Teen-Age Spider-Girl Part 2

Part 2 of the Teen-Age Spider-Girl book!
" 'Is that real?'
It sounds like a silly question, but at the same time, the most logical. Maybe I'm dreaming, perhaps hallucinating. Anything makes more sense than the possibility that whatever it is that's standing before me can even exist.
And the person standing next to me can be alive."

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1. Seeing Pete

I enter the bustling classroom and take my seat with one of my best friends sitting right in front of me.  The desk next to hers is empty--has been for about a month now.  Every time I see it, my mind is taken back to a warm September evening on a rooftop.  But it wasn't just a rooftop, or just a Saturday evening.  It was the rooftop of the tallest building in the city; the rooftop of a bank on the evening of a robbery that was the reason for missing a school dance.  And I was gazing into the deep brown eyes of the boy who was to be my date.

But he'd been a liar, a thief, a criminal.  And I don't know if I will ever be able to trust him again.  The police caught him on that rooftop where I left him and he's been in juvie ever since.

In the last month, though, my alter ego's status has gone from "mysterious black-clad vigilante" to "masked super-hero".  I've stopped a lot of criminals--from thieves to murderers--and people are really starting to warm up to me.  I even found a reasonably-paid job where all I have to do is take pictures of myself--not the hardest thing in the world for a girl--fighting crime and sell them to the local paper.  But there are still people--including my employer--who'd like to see me unmasked and behind bars.  There are also those who just want me dead.  Just want me squashed like, well, like a spider.

Fortunately for me, though, I can only name six people (plus one I can't name) who know me--Josephina Johnson--to also be Spider-Girl.  Five of them are my best friends in the whole world.  One is nothing but a voice that I don't recognize, but it haunts me everywhere I go.  And the other one is the person I'd had a crush on for two years before he betrayed my trust.  I can't be sure who he may have released my identity to and I work really hard to keep it a secret--even from my own mother.

I often debate whether or not to tell her.  But it doesn't help that she's one of the people who still sees me as a "crazy vigilante" who should just let the police do their job...  Okay, so she didn't say it exactly like that, but she did say that she thought the whole thing was crazy, making it difficult for me to want to tell her.

Anyway, so that's where I am in life right now.  Senior year--battling homework and crime.  One body, two identities.  I'm still trying to understand where my powers came from, too.  I know the facts--woke up with a spider bite and started sticking to walls and shooting webs later that same day--but I don't know why a bite from that particular arachnid changed my genetic make-up.  Which brings me back to the bank where I acquired the only clue I have--an equation (or part of one).  I have no idea what it means or how to figure it out.  Not even Kyle understands it fully, and math and science are his best subjects.

The only person I can think of to help me understand it--the only person who ever put Kyle in second place at science fairs--is sitting in a cell at the juvenile detention center, instead of at a desk in a high school classroom.

I can't seem to bring myself to ask him for help.  To see his face would bring back too many painful memories.  But he's the only one I know who can figure it out, and the only one who knows where the other parts of the equation are.

"Sammi, I'm gonna go see Pete."

Sammi turns in her seat to face me.  She looks surprised, and I feel the same way.  Why did I just say that?  "Really?" she asks.

"I don't know."  I can't give her a definite answer.  I continue, though, as if I'm trying to convince her--or myself--that it's a good idea.  "He has answers we don't.  Kyle's been working on that equation for weeks and hasn't gotten anywhere.  Pete's the only one we know who can help us."

"Yeah, but... are you sure you can face him?"  I hesitate to respond, not really knowing if I should.  But my friend can see right through me.  "You can face him, but you're not sure you're ready."

I sigh, "Yeah, something like that."

Sammi looks at me for a second, considering, then says, "Well, if you're going, I'm going."

I had only half-wanted her to say that.  The other half of me knew I had to tell her no.  I shake my head.  "I have to do this alone."  She only nods slowly and opens her mouth to say something, then stops.  She gives me a sympathetic look before turning around in her seat as the teacher begins talking about Pride and Prejudice.  My mind wanders, though.  I think I had known all along that I was fighting against Pete... maybe.  Maybe I had intentionally not allowed myself to even think that the voice I recognized early on could belong to him.  Maybe it just seemed too impossible that the boy I'd had a crush on since Sophomore year could be involved in some petty bank robberies.  But, not only was he involved, he was some kind of leader in the operation.  And he always escaped when I was there to stop them.  And maybe I had subconsciously allowed him to escape because I didn't want to know why I recognized his voice.

That is, until the last time--the night of Homecoming.  The night I unmasked him and found out that the robberies had nothing to do with money--everything to do with something I didn't understand.  Pete told me on that rooftop that I didn't know what I was up against, that he could help me.  But will he?  Can he still--even after a month out of contact with the world?  I tell myself there's only one way to find out.

And that's to ask.

...

After school, I drive to the detention center.  I enter a room filled with many short tables where people are sitting to talk.  I imagine most of the visitors are attorneys, with a few parents here and there, checking up on their kids.

A familiar tingling sensation runs down my spine--the warning that has often saved my life--and I realize I am surrounded by several people that are in here because of me.  When I remember that none of them have seen my face, I let out a breath I didn't even notice I'd been holding since I entered the room.  But then I catch it again when my own blue eyes lock on to some deep brown ones across the room from me.

My body threatens to drop dead from strangulation right then and there because not only am I not breathing, but my heart seems to have moved to my throat and is pounding hard.  I try to seem relaxed as I walk to the table where Pete is seated, waiting.  I sit down in the chair across from him, mostly because I'm afraid I'll collapse if I don't, and I'm able to breathe again.

For what seems like several minutes, we just look at each other.  He's slouching back in his chair, arms folded across his orange jumpsuit with an I-told-you-so look on his face.

"So, what does it mean?" I say at last.

"What does what mean?"  I can't tell if he's trying to be funny or flirty or just plain annoying.  In any case, I am just plain annoyed.

"You know what I'm talking about," I say without even trying to hide the exasperation in my voice.  "The equation--what's it for?"

He looks at me for a minute, as if pondering something before saying, "You forgot to say please."

Why does that make me want to smile?  I'm mad at him, remember?  I may never understand my own teenage girl hormones.  I bite my lip to keep my face serious and say, "Fine.  Please tell me what you know."

"Okay," he says, and stands to leave.

"Wait--where are you going?"

He turns his head to me and says, "I'll tell you what I know...  If you do something for me first."  I raise an eyebrow at him, almost afraid to ask.  "Nah, you'd never do it.  You're too good," he says, giving up too easily.

He turns to leave again and I yell, "Wait!"  He stops and turns back to me.  "What do you want?  I'll see what I can do."

He then takes a step towards me and leans forward, both hands resting on the table.  "Get me out of here.  Then we'll talk."

"Pete, I don't have money for bail."

But he just laughs and shakes his head at my naïveté, then leans closer.  I can feel his warm breath on my ear and a different kind of feeling runs down my spine as he whispers, "With your abilities, you don't need money."

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