Feels Like Forever



Josh and Elaine are already in a booth, chatting as they drink their beers, by the time Logan, Annie, and Emilie walk in. Emilie spends the first twenty minutes shifting uncomfortably in her seat, her skin clammy, while the others share inside jokes and asked about bits of their personal lives that Emilie isn’t privy to.

Emilie hates that she’s hoping for Niall to call, to give her a reason to end this night, even while she laughs at Logan mimicking some helicopter parent. It isn’t fair to her coworkers, it isn’t fair to Niall, but most of all… it isn’t fair to her. Her boyfriend is right - she deserves to have time to herself. To be someone other than a surrogate mother who only works, raises a child, and spends time with her partner.

It isn’t until an hour later, after Niall has sent her a picture of a sleeping Ryder, that Annie sets her martini on the table and her gaze flickers between Emilie’s phone and face. Thankfully, Annie doesn’t seem to be judging the not-so-subtle checks for notifications that Emilie has been doing since she finished her first beer.

“So I know we all joke about Josh being a worse gossip than some old biddy, but he’s been perfectly respectful and not told us a damn thing about why you left.” Annie smiles softly, reaching out to leave a gentle touch on Emilie’s hand. “You know we’re here for you, right?”

“Yeah, I do. And I appreciate it. I haven’t been a very good friend, have I?”

“We understand,” Josh rushes to assure her, and the others agree either with nods or by raising their glasses.

“I guess, well, we just went through a rough patch, but we’re okay now.”

Elaine grimaces. “So you broke up then got back together?”

“No, no, we didn’t. He just... he was busy with work, so I went back to Austin to visit my family and friends. He and I needed some space apart.”

And as much as Emilie knows it’s ill-advised, she still switches her beer for a Mai Tai and drinks it as fast as she can. The “rough patch” is over now, she and Niall are doing splendidly lately. But the cold rush of fire down her spine reminds her too intimately about the separation, clings tightly to her nerves and reminds her that it could happen again.

“C’mon, guys - no, Annie, you’ve had, yes, you’ve had enough. Let’s go.”

Emilie giggles, albeit a tad drunkenly, and stumbles to her feet. Elaine leans into her, and the pair follows Logan toward the door; Josh and Annie are close behind. Claiming carsickness, Emilie climbs up into the front seat of Logan’s SUV - he refrained from drinking while the group was at the bar, so Emilie trusts that there’s a much smaller risk of any kind of accident while he drives them all home.

He’s a wonderful sport, bearing up nicely as the other four sing along to the radio. He even manages to not wince when the cacophony of slurred voices hit shrill pitches. As he pull up outside of the house, Emilie reaches into the backseat, pats Annie and Elaine’s knees, and says a wobbly goodnight.

“We so need to do this again,” she announces as she hugs Logan tightly. “Holy crap, did I need this.”

She closes the door on their loud, enthusiastic shouting and laughs while she makes her way through the gate on unsteady knees. Niall meets her just inside the front door, reaching out immediately to help keep her stable on her feet, and she tries almost desperately to kiss him. He just won’t stand still, however, so her lips just skim the air inches from his cheek. He huffs out a laugh and leans around her to lock the door. She frowns when he crouches down.

“Wha’doin’?” she whines. “Kiss me!”

He doesn’t bother replying, just slips the heels off her feet and presses his lips to the skin right above her knee. Emilie pouts but lets him lead her up the stairs, his hand gentle on her back, the warmth bleeding through the thin fabric of her dress. She pulls away long enough to stop in the doorway to Ryder’s room and smiles when she sees him fast asleep, sprawled like a starfish across the bed with Lionel the Lion clutched tightly in one chubby fist.

“He woke up once,” Niall murmurs, “but I told him you were with friends and you’d be home soon, and that you missed him so much.”

“He fell back asleep easily?”

And somehow, Niall knows what she means, the deeper significance to her simple question, and his lips brush against the side of her neck. “He trusts that you’re not ever going to abandon him, Em. He knows he can rely on you to always be there, even when you’re not here.”

Emilie barely gets changed into an oversized T-shirt and brushes her teeth before the exhaustion takes over. She does a piss-poor job of removing her makeup, but she doesn’t care, not when the bed is so near and her body is begging to just give up for the night. So she just crawls between the sheets with mascara on her lashes and splotchy foundation on her skin, falling asleep quickly curled into Niall’s side.

Someone with a jackhammer managed to wiggle their way into her skull overnight, that’s the only explanation for how badly Emilie’s head is pounding the next morning. Thankfully, the curtains are still drawn tightly, so at least there is no sunlight sending spikes through her eyes. Silver lining and all that.

Emilie rolls over in bed and slowly peels her eyes open. The other side of the mattress is empty, the bedspread already smoothed out, and the blanket is cold when she reaches for it. Niall must have gotten up with Ryder this morning. Sighing, she carefully pushes herself to sit up, winces when the pounding in her head grows more forceful. Blood roars in her ears, a wet swish-thump-swish that exacerbates the nausea roiling in her stomach.

She grabs her phone to check the time, the digits blurring for a moment until she blinks a few times. 11:47. This is the latest she’s ever slept, barring when she had the flu. Emilie scrubs a hand over her tired eyes and unlocks her phone. The text to her coworkers takes ages to compose - she keeps yawning and closing her eyes against the pain in her head. But eventually, she gets the quick message of I’m still alive, and whoever bought that last drink owes me $10 for a new bottle of ibuprofen typed up and sent.

To: Derek, Monica
Seriously don’t know why I thought drinking anything other than moscato would be a smart idea omg save meeeee

Once the text to Derek and Monica has been delivered, Emilie bites her lip then brings up her internet browser. Tapping at the icon in her bookmarks, she clambers out of bed and weaves toward the bathroom. The page finally loads just as she finishes combing her hair, so Emilie reads the blogger’s latest posts while she brushes her teeth.

i honestly cannot handle this. he's back with her which whatever, we already knew that (even if we think he’s a dumbass for it), but now she’s been seen out at a bar with other guys?? while niall is - presumably - at home taking care of her kid?? does our fav dumb blond know he’s being cheated on? can someone just get this chick out of the picture?!

look, she isn’t even CUTE. and who in their right mind would think that kind of dress is appropriate for anything other than hooking up? have to admit she has good taste in guys though. first niall and now this guy - he’s a cutie, i guess.

Emilie rolls her eyes, instantly regretting it when the pain in her skull gets worse, but she can’t stop the laughter that bubbles up. Of course the blogger would jump to conclusions. If Emilie wasn’t a mid-twenties adult, she probably would’ve done the same. Though she is far too mature for this petty “vague-booking”, Emilie opens up her Facebook app and updates her status to nothing more than a string of laugh-cry emojis.

After rinsing her mouth out, Emilie puts her toothbrush back in its holder, turns off the light, and pads across the room to the bureau. She doesn’t bother changing her top - or putting on a bra, for that matter - just grabs a pair of cotton shorts and tugs them. Her phone vibrates in her hand as she makes her way to the stairs.

Group Text: Derek, Monica
From: Derek
I could’ve told you to stay away from anything more than wine. You’re a lightweight babe

From: Emilie
And you’re a dick (:
<< Now go to work

From: Derek
I AM at work, thank you very much. Just on break.

From: Monica
>> Because he works soooo hard :S hope your hangover goes away, Beanie Baby! Give your boys hugs and kisses from me!

From: Emilie
<< I’m not kissing my boyfriend for you, piss off he’s mine <3

She puts her phone away and steps off the last stair, coming to a stop at the bottom. “Hey, it’s the Fredster!”

Louis laughs as Freddie drops his car to the floor, scrambles to his feet, and rushes headlong across the room. Emilie scoops the child up and hugs him tightly; it’s been far too long since she’s seen Freddie, and she has missed him as much as she misses Ryder when he’s not around. He grins brightly at her, a spitting image of his father, and presses a wet kiss to her cheek.

“Em! You home!”

“Yeah, sweetheart, I’m back home. Are you happy to see me?”

Freddie gives an incredibly enthusiastic nod, kissing her cheek again, then he wiggles until she sets him back on the floor. He goes back to his toys, and she watches him and Ryder play together for a moment before heading to the couch. Niall wraps an arm around her shoulders once she’s sat; this feels more like home than anything else, and Emilie lets out a soft, contented sigh.

“It’s lovely to see your face again for more than a second,” Louis says with a smile, and Emilie laughs quietly.

“Yeah, I’m… I’m glad to be home. Mostly because I missed Freddie, so don’t be gettin’ any ideas that I missed you.”

Niall rolls his eyes and pokes her nose, but there’s no hiding his own laughter. “Be nice.”

“I am! I said I missed Freddie, how much nicer am I supposed to be?”

“Miss Wee?”

Emilie blinks owlishly at Ryder, trying to decipher what he’s said, and then it clicks. She promises the toddler that she did indeed miss Louis, she is only teasing him because he’s her friend and that’s what friends do sometimes. Ryder frowns but accepts her words at face-value, turning back to the Hot Wheels without another word. Niall nudges her, gestures toward the kitchen with his chin.

“Coffee is ready if you want some.”

“When do I not want coffee?” she snorts as she climbs to her feet, stepping carefully over Freddie as he zooms underfoot in his hands and knees.

The sunshine coming in through the patio doors sends waves of aching through her skull, but Emilie ignores it and moves to stare out over the backyard. A bird flies overhead, a black silhouette against an endless blue sky, and her skin warms with the sunlight. The echo of a voice laughs in the back of her mind.

“Come on, Emmy, Mister Wally is waitin’ for us!”

“Wait, Dani, wait up! I’m tellin’ Mama and Daddy if you don’t stop right now.”

Danielle’s brilliant smile, rivalled only by the mid-July sun, her blonde hair swirling around her thin face in the breeze. Long, slender fingers reaching for her eight-year-old stepsister’s, now that the wedding is over; floral-print fabric waving and dancing around bare feet.

“Well, hurry up then! Mister Wally ain’t gonna wait much longer.”

“My legs are too short, and you know it.”

But small Emilie bustled faster, even when twigs stabbed at the bottoms her feet and rocks scraped her skin. The pair finally came to a stop at the edge of an expansive field, the green dotted with black and white and brown and all three at once. Danielle helped Emilie clamber up onto the top railing of the fence, and they watched as Mister Wally rode out from his barn, the trusty palomino never faltering as it trotted across the field to round up the cattle.

“Think I’ll ever ride like him?”

Danielle grinned and leaned against the fence. “‘Course you will. I’ll teach ya, don’t worry. It’s what sisters are for, right?”

“I’m glad you’re my sister,” Emilie whispered before gasping, waving when Mister Wally galloped past, dipped the brim of his hat in greeting to the girls.

“Emilie? Baby, what’s wrong?”

Emilie sniffles and scrubs a hand over her wet cheeks. She shakes her head, unable to speak, and Niall pulls her into his arms. She hasn’t thought about her childhood with Danielle in for so long, her rage having drowned out all the good memories she ever made with her stepsister. The memories are all she has, but she just hasn’t been able to move past how utterly angry - and hurt - she’s been since Danielle was nineteen.

“She never taught me to ride,” she whispers, and though Niall doesn’t understand - how could he? - he just holds her more tightly.
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since we're so close to the end, i'mma just post chapters as i finish them <3