Evie been waiting for something to go wrong, because something always went wrong. The wedding planning had gone smoothly, her dress fit perfectly, and everyone she loved would be there. Nothing had gone wrong yet, and it made her nervous. So, when she came down the stairs, arms full of flowers in need of vases, to see Tommy standing with Alfie Solomons in their entryway, she was not amused.
The two men abruptly went silent as they caught sight of her, determinedly avoiding her gaze and both looking like schoolboys caught whispering during their lessons.
“ Shalom , Evelyn.” Alfie said innocently, bending to kiss her cheek in greeting. Evie shoved the bunches of flowers into Tommy’s arms and he blinked down at them, baffled. She glared back up at Alfie.
“Alfie Solomons,” she started sternly, “we’re gettin’ married tomorrow.” He had the decency to look appropriately sheepish, and nodded vigorously.
“Yeah, yeah, I heard. Real nice for the both of ya, I was happy to hear.” She crossed her arms.
“And because we’re gettin’ married,” she continued, not letting him drop eye contact, “I don’t want you gettin’ Tommy - or anyone in this family - involved in anythin’ for the next week at least. D’you understand me?” Alfie opened his mouth, shut it, and looked to Tommy for help. Tommy’s eyes were glued firmly to the flowers, having the good sense not to get involved.
Alfie heaved a great sigh. “Orright, ketzelah , I’ll come back in a week.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Promise?”
“Promise.” She softened.
“You’re welcome to come to the ceremony, Alfie.” Tommy made a small, exasperated noise in the back of his throat, but knew better than to look up from the bouquets in his arms. Alfie chuckled.
“Nah, best if I fuck off for a few days, innit?” He donned his hat, nodded at Tommy, and gave her another quick peck on the cheek before starting toward the front door.
“ Mazel tov , the both of ya.” He winked at them before slipping out into the night. “I’ll have a fuckin’ world class wedding present with me when I come back.” He called over his shoulder. Evie relaxed as the door shut.
“I am rather fond of him.” she said mildly.
“Fond of him.” Tommy repeated, his voice incredulous. “Fond of Alfie Solomons. Fuckin’ hell.”
“He’s lovely when we aren’t talkin’ about the business.”
“He’s rather fond of you as well, it seems.” He said dryly. Evie turned and scooped up the flowers from his arms.
“Don’t worry, I’m not Jewish enough for him.” She smiled at the frown he was leveling down at her.
“Just take the fuckin’ flowers.” He muttered. Her grin widened.
Evie caught him glaring at the flowers on the table as they all ate together, only softening when she squeezed his hand under the tablecloth. Everyone was hovering in the sweet spot between tipsy and drunk, having had enough to be loose and laughing and warm, but not quite enough to be belligerent. It was a delicate balance that Shelby’s were notoriously bad at keeping.
Evie sat back and soaked it all in as the plates were cleared from the table, watching Esme soothe the squalling baby tucked into the crook of her elbow. There was something about the way that the baby seemed to have been made to perfectly fit her arms that stopped the breath in Evie’s chest. There was a longing she couldn’t name, something deep and quiet and hidden, creeping up her throat. Esme ducked down to press a kiss to the downy head and Evie stood up from the table abruptly, the rough scrape of the chair harsh in the soft thrum of the room.
She felt Tommy look at her questioningly, but she waved his concern away as she excused herself to slip out onto the balcony, feeling stiff and unlike herself. She took a few deep breaths of the cool night air, feeling the gentle swell of summer breeze ghost over her face and ruffle through her hair. As she calmed herself, she picked out the constellations that Polly had taught her. Orion the Hunter had always been her favorite, she liked imagining the arc of the sword swinging through the sky, cleaving through planets and suns and distant moons.
The door creaked open behind her and Evie glanced back to see Arthur ambling over with a glass of whiskey in his hand.
“What’re you doin’, hidin’ out here?”
“Needed some air, and yourself? Hidin’ from Linda?” He smiled sheepishly.
“She’s not happy that I’m drinkin’.” He admitted. Evie smiled but didn’t say anything.
“Havin’ second thoughts?” The corners of his eyes crinkled as he grinned at her. “S’not too late, I’ll run and get the car and you could shimmy down the drainpipe.”
“My hero.” She snorted. He took a longer look at her, his smile dying.
“What’s eatin’ ya?” His voice was quiet and gentle, understanding enough to spark tears in her eyes. Arthur always knew. She shrugged, eyes fixed on the stars.
“Dunno. Gettin’ married just makes me miss my parents, I suppose.” Arthur didn’t miss the tremble in her voice.
“Oh no, don’t get all weepy on me now, it’s your fuckin’ wedding day tomorrow.”
“I know, I know.” She muttered, wiping impatiently at her eyes. He sighed.
“Turn ‘round.” He nudged her gently until she turned to look back through the balcony doors to where everyone was talking.
“Look at ‘em all. I mean really look at ‘em.” And she did.
Ada had Karl dozing on her lap, his head heavy against her shoulder. John’s kids were running circles around a frustrated-looking Finn as he tried to make his way across the room. Polly was tipping a glass of champagne back gracefully, the glow of the fire nothing compared to the warmth in her eyes as she watched them all. . John was bending down to snatch Katie up and place her high on his shoulders to prance her around the room. Evie could hear her high giggle from where she stood outside. Michael and Tommy were smoking, near mirror images of each other, and the soft smile that stole over Tommy’s face as he caught her eye through the glass soothed the ragged bits of her.
“Look a’ all that family you have.” He said bracingly, gesturing with his drink. “There’s so much fuckin’ love in that room. Maybe it’d be nice to have your mum and dad here, but you’re orright without them, you know?” She reached out and squeezed his hand.
“I know.” He nodded gruffly, and they stood in comfortable silence for a moment.
“Arthur, would you - I mean, if you like - I was wonderin’…”
“Spit it out, Evie, fuckin’ christ.”
“Would you walk me down the aisle?” She blurted out. Arthur’s glass stopped halfway to his mouth, whiskey forgotten as he stared at her.
“Are you sure?” He croaked finally, eyes wide. She smiled.
“Who better, pral ?” He ducked his head to hide a sniffle before roughly throwing an arm around her. They stayed like that a while.
Tommy lounged in their bed, smoking and watching Evie pull the pins from the complicated-looking twist at the back of her head. Her slim fingers slid them out, one by one, until her hair fell thick and glossy over her shoulders.
Ada had begged Evie to let her cut her hair short and style it in the bob women were wearing these days, but Evie had staunchly refused. Tommy was secretly glad. He loved the thick tumble of curls down her back, wild and untamed just like her.
Her eyes met his in the mirror and she smiled. “Just think, we’ll be really, properly married after tomorrow.” He hummed in agreement.
“No more livin’ in unwedded sin.” She said, giggling. He snorted, reaching over to the ashtray resting on a stack of her books beside the bed to snuff out his cigarette.
“The maids will be relieved. Fuckin’ nosy gossips. Why they care about how we live is beyond me.”
“Well,” she put on a stern face and a posh accent, “this is no way for a respectable man like yourself to live. It simply isn’t done.” He raised an eyebrow.
“Ah. Respectable, am I?”
“Positively honorable.” She held her serious face for a second more before breaking down into laughter. He sat up and tugged her off of her stool and onto the bed as she squealed. She wound her arms around his neck and settled over his lap, smiling as he splayed his hands over the small of her back.
“And just how does a respectable man act?” He murmured, pulling her flush against him. She had just brushed her lips against his when Ada and Polly burst through the doors of their bedroom.
“Oy!” Evie shouted indignantly as Tommy hastily re-tied the ties of her dressing gown that had somehow mysteriously become undone.
“No,” Polly said sternly, pointing a threatening finger at both of them, “it’s bad luck to sleep together the night before the wedding.”
“Polly.” Tommy started, exasperated, but snapped his mouth shut at the glare she turned on him. She took Evie firmly by the arm and started to march her from the room, a grinning Ada trailing behind.
“You’ll thank me later.” Polly called over her shoulder. Evie gave him an apologetic smile and mouthed I love you as she was yanked unceremoniously down the hall. Tommy’s head fell back against the pillows with a groan.
He tried to get to sleep without her, but sleep wouldn’t come. He’d gotten used to laying with someone next to him. There was always a hand to reach for at the violent end of a nightmare when he was raw and gasping, someone to read to him when sleep danced just beyond his grasp. But now his bed was cold and empty. He tossed and turned and only the threat of Polly’s rage stopped him from stealing down the hallway to where she was sleeping with Ada. Bloody women .
Instead of spending a very pleasant morning in bed with Evelyn, Tommy was sat in the kitchen, sleep-deprived and irritated. After snapping at one of the chefs for the third time, he’d forced himself to down a whiskey to dampen his nerves. He was surrounded by his groomsmen, smirking and sniggering at him over their food as he tried to manage a few bites of his breakfast before abandoning it in favor of a cigarette.
The rest of them laughed and joked and ate as Tommy smoked, rubbing his temple and willing the seconds to tick by faster.
“Is there really that much to be done?” He asked impatiently.
“They have to do all of their, you know -” Arthur waved his hand vaguely over his face and head “ - takes a bloody long time.”
“Christ, could’ve been married three times by now.”
“You’re looking’ a bit twitchy, Tom.” Arthur grinned at him.
“M’fine.” He muttered, rapping his knuckles against the table.
“She hasn’t left you yet,” John offered, “probably won’t leave you now.” Michael snorted into his tea as Tommy stared at him.
They had seen Polly earlier as she popped into the kitchen to fetch a tray for tea, and he’d barely opened his mouth when she shut him down.
“Yes, she’s well. No, you can’t see her yet.” He’d glared at her as swept out of the room.
“Women’s business.” John had said offhandedly.
Polly knew her well. There was no fuss, no stress, no dressing room overflowing with distant aunts and cousins and acquaintances all trying to help her get ready at once. It was only her, Ada, Polly, Esme, and Esme’s cousin Rosemary.
Evie and Rosemary had met briefly at John and Esme’s wedding, but it wasn’t until the party celebrating the birth of their first child that the two of them spoke properly. A distant Lee cousin who didn’t know Evie had drunkenly propositioned her while the two women were politely chatting, and Rosemary had delivered a swift kick straight to his tender bits. It was a beautiful start to their friendship, and they got on like a house on fire.
Polly woke them early to draw her a bath. It was almost sinfully decadent, vanilla and rose bath oils and thick bubbles that tickled her skin. She soaked for ages, trying to quell the excited flutter of her stomach. When she finally emerged, rosy-cheeked and glowing from the steam, they sipped champagne as they chatted and picked at a tray of pastries that Frances had brought.
Ada was tasked with applying her makeup as Polly started to sort her hair, and it took every ounce of Evie’s self-control not to sneeze at the powder flying out of the puff that was gently patting her face.
“Are you nervous, Evie?” Rosemary asked, a wicked grin curling her lips.
“What do I have to be nervous about?” she asked, surprised. “S’not like we haven’t known each other since we were kids.”
Rosie shrugged. “Most brides are nervous.”
“I was near shittin’ myself.” Esme snorted. Ada and Evie giggled, and even Polly was smirking as she wound a strand of pearls through the bits of hair braided back from Evie’s face.
“Although,” she continued, “I had no idea what I was walkin’ into. John could’ve been a sixty year old man with saggy balls for all I knew.” Ada had to put the lipstick down because Evie was nearly quivering trying to keep the laughter in.
“Well...he will be someday. You just got him a bit early.” Rosie said, struggling to keep a straight face.
"Might make it all the way to forty before they start to dangle." Ada quipped, and that was all it took. They collapsed into shrieking laughs and it was a full five minutes before they could look at each other without giggling.
“God, my ribs.” Esme moaned through the howling, breath heavy from the exertion.
“I’m not nervous, just excited.” Evie said finally, hiccuping slightly. “We belong together, you know? Just feels right.”
Ada smiled. “Who would’ve thought? Our Tommy and our Evie?”
“I knew.” Polly said smugly. “Knew it from the moment he almost beat the life out of that Hughes boy you were caught with, the little shit.” Evie rolled her eyes.
“Liar.” Polly whacked the back of her head gently.
“I’ve a sense about these things.” She said primly, before gently turning her to the mirror. “Now look, you’re all done.”
Evie had to blink at her reflection for a few moments. The creature in the mirror was lovely and delicate and didn't seem at all like herself.
“Oh Pol’,” Evie breathed, “that looks beautiful.”
“ You look beautiful.” Polly corrected gently. Evie reached up to squeeze Polly’s hand as it was clasping her shoulder, their eyes misty as they met in the mirror.
“I’ll be a real Shelby now.” She joked, trying not to let the tears spill over and ruin her makeup. She saw Ada brush her own eyes discreetly.
“You’ve always been a Shelby, chikno .” Polly’s smile was watery, but it disappeared in an instant. “Evelyn, if you cry and ruin that face I’ll smack you into next week.”
The guests were seated, the organ was playing, and Arthur was nowhere to be found.
Tommy was silently cursing his brother from his place at the altar, dread starting to knot in his stomach. Anything could've happened, anyone could've gotten to them. Sabini, the Russians, there were enemies closing in on all sides. All he could picture was Arthur's bloody and crumpled form, body broken and lifeless. He was close to jumping out of his skin when the guests stood and turned in the pews.
And there was Arthur, hearty and whole and walking Evelyn down the aisle, beaming so widely it threatened to crack his craggy old face in two.
When they reached the altar and her veil was lifted, the force of her hit him like a fuckin’ brick wall. She was always beautiful, but he didn’t know a person could shine like that. He could see all the fuckin’ love and happiness beaming out of her and it all suddenly felt very fragile. The priest was saying something, probably something important, but Tommy couldn’t look away. Hope and happiness and terror were all warring in his chest as he smiled down at her, because maybe he didn’t deserve something like this. Men like him didn’t have nice weddings or beautiful wives or happy endings. Maybe this was too good to be true. But then she slipped her hand into his and it felt like she was smoothing out all the rough and jagged bits of him.
“Ready?” She whispered. He squeezed her hand.
Weddings involved a lot of standing. Standing waiting to walk down the aisle, standing at the altar, standing for pictures, standing and talking to every single business associate that had been invited to the ceremony. Evie was getting tired of standing. But she played the dutiful new wife and charmed the businessmen and complimented their wives, flushing graciously as they admired her dress and new husband. It seemed as if they would never leave, but finally the last guest was bundled into their car, and it was just the family. It was like the tension went out of all of them all at once; Arthur had shed his suit jacket, Michael’s tie was undone, and Tommy’s limbs seemed to loosen. They were among only their own. Johnny Dogs popped open a bottle of champagne and they drank eagerly as they waited for the cars.
"Can't believe that one man - his name is escapin' me - invited you to pay croquet. Fuckin' croquet." Evie said disbelievingly, taking a delicate sip of her champagne.
"That was the chairman of one of companies that makes the motorcar parts we export."
"And who's he when he's a' home?" The corners of his mouth twitched upwards.
"Can't believe you're going to play croquet with William Bailey."
"I'll have you know I'm a crack shot when it comes to croquet." He frowned down at her, the very picture of indignation.
"You've never picked up a croquet mallet in your life." She raised an eyebrow at him, daring him to challenge her.
"Well, I'll just have to learn. I'm a respectable man now. Married and everythin'." Rolling her eyes, she drained her glass as the cars pulled to a stop in front of them, spitting gravel and rock in all directions.
Polly and Ada had done a lovely job; the grove was strung up with lanterns and garlands, and there was a small band of Lee’s playing music by the caravans. Under the cheerful singing of the fiddles Evie could hear the gentle rush of the river below them. Summer’s wildflowers were plentiful, and the wind carried their sweet scent. The sun was starting to set, and everything was washed in a deep, warm gold. Evie turned to Tommy.
“Much better than a church.” She knew he agreed as he smiled down at her the way he did when she said something that secretly pleased him. They weren't God-fearing people, and Evie felt more at ease among the vardos and the trees than she did at the altar in front of the priest. She knew he felt it too, could tell from the smile that was quicker to come and the way his body was near humming with excited energy.
“Careful, Mrs. Shelby, that’s borderin' on sacreligious.”
“Evelyn Shelby.” she mused, looking up at him thoughtfully. There was something soft flickering behind the blue of his eyes and she wanted to drown in it. “I think I like it. D’you?” He pretended to think about it, furrowing his brow and stuffing his hands in his pockets.
Evie had no other family to invite; her mother’s clan had disowned her for marrying a gadje , and her father’s family in Ireland had disowned him for marrying a gypsy. Alone in the world, until she found the Shelby’s. But the grove was so full of the happy laughter of Lee cousins and Blinders she hardly noticed the absence. She was surrounded by love, bathed in love, spoiled with love. Every single family argument was worth it for just this moment alone.
“Everyone shut their fuckin’ mouths!” Arthur bellowed. Evie saw John grimace at her out of the corner of her eye as an expectant hush spread through the crowd, but she gave Arthur an encouraging smile.
“M’not the best with words, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. Now I know that I’m Tom’s best man, and not Evie’s,” he started, “but I’d just like to start by sayin’ that Evie, you’ve always been a Shelby, and today doesn’t really change a thing.” Her throat constricted but she swallowed hard.
“I think most of us knew we’d always end up here,” he continued, “although the two of you arseholes made it fuckin’ difficult at times.” Tommy snorted. “Two most stubborn gits I know. But we’re here, and I’m thankful for that because Evie, if you’d tried to marry anyone else John and I would’ve gutted him like a fish.”
“For a fuckin' fact!” John yelled out through the swell of laughter, arms tight around his wife.
“Because in truth, there is no one more suited to you than Tom, and there is no one more suited to Tom than you. He may be a right miserable fuck at times, and I don’t really know how you put up with it, but you make my brother happy. You make him better.”
“I think know is the time you talk about how I make her better, brother.” Tommy called out.
“Nah, she’s good as is.” Arthur smiled as everyone laughed. “Evelyn Shelby. Good inside and out. You’re the best of us, pena , congratulations.” He raised his glass and everyone else followed, heartfelt congratulations echoing through the trees.
Evie watched Tommy weave through the crowd to his brother, and for a moment they were both grinning at each other like they did before the war. They hugged for a bit, patting each other’s backs gruffly, and she had to look away as a lump rose in her throat.
She slipped up to him later, pressing a kiss to his cheek. He patted her hair clumsily.
“Did I do orright?” Arthur asked, grinning but Evie could see his uncertainty rising underneath.
“It was perfect.” She said softly. He ducked his head.
“Go on, mingle, it’s your weddin’ day. Nash. ”
Evie was no more competent of a dancer at her own wedding than she had been at John’s, but Tommy swept her along and although she knew she missed a step here and there she’d never felt more graceful. They whirled ‘round and ‘round, the music unrestrained and joyful. Her lungs were burning by the time the music slowed but she could’ve stayed in that moment forever, watching the lanterns soften the planes of his face and feeling his hands warm against her skin.
Finn was as clueless as she was, his face flushing when he crashed into her or a dancer next to them. She couldn’t complain, she noticed him wince every time she stepped on his toes.
John had her laughing so hard that they didn’t follow the dance very well. Her ribs were aching by the time the song changed, and he looked at her uncertainly for a moment before sweeping her up into a long hug. They stayed like that for a bit before he straightened up and cleared his throat.
“John Shelby, are you cryin’?” She teased. He glared at her.
“Absolutely fuckin' not.”
“It’s ok, I won’t tell.” She said solemnly. He rolled his eyes before leaning in to press a kiss against her forehead and weaving off into the crowd in search of his wife.
Still winded, Evie begged off from another dance with Michael and wandered slightly away from the throng of people. She found a drink and leaned against the wide trunk of a tree, content to watch.
The music changed to something slow and soft, and Tommy set his drink down to extend a hand to Polly. Lifting her from where she was seated with Charlie, he lead her into the crowd, and for a while they just swayed gently.
“I know you’ve a sense for things sometimes.” Tommy started. Polly was watching him, eyes sharp and wary.
“I do.” She said slowly.
“I’m happy, Pol’. Properly fuckin’ happy.” She smiled gently, and he felt her squeeze his hand.
“And you want to know…?”
“I’m happy, Pol’, and that makes me fuckin' scared. I want to know, will this last?” She let go of his hand so that she could reach up to cup his face.
“Yes.” She said emphatically. “You love her and she loves you. It will last.” Worry still gnawed at his belly.
“I'm worried about her safety, not her love. You know how hard this life is.”
“I do, and so does Evelyn. I’m not sayin’ there won’t be difficulties, but I want you to believe me when I tell you that it will last.” He exhaled slowly.
“Orright.” The music ended, and Polly shook him off gently.
"Go. She's waitin' for you."
He found her after his dance with Polly ended, and for a while they just watched the people they loved laugh and dance, happy and carefree in a way they rarely got to be.
“Makes me almost want to leave it all behind.” He murmured, winding his arms around her shoulders and resting his chin on the top of her head.
“We could,” she said softly, “we could leave everythin’ behind and gallop off on a horse. We’d visit on holidays and ride every day. We could chase the sunset.” He closed his eyes.
"It sounds beautiful."
"Our children would be raised on the road, safe and hearty. No wars to fight in and no enemies to fear."
“One day, ves’tacha , when there are no more rungs to climb and no more threats to fight. We’ll chase that sunset.”