Well, well, wellie well well. Here be the last chapter of "Of Peculiar Hats and Pretty Blondes," and, as you may well imagine, I am incredibly sad. Next I have planned a DxHr story or something along those lines. And then after that I have no idea. So here we go. Last chapter. Tragic, I know.
I'll have you know that I'm not particularly fond of this chapter, though the story and the pairing are my favorites. Maybe there'll be a tiny epilogue of some sort some time in the near future.
Disclaimer: After all I've been through, I am sorry to admit that Archie Comics is still not mine. But maybe after this story is over they'll realize how fantastic BxJH is and they'll give it to me. Though I doubt it.
Jughead couldn't take his eyes off himself. There is no way in hell I'm going to this thing, he thought, fingering his bow tie lightly. I'll just skip it and tell Betty I got sick or something. Yeah, that's it. I'll tell her I got sick.
...You're pathetic, you know.He winced at the sudden appearance of his harder-to-please Jimminy Cricket. "Yeah, I know. But, hell. Can you see this thing? It pains my retinas to look directly at it for more than three seconds at a time." So, make it work. "And how in the hell do I 'Make it work?' Wear a matching belt?" Do you have a belt this color? "Nobody has a belt this color!" He twisted this way and that in the mirror, trying to find a position that disguised the fact that his suit positively swam on him. After a moment the reflective blue material caught the light and Jug was temporarily blinded. He rubbed at his eyes and fell frustrated against the wall. The worst part, however, wasn't that the suit was a few sizes too big. It wasn't that the color was a strong powder blue that clashed with everything he was (including his personality). It wasn't that the ruffly undershirt was reminiscent of a pirate, or that the bright bowtie had a luminescent sheen to it, or even that his hair wouldn't stay down no matter how much he combed it. The worst part was that it was too late to get a new suit, it was too late to get matching shoes, and it was too late to run to the store and buy himself some extra-strength hair gel. "Damnit," he muttered, crossing his arms across his chest in an imitation of a pouty first-grader.
Jughead continued feeling sorry for himself (and staring into his mother's mirror) for another twenty-something minutes. Then his phone rang.
"Jughead, where the hell are you?" Betty asked as soon as he flipped his clunky LG open.
"Uh, home. Why?"
"The dance is starting in, like, five minutes! Are you ready?"
"Yeah, about that. I don't know if I'm going to make it, Bets." There was a long, drawn-out pause.
"Someone better have died, Juggie."
"It's just that my suit is bordering on absolutely ridicu--"
"I don't care! You're going whether you like it or not, Forsythe Pendleton Jones! There's no way in hell I'm going to this thing without you." He sighed.
"If you don't get your skinny little ass over here right now, I swear I'm going to rip your hair straight out of your head," she threatened. Jug opened his mouth. It stayed open so long that his tongue started to dry out. "Jug!"
"Okay, alright. I'm on my way."
Jughead didn't know why he refused to take a car to school. By the time he was done with his ten-minute trek to the gymnasium, his black shoes were covered in dirt. He paused outside the double-doors for a minute or two, taking longer than was necessary to dust them off. At least the shoes match the belt, he reflected, licking his thumb to rub at a particularly stubborn bit of dust. He traced the belt, also black, with his finger and stared down at his feet. He was nervous about walking into a room full of people dressed like this. Hopefully, he thought, since he was already about ten minutes late, no one would notice his entrance. He took a deep breath, placed his aviator's hat squarely on his head, and pushed lightly on the horizontal metal bar, allowing himself entry.
Everyone was staring right at him, as if they had been waiting for Britney Spears to walk in. He braced himself for laughter.
It came instantly.
Jughead stood like a fool in front of the congregation of giggling students, door closing silently behind him. It was much too late to run away. This was exactly like the underwear dream that plagued so many elementary school students. Well, it would be, if you replaced the audience with jocks and cheerleaders and the like, replaced the auditorium with a high school dance, replaced the dream with reality, and replaced the underwear with a powder blue suit. He felt like crying.
Then, as if on cue, Betty Cooper stepped out of the crowd, shining and immaculate. Her face expressed concern and confusion, which quickly gave way to mild amusement. Her hair, Jughead noticed, was curled and pulled back into several loosely-wrapped buns. And those several buns were wrapped into one large bun, with a few tendrils hanging with her bangs around her face. She was wearing an old-fashioned helicopter scarf. And, as his eyes travelled downwards, he saw the dress that Veronica had undoubtedly picked out for her. It was neon yellow and didn't match her eyes, her skin tone, her hair, or even her scarf. The fit, however, was absolutely amazing, which was more than he could say for his eye-torturing suit, at least two sizes too big for his scrawny frame. She was the first to step forward. Archie was somewhere behind her, and Jughead made sure to throw him a dirty look before addressing his date.
"Move out of the way, you assholes!" she demanded in a very unladylike manner, elbowing most of the football team in order to clear a path in which she could reach him. She grinned when she finally did. "You look amazing," she giggled.
"I'd tell you how you look, but your bright yellow dress has mysteriously blinded me." She snorted.
"Well, your fancy turquoise suit isn't too easy on the eyes either, bub, but at least I was nice about it."
"Excuse me, but this color is powder blue."
They both burst out laughing. By this time most of the students had lost interest in Jughead's ugly, too-big outfit, and had migrated into the usual pre-dance position: lingering somewhere near the punch bowl.
Jughead, too, took his spot along the wall, watching with timid jealousy as couple after couple joined hands and escorted each other onto the dance floor. With a jolt sent straight to his stomach he spotted Ethel Muggs, cavorting around around the slightly elevated expanse of floor arm-in-arm with this Martin kid. His upper lip lifted involuntarily in an animalistic gesture of dislike. She was really a very good dancer.
Jughead began to feel depressed. He looked to his right, only to observe that he and a few freshmen were the only ones left hanging around the far wall of the gym. He sneered again and pulled the earflaps sharply down on his hat, effectively hiding his face from the rest of the room. Why the hell had he even come?
After what felt like an eternity, he felt a gentle tapping on his shoulder. He flipped the furry visor on his hat up.
"Hey, Jug," Midge greeted, smiling warmly.
"Hiya, Midge," he answered. He never did like her. He respected her, but never liked her. He supposed it was because she was female.
"Are you okay?"
"I guess so. Kinda hungry." She laughed.
"Are you ever not?" He smiled in spite of himself. "Care to dance?" An unheard of amount of fear flowed from his brain to encompass his entire body.
"NO," he told her, shaking his head furiously.
"Wow, thanks!" she said sarcastically, crossing her arms in front of her chest. She cocked an eyebrow at him.
"I mean--I mean, I didn't mean it like that, I only--where's Moose?"
"Oh, don't worry about him, Juggie. He's fine with it. He doesn't consider you a threat at all. Not even a minor one."
Now it was his turn to cross his arms. "Wow, thanks!" She grinned.
"So? How about it?" Jughead paused for a moment, reflected on his life, and decided it wasn't quite worth it. I mean, he hadn't even kissed a girl yet. It was much too early for him to die, and he certainly wasn't going to take Midge's word and trust enormous, football-playing Moose.
"Maybe later," he answered politely.
"Alright. You come find me, okay? Stop being such a loser and dance."
"I don't have a date, in case you haven't noticed," he pointed out.
"We're not dancing in couples, Jug," she responded, gesturing to the dance floor. It was true: in typical high school fashion, about forty clusters of students were bunched tightly together, bouncing and swaying to the music. Big Moose was standing a little to the right of Jug's friends, his head cocked to one side. He threw Jughead a smile and beckoned him over. Jughead shook his head.
"I'm going to grab a bite to eat. I'll be back," he told her with a grin. He left her standing in that same spot and half-ran to the snack bar, grabbing a handful of Cheezits and a cup of punch. He stuffed the crackers into his mouth and grabbed another handful, quickly downing his cup and dipping it into the bowl again. Then he spotted the mini sandwiches. He growled and snatched four, shoving them in with the Cheezits in terrifying haste. The tiny sophomore behind the table backed up against the wall in fear. Jughead glanced at her before taking another three sandwiches, another cup of punch, and another handful of Cheezits.
"I'm sorry, but could you--could you save some for everybody else?" she squeaked. His head shot up and his eyes widened. He was simply trying to scare her, actually. It wasn't as if he was really angry. After a tense moment of silence in which the small girl cringed against the wall and Jughead's eyebrows lowered out of his hairline, he swallowed. He turned on his heel and made to stalk away, then thought better of it, took a single Cheezit from the platter, and walked away again.
When he made it back to his spot on the wall, a certain tackily-dressed lovely was waiting for him.
"Well, hello, Juggeroo," she said with a grin, placing both hands on her hips. Jughead cocked an eyebrow and narrowed his eyes.
"Hello, Betty von Bettington." He mirrored her stance. "What happened to Archie?"
Betty rolled her eyes. "What do you think?" she asked, waving her hand towards the far end of the room in a somewhat angry gesture. Jughead's eyes traced the arc her arm had left behind.
In the corner of the dance floor was Mr. Ex-Best Friend himself, pressed flush against a pretty girl with a sultry expression and startlingly red hair.
"Cheryl Blossom," Jughead said unnecessarily, an amused expression ringing throughout his features. "He always did have a kind of...er...itch for her." Betty pursed her lips and shook her head.
"That whore," she mused, blinking her eyes a few times. The two of them watched Cheryl whisper in Archie's ear. Then they watched Archie blush. Then they watched Cheryl smirk and bite her lip. Then they chose not to watch anymore.
The song changed to a kind of up-tempo, fast beat rock song, and Betty began bouncing on her feet.
"I love this song," she told him with a grin. Aha. A hint.
"Go dance," Jughead answered. Somehow, that didn't come out the way he had planned it.
"Nah, it's cool," Betty responded, continuing to bounce up and down. Jughead was too embarrassed to try again. And so they stood in silence, Betty dancing in place, and Jughead watching her. "Hey, look!" Betty ordered, pointing once again at Archie and Cheryl. They were advancing towards the punch bowl, their dirty dancing obviously making them more than a little thirsty. Cheryl held onto his arm, and Archie's free hand draped gently around her waist.
Betty grinned wolfishly at Jughead, who grinned back. They really were best friends: Jughead knew what she was going to do even before she did it.
"HIIII, ARCHIEE!" she called, waving ridiculously and beaming full-force. Archie's reaction was immediate--he flipped around to see who was talking to him, saw who it was, reddened completely, and threw Cheryl off of himself before rushing over to her. Betty shared a secret smirk with Jughead. Cheryl stood alone, her face a cross between that of an abandoned puppy and that of an angry crocodile. Archie took both of Betty's hands.
"Betty, baby!" he appealed, slightly out of breath. "How's it hangin'?" It didn't even occur to him to greet Jughead.
"Oh, all's well, I guess. Having fun?" She waggled her eyebrows at that last bit and Archie's blush deepened (if possible).
"Er, yeah--you sort of ran off, you see--I was alone, and so Cheryl--"
"Cheryl?" Betty interrupted. "Cheryl Blossom? Is she here?"
Archie gaped at her.
"Cheryl, dear!" Betty shouted, waving her over. "How are you?" Cheryl rolled her eyes. She was fantastically rich, fantastically beautiful, and fantastically fantastic. She had no reason to speak to middle-income, average-looking, quasi-fantastic Betty Cooper. Betty turned back to Archie. "So. Where were you hiding?"
"I wasn't--I mean, I didn't--" he stammered, tripping over his words and using elaborate hand gestures that meant nothing. Betty blinked, waiting for an answer. "Would you like to dance?" he asked finally.
"No," Betty asked flatly. "I hereby hand you over to Cheryl. You were a lousy date, anyway," she added, waving her hand about imperiously. Archie stared at her, then his eyes narrowed.
"Ha, ha, Betty," he snorted.
"I'm serious. I don't want anything to do with you tonight. Or tomorrow night. So turn and walk away, Archiekins. Turn and walk away." She ushered him about ten feet from herself, then crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. "He really was a lousy date," she said, speaking to no one in particular. Jughead grinned.
"I believe it," he answered. Archie was now looking over his shoulder, his fingers wrapped gently around Cheryl's. She had her opposite hand possessively glued to his hip, and presently detatched it so that she could turn Archie's chin until he was facing her again. She said something to him and the two disappeared into the rest of the undulating crowd.
Minutes passed with Betty and Jughead making idle conversation: teasing each other, commenting on each others' outfits, making fun of various classmates under their breath as they walked by. They talked about school, they talked about Archie, they talked about Veronica, they talked about Betty's grandma, Betty's interests, about Hot Dog, about Jellybean, about their plans for the future, about anything and everything. Then the minutes gave way to hours. And then it was eleven o' clock. In a sudden gesture of friendliness, Betty squeezed Jughead's arm, which was crossed over his chest. He let it drop and turned his head to face her. She, however, merely took his hand and continued their casual exchange. For the first time since they were little kids, she intertwined her fingers with his as opposed to cupping her hand around them. Jughead found himself practically hyperventilating. Here was beautiful, smart, crazy amazing Betty Cooper, properly holding hands with him, talking to him about something he couldn't even hear, and here he was: not especially attractive, skinny beyond belief, peculiar and goofy, and not very easy to understand. Then she looked up at him. She had obviously just asked him a question. How the hell was he supposed to concentrate on what she was saying when he was so busy concentrating on what she was doing? He swallowed hard, his blood rushing to his head, his voice caught in his throat. And then he swallowed again.
"What?" he asked. At least he was able to manage a comprehensible word. He felt suddenly dizzy, suddenly fearful, and suddenly, awesomely contented all at once. She squeezed his hand, elliciting a sharp intake of breath from him.
"I said it's almost 11:15," she repeated. Jughead's face was blank as he attempted to push her hand-squeeze out of his mind and wrap his brain around her words. She mistook this blank stare for one of confusion. "The dance ends at 11:15," she continued. Jughead's eyebrows furrowed as he attempted to understand what she was saying. However, she was currently running the tip of her thumb over the base of his, and he found it unbelievably difficult to focus on anything other than the surge of adrenaline rushing through his body at that bit of affectionate contact.
As if he had been waiting for Betty to mention it, the deejay's voice echoed through the overcrowded gymnasium. "Last dance, folks," he announced, turning the multicolored lights off. There was much wolf-whistling and cat-calling from the senior jocks' section of the floor, and the lonely sophomore who ran the snack counter was escorted into the center of the room by a timid-looking member of her class, about four inches shorter than she was and blushing furiously. Jughead turned to Betty without thinking.
"Dance with me?"
She stared at him, mouth agape, eyes quizzical. And then her face split in two as an insuppressible smile stretched over her features. As she nodded, the reality of his question hit Jughead. Or, rather, this reality stepped into an eighteen-wheeled big rig and slammed on the gas, pulverizing Jughead. Either way, he stood like a crazy person, facing her, holding her hand, and waiting for the song to begin. After a few seconds, however, he rushed her onto the dance floor. And then it started.
The song playing was Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brothers.
Jughead rolled his eys.
"What?" Betty asked, entering the spot he had cleared for her. They were surrounded by other couples, most of which were staring at the two brightly-dressed and color-clashing teens.
"This song is so cliche," he answered, shrugging and taking her hand again.
"Cliche of what?" she prodded.
"You know," Jughead responded. "The end of the old fifties' movie." She merely looked at him, a bemused expression on her face. "The one about the boy and the girl, and they spend the whole movie falling in love with each other, and then at the end they share a final, climatic dance. To this song," he explained. Betty laughed.
"Shut up and dance," she demanded, wrapping her arms around his neck. It was then that Jughead realized he had absolutely no idea how to share a slow dance with a girl. He bit his lip awkwardly as Betty danced around him. Not wanting to appear too forward, he placed his arms gently on her ribcage. She rolled her eyes, released his neck with one hand, and eased his arms down so that they were resting on her waist.
Once again, the ability to breathe was forcefully ripped from Jughead's body.
His hands shook ever so slightly as he pressed them into her hips, not daring to look down into her eyes. For a few tense moments he gazed down into the gap between the two of them, at his shiny, patent leather shoes shifting ever so slowly in tight circles as he led her in time to the music. The words to the song reverberated in his head: Oh, my love, my darling, I've hungered for your touch a long, lonely time. It was ironic how this one song could sum up his feelings for the girl in front of him in so few words.
She managed to aggressively abolish every one of his thoughts in her next move. She tightened her grip on her own arms so that her hands were resting on her opposite elbows, pulling herself closer to Jughead and effectively eliminating every single understanding and tidbit of useful information he had ever acquired, including but not limited to how to blink, how to move, and how to speak. Then she lowered her head so that it fell to his chest.
That, my friends, is the precise moment in which Jughead knew he had fallen in love.
"Oh, my love, my darling, I've hungered, oh, hungered for your touch a long, lonely time. And time goes by so slowly..."
Betty scowled as Cheryl Blossom slid into the passnger's seat of Archie's car. That had been her seat a mere four hours ago. Archie closed the door for her (something he had never once done for Betty), and took his own place in the driver's seat.
As they drove away Betty made a face. "I hope she slaps you when she finds out you can't pay for dinner!" she called after them.
They were standing outside the deflated gymnasium. All the balloons were sagging to the point where they were nearly touching the floor, the streamers had been torn down by students entering and leaving the building, and the lights were on. In short, the place had a general post-dance atmosphere. Jughead's hair was back to its usual messy state, his furry hat on Betty's head in a frivolous attempt to make her a slight bit warmer than she looked. Her scarf was still wrapped around her neck, her hands rubbing frantically at frigid arms. She hadn't brought a jacket, obviously assuming that she would have had a warm ride home.
"Let's go home, Betty," Jughead suggested, beckoning her along.
It was really a beautiful night.
But unbelievably cold.
With each breath they expelled, a puffy fog cloud erupted from their mouths. They didn't speak at all on the way home.
About a block and a half away from the school, Jughead, unable to control himself, wrapped his arm about Betty's shoulders in an effort to keep her warm. He realized how this action could be mistaken for another kind of gesture only after he had done it. And he blushed.
She responded by placing her hand on the small of his back.
And they continued on, walking together in a sort of half-embrace across the leaf-ridden cement. Jughead's mind was surprisingly empty on this journey home. There was no mentally insulting himself, no half-brained instructions, no desperate suspicions, no lusty imaginings or violent thoughts. There was silence. He decided he liked it.
When they reached Betty's street, they slowed down. Jughead did it consciously, of course, and he wondered if Betty was doing it consciously as well or just following his lead. They had to reach her door eventually, however. And they did.
And when they did, Jughead stood at the foot of the stoop. And Betty sat down in front of the door.
"Sit with me," she asked simply. Jughead obeyed. The two seventeen-year-olds reclined quietly, Betty slipping off her neon shoes and laying them next to her, Jughead ruffling his hair yet again. They stared across the street, neither saying a word, but both thinking along the same lines.
The night had started off rough. It hadn't been fun for either of them. Jughead had been inflicted with self-doubt, made fun of, and laughed at. Betty had spent the last thirty minutes before the dance watching Archie stack a house of cards, spent the last five minutes trying to convince Jughead to come, and spent the first ten minutes in a determined silence as she avoided the red-headed menace at all costs. Then Jughead had entered the room, and, true to prediction, both had instantly brightened. Jughead was happy to see that he wasn't the only foolishly dressed junior there, and Betty had been genuinely glad to see a true friend. And then they had separated. And then they had reunited. And then they had danced.
And now here they sat, reflecting on their respective nights in subdued silence and quiet amusement.
"I had fun," Betty whispered.
"So did I," Jughead responded, inclining his head. She turned to face him.
"I'm glad you came," she told him truthfully. He looked back at her. "It would've been terribly lonely to walk home by myself." Jughead smiled.
"Happy to be of service."
There was a pause.
"Jughead?" Betty began, twirling one long loop of hair around and around in her fingers.
"Yes?" he answered, tilting his head to one side.
"...You're my best friend." She didn't look up, only continued to fiddle with that damned bit of hair.
"And you're mine," he told her, reaching over to engulf her in a Jughead bear-hug. Always the best friend. That's what he was. She held onto his arms so that he wouldn't (and couldn't) pull away from her, then tilted her head towards his. And so, again, she had him pinned. Only this time, it was only his arms that were pinned. And this time, he didn't really mind it so much. He wouldn't have pulled away from her even if she had let go of his arms. It was during this internal monologue that Jughead chose to contemplate the proximity of the two. They were currently placed on the bottommost of Betty's front steps. He was sitting upright, his arms wrapped around her shoulders, and she was sort of leaned over, her legs up on the step and her arms resting over the tops of his. And then he realized the incredibly close proximity of their faces. Her nose couldn't have been more than an inch or two away from his. And her half-lidded eyes were so near to his that when he focused on them they merged into one. And her lips. Her lips--
And then they were kissing.
Although it was unclear who had initiated it, it was obvious that neither was willing to stop any time soon. The adrenaline rush that Jughead got from kissing Betty was something he never experienced before. He couldn't decide whether it was simply the kind of feeling one got no matter which girl they were pressing their lips to, or if it was only Betty that would ever provoke this kind of reaction in him.
He was semi-aware of her hands leaving his arms to hold onto the back of his head, as if he had seen it through his peripheral vision. He couldn't quite comprehend this tiny movement at the moment. His stomach was flipping over. Betty's kiss was like...oh, God, it was like nothing he had ever come close to before. There was a strangely pleasant wrenching sensation somewhere in his gut and everything melted into a swirl of color, accompanied by a rush of heat that encompassed his body despite the chilly outside temperature. He couldn't tell you when they finally resurfaced, only that when they did, Jughead was out of breath and light-headed, almost as if he had ran a mile or not eaten for a few hours. He was also grinning like a freak.
He was sure she would make fun of his ridiculous kissing. And he guessed right.
She laughed. At first he merely stared angrily at her. She could at least have the heart to wait so that she wasn't laughing in his face. And she wouldn't stop. It was both a blessing and a curse that the girl he loved had such infectious laughter. Jughead soon found himself unable to control his fluctuating diaphragm, as well. They collapsed in a fit of mirth, all tension (romantic and otherwise) escaping from their body in a few short-lived minutes.
And then it was time for Jug to go home.
He ascended the four steps with her, promising to come over the next day. She then opened her door and pressed her lips against his in a sweet, chaste kiss.
"You're my best friend," she told him again with a grin.
And it was then that he finally realized what that phrase meant. What it had always meant. And what it had meant when he said it, too.
"I love you, too."