Feels Like Forever



Niall gestures for Emilie to stay where she is, pushing to his feet and gathering up dishes. She pouts and pulls her hand back, skin stinging from the smack that Rose gave her. Her mother laughs.

“It’s your birthday. You aren’t allowed to clean up.”

“Why don’t you and Lou take the boys upstairs and get them ready for swimming?” Niall suggests before ducking into the house.

Exchanging a quick look with Louis, Emilie accepts the new plan. Ryder babbles as she carries him up to his bedroom where two pairs of toddler swim shorts and floaties rest on the bed. Louis sets Freddie down then heads to the bathroom to wet a washcloth.

The boys wiggle excitedly as the adults wipe their faces and hands clean. It takes far longer than it should to get them changed, and Emilie bites her tongue when Ryder refuses to stand still long enough for her to slather sunblock onto his skin. Eventually, though, she’s got Ryder scooped up into her arms, Louis carrying Freddie, and they head back down to the patio.

“Uh, Ry? You have to come into the pool in order to learn to swim.”

“I no swim.”

Emilie stifles a laugh and pushes herself up to sit on the side of the pool. Ryder lets her pull him into her lap, resting his head on her shoulder. She watches Louis and Freddie as they splash around a few feet away, Monica lounging on a raft at the far end. Her parents are chatting with Mully and Niall off to the side.

“Why don’t you wanna come in the pool, baby? Scared?” At Ryder’s reluctant nod, Emilie presses a kiss to his forehead. “I’m right here with you, okay, baby? I won’t let nothin’ happen to you. Trust?”

After a long moment, he finally whispers “Trust,” so Emilie sets him to the side before sliding back into the water. Ryder stares at her outstretched hands with wide eyes then tentatively steps forward. Emilie gives him as encouraging of a smile as she can as she carefully lowers him into the water. He squeaks once he’s fully in, the water lapping at the bottom of his chin.

She shifts her grip until her arms are under his belly, murmuring assurances and directions in turns. He seems to get the mechanics down fairly quickly and doesn’t even notice when Emilie pulls her hands away, letting him float and kick on his own. She pretends there aren’t tears in her eyes as Ryder shouts for everyone to watch him.

Emilie glances over to see Niall is watching her instead, and his lips curve into a sweet, soft, achingly tender smile. Her skin heats up with more than the late afternoon sunshine; he always has this effect on her, even when there isn’t reason for her heart to race or to stutter in her chest. She ducks her head to hide her own smile and reaches out to grab onto Ryder’s floatie to stop him from swimming right into Freddie.

“C’mon, bud, it’s time for bed.”

Ryder pouts up at Niall, burrows closer to Jackson. “I stay Papaw.”

Thankfully, Jackson has always refused to be the type of grandparent who caves and undermines the rules set by the parents - or in this case, the guardian and her boyfriend. He kisses Ryder’s damp hair and hugs him tightly. Emilie bites her lip to stop her giggle when Ryder goes limp to protest being passed over to Niall’s waiting arms.

As Niall carries Ryder around to give everyone goodnight hugs and kisses, Emilie wraps her towel more securely around her waist. Freddie rubs his eyes tiredly, yawning from where he sits on his father’s lap.

“All right, looks like it’s a two-fer tonight.”

“Em, no, it’s your birthday. He -”

“Can stay the night with his little buddy Ry. Really, Louis, it’s not a problem.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I mean, if you really want to take him back home tonight, go ahead, you can disappoint the kiddos yourself.”


Emilie waits until Louis has kissed and embraced Freddie then scoops him up against her chest. He whines softly and settles in with his face pressed to her neck. He’s snoring before she even reaches the door to the kitchen. Promising her parents and friends that they’ll be right back, Emilie follows Niall through the house to the stairs.

He doesn’t let her linger once she’s tucked both kids into the bed, telling her to go join the party while he tells Ryder and Freddie a bedtime story. Emilie kisses him gently then does as he says. He’s too stubborn to argue with, and making this into a Discussion would only serve to upset the boys.

Rose stops Emilie before she can get too far onto the patio, and Emilie drops into the seat next to her mother, rests her head on Rose’s shoulder. They watch the others talking or splashing in the pool for a minute. Then Rose exhales slowly.

“He’s amazing, sweetheart. I just… I always imagined you’d fall for someone great, but he surpasses even my expectations.”

“He definitely is fuckin’ perfect.” Emilie sighs and wipes away a droplet of water that slips from her hairline. “I still can’t believe he ever fell for me.”

“Emilie Taylor, you -”

“No, lemme explain before you get all biased and Mama Grizzly, yeah? I mean, when he and I met, I was just a random stranger in a coffeeshop sat at the only table with a spare seat. Just a lonely journalism student who had no time for anything because of school and being mother to a toddler who isn’t even hers. Within hours of us meeting, I told him about Ryder. That alone should have sent him running, but he came over to hang out the very next day. And now, even after a year, he’s still here.”

“Well, you certainly deserve to be happy. And I am so thankful that he makes you happy. Your dad approves of him, too,” Rose whispers conspiratorially, and Emilie lets out a quiet laugh - she’d been worried, no matter how hard she’s tried to not let it show, so her mother’s words come as a blessing.

“Hey, mind if I steal your daughter away for a bit?” Monica calls from the pool, grinning brightly when Emilie and Rose look over. “We wanna play Chicken, but we’re down a player if we want three teams.”

Rose chuckles and pushes at Emilie’s shoulder. “Go, honey, go have fun.”

So Emilie does.

Niall comes back outside a few minutes later, and Monica manages to knock Emilie off of Mully’s shoulders when Emilie gets distracted by her boyfriend stripping off his shirt. She surfaces with a splutter, shoves a wall of water toward her friend, but can’t stop laughing. Especially when Monica waggles her eyebrows in an exaggerated manner as Niall drops into the pool.

Her laughter is cut off by him swimming up to her, pinning her between his body and the wall, and kissing her hard in front of everyone. She ignores the catcalls from their friends, wraps her arms around his shoulders. He smiles against her lips as she pulls him even closer.

I love this man I love this man I love this man.