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the painful love of being permanently unhoused

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When the dead rise, no one really believes it.

This is Riverdale, true; strange things happen here all the time, almost as if they live inside the pages of a comic book. But zombies? Those are truly for the realm of fiction. Betty has loved stories all her life but she's never made the mistake of believing that they could be real. Except, as it turns out, that wouldn't have been a mistake.

The gang tries to stick together at first. Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, Reggie, Kevin, Moose, Midge, Chuck, Nancy: they find each other first, as they always do, as they have always done. They hole up inside Pop Tate's and pray.

Moose goes first. He leaves that first morning to try to find others--they think he's the best bet to fight back--but he doesn't come back. Midge is inconsolable. Betty holds her friend's fragile body, suddenly so small, in her arms, rocking Midge as she sobs.

There is silence in the town for two days. And then they come again, swarming the diner. Moose is the one bashing the door down, his huge fists smashing glass as if he can't even feel it anymore. They try to flee out the back door, but there are a couple zombies waiting there too--Mr. Weatherbee, Mrs. Beazly; two of the first. (They'll find out later that the virus was transmitted through tainted food. Too late for Jughead, who took it upon himself to finish all of Pop Tate's food that wasn't in the freezers. Too late for Pop Tate, who will never flip another burger.)

By the time they make it to the Lodge mansion, there are only Betty, Reggie, and Nancy. The others were caught on the way. Most of Riverdale was: there are only a couple dozen people waiting at the mansion. When Mr. Lodge finds out what happened to his daughter, he gives himself up.

It's selfish, Betty thinks. Not to die for the sake of another, no, but to leave others behind. If they are to survive they need everyone; now Mr. Lodge is gone to join the enemy, now Mrs. Lodge sits crying in the living room. You can hear the faint echoes of her sobbing throughout the quiet house. She gets paler and smaller by the day. No one knows how to talk to her, so they don't. They are all on edge, all constantly watching the windows, holding the guns they found in the basement like they used to hold holy books.

Betty and Reggie spend a lot of time together. They have to. They are all the other has left.


"I wonder if there's anyone left in Riverdale," Betty says, gazing out a window into the cold morning light. It's the thirtieth day. She knows the answer but she asks the question anyway. She's thinking about her parents; she's hoping they survived somehow.

"You mean Zombiedale," says Reggie.

Before Betty can stop herself, a laugh bubbles up. As she gasps, she reaches out; her hand finds Reggie's almost as if by accident.

He holds tight to her fingers. He does not let go.


On the fortieth day, they kiss for the first time. It's not an accident; it's not settling for second-best. It's careful and measured and they touch each other like their bodies might break apart at any moment.

They are the last people on earth and for once Betty isn't thinking about everyone they've lost. For once they are thinking only of each other.

Reggie holds her the same way he's been holding a gun: as a weapon, as hope, as something that is too strong to break and too weak to survive a war. When Betty runs her fingers along his jaw, he shudders. Their breath comes too fast.

"You're not a replacement for Ronnie," he says in the moment after that first shared breath. "I'm not a replacement for Archie."

"No," she says, and she kisses him again, hungry for his warmth.

 

On the fiftieth day, Veronica's mother gives herself up to the zombies, searching for whatever is left of her husband and daughter.

Reggie pulls Betty against him with shaking hands. They cry together. He has dropped his mean, hyper-masculine act entirely. The zombies see them as nothing more than raw meat and that is what they have become; there are no pretenses here.

They sleep together that night in Ron's bed. If Betty still cared to analyze the madness of the world she might have found something weird about it--but all she cares about is Reggie's warm hands and his strong beating heart. She sleeps with her head on his chest, her fingers curled over the place where his heart is, and for the first time since this all began she doesn't dream about the dead.


The army reaches the ruins of Riverdale on the sixtieth day. It's safe to leave the mansion again. They don't leave at first. They're scared. This little quiet hollow they've created away from the rest of the world--what happens when they step into the harsh sunlight and see the ruins of the world that was once theirs? What happens now that the war is over?

The army took the corpses of their friends to be burned somewhere far away. When the general tells them this, Betty feels nothing. Her life in Riverdale before all this impossibility feels like a long, lovely dream. She has woken now, plunged into cold water. The zombies are dead and they have survived.

She doesn't miss her friends because she has Reggie now, the two of them alone in their new lives. She needs nothing more.

Betty could leave without him, if she wanted to, go back into the world and make it hers again, but she stays. She will not leave Reggie behind; she will not be selfish for the sun. She is done with loss. She will make any sacrifice she needs to to keep him by her side.


They leave the mansion on the sixty-fourth day.


They leave Riverdale on the sixty-fifth day. There is nothing left for them there. They will become new people, live new lives. They will not think of the dead.