Feels Like Forever

sixty-eight. [fin]


Emilie shuffles through the front door, feet dragging along the ground with each step. It’s been a long day, and all she wants is to curl up on the couch with her boys and a glass of wine. Or maybe have a Virtual Wine and Whine for the first time in a long time. The last W&W was nearly two months ago, when she was panicking about what to pack for the trip to Ireland, and Derek had spent the entire time laughing at her for being so nervous.

He and Monica had been right - she really needn’t have been so anxious about spending the holidays with Niall’s family. Maura was just as sweet and loving in person as she was on the video-calls, and though Emilie wishes she hadn’t gone quite so overboard, Maura spoilt Ryder rotten with gifts and attention the entire two weeks they were there.

Ryder had mostly just been happy enough to see “his” Theo again, but he quickly warmed up to Maura and Bobby - by the time the third night ended, he was calling them “Nan” and “Ran’pa” as if he’s known them his whole life. Emilie pretended not to notice when Niall disappeared into the other room for a few minutes, coming back out with suspiciously brighter eyes.

Coming home had left Emilie with an odd feeling. On one hand, she missed LA, she missed the bed she’s shared with Niall for the last year. But Maura had made Emilie feel like she belonged there in Ireland. As if she belonged in the family. And Emilie wanted more time with the woman who raised the most amazing man she has ever known.

“C’mere, love.”

Her feet carry her to the couch before her brain can even catch up. She hadn’t even realised Niall’s car was out front, though she must have seen it when she parked. Emilie drops to sit next to him, flops over so her head is in his lap, and sighs heavily.

“Can I go to bed?”

“If you really want to, go ahead.” Niall’s fingers run lightly through her hair, and he smiles with sympathy down at her. “Rough shift?”

“Seems like everything that could go wrong, did.”

“I’m sorry. Anything I can do to help?”

“Just lemme lie here for a bit?”

“As long as you want, darling.”

Ryder clambers up onto the couch, The Velveteen Rabbit clutched in one hand, and Niall takes it with a soft laugh. Emilie closes her eyes and listens to the steady cadence of his voice, the swish of pages turning, and Ryder mumbling along as Niall reads. It’s comforting, the picture of domesticity - something she never thought she would ever obtain.

Only a little under two years ago, it was just her in a one-room Austin flat, always waiting for Danielle’s next screw-up, always jumping when her stepsister would inevitably find her lifestyle more important than her son. Schooling and Ryder took every ounce of her attention, and Emilie was okay with that. Or, at the very least, she’d accepted it.

Then a gorgeous man with blue eyes interrupted her isolation in the middle of a crowded coffeeshop, and her life hasn’t been the same since. He introduced her to new parts of herself, to the realities of love and compromise and all the effort it took to keep a relationship alive. He brought so much to her existence, and now she feels like she’s actually living instead of surviving yet another day.

“Are you excited for next month?” Niall asks as he sets the book aside, and Emilie peels one eye open and frowns.

“I still say that as your girlfriend, it’s only right that I hear the new album before the rest of the world.”

“Sorry, you’ll just have to wait.”

“You’re cruel.”

He laughs and pokes the end of her nose. At his insistence, Emilie gets to her feet, grumbling the entire time, and follows him into the kitchen. Cooking together has become a routine, a firmly-scheduled togetherness in their days; if he’s going to be late for dinner, he still calls for at least a few minutes so that she isn’t alone.

It’s also become a way of communicating more easily. There’s something about focusing on the task of chopping and mixing and cooking, that allows for whatever frustrations they have to come out in words. Emilie has found herself unthinkingly admitting the things she’s kept to herself - whether it has to do with work or the relationship. He’s been able to approach topics that would normally make her defencive on instinct.

And they’re stronger for it. Even when the discussions keep the both of them up late into the night, neither Emilie nor Niall go to bed feeling unheard. Unappreciated. Invalidated. It’s exactly what she hoped for six months ago when she left for Austin. She hates that it took such a drastic move, but she’s weirdly thankful for it.

Niall protests but ultimately allows her to do the after-dinner cleanup, taking Ryder into the living room. Emilie smiles to herself when she hears Ryder immediately start asking questions, Niall answering as patiently as ever. Biting her lip, she takes stock of her body - of any tension lingering in her muscles, any negative thoughts in her mind, but nothing comes up.

She’s relaxed, peaceful, and happy. And it’s all because of the man in the other room with their child.

I swear there was lightning, coming from your eyes, starting a fire in a hotel room.

Emilie frowns, rinses the dish soap from her hands, and reaches for a towel. She dries her hands as she heads toward the living room, and Niall flashes her a mischievous smile.

“Told you you’d have to wait. I never said for how long.”

“This is the new album? I like it already.”

She catches sight of the case on the coffee-table and crosses the room to look more closely at it. Niall scoops Ryder up, dancing around the room as he sings along to his own music, and Emilie wishes she hadn’t left her phone in her bag. A true testament to how close they’ve become, Niall seems to be able to read her mind.

He gestures with his chin toward the arm of the couch where his own phone sits. Emilie quickly unlocks it and brings up the camera. Once she’s gotten a quick, thirty-second video of the scene in front of her, she goes back to examining the album cover. That’s my man, she thinks to herself as she stares down at the picture of Niall stood on a chair, lightning and thunderclouds in the background behind him.

It isn’t until she’s turned the case over and skimmed over the track titles that Emilie freezes, jaw dropping slightly.

“Did you really…?”

Niall frowns and comes nearer, still swaying side-to-side with Ryder in his arms. She points to the thirteenth title, and his laughter is loud, more beautiful, over the chorus of Heartbreak Weather.

“I did. Just be patient, love. We’ll listen to it when it comes.”

But he doesn’t stop her from going to the stereo and skipping through the next eleven tracks. Her heart leaps into her throat at the first strains of piano, and her eyes burn with tears as he sings about the sun, moon, and wanting to go back to San Francisco. She can’t move from her spot, rooted there by the onslaught of emotions the song elicits.

“You said it was about something that happened in San Francisco,” she whispers as the song comes to a close, and Niall murmurs something from behind her.

“I never said it was, y’know, the city.” His arms wrap, warm and solid, around her waist, pulls her back against his chest. “This is the song I was telling you about, the one that the album needed.”

“I love it. Can we listen to it again?”

She doesn’t restart it, though. She just goes back to the beginning of the album, lets it play through as she dances wildly with him and Ryder. The blatant sexual tension in Small Talk doesn’t escape her. Emilie is just thankful that it goes right over Ryder’s head.

The seventh song brings her up short. She recognises the tune, though it takes a moment to place it - he played it that morning with Ryder, a month before their anniversary. She remembers wondering why he’d want to use something that screamed of loss and heartbreak, wasn’t he happy enough with her? But she understands now.

Niall told her he wrote what he couldn’t say. His music was how he expressed the feelings he struggled to put into words, and this song must have been his first sign that things weren’t perfect between them. Of course he would put it on the album.

By the time the album comes to a close, Emilie has learnt more about how he has felt over the last couple of years, more about him as a person. Ryder has fallen asleep on the couch while she slow-danced with Niall through the living room, nearly falling apart to San Francisco and Still.

She is more in love with Niall than she could ever say.

Niall disappears into the bathroom as Emilie tucks Ryder into bed. He snuffles and sighs but doesn’t wake, so she tucks Lionel the Lion under his arm and kisses his forehead. After making sure he is completely asleep, Emilie tiptoes from the room and to her own.

She rushes through brushing her teeth and changing her outfit for an oversized T-shirt. Niall is barely clinging to consciousness when Emilie slips between the sheets, and she stares at him for a long minute. His breathing is slow and even, eyes closed though he’s not yet asleep, his hand curled into a loose fist between them. Her mind conjures up an image of a band on the third finger.

As she watches him, Emilie realises - this is everything she will ever want for the rest of her life. Niall isn’t her first love, but he’s her last love. No one else will ever compare to him in any way. She may have struggled and fought to get to this point, but it makes it all that much sweeter to come to the conclusion that she wants to be his wife.

She wants that more than anything else, more than she’s ever wanted anything before.

Her parents’ marriages may not have worked out. That doesn’t mean she herself is doomed to repeat their mistakes. Their unhappiness. She and Niall have proved that they have what it takes to work through the hard times. She can use the failed relationships of her past, of the history between her parents, as a road-map of what not to do.

Emilie shifts so that she’s lying down facing him, reaching out to run her fingers along his cheekbone. Her lips tug upwards into a smile when he twitches at the touch, and she stretches forward to kiss him softly. With barely an inch between them, she whispers:

“Marry me.”
♠ ♠ ♠
i cannot put into words how much i appreciate you reading this. i began posting this story almost a whole year ago, but i've been writing it for longer. since august of 2019. which is... a ridiculous amount of time, i'll admit.

it has been an absolute pleasure to bring to life the story of emilie, ryder, and niall. it has been a wild ride from start to finish, and the love y'all have given for this story kept me going when i wanted to give up. thank you. from the bottom of my heart, thank you.