As Diane stood, clutching the picnic basket anxiously to her chest, she turned to scan the gymnasium for a sign of Nick.
Not that she expected to see him, she was pretty sure he'd taken off outside somewhere, but it couldn't hurt to look.
It was a good thing she did, because at that moment a voice rang out across the room "American Airlines Flight 57 to Dallas, you guys are up! Pack your things and get on the bus. That's Flight 57 with American Airlines to Dallas, Texas, boarding now!"
Crap. Not now!
Diane tried to hurry out the door, but someone rather official with a clipboard and a microphone ushered her back inside, telling her she had time to collect her things but nothing else.
Diane felt the panic well up inside her once more. How was she supposed to find Nick if she wasn't allowed to leave the building? How could she apologise for last night and explain herself? Tell him how she felt?
Biting down on the tears that were threatening once again to spill over, Diane returned to her cot and hurriedly packed her belongings. As they'd only been allowed to take their carry-on in the first place, this – mercifully – didn't take long.
Diane was halfway out to the bus before she realised the picnic basket was still tightly clutched in one hand.
It seemed such a futile gesture now. She'd met someone, fallen in love with them and chased them away, all in the space of a few days and now she was about to board a plane and fly home – somewhere thousands of miles from him – and most likely never see him again.
The tears that had been threatening finally spilled over as she made her way blindly towards the back of the bus, collapsing into an empty seat and letting her belongings spill out onto the seat next to her.
As the bus filled up around her, the other passengers were kind enough (or cautious enough) to give her a wide berth and allow her to quietly cry to herself. Most of them had excited grins on their faces and seemed thrilled to be finally heading towards their original destinations, whether home or on holidays.
For Diane, it no longer felt like going home.
Her thoughts were interrupted momentarily by the sound of the bus driver calling her name – apparently they were undertaking some kind of roll call, presumably to make sure they got all the right passengers on the right plane so they could go home.
It was funny, she thought, the way your idea of home changed throughout your life. She'd lived in the same house at the end of her street for almost her entire childhood, only moving out to attend college. Even then, her dormitory hadn't been imbued with a sense of permanency and she'd always known she'd be returning to her "real" home at the end of her studies.
Then adulthood, a series of apartments and houses, marriage, divorce and finally she'd come to settle in her current house, where David had spent his teenage years. She'd been content there.
Now the thought of returning to Dallas left her cold. The house was quite large for one person on their own and whilst it had never bothered her before, it suddenly seemed lonely.
It wasn't hard to figure out the missing piece, the thing that would make her house feel like a home again. That thing was Nick.
"Nick Marson," called the bus driver, once again interrupting her thoughts. "Has anyone seen Nick Marson?"
"I'm here!" panted a light English voice as he bounded up the stairs, breathlessly dropping into one of the few vacant seats near the front.
Diane felt her pulse triple in speed.
He hadn't seen her.
Clutching her things, she made her way carefully to the front of the bus, pausing beside him.
"Do you mind if I sit here?" she asked with a cautious smile. "There aren't any drunk people singing back there, but I did promise you a picnic, didn't I?"
Nick froze, his gaze flitting from her face to the picnic basket in her hand and back, brow furrowed in confusion.
"You… you remembered?" he asked, before coming to his senses and making room on the seat beside him, dropping his luggage to the floor and gesturing for her to join him.
"Well, not exactly. One of the local women – Beulah, I don't know if you know her?"
Nick smiled in response, though Diane noted the endearing return of a pink flush to the tips of his ears.
"Well, she sort of helped me fill in the blanks," she went on. "She told me she'd been helping out in the kitchens and overheard our conversation last night after the Legion. She told me all about what we said and explained what you were doing with this picnic basket before you ran off."
"Ah, yes, about that… I'm sorry for not being more forthcoming with you, I just … when you asked about the fish and I realised you didn't remember, I thought that maybe…" he paused, uncertain.
"You weren't sure if I meant what I said the night before?" she prompted.
Diane considered him thoughtfully before reaching out and sliding her hand into his.
"I'm afraid I really don't remember what I said last night, but if it was something along the lines of 'I've had a great time' and 'I've never met anyone like you' and 'I'm crazy about you' then I meant every word" she smiled at him, the need to calm his anxieties distracting her from her own.
She felt Nick's hand grip more firmly into her own and she gave his fingers a reassuring squeeze.
"Well, if you really don't remember our conversation, I suppose I'd better repeat my part of it too," he said, before pausing.
He seemed to be steeling himself, gathering the courage to say whatever it was he needed to say. He took a deep breath. And another.
Diane nudged him. "Well?" she prompted gently. "What was it you…"
"I love you," he cut across her words, a flash of panic flitting behind his eyes, before he squared his jaw and turned to face her almost defiantly.
Diane thought about soothing his worried expression, about reassuring him that it was perfectly alright to say those words, to mean them. She thought about telling him she felt the same way and had been driving herself crazy trying to find a way to tell him.
She thought about saying all these things.
And then she thought better of it and simply kissed him instead.
Diane poured all of her longing, her attraction and her love for Nick into the kiss and felt all of her worries melt away when he tremulously raised a hand to her cheek and tilted their heads to kiss her back.
Their arms wound around each other's neck, each other's shoulders, each other's waist – any way that they could draw each other closer, they did.
When delighted cheers and a round of applause burst forth from the surrounding passengers, they pulled away, bashfully. Neither was quite willing to let go of the other's hand, though.
"Shall we see what's in this picnic, then?" Diane asked, retrieving the wicker basket from where it lay at her feet.
Nick chuckled. "Go on, then. I'm still hoping for toutons, but I don't like my chances."
Diane rolled her eyes affectionately at him before lifting up the lid.
The basket was full to bursting with sandwiches, cake slices, some cod tongue and leftover casserole along with fresh apples and there, wrapped up at the very back, was a small container of toutons.
Nick's eyes lit up with delight, before he turned to her with mounting suspicion.
"Just how much of our conversation did Beulah say she listened to last night?" he asked.
Diane giggled. "I'd say quite a bit of it! Either that, or we've got ourselves a guardian angel watching out for us."
With a shrug, they both tucked in to the food provided, somehow still managing to hold hands all the way to the airport.
Some time later, Beulah received a parcel in the post. Puzzled, she tore off the tape and lifted the flaps of the large box, opening it to find her picnic basket and a note:
Many apologies this basket took so long to get back to you. Rest assured it has been on many outings around Dallas, including the night when Nick proposed!
Something tells me that you were partly responsible for making that happen by bringing us together and for that, you have my eternal thanks.
P.S. Nick has asked if I could request your recipe for toutons by return post.