Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Downton Abbey
Title: Remnants of Love
Thomas woke with a start. It's broad daylight. What am I doing in bed? Then he remembered that he had decided to take a quick nap before heading to the church. He grabbed his pocket watch off the nightstand and tried to focus on the time. Perhaps I shouldn't have had that drink. Christ! Half an hour until the wedding and I still haven't washed and shaved. He jumped out of bed, stubbing his toe on the leg. Swearing under his breath he half-hopped, half-ran to the washbasin and soaped and rinsed his face. Ugh. Cold. That'll make shaving a right treat. He lathered up, quickly stropped the razor and managed to nick himself on the second pass. Right at the fucking collar line. Can this day get any worse?
As he finished up he realised it was going to get worse. Alfred getting married to one of the local girls – Martha? Mattie? Maggie? – he met somewhere. All the happy people had been almost unbearable for the last month or so as the time got closer. No wonder I drink. Bates and Anna cooing over the prospect. Carson and Mrs. Hughes beaming at Alfred like proud parents. Talk about where they were going to live. If Alfred would leave Downton so they could be a proper family. Well, if he leaves we'll need a new first footman. I'm not doing his work and mine. Maybe Sam's ready. He struggled into his suit, quickly tied his tie and checked himself in the mirror. I'm over forty and it's starting to show. His skin was a bit sallow, the dark circles under his eyes were becoming pronounced and his face looked puffy. The edges of his mouth seemed to turn down ever so slightly in a perpetual frown. There's not much to smile about.
He turned to get his watch from the nightstand and paused. Reaching down into the bottom drawer, he pulled out a bottle of scotch and took a quick swig, then a second. It was almost empty. That's the second one this month and it's only the last week of April. It's all this unbridled happiness. Gotta cope somehow. He decided he would cut back next week. Maybe. Capping the bottle, he stuffed it back in the drawer. He grabbed the watch and checked the time again. Ten minutes. Brides are always late, right? Taking the stairs two at a time he ran out the servants' entrance and toward the village.
In the distance he could see a few people still outside the church. At least I won't have to make a spectacle of myself by arriving with the bride. He slowed to a quick walk. Me and a bride arriving together. The closest I'll ever get to marriage. He had just reached the path leading to the church gate when his toe caught a raised paver, sending him sprawling and knocking the wind out of him. He lay there for a few seconds, then struggled to his knees. Suddenly someone grabbed him under the arms from behind and helped him to his feet.
“I don’t think you’re meant to crawl into the church,” Jimmy said, laughing as he dusted him off.
"What are you doing here?"
"The same as you. Alfred's wedding."
"You were invited?"
"No, I thought I'd crash it for the food. Of course I was invited. We kept in touch."
You kept in touch with him, but not me?
Look, we can talk later. That's the bride driving up.
He grabbed Thomas by the arm and hurried him up the path. He's been drinking. That's not like Thomas. They took seats in the last row and had just settled down when they had to rise again for the bride.
Jimmy leaned in and whispered to Thomas.
"She's pretty. How did the old beanpole manage that?"
Thomas shrugged. He was still couldn't believe that Jimmy had only written a few times after he left eight years before but had obviously managed to write Alfred. I wonder why Alfred never said? He was getting a headache. The ceremony seemed to drag on forever. Jimmy whispered something occasionally, but he just ignored him. Finally Alfred and Matilda – so that's her name – came down the aisle together, holding hands and smiling, The church emptied to wait for them as they had their photos taken.
Thomas tried to escape Jimmy, but failed.
"Are you going to the reception? It's in the church hall. I heard Mrs. Patmore did everything."
Thomas spotted Mrs. Hughes heading their way
"James. It's been a long time. How have you been?"
He took the opportunity to slip away, despite Jimmy's attempt to hold on to his arm.
"I'm going for a smoke. I'll see you later." If I don't get away I'm going to punch you in the face.
When he got to church gate he leaned against it for support. Eight bloody years and hardly a word. Letters returned unopened. Now he shows up and acts like it was yesterday. I don't need this. He pulled a cigarette from its pack and tried, without success, to steady his hands long enough to light it.
Sam, the second footman, held out a lit match.
"Thanks. Couldn't get the damn lighter to work."
He nodded, but Thomas could tell he knew better. Sam was one of the few people he bothered with. He was beneath him in rank, but they still got along, probably better than he did with Alfred. Since they both smoked they often ended up in the yard together. Smoking led to talking, talking led to sharing and then over the last couple of years to a friendship of sorts. He wondered why Sam put up with him. I'm really not all that pleasant.
"I didn't see you at the wedding."
"I was near the front. That's what happens when you arrive on time." He winked at Thomas as he sat down on the low wall beside the gate. "Who's that you're with? He's not from Downton."
"Jimmy. He used to be."
"Jimmy Kent? You've mentioned him."
I have? Why would I tell Sam about him.
"Yeah. He was first footman for a few years."
Sam tilted his head back and watched the smoke drift away.
"What? What do you mean?"
Sam turned his head to look at him.
"You think I don't know? That I wasn't warned about you day one?"
Thomas blinked at him, at first unable to put together the words to answer. Do I have no secrets? He finally found his tongue.
"I guess I was foolish to think that some well-intentioned asshole wouldn't make sure you were aware of the monster so you could avoid him."
"I didn't though, did I?"
"No. I'll give you that. But why bring it up now?"
"Don't know. Just a feeling. Maybe I'm psychic."
"Hardly. Maybe once I thought there could have been, but we're not even friends now. Haven't heard from him in years."
"Okay, so I'm not psychic. Still ...." He stubbed out his cigarette and hopped off the wall. "There's something wrong. I can see it, so can others. Today I can even smell it. You haven't talked to me about it and maybe I'm not a good enough friend for you to want to. The point is you think no one cares, but you're wrong. Maybe this Jimmy is the one person who can get through to you."
He took Thomas's arm.
"Give him a chance."
"I don't think I can. He ...."
Sam looked at him expectantly, but he didn't continue.
"He hurt you and you don't think you can forgive him."
Thomas's eyes widened in surprise. How does he know that?
"He came today knowing full well you would be here. He sat with you in the church. And I could tell he didn't want you to leave when Mrs. Hughes showed up."
He let go of Thomas's arm and stepped away.
"I don't need to be psychic to see he wants to talk. And you bloody well need someone to talk to."
"But after eight years?"
"You of all people should know we all have reasons for doing things. And they're not always good ones, even though we may think they are."
Thomas thought back to his first kiss with Jimmy. Surely to God he doesn't know about that too.
"Maybe he thinks it's time to face the choices he's made. Hell, Thomas, what have you got to lose?"
He stared into Thomas's face but couldn't tell if he had gotten through to him.
"Anyway, I'll see you at the reception. You and Jimmy come sit with me if you like."
As he watched him leave, he saw Jimmy coming down the path. Sam stopped him and they spoke briefly. Christ, Sam, mind your own business. Sam moved on but Jimmy stood for a moment as if trying to decide whether or not to turn around and follow him back to the church. Jimmy, don't. I want to know why. He breathed a sigh of relief when he continued toward him. At least I think I want to know why.
- to be continued -