I couldn’t see anything. There was no light, and the overly cramped space I found myself in reminded me of that trash compactor scene in A New Hope. It had been several minutes now since I had been stuck in here and it didn’t look like I would be set free as quickly as I’d like. But the darkness and severe lack of elbow room weren’t the worst of it. No, that’d be the hand on my butt.
I shifted my weight in an attempt to escape the grasp. “Carlie-eee,” I whined in a hushed tone.
The soft giggle of my girlfriend sent a flutter through my heart. “What’s wrong, babe?”
She followed the question with a light squeeze that made me swallow any response I could have come up with.
Carlie Cooper. Studious, serious, and very handsy. We had been dating for about six months now and Carlie had made it abundantly clear early on that her love language was physical touch. Not that I minded, of course. Not usually. But hiding in a tiny closet in my only slightly-less-tiny dorm room wasn’t my ideal scenario.
“We’re supposed to be quiet,” I finally managed to breathe out.
“I’m being very quiet, silly. You’re the one making a fuss.” I could feel her warm breath tickling the back of my neck.
I felt her slowly slide a hand out of my back pocket, but not before giving me a final squeeze. Playful as Carlie might be, she always respected my boundaries. It was one of the many things I adored about her. Some of the walls I put in place were to protect her from my other life, and dating someone who pushed those limits would be a recipe for disaster.
“How much longer do you think he’ll be?” Carlie asked.
He would be Harry Osborn. One of my best friends who I hadn’t seen in more than half a year. Today marked his return from a rehabilitation center upstate, and we had planned for him to meet us at noon. It had been fifteen past when Carlie ushered us all into our various hiding spots after concocting a hasty welcome home surprise plan. Carlie and I had scored the closet, while our other two cohorts were tucked under the bed.
“Knowing Harry? We could be here another hour easily. I love the guy, but he’s never exactly been punctual.”
Harry and I had first met in tenth grade. The son of a billionaire, Harry had never let our different economic or social standings get in the way of our friendship. We had spent practically every day of our lives together until our respective graduations, and then we continued the adventure by dorming together at Empire State.
That’s when things kind of fell apart. Harry had fallen into the party lifestyle not long after our first semester. I knew he’d been attending frat parties and clubbing, but I never realized just how far into a pit of bad choices he had fallen. The drugs got ahold of him and by the time I noticed it was too late. It took a near-death experience for him to come to terms with his addiction and get the help he needed.
It’s my fault things ever got that bad, though. I had gotten too focused on my other life. Being the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man had been my own addiction of sorts in that first year of university. I spent more time in costume than I did in class or with my friends. If I hadn’t neglected Harry, then maybe I could have kept him from spiraling down that dark path. It was a mistake I wouldn’t make twice.
“Shhh, I think I hear something.” Carlie’s voice pulled me out of my thoughts.
She was right. I could hear the doorknob of my dorm room twist.
“Hello?” A voice called out from beyond the closet door. A voice I had heard only on the phone a handful of times in recent months.
I burst out of the closet, too eager to see my friend to wait for the moment Carlie and the others had coordinated.
Harry stood there with a perplexed expression as he watched me tumble out of the tiny space, nearly somersaulting as I tripped on some discarded clothes. The confusion quickly turned to amusement as he spied my girlfriend pop out of the closet behind me. Carlie gave a friendly wave.
“I hope I’m not interrupting,” his grin widened as he added, “I didn’t see a sock on the door, so…”
His voice trailed off as I wrapped him up in a hug and lifted him an inch off the ground in my excitement.
“Woah, buddy. You been hitting the gym?” Harry laughed and did his best to hug me back.
“You ruined it, Parker.” Flash Thompson slid out from under the bed.
Lily Hollister, Carlie’s best friend, pulled herself out from the bed behind Flash and immediately began smoothing out her long, blonde hair. “Surprise, I guess. Nice to see you again, Harry.”
Harry tried to peek underneath the bed before raising an eyebrow at me. “How many people are you hiding in here, Pete?”
“Just us. It was supposed to be a surprise party kind of thing,” I explained sheepishly. “I guess, I uh, was a little quick on the draw.”
Flash stepped up to Harry and stared him down. “Osborn.”
“Nice to see you, too, you big lug.” Harry pulled the taller man into a brief embrace.
We’d certainly come a long way from high school. Back then Harry and I had been nerdy outcasts, and Flash had been the bully making our lives Hell. But since starting college and getting out from underneath the thumb of his father, Flash had turned himself around. Now, he was one of my closest friends, and Flash had been the one to save Harry’s life during that awful night.
And Harry, well, I had to admit he looked good. Probably the best I’d ever seen him. In the final months before he went off to rehab, he had lost a ton of weight and had grown irritable and withdrawn. But as I looked at him now, I saw a confident young man in great spirits. He looked to have put on a lot of muscle and overall seemed much healthier, physically and mentally.
The four of us spent the next few hours in my dorm catching Harry up on all that had gone on in the last eight months since he’d left. How Flash was now the starting quarterback for the university’s football team. How Carlie and I had started dating. We never addressed the pink elephant in the room, our topics of conversation stayed light and positive, and honestly, it rarely entered my mind after the first hour. I was far too happy to have my friend back to worry about the past. He was better now, and that’s all that mattered.
Things were finally going my way. I found myself dating an insanely smart, incredible girl; my grades were trending up; one of my dearest friends had returned; and my efforts as Spider-Man were beginning to pay off as the stranglehold the Maggia had held on the city was steadily loosening.
This was my year. I felt at the top of the world, and I couldn’t think of anything that could possibly knock me down.