Vanda woke Wilom up sometime after midnight.
“Want to come for a walk?”
Wilom sat up and rubbed his eyes. She was excited. He ought to at least try to be excited, too.
“Sure,” he said. “Just … let me get changed. And wake up.”
“I brought coffee.”
“Seriously? Where’d you get coffee this late at night?”
“It’s just instant. I do own a kettle, you know.”
“Right, right.” Wilom pulled a shirt on, glancing to make sure Vanda was looking the other way, and changed out of his pyjama pants into a real pair. “I’m done. You can look now.”
“And you can give me that coffee.”
“What about shoes?”
“I like to live dangerously. Besides, it’s not that cold out.”
Vanda passed over the coffee, and Wilom finished about half of it in less than five seconds.
“It’s not too cold, is it?”
“Nope. Just cold enough to drink fast.” Wilom sucked down the rest of it. “Right. Walk?”
“Sure.” Vanda opened the window and swung a leg out over the sill.
“Doing things differently today?”
“Can’t be the same all the time. Besides, I’m getting a little sick of the Pathways.”
“Can’t blame you for that.”
The night air was a pleasant temperature. Wilom rolled up his shirt sleeves.
He looked over at Vanda. “You’re looking at me oddly,” he said.
“I’m just making sure. I’ve been noticing …”
Wilom sighed. “Vanda, leave it be.”
Vanda bit her lip. “Sorry, sorry. It just bothers me, is all. You didn’t ask for this. It feels all wrong.”
“I don’t mind,” Wilom said. “I’ve more than put the argument behind us. But I don’t need to be reminded of it every time we have a conversation. I don’t need another thing on my plate.”
“So have I. It’s not that,” Vanda said, a little abruptly. “It’s the Ferryman’s Knowledge. You haven’t mentioned it, not even to complain anymore. But sometimes, you just look … vague. I can see when you’re pushing it down. I’ve been about to explode all week, trying not to mention it.”
“What do you want me to say?” Wilom asked. “That it bothers me? That I’m stressed? That I’ve got my hands full just trying to ignore it? That I have to concentrate on feeling because I think it’s all coming through fog? Or that I really don’t have to do that because the Ferryman’s Knowledge is busy feeding me information about how to react anyway? I don’t have time worry about all that, Vanda. I’m too busy trying to keep the Heads from sabotaging their own plans.”
“You’re worrying about too many things.”
“I know!” Wilom snapped. “I know, alright? I mean, the Ferryman’s Knowledge is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me, and I can’t bloody well stop and think about it, because I’ve got too much else to do! And even if I could, I can’t do anything about it, so my best option is to just put my head down, shut the hell up, and hope that by the time I can schedule in my little personal crisis, I won’t need it anymore. So, I really just need you not to remind me about it, because I don’t want to think about what’s going to happen if I give myself time to dwell on it.”
There was a pause. Vanda nodded. Hell. She’d been goading him. Well, might as well go all out, now he’d started.
“I mean,” Wilom continued, “I’d be the shittiest of ferrymen. You know I went back to the River without you once, and the very first thing I did was break the ferryman’s rules? I’d do fine for about a month before I’d bend the rules for one reason or other and probably doom the world or something. The ferryman has to know that! He can’t possibly not know.” He puffed out a breath. No, he wasn’t quite done yet. “Hell, you’re absolutely right. I never asked for this, or signed up for it, and I have no idea even how to be pissed about it, because if I’d asked about any of this, the ferryman would have told me. He honestly thought I’d figured it out. And I should have. I feel so dense.”
He pushed his hair away from his face.
“I guess he always credited me with more intelligence than I actually had.”
There was a pause.
Vanda shook her head. “It’s not fair. And you’re not dense at all. You can’t ask questions if you have no idea you need to ask them in the first place. Trust me, it’s not your fault.”
Wilom shook his head. “Sure feels that way.”
They walked in silence for a moment. Vanda put her hand on Wilom’s shoulder.
“Feel better?” she asked.
“No. But what the hell, isn’t this what makes our lives fun?”