Feels Like Forever


to get you in the ~right~ mindset for this and subsequent chapters, i've curated a playlist! it's found here! - you shouldn't need a spotify account to listen to it, but if you do, please let me know and i'll figure out how to fix it. without further ado, enjoy


The house is empty when Emilie steps through the front door almost three hours later. Ryder snores in her ear, and the sound is calming, something peaceful in the middle of a raging storm. She carries the sleeping child up the stairs, carefully feeling with her toes each step of the way, then tucks him into his bed. He lets out a soft sigh and relaxes further into the blankets.

Once Lionel the Lion is in his hold, Ryder squeezes the stuffed animal tightly, still fast asleep. Emilie sits on the floor next to the bed, stares at the child who stole her heart two years ago. His upset about her outburst faded with the time that passed and the attention she showered him with while they were gone. Her own feelings toward it are as dark and murky as ever.

She had half-expected Niall to follow them out of the house. Or to send text after text asking for - no, demanding - answers. Neither of those things happened. Her phone stayed silent. She spent the hours away with Ryder, making sure he was happy and fed and calm again, and her heart broke further the longer she went without anything.

Tears slip from her eyes without permission, but she doesn’t wipe them from her cheeks. Alone in the dark is the best place for them, and why should she hide what she is feeling? She is so damned tired of doing it, of keeping every single negative thought and emotion locked away. “Out of sight, out of mind” has no relevance or truth, not in the grand scheme of things.

Pale moonlight spreads through the room, filling it with a hazy glow, and Emilie can’t help but think of how beautiful it would be if nothing was falling apart. How can Niall so easily say he loves her if he can just as easily hurt her like this? She wonders if he even notices, if he even cares, how much she’s been struggling to hold onto the hope that things will get better.

She pushes herself to her feet and crosses the room to the window. The milky light touches everything below, casts shadows that loom ever larger the longer she stares. The darkness outside echoes the one in her heart. She tugs the curtains closed as the jagged piece cuts her even deeper.

Emilie goes to bed alone. She doesn’t sleep, and the bed remains empty throughout the night. Her pillow catches the tears that she stopped trying to stem, reminding her of her uncertainty with each slide of wet against skin. The other half of the mattress is cold and vast, overwhelms her in its barrenness, and she loses grip of the final thread of hope.

The alarm goes off at its normal time, and Emilie stares at her phone as it vibrates on the nightstand. Her body is heavy, and she doesn’t want to move. Eventually, she presses the button to stop the buzzing and picks up the device. The screen is full of notifications, but none of them are from the one person she needs to hear from. Sighing, Emilie sends a text to Desiree, asking if her boss will have some time this morning to speak when Emilie comes in. It takes a few minutes, but then Des replies in the affirmative, followed by a “You okay?” Emilie doesn’t bother replying as she forces herself out of bed.

Niall’s hygiene products sit on the counter in the bathroom, mocking her with their presence. Gasping in a shaky breath, Emilie slams her hand against the switch, douses the room in darkness, and all but runs to one of the guest bathrooms. She tries - god, does she try - but there’s no stopping the sobs that break loose as she leans against the wall.

She left a note in the kitchen, next to the grocery list. It said “You don’t even know who I am. You left me a long time ago. You don’t even know who I am, so what do you care if I go?

Emilie reaches over and turns the stereo off. Patty Loveless falls silent, Pandora automatically pausing, and Emilie glances up into the rear-view. Ryder grins happily back in his own mirror, and she vows to make things right for him. For herself, too.

The chorus plays through her head all day. Gloria notices her distraction, but Emilie can’t bring herself to talk about it with the other woman. The only thing she can tell Gloria is that she’s going to be okay. Emilie knows it will hurt worse before it gets better, but a light has finally started shining at the end of the tunnel.

Mully pulls up in front of the house as Emilie is lifting Ryder out of the car after work. Something in the man’s eyes tells her that he knows not everything is okay. Emilie sidesteps the trap he lays when he mentions offhandedly that Niall went to 40 Love last night, though it’s a hollow victory. He’s surprised to hear that Niall never came home after his visit at the sports bar, hesitantly asks if she and Niall are fighting. It hurts Emilie that there’s little difficulty in playing it off as if they talked about it. He clearly doesn’t believe her, but it’s enough to prevent him from asking questions. So she convinces herself that she doesn’t care.


She wrote, ‘I feel just like that painting, collectin’ dust on the wall. And every day you walk right by me, and don’t know I’m there at all. And I can’t think of one single reason why I should be hangin’ around.’ She signed it, ‘I hope that you’ll miss me’ and drove herself out of town. Maybe he’ll notice her now…

The city melts from sight behind them, growing smaller with each mile that’s eaten up by the tires, and Emilie draws in a deep, rattling breath. Her fingers tighten around the steering wheel when a sob threatens to bubble out of her. She refuses to cry or give her emotions any bit of control. Not again. This was a decision borne of her emotions, but it is also one made with logic.

This is the best thing for them, for her and Ryder, and the pain will fade… eventually. Until then, she can only put on a brave face and pretend nothing is awry. That her heart isn’t shattered in pieces, left behind on the floor of the home she used to share with Niall. She has to fake happy smiles and dry eyes until they become reality. Whenever that is.

The drive is slow and torturous. Without someone here to share the burden, hours seem to pass with the ease of frozen molasses. The radio crackles with static as she drives through areas with weak signals. Scenery stretches out for miles around them, dry brush and flatlands and a monotonous sweep of beige and green. Her phone rings in its holder every so often, but Emilie never answers. Talking to Mully or Monica or Derek or anyone else will only cause her to rethink what she’s doing.

Ryder babbles in the backseat for minutes at a time, happily keeping his aunt company. Then he asks about his Ni-Ni, and Emilie is punched in the gut with the pain again. Her voice shakes every time she talks, and she worries that he might notice, might realise this isn’t just a quick drive to the park. She tells herself that Ryder is too young to understand nuances, but it doesn’t help her feel any less unsteady.

This isn’t what she wanted. Leaving Niall… it is the last thing she ever could have imagined herself doing. She hates that it has come to this. Emilie knows she isn’t innocent or blameless. She could’ve talked to him. She could have fought to keep the relationship alive. Hell, she should have. But being shown over and over that she wasn’t important enough to fight for had worn down any strength she had left.

Bedtime is nearly impossible. Ryder whines for close to an hour about being in his car-seat still, so Emilie pulls off at the next exit and into the car park of a hotel that looks like one strong gust of wind would knock it over. It’s clean enough, though a musty odour lingers, and the lights flicker eerily as she tucks Ryder into the centre of the bed. He won’t be placated by her gentle voice and soft lullaby. Instead, he repeatedly demands to say goodnight to Niall. Emilie comes so close to caving but remembers that this is meant to be a clean cut.

So she resists the urge to call Niall. She puts her phone on silent and curls up around Ryder, singing song after song to him until he finally falls asleep. She, however, lies awake for much longer, watches the tremulous shadows that dance on the walls from the street-lamps outside filtering in through the curtains. The unfamiliar bed and the quiet give her permission to cry for the first time since she made the decision to leave.

“How did this all get so fucked up?” she whispers into the dark, but her only answer comes in the form of deafening silence.