Summary: Nothing like a little competitive spirit to break the ice.
Author’s Note: One of the things I’ve always liked about Betty is that she’s a definite tomboy. Actually, I like MOST things about Betty, since she’s also crafty, artsy, a great writer, a good cook, and loves animals, so that might explain why most of the stuff in my DeviantArt gallery centers around her. But I hinted at the fact that she used to play baseball with the boys in the first chapter, and that brought me back to a recent reprint in one of the Betty and Veronica Digests where she was playing on the team with them, uniform and everything, and when Archie skips a game, because she’s playing shortstop for him, and then he shows up in the stands on a date with Veronica, she hits him with a bean ball. It was awesome. It was classic. That inspired me.
Betty stamped her feet on the welcome mat as she keyed her way inside the house, glad to shuck her boots once she closed the door. “Brrrrrr…” Riverdale was caught in the beginnings of its cold snap, like clockwork, as it began to snow two weeks after Thanksgiving. Her toes felt like ice cubes even in their double layers of socks as she padded into the kitchen. She laid her damp gloves, hat and scarf over the radiator to dry and turned up the thermostat just a notch. As she turned on the kitchen light, she spied her mother’s small Post-it on the fridge, scrawled in her curly handwriting.
There’s pot roast in the fridge that just needs heating up in the microwave. Help yourself.
“Yay,” Betty murmured. That meant she didn’t have to make dinner herself, which gave her a little more time to goof around. She opened the door and found the red ceramic bakeware dish covered in tin foil and set it on the counter. She went about setting the table and then texted her mother to let her know she was back.
Betty: I saw the pot roast. Am I warming up the whole thing?
She fixed herself a cup of cocoa while she waited for a reply. Just as she tore open an envelope of Swiss Miss with marshmallows, she heard her phone ping.
Alice: Yes, please. Your father’s working late, and I had a meeting tonight. Heat the whole thing and set the table. We’ll be back in a half an hour.
Betty: Okey dokey.
Betty set the microwave and let dinner reheat, then flopped onto the couch with her cocoa. Every muscle ached and complained as she began to warm herself up. Practice was, as usual, brutal. Veronica pouted when Betty told her that she was heading home directly, begging off so she could study for her chemistry test. Covalent bonds waited for no one. Betty reminded herself, not bitterly, of course, that Veronica had Archie to keep her company in Betty’s stead, especially since he flunked biology the year before and had to take it again; thanks to heavy tutoring from Dilton and from his constant reliance on Betty’s carefully scribed notes, he was passing with a solid C so that he could continue to play basketball.
He was still weird around her.
Every time Betty resigned herself to the fact that yes, Archie was her best friend’s boyfriend, he would do something to throw her off-balance and weaken her resolve to back off. Lunch period was awkward. Like, really awkward. When Betty would hunt for her friends to share a table, there was Veronica, holding court, and Betty would automatically beeline for the empty seat next to her, but sometimes, Archie would be there if she forgot to get milk and got back in line, and when she would attempt to join her bestie, there he was, in her spot. There would be a brief – yet friendly, she supposed – standoff when she would approach the table. Nancy, Ethel and Midge would greet her with their customary grins, and Archie would smile up at her sheepishly.
“That’s my cue to go,” he would tell Ron easily. “Hey, Bets.”
“Hey.” Her cheeks burned, and she would stare down at her macaroni and cheese plate as though it was the most fascinating thing in the world while Archie would scramble up from his – Betty’s – seat.
“You don’t have to… I can always-“ Betty would always look around for an empty chair to drag to the table, but he would always shake his head.
“Don’t worry about it,” Archie told her cheerfully. Veronica would smirk up at him and give him a smacker, lingering over it, drawing it into their usual three short pecks. Then he’d brush past Betty, giving her a brief pat. “All yours. See ya.” She felt his phantom touch even after he left, giving her a little shiver of guilty pleasure.
“Bye.” She would join Veronica, who would automatically – grudgingly, though? – make room for her. Her seat was warm from the contact, and it made Betty shiver again.
“Should’ve just pulled up a chair,” Veronica complained.
“Juggie was looking for him, anyway,” Betty pointed out, which wasn’t a lie. Jug was always looking for Archie at lunch time to borrow money.
It didn’t help that no matter where Veronica went, Archie was sure to follow. It was getting more difficult to get time alone with Ron, yet Betty didn’t want to be the bad friend and have Ron think she was resentful of her “coupled” status. But it just made it so darned awkward. It was so hard not to think about that kiss on her porch, and in contrast, that horrible set-up date for the formal. What was Ron thinking? Stan had been awful, not Betty’s type at all.
The only problem was, the one boy she considered her type was off-limits. Betty fought with all of the voices in her head that screamed to her to touch him again, to kiss him again, but she knew he belonged to Veronica. She hated that it was this hard, hating herself a little every time she stared at his mouth.
Hated the pull he had on her, as though invisible strings knotted them together.
She thought about what Reggie said the other day, and it rankled. After the whole mess at the dance, he was right; she should have been just as angry at Archie for interfering and jumping into that fight… even though she felt a tiny, niggling glow of pleasure that they both came to her defense. But it wasn’t fair that she snapped at him and told him to mind his own business. Not when he meant well. She sighed at the memory of Reggie’s narrowed eyes and tightened lips. Part of her wanted to apologize to him again; he’d been pretty cool toward her since the night she ran into him at the mailbox.
Betty did her homework and greeted her parents with hugs and kisses. Dinner was unremarkable and tasty. She checked her Facebook feed, answered a few texts from Nancy, and tried to get those mischievous blue eyes out of her head.
It was impossible.
Betty ran suicide laps until she tasted salt on her upper lip and her tank top was clinging to her. It felt good to take out her aggression on the brown practice ball, listening to the thuds as it hit the polished floor. She kept up her eye fakes, head fakes, and caught almost every rebound. Miss Grundy’s whistle blast made all of the girls freeze and nearly collapse, panting limply against each other before they huddled around their coach.
“All right. Good scrimmage. I have a little surprise today. Coach Kleats and I decided to shake things up a little. We’re practicing with the boys’ team today.” Gasps and snickers greeted this news.
“This is gonna be good,” Midge gloated.
“Knew if we were patient enough, they’d take that thing down,” Nancy murmured to Betty, nodding to the partition wall. Betty grinned back and gave her a fist bump. She felt a warm glow thinking about seeing the boys out on the court.
“It’s still going to be shirts versus skins,” Miss Grundy told them. “And first string against first string.” Ethel snapped her fingers in disappointment.
“I wanted to play with Juggie,” she complained. The drummer was first string, while Ethel was still trying to prove herself.
“Next time,” Betty promised.
The partition rolled back, and as the boys came into view, they started hooting at their competition, giving cat calls and whistles. Coach Kleats shook his head and blasted his whistle. Miss Grundy made “don’t do that” motions with her finger. Reggie and Jason were leering and giving the girls “how YOU doin’?” faces, nodding in approval at the selection. Betty blushed. She knew she was a mess in her baggy basketball practice shorts, sloppy tank and sports bra, and sweaty hair, bangs plastered to her forehead. Her face was flushed bright pink.
Reggie wouldn’t admit out loud that she looked hot.
“This is gonna be easy,” Moose muttered.
“Bet they’re afraid they’ll break a nail,” Chuck chimed in, and then he noticed Nancy was giving him a dirty look. “Not you, baby,” he crooned in pacifying tones. His team let out a chorus of “oooooooh’s” until Coach Kleats brought them in line with another whistle blow.
“Shirts versus skins,” he bellowed. “Girls get left court.”
“We rotate each quarter,” Miss Grundy added. “Betty, you get the tip-in.”
“Of course I end up against Moose,” she groused, and Moose was already smirking.
“I’ll try to go easy on ya, Blondie.”
“Pfft… stuff it,” she told him easily.
“She told you!” Chuck snickered, while Moose looked aghast.
“That’s what I get for trying to be nice?”
“Girl’s got sass,” Jason marveled.
“Yeah, she does,” Archie agreed.
“She’s still gonna get beat,” Reggie said with a shrug. Betty heard him and gave him the stink-eye. Reggie mock-cowered, then smirked back.
“Line ‘em up!”
The girls took their positions and Coach Kleats tossed up the ball. Just as Betty predicted, Moose snatched the tip-in, swatting it over her head. She growled under her breath and got her head in the game.
The boys were fast, and they were sneaky. Rebounds were important, Betty decided, since that was the girls’ best method to get their hands on the ball. Reggie quickly became a thorn in her side. He faked her out, blocked her passes and fouled her off the sidelines at every opportunity. She hissed out a breath when he stole the ball mid-dribble and fed it to Archie. “Damn it!” she hissed.
“Midge!” Betty screamed when the tiny brunette managed to snake it away from him when he dribbled too high. “Pass it to Nancy!”
“I know, I know,” Midge groused. “Here!”
“I won’t leave you hanging,” Nancy muttered as she dribbled up the court.
“Nice!” Miss Grundy called out, grinning. Coach Kleats was pacing up and down the edge of the court.
“Look alive, boys! They’re making you look bad!” The boys were ahead by six points, but they were struggling for it. Midge was the shortest girl on the team, but she could shoot and she was fast. She’d also had three years of practicing with Moose, albeit playfully, so she knew his moves.
Reggie fouled Betty out again when he slapped her pass out of the air and off the sidelines. “What?!”
“Sloppy,” he told her, shrugging.
“You suck,” she muttered, but it was as a good a time as any to practice her free throw. They lined up along the court, and Betty blew her hangs off her forehead, giving the ball a few good dribbles and lining up her shot. She crouched and came up nice and clean, letting the ball roll off her left hand’s fingertips – she was a lefthanded shooter – and the neat swish was like a kiss. Midge caught the rebound and passed it back to her, grinning.
“Luck doesn’t replace talent,” Reggie jeered.
“Don’t make me sit you out,” Coach Kleats warned on a low growl. “It’s called sportsmanship, Mantle.” Archie stared at her, watching her hands; Betty saw her dribbling ball reflected in those blue eyes before she remembered she had to look up at the hoop.
Crouch. Spring. Shoot…
Reggie took the ball and ran with it. “Nice try,” he muttered as she blocked him.
“I’m not done,” she huffed.
“Yeah, you are.” He faked left and then passed it to Jughead, who actually had the decency to look a little frightened of Betty. He decided on the better part of discretion and passed it to Jason, who didn’t get very far when Midge blocked his pass.
“Good hustle!” Miss Grundy cheered.
By the end of the first half, everyone was dragging. “Second string. Shirts right, skins left.” They switched sides and rotated their roster; there was a rush to get to the water fountains by the door. The boys stepped aside to let the girls drink first, and Betty tried to make it brief. She felt a poke in her side, anyway, and she ended up snorting up water into her nose. “ACK!”
“Oops,” Reggie teased.
“Uggghhh… you SUCK!” She wiped her face on her tank, exposing her flat belly as she did so. Reggie, Archie and Jason glanced down briefly in appreciation and then averted their eyes before she could notice.
“The water… it goes, you know, in your mouth,” Reggie suggested helpfully. Betty turned back to the fountain and doused her hand under the spout. Reggie didn’t like the gleam in her eye, and she ran at him, shaking and flicking her fingers at him and showering him with drops. “HeyheyHEY! That’s mature!”
“Have a drink! Have a shower!”
“That’s enough,” Miss Grundy reminded them. She gave Betty a chiding look that said the blonde should know better. Betty fumed. The first string players retired to the bleachers and gulped bottled water and Gatorade, wiping themselves down with towels. Chuck plunked himself down between Betty and Nancy, playfully body-checking Betty aside. Betty tsked and gave him a little shove, but he was grinning at her.
“Gotta practice that free throw.”
“I know, I know.”
“When you play against Reggie, fake left. He hates that. That’s his bad side.”
“Not supposed to sell out your boy,” Nancy reminded him.
“He’s getting a little comfy. It’s making him lazy. Betty’ll keep him on his toes,” Chuck pointed out. Nancy nodded; Betty beamed.
“I’m gonna try.” Reggie stood on the sidelines talking trash with Jason, and he glanced toward the bleachers, no doubt feeling his ears burn as the subject of their conversation. He nodded at Betty and winked. She stuck her tongue out at him, and he just smirked.
“That’s mature,” Chuck teased.
“Oh, hush, you.”
The second string teams were pretty evenly matched. Ethel took the tip-in from Bingo, surprising everybody, and her passing game improved. Betty and Nancy shouted themselves hoarse cheering for their friend. By the end of the fourth quarter, the boys only beat the girls’ team by six points.
“Excellent hustle,” Miss Grundy called out. “Line up. Shake hands.” Every player was dead on their feet and slouching as they dutifully got in line for a high-five. Betty gave Chuck a fist-bump when she reached him; Jason did the whole yank-the-hand-back-and-run-it-through-your-hair routine, making her roll her eyes. Moose gave her five, muttering “gotta work on that tip-in, Cooper.”
Reggie reached her at the end of the line, and she caught him winking at Midge, which annoyed her. She wanted to swat him upside the head and tell him “You see her boyfriend right there, right?” He saw that she caught him, and he smirked. He held out his hand for a high five, but then ducked and poked her in the side again, hitting her right where she was most ticklish.
“Coach, Reggie’s being a jerk!” Betty whined. The boys snickered, and she lifted her fist, making him dart off, unsure whether or not she would take umbrage. Reggie’s expression was wicked and he was very pleased with himself.
“That’s enough of that,” Kleats told them blandly. “Collect the balls and cones!”
Dirty sweat towels were dropped into the barrel and bottles were collected from the bleachers before both teams filed out of the gym. The girls buffeted each other as they headed for the cramped rows of lockers and began retrieving shampoo and deodorant. They were joined shortly by the cheerleading squad, and Veronica wrinkled her nose at Betty’s disheveled state.
“Ew. You look all funky.” She fanned the air. “Smell funky, too.”
“Here, give me a great big hug,” Betty teased, rushing at her. Veronica squealed and swatted her away.
“Ew! EW! Gross!”
“How was practice?”
“I’m bushed. It was good. Hurry up and change, and we’ll head to Pop’s.” Betty beamed until she added “We’re meeting Archie there.”
“Oh. Um…I might be a while. Why don’t you go ahead and meet him, and I’ll catch up to you later.”
“Betty, don’t be a goof. I’ll give you a ride. It beats walking. Hurry up!” Veronica dropped her end of the argument when her phone buzzed in her purse. “Ooh, there he is…”
Betty scrambled away and hopped into the shower, beating Midge’s lunge for it. “Sorry,” she called back. “Just be a minute.”
“I’m so funky right now,” Midge complained. “Please don’t take long.” Betty yelped at the cold spray as it hit her skin; she left her clothes balled up in a little stack just outside the curtain and her towel hung on the hook. She shampooed her hair quickly, not crazy about the idea of heading out into the chill with wet hair, but sweaty hair wasn’t much better. Her cheeks felt hot with frustration. Why did Ron have to invite Archie along?
She hurriedly dressed and yanked a comb through her damp locks, jerking it back into some semblance of a ponytail before rolling on some Speed Stick. “C’mon,” Veronica scolded. “Let’s get there before everybody else does so we can get a parking space.”
“You can go without me,” Betty reminded her.
“Why would I do that?” Veronica scoffed, nudging her. “Why’re you being weird?”
“No, this is you being weird. We always go to Pop’s after practice.”
“I know.” Betty tossed her toiletries into her locker, yanked out her Jansport pack and slammed the door. “I kinda didn’t want to be, y’know… a third wheel?”
“Pfffft… no,” Veronica insisted. “No,” she emphasized more loudly. “Who says you’re a third wheel? You’re my bestie. Come and bask in all of my glory. Archie will be basking, too. You can both bask. Won’t that be great?”
“Oh, brother…” Betty rolled her eyes and allowed Veronica to link her arm through hers.
“There’s a root beer float calling your name… listen. You can hear it. Bettyyyyy… drink meeeeeee…”
“You love me.”
“I love you. I do. But you’re twisted.” Betty’s stomach knotted up at the prospect of seeing Archie again. She tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear as they headed to the parking lot. They saw several of their friends waving them down and getting into their respective cars: Ethel into her pink VW, Nancy into Chuck’s Prius, Cheryl into her Benz, which made Veronica tsk under her breath in disgust.
“God, I hate her…”
“You’re dad promised you a Mercedes after we graduate,” Betty reminded her.
“I know. But I still hate her.” Cheryl gave them a short wave just shy of flipping them off. Betty nodded back to be polite, but Veronica ignored her. “Ugh…”
“Be nice.” They were interrupted by the blast of a car horn, and they turned to find Archie leaning out the window of his Mustang, grinning at them.
“Thought you’d be gone by now,” he accused.
“I was waiting for slowpoke, here,” Veronica teased, making Betty roll her eyes. Didn’t she say she didn’t really want to go?
“There you go, holding up the show,” Archie chimed in. He crowed “Oooooooooooh!!!! when Betty flipped him off. “Someone’s still pissed off about that foul.”
“Someone’s still a high dribbler,” she shot back, but she was grinning. Archie chuckled as he drove up alongside them and leaned out of his window.
“See you there?” he asked Veronica. She walked up to him and bent down to give him a sloppy kiss, making Betty sigh gustily. Why did they always have to do that with an audience?
“See you in two shakes.” He drove off, and Betty heard him turn on his loud, staticky radio, blaring Nickelback as he left the lot. They climbed into Veronica’s Jeep, and just as they were buckling up, they heard another horn. Veronica peered into her rearview and made a sound of disgust.
“What’s Mantle want?” Betty craned her neck around and saw the brunet waving to them. His top was up due to the cold, and he was bundled up in a North Face jacket and a baseball cap, looking sickeningly well groomed and refreshed.
“Where you two headed?” he called out.
“Pop’s,” Ron replied impatiently. “You’re holding us up!”
“Save us a table,” he told her as he peeled out.
“Nice. Time to listen to Mantle the Mouth,” Veronica grumbled.
“You know you’re his biggest fan,” Betty teased. To be fair, Veronica and Reggie got along fine. It wasn’t much of a secret that he had the hots for her, but her longstanding obsession with Archie kept him from making much progress, particularly when there were so many other girls that were only too happy to hand over their digits, lured in by the ol’ Mantle charm.
“He’s so full of himself. He can be fun,” Veronica admitted. “But I’m not getting on that bandwagon.”
“Yeah,” Betty sighed. “No kidding.”
She watched his comings and goings from over the hedge and from her bedroom window. Reggie had been busy following his breakup with Clarissa. He was one of the only people she knew that changed his Facebook status from “Single” to “In a relationship” about every three weeks. She heard him whistling on his way out to his car around nine, and heard him pulling in slowly and quietly to his driveway around midnight, trying to open the front door with as little jiggling as possible. But she always caught him tiptoeing in after curfew, wondering what kind of fun he’d had. It had to be pretty cool, being the bad boy.
So there they were, headed to Pop’s, and Betty’s stomach was still doing little annoying jumpy things as Ronnie prattled on.
“…I’ve still got those shoes you wanted to borrow,” she told Betty.
“What’s up? You’re zoning out.” Veronica’s brows drew together. “You okay?”
“I’m fine. I guess.” Betty rubbed her nape and tugged on her ponytail in thought. “I’m just tired. Whipped. They ran us pretty hard. We had a scrimmage against the boys.” Ron’s eyes widened.
“Wow! No wonder you’re worn out. Was it awesome?” She was grinning now. “All those cute, sweaty guys in shorts…”
“Sheesh.” Betty rolled her eyes, but she nodded. “Yes. Cute. Sweaty. I’ll admit it. But they handed our butts to us. Just by six points, but still… kinda sucked.”
“Wish I was on the sidelines. I would’ve rooted for you.”
“Suuurrre…” Betty gave Ron her best “not EVEN” look and made a dismissive gesture. Ron chuckled.
“You know you would’ve been rooting for Archie.”
“Well, him, too… .I AM his girlfriend, that’s what gf’s do,” Veronica pointed out. Betty’s fuzzy glow dimmed a bit, and she lapsed back into silence. “But I would’ve still cheered you on a little.”
“You’re so loyal to me,” Betty deadpanned.
“I know. I am.” Ron kept one hand on the wheel and used the other to shake Betty’s shoulder. “You love me.”
“Yes, yes, yes… drive, woman.”
They pulled into the lot at the Chok’lit Shoppe and noticed there was already a crowd. Betty felt self-conscious about her damp hair and flushed cheeks. “I want cocoa,” she told Ron.
“Sounds good to me.” They eased into a booth in the back, and Archie emerged from the men’s a couple of moments later, then beamed.
“Hey. I already had a table over there.”
“So bring your stuff here,” Veronica told him simply. He sighed fondly.
“Yes, your Majesty.” Betty snickered at his expression, and he winked at her.
“Wonder if he ordered?”
“They can bring all of it at the same time,” Veronica said with a shrug. “He can wait for us.” She took a menu and perused it. “Cocoa still sounds good. I dunno. Eh. I might get a diet Coke.”
“It’s too cold for Coke!” Betty exclaimed. “Get something warm!”
“I’m watching my figure.”
“Pffft… I’m getting chocolate. Watch away.” Betty figured her scrimmage made the calories not count. Archie came back with his jacket and hung it over the top of the booth’s seat before sliding in next to Veronica.
“Gonna head right home and work on those free throws?” Archie teased.
“Uh-uh. Gonna work on my trig homework.” Ronnie made a face.
“I’m so glad I’m in Algebra II. Trig sounds so boring.”
“It’ll help when I take calculus next year,” Betty told her. “I’m enjoying it.”
“You sound like Dilton,” Archie teased. “Miss Big Brain.”
“Nerd,” Veronica chimed in.
“Oh, hush up, you.” Betty narrowed her eyes, and she’d already stripped her drinking straw of its wrapper. She tore off a bit, tucked it into the end, and blew a spitball at her bestie in umbrage.
“This one plays dirty,” Archie mentioned, and Betty blushed. Their impromptu lunch date at Pop’s came to mind, bringing memories of laughter and spilled soda. Archie cleared his throat and looked away.
“What’s UP!” Reggie hooted from the doorway. He peeled off his thin gloves and flexed his fingers, looming over their booth. “What are we having?”
“Not Diet Coke,” Betty told him avidly.
“Speak for yourself,” Veronica told her haughtily.
“Ew. ‘Diet’ anything’s just… ew.” He sneered at the thought. “You ordered yet?” He nodded down to Betty, and when he started to sit down on the edge of the booth seat, crowding her, she realized he expected to hang out with them. Flustered, she scooched over several inches, feeling awkward. “Move over, bacon,” he teased. She held up her hand to swat him, and he mock-cowered.
“Who’re you calling ‘bacon’?” He grinned at her and yanked her ponytail, and she elbowed him, hard.
“Ow… are you just gonna let her beat me?” Reggie whined to Veronica and Archie. Ronnie shook her head, bringing no sympathy to the table.
“Chump,” Archie agreed, and he gave Betty a wicked smile. Pop came by and took their orders.
“One DIET Coke, Pops, and a Caesar salad,” Veronica told him proudly.
“On a cold day like this?” he asked, but he scribbled it down anyway. “What about you, Suzy Q?”
“Hot cocoa. Extra whip. And a fry basket.” Pop smiled.
“Good choice. Archie?”
“Western burger, skip the fries. Toss a root beer next to it.”
“I’ll have what Betty’s having,” Reggie told Pop. Ronnie rolled her eyes and mimicked him under her breath in a little snippy voice. Reggie picked up one of Betty’s spit balls she’d made while reading her menu and threw it at her, and the look Ron gave him promised him retribution. He stuck out his tongue at her.
“Behave,” Pops chided them, but he was smirking. “Coming right up.”
Reggie bumped up against Betty again. “You’re hogging all the space, Blondie.”
“Um, you have plenty of room,” Betty nagged back, but she moved another half a foot. To her consternation, he followed her and shouldered up against her again. She glared at him; he smirked back. She tsked and rolled her eyes.
“Quit playing footsie,” Veronica scolded, and Betty didn’t like the gleam in her eye.
“Get a room,” Archie joked, but somehow his smile didn’t reach his eyes as he looked at Betty, and she felt herself blush again. What was his deal?
A droplet of an idea hit the surface of her mind, creating ripples. Was Archie… jealous?
Not… of Reggie?
Reggie saved her from having to recover from that awkward, shameful thought. “We’ve got a game against Central this Friday. Cheer extra loud,” Reggie told Veronica.
“I’ll be screaming my heart out,” Veronica promised, then rolled her eyes.
“You, too.” He elbowed Betty again.
“We’re playing Central on Saturday,” Betty reminded him. “I don’t hear you promising to cheer on the girls’ team.”
“Pfft… girls’ team. That doesn’t count,” he teased, but he tugged her ponytail to let her know he was kidding. “I know your game’s on Saturday. That gives you plenty of time to watch ours on Friday.”
“You show me yours, I’ll show you mine,” Reggie told her, grinning wolfishly and wiggling his eyebrows. Betty facepalmed and ducked her head.
“Geez, I’m not hearing this,” Veronica announced, aghast and eyes round.
“Uh, I mean, I’ll come to yours if you come to mine,” he amended.
“Oh, sure, Reg, that’s what you meant.” Betty was still covering her face, but she was snickering. He poked her, and she swatted him back.
“I’m awesome,” he corrected her.
“Noooooo… I’m with Bets on this one,” Veronica told him. “You’re a sicko, Mantle.”
“Part of my charm.”
The boys and girls chatted across each other, talking about shopping trips and sports scores respectively until their food came. Archie occasionally stole Ron’s croutons from her salad until she smacked his hand. “You’re watching your figure. I’m just helping you.”
“I know you’re watching it,” she said smugly. They canoodled and stole a kiss, and Reggie made gagging noises. Betty almost snorted cocoa out her nose. Reggie raised his brows at her.
“Someone can’t hold their cocoa. I’m cutting you off.”
“You’re such a jerk,” Betty gasped, coughing and snickering at the same time.
“I try.” They were halfway through their food when Chuck and Nancy showed up.
“Whassup!” Chuck gave his teammates fist bumps and nodded to Reggie. “Scoot over.”
“Betty’s the one taking up all the space,” Reggie insisted, and Betty tsked before she moved halfway around the circular seat. Chuck shook his head.
“Just get up, I wanna sit next to Betty.”
“Uh, no,” Nancy told him firmly, jerking her neck in a circle. He held up his hands.
“All right, all right… the lady has SPOKEN,” he amended. “Scoot, Mantle.”
“All the way over, Betty,” Nancy told her. Betty was getting tired of moving. Instead of squeezing in next to Archie so she could face Chuck, Nancy got in next to him, and Betty found herself smooshed between Veronica and… Reggie.
Well. There you go…
He was warm. Nice and toasty warm. He smelled like Old Spice body wash and detergent. “You’ll make room for everybody else,” he accused her.
“Goofy,” she shot back.
“Goober,” he challenged. He elbowed her, and she elbowed him back, and it became a little battle of I-got-ya-last.
“What’s with you two?” Chuck asked.
“She won’t stop touching me!” Reggie told him, like they were siblings instead of neighbors.
“He started it!” Betty argued.
“She farted,” Reggie told Chuck.
“Aw, girl, that’s nasty,” Nancy said, turning up her nostril in disgust, but she laughed.
“I don’t fart, I pass gas,” Betty sniffed.
“TMI,” Archie told her, but he was snickering.
Chuck and Nancy ordered hot chocolate, so they didn’t have to wait long enough that their friends would be finished first. Betty was enjoying herself, and Veronica, despite being less than enthused that Reggie was coming to Pop’s earlier, was joking with him and acting like everything was copacetic.
“Want the rest of my salad? I don’t want anymore,” Veronica told Archie.
“Nah. All the croutons are gone.” Those were the only part he liked.
“Those were mine,” she pouted.
“Awwww.” He made a little pouty face at her, then kissed her.
“No! Not kissy-face!” Reggie cried, horrified.
“You know you love it,” Nancy teased, and she gave Chuck several big, loud smoochy kisses on the cheek while Chuck made faces and pretended to struggle, but he was laughing.
“Ugh,” Betty muttered, disgusted but ready to crack up from Chuck’s expression. He turned to Nancy and rubbed noses with her, then gave her a proper kiss. “Okay, it’s just getting gross now…”
“Aw, poor widdle Bettykins,” Reggie crooned, and he threw an arm around her shoulders. Her blue eyes widened in horror at what was to come, and his embrace turned into a headlock.
“Ugh… no… nonoNO! EW!” Reggie licked her cheek, leaving a hot, wet stripe of slobber over her skin. “Oh, God! GROSS! EW!” Archie and Veronica were sitting across the way, dying.
“That’s so nasty,” Nancy repeated. “Reg, you’re not right…”
“I never said I was,” he agreed while Betty squirmed away from him and wiped her face, making “I’ve got cooties!” faces and smacking him in the chest. She knew she was even redder in the face than she’d been all day.
“Sicko,” Betty told him, echoing Veronica’s earlier sentiment.
“You taste salty,” Reggie told her innocently.
“Something died on your tonsils,” Betty told him, fanning the air. Reggie’s brows shot up, and he breathed into his palm to smell his breath.
“Now you’re just being mean,” he told her. “Jerk.”
Pop slapped the bill on the table. “Let me know when you’re ready to settle up!”
When the last fragment of grease-soaked fry was finished and the leftover film of cocoa was scraped up from the rim of empty cups, they scooted out of the booth and stretched. Chuck handed Archie a five. “That should cover us, man.”
“Yup.” They low-fived. “See you guys tomorrow.” Nancy looped her arm through Chuck’s and waved at her friends.
“I’ve got French homework, but I’ll be online later. Facebook me.”
“That’s fine,” Ron called after her. “Bye, Nance.”
“Bye, babe,” Betty added. She turned to Veronica. “Ready?”
“Don’t worry about it, Ron,” Reggie piped up suddenly. “Bets can ride with me.”
“I came with Ronnie,” Betty reminded him.
“I live closer,” he reminded her, as though she were five. “Like, a lot closer.”
“That’s fine. Just get your bag from my trunk,” Veronica said, nonplussed and missing Betty’s signals of panic.
She’d rode home with Reggie before, multiple times. So why did this time make her feel weird? Like, fluttery stomach-weird. She went to hand Archie a handful of singles for her food, but Ron stopped her. “I’ve got it.”
“You don’t have to.”
“Don’t worry about it. Let’s get your bag.” The girls hurried out to the car after Veronica handed Archie a twenty. Reggie inwardly rolled his eyes that Archie was letting Veronica pay. Reggie added his cash to the kitty and headed outside while Archie settled up, jingling his car keys in his pocket.
Veronica unlocked her trunk and Betty scooped up her backpack. “Facebook me if you want.”
“I don’t know how long I’ll be. I have trig, and then laundry.” Veronica made a face.
“If I’m on, it might be late.” Reggie hovered nearby, nodding to Betty.
“Uh-huh.” She gave Veronica a quick hug. “This was fun.”
“Bye!” She waved to Archie, who looked… slightly disappointed?
“Bye,” he told them as they headed for Reggie’s car. Betty waved.
“See ya.” She tried – and failed – not to stare after him from the passenger window once she’d buckled herself in. Reggie turned on the car, and suddenly she felt her seat warm up. “Ooh. This is nice.”
“The newer models have the seat warmer,” he mentioned idly. He steered them out of the lot, and he nodded as Archie waved at them both one last time from the curb.
“Must be nice,” Betty said. “At this rate, I’ll never get wheels.”
“Does that mean I hafta keep carting your behind around?” Reggie mocked, giving her an annoyed look and a heavy sigh.
“Pffft… jerk.” But she was smirking and toying with her ponytail. The ride home was cozy with his phone plugged in with a Bluetooth to the speakers so they could listen to his Spotify playlist. Betty hummed along with a Foo Fighters song under her breath.
“So you’re coming Friday?” he asked her.
“The game. Against Central.”
“Oh. Well, if you want. I wouldn’t mind going to see it.”
“C’mon. Show a little school spirit, Cooper.” She chuckled.
“You never go to the girls’ games.”
“No one’s ever invited me.” He stared ahead at the road when she glanced at him, then did a double take.
“Well… you never said you wanted to go.”
“I wouldn’t mind,” he said, throwing her own words back at her.
“Well, all right, then.”
“Well, all right, then.” He mimicked her haughty tone, caught her eye, then gave her a crooked little smile.
They reached their block, and Betty almost felt disappointed. “I’m nice and warm now. I hate to have to get out.”
“So, don’t,” he suggested simply.
“You don’t have to get out yet,” he said. “How about another spin around the block?”
“I have homework. So do you.” Her lips twisted, though. “Around the block?”
“Yup.” He’d slowed to a stop in front of her curb, then took his foot lightly off the brake. To her amusement, they circled the block, and she just shook her head.
“I can’t help it if I have all the brilliant ideas.”
“You can kind of help it,” she corrected him.
“You wound me.”
“No. You wounded ME. You could warn a girl before covering her in slobber.” He grinned.
“The opportunity was there. I couldn’t let it go.” They parked in front of her house this time, and he shifted the gear to ‘P.’ The motor was still running. “Can I talk you into one more go around the block?”
“Do you know how people would talk if they knew you and I had been around the block?” His smile faltered a moment, but there was a funny gleam in his dark eyes.
“Think they’d talk?”
“Oh, yeah.” But her pulse skipped, then tripled. “I had fun-“ Her words were cut off by the click of his seatbelt, and then hers as he hit the release button that made it automatically retract. “Oh. Hey.”
“C’mere.” Those were his fingers lightly cupping her cheek – not the one he’d licked – and he was leaning in, and now her heart was pounding in her chest, becausewhattheheckwashedoingwasthisreallyhappening-
His mouth was warm and soft. Her eyes fluttered shut as she processed the feel of him, of the lack of space between them again in his warm car, with the engine purring and music pumping from the speakers. The kiss was a soft brush of his lips, and she whimpered, unable to believe that was her own voice. He chased the sound, stroking her lips again, and slowly she got the memo and began to kiss him back.
She tasted like chocolate and salt. The small, startled sound she made was like a caress, and his insides lit up with a thousand sparks. He felt her hand drift up to his neck, lightly gripping his collar, then sliding her fingers into his hair. Her touch felt right, her mouth was inviting, and he couldn’t get enough of her scent, her taste…
“Reg,” she gasped, breaking away from him and breathing hard. “Um… I’d better… go. Thanks.” She was flushed again and hating it.
“Yeah. Okay.” He felt bereft when she took her heat away, and his neck missed the feel of her fingers. “See you tomorrow.”
“Do your homework.” She carefully shut his door and waved, looping her pack over her shoulder. “Bye,” she mouthed before she sprinted up her front walk.
“Shit,” he muttered helplessly as he pulled out of her driveway and into his. He cut the engine and just sat there for a moment as he processed what just happened.
“Shit,” he repeated.
He was so screwed.