Feels Like Forever


Ryder stirs in his bed, but he doesn’t wake. Emilie breathes out a sigh of relief and continues carrying the armful of clothes to the living room where the two suitcases have been placed in the couch. The room looks as if her closet threw up all of its contents, which isn’t far from the truth: The only things left hanging are a few dresses and a pair of jeans she keeps only for sentimental value, since she knows she will never fit in them again.

She hasn’t told anyone, not even Monica or Derek, about her plans to spend Christmas in LA. Emilie isn’t going to change her mind, not this close to the flight; she is far too excited to see Niall again, and she would feel absolutely awful about him having wasted so much money on tickets. While she knows none of her loved ones will try to convince her to stay, she doesn’t want to risk them asking questions and her starting to overthink this decision. The one person she’s dreading talking to is Paige. Emilie is afraid that the other woman won’t take the news well. After all, Ryder is her grandson, and she deserves to have the chance to see him on holidays.

She and Ryder wait by the entrance to the parking structure early the next morning. He keeps trying to run around on the sidewalk, whining and stomping his little foot when Emilie tugs him to a stop. Thankfully, Derek’s Mustang pulls up to the curb not even ten minutes later. The fact that it’s not even five in the morning means he isn’t blocking traffic, but it also means he’s in less than a cheerful mood. He doesn’t speak as he puts the luggage in the boot while Emilie buckles Ryder into the car seat.

“I thought you weren’t going to your mom’s for Christmas this year,” he grouses as he pulls back into the road, and Emilie squirms in her seat.

“I’m not.”

“Then why the fuck am I awake so early to take you to the airport?”

“I, uh... We’re going to spend the holidays with the cutie. Don’t say his name,” she warns when Derek’s mouth opens. “I don’t wanna deal with Ry getting too excited right now.”

“And you’re just telling me this now?”

“In my defence, he invited us last night.”

“Holy shit, those tickets must have been expensive.”

“I can only assume.” She catches his questioning look. “He paid for them so I couldn’t change my mind.”

Derek laughs harder than she feels is necessary for the situation. “Smart man. Well, I’m happy for y’all. Did you tell your parents?”

“Ah, fuck. No. I probably should, huh?”

<< Hey, Mom and Dad. So. Happy early Christmas and New Years and all that jazz. I know I should have told you before now, but... Ry and I kinda got invited to spend the holidays with Niall. Sorry for the late heads-up, but he extended the invitation literally less than 24 hours ago, and I’ve been busy packing. I’ll be back on the third of January, tho. If I die while in LA, please clear my internet browsing history and make sure I’m cremated - I don’t wanna come back as a brain-hungry zombie with everyone knowing what kind of porn I watched while alive. Love you!!!

The phone conversation with Paige is easier than expected: The woman is surprisingly understanding and supportive of the plans. She assures Emilie that she isn’t angry that she’s taking Ryder out of state for a major holiday, though she does make Emilie promise to come to Corpus Christi once they’re back in Texas so that Ryder can have a belated Christmas dinner with her side of the family.

>> Have fun, kiddo. Be careful not to die, and don’t drive anywhere. I’ve been to LA. They drive like fucking morons out there.

>> Jack, you think everyone drives like morons
>> Enjoy your time, Emilie. I love you!! XOXO

Checking in for the flight is made easier by an older couple; they keep an eye on her luggage and keep Ryder laughing while she talks to the staff member, and she’s surprised when they sit next to her. The man does magic tricks with a quarter while the women watch the child laughing and squealing in delight. The woman pats Emilie’s hand gently, her wrinkled face crinkling further with the soft smile.

“You have a darling little boy.”

Emilie has to bite back the knee-jerk reaction of informing the woman that Ryder isn’t her son, that she’s just the one raising him while his mother is in prison. It’s far too early in the morning to be blabbing their life stories. Besides, it’s no one else’s business. So she nods and murmurs a thank you.

Eventually, Ryder tires of watching the coin disappear and climbs up into Emilie’s lap. She instinctively wraps her arms around him, breathes in that baby smell when he rests his head on her chest. The couple walks away once their flight is called, and Emilie watches them go hand-in-hand to their terminal. She doesn’t have to try very hard to see Niall and herself in them, growing old together, helping another young woman struggling in an airport to keep her child corralled, entertaining the little one to give the mother a break. Her heart clenches tightly at the mental image, and she wants that.

Mully grins widely when Emilie comes through the gate, Ryder staring around in awe at their surroundings. She hefts the child more securely into her arms and carefully weaves her way through the other passengers until she’s in front of the man. He hesitates then hugs them both as well as he can, and Emilie smiles once they’ve separated.

“It’s great to see you.”

“You, too. Ready to go?”

“Yeah, just gotta grab our stuff.”

Suitcases in Mully’s hand, the trio makes their way out to the parking structure. Ryder squirms and begs to walk, but Emilie tells him firmly that that’s not an option. His face screws up, a sure sign of an impending tantrum, so she steps off to the side. Mully comes to a stop a few feet away, watching the people that pass so she can have privacy to talk to the child.

“I know you wanna walk by yourself, darling boy, but this is a very large car park, and I don’t want you to get hurt if someone isn’t paying attention. So you have to let me carry you to Mister Sean’s car. It’s to keep you safe. Okay?”

“No ‘kay.”

“Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, but it is what it is, kid. You’re just gonna have to deal with it.”

Ryder mutters that it isn’t okay once more even as Emilie scoops him back up into her arms. He lets his head fall to her shoulder; she blows out a breath of relief. That could have gone a helluva lot worse, and she is so thankful that it didn’t. The last thing she needs right now is to have people judging her for his tantrums.

She knows she shouldn’t be surprised to see a car seat in the backseat of the car, but she is. Mully stows away the luggage, and she buckles Ryder into the seat, pressing a gentle kiss to his forehead. His lips curve into a sleepy smile; her chest warms at the sight, and she hurriedly slides into the front seat. Once her belt is latched properly, she pulls her phone from the cup of her bra, wipes the screen on her leggings, and turns the device on. There are four notifications: Niall has texted, telling her to have a safe flight and to let him know when they’re on the way back to the house; Derek and Monica sent their well-wishes for her to have a wonderful holiday; and her father called while her phone was off.

Apologising to Mully, Emilie listens to her dad’s voicemail:

“Hey, kid, I just wanted to let you know... I’m proud of you. You know that, right? I know you’re gonna ask if everything is all right, and it is, don’t worry. I’m just an old man who’s realised he hasn’t exactly been the most present man in his daughter’s life over the years. I still think of you as the little girl who used to look up to me and try to do everything I did, but now you’re in a relationship with a kid I ain’t even met, and you’re spending Christmas with him.” The clicking of a lighter in the background causes Emilie’s brows to furrow - he stopped smoking when she was eleven. “Don’t do that judging thing, Em. I’m not smoking. Perry needed a light, and having a lighter comes in handy when you’re trying to convince bigwigs to invest in various companies. You wouldn’t believe how many cigars those assholes go through during one lunch. Anyway. I, uh, I just wanted to tell you that I love you, okay? Call me whenever you get this. If you want.”

Mully gives her a questioning look when she hangs up. She smiles, tells him it was her dad being weirdly affectionate out of nowhere.

“It’s gotta be the holidays,” he suggests with a shrug.


“So, does the little guy know where he’s going?”

Emilie turns to look at the child, stretching against her seatbelt until she can see his face; he’s fast asleep, eyelashes fluttering against his round cheeks as he dreams. She faces forward again. “Nah, I figured I’d let it be one of his Christmas surprises, to wake up and see Niall. Ry really loves him.”

“Niall really loves the little lad, too,” replies Mully with a quick glance into the mirror before changing lanes. “I’m going to be honest. I never thought I’d see the day that Niall would fall so hard for someone like this. I mean, he’s been in relationships before, some that were serious, some not. But you? And Ryder? You two have become the most important people in his life. I’m… I’m glad for that. He’s my best mate. He deserves happiness more than anyone I know. Thank you.”

She squirms awkwardly in her seat, avoids his gaze. She isn’t sure how she feels about the sudden seriousness in his expression, the earnest gravity of his words. Underneath the uncomfortable tightness in her chest is a warmth blooming, spreading its fingers through her body. Emilie lets out a slow breath to calm herself.

Thankfully, Mully doesn’t seem to have any expectations for a reply. He just reaches over to adjust the volume on the radio and continues driving, seemingly content enough to let Emilie work through her thoughts and feelings alone. The rest of the drive drags on; with the rising of the sun has come the influx of traffic. Ryder stays asleep even as Mully comes to a stop by the fence and turns off the car.

Before Emilie can even unbuckle her belt, Niall is at the door, pulling it open. He’s nearly vibrating as he waits for her to step out of the car, then he tugs her in for a bone-crushing embrace. Emilie melts against him, breathes in his scent. She hates that it’s been so long since they have seen each other in person. Something in her shifts, an empty space in her soul filling and disappearing with the contact. Her eyes are burning, vision blurred, by the time they pull away.

“I missed you.”

“I missed you, too, love. Fuck, I’m so glad to see your face.” Niall presses a tender kiss to her lips then grins brightly. “Now, I’m gonna get my little bud, if you don’t mind.”

“Have at it. He’s kinda mad at me for not letting him run around the car park anyway.”

Emilie stands just behind him, watching as he ducks into the backseat; her brows raise when he manages to unbuckle the clips of Ryder’s seat without trouble or hesitation. She’s been handling carseats for two years, and even she still has difficulty sometimes. Mully catches her eye, jerks his head in Niall’s direction.

“He’s been practising,” he mouths, and Emilie could cry with the emotions that rise up in her.

Ryder’s sleepy whine turns into a screech of Niall’s name; he launches his tiny body into Niall’s arms, and Niall holds him close as he backs out of the car. Emilie pushes the door closed once they’re out of the way. Both of her favourite boys ignore her completely, Niall engrossed in listening to Ryder chatter on as they make their way to the house. Emilie shakes her head with a soft laugh then helps Mully grab the suitcases.

“I have a feeling we’re not wanted any more,” she announces lightly.

Mully huffs out a laugh, stares after Niall and Ryder. “Yeah. As I said, he’s very fond of Ryder.”