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Still in the Land of the Sun

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"Sorry," Maddie calls, pushing Cassandra's door open as she juggles her bags. "I know I'm early, but I've brought--" She stops short, seeing Cassandra at the table with an unfamiliar young woman. She's blonde and pretty, and there's a moment, that moment Maddie always has, where she catalogs every similarity, clings to every scrap of Julie, like she's starving.

And then she recovers. They don't look much alike, not really.

"I didn't mean to interrupt," she says, with a smile.

"Oh, no--" says the young woman, looking to Cassandra, who rises and smiles.

"You're not interrupting, we lost track of time. Please, sit. I've been wanting to introduce you."

"Have you?"

"I like introducing my friends," says Cassandra. "And I was telling you about Maddie," she continues, to the young woman. "She's my co-author."

"I don't do any of the writing," she protests. "I just tell stories."

"That's what writing is," Cassandra says, laughing. "But, where are my manners? Isolde, this is Margaret Beaufort-Stuart."

"Maddie," she corrects quickly.

Cassandra smiles. "Maddie. Maddie, this is Isolde von Linden."

And suddenly, it's all similarities again, every tiny detail, everything that he might have seen, when he looked at Julie.

Cassandra's still talking, somehow. The world is still turning as Maddie looks at this wretched girl.

"--studying literature at the university, she claims she needs to practice her English, even though it's excellent."

"It's not," Isolde says. Maddie can hear the hint of her accent. "I still like to practice."

"You just like having someone to have tea with." Cassandra glances back at Maddie, confused and maybe a little hurt, and Maddie manages, almost, to shake it off.

She'd been thinking about what she'd want. If it were her, meeting a stranger, would she want to hear--what, even? What could Maddie say?

Julie had asked, hadn't she? Isolde hadn't known about her father's work. But she's older now. She probably couldn't stay innocent forever.

"I brought croissants," is what she manages. "I didn't know you'd be here," she adds to Isolde, still not quite able to look at her without seeing Julie, small and defiant in a gestapo prison. "But we still have enough." She swallows. "And some Swiss chocolates a friend sent me."

"What kind?" asks Isolde, perking up. "I went to school in Switzerland."

"I know," says Maddie, without thinking. Before she realizes Isolde was speaking to Cassandra. They're both staring at her, and Maddie looks down at her hands. "I--knew your father," she says. "In the war."

She's not a Brodatt anymore. It's not obvious she's Jewish, not like it was. But it's obvious she and Isolde von Linden's father would not have been friends.

"Oh," says Isolde, barely more than a breath. "You--spoke to my father about me?"

"No," says Maddie. "It's a long story." She licks her lips. "But I can tell you if you like. Most of it. It's not--" she starts, and falters. If anyone deserves the truth, as much truth as Maddie can manage, it's Isolde von Linden.

"It's not a happy story," Isolde supplies, soft.

"No. But if you'd like to hear it anyway..."

Isolde gives her a small, shy smile. It's nothing like Julie's. "I like your stories."

Cassandra puts a cup of tea in front of her, and Maddie gives her a grateful smile. "I suppose it starts with my friend Julie."