Reggie and Clarissa were leaning in too closely to each other for propriety, not that Betty was noticing, or anything. She tried not to look at them, but her ears pricked up as she listened to their flirty banter. She tried to look completely absorbed in cleaning out her locker.
“So, you’re coming to my place later, right?”
“Reg… I don’t know… I’ve got a lot to do after school.”
“So, come and do it with me.” Betty heard his smug grin without having to look at it, and she silently rolled her eyes. “C’mon, you know what I mean… I’ve got plenty of space for us to spread out. We can cram for that lit test.”
“I hate Moby Dick,” Clarissa complained. “It’s so boring.”
“It won’t be if you study it with me, Reggie tempted. “I’ll make it interesting.”
“Reg, quit it!” But there was laughter in her voice, and Betty dared to peek out of the corner of her eye. Clarissa was leaning back against her locker, and Reggie was practically hemming her in, focused on her body language and her ripe, pink pout. He lightly caressed the underside of her chin with his fingertip, urging her to keep her eyes on his face when she tried to duck her head. Clarissa was staring up at Reggie like he painted the stars across the sky. Betty knew he was pulling out his usual bag of tricks, and as usual, it was working beautifully.
How often had she watched him from over the hedge? How many other conversations had she eavesdropped, late at night, when he brought girls over or when they just lingered in his car? Even worse, and it tied Betty’s stomach in knots when she thought about it, on a handful of occasions when she caught Reggie LEAVING his house on Sunday mornings to take his dates HOME on weekends when his parents were out of town, how giggly, blissed out and guilty did those girls look as he helped them into his car, hair still mussed?
She saw Clarissa turn her head Betty’s way and she quickly ducked, but not before she caught her. Thankfully she was nice. “Hi, Betty!” Betty waved back, and she hated the dark red flush that she could feel breaking out over her skin.
“Hey, Clarissa!” she offered, waving back. She closed her locker and darted off, and Reggie stared after her with a tiny frown. But his face smoothed itself into agreeable lines when Clarissa faced him again.
“So, what time?”
“If I meet you after practice,” she teased, poking him.
“Uh…hm.” He snapped his fingers. “Just meet me at the parking lot at four. I can drive you.” Clarissa had a Spanish club meeting, so she would be staying after school, anyway.
“I brought my own car today.”
“That’s fine. Give me your phone real quick.” She handed it over eagerly, and he thumbed his way into her contacts, feeling slightly goofy holding her phone in its horrendously girly pink case with My Little Ponies on it. “I’ll plug my address in here.”
“Awesome.” She took it back and tucked it into her huge, rhinestone-studded bag. He toyed with one of her long, narrow braids dangling over her shoulder.
“Later, Mantle.” Her lips twisted into a little smirk and she gave him flirty eyes as she left. He watched her walk for a moment, enjoying the swing of her hips, but then his mind drifted back to Betty.
She’d been watching him. Those blue eyes of hers never lied. What was up with that? He mentally scratched his head as he made his way to social studies.
“Come to the mall with me. I want to pick up that dress that I have on hold.”
“I’m broke. Otherwise I’d go.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll buy you a latte.” Of course Veronica would bring up her weakness.
“You don’t have to do that.”
“Awww, I don’t wanna go to the mall alone,” Veronica whined. “C’mon, Bets, pretty please?”
“Didn’t your dad cut you off?”
“Pfft… no. He just gave me a warning. That’s why I put the dress on hold.”
“Ahhhh.” Betty mentally rolled her eyes. “Self-restraint. I see what you’re doing there.”
“Zip it, or no latte for you.” Veronica brandished her slapping hand, and Betty giggled. “C’mon. Come have fun with your bestie. You know you want to.” Veronica started doing a goofy little dance, then grabbed Betty and started to twirl her around. “You knooowww you waaaant toooooo…” she chanted. Betty gave her a long-suffering look.
“I wish I could quit you,” she told her dryly. Veronica broke away and fist-pumped.
“Yesssssss! Yay! Goodie! Meet me at my car.”
“Yes, yes,” Betty promised, waving her off. “Ooh. Wait. Can we make a stop before we go? I have a library book I have to return.”
“Oh. Yeah. That’s fine.” Then Veronica pulled a face as they headed toward their last period class. “Why don’t you just stick with the school’s library?”
“Better reference section.” And sometimes Betty just needed to get away from anything having to do with school for a couple of hours, with her busy athletic schedule. Veronica already hadn’t forgiven her for going out for basketball instead of staying on the winter cheerleading squad, but the schedules were conflicting, and Betty really wanted to play.
It didn’t hurt, really, that the girls practiced in the opposite court from the boys, partitioned off by a dividing wall, but she could still peek through the opening once in a while. Reggie and Archie were both playing that season and both made varsity. Once in a while, their game schedules would coincide, and both teams would play in the same school’s tournament.
So, it was important to steal some time with her bestie once in a while so Veronica wouldn’t feel put out. By the time Betty finished practice, showered, went home, helped make dinner and began studying her notes, she was usually wiped. Weekends were for dates, the way Veronica’s schedule worked, so more often than not, she went with Archie to the movies instead, and Betty ended up being the odd man out. Archie and Veronica were joined at the lip, more often than not, and despite her own best efforts to move on from what she now called “The Incident,” Betty still burned with jealousy.
She should be happy for her friend for having the boyfriend she always wanted. Sure. But… BUT.
It never quite worked out that way, did it? They both liked Archie. That much had been pretty clear from the beginning. Veronica got his attention. Archie asked Veronica out. End of story. Betty slunk into the background and licked her wounds. Archie never looked at Betty the way he did Ron.
… at least, not until The Incident. Not until he turned her world on its ear, and Betty didn’t know what changed. One moment they were goofing around, and the next his lips were teasing hers, coaxing tiny sounds out of her throat, making every inch of her body tingle. Waves of guilt washed over her, but that look in his eyes, those robin’s egg blue eyes, they were cloudy with desire and need, coaxing an admission from her that she felt what was between them.
Now, she noticed him, and he was definitely noticing her. How long had he snuck glances at her, then ducked his head sheepishly as soon as their eyes met? When did brief, inadvertent contact between them get so awkward? She wasn’t watching where she was going on her way through the doorway past study hall, checking her tweets on her phone, when she collided with him as he approached, since he was yelling over his shoulder to Moose and was paying just as little attention. They smacked into each other, and both of them stammered out apologies, and she nearly came out of her skin at the feel of his hand closing around her upper arm.
“Geez… Bets, I wasn’t looking. I’m sorry. Um… sorry.”
“Beg your pardon,” she added clumsily. “I wasn’t looking. TOTALLY wasn’t looking.” His hand lingered on her arm, and the contact was making her fizzy. Every alarm in her brain sounded at once: He’s touching me, he’s TOUCHING me, HE’S TOUCHING ME… She felt bereft as he withdrew his hand, and they were buffeted out of the way as their classmates surged through the doorway around them, still awkwardly close. “Um, bye.”
“Yeah.” He waved, then almost crashed into Jug going in the opposite direction, but he still glanced over his shoulder at Betty. It hit her that she was just standing there, looking back when she should have been walking to class.
“Why are you all red?” Ethel demanded when she reached her class.
“It’s nothing. It’s totally nothing.” But, her traitorous brain demanded to know, what if it was?
Practice was brutal.
Two miles of suicide laps. Shooting drills. Blocking. Rebounding. Lay-ups. Free throws. Jumping jacks. Grapevines. Passing drills. The gym was chilly when practice began, but after two hours, which also included a brief scrimmage, Betty was drenched in her own sweat, ponytail plastered to her neck, and every inch of her body ached. But Betty was exhilarated; they had an awesome team lineup for the season, and she couldn’t wait for their next tournament on Saturday.
Ethel gave her a high five. “Nice job today.”
“It was good,” Betty agreed. “I think we’re ready.”
“Sounds like they tore it up on that side, too,” Ethel murmured, motioning to the dividing wall. They heard Coach Kleats’ whistle blow and the stamping of feet as the boys huddled. She saw a spare ball bounce and roll into view from where someone tossed it, and Archie darted into her line of vision through the opening in the partition. He scooped up the ball, stopping just short of accidentally running into the bleachers, and he chanced a quick look through the wall. He grinned self-consciously and nodded at Betty, then disappeared.
“He looked whipped,” Ethel remarked.
“Yeah,” Betty murmured. “Sure did.”
“Why are you grinning like that?”
“Like what?” She met Ethel’s glance. “Like what?” she repeated.
“Like … that. Whatever that is.” Ethel gave the ball under her arm a few experimental dribbles, then cradled it against herself again. “Why were you staring at him like that?”
“I wasn’t staring.”
“That looked a lot like staring.”
“Nope.” Betty shrugged and loped toward the bleachers, where Miss Grundy was giving them a run-down on what needed work before their tournament.
“I want more of that teamwork, girls. Be mindful of where your teammates are on the court and pay attention. I want to see you watching and listening for ‘I’m open!’” Miss Grundy gestured with arm waving motions to demonstrate. “No ball hogging. Some of you are gifted shooters, some of you have a stronger passing game, but there’s no excuse to hog the ball for every shot.”
“Don’t be a Mantle,” Nancy muttered aloud. The girls tittered and elbowed each other, and Miss Grundy sighed.
“That’s enough. That’s not inaccurate, granted, but don’t be unsportsmanlike and tear down your peers. Appreciate all of your fellow Bulldogs. We all have our flaws.” Miss Grundy nodded to Ethel. “Nice work today on those tip-ins and lay-ups, kiddo. Use that height to your advantage, but watch that high dribbling.”
“Yes, ma’am.” But Ethel glowed under the praise. Ethel had spent most of freshman year believing she had no real athletic ability until Miss Grundy coaxed her into trying field hockey. She ended up being a natural at it, and it gave her the confidence to go out for basketball, giving in to the usual nagging she got about “You’re so tall, why don’t you play basketball?” It ended up working out. She had hoped it would help her to get Jughead’s attention, but so far, no go. Oh, well.
The skinny junior was on the boy’s team, too, the only team he would bother with every year, and he was pretty good, good enough to play first string, but he wasn’t “a Mantle,” lacking the ego that seemed to go along with lettering in a sport. When practices were over, Jughead beelined over to the Chok’lit Shoppe or to Archie’s house, competing with Veronica for time with his best friend. Betty knew how he felt…
Ethel hadn’t given up hope yet. That last, stubborn little glimmer still burned within her breast, and her feet still wore a groove in the floor past his locker every day, while she savored every brief glimpse of him. One day, the right words would tumble out of her mouth, or she would wear the right perfume, or she would bake him just the right cookie, and he would notice her, and maybe, just maybe, he would appreciate her. Ethel was grasping for crumbs.
He was so cute. He was just so… Jughead. It was so hard.
The girls lingered in the gym, collecting the balls in the large net sack and gathering up the orange drill cones. “Can I come by and get that sweater tonight?” Nancy asked. “Chuck’s taking me to a movie at seven.”
“Ooh. Shoot. I’m meeting Ron today to go to the mall. I’ll try to make it short. Unless you want to come with us?”
“Nah. I’ve got a project due on Greek history on Friday. I need to work on it today before Chuck comes over.” Betty promised to lend Nancy her green sweater for her date; it was their two-year anniversary, and Chuck was going all out, planning dinner and seeing the Hunger Games afterward.
“Okay. We’ll figure something out. I’ll see if Ron and I can swing by your house with it, then. I’ll text you to let you know where we are.” The girls headed to the locker room, but they paused at the sound of the boys horsing around on the other side.
“Wish they’d put some windows in that thing,” Nancy murmured, nodding to the partition.
“No kidding,” Ethel agreed. “Can’t let us have any fun, or anything.” They went to the showers, and Betty rushed through her attempt at hygiene, hopping still half-damp into her clothes, jerking her hair into a hasty ponytail and cramming deodorant against her pits. She was slinging her backpack over her shoulder and putting on lip gloss without a mirror as she hurried out.
“Text me!” Nancy called after her.
“Bye, Betty!” Midge called after her. She waved to all of them and rushed to the cafeteria, where the cheerleaders were practicing. She caught Veronica’s eye and ignored the nasty look Cheryl gave her as she looked up from her phone.
“So glad I’m not playing ball this year, if it means looking like shit,” she muttered.
“So what’s your excuse for looking like shit, then?” Veronica quipped, looking innocent and looping her arm through Betty’s.
“And who said you weren’t playing ball?” Betty added. “That’s not what we’ve heard.” She gave Cheryl a smug look that was out of character for her.
“Bitch,” Cheryl huffed. She flipped them the bird, then turned away quickly when Miss Haggly and Miss Phlips told them to help collect the cheer sheets and boom box.
“Nice one,” Veronica snickered. They fist-bumped and hurried out, and Veronica tightened her grip on Betty. “This is so awesome,” she squealed. “I get to hang out with my bestie and spend money!”
“Speak for yourself.”
“I’m spending money on you, too. It’s latte time.”
“Library book first. I need to run home for it, and I have to also pick up a sweater for Nanners.”
“She could have come with us,” Veronica mentioned.
“I know. She’s working on her project, though.” Veronica made a disappointed sound.
“Booooo…” Veronica drew them up short as her phone chirped at her. “Ooh. Call. Hold it.” Betty rolled her eyes. Of course, it had to be Archie. Veronica answered the call with a breathless “What’s up, babe?” Betty tagged alongside her, listening to one side of the conversation and fighting the urge to gag. “I’m with Betty. Yeah, Betty. We’re going to pick up my dress. Yes, the hot one. Aw, you’re so cute… I know you’ll like it on me.” Veronica’s mouth dropped open in mock-shock, and she giggled. “Don’t!” she scolded lightly. “You’re so bad. Yes, you’re totally bad. Yeah. Miss you. No. I miss you more. Okay.” She paused again. “Betty and I are getting a latte. We won’t be gone that long. Okay.” She made a kissy noise. “Mmm-whah! Bye, Archiekins.” Betty made finger-throat motions and a sour face. Veronica elbowed her.
“That, was just… sickening. Seriously. Going into sugar shock, here.”
“But I loooooooooove him,” Veronica whined, clasping her hands over her heart. “You wouldn’t understaaaaaaaannnnd!”
Sure, Betty wouldn’t. Why wouldn’t she?
“Let’s just go,” Betty insisted on a ragged sigh.
Betty finished her two errands, and they girls rolled up to the galleria parking lot in Ron’s Jeep, where Veronica managed to wrangle her way past a middle-aged man in a blue Navigator to beat him to the closest parking spot that he’d been waiting for.
“No one beats a Lodge into the mall,” Veronica sniffed, ignoring his dirty look and the way he slapped his steering wheel behind closed windows, mouthing What the F***? at them as they passed by. Veronica grabbed Betty’s arm and pulled her along.
“That wasn’t very nice,” Betty chided.
“He’ll get over it.” Betty’s misgivings faded once the scent of the mall food court hit them fully, and her mouth watered.
“Cinnabon,” she sighed, breathing it in.
“Cinnamon twisties,” Veronica corrected her. “Let’s go!” They giggled and practically ran to the little stand and ordered.
They lingered over their drinks and snacks while Veronica prattled on about Archie this, and Archie that, and the upcoming winter semi-formal. “What are you going to wear?”
“I don’t know. I’ll wait and see what goes on sale,” Betty considered. “I won’t have enough time to make anything.”
“So, make the time. That last one was nice.”
“I don’t feel like wearing it again.” But to Ron’s credit, it was true. Her midnight blue, spaghetti-strapped sheath that her mother helped her make was a sweet, simple get-up, but she wanted something different. Something eye-catching. Not over the top, but just memorable.
“Anyone ask you yet?”
“Nope.” Dilton had asked her if she was planning to go, but he hadn’t actually asked her if she was interested in going with him. Jughead joked with her that they could be each other’s last resort, but she wouldn’t do that to Ethel. She knew him too well; he liked to go stag.
“Get a date. We can double.”
“Easier said than done. Get me one,” Betty challenged. Veronica rolled her eyes and smirked.
“Don’t dare me. I’ll do it. I’ll find you someone.” Veronica began scrolling through her phone.
“Oh, geez… no. NO,” Betty emphasized, making a grab for it. “We’re not doing this.”
“I want you to have a date. I’m gonna have a date, so you should, too.” Betty didn’t point out that Veronica already had the date that Betty would have found ideal.
“Don’t go out of your way.”
“No. Seriously. Look… how about George? I just ran into him a few weeks ago. He still looks pretty good.”
“Wasn’t that the guy you went on a blind date with that didn’t work out? Didn’t he have a weird thing about Al Pacino movies?”
“Hmm… okay. Skip George. How about Louie?”
“The one who has the psycho sister? Nope. Next.”
“He was cute, though!” Veronica insisted.
“What else have you got?” Betty couldn’t believe she was even entertaining the thought of letting Veronica fix her up.
“Stan? He might be free that night.”
“Who is he?”
“I met him at one of Daddy’s conferences. His dad works with him. That was after Archie and I got together, though. But he seemed nice enough.”
“Uh-huh.” Veronica scrolled through the photos in her gallery and triumphantly shoved the phone at her. “Whaddya think?” Betty looked down at the tiny screen. Her eyes widened appreciatively.
“Wow. Oh, wow.”
That was there it all began to unravel, Betty realized that night while she was on her second cup of punch. Her high heels were pinching her feet and Stan’s voice, which she initially found sexy at the beginning of the evening, was beginning to grate on her nerves.
She never should have agreed to let Ron fix her up. Everything started out well enough. Stan showed up on time, and her breath caught at how handsome he looked in his dark gray suit. Stan was close to six feet tall, medium build, and had dreamy gray eyes and a dimple in his left cheek. He knew his way around a bottle of hair gel and had well-cut dark waves. He came inside and automatically shook hands with Betty’s dad.
“Eleven,” Hal told them sternly.
“That’s fine, Mr. Cooper,” Stan agreed. His hand was warm at Betty’s lower back as he helped her into her coat and showed her to the car.
As the night wore on, she realized that while Stan was certainly pretty, there just wasn’t much going on upstairs.
Stan went to Pembroke and was friends with the Blossoms, which explained a lot. So much of what came out of his mouth was “blah-blah-CARS-blah-blah-MY PARENTS-blah-blah-OUR TRIP TO ARUBA-blah-blah-MY LAST GIRLFRIEND-blah-blah-blah-ME, ME, ME.” Betty realized her attempts at conversation were futile, and she began to just nod and smile.
“So, you look so cute tonight,” Stan finally told her. Betty sighed in relief.
“My ex has a dress like that. Did you get it at BCBG?”
“Well, it’s nice. It’s working well for you.” He rocked back on his heels and stared out at the dance floor.
“You wanna dance?” Betty suggested helpfully.
“Oh, not yet. Not crazy about this song.”
“Got it. No rush.” She nodded to his cup. “Want more punch?” He grinned and handed it to her, and she slunk off dutifully, glad for the momentary escape.
“How’s it going over there with your boy?” Chuck inquired, stopping her.
“It’s so not,” she growled. “Oh, my friggin’ goodness. Shoot me now.”
“Oooh.” Chuck winced. “This is a friend of Ron’s?”
“I thought I was a friend of Ron’s, up until now,” Betty quipped. “Rethinking that now.”
“She meant well,” Nancy chimed in. “Remind me to bring your sweater by tomorrow, girl.”
“I’ll be home most of the day, whenever you want to stop by.” Nancy gave her arm a squeeze before Betty ladled more punch.
“He didn’t even get the drinks?” Chuck wrinkled his nose. “That’s his job.”
“No worries. I needed the walk. Haven’t danced once.”
She hobbled off in the uncomfortable shoes and watched the dance floor resentfully. It was crowded and everyone looked like they were having a great time except her. And perhaps Ethel, who was mooning over Jughead and working up the nerve to approach him. She caught Betty’s eye and waved her over.
“I’m not digging this.”
“Preaching to the choir, sweetie.” She held up one of her cups. “Punch?”
“Maybe later.” Then Ethel made a face. “Where’s your date?”
“Over there. Mr. Tall, Dark and Such a Bad Idea.” Ethel giggled behind her hand.
“Wow. I’m so sorry.”
“Me, too. So, think Juggie will come around?”
“I don’t know.”
“You can still chat him up.”
“I don’t want to feel like I’m trying too hard.”
“Not trying at all isn’t getting you anywhere.”
“I know, I know…” Ethel sounded defeated.
“You look nice.” She did. Ethel went the low-key route with a scoop-necked, sleeveless black velvet dress with a green satin sash, black mule-heeled pumps and a dainty pearl choker around her slender throat. She wore her short dark hair pinned up and did her makeup with a light hand.
“I’d rather be home in my jammies. The Hello Kitty ones, on my couch. With cocoa and Vampire Diaries.”
“Ooh. That sounds good.”
“Quit stalling, though.”
“Okay. Take another minute. Chill. Mingle,” Betty urged. “But don’t just wait all night.”
“I know, I know.” Ethel gave her a one-armed hug. “Is he just dull, or what?”
“He’s just… a no. A no, all around.”
“Maybe if you get to dance with him, that will help.”
“Maybe. Later, kiddo.”
“Good luck,” Ethel called to her retreating back. Funny how it worked out that Ethel, dateless, was telling Betty that. No; it was sad.
“There you are,” Stan piped up. “I was getting lonely.”
You missed the sound of your own voice, Betty mused. “Want that dance any time soon?”
“Let me finish this,” Stan offered, and Betty gulped down her drink in one swig, but was dismayed that he meant a sip at a time while he continued to look around the room, one hand in his pocket. Defeated. SO defeated…
“Betty!” She heard Veronica’s squeal from across the room, and she was practically knocked over as her bestie came galloping over.
“You look so cute! Omigod! Stan, you made it!” Veronica was jumping up and down, hugging her, and Betty could only laugh. Archie hung back slightly, chuckling. He nodded at Stan, who gave him a noncommittal smile, then reluctantly gave him a hand to shake.
“Let’s dance,” Veronica ordered. To Betty’s annoyance, Stan finished his drink, finally, and followed suit as Veronica dragged them all out there. Of course, he would listen to Ron…
He was a decent dancer, if less than enthusiastic, but at least Betty finally had something to do. Veronica moved with Archie like they were born for it; three years of going steady would certainly explain it. She tried not to focus on them or look too envious. But once in a while, her eyes drifted over to watch them, taking in Veronica’s radiant smile, or even worse, Archie’s.
But after a while, she just let it go, getting into the music, feeling grateful that she wasn’t a wallflower up in the bleachers. She looked good, she felt relatively good, and she had a date, and she let that mindset guide her over the next hour.
That was how Reggie found her, once he finally paused for a drink with his own date. Clarissa was sitting at one of the small round tables set up off to the side, briefly taking off her shoe and rotating her ankle. He brought her a cup of punch and sat beside her, lightly kissing her brown shoulder. She smiled and moved her sweep of cornrows off her neck to give him better access.
“You’re gonna wear me out,” she murmured fondly.
“Running out of steam already?”
“Let me take a breather.”
“Did I mention you look hot?”
“You can mention it again, if you want.” Reggie smirked. Clarissa was fun. She was pretty open about what she wanted once they really began to talk past the “flirting” stage, and he was glad they’d exchanged numbers so far. “Do you recognize that guy over there?”
“The one dancing with Betty.” He followed her pointing hand and peered into the crowd.
The guy dancing next to her looked like a bit of a tool. Okay. And Clarissa was right, he didn’t look like he went to their school. He kept doing this collar-flexing thing that was kinda goofy, but it made Betty laugh. But, Betty.
She made all coherent thought and function stop with the way she moved, dressed in purple so deep it was almost black, a long, backless halter dress with a flowing skirt. Her hair was in a Grecian-curled upsweep, thanks to a favorite cousin of hers who was a hairdresser.
“I don’t think he goes here,” Clarissa mentioned, pulling him abruptly back.
“Reg? You in there?” She gently knocked against his forehead, chuckling at him. “You zoned out there for a second.”
“Nah. I’m good.” She stepped back into her shoe and stood, reaching for his hand. “You good?”
“Uh-huh.” She grinned and pulled him out to the floor after her, but Reggie’s face heated up the closer they got to Betty.
He tried to focus on his pretty, bubbly date, but out of the corner of his eye, he also noticed Veronica and Archie. Ron looked great, too, easily outdoing every girl there in her skimpy little red number and blown-out curls, but what caught his attention – briefly – was Archie.
He was giving Betty the eye. There was a longing there. Almost… a hunger.
“Asshole,” Reggie hissed under his breath.
“What?” Clarissa said, confused.
“Nothing… I’m good. It’s nothing.”
They kept dancing, song after song, and when a slow number came up, he held Clarissa close, absorbing her heat and breathing the scent of her perfume. But once in a while, over her shoulder, he watched Betty.
She and her date moved slower than the song required, and her body seemed stiff, even though they moved well together. Reggie read the awkwardness in her expression and noticed that his hand was on her hip, rather than her waist. Briefly, Reggie watched that hand slide down too low to be polite, and he gave Betty’s ass a fleeting squeeze, making her jerk against him and stare up at him in annoyance. Quit it, Reggie saw her mouth to him beneath the music. Reggie’s own grip tightened on Clarissa and his blood heated up, just shy of a full boil.
Stan shrugged and smirked, and his hand moved back up where it belonged, against her waist.
“What’s up?” Clarissa asked him again. “Why the frown?”
“I just… nothing.”
“Didn’t look like nothing.”
Before he could form a reasonable answer, he heard commotion off to his right, and this time, he saw a flash of red hair heading toward Betty’s carefully pinned blonde curls.
“That’s enough!” he heard Archie snap. This time, Reggie saw red, when he noticed that guy’s hand on Betty’s butt again, gripping it more possessively.
“Nope,” Reggie muttered. “Sorry,” he apologized to Clarissa before he let go of her and plowed through the crowd, all of whom were watching the spectacle now.
“Reggie? What the hell?” Clarissa yelped, throwing up her hands in his wake.
“Watch the hands,” Reggie warned him.
“I’ve got this,” Archie growled at him.
“No, you haven’t,” Stan told them both, staring at them like they were high. “Get out of here with that shit. I’m dancing with my date!”
“You’re making her uncomfortable,” Reggie argued. “Keep your hands to yourself!” Betty looked horrified.
“Guys… don’t worry about it.” She stood between them and Stan, trying to shove him behind her. “Don’t do this. Please don’t embarrass me like this.”
“You didn’t like how he was touching you,” Archie pointed out, and his jaw was set, eyes blazing, and it quickened her pulse.
“Sure didn’t look like it,” Reggie agreed, but it pissed him off to realize that Archie had been ignoring his own date as much as he had his. Betty’s eyes flitted to his face, and she shook her head.
“Mind your own fucking business,” Stan snapped, and that got everyone’s attention that hadn’t already turned to stare.
“She’s my friend, so she’s my business if you’re putting the moves on her and she doesn’t like it,” Archie informed him. Veronica looked horrified and picked that moment to jump in.
“Stan… look. Cool it.”
“Nice townie friends, Ronnie. Not impressed.” She shrugged.
“So? This is why we didn’t go out. I was hoping you two would hit it off, but never mind. Go run home to Mommy and Daddy.” Stan looked aghast.
“Seriously? You’re just gonna… I came all the way out here to date your friend as a favor…?”
“Favor?” Betty cried. “As a FAVOR???”
“No hard feelings,” Stan told her nastily, giving her a saccharine, fake smile and patting her cheek. “My ex wore it better.”
“I said, watch your hands!” Reggie reminded him, reaching for Betty and pulling her behind him, much like she had her horrible date only moments before. He glanced at her and murmured, “I’m sorry, Bets,” right before swinging on him.
At the end of the night, Reggie was suspended, Archie was suspended, every one of their friends who attempted to break up or otherwise help either of them out in the fight was suspended, and Betty and Veronica went home, mortified and pissed. Veronica deleted Stan from her contacts and gallery before Jeeves even made it there in the limo to pick them up.
Naturally, Betty didn’t see Reggie back at school until Wednesday. He looked chastened, and he was sporting a bandage wrapped around his hand. “Uh… hi.” He paused at her locker and watched her sheepishly. “I guess I kinda owe you an apology.”
“What? You? To me? Whatever for?” She blew out an exasperated breath before facing him. “That was so uncalled for.”
“He was a tool. He was getting fresh.”
“I know that. I could handle it.”
“By letting him do it again?”
“I wasn’t going to make a scene.”
“Where did you find that guy?”
“Ron found him.” He rolled his eyes.
“That explains a lot.”
“It’s not like I liked him or anything. He was just going to be my date for the formal.”
“You could have done better. So much better.”
“It was short notice. And why do you get to critique my date? You ignored yours. What happened to Clarissa?”
“Nothing happened to Clarissa.”
“Was she okay with what happened on Friday?”
“No,” he shrugged. At least he was being honest. “She really wasn’t.”
“You guys over?”
“Um. Yeah.” He combed his fingers through the hair at his nape. “Look, Bets… I’m sorry. Friday sucked. I just couldn’t watch you get mauled by that guy.”
“Guess Archie couldn’t, either. Do you know how embarrassing that was?” She slammed her locker and began to walk away, but Reggie caught her arm, stopping her briefly.
“Are you at least gonna be mad at him, too?”
“Did it embarrass you when he stepped in? Ron didn’t look okay with it, either, when he got involved.” Betty narrowed her eyes.
“Unless you liked it when he stepped up?”
Betty felt her cheeks get hot and ugly little prickles wash over her. “I don’t see why that’s any of your business, Reggie.” Her words were like a slap, and he released her, belatedly, when he realized that he was still touching her. “You had your own date. You didn’t need to keep tabs on mine. You weren’t doing me any favors.” Jughead looked up from his locker as those two walked by arguing, and Reggie could swear he could see the skinny drummer wince.
“If that had been a different date, not at a dance with a bunch of people around, that could have gone badly,” he told her. “Next time I won’t do you the favor of getting rid of a guy that a) was clearly getting fresh with you, that b) was making you uncomfortable, and c) was a horrible dancer that kept doing those stupid nineties “Vogue” moves that no one does anymore. Unless they’re a tool.” Ethel lingered in the periphery, listening.
“Boy has a point,” she murmured.
“I know, right?” Jug agreed, nodding at her. Ethel blushed, but she shot him a brief smile before she moved on to her class.
Betty watched him warily, working up the nerve to say something else.
“You know I’m right.”
“You just think you’re right.” She stormed off. “Next time, don’t leave your date behind. That was bad form, Reggie!” she tossed over her shoulder. Reggie threw his hands up in the air, making an exasperated sound.
He headed straight home, since Mr. Weatherbee had suspended him from basketball practice and any games for the whole week, even though he’d only missed two days of school. Reggie finished his chores early and decided to practice his bass for a while. He headed into the basement and plugged his guitar into the amp that his dad got him for his last birthday. He did a few warm-up chords and enjoyed the thrum of it in his hands. He owned two guitars, and even though he loved his Fender Strat, the bass was his baby. He lost himself in the music, playing for about an hour, until his knuckles began to itch beneath the bandage. Veronica’s friend Stan had a hard head…
Reggie emerged from the basement to find his mother at the stove, emptying a bag of frozen veggies into a saucepan. “You’re back early.”
“No practice today.” He didn’t remind her of why. Vicky sighed and looked at his hand.
“Change the bandage. I hope you’re not letting it get wet.”
“It’s fine, Ma.”
“I wish you’d be more careful, sweetie. Suspensions don’t look good on your record, or on your transcripts. And if you were an adult doing something like that, you could’ve been arrested.”
“Okay,” he grumbled.
“It’s not okay,” she chided. “Reggie, why did you get into that fight?”
“This guy was harassing Betty.”
“Yeah. He had his hands where they didn’t need to be.”
“None of the chaperones did anything about it?”
“No.” Short of “breaking it up” when anyone was caught making out in the bleachers, they almost never did, Reggie wanted to tell her, but he saved that for himself. “Things just got out of hand.”
“I’m not angry that you stood up for her, then, just that you got into a fight, and that you got hurt.” She kissed his cheek and ruffled his hair. “You’re my baby.”
“You still are. Go set the table.”
After dinner, Reggie went outside to get the mail from the box. Just as he closed the box back up and started sorting through the stack of envelopes, he watched Betty skip down her front steps to grab the newspaper from the curb. They froze and stared at each other, and Betty looked embarrassed.
“Hi.” Reggie exhaled a heavy breath, then met her halfway, letting the hedge stand between them. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be too sorry. He was a jerk.” She peered down at his hand. “Does it hurt?”
“Not anymore.” His knuckles were swollen and bruised, and he’d gotten a little cut, but it wasn’t too bad.
“I heard you playing earlier,” she told him. “Sounded pretty good.”
“Yeah. Thanks. Had a little time on my hands.” His suspension. She nodded, then stared down at her hands.
“Look… I know you meant well. I just… I don’t want anyone to ever fight over me like that, and I hated seeing you get hurt. Okay?”
“You don’t have to play the whole ‘big brother’ act.”
“Okay. I wasn’t, but okay.” He backed off, and Betty felt a pang of disappointment. “I thought I was just being your friend.”
“You are my friend.”
“Okay.” He waved over his shoulder without looking back at her. “G’night, Bets.” His front door banged shut after him, and she made a noise of disgust at herself.
“Great. Just great.”