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I Would Like To Say Everything

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There's a woman waiting for Maddie, standing on the grass near the landing strip, one hand up shielding her eyes from the sun. A few years older than Maddie herself, wearing a sensible suit and low heels. Not the kind of woman who looks like she wants to learn to fly.

"Margaret Brodatt?" the woman asks, when Maddie's out of the plane.

"Maddie," she corrects.

"Maddie," the woman says. Her smile is polite, professional. "I'm Cassandra Mortmain. I'm writing a book."

*

Cassandra Mortmain offers to buy her a coffee, and Maddie agrees. She's never gotten a journalist before, and it's flattering even if she isn't planning to tell her anything.

"I'm not a journalist, actually," says Mortmain, stirring her coffee. "I was supposed to be a novelist."

"Supposed to be?" asks Maddie. "You're not?"

Mortmain quirks her mouth. "Well, I was writing--silly things, might be a way to put it. When I was younger, I wanted to be the next Jane Austen. And then the war came, and it felt like a very frivolous thing to be, Jane Austen. With everything else that was going on."

"And that's why you're writing a book about girl pilots? Because it's not frivolous?"

"That's the uncharitable way of putting it, yes," says Mortmain, without any hint of hurt. "And because--I'm a coward."

The words hit Maddie right in the chest, not quite in her heart. Julie said--

But she won't think of Julie.

Mortmain is still speaking. "I went to America," she says. "My sister and brother-in-law are there, and my father was visiting. I went with him, and we stayed, until the war was over. I would have liked to be the kind of girl who fought. I didn't know how to fly, but surely I could have done something. And I left instead, before it got bad." She smiles at her hands. "And that's what books are for, isn't it? Learning what it would have been like, to be a different kind of person."

Maddie looks down at her coffee, unaccountably sad. "I'm sure a lot of people would have stayed in America, if they could have. If they'd had the chance."

"I'm sure. But it wouldn't be a very interesting book."

"Mine wouldn't be either," says Maddie, although she knows it's not true. There are great stories in her, but they're hers. She has everything, all written out, but she could never give it away like that, for some peppy piece on women helping the war effort. She's seen those.

"It wouldn't just be yours," says Mortmain. "I'm not even sure if I'd want to write the true story. Although I've always had more luck with true stories, I suppose."

"So you'd just make something up?"

"Girls' Own adventure stories," she says, with a smile. "If I could pull it off. But I don't know what it would be like, to be a pilot. I need to know more to get a good heroine."

It's a mad idea. A mad, stupid idea. It's exactly what she didn't want, but it grows inside her all the same, opens up like something bright and wild, something already alive. "I have a heroine for you."

Mortmain raises her eyebrows.

"She was a special agent. Killed in action. But it's a book," she adds, thinking of Julie writing for Anna Engel, about the ending she'd want for Maddie.

The ending Maddie had gotten, after all.

"It's a book," Mortmain prompts, when Maddie doesn't speak.

"And books are allowed to have happy endings, aren't they?"

Mortmain's smile is wistful, a little understanding, like she's read her share of books that don't have the kind of endings Anna Engel would like.

"It's not frivolous," Maddie continues, surprising herself. "Not really. It's--it's important, to have books like Jane Austen. Not that she's--not that it's like that, there can be wars and adventures too, but just--"

"You're right," says Mortmain--a mercy, stopping her like that. "A happy ending for the special agent. It would make a good story."

"You haven't heard it yet," says Maddie, with a small smile.

"No, not yet." Mortmain takes a sip of coffee. "What was her name?"

That's for Maddie. "Queenie," she says. "But you can change it, she wouldn't mind. Her name was Queenie, and she was a Lady."

I have told the truth, Maddie thinks. It doesn't have to be everything. It doesn't have to be what happened. But it can still be true, and it can still be a good story.

It can be the right story.