Feels Like Forever


“I appreciate this so much, Mully,” Emilie whispers as she passes the sleeping toddler over, and the man grins brightly.

“Not a problem. Good luck with the interview.”

“Yeah, I’ll need it. Uh, he has a -”

“Cup of juice in the refrigerator, and he likes apples cut into wedges with a spoonful of peanut butter as a post-nap snack. I have your number in case of an emergency. Niall will be back in less than an hour, so there really isn’t need for you to worry.” Mully shoos her toward the door. “Good luck, have fun, I can handle this.”

Emilie hesitates on the step but capitulates when he does nothing more than shift his gaze pointedly from her to the Explorer that sits on the other side of the fence. With one last plea that he call her if anything arises, she hurries down the walk and through the gate.

She knows this interview is important - she can’t just not have a job, not now that she’s living with Niall and Mully - and the fact that she got a call back only two days after applying bolsters her confidence in whether she gets the job.

The building she parks in front of is squat and long, the walk lined with brightly-coloured flowers, and the large windows are decorated with stickers of smiling suns and animals. The grey brick would come across as neutral, even morose, if it wasn’t for it the enormous mural of safari animals and children dancing that’s painted on the front.

All in all, it makes for a cheerful welcome to Tiny Tots Nursery. Emilie sighs, stepping out of the car, and locks the doors behind her. The heat of the morning is heavy with impending rain, though the sky is clear blue overhead.

“Hi, welcome to Tiny Tots! Have you come to add your child to the registry?”

Emilie nearly takes a step back at how exuberantly she’s greeted, but she forces herself to approach the desk. “Hello. Uh, I’m Emilie Ellis, I have an interview with Desiree?”

“Oh! Of course. If you’ll just have a seat, she’ll be right out. Would you like anything to drink while you wait?”

“No, thanks.”

“Alrighty, holler if you change your mind.”

Emilie nods sharply then moves to sit on the bench against the wall. Her knee bounces as she stares around the small lobby; finger-paintings are tacked to the plaster, covering every available inch of the walls, and a banner hangs from the ceiling, printed with photos of what Emilie presumes is the staff. At least they look friendly, she thinks even while her stomach churns.

She hasn’t been to a job interview since before she started higher education. There hasn’t really been need to. Any employment she’s had in the last seven years have been at places she’s had a connection to - all she had to do was put in an application, and she was hired with no questions asked because of who she knew. The last three and a half years, though, have left an empty gap on her CV, one she hopes won’t be an issue.

Thankfully, she isn’t let to stew in her own doubts for too long. The receptionist tells her with a wide smile that she can go back to the office, and Emilie swipes her clammy palms against her slacks. She hitches her purse onto her shoulder and makes her way down the short corridor.

Desiree turns out to be bubbly but straightforward. She begins the interview with a bit of small talk, brows raising at Emilie’s accent. Emilie is surprised when the other woman says she grew up in Midlothian, only twelve miles from Emilie’s hometown of Waxahachie.

Desiree seems to accept Emilie’s explanation about the lack of employment easily enough. She does go quiet for a moment, pinning her with a scrutinising look, as she taps a pen against the dektop. Her lips quirk upwards, and she straightens in her seat.

“Okay, everything looks good. Sounds good, too. I’ve already started the background check, because I had hopes for you. Barring any unforeseen problems with your drug testing, welcome aboard. You’ll be in the infants-to-one room with Gloria, and don’t worry. Your son will fit right in.”

Emilie frowns, cocks her head to the side. “Uh, what?”

“We allow our employees with children to bring them to work with them at a discounted rate.” Desiree smiles slightly, takes a sip of water. “It saves on childcare costs for our employees. The only thing we ask is that you trust his room chaperones to handle anything that arises, instead of swooping in to rescue him. Your welcome packet will have all the appropriate paperwork to get him registered and the instructions for your drug test.”

Emilie thanks the woman shakily. This is far beyond what she expected when she walked in, and she can’t deny it is a huge weight lifted off her shoulders. Having something to do that isn’t sitting around fuck-all while home alone is going to be amazing.

She leaves a few minutes later, folded tucked to her chest on her way back out to the car. Something smooths out inside of her, the subtlest sharp edge dulling to silk, and Emilie feels the fluttering of hope’s wings stretching, preparing to take flight and bring forth the future.

True to Mully’s word, Niall is home by the time Emilie steps in through the front door. Beyond him talking, though, it’s quiet - eerily so. She makes her way into the living room and stops abruptly. She stares between her boyfriend and the toddler who is sat in the corner of the couch, pouting as Niall and Mully pointedly ignore any sound Ryder makes. Niall catches her eye.

“Hey, love.” He seems to realise that she is utterly confused, smiling softly at her. “He refused to listen to multiple warnings, so he’s in time-out right now.”

Emilie can’t speak. She is absolutely stunned speechless. All the worries she’s harboured since she moved in have been confronted and eased, even if Niall doesn’t realise what he’s done. She swallows thickly, the lump in her throat remaining though she tries, and hurries to put her bag and shoes away.

Ryder raises his arms to her when she passes by, but exchanging a look with Niall tells her that the child’s punishment isn’t over yet. So as much as it hurts, she moves to sit on the sofa without giving in.

“Okay, bud, wanna talk now?”

“Talk good.”

“Yeah, talking is good. Come on over.”

Emilie closes her eyes against tears as Ryder obediently crawls across the couch to clamber onto Niall’s lap. Niall doesn’t raise his voice, keeps his tone even and firm, and she wants nothing more than to steal him away from the world for a while.


“You ready for your first day, sweetie?”

Ryder shakes his head and moves closer to Emilie’s leg. She runs her fingers lightly over his hair, turning her gaze back to the entrance to Tiny Tots. Parents drop off their kids at the front of the building, voices overlapping each other in the morning air. Emilie waves at Gloria then crouches down to Ryder’s level.

“Lemme guess. You’re kinda nervous? Scared because this is new?”

“I no go.”

“Sorry, baby, but you have to. Remember Miss Annie and Mister Josh? They’ll take good care of you, and I will be there to get you as soon as I can, okay?”

“No go.”

“Yes go.” She sighs when his face screws up; his . “Okay, how about this. Will you please try? Just spend a few minutes in the room with the other kids and all the fun toys and books. If you don’t like it, then I can take you back home. I promise.”


“Absolutely, darling boy. Trust, trust, trust,” she whispers, punctuating each word with a smacking kiss to his cheek.

Ryder slips his hand into hers and follows her down the pavement. He presses against her as they walk, but Emilie counts it as a victory. Josh joins them on the walk to the room, trying - and failing - to engage Ryder in any sort of conversation.

“Sorry, he’s…”

“Don’t be sorry. It’s okay. We don’t force kiddos to talk if they’re not ready. But, Ryder? I really hope you’re ready to talk to us soon.”

It takes a few minutes, but Ryder finally goes into the classroom, albeit reluctantly. He looks back at her a couple of times. Then his attention is stolen by a little girl with a bucket of building blocks. Emilie watches him for a minute, heart clenching when he doesn’t pay her any more mind.

Josh catches her eye, nods, and Emilie inhales unsteadily before making her way to the infants-to-one room. Gloria hasn’t arrived with the kids yet, so Emilie sets about straightening up the tables and chairs, the toy bins.

“It’s hard, isn’t it?”

She squeaks at the sudden voice, whirling around to see a man in the doorway. “What?”

“Leaving your kid for hours at a time. It’s hard.”

“Oh. Uh, yeah. First time I’ve ever been away from him for this long. Willingly, anyway.”

“It doesn’t get easier,” he laughs as he steps into the room.

“Right. Um, is there anything I can help you with, sir?”

“No, no. Just dropped my daughter off in the fours and was passing by when I saw you in the twos.”

So you followed me down the building? She swallows thickly, clenching her shaking hands into fists behind her back. The man doesn’t say anything more, just stares at her with an unreadable expression on his face. Emilie tries her best to act nonchalant as she moves away from the corner she’s pinned in.

Thankfully, Gloria arrives not a moment later. The man leaves without another word, and Emilie lets out a slow breath. Her heart thumps painfully beneath her ribs, but she does her best to hide it. She pushes the fear and anxiety down, deeper than the light can touch, and focuses on listening as Gloria tells her about the routines for the day.