Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, AU
For the final installment in this loosely knit trilogy I'm foregoing the angst and giving you instead a taste of sweet Blackpool Rock.
Thomas could feel himself relax as he stepped off the train in Blackpool. He had kept up a correspondence with Jimmy over the years, but they only saw each other a few times. Always in London. If he was lucky when the family was there he could arrange his half day to match Jimmy's. Of course that was well before the war and before Downton had all but disappeared, sold off in parcels, the house now standing abandoned. With it went his position, but he had managed to find work even then. Now he lived modestly in a small flat. Alone of course. There had been men, but none that lasted more than a few months.
As he stood in the taxi queue he wondered again why Jimmy had chosen Blackpool. Truth be told, Thomas liked Blackpool, a fact that he kept mostly to himself. Each summer until he was about twelve, his father handed over the running of his shop to his assistant so he could take Thomas and his mother to Blackpool – always the same week, always the same hotel, always the same room overlooking the sea front. Thomas wasn't sure why because most of the time his father would just take a book, a deck chair and settle himself in a sheltered spot on the beach. He eventually realised it was what his mother wanted and his father would do almost anything for the love of his life, as he always called her.
Thomas enjoyed being alone with his mother. There was always a piece of rock – or more – with its fascinating letters, purchased as they wandered the Promenade. Then down to the beach where he paddled in the sea, his mother beside him holding their shoes in one hand and his hand in the other. He still remembered her laugh when he splashed her after she had warned him not to. At night he was allowed to stay up late to watch the sunset, then stay gazing out the window across to the sea where the moon glinted off the waves. The last year they were there if he leant out far enough he could see the North Pier with its recently added lights.
Settling into the back seat of the taxi Thomas's thoughts turned again to Jimmy. Why was he being so mysterious and why after all this time were they going to spend more than a few hours together? In the last few years Thomas noticed that Jimmy became less forthcoming, but at the same time somehow more affectionate - if he could call it that. He talked more and more about Downton and about their time there. He even mentioned how much he missed having Thomas around and that he had things he regretted. When Thomas asked what they were or tried to get him to open up, his standard answer was that he would know some day. His last letter, the one asking him to meet in Blackpool, had been followed with a surprise telephone call.
"You'll come, won't you? Just tell me when and I'll take care of making our reservations. All you'll have to do is show up with enough clothes for a long weekend. Or even longer if that's what you want."
Thomas had wanted to say no, but even now if Jimmy asked him to do something it was impossible for him to turn him down. Eventually, after checking how much money he had to spare, he had decided on a week. He hadn't had a holiday in years and, after all, it was Blackpool.
The taxi dropped him in front of a modest-sized hotel far enough away from the attractions to be quiet, but still overlooking the sea. He opened the door and entered a small lobby where a young man waited behind a desk.
"Good morning, sir."
Good morning." He set down his suitcases. "I have a reservation. Thomas Barrow."
"Ah yes, Mr. Barrow, we've been expecting you. May I ask you to wait for a moment."
Thomas nodded and the young man disappeared through a door behind him. While he waited he picked up one of the brochures and leafed through it. Recently renovated ... Twenty-five heated rooms ... all with their own baths ... restaurant and lounge. He looked around the lobby. It was well furnished and tastefully decorated, nothing garish as he had at first feared. Off to the left he could see a sitting area where he was sure he would be able to have a drink. It too showed that someone had taken care to ensure it was comfortable, almost serene.
He turned at the sound of his name and saw Jimmy emerging from the door followed by the desk clerk.
"Jimmy? I .. uh ... What?"
Jimmy burst into laughter as he strode forward and grabbed Thomas's hand in both of his.
"It's been too long. Come into the lounge with me." He turned to the young man. "Jeremy, will you see that Mr. Barrow's suitcases are taken up." Jimmy led the way into the room Thomas had seen earlier. "You can unpack later. Drink? Or would you like tea?"
"A drink will be fine ... yes, most definitely a drink." He watched as Jimmy went behind the bar where he lifted glasses and a bottle onto its top. "Should you be doing that? I mean ..."
Jimmy laughed again as he poured the whiskey. "You haven't got it yet, have you. I can do this because I own the place." He handed a glass to Thomas and motioned toward a sofa. "Sit down."
Thomas sank into the sofa and took a large sip of his drink while Jimmy took the chair opposite him. "You own the place? How can you own the place."
"Let's just say that Lady Anstruther's will was generous."
Thomas knew that she had died a couple of years ago, but it hadn't occurred to him, despite knowing she had no living relatives, that Jimmy would be a beneficiary. He wondered about their relationship, but doubted that there was anything much to it. Jimmy wouldn't have been able to keep quiet if there were.
"She owned this? She left it to you?"
"No, I bought this over a year ago, had it ripped apart and just reopened this spring."
"You never said."
"I wanted it to be a surprise."
Thomas downed his drink and held out his glass.
"What do you know about running a hotel? What if you lose everything?"
"It's not much different from running a house when you think of it," Jimmy answered as he poured them both another drink. "Organisation and having the right people work for you who know the things you don't. And most important, remembering to keep an eye on them." He handed Thomas his drink and sat down beside him. "And so far I don't see any problems. We're booked right through October, then we have the winter season which will be slow, but I've allowed for that. I turned a tidy profit the first month and haven't looked back. I'm even considering taking over the place next door."
"Sounds like you have everything planned out." Thomas was beginning to feel jealous. Jimmy was the unreliable one, head in the clouds, more interested in horses and cards than working, while he was the one with all the plans, albeit seldom well thought out. Now Jimmy was a success - with some help of course - and he was ... he was struggling along.
Jimmy continued, as if reading his mind. "I could use a partner if I do that. It's double the space and I don't want to spend every hour here. It would be nice to have someone to share the workload .. and the success."
"Are you asking me? Why? I haven't got any money to contribute."
"Damn it, Thomas, I don't need money, but I could use your experience. After all you ran Downton for years. In fact, this could all blow up in my face tomorrow and it wouldn't matter. It's not going to happen, but I could walk away then and not look back."
Thomas thought for a moment.
"So why are you doing it then? It seems like a lot of work for something that doesn't matter."
Jimmy sighed and shook his head. "I forgot that you don't listen unless I spell it out. It feels like I'm butting my head against the Tower." He moved closer and took Thomas's hand. "Surely you understand what I'm saying, what I'm asking. I walked away from you all those years ago. I never should have done that. For Christ's sake Thomas, this is my way of telling you I want to come back. I want you to let me come back. I want you to give me a chance to make up for all those wasted years. We can't get those back, but we don't have to lose the future."
Thomas stared at him, not sure what he was hearing. Nothing had prepared him for this.
"You never said ... Why now? I don't understand."
"If you give me a chance, in time you will. We both will."
"So, partner means ...?" Thomas asked with a grin.
"Whatever you want it to mean."
"Is that a yes?" Jimmy asked.
"I suppose it is, but tell me something."
"Well, I should have been expecting that question. Something you said a long time ago about the last time you were really happy was in Blackpool. I just thought maybe together we could recapture that."
Thomas let go of Jimmy's hand and reached up to trail the back of his fingers along his cheek.
"I'd like that. Now, let's go buy a piece of rock to share and take a walk along the beach while you tell me more about our new home."
In Reflections I wrote that Jimmy never gave Thomas the letter. He didn't have to because, in the end, actions speak louder than words.