Now, Katherine and Reginald Ellis were very accepting of their youngest son. They had never judged or mistreated their darling Richard for simply being who he was and had drilled it into their other children that they were to be no less accepting than they were.
They love their son, truly. But this does not stop Katherine from turning to her husband as soon as they hugged and kissed him goodbye.
“Aren’t butler’s usually older fellows?” She says with accusation in her voice. Who, or what, she is accusing is unknown to Reginald, and he just shrugs and follows her to the kitchen.
“I suppose they are, love. But Richard’s old enough, isn’t he?”
She slams the dishes into the sink, “Old enough for what exactly? Reggie, darling, when you think of a butler, you don’t exactly think of a spritely young man, do you?”
He sighs, grabbing a cloth to begin drying the dishes she is furiously cleaning.
“I know, I know. Just think of how happy he looked when you said he could bring him, thought his cheeks would break from that smile.” Reggie breathed out a laugh.
The slamming of dishes stopped, “He did seem happy, didn’t he?”
“Yes, which is why we should give him a chance. Give them a chance, Kathy.”
Her shoulders dropped and she looked at her husband with worried eyes, “We don’t even know his name.”
“We will, because anyone who makes our son smile like that is worth having around, no matter their age.” He kissed her on the cheek and resumed drying the plates.
“Let’s hope we aren’t wrong, then,”
“A butler? But aren’t they usually older fellows?”
“That’s exactly what I said!”
It was early on Sunday morning, the day the Ellis family had decided to meet up and spend some much-needed time together. So far, the only people there was Eliza, her husband Patrick, and their two sons, Timothy and Simon.
“Settle down, you two. I’ve heard enough of this from your mother, Lizzy. I don’t need to hear it from you, too.” Reggie scolded them gently, though he had to admit he did agree with them on some basic level. Richard was his youngest, after all.
“When’s Uncle Richie getting here?” Timothy, aged five, nagged at his mother’s skirt. He was the spitting image of Sam when he was younger, though thankfully possessed none of the cheek his uncle had had at that age.
It was a bright summer’s day, perfect for a family lunch outside on the grass. The boys would love to run around their grandparent’s yard and get their freshly washed clothes dirty. Lizzy was the first of the Ellis children to arrive as she was always one to be punctual and found it quite rude to show up late, a fact her brothers found hilarious when she got into a tizzy about not arriving exactly on time. Sam was the worst though, even going as far as showing up a whole day late on their last family holiday!
A knock sounded at the door, startling them. At first, they thought it to be Richard and his new beau, but the sound of raucous laughter told it was the Ellis middle child, Sam.
“Hello, hello, hello! Are we excited to meet Richard’s senior citizen?” He exclaimed loudly when Kathy whacked him upside the head, silencing him and messing up his styled brown hair. Always one to drag it out, he rubbed his head and gladly took the hugs from his nephews.
“Senior citizen,” Reginald grumbled, “He’s probably the same age as us, and I am not a senior citizen, thank you very much.”
Sam grinned, “I want you to say that again, slowly. ‘He’s probably the same age as you?’ Not the best thing, Da.”
Reggie rolled his eyes, and they settled back around the room continuing a light-hearted conversation clear of age, butlers, and the average age of a butler. Ten minutes of this and Lizzy had turned to Sam, questioning her younger brother.
“Why are you here so early? I’d expect you to get here after Richard.”
He chuckled, “As if I would miss the opportunity to see Richard introducing his butler friend to you all. Goodness, I can imagine your faces, trying to hide your emotions behind awkward smiles and that weird laugh you do when you’re nervous.”
Eliza gaped, “I do not have a weird laugh! I don’t! Patrick, stop laughing!”
The siblings squabbling continued, much to their parents’ chagrin. It seemed they never did truly grow out of old habits. Kathy busied herself with a little bit of tidying, not eager to have a great big mess once everyone had gone home. Her and Reggie had learned long ago that it was best to let their children hash it out than to try and get involved. Patrick had also learnt this, thank heavens.
They were interrupted by Lizzy’s youngest, Simon, shouting out from his position by the window.
“They’re here! They’re here! Uncle Richie’s here!”
Immediately, all heads turned to the boy. Sam and Lizzy were the first to shoot out of their seats and rush to the window. Sam groaned in disappointment.
“He didn’t bring him!”
Kathy gasped, “What? Why not?” She hoped it wasn’t because Richard felt uncomfortable bringing his beau to the family tea. That would perhaps be her worst nightmare, her boy not feeling comfortable with his preferences around family.
“I don’t know, but it’s some young fellow, not the butler.” Sam flopped down onto the sofa, now disinterested that there would be no awkwardness to talk about for years after.
“Maybe that is the butler,” Patrick suggested. His wife’s judging eyes turned to him, as did Sam’s incredulous face, “Or not.”
His humour had never really landed with the Ellis siblings.
“Maybe this is a new fellow? Who knows, Richard could be flying through men like Lizzy did when she was sevent-” Sam was once again cut off by a whack from his mother’s hand. His hair was no doubt a mess by now.
“It’s no matter everyone, just behave.” Kathy commanded everyone, including her husband, when she used such a tone. She instructed Lizzy and Patrick to go outside and start preparing their lunch, while their boys followed along to run around in the yard. All she had to do was look at Sam and he knew he was to sit quietly and play nice, at least for the introductions.
Once the bell rang, she and Reggie were at the door. The sound of greetings and introductions could be heard from Sam’s spot on the sofa, and he tried to sit still and wait for them to enter. It was his mother’s wish that he wait in here and behave. It was crucial he stay here and not run to the door like some child.
He lasted about four seconds.
“Dick! My man! Come here, brother!” He shoved past his parents to Richard, pulling him in for a hug and ignored the groan his little brother let out at such harsh treatment. It had been too long since they roughhoused.
Granted, they were both in their thirties.
“Sam, so…good to see you. This is Thomas, by the way.” He gestured to his left, where a man about the same age as Richard was standing. He was handsome enough, Sam supposed. Maybe Richard had left his butler beau for this Thomas fellow.
They shook hands and made greetings, shortly followed by Thomas and Richard hanging their coats and they all went to the back yard. Eliza and Patrick had made good progress, as seen by the blanket already laid out and a few chairs scattered around it. Some cheeses, crackers, and fruits were also there.
Eliza and Patrick introduced themselves kindly, trying to ignore the fact that Richard was apparently enough of a Casanova to speak of one man one week, and bring an entirely different man the next. Timothy and Simon had run up to their uncle, both excited to see him. Thomas was introduced to them as Richard’s good friend.
The adults all sat down, Thomas and Richard choosing to sit on the blanket side by side. Sam raised his eyebrows at this, now fully convinced Thomas was more than a friend. Who would have thought his baby brother would be such a lothario?
They made pleasant small talk, the usual. Questions if Lizzy and Patrick wanted more children, if Sam would ever settle down, and if Richard would ever quit his highly demanding job at the Palace.
“It pays well! And…”
Sam shot up, pointing an accusing finger at his brother, “See! You’re only there for the money! Just quit and find a job closer to here!”
“Well, I…Maybe, alright? I suppose I wouldn’t mind being closer to here, and Thomas.” He smiled at said man, gently linking their fingers together. Oh yeah, more than a friend.
Kathy hummed, “Oh? Where are you located Thomas?”
“Downton, the Abbey, to be specific.”
“You’re in service? How long?” Reggie asked, eager to get to know this man who his son had brought home.
Thomas puffed out a breath, “Goodness, been at Downton nearly twenty years, I think.”
Sam blinked at that. Twenty years? In the same house? And what was he, first footman? A valet? Must be in some sort of high position if he’d been there that long, otherwise his employers were arseholes.
Richard chimed in, “Not like it hasn’t paid off though, right?”
Thomas smiled bashfully, “Suppose so…”
“Oh, come on, Thomas! Don’t be so shy, now.” He laughed.
Lizzy spoke up next, “So, you are a valet then?”
Richard frowned, looking at her in confusion, “No, I assumed mum would have told you. I spoke about it not last week.”
Seeing Lizzy’s confused face, Thomas decided to fill in the gaps.
“I’m the butler, at Downton.” He spoke. The reactions were instant. Lizzy looked confused still, while Sam was in the corner laughing about the situation. Kathy and Reggie just looked at each other before finally understanding, having a little chuckle to themselves.
“So, I was right, then.” Patrick gloated, sipping victoriously on his juice.
“Well, how were we supposed to know!? You say you have a butler beau, and what? We’re supposed to automatically think of a handsome man your age!?” Sam blurted out, not able to see the smug look on his brother-in-law’s face much longer.
“Butler beau…?” Thomas question at the same time Richard spluttered.
“My age!? Of course, he’s my age, what other age would he be!?”
“Butler age! Like old and…grey, or something.” Lizzy shouted and waved her empty cup about, much to the dismay of her mother who was worried she would drop the expensive ceramic.
It was Reggie who spoke next as he was eager to calm the situation, “Well, I for one can say I am glad. When you said he was a butler, I though I’d be talking to a man my age.”
Richard gaped at his family in a mix of disbelief and disgust.
“They’re sort of right, darling. Most butlers are much, much older when they take the position.” Thomas reasoned. Many times, he had been mistaken for a valet or even a footman by visiting guests, despite the uniform he wears. He chose to take it as a compliment, usually, and didn’t hold back from being a smarmy git when they realised who he really was.
“I know, I just can’t believe-! Ugh, I don’t even want to think about bringing someone my parents’ age home!”
They all had a laugh, recounting their first thoughts when they had first heard who Richard was bringing to the lunch.
“I got here early, you know! As soon as I heard, I was booking my train ticket because no way was I going to miss seeing Mum and Dad’s faces when you introduced them all!” Sam was going on a rampage, pointing his fingers, and shouting his words.
“Well, good to see someone would have gotten a laugh out of it.” Kathy frowned at her eldest son, who just shrugged under her gaze.
Hours passed in pleasant conversation. About an hour before sunset, Thomas began to play football with the kids, and was shortly joined by Patrick and Reggie. Kathy began to take the dirty dishes inside and fussed over cleaning them all. Though she seemed like she needed help, the Ellis children knew walking into her kitchen would only result in the sound of a wooden spoon being slapped around and the victim running out a second later.
“Oh, what a day, huh?” Eliza said, leaning back on the grass and watching the boys play.
Richard hummed, “Indeed.”
Sam shoved to his left, nearly pushing his siblings into the grass. They both groaned and complained but were happy to still have such moments.
“Look at our men, Richard. So handsome…” Lizzy said dreamily and ignored Sam’s gagging noises.
“Yes, they are. Sam, you’re the odd one out, you know.”
Sam turned to his brother, “What the hell do you mean by that?”
Lizzy shushed him for his language, while Richard grinned mischievously, “You’re the only one who’s going to bring a woman home, if you ever find one, that is.”
“Oh, ha ha. Shut up, you know, we didn’t even think it out of character for you to bring home an old man so, what does that say about you, huh?” He retorted and shoved playfully at his brother’s shocked face.
“It’s true, love. There was no ‘Maybe he’s being blackmailed’ or ‘Do you think he’s possessed?’” Lizzy laughed at her brother’s face.
“Shut up, both of you! I am so disappointed right now!”
They all laughed and continued watching the boy’s play. Soon, it grew dark and the need to head inside made itself known by the chill that had swept over them. Simon and Timothy ran inside, tracking dirt through the house. Oh well, Kathy loved having them over so she could deal with the consequences, Lizzy thought. It was her day off, after all.
“I’ve never felt my age quite like I do now.” Reggie puffed. His cheeks were read and sweat beaded on his hairline. Patrick looked much the same, though he seemed to be handling it better. Thomas’ hair, much to Richard’s delight, had fallen from its pomade prison and now a few strands fell across his forehead.
The young boys had fallen asleep on the floor next to the sofa, and Lizzy decided it was enough for them. They said their goodbyes, promising to stop by again soon. Sam decided to leave shorty after that and shook Thomas’ hand with a cheeky grin on his face.
“As far as first introductions go, I’d say you nailed it.”
Once he left, it was just Thomas, Richard, and his parents. They helped pack the last few things away before they said goodbye.
“I hope to see you again, Thomas.” Kathy said after enveloping him in a hug. He seemed unused to hugs, or perhaps just hugs from mothers. Either way, she endeavoured to fix that in the future.
“I hope to return here, Mrs. Ellis.”
“Just Kathy, darling.”
Richard and his father stared in surprise, “Even Patrick doesn’t call you that, Mum.”
She smiled, “Patrick’s a dear, but I like you quite a bit more, Thomas.”
Thomas grinned happily. He could sense he and Patrick would be good friends, either way. The man was a terrific father, and the conversations they’d had on the grass had flowed easily.
They left huddling their coats close to their bodies, the chill had settled while they were inside, it seemed. They walked side by side until the train station where they sat on a bench and waited for the seven o’clock train to take them back to Downton.
“Still can’t believe you’re coming back with me and not spending time with your parents.” Thomas huffed. He itched for a cigarette, but knew Richard disliked the smoke.
“I only have three days off, Thomas, and I plan to spend them all with you. Who knows when I’ll get that amount of time off again?”
Richard could practically sense the expression on Thomas’ face, “You might know if you quit that damn job.”
“Soon, I promise. Just give me a few weeks, and I’ll be in your bed practically every night.” He whispered, both for the effect and so that no one would hear. The station was far from full, but a few lost souls still lingered about.
“It’ll be a bit hard sneaking you in at Downton every night, but I won’t complain.”
“I didn’t mean at Downton…” He trailed off, waiting for Thomas to get the hint.
Finally, after what seemed like hours but was only a few seconds, Thomas turned his eyes towards his lover. He stared at him with disbelief and hope in his eyes.
“Do you mean…a house? Together?”
Richard nodded, “I do. There’s a few houses for sale in the village, or if you’d rather something a little closer to the Abbey I thought we could move into one of those cottages like the Bates’ have.”
Thomas scrunched his nose at the thought of being neighbours with John Bates, “Won’t people be suspicious?”
He shrugged his shoulders, “Practically everyone at the Abbey knows already, and I’m quite sure they don’t mind all too much. And most people in the village already know me as your cousin.”
“You really want to move in with me?”
“Yes, Thomas. I do. Do you?”
Thomas nodded, wishing desperately that they were alone so he could kiss Richard senseless. It would have to wait until they got back, he supposed.
They sat for a few more minutes before the train arrived. They got on, finding seats next to each other in a carriage that was thankfully empty. Still, to be sure, Thomas put his coat over their legs to hide their entwined hands. Richard kept smiling at him like a fool, though he feared he was no better. It was a new chapter for them, an exciting one.
“By the way, what did you think of my family?” Richard mumbled quietly, close to drifting off.
Thomas scoffed playfully, “Besides them thinking I was an old geezer, they were fine. Quite enjoyable, actually.”
Richard laughed sleepily, “I knew you’d like them. And they like you, too.”
“They do, don’t they? Though, what’s not to like?” He teased, enjoying Richard’s placid state as he began drifting off again.
“Mm, yeah. Have to invite them to the wedding…” He trailed off, snuggling down into his seat to be more comfortable.
Thomas chuckled, “What wedding?”
“Our wedding, silly…”
Thomas laughed again, seeing that Richard had finally drifted off, “Of course, darling.”