The entire university was abuzz with excitement for the upcoming rugby match between Downton and Oxford. Signs urging students to purchase tickets had been strung up across the campus, in addition to blue banners emblazoned with Downton's ever-popular mascot - the golden lion. Many professors even promised extra credit to students who would show school spirit by attending the game. The rugby team was practicing twice a day rather than their usual single practice as the coach made a final effort to whip his team into the best fighting shape possible as they prepared to face one of their biggest rivals.
Mary felt only a tiny twinge of guilt for actively pursuing a member of the enemy school and asking him to accompany her to the game.
To her own surprise, she'd followed through on her impulse of asking Evelyn Napier to attend the game with her, and he had immediately agreed. She tended to think of Evelyn as more of a casual afterthought, not someone she'd really ever date - after all, she only knew him through a computer screen. But she had wanted to show her father and her granny that she could marry whomever she wanted. It didn't just have to be Matthew. There had to be a legal way around her grandfather's will, or at least another way she could run Downton without marrying someone she'd only just met…
So Evelyn would be a piece in her scheme, the living and breathing reminder to Robert and Violet that she was a full-fledged adult who could damn well do whatever she pleased. It sounded cold even to Mary when she really thought her plan over, but her own mother and grandmother were starting to give up on their quest for her to win Downton and the family fortune. This could be one of her final chances to convince them to keep trying.
Mary decided to inform her mother first, figuring that she would be the most understanding about boys. She walked over to her parents' residence early one Saturday morning to ensure she could catch her alone before her mother became caught up in her endless whirlwind of social events.
"It's nice having some time alone with you, Mary," Cora told her daughter, moving closer to her on the sofa and placing an arm around her. "I feel like I never get to see my oldest daughter anymore."
Mary smiled back at her mother. "I'm usually just so busy, Mama."
"The rugby game will be a nice breather for you, then. Did any of your professors offer you extra credit?" Cora asked lightheartedly.
"Usually they only offer the underclassmen extra credit. My professors said we have to actually work for extra credit, since we're supposed to be more mature and all that." Mary hesitated, only slightly nervous about asking her mother if she could bring Evelyn along. She knew Cora would only be briefly frustrated that she wouldn't consider pursuing Matthew yet.
"About the rugby game…Mama, I invited a boy from Oxford to come with me," she confessed.
"Oh?" To Mary's relief, Cora seemed both surprised and amused rather than angry about the Matthew situation. "A boy from the rival school? Your classmates will think that's fodder for a small-scale scandal!"
The mother-daughter pair chuckled together, and Mary felt the most lighthearted she had since the terrorist attacks. It was truly so wonderful to have Cora to herself for once rather than having to share her with her family and the rest of the university.
"And how did you say you met this boy?" Cora questioned.
"I met him on Match. It's a dating website," Mary informed her.
"A dating website? Darling, are you sure that's safe?" Cora asked, true to her role as the typical concerned mother. The words lying unspoken between her and Mary were why couldn't she just date the boy she already knew, the boy that could secure her entire future.
Mary lifted her brows in irritation at this. "If you use it carefully, then yes. I promise I know enough about him, Mama! His name is Evelyn Napier. He looks reasonably attractive in his picture on the site. He's a poly-sci major. As I mentioned, he goes to Oxford. And apparently, he likes rugby enough to want to go to the game with me."
"You said his last name was Napier? I knew his mother in college. We lost touch a while back, but we were in the same dorm once upon a time. She would be so happy to know you were going out with her son!" Cora visibly relaxed at the revelation that her daughter's beau wouldn't be so unknown, after all.
"Actually, Evelyn said his mother died a few years ago," Mary corrected her mother.
Cora frowned at the sad bit of news, but then straightened up brightly, her eyes brimming with the excitement of a new idea. "Ask him to stay the night at the house with us, Mary! It's a long enough drive from here to Oxford, and I'm sure he'd appreciate the chance to let loose and not have to worry about driving."
Mary nodded in agreement. "Should I message him and say you knew his dead mum, too?"
"I'm sure you of all people know just what to say to a boy, darling," Cora said dryly.
Anna was one of the first people at the Upstairs Café to clock in that morning. She tied on her white apron and then prepared to leave to start her job, but then she noticed something odd.
"Gwen? What are you hiding?" she asked the redhead, who was surreptitiously trying to return something to the cupboard.
"I told you already - nothing!" Gwen protested vehemently.
Anna was immediately skeptical. "Is it actually a secret lover?"
"Anna, it's none of your business! Can't you just leave it alone, please?" Gwen begged angrily.
"No, I can't! I just want to make sure you're all right. I can help you with whatever it is if you just tell me!"
Gwen sighed in defeat, and then extracted her secret from the cupboard. Cheeks burning red with the shame of getting caught, she showed the book to Anna.
"How to ACE Your A-Levels," Anna read the book's title out loud. Suddenly, everything made sense to her. The numerous sheets of lined paper, Gwen's constant fatigue, her sudden interest in maths…
"Gwen, you're going back to school!" she realized.
Gwen grinned sheepishly. "Yeah. I've been reviewing concepts I learned last year in 6th form that could help me do well enough on my A-level exams to qualify for a scholarship to university. I'm taking three exams - maths, law, and English language. So far I've done well on the practice exams!"
"That's wonderful!" Anna meant every bit of those two words. She truly was so proud Gwen would be lifting herself from her background, that she wouldn't be stuck waiting on haughty clients forever and working side-by-side with the likes of Thomas. "What will your parents say?"
"I can't tell them till I've got a scholarship, Anna! Dad will think I'm a fool to leave a good job and Mum will say I'm getting above myself, but I don't believe that. I've always wanted to go to university, to study to become a paralegal - I just want to try, you know? But I'd prefer if we kept this between us for now just in case," Gwen explained.
O'Brien stuck her crooked nose in the room, and Gwen hurriedly stuffed the thick book behind her back.
"Mrs. Crawley wants breakfast delivered to their house. Just some ready-made stuff - a croissant or two, some fruit," she ordered the two waitresses.
"We'll come in a minute," Anna told her.
O'Brien regarded her and Gwen with suspicion. "They're waiting now, stupid."
"We just have to change our aprons. Isn't that right, Gwen?" Anna snapped back to O'Brien.
Gwen nodded, terrified, and O'Brien had no choice but to walk away at their somewhat plausible excuse. The girls breathed a collective sigh of relief - Gwen's secret was still safe from nosy people like O'Brien who wished them ill, for now.
"What do you mean, you're telling Mary to look at other options besides Matthew? I thought we talked about this, Cora!" Robert was livid at his wife. She had just broken the news to him over an otherwise peaceful family breakfast. Now all of his plans for the university's future could possibly go to waste just because his wife and daughter didn't listen.
"It's not my doing, Robert! I'm just encouraging her to keep her options open! Evelyn's late mother was one of my friends - this is the least I can do!" Cora defended herself.
"Hmm. I'm not sure you're actually helping Mary. I remember meeting Evelyn's father long ago and all he talked about was hunting. What a bore. His son is probably no different, especially if he's an Oxfordian!" Robert pointed out.
"Robert, stop being so pigheaded and listen to your brilliant wife for once," Violet commanded, and Robert promptly obeyed his mother - the only person he really feared - without another word. "Mary won't take Matthew Crawley, so we'd better get her settled before the bloom is quite gone off the rose. The Napier family is quite wealthy - his father heads a top law firm. It's been in their family for ages, almost as long as the Crawleys have been at Downton. A boy part of a family like that could be quite beneficial to Mary."
Cora looked intrigued, but Robert was merely exasperated. "You only know all of that because you've already looked his family up on the Internet, in the phone book, and you've called all of your friends to ask if they knew them, Mama. Don't pretend otherwise. Are you afraid someone will think you're American if you speak openly?"
Violet just scoffed at what she perceived to be an insult. "I doubt I'd ever be accused of being something that dreadful. Anyway, I don't even know how to use a computer, my boy. I thought you of all people should know that. It's much better just to use an encyclopedia or to write a letter to someone," Violet stated triumphantly, knowing she'd successfully made her point.
"All right, Mama. I have a meeting with Cripps in ten minutes. I'll see you later." Robert exited, and Cora took the opportunity to edge closer to Violet, close enough that she could speak privately with her.
"You don't seem very happy," Cora observed.
"I'm pleased. It's not brilliant, but I'm pleased," Violet admitted grudgingly.
"So…?" Cora prompted.
"I don't want Robert to use a marriage as an excuse to stop fighting for Mary's inheritance, which she rightfully deserves!" Violet declared.
"It won't make any difference. I don't think he has the slightest intention of fighting as it is. The price of saving Downton is to accept Matthew Crawley as his heir," Cora sighed. Deep down, even she knew it was true. And she also knew her husband must really think there were no other ways for Mary to be involved in Downton's future at all or he would not push so hard for his favorite daughter to marry someone she didn't want to.
But Violet wasn't as ready to surrender. "But what about you?" she asked Cora.
"I don't dislike Matthew. In fact, I rather admire him. He's clearly a kind, hard-working young man!"
"Well, that may be, but is that sufficient reason to give him and his nasty communist of a mother the money your family worked so hard for?" Violet prodded.
"Of course not!" Cora protested. "You know I don't think it is!"
Violet grinned triumphantly at hearing what she desired to hear from her daughter-in-law's lips. "Then there's nothing more to be said. My tea's gotten cold. Why don't you ask your troll-like personal assistant for another cup, and then we'll finish our little tête-à-tête."
Matthew was going for a run on one of the lush campus trails when he bumped into Edith Crawley.
"Hullo, Edith," he greeted her. He honestly didn't know anything about the president's middle daughter. On the few occasions he had met her, she had seemed quiet, much quieter than Mary, almost to the point of being socially inept. He also noticed - albeit guiltily - that she was quite nondescript in terms of her physical appearance compared to her two sisters. Matthew immediately felt bad for her and resolved to make more of an effort to get to know her.
Edith grinned awkwardly up at him. "Cousin Matthew! What are you doing here?"
"Running. It helps me clear my head when I'm stressed and helps me to stay this fit," he joked, gesturing down at his toned body.
Edith let out a small, timid chuckle. "You're stressed? Whatever about?", she asked, clearly concerned.
"Not much," he lied, not wanting to admit to his distant cousin that he was agitated by Mary's evident disinterest in him. That, coupled with his rigorous academic schedule, had led to his feeling incredibly anxious lately. And the extreme physical difficulty of running actually did pleasantly distract him from his now-complicated life, even if just temporarily.
"Are you going to the rugby game?" he asked her politely, steering the conversation into clear, mundane territory rather than the swirling, murky territory of his emotions.
"Yes! Our family has special seats that you're welcome to sit in if you'd like." Matthew thought Edith seemed eager for him to come, for some strange reason.
"I'd like that," he said, trying to sound enthusiastic. Come to think of it, his mother would probably love to join too rather than sitting with all of the other professors in their cramped seats where they discussed their research rather than focusing on the game. Mary would almost certainly be there too…He brushed that thought aside. She had been quite clear that she thought of him in a platonic way and nothing more. And at the last dinner he had seen her at, she had mentioned that she was planning on bringing some other boy to the game with her.
But Edith seemed nice enough. Anyway, it was easier - and kinder - for Matthew to take pity on the poor girl. He had never had siblings, but it couldn't be easy to be the middle child and Mary Crawley's younger sister.
Edith's face broke into a large grin, and Matthew smiled at her sudden happiness. He had never seen her truly smile before, and he felt rather satisfied at having been the catalyst for her to do so. But he felt somewhat guilty for only accepting her because he pitied her...
"See you then!" she called excitedly, and they parted ways.
Gwen knew something was off from the moment she stepped into the backroom at the café.
She and Anna had just finished clearing tables, and had come back to take a well-deserved break. But when they arrived there, the entire restaurant staff along with Sarah O'Brien and John Bates were gathered around, staring and pointing at an object on a table.
Gwen realized with a start that the object they were gawking at was her A-levels book, the same book that could provide her a path to a real future. And even worse, she noticed that Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes were both there. Having both deans in the same place could never be good…
So they had discovered her secret. She was a fool not to know it would only be a matter of time before they did. Her heart dropped to the bottom of her stomach and she was rendered speechless for a moment as she desperately tried to determine what to do next.
"What's that doing here?" she asked nervously, finally finding her voice.
"Ah, Gwen. Come in," Mrs. Hughes beckoned for Gwen to come closer, and she quickly obeyed.
"Why is that out here? Who's been rummaging through the cupboards? They had no right to invade my privacy!" she demanded hysterically, too disoriented to keep her words under control.
"See here! In the first place, none of the rooms in this house belong to you. And in the second, I am in charge of not only the students' discipline but also that of workers like you and that gives me every right," Mr. Carson corrected her firmly, and Mrs. Hughes nodded her tacit agreement.
Anna turned to O'Brien angrily. "This was you, wasn't it?" she accused, infuriated on her friend's behalf. Of course O'Brien would've poked her nosy mind into places it didn't belong after she'd seen them cover up the book that day. Sometimes, Anna wondered why O'Brien and Thomas took so much glee in causing others' unhappiness. They must really be so miserable, she thought.
O'Brien smirked, visibly self-satisfied with Gwen's distress. "You and the ginger were obviously trying to hide it, so I knew there was something wrong about it."
Anna had never wanted to slap a person in her life as much as she wanted to slap Sarah O'Brien straight across the face right then. "She wants to keep it private, not secret. There's a difference!" she justified, fiercely attempting to help her friend.
"Amen to that," Mr. Bates agreed, and Anna flashed a grateful smile at him.
"That's all well and good, but maybe Gwen could speak for herself," Mrs. Hughes suggested sternly, crossing her arms across her chest and staring expectantly at Gwen.
"I've done nothing to be ashamed of! I only bought a book to review for the A-levels. I plan on taking them at the end of the spring semester. I wasn't aware that was illegal!" Gwen declared passionately, raising herself up to her full height in an attempt to seem far more confident than she felt. Inside, she was just a moment away from bursting into tears, tears of frustration and hopelessness and sadness.
"Why shouldn't she have a study guide? It's her decision!" William whispered to Thomas.
"Shut up, wittle Willy," Thomas admonished mockingly.
"Will you tell us why, preferably without any more cheek?" Mrs. Hughes would not budge. Gwen noted with awe that, in that moment, the normally motherly dean of admissions was every bit as intimidating as Mr. Carson, the harshest disciplinary dean ever to work at Downton.
Gwen hesitated, trembling in fear. She knew they probably had guessed as to why. All she had to do was admit it - but yet it was so hard to confess to the colleagues she strictly had only professional relationships with her hopes, her plans, her dreams for the future.
"Because I want to quit my job here. I want to go to university and study to be a paralegal."
The gasps from around the room were very audible. Gwen could tell they were all looking askance at her for wanting to get a real education - after all, none of the other members of the cafè staff had except for Anna, who may have come from a working-class family but was still far less poor than the rest of them. Gwen covered her mouth in embarrassment, wanting nothing more at that moment than to flee to her small room and cuddle up under her duvet and cry. She looked in Anna's direction for support, and her friend gave her a nervous smile.
Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes appeared absolutely floored to the point of being speechless. Mr. Carson recovered from his shock first. "You…you want to leave Downton?" He said it almost like an accusation. The disapproval and shock palpable in his deep voice.
Gwen nodded timidly, her red ponytail bouncing with the motion.
"What's wrong with working here, with not getting a college diploma?" O'Brien demanded to know rather confrontationally.
"Oh, nothing's wrong with it!" Gwen clarified quickly, not wanting her co-workers to misunderstand her or to think she was insulting their choice to stay at Downton. "There's nothing wrong with being a contractor either, but it's not what I want to do!"
"Remember that there are plenty of young girls around your age who will be glad of a working position at this prestigious university," Carson boomed. "At least think about that before you completely upend your life."
"I know. And when I hand in my notice, I shall be happy to think one of them will be taking my place." Gwen was resolved to remain unwavering on her position. She couldn't abandon her lifelong dream just because of other's disapproval - what kind of person would she be if she did? And what did it matter, anyway, if they thought she was just another foolish girl with stars in her eyes? Maybe she was - but she would never know if she didn't try.
"What makes you think we'll wait till then to replace you?" Miss O'Brien asked tauntingly, tossing another smug smirk in Thomas's direction.
God, Gwen wouldn't miss the pair of them if - no, when - she left.
"Are you hiring and sacking now, Miss O'Brien? I thought that lay with Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes," Anna pointed out in a wild effort to get the busybody to stand down.
And to Gwen's surprise, O'Brien finally did. She muttered one last "hmph!" and then glanced at the ground.
"Enough of this. I'm going to go work on some files and we'll have no more talk of this tonight." Carson's icy tone left no room for further discussion of the subject at hand. He handed Gwen her book and she gave him a grateful nod.
"Be careful, Gwen," he said softly - almost considerately - to her. "I wish I was sure you know what you're doing."
Doubt pricked like a needle at Gwen's heart again - after all, Mr. Carson came from a background far worse than hers and had worked his way to college through a series of jobs much the way that she had. Of everyone, he understood her decision the most and her he still had just warned her to act cautiously. But she merely thanked the dean and assured him she did, in fact, know what she was doing.
"Daisy! What's happened to you? I said you could go for a drink of water, not a trip up the Nile!" Mrs. Patmore screeched, coming in from the kitchen and menacingly wielding a spatula. Daisy came darting over, mumbling a string of apologies to her boss.
Gwen giggled in spite of herself. At least there was one person who couldn't care less about her private affairs.
"You invited Matthew to sit in our box?" Mary asked Edith, not quite believing her sister's statement. "And he said yes?"
Edith nodded smugly in clarification. "You didn't want him, so I figured I'd take him. By the way, thanks for at least giving me a chance with him, the chance you never let me have with dear Patrick." She stopped abruptly as she noticed Mary's frown. "What, are you surprised he said yes to me?", she gloated.
That was the most shocking part to Mary, that Matthew had actually accepted Edith's invitation. Edith - in her totally unbiased opinion - was horribly prudish and awkward to the point where she sucked the life out of whatever room she was in. Not to mention that Mary had caught her playing with dolls on several recent occasions...She wondered if Matthew actually was attracted to Edith, or if he was simply being his annoyingly moral self.
Mary had consciously made a decision and had passed over Matthew in favor of some bigger fish in the sea, like Evelyn. She fully realized it, too. Then why, oh why, was she feeling so inexplicably jealous right now?
"You're being so obvious, Edith - Matthew will know you're making a play for him," she said disparagingly, trying not to her jealousy leak through in her words. Edith's smug expression crumbled in an instant, and Mary felt a strong satisfaction at that. Deep down, guilt prickled at her conscience - the telltale signs that told her she was a horrible older sister to Edith and an equally inadequate role model for Sybil. Her father would be so disappointed - but yet Edith was so damn irritating sometimes.
"That's rich, coming from you," Edith snipped back, and Mary briefly puzzled over what that was supposed to mean. Maybe she had been too obvious by inviting Evelyn to the game, by flirting with Philip Crowborough that she was trying to find a husband who could supply her with the same prestige and wealth that being Matthew's bride would bring...After all, Violet had always told her that the worst thing a true lady could be (besides unattractive and unkempt) was too forward.
"I'm just busy living my life the way I want to, unlike you," she finally retorted, reclining back in her dorm's swivel chair. "Now was telling me the Matthew news the only reason you trekked all the way over to my dorm?"
"Er...basically," Edith admitted.
Mary lifted her eyes to the heavens. "You're endlessly pathetic. Now get out, or I'll call security to escort you out."
Edith hurriedly exited, and Mary let out her breath. She opened up her computer, deciding to sign into her Match account to see if Evelyn had left her any more messages.
Sure enough, he had. His message was as formal and as sweet as ever.
Hey! I'm so excited to meet you for real! I was wondering if I could bring the Turkish transfer student I'm hosting? He just arrived at the start of the semester and I thought nothing is a better example of British culture than rugby to show him. :-) Sorry for the last minute notice, I've been swamped with school this past week!
A Turkish transfer student...why not, Mary thought. It would certainly bolster Downton's reputation as an inclusive school if he was photographed with the Crawleys in their box. Robert would be so happy with that. And surely he wouldn't interrupt her date with Evelyn so much if there were members of her family around for him to chat with.
She began typing her response, plucking the computer keys one by one.
I'm excited to meet u IRL 2! Of course u can bring ur friend! He can sit with us in our special seats. I'm sure my mum will be ok with it. :)
The rusty bell above the door tinkled as John Bates hesitantly hobbled into the prosthetics store.
He stopped at the front desk, where a surly-looking clerk with a graying mustache was crafting some sort of a prosthetic arm. John watched in wonder for a few seconds until the clerk finally acknowledged him.
"Yes?" he asked, sounding irritated at being disturbed.
"I saw an advertisement in the papers for a prosthetic leg attachment from the knee down," John answered hesitantly. As he spoke, John made a cursory glance of the room, making sure that no one he knew was there. For whatever reason, he felt embarrassed at trying to find aid for his lame leg. But he also was sick of being the butt of Thomas and O'Brien's mean-spirited jokes and of appearing like a failure to Robert, his long-time friend. Above all, just wanted to make sure everyone knew he had gotten his coveted job as Robert's assistant based on merit rather than his friendship with him.
"So?" the man prompted.
"So how can it help me?" John asked.
"You'll be able to walk much more easily. It'll be as close to having your real leg back as you could possibly get," the clerk responded.
"Does it work?"
"Well, as I make it and advertise it, do you really think I'd say no?" the clerk asked, his voice sounding exasperated with John's questions.
The man's answer wasn't exactly comforting to John. "Very well, then…can I see one?"
The clerk sighed and fumbled under the counter, eventually holding up a large prosthetic calf. John marveled at it - it really did have the same shape as a human calf. It looked as if it could solve all of his problems.
"Here's the manual on how to attach it," the clerk told him, flicking a small leaflet toward John.
"All right. How much?" John asked, deciding to at least try the prosthetic leg. He never had in the past because they had always been too costly, but now - thanks to Robert providing a job for him - he finally had enough money to purchase one. So even when the clerk named a sky-high price, John didn't flinch and just paid him.
"Gwen? Open the door!"
Gwen quickly obeyed, and Anna entered the café's kitchen with her hands full of dishes.
"Thanks so much. Ugh, those customers were so cheap. I put up with their demands for the past hour, and they didn't even tip me!" she complained as she emptied the dishes into the sink. Gwen nodded sympathetically, not really paying attention.
"Anyway, I'm helping Mary get ready for the game tomorrow. I can't believe she's got a date, one from Oxford at that! God, some people have all the luck!" Anna chattered. She turned around as she finished the dishes and then noticed Gwen. She was weeping silently in the corner, big tears rolling down her cheeks.
"Gwen? What's the matter?" Anna asked, resting her hand on her friend's thin shoulder.
But Gwen was too choked up from crying to answer, and her cries only intensified in pitch. Anna gently guided her to a chair. Gwen gratefully sat down, and placed her head between her hands on the table in defeat.
John, on his way to place an order for the Crawley's dinner with Mrs. Patmore, had heard Gwen's cries and went to investigate. "What's happened?" he asked the two waitresses.
Gwen finally was able to speak up. "Oh, I'm just being silly. It's nothing," she lied, embarrassed. She quickly changed the subject, gesturing at the list in John's hands. "Mrs. Patmore is out for the next half hour. You should come back later."
"I have time," John told her, noticing her futile effort to cast the attention away from herself. "Now, what's wrong?"
"Well, I suppose I've just realized that it's not going to happen," Gwen confessed reluctantly.
"What isn't?" John asked, confused.
"None of it! I'm not going to pass my A-levels. I'm not going to go to university. I'm never going to stop waitressing. In fact, I'll never leave Downton till I'm too old and gray and washed-up to do anything else!" Gwen sobbed hysterically.
Anna rubbed Gwen's back soothingly. "Hey, what's all this? You were so confident the other night, standing up for yourself against O'Brien and Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes!"
"Oh, but you saw their faces. None of them think I can do it! And they're right!" Gwen wailed.
"But John and I believe in you! And I was able to do it, Gwen!" Anna tried to reassure her friend.
But Anna's effort did not yield results. In fact, it had the opposite effect.
"But my family isn't half as well-off as yours, Anna! I'd need a full scholarship to be able to even consider going…And I'm not as pretty as you, or as smart…Oh, look at me! I'm the daughter of a rural bus driver, I'm lucky to even be a waitress. I was born with nothing and I'll die with nothing!" The self-doubt that had been eating at Gwen for so long was getting to her again. She had tried so hard to keep her studies a secret for this reason. She had figured that if no one knew what she was trying to do, then it wouldn't matter if she failed. But now almost everyone at Downton knew, and she felt the weighty pressure of having to succeed more and more each day.
"Don't talk like that. You can change your life if you want to. Sometimes you have to be hard on yourself, but you can change it completely, I know," John told her, his words bearing a tremendous amount of confidence. He seemed to know personally, and that made Gwen finally stop crying.
"I need to get back to work. Thanks, Anna. Thanks, John." Gwen wiped her face with a Kleenex, squared her shoulders, and returned back to her customers.
John started to walk away, but then suddenly flinched in pain. He closed his eyes from the pain and then paused for a moment. A moment that was long enough for Anna to notice his reaction.
"What's the matter, John?" she asked, concerned.
"Nothing. Not a thing. I'm fine," he fibbed, much like Gwen had lied that nothing was wrong when she was crying.
Anna was no fool. "Let me help you," she told him firmly, reaching out a hand to help him steady himself.
"No, I'm perfectly all right, thank you." Anna pulled her hand away, hurt. John felt bad, but he certainly didn't want to look like a weak cripple in front of her.
"Are you sure?" Anna asked skeptically, taking a step closer to him. "You're as white as a sheet!"
"Oh, that's just my wonderful complexion inherited from my Irish mother," John joked awkwardly. He noticed the shorter distance between them and quickly moved farther away, guiltily.
Anna was still concerned about him, but decided to let the matter rest for the time being and merely laughed at his joke. After all, she had certainly uncovered enough secrets for one week.
"I can't believe your date is late!" Sybil remarked to Mary on the morning of the rugby game as the Crawley sisters congregated on the driveway of their mansion to await their guests.
"Maybe he won't come!" Edith sounded positively gleeful at the prospect, and Mary glared at her.
"I'm sure Evelyn is just running late. He had at least a two-hour drive from Oxford," she reassured herself.
As if on cue, a car pulled up at that very moment into the driveway of the Crawley's mansion. A man stepped out of the driver's seat and made his way over to Mary.
"Hello. I'm Evelyn," he introduced himself. Mary did a quick mental appraisal of him. He was definitely good-looking with his light brown hair and clear blue eyes. But the way he spoke to her…he sounded so stilted, so formal. This was the kind of man she did not need - she needed someone a bit more carefree, to help her become less uptight. Worst of all, he reminded her too much of Patrick.
But maybe he is different than how he seems, she tried to encourage herself. Maybe he is just nervous or just guarded and shy. Maybe I'm just too quick to judge him. Anyway, she had selected him online. She had initiated their conversation. So now she had to deal with the results.
"I'm Mary," she greeted him, doing her best to sound cheery. "We were beginning to give up on you!" she joked.
"The traffic was horrendous. Seems like all of Oxford has been transplanted up here to watch the game this weekend," Evelyn said lightly.
Mary giggled obligingly. "And your Turkish companion? Where is he?" she asked politely.
Evelyn gestured to the car. "Kemal's fixing his appearance. He thought the best way to learn international diplomacy would be to chat up some British girls!"
Mary chuckled again. "Ah. I can picture him now. Some silly-looking foreigner with too much gel in his hair and wearing too much cologne who thinks he's the handsomest man to walk the earth besides Brad Pitt."
"Not exactly….well, here he is. You can see for yourself," Evelyn said mysteriously.
Mary spun around to catch a glance at the Turk, her mouth ready to turn up into a smirk at the funny-looking foreigner she had pictured.
But she was shocked to the core at the sight before her eyes.
Kemal Pamuk may have been foreign, but he was the furthest thing from silly-looking she could have possibly imagined. He was exotic-looking, to be sure, with his tan skin and coffee-brown hair. With his chiseled features and swept-back hair, he reminded Mary of the perfect, unblemished Greek statues she'd been studying lately in her Classics class.
No man had ever managed to make Mary Crawley's heart pitter-patter before. But somehow, this foreigner had, and she hadn't even officially met him yet.
"You must be Mary Crawley," Kemal greeted her confidently. Oh God, his voice, Mary thought. It was husky and slightly accented. She stole another appreciative glance at him, and was pleasantly surprised to see he was looking at her too.
"You guessed right," she told him, hoping she didn't sound too strange. She was too distracted by his voice to pay attention to her own words.
"You look exactly the same as you do online. No wonder Evelyn was so insistent on meeting you in person!" Kemal remarked, and Mary's heart did another little pirouette at his compliment.
"As for me…well, I'm sorry to be so disheveled. We left Oxford at 6 am and we've been in the car for two and a half hours," he apologized.
Mary giggled, twirling a stray strand of her curled ponytail around her index finger. "Oh no, don't apologize. You don't look disheveled to me!" she assured him, perhaps a beat too quickly.
Edith and Sybil were also gazing up at Kemal with awe, their pale cheeks flushed pink. Evelyn stood awkwardly to the side, forgotten as all of them watched the exchange between Mary and the Turk.
"We should probably meet Mama and Papa at the game before there is too much of a crowd," Edith said finally, interrupting the strange near-daze they all seemed to be in.
Mary broke eye contact with Kemal and looked down in embarrassment. "Leave it to you to be the practical one," she muttered under her breath, and then she glued herself to Kemal's side as they walked to the rugby pitch.
The president's box was a collection of ten seats in the front two rows of seats at the rugby pitch. A clear tent-like roof sheltered the seats from the elements so that the president and his guests could watch the game in comfort regardless of the weather conditions. A door barricaded any outsiders from disturbing the president and his family. Mr. Carson had insisted on personally installing it after Jimmy Kent had snuck in there the previous year on a dare and drunkenly climbed up onto the railing in front and had started to do a strip-tease in front of the entire student body. Needless to say, he'd been scrubbing bedpans for a while after that particular occurrence.
Mary crossed to the front of the box, motioning for Evelyn and Kemal to come along with her.
"Hello, Papa." She kissed Robert's cheek, playing the part of the loving daughter. "This is Evelyn Napier. That's Kemal Pamuk." She gestured at the men in turn, a hint of a blush coloring in her cheeks when she motioned to Kemal.
"Ahh. I've heard so much about you, Evelyn. I'm President Robert Crawley. Lovely to meet you both," Robert said politely, looking his guests up and down. "Feel free to help yourselves to a beer. Our cousin Matthew is also sitting with us today, so I wanted to make sure I had enough alcohol to sustain all you young people throughout the game," he joked. "I have my own secret stash, of course!"
Cora turned to her guests and smiled welcomingly, ever the gracious host. "I'm Mrs. Crawley, but call me Cora. I'll never understand all your English formalities," she teased lightheartedly.
"Thank you for having us, President Crawley and Cora," Evelyn told them sincerely.
"Oh, it's my pleasure, dear. I knew your mother, you know…"
Cora and Evelyn began making polite small talk about his dead mother. Matthew walked in with Isobel, both of them clad in gold-and-blue Downton paraphernalia.
Robert beckoned for them to come in. "Matthew! Isobel! Come in!" he greeted them warmly.
He turned to Evelyn and Kemal. "This is Matthew Crawley, our cousin -"
"- distant cousin," Mary corrected somewhat coldly. She immediately cursed herself for doing so - why on earth had she, anyway? Her guests didn't need to know all of the particulars of her family, and it probably just made Matthew feel even more like an outsider. And she told herself it definitely wasn't because she wanted to make flirting with him seem like a normal, legal thing to do…
"- yes, and this is Isobel, his mother. She teaches here," Robert continued. Matthew good-naturedly shook hands with both Evelyn and Kemal.
Sybil made her way over to Mary. "Oh Mary, he looks so handsome!" she gushed excitedly.
"Who, Matthew?" Mary asked.
"No - well, him too. I mean Kemal though, silly," Sybil clarified.
Mary sighed in agreement. "He's gorgeous. So exotic, such a gentleman…but he doesn't even look Turkish at all!"
"Well, he doesn't look like any Englishman I've ever met," a voice behind her commented. "They're all much paler."
Mary spun around. "Anna!" she threw her arms excitedly around her friend. "What are you doing here?"
Anna shrugged. "Just thought I'd drop by for a minute on my way to work. I knew your dad wouldn't mind. He knows me enough by now, I think."
"I'll see you tonight? Maybe we can stop at a post-game party later?" Mary suggested. "That is, if you're not too tired from selling food to hungry rugby fanatics!"
"I can't, I'm visiting my parents and I'll be gone tonight! But save the cute foreigner for me!" Anna joked, waving at Mary as she left. In some ways, Anna regretted not being able to stay and watch the game like any other college student - but she also knew how badly she needed this waitressing job to sustain herself through it. And she also knew how lucky she was to have garnered this rare opportunity to improve herself by getting an education.
Edith planted herself directly next to Matthew as the game started. He remained as polite as ever and asked her a few questions about the game, which she cheerily answered.
"I wish we could talk a little more about you, Matthew. I want to get to know you better."
Matthew laughed kindly, his mind far from Edith, far from the game. He kept looking over his shoulder at Mary and the two men vying for her attention.
Edith was only slightly deterred when Matthew didn't say anything. "What was growing up in Manchester like?" she pressed. She was not really sure what to say to a man - even if he was only her cousin. She was simply not used to being the one to direct the conversation, and she found that she didn't like it, not one bit. It made her feel so awkward, and for the millionth time, she wished she could be as graceful and engaging as Mary was.
"Do you know who won the Downton-Oxford match last year?" Matthew asked, and she wondered if he had even been paying attention to her.
"Oxford, I'm afraid." she responded, gradually growing more dejected at his evident disinterest in her. What am I doing wrong? she wondered desperately.
"Ah, how disappointing for your father. What was the score?"
"Makes sense why Downton is out for blood this year. I wonder how Mary's date is going," he said, almost to himself. He felt bad as soon as the words were out of his mouth and immediately wished he could take them back as he watched the amiable expression on Edith's face slip into something else entirely.
"All right, I'm sure," she answered dully, and it took everything she had not to burst into tears at that instant. Of course he had been thinking of Mary. Almost every man who encountered the Crawley sisters would fall over themselves trying to woo Mary and they would barely spare Edith a second glance. As soon as Sybil grew up a little more, it would be even worse - men would lose themselves in her big blue eyes and gaze at her the way Edith so desperately desired to be gazed at.
The worst part was that Mary had cruelly cast Matthew aside, had decided he wasn't good enough for her and yet he still was dreaming only of her. He most likely had never even thought of Edith in a manner that approached anything even close to romantic. Her resentment of Mary - so barely concealed, so tightly bottled up - threatened to bubble over at that moment and overwhelm her. She wanted to scream, she wanted to kick the metal bleachers, she wanted to slap Mary in front of the entire school and Matthew for good measure too.
But then she looked at Matthew - Matthew, who had never been anything but kind to her - and realized she couldn't take out her jealousy of her horrible older sister on him.
This time, she would finally give Mary a taste of her own medicine.
"I hope you've enjoyed the day so far," Mary told Kemal sincerely during the break between matches.
"Oh, much more than I expected to," he told her, glancing meaningfully up at her. Her heart began to beat a little faster again, and she returned his intense gaze.
The distance between them became close, too close. Mary sat up regretfully as she remembered Evelyn. He was her date, after all, even if she barely knew him.
"Where's Evelyn?" she asked, her question reminding them both of his presence.
"Off greeting a classmate from Oxford. They're both so disappointed that Downton is still leading by two."
"About time! We've lost to Oxford every single year I've been studying here. We're already second to them in academics, so the least we can do is catch up in athletics," Mary joked.
Kemal chuckled warmly. "Will you go find Evelyn?" he asked, sounding disappointed at the prospect.
"I have no use for yet another boring Oxfordian," she declared honestly. Her cheeks reddened a touch in guilt at the admission, and she averted Kemal's eyes. He would think her terribly cruel for insulting Evelyn, his gracious host, in such a manner.
But to Mary's relieved shock, he just laughed. "In that case, you could come with me. I'm going to buy some fish and chips."
"Oh, I shouldn't eat that," Mary said quickly.
Kemal gave her a puzzled glance. "And why on earth not?"
"The calories…" she mumbled, her voice trailing off as she realized how ridiculous, how boring that sounded. But counting calories had always been a habit for Mary, a method of having some level of control over her life…
"Oh, you English with your odd diets. In Turkey, we eat all kinds of fattening food all the time - baklava, döner - and we don't care if we have too many calories. It's all about living a little, no?" he explained.
Mary still wasn't sure. After all, she wasn't used to allowing herself to make her own decisions, to live a little.
Kemal dropped his voice conspiratorially. "And besides, you're too lovely to worry about your calories," he whispered, causing her stomach to do a series of happy twists.
"All right," she agreed, and allowed herself to be pulled by him toward the snack vendors. She felt carefree and happy and a bit rebellious all at once with Kemal, and she marveled at how quickly she would drop her uptightness for him.
Downton's rugby team was never quite able to break through the stone wall of Oxford's defense, so they promptly lost for the second year in a row to Oxford.
This did not dampen any of the Crawley's spirits too horribly, and dinner that night at the Upstairs Café was as lively as ever.
Gwen served them their first course - burgers, a more low-key dinner option Cora had requested that drove Mrs. Patmore to red-faced fit at the thought of making a casual dish at her fancy restaurant.
As Gwen retreated back to the kitchen, Robert glanced at her in consideration and lowered his voice conspiratorially. "That's the one Carson tells me wants to be a student here."
His words were met with mixed reactions around the table. Violet was equal parts puzzled and horrified. "I don't understand. Why would she want to be a student here?"
"Because she wants to create a different life for herself, which I personally think is admirable," Matthew informed Violet.
"But why? I should far prefer to be a waitress in a fancy restaurant with a good salary and tips on the side than study from dawn till dusk just to earn a piece of paper! I never attended college - just finishing school, and I was just fine. Don't you agree, Carson?" Violet's face contorting up into wrinkled lines of confusion.
"Of course, madam," Carson replied emphatically, thinking of how much he had struggled to get to and then through college. Of course, he was happy he had earned his degree now….but Gwen would be in for a real struggle, and she was so much younger and more of a naïve idealist than he had ever been. He couldn't help but wonder how she would fare when her dreams were crushed.
Mary, who was sitting between Evelyn and Kemal, was merely exasperated at the discussion. "Why are we talking about this? Why does it matter?" she huffed, wishing they would talk about something more interesting, a subject where she could have another chance to speak with Kemal…
Cora sighed at Mary's childish comment. "Because it matters that the people who work at Downton are content. If they're content, they'll work harder - which benefits our entire family, including you."
"Of course it does! We should be helping Gwen if that's what she wants!" Sybil said, her eyes shining with the glint of a new idea.
Isobel smiled proudly at Sybil. "I agree. Surely we must all encourage those less fortunate to improve their lot where they can so they can have the same opportunities we do."
Violet rolled her eyes dramatically. "Oh, so you'd have us donate all of our hard-earned money to them, then? If that's what you want, we can all live in teepees together like the Indians do, pool all of our resources, and live happily ever after!"
It was Isobel's turn to roll her eyes. "I only meant - "
Violet smoothly cut her off. "Anyway, we shouldn't help this girl improve her lot if it's not in her best interests."
"How would it not be in her best interests?" Isobel shot back. "And anyway, Gwen would certainly be a better judge of that than we are."
Mary attempted to diffuse the budding argument between her grandmother and her cousin by asking the person she'd been wanting to speak to all night. "What do you say, Kemal? Should our waitress be kept enslaved here forever or forced out into the dreary world of academia?" she asked, her tone taking on a dry humor.
Kemal shook his head. "One thing I'll never understand is why are you English so curious about other people's lives. I think it's simple: if she wishes to leave, and the law permits it, then let her go."
Isobel smirked in satisfaction, happy she had an ally.
But Violet, of course, could never simply concede an argument. "This girl will be thrust into a world she's not prepared for in the slightest. For heaven's sakes, it sounds like she's just taking her exams and won't even finish her last years of secondary school. She won't know how to handle a university's course load or to interact with classmates who go on holiday in Italy rather than a farm! So perhaps the law should not permit it, for the common good!"
"The common good?" Isobel scoffed, incredulous. "So, you yearn for the days of serfdom. You don't want Gwen to exchange her place in the world for one more like yours!"
Matthew tried to catch Mary's eye as he normally did during his mother and Violet's debates so they could share a knowing, laughter-filled look, but she was too busy fawning over Kemal. He quickly glanced down at his barely-touched plate, hoping no one else had noticed his attempt to engage with her.
"I hanker for a simpler world. Is that a crime?" Violet challenged.
This time, it was Kemal who stalled their battle of wills. "I also dream of a simpler world, Mrs. Crawley - as long as we can keep our airplanes and our tellies."
The entire table laughed - even Isobel and Violet, their quarrel temporarily forgotten - and Mary turned away from Evelyn toward Kemal.
"I wish I shared your enthusiasm. I'm terrified of airplanes!" she admitted lightheartedly.
Kemal chuckled, astonished. "Really? They make our lives so much easier, though!"
"I know they do, but I still find myself gripping the armrests for dear life every time the plane starts to take off…and especially now, after the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, I just can't see myself flying anytime soon." Mary thought of Patrick again, how he must have felt in his last panicked moments as the burning Towers fell and fell closer to the ground. Then she began imagining what it must've been like for the passengers on the planes that crashed into the towers and she began to shake a little bit.
Kemal took her hand above the table in a gesture meant to comfort her. "That's completely understandable, Mary. I think a lot of people probably feel like that right now."
Mary smiled faintly up at him. He was so handsome, so kind to her, so mature…
Kemal continued the more lighthearted aspect of their conversation. "Next time you feel comfortable hopping on a plane again, you should come to Istanbul!" he suggested.
"Oh!" Mary exclaimed excitedly. "But wouldn't the airplane journey be long and painful?"
"Sometimes we must endure a little pain in order to achieve satisfaction." He was gazing intently at her now with his warm brown eyes and she wondered what he really meant for a split second before she merely looked back at him.
Cora seemed to notice how awkward and excluded Evelyn felt by his friend and his date, so she fixed her attention on him. "How was your day so far, Evelyn?" she asked kindly.
"Splendid! Oxford did quite well today!" he exclaimed halfheartedly, his eyes darting back to Mary and Kemal.
"They did indeed, sadly," Robert remarked jovially, his eyes also drawn to his daughter and the handsome Turk. He wondered to make of their relationship - surely she knew it couldn't last? He lived a world away, in a culture more Middle-Eastern than European…and she was an English rose, his sheltered and spoiled daughter. Her rosebud would wither if she moved away to the arid heat of Istanbul, he reflected.
"And you, Kemal? How was your day?" Cora asked.
"I can hardly remember a better one, Mrs. Crawley!" he declared, his eyes settling meaningfully on Mary as he winked at her.
Mary squirmed a little, suddenly blushing and uncomfortable at Kemal's blatant flirtations toward her. It was one thing when it was just the two of them speaking intimately, but quite another in front of her parents and grandmother and sisters and Matthew, who was sighing almost pitifully, his fist clenched around his glass of wine in defeat.
After dinner, the Crawleys and their guests shared dessert back at their home. They all split off into groups of three or four and talked among each other.
Robert, Violet, and Cora sat together on the settee, whispering.
"Mary has more suitors tonight than Prince William does," Robert observed dryly.
"Good heavens, you're right. I do hope she'll judge them sensibly," Violet said, clutching the arm of the settee as if she was worried about some kind of scandal Mary would cause.
"With all due respect, Violet, no one is sensible at Mary's age. I think she's so mature that we sometimes overlook the fact that she's only twenty-one - barely old enough to drink alcohol in the States. She really shouldn't have to be sensible right now - this is about the last time in her life that can really live without fear of consequences. She'll have plenty of time for being sensible when she's older," Cora pointed out.
"You Americans have the most peculiar ideas about parenting," Violet muttered under her breath, and Cora sighed, realizing their "alliance" truly didn't extend to every area of Violet's treatment of her.
Mary was finishing her ice cream while her three "suitors" flocked around her, all trying to speak to her.
Kemal suddenly got up. "Excuse me, please. I'll be back in a moment."
Matthew took full advantage of his competitor's absence. "Did you have fun going to the game today?" he asked Mary.
"Oh, yes! Although it's so terrible that Oxford won, again." she exclaimed.
"Would you ever like to go with me?" Matthew asked tentatively, hoping the blush he felt was not too noticeable. God, Mary Crawley would be the death of him and his pride."Or are we friends enough for that?"
"Oh, I think that would be -" Mary started to answer, but stopped abruptly as she caught the eye of the Turk from across the room.
That damn Turk, Matthew thought. He would've gladly given anything to know what Mary was about to say.
"The last moments of the game today reminded me of one I saw on the telly," Evelyn said, attempting to make small talk with Mary.
"Oh?" She was not really listening and was only attempting to be gracious and polite.
"Yes, you know when Oxford's loose-head passed -"
"Excuse me." Mary was past all pretenses of politeness now. Kemal had tantalizingly beckoned her into coming to join him, and she jumped at the chance, leaving her cousin and her date all alone.
Matthew and Evelyn were both taken aback, a little embarrassed, a little hurt, and a little furious.
"It seems as if we must brush up on our powers of fascination," Matthew joked, sarcasm edging its way into his otherwise teasing words.
"I was a fool to bring him here," Evelyn declared.
"Don't you like him? He is your guest at Oxford, after all."
Evelyn scoffed. "Well, I like him very much, but so does everyone else, unfortunately."
Edith noticed Mary's absence and gleefully took her chance to talk to Matthew. She hoped it would make Mary jealous of her, for once.
Evelyn saw Edith walking up to them and sighed and left just as rudely as Mary had a few minutes before.
Matthew, on the other hand, smiled politely at his cousin. "I hope you aren't too tired from my antics today," he teased.
"Of course not, I had fun!" she protested, stepping closer to him. "We should do it again!"
Matthew stepped back somewhat uncomfortably. "All right. We should ask Mum to come with us, too - she had a lot of fun today!"
Edith frowned deeply. "Oh yes, that would be just lovely," she deadpanned, but Matthew didn't notice. God, he was so oblivious.
She remembered her vow from earlier to exact revenge on Mary, but Mary had the upper hand in every way. Edith would just have to bide her time and wait for the right moment to strike. Like a viper, she thought, her lips quirking up into a smirk at the thought.
Mary walked into the hallway to join Kemal, who was busy admiring the gallery of portraits her parents had displayed on the walls.
"What is it?", she asked.
"Is this picture really a Della Francesca?" he asked, interested.
He'd brought her here just to ask her about some silly artwork? Mary put on her most winning smile anyway and started to answer. "I think so. The second earl brought back several paintings from—"
But she was cut off by a pair of lips. Before she knew it Kemal had firmly grabbed her face, tilted it toward hers, and kissed her as desperately as a dying man would kiss his wife on his deathbed.
Mary was so startled she didn't know how to respond, so she listlessly let him take the lead. He pushed her against the wall, and she gasped - in what? Surprise? Pleasure? She didn't even know. All she could focus on was the intense way that he looked at her, that he kissed her.
And then she remembered her parents were a room away and she pulled away in shame. "Kemal, I can't!" she whispered urgently.
"Let me come to your dorm tonight, please," he begged her, his voice raspy.
Mary was even more startled. Kisses were one thing, but sex?
"I can't think what I have said that has led you to believe—" she began, but Kemal interrupted her.
"Please, Mary. I don't know when - if - we'll meet again. So let it be tonight. I know you feel something, Mary, and so do I," he urged her.
Kemal tried to kiss her again, but she edged away. "I will not repeat your…vulgar words to my father since I'd hate to see you cast out into the darkness, but can we agree to consider them unsaid? Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to talk to my sisters. They'll wonder where I've gone."
As she left, Kemal didn't fume or sigh as any other man would have. Instead, he merely smiled.
Thomas was closing up at the restaurant late that night when he noticed the handsome Turk the Crawleys were so taken with standing there, looking at him expectantly.
"How can I help you, sir?" he asked, his eyes traveling up and down the Turk's well-built body.
The man answered his question with one of his own. "Are you Thomas Barrow?"
"Yes," Thomas stuck out his chest proudly, wondering what this perfect man could possibly want to have to do with him.
"I'm Kemal Pamuk. I was told by a source that you know the campus quite well. I need a little help with the….ah, geography of it," the Turk confessed, his tone confidential as he leaned forward to whisper to him.
"Where do you need to go?" Thomas pressed.
"Mary Crawley's dorm," Pamuk admitted confidently.
Thomas's jaw dropped - he had never pegged Miss Crawley as the promiscuous type, that was for sure. She was a bit rebellious at times, but he and O'Brien had always assumed she was saving her goods for marriage. He smirked gleefully - oh, he couldn't wait for when he told O'Brien! She would be so jealous to know he uncovered a bigger piece of gossip than her.
He wondered how that prude Anna would feel about her roommate doing the deed in their dorm in front of her, but then he realized she would be gone for the night, gone back to visit her parents for a day or two.
"And why would I help you? I don't do things for free, you know," Thomas declared arrogantly, but even he was distracted by Pamuk in much the same way Miss Crawley had been at dinner.
"Because I know some things about you, Thomas. My father is chummy with the father of a certain Philip Crowborough, who told him just how much his son admires a certain waiter here - you."
The Turk was as threatening as he was seductive in that moment, a terrifying combination. Thomas gulped, wondering just how much this man knew about him. If he told everyone about him and Philip…Thomas would be ruined, a laughingstock, a target. The country had certainly improved for men like him over the years, but it was still considered somewhat distasteful for him to be attracted to other men.
And yet, some small part of him pitied Mary Crawley, even with the airs she put on and her dark beauty and her happy family and the men falling over themselves for her. Even if she was really no better than a common whore on the streets, she probably didn't understand the mess she had gotten herself into with a man who was willing to resort to underhanded tactics just to sleep with her - a man she'd known for less than a day.
Yet given the choice, Thomas would always choose to save his own skin over someone else's.
"I'll help you, then," Thomas hastily agreed, and Pamuk smiled in satisfaction.
"Good. I thought you might."
Mary was far too preoccupied from her earlier encounter with Kemal to sleep. She instead was reading, a secret passion of hers that served as a way to get out of her own head and lose herself in someone else's. It was so comforting to not have to care about her own issues and to immerse herself in another world, even if it was only for a little while.
She looked up from her book - Tess of the D'Urbervilles, a timeless classic - for a moment and jumped a foot.
Kemal Pamuk was in her room. In his robe and probably not much else. How on earth had he found her room? God, she needed to start locking the door. She had left it open in case Anna came back from her parents' house late.
Mary threw her book to the side and leapt out of bed. "You must be mad, Kemal! You can't be here!" she whispered urgently.
Kemal laughed, his gaze wild and intense. "Oh, I am mad. I'm in the very grip of madness."
Mary didn't like the way he scanned her appearance just then. She was only clad in a thin, almost transparent nightdress and she would've given anything to have more dignity at that moment. "Please leave at once or I'll -" but her threat trailed off weakly. She didn't have many options, exactly. And a part of her deep-down wanted him to stay.
He chuckled almost patronizingly. "Or you'll what?"
"I'll scream," she decided. It was her best alternative, and it still sounded weak.
"No, you won't. People are sleeping or too drunk on their cheap liquor at their parties - they won't notice," he pointed out, and she realized he was right.
"I'll call my senior warden, then. She always said to call her if I needed anything." Mary was trying to appear confident, controlled, invincible to fear and lust. But it wasn't working.
"Will you really let her find a man in your bedroom? What a story. I'm sure she'll spread it to the gossip blogs here," he said almost triumphantly.
"Do you have any idea what you're asking?" she pleaded desperately, moving back from him. He was too distracting - he made her want to accept his offer. "I'd be ruined if they even knew we'd had this conversation, let alone if they—"
"If they what? Don't worry. I won't get you pregnant, and you can still be a virgin for your husband," Kemal told her confidently. "All of the other girls I've ah, encountered, have told me I was quite careful of making sure."
"Are you proposing to me?" Mary joked weakly. "If you are, you'd better get down on one knee and pull out a ring!"
"God, no. I don't do long distance relationships - too much work and not enough payoff - and I don't think our union would please your family."
"It wouldn't," she agreed, thinking of what Violet would say if she married a foreigner. It was bad enough that Cora was American, but at least she was Christian - but Violet would have a conniption fit if her eldest granddaughter married a Muslim Turk.
"It wouldn't please mine either. They want me to marry a good Muslim girl, not an Anglican girl. But it's not uncommon at all for people our age to sleep with people before they're married. And a little imagination…you wouldn't be the first." " He stopped speaking for a moment and grasped her hands, making her feel almost dizzy with a feeling she couldn't even identify. "-
Mary realized he was right - after all, she had heard some of her classmates vividly describing their sex lives before classes started. But Anna hadn't, and she was positive that Matthew hadn't - the two most moral people she knew.
"It's against my religion to lie with a man before you marry," she said matter-of-factly.
He only laughed dismissively. "Mine too, but who cares? If I go to hell after a life of pleasure, so be it. Rules are meant to be broken. From what Evelyn tells me and from what I know about you, you of all people would understand that."
"You and my parents have something in common," she noted, trying to stall him before she lost her senses completely. She could already feel them slipping away…
"Hmm?" he asked, his lips suddenly on her neck and his words tickling there. She gasped in surprise and suppressed pleasure and didn't stop him as he trailed kisses further down, just above the curve of her breasts.
Mary continued her thought breathlessly. "You believe I'm much more of a rebel than I am. I'm not what you think I am. If it's my mistake, if I've led you on, I'm sorry, but...I'm not. Now, please go!" she exclaimed, but it was fruitless. Kemal was caressing her breasts now, and she was helpless to the movement of his hands, his lips.
"Oh, but you are just what I think you are, Mary Crawley," he said confidently. And what was that - a hypocritical, lust-crazed rebel? But maybe that's what she really was, and had just never been intelligent enough to realize it before.
Mary protested anyway, to try to dispel the wicked doubts and fantasies she was having. "No! I've never done anything!"
"Of course not. One look at you would tell me that," Kemal told her, and she briefly wondered what on earth that was supposed to mean.
He kissed her again, but she had one logical excuse left.
"Won't it hurt?" she asked, her voice hushed and fearful.
"Just trust me," he assured her.
Mary finally fully submitted herself to him and her desire as he laid her back on her dorm bed, but even then she wondered whether she was making a grave mistake.
A/N: I'm back after a HUGE leave of absence! Sorry about that. I had, well, life and then I couldn't figure out how I wanted to portray the Mary and Kemal relationship. I eventually decided on portraying him as equally terrifying and seductive, the "unsafe" alternative to Matthew she wants to explore. I felt it was never really mentioned in the show that he basically pressured her into sleeping with him and she eventually gave in against her better judgment. Of course, she did consent - but she didn't want to at first. So I wanted to address that in my story. Please let me know what you thought of that, and about everything else! I LOVE reviews, especially ones that question my creative decisions or give feedback on them! They lead to further discussion :).
Keep well during these trying times!
*just updated some grammar mistakes - I was not sure how to fix them without removing and re-updating this story! Ch4 is in the works, officially!*
P.S. I only did half the episode here because I wanted to go more in-depth without making you guys feel like you had to read too much. :)