Astonishing Spider-Man #23
Astonishing Spider-Man
A Celebration of Love
Part One of Two
Writer: Ben Kaine
Editor: Brian Provow
Editor-in-Chief: Jasmine Puga

Itís the freakiní Towering Inferno. You can paint the scene yourself.

Itís 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 Danteís 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: Thereís no way around it. Itís definitely callous. But thatís 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 Iíve been preparing all week for this single twenty-four hour period. I swear, canít a man have any off-time? Now Iím on the scene, though, and just because of that one little coincidence Iím expected to dive into this big roaring oven.

And of course, I do have to do it. Damn damn damn (my wifeís going to be worried sick). Know what? One day I swear Iím going to find someone to chew out about all this. Since youíre not in the business of fighting the forces of evil like I am, Reader, you may not know about them, but Iíve 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 Destinyís physical manifestation Iím gonna-

Oh, right! The fire! So of course, I run into it. Sure, the authorities notice me, but Iím fast enough to where they only barely manage even that. They sure canít 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 heís Martha Stewart and thereís a roast looking a tad overdone. Then Iím gone.

Know whatís funny? Iíve got such a reputation in this city by now, thatís all the hint they need. Someoneís shouting my name out by the time Iím through the windows.

"Look!" they say. "Itís the Goober!"

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

"Look!" they say. "Itís 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. Itís not the smoke thatís really affecting me. My eyes are shielded by my mask from the smokeís 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 Visibilityís approximately zip and there are plenty of dangers besides asphyxiation. Iím 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.

Itís slow going. A minute and a half into the murk, the skin under my suit gets so hot itís painful. I know instinctively itís 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 sheís closer. Still, the first voice is still crying out, asking me to for the love of God help her. But, I canít. I canít 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 hadnít been sure I was any closer, but I find the second one almost immediately. Sheís caught under debris in a nearby file room.

My first reaction, upon seeing her, is stunned disbelief. The girl Iíve found doesnít just have the voice of a man. She is a man! And sheís clad in a fire-resistant hodgepodge of city-issued equipment, too, which means sheís a firefighter. And still alive. I can hear her coughing as I lean down to pick her up, still trying to call for help.

"Donít worry, Baby. Iíve got you," I say to her. I pick her up. She finds the air to speak again.

"What- Whatíd you call me?"

"Shush, Doll. Conserve your strength. Iíll have you out in just a minute."

I ignore the weird look sheís giving me with her eyes of limpid gray. If Iím 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 sheíd 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, Iím 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 canít 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. Iím dazed, but I crane my neck, just to see real quick if the girlís alright. At first Iím worried. She doesnít 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 sheís alive. Thank God.

With that, I let my head collapse back down on the concrete again. Itís time to start thinking (Why not? My visionís a blur right now anyway. Iím sure not going anywhere). Hereís 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 sheís going to do when I get home.

First, sheís going to jump my bones. Ten bucks says weĎll 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 sheís going to rip me a new one.

I lie there on the street for a few more minutes. I canít really tell, but I think Iím surrounded by concerned-looking personnel for the entire time. I donít know. I just know that when I finally open my eyes again, all I can make out is the sun. The sunís just beginning to rise over the New York skyline. Itís 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, todayís actually an extremely important day. Itís a day I wait for and absolutely dread for three hundred and sixty-four days every freakiní year. Wanna take a guess? Tell you what: Iíll give you this one as a freebie.

Todayís my anniversary, Dear Reader That is, todayís the same month and day on which, several years ago, I tied the olí knot with my bride, the absolute unequaled love of my life. Her nameís Mary Jane Watson-Parker. I donít deserve her.

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

The rest of the day passes extremely quickly. I get home. Mary Janeís not there. Neitherís 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, Iíll be celebrating my wedding tonight with a big scar on my cheek). Once Iím done, itís time to get to work on all the last-minute arrangements for our romantic night together. I donít want anything to go wrong with our celebration tonight. Mary Jane doesnít 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 Iím letting my mind wander away. At a time like your anniversary, youíd be so amazed, Reader, how memories come rushing back. Or, I dunno, maybe you wouldnít, I guess, if youíre married. Maybe you know exactly what I mean.

Iíve been thinking a lot about this lately (I think as I wrap MJís present): I donít think an anniversary just commemorates the actual day you forged a new bond with your "significant other". I think itís more than that. It commemorates all the days since, all that time the bondís endured, whether itís only been a year, or a far, far more impressive amount of time (in Hollywood, thatíd be: two years). Thatís how it feels for me, anyway. I canít help thinking, allowing myself to remember everything Mary Jane and I have been through: How faithful sheís been through it all, how supportive sheís been , how beautiful and loving and great, and how IĎm the luckiest man alive to have her as my wife.

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

I have to tell you, Reader. ĎCause at a time like this, during the celebration of our love, itís 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, Iíve never told anyone these things before. You understand that, right? Remember that for me, will ya Reader?

Please, please remember that. Iíve never, ever told a single soul.

Alright, Reader, letís rewind a bit. My nameís Peter Parker, and until recently Iíve been an exclusive photographer for the Daily Bugle newspaper in New York. I know, I know, chances are pretty good youíve never heard of or seen me. But hereís the catch: Iíll bet what you have seen, Dear Reader, are my pictures.

See, Iíve 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 thereís anything thatís true, in fact, itís that the elusive lilí 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 Iím the original source of somewhere around half the photos of the Amazing Wallcrawler currently in existence. And this is how Iíve made my living, how Iíve put bread on the olí table for the last ten years. This is how Iíve 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, doesnít it? So far, Iíve covered up for this. Right now I tell everyone that Spider-Manís a personal buddy of mine, that I can contact him, gab with Ďim, and photograph him whenever I want (Hey, itís worked). Now, a lot of other photographers think Iím unethical and that Iím using an unfair advantage, but at least nobodyís figured out the truth about me and Spider-Man, which is of course this:

I am Spider-Man.

Heh heh heh.

And Iíll be darned if I donít just love it, too.

But I donít want to get off on a tangent. See, thatís not the secret. This isnít about a mask called Spider-Man, not really. Itís about Peter Parker. Itís about me. And if you want to know the simple truth? ThatĎs what makes all this so hard.

Time to fast-forward to the Present again, I guess. Reader, Iím 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 Lehrerís. 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 doesnít take me long to get the fire department. When I reach it, thereís a man waiting for me outside, smoking on one of those cigars that Jameson likes.

Itís odd. When I jump down from a flag post three stories off the ground to say hello , the guy doesnít seem the least surprised.

"Spider-Man!" he says. "I thought yaíd come."

"Um. You did?" Well, wasnít that nice.

Thatís when he holds up a copy of my magazine. "Iím a reader oí the magazine you endorse. Says in a few articles that you often return to check on victims after you save Ďem, I guess so you can see if theyíre alright and all. So I thought youíd come. I decided Iíd wait on you."

"Oh." Right. ĎMyí magazine. ĎThe Official Spider-Maní magazine. God, that still feels weird!

"Can I ask you a question?" the fireman asks. "I wrote a letter once, just Ďcause I was curious, but the editor couldnít answer it for me. How do you stay warm in spandex during the winter?"

"A lot of chicken soup," I answer. "Howís your boy?"

He smiles. "Swallowed a lot of smoke, but heíll be fine, Lord be praised! His nameís MacDonald, but we call him ĎMackyí. 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. Heís still talking: "Ya know, Webs, since you saved Macky, weíre all subscribiní. Youíve got our mark. You know that, right? Anything you need from this precint, all you have to do is ask. Iím the captain around here now."

"Thanks. I appreciate that." Iím 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 Iím coming for her."

I donít hear his reply. Iím too scared he might not get the joke. Once Iím 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. Iíve 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 itís all one big tightrope. The city twinkles below me. Itís all beautiful. Another half an hour and Iím 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. Itís too late for conversation now. Iím already looking at her dress. Itís the most amazing, gorgeous dress Iíve 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. "Youíre sweet, Honey."

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

Um, yeah.

I donít believe it, but weíre actually right on schedule. We leave the house at seven oí clock and get to the restaurant by seven-thirty. Weíre eating at her favorite restaurant. I wish I could say we do that more often, but itís the kind of place even a ritzy photographer like me canít 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, Iíll take one of those any day of the week.

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


Iíll tell you one thing: It wasnít because of the supposed "allure"of datiní a superhero. Sure, maybe there are some in the "superbusiness" who can use their profession to get the girls. Johnny Stormís a perfect example of a guy ready to use his celebrity status on a Friday night. But nobodyís 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 Iíve 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 wasnít the reason I got Mary Jane.

Iím guessing Cosmic Injustice was.

God, she doesnít deserve this. Itís 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. Itís been shut down down now. After that, the rest of the celebrationís kind of a blur. I know that when we finally arrive back at the house, the box of candies is emptied like lightning. There isnít 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, weíre in the bedroom and the lights are going out. In the dark, we descend on our bed. Sheís already kissing me and pressing her body against me. Itís a body a hundred men would kill for. Before I can even react to her advances her fingers are stroking me through my pantsí fabric. Through some miracle I manage to peel off her dress. But thatís when I hear a loud "zip".

I feel her hands. Theyíre inside my pants now. SheĎs got me.

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

Iím in her. We establish a rhythm. Before the nightís officially over weíve made love several times, each somehow feeling better than the last. Then afterwards, while her bodyís still shaking from her last, hardest orgasm, her warm bodyís weight comes to rest on me. She pushes her head against my neck. A minute later and Mary Janeís asleep.

I lie there for a minute until Iím sure sheís 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. Iím about to throw up.

Then and there, I need to be alone. So I open the window and climb onto the one spot where Iíve 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 Iím a guy with a pretty discerning eye for these things, and I can tell you the rooftop of my house is class. Itís the perfect place for thinking. So hereís what I think:

I think: "Parker, youíve just flawlessly completed another annual affirmation of your eternal love for your wife. Congratulations, Pal." And then I think: Yes I have. Yes, thatís absolutely true. And I swear, there isnít a word in the dictionary for just how horribly dirty I feel about that.

ĎCause every time this part of the year rolls around, I remember: Sheís 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 Parkerís 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 storeís roof onto the top of another. Itís 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 wasnít the first girl I ever- er, yíknow, 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 didnít, sheíd figure on it. Itís nothing Iím proud of, but in todayís society, you have to face it: There are few who havenít succumbed to sexual intimacy prior to marriage. Heck, with the kind of partying Mary Jane was known for back in high school, Iím probably not her first, either (but I really, really donít 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 didnít work out. But I still love her. I still love her too much.

And thatís why I feel like tying an anchor to my legs and asking Namor to chuck me at his house. Because of Mary Jane. Sheís 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 doesnít 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 whateverís gotten in my eye. When I finally think Iíve 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 donít want to be right now, just across the street from it, actually. Why does my demented subconscious do this to me? Iím here again, for the second time tonight. Iím standing in front of the church where Mary Jane and I got married.

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

Why exactly the church closed down, I donĎt remember. But looking at it now, itís a shame. The buildingís still beautiful. Itís 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. Thereís an urge in me. I canít 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 wouldnít be hard. Right? A quick jump and a lock pick is all it would take.

I canít believe Iím doing this. I jump. Alright, Iím going to go inside, but Iím not going to stay long. I just want to see it again, for whatever reason. Thatís all. Itíll be a quick operation, in and out. Thereís 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. Thereís a stone gargoyle on the east wall. His tongue is hanging out and waterís streaming out of his mouth, like heĎs always spitting or something. Címon, thatís 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 theyíre already open. Not forced, either. Either somebody creative or somebody with a key already took care of it for me. Either way, Iím starting to wonder if theyíre 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 itíd be. I thought the city lights outside would provide more illumination than this. I can barely see my hand.

Oh, thatís why. They took out the stain glass windows and boarded them up. They took out the pews and carpet, too. Plus the crosses, statues- Itís 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 Iíd 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 donít. In this building, I just feel severely creeped out. Thereís 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 hadnít 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 couldnít believe my luck.

Maybe Destiny doesnít need to be bitch-slapped after all. Maybe I just forget, when Iím having small problems like a hostage situation or a friendís 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 Iídíve already been paid back a thousand times, just by getting a girl like Mary Jane to be my wife.

Thatís funny. Suddenly, I donít feel so bad anymore. In fact, Iím suddenly feeling much better, like Iíve just been drowning and tossed an anchor. Isnít that weird? I guess coming to this old chapelís made me remember what I have.

No. No, thatís not it. My emotions are going all over the place. This isnít natural. Itís this chapel. It doesnít feel right. Thereís something here, whatever drew me here in the first place. Something that might have even let me in the door, I suddenly think, and thatís 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 heís been spotted, but with my speed Iíve covered the space between us before heís finished rising. I reach out and grab a bundle of clothing, jerking him into the light.

"Alright, Buddy," I say, hoisting him up. "Whatís the big idea, eh? Canít a spider say his ĎHail Maryí in- peace?"

Whoops. Well, how about Life and its little surprises. I swear, one minute you think youíve caught some psychic bad guy in the act, and the next: Well, youíre staring straight into the unshaven face of a man who obviously hasnít soaped in weeks. Iíve made an itsy bitsy mistake here. My earlier guesses were better. This guy is just a squatter. Well, letís 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 didnít 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 Iím still a little tense. "Sure."

"Thanks. Youíre not, er- Youíre 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. Donít worry about it, Pal. Iím just sorry I bothered you. Iíll be out of your hair in a second."

"Síalright. Youíre Spider-Man, ainítcha?"

"Thatís me," I say absent-mindedly. Iím giving the altar one last look before I leave.

"Whatíre ya doiní here? Looking for bad guys?"

"Nah. Todayís 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 canít help it. The grief is back. All of a sudden my heart feels like itĎs 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 couldnít wait to tell everyone. I was really nervous, but neither could I. But we couldnít announce it yet. We didnít have the means. We wanted to save up and make sure we could afford to get married."

"Ya donĎt say."

"Yeah. We were young. Both of us hadnít even been out of high school for too long. So we had to be careful. Plus, we werenít 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 couldnít wait."

Am I laughing or crying? Maybe itís both. "We were planning to announce the engagement on the very day Iíd have enough money to buy her a ring. I remember swearing I wouldnít 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?"

"Thatís right," I say. This time when I turn to leave, Iím determined to actually do it. I need to get out of this place. "She died. It was murder. Because I was ĎSpider-Maní, one of my Ďsparring partnersí took her hostage. He wanted to get back at me."

I keep talking as I leave the main sanctuary. But Iím not even sure if anyoneís 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 Ďmoved oní, and I married someone else. But Iíll tell you what, Buddy: Iíll never, ever stop seeing her..."

Moments later, Iím outside again. This particular streetís 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 donít 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 whoíll 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. Iíve got a wife. And I need to return to her. And I will.

Iím 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 weíre making love in bed, Iíll go back to her, and Iíll love her and cherish her until death do us part. Iím sorry, Gwen, but Iím going to be the best husband I can be to Mary Jane Watson (I fire a webline to the nearest building). Thatís what Mary Jane deserves. Sheís 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.

To be continued . . .