Feels Like Forever



Monday morning is a hectic mess. Everything goes perfectly, smoothly, surpassing even Emilie’s wildest expectations. She fully anticipated having to struggle with getting Ryder ready, but he does what he’s told, allows her to dress him and get his shoes on, without fuss. It’s her own inhibitions that make things feel so off-kilter.

Niall left before her alarm went off, leaving her in bed with a searing kiss to her lips and a promise to call and text as often as he’s able. She’d watched him go, smiling to herself the entire time, because this was different. This was all she’d wanted before she left for Austin, and now she has it.

When Emilie and Ryder arrive at Tiny Tots Nursery around eight, Desiree actually comes out of her office to hug Emilie tightly.


“I was hoping you meant it when you texted that you were coming back, but you haven’t said a word to me since then, so I wasn’t entirely sure you hadn’t changed your mind.” Desiree steps back, grinning. “Josh is going to be thrilled you’re back. Now go, before Gloria comes hunting you down.”

Emilie forces a smile and turns to the door leading to the back. Her mind repeats Desiree’s words on a loop, but no amount of hearing them will make them make sense. Why would Josh care that much whether Emilie stays away or comes home? Sure, he’s become one of her closest work friends in the last six months, but it isn’t like they hung out outside of Tiny Tots.

“Hey, hey! Little man is back!” Josh crouches down and holds a hand up for a high-five, cheering when Ryder complies. “All right, bud, you remember where your cubby is, yeah? Good, go get your book while I talk to your auntie.”

“Hey, wait. Ry, where’s my hug goodbye?”

But Ryder doesn’t come back,; instead, he toddles over to the wall of cubbies, giggling and shouting a “Bye-bye!” over his shoulder. Emilie shakes her head, though she can’t help but laugh. It is such a change from his first day here, and she is rather enjoying not having him cling to her any more. Josh waits until the kids are distracted with toys and books before turning to her,

“I see you’ve come back,”

“Yeah.” Chewing on her lower lip, she hesitates then admits, “We needed a break.”

“Sometimes, someone leaving is the only way to make you open your eyes.”

“It sucked.”

“Oh, god, I understand perfectly.”

When Emilie shoots him an inquisitive look, he shrugs and promises to explain later. She takes that as her cue to go across the hall to her own room, so she double-checks that Ryder is okay then leaves. The weight of Josh’s gaze follows her, heavy on her back.

There are seven text messages waiting by the time she checks her phone around noon, each of them either a selfie or some variation of Niall declaring he misses her and Ryder. She hates that she hasn’t had time to reply, but she knows he understands. Smiling to herself, she saves each picture to her phone then closes out of her gallery to stare at her lockscreen.

“I love that photo.”

Emilie glances up at Gloria, nodding. “It was our first Thanksgiving together. We’d only been dating, I wanna say, like, four months at that point, but Ryder was crazy about him almost immediately.”

“And he was already in love with you and Ryder back then?” Gloria pats Emilie’s shoulder. “You got a good one, sweetheart, and I’m glad you two are working it out.”

“Does everyone know?” groans Emilie as she claps a hand to her forehead.

“Josh gossips worse than a teenager.”

“I’m tellin’ him you said that.”

“Honey, I say it to his face, so go ahead.”

“Gossiping aside, I’m glad to be back.”

All Gloria does in response is smile a sweet, gentle smile then move away to calm a crying seven-month-old. Emilie sends Niall a quick text, telling him she misses him and can’t wait to see him tonight, and slips her phone into her pocket. She has work to do, and upset babies wait for no one.


George Jones plays quietly from the phone speakers, filling the room with words of lost love, and Emilie carefully drags the eyeliner pencil across the lid of her right eye. She hadn’t been able to sleep past six-thirty this morning, waking even before Niall, she decided to get an early start to her morning routine. Glancing back into the bedroom, she isn’t surprised to see her boyfriend still sprawled across the bed.

He hadn’t asked if she thought any more about what he said on Sunday, and she hadn’t offered information. Truth be told, she is still unsure. The more she gives consideration to the possibility of marrying him, the more mixed-up she gets. She wants to have an answer for him, wants to tell him yes without hesitation. She just… can’t.

Sighing, she starts working on her left eye. Pandora switches to the next song - some love ballad by Alan Jackson - and Emilie can’t help but smile. Paige’s favourite singer has been Alan for as long as Emilie can remember, and hearing his voice, the southern twang to his words, brings up memories of the years she spent bouncing between home with her mother and home with her stepmother and father.

Those were simpler times, really. Even with the typical squabbles with Danielle, Emilie was always mostly happy. Neither Rose nor Jackson spoke ill of each other in front of Emilie, and Paige was incredibly determined to prove that she wasn’t aiming to take Rose’s place as Emilie’s mother. Emilie is certain that if her parents weren’t the way they were, she wouldn’t have turned out to be the way she is, she never would have known what love could be.

“Hey, love, don’t wait up tonight.”

Emilie shrieks, hand jerking to the side - and leaving behind a long tail of black liner in its wake. She drops the pencil to the countertop and clutches at her chest. Her heart is pounding fit to burst from her ribs, and she can barely breathe through the shock.

“I’m so sorry, are you okay?”

“You ass! Oh, my god, my heart is gonna explode.”

Niall ducks his head, murmuring another apology. Emilie pulls a makeup-remover wipe from the packet, scrubs away the line from eyelid to temple, turn turns to face her boyfriend. The contrition on his face is too hard to handle, so she smiles as genuinely as she can with an elevated heart-rate and fear coursing through her veins.

“So. Not waiting up tonight?”

“Right. I got inspired for that song I told you about, the one the album was missing, and I want to get it done today.”

“Okay. I’ll try to remember.” She pauses. “Gonna gimme a clue what it’s about?”

Niall grins and presses a kiss to her lips. “Nope. You’ll hear it when the rest of the world does. Have a good day at work, babe. I love you.”

“I reiterate. You’re an ass. I love you, too. Enjoy your time in the studio.”

Another kiss, then he’s gone. Emilie giggles quietly to herself and turns back to the mirror. As she stares at her reflection, she wonders if it’s a trick of the light, or if her dark eyes are really shining that brightly. She chews on her bottom lip and blows out a breath, reaching for the wipe. Today seems like a good day to go au naturale. Her hands are shaking too much still to have faith in a steady application of eyeliner.

Mully disappears up the stairs as soon as she and Ryder come in through the front door later that afternoon. Emilie doesn’t think much of it - maybe he’s on an important call, or he possibly had a rough day. It certainly isn’t the first time he’s hidden away instead of spending time with her. But when he doesn’t come down for dinner, refuses to answer his door when she knocks… It tells her something isn’t quite right.

Emilie blows out a breath of relief when Ryder’s eyes slip closed - and stay that way. She’d feared that without Niall here, the toddler wouldn’t want to fall asleep, especially so close to the separation. But her luck seems to have held out. Kissing Ryder’s cheek as softly as she can, Emilie waits then tiptoes from the room.

To her surprise, Mully is in the kitchen when she steps off the stairs. He glances over his shoulder at the sound of her shuffling footsteps, face closing off when he catches sight of her, then turns pointedly away. Emilie’s breath hitches in her throat, and a wave of cold crashes over her.

“So, you wanna explain why you hate me?”

“I don’t hate you.”

“God, you can’t even lie good.” Emilie shakes her head, folds her arms over her stomach. “You ain’t said a damn word to me since we got back unless Niall was around, and now that he’s not here, you suddenly seem to have miraculously lost the ability to speak.”

“Just leave it alone, Emilie,” he spits out, and his shoulders tighten before her eyes.

“No! You’ve been... cold, and I want to know why.”

“Because what you did was wrong.” He finally faces her, though Emilie wishes he hadn’t. On his face is a mask of anger and, worse, distrust. “You should have talked to him, Emilie. But no, you waited until he was gone and couldn’t stop you. And you left. You ran, and-and you took his kid with you! How could you possibly have thought that was the right thing to do?”

“I fucking know, okay?”

Silence reigns deafeningly in the room, and Mully stares at her with wide eyes. Her heart is racing under her ribs, a rapid-fire beat that roars in her blood. Blowing out a breath, she scrubs a hand over her face and hopes she hasn’t woken Ryder by shouting. No sounds come from upstairs, so she continues.

“Look, I know I handled the situation so poorly. You’re right. I should’ve told him how I was feeling, but damn it, I don’t need my mistakes shoved in my face like this.”

“You just... you left without a word to him or me. To anybody.”

“Christ on a cheesecake, Mully, I know this. I know how close I came to losing Niall for good. I thought I was okay with that. I thought all I needed was some time, and I could go back to my life before I met him. But being away from him showed me that I’m not. Niall and me, we’re working on it. On us. And I get it. He’s your best friend, and you want to protect him.”

“Damn right. Wouldn’t you do the same for Monica or Derek?”

“Of course I would. But if I saw them with their partner, actively working through their problems, I’d shut the fuck up and support them. So please, just... just stop. Please.”

Mully has the decency to look properly abashed. He shifts his weight between his feet before leaning against the counter, arms crossed over his chest, but neither of them speak for a long minute. Finally, he exhales sharply.

“I’m sorry. I do want to protect him. I told you when you two came for Christmas that I’ve never seen him fall so hard or so fast before. He didn’t even tell me you’d gone.”

Emilie takes the olive branch, relaxing her stance. “So how’d you find out?”

“You didn’t come home, and you didn’t send a text saying you were running late or hanging out with your coworkers. Then he sent me a message a few days ago saying ‘We’re coming home’.”

“You’ve been angry with me for two weeks?” Something sharp, jagged and poisonous, gnaws at her gut. “Jeez, no wonder you’ve been givin’ me the silent treatment.”

Mully hesitates but drops his arms to his sides, steps forward. Emilie melts into his tight embrace; her lips quirk into a smile when he presses a kiss to her hair.

“For what it’s worth,” he murmurs softly, “I’m glad you two are working it out. And I’m sorry I’ve been a prick.”

Emilie hugs him back just as tightly; her fingers ache as they press into his back, but she doesn’t let up. “I think it’s understandable, given the way I treated him.”

“He forgives you. I suppose I do, too.”

He pulls away only to receive a poke to his shoulder. Emilie giggles and wipes away the tears she hadn’t realised started to fall. Mully smiles softly, brushes at a stray tear she missed. Exhaling shakily, she meets his eye.

“Thank you for caring so much about him.”

“I care about you, too, Em. I’ve just cared about him longer.”

He wraps an arm around her shoulders, guiding her toward the stairs, and she hesitates before asking if his anger is why he never tried to contact her after the first couple of calls. He nods slowly and admits that if he’d tried, he would have sent something that he would never be able to take back.

“Besides, it was between you and Niall. I didn’t need to get involved.” He stops outside the door to the room she shares with his best friend, and his hand is gentle as he squeezes her shoulder. “But you’re home now, and everything is right again. Goodnight, Em.”

She watches Mully walk toward his room for a second then steps into her bedroom. Things feel more steady now, and she can breathe again. Properly. Suddenly, his words from earlier register in her mind, and Emilie darts back out into the hallway.

“Wait, ‘his’ kid?”

Mully freezes outside of his bedroom but doesn’t turn around, not even when he closes his door behind him. She shakes her head, though she can’t fight her smile. After checking that Ryder is still asleep, she heads back to her bedroom to prepare for bed.

She does make a mental note to talk to Niall about the whole “Ryder is his kid” thing when he comes home.
♠ ♠ ♠
note: since this story is so close to its end, my other works will be put on hold while i finish writing these last few chapters! i'm saddened by the impending end to this story, but it's been a blast writing it!