Feels Like Forever


The bell jingles over the door, signalling the arrival of another patron, but Emilie keeps her focus on the notes she’s taking. Class had been disrupted by a family emergency, so the professor’s TA had created a PowerPoint with the information and sent the link to the students; the only stipulation was that after today, it would no longer be available for viewing without a valid excuse as to why one couldn’t copy it down in the time allotted. She reaches blindly for her danish with one hand, taking a bite while continuing to write. A crumb falls on her paper, and she swipes it away quickly.

“Uh, excuse me? Mind if I sit here? Everywhere else is full.”

She holds up a finger and finishes the word she’s on before looking up. The man gives her a nervous, hopeful smile; true to his word, every other table in the coffeeshop is occupied except for the seat across from her. Biting her lip, she pulls her laptop closer and gestures toward the chair. He sits slowly, as if he’s expecting her to bite if he moves too fast.


“No worries.”

Emilie ignores the puzzled expression on his face as he glances down at her notebook. The symbols on the page are damn near impossible to read for someone who doesn’t know the cypher, which is exactly what she’s gone for since the first week of school when her desk-mate first started trying to borrow her notes instead of paying attention during lectures. He hasn’t asked again, and she’s been happy with that result. Sure, learning the cypher was difficult in the beginning, but now she reads it as easily as the Latin alphabet.

“And here you are, sir. Sorry about the wait.”

Emilie stretches her back as Derek sets a plate and a to-go cup of coffee in front of the man at the table. She checks her phone; it’s only ten o’clock in the morning, but she’s been here since the shop opened at six-thirty. The ice in her drink melted a long time ago. She sucks up the last mouthful, and Derek smiles widely at her she hands over her plate and empty cup. He promises to be right back with another, leaving her and the man alone.

“Come here often?”

She stares at the man, unimpressed. He appears to realise how his words came off, ducks his head with an awkward laugh.

“Sorry, it’s just… you seem comfortable here, and he didn’t even ask what you were drinking. Or for payment, now that I think about it.”

She shrugs. “They know me, yeah.”

They fall silent, and Emilie goes back to her notes. After another ten minutes, she reaches the end of the slideshow, scribbles down the final symbol, and flips her notebook shut. The man looks up from his phone screen, raising an eyebrow.

“Can I ask why you write like that?”

She hesitates but decides there’s no harm in explaining, so she does. He laughs quietly and nods along, then tells her about his own school-years. It turns into a conversation about their childhoods, friends, and homes. Emilie has always been cautious about talking to strangers, but there’s something about this man that doesn’t send alarm bells screaming in her head. So she lets herself get lost in their chat, interrupted only by each other as they laugh and talk over each other. Her phone vibrates on the table, and she glances down at it as she tells him about the time she broke her arm after jumping into her friend’s pool from ten feet high in a nearby tree, frowning at the reminder that’s popped up.

“Ah, shit. Sorry to do this, but I really gotta run. It was, uh, it was great to meet you…?”

“Oh! Niall.”

Her lips curve upward, and she reaches out a hand to shake his. “Emilie.”

“It was wonderful to meet you, too, Emilie. Hopefully, I’ll see you around sometime.”

“Well, if you’re gonna be in Austin for a while, it’s a possibility.”

Derek approaches the table, and Niall turns to speak to him. Emilie deliberates for less than five seconds then quietly rips a square of paper from her notebook, scrawling down her name and number in the code she uses, printing in small letters Google it at the bottom. She slides it across the table until it’s partially underneath Niall’s phone, waves goodbye to Derek, and gathers up her stuff.

It isn’t until she’s back at her apartment that she realises that maybe using a cypher wasn’t the smartest idea, but she shrugs it off. If Niall is interested in talking to her, he can put in the effort. She pushes the thought from her mind and settles in to wait for Ryder to arrive.

She’s just laid her godson down for the night when her phone vibrates in her back pocket. Emilie holds her breath to make sure the toddler is going to stay asleep then tiptoes from the room. She retrieves her cell phone and unlocks it as she picks up the books and toys scattered across the floor. It’s a new text message from an unknown number. Her brows furrow, and she stops in her tracks, juggling her armful of items as she brings up the message. A laugh bubbles up at the sight of the photo attached: a string of shakily-drawn symbols - her cypher - that spell out Hi Emilie it is Niall. She sets her phone down and hurries to put away Ryder’s playthings before grabbing her phone again and typing out a message.

<< Ahh you Googled!

>> I did, I did. It took a while but I finally found the decoder thing.

<< It’s called a cypher, sweets :P I’m glad you did.
<< I didn’t want to presume that you would actually search for it, but you did! I didn’t realise how cruel it might seem until I came home.

>> Not cruel. It was interesting to see all the different ways people can code their messages.
>> So anyway. Hi. I figured out your code and I texted you. At least I hope you left it for me and not the barista…

<< Nahh, Derek has my number. If I’m running late, I just text one of them my order and my ETA, and they have it ready by the time I get there.

>> That’s a pretty sweet setup! I wish I had a coffeeshop like that. Most I have is Starbucks mobile ordering.

<< Hah, yeah, it took me about… I wanna say 4 years before I found this place, and I haven’t gone back to any other place since.

>> I’m jealous that you get to have it all the time lol so what are you up to?

<< Just relaxing. It’s been a loooooooooong day.
<< Ah shit. Give me a sec.

Emilie puts her phone on the table and rushes into the bedroom where Ryder has started crying. She picks him up, snuggles him close, and pats his back as she makes shushing noises. He doesn’t calm immediately, instead struggling against her hold, and she shifts until she can look at his face. He whines and stretches toward the floor; she glances down to see his stuffed animal on the floor halfway under the bed. She sets him down on the mattress and ducks down to grab up the purple lion. He takes it happily, giving her a sloppy kiss on the cheek when she leans over, and Emilie gives him a wide grin. His eyes start to droop immediately when she runs her fingers through his soft, feathery curls and starts to sing a quiet lullaby to him.

Twenty minutes later, he’s officially asleep again, and she makes her way back out to the living room. Niall has sent four messages in the half-hour she’s been gone. She unlocks her phone and reads over the texts.

>> Yeah I know how it goes. I’m glad to not be on the move for a bit. No problem, take your time
>> Just so you know… there’s evidently a time limit on hotel room service
>> I’m hungry :(
>> Did you fall asleep lol

<< Ugh sorry. Ry woke up so I had to get him back to sleep. Poor kid.

>> Not a problem. Hope he's sleeping well now then?

<< Yeahhh. He dropped right off once he had his stuffed animal again.

>> Aww. Good to hear! So who is Ry?

Emilie stares at the text for a long minute. This is usually the part where everyone runs away; even if all that she’s working towards is friendship, rarely does anyone stick around long after they find out about Ryder.

<< Ryder is my 1 year old godson/nephew. Sort of. His mom and I used to be stepsisters but then our parents got divorced. But she kept me as his godmother. I’m basically helping her raise him
<< I usually keep him on the weekends

>> Sounds like a lot of work. He’s lucky to have someone who loves him so much

<< Yeah, he takes up most of my time. I don’t mind it tho. He’s probs my favourite human on this earth lol

>> That’s awesome.
>> So what are your plans for the night ?

<< I’m about to bust into some wine and watch Letterkenny until I fall asleep lol. Such a raging party over here.

Even as she continues texting Niall, Emilie can’t help but wonder when he’s going to disappear on her. It isn’t unusual for her acquaintances to ghost her once it becomes evident just how important Ryder is to her, how much time she spends with the child instead of focusing her attentions on building friendships. Derek is pretty much the only one who’s stuck with her through everything, and that’s only because it would be awkward if he hadn’t, considering she sees him at the coffeeshop four days a week. She chews on her lower lip and decides to worry about the end of this tentatively-budding friendship later, too enraptured by how easy it is to talk to him for the doubts to settle in fully.
♠ ♠ ♠
look at this feckin' cutie stop it niall