Feels Like Forever


Monica instantly tugs Ryder out of Emilie’s arms the instant she is able to, and Emilie huffs out a laugh but turns to hug Derek tightly. He allows it for a moment then pushes her back a step. She knows what he is going to say before he even opens his mouth.

“I thought I told you not to think of coming back if it ain’t to pack your shit and go.”

“You are the worst friend I’ve ever had, did you know that?” She leans into his side, wraps her arm around his lower back, and leads the group toward baggage claim. “How was your holiday?”

Derek sighs, scrubs a hand over his face. “You had the right idea of not visiting family. Dad kept asking if I’d gotten a real job yet, Mom demanded that I bring home a girl next time I visit, and Mimi? She decided to get drunk and do the Charleston in just her delicates - again.”

“Oh, that sounds awful, D. Anything good happen at all?”

“Yeah, I guess. I got a new pair of socks. Honestly, your FaceTime on Christmas was the only highlight of the last week of my life.”

“I’m glad I could make it better in some small way. How about yours, Mon?”

As Monica talks about her Christmas with her family (“Thank fuck Abuelita hosts, or there’s no way we’d all be able to get together like that”), Emilie gathers up her luggage and turns toward the exit. Derek presses in closer to her; his face is set in a deep scowl when she glances up at him, and she follows his gaze to see a girl a few years younger than them taking pictures. Sighing inwardly, Emilie pretends she didn’t notice, pretends like her privacy isn’t being violated.

Niall, Mully, Harry... hell, even Melody warned her this would happen now. One picture of her and Mully at the liquor store that went viral on the internet, and now everyone knows of Emilie’s connection to Niall. She had wondered why it didn’t happen sooner, but Melody had smiled grimly and told her not to question it or she’d drive herself nuts. Emilie is still shocked that the woman asked to exchange numbers before Paul drove Emilie and Ryder to the airport.

“Want any help unpacking?” Derek asks as they make their way through the corridors to Emilie’s door.

She shakes her head. “Nah, but I will probably need help packing.”

She unlocks the door and steps inside only to figure out she’s the only one doing so. She pokes her head out into the hall, flashes an innocent smile at their shocked faces. Monica and Derek exchange a look. The dam breaks.

Their voices overlap, and Emilie has a hard time understanding the questions being hurled at her. Derek practically tosses the suitcases through the door and turns on his heel, speed-walking back the way they came, shouting over his shoulders that he’s going to go get boxes and he wants details when he gets back.

It isn’t until she’s stood in front of her dresser, staring down at the open drawers, that Emilie realises she has no idea what to pack and how she’s going to get to LA again. She walks out of her room, and Monica looks up from the dinosaurs in her hands. Emilie opens her mouth then closes it again.

“I don’t know what to do.”

She will never be more grateful for Monica’s friendship than she is in this moment: Monica immediately sets the toys aside, kisses Ryder’s forehead, and pushes past Emilie. The other woman is upending the drawers onto Emilie’s bed by the time she enters the room again.

“I’m assuming he has a bed, considering he’s a grown-ass adult, so you won’t need that. Furniture can probably all stay here because, again, he’s an adult and has his own. So I think you only need to bring clothes and whatever hygiene stuff you use, makeup, that kind of stuff. Where the Hell are all your clothes?” she asks loudly after disappearing into the closet.

“I packed them for the holidays. Well, what I had left after I donated most of them to the women’s shelter. I got tired of seeing them in there going unworn.”

“Aw, you’re such a sweetheart. Okay, so we can empty your suitcases, wash them, and re-pack them. What do you wanna do with your books?”

Emilie stares at the bookshelf. A few of the books on the shelves are the most important books she’s ever read and can’t be left behind, but a majority of them are ones that she has picked up over the years but never had a real connection with. She crosses her room to grab the handful of novels that she wants to take with her. Monica starts folding clothing, preparing them for being packed, while Emilie sets the books on the mattress then heads out to the entry hall where the suitcases remain.

Her phone rings from the kitchen, and she starts the washing machine and scoops up the device, automatically pressing the accept button. Her mother’s face fills the screen; Emilie’s heart clenches at the sight of Rose’s wide smile. She perches on the stool and rests her head on her free hand.

“Heya, Mom!”

“Hey, sweetie, just wanted to make sure you made it home all right. You didn’t text me like you promised.”

“So sorry! I’ve been kinda busy.”

Her mother frowns, shifts to do something on her end of the video chat. “Already? Darling, you just got back. It’s supposed to be a day of being lazy.”

“Yeah,” Emilie replies, drawing out the vowels. “Hey, mind if I add Dad to this call? There’s something I wanna talk to both of y’all about.”

“Go ahead. Add your mama, too.”

“I really hate multiple lines on one call, but okay.”

Thankfully, all three of her parents are available for the FaceTime call, and Emilie stares at them for a long minute as they greet each other; the conversation between Paige and Jackson is stilted, awkward in the wake of their divorce, but they manage to be pleasant to each other nonetheless. Eventually, she knows she can’t put it off any longer, so Emilie clears her throat.

“Hi, thanks for joining me for this meeting. I truly appreciate it.” At Jackson’s exasperated eye-roll, Emilie giggles and squirms to get more comfortable on the stool. “So. As you all know, Ry and I went to stay with my boyfriend over the holidays. It was amazing, it… it truly was. But my, uh, my Christmas present was Niall asking me and Ryder to move in with him. And I, I kinda said yes.”

The silence from her parents reigns deafeningly over the lines, and Emilie forces a smile as she waits for their response. Ryder toddles over, tugs on the end of her sweatshirt. She looks down, stifling a giggle at his confused yet demanding expression.

“My Ni-Ni?”

“No, baby, I’m not talking to your Ni-Ni, I’m sorry. I’m talking to Mamaw, Pop-Pop, and Granna Rose.”

“Oh. No Ni-Ni.”

He pouts and goes back to his toys, shoulders slumped. Emilie can’t help the chuckle that escapes her, and when she glances back at her phone screen, all three of her parents wear similar, soft-edged smiles. She shrugs and taps her fingernails against the countertop.

“Ry really loves Niall.”

“When are you moving?” Jackson asks, while Paige says, “I really love this kid, and I ain’t even met him yet.”

“He’s so wonderful, Mama, you’ll adore him when you meet him. And Dad, we planned on leaving here on the twelfth. It’ll give us the entire weekend to make the drive.”

Rose splutters, “You’re driving the whole way?”

“It’s not that far,” Emilie counters then pauses. “I think?”

“It’s about twenty-one hours,” her dad supplies.

“Are you sure about this, Em?” Paige questions, voice quiet and non-confrontational.

Emilie sighs and stares down at the counter. Is she? Is Niall? Before the doubts can creep in, she reminds herself of how ecstatic he was to hear her answer, how everyone had cheered and celebrated and congratulated them, how happy he’s made her since the day they met. It’s answer enough.

“Yeah, I’m a hundred percent sure.”

“Then you best make sure you come to Corpus so we can have our Christmas before you go.”

“How about this weekend?”

“That works for me.” Paige blows out a breath when a shrieking noise sounds from her end. “Marybeth, you put that angel down right now! You know Mamaw doesn’t allow you to mess with them. Ah, hell… Okay, I have to go. Marybeth is liable to kill someone with this damn figurine. I love you, and I’ll see you this weekend.”

“Love you, too, Mama.”

But Paige has already hung up, her face disappearing from the screen. Rose’s gaze is heavy and scrutinising even through the video, and it takes all of Emilie’s willpower to not confess to any wrong-doing she’s ever done in her entire life under the weight of that stare. Then her mother’s smile takes over her face, dark eyes bright with tears but shining with happiness.

“I’m proud of you, sweetie, and I really hope this Niall kid treats you right.”

“Thanks, Mom. He… he’s more than I deserve.”

“Bullshit,” interjects Jackson, snorting. “You’re more than he deserves, and he damn well better treat you like it.”

“Dad, he treats me great. He treats Ry great, too. Really. There was no hesitation when he asked me to move in even though he knew it meant Ry would be coming along. Sorry, guys, but I have to go, okay? Need to feed Ry and finish packing. I love you.”

Emilie hangs up after they say their goodbyes and sighs. It’s real now. Her family and best friends know she’s moving, and she can’t back out. Well, she could, but that decision would come with an onslaught of questions as to why she’s changing her mind without reason. She closes her eyes for just a minute then pushes herself to her feet. She has things to do, and each item crossed off the list means she’s one step closer to being back in the arms of the man she’ll love for the rest of her life.