According to the train schedule, we passed back through Marseille at 4:58 AM. I had planned to watch for any passengers who got on, but I didn’t wake up until a middle-aged Italian woman with her two grandchildren invaded our compartment at St.-Raphael. She told us in bad French that she was returning to Milan from visiting her daughter, and that her daughter would be coming along in two weeks to pick up the children. She scolded the children in a strident voice, threw open the train window and leaned out to shout across the platform to her family, then offered Raven and me cookies when she gave them to her grandchildren. I took one. It had been a long time since the picnic on the beach.
Raven spoke no French. She looked puzzled at first, trying to follow a clumsy conversation in a third language, engaged in by two people who both spoke it badly. Eventually she gave up and stared out the window.
I slipped my bare foot up beside her on the seat and nuzzled it against her hip. She looked irritated at first, but she finally put her hand on my ankle. I blew her a kiss, a brief pursing of the lips that brought an equally brief smile. She said, “Sorry, Ian. I’m not at my best when I’m short on sleep.”
“Me either. We can talk if we remain circumspect.” Raven looked sideways at our compartment mates; the woman had settled back to knit in silence and the children were mercifully asleep. I went on, “She doesn’t speak English. It is always the first question I ask, bad as my French is. But she would probably know a few words, so talk around things.”
“Where are we going?”
“Nice. It is close to Marseille in case we have to go back quickly, and it is the gateway to the Riveira. Big yachts, blue waters, topless beaches.”
She shot me fiery look. Raven did not like being teased.
I settled in against the window, with one eye on Raven and the other on the russet semi-desert outside. Past St.-Raphael the train hugs the coast and the Mediterranean is in view most of the time. I said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about yesterday. I’m not too happy with either of us.”
Raven nodded toward the grandmother and asked, “Is this the time to discuss it?”
“Why not? We’ve been more intimate in a public setting.”
She actually blushed. I said, “When you apologized to Will, you said you had been jealous. I think that was only the least part of what was going on in your mind.”
“How the hell do you know what was going on in my mind!”
“I don’t, of course, but I know what was going on in mine. Now I do, that is. Then I was just reacting. I think you were just reacting, too.”
I paused for comment, but she just shrugged. I went on, “I think you were jealous, but at the bottom of it all, I think what happened was a challenge to me.”
“That’s clear enough, Sigmund.”
“Not a sexual challenge, Raven. A much deeper challenge hidden within a sexual challenge.”
Our compartment mate’s eyes dodged furtively sideways and her whole shapeless body seemed to come alive with listening. She might not understand much English, but she knew “sexual challenge”.
“You don’t know anything about me,” Raven said. “How can you guess what I think.”
“After two months of enforced intimacy? Come on, Raven. I know a bare minimum about your family, less about your past, and you won’t even commit yourself about what kind of art and music you like. There is a whole universe of things about you I don’t know, but that in itself tells me volumes. more tomorrow