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About a Girl

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i.

May hears Peter open the front door, immediately followed by: “I have to go.”

“You have to eat dinner first,” she sings, leaning her head around the open cabinet.

“I’m late for patrol!” His bedroom door slams shut, and then: “Sorry, May!”

She sighs, shaking her head and setting two dinner plates on the table. Peter might have picked up some stubbornness from her, but that just means May’s been at it longer, most often presenting itself as guileless enthusiasm. She is enthusiastic about the things she’s stubborn about, though, like getting her nephew to eat dinner and tell her about his day before he swings around the city.

“Peter,” she says, knocking on his door.

“Yeah?”

May pushes the door open, sticking her head inside. “I picked up Chinese on my way home, and you’re going to eat it so you have enough energy to do your homework after saving the neighborhood.”

Peter blinks. The ever-present dark circles underneath his eyes look even worse than they have every day for the last two months. May considers banning him from going out tonight so he can get a full eight hours of sleep like she knows teenagers need. Except she also knows he would still sneak out his window. And even if, by some miracle, he didn’t, he probably wouldn’t get the full eight, regardless.

“If you’re not cleaned up for dinner in five minutes, I’m going to show up to your next decathlon meet with a poster.” His eyes widen, so May jazz hands, toes pressed against the bottom of his door to keep it propped open. “Big poster! Lots of glitter and baby pictures.”

“Okay, okay, I get it.”

She smiles. “Love you.”

“I love you, too, May.”

 

 

Peter grabs a fork to more quickly shovel heaps of food into his mouth, and May chuckles, shaking her head. “How was your day?”

“Good,” he mumbles around a mouthful of lo mein. He swallows. “Sorry. Good.”

“Nope. We’re not doing that.”

“Doing what?” He looks up and a piece of hair flops into his eyes.

“I’m giving you a haircut this weekend.” May picks up a pepper between her chopsticks, popping it into her mouth. “And you’re going to tell me about your day. None of this teenager It was fine nonsense. Or ‘What did you do at school?’ Stuff business.”

“Okay.” Peter nods. “Um, relearned about the green light in The Great Gatsby. Oh! I heard a new joke. What do you need to reroute droids?”

“I don’t know.” May takes a sip of water and hums. “What?”

“R2-Detour.”

She chuckles. “Oh, good one.”

She doesn’t care too much for Star Wars, but hearing Peter talk about it reminds her of Ben, and keeping him alive is something May cherishes. They’ve moved beyond the awkward period where she’d burst into tears hearing Darth Vader’s theme through Peter’s bedroom door as he watched on his laptop. It’s still hard to say Ben’s name out loud without choking up, and Peter knows that, avoiding it accordingly.

May hopes it’s not another thing sitting heavy on his shoulders. He carries so much already, and she doesn’t want to be the weight that tips the scales.

“And, uh, MJ gave me her pudding cup at lunch. Which was cool. She had butterscotch, so.” Peter shrugs before gulping down all his water, head tipping further and further back.

“Who’s MJ?”

“You know MJ. She does decathlon with me. Uh, did, too. Before.”

May presses her mouth together, eyes looking toward the ceiling. “No. I don’t remember her.”

“You offered to give her a ride home after DC.”

May nods, thinking back. It’s not that long ago in her memory. Six years ago just like yesterday. “Do you mean Michelle?”

“Yeah.” Peter uses his hand to get the last scoop of food onto his fork. A noodle slips off.

“She goes by MJ now? Huh. I guess that’s one way to separate before the blip and after. I don’t know if it’s psychologically healthy to create a new persona, though. Maybe I can ask--”

“No, May, no, it’s not like that,” Peter tries. “It was before the--”

“--Dr. Linda. I mean, I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know. Maybe it’s actually a good way to process the trauma of losing--”

“Her friends call her MJ,” Peter interrupts firmly. He swallows, and the tips of his ears are pink.

Oh.” May’s mouth presses into an excited smile. “Oh, oh-oh-oh, I didn’t realize you two were friends.”

“Please don’t say it like that.”

“Like what?” She bats her eyes innocently. “Do I need to give you the birds and the bees talk again?”

Peter groans. “We’re just friends.”

“Mmhmm.”

“I swear.”

May sticks her elbows on the table and folds her hands in front of her plate, tilting her head. “You can talk to me, Peter. I give great advice.”

His exhale is loud. “Can I please patrol now?”

“I’m serious about being able to talk to me,” she says.

“I know.”

“Alright. You’re excused.”

“Thanks, May.” He rushes away from the table with a tight smile, leaving his empty plate and glass in his wake.

 

 

ii.

May rolls over, eyeing the clock next to her bed. She has to be awake in five hours for a meeting about the soup kitchen she’s attempting to revitalize as the world readjusts to the population doubling, more or less, back to its original size. Happy tells her the world never really adjusted to the blip in the first place, but May knows a problem is a problem, even if it’s just a different one. Many people are out of work, dealing with loved ones who moved on, trying to put back together the rubble of their homes and their lives, both literally and figuratively.

She’s trying to help. In the small way she can.

She was lucky, really. Blipped away painlessly at home, blipped back like she blinked. She was lucky because she didn’t have to suffer five years without Peter, and he didn’t have to live five years without her. Their apartment was otherwise occupied, and she scrambled to find a new place. They stayed with the Leeds for two weeks; but that’s the thing, they had people to rely on. Many of the blipped came back alone, ties severed or complicated. She was replaced at her job, but it was easy enough to start a nonprofit with her background in community organizing, with Pepper and Happy willing to help, and with the world around her crumbling.

May had already experienced trauma; her world had already crumbled, the muscle to deal with it still strong.

Her mind races too much, so she gets out of bed.

She’ll have a glass of water before another attempt at sleep.

The TV is still on in the living room. When May went to bed a few hours ago, Peter and Ned were debating the merits of The Godfather versus Goodfellas.

She emerges from the hallway, Peter focused on the television, but Ned offers a smile. “Hey, May,” he says.

“Hey, boys.”

She heads to the kitchen, grabs the ice cube tray, and begins working a few out of their slots before plopping them into a glass. When she opens the fridge to grab the knockoff Brita filter, she squints at the light.

“Can we watch something else now?” Ned asks.

“We’ve only watched two episodes,” Peter says.

“Yeah, and two is a lot. I don’t want to have nightmares about women murdering me.”

“I’m trying to get a real feel for the show.”

Ned sighs, exasperated. “May, can you please tell Peter to take his guest into consideration when planning a sleepover?”

“Peter, you should compromise with Ned,” May says, shutting the refrigerator again and taking a gulp of her cold water. “What are you watching?”

Peter says, “Nothing.”

Ned says, “Women Behind Bars.”

“What’s it about?” May asks, eyeing the paused Netflix screen.

Open bags of sour gummy worms and potato chips sit on the table. Peter and Ned have pulled the comforter off the Peter’s bed, and both boys have tired eyes, washed out by the artificial light of the TV.

“Women who were convicted of murder,” Ned says.

May takes another sip of water. “Why are you watching this?”

Peter says, “For fun.”

Ned says, “Because MJ was talking about an episode at lunch.”

May’s a little sleepy, so she rattles her ice cubes against her glass, helping them melt in the water, and blinks a few times before looking at Peter. “MJ was talking about it at lunch?”

“Uh, yeah. I mean, she thinks it’s interesting. Men are more likely to be serial killers and stuff, so it’s just like … interesting to see why the women who do kill do it.”

“Interesting?”

“Um…” Peter looks at Ned.

“You still refuse to watch The Sixth Sense because it scared you when you were little,” May says.

Peter clears his throat. “I’m older now.”

May hums. The water glass is making her hand cold, condensation forming against her palm.

“MJ thinks true crime is sociologically and psychologically fascinating. And creepy. The creepy thing is probably the real reason she likes it,” Ned offers by way of explanation.

“She’s not wrong,” Peter whispers, picking at a loose thread of the bulky comforter he’s pulled up to his chin.

“Not everybody wants to be creeped out at two in the morning!”

“It’s interesting,” Peter insists.

“We tried to rewatch Gremlins thr-- eight years ago, and it freaked you out so much you couldn’t sleep through the night,” May adds, eyeing Peter in amusement.

“That’s-- That’s different. That’s like your pet killing you. Your hamster killing you. This is like-- real. And I’m-- I’ve seen a lot worse stuff now than I had back then.”

Ned rolls his eyes and huffs, “I just wanna watch Adventure Time.”

“Listen to Ned,” May advises.

Peter pouts. “Fine.”

She downs the rest of her water, tossing the melting ice into the sink and setting her glass in the dishwater. She hears Peter say, “You don’t even really count as a guest, though. You practically live here, Ned.”

“May said,” Ned answers.

“I know.”

May ruffles Peter’s hair on her way back to her room. “We can watch some episodes together tomorrow. MJ sounds like a very interesting girl.”

Ned wheezes out a laugh as May shuts her bedroom door.

 

 

iii.

May knocks on Peter’s door, laundry basket propped against her hip.

He doesn’t answer, so she flicks her gaze to her watch: 8:17. She cracks the door open, sticking her head in. There’s an inch of space between the window and the ledge. He must have been in a hurry to get out tonight; Peter is usually very good at closing the window completely, keeping the curtains halfway open and light switched on.

May doesn’t know if that’s less or more suspicious, but she figures it’s easier for him to recognize his space without relying on memory and his Peter tingle if he can see into his room, a little light among all the dark windows. Especially if he’s exhausted, hurt, bruised and bleeding.

Setting the basket on his bed, May shuts the window, leaving it unlocked. She huffs out a breath, arms akimbo, looking around her nephew’s room. It’s messy, clothes strewn on the floor, a pile of Legos in the corner, and papers spread across his desk.

She considers telling him to clean it up, but she and Ben stopped doing that when he was 13. He may not be an adult, but if he wants to live in his own filth, he’s old enough to do so as long as he keeps the door shut.

There’s a stack of library books on his desk, too. She catches a few titles: The Artist, The Philosopher, and the Warrior, and A People’s History of the United States, and The Brothers Karamazov.

May didn’t know Peter still read books outside of required reading for school, and even then, she has her doubts. She knows Sparknotes. But the stack is tall, a few of the books thick.

She chalks it up to Peter not being able to sleep more than four hours straight.

 

 

Six weeks later, she receives an email from the library stating Peter owes almost $30 in late fees.

“Oops.” He scratches at the back of his neck. “Yeah, sorry. I’ll return the books and pay for them tomorrow.”

“I didn’t realize you were still an avid library-goer,” May says, sprinkling more salt onto her broccoli.

Peter stabs one of the florets she overcooked with a fork. “I’m not. Not really.”

“Were you studying the Italian renaissance?” May is Italian in a quiet way, unlike her mother and father who make big Sunday dinners and discuss the homeland with the reverence and nostalgia of their youth. May is proud of her heritage, but she doesn’t make a mean meatball.

“Um.” Peter blushes. “No. We had a decathlon study session at the library.”

“Makes sense.” She dips her chicken in barbecue sauce. It’s not as dry as it normally is, but it still needs something.

“MJ had mentioned them, or recommended them, or whatever. And so I went back and picked up what I could remember.”

“You remembered a lot.”

Peter’s flush deepens. “Yeah.”

May smiles softly. She sees the nerves sparking underneath his skin, and she only ever means to embarrass him warmly.

The table is quiet. The muffled clank of their silverware against their plates, an ambulance siren a few streets over, the television from the apartment above them. She smears her last piece of chicken in sauce.

“May?” Peter ask.

“Yeah, hun?”

“I like her a lot.” His face is still pink, and he bites at the corner of his lip nervously. It’s different from the excited way he told her about going to Homecoming with Liz, more cautious.

With a start, May realizes that it’s something weightier, steeped in more knowledge of who MJ is and who he is. Not all crushes are created equal, and as Peter gets older, there are going to be people he likes with larger parts of himself. People who are going to change in him more ways than she can predict.

She blinks, unsteady with the knowledge that he’s growing up faster than she’s prepared for. “Thank you for telling me.”

“I’m sorry about the fees.”

“We should get your library card connected to your own email now that you’re not five.”

He smiles. “Yeah. Okay.”

“Okay.”

“Is it bad to read books just because I know she likes them?”

May twists her mouth to the side. “I think it’s nice to take an interest in what she likes. It shows you care.”

“That’s what I thought.” He nods.

“It should be mutual, though.”

“Oh, I don’t-- I don’t know that she even likes me so…”

“For future reference, then.”

 

 

iv.

“She drew me,” Peter announces.

“What?” May asks, blowing a piece of hair out of her face as she stirs the waffle batter.

“MJ drew me.” He yanks his backpack around and digs through it, pulling out a sheet of paper. His face is scribbled in the right corner, too small to cover the notebook-sized page.

May stops stirring, sets the bowl onto the counter and tucks her hair behind her ear. She steps closer to get a better look at the sheet he’s holding carefully between his fingers like it belongs in the Louvre. She gently pries it away, examining the likeness, eyes shifting between the portrait and her nephew’s face. “It’s very good.”

“Yeah.” He takes it back, gazing down at it. “I mean. She’s drawn me before. She likes to draw people in crisis, she says. And you know me.”

“Often in crisis.”

“At least 50% of the time,” Peter confirms. A low estimate, if you ask May. “But she’s never given me one before.”

Peter slides into a chair around the table, and May resumes her stirring, eyeing the light on the old waffle maker she and Ben received from their wedding registry. Another kindness: her friends distributing most of her things among themselves while she was gone and returning them when she came back.

“That’s good, right?” May asks.

“I think so.”

“Good.” She smiles and nods once, definitively.

“Yeah,” Peter agrees, the wisp of a whisper.

May makes the waffles while Peter goes to pin the masterpiece MJ gave him to the corkboard behind his desk.

He returns to the kitchen, washing blueberries and chopping strawberries. Peter tells her about his precalculus quiz while he sets the table, and he asks about her day and how the homeless shelter is shaping up. There’s an excited spring in his step May hasn’t seen since Tony died, so she hip-checks him just to hear him laugh.

“These are really good,” he says, pouring a pool of maple syrup onto his second waffle.

“Thanks, Peter.”

There’s a pleased smile still curving at the corner of his mouth, and May tries to stab a blueberry that rolled off her waffle, but it keeps rolling, further away and through a puddle of syrup. She and Peter share the same mentality: breakfast food is meant to be doused in sugar.

“Sometimes I catch MJ watching me…” he starts before pressing his mouth together very seriously, staring at his food like it’s going to give him whatever answer he’s looking for.

“Oh,” May says, surprised. “That’s good, too, isn’t it?”

Peter swallows. “Yeah. Sometimes I think she might actually like me back.”

“You’re very likable, Peter,” she offers.

She has seen him very serious very often, from the day she and Ben picked him up from his empty home, shielded by police and then the sweater she took off her own shoulders to wrap around his, to the test he took to get into Midtown, the ice cream cake Ben picked up on his way home to celebrate Peter’s passing, to the night Ben died, to the blip. His face is a toned down version of that, too sad and serious for a boy his age.

“I’m not in crisis.”

May wants to laugh, but it comes out a bit hoarse and definitely concerned. “Excuse me?”

“In the picture she drew. I’m kind of smiling.”

“Maybe she did think you were upset.”

“Yeah.” His eyes narrow and he nods. She can’t whether he wants that to be true or not. “Probably. I probably was. Secretly in crisis.”

May exhales before biting at the corner of her mouth. She flips through a Rolodex of phrases her mom used on her when she was growing up: “It’s just a skinned knee,” and, “A nail drives out another nail,” and, “Keep your knees closed.” None of them are helpful.

“Even though you’ve literally been in more life-and-death situations than anyone should ever be in, it’s reassuring that liking a girl still feels like one. But I promise it isn’t. Enjoy it.”

He looks at her like he doesn’t quite know what to do with that.

She shrugs and cuts another chunk of waffle. “That little prickle on the back of your neck when you think she’s looking at you? Everybody gets that.”

“Right,” he says slowly.

“Was that bad advice? Do you want me to say something else?” May makes a circular motion with her entire hand as she thinks. “Um, don’t stare at her so much that it’s creepy. Always ask if you’re not sure. A nail drives out another nail.”

“What?” Peter’s eyebrows furrow.

“It means if something doesn’t work out, it’s just like an old, rusty nail, but there will be a shiny, new nail that will replace it.”

“She’s … she’s not a nail, May.”

“Take it up with Grandma.”

 

 

v.

May does her grocery shopping on Wednesday afternoons. She usually takes a long, early lunch, hits up the cheap market a few blocks down, and then works late to make up the lost time.

Tuesday evening, after getting back from patrol, hair still wet from his shower, Peter finds May reading by the lamp in the living room. “Hey, can I go to the store with you tomorrow?”

“If there’s something you want, I can pick it up.”

“Oh, no.” Peter shrugs, an attempt at nonchalant, but it doesn’t quite translate. “I don’t want anything.”

May arches an eyebrow, keeping her place with her bookmark. Peter gave it to her for mother’s day when he was in second grade, except he called it Aunt May day, and she had cried in her bedroom to avoid tearing up in front of him. His kindergarten and first grade classes had done similar arts and crafts projects, but Peter hadn’t given her those. Instead, he addressed the Mom’s Favorite Things book and paper flowers to his actual mother. May and Ben had carefully tucked them into a shoebox underneath Peter’s bed for safekeeping.

“I can give you the money,” he continues. “I wanted to buy it myself, but Delmar’s doesn’t sell the right kind, and I just thought…”

“I usually go around 11 in the morning,” May explains.

“Right.” Peter shakes his head. “

“What do you need?” May sets her book on the coffee table, unfolding her limbs and reaching her arms above her head to stretch. The bone crack of uncurling makes her feel old. “My list is still stuck on the fridge.”

“Um, green jello-o cups?”

May frowns. “You don’t like lime jell-o.”

“Yeah. I know. It’s just.” Peter sighs, and his mouth twitches down. “MJ hasn’t had anything for lunch the last three days, and she likes the weird texture of jell-o, so I thought I’d give it to her.”

“Ah.” May pushes her glasses up by the bridge, and her heart breaks a little. “Aren’t there school programs for that?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think she’s on the lunch program.”

“I could make an extra sandwich.”

“No, no. I don’t want it to be obvious. I don’t think she’d take anything if it was.”

May nods and presses her mouth flat. “Right. What if I bought little packets of Ritz peanut butter crackers? It’s got to be better than jell-o, and you like those.”

“But I know she likes green jell-o,” Peter says. “I’m not sure about Ritz crackers. She might have a peanut allergy.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll pay you back, I promise.”

“No, you won’t,” May says, waving him off. It’s moments like these that allow May to think she must be doing something right as a guardian. Peter’s a good kid. He’s kind, and he cares about other people, and she knows he’d just as soon ask her to buy string cheese for a boy in his class as a cup of jell-o for the girl he likes. “You don’t need to pay me back.”

“I want to,” he answers, eyes determined. He swallows. “That’s why I wanted to go with you.”

And even though May knows he’d ask her to buy string cheese for a boy in his class without any food at lunch, this is about the girl he likes, and that does make it different, more personal. “Okay, we’ll go after dinner if you think Queens can handle an hour without their friendly neighborhood Spider-man.”

He rolls his eyes, but he smiles, small and sincere. “Sure. Thanks, May.”

 

 

vi.

“So sorry, excuse me, excuse me, sorry,” May whispers, working her way through the people already sitting on the folding chairs lined up in the school gym. She shoots apologetic smiles their way as they try to shift their knees to the side, allowing her more space to squeeze by on her path to the empty seat next to Mrs. Leeds.

“I thought you were going to miss it,” Tala says, glancing at the watch on her wrist.

“Me too. My meeting ran late, and traffic was so bad I thought about messing with the MTA.”

Tala grimaces. “That’s bad.”

“I know.” May nods, crossing her legs at the ankles and setting her purse down in the small space between her feet and the chair in front of her. It’s smooshed and uncomfortable, but it’s the last decathlon competition of the season because the nationals board is experiencing some post-blip turmoil. It’s a shame how it ruins the kids’ chance to travel and genuinely compete, but at least the city figured something out. Even if the same three schools have scrimmaged with each other over and over as a result.

When it starts, May catches Peter’s eye, offering a thumbs up and bright smile.

He does a wonderful job, but May always thinks that. Not because she praises him when he hasn’t earned it, it’s just that he’s smart, and decathlon is a smart person’s game. May doesn’t usually go to competitions because she doesn’t know any of the answers, and, for a while, Peter stopped showing up half the time.

But between the blip and his crush on MJ, he’s been a reliable member of the team. Occasionally he leaves practice to help with some crisis, but it’s rare that he’ll skip a competition to simply swing around the city without imminent disaster already erupting somewhere nearby.

May calls it maturity, but she knows it might be something else, an uneasy mixture of trauma, grief and hormones.

MJ is smart, too.

May figured as much. Peter has liked smart women ever since he was little, rubbing his eyes and crawling out of bed when he couldn’t sleep, snuggling between herself and Ben during the last bit of The Mummy.

Midtown wins, but it’s not hard-fought. There’s little celebration in it.

May chats with Tala toward the back of the gym will the team debriefs, spring jacket folded over her forearm and purse pushed behind her back by her elbow.

“I lost him for five years, so it’s just hard to be away from him,” Tala says.

“I know, and I know I can’t understand, exactly. But if this whole thing taught us anything, isn’t it that we could all just disappear sitting at home on the couch the same way we could get hurt actually experiencing the world?”

Tala sighs sagely. “I know. I just miss him. I go to work. He goes to school. And it’s easy to forget that he’ll be home for dinner. The only time I don’t miss him is when he’s with me.”

May doesn’t know what to say, so she squeezes Tala’s forearm, mouth pressing into a small frown. “I know.”

“We’ll get coffee while they’re away?”

“I’ll pencil you in,” May laughs lightly, hoping humor will ease some of Mrs. Leeds’s worries.

They find their respective kids, and Ned and Tala head off to pick up Ned’s sister from her friend’s house. She was four, and now she’s nine, and Ned lamented that fact exactly once over pizza. He seemed to find it strange rather than sad, and May didn’t know whether to chalk it up to Ned’s positive disposition, a purposeful ignorance, or an emotional clarity that eluded most everyone else. There’s no point in dwelling on what was missed. It won’t change anything.

“What’d you think?” Peter asks.

May smiles. “You did great. The … uh, equilibrium of particles and linear … atoms and stuff.”

Peter laughs, shaking his head. “Thanks.”

“Hey,” MJ interrupts from behind Peter, voice wavering slightly.

Peter’s eyes go wide and he shifts his body so his back is no longer to her. “Hey, what’s up?”

“Your reaction time is good, but you need to hit the buzzer with less force.”

“Okay, yeah, sure,” Peter says, eager despite confusion wilting the words.

“Hi, Ms. Parker,” MJ says, addressing May with a taciturn smile.

“Hey, MJ.” May smiles back kindly. “Peter’s told me a lot about you.”

MJ’s eyes narrow, but her face remains passive. Peter, however, makes a choking noise in the back of his throat, one tiny shake of his head in May’s direction.

“No? No. He doesn’t talk about you. Ever? At all? Never?”

MJ blinks, and it’s a bit unnerving.

“Great job up there today,” May says, fumbling her recovery. Maybe Peter gets that from her, too. Oh, well, it’s endearing, at least.

“Thank you.” MJ presses her mouth together in another awkward smile like her face isn’t quite used to it. She shifts her weight to the outside of her feet, hands clasped together in front of her. “Thanks for coming. We’ve beaten Easten three other times already, so it’s not really a surprise. They’re weak when it comes to humanities. Even worse with physics.”

“Still a very impressive performance. You’ve clearly done a great job leading the team. I know Peter’s been a lot more focused since you’ve been in charge.”

“May, please,” Peter says, eyes pleading and ears starting to pink.

“Or … not?” May laughs, light and airy and absolutely forced.

“Thanks?” MJ asks, eyes cutting to Peter with a mild hint of interest. “I should be going. But um, good job today, Parker.” She punches him lightly in the arm.

Peter’s “Ow” is delayed.

MJ rolls her eyes. “I’ll see you Monday?”

“Yep.” Nod. “School.” Nod. “I’ll be there.” Another nod.

“Cool,” MJ says. “Nice to see you again, Ms. Parker.”

“May,” she corrects.

“Right.” MJ tucks a tendril of hair behind her ear, blowing some air out of her mouth and turning away. She looks back once, quizzically.

“Sorry, honey,” May apologizes.

“That was totally weird,” Peter whines. “You made it so weird.”

“I’m sorry!” May laughs, looping her arm around his shoulders to begin hustling him out of the school. “But I do think she likes you.”

“Shh,” he hisses, turning his head back uncomfortably to try and look at MJ again. “Sorry.” A beat. “Do you really think?”

May does.

She knows the fidgeting of fingers, the shifting of weight, and the causal, uncomfortable attempt at nonchalance well enough from her own days as a smitten teenage girl.

But she doesn’t know much more about MJ than the things Peter has told her: her nickname is reserved for her friends, she likes learning about murderesses, reading books about history and pain, scribbling out proficient sketches of May’s nephew, and green jell-o.

And so she says, “Trust your instincts.”

Peter huffs. “That’s the problem. They get all out of whack around her.”

May squeezes his shoulder before letting go. “You’ll figure it out.”

She glances back as she pushes open the gym door. MJ’s watching the back of Peter’s head like it’s more confusing than the college-level calculus equation she answered 30 minutes ago without breaking a sweat. She looks down quickly, bending like she’s busy searching through her bag.

“You gut always knows,” May insists. “I’m never wrong about these things.”

Peter’s smile is skeptical but hopeful, and she thinks that’s good.

Peter deserves a little bit of hope.