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New Marvel Knights
Astonishing Spider-Man #23
Astonishing Spider-Man
A Celebration of Love
Part One of Two
Writer: Ben Kaine
Edited by: Brian Provow
Editor-In-Chief: Jasmine Puga

It’s the freakin’ Towering Inferno. You can paint the scene yourself.

It’s dark. The crowds are screaming and gasping, the police are desperately trying to tell the populace it needs to get farther back than it is, the flames are rising higher and higher, turning the whole building into what looks like one giant flaming pillar from Dante’s favorite dream, the firemen have just ordered their team to “get out of there“, and helicopters are practicing the King Kong Drill around the top of the whole entire freaking fracas. Plus, there have gotta be fifty people still trapped inside that thing, the big metal heated death trap.

And on top of it all, I swear, I am so, so totally not in the mood for this.

Yeah, I know how callous that sounds. It probably is, too. No, check that: There’s no way around it. It’s definitely callous. But that’s how I feel right now anyway, as if I just cannot believe this whole apartment complex has had the outright- nerve! -to just burst into flames when I’ve been preparing all week for this single twenty-four hour period. I swear, can’t a man have any off-time? Now I’m on the scene, though, and just because of that one little coincidence I’m expected to dive into this big roaring oven.

And of course, I do have to do it. Damn damn damn (my wife’s going to be worried sick). Know what? One day I swear I’m going to find someone to chew out about all this. Since you’re not in the business of fighting the forces of evil like I am, Reader, you may not know about them, but I’ve actually on occasion had the chance to meet the physical manifestations of forces like Death, Nature and Time. So this is how I figure it: The day I meet that little scumbag Destiny’s physical manifestation I’m gonna-

Oh, right! The fire! So of course, I run into it. Sure, the authorities notice me, but I’m fast enough to where they only barely manage even that. They sure can’t stop me. All the boys in blue and yellow get the chance to do is make out a masked man in blue and red, leaping head-first into the grill like he’s Martha Stewart and there’s a roast looking a tad overdone. Then I’m gone.

Know what’s funny? I’ve got such a reputation in this city by now, that’s all the hint they need. Someone’s shouting my name out by the time I’m through the windows.

“Look!” they say. “It’s the Goober!”

Well, no, that’s not what they really say. I think my sarcasm’s messing with the narrative here. Sorry. This is why I usually tell my stories in the third-person.

“Look!” they say. “It’s Spider-Man!”

“The Goober” is probably what they should be calling me now though, because the moment I leap headlong into the oven, I realize just how bad an idea this was. It’s not the smoke that’s really affecting me. My eyes are shielded by my mask from the smoke’s effects, and I installed a small breather in my suit a long, long time ago. But as I try to get my bearings in my new location, I find that Visibility’s approximately zip and there are plenty of dangers besides asphyxiation. I’m not even near the main fire yet, but my skin underneath my suit is already heating up. And the way the flames are eating through the old building- Parts of this place could collapse any minute-

“Help! Someone help!”

Ah ha, I think! A beautiful maiden in danger (with the voice of an man). She sounds close by. I put my hands out in a hopeless attempt to feel for wherever the hell the walls are aroudn here and start making for the source of the yelling.

It’s slow going. A minute and a half into the murk, the skin under my suit gets so hot it’s painful. I know instinctively it’s time to hurry up, before I pass out in here myself.

It takes another twenty seconds groping around helplessly when I suddenly hear another damsel screaming out for my heroic mercy. This one has the voice of a man too, but she’s closer. Still, the first voice is still crying out, asking me to for the love of God help her. But, I can’t. I can’t save them both. I have to make a choice on who to get out, before I get trapped in here too.

So I whisper: “Sorry, Buddy!” and start stumbling toward the closer maiden. I find out pretty quick I made the right decision. After almost two minutes of looking for the first twenty-year old girl, I hadn’t been sure I was any closer, but I find the second one almost immediately. She’s caught under debris in a nearby file room.

My first reaction, upon seeing her, is stunned disbelief. The girl I’ve found doesn’t just have the voice of a man. She is a man! And she’s clad in a fire-resistant hodgepodge of city-issued equipment, too, which means she’s a firefighter. And still alive. I can hear her coughing as I lean down to pick her up, still trying to call for help.

“Don’t worry, Baby. I’ve got you,” I say to her. I pick her up. She finds the air to speak again.

“What- What’d you call me?”

“Shush, Doll. Conserve your strength. I’ll have you out in just a minute.”

I ignore the weird look she’s giving me with her eyes of limpid gray. If I’m going to save his life, I can dream. Together we rely on my memory to mentally backtrack to the window I came through when I first entered. When I spot a window and all the city lights pouring through it, I look down at the young beauty in my arms triumphantly.

“Hold on, Sweetie,” I say. “OK?”

I wish she’d stop looking at me like that. But at least she obeys. I feel her tighten her thin, fragile arms around me. Then I crouch, tense, and in a reverse replay of my entry into the joint, I’m careening out a new window in a shower of glass and sparks, just as something behind me blows up and collapses.

If the audience is cheering when I land, I can’t hear them, because the force of the explosion knocks the grace out of my jump. My graceful arrival before the adoring masses turns into a graceful roll across the concrete. A really, really hard one. Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow.

Finally, the beauty and I come to a stop. I’m dazed, but I crane my neck, just to see real quick if the girl’s alright. At first I’m worried. She doesn’t look that good. Her grizzled, bearded face is blackened and cut. Her eyes are closed. But I see her breasts rising and falling with her breathing and know that at least she’s alive. Thank God.

With that, I let my head collapse back down on the concrete again. It’s time to start thinking (Why not? My vision’s a blur right now anyway. I’m sure not going anywhere). Here’s what I think, Reader: Sure, I just saved a young girl from certain death in a fiery grave, but somewhere, only a few miles away, I just know my wife was undoubtedly watching all of this. And I know just what she’s going to do when I get home.

First, she’s going to jump my bones. Ten bucks says we‘ll be in the bedroom, or maybe just on the foyer floor, for a very passionate twenty minutes that is going to feel absolutely incredible.

Then she’s going to rip me a new one.

I lie there on the street for a few more minutes. I can’t really tell, but I think I’m surrounded by concerned-looking personnel for the entire time. I don’t know. I just know that when I finally open my eyes again, all I can make out is the sun. The sun’s just beginning to rise over the New York skyline. It’s the morning, Dear Reader.

And what a spiffy way, I think, to start out the day.

Especially this day.

God, this day. Welcome to my world, Dear Reader. You picked one hell of a time to drop in on me. See, casting aside my little toasty adventure, today’s actually an extremely important day. It’s a day I wait for and absolutely dread for three hundred and sixty-four days every freakin’ year. Wanna take a guess? Tell you what: I’ll give you this one as a freebie.

Today’s my anniversary, Dear Reader That is, today’s the same month and day on which, several years ago, I tied the ol’ knot with my bride, the absolute unequaled love of my life. Her name’s Mary Jane Watson-Parker. I don’t deserve her.

The authorities help pick me up and see me on my way, when I’m conscious again. Actually, the policemen are theoretically on orders to arrest me (since I’m not government-sanctioned like a lot of other “superheroes”), but they don’t really have the nerve. Besides, since I just saved one of their own, the firemen would probably kill them if they tried. I’m free to go.

The rest of the day passes extremely quickly. I get home. Mary Jane’s not there. Neither’s the Toyota. She must be out. I take off my “work clothes” and put them in the wash, then I clean myself up as well as I can (apparently, I’ll be celebrating my wedding tonight with a big scar on my cheek). Once I’m done, it’s time to get to work on all the last-minute arrangements for our romantic night together. I don’t want anything to go wrong with our celebration tonight. Mary Jane doesn’t deserve to have anything go wrong.

So I get to work, checking the reservations, buying the champagne, all alone in the house, and all this time I’m letting my mind wander away. At a time like your anniversary, you’d be so amazed, Reader, how memories come rushing back. Or, I dunno, maybe you wouldn’t, I guess, if you’re married. Maybe you know exactly what I mean.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately (I think as I wrap MJ’s present): I don’t think an anniversary just commemorates the actual day you forged a new bond with your “significant other”. I think it’s more than that. It commemorates all the days since, all that time the bond’s endured, whether it’s only been a year, or a far, far more impressive amount of time (in Hollywood, that’d be: two years). That’s how it feels for me, anyway. I can’t help thinking, allowing myself to remember everything Mary Jane and I have been through: How faithful she’s been through it all, how supportive she’s been , how beautiful and loving and great, and how I‘m the luckiest man alive to have her as my wife.

And God: That’s why I have to confess (subconsciously, my hands stop working).

I have to tell you, Reader. ‘Cause at a time like this, during the celebration of our love, it’s too agonizing to hold inside me any longer. I have to tell you. I have to tell someone my secret.

So, before I explain this and all, just to let you know, I’ve never told anyone these things before. You understand that, right? Remember that for me, will ya Reader?

Please, please remember that. I’ve never, ever told a single soul.

Alright, Reader, let’s rewind a bit. My name’s Peter Parker, and until recently I’ve been an exclusive photographer for the Daily Bugle newspaper in New York. I know, I know, chances are pretty good you’ve never heard of or seen me. But here’s the catch: I’ll bet what you have seen, Dear Reader, are my pictures.

See, I’ve made my reputation in the photography business through just one subject and one subject only: A real, live, popular Queens-based superhero called “Spider-Man”. If there’s anything that’s true, in fact, it’s that the elusive lil’ webslinger is totally my territory. No other photographer to date has taken even a twentieth of the number of pictures of him that I have. Heck, odds are good I could show you proof that I’m the original source of somewhere around half the photos of the Amazing Wallcrawler currently in existence. And this is how I’ve made my living, how I’ve put bread on the ol’ table for the last ten years. This is how I’ve forged my life.

Of course, after ten years of unerringly finding and photographing a masked nutcase like Spider-Man, people have naturally started to wonder just how exactly a guy like me can get so unceasingly lucky. I guess it does sound suspicious, doesn’t it? So far, I’ve covered up for this. Right now I tell everyone that Spider-Man’s a personal buddy of mine, that I can contact him, gab with ‘im, and photograph him whenever I want (Hey, it’s worked). Now, a lot of other photographers think I’m unethical and that I’m using an unfair advantage, but at least nobody’s figured out the truth about me and Spider-Man, which is of course this:

I am Spider-Man.

Heh heh heh.

And I’ll be darned if I don’t just love it, too.

But I don’t want to get off on a tangent. See, that’s not the secret. This isn’t about a mask called Spider-Man, not really. It’s about Peter Parker. It’s about me. And if you want to know the simple truth? That‘s what makes all this so hard.

Time to fast-forward to the Present again, I guess. Reader, I’m just about ready for a night of celebration. The monkey suit Mary Jane says I look “so handsome” in is just ready to be picked up from the cleaners. My flowers are on hold at Lehrer’s. My wife and I are due to meet in an hour.

Before I go, though, I leap back into my Spider-Man suit one last time, pull on the mask and everything. It doesn’t take me long to get the fire department. When I reach it, there’s a man waiting for me outside, smoking on one of those cigars that Jameson likes.

It’s odd. When I jump down from a flag post three stories off the ground to say hello , the guy doesn’t seem the least surprised.

“Spider-Man!” he says. “I thought ya’d come.”

“Um. You did?” Well, wasn’t that nice.

That’s when he holds up a copy of my magazine. “I’m a reader o’ the magazine you endorse. Says in a few articles that you often return to check on victims after you save ‘em, I guess so you can see if they’re alright and all. So I thought you’d come. I decided I’d wait on you.”

“Oh.” Right. ‘My’ magazine. ‘The Official Spider-Man’ magazine. God, that still feels weird!

“Can I ask you a question?” the fireman asks. “I wrote a letter once, just ‘cause I was curious, but the editor couldn’t answer it for me. How do you stay warm in spandex during the winter?”

“A lot of chicken soup,” I answer. “How’s your boy?”

He smiles. “Swallowed a lot of smoke, but he’ll be fine, Lord be praised! His name’s MacDonald, but we call him ‘Macky’. You definitely saved him, Spider-Man. Thank you.”

“It was no problem.” Except for the fire. “Will he be in the hospital long?”

“Should be released in a few days.”

“Well, great.” I turn to go. He’s still talking: “Ya know, Webs, since you saved Macky, we’re all subscribin’. You’ve got our mark. You know that, right? Anything you need from this precint, all you have to do is ask. I’m the captain around here now.”

“Thanks. I appreciate that.” I’m already climbing up the side of the building, heading back for the rooftops. The fire captain calls after me: “You gonna go take down a super-criminal now?”

“Yep. You tell Martha Stewart I’m coming for her.”

I don’t hear his reply. I’m too scared he might not get the joke. Once I’m back on the rooftops, I activate my wrist-launchers, fire a nice, strong strand of my specially-concocted “webbing” to use as a bridge to the next rooftop. I’ve got forty-five minutes before I have to meet my wife. Before I have to celebrate our life together.

I pass over rooftop after rooftop, dance along the New York skyline like it’s all one big tightrope. The city twinkles below me. It’s all beautiful. Another half an hour and I’m jumping through my house window, with fifteen minutes before I have to be ready to go.

Take off the Spider-suit, showever, jump into tuxedo, brush teeth, comb hair, grab wrapped gift and flowers! Then jump down the stairs and almost land on my wife. I catch her before she can fall on her butt. She looks beautiful.

“Whoa! Careful there, Mr. Parker!”

“Sorry, MJ,” I manage to get out. It’s too late for conversation now. I’m already looking at her dress. It’s the most amazing, gorgeous dress I’ve ever seen.

“Peter? Peter? Hello? You ready to go, Babe?” she smiles.

“Hm? Oh, yeah. Sure. MJ- You look incredible.”

Laughter. She gives me a hug, then a little slap on the cheek as she walks away from me to get her purse, leaving me with the scent of her perfume. “You’re sweet, Honey.”

She gets her purse and turns back to me. “Ready to go?”

Um, yeah.

I don’t believe it, but we’re actually right on schedule. We leave the house at seven o’ clock and get to the restaurant by seven-thirty. We’re eating at her favorite restaurant. I wish I could say we do that more often, but it’s the kind of place even a ritzy photographer like me can’t afford more than once a year, where the waiters generally look better dressed than the customers and Wells Fargo is on hand to help you pay for your check.

We eat great food. We dance. The really, really great part is the dessert, when I get to surprise her. I give her a box of her favorite candies in the world, “Malomars”. Hook, line, and sinker: She does that girly-squeal thing and gives me another really big hug. Man, I’ll take one of those any day of the week.

Heck, I’d settle for her not thinking I’m cheap for just getting her a box of candy on our anniversary. That’s Mary Jane, though. She’s always somehow satisfied. God, do you have any idea how many guys with how much money would’ve loved to take a beautiful girl like her out, back when we were dating? And she chose me! She chose me.


I’ll tell you one thing: It wasn’t because of the supposed “allure”of datin’ a superhero. Sure, maybe there are some in the “superbusiness” who can use their profession to get the girls. Johnny Storm’s a perfect example of a guy ready to use his celebrity status on a Friday night. But nobody’s ever known who I really am except her, and back when we were dating, the Public hated me anyhow. Hell, the police used to try to arrest me more often than the criminals. I was reviled. Granted, now I’ve got a magazine dedicated to me (weird, weird, weird, weird, weird), but back when I was pursuing her, my being Spider-Man was definitely no big plus.

My being a “big-time superhero” definitely wasn’t the reason I got Mary Jane.

I’m guessing Cosmic Injustice was.

God, she doesn’t deserve this. It’s our anniversary night.

Dinner was fantastic. Now Mary Jane and I are leaving the restaurant, going back to the house to eat the Malomars. We stop by a church on the way, the same church where we got married. It’s been shut down down now. After that, the rest of the celebration’s kind of a blur. I know that when we finally arrive back at the house, the box of candies is emptied like lightning. There isn’t one left in ten minutes. And I never even helped. So when we kiss, I can taste the chocolate in her mouth, almost like a strong lemon in a glass of water.

You can guess the rest. One thing leads to another and in another few minutes, we’re in the bedroom and the lights are going out. In the dark, we descend on our bed. She’s already kissing me and pressing her body against me. It’s a body a hundred men would kill for. Before I can even react to her advances her fingers are stroking me through my pants’ fabric. Through some miracle I manage to peel off her dress. But that’s when I hear a loud “zip”.

I feel her hands. They’re inside my pants now. She‘s got me.

Another minute and she’s on top, pulling away everything else. I can smell us: We’re a unified scent of her perfume, my cologne, our sweat. I can hear her: She’s saying things I’ve never heard her say in public. I can feel her. God, I can feel her. She feels incredible. Her body’s warm, soft, naked now, slick with sweat, inviting me in, and when I push into her, she’s so, so-...

I’m in her. We establish a rhythm. Before the night’s officially over we’ve made love several times, each somehow feeling better than the last. Then afterwards, while her body’s still shaking from her last, hardest orgasm, her warm body’s weight comes to rest on me. She pushes her head against my neck. A minute later and Mary Jane’s asleep.

I lie there for a minute until I’m sure she’s snoozing before easing her bare form off mine and onto the covers beside me. Then I get the heck out of that bed. I have to. I’m about to throw up.

Then and there, I need to be alone. So I open the window and climb onto the one spot where I’ve always had a little solitude: My roof.

Outside, I settle down by the chimney and think for the thousandth time: God, but I love this rooftop. A guy with superpowers like me sees a lot of rooftops, too, so I’m a guy with a pretty discerning eye for these things, and I can tell you the rooftop of my house is class. It’s the perfect place for thinking. So here’s what I think:

I think: “Parker, you’ve just flawlessly completed another annual affirmation of your eternal love for your wife. Congratulations, Pal.” And then I think: Yes I have. Yes, that’s absolutely true. And I swear, there isn’t a word in the dictionary for just how horribly dirty I feel about that.

‘Cause every time this part of the year rolls around, I remember: She’s not the one I loved.

I look back through my window at her, asleep on our bed, her skin shining in the moonlight, and I make a decision, reentering the room. Minutes pass in the darkness. And then, suddenly: Peter Parker’s no more! Instead, the Amazing Spider-Man lives again, hopping from rooftop to rooftop in the night, refusing to let his lack of sleep hamper his patrol for evil-doers. With two seperate identities, we superheroes have the easiest time of anybody running away from the problems in our lives.

I make a superhuman leap from one store’s roof onto the top of another. It’s a leap of fifteen feet. I love having the abilities of an insect. I jump again, then I activate my wrist-launchers, so that I can swing Tarzan-style two blocks west. Through the summer air, I flip, dive, twist, and always land perfectly. The crowd goes wild. None of it makes the thoughts go away.

Alright, fine, you want to know the truth? You can probably guess that my wife Mary Jane wasn’t the first girl I ever- er, y’know, was “intimate” with. Yeah. I had a lover before her.

Sure, no surprise there for anybody, not even Mary Jane. She knows. Even if she didn’t, she’d figure on it. It’s nothing I’m proud of, but in today’s society, you have to face it: There are few who haven’t succumbed to sexual intimacy prior to marriage. Heck, with the kind of partying Mary Jane was known for back in high school, I’m probably not her first, either (but I really, really don’t want to know).

Besides, none of that matters anymore (I think as I land, leap, fire a new line). What matters is this: Even as my wife, as the woman I wished to spend my entire life with, Mary Jane was only my second choice. I had a fiance before her, someone who I was making plans with for my life. It didn’t work out. But I still love her. I still love her too much.

And that’s why I feel like tying an anchor to my legs and asking Namor to chuck me at his house. Because of Mary Jane. She’s been the perfect wife to me, everything any man could ever, ever want, and here I am thinking of someone else every time we make love and she doesn’t deserve this- How could I do this to her-

I land on a rooftop. I stay there. I just want to rest for a moment. I need to fish out whatever’s gotten in my eye. When I finally think I’ve taken care of it, I look up and get the shock of my life. Nearly fall off the shingles.

What the hell is wrong with me? I brought myself right back to the one place on Earth I don’t want to be right now, just across the street from it, actually. Why does my demented subconscious do this to me? I’m here again, for the second time tonight. I’m standing in front of the church where Mary Jane and I got married.

I study it. Boy, it’s a pretty hollow-looking church now, with nothing in it, with no lights. Heck, no electricity. If I properly recollect, the entire building right now’s waiting on a buyer.

Why exactly the church closed down, I don‘t remember. But looking at it now, it’s a shame. The building’s still beautiful. It’s one of those old Catholic pieces of work. Say what you will about them, but nobody can build churches like those guys.

You know, I must be insane. There’s an urge in me. I can’t describe it. But at this moment, I really, really want to go inside. I want to see it again. I want to stand where I stood when I married Mary Jane. It wouldn’t be hard. Right? A quick jump and a lock pick is all it would take.

I can’t believe I’m doing this. I jump. Alright, I’m going to go inside, but I’m not going to stay long. I just want to see it again, for whatever reason. That’s all. It’ll be a quick operation, in and out. There’s no reason to do anything else, no reason to even pause for a moment in the visit.

Well, except to check out one of my old favorite pieces of architecture. There’s a stone gargoyle on the east wall. His tongue is hanging out and water’s streaming out of his mouth, like he‘s always spitting or something. C’mon, that’s just classic.

Alright, enough of that. When I landed in front of the sanctuary doors, my plan was to use the tools in my belt to get inside. But now, as I push on the doors, I find that they’re already open. Not forced, either. Either somebody creative or somebody with a key already took care of it for me. Either way, I’m starting to wonder if they’re still inside.

But the urge propels me, so I enter anyway, be my mystery door-opener a sentimental old priest or a smart squatter. The magnetism of this place is just somehow overwhelming. I could know for a fact the Rhino was in here and still want to check out that altar again. Inside, its darker than I expected it’d be. I thought the city lights outside would provide more illumination than this. I can barely see my hand.

Oh, that’s why. They took out the stain glass windows and boarded them up. They took out the pews and carpet, too. Plus the crosses, statues- It’s all gone. They really stripped the place clean. I look around the empty, gigantic sanctuary and at that familiar arch ceiling. The only decoration this place has now is shadow. Weird. I thought by coming to this place I would be overrun by memories. I thought I’d be flooded with painful reminders of what I promised my wife, how I swore here before Man and God to honor and cherish her. But instead, I don’t. In this building, I just feel severely creeped out. There’s something about this church as it is now that just feels really, really wrong. Why?

Push it aside. Time to do what I came here to do. I walk down the aisle (again), up the steps to where the altar would be if they hadn’t taken that, too. Then I stop and look around. Here I am. This is where I stood, the day I made my vows to Mary Jane. This is where I made promises, for as long as we both shall live. She looked so happy. I couldn’t believe my luck.

Maybe Destiny doesn’t need to be bitch-slapped after all. Maybe I just forget, when I’m having small problems like a hostage situation or a friend’s death or being trapped in a burning room, how many unbelievably good things Life has also given me. The rest of my life could be total Hell and I’d’ve already been paid back a thousand times, just by getting a girl like Mary Jane to be my wife.

That’s funny. Suddenly, I don’t feel so bad anymore. In fact, I’m suddenly feeling much better, like I’ve just been drowning and tossed an anchor. Isn’t that weird? I guess coming to this old chapel’s made me remember what I have.

No. No, that’s not it. My emotions are going all over the place. This isn’t natural. It’s this chapel. It doesn’t feel right. There’s something here, whatever drew me here in the first place. Something that might have even let me in the door, I suddenly think, and that’s all it takes to make me start thinking like Spider-Man again. I leap, landing on one of the arched walls higher up, where I can get a better view of the room and all its shadows. It works! I see a man, crouching in the farthest corners of the sanctuary!

“Hey!” I yell, jumping forward. The man gets up immediately when he realizes he’s been spotted, but with my speed I’ve covered the space between us before he’s finished rising. I reach out and grab a bundle of clothing, jerking him into the light.

“Alright, Buddy,” I say, hoisting him up. “What’s the big idea, eh? Can’t a spider say his ‘Hail Mary’ in- peace?”

Whoops. Well, how about Life and its little surprises. I swear, one minute you think you’ve caught some psychic bad guy in the act, and the next: Well, you’re staring straight into the unshaven face of a man who obviously hasn’t soaped in weeks. I’ve made an itsy bitsy mistake here. My earlier guesses were better. This guy is just a squatter. Well, let’s try to save some face here, shall we?

“Eh, whoops. Heh heh. Sorry about that, Buddy. I thought you were Doctor Doom. You have the same- er, height. You alright?”

“Y-Yeah,” the squatter says. “Yeah!”

“Hope I didn’t scare you too much there, Boss. Honestly, this really was kinda my mistake. See, now that I think about it, I guess if you were any threat my spider-senses would have warned me-”

“Your what?”

“Um, skip it.”

“Fine. Can ya put me down now?”

So I’m still a little tense. “Sure.”

“Thanks. You’re not, er- You’re not gonna kick me outta here, are you? Like the cops?”

I sigh and look back toward the front doors. “Nah. I think that might be a tad hypocritical. Don’t worry about it, Pal. I’m just sorry I bothered you. I’ll be out of your hair in a second.”

“S’alright. You’re Spider-Man, ain’tcha?”

“That’s me,” I say absent-mindedly. I’m giving the altar one last look before I leave.

“What’re ya doin’ here? Looking for bad guys?”

“Nah. Today’s my day off. I just came here to reminisce.”

“Ya- Ya got memories here, eh?”

“I almost did,” I say, already walking to the doors. But before I can get to it in time, suddenly I just gotta stop. I can’t help it. The grief is back. All of a sudden my heart feels like it‘s being roasted again. “I was going to marry my girlfriend here, once.”

“Oh yeah?”

I nod, looking past the man. I can still see the altar behind him, where it always was. My imagination can redecorate the room in a second. “She couldn’t wait to tell everyone. I was really nervous, but neither could I. But we couldn’t announce it yet. We didn’t have the means. We wanted to save up and make sure we could afford to get married.”

“Ya don‘t say.”

“Yeah. We were young. Both of us hadn’t even been out of high school for too long. So we had to be careful. Plus, we weren’t sure how our families would react,” I continue. “But all of those things were just details, in the end. We really loved each other. We knew what we wanted. We couldn’t wait.“

Am I laughing or crying? Maybe it’s both. “We were planning to announce the engagement on the very day I’d have enough money to buy her a ring. I remember swearing I wouldn’t have it any other way. I had to buy her an engagement ring first.”

“Sounds like you two were on your way,” the man says. “What happened?”

My heart... “She- She died.”

“Jesus! Died?”

“That’s right,” I say. This time when I turn to leave, I’m determined to actually do it. I need to get out of this place. “She died. It was murder. Because I was ‘Spider-Man’, one of my ‘sparring partners’ took her hostage. He wanted to get back at me.”

I keep talking as I leave the main sanctuary. But I’m not even sure if anyone’s listening anymore. “So he knocked her off a very, very high bridge. So you can guess what happened after that. I avenged her, and I grieved, and I ‘moved on’, and I married someone else. But I’ll tell you what, Buddy: I’ll never, ever stop seeing her...”

Moments later, I’m outside again. This particular street’s pretty empty at this time of night, even in New York. I stand in the midst of it for a while. It almost feels like I don’t have the energy to make it back home. Of course, I do have to get back home. I have work in the morning. I have a wife who’ll miss me too, who I promised to make breakfast before I leave. I have a wife.

I take a deep breath for control even as my vision blurs with water. Yeah. I’ve got a wife. And I need to return to her. And I will.

I’m going to go back to her, Gwen. Even if I keep thinking of you every day and every time I go to sleep and whenever we’re making love in bed, I’ll go back to her, and I’ll love her and cherish her until death do us part. I’m sorry, Gwen, but I’m going to be the best husband I can be to Mary Jane Watson (I fire a webline to the nearest building). That’s what Mary Jane deserves. She’s the best wife a man could ask for, and she loves me. Even if it may be true that it was you and I who were meant to get married, Gwen, Mary Jane deserves a devoted husband. She deserves it.

I promised her that.