Feels Like Forever



Emilie sighs, double-checks the time, then goes back to her classwork. She has unfortunately let it slip a lot over the last month, and now she’s paying the price. It’s important that she gets it done, but she can’t focus on the work in front of her: Niall is meant to be home within the next couple of hours.

It’s been two days since she yelled at Ryder, and the guilt has yet to abate. She hasn’t brought it up with Niall, not again - she can hardly stand the memory of having raised her voice toward the toddler, let alone talking to her boyfriend about it. Ryder hasn’t acted as if he remembers, though. He has been the same cheery, laughing, smiling, giggly, loving child that she’s loved for two years. His happy disposition only exacerbates her remorse for the outburst. He didn’t deserve it.

“We’re home!”

Emilie sighs then plasters a smile onto her face as she turns away from her laptop. Mully sets Ryder on his feet, and she opens her arms just in time for the toddler to launch himself at her. Kissing his cheek until he squeals, Emilie lets herself settle into the peacefulness that comes whenever he’s around.

“Oh, there’s my favourite little man. How was daycare today? Did you have fun?”

“Yes! I eat play’oh.”

“You… you ate PlayDough?”

He nods enthusiastically. “It icky.”

“Yes, honey, it’s icky. Now why don’t you go play for a bit? Auntie Emilie is almost done with her homework, then I’ll be able to play with you before dinner, okay?”

Mully kisses Emilie’s hair as he passes, Ryder’s jabbering fading on his way further into the living room. Emilie turns back to her schoolwork and tries to focus. She really does. But her concentration is shot - has been since she woke up. The hours aren’t moving fast enough, and not having Ryder around to distract her has only made it all seem that much slower. Emilie hadn’t wanted to disrupt his routine, so she took him to daycare and tried to pick up a shift while there. Desiree had vetoed it before Emilie could finish asking.

It left her at home alone, only assignments and her thoughts to keep her company. Mully has been spending more time out of the house lately; between 40 Love and his girlfriend, Emilie is lucky if she sees him once in a three-day period. He has at least texted her to make sure she’s been all right with him gone, though, which was nice. It makes her feel like he gives a damn about her and Ryder, even though he certainly doesn’t have to.

“An’ Em, I food?”

Emilie glances at the clock in the corner of her laptop screen - somehow, the last two hours have flown by, and she has little to show for it. The assignment is still only half-done. She blows out a breath and closes her computer, pushing it to the centre of the table. Ryder reaches up for her, smiles brightly when she picks him up without question.

“Of course, sweetie. What sounds good for dinner?”

“I no know.”

“You don’t know? Well, drats it all to heck. Should we go ask Mister Sean?”

“I ask!”

Emilie giggles and stands, swaying carefully from side to side as she carries Ryder up the stairs. He slaps his palm against Mully’s bedroom door, shouting for “Mis’er Sean” until Mully opens the door. Then... Ryder goes shy. Emilie stifles her laughter as she takes over posing the question of what dinner should be.

“That stir-fry you and Niall made together way back before you started dating. He’s tried making it once or twice but always said it wasn’t as good as yours.”

Emilie’s jaw drops slightly; Niall remembered that? Shaking her head to clear the surprise, she promises it’s a done deal then hesitates. “Can you watch little man while I cook?”


Emilie presses a kiss to Ryder’s cheek, passes him over, and heads back to the kitchen. Her thoughts shift, formless and tangential, over the last year of her life. She still sometimes wakes up wondering if it’s all been a dream; it’s been thirteen months since Niall entered her life like a hurricane, upending everything she thought she knew, and Emilie has no regrets about opening her heart to him. She just wishes that the dynamic between them wasn’t at risk of changing. Again.

“I’m finally back! And something smells amazing.”

Emilie doesn’t bother turning from the stove at Niall’s voice, but there is no stopping the smile that twists at her lips. Ryder shrieks from upstairs, his footsteps slapping against the floor, then Mully is laughing as the toddler whines - evidently stopped by the gate that blocks his path.

“What’s for dinner, petal?”

“Stir-fry. Mully’s choice.”

“I’ve missed you.”

The kiss he presses to her cheek is quick, barely a touch of his lips, then he’s off. Emilie turns to watch him scoop Ryder up into his arms as the toddler runs into the room, identical brilliant smiles splitting their faces, and she brushes aside the tiny, pitiful voice in her head that asks where her exuberant greeting is. She’s cooking. Of course Niall won’t want to interrupt that.

Mully catches her eye, cocks his head. She forces a smile in response - she’s fine, she’s happy Niall is home, and she should probably focus on taking the stir-fry off the heat before it burns. The heaviness in her chest remains, no matter how hard she tries to ignore it. It’s just because of the three weeks apart, she thinks, this is only a small hiccup. Emilie isn’t sure she believes herself. Not after the call last night.

It was normal, easygoing and full of eagerness for Niall’s arrival home. She had spent the hour filled with the same sense of love and longing that she felt back in the beginning, but then they had hung up. It wasn’t until almost an hour after she’d gone to bed, when she was lying wide-awake with a toddler’s feet pressed into her spine, that she realised Niall hadn’t said “I love you.” Instead, it had come in a text message in the middle of the night, like an afterthought.

Sighing, Emilie turns toward the cupboard to grab plates. Mully beats her to it, the smile on his face too knowing, and she swallows against the tightness in her throat. The pair works in silence to dole out portions, set the table, and Emilie wants nothing more than to admit that there’s something wrong. It’s also the last thing she could stand to do.

The confession would only serve to disrupt the relative stability of her life - her relationship.

“Why have you not made this before?” Mully asks before shovelling another bite into his mouth, and Emilie squirms uncomfortably in her chair. “This is amazing, and I’m angry that you’ve never made this for me.”

“It’s just a stir-fry, nothing special.”

Mully shakes his head, points his fork at Niall. “You’re right. Yours was complete shite compared to this.”

“I told you!” Niall laughs. “Ry, don’t play with your food, bud. Auntie Emilie worked hard to make it, so we should eat it, right?”

“So what are you two doing for your anniversary next month?”

Silence reigns at the table in the wake of Mully’s question, and Emilie slowly meets Niall’s gaze. She forgot that the one-year mark for their relationship was in six short weeks. Judging by her boyfriend’s expression, so did he. She takes a drink of her wine in order to hide her discomfort. How could she have forgotten? How could he?

Mully glances between them, frowning, but Emilie ducks her head so she doesn’t have to see the judgement that’s surely on his face. Her appetite fades into nothing, replaced by a heavy knot of something unidentifiable. Shame washes down her spine, hot and thick as it spreads. Clearing her throat quietly, she pushes herself to her feet and gathers up her dishes. She’s no longer hungry, and she needs something to do that isn’t dwelling on the fact that neither she nor Niall found it important enough to remember the nearness of their anniversary.

As much as she loves her mom and dad, Emilie never thought she’d follow in their footsteps. She could not have anticipated, not once, that her relationship would go much the same as the marriage between Rose and Jackson. It wasn’t until she was a teenager and asking questions that they told her the reasons for their divorce - they didn’t spend enough time with each other, they didn’t find the same things important, they didn’t work hard enough to keep their love alive until eventually, they sat down one night and decided to end their marriage.

And now look where she is with Niall. Only a year together, and already they’re growing apart.

Emilie’s mind races for the rest of the evening. Thankfully, Mully doesn’t try to revisit the subject, but she can’t stop thinking about it. Even as she watches Niall playing with Ryder, that damned voice in her head keeps asking if she’s prepared for the inevitable end. She is left alone to her thoughts, Niall none the wiser about the storm brewing inside of her, and she hates it. Emilie wants - needs - him to interrupt her from this infinite loop of doubts and crushed dreams. He doesn’t, though.

Niall leans against the doorframe, arms crossed over his chest as he watches Ryder sleep. Emilie loops her arms around his waist, resting her forehead against his shoulder, and breathes in his familiar scent, the one that’s never failed to ease her troubled mind. Until tonight.

“He’s peaceful like this, isn’t he?” she whispers, and Niall huffs out quiet chuckle. “You coming to bed?”

“I’ll be there soon.”

She closes her eyes to the sharp twinge in her chest but pulls away. Niall doesn’t move, doesn’t look back at her, as her hands fall from his side. Emilie stares at his back for a long minute then turns, makes her way on silent footsteps to their bedroom.

She falls asleep before he comes to bed.