Feels Like Forever


Emilie tugs the band from the end of her braid, untwists her dark hair from the plait it’s been in since she woke up this morning, and shakes her head to get rid of the last bit of tangles. Her lungs still burn, just a bit, from her run, but she feels light, weightless. Endorphins buzz through her veins, and she can’t help smiling at the group sitting at the table outside as she makes her way to the door.

Monica must be in charge of the music today, since George Jones is singing about the furniture in his house and the memories he has with the woman who’s left him. Emilie grins to herself, joins the queue of people waiting for coffee. It takes almost ten minutes to reach the counter - the person two ahead of Emilie seemed to struggle with making the choice between apple or cherry danishes, which, to be fair, is an impossible choice, they’re both so delicious. Monica is already ringing up Emilie’s order by the time the woman in question steps up.

“So, any news on the cutie?”

“Derek has a big mouth,” Emilie replies even as she nods. “Yeah, we hung out a couple days ago.”

“Aw, and you didn’t bring him by? Emma-bean, I wanted to meet the cutie!”

Emilie shrugs, biting her lower lip while she steps aside for the next customer. “We mostly just hung out at my place, watched some Twilight Zone, that kinda stuff.”

Monica gives her a sharp look, and Emilie forces herself not to squirm under the scrutiny. It’s none of her friend’s business what she and Niall got up to; besides, that’s something that Emilie wants to keep to herself, to relish the memories of without others’ opinions. She flashes a wide, innocent smile and goes to sit down at a table while Monica continues taking orders and the new barista, whose name Emilie still doesn’t know, makes the drinks as fast as he can.

Eventually, he hands Emilie her drink with a wide but frazzled smile, and she makes sure to stop by the counter, stuffing in a ten-dollar bill into the jar by the register. Monica tries to call after her, to stop her from leaving, but Emilie breezes out the door without a second look. She has plans for the day, plans that don’t involve spending hours in the coffeeshop.

“Hey there, little dude, you ready for the long weekend with your favourite auntie?”

Ryder screeches, clapping his chubby little hands together, and Emilie doesn’t miss the wince on Danielle’s face. Of course the woman is hungover, never mind the fact that if something had happened to her son at any point, she would’ve been too drunk to do a damn thing. But Emilie bites her tongue; she meant what she said to Niall - Ryder is worth keeping all the comments to herself. She’d much rather cut her tongue out of her own mouth than risk losing Ry. So she focuses on gathering up a clean outfit and packing the diaper bag; her former stepsister isn’t much help, halfheartedly holding clothes out to Emilie only to let them drop to the floor a second later. Danielle shuffles down the short hall, and the click of her door closing is barely heard over the sound of Ryder’s chattering.

Emilie frowns but tries not to let her frustration show as she changes Ryder’s dirty diaper. He struggles against it, and she doesn’t blame him. Obviously, his mother hasn’t been doing her duties, judging by the pinkness starting up around his thighs and genitals. Dressing him in a pair of navy overalls and striped shirt goes much more smoothly, and they’re walking out of the house twenty minutes later. Emilie tosses the diaper bag into the passenger seat then rounds the vehicle to buckle him into his carseat. He grins up at her, his blue eyes bright in his happiness, and the stress and negativity that’s consumed Emilie fades into nothingness. She leans down to press a gentle kiss to his feather-soft hair and steps out of the way to close the door.

“Hey, there’s my girl.”

Emilie loses the fight against the smile that threatens to break free, and she hitches Ryder up further into her arms. “Hey, Dad. Sorry it took so long. The coffeeshop was ridiculously busy this morning.”

“No worries, Emmy. Here, let me take him. Hi, bugger, how are ya today?”

Emilie passes Ryder over to her father and sits at the table. Jackson’s attention is solely on the toddler in his arms, so she lets herself look her father over. They haven’t seen each other in a couple of months, and though they talk on the phone regularly, his assurances that he’s fine haven’t been very convincing. She knows the divorce has been hard on him; he had been married to Paige since Emilie was eight, and sixteen years can’t be easy to walk away from. The silver lining, at least in Emilie’s selfishness, is that Paige isn’t willing to walk away from the stepdaughter she helped raise.

Finding out about her parents’ plans to separate when she was six wasn’t as traumatising as it could have been - they’d sat her down, explained it in terms she could understand, and treated each other well in front of her so she never felt like she was being forced to choose. They split their time with her evenly, and even when it wasn’t Jackson’s time to visit, he was there if she asked for him. Rose had accepted his relationship with Paige with a grace that Emilie now only wishes she could have; she knows she wouldn’t react nearly that well if her ex-husband met someone new within a year of the divorce being finalised. The family dynamic had changed over the span of two and a half years, but somehow, all three of her parents made it as seamless and smooth as possible.

“You’re staring,” Jackson comments lightly as he lets Ryder tear up the kids’ colouring page. Emilie ducks her head in embarrassment at being caught, and her dad laughs. “I’m fine, kid, I promise.”

“I know you’ve said you are, but… Dad, I worry about you. Is that so wrong?”

“It is if it means you’re doubting your old man.”

“Well, I’m very aware of how stubborn you are, so forgive me for doubting that you’ll tell me if you’re not okay.”

I’m stubborn? Have you met yourself recently?”

“I’m not stubborn!”

His flat look causes her to dissolve into giggles, and she concedes the point. The server comes by after a few minutes, bright and bubbly; Jackson gestures for Emilie to order first, so she skims over the menu, even though she knows what she’s going to get - the chicken Bryan is to die for here, and it’s the only thing she ever eats. Her father, as per usual, asks for steak. Growing up in rural Texas made him a firm steak-and-taters kind of guy, and it hasn’t changed, no matter the fact he’s gone from blue collar to white. As they wait for their meals to come, they entertain Ryder and talk about the changes in their lives since the last time they talked on the phone. Emilie has no idea of the people he tells her about, but as long as her dad is smiling and happy, she doesn’t question it. He lifts his coffee cup to his mouth but pauses, staring at her over the rim.

“Anything goin’ on in your life?”

She shifts awkwardly in her seat, taps the tongs of her fork against the tabletop. “I made a new friend.”

“About damn time. Was beginning to wonder if you were on the path to becoming a hermit with how little you talk about friends.”

“I tell you about Derek and Monica all the time.”

“And no one else.” Jackson sighs. “Emilie, I don’t give a damn if you wanna spend the rest of your life in some opium den, sleeping with the goddamn Dalai Lama to get your fix -”

“Gross, Dad. Gross.”

“My point is, I just want you to be happy, and honestly? You seem lonely. Yes, you spend time with Derek and occasionally Monica, but most of your time is with Ryder or in class.”

“I’m okay.”

“Tell me more about this friend,” he says as the server sets his plate on the table, but it sounds more like an iron-clad demand to Emilie.

“Well, he’s nice, really funny. We met in the coffeeshop - don’t roll your eyes at me, that’s rude. He needed a place to sit, so he interrupted me doing homework, and we just… got to talking.” Emilie shrugs, turning her face to the table so her father can’t see the burning of her cheeks. Thinking about Niall still sends tingles up her spine, and the fact that they’re not in a relationship matters very little to the fluttering in her chest. “I think you’d like him. He’s kinda snarky, and he’s a good cook.”

Jackson’s gaze instantly goes to his daughter’s face at her words, and he slowly sets his knife and fork on his plate. “He stayed for dinner?”

“Yeah, he came over to hang out, and we lost track of time. C’mon, Dad, don’t make a big deal out of this. Niall is a friend.”


Both Emilie and Jackson whip their heads around to stare at Ryder who is shovelling a spoonful of macaroni and cheese into his mouth. Emilie’s eyes fall closed when her dad looks at her pointedly.

“Ryder met him?”


Thankfully, he lets the subject drop, but she knows it’s a long way from over. The rest of the lunch passes by with less discomfort on Emilie’s part, though she keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop. Her dad pays the bill, because of course he does; Emilie would feel bad about the fifty dollars he’s dropping for lunch if it weren’t for the fact that he’s been paying her rent and utilities since she started school. It had been his way of easing any unnecessary stresses. He said she was already going to have to juggle schooling with raising a child, why should she have to worry about a job on top of all that? Emilie is well aware of how lucky she is. Her dad carries Ryder out to her car against her protests. After buckling the straps of the carseat, Jackson stands upright and faces Emilie.

“I meant what I said, Em. I want you to be happy, and if this Niall guy makes you happy…”

“Dad. He’s just. A. Friend.”

“Mmhmm. Okay, if you say so. I have a meeting soon, so I better go. Love you, kid.”

Emilie hugs her father tightly, her eyes squeezing shut with the contact. She whispers that she loves her father, too, before letting go. He walks away to his rental car while Emilie slides into the driver’s seat of her Escape, adjusting the volume of the radio when Stop Dragging My Heart Around starts up rather loudly as soon as she turns the key in the ignition. Her dad waves as he drives past where she’s parked, and Emilie sighs to herself. She knows he’s going to have a lot of questions, ones she’s not sure she can answer.

Eyes still closed, Emilie stumbles toward the front door, cursing loudly when she stubs her toes against the wall. She yawns and rubs at her eyes as she pulls the door open. Niall smiles apologetically, kisses her forehead as he passes.

“I know it’s ridiculously early, and I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. Ry’ll be waking up soon anyway.”

“He’s here?”

“Mhm. Danielle is on overnights for the next couple of days.”

Her prediction comes true not even a few seconds later; Ryder’s small voice calling out An’ Em? echoes in the quiet of the apartment, then he appears in her doorway. She opens her arms, scoops him up once he’s close enough. He rests his head on her shoulder and stares at Niall with wide eyes. She doesn’t blame the kid, though she’s sure her staring is for a completely different reason. She clears her throat, abruptly turns on her heel, and heads to the fridge to grab Ryder’s cup of juice from the fridge.

“What brings you by?” she asks over her shoulder as she digs through the cupboards for the box of oatmeal she knows is hiding from her.

“I, well, I just wanted to see Ryder.”

“Oh, it’s all about Ry, ain’t it. You hear that, dude? You’re a hot commodity!”

Ryder blinks up at her, and Emilie shakes her head in amusement. Once she has a packet in her hand, she sets Ryder into his high-chair and sets about mixing the oatmeal with some milk, popping it into the microwave to let it cook. Niall perches on a stool and watches her move around; her skin burns with the scrutiny, but she ignores it. If she focuses hard enough on peeling and slicing up an apple, she can pretend that there isn’t an undercurrent of want coursing through her veins.

The last couple of weeks have been… wonderful. Between acing her classes, the break from school, and spending time with Ryder and Derek, she hasn’t had anything to drag her down from the happiness. And it all was compounded, made better, by the constant text messages and FaceTime calls with Niall. He hadn’t been able to come visit, but that hadn’t seemed to interrupt whatever they have. Though it feels closer to a relationship than a friends-with-benefits kind of thing, Emilie can’t find it in her to put a stop to it. She can feel blood rushing to her cheeks when her brain dredges up the pictures they’ve sent back and forth to each other, none of them anywhere near the “safe for work” category.

Ryder is sufficiently distracted by food within the minute, so Emilie disappears into the bathroom. She uses the toilet, washes her hands, and brushes her teeth quickly. Once that’s done, she stares at her reflection in the mirror. Her dark eyes are bright, shining, and she can’t stop the smile that twitches at her lips. A squeak escapes when she opens the door to be met, face-to-face, with Niall. She doesn’t get the chance to question the sharp edge to his smile before he’s stepping into the bathroom and pinning her body between the counter and his.

He tastes like coffee on her tongue, and her arms come up to wrap around his without hesitation, pulling him closer. The edge of the counter digs into her lower back, sends ripples of pain up her spine, but she doesn’t care. She just chases the heady feeling that consumes her. He pulls away much too soon for her liking, and she pouts up at him even as she struggles to catch her breath. He grins innocently and pushes a lock of hair from her face.

“Good morning, love.”

“You are so making this up to me,” she mutters while he walks away.

Thankfully, the hours pass quickly with Niall here. Emilie has found that being with him is easy, far easier than it has any right to be. It certainly helps that his kisses, even the quick ones, are intoxicating and comforting in a way. The feelings she’s developed have only grown stronger since the beginning; it isn’t quite unexpected, since he’s such an amazing guy, he makes her laugh so easily, and - not most importantly, but still important - she wants him physically more than she’s wanted anyone else.

Ryder goes down for his nap without a fuss, worn out from the early rising and playing, and Emilie drops gracelessly to the couch once the child is asleep. Niall instantly opens his arms to her. She shifts closer, lifts her head. He obliges, kissing her with no hesitation, and she falls headfirst into the dizzying spin of emotions. She wiggles around until she has room to drag her fingers across his abdomen. He gasps into her mouth when her hand slips below the waistband of his joggers, his underwear, and his hips jerk upwards. Emilie chuckles softly, swallows down his moan. His head falls back against the couch with a quiet thump, and she takes this chance to watch his face, the fluttering of his lashes against his cheekbones, the ticking in his jaw as he pants. He sucks his bottom lip between his teeth, and she leans forward, nipping at the tendon in his neck, and relishes the way his pulse races under her mouth.

“You’re beautiful like this,” she whispers into his ear, and that’s all it takes - his release spills over her loose fist, and she works him through it, ignoring the way her brain tells her that whatever she’s feeling is too much, too close to love.