Despite being a seasoned traveller, Nick has never gotten the hang of sleeping in a bed other than his own.
The first night the plane people arrive in Gander he doesn't think he'll sleep at all, instead opting for sitting up in an unforgiving plastic cafeteria chair watching the news repeat images of the plane and the towers on a loop. He apparently manages to snatch a few moments of broken sleep because the next thing he knows it's morning and people are bustling around serving breakfast.
He stands up with a creak and a groan, stretching out his aching muscles and feeling his shoulder grumble in protest. He really should find somewhere proper to sleep in case they're here another night.
Wandering out into the gymnasium, he sees mat after mat lined up wall to wall with people from all over the world curled up on them – some still fast asleep.
It's then that he spots her: Diane, from the plane. He walks over, goes to compliment her and once again puts his foot in it.
"Is your hair different? I…I mean, it looks nice. I like it," he finishes lamely.
"Oh, thank you," she smiles awkwardly. "No shampoo for three days!"
He laughs, then grimaces, rolling his shoulder again.
"Are you alright? Did you sleep funny?" she asks.
"Something like that," he replies. "I, er…. I didn't actually manage to find anywhere to sleep last night. Stayed up watching the news. Couldn't quite bring myself to look away. Anyway, it seems I've left it a bit late to get myself a mat."
"Well, why don't you bunk down here with me?" she responds. "They're pretty big mattresses, I'm sure there'd be plenty of room!"
"Are you sure you don't mind? I don't want to impose."
"Come on, your shoulder doesn't look like it could handle another night of sleeping in a chair. Besides, I won't bite!" she smiles, tugging her airline pillow and blanket over to one side of the gym mat, making a space for Nick and his things.
Well, he thinks, at least tonight I might get a decent night's sleep.
Chance'd be a fine thing, he scoffs to himself later that night. It seems the entire gym has had no problems falling asleep, judging by the quiet (or as quiet as the rustle and snuffle of 700 people sleeping can be).
Everyone, except for him.
He holds himself rigid, anxiously maintaining as much space on the floor mat as possible between he and Diane, determined to keep on the right side of propriety.
He can't help but think of their walk earlier that day. She spoke about her son, David (son, not husband an unhelpful voice points out ) and the fact that she's no longer married (and therefore available…shut up, Marson, you're stranded in Gander as the result of an international emergency, now's not the time for a crush).
He risks a glance over to her sleeping form. She's lying on her side, facing towards him with one hand tucked under the pillow supporting her cheek. She looks calm like this. Peaceful. Less anxious than she had on the plane. And somehow even more beautiful.
He watches her shoulder slowly rise and fall with each breath and slowly finds himself breathing in time with her. It is through this strange meditation that he finally finds rest.
It's funny how much can change in 24 hours, Nick thinks as they stumble back indoors, arms wrapped around each other's waists and with Diane's off-key whistling of an Irish reel from the pub piercing his ears.
"Shhh!" he chastises her in a stage whisper. "we need to be quiet now we're back!"
"Make me!" she giggles before pulling him down for one more kiss. He still can't believe his luck, the cynical part of himself that had become far too accustomed to living alone still suspecting that her affection was driven by screech and nothing more.
Even so, he feels blessed to have had this closeness and attention from her, even if only for the night.
They tiptoe back to their bit of floor and collapse onto the mattress in a heap, trying and failing to stifle their snickering. Nick hasn't felt this, well, giddy in years.
It was probably the alcohol talking.
Speaking of which,
"I'd better get us some water. Trust me, you'll thank me for it in the morning!" he tells her as he disentangles himself from her limbs and struggles to his feet.
"Ok," she sighs as she burrows down further into the pillow.
Nick smiles to himself as he zig zags his way over to the cafeteria. He can't wipe the smile from his face as he fills two plastic cups with water, nor can he help the feeling of hope surging in his chest, a kind of warm, buoyant light settling in his heart like he might be on the edge of something special.
It's not hard to put a name to that something – Diane.
Nick, despite his outwardly awkward demeanour, is no stranger to his emotions and can readily admit that he is beginning to develop quite strong feelings for her. More than just a crush, judging by the way that warmth in his chest seems to grow with every step he takes closer to their shared mattress.
He blushes at the thought. Sharing a bed seemed an awfully intimate act, even if one was surrounded by 700 other people. Most of them were asleep now, though. Who knew what might happen between them, if they were quiet enough?
That thought stuttered and died as he arrived to the sight of Diane, burrowed deep into her blanket and fast asleep. Nick smiled wistfully, downed his water and crawled into bed beside her.
She was snoring gently and a tuft of hair hung down over her face. He couldn't help himself from scooting closer to tuck it back behind her ear. He started to move back but hesitated before leaning down and gently kissing her on the cheek.
He lay down, mirroring her posture by placing one hand over hers underneath the pillow. He closed his eyes and let sleep claim him.
Nick woke in the early hours of the morning to find something warm in his arms. Blearily opening his eyes, he looked down to find Diane snuggled against him, her limbs intertwined with his. He smiled warmly down at her and was about to close his eyes again when a hand reached out to tap him on the shoulder again.
"You and yer Mrs. need to get up now, planes are due to leave any time now!"
It was the woman from the Academy – Beulah, he thought her name was. Beulah was waking him up.
Him and Diane.
Nick sat bolt upright, scooting back over to his side of the mattress like lightning, before the pounding in his head caught up with him and he groaned in regret. He sheepishly takes himself off to the bathroom to change and brush his teeth before returning to wake Diane and discover, to his dismay, that she didn't remember any of the night before.
Once again, he was alone.
It turned out the planes weren't ready after all. Nick felt as though he'd taken a step backward with Diane, unsure of his footing in the harsh light of day. There had been a moment, up at the Dover Fault, when she'd looked at him and there was something in her eyes that he couldn't quite name.
It looked a little bit like the longing he felt. The ache in his arms now that they were empty. The longing in his heart to feel her close to him again, to taste her on his lips.
But then the moment had passed. Thank goodness he'd captured some of it on camera to look back on when all this was over.
Nick and Diane lay on their gym mat, both wide awake and neither hugging the edges anymore, both having gravitated towards each other in the centre. The way she was looking at him now looked almost wistful and without thinking Nick reached out a hand to clasp hers in the darkness. She intertwined their fingers and offered him a rueful smile.
Neither spoke. There were no words to be said.
That was the last time either of them slept on a gym mat in Gander. The next morning, their plane manages to take off and they spend the ride home canoodling. Nick is absolutely elated and can't stop grinning, even through their kisses.
The two are inseparable, their hands clasped together on the armrest (when they're not roving elsewhere, that is) and the flight attendants quickly figure out to give them a wide berth.
One can't help smiling to herself though as she walks down the aisle past them and sees the two gently dozing, her head tucked into his shoulder and his chin resting gently on top.
In all his years of travel, Nick has never been able to sleep on an aeroplane. Until now, that is.
Diane's small bed had never felt more welcome – even if it was strange and unfamiliar to Nick. But as they collapse back against the headboard - grinning in exhaustion and pushing damp hair out of their eyes - he thinks there is nowhere else he'd rather be.
Nick has never gotten the hang of sleeping in a bed other than his own. So for the sake of his health, it's a good thing that Diane invites him to stay another night. And then for the weekend. And then forever.
Because he's finally found out what it is that makes a bed feel like his own, and that's sharing it with Diane.
He doesn't have another sleepless night in his life.