Chapter 1: A letter
Getting out of bed… it would never get easy. Tommy opened his eyes. A cold October morning, the sun wasn’t even out yet. He had only opened his eyes for three seconds but there it was again. That nagging feeling, the realisation that Grace and John were dead. It was like clockwork: waking up, opening his eyes, having a moment of peace and then… a heavy stone falling on his chest, over and over again.
Tommy rolled over to the cold side of the bed. It had been warm once. Not that long ago he reminded himself what a lucky bastard he was for waking up next to the love of his life, the mother of his son, his partner in crime. He got used to a lot of things since Grace passed, but he had a hard time adjusting to those cold and lonely mornings. He ran a hand over his mouth and took a deep breath. He sat up, turned on the light next to his bed and took his silver cigarette case. Mindless he ran the cigarette over his bottom lip before lighting it. Smoke circled through his full lips. All of a sudden he heard a soft knock on his bedroom door. His heart skipped a beat and he turned his head to the door. Two blue eyes full of mischief looked at him. Tommy smiled weakly, the cigarette hanging loosely from his lips.
“Come ‘ere, Charlie” he said, his hand kindly patting the cold spot next to him.
The four year old toddled over to the king size bed, crawled onto it and slid under the duvet next to his father. Tommy pushed out his cigarette and fished a lost toy from under his bed.
“You want to play, lil’ one?” Charlie’s eyes lit up. He put his little hands up to grab the toy but his dad playfully put it behind his back.
“Which hand, Carlie boy?” Tommy whispered. Charlie tilted his head.
“This one, daddy!” Tommy held out an empty hand.
“Oh I know, it’s this one” Charlie happily pointed at the other hand. Tommy presented another empty hand to the toddler.
“No!” he screamed.
“Shhh, it’s still early, we should be quiet” Tommy said while handing Charlie the toy.
The little boy smiled broadly and was soon all caught up in his own games. Funny, Tommy thought, no whiskey, no woman, no fucking bar fight can make me get rid of the stones on my chest, but a four year old can. A soft knock on his bedroom door interrupted his thinking.
“Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Shelby”, Mary’s voice rang nervously from behind the closed door “there’s a letter for you”. Tommy looked up in confusion. Why on earth would the housemaid interrupt the precious time between him and his son, of which every one of the household knew it was very important to him, for a fucking letter?
“You can put it on my desk, Mary, next to the regular post” Tommy suggested, trying to keep his calm.
“With all due respect, Mr. Shelby, I do believe you really want to read this letter.” Mary hesitated for a moment “It’s written in Romani” The strangest feeling crept over his back and Tommy hesitated for a second whether to accept the letter or just wait to read it at his desk.
“Daddy, what’s Romani?” The child’s voice pulled him back to reality and he decided nothing could be more important than spending time with Charlie.
“It’s fine Mary, you can put it on my desk. Thank you for asking” He didn't get much time to think about the letter. Charlie crawled under the sheets pretending to be a ghost. He obliged his dad to take part in the scary role play.
Thomas had always been a sucker for control. Not purely for the sake of dominance and authority but because he learned the hard way that this is how you protect those you love. Fully aware he sometimes pushed his loved ones to the edge and further away from him, he had always preferred control and ratio over passion and emotion. However, being confronted with threats towards his family and unwanted side effects of his obsession with control, doubt sometimes kicked in. It was in those rare moments he felt his gypsy roots pulling at him. Freedom, letting go, trusting your gut, listening to the voices in the wind… It all had been so natural and obvious one time. And in these singular instants where Tommy allowed insecurity and doubt he felt more whole than ever. Yet his reality forced him into master plans and made him overthink every decision, afraid to miss a detail that could threaten his family or worse, his son. No, Tommy Shelby wasn’t a man of letting go.
Right after breakfast Tommy retreated to his office. His gaze flew rapidly over the letter. He read it a second time and threw it on his desk. He lighted a cigarette and stared through the window. He took the letter from the wooden desk and read it again, slower this time. He scratched the back of his head, the cigarette hanging loosely from his lips. What the actual fuck did he just read... An old friend is greeting you. He was surprised at how good his Romani still was, and how old memories surfaced by reading the language he used to hear so often. The letter approached him as Tommy Shelby MP and suggested a meeting concerning his position in the Labour party. Even though nothing strange was mentioned in the letter, Tommy felt touched by the way it was written. It approached him as a human being with ideals and concern for the people; not as the gangster and opportunist most people seemed to see in him. Internally conflicted by soothing memories of his childhood and a menacing feeling of mistrust, he took a deep drag from his cigarette. Whoever wrote the letter, he knew this person. That was the only thing he was sure of. He stared through the window, hands in his pockets. A lot could go wrong if he’d meet up with the writer. It could be a retribution for something he’d done a long time ago, it could be a secret meeting to make a deal about a political thing, fuck, it could be anything! He ran his hand over his mouth. But then again... what was there to lose? He’d done far more complicated and more dangerous things. Unaware of what the future held for him, he decided to meet up with the writer at the stated time and place.
Chapter 2: A Strange Encounter
Tommy parked his shiny car in front of a bakery, or rather: a building that was once a bakery. It was abandoned and had clearly been closed for quite some time. He re-read the letter quickly, not sure if he was at the place the writer wanted to meet up. He stepped out of the car, his freshly polished black leather shoes stood out against the mud of the dirt road. He looked around. It was quiet. Too quiet. Small Heath was an unkempt rather gruesome place, yet Tommy had never felt unsafe. It was his home. But this spot of town… well, this was a far more grim place than he’d ever seen. And yes, he definitely felt unsafe ‘round here. The weight of his gun burned at his ribcage. 'Lucky I brought my gun' he thought. However, his determination to meet up with the mysterious writer faded with each step, intimidated by the roughness and hostile atmosphere in the district. It made him question himself. How could The Tommy Shelby feel menaced by just a bleak part of town? Was it the looks of the few people hanging ‘round there? Or was it the peculiar silence? Little did he know it was his sixth sense, telling him his life was about to change…
He reached the designated rendezvous spot, cautiously waiting for this so called old friend to show up. His senses were tense, like a cat hunting its prey he heard, saw and smelled every detail. A sudden rustle caught his attention. Someone was creeping onto him, there was no doubt. In the blink of an eye he turned his back, grabbed the fella and kept him locked against the cold stone wall.
“What the…! Is this how you greet everyone you meet up with?” the guy huffed. “Just relax, bloke, I’m a woman for god’s sake!”
Dressed in a suit and cap, she could easily pass for a young lad. No wonder he’d mistaken her for an attacker. Tommy loosened his grip but kept her hands tight on her back. The minute she felt the pressure of his hands decrease, she skilfully twisted her body and came face to face with Mr. Shelby himself. In this movement, her cap fell and a bunch of lush brown curls fell down and framed her blushing face. It all happened in a split second and Tommy couldn’t wrap his head around this strange encounter. Flexing his jaw at the mere sight of his opponent, he was stupefied for a moment. Quickly he regained his cool and cocked an eyebrow.
“A woman ey? Who’s sending you?” he barked.
“Whoa, I’d heard the city had toughened you up, but treating a woman like this at the first meeting is a little over the top, don’t you think? Why don’t you just release me, let me put on my cap again so you’ll listen to what I have to say instead of drooling over my features?” she confidently, almost mockingly, said.
There was something in the way she said it that made him feel a bit more unclenched than how he arrived at the spot. Imagining how this must look, Mr. Shelby, the newest asset to the Labour party, pinning a woman to the wall in an alley, he reconciled himself and released this peculiar damsel. She swiftly picked up her cap. He lit a cigarette, his mind faded out for an instant. This smell, her perfume… it reminded him of home.
The woman patted the dust from her suit and restored herself. Her body showed confidence yet her eyes betrayed her. She was second guessing every decision she made in the last twenty four hours. What was she doing for God’s sake?! She had been sitting on this plan and overthinking every option for months now. The letter, her proposal, even her outfit was carefully thought through. ‘Wear a suit. If you show up in a dress, he’ll patronize you. He’ll probably only pay attention to your pretty face and curves instead of listening to your story. Put on a cap, it’ll hide the nervous look in your eyes.’ The closer the day came the letter was supposed to be delivered, the more these insignificant thoughts ghosted her. Despite her doubts about the how she was very determined about the why of this all: the cause, everything she did was for the cause. She took a deep breath, pulled her shoulders back and started her prepared tale:
“I was sent by my curator Mr. Brooks. He’s a scientist but not in like physics or so. He’s a social scientist, studies the effects of economy on people’s political choices.”
She paused for a second, checking if her conversation partner understood what she was saying. He shortly nodded and took a drag from his cigarette.
“Go on, I’m not an idiot. Your words aren’t strange to me” he said with a hint of arrogance.
“Right” the woman went on, not in the least abashed by his reaction, “Mr. Brooks wishes to partner up with you. Partly as a way to study how people react to a member of parliament who rose from the working class, partly because he truly believes in the position of the Labour Party and wants to establish it”
There were some obvious nerves in her voice. She took quite a risk by posing her proposal so bluntly and avowedly. Trying to hide her uncertainty she hid her hands in her pocket and leaned casually to the stone wall. A short silence made the tension rise. Tommy concealed his confusion by mirroring her actions. Hands hidden in their pockets and one leg bent against the wall, they both stood there.
“Shouldn’t a scientist be neutral?” Tommy spoke all of a sudden.
“Neutrality is a lie people with bad intentions use to misguide the ignorant” she simply stated.
“I see… then why doesn’t this Mr. Brooks meet with me in person if his intentions are pure?”
Shit. She didn’t see that one coming. She foolishly thought Tommy would accept that the pupil gave the message, not the scientist himself. She panicked. Go on then girl, don’t wait too long to answer his question. It’ll only seem more suspicious!
“He’s quite ... notorious”
“So am I”
“No, it’s different. His thoughts are rather controversial, power to the people and so on. It’s very unsafe for him to show his face in public. He had several death threats.” she rambled, not really sticking to the script she’d so carefully thought out for months.
“I can offer him protection, you know” Tommy stated simply while flicking his finished cigarette to the ground.
“No no, you don’t understand” the woman flushed, now standing on her two feet, some messy curls had escaped her cap.
“His way of communicating is just very unusual… Scientists you know” she tried to ease the message.
Tommy, still standing seemingly casual against the wall, sensed misguidance. He had a nose for these things. He tried a different approach:
“I find it highly unusual for a so called old friend, as stated in the letter, to send his pupil instead of meeting me in person”
What happened next perplexed him more than anything ever had.
The most contagious laugh escaped the woman’s mouth. As she bent over from her laughter her cap fell off. In a blink of an eye he had a feeling of recognition.
“Tommy, Mr. Brooks is not the old friend. I’m your old friend! It’s me, Eve, Eve Ross!” Still puzzled he frowned in confusion.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know no Eve”
The laughter faded as quickly as it came.
“You do, Tommy. Remember when your mother’s nightmares increased and Polly brought her to Beba Ma? We used to play together, Tom. You, me, Ada, Arthur, John. The treatments could take hours and we entertained ourselves with the silliest games, riddles and stories. You do remember, don’t you???”
His mind was fogged, little pieces of his past fell together in his head. Eve… Polly dragging his mother and the kids along the two-hour trip to another gypsy camp… Beba Ma and her warm hands touching his cheek. He got entangled in his memories and long lost emotions. He coughed, as if not only to clear his throat but his mind also.
“I thought… the camp was destroyed. The fire, I saw it with my own eyes” he answered in a low voice. She shook her head
“I survived, Tommy. Just me. I wasn’t in the camp at the time of the fire.”
“How…” he started, but she interrupted him “It doesn’t matter. I’m the old friend, Tommy, and with my hand on my heart, I can assure you this deal with Mr. Brooks is not a trap or anything. He truly believes in the party and in your skills.”
Tommy pulled out his silver case of cigarettes. His calloused fingertips plucked one out. He mindfully rubbed the cig between his lips. He patted his pockets, searching his lighter. A swear escaped his mouth. He realised the lighter must’ve slipped out of his pockets during the wrestle with Eve. He lifted his eyelids. A beautifully crafted lighter was presented to him in a second, dainty hands enwrapping it. He looked up to Eve and hesitated a moment. He got that strange feeling again. What should he do, what part of him should he listen to? Ratio or emotion? Criminal mind or gypsy instinct? He lit the cigarette and sniffed. He nodded shortly.
“Right then, clarify his strategy to me” he heard himself say.
The sun was already setting as the notorious black coat rushed through Small Heath. Tommy was high on confusion and low on energy. His encounter with Eve detached some long lost feelings he’d tucked away for a very long time: seeing his mother suffer, losing her, leaving the countryside and the camp, moving into Small Heath with his highly incapable father… Trauma’s that would distort any child. But not Tommy, at least, that’s what he thought. It was like a box had been opened in his heart. A box full of emotions, traumatic flash backs and sore memories. He could only think of one person to run to. Polly. On top of all that he’d recklessly given in to the proposal of Mr. Brooks, of which it was unclear to him what the benefits, let alone the costs were. This was nothing like him taking up a proposition without investigating the risks like that. What was happening to him? Was he losing his mind? How did all this take such strange turns? His breath became shallow, his steps faster. He really needed Polly right now, the only person who could truly reassure him and clear up his head.
Watery Lane hadn’t changed a bit. Tommy sat in Polly’s red, rather luxurious couch. Since Michael had moved overseas she couldn’t stand the solitude in the mansion and moved back to Small Heath. Partly to be in the rumble of the city again, partly to keep an eye on Finn. Unlike her second oldest nephew Polly couldn’t be more in touch with her inner gypsy. A life in the city, running a semi-legal business and misleading friend and foe for the good of the company wasn’t opposed to a life in the wild where different rules and agreements applied for Polly. She could do both and unite them smoothly. It didn’t happen often but sometimes her business-side and her gypsy-side clashed. While she took a slow drag of her cigarette she listened to Tommy’s report of the past hours. There it was: the clash of business and gypsy, both granting her advice and insights that made no sense. She realised Tommy was silent, his story was finished. With closed eyes she took another drag of her cigarette. Fog in her head, but then… she saw clear:
“Eve Ross… I would have sworn she died in the fire, just like all the others… Are you sure it was her and not an imposter?” she asked calmly.
Tommy nodded slowly: “You know I don’t often say this, but I feel like I can trust her. I feel like we’ve known each other in another…” he considered his last words “…in another life”.
His confession was replied by a short yet understanding nod of his aunt. She closed her eyes for the second time. Tommy shifted nervously in his seat. Another question emerged in Polly’s head:
“And what did you say her link was with this scientist? It just doesn’t sound right” Polly said, now more convinced. Tommy started to calm down and overthink the conversation he had with Eve earlier on.
“You’re right, it does sound shady. But Eve’s never done our family any harm in the past. Why did she reach out after all those years? And why on earth would she ever try to set the Shelby’s up?”
Polly interrupted Tommy’s rambling: “The Rosses have always been good to us, there is no way she’d voluntarily frame us. She must’ve been threatened or this Mr. Brooks really is legit and we’re just paranoid. And still… my guts tell me different”.
Tommy felt the same way but couldn’t wrap his head around it either.
“So what’s next then? Have you already settled for a meet-up?”
“She’ll come by my office on Thursday”
“Oh bloody hell” Polly muttered under her breath “you invited her in your house and we don’t even know yet if she’s to be trusted”. She rolled her eyes.
They both sat in silence, overthinking the story and wandering through their memories of gypsy times. And then it happened. Out of the blue, one single tear filled the corner of Tommy’s eye. Just a glisten in his eye but it didn’t go unnoticed by Polly.
“Strange isn’t it, how a person could bottle up so much shit and just a single event can release it all. Like a wave, not even the seashore can hold it. The strength of nature is one we should respect and undergo. Or else we’re lost in time and place. Embrace it, Tommy. All the feels, all the memories, all the regrets. Embrace it all and for once, listen to your mother’s heritage inside of you.”
Though Polly could often speak in riddles, he resonated more than ever with her advice. He nodded shortly, lighted a cigarette and stared off in the embers of the fireplace.
Chapter 3: A proper meeting
“Here you go, Mr. Brooks.”
Two soft hands put a thick blanket on the old man’s knees. Two foggy eyes looked at Eve, an old wrinkled hand tried to get a hold of hers. But he seemed to miss it with every try. Eventually, the old man gave up and slumped down in his chair. Head slightly tilted to the right, obviously lost in time and space, he doze off. Eve sighed and realised this was getting out of hand. The man who took her in, acted as her father and mentor, was now just a shadow of what he once was.
She turned her back to the liquor cabinet and poured herself a generous amount of gin. It had been ages since she touched any liquor bottle. However, the rapid decline of her guardian’s health made her jump to old habits. What was she doing, for god’s sake?! Trying to take care of an old man, making money through shady jobs and the worst part: getting in touch again with her long lost gypsy past… through a lie! She chugged the gin, lighted a cigarette and took a long, heavy drag. The suit she wore earlier to meet Tommy lying lifeless on the ground. It appeared to her it was almost symbolic: the suit representing her deceptive cover she thought she needed, only to toss it on the ground the minute she came home; as a burden she’d cast off.
The more she reassured herself she had it under control, the more she felt shivers creep up her back. She took another sip and felt the clear liquid burn her throat. She felt the spots where Tommy had grabbed her so roughly burn up as well. Her childhood pal had grown into a successful, yet suspicious man. She was convinced of her plan but a little voice in the back of her head told her different. Another glass of gin was downed, in order to silence the voice. Since when did it became a crime to have a vision, since when was changing the world a bad thing? Her determination grew. Approaching Tommy like this was the right thing to do. This was going to work. Things were about to change for the disadvantaged and the lost ones. Her past prove the unfairness and crookedness of the system. No more! Enough! Things had to change in England! With or without honourable deals! Yet the nagging little voice kept whispering ‘Tell him the truth!’
Tommy fell back into his routine pretty easily. His day started invariably with a cigarette, then he’d work for an hour at his desk at home, doing paper work for Shelby Company Limited, The Grace Shelby Foundation and his recently started career as an MP. When the clock struck seven, he left for work to Small Heath. He checked in at the factory and made sure everything was up and running for that day. Mostly he ran some errands between nine and eleven: visiting a warehouse, ringing a few big wicks or extorting some blokes who refused to pay their debts. Then he’d drove all the way down to London to have some kind of lunch meeting with a member of parliament. Mostly he didn’t eat during such a meeting, but merely smoke another five cigarettes while taking notes. Sometimes he’d visit Lizzie after. She lived in Ada’s former house with their daughter Ruby. They tried living together, Tommy truly felt responsible for Lizzie and the baby, but it just didn’t work. When he visited the pair it could go two ways: drink tea in awkward silence and fight over the sorrowful past they shared, or he’d receive a warm welcome with a glass of whiskey and a quick hump with Lizzie. After that, he’d return to Birmingham, back to the office. There he’d work for another four hours at his desk, Polly brought him diner in his office mostly. He’d have a drink with Arthur at the parlour and get home at his manor in the country by eleven.
Even though his week passed just the same way as all the other weeks, he couldn’t shrug off the strange feeling he was losing control. He didn’t sleep well, which wasn’t a new thing, but it weren’t the classic vivid dreams and memories that kept him awake. It was more a vague feeling, a faint memory that made it hard to repose. He had long refused to jump into the old habit of smoking opium, like when he returned from the war and he kept on hearing the shovels. Though Tommy had been through a lot the past few years he had always been able to resist the lurking of the opium pipe he still owned. Wednesday-night however he rumbled in his home-office, fidgeting with papers and books at his lower shelf. Behind the stack of papers he saw the pipe glistening, as if it had been calmly waiting until its user was driven mad enough. That night he used again. It knocked him down in seconds.
Tommy woke up with a jerk. Bathing in sweat and with a headache that was clearly different from the small hangovers he mostly had. He glanced at the clock. Fucking eight. He’d gotten a lot older since he last used the pipe, his body obviously overreacted to the high dose and knocked him down for a solid eight hours. Within two hours he was supposed to meet Eve Ross. Damned Eve Ross who unleashed all the memories and traumas he’d spent tucking away for the last ten years. He ran a hand over his head and felt extremely nauseous all of a sudden. He ran to the adjacent bathroom and threw up in the sink. ‘
Fucking hell’ he thought.
'Look at me. Mr. Shelby MP, fucking OBE. Acting all posh during the day and losing it entirely at night.’
He felt embarrassed. While the water was running for a bath, he looked in the mirror. It was as if he hadn’t taken a good look in the mirror in a long time, because the way he looked, scared him: he saw an old man. He was nearly forty, grey hairs and wrinkles started peeking through his carefully groomed armour. He needed a haircut. He needed to work out again. He stared at his reflection for another second and turned away. He slid into the bath and tried to concentrate on the meeting with Eve instead of these fucking insecurities.
It was weird, talking to a woman in a suit. Sometimes Tommy used rather laddish slang during their conversation, then again he chose his words more carefully. He didn’t exactly know how to behave: they shared their childhood but when he looked at her, he saw a stranger. Eve on the other hand seemed far more comfortable than the master of the house. The suit helped her keep her calm. It was a shield, a heavy weight, literally, to remind herself she was playing a certain role. She wasn’t wearing the cap this time, so her head full of brown curls surrounded her head like a lion’s manes. She was seated in the broad chair in front of Tommy’s desk, legs and arms spread comfortably, sitting like a real man.
“Like I said, it’s all about mind games. You should do your research, sure, but it’s way more important to truly believe every man was born equal and defend that belief with all the strength you have” she vividly said.
The fire was noticeable in her eyes. Though her eyes were mainly cool-coloured, they had a gold rim around the irises. A warm hue that betrayed she was more than a calm, reasoned pupil of a social scientist.
“I do believe that actually” Tommy replied “but it can’t be that simple, now can it?” he added with a smirk.
Out of the blue, the suit-wearing woman jumped up. “See that’s where the magic happens, Tommy! It really is that simple! It’s just hard to keep reminding yourself sometimes, since all the other shitheads in parliament see the Labour-members as a bunch of amateurs” she fumed.
Tommy truly resonated with her statement. It was a fight he had been delivering since he was an adolescent. Always working harder, always dressing fancier, always taking more distance from his heritage; just to belong to that upper class. Just to prove a gypsy boy could do much better than his sorry excuse of a working class father. During his thinking he took a cigarette and put it between his lips. Searching his lighter he patted his suit, his eyes quickly flicking over the desk.
“Fuck” he muttered.
He looked up at Eve. She cocked an eyebrow and crossed her arms. A smirk played around her lips.
“Lost it again?” she said cheekily.
“I own ten fucking lighters and all they do is disappear” he spat in frustration, more to himself than to Eve.
She chuckled, stood up and offered him a fire. Right when he came close enough to catch the flame with the cigarette in his mouth, she closed the cap with her thumb. Confused he looked at her, a mixture of frustration and amusement in his eyes.
“Quid pro quo, mate” she stated in a sultry voice. She was close enough for him to smell her perfume. He noticed her suit was too big. When she sat in front of him she seemed large, intimidating. Standing so close to him the largeness of her suit only made her look more petite and fragile. He rolled his eyes at her and plucked a cigarette out of his silver case. She lighted his cigarette first, then her own. They sat there for a minute, both preoccupied with their own thoughts while smoke circled from their nose and lips, not losing their eye contact
“Right, so how is this gonna work then?” Tommy scraped his throat, his voice all of a sudden more practical, almost irritated.
Eve rubbed her hands in excitement, the cigarette hanging loosely between her lips.
“I was thinking we could start off with a bang!” she spoke, almost shouted. “Striking’s always been the main concern for labour, so maybe, yeah, next time something on striking comes up, you could, I don’t know, dispute it and slash their minds with a good old speech on ideology” she rambled.
Tommy put up his hand: “Whoa, that’s not what I meant. I wanted to talk about how this attachment, this liaison is going to work. Are you gonna be my advisor, my secretary, my pupil, you know, what role are you gonna take up?” he interrupted her.
“Oh…” is all she said. “I thought…” she whispered. She looked disappointed, like a little kid who got way too worked up on something and was taken back to reality very quickly. She thought about his question for a second, while her legs were dangling over the side of the chair, the cig dancing between her fingers.
“I want to be your partner” she stated after a solid thirty seconds.
“And how would that work, what does that mean?” Tommy replied irritated, rubbing two fingers at his left temple. His opium-headache started to come up again.
“You do your parliamentary sessions and discuss things with me every week. I do research and we decide together in consensus about how to approach things.” she stated simply, a triumphant look in her eyes.
The headache went from zero to a hundred in five minutes. Tommy looked at her with hollow eyes and an unhealthy colour.
He nodded. “Fine” he said curtly. “Would you excuse me, I have stuff to do” he stated, while rubbing both his temples now.
Eve’s brows knitted, she tilted her head to the side and observed her childhood pall. “You all right?” she asked hesitant.
“Just…” he gestured to the door “had a rough night. I’d rather be alone right now, actually.” Sweat started to pearl on his forehead.
Eve swallowed. She wasn’t entirely sure if he was just hung over or if the way she described their future collaboration made him act so weirdly. She took her coat and walked to the door. She held the door knob but hesitated.
“Tommy, if you need my help with anything other than politics, I’m happy to help.” Her voice sounded more mature, more caring and motherly.
He looked up at her with a deep frown, confusion in his eyes. The headache was that bad he couldn’t quite concentrate on what she just said. “What…? No, ’s all right. I’ll see you next week then, same time and place” he turned her offer down.
Eve swallowed a lump, nodded and took off. On the way from the office to the hall her insecurity grew. ‘This was a good meeting, right?’ she asked herself. Right before the housemaid opened the big front door to show her out, Eve looked up at the large painting in the hall. Tommy stared at her with an icy stare and a grand posture, his jawline even sharper than it was in reality. Next to him sat a beautiful blonde women, she looked like a movie star, her skin like porcelain and her smile pious. On her lap was a toddler with hollow eyes. Though they weren’t exactly painted as a happy family, the picture was intimidating. Eve looked at it for a few seconds.
“She passed away” Mary sighed, while observing Eve. “A bullet meant for Mr. Shelby landed at her chest.”
Eve turned her head with a jerk, her eyes weary and filled with sorrow. Mary took a step back, slightly confused by the woman’s reaction.
“Lil’ Charlie is still alive” she said with a weak smile, as if she tried to apologize for the cruel information she just gave the woman. It only made Eve’s eyes wilder.
She rushed through the door and drove off.
Chapter 4: A troubled mind
That night Tommy tossed and turned. Unable to find a comfortable position but even more unable to ease his mind and calm down, he decided upon a nocturnal horse ride instead of using the opium pipe. Like a thief in the night he sneaked through his own house. Quietly he opened the back door to the garden. The cold night air hit his face, the silence was ear-splitting. For a second he stood there in the doorway with his eyes closed, like a statue. He hoped the night air would bring him some peace and make his heart rate drop. It didn't. He opened his eyes, grabbed his silver case out of his pocket, flicked it open in a smooth motion and plucked out a cigarette. He softly rubbed the cigarette between his lips before lighting it. Lighting his cigarette the same way every time showed he liked installing small routines, it made him feel in charge. His life, both business and private, was anything but controllable. Therefore he swore by small routines like the way he lit his cigarette. In a few steps he made it to the stables. He grabbed a saddle but hesitated. His eyebrows knitted and his forehead frowned. The horse sniffed and shuffled around in its place. He put away the saddle and mounted the horse bare back. Soon the two were riding through the fields, dew collecting on Tommy's boots. Little pearls shining in the moonlight. It made him think of the sapphire Grace wore when she... He shook his head. He went horse riding to ease his mind, not to trouble it any further. His mind wandered back to the meeting with Eve. From what he remembered before that terrible headache emerged, it was quite an all right conversation they had. She clearly knew how things work in parliament and that it might be even harder to convince an old upper class MP than a seasoned gangster. More importantly, she knew how to do it: with under-the-table-deals and hours of boring, over the top flatter of these spoiled socialites. He reached a creek and halted the horse to take a rest and drink. He descended the horse effortlessly, though it wasn’t saddled.
‘Seems I’m not that old and worn out if I can still ride a horse bare back and jump off of it with ease’ he silently praised himself, boosting his ego that suffered some damage since the dreadful way he woke up this morning.
He leaned against a tree and lit a cigarette. He stared off in the distance, the darkness of the night was starting to be pushed away by the pale light of dawn. He thought about the countless mornings he spent in the fields as a boy, watching the sun rise. It didn’t seem that long ago, and then again it seemed that the boy in his childhood memories was someone totally different from who he was now. It brought his mind back to Eve. She was a gypsy girl once, they even sneaked out of the camp on cold mornings together some times when their families would meet around November. How could she know all these thints about politics and negotiation then? She came from the same patch as him, yet they grew out so differently. Even though there were also a lot of similarities, he thought quickly. His thinking was interrupted by the horse snorting and sniffing, ready to take off again.
'Came here to calm myself, and I only got even more worked up' he thought, frustration clouding his brain. He shook his head and urged the horse to keep on running.
The day passed by and like every Friday he had a meeting with the leader of the Labour party. After hours of listening to the rambling of Henderson about factories and wages, Tommy was almost glad when he stood at Lizzie’s door. He knocked three times and waited. No answer. He knocked again, five times and a bit harder. At the last knock, the door swung open aggressively.
“Brilliant, Tommy! Now you woke her up and guess who can fix it then? Me!” Lizzie hissed, urging him to come in whilst she ran up the stairs to put her baby back to sleep.
She looked tired, her eyes dull and her frame thin. Tommy walked into the living room, slightly frustrated about how his week had been an accumulation of stupid mistakes and accidental misfortunes. He went to the plate next to the fire place where Lizzie kept her spirits. He filled the tumbler with whiskey, drank it in one go and filled it again right away.
“Tommy, this doesn’t work” Lizzie sighed.
He didn’t hear her come in and he turned around, caught off guard. She stood there with her shoulders hanging and her eyes sad – those eyes that had brought him some comfort in the years after the war; eyes that slightly eased the mourning for his late wife- and Tommy felt sorry for her. She could’ve had a whole other life, yet she chose to keep the baby, knowing very well what kind of man he was and what kind of life he led. “What do you mean by this?” Tommy barked out irritated.
“This! Us! Living apart, raising our child, avoiding the big conversation” Lizzie was in tears now.
She’d known Tommy for a long time. He’d never love her like he loved Grace, she accepted that. But she at least hoped they could make a home built on mutual respect and acceptance. Tommy on the other hand chose to stay locked up in that giant mansion of his. She sunk to the couch and looked through the window. It had started to rain and the grey of the sky matched the heaviness of her mood. She sighed, regretting – definitely not for the first time – the dreams she cherished of having a homey life with Tommy. She expected he’d change if she’d had the baby. She hoped he’d come ‘round and change his thoughts on the way they had always carried out their relationship. She looked at him and saw a broken man, torn and internally conflicted.
She saw how his sorrow conflicted with his determination to change something for the working class, how his violent past interrupted his true thoughts of societal reformation, how he was torn between his everlasting love for Grace and his longing for a stable and peaceful home for his childeren and himself.
“I need time” Tommy mumbled, interrupting Lizzie’s thinking.
“Tommy, for how long have we known each other now?”
He shrugged, lighting a cigarette. Seemingly uninterested but clearly on his guard. He got her hint. He had always been able to count on Lizzie, she even might have been his truest companion through this all. He loved her, in a way. Still he could not give what she was longing from him: true and unconditional love. He’d hurt her in so many ways, and she kept returning. But he would never return to her. He lost his heart the minute Grace died, and he lost every chance of ever regaining it when his brother was so cruelly killed. Tommy inhaled the thick smoke, it burnt his lungs but anything was better than this nagging feeling you get when you disappoint someone you love. Lizzie sighed:
“This will never work out, Tommy. How badly we want to be this person to each other, to our kids. This is not how it should be. We’ve been there for each other. And I love you, Tommy, I really do. And I know you feel the same way about me. We’ve been each other’s rock, nothing more but also nothing less. I want you to be happy, and I tried to be that person for you. You’ve made me happy at times, you know” she lightly smiled through the tears “but something’s missing. And it isn’t your fault, nor is it mine. This is just not meant to be.”
Through the thick cigarette smoke, she swore she could see him swallowing his tears. He placed both hands on the windowsill and sighed.
“Thank you, Lizzie. And I’m sorry” struggling to find the right words he looked at her with eyes of distraught.
“I know. You don’t have to say anything, I know how you feel and what you want to tell me. One day you’ll be able to say the words to me out loud. And I’ll wait. But I won’t wait for your love anymore, Tommy.”
He turned his back again, staring out in the grey autumnal rain. For a moment there was an icy silence in the room. Then the baby started again, muffled cries form upstairs. Lizzie sighed and stood up. Tommy turned around, almost embarrassed to look at her. He caught her eyes. They looked weary and the expression on her face showed that she’d given up. And by giving up she set them both free. But when you haven't much left to fight for, setting someone free can be a dangerous choice…
Whiskey: his weakness and his salvation. The amber liquid soothed his disturbed mind. Despite the sedative effect it also helped him see things clear. This time, it didn’t work. More than ever, he missed his Grace. The factory ran on its own, his little Charlie relented more on the housemaid than on his own father, Lizzie could perfectly function without his help, his political career just started and after hearing the strategy of Mr. Brooks, he saw that this whole political game was way beyond his capacities. Not to mention the subtle messages he was receiving from Churchill himself, remembering Tommy about the deal they made. A deal he was deeply regretting now that he was more enrolled in politics. He truly wanted to change something for the working class, but his violent past obstructed all that. What was the point? He nearly had everything. And it was taken from him in the most cruel way possible. He didn’t seem to get up. He never fitted in and up until now, he was fine with it. But he’d reached a breaking point. He filled another tumbler and slumped in the leather arm chair. Sweat started pearling on his forehead, his head was running off with him. He was losing it, a heavy migraine popped up and all of a sudden he was in the tunnel again. Panic throated him and made it impossible for him to shout for help. The dust, the darkness, the ticking of the shovels against the soil. He was suffocating. No breath! No light! Too hot! Too cramped! All of a sudden he was back in the room, but still out of breath and even more frightened than in the tunnel. He grabbed the glass but it escaped his fingers. He saw it falling but couldn’t hear the glass break. Slowly he became numb and as he felt his heart race in his chest, it all got dark.
Chapter 5: A precious moment
Two arms pulled him out of the dark.
“TOMMY! Tommy wake up! It’s okay! I’m here. You’re in your office. Feel the wooden floor against your back, Tommy. Do you smell the fireplace? We’re in your office, Tommy, it’s okay.”
The voice kept reassuring him and slowly pulled him back to reality. His eyes were opened wide, but his breath had stabilized. He tried to focus on the person whose caring hands slowly rubbed his arms and shoulders. Two green eyes with a brown rim around the irises and a slight shimmer.
“It’s me, Tommy: Eve. Breathe slowly, I’m here.”
Her voice sounded calm and warm. She spoke in a soft, reassuring tone. A flash of memories to Eve’s grandmother, Beba Ma, filled his head.
“Why are you here?” Tommy managed to whisper, his hoarse voice peeking through.
“I need to talk to you. Your housemaid let me in. But first, let’s patch you up.”
She handed him a glass of water, her eyes never leaving his face. Tommy took the glass from her and put it to his lips. He almost never drank pure water, whiskey was his go to drink, tea at its best. Most of the time, he didn’t drink anything at all. Eve noticed his hesitation.
“It’ll clear up your mind” she said, nodding at the glass.
Tommy looked up at her. She expected he would throw her an irritated look. Yet the opposite was true, his eyes went from a deep ocean colour to a clear sky blue, vulnerable and fragile. It was in that moment she truly saw him how he was. Caught off guard, she felt highly touched by this realisation. How did they get here? From childhood soulmates to twisted and disturbed individuals. She remembered it as if it was yesterday, how they spooked each other with scary stories, how they chased one another through the camp, how they shared a little peck and were immediately grossed out, not understanding what everyone liked about it. They could be out all day in the countryside, enjoying the power and silence of nature. Now she could still see this little boy right in front of her. The same eyes, the same determination. A lifetime between them, but shared memories connecting these two lost souls. She noticed how her eyes slowly scanned his entire body. The wrinkles, the grey hairs, the scars. She wanted to touch them.
His raspy voice interrupted her daydreaming “Thank you”.
He tried to get up, a painful wince framed his face. Only then he realised his hand was bleeding. Must’ve been the shards of the whiskey glass that fell earlier.
“Oh God, I didn’t notice you were hurt! Let me fix that.”
Eve took his hand in hers, stretched his fingers and could clearly see some glass pieces glisten in the wound. Her motions and expression were calm and reassuring, her heart on the other hand pounded in her throat. She looked up at him, her emerald green eyes met his sky blue ones. She swallowed. He held his breath. Both their hearts racing in their throats.
“This is not good” she said, for the first time her voice didn’t sound calm or reassuring. She meant that the wound was bad, but only later it occurred to her she was referring to her growing feelings towards him.
“Ah, it’s fine. I’ll run it under some cold water, and I’ll be fine” Tommy mumbled, not leaving her gaze.
A loud knock on the door interrupted the palpable tension between the two. Tommy retreated his hand from hers, got up and composed himself. Eve raised herself and quickly jumped on the couch.
“Come in” Tommy shouted. A grand figure filled the doorway. Arthur Shelby entered the room.
“Polly told me Eve Ross is back” he grinned.
At the exact same time, Eve jumped up and yelled out “Arthur! Bloody hell, is that you?”
Both stupefied they stared at each other, to burst out into laughing only a second later.
“Lil’ Eve Ross, how is this possible! How’s it been, love? You okay? I heard you’re into politics now! Hah, never thought that lil’ rascal would ever deal with something so serious!” Arthur rambled.
In a step he got to her and as natural as it came they hugged intensely.
“Tommy, look at her! Can you believe this lil’ pup became such a dazzling woman!” he laughed “Why’re you wearing a suit love? Ya want to look like a man when involved in man’s business?” Arthur kept cheering.
Tommy lighted a cigarette and put up his hand.
“I’m hurt, gonna fix it” and in the blink of an eye, Tommy disappeared into the hall.
Arthur and Eve looked at each other, both stunned by Tommy’s dry reaction.
“What’s up with ‘im” Arthur huffed.
Eve motioned Arthur to sit down on the couch. She put her hand on his knee, brought her head a little closer and stated in a lowered voice:
“I found him on the floor just a few moments ago. He was obviously having a panic attack and I helped him regain his breath” her concerned look accompanying her words.
Arthur scratched the back of his head.
“I didn’t know, he was having them again. He’s gotten them since the war and after Grace died they got worse but since Lizzie it seemed to ‘ve gotten better”
Eve blinked slowly. Too much information at once.
“I’m sorry, I can’t follow” Eve blurted.
Arthur stood up and grabbed the whiskey bottle, poured out two glasses, and retook his seat.
“You’re gonna need a drink, pup. A lot has happened since we abandoned the gypsy life.”
Eve woke up with a heavy head and a painful neck. Worn leather touching her cheek. She was on a couch in an office. Slowly, her memory recollected. Tommy and the glass. Arthur and the stories. She and the whiskey. A blanket slid off her and fell on the ground. Someone must’ve covered her up. The room was pitch dark.
“It must be past midnight” she mumbled to herself.
A weak light beam drew her attention. The light framed the door. She managed to sit up straight, her head pounding and her mouth dry. Nothing could be worse than that terrible feeling of a hangover. She remembered why she quit drinking a few years ago… and why she started again.
“Mr. Brooks!” her inner voice shouted.
‘He’s all alone in the house! Must be terrified right now, no one answering his cries!’
She was up in an instant, looking for her coat in the dusk of night. Trying to walk in a straight line but clearly still sedated, she reached the door. The hall was dimly lit and she could hear nothing but the ticking clock in her head. Consumed by guilt and therefore inattentive to her movements, she missed a step and stumbled down the stairs. For a moment it was as silent as before. Only an instant later, a door creaked. Two strong arms picked her up, an intense smell of cigarettes, whiskey and gunpowder intoxicated her. Her shoulder pressed a bare, muscular chest, her eyes met two concerned, deep blue eyes.
“I’m sorry” she managed to whisper.
Tommy’s jaw clenched, his pupils dilated. He scanned Eve’s face: the green eyes took him back to the colours of the countryside, her loose brown curls framed her face and softened the slight wrinkles that surrounded her eyes and lips. He took it all in. She on the other hand had no eyes for his defined features and wiggled herself out of his grip.
“Mr. Brooks is on his own! He’s never been alone since… his condition. I need to get there as soon as possible!”
Eve picked up her jacket again and ran down the stairs.
“Wait!” Tommy spoke with a muted voice.
“I’ll drive ya. It’s way too cold and dangerous to be on your own right now.”
In a flash he turned to the room he came from, only to reappear fully dressed seconds later. Before Eve could protest, he grabbed her arm, led her through the drive way and seated her in the car.
“Just follow up the canal to Sparkhill” she instructed.
Chapter 6: A plea for truth
Eve stumbled through the door, worried sick about her beloved Mr. Brooks. In an instant she stood next to his bed. He’d fallen out and was lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling.
“Eve, love, where were you!?” he cried out panicking.
“Shh, it’s all right. Let me help you up” she answered with a lump in her throat.
In a second, the old man was sat on the bed only to glide off immediately. Eve huffed and tried again. Mr. Brooks pushed her away.
“You left me! You promised you’d never leave me, Mary! You’re not taking care of me, just like you neglected our little girl! Now we’re childless because of YOU!” Mr. Brooks kept rambling and insulting Eve, mistaking her for his deceased wife. She kept trying but failed to calm the old man.
Tommy had been in the doorway the whole time, beholding this strange scene. What on earth was going on here? How could this old, clearly ill, man be the grand scientist with the great ideas Eve told him about? Why did Eve have access to Mr. Brooks’ flat? Why was she that concerned about him? What was she doing at his house a few hours earlier in the first place? The questions kept coming, Tommy’s mind got clouded. He felt his heart rate slightly rise, frustration and a hint of panic building in his chest. He saw how Eve tried to calm the old man, just the way she calmed him when he was unconscious that evening. She had seen him… and now he saw her: caught off guard and at one of their lowest points. The frustration over losing control again was replaced by a strange feeling of connection with Eve. He heard her muffled cries from behind the bed. In a flash, Tommy stood next to her and wrapped his arms around her. It was a gesture so pure and natural, yet very significant to both of them.
“Let’s do it together” he mumbled in her curls.
They both hooked an arm under Mr. Brooks' arms and gently pulled him onto his knees. They waited for a second, counted to three and lifted him up onto the bed. At that moment, it was as if Mr. Brooks’ mind cleared up and he looked at the two of them.
“I’m so sorry” the old man whispered with a voice full of tears and embarrassment.
“Eve, please, both of us can see this is not working. I’m not worth taking care off” he said, now a bit louder and determined.
“I love you like my own blood, love, and therefore I want you to be free. Please, build your own family, make your dreams come true, and keep your memories to our time together in your heart…”
“Stop it! Enough! I don’t want to hear it! We’ve had this conversation countless times, Mr. Brooks! I’m not giving up on you! I never will!” Eve interrupted him, clearly out of breath from all the emotions.
She felt a heavy hand on her shoulder and turned around to face the most calming and reassuring gaze she’d ever seen. A slight smile formed on Tommy’s lips and made the ice in her heart melt. She gave in to the tears and sobbed on Mr. Brooks hands, kneeling next to his bed. Mr. Brooks’ hand cupped her face and gently forced her to look at him.
“Eve, you’re the best daughter I could’ve ever imagined” he soothed her.
His eyes fogged up again and in a flash, the kind old man was no longer there. He frowned and pulled his hand away, nearly grossed out by Eve. He opened his mouth to shout something but the words got stuck in his throat, and so did his breath. It all happened in the blink of an eye but the moment would be glued to her mind for ever. A short spasm and then utter silence…
Tommy didn’t know how long they had been sitting there, but the sun was rising so his guess was around four hours. She was finally asleep, after hours of sobbing and crying, he felt her chest rise and fall in a steady rhythm at last. The strange thing was, they’d only met a few days ago but it felt like they had never parted. As kids they always enjoyed each other’s company, sometimes with rough games and fights, other times in hours of silence while they wandered through the woods. Nothing had changed. However, both knew they had a troubled past and it couldn’t be ignored. Scared to wake her, he stayed seated in the couch. His hand laid loosely on her back and her rhythmic breathing calmed him down as well. Suddenly he felt the urge to stroke her face. As in a trance he lifted his hand and lightly touched her cheek. It felt sticky and warm from the tears. His hand glided to her eyelids and eyebrows. His calloused thumb rubbed the small but noticeable wrinkles around her temples. Her lashes were long and pitch black. He spread his hand over the top of her head and lightly petted the overload of lush curls. Ever so slowly he lowered his head and kissed her forehead. Her scent intoxicated him. His head spun and as sudden as his urges appeared, his common sense took over again. What was he doing for god’s sake!? His childhood friend reappeared out of the blue, offered him the strangest proposal and dragged him into this whole situation. He was a respectable man, a member of parliament, people looked up to him. Off course she approached him! She wanted money! That’s why she was at his house yesterday! How could he be so blind and reckless! A quiet hum interrupted his angry thoughts, Eve inhaled deeply and opened her eyes. Her forest green glance confused him every time. She noticed his troubled facial expression and mirrored his frown.
“You all right, Tommy?”
He jumped up and pushed her off his lap.
“I’m off” he said while grabbing his coat.
“What? Wait!” she replied confused, disappointment thickening her voice.
Tommy used every nerve in his body to contain himself. He wanted to get out of there as fast as possible, who did she think she was? Entering his house, dragging him into her misery and into this sorry excuse of a flat. He was a member of parliament, the king of Birmingham! He shouldn’t be in here with a washed-up middle-aged woman, he should be at his desk worrying about some liquor shipments or the preparing of a new law proposal.
“Why were you at my house yesterday?” he fumed.
Taken aback by this blunt question, her eyes opened wide. Her doe eyes made him feel uncomfortable again.
“I know you’re after my money. You’re after me, Eve. You heard my wife died and you want to trick me! Say it! Say you looked me up to deceive me” Tommy raged, his gestures furiously supporting his message.
This was not good. Eve couldn’t say a word at first. She was overwhelmed by Tommy’s sudden mood swing, the devouring grief over her recently lost adoptive father and the pounding in her head from the overly consumed alcohol last night. A thousand contradicting thoughts clouded her mind. Ever since she was a teenager fate had knocked her down, she learned the hard way that hanging your head and feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t get you anywhere. It had been ages since she let someone in, years since she showed a vulnerable side of hers. Eve was a tough one, doing shitty jobs and still keeping her smile. Being knocked down and knocked over by friend and foe but still standing strong, never underestimating herself. Last night was an epic turn for her. She abandoned her carefully thought out plan because she felt guilty. Yes, Eve Ross, known as a fraud and a phoney, felt guilt. She couldn’t quit wrap her head around it but Tommy untied something inside her. Maybe it was their gypsy heritage doing some magic shit with them, although she hadn’t been in touch with her gypsy ways in a long time. But what with the cause? She swore she would fight to change the lives of the lower class. And she needed Tommy solely for that. However, the way he held her last night made her realise he was a good man. She didn’t want to deceive him and she had been wondering if she could fight for the cause and be honest with Tommy at the same time. She went up to his house last night to find that out. And the answer couldn’t be more clear. He cared. And she cared too. So why jump to the old game of deception when it could be played fair? Eve closed her eyes and opened her mouth.
“I lied to you, Tommy. I did deceive you. But not for those reasons”.
Tommy put his hands on his hips and gave her the get-on-with-it-look, his eyes shooting fire, his breathing heavy from the suppressed tension.
“God where do I start” she whispered.
A deep breath and off she went:
“I reached out to you because you’re an MP. We both experienced what it’s like when you’re born into a disadvantaged environment. You fight, you try to be like them but whatever you do, they find out new rules to the game. You’re always one step behind. But it’s not supposed to be like that, Tommy! We’re equal, all of us. I swore years ago to fight for the benefit of the lower class. And I tried to change things, I took care of families and educated them. But it felt like I was fighting against an unknown enemy. And I’m done with it. This game needs to be played in the higher ranks, in parliament! But I’m a woman, Tommy. And a poor one at that. I truly feel like my ideas and strategies can get us somewhere. But it had been such a long time since we saw each other. I knew you wouldn’t trust it. So I hid behind the story of Mr. Brooks. But all the ideas… they’re mine, all mine. Mr. Brooks is…” she hesitated, “… was my adoptive father. We thought out the plan together, he would pretend to be a social scientist while in fact the ideas would be mine. But then he changed so fast, he got ill, his mind got clouded. And you were gaining ground in Labour so I knew I the momentum was passing. The letter was a stupid idea, it really was my last resort to get in touch with you. The only way I deceived you is with the story of Mr. Brooks. Everything else is true and real, I swear!”
Eve had been rambling for a good five minutes. She had been shouting by the end of her speech. Her heart pounded in her throat. She only noticed now how much she cared. The way she defended herself and tried to persuade Tommy of her good intentions was so passionate, almost desperate. It showed she was not only scared to lose her way into parliament to defend the cause. Deep down she felt she was scared to lose Tommy again
Chapter 7: A bold decision
The drive to London was always a bit too long for Tommy. But not this time. If possible he would’ve driven up to Scotland, just to use the quiet time in his car to think about what happened to him the last three days.
‘Why are you doing this to me, Eve’ Tommy thought.‘Why did you came into my life again, make me remember our shared memories and betray me right after’.
He was late for the meeting in London but he was far more worried about his liaison with Eve than about his lack of preparation for this parliamentary session. Looking at it from a distance they were just two strangers, vague acquaintances at its best. Tommy knew so many people, so many women. Not once did he let his guard down so easily with someone or bust into an adventure so headlong as with Eve. He always observed the situation, made sure he phoned a few people to run a background check and invented a plan B. Control and master plans, that’s the style Tommy Shelby was notorious for. How on earth was it possible he found himself in this situation?! He clamped his fingers around the steering wheel and let out an audible breath.
‘Get your thoughts together, lad! Focus on the facts!’ he told himself, while riding up the driveway of the House of Commons.
Fact one: someone died last night and he left Eve alone with the body. Fact two: she appeared out of nowhere at his office that same night. Fact three:… He wanted to think that Eve told him the truth last night, but he hesitated to classify this thought as a fact. Was she telling the truth? He shook his head and entered the building.
‘You can trust me now, Tommy. I’d never lie to you again. All I want is for the Labour party to succeed. I’d be a fool to jeopardize that’ her voice still rang.
No more time to overthink those words. Duty was calling. An arm pulled him aside.
“So what’re we gonna do when the voting starts?” a slender man asked him.
Tommy couldn’t remember his name, neither did he understand what the guy was talking about. His confused look was quickly reciprocated by an explanation. An intrusive journalist went for Tommy, harassing him with questions about whether striking should be restricted or not. The journalist was removed quickly but Tommy was on edge. With all the drama last night, where both Lizzie and Eve claimed his attention, he was highly underprepared for this parliamentary session. Trying to remember what the voting of that morning was about, he lit a cigarette. Slowly inhaling the smoke he retreated to a quiet nook in the large hall. He had had quite some strikes at the factory. As an employer at the time he obviously tried to suppress them, promising rewards to the ones who kept working during the strikes. As a member of parliament on the other hand, it was the party’s ultimate chance to stand out. Labour and communists both supported striking, the other parties consistently voted nay. Feeling underprepared and uninformed his guts told him to vote as the Labour party instructed him. He couldn’t help but think ‘What would Eve do’…
“Mr. Shelby… MR SHELBY!” Tommy woke up from his worried thinking.
“Deposit your vote into the ballot box, please” the assistant instructed him.
In a flash he was back in the grim neighbourhood of Birmingham where he met Eve for the first time. He remembered how she explained the strike-vote was a diversion from the real conversation. Framing Labour as a silly people’s party that wouldn’t last long, the conservative government consistently drew the attention to matters such as striking and wages. The true oppression however was in the minds of the people: working class people believed it was their destiny to work in factories, earn minimum wages, live cramped up in tiny houses and tuck away their own dreams and wishes for they hadn’t the luxury to dream. He remembered Eve fumed when she talked about it. She told Tommy working class people were truly oppressed in their minds, so they only fought for mediocre claims such as a wage raise. It was Labour’s duty to upgrade the conversation to education, health care, housing, media and propaganda for God’s sake! It was up to the MP’s to have the guts to aim higher! Tommy looked at the piece of paper in his hands and saw himself write ‘Nay’. He took a step forward and deposited the form in the ballot box. As he was the last one to vote, the box was solemnly picked up and carried away to the back office of the parliamentary hall. Not that much later the commission entered the hall with the final results. A buzz of insecurity and worry on one side of the arena and triumphant cheers on the other side sounded when the official numbers were announced.
“A research commission will prepare the law for restricting strikes!” the clerk closed the session solemnly. “Striking will be reduced from now on!”
The statement was answered by a loud applause. The House of Commons ran down. Tommy strolled behind the group of Labour-party members, predicting there was some stormy weather ahead. Well aware of the position of Labour on striking, he chose to vote Nay earlier. What was up with him lately?! Every carefully thought out plan he abandoned carelessly.
‘For fuck’s sake, regain your cool Tommy!’ he fumed inside himself.
The group collected in the lobby. Tommy tried to remain low profile, rubbing a cigarette along his lips and lighting it discretely.
“Who voted Nay?!?” the president of Labour barked.
“According to the counting, we’re one vote short!”
It didn’t happen that often but Tommy doubted his choice. Had he done wrong, trusting Eve like that? What happened next surprised him. Another MP stepped forward and pleaded for a different approach in the party’s voting:
“With all due respect, sir, I truly feel striking shouldn’t be our main topic anymore. It only became a mean and no longer a purpose. Maybe we should consider changing the conversation from striking to more social topics, such as education?” the brave guy spoke.
The other MP’s listened carefully. A short silence fell, the tension was palpable. They all started muttering and discussing what the brave one said. Tommy grew more sure of his former decision and stepped forward as well. Almost exactly repeating Eve’s words he explained his unexpected vote. He talked about stepping up the game, about how talking about strikes distracted from the fundamental conversation. For a moment, the group was silent. Everyone looked at him.
‘What’s this rookie thinking? He only joined the party a few weeks ago, was voted MP because of his frauds and bribing practices and now he’s telling us how we should adapt our strategy’ Tommy could hear them think it.
But boy, was he wrong. The MP’s approved of his proposal and congratulated him with his bold and visionary insights.
“You, Mr. Shelby, are a true asset to our party!” the party’s president patted him on the shoulder. “How about you prepare a speech on education for the next parliamentary session?”
There it was. The realisation Eve had nothing but good intentions. The revelation he wanted to tell her right now how the members of the Labour party had reacted. The confession to himself he wanted to talk with her about a lot more than political matters.
Eve must’ve looked like a ghost, running through the halls of the monastery like that in the plain moon light: a white cotton gown covering her curves, her curly hair undone and wildly flowing in the cold air, bare footed, the contours of her breasts clearly visible through the thin fabric. She halted abruptly, hearing slow footsteps clicking on the icy hallway tiles. She looked around, trying to think quick. Left or right? Hide or run? Too late. A large hand covered her mouth and before she knew it, she was dragged into a little niche of the hall. Her back was pressed to the person’s chest, warmth enveloping her. The grip on her mouth lessened pressure and eventually slid off her face. She turned around, hungry kisses were exchanged and hands roamed everywhere.
“Eve, I missed you so much” the man breathed in between kisses.
“Oh silly, I’ve only been away for five hours or so! I told you I would come to you, didn’t I?” she whispered, a smile audible in her words.
The man’s large hands roamed over her body, the white gown the only thing that parted his calloused hands and the plump skin of her tights. Eve responded his touches by nibbling his earlobe, something she knew made him go mad. Suddenly he twitched, his hand gripping his flank, a painful wince on his face.
"Rolf, are you okay? Oh dear, I told you to stay in bed! We agreed I would come to you, not the other way around! Let me take a look” Eve panicked.
“No, I’m fine! Let’s not waste our precious time together on something we can do in public tomorrow. Within less than 10 hours you get to be my lovely nurse again, but right now, I want you to be my wife” Rolf begged in Eve’s ear, twirling one of her locks through his fingers.
Eve’s emerald eyes looked at him in a ‘Are you sure’-manner. “
You know we can’t… You know, do stuff right now, don’t you?”
“I know, love. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable or endanger the baby. But I can still make you go off, right?” Rolf smirked, wiggling his eyebrows.
Eve lightly slapped him on the chest, opening her mouth to admonish him. She was quickly silenced by a passionate kiss of her husband.
“ Let’s sneak up to your room, then” he breathed hoarsely “before any of the nuns catch us.”
Upon that, the expecting couple disappeared in the dark of night.
Chapter 8: A new start
“Honestly, I genuinely thought that there would be a day where I finally understood what’s going on in that bloody head of yours, Thomas” Polly mocked, a deep breath following her statement. “I guess that day is NOT today” she added in a mumble, while turning her back and concentrating on the finances again.
Tommy couldn’t exactly say his aunt was wrong. He didn’t understand his own train of thought either these days. His bold decision in parliament turned out positive for him, but that didn’t mean he should blindly trust in Eve now. When he came home from London that day, he retreated to his home office to start his research on education. He wouldn’t go that unprepared to parliament EVER again like he did that day. As if she could read his mind (which she probably can) Polly rang the phone in his home office the minute he sat down. She’d seen Arthur that day. He’d talked her ears of about the pleasant conversation he had with Eve and how they had been joking and drinking like they’d seen each other just yesterday. Polly couldn’t quiet follow Arthur’s rambling and interrogated him about where and when he saw Eve exactly. The answer made Polly curse her nephews and their recklessness: Eve Ross, a girl they’d known a long time ago and suspiciously reappeared out of nothing, had casually been drinking some fine Irish whiskey in Tommy’s god damn house! Tommy had to hold the receiver a bit further from his ear since the volume of his aunt’s voice was proportional to her indignation. He wisely left out the part where he went with Eve to Sparkhill and witnessed the dying of Mr. Brooks. Instead, he jumped right to the part where Eve told him how she lied to him exactly, pretending she’d told him in his office earlier instead of on her couch this morning.
“I bloody knew it” Polly sighed on the other side of the phone.
A heavy silence fell. Tommy nervously shifted in his seat. As much as he hated to admit it to himself, the judgement of his aunt mattered to him. He could hear her lighting a cigarette and knew what that meant: she was thinking.
“Listen Tommy, this calls for a family meeting. If this woman speaks the truth she’ll be involved in your life and by extension in the whole family business. We need to investigate her story, because I’m honestly fed up with you stumbling so headlong in situations like this.”
He could practically hear her roll her eyes at that last statement. But she was right. As always.
“All right, this does indeed require a family meeting. How about tomorrow morning? I’ll come by your house at eight.” Tommy concluded, his voice drenched in practicality. He scraped his throat. “One more thing, Polly” He waited a few seconds.
“I’m listening, Thomas” Polly said, annoyed about the sudden silence on the phone.
“Let’s… not tell Lizzie yet. She’s busy with the baby and so on and I think it would probably only… you know… “ Tommy struggled to find the words. He wanted to say he didn’t want Lizzie’s opinion about this because he already knew how she’d react: hostile and mistrusting.
“That’s your decision, Tommy. I’m not gonna take a stand in this.” Polly wisely answered when she realised he wasn’t about to finish his sentence.
He hung up and lighted a cigarette. Slouching a bit in his chair he watched the smoke slowly circle up. He loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves; one of his signature rituals that showed it would be a long night at his desk.
The family was divided on the topic. Arthur and Ada trusted Eve, Polly and Finn did not. Tommy was indecisive. The result depended on his final vote. He raised his hand and by that, the collaboration with Eve would proceed.
Polly was not amused at all. She retreated to her back office to look at the numbers of that month, just to clear her head. Tommy had followed her straight away, deep down desperate for her approval.
“Listen, Thomas,” Polly said after a short silence.
“You’re an adult, you have proven more than once that your capable of running a business. But this is politics and the Peaky’s aren’t that well known, let alone feared, in London anymore. I just wish we could sort this all out as a family. We don’t need another intruder. And as much as I’m thankful for what the Rosses have done for us Shelby’s back in the old days, this is just a strange situation. We don’t know her story, we don’t know her motives…”
“We do know her motives, Pol”, Tommy interrupted her.
“She wants to help establish Labour and she has a vision on how to do it” he firmly completed.
Polly’s jaw was tense, he could see her nerves build.
“One chance. One chance, that’s all she’s getting.”
Eve had lost a lot of people in her life: friends, family, lovers… The strange thing was that she witnessed almost every death of the one’s close to her. She’d seen the gypsy camp been devoured by flames when she was a kid, knowing her parents were still in their wagons. She had been forced to watch how her husband was hung and now she had been an inch away from Mr. Brooks when he exhaled for the last time. The loss of her adoptive father tore open old wounds. When Tommy had left the flat, she fully collapsed. One minute she was fiercely weeping over Mr. Brooks’ body, one moment later she was repulsed by the sight of a corpse on the bed and sat in the corner of the room, feeling helpless like a little kid. In this rollercoaster of emotions vivid memories of her husband with a rope on his neck and the smell of fire in the woods tortured her. The pale moonlight threw a sinister light through the small roof window of the flat and made the empty bottles of gin shimmer. Eve felt empty, so empty…
A loud knock on her door made her jump. She had no idea what time it was, but it must’ve been past midnight. Confused, drunk, tired and upset she sat there in her corner. Not a chance in the world she would open the door like this on this ungodly hour. It was probably that nosy neighbour of hers that must’ve heard the stumbling and crying. Maybe it was the cops that Tommy had sent, after he came to his senses and must’ve realised what a sorry excuse of a woman Eve was. A second knock, louder this time, pulled her out of her negative spiral of thought.
“Miss Ross, are you in there?” a male voice called. It sounded confident and caring at the same time.
She was stupefied for a moment, couldn’t think straight because of the gin, the tears and the madness in her head.
“Miss Ross, I have a message for you from Mr. Shelby. I’m a Blinder, I assure you I won’t hurt you.”
Her eyes opened wide, the fog in her mind cleared a bit. Tommy had something to say to her. Everything she fought for was within reach and now she would let it slip because she couldn’t hold it together. No, this is not what Mr. Brooks would’ve wanted for her. She stood up, smoothed her dress, quickly ran a damp cloth over her face and walked towards the door. The door knob touched her hand, but she didn’t turn it. What if it was a trap? The man on the other side of the door must’ve heard her fumbling at the door because he spoke to her for the third time:
“Miss Ross, I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m here to deliver a message for your ears only.”
“Fuck it” Eve mumbled, and opened the door a crack. She faced a man, his eyes were hidden under his cap but the rest of his face seemed trustworthy. She decided to open the door a bit further, the man entered and took off his cap.
“Please, call me Eve” she interrupted him, feeling confident and incredibly vulnerable at the same time.
“Miss Eve” the Blinder restarted, “Mr. Shelby wants you to know that the partnership you discussed can proceed to exist.”
Eve frowned and blinked a few times without saying anything. Their partnership… their political liaison as partners to defend the cause of the Labour Party. She felt a few lights light up in her brain. This was her chance, her once in a lifetime opportunity. She stood a bit straighter and looked the man straight in the eye.
“You can tell Tommy I’ll gladly accept his offer.”
The Blinder nodded and put on his cap to leave again. Then his eyes fell on the body of Mr. Brooks. He froze. Eve noticed the shift in his body language and followed his eyes to meet the sight of Mr. Brooks’ corpse. She took a deep breath and hung her head. Without saying anything the Blinder walked to the bed, put the covers over the dead body and dug up a rope from his pockets. He tied it round the fabric surrounded cadaver. He looked up to Eve. She nodded. He swung the corpse over his shoulder and stepped towards the door.
“Where-“ he whispered. “Under the pollard willows next to the Spark Brook stream” Eve’s voice cracked, tears thickening it. “I’ll make sure he’ll get a nice service” she managed to add. The Blinder disappeared and Eve sunk to her knees on the dirty wooden floor. The room felt so empty and big all of a sudden. A leak of light fell before her.
“God, are you there?” she whispered. “I know you’re here, I know you haven’t abandoned me, dear Lord. The opportunity Tommy grants me is my shot, it is You giving me the chance to take up responsibility. Please take care of Mr. Brooks. I’ll promise he’ll be buried worthily” she mumbled, her hands folded.
She looked up through the roof window, took a deep breath and made her decision. She would take this chance with both her hands and not fuck it up. She would start a new chapter.
Tommy leaned against the willow tree, his horse grazing a bit further. The night was calm and quiet, peaceful almost. His trusty cigarette dangling from his lips, his eyes bright and his collar open; he looked relaxed. A close observer however would notice the rhythmic ticking of his index against his right thigh: nerves. He had taken a big leap in the dark there in the office that morning by asking Polly to give Eve a chance. As much as he wanted to tell himself he was certain about his choice, the slightest bit of doubt kept toddling around in his brain; hence the nervous movement of his index.
The nervous movement of his horse caught his attention. He heard a rustle, reached for his gun and pointed it in the dark abyss.
“Who’s there?” he barked. He could see a faint silhouette entering the light of the open space. Long, wild curls and a black skirt fluttered in the cold night air. It was Eve.
“I… I’m sorry. I didn’t know you’d be here. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.” she spoke hesitantly, not sure how to feel about the gun still pointed at her.
Tommy lowered the gun and grabbed the cigarette from between his lips.
“No need to apologize. This isn’t my place or anything, it belongs to no one.” he shrugged. An awkward silence filled the few metres between them, the night fog giving this whole scene a rather mysterious air.
“Do you remember the mornings here?” Eve asked, seemingly to make some conversation; but actually because she genuinely wondered if he did remember their childhood memories as vividly as she did.
Tommy pulled out a cigarette and held it out to her. Fire and cigarettes were exchanged.
“I’ve only started to remember them again since last week.” Tommy confessed. “Before you reached out to me, I couldn’t recollect them very well. The memories were there, sure, but lately they’ve been popping into my head on moments I least expect it.” He took a drag. “Like a nice surprise during my day.”
He was startled by his own answer. Such an honest, mundane confession wasn’t anything like him.
Eve chuckled: “I’m glad you think of our shared childhood as a pleasant surprise since I haven’t given you many reasons lately to connect a happy feeling to the thought of me.”
Two individuals, connected by roots and coincidence and now also by politics. Both standing there under a willow tree in the early morning fog.
“I’m grateful you accepted my offer of a partnership” Eve said, placing a hand on her heart to confirm the sincerity of her words.
“I should be grateful to you. I don’t know anything about this whole political game.” Tommy mumbled, almost chuckled.
He informed her about his bold decision to vote against the strike law and the surprising reaction of the Labour members. Eve listened with pointed ears to the enthusiasm in Tommy’s words, he spoke brisk yet relaxed. She could feel the excitement build up in her stomach. It occurred to her they were back where they left off almost thirty years ago: under the willow tree making plans and dreaming of a new world.
“Listen, Tommy, I want to impress on my promise that I made yesterday morning: you can trust me. My intensions are honest, I don’t want to deceive you at all, I…-“
“I know” Tommy stated simply, calm.
Eve was taken aback by his simple answer.
“I trust you and I believe this partnership can work. There’s something in it for both of us, we can learn from each other” he proceeded, still stupefied by his own truthful answers. He felt vulnerable by posing his thoughts so simple and honest. It was a way of conversing he hadn’t practiced in a long time. And it felt good.
Eve held out her hand. He shook it. They both looked at each other, eyes full of new dreams and hopes connecting them once again.
Chapter 9: A black hand
There was a vivid and busy atmosphere in Tommy’s office. A well organised chaos of books, files and paperwork was spread around. Between the stacks of books Charlie played with his toy cars, totally into his game. On the couch sat Eve, busy underlining and making side notes. Tommy sat at his desk, bent over a handwritten letter from the prime minister regarding Labour’s proposal on housing, a cigarette loosely hanging from his lips. Mary came in occasionally bringing in fresh tea and taking away the cups filled with cold one. In an unguarded moment, Tommy looked up to see his son handing a toy car to Eve. She smiled wide, sunk from the couch to the floor and interrupted changing the world for playing along with the lil’ boy. During her research she had been picking and fiddling her hair, so her neat hairdo had fallen into loose curls and strands of hair. Just a second he swore he could see her wipe away a tear. He never thought about the fact she could have kids of her own. Two icy blue eyes closely observed the woman and the kid for a few moments. He hated to admit it but seeing his son and Eve interact like that made him go weak at the knees. Everything seemed so normal and peaceful, mundane almost. Could it be that luck was finally on the side of the unfortunate Shelby? He shook his head, took another drag from his cigarette and concentrated on the letter again.
It had been a month now since their eventful start as political partners. The night under the willow tree had been one of exchanging memories: the vivid image of Ada and Eve winning a silly rat shooting game and John, who was so pissed off that he lost a shooting game to the girls, that he didn’t speak to them for two days straight. They couldn’t stop laughing on the story of how Arthur had been so noisy when their fathers went hunting and had decided to take the kids along for once, that Eve’s dad playfully started to call the oldest Shelby a rackety rascal. Since then it had been the ideal way to josh the short tempered boy. Both Eve and Tommy wisely chose to avoid heavy topics or burning questions about what happened after their shared childhood. Each craved to wallow in the warm bubble and those soft hued images that childhood memories typically tend to evoke. On the way back home it occurred to Eve that she knew far more about Tommy than he did about her. The night she went to Tommy’s house and Arthur had busted in on their unexpected precious moment together, the oldest Shelby had enlightened her on Tommy’s weal and woe of the past twenty years. Even though the whiskey had flown she remembered quite some bits: Tommy’s efforts to change the bookmaking into a legal business, stepping up his game and running factories, trying to take over the London gangster scene and his recent political career switch. It was old news to Eve, she had been following her childhood pall for a long time in the papers and through street gossip. But the things Arthur told her about Tommy’s personal life were totally new to Eve. The tragedy of Grace and the guilt that had consumed Tommy up until today; Lizzie, who had offered Tommy comfort in various ways but was never respected fully for it. It was information that shed a new light on the way she saw Tommy. She thought it was a miracle that man was still functioning. She also thought how unfair it was she had gained all this insights about Tommy through chatty Arthur, and how Tommy didn’t know a thing about her. But she couldn’t just go up there and tell her whole life story out of the blue now, could she? Sure, there had been numerous opportunities to show Tommy the tip of the iceberg that her past was. During their first meeting after the night under the willow tree for example. Tommy needed to prepare a speech on education and Eve was over the moon with a topic so close to her heart. She could have told him about her experience as a teacher in brothels, but she chose not to. Why? Eve had no idea. Telling Tommy about her teacher career didn’t pose any threat or contain sensitive information. A week later Tommy updated her on the reaction of his fellow Labour comrades on the education-speech. He mentioned a certain Mr Wallace. She knew exactly who he was. She knew him because he had threatened her multiple times a few years earlier. She knew him even better because she had had some highly unpleasant encounters with the man in the brothels where she taught the girls. When Tommy mentioned that Wallace-guy, she could have opened up and told him to watch out. She kept her mouth shut and wasted yet another chance to show her cards.
All these thoughts haunted her when she noticed Tommy was watching her while playing with Charlie. Her clouded mind was soon interrupted by the office door that swung open. A tall, slim woman stood in the doorway, holding a baby on her arm. The woman looked calmly into the room observing the scene in front of her. Tommy looked at her slightly confused, his thoughts still with the housing proposal in front of him. Seeing Lizzie standing there, so fierce and peaceful, holding their kid on her arm, made him smile. He felt proud. She returned his smile and walked solemnly up to his desk. Tommy put out his arms to take the child from her, obviously moved by the smile of the little kid. Lizzie mumbled something and Tommy answered her with a nod.
“Eve, could you leave us alone for a minute, please?” he asked serene.
“Oh and take Charlie with you, please. Mary will take care of him.” Eve tilted her head slightly, not fully understanding what was happening but she obeyed, stood up and took Charlie.
Sitting there at a couch in the hall, Tommy’s very own kid on her lap, she couldn’t help but speculate at what was going on in the office right now. She knew the woman who’d entered the room a few minutes ago was Lizzie. Arthur’s descriptions had been lively and elaborate, there was no doubt who the woman was. Eve couldn’t help but wonder what the woman was to Tommy. Were he and Lizzie together in an ordinary couple’s way, living together and snuggling up on the couch in the evenings? Or did they make another arrangement? Eve couldn’t remember to have ever seen Lizzie walking around at the mansion. The little kid Lizzie carried was obviously Tommy’s, those blue eyes were unmistakably his heritage. But he didn’t introduce Lizzie to Eve, nor did he greet her with a kiss. He just relaxed and smiled at the mere sight of her.
“Can I go play outside” Charlie asked enthusiastically.
Eve was pulled back to reality in a second and decided she would benefit from some fresh air as well and grabbed both their coats.
“So this is your new partner?” Lizzie asked while observing the middle-aged woman and the toddler through the window. The tone of her voice revealed mistrust and jealousy, even though she tried to conceal that by casually waving her cigarette around.
“She is” Tommy answered, not in the least aware of the subtle change in Lizzie’s voice. “It’s amazing how broad her knowledge and expertise is, I’m really stepping up my game in parliament thanks to her. And the way she talks about politics and ideology is just… You really should talk to her once!”
‘Haven’t seen Tommy that chatty in ages’ the black haired woman thought.
“Yes” she casually said, while stubbing out her cigarette “maybe I should talk to her.”
Lizzie turned around, a fire clearly noticeable in her eyes. Only, Tommy was looking through the window and not to Lizzie. Though Lizzie had made clear to Tommy they were never gonna be an item, she had to admit it hurt her to see he moved on so quickly. Then again, she didn’t want anything more than to see him happy; which he clearly was.
“Keep an eye on Ruby, yeah? I want to go meet this gypsy girl”, her voice rang, the undertone a bit more contemptuous than she wanted it to sound.
She descended the imposing oak stairs and went outside, leaving a slightly confused Tommy behind. With her tread resolute and her look focused on the two individuals at the end of the garden, she strode through the autumnal tinted backyard.
“You must be Eve” she greeted the pair in an over-friendly way and offered a hand. Eve looked like she’d seen a ghost, looking to the woman she had been forming theories about for the past five minutes.
“Yes, I am” Eve said, accepting the slender hand.
“Oh dear, your hands are cold. Here, let me give you my coat” she busted out, her spontaneity taking over.
In no time Lizzie’s thin frame was enveloped by a brightly coloured coat that was at least two sizes too big. She couldn’t help but smile at Eve’s kind act. Her smile faded in an instant when her eye caught a black tattoo on Eve’s upper arm. A black hand! God, how could Tommy be so blind! This overly charming woman who just handed her a coat was part of the Changretta’s! She had been deceiving the Shelby’s, lured them in her trap with their eyes wide open! And she had been alone for a solid ten minutes with Charlie! Lizzie lost it entirely, threw off the coat, picked up Charlie and ran as fast as she could back to the manor, leaving Eve perplexed in the autumnal tinted garden, the colourful coat mocking her pale expression.
Chapter 10: A misunderstanding
Ruby cried the minute Lizzie left the office, and didn’t stop until Tommy picked her up and softly murmured some comforting words in her dark curls. His daughter put her little head against his shoulder, an occasional sob interrupting her breathing. Tommy kept shushing the baby until he felt her relax fully, the sucking of her thumb lulling her to sleep on the arm of her father; who adopted her relaxed breathing and slowly walked through the office with a smile from ear to ear. For a minute his life seemed good, not perfect, but better than it had ever been for the past three years. Tommy was granted one minute of peace and inner calm; a soldiers minute, for all hell broke loose when Lizzie busted in the office with flushed cheeks, wild eyes and a confused Charlie on her arm.
“We have to go! We have to leave RIGHT NOW!” Lizzie huffed. She took the baby from Tommy, causing the babe to wake up and cry hysterically, upon which Charlie started panicking and let his tears of confusion out. Like a whirlwind the three squirmed around a bewildered Tommy. He grabbed Lizzie’s arm.
“Calm the fuck down, Lizzie! What’s going on? What’s wrong?”
“This woman, this Eve, she… she has a black hand on her arm! She came to avenge Changretta’s death! We have to leave before she-“ Lizzie was interrupted by an opening door. A colourful coat stood in the doorway, the kids kept on screaming and crying. In a reflex Lizzie pushed Charlie and herself to the corner with the baby in her arms, protecting them like an animal guards its cubs. Where Lizzie chose to follow her flight-instinct, Tommy’s genes pushed him to fight mode. In two steps he reached the door, pushed Eve out and closed it with his full weight, his breathing heavy.
“Lizzie, you have one minute to explain CALMLY what’s happened”
Lizzie started sobbing: “I went up there to become acquainted with her, she offered me her jacket for I was cold and then… She has a tattoo of a black hand on her upper arm, Tommy. I saw it with my own eyes! I just picked up Charlie and ran as fast as I could to your office. I’m so scared, Tommy, I don’t want to go through this again-“
“That’s not gonna happen, Lizzie” Tommy interrupted her firmly, “Over my dead body.”
What. Just. Happened.
Bewildered and confused, Eve stood in the luxurious hallway, a few inches away from the office door through which she could hear some muffled voices and an ever crying Charlie. She had no clue at all why Lizzie reacted the way she did. What surprised her even more was the way Tommy pushed her out a minute ago.
On the other side of the door stood Tommy, caught up in his own, ever continuing trade-off: look at the facts and react out of reason? Or go with his gut and let the moment lead him? In the background Lizzie tried to shush Charlie, but Tommy couldn’t hear a thing of that. He stood there, the solid oak door supporting his back while he clenched his fists inside his pockets.
‘For fuck’s sake, how could everything be nearly perfect one moment and be this endangered an instant later’ his inner voice muttered. A bird by the window caught his attention, it sat there on the window sill, unaware of the fuzz that was going on inside the manor. With its head slightly tilted and its vivid colours it looked right at Tommy. The red and orange tones on its breast reminded him of the colourful coat Eve wore. The image of Eve and Lizzie in the garden a few minutes earlier popped up in his mind, the image that made him feel warm and safe when he had been watching the women from outside his office window. That same window where the robin was busy inspecting its feathers. A deep breath bubbled up and forced him to straighten his back. It was time. Time to act.
The door swung open, revealing a desolate Eve standing in the large hall, the coat on the ground next to her. She stared at him with those forest green eyes and prepared to say something. Tommy raised his hand in a stoic way, yet he could feel the nerves racing through his body.
“Under my coat, I’m wearing a gun. I do not want to use it but I can assure you I won’t hesitate a split second to pull that fine gun when you give me any reason to. Is that clear?” Tommy’s low voice rumbled through the hall.
Stupefied and intimidated Eve nodded, a lump forming in her throat for she hadn’t the slightest idea what could’ve caused this odd situation.
“My first question: are you here on behalf of the Changretta family”
“I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ve never heard that name in my life.” Eve answered with her hand on her chest. She saw the doubt in Tommy’s eyes and took it as a sign to keep talking:
“Listen, Tom, this question comes out of nowhere to me. I know I’ve given you reasons not to trust me and I understand that it’s hard for you to trust people…”
“You do not need to tell me what’s going on in my head, Miss Ross” Tommy lashed out with a sharp hiss, taking a step closer to her and waving a menacing finger at her.
Eve’s lip trembled. Tommy breathed in slowly, trying to keep his calm. But the whole situation whacked him right back to the image of John’s dead body and that terrible, awful feeling of regret and guilt. He took a step back and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Look,” he said, his voice softer but all the more vulnerable, “we have had a vendetta with the Changretta family. It was a dangerous, bloody and terrifying war between two families. I managed to kill my opponent, Luca Changretta, the head of the family. This whole war was marked by the image of a black hand.”
Suddenly, it made sense to Eve. The minute he mentioned the black hand, she instinctively touched the tattoo on her upper arm, a gesture that didn’t go unnoticed by Tommy. In a swift movement he stood right in front of her, his frame menacing and his expression dark. Eve’s hand was jerked away, revealing the black hand on her upper arm.
“Tommy, this is not… this has nothing to do with this family war you’re talking about. It was forced on me, me and other women. We were marked with this after the war. They held our arm down and branded us as renegades. You have to believe me Tommy, I’ve never heard of this whole vendetta thing. This awful mark is merely a terrible memory to the abuse I suffered.” Eve rattled, afraid to take a breath or stop talking for just a second. With every word she said, she felt Tommy’s grip on her arm loosen. It encouraged her to keep talking, keep revealing more information about her past an her horrible fate. All of a sudden, he let go of her wrist and took a step back. Eve bit her lip while Tommy’s icy stare made her heart drop.
“Go home” his voice rasped hoarsely. She didn’t move right away, blue and green eyes locked to each other like glue. A dull smack made them almost jump, both jerking their heads to the window where the sound came from. The unfortunate robin laid on his back on the other side of the window, its tiny legs in the air.
“Guess all good things come to an end then” Eve whispered, picking up her coat and descending the stairs, leaving the house without granting Tommy a single look.
He wanted to run after her, pull her into a hug, whisper apologies in her thick curls, weep together over their sorrowful past.
But he didn’t, he was Tommy Shelby after all.
Grey clouds hung over Small Heath, the smoke of the factories combined with November clouds gave the area a gloomy ambiance. Polly sighed and closed the curtains with a jolt, trying to create some cosiness inside her living room. She thought about the endless rainy afternoons in the wagon: she and her sister, all giggles and laughter, dreaming about the gypsy prince on his dark horse that would appear on the mountain, just like the tale their mother told them countless times. And while the weather outside was dull and drab, the wagon would be filled with the smell of cinnamon and cloves. Polly loved the way her childhood memories would come to her every so often, a nice surprise in the rut of day. She hummed while putting a kettle on the fire, expecting Aberama any second now. Her sweet Abe, the two of them made quite a pair: a fearless couple, connected by heritage but allied by choice. She carefully added tea leaves to the nearly boiling water. Her mind wandered back to Tommy. She had no idea why she seemed to worry more often about him than about the others. Perhaps it was the melodramatic depth that always lingered in his eyes, insinuating he gave up on life a long time ago. Or maybe it was the fact he refused to move in with Lizzie, retreating to the dark and cold rooms in that gigantic manor of his, working at his desk for hours. The one thing that she knew stirred her worry more than anything was his choice to proceed business with this Eve, a rather dangerous and not so carefully carried out plan according to Polly. However, she had been noticing a change in Tommy’s behaviour. He seemed a bit more unclenched lately, more approachable and less moody. A loud knock on her door made her jump.
“For fuck’s sake” Polly shrieked, almost dropping the pot of fresh tea. Remembering why she was making the hot drink in the first place, she abandoned her hostile armour and relaxed, expecting Aberama to stand in front of her door. With a wide smile and an almost flirtatious movement she opened the door: smoke circled from under the man’s cap, the razors blinking in the early evening light. As quickly as her girly excitement bubbled up, her strict business persona took over:
“How is it possible you tend to wash up on my doorstep every time I’m about to have some time to myself?” she stated with a tight lip, crossing her arms and tapping her feet, not planning on letting Tommy in.
“I need to talk to you”, he met her gaze and she recognized the look in his eyes. The look of despair and frustration. Her maternal instinct jumped in and pulled him right into the warm and cosy atmosphere of her house. Just when she planned on pouring Tommy a cup, a voice in her head popped up: “Is this how it’s going to be now, Pol? He’s nearly forty and still runs to you with all his problems and insecurities. Not exactly the most romantic perspective for Aberama, now is it?” She put the pot back on the stove, determined to leave the tea for her planned date with Abe.
“Get on with it, Thomas. I don’t have the entire bloody evening, I’m expecting someone” she said irritated, pointing to the pot.
Tommy scraped his throat, not sure where to begin. He remembered her one chance-condition on this whole Eve-situation. He hated he always ran to Polly with all his trouble and questions, especially when Pol, of all people, was highly sceptical towards the political partnership with the long lost childhood friend who magically appeared out of nothing. He could hear her think it.
“Someone in there?” A finger poked at his arm, he looked up and met her impatient gaze, eyebrows raised and a cigarette dangling between her fingers.
“It’s Eve”, he blurted out. He gave a report of his afternoon and when he arrived at the, to him mundane, detail of the robin by the window, Polly lifted her hand and closed her eyes.
“Let me stop you right there, Thomas” she sighed. “Now I don’t know how long it has been since you got in touch with our gypsy ways, but you must be kidding when you say the bird didn’t raise any suspicion to you?” Polly was walking up and down her living room, cigarette still dangling between her fingers. Tommy looked at her like a school boy, head slightly tilted and an almost innocent look in his eyes. He had no idea what she was talking about.
“Oh come on, I raised you like a fine Romani man now, haven’t I?” she muttered. “It’s an omen, Tommy! Birds and fish, always giving sings but only to those who truly listen. That smack against the window was hard to miss, I suppose. You must be deaf or incredibly stubborn to ignore a sign like that!”
Tommy’s eyes grew wider, frustration building up in his chest for he had no idea what kind of superstitious tale his aunt was selling now.
“I came here with a serious problem, Pol. I just need an outsiders’ advice on this, not some sort of lame story about that fucking bird. Did you even hear what I said? She has a black hand on her arm-“
“- which has nothing to do with the whole Vendetta-thing!” Polly completed his sentence. Tommy jumped up and lighted a cigarette. He paused for a second, looking the woman straight in the eye:
“Now I thought you didn’t trust Eve” his finger pointed at her. “How come you fucking defend her all of a sudden?” he fumed, confused about Pol’s change of opinion.
Polly raised her eyebrows once again at her nephew: “The bird, obviously”. No reaction from the blinder. If she could roll her eyes up her brain, she would’ve. “Bloody hell, Thomas! The bird shows you’re making a huge mistake. You sent her away and the bird died. Do I have to fucking spell it out, now?”
Tommy shrugged. Every time he came up to his aunt with a question or a problem she managed to make him feel like an utter fool, a boy who was clueless about life. He hated it. But he kept asking for her advice because she had the nerve to make him face the facts without beating about the bush. Besides, there were little people he trusted with his doubts and insecurities.
Polly walked slowly up to him, standing right in front of the handsome man that was her nephew.
“Fucking talk to her and hear her story” she spat out. ‘Can’t believe you haven’t asked about her past earlier’ she wanted to add, but she pursed her lips to a line.
A few metres further, someone scraped his throat. There stood Aberama, not sure how to feel about his woman standing so close to the impeccably dressed dandy, whose jaw line cast an edgy shadow onto the wall. The pair took a step back, almost feeling like they got caught.
“Abe” Polly purred, pulling him close into her warm embrace. Aberama grabbed her tightly, a bit too enthusiastic almost, not breaking eye contact with Tommy, who, in his turn, lighted a cigarette, standing his ground in the menacing gaze of Aberama. It was a strange scene altogether.
“Right, I’m off.” Tommy loudly said. “I’m not exactly leaving any wiser than I came” he added in a mumble, but Polly’s ears caught his sarcastic remark. She grabbed his arm, almost pinching him.
“For once, let go of your pride and go with your gut. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.” Polly carefully pronounced her words, trying to emphasize her message.
Aberama slightly nudged at her wrist. There she stood: one hand on Tommy’s arm, the other in Abe’s warm hand; one hand clinging on to her past as a mater familias, one hand enveloped by someone who saw her as so much more. She loosened the pressure on Tommy’s arm and let it go, breaking eye contact with his eyes full of contradiction.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. Everything had been going so well: fighting for the cause in parliament and pursuing it in an honest, legal way. She had aimed too high, she had been greedy. Eve could literally slap herself. She should’ve been open about her past from the start, should’ve told the story of the tattoo and the war and the monastery and the brothel and… She sighed. It didn’t matter anymore, her chances were ruined. Tommy sent her away and his voice had sounded very determined. She could still see him standing there: hands buried deep in his pockets, jaw clenched, nostrils flared, eyes wild and disappointed. ‘Fucking idiot’ she scolded herself. She wandered through her flat, collecting all her notes she planned on running through with Tommy. She arranged and re-arranged them, not sure if she would rip them or keep the pile, just in case. Her eye fell on the suit she had worn during their first meetings. It had been Rolf’s and his smell still lingered there. It helped her when she played the pupil’s role, when she kept lying to Tommy. But the minute she decided to play things fair his smell made her sick to her stomach. Every time her eyes caught Tommy’s her stomach twitched as the scent of her deceased lover seemed to clash with the small seed inside her heart that was growing for her childhood pal. She had stuffed the suit in a closet and started wearing dresses, onto which no guilt inducing smell or memories were attached. The more time she spent with Tommy, dressed as a proper woman, the more her feelings grew. And the greedier she became: keeping her turbulent past to herself in order to keep up the image Tommy had of her.
She unbuttoned her deep green dress, thoughtful and slow, pushing it down her shoulders and revealing the black hand on her arm once again. She ran her fingers over it and let the dress slide further over her hips, a green velvet pooling at her feet. Carefully, she stepped out of it while slowly pulling pin after pin out of her hear, releasing curl after curl. There she stood: an almost forty year old widow stripped down to her slip and stockings, wild brown curls with strands of grey, small wrinkles at her eyes and lips, three tattoos reminding her of her past and a dozen scars emphasizing the horror of it. Eve breathed in slowly, closing her eyes in doing so. The early moonlight fell before her, catching her attention. She wrapped her arms around herself and looked up through the roof window. A faint melody crossed her mind: she saw her eight year old self sitting squatted behind a tree, observing the other gypsy group that had joined their camp a few days earlier. Smart and curious eyes glanced at the wagons. She saw a woman in a dress white as the first snow and hair as black as the night she looked at when she couldn’t sleep. Her arms embraced a boy and a girl, next to her sat two other boys, slightly older than the ones in her arms. All four of them looked up to the woman, listening with open mouths to the song she sang. With each note they clung more to her and tightened their grip on her arms. It was a sight she would never forget, as a kid she had long thought of it as the most enchanted and beautiful thing she’d ever witnessed. Eve shivered, the sudden cold pulling her back to reality.
“For fuck’s sake, get your shit together, Ross” she mumbled, throwing on an old, dull dress and started tidying the place. Just when her flat started to look a little more presentable she heard a phone ringing in the distance. The building she lived in contained ten flats, all sharing the same phone. The ringing kept going, clearly there was no one around to pick it up. Eve decided to run down the stairs and answer it, taking up the message for whoever the caller tried to reach. A bit out of breath she picked up the horn.
“Yes? Who is this?”
Silence. Heavy breathing.
“Hello-oh, who are you looking for? Can I leave a message for someone?”
The caller scraped his throat: “The robin isn’t dead you know. When you walked out the door it convulsed and flew away.”
Eve swallowed, recognising the voice immediately. She just stood there, receiver in her hand and a lump in her throat. She swallowed again, the sound of it echoed slightly through the cold hall.
“I’m sorry about my behaviour earlier, Eve. I got… carried away.”
“It’s fine, really. I haven’t exactly been generous with information about my past so it’s only normal that you…-“
“I acted like a fucking fool, you don’t have to be gentle with your word choice.” Tommy interrupted her. She swore she could hear a hint of a smile in his voice.
“Trust me, I’m the fool here. Deceiving you at first and then expecting you to trust me, it would be totally contradictory with your former life as a gangster.” Shit. That one slipped out. Eve could die right there and then. Why did she had to be so spontaneous, so flighty. “I’m sorry” she whispered, “I didn’t mean to-“
“Come by my house tonight, yeah? I just fucking hate talking to a steal cup on a wire” Tommy interrupted her again, not sounding entirely unfriendly.
“I’m not sure if-“
“Lizzie’s not here.”
Eve paused her mind and mindlessly rearranged her apron. She made her decision.
“I’ll be there in an hour.”
When I write I mostly listen to music, it inspires me on how the story will evolve. I included a song in this chapter, please let me know in the comments how you feel on including music to the words :-)
Chapter 12: A life story pt. 1
I slightly altered this chapter and added more subtext and descriptions to the part where Eve tells her life story to Tommy, so it reads more smoothly.
Face is the place where private goes public. At least, that’s what they say. Tommy had mastered the art of concealing fear, anger, happiness, admiration, curiosity and everything in between. His stoic facial expression was his trademark. Sometimes it got in his way, especially in those, albeit rare, moments where he wanted to express what went on inside his head, inside his heart. Grace got that. She needed just a glimpse of emotion that was visible in his eye or in the twitch of his lips to understand what was going on.
Lizzie never got that close to him, she tried but he didn’t want her to know his deepest secrets and longings. He didn’t want to hurt her. The minute he felt her observing look on him or the gentle touch of her hand on his shoulder, he turned around and kissed her deeply, devoured her. In a way, that worked for him, for both of them. She would never be able to bear the true suffering, the dark thoughts that haunted him. The only way to share any emotion or pain or secret was through sex. Between desperate kisses, roaming hands, calloused fingertips and unforgiving sheets they managed to share their most intimate messages and desires. But Lizzie wanted more, she had always wanted more. She wanted all of him, she wanted the full package. And Tommy knew that. He knew what she wanted and he knew he couldn’t give it to her. So Lizzie let him go, she set them free.
With Polly, it was different. She claimed to know him better than he knew himself, overwhelmed him with analogies and gypsy stories to prove she had a sixth sense. She analysed and over-analysed his words and body language, mostly with raised eyebrows and a cigarette dangling between her fingers, and it drove him mad. Whereas Grace listened and asked brief questions here and there, Polly talked most of the time, interpreting his story, deluging him with her overactive imagination on what was going on exactly inside his brain. The whole story about the bird was spot on however. Pol did have some good insights sometimes. It took him a full hour to figure out how to act in this particular situation. Eventually he got so fed up about himself talking to himself about himself that he picked up the phone on a whim. And now Eve stood in the hall, coat still on, fidgeting with her gloves.
Tommy put out a hand, gesturing at her coat, a cigarette between his fingers.
“Give me your coat. I had the maid light a fire in the parlour.”
Eve had never been anywhere else in Tommy’s house than the hall and his office. The parlour stood in stark contrast with his office, where portraits and solid oak furniture created an aloof ambiance. The room they just entered was small, warm, cosy almost; descriptions she didn’t link to pragmatic and strategic Tommy. It occurred to her it must’ve been Grace’s merit; Grace, who she only knew from the alcohol infused conversation she had with Arthur and the imposing painting in the hall. The realisation hit her again that she knew far more about Tommy than he did about her. It felt unfair and wrong.
“It’s nice in here” she remarked, feeling incredibly awkward, forcing a smile on her face. Tommy poured them both a glass of whiskey, humming in confirmation.
The sphere was tense, awkward, uncomfortable. As easy and naturally their conversations mostly flowed when they worked together in his office, so silent and strained was the mood now. It stood in glaring contrast to their snug surroundings. Eve couldn’t bear it and on impulse, she blurted out:
“Oh for fuck’s sake, let’s not beat around the bush here, Tommy. We need to talk this through. It’s just that… that I don’t know where to start! I’ve been wanting to tell you about my life but it’s just never the right time. How on earth do you tell stuff like that, stuff that fucks you up, that haunts you at night-“
“You don’t.” Tommy interrupted Eve’s rambling, tumbler in one hand, the other casually in his pocket.
Eve tilted her head to the right, confusion in her eyes.
“We’ve all been through shit,” Tommy continued, leaning against the mantelpiece, “and most people spend their entire life tucking it all away. Until it becomes a huge pile of dirt and it grabs you by the throat and it keeps you up at night. And then it becomes even harder to talk about it. So I don’t blame you. ‘Cause I’m no better.”
He stood there, seemingly casual and uninterested, gesturing occasionally with the glass in his hand. But Eve knew better. She saw the vein pulsing in his neck, she noticed how he swallowed when mentioning the pile of dirt, how he clenched his fist inside his pocket when he finished his talk. She closed her eyes, memories flashing at a rapid speed on her retina.
“I saw the fire and I knew right away my parents were gone.” Eve sighed. She hadn’t told this to anyone in a long time. Tommy slowly turned his gaze from his half full glass to the couch. Eve didn’t dare to look up at him, she could feel his piercing eyes on her. The crackling fire place being the only sound in the room made her feel nervous. A sudden movement at her side caught her attention: Tommy sat down next to her, trying to encourage her to carry on with the story. She met his gaze and decided that this was the moment where she would be totally open and honest about her story, no more excuses.
“I’ve never been fond of Christmas at the camp” Eve continued, shifting to the front of the couch.
“Everyone would always be a bit too happy and jolly for my likings. Besides, my dog couldn’t stand the rumble and the fuss. So I sneaked out and sought a quiet spot in the forest, and I just sat there, you know. Just like we used to when we were kids. Just sat there and enjoyed the sounds of a forest in the middle of winter. And when I went back to the wagons I could already see the brightly lit sky and the orange hue.”
“I could hear them screaming, Tommy. It was a big bundle of light and it cast out a heat so intense, and the smoke was thick and clouded my vision. And my fourteen year old self just stood there. There was nothing I could do. I watched my entire community being devoured by flames and I just stood there, dog in my arms, rooted to the spot. I don’t know how long I’d been standing there but all of a sudden some coppers appeared and I panicked and I just ran. I kept running without turning my head. I roamed around through Warley Woods for about three days I think. And then I just collapsed somewhere near the edge of the wood. Some strangers found me and brought me up to St. Hilda’s orphanage. Couldn’t speak for days,” she gestured at her throat.
“They thought I was retarded. I shut down completely, even refused to eat in the beginning though I was starving. I guess I just… I just wanted to die.”
Eve paused, lost in thought. She stared off in the fire place, Tommy followed her gaze. She took a deep breath, sat back and focussed on her hands:
“But humans are strong, surviving is a primal instinct, and by springtime, I was getting back up on my feet. They were good to me at the orphanage. The schooled me and raised me and loved me. I flourished and slowly rediscovered the joy of life. But life has a tendency to change the minute you get comfortable, you know. There was a new Matron and she changed the age-policy: only children under eighteen were cared for. I had nowhere to go. I had no contacts with any other gypsy groups and even if I did, I wouldn’t know where they’d be or how I could get in touch with them. They brought me to the monastery and I became a nun. Fuck, can you imagine that? Me, a nun?” Eve huffed, looking at the ceiling with a grin on her face.
“It really wasn’t something for me but I didn’t have any other options. Most of the nuns were understanding and they went easy on me. But this fucking mother superior… she hated me,” trying to express the hostile feeling that washed over her with sharp gestures.
“Hated me with all her heart and did everything to make my already miserable life even more horrible. And then the war came. The entire monastery turned into a hospital and all the nuns had to nurse soldiers and civilians. It may sound weird, but it was the first time in my life since the fire that I genuinely liked doing something. I was good at it, picked up easily on what the doctors taught us and by 1916 I ran the place. I did a good job, made sure we could provide maximum care with the small staff of nuns that could treat wounds or splint limbs. It was a well-oiled machine really, despite the many soldiers that flooded the monastery.” Her clenched fist announced a plot twist.
“I should’ve known better, I enjoyed myself too much, was even growing a bit smug. Mother superior couldn’t stand it. She had no greater ambition than to thwart me. Soldiers died because of her, Tommy! They died because she was too proud to let me take proper care of them.” Eve’s knuckles where white by now, her sense of justice surfacing. For a second, Tommy thought she was going to scream or shout or something like that. But she let out an audible breath and dropped her shoulders; her body language became softer.
“And right when I least expected it, right when the walls of the monastery were literally drenched with the horror of the war, right when that bitch did everything to make my carefully thought out arrangement on how to run the hospital, go to hell; right in the middle of all that, I met Rolf. And we fell hopelessly in love. The nurse and the soldier. Sounds like a novel of some sorts, eh?” a broad smile appeared on her face. Snippets of the times with Rolf in the monastery flashed rapidly through her mind. She chuckled and raised her eyebrows, trying to avoid Tommy’s curious gaze.
“Now I had abandoned my chastity vow a long time by then and most of the nuns accepted that since they could see a religious life wasn’t exactly my thing. But I didn’t want to rub it in their faces so Rolf and I used to sneak out in the evening and just, you know, forget the war outside for a moment and pretend we were some kind of modern Romeo and Juliet. He was... such an incredibly good person. Heart of gold, really. He looked at me like I was an actual person, not ‘the orphan’ or ‘the gypsy’. And I didn’t see him as ‘the soldier’ or ‘the German’. We were just Rolf and Eve. It seemed like the sun was finally rising for me. And then the war ended and he didn’t leave. He stood right by my side when I gave birth to our baby boy, our Marcus,” she placed a hand on her belly, lightly rubbing it. She swallowed.
“I got out of the monastery and everyone was happy for us, wished us all the best. Except for mother superior… I can still see the smug grin on her face when she watched the three of us driving off to Sparkhill. She waved at us, Tommy. Fucking waved. And I stupidly thought she wished us all the best. We were granted one month of peace and pure bliss. A month in our own little house, our own perfect family. Until…” Her breath caught in her throat. For the first time since she had been talking, she hooked eyes with Tommy. Not a quick look but proper, meaningful eye contact. A shiver crept over Tommy’s back. The dramatic silence made him assume where the story was headed…
“Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and hear the banging on our door again. They kept banging that door in the middle of the night, the baby was screaming like the world was going to end. They stormed in, dragged us out and forced us on our knees. Marcus kept screaming and crying inside and there was nothing I could do. I heard my baby cry his lungs out while we were held at gunpoint. They started beating up Rolf, his beautiful face was swollen and bruised and drenched in blood. They forced me to watch while they cut my hair with a knife. And suddenly I saw them walking out with Marcus. I can still hear his screams. They took him away… They stepped into a car and took my baby away. I should’ve… should’ve fought more when they held me down, should’ve kicked more so they’d release me and I could grab our baby. They just disappeared with his tiny body, no chance to say goodbye in any way. Rolf and I lost it entirely and we fought like lions. And just when you think you hit rock bottom and you are in hell, they go even further. They hung him, Tommy. Hung Rolf at the tree in front of our house, our home. They made me watch-“
Eve’s emotions took over. It was as if she was there again, on her knees in front of the tree. The tears started flowing. Thick drops ran over her cheeks, and changed to uncontrollable sobs the minute Tommy put a hand on her shoulder. She felt sick, the tears were suffocating and she could hardly catch her breath in between sobs. With every sob, Tommy’s hand rubbed her back. It was heart breaking to see her like that. The past month he had seen her as a strong and tough woman. Her story had grabbed him by his throat, nudging at his own hurt and sadness. And as Eve lie on his shoulder, crying her heart out, it felt – just for a minute – as if Grace lay in his arms. He closed his eyes, wrapped his arms around her and caught her in his warm, heartfelt, compassionate embrace. “I’m so sorry” he whispered into her curls, eyes closed and voice drenched with grief.