My roommate was already sitting on one bed, but he looked at me as I came in. "Bobby Drake?"
I stopped short in the doorway. It was the same guy I had seen all day, the one with the blue eyes. "Wait, over-protective aunt kid?"
He ducked his head. "Please tell me that's not my nickname already. She was only here a few hours. I told her to let me come by myself."
But he seemed more joking than embarrassed so I took that as a good sign. I needed a roommate with a sense of humor. "You got that bed?"
"Yeah. Oh, but I can have the other if you really want this one," he half-stood, but I shook my head.
"No, one bed's the same as the other, I guess. What do you think about the campus?"
"Big," he grinned. "But fun. There will always be something going on. And we'll be right here. The trip time from Queens was a major drag."
"You lived in Queens?" I said, trying to make conversation. I hated how socially awkward I must be appearing while he was as relaxed and calm.
"Yeah, with the over-protective aunt. She's usually not so bad, but going off to college and all that. She needs someone to worry about."
"Well, you can always go visit her. Queens isn't that far."
"No, just a swing away."
"Huh?" I glanced at him.
Peter froze. "Uh, just an expression, you know. 'Hop, skip, and jump' is what some people say. I say 'swing.' I say a lot of things that aren't true or have any real meaning. Where do you come from?"
"A school upstate." I sat down on the bed facing him. "I really don't want to talk about high school – bad memories."
"Yeah, I hear you," he nodded.
We sat in silence for a moment, strained, awkward. I wanted nothing more than to start pouring myself out, to tell him what had happened to me, to let myself go and just be normal for a change, but I couldn't figure out how to start a friendship that would let me do that eventually. How do you tell someone how much of a mess you really are? How do you tell someone you're a mutant?
"I'm going to unpack and then wander the campus," Peter stood up. "It was nice to meet you. You want to go to dinner later?"
"No, I'm fine," I said before I could stop myself.
"Okay, see you later," he started unpacking his suitcase, humming under his breath.
When he left a few minutes later, I stretched out on my bed and stared at the ceiling. Why hadn't I said yes to his offer? Why was I closing myself off to potential friends on the first day of school? The semester hadn't even started, and I was already isolating myself.
Peter didn't come back to the room and I went out on my own around six. The cafeteria was open, and I got some food and wandered around campus to get used to the layout of the school. As the sky got dark, I went into one of the student centers to watch TV.
The news was reporting several crimes in Brooklyn and I watched several cop cars chasing a car when all of a sudden the car shot straight up in the air.
I leaned forward in surprise, but the camera zoomed to show thick webs holding the car up between two buildings.
"Whoo!" a guy, who looked like he could be a football player, whooped suddenly. "Spider-Man is in the house. Look at him go."
His girlfriend, a drop-dead-gorgeous blond, smiled. "Rick has a man-crush on Spider-Man," she explained to another female friend.
"Whatever," Rick waved her off, his eyes glued to the TV. "Can you imagine how cool it would be to be Spider-Man with all those moves and the web and the strength."
"Spider-Man could lift me up with one hand," his girlfriend smirked. "But you can barely lift – oh, stop!"
He had rushed at her and swooped her up in his arms, and she was laughing and telling him to put her down. Their friends were all laughing, too, but he finally let her stand and they kissed before he went back to watching TV.
Around ten, I went back to the dorm (still empty) and I played around on my laptop until about midnight. Peter hadn't come back, but I got into bed and left the side lamp on. I wasn't tired, and I thought about going for a run, but I didn't want to do much of anything.
I finally fell asleep, and I found myself in the middle of a familiar nightmare: the one where I got chased through the mansion by armed soldiers. This had happened in real life, but in the dream, the mansion kept going and going. I opened a door to find a hallway stretching before me and I ran down it only to find a door that opened, but when I finally got it open, there was another hallway. I started out with good friends, but they dropped away one by one until I was all alone. I kept running and running, and the soldiers were right behind.
I knew they would catch me, but my feet had slowed down and I ran so slowly that I was screaming in panic. They were right behind me, they would catch me, I tried to move but I was stuck.
"Hey? You all right?"
A hand touched my shoulder, and I sat up in bed and screamed as I covered the bed in ice, a cocoon to protect myself.
"Oh, shit!" someone yelled.
I looked through the blanket of ice to see Peter . . . up in the wall. He was at least three feet off the ground with his hands and bare feet holding him up on the wall. From his wrists, short webs spread around the wall.
I sat up, breaking the cover of ice. "Spider-Man?"
"Creepy Ice Dude?" he said, not taking his eyes off me.
"Ice-Man," I corrected, watching him without blinking.
"Mutant?" he guessed.
Again we sat in silence – well, technically he was crouching on the wall, his spider strength working against gravity.
"I think we should talk," he finally ventured.
"I have nothing to say," I countered, suddenly defensive.
"Yes, you do. Everyone's freaked out about mutants."
"You're Spider-Man – you have way more to explain than I do. I'm just going to school and pretending to be normal. You were out stopping crimes tonight."
"Maybe," Peter jutted his chin out. "Or maybe there's more than one Spider-Man."
"No, but I'm thinking about starting rumors so it will take the pressure off Spider-Man. If they think there's more than one of me, I can finally have a normal life."
"How would that help?" I moved my legs and the rest of the ice cracked and slid off the bed. "If they think there are multiple Spider-Mans – Spider-Men? – won't they expect like three Spider-Men to act at once?"
"I'm still working on the idea," he jumped down from the wall.
"You left webs behind," I motioned to the two webs that clung to the white wall.
"They'll disappear after a while," he shrugged.
"You don't have a way of cleaning them up?"
"You have a way of getting all this ice up off the floor?" he sat on his bed and glared at me. "You have to control your powers. You can't cover yourself with ice every time you freak out."
"You jumped up on the wall and used the webs."
"Yeah," Peter frowned, "because you freaked out. I touched your shoulder and I almost got covered in a blizzard. You have to protect your identity and not show your powers so easily."
"Because I was having a nightmare. I'm not going to have them in front of people."
"What if you fall asleep in class?"
"Shut up, Peter," I snapped at him.
"You first, Bobby."
"I'll make you shut up," I threatened.
"No, I'll make you shut up," he lifted his wrist and a small web of gunk shot out and covered my mouth.
Furious, I jumped out of bed and directed ice towards him. But he jumped out of the way, and the ice blasted his bed. I kept shooting ice at him, but he jumped all over our room until ice was everywhere and he had to hang upside down from the ceiling. I stopped flinging ice and tried to pull the webbing off, but it stuck over my mouth and would not budge.
"You asshole, what if it had covered my nose and I couldn't breathe? Get this crap off my face." Or at least that's what I wanted to say. What I actually said was, "Mhhmm-mmhm, mhmmh mh mm" and more nonsense sounds. I glared at him and motioned to my face, and he dropped down from the ceiling.
"Sorry," he looked pretty remorseful, "I shouldn't have done that. Hold still and maybe I can get it off."
He grabbed the web, wrapping his hand around the whole blob that had hardened. He pulled hard, but I got dragged forward, my face glued to the webbing. The webbing didn't stick to his hand, but it was cemented to my face.
I widened my eyes in outrage, silently demanding he fix me.
"Try the ice thing," Peter suggested. "Cover it with ice and see if it will freeze and break off, like when you drop things into liquid nitrogen and smash them with a hammer."
I blasted ice onto my face and the webbing got so cold and hard that it felt like iron. But it still wouldn't come off.
"It will come off in about two hours, maybe sooner," Peter said. "We can wait and it might disintegrate sooner because it's not used to being frozen."
I sat down on my bed, furious with him. I stared at him with as much intense hatred as I could direct towards one person.
He sat on his bed, hanging his head glumly. Every so often, he looked at me, and I glared back, and he dropped his gaze.
"I'm really sorry," he said again.
I held up my right hand and gave him the finger.
"Yeah, that's about right," he sighed. "I should have been in control of myself. You can hit me with ice if you like – I won't move."
The thought was tempting – blast him with ice and watch him chatter and shiver while it melted. But I didn't want revenge because then he would consider us even, and we were not even. I just crossed my arms and concentrated on hating him.
The longer I glared, the smaller he seemed to get. He rubbed his arms, and hunched his shoulders, and protested under his breath, "I do a lot of good in this city. I catch criminals with that stuff. I'm usually very careful."
I continued to look at him with pure loathing.
"Sometimes I'm a little careless. They write a lot of mean things about me in the newspaper. I can't stop them without revealing my identity. I take pictures for them and it pays a little, but I can't do anything about what they print."
I made a writing motion with my hand, and he grabbed a notebook and pen off the dresser and handed them to me. I flipped open to a blank page and wrote in caps: I DON'T CARE ABOUT YOUR PATHETIC LIFE, YOU SPIDER FREAK!
I showed him the page, holding it up in front of my covered mouth.
"That's not very nice," he dropped his head again.
I wrote on the page, not in caps: You gagged me with web junk.
"That sounds like a line out of a porno," he tried to kid.
Shut up! I wrote.
"We could play a game?" he suggested. "I brought cards. That might take your mind off – you know."
I thought about telling him where he could put his cards, but I didn't want to sit there for another hour and forty minutes, waiting for the web to crack.
He got out the deck and came to sit on my bed. The moment he was in arms' reach, I slapped him on the face.
"Ow," he said in resignation.
I thought about hitting him again, but I felt slightly sick from hitting him the first time. I didn't want to be mad at him forever – it wasn't like me, and my stomach was all twisted and upset from glaring so long. I decided to call a truce.
I scooted over so he could lay out the cards.
We played gin, rummy, kings, crazy eights, and even war. We were both pretty good at cards and we won rounds evenly though we weren't really keeping score. Peter talked a little as we played, and I found it was hard to stay mad at him for too long because he got this sad-puppy look every time I won. He was a good sport, but I always caught him making a glum expression when I put down the winning cards.
"Aw, man," he muttered. "So close."
I smiled, or at least I would have smiled if my mouth could move.
He made other cute comments while we played. In gin, where the object is to collect cards by number (3 of diamonds, 3 of heart, 3 of spades) or a run of suits (ace, 2,3 of clubs), he would notice that we had discarded a 4 of diamonds and a 4 of spades. "If you have a 4," he would shake his head, "you're thinking 'Bummer, dude'."
I couldn't find his tell because his expression was thoughtful, excited, scheming, and sneaky all in the space of about fifteen seconds. Had I not had a glob of hard web over my mouth, I would have really enjoyed the games.
After about eighty minutes, the webbing started to feel softer and the top was becoming powdery. On the wall, the webs had disappeared.
"Here," Peter reached towards my face. He dug his nails into the glob and I felt it start to crack. Small chunks of it broke off into ash-like dust.
"Move your mouth a little," he advised.
I shifted my jaw to the side and then the other. Most of the webbing came off, but some stayed around the sensitive skin surrounding my lips.
"That'll disappear soon. No, don't pull at it."
I dropped my hand that had tried to peel off the remaining web. I opened my mouth to swear at him until he cringed with the sheer mortification of being himself. But all I actually said was, "Jerk."
"I know," Peter dropped his gaze. "I said I was sorry. But give it a few more minutes, and it'll all be gone. Then we can go get breakfast."
The clock said 6:48, but I scowled. "I'm not hungry."
"We can go get coffee. Come on, we'll go out and we can talk. You're smart – maybe you can give me ideas about how to create an antidote that would dissolve the webs immediately."
"Yeah, and sell it to your enemies," I brushed more of the dried web off my face.
"Stop touching it. I'll buy breakfast as an apology."
I thought about snapping that he didn't have any money, but he was gathering up the cards and running to get our shoes.
I sneaked a quick rub at my face when he wasn't looking. One meal with the spider guy wouldn't kill me.