The second to last thing Veronica expected when she moved to the sleepy town of Riverdale was for the shop owner across the street to show up with homemade cookies. It was such a quaint and nostalgic image that she had to suppress a laugh least she offend the women. Instead she thanked her and wrote the whole incident off. Even if they were neighbors of a sort that didn’t mean they’d ever mean anything to each other. In New York Veronica hadn’t been able to name a single one of her neighbors. Why should this town be any different?
It only took a few glasses of wine after the local town meeting, and Veronica found herself leading Betty through the flower shop. Her neighbor’s quirky arrival last week with a basket of cookies, initially seen as a power play to prove to the town how kind and benevolent Betty was, had turned into a tense sort of friendship. Veronica was cool every time Betty had made a point of waving good afternoon. And the few times they’d run into each other at the only grocer in town, Betty had made a genuine effort in asking how Veronica was adjusting to life in the small town.
Veronica, a consummate city girl, did her best to rebuff Betty’s attempts at friendship - an indifference borne largely to bearing the Lodge name for so long - but it didn’t take much for her resolve to break down. Betty, it turned out, was one of the rarest people in the world - someone who didn’t try to act like someone they weren’t.
And thus an odd friendship was struck up, one that was set ins tone tonight as they both stood against the ridiculous zoning ordinances balefully aimed at the lower income neighborhoods in this tacky-tacky town.
Both bemoaned the tragedy of white gentrification afterwards between shots of tequila and three bottles of wine. Unwilling for the night to end, Veronica asked Betty to join her at the flower shop. A simple, innocent question that nonetheless brought a pretty rose blush to her cheeks that climbed downward through the night.
They raced through the shadows of the shop, hands clasped together like narcissus and chinodoxa blooms in spring. Giggling at the strange shapes the grow lights cast along the walls, Veronica lead her to the office door.
“I keep a bottle of rum in my desk,” she said breathlessly. As she stepped through the door, her fingers automatically reached towards the leaves of her own personal plants. “My grandmother’s secret recipe.”
“So much color,” Betty murmured. She slipped off her jacket and set it on a chair as the hothouse humidity took its toll. “I never realized orchids came in so many different colors.”
“One for each of my exes,” Veronica said as she pulled out the bottle of rum. She gazed lovingly on each and set two shot glasses on the desk. “They love the grow lamps.”
She held out a shot glass and felt a tremor when Betty’s fingers grazed hers. Veronica watched as Betty threw back the shot, the muscles in her long throat working against the sharp flavor.
“What is that?”
“Cardamom,” Veronica said as she sat on the corner of her desk. She sipped at her own rum and let the flavor roll around her tongue.
“Why flowers?” Betty asked as she reached for the rum bottle.
The question made Veronica pause. It was a question she’d never been asked; a question she’d never thought to ask herself. After all, flowers were one of the few ways her mother showed genuine affection. Perhaps it was even how she showed love. Almost before she could walk, Veronica knew that flowers meant different things. Lilies for purity; blood red poppies for refusal. Lavender for admiration; buttercups for childish ingratitude. Veronica had been around flowers and plants her entire life, reading their meanings was as easy as breathing. The thought that she could ever live without them was anathema.
The language of flowers was the one gift from her mother that really had any meaning in the long run. It was a practice that Veronica had lost herself in many times, one that no one seemed to understand.
But to tell Betty all of that, to open up to that kind of vulnerability? As much as she might like her, as much as she might trust her, Veronica was not ready for that sort of confession.
“Why tattoo’s?” came her response.
Betty chewed on her lip and stared with unfocused eyes at the long-out-of-season Bird of Paradise - Veronica’s daily reminder that she was in this tiny town because she valued her freedom above all else. At first, Veronica thought she’d committed a faux pas; perhaps she wasn’t the only one who had trust issues. But after a while, she came to realize that Betty was also weighing how honest, how vulnerable she wanted to be.
“I like the pain,” Betty finally admitted.
She gazed at Veronica, already defensive against any sort of judgment or condemnation. When Betty didn’t find it, she continued, her voice relieved.
“I was always the good kid. My sister was wild, and when she ran away the whole family fell apart. Dad moved away, Mom joined a cult. My brother went to live halfway across the country. In less than a year I lost my whole family, and I was just so angry. Both my parents hated tattoos; they said they were trashy and vulgar. So…”
Betty tugged at the neck of her sweater, and Veronica eyed the soft skin. In soft, looping script along Betty’s collarbone read, “my life is my own.”
“My senior year of high school I lived with the one person who meant the world to me. But he’d gotten into Yale and I hadn’t, so we got matching tattoo’s.”
Her fingers caressed the space over her heart, and Veronica longed to know what lay under all those layers. It was one more puzzle piece to the enigma that was Betty Cooper. But just as Veronica had her secrets to keep, so, too, did Betty.
“After that, it just became an addiction. The steady pain of the needle, the infusion of ink.” Betty rolled up her sleeve and set her arm on Veronica’s lap. Veronica traced the delicate lines along the snow globe that depicted the sleepy town. From the town square to Pop’s Diner, it seemed the only thing missing was Betty’s own tattoo parlor.
“My grandfather helped build Riverdale, and when he passed my mother gave away everything to the cult. So I got this instead of his snow globe collection,” Betty said, sadness etched in her eyes. She laughed despite it. “You can only imagine how my mother took it when I showed up to his funeral in a sleeveless dress.”
Veronica’s lips quirked into a smile, her fingers dancing across Betty’s skin. Carefully, Veronica raised Betty’s tattooed arm to her lips and pressed her lips against the skin of her wrist. The faint aroma of rosewater greeted her. When she glanced up, Betty drew a sharp breath, but that rose pink flush at the base of her neck was back. Encouraged, Veronica leaned forward to press a kiss along Betty’s collarbone, then another at the base of her neck.
Betty pulled away, only to meet Veronica’s lips with her own.
Riding a wave of romanticism - one that had started with a hothouse tryst a few weeks ago and seemingly had no end in sight - Veronica picked up dinner from the only decent restaurant in town. She knew Betty’s schedule was tight, but fifteen minutes together was enough to make her day. Besides, Veronica had become accustomed to idling in the tattoo shop while Betty worked, the soothing pastels and new art calm enough to make Veronica forget about the barrage of legal notices in her mail box. And if that wasn’t enough, Betty always kept a stash of rotating pulp mysteries beneath the register.
But when she walked into the shop, Veronica’s stomach dropped. A pink-haired woman sat far too close to Betty to be anything but a customer. She leaned forward to whisper something, and Betty let out a peal of laughter. Veronica set the food down and watched, irritation rising climbing like ivy in her throat.
When the woman finally left, Veronica made her way over to Betty’s station as casually as she could manage. She knew she was being unreasonable; after all, Betty was allowed to have friends Veronica didn’t know about. It wasn’t as if they were dating.
“Who was that?” Veronica asked, her eyes locked on a photo of the old Riverdale rail station.
“An old friend,” Betty said. She wiped down the station, seemingly unaware of Veronica’s frustration. “I think you’d like Toni, you two are a lot alike.”
That turn of phrase sparked a fuse and Veronica couldn’t help but grip the pearls at her throat. Despite the innocent, entirely plausible explanation - and Veronica’s bone deep conviction that Betty wasn’t that kind of person - the afterimage sat at the forefront of her mind. The pair were too casual, too close emotionally, for Veronica’s demons not to flare up.
“What’s up?” Betty prompted. “I thought we were going to meet at the Wyrm later tonight.”
Veronica shrugged, still playing at nonchalance, and walked towards the waiting area. She picked up a magazine and flipped through the pages to keep her hands still. On every page, Toni’s smiling face, inches from Betty’s, stared back at her. They’d been dating a few weeks, and yet Veronica had never felt that sort of closeness with Betty.
It was the realization that Veronica wanted that sort of connection was frightening. She was a Lodge, after all, and love was never an option. Not unless it came with strings and attachments, political and social gains otherwise closed off to her family. As a Lodge, hers was a morbid, skeptical view of love. And how could it not be, after all the role models she’d had in her life?
And yet, what she had with Betty felt more solid, more real. It was a mutually beneficial relationship where Betty expected nothing more than a little of Veronica’s time.
“I closed up early,” Veronica finally said. She dropped the magazine on the table and forced as much carelessness into her voice as she could manage. “I thought we might eat in tonight. I didn’t realize you had company.”
Betty grimaced - apparently Veronica’s attempt at nonchalance had fallen flatter than a late May rain garden. A pang of guilt went through Veronica; yet she couldn’t help but twist the knife. It was the only other hobby her mother had shared with her.
“V, you know I’m booked solid -“
Veronica waved her off and pulled on her jacket. “It’s fine. I’ve got things to take care of. Enjoy dinner.”
She stormed out of the door, ignoring Betty’s call. Something broke against the wall and Veronica forced herself to keep moving.
Whatever this was had taken root deep within her very cells, but a few days in New York would be more than enough to uproot it.
It had taken a week before Betty showed up in the flower shop. The look on her face told Veronica not to try and pretend they weren’t anything more than neighbors. Despite Veronica’s refusal to take any texts, calls, or dm's from Betty, it seemed the stubborn blonde worked on an entirely different plane.
“What’s going on?” Betty asked, ignoring the customer Veronica was helping.
Veronica finished setting the baby’s breath among the white roses - a strange, uninspiring choice for a get well bouquet - before acknowledging her, a move that only served to irritate Betty further.
Thankfully, Betty waited until they were alone to round on her.
“Why have you been ignoring me?”
Veronica lifted a shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. A coy move, meant to signify her own feigned indifference. Betty crossed her arms and fixed her with a stare.
With a sigh, Veronica said, “I don’t know.”
“Look, this isn’t easy for me,” Veronica snapped. She picked at the left over cuttings. Idly she arranged and rearranged them into strange shapes that seemed to reflect her own indecision. “I’ve never had… I’ve never …”
Somehow, despite all her own musings on the subject, the words about why Betty affected her so much wouldn’t come.
“Who was she?”
Betty quirked an eyebrow. “Who?”
“That woman with the pink hair.”
“Is that what this is about?” Betty sighed and walked towards a nearby plant stand that held a range of hyacinths. Her hand grazed over the yellow petals as she regarded Veronica. “Toni and I grew up together. Now she’s engaged to my cousin.”
The air went out of the room and Veronica sagged against the table. She felt as foolish, as silly as she knew she was being.
“Veronica,” Betty began, her hands still grasping the flowers, “if we’re going to make this work -“
The world shifted, and suddenly all Veronica could see and hear was Betty. It couldn’t possibly be this simple. It never was. Betty was after something, and now that Veronica had misstepped it would finally come to light.
“-you have to talk to me about these things. I don’t want to lose you over something as stupid as jealously.”
Betty gave her a sharp, bewildered look that sent waves of guilt through Veronica. Veronica dropped her eyes to the cuttings in front of her. It was strange, truly, how much she wanted Betty to understand. They both came with familial baggage; the only question was whether that baggage would match in the long run.
“I’m sorry,” Veronica said with a wince. “It’s just… everyone’s always had these … expectations of me. There was always something they wanted. Comes with my father’s legacy I suppose,” she scoffed.
When she looked up, she was startled to find Betty standing in front of her. With a gentle smile, Betty took up Veronica’s hands in hers.
“The only thing I want from you is a little of your time,” Betty said. With a sly grin, she added, “And maybe that yellow flower over there.”
Veronica huffed out a laugh. “The hyacinth?”
“No, not that one,” Veronica said. She slipped her hands from Betty’s and walked to the far aisle. It was easy to know what she was looking for, even though she knew the meaning would be lost.
When she set the plant in front of Betty, Veronica’s heart fluttered at her smile.
“It’s gorgeous,” Betty murmured. Her fingers toyed with the long yellow leaves. “A daffodil, right?”
“What does it mean?” Betty asked.
“New beginnings.” Veronica bit her lip, oddly shy. “And forgiveness.”
Betty grinned and leaned over the counter to press a kiss to Veronica’s forehead. “You won’t always be able to buy me off with flowers. And you promise to talk these things through with me in the future.”
“I promise, so long as you give me a chance.”
Late one evening, as the neon lights cast a blue and red glow across Betty’s bare skin, Veronica lay her head on Betty’s chest, her breath heavy and her skin still flush with sweat. The sound of her heartbeat lulled Veronica into a meditative state as a contented drowsiness began to take hold.
“I’ve got issues,” Veronica breathed. Her confession, honest and vulnerable, slipped out of her without a second thought.
Betty’s chuckle was laced with sleep. She wrapped an arm around Veronica’s shoulder, her long fingers tracing patterns along the skin. “We all have issues V.”
Veronica raised up on her elbows. Betty’s hair fanned out around her, a pink halo in the neon light, with her eyes half closed in satiety.
“Give me yours, then,” Veronica said with a sudden protectiveness.
“Only if you give me yours,” came the swift reply.
Veronica held up her pink, and Betty grasped it with her own. Sealed with a kiss, Veronica settled back against Betty for the long haul.