Authors: Danielle Steel
If you love someone,
let him fly free….
To my beloved children,
Beatrix, Trevor, Todd, Nick,
Samantha, Victoria, Vanessa,
Maxx and Zara,
You are the most wonderful
people on earth,
and the best I know,
and I love you with all my heart.
HE CALL CAME
when she least expected it, on a snowy December afternoon, almost exactly thirty-four years after they met. Thirty-four years. Extraordinary years. She had spent exactly two-thirds of her lifetime with him. Kate was fifty-one years old, and Joe was sixty-three. And in spite of everything he had accomplished, Joe still seemed and looked young to her. There was a vibrancy to him, an energy, a driving force. He was like a shooting star, trapped in the body and soul of one man, always pushing forward, skyrocketing toward unseen goals. He had vision and brilliance and excitement like no one else. She had seen it from the moment they met. Had always known it. She hadn't always understood it, but from the first, without even knowing who he was, she had known he was different and important and special, and very, very rare.
Kate had felt him in her bones. Over the years, he had become part of her soul. He was not always the most comfortable part of her, or even of himself, but he was a major part of her, and had been for a long time.
There had been clashes over the years, and explosions, peaks and valleys, mountaintops, sunrises and
sunsets, and peaceful times. He had been Everest to her. The Ultimate. The place she had always wanted to reach. From the very beginning, he had been her dream. He had been Heaven and Hell, and once in a while purgatory somewhere in between. He was a genius, and a man of extremes.
They gave meaning to each other's lives, and color and depth, and had frightened each other profoundly at times. Peace and acceptance and love had come with age and time. The lessons they had learned had been hard won and hard earned.
They had each been the other's greatest challenge, embodied each other's worst fears. And in the end, they had healed each other. In time, they fit together like two pieces of one puzzle, with no sharp edges and no seams.
In the thirty-four years they had shared, they had found something that few people ever do. It had been tumultuous and exhilarating, and the noise had been deafening at times, but they both knew that it was infinitely rare. It had been a magical dance for thirty-four years, whose steps had not been easy for either of them to learn.
Joe was different from other people, he saw what others could not, and had little need to live among other men. He was happier, in fact, when he kept to himself. And around him, he had created an extraordinary world. He was a visionary who had created an industry, an empire. He had expanded the world. And in doing so, he had stretched horizons beyond what anyone had imagined would be there. He was driven to build, to break barriers, to constantly go farther than he had before.
Joe was in California when the call came that night, and had been there for weeks. He was due back in two more days. Kate wasn't worried about him, she never worried about him anymore. He left and he returned. Like the seasons or the sun. Wherever he was, she knew that he was never far from her. All that mattered to Joe, other than Kate, were his planes. They were, and always had been, an integral part of him. He needed them, and what they meant to him, in some ways more than he needed her. She knew that, and accepted it. Like his soul or his eyes, she had come to love his planes as part of him. It was all part of the miraculous mosaic that was Joe.
She was writing in a journal that day, content in the silence of the peaceful house, as the world outside lay blanketed by fresh snow. It was already dark when the call came at six o'clock, and she was startled by how late it was. When she glanced at her watch at the sound of the phone, she smiled, knowing it would be Joe. She looked much the same as she always had, as she pushed back a lock of dark red hair, and reached for the phone. She knew she would be met instantly by the deep velvet of the familiar voice, anxious to tell her about his day.
“Hello?” she said, anticipating his voice, as she noticed how hard it was still snowing outside. It was a perfect winter wonderland, and would make for a lovely Christmas when the children came home. Both had jobs and lives and people they cared about, of their own. Her world revolved almost entirely now around Joe. It was Joe who lived at the center of her soul.
“Mrs. Allbright?” The voice was not Joe's. She felt disappointed for a moment, but only because she had
expected to hear him. He would call eventually. He always did. There was a strange, long pause, almost as though the vaguely familiar voice on the other end expected her to know why he had called. He was a new assistant but Kate had spoken to him before. “I'm calling from Mr. Allbright's office,” he said, and then paused again, and without knowing why, she had an odd feeling that Joe had wanted him to call. It was as though she could sense Joe standing beside her in the room, and yet she could not imagine why this man had called her, and not Joe. “I… I'm sorry. There's been an accident.” At the sound of his words, her entire body went cold, as though she had suddenly been put out naked in the snow.
She knew before he said the words. An accident… there's been an accident… an accident… it was a litany she had once spent a lifetime waiting for, and then forgotten, because Joe had had so many charmed lives. He was indestructible, infallible, invincible, immortal. He had told her when they met that he had a hundred lives, and had only used up ninety-nine. There always seemed to be one more.
“He flew to Albuquerque this afternoon,” the voice said, and suddenly all Kate could hear in the room was the sound of a clock ticking. She realized breathlessly that it was the same sound she had heard more than forty years before when her mother came to tell her about her father. It was the sound of time running out, the feeling of falling through space into a bottomless abyss, and she knew she could not ever let herself go back to that place again. Joe would not let this happen to her. “He was testing a new design.” The voice went
on, sounding like a boy to her suddenly. Why wasn't it Joe on the line? For the first time in years, she felt the hands of terror claw at her. “There was an explosion,” he said in a voice so soft she couldn't bear to hear it. The word hit her like a bomb.
“No … I… there couldn't have been … there can't be…” She choked on her words, and then froze. She knew the rest before he could say it to her. He no longer had to tell her. She knew what had happened as she could sense the walls of her safe, protected world falling around her. “Don't tell me.” They both sat there for a long moment, terrified into silence, as tears filled her eyes. He had volunteered to call her. No one else could bring themselves to pick up the phone.
“They crashed over the desert,” he said simply, as Kate closed her eyes and sat there, listening. It hadn't happened. It wasn't happening. He wouldn't do this to her. And yet she had always known it could happen. But neither of them had ever really believed it would. He was too young for this to happen to him. And she was far too young to be his widow. And yet there had been so many others like her in his life, wives of pilots who lost their men testing his planes. Joe had always gone to visit them. And now this boy was calling her, this child, how could he possibly know what Joe had been to her, or she to him? How could he even know who or what Joe was? All he knew was the man who had built the empire. The legend he had been. There was so much more to Joe that he would never know. She had spent half a lifetime learning who Joe was.
“Did someone check the wreckage?” she asked in a voice that trembled beyond her control. Surely, if they
did, they would find him, and he would be laughing at them, dust himself off, and call to tell her what had happened. Nothing could ever touch Joe.
The young man on the phone did not want to say that there had been a midair explosion that had lit up the sky like a volcano. Another pilot flying well above him said it had looked like Hiroshima. There was nothing left of Joe but his name.
“We're sure, Mrs. Allbright… I'm so sorry. Is there anything I can do for you? Is there anyone there with you?”
She paused, unable to form words. All she wanted to say was that Joe was there with her, and always would be. She knew that nothing and no one could take him from her.
“Someone from the office will call you later, about the… uh… arrangements,” the voice said awkwardly, and all Kate could do was nod. And without another word, she hung up. There was nothing left to say to him, nothing she had to say, or could. She stared out at the snow, seeing Joe. It was as though he were standing right in front of her, just as he had always been. She could still see him the way he had looked the night they met, so long ago.
She could feel panic wash over her, and knew she had to be strong now for him, she had to be the person she had become because of him. He would expect that of her. She could not allow herself to fall into the darkness again, or give in to the terror that loving him had healed. She closed her eyes and said his name softly in the familiar room they had shared.
“Joe … don't go… I need you…,” she whispered as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“I'm right here, Kate. I'm not going anywhere. You know that.” The voice was strong and quiet, and so real that she knew she had heard him. He would not leave her. He was doing what he had to do, where he had to be, where he wanted to be, in his own skies somewhere. As he was meant to be. Just as he had been in all her years of loving him. Powerful. Invincible. And free.
Nothing could change that now. No explosion could claim him from her. He was bigger than that. Too big to die. She had to free him once again, to do what he was destined to do. It was to be her final act of courage, and his.
A life without Joe was unimaginable, unthinkable. As she looked out into the night, she could see him slowly walking away from her. And then he turned to smile at her. He was the same man he had always been. The same man she had loved for so long. Just as he was.
The house filled with an immeasurable silence, as Kate sat long into the night, thinking of him. Outside, the snow continued to fall as her mind drifted back to the night they had met. She had been seventeen, and he had been young and powerful and dazzling. It had been an unforgettable moment that had changed her life, as she looked at him, and the dance began.
ATE 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.