Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Downton Abbey
Title: The Faces of Love
Jimmy had been quiet during their short walk to the village pub. In the years since they had become friends Thomas had come to understand most of his moods. When he flirted outrageously with a girl, Thomas knew that was only because someone or something had made him think he was less than a 'proper man' - whatever that meant. When he drank too much it usually meant that he had lost money on the horses; although Thomas thought that seemed like throwing good money after bad. When he bought cigarettes for Thomas it meant he was feeling guilty. But when he was quiet it meant he was ready to talk about something he had been hiding or worrying about or feared. He also knew it was no use asking, so as they settled into the table by the window he prepared to wait.
"A pint, Jimmy? Something stronger?" he asked.
"A pint's fine." He didn't look up as he picked at a small crack in the wood of table top.
Thomas sighed as he walked to the bar. He had hoped that tonight would be relaxing, just the two of them talking about the week, laughing about the goings-on both upstairs and down, but it seemed that wasn't going to happen. Damn it Jimmy, sometimes being your friend is tiring. Yet he knew he wouldn't give that up for anything. In the last ten years he had more than one opportunity to move on; his network of contacts among other servants had paid off with tips and a few interviews. But he never followed up. Even when a butler position was offered, he turned it down because he couldn't see himself anywhere but at Downton - with Jimmy. He had long ago given up hope that they would be more than friends, but that didn't mean he had stopped loving him. Christ, I'm a sad excuse for a human being. And despite Jimmy's quest for adventure and desire for advancement, he too was still there. Thomas knew that as far as advancement was concerned, it wasn't from lack of trying. When the day eventually came that Jimmy left, he wouldn't be far behind. There would be no longer anything for him at Downton.
He set the beers on the table and took his seat.
"So what do you think of the new footman?"
Jimmy glanced up, then back down at the table.
"Seems all right. Eager to please."
Thomas took a sip of his beer. This is going to be a long night.
"Hannah's pregnant." Jimmy's tone was flat, unenthusiastic. He might as well have been talking about the weather.
"Oh I don't know, Thomas." Jimmy snapped, "Maybe it's the second coming." He looked up and shook his head. "Sorry."
"No, I deserved that. It was stupid." He half-emptied his glass. "How long?"
"Almost two months we think."
"So not a false alarm then?"
"I wish," Jimmy snorted. He propped his elbows on the table, sinking his head into his hands. "What the hell am I going to do?"
"What do you mean? You'll do what you're supposed to do. You'll marry her and you'll give that child a proper family."
"I don't love her."
Thomas's anger boiled over.
"You should have thought of that before you fucked her." He looked around, hoping no one had heard that; fortunately the pub was busy and noisy. "Jesus, Jimmy, you can be a self-centred little prick." Pushing his chair away from the table, he stood up. "I need some fresh air."
Thomas pushed his way out the pub door, moving just far enough away so he could slouch against a wall to light a cigarette. He cursed himself when he saw how badly his hands shook. Jimmy had the chance to have something he never would have - a family. Thomas knew he could have married; it wouldn't have been the first marriage of convenience, but it wouldn't have felt right. He had to hide so much but not from himself. And that's what any marriage would mean. As he saw Jimmy approaching, he straightened his back against the wall. Jimmy stood looking at him for a few seconds before turning and leaning beside him. Neither spoke for a moment.
"It's not just that, you know. I mean, that I don't love her. I can't afford a wife and child." He knew that Thomas was about to interrupt. "Let me finish. I'm a footman, Thomas. I'm thirty-five years old and I'm a bloody footman. You know how much I earn. And I'll never be anything more than a footman."
"You don't know that."
"Don't I? How many other positions have I applied for? Tell me that. Ten? Twenty? After so many rejections you just want to give up." He rubbed his eyes with his fists. "And now I'm trapped. Trapped into a marriage I don't want. A marriage Hannah doesn't think she wants." He glanced at Thomas. "Don't look so surprised. I'm not the catch I once thought I was."
Thomas leant his shoulder into Jimmy's.
"It'll work out. We'll see to that."
"We? There is no 'we', Thomas." His voice sank to a mumble. "There's me, just me."
"Of course, there's 'we', you fool. I'm still your friend and you won't go through this alone."
He pushed himself away from the wall, turning to face Jimmy.
"Look at me." Jimmy's eyes shone in the half light from the pub window. "Not a church wedding. Not enough time. The registry office in Ripon. You'll talk to Hannah tomorrow and then you'll make an appointment.
"I don't know, she ..."
"Let me put it bluntly. Her alternatives are an unwed mother with a bastard child or giving it up for adoption. Do you still think she won't choose marriage?"
Jimmy shook his head.
"Where will you live?
"Don't know. I guess Hannah will stay with her mother and I'll live at Downton."
"That won't do."
"You got any better ideas?"
"A cottage on the estate."
"You're dreaming. Yes, I know Anna and Bates have one, but they're the golden couple."
"You leave that to me."
The next day Thomas waited until he could get a few minutes alone with Anna.
"Anna, can I ask you something?"
She eyed him suspiciously. Thomas had changed for the better in the last ten years, but she still didn't trust him.
"I suppose so."
"It's more of a favour."
"Of course it is."
"Not for me though," He watched her face change from suspicion to mild surprise. "Jimmy's getting married."
"Really? That's unexpected. And the favour?"
"The happy couple will need a place to live. I was wondering if you and Mr. Bates might be able to put in a good word with the family about a cottage."
"Otherwise they have to live apart. And I'm sure you would agree that's not the way to start a marriage. Two people in love, separated by circumstances that they can't control."
Anna just looked at him. Still the manipulative Thomas, but at least it's for someone else now.
"I'll see what we can do."
"That's all I ask." Thomas smiled to himself as he walked away. Of course she knows what I'm doing, but she has a soft spot for even a hint of romance and the underdog. She and Bates will come through.
A little over a week later and two days before the wedding, Thomas and Jimmy went to see the cottage. Thanks to Tom Branson's continued insistence on proper maintenance, the exterior was in good condition – new roof, gutters and windows and a fresh coat of paint. The interior was another matter.
"I still don't know how you did it, Thomas."
"I told you, I only need to know what to say and who needs to hear it. Anna worked her magic from there." He looked around the room. "Although it would appear her magic didn't extend to the inside." It was in dire need of either paint or wallpaper and a good cleaning. The front room was packed with furniture, most of which was was only fit for the bonfire. Thomas spotted a side table that would do and what looked to be a decent armchair. I wonder if we can 'borrow' that new hoover?
"I'll bring Hannah tomorrow and we can see what we'll need, although I have no idea where we'll find anything. Still it's a nice house; even has two bedrooms. I never thought ..." Jimmy broke off, his voice betraying his emotions more than he had intended.
Thomas reached over and wrapped his arm around his shoulders. "It'll be a good home for the two ... three of you." They stood for a moment until Thomas reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out an envelope. "Here, an early wedding present."
Jimmy opened the envelope, then looked up at Thomas.
"There's over a £100 here. I can't take this."
"You can and you will. So it's not just a wedding gift. Call it a housewarming gift and a christening gift and a birthday ... Anyway, I can't have my godchild coming into this world to live in an empty hovel."
He felt Jimmy shudder as he began to cry quietly.
"I ... I don't deserve this."
"It's not just for you." And yes you do. You bloody well know I would give you everything I have. But you would never ask. "Now lets cart out some of this junk so Hannah isn't overwhelmed when she sees it."
Thomas looked down at the baby in its bassinet.
"Can I hold him?"
"Of course," Hannah laughed. "You don't have to ask."
He carefully picked him up and cradled him in the crook of his arm. He was so small, much smaller than he remembered his brother had been.
"So, Gerald Thomas Kent, what do you think of this world."
Behind him Jimmy chuckled.
"I think that question should wait a few years."
"Here," Hannah said as she stood up from the rocking chair. "Sit here with him while I make us some tea.
Thomas settled into the chair and began to rock gently. He looked up at Jimmy.
"He's lovely." Oh God, I can't believe I said that.
Jimmy reached down and softly stoked his son's head.
"Yes, he is."
Thomas smiled down at the child once again.
"I noticed you haven't been taking your half days."
"I can't afford to. I asked Carson if I could work them and get paid, at least for a while, and he agreed. Although he wasn't enthusiastic. Babies cost money. And now there's the three of us on my wage. It's tight."
"But you don't regret this?"
"When I look at him how could I?"
Hannah returned and lifted Gerald from Thomas's arms, putting him back in the bassinet.
Thomas stood and leant in close Jimmy.
"You know if you need money ..."
"I couldn't. It wouldn't be right. They're my responsibility, not yours." Jimmy saw the concern in Thomas's eyes. "But thank you. You're always there when I need you."
"James," Carson asked, "will you join Mr. Barrow and me in my office."
"Yes, Mr. Carson." Shit, what have I done?
"Take a seat, please."
He waited while Jimmy pulled up a chair beside Thomas..
"How is your boy? Gerald, correct?"
"Yes, Gerald. He's fine. A year old next month. Not really walking yet, but that doesn't stop him from trying."
"That's good. That's good." Jimmy saw that Carson was distracted and wished he would just get on with it. "Thomas, I think you should start."
"Oh. All right." He turned in his chair. "I'm leaving Downton in a few weeks."
"Yes, I've taken a position as butler with a family in York."
"When did this happen? You never said anything."
"I heard last week."
"I see." Jimmy looked down at his hands which were tightly gripping the arms of the chair. He couldn't think of anything else to say. It was almost as if Thomas had betrayed him. He knew that was a foolish thought, but he couldn't help it. What am I going to do without him?
"But that's not the main reason we're here," Carson continued. "Thomas has recommended that you become under butler."
Jimmy's head jerked up and he looked quickly between Thomas and Carson.
The hint of a smile flitted across Carson's craggy face.
"Yes, you. I'll be honest, James, if this were a few years ago I wouldn't have even considered it. But you've changed. I agree with Thomas that you're more than capable of handling the duties. And I myself am not getting any younger, so I expect you will also be learning more about my position as well. In a few years ..." Carson's voice trailed off.
"I ... I ..."
"I think the words you're looking for, Jimmy," Thomas interrupted with a laugh, "are 'I'm happy to accept and you will never regret your decision'."
"Yes, of course."
"Well, it's decided then," Carson said as he stood up and reached his hand out. "I've already informed His Lordship of my decision and he is in complete agreement. Congratulations."
Jimmy leapt to his feet and grabbed his hand, shaking in vigorously.
"You won't regret this,"
"Yes, James I know. I think we already covered that."
"Yes, yes. Sorry. I mean ..."
Thomas grabbed his arm and began to pull him towards the door.
"I think we should go."
Thomas closed the door behind him.
"I'm going for a cigarette. Care to join me?"
Jimmy nodded, following him mutely into the kitchen yard.
"Want one?" Thomas asked as he opened the packet and held it out.
"Yes." Jimmy took a light from Thomas as they both sat down on a bench in the corner of the yard. "I don't suppose you've got a flask of scotch in your back pocket?"
Thomas laughed out a cloud of smoke.
"No such luck."
Thomas took another drag as he leant back and rested his head against the wall.
"It's an opportunity I can't turn down. Rich industrialist, investments in South America and Australia as well. A modern house and only four people to cater to. More time off. It's ..." He paused and turned his head as Jimmy grabbed his arm. He sighed. "You know why."
"After all this time?"
Thomas reached over, placing his hand on top of Jimmy's
"It's never gone away, Jimmy. It never will." He moved his hand away as he smiled. "We do things for love that other people don't understand. It's just the way it is."
~~ End ~~