"What's this?" Lizzie's voice clipped the silence within the office on Watery Lane.
Anna stiffened up beside Rain. Rain hadn't been properly introduced the girl to the office dwellers since her arrival. Now, on the day that the men were off "fucking shooting"-as Esme had initially iterated when she found Rain and Anna at the door-she was introduced to an empty office and, strangely enough, Linda Shelby.
"Anna Smith, I'm a writer for London's Daily Mirror." The striking girl held her arm out to Lizzie.
To Rain's amusement, Lizzie didn't acknowledge Anna's hand before walking off to her desk, rummage through files, and proceed to shove them within the drawers. Rain gave Anna a reassuring nod before finding a chair to laze upon. There was only so much she could do to cushion Anna's arrival. The girl's charms were now at the mercy of the Peaky women.
"Well, Anna Smith from London," Lizzie began, "what's your business here in Birmingham?"
"She's here for a story, Lizzie." Rain explained, propping her legs upon another chair. "Anna's next assignment is to write about Shelby Company Limited's modern outlook towards female employees."
"Is that so?" Esme questioned, walking down the hall and into the main room. "Well you can write in your bloody paper that Shelby Company Limited don't give two fucks about us women, not even the expecting ones. While the men are off playing, we're here to clean up their mess, isn't that right?" As usual, Esme's words were quick and filled with fury, even more so now that there was another little Shelby on the way.
"Give it a rest, Esme" Rain laughed, lighting a cigarette.
"Don't forget to throw in the long hours and shit pay for anyone with a pair of tits," Lizzie mentioned. "You read the books, Rain. You're just as much aware of it as we are."
"She's right, you know." Linda added, smiling as innocently as an angel.
To Rain's dismay, she found Anna tentatively scribbling away in her notepad. Lizzie appeared far more tense than usual. Rain never pinned Lizzie as the type to let the company flaws fly freely from her lips. Esme (on snow) and Linda (in general) maybe, but something heavier must've been troubling Lizzie to let her words spill. Rain could see it in the way the towering woman glanced from the walls to the floor and in the way her sorrowful eyes raced through the images replaying in her mind.
It was clear there was more to her grief than death or the company.
Before Rain could even think of confronting Lizzie, it was Polly who walked into the room with a bottle of gin gripped tightly in one hand. To no one's surprise, her eyes shot straight to Anna.
"What's this?" Polly demanded.
"Anna Smith from the Daily Mirror, apparently." Lizzie muttered, trudging along to the counter to pour herself a drink.
"I was gone for one moment and we've already let in reporters." Polly raised an eyebrow at Rain.
"I mean no disrespect, Ms. Gray," Anna began, to which everyone froze. "Truly, I'm here to cover a story on female influence within your family's business and in Birmingham. Your company is all that's buzzing in London."
Polly took her time pouring herself a glass as the room of women waited for her response. Rain could sense the confusion that took over Anna as no one said a word. Polly was simply strategizing her approach.
"Anna Smith from the Daily Mirror," Polly initiated, her silky voice entranced within the silence, "and how is it that you know of my actual name?"
To everyone's surprise, Anna's response was immediate. "My aunt, Adelaide Smith, knew of you when you were Elizabeth Gray. When I mentioned the Shelby assignment to her, she told me of how you both went to school together. When I showed her one of our articles that detailed the Shelby Family, she led me straight here."
Rain paused at this. Anna hadn't mentioned this to her before.
"Adelaide Smith." Polly pondered over the name, she let the weight of her consideration hover over Anna. "The only Adelaide I know of was called Adelaide Whitmore, and she was deranged girl, bless her. None of the teachers could stop that verbal tick." Polly laughed, "she swore at the most inappropriate of times, I wonder how the wedding ceremony went when she married into your family."
"Uncle Marcus was her doctor, actually," Anna reminisced with a smile. "I reckon he fell for her the moment she stepped into his office, swearing like a sailor."
"Don't we all need a Marcus." Polly grinned halfheartedly as she downed her drink.
Rain didn't know what to make of Anna, but she was quite certain that Polly already had a clue.
"You write stories of the female influence, Anna, is that right?" Linda asked.
Anna's face lit up, "Yes, ma'am. Do you work for the company as well?"
At this, Polly, Lizzie, and Esme collectively raised a brow and scoffed. Even Rain had to clip her lips together to prevent the broadcast of an all too-knowing smirk.
It was just like Linda to acknowledge, yet disregard the tension. "Unfortunately, I've yet to fall in line with the Shelby business," she said with a sideways glance. "What you should be doing on this Good Friday is marching out with the rest of the female factory workers of Birmingham. If you're looking for female influence then Jesse Eden's the best you're going to get. Never mind this company, especially with what we've seen these last few months."
"A protest?" Rain sat up in her seat. "Why didn't you start with this?" Anything to get out of the legit work sounded enticing at the moment.
Anna took no time at all to pull out her pen and notepad.
"She's been chatting me ear up about this all morning," Lizzie said. "I've got half a mind to forfeit and comply."
"Them bastards gone out shooting deer. Me, five months gone, sat here like a pudding." Esme muttered.
A spark of excitement lit up the room. Rain could feel the consideration spurring as Linda continued her proposal. The wheels in Polly's mind began to turn as well. They all listed off the inconveniences of the work place for-as Lizzie put it-anyone with a pair of tits.
Rain found herself on her feet once the noise outside the shop grew louder. She felt the shift in attitude as soon as someone knocked on the door, demanding service.
"I'm not in the mood today." Polly confirmed. "Let's get you a story, Anna Smith from the Daily Mirror."
In that very instance, everyone was on their feet, gearing up for the cold Birmingham streets. They left the office one by one with smug looks of relief as they embraced the outside.
Before stepping in line along the streets, Polly gave Rain a knowing look. The cool air was suddenly no match for the heat that rose to Rain's cheeks.
A discussion was well in the future.
"It was the most inspiring and influential speech I've ever witnessed, Rain," Anna confessed. "My life will never be the same."
"Another drink then!" Rain planted another shot glass in Anna's hand. It was their fifth one since their arrival at the Garrison. With each drink the girls knocked back, the bitterness contorted their faces, sending them straight into laughter.
"That's enough of that." Anna coughed, her face glowing red.
In fact, it was just enough for Rain to seize the moment within the lively pub. "I reckon the protests in London are far more enticing."
"Hmm, only during elections!" Anna declared over the lively music. Anna closed her eyes, her shoulders weren't tensed up and her curls slid out of her loose bun. She appeared much younger when she was smiling like that, when her black eyes weren't piercing away at Rain's distrust. "Can you imagine? With a speech like that us girls may even get the vote?"
The girls swayed to the swinging music. As much as Rain was having a good time, it saddened her to press the girl when she was clearly influenced by the whiskey.
Business is business.
"I'll believe it when it's written in black and white and singed by the King himself." Rain laughed. "I'm sure Mr. Shelby can get you in touch with the lovely Ms. Eden if you were to need her inquiry for your story."
Anna took in a sharp breath, her eyes widened. "That would be such a treat, really. Rain, bless, thank you." She grabbed Rain's hand upon the bar. "You've been nothing but kind and helpful towards me and I don't think I'll ever be able to show you the same amount of kindness ever in a million lifetimes!"
Rain was pleasantly surprised by Anna's hyper expression. It was rather amusing, almost reassuring that there wasn't anything said to itch at the underlying suspicion. With care, Rain let her own inhibitions loose as the music grew louder.
"It's not a bother at all, really," Rain began. "It's nothing I wouldn't have wanted when I first stumbled into Birmingham."
"You know, Isaiah did mention to me that you're the newest edition to the company." Anna slurred.
"Did he?" Rain said through gritted teeth. She couldn't help but feel the warmth of the whiskey rush to her face.
Anna nodded passionately. "Yes! He said he's happy that you're back from your time away, but also-" she began to giggle, "-no one was quite as happy as Michael. Apologies, again, for that first time we met here when you were completely naked-,"
"-No worries at all." Rain interjected, praying that anyone of importance was within earshot.
"Oh!" Anna placed her hand over her mouth, covering a childish grin. "Forgive me," she snorted, "It's not often I go out drinking."
"Yes, I gathered that." Rain scoffed.
"Can I ask you something?" Anna sat back, she squinted her eyes, as caused by the liquor.
"Well, you've already seen me naked," Rain shrugged.
"Have you any family in Birmingham?" Anna asked. It was clear that she didn't know how to articulate this without the alcohol, otherwise it would've been asked days ago.
It wasn't uncommon for Rain to receive confusion from new colleagues-regarding her appearance. However, since she became affiliated with the Shelbys, rarely were there any unsure glances, questions, or words of distaste from strangers. It was known that there was a mythical Chinese Gypsy amongst the Shelbys. It was almost refreshing to be amongst oblivious company.
"I first came here with my father when I was younger." Rain said.
"Oh! I'd love to meet him before I head back to London!" Anna exclaimed.
It didn't occur to Rain that she had let her mind trail outside of the buzzing pub. Anna's face fell and suddenly Rain noticed her reaction to the statement.
"Did I say something wrong?" Anna cautioned, her radiance sunken. "Oh, of course I did, I'm so sorry, Rain."
"No," Rain shook her head, assuring Anna that it, in fact, had nothing at all to do with what was asked. "It's fine. My father died just a few months ago."
She said it for the first time that night . . . but it was also the first time she thought of that particular night in quite some time.
Anna held onto Rain's hand, tightly. "We've all lost a good too many too soon." She saw the familiarity of pain in Anna's eyes. Loss, grief, devastation. "It's hard."
It was months ago-however, Rain's heart pulsed and weighed down just as heavily as though it were that very night. Thankfully. . . it was fleeting.
Amongst the crowd near the main entrance, Rain found Michael entertaining a few guests of the Garrison. While Anna comforted her, Rain's mind went quiet. The pub was no longer raging with music, laughter, or movement. When they locked eyes, nothing was in existence except Michael.
"You'll always have a family in London." Anna said softly.
Although Michael was speaking with someone, his eyes were on Rain, and Rain alone. She laughed to herself, remembering how he angered her so violently a few months ago. Granted, the night did end in the possible murder of someone who uttered a few words to Rain. However, it was one of the first nights Rain came to realize that perhaps Michael caredfor her, as silly as it sounds.
Maybe it was the liquor, but his gaze was enough to send her heart straight to the moon.
"Thank you, Anna." Rain caught Michael's glance once more as he made his way down towards her. "Fortunately, I've still got a small family in Birmingham."
Within the crowded and rackety Garrison, stood Polly.
She was as cool as ice, everyone behind and around the bar could see that. Not even the barmaid glanced in her direction. With a drink cradled in one hand and a cigarette in the other, she traced her cool gaze along the plethora of guests within the dimly lit space.
There were the usuals who sat in the corners, guzzling down drink after drink. They'd need to be escorted out sooner than later. Amongst the dancers and younger peakies were even younger girls. They were out in dirty old Birmingham, looking to catch the smoke and excitement that Tommy's boys had to offer when they weren't cutting anyone in an alley or in a locked office.
Polly held her drink up to her pursed lips, and then came a familiar sound from the center of the Garrison. It was a laugh she knew too well to go unnoticed, even when the pub was as loud as that night.
Rain. She managed to shine brighter than all the light in a room filled with life. Polly remembered the day the young girl walked in to her office. Rain, a ghost of person that hid in the shadows and stayed out of sight. Even when she was charming the others at the office, Rain was discreet, careful, intentional with every move she made. That was a different girl.
These days, Polly reckoned she'd been seeing more of Renée, the young girl that Oliver detailed with such joy. A girl who saw the innocence in everything bleak. A girl with the most unbelievably tragic woes . . . that were easily forgotten with the right company.
On this night, Rain was seated at a table with the reporter, Anna. The mysterious newcomer. As the two girls laughed, Polly couldn't help but lock on to those dark eyes. They were all too familiar, too haunting for her to make an exact conclusion. There was something she wasn't seeing.
It was important to note, that Polly was one with sight, a sixth sense that even she couldn't explain nor the Gypsy woman she sought counsel from. That night, Polly saw a darkness surrounding the girls. Something bad was bound to come from this.
Anna Smith from the Daily Mirror.
Polly was sure of one thing only that night: she had to have to have a chat with Tommy, and soon.
Good to be back, thank you for your kind words :)