Feels Like Forever


Silence reigns deafeningly in the courtroom, and Emilie’s head snaps up and to the left. Her blood roars in her ears, and her hands tremble in her lap; her breath catches in her throat, but she doesn’t even try to draw in air. What the Hell is Danielle talking about? She’s always been so adamant that Ryder is her son and her responsibility, and Emilie’s interference is hardly acceptable, except when she’s caring for the child while Danielle is out living her life. Her stepsister sighs and stands.

“Look, your Honour, it’s been proven that my son doesn’t recognise me as his mother. Em - Miss Ellis has taken care of him most of his life. His father is, well… he’s not around. I don’t want him to go into foster care when she’s more than capable to raise him, and I’m afraid that’s what’s going to happen if I don’t sign over my rights to her so I can… so I can clean up my life. He deserves to be with someone who loves him as much as she does.”

“Miss Gutwein, I expect that you’ve thought long and hard about this and it isn’t just a way to deflect your responsibility as a parent.”

“I’ve been thinking about this every day since I was arrested three months ago. As you can see, Miss Ellis has been wonderful with him, taking care of him and keeping him safe. It’s in his best interest to stay with her. I, I want the last thing I do as his mother to be certain he’s with her, because it’s the best life he could possibly have.”

The judge stares at Danielle, eyes narrowed contemplatively. Finally, he turns his gaze on Emilie, and her head swims, prompting her to breathe. “Miss Ellis, are you willing to take on full parental responsibility for the child?”

“I am,” she whispers with a nod after a long moment.

“This is highly unorthodox,” the judge starts, and Emilie inhales shakily, “but I must admit, it does make the decision easier in regards to what happens to the child during his mother’s incarceration. Miss Ellis, if you’ll wait for me in my chambers…”

Emilie follows the bailiff from the room on weak knees, and her heart races in her chest. She sits in the chair in front of the judge’s desk and waits. Time drags by, the clock on the wall ticking louder and louder as more seconds fall away; the scenery outside of the window behind the desk is dreary, dark grey clouds rolling in with an impending storm. She bites her lower lip and grabs a tissue from the box on the desk. Wiping at her sweaty palms, she sighs and stares around the office once more. The sound of the door opening startles her.

“Miss Ellis, thank you for your patience. I’ve instructed the officers to allow you a few minutes with Miss Gutwein once you’re done here.” The judge settles into his chair with a heavy sigh. Emilie doesn’t envy him for his job. “I am glad that she suggested this. I’m sure social workers would have considered you as a viable option for the child, but this way, we skipped all that. You realise that this is going to be difficult, and you won’t have your own life for the next sixteen years, yes?”

“Yes, sir. I’m aware. He’s… he’s worth it, though. I do have one question.”


“What are the, uh, stipulations to me having guardianship or whatever?”

“It would be full legal and physical custody. You will be in charge of every decision regarding him - medical, schooling, everything that a biological parent would have.”

“Do we have to stay in the city of Austin? Just in case Danielle wants him back?”

The judge leans forward, rests his elbows on the desk. “As soon as the paperwork is signed and filed, you will be free to move to Sweden if that’s what you choose. Miss Gutwein could potentially petition to reverse the adoption, but it’s one of the most difficult processes in the court system. If, if that happens, you will be required to come back to this court when summoned, but otherwise, you are allowed to live anywhere with the child that you would like.

“For right now, the adoption is going to be considered ‘pending’, but that status will change once DCFS investigates your home as a permanent residence and approves you as a fit and able parental figure. But, barring any unforeseen issues, congratulations, Miss Ellis, you’re the mother of a beautiful, bouncing, two-year-old boy.”

Emilie leaves the courthouse feeling mixed-up. She stopped and talked to Danielle on her way out, and though that conversation hadn’t been quite the cathartic revelation she hoped for, she can only keep looking forward now. She has a child to raise. Derek gives her a questioning look, and she shakes her head. Ryder plays happily in his stroller with the plastic dinosaurs he brought with them; Emilie is just glad that being in the courtroom hasn’t seemed to scare him. She stops walking, leans down, and peppers his face with kisses. He giggles and shoves a T-Rex head against her lips.

“You ready to go home, little dude?”

“‘Ome! Go ‘ome!” He pauses then smashes the T-Rex into the side of his triceratops before squinting up at her. “Ni-Ni?”

“Nah, buddy, I don’t think Ni-Ni is gonna be there. Just you and me tonight.”

“‘Kay. ‘Ome!” he shrieks, pointing his dinosaurs forward.

By the time they get home, Ryder has told Emilie he’s hungry seven times, demanded yogurt three, and babbled to his toys in the backseat for most of the drive. Derek helps her keep the toddler from running off while she gathers up his diaper bag and shoes that he tugged off within five minutes of being buckled in his car seat. She hugs her friend and grabs hold of Ryder’s hand, leading him through the door to the apartment building.

Once he’s settled in his highchair with a small bowl of yogurt and some fruit, Emilie turns on the television and switches the channel to Nick Jr. Sunlight streams through the large window in her bedroom when she walks in to change into a pair of pyjamas. Her plan for the rest of the day is to lounge around and relax with Ryder, enjoy the handful of hours she has left before it’s bedtime. She’s just set the kettle on its heating element when she realises she hasn’t heard from Niall today.

There are eight texts, one of which is from Derek letting her know he was taking Ryder with him to the bathroom, and three missed calls, the notifications staring up at her, by the time Emilie turns her phone on. The last message was sent only twenty minutes ago. She unlocks her phone, opens the message thread, and reads.

>> Hope today goes well. Let me know ok? xx
>> I know you’re probably in court by now but I wanted you to know I’m thinking of you
>> It’s quiet and I’m bored
>> Is court over yet ?
>> I’m so nervous and I’m not even involved in this. Hoping it gets over soon !
>> Em? Is everything ok ?
>> I’m getting worried, Emilie… Please text back soon, yeah ?

Emilie smiles as the letters blur together; it feels… unfamiliar for someone to care so much, but it’s nice. She glances up at her godson, still happily making a mess with his banana slices and yogurt, and sends back a message.

<< So sorry. Literally just got home a few minutes ago. Had to stay behind and talk to the judge one on one. I’ll explain later once Ry is in bed. Thank you for caring and checking up on me x

>> Oh I’m so glad it’s over. Fuck I was so nervous for you. I’ll be ready to FaceTime or whatever whenever you’re ready xx

Niall’s response came almost immediately, and she claps a hand over her mouth as an inelegant snort slips out.

“Hey, Ry? I think Niall cares about us.”

“Ni? I talk Ni-Ni!”

<< You busy now? Ry really wants his Ni-Ni lol

The delivered message switches to Read, and she barely gets the chance to notice before her phone is ringing. She grins at the photo on the screen ー the one she took the morning after he had come over drunk ー and answers it. Her heart lurches at the sight of his face, smiling and bright-eyed.

“You’re not my bud, I wanna see my bud!”

She laughs, shakes her head. “He ain’t touching my phone. He’s all messy with food, but I guess I can be nice enough to hold the phone for him if I get a hello from you first, mister.”

“Oh, forgive me, where are my manners? Hello, Emilie. Now let me see Ryder.”

“I see how it is,” she jokes even as she turns the phone around to face the child, “I’m chopped liver whenever Ry’s around.”


“Hey! You are a mess, aren’t ya? What are you eating?”

“’Gurt an’ nananas.”

Emilie watches as Ryder gibbers nonsensically to Niall. The man on the other end talks back with just as much enthusiasm, even though Emilie is pretty sure he has no idea what Ry is even saying; she still has to translate most of Ryder’s sentences, even though it’s been nine months since Niall came into their life, six since they made this thing between them less nebulous.

Ryder quickly gets bored with talking, shoving himself back in the seat of his highchair. Emilie props her phone against the coffee maker and wets down a washcloth, scrubs at the child’s face against his squeals of protest. He toddles off once she’s set him on his feet, and she watches him dig through the toy-chest in the corner of the living room for a moment. The sound of someone clearing their throat reminds her that there’s a video chat that she has to get back to. She flashes an apologetic smile at Niall, grabbing up her phone, and heads to the living room to flop down on the couch.

“Have you thought any more about what I asked?”

She catches her lower lip in between her teeth and avoids Niall’s gaze. “I, uh… I have, actually, but that’s something we should talk about later, when there aren’t little ears around to listen in.”

“You’re not going to.” It isn’t a question. Niall’s voice is flat, and she winces.

“It’s not that I don’t want to, Niall, I swear. I- I really do. But.” She sighs heavily, makes sure that Ryder is sufficiently distracted by the plastic dinosaurs and Matchbox cars. “I can’t. I hate that I have to say no, but, I just can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Danielle lost custody of him today. Actually, no, that’s not quite right.”

“What do you mean?” he asks when Emilie doesn’t speak immediately, and she gives an abortive shrug.

“She signed all her rights away. To me. And, god, I’m sorry, but he’s been through enough change in his life, I can’t just uproot him from all he knows. So yeah, I… I think it’s best that we stay here.”

Niall’s brows draw tightly over his eyes, but before he can say anything, Ryder screeches and throws a dinosaur at the television. Emilie groans low in her throat, tells Niall she has to go, and hangs up without waiting for a response. Ryder refuses to settle down even when Emilie wraps him in her arms, holds him to her chest, whispers soothingly in his ear. So she scoops him up and carries him to the bedroom; he squirms unhappily but stops trying to get out of the bed after the third time she pulls him back to cuddle with her. It isn’t much longer after that that his breathing evens out. She stares at the sleeping child, an ache filling her chest.

Against her better instincts, Emilie had started seriously considering Niall’s offer of her moving in with him over the last two weeks. She knew it would mean leaving Ryder behind, but the thought of living with her boyfriend was - is - tempting. But she means what she told him: Now that she has custody of the toddler, she can’t bear to be that selfish, not when it affects his life so much. And now that she’s told Niall no, she can only wonder if this is the beginning of the end.