Feels Like Forever


The next two weeks fly by. Between her mind constantly dwelling on Niall having asked her to move and the court date that looms ever closer, Emilie has barely any time to herself that isn’t filled with panic and never-ending questions. Ryder keeps her busy, but he isn’t a very good distraction. Maybe when he’s older and can talk in more than disjointed sentences, but right now, all he requires is for her to prevent him from doing something stupid and reckless that might kill him and put food in his belly.

The night before the court date, Emilie goes to bed as soon as Ryder is asleep, but she doesn’t sleep for hours after. She tries, harder than she ever has before, to no avail. All she ends up doing is tossing and turning and struggling not to let herself spiral into the thoughts. Her chest aches with the potential of tomorrow, no matter how hard she forces the nightmarish hell from her mind. She watches as Ryder sleeps, thankful that he is blissfully unaware of what the next day is going to bring.

>> Are you nervous ?

Emilie snorts quietly, but Niall’s question lingers in her mind. Is she? Of course she is. There is so much that could go wrong tomorrow - Ryder could go into foster care, Danielle could get custody of him again and move far away so that Emilie will never see him again… Either way, Emilie could lose the one constant in her life that is far more important than herself. Not having him in her life might actually cause her to lose the will to go on.

She sighs heavily and types out a response.

<< Yeah, incredibly nervous. This has the potential to fuck everything up, and I keep thinking that I’m going to lose Ry forever.
<< This shouldn’t be how his life goes.
<< He should’ve had a mother who gives a damn about him. And now, at the risk of being hyperbolic, we have to go in front of a judge who is literally deciding his fate.

>> I’m sorry love. . . I wish I could be there with you right now .

<< I wish you could, too...
<< Tell Mully I said hey, btw. But I better try to sleep. Gotta be up too damn early tomorrow. Goodnight xx

>> Goodnight , love
>> I’ll be thinking of you xxxxx

Emilie tosses her phone back onto the nightstand and rolls over in the bed. Moonlight peeks through the gap in the curtains, milky-white haze filling the room; the heating system kicks on with a quiet click and a thrum, and she shivers, tugs the comforter up more tightly around her shoulders. Whether it is the fearing the unknown of tomorrow or if it is actually cold in the apartment, she isn’t sure.

Within minutes, she crawls out of the bed and crosses the room. Ryder doesn’t stir as she lifts him from his cot, and she feels like she can breathe easier, the scent of baby wash flooding her senses. Nothing has ever been more calming than the sweetness that clings to the child after his baths, and right now, she needs that. He sniffles and burrows against her once she has him laid down in the middle of her mattress. Emilie makes sure they’re both covered by the blankets, presses a kiss to his soft hair, and closes her eyes.

The sound of her alarm comes far too soon. Emilie rushes to turn it off so it doesn’t wake Ryder then slips out of the bed. Dressing quickly in the sharp pantsuit Monica let her borrow, she hurries through applying her makeup - she knows she will most likely be crying by the end of the day, but she doesn’t want to show up in court looking like an extra in a vampire film, and if she has to use more concealer under her eyes than usual, it is no one’s business but hers. She’s just finished tying her hair back in a tight braid when a knock echoes through the silent apartment, typing a quick good-morning text to Niall that includes a warning that her phone won’t be on as she makes her way through the dark. She turns her phone off once the message has been delivered and opens the door.

Derek smiles, reassuring and steady and almost as needed as the cup of iced mocha he hands her. “I thought you might need this.”

“The coffeeshop isn’t even open right now, what the hell.”

“Emmett let me in before open so I could make it for you. He wishes for the best and says if you need him to, he’ll close up shop long enough to teach Danielle and the judge a lesson.”

“You wouldn’t help him?” she asks lightly, no matter how hard her heart is struggling to escape her ribs.

“Of course I would, but I’d do it by getting you and Ryder safely out of town.” He shrugs and perches on the stool. “Besides, Mon is the better fighter, so she’d have his back.”

“What did I ever do to deserve you guys?”

“Well, you came into the coffeeshop a couple years ago and immediately made us fall in love with you. Then you brought Ry with you, and we were doomed.”

Emilie clears her throat awkwardly then gestures toward the bedroom. Derek nods, and she leaves him there to wake Ryder and get him ready for the day. He fusses as she changes his diaper and puts him in the nicest outfit she owns for him, but he perks up when he sees Derek in the kitchen. There isn’t enough time to feed him at the flat, so Derek grabs a packet of PopTarts from the cabinet and the diaper bag from the end of the couch before following Emilie and Ryder out of the apartment.

“Hey, buddy, Auntie Em has to go talk to someone for a bit, okay, so I need you to stay here with Derek and be good. Can you do that for me?” Ryder nods but doesn’t look away from his plastic dinosaurs, and Emilie runs a hand over his hair. “I love you more than the rainbow, sweetheart.”

The prosecutor shakes her hand once she reaches his side, and Emilie listens intently to him explaining what the hearing is going to involve - mostly testimonies regarding the multiple occasions that Danielle has put her wants before her son’s needs. Emilie hates that everything has come to this. When she was a child, meeting her new stepsister for the first time, she never imagined that she would be in front of a judge almost seventeen years later telling everyone about the neglect she has tried so hard to save Ryder from.

Emilie’s knee bounces as she sits in the chair, staring down at the table in front of her. She wishes she was at home with Ryder, but they have to be here; she is just so thankful that Derek is keeping the child busy out in the corridor. Danielle sits just across the aisle to her left; Emilie knows if she looks over, she’ll see her former stepsister glaring at her, so she keeps her focus on the cheap wooden table in front of her. She rises to her feet and sits back down when she’s told to.

The guilt she’s carried with her over the last few months has abated slightly, though Emilie knows this is going to be a difficult day. Even harder than the day she called social services on Danielle, knowing that if they removed Ryder from the home, she would most likely never see him again. But coming home from the wonderful week-long vacation in LA to find what she did... Ryder’s safety has always been most important to her. Not having him in her life any more would be worth it if he never had to go back to living with his mother while she threw their lives away, never had to wonder if he was going to be loved and cared for like he deserves.

Emilie answers the questions that the prosecutor asks and refuses to rise to the bait at the deliberately misleading inquiries from the defence. Her skin itches under the venomous stare from her former stepsister, but Emilie doesn’t waver as she recounts walking into the house to see Ryder in a portable crib, his diaper heavy with waste and hanging below his knees, his face filthy with however many days of food. Her voice holds steady when she tells the court of finding Danielle passed out in her bed in the other room, not stirring even though her child was sobbing and screaming hysterically not even fifteen feet away. Emilie admits to taking him from the house that night without hesitation.

“It was my duty as his godmother and as a sensible, compassionate human being to make him safe. He wasn’t safe there.”

Danielle’s face has settled into something less angry, more disgusted, by the time Emilie returns to her seat. Emilie sidesteps when Danielle reaches for her hand, ignoring the way the other woman’s head drops. Comforting the woman who is so willingly destroying an innocent life is not high on her list of priorities, no matter the previous familial relationship they may have had.

Someone shows photographs and home videos as evidence of how long Danielle’s addictions have strained the relationship between mother and son; not one of them has Ryder reaching for Danielle, interacting with her, even the ones from when he was an infant - he always reached for Emilie. She closes her eyes when he starts screaming from the speakers, fighting to get to his godmother as his mother carried him toward the door to leave after his birthday party. The tear slips from the corner of her eye, slides down her cheek.

The voices of the attorneys meld into a blur as Emilie stares at the floor beneath her feet. It’s impossible to focus on anything other than leaving this courtroom, saying goodbye to Ryder as he’s taken to a new family, and going home to hurt in peace. A solid weight drops into her belly at the thought of watching a stranger lead the child away and out of her life. She isn’t sure she’ll survive this, but the fact it’s best for him means she has no other choice. In the mass of noise comes the judge’s question of who has the child, and the prosecutor confers with his notes before answering simply: Miss Ellis.

“Just let her keep him.”