Another day at Riverdale High was at a close, and the students ran joyfully through the halls in pursuit of each other and their freedom. Boys strutted like peacocks, looking for dates, and girls showed admiration, disguised as scorn. The rituals, as primitive as they were, never lost their level of charm.
Elizabeth Cooper, popularly known as Betty, went straight to her locker after the last class of the day. Geography. The lay of the land. She didn't actually like that class, but she was definitely one of the best students, primarily because she took the time to do her homework. For this, a few of her classmates had jokingly labeled her as a 'nerd.' She supposed that it didn't bother her, because she was pretty and popular and well liked by nearly everyone. Her character was open and honest, and her personality was genuinely winning. It was well nigh impossible to hold a grudge against Betty Cooper, because she was just so darn sweet.
A ready and eager partner for nearly any sporting event, she was equally as popular with the athletes as she was with the studious. Having put herself in such a position to almost never be dateless, she often found herself at a loss to comprehend her impossible conquest: Archie Andrews. He was tantalizingly near, and yet so very, very far out of reach. He seemed to regard her as a good friend, a study buddy, very encouraging…in short, a girlfriend in deed, though not in name.
By contrast, her closest friend, Veronica Lodge, was cold, calculating, crafty, and excruciatingly beautiful. Although she was about as bright as a box full of rocks and nearly as kind, she had nearly every guy in school ready to do her bidding at a moment's notice, and she thoroughly enjoyed it. And how Betty had ended up with such a shark for a friend, she could never understand.
A familiar voice echoed through the halls behind her, but instead of looking up, she lowered her head. But the voice drew steadily nearer as opposed to passing by. "Betty Cooper, what are you doing with your head stuck in your locker?"
Disgruntled, she turned to face her best friend and top rival. "Ron, not now."
"I don't see why not," Veronica Lodge said in the same obnoxious tone of voice. "After all, if my best friend is going to walk around acting like a complete drag, shouldn't I care enough to find out why?"
"Fine!" Betty slammed the locker door shut to accentuate her point. "You want to know why? Because I asked Archie to the school dance fifteen days – that's half a month, mind you – ago, and today he tells me that he had something come up at the last minute and he can't go with me anymore!"
Veronica cocked her head while standing in a highly staged pose. Although, Betty admitted to herself reluctantly, it flattered the black-haired girl's figure inestimably. "So…basically, you're mad because your plans with Archie didn't work out. Don't you think that's just a bit selfish of you?"
Hearing such a contrived speech only served to add insult to injury, and Betty backed away, though she wanted ever so badly to slap that smug smile off the other girl's pretty face. "Sure, it's selfish of me. About as selfish as it was of you to ask Archie to the dance this morning, and pretend this afternoon that you don't know why I'm upset!"
Unconcerned, Veronica studied her nails. "Oh, is that why you're mad? Don't worry, sweetie, there'll be other dances," – and with that she laughed lightly and walked off.
Betty swallowed hard around the lump that had risen in her throat. "Yeah, there'll be other dances, and other chances for me to get my heart broken in a hundred pieces." A sob nearly escaped, but she managed to choke it down and only two wet stains on her cheeks gave any evidence that she was anything other than Betty Cooper, happy teenager and perfect student.
Jughead Jones sat outside of Riverdale High on a bench, nursing forty ounces of soda. Food comforted him in a way that almost nothing else could, and fortunately he was blessed with genetics that protected him from the more undesirable side of the relationship. He took a long swallow and sighed, happy.
A soft plop on the bench next to him made him look up, startled. By the sound of the body, it just had to be a girl. He prepared himself to bolt, but looked into a set of light blue eyes and settled back down. "Betty! What's up?" Then he really looked at her and his voice came out more surprised. "Betty, what's happened?"
She shook her head, mute. Jughead bit his lip; he knew exactly what was wrong. But he didn't like saying it all the same. "It's them again, isn't it?"
She nodded; he scowled and sighed, this time annoyed. "You know, he is my best friend, but some days I just can't stand him."
"I feel the same about her, more and more lately," she said in a tremulous voice.
They sat in silence, punctuated only by Jughead's occasional sips. When Betty spoke again, her voice was steady, but sad. "Jug, I don't know what to do about it anymore. I can't go on forever carrying a torch for someone who doesn't love me. And I don't want to go on forever letting someone who's supposed to be my best friend take advantage of both me and the man I love. What should I do? Talk to him, talk to her, or just give up on both of them?"
Jughead sat up straight, set the soda down, and thought for a few moments before speaking. "I don't want to say give up, because we all make mistakes. All the time. But Betty," here his voice came more tenderly than she had ever heard it, "you've got to think about yourself at least once in a while. Think about the way you feel when he throws your heart aside to chase after someone who just sees him as a game. Think about the way you feel when your best friend, who knows you inside and out, treats you like a second-class citizen on a whim. Think about how much they've hurt you, and decide whether or not you intend to take it any more. If they're worth the pain, then go home and cry for a while, and get up and brush it off and keep on keepin' on. But if you're really as tired as you think you are –" his voice rose slightly, " – then stand up for once and tell them both, 'No more'. When he comes to you after she's put him out, tell him that you're sorry, and then send him right back to her. When she calls you up after seeing him kiss another girl, tell her that you're sorry, and that you hope they make up soon. But why should you leave yourself open to continual abuse by two inconsiderate people in the name of friendship?"
Betty looked surprised. Jughead licked his lips, quickly, and sat back again. It would have been difficult to tell by looking at him, but his heart was pounding like a jackhammer. What the hell did I just say? Who am I to give anyone relationship advice? I hope I didn't sound too much like an informercial.
She smiled, a mere ghost of her usual beam. "Juggie, that was…really profound." She reached for her bag, getting ready to leave, and froze.
Archie and Veronica were coming their way, laughing merrily. Betty stiffened visibly, and despite her best intentions, her pale blue eyes filled with tears once again. Neither of the happy couple had noticed her yet.
Anxious to keep his hard work from going down the drain, Jughead made a hard decision, one that would dwell on his mind for many days. He reached out and took Betty's hand, causing her to gasp with surprise and stare at him. So when Archie looked up at the noise, he also gasped and came to a dead stop, jerking Veronica to a stop with him. And they both stared at Jughead Jones, renowned woman-hater, holding the hand of Betty Cooper, whose cheeks were flushed.
Veronica recovered herself first, and said disdainfully, "Wow, Betty, I didn't know you were this desperate. Maybe I'll let you go to the dance with Archie after all."
Betty's face turned slightly redder, but she felt the reassuring pressure of Jughead's hand around hers and something inside of her stood strong in the face of derision.
Archie looked stung. "What -?"
Jughead cleared his throat. "You don't have to let Betty do anything, Veronica. I just asked her to the dance, so I guess you'll have to keep your date." He scooted just a little closer to Betty. Not enough to be intimate, but enough to get his point across.
It was Veronica's turn to flush. "You? You misogynistic jerk, you?" She turned to Betty, who sat motionless. "For goodness' sake, girl, have some pride!"
Betty finally stood. "I've got pride. Enough to tell you that I'm through with being treated like dirt! And I'm not going to ever let you 'give' Archie to me again. Keep your date, Ronnie." She grabbed up her neglected books and walked home in the other direction without so much as a backward glance.
"Wow," Ronnie said coolly. "Poor girl. I never thought she'd go this crazy." She turned to look at Archie, who stood glaring at her. "What?"
"' I'll let you go to the dance with Archie?' What the hell was that supposed to mean? Do you think that I'm just a toy for you to play around with? What makes you think that you can just give me away when you want to?"
She yawned. "Because you let me, silly boy. Not once have you ever proved me wrong. So get over yourself and walk me home." She began to walk away, but turned back when she realized that Archie had yet to move. She sighed and tapped her foot impatiently. "What? Are you supposed to be angry with me now?"
"You know what," he answered nastily, jabbing a finger at her, "you are most likely the most selfish person I have ever met."
She waved her hand dismissively as she walked away. "Well, when you decide to stop acting silly, call me."
He snorted angrily and kicked a rock. "I'm not sure I'll ever call her again." He plopped down on the vacated bench. "Why is she like that? I don't think that I'll ever understand women." He looked at his friend, who had gone back to gulping soda. "And by the way, what were you and Betty doing?"
Jughead shrugged carelessly. "We were discussing the fact that she doesn't like being treated like dirt by her best friend and someone that she was supposed to be going to the prom with."
Archie reddened. "I know that I was supposed to go with her, Jug."
"Then why aren't you going with her?"
Shamefaced, the redheaded boy tried to explain. "It's weird…I care so much about her. Like, if she was hurting, or upset, I'd be right there. But try as I might, I just can't think about her as a girl. It feels like she's one of the guys so much that when she wants to go on dates or be cute or whatever, I just…can't."
"I see." Jughead finished the soda and tossed it expertly into a nearby trash can. "So you use her, because you're cowardly."
"Archie, come on." His friend stared at him flatly. "You know full well how Betty feels about you, and you take advantage of her time and again. And as soon as Veronica snaps her fingers, you run, leaving Betty behind to cry. You're using her, no matter how you want to put it."
Archie sat there, digesting for a moment. The candidly put message seemed to be getting through, until his face clouded over with anger and he stood. "Geez, when did you turn into 'Dear Abby'?"
Jughead also stood, unfazed. "When my best friend started turning into a first-class jerk."
"You've got some nerve, talking about jerks…! All this time, you've pretended to hate women, just so you can hit on them behind my back? You know what, you can keep your stupid advice. We're not friends anymore." He stomped off.
The slimmer boy sighed. "Man. Three friendships ruined in one day. It's gotta be some kind of record."
As soon as he got home, Jughead did something completely unprecedented. He called Ethel Muggs, affectionately known throughout campus as 'Big Ethel' due to her rather overwhelming size. And not surprisingly, her voice sounded rather eager when she answered the phone. "Hello?"
"Ah, hello." He wondered if he was making a huge mistake, but went ahead. "Ethel, this is Jughead."
"Forsythe?" She screeched his name in so grating a pitch that he instantly moved the receiver eighteen inches from his head. "Oh, my god! I can't believe it! Did you –" her voice dropped in a vain effort to gain composure "- call to invite me to the big dance?"
"Uh, no. Believe it or not, I actually need some relationship advice concerning one of your friends."
There was silence for several moments before she spoke again. Her voice was much cooler now. "Really."
"Who?" Her voice had picked up a tone of skepticism. "Who's the lucky girl who stole Forsythe P. Jones' heart away?"
He wished that he had called anyone, even Veronica, other than Ethel at this point. "It's about Betty, Ethel."
Once again, there was silence. He cringed.
When she finally did speak, he heaved a silent sigh of relief. Although she didn't sound thrilled, she wasn't mad. "Betty, Jug? She doesn't seem like your type."
"I guess not."
"Why her? Why not me?" The volume was beginning to rise again, and he flinched. "Ethel, think for a minute. Would you rather be with a popular guy who couldn't care less about you, an unpopular guy who just isn't looking to be your boyfriend, or an unpopular guy who worships the ground you walk on and would be thrilled to escort you to this dance?"
She gulped, and he knew that she had fully grasped his meaning. Despite warnings from her friends, she was beginning to fall very hard very fast for a cute guy in her chemistry class. And upon being greeted with, "Hey, babe, if you ever need a favor, just ask," upon helping him receive a grade that he would not otherwise have merited, several of her friends had voiced their concern that she was headed for an emotional shipwreck. Not to mention one hell of a bruised ego.
It was a moment before she spoke again. "I guess…you're the unpopular one who just doesn't like me, huh?"
"I'm sorry. I don't feel the same, and I'd rather hurt you honestly. But look…there's a guy around who thinks you're just the best, and I'm sure he's going to ask you to the dance in just a few days. Hold out for him, why dontcha?"
"All right," she said slowly. "Hey, how do you know about all of this?"
"I've got my ways," he answered.
She snorted, and he breathed more easily, knowing this battle was won. "Hang in there, Ethel. Good night."
"Wait! Didn't you want to ask me –"
He hung up, not hearing her last protestation. I don't think that there was anything that she could have said to make me feel better about tricking someone into a date, anyway.
The phone had not been on the hook for long when it rang. Jughead's mother answered it, as her son was preoccupied with raiding the refrigerator. She covered the receiver before calling him. "Sweetie? It's Betty Cooper."
Surprised, the young man instantly put all of the food down on the counter. "I'll pick up in my room."
He ran up the stairs at a slightly faster than normal pace, reached his room and shut the door quietly, not forgetting to lock it. He picked up the phone and taking a deep breath, hit the 'talk' button. "Hello?"
"Yeah." His heart knocked hard against his ribs, as it had never done before upon getting a call from this particular person. "Hey, Betty."
She sounded hesitant as well. "So, um…how are you?"
"About as well as you'd be if you had tried to help a friend, and instead, made three different people all mutually upset with each other." He sighed and ran a damp hand through his hair. Why was he sweating, for heaven's sake? "Arch and Veronica are on the outs, and he doesn't want to be my friend anymore anyway."
"Oh, Jug. I'm so sorry." A pause. "If it's my fault, I truly apologize."
"If it could be your fault for being human enough to dislike unjust treatment, and human enough to want to tell someone else about it, you are completely forgiven. Besides, it's hardly your fault. He's got the mistaken impression that I only act like I hate women so I can secretly hit on them behind his back."
"Ah, yes, he is so very mistaken," Betty said in a sarcastic voice. "I wonder what he'll say when he sees your 'smooth operator' routine?" They both laughed for a while before quieting again, and then Betty continued. "But I don't want to forget what I actually called about. What was that about asking me to the prom, Jug?"
"Oh, that…" He couldn't think of anything to justify himself, so he attempted to let it slide. "Oh, I just meant…that you and I…oh, hell. Betty, listen. I was just trying to help you save your dignity. But we don't have to go through with it."
"You don't want to go with me?" Her voice was almost sad, he thought. "I know that you don't like dances, and I know that you don't like to hang out with girls, so I can't say that I'm surprised. But still…"
"Betty, no! I…I…I do. I just…"
There was embarrassed laughter on the other line. "We've still got ten days, don't we? I guess we can decide in between now and then, right?"
"Sure." he said, a smile creeping onto his face. This was going a lot easier than he had initially expected. After all, surely Betty would find another date in a week and a half…
"…and I suppose if we mutually decide, we can just…go together, right?"
"Right," he answered slowly. Oh, man, I was hoping she wouldn't catch that.
There was a smile in her tone as she spoke. "Thanks, Juggie. Some days you really are my best friend."
"Uh, thank you," he stammered, not knowing what else he could say. She hung up, and so did he, appetite suddenly gone.
His mother's voice rudely interrupted his reverie.
"Forsythe Pendleton Jones! Get down here right now and explain what you were doing with all of this food!"