Margaret looked up from her half-finished café au lait and croissant at a young, curly-haired man leaning forward in his seat at an adjacent outdoor table. His linen jacket and striped button-down, paired with fashionably ripped dark-wash jeans, looked expensive but rumpled, giving him the air of a slightly down-at-the-heels aristocrat or slumming rock star.
Before responding, Margaret briefly considered a curt reply. What was it with these French guys, always expecting women to carry lighters? Maybe it was "code," something French women knew that American women didn't. Maybe all French women carried lighters whether or not they smoked, in the hopes of making a café connection like this with an eligible Parisian. As always, it seemed to Margaret that she had a lot to learn about men, and about French men, in particular. Frankly, it could all be a little overwhelming, these games people played.
But perhaps he actually had misplaced his lighter or matches. Who was she to say? A polite response, coupled with a question, formed on her lips: "No, sorry, I don't have a light. But how did you know that I speak English?"
"Ah, well, the book you have there on the table, it is in English, yes? The Elegance of the Hedgehog--I know it was first a French novel."
Margaret felt her face starting to burn, and she just hoped the blush wasn't spreading downward into those unattractive splotches that freakishly appeared on her chest at the most inopportune of moments. Already, this stranger was getting to her. After all, he'd heard of this book: not bad, not bad at all. She cast a darting glance down at the handmade bird pendant hanging from a silk cord around her neck. No splotches yet, apparently.
The stranger saw the bird, too. "Where did you get that necklace? It is very interesting."
"It came from--oh! Wait a second!" Margaret reached across the table to the other bentwood chair, empty save the flowered oilcloth bag her sister had given her before the trip. She rummaged briefly but intently in the bag until her right hand emerged with its intended plunder: a box of matches she'd picked up in Bratislava because she'd liked the graphics.
"Here you go--I forgot that I had these. I don't smoke, but I do like matchboxes."
He smiled and took the offered matches, lightly brushing her hand as he did so.
"Hotel Forum, Bratislava. What a coincidence, my uncle owns this hotel!" He struck a match and finally lit his waiting Gauloise.
"Really? I stayed there when I went to visit my brother. He's working in Slovakia!"
He gave a hesitant laugh and looked a bit sheepish. "Non, I am just joking. I thought it would be fun to say, like something a person might say in a silly romance novel. But I do not think you read novels like that. Now about the necklace. May I take a closer look?"
Margaret leaned forward and felt his hand slide under the pendant, as smoke curled upward and coffees sat forgotten.