Nick hated flying. Hated it with a fiery passion. He had told Head Office time and time again that he really didn't want to fly nearly as much as he did. If he had his way, he'd fly much less. Not at all, in fact, would be the ideal amount.
But they kept on sending him.
Even when he'd told them about his heart condition and had come back from his latest check-up with a note saying he needed to fly less, they kept telling him to pack and handing him another ticket.
As much as it probably wasn't good for his heart, the real reason Nick hated flying was due to his unnaturally long legs.
"Giraffe", he'd been called at school, and for good reason.
As a result, Nick found himself in an endless battle with the economy seating on most airlines and the pitifully small amount of legroom they provided. The best he could hope for was an aisle seat where he could stretch out to the side a little bit, provided no one was walking past.
If he happened to get stuck with an inner seat, then he was at the mercy of the passengers surrounding him and therefore hoped for someone small, like a child or the wizened old Italian nonna who had regaled him with tales of her seemingly endless grandchildren on his last trip.
What he didn't hope for was to be stuck between two rather obese football fanatics who were becoming increasingly drunk with every passing hour they were stuck on the tarmac and who had just now started to sing.
Lord help him, he had to get out of here.
Making his excuses, Nick pushed out into the aisle and started slowly making his way toward the front of the plane, luxuriating in the feeling of fully extending his legs.
Somewhere around row D, he spotted an empty seat.
"Do you mind if I sit here?" he asked the lady staring fretfully out of the window.
She glanced over at him, startled.
"It's just, I need to get some work done and there are some drunk people singing at the back of the plane," he explained apologetically, glancing back at them in annoyance.
"Please…" she gestured to the empty seat.
"I'm Nick," he added as he sat down.
"Diane," she returned with a polite smile, before returning to staring at the same piece of unmoving tarmac.
The first thing Nick noticed about Diane were her legs. They were mercifully short and took up very little space, allowing him to stretch a little without feeling like his usual gangly and imposing self.
A small voice at the back of Nick's mind couldn't help pointing out that they were very pleasantly shaped legs, but this voice was very quickly reminded that now was neither the time nor the place for such thoughts.
As they talked, he also noticed her eyes, the way she gestured with her hands as she spoke and the slight furrow in her brow as she fretted over how to get in touch with her flying companion (a boyfriend? Husband?).
Despite the revelation of this mystery man's presence in her life, Nick felt a strange compulsion to try and smooth away that frown and get her to smile.
He'd never been very good at words though. He took up too much space in real life and not enough in conversation. They lapsed into an uneasy silence and Nick had to content himself with the limited extra legroom while they waited for something to happen.
The next time Nick noticed Diane's legs was as they jostled against his on the bus heading towards…wherever it was they were going?
He'd made some awkward attempts at humour to lighten the mood and just when he'd resigned himself to silence once more, he felt her knee bump against his and she revealed her own medical history.
The twinkle in her eye as she spoke was the second thing Nick noticed about Diane.
Despite her short legs, Diane set rather an impressive pace, Nick thought to himself as they walked around the town of Gander.
They had set out as a group of four, but had since said goodbye to the gay couple (Kevin and… what was the other one called again?) outside a bar and had continued to explore the town on their own. e
Diane loved walking, as Nick had discovered. She told him about several of the guided walking tours she had taken in London with her son and he told her about all the spots those sorts of tours miss.
"Perhaps you could show me next time I'm over there," she'd smiled.
Nick wasn't sure if it was his arrhythmia acting up given the gruelling pace she'd set, or if something else was making his chest flutter.
Her smile was the third thing Nick noticed about Diane.
Over the next few days, they walked a lot. There wasn't much else to do, other than sit and stare at the news and they both felt they had seen enough of those images to last a lifetime.
And so, they walked.
Gander wasn't a large town, but it had enough charm and character in its buildings and its people to keep them busy. Every block or so, they were stopped by friendly faces (belonging to townsfolk and visitors alike) all looking for a chat.
Despite her shorter legs, Diane strides confidently along, exploring each new street and lookout and greeting each new person with a smile.
Her warmth and kindness were the next things Nick noticed about Diane. The flutter in his chest that accompanied them was remaining resolutely ignored.
At the screech-in, Nick found himself consuming more alcohol than he'd originally intended. This was partly due to nerves (large parties were not, and never had been his scene) but then her tipsy admission to the mayor and the way she'd leaned against his chest had sent him chasing more of that feeling.
Heart condition be damned.
Besides, if he was being totally honest with himself, he knew that those butterflies had far more to do with the woman now sat next to him than any medical condition.
He sat beside her, painfully aware of every brush of her leg as they awaited their fate.
The fact that Diane looked cute in hats was something he noticed about her and carefully filed away.
The fact that she didn't seem to hold her liquor was another thing he noticed.
The fact that she was something of a hypocrite was something he was in the middle of loudly and obstinately pointing out to her through the taste of fish when suddenly all he could notice about her was her lips.
Pressed against his.
Too shocked to respond, Nick sat there soaking it all in and it took him a moment to realise that Diane had gotten up to dance with the other locals.
He could still taste her on his lips and the side of his leg felt cold where once she had been pressed against him.
She looked beautiful when she danced. This was around about the three hundredth thing Nick noticed about Diane.
As they burst giggling through the front doors of Gander Academy, Diane stumbled a little on the threshold, so Nick bent and scooped her up.
The way her knees fit over the crook of his arm was sheer bliss. Nick can't remember a sight more beautiful. As he carried her the remaining few steps to where their cots lie side by side on the floor of the gymnasium, he marvelled at the way she folded in against his chest.
He eased her down onto her cot and felt his heart melt as she tried to snuggle further into his oversized letter jacket. Pulling the blankets over her, he detangled himself from her arms and dropped down onto his own cot.
That Nick was falling hopelessly in love with this woman was something he had noticed about himself and, what's more, he was almost ready to acknowledge it too.
The next time they get on the plane Nick was too preoccupied to be worried about legroom. The remaining few hours with Diane were rapidly disappearing, as were his chances to tell her how he feels.
The distress he was feeling seemed to be mirrored on Diane's face. In fact… was she crying?
Nick felt his heart crack a little and reached for her without thinking. With an arm slung around her shoulders, he tried to find the words to comfort her, but none came. A socially-awkward giraffe once more, he sighed in frustration and leaned across to kiss her on the forehead.
In days to come, Diane will claim that there was turbulence during that moment. However, Nick did not notice any turbulence.
What he did notice was Diane's eyes, still moist with tears, turning to find his. They widened, before steeling with something like determination as she reached across and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him into a kiss.
He noticed the way his heart exploded with joy, he noticed the way her lips felt like heaven against his and, unlike the night of the screech-in, he noticed just how much better it felt when he moved against her in return.
With one arm still wrapped around her shoulders holding her close, the other hand began to explore, feeling the strength and warmth of her short legs as his hand inches up her thigh.
When the deliberate cough of the flight attendant forced them apart, Nick noticed the pretty flush climbing her cheeks and way her sheepish smile only made her more beautiful.
Whilst the first thing Nick noticed about her may have been her fortunate economy of legroom, there are a thousand other tiny details that he has noticed about her since, all of which have made him fall deeper and deeper in love with her.
Of all these details, it is perhaps her smile that is his favourite. To this day, decades later, it is still the first thing he notices about her every morning.