Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Downton Abbey
Title: Letters From America
Length: 3 chapters
They're just words on a page, but Jimmy is confused just the same.
Jimmy couldn't believe his luck when Mr. Carson announced that family was going to have an early night and that the footmen wouldn't be needed after they had served at dinner. But he wasn't so happy when he heard that Thomas would have to stay behind until everyone had gone up. From the look on Thomas's face he could tell that wasn't sitting well with him either. He stopped as they passed in the hallway on his way upstairs with the pudding.
"Rotten luck. I thought maybe we would both get away early."
"Well, as you so neatly pointed out earlier - the trials of being an under-butler. Still I expect I won't be as late as most nights. Good thing too because I'm tired."
"I can still come by tonight, though? I mean so you can tell me about New York," Jimmy asked anxiously.
"Of course. I just want to get my feet up. You know me, never too tired to talk."
"Good." Jimmy flashed him his best smile. "Because I ..."
"James," Mrs. Patmore called from the kitchen doorway, "that pudding isn't going to eat itself."
"Right. Sorry Mrs. Patmore."
She shook her head as she watched him hurry down the hallway, then looked up at Thomas as he passed her.
"That boy is at sixes and sevens today. It was far worse when you were away though."
"Really? How so?" The idea that his absence had somehow upset Jimmy was intriguing.
"Half the time he seemed to be walking around in a dream and the other half scowling at the maids or the hall boys. He made Ivy cry once and I almost boxed his ears. A couple of times I thought Mr. Carson was going to pick him up by the shoulders and give him a good shake." She started to leave, but stopped, turning back to him. "The funny thing was when he got your letter it changed everything. He became Mr. Merry Sunshine for a while. What on earth did you say to him?"
Thomas couldn't immediately think of what he had put in the letter. "Honestly, I don't remember. Probably nothing of consequence."
"Well," she shrugged as she wiped her hands on her apron, "it was as if he was pining for you because it made the difference."
Really? "Oh, I highly doubt that Mrs. Patmore."
She gave him an odd look.
"No," she agreed, "I suppose not, not after ..." She caught herself just as she was about to stray into unwelcome territory. "Things to do. I can't stand about chin-wagging." She shambled away, leaving Thomas to wonder as he mounted the stairs about what he had written.
It finally occurred to him as he was approaching the library. He had told Jimmy he was sorry he wasn't there so he could share the adventure. Did I really say that? Adventure? A bit strong. Still it would have been nice for both of us. And then I come back and don't tell him anything. Some friend I am. Well, I'll correct that tonight. Just need to be careful about some of the things. The image of Stuart standing naked in the moonlight by an open window flashed into his mind. Very careful. He entered the library taking his place near the rear. Still, I wonder why he didn't say anything before today. Carson caught his eye, motioning that he was to check everyone's glasses and he began his circuit of the room.
Jimmy took off his jacket and vest, hanging them in the wardrobe, then undid his tie, letting it hang loosely around his neck. I wonder what I should wear? The thought startled him. We usually just sit in our undershirts and trousers why would tonight be any different? He looked in the mirror, then picked up one of his brushes to push his hair back. Damn, it still wants to fall down across my forehead. Maybe I need more pomade. Instead, he changed his mind and ran his fingers through the front, dragging the wave back to where it obviously wanted to be. Thomas can be the neat one for us both. Pulling off his shirt, he tossed it onto his bed and sat down in his chair to kick off his shoes. Stretching out his feet he wiggled his toes in relief. I know what Thomas means about needing to get his feet up.
Glancing around the room, he suddenly remembered the unopened bottle of whiskey he had bought a few weeks ago and the two glasses he had borrowed earlier in the day. They usually didn't have anything to drink the nights they got together - his birthday had been the last time - but he had decided that tonight he at least would need something. He also remembered that after a few drinks Thomas loosened up. That can only be a good thing tonight. Particularly if I want to know about Stuart. He stood up and went to his wardrobe, digging out the bottle from the back. And I most definitely want to know about him. He couldn't shake the unease that reading the letter had caused. It was foolish to think that he could be Thomas's only friend and it was something that had never occurred to him before, but somehow he felt threatened by this unknown relationship, desperately wanting to be assured of his importance.
He looked at the bottle, then broke the seal, pouring himself about half an inch of the whiskey. Just a small one, he thought as settled back into his chair and drained the glass. By the time Thomas rapped on his door to let him know he was up for the night, he had managed to down two more not-so-small ones.
"Just give me a couple of minutes, Jimmy, then come over."
"All right." But instead he didn't wait. Bottle and glasses in hand he followed almost immediately, entering Thomas's room before he had a chance to close the door.
"Look what I brought," he announced, waving the bottle in the air as he placed the glasses on the side table next to Thomas's armchair. "I can sit here, right?" he asked, not waiting for an answer as he dropped down.
"Make yourself at home, I guess."
Jimmy grinned up at him.
"You're so hopsit .... hospitable. Let me return the favour," he offered, pouring two drinks and holding one out to him. Thomas took a sip before setting the glass down so he could get out of his livery.
"So what's the occasion?"
Jimmy watched as the layers of clothing came off and the suspenders dropped to his sides so he could get to his shirt.
"Nothing. Can't friends have a drink together?"
"Yes, but it appears you started without me."
"I can't help it," Jimmy spoke into his glass, "if you were busy with your under-butlering. Under-buttling?" Jimmy took a drink, then suddenly looked puzzled. "What do I do? Footmaning?"
Thomas laughed as picked up his glass and sat down on the bed, toeing off his shoes.
"Tonight let's just say you'll be entertaining."
"Good. Wouldn't want your friend to be boring would you." Jimmy settled back into the chair, eying Thomas over the rim of his glass. "And speaking of friends, what about New York and whatshisname?"
Thomas pursed his lips and frowned.
"There was more to New York than Stuart. Museums, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Broadway . You would like Broadway. We saw ..."
"Yeah, yeah. Things. Things aren't exciting. People and what people do are." Jimmy rested the glass against his chin. "So, Stuart. That's his name?"
"Yes. But I don't see ..."
"So what did you and Stuart do?"
Thomas looked confused. "I thought you wanted to hear about New York."
"I do. But he was in New York, right?"
"And you did things together."
"So if you tell me then you're telling me about New York." Jimmy smiled slightly, raising the glass so it wouldn't be too obvious. I handled that well.
Thomas set his glass down on his night stand and leant forward.
"What the hell is this all about, Jimmy?"
Or perhaps not. "New York. Your adventures in New York."
"Seems to me it's more about Stuart. Stuart and me. And that is really none of your business." He picked up his glass and drained it. "I can't see why you care. I mean the things I do are revolting aren't they?"
Thomas hadn't meant to say that. This was ground they had studiously avoided since they became friends. And yet deep down, Jimmy's reaction to the kiss, but more particularly the hell be put him through afterwards, still rankled, still hurt. He really didn't know what Jimmy thought, but he knew what others whispered when they didn't know he could hear, even those who tolerated him. So he assumed Jimmy felt the same way.
"I never said that. I would never say that about you." Jimmy looked like he was going to cry.
"What's going on then? It's about Stuart, but I don't understand ..."
"Are you going to leave?"
Thomas looked like he had been slapped.
"What? Leave? Leave where? Downton?"
"Yes." Jimmy paused as he took a deep breath. His voice when he spoke was like a hurt child's "No. Me. Leave me."
Thomas's face shifted to confusion. Leave him?
"Why would you think I'm going anywhere?"
Jimmy noticed he didn't exactly deny it.
"When he comes to London are you going to make plans to go away?"
"What? No. I'm not even ..." Thomas stopped as what Jimmy had said sank in. "How did you know Stuart's coming to London?"