I know. It’s been a month since I wrote, and that last one doesn’t even count. Since then, I spent 10 exhausting yet amazing days home in Los Angeles and then another week battling jet lag while getting settled in Croatia. We’re staying in Cavtat, a small coastal town at Croatia’s southern tip. The city is full of tourists, and you can’t really blame ‘em. With dozens of seafood restaurants, strikingly clear blue water, and daily sunsets that flood the sky with color; Cavtat is the perfect place to spend a summer vacation. And you can only really come in the summer. The city quite literally shuts down from November to March when the usually warm sun goes into hibernation.

On a quiet night last week, my stomach growls at me as I walk along the Adriatic Sea looking for a place to eat. I sit down just after sunset, a bit impatient having been rejected — there were no open tables — by my restaurant of choice. Tired from a long day exploring the walled city of Dubrovnik under 95°F heat, I grab the menu already on my table and have a look.

A minute later, a waitress greets me with a smile and asks if I’d like something to drink. Since the menu only lists beer, I ask about the wine.

“Red or white?”

“Red.” She begins to describe the qualities of a local red wine, but I’m not really listening.

“How much for a glass?”

“24 kuna.”

“I’ll take one.”

Having already looked at TripAdvisor reviews, I order the touted beef risotto. She gives me a big smile and says “Great choice!”. Throughout this usually boring interaction, she carries herself with a quiet exuberance that is infectious.

I begin to sip my wine — which tastes like a California Cab — enjoying the fact that it’s actually warm. I’m not sure why, but most restaurants over the last few months have served chilled red wine. I’m not a fan.

Amidst the patio chatter, a familiar song plays. I couldn’t tell you its name, but it’s unmistakably the powerful voice of Rob Thomas. As a good friend of mine will tell you, “Rob’s voice in-concert sounds exactly like it does on records!” Apparently, I state this emphatically whenever someone plays his songs.

As I savor my risotto, I notice a girl, maybe 5 years old, looking over at me from the table in front. I offer her a quick smile.

Without flinching, she smiles right back with THE warmest smile. I obviously can’t contain returning an even bigger smile.

This has never happened. Most often when I respond to a kid’s gaze with a smile, they quickly look away. Somehow, I had passed my waitress’ joy to this beautiful little girl. And she had given it right back to me.

After we exchange a couple more fun glances, her family pays their bill and gets up to leave. As the girl walks by me, I smile one last time, and she sends it right back with a smile that just melts my heart.

This little girl and I never spoke one word to each other — and we’ll certainly never cross paths again — but I’ll never forget her smile and how it made me feel.

As I process what’s happened, I narrate a potential blog post in my head. This isn’t uncommon for me but often happens while I’m in the shower or somewhere else that I can’t easily write. And by the time I do find a computer, the spark is gone. Deciding not to let that happen, I reach into my backpack, grab my journal, and over the next 15 minutes, write basically this entire post.

Ready to leave, I flag down my waitress to request the bill. I’ve learned that in Europe, unless you ask for the bill, they just won’t bring it. As my waitress hands me the bill, I first ask for her name and then practice being vulnerable by telling her how great of a waitress she’s been. She thanks me graciously and reaches out her hand to shake mine.

As I sip the last of my rather large glass of wine — or what my friends would call a “Nitin pour” — I realize how thankful I feel, not only because of this evening’s simple pleasures, but also because of my ability to share them with you.

If you ever find yourself in Cavtat, do yourself a favor and grab a seat at Pizzeria Desetka.