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Despite the pain, and there was less than Dante expected, he had difficulty walking. Astrada was not happy with this. The damage was serious enough to make him a useless combat student. She gave Dante a few exercises to build his upper body and hasten repairing his sprained ankle, then sent him back to his home. Finding Tauren, she had to tell him his champion would be out of commission for several days.

The next morning Dante limped into work. His co-workers didn’t seem to register this fresh injury. They had grown used to their department head limping around. Although they thought he was getting better, this setback didn’t perturb them. The boss’s behavior over the past few weeks was odd enough. He was still easy to work with, but he didn’t join them in the extra-curricular activities like he used to.

Although he didn’t know it, somewhere on a subconscious level Dante was aware this short hiatus from the rigors of his nightly training would be short-lived. He intended to make the most of it. The most of it meaning more sleep. Although he enjoyed his evenings out with the staff, rest seemed a more precious commodity than socialization.

To his own set of staff members, the lack of his presence at their social activities was, at one level, problematic. They liked Dante a lot. As much as he was easy to work for, he was also fun to socialize with despite his timidity. They were wondering if he was becoming more intense and were afraid this might be a harbinger of tougher times for everyone around the office.

His two fellow department heads, Adam and Earl, guys he had been working and having fun with since even before they joined the company, were also worried. They weren’t sure if he was sick or growing old before his time. On the social front, as well as in the workplace, he was their leader. While both of them had a tendency to impulsiveness, he was the calming influence in their extracurricular journeys who kept them out of trouble.

Dante just didn’t seem interested in hanging out with them anymore. When he wasn’t claiming physical fatigue, he was telling them he was just plain exhausted, and he didn’t know why. They knew the doctor had given him a clean bill of health but based on the way he looked and what he said; they were unconvinced.

The other thing as one of them expressed was the fact he seemed to have gotten closer to Merilee. She had been hovering over him earlier after he had expressed his physical discomfort. Perhaps he was working out on the sly, hoping to impress her. She seemed impressed enough without the groans of agony that came from their normally inactive friend.

It confused Merilee, too. During the back rubs she provided from time to time, in fact, whenever her duties brought her close, she tried to encourage him to join the group at the next big after work, social activity. A new band and a new comedian were being featured at their favorite watering hole.

Another time it would have interested Dante. He had heard this band was a good one, and the word spread that the new comic’s routine was hilarious. But, each time Merilee asked, “I’m exhausted,” was the best he could respond.

Give Merilee credit, she was persistent. Everyone was going to the club on Friday. “That gives you two days to rest and I promise, no one is going to ask you to dance.”

Merilee was hard to resist. Dante knew he would enjoy the evening with his friends, and he was finding himself becoming fond of this pretty female fireball. It was difficult to put aside the vague feeling that once he was better, the decent rest he was now getting for the first time in months would end.

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