Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, AU, Angst
Title: The Tangled Web
This fits somewhat earlier in the Bexhill story. It can be read separately, but there is character crossover.
Jimmy took the stairs to the flat two at a time. When he reached the door he almost took it off its hinges in his hurry to get inside.
"Thomas, let me explain!"
The place was in darkness. Jimmy stopped mid-step as if considering that he might be in the wrong flat.
His voice quavered a little this time. He twisted on the floor lamp and made his way to the bedroom. The door was ajar so he could see that their bed was empty. Backing away he almost fell over the end table, catching himself on the arm of the chesterfield just in time before managing to stumble around the table and sit down. He buried his head in his hands.
What the hell have I done? How could I have been so stupid? I just need to explain; he’ll understand. He almost laughed out loud at that. How could he explain? How could Thomas understand when he didn't himself. Jesus, I've fucked up this time.
Their evening had started out just fine. They were having dinner at Alfred's restaurant, one of the nicest in London, and his wife Lois was joining them. Even better it wasn't costing them a penny. Before they went Thomas had commented that the fact that it was free was a good thing because there was no way they could afford it.
They had settled at their table, enjoying the wine while they looked at the menu when Jimmy looked up to speak to Thomas. It was then that he saw her … and she saw him. Please don’t come over, please don’t …. Of course that was exactly what she did, her companion in tow. Both Jimmy and Thomas stood
"Jimmy! What a surprise to see you here."
As she leant in to kiss his cheek she quite openly slid her hand down his chest to his waistband, sneaking it even lower until Jimmy grabbed it and held it. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Thomas's face darken and his eyes harden.
"Ah, Mrs. Anstruther, this is … uh, nice."
"Mrs. Anstruther? Really Jimmy why so formal. After all …"
"Thomas, this is Julia Anstruther," Jimmy broke in before she should finish her sentence and damn him eternally. She held out her hand palm down as if she were half-expecting Thomas to kiss it. Jimmy watched Thomas's mouth twitch into the hint of a sneer as he barely touched her.
"Mrs. … Julia, my flatmate Thomas Barrow."
"Your flatmate? My, my, Jimmy why have you been hiding him away?" Over her shoulder she waved vaguely in the direction of the man who stood behind her. "This is Clive," she announced, not bothering with a last name.
Lois merely sat there, completely ignored by everyone. Quickly sensing the tension, she didn't mind that in the slightest.
"Both of you, please sit down we'll only be here a moment," Julia said, although by her stance Thomas doubted that was going to be the case.
"So, Mrs. Anstruther," Thomas began as he took his seat, "how do you and Jimmy know one another. He's never spoken of you before." There was no mistaking the disdain in Thomas's voice, as if she were in fact not worth mentioning in the first place.
"Really?" she laughed lightly. "That is indeed shocking." She reached over and danced her fingers almost possessively along Jimmy's shoulder. "I didn’t realise that I made so little of an impression that he wouldn't want to tell you. Why we're old …"
Jimmy broke in once again before the hole he saw opening in front of him could swallow him up.
"Julia is the sister of the playwright whose work we're premiering next week. She spent quite a bit of time at the theatre in the last few months. Her brother insists that she be there."
Julia gave him an odd look, then spotting the way Jimmy kept glancing at Thomas she quickly put two and two together and decided to play along with the omission … for the moment.
"Yes, George is simply at a loss when I'm not around. Besides, someone has to keep him sober. Of course, there were other reasons." She smiled suggestively at Jimmy. "At least one very good reason as it turned out."
"Really?" Thomas asked. "And what might that be?"
"Julia," Jimmy interrupted desperately, but somehow knowing that it was likely too late anyway, "shouldn't you be going to your table. You are blocking the way a bit." As if to emphasise that, one of the waiters nearly stumbled on a chair leg as he tried to skirt around her.
"Of course, my dear. How inconsiderate of me. Very nice to meet you Mr. Barrow. And to see you, Jimmy."
Jimmy held his breath as she left. Thank God.
Then she stopped and turned back. The cruelty in her eyes ensured that Jimmy was damned before she opened her mouth.
"It's been so wonderful to renew our acquaintance over the last little while after so many years. And I did enjoy our little get-together last Wednesday evening. We must do it again next week, don't you agree?" She smiled pointedly at Thomas and sauntered away, laughing with Clive as if nothing had happened.
Jimmy sat absolutely still as silence settled around the table. She bloody didn't have to. He glanced quickly across to Lois, who seemed dumbstruck, and then turned hesitatingly to Thomas. Thomas just nodded, never taking his eyes off him as he picked up his glass and took a sip of wine before setting it carefully back on the table.
"Thomas, I … uh." Jimmy's voice faded when Thomas shook his head.
"Old friends are you? Now it really is strange that I haven't heard you mention her before."
"It … it was twenty years ago, before you came to London."
"I see," Thomas looked at his hands which gripped the edge of the table. "And last Wednesday, Jimmy. You were working late, weren't you?"
Jimmy cringed as Thomas looked up.
"I thought so. I mean that's what you said when you telephoned at the shop and told me you wouldn't be home for dinner; that something had come up, something to do with work, wasn't that it? You said I should go to the pub and get something for myself, your treat."
Thomas leant closer, his eyes still never leaving Jimmy.
"Now who would have thought that fucking someone was considered work in your business."
Lois exhaled a strangled sound as Thomas stood quietly.
"Lois, thank Alfred, but I can't stay for dinner after all. Something's come up. Sometimes that happens and can spoil things when you least expect it. Perhaps another time."
"Thomas, please," Jimmy began as he got to his feet.
Thomas seized Jimmy's shoulder and eased him gently back into the chair.
"No, Jimmy, you should stay. In fact I insist you stay. It wouldn't be gentlemanly to leave a lady sitting here at the table all by herself, now would it? What would Alfred think if we both abandoned her?"
"All right." Jimmy's voice was barely audible. "I'll see you at home then?"
The only answer he got was Thomas's back.
Jimmy raised his head from his hands and stared at the door. Thomas had never cheated on him; he was sure of that. It was true what he said about Julia. They were together for a short time before Jimmy met Thomas again. It had been a wild, whirlwind affair. He was lonely, and if he had to admit it, a bit scared that he was not going to find a decent job, let alone succeed in London. She was Julia Garwood then, beautiful, charming when she wanted to be, vicious when she felt like it, but she made him feel like someone cared. It hadn't lasted more than a couple of months. Julia tired of him and, to be honest, he wasn't all that sad when they parted, but not before he had made friends with some of her circle and together they moved on. He marvelled that they hadn't seen one another until she showed up with her brother at the theatre a few months ago.
But none of that excused what he had done last week. None of that excused that he had betrayed Thomas; not only betrayed him but lied to him, first by keeping the secret and then to his face tonight. What had happened last week was a mistake that he swore never to repeat; he supposed he thought that what Thomas didn't know couldn't hurt him … or them. And despite everything, despite how it seemed both then and tonight, he never wanted to hurt Thomas.
Now, as he leant back into the cushions to wait for Thomas, he wasn't sure what would happen. His thoughts about trying to explain were now long gone. How can you explain something like this? Thomas would want to know why, but he didn't know what to tell him when he didn't understand himself. It was sex, plain and simple, there was nothing beyond the physical, but that should never have happened. Maybe he wanted to feel young again, relive the time when Julia made everything so exciting, so new, recapture some of the wonder he felt with his first affair.
But he had made matters worse, if that were possible, by trying to lie his way out of the fix he had put himself in. I should have trusted him; trusted that he could forgive me. I should have owned up knowing Julia; owned up to … But how could he have done that in public, in the middle of a restaurant? Maybe all I had to say was 'I'll tell you when we get home.' Maybe it was a simple as all that. But then when have I ever done things the simple way?
Jimmy sighed and closed his eyes. He knew that Thomas loved him and that he loved Thomas, no matter how everything seemed, but now he wasn't sure if he had damaged that love beyond repair.