Archie winced and swallowed. The beer tasted watery and flat. Ever since Pop died, this place wasn’t the same. Jug tried hard, but he didn’t have the mind for business.
“Sorry ‘bout that, Arch. Listen, this one is on the house.”
Jughead set a tumbler reeking of bad rum in front of him, the wedge of wrinkled lime completed the desperate picture. He looked at it suspiciously; it suited his mood to a tee.
“Thanks, man. You really know how to cheer a fella up.”
Archie’s long-suffering friend smacked him on the back. “Anytime, pal. Anytime.” He nodded his chin. “You should really lose the monkey-suit. She ain’t coming back. Ronnie’s gone.”
“I know,” said Archie, swallowing angrily. “Bitch.”
He thumped the glass on the counter and pointed to its emptiness. Jughead topped it up and kept his peace for a change. The door chimes jingled and the air filled with the scent of cherries. It’d been years, but he didn’t need to see to know who entered. He fought the urge to turn around.
“Hi, Betty. I guess you heard. Come to gloat?”
“Nope,” she said. “I came to drink. Vodka and OJ, Jugs.”
“This is the right place,” said the gangly barman, giddy with reaching his peak customer count so early in the day. “You look beautiful, Betty.”
“Thanks,” she said as she gulped her drink. “Too bad this dress is wasted on the likes of Reginald Mantle.” She frowned at the back of Archie’s head. “What’s the matter with you, Ginger? Too good to face the old ghoul-fiend?”
Archie spun around in his stool. “Don’t call me that.” He stopped at the sight of her. She was breathtaking in her wedding dress. “What happened?”
“Don’t you know? You’re partly to blame.”
“What the Hell are you going on about, Blondie?”
“I hate that name.”
She shrugged. “Reggie dumped me at the alter. Again. He answered a text from your fiancee, for Christ’s sake! During the vows.”
“Veronica texted him?”
“Right after the firetrucks left your fiasco, apparently,” said Betty as she pounded back her third.
“Well, that explains the note.”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
Jughead piped up. “Dude, you did burn down your own wedding gazebo. I’m surprised no one was killed.”
“It’s not my fault. I tripped. Mister Lodge always makes me nervous.”
“You’re thirty years old, Red. Grow a pair,” said Betty. “They took off to Vegas. It’s over. They deserve each other.”
“So here we are, two schmucks dressed in our finest gladrags, getting sauced on bad booze. Cheers, Betty.”
She clicked glasses with him. Cheers, Archie.”
Jughead sauntered over, grasping the necks of both bottles. A wry grin crept into the corners of his mouth as he refilled his friends’ cups of solace.
“Ya know,” he said. “I could just give Dilton a call. He’s ordained. It’d be a shame to let the moment pass.”
Archie looked at Betty. Her blue eyes sparkled as she smiled.
Photo by zeitweilig