Hoping For Dandelions (Pt 7)
It was Betty’s gasp that startled him more than the power going out. Immediately he fumbled for his old cellphone, lighting up the small space between them – looking at her face; her big, worried blue eyes. But it was just them. No danger, only the sudden dark, like spilled ink blotting out all the details of the rooms around them.
“You alright?” Jughead asked her.
“Yeah,” she laughed a little, hand over her heart. “Just freaked me out for a second. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Jughead got up, going to the window and looking out over the dark row of houses. The rain continued to fall in sheets around them, pelting cars and trees, making the empty street sing. He turned back around to find that Betty had taken her phone into the kitchen and was rummaging around in the cupboards.
“Well, the whole street is out,” he told her, leaning against the door frame.
“Good to know it’s not just us,” Betty responded.
She pulled out five or six candles and lit them with a long lighter – one most likely used in their family barbecues when the grill was being stubborn. Jughead wondered what that looked like; the Coopers, milling around in their spacious backyard, making turkey burgers, or something. The blondness of the image was almost blinding.
Betty seemed to glow in the candlelight like an angel atop a Christmas tree; luminous and pure. Beautiful. Jughead cleared his throat and moved to the other side of the counter so he was standing in front of her. She smiled at him.
“You guys have a lot of candles,” he said, feeling stupid as soon as the words had left his mouth.
“We lose power a lot. My dad always says he’s fixing it, but I think he just liked to hang out in the basement by himself. Which is less creepy than it sounds, because the basement is basically a rec-room.”
“Figured it was needed,” she responded dryly. “I’m going to leave one of the candles in the kitchen. Can you grab the other?”
She picked up three in a graceful, practiced movement that showed their house did, indeed, lose power frequently enough. Jughead grabbed the last one and followed her. Betty left one on the dining room table and moved quickly into the living room, placing another on the coffee table.
Jughead followed suit and set his down next to hers. He sat on the couch, watching her go into the downstairs bathroom and deposit her remaining candle inside it. She came out and plopped down beside him. The motion sent the subtle scent of vanilla wafting in the air, and he looked down at his hands, trying not to think about it.
“Jeez, Juggie. I’m sorry about this. You don’t have to stay, you know.”
“You were freaked out by the storm to begin with, so you think I’d leave you while it’s still storming and there’s no power? Yeah, right,” Jughead snorted. “Besides, it’s been a good night. Why cut it short?”
“Okay, good,” Betty smiled. “So… what now?”
Jughead could think of a few things. Her mouth on his. His hands in her hair. Maybe, then, his lips on her neck and her taste on his tongue. Her soft breath, like a warm August breeze, heavy with lilac and want. Instead he shrugged his shoulders.
“How are things with Veronica?” he asked.
“Great. No more drama. It was dumb to begin with.”
“Are she and Archie…?” he trailed off, unsure whether or not it was smart to be talking about this.
“Last she and I talked about it, there’s nothing going on. If there were though, I’d be okay with it. I just want everyone to be happy.”
Jughead turned his head to look at her, trying to assess whether or not she was being genuine. She looked back at him easily, lips upturned softly at their corners.
“What about you?”
“What about me?” Betty asked him, tilting her head to the side.
“Are you happy?” he questioned.
“Mostly,” she said in a small voice, pulling the sleeves of her shirt down around her knuckles. “And when I’m not, it’s not because of any of that.”
Jughead wanted to ask what made her sad, but he had a feeling he already knew. After all, her sister’s face still lingered in the picture frames around them – and here Betty was, all alone. He knew the kind of hole a fractured family could leave inside a person.
“It’ll get better,” he said quietly. “You know that, right?”
“Of course,” Betty said, smiling bravely. “Did you have other plans for tonight?”
“No,” Jughead responded, accepting the change in topic. “I was just going to be writing.”
Betty hummed, pulling her legs up under herself to get more comfortable. She looked so different in her house – in a moment he would usually not be afforded. Softer, somehow, and more real. His hands ached to touch her, but he cracked his knuckles instead, laughing when she winced.
“Bad habit,” he said.
“I’ve got some of those,” she laughed.
“No way! Not you. I don’t buy it,” Jughead joked.
“Alright, I’ll take your word for it, Cooper,” he conceded. “What about you? No plans tonight?”
“I passed out right when I got home, which I’m sure doesn’t come as a surprise,” she laughed. “I thought my parents were going to be home, but when I woke up, all they left was a note and a casserole.”
“Good move with the pizza then,” he commented.
Suddenly there was a loud pounding on the door that broke them apart. Betty’s brow furrowed and she shrugged her shoulders, looking at Jughead. He held up a finger to his lips and gestured for her to sit back down on the couch. Once he silently made it to the door, he looked through the peephole and inwardly groaned. Opening the door, he let the other boy in.
“Hey, Archie,” he said, forcing a smile to his face.
“Oh, uh – hey, Jughead,” Archie said, running a hand through is red hair and flicking the water off it. “What are you doing here?”
“I invited him over,” Betty said, coming in out of the living room.
“Okay,” Archie said, spotting their papers spread out on the dining room table. “Oh, you were doing news paper stuff. That makes sense.”
“Not officially,” Betty said, standing next to Jughead. “We were just hanging out, really. But Juggie found some new articles, so we busted everything out and then boom, the power goes off!”
Jughead’s chest felt warm at her correction – especially since it was not done in a spiteful way, or to make Archie jealous. He knew she wanted Jughead to feel welcome in her life, just as much as Archie. He smiled.
“Yeah, it’s off for a few blocks. I just wanted to make sure you had candles and everything,” Archie said.
“We’re all set, Archie,” Betty smiled. “Thank you for coming to check on me though. I appreciate it.”
“Right, uh, well, I guess I’ll get going. It’s getting late and I promised my dad I’d help him out tomorrow.”
“See ya, man,” Jughead said.
“Bye, Archie,” Betty called as he walked out. “Thanks again!”
The pair went back to sit on the couch. Jughead wondered what Archie must have made of the scene he walked in on. Jughead, in Betty Cooper’s candlelit house, just hanging out. The whole night had been surreal.
“He’s right you know,” Jughead said.
“Yeah, Betty. It’s getting late.”
“It’s only nine,” she argued. “Unless you have to get up early, too.”
“I don’t,” Jughead said.
“Then why don’t you just stay?” Betty asked shyly. “I mean, it’s still pouring out. If your dad wouldn’t care, why not just wait it out and go in the morning?”
Jughead’s mouth had gone dry. Stay here. Stay the night with Betty. He had no misconceptions about what she was asking, but it still made his head swim. She wanted him to stay. And God knows, he didn’t want to leave.
“He wouldn’t care,” Jughead managed to say. “He’ll just assume I stayed at Archie’s.”
Lying to her didn’t feel great, but he didn’t have another option. She nodded as though that was taken care of and curled back up on the couch, bringing the throw blanket down between the two of them.
“I’m glad you came over,” Betty said. “Not just because of the storm. I hated that everything got all tangled between the three of us.”
Her voice was low. The kind of voice you used for telling secrets. Jughead let himself sink back into the cushions of the couch, his knuckles bumping her knee and resting there, between the couch and the fabric of her dark blue jeans.
“Me too,” he admitted. “And I’m glad…”
“About what?” she prodded, when Jughead hesitated.
“That we’re kind of, I don’t know, doing stuff on our own. It was always the three of us. Never really just you and me, without Archie. I feel like I missed out on getting to know you as well as I could’ve back then.”
“I know!” Betty agreed. “I don’t know what we were waiting for, huh?”