Jughead Jones was ahead of schedule for the first time on a Friday night since he opened Peripeteia three years ago. It had been busy early on—standing room only for a solid three hours—but slowly started to thin out once midnight came and went.
This was fairly usual.
The Friday night patrons tended to leave right after midnight, wanting to end their nights at a trendy dance club rather than a throwback cocktail bar and Jughead was more than okay with this progression. He had neither the time nor patience to deal with the 2:00 am party crowd when he was trying to close down the bar and get home to scrounge together whatever sleep he could before waking up and doing it all again the next day.
He was happy that his weekend business was booming, he really was. Ever since he was featured in the New York Times as a 'the trendiest spot in New York City you've never heard of…yet,' Peripeteia was packed on the weekends. He was glad that his weekday business remained—for the most part—slow and steady, giving him time to chat with the people who had been fixtures at Peripeteia ever since he first opened its doors. They usually stuck to coming in on weeknights when there were actually tables available.
Which was why when Betty Cooper—one of his favorite regulars—came into the bar at 1:35 am on Saturday morning, he knew that something was very wrong.
Normally, Betty came in after work on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so he had only ever seen her in business casual attire. Jughead already had a soft spot for the blonde—she was one of the few people who called him out on his shit and got away with it, something he suspected was partly because of her conventionally good looks.
Or so he was told by many of the bar's older male regulars.
Jughead knew she was pretty—would even admit as such when he wanted said older male patrons to stop goading him on about the subject whenever she walked through the Peripeteia's doors.
But Betty Cooper had never taken his breath away before this moment.
Tonight, she was in a cap sleeve blush gown that was stunning in its simplicity. Her hair that was normally pulled into a tight ponytail, framed her face in loose waves. She wore the same soft makeup that she normally did, but opted for a slightly bolder lip than the light pinks she tended to lean toward.
The whole effect was the textbook definition of 'classic beauty.'
She slowly approached the bar, an apologetic look on her face, "I know it's close to last call, Jug, but—"
The suddenness of her voice brought Jughead out of his thoughts.
"You need wine." He stated, bending to grab the Sauvignon Blanc he knew to be the blonde's favorite of his wine selection.
"More than I need air at the moment." She sighed, unceremoniously hopping onto one of the open barstools.
"That bad, huh?" Jughead asked as pouring the wine into the glass he had placed in front of her. He moved to put the bottle back in the wine cooler under the bar, but thought better of it, gently placing the bottle next to her glass for her to refill as necessary.
Betty smiled a little at the gesture, "Thanks, Jug."
He gave her a small nod, throwing a bar towel over his shoulder as he turned to take care of the few remaining patrons at the other end of the bar.
As Jughead went through the motions of his closing routine—last call, closing tabs, clearing tables, sending the remaining servers home—he would periodically glance over at Betty. She had downed her first glass of wine quickly, pouring herself a second which she nursed as she stared off into the distance, her eyes not really focusing on anything in particular.
She didn't seem particularly sad…just exasperated.
There were three topics that Jughead never broached unless the customers brought them up first: religion, politics, and love lives. He suspected that tonight's troubles had something to do with the latter topic.
Jughead couldn't help but think that anyone who was stupid enough to let Betty walk away from them while she looked like that was an idiot. Not to mention that she was one of the genuinely nicest and smartest people he knew.
She was also one of the few people he had come across behind the bar that could keep up with his sarcasm and understand the many literary references he tossed around in conversation. Jughead knew that she had been dating someone based some of the stories that she had told him and the guy would have to be certifiably insane if he treated Betty with anything but the respect she deserved.
Jughead also knew that her family life wasn't so great—it was actually the reason she had moved to New York City in the first place—to get away from her overbearing parents. She would rarely talk about them, but he had heard enough one-sided phone calls in the bar to get that they were a lot to deal with and she struggled from time to time in dealing with them.
After he had locked up the bar's entrance and flipped the mismatched chairs onto the equally mismatched tables—one of the Peripeteia's many charms—he walked behind the bar to finish up washing the dirty glasses he had gathered as he cleaned the tables.
Catching his movement out of the corner of her eye, Betty snapped to attention, suddenly aware of her surroundings.
"Am I the only one in here?" She asked, surprised.
She dug her phone out of her clutch and gasped when she saw the time, "Jug! I'm so sorry. If I am delaying you at all—"
Jughead waved her off, "You aren't delaying me at all. Besides, you seem like you needed to get away for awhile."
Betty sighed as she rested her fingers against the stem of her wine glass, "It…hasn't been the greatest evening."
Jughead gave her a wry look, glancing up from the dish sink, "I gathered that."
The corner of her mouth twitched as she fought back a smile. She took in a deep breath, seemingly weighing the options of whether or not she should continue.
Jughead secretly hoped that she would.
"My sister is getting married."
He paused in his movements, not expecting the reason for her melancholy to be over a sibling's upcoming nuptials.
"And that's…bad?" He ventured, unsure of what else to say. He had gotten the feeling that the familial strain was only between Betty and her parents, not her sister.
"No, it's good." Betty explained, "It's actually very good. Jason is a great guy and makes Polly happy. They're pretty much perfect for one another."
Jughead turned his focus back to the stack of dirty glasses as she spoke, but not before noticed how she winced as she said the word 'perfect.'
"She's actually getting married next weekend back in our home town of Riverdale."
"Mozel tov." Jughead interjected flatly.
Betty flashed him an unamused look as she continued, "I'm leaving for home Sunday…tomorrow. Shit!"
Jughead looked up, his eyebrows raised at her exclamation.
Betty Cooper was not one to swear.
She took her fingers from her wine glass and slowly rested them on either side of her drink, calmly pressing her palms down on the bar.
Jughead stopped washing dishes altogether and leaned against the bar, knowing that whatever Betty had to say next was going to be the reason for her uncharacteristically somber night.
"I am leaving to go back home tomorrow and Chuck was supposed to come with me…" She paused as she took in a shaky breath.
Jughead crossed his arms as he patiently waited.
So this was about a guy.
"…as my fiancé."
Jughead simply raised his eyebrows.
"But instead of asking me to marry him like I thought he was going to when he took me to La Grenouille," Betty continued, anger beginning to creep into her voice, "he instead told me that he had feelings for someone else. His assistant, in fact, who he swears he never slept with, but I suspect otherwise."
"Oh, shit." Jughead breathed, echoing her previous swear—shocked she hadn't uttered more given the situation.
"So now," She continued, "I get to go home to a week of my mother asking me why I'm single again and criticize me for not being able to 'close a deal' even though I'm a licensed attorney and never mind the deals I close in arbitration, the only ones that count are ones that get you a ring, apparently!"
Betty sat there, suddenly out of words. Her cheeks had begun to tinge pink with frustration and Jughead couldn't remember a time in the two years she had been coming to his bar that he had seen her so upset. She was almost always upbeat—sometimes to an annoyingly superhuman degree—so to see her looking so unraveled despite looking so elegant in that dress…
Jughead who normally didn't mind that he was a man of few words, wished that he knew what the right thing to say in this moment was.
Instead, he picked up the bottle of wine and poured her another glass, grabbing another glass from behind the bar and pouring a little bit for himself.
Encouraged, Betty continued, "I just…don't know what to do. All my life I have had this…this pressure from my parents to be their perfect little daughter and no matter what I do—4.0 GPA, graduating with honors from law school, landing a job in a prestigious firm in New York—nothing is enough for them. Not unless I have a man on my arm while doing so.
"It's just so…so…" Betty sputtered, trying to vocalize a lifetime's worth of resentment.
"Sexist? Pejorative? Utter bullshit?" Jughead offered.
"Try all of the above." Betty groaned.
She looked up at him, considering, "Nice use of 'pejorative', by the way." Jughead smirked, "I see you also completed today's NYT crossword."
"Helps with the writers block." He explained, shrugging.
She smiled, sighing as she leaned back in her seat, "What am I supposed to do, Jug? It wasn't supposed to be this way…I don't think I can face my parents alone."
"I think you're supposed to go home, be there for your sister, and see your parents as little as possible." Jughead answered as he poured more wine for them both.
"I wish it was that easy." Betty chuckled, imagining that unlikely scenario.
She picked up her wine glass, giving Jughead an appreciative look as she took a sip.
Looking back on that moment, Jughead could pinpoint exactly when the idea popped into her head.
Her eyes widened as she looked at him, almost as if she was seeing him for the first time. It made Jughead uneasy.
"What?" He asked hesitantly.
Betty shook her head as if she was physically shaking the idea out of her mind, "Nothing. It's stupid—no crazy. It's crazy."
She was rambling. Another bad sign.
Jughead wasn't sure why he felt compelled to press her. Every instinct he had told him to leave it alone, but instead he found himself saying, "We're all a little crazy. Try me."
Betty looked up at him, unsure. If he hadn't just witnessed a mini-breakdown, Jughead would have thought she looked adorable.
"Well…" she started tentatively, "what are you doing this week?"
He frowned, as he sipped his wine, not sure where she was going with this.
"Up for a road trip?"
Author's Note: This is my first Riverdale fic, so please let me know what you think!