There’s panic in the air, palpable and true. Polly looks at her with a panicked haze in her eyes - she freezes for a split second before calling the hospital to tell them that Ada Shelby would be in within the next hour. Ada sets to work, calling Jessie from her house two streets over so that she could come sit with Karl until Polly was back.
“Love, who’s going to come with you? I will, if you trust Jessie to look after him.” Polly offered as she rushed about in the bottom floor of the house, collecting the bag and the finest newborn onesie. Her granddaughter was coming into the world like a princess. Nothing less.
“No. Jessie has work tonight. She can only sit until six, at the latest. You and I both know I won’t be out by then.” Ada shook her head, holding onto her stomach “I’ll go by myself and call you from the hospital to come pick me up.”
“You’re going to go alone?” Polly asked, always shocked at her bravery. She distinctly remembered how Ada wailed as she gave birth, how she squeezed her hand so tight that Polly wondered if her bones would break. The girl that she had raised from a babe was going into hospital alone to give birth to her granddaughter.
“I won’t be alone, will I, Pol. A few hours and I’ll have my little girl.” Ada gave her a toothy smile, biting down at her lip once a contraction hit. “I will be fine, Pol. I always am. C’mon, let’s go.”
Polly knew what she had to do, and she knew that she had to be careful about when she did it because Tommy may beat them to the hospital if she phoned them now. Best for Ada not to know until he was there, anyway, always so worried about other people and what else they could be doing were they not looking after her.
Jessie arrived shortly, breathless and red in the face. Karl hugged her knees, giving her time to recover. “Hi Karl, I’m going to talk to your mum and your grandmother, and then it’s going to be just us until your grandmother gets back, yeah? I’ll tell you some stories, whatever you want.”
Karl nodded, following her into the kitchen. He had a vague education on what was happening, and Ada had given him plenty warning that one night she would go to the hospital and then come back with a little sister for him. He just hoped it wouldn’t hurt. A baby was a lot to fit through a belly button.
“Jessie!” Ada sighed, relieved, pressing a friendly kiss to her cheek. “Mind watching Karl until Pol has dropped me off at the hospital? You’re the only one close enough, otherwise I wouldn’t have asked.”
Jessie shook it off with a shrug, giving her a gentle half hug. “Not an issue, Ada, Karl and I are both going to be well behaved, aren’t we?”
“I know karl will, you, on the other hand…” Ada sighed, standing up. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Karl, with that little sister I’ve been droning on about.” She kissed his forehead lightly, then picked up her bag.
Polly drove through London like she had been trusted with the world’s most precious gem. She had been. Something intrinsyc inside her was screaming that they shouldn’t be trusting the hospitals and that home births had always been what they’d done, but she knew that Ada wanted a hospital birth for the sake of Karl’s eyes and mind, and for the sake of her own peace of mind. She looked at Ada who was sitting upright in the passenger seat, hand on her stomach, rubbing in gentle motions. There were tears running down her face and sweat was already collecting on her brow.
She should definitely call Tommy.
It was the hardest thing in the world for Polly to hand over Ada to the hospital nurses and doctors, but she did. Ada told her to tell Karl that she loved her and was quickly whisked off into a bed.
As soon as the nurses were gone, Ada was regretting saying she’d come alone. The cracks in the plaster became imprinted in her head as she did every breathing exercise known to man. She had read all of the books possible, she knew that stress made it more difficult, but here it was easy to forget all of it. Soon she would have her child in her arms, a beautiful baby girl with eyes of gold. Like Ben’s.
Fuck, Ben. What would he have done if he had known?
She had contacted Ben’s mother with the information that she would be having her granddaughter, but she hadn’t wanted to have anything to do with the Shelbies and so cut her off.
That was fine. That was fine. No it wasn’t. Her daughter was going to grow up without knowing who the other half of her birth family was, and she had no way to help her with that. She began crying even harder - it started off because of the pain, but now it was due to emotional distraught.
“Ada,” A soft voice came to her, a hand on her shoulder. “Ada, breathe.”
She didn’t even have to think to realise who it was. Tommy. Ada turned to him, placing her hand on his and adjusting in the hospital bed. “Tommy. How did you get here, it can’t have been two hours,”
Tommy chuckled softly, pulling a chair up to the bed. “My little sister went into labour. Not even God could have stopped me from getting here - even worse, not even Pol.”
Ada smiled, a hand resting on her stomach. Her face twisted every now and then, contractions becoming further apart but more intense. “Thanks Tom.”
“My pleasure. Have to make sure that my Ada and my niece are well looked after. Alfie went to yours to check on Karl, he’s been baking so he brought all of his bread with him.” Tommy spoke to her calmly, taking her hand in his. “Lie down, Ade, you’re never going to give birth sitting bolt upright.”
Normally Ada would have took the challenge but she just settled herself in the pillow and gave his hand a gentle squeeze - not a pained one, but one of reassurance. “You do realise that in my house now there is a communist, a jew, my son, and Aunt Pol?” The thought brought a tiny laugh through her lips, interrupted by a contraction.
“They’ll be alright. Jessie at yours then?” He asked softly, rubbing his thumb over the pale skin of the back of her hand.
“Was looking after Karl whilst Pol dropped me off. Probably gone by now. Has a meeting at six.” Ada sighed softly, finding it easier to think of other people than herself. “Jessie and Karl get on well. She tells him stories about Freddie even I didn’t know.”
Tommy nodded sagely, shuffling up to the bed. “He’s a good kid. He’ll look after her.”
“He’ll never have to.” Ada reminded him, knowing that they were speaking about the little life inside her. “The age difference is the same, you know, give or take a few years..”
“Remember helping mum give birth to you,” Tommy told her, a faint smile on his face. “I was the first one to hold you, you know. Clean your face.”
“Sappy sod.” Ada winced, another contraction hitting her. They were getting worse. “Who’s looking after Charlie?”
“Lizzie. Don’t worry about it.” Tommy shook her off dismissively. “I’ve got it all sorted. Even the shit that hasn’t happened yet. Just focus on the job at hand, yeah?”
“When haven’t you?” She reminded him, her free hand on her stomach. “I want you and Alfie to be the godfathers. You’re in my will as Karl’s godfather, I wouldn’t want them separated. If you wouldn’t mind?”
Tommy nodded instantly. “Gladly. Yeah. Fuck, Ade.”
“You can’t tell me you weren’t expecting it?” Ada reasoned, bracing herself for a contraction. “Tommy you’re the one person in this world I can trust beyond anything. Even if I fuck up extremely badly. Polly too, but you’re my Tommy.”
It took a lot for Tommy to cry, but now he was fully weeping, pressing a kiss to Ada’s forehead. He didn’t care about the sweat on her brow - if he could clean her as a babe, he could kiss her forehead.
“Always been us against the world. Even if we were on opposing sides.” Ada reminded him, squeezing his hand with a sharp pain.
Tommy was beginning to feel her squeezes properly, his heart leaping at the thought of seeing his niece. Something terrible lingered in his head that he may be walking out of the hospital alone.
“Only ever opposed you so that I knew where I was going wrong.” Tommy told her honestly, only ever having listened to Ada’s voice of reason. “Do you want me to call the nurses in?”
Ada nodded, her breathing deeper. Her mind was racing and so it seemed was her body. She needed to see her little girl, hold her in her arms and see her golden eyes. Ada had never cared for gold but she’d die to see it now if it were only in the colour of her eyes.
Within a matter of hours, Ada gave the final push. There was a clock in the room that told her it was somehow eleven o’clock at night, but she couldn’t believe nor care. She watched the doctors clean and weigh her child before swaddling her in a blanket.
Then there was a baby in her arms. She had amber eyes and seemed to be made out of light itself. A choked sob escaped her lips as she pressed them to the babe’s forehead. Sure, Ada was being stitched up a little by some pretty nurse, but now she was holding her girl in her arms. Elizabeth. Elizabeth Shelby, who had eyes like pools of honey and a gummy smile.
“She’s beautiful, Ada.” Tommy told her softly, a hand on her shoulder. “She’s got your temper, better watch out with the ornaments back home.”
“She’s got Karl.” Ada muttered, crying but not tearing her eyes away from the baby swaddled in a white blanket. “She’s perfect, Tom.”
“Miss Shelby, we were wondering if you had decided on a name? We could easily get the birth certificate done here.” The doctor asked, watching the Shelby pair warily.
“Elizabeth Eleanor Shelby.”
Tommy smirked, recognising the political reference instantly. Maybe a small bit of hope resided in Ada still, then.
“We need you to sign it, Miss Shelby.” The doctor reminded her, looking at the way she cradled the babe with both arms.
Ada carefully handed Elizabeth over to Tommy, wincing when she heard her cries. Her shoulders tensed, but relaxed when the crying waned, falling into a lull of quiet romani whispers that Ada recognised. She signed it quickly then turned all attention back to her brother and her child.
Tommy didn’t notice that Ada was watching, wrapped up in the child. Ada smiled softly, adjusting the blanket around her face to make it more comfortable, audibly gasping as a curl of black hair popped free. Once Tommy realised that Ada was free again, he handed her the baby.
“How are you feeling, Ada?” He asked carefully, watching her like a hawk.
“When the euphoria wears off I’ll be in so much pain, Tom, but right now I’m fucking brilliant.” Ada smiled, still crying. “Look at her. She’s gorgeous. My little Ellie.”
It’s 2am before they get home, and they come home to a sight and a half. The ride back is painful for Ada, London’s cobblestones unforgiving as ever. Ellie was asleep in her arms, now dressed in a soft striped onesie and swaddled in a comfortable blanket that smelled like home.
Tommy helped Ada to the door, the bag on his shoulder. They barely had to knock before the door swung open to reveal none other than Alfie and Polly bickering over who could open the door so they’d see the baby first.
“I leave to have a baby and my whole house falls to ruin,” Ada hummed softly, a smirk on her face. She stepped inside, just wanting to lie down on her lounge chair. “Where’s my boy?”
Her question answered itself when she saw Karl curled up on the lounge chair. He was asleep under a thick quilt which looked all too inviting to Ada. She gently woke him, telling him to shuffle up.
“Mum? Whe -Is that the baby?” Karl leapt up off of the lounge so that Ada could sit down, watching the baby with curious eyes as Ada made herself comfortable on the lounge, covering herself with the quilt.
“It is.” Ada nodded, watching as the small family drew closer, sitting on any surface possible - Alfie pulled the armchair closer and then pulled Tommy down onto it with him. “Is everyone in? Can I introduce her now?”
They nodded as Karl shuffled onto a little space on the chaise lounge, tactile but gentle. Pol and Alfie had explained that she would be in a lot of pain.
“This is Elizabeth Eleanor Shelby,” Ada told everyone, eyes still on the slowly waking babe. “Alfie, Tommy’s already agreed to be Ellie’s godfather, obviously I’m asking you as well. At this point you come as a pair, and I’ve talked to Karl about it.”
Karl nodded, watching as the baby woke up. “Mum, she’s waking up. Can I hold her?” He asked her carefully, sitting up against her knees.
“Of course, c’mere.” Ada told him gently, sitting up and nodding towards the space closest to her. “I’m not made of glass, Karl. Just a bit sore.”
Karl grinned at her, shuffling closer. Ada wondered how she had managed to nurture and mother such a wonderful boy.
“You remember how you held Billy?” Ada asked, watching as Karl sat up quickly, straightening his posture. “Good, yeah. Remember, support her head and her back.” She carefully handed Ellie over, guiding Karl’s hands. “That alright?”
Karl nodded, eyes glued to the little life in his arms. He whispered to her, watching every movement. “Hey Ellie. I’m Karl.”
“Ada love, do you want tea? Something to eat?” Polly asked, standing close to the door to the kitchen.
“I’ve done some proper jewish baking, it’ll heal you up right away. Kid likes it anyway.” Alfie told her from the armchair, his arms wrapped around Tommy’s waist. “Good lad.”
“Just some tea, please, Pol. What have you baked then, Alfie?” Ada asked, looking away from her children for a few seconds to talk to her family.
Karl didn’t hear any of it, talking away to his sister. “Mum’s not very good at math, but I am. I’ll help you with your homework. When you get it. They don’t give babies homework, which is good, because you’re busy sleeping and growing..” He mused, watching as the babe stared back at him in something akin to fascination.
Tommy gave Ada a look, having listened to Karl intently. “Look after her, Karl, and she’ll look after you.” He told him softly, leaning into Alfie’s broad shoulders. “Can’t go wrong when you have a little sister if you look after her.”
Karl nodded thoughtfully, holding her close. “I will. She’s so tiny. Was I this tiny?”
“Smaller, even.” Ada told him honestly, kissing the top of his head. “You stick by her, yeah?” She was aware of the potential things she could go through - the racism, the sexism, anything. Elizabeth Eleanor Shelby wouldn’t fear, though. Wouldn’t feel shame. Ada would teach her to be proud of who she was, and to break necks should it come to it.
“I will.” Karl decided, watching as her eyes began to flutter shut. “She’s sleeping again, Mum.”
“Pass her on to your uncles then, I’m sure they’d love to hold her. Soppy dates that they are.” Ada looked over at Tommy and Alfie, who had perked up at her offer. “Then you get off to bed, yeah?”
Karl nodded, gently handing over Ellie to Tommy. He was careful and slightly wary about handing her over, but did it anyway. He trusted Tommy and Alfie.
Ada pulled him into a hug from where she lay, propped up on the lounge chair. She kissed his cheek and then sent him off - he called a final soft goodbye as he walked away, walking up the stairs.
Polly walked in with a tray - there was tea and plenty of baked goods. Ada truly did love Polly sometimes - she was the closest thing she’d ever had to a mother, seeing as their own had died soon after giving birth to Finn. She placed it on the coffee table and sat next to Ada, a hand on her shoulder.
“Has Karl gone to bed?” Polly asked, her mind racing with family.
“Yeah, it’s too late for him.” Ada hummed, closing her eyes for a second.
“I’ll go up and see if he’s alright, then I need to talk to my granddaughter.” She decided, standing up. “Have a drink and try to eat something, it’ll help.”
Once Polly was out of the room, Ada heard a choked sob and a small sniffle. It was low, though, unlike a babe’s. She craned her neck to look at the pair on the sofa, taking a small bite out of a baked good that Alfie had made. Alfie and Tommy were crying. Sods.
“You both alright there? I’m meant to be the emotional one.” Ada reminded them with a wry smile. “Do you want me to have her back?”
Alfie looked at her with a watery grin, the babe in Tommy’s arms. “She’s just gorgeous, ain’t she? Fuckin’ brilliant. Can’t judge a man for crying when you let the love of his life hold the most beautiful baby he’s ever seen, can you? Even the communist would have been sympathetic.”
Tommy cradled Ellie in his arms, lulling her into a deep sleep with a soft romani lullaby. “I’ll hold her whilst you eat, Ade. She’s a sound little thing, it’s no issue.”
“You’re both more than welcome to stay, if it wasn’t plainly obvious. Thanks for coming on such short notice.” Ada thanked them, quickly finishing the bread and tea. “Alfie this is gorgeous.”
“It’d be fucking stupid not to come, wouldn’t it? You’re family, and you and Tommy have always been attached at the fucking hip.” Alfie rambled. “You know your kid and I are good friends, it’d just be fucking ignorant to not come. Couldn’t stop Tommy if I wanted him to.”
“As it should be.” Polly hummed, walking through. “I hate to disturb you, Thomas, but I need to hold Elizabeth.”
It was a family custom - within a day of the birth, hours if possible, Pol would hold the baby and tell the mother her future. Ada held her breath as Polly took her namesake into her arms. Polly held her tenderly, close to her chest, heartbeats in time with eachother.
“She’ll be as smart as a whip - emotional, but smarter than anything. She’ll need her brother, and he will need her too.” Polly pressed a kiss to the baby’s forehead. “Welcome to the family, Elizabeth Eleanor Shelby.”
Ada beamed, relieved as anything. Her baby was going to be okay. She was going to be okay.
Polly held her for a bit longer, her maternal instincts taking over as Ada finished off the food on the tray. “What do you think, Pol?” She asked.
“It’s going to be hard, love. I have never told you otherwise. The baby’s eyes are golden, and she will be loved.” Polly decided, gently lowering the sleeping baby back into Ada’s arms. “And so will you, Ada.”
Ada shook her head softly, adjusting the blanket around the baby and then deciding to take it off so that Ellie could move how she wanted. The fire was roaring and she’d know if her baby was cold. “Not like that, Pol. I’ve given up on that. All I ask is that I’m loved by my children and my family. That’s enough.”
Polly sighed softly, sitting down on an armchair. “I know, Ada.” She had felt the same way when she was in the same position - single, a mother of two. She had loved again after it, Ada just needed to find herself an Aberama. An Alfie.
“Pretty clear that you’ve already got all that, ey?” Alfie grinned. “That lad of yours speaks of you like you’re a fucking monarch.”
Ada chuckled softly. Freddie used to say that. “Freddie used to call me the princess of Small Heath. It’s silly, but it’s always stuck with me.”
Tommy nodded, not liking the way she spoke - her voice sounded so remorseful, and she had every reason to. “Always have been, Ada. Even when we were stealing biscuits.”
“Flattery won’t get you any better breakfast, she’s not the one cooking.” Polly reminded him with a mock-stern look.
“He’s too used to it now, bet he’s got Alfie waiting on him on hand and foot. Poor bugger.” Ada gave Alfie a sympathetic look, bursting out in laughter when Alfie gave her a thumbs up.
“I far from mind Thomas’ flattery.” Alfie nodded, rubbing his hands together, arms wrapped around Tommy. “Could be worse, really.”
“‘Could be worse?’ Who says romance is dead.” Tommy rolled his eyes - Ada laughed until the air was split by a loud cry.
All of her attention turned to Ellie, rocking her gently. “Hey, sweetheart, what’s up? You can’t be hungry, fed you in the hospital... “ She mused, pressing a kiss to her wrinkled forehead. “What, love?” Ada checked Ellie’s nappy and groaned. “Ah. I wouldn’t be happy either, Eliza.”
And so Ada’s second go at motherhood began.