"Oh, unquestionably," Mathieu said, "unquestionably. She's beautiful." And for once his eyes lingered on something long enough to truly take it in before returning to the blue canvas-bound volume of Keats dangling idly from his left hand. "Not my type, though."
The three of them sat around the plaza, three green uniforms idle in the middle of the flow of Paris life. With drill over, they had grown bored of the barracks gone into town where they settled in to watch the lives of unfamiliar people with their unfamiliar patterns unfold in front of them. Marc, who wasn't listening to his friends any longer, was watching one in particular.
"Hell if you even know your type," said Lucky.
She was Marc's type. Up til now Marc hadn't even had a type, didn't know what it was. But just now, he knew he was looking at it. Slender hands and a waist that sloped and rounded out in the hips, blue ruffles and a high-waist skirt, hair like darkwood; black but catching strains of mahogany in the sun, like the color of some well crafted string instrument. That was his type, right there.
"Don't just stand there mooning," Lucky said. "Go talk to her."
"Go talk to her!"
Marc watched her walk across the plaza and get in line at the baker's counter. Her thin fingers lifted her skirts and swished them away from a puddle, and she clacked a dainty little walking boot off the flagstone. You couldn't just go talk to a girl like that. She probably had a boyfriend. He bet she did.
Lucky socked him in the arm. "C'mon, Romeo, what are you waiting for? She's gonna get away."
"He's right, you know," said Mathieu with a casual wave of the hand not occupied by his book. "Faint heart never won fair lady."
"What he said."
Marc opened his mouth to protest but it was dry and the words stuck.
"If you don't go over there," Lucky grinned like a brown-eyed cat, "I will."
So Marc straightened with a little scowl that was meant to put his friend in his place, squared his shoulders, and marched across the plaza.
By the time he got to the fountain he started to drag his steps, wandered off his straight line as his resolve began to shrivel up. She was paying the baker with a few silver coins and she smiled, just a little, just with the lips. He hadn't a clue what he was going to say. Then, he thought, what if she didn't let him say anything? What if she didn't even give him the time of day?
But then she turned with her baguette in her little woven basket, and started walking away towards the park. He panicked. Hanging along the wall, he tried to follow her by pushing a few people gently out of the way. As he passed a window box he grabbed the necks of a few unsuspecting, pink gerber daisies and pulled them out by the roots.
Before he knew it he was jogging. Then suddenly, he was right behind her.
"Excuse me. Hey… excuse me, Miss?"
She turned around and looked up at him, tilting her head ever so slightly to the side and he stopped right where he was.
Her eyes were china blue, deep, and almost the color of her dress. The whole of her seemed like a beautiful, delicate, priceless thing, with a little halo of afternoon sun lighting the dark brown strands in her hair. It was a good few moments before he realized he was holding his breath.
He also realized then that he didn't speak any French.
So he stood, holding his breath, staring at the tiny porcelain colored girl with her soft skin and her long, darkwood hair and he thought to himself how badly he wanted to touch her, because he was sure he had never in his life seen anything so soft, and she stared back, waiting. He handed her the gerber daisies. Two clumps of dirt fell off the roots and broke on the toe of her shoe.
"Ah… I… I, je vous… veux me prends …le café?"
She looked down at the flowers clamped tight in his fist, with the roots hanging pathetically out at the bottom.
"…you pull this from a window box?" she asked.
He blinked. "You speak English?"
"A little." She drew her eyebrows together and they puckered in the middle. She looked as though she was sorting out a complicated math problem.
Across the plaza Marc could see Lucky and Mathieu grinning at his expense. He felt his face burn. He looked back to her.
"…what did I just ask you?"
"If I… take away your… coffee?" Her eyebrows knit further.
"Oh. No. I, I wanted to know if you like coffee. Or wanted to get coffee." He shifted from one foot to another. "With me."
Then, she smiled at him, but with her eyes too. A real smile. Not like the one for the baker. She put her little hand over his and gently pried the gerber daisies from him, and tucked them neatly into her basket. "I like that," she said. And then she put his arm through his.
With his face flushed Marc looked from her across the plaza to his friends. Mathieu nodded with a lopsided smile. Lucky gave him an enthusiastic two thumbs up.
"Where you would like to go?" she asked.
"Uh… where's good?"
Gesturing with the basket to the small side street they were facing, she pointed at a café.
"Yeah, that's…" he looked down at her and caught a glimpse of those china blue eyes from underneath her dark, dark eyelashes. "What's your name?"
"Colette," he said, trying the word on his tongue. It felt just right. "I'm Marc." He put a hand over hers, the one on his arm. "It's nice to meet you, Colette."