Feels Like Forever


Emilie and Ryder slip onto a new routine, an easily-established rhythm: She turns off her alarm, goes downstairs to make coffee, then jumps in the shower. By the time she’s dressed with minimal makeup on, the machine has finished its brew cycle, and Ryder is eating breakfast in his high-chair, placed there by either Mully or Niall, depending on which man woke up first. Then she gets the toddler changed into a fresh diaper and an outfit, and they’re out the door by seven with a kiss from Niall - if he’s home - or a hug from Mully.

The domesticity of it all is overwhelmingly simple. It makes Emilie wonder if this is how her parents felt during their marriages, whether they were so content and at ease with the stability that comes with love. She calls her mom on the way to work on Friday, but she finds herself unable to put into words everything she’s feeling. Thankfully, Rose understands.

Two weeks after Emilie started working at Tiny Tots, Gloria breezes into the room, announcing that a parent wants to speak to Emilie. Emilie frowns. She rarely has anything to do with the moms and dads, opting to let her co-worker handle the interactions.

She finishes changing Malachi’s diaper then carries him to the play pen. He immediately reaches for a cloth block, stuffing the corner into his mouth, and she shakes her head but lets him. Poor kid is teething again.


Her mouth runs dry, and a shiver runs down her spine. Resisting the urge to run back into the relative safety of the room, she forces a smile at the man, but she keeps her hand on the handle of the door.

“Hi. Can I help you?”

“Yeah, I... I was running late this morning, so I just dropped Lily off to her class. And I was wondering if you’d go to dinner with me sometime.”

Emilie’s mind stutters to a standstill. All thoughts flee like water through her fingers. She stares, slack-jawed, at the man who’s staring at her as if he hadn’t just asked something so -

“Inappropriate,” she manages to squeak out. She coughs quietly. “That is completely inappropriate. This is neither the time nor place for you to ask that.”

“You’re right. Normally, I wouldn’t be so... bold, but I haven’t been able to get you out of my mind. So I figured I would take a chance.”

“Yes, well, that doesn’t change the fact that we don’t know each other, and this is an unacceptable venue for you to proposition me.”

“That’s what a date is for, to get to know each other.”

The man steps closer, the smile on his face meant to be benign but throwing klaxons in her brain into a screaming red-alert. Her fingers tighten around the handle until her bones ache. Breathing is difficult, she can’t get enough air.

“Sorry, I’m not interested.”

“But you said it yourself, we don’t know each other. Who knows. I could be your Mister Right.”

“I said no. Have a good day, sir.”

Emilie bolts back into the room and practically slams the door into its frame. Gloria cocks her head, gaze flicking between Emilie and the door. Hands trembling, Emilie swallows thickly, forces the panic to the back of her mind. She makes a note to explain things to Gloria later, if only so she’s aware in case Emilie goes missing.

You’re overreacting, the logical part of her mind claims, though the rest of her says that this is absolutely an appropriate reaction. The man may come across as harmless, but there is something about him that she just doesn’t trust. Today’s events only further validate those misgivings, born of a handful of run-ins that are entirely too often to be coincidental.

“San Francisco Bakery and Cafe, this is Monica.”

“Hey, Mon...”

“Bean! Hi! Wait, why are you calling the shop?”

“Because I know your schedule.” Emilie sighs and checks that Ryder is preoccupied in the backseat. “Is it busy?”

“Not really, no. Want me to call you on my cell?”

“Please? I, I really need someone to talk to.”

“Okay, babe. Give me five minutes.”

Emilie ends the call without another word, blowing out a shaky breath. She still can’t shake the fear that buzzes under her skin, even though she intentionally stayed in the room until Gloria told her the coast was clear. Josh had walked with Emilie and Ryder to the car, waiting until she’d pulled out of the car park to go to his own vehicle.

None of her co-workers are pleased with the man’s actions; Josh and Annie had pushed for Emilie to bring it up with Desiree while Gloria promised to never let the man near Emilie again. Logan, one of the chaperons for the 3-year-olds’ room, told Emilie to point out the guy the next time he was in, and Logan would take care of it.

She’s jerked from her thoughts by her phone ringing, Guy Love from Scrubs coming through the speakers. She accepts the call, and Derek speaks before she can say anything.

“Okay, Mon and I are here. What’s up?”

Emilie tells them as much as she can while being vague - Ry is in the stage of repeating everything he hears, and the last thing she wants is for Niall to find out what she’s going through from a two-year-old. Her friends stay quiet long after she’s finished, and Emilie risks glancing at the display to make sure the call is still connected.


“Sorry, Bean, just trying to calculate the odds of Emmett letting Derek give me his vacation days so I can come back to LA and kick that man’s ass.”

“Monie kick ass!”

Emilie snorts before clapping a hand over her mouth. Her giggles go unheard under Monica and Derek’s laughter. She waits until she’s stopped in the rush-hour traffic before looking back at Ryder. He grins brightly, proudly at receiving such a reaction from the adults.

“Seriously, Em,” Derek wheezes after a moment, “you should talk to your boss. Let her know what’s going on.”

“I know. I will tomorrow. I just... what if I’m making this into more than what it is?”

“No, sweetie, don’t think like that. Okay? That guy made you uncomfortable and didn’t take your no as answer enough. That’s completely not okay. So talk to your boss before it gets worse.”

Derek is right, Emilie knows it, but she can’t help feeling like she is in the wrong. There’s nothing she can do about it now, so she thanks her friends for their advice and asks how their lives have been going. Unfortunately, the tinkling of a bell comes down the line, and Derek lets out a sigh.

“Gotta go?” Emilie asks, though she knows the answer before either of them can respond.

“Yeah, sorry. Virtual Wine and Whine tonight?”

“Sounds good. Love y’all.”

“Love you, too, Beanie Baby!”

Derek laughs quietly. “Love you, Emma. Please talk to your boss. And Niall. He should know, too.”

Emilie promises to do both, and Derek hangs up. She exhales sharply, resolving to get herself collected before she gets home. Her entire body is heavy, weighted down with nervous energy and now homesickness. It isn’t so much Austin that she misses, but the ones she’s left behind.

Ryder launches himself into Niall’s arms the instant Emilie opens the front door to the house. She smiles, sets her bag aside, and helps her boyfriend remove the child’s shoes. A gentle kiss from Niall, then she turns to take off her flats.

“Monie kick ass!”

Emilie abruptly freezes at Ryder’s exuberant announcement. Niall’s gaze moves from the toddler to Emilie, brow rising in question - and amusement. She gives an awkward shrug but can’t hide this from him. He would never let her.

She takes Ryder from Niall, pressing her lips to his chubby cheek. “Hey, baby, why don’t you go play in the living room, yeah? You have those awesome new dinos that Mister Sean got for you, and I think they look super cool and ready to play with.”

Once he’s on his feet, he hurries to the other room, leaving behind an uncomfortable silence. Niall reaches for her, pulls her close, and everything melts away. His heart beats steadily beneath her ear, so calming and rhythmic that she relaxes further against him. Pulling away only far enough to kiss him, the last vestiges of her stress disappears with the contact.

“So whose arse is Monica kicking and why?”

“Not yours, don’t worry.”

“I should hope not. I’ve not done anything wrong.” Niall’s chuckles fade far too quickly. “Petal, what happened?”

“There’s this guy - a dad of one of the kids - and he just... he makes me so uncomfortable. I see him all the time, even though his daughter isn’t in our age group, and I’m starting to think it isn’t coincidence. And today...”

“What’d he do?”

“Babe, my ribs don’t need realigned. I quite like them where they are.”


“You’re squeezing a bit too tight.”

Niall loosens his grip with a sheepish grin, and Emilie lets him lead her to the kitchen. He releases her then pulls a chair out; after he’s comfortably sat, he pats his thighs. She shakes her head but straddles his lap. One of his hands comes up to rest against her spine, the other playing with the ends of her hair. Emilie buries her face into the curve of his neck.

“He asked me out.”

“Oh? When’s the date?”

“That’s really not funny.”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry.” He runs his fingers lightly along her back, but she can feel the way they shake against her vertebrae. “Does anyone else know?”

“Yeah, I told my co-workers. Gonna tell Desiree tomorrow morning. This way, if I go missing, y’all know where to look first.”

“And you say I’m not funny,” he grumbles, and Emilie giggles shortly.

“It’ll be okay. I think. But yeah, it’s not been a pleasant day. I’ve been so terrified that he’d stick around or follow me home or something.”

“You’re safe now, darling. If-if he comes by tomorrow or makes you uncomfortable at any point again, I want you to come straight home. Okay? Don’t worry about your job, don’t worry about anything other than keeping you and Ry safe.”

“I will.”

“Good. Now, why don’t you go upstairs, take a long bath, and relax while Ryder and I get dinner ready?”

“Because I like where I’m at right now.”

“Go on, silly girl. I promise we’ll still be here when you’re done.”

It’s only because he promises a glass of wine for her to take with her into the bath that Emilie finally pushes herself to her feet. She ducks down to kiss him, taking and giving and tasting, relishing the dazed look on his face when she pulls back. She cards her fingers through his hair, lips forming a smile of their own accord as she stares at him.

The words are so easy to think. Just three words, eight letters. So easy to run through her mind, fill her from the core, but so impossible to say aloud.

I love you.
♠ ♠ ♠
gonna be honest - i woke up thinking today was wednesday and got super-excited about updating today. then while i was making pancakes, i realised... it's only tuesday. but i'm not gonna let that stop me. so y'all get double-updates this week because i have a feeling you'll want to hate me within the next few chapters... just please remember that i love you.