Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig

But then had come Frank Shaughnessy, member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, one of Brooklyn’s finest, a good man, a steady man, a policeman. Her mother had put cotton gloves over her reddened hands. There had been meat in the stew and sweet-smelling things in the kitchen and four little brothers, one after the other, each louder than the last. Kate had spent more and more time in the local library, reading her way around the shelves as the light shifted with her, the first one there after school, the last one out at dusk.

Her parents might blame Smith for making her a stranger, but it had all happened long before Smith; she’d been a shadow on the edge of their life well before she’d won the scholarship that took her to Northampton.

The one time Kate tried to go back, after Smith, after that summer with Emmie in Newport—well, suffice it to say it hadn’t been a success. It wasn’t that there hadn’t been room for her. They’d made room, even though it was tight in that two-family house with her four brothers all crammed into one room. But they hadn’t known what to do with her or she with them. The men her stepfather had brought home to meet her, boys from the force or the sons of friends, had called her “miss” and treated her like someone’s maiden aunt—or they’d been defensive, belligerent, as though daring her to look down on them.

No. It hadn’t been a success.

That was when Kate had found the job at Miss Cleary’s School for Young Ladies. Which hadn’t been a success either but had at least paid a wage. Because if there was one thing that month at home had taught her, it was that she couldn’t go home again, not really.

But she hadn’t anywhere else to go either.

“Oh, hello! Are you one of us?” A woman bumped into Kate and gave her a long look up and down. Given that she was wearing the same distinctive uniform, Kate rather thought the question answered itself. “You weren’t at the luncheon, were you? I would have known you then. I’m Maud Randolph, class of ’09.”

Kate held out her hand. “Kate Moran, class of ’11.”

“Moran—do you mean Warren?”

“No, Moran.” It was really Moranck, but the gatekeepers at Ellis Island, confounded by her father’s excess of consonants, had, in a stroke, turned him from Jiri Moranck to Jerry Moran. He had made a most unconvincing Jerry Moran. Kate had been only five when he had died, but she could still remember his thick Bohemian accent, the way he pronounced his Bs as Ps.

“I know some Warrens in Montclair,” offered Maud. “Why weren’t you at the luncheon? Everyone was meant to be at the luncheon.”

Kate felt as though she’d been caught sneaking in after curfew. “I was a late addition. Emmie Van Alden told me you were short a chauffeur and—well, here we are.”

“Van Alden?” Maud, who had been looking over her shoulder, searching for more interesting prey, turned her full attention back on Kate at the sound of that magic name. “Oh, you drive? So does my friend Liza. I don’t, but I’m rather a dab hand at French, so I imagine we’ll get by. Liza! Come meet Miss Warren.”

“Moran,” said Kate, without much hope.

Straightening her hat, Maud asked, with false casualness, “Do you know them well, the Van Aldens?”

“A bit.” Kate had stayed with them for that one summer, in Newport, in the house she had learned to call a cottage, even though it was anything but. It was the summer she had learned to drive; the summer she had learned, painfully, just how little she would ever belong to their world. “Emmie and I roomed together at Smith.”

“Of course, my family knows her family—well, slightly. Not to speak to, really. But we move in the same circles. My father’s law firm handles some of their legal work.” Maud flapped an arm at another girl, who was attempting to press a large bouquet on an already overladen porter. “Have you met Liza Shaw? Liza! Come meet—”

“Katherine Moran,” said Kate, resigned to repeating her name for the foreseeable future. It felt like freshman year all over again, milling about, trying to keep track of people’s names, liking some people on sight and disliking others. “Class of ’11.”

“Liza Shaw, class of ’09.” Hurrying up to them, Liza said breathlessly, “Maud, there’s another bouquet for you. From Harry. I’ve had them put it in the cabin.”

“That’s two bouquets from Harry,” said Maud with satisfaction, “and a basket of fruit. Although those pears are so terribly hard, I don’t know what he thinks we mean to do with them. Fling them at submarines?”