The following short story is based on characters created and/or copyrighted by Glenn Eichler, Susie Lewis Lynn, MTV, and Marvel Worldwide Inc. All other characters were created and copyrighted by Roland Lowery.

The author gives full permission to distribute this work freely, as long as no alterations are made and the exchange of monetary units is not involved. Any questions, comments, suggestions, or complaints should be sent to esn1g(at)yahoo(dot)com. Thank you.

"Howard Hughes was able to afford the luxury of madness, like a man who not only thinks he is Napoleon but hires an army to prove it."
-Ted Morgan

Lawndale Marvels presents:
Rise of the Green Goblin
by Roland 'Jim' Lowery

The echoing sounds of rapid footfalls filled the dark alleyway.

It had been a terrible mistake in the first place, she knew. Even though several of her friends had taken the shortcut over the past few weeks without incident, even though they all lived in the relatively crime-free suburb of Lawndale, entering that alley so late in the evening had seemed just a little too much like tempting fate. And fate had decided she was going to pay with - as the man chasing her had said himself - either her money or her life.

The dim twilight filtering through the alley's end promised freedom and seemed so painfully close. She pushed herself harder, screaming the entire way, but he was faster still and managed to snag her by the upper arm, twisting her around and forcing her to a stop.

"I told you not to run!" he barked at her. "Now stop foolin' around and gimme that-"

A loud thump nearby caused the man to whip his head around. He wasn't eager to have any witnesses to his crime, and the sound had been distinctly that of a person jumping down from somewhere. At first glance he dismissed what he saw as merely a trick of the eyes or jumpy nerves, but he quickly snapped back around again when he realized he had actually seen what he thought he saw. The girl, meanwhile, cringed down and tried to pull away from him but stopped when his hand crunched down painfully on her arm. It took her a few seconds, but when she finally noticed that his attention was no longer fuller on her, she looked around to see what he was staring at.

Standing in the middle of the alley was another girl, though her exact age was difficult to deterimine given that she was wearing a full body suit and a mask that obscured all her features. The outfit was predominantly blue and red in color, and the red areas were covered in a web motif and a large representation of a spider. Her eyes were covered by wide white lenses that almost seemed to glow in the dim light.

"well now, what have we got here?" the newcomer asked nonchalantly. Her voice was slightly muffled by the mask but still understandable. "Big ol' dude with a gun and a poor frightened teenager? Hmm, I wonder who could be the bad guy here?" She stroked her chin for a second, then waggled her finger in admonishment. "You know, you really shouldn't pick on girls. It's not very nice."

His shock worn off, the man pointed his gun menacingly at the strange woman and growled, "Who the hell are you?"

The spider-adorned figure shrugged and threw her hands wide. "Who, li'l ol' me?" she asked. "I'm just the gal who's gonna be kicking your ass tonight is all. PS, no guns. Guns are cheating!"

Before the man could react, she held out her arm as a strand of thread zipped out from her wrist and landed on the end of his pistol. With a slight jerk of her hand, she easily yanked the gun away, causing it to fly through the air and land in her waiting palm. As he stood dumbfounded, she looked the weapon over and scoffed.

"A pellet gun?" she said as she tossed it over her shoulder. "That's just embarrassing. You probably get laughed out of the bad guy hangout every Friday night, am I right? Does your girlfriend know you shoot pellets?"

"Shut the hell up!" Unable to get a full grasp on what was happening and more than a little riled up by the taunting, the man let go of his intended victim and rushed the other woman with fists raised.

The first blow was aimed directly for her head and completely missed. The next was for her shoulder and also neatly whistled through empty air. He then found himself flying up into the air as she spin-kicked his legs out from under him. As he was still suspended mid-fall, she twisted around and kicked upward into his chest, launching him backwards to land hard on the dirty, wet ground. After taking a few seconds to get his bearings again, he strained to get back on his feet while wrapping his arms around his aching body. As he did so, he felt something spray across his back with a sound not quite unlike silly string and was suddenly hauled up into the air yet again.

A bellow of panic escaped his lungs as he found himself somehow suspended halfway up the building wall and staring down with surprise at the girl he had tried to rob. She stared back up at him with equal bewilderment. The other woman was somehow right next to him, spraying him with more of the stuff from her wrists to bind his arms to his sides in what felt like a steel vise.

"Oh, hold still, you big baby," she admonished him as he struggled. "It's just a little webbing."

Once she had finished, the strangely attired woman dropped back to the ground and briskly swatted her hands together. "There!" she said. "That oughta hold him until the cops get here. You alright, miss?"

The teenager looked into the webbed face and stammered for a bit before she finally managed, "Yeh-yes! I . . . I'm not hurt or anything! Thanks to you! Are you some kind of superhero?"

The other woman turned her head slightly as if she were considering it. "Hmm, nah," she said with a chuckle. "Sounds a little pretentious, doesn't it? Just think of me as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Girl!"

And with a wave of her gloved hand, Spider-Girl shot a thread of webbing at one of the nearby rooftops and was gone.

Jane exulted in the feel of cold night air rushing past her body as she leaped nimbly from rooftop to rooftop. Adrenaline surged through her, and she had to fight the urge to simply crow out in victory. She couldn't have asked for a better first go at actual crimefighting. Everything had been perfect. Absolutely perfect.

It had been a mugging, a classic scene where there wasn't any middle ground on who was in the right or in the wrong. The guy had only been weilding a pellet gun, meaning there hadn't been any truly serious danger to anyone involved. She'd managed to get in some great quips, sounding just like an action hero should. And best of all, she had saved someone's property, their well-being, and possibly even their life!

Of course, she knew that last bit might be a bit of an exaggeration, but she was just too jazzed to care. It certainly felt as if she'd saved that girl's life in any case.

Once she had gotten a decent distance away from the alleyway where she'd trounced the evil-doer but good, Jane executed a perfect landing on a rooftop close to the major commercial sector of Lawndale and looked around to make sure no one was nearby. Once she was sure she was alone, she pulled up the hemline of her spandex top and fished a cellphone from one of the belt pouches she was wearing underneath. She then uncovered the lower half of her face, which was briefly illuminated by the glow and flash of the phone's screen. Once it had fully turned on, she dialed three numbers in quick succession and hit send.

"911, please state the nature of your emergency."

"I just saw a woman getting mugged," she said, giving them the address to the alleyway as well as a quick description of the girl and her attacker. Having dropped the dime, she turned the phone off and returned it to its pouch.

A smug feeling of accomplishment flooded through her. She'd saved someone, beaten on a baddie, called the crime in, and managed to perfectly protect her identity while doing so. The only description anyone would be able to give of her would be of Spider-Girl, not Jane Lane, and the cell she had used was virtually untraceable, a prepaid phone that she'd bought but never actually activated. All it could do was make emergency calls, and she planned to keep it turned off whenever she wasn't actively using it.

So very perfect.

Lawndale's commercial district was full of tall buildings, and Jane used that to her advantage, shooting out a webline and swinging deftly over the late evening traffic. It was also the area with the highest crime density in the suburb, so she wondered if she might be able to find a little more excitement and another person to save before the night was over.

Ever since she'd finished her costume several days before, Jane had been itching to finally get out and do something with it. Flitting about on practice runs in the temporary outfit she'd put together for her wrestling stint just wasn't the same. She was ecstatic the first night she'd gotten to go out on patrol, and she'd been doing it every night since. Only until midnight considering she still had school to worry about, not to mention a legal guardian who was lenient but not a complete pushover, but with the speed with which she had learned to webswing, she was able to cover quite a bit of ground in a small amount of time.

The high she had been riding from her victory was cut through with some sadness as she thought about how likely it was that there were crimes happening here and there that she couldn't possibly know about or stop. It had been pure luck that she'd finally stumbled across something going bad on latest run. Still, she knew that no matter how few lives she might save or how few bad guys she might catch in the long run, it was still more than would have been if she hadn't been out and about.

Memories of her brother's death threatened to overwhelm her for a few moments, but she shook her head and forced herself to focus. Despite all the practice she had gotten on the webs since gaining her new powers, she was still a little wobbly now and again as the updrafts and downdrafts caught her off-guard. She was still getting used to the strange forewarning buzz that she got in her head and learning exactly how to use it to float through the breeze with the greatest of ease.

Trent was dead, that was true. It was because of Jane's negligence, that was also true. But she remembered the promise that she had made while standing over his body.

I'll never let what happened to you happen to anyone else because of me.

No more dead brothers. Not if she could help it. With great power came great responsibility.

She continued swinging and gliding between buildings, keeping her eyes and ears and spider-sense open and ever-watchful for another instance of wrongdoing or any other sort of emergency with which she could help. While she did so, that small part of her mind that simply insisted on being preoccupied with other things quietly bemoaned the lack of silver on her wrists.

While she was still unsure of just what the bracelets in her costume's concept sketch could possibly be used for, she had come to realize that if nothing else they would simply look good. As things stood, she felt that her wrists were kind of bare and that she needed something there to really pop visually. Her artist's sensibilities demanded there be something to say "Hey, bad guys! Look over here, at my fists! They are dangerous and ready to punch your lights out!" She hadn't found the perfect accessories by the time she had finished the rest of the costume, unfortunately, but had gotten impatient to hit the streets.

The rest of her costume was absolutely brilliant, however, if she did say so herself. Aunt Amy was thankfully very supportive of Jane's artistic leanings and desires, so they had worked out a deal. Jane took care of various chores around the house, and Amy in turn helped her buy various items she required or desired for her various art projects. The spandex she had justified to Amy as being for a jogging outfit she'd wanted to make. And she had in fact made just such an outfit, then used the leftover to make her Spider-Girl outfit.

The lenses had been a little more difficult to finagle, though not because she needed to stretch for an excuse. Instead, it had simply been difficult to find one-way mirrored lenses that exactly fit the look she had in mind. At first she'd despaired of finding anything until she'd finally settled on buying a set of mirrored goggles online and then hand-cutting the lenses herself, which hadn't been easy.

Because superheroes could not crimefight on spandex alone, she'd found need of some low-profile underwear to use under it. She was particularly thankful for that bit of forthought on a night like the one that was currently descending on Lawndale. Fall was rapidly scooting along toward winter already, and she didn't figure anyone would be able to take her seriously if her glass-cutting spider-nipples were on display. Along with keeping her smooth, her new underthings also kept her slightly warmer than she would have been otherwise. Her new metabolism was keeping her fairly comfortable despite the chill, but every little bit still helped.

One of the most helpful items in her costume arsenal, however, was her belt. Several pouches lined it and contained all sorts of things she figured she might need while on patrol, such as her 911 cellphone. Her regular cell as well, which had started to vibrate in its pouch, signaling to her that it was time to start heading in. It hadn't felt to her like several hours had passed since her altercation in the alley, but looking over at a clock blinking the time from the side of a nearby building confirmed that they had.

With a bit of regret, she swung herself up into the air, deftly switched direction, and began to thread her way back home. It was a shame to put a cap on such a beautiful, perfect night, but she had other responsibilities to take care of and not all of them could be handled as Spider-Girl.

The second the ball hit her hands, Jane was in motion. From her point of view, the rest of the girls on the court seemed to be standing almost perfectly still as she weaved between them, always keeping the ball just beyond their reach. Her lips started to turn up into a grin, but then she pulled it and her heightened senses back down until she was only just slightly faster than a normal human being. She wanted to win, not to let everyone know that "normal human being" didn't quite apply to her anymore.

Two members of the opposition moved to block her movement, so she bounced the ball to one of her teammates without having to look over. The defenders shifted around to try and make sure she didn't get a return serve, but by the time they were in position Jane was already around and past them as she headed for the hoop. When the ball found its way back to her, she dribbled it once and then went momentarily airborne for an easy layup.

It was an extremely basic maneuver, especially given the fancy footwork she had displayed just moments before, but she figured there wasn't any reason to show off when it wasn't necessary. She'd already left everyone completely speechless once before, shortly after she'd first gotten her powers, and that had been more than enough. Especially when it came to Coach Morris, who was standing at the sidelines and watching the practice session with sharp eyes.

"Good job, Miss Lane, Miss Chequers," Morris called out as everyone started moving toward her end of the court. "Vasquez! Martins! That was sloppy blocking! If I see it again, you'll be doing laps until your ankles snap! Do you understand me?"

The two girls who had tried their absolute best to contain Jane glumly answered in the affirmative.

Morris nodded, satisfied. "Excellent. Now all of you hit the showers and get out of here!"

As Jane joined the throng heading toward the changing rooms, she smiled ironically at the praise she had been given. Even though Morris had become nothing but smiles and good words since Jane had joined the basketball team, Jane was still resentful toward the older woman for all the grief she had received over the past year and a half at the coach's venomous hands. And no matter what anyone else thought, she had not joined the team just to get Morris off her back.

"Hey, Laney!"

Jane's smile instantly became genuine as she looked up and waved at Harry. He waved back, a goofy grin lighting up his own face even though he was sharing close proximity on the bleachers with Flash and the rest of the rotten gang. Flash and fellow jerk Evan eyeballed Harry's back with daggers in their eyes, but neither of them dared to make a move as long as Jane was nearby. And even if they did decide to try anything, Mack sat next to them and looked perfectly ready to lay heavy hands down on their shoulders while letting them know exactly why they shouldn't. Brittany appeared as oblivious as ever, ignoring the boys momentarily while she waved and cheered for the last member of their little social circle.

Jodie Landon waved back to the blonde and Mack before they and the rest slipped out of view. She then matched step with Jane in the hallway and leaned forward to catch the other girl's attention.

"Good game," she said, favoring Jane with a smile.

"Oh yeah?" Jane returned guardedly.

Jodie nodded. "Yeah. You've really got some moves."

Jane mulled this over as they followed the rest of the team through a wide doorway. The locker room beyond was much the same as Jane figured every locker room looked around the world, at least if all the teen movies she'd ever seen weren't lying to her. She and Jodie walked in silence for a few seconds as they moved to their respective lockers, which happened to be almost directly across from each other.

"So, not gonna top it off with a 'way to finally get off your ass' or 'you'll always be Lazy Lane to us'?" Jane asked as she sorted through her stuff. She tried to keep the edge out of her voice and make it sound like she was just goofing around, but the words seemed to burn her throat like acid and it felt like only a limited success.

Jodie turned and leaned back on the lockers with a look of digust. "Ugh, sorry about all of that," she said. "Those boys are dumber than rocks. I swear to you, I tried to get Mack to make them stop more often, but he's just way too easygoing for his own good sometimes. At least he's doing a little better at it now. I mean, after you slammed Flash down that hallway-"

"Lucky hit," Jane interjected quickly. She shut her locker a little harder than she'd meant to then turned to face the other girl. "If Flash hadn't been standing like he was-"

"Hey, you don't have to try and explain it to me," Jodie told her, putting her hands up in front of herself. "All I know is that . . . well, look," she started again with a sigh. "I know I never actually said it loud or anything, but . . . I used to think of you as 'Lazy Lane' myself. It was unfair of me. And I'm not just saying that because you're actually taking an interest in things now. I just wanted to let you know that I'm sorry for thinking that way and for not trying harder to get the guys to leave you alone. I'll understand if you say no, but I was thinking . . . friends?"

Jane looked down at the dark hand being proffered to her over the bench, then back up at the rich brown eyes staring back at her. On the one hand, Jodie was a member of the group that had tormented her for the past few years. On the other hand, she had been one of the three who had bothered her the least, and her offer of friendship did seem on the up and up. At the very least her body language wasn't immediately screaming trap, and Jane's spider-sense wasn't tingling in the slightest.

"Why, Miss Landon," she finally declared in a faux-Southern accent. "This is all so . . . so sudden! But sure," she added more seriously, putting her hand in Jodie's. "Why not?"

Once they had shaken on it, Jodie grabbed up a shower cap and started stuffing her long dreds into it. "Cool," she said. "Thanks for giving me a second chance. You might consider doing the same for Brittany and that brain-dead boyfriend of mine."

Jane laughed. "I dunno . . . but then, you did leave out Flash and Evan, so I do believe I like the cut of your jib. We'll see. Just keep in mind that Harry and me are a package deal and there will be a strict no-beatie-uppie rule in effect."

"I'll see what I can do about keeping the dogs of war on their leashes," Jodie said with a smirk as they made their way to the showers.

Later, when they came out refreshed and redressed, they found Harry waiting for Jane right outside the door. Jodie gave them both brief goodbyes and then headed out to where the rest of her group was waiting for her courtside.

"So, getting chummy with the locals?" Harry asked as he put an arm around his girl.

"Seems that way," Jane confirmed, leaning into him with a smile. "Or at least we're putting down the groundwork for a full cease-fire. Seems legit. And I mean, I guess I could keep on carrying a grudge, but then my arms would get tired after a while."

Harry looked dubious but said nothing as they swept through the gym and out into the cold, overcast day. After sharing a brief kiss under the awning, they stepped out onto the walk and began making their way toward the only hangout nearby that was worth hanging out in, the Pizza Palace. It was only a few blocks away from school grounds, and once there they managed to snag their usual booth and ordered a large pepperoni with everything else on it.

While they waited for their food and drinks to arrive, Jane and Harry sat and talked about this and that and everything. The things that had happened on the shows that they liked. Stuff that had happened in school, much of it mundane, some of it strange, all of it worth mocking to some degree or another. The various foibles of his dad and her aunt. The state of the world and everything in it. And every once in a while he would see a shadow pass over her face. When that happened, he would put his hand over hers until it gradually faded away.

The pizza came with more than enough grease to pass teenage muster and was quickly washed down with Ultra-Colas poured from a pitcher into their individual glasses. Five pieces for her, three for him as per usual, leaving them both stuffed to the gills. As they laid back in the booth seats to digest for a minute, their quiet reverie was suddenly interrupted by an insisten buzz from Jane's hip.

"Uh oh, gotta go?" Harry asked, concern in his voice.

"Nah," Jane assured him as she began to type up a text one-handed. "Just Aunt Amy wanting me to pick up a few things from the store on the way in. I've still got a little time left if there's anything else you wanna do."

His eyebrows shot up in mock surprise. "Oh, is the great Jane Lane deigning to grace me with her extended presence?" he asked in wonder. "To what do I owe this honor?"

"Goof," she laughed, flicking a balled up paper napkin across the table at him. Then, more seriously, "Sorry about that. I've just been busy lately."

"No, hey, don't pay any attention to me," he told her with a dismissive wave of his hand. "You're still getting settled in, got a whole new life to figure out, I understand. As long as, y'know, I'm still gonna be a part of it. Y'know."

She leaned across the table and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "You know you will be."

The insecurity instantly left Harry's face as he returned the kiss before sliding out of the booth. He helped her to her feet with a gentlemanly flair, then the two of them wandered back out into the cold to wait for the cab he had called a bit earlier.

The trip to Crewe Neck was short and uneventful save for the fact that their driver was a guy in a duck suit and accompanied by a bombshell redhead in the passenger seat. Halloween had been nearly two months ago, but the two teenagers decided to let it slide without comment. For the most part the duck man himself merely nattered on about how he and his gal had been forced to leave Cleveland for a while, were temporarily slumming it in the hellhole that was New York City, and that the only thing that could possibly happen to make things worse would be if they were allowed to go back to Cleveland again.

After paying the fare and getting buzzed in at the community gate, Harry and Jane walked the short way up to the sprawling house where Harry and his dad lived. No matter how many times she saw it, and even with the fact that she had lived there for a few weeks herself, Jane was still a little intimidated by the imposing structure. The outside resembled a small office building instead of a house, and she knew from previous experience that the inside was more like a museum, filled with various bits of art that Harry's dad collected.

She was resolute in not letting her discomfort show, however, and followed her boyfriend inside.

"Hey, Dad!" harry called out as he and Jane removed their jackets. "I'm home!"

A muffled summons came from one of the back rooms, so the two of them walked across the plush carpet, through the hallway, and into the home office of Norman Osborn. Norman himself was standing in front of his desk along with another man, both of them dressed in very expensive business suits that only people of their go-getting type ever seemed to make look natural. They turned to face the teenagers as they came in, Norman with a subtle smile on his face and the other man looking much more outwardly pleased.

"Harry, I'm sure you remember Mr. Sloane," Norman said as his son offered his hand. "Jane, I would like you to meet Angier Sloane. Angier, this is the girl I was telling you about, Jane Lane."

"Delighted to meet you!" Angier said brightly as he shook Jane's hand, his sincerity seeming too sincere to her to possibly be genuine. "Harry, hang on to this one! If even half of what your father has told me is true, she's definitely a keeper!"

"Now now, no need to embarrass the child."

"I'm . . . not a child, Dad," Harry mumbled too low for anyone but Jane to hear. Then after a moment of thought, his expression fell to concern. "Wait, aren't you a lawyer? With Grace, Sloane, and Page? Dad . . . we aren't in any trouble, are we?"

Jane winced at the question and could see that both Norman and Angier just avoided doing the same. Though she still didn't know all the details, she - like virtually everyone else in the city who had even remotely been paying attention at the time - had heard about how Norman had been ousted as CEO of OsCorp, the company he himself had founded, after a series of unverified scandals had come to light the previous year. Though he had been cleared of all wrongdoing eventually, he had found it necessary to move to Lawndale and start over again with a new company that he was spearheading.

Though she felt Harry had been a bit too blunt with his question, she also knew that it was a perfectly legitimate fear.

"Let me field this one, Norm," Angier said, then took in a sharp breath. "I was a lawyer, Harry. But I've found that Grace, Sloane, and Page can run quite well enough without me actually at the helm. Your father contacted me with a business proposition last week, so I became a silent partner at the firm and have become a full partner with your father at Osborn Enterprises."

"Along with being an ace lawyer, Angier is also an accomplished engineer," Norman explained.

"Though I hardly get the chance to trot out that particular degree," Angier demurred as humbly as he could, "I saw that it was time to finally blow off the dust and get down to some work I can truly enjoy. Get my hands back in the grease, as it were. Or at least on the drawing board."

"So as you can see, everything is perfectly well in hand, son. In fact, better than that. With this new influx of funding and talent, we should be able to start showing a profit within three to four months at the latest."

"That's . . . great, Dad," Harry said, brightening a little at the news.

"But forget all that stuffy nonsense!" Angier chuckled. "How are you, Harry? Taking any accelerated classes? Joined any sports?"

Norman cleared his throat before his son could answer. "Unfortunately, Harry is a little slack in both his studies and his extracurricular activities. I was hoping that Jane could help motivate him, especially since she recently joined the basketball team . . . "

"Gosh, look at the time!" Jane suddenly exclaimed, looking at the wrong wrist. "Sorry, folks, but I've got a thing. It's been nice meeting you, Mr. Sloane. Nice seeing you as always, Mr. Osborn. Harry, could you walk me out?"

Norman and Angier murmured polite goodbyes as the teenagers left, then immediately went back to discussing business in hushed tones. Once they were out of the room and outside earshot, Harry heaved a huge sigh of relief and rubbed the back of his neck.

"Um, thanks," he said lamely.

"No problem," Jane replied, then gave him a quick hug. "But sorry to say this, I really do have to go. It's been fun!"

Harry smiled at her. "Sure. Want me to call you a cab?"

"Nah, just keep calling me Jane. I can just take the bus."

"Okay," he chuckled. "Hey, we're still on for tomorrow, right?"

Jane opened the front door, then leaned over to grab Harry by the collar and plant a strong kiss on his lips. "Wouldn't miss it for anything," she said, then swept herself out into the cold.

Guilt twisted through her gut like a snake as she made her way back toward Crewe Neck's front gate. She really did want to stay and spend time with Harry, more than anything, but she knew that if she did she would feel even more guilty. As difficult as it was turning out to be, she had to try and live up to all of her new responsibilities, of which Harry was only one.

The guard waved briefly at her as she stepped around the gate arm. She waved back, turned to the right, then passed straight by the bus stop without giving it a second glance. Once she reached her actual destination, an alleyway on the other side of the street, she opened her spider-senses to full and glanced around.

Almost immediately, time slowed to a crawl. She could actively feel the air as it flowed around her like molasses, and sounds of nearby traffic suddenly went from sharp and fast to a slow dullness. Jane had become a spider, and the alleyway was her web. Every crack in the concrete, every power line coursing through the walls, every inch of her surroundings sang a story to her. She knew that there was a stray cat stalking an insect nearby, the hapless prey lethargic in the cold weather and unaware of its danger. She knew that a couple was fighting inside one nearby apartment while in the building on the other side, another couple was making love.

Standing in the center of it all, she gave herself over to a few moments of feeling these sensations travel down the threads of her hyper-aware consciousness. It was intoxicating.

But she had things to do. A quick check assured her that no one was looking her way or was going to anytime soon. Folding her senses back into her head but still keeping an eye out, she doffed her civilian clothing to reveal the red and blue costume underneath. Gloves and mask were pulled from her pockets and slid into place, then the civvies were neatly packed into a backpack made of webbing.

The bus, Jane figured, was for chumps. Webswinging was faster, cheaper, and in her opinion, much more fun. Besides which, at that moment she had a bigger purpose to take the higher road.

When she first zipped out of the alleyway and over the streets leading away from Crewe Neck, the sidewalks were empty and the people in their cars were paying more attention to the road or their cellphones than anything else. The rush of adrenaline that normally accompanied webswinging jangled her nerves, but Jane forced herself to be patient as she carefully plotted a path through more densely populated and traveled paths.

And several minutes later, her patience paid off. A startled gasp and exclamation of surprise from below cause a smile to form underneath the webbed mask. Jane looked back over her shoulder to see two women, one of them standing with her jaw dropped while the other scrambled for her camera to snap a few quick pictures of the costumed weirdo passing by overhead.

Hmm, pictures, Jane thought as she waved back at them. That's something to consider . . .

As she went along, more and more people were beginning to notice her. When she could, she would wave friendly hellos and even stop for a few seconds so folks could get a good look at her. She knew there was the possibility that there were just as many people thinking the worst of her as were thinking the best, but good, bad, or indifferent, she hoped they were still curious about her in some way. If she was going to make a difference as a superhero, she figured that people would need to know that she was there. Crooks needed to be cowed, law-abiding citizens needed to feel safe.

Eventually they would all know her and know that Lawndale was protected from the depredations of evil. For the moment, however, she had to content herself with the knowledge that at least she and Aunt Amy would be protected from the horrifying specter of not having enough milk in the fridge.

A quick change out of costume, a quick run through a grocery store, and another quick change back into costume, and Jane was headed home. She thanked her lucky stars that Amy hadn't asked for eggs or anything else particularly fragile. Her balance was being thrown off badly enough by what she was already carrying, and she hadn't quite gotten enough practice yet with more delicate items. The last time she had been asked to bring in a loaf of bread had been a smushed, doughy disaster.

The trip wasn't very long in any case, and she stopped to change her clothes one last time a few blocks away from the house. When she stepped through the doorway and into the living room, she was once again just Jane Lane, average ordinary teenager.

"Hey, kiddo, what's shakin'?"

Aunt Amy stood in the kitchen, swiftly chopping up a carrot and swiping the bits into a pot of soup that was simmering on the stove. Her wavy chestnut brown hair was pulled back in a simple ponytail, a habit she only took on when she was cooking, which wasn't very often. Normally she was too busy keeping up with her writing to make anything more substantial than microwave pizza. Not that Jane ever found reason to complain.

Having someone taking care of her in a concentrated, non-lazy way was still something completely new to her. Though Trent had always done his best, his best was often filtered through the screen of clouds in which his head was perpetually stuck. Amy still had her own junk to sort through, but when she did manage, she was actually all present and accounted for, making those rare moments all the more worthwhile.

"Not much," Jane replied. "What's cookin'?"

Amy ladled up a small bit of her concoction, blew it cool, and then tasted it. "I'm not entirely sure," she said after a moment's thought. "Stew soup gumbo. Dinner. Thing. Did you get the stuff?"

"Yeah, I got the stuff. You got the money?"

Matching Jane's suddenly gruff accent, Amy narrowed her eyes and said, "Yeah, I got the money. You got the stuff?"

"Yeah, I got the stuff . . . "

They continued back and forth a few more times before making faces at each other and pulling the groceries from the bags Jane had set on the counter. While Amy put a bowl of rice in the microwave to cook, Jane started putting up the rest and reflected on the moment. Such a simple thing, a family dinner. But so important.

She had a small but wonderful family, a loving and patient boyfriend, a rising star as a basketball player, and a budding career as a superhero. Everything was coming up roses for Jane, and she felt like nothing could possibly go wrong.