By Russ Dimino
As the bus's breaks squeaked to a gradual halt, Clark Kent and Chloe Sullivan gathered up their bags and made their way to the front. They stepped out into a beautifully sunny New York City day.
"Wow," Clark said as he looked up at the towering buildings and out at the bustling streets that surrounded them. "Guess we're not in Kansas any more, huh Chloe?"
Chloe rolled her eyes. "You already said that, when we really did leave Kansas, Clark." She struggled with her suitcases, which she insisted on carrying, despite Clark's offer to help her.
"I know… I've just never been this far from home before," Clark said, and they began walking down the street as the bus pulled away behind them. "It's really incredible. I thought Metropolis would have prepared me for this, but…"
"I came here once with my uncle and cousin, a few years ago," said Chloe. "We had a blast… I guess I'll have to give you the grand tour, Clark!"
Clark smiled. "I can't wait to see the Statue of Liberty. Think we'll have time to go up to the torch?"
"I don't think they've repaired it yet," Chloe said. Clark looked confused. "Remember there was that thing last year, some mutants had a fight on the torch and blew it up?"
"Oh, yeah, I forgot," Clark said. "Wow, do you think we'll see any mutants while we're here?"
Chloe fumbled with her luggage some more. "Clark, I doubt we'll see anything here that's any weirder than what we see back in Smallville."
Clark laughed. "So, how far is it to our hotel, anyway?"
Chloe looked around for a street sign. "I think it's just a block or two, this way."
"Do you want to try to get a cab?" Clark asked, as he watched Chloe nearly trip over the straps of one of her bags.
"I told you, I've got it, Clark!" she snapped, as he stifled a laugh. He didn't seem to be having any trouble carrying his bags. "Did you even pack anything? You're carrying your suitcases like they've got nothing but air in them."
"Uh… I just pack light I guess," Clark said.
"Hmm," Chloe said. She made a look over her shoulder, still not able to find a street sign. "I wonder if we'll see you-know-who while we're in New York," she said, turning back to Clark, with a hint of excitement in her voice.
Clark looked back with a blank expression on his face. "Who?"
"Who? Clark, who did I write my essay about for the contest that won us this trip?"
"Ohhh… him," Clark said. "I don't know, Chloe, do you think he's even real? I read on-line that he's probably just something the Bugle dreamed up to sell papers."
"I highly doubt that, Clark… haven't you seen some of the pictures of him?"
"Yeah, and they look ridiculous! Come on, Chloe… somebody actually running around in blue and red tights like that? No way. It's gotta be a hoax."
"Clark Kent, I can't believe what a skeptic you are! You are never going to be a good journalist if you can't learn to have a more open mind…"
She trailed off as she finally caught sight of a street sign. She dropped her bags at her sides in defeat.
"We've been going the wrong way," she groaned. "The hotel is back that way."
Clark went to pick up one of Chloe's bags, but she snatched it back up before he could get it. She spun around on her heels, grabbed the other bag, and begrudgingly began walking back in the opposite direction. Shaking his head, he followed behind her.
If either of them had only looked up at that moment, they would have seen the one sight that would have settled their debate… a figure clad in red and blue, swinging on a thread from rooftop to rooftop, dancing on the air as if weightless… the legendary Spider-Man, web-slinging his way around the city.
Flipping and spinning in the air, Spider-Man whizzed high above the skyline, then dropped down and landed firmly on the roof of a small café. Looking around to make sure he was not being watched, he hurriedly pulled off his mask. He retrieved his backpack, which he had stashed on the rooftop earlier, and pulled out a shirt and jeans, which he quickly slipped on over his costume.
Moments later, Peter Parker was sliding down the brick wall into the alley behind the café. He ran around front, just in time to see his friends, Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborn, getting up from one of the tables along the outside patio.
"Hey guys!" Peter called out as he ran over to them. "Sorry I'm late, thanks for waiting for me!"
"Um… we didn't, Pete," Harry said, his voice cold.
Pete looked at the table they had just gotten up from, and noticed their coffee cups both empty.
"Sorry Pete," Mary Jane said. He could tell from her expression that she had wanted to wait for him.
"Uh, that's okay, guys. Hey, what do you say we catch a movie, then? I've got the whole afternoon free…"
Harry sighed and glanced at his watch. "Sorry, Pete. I have to take care of some business at OSCORP this afternoon, I just don't have time." He took Mary Jane's hand. "We really have to go, MJ."
They started to walk away, as Pete walked after them. "Hey, guys, come on… I mean, can't you just stay for a little bit? I wasn't that late…"
Harry's driver pulled up in a black Rolls Royce. Harry opened the door for Mary Jane. "Business waits for no man, Peter Parker," Harry said, dryly. "You just can't afford to be late in the real world, my friend."
Mary Jane cast another apologetic, almost longing look back at Peter. She slowly got into the Rolls, and Harry followed suit. He shut the door without another word, as the car drove away.
Ever since Harry had inherited his father's company, he'd had no time for Peter or anyone else. Anyone except Mary Jane. Peter couldn't help but think back to the day of Harry's father's funeral, when MJ had told Peter that she was in love with him. After the Green Goblin had put Mary Jane's life in danger once, he knew that anyone he got close to would be at risk… so he felt he had no choice but to tell her that he only cared for her as a friend.
But it seemed that doing so had only pushed her back into Harry's arms. Harry was suffering from the loss of his father, and Mary Jane, hurting from Peter's rejection, found that the two could find comfort in one another. Pete slowly slipped back into the shadows of the dark alley… Where would he find his comfort?
Back in Smallville, Lex Luthor sat at his desk, reading the latest stock reports on his laptop computer. Just then, the doors to his office flew open, and Lex's father, Lionel, entered the room with his usual sense of gusto.
"Pack a bag, son," Lionel said, with a smugness in his voice.
Lex sighed. "Another 'father-son' getaway, dad? I don't know if I can handle the excitement."
Lionel sat down across from Lex, and slowly stroked his beard. "Do you remember Harry Osborn, Lex?"
"He and I went to Excelsior Prep together," Lex said, slowly. "You and his father were business partners years ago, before you formed LuthorCorp…"
"What's this got to do with me?"
"You and I are taking a trip to New York City, Lex. I need you to pay your old friend Harry a little visit."
Lex shook his head in disbelief. "Norman Osborn's barely in the ground and you're chomping at the bit to buy his company out, is that it?"
Lionel chuckled. "As I said, Lex… get packed!"