"Honestly, Veronica, you have no idea how lucky you are," Ashley Willick, who holds the coveted title of Veronica Lodge's best friend during the first half of seventh grade, says to her once. "You could have any boy you want. And you don't even give them the time of day." She sighs, not bothering to disguise the bitterness soaking the words. "What a waste."
Veronica is used to hearing how lucky she is. It usually has something to do with money. Boys, though, are fairly new. Or rather, it's new to see them as something beyond an annoyance; now, they are considered just another luxury item, something to be coveted. And just like clothes, jewelry, or electronics, Veronica can have whichever one she wants.
She doesn't want any boy, really. But she learns to pretend.
It would seem ungrateful not to accept what's being offered, especially when, as always, everyone else wants what she has.
Veronica learns how to kiss girls the only way it's allowed. To shock, to titillate. Other people have to be watching; usually boys.
It has become her instinct to seize any such opportunity, so when Cheryl Blossom says sizzle, Veronica kisses Betty Cooper.
Betty isn't like other girls she's kissed, or even other girls she's known, back at her private school in the city. Betty is sweet faced and soft, not a single sharp edge. When Veronica first sees her at Pop's, she thinks with cynical amusement that the blonde girl is exactly the sort of person Veronica had expected from this sort of town. Innocent and naive: human sunshine.
Except she finds out pretty soon that every time Betty smiles at her, it feels like the sun is in Veronica's chest.
And when they kiss, it burns her from the inside out.
But Betty Cooper is in love with Archie Andrews.
Of course. Riverdale is the sort of town where the Boy and Girl Next Door end up together.
The first time Veronica kisses Archie, it isn't about Betty.
(Not really. Not consciously.)
She's just not used to telling boys no. She's never wanted anyone to wonder why she would.
And this boy seems nice, and safe: something about Archie makes Veronica sure he won't fall in love with her, become obsessed. He seems to have other things on his mind.
She used to hate kissing boys, but she's gotten used to it. She's gotten good at it. It makes her feel powerful, and it doesn't cost her anything.
But this kiss almost costs her Betty, and it turns how to be too high of a price.
Back home, for years, Veronica selected the chosen few to be her friends like it was an act of generosity, a gift that was hers to bestow.
With Betty, it's like she's the one asking - begging - for something. She's never worked this hard for a friendship before.
She's never wanted it so badly.
They become best friends, and it feels right, like Betty was born in Riverdale just so she'd be there waiting for Veronica sixteen years later.
Betty is different than Veronica first thought; she isn't some small town Disney Princess who's never encountered darkness. Veronica learns more about Betty's sister, and her mother, all the shadows and pressures that lurk in the Cooper house.
They don't go to Betty's much; somehow, without even meeting her, Mrs. Cooper has decided she hates Veronica. She doesn't mind; she likes bringing Betty to her apartment, especially the nights she sleeps over. It makes Veronica feel like she's keeping her safe, offering her a night away from anything bad.
Not that Betty needs protection. There is an unexpected toughness to her, Veronica sees that now. To survive in her family, Betty's had to develop thick skin that only bleeds where no one can see.
The second time Veronica kisses Archie, it is about Betty.
Completely, totally, entirely about Betty.
Because Betty still loves Archie, and fucking Kevin has been going above and beyond his Gay Best Friend duties, assuring her that there is still hope, in spite of Archie's rejection.
You know he's been weird all semester, Bets. It must be the music thing. But sixteen year old hetero boys are commitment-phobes. Maybe he thinks he has to be all single songwriter or whatever. But it's not like he's dating other girls, right? You've always been the only girl in his life, and one day he's gonna wake up and realize there's a reason for that.
Veronica had tried admonishing him after one of those conversations, told him he shouldn't just tell Betty what she wants to hear and get her hopes up, but she'd quickly realized Kevin truly believed what he was saying.
A friend group forms - Veronica, Betty, Kevin, Archie, and sometimes Jughead - and that gives Veronica a front row seat to Betty And Archie. When he's around, Betty's eyes follow him like a flower chasing sunlight, as if he's the sun instead of her. There is a warm glow in her eyes that turns her so beautiful it hurts to look at, but only Archie gets that look from her.
Veronica gets others: the soft, shining smile of gratitude at cheerleading practice when Veronica defends her to Cheryl; the bright dance of laughter through Betty's eyes when she looks at Veronica in class, sharing in some private joke; the sleepy eyed, scrunched up expression on her face when Veronica hogs the covers at sleepovers.
They're great looks. They're beautiful.
But Veronica is still a rich girl at heart; she wants them all.
So when Betty turns into a heap of adoration around Archie, a monster roars to life in Veronica's chest, green eyed and fanged.
It makes her do monstrous things.
The second time she kisses Archie is about Betty.
So are the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh.
It's easier than she wants it to be.
Back in New York, Veronica used to do this kind of thing all the time: hook up with the guys her friends liked, even their boyfriends. She isn't sure why, anymore. It wasn't about the guys.
(Of course it wasn't about the guys.)
Maybe she wrapped too much of her identity around being the girl who could get anything, any boy she wanted. Maybe she needed to prove it to herself, over and over. And maybe it helped that her friends were never real friends, just human status symbols.
Or maybe there is something really wrong with her, something poisonous.
She hasn't changed here. She is still the same cold ice princess. Her entire self is a weapon she can't stop using to hurt people.
Betty doesn't know.
Every time it starts, Veronica wants her to find out. The monster bares its teeth and growls; it wants to ruin him for Betty, to show he's not so perfect, either. Veronica kisses him and bites his lip so hard it breaks skin, imagines her own poison seeping into the cut.
But when its over, there is always a sudden, quiet moment where Veronica remembers the look on Betty's face after Cheryl's party, and the monster turns its attention inward, sinking its claws into Veronica, drawing bloody guilt that beats in her chest like an unhealthy heartbeat.
So Betty still looks at Archie the same way. But Veronica is the one kissing him in the deserted locker room after football games, giving him blow jobs in bedrooms at parties, and once, eventually, having sex with him in her car after school while Betty attends a meeting for the winter formal dance committee.
The secret reassures her, that she will never have to see Archie and Betty as a couple, will never have to endure them kissing against lockers or holding hands in the hallway.
(And if it ever does happen, if Kevin and everyone else is right and Archie comes around, well. Veronica's got a bullet in her back pocket, a fatal revelation to be fired at their relationship.)
She knows what the best love stories say. That love is selfless, that seeing the object of your affection happy, through whatever means, is meant to be worth more than your own hurt.
But Veronica Lodge wasn't raised to be selfless.
"Come to winter formal with me," Archie says in his car, after, while Veronica reapplies her lipstick in the driver's side mirror.
"Oh, come on. Enough with the sneaking around." He slips a hand through her hair, and Veronica has to duck out of his reach. "Hey."
There is a seriousness to his voice that she's been dreading, and he won't say anything else until she reluctantly drags her gaze to meet his.
"I like you, Veronica. A lot." He smiles, sheepish and lopsided. "I think this could be something real."
Her stomach feels like it's squeezing itself between her lungs. This is what she tries to avoid. She remembers that first kiss in the closet at Cheryl's, thinking Archie would be safe, with all that distraction in his eyes.
"Why?" He sounds genuinely mystified. Then, exhaling slowly, "Because of Betty?"
"No," Veronica tells him honestly. Betty is every reason they are doing this in the first place, but she's not the reason it can't go further.
"Then what?" Archie clearly doesn't believe her.
"I just...don't feel that way about you." Veronica swallows, checks the time on her phone. Betty could be coming out to meet them any time now. "I'm sorry, Archie, but this was just about hooking up for me. I didn't think it was anything serious."
He huffs out a hollow, disbelieving laugh. "So you've been going behind your best friend's back just...what? For fun?"
She glares at him. "She's your best friend, too."
"I know. And the last thing I wanna do is hurt Betty," he says. "But it's been months now, and I thought maybe you...maybe this was worth the risk." He looks away, a muscle jumping in his jaw. "Guess you had me fooled."
Her voice cool, Veronica mutters, "Guess I did."
The next day, Archie finds Veronica and Betty sitting at one of the outdoor lunch tables. He doesn't even look at her, just walks right up to Betty and smiles. "Hey, Bets. I was wondering...would you want to maybe go to formal together?"
Betty's eyes fill with light. "Really?"
Veronica catches the slight regret that flickers in Archie's eyes, like he's belatedly realizing how unfair this is. "Yeah, I mean...we had so much fun at the back to school dance, right?"
The light dims a little, but Betty doesn't falter, just glances over at Veronica. "Yeah, that's right. So...you, me and Veronica again?"
"No, just us."
Betty smiles, then, this slow, gorgeous smile that her whole face participates in. Veronica's heart lurches; she's never made Betty look that happy. It's not a power she has.
Archie's eyes flick over to Veronica for the first time, a challenge flaring there. He is trying to hurt her, and he has.
Just not for the reason he thinks.
The dance is pretty much unbearable. Betty insists on including her, and Veronica doesn't know how to walk away from her, so she gets to spend the whole night watching Betty-And-Archie. Betty is fairy tale lovely in her light blue dress, and she clearly thinks tonight is the beginning of something, the first step toward her happily ever after with the boy next door.
Veronica has no moral high ground here, but bitter thoughts keep twisting themselves together in her head, how Archie doesn't even appreciate how gorgeous Betty looks, and how he's deceiving her even if he hasn't promised anything. Veronica sneaks a flask and spikes the too sweet punch with a welcome bite of vodka, pouring it down her throat to wake up the monster in her chest.
There is another after party at the Blossom mansion, and Veronica's happy to be there because it means more alcohol. Kevin disappears at some point with Moose - Veronica notices Midge half passed out on the couch - and leaves her alone to watch Betty-And-Archie. He's showing her something on his phone, the two of them sharing a white pair of earbuds, so it's probably one of his songs. Veronica wonders bitterly if they're about her, if Betty knew that maybe it would be enough....
That's all Veronica wants, all she's been trying to do. To make Archie do something terrible enough that Betty will hate him.
To turn Archie into someone as terrible as Veronica.
Betty gets up to go to the bathroom, and Veronica gets unsteadily to her feet, shoving through her classmates to fall gracelessly into the place on the couch beside Archie.
"It's not fair what you're doing, you know," she informs him without preamble. "You shouldn't lead Betty on just to get back at me."
Archie's eyes harden. "I told her we were just going as friends."
"She doesn't think that."
"Well, I was upfront about it." There's a slight slur to his voice now. "More than I can say for you."
"Oh, come on, Archiekins." She slides closer to him, draping one arm across the back of the couch. "We had a good thing going. Just because I don't want a boyfriend right now doesn't mean it has to end." She touches his chin, forcing him to look at her, practically purring, "Can you really say you don't want me anymore?"
This is a familiar routine for Veronica, her ice princess mode, a protective layer frozen around her heart. No guilt or remorse can pierce it.
He's a little drunk, and such a boy; so pliable, so easy. Veronica pulls his lips into hers and just like that he's kissing her back. She tugs on his tie, pulling him on top of her. She doesn't let go, needing to be able to pull him back in case he remembers where they are and tries to stop. She needs to keep going and going until -
"Archie?" Betty's voice is tight and shaky, and Archie jerks away from Veronica, rolling away and sitting up and allowing Betty to see who was beneath him. "Veronica?"
Betty looks right at her, heat and tears filling her eyes, shooting straight to Veronica's chest in a painful thaw.
Then Betty's gone, and Archie's chasing after her, calling her name.
Veronica stays where she is, breathless and disheveled on the couch. She's shaking, and the the harsh, acidic taste of bile is rising up her throat.
As always, Veronica Lodge got exactly what she wanted.
Betty doesn't return her calls or texts all weekend. It might be for the best; Veronica hasn't worked out what to say yet, what explanation there could possibly be.
Her father would be ashamed of her: she's done her sums wrong, made a bad call. Ruining Archie, taking away the dream of the Boy Next Door...it's probably cost Veronica Betty.
She overpaid. She didn't understand the values.
She doesn't know how to be in Riverdale without Betty as a best friend.
On Monday, as soon as she gets to school she finds Betty and Kevin outside. She accosts them without a greeting, her words come out in a rush, "Betty, listen, I'm so sorry for - "
Betty's face tightens painfully, and she physically draws away from her. "I don't want to talk to you."
"Please. If I can just explain..." Never mind that there isn't a good explanation. She'll figure something out. She'll say anything, she just needs to save this.
Betty gives her an impassive look, but there's an ache in her eyes. Kevin stands at her shoulder, arms folded, unyielding. "Archie came over yesterday and told me everything. Everything." Her voice catches. "This whole semester."
Everything. Veronica's throat constricts with months worth of Archie's stale taste and her own bitter lies. The parties, the locker room, his car. Every stupid moment. Her voice shrinks, "Betty - "
"I trusted you." Betty's lower lip trembles, tears coating her voice. Veronica's hands can't stand not touching her. "And this whole time..." She draws in a staggering breath. "If you had feelings for him, if you couldn't help it, and you'd have been honest with me...I would have tried to be okay with it."
God, she really would have. That's how good of a person she is. Betty understands selfless love; it's the only kind she has. Betty is everything Veronica is not.
She'll never want her. And she shouldn't. Nice girls don't love monstrous ones.
(The worst, meanest voice in Veronica's head hisses at her: Nice girls don't love other girls at all.)
Then Betty continues, "But that isn't what happened, is it?" She's still tearful, but her voice finds an edge, trying like hell to slice. "He was the only one with feelings. He said you were just...fucking around." The curse word sounds strange coming from her, and Betty stumbles over it. "The other night, he said you started it, you came up to him...it's like you wanted me to see."
"Betty. Please. It wasn't like that." Her voice is a mess, thick and falling to pieces, she hadn't realized how close she is to crying.
(No one sees Veronica Lodge cry.)
"Bullshit," Betty spats, more confidence to it now. "You came here talking about how you wanted to change, but you haven't, have you? You're still the same selfish, spoiled ice princess who doesn't care about anyone but herself."
Veronica shakes her head, hard, afraid to speak, to blink, to breathe, and snap the last tether of control holding her together.
"Tell me I'm wrong," Betty says, trying to sound defiant, but there's an undercurrent of a plea in her voice. "Look me in the eye and tell me you have feelings for him, and you just...haven't wanted to hurt me. Tell me it wasn't just a game."
Veronica is good at lying. She's had a lot practice.
But she can't tell this one. Not now, not to Betty. It's not a lie she'll be able to back up.
Veronica just shakes her head.
Betty's face tightens, threatening to collapse, and it takes a second for her to wrestle it back into a glare. Her voice is so quiet. "That's what I thought." She sweeps her fingers under her eyes, catching tears, and then she ducks her head and looks away. "Stay the hell away from me."
Betty shoves past her. Veronica squeezes her eyes shut, feels the tears hit her cheeks, smearing mascara. When she opens her eyes, Kevin is still staring at her, his head tilted, lips pursed like he's mentally working out a complicated math problem.
Softly, he says, "Archie isn't the one you like, is he?"
One more shake of her head, and Kevin's face scrunches in awkward sympathy. He takes half a step toward her, but Veronica shrinks away, wrapping her arms protectively around her torso. "You should go check on Betty." Her voice comes out unfamiliar and fragile, and just saying Betty's name cues up the destruction in her chest. "Please go."
Kevin nods, moving past her. The warning bell rings, and the hallway starts to clear out around them.
Veronica slumps against the lockers, the metal cool on her forehead. The sobs start deep, deep in her gut, climbing out of her, breaking her completely apart. It feels like she might dissolve, pool onto the ground in a mess of poison and tears.
The ice princess, melting in the sun.