Merilee couldn’t remember Dante ever talking like this before. Usually, he focused on work when it was work time. This obvious disinterest was, for her, Dante being completely out of character. “What’s wrong with you, Dante? Are you feeling alright? I thought you had gotten out of the dumps last week.”
“I’m not in the dumps, Merilee, fact is I’m seeing things clearer than I ever have, and I now see this is only filler for me.”
“Wow,” Merilee was amazed. She would never have expected Dante to talk this way, “Let’s talk about this, boss.”
“Boss, shmoss, I’m just Dante, Merilee, and I’d love to talk about it… if it made any sense to me, at all.”
Ths peaked Merilee’s curiosity. She wasn’t sure who this Dante was, but she knew she liked and cared for him as much as ever. “Ok, when do you want to talk?”
At first Dante wasn’t sure if it was something he was ready to talk about, but then, this was Merilee. To his surprise, he wanted to talk to her. He wanted to reveal his secret, as bizarre and disturbed as it might make him look. “Sure, let’s go now. We can grab breakfast.”
“Now! It’s ten to nine,” Merilee looked around perplexed, “We have work to do.”
Dante laughed, “I looked at the schedule and like I said, it’s no biggy. We can spare a couple of hours. I’m the boss in the section. No-one will miss us. Grab your jacket, let’s go. Cafe Bleu is a suitable spot. I hear they have a great all day breakfast menu.”
Merilee was hesitant. Dante could see the uncertainty in her expression as she glanced out toward the room, then back at him. “Really, don’t worry. We’re not on a time clock. And, I definitely need to talk. If you’re worried, I’ll come up with an excuse. Maybe we need a white board or something, and you are my consultant.”
With some reluctance, Merilee agreed. They were going through the foyer when Dante noticed Earl about to come into the building. He grabbed Merilee by the arm and dragged her to an alcove near the elevators. Earl walked by without noticing them, which was exactly what Dante hoped. Merilee raised her arm to wave at him when Dante put his face close to hers and said, “shhh!”
This was a far more forceful Dante than Merilee had seen before. Why was he trying to avoid Earl? “Come on,” Dante gave her a big smile before turning toward the door.
That was new, too, and she had to admit, she really liked it.
As it turned out, the Cafe Bleu had an excellent breakfast menu, and the coffee was first class. For the first few minutes Dante scanned the menu without saying a word, then sipped his coffee while Merilee looked on, a little confused. “Drink your coffee. Merilee, it’s delicious.”
“I thought you needed to talk, Dante,”
“Yes, you’re right. I’m just not sure how to begin.”
Merilee could now see Dante’s discomfort. She had to admit he had hidden it very well. She tried to be helpful, “You know when I have something I want to talk about, I find the best thing is to just come out with it. I don’t think you could tell me anything that would shock me.”
Boy, was she wrong. Purgatory? Earth’s champion? Invading warriors… in purgatory? Merilee was thinking she was seeing a far different side of Dante than the one she knew. This was a severely delusional Dante. Yet, as she listened, she had to admit some of what he said had a ring of truth. His disappearing through the bed on her visit to his place made about as much sense as any of the other things about it she had speculated on. His amazing physical transition, his speed, awareness, catching a knife by the blade, his newly discovered athletic prowess. The rough water rescue and that story from Adam about him catching a crossbow bolt in mid-flight. These all caused her to wonder if there was some truth to what he was saying…. But purgatory?
“I need to recruit for the coming invasion,” said Dante, who was fully aware of how absolutely odd that sounded.
“The invasion in… purgatory?”
“Yes,” Dante reached across the table to clasp her hand, “we need smart, strong, athletic people to join our ranks.”
Dante paused, then looked at her with an eager expression on his face, “You would be perfect. Astrada is a superior personal combat trainer, she could turn you into a superb warrior. Want to see?”
Merilee was developing some concern for her boss and close friend, especially when, while waiting for her to respond, he calmly began to eat his order of bacon and eggs the waitress had set there earlier. Merilee could only pick at hers. She wasn’t sure if she should be frightened or maintain a respectful mien. “Seriously,” he said, “come home with me after work and I will prove it to you.”
Dante had made the offer, although he wasn’t a hundred percent certain he could prove it at all. He had to admit to himself that it all sounded strange. There was always the chance, encouraged by a small nagging doubt, that he really was delusional, but it all just seemed too real. He realized he had made a bold and worrisome offer. He was not sure if she would accept. “Ok, Dante,” Merilee said with a slightly harder than usual smile, “I’ll come with you after work and we can visit purgatory together.”
Neither was certain that she meant it, and aware of how far out his story must seem, Dante was prepared to accept she would refuse.
The rest of the day raced by. Back at work, Dante seemed little different from usual. He joined Adam and Earl in the lunchroom and discussed sports. They studiously avoided broaching the subject of his coming to work late or his coming in together with Merilee. Merilee, on the other hand, was far too agitated by Dante’s story and his strange offer to be able to do much of anything. She stayed in the office, taking lunch at her desk, nibbled at her sandwich, lost in deep thought, and kept coming back to the same questions. What was going on with Dante, and should she go home with him after work? A definitive answer to either of them was, for the moment, beyond her.
Merilee had to admit that some aspects of his story appealed to her. She knew she was not the cheerleader type. Thoughts of learning to fight and to serve as a warrior in this medieval style of war enthused her. If only it was real.
As the workday ground to a close, Merilee watched Dante with eagle eyes to see if there was any more out of the ordinary behavior on his part. She saw none. He was helpful when an employee asked for help. He went around the department from time to time and was very solicitous of those busy working. As always, he was there to assist, but never imposed himself. She was feeling relaxed by quitting time, so when Dante walked up to her desk and asked, “Are you coming?” Merilee felt confident enough to decide she was.
Dante was important to her, and if he was delusional, she would rather be there to talk him through it than send him off on his own with who knows what consequences. Dante helped her on with her jacket and taking her by the arm, walked out the door and along the street towards his apartment. All Merilee could think as he engulfed her arm in his was, “So far, so good.”