Title: Dancing on Broken Glass
Summary: Modern AU. Anna is a successful ballet teacher with a charming boyfriend. John is a single dad who is going through his second divorce. When Anna becomes John's daughter's ballet teacher, everything can change. Will they give into their feelings?
Disclaimer: I don't own Downton Abbey. Obviously.
Author's note: A new attempt on modern AU, and I have no idea where this will go. I didn't think I'd write another modern story, but I hope you'll like it.
"Bloody hell," John muttered under his breath, trying to get the hang of how to knot his tie. He never got it right in the first time, even after all these years. He sighed, starting it all over again. Sometimes he got it right in the first time; today obviously wasn't one of those days.
Wrong again. He snorted impatiently, and prepared to start it all over again when he heard a giggle. He turned around to see his five-year-old daughter looking at him with a happy smile on her face, obviously making fun at him. He rolled his eyes, but smiled.
"Amusing, huh?" he asked, and she giggled again, taking quick steps into the bedroom and sitting hastily on the bed, "Do you want to help Daddy out here?"
"But I don't know how to knot a tie, Daddy," Amelia said, her smile never leaving her face.
"You're probably better than me. You women know how to do this stuff," he said, walking towards the bed and kneeling down in front of Amelia. "Alright. Put your finger over this for me."
Amelia did as she was told to, even helping him folding the tie as he tried to knot it correctly without the help of the mirror. He smiled when they finished, and Amelia clapped her hands.
"You did it, Daddy!"
"That's because you helped me," he said, pinching the point of her nose and stood up. "How do I look?"
Amelia looked at him critically, frowning ever so slightly. When she looked at his face, however, she laughed.
"Very handsome, Daddy."
"Why, thank you, young lady," he said, then looked at his watch. "We best get going. All ready, poppet?"
"Yes!" she said, standing up excitedly.
"Let's get your backpack and go, then," John told her, and the little girl ran out of the room immediately. John followed her lead.
Soon enough, they were both in the car and ready to go. She told him all about her day at school as he drove, used to the familiar banter of his daughter; she was very talkative, all the time, a trait he knew she didn't take from him, but from her mother. He sighed as he thought this; it had been almost a month since Kate called to talk to Amelia. It wasn't the first time that happened, but it never ceased to make him worry. When she left to live abroad, he knew it might happen eventually, but it didn't change the fact that she needed her mother.
He pulled the car over the driveway as they reached their destination and he got out of the car, moving to open the back door to Amelia; she got out quickly and ran towards the front door of the house, already ringing the bell while John grabbed her bright pink backpack from the backseat of the car.
An older man opened the door as John approached it, and he smiled brightly at the little girl.
"Grandpa!" Amelia exclaimed, hugging her grandfather and already entering the house, "Where's Trooper? Trooper!"
John shook his head as Amelia ran to greet the resident dog, and he shared an amused look with her grandfather.
"Thanks for doing this, Larry," John said, shaking hands with the man, "You sure it's no trouble?"
"Of course it's no trouble, John," Larry said nonchalantly, "Any new recommendations?"
John shook his head, "Only the usual. She can sleep later if she wants to, since tomorrow is a Saturday. She probably won't, though," he checked his watch, "Have you, um, had any news from Kate?"
"She sent an email about a week ago," Larry told him quietly, "She hasn't spoken to Amelia?"
John nodded, "In almost a month. She didn't even call on Amelia's birthday two weeks ago, and her present got here two days later. I tried calling her, but she didn't answer."
"She wouldn't. She's on vacation with that Italian bloke," he told him bitterly, "I'll talk to her about this as soon as I can."
"You don't have to..."
"I want to. Kate's my daughter. It's the least I can do," Larry said dismissively as Amelia approached them again, with Trooper, the lazy basset hound, walking behind her, "Well, that and watch that ballerina mouse all night."
"Her name is Angelina Ballerina, Grandpa!" Amelia told him, and they smiled.
"Alright, poppet. Be good to your grandpa, okay?" John said, crouching down to be on the same eye-level as his daughter. "Now give me a kiss."
Amelia happily hugged him and kissed his cheek, and John smoothed her dark brown hair as he stood up again.
"Call me if there's any trouble, Larry," he said, "I'll try to not be long."
"Have some fun, lad," Larry told him as he started to walk away, "You look like you need it."
John rolled his eyes as he heard this, and waved goodbye to them as he drove away.
He doubted he'd have much fun at Robert's party; he was only going because Robert insisted. The event was for his company, actually, and John didn't quite fit there; having known Robert for almost twenty years, though, he felt he owed his friend some support. While Robert was managing a big corporation, he owned a book shop in Harrogate, which didn't make him quite the businessman, but John didn't mind; he would never trade places with Robert. He supposed they had a few common friends who would be there as well, so the party might not be so bad after all. And he always had the excuse of leaving early to pick up Amelia.
It was good to leave home, though. He had just filed for divorce for the second time, and ever since then he barely did anything other than work. Comprehensible, after being married for only ten months and then filing for divorce. Sometimes life wasn't as they planned it to be. He was used to it, really.
He sighed as he thought about his own life; Kate had left him after five years of marriage to live in Italy – Amelia had been just a baby, then. He was thankful, though – it might have been worse. She might have wanted to take Amelia with her, but fortunately for him that hadn't been the case. And with Vera, well, ten months of marriage seemed over the top even for him. He didn't know how he managed to live with her that long.
He'd see this divorce as a new start – preferably one without romance.
Anna looked around the beautifully decorated, very crowded room and sighed. Of course she knew no one around here. Leave it to Mary to have her feeling extremely dislocated; then again, she knew this would happen. She had absolutely nothing to do with the Downton Corporations, and she supposed celebrating God knows how many years the company had wasn't really her thing. Still, Mary had asked her – almost pleaded, really – to come and Anna figured it would be better than staying home alone.
She scanned the room, appreciating the soft music and thinking she might as well find some alcohol to entertain her while she didn't find Mary. Just as she started moving, however, she spotted Mary walking towards her.
"Anna!" she said with a smile, "Thank God you're here. It's been torturing, really," she rolled her eyes, "You look fabulous, by the way. Where's David?"
"He stayed in York this weekend," Anna said dismissively, "He's sorry he couldn't come. You look pretty fabulous yourself."
"Oh, this? It's hardly glamorous," Mary looked up from her own dress to stare at Anna in disbelief, "Of course David's sorry. Like he was when he didn't show up for your birthday a few months ago."
"You know how busy he is. And his career is so important to him," Anna told her firmly, "I don't mind."
"That's because you're a saint, Anna. No one has the same amount of patience you do," Mary said with a smile, "If I were in your place, I'd have dumped him by now."
Anna chose not to comment this; Mary was hardly someone to talk about relationships, having never been in a relationship long enough, always complaining of routine and how men couldn't adjust to her current lifestyle. Anna understood her, she really did – along with her friend, she owned a dance studio in central Harrogate. Having met soon after college, when they both danced for the Northern Ballet, they became fast friends, but an injury took Anna out of professional dance, and Mary continued, now dancing for the English National Ballet. Their school was still fairly new, but it was very well-consolidated, and Anna was proud of teaching there. Mary was always far too busy travelling and being on events to even stop by Harrogate, but Anna was always there. It had been, in fact, nearly two months since Anna saw her the week before, having arrived in town to be a part of her father's company anniversary. Mary trusted Anna to keep the academy going on, to arrange the finances and to control the students and staff, and Anna was more than happy doing what she loved.
"My God, if I'm introduced to another young single businessman by Mama, I'll kill myself," Mary said as a waiter stopped in front of them offered champagne; Anna accepted it thankfully.
"Why would they do that? Surely they know you can find men on your own," Anna frowned.
"I'm twenty-seven and I travel a lot. They want me to settle down," Mary rolled her eyes, "You know how parents are. Anyway, how's the school? We've been having a good year so far, haven't we?"
"Oh, yes," Anna agreed, "We're having a presentation by the end of the month, with the nine-year-olds. You should come and see them."
"Swan Lake," Anna said, sipping the bubbly.
"Sounds... average. But I suppose it's nice for nine-year-olds. Who's training them?"
"Gwen is. They love her," Anna told her with a smile, "What's really supposed to happen here?"
"Dull people making speeches and Papa being proud," Mary said, "I'm really glad you're here. You know how I feel about this corporative stuff."
Anna smiled sympathetically. "Where are your sisters?"
"Around here somewhere," she told her, "Edith likes this sort of thing. She's probably having a good time. And Sybil doesn't care," her eyes widened, "Here comes Mama. Let's go to the terrace before she sees me."
The terrace, as Anna found out when she followed Mary through the huge doors that led to the outside, was almost as big as the hall they had just been in. There was a beautiful view of the city, and Anna was suddenly glad she decided to come; the view was certainly worth it.
"You hadn't been to this hotel before?" Mary asked her nonchalantly as Anna commented on the view. "It is beautiful. A little too romantic to do an event such as this one, but it's definitely worth it. More proper to a wedding, I think. Maybe you should talk to David about it."
Anna smiled, "Maybe I will."
"If David doesn't like it, you can always find someone else," Mary teased, "There is plenty of fish in the sea, you know. Fishes that aren't too busy for you."
Anna rolled her eyes; Mary never liked and probably never would like David. The feeling was mutual, in fact, and Anna was all too used to it.
They walked around, chatting about trivial matters, of Mary's latest tour with the company, and of the newest teacher in the academy; every now and then some acquaintance stopped and talked to them, and Anna was soon enjoying herself.
"There aren't enough waiters here, and I need another drink," Mary said, looking at their empty glasses, but she stopped suddenly. "I shouldn't, though. I'm on this new diet and I can't drink much."
Anna pursed her lips, understanding Mary; if there was something she never missed of professional ballet was the constant concern about their weight. Mary, however, looked a little bit too thin at the moment, and even though Anna understood some parts depended on this, she shook her head and started walking towards the bar, Mary following her.
"Indulge yourself tonight. Come on, your dad's company is celebrating its anniversary," Anna told her, "And if we're due to boring speeches, we might as well drink through them."
"I couldn't agree more," Mary mumbled as they tried to find seats by the bar. "My goodness. Feels like all of Harrogate is here tonight. Did you see Tony Lewis back there?"
"I did. He's not the same bloke I went to school with," Anna said, arching her eyebrows.
"You were in his class, that's right. Some people definitely don't get better with age," Mary said, "All the more reason to drink."
He had just arrived when he remembered how he hated these things. Five minutes in, and he was already wishing to be home, reading, while Amelia watched her daily cartoon marathon.
He had been right about knowing people there; it seemed like half the city had decided to come, so it was hardly a surprise. Still, with him not being in the same business career as them, John found himself extremely bored. After having a somewhat dull conversation with Cora about the décor of the place – something that really wasn't his thing – and hearing one of Robert's partners talk about the exportation crisis, he started walking around when he spotted the outside bar, which looked crowded – something expected, giving the course of the party, one simply had to have a drink.
He stopped by the bar, not bothering on trying to find an empty seat, and had just ordered a scotch when someone called his name; he looked to his side and found Mary, Robert's eldest daughter. He hadn't seen her in nearly a year, he recalled; ever since his wedding to Vera, actually. Having known Mary ever since she was a young teenager, he smiled at her, and she seemed genuinely surprised to see him.
"When Papa said you'd come, I didn't believe it!" she said as they briefly hugged, "You've disappeared completely!"
"Or maybe you did. I heard you've been touring a lot. Congratulations," John smiled.
"Thank you. Oh, this is my friend Anna," Mary caught herself, gesturing to the blonde woman sitting next to her, "Anna, this is John Bates. He's been friends with my father ever since I can remember."
Anna smiled politely and reached out to his hand; her handshake was firm, something that didn't particularly go with her somewhat fragile appearance, but he, of everyone knew what that meant. Vera had a firm handshake too, he remembered. He pushed that thought away. Anna was wearing a very fitting cocktail dress and her hair was a little wavy. She was very pretty, of course. She was probably around Mary's age. He didn't debate this question. He would stop right there.
"I was sorry to hear about your divorce," Mary told him as the barman handed him his scotch. "It's a shame."
"Indeed. But it's better this way," he said quietly, "Cora was looking for you."
Mary rolled her eyes, and before she could say anything else, Anna spoke.
"And she's coming this way."
She shared an amused look with him as Cora approached them, greeting Anna enthusiastically and proceeding to question her about her life.
"Anna, darling, it's been so long! David couldn't come?" Cora asked her.
"No, he's stuck in York working."
"Men," Cora said good-naturedly, turning her attention to Mary, "Darling, there's someone I'd like you to meet..."
John took a sip of scotch as the women talked; typical Cora, trying to set Mary up with someone. And of course someone like Anna would have a boyfriend – it was only natural.
"Alright, Mama," Mary said at last, "Let's go then. Anna, you'll be alright on your own, won't you? I'll be back in a minute."
"I'm sure John will be happy to entertain her. You might pick up a few tips, John," Cora said, winking at him, "Anna makes the best Shepherd's pie in the universe."
Anna laughed softly as mother and daughter left them; she looked at him a bit shyly.
"She's exaggerating, of course," she told him quietly. John smiled.
"Well, she is American," John said, and Anna laughed, "But I believe in what she says. She used to say my pie was the best, and now it seems that I've been replaced. I'm a little shocked, to be honest."
"I'm sorry," Anna said with a smile, "So, um, you work with Robert?"
"No," he said, taking a sip of his drink, "Absolutely not. I worked for him about twenty years ago, but it didn't last. This business isn't for me, really. What about you?"
"Oh, no, definitely not," she shook her head, "I met Mary in Leeds. We danced for the same company. I'm only here because she asked me to."
"So you don't know any of these people?" he asked and she shook her head again. "You're lucky."
"Why?" she frowned, but smiled. She had beautiful smile, he noticed.
"If I have to hear another person's opinion on the exportation crisis, I'll leave before they finish speaking," he lowered his voice, "Do you mind if I sit here?"
He gestured the seat Mary had vacated, and Anna promptly shook her head.
"Are you planning on using me to get away from these conversations?" she asked, teasing evident on her voice.
"Depends. Can you be more interesting than them?" she pursed her lips, trying to remain serious. He arched his eyebrows. "You'll have to work hard to do that, you know."
"I'll do my best," she said with a grin.
He responded with a grin of his own; surely this girl was more interesting than these people.
"Now you'll have to tell me what's so special about your pie."
Anna giggled at his words. Perhaps his night wouldn't be so bad, after all.
A/N: Not too bad, I hope? Let me know what you think - it'd mean a lot to me. Thanks for reading!