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No Matter How They Change Her

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"Are you any good with wirelesses?"

Maddie blinks, surprised.

"Sorry, that was terribly rude," says Cassandra, with a smile. "Good afternoon, please come in."

Maddie laughs. "I don't mind, you just took me by surprise. Wirelesses?"

"Yes. Mine's just stopped working. And you're still a mechanic, aren't you?"

"Oh. Yes, I can take a look, of course."

By now, it's a familiar routine. Cassandra writes every day, but Maddie just comes over on Sunday afternoons. Cassandra sits at the table and works on her typewriter, and Maddie reads everything she's done over the last week and makes notes.

Julie (Maddie gave up calling her Queenie after a few days; she couldn't keep up with it) has become Regina Collins, special agent operating under the name "The Queen."

("That's so obvious," Maddie told her. "No one would ever use a code name that's so obvious!"

"Yes, well, it is a book," said Cassandra.)

She travels to foreign locations--France, in this book, of course--and performs daring missions. She is assisted by her friend and pilot, Katie, who gets to perform a few daring feats of her own during their adventure.

("She can't be me," said Maddie.

"Of course not. It's fiction. She isn't anybody.")

It's a nice book, so far. Maddie likes it.

"What's wrong with the wireless?"

"I don't know," says Cassandra. "Only that it isn't working. I like to listen to it while I write, but it fizzled out this morning."

Maddie peers at the wireless. She's seen it before, but she's never really taken a good look. She whistles softly. "How old is it?"

"I got it for my birthday," she says. "My eighteenth." Maddie doesn't know exactly how old Cassandra is, but it's been at least ten years.

"Why don't you just get a new one?"

"It means a lot to me."

Cassandra always seems so open, until Maddie hits something she doesn't want to talk about, and then she gets something in her voice, a coolness that says she's done with the subject. But Maddie is still curious.

"From a sweetheart?"

"Not exactly," says Cassandra, her mouth twisting up a little.

"Well, it's got a gramophone," says Maddie, opening it up to examine the inside. "That's quite a nice gift."

"It is." There's a pause, and then she says. "I got two, actually. The other one wasn't as nice as this one, it broke down a while back. Even though I used it less." She smiles a small, private smile. "But then, he bought me the typewriter, that was sweet of him."

Cassandra is not married, Maddie knows that much. She suspects she has a sweetheart in America, an friend she's mentioned who's an actor, but it's like puzzle pieces, listening to Cassandra talk about her own life, and she hasn't got the whole thing put together yet.

"Well, I can fix the wireless, at any rate," says Maddie. "Just need to grab something from the car."

"Thanks," says Cassandra. "I'm not quite ready to give it up yet."

Maddie nods, grabs her toolkit from the boot and finishes the fix quick while Cassandra makes them tea. It's a nice old piece. "It's a good one," she says. "It'll last you a while longer." She turns it on low and sits down next to Cassandra at the table, takes the stack of neat typed pages. "What's our girl up to this week?"

The music is just loud enough to be there, in the corner of her awareness, like an itch, but not unpleasant.

When "The Last Time I Saw Paris" comes on, she doesn't even cry much, and Cassandra just offers her a handkerchief, wordless, and keeps writing.