Feels Like Forever


“Louis says he’s sorry to have missed Thanksgiving,” Niall comments idly, and Emilie snorts and drops a detergent pod into the washing machine basin. “I might have boasted about how great the food was. A lot.”

“Niall! That’s so mean.”

“Hey, I invited him. It’s his fault for not accepting.”

“Still mean of you to do. So… the food was good?”

Thankfully, Niall understands the hesitation in her voice, but he doesn’t rush to assure her. His words sound natural, easy, and the knot of tension in her chest loosens. She’s honestly doubted that everything was as delicious as they claimed just a few days ago on the holiday - they could have just been trying to make her feel better in light of the fact that she spent that entire morning cooking and fretting. Now, without the stresses of that day and the anxiety about it being perfect, it’s easier for Emilie to believe Niall when he tells her that everything was wonderful.

She dumps the clothes from the hamper into the machine, presses the start button, and pulls the sliding doors closed to block out at least some of the noise as water cascades into the machine. She knows she should be trying to sleep, considering it’s nearly midnight, and Ryder wakes up far too early for her to have late nights any more. But she makes her way to the sofa instead of her bed. She doesn’t want to end the call, to have to say goodnight to the man that she’s beginning to see a future with.

Niall is already busy again with his career now, and Emilie is well aware that it is going to cut into their time for conversations. She has no doubts whatsoever about whether they will manage to make it work through everything, but she also knows it is going to be incredibly difficult. The last two days have been made easier with sporadic texts - he hasn’t been able to call as he normally does. Emilie understands. She doesn’t doubt his feelings for her or anything like that, she understands the lack of contact is because of his job and nothing more, but she hates the distance between them, both physical and metaphorical. The only things that keep her going are the random selfies he sends, the way he conveys that he cares in his texts even when he doesn’t come out and say it directly, and the photo that is now her phone’s wallpaper.

The picture has always been any of a hundred of Ryder since the day he was born. Emilie has never found anyone or anything more important than him, so she’s given him that place of honour over and over without hesitation. But now, the picure that Derek took is the first thing she sees when she unlocks her phone: Taken Friday morning as Niall, Mully, and Harry were leaving, when her boyfriend was saying his goodbyes, she and Ryder are staring at him as if he hung the stars in the sky, and the expression on his face is no different. It should terrify her, really, how quickly he’s become one of the few people she knows she can’t live without. Instead of being frightened, though, she is thrilled. Hopeful.

Eventually, she know it’s time to say goodnight, so she does with extreme reluctance. She would feel bad about monopolising his free time for so long if he didn’t sound just as unwilling to hang up. She stares down at the call history log for a long moment once his contact picture disappears, then pushes to her feet. She hurriedly goes through her nighttime routine and hesitates at the foot of her bed.

Ryder is sprawled across the mattress, having crawled onto her bed sometime in the last two hours. Emilie smiles softly at the sight, opens her camera. Surprisingly enough, the flash doesn’t wake him. He snores on quietly, and she attaches the photo to a new message to Niall, typing out a caption of Be so much better if you were here, too xxxx.

Emilie has just gotten Ryder bundled up in his jacket and boots early Monday morning in December when a knock sounds at the door. She sighs, crossing her eyes at the little boy; he giggles wildly as she heads to the entry hall. Ginny stands just outside the front door, her pink-painted lips already twisted into a sympathetic smile. Emilie’s heart clenches, breath hitching in her throat. She steps back to let the social worker in.

“Good morning, Mister Ryder. And how are we today?” Ryder doesn’t answer, but Ginny doesn’t seem to have expected anything different. She turns to Emilie. “I know I usually give you warning whenever I’m coming, unless it’s a surprise inspection, but I just got word on my way to the office that the court date has been set.”

Emilie’s jaw drops, and she walks backwards until she can sit on the stool. “When is it?”

“Everything is right here.” Ginny passes over a sheet of paper. “I know the prosecutor is going to contact you, but I figured it would be best if you had as much of a heads-up as possible. Any luck on the bed situation?”

“I, uh, I’ve been looking for a new apartment since he’ll need his own room, but not yet.”

Ginny nods succinctly, digs through her purse before pulling out a stack of cards held together with a rubber-band. She peels one from the pile and sets it on the counter next to Emilie’s elbow. “Call this place, tell them a friend referred you. They’ll get you the help you need. Now, I have to go, but please keep me updated on any new developments on your end, and I’ll do the same to you.”

The social worker leaves as quickly as she arrived, and Emilie stares at the floor in shock. She knew it was only a matter of time before Danielle’s case would be brought before a judge, but that close to Christmas? Swallowing thickly, she calls for Ryder. He toddles over and grins up at her, cheeks flushed from wearing a jacket in a warm flat. She grabs her keys and bag, leads him out into the corridor. He waits patiently as she locks the door behind them.

Thankfully, the appointment doesn’t take long once she and Ryder are back in the examination room. Emilie bites back her own tears when Ryder screeches; she hates that he’s hurting, but vaccinations are important, so she hides her own pain at seeing him so miserable and cuddles him close, whispers encouragement in his ear until the nurse is finished. He buries his tear-stained face into her neck and cries, and Emilie swallows thickly, rubs her hand across his back.

“You did so good, bud, Auntie Em is so proud of how much of a big boy you are. I know, it hurts, but you’ll be healthier. Good job, Ry.”

“Any news on her?” Lira asks quietly; everyone in the office knows of the situation with Danielle - it’s impossible for them to not considering it has been Emilie bringing the boy in for whatever reason more than it has his mother.

“Court in a couple weeks, and I guess we’ll figure it out from there.”

“Sometimes, I wonder why God would ever have given that darling child to her, but you’re doing a wonderful job caring for him. Hey, Ryder? We got new Paw Patrol stickers in. You wanna get a couple before you head off?”

“Yes,” the boy mutters petulantly, and Emilie stifles a laugh at his pout.

“Well, come on, kiddo. We’ll grab a sticker then go see Derek and Monica for some coffee.”

“I coffee?”

“Yeah, why not.”

Ryder seems to have forgotten all about the jabs by the time Emilie parks in the car park of the coffeeshop. He shifts the sticker in his hand around, squealing when the glitter on it catches the sunshine just right and sparkles brightly. She unbuckles him quickly, scoops him out of the car. His fingers cling tightly to the sticker as she carries him inside. Monica barely gets the cup in her hand passed to the customer before she’s hurrying around the counter to pluck Ryder from Emilie’s arms.

“Hey, excuse me! If you’ve got him, who’s gonna get me my extra-needed caffeine?”

“You practically live here, make it yourself.”

Emilie snorts in amusement, making her way down the short hall to the door that leads to the kitchen. She knocks lightly then sticks her head around the door. Emmett glances up from where he’s preparing danishes, grins widely when he sees her.

“Hey, Em! How are you today?”

“Hey, Em. So, uh, we have a minor issue. Ryder has stolen Monica’s attention, which normally, I don’t mind, but I really need the coffee this morning, so I’ll be making my own.”

“You injure yourself -”

“I know, pretend it happened elsewhere because your insurance doesn’t cover the stupidity of someone who decided they were smart enough to operate machinery.”

Emmett’s laugh is loud, boisterous, over the strain of Journey playing on the radio. “Attagirl. Tell Mon that the pastries will be right out.”

“Thanks, Emmett, you’re the best.”

Coffee in hand with minimal troubles, Emilie heads to the table where Monica and Ryder are talking animatedly to each other - or, rather, Monica is oohing and ahhing over the sticker that Ryder is practically shoving in her face. Emilie sits across from the child and watches him interact, seemingly unaffected by the fact that he hasn’t seen his mother in almost three months. She opens her mouth to say something, but her words are interrupted by her phone vibrating in her hand.

Niall Love. Emilie frowns and murmurs that she’ll be back. She waits until she is outside in the brisk morning air to press the Accept button. She brings the phone to her ear, confused but so ready to hear her boyfriend’s voice.

“Hey, babe, isn’t it, like, seven in LA? Why aren’t you still sleeping?”

“Move in with me.”