May watched the lights flash past outside the window as she and her parents drove home in silence. The low vibrations of the car ignition seemed to dull her senses and her eyelids sagged. In next to no time, she’d succumbed to sleep and was pulled under into a dream.
She was floating in silence, weightless and without direction. Inky splashes of colour blossomed in the darkness before her eyes in shades of purple, green, and blue.
There was a loud crackling sound and a low hum. May blinked in confusion, and turned her head slowly, feeling as if she was completely submerged underwater.
Stars began to pop in her vision and a loud ZAP shredded her eardrums as the whole world exploded in a blinding flash. She felt herself fly through space and hit the floor, her ears ringing shrilly.
Spitting hair out of her mouth, she sat up to see she was sitting on the floor of a parking garage – the same parking garage in which Peter hid her as a baby. The floor was webbed with cracks, thick black smoke choked the air, and several overturned cars opposite were on fire.
“Dad!” May yelled, panic rising in her chest. “Dad, where are you?”
“May,” said a soft voice, and May jerked awake with M.J.’s hand on her knee. “We’re nearly there. What’s Miss Edna’s address?”
“Oh, um …” May sat up groggily, blinking sleep out of her eyes. “Keep going straight ’til the last light there,” she said, pointing, “then take a right. It’s just a bit down that street.”
Peter stepped on the gas, running a yellow light, and maneuvered his way easily down the street. At the last light, however, he put on the hazard lights and pulled over.
“I’m gonna let you out here,” he said. “Gotta protect your secret, gotta be a good father …”
“Yeah, yeah, she gets it,” M.J. said.
“It’s not far, is it?” Peter asked May.
“Oh, no,” May said, unbuckling her seat belt. “Undercover. Secret. Let’s do this.”
She pushed open the door and got out of the car into the cool evening air. Peter got out, shutting the door behind him and came around the front of the car to give her a hug.
“You’ve got the number now, so you know who to call,” he said. “And remember I’m never far away.”
“Yes, Daddy,” May said sweetly.
Peter chuckled and gave her a kiss on the head.
“Thank-you,” May said. “For everything. Bye, Mom!”
May waved one last time, then turned and headed up the street, hands in her pockets and sighed with contentment. After about twenty feet, she glanced behind her to see the car was still sitting there, but Peter was gone.
Knowing he was probably somewhere up on the rooftops out of sight, May shook her head. Fathers. And sure enough, her spidey-sense tingled, but this time it was different: less urgent, more informative as if to alert her to her dad’s presence.
She crossed the street at the lights and walked up the front steps of the foster home, pausing on the doorstep to look up at the surrounding buildings. She couldn’t see him, but she knew he was up there.
“See you later, Dad,” she said quietly.
Then she fished her key out of her jacket pocket and unlocked the front door.
Immediately upon entering, May knew something was off. The kitchen was in complete darkness and not even the hall light by the stairs was on. Frowning, she closed the door, expecting her spidey-sense to be working overtime to identify the threat, but she felt nothing.
“Hello?” she said to the darkness.
And then the lights snapped on, temporarily blinding her, and several voices shouted, “SURPRISE!”
Miss Edna, Krissy, Fiona, Elena, Abby and Brenda popped up from behind the kitchen table, Tricia got up from the couch, Hallie appeared from behind the stairs, and Kelly and Logan jumped out of the coat rack on May’s left and grabbed her by the arm, startling May senseless.
Wild-eyed, mouth agape, May took in the scene, completely taken aback. Balloons and streamers hung from the ceiling, a big party-themed tablecloth had been draped over the table, everyone (except Tricia) wore little paper party hats, and an ice cream cake sat in the middle of the table.
“You guys!” she squealed.
“Tricia, you were supposed to blow the noisemaker!” Krissy said.
Tricia held up the little noisemaker, which was twisted like a lock of curly hair.
“Oh no. It broke,” she said, monotonous. “Oh well.”
She carelessly tossed it aside and stuffed her hands in her pockets.
“How long have you guys been waiting?” May asked as Logan slung an arm around her shoulders.
“A good couple of hours,” Kelly said dismissively. “We had to put the cake away to make sure it stayed frozen.”
“And to make sure Kelly didn’t eat it,” Logan said pointedly.
“It’s ice cream cake,” Kelly said as if that was all the explanation they needed.
“Here’s your hat, May,” said Brenda, holding one out to her, and May bent over so that Brenda could place it on her head.
She was without glasses, but it didn’t faze May. They were all so used to seeing her like this. If anything, it made Brenda’s eyes stand out more. Her eyes were such a dark shade of brown and they roved over May’s face intently as if searching for something.
“You look different,” she said as she adjusted the string underneath May’s chin.
“How so?” May asked curiously. She wasn’t entirely sure Brenda could see her properly.
“Dunno. I can just tell,” she said simply.
“Okay,” Kelly said impatiently. “Can I have my cake now?”
“Your cake?” May, Logan, Krissy, Miss Edna, Hallie, Fiona and Brenda repeated.
“We’ve been waiting a long time!”
“Okay, everyone gather ’round,” Miss Edna said, plopping Abigail in her high chair, and everyone rushed forward, Tricia hovering in the background.
Miss Edna lit the candles on the cake and they all sang “Happy Birthday” to a beaming May.
On the last note, Hallie changed pitch dramatically, harmonizing with the rest of the girls and they all clapped.
“Make a wish,” Logan said once the applause subsided, giving May a gentle nudge.
“Yeah, before the cake melts!”
“Kelly!” everyone said in exasperation.
“Like, oh my gosh. Shut up!” Logan said with a laugh.
Kelly raised her hands in surrender and they all looked at May expectantly. May looked from one to the next, a warm fuzzy sensation spreading from her chest to every other part of her body. Wherever she went, no matter what happened, this would be her family.
“I wish for exactly this,” she said. “A perfect birthday.”
And with that, she blew out the candles and fine wisps of smoke curled upwards, a sweet burnt smell filling the air.
Krissy fanned her hand over the cake to disperse the smoke with a small noise of disgust. “Ugh, it’s so bad!”
She made a face as Miss Edna started removing the candles, leaving neat little holes in the cake’s surface.
“It’s the smell of death,” Tricia said in a low voice, her eyes glittering.
Krissy’s face went slack and she hastily stepped away from her.
“Yeah, well, this is a celebration of life,” Kelly clarified, gesturing around with her finger. “And since you only live once, gimme some of that cake!”
“Alright, alright!” Miss Edna said, grabbing a knife from the kitchen drawer. “Move out of the way.”
She cut the cake and handed slices around the table on paper plates.
“Now, it’s already nine thirty, so bath and bed right after this!” Miss Edna looked around at all of them over the rims of her glasses. “I don’t want the little ones up too late.”
She headed upstairs, calling, “I’m going to set the tub!”
“So how does it feel to finally be sixteen?” Logan teased. Her birthday had been three months prior.
“Pretty darn good if I do say so myself,” May said, putting a forkful of ice cream in her mouth. “Now your evil powers of bossiness have no effect.”
“Aw, now I have to wait ’til summer,” Logan said with an exaggerated pout. “And school’s only just started!”
“Good thing my birthday’s so early in the school year,” May said. “Means I get no homework.”
“What about mine?” Logan demanded, hand splayed over her chest.
“Make Tricia do it!”
The girls laughed.
Tricia shot them a glare from her spot on the couch. “I have a life,” she snapped.
“But no soul,” Kelly muttered under her breath.
“What?” Tricia yelled, whirling around.
May nearly choked on her ice cream trying to stifle a laugh, Logan’s hand jumped to her mouth and Hallie awkwardly scratched the back of her neck, her eyes flicking discreetly between Kelly and Tricia.
“Nothing,” Kelly said innocently.
Tricia got up, marched around the couch, walked right up to Kelly and dragged her finger through the top of her slice. Kelly looked up at her in horror as Tricia licked the ice cream off her finger and smirked. “Yum!”
And with that, she turned on her heel and marched up the stairs. There was a stunned silence and then –
“Oh, this is war!” Kelly bellowed and everyone burst out laughing. Logan thumped the table, Krissy fell out of her chair, Hallie had tears leaking out of her eyes, Brenda had both hands over her mouth and May held her stomach, unable to take it. All the while Kelly sat thunderstruck, looking at the mark Tricia made and Abby stared blankly around the table with icing all over her face.
“And what exactly is going on down here?” said Miss Edna from the top of the stairs.
May struggled to pull herself together as the laughter subsided.
“Enough of your howling and clean up,” Miss Edna said, descending the stairs. “Oh, Abigail, look at your face!” she cried. “Isn’t anyone paying attention?”
The girls hastily shoved the last of their cake in their mouths and began clearing plates. Hallie and Fiona folded the tablecloth as May threw her plate in the garbage.
Not long later it was lights out, and May was sitting up in bed, looking through her camera roll, reliving the best day of her life. She had one of Peter peering at her over the top of his shades from the driver’s seat with a roguish smile, M.J. laughing while Peter tried to do the Gangnam Style in his seat, a view of the highway from the backseat, and a few videos of Peter singing.
May reached for her earphones on her bedside table and plugged them in, placing an ear bud in her earlobe. She hit the “play” button and heard the roaring wind and pounding beats, drowned out Peter’s terrible off-key singing:
“I don’t know about you,
But I’m feeling 22
Everything will be alright
If you keep me next to you!“
May smiled in spite of herself. “The poor guy’s tone deaf,” she muttered. Taylor Swift’s vocal range was a lot higher than his and his falsetto was way too pitchy, which made it all the more entertaining.
Peter was so laid back, fun-loving and energetic, it was hard to believe he was in his forties. May still found it hard to wrap her mind around the fact that this was her father: superhero by day and party animal by night. Well, he probably wasn’t like that all the time. They still had a lot to learn about one another.
As May flicked through some more photos, her phone buzzed and she saw a text message from “Dad”:
Night, May! Luv ya!
Her phone buzzed again and a picture appeared: the family photo they took in the kitchen earlier that day. She was grinning from ear, Peter and Mary Jane kissing each cheek. The sight warmed her heart.
I finally belong somewhere.
“Hey, May!” yelled a voice.
May closed her locker door and turned to greet a beaming Isaac, who was a little out of breath.
“Hi,” she said brightly, her heart skipping a beat. “What’s up?”
“You made the team!”
May’s jaw dropped. “Wait, what?”
“Yeah, Coach says you’re like a female Shaquille O’Neal,” Isaac said. “People used to underestimate him because he was big and slow, but when he drives to the paint, there’s no stopping the guy! You breaking the backboard … there are no words. You’re a force to be reckoned with. Coach wants you in the starting lineup.”
“Shut up!” May cried. “That’s unbelievable!”
And before she knew it, she was hugging him and his arms were around her, and she could feel his head against hers…
“Um …” she said, pulling back awkwardly. He too was a little red in the face. “So, when’s the f-first practice?”
“Uh, Thursday after school,” he said. “Three thirty.”
“Great,” May said. “Thanks. I’ll see you later.”
“Bye,” he said, and May watched him walk away, her head reeling. “What just happened?” she said to a dumbstruck Logan.
“You just hugged him,” Logan said in disbelief. “And he hugged you back! Oh my gosh!” she cried, grabbing May by the shoulders. “May! You two are so getting together!”
And then it hit May with a dull thud and her happiness melted in the space of a second. “But I can’t join the team.”
“Wait, what are you talking about?” Logan demanded, noticing the shift in her mood. “Of course you can.”
“After what happened at the tryouts? No I can’t,” May told her, lowering her voice. “I barely know how to use my powers. What if I accidentally web someone to the wall? It’ll be all over the Internet faster than I can run and the whole world will know who I am.”
“Well, that complicates things, doesn’t it?” Logan said with a frown.
May groaned. “How am I supposed to explain this to Coach? I’d need a really good alibi to get out of this one. I’m his new star player!”
“Just say that you had a very traumatic experience with basketballs over the weekend and now you can’t go near them,” Logan invented.
“Okay, right after I tell him I can spontaneously sprout four extra legs!” May scoffed. “That’s never going to work, Logan!”
Suddenly, May’s pocket buzzed again and she looked to see another text message from Peter.
Dad: Hey! Meet me in the Upper East Side at 4:00pm. Big industrial area. Time to become my little apprentice. 🙂
“Hang on,” May said. “Maybe there’s someone who can help.”