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the clock says it’s time to go now

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Thomas lazed on the sofa, the soft sounds of Countdown emanating from the TV in front of him. He wasn’t watching the programme, but had turned it on to drown out the silence in his unusually quiet house.


Mum was still at work, so was Dad. Charlie and Ada were at the library, doing whatever nerdy shit they needed for one of their assignments. Nora, Arthur, and Edwin were still at school until 3:30pm, which gave him just over an hour to enjoy the calm house. Jane had been dropped off at daycare, waiting to be picked up by him at 4:30pm sharp.


It was strange, he thought, how much he despised the noise and mess his younger (and, occasionally, older) siblings made when they were around and yet, he found himself missing the familiarity as he sat alone in their spacious house.


Thomas wasn’t used to this, it seemed. With so many people he rarely got the chance to be alone or even, have his own friends over.


Speaking of which, his heart clenched as he remembered the epiphany he had had earlier today.


Richard Ellis had been Thomas’ friend since they were 14. First meeting in Mr. Molesley’s History class, they had hit it off instantly. Richard was new, had just moved to Downton from London, even though he had a rich Yorkshire accent. He lived about 10 minutes away from Thomas in a small, quaint little cottage style house with his two parents and older brother, Sam.


At the time, Thomas had known he was gay for about a year. When he first noticed how his heart would race and the slightly sweaty palms he would get whenever he was in Richard’s presence, he didn’t know what to do. Richard was a good friend, so brave and considerate and kind and his Mum baked the best brownies Thomas had ever had. So, he hid his feelings away. It was only a crush, an infatuation with the ‘new kid’ that was easily manageable. And so, after a few months, the sweaty palms and stuttering at Richard’s smile disappeared. The feelings were gone.


Or so he thought.


Recently, he had noticed small things, here and there. How he packed an extra Snickers bar because Richard loved them but his dad was deathly allergic to peanuts so they weren’t allowed in his house. Or that one day last week when it was raining so hard the raindrops felt like little needles on your skin and Richard, the silly git, had forgotten his umbrella. Thomas hadn’t even thought twice about lending him his umbrella, even though it left him getting soaked in his uniform despite telling Richard his blazer would be enough to keep him warm and dry.


Little things. Tiny, little things that couples in those stupid romance movies Ada was always watching did. Stuff Thomas had seen his own parents do for each other, not because they had a crush, but because they were in love .


The whole thing had thrown Thomas into the deep end as he realised his feelings never disappeared, just morphed into something unrecognisable to him because he’d never experienced them before.


Breaking him out of his reverie, the front door opened and slammed against the table on the adjacent wall. Thomas hated that table, Mum never let him put stuff on there because she said it was only for ‘decoration’.


Still, there was only one person who continuously forgot the table’s existence, as evident in the slight dents where the door had hit it a few too many times.


”Hey, Dad.”


“This bloody table, I swear to- Thomas! Come help me lift this clock into my office!”


He got up with a groan, cringing at the sound of his joints cracking and almost tripping over his abandoned bag.


“Why can’t you do it?” He glanced towards the ominous grey clouds in the sky. Another rainstorm that would no doubt last for days on the way, then.


His dad opened the boot of the car, revealing an extravagant gold ornamental mantle clock. It was big, and definitely required two people to lift it.


”Nevermind.” He mumbled.


They each took a side and lifted, grunting at the weight.


“Where’s Charlie and Ada? Could use their help.” His dad grunted. He took a few quick steps backwards towards the door.


“Library,” he replied, “Ada says they have a book about some historical battle she needs to write a report on.”


“And Charlie?”


“Think he just wanted to see if there was any hot girls there.”


His dad frowned, “Have to knock some manners into that boy…”


Finally they had the huge clock inside, and dumped it on the table. They each took a moment to catch their breath before picking it up again and reaching the office.


“Just down here, on this table.” His dad gestured with a tilt of his head.


Thomas did as instructed, “So, why are you home early?”


“Got sick of those four walls, Thomas. Needed a break but, couldn’t just leave this old girl, not if I want her finished and repaired by tomorrow afternoon.” His dad explained.


”So, who does this monstrosity belong to?” Thomas asked once they had the clock settled. He looked it over with a trained eye.


“The Crawley’s. Apparently it’s been in the family for a while now. Speaking of, how’s Sybil? She and that Tom bloke together yet?”


Thomas planted himself firmly on one of the stools next to the table.


“No, not yet. Think she’s a bit hesitant of what her dad will say if she brings home a working class Irishman.”


His dad shook his head, beginning to take apart the back piece of the clock from where he stood across from Thomas, “Far too old fashioned, her dad.”


“Yeah, I suppose so. Hearts in the right place, though. Just wouldn’t want to be anything other than a straight, white, upper middle class man if I was his friend.”


“And are you?”


Thomas looked up hastily, “Am I what?”








Stephen Barrow paused in his steady-handed ministrations, a brief bout of hesitation spreading through him as he looked into the terrified eyes of his son.


Are you straight?


“Are you his friend?”


Thomas’ shoulders slumped so far he thought they might be lodged from the socket. The grip on the small screw driver in Stephen’s hands weakened as he watched the relief flood through him.


“N-No, we’re not friends. Not like how I am with Richard’s dad or anything. It’s just awkward when Sybil leaves us in a room.”


“Well, I suspect Richard’s dad is a little more accepting of people who aren’t straight.” He didn’t take his eyes off the clock, autonomously going through the steps he knew so well nearly twenty years into the job.


“And-And white and a…a man.”


Hearing his son stammer over his words, he set the screw driver down, looking across the table to meet Thomas’ eyes.


“Which you are, Thomas. Take a look around, I’d say we’re toeing the edge of upper middle class.”


Thomas looked at his hands fiddling with the wrench, “So…?”


Stephen was silent for a few moments, contemplating if this was really the right thing to do. He should give his boy time, let him take things at his own preferrred pace.


But then he remembered the fear in his eyes earlier, and how Thomas never spoke up about anyone he might fancy at school the way Charles and Ada did. He thought of when Thomas was 14, and never really spoke or went out with friends or did any of the normal things a 14 year old would do.


And then one day, a boy named Richard moved to town, and suddenly Thomas was staying out until dark, worrying him and Nancy sick until he’d come home and wouldn’t stop yapping about how much fun he’d had with Richard that day.


The boy in front of him, a mere seventeen years old, reminded him so much of himself. So different, yet so alike. The same hair, same eyes, if you put a picture of Stephen at seventeen next to Thomas now, they’d practically be identical.


He hated to admit it, but Thomas was different to the rest of his children. He loved them all the same amount, but he couldn’t deny he liked spending time with Thomas the most. Charlie and Ada were so close in both age and friendship it was near impossible to talk to them without feeling like you were being microscopically judged. The young ones were a delight, but they were just that. Young, and had so many questions about things unknown that sometimes he just needed a break.


And that’s where Thomas falls. Too old to spend much of his time with the young ones and yet, unable to live up to the bond Charlie and Ada had.


Perfect for him, really. And, he was genuinely interested in clockmaking, although Stephen would be lying if he said he hoped Thomas would take over the business from him. His son was destined for greater things than an old shop.


But Thomas didn’t know that. He was too caught up in his teenage hormones and partying and school work to even realise that the world didn’t hate him, it was simply just hard .


Out there, in the real world, there were all sorts of horrible people. Some of those horrible people would hate Thomas for being himself.


He needed Thomas to know he wasn’t one of those people.



“So…only reason it would be awkward between you and Robert is…if you weren’t straight.”









Thomas slouched even further in his seat. He couldn’t believe it. All those year spent, heart racing, fear pumping through his veins whenever someone made a thoughtless comment about how Thomas had never had a girlfriend. Scared his father would one day sit him down, just like this, with a frown on his face and a harsh tone.


“And that would be okay, if you weren’t.”


His head snapped up, “Huh?”


His dad seemed to struggle, opening and closing his mouth like a fish as he tried to find the words. They had never had a moment like this, a heart to heart, as Mum called it.


“If you weren’t straight, that would be fine, Thomas.”


The back of his eyes began to burn, his throat feeling tight. His dad was slightly blurred but he could still see the genuine expression on his face. Thomas looked down partly out of embarrassment at his tears, thinning his lips to hold back a sob.


They sat in silence like that, the soft sounds of Thomas’ sniffles and tinkering metal. After what seemed like hours, Thomas lifted his head.


“I’m not.”


His dad looked up in surprise and dropped the tools he was using.


“I’m gay.”


Like a flood being released, the tears fell. He couldn’t stop them as his chest heaved with sobs and his grip on the tables edge tightened. He heard his father’s stool scrape the floor and was suddenly enveloped in his arms.


“It’s alright, Tommy. It’s okay, I love you, still.”


Thomas nodded his head, gripping tightly onto his dad’s shoulders. The plaid shirt beneath him was wet with snot and tears, but his father didn’t seem to care. Why would he? He had seven kids, a little snot was nothing.


Thomas continued to cry, “I’m sorry. I was just scared. I didn’t know what to do and i was just so confused and terrified that you or-or mum would…would-“


His dad tightened the grip he had around his back, “You’ve nothing to be afraid of, Thomas. Your mother and I love you, no matter who you love. We always will, Tommy.”


Thomas breathed out a wet laugh, “I’m not five anymore, Dad.”


“I don’t care, you’re always gonna be Tommy to me.” Ruffling Thomas’ hair, he stepped back to give him a little space.


He took deep breaths, calming himself down as the euphoria spread through him.  He did it. He can’t believe he did it.


He came out.


He came out of the closet, to his dad . And it went fine. Great, actually. It couldn’t have gone better. His chest was burning, but this time it wasn’t from anxiety. It was joy, pure and sweet joy that made him feel like he could run for miles and miles.


“I’m sorry if I forced you a little bit, just then. I just…I needed you to know, that I don’t care who you love, as long as they’re a good person.” His dad took a tone he had rarely heard. Apologetic, he realised.


“No, no, it’s fine. I think it would’ve taken me a few more years, if you hadn’t asked.” Thomas looked up.


“Thank you…for…” he shook his head, “Just…thank you.”


For loving me. For giving me that push I didn’t know I needed. For being everything I hoped you were, but never allowed myself to dream.


His father nodded, taking his seat once again across from him. Thomas wiped his tears with his shirt sleeve, realising belatedly that he was still in his uniform, sans blazer.


“So, any boys caught your eye?”


His cheeks flamed with embarrassment. “Jesus, dad. Give me a minute, yeah?”







Stephen laughed at his son. Either he wasn’t ready to talk about such things with his father, or there was someone…


“Well? Come on, Thomas! Blessed with my looks, there’s bound to be plenty of suitors lining up for you.”


The blush returned, this time in full swing.


Ah, so there was someone .


“It’s…complicated. I only just realised my feelings and I-I don’t know if he feels the same, or if he’s even…” Thomas’ eyes seemed to be looking anywhere except at him.  Stephen noticed his hands were tangling themselves together, a trait he had picked up from his mother.


“Tell me about him. What’s so special?”


Thomas glanced warily at his face, but was only met with what was hopefully perceived as a playful yet encouraging expression. His son sighed, smiling as he thought about this mystery boy.


“He’s…kind. And brave, and handsome and he cares, so much. About the smallest things, too. Like, every time I tell a story, he’s always listening and nodding along, even if it’s just about our science homework.”


His son continued, unaware Stephen felt as if he was about to fly out of his seat. He would never forget this moment, ever.


“He lets me go on and on about the dumbest things…”


“Like Star Wars?


Thomas smiled bashfully, “Yes, like Star Wars. He’s just…a really good friend.”


This piqued his interest. A friend? Maybe Stephen already knew this boy who had stolen his sons heart.


“And does this ‘good friend’ have a name?” He asked. Try as he might, he couldn’t really remember the names of Thomas’ friends. No doubt they were in his mind behind the names of Nora’s friends and Charlie’s mates.









Thomas almost didn’t say. Scenarios ran through his head, the ‘what if’s and ‘but’s flooded his mind with all sorts of negative outcomes. What if his dad was just lying when he said he supported his sexuality? But then that would mean saying Richard’s name would further endanger him .


But dad had asked, hadn’t he? Surely, he wanted to know. He wouldn’t have asked if he didn’t…right?


“His name? It’s uh…Rich-“


“Richard! I knew it, I knew it! There was always something about you two…Your mother said I was just looking too deep, but I was right all along!”


Thomas stared at his dad incredulously.


What the fuck ?


“You…knew?! What do you mean you knew?!”


His dad smiled giddily, as if this was some fun little show for him, and said, “Oh, I’m your father, Thomas. Just call it a dads instinct, yeah? You’ll understand one day, when you have kids of your own. Hopefully with Richard, because he’s really good with the twins and Jane…”


Thomas was lost for words. He couldn’t even begin to think in sentences at that moment, much less speak them coherently. Never in his life had he imagined having a conversation like this, much less with his Dad about Richard .


“You should ask him out, take him to the movies or something.”


“What? No! I don’t even know if he likes me back!”


“Well you have to look for signs!”


“And what are the signs that a boy likes me?” he asked exasperated.


“Same as a girl, I s’pose. Touching you a lot, laughing at your jokes even if they’re dumb. Always agreeing to the stuff you say, even if it is just plain stupid. Oh, and somehow finding a way to drag out the simplest conversation.”


“You seem very familiar with the traits of someone with a crush…” He raised an eyebrow.


“What can I say? Before I met your mother I was a right Casanova.” He smiled at Thomas’ disgusted face.


He rolled his eyes at first, but soon realised the truth in his dad’s words. All this time he’d been so focused on hiding his own feelings he never stopped to consider if Richard was, perhaps, doing the same.


“Shit, almost three thirty.” His dad jolted from his seat, tossing on the jacket he’d taken off earlier and grabbing his house keys.


Thomas also got up, passing by the laundry and grabbing a plain brown hoodie to toss over his uniform. His dad didn’t say another word as they made their way down to the primary school to pick up the kids together.


“You’re coming?” Not that Thomas was complaining, but usually it was only him who took care of bringing the kids home after school.


His dad looked at him softly, “Yeah, should probably spend as much time with you all as I can. Before I kick it, you know?”


“Jesus, that’s depressing.”


“Yeah, s’pose so.”


Time passed silently as they speedily walked to the school. It was only about a fifteen minute walk, but they wanted to be there at least before the bell rang. The walk seemed so familiar to him, yet with his secret finally out and accepted it felt brighter.


God, that’s fucking cliché…



When the kids ran out of their respective classrooms and over to where Thomas usually waited, they were delighted to see their father there as well. Arthur wouldn’t stop complaining of a sore leg he’d gotten playing tag at lunch time, so Thomas lifted him high up onto his shoulders to cease him nagging. This prompted Edwin to get fussy that he was stuck walking, so he got to ride on the shoulders of Dad. Nora was fine with walking, bless her.


They walk back home was a stark contrast of the walk there. The kids couldn’t seem to stop chattering along and telling stories about their day. Thomas and his dad looked at each other with exasperation. The twins were seven now, something Thomas was sure his Dad was all too aware of if his heavy breathing was anything to go by.


They reached home in no time, Arthur apparently forgetting about his sore leg when he ran off with Edwin to play in the yard. Nora ran upstairs to begin working on her science project, something about dinosaurs that Thomas wasn’t really listening too.


“Hey, dad?” he called out from where he was still standing in the doorway.


His dad turned around, “Yeah?”


“Just…don’t tell mum, please? I want to tell her myself.”


“Of course, Tommy,” he smiled, “Now, do some dishes, will you? It’s a right mess in that kitchen…”


Normally he would groan, but not this time. No, he was too elated to feel anything other than peace and happiness.









The sound of The Beatles’ Twist and Shout drifted across the room to where Thomas was laying on his stomach on Richard’s bed. He had his maths homework in front of him, and was proud to say he was flying through it. Richard, on the other hand…


“Thomas…” he whined, “Help me.”


Thomas looked up from his work, the end of the pencil caught between his teeth, “Which one can’t you do?”


“Uh, n-number seven. With the fraction.” He stuttered over his words, a faint blush rising to his cheeks.


He must be hot. Warm! He’s warm! Over heated! Not hot, he’s not hot. Well…


“Bring it here, I’ll show you.” He scooted over on the bed and moved aside his extra credit work. Richard flopped himself down, pressing the length of their bodies together.



He tried not to let it show how the contact was affecting him, “Well, um, you just do the same as all these other ones, but because of the fraction it all needs to be-…You’ve already done it. And you got it right?”


Richard’s eyes widened, “Oh, did I? Silly me, I didn’t notice.”


“You didn’t notice you’d already figured out a Year Twelve Advanced Maths problem?”


“Uh, yeah. You know me, Thomas! Always…doing stuff and not noticing!”


He stared and nodded, “Right. Well, did you actually need help with any others?”


“Oh, no. I’ve got the formula memorised now, so…”


“Yeah, okay…”


Richard hummed and turned back to his work. He didn’t make any effort to get up and move back to the desk where he had previously sat. Thomas suddenly felt all to aware of everything. The smell of Richard’s shampoo, the warmth of his body next to his, how tight his school pants were…


He cleared his throat, willing the thoughts to go away. Nothing special about this, they studied together all the time. Granted, never in this position, but still.


“You alright, Thomas?” Richard spoke up in the peaceful quietness besides the music in the background.


He looked up at his face, “Yeah, ‘m fine, why?”


The brown haired man smiled softly, and oh, how beautiful was that smile? “That’s the third time you’ve cleared your throat in like, a minute.”


“Oh, well. Edwin’s been sick lately, so…probably just that.” He didn’t look up to glance at the expression on Richard’s face. It was a shitty lie, and he knew Richard knew that.


“Oh, okay.”


Wait, what?


Maybe he hadn’t caught on to the lie? Probably distracted, thinking about school and work and such.


They continued to fill out their homework, Richard moving onto his Science while Thomas continued with the Maths, then Extension Maths, then the extra Extension Maths work…


Yeah, his plates a bit full.


Richard shifted his legs a bit, drawing up his right knee so that it was on top of the back of Thomas’ left knee. He appeared nonchalant, though, despite the fact that Thomas was screaming internally.


He shifted again, this time making no real movement. Perhaps he was feeling fidgety, and needed to let out all his energy. Thomas refused to let his mind wander into ways in which he could do so.


More shifting, position changes, legs brushing, even more shifting. It went on for nearly ten minutes before Thomas finally spoke up.


“We can go kick a football around or something if you feel pent up.”


Richard looked up, his head resting on his hand, “Hmm? Oh, no. I’m fine here.”


“You sure? You just seem…I don’t know, restless. Like Nora after she’s eaten a gram of sugar.”


Richard let out a giggle that seemed to go on for ages, “You say the funniest things, Thomas. But I’m fine, truly.”


He frowned, “Okay, if you say so.”


He’s acting kinda weird…


“I do, yeah.”


“Yeah…just said that…”


“I know, I’m just agreeing.”


“Oh, alright then.”


“Yeah, alright.”


Thomas stared at his friend incredulously, “You’re not actually saying anything. Just dragging the conversation out…” he trailed off, remembering what his dad had said.


Finding any excuse to touch you, laughing at dumb jokes, agreeing with anything you say, and now, dragging out even the simplest of conversations.


Holy shit…


They stared at each other for a few moments, the only sound coming from the speaker in the corner. It was playing Soul Kitchen , a song Richard had fallen in love with after Thomas showed it to him.


He glanced down at Richard’s lips, lightning fast and hoping he didn’t catch it. Thomas looked up again, and knew he had been caught. Why didn’t he feel like an idiot after that?


The gap between then seemed to shrink with every passing second, crinkling paper and the sounds of pens clacking against each other doing nothing to deter the two boys laying atop the bed covers.


Finally, oh so slowly, their lips met. Thomas had never felt anything like it, so soft yet rough and perfect. He felt Richard’s hand come up to hold his cheek, leaning into it as they deepened the kiss. Distantly, he registered the sound of his pen falling out of his hand and into the paper below.


He had just placed a hand on Richard’s waist, ready to perhaps go even further when the door burst open, revealing Sam, Richard’s older brother.


“Yo, Rich, Mum wants to know if…damn.”


They pulled apart abruptly, blushing furiously. Thomas attempted to act nonchalant, but there was no denying what Sam had just seen.


Richard cleared his throat, “What, Sam?”


“Um, she hurts wants to know if Thomas is staying for dinner…”


Thomas could feel the heat in his cheeks and he hurriedly rushed to gather up his things, “Um, y-you tell her I’m-I’m sorry, but I promised my mum I’d be home for-for-for uh, dinner.”


He shoved his papers into his bag and grabbed his blazer from the floor, ignoring the shaking in his hands. He turned to say bye to Richard, but no words came out. With an awkward nod, he left the room.




Shit, shit, shit shitting fucking shit.


Thomas’s thoughts replayed themselves on his walk home. What did this mean? Were they like…dating now? Were they boyfriends?


“Stupid fucking Sam, bursting in like that. Ever heard of knocking, you dumb arse?” he mumbled to himself, fully aware of the looks he’d get if anyone were to pass bye. Luckily, it was nearing six in the afternoon, leaving him deserted on the cold, wet streets.


God, he could burst right now. His gut was rolling with so many different emotions. He kissed Richard. Richard! And he kissed back! This was everything Thomas had ever wanted!


If all goes well, soon he could call Richard his boyfriend!


But, there was still the problem of him rushing out back there. What if Richard was now just embarrassed, and didn’t want anything more?


Speak of the devil, he thought as his phone buzzed and he pulled it out to see a message from Richard.


was that awkward for u? sorry if it was :(


He smiled down at his phone, wiping off the stray rain drops beginning to fall from the sky.


not for me, was it awkward for u?

sorry i ran out i just sorta panicked


He continued walking, waiting with bated breath for Richard to reply. The rain was beginning to fall heavier now.


no lol i liked it

and don’t worry about panicking i get it


He paused then, in the middle of the darkened street. He liked it? He liked it! Thomas didn’t feel like an idiot in the slightest as he stood there with the rain battering down. His hair was soaked at this point, and he could feel his arms getting wet as the water soaked through his shirt.


me too :) want to go to the movies on friday??


Thomas felt frozen in place. The three little dots appeared, then disappeared. They appeared again, making his heart race.




He smiled.


it’s a date :)


He screamed. Eyes wide as he stared at the wet screen, he slapped a hand to his head. His cheeks hurt from smiling so hard but oh God, it was worth it. So, so, so worth it!


He replied to the message, confirming the time and movie. Thomas moved in a daze, barely registering the water in his shoes or the cold, biting wind. Dad wouldn’t be happy that he got his uniform wet.


But he would be happy that Thomas had gotten a date.


With Richard.


Startling at this realisation, he held on tight to his bag and his blazer in the other before sprinting home. It was only two or three streets, but he felt like he ran for ages before seeing the familiar sight of his Dad’s car.


He burst through the front door, dripping water everywhere. His mother turned at the sound of the door impacting the table.


“Oi! Careful with that table, Thomas! And where’ve you been, mister? It’s dark out! And you’re dripping water all over my floor! My goodness, look at his uniform, Stephen!”


His mother’s complaining did nothing to deter Thomas’ smile. He was so excited he didn’t care about anything else!


“I got a date,” he breathed, still trying to catch his breath from the sudden sprint.


His dad raised an eyebrow, “A date? With…”


“With Richard!”


“Richard!? But he’s a boy-“


A yell of excitement cut his mother off as his dad stood up from his chair and walked towards Thomas. He gave him a slap on the back, talking animatedly.


“That’s great news, Tommy! Tell me everything! How did it happen? Did you ask him, or did he ask you?”


The conversation faded as they walked off, leaving his mother and siblings sitting around the table. No one moved for a few moments, shocked at the revelation that Thomas was gay, and apparently their father already knew. And that they were now gossiping like two teenage girls.


Nora spoke up, “I like Richard. He braids my hair really good.”


Nancy nodded at her daughter, “Hmm, he does, doesn’t he?”


“He’s good at football, too.” Edwin looked at Arthur who nodded in agreement.


They all sat in silence, Charlie looking at Ada with a confused expression on his face.


“Is that why he didn’t want to date Edna? Because she’s a woman?” he whispered to her.


Ada snorted, “Think it was because Edna’s a bitch, but probably that too.”


“Right, eat up, everyone! It’ll go cold if we sit around blabbering any longer.” Their mother said with a tone that indicated this topic of conversation was final. She set up baby Jane in her high chair as she babbled away, unaware of what was happening around her.


The next day, Thomas would officially come out to them all.


And they would all accept him with open arms.


Well, him and Richard. They were kind of a package deal, now.


(Jane was the flower girl at their wedding, years later. Stephen told everyone he had allergies, even though it was a Winter wedding.)