Annie threw her paper airplane. It sailed up and over the gray block wall at the back of her yard. She stomped her foot and thought, Now I’m never going to get it back.
Just then, her typing-paper airplane glided back over the wall and landed by the patio. Annie grabbed the plane and ran back to the wall.
“Thank you,” she called. No one answered. “Is anyone there?” she asked. No one answered.
She threw her airplane back over the wall, sat on her swing, blocked the setting sun with a salute, and waited. Suddenly a different plane, made of newspaper, flew over the wall, through the swing chains above her head, and glided to a perfect landing in front of the sliding-glass door.
“Wow!” Annie reached for the plane. “I wish I knew how to make planes fly like—” Suddenly she stopped. The plane had a message written on one of the wings. “Hi, Amelia! From the Secret Pilot.”
Who’s Amelia? wondered Annie. Maybe the family who lived here before us had a girl named Amelia. The Secret Pilot sure can’t print very well. Her writing’s so scribbly, she couldn’t be very old. Or, it could be a boy. He sure knows how to make good airplanes. I have to find out who the Secret Pilot is.
“I’m going to ride around the block—OK, Mom?” Annie called.
“Not now, Annie. I need the table set for dinner.”
Annie chewed on her bottom lip. “May I go after dinner, please?”
“You need to wash your hair tonight,” said her mother.
Annie glanced back at the block wall. “May I please have a minute to do something before I set the table?” Her mother smiled and nodded. Annie grabbed a pen from the desk in the hall and ran back to the yard. On the other wing of the airplane, she wrote:
Dear Secret Pilot,
I’ll be over tomorrow.
She paused for a minute, then added “Amelia” after her own name. She sailed the plane back over the wall and waited, but it didn’t come back.
The next morning Annie jumped on her bike and pedaled around the corner. She kept her eye on the tall palm tree in her backyard. When she rode past a park on the next street, she lost sight of it for a minute but then was able to line it up with a long, low building. It didn’t look like a house. There was a parking lot beside it, and a large sign on the lawn. The sign said, “Seacliff Retirement Home.” Annie could see her palm tree behind the building.
She went up the sidewalk and peeked through the door. As she stepped on the black rubber doormat, the door buzzed aside like the one at the supermarket.
A nurse hung up a telephone and smiled at Annie. “May I help you, dear?” she asked.
Annie walked to the desk. “Do any kids live here?”
The woman said kindly, “No children—just older people.”
As Annie turned to leave, she saw a man with white hair and a blue captain’s hat walking slowly down the hall. His hat had gold wings embroidered on the bill. Annie saw something sticking out of his jacket pocket—her paper airplane. He saluted to the nurse.
“Hi, Captain Penny,” said the nurse. “Off to the park again?”
Captain Penny nodded and patted the nurse’s hand.
“Excuse me,” said Annie. “I’m Annie Amelia. Are you the Secret Pilot?”
Captain Penny smiled with every wrinkle on his face.
“He was a pilot all right, but it’s no secret,” said the nurse. “You should see his scrapbook. Why, he even knew Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean alone.”
Captain Penny took off his winged pilot’s hat and set it on Annie’s head. She grinned back at him.
“He can’t speak very well since his stroke, but he doesn’t let that stop him,” the nurse explained. “He takes his newspaper to the park every day and watches the children play.”
Captain Penny scribbled a shaky note and handed it to Annie:
Dear Miss Annie Amelia,
Some young friends and I are meeting at the park today to make airplanes. Might your mother let you join us?
Your Secret Pilot
Annie gave him a salute. The nurse called Annie’s mother, and Annie and the Secret Pilot headed for the park.