May watched as Peter’s face lit up, his lips tugging back into a full, open-mouthed smile. He launched himself up and over the thicket of webs, landing on his fingertips, dropped fluidly into a somersault and came up on two feet again right in front of her, all in the space of about three seconds.
He was nearly a head taller than she, strong, sure-footed and grinning from ear to ear, his eyes shining.
May flung her arms around him and felt her feet leave the ground as Peter lifted her in a giant bear hug, planting a kiss on her cheek. May hugged him tighter than she’d ever hugged anyone in living memory, every nerve and fibre in her body screaming that this was her father. Her daddy.
They finally broke apart and Peter cupped her face in his hands, his eyes glistening with tears.
“The last time I held you in my arms,” he said, “you were this big!” He indicated with his hands a gap no bigger than a loaf of bread. “This big, May!”
May couldn’t help but beam, overcome with emotion.
“I mean, I’ve played it out a million times in my head, but nothing could prepare me for how beautiful you are,” he whispered, fixing her with a blazing look. “And this –” he said, gesturing at the vast tangle of webs behind him, “— is a true work of art. Unfortunately, it will dissolve in a few hours’ time, but I think you’ll make a very promising apprentice.”
“Apprentice?” May repeated, intrigued.
“Ah, but we’ll get to that later,” he said dismissively with a wave of his hand. “After all, we do have a birthday to celebrate.”
May laughed. “I almost completely forgot!”
“You’re sixteen, a big day like that can’t go to waste!” Peter said, spreading his arms wide. “I am at your disposal. Anything you say goes, whether it’s eating the world’s biggest hot dog, skydiving, anything! What’s the one thing you’ve always wanted to do?”
May bit her lip, thinking hard. It wasn’t every day your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man would offer to take you out for the day and it was very rare when she asked for anything.
“C-Could we go to Coney Island?” she said hesitantly.
“You’ve never been to Coney Island?” Peter cried. “Oh, we need to fix that. Come on, let’s go!”
And before May could react, Peter pulled on his mask, grabbed her hand and ran for the edge of the building.
“Hang on!” he yelled, and slipping an arm around her waist, he leapt into open space.
May felt a scream rise in her throat as they hovered in the air for a split-second, seemingly weightless, and then gravity took over. She clung to her dad, holding on for dear life and he extended his free arm.
May watched the web fly, soaring high above their heads towards the sun, and suddenly they were lifted into air, hundreds of feet above the city streets. Time seemed to stand still as they reached the highest point, and then her stomach dropped once again followed by another swing.
The wind whistled in her ears, her hair flying behind her, and the sunlight sparked off the buildings, creating a brilliant light show. The roar of traffic was drowned out by Peter’s great shout of excitement. It was utterly terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.
“This is insane!” May yelled over the wind.
“Are you kidding?” Peter shouted back. “This is the best part of my job!”
They swung around a huge office tower and May caught sight of her reflection in the glass: a glistening image of her wild-eyed self with flaming hair, holding onto Spider-Man with one arm wrapped around his neck. The sight was unreal, seeing themselves reflected again in the lens of Peter’s mask.
The journey was anything but smooth, but somehow May wasn’t bothered by it.
They finally stopped on top of a small townhouse and Peter set May on her feet.
“How about that, huh?” he said.
“You do this every day?” May said in astonishment. “Sure beats taking the bus!”
“Right?” Peter said. “Only sucks when I run out of web fluid.”
“That would be terrifying.”
“And it’s even harder to land!”
They both laughed.
“Now,” Peter said, peering over the rooftops, “the most important thing to know as a superhero – or me for that matter – is how to disappear. Unlike Tony Stark, who has a tower with his name plastered all over it, I prefer to keep things under wraps.”
He beckoned for her to follow and quickly jumped down behind the house into a side street.
May followed suit, surprised at how easy it was to jump two storeys.
“So you live in a very remote location where no one can find you?” she asked.
“That’s what they’d expect,” Peter corrected. “It’s the complete opposite. Obviously S.H.I.E.L.D. has a huge amount of security measures in place, but on the outside it looks like any other home in New York.”
May followed him around a bend and down another narrow alley where Peter suddenly pulled out a long-sleeved button-up shirt and a pair of jeans from behind a trash bin.
“Another important tip,” he said, diving out of sight, “is how to be – a fast changer.”
And he emerged fully clothed, looking like a simple university student, wearing glasses and a backpack slung over his shoulder.
“That’s how you appear out of nowhere!” May cried. “You just walk around wearing the suit underneath your clothes, ready to jump on unsuspecting foes.”
“You got it!” he said, grinning. “But everyone knows who I am regardless now, so I don’t go out in public a lot anymore unless I’m on duty.”
May followed him until they came to the back of a small, detached house with a small yard and Peter pushed open the back gate.
“Welcome home,” Peter said. “Hey, M.J.!” he cried, pulling open the back door. “Pizza’s here!”
May ran up the steps, but lingered on the threshold as she heard footsteps on the stairs and her heart skipped a beat. Mom, she realized.
“It’s a little early for pizza, don’t you think?” said a woman’s voice, and then Mary Jane entered the room.
Her eyes moved from Peter to May and her hands jumped to her mouth. A million different emotions shone in her eyes and May, locked in her stare, felt her heart swell.
Slowly, M.J. lowered her hands and held them out to May. May rushed forward into her arms and felt tears forming.
There is truly nothing like a mother’s touch, May thought. It meant safety, it meant warmth, and not even a sixteen-year gap could extinguish the love a mother has for her child. And even though May barely knew them, she’d never felt more at home.
“Selfie!” Peter said, putting a hand on May’s shoulder, and the two girls looked around to see him snap the picture on his phone.
M.J. gave him a light smack on the arm. “Do you mind?” she said with a watery smile. “We’re having a moment here!”
“Aw, come on!” Peter said. “Family picture.”
They all squeezed in close as Peter positioned the shot and both he and M.J. kissed May on each cheek as he pressed the button.
Peter went back to look at the picture and M.J. let out a small sigh.
“Oh, that’s perfect.”
“You have to send me that,” May agreed.
“Well, give me your number!” Peter said suddenly. “Then we can finally keep in touch.”
They all pulled out their cell phones and exchanged phone numbers.
“Oh, put our names as Mom and Dad,” Peter said. “You know,” he added hastily, “for security purposes.”
“I would’ve done that anyway,” May said. “You are my dad.”
Peter smiled. “And now,” he said, clapping his hands together, “to fulfill my duties as the awesome dad, we are going to Coney Island!”
“Wha—?” M.J. said in disbelief. “Peter, she is still in school!”
“Don’t worry, we’ll have her back at a decent hour,” Peter said. “Besides, Mom, it’s her birthday. No scratch that!” He held up his hand. “It’s her sweet sixteen. All the more reason to go out and have a good time!”
“Fine,” she gave in. “Just a few hours.”
So, they packed the car and the three of them spent the entire half-hour drive blaring tunes and singing at the top of their voices with the windows rolled down. Peter couldn’t sing for his life, much to May’s amusement, but Mary Jane’s voice was beautiful, so they gave her a lot of solos.
May almost felt as if she was on a road trip to some distant paradise. How did she go from an orphan to Spider-Man’s daughter in just a few days? The whole thing was unbelievable and she was enjoying every minute of it.
She pulled out her phone to take pictures of Peter in his shades, dancing in the driver’s seat, videotaped his horrible singing and nearly bust a gut laughing when his voice cracked on the high notes.
Suddenly, Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” came on, and Peter nearly flipped.
“Oh, this is a classic, baby!” he yelled. “Woo!”
This is how we do it
It’s Friday night, and I feel alright
The party’s here on the –
“West side!” Peter finished.
So I reach for my 40 and I turn it up
Designated driver take –
“— the keys to my truck!” May and M.J. chimed in.
May doubled over laughing when Peter started to dance again, and her phone slipped from her hand, thudding to the floor.
“Oh, whoops,” she said, bending over to grab it.
As she straightened up, M.J. pointed out the window. “There it is!”
May looked up in awe, excitement thrumming through her veins as her eyes feasted on the place she’d dreamed of as a kid: an island of mystery, and island of fun and games and she couldn’t help but think, I’ve made it to Neverland.
Rides like the Wonder Wheel and Thunderbolt were already visible, and the whole place was lit up with flashing lights.
They finally found parking and got in line for admission at Luna Park. May looked up in awe at the six soaring orange pillars topped with golden spheres and the gigantic red and blue flowers over their heads, cupped by golden crescents. Inside each crescent was written “Luna” in big fancy letters. They passed underneath the big circus tent and saw the lineups for admission were virtually non-existent.
“It’s a good thing we came today,” Peter said. “It’s a Monday, so there’s not going to be a lot of people, which means we can pretty much go on any ride, and the Circus Sideshow is playing!” He looked over at May with a grin. “Are you excited?”
May was positively giddy. “Yeah!”
“Then let’s do this!” Peter cried.
“Hey,” said the ticket guy with a dawning realization. “You’re Spider—”
“Shh!” Peter said hurriedly, putting a finger to his lips. “Okay, here’s the deal,” he went on, lowering his voice. “I’m on an undercover mission right now, so nobody can know that I’m here. So, you know, if anyone asks, you didn’t see us. Okay?”
“Oh yeah, no problem,” the guy said. “You just do your thing, Parker.”
“Thanks, man,” Peter shook hands with him, and they departed.
“Undercover?” May repeated, looking up at her dad.
“Well, every celebrity tries to be undercover when they leave the house,” Peter explained. “That way they can carry on with their lives and blend in with the crowd.”
“A lot of times that doesn’t seem to work,” May pointed out. “The moment anyone sees your face, they announce it to the world.”
“Yeah, so you have to avoid a lot of interaction with people,” he said. “Although sometimes it’s unavoidable, like back there, but the citizens of New York understand that aiding a superhero comes in many forms and sometimes it means remaining silent.”
“And the less publicity we attract the better,” M.J. put in.
“So,” Peter said, changing tack, his grin back in place. “Hope you’re a thrill-seeker, ’cause we’re gonna have some fun!”
May raced from ride to ride, eager to secure a place in line to keep the fun going as long as possible. She figured her SD card would be full of pictures by the time she got home. They went on Cyclone, which was awesome, as promised by everyone at school, then hopped on Thunderbolt. The vertical drop at the beginning was enough to make Peter scream as the coaster thundered down the tracks at breakneck speed. By the end, M.J. was saying that giving birth hadn’t been nearly as frightening! At nightfall, they went on the Wonder Wheel, which gave them a fantastic view of the city skyline and a perfect selfie opportunity. Finally, they bought Nathan’s famous Coney Island hot dogs and went for a walk on the beach, talking and laughing.
“These are so good!” May gushed through a mouthful.
“Mmm,” Peter said in agreement. “You can’t come to Coney Island –” He paused to swallow, “— and not eat Nathan’s hot dogs. It’s literally a crime.”
“Oh, is that why yours is overflowing?” Mary Jane teased.
“It’s go big or go home,” he said.
“Let’s sit down before you start dripping chili sauce everywhere.”
They all sat down in the sand about teen feet from the shoreline, watching the waves lap up on the beach. The night air was warm, carrying the fresh scent of sea salt, and a few seagulls were flying in the distance.
“So, May,” M.J. said. “Tell us about yourself.”
“Like what?” May asked.
“Anything and everything,” Peter said. “Your hobbies, your interests, pet peeves, deepest fears …”
“Okay,” May said, thinking it over. “Well, for one thing, I hate seagulls.”
“Really?” M.J. said in surprise.
“Yeah, they’re just pests!” May said. “They’re filthy scavengers who poop on everything and steal people’s food. Like,” she said as Peter started laughing, “why can’t they be self-sufficient like every other bird and hunt for real food? Not swarm people the moment they drop a pizza crust on the ground!”
“Okay, I think there’s some kind of backstory that goes along with this,” M.J. said with a smile.
“Fine,” May huffed. “In fourth grade, I was outside with my friends eating lunch, and I wasn’t holding my sandwich properly. A piece of lettuce fell out on the ground and out of nowhere, three seagulls appeared and they started fighting over it. One of them finally won and the other two looked at me like: ‘What else you got?’ And they wouldn’t go away! They started squawking and batting their wings and edging towards me. So then Logan threw a handful of crackers at them and they went totally ballistic. We ran back into the school with them chasing us and we vowed never to eat outside again.”
“And yet look where we are,” Peter said, gesturing around.
“Well, there are more of them during the day,” May argued. “Where there’s lots of people and food, you get tons of seagulls. It’s not funny!” she said, hitting him on the arm.
“Okay, okay,” he relented. “What about something you do like?”
“I like basketball,” she said.
“Ooh,” M.J. said. “For fun or do you play for a team?”
“I’ve played for the school team before,” May said. “And last Friday I crashed the boys’ tryouts.”
“You didn’t!” Peter said in disbelief.
“Yup, and I might’ve … um … killed the backboard.”
“May!” M.J. cried.
“It was an accident, I swear!”
“Well, now you know your nickname is accurate!” Peter said with a laugh. “What other kind of trouble have you been getting yourself into?”
“It’s only recently that things have been hectic, I’m a very well-behaved child!” May insisted.
“Oh yeah, then what are your grades like?” Peter challenged.
“I’m an A+ student,” she said proudly. “Science and math have got nothing on me!”
“Hey, science nerd!” Peter gave her a high five. “She’s totally my kid.”
“She’s not an awkward klutz, though,” M.J. pointed out.
May laughed at the stunned look on Peter’s face. “I’m not a –” he said indignantly, then stopped. “Okay, yeah I was, but that was before the spider bite. I just kept it up as part of my cover, so no one would suspect.”
“Yeah, okay,” M.J. grinned. “So anyways, May. Where do you live?”
“Miss Edna’s foster home for girls,” said May.
Peter sat up at once, intent and alert.
May shrugged indifferently. “I live with ten people in a little three-storey house on a busy downtown street. It’s loud and hectic and falling apart, but you could never find a cooler bunch of girls anywhere. They all came from bad places, but it doesn’t matter. They’re happy. There’s Logan, who has been like a sister from day one. She’s crazy and fun and pretty, and she’s always there for me. Tricia’s …” May trailed off, making a face. “… difficult. She is new, so I guess she hasn’t really warmed up to us yet, but she can be a little strange and intimidating. Kelly is wild, sporty, tomboyish, and she totally loves you by the way,” she added with a grin, looking at Peter. “Hallie loves music to the point where she has hearing problems. Every time you talk to her, she’s just like: ‘What?’ Miss Edna had to ban her from wearing earphones at mealtimes. Brenda is quiet and she loves reading, but we seriously need to get her those strings or something for her glasses because she is constantly losing them!” May laughed. “Krissy is like a little sister to me, she’s like my teddy bear. She’s got a little attitude, but she’s so nice. Fiona is really sweet, it’s hard to think her parents just ignored her, I mean she was just a baby then. But she is like an elephant on the stairs! You yell ‘pancakes’ and all you hear is boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom! Elena is one of the cutest kids ever, but she will talk your ear off for hours! And then there’s Abby, she’s two and you just can’t say no to that face. It’s going to be a problem one day, but she’s so cute!”
“They sound great,” M.J. said, stroking May’s hair.
“They are great and I love them, but …” May looked at her hands, feeling like a storm cloud had suddenly blocked out her sun. “Well, we’re all there to get adopted, right? And I know deep down it’s what every kid wants, to feel like they belong somewhere, but when they leave … I know I should be happy for them, but it just hurts. It feels like your family is getting smaller, and it makes me feel worse when I want to leave too!”
She furiously blinked back tears as Peter put an arm around her shoulders.
“Family,” he started in a soft voice, “is without limits. It goes beyond blood, beyond the people you live with, and it doesn’t get smaller, it gets bigger. You add new people almost every day whether you know it or not, and though you may not see them all the time, it doesn’t change anything. We’ve been apart for most of your life and spending tonight with you seemed to make up for all those missing years. It isn’t awkward or weird, and if anything, I love you even more.”
“And the fact that you were able to share that with us warms my heart,” M.J. said. “I am your mom, but I haven’t been there for you. I mean, I expected you to be angry or resentful for giving you away …”
“Well, you had to!” May said, wiping her eyes. “I get that now.”
“But that doesn’t erase the hurt you must’ve felt all those years,” she protested. “I’m so sorry, May.”
May swallowed. “It doesn’t matter now,” she said, “’cause I’m here now and I love you guys too.”