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The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades

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Five thirty was too early for any normal human being to wake up, but it was exactly the time that Elizabeth Cooper--usually known as Betty--got out of bed. The night lingered outside, darkness pressing claustrophobically against the glass of her window, and Betty shivered in her pyjamas. Her spanish assignment was spread out across the desk in front of her, but none of the vocab lists or grammar concepts made any sense. It was too early to be thinking this hard.

Eventually, she muddled through the assignment, though she knew she’d have to come back to it later if she wanted an A, preferably after she’d had a cup of coffee. The clock by her bedside told her she’d been struggling for an hour, so Betty figured it was late enough to get dressed and head down to the kitchen, where her mother would no doubt be waiting.

It was still the first week back at school, so she picked something simple and neat--nothing too eye catching, she had a reputation to uphold--something she knew her mother would approve of. When she got downstairs, Betty saw that the sweater and blouse combo was the right choice. Alice eyed her outfit approvingly, reaching out to straighten her collar as she put down whatever files she’d been working on for the newspaper.

“Did you iron your shirts, Elizabeth?” Alice asked.

“Of course, mom.”

“Good. Can’t have you looking like a serpent at school today, can we?”

Betty shook her head as she slid into her seat at the kitchen table. There was a pot of coffee--freshly brewed, by the looks of it--and a box of cereal with no milk out on the side. Alice didn’t usually eat breakfast (she thought it was a waste of time) but she made the effort to appear normal at least.

“I’m showing Veronica around again,” said Betty.

“The Lodge girl?”

“Yeah, her.”

Alice pursed her lips. She was less restrained in the morning, and her emotions were easier to get a grip on. “Surely she knows her way around by now.”

“It’s only been one day, mom, and she made friends with Archie and Kevin, anyway, so she’ll stick around for a bit.”

“Girls like that don’t just ‘stick around’, Betty.”

Betty flinched at the tone in her mother’s voice. Veronica had been nothing but nice since she’d arrived--sweet and considerate, if a little pretentious. And really, who was Betty to judge about being pretentious? She read Ulysses for fun.

“I don’t know, mom. Maybe she’s changed. Maybe she wasn’t that bad to begin with.”
Alice raised an eyebrow. “What’s got you so keen to defend her?”

“We’re trying out for cheerleading together.”

That was entirely the wrong thing to say. Alice sucked in a breath, her teeth catching on an impeccably outlined lip. “Cheerleading?”

 

“Yeah, it’ll be fun. Girly. I basically only hang out with guys,” said Betty in an effort to placate her mother. If she made the right points then maybe…

“And it’ll look really good on college applications.”

Alice nodded, though she didn’t seem convinced. “Only if it doesn’t make you fall behind on your other subjects.”

Betty reached for the cereal, careful not to make eye contact. “It won’t,” she promised, “it’s just to tick a box on my resume. I don’t really do any sports.”

There was a silence as Alice considered this. It was true; Betty really wasn’t athletically inclined, and that kind of thing looked really good to places like Yale. They both knew she probably wouldn’t make the team, not with Cheryl as captain, anyway.

“Just… don’t get too caught up with this Lodge girl, Betty,” Alice said. She took Betty’s hands in her own from across the table, her thumb grazing over the spot where Betty’s timer was. “You don’t know what kind of mess she could drag you into.”

*

What Alice didn’t know was that the real reason Betty wanted to be a cheerleader was because Archie played football. It was cliche, really--the jock and the cheerleader, two preps who’d grown up next to each other. It was perfect. The perfect daydream.

The timer on her wrist was due to run out in six months, and Betty knew that couldn’t be a coincidence. Most people spent their whole life wondering when their timer would run out, when their soulmate would confess their love for the first time and the number would finally reach zero. Her number was lower than most--she was only sixteen, and that meant she’d likely already met her soulmate, since it was so close to her date.

Betty was sure it was Archie. He was perfect for her; they were perfect together. The perfect soulmates.

And now she knew how it would happen--she’d get onto the cheer squad, and then, at some game closer to the time, she’d perform so well he’d be inspired and score a touchdown; then realise he was in love with her. As soon as the game was over, he’d run up to her and confess, her timer would run down, and they would kiss.

She could picture it in her head, complete with happy families and a cheering crowd. Her mom would approve, and they’d trot off into their happily ever after.

Betty stepped into the high school, her shoulders stiff with anticipation. She’d need all her concentration to get through today--there was so much to do, so many feelings to hold back. To say she was excited was an understatement. Betty took a deep breath, smelling the deodorant, sweat, and cafeteria pizza smell that permeated the air. They’d only been back a few days, but already the entire student body had synced themselves back into school life.

“Betty!” Kevin appeared on her right, exiting the drama class. He wore a cute shirt and tie, which Betty was pretty sure they’d bought together the week before, when they last went shopping together. “You look like you’ve just walked off the set of Mamma Mia.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that, Kevin…” Betty began. She smiled shyly, shoulders bunching up around her face. “I’m just… excited, you know? It’s so close.”

Kevin grinned. He was the only person she’d told about her timer--they’d done the math years ago, figuring out the exact date when both of them would find their soulmates. Since you could only ever see your timer and no one else’s, the choice to share that kind of information was incredibly private. Not even her mom had asked anything more than the vaguest of questions.

“Soon Archie-boy will be all yours… he’s so clueless, it’s actually funny when you think it,” Kevin laughed, “he’s got no idea, but in six months he’ll be tripping over himself for you. Dramatic irony at its finest.”

 

He slid his arm through Betty’s and they walked down the corridor to their lockers. As they neared the end of the hall they spotted Archie and Veronica, who was leaning against the wall and laughing at something Archie said. Betty frowned.

“Hey, Betts,” Archie yelled as they approached. He didn’t look unusual, or nervous in any way, but he hadn’t the day before either--Archie just wasn’t the type to get nervous, not even about soulmates. It didn’t make Betty any less sure that they were soulmates. At this point, nothing could.

“Hey guys.”

Veronica smiled in greeting and turned to angle her body towards them. “Betty!” she said, her eyes lighting up. “How’s my student mentor today?”

Betty ran her left hand over the elbow of her opposite arm, still nervous around the new girl. “I’m good--great, actually. Looking forward to the tryouts.”

“So am I,” Veronica said, “and I love your makeup.”

“Oh, thanks.” The blood rushed to Betty’s cheeks as everyone turned towards her, examining the blossom pink lipstick her mom had picked out that morning. At least it matched her sweater.

“Can I do your hair before the tryouts?” Veronica asked. “Your ponytail’s really cute, but it looks a little tight if we’re gonna be jumping around all over the place. You might get a headache.”

“Sure,” said Betty. Whatever her mom said, Veronica was nothing but sweetness to her. Just the look on her face when she saw Betty was enough to convince her that, at least for the time being, Veronica genuinely wanted to be friends. She was happy to see her, and that was unusual for anyone other than Kevin and Archie.

“I think we’re really gonna nail it at the tryouts,” said Veronica.

“Yeah,” Archie grinned, “and then you’ll both be cheerleaders--that’s so hot!”

Veronica pulled a face and mimed slapping Archie’s shoulder, her pretty nose wrinkled in disgust. “Don’t be like that, Archiekins.”

She made eye contact with Betty, who rolled her eyes. “Come on, cariño, let’s go practise--Grundy said she’d let us off homeroom to rehearse our set.”

She pulled Betty’s hand out from Kevin’s arm and dragged her--not unwillingly--to the locker rooms.

*

The set was long and hard; it was carefully devised by Veronica, who’d been head of her own cheer squad back in New York, and meant to impress. The only thing Betty was sure it did was make her all sweaty and gross. As they threw their arms back in the air and jumped, she could feel the eyes of the entire squad boring into them. Never, not once in her life, had Cheryl Blossom bothered to look at her for so long. It was unnerving.

“Go Vixens!” Veronica cheered, and Betty joined her. They waved their pom poms in a flurry and stood back in their final pose.

“Ugh,” said Cheryl, “ boring .”

The rest of the gym hall was silent. Betty gulped.

“Where’s the flair, where’s the pizzaz?” Cheryl continued, “where, ladies, is the fire?”

Beside her, Veronica twitched. She tilted her head towards Betty, eyes catching on the way she clenched her fist. Veronica’s eyebrow pulled up and Betty could just begin to see the corner of her mouth tightening. There was anger there, but not the kind she was used to--this was kind hundred percent Veronica Lodge, and it, unlike Cheryl or her mother, was cold. It was calculating.

“But you haven’t even seen our big finish yet, Cheryl,” said Veronica. There was a smug edge to her voice.

“Oh?”
‘Oh’ exactly, Betty thought--that was their big finish, they had nothing else planned.

Veronica turned fully towards her, her mouth moving quickly as she whispered. “Just trust me, okay?” she said.

Betty nodded. When Veronica looked at you like that, you had no choice. You bent to her will and let the cards fall where they may.

There was barely any time to think, anyway, because, within the time it took for Betty to register the question, Veronica had taken her face in her hands--her soft hands--and pulled her down. There was a split second of hesitance, of confusion, before Veronica’s lips were on hers, and suddenly Betty didn’t know if trusting Veronica was enough.

There were her lips and her lips and her lips, and they were the foreground of Betty’s consciousness, as though they’d been imprinted on her mind as well as her mouth. One hand reached up, past her ear, to settle in Betty’s hair, fingers threaded through, while the other one held her cheek ever so softly. A thumb brushed over her jaw, adding another point to the map of nerves being drawn, nerves Betty didn’t even know she had.

Why was she doing this? What was the purpose? Was Betty even doing it right? She felt too rigid, too unyielding against Veronica, who melted herself against Betty like candle wax. It was gentle; it was confusing--softer than anything Betty had expected, back when she was thirteen and spent her nights imagining the first kiss with Archie. This wasn’t how it was meant to go, this wasn’t how it was meant to be. There wasn’t an easy way to deal with that.

Veronica moved forwards and her tongue came out, tender as beating heart, to move against Betty. There was a stiff moment as Betty hesitated, unsure of what to do, before she relaxed the tension in her lips. Letting Veronica in was something else, something new entirely--was this what kissing was like? Was this what she was missing out on all these years? There was heat, and energy, and a feeling Betty couldn’t put her finger on. She was nervous and surprised and utterly overwhelmed; nothing in her body made sense and she hated that fact as much as she loved it.

One moment Veronica’s tongue was sliding over hers, the next she was unlacing her hands from Betty’s hair and pulling away, stepping tactfully back into her position next to Betty. Lip gloss stuck the edge of Betty’s mouth together, even though she hadn’t been wearing any before. She touched her finger to the skin beneath her lip, where Veronica had smudged the most of her red tinted balm.

Cheryl stared. A moment passed, and then she rolled her eyes. “Check your sell by date, ladies, faux-lesbian kissing hasn’t been taboo since 1998.”

Oh no--Veronica had just made it worse ( and Betty had let her )--and now they were both going to be left out. Their set had been good really, good enough to get Veronica onto the team, anyway; it was only her association with Betty, made even stronger by that kiss, that would get her barred.

“Okay,” said Cheryl, clearly enjoying the anxiety she caused, “Veronica, well done, you made the team--Betty, better luck next time.”

“What?” Veronica cried out.

Betty tugged at the edge of Veronica’s sleeve. “Shh, it’s okay. Don’t waste your shot.”

“No--you deserve to be on this team every bit as much as I do! More, even.”

She crossed her arms and glared at Cheryl. “Listen here, Cheryl Bombshell, Betty and I are a package deal--if you want one of us, you have to take both. Just because you have some sick, sadistic obsession with making Betty pay for a crime she clearly didn’t commit, doesn’t mean you get to treat her like crap. Deal with your own issues, Cheryl, instead of blaming them on someone else, because you’re not the only bitch around here anymore. You might want fire on your team, but, honey, I am ice cold .”

Veronica stepped forwards, and her expression was nothing short of impressive. No hesitation, no fear, just pure determination. What Betty would give to have that kind of confidence… even if it was misplaced.

Cheryl sighed. “Fine. Whatever. But you better be able to pull your weight, Betty, or you’re straight off the team.”

If she was even slightly more surprised, Betty would have fainted. Cheryl--the Cheryl Bombshell--had let her onto the cheerleading team! She was in! Her plan, her future with Archie, was suddenly back on track. Everything was going to plan.

Betty glanced back at Veronica, who stood there like some glorious Amazonian warrior, proud in her victory. It was all down to her, she knew, and, in that moment, Betty decided she’d make it up to her.
*

When Betty got back home, schoolbag swinging off her shoulder and onto the floor, her mother was already waiting for her. Alice stood by the door, her lips pursed.

“So, how was it?” she asked.

Betty grinned. “It was great! I made the team, and so did Veronica--we’re getting uniforms next week, and soon we’ll be performing at games and pep rallies.”

Her mom frowned. “So you didn’t mess it up, then?”

“No,” Betty said slowly, “I did well. So did Veronica--” No need to mention exactly what Veronica did-- “and it’s really great that we got onto the team.”

“I never said it wasn’t.”

Alice’s tone made it clear that she did not, in fact, think it was great. Betty bunched her arms up, her fingernails digging into the soft flesh of her palm. She knew instinctively that there were be tiny C’s pressed into her skin when she next looked, that they would glare up at her in a stinging reminder of her own anger.

Her mother caught the action, eyes glinting. “Unless you think it isn’t, Betty? You seem very stressed.”

“No, mom. I’m fine. I’ve got a test to study for.”

Alice nodded, understanding. There was nothing more important than grades. Behind her, Hal, Betty’s father, watched the interaction.

“Hey, Betty.” He nodded his greeting.

“Hey, dad.”

“Can I see a picture of those fancy uniforms you’ll be wearing? I need to make sure it’s not to short--I see some of the things your classmates wear, sweetheart, and it’s just sinful.” Hal shook his head, as though the short skirts pained him personally.
Betty smiled, glad that he at least wasn’t bothered by her being part of the team. She made a mental note to find a picture online that she could pass off as the real uniform later. No way would he let her get the real one if he knew.

“Sure dad,” she said, “just let me finish studying first.”

Before either of her parents could say anything, she bolted upstairs.