Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Downton Abbey
Title: Things Unsaid
Thomas and Jimmy venture into a conversation neither want.
After closing the door to his room behind him Thomas made his way unsteadily to his armchair. He sank into it and stared blankly at the wall for a few seconds before burying his face in his hands. Today had been one of the worst of his life; a life where a terrible day wasn't that unusual. Most of it had been fine, but then the announcement came when they sat down for dinner.
"Quiet, please," Carson requested.
The chatter stopped as all eyes turned to him.
"I just want to inform you that James will be leaving us in two weeks to take another position. I'm sure we all wish him well."
For a moment Thomas wasn't sure what to think. As everyone started congratulating Jimmy, he sat there in silence, listening.
"Where are you going?" Alfred asked.
"Back to Lady Anstruther. Guaranteed to be butler within a year. Mr. Shelby is retiring."
"And she wants you?" Alfred asked before he realised how it sounded. "I mean ... Why not an experienced butler?"
"That," Jimmy laughed as Alfred turned bright red, "would be telling."
"Have you been thinking of this for a while?" Anna asked from across the table.
"Not this in particular, but I like to keep my options open and when I heard she had returned from France I decided to get in touch. You never know when an opportunity might come up."
"Ah, that explains the Valentine's cards for the last couple of years."
Jimmy just nodded before he turned to talk to Ivy who was standing behind him.
"You'll miss him, Thomas." Mrs. Hughes words made Thomas realise he had been sitting without saying a word much longer than he had intended.
"Yes, I suppose I will." He forced his face into its usual complacent mask as he turned to her. "But he has to move on if he wants to get ahead. There's not much for him here at Downton." And now there won't be much for me either. A sideways glance told him that Jimmy was now looking at him, expecting him to say something. He shifted in his chair so their eyes met.
"Congratulations, Jimmy." The words came much easier than he had expected as did the smile that accompanied them. "I'm sure you'll be a great success."
"Thank you, Mr. Barrow. That means a lot."
Thomas breathed a sigh of relief as any further conversation was cut short by the arrival of dinner. The meal passed like any other with idle chatter that only occasionally came back to the subject of Jimmy's leaving. After they finished Jimmy stood and headed toward the door to the back yard, fully expecting Thomas to join him for a cigarette as he usually did. Instead, when Thomas got to the hall he shook his head.
He turned the other way, catching up with Carson before he entered his office.
"Mr. Carson, I wonder if I could have the rest of the evening off. I believe Jimmy and Alfred can manage."
He could tell by the way Carson glared at him that he wasn't in favour of the idea.
"It's just that I'm not feeling very well."
"I did notice you ate very little of your dinner." Carson's look softened. He realised that, truth be told, Thomas had become a great help, surprising him with his reliability. "Fine. You may go."
"Thank you." Thomas turned toward the servants' stairs, When he reached the first level he had to stop and grab onto the handrail. He wasn't ill, but Jimmy's announcement had taken the wind out of him. Where no one could see, his resolve to remain impassive and in control was faltering.
Now in his room, he lifted his head from his hands and leaned back against the chair for a moment before getting up to walk to his dresser. He pulled a bottle of whiskey from the bottom drawer, opened it and took a long swig. As he reached down to put it back, he changed his mind and returned with it to his chair. He took another drink before setting it at his feet.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. He's been bored for a while, getting into little scrapes with Alfred over nothing, coming back from the pub on more than one evening in a state of alcohol-fueled happiness that disappeared the next day. When we're together I tend to forget those things and I thought he did too. But I'm not enough. How could I ever be selfish enough to think I would be.
He lifted the bottle and tilted it into his lips, craving the burn of the whiskey once again. This time when he finished he put the cap back on and chose to nurse it between his thighs.
I just don't understand ...
A knock at the door interrupted.
"Mr. Barrow, are you alright? Mr. Carson said you were ill."
"Just a little under the weather, Jimmy. I'll be right as rain tomorrow." He was surprised how normal he sounded.
"I'll come back before I go to bed."
"There's no need. I'll be fine."
"I'm coming back." Jimmy's voice was quiet, edged with finality.
I can't avoid him for the next two weeks. Might as well get it over with. "Alright."
As he heard Jimmy's retreating steps, he got up from the chair, set the bottle on the table and took off his jacket and waistcoat, followed by his shirt and tie. He kicked off his shoes and pushed then under the bed with his foot, before settling down on it and stretching out. The effects of the whiskey began to take over as he lay staring at the ceiling, welcoming the hint of numbness that took the edge of his confusion and sadness.
He must have fallen asleep because the next thing he knew Jimmy was at the door again. Sitting up, he quickly ran his fingers through his hair to push it back from his forehead.
Jimmy had changed out of his uniform and like Thomas was in his undershirt and trousers. He crossed to the armchair and sat down, pulling it closer to the bed as he did so. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a package of cigarettes, giving one to Thomas before taking one himself. He lit it and held out the burning lighter to Thomas. They both sat for a moment before Jimmy noticed the bottle.
"Can I have a drink?"
"Only if you pass it over when you're done."
Jimmy took a large gulp, wiped the top of the bottle with his hand and gave it to Thomas. They continued to sit in silence until Thomas couldn't take it any longer.
"It's a good job, Thomas. You know that. I can't stay a footman for the rest of my life."
"You fucking know that's not what I mean. Do I have to spell it out? Fine. Why didn't you tell me? Why did I have to hear about it like that?" He took a drink. "I thought we were friends. I thought we could talk about something as important as this. God knows I've told you so ..." He stopped. What does it matter. This might be important, but I'm obviously not.
"Some things are my business, Thomas. My business, no one else's."
Although Jimmy had merely said almost the same thing as Thomas was thinking, it couldn't have hurt more if he had reached over and slapped him in the face.
"Do you, Thomas? Do you really?" Jimmy's voice had taken on a bitter tone. Suddenly the words seemed to come from nowhere, spewing out without thought. Irrational in their reaction. As if Thomas's innocent statement somehow tore a cord that held back years of resentment. "Do I have to remind you that it was you who asked me to be your friend?"
"But you agreed."
"Because I felt sorry for you. Because you got yourself beaten up trying to protect me and I owed you. It wasn't that I wanted to, but I felt I had to."
Thomas stared at him, open-mouthed, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"So the last three years, the evenings playing cards, the trips to the pub and to Thirsk and all the rest. I don't understand, if it wasn't friendship ..."
"It was pity."
"For three years?" Thomas's voice was incredulous.
"Yes, I let it go on much longer than it should have."
"Oh." That one syllable was filled with realisation and utter defeat.
Jimmy stood up.
Thomas sat hunched over, arms wrapped across his chest, clutching at his shoulders as if trying to hold himself together.
Jimmy realised all of this should have remained unsaid. Oh God, I didnít mean for it to come out that way. He never had to know the truth. How could I still be so angry with him after all this time to want to hurt him that much?
Jimmy started to speak, to apologise for the unpardonable, but knew it was useless and left without a word.
~~ End ~~
First, thanks to lady-edith's-chest-hair on Tumblr for suggesting some needed clarifications that now show as the last 4 paragraphs.