Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Downton Abbey
After an unusually cold and snowy winter, March had finally melted into April, breaking the dam that held back the spring flowers. It seemed as if one day everything at Downton was bleak, the next there was a riot of white and yellow and purple, soon followed by the promise of tulips that seemed to be fulfilled overnight.
None of that escaped Jimmy as he lit a cigarette and began walking the grounds on one of his breaks, but he found it difficult to care. His life had gone to shit. It was so bad he was even starting to miss Alfred because at least he had been an easy target. He knew exactly what Alfred's weakness was and it hadn't taken much to capitalise on it. At times he had a twinge of conscience when he thought about how he had treated Ivy, but that soon passed. If he had gotten what he wanted from her that would have been a bonus. As it turned out, she knew how to put him in his place and did so before he got his hand beyond her thigh. And even then he still hadn't been able to torment Alfred as much as he had hoped. Instead Alfred had managed to turn the tables, leaving Jimmy at Downton while he went on to better things. Ivy was gone too and even the prospect of a new kitchen maid didn't seem to help his mood.
He was left with Molesley. Mr. Molesley. Who the hell calls a footman Mister? I'm first footman and I'm supposed to address someone beneath me like he's Carson? He had discovered that trying to irritate Molesley like he had Alfred was about as much fun as trying to wind a broken clock – all effort and no result. Molesley just ignored him in his own hapless way, treating him as if he had seen it all before and from better people. Which he probably has.
Jimmy crushed his cigarette out with his heel and leant against a tree. Clocks. He always associated them with Thomas. Thomas fucking Barrow, I hate you. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and started walking back to the house, dragging his feet through the stones on the path like a bad-tempered child. Ever since that day at the seaside last year things had changed between them. It hadn't happened overnight, but he noticed that Thomas gradually tried to put distance between them. First he stopped playing cards except rarely, choosing to concentrate on reading the newspaper whenever Jimmy suggested a game. Then their smoking breaks together became fewer until now they both smoked alone. They still went to the pub occasionally, but Thomas seemed to want to be somewhere else.
Jimmy stopped as he entered the kitchen yard. I miss him. He's here but he might as well not be. It's so lonely with no one to talk to. Why won't he tell me what's wrong? "Nothing has changed, Jimmy, nothing at all." They both knew he was lying, but if Jimmy tried to press him he shut up or walked away.
"James, where have you been?"
Jimmy looked up to see Molesley hurrying toward him.
"On a break, Mol ... Mr. Molesley. I'm allowed those you know."
"Yes. No. That's not the point. Mr. Carson's looking for you. Mr. Barrow has taken ill."
"What? Thomas is sick? What's wrong?"
"I don't know. All I heard was a thump on the stairs and he was lying at the bottom when I got there."
"Jesus!" Jimmy almost knocked Molesley over as he ran past, pushing through the door and narrowly missing Mrs. Hughes as he leapt the steps down into the kitchen hallway.
"Careful, James. One injured member of staff is enough."
"Where is he, Mrs. Hughes?"
"If you mean Thomas, he's in my sitting room. He took a nasty fall, briefly knocked himself unconscious. We're waiting for Dr. Clarkson before ..."
Jimmy didn't wait for her to finish as he dodged around her.
"James, come back here. Mr. Carson ..."
"Mr. Carson can wait." Sod Carson. Does he think Downton is going to crumble around his ears just because I take another couple of minutes? He paused for a few seconds to calm himself before he opened the door into the sitting room. Thomas was in Mrs. Hughes armchair, resting his forehead in one hand, while the other rubbed at his shoulder. Jimmy took a step toward him then froze as he spotted the blood on his shirt.
"Th ... Thomas are you all right?"
When he looked up, the towel he was holding against his forehead fell away and Jimmy could see a large gash. He felt his stomach do a quick flip. Why did they leave him alone? He might have a concussion. Anything could have happened while he sat here.
"Never been better."
Jimmy snorted a laugh of relief at his tone.
"What the hell happened?" Jimmy asked as he took the towel and gently held it to Thomas's head .
"I have no idea. One minute I felt a bit dizzy as I was walking down the stairs and the next I was looking up into Molesley's face. Do you know how scary that is?"
"I'm sure a fall like that would scare anyone."
"No, I mean Molesley's face up close."
This time Jimmy's laugh caught in his throat. He could have been really hurt. Maybe died. He circled behind Thomas still holding the towel.
"Everything else all right?"
"I hurt my shoulder, but I don't think it's bad."
"Here, you hold the towel and let me do that." Jimmy moved Thomas's hand away and began working at his shoulder, taking care to be gentle.
"Ah," Thomas murmured, "that feels good."
Jimmy didn't speak for a moment, then decided to ask once again, thinking - hoping - that maybe since this was the closest they had been in months Thomas would let his guard down. He'll see right through me, of course, but don't I give a damn if he thinks it's selfish.
"I'm still wondering why ..."
The door flew open and Carson strode in.
"James, why are you here? I need you upstairs."
"Can't you get Mr. Molesley?"
"Are you trying to tell me what to do?" Carson asked, drawing himself up to his full height, towering over both Jimmy and Thomas.
"No. It's just ..."
"I asked him to stay, Mr. Carson," Thomas interrupted. "Just until Dr. Clarkson arrives. I was feeling dizzy again and thought I might need help."
"I see." Carson wasn't that easily fooled, but decided this once to let it pass. "Well, he just arrived so I suggest, James, you should go and let him take care of Thomas."
Jimmy nodded and headed for the door, only to be stopped by Carson's hand on his arm. "We'll speak later about your impertinence."
"Yes, Mr. Carson," Jimmy mumbled, then spoke more clearly. "I'm sorry."
"Yes, you always seem to be sorry, James. Now, upstairs to the library, please. The family decided to have tea and sandwiches there." He said it as if he couldn't fathom why. After Jimmy left, he was about to reproach Thomas, then reconsidered. "I'll send Dr. Clarkson down."
Jimmy fidgeted as he stood at the back of the room by the sandwich table trying to determine why he was needed. Molesley had taken care of whatever the family wanted before he even got there and now he had nothing to do. I'm as about as useful as that bloody vase. I could have stayed with Thomas, heard what Clarkson had to say. A small smile twitched at the corners of his mouth. Right, imagine Carson allowing that. Lady Rose's voice surprised him.
"James, I understand Barrow is unwell."
"Uh ... yes, M'Lady."
"What's this?" Lord Grantham, who had overheard Lady Rose's comment, asked. "Nothing serious, I trust."
"I don't believe so, M'Lord," Jimmy answered. "Dr. Clarkson is with him now." As if any of you really care.
"Well, I'm sure Carson will keep us informed."
The family, all but Lady Rose, returned to their conversations. She got up and went to Jimmy.
"It isn't serious, is it James?"
Ever since the night in the yard when Jimmy had seen her in the maid's uniform, the two of them had established a strange bond - not friends, not even acquaintances - but she would often speak to him as if he weren't a servant. She appeared to others as a flighty, self-centred girl, but Jimmy had come to realise that she was much more astute than she was given credit for.
"I really don't know, M'Lady. He seemed much like his normal self when I left him, but only Dr. Clarkson will be able to tell."
Rose reached for a small plate and inspected the sandwiches.
"You're friends, aren't you?"
"Oh, do stop calling me 'M'Lady' when we're talking like this."
"Yes, M'L . . . Of course, if you wish."
"Yes, I wish," Rose sighed. She picked two small sandwiches and took a bite of one. "Good friends?"
"I like to think so." Something in Jimmy's voice must have betrayed him.
"And Barrow? What does he think?"
"I . . . I'm not sure. Not any longer anyway."
"You should find out."
"It's not that easy. Thom ... Mr. Barrow is very private."
Rose set her plate down and glanced over her shoulder. The rest of the family were oblivious to the two of them. She moved a little closer.
"Yes, I know that and I know why." She raised her hand when she saw Jimmy start to interrupt. "I'm no fool, James. People talk and I listen." She gave him a small smile. "Or I eavesdrop, if you prefer. There's really not much that's secret around here."
"I've asked him, but I never seem to get an answer." Jimmy began to get uncomfortable with the direction of their conversation Don't call me M'Lady or not, this is very strange.
"You're going about it the wrong way. Don't ask him, tell him. Tell him why he's your friend; tell him why you want him to be your friend. I'm going to bet you never have."
"Rose, dear," Lady Grantham called from the chesterfield. "Stop pestering James and join us."
As she walked away Jimmy realised what she had said made sense. "I would like it if we could be friends." He suddenly hit him that all the effort put into the friendship had been Thomas's. True to his word, Jimmy had "managed" to go along with it. And now, when he was pulling away, Jimmy had never once said how important Thomas was to him. He had said it to himself, gone over it in his mind, but he shouldn't be asking Thomas what was wrong, he should be telling him why it couldn't go wrong. Maybe I'm just afraid he'll misunderstand, just like the mess that led to the kiss. Or maybe I'm afraid if I start I'll say too much.