The bow slipped from Amélie’s hand—the sheet music forgotten.
Eyes fixed on the stranger at the back of the crowd; crimson crept up her neck. She squinted at the brightness of the day. What a glorious gift. Francine, on second violin, broke the spell when she tapped Amélie on the shoulder.
“Merde. I’m sorry.” Glancing at her fellow musicians, Amélie grimaced, scooped up the bow, gave it a swift wipe and resumed playing.
With the next page turn, Amélie whispered to her friend, “We have a stalker.”
Amélie shook her head as she regarded the man through hooded eyes. She suppressed a shiver, the sun in spite.
“It’s the third afternoon that he’s here.”
“Isn’t that the purpose of our lunch-hour performance?”
Pascal, on first violin, cleared his throat, brow knitted. Amélie shrugged, giving him her sweetest smile. He might be their quartet leader, but it was high time somebody pulled the broomstick from his prim behind.
Acknowledging the applause from the impromptu audience, the four musicians gathered their music pages and put their instruments away.
Solitary applause behind her made Amélie snap to her feet, grasping after the collapsed music stand in her hands. Her cheeks burned as she stared up into the grinning face of Mr. Stalker.
“Imbécile,” she hissed.
“Do you always creep up on people?”
“Non... The four of you played remarkably well for street musicians.”
“We are not musiciens de rue; we are professionals.”
Amélie’s quartet-friends seemed undecided for a moment, then kissed her on the cheek, mumbled excuses, and ran off, each in a different direction.
“Professionals, without a doubt. The music was as remarkable as this.” The man touched his lips.
Amélie’s hand flew to her mouth, remembering.
“Atomic turquoise.” The man had an easy laugh. “I cannot wait to see what tomorrow’s bold color will be.”
Amélie forced a chuckle. It was nobody’s business that she preferred radiant hues. Straightening her shoulders, repositioning her instrument case, failed to bring her pounding heart under control. “Lessons . . . I have to go.”
She hurried away.
When the stranger followed along, Amélie pointed at her lips. “You knew the name.”
Again, the disarming laugh. “I am blessed with older twin sisters. I became the unwilling guinea pig.”
“It still doesn’t explain why you’re stalking me!”
“No... I keep returning for the music. The first day you played Mozart’s string quartets. Today it was Haydn’s. Your viola was unmistakable. Rich. Bold. Vibrant, like you—like your lips.”
Amélie halted, put out her hand. “You are flirting with me, Monsieur. I am Amélie Aubin.”
The man shook her hand, bowing slightly. “I wouldn’t dare, Mademoiselle. You don’t suffer fools. Matthew Morgan. The honor is mine.”
They resumed walking in silence.
“Your French... It is distinct,”
Matthew laughed. “Father was a diplomat—Africa. Guinea. I grew up with English and French. I haven’t used it in years—I live in Bristol.” He stretched to keep up. “May I walk you to your lesson?”
As in answer, Amélie hurried even faster. “Suit yourself Matthew from Guinea. I dare not be late.”
Matthew gave her tight lips one glance and laughed. He kept up.
Outside her college building, Amélie spoke for the first time, looking him up and down. “Matthew Morgan.” She rolled the words on her tongue. “You look like a Sigurd Solverson. You’re sure you weren’t adopted from Oslo?”
Matthew pushed his hand through his blond mop, his eyes crinkling. “Great-grandmother was from there.”
“See!” She beamed at him.
“Will your quartet do the lunch-hour tomorrow?”
“At the Sacred Heart Basilica?”
A single nod and she was gone.
Amèlie noticed the unruly blond head only toward the end of their performance the next day. She dared not scan the crowd while playing, not with Pascal and Francine’s eyes on her, watching her like a mother hen.
As they put their instruments away, it was Francine who bumped her elbow, whispering. “Your stalker is here—the French-speaking Norwegian.”
Amélie laughed. “He’s a Brit from Bristol.”
“Il est beau.”
Amélie snorted. “He’s more arrogant than handsome. He has a fetish with lipstick.”
Francine whistled. “You think so? People come to hear us play and to see your gorgeous lips. You’re part of the attraction.”
“I’m not a painted peacock!”
Applause behind the two women made them turn. “Peacock, you’re not,” the Brit from Bristol insisted. “You’re more beautiful.” He bowed toward the women, touching his lips. “Bleu de France, today.”
Francine laughed, hugged her friend, kissed her cheek and waved them adieu. She called over her shoulder, “He’s a keeper, Amélie! He knows about lips!”
“Bonjour, Matthieu.” She pursed her lips. “You enjoy embarrassing women in public?”
“No! I said you’re beautiful...”
“It’s unnerving. I’ve never met a man who knows these names... Are you gay?”
Matthew’s easy laugh washed over her. “Moi? No. I told you about my sisters.” He put out a hand to take her viola case. “May I? No lessons to run off to?”
She held onto the case before letting go, their fingers brushing. “That thing costs € 2,000. Don’t try anything. I have a pistol in my bag.”
“Are you a good shot?”
“Try. You’ll find out.”
He snorted. “I won’t test you today. May I ask the Mademoiselle pour un café?”
He resumed walking. “In Guinea perhaps means, yes.”
“Hah! You British. Come; I know a good place.”
“A quiet place?”
Leaning forward, dark brew in hand, Matthew met Amélie’s eyes. “I love your sensde l’humour.”
She took a sip, brows raised. “Enlighten me.”
He read the name on the outside wall of the café where that sat, “Shakespeare and Company.”
“It’s sweet. Non?”
“You said it’s quiet.” He gestured with his cup at the throngs of tourists.
“I said it’s good.”
Matthew laughed. “The coffee is good. Next time, we’ll—”
“There will be a next time?”
They toyed with their drinks in companionable silence.
“Do you get paid to perform—outdoors—outside the Basilica?”
Amélie narrowed her eyes, taking a small sip. “Artists must starve?”
Matthew coughed, shaking his head.
“You believe we must live like Les Misérables?” Amélie drained her cup, slammed it on the table and jumped to her feet. She slipped a Euro bill under the cup and took off with her belongings.
Matthew stretched his legs to keep up. “Amélie?”
The young woman with the Bleu de France on her lips stopped in her tracks. “Don’t Amélie me. This is not Bristol, Matthew Morgan. Here we respect our artists. Whether you play music, write, sing or paint, the public and the authorities believe artists should not go hungry.”
She placed her case between her feet, then tapped Matthew with a delicate finger on the sternum, her nails matching her lips. “The people support us; they love us. Qui, we get paid.”
Speechless, Matthew held her penetrating glance. Amélie continued, cheeks cherry-red. “Your rich diplomat-daddy foots your bill while you galivant on the mainland, stalking musicians. Some of us have to work and study and play music for a living.”
When Amélie took a breath, Matthew jump at the chance. “Un moment, Mademoiselle. Daddy passed away when I was fifteen. I had to borrow money to get my degree. I’m doing a doctoral dissertation in urban planning and am on a fact-gathering visit to your city. I’m intrigued by the impact of artists on open spaces and how that impacts the health of a city and its people. When I heard your viola on Monday, I knew I had stumbled on gold.” He bowed and tapped his head in a salute. “Apologies that I have disappointed you, Mademoiselle Aubin. Au revoir.” He spun on his heels and stomped away.
Pallor-faced, Amélie darted after the tall Englishman. “Matthieu! Wait!”
Matthew from Bristol stopped.
“Pardonne-moi.” Amélie’s breathing came fast.
“I was wrong.”
“Beautiful blue lips and all?”
“Qui. Forgive me.”
“Only if you agree to a second coffee tomorrow. A quiet place this time.”
When his eyes darkened, she hastened to add, “An Africa Guinea ‘perhaps.’”