I noticed her as the sunlight pierced through the train car’s windows. Her reddish-blonde hair was unusual, and I thought that it would be better served being let down rather than being done up into a severe French braid. The girl was tall, perhaps close to two meters, and she stepped carefully down the aisle as the train took a graceful turn along its tracks.
She locked eyes with me. I usually try to avert my gaze, lest I be construed as staring. My heart skipped a beat as she came closer. I frantically tried to read the expression on her face. Was she annoyed that some stranger was checking her out? Would she tell me to fuck off? She could even slap me. I didn’t want to have a scene; the train car was pretty full.
“Is that seat taken,” she asked me, her eyes still locked with mine. I could not turn away. Her eyes were green, the color of a deep forest. Her voice was lilting, with the hint of an accent that I could not place. The seat beside me adjacent to the window was empty. “No,” I replied.
She nodded, and a hint of a smile crossed her face. The girl slid past me, deftly swinging her small backpack off her shoulder to the floor. I caught the faint scent of strawberries. “Thanks,” she said, settling into the seat. She looked out the window. The green of vast farmlands whizzed by in a blur. I looked into my lap at my tablet, the frozen face of Ethan Hawke staring back at me. Gathering up the earbuds, I settled the right one into my ear.
“Avant l’aube tout est possible.”
I stopped short of setting the left earbud into place and looked up. The deep green eyes were looking at my screen, then were looking at me. Strawberries.
“Oh!” I raised the tablet to eye level. “Sorry, I didn’t understand.”
It was that hint of a smile again. “Forgive me,” was her response, that accent of hers tickling my hearing like a feather. “I first saw it in French. The movie is Before Sunrise?”
I grinned, hopefully not like an idiot. “Actually, this is Before Sunset. I finished Before Sunrise on the plane. I have the third part too, I still have a long way to go so I think I’ll get to finish all of them before I get to where I’m going.” I think the strawberries were going to my head. I could tell I was talking faster and louder than normal. “I’m almost done with Before Sunset. It’s maybe got fifteen minutes left, including the credits. I always watch the credits, there might be extra scenes at the end.” Why did I say that? I sound like an idiot.
“Good for you,” Strawberry replied. She leaned closer, speaking confidentially. “There’s a bonus scene in there that ties to Before Midnight.” She nodded sagely, then leaned back.
“Not at all.”
I fast forwarded through the credits to get to the end of the movie. Nothing.
“You lie!” I said, feigning indignance.
“I do,” she said. “Is that a bad thing?” Her expression was inscrutable. “If you only saw the first movie, would it be at all possible to tell if either of them were lying about anything and everything?”
I considered for a moment. “Probably not.”
“Did they look like they would trade that night for anything in the world?”
I didn’t have to weigh my answer this time. “No.”
“What’s your name?” Strawberry’s hair was catching the morning through the glass. She looked at me expectantly. I’d decided that she was maybe four or five years older than myself, though I was terrible at guessing ages.
“Emilio. Hi.” I held out my hand.
Strawberry took my hand, her expression serious, eyes flashing. “Greetings Mister Emilio,” she’d dropped her voice, mocking severity “I am very pleased to make your acquaintance.” Strawberry let go of my hand and gave a short bow. “Where are you from Mister Emilio?”
“Hey wait,” I interjected, “what’s your name?”
“Celine.” Her expression retained the mock severity.
She shrugged. “Does it matter?”
“I told you my real name,” I protested.
“You could be taking your name off Emilio Estevez for all I know,” Strawberry replied. “Call me Celine. I’ll call you anything you want.” A smile. A genuine one. “Just don’t make me call you anything dirty.”
I sighed. “Emilio IS my name. My friends call me Milo.”
“Milo then.” There was a shift. Along with the smile, there was warmth coming across from Strawberry. “I’m getting off at the next station, so we’ve got maybe three hours. How about we talk about things and not worry about truth and lie?”
I looked at her dubiously.
“I’m not asking for your social security number, Milo. Just conversation. If I offend you in any way, tell me and I’ll go look for someone else to bother.”
There were worse ways to spend three hours. “Okay, Celine.” I said the name with mock sarcasm. “What would you like to know?”
“Before Sunrise, you said you finished it. Did you like it?”
Easy answer. “Very much. Jesse and Celine were real people. The acting and directing were great. The ending was….” I trailed off, looking for the right word.
“Excruciating.” Strawberry said the word with conviction.
“Yes.” It was the right word for the emotion. Not knowing if the ships that passed in the night would ever meet again.
Strawberry was silent for a while, looking out the window. I looked at the passing scenery with her.
“Do you think they had sex?”