Annette was used to seeing love at every turn. As a little girl, she'd been raised on a steady diet of fairytales and Disney happy endings. She expected love around every corner, seeing it in places where it existed (like between her parents) and sometimes in places where it didn't exist (like between the postman and her neighbour Sally, although the jury was still out on that one).
She'd hoped that as she grew older, she'd see it directed towards herself.
However, for much the same reason as why doctors don't practise medicine on themselves, Annette found that her acute senses were somewhat dulled when it came to her own heart.
To be clear, Annette still saw love everywhere, however she was usually sadly mistaken when believing it to be directed at her.
For the last few years, she'd been stuck in a bit of a rut, date-wise. That came with living in a small town, she supposed. The pickings were decidedly slim here in Gander.
Half of the men were too old, too married or too… mayoral (though he did look quite fetching in that blue jacket…no, focus, Annette!) to be worth pursuing.
She supposed there was that new gym teacher, Mr. Michaels…
But that was about it.
That was, until the plane people arrived.
Annette and Beulah were suddenly inundated with army cots, trays of food that the locals had made and roll upon roll of toilet paper (oh god, so much toilet paper!)
Between the two of them – along with a little help from some of the townsfolk (like Dwight – such a shame he was gay, what a waste of a good hairline) – they were able to get the school ready just in time for busload after busload of passengers to arrive.
Annette could hardly believe her eyes – so many attractive men! (Was it wrong to be thinking about something like that at a time like this?)
Over the next several hours, she was kept busy helping the passengers to settle in, serving them food, finding them blankets.
Several of the planes had passengers who didn't speak English, so then she and Beulah were kept busy running around trying to find translators (she couldn't help but blush giddily as she heard Mr. Michaels, the new gym teacher, speaking broken Spanish to a worried looking older lady).
Annette barely gets any sleep that night before she is back at it, helping solve problem after problem, bringing out box after box of donated clothes for the passengers, all the while scoping out the new folks for potential romance (who knew that bathroom maintenance could be so… sexy?).
She ignores Beulah's good-natured teasing when it comes to Captain Bristol. She knows what she felt, even if she had exaggerated some of his words ever so slightly.
It's then that she sees him: a tall, bespectacled Englishman, well-dressed and slightly folded in on himself, as if trying not to take up too much space.
He was talking to a small Texan woman. Well, thought Annette, I say talking… blathering, more like…
"I…Is your hair different? I mean, it looks good… I like it," he finished lamely.
The woman smiled down at her shoes bashfully.
"Oh, thank you. No shampoo for three days!" she laughed, tossing her hair over her shoulder with a comical flick.
The Englishman laughed in return and they spent a moment simply smiling at each other, each one roaming their gaze over the other's face as if attempting to memorise each small detail.
Each grabbing a jacket from the pile of spare clothes, they turned together to walk towards the exit, shoulder to shoulder and smiling all the way.
Annette supposed they were going to check out the town and get some air. They didn't seem in any particular hurry.
Beulah's voice broke through her reverie and she came back to herself with a gasp, before continuing to wipe at the mug in her hand with a dish towel.
She needed to sit down.
All her life, Annette had been able to sense love, but she'd never felt it quite so strongly before.
It almost brought tears to her eyes, the thought of two people finding such happiness in a time like this.
Peering out of the cafeteria window, she could still see the two of them on the lawn, although they'd been approached by that nice gay couple, Kevin and Kevin (she'd very quickly introduced herself to one of them and very quickly been disappointed).
The four started to head for the front entrance to the Academy. Before she knew it, Annette was on her feet, running out the door and whistling to the Kevins, gesturing at them like a mad thing before darting behind a bush.
They followed her behind it with matching quizzical expressions furrowing their brows.
Floundering around for an excuse, Annette settled on telling them to give Brenda's bar a try, figuring a little social lubrication couldn't hurt in helping her two lovebirds to get a little better acquainted.
Her plans were foiled when, two hours later, the couple in question (Nick and Diane, she'd found out from Beulah – and how did Beulah know, anyway? It must come from years of teaching, the ability to learn and remember names so fast…) walked through the door alone, hovering close to one another but very carefully maintaining a space between them.
She hurried over to them.
"Excuse me, you don't happen to know where those two gentlemen you were walking with are, do you?"
Diane nodded at her.
"They went to some bar on the main street, I think. We didn't really feel like a drink, so Nick and I just sort of… walked," she smiled politely.
Nick, who hadn't taken his eyes off Diane until this point in the conversation, asked
"Shall we let them know you're looking for them if we see them?"
"Oh no, that's alright, don't bother."
Annette returned to the cafeteria.
This wasn't necessarily a setback. So perhaps getting them drunk hadn't quite eventuated. She shouldn't be surprised, it didn't usually work even when she tried it herself.
But a romantic stroll around the town, just the two of them… that could definitely be a step in the right direction.
Annette kept a watchful eye on the two of them over the next few days and what she saw made her heart melt.
Nick played right into the stereotype of shy English reserve, though he tended to blabber on too much when nervous. Beneath this, though, it was easy to see that he was kind and gentle and utterly taken with Diane, never straying far from her side.
Diane, on the other hand, was far more open and chatty, her easy humour inviting him into conversation and seeming to ease his nerves.
They both danced around each other, finding little excuses to touch, to be near.
It was for this reason that they both seemed to talk each other in to attending the party at the Legion on Thursday night.
As per usual, Nick and Diane were inseparable. Annette clocked them from across the bar, standing close together, perhaps closer than necessary, given that the bar wasn't really that crowded. Yet.
Still, it couldn't hurt to kick things up a notch, thought Annette. And that was when she spied it – the aged bottle of rum.
Eureka – a screech in! she thought to herself excitedly.
She made her way across the bar, taking a slightly longer route than necessary so it might afford her the opportunity to squeeze past Captain Bristol, perhaps a little closer than necessary. Hey, there was no reason she couldn't have a little fun of her own!
She grabbed hold of Claude and whispered hurriedly in his ear, a smirk spreading slowly across his face.
They had themselves a Screech-In ceremony and, when Diane refused to kiss the fish, Annette gives herself a mental pat on the back for her quick thinking in suggesting an alternative to the mayor.
She joined the rest of the bar in giving a whoop as Diane reached across and pulled Nick into a deep kiss. Then Annette occupied herself for the remainder of the evening by trying to get Captain Bristol to dance.
The next morning, Annette (like most of the town) was nursing a slight hangover as she trudged back into the Academy for her next shift. She hadn't meant to stay out so late the night before, but Captain Bristol had been so fascinating to talk to; he'd flown to literally every continent (even over Antarctica!) and had so many stories. Annette even managed to keep her eyes off his biceps long enough to listen to some of them.
As a result, she'd only staggered home and managed about four hours' sleep before her alarm reminded her rather obnoxiously that she was expected at Gander Academy to help with the breakfast shift.
She was tired and a little groggy and the sheer rush of adrenaline that had been powering all of the locals over the past few days was starting to flag. None of them had expected the plane people to be stuck here quite this long and she was running out of energy to keep going, keep helping.
She thought of Diane kissing Nick in the bar last night and smiled. At least that was one job off her plate. Her two lovebirds had finally admitted their feelings and she could rest easy knowing she'd done a good deed and successfully played cupid in such a trying time.
It sounded like she was just in time too – the U.S. airspace had been reopened and flights were expected to depart Gander any time from late morning. Annette decided to go and say goodbye to a few of her favourite passengers (were you allowed to have favourites? Ah, what the heck!) and her first port of call was her two lovebirds.
She made her way across the gymnasium, only to spy Nick gently shaking Diane awake.
"Good morning," he smiled down at her.
"Oof, my head hurts" she groaned, sitting up inch by inch, clutching at her forehead.
"You were snoring," he admitted affectionately.
Annette tried to contain her swooning. He looked so sweet smiling down at her. It wasn't hard to see he was smitten. Annette was about to high five herself when Diane spoke again.
"Did I kiss the fish?"
"Don't you…" Nick began, a slight frown beginning to tug at his features.
Oh no, thought Annette. She doesn't remember. So much for alcohol helping things along, it helped so much that it helped the memory right out of her brain! Damn it.
"…yes, yes you did," Nick finished with a sigh, and if Annette hadn't been looking so closely, she would have missed it – the briefest flash of pain… no, grief… across his face, before he resettled his expression into a calm and genial smile and moved the conversation on to something about the planes being ready.
The two began picking up their belongings and Annette beat a hasty retreat to the cafeteria before they could catch her eavesdropping.
She was kept busy bagging the lunches for each of their guests, but it didn't stop the disappointment from seeping in. She had been so sure those two would have a happy ending, she couldn't quite believe it was over. If only she'd had one more chance.
Somebody up there must've been listening to her, because it turned out that a flat tyre on one of the planes meant the entire runway was blocked and flights were still grounded. Who knew planes got flat tyres? Annette decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth and simply take advantage of the opportunity she'd been given to finally push those two confused lovebirds past their denial and into each other's arms.
A small voice in her brain asked why she was so vicariously invested in their relationship. The same voice suggested it might have something to do with her own lack of progress with Captain Bristol due to her utter inability to get up the nerve to ask him out. She firmly ignored the small voice and went on wiping down tables.
When Annette noticed Nick walking past she beckoned him over.
"I've been told to tell all the passengers not to go too far from the shelter in case your flight is called again, but I also couldn't help notice you and your lady friend over there enjoy a good walk. This one is a must-see while you're still in Gander."
And with a sly wink, she pushed a brochure for the Dover Fault into his hands. Oh yes, it was time to bring out the big guns. If jaw-dropping natural splendour couldn't set the mood for these two, then frankly she washed her hands of them.
Out of the corner of her eye, she watched him turn and slowly walk back to Diane, perusing the brochure as he went. She watched the two of them converse awkwardly (there'd been a sort of tension between them since that morning, Annette had noticed) before turning together and heading for the door.
Annette smiled, before dashing towards the art supply closet. She had one more job to do.
Annette had been right in noticing the tension between Nick and Diane. Throughout the entirety of their stay they had been dancing around each other, but this had been made more bearable by easy conversation and the casual touches that had gradually creeped in to their burgeoning relationship.
After the misunderstanding that morning, however, the two had maintained a careful distance between one another, taking steps not to accidentally brush against the other. Their conversation, too, had become more stilted.
This, coupled with the physical effort needed to get up the stairs ("about a million of the bloody things," Nick wheezed when they reached the top. "I'm not sure this is what my doctor had in mind by 'taking it easy'") meant they walked in relative silence, broken only by the odd comment about the scenery, or Nick's gentle complaining about the sheer steepness of the walk.
The view was breathtaking, not that Nick bothered to take much of it in. He couldn't keep his eyes off Diane, the memory of her kiss the previous night still tingling on his lips.
He longed to reach out and take her hand, wrap an arm around her waist and kiss her back in the way he'd been too shocked to do in the Legion. Every so often, he thought he saw her glance at him and though she always looked away quickly with a shy smile (be still his beating heart, she was beautiful) he could have sworn there was a hint of the same longing he felt reflected in her eyes.
They both contented themselves with looking out over the world together, and as the chill of the wind picked up, that invisible boundary they had carefully built up between them slowly melted away. Their shoulders nudged and rubbed together and Nick cautiously raised an arm, hovering uncertainly over her shoulder before she found the courage to slip an arm around his waist and the two folded together, gazing out over the edge of the ocean.
When Nick and Diane eventually came back down the stairs, arm in arm, they were too swept up in each other to notice the "Keep Out – Lookout closed for maintenance" sign which had appeared at the base of the stairs suspiciously soon after they embarked.
Annette was absolutely exhausted. The last of the plane people had departed that afternoon and she and Beulah had finally got the school packed down around 11pm.
As she staggered in through her front door and trudged zombie-like towards the shower, she felt the beginning of tears pricking at her eyes.
It had been such a flurry of activity over the past five days that this honestly felt like the first time she'd stopped to catch her breath.
It was also the first instance she'd had time to stop and reflect and she couldn't help the doubt that started pouring in.
She'd been so sure that Nick and Diane were made for each other. She had sensed a renewed closeness between them when they returned from Dover Fault, but still no declarations, no kiss, no hand-holding even!
They were getting back on the plane the same way they came off it: single and unattached.
Just like her.
Under the hot spray of the shower, Annette allowed the tears to fall. Perhaps that was the real problem here, she thought.
She'd tried so hard to bring those two together, to try and "fix" them into a couple, when really it was her own love life she had hoped to mend.
She'd had countless opportunities to talk to the captain, and while she had joked around with Beulah about flirting with him, when it came to actually speaking to him face to face, she was always left a tongue-tied bundle of nerves.
She hadn't gotten up the nerve to ask him to dance, to ask him for his number, to ask him to marry her…
Okay, perhaps she was running away with her imagination again, but still…
She'd lost her nerve too many times and now she'd lost her chance. For good. He'd flown out of her life along with Flight A303 back to Los Angeles.
She'd never been to Los Angeles before.
Not that she was likely to go any time soon.
I mean, Captain Bristol did leave his number, she thought, but he'd left it with Beulah, not her. She distinctly remembered him saying:
"You can always contact me here – either of you – if you have any follow-up queries or, you know, lost property or what have you… Anytime, either of you," he'd finished with a quick glance towards Annette and that gorgeous gentle smile she'd fallen for.
But surely he smiled like that for everyone.
No, thought Annette, love is best left for the Disney movies, I've had enough failed attempts this week to last me a lifetime.
She turned off the tap, letting the last drips from the showerhead rinse away her tears, then dried herself and slept a dreamless sleep.
Life in Gander returned to normal – well, as normal as could be expected – after that. School began again, properly this time and Annette was soon swept up in the rhythm of grading assignments and planning lessons.
As such, it came as a complete surprise when, one morning in late November, Beulah beckoned her over in the staffroom and handed her a letter.
Dear Gander Academy,
My name is Diane Gray and I'm writing to you along with Nick Marson.
You might not remember us among the many hundreds of people you so kindly took in, but we were two of the passengers that stayed with you in the days following the 11th of September. We wanted to thank you once again for your incredible hospitality and for making us feel so welcome.
If it wasn't for the heartfelt care and support provided in that difficult time, we might not have met.
The two of us arrived in Gander as strangers, but during our short stay a friendship grew and we left as something even more. I am now delighted to say that we are recently engaged and are planning to return to Gander next year to visit as part of our honeymoon!
Something tells me none of this would have happened without your kindness – it did often feel like we had a guardian angel watching over the two of us.
Thank you once again,
Diane Gray and Nick Marson.
Annette beamed up at Beulah, her heart filled with happiness for her two lovebirds. They had found their way together after all!
She handed back the letter and turned to leave, before hesitating. A determined smile crept over her face.
"Hey Beulah," she said, turning back to face her. "Do you still have that captain's number?"