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Disclaimer- Julian Fellowes owns Downton Abbey
Joseph was sorting through a box of spark plugs as John walked past him carrying an exhaust, whistling to himself. Joseph smiled as he watched John who, still whistling, looked intently from the exhaust to the car he was intending to fit it to and back again.
'I'm not surprised your whistling, boss,' Joseph said upon closing the box, 'that exhaust looks expensive.'
'What?' John asked, slightly distracted. He knew the reason why he was whistling, and it certainly wasn't over an exhaust pipe. Joseph carried on with what he was doing, and John was pleased he didn't want to engage in a conversation. He wasn't really in the mood for talking.
Since his date with Anna the previous night, he hadn't been able to think of anything else. He laughed inwardly at the ridiculousness of it all. Anna Smith, the female solo singer of the moment, had shared a date with him. John Bates. Car mechanic and single dad of one who was closer to turning fifty than he'd care to admit. Not only had things gone so well, she had agreed to see him again. John was on cloud nine.
'Why thanks Robert, I'd love to come on Saturday.' John was shaken from his thoughts by Tom and Robert approaching.
'Great,' Robert exclaimed. 'The more the merrier.'
'What's going on?' John asked, laying the pipe he was holding carefully on the floor.
'I've invited young Tom here to the party on Saturday,' Robert replied before calling over to Joseph. 'And you, Joe. And William wherever he may be.'
'Why?' John asked suspiciously, eyes narrowed.
'Well, they are obviously good friends of yours and a good friend of John Bates is a good friend of mine.'
'Thank you very much,' Joseph replied, pleased as punch before disappearing under the bonnet of the car he was repairing.
'Robert, may I see you in private?' John said, already walking in the direction of his office.
'It all kicks off at half seven lads,' Robert announced before trudging after John. Once in the office Robert closed the door behind him. John was standing with his arms folded by his desk. 'What?'
'Why have you invited them to the party?'
'Well, they work so hard and deserve to let their hair down. And you are always going on about what great lads they are.'
'You've never had a conversation with any of them in your whole life,' John said with a small laugh.
'Alright,' Robert conceded. 'We're hoping that if we invite as many young men as we can to the party, it might be good for Mary, Edith and Sybil.'
'So you are offering up my mechanics as bait for your daughters?'
'Yeah,' Robert replied.
'He seems a nice enough chap and jumped at the invitation.'
'Probably because it will make a change from watching his endless recordings of Top Gear. Although he'll probably make an excuse to leave early so he can do just that.'
'Why are you so reluctant for them to come anyway?' It was now Robert's turn to do the questioning. 'Is this to do with Anna, perchance?' John met Robert's gaze and searched for the words to respond. A smile spread across Robert's face. 'How did the date go?'
John didn't answer as he sat behind his desk. He didn't need to. The smirk on his face told it's own story. 'John Bates. You cad. So how was it?'
'How was what?'
'Well, I'm assuming she stayed the night.'
'What?' John almost yelled. 'I am a gentleman. She deserves to be wooed properly.'
'Lost your nerve, eh?' Robert replied, sitting on the edge of the desk. John sighed before glaring up at Robert. 'Sorry. You know I'm only joking. How did it go? Really?'
'She is.' Robert agreed.
'Intelligent. Funny. Interesting. I ended the evening with a small peck on her cheek but the energy between us was electric.' John continued. 'And she's agreed to accompany me to your party on Saturday night. And if the lads see us arrive together, they'll put two and two together and make nine. Well, William would even when actually trying to add two and two but you get what I mean.'
Robert began to laugh before his look turned decidedly more serious. 'And why would it be wrong for them to think you and Anna were together?'
John sighed before looking out of the window at his colleagues. 'Maybe it's because Anna will soon realise the mistake she's making and I don't want to have to deal with all the sympathy.'
'Or maybe Anna will realise you're everything she's ever wanted.'
John turned his gaze from the window to his friend. 'I haven't even told Adam that we've had a couple of dates. Things like this don't happen to me.'
'What? Falling in love?'
'Who says I'm falling in love?'
'You don't have to say anything, I know you John.' Robert explained, standing up and walking to the door. 'They way you act when you are around her. You wouldn't care two hoots about that rabble coming to the party if you felt nothing.'
'I barely know her,' John called after him. 'How can I be in love with someone I barely know?'
'When you know, you just know.' Robert shrugged. 'The time you've known each other doesn't come into it.'
With Robert's words, John knew he was going to have to face the truth. 'What am I going to do, Robert?'
'Just keep being you,' Robert smiled. 'If she's interested, she'll let you know. If not, then it's her loss. See you Saturday.'
Anna and Mary had agreed to meet on Friday afternoon to find something to wear to the party on Saturday. They decided upon a trip to York. Mary got a chance to see how celebrity had affected Anna's day to day life. Although Anna admitted to slightly enjoying being recognised she did sometimes miss the times she could go out for something as simple as a pint of milk and not be hassled. However, she was a firm believer that if it wasn't for the people she met she wouldn't be living her dream. She had vowed to make sure she was polite to everyone who approached her.
With a new dress and pair of shoes each purchased, they descended upon Starbucks. Once seated with their drinks, Mary decided to press Anna on the subject of John.
'So, we've been together a few hours now and you haven't told me how the date went. All I know is he's taking you to Mum and Dad's party.'
'It went well,' Anna smiled as she stirred her coffee. 'He's a great bloke, adores his son and is a gentleman as well. What's not to love?'
'Did anything, you know...' Mary asked awkwardly.
'You know, what, Mary?' Anna asked, obviously enjoying Mary's discomfort.
'You know exactly what I mean, Anna Smith,' Mary replied. 'You just enjoy making me squirm.'
Anna laughed before answering. 'If you are asking what I think you are then no, we didn't.'
'That surprises me, you usually have done by now.' Mary joked.
'Mary, if you weren't my best friend I would slap you for that.'
'Sorry.' Mary offered quickly. 'He's a great guy. You both deserve to be happy.'
'He is a great guy.' Anna nodded before looking into her cup. Suddenly her mind was full of John. She couldn't get his smile out of her mind. 'There are so many reasons why it shouldn't work.'
'Yeah. His old enough to be your father. He has a son. He's still married.'
'Thanks for listing them.' Anna interrupted. 'But then there are so many reasons why it should. We get on great, he makes me laugh. I almost lose myself looking in his eyes. Just a kiss goodbye on the cheek left me dying for more.'
'Would you ever explore those feelings?' An intrigued Mary asked before taking a sip of her coffee.
'He's not my usual type, that's for sure.' Anna replied. 'But is that a bad thing? I usually go for the pretty boys. Like Michael. And where has that got me?'
'Absolutely nowhere.' Mary said honestly.
'Thanks for that,' Anna chuckled. 'You really are quite the motivational speaker today.'
'I get that you like his personality. What it really boils down to is can you ever see yourself fancying John?' Mary asked. 'Do you already?'
Anna stopped to consider Mary's words for a moment before answering. Never thinking herself this shallow, she reluctantly allowed herself to think about John's physical appearance. She thought about how muscular his arms looked in the polo shirt he wore to the barbecue. She loved the way a hint of chest chair had appeared over the top of the black shirt he wore to the pub. How she had secretly imagined running her fingers through that hair as he spoke to her. She liked how he had a lock of hair that continually fell out of place above his eye. Along with his stubble this left him looking slightly dishevelled. She definitely liked that. And when he smiled at her, she felt stirrings within her she couldn't explain.
'You know, I think I do.' Anna answered truthfully. 'He's a completely different man to Michael.'
'Yeah, he's not a prat.'
'Mary,' Anna hissed, looking around the room before looking her friend in the eye and descending into laughter, followed by Mary. 'All I know, is no man has ever made me feel like this before.'
John waited in his car patiently outside Anna's house. He had sent her a text to say he was on his way and would meet her outside. He was secretly hoping he didn't look too overdressed in his navy blue pinstriped three piece suit and light blue shirt he had chosen to accompany it. A tie had been part of the outfit too. However, a picture message to Mary later she told him it was a party, not a bankers dinner, and to lose the tie. Other that that, he looked great. Unfortunately, having had a headache all day which he blamed on the contacts he wore, he had decided to wear his glasses. Anna had never seen him wear glasses before. She hoped it wouldn't put her off him.
'Oh, pull yourself together, Bates,' John hissed to himself. 'This is you. If she doesn't like the way you are then you can't do anything more.'
He was pulled out of his inward cursing by a flicker of movement to his right. Looking towards Anna's front door, she appeared. Her dress and handbag were silver. And her heels looked incredibly big, he wondered how anyone could possibly walk properly in shoes like that. He managed to process that much information before his heart suddenly started beating quicker than it had in years. Now, his overriding thought was how the dress clung to her in all the right places, accentuating her curves. His eyes traced down and observed how the dress flowed all the way down to just below her knees. Her body seemed flawless. Realising he was now almost gawping, he decided to get out of the car to greet her rather than sit there staring.
'Evening,' Anna said sweetly.
'Hello,' John replied, closing the door behind him. She was now right in front of him and John noticed how much taller the heels made her, meaning she didn't have to reach up as far to place a kiss on his cheek. Then he processed the feeling of her lips upon his skin again and lost all coherent thought.
Anna smiled at the effect her appearance was having on John. 'I'll get in the car, shall I?'
'Yeah,' John replied weakly before doing the same. 'Can I just say you look stunning. Breathtaking even.'
'Thank you,' Anna blushed slightly as he joined her in the car. 'I love your glasses. They make you look very distinguished.'
'Distinguished? Great,' John said sarcastically before turning on the ignition.
'Oh no, I like it,' Anna was quick to reassure John before adding as sincerely as she could. 'You look great.'
'One of the perils of getting old,' John replied as he began to pull away. 'If I could change one thing about myself it would be my eyesight and having to wear glasses.'
'I wouldn't change one thing about you,' Anna replied flirtatiously. She had noticed the tuft of chest hair threatening to escape just above his top shirt button 'The glasses look is definitely in.'
On arriving at the party, John instantly clocked his three workmates by the bar. Tom appeared to be holding court with about three women hanging on his every word. Joseph and William were standing beside him, chatting intently. Probably about wheel nuts or something John supposed, but intently all the same.
Anna was scanning the room, looking for Mary before noticing her beside the food table, chatting to a tall blonde man with a cheeky smile. She then looked up at John also observing and realised there was nobody here she would rather be standing beside. It felt natural to link her arm with his. She felt him almost tremble at the contact before meeting her eyes.
'John, Anna.' Cora exclaimed as she approached them. 'Thank you so much for coming.'
'Wouldn't have missed this for the world,' John replied, kissing Cora on the cheek. 'Congratulations. Thirty years with Robert is quite an achievement.'
'Thirty years?' Anna said in surprise as Cora embraced her. 'You don't look old enough.'
'We married in our early twenties,' Cora replied. 'But thank you. Have a nice evening, guys. The disco should get going soon.'
'Great, you know how I love a dance,' John said mockingly before Cora moved away from them. Anna was laughing as John looked at her again. 'What?'
'Nothing,' Anna shook her head. 'Just making a mental note to make it my objective to get you on the dance floor before the evening is through.'
John nodded, with a smirk on his face as he moved his arm to her waist and began leading her to the bar. 'I best be on my guard.'
There was something about this sort of function that made John feel uncomfortable. Not being able to drink had something to do with it. It was his tendency in social situations like this to stand at the side and observe. However this evening, there was only person he could keep his eyes on. Anna had spent a chunk of the evening on the dance floor with Mary, he insisting that he didn't mind in the slightest and that she should have a good time. She was, after all, in this part of the country to catch up with old friends.
Apart from watching Anna, he had noticed how much of his evening Tom had spent with Robert and Cora's daughter, Sybil. William and Joseph had spent most of their time sitting with John as his ear was almost talked off by Robert telling him how perfect his wife was. Both of them had left about an hour ago, leaving John alone to his own devices. The DJ announced that it was last call at the bar, and that it was almost time for the last dance. John was inwardly relieved, he couldn't wait to get Anna on her own again.
'Are you alright?' Anna asked as she sat beside him. 'Having a good time?'
'Yes,' John replied before looking Anna up and down. 'I've been enjoying the view all evening.'
'You flirt, John Bates.' Anna laughed. Their moment was interrupted by Mary sitting beside Anna. 'Everything okay, Mary?'
'Isn't that Matthew gorgeous?' Mary said, pointing over at him at the bar.
'Yeah, he's cute,' Anna agreed. 'How do your parents know him?'
'Oh, Dad did tell me,' Mary replied, pinching the bridge of her nose as she tried to remember. 'He's the son of my Aunt's new husband. Does that make sense? The Sambuca is clouding my brain.'
'I think so,' Anna replied before throwing a puzzled look to John who looked thoroughly amused at Mary's drunken state.
'Anyway, he's promised me the last dance.' Mary announced. 'It's Mum and Dad's wedding song apparently. Could be anything. One thing is for sure, it will be old so you'll know it, eh John?'
John shifted in his chair uncomfortably as Mary left them alone again. Anna looked at John as he cast his gaze downwards before sighing.
'Ignore her,' Anna said, placing her hand on top of John's. 'She always gets like this when she's drunk.'
'But she's right, isn't she? I am old.'
'Are you?' Anna shrugged. 'I hadn't noticed. Now I am going to go to the ladies then when I come back I will be sharing the last dance with you. Whether you like it or not.'
'I can't very well say no then, can I?'
True to her word, as soon as she returned from the ladies she placed a hand upon John's shoulder. The DJ had announced the last dance and the opening notes of Unchained Melody began to fill the room. Without a word, Anna took him by the hand and led him to a quiet spot on the dance floor. John's hands found Anna's waist and Anna wrapped her arms around his shoulders. They both registered this was the closest they had stood together as they began to move in time to the music. John hadn't felt this alive in years, Anna hadn't felt this alive in her whole life.
'Is this okay?' John whispered in her ear.
'Yes,' Anna breathed. They carried on moving, John enjoying the close contact, Anna loving the feel of his hands strong and confident on her waist. 'I've enjoyed myself tonight.'
'I had noticed.'
'I haven't been able to stop watching you.' John said huskily. 'You're gorgeous.'
'Thank you,' Anna blushed. 'I have to say, there's something about you, I can quite put my finger on it. You're unlike any man I've ever met before.'
'Is that a good thing?' John asked.
Anna made sure she was right by his ear before replying. 'Most definitely.'
The drive home was spent mainly in silence, shy glances toward the other as John went about his task with a permanent smile on his face. His heart sunk as he reached Anna's street. Pulling up outside her house, he turned off the car and stared straight ahead.
'Well, this is me.' Anna said, looking out of John's drivers window at her house.
John looked at her before putting his hand on the door lever. 'I'll walk you in.'
'Before you do,' Anna stopped him with a touch on his forearm. 'I'm still up here for a couple more weeks. I'd like us to have a proper day out.'
'You would?' John said almost in surprise. Sure, she had been alluding to as much all evening but to actually hear the words come from her mouth was another thing all together.
'Yes. You can choose what we do. How about tomorrow?'
'Tomorrow?' John almost yelped.
'Are you busy?'
'No,' John shook his head. 'Not at all.'
'So it's a date?'
'Okay,' John replied, his head spinning. 'Did you want to do anything in particular?
They got out of the car then, John following Anna up the garden path until they reached her front door. Turning to face him, their eyes met and John reached down for her hand.
'I'll pick you up about ten. Is that alright?' He asked.
'Absolutely. Do you have something in mind already?'
'Maybe,' John smirked. He suddenly felt a little bolder. 'Do you know what I have in mind this second?' Before Anna had a chance to reply John's hands found her waist. It was like she couldn't breathe as he stepped even closer to her. 'Tell me if I am overstepping the mark.'
Anna smiled slightly, wrapping her arms around his neck as she looked down at John's lips. 'Tell me if I am if I admit I want you to kiss me. Right this second.'
John didn't need a second invitation as his lips met hers in a passionate kiss. Days of tension was released as John's hands began to wander and Anna deepened the kiss. Pulling away, fearing where it might lead if he didn't, John lightly brushed Anna's lips with his before resting his forehead against hers. 'That was nice.'
'It was,' Anna replied breathlessly, running her fingers through his hair. 'I must say I wasn't expecting that.'
'At the risk of repeating myself, is that a bad thing?'
'Not at all,' Anna laughed softly before kissing him lightly once more.
Reluctantly breaking contact, John stepped back onto the garden path. 'See you tomorrow.'
'Ten. Don't be late.'
'I might be many things but I am not a fool, Miss Smith. Ten on the dot.'
'I'll be waiting, Mr Bates.'