Feels Like Forever


“Excuse me?”

“Move in with me.”

“Niall, wh-what are you talking about?”

His sigh crackles down the line, and Emilie chews on her lower lip and steps out of the way of an older woman approaching the door. Heart pounding beneath her ribs, Emilie makes her way on shaky knees to the table at the end of the sidewalk, sits in the cold metal chair. She doesn’t know what has brought this on, why he’d ask her to move in now of all times.

“I want… fuck, okay, I was sleeping as people normally do at night, and I had the most amazing dream. You lived here with me, and we, we were happy. Em, it was - it was so realistic that when I woke up, I was honestly upset that it wasn’t real. It hurt that it was nothing more than a dream. So this is me asking you to move in with me.”

Emilie swallows down the tears that threaten to break free; her voice shakes, though she tries to keep it steady, as she says, “Niall, we’ve only been dating for five and a half months.”

“True, but, Emilie, we’ve known each other for so much longer.” She can see in her mind the pleading expression on his face, mixed with the nervousness that echoes down the line. His accent is thick, though she has no idea if it’s the remnants of sleep or if it is because of something more, something emotional. “We became friends nine months ago, and we’ve been sleeping together for eight of those months. A-and didn’t we learn that we work?”

“It was a week, babe,” she counters, laughing weakly, and god, does it hurt to be making this argument. “It wasn’t forever, and it’s not exactly enough time to figure that out.”

“Did you have any doubts about how well we got on?”

Emilie blows out a breath - she hadn’t. She still doesn’t, not really. The only doubts she has is of her own issues: Him being so far away means that he isn’t always inundated by the pressures and responsibilities of being a stand-in parent; he doesn’t have to struggle with the whims, the tantrums, the difficulties of raising a toddler, and he certainly has no neglectful former-stepsister to battle with when it comes to said child. The reality of the situation is so very different up close, and what if it’s too much for him to handle?

A tear slides down her cheek as her thoughts move from the worries she carries to what it could be like living with him. Being with him regularly without this distance between them. Waking up every single morning in his bed and falling asleep every night in his arms. Her mind fights against itself - one part screaming to jump on this opportunity, whereas the logical part tells her that she shouldn’t do this without any forethought.

“You’re right. I didn’t doubt us. But… I need to think about this. I mean, I can’t make any kind of decision right now anyway, not until after Danielle’s hearing. Once I know what’s going to happen with her and Ryder, I-I’ll be able to make up my mind then.”

“I don’t expect an answer right now,” he rushes to assure her, and she huffs out a laugh - of course he is going to be patient after turning her world sideways with his post-dream request. “Take your time, there is no rush. I just, I just thought I’d be upfront and honest about what I wanted.”

“Thank you. Uh, I’ve gotta get back inside. Monica is entertaining Ryder at the moment, but she has to get to work. I’ll call you later?”

“Sounds good to me, love.”

Emilie hangs up and stares at her phone screen. This morning has been nothing but surprise after surprise, and she is terrified to find out what else is in store. Any more unexpected events, and she thinks she might actually freak out. She types out a message to Derek, hands trembling as she sends the text off. Monica looks up once Emilie steps back into the coffeeshop, and her brows draw together.

“Bean? What happened?”

“I... he asked me to move in with him.”

“Don’t leave,” Monica orders when the bell over the door jingles and another patron walks in. “We’re so talking about this.”

Emilie obeys; she absentmindedly listens to Ryder as he plays with the crusts of a danish, crashing them into each other as if they were Matchbox cars. His face is covered with cherry glaze and cream cheese, but she can’t find it in her to care. All she gives a damn about is the fact that he’s happy, his eyes shining with the carefree joy of being in one of his favourite places and having fun. She exhales tremulously, swipes a finger under her eyes.

Monica rejoins a few minutes later, passing a muffin across the table to Emilie. “D is supposed to be here in, like, five, but I’m too impatient to wait for the details. He asked you to move in.”

“Yeah. Like, as soon as I answered the call. It was literally the first thing he said: ‘Move in with me.’”

“And what did you say?”

“I told him it was kinda nuts. Well, no, I didn’t. But I did point out we’d only been dating for a little over five months, which... it is. It’s nuts! He said we’ve known each other for nine and refused to accept that a week-long stint at playing house isn’t enough time to know for sure whether we’d work out living together.”

“Oh, honey.” Monica peels Emilie’s hands away from the pastry she’s currently tearing apart in her nervousness. Her dark eyes are full of sympathy when Emilie meets her gaze. “You guys have made it work so far, with the distance and the conflicting schedules and everything. Living with him would only make it easier, right?”

“Maybe? I dunno. It doesn’t matter, anyway. Like I told him, I can’t make any decisions until after the court date, but if Danielle is allowed custody, I... I can’t go. I won’t be able to leave Ry.”

“He’ll understand.”

Emilie snorts derisively and chokes on the mouthful of coffee in result. Coughing harshly, she waves off Monica’s concern. “How can you be so sure?”

“Because that boy is heads over heels for you, if he’s been so patient with the fact that Ryder will always come first for you. How many calls have you had to cancel to care for little dude here? And when you were with Niall, how often did you FaceTime Ryder, and Niall didn’t do anything but give you space so you could talk without an audience? He came over on Thanksgiving and took care of Ry while you cooked. He helped you take care of Ry when he was sick. I know literally no other dude who would do half that shit for someone they were sleeping with, let alone whether they loved them or not.”

“I can’t leave Ryder.”

“So tell Niall. Let him know, and you two can figure out what to do next. Okay?”

“I can do that.”

Derek has much the same reaction when he shows up and Emilie explains what’s going on, though he makes it clear that Emilie will be making a mistake if she tells Niall no. His expression softens, and she knows that the mixed-up things she is feeling are more than evident on her face. He pokes the tip of her nose, grabs her hand across the table. Her lip quivers though she tries to smile as steadily as possible.

“Go call your man, girl. Make sure he knows that you’re in love with him but just need some time.”

“He knows I need some time,” Emilie retorts before her brain catches up and registers what he’s said. “You’re a fucking sneak.”

“It’s because I know you so well. Now sh, go.”

Emilie laughs softly, shaking her head, and pushes to her feet. Derek stays with Ryder while she carries the plate to the rubbish bin and dumps the muffin bits. She sets the plate on the cart, ducks behind the counter to hug Monica tightly, and whispers a fervent Thank you in her ear. She still has a lot to think about, but she knows she can count on her two best friends whenever she hits a wall and can’t see past her own mind.

Ryder whines but lets Emilie scoop him up into her arms, and he waves over her shoulder as she carries him out to the car. All that was on their schedule for the day has been done, so her only plan for the day is to distract herself. If she is honest with herself, her friends are right: Living with Niall could only help their relationship to grow more, and... she wants that. She really does.

But packing up and leaving Ryder behind isn’t an option, not one she can live with. It might be self-centred, but she knows she is the only reason he’s thriving as much as he is. Sure, if Danielle loses all rights to him, he would go into foster care, where he might have a shot at having a good life, or he would go to Paige who would do her damnedest to protect him and raise him right. Being so far from him, though, the thought alone terrifies Emilie.

Somehow, she manages to get through the day without crumbling under the weight of her thoughts, and she finds herself sitting on the couch in the dark once she puts Ryder to bed. The card Ginny gave her scratches her bare leg as Emilie flips it over and over; she can’t help but wonder if this mean the social worker fully expects that Emilie will be able to keep guardianship of Ryder, or if it’s a sign of her doubts that Danielle will be able to clean up her life enough to be a fit mother and therefore put Emilie in the position of second-mommy again. Emilie isn’t quite sure which scenario she prefers - she knows that the one where Ryder is well taken care of, protected from harm no matter who intends to cause it… that’s the one she wants for him, but should it be her?