Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Downton Abbey
Title: Opportunity

Carson's announcement at breakfast of Lady Anstruther's arrival that day took Thomas by surprise, but that almost immediately turned to vague foreboding when he saw Jimmy break into a broad smile. Surely he didn't know. He would have said something. Yet he knew that wasn't necessarily true. Although he and Jimmy had fallen into an easy familiarity, they weren't as close as he had hoped. He almost laughed when he thought of the things that he had hoped for from Jimmy. If he couldn't have love then he would take friendship, but he couldn't help but feel even that seemed to have eluded him in some way.

As they stood from breakfast, Thomas caught Jimmy's eye and nodded toward the kitchen yard.

"Join me for a smoke, Jimmy?"

"I'd like that, Mr. Barrow."

Thomas lit his cigarette then held out the flame to Jimmy.

"So," Thomas asked on a cloud of smoke, "did you know about Lady Anstruther?"

"No. How would I? I'm just a bloody footman."

"Yes, but a footman who sent her a Valentine's card. Pretty forward if you ask me. "

"It were a lark. She wasn't ever going to write me or anything."

"And yet, here she is."

"Look, Thomas, don't be crazy. Me somehow convincing her to visit Downton? " He chuckled. "If I'm that good I've been wasting my time here."

Thomas realised he was right and yet the foreboding remained.

"It's just coincidence I guess."

"Of course it is, but all the same it will be nice to see her again. We got on very well. Or at least as well as a servant and someone like her can. You'll see. She's a bit of a free spirit. I'll wager she could give Lady Rose a run for the money in that department." He smiled at Thomas as he flicked his still-burning cigarette into the distance. "I'm going in before Carson comes hunting me."

"I'll be along in a minute." Thomas watched Jimmy as he crossed the yard toward the door. Imagine getting along with your employer. I have a hard enough time getting along with anyone let alone someone like the Crawleys. He stubbed out his cigarette and followed after Jimmy, pushing his concerns about Lady Anstruther to the back of his mind.

Lady Anstruther arrived shortly before noon. She was much younger and much better looking than Thomas had expected. He supposed that was because when he thought "Dowager" he thought of old lady Grantham. As she was about to enter the house after the family introductions were complete, her eyes settled on Jimmy and the hint of a smile edged at her lips as she stopped.

"Jimmy, you were right."

Thomas could hardly believe his ears. Out of the corner of his eye he saw that Carson looked like he was going to keel over with shock at hearing her address a servant so familiarly in front of everyone.

"I was M'lady?" The confusion was evident in Jimmy's voice.

"Yes. I didn't like France at all. Lovely place to visit though." She gave a small laugh. "So here I am back again." As she reached out and touched Jimmy's arm, Thomas wasn't sure if he heard or imagined a collective gasp of surprise. "It is nice to see you." And with that she turned toward the door and continued on her way.

As the servants dispersed, Thomas joined Jimmy and Molesley as they went to collect the luggage.

"Bloody hell, Jimmy, she nearly killed Carson you know. I can almost hear him now - What is this world coming to?"

Jimmy laughed and blushed as he grabbed two of the suitcases. "I told you she was different, but that was unusual even for her."

"Yes, but you mean she asked your opinion about France in the first place? Thomas, forgetting himself, grabbed one of the bags. "Why? You'd only been there during the war."

"I told her that, but it was when I said I wouldn't be going with her. I just thought that it was too different from what she was used to and told her so." They climbed the stairs behind Molesley. "I have no idea why she didn't just ask one of her friends. She's just odd, but in a good way."

Later that night when the staff had finished their dinner, Jimmy and Thomas were taking advantage of a lull to play a hand of cards when Carson appeared at the servants' hall door.

"James, Lady Anstruther has asked to see you."


"No, James, I made that up." Carson glared at him. "Of course 'really'. Why would that surprise you? After all, you appear to be a favourite of some sort. She's in the library."

Thomas retook his seat after Jimmy and Carson left, grabbing the cards and nervously shuffling them. He was sure he knew what Lady Anstruther wanted, but he hoped he was wrong. Throwing the cards to one side, he moved to the rocking chair. He always found its motion comforting and had come to look on it as his chair; surprisingly the other servants seemed to agree. But tonight it wasn't doing him much good. It seemed like hours before Jimmy returned looking more than a bit pleased.

"She wants me to come back."

Thomas stopped rocking. It wasn't as if this was unexpected, but now he was faced with the reality.

"I see. As what?"

"Footman," Jimmy replied as he took a seat at the table.

"So you would go from being a footman here to being one with her." Thomas shrugged. "I'm not sure what the point would be."

"First, it's more money, but what matters most is it's an opportunity, Thomas." Jimmy's voice sounded if not angry then hurt. "Something I don't have here. I thought you would be happy for me."

"An opportunity?"

"Definitely. The butler's getting on and she said she expected me to take over in a few years."

"And what about all your plans? Getting out of service, travelling, going to America?"

"They were just dreams, Thomas. Something to hope for. Deep down I never really thought they would happen." Jimmy sighed. "I'm a footman, Thomas, before that I was a hall boy. Being in service, as much as I may hate it at times, is what I do. It's what I know."

"You've given up then."

Jimmy stood up.

"Look who's talking. What happened to you, Thomas? You had plans too, some much like mine I know. And yet here you sit, rocking away, complacent with your lot in life." He shook his head as if trying to clear it. "You know what, Thomas? You can't criticise me. You're a fucking under butler and the best you can hope for is being a butler. Why is that all right for you but wrong for me?"

Jimmy headed angrily toward the door, but stopped and turned back.

"You never asked, you know."

"Asked what?" Thomas's words shook a little.

"If I were going."

"And are you?"

"I asked her to give me until tomorrow, but I am. There's nothing to keep me here, is there?" Jimmy looked into Thomas's eyes for a moment, waiting for a reply. Thomas just shook his head. "I'm glad you agree. But you know Thomas, I didn't expect this from someone who is my friend. You should have congratulated me, not tried to make me feel like a failure."

After Jimmy left Thomas sank his face into his hands, realising that the only thing he could have said was the one thing he was afraid to say. There's me, Jimmy. There's me. It was foolish not to tell him; he was leaving anyway. But while it wouldn't have changed anything, it might have made things worse, dredging up hurt and memories that they both wanted forgotten. And Thomas never wanted to hurt Jimmy again. I didn't do a very good job of that tonight, did I. As it was he could salvage their friendship - no matter that he may have doubted it, he knew now that Jimmy felt they were friends - by apologising later that night because he knew he wanted Jimmy to be happy even if he couldn't be. They would part on good terms and his life would go on. It was just that without Jimmy he wasn't sure if it would matter as much anymore. He settled back in his chair and began to rock again.

~~ End ~~
Opportunity or missed opportunity? What answer was Jimmy looking for from Thomas? Did Thomas misread the situation entirely? What happened later that night?

Sadly we'll never know.