An Excerpt from Jean-Luc’s Story: People Are Closer Than They Appear

“Heather. Ca va bien?” he asked. This had become their nightly ritual. He would ask her beginner French questions and some of the time, she managed to answer them correctly.

“Ah oui Jean-Luc. Ca va bien,” she said smiling. “How was school today?”

“It was long and difficult.”

“Why? Didn’t anything good happen?”

“Oh, you Americans! You expect everything to be fun.”

“What? Can’t school be fun or are you too busy being all serious with your fancy French accents with your chin in the air attitude?” she said laughing.

“What attitude do I have? And we can’t have a French accent when we all speak French. What are they teaching you in that school of yours mon amie? I think you need some French education.”

“Not a chance with all your rules about no fun and long school days. I’m ok right here.”

“Speaking of which, let’s cover our work for the night.”

“Ok, you first. What question do you have for me?”

Jean-Luc took out his tablet and scanned the pages until he got to today’s notes. “Exactly how long is your school year? You get out mid-June and your days are shorter than ours. Exactly how many days are you in school?”

“I think it is one hundred eight five. Is that a lot less than you?”

“Actually, no. We only have one hundred forty four.”

“How can that be? You are in school until July!!”

“Well, we do have a lot of holidays.”

“How many?”

“Well our school year is broken up into four seven week terms. In between we have one to two weeks off.”

“Wow, we only get around ten days for winter break and a week for spring break. We usually get a day off every month for a national holiday or teacher meeting, but that’s it.”

“That seems pretty bad. Oh and I forgot. We don’t have school on Wednesdays.”

“You forgot?!! That’s huge. You have two days on, a day off and then two days on?”

“Sort of. We have half a day on Saturday.”

“That’s not so bad. At least it breaks the weekend up.”

Heather thought for a moment and then asked, “Have we covered enough differences for homework yet?” asked Heather.

“I don’t think so,” said Jean-Luc.

“Ok, what else do you want to know, Mr. Nosy?”

“Well, let me think.”

“You don’t even have a question? Then forget it. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow,” Heather said jokingly.

“No! Give me a sec. There’s still so much I want to know about you.”

“Then give. What’s the question? I’ll give you ten seconds – nine, eight,…”

“What did you do after school?” Jean-Luc blurted out.”

“I’m in the running club.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, I’m not on the track team. We are just a group of kids that run together.”

“Your school has a track team and a running club? That’s amazing.”

“Why, don’t you?”

“Sometimes when we talk I forget how different our worlds are.”

“Why, because my school has a running club?”

“No because my school doesn’t care about clubs. They don’t care about anything except school work. In the past two weeks we’ve been Skyping, have I mentioned anything about clubs or activities in my school?”

“No, I guess not.”

“That’s because there aren’t any.”

“That can’t be! Jean-Luc, don’t lie to me.”

“Heather, why would I lie? Think about it. School goes from eight thirty until five thirty and most kids hang around until they shut the doors at six o’clock. Exactly when do you think our track team would be practicing?”

“You’re serious. I can’t believe it,” she said almost in shock.

“It’s ok Heather. What’s the big deal?”

“Jean-Luc, I go to school from seven thirty until two thirty and then the fun begins. Everybody has something they go to. I run, but there are so many extracurricular activities to choose from.”

“Like what?”

“That depends on the season. In the fall there is football, field hockey and track. In the winter there is basketball, wrestling, indoor soccer, and bowling. In the spring there is baseball, softball, golf, tennis, soccer and beach volleyball. I’m pretty sure there are a lot that I missed too. And those are just the physical activities. We also have academic clubs, band, choir, drama and dance clubs. We have clubs for just about everything.”

“It sounds like your school is a year-long summer camp.”

“Basically, it is. The teachers like it because if we don’t do our work, they can get us suspended from our activities. Once in a while you hear about a kids getting kicked off of a team.”

“So your school gives you activities to hold over your head as blackmail?”

“Basically,” she said laughing. “But we need it for college.”

“Pardon?”

Heather didn’t say anything for a moment. Jean-Luc was watching her, waiting for an answer. Finally, he said, “What is it? Why are you so quiet all of a sudden?”

“That was cute,” said Heather smiling.

“What was cute?”

“Par-dohn. The way you say it.”

“Really? Why?”

“I don’t know. It’s all polite and sweet.”

“Oh, I’m sweet now,” he teased.

“Ok, get over yourself Frenchy.”

“Who’s full of themselves here? Not me. It’s you Americans with your fun schools, with your crazy activities. I just go to school and work all day. The only thing I have to look forward to is calling you at the end of the day.”

Heather melted. She just stared at the computer monitor with a look of ‘oh wow’ on her face.

“Mon Dieu. What is it now? Did I say pardon again?”

“Stop Jean-Luc. You’re embarrassing me.”

“How? I didn’t say anything and you got all wilty on me. Now tell me Américaine. What did I say?”

“I can’t.”

“I’m literally thousands of miles away from you. You don’t have to face me in school tomorrow so you don’t have to be embarrassed. What did I say? Tell me. Please.”

Heather hesitated and then quietly admitted, “You said you look forward to calling me at the end of the day.”

Jean-Luc laughed. “Is that all?”

“Stop laughing at me! It’s not funny.”

Jean-Luc kept laughing.

“Jean-Luc, I’m not going to tell you anything again if you don’t stop.”

“You are hysterical. You admitted what I told you!! I’m the one that should be embarrassed not you. You haven’t said anything.”

“Sure I did. I admitted I like the fact you look forward to Skyping with me.”

“Wow!! You really put yourself out there!”

“Stop!! What do you want me to say?”

“Nothing. You don’t have to say a thing, just keep talking.”

“You know that doesn’t make any sense.”

“I don’t care. After eight hours of school in French, I’m entitled to not make sense in English.”

“Fair enough.”

Jean-Luc looked up and said, “I remember where this all started. You said you need activities for college and I said pardon.”

“Oh, yeah.” Heather looked down to hide the smile that instantly came back to her face.

Jean-Luc pretended not to notice this time and asked, “What do school activities have to do with attending universities?”

Heather found her focus and said, “You should see the applications for college. Transcripts and test scores are only one small part. The rest of the application gets filled in with activities we participate in. Admission boards look for several different types and it’s not just school activities they are looking for. They also want to see volunteer work in and out of school. That can make or break your application.”

“That’s absurd Américaine. What in the world does football or as you say soccer, have anything to do with becoming a lawyer?”

“I guess they want well rounded people. Besides, if we don’t get active in high school, they probably think we won’t get active in college life.”

“I suppose. It’s just funny that school for us is about what we learned. School for you is about what you did.”

“I never thought about it that way, but you’re right.”

Heather yawned. She tried to hide it but did a bad job.

“I know you’re tired Heather and you still have your whole night of chores ahead. I should let you go.”

“No. I’m ok Jean-Luc. I look forward to talking to you too and I’m not ready to hang up yet.”

“Big admission Américaine.”

“And you’re not laughing, Frenchy.”

“Not at you. Never at you.”

“See, I was right. You are sweet.”

“I have an idea. Let’s get ready for bed and then you can talk to me until I’m ready to fall asleep.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not? It’s a great idea. Une bonne idée.”

“Not for me. Anyway, it’s time for dinner and I’m starved.”

“Well, I better let you go then. I should go to bed anyway.”

“I guess so,” she said with regret. “Write me when you get home tomorrow?”

“You know it Américaine. Bonne nuit et bon rêves.”

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