“You’ve changed your hair.”
Phyllis startles for a moment, she almost pricks herself with the needle she has in her hand, then glances over her shoulder.
“Mr Molesley, I didn’t hear you approach!” She exclaims, but then gives him a small smile. Her free hand reaches to self consciously play with the ends of her new shortened hair, as she takes in what he had just said. He must of been truly caught off guard, to not of even greeted her properly first. “Oh, yes I have. Well actually Anna cut it for me yesterday.” She tries to sound casual about the whole thing; when in reality she’d been nervous for him to see her since the haircut was done.
He keeps staring at her for the longest time, “it’s different.” He finally says and she can’t help but frown at his reaction. “W-what I mean is, I’m used to seeing your hair long.” He tries to explain after noticing the less than impressed expression on her face. Phyllis just makes a non comital noise and turns back to her task of fixing one of her Ladyship’s garments.
She wants to correct him and tell him he had never seen her hair down, so in fact he’d never seen her hair long. But it’s late and she doesn’t want to start an argument about something as trivial as her new hair. It still hurts though, his evident dislike of the new style. She feels embarrassed for even doing it now; for trying to keep up with the latest trends. She wasn’t a young girl anymore, she was a forty eight year old woman.
“What are you doing here at this time anyway?” She asks, changing the subject, as her eyes focus on the task in front of her. She doesn’t even look to her side when he pulls the chair next to her back and takes a seat.
“I actually came to see you,” he admits gently and she can tell he’s still looking at her hair, even without looking up. It irks her, but she doesn’t say anything.
She narrows her eyes as she pulls some thread through the delicate material in her hands. “Still it’s very late, I might not of been up.” She replies in more of a measured toned than usual.
“It was just strange not seeing you yesterday at the school like I usually do. And then I missed you again earlier. I enjoy our little walks, but I expect you were busy here.” He says after a heavy sigh. “So I thought it worth the risk to come here and see if you were awake, besides you always...” He trails off, as if he’s unsure of wether he should go on.
Finally Phyllis looks at him, and raises a curious brow. “I always what, Mr Molesley?” She presses, and he smiles at her despite her irritated tone.
“You’re always the last one to go up. Or at least you were back when I still worked here.” His inconsequential observation, along side the fact he even remembers a little detail like that about her, fills her with warmth. So much so, she actually returns his smile, even though she’s still unhappy about his lack of enthusiasm about her hair. It seemed like a silly think to be upset over now. In all her life, she doesn’t think anyone has paid that much attention to her; she’s never been important enough to anyone for that sort of thing.
“I suppose I’ve always been a bit a night owl.” She remarks softly, but doesn’t mention that’s mostly due to the nightmares that follow her from time to time. She’s about to return to her mending, when Mr Molesley suddenly reaches forward with one of his hands. Her first instinct is to tense, a habit that had lingered with her ever since her time with Peter Coyle. And she holds her breath, until she feels his gentle fingers push back a strand of her hair behind her ear. She momentarily closes her eyes at the sensation, then opens them when his hand retreats.
“It really does suit you like that, Miss Baxter. Perhaps Anna needs a change in career.” He finally speaks after a long moment. The compliment makes her blush, and she hopes he doesn’t notice.
She tries to distract him, but can’t think of anything to say. And when she does speak she knows she sounds petulant. “I thought you didn’t like it.”
He looks at her with a perplexed expression, then seems to realise something. “I never said I didn’t like it, I just said it was different.”
Phyllis is still unconvinced though. “Yes, and then you said nothing else. So there is no need to hide what you really thought when you walked in, Mr Molesley.” She huffs quietly under her breath. “But I suppose you’re entitled to your own opinion. A lot of men don’t really like this new style on women actually. Or that’s what I’ve heard anyway, so it’s perfectly reasonable that-
“Miss Baxter,” he interrupts, and it’s only then she realises she’s been rambling on. She looks down at her hands again, unable to meet his eyes. “I said it’s different because, well it is. And I didn’t say anything else because I couldn’t stop admi-looking at you, because I really do like it. It’s a nice change, not that there was anything wrong with how you looked before either, mind you.”
When she finally looks back up at him, there’s a shy smile on her face, she’d caught his slip of the tongue. “Do you really think so?” She asks quietly, wanting to make sure he wasn’t just saying this to spare her feelings. While simultaneously wondering why she cares so much about his opinion on her appearance in the first place.
“Really. You look like you should be a London socialite. I dare say you’d given some of them a run for their money.” He says earnestly, and this time they both laugh.
“Maybe if I was twenty years younger, and even then I was a plain little thing.” She says as she shakes her head. “But thank you for saying so.”
“You could never be plain to me, Miss Baxter.” The words tumble out of him so quickly, she’s not sure she’d heard him correctly. But then he bows his head, as if he’s suprised he’d spoken them out loud as well.
After thinking about it, she reaches for his hand on the table. And let’s her own rest on top of his larger one. He looks at their hands before looking back up at her. His blue eyes look like two oceans, and Phyllis feels a thousand unspoken words spill from those eyes with just one look. She hopes he can see the same, reflected from her brown irises; that he can feel what she feels.
“And what do we have here then?” A familiar voice interrupts whatever she was about to say.
They both pull their hands back, just as Thomas enters the room. He looks at them both knowingly before tutting. “Let me guess, Mr Molesley. You’d heard we have our very own Louise Brooks working here now, and had to come see for yourself.” He suggests confidently. It had been him who’d convinced her to go through with the hair cut in the first place after all.
Phyllis smiles to herself at the compliment from Thomas, then looks up at him and rolls her eyes when he winks at her. “I was just heading up.” She says softly but not before catching the look of disappointment on Mr Molesley’s face. “I’ll come by the school tomorrow before I have to tend to her Ladyship for the evening, if you don’t mind?”
This at least cheers him up, and he beams at her. But before he can respond, Thomas interrupts again. “Course he doesn’t mind, you could turn up at his house in the dead of night and he’d greet you with open arms, wouldn’t you, Mr Molesley?’
Mr Molesley grimaces, but doesn’t deny it. Phyllis wishes he could see how much Thomas has changed since the man who used to blackmail her. But it’s just something they will never see eye to eye on. And Mr Molesley won’t even look at him.
There’s a flicker of understanding on Thomas’s face, and maybe a little sadness too. So Phyllis reaches up and gives his wrist a reassuring squeeze, aware of the scars which linger there. “I’m sure even Mr Molesley’s generosity has its limits.” She jokes, and Thomas smiles down at her. He nods his head, then makes his way out the back door for his nightly cigarette.
“He means well.” Phyllis says once they are alone again, feeling a familiar pang of protectiveness when it came to Thomas. He was like the little brother she’d never had, and after what had transpired last year, she never wants to see him hurt again.
She must have a pained expression on her face, because when Mr. Molesley speaks he sounds anxious. “I know you’re fond of him and although I’ll never understand how you could be, after what he put you through when you first came to Downton, I accept that’s just the sort of person you are.”
Phyllis bristles as that. “And what sort of person is that?” She asks as she begins to gather her things.
“Remarkable.” Mr Molesley answers honestly, then adds, “the kindest person I’ve ever met.”
She freezes at his words. She doesn’t know why people keep referring to her as kind. She’s never had a very high opinion of herself, not since the robbery. Phyllis just wants a quiet life now, and if that means mainly being pliant, civil and sensible or as Mr Molesley and others say, kind, then so be it. In a way she’s glad they never met her back when she was under Coyle’s spell; because cruel is what they would of considered her back then.
“That’s funny,” she says as she stands up, “because that’s exactly what I think about you.” Any harshness she may of felt had melted away, because Phyllis couldn’t hold onto anger, especially when it came to him.
When he smiles up at her, Phyllis feels her heart flutter in her chest. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Mr Molesley. Goodnight.”
He nods, “until tomorrow.”
She smiles shyly, and turns to finally go, until his voice stops her again.
“Oh and Miss Baxter.” He calls, and she turns around at the doors threshold.
She raises both her eyebrows and looks at him expectantly, “yes?”
He clears his throat. “Your hair...” He stops, then corrects himself, “you really do look beautiful.”