Wilom had intended to go over the ledger one last time on the morning of the next meeting with the Heads. When he woke up, however, he discovered that he couldn’t face that immediately. He got dressed, and went out into the kitchen to make himself toast and mentally prepare himself.
He was in the kitchen long before even Marc woke up, and nearly finished his toast before Marc did come in, stretching and yawning, but already in his work clothes.
“Oh, Wilom. You’re up early.”
Marc started to make the coffee while Wilom finished his toast, rinsed the plate off and put it in the sink.
“I heard you up and around a bit last night,” Marc said. “Restless night?”
Wilom shrugged. “It wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had.”
Marc passed Wilom a cup of coffee. “You seem to have had a few of those recently.”
“I suppose so,” Wilom said.
“Listen,” Marc said. “I know Cathlin’s having a hard time with work too right now, so I figured you probably didn’t want to say anything to her. But things are going fairly well for me right now, so if you need advice, or just to talk, we’ve usually got a good half an hour of a morning over coffee.”
“Thanks,” Wilom said. “But I bet you do a lot of that sort of thing for Cathlin, too.”
Marc shrugged. “She’s my sister. Of course I do. There isn’t a lot else I can do for her at the moment. I know you and I don’t get to talk much but, you’re a great help with Jilli and around the house, and you’re a friend now … so if you need to talk, I’m happy to help out.”
Wilom nodded slowly. “Thank you,” he said. What else could he say to that?
There are a lot of closed businesses, aren’t there? And people out of work …
Marc nodded. “You’re not wrong. But listen — if you’re the same kind of person at work as you are here, no company I can think of would let you go any time soon.”
Wilom gave him a small smile, trying not to let his surprise show. He’d heard the Ferryman’s Knowledge say that, but he hadn’t realised he’d said it out loud. He’d let his guard down. He would have to concentrate on that today — he couldn’t afford to let that happen during the meeting.
The fact that Marc didn’t — and couldn’t — know where he really worked took the edge off the compliment, but it was still comforting to hear.
Marc took a long sip of his coffee, and Wilom leaned on the bench. Neither of them said anything for a moment. Then Marc sighed. “I hear Jilli,” he said.
Wilom nodded. Now that he thought about it, she’d been awake for a while. She didn’t want to come out yet – she didn’t want to wake Cathlin up.
Marc finished off his coffee with a long gulp, and slapped Wilom on the shoulder. “It’ll be fine,” he said. “Don’t worry so much. Tell you what – I’m leaving work early today. Do you like pudding?”
“I …” Wilom realised that he almost certainly had never had pudding like Marc would serve. “What kind of pudding?”
“Bread pudding with custard.”
Wilom shook his head. “No, I can’t say I’ve had that before.”
Marc gave him an odd look. “Really? Oh, you’re missing out. It’s one of Cathlin’s comfort foods. She needs something to cheer her up, and you seem like you could do with it, too.”
Wilom smiled. “Thanks. I look forward to it.”
Marc returned the smile. “Well, I need to go, otherwise I’m going to be late. I’ll see you when you get home.”
“Yeah. See you then.”
Wilom took the ledger with him to the café where he was to meet Vanda.
Over a second cup of coffee that he didn’t remember purchasing, he tried to read the ledger again. His notes over the last few pages had gotten scrambled, jumping from one topic to another to the point where he honestly considered rewriting the whole thing over again so that he could at least pretend to have his thoughts straight, but it was far too late for that.
Wilom shut the notebook with a sigh as Vanda arrived and finished off the last dregs of his rapidly cooling coffee.
“Morning,” Vanda said. Her voice was chipper and cheery as ever, but there was an edge to it. “So, do I win the bet, or did you?”
Wilom gave her a tired smile. “Marc told me this morning that I could come to him for advice and sympathy if work was getting too difficult, because he noticed I’m not getting enough sleep recently. And Mr Trene took it upon himself to make sure I was eating regularly.”
Vanda studied his face, and then looked away as she sat down. “Yeah, you kind of look it.”
The waitress brought menus, but Vanda barely glanced at hers, and Wilom had decided on his tea when he ordered his coffee. They ordered before the waitress left the table. She took Wilom’s empty coffee cup with her.
“But seriously, though,” Vanda said, “Please tell me that you have an idea.”
Wilom shrugged. “I have something. But it’s pretty far-fetched.”
“That’ll do,” Vanda said, visibly relaxing. “I mean, all they asked you was to come up with something, right?”
Wilom straightened his notebook on the table. “Not really. That’s what they said …”
Vanda sighed. “Yeah, I know. Sorry. Just trying to be blindly optimistic.”
“I wish I could do that. Unfortunately, I was apprenticed to the ferryman. Character test is my second language.”
“That’s probably true, at that. What’s this plan, then?”
Wilom explained it as briefly as he could, pausing only while the waitress brought their tea.
Vanda swirled the tea in the pot as she listened. Wilom poured his tea as he waited for her to respond.
Finally, she said, “You’re right. It’s very far-fetched.”
Wilom nodded. “Yeah. I know. It’s a long shot.”
“I love it!”
“Of course! It’s going to be tough to pull off, but if it works …”
“Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. I have to convince the Heads that it’s a good idea first.”
Vanda opened her mouth and went to make a flippant response, but halfway through, she must have changed her mind. She put her hand on Wilom’s arm and said, “It’s still more than we had a week ago. We just have to sell it to the Heads, and we can worry about the rest after that.”
“Yeah. Wish me luck.”