Feels Like Forever



Emilie relaxes further into the cushion of the couch, closing her eyes as Ryder lets out a shuddering breath. This is the first chance she has had to relax - actually relax - since she wrote the letter to Danielle. Granted, this relaxation comes at the cost of her comfort, considering the toddler currently asleep on her chest, but it gives her a valid excuse to not do anything.

Her phone vibrates on the coffee-table, disrupting the quiet, and she checks that it hasn’t woken Ryder before reaching for it. Paige’s face is on the screen, the familiar lovely smile that has helped Emilie through so much trouble. She kisses Ryder’s hair and presses the button to accept the video-call. The angle is awkward, but she doesn’t mind if it means she gets toddler cuddles while also seeing her mama’s face.

“Hey, sweet - oh, lord, is he asleep?”

Emilie laughs softly, nodding. “Yeah, for the last, like, half-hour. He played hard today.”

“So why ain’t he in bed?”

“He wanted to stay up ‘til Niall came home.” Emilie shrugs as much as she can with a child’s head on her collarbone. “He hasn’t fought sleeping on his own for a while, so I gave in.”

“Well, I woulda called sooner if I’d known he’d be asleep.”

“It’s okay, Mama. He’s out cold, so we can talk.”

Paige smiles and shakes her head. “Am I gonna like this talk?”

“Uh, maybe.”

Emilie exhales sharply and moves, slowly enough that Ryder doesn’t wake, to sit up. When all he does is lets out a soft sigh and squirm closer, she sighs in relief. Paige watches her closely, but it does nothing except make it harder for Emilie to grab hold of her thoughts, the right way to say this. There isn’t any way of knowing how her stepmother is going to take this news.

Danielle may be Ryder’s biological mother, but Emilie doesn’t care about her opinion. But Paige? She’s an entirely different story.

“Okay, so I’ve been taking care of Ryder pretty much since he was born, right, and now I have custody of him? Like, full-on legally adopted him and everything? And I know that you love him, and you probably won’t be happy about this and I’m sorry, but I wanna change his last name to mine.”

Emilie’s mouth closes with a clack of teeth, her words floating heavily in the air, and Paige stares at her through the video chat. There is nothing on her mama’s face to give away what she’s feeling, and whether that’s good or bad, Emilie will never know. She’d thought being able to see Paige’s face would ease any nervousness - but this is worse, she thinks, than if she only had auditory reactions.

“Mama? Can-can you say something? Gettin’ kinda nervous over here.”

“Sorry, honey,” Paige begins before leaning forward with her fingertips pressed to her forehead. “I think I knew this was coming. I’ll be honest, baby, a small part of me wants to be selfish and tell you don’t you dare, ‘cause then it feels like I’m losing that connection to him.”

“But?” Emilie presses when Paige doesn’t say anything for a long minute.

“Em, you’ve been that boy’s mama since the day he was born, never mind the fact he didn’t come from your body. It’s only right that he has your last name.”

Emilie swallows, wipes at her eyes with one hand. “Mama, if you don’t want me to, then I won’t. He’s your grandbaby, I don’t wanna make you unhappy.”

“Honey, you make me so proud. I’m thrilled to call you my bonus daughter. That will never, ever change.” Paige shrugs and reaches off-screen. She sips at her tea then sets the mug aside. “Honestly, I think it’s best you do it.”

“Really? Why?”

Her answering smile is wobbly, but it’s there, assuring Emilie in ways words hardly would. “Yes, really. If anything, it’ll prevent questions in the future why he’s got a different name than you. He call you Mama yet?”

“Nah, I’m still An’ Em.”

“Give it time,” Paige says knowingly, enigmatically, but Emilie doesn’t question it. There’s no point - Paige won’t say anything if she doesn’t want to, if she doesn’t think it’s time.

“Okay, I think that’s Niall out front. Uh, thanks, Mama. Really. I just…”

“I understand, sweetheart. Tell that baby I love him, and tell Niall I said hello. I love you, all of you.”

“Love you, too, Mama.”

Emilie hangs up and tosses her phone onto the cushion beside her. Paige’s words echo in her head, twisting over themselves as her mind tries to find a weak point, any evidence that her stepmother was being untruthful. Emilie knows Paige would never lie to her - especially not with something of this magnitude - but she can’t help but feel that maybe the older woman is downplaying just how much it affects her to hear Emilie’s plans.

Niall shuffles into the living room, shoulders slumped, and drops to sit next to her. It isn’t but a second later that he’s reaching under his ass to pull her phone out from under him. Emilie shrugs and leans toward him for a kiss. He obliges easily enough, but a frown plays on his lips when he pulls back.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” She shakes her head at his disbelieving expression. “No, I promise. Nothing is wrong. I just, uh, just got off the phone with Paige. Told her about wanting to give Ryder my last name.”

“How did she take it?”

Emilie pauses. If she says she doubts Paige’s response, then it opens her up to the risk of admitting that she doesn’t quite trust her stepmother. But it would be dishonesty if she says that Paige was completely in favour of it. So she tells Niall that Paige said it was a good idea. It’s the closest she can come to the truth.

Niall yawns widely then reaches for Ryder. Emilie doesn’t bother arguing, doesn’t even attempt to point out how exhausted Niall already is, and that he probably shouldn’t carry a sleeping toddler up a flight of stairs. She just lets him pull Ryder in against his chest, her hands at the ready to catch him if he falls,, and stands when Niall does.

Thankfully, Ryder stays asleep even as Niall tucks him into his bed, as the adults tiptoe quietly from the room. She watches Niall ready for bed, her mind drifting from the conversation with Paige to this, the love she feels for her boyfriend, everything they have gone through to get to this point. It has been heavenly and hellish, highs and lows, undeniable pleasure and tumultuous pain, all wrapped up in one.

If this doesn’t work - if Niall and Emilie can’t make this second chance work - she’s sure that this will be the last love she searches for. It may be melodramatic, but he is it. She’ll never find anyone who makes her feel so safe, so at home just by being at his side. Marriage is something she can’t quite wrap her mind around, not yet.That doesn’t mean she isn’t going to at least try to consider that eventuality.


It comes out of left field - no lead-up, no prior thinking, but it’s there. And Emilie wonders why it never crossed her mind before. She glances up at Niall, sat across from her at the table as he talks about the promotion he has to do for his new album. The words burst from her without permission, but it’s too late to take them back now.

Niall stops talking in the middle of a word, stares at her blankly for a moment. “What?”

“Why haven’t I met your parents yet?” She shrugs, pushing peas around her plate, then sighs. “You’ve met all three of mine now.”

“I- I don’t know.”

“Are... are you ashamed? Of me basically having a kid, I mean?”

“What? No, of course not. Can we talk about this later?” he asks quietly with a pointed look in Ryder’s direction.

“I guess.”

Her appetite is gone, though. She sits there until Ryder has finished his meal, but she doesn’t take another bite. Now that she’s asked the question, all her mind will allow is overthinking the situation, trying to come up with a plausible explanation that doesn’t break her heart. Is he waiting for her to agree to marry him first? It makes sense, she supposes - no point in letting your girlfriend meet your parents if you’re just going to end up breaking up with her.

“Emilie, stop.” Niall shoves to his feet, rounds the table, and crouches next to her. “You’re letting your mind get away from you, love. I promise that whatever you’re thinking is incorrect, okay? We will definitely talk about this, but I don’t want to have this discussion in front of Ryder.”

Emilie squeezes her eyes closed and draws in a shaky breath, nodding. Right, not risking an argument in front of the child. Niall presses his lips to her temple, keeps them there for a few seconds, then murmurs an I love you into her skin. She lets his words anchor her to the present instead of the dark thoughts swirling around in her brain. Her mother said to trust him. Her heart says to trust him.

All she has to do is get through the next few hours until Ryder goes to bed, then they can have this talk.

She can do this.