We sat next to each other on a flight from Billings, Montana to Las Vegas once. She can’t have been anything more than eighteen. Her blonde hair was in plaits either side of her delicate face, and her eyes were filled with too much sadness for someone so young.
She spent the first half hour just staring out of the window, and then suddenly she spoke. And a conversation about clouds soon morphed into a conversation about nothing and about everything, avoiding only the reason for her sadness. And in the words and emotion, introductions never made were simply forgotten.
The sadness lifted as we spoke of films and books and her eyes acquired a sparkle that grew brighter as she smiled enthusiastically to learn we shared the same favourite author. I could say nothing for minutes afterwards, transfixed by her beauty I could only smile in return and nod as she continued.
The plane’s descent came far too soon and we parted at baggage handling. Her bag arrived first, she thanked me for my company and she walked away. And it was as she turned back and flashed that smile one last time, that I realised I didn’t know her name.
I have often thought back to that day, wondering what could have made her so sad, wondering if the lift in spirits she displayed was just temporary, or if our time together made a difference to her life. I’ve never expected an answer. I never expected to see her again.
Then our newest recruit stops in front of me, surprise gleaming in sparkling eyes.
“Gil, this is Catherine Willows,” Ecklie introduces her.
I take her outstretched hand, and watch her lips curve into a bright smile.
I never knew her name.
But I’d know that smile anywhere.