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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Joie de Vivre by Nicole Green

The most beautiful words I ever heard were, "Do you want to take a coffee with me?"

I met Mathieu during the semester I studied abroad in Paris. It happened as I was leaving the Louvre. I was on my way to walk along the Seine River as I liked to do in the afternoons to get inspiration for my sketches and this beautiful Parisian saved my life—well , kind of anyway. Moments before we met, I was concentrating more on getting my sketch pad out of my bag than on what was coming at me.

I heard a voice call out, "Attention!" as a group of teen renegade rollerbladers nearly ran over me. I fell against a tall man with brown hair and dropped my bag. Most of my things spilled from the bag and onto the street. He bent down to help me pick up my stuff and I got my first good look at him. He wore a red Hermes scarf, a light jacket and dark wash designer jeans that made me wish American men paid more attention to the way their clothes fit.

His brown eyes were full of mirth as I apologized to him. Then, he asked me that magical question while we both held the day planner I'd purchased a few days earlier at Monoprix.

"Sure," I said. "Coffee would be great right now."

"Okay. There is a café, around the corner there. And they have these, I think you say pastry, yes? This is delicious," Mathieu said. I loved his soft pronunciation of the "t-h" combination almost as much as I loved his smile. The way his narrow nose wrinkled when his lips curved up was irresistible.

"Yeah. Okay. Just let me call my host family. To let them know I'll be late for dinner," I said. I pulled out my pre-paid SFR cell phone and made the call. While I spoke to my host mother in French, I hoped that I wouldn't make it home for dinner at all.

"So, you are American, yes?" Mathieu asked when I put the phone back into my bag. We headed down the Rue de Rivoli in the direction of the Tuileries.

"Yeah. I'm a student. My school has an exchange program and I'm studying at the Sorbonne. I love it. Paris is fantastic," I gushed.

The fact that I babble when I'm nervous combined with Mathieu's intoxicating personality equaled what he must have seen as a blathering idiot.

"Ah, this is wonderful for you. Yes, Paris is a gorgeous city. I love it here. But, you know, when my parents moved us here, I was very unhappy about it."


"Oh yes. In Martinique, we live there before, and I love it and did not want to leave."

"Martinique? You?" I have a problem with speaking too quickly and letting ignorant statements fly. I winced once I heard the words out loud, but Mathieu smiled.

"Yes, I know, I don't look very, ehm, Caribbean, no? My father, he work for the government there for many years before coming back to Paris. I was thirteen the first time I am here. In Paris. In France. Ah, you know what? We have not exchange names yet. Me, I am Mathieu. And you are?..."

"Je m'apelle Vivian," I answered with a triumphant little smile.

"Bas oui. Ton français est tres bon," Mathieu answered me. I thanked him and we continued our conversation en français.

We came to the café, ordered and sat outside in the afternoon sunshine. It was a brilliant day for late April in Paris. One of those days that made you realize why so many people love Paris in the springtime, they made it a cliché. I wanted to be prolific, serious, clever, and charming all at once. So of course all I managed to do was embarrass myself.

After two hours of coffee, pastries and enjoyable Franglais conversation, Mathieu asked, "And Vivian, I know this is forward of me, but do you have any plans for dinner?"

"No." I was already reaching for my phone to call my host mother back.

"How do you like the Latin Quarter?"

"I love it."

"Ah, you think you do, but you have not seen it yet. After tonight, you will never forget it or me, ma petite chouchou."

I would have to cancel my plans with Sadye again to go to Centre Pompidou. She wanted to see an exhibit there I had no interest in, but she insisted on dragging me along. I didn't feel too badly about it. The few times I flaked on her were nothing compared to the constant disappointments with which she plagued me. Plus, Sadye was always surrounded by men. How often did a gorgeous French guy come along and promise me an unforgettable night in Paris?

Mathieu and I walked to the Latin Quarter hand-in-hand and I almost forgot I'd only known him a few hours. I started writing a journal entry in my head. I didn't want to forget anything about that day just in case it was to be my only one with Mathieu.

The spring green trees contrasted sharply with the gray of the city streets and stone architecture. Columns and arches and façades worn smooth with time were all new to me. I saw the gray of the buildings in Technicolor with Mathieu holding my hand and murmuring in French to me the history of the Rue de Rivoli.

"Let's go past Notre Dame. It's always most fetching in the afternoon light," I said. I don't know why, but "fetching" just seemed to fit my mood.

His thin lips curved up as he looked down at me, "It is as you wish."

And it was. Mathieu became the center of my world starting that day in front of the Louvre. I have a group of rowdy rollerblading kids to thank for that.

About the Author: Nicole Green writes contemporary romance and young adult fiction. Her first novel, Love Out of Order, was released February 2010.

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