Feels Like Forever



I’m fine.

Nothing is wrong.

I promise I’d tell you if something was bothering me.

Over the last few weeks, Emilie has said so many variations of “I’m fine” that she honestly has lost count. It hasn’t helped that every time she’s looked at Niall’s Twitter or Instagram, people have been commenting relentlessly about the photographs taken on their anniversary, begging for some explanation or confirmation that he’s unhappy and will be breaking up with Emilie. She knows, she knows, she shouldn’t be doing this to herself, but she can’t stop. She has to know if he’s going to slip up, if he’s going to hint at the comments being true, if she’s going to find out about their break-up through a damned social media post.

Emilie has avoided replying to anything that Monica or Derek send in texts regarding Niall. She is well-aware that her refusal to be upfront is causing them to worry more about her, but the thought of telling them the truth sends ice through her veins. She can’t admit it. So she lies to them, tells them everything is fantastic, or changes the subject whenever they ask after Niall. It’s as effective as she could hope for - which is to say, her best friends aren’t convinced, but they do stop bringing him up.

Her mother isn’t nearly as easily dissuaded from the subject. The second she finds something off in Emilie’s voice on the calls, Rose is pressing for more information. Emilie hates lying, especially to her mother, though she still tries. Thankfully, Jackson rarely calls. He finds text conversations to be easier, claiming that there’s no pressure or expectations for an immediate response. So Emilie is relatively unconsumed by the guilt at fibbing whenever he enquires about her life.

It isn’t until the beginning of August that Emilie feels everything crumbling further around her.

Checking the time on her phone for the fifth time in the last hour, Emilie blows out a sharp breath. There are still no new notifications, no texts apologising. No I’m on my ways. Nothing. She stuffs the device into her back pocket and blinks rapidly to clear away the tears that are forming. She isn’t surprised, and that surprises her. She hadn’t realised she became so accustomed to the radio silence.

She steps out of the cool building, sweat beading along her hairline before slipping down her forehead. Ryder whines at the heat, stomps his feet as he follows after Emilie. The air is heavy with a moisture that warns of an impending storm; she gently pushes the toddler back into the shade provided by the yellow-striped awning, but there is no escape from the oppressive heat. The sight of his ruddy cheeks is enough to break Emilie’s heart, and she wishes, not for the first time, that she’d driven herself to work today.

Coughing slightly to dislodge the lump in her throat, Emilie scoops him up into her arms and turns to go back inside. They can wait in the lobby. She’s just reached for the handle when the door swings open, and Emilie twitches in surprise then steps out of the way.

“Bye, Miss Emilie! Bye, Ryder!”

Emilie’s gaze darts to the small child waving at her. “Oh! Have a wonderful night, Lily. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Do you need a lift home?”

And if Lily’s father was anyone other than who he is, Emilie would have nearly collapsed to her knees in gratitude. As it is, though, she hefts Ryder further into her arms and turns instinctively to keep her body between him and the man who has shockingly kept his distance over the last few months. Footsteps follow her down the pavement as she walks away. Her heart leaps into her throat.

“No, thanks,” she calls back over her shoulder, “we’re fine. My, um, my husband is just running a bit late.”

“Are you sure? We really don’t mind.”

Of course you don’t. “Yeah, I’m sure.”

The man is so close, and Emilie forces her fingers to relax before her nails can do damage to Ryder’s skin. She draws in a breath that’s meant to be steadying, though it has no effect. Her pulse roars in her ears, body racked with minute trembles, and she swallows against the tightness in her throat. His mouth opens, but another voice comes from behind him, cutting him off with efficiency.

“There you are.”

A tear mingles with the sweat on her face as Josh nears. His stormy blue eyes scan over the scene in front of him, and Emilie hopes like Hell that he registers her fear. His eyes dart to her face, then he reaches for Ryder. The child, used to Josh’s presence after daily interactions for so long, goes easily enough without complaint. Emilie leans heavily into Josh’s side when his arm loops around her shoulders.

“Lemme guess. You forgot we parked down there this morning?” he laughs, pointing to the other end of the car park.

It takes every ounce of willpower Emilie possesses not to burst into tears right then, and still, it’s only because of his hold that she remains on her feet even as relief drowns her. She nods with a watery, nervous giggle as Josh presses a kiss to her damp hair. He whispers a keep going against her skin, and she resists the urge to run away.

“Yeah, I’m so used to being the one driving. You got the keys?”

“Yep. Let’s go, babe. Have a good night, sir.”

Emilie follows Josh on weak knees to his car, fears that Lily’s father won’t let it go this easily. Thankfully, the car is pulling out onto the street a moment later. She blows out a breath and drops to sit on the curb while Josh distracts Ryder. The toddler doesn’t need to see his aunt falling apart, and Emilie is thankful that her friend understands that. Once she has herself under control again, she wipes her face with the hem of her blouse.

“Thanks. Seriously, I can’t thank you enough.”

Josh frowns and sits next to her, Ryder perched comfortably on his knee. “No problem. You looked very uncomfortable. But… I thought you’d already gone.”

“Yeah, my ride, uh, hasn’t shown up yet.”

“Em, this might be cruel, it may be pouring salt into the wound, but it’s been almost an hour. I don’t, I don’t think your ride is coming.”

“Neither do I,” she whispers to her knees after a few seconds, his words echoing in her brain. Her chest aches with the confession.

“C’mon, let’s get you two home. It’s too damn hot to sit out here all day.”

As he buckles Ryder into the car-seat, Emilie holds tightly to herself and tries to smother the pain that eats away at her soul. Josh glances back at over his shoulder, evidently misreading the expression on her face, and explains that he sometimes has to be chauffeur to his sister and niece. It’s an unexpected statement, irrelevant to anything that matters in her life. Her eyes drift from his face to the car-seat, and she nods slowly as she remembers he doesn’t have children of his own.

Her heart aches at the hazy memory of seeing a car-seat in the back of Mully’s car all those months ago.

The drive to house is quiet except for Ryder babbling in the back. Josh sends Emilie inquisitive looks from the corner of his eye a few times, but he doesn’t say anything. And she doesn’t know what she would say to his questions, anyway. So she rests her head against the window and concentrates on trying to shove everything into the back of her mind. Thoughts swirl around in her brain, unrelenting and agonising and disjointed.

“Hey, Em?”

Emilie looks away from the house to her friend. His lips quirk upwards into a smile that falls flat, and he reaches for her hand. She stares down at her lap when the concern on his face is too much to bear. When it reminds her that this weight isn’t meant for anyone else’s shoulders, and it’s not right for her to expect them to help.

“I don’t know what’s going on, but you know you can talk to me, right?”

Emilie coughs a delirious laugh. “Trust me, if I knew, it wouldn’t be a problem.”

“Okay. Well, if you ever need anything, please tell me. No judgement.”

“Thanks, Josh. I-I appreciate it.”

Josh waits until Emilie has carried Ryder through the gate. He honks once then he’s gone, car disappearing from view. She stares up at the home that’s become nothing more than a house, sighs heavily. He better have a damn good reason, she thinks with a surprising bitterness. Kissing Ryder’s temple, Emilie inhales slowly then makes her way to the door.

The irritation explodes into full-blown rage when she steps inside only to hear Lewis’s voice coming from the living room. Tinny and echoing slightly, it’s the last thing she wants to hear right now. She sets Ryder on his feet and helps him pull off his shoes before slipping out of her own flats. His hand is hot, sweaty, as he wraps his fingers around her pinkie. He smiles up at her, an innocent face made more precious by the love and trust found there.

Niall is sat on the couch, laughing at whatever Lewis has said on the FaceTime call, and Emilie swallows down the venom. The smile he sends her way does nothing to quell her anger. She turns away from him without a word, helps Ryder up the stairs. Her hands tremble violently as she turns on the tap in the tub, letting the basin fill with lukewarm water while she strips the toddler from his sweat-soaked clothes.

Her thoughts burst into a frenzy, and she can’t catch hold of any of them beyond the hurt and betrayal of having been forgotten. Niall had found a laugh with his friend more important than remembering to pick up his girlfriend and the kid he claims to love. He left them waiting in the late-afternoon heat without the decency of apologising when he saw them.

Emilie doesn’t realise she has begun sobbing until Ryder stops splashing in the water, staring up at her with wide eyes.

“An’ Em ‘kay?”

“Auntie Emilie is okay, baby,” she croaks out, and the crack in her voice is nothing compared to the cracks in her heart.

Once Ryder is bathed and less pink-cheeked, she wraps him in a towel and holds him tightly to her chest. He rests his head against her shoulder, and she carries him to his bedroom. He stands, shivering and quiet, next to his bed and watches Emilie grab a pair of footie pyjamas from his drawer. She dresses him quickly then stares at him. At the epitome of the perfection he’s brought to her life just by existing.

“I love you so much, Ryder Alexander, you hear me?” She kisses his forehead, closing her eyes against even more tears. “You’re my everything.”

Niall is off the call by the time Emilie feels calm enough to go downstairs twenty minutes later. She avoids looking at her boyfriend as she leaves Ryder by his toy-bin, her hand smoothing down his damp hair. Unfortunately, Niall is just as oblivious as when she came home, and he follows her into the kitchen.

“How was your day, petal?”


“Sorry I didn’t ask when you came in.”

“It’s fine.” Obviously I know where I stand.

Emilie grabs the lettuce from the fridge and a tomato from the clump in the bowl on the counter; Niall chatters on while she dices up produce for a salad, and she lets the sound of his voice fade under the buzzing in her ears. Her jaw aches with how hard she’s gritting her teeth. She knows if she says anything right now, it will be the end of them.

She isn’t sure any more if that would be the end of the world.

“So why are you home so late?”

She tastes blood on her tongue, keeping her eyes on the knife in her hand. “Because I had to wait for Josh to finish up so he could give us a lift home.”

“Oh.” Niall steals a piece of lettuce from the cutting board, popping it into his mouth, then reaches for another. “That was nice of him.”

“Yeah? Well, he shouldn’t have fucking had to.”

A hot tendril of sick, warped pleasure winds through her when Niall rears back. His mouth falls open, his eyes are wide, but she can’t enjoy the gob-smacked expression on his face for long. She knows he’s going to ask questions now: The lack of response from her is one thing, but cursing when Ryder is within earshot is new. An unheard-of thing. Slamming the knife onto the cutting board, Emilie clenches her hands into fists on the countertop, drags in breath after unsteady breath.

“Em, what the Hell? What’s wrong?”

“An’ Em?”

Emilie turns to see Ryder at the edge of the living room. Tears fill his big, blue eyes before spilling over, and acrid guilt mingles with the anger to burn a fiery path along her nerves. She spares a second to wipe her hands on a dishtowel then rushes to the child’s side. He buries his face into her neck, his little body shaking as he cries, and Emilie swallows thickly and stands with him held tightly to her chest.

“We’re going to get dinner. Cook whatever you want.”

“Emilie, stop. Where - what the Hell happened?”

She doesn’t bothering answering Niall. Even when she nearly falls on her ass while trying to slip her flat onto her feet, she stays silent. Niall grabs her purse before she can, holding it out of range. She refuses to cave, though. Refuses to say a word.

“Emilie, please talk to me.”

Emilie reaches out and deftly plucks her wallet out of the bag. Everything about the situation is so wrong, but she can’t care about that right now. Grabbing her keys from the hook, Emilie steps outside and closes the door on the sight of her boyfriend, the hurt and confusion on his face, and the way cracks race through the foundation of their relationship as the latch slides into place.