Feels Like Forever



Emilie draws in a steadying breath and stares at her reflection in the mirror. She doesn’t look any older, still looks much the same as she did last night. Shaking her head, she hurries to brush her teeth. She hums tunelessly as she runs a comb through her hair and strips from the baggy T-shirt she wore to bed.

“Well, that’s fuckin’ unfair.”

She glances over her shoulder and sucks her lower lip between her teeth as Niall’s gaze rakes over her exposed body. “Well, you didn’t have to come in.”

“If I had more time…” Niall shakes his head jerkily as if to clear the naughty thoughts away. “Ry was looking forward to bringing you breakfast in bed, so could you please get back in bed?”

“Give me thirty seconds.”

He darts forward to kiss her, stealing her breath, and Emilie loops her arms around his shoulders to tug him more closely. His hands skim along her sides, leaving burning paths on her skin. She forgets about her birthday, the plans, everything but him. Unfortunately, he pulls away far too soon.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but please put some clothes on.”

“How badly did that hurt to say?” she giggles, and his nose scrunches up.

“Too much. Now shoo. I’ll go get Ryder.”

Niall leaves without another word, though he does stop in the doorway to stare at her for a second. Emilie rolls her eyes and pointedly turns away. He groans, low in his throat, then he’s gone. She doesn’t bother dressing in more than the sleeveless tunic she’d set out last night; the duvet will cover most of her anyway.

Grabbing the pair of shorts on her way out of the bathroom, Emilie drops them to the floor next to the bed and slides in between the sheets. She’s just gotten settled in, pretending as if she is still asleep, when the door to the room creaks open.

“An Em s’eep?” Ryder whispers as well as a toddler can whisper.

“Yeah, bud, she’s sleeping. Why don’t you climb up there and see if you can wake her?”

Emilie ‘wakes up’ to the weight of a small child falling against her back, and Ryder squeals when he sees her eyes opening, pressing a sloppy and very slobbery kiss to her cheek. She carefully rolls over, tucks him into her side. Niall stands at the end of the bed, and the smile on his face warms her to the core. It’s soft and sweet and everything she’s hoped for all her life.

“What do we say, Ry?” he prompts, resulting in Ryder throwing his arms in the air.

“Hap’ birfday, An’ Em!”

“What?” Emilie gasps dramatically. “It’s my birthday? No way. Ryder, is this a trick against your favourite auntie?”

“No! No t’ick! Is your birfday!”

“Oh? How old am I today, then?”

Ryder’s lips turn down at the corners, brows drawing together over sky-blue eyes, then his face brightens. “Million!”

“Well, that’s rude,” she manages before breaking down into laughter.

Ryder screeches and squirms as she tickles him, and the world feels right. This is so much better than she could ever have dreamt up. Niall clears his throat, nodding toward the tray in his hands, and Emilie kisses Ryder’s forehead and settles down.

Tears prick at her eyes when Niall sets the tray across her lap. She ignores the food in lieu of picking up the piece of paper; it’s been folded in half, and the inside is covered in a rainbow of crayon scribbles. At the bottom is an uneven Ryder, like Niall helped the toddler write his name but the difference in which hand they use made it impossible. Emilie coughs quietly, sets the card on the nightstand, and turns her attention to the bowl of -

“Is… is this your dino egg oatmeal?” she asks; Ryder nods enthusiastically, reaching for the spoon.

“I share!”

She doesn’t get the chance to say anything else before the child is pushing the spoon up to her mouth. It is a lot harder than it should be to not laugh, especially when Niall sighs and sits on the bed next to Ryder. Emilie takes the spoon from her godson thanking him for the assistance, and licks the oatmeal off her lips. Niall shifts when she catches his eye, her tongue dragging slowly along the curve of her bottom lip.

“Not fair,” he murmurs lowly, and Emilie flashes him an innocent grin.

Within minutes, Ryder grows restless. He tries but fails to sit still between the adults. Niall smiles apologetically, lifts Ryder into his arms, and Emilie watches them go. She sets the tray on the bed beside her thigh and reaches for her phone. It’s almost eight, so she swings her legs over the side of the bed, ducking down to grab her shorts off the floor.

She rushes to put on her bikini and tugs the shorts up her legs, buttoning them on her way back to the bed. Voices carry up the stairs, and Emilie smiles to herself as she carries the tray down to the kitchen.

Derek raises a mug of coffee in greeting the instant he catches sight of her. “Happy birthday, babe.”

“Thanks, D.”

Monica takes the tray from Emilie, pushing her toward the table. Emilie drops into the seat to Harry’s right and stares around at the people gathered here. She didn’t expect much for her birthday - a day spent with Niall and Mully and Ryder, video-chatting with Derek and Monica, calling her parents. Maybe some drinks before bed.

This is far more, and it isn’t nearly done.

A heady buzzing thrums in her veins, warmth swirling throughout her soul, and Emilie leans to the side to rest her head on Harry’s shoulder. He presses his lips to her hair but otherwise doesn’t stop his conversation with Louis and Derek. Niall sets a cup of coffee in front of her. She grins up at him, accepting the kiss he drops to her lips.

“Happy birthday, petal,” he murmurs before kissing her again.

Ryder squeals. “Ew, no kiss!”

“I can’t kiss Ni-Ni?”


“Can I kiss you then?”

Ryder stares at her, wide-eyed, and shrieks out a no, but Emilie is already up out of her seat. He toddles away, laughing as his aunt gives chase. Monica sweeps him up off his feet and holds him close, and he giggles over her shoulder at Emilie.

“Monie protect me!”

Arms snake around her waist, settling in the curve of her sides, and she turns her head to see Niall standing there. There’s a gentleness to his eyes that makes them brighter, softer and so full of - something. Emilie swallows against the emotions that well up in her throat, her fingers encircling Niall’s wrist. He rests his forehead against her temple.

“Maybe you shouldn’t antagonise the child, love.”

“Fine, if I have to be a good auntie and leave him alone. Wait, is someone here?”

Niall shrugs, but the twitch to his lips tells her he knows something he isn’t saying. “I don’t know, why don’t you go check?”

The floor falls out from beneath her feet when she looks out the front window, and she would be mortified by her ridiculously loud squeak if she wasn’t so surprised. Laughter follows her as she scrambles to the door, pauses just long enough to slide a pair of sandals onto her feet. She rushes outside, leaving the door wide open behind her.


Rose immediately opens her arms as her daughter closes the gap between them. Emilie clings to her mother tightly, and tears slip from the corners of her eyes. She hasn’t seen her mother in person for an entire year; video-chats are fine for the most part, but being able to hug her mom tightly is so much better.

“Lemme get a look at you, baby.” Rose brushes a hand gently over Emilie’s hair, her dark eyes glistening with unshed tears. “Oh, twenty-six looks good on you.”

“Don’t hog her to yourself, Rosie.”

Emilie giggles and turns to her father, throwing her arms around his neck. “Hi, Daddy.”

“Hey, sweetheart. Happy birthday.”

“Thanks! So, uh, how…?”

Rose laughs. “That lovely boyfriend of yours called me a few weeks ago, asked if we’d want to come spend your birthday with you. He thought he’d have to convince us, kept saying that Monica and Derek would be here, too. Does he not know that he doesn’t need to ramble so much?”

“He’s… not very good with words sometimes,” Emilie admits then embraces her mom again. “Okay. C’mon, I’m sure everybody has been waiting to meet you.”

“Who exactly is ‘everybody’?” her mother asks slowly.

Emilie merely grins in response, looping her arm with her mom’s, and the trio sets off toward the door. The house behind is nearly quiet. It would be completely silent if not for the chatter of two toddlers in the living room and the faint conversations that carry through from the patio.

“Where’s my Ryder Alexander?”


“Shoes off, please,” Emilie says as her dad takes a step toward the child currently mimicking a heat-seeming missile. “It’s basically the only rule I brought to the house. Trust me, it wasn’t easy for Niall to adjust to that one, but he did it, so you can, too.”

Jackson rolls his eyes but does as directed. Emilie follows him into the living room, smiles at Louis who is helping Freddie build a tower with blocks. He does a double-take when he catches sight of her parents.

“Fucking Hell, you and your mum could be twins!”

“I like this one,” Rose announces with a soft laugh, and Emilie shakes her head.

“Yes, because I didn’t hear that all the time when I was growing up. Mom, Daddy, this is Louis, one of my new bestest friends, and that adorable monster there is the Fredster.”

“Nice to meet you. Emilie has told us a lot about you two.”

“Hope it was good things.”

Emilie stifles a sigh at her father’s short tone but decides not to call him out on it. Poor man has loads of new people to meet today, and he’s not exactly the most conversational person on the planet. She pats his arm comfortingly.

“Only the truth, Daddy. Uh, I’m gonna go find Niall. You stayin’ in here with Ry?”

“That okay?”

“No, not at all. You’re not allowed to spend any time with the grandchild you haven’t seen in months because I’m just that cruel. Yes, of course it’s okay.”

“Not too old to be grounded, young lady.”

“I’d like to see you try, old man.”

“All right, that’s enough,” interjects Rose, holding her hands up between father and daughter. “Louis doesn’t wanna hear y’all bickering. Emmy, mind if I come with you?”

Emilie sticks her tongue out at her dad then dances out of reach when he swats at her. His lips quirk up into a smile, though, so she turns on her heel and leads her mom through the house to the back door. Rose makes noises of approval as she takes in the sights. Emilie smiles and steps out onto the patio.

Niall looks up from where he’s stood by the grill with Mully, eyes narrowed in the bright sunlight, and Emilie inhales shakily. This is it - the moment the man she loves meets the woman who raised her. She wraps her arm around her mom’s, pulling her out into the mid-morning heat.

“Hey, babe and everyone else, this is my lovely mother. Mom, this is my boyfriend, Niall, and that’s Mully, Harry, Monica, and Derek.”

To her surprise, her mother immediately opens her arms to Niall, and Emilie could die with how purely his smile spreads across his face as he embraces Rose. Monica flashes Emilie a thumbs-up, nodding enthusiastically, and then Rose is moving through the rest of them, hugging each of her daughter’s friends just as tightly.

“Thank y’all for taking care of my baby.”

Niall meets Emilie’s eye and pulls her into his arms, not looking away even as he says, “Thank you for giving us someone so wonderful to love and care for.”