The next day was a big one for us. We were picking up our French “daughter” Ines at the train station in Avignon. Ines came to us by way of our small local newspaper in Roswell, Georgia two years earlier. I saw a notice about a French cultural group looking for summer host families. I had lived with a French family when I was in Paris the year after college, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. It was time to pay it forward.
I showed Alex the notice, and we went online that night to get more info. The first kid’s bio almost ended it for us. The picture was of a young boy who looked more like a young man, with facial hair, a bad haircut and the eyes of a troublemaker. If you were to cast a movie looking for young French punks, this guy would be your prototype. Alex closed the computer to go cook us dinner. “I’m not sure about this,” was all she said.
The next week I was out of town on business and got a call from Alex. “I think I’ve found her!” she exclaimed. “Found who?” I asked. “Our French girl.” She sent me a picture of a young girl in a very proper private school picture, but with a warm smile. Her bio said she was a good student, played cello and piano, loved animals and wanted to be a vet. She was 14 and had already piloted a plane, solo. She liked sports but couldn’t really play due to a growth spurt and subsequent knee issues. And she was an only child, so she was used to being around just adults.
Ines was Alex’s mini-me in a lot of ways and they ended up being two peas in a pod that summer. Even though Ines was just getting a grasp of English, they laughed and giggled the whole time. They had similar tastes in food, music and movies, watching romantic comedies together while eating gummy bears and petting cats.
We even got Ines together with some friend’s kids and my niece from San Francisco, Rosie. They all got along real well and had plenty of kid fun, but Ines preferred time with her maxi-me, Alex. Proof-in-point, we were at the mall with all her new kid friends and they split off from us to go to Forever 21, or whatever popular tween-girl store was in at the time. Alex and I headed to Williams Sonoma: a store she could never pass without going inside. We walked through the front and I stopped at the Kurig demo, surprised the lady didn’t know me by name since we’d been in there so often. “Would you like to see our new Kurig machine in action?” she asked. Anything for a free coffee, I thought, nodding my head yes. Alex turned around to shop and almost ran into Ines right behind her. “I thought you went with the girls?” “I’d rather be with you,” she said, cementing a bond that was already like glue.
So here we were, at the Avignon train station a year later, looking for Ines amongst the crowd of people exiting the station. We saw a girl waiting by herself as we drove past and around to park. “What if that was her?” Alex asked. We’d only seen her on Skype a few times in the last year—kids grow up, she could have changed. I quickly circled back around to the front, but the girl was gone.
Cell service was spotty and expensive, so we couldn’t rely on modern technology. I made an executive decision to just park illegally in the front instead of way back in the lot. Just then another young girl pulling a suitcase strode up and we both jumped excitedly out of the car. We slowed just as quickly, noticing that this girl was a little too grownup to be Ines; She walked a little too sexily and her shirt was a little too revealing. We turned back to the car.
Finally, we saw a cute, smiley, innocent looking girl in preppy clothes and a scarf. The only big difference was that she had cut her once long blond hair into a bob. This was the Ines we remembered.