The glass doors at the front of Gander Academy had welcomed all manner of people over the years: teachers, students and, in the past three days, around 700 displaced passengers from around the world.
The pair currently trying to wrestle their way in had been somewhat unsuccessful in their attempts to make a quiet entrance. The two had swaggered up the path, arms wrapped tight around each other's waists, with the smaller of the couple humming an Irish reel in a broken and off-key manner despite the frequent shh's coming from her partner.
"We'd better keep it down, we're nearly there," came his light English tenor in hushed undertones.
The two stumbled up the steps and managed to thud into the glass doors before descending into a fit of giggles.
Diane reached out for the door handle unsteadily and pushed. The door did not budge.
She pushed once more, rattling the handle, but the door refused to open. Her face screwed up in concentration and with a concerted effort, she pushed with both hands.
It was then that Nick noticed something. He grabbed her elbow.
"Wait, wait... it says "pull", " he mumbled, gesturing at the large typeface printed along the door.
They both stared at each other blankly for a moment before collapsing into another fit of mirth.
"Shh, shh!" he uttered in a stage whisper.
"You shh, shh!" she returned, waving a finger in front of her lips in an exaggeration of his movements.
Together they pulled open the door and stumbled inside, continuing to descend into fits of (almost) silent laughter.
Still wrapped up in each other's arms, they plodded over to one of the couches in the foyer and collapsed together, Nick absently noting how close Diane had chosen to sit.
Well, to be honest it was more a case of her tumbling onto the couch practically on top of him and simply neglecting to move.
He couldn't say he minded.
Nick had been thrilled with this evening's turn of events. Initially he'd had misgivings about going out to the pub with everyone else – that just wasn't his sort of scene. But Diane was going, and so he was going.
He'd been trying not to appear too needy, too clingy, but over the past few days he'd found himself trailing along wherever she went, just for a chance to be around her.
Ever since her gentle jokes and her story about bananas and chicken pox had put him at ease on the bus, he'd found himself drawn to her warmth and kindness. Her beauty, too, part of him thought, though he had firmly quashed that line of thinking. After all, she was a married woman.
Or so he'd thought. That turned out not to be the case and a gentle flicker of something had taken root somewhere in the region of his chest.
This was bolstered by the fact that everyone around them seemed to think they were a couple. Even the mayor had presumed they were married. The tiny thrill that went through Nick at that suggestion was nothing compared to the one that bowled him over a moment later when Claude had asked:
"So you're not married. Well, would ya like to be?"
And cutting neatly over his embarrassed stammers, Diane had simply said:
"Well, why not!"
The sensible voice inside Nick's head that was usually responsible for talking him into eating his vegetables and doing his taxes reminded him that both he and Diane had already had a bit to drink and that she was probably just going along with the joke.
But that flicker of hope in his chest had burned a little brighter after that, helped along by a further two beers and then a burning shot of screech.
He'd been painfully aware of how close Diane's chair was next to him, their shoulders pressed together and knees bumping from time to time (perhaps more often than strictly necessary if he was being honest with himself).
He'd somehow mustered up the courage to kiss the cod, spurred on by Diane's words of encouragement, but mostly by her hand on his knee.
Still sputtering and wiping the slimy taste away with the back of his hand, Nick couldn't believe the hypocrisy of some people. I will if you will, yeah right!
He had made his objections known, his mock outrage unable to keep the smile from spreading over his face every time he looked at her. He also took advantage of the opportunity for casual contact, nudging her and gently touching her shoulder as he egged her on to complete the ritual.
The flicker of hope was burning strongly, radiating out from his chest and he could feel his whole body humming in proximity to hers.
God, she looked adorable in that yellow hat.
Nick was so caught up in drinking in the sight of her that he missed the alternative Claude was offering her and it was only when the words "Englishman" and "kiss" floated down into his consciousness that he tore away his gaze, turning to Claude in a fluster.
"But, no, we're not even… I mean, I"
But he was silenced as two small hands wound around his neck and pulled him down into a kiss, gentle but confident and the flicker of hope swelled into a raging inferno.
To Nick's eternal regret, he was too shocked to move or respond in time before she slowly released him and jumped up to dance with the locals.
He sat there with a look of wonder on his face, gently raising a trembling finger to his lips.
A change in the music brought Nick back to himself and he stood up with a smile, going to the bar to buy them both another beer, hoping it would help him locate the courage to ask her to dance.
For the remainder of the night, they'd been all but inseparable, with Nick following her around the bar, resolutely ignoring a half-overheard aside from one of the Kevins (something about a lovesick puppy).
He couldn't help but notice a barrier that had come down between them since the kiss. They were more tactile with each other, finding little excuses to let a hand rest on a shoulder for a moment longer, or to lean in or squeeze past each other despite the bar not actually being that crowded.
Towards the end of the evening, Nick finally managed to get up the nerve to ask Diane to dance. She laughed gently at his bumbling, stammering attempts before taking his hand and leading him over to the dance floor.
The pace of the music had started to wind down, much like the evening and he had briefly hesitated before drawing her a little closer and letting his hands settle about her hips. Her arms had slung around his neck and she had come to rest her head against his as they swayed in time.
Only the threat of last call had served to separate them and they had ordered one last round, which was hastily consumed and, now that they had settled back at the school, was starting to take effect.
Once again, Diane's head had found its way onto his shoulder, one arm slung across his torso and Nick was relishing the warmth and comfort that this brought. It had been a long time since he had been this close with anyone, physically speaking that is. If he was completely honest with himself, he didn't think he'd ever felt this close to someone…. Emotionally? Spiritually? Shared a completely head-over-heels mind-body-and-soul connection with someone? And especially someone he had only met two days ago.
Isn't it funny the changes a day can bring?
"You know what we should do tomorrow?" Diane mumbled into his chest.
"What's that?" he asked, wrapping his arm more snugly around her shoulders.
"We should have a picnic!"
He chuckled. She whacked his elbow half-heartedly, though from her current position the effect was one of a wet sponge landing in the sink.
"I'm serious," she protested. "We could get some sandwiches and fruit and things from the cafeteria and, and… whatever other things you'd like…"
"Toutons?" he asked hopefully. She giggled.
"That sounds wonderful." He hesitated, taking a thoughtful breath. "You know, Diane, I'm not normally the sort of person who goes out dancing in pubs. I, erm… I'm not the sort of person who goes out full stop, to pubs or otherwise. I've never been that comfortable around others. But something about being here has made me want to change that."
He tightened the fingers of his free hand around his knee cap, trying not to let his nerves show. He could feel her warm weight against his chest and he wondered if she could hear his heart racing.
"To be honest, it's been since I… since I met you. I've never met anyone like you Diane and I think that I… that I might be…"
He took a deep breath. Well, in for a penny…
"I think I'm falling for you. I think there's a very good chance that I'll fly out of here completely and utterly in…"
He stopped abruptly as a gentle snore cut across his impassioned words. Angling his head, he could see Diane dozing against his chest, wisps of hair falling softly across her face.
"… love with you," he finished softly, placing a gentle kiss against her forehead.
Nick wasn't sure how long they sat there, but as a cramp slowly seized up his neck he thought it might be time they got to bed properly.
"Diane," he murmured gently, rousing her awake.
"Hmmm, Nick," she mumbled sleepily, allowing him to pull her to her feet. They wrapped an arm around each other's waist and shuffled out into the gymnasium and quietly found their cots.
"I'll just get us some water," he said softly before padding over to the cafeteria.
Inside, he was surprised to find it still occupied despite the late hour.
One of the local women – Beulah, he thought her name was – was drying mugs with a tea towel.
Nick nodded towards her in greeting. "I've just come in for some water," he said.
"You and your lady friend look like you could use it!" she chuckled. "It's nice to see you looking out for her though. You two been together long?"
"Oh, no we're not…." Nick hesitated. He supposed, after tonight, perhaps they were. "Umm, we met on the plane, actually," he admitted.
Beulah stopped her drying with a gasp.
"Well, isn't that lovely! Thank the heavens something good has come out of all this! You two're lovely together," she smiled. Nick blushed profusely, but couldn't help a gently pleased grin from breaking.
An idea struck him.
"We were thinking… that is, if we're still here tomorrow, and provided we could get the right things organised, that… I …. We were thinking of having a picnic," he finished in a rush, feeling the tips of his ears turn a decidedly deeper shade of pink than they previously had been.
Beulah's eyes lit up.
"Oh that's delightful! Well, we can do ya some sandwiches and there's cake and a fresh order of fruit coming in in the morning. I've got a little basket at home somewhere I think and there's still plenty of spare blankets over in the library that I'm sure nobody'll mind ya taking."
"Are you sure that's alright? I don't want to impose."
"You leave it with me, duckie," she patted his arm and gave a gentle wink. "I'll see you right."
Once again humbled by the sheer generosity of the townspeople here, Nick bade her goodnight and returned to the gymnasium with two glasses of water. He weaved silently between the cots, tracing what was becoming a familiar path back towards their cots.
Where Diane was now fast asleep, burrowed deep in her pillow. He smiled fondly, setting the glass down next to her bed for the morning.
Brushing a strand of hair back from her face, he bent to gently kiss her forehead.
She hummed in soft contentment before nuzzling deeper down into her blankets.
"Goodnight, sweetheart," he whispered, before turning back to his own cot and laying down to sleep.
His heart was full and the smile on his face lingered until morning.