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 eased his eyes open and squinted into the morning light. Shifting on the chesterfield so he could see the mantle clock, he groaned when his neck complained about how he had slept the night. Jesus, 7:30! He jumped up and immediately regretted it when his head started to swim. Steadying himself he made his way to the bathroom, glancing into the bedroom as he passed. Still no Thomas.
He had half an hour to get to work and the tube took almost that on a good day. As he splashed water on his face and ran his fingers through his hair, he knew he was going to be late. Hurrying into the bedroom he changed his shirt and trousers, worrying all the time about where Thomas had got to. They had fought before – although he knew this wasn't the same by any means – but neither of them had ever stayed away overnight. Thomas would go for a long walk to cool down; he on the other hand would usually go to the pub if it was open, not to drink necessarily, but more to sulk. Still each of them always came back. Sometimes they settled it right then and there, sometimes it wasn't until the next morning, but they always worked things out.
As he ran down the street to toward the tube station, he knew that this time it wasn't going to be as easy as all that.
He arrived about fifteen minutes late, just as Joseph Lawson, his stage manager, had wrapped up what had to be done that day. He tried to sneak in quietly, but didn't succeed.
"Ah, Jimmy, nice of you to join us."
"Sorry, Mr. Lawson, I overslept."
"That's not like you. Seems I can always count on you to be here before anyone else."
"I had a bit of a rough night."
"Not well then? I mean you look like shit, frankly."
"I'll be dandy, honestly. Just need to get to work."
"Fine, see David about what you're doing this morning. You can take over from him once you know what's going on."
Jimmy made his way over to where some of the crew were standing and after the usual 'good mornings' started reviewing the tasks for the day. Jimmy liked to keep on Lawson's good side. If he wanted to go beyond first assistant stage manager, he needed to learn more and the only way to learn was from someone who was already at the top of the job. Fortunately Lawson had taken a shine to him – being a flatterer always helped - and was more than willing to share when he had the chance.
Jimmy spent the morning trying not to think about Thomas, but not succeeding very well. His mind would wander unexpectedly and he found himself worrying about where he was. He took time on his tea break to call the shop, but his assistant told him that Thomas had telephoned earlier and just said he wouldn't be in. That made him worry even more. Thomas could have been at death's door and he still would have dragged himself into work.
He was just about to go for lunch, when Lawson cauth up to him.
"Jimmy, there's a telephone call for you."
There was a slight sound of disapproval in his voice since personal calls were discouraged, but at this point Jimmy couldn't have cared less.
"Thomas, where are you?" Jimmy almost demanded.
"It's Alex Garrison, Jimmy."
"Alex? What …?"
"Thomas is here."
Jimmy was at a loss for words for a few seconds. Why would he be at Alex's?
"Thank God. I'm just going to lunch. Keep him there, please, I should only be fifteen minutes."
"Jimmy, wait. It's summer. We're in Bexhill, remember."
"Thomas is in Bexhill? How the hell …?"
"A very good question. He showed up last night around ten, he must have caught the last train from London. All I could get out of him after he asked if it was all right to stay the night was 'the little bastard'. I decided it was better not to pursue that. What did you do?"
"You really don't want to know."
Jimmy looked quickly at his watch and wondered when the next train was.
"You can catch the one o'clock if you hurry," Alex answered his unasked question.
"Right. Make sure he doesn't go anywhere."
"Oh, he won't. At least not until that half bottle of whiskey he took a few minutes ago is gone."
Jimmy set the receiver down without saying goodbye and went in search of Lawson.
"Mr. Lawson, I need to take the afternoon off."
"You do now, do you. And why would that be?"
"It's my flatmate Thomas. He's taken ill while he was away and I need to go get him."
"There's no one else?" Lawson asked grumpily.
"No, he doesn't have anyone else."
The words hit Jimmy like a blow to the stomach. He doesn't have anyone else. It was true. Thomas didn't have much of a family left - his nephew Stephen had moved to America after the war and no one had heard from his other nephew in years - and he never made that many friends. Jimmy knew Alex Garrison would qualify, even though he was Jimmy's friend first, and Alfred. There were a few others, but they were more acquaintances than real friends. Jimmy realised that he too had narrowed his friendships to only a handful, as if when he had Thomas he didn't need many other people.
"Are you listening to me, Jimmy?" Lawson demanded not unkindly.
"Sorry, no I really wasn't. I'm worried about him."
"That's obvious. I said you could go. We'll manage for the rest of the day."
"Thank you." Relief washed over him.
"You'll be back tomorrow?"
"Yes, first thing." I hope.
The train from London seemed to stop at every little village on the way. By the time Jimmy arrived in Bexhill it was almost 3 o'clock. As he walked from the station to Alex's place he tried to work out what he was going to say. Eventually he realised it was futile because he had no idea how Thomas was going to react to seeing him. He prepared himself to try to keep quiet and say as little as he could until Thomas gave him an opening. He deserved anything he was willing to dish out.
Alex met him at the door.
"Is he still here? You didn't tell him I was coming did you?"
"That bad? Christ, Jimmy, I don't know what you did, but he's really hurt."
"I know,' Jimmy answered guiltily. "Where is he?"
"Last time Maureen checked he was on the beach, waving around the bottle of whiskey, and talking to the gulls. Thank heavens we don't have any neighbours."
Maureen appeared behind Alex.
"Do you want me to come with you?"
"No, but thanks. I need to do this alone. He needs me to do this alone."
"All right. I'm making something to eat for us all. Bring him back here when the storm blows over."
Jimmy could hear Thomas before he could see him.
"Get the fuck away from me! I'm not a goddam fish."
Jimmy rounded the last turn in time to see Thomas throw his bottle at the birds, sending then scurrying. It overshot and landed in the sea, sinking into the shallow water. Thomas, still wearing his shoes, waded in after it, getting on his hands and knees to search for it.
"Ha! There is a God," he shouted as pulled the unbroken bottle up from the bottom and clutched it to his chest. As he turned he caught sight of Jimmy and froze for a few seconds.
Jimmy ducked instinctively as the bottle sailed wide of his head, breaking on a rock behind him.
"Now look what you've done, you little bastard," Thomas yelled indistinctly. "You made me break it."
Then as if suddenly deflated he sank to his knees in the water, mumbling. "No, I didn't break it. You broke it. You broke everything."
Jimmy kicked off his shoes and ran towards him, stumbling over the stones that littered his path. He dropped to his knees in front of Thomas and held out his arms. Thomas shook his head and struggled to his feet, trying to push past him but instead fell face forward into the sea when an uexpected wave hit him. Jimmy jumped up and pulled him upright.
"Leave me alone, Jimmy." Thomas coughed out sea water as he struggled to free himself but Jimmy held him tightly under the arms.
"You're a cheating, little bastard, you know."
"Yes, I know. I'm a cheating bastard. And I don't deserve you."
"Bloody right," Thomas choked out between chattering teeth. "I'm cold."
"Then let's get out of this water before we both freeze."
Together they made it to shore where they dropped onto the soft sand.
"I'm still cold," Thomas complained as he began to shiver.
Jimmy stood up, took off his jacket, and draped it around his shoulders, then sat down cross-legged in front of him.
"A bit." Thomas eyed him warily. "Don't try humour me, Jimmy. I'm not that drunk." He looked down at his hands which he had clasped around his knees. "I don't fucking like being humoured."
"Don't you think I know that Thomas? I wasn't humouring you, just stating what we both know. I am a cheating bastard and I don't deserve you. You have every right to hate me because not only am I all that, but I lied to you."
"At least now you admit it, but then again the evidence has already proven it, hasn't it? No use trying to hide it now."
They were both quiet for a moment before Thomas spoke.
"What possessed you, Jimmy? Was fucking her then lying about it really worth throwing away twenty years?"
Jimmy was suddenly gripped by fear. Was Thomas saying they were through?
"I don't know why. I hated what happened as soon as it was over. Do you really think that I would be able to come home and say, 'Guess who I fucked today?' Because that's what it would have amounted to. I couldn't stand the thought that you would hate me like you do now, not just for doing it, but for hurting you."
"That's your excuse?"
"I'm not trying to look for an excuse. What I'm saying is that I don't have an excuse. I did it and lied about it. Both of those were mistakes that I regret more than you can know, but I can't undo either of them. I'll apologise over and over again and I'll mean it, but it will all still have happened."
"How many others?"
"How many other mistakes like this?"
"You think I …? You think this has happened before?"
"Never, Thomas. I know I can't make you believe me, I know …"
Jimmy stopped mid-sentence to wipe at the tears that began to roll down his cheeks.
"Never. And never again. Please don't leave me. Tell me what I have to do so you won't leave me."
Thomas reached over to take his hands.
"Don't cry. You know I can't stand it when you cry."
The truth was Thomas had only seen Jimmy cry twice in the last twenty years and it unnerved him because it meant this was Jimmy at his most vulnerable, stripped of any pretense.
"I'm not sure I can forgive you."
"I'm not asking you to." Jimmy sniffed and wiped at his eyes with his wet shirt sleeve. "Maybe one day you will, but I'll never ask you to. All I want is for us to have another chance, for you to give me another chance. Please don't let this selfish, stupid thing I've done kill off what we have"
Thomas sighed. He would probably never understand what made Jimmy do this, and he suspected Jimmy wasn't all that sure himself, but despite that he did know that Jimmy loved him. Twenty years had taught him that. He struggled to his feet bringing Jimmy with him.
"And Julia Anstruther?"
"I'll put her in her place as soon as I see her. I told her that night it never should have happened and she just shrugged and laughed as if she knew it all along. I'm sure she completely understood what she was doing last evening; always was a bit of a manipulative, vindictive bitch."
They started down the path toward the house. Jimmy scooped up his shoes as they passed them.
"I'm going to have to apologise to Alex and Maureen, aren't I?" Thomas asked.
"Hmmm. And we're going to need borrow dry clothes. My shoes are ruined."
They walked in silence until they were within steps of the front door.
"You're still a little bastard, Jimmy."
~~~ End ~~~