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Back to daytime in his room on the world called earth, Dante was uncomfortable. One on hand, things were shutting down while on the other, things were opening up. Having no memory of purgatory and the threats it faced, his daily life revolved around his work and the few activities he took part in. His capabilities may disturb his close friends and associates, but even more so, they surprised and frightened him.

He knew the promotion, and Vancouver was looming. In some ways he wanted to go. It would be a vindication of his years of hard work for the company. There were new and interesting challenges to overcome, and providing solutions was one of his strongest abilities. Furthermore, it would allow him to escape and forget the rejection he was feeling from his so-called friends and acquaintances. It could be the start of a new and better life for him.

There was also a deep and undecipherable desire to reject the promotion and stay where he was. His friendships he had built over many years and he had to admit for most of it they were there for him. Did he even want to leave them all behind? For a long time, he had enjoyed his job, and he liked the community right where he was. To be fair, he wasn’t aware how much of what appeared to be rejection as his friends shied away from him was because of the same thing bothering him, his sudden evolution into a superior athlete and physical specimen. If he could accept himself, perhaps they would return to accepting him.

There was something else about the promotion that troubled him. Analyze his thinking as he would, he could not figure out why it was bothering him. Whatever it was, he believed this subconscious doubt might well be the crux of the matter. Unknown to him, Tauren’s words, while not distinct in his memory, still infused his unconscious mind. It was a concern, because the Vancouver position was progressing towards vacancy and soon, he would have to decide.

The company wanted him to accept the promotion. He was a solid worker with a good mind for business and a rare quality of leadership. They expected, and were correct, he would do very well in the position and likely, in very short order, be ready for another promotion. This time it would be a full directorship or even vice presidency. Given the innate ability of earth’s champion, it could be a sure thing. At another time, it would be an absolute certainty. Now it rested in the hands of Dante’s interior storm and Tauren’s powerful influence.

He needed to talk, to be with those who were close to him. His parents had long since moved back to the Midwest. They had gone back to the commune, now a hip farm community where Dante had been born. He could FaceTime, Skype or Zoom them, but it wouldn’t be the same. And, anyway, they continued to be overprotective and anything he proposed, they would be certain to disapprove of. For them, anything that might endanger him, even the job he now held, was, to them, too risky. The dream they had shared when he was born had ordered them to protect him. They still felt it intensely.

Perhaps the dream voice could have been clearer about the form this protection should have taken. Dante’s parents had taken it literally and if it were possible, would have locked him away from the world. As it was, they hovered like the world’s worst helicopter parents, preventing him from becoming involved in any physical activity, even walking more than a short distance.

When Dante had left the family home after getting his undergraduate degree and proclaimed his independence, there was little more that they could do but beseech and beg and shed copious tears as they watched him head across the state to graduate school. As for his friends Adam and Earl, although Dante’s parents were always polite and affable with them, they may as well have been the devil.

These were his longest and most loyal friends. If he couldn’t count on them, who could he count on? When, that afternoon, he approached Earl and Adam to join him for a drink; they were astonished. He was still their friend, but in so many ways he was far different from the Dante they knew. While their perceptions may have changed, in the most important ways, Dante had not.

They had drawn back from the new and improved Dante, not because of anything he had done, but in deference to someone who seemed to differ from the person they laughed with and teased and shared beers. Perhaps they found it hard to relax with someone who could catch a crossbow bolt in mid-flight, swim out through angry waves to rescue someone falling from a canoe, or be courted by the manager of a semipro baseball team. How could such a person spend time with the likes of them, two guys who might do well at some stage in their lives but would never make that jump to the pinnacle Dante seemed to have already made?

The bonds of friendship were, in this case, much better established than the fear of disfavor. Their doubts about their own value in relation to their long-time friend didn’t disappear, but they accepted his invite with delight. It had been some time since they sat and chatted over an amber pint.

Besides Earl and Adam, Dante would have loved to ask Merilee to join them, but he still felt a twinge of misgiving about the forgotten evening and her cold shoulder afterwards. No matter, he had always shared a solid friendship with Earl and Adam. He found them to be honest and sincere, and he respected that. They would help him with his decision. So it was, after work, the three long time companions made their way to a popular local watering hole where Dante presented them with his dilemma.

Surprised, yet not surprised, the two friends recognized his dilemma. The logic of the company offering him such a promotion made sense. There was no doubt Dante was leadership material. They also understand his indecision regarding moving to the distant west coast. Neither Adam nor Earl wanted him to go. Losing their best friend was something they didn’t want, despite their standoffishness of late. Holding him back from something he deserved was not an option for them either. Both realized he deserved the promotion, but also knew that if he refused, his career would likely stagnate. It made for a long evening of back and forth until the beer buzz was strong enough to let them slip into their traditional silliness.

Dante stumbled through his door and collapsed on the bed, feeling better than he had in months. He had made a decision and would decline the promotion. Certain as he was, he still couldn’t pinpoint the key argument in his choice. Moments later, with his arrival in purgatory, he understood. Sitting up on his pallet in the practice grounds of purgatory to face the intensity of Astrada’s drills, Dante felt a slight headache. It was a mild hangover.

Tauren had once told him, beers and spirits, like explosives, had no effect in purgatory. There was wine to drink with meals, but without the kick. There were other sources of inebriation, but in earth’s domain, few were aware or interested. In other domains, especially among the living residents, some locally harvested drugs had greater or lesser popularity. This depended on the state of the domain and the particular guardian.

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