by martha fouts
Taylor told her feet to keep walking toward the hand-lettered sign held by a cowboy in France?
Sure enough, her name, Taylor Webster, was written on a sign held by a Blake-Shelton-look-alike, who appeared to be over six foot three, clad in Wranglers, boots, and a big, black cowboy hat.
“Bonjour,” he greeted in an accent more suited for “Howdy.”
“Bonjour. Je suis Taylor. Estes-vous Monsieur Richard?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He sounded like a character from one of her cowboy romance novels come to life. He set the poster next to his boot and stuck out a hand for her to shake. “I’m Henry Richard.”
She pressed her hand to his and felt her cheeks flush as their hands remained connected a few seconds longer than usual. This wasn’t an ordinary nice-to-meet-you handshake.
“Is something funny?”
“I’ve been practicing your name, pronouncing it En ray Rishard, and all along it’s plain old Henry Richard, as American as Taylor Webster.”
The bright and beautiful Charles de Gaulle Airport with its famous ceiling of skylights suddenly increased in brightness and beauty as Henry’s lips stretched into a thousand-watt smile. “You can call me Hank. I’m not the best at expressing myself in emails. I’m as American as the President and as patriotic to the red, white, and blue as ole Yankee Doodle himself, but circumstances have landed me and my daughter here in Paris. A few years ago, the only Paris I thought I’d ever be living in was Paris, Texas!”
Taylor loved his colorful way of speaking, his confidence, his warmth, and his wide shoulders. She gulped and told herself to get it together. In their email correspondence through Teachers Abroad, he’d been short on details, but she did remember one important detail: Henry Richard was a single parent.
Hank tipped the front of his cowboy hat back, revealing more of his friendly face and grinned sheepishly. “I must admit, though, when I hired a master teacher I assumed she’d look like a schoolmarm or a nun. I’m sorry if I seem flustered. Never in a million years did I think you’d be so beautiful.”
Taylor felt her face flush again and forced herself to stop staring at him. “Your emails said I’d be tutoring your five-year-old daughter.” She looked around the bustling airport terminal for her new student. “Is she here?”
“Yes ma’am. Collette’s hiding over there behind that car rental sign. I think she’s a mite nervous to meet you.”
“That’s completely understandable.” Taylor was slightly nervous to meet her student too. She’d taught middle school French for years and won the Teacher of the Year award last year, but after the way her ex-boyfriend treated her the last couple of years and then discarded her, she struggled to believe anyone would want her in their lives again, even a five-year-old French girl. “I’m a stranger from a foreign country who’ll be teaching her a new language all summer, after all.”
Hank tilted his head in confusion. “A new language?
Oh no, another misunderstanding? “English? Aren’t I teaching Collette English this summer?”
Hank threw his head back and laughed the way you do when you’re outside under a big sky in the middle of a pasture, not the way you do in a busy airport filled with international travelers.
“Aw, man, I really do need to get better at email. No, Collette is fluent in both English and French. When her mom passed away and I made the decision to stay in this country, Collette was an infant. Since she started talking, I’ve done my darndest to make sure she knows both languages. She even has a good ole Texas twang.” He added the last bit with a sparkle in his sea-blue eyes.
“I see. Um, well, then, what will I be teaching her?”
“It’s likely Collette will never live in the country I love. She won’t shoot fireworks on the Fourth of July, go to Dallas Cowboys football games, or even know what the saying ‘Friday Night Lights’ means. She won’t eat turkey on Thanksgiving. She won’t learn a lot of the songs and stories I learned in elementary school that shaped who I am today. I’m so busy running my late wife’s family’s business that I don’t have time to do all of it, even though I try to spend as much time as I can with Collette.”
“So, you want me to show Collette what it means to be an American?” Their eyes met again, and Taylor felt a zing in the center of her chest.
“Yes. You reckon you can do that, Taylor? I don’t know you, but I know people. I’ve got a gift for discerning if someone is trustworthy or not, and Taylor, with all of your stellar references and now meeting you in person, I know you are exactly who my little girl needs to teach her about our home country.”
Emotions roiled in Taylor’s heart like bubbles in a boiling pot of water. She hadn’t had someone brag on her like that in a long time. She’d heard the term “love at first sight” but had never experienced it. She was only scheduled to spend three months with Hank and his daughter, but now she found herself wishing it was longer … like a lifetime.
A movement to her left caught her attention. A tiny hand slipped inside hers.
Taylor looked down and saw two long red braids, a pair of sea-blue eyes, about a million freckles, and she fell in love, the second time in as many minutes.
“You bet, Hank. I certainly can do that.”