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Kate Jamison saw Joe for the first time at a debutante ball in December of 1940, three days before Christmas. She and her parents had come to New York for the week from Boston, to do some Christmas shopping, visit friends, and attend the ball. Kate was actually a friend of the debutante's younger sister. At seventeen it was unusual for girls to be included, but Kate had dazzled everyone for so long, and was so mature for her age, that their hosts had found it an easy decision to include her.
Kate's friend had been jubilant, as had she. It was the most beautiful party she'd ever been to, and the room, when she walked in on her father's arm, had been filled with extraordinary people. Heads of state were there, important political figures, dowagers and matrons, and enough handsome young men to flesh out an army. Every important name in New York society was in attendance, and several from Philadelphia and Boston.
There were seven hundred people chatting in the elegant reception rooms and an exquisite mirrored ballroom, and the gardens had been tented. There were hundreds of liveried waiters serving them, a band in both the ballroom and the tent outside. There were beautiful women and handsome men, extraordinary jewels and gowns, and the gentlemen were wearing white tie. The guest of honor was a pretty girl, she was small and blond and she was wearing a dress made for her by Schiaparelli. This was the moment she had looked forward to for her entire lifetime; she was being officially presented to society for the first time. She looked like a porcelain doll as she stood on the reception line with her parents, and a crier announced each guest's name as they entered in their evening gowns and tails.
As the Jamisons came through the line, Kate kissed her friend and thanked her for inviting her. It was the first ball of its kind she had been to, and for an instant the two young women looked like a Degas portrait of two ballerinas, as they stood in subtle contrast to each other. The debutante was small and fair, with gently rounded curves, while Kate's looks were more striking. She was tall and slim, with dark reddish auburn hair that hung smoothly to her shoulders. She had creamy skin, enormous dark blue eyes, and a perfect figure. And while the debutante was restrained and serene, greeting each guest, there was an electricity and energy that seemed to emanate from Kate. As she was introduced to the guests by her parents, she met their eyes squarely, and dazzled them with her smile. There was something about the way she looked, and even the shape of her mouth that suggested she was about to say something funny, something important, something that you would want to hear, and remember. Everything about Kate promised excitement, as though her own youth was so exuberant that she had to share it with you.
There was something mesmerizing about Kate, always had been, as though she came from a different place and was destined for greatness. There was nothing ordinary about Kate, she stood out in every crowd, not only for her looks, but for her wit and charm. At home, she had always been full of mischief and wild plans, and as an only child she had kept her parents amused and entertained. She had been born to them late in life, after twenty years of marriage, and when she was a baby, her father liked to say that she had been well worth waiting for, and her mother readily agreed. They adored her. In her earliest years, she had been the center of their world.
Kate's early years were easy and free. Born into wealth, as a small child she had known nothing but comfort and ease. Her father, John Barrett, had been the scion of an illustrious Boston family, and he had married Elizabeth Palmer, whose fortune was even larger than his own. Their families had been immensely pleased with the match. Kate's father had been well known in banking circles, for his good judgment and wise investments. And then the crash came in '29, and swept away Kate's father and thousands like him on a tidal wave of destruction, despair, and loss. Fortunately, Elizabeth's family had felt it unwise to let the pair commingle their fortunes. There had been no children between them for a long time, and Elizabeth's own family continued to handle most of her financial affairs. Miraculously, she was relatively untouched by the crash.
John Barrett lost his entire fortune, and only a very small part of hers. Elizabeth had done everything she could to reassure him, and to help him get on his feet again. But the disgrace he felt ate away at his very foundations. Three of his most important clients and best friends shot themselves within months of losing their fortunes, and it took another two years for John to give way to despair himself. Kate scarcely saw him during those two years. He had closeted himself in an upstairs bedroom, seldom saw anyone, and rarely went out.
The bank his family had established, and which he had run for nearly twenty years, closed within two months of the crash. He became inaccessible, removed, reclusive, and the only thing that ever cheered him was the sight of Kate, who was only six then, wandering into his rooms, bringing him a piece of candy or a drawing she had made for him. As though sensing the maze he was lost in, she instinctively tried to lure him out again, to no avail. Eventually, even she found his door locked to her, and in time her mother forbade her to go upstairs. Elizabeth didn't want her to see her father, drunk, disheveled, unshaven, often sleeping the days away. It was a sight that would have terrified her, and broke her mother's heart.
John Barrett took his life almost two years after the crash, in September 1931. He was the only surviving member of his family at the time, and left behind him only his widow and one child. Elizabeth's fortune was still intact then, she was one of the few lucky ones in her world whose life had been relatively unaffected by the crash, until she lost John.
Kate still remembered the exact moment when her mother had told her. She had been sitting in the nursery drinking a cup of hot chocolate, holding her favorite doll, and when she saw her mother walk into the room, she knew something terrible had happened. All she could see were her mother's eyes, and all she could hear was the suddenly-too-loud ticking of the nursery clock.
Her mother didn't cry when she told her, she told her quietly and simply that Kate's father had gone to Heaven to live with God. She said that he had been very sad in the past two years, and he would be happy now with God. As her mother said the words, Kate felt as though her entire world had collapsed on top of her. She could barely breathe, as the cocoa spilled from her hands, and she dropped her doll. She knew that from that moment on, her life would never be the same again.
Kate stood solemnly at her father's funeral, and she heard nothing. All she could remember then was that her father had left them because he had been too sad. Other people's words swirled around her afterward . . . heartbroken . . . never recovered . . . shot himself . . . lost several fortunes . . . good thing he hadn't handled Elizabeth's money as well. . . . Outwardly, nothing changed for them after that, they lived in the same house, saw the same people. Kate still went to the same school, and within days after his death, she started third grade.
She felt as though she were in a daze for months afterward. The man she had so trusted and loved and looked up to, and who had so clearly adored her, had left them, without warning or explanation or any reason that Kate could fathom. All she knew and could understand was that he was gone, and in all the profound ways that truly mattered, her life was forever changed. A major piece of her world had disappeared. And her mother was so distraught for the first few months that she all but disappeared from Kate's life. Kate felt as though she had lost two parents, not just one.
Elizabeth settled what was left of John's estate with their close friend and banker Clarke Jamison. Like Elizabeth, his fortune and investments had survived the crash. He was quiet and kind and solid. His own wife had died years before of tuberculosis, he had no children of his own, and had never remarried. But within nine months of John Barrett's death, he asked Elizabeth to marry him. They were married fourteen months after John's death, in a small, private ceremony that included only themselves, the minister, and Kate, who watched with wide, solemn eyes. She was nine at the time.
Over the years, it had proven to be a wise decision. Although she wouldn't have admitted it publicly, out of respect for her late husband, Elizabeth was even happier with Clarke than she had been with John. They were well suited, shared similar interests, and Clarke was not only a good husband to her, but a wonderful father to Kate. Clarke adored Kate, and she him. He worshiped her, protected her, and although they never talked about him, he spent all the ensuing years trying to make up to her for the father she had lost. Clarke was quiet and solid and loving, and took pleasure in the spirit of joy and mischief that eventually rekindled in Kate. And after discussing it with both Elizabeth and Kate, he adopted her when she was ten. At first, Kate had worried that it would be disrespectful to her father, but she confessed to Clarke the morning of the adoption that it was what she wanted most in the world. Her father had slipped quietly out of her life at the moment his own troubles began, when she was six. Clarke provided all the emotional stability Kate had needed after her father's death. There was nothing he denied her, and he was always there for her in every imaginable way.
Eventually, all her friends seemed to forget he wasn't her father, and in time, so did Kate. She thought of her own father quietly sometimes, in rare, solemn moments, but he seemed so far away now that she scarcely remembered him. All she remembered now, when she allowed herself to, was the sense of terror and abandonment she had felt when he died. But she seldom, if ever, allowed herself to think of it. The door to that part of her was closed, and she preferred it that way.
It wasn't Kate's nature to dwell on the past, or cling to sadness. She was the sort of person who always seemed to be propelled toward joy, and created it for others wherever she went. The sound of her laughter, and spark of excitement in her eyes, created an aura of joy wherever she went, much to Clarke's delight. They never spoke of the fact that Clarke had adopted her. It was a closed chapter in Kate's life, and she would have been shocked if anyone had spoken of it to her. Clarke's fathering of her over the past nine years since her father's death, had become part of her so seamlessly that she no longer even thought about it. He was truly her father now in heart and soul, not only in her mind, but his own. In every possible way, she had long since become his child.
Clarke Jamison was a much-admired banker in Boston. He came from a respectable family, had gone to Harvard, and was more than content with his life. He had always been happy that he'd married Elizabeth and adopted Kate. In all the ways that mattered to him, and to them, his life was a success. And certainly in the eyes of the world as well. Kate's mother Elizabeth was a happy woman. She had everything she wanted in life, a husband she loved, and a daughter she adored. Kate had appeared in her parents' lives, just after Elizabeth's fortieth birthday. It had been the greatest joy of her life. All her hopes rested on Kate, she wanted everything wonderful for her. And despite Kate's energy and exuberant personality, Elizabeth had seen to it that she had both impeccable manners and astounding poise. And once she had married Clarke, after the trauma of John's suicide, Elizabeth and Clarke had treated Kate like a small adult. They shared their lives with her, and traveled extensively abroad. They always took her along.
At seventeen, Kate had been to Europe with them every summer, and they had taken her to Singapore and Hong Kong with them the year before. She had been exposed to far more than most girls her age, and as she glided among the guests seeming more like an adult than a young girl, she was enormously composed. It was something one noticed instantly about her. One knew immediately that Kate was not only happy, but totally at ease in her own skin. She could speak to anyone, go anywhere, do almost anything. Nothing daunted or frightened Kate. She was excited by life, and it showed.
The gown Kate was wearing to the debutante ball in New York had been ordered for her from Paris the previous spring. It was entirely different from the gowns the other girls were wearing. Most of them were wearing ball gowns in pastel or bright colors. No one else had worn white, of course, in deference to the guest of honor. And they all looked lovely. But Kate looked more than that, she was elegant and striking. Even at seventeen, everything about her said she was a woman and not a girl. Not in an offensive way, but she seemed to exude a kind of quiet sophistication. There were no frills, no big skirt, no ruffles or flounces. The ice blue satin gown was cut on the bias, and seemed to ripple over her like water, it was almost a second skin, and the straps that held it to her shoulders were barely stronger than threads. It showed off her perfect figure, and the aquamarine and diamond earrings she wore were her mother's and had been her grandmother's before her. They sparkled as they danced in and out of her long dark red hair. She wore almost no makeup, just a little powder. Her dress was the color of an icy winter sky, and her skin had the color and softness of the palest creamy rose. Her lips were bright red and caught your eye as she constantly laughed and smiled.