Jughead started to speak, to try and tell her it wasn’t that bad, a little uneven and unique, but it still wouldn’t make her any different of a person, but she was already too far gone for any attempt at optimism.
“I don’t want to go to school,” she wailed. Her proclamation made to the world, she tucked her head into the crook of her elbow and resumed her crying.
Distressed at so many tears - he’d never been able to stand anyone crying, doubly so now that his baby sister was able to articulate, in excruciating detail, why she was crying - Jughead tried to think of something to cheer Betty up.
“I thought you liked school.”
This only made Betty turn away from him.
Well. Shit. Where was Archie when you needed him? Ah, right. Rushing around after sleeping through his third alarm.
“Do you want to -” Jughead trailed off, unable to find any words at all. Not even a ‘the.’
There was that one time in kindergarten, now that he thought about it, when he’d gotten gum in his hair. It wasn’t a malicious thing, not like Cheryl’s act of terror. Rather, Ethel had been chasing him on the playground, trying to get him to play house or something equally gross, and he’d tripped over his untied shoelaces. And Ethel had fallen on top of him, her big wad of Fruit Stripe gum landing in the space between his beanie and his hair.
His mother had thankfully been able to save the last thing he had from his favorite uncle. Jughead, on the other hand, had to be shaved almost bald after his father attempted to fix the problem himself.
But hadn’t there been something about peanut butter first? And hadn’t his mother made him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich just this morning?
Jughead reached into his backpack and pulled out the square container. Betty watched him, her tears now silent. He pulled off the lid and peeled the bread apart. Gingerly setting down the jelly half, he moved the peanut butter laden slice towards Betty.
“What about -”
She caught his wrist before he could get close to her hair. Through a sniffle, she reminded him, “The gum’s gone, Juggie.”
So what was the problem? His face must have telegraphed his confusion because Betty let out a choked laugh.
“I ruined my hair trying to fix it. If I got to school like this,” she gestured to her wrong sided mohawk, “everybody will make fun of me and I won’t have any friends.”
Still not sure what the problem was, Jughead put his sandwich back together and took a bite. “Me and Archie will still be your friends,” he said.
Betty snorted and tore a piece of his sandwich off. She popped it into her mouth and scrubbed at her cheeks.
“You two don’t count.” At his offended look, she added, “you two will always be my friends. I meant -”
“Everybody who counts.”
She sighed and nodded.
As painful as her words might sound, Jughead wasn’t offended by them. He knew what she meant, especially in a small town like this. The Jones’ had a reputation that had most people on the north side of the tracks clutching their pearls as they delighted in gossip about them, while the Andrews’ were a sturdy family without interest in rising through the ranks of small-town society. A society that bled down even to their children.
“You could wear a hat,” he suggested after a moment. “What about that Kermit one you got last year?”
She shook her head. “The house is locked. And even if I wanted to, Ms. Crabapple doesn’t let us wear hats.”
Jughead took another bite and chewed, his jaw turning the gears in his head. An idea brewed, one he hated with every ounce of his being. It meant giving up a part of himself, becoming a part of everyone he hated in school.
Across the hedge, Betty’s tears dripped onto her overalls. The hot pink dots stared at him expectantly. With a heavy sigh he pulled off his beanie and held it out to her. She reached for it, paused, and stared at him.
“Take it. I think you need it more than me today.”
Betty’s lower lip trembled, and Jughead steeled himself for another round of tears. A door slammed shut behind him and he heard Archie’s voice.
“Take it, Cooper, of Archie’s gonna get an eyeful of your Guile cosplay and I’m pretty sure he’s more of a Chun-Li type of guy.”
Betty took the beanie and gingerly slipped it over her head. It covered her ill-inspired fringe and, unless she removed it, she looked like she did in the cold of winter.
“If anybody asks, I lost a bet,” Jughead said. He took the last bite of his sandwich, his stomach already protesting at the loss of lunch, and stood.
Archie approached them, none the wiser to Betty’s follicle foibles, and said his hello’s to both her and Jughead. They walked to school together that day, like they always had, and if anybody noticed Betty wearing a beanie, they didn’t comment, though Mr. Finch did make a snide comment about Jughead finally growing up.
(Best of all, Mrs. Cooper had sent Betty with an eggplant lasagna filled with three types of cheese, a lunch that Betty happily shared.)
That afternoon, they waited until Archie went inside to make the exchange.
“Thanks,” Betty said softly. She ran a hand through what was left of her hair and winced. “Mom’s going to kill me.”
Jughead shrugged and slipped the beanie back to its rightful place. The tension that had lined his body slipped away as it settled over his hair. “I think she’d be more angry with Polly for not helping you.”
“Maybe. Polly wouldn’t ever forgive me though.” She scuffed at the ground between them. “I really appreciate it. You didn’t have to do that for me.”
“Like you said, we’re friends. I don’t want to have to make an effort to find new ones.”
“Right,” Betty laughed. “You’re not really good at that, huh?”
“The worst. I’ll see you tomorrow, Betts.”
Chapter 3: Better than Good
Trope mashup - Flower Shop AU & Anger Born of Worry
Angst in this one
“What was that back there?” Betty asked as she followed Jughead to the back of the store.
He’d made a spectacle of both of them by scowling at the last customer who’d lingered a little too long after his purchase. Lately Jughead was irritated by every little thing, especially where it concerned men coming in to purchase apology floral arrangements. In the past it hadn’t been a problem, but here in this new city it seemed like most of the men had a lot to apologize for.
Jughead’s anger was understandable but it wouldn’t do much to endear themselves to new customers.
“I didn’t like the way he was talking at you,” Jughead said. His words were clipped short, his teeth snapping around each syllable as if he meant to take a bite out of the world. “He kept staring and flirting, the next step was asking for your number.”
Betty let out a breath of frustration and counted to ten. Anger and fear were a natural part of the grieving process, but he was making it damn hard to be around him this week. Especially when his fears were entirely unfounded when it came to her.
“What’s this really about?” she asked, already knowing the answer.
Jughead tried to return to the front of the store but Betty blocked his way. Instead of saying something, anything, he turned back towards the workbench. He picked up a block of foam and stabbed it with floral wire.
A customer called for help and she was torn.
“If we’re going to get through this -”
“You don’t have to,” he spat, finally revealing the root of his anger.
“I’ll be back,” she promised despite every part of her wanting to wrap him in her arms and never let him go again.
Years of practice made it easy to put on a pretty smile. At the front of the shop, surrounded by plants full of life and beauty, it was easy to pretend that this was going to be their forever. It had felt that way back at home even though they’d only been married a year. And now their whole world was balancing on the lip of an eternal precipice with only a dark void to catch it.
In less than five minutes Betty was back in front of her husband. The man who had seemed so eager for a fight minutes before had sunk in on himself. His eyes were locked on the calla lily between his fingers and he seemed farther away than ever.
“We are going to get through this,” she said softly. “It’s why we’re here.”
“Maybe it would have been better if you’d stayed home,” he whispered.
His words cut to the bone even though she’d been expecting them. When Jughead was first diagnosed he’d tried to push her away, even going so far as to tell her this wasn’t her problem and that she’d be better off without him.
Betty had refused to be pushed away then. And every time he’d even hinted that she’d be better off without him, she continued to ignore him.
“I’m not going anywhere, Jug,” she reminded him. The tears were back again and this time she let them fall. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.”
“It’s not fair to you -”
Betty set her hands on either side of his face and waited until he looked up at her. His eyes, normally sparkling with some unspoken sarcasm, were tired and defeated. Jughead looked away when he saw the tears falling down her cheek.
“A lot of things aren’t fair, Jug. And it wouldn’t be fair to leave you alone after everything you’ve done for me. Getting me through middle school, helping me survive my crazy family. Besides, I agreed to this when I said ‘I do.’ ‘In sickness and in health,’ remember?”
He huffed a laugh. “I knew you’d use our vows against me one day.”
Betty smiled and pinched his ear. “My point is, I’m here no matter how hard it gets. But you don’t always make it easy for me.”
Jughead sighed and leaned into his embrace. “I’m sorry. I don’t know how to make this any easier. For either of us.”
She wrapped her arms around him and held him as tight as she could. “We are going to get through this. You are going to get better. And we are going to move back home, spoil Veronica’s children absolutely rotten, and buy back out shop from the Blossoms.”
He laughed this time and wrapped his arms around her waist. “You’re still mad Cheryl renamed the shop ‘Blossom’s Blossoms.’”
“And you’re just mad Veronica named her firstborn Forsythe.”
Jughead groaned. “I still can’t believe she kept that dare.”
Betty ran a hand through his hair, trying to memorize every moment.
“Are we good?”
“Better than good.”
Chapter 4: Teenage Witch
Betty Cooper bit her lip as the figures in the house across from her leaned towards each other, their flirting as clear as any neon sign. This wasn’t how she was supposed to spend her sixteenth birthday. She was supposed to be the one in that room, laughing and flirting with Archie, all the while waiting for him to kiss her. Instead, she was sitting alone in her dark room and wistfully thinking about the boy who didn’t want her.
Polly had warned her that love spells didn’t work, but Betty made sure she hadn’t used a love spell. She’d used a persuasion charm and a dream potion, both meant to make Archie see what they could be, if only he’d give it a chance. Except, instead of noticing Betty, his lifelong best friend, the one who’d been there for him through his thick head and her thin patience, Archie had fallen for Veronica Lodge, the rich socialite who’s every move was infused with sophistication and seduction.
With a groan Betty threw herself back onto her bed. She picked up a pillow and covered her head to scream in frustration. Frustration that she hadn’t proved she was a real witch like Polly and their mother; frustration that she’d failed at becoming the one thing she’d always wanted, Archie’s girlfriend, before her birthday; and worst of all, frustration that she didn’t even know if she wanted to him anymore.
A knock came from the window and Betty ignored it. Probably just another one of Polly’s suitors, clamoring for her attention despite her heart already belonging to another. Pretty, perfect Polly. The all-American girl next door. Perfect grades, perfect hair, and perfect spell work. Though Betty still adored her older sister, it was annoying how easily things came to Polly and Chic. Both slipped gracefully into the realm of popularity, neither breaking a sweat in their pursuit of adulthood. Chic was the captain of the football team and the editor of The Blue & Gold when he was a sophomore on top of his laundry list of extracurriculars. And Polly had naturally become the co-head of the J.V. Cheer squad, organized a coat drive for the homeless, chaired the dance committee, and successfully protested for adoption of organic, cruelty free lunches by the time her freshman finals had come around.
All Betty had managed during her two years at Riverdale High was maintain the moniker ‘Queen of the Nerds’ for pacing Dilton Doiley in rank and get politely rejected for all extracurriculars except for the school paper (and even then she’d only been allowed in as a legacy recruit). Her turn in shop had ended just as quickly when the older boys found out she could clean a carburetor and fix a flat quicker than any of them cared to try. Heck, even the marching band, always ravenous for new blood, kicked her out after she’d staged a one-woman protest over the sexist and archaic twirler uniforms were.
(Upon further reflection, brought upon by a long weekend detention for interrupting the Homecoming performance, Betty realized her expulsion from the wind section might have more to do with her protestations about the choice of music for that year. Classic Horror Reimagined might have been all well and good for NYSFBC competitions, but she hadn’t been able to find it in herself to not speak up about the music choices from The Reflecting and Cardamom’s Baby, both directed by, and paying royalties to, truly awful directors. It seemed Riverdale’s band director was not ready for a more enlightened view of women in film and thus Betty had been regulated to spending the rest of the semester in study hall.)
The knock came again and Betty rolled over. Let Polly’s beaus wait. It was as if they cared about Betty’s birthday, so why should she care about their heartache?
“Betts,” came a muffled voice. “Let me in, will you? I’m about to fall off this ladder.”
At the sound of her name, she sat up and peered out the window. The top of Jughead’s grey beanie, a sight for sore eyes at all times, but especially now, stared back at her. Betty rushed to the window and opened it. Jughead shoved a greasy Pop’s bag and cup towards her.
“What are you doing here?” she asked as he pulled himself through the window.
He shrugged and turned on the table lamp by her bed. The soft, warm glow cast long shadows through the room, its reflection against the window blocking Archie and Veronica from her view. Jughead jerked his head towards the Andrews’ house and sat down on the window seat.
“Archie had plans tonight, and you’d mentioned your parents had a thing. So.” Jughead gestured towards the bag in her hands. “I probably should have brought a slice of pie or cake or something.”
Her heart fluttered into her throat and if it weren’t for the melted milkshake in her hand, Betty would have thrown her arms around him. And, maybe, if she thought a little less and acted a little more, she might have even tried to kiss him. He shifted in the seat and stared around the room as if it were the first time he’d been there. A ridiculous thought considering how many times he’d climbed through her window since they were old enough to know what a ladder was. Despite his familiarity with the room, Betty felt a surprising, sudden urge to hide all her stuffed animals and childhood trinkets under the bed.
Instead, she cleared her throat.
“This is perfect, Jug. But what about you? Won’t you be hungry?”
He grinned, that sheepish, boyish charm of his that lit up his sleepy face. Her heart thumped painfully at the sight of it. Not for the first time, Betty wondered why she’d never noticed just how nice of a smile he had?
“I ate mine on the way over. And I might have stolen a few onion rings.”
“There’s that famous Jones’ appetite,” Betty laughed.
She sat down on the floor and pulled the paper container of onion rings out. When he didn’t move from the window, Betty patted the carpet next to her in invitation. Jughead stood slowly, his movements jerky and uncertain. Whether he was wary of her, or of the chance that Archie might see them together, was unknown. But when she pick up the milkshake, now nothing more than thick strawberry milk, his eyes flicked to her lips then ran away to stare at the pastel pink wallpaper.
“How’s the witchcraft going? Turn anybody into frogs lately?”
Betty shrugged and picked at an onion ring. Jughead had been the only one she’d told about her heritage. Despite his inherent skepticism, he was the only one she felt she could trust.
“Slowly. Mom wants me to memorize the basics first, but Polly’s been showing me a few things.”
Ever the skeptic in need of tangible proof, Jughead raised an eye in challenge. Betty shot him a grin and pulled the burger out of the bag. While she unwrapped it her lips moved wordlessly, the strange form of the spell coming to the front of her mind. As they watched, steam rose from the burger as it slowly heated. Jughead let out a low whistle and clapped. Glib as it might have been, his approval was enough to draw a grin.
“Finally, useful voodoo.”
Betty rolled her eyes and let out a huff. She knew he was pushing her buttons, a childish attempt to draw her attention, but it had become a sort of game between them.
“Vodun is a religion, Juggie, and not at all like -“
She paused as a loud whistling cut through the air. With a puff of air, the burger exploded, sending pieces of rye bread and vegetables all through the room.
“More practice, maybe?” Jughead said softly.
Betty worried at her lips, her mind racing to figure out what had gone so wrong. She’d brought the words to her mind, and focused on shifting her power into them, and then…. did she close off the spell? Or did she get so distracted by -
Her mind stalled as Jughead reached towards her. Gently, he pulled something out of her hair and popped it into his mouth. A few seconds too late, Betty realized it was a tomato.
“What?” he said at her wince. “Can’t waste good food. What about your other project? The one that doesn’t involve exploding burgers?”
Betty groaned and leaned back to lay down on the (thankfully still clean) carpet. “You mean The Archie Project.”
Jughead nodded. He moved a few pieces of bread out of the way, tossing those into the bag, and lay down next to her.
“I’d name it Operation Ginger Theft, or Lonely Hearts Prevail. The Archie Project sounds like some lame make-over reality show Kevin and Veronica are always going on about.”
Betty snorted at the image of a swarm of stylists descending upon Riverdale, intent on cleaning up the jocks. “Or maybe Archie’s the one who gives you a make over.”
Jughead faked a shudder and she giggled. “Armed with Hamburgercrombie & Fritch, way too much hair gel, and a daily bath in Old Sugar? Hard pass.”
“You’re willing to give up the chance of a life time to let him and his talented team of bros -“
“Reggie and Moose?” he asked.
“Naturally. And they come fully equipped to dudify -“
“Well, what else would you call it?”
Jughead thought about it while he stared at a piece of cheese on the ceiling. Betty stared at him, transfixed on just how clear his skin seemed. The realization that she’d never been this close to him, that he’d probably never let anyone come this close to him who wasn’t related to him, was grounding. Skin like that had to be a miracle considering how much junk food he ate. Not a single blemish to be seen. Pity, too, that his eyelashes were that long and thick. They covered up just how blue eyes were when he had them half-closed all the time. No wonder Ethel spent middle school writing sonnets about -
“Masculinize? Toxify? Fraternize?” he asked, his drawl drawing her out of her trancelike observations.
“Maybe,” she said softly.
He turned towards her and his eyes met hers. The stare between them went on far too long to be a look between friends. Especially when his eyes flicked down to her lips and she couldn’t help but draw the tip of her tongue along her bottom lip. Jughead cleared his throat, his eyes darting back to the ceiling.
“I should have brought a cake.”
Betty sighed heavily at the reminder. “At least you remembered it was today.”
Jughead pushed himself up on his elbow, confusion littered across his face. “What do you mean?”
Not wanting to fall back into that particular pit of self-pity, she shrugged. “Forget about it. And as for The Archie Project -“
“Coming soon on RBC,” he deadpanned. Despite the humor, Betty knew him well enough to note the tension in his jaw.
“I think I’m giving up on him.”
Jughead’s eyes went wide and he stared at her.
“It turns out Archie wasn’t really who I wanted.”
Betty chewed the inside of her mouth. His half-lidded eyes were normally hard to read, but his sudden interest held intriguing lines of mystery. She waited, as she always had, on Jughead. He’d always been last to everything; the last to class, the last to wake, the last to notice when the winds of romance were changing. Only this time, Betty hoped that for the first time, she’d been the last.
He swallowed, hard enough to be heard in the dark, quiet room.
“Then who -“
Betty raised up on her arm and leaned forward slowly as if not to spook him. She met his eyes and, finding the same heat that she felt, met his lips with her own.
Chapter 5: Hint: Epistolary Between Two Crossword Enthusiasts
August 12, 20**
Thank you for your e-mail regarding my most recent crossword posted to The Olde Yorke Times last week. However, your contention that it is ‘The Gargoyle King’ is, inherently, wrong (see Gideon and Harper’s latest article regarding that particularly gruesome phenomenon, attached for your convenience). Per the standard American usage, and Mr. Evernever’s own confession, it is merely ‘Gargoyle King,’ and as such is a 13 letter answer and not a 16 letter anser.
My editor and I greatly anticipate your next correction.
Elizabeth A. Cooper
Editor and Writer for The Olde Yorke Times
Despite your inherent insistence on dropping articles, I would like to point you to the court transcripts wherein the state and Mr. Evernever refer to himself as ‘The Gargoyle King.’ Attachment not included.
Additionally, while your latest puzzle was quite challenging, I refer you to the Attorney General’s latest publications that the street drug commonly known as ‘jingle-jangle’ is not known by ‘jay-jay’, but is instead known by the acronym J.J. (Clever use, however, to pair the clue with one of the Blossom heirs nicknames.)
August 26, 20**
I also thought it quite clever to pair Jason Blossom with a jingle-jangle, particularly in light of the recent revelations connecting the Blossom fortune to less savory characters. And I admit that I was going off of the latest P.R. reports rather than Ms. Blossom’s instagram. In that case, I cede the point.
You are still conclusively wrong in arguing that it is ‘Pops Diner’, however. Despite the name of the restaurant being grammatically incorrect on it’s sign, if you took a look at the menu (photo attached, along with a hearty recommendation for their double fried cheese burger if you are ever in the area), it is clearly ‘Pop’s Diner.’
And it is Ms., not Mrs.
Elizabeth A. Cooper
Editor and Write for the Olde Yorke Times.
To Ms. Cooper,
The menu’s might be grammatically correct (I should know, Pop’s himself requested I rewrite the descriptions - and yes, the double fried cheese burger is the best food in the trig-state area, but I once again have to point out that in your photo you are eating a strawberry milkshake with it instead of vanilla, as was intended), but the business incorporation papers clearly state that it is ‘Pops Diner,’ not ‘Pop’s Diner.’
(I would also encourage you to order the Jughead Special the next time you’re at the Diner. Pop’s will know what you mean.)
Mr. J. Jones,
I cannot believe Pop’s has been hiding the Jughead Special from me! He laughed when I asked him for it (and seem surprised I even knew of it?), but none the less it is the best thing I’ve ever tasted, aside from my mother’s apple pie.
I assume then that. you’re a regular?
(And you are, categorically and literally, incorrect when you state that The Pussycats are the original band name. I know for a personal fact that the original band name was Josie and the Pussycats. See attached photo.)
Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Cooper,
If I am wrong about Josie and the Pussycats, then you are also surely wrong about The Fredheads being The Archies original touring name. (See attached touring photo, and make no assumptions that the J. Jones on the poster and I are one in the same. I will deny that to my last breath.). The Archies have always been The Archies; The Fredheads were Archie Andrews’s father’s band.
I’m not a regular in as much as I live at the diner.
(P.S., your clue about The Maple Club was genius; it took me almost the whole week to figure that one out.)
I knew you looked familiar! I’ve seen you around Pop’s many times, though I have to admit at first I thought you worked there. I know I’ve seen you behind the counter, though we haven’t had a chance to meet.
Buy a girl a milkshake as payment for constant SPaG harassment?
Strawberry at booth number 3, coming right up.
Chapter 6: Dream, Dream, Dream
Shaken by some unknown force, Jughead groaned and nestled further into his arms.
“C’mon, wake up,” Archie said, his voice coming from a universe away.
Sleep was a dense fog that settled in behind Jughead’s eyelids and he couldn’t muster the energy to push it away. He’d fallen asleep in school again, that much he could discern from the hard table beneath him. But at least the desk was a lot more comfortable than the janitor’s closet had been.
“Dude, let’s go,” Reggie said.
With a hard tug, Jughead was snapped away. With a wide yawn he stretched out, his back giving a satisfyingly loud crack.
“School’s over, Rip Van Jones,” Reggie said. With a roll of his eyes, he ran a hand through his already slicked back hair. “The girls are waiting for us at Pop’s. Apparently we have to have a set list for Sunday and they wanted to go over it after school. Or at least we were supposed to before this knucklehead got us detention from Grundy again.”
Jughead blinked, convinced he’d heard Reggie wrong. Grundy was dead, murdered by the Black Hood. Even if she had come back to life, what was she doing around high schoolers?
“How was I supposed to know she meant a rhyme scheme from Donna Sweet and not Saweetie,” Archie muttered. “Besides, if we leave right now we still might make it before they ditch us.”
Wait, sweater vest. Why was Archie wearing a sweater vest? And was was Reggie acting so cordial?
Certain that this was another weird dream, Jughead reached for his Serpent’s jacket and found that the back of his chair was empty. Serpent’s jacket?
“I still think that we should ditch Jingle Jangle,” Reggie said as he headed out the door.
“What? It’s my best work,” Archie said as he followed him out.
With another yawn, Jughead picked up his books and followed them out into the cool autumn air. With a start, he realized that it was just a dream, a really weird dream to be exact. There was no biker gang that gave out jackets to kids like candy. He and Archie and Reggie had always been a strange sort of friends; and Grundy was never anything more than a septuagenarian determined to drive herself into an early grade by teaching high brow literature to idiot high schoolers.
On the way to Pop’s, Jughead ignored Archie and Reggie’s argument over some girl the next town over and worked to piece together the dream. It had all been so real that it wasn’t a wonder he’d been confused. Everything in Riverdale had been the same as it was now, except it was all off just enough to cast a dark shadow across their sleepy little town.
Hiram Lodge, a well known philanthropist and entrepreneur who tolerated his daughter’s friends was not a corrupt Wall-Street con-man looking to rule the world. The Coopers, an All American family, was not rife with dark secrets that would eventually tear them apart. The Blossom’s, while certainly devious and conniving in their own ways, were not ripped from the pages of a gothic horror novel.
And the Jones…
Jughead shuddered at the thought. Sure, they weren’t the perfect family. But they loved each other, took care of each other, and were as normal as they could be. That image of his family brought up a wave of guilt about how his subconscious had portrayed his parents.
(He couldn’t help but grin, however, at the idea that baby Jellybean could not only hold her own, but was a fan of Led Zeppelin. It was a nice touch. Maybe he’d roundup his mother’s old records tonight and he’d teach her to appreciate the finer things in life.)
But it wasn’t until they’d walked into Pop’s to find the girls seated at their regular booth that the realization that this Betty - sweet, caring, lovely Betty - wasn’t his that he felt a pang of longing for his dream world. Despite how horrific that dream had been, Betty was the golden lining in that dark world, a comfort meant only for him.
The feeling passed quickly when Betty’s eyes locked on Archie. Jughead couldn’t help but wonder, though, what if things had been different?
For the rest of the afternoon, the members of The Archie’s debated and argued over the set list, while Jughead did what he did best. While Archie was arguing for the merits of Sugar, Sugar, Jughead polished off three baskets of fries and a milkshake. When Veronica demanded to sing Bang-Shang-A-Lang solo, Jughead ate two and a half cheeseburgers and drank half a pot of coffee. As Reggie was arguing for… well, whatever it was he wanted, Jughead nursed a chocolate milkshake and a basket of fries (extra chili cheese, heavy on the onions and cheese, add bacon).
Occasionally he inserted his own opinion - no he would not let Reggie ruin another drum set just so he could show off to Ginger Lopez, nor was it feasible for Veronica to burst out, and ruin, his kick drum at the start of the show. But even as he played at normalcy, his mind kept coming back to that dream. Detention with Grundy could never be long enough to contain an entirely parallel universe, and yet it was the most realistic dream he’d ever had.
“Earth to Juggie,” Betty said as she waved her hand in front of his face. He blinked, his gaze centering on her, and she giggled. “Anything you’d like to share with the class?”
He glanced around and found that despite his attempts to stay present, he and Betty were the only two left.
“Veronica roped Archie into installing shelves for her,” Betty explained with an over exaggerated pout. She then pointed over to where Reggie was chatting a short, dark haired teen. “And Midge came in without Moose, so you know Reggie’s not going to miss that opportunity.”
The world around Jughead spun and he felt lightheaded when he stood. He walked over to where the pair stood at the counter, and when Midge turned to him Jughead wrapped her in a tight hug, tears threatening to pour from his eyes.
“You alright there, needle nose?” Reggie asked, his eyes filled with concern.
Apparently Jughead hadn’t been able to play as normal as he’d thought.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” he said, loosening his hold. He stared at Midge, still trying to comprehend why he felt so relieved that it was all just a dream. “I’m just… happy to see you is all.”
“I’m always happy to see you, Jughead,” Midge said. She placed the back of her hand across his forehead, the corners of her lips pinched. “But maybe you should let Betty take you home?”
Jughead nodded as the surreal threatened to overwhelm him. When he turned, he found Betty behind him, her arms full of their schoolbooks. She set a hand on his arm and gave an encouraging, if worried, smile. It was easy enough to let her lead him out of the diner. That way he could remind himself that the world where Midge had been slaughtered wasn’t real.
“Penny for your thoughts? Or maybe I should offer a nickel?” Betty asked. When he didn’t respond, she bumped her hip into his.
The contact, friendly, playing, concerned, burned his side. It brought up just how touchy they were in his dream world, along with false memories of things he’d never paid any attention to before (especially not about her). He shivered and quickened his step. Betty, ever the Teflon personality, matched his stride and slipped her arm through his.
“Just a strange dream,” he muttered, far too distracted by how much heat she gave out to come up with a good lie.
“Sounds like a pretty intense dream if you’re still thinking about it this much.”
And with that simple statement, the entire thing tumbled out of him. Nothing was left out, though Jughead did edit some of the more intimate moments they’d spent together in his dream. He was so wrapped up in making sure to include all the details - the corruption, the ever-burning ember of hope, the rocket - that he almost missed the fact that Betty had guided them through the town square three times as he divulged the dirty laundry about the underground boxing rings and Maple Club.
By the time they’d reached his house it was twilight and he was telling her about the prep school murders and fake FBI stings. His mother (his real mother, thankfully, and not the drug running mom that had run out on him) brought them out dinner just as he got to his own faked death.
And for the first time in his life, Jughead’s entire focus wasn’t on getting seconds (and thirds).
When he was finally done with his tale, Betty let out a long whistle. She pushed around the remaining bits of pie on her plate, lost in thought. Now that his head was empty of that bizarre dream, Jughead’s appetite came back with a vengeance. He leaned over and snatched the rest of her pie crust and popped it into his mouth.
“Well?” he prompted, curious to get her take on his dream.
“Do you think the fish Ms. Beezley served today was off?”
He rolled his eyes and grinned at her ability to lighten the mood. Jughead leaned back and set his elbows against the porch step behind him to look up at the sky. Betty set her plate down and sat down next to him, primly smoothing out her skirt before she spoke.
“Do you really think we …” she paused. “My mother? And your dad?”
Jughead groaned and ran a hand down his face. “I’d hate to think what Freud would say.”
“Well, he’d definitely agree it wasn’t a pipe,” she snickered. “Maybe your subconscious is trying to tell you something?”
“Convince Archie that Jingle-Jangle is a terrible song to play to middle schoolers?”
She shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not.”
As the world turned around them, they sat in companionable silence. As curious as Jughead was to know what Betty really thought, it was these quiet moments with her that he felt truly at peace. Perhaps that’s what the dream had signified. With all the clamor and turmoil over senior year and applying for colleges, maybe his brain was trying to tell him to slow down and enjoy these little moments more.
Or maybe it was just a sign he shouldn’t shotgun a whole liter of soda before Grundy’s lecture on Dashiell Hammet.
“Walk me home?” Betty asked suddenly.
Without waiting for an answer, she hopped up and pulled Jughead to his feet, the same as they’d done a million times before. Only this time Betty tugged a little too hard and Jughead stumbled into her. He was about to apologize when he noticed the twinkle of mischief in her eyes. To hide his smile, he bent over and tucked his shoulder into her stomach. Betty shrieked as he lifted her up over her shoulder, precariously balancing the two of them as he picked up her books.
“Put me down Jones,” she said through her laughter, “or I’m telling Ethyl that you’d love to play D&D with her.”
“Dirty pool, Cooper,” he shot back as he casually sauntered down the block to her house. He ignored the faint whisper of the peaches and cream lotion she used on her skin and the breathless lilt of her voice. Because no matter how right it felt in the dream, they were only friends here. “And it’s G&G, remember?”
Once back on solid ground, Betty slipped her arm through his and they strolled along under the streetlights. Just another night in the neighborhood without a care in the world.
“Maybe it wouldn’t be all that bad,” she said almost absentmindedly. When she didn’t elaborate, Jughead’s heart gave a heavy, painful thump. “I could always use more help with the B&G.”
He snorted and reached up to scratch his forehead to ignore the sudden disappointment. “Toni does have some strong opinions about the gym’s new paint job.”
Betty stuck her tongue out at him, her face scrunched. Jughead almost tripped trying not to kiss the tip of her nose.
His mood darkened when they reached her house. Archie was on the front porch, napping, and the small seed of possibility withered into dust. But instead of running towards Archie, Betty paused next to him. Her teeth worked across her lip and she stared, unfocused at him. Her hand on Jughead’s arm tightened and she shifted almost imperceptibly towards him.
With a small nod, Betty stood up on her toes and kissed Jughead on the cheek. He flushed as the sun exploded in his chest.
“Meet me at Pop’s tomorrow after school. There’s a new French movie at the Bijou, and I’d hate it if Veronica saw it before me.”
He knew the smile on his face was just as goofy as the one’s he made fun of Archie for, but Jughead couldn’t help but wonder at this strange new turn. For once, he was excited to spend time alone with a girl. (He was always excited to spend time with Betty Cooper, but this time she wasn’t just Betty.)
His smile lasted all the way home and continued until he settled into bed. Just as he was falling asleep, his phone rang with a text from Betty.
‘Some of your dream sounded nice enough to try out in real life, don’t you think?’
To say that Jughead had trouble falling asleep for the first time was an understatement.
Chapter 7: String-Theory Miracle
A holiday prequel to the teen witch prompt (Chapter 4)
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.
Chapter 8: Party Planning
“Bite me, Jones,” Betty snapped. She screwed her eyes shut and breathed deeply as she counted to ten. No one in Riverdale could get under her skin like he could. And he knew it.
“Make me, Cooper.”
Betty curled her lip and turned away from Jughead Jones and his stupid smirk and his stupid hat. She knew from the start that this whole idea was inane. But because it was Archie’s last birthday in Riverdale, and because she and Jughead were Archie’s best friends, she’d said yes to Jones’ stupid idea to throw a surprise party.
For whatever reason, it hadn’t occurred to Betty that Archie might want a birthday party. Over the years they’d fallen into such a routine it almost felt too close to sacrilege to change. The day before Archie’s birthday, he and Jughead would disappear to spend all day gorging on junk food and video games until it came time for a midnight creature feature at the Bijou. The day of, Archie would spend his birthday with his parents as Mrs. Andrews always made a point to come back to Riverdale on his birthday. The next following was Betty’s, and it had become their tradition to find new trails to hike around Sweetwater River only to end their day at Pop’s with burgers and shakes.
It was a custody arrangement they’d all been more than happy with ever since Betty had proclaimed her hatred of Jughead Jones in the second grade for making Ethyl cry because he ran away from her the entire week of Valentine’s. And despite Archie’s numerous attempts over the years at a tentative truce, neither Betty nor Jughead could stand the sight of each other for too long.
This year, however, Jughead decided to buck the system.
With a party.
One week to plan it.
When Jughead had first mentioned it, Betty assumed he’d do what everyone else did when it came to these things: tell Betty his vision and let her handle everything while still getting partial credit for having come up with the idea in the first place. But apparently she’d underestimated him. Not only had he come up with the idea for a party, he also wanted to help plan it.
Normally Betty would jump at the chance for any sort of event planning help. She’d had to beg, borrow, and blackmail to get any actual help to put together Homecoming and the Spring Formal . And now she had a ready, willing participant who came with his own ideas as to how this party should go.
It was as if Fate itself were determined to prove the old adage, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’
(Fate, too, could bite her.)
The ultimate problem, though, was not the fact that it was Jones’ proposing and helping plan the party. It was not that they both wanted to outdo each other in a childish attempt to prove their superior friendship with Archie.
The problem was she had to interact with Jones’ to get this done.
It was the most she’d ever had to interact with him since they’d sat at the same square of tables in elementary school and it was a reminder why she’d avoided him ever since. Every idea she had was countered by his own; every suggestion was met with skepticism and budgeting concerns; every minute detail picked apart.
Their tastes were too far apart on music, food, and decorations along with everything else it took to plan a party. He was far too sarcastic, too caustic for her. She was too nice, too blithe for his.
It was mutual loathing that frustrated Betty every time she had to see him in the hallways. And now she’d agreed to spend most of her free time with him for a week.
Archie better fucking love this damn party.
Monday Morning: 4 Days til B-Day
Today was not Betty Cooper’s day. She’d forgotten about the essay due in History class because she’d been consumed with scholarship applications and making decorations for Polly’s wedding. She’d dropped a beaker of acid on her shoes in lab class and now had to wander around in the ugliest, grossest pair of crocs the school’s lost and found had to offer. And to top it all off, her hair tie had snapped in gym class, leaving her hair in a tangle of waves that drew attention from everyone for just how messy it was.
It took all she had not to skip school for the first time in her life. The only thing stopping her was the inevitable lecture she knew would be waiting at home. If Betty ruined her perfect attendance record three months before graduation, the fit her mother would throw would surely top the one when Polly told her she was unwed and pregnant.
And when the tumbler on her locker stuck, it was all she could do not to scream. Finally the lock popped off and the door slammed into its neighbor.
“Party planning going well?” Kevin asked from behind. He leaned against the locker bank and leveled all the magnets that had fallen to the bottom of the door.
“Yes, actually. That’s the problem,” Betty snapped. She threw her textbooks into the locker, already digging through the three and a half years worth of junk for a hair tie.
“I’d say that’s less of a problem, and more of a shoe in to finally free all that hair Jones’ has been hiding from us,” Kevin said with a Hello Kitty magnet suspended between his thumb and forefinger. When Betty rolled her eyes, he clicked his tongue. “Don’t pretend you haven’t thought about it. The UST between you two has been at peak level for at least two years.”
Betty heaved out a sigh and reached for the top shelf. She tried to imagine herself someplace relaxing and far, far away from here. One of those Swedish spas Veronica was always gushing about. A sunny beach with no one around. An automotive shop that worked exclusively on muscle cars made by Corvette and Ford between 1958 and 1972 somewhere south of Paris, France.
“Of course it’s a problem, Kev. It means that not only is he a complete and total asshole, he’s also a competent and capable asshole,” Betty huffed. She grabbed her history book out of her bag and threw it into the locker hard enough to rattle the mirror on the back.
“At least you now won’t have to split all your free time between the paper, the party, and practice for the Vixens.”
As much as Betty loved him, sometimes she hated how Kevin could always find a positive in every situation and how desperately she hated the fact that Veronica had decided to attend a prep school for her senior year.
“We forgot about Veronica,” Betty gasped. Prior frustrations forgotten, Betty tapped away on the screen. Between event planning and the massive extracurricular load her mother insisted on, Betty hardly had any time to think about what she’d get for Archie. There was no way Veronica would forget something as important as Archie’s birthday, but if there was on thing that could throw a wrench into this plan it would be Veronica sweeping Archie off his feet to the Bahamas last minute.
Veronica’s reply was almost instantaneous with a string of hearts, followed by several texts grilling Betty for more information about Archie’s relationship status, Riverdale gossip, and whether Betty had finally found herself a boyfriend.
Absorbed by her phone, Betty closed her locker and walked to class, Kevin walking beside to her and telling Betty which was the best gossip to pass along to Veronica. As the bell rang, Betty tucked her phone into her jacket pocket and laid out everything she needed for class.
Late as usual, Jughead slouched by her on his way to the corner of the room.
“Nice hair, Cooper,” he muttered as he passed. “Very Diana Dors today.”
Betty’s cheeks went red and her hands flew up to smooth down her hair. She’d been so focused on her conversation with Veronica that the hair tie had been completely forgotten.
Kevin leaned across his desk and whispered, “Hashtag: Free the Beanie.”
Tuesday Afternoon - Party Countdown: Day 3
Betty’s phone chimed on the couch beside her. When she saw who it was from, she groaned. They’d just talked after school about the decorations, and she thought they’d come to an agreement. Jughead, however, seemed to differ.
“Beans for brains again?” Cheryl asked, eyes glued to her own phone.
“Yes. Now decorations are too ‘childish’,” Betty whined. “Why does he have to make things so difficult.”
“Because he has your undivided attention for once, baby cousin.”
Betty stared at Cheryl. “What does that mean?”
Cheryl rolled her eyes and set down her phone. “Read between the lines, it’s a total Castle and Bennet situation.”
Even if she’d been offered the world, Betty still couldn’t figure out what Cheryl meant. With a sigh, Betty packed up her back and headed to Pop’s, figuring it would be easier to meet with him in person than spend three hours going back and forth in text.
Tuesday Afternoon - Party Countdown: Day 3
Betty slammed her lunch tray on the cafeteria table. “I hate him and that stupid grin of his. Like he knows everything. Why did I ever agree to this in the first place?”
Kevin moved to the side as Betty swung her leg over the bench to sit down.
“Because it’s Archie’s birthday and he’d do the same for you?”
Betty snorted. “I doubt he’d work with his mortal enemy to plan me a party.”
“True. Because I’d be the one doing the planning. If Archie was doing it there’d be cold pizza and hot ice cream. He’s not big on the planning thing.”
Betty stabbed at a piece of fruit and let that sink in. It would be so much easier to let this go, to say she was done with the whole thing and let Jughead finish organizing it. But if she backed out now they’d both know he’d won in the ongoing feud they had.
It was frustrating and unnerving and took every last bit of self-control to work with him. He was a constant distraction, taken to staring at her when she was talking and unnerving her by how close he was willing to get. Even stranger, as if he knew just how to get under her skin, he’d sat next to her in English this morning and attempted a semi-polite conversation.
“Do I want to ask what’s got her so riled up now?” Toni asked as she sat down.
“Jughead’s lips,” Kevin said with a smile.
Toni leaned forward, his face eager for more information. “What? Did he kiss you? I thought you two were only supposed to be planning a party.”
“Kevin,” Betty scolded. “And no. We can barely stand to be in the same room together. He’s insisted on doing the decorating himself.”
Kevin and Toni shared a look.
“And that’s bad, how?” Toni asked.
“I know you’re used to being in charge of everything, but why is it a problem for him to decorate?” Kevin asked.
“Because I was planning on using what we had leftover from Polly’s New Year’s Eve party. It would have been perfect.” Betty said.
“What did he say about that?”
Betty looked down at her salad and picked at it. “I didn’t exactly mention it.”
Toni raised an eyebrow and Kevin let out a heavy sigh.
“But obviously if I was pushing to do the decorations, I had a plan,” Betty said, her words sounding thin.
“Last time I checked Jones wears several different hats, but mind reading is not one of them,” Toni said.
“And being straightforward isn’t Betty’s,” Kevin said.
Betty elbowed him in the ribs. “I thought you were supposed to be on my side?”
He squirmed away from her. “I am. But you tend to have a take charge attitude and don’t always share the whole plan. Or let other people have much input when you’ve made up your mind.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Kevin held up his hands defensively. “I’m just saying, maybe this thing isn’t all one-sided. You’re not used to people wanting to help plan something, and he’s -” Kevin faltered, not knowing Jughead enough to speak to his personality.
Toni, though, was quick to step in. “Jughead is a snarky gloom and doom nerd. His people skills need some help too.”
“Exactly. But maybe if you try to work with him.” He let the thought linger a moment before going into the latest gossip about the lacrosse team.
Thursday Afternoon - Party Countdown; 1
“I’m doing this for Archie, Jughead. If you don’t like that, then you don’t have to be involved,” Betty said after a few deep breaths.
“This was my idea, Betty. Not some project you can step in and fix just because I’m involved. The door is right there if you change your mind,” Jughead snapped back. He turned away from her and focused his attention on his computer.
Betty’s hands clenched and unclenched. A fire burned in her chest and she had to work to stay seated There was nothing she wanted more than to slap him. It annoyed her that he was right; they were doing this for Archie, not for some strange kudos for their own egos.
Jughead’s head jerked up and he looked as if he were surprised she’d conceded so easily.
“You’re right. I’m sorry,” she said her words clipped. Just because she was wrong didn’t mean she had to like it.
His eyes narrowed and Betty waited it out. If he wanted to suspect her of ulterior motives, then so be it. She just wished he could bring the intensity down a little bit.
Eventually, he waved to the seat across from him and, in a rare gesture of cordiality, waved Pop down for a round of shakes. While Betty was suspicious herself of his motives, she took the seat and pulled out her planner to go over their last minute plans.
Friday Night - Party Countdown: 0
Betty leaned against the porch railing, a red solo cup full of something red and overly sweet in her hands. Veronica had sworn she’d like it, but Betty could barely stomach a sip of it. She’d never been one for parties or alcohol or general teenage mischief. Seeing what had happened to Polly had cured Betty of any desire of that.
“Looks like we managed to pulled it off,” Jughead said. He lifted a can to his lips - a brazenly boring soda that stood out against their peers attempts to summon Dionysus into the Andrews’ living room.
Betty turned towards him and watched him watch the party through the windows. “Surprisingly.”
He raised an eyebrow, but didn’t turn towards her. Betty’s eye followed the movement only to trail down his profile. It was odd, she realized, to have never really thought about what he looked like without the permanent scowl and irritable persona he’d taken up as a defense mechanism.
“It’ll be a bitch to clean up, though,” Jughead said.
Betty snorted and poured her drink into the bushes beneath her. “I vote that’s Archie’s problem.”
“And Veronica’s,” Jughead added, with a nod to the opening door.
“There you two are,” Veronica said. She shot a sly grin to Jughead who rolled his eyes.
Betty filed her questions away for later, particularly those about how close Veronica and Jughead seemed to have gotten over the past year.
“This was a really great surprise,” Archie said, oblivious of the strange interaction going on next to him. He looked as tired as Betty felt, but somehow managed a level of energy even she couldn’t fake.
She pulled him into a tight hug as the sudden realization that this was their last year of high school hit her. Tears threatened to spill at the corner of her eyes. In six months, Archie would no longer be her constant companion. It would be the first time ever that he wasn’t part of her life. Betty screwed her eyes shut and thought about the good times.
“You’re welcome Archie. Happy birthday,” she said through a sniffle.
They pulled apart and it was Jughead’s turn to pull Archie into a hug. Betty took a moment to wipe the tears from her cheeks.
“Happy birthday, bud,” Jughead said with a grin. He nodded towards Veronica. “Enjoy it while you can.”
Betty pulled Veronica into a hug, the pain of missing her not as severe. After all, they’d be roommates next fall, something they’d been planning since they were twelve.
“I’m going to call it a night,” Betty said.
Veronica kissed her on the cheek and, in a surprising move, pulled Jughead into a bear hug. She whispered something to him that made him flush before letting him go.
“Walk her home,” Veronica ordered him. “I want nothing to happen to my girl. We have plans, after all.”
“V, I live ten feet away,” Betty reminded her.
Jughead rolled his eyes, but complied when Veronica shoed him after Betty.
When they reached the sidewalk, Jughead cleared his throat.
Betty turned to face him. “Yes?”
“Are we still in a truce?”
She glanced at her watch. “I’ve got another ten minutes until curfew. So, I’d say we were.”
Jughead took a step towards her, dropping his gaze to the ground. He swallowed hard, his hands fidgeting. “You’re not half bad, now that I think about it.”
Betty smiled. It was probably the nicest thing she’d heard him say about anything in a while. “You’re not half bad yourself, Jones’.”
“Also,” he paused, glancing behind them as if to check that they were alone.
“What? What is it?” she asked, stepping towards him, worried he’d say or do something. Her fingers curled into a loose fist, but what she wouldn’t have ever expected was for him to pull her close and press his lips against hers.
The world came to a startling halt as Betty’s brain went into overdrive. (They were kissing.) This was Jughead Jones her self-proclaimed high school rival in all things that mattered. (He was kissing her.) Before this week they’d never had a nice thing to say about each other. (And she liked it.) The only common ground they ever had was fighting over Archie (Worse, she was kissing him back) and snarking at each other over stupid little things.
A car backfired a street over and the spell was broken. The world wrenched itself back into rightful place. Betty’s eyes fluttered open and everything looked the same as it had before. Only there was that look in his eyes, and there was that exhilarating feeling in her chest that could only mean the sky was the limit, and the ground beneath her was shaking.
At some point her hand had come to rest on his cheek. It felt normal there, like a bird finally come home to roost. She rubbed her finger against his smooth skin and he turned his head to kiss her palm.
“Pop’s tomorrow?” he asked.
Betty answered him in another kiss.
Chapter 9: Is that my shirt?
“Is that my shirt?” Veronica gasped when she entered the room.
Jughead glanced down at the offending shirt. From the kitchen, a pan fell to the floor and Betty yelled out an apology.
“Is it?” Archie asked, pausing whatever inane game he and Jughead were playing to look at it.
Without waiting for an answer, Veronica rushed forward and snapped open his jacket to partially reveal the words ‘Decline and Fall of the British Empire’.
“Why are you wearing my shirt?”
Jughead shrugged and unpaused the game, his eyes unfocusing while his fingers flew across the controller. Scrambling to catch up, Archie cursed under his breath.
“Did you two want cookies?” Betty asked, her voice far too chipper for a full day of working with eight year olds.
Veronica shot her a suspicious glance, but the normally open book that was Betty Cooper had suddenly slammed shut.
“Sure,” Jughead and Archie said together.
Veronica narrowed her eyes. Something wasn’t adding up here and it seemed she was the only one interested in getting to the truth. Her boyfriend was far too absorbed with his Playbox beat-em-up toy, and his roommate certainly wasn’t eager to share why he of all people was wearing her shirt (let alone how on earth he’d managed to fit in it).
“Betty,” Veronica called out, her foot tapping out a rhythm against the cheap apartment vinyl. “Why is Jughead wearing my shirt?”
Armed with a Tupperware full of cookies, Betty walked into the living room. Setting it in front of the boys, Betty shrugged.
“Maybe you left it over there and their clothes got mixed in the wash. Ours does,” she said far too rationally for Veronica’s liking.
“We have a washer and dryer in unit,” Veronica said, pointing to the closet on the other side of the room. “They have to go ten flights down into a basement to do their laundry.”
Archie shrugged. “Maybe he ran out of shirts and took one of mine. I mean… yours,” he corrected at Veronica’s look.
“I’ll have you know, Andrews, that I have never worn that shirt outside of this apartment. It has been artisanally stressed by some of the finest Milan has to offer and was part of a run limited to less than one thousand fans at their last -“
“The thrift store over on Village Green had three yesterday,” Jughead said, one hand pushing the joystick while the other popped open the Tupperware. Within seconds, three of the cookies disappeared thanks to the boys’ inconsolable appetites.
“What?” Veronica said, flabbergasted.
“Little Queenie?” Betty asked. She took the loveseat next to Archie and picked up her phone.
“Joaquin said they’d gotten eight last month,” Jughead said through a cookie.
“Impossible,” Veronica snapped. “Surely no one would get rid of something so…” she paused in irritation. Of all the tactics he could have used, of course Jones’ would go for distraction. Typical obfuscation. And, as a Lodge, such a thing couldn’t stand. “You still haven’t answered why you’re wearing that shirt.”
Jughead shrugged and shoved another cookie in his mouth. He tapped out a quick rhythm and a flash went off on the TV.
Archie groaned and flopped back onto the couch. “How do you keep pulling that move off?”
“Dear Archie-kins, stop being an avoidance mechanism. I am trying to -“
“Wasn’t your reservation at 7?” Betty asked, holding up her phone to show the time.
Veronica’s eyes flew wide and she ran towards her room. “Just a few more minutes. Go down and get a cab Archie!”
He sighed and handed the controller to Betty as he left the apartment. She moved to the couch and reached for a cookie as the game restarted.
“Going down Jones,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
“Not for this,” he muttered.
In a flurry, Veronica ran by them bowing a kiss to Betty and shooting the evil eye at Jughead. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t,” she called as the door slammed shut.
The apartment was quiet for a few minutes, save for the yells of the fighters onscreen. When the round ended, Betty let out a long sigh.
“I thought we were goners.”
Jughead snorted and slipped off his jacket. She eyed him as he stripped off the suspected shirt, leaving only an undershirt behind.
“Are you trying to seduce me, Mr. Jones?” Betty said with a smile as she took the suspicious shirt from him.
“Isn’t that what got us into this mess?”
She looked up at the ceiling and pouted. “As I recall, I was the one seducing you -“
“That was the cake, Ms. Cooper,” Jughead said as he lay the controller down on the table. He shifted closer to Betty and slipped his arm around her waist. “Though I have no complaints about the rest.”
Betty giggled and threw the shirt towards her bedroom and her legs across his lap. She kissed his jaw line, her hands threading through his hair. When he leaned forward, she wrapped her arms around his neck for a proper kiss. A thought hit her, and she pulled away.
Jughead lifted his eyebrows and tutted. “Fantasizing about someone else already?”
She shook her head. “Veronica’s going to descend on his shop like the four horseman tomorrow. The least you could do is give him a heads up.”
“And ruin the floor show for tomorrow’s customers? I thought you were supposed to be a nice girl,” he murmured against her throat.
Betty hummed. “Nice girls do have more fun.”
“Do they? Remind me again.”