—–“Thank you for all that you are doing” says Mary Jane while she closes the window without looking away from the buildings between which Peter has disappeared.
Felicia, surprised, answers impulsively.
—–“There is nothing to thank me for, you know I would do anything for him… and for the people who matter the most to him.” She looks at May. “I have hardly spoken to her in all these years, although Peter has been fixing that… more or less. He tells me anecdotes about her any chance he gets: May this, May that…”
—–Sad and contemplative, Mary Jane remains in silence while she slowly draws the blinds; the quiet noise breaks the reigning but short-lived calm. That same noise has been the background music for many memories about May, which she now recalls. She then manages an answer:
—–“I wish you can get to know her… despite her fragile appearance and her health problems she has extraordinary strength. She is so…” She becomes quiet with powerlessness. Felicia, who understands the lump in the young redhead’s throat, takes one of the water bottles and taking the lid off, she hands it over to her. Mary Jane takes it with tears running down her cheeks. After a long sip, she continues. “It would be like losing a mother! I know what that is, your world turns upside down, I… I don’t know what we would do without May. And for a while now… I don’t know what we would do without you,” she asserts before emptying the bottle with another long gulp. She leaves it on the coffee table that’s in between the sofa and the window.
—–Felicia is unable to speak, or to process the words just spoken by the person who has been her rival for Peter’s love for years. Slowly she rummages through the sports bag and produces another bottle, which she opens for herself. She drinks unhurriedly, buying a few seconds to find the right words. Without finishing the water she screws the lid and plays with the bottle; she lifts her eyes before answering.
——“Well, perhaps I’m only trying to fix the damage I have inflicted… I have done things I don’t feel proud of.” Felicia runs her left hand over the back of her neck and looks away embarrassed. “For threatening you or using Flash Thompson to hurt Peter. You know, I was furious with him but I didn’t really have a reason; I mean, it was me who pushed him out of my life. Despite all that, he opened the doors of his for me again. To help you is… it’s a way to thank him for that second chance nobody has ever given me before.”
—–While speaking of second chances, Mary Jane remembers the second time Peter asked her to marry him. With a grin, she nods in agreement.
—–“Yes, in that sense Peter is unique.”
—–“Absolutely! And not only him.” Felicia points at Mary Jane with her index finger.
—–“After what I did, any other person would have burnt me at the stake,” she adds gesticulating wildly.
—–“Not because I didn’t want to.” She points out, letting out an abrupt giggle.
—–“That’s logical…” Felicia halts the conversation, suddenly aware that fighting Vulture or Hydro-man is much easier than facing the mistakes of the past. “I… I owe you so many apolog…”
—–“No! Stop!” Mary Jane gestures for her to slow down. “What you did to me had no justification, but we all do things we are embarrassed about at some point, and others of which we are proud. Or have you already forgotten who helped us against that Osborn lunatic and his sinister eleven? And now there’s this.”
—–“Me…” Felicia explodes with satisfaction. “Fuck, yes!” Mary Jane is startled by her reaction, but she keeps talking. “It’s just that… it’s rewarding to know that I’m fixing things after screwing so many things up. I have spent a great deal of my life without worrying about the consequences of my actions, and that had to change sooner or later. And not because I wanted it to, as my father used to say: ‘If the game doesn’t adapt to you, change the game’. I guess that’s how you could describe my life, a game. It took me a long time to understand the true meaning of his words, and when I did… forgive me, this is hardly the moment.”
—–“On the contrary! I have spent the last three days with May while Peter looked for help. I have been rather lonely, and mulling it all over isn’t exactly helping. I need to talk to someone about anything or else I’ll go crazy,” Mary Jane approaches the couch and lets herself drop on it. Once she’s settled she invites her companion to do the same.
—–“So… shall I keep going?” Felicia asks
—–“Yes, please!” Mary Jane exclaims, her tone near begging.
—–“Ok…” Felicia sits down, still fidgeting with the water bottle, and continues her story. —–“Until my first year of university I believed that if I did the right thing and worked to achieve my goals life would reward me. It wasn’t like that at all, though.” She pauses, and Mary Jane recognizes the meaning of her expression instantly, so she intervenes.
—–“Don’t worry; you don’t need to give me the details if you don’t want to.” Felicia gestures thankfully at Mary Jane’s tact, tact that surprises her positively. She begins once again. “From that moment onwards, at university, I decided I would follow in my father’s footsteps, but with a subtle difference: glamour. You see, despite being a thief, my father was a good dad; he gave me an education and, though his job wasn’t exactly legal, most of what he stole went into my studies. He really did want me to have a future. However, life has a way of hitting you without reason, and well, we have to react to it. The question is how.”
—–Mary Jane interrupts.
—–“I understand… at least your dad cared about you. Mine only taught me the meaning of abuse and how to blame everybody else for your own mistakes. From the outside he seemed like an exemplary father, but it was all a sham. Perhaps that’s why I became a model.” She adds sarcastically.
—–“Whoa! That’s a bit much!” Felicia thinks to herself. “If a colleague heard you, she might be a bit offended, don’t you think?” She asks with a somewhat forced grin.
—–“Offended is spelled with an ‘H’, right?” Mary Jane jokes.
—–Felicia starts laughing at the same time she hits her forehead with exaggerated force, pretending the redhead’s words have knocked her out. Mary Jane keeps on talking. “I know, I know,” she gestures with her hands, as if she was erasing something written in the air and efficiently putting an end to the subject, adding. “You were saying?”
—–For a brief moment, Felicia feels the temptation of asking further about Mary Jane’s story, however, she decides against it accepting her request and picks up the tale of her own life and how she became who she is.
—–“When I was little I wanted to be a cheerleader for the Knicks, but my dad said that wasn’t enough for me, that instead I would be the first female team player. The starting center, no less! And that the boys would be the ones cheering for me. That’s where the whole ‘changing the game’ thing came from. But…” Felicia’s expression hardens. “Here I am! As I said, it took me too long to understand what he really meant.” She looks toward May. “And now I feel responsible for what happened.”
—–“You lost me.” Answers Mary Jane surprised.
—–“I don’t know whether Peter told you, but a few years back I made a deal with Kingpin: I let him grant me special powers in exchange for working for him. It was all a scam on his part, I got tricked like an idiot. If I had just kicked his fat ass when I had the chance…” Felicia kicks the underside of the couch. “Maybe May wouldn’t be in that bed…”
—–Mary Jane jumps in to defend Felicia from her own thoughts.
—–“Now that’s just silly! Peter told me about it years ago; it has been a long time, besides, if it hadn’t been Kingpin it would have been any other of all the creeps who have ‘SPIDER-MAN’ written in their black diaries, right next to: ‘Peter Parker? How didn’t I see that? P.S. I’m an idiot´.”
—–Felicia repeats Mary Jane’s notion while laughing:
—–“P.S. I’m an idiot,” her mirth is contagious.
—–For the first time, Mary Jane and Felicia let go of the tension that has been present between them for so many years; for more than a minute they feel like a balm spreads comforting them in the face of a murky present and an uncertain future.
—–Meanwhile, Peter arrives at Felicia’s attic, letting himself in through the skylight, as instructed by her. Once inside he checks out the place: it’s a furnished loft, decorated according to the latest trend, or so he thinks, he knows little about the subject. However, he does notice three things that interest him: the huge 50-inch television screen, the hydro-massage shower and the bed’s mattress. In fact, any flat surface would do, even if it were a table with nails on it, it would feel like a cloud to rest on. Peter puts his thoughts aside and remote-control in hand, he turns on the chatterbox to hear the evening news as he walks to the kitchen looking to raid the fridge. He does not look back toward the screen; he only listens, as he did every night before this madness: the Avengers, the Stark building, the Registration Act, the wars between superheroes, the shot… Peter is overcome by a fit of anger and throws a punch, only to stop himself on time: ‘Felicia’s fridge is not to blame’, he thinks at the same time he puts his arm down and scans the inside. To his surprise Felicia has left a note for him, right next to a few cans of his favorite drink.
Hello Peter, I knew you’d head to the fridge first of all. In the oven there’s a special hamburger with double everything and crispy bread, not that garbage soft bread that dissolves by looking at it. In the bathroom you’ll find shaving foam and a razor. They are there for a reason: use them. Don’t be a pig and take a shower, but use the men’s shampoo I bought you, if you use mine I will rough you up.
Bon appétit and sweet dreams! Your favorite cat: meow!
—–Smiling guilelessly he puts the note in his trouser pocket, happy he will be eating something decent for the first time in several days. His stomach is roaring with hunger, but first of all he takes a can and empties it in two large gulps. Then he takes another can to drink with his special, double-everything hamburger that is waiting in the oven.
—–Once they are back to normal after their moment of mirth full of mutual understanding, Mary Jane’s expression changes, as her voice turns sweeter, closer but resigned.
—–“Don’t blame yourself, even if you feel the need to. It won’t make May better.”
—–“I know, but I can’t help it…”
—–Mary Jane tries to convince Felicia.
—–“You cannot imagine how many times I messed up as a teenager. I mean, you’re not the only one who ‘changed the game’. Do you want to talk about mistakes and screw ups? Pay attention and write this down… A while ago, I just did my thing not caring about anyone or anything else, I only cared about me. Why?” She takes a breath and goes on as though it were standup comedy or a theatre play. “My father wasn’t happy with his family; he blamed us for his failures as a writer, he abused us psychologically, he even hit my sister. My mother, my sister and I ran from home. In time, my sister followed in my mother’s footsteps and forfeited her dreams for ‘love’, only to end up being abandoned by a husband who didn’t want responsibilities. My mother died shortly after that… My life beside them was a spiral of pain, so I changed the way I saw things and I ran from my sister’s house, leaving her alone with her two young children. I came to New York to fight for my dream to become an actress and a model; I kept the appearance of a smiling, happy girl without a care in the world, even though I felt torn up inside. I didn’t trust anyone, so I built a wall around me that would only ‘crumble’ when I was on the dance floor. As you can see we both have a past, and mine was running from responsibility and… be the soul of the party.”
—–Felicia, who hadn’t known about Mary Jane’s past, thinks for a few seconds before finishing with a joke:
—–“So, the soul of the party, huh?”
—–Mary Jane takes the bait.
—–“I bet I would tear you apart on a dance floor.”
—–Felicia answers as she motions STOP.
—–“That you’ll do what, now, doll? You don’t mean a triple jump with a spin? Because nobody beats me at those.” Felicia blows on her fingernails and brushes them on her blouse with mock sass as she flashes a glance of superiority. They both laugh again and Felicia continues. “By the way, what was Peter like on the dance floor?”
—–“Oh, God! He was terrible.” Asserts Mary Jane raising her arms and shaking her head vehemently. “I was really attracted to him, but I noticed straight away he wouldn’t be able to keep up with me. Which I found really strange because I knew his secret even before I met him; who would have thought Spider-Man was such a bad dancer? So I began organizing improvised competitions among the guys in the club to see if I could find someone who could follow my pace,” she lets a grin spread on her face. “It was madness… There used to be these huddles around me, made up of men whom I didn’t know, all trying to impress me.
—–“I think I can imagine. After all, you are a supermodel and an actress, who could compete with that?” Felicia winks.
—–“Hello? Says the woman wearing leather who jumps from one building to another, with an outrageous neckline and who just happens to be a super heroine. Now that, you can’t compete with.” Mary Jane leaves the sentence hanging in the air as she thinks. ´No… no you can’t´.
—–Felicia doesn’t notice the subtle silence of her companion and answers somewhat sarcastically.
—–“Yeah, right, super heroine! I haven’t got used to being called that yet. It’s a weird sensation, nice though.” Felicia smiles and after a short pause, she asks. “Well, and what would happen then, with so many fellows around you?”
—–Lost in her own thoughts, Mary Jane takes some time in answering.
—–“Eh? Yes, sorry… Well, what happened was that I didn’t really care; it was Peter I was interested in. I had eyes only for him, even though my behavior indicated otherwise. I went out with Harry Osborn to make him jealous, how silly of me. As I said, I already knew about his secret, but I didn’t tell him because my own feelings for him were confusing. I was equally terrified and attracted to him; which is why, when I saw him with Gwen I felt relief and rage at the same time.” Mary Jane recalls those past years and all they meant. Visibly sad, she bows her head and adds in a whisper: “Forgive me Gwen, I was an idiot.”
In Felicia’s attic:
—–Once he finished the hamburger, Peter decides against desert, but not against a third can of soft drink. He has been ignoring the television, partly because he isn’t interested in the news they’re broadcasting. When the time comes to shave his beard, Peter goes to the bathroom; he doesn’t recognize the man staring back at him from the mirror. He has never liked his facial hair, least of all when it’s so heavy. Ten minutes after, he runs his hand through his hair-free face: ‘mmm, smooth like Logan’s backside’. He knows what he has just said is incredibly silly, since Logan has hair even where the sunlight doesn’t reach, so he bursts out laughing, prolonging the moment as much as he can.
Still laughing, he enters the shower and looks around startled for a while: ‘How on earth does the hydro-massage work? For the love of God, Peter, you invented the web-shooters, is this damned shower really resisting you?’ Incapable of working it, he gives up and resigns to a conventional although comforting shower. As the water hits and slides down his tired body, the images of several super heroes intrude in his mind: The Thing, Luke Cage, Captain America… Then he remembers those long nights playing poker with them, he misses sharing anecdotes about their encounters with whichever villain they’re fighting. He is overwhelmed by sadness, knowing that time will never be back. As his mind wonders off, he begins singing Raindrops keep falling on my head by B.J. Thomas –a song his uncle Ben taught him to cope with the sadness and hatred Peter felt because of the mocking he suffered in high school. Little by little, the shower feels comforting once more, until the television interrupts abruptly.
‘Let’s recall one of the most prominent news, if not the most important one this week. Thor, god of Thunder, whom we thought dead several months ago, has come back to life. Although we don’t know whether a god can die, the report would be an anecdote if it weren’t for the fact that he has brought part of his world, Asgard, with him. The place chosen for this great ‘honor’ is the village of Broxton (Oklahoma). According to our latest information, Asgard is floating only a few meters above the Earth’s surface and is slowly being occupied by who we assume, are beings from Asgard itself. The god of Thunder has not made a statement, nor have the government authorities, so we can only speculate: have the gods arrived to conquer…?’
—–Peter reacts to the news as if it were an alarm, running out of the shower without rinsing. Wet and covered in soap, he puts on the clean clothes Felicia has folded for him on the bed. Seconds later he climbs out of the skylight.
At the hospital, Mary Jane’s words intrigue Felicia:
—–“Why? Why do you say that?”
—–In between sobs, the sad redhead tries to explain the reason for her sorrow.
—–“Since you came back into Peter’s life and you two started jumping around buildings together, fighting against the super creeps, I have understood more vividly the pain I inflicted on Gwen. During that time I wasn’t worthy of Peter’s love like she was, and despite that I never stopped getting in between them, trying to seduce Peter and to make her jealous.”
—–Felicia answers, devastated by her statement.
—–“The same way I’ve done with you?”
—–“He! Yeah!” Mary Jane laughs at the irony. “The same way you did with me.” She lets out a sigh that she prolongs unconsciously. “I wasn’t a true friend to her, and when I realized that I didn’t really know her, she was already dead. So young…” She buries her face in her hands.
—–Felicia runs her hand over Mary Jane’s shoulder trying to comfort her, she understands, because Felicia has a lot to say on the subject even if it’s not easy to share.
—–“As you said before, it’s not worth blaming yourself. I think Gwen would be happy, I mean, you make Peter happy and you give meaning to his life. No other has achieved that.”
—–After hearing such words, Mary Jane peels her hands off her face and stares at Felicia. For a few seconds they look at each other in silence, until Mary Jane, feeling brave, drops the bomb.
—–“Y-you are still in love with Peter, aren’t you?”
—–Without time to react, the missile hits home. Felicia finds herself unable to answer.
—–“No, no… He’s just a good friend, who is, who…” she looks away, nervous. She stands up and turns her back to the sofa.
—–“I’m sorry, I, I have no right to ask you that.” Mary Jane tries to fix the situation, realizing it’s getting out of hand.
—–Felicia shakes her tense body and breathes in vigorously; she counts to five and turns again to stare back at Mary Jane.
—–“Yes! I am still in love with Peter. I… have tried to rebuild my life a thousand times, but I always crash against the Peter Parker wall. Only Flash got close to breaking the wall but I used him. I… don’t want to come in between you two; I only want him to be happy and to help him as much as he has helped me.”
—–Surprised by Felicia’s honesty and bravery, Mary Jane feels a wave of unexplainable calm as a sweet smile creeps onto her face.
—–“I believe you. And, you deserve that I be honest as well… Peter has struggled a lot to see you only as a friend, and not to ‘fall into your claws’.” She makes a feline motion with her hands. Felicia can’t help blushing. Mary Jane continues. “He has told me this more times than I cared to hear, and, even though it pains me that there still might be hidden feelings, it helps that Peter is honest and trusts me. It gives me strength to trust him. I do sometimes feel there is a special chemistry between you two that we just don’t have.
—–“Well…” Felicia ponders. “I would say that I’m like a forbidden fruit, a temptation. It’s the way Peter put it once, and it might be true.” She adds, shrugging and sitting down again. “Look MJ, you’re incredibly lucky and probably a bit foolish… Perhaps you don’t know this, but I also had to stand beneath Gwen’s shadow. Although at the time I didn’t really care about the man’s life underneath the mask, he insisted on talking about Gwen and remembering her. He said great things about her, and when he started he wouldn’t stop, even his voice would change. He always ended up sad and I didn’t want to understand, though he didn’t realize how much it hurt to be compared with her again and again… In the end, however, he opened his heart. By the time I wanted to do the same, it was too late. I remember when Peter spoke of Gwen and didn’t have the mask on, his eyes lit up; the same way they do now when he talks about you. No leather outfit or scandalous neckline can compete with that.”
—–Felicia’s words hit Mary Jane; she is unable to stop herself from crying, because it’s like a light balm that she feels grateful for, although she still struggles with her doubts. Powerful doubts that she manages to put into words.
—–“But, when you held hands…”
—–A soothing smile appears on Felicia’s face.
—–“Dear girl, like Peter, I am stronger than the average person. Not as much as him or The Thing, but the fact Peter unburdened himself with me doesn’t mean anything. I am his friend, and that’s what friends are for…” Felicia changes her tone to amusing. “Actually, Peter called the agency asking for a HULK-HUG, but Mr. Smash-It-All had a tight schedule,” Felicia impersonates the Hulk, arms akimbo and brutish grimace; the impression draws a few laughs from Mary Jane, who still has tears running down her face. Felicia continues. “I understand your apprehension, there’s a lot of history between us and too much friction, but you shouldn’t… he decided long ago…” Felicia says with resignation. “I have taken part in many battles, and none of the ones I lost hurt as much as this; absolute KO. Yes, I fight alongside him out there, but his heart is always here, with you. The hope of seeing you again gives him the strength he needs to come back home safely. Do you know how many times I have heard your name during our fights against the ‘super creeps’? He always mumbles something with your name; especially if he is about to fall. You lend him that extra push he needs.” Felicia takes Mary Jane’s hand. “You have in your grasp the greatest love a human being can have for another person. Do not let it slip away, as I did… because if you do, I’ll be waiting.” She jokes, getting another smile out of Mary Jane. Felicia concludes. “Peter’s heart belongs only to you. No moron wearing a costume.” Felicia points at herself. “is going to steal him from you… although I understand the idea scares you.”
—–Mary Jane, without saying anything, lets go of Felicia’s hand. Slowly she stands up and walks a few paces towards May’s bed. She becomes paralyzed in front of her. After taking a sharp breath, she shares her fear.
—–“You cannot begin to imagine… I learnt how to live with this feeling years ago.” She sighs. “It’s something we have discussed a thousand times. We even talked about how sad it was that I got treated like a queen for doing nothing! Only move my ass and pose. However, he, who risks his life to save people he doesn’t know, who does deserve to be treated like a king, only gets chased and his constant sacrifices get tarnished. Even then, he still goes forward. That is part of who Peter is, his sense of responsibility… I would feel guilty if he stopped saving lives because of me, but the idea of him not coming back home one night, it’s always there, and it terrifies me. I have lost far too many loved ones for a lifetime.” Mary Jane caresses her abdomen, consumed by the pain of the memory. A memory that takes her back to that moment, when, after giving birth, she suddenly stopped hearing the cries of her newborn daughter. She wasn’t even allowed to see her; the doctors said it was better that way. Her little May Parker, who she was going to jokingly call ‘Mayday’, had life been a bit fairer. Her tiny May Parker, who didn’t even get the chance to be held by her parents. That was five years ago and the pain doesn’t go away.
—–A few quiet seconds tick away; Mary Jane walks around May’s bed until she is standing beside her. She kneels, takes her hand and starts to weep. Felicia, without saying anything, moves closer to Mary Jane, kneeling beside her. As a sign of support, she puts her hand on the upset redhead’s shoulder, who, unable to repress the pain and anger amassed for so many years, hugs Felicia.
—–Peter arrives at his destination: St. John’s Cemetery, in Queens, which closes to the public at night. Watching out for prying eyes, he jumps the fence with his trademark agility. Once inside, he rushes through the graveyard without a thought about how dismal everything around him looks; the thousands of poorly lit gravestones, some have a picture of the inhabitant beneath, some have fresh flowers, others dead ones, even the beautiful epitaphs that try to define an entire life and what it’s left behind. He doesn’t stop; he focuses only on his Uncle Ben’s tombstone. A few meters away from it, his shoes covered in mud, he slows down so that he can say hello and apologize for not coming sooner. He bows a little as a sign of respect, and after he touches the withered flowers that decorate the stone, he kneels behind it and begins digging with his bare hands. As he removes dirt, a small, yellowish light becomes visible. He continues to unearth it, impatient, until the light shines all over his top half. Excited, he looks back to the grave.
—–“Thanks, Uncle Ben!” with a muddy hand he extends an arm towards the light. Very carefully, his fingers close on the object emitting the radiation: the rune. A special kind of rune that can only be granted to mortals by the will of the gods; for instance, the will of the Asgardian god Loki.