Feels Like Forever


The silence of the bedroom is suffocating, but Emilie finds it oddly reassuring. The silence means that Ryder is still sleeping, that there is nothing that needs her attention right this minute. It also unfortunately means she has plenty of time to think over the last handful of weeks and everything they brought to her life.

Niall, Harry, and Louis hadn’t seemed to want to leave the day after Danielle’s arrest, but they all had their own lives to get back to. Emilie refused to be selfish, though, so she’d all but forced them out the door. She has called Niall every day since then; even when she has nothing to say, just hearing his voice is enough to settle the waves of insecurity she is bombarded with - doubts about whether she can actually care for Ryder the way he deserves, whether she can handle the stresses that come with a long-distance relationship especially with someone famous like Niall is... Listening to Niall speak about whatever is going on his life is calming, and she can only hope that she never loses him.

Harry has even sent a few text messages, though they don’t talk nearly as often as she does with her boyfriend. His are mostly just musings about random things, sent late at night when he can’t sleep, and by the time Emilie responds in the morning, Harry is already asleep or busy for the day. There hasn’t been any contact with Louis, but she never really expected any. As sweet as he is, Emilie has the distinct impression that he’s slower to warm to people than the others.

Her thoughts turn to her godson as she stares at him sleeping across the room. His birthday is in less than two weeks, and Emilie has literally no idea what she is going to do. Paige was the one who organised his first birthday party last year; all Emilie had to do was book a flight and show up, mingle with the guests and dote on the little boy. Now she’s the one in charge of planning everything, and that responsibility is daunting.

With a soft sigh, she pushes back her blankets and grabs her phone from the nightstand, unplugging it from the charging cable as she rolls out of bed. A shiver rips up her spine at the chill of the room. One thing she has never been able to find compliant with is how efficient the air con is in the flat. She makes her way out to the thermostat on quiet footsteps, adjusts the temperature, and scrolls through her contacts until she finds Paige’s name.

“Good morning, darling.”

“Heya, Mama. I’m so sorry it’s been a while.”

Paige laughs, the sound soothing in Emilie’s ear. “Honey, there’s nothing to apologise for. You’ve been taking care of that baby, so of course your time hasn’t been your own.”

“And you’re okay with that? That he stayed with me instead of coming to Corpus to be with you?”

“He saw more of you in a week than he’s seen of me in a year. If he came here, it woulda messed him up good, and you’ve always been so amazing with him. I trust you with his life, sweetheart, much more than I ever trusted Danielle.”

“Have you heard from her?” Emilie asks after a long moment.

“She called yesterday, said she was sorry about the situation she got herself into.”

Emilie snorts and rolls her eyes even though her former-stepmother can’t see. Shoving her hand through her hair, Emilie sets about making coffee. “‘Situation’? I think this is more than a situation.”

“I told her exactly that,” Paige says with a snort. “I told her that she was warned a long time ago that her decisions come with consequences, and the one who’ll pay the most is that darling child she brought into this world. She took it as me attacking and hung up on me, so who knows if she’ll actually listen.”

“Speaking of that darling child, his birthday is coming up. I feel like he’s still too little to go trick-or-treating - after all, he’s only turning two, which means it’ll be more for me than him - and I was wondering if you would want to come for the party.”

“Oh, absolutely, Em. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Good. So, uh, what the hell should I do?”

Paige stifles her chuckles and launches into giving advice for an age-appropriate birthday party. The only goal for Ryder’s first birthday was for him to make a mess and have fun, but now that he’s a little older, he would do well with being more stimulated. Emilie takes notes as Paige talks, but half of her mind is lamenting the fact that only three people will be here for the toddler - not one of them his mother. How much fun could he possibly have without friends his age?


Emilie turns her head to see Ryder in the doorway, rubbing at his sleepy eyes with the back of his fist, and she opens her arms. He smiles widely and toddles to her, launches himself into her hold. Paige’s words cut off immediately, and Emilie kisses her godson’s hair before bringing her phone closer to him. His eyes widen when he sees the picture on the screen.

“Yeah, it’s your Mamaw. Say hi!”

“Is that the man of the hour?”


Emilie sits back, listens as Ryder gibbers animatedly to his grandmother. She’s missed being able to talk to Paige freely; nowadays, it seems like all of their conversations have circled back to Danielle’s current mistakes. Emilie has to admit that if she thinks about it now, she’ll be able to recall just when the topic of discussion began to revolve around her stepsister. It was shortly after Danielle graduated from high school, exerting her newfound freedom by doing whatever sounded fun to her regardless of how it might affect her life. Emilie has watched Danielle make mistake after mistake after mistake, hurt their parents so many times over the years, and vowed to never follow in her footsteps.

“Lucy, I’m home!”

“Damn it. Hey, Derek. Ry, please stop.”

“You have a package.”

“Set it on the counter.” Emilie groans when Ryder squirms out of her hands, starts running around the apartment naked as the day he was born and squealing excitedly. Derek lunges forward and scoops him up easily, carrying him back to his exasperated aunt. “Thanks. Ryder Alexander, let me dress you so you can be presentable for when Mamaw gets here.”

“Mam here?”

“Yeah, but if you keep being naked, she ain’t gonna wanna come. So what’s it gonna be, munchkin?”

He purses his lips, brows drawing together over his eyes, before shrugging. “D’ess.”

“That’s what I thought.”

Ryder fidgets but stops fighting her as she diapers and clothes him. The instant she’s buttoned his jeans and dropped her hands, he scurries towards the toy bin and loses himself in yanking out various toys, letting them fall to the floor with loud clatters. Emilie sighs, watching him for a second, then climbs to her feet.

The countertop is bare when she turns around, and she frowns at Derek. He points toward the entry hall; an Amazon box sits just out of view, and she nudges it with her feet toward the living room. Her best friend hands her a knife and stands just behind her as she cuts through the tape. Thankfully, Ryder is sufficiently distracted with his playthings that he doesn’t notice what is inside the package. The tag attached to one of the bags catches her eye, and she reads it quickly. With a quiet huff of laughter, Emilie pulls her phone from her back pocket.

<< Did you REALLY send Ry birthday presents???
<< Babe, you didn’t have to do that omg.
<< Seriously. I can’t believe you did that.

>> I was just about to ask if you received it yet ! I got the notification that it was delivered to your door but I wasn’t sure if you were busy
>> I know I didn’t have to get him anything but I wanted to . He’s an amazing little boy who deserves nice things. I figured he might like these

<< You are seriously amazing. Thank you! I’ll put them in the pile for him to open once his grandmother gets here. And don’t worry - I’ll send you pictures :)

>> I would appreciate that

Emilie is pulled away from the text conversation by a knocking on the door, but nothing can diminish the heady warmth that’s blossomed in her chest. Niall cared enough to remember Ryder’s birthday and get him presents? The monetary value means little - Niall could have handmade a card and sent that instead - but the fact that he even put thought towards Ryder is just... amazing. She’s known he is literally one of the most generous, wonderful, caring men she will ever know in her life, and this only solidifies that in her mind and heart.

The gifts from Paige, Derek, and Emilie - a pretend set of house-cleaning supplies, a large look-and-find book geared towards toddlers, and an adjustable child-sized easel, respectively - go largely forgotten in the wake of Ryder opening the ones that Niall sent. Emilie is in awe at how perfect they are for the child: The mess-free colouring book and markers alone are right up his alley, and the spiky rubber balls that light up and flash in a variety of colour entertain him as soon as Derek squeezes them to activate the lights. She sets the sticker book about the animal kingdom aside. The last thing he needs right now is total freedom with stickers.

“Who are you texting?” Paige asks once Ryder is sat in his high-chair to demolish a piece of his Paw Patrol cake. “Is it that someone who sent Ry such wonderful presents?”

“How do you know I didn’t just go overboard?”

“Emilie Taylor, you should know better than to try to keep something from me.”

Derek snorts and flashes Emilie an impish grin. “Yeah, Emma-bean, you shouldn’t keep things from your mama.”

“You’re not helping, D. Fine. It’s, uh, my boyfriend.”

Paige listens intently as Emilie gives her the basic information about her relationship with Niall. She doesn’t mention his job, just that he travels for work and came through Austin about seven months ago and that they met in the coffeeshop. She trails off in the middle of describing the wonderful week she spent with him when her phone vibrates in her hand. Niall’s contact photo fills the screen, and her heart races in her chest. She sees the way Paige and Derek exchange knowing looks with each other, but she ignores them in favour of answering the FaceTime call.

“Lemme guess, you wanna talk to the birthday boy.” Niall’s grin is answer enough, and Emilie giggles softly and shakes her head. “Of course. He’s most important today. But hi, it’s nice to see your face.”

“Hi, love. I’ll talk to you as soon as I’m done talking to my bud.”

Emilie smiles, leans the phone against the paper towels so that Ryder and Niall can see each other without risking getting frosting and cake all over the device, and sits back to watch two of her favourite dudes chatting. Paige squeezes her shoulder gently; Emilie takes it for the approval she knows it is. Ryder is a good judge of character, despite his age, and the fact that he is so willing and excited to chatter on is the biggest endorsement Niall could ever receive.