Feels Like Forever


>> I’m bored

Emilie smiles to herself but gets distracted by the book that Ryder hands her. He crawls up into her lap, settles against her chest, and she sets her phone aside. His solid weight on her legs is comforting; she presses a kiss to his soft hair and opens the book, starting to read about a boy and his stuffed velveteen rabbit. Ryder’s finger slides across the pages as she talks, and he gives her a scrunched-faced grin when she tickles him without losing her place.

“More!” he demands when she closes the book, and Emilie laughs.

“No more rabbit, my little reader. And besides, it’s time for a snack. Let’s go get some Goldfishes.”

“Fishy! Fishy!”

Ryder toddles clumsily to the kitchen, rocks side-to-side in front of his high-chair. Emilie scoops him up quickly just to hear that sweet giggle of his then plops him into the chair, buckling him with the ease of familiarity and practice. As soon as he has a handful of the fish-shaped crackers, she grabs his cup of juice from the fridge, sets it on the tray, and goes back to the couch to get her phone.

<< Sorry! Ry wanted a story.
<< I’m sorry you’re bored

>> No need to apologise. About either of those things. I assume story time is over ?

<< Yep! Now it’s time for him to eat ALL THE FISHIES

>> ..... what ?

<< Goldfish snack crackers. lol they’re his fav

>> Okay I was worried for a second that he was being allowed to eat raw fish

<< Nahhh. Sushi comes later in life lmao.
<< So what are you up to?

>> Nothing. As I said I’m bored

<< Well, there’s a lot to do in Austin but since Ry has to go down for a nap in an hour or so, I won’t be able to play tour guide
<< But if you don’t mind hanging out with a seriously under-caffeinated and over-homeworked college student and a hyperactive 16 month old, I guess you could hang out here?

>> Really ?

Oh, don’t let me regret this, Emilie thinks even as she sends back a message with her address. The typing bubble appears then disappears before his response comes in, a simple Be there soon. She glances at Ryder, snorting out a laugh when he slams two crackers together with an exaggerated kissing sound. His face splits with a grin, and she rounds the bar-counter to take the Goldfish he offers. Not even caring about the fact that it’s damp, she pops it into her mouth then kisses his cheek.

“Auntie Emilie has to get changed, okay? So you sit here and eat your snack, then we’ll do some art.”

Ryder responds by crunching on another cracker. Emilie tousles his hair then makes her way to her bedroom. She knows that it doesn’t matter what she wears - this is literally only a chance for two people to hang out, while away the time; it isn’t a date, by any means - but a T-shirt that’s definitely seen better days and a ratty pair of cotton shorts is not the style she wants anyone to regularly associate with her, especially not Niall. She asks herself why she even cares about his opinion, though it doesn’t stop her from grabbing her favourite leggings from the closet, stepping out of her shorts and pulling the leggings on. She trades her Minnie Mouse shirt for a pale-blue sleeveless tunic, frowning at her reflection in the mirror.

“An’ Em!”

“What’s up, little man?” Emilie stifles a giggle when she steps out of her room; Ryder’s face is covered with orange-yellow crumbs, and chunks of partially-chewed Goldfish hang from the front of his hair. “Oh, god, you’re a mess. Are you done?”

“I done.”

“Well, let’s get you cleaned up then.”

She’s just sat him down on the mat on the living room floor when a knock echoes through the apartment. His big blue eyes find hers, face scrunching up in confusion; Emilie pulls the bucket of crayons off the top of the bookshelf and places a stack of blank paper in front of him. Ryder immediately begins digging through the tub. The visitor is already forgotten in his eagerness to colour. She strokes his cheek with a finger then pushes herself to her feet.

“It’s ridiculously difficult to find your flat, and those maps on the walls aren’t any help,” is the first thing Niall says when she opens the door, and Emilie shrugs apologetically.

“If you’d texted me when you got here, I could have told you the exact route to take.”

“I… didn’t think of that.”

“Well, obviously.” Emilie steps back so he can come in, closing the door and locking it behind him. His brow raises; belatedly, she realises what this must look like. “Sorry, gotta keep the door locked. Ryder likes exploring.”


“Yeah. Don’t worry, you can leave whenever you want. I’m not gonna, like, murder you and wear your skin while I sell your eyeballs on the black market.”

“That, that really doesn’t make me feel any better.”

“Too specific?”

“Much too specific.”

She grimaces and leads Niall to the living room. Ryder doesn’t look up from the page he’s scribbling on, but she hadn’t really expected him to. She gestures for her guest to sit on the couch, makes her way to the kitchen. Nerves suddenly grip her as she watches Niall take in his surroundings. Extending the invitation for him to come over had been as unexpected for her as it was for him; she hadn’t thought about what she was doing before she sent the message. And now that he’s here, she is really beginning to hate her past-self. Running her fingers nervously through her hair, she somehow manages to ask him if he wants something to drink. This is easy, just calm down, she orders as she grabs two glasses from the cupboard.

“So this must be the infamous Ryder.”

Emilie’s lips quirk, and she hides her smile by taking a small sip of her pineapple-orange juice. “Yup. This little guy is why I don’t have a life. Hey, Ry? Can you say hi to Niall?”

Ryder shakes his head, drops his crayon in exchange for a different one, then goes back to his artwork. Emilie sighs, hanging her head, even as Niall snorts in amusement. She should have known the kid would be shy; it took him months to warm up to Derek, so of course he would be reserved around someone completely new. She gives Niall an apologetic shrug, but he doesn’t seem to notice, too focused on watching the purple crayon in Ryder’s hand making ever-larger swirls on the paper. There’s a small smile on the man’s lips, as if he’s amused by watching a child, one who isn’t even two yet, as he scribbles on a sheet of printer paper.


Niall’s gaze jerks from Ry, and he clears his throat awkwardly. “Sorry. I’m not good company today, am I?”

“Dude, I never expect anyone to be good company,” Emilie says with a laugh. “It’s barely eleven in the morning, anyway, so you have a few hours before I get disappointed at your lack of entertaining me.”

“You’re very blunt, aren’t ya,” he huffs on a laugh.

“I try my best.”

Her phone buzzes in her hand, and she sends the incoming call to voicemail. Paige is a lovely woman, and Emilie was honestly upset to lose her as a stepmother, but every conversation with the woman serves to give Emilie a migraine; too often, the topic shifts to Danielle, and Emilie has such a hard time biting her tongue where her former stepsister is concerned. They’d had a good childhood together, they were family for fifteen years, but Danielle has drastically changed from the nine-year-old girl Emilie once knew. It’s more than evident in the way that she treats her son, the way she prefers to live her life however she wants with no consideration toward the sixteen-month-old she’s supposed to be raising.

“You okay?”

Emilie’s head snaps up. Niall is staring at her, his brows drawn together over his concerned eyes. She forces a smile, clears the lump from her throat. Nodding, she sets her phone aside and shifts on the sofa until her back is against the armrest, and she leans into the back of the couch.

“Yeah, I’m, I’m good.”

“Not someone you wanted to talk to?”

“Not particularly, no. Well, not right now. I’ll call her back later.”

His scrutiny causes her to squirm, but thankfully, he lets it drop. Instead of saying more about the call and how quiet she’s gotten, he turns his attention back to Ryder, laughs when the child suddenly stands and plants his little hands on his hips, frowning down at the picture he’s scribbled with the seriousness of an artist contemplating their latest work’s existence. Ryder ducks down to pick the paper up off the mat and toddles over to his aunt; she takes the paper from him, ignores how heavy Niall’s gaze is on her, and makes a big fuss of how beautiful the mess of thick, multi-coloured lines and squiggles are. Ryder giggles and crawls up onto Emilie’s lap, resting his head against her collarbone.

“You ready for lunch, my dude?”

Ryder nods but doesn’t make any effort to move. Emilie kisses his temple and stands, lifting him as she does. She buckles him into his high-chair then sets about peeling an apple and cutting it into wedges. Once that task is done, she scoops a spoonful of peanut butter onto the purple plastic plate and arranges the fruit around the blob. She hurriedly quarters a couple of slices of cheese and some ham, then sets the plate in front of Ryder. He immediately grabs up an apple, and Emilie leans over to press a kiss to his hair before going back to the couch. Niall glances up from his phone as she flops down, his lips quirking up at the corners.

“Ah, shit. Sorry, did you want something to eat, too? I shoulda asked.”

“No, thanks. I’m okay, had a big breakfast.”

“Okay. So… what brings you to Austin, anyway?”

Emilie is surprised when he says that golf is why he’s in her city. He doesn’t look like a golfer, in his joggers and T-shirt and sneakers. She shrugs it off, though; most people wouldn’t assume she’s basically a mother to a toddler upon first glance, or that she has a major addiction for coffee. She settles into the couch, tries to stifle a yawn. Her actions are unsuccessful, and her jaw lets out a cracking sound once the yawn forces its way out of her.

“I’m good, I’m good,” she says, waving a hand when Niall gestures toward the door, mouth opening. “Don’t worry. As I said, just over-homeworked and under-caffeinated. Didn’t get to hit the coffeeshop this morning like I normally do on Saturdays.”

“Why not?”

“Ry woke me up at, like, five this morning wanting attention then immediately fell asleep on me for a couple hours.”

“Sounds rough.”

“It was, but…” She shrugs and turns her head to watch her godson shoving smashed apple into the peanut butter. “He’s worth it, though.”

It isn’t long before Ryder is rubbing at his eyes, whining as he tries to squirm out of his high-chair. Niall follows her into the kitchen, and though she tries to protest, he ignores her and scrapes the remnants of food off the plate into the trashcan. Emilie decides it is easier to just let him do what he wants and grabs the washcloth off the side of the sink. She bites back her frustration when Ryder screeches and jerks his head around as she tries to wipe the mess away. Eventually, she gives up, his cheeks mostly cleaned now, and picks him up.

Ryder is already asleep by the time she finishes changing his diaper, and Emilie snorts in amusement. She carries him into the bedroom, lays him down on his cot, and tucks him in. He doesn’t even stir when she brushes her hand over his soft hair. Kissing his cheek tenderly, Emilie exits the bedroom, leaving the door cracked enough that she can hear if he wakes. She comes to an abrupt stop just outside her room, stares.

The mat that was on the floor has been rolled up and set on the bottom shelf, the bucket of crayons back where they belong on the bookshelf. The coloured-on papers are neatly stacked on the coffee-table; nothing of Ryder’s lunch remains on the high-chair tray, and his plate sits in the drying rack on the counter. Emilie blinks owlishly then turns her attention to Niall.

“Did… did you clean up?”

He shrugs sheepishly, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I, yeah.”

“Thanks. You didn’t have to do that, but I appreciate it.”

“You look like you keep busy enough with him, so I thought it would be nice to help a bit.”

“You’re a sweetheart, ain’t you?” Padding to the refrigerator, she grabs out the bottle of pineapple-orange juice, refills her glass. “So, since he’s napping, how do you feel about The Twilight Zone?”

“Er, never really watched it before.”

“You good with watching it?”


She sets her glass on the coffee-table, reaching for her phone and bringing up the Roku app. Stretching out on the sofa, her legs dangling over the arm, she taps the icon for Hulu once her phone connects with the device on the TV stand. Her hand searches blindly for the throw blanket that she keeps draped over the back of the couch; she gives Niall a thankful grin when he passes it to her. She makes the decision to start the show from the very beginning, though it doesn’t matter - none of the episodes rely on the previous ones. She just really enjoys the ominous vibe and creepiness of the pilot episode. The familiar intonation of the narrator fills the room, and Emilie tilts her head back to see if Niall is paying attention. Satisfied that he is, she settles in more comfortably into the cushions.