Scenery passed by in a blur of dappled light and shade, and I drummed my fingers mindlessly on the steering wheel as I hummed along to the music.
“Ahhhh!” I tried to jump clean out of my chair, but was prevented (thankfully) by the seatbelt. After a moment to calm my racing heart and ensure I didn’t accidentally drive off the road, I shot a glance at the passenger seat. “You’re a jerk!”
Dante lifted one shoulder in a lazy shrug. A few seconds ago, I’d been alone in the car on the way home from school drop-off. Now, I had a six foot something, semi-transparent man slumped in the passenger seat. He wore faded jeans, a torn t-shirt and had black hair tumbling loose over his shoulders. Feathered wings, black with a fascinating oil slick sheen in a rainbow of blues, purples and greens, poked down either side of the chair at what looked to be an uncomfortable angle – but given I’d seen Dante worm his massive body into far more unusual spaces, I knew better than to argue. He rounded enormous, dark indigo eyes innocently and said; “I’ve been called worse.”
“What are you doing?” I demanded, still riding the adrenaline of my intense fright.
“Sitting?” He gestured down the length of his body. “Well, sort of.”
That much was true. His shoulders were against the back of the chair, the better part of his spine was on the seat and his long legs were folded at a ridiculous angle to allow his feet to grace the dash. I turned my full attention back to the road, taking a few deep, calming breaths. Dante was a (possibly imaginary) friend who I adored, but his acerbic temperament meant I needed to be on point at all times.
“What are you doing scaring me half to death in the car at just past 9am?” I clarified.
He pouted, fluttering criminally long eyelashes in my direction. “Helping.”
“Dante -” I cut off, took another breath, and flicked the indicator on. Taking my freeway exit, I counted slowly to ten and navigated the upcoming roundabout. “I don’t remember needing your specific help at this point in time.”
“You always need my help, and I yours, we just don’t like to admit it. That’s what friendship is about,” he said stoutly.
I raised an eyebrow. “I thought friendship was about unconditional affection and maintaining an open line of honest communication.”
“Oh.” He frowned. “I thought that was marriage.”
“An excellent example of why you don’t have many friends.”
Dante straightened indignantly, planting one hand on the console to lean over the gear stick and poke me in the shoulder. “I have you!”
“And who else?”
“The kids can’t see you, or hear you.”
“Doesn’t know you exist, and if he did, he’d have me committed.” I tilted my head. “Or maybe not. He’s suspected my insanity for a while now.”
“Whatever.” He flopped back in his seat and crossed both arms over his chest. “I don’t need a posse to validate my existence. You’ll do.”
“Flattered,” I drawled, dragging the car around the corner and slotting into the morning traffic. “You still haven’t enlightened me as to your supposed intention to help.”
“Well, now I’m pissy,” he muttered, glaring out the window. “You can wait.”
I rolled my eyes and we drove the last ten minutes in silence, bar for the rustle of feathers as Dante shifted his wings. When I finally pulled into the garage and shut off the engine, he rolled his head across the chair to pin me with eyes fading from indigo to a deep, dark violet. “It’s only a month until your book’s due out, you know.”
“I know.” A combination of nerves and excitement fluttered through my gut. “I’m looking forward to giving people the opportunity to read it, but at the same time, I’m a little scared. I feel like I’m showing the world my underwear.”
“Well, it’s good underwear,” he said, watching as I got out of the car and shut the door. In the time it took me to retrieve my handbag from the back seat, Dante had appeared on top of the chest freezer by the garage door. His violet gaze was focussed off into the distance, wings half open. Against my better judgement, I succumbed to temptation and stroked the length of his soft, silken feathers. He made no comment, but dropped the wing slightly and opened it further so I had a better angle to continue.
“I like to think so,” I said at last. “I have faith in my ability to write and to know a good book from a bad one. But… it’s different when it’s your own work, I guess. What if nobody likes it?”
“You think they’ll laugh?” He asked, turning to look at me.
I snorted. “I hope they’ll laugh – I worked hard to inject some humour into it, along with love and hate and hope and fear and a whole bunch of other stuff that we live through on a daily basis. Laughter is welcome.”
“I want to write the sort of book that keeps people up at night. The sort of book that they skip lunch to keep reading, or accidentally put their socks on inside out because they needed to get in one more paragraph before leaving for work. I want to write the type of book that consumes people, in a good way.”
His raven wing slipped from my grasp, curved around my shoulders and drew me close. Dante wrapped both arms around me, patting my back while I rested my head on his semi-transparent chest. “You can do this.”
“It’s a bit late to change my mind now,” I replied, smiling in spite of myself. “I just have to hope for the best.”
“I have faith in your abilities,” he said, smoothing down my hair. “You have faith in your abilities. Fear is normal.”
“Marshy says I worry too much.”
“He’s right,” Dante chuckled. “But don’t tell him I said that.”
I rolled my eyes. “Your secret’s safe.”
He gave me a final squeeze and let go, hopping off the freezer and plucking my bag from my shoulder. “Come on,” he announced, leading the way to the interior door. “I’ll make you a cup of tea. That always cheers you up.”
“It does,” I agreed, smiling as I trailed him into the house. “Thanks, Dante.”
He glanced over his shoulder, flashing a brilliant grin. “Told you I came to help.”