By People Staff
August 02, 1999 12:00 PM

When John and Jackie Kennedy returned home to Georgetown with their newborn son just days before daughter Caroline’s 3rd birthday, the little girl beamed with delight: John Jr., she announced, was her birthday present.

From that day, John Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, now 41, remained unshakably close—a pair of cheerful coconspirators, often caught whispering in the secret language of siblings. “He and Caroline were best friends,” says Richard Wiese, a friend of John’s since college. “There was genuine love between them.”

As a youngster, Schlossberg played the role of wiser older sister. “She was always after him, ‘John, do this,’ and ‘You’re not supposed to do that, John,’ ” recalls Barbara Gibson, Rose Kennedy’s former secretary. And after Jackie died, says her friend, author Ed Klein, Caroline urged John to settle down. “She thought Carolyn [Bessette] fit John’s profile in a wife, and she thought it was time he got married, and told him so,” says Klein.

With news of the crash, Caroline, an attorney and author, cut short a rafting trip in Idaho to return to her Sagaponack, N.Y., home with her husband, museum designer Edwin Schlossberg, 54, and children, Rose, 11, Tatiana, 9, and Jack, 6. As for how Schlossberg will handle her loss, Jackie Onassis biographer C. David Heymann points out that she has had a remarkable role model. “Caroline has her mother’s strength,” he says, “and that’s a great deal of strength.”