Feels Like Forever


Golden-orange blankets over the backyard, birds giving out their last calls of the day. The chill in the air is negligible in the face of the bright laughter and conversations that overlap each other. Emilie rests her chin on her palm and watches as Ryder and Freddie chase each other around the patio, occasionally stopping to grab a grape or strawberry slice off the platter on the table.

Louis plops down into the empty seat next to her, passes over a beer. She huffs out a laugh and shakes her head, accepting it with a small smile. He clinks the neck of his bottle against hers; she takes a sip and sighs.

“Is it weird that I’m not even homesick?” she asks in an undertone, not wanting to disrupt the easy peacefulness around them.

Louis cocks his head and reaches out to catch Freddie as he pitches forward. “Careful. And no, I don’t think it’s weird,” he says after his son has run off again. “You’ve not been here for even a full day. It might hit later.”

“That’s helpful,” she laughs, and Louis nudges her, chuckling.

“I’m just saying. I know when we were touring, the homesickness was constant, but that’s probably because we didn’t really have a home except for the bus. At least here... you’ll have a home with Niall for as long as you want it.”

“Now that is helpful.”

If her voice sounds choked-up and fragile to him as it does her, he doesn’t mention it. He turns his head so she can wipe at her eyes in privacy. They sit side-by-side in silence, and Emilie looks around at the people gathered; Monica seems to have made herself right at home with Niall’s group of friends, laughing and joking as easily as if she was talking to Emilie or Derek.

Niall approaches, leans down to kiss her cheek. Emilie leans back against him and exhales slowly. Every doubt, fear, and worry has melted into nonexistence, and she wonders why she ever let them control her decision-making for so long. An illuminated phone screen pops up in the edge of her vision. She glances at the time, nods up at her boyfriend and swallows another mouthful of beer.

“I think it’s almost bedtime,” she calls out, and Ryder comes to a stop. She can’t stop the laugh at his offended expression. “Nope, no arguing, sweetie. You need a bath, and then it’s off to bed.”

“Want me to get him?”

Emilie shakes her head at Monica’s question, but it’s Niall who answers, “Nah, I can do it.”

“Babe -”

“Nope, no arguing, sweetie.”

“Don’t use my words against me,” Emilie mutters with a glower that lacks any heat.

He brushes his lips against hers, the softest touch, then he’s off, scooping Ryder up into his arms. He holds a hand out to Freddie, and the trio disappear into the house. Monica catches her eye from down the table, tilts her head in question. Emilie shakes her head and smiles.

The moon has begun peeking over the horizon by the time Niall and the kids come back out onto the patio. Ryder clambers up into Emilie’s lap and immediately leans into her. A shuddering sigh escapes him, and she glances down to see his eyes are closed. Niall shrugs when she looks at him.

“He said he wanted to say goodnight to everybody.”

“Didja hit him over the head with a tack hammer or something? Because he is out.”

Emilie snorts at Monica and stands, shifting the child more securely against her. She follows Niall into the house, up the stairs. He bypasses the guest room, coming to a stop in front of a door closer to his own bedroom - their bedroom - and pushes the door open. She steps inside and freezes.

The room is on the smaller side, comparatively, the space interrupted by a toddler bed; the cartoon faces of Chase, Skye, Rubble, and Marshal smile from the footboard of the frame. A matching chest of drawers sits against the wall across from the bed. Toy bins line the wall by the door, and a net hangs in the corner, filled with stuffed animals. A bookcase is off to the side, stocked with books for children, Lionel the Lion is tucked into the Paw Patrol bedsheets.

Niall ignores the wide-eyed stare from Emilie, taking Ryder from her arms and carrying him to the bed. She feels an awful lot like the Grinch when his heart grew three sizes as she watches how carefully Niall tucks the toddler in. His movements are gentle, slow, and she lets out a shaky breath, turns to leave the room while Niall murmurs quietly to the sleeping child.

As she makes her way through the house, the little things catch her attention, details tiny enough to not register on her initial walk-through after her nap: A baby-gate leans against the wall at the top of the stairs, and corners of the walls that jut out have been covered with strips of rubber. The rug on the stairs is new, thick in ways that don’t happen unless it’s unused. Childproof locks hang from the handles of the lower cupboards in the kitchen.

“You baby-proofed,” she whispers when Niall joins her. Her lower lip trembles, and she clenches her jaw to prevent the emotions from spilling over. “You guys actually baby-proofed.”

“We were up all night making sure there wasn’t anything Ryder could hurt himself on,” Mully complains, ambling through the door from the patio, but the laugh in his voice is evident.

Emilie thinks for a second that he’s being hyperbolic, just for a second, but that assumption is dispelled when Niall scowls and swats at his friend.

“Shut up, you coulda went to bed whenever you wanted.”

Emilie laces her fingers with her boyfriend’s, steps closer to him. The irritation on his face fades away, and she’s left staring at a soft-edged smile, eyes that hold so much. She can’t wrap her mind around the absurd knowledge that he’s hers. It’s still so fantastic though she has had months to grow accustomed to the fact that she’s no longer alone, she has someone who cares for her - and what’s more, he cares for Ryder.

“Thank you.”

The kiss he gives her makes her head spin. She inhales shakily, breath coming out on an airy giggle as he calls out a goodnight to everyone, and follows him back upstairs. Her heart screams so loudly she fears he might hear it: I love you I love you I love you. She hurts with how much she loves him. It fills every empty space she has ever carried with her, smooths out the negative edges.

Emilie trails her fingertip along his collarbone, memorising the feel of skin and hair and metal chain. Niall’s hand rubs a circle into her back, and she lets him pull her closer into his side. She shivers when the air-con kicks on.

“You didn’t have to buy him all that,” she whispers before pressing her lips to his shoulder.

His fingers spasm against her spine, but he only lets out a heavy breath, clears his throat quietly. “He needs his own room, yeah? And what good is a bedroom if you don’t have a bed? And you can’t have a bed without other bedroom furniture, or it would just look ridiculous.”

“God, you’re fucking amazing.” I love you. She tries - oh, does she try - but the words won’t leave her mouth. All that comes out is a sigh.


“Call me when you land, okay?”

“Don’t you dare cry, Bean, or I’ll cry, and I’m an ugly crier, and none of us wanna see that shit.” Monica’s eyes fill with tears despite her words, and she tugs Emilie in for a tight hug. “I’m going to miss you so much.”

“Hard same, good buddy.”

Emilie watches as one of the best friends she’s ever had disappears through security. She leans against the wall of windows, staring out at the aeroplanes on the tarmac, and waits. It’s been two days since they arrived in Los Angeles, and now, it is time for Monica to go back to the life she left on pause in Austin.

Her phone buzzes in her hand thirty minutes later, and she unlocks it to read Monica’s text that she’s seated and waiting for take-off. Emilie sends back a large amount of heart and crying emojis. Her throat tightens when the plane starts to move, taxiing down the strip. Then, between breaths, it’s gone, and it takes Emilie’s last physical connection to Austin with it.

Niall, thankfully, understands how close to breaking she is when she gets back to his - their - house. He distracts Ryder with a toy then opens his arms. She immediately falls into him, lets him soothe the twinging pain of having to say goodbye. Between his warm, strong hold and the sound of Ryder playing happily in the middle of the room, Emilie doesn’t feel quite like she’s at risk of drowning in the sadness.