All Good Things
Nick awoke to the mildly unpleasant sensation of having carpet for a tongue and a dull ache at the back of his head. He didn't drink much these days. Doctor's orders. He tentatively opened his eyes. The now familiar sight of the school gym and its countless cots filled his view. The dim lighting (the lights were never off, only dimmed) made him blink a little, but didn't burn like he'd expected.
Considering the number of beers he'd consumed last night (and being out of practice) he actually wasn't feeling too bad.
All things considered.
Nick rolled over in his cot and came face to face with Diane, burrowed into her pillow and snoring softly. He couldn't help the smile that slowly spread over his face and he suspected this woman was a large part of the reason he was greeting the day with such a chipper outlook. If it hadn't been for Diane, he most likely wouldn't have even gone to the Legion last night, unaccustomed as he was to seeking out the company of others. But something about Diane was different. She didn't seem to mind his stammering, stop-start attempts at conversation, or the way he seemed to perpetually have his foot in his mouth.
Speaking of his mouth, he'd better do something about this furry sensation. He appeared to have mercifully dodged a hangover, but the quicker he could brush his teeth and splash some water on his face, the better he'd feel.
Nick quietly disentangled himself from his bed sheets and, with a final fond glance at Diane's sleeping form, rose and walked over to the bathrooms.
With the hypnotic motions of his toothbrush, Nick felt his mind wandering and revisiting the night before. Flashes of memory came back to him as sensations.
The feel of Diane's hand, small and warm in his own as she tugged him forward to participate in the screech- in ceremony. The noise of the bar and the crush of people pushing him closer to her than he would have dared on his own. The burn of the screech hitting the back of his throat. A sort of hyper-awareness of Diane's knee and the way it kept deliciously pressing into his leg as she turned to view the cod.
Ugh. The cod. There was a sense memory he could do without. Spitting and rinsing the toothpaste from his mouth, he shook his head in disbelief that he'd actually gone through with it. At least the cold, slimy sensation had been washed away along with the minty foam.
He paused and considered his reflection. He looked different, younger somehow. Happier than he had in years. He suspected that had something to do with what had happened next. Having been peer-pressured into kissing the fish by Diane (not that he minded, he had the funny feeling he'd do anything she asked of him) he had to admit he was a little bit miffed that she was now trying to back out of the challenge.
He was still trying to point out her utter hypocrisy when the mayor had uttered some kind of ultimatum. Only too late did the words "… or else you kiss this Englishman you're not married to!" sink into Nick's subconscious.
"Wait! No, we're not… you… but…"
But it was too late. A pair of hands had wrapped themselves around Nick's neck and the next thing he knew, everything had stopped. The buzz of the crowd had faded and all he could feel was the warmth of two lips against his own.
Diane was…kissing him.
To his dismay in the cold light of day he realised that he'd been too shocked to respond. He just sat there like an idiot while this wonderful woman short-circuited his brain, patted him on the chest and got up with a smile to dance with the other new Newfoundlanders.
"What are you doing, Marson?" he chastised himself. He'd become accustomed to his solitary existence back home, not making room for anything much outside of his work and his small flat. But here, he had a chance to be different. He couldn't let this slip away.
He had to tell her. To let her know she made him want more than just his lonely existence. That she made him want to try. To take part. To kiss the fish.
Well, maybe that was taking things a little far. He can't say he'd particularly enjoyed that experience. Not one he'd be eager to repeat. Though if it led to something as wonderful as last evening, maybe he'd be willing to put up with it, in order to…
Nick sighed in frustration. Even in the bathroom mirror he was starting to blabber. Words never seemed to do what he wanted them to.
How on earth was he supposed to tell her? Would she think he was crazy? After all, only a few days ago they hadn't even met. Is it possible to fall for someone in such a short time? But then he remembered the calm, quiet clarity that had settled over him with Diane's kiss last night.
He glanced at his reflection once more, steeling himself, gathering his resolve. Words often failed him, but actions did not. If he couldn't tell Diane how he felt, he'd simply show her.
He walked back out into the gym, threading his way through the cots of sleeping passengers, back to Diane.
She was sprawled across her cot in a tangle of limbs that couldn't have been comfortable. Even with her make up smudged and her hair mussed across her face, she was beautiful.
He reached out to brush the hair away from her forehead and she awoke with a snort.
"Good morning!" Nick said, withdrawing his hand awkwardly and sitting on his cot opposite her.
Diane sat up with a groan.
"Oh, my head hurts!"
"Yes, well, you'd had a couple!" he chuckled, supressing the stab of guilt that he was partially responsible for her condition this morning. Come on, Marson he thought to himself now or never.
As he tried to pluck up his courage, Diane sat up and turned to face him.
"Did I kiss the fish?" she asked.
"Don't you….?" Oh no. Oh no, no, no. She didn't remember. She didn't remember any of it. The kiss, the smile, the way she'd made his heart sing. It had all been a lark, some drunken folly she wasn't even aware of come morning.
Of course she hadn't meant to kiss you. It hadn't meant anything, merely a means of escaping kissing a slimy cod. Well, at least she fancied you more than the cod, he thought. Small mercy.
"Yes. Yes, you did" he sighed.
"Oh, good!" she smiled. And laughed. God, he loved her laugh. "Wait…" she said, a frown crossing her features.
At that point, Nick couldn't handle the shame of admitting what had really happened last night. He spotted her coat at the end of the cot and lunged for it, standing up as he did so.
"We haven't got long. They said our flight could be the next one to go" he rushed, beginning to stammer once more as he held out her coat to her.
"Oh, right, well I'd best start getting ready. Good thing we don't have much to pack, right?" she smiled up at him, but he couldn't quite meet her eye.
She continued "You know, while you're in Dallas, I'd love to have you over. I'm no good at toutons, but I could do us a proper Texan barbecue!"
Suddenly it was all too much. Her kindness, well-meaning but ultimately misguided, made his chest ache. He longed for her invitation to mean more than it did. He pictured himself turning up at her door, perhaps with a bottle of wine, and being greeted with a kiss. He'd sweep her into his arms and they'd soon forget all about the barbecue, the steaks burning to a crisp as they made up for lost time.
But no, this was merely an extension of the kindness that everyone showed everybody else here. A platonic goodness that was suddenly unbearable when coming from her.
Despite not having any firm plans beyond getting off Newfoundland, he told her that his conference had been cancelled and he'd be returning to London straight away. And firmly ignored the way her shoulders slumped in disappointment, or the way her face fell as he said his farewell and turned away to walk towards the buses.
All good things, right?
Fate had a funny way of stepping in when least convenient.
The quiet of the bus ride to the airport, coupled with the striking image of all those aeroplanes lined up ready to take thousands of people off to wherever they needed to go had given Nick a sense of perspective.
He and Diane lived on opposite sides of the world, a literal ocean apart. He'd been blessed with these few days getting to know her and they were about to part ways, likely to never see each other again.
Despite his disappointment, he decided to swallow his wounded pride and make the most of his remaining time with her. Once they reached the airport, they naturally gravitated towards each other, clutching their luggage and occasionally bumping shoulders in the jostle of the crowd.
They overheard snippets of other passengers' conversations, comparing notes on the kindness of their hosts. One little girl was asking her mother if they could get the recipe for toutons before they left.
Diane smiled at him, the in-joke twinkling in her eyes and Nick felt his heart stammer. Possibly the arrhythmia? Possibly Diane.
Anyway, fate was a bastard, because just when he'd come to terms with saying goodbye to this beautiful, funny, incredible woman, it was announced that they weren't flying after all and they were back at the shelter for the foreseeable future.
Diane had dragged him out on another walk (not that he was complaining, he didn't think he could refuse her anything) and (about a million stairs later) they found themselves at the top of the lookout at Dover Fault.
Not that he took much of it in. His eyes seemed to be constantly drawn back to her. She was stunning. The gleeful look of wonder at the scenery before them mirrored his own expression whenever he looked at her.
And he let himself look. This might be his last chance after all. He found himself gazing over her features whenever he though she wasn't looking, trying to drink in every detail. The way her eyes sparkled and crinkled at the sides when she laughed. The soft curve of her cheek and the dimples to be found there. The wisps of hair that blew across her face whenever the wind picked up. He fought against the urge to reach across and tuck them back behind her ear.
Not that he'd have to reach very far. They seemed to have gravitated closer and closer together since returning to Gander. She reached out and lay a hand on his shoulder.
"Look at this!" she cried, pointing to a plaque detailing the geological history of the site. Nick had to admit he didn't take much of it in. Not when there were dimples.
He contented himself with taking a few pictures. Some of the lookout, but most of Diane. At least when he returned to London, he'd have these photographs. These photographs and the memory of her arm tucked in his as they turned and walked back down those million stairs, huddled together against the wind.
Their remaining time in Gander passed in a blur. There were walks and talks and toutons and a subtle but definite shift between them. There was a closeness since returning from the airport that neither acknowledged, but both accepted. Neither strayed far from the other and there was a renewed physicality to their interactions that hadn't been there before. A gentle touch on the shoulder, a linking of arms, a not-so-accidental bumping of knees when they sat together, perhaps closer than was strictly necessary.
Nick never let himself read too much into it though. He didn't want to get his hopes up once more. Besides, this was an emotional time and she was probably just seeking comfort in this unfamiliar place. Best not hope for what isn't there, eh?
As they made their way on to the buses a second time, a quiet descended over them. It wasn't uncomfortable, but it was different.
That was one of the things Nick had first noticed about Diane, her ability to keep their conversation flowing. Where he tended to stammer and get tongue-tied, her easy conversation and gentle jokes helped assuage his discomfort. It was unusual for her to be so quiet. He wondered if she was ok. Perhaps she was nervous about flying – their last experience on a plane hadn't exactly turned out for the best.
Perhaps she was anxious to get back home to David. He knew that she had heard over the phone that he was alright, but that was different to seeing for herself that he was fine.
Perhaps she'd merely run out of things to say.
That tiny part of him that he'd found here on Gander – the brave part that kissed cod and danced and drank and held her hand on the tops of lookouts – wondered whether perhaps she wasn't feeling what he was feeling. Whether she had enjoyed this newfound closeness and would be sorry to see it go. Surely that was just wishful thinking. And yet…
Now that they'd settled onto the plane, he turned to take a closer look at her and was startled to see tears tracking silently down her cheeks.
He felt his heart reach out to her and wanted nothing more than to ease her sorrow and make her smile again. Before he knew what he was doing, he was reaching out to her and slid an arm around her shoulders. She turned into his chest with a shuddery breath and his fingers tightened around her shoulder as he tucked her head under his chin. As he held her close he felt her tremble against his chest and without thinking he pressed a soft kiss to her forehead.
At that moment, the plane jostled them together and Diane looked up at him in shock. He met her eyes and noticed her gaze flit down to his mouth and back. Her eyes glazed with a steely determination and before he knew it a pair of arms were once more wrapping around his neck and pulling him forward.
For a moment, everything froze. All Nick could feel was the warmth of two lips pressed against his own and the splash of Diane's tears against his cheeks. His brain stuttered in disbelief.
Diane was…kissing him. Him. Oh wake up, Nick Marson, you bloody fool! He thought to himself as he responded with delight, the arm around her shoulders pulling her closer and his other hand resting on her knee, clutching and pulling her close as his mouth moved against hers, barely able to suppress a smile.
After a while, they finally pulled apart - though Nick let his forehead rest against hers, a smile spreading wide across his face.
"I thought you missed, so I fixed it for you" Diane said, a rather pleased expression on her face.
"Well, I'm glad you did!" he laughed, pulling her close to kiss her once more.
"I mean, I missed out on kissing the fish, I wasn't about to miss out on kissing the Englishman once more" she teased.
"Wait…you….but I thought you didn't remember?" Nick gasped.
"It was a little fuzzy at first, but it all came back to me" she giggled. "Perhaps with a little help from Claude." She rummaged in her bag, pulling out a small bottle and handing it to Nick.
"He gave me this before we left today, said it might jog my memory".
Nick looked down at the nondescript flask before unscrewing the lid and taking a whiff.
Ugh. He leaned back instantly in disgust. Screech.
Diane laughed. "He told me everything that happened. Asked again if we'd like to be married." She blushed.
"I told him all in good time".
Nick beamed. As he gathered her up in his arms again and proceeded to kiss every inch of her he could reach, he couldn't quite believe his luck. What had started as an inconvenience, then a nightmare had somehow blossomed into one of the best things that had ever happened to him. As he and Diane melted into each other's arms, the time passed in a blur of hands and smiles and lips and closeness. They didn't even notice the flight attendant coming around with drinks and hot towels.
Fate had a funny way of working things out and Nick couldn't help but feel that right now he was exactly where he was meant to be.
All good things, right?