Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Downton Abbey
Title: The Sunshine of Your Smile
This assumes that Matthew Crawley's death occurs some time after the end of Series 3
Jimmy watched as Alfred and Dr. Clarkson eased Thomas to his feet. Despite their care he groaned as he tried to straighten then gave up and leaned heavily on them both. He stumbled between the two of them as he began to walk. Jimmy could see the pain in his face as he got nearer, but when they left the darkness of the bridge he saw exactly how badly he had been hurt. He felt sick. Why the hell did he do that? I got myself into the mess, I should have been the one to face the consequences. He saw Thomas lift his eyes toward him as he passed. Don't blame me. I didn't ask you to get beat up. I could have handled it. He knew that was a lie, but lies always made him feel better.
He was ready to follow the others to the wagonette when he spotted Thomas's hat under the bridge lying close to the small stream. He remembered it was one he had only seen Thomas wear a couple of times so it had to be new. Can't let him lose that. As he went to get it he realised how inane that sounded. Thomas looked like a horse had stepped on his face and all he could think was to get his hat for him. He picked it up and dusted it off. The top had been dented and the brim bent out of shape. I'll see if I can do something with it. In the distance he heard Alfred call him.
"Jimmy! Hurry up we need to get moving."
When he reached the wagonette he found Thomas propped up against Alfred The only spare seat was right beside him and he was already taking up most of that. I can't sit beside him. Not now.
"Mr Branson, I can find my own way back. Thomas needs the room."
Isobel Crawley, who had been waiting for Dr. Clarkson, overheard.
"Why don't you come with us? That's alright, isn't it Richard?"
"Yes, of course." He reached up to touch Thomas's arm. "I'll see you back at Downton. Alfred and Mr. Branson will get you to your room."
Jimmy stood for a moment after the wagonette pulled away. Thomas hadn't looked at him or even acknowledged he was there. Probably finally realised it wasn't worth it. Mrs. Crawley's voice interrupted before he could take that thought further.
"Are you coming?"
"That was a terrible thing to happen. Lucky you found him."
As they walked, Jimmy played with brim of the hat.
"Is that Thomas's?"
"Yes. I thought I would try to save it. See if I can fix it for him."
"That's nice of you. Are you friends?"
"No. But no use having him lose his money and his hat." How do I come up with this nonsense?
"That's too bad. I understand Thomas doesn't have many friends. He could use one at the moment."
Jimmy's look must have asked the question for him.
"One hears things."
Perhaps one should mind one's own business.
"I don't mean to be rude Mrs. Crawley, but I don't think it's appropriate for me to discuss Mr. Barrow's personal life."
"Of course. But maybe later?"
"Isobel," Dr. Clarkson interrupted, "leave him alone. The day has been bad enough for him without your meddl... over concern."
The ride back to Downton passed quickly, particularly since Dr. Clarkson kept Mrs. Crawley occupied with idle chitchat, meaning that Jimmy could ignore them both. He worked at the hat a couple of times, but finally decided he would have to see what he could do when he got it to his room. When they stopped at Dr. Clarkson's so he could get his bag, Jimmy was pleased that Mrs. Crawley waited in silence. He was even more pleased when she was dropped at her own home. When they arrived at Downton he first checked with Mr. Carson to ensure he wasn't needed and then went up to the men's quarters.
As he passed Thomas's room he heard Dr. Clarkson's muffed voice. I'll check on him later. He pulled off his jacket and dropped it on the bed. Moving his chair closer to the window for better light, he inspected the hat more closely. He straightened the top as best he could but the fabric was creased and no amount of brushing would take it out. That really didn't matter since he could do nothing with the brim. No matter what he tried it dipped at one side. In frustration he threw it on the bed. I can't fix this. I can't fix Thomas. Any more than I can't fix myself. He felt his eyes begin to sting. I am not going to cry over a stupid hat. But he knew it had nothing to do with the hat.
He sat for a moment before grabbing the hat and going in search of Mr. Carson. He found him at his desk working on some papers. He tapped at the door and walked in without waiting.
"Mr Carson, can I ask a favour?"
"As long as it doesn't involve going to a fair."
Did he just make a joke? I didn't think he knew how. He held out the hat.
"Is there anything that can be done to repair this?"
Carson took it and turned it around in his hands.
"Perhaps. There is nothing I could do, but we could send it to London. They are very good. But it might be better to buy a new one."
He handed it back.
"Whose is it?"
"Thomas's. I picked it up after ...."
"Ah. Then you should ask him what the wants to do."
"I want to get it repaired."
"James, I told you ...."
"Yes, I know, but I want to try. I'll pay for it."
"You could be throwing your money away."
"Yes, I know," he repeated. It's my money.
Carson looked at him carefully. Why is he so insistent? It's Thomas's decision. Something about him had changed though. I do not need any more drama today.
"Fine. Leave it with me."
"Thank you. How long do you think?"
"A week or so. But I still want you to realise it may not work."
Carson stared at Jimmy's back as he left the room. He hoped that Mrs. Hughes would be able to tell him exactly what had happened later that evening. James barely tolerated Thomas for a year and now he wants to get his hat repaired? Am I missing something? I will never understand today's youth.
Jimmy smiled to himself as he climbed the stairs. The hat wasn't much, but it was a start. He paused outside Thomas's door. The only thing he heard was the faint creak of the bed followed by a soft groan as Thomas apparently shifted. He's awake. I wonder if I should go in? He was about to knock when Alfred reached the top of the landing.
"Don't," he warned in a low voice. "Dr. Clarkson wants him to rest. No one in until tomorrow except for meals."
Jimmy backed away.
"How is he?"
"He didn't say much. Don't think he could. Some of the cuts needed stitches and Clarkson suspects a couple of cracked ribs. He won't be back to work for a while."
Suddenly Jimmy had to get away. He brushed past Alfred, almost running down the hallway and onto the stairs. Twice he almost fell, only the banister saving him. He felt like he couldn't breathe and that his only hope was to get outside. He passed Daisy, then Mrs. Patmore, almost knocking a bowl out of her hands.
"James! Be careful. That's part of our dinner."
He ignored her, bursting through the door into the yard. Finally he stopped and bent over, hands on his knees, gasping.
Jesus. After the way I treated him and he ends up like that because of me. He stood up and leaned back against the wall. Why did he think I was worth it? Because I'm not. I'm bloody well not.
His breathing gradually returned to normal. He wasn't sure how he would ever face him. Tonight wouldn't have been a good idea anyway. I need time. His shirt had pulled up, bagging over his waistband. He tucked it back into his trousers and went back inside.
"Watch out, Daisy. The mad man returns, " Mrs. Patmore warned. Her look softened. "Are you alright, James? You look quite pale."
"Fine Mrs. Patmore. Just had a bit of a turn." He paused. "Who's taking Mr. Barrow his dinner?"
"Alfred. Unless you want to?"
"No. I just wanted to make sure he was going to get something."
He went back to his room and changed into his uniform. There was only Mr. Branson tonight, but Carson would want him ready just in case. As it turned out, he served Mr. Branson while Alfred only needed to get Thomas his dinner. That was fine as far as he was concerned; it meant he was able to keep himself occupied. After their own dinner he and Alfred played a couple of hands of cards, before they both tired of it. Alfred grabbed the paper and he went to the piano. He had no idea what he was playing when Ivy asked its name.
"Sorry. I was miles away."
Alfred looked up from his paper.
"I know that. We sang it during the war."
As Alfred began to hum, Jimmy picked up the melody.
"Start it at the beginning, Jimmy."
Jimmy obliged and Alfred's voice, somewhat shaky but in tune, drifted through the hall.
Dear face that holds so sweet a smile for me,
Were you not mine, how dark the world would be!
I know no light above that could replace
Love's radiant sunshine in your dear, dear face.
Give me your smile, the love-light in your eyes,
Life could not hold a fairer Paradise!
Give me the right to love you all the while
My world for ever, the sunshine of your smile!
Jimmy stopped abruptly and Alfred's voice trailed off.
"Don't stop, Jimmy," Ivy begged. "That's lovely."
"Sorry, Ivy, it's been quite a day and I'm tired. Maybe another time."
He got up from the piano and leaned over to whisper in Alfred's ear. "Who knew you could sing. Ivy liked it, so don't give up hope."
Alfred blushed and smiled as Jimmy patted him on the shoulder.
By the time he reached the stairs his legs had gone weak. The words of that song had never meant anything to him, but tonight he heard them differently. He heard them as if Thomas were speaking them to him. I'm imagining things. I couldn't possibly mean that much to him. Still it would be nice to have someone think that way about me again. His legs came back and he climbed the stairs. Once again he paused at Thomas's door, but Alfred's words came to mind and besides he knew it was too late to think about disturbing him. Tomorrow for sure.
When he finally got to sleep he dreamed of music that made everyone smile until it shattered into discord and the smiles into tears.
The next day he slipped away to see Thomas. He wasn't sure what he expected, but he knew he had to get things between them straightened out. Surprisingly it went well. It was as if Thomas sensed what he needed to say to make him comfortable by hiding away any idea that they could be anything more than friends. He knew it wasn't completely true when he saw Thomas's eyes sadden as he asked him to be his friend. Imagine having to ask someone that. No one should ever have to ask for friendship. Then when he said "Thank you, Jimmy. Thank you." he smiled. The sadness of the smile was enough to break his heart, but he couldn't let him see that so he kept the mood light by rambling on about nothing. Yet their conversation had left him far from satisfied.
Over the next week or so he made sure he visited Thomas every day, usually taking his lunch or dinner as an excuse. Most nights he would drop in for an hour before he went to bed. They would play cards or he would update Thomas on the latest household news. Sometimes they just sat in silence for a few minutes, Thomas smoking, as they were each lost in their own thoughts.
On the Saturday before Thomas was to return to work, the hat arrived from London. When he had a chance Jimmy took it to his room and lifted it from its box. He inspected it carefully; it looked like new. I'll give it to him tomorrow. He set it to one side on his desk.
Later that night Jimmy gathered his nerve. Despite the knot in his stomach that threatened to rise up and choke him, he had to find out.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Are you happy with this? What we have."
Thomas shifted uncomfortably in his chair, trying, but failing, to avoid Jimmy's eyes.
"It's what I asked for, isn't it?"
"You didn't answer my question. Are you happy?"
Thomas looked away, staring at something on the wall above Jimmy's shoulder. He watched as he nodded to himself before answering.
"Why are we going over this again? You already told me you couldn't give me what I wanted. As if that's something I didn't already guess.
"But that doesn't mean you still don't want it."
"I know I don't want to talk about this."
"But I do."
Thomas sighed as he leaned forward in his chair, clasping his knees. I'm going to ruin everything.
"It's not something that's gone away, if that's what you mean."
"So you still want to, uh, have sex with me?" Jimmy flushed.
Thomas laughed, shaking his head.
"If only it were that simple. I can take care of the sex part by myself." He watched as Jimmy's blush reddened, spreading to his throat. And yes, I usually think of you. "There's much more to it than that. I just don't know if I can explain it without frightening you away. And I couldn't stand that."
Jimmy reached out and put his hand on top of his.
"I think you should try."
Thomas pulled away. It was the first time Jimmy had touched him, other than to push him out of his room that night. And it felt so like Edward's that he wasn't sure if the beating had done something to him, somehow swapped the past with the present. He couldn't believe it when Jimmy took his hand again. I wasn't imagining it then.
"You see ..." His voice cracked as he tried to speak, then the words poured out. "That's what I want." He nodded at their hands. "I want you to touch me and to let me touch you. Do you know how long it's been since that's happened with anyone." He thought back to the Duke before the war. "And I want so much more. I'm lonely and scared. I want someone to tell me I matter. I want someone to say he loves me. No one has ever said that. You've helped just by being here, but in a way it's made it worse because I know none of that will ever happen. You asked if I was happy. Yes, happier than I've been in years. But that doesn't mean I can't want more." He slipped out of Jimmy's grasp and leaned back in his chair. "That I'll ever stop wanting more. Still, if it's to be just this, just friends, I hope you won't deny me that."
"And you never would have said anything?"
"No. What difference would it make."
Jimmy got up and was at the door before he turned.
"Don't be. I've learned to expect disappointment."
Jimmy was half way out, then stopped and looked back.
"You haven't frightened me away, though." He could almost see Thomas taking the words and sifting through them for the "but" before he broke into a broad smile. He'd never seen him like that. His smiles always seemed controlled, tinged with sadness and regret. 'Give me the right to love you all the while' That's all he's asking for I guess. Still it wasn't enough.
"Good night, Thomas."
Luckily It was a short walk to his room because by the time he reached the door whatever composure he had struggled to maintain was gone. What Thomas had said had cut it to ribbons. It isn't enough for either of us. Closing the door behind him, he sank to his knees. He had never kept a journal, but if he had he would have accused Thomas of reading it. The war had taken so much from him. He still wanted it all back, but didn't know how without having to relive every minute of the pain and loss.
He struggled to his feet and managed to make it to the chair at his desk. I can never give you what you want. Despite trying to deny it to himself, he knew full well what that was. He spent a full year fighting it off. Thomas thought he meant there could never be anything between them. But that wasn't it at all. I can never give you what you want because I can't bear the thought of losing someone again. That was why he had been so angry, why he had been so stupid as to let O'Brien manipulate him, why he never let Thomas try to explain. The kiss had broken the distance and isolation he had worked so hard to maintain. And yet now, after listening to Thomas tonight, he knew he had wanted it to be broken all along. Otherwise why had his words done this to him.
His hand touched the hatbox. Moving it to one side, he took a small piece of paper from his desk and quickly scribbled something on it. Not satisfied, he ripped it up and started again. Just a few words. When he finished he opened the box and lifted out the hat so he could place the note underneath it. He read it again just to be sure.
"Your smile shall light my life, till life is done."
It was from the last verse of the song; the verse he wouldn't let Alfred finish. Maybe it was too much, too soon. Maybe Thomas would hate him for waiting so long, for hurting him. But he had to try. He placed the hat on top and closed the box.
~~ End ~~
Lyrics from "The Sunshine of Your Smile" published in London in 1913.
John McCormack version - 1916