I'm about to drift off to sleep that night when Harry nudges me lightly and asks in a gruff voice,
"Are you still awake?"
"Yeah," I say, rubbing my eyes and yawning. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," Harry replies. "I just wanted to talk to you. But if you're tired it's okay."
"Nah, not really," I lie, turning my head to look at Harry.
"I saw an ad on TV that said you can volunteer to help with little kids," Harry says suddenly, his eyes lighting up. "Do you want to help with me?"
"I'm not sure they meant tourists," I say hesitantly.
"Oh come on, Lou," Harry says impatiently. "I'm sure they'll be glad for the extra help."
"Where at?" I inquire.
"A school not too far from here," Harry says. "I did some research," he adds proudly when he sees my expression. "Please Louis, please? You know I love kids."
"I suppose," I say begrudgingly. It's not what I expected to be doing over vacation, but Harry seems really enthusiastic about it and I don't mind kids either.
"Yay!" Harry exclaims, leaning over and kissing me on the forehead. "Thanks. I know it's probably not your first choice for a vacation, but it means a lot to me that we help out. We're going to make a difference in those kids' lives."
"Harry, we're helping out with some schoolwork or something, not helping them find the cure for cancer," I say.
"I'd like to think we're making a difference no matter how small the task is," Harry says indignantly. "And no matter what you say."
"Alright Hazza," I say, smiling in the darkness. "I'm going to try and get some sleep. It'll be hard to change so many lives when I'm tired."
"Shut up," Harry says, but I can tell he's grinning.
"Goodnight," I say.
"Night," Harry replies before I fall into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The next morning, I wake to see Harry already dressed and ready to go. "What the...?" I say incredulously. "What time is it?"
"Time for you to get your butt out of that bed," Harry responds matter-of-factly. "Get dressed."
I groan and grumble but drag myself out of bed anyway. I get a shower and get dressed rather quickly before joining Harry in the main room.
"Let's go help some kids!" Harry says excitedly, throwing the door open and striding into the hallway. I rush to keep up with his long legs.
"How are we getting there?" I ask, panting a little at the effort it takes to stay aside of Harry as he walks.
"Taxi," he replies and I sigh in relief. We're not walking, thank God.
The taxi ride takes about fifteen minutes and when we pull up in front of the school we're helping out at, there are a bunch of little kids milling around, talking, laughing, and playing tag. When we get out of the taxi, a woman hurries over to us and starts talking in rapid French. I can't make out anything she's saying and apparently neither can Harry, judging from the confused look on his face.
"Um, we don't speak a lot of French," Harry apologizes. The woman stops talking and she laughs.
"Oh! I'm sorry," she says. "Are you here to help?"
"Yes," Harry tells her. "I'm Harry and this is Louis."
The woman sticks out her hand for me to shake, and I'm surprised at how light her version of a handshake is. She laughs when she sees my startled expression. "You Americans shake hands very roughly," she says. "The French handshake is much lighter and more delicate."
"Sorry," I say contritely.
"No worries," the woman says. "I'm Sophie, by the way. If you follow me right this way, I can take you to where the kids are."
Harry and I follow her until we reach a classroom that has a large sticker on the door that says, "Bienvenue!" on it.
"What does that mean?" I whisper to Harry, not wanting to ask Sophie in case she thinks I'm dumb.
"It means welcome," Sophie replies swiftly and I blush a little.
"I'm hopeless at different languages," I say.
Sophie smiles reassuringly at me and pushes the door open. Immediately, a crowd of little kids swarms us and they begin to shout things that I don't understand at us.
"Shhh," Sophie says. She gestures me and Harry inside the room and whispers to us, "Introduce yourselves by saying 'Je m'appelle Harry and je m'appelle Louis.'" I look at Harry nervously, but he just smiles at me before turning to the class who has settled down and is staring expectantly at us.
"Bonjour," Harry says. "Je m'appelle Harry." Sophie nods at me and I take a deep breath.
"Je m'appelle Louis," I say then look questioningly at Sophie. She gives me a thumbs up.
"Not so hopeless after all," she says, winking. I grin with pride at accomplishing the introduction, even though it was a relatively small thing to do.
Sophie says something to the kids, probably telling them why Harry and I are here, and then she turns back to us. "We're working on some Christmas crafts today," she informs us. "Feel free to walk around and help out. If you need me to translate something, just ask."
I scan the classroom and my gaze lands on a small girl in the back of the room who's sitting quietly while the rest of the children chatter and laugh.
I walk back to her and tap her shoulder lightly. She looks up, surprised, but manages to give me a weak smile.
"Je m'appelle Louis," I repeat what I said earlier in hopes she'll tell me her name in return.
"Je m'appelle Dominique," she replies softly. I smile at her.
"Jolie," I say, the only word of French I know other than 'oui' and 'croissant'. Dominique smiles and hands me a crayon. Together, we work on coloring a picture of a Christmas tree. Occasionally, she'll poke me and laugh when I pretend to not know who did it.
"Is everything going okay?" Sophie asks, walking over to me.
"Yeah," I tell her, glad that Harry convinced me to come with him. Dominique is adorable and she seems to really enjoy my company.
"Harry is having the time of his life over there," Sophie replies, pointing. I glance in the direction she's pointing and grin when I see Harry laying on the floor, multiple kids falling all over him and trying to get his attention.
"He's always been good with kids," I say fondly. Sophie wanders away and look around the classroom looking for a poster or something that might have a phrase that I could say to Dominique. I spot a poster that has two cartoon characters on it. One has a speech bubble saying, "Ca va?" while the second one is saying, "Pas terrible," with an exaggerated frown.
"Ca va?" I ask Dominique, guessing that it means 'How are you?'
Dominique blinks up at me. "Ca va," she says in response. For a second, I'm confused. Isn't that what I just asked her? I call Sophie over and ask her.
"Oh!" Sophie laughs. "Ca va can mean how are you, but it can also mean 'I'm fine.' She was telling you she's fine."
I smile at Sophie. "Thanks. That makes a lot more sense," I say. When Sophie's attention is focused on another child, Harry comes over and kneels next to me on the floor. A few kids trail after him.
"I want to keep them all," he tells me.
"Me too," I admit, looking at Dominique who's intently scribbling with a bright red crayon.
"Moi aussi," Harry pipes up.
"What?" I ask.
"That means me too," Harry says. "I'm learning a lot here."
"I've learned some things too," I say and tell him about how ca va has two meanings.
"Fascinating," Harry says.
For the rest of the day, we help Sophie. We help the kids clean up at lunch and arrange them in alphabetical order when they're lining up for a game. Right before we're supposed to go, Dominique runs over and throws his little arms around me.
I lean down and hug her too.
"A demain," Dominique tells me, smiling innocently.
"No, no," Sophie says, swooping in. "Louis won't be here tomorrow."
Dominique's face falls and she pulls away from the hug.
"No," I say, making a split decision that I hope Harry will be okay with. "I'll be here tomorrow."
Sophie smiles and tells Dominique, who promptly shrieks and pokes me before running off once more. I turn to Harry. "That okay with you?"
"It's perfectly fine with me," Harry agrees and we leave after bidding goodbye to Sophie and the kids.
"That was surprisingly fun," I say as we hop in a taxi to go back to the hotel.
"It was," Harry replies. "Thanks for helping out with me. It means a lot."
That night before I fall asleep, I think of Dominique's smile when she found out that I was returning tomorrow. Maybe Harry was right after all. Maybe I did make a difference in someone's life today.