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.
Chapter 2: 2
The phone rang in the London Shelby residence, waking Ada from her dazed nap and luckily not the deeply sleeping baby in the bassinet next to her. She had given birth to Elizabeth only a week ago, and Polly was staying for the first six weeks to help with Karl and the various joys that come with newborns.
Her eyes are golden, Polly was right. Luckily, they are also closed. Ada rocked the bassinet softly, picking up the phone.
"Hello, Ada Shelby here, can I ask who's calling?" She asked politely, not taking her eyes off of the golden eyed girl.
"It's Michael. Ada. I'm losing my mind, I can hear colours, I can't count.." He sounded like someone had a gun to his head, though she knew for a fact that he wouldn’t be stupid enough to phone her in a time of need, surely.
"Ok…" Ada hummed, perplexed at his reason for calling. “Michael, I am at a loss for why you’re calling me. I cut all ties with the business before you took over,”
"Mum said that you used to help Tommy when he was stressed." He told her, his words rushed and painful. Ah. Ada almost laughed.
"I still do. Tommy is my brother and my best friend - I think you'll find we are very similar." Ada hummed, sitting down on the sofa so she could gently rub Elizabeth's back as she slept.
"Similar?" Michael asked, just as pained, something like fear creeping in. "In what way?"
"In the way that I, too, am obsolete, old and unfortunately for my two children, mad." She smiled slyly, quite proud of her snark. "Michael, if you think this is stress, you just wait. My brother saw himself dead before he decided he’d had enough, and you think hearing colours is a bad sign? That’s when we knew Tommy was having a good day.” Ada’s voice was calm, but every word was chosen for a reason. Michael had tried to butt her brother out of the business, and Tommy had used it as an excuse for retirement. Ada thought it would do him good to understand just how much Tommy did.
"Ada I -Mum said you used to help Tommy out." He sounded weak, defeated. Ada decided that that’s what you get for being stupid and playing with things you have no idea about.
And as if someone had called the devil, Polly showed up. Ada gave a gesture towards the phone she was holding and then spoke again.
"Luckily for you, Michael, your mother has been staying with me to help with her grandchildren. I'm sure Polly would be happy to clear up exactly what she said about my assistance and loyalty to my brother."
By the time Michael had asked, Polly had taken the phone and quietly advised Ada to take Elizabeth into another room because it was not about to be pretty. Ada picked the little girl up and took her into the study, closing the door behind her and sitting down on the chair. She propped Ellie to sit up, back against Ada’s knees now that she was awake.
“Morning, Ellie.” Ada smiled, kissing her chubby little fist as it gripped her thumb. “How’s your first week been, huh? Jessie should be here soon, she’ll like you. When you’re a bit older and your teeth have come through, you’ll really appreciate your uncle Alfie - he’s coming over on Sunday with the rest of your uncles. I hope you like them, spot.”
“Your uncle Arthur is the oldest, and he’s a little unhinged, but he will hold you like you’re made out of porcelain.” Ada assured her, pulling one of her socks back up from where it was bunched around one of her feet. “We need socks to keep us warm, Ellie. I know it’s warmer in your bassinet, but right now Polly is skinning Michael within an inch of his life in there, and you don’t want to witness that. I don’t, to be honest. Your grandmother is a scary, brilliant woman. Raised all five of us on her own.” Ada ranted, almost up to par with Alfie. “Now there’s just four of us - Arthur, Tommy, me, Finn. In between Tommy and I was John. He was funny, you would have liked him. I did.”
Ada heard Polly up the ante with her beration of Michael and chuckled.
“If you can do your best to never have your grandma speak to you like that, kid, you’ll be doing alright. If it happens once, that’s fine. Everyone makes a mistake once. If you make it twice, you’ve chosen not to learn from that mistake and then it’s your fault.” Elizabeth made a face at her and she laughed, tickling her. “Oi, little miss. Getting bored of your mad old mum, huh? That’s alright, I get bored of me too. What about some music, huh?”
Gently propping Ellie on her hip, she found her way over to the phonograph and put on some Sinatra - he was a new musician from New York that she enjoyed and the record of his she had purchased was slow and soothing. It would hopefully entertain Ellie without confusing or annoying her.
“Fly me to the moon..” Ada sung softly, swaying her hips as she twirled slowly through the room, eyes on Ellie. “Let me swing among the stars.. Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and mars…”
They twirled and danced for a few songs, exhausting them both. After a while Ada settled in front of the window, Ellie still on her hip. Ada pointed out different colours of cars, the colours of the tree in their front garden.
“Sinatra, Ade?” Came a rough voice, making her jump. Ada turned around to see Jessie in the doorway with a large bag. “I can excuse it if the tiny one likes it.” Jessie decided, putting the bag on a desk and walking over.
“Hey, I like Sinatra.” Ada reminded her, an eyebrow raised. “Can hardly see Ellie falling asleep to your riot music.”
“Ellie, huh?” She asked, moving closer. “Can I hold her, Ade? She’s gorgeous.”
Ada nodded, carefully handing her over. She trusted Jessie not to drop her. “Her name is Elizabeth Eleanor Shelby, isn’t she just beautiful?”
Jessie nodded, holding her as if she would fall apart if she breathed too hard. Regardless of Jessie’s intentions and well meaning, Ellie’s face began to scrunch up and then a loud cry erupted from her.
“Ade, I think your kid might be a tory.” Jessie decided with a hum, rocking the babe and whispering to her softly. “C’mon, kid, your mom likes me, bet you didn’t cry for Tommy. I’m Jessie, c’mon kiddo.”
“Give her here, Jess, she’s just fussy. The rest of us like you, so that has to stand for something, yeah?” Ada laughed, taking Ellie into her arms. “Fusspot, Ellie.”
“It’s alright, she’ll like me when she sees my bag of tricks.” Jessie winked, picking up her bag. “I know you said not to get her much, but you know what I’m like.”
“For a communist, you have horrific spending tendencies.” She sighed softly, sitting down slowly on the lounge chair. “Sit with us, then, o bearer of gifts. How many sickles, scythes and red stars are then, eh?”
Jessie’s face gave it away, making Ada laugh. “Really? You’ve bought my child propaganda?”
“Not just Elizabeth! You know I couldn’t spend on her without getting Karl something.” Jessie reminded her, pulling out some wooly socks and a blanket, along with a few toys - dolls that depicted dark skinned women and men, dolls that had tallits.
“Jess…” Ada made a soft noise. She’d been looking for something like it for her, wanting Ellie to grow up with dolls that looked like her.
“And I know she can’t read yet, and these are a bit young for Karl, but there are some children’s books. Good ones.” Jessie smiled, nodding to the small bundle of books. “I got a raise at the newspaper, tell Tommy thank you for clearing my name.”
“He’s gone soft since he’s settled down with Alfie, thank God.” Ada sighed, Ellie content in her arms. “Where did you get the dolls from? Trust you to find something so diverse.”
“I have a friend who makes children’s toys, his wife makes children’s books. I got them to do a favour for me, I saved Lorna - the wife - from a weird letchy man in camden high street. It’s how we met, I never cashed in on that favor, and so I told them both that I had a very special friend who was having an adorable baby who needed to grow up knowing that she was as special as every other little girl out there.” Jessie explained, shocked when Ellie reached out and grasped her index finger. “Oh! Hello, sweetheart. Knew you’d warm up to me, everyone does eventually.”
Ada laughed, shaking her head. “Ego the size of a planet, Jess.” She gently moved Ellie so that she was sitting on Jessie’s lap. “She’s just a wary little thing.”
Jessie nodded, a quirky smile somehow permanently on her face. Ada had only ever seen the girl frown for split seconds, and then she would grin and either punch a copper or lead a riot. “I know. I had to convince her mother to like me too.”
“Hey, I’ve always liked you.” Ada shook her head. “You’re lucky I heard you speak before I actually talked to you, though.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jessie asked, making a face, then turning to Elle who was propped on her thigh, supported by her arm. “Listen to your mum, Elizabeth, what’s she trying to say about me?”
“You’re abrasive, and I went in to try and convince you to help Tommy out. Then you assumed I was propositioning you, then you assumed I was propositioning you on Tommy’s behalf…” Ada recalled, taking the set of dolls in her hands, happy faces printed on the wooden box. She looked at them, seeing so many different bodies and colours - fuck, Jessie had thought about it. What had he done to deserve a friend like Jessie?
She laughed, which brought Ada out of her thoughts. “I think Karl might still be my favourite, sorry little Ellie. He tells me young people slang, which is incredibly useful. You’re still adorable, though.”
“Pol reckons she’s going to be a writer.” Ada told Jessie with pride, only then noticing the woman standing in the doorway. “Pol! Did everything with Michael go alright? Jessie’s brought presents for the kids.”
Polly nodded, walking over. “Michael is quickly realising why we all jumped from the boat. I thought it was plainly obvious that to run a business like that you either had to be out of your head or too desperate to care. I was the latter, Tommy was both, Michael and his wife are neither. Jumped up prick, bless him.”
“Look at these dolls, Pol. Jess got them, they’ve got black dolls, asian dolls, there’s even a jewish one!” Ada was clearly excited, so happy that her kid wouldn’t feel alienated.
“Well, mother mary.” Polly muttered under her breath, looking at both of them with a smile. “Did Ada tell you that we needed more thick socks?”
“You can never have too many fluffy socks, and I’ve learnt that Ada and Karl run cold. Makes sense that Elizabeth would as well.” Jessie shrugged as if it was nothing, looking at the girl in her lap.
“Have you told Michael not to call me for advice again?” Ada asked, tying her hair back with a thick elastic on her hand. “Pol, I love you, but I have no time for him. If Tommy is an obsolete, mad old man, then I am his obsolete, mad old sister.”
Polly smirked, a quiet noise escaping her lips. “I told him the exact same - if he was prepared to do something like that to Thomas, he should have actually thought about the repercussions. A blind man could see how close you are, and it has somehow gotten worse with age.”
Ada nodded, accepting Ellie back into her arms as she squirmed uncomfortably on Jessie’s lap and reached for her. “Hey kid. ‘S alright.” She hummed into her ear before nestling her into the crook of her elbow. “Your aunt Jessie has got you some beautiful toys and books. You’ll be smarter than all of us before we know it.”
“You might want to wash the blanket and socks first - mum was saying that babies take to things easier if they smell like their mother’s clothes and such.” Jessie explained, not sure of Polly’s knowledge. She had only met her a week ago in passing.
“Where’d you learn that?” Polly asked, intrigued. She hadn’t thought about doing that - it made sense, really. Common sense.
“My brothers and sisters were a bit of a hassle when they were younger. You pick things up quickly when you’re fifteen and you have to get your siblings to bed before you can go out with your friends.” Jessie laughed. “Freddie, me, and whatever communist rabble that we could rile up.”
Ada grinned, Ellie falling asleep in her arms. “It’s strange that we didn’t meet before Tommy, really, Jess.”
“Funny how fate does that, huh?”
A look at Polly's face told Ada that sometimes fate may be funny but it almost always was in view of Elizabeth Gray, running it’s due course under her watchful gaze. That alone scared her a little, of course it did. She always knew what was coming, and only told her half of the time.
Once Jessie was gone and everyone was in bed, Ada had another caller. She answered it as quickly as possible, not wanting the incessant ringing to disturb Elle as she fed.
“Ada Shelby, who’s calling?” She asked politely, the blanket Jessie brought them wrapped around them because Ada couldn’t be bothered enough to faff with her top and so she just took it off. It was her house, she would breastfeed her kid however she fucking wanted.
“Tommy Shelby, as always. How’s the first week been? Alfie’s wondering if you’d want him to do most of the cooking so that he could bring it in the car and do it at yours, save you doing any work.”
Ada sighed in relief, wincing as Ellie suckled a little too hard. “I’d really appreciate that, but if he’s busy then I don’t want him to feel obligated. Give him all of my thanks.”
“Don’t worry about it, Ade. Couldn’t drag Alfie from the kitchen if I went in there stark bollock naked…” Ada heard a shout of protest from across the room, making her laugh. “...Have you had any calls off of Michael?”
“Funnily enough, I have. Called when Ellie was sleeping earlier today, the prick. Polly set him straight, why?” Ada asked, shuffling on the lounge chair.
“Called me complaining about hearing colours,” Tommy sounded as sarcastic as it could really get, making Ada laugh. “That’s not even stage one of stress, and he’s trying to find a way out.”
“I told him the same thing, Tom. You know he expected me to help him because I help you? Fat chance, who does he think I am? Told him I was just as obsolete, mad and old as my brother. Then Polly came in and I‘m fairly sure he won’t be calling again.” She chuckled, rearranging her position on the lounge chair once Ellie was done, resting the baby on her chest and carefully wiping her mouth with the corner of the blanket.
“Prick. How is Elizabeth?” Tommy asked, the sarcastic tone dropping instantly.
“She’s just falling asleep - she’s feeding well, responsive, I couldn’t ask for a better baby.” Ada hummed, using her free hand to gently rub Ellie’s back. “Cried when I handed her to Jessie, you know.”
A laugh erupted from the phone line, then Ada heard Tommy tell someone something, then a laugh - unmistakably Alfie’s- erupted in the room, just reaching the phone. “There’s my goddaughter…. How was Jessie? Alfie quite liked meeting her.”
“Jessie and Alfie as a team would be too much for any of us - if she’s around for christmas, we’re keeping them separate.” Ada decided, her heart lurching as Ellie grasped the grey blanket. “She was great, brought us some very Jessie presents and some new reading for Karl.”
“The kid wearing a red star now?” Tommy asked, teasing her.
“Oi, she managed to keep her communism at a gentle hum this time. She managed to find some diverse dolls - there are black ones, asian ones, and even jewish ones.” There was an excited tone to her voice even though she was keeping it quiet. “I’ve had a read through the children’s books she dropped off and they’re so lovely, Tommy. They talk about families like ours, you know? You and Alfie, me alone, pol.”
“I’m glad you have someone that cares about you that much around you, Ade. How’s Pol coping? It’s been a while since she’s been around children..” Tommy hummed.
“She’s doing really well, I really appreciate her help, it’s nice to see her more…” Ada sighed softly, something unspoken in her words.
“But you want to be left alone,” Tommy soon answered.
“Yeah… Wouldn’t want to make her feel bad.” Ada sighed softly. “Karl likes having his nan around, and she is helping so much.”
“I know. Accept the help, yeah, Ada? Pol’s only staying for six weeks, and then you’re going to go back to it just being you and your kids.” Tommy reminded her softly. “We’ll be there Sunday, try to get out a bit, yeah? Or invite Jessie round - she seems like she’s good for you.”
“I will. I’m going to head up to bed, Ellie’s sound asleep, I’ll be able to carry her up without her waking.” Ada looked down at the snoozing little life on her chest. “You get to bed soon, yeah? Alfie too. You’re both grumpy anyway.”
“There’s my bossy little Ada. Bite someone’s finger off and shrink to Karl’s size and we’ve got you back completely.”
Sunday was known to most as a day of rest - the only day most jobs had off, and if you were religious it was the sabbath. To Ada, it was the day that Ellie had woken her up with loud crying and quite an explosive shit.
Luckily, her first bout of motherhood had caught her up on what she’d missed on being one of the babies of the family. Even if she was fourth oldest, she still got treated like a baby in her younger years. Now Ada could see why and how truly naive she’d been as a young girl, she could understand it easily. Hopefully her screaming bundle of joy wouldn’t be the same.
She changed her and bathed her, dressing her in a onesie and the little hat it came with. Jessie’s fluffy socks almost shouted at her as she ruffled through the small drawer in the tasteful nursery drawer dedicated to Elle’s underclothes. Of course, Elizabeth didn’t sleep there yet - once she was a few months old and a little stronger, she would. Ada would miss having her tiny frame close to her at all times as much as she missed being able to roll over in bed without having a heart attack.
Ada reckoned she must be doing pretty well, though, because it had been a week and she hadn’t rolled over on the baby at all. She then dressed herself, going for as loose of a skirt as she could find and an easily maneuverable blouse. She had learnt a lot from her first go at motherhood, thank god.
Downstairs she could hear people talking, which confused her. Surely it was too early for anyone to be here? And normally Karl didn’t get up until late. Huh.
After she fed Ellie she toed her slippers on and padded across the landing, gently nudging Karl’s bedroom open to see him still sound asleep in his bedroom. Huh. She closed it again and held Ellie close to her chest as she walked down the stairs.
“Think that’s sleeping beauty coming down the stairs now.” She heard Polly remark, making her muscles relax. Ada held Ellie a little looser and continued into the kitchen, wondering quite who was in there. Then she saw a large hat on her table, accompanied by a flat cap.
“Morning.” Ada hummed, walking through to the countertop. She was greeted by the sight of Alfie slaving over the stove, Tommy and Polly standing as far aside as they could get whilst making snide comments. “I see what you meant by coming earlier.”
“Well, we were already awake, and Lizzie’s got the kids, some fuckin’ horse thing.” Alfie shrugged, not looking from his multiple pots and pans. “Can’t rush good cooking, nah.”
Tommy nodded at her with a smile, “Told you I couldn’t keep him out of the kitchen if I tried.”
Ada smiled back, glad to note that Tommy smiled far more nowadays - the lack of pressure on him to be so fixed and military had clearly loosened his bones, along with the bumbling jewish man now taking over her kitchen. She caught him watching the child in her arms and shook her head, walking over. “Do you want to hold her, Tom? I need to do myself some breakfast, she’s been fed.”
He nodded quickly, taking the baby into his arms. “A week old, huh, and you already know who to stick with, yeah?” Tommy hummed softly, leaning against the wall. “Poor Jessie,”
“She warmed up to Jess quickly, don’t worry.” Ada told him, taking some toast from a plate. “Just a fussy little thing. Any news off of Arthur or Finn?”
“I told them to be here by two, which is good, because the food will be done by four according to Alfie.” Polly nodded, pouring herself some tea.
“There’s something to be said about a piss up in a brewery.” Alfie muttered from the stove, earning a dangerous look from Tommy.
“This is nothing to do with us three.” He reminded Alfie, not loud enough to startle the baby gripping his finger.
“Arthur has always been late for things,” Polly sighed softly. “Had to rush to his own wedding because he was late.”
Ada laughed softly, remembering the many times that he had been late for quite literally every event ever. “I’m willing to bet he’ll still be late.”
“Karl still won’t be awake.” Polly added, lighting a cigarette near the window.
Ada made a face, which made Tommy laugh. She hated smoking in her house - she hated the smell and there was no way it was good for a newborn baby. He’d ask her later where her iron will went, but they all knew that rules never applied to Polly. She held this sort of superiority that both impressed and irked Ada to an extreme level.
“So, Ada, that communist…” Alfie started, stirring multiple pots at one time. “I heard she got the kid some dolls - normal shit, yeah, but I hear there is a doll of a certain religion to which I find myself a part of.”
“That’d be Jessie, yes. There is a jewish doll, just as there is a muslim doll, a sikh doll, and of course a christian one.” Ada recalled. “Different races, ethnicities, whatever you can think of.”
“And this Jewish doll.. I am inclined to ask about the size of its nose.” He pushed further, curious after Tommy had told him. “And what indicators there are that this particular wooden individual is at all Jewish.”
“Alfie, the dolls are not antisemitic.” Ada told him clearly, pouring herself some tea “The doll is a normal looking man, wearing a tallit and a small necklace with the Star of David on it. That’s like asking if the black doll has massive lips. You underestimate Jessie, you know. As if I’d have someone who thought like that so close.”
“Was just checking, fuck me..” Alfie muttered, a hint of approval in his voice. “When Tommy was telling me you had a temper, I didn’t think you could get as shirty as him.”
Polly laughed from the window, shaking her head. A cloud of smoke blew into the large kitchen, making Ada draw closer to Tommy and Ellie. “Oh, Solomons. You may know my Tom, but Ada is a whole other kettle of shit.”
“What my aunt is trying to say is that some would call me strong minded.” She smiled, picking her words carefully as she heard Karl thud down the stairs.
“Others are missing limbs.” Tommy remarked under his breath, earning a gentle swat up the head from Ada.
“Who’s missing limbs?” Karl asked, rubbing his head. He was in his pyjamas, barefoot as he walked through the kitchen and reached for some toast. “I can’t see any missing limbs. Is Elizabeth okay?”
“Ellie is fine, Karl. Tommy was just being silly.” Ada shook her head, giving Tommy a dangerous look. “Your other uncles will be here in a few hours,”
Karl nodded, peering over at the baby in Tommy’s arms. “Morning uncle Tommy, uncle Alfie.”
“Morning.” Alfie called from the stove, placing the appropriate lids on the pots and leaving a few off. He washed his hands in the sink and dried them on one of Ada’s joke tea towels - another present from Jessie, she’d gotten monthly deliveries of aggressively anarchist tea towels for the three months following her birthday. “Some charming tea towels you’ve got here, Ada.”
“Blame Jess.” She dismissed it with a wave of her hand, accepting Ellie back into her arms once again after she fell asleep in Tommy’s arms.
“Is Jessie coming today?” Karl asked, having taken a rather large liking to the woman. She was nice, and she didn’t care that his uncle was Jewish or that his dad was a communist.
“Probably not, Karl, but she might come around in the week with one of her strange findings, you know what she’s like.” Ada smiled, remembering the large amount of trinkets and strange things that she had brought into the house.
Karl nodded through chewing on some toast, stretching a little. “I’m going to get dressed.” He quickly ran up the stairs, making Ada roll her eyes. He’d break his neck one of these days.
“How much of your stuff is a present from Jessie?” Alfie asked curiously, an arm around Tommy. “From what I know, communists don’t tend to be well off. What you call a fuckin’ hyperbole.”
“I cleared her name not so long back, she’s ignored by police.” Tommy reminded him. “She’s a writer, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, for quite a few newspapers and she does some proof-reading. She’s not the richest, but 2she’s nothing like we were.” Ada sat on a chair, grabbing a baby blanket from where it was hung over a chair not so far away and wrapped Ellie in it. “Just a little bit mad, ‘s all. Has her own flat even though she could easily afford a house.”
A few more hours of small talk and there was a loud knock on the door. It stirred Ellie from her nap, which made Ada sure that it was her brothers. Ellie alert in her arms, she walked through the hallway and opened the door, greeted by Finn and Arthur in their best.
“Boys! Come in, see you've stuck to old tradition." Ada beamed, opening the door wider with her free hand. "Tommy and Alfie are already here,"
“And that’s her?” Arthur asked once he’d gotten his coat and hat off, hanging them on the appropriate hook. When he thought about it, he was actually a very thoughtful man.
“It is. Come on, both of you, living room. Karl’s in there badgering Alfie,” Ada received a very gentle hug off of both of them, none of them touching the baby at all.
Once they were seated, it was very clear that Arthur wanted to hold the newest addition to the Shelby family. Ada couldn’t help but feel her heart ache at the realisation of how long it must have been since he’d seen his own boy.
“She’s beautiful, Ade.” He muttered softly, holding the baby as if she was made of glass. “What’s her name?”
“Elizabeth Eleanor Shelby. I just call her Ellie. Think the full name will only come in when she’s in trouble.” She hummed, sitting down next to Arthur. “What do you think, Arthur?”
“Think she’ll be a knockout, bless her. Like her mum, too smart for her own good.” He mused, looking into her golden eyes. “Welcome to the family, Elizabeth.”
“I’m going to look after her.” Karl piped up proudly from his seat next to Alfie. He had been talking to Alfie about pretty much anything he came up with - Ada wondered if the man’s patience with children ever ran out.
“Good lad, Karl, good lad. Finn, do you want to hold her?” Arthur asked, though it was family custom. You held the baby even if it had shit itself.
Finn nodded, shuffling to swap with Arthur so he could sit by Ada. She carefully adjusted his hold of her so that they were both comfortable then relaxed again into the chair.
“Am I holding her right?” He asked, looking at Ada for reassurance.
“Yeah, you are. She’d tell you if you weren’t, trust me.” Ada hummed, wondering quite what happened in Finn’s mind. He seemed so much older than he’d ever been and yet so naive, not so secure in who he was. “Remember when you were this tiny, Finn. Now you’re taller than me and I’m thirty two with my own set of kids… how does it happen?”
“Try being the obsolete, mad old man.” Tommy remarked, sipping his whiskey.
“Think that’s been my reigning title for a while more than you, Tom.” Arthur grinned, making Ada laugh a little. They turned painful truths into jokes on the days that were meant to be happy. Other days they tended to just accept that they were all variously fucked up and go to their coping mechanisms.
Ada’s brokenness was her loneliness, her fear of being loved since Freddie and her denial of it ever happening again. She was a thirty two year old single mother with strong views and the bite to match her dominating bark.
Her coping method seemed to be crying and inviting Jessie over for wine. Jessie was as messed up as her, except not at all. She was brash and revolutionary, only not in the same way as Freddie. Softer, maybe. Jessie didn’t care that she had cutthroat brothers, or that her brother’s in love with an also cutthroat but otherwise lovely jewish man, or that her daughter had skin darker than theirs.
“You alright there, Ada?” Someone asked, making her jump and nod a bit. Finn was still holding Ellie, content enough as she played with his finger.
“Yeah, just caught in my head.” Ada excused with a smile, ignoring the concerned look that Tommy directed at her. Today was a happy day.
As soon as the food was done they shuffled into the dining room, the family easily filling the grand scene even if the years had left them empty seats in space of where their loved ones should be.
“All Kosher, not that any of you would mind, yeah? Never know, Arthur, could have had a change of faith.” Alfie hummed, helping Ada and Polly bring all the food out from the kitchen.
“You may be good for my brother, but that doesn’t stop you from being fucking annoying.” Arthur grumbled from his place in between Ada and Polly’s empty seats.
“It’s a good thing my kid knows when not to swear, fucking hell.” Ada muttered, carrying the last of the plates and dishes in. “Alfie, Arthur, as always, if we could keep the fighting to a minimum, seeing as my daughter is asleep in the next room.”
Ada nodded, acknowledging the apologies but not saying anything as she sat down. It was good to maintain some level of severity when she had her family in company. They were as wild and feral as her and therefore dangerous, though they wouldn’t be as stupid as to do it in her house with her newborn sleeping in the other room.
The dinner was unusually calm - a few stories here and there, a few impressions of people that Alfie and Tommy were glad to be shot of, a few pleasantries but not enough to make her think that something was off. It was just quiet.
When you’re raised off chaos, you tend to miss it when it’s gone. Ada almost leapt up to answer the phone when it rang, tinny and true. If it was anyone else’s house she’d excuse herself, but she needed to feel something. Hell, she was willing it to be Michael just so she could feel anger.
“Ade?” Came a voice down the receiver, making everything settle for a while. Jessie. “You there?”
“Yeah, I am, sorry. You alright, Jess? I thought you said you had a shift.” Ada asked, confused but yet pleased to hear her voice. “You’re not in trouble again, are you? I’ve got everyone around, I could come pick you up.”
“First of all, I would only phone you to ask you to bail me out, and even then it would only be because you know that I’ll pay you back as soon as possible.”
Ada could tell what faces Jessie was pulling just from listening to her voice, making her smile.
“Second of all, my lovely upper class friend, my work has multiple phones. I finish early today, they’re all going out for drinks. If you wanted I could drop by?” Jessie offered, unease in her tone with her question.
“Yeah, I’d love that. Everyone’s staying over, so don’t worry if you’re late - also note that everyone does mean anyone with the last name of Shelby.” Ada joked, a light laugh falling from her lips. “Alfie and Arthur are too busy fighting each other to start with the commie jokes.”
“Ada, you know I love your family - as little as I’ve met of it. I’ll be around at seven ish, yeah? I’ve got to go, our favourite bag of lard is back on patrol.”
“Bye, Jess, don’t get fired.”
“No promises!” Jessie grinned, then she must have hurriedly put the receiver down to avoid being caught, because the call ended and Ada walked back to her seat.
“Everything alright, Ada?” Polly asked from where she was helping Karl cut up a particularly persistent piece of beef.
“Just Jessie, she’s finishing earlier so I invited her over, if that’s alright with everyone?” Ada smiled, true and genuine.
“This that communist you’re so fond of?” Alfie asked, looking up from his food to ask.
“Yeah, she is.” Ada nodded, catching Tommy’s eye across the table and noting to ask what the fuck he meant by it once she’d had a wine or two and the kids had gone to bed.
“That’s alright then.” He nodded, resuming his meal.
Something about Jessie’s voice had calmed her down and filled the deathly silence with a calm warmth. Ada hadn’t had such a good friend in well… she couldn’t remember. Even Freddie hadn’t made her feel this calm, but that was just hormonal teenage unrest. It wasn’t untrue that Jessie and Freddie stemmed from the same social circle and yet they were so different.
Communists, sure, but where Freddie was devoted to the cause, Jessie was devoted to her siblings, her ever deteriorating mother, her friends. Where Freddie was frantic and uncontrollable, Jessie was precise and razor sharp. Strange that Ada used to be so devoted to Freddie when now she couldn’t see a relationship with him lasting more than six months.
His death had tore her apart limb from limb, still haunting every crevice inside her head, but the Ada that was so madly in love with him had disappeared with the weight of being a single mother, of being a grown woman. She still loved him, but the rose coloured glasses had quickly left.
“Did Jessie want anything? I heard you mention the police.” Polly muttered to her as they cleared the table, out of earshot of the more reactive guests and child.
“No, she just wanted to check up and see if she could come round later.” Ada smiled, taking the last of the plates and watching as Tommy left to check up on Ellie.
“You’ve not been able to stop smiling since she phoned.” Polly stated, leaning on the kitchen counter after stacking the plates. “I’ll do the dishes, if I need any help I’ll call in one of the boys. Go enjoy yourself with your brothers and that golden eyed baby, ok?”
“Is that an order, aunt Pol?” Ada smirked, pouring herself some tea.
“It is. Anyone who can make you smile that much needs to be around more often, so tell Jessie to come to any of the dinners she wants.” Polly hummed, something secretive behind her eyes that Ada didn’t have the effort to decipher. She was scared she’d find out too much if she did.
Ada nodded, sipping her tea. “I will. She hasn’t been around much lately, work’s been busy since her promotion. Normally though she might as well move in.”
It was true. Jessie could walk in and out if she pleased, leave her coat strewn across the back of a chair, shoes somewhere in the hallway, but she didn’t. She treated Ada’s house with the same respect as Ada did, helped her wash dishes even though Ada insisted she was a guest.
That night she knocked politely on the door even though she had a key for dire situations, scraping her boots off on the snobby neighbour’s steps before walking up the drive.
When Ada opened the door she was greeted by Jessie, of course, that leather flying jacket that may as well be a second skin, and a bottle of wine and a bouquet.
“Jess, you didn’t have to, come in.” Ada sighed softly, a smile permanently ingrained into her face when she was around. Good friends were hard to come by, but friends like Jessie were only found once in a lifetime.
“Oh come on, Ada, you know what I’m like.” Jessie smirked, stepping inside and giving her a warm hug. “I finished off that merlot a while ago and didn’t replace it, so this is my replacement. The flowers are interest.”
Ada shook her head, taking the wine and flowers so that Jessie could take off her jacket and shoes. “Karl’s in bed, but he’s been asking for you.”
“Duh, the little lad is my favourite.” Jessie shrugged, jacket hung neatly on a spare peg. “Are your family still here?”
“They are. This way, Jess, welcome to the madhouse.” Ada joked, taking her arm and leading her into the living room. “Everyone, this is Jess.”
Jessie nodded, saying hello to everyone who said it to her and quickly settling in on the lounge chair. Ada watched her carefully, putting the wine bottle in the rack and the flowers in the vase on the coffee table.
Tommy was holding Ellie, sat on Alfie’s lap in the armchair. He nodded over at her in acknowledgement just as Alfie piped up.
“I understand that you are a good friend of Ada’s, and clearly you are trusted by my confidant who has been sent to bed because it is past his bedtime, but it has come to my attention that you have bought Elizabeth some dolls.” Alfie ranted, making Ada roll her eyes softly and sit down next to Jessie. “One of these dolls seems to be of the Jewish religion, from what I have heard, and Ada here has assured me that none of them are derogatory. A man has to wonder where you find dolls of Jewish identity in the first place,”
“I have a large circle of Communists and Socialists, some of whom are artistic. I wouldn’t want Ellie to grow up not having any representation of herself, and Ada had told me that she was struggling to find something that did.” Jessie told him honestly, leaning into Ada as she leant into Jessie, heads knocking a little and staying together.
“That’s very thoughtful of you, yeah.” Alfie nodded slowly, watching the pair intensely. Ada was sure he had more to say, though for some odd reason was holding back.
Polly smiled at Ada from across the room, that something hidden still behind her eyes, even stronger. Ada could have picked it apart if she wanted to, but she quite enjoyed not knowing.
“I try,” Jessie smiled, watching as Ellie stretched and grasped at thin air.
“Do you want the kid back, Ade? My arms are dead, and I think she’s getting restless.” Tommy offered, shuffling a little but keeping the little girl as still as possible.
“Of course, yeah,” Ada nodded, quickly standing up to take the child out of his arms before she cried or frowned. It felt right to have that weight in her arms, safe and healthy. Ellie seemed happy in her arms, satiated as she snuggled into Ada.
Everyone dropped off slowly, taking themselves to bed and leaving Jessie and Ada alone in bed, Ellie asleep in the bassinet next to the window.
“Thanks for coming tonight, Jess.” Ada hummed softly as the room fell silent, the two friends underneath a blanket, legs tucked up onto the sofa as they leant into each other. No accusations, no questioning glances, just them and the occasional snore from Ellie.
Jessie gave her a soft smile, fixing Ada’s collar. “You know I love spending time with you, and your family are nice. Tommy’s pretty much saved my financial situation, you’ve saved the emotional bit.”
“I was having a bit of a bad day - they were all too quiet, like they know something I don’t. I’m glad you’ve had a gentle introduction to them, though. Probably a good idea to build up to it.”
“The fighting, the bullet holes in the walls, the fires… Alfie and Arthur are the worst for it, really, always hated each other. They’ve got no choice but to be civil now, though, because Alfie’s head over heels for Tommy. It’d be nice to have, don’t you think?” Ada mused, sipping her glass of wine to distract herself.
“It would be, yeah.”
Soft skin interrupted Ada’s silence, though she couldn’t quite mark when the silence was. All she knew now was that soft lips were on hers, tasting like whiskey and something her hazy brain couldn’t quite figure out. Calloused hands worshipped her skin, holding her hips and then her lower back. Thin legs slid in between hers, soft hair tickling her inner thighs. The soft chest against hers told her that this was no ordinary dream, and the name she called out into the soft light was like a cold bucket of water poured over her.
The soft light left as quickly as it came, the final notes of the sinatra track coming to an abrupt end as she sat up in her bed. Ellie was asleep next to her, undisturbed by her mother’s sudden movements.
Ada’s breath came in ragged movements, and she knew it was wrong to phone Tommy at this time but God, she wanted someone to talk to. Jessie would answer, of course she would, but how do you tell your closest friend that you just called out her name in your first dream involving another woman? That you crave the feeling of being loved so badly that you’ll take it off of a woman you hold so dear? Who probably feels the same about a man Ada’s never met?
It was all too much. Ada needed to drink. Tea. Whiskey. Wine. Anything that would draw her from her own head. She lay down for a second, looking over at her newborn. Little Ellie. Hadn’t Ada ruined her chances as a child already? A young black girl, born out of wedlock. Giving her an openly gay mother would only properly shaft her.
This little life infront of her, with her fuzzy socks and half formed body, and Ada could give her all of the chances in the world and none of it at the same time.
Surely, though, one dream about a woman didn’t make you gay. Even if after waking up you were still imagining the feeling of her soft skin against yours, calloused hands against the small of your back, no that didn’t make you gay.
Ada sailed through the morning, never more thankful that Karl’s school was close enough for him to walk - he was a young boy now, it was safe. Plus, his uncles had done their fair share of self defence training.
Then she was alone with her poached eggs and her toast, Ellie satiated in her lap after Ada had fed her. She was alone, well, not alone, but how much conversation could you quite honestly have with a newborn?
At ten, Ada knew she had to do something otherwise she was going to fucking scream. She knew Ellie wouldn’t appreciate it if she did, so she phoned up the only residence she knew she could.
“Thomas Shelby speaking,”
“Oh, thank fuck. As much as I love Alfie, I couldn’t talk to him about this.” Ada sighed, relaxing back into the lounge chair. “Don’t tell him that,”
“What’s up, Ada? Do you need me to come to London?” Tommy asked quickly, all amusement cut from his tone. “I can be there,”
“I had a dream about Jessie.” She admitted quickly, scared that if the words didn’t come out quick enough they wouldn’t come out at all. “I had a dream about Jessie, about her thighs and her hands and everything else, and I don’t know what it means, and what if I’m gay, Tommy? What does that mean about Freddie?”
“Oh, Ada.” Tommy sighed softly. “I want you to listen to me, yeah? You can like both, you can love both. You can like one sometimes, and then fall in love with someone of the other gender another time. There are no rules to this, as long as your kids are safe and you’re safe.”
Ada let out a stuttered sigh, tears beginning to form in her eyes. “Tom, I.. I don’t think I’m in love. Don’t even know if I like her that way, I just went to sleep thinking about her and I’d had a glass or two of wine…”
“How often does she come to your house, Ada? To see you,” He asked carefully, sounding more relaxed as he continued. “It’d be okay if you did like her that way, Ada. You obviously mean a lot to her… Are you crying?”
“No,” She lied, bursting out into sobs. “I just… I don’t know if this is me having feelings or the fact that I haven’t felt anything for anyone in so long that my brain wants me to. I’ve got a kid, Tommy. Karl’s nearly twelve, and god, I’ve got a newborn. I can’t be in a relationship.”
“Right, I’m going to come over, Charlie’s at school. You going to be alright on your own until I can get there?”
“Tommy, I’m fine.” Ada protested softly, shushing Ellie’s signs of discomfort.
“Mhm. I’m just coming around for my own peace of mind, and to see my niece. Is she okay?” Tommy asked, knowing Ada would fare better if she was under the impression that Tommy was not coming solely for her.
Ada knew that Tommy was trying to dupe her, but fell for it because she needed to be able to feel something other than worry.
“She’s a little upset, but she’ll be fine by the time you get here.” She sniffled, holding Ellie close and pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead.
“Alright. Give me a while, yeah? I’ll be there as fast as possible, Ada.” Tommy hummed, and then the phone buzzed. The call was over.
Ada was all alone again - Tommy’s soft words quietened them slightly. She wasn’t dirty or wrong. The way Jessie had held her in her dreams wasn’t something of nightmares. Only, it was. It was because it was easier for Tommy and Alfie to be discreet with their big house in the middle of nowhere. Ada lived in the city - everyone knew something about someone and that was why she liked it. Jessie was a writer, they’d do anything to cut her down. If they were even hinted at as a couple… it would destroy them both.
“It’s not love, little Elle.” Ada promised her softly, more convincing herself than anything. “Your Aunt Jessie is just my best friend, who’d do anything to save us from going hungry for a second, who I sometimes might think about kissing when we’ve had too much wine. It’s just the wine, just your lonely old mum.”
“I hope you never have to feel this way, my little love,” She hummed, tears tracking down her porcelain cheeks. “I hope there’s a boy who sees the stars in your eyes, maybe a girl, it won’t matter when you’re all grown up.”
Ada lay down on the sofa, holding Ellie close on her chest, singing to her softly to distract herself from the burning pit inside her that was begging her to realise something soon. She ignored it and called into the empty room as she serenaded the furniture and the glass vases.
“Rose, rose, rose red,
Shall I ever see thee wed?
I will marry at thy will, sire,
At thy will.”
She sung softly, the lullaby taking her back to the times in Watery Lane when Arthur was getting his beatings and Tommy would try and get her to sleep. Stop her from crying. Ada would die before anything similar happened to her kids.
The door opened with the sound of a key turning in the lock - Ada turned to crane her head down the hallway, sitting up on the sofa. Only Tommy and Jessie had keys, so either way it was going to be a good visit.
Tommy, thank god. He’d gotten there fast, but she knew how he drove and wasn’t surprised. “You’re early.”
“You’re crying.” He stated, hanging his coat and hat and then walking into the living room.
“Observant of you.” Ada teased with a watery smile, sitting up fully and adjusting Ellie’s position on her chest. “Sit, you know where the liquor cabinet is if you want anything.”
“I’ll raid your cabinet later,” He sat down next to Ada, looking over at the small life sleeping on her chest. “Is she okay?”
“She’s great, very sleepy, very hungry, then also very lively when she wants to be.” She smiled, dark fingers gripping her pinky finger.
“Good. Are you okay?” He asked again, gently adjusting one of Ellie’s socks to cover her ankles. “You don’t have to be, yeah? Alfie knows where I am, he picks Charlie up from school anyway, so we’ve got all the time in the world.”
Ada leant her head on his shoulder, the comfort of having him there overwhelming her senses and sending her off the edge as a choked sob escaped her lips. “Can’t stop thinking about her, Tom. It’s wrong, and she’ll never feel the same, my kids will be in danger, I’ll be in danger - hell, she’ll lose her job, Tom, and she’s worked so hard for it!”
“We’d never let anything happen to Karl or Ellie, or you. You know that.” Tommy reassured her, wrapping an arm around her slender waist. “Not over our dead bodies. Not even death could stop me from protecting them and you,”
“Tom, you don’t have the same power as you did, you know that. Jessie’s the strong type, if, by some inconceivable chain of events, we become a couple, she’ll want to be strong about it.” Ada explained, the image in her head of them being happy together accompanied by the image of them both in some institution.
“You don’t think she’d take you and the kids into consideration? Ade, I have seen how that woman tends to you and your kids. She’d sell her hair for you, you don’t think she’d manage to keep your relationship somewhat quiet until the world is sensible enough to recognise your love?” Tommy reasoned, making Ada cry even harder. “She loves you, in whatever way you think about it.”
“What if I lose her, Tommy? I come out with some big sapphic confession and she runs away? I love what we have, I love sitting with her on the sofa and drinking red wine, I love it when she gets bored and makes faces at me, I love it when she brings around strange cheeses that we have to dare each other to eat.”
“But you don’t love her?”
His tone made Ada’s heart stop.
“No! I love the things she does, I love the way she speaks, the way she shouts in the square as her friends try to sell the paper, but loving her, Tommy? That’s something else, something else entirely, that’s me dooming my kids’ chances, that’s me getting her kicked out from her work and possibly her flat, that’d ruin everything.” Ada’s head was filled was visions of the dark haired flame, wrapped in her flying jacket and stood on top of one of the statues in the square as she screamed passionately.
“Do you not think Charlie and Ruby have chances, then, Ada?” Tommy asked softly, a tone of something hurt in his voice. “We’re the same as you and Jessie.”
“Tommy..” Ada sighed, tears tracking down her face. “Ruby and Charlie have every chance in the world, you know that. It’s different with us, you’re so separated from the world, Charlie’s school friends have no idea that he’s got two dads. If me and Jessie so much as kiss in front of a window, you know it will be over. Everything. It happened with Polly, it can happen with me.”
“Ada, look at me.” Tommy told her sternly, the mention of what happened to Polly hardening them both. “You’re not going to lose your kids, alright? Before the war, we were powerless, and now we’re not. You can be happy, Ada.”
“Can I?” Ada asked softly, Ellie slowly waking. “Look at her, Tommy, what if I hurt her?”
“I think Karl’s turned out alright, hasn’t he? His dad’s a commie, he lives with his mum, and look at him. Kid outsmarts Finn most of the time.” Tommy smiled, pressing a kiss to her temple. “They’re going to be okay, Ada, because you will be there for them, and so will we, and so will Jessie. Whether you’re together or not.”
Ada nodded, watching as the babe reached for Tommy. “Do you want to hold her? She’s reaching for you - cried when Jessie held her, you know.”
Tommy took her into his arms gently, cradling her head. “She’s got her head screwed on, knows her Uncle Tommy will look after her. Teach her how to ride a horse and shoot a gun when she’s of age.”
“She won’t need a gun.” Ada decided, frowning a little. “Don’t give her a gun.”
“Not now, she’s a baby. One day, though, when she starts going out, her uncles will make sure that she knows how to look after herself.” He reassured her, adjusting Ellie’s cotton hat to cover her better.
“You’re not teaching Karl, are you? I know you teach him how to ride horses with Charlie and Ruby, but if my son has been anywhere near a gun..” Ada warned, watching Ellie in his arms.
“No, I haven’t. He’s getting of an age, you know, but I would ask you. Hell, not asking you would be like signing myself up for castration…” Tommy muttered, making Ada laugh a little.
“I wouldn’t do such a thing to Alfie, he’s the only one of your partners that I’ve actually liked,” Ada sighed, a soft smile playing on her lips, tears no longer tracking down her face. “I’d trust you to teach him when he’s a little older, just ask me.”
“I will, I will.” He nodded, a small smile on his lips. “What do you think of Alfie? Honestly.”
“I think he’s funny, and he makes you smile like you did before the war.” Ada sighed with the same soft smile on her face. “I’ve never seen anyone look at anyone with such love and care as he looks at you, even when you’re off kilter.”
“I would tell him all that, but his ego is far too big already.” He looked at the baby in his arms, now sound asleep again. “Far too big.”
“Is it now?” Ada teased, leaning back on the chair. “Seriously, though, Tommy, I’m glad someone finally sees the Tommy that I know and love. You’ve deserved it for a long time coming,”
“And so have you, Ade.”
“Maybe fate thinks you deserve it just that little more, and I’m glad it does. I’m fine here, me and my kids. Don’t need love when I’ve already got them.” Ada smiled, though she knew Tommy could see through it in an instant. “I’m okay.”
Then Ada was crying again, and Tommy wrapped an arm around her, the other one holding Ellie. He kissed her forehead, and somehow she knew that she’d be alright. Everything would be alright.
Loud ringing broke their silence, making Ada jump up and wipe her tears quickly, composing herself before picking it up.
“Hello, Ada Shelby speaking.”
“Ade? You okay?” Jessie sounded worried but Ada wouldn’t let her have it consume her.
“Yeah, me and Tommy were just talking about old times.” Ada excused quickly, ignoring Tommy as he mouthed ‘what the fuck are old times?’ to her.
“Okay, you know if you ever want to talk, I’m here. I was wondering if, instead of taking you out, I could bring some food and some wine over?”
“I’d love that, Jess. Let me pay for half.” Ada tried to argue, glad no-one but Tommy could bear witness to the look on her face.
“Nonsense. It’s my decision to spoil you, and it is one I should be able to do as much as I would like. Your favourites are snowdrops, yeah?”
“They are. Jess, you don’t have to buy me flowers every time you come.”
“I like buying you flowers. It’s good for you, to have flowers in your house. Good for the soul, so the florist says.”
“Of course the florist says that, he wants you to buy more.”
“Oh, woe is me, I have to buy my best girl some flowers… supporting local business, Ada!”
“You’re unbelievable, Jessie.”
“You love it. I’ll be over at six.”
Ada put the receiver down once she was sure the call had ended, taking her place next to Tommy again.
“She’ll be over at six, will she?” Tommy raised an eyebrow, a soft smile on his face. “Will Karl be alright with that?”
“Karl loves Jessie as much as I do, Tom.” Ada sighed, a soft look on her face.
“But it’s not love?”
At around six pm, as promised, there was a knock on Ada’s front door. Karl was home, Ellie was babbling incoherently in her bassinet, and Ada was truly exhausted. Even though she couldn’t move by herself yet, Ellie was already wearing her out. One month and a week in, and the joy was beginning to wane. She loved her daughter, but being woken up so early every day.. Fucking hell.
“Coming, Jess!” She called, walking to the front door in her house shoes. When she opened the door she was greeted by the sight of Jessie with a bunch of lillies and a large bag - full of food, Ada hoped. “Come in,” She quickly ushered Jessie in, the cold already seeping into the grand house.
Jessie handed over the flowers, “Told you I supported local business, didn’t I?” She teased, walking through to the kitchen after Ada and placing the bag on the table, unloading the food.
“How are the kids?”
Ada helped her unpack the food, getting out two plates and cutlery. “Ellie’s decided to take up talking as a full time profession, which is always lovely when you’ve got a headache, but Karl’s good - he’s doing his math homework in his bedroom, reckon he’ll come in and say hi when he realises you’re here,”
She laughed softly, shaking her head. “She’s a babe, Ada, and it’s only genetically logical that she’d be a talker.” Jessie avoided a swat with a tea towel artfully, hands on her hips. “Aggression, Ms Shelby?”
“You know who you’re with, that’s good.” Ada winked, letting the tea towel rest over her shoulder. “It’s good, means she’ll be a smartie when she can actually talk. Just now she’s annoying the tits off of me.”
Jessie gave Ellie a theatrical thumbs up, making Ada laugh and brush past her to pick Ellie up - it wasn’t good for babies to be lying for too long, or she had heard. “Someone has to annoy her when I’m not in, Elizabeth.”
“Don’t listen to her, Elle, she’s full of lies. We keep her around because she’s also one of our favourite people, but don’t tell her.” Ada felt Jessie’s chest pressed against her back as she spoke, then heard Ellie’s shrill laughter. “What are you doing, Ms Eden?” She asked, turning her head a little, faces dangerously close.
“The kid seems to find me funny, and who can really blame her?” Jessie supplied helpfully, pulling faces at Ellie, wrapping her arms around Ada’s waist.
“Poor Elizabeth.. she’ll develop a sense of humor soon enough.” Ada sighed wistfully, leaning into Jessie’s embrace. “We should eat - do you want to get a bottle of wine from the rack?”
“Yeah, will do.” Jessie nodded, separating herself from Ada with reluctance. “Red?” She called once she was in the kitchen, surveying the well stocked rack.
Ada paused for a second in thought and then nodded. “Yeah, thanks Jess!” She called back, laying Ellie back down and giving the mobile above her head a quick spin. “I’m going to check on Karl, it’s strange of him not to come down to see you.”
“I’ll keep watch of the babe for a couple seconds then,” Jessie decided, walking back into the dining room with a bottle of red wine and quickly getting out two crystal wine glasses.
When Ada came back downstairs, Jessie could see something different in her eyes. Ada could tell.
“What’s up, Ade?”
“Karl’s sick.” Ada told her, a sick feeling encompassing her head. “I think it’s the flu.. I thought Freddie was the flu, though, so I’m not the best at diagnosis..”
Jessie couldn’t put the glasses down fast enough, making her way over to Ada to welcome her into her arms. “Ada, he’s alright. He’s a healthy lad, and medicine has come so far in the past few years. It’s alright.”
Ada cried into her shoulder, unable to help herself as she held tightly to Jessie. “Would you mind going to look at him? Your mum’s a nurse,”
“Of course, Ade. You go sit down, there’s a glass of wine for you, I’ll go check on my favourite kid.” Jessie smiled, pecking her cheek and then wandering off up the stairs.
As soon as Ada sat down she picked up the phone to call Tommy - she had no idea of any doctors, and knew for a fact that Tommy would be able to get the best available.
“Shelby residence, ain’t it.” Alfie’s voice travelled through the receiver, slightly stilling Ada’s ragged breath.
“Alfie, it’s Ada. I need Tommy to send the best doctor he can find to my house by the morning.” Ada demanded, her emotional state clear in her voice. “Karl’s sick.”
“Alright, yeah, Tommy’s putting Charlie to bed, but he’ll be on the phone as soon as fucking possible. I’m sure the lad’s just got the flu,” Alfie tried to assure her.
“Jessie’s checking up on him now, I… I just really need a doctor to see him. Tommy will understand - I’ll pay the fees, I just know that Tom will be able to ge-”
“Ada, breathe.” Tommy’s voice came down the receiver. “Breathe, yeah? The kid is going to be fine, a doctor will be at your house by nine in the morning - don’t worry about any fees, just get him healthy. Are you alone?”
“Jess is here, she’s checking on Karl. She’s brought me flowers and food, we were going to have dinner…” Ada sighed, seeing Jessie come down the stairs.
“Right, you just have your dinner, make sure she looks after you, keep Ellie away from Karl and his bedroom. It’s going to be alright, Ada.” Tommy’s voice was as slow as the circles Jessie was carefully rubbing into her back.
“Yeah… Goodnight, Tommy, Alfie too, if he’s still there.” Ada leant into Jessie as well as she could whilst being limited by the short wire to the telephone.
“Goodnight, Ada. Stay safe, kid.” Tommy told her before hanging up, leaving Ada to put the phone back and lean fully into Jessie.
“He’s going to be fine, Ada, he’s just picked up something from school.” Jessie kissed her forehead, holding her close. “You feeling up to eating?”
“Yeah, haven’t eaten since breakfast.. Thanks, Jess.” Ada gave her a weak smile, passing her a wine glass as she got up. “Sorry about all this.”
“Nonsense, Ada, I’m not just here for you when you’re happy, am I? You’re my Ada, I’m not leaving just because you’re rightfully a bit panicked.” Jessie scoffed, taking a sip of the wine. “Hell, I’ve met your family.”
Ada shook her head, smiling a little. She sat down at the table, opposite Jessie. “Where is all of this from, Jess?”
“The new place down near my work, I picked it up on the way home after getting the flowers. It smelled great from when I passed it on my lunch break,” Jessie told her, beginning to tuck in. “What do you think, lovely?”
Ada began eating and was eternally glad for the god given gift that was Jessica Eden. “Fucking hell, Jess, that’s good.”
“Glad to hear it.”
Ada was able to eat without thinking about Karl and his pale skin, Freddie and his deathly similar features, and, somehow the worst of it all, Jessie and the overwhelming urge to kiss her. She couldn’t stop thinking about what her life had somehow become - a widow, a mother of two, a possible lesbian? She sounded like an amalgamation of everyone young Ada would have fought for.
They washed up together, Ada on washing and Jessie on drying. It may have taken a while longer than it would have on her own, and Ada’s blouse may have splashes on the arms matching the ones on Jessie’s shirt, but she had a smile on her face even as she sat down in the lounge with Jessie.
Karl was sound asleep in his bed, Ellie was sound asleep in the bassinet by the window, and Ada was bathing in the soft light of the room as she rested her legs over Jessie’s lap, covered by a blanket. The fire in the hearth was alive and roaring, keeping them warm, and a film of cosiness settled over the house.
“Would you mind staying tonight, Jess? With me?” Ada asked softly, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I’ll even cook breakfast.”
Jessie hummed softly, buying time as she sipped her wine. “I’d love to - I don’t like driving in the dark. Might be good to have someone here when the doctor comes, I could look after little Elle whilst the doctor tells you that Karl is going to be fine,”
“I don’t know, Jess.. He’s so pale.” Ada sighed, rubbing her forehead. “I can’t even think about what it could be.”
“Hey,” Jessie took Ada’s hand in hers “The kid is going to be fine - kids get sick all of the time, I promise you. Six siblings, trust me, I know.”
Ada nodded, closing her eyes for a second before looking back at Jessie, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “Alright.”
She found herself alone that night, Jessie in the guest bedroom next to hers. Ellie was asleep next to her, her dark curls just reaching the soft linen of the bedsheets. When sleep found her, Ada found herself wishing it hadn’t. Freddie was by her side in his flat, laying in bed with a cold towel resting across his forehead - he was fading, like a character in a book that only serves to prove something, only to leave when they had proved it.
The rain started, and Ada realised quite what day she was in. The past three weeks it had been sunny as anything - Ada took Karl out every day to the park, even though he was too young to appreciate it, and Freddie had sworn he’d come as soon as he got better. It began raining before he could get better and so he went, in her arms, Karl in the bassinet.
“Ada, love, wake up. C’mon, princess Shelby.” Jessie’s voice cut through the scene, turning it to black and making Ada vividly aware of the arm around her. It was so definitely Jessie because she had heard her voice any night that she hadn’t been plagued with sights of Freddie.
Her brain couldn’t decide between mourning Freddie and loving Jessie, and it was destroying her. Before she knew it, she was sobbing into Jessie’s shoulder, arms wrapped around her. Jessie held her close, a hand rubbing her back.
“You were shouting, love, Karl woke up but he’s sound asleep again now.” Jessie told her gently, pulling her closer. “What’s happening in your head, princess Shelby? Talk to me, please.”
Ada sat up, now sitting up, half on Jessie’s lap in only a slip. “Freddie. It’s.. always mostly Freddie.” She tried to quickly wipe her tears from her cheeks even if Jessie was vividly aware of the fact that she was crying. “His last day, we were in bed - it was daytime but the flat was tumbling down and it was raining - and he just… died. Next to me, in bed.”
Jessie, too, was crying now. It was enough to make Ada wish she’d never said anything.
“He was many things, Ade, and he thought many things, but of all of them, he always said that if he were to end up running away to Russia because he needed to hide, or if the police put him away, that he would have wanted you to be happy. That it would be a great shame if you let him stop you.” Jessie told her with a small smile, reaching to swipe away a stray tear from Ada’s cheek. “It’s not your fault, Ada, never was.”
“You say that but I could have done something - maybe I should have left the windows open more for better circulation of air, or fed him more, or-”
“Ada.” Jessie interrupted, taking her hands in hers. “There was nothing you could have done. You needed to feed yourself, Karl was only Ellie’s age. You were only young, Ada. Could Finn save anyone from what Freddie had? Could anyone? You did what you could, Ada, and that was and is more than enough.”
Ada sighed, shaking her head softly and looking over at Ellie who was stirring in her sleep. “I think I woke her up… what am I going to tell her when she grows up?” She asked softly, shuffling fully onto Jessie’s lap where she was welcomed by strong arms wrapping around her and a chin hooking over her shoulder.
“The same thing you told Karl, I assume,” Jessie hummed, “Either way, she’s not at that age yet, try and take things as they come, yeah?”
“Mhm.” Ada reached over to pull Ellie’s sleeve back down her arm. “You say that as if it’s easy, Jess.”
Jessie laughed softly, “Ada Shelby, what could you be accusing me of?”
“Nothing worse than I normally do.” She decided, rolling her eyes a little. “Do you mind staying..? I should sleep, the doctor’s coming in the morning, but I don’t want to freak the little one.” Ada asked, wanting closeness in any form but knowing that if she didn’t get off of Jessie’s lap and sleep then tomorrow she’d be a trainwreck.
“Of course, yeah - it’s warmer in here,” Jessie excused her real motivations for wanting to be there, and luckily Ada fell for it hook, line, and sinker, too wrapped up in her own head to think that she may be desired.
“Sorry about that, I don’t like to leave the fire lit unattended for too long - it was easier when we lived in watery lane, smaller house, you know? Someone’s always there. A house fire is just what I need right now, obviously.” Ada sighed, shrugging down to lie on her side, Ellie’s head now on her arm.
Jess tentatively grew closer to her, effectively spooning her but with an element of bashfulness about it. When Ada had quietened and her breathing slowed to a steady deep pace, she wrapped a careful arm around her and tried to relax even when her head seemed to be screaming with the scent of Ada’s hair and the feel of her silk slip beneath her fingers, the backs of her calves against Jessie’s knees.
Ada only found sleep when Jessie got closer, was able to feel her arm around her, skin to silk, silk to skin. Dreams didn’t find her at all that night, but peace did.
As always, Ellie rose with the sun and loud cries erupted through the sunlit bedroom, gossamer drapery on the big bay windows casting light onto Ada’s face - Jess thought it made her look like an angel, but the biggest concern for both of them at that moment was the fact that they had a screaming baby in bed with them.
“I’ll talk to her, Jess, try and go back to sleep, it’s only seven.” Ada decided, taking Ellie into her arms and sitting up in bed, silk slip sitting somewhere on her hips as she tried to figure out what was happening with the wailing banshee in her arms.
As much as she appreciated the view, Jessie could only think that Ada’s legs would get cold and pulled the duvet to fully cover her legs. “You’ll catch your death, it’s nearly december,” She muttered, running a hand through her hair. “Want me to go downstairs and make tea? I can just about do toast.”
“You’re a calamity, Jess. Tea would be nice, I’ll do breakfast in a bit.” Ada hummed, looking at her with a smile. “Do you straighten your hair?”
Ada couldn’t help but notice that a night of sleep had reduced Jess’ hair to what was quite literally a puff ball. It made her look softer, a lot more relaxed and less intimidating - she quite liked the hazy look on her face, aswell, reminding her of the night they’d smoked some giggle-smokes in Jessie’s flat whilst Karl was at Polly’s.
“I do. Not many people will take you seriously if you look like a pom-pom, Ada.” Jessie hummed, deciding to sit up with Ada in the bed. “What’s up with baby hellraiser, adult hellraiser?”
“She’s hungry, and I think she needs changing, which I’ll do now.” Ada decided, the closeness startling her awake mind.
“Alright, call if you need anything, I’m going to make tea - does Karl drink tea?” Jessie asked, mind flicking back to her second favourite shelby as her first shelby had weirdly turned so cold. You would think that they hadn’t shared a fucking bed, but that was beyond the matter.
“He does, two sugars and fuck tonnes of milk.” Ada called from her position already in the en suite. “Thanks, Jess. Borrow my dressing gown and my slippers, downstairs is cold as hell.”
And there it was, the Ada she knew and accidentally loved was back in the room - oblivious, bashful, whatever it was, it was driving her fucking nuts. She heard Ada curse from upstairs, which brought her to the realisation that there would be a doctor in the house within two hours and this whole complicated domesticity would be replaced with the stiff truth that Jessie Eden was just a friend, and Ada Shelby was just a lonely widow.
Within the next twenty minutes, Ada was downstairs fully dressed with Ellie fully content in her arms - Jessie couldn’t help but notice that she was wearing some of the fluffy socks that she had bought for her upon the babe’s arrival. She handed over her cup of tea and stretched a little, watching Ada carefully.
“I’ll cook breakfast, you go get dressed. The doctor should be here soon I think. What do you want?” Ada asked, sipping her tea. “We have sausages, bacon, eggs, beans, everything. Think we might even have mushrooms, but don’t quote me on that.”
“Just a bacon sandwich, I’ll take Karl his cup of tea.” Jess decided, picking up the almost white cup of tea and ascending the stairs and politely knocking on Karl’s door. If looking after Karl was the only thing that was going to keep her mind off of Ada, then she’d take after her own mother and be a damn good nurse.
“Mum?” Karl called, which made Jess smile, shake her head, and then realise that he couldn’t see her from behind the door.
“Nah, kid, just me. Brought you tea, though, so I reckon that’s a decent tradeoff?” Jessie asked, walking into the bedroom. “How are you feeling?”
She sat at the end of the bed, handing him his teacup once he’d sat up. Jessie noted the various paraphernalia that she’d given him that she hadn’t expected him to keep, the countless books lovingly worn in a shelf.
“Sick.” Karl muttered, sipping the tea.
“Descriptive for you,” Jess noted, expecting one of Karl’s waning passages when he could have said a word. Strange of him to have actually said a word. She could see a sheen of sweat forming on his forehead, even though the room was warm at best. “You really not feeling well, huh? Just be honest with the doctor when he comes, and you’ll be playing chess in no time.”
“Is mum okay?” He asked softly, obviously eyeing up her robe.
“Your mum’s fine, she’s cooking breakfast. Just had a nightmare last night, bless her, which is normal.” She smiled, trying to comfort him as much as possible. “Everyone has nightmares sometimes. I think she’s just worried about you.”
“I’m not trying to make her worried, tell her to stop.” Karl frowned, which made Jessie laugh a little. “Are you worried?”
“I’m not worried, no. You’re a strong lad, you eat loads of good food, you can hold down liquids, you’re fine.” Jess told him, not believing it herself but wanting him to feel safe. “Your mom just wants the best for you, and so do I.”
Karl nodded, his teacup now empty. “Dad got ill and died, didn’t he?” He asked it quietly, as if he was trying to make sure no-one but them could hear.
“He did, yeah. I know you’re a smart kid, so I’m not going to treat you like a babe,” Jessie gently took the teacup from him, putting it on the nearby desk for her to take out. “Your mum isn’t the best with illnesses because of your dad, right? Which is understandable, but it shouldn’t stop you from talking to her about it. That said, if you don’t want to talk to her about it, try and talk to me, yeah? I know I’m not your mom but I’m here for you.”
“Mhm. Is Ellie okay? Heard her crying.”
“Elizabeth is great, just doing her thing. Babies cry a lot - I have six sisters, and when they were babies they cried so hard it used to give me earache.”
“Hm. Okay. There’s a man in the doorway.”
With that, Jessie jumped out of her skin at the sight of a rather stout and serious man standing in the doorway, Ada next to him. “Ah, you must be the doctor.” She stood up, picking up the teacup, avoiding commenting on the fact that she was still in her slip, robe and slippers, all of which she had borrowed off of Ada.
“I am. Ms Shelby says you are a family friend, close to young Master Thorne, but I would appreciate being able to talk to Master Thorne properly.” His voice was strange and deep, Jess didn’t trust it at all.
“I will be staying in the room with my son.” Ada’s voice came from behind him, which made Jess nod as to support her. It was equally concerning and comforting that Ada clearly shared her judgement.
“I don’t think that that’s-”
“I will be staying in the room with my son.” Ada repeated, letting Jess through to get changed and gently placing a hand on her shoulder as she left before standing right beside Karl. “I assume my brother trusts you an awful deal to send him here, so don’t get yourself out of a job by thinking about anything other than my son’s health.”
Jessie, once dressed, stood in the lounge with Ellie in her arms, listening in closely on the conversation happening on the floorboards above her. “Your momma’s going to look after you when she gets back downstairs, but right now she’s making sure that doctor does right by Karl, yeah? So please be good for me,”
A loud ringing resonated through the house and Jessie cursed under her breath, then apologised quietly to Ellie for her language.
“Jess, could you get it? It’ll only be Tommy!” Ada shouted from the top of the stairs, her voice distant and strange - Jessie only hoped she was reading too much into it, and that Karl was doing okay.
“Of course!” Jessie called, holding Ellie close as she did a little run to the phone, picking it up and sitting on the arm of the chaise lounge, Ellie in one arm. She hated being on the phone, didn’t know who should talk first.
“Alright? This is the Shelby residence, but as you can obviously hear, I am not a fucking Shelby am I?” Alfie’s voice came through the phone, or atleast Jessie assumed so since she’d only met him once or twice.
“This is the other shelby residence, the doctor’s looking at Karl with Ada, but Ellie and I can take a message.” Jessie told him over the phone. “Thank you to whichever one of you has called the doctor.”
“That would be Tommy, yeah, will pass the message on. Am I right to assume that this is Ada’s communist that she speaks so fondly of? Ms Eden, am I right?”
“Yeah, call me Jessie. I stayed the night, trying to help Ada as much as I can.” She hummed, not quite sure why she was telling him as much as she was. “Why’d you phone? Or are you in the business of calling people just for the sake of it - very expensive, phone lines,”
“Ah, that’s the thing, you communists, always on about money.” His voice droned down the phone, “Ada must enjoy it somewhat, so I can only commend you on whatever you’re doing, only be careful that you know what you’re getting into. This family is fucking mad, yeah?”
“I remember Freddie telling me that when I was younger, when he and Ada were starting to date. I remember thinking I could take anything on, even Princess Shelby’s mad family… Ada’s scarier than all of them, I reckon.”
“I take it you’ve not met Elizabeth?” Alfie asked, a smirk in his voice.
“I have, she stayed for a while to help Ada. Nice woman.” Jessie hummed, rocking Ellie a little. “Did you phone for any particular reason?” She asked again after not getting her answer.
“Tom’s been nagging me to make sure that I phone and check everything’s okay with Ada’s rabble, he’s out at something endlessly fucking boring with Charlie’s school.”
“Thought you were a family man, Mr Solomons.” Jessie asked, Ellie holding onto her collar, melting her heart a little.
“I am, I just can’t fucking stand those pompous teachers, can I? The lad needs to be doing kid things, eating mud, you know? Proper childhood, yeah.” Alfie rambled, though to Jessie it seemed distant as there were footsteps on the stairs.
“Yeah… I might have to stop this incredible conversation and tell Ada to phone you back, I think the doctor has finished.” Jessie muttered, looking at the little bundle in her arms and then at the two adults talking at the bottom of the stairs. His tone set her on edge anyway, but then they came into the kitchen. “I’ll tell Ada to phone you back, it’s been great talking to you.”
“Alright, goodbye and all that,” Alfie hung up and Jessie put the receiver down, holding Ellie in both arms.
“Who phoned?” Ada asked, pouring the doctor a cup of tea. “Everything alright?”
“Alfie, he was just checking up on you and the kids. Phone them back in a bit,” Jessie told her, sitting down properly on the sofa and holding the babe in her arms. “How’s Karl?”
“Master Thorne is going to be fine as long as he keeps up his antibiotics.” The doctor filled in helpfully, “I trust Mr Shelby will be paying?”
“He will.” Ada nodded, taking Ellie back into her arms.
“I find it charming that you live alone with your children, it must get lonely on the nights.”
Jessie wondered quite how she had seemed to entirely fucking disappear, because the doctor was quite clearly hitting on Ada. Her Ada. She hated the feeling of jealousy - Ada could shag the doctor and the car he came in on if she wanted - but god, it even hurt Jessie to not be with her. Nevermind being with someone else.
“Well, seeing that neither Jessie or I have learnt necromancy or resurrection, nor have we found ourselves fortunate enough to have any miracles happen, my husband is dead, and my bed stays as is.” Ada told him straight, the look on her face enough to break mirrors. “Any other comments, doctor?”
“Ah, no. Condolences. I will be on my way, I will send the bill to Mr Shelby.” The doctor nodded, putting the teacup down on the counter and picking up his suitcase, Jessie standing to see him out.
As soon as he was gone, Jessie turned to Ada. God, the things she’d do to be able to unpick all of the things in her head and just help her rest, to be able to stand by her side in fights only to lay by her side come the moon. Until she knew just how to do that, Jessie would stay by her side no matter the weather.
“You alright?” Jessie asked, leaning against the door. “He was a prick,”
“He was.” Ada sighed, walking closer to her and leaning against her and the door, finding one of Jessie’s arms wrapped around her and a chin hooked over her shoulder. “Karl’s going to be fine, just needs antibiotics, it’s not contagious so we don’t have to worry about Ellie catching it.”
Jessie didn’t know when ‘I’ had turned into ‘we’.
“Good. He’s a strong lad, Ade.” Jessie hummed, her hair still puffy. “I can’t believe you don’t own straighteners.”
“I can’t believe you do,” Ada replied in turn, a smile on her face as Ellie reached out for her collar. “Thought they’d be too vain for you.”
“Ada, I look ridiculous.” Jessie complained, pulling a strange face at Ellie in an attempt to entertain her. “Look like a pom pom.”
“I like it. Makes you look calmer.” Ada decided, “Less harsh. If I were to analyse it,”
Jessie thought it sounded like she had, quite a bit so. She wouldn’t press, though, wouldn’t question it, just incase she reverted to the strange coldness she had in the morning. “If any of the comrades saw me like this, they would never stop talking about it.”
“What, with me?” Ada asked, not looking at her.
“No, Ada. They’d ask who the beautiful girl was, and then it’d be all about the monstrosity that was my hair.” Jess reassured her, wondering quite what amount of insecurity was bubbling inside her to have come out with that, as if she wasn’t quite clearly Jessie’s favourite person.
Ada laughed softly, shaking her head a little. “Jessie, you’re nuts. Do you have any rebellions or uprisings to plan later or are you staying for tea? I might go down to the butcher’s, get some sausages. Karl’s favourite, bangers and mash.”
“Want me to look after her whilst you go?” Jessie offered, hand resting on Ada’s hip. “I’ve got work tomorrow morning but apart from that I’m free as a bird.”
“A bright red bird, huh? C’mon, let’s sit down in the lounge, I should phone Tommy back later. Was it Tommy or Alfie?” Ada asked, separating from her and walking through to the lounge.
“Alfie. Tommy’s out on some school thing for Charlie,” Jess supplied helpfully, looking up the stairs as she heard footsteps, giving Karl a little wave. “How you feeling, kid?”
“Blegh. Can I come down?” Karl asked, still in his pyjamas. They were a little old for him, tartan and comfortable.
“Of course, c’mon. You got any homework you need help with?” Jessie asked him, the word help very dubiously used as she normally just gave him the answers - he could do it, he just couldn’t be bothered, and hey, he was ill!
“Nah, mom helped me with it, only had English. Do you want to play chess?”
“Yeah, put some slippers on though, it’s cold.” Jessie grinned, making her way back into the lounge and setting up the board.
“Sometimes I think you only come here for my kids, Jess.” Ada hummed, Ellie sat up against her bent knees. “Not that I blame you.”
“Am I not allowed to love you all?” Jessie asked with a hum, pulling up two stools to the table where it was set up. “Don’t make me pick my favourite Shelby-Thorne, it’d kill me!”
“Well, you’ve not met my family properly yet, Jess.” Ada chuckled, watching as Karl walked in the room and sat at the stool. “Arthur, for a start,”
“What’s Uncle Arthur done?” Karl asked, confused by the conversation he had walked in on.
“Nothing, love. Jess just hasn’t met him yet.” Ada hummed, watching as pieces began to move.
“Don’t worry, Karl, I can take on anything. I’m sure your uncle and I will get on like a house on fire.” Jess grinned, moving her pieces. “I’m a right people pleaser.”
Ellie laughed - mostly because she had been tickled, but Jess would joke that it was the Ada in her jumping out to laugh at her.
CHRISTMAS I S C O M I N G !! FOLKS
After Jessie left in the evening, Karl went to bed and suddenly Ada’s house got colder. Ellie was in her arms, as always, looking at her with a gummy smile and those honey eyes. She still felt lonely - it made no sense, she had spent nearly two consecutive days with her closest friend and confidant. So Ada did what she always did in times of emotional peril, and phoned the Shelby residence.
With the receiver cold in her free hand, she dialled the number and waited, pulling a face at Ellie and hearing her laugh as Tommy’s voice came through the receiver with another high one quieter.
“Tom?” She asked, wondering which of his rabble was making the quiet noise.
“Hello, Ada. I have Charlie here, who refuses to go to bed until he can say goodnight to everyone, which apparently includes you, even though you are physically so far away.” Tommy told her, sarcasm and bemusement covering his tone. “So, we’ve said goodnight to the horses, Cyril, Dad, me, so you are the only person left.”
“Of course, Tom! It’s only logical. Put him on the phone, then, so that he can have a good night’s rest.” Ada hummed, more than happy to comply with Charlie’s antics.
There’s a weird muffling sound and then there’s a voice entirely too close to the receiver but Ada doesn’t comment. “Hi Aunty Ada! I’m going to go to bed but also did you know that horses can talk? They’re just big hairy people! Like Alfie, but hairier and Alfie doesn’t go ‘Neiiiigh!’”
Ada laughed softly, shaking her head. “I didn’t know that. You know, your dad can speak to horses. He used to work with them when I was a little girl, about your age.”
“Mhm! Stables! Ok! I’m going to bed now, because Dad says that he’ll only sing to me if I get in bed soon and I can’t sleep without it. Bye bye Aunty Ada!” He almost shouted, and then presumably jumped off of Tommy’s lap because it sounded like Tommy only just caught the receiver.
“Is that you, Tom? Or am I still on the phone to my gorgeous nephew?” Ada asked softly, Ellie held close to her chest.
“Just me.” Tommy told her, sighing deeply. “How did the doctor’s visit go, kid?”
“Karl just has some infection, apparently. We’ve got the right antibiotics, he should be well in a few days. The doctor tried to chat me up, went about it incredibly wrongly.” Ada hummed. “Jessie looked like she was close to murder, honestly.”
“Okay, noted. I won’t let him practice again, he won’t come into contact with you again. I’m glad to hear that Karl’s going to be alright.” Tommy’s voice sounded strained, and Ada regretted saying anything because she was almost sure that he would end up in a layby.
“Of course he is, takes more after me than he does his father.” Ada hummed, then had to fight off the image of Jessie in her brain. “I think I might have an issue with Jessie. And myself.”
“This sounds interesting, and Alfie has just entered the room, so if you mind him knowing whatever you’re about to say, say now because he is sitting right next to me.” Tommy explained, clearing his throat.
Ada hummed, “If he says anything, on your head be it. Meaning, you’re sitting between Gina and Michael at Christmas. Alfie can sit next to Arthur.”
“And now I remember why you’re my strategist, fucking hell. Either way, Ada, we wouldn’t sell you out.” Tommy assured her, the mental image scarring him emotionally. “So, what’s the issue? And why do you think I can help?”
“I like Jessie.” Ada told him - it all came out, quick and nervous. She even looked down at Ellie to check she didn’t understand what she said. “Like, in a friends way, but I don’t think friends normally share a bed or rely on each other as much as we do… I don’t want to kiss my other friends.”
“I had been wondering when you were going to figure it out. She dotes on you, Ada, you’re practically a couple.” Tommy told her honestly, “What more do you want, eh? She loves your kids, she loves you, she would happily knock out our brothers, I’m not seeing the downside?”
“Well, let’s start with the fact that she’s a woman? A woman who actively misses meetings to help me out. She’s seen me cry so many times, Tom. Last night she stayed in the guest room and then I had a night terror and she slept with me to make sure I’d be okay. My slip rode up whilst I sat up in bed and she just covered my legs for me, no kind of look given!”
“You’re upset because she has a genuine care for your wellbeing?” Tommy asked, the noise of him moving slightly coming down the receiver. “Ada, I love you, but surely you can see how crazy you’re being. Alfie wants the phone, so I trust you understand how to decipher the incessant rambling.”
Ada only laughed, shaking her head and pulling the bassinet closer with her foot, the little wheels turning against the carpet. She lowered Ellie into it and tucked her in with one arm as she waited for wisdom wrapped in far more words than needed.
“Right, Ada.. It seems to me, right, that your issue with Jessie would not exist were you both not the fairer sex. If one of you was a lad, yeah, you’d probably be married.” Alfie hummed, “Ah, how can I put this so that I don’t find myself castrated by either my own husband or a communist… Your problem lies in the whole queer situation, not Jessie herself, or you. Jessie, so I have heard, has been known to have women stay for nights at her flat, and I can’t imagine she’s against any queer activity.”
“I’ve had to bail her out from a gay protest or two in my time of knowing her, but I always thought they were just in support, not because she actually related to the issue.. I don’t know, alright? I don’t know how anything has ended up like it has, and now I’m gay?” Ada laughed nervously, her voice wavering. “I.. I’ve kind of always known that Tommy swung forwards, backwards, god knows where, and I will always support him. Always.”
“This isn’t about him, though, Ada.” Alfie told her, careful not to scare her off like she was some kind of stray dog. “You don’t have to reassure either of us that you support Tommy, yeah?”
“I just never saw myself like that,” Ada admitted with a sigh. “Never saw me with another woman - thought it’d all gone shit shaped enough when my husband died, who happened to be her best fucking friend. It’s all gone to shit, and I’m a single mother with two bastard kids who I love and a schoolgirl crush on my ex-husband’s best friend,”
“Alright, yeah, you need to fuckin’ breathe, because really, you’re doing alright, yeah? Your kids love you, your family loves you, you’ve got a house, your kids aren’t hungry, you’ve got someone who loves you, even if you can’t admit that yet… Tell you what, yeah, bring Jessie round for Christmas.”
“Hm?” Ada asked, confused by his question - had she agreed to something and then forgotten? Unlike her..
“Ah, bollocks, Thomas has just informed me that we haven’t asked you yet. If you’ve not got plans, we thought we’d invite everyone around for Christmas. Bring Jessie, if you do come, seeing as I wouldn’t like to be the only non-Shelby at that hectic fucking table.”
“Yeah, alright, Karl, Ellie and I will be there for sure, I’ll talk to Jess about it, seeing as she’s got such a big family.. Then again, half of them life in Ireland, so they may go up.. I don’t know.” Ada thought over it, her free hand resting on Ellie.
“Alright, well, we’ll see you soon, yeah?” Alfie hummed, the noise distorting as he shifted next to Tommy. “Get some sleep, good health to your rabble and all that.”
“And the same to your rabble, Alfie.” Ada chuckled, then hung up. She poured herself a glass of wine and pulled her knees to her chest. Took a while to soak everything in. Ada Shelby, a Widow, a single mother, a lesbian?
After a few more glasses, Ada decided that she’d be a little less Ada and take a leaf out of Jessie’s book, and simply accept whatever life threw at her and then go at it with fierce passion. God, Jessie. Ada thought that maybe the world could do with a few more of those.
Ada woke up lonely in her bed, Ellie lying on her chest but no legs intertwined with hers. Weird, how within a night, Ada had become so addicted to skin on skin contact. She and Freddie used to sleep together in his grungy flat, he was unusually bony but so was she and they made it work. Jessie was different, red wine, leather and gasoline. Not as skinny as Freddie, but lean. Probably from running from the police pretty much daily, she’d joke. Not even freckles dared to grow on Jessie’s skin, there were just planes of pale skin and dainty scars. A tattoo on her left ankle that simply said ‘Mine’.
Admittedly, Jessie had been drunk and nineteen when she got it, but Ada still admired her for the bold declaration of self dependence that she’d carry until her body retired.
The woman that was occupying her thoughts so rampantly had the gall not to come around for a few days, leaving Ada to sort out her head and her now completely healthy son, along with her not-so-newborn, who was getting bigger and braver by the day, babbling incessantly and eating like one of Tommy’s horses.
When she did come round on Jessie’s day off, they cooked together in Ada’s kitchen. It was mostly Ada cooking with Jessie sitting on the counter or milling about around her. Every gentle touch of her waist as Jessie moved to get past her was searing through Ada’s thin cotton blouse, making her want to apologise to the kids should Karl walk in or should Ellie open her eyes and crane her little head and see how desperate Ada was to kiss their beloved ‘Aunt Jess’.
Once the food was cooked and there was a colossal mess of plates in the sink, Ada remembered her conversation with her brother and brother in law.
“What are you doing Christmas, Jess?” Ada asked in between bites of their Chicken Alfredo. “Will you be disappearing to Ireland?” She asked conversationally, tucking her feet up on the sofa, brushing Jess’s.
“Actually, everyone’s off with their partners, Mum’s gone up to Ireland to help Dorothy with the kids, but apart from that, my family will be scattered around the west mids, why?” Jessie asked in turn, having planned to hijack Ada’s Christmas as her only Christmas plans.
“We’re going to Tommy’s.” Ada hummed, her pause making Jessie falter slightly. “And they have asked if you would like to come - I think it’s safe to say that you’re family now, and if you’ve nowhere else to be.. It’d be good to see you. I find it easier when you’re around.”
Jessie nodded, a gentle smile on her face. “I’d love to, Ada. You could convince me of anything, want me to take your plate into the kitchen?”
“Thanks,” Ada nodded, handing her empty plate. “I’ll do the dishes later, don’-” She could hear the tap running in the other room and the scrubbing of the plates. “Or, we’re doing them now, apparently.”
“Sit down, Princess Shelby, you pretty much cooked that whole thing, yeah?” Jessie tried to reason, flicking warm soap suds at her as a deterrent. “Let me do the dishes, you nut.”
Ada rolled her eyes and then began playfully fighting for the sink before she succeeded, only Jessie’s arms wrapped around her waist, chest pressed carefully against her back. “We’ll both do the dishes, then, I guess.” Jessie teased before lacing her hands over Ada’s, moving her hands in a very sloppy act of cleaning the dishes.
She dissolved into a fit of laughter, head tipping back against Jessie’s shoulder, their hands on the sink. “Jessie, just let me do the dishes, you mad woman.”
They ended up leaving the dishes until the morning, retiring to bitch on the sofa, the gramophone playing on the counter.
Around midnight, Ada stood up from the sofa and outstretched her arms. “Dance with me, Jess. I know you hate Sinatra, but dance with me.”
Jessie gave in within a few seconds, quick to comply as she wrapped an arm around Ada’s waist, taking her hand. They danced until the record had to be turned, when they danced a little more.
“Hey, do you reckon we’ll share a bed at your brother’s?” Jessie asked quietly, not the normal cocksure woman Ada was normally confronted with.
“Unless you want a separate room,” Ada nodded, “Less work for Francis, and Ellie will have to have a cot, and Karl’s going to have his own big room, next to mine..”
“It’s a big house, from what I’ve heard.” Jessie commented, her fingers making dainty patterns on Ada’s hip as they swayed on the carpet. “How much am I allowed to complain about blood money?”
“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t. Someone has to back me up,” Ada laughed, “Don’t try and change for them, I like you as you are - Arthur and Alfie will be the only ones on their best behaviour.”
“Arthur doesn’t have a problem with Alfie and Tommy’s relationship, does he?” Jessie asked. “You know that I can’t sit with anyone who’s actually.. Like that. You know I’m queer, and whilst I can do all the capitalist jokes, I can’t dea- Shit, I hadn’t told you? Is that the look on your face? Ada, talk to me, you’re worrying me.”
Ada had stopped in her tracks, the swaying now at a halt as Sinatra still crooned. “I am too. I think.”
Jessie nodded gently, an empathetic smile on her face. “That’s okay, Ade. You okay with the fact that you might be?”
“I don’t know. Tommy is.” Ada sighed, now just hugging her. “I’d defend you to the ends of the earth, Arthur isn’t homophobic and neither is anyone else I consider family. Please don’t think I don’t support you with all of my heart, I’m just.. It’s different with me.”
“I know. You’re okay with me, though?”
“Of course. Jess, you could shave your head and become a nudist and I’d still be here for you.” Ada told her, arms tight around her. Her eyes were watery and she was trying her best not to think about the fact that they had a chance.
That night, the bed was warm and comfortable. There was no illness, no pain, just long tangled legs and a baby on the side. If they both felt more than they said then they didn’t say, opting to keep quiet and enjoy the sound of the other pretending to sleep.
Here it is!!! The christmas chapter!!!!!! I dedicate this to my wonderful friend cheeky blinders who has championed this fic from day one and who this fic wouldn't exist without! Happy holidays!
If anyone were to ask Ada what she thought would happen on her daughter’s first Christmas, she did not think that it would start with her driving to Tommy’s, wrapped in coats and jumpers and scarves, her baby safe in Jessie’s arms. Karl was in the back, reading something Jessie had given him - Ada thought that she should have probably checked it first but she trusted Jessie with not scarring him mentally. If being a Shelby/Thorne hadn’t done it already, of course.
Eventually, Ellie found her way in between Jessie’s jumper and her winter coat, her own clothes warm but it was better to be safe than sorry. It was marking it’s way up to being the coldest winter since 1895, and Ada didn’t like the thought of it being a temperature she hadn’t experienced and had no knowledge of.
“She’s got your nose.” Jessie commented absentmindedly, trying to keep Ellie’s little bobble hat on her head, hiding her little ears from the biting cold that was biting it’s way through Ada’s Springfield Phantom.
“You’d almost think I had birthed her, Jess.” Ada chuckled softly, shaking her head. “She doing alright?” She had to focus on driving, otherwise she would be the one in the passenger seat holding her child close - Jess didn’t know where Arrow House was and Ada was shit at directions, so it made more sense for her to drive.
“Drooling down my jumper, she’s fine.” Jess smiled, one hand hidden in her coat so that she could wrap an arm around Ellie to keep her close. “How are you doing in the back, Karl?”
“Good. Cold. When are we getting to Tommy’s house?” Karl asked, looking up from where he was curled up in the car, the heating brick next to him in an attempt to keep him warm.
“Ah, about half an hour.” Ada decided, watching the road ahead. “You’re alright, though, yeah? If you’re cold there’s blankets in the back.”
“I’m fine, mum.” Karl hummed, obviously wanting to turn back to his book.
Ada nodded, smiling. Her Karl was healthy, grumpy and weird as ever. Jessie would be with her for Christmas, and her baby was cuddled up happily in Jessie’s coat, close and safe. Her family was safe.
Once they’d gotten there, only ten minutes before she’d estimated, the big front door opened and Ada saw something that nearly stopped her in her tracks. Tommy was grinning. Proper, lax bones and joints, blue eyes not as hard as normal. They got out of the car, Ada letting Karl run into the house due to the cold and let’s face it, how much help was he going to be with unloading the car?
“You too, Miss Eden.” Ada raised an eyebrow, Jessie’s arms in the sleeves of her coat, still holding onto Ellie underneath the coat. “Go say hello to the boys, get Ellie warm, yeah? It’s only a few suitcases, I can handle it. Plus, I want you to have time to soak in the gross richness of my brother’s house.” Ada hummed, watching Ellie sleepily reach and grab onto Jessie’s shoulder. “Jess, I’ll be fine, they’re suitcases.”
“Alright then, but if you need anyth-”
“Jess, love, I know, I’ll call. My brother’s right there, he can help if no-one else.” Ada decided, shooing her inside as Tommy walked over. She watched as Tommy nodded at her, though she was mostly concentrating her energy on opening the boot. Once it was open, a hand reached in to take the two heaviest looking suitcases, leaving Ada with Jessie’s, by far the lightest as her only cosmetic item was her straightener.
“Everyone alright, Ada?” He asked as she closed the boot and locked the car. “For a woman who’s against people having excesses of money, she doesn’t mind riding in your Royce, huh?”
“For a romani man, Tom, you’ve dealt with plenty fascists.” Ada reminded him, walking up the drive with him, a small smirk on her face. “Plus, my springfield is comfy. I wouldn’t let her walk, not in this weather.”
“Are you two..?” Tommy asked, the full question obvious.
“No, no. Talk to you about it later, yeah? How are the kids?” Ada asked, sighing as she stepped over the threshold and into the warmth.
“They’re great, Lizzie’s bringing Ruby over tomorrow, they’re staying over. I.. is that, oh no.” Tommy groaned, seeing Alfie and Jessie getting on like a house on fire as Alfie held Ellie in his arms, her little coat, gloves, scarf and hat hung on a chair. “Why did you have to pick that one?”
“I could have and have asked you the same thing.” Ada chuckled, setting the suitcases down and taking her outdoor layers off. “I’ll take the suitcases up later,” She told him, now only wearing a pair of dress trousers and a jumper over her blouse. “C’mon, sit in the lounge with us. You look relaxed, Tom. Better than you have been.”
“Blame the man who’s currently making a pact with your communist.” Tommy chuckled, walking into the lounge with her, sitting next to his son and nephew, who was trying to explain the story he had been reading to Charlie, who was doing his best to understand. To be fair, it took Tommy effort to understand him, what with the busy day and the fact that his eleven year old nephew was coming out with words like proletariat.
Ada opted for sitting by the fire, leaning into Jessie as she watched Alfie hold little Ellie. “You alright there, Alfie?”
“Yeah, she’s just tiny, and she’s warming up to me now, bless her. Can’t blame her for being skeptical, seeing as she’s being influenced by communists at such a young age..” Alfie joked, not taking his eyes off of the little life in his arms. “She’s going to be hell, but she’ll be worth it. Can see it in her eyes, yeah.”
“Just the one communist, Ada has, famously, been disillusioned from believing in politics.” Jessie hummed. “I would say her views are still extremely socialist, but she doesn’t say no to a Bentley, apparently.”
“Ey, it is a Rolls Royce, and you spoil the kids more than I do.” Ada countered, a soft smirk on her face. “How many fluffy socks, blankets, pyjamas, whatever does my little Elle own? And Karl’s got more books than he could read..”
“I’ve nearly read all of them!” Karl protested, butting into the conversation, pausing his own with Tommy for a second.
“Good lad.” Jess winked, wrapping an arm around Ada. “It’s a grand house, this.” She hummed into Ada’s ear, closing her eyes for a second. “I can look past my views for a few seconds,”
Ada laughed at that, shaking her head. “You’ll be the death of me, Eden.” She whispered back, then accepted Ellie back into her arms once Alfie had decided he was being selfish for keeping one of the world’s wonders from it’s creator.
“How’s journalism going?” Alfie asked Jess, sitting comfortably against the wall to help his back. “Dangerous trade, that. Always a conflict of interest, I found, even if you try to keep it away from it, because if a tory, or a fascist, did something great like I don’t know, saved a burning orphanage, there’d be something in you to remark in the article that he is still a shit person,”
Jess hummed, then nodded. “Yeah, probably. No-one is inherently bad, but when you align with a political stance you accept that you will be judged on that. You’ve seen the slogans, the policies, the blatant racism and god knows what else that the Tories are coming out with. If you agree with letting those policies control the country, then I have no respect for you.” She decided, her voice still soft as to not startle Ellie. “I’d die before letting that little girl feel anything negative to do with her skin.”
“Jess,” Ada warned softly, placing a gentle hand on Jessie’s arm, begging her to stop for both of them. It’s not that Ada didn’t agree, and it was more than reassuring to know that Jessie felt that way, but it was hard to think that her daughter would one day face any discrimination that she couldn’t control or change.
“But, Alfie, journalism is going well.” Jessie nodded, giving her hip a gentle squeeze. Sorry, it said, until they were in the privacy so that they could talk about it and actually apologise. “Thanks to Tommy clearing my name, I’ve been really getting my teeth into it. Have to talk to the pigs, though, which is a drag.”
“You’ll live.” Ada hummed, then looked over at Alfie. “You’re celebrating Christmas, with us, Alfie?”
“Just an excuse to spoil the kids, from what I hear there’s not many of you that are actually Christian. Plus, the lad wanted Christmas and so did little Ruby, so she’ll get it.” Alfie shrugged. “Thomas celebrates Jewish holidays with me, why shouldn’t I return the gesture, eh?”
Ada chuckled, nodding. “Without the kids I would have stopped celebrating it, to be fair. Have to attempt to give them some normalcy, and they like seeing the family. Is anyone else coming?”
“Poll, Finn, and Arthur are coming on Christmas day,” Tommy nodded. “Small, this year,”
“Almost like it used to be.” Ada sighed, doing her best not to think about the fact that John was gone.
“A close as we’ll get.” Tommy nodded, pouring himself some whiskey. “A drink, anyone?”
Ada nodded, Ellie in one arm. “Yeah, whiskey or rum, Tom.”
“You can take the family out of Small Heath..” Jessie muttered, inciting a roar of laughter out of Alfie.
“I like this one, Ada.” Alfie noted, “Surprisingly not a dick.”
“You’ve not seen her cooking yet.”
Jessie gasped, shaking her head. “Ade! You’re meant to be on my side.”
“Am I?” Ada asked, doing her best to act surprised. “I wasn’t aware, someone give me notice next time.” She smiled politely, pulling her knees up a little to settle Ellie to sit on her stomach, back against her thighs.
The night came quickly as it did when amongst friends and family, and once Karl was settled in his new room for the three days they were staying, the two women and Ellie entered their grand temporary bedroom.
“I’m still not over how grand this place is.. Was a christmas tree in every room necessary?” Jessie hummed, packing away the clothes and baby stuff into the correct drawers, presents hidden in brown paper at the bottom of her suitcase. Shopping had been hard, but what do you get for the girl who has and is everything?
“Christmas was always hard when we were younger, this is just Tommy’s way of trying to compensate.” Ada explained from where she was in the bathroom, changing Ellie and washing her. She had already had the quickest of washes and changed into a slip. “You’ll tell me if any of them get too much on Wednesday?”
“Nothing I can’t handle, Ade. Tell me if I’m too much… I’m sorry about earlier, I didn’t mean to upset you.” Jessie sighed, placing her presents on the side. “Do you want me to take my presents for you and the babes down under the tree in the morning?”
“Yeah, I’ll put mine next to them, I put your name on all of our tags so that everyone gets presents off of all of us.” Ada told her, walking into the bedroom. “Bathroom’s free.”
“Jess, it’s fine. It just.. She’s going to have such a hard life and I have no idea how to fix it, it’s not something I’ve ever experienced. Life is going to be so hard for her.” Ada hummed, pulling fluffy socks onto Ellie’s feet. “I want to ignore it if I can’t fix it, thinking about homeschooling her.”
“You can’t hide her from the world, Ada.” Jessie sighed, walking into the bathroom to brush her teeth and get changed. “I.. she’s going to be okay, love, look at her family. You have to let her go experience things, and we’ll catch her when she falls, if she falls.”
Ada sat down on the side of the bed, Ellie lying on the bed in a nest of blankets. She couldn’t help the tears that were falling, or the fact that she had possibly made the biggest mistake could have. But the baby’s eyes are golden, and Ada would happily die protecting her.
Jessie quickly found herself in the bedroom, arms wrapping around Ada. “Hey, love, you’re okay,” She assured her, now in her own slip and a gown. “C’mere.” She hummed, pressing her lips to Ada’s forehead. “Let’s get in bed, yeah? It’s getting late,”
Ada nodded, taking Ellie into her arms and pulling up the covers, sliding in to bed and lying on her back, the baby on her front. Jess wrapped an arm around her waist, lips pressed to her shoulder. She couldn’t help but feel guilty, she’d dragged Jessie over for Christmas and she was crying on the first night?
“Hey, what’s going on in that head of yours, lovely?” Jess asked, head on the pillow next to hers. “Talk to me,”
“Scared,” Ada admitted quietly, rubbing slow circles into Ellie’s back as she slept. “Of ruining her life.”
Jessie hummed softly, “You love her, and care for her, what more could she really ask? Surely your family would tell you if you were doing something wrong, they seem the type.”
“Would you?” She asked, “If you thought that I was doing something wrong,”
“I would,” Jessie’s voice was soft and careful, the arm around her middle holding her firmly, as to moor a ship to a shore. “You worry too much, Ada. Please, for Christmas, breathe and relax.”
Ada closed her eyes, and sleep found her only slightly slower than normally when she slept with Jess, the day taxing her. When she woke up, the curtains had already been opened, Ellie was -shit. Ellie was not on her, where was she? She jolted upright, only to see Jess sitting up in bed with Ellie in her lap.
Nothing like a short lived heart attack to wake you up in the morning, Ada thought.
“Shit, sorry, Ade, did I wake you up? I tried to calm her down a little so that you could get a little more sleep..” Jess looked apologetic, her hair in the post-sleep pom pom that Ada loved.
“Thank you, is she alright?” Ada sat up with her, trying to tame Ellie’s curls with her fingers gently, more to calm herself.
“She’s perfect. All Shelby and brave, too clever for her own good.” Jessie smiled, her eyes tired but still shining. “She’ll be more than fine, Ade. I’m no psychic, but I know she’ll be fantastic.”
“Mind prophesying a little more whilst I have a wash and get dressed? Then I’ll take her off of your hands so you can get dressed.. It’s christmas eve, Karl will already be awake, no doubt.” Ada asked, getting out of bed.
It was true - Karl was downstairs, talking to Alfie excitedly about santa and eating anything that looked even slightly liked a baked good. When Jessie, Ada and Ellie found their way into the dining room - they found the large house hard to navigate, far less than Karl, who had spent several nights there.
“Morning,” Alfie called from his seat at the table, “Karl was just telling me all about what he wants from Santa, I trust that you have put a word in?”
Ada nodded, sitting down at the table, “Yeah, had to speak to him directly, since Ellie can’t write yet.” She looked over to say good morning to her brother only to find that he had ridiculous circle frame glasses on as he read the paper, aging him. “Tommy, no-one had told me that you had taken this retirement so seriously as to buy circle rim glasses... “ She couldn’t stop laughing, one hand covering her mouth, the other holding Ellie in her lap. “Tom..”
“You invite your favourite sister to stay over for the holiday, and she mocks you at the dinner table.” Tommy muttered, not looking up from the paper, though Ada knew himself well enough to hear the amusement in his voice.
“Who can you trust to be honest if not me?” Ada asked, putting food onto her plate from the large buffet on the table. “I never thought I’d see you in glasses, especially not those.”
“I quite like them,” Alfie commented from his place at the table. “Do you want me to hold her whilst you eat? Can’t be easy, that,”
Ada nodded, standing and lifting Ellie over the table and refusing to let go before she knew that she was safe in Alfie’s arms. “Thank you, Alfie, even if you don’t realise how horrific your taste in glasses must be.”
He rolled his eyes, a grin on his face. “My duty, yeah, as the kid’s godfather, to make sure that she doesn’t grow up with heinous taste in glasses like her mother.”
“Myself, Charlie and Karl were going to take the horses for a ride, Ada, Jess, if you want to join, you are more than welcome.” Tommy supplied helpfully, knowing that it had been years since she’d been on a horse.
Ada swallowed her food and then nodded, looking at her left for Jess. “I’d love to, Jess?”
“Who’d look after Elle?” She asked, her now pin straight hair making her look more severe.
“I would, it’d just be for an hour or so, I reckon. Can’t do horses, not with my back, sciatica and god knows fucking what else,” Alfie looked strange without his hand gestures as he talked, hands occupied by the baby in his arms.
“Unless, Jess, you’re scared of horses?” Ada teased, making Jess raise an eyebrow.
“I’m not scared of anything,” She grinned back, which proved to be wholly untrue when they stood in the stable, wrapped up in coats.
Ada and Tommy were happily throwing the kids onto the horses, making sure that they got the placid ones, and told them to wait. Tommy’s own horse, midwinter, was an old boy but a good boy, and was watching carefully. Jessie looked completely out of place, and Ada thought it was as equally mesmerizing as it was funny.
“Do you think you’ll need help onto your horse, Ade? He’s a big one, and it’s got to have been a while si- Ah, alright, you’ve proved your point.” Tommy chuckled as Ada hoisted herself on the horse. “Good luck getting your bride on one.”
Ada shook her head, riding the horse slowly over to Jess and holding a hand out. “C’mon, Miss Eden.” Eventually, Ada decided to get off of the horse and help Jessie on, seeing as Ada could get on herself.
Eventually, there were three horses and five people making their way down the many acres Tommy owned, Karl riding on his own horse with pride, Jessie holding onto Ada so tight that Ada would have found it amusing if she had any breath left.
“How the fuck is this your family thing?” She asked into Ada’s ear, the wind whipping around them.
“Relax, Jess, you’ll enjoy it more, promise.” Ada smiled, watching Karl ride ahead, in between them and Tommy. “Look at Karl.. looks so serious, bless his heart.”
“Looks like his uncle, Ada.” Jess told her honestly, lips pressing to Ada’s neck. Once she realised quite what she’d been doing, her cheeks lit up like the christmas tree in their shared room.
Ada stifled a little, coughing. The cold had made her skin even paler, the blush blooming on her cheeks even more so prominent. “He does, yeah. Has Freddie’s eyes, though.”
“Not as wild as Freddie, though.” Jessie reasoned, warm breath fanning over Ada’s neck but lips not making any contact due to the way her stomach was twisting. “Then again, Karl’s a little posh. He hasn’t had any need to be cheeky or troublesome, hell, he’s barely ever bored.”
Ada nodded, her own head stumbling over itself. “I hope it stays like that. He should never feel the same hunger that we did,” She decided, following the two horses ahead of them. “You’d tell me if you had a partner, right?”
“I would, Ada, I would also probably not share a bed with you, or spend every free night with you, if I had a partner.” Jessie told her honestly, arms still wrapped around her middle.
Those few words kept Ada occupied, filling her head until they went to bed that night, Christmas eve turning out to be eventful enough to knock the kids out. She was drying her hair at the vanity after her shower, not wanting to get Tommy’s nice sheets wet, no matter how quickly he could replace them. It was just how she’d been raised. Respect the things you are given.
Jessie walked into the room, having just checked on Karl. The words rested on the tip of Ada’s tongue, though were somehow locked back and kept away. Ada wasn’t like this, Ada was brash, Ada said things that she wanted to, Ada fought and bit and spat and screamed.
“Jess?” She tried, heartbeat now loud between her ears, somewhere above her neck and behind her eyes.
“Mhm? You alright?” Jessie asked from where she was finding a slip from her side of the drawer. The fact that they were sharing a chest of drawers was enough to make Ada’s head spin, let alone the lips on her neck or her earlier words.
“Yeah… Was Karl alright?” Ada asked, damning herself for chickening out. “We need to go downstairs and put the presents under the tree,”
She nodded, walking into the bathroom but leaving the door open. It’s what they normally did, they were just close, Ada defended, trying to fend off the beast in her head.
“Do you think we should wait a little? Until we know Karl’s asleep?” Jessie asked over the sound of running water.
“Yeah, he’s sneaky.” Ada nodded, her hair now completely dry. She got up, tucking the stool into the vanity and walking over to where she’d left Ellie on the bed in a nest of throw pillows and cushions, finding the little girl fast asleep. “Thanks for this, Jess.”
“For what?” She asked, walking in fresh faced in her slip.
“For being here with me, you could have spent it with your family, you know?” Ada told her, placing all the presents in a tartan sack so they’d be easier to carry downstairs.
“I was planning on hijacking your christmas anyway, Ada.” Jess admitted, sitting on the side of the bed. “It’d be strange not to see you for this long,”
“Yeah… at this point you may as well just move in,” Ada meant it as a joke, but really, it didn’t make all too little sense. It meant that Ada would have to give into her feelings at some point, confess at least.
“Might as well. The landlord hates me.” Jessie groaned, watching Ada with soft eyes. “We ready to go?”
“Yeah, we are. Borrow one of my robes, the hallways are going to be cold.” Ada advised, her own robe already on and tied loosely around her waist.
Their mission to the lounge was quick and efficient, and Ada couldn’t deny the spark of adrenaline running through her as she snuck about her brother’s house with a woman she was quite regrettably falling in love with. Her heart calmed enough to let her sleep that evening, still racing a considerable amount when she woke to Ellie’s cry at six am, having to pull herself from Jessie’s sleeping grasp as she tried to figure out what was wrong with the babe.
“Ada?” Jessie called into the darkness of their bedroom, only to be calmed by the light streaming in from the door to the bathroom.
“Yeah?” She called back, halfway through changing Ellie who was currently protesting any kind of movement at all.
“Merry Christmas,” She hummed from where she was in bed. “The bed’s cold without you… is Ellie okay?”
“She’s fine, Jess, just a little stroppy. I would be too if I couldn’t speak.” Ada reasoned, Ellie changed and now on her hip as she walked back into their room.
“Ah, just you wait, she’ll be ranting like her mom in no time,” Jessie grinned, arms outstretched in the dark.
Ada laughed, getting into the bed carefully, Ellie now lying on her chest. Arms wrapped around her and Ellie stretched herself between the two, making Jessie wonder briefly when Ada’s hands had gotten so small. Once she had realised quite the situation, Jess shuffled a little and repositioned Ellie to make sure she was safe enough and no-one was uncomfortable.
“And to think she hated me to start with,” Jessie muttered into Ada’s hair, her limbs tangled with Ada’s, though one hand was on Ellie’s back. It was strange, how strongly she felt for a child that wasn’t her own.
“Didn’t hate you, she just didn’t know you.” Ada hummed, the tangle of limbs making her feel calmer than she had done since forever.
They were woken by Karl bouncing on their bed, obviously doing his best to contain his excitement. “Muuuum! Jeeesss! Wake up! It’s Christmas!”
Ada picked Ellie up quickly, sitting up in bed. “Morning Karl, Merry Christmas. Tell you what, you get dressed, we’ll get dressed, and then I’ll race you down the stairs - bet Santa’s been extra good to you this year, huh? With how hard you’ve been working at school and how good you’ve been to Ellie,”
Karl nodded, quickly speeding off.
“You’re going to race him down the stairs?” Jessie asked her once he’d gone, still wrapped around her.
“I am. We’ve always done it at home, keeps the magic of Christmas alive, even if he is getting old now,” Ada shrugged, passing Ellie to Jess as she quickly got dressed, not bothering with a wash as she’d had one the night before and most priorities were on racing her kid down the many many stairs.
“Want me to bring Ellie down with me when I’m dressed?” Jess asked from the bed, Ellie now in her arms.
“Yeah, though Karl will want to start on presents and I won’t let anyone start without everyone being present, so don’t keep us long,” Ada grinned, pulling her stockings on and clipping them to the garter belt. She was christmas ready, with a spritz of perfume and her house shoes on. “Remember, my relatives are coming this morning.”
Jessie groaned, then looked at Ellie, tickling her. “C’mon, pumpkin, we have to go meet your uncles, have to go give your mum her present, have to possibly fight one of your uncles, maybe stab someone with a carving knife, hm? But you’ve got a lovely present off of me, and no doubt nice presents off of your uncles, so it’s fine. I’ll do my best to be as least stabby as possible.”
Ellie only gurgled in response, and when Jessie looked up, Ada was gone and there were heavy footsteps past the wall of her door.
“Your mother is a madwoman, and I love her.” Jessie told Ellie as she got dressed and spritzed perfume on herself before remembering to straighten her hair. “Whether she knows that, or is willing to figure that out, is an unfortunate different matter.”
Jessie was wearing a blouse and a leather skirt, the thin stockings on her legs showing quite easily the scrawl of ‘mine’ in a thick, bold font. She needed to be able to see it during the day. She was her own - until Ada could admit that there was something and afterwards. As much as she adored Ada, nothing would ever change that she was her own.
Once she found her way down the stairs, the house was alive. Ada quickly found her, and Jessie could safely assume that it was to act as a shield between the ruckus being made in the lounge. “We haven’t started yet, Polly’s only just pulling up. Was Ellie ok?”
“She’s brilliant.” Jessie grinned, the babe on her hip. “Ah, here’s the woman herself.”
Polly strode into Arrow House, making everyone else look sloppy in comparison. She was gorgeous, but in the way that goddesses are. Strong and scary, in the same way that Ada was, Jessie supposed.
“Pol!” Ada grinned, hugging her once she’d taken off her coat and hung it up. She rushed over to alleviate Jessie of Ellie so that Polly could hold her.
Jessie quickly busied herself with saying hello to Polly and then finding Karl and making sure that he won that oh-so-important race when she was met by Arthur Shelby, who looked confused by the presence of a communist in his brother’s living room.
“You must be Arthur, I’m Jessie,” She stuck her hand out, wondering how Arthur would react. She knew he was the most temperamental, and knew that if anyone was going to have an issue with her, it was going to be him. “I came here with Ada,”
“Right,” Arthur nodded, “You’re a communist,”
“I am, though I find myself leaning towards socialism more and more.” Jessie explained, hearing people walk into the lounge. “Do you align yourself politically?”
“Nah, not really, don’t think any of it is important,” Arthur shrugged. “No matter what happens, it won’t affect me,”
Jessie held back from going into her fight about how important politics is and how vital it is to everyone, even anyone so high up as the Shelbies. She was stopped only by an arm around her waist, Ada flooding her mind.
“Everyone ready to open presents?” She asked, Ada and Jessie settling on a little loveseat, Ellie on Jessie’s lap, Karl nudged in between them. Since there was no protest, Ada began on her Christmas rampage. “Right, kids first! Karl, you are still a kid, get down here.”
Soon, Ada was orchestrating the giving of gifts, making sure the kids got theirs and collecting the wrapping paper in a bin bag, which she put Tommy in charge of. Jessie wondered how she had fallen in love with such a chaotic force of nature, sure that she’d swallow them whole, and then Ada turned to Jess and smiled, and it all made sense.
“Can you open Ellie’s presents for me?” Ada asked, Ellie sitting happily on Jessie’s lap, leaning into her chest.
“Of course,” Jess grinned, accepting the many parcels and unwrapping them carefully, piling the gifts up neatly and talking to Ellie softly as she did so.
“Right, that’s all Santa’s got you lot, lucky you haven’t gotten any coal, knowing yous.” Ada grinned at the kids after having a thorough check, “Now, it’s the adults, which is going to be boring, so you have fun with whatever the hell Santa’s got you.”
The children scattered, finding themselves well amused with their gifts, leaving Ada time to hand everything out. Jessie was glad that Ada had let her write her name on the tag of every present, because really Ada was excellent at gifting and Jess… was not. Not really. She felt pretty proud of what she’d gotten the kids, but she was nervous about what she’d gotten Ada.
“Right, Miss Eden,” Ada grinned, sitting next to her and taking Ellie off of her lap. “My gift for you,”
She handed over a small box wrapped in brown paper and tied in string with a bow, Jessie raised an eyebrow as she carefully unwrapped the gift, holding the small jewelry box in her hands, the thing too delicate to look right in her callous hands and her badly set knuckles from police fights.
Tentatively, she opened it, scared of what she’d see. A glimmer of gold, and Jessie was already confused. A necklace with the word ‘yours’ engraved in careful font.
“I couldn’t think of anything, so I thought I’d get you something to match your tattoo.” Ada tried to excuse, although Jessie’s mind was racing. How the hell had she fallen for this whirlwind of a woman, who managed to get her things like this and shrug it off, who was destroying Jessie every time they slept together but building her, too, in the most beautiful way.
“It’s gorgeous, Ada, help me out?” Jessie asked softly, taking the necklace out of the box. Of course, she could have done it herself, but that was not the point at all.
Once it was on, she felt like queen of the world, but that all hung by a thread as she passed her present onto Ada. It was wrapped carefully, the tag on it possibly the neatest that Jessie had ever written. Then again, Ada’s name would look pretty in even the worst chicken scratch.
It was a small box, even smaller than the necklace box that Ada had given her, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. Jessie almost didn’t want to give it to her, scared it was too much, that she would cause an issue in front of the whole family.
Ada had the paper off within seconds and prised open the box, wrapping her arms around Jessie and squeezing her tightly. There was hesitation, as if Ada wanted to do something different but settled on a hug.
Jessie felt a lot better about her gift.
Within a second the ring was on Ada’s middle finger, the gentle carvings and engravings making her hands look even more pointed and delicate. Jessie wondered if she was actually carved from marble.
She didn’t know how she found herself holding Ada’s hand underneath the dinner table, their hands resting on Ada’s thigh. Jessie had never been happier to be ambidextrous.
That, unfortunately, was where all the peace ended. Christmas dinner with the Shelby family was never going to be calm, but Jessie was surprised at the constant bickering. She’d seen better of the Birmingham Communist Party, and they were rowdier than the dodgiest pub.
It all went well for the first ten minutes, the kids in the other room with Finn supervising, Ellie safe in the bassinet. This unfortunately meant that the gloves were off.
“Finn tried to bring his prostitute, which is why he’s babysitting for dinner.” Polly commented, taking a sip of her wine. “If anyone wants to explain to him why it’s one of the worst ideas since, well, this family has a lot of bad ideas, but bringing a prostitute..”
“Lizzie may have known her,” Tommy nodded, a smirk on his face visible from where he was at the head of the table. “I’ve no objection to prostitutes in the house,”
“We’re hardly the cleanest family,” Ada decided, giving Jessie’s hand a small squeeze out of sight of anyone. “My brothers are murderers, I’ve had to confiscate snow off of each of them, my brother’s boyfriend is also a criminal, I don’t see why we draw the line at prostitutes if Finn has feelings for her.”
“You’re only saying that because you brought a communist with you,” Arthur grumbled from his seat next to Polly.
“The communist has a name,” Jessie told him with a steely look in her eyes, seeing the day beginning to unravel. Great, Jess, great impression on your love’s family. “And I was invited.”
“She was,” Alfie nodded, “Sooner than you were, may I add, seeing as Ms Eden is good company and has less chance of spontaneously combusting should I even look at your brother,”
Ada tried to hide her laughter in her napkin, her other hand holding Jessie’s tight. Arthur looked offended, but Polly looked severe enough to stop him from protesting.
“Either way, invited or not, Jessie is here because I want her here, and quite plainly, if anyone has an issue with her presence they should speak the fuck up because she’s not going anywhere,” Ada adressed the table boldly, “She’s where I am, I am where she is,”
“Right, good on you, Ade.” Arthur nodded, taking a large glug of his whiskey that had to be refilled every few minutes.
Jessie marveled at the fact that Ada would so fiercely defend her, and that someone could consume so much alcohol and yet look so somber. She took a sip of wine in solidarity with the seemingly withered man.
The dinner passed with minimal other interruptions, only spikes of Arthur saying exactly the wrong thing and Alfie picking up on it all too quickly. Jessie found a quiet partnership with Alfie, seeing as he seemed to have the brash nature that she was inconveniently missing. He didn’t care what the family thought, he had Tommy. Jessie cared all too much about what they thought, simply because she didn’t have Ada. To have, and to hold, are different things.
“I would have thought someone had warned you about Arthur,” He hummed as they sat together in the lounge, Ada and Tommy on the carpet with the children, figuring out their toys and taking a little too much delight in it.
“I would have come even if she had warned me.. Hell, she could have said that there would be a host of hellish things and I still would have come,” Jessie sighed, Ellie sleeping soundly in her arms. “It’s amazing, the draw she has on me, and she doesn’t realise it,”
“Don’t tell me you’re so blind as to not see that you do the exact same to her?” Alfie chuckled, their conversation completely ignored in the busy lounge, the other family members equally as settled. “Suppose it’s harder, what with the kids, you’re practically a second parent with how much I know.”
“I’d die for all three of them, within a heartbeat.” Jessie hummed, looking at the babe in her arms in a red star onesie.
“Ah, but if it was between her or the kids?”
“The kids,” Jessie answered quickly. “Would hate to ever think about it, but she’d never forgive me if I didn’t, and I’d never forgive myself.”
Alfie nodded solemnly, “You’re not too bad, Eden, even if you are a communist,”
“We’re not all bastards - I am, but I don’t think I’m so bad. If Princess Shelby can put up with me, I have to be doing something right.” Jessie shrugged, watching as Ada played with Karl. She wondered if her heart could actually beat out of her chest or if that was just the nerves.
“They’re an odd sort, trust me, I’ve ended up committed to one - possibly the maddest of the lot, mind you,” Alfie received a gentle glare from Tommy, who Jessie soon realised had been listening all the while. “But they don’t let just anyone look after their kids, and if anyone actually disapproved, I have it under good word that you would be dead in the water.”
“I will act like that brings anyone sane comfort.”
“You alright, Jess? How’s my little girl?” Ada asked, sitting on her lap, Ellie resting on her legs with Jessie’s arms supporting her still.
“She’s great, as always,” Jessie told her, feeling slender arms snake their way around her waist.
“Doesn’t half look like you, Ada.” Alfie commented, being so gracious as to not mention the look in Jessie’s eyes that stated that Ada had hung the moon and it’s stars too.
Jessie managed to keep this contained until those stars and that moon came out and the throng of people in the lounge had dwindled to just her and Ada, kids in bed. As of most nights that they spent together, Ada had found herself standing in front of the fire, arms outstretched.
“C’mere, comrade.” Ada grinned, slightly merry from the drinks she’d had. “Dance with me, it’s christmas.”
Jessie found her way into Ada’s arms like clockwork, fitting together as if they were two pieces of the same, equally jagged puzzle. “Comrade?” She grinned, Ada’s head resting on her shoulder.
“Mhm, comrade. Was my christmas present okay?” Ada asked softly, “It could mean a lot of things, but mostly it’s you. Please, never change for me, or my brothers,”
It was then that Jessie wondered how she’d made it all this time without kissing her.
“And the same to you, Ada. You don’t have to defend me,” Jessie reminded her softly, now staring into her baby blues as she lifted her head up.
“Don’t be stupid, Jess. We’re a pair, and if they want me they can accept the fact that you’re along for the ride… I’m yours, if you’ll have me,” Ada admitted quietly, a delicate hand going to straighten out the equally delicate gold chain.
“If I’ll have you? Ada, are you out of your head? I don’t think I’ve ever been more sure of anything in my life,” Jessie grinned, her heart fluttering as Ada’s hand splayed itself on her collar, fingers loosely hooking over her shoulder. “I don’t think you know how wonderful you truly are,”
Ada turned a beautiful red colour, her cheeks matching the hearth they were stood by. “You flatter me too much, Jess, honestly.”
“If it will turn you that red, I think I’ll carry on,” She laughed, closing her eyes for a second. “The illustrious, beautiful, intelligent Ada Shelby has been beaten by compliments?”
“Shut up,” Ada pouted, though there was no mistaking the look of glee in her eyes. “Meanie.”
“Make me,” Jessie teased, holding her close. Her grip was loose, Ada could break out of it should she even think of it, but until she did, they’d be in the lounge with not a centimetre of air separating them.
And Ada did.
Suddenly, there were soft lips on Jessie’s, tentative and shy. She was so shocked that she pulled back a little, only to kiss her again before Ada could even open her eyes. Jessie had never been in love with the idea of love, calling it all bullshit and swearing against Valentines for it’s capitalistic nature, but if you asked her she would have sworn that she felt TNT that had somehow been hidden in her chest, waiting for Ada to ignite it.
“Oh,” Ada whispered as they pulled back, both grinning and breathless.
“Yeah, oh.” Jessie grinned back, a hand cupping Ada’s jaw, fingers gently weaving through her pristine hair.
Ada laughed, ducking her head into the crook of Jessie’s shoulder and pressing a kiss to her collarbone. “Merry Christmas, Jessie Eden.” She hummed, then lifted her head again.
“Merry Christmas, Ada. Should we go to bed? Ellie will be up at six, and Karl’s still excited about being at his uncle’s..”
“Yeah, we should. C’mon. Race you up the stairs?” Ada grinned, a wolfish look to her otherwise careful features.
"What do I get if I win?" Jessie asked, not actually sure of who was faster. Ada was taller, but Jessie had such a rich past of running when it was vital.
"A kiss. And I'll change Ellie in the morning." Ada added, hands on her hips as she walked through the doorway.
"And if you win, I change her in the morning? And you get a kiss?" Jessie guessed, pretending to be a lot less into whatever games Ada wanted to play than she was.
"Catching on quick," Ada took her hand, leading her to the bottom of the grand staircase. "Race ends when we reach the top of the stairs."
“You’ll be the death of me, Shelby.” Jessie admitted before gasping in shock as Ada gave her a playful shove before sprinting up the stairs. It was no surprise that Ada would play dirty, seeing as she was, well Ada. Tactical and more cunning than she’d like to ever admit.
Jessie quickly found herself in the lead, though it was a struggle to get there. She wondered if their laughter and heavy footsteps would wake anyone, and then quickly found her momentary pause her downfall as Ada pinned her against the wall, their feet all on the same step as Ada kissed her.
Oh, yes, Ada Shelby was definitely cunning. The kiss left Jessie paused for a second, only Ada wasn’t there, stood at the top of the stairs with her hands on her hips, hair messy and lipstick smudged. Jessie thought she was radiant, more impressive than the stoic portraits her brother seemed to adore.
“Ha,” She teased, Jessie meeting her at the top in a few strides. “Hope you enjoy getting up at six in the morning, hm?”
“Eh, there are worse things,” Jessie hummed, feeling slender arms wrap around her waist. “The kid is funny, reminds me of her mum,”
Ada raised an eyebrow, not quite sure where she was going with it. “You always seem so surprised when she ends up being like me,”
“Not used to kids, am I?” Jessie reasoned, humming into the way Ada pressed her lips to hers.
“I’d say you handle them pretty well,” Ada shrugged, “Which is good, seeing as you’ll be cleaning one of them’s shit at six in the morning.”
“Ah, so romantic when you kiss me, how could I ever say no?” She sighed dramatically, back of her hand on her forehead.
Ada laughed and pulled her into their room, where Ellie was sleeping soundly. “You’re unbelievable.” She whispered as to not wake the baby in the bassinet.
“I’m yours.” Jessie replied, walking into the bathroom to change and wash off the day’s careful makeup.
They settled in that night the way they always did, legs tangled and arms wrapped loosely around waists, hair in mouths and slow breathing. Jessie found herself listening to the steady pattern of Ada’s breathing in front of her, always the big spoon even though Ada was the taller of the two. It was one of the moments when you knew that something was going to happen, because surely nothing is this perfect, this raw. Surely, though, one of the many psychics in the house would have forewarned them if there were?