Feels Like Forever


A knock at the door cuts through the quiet chatter, and Emilie checks the time on her phone. It’s quarter after ten, at least an hour after Danielle usually drops Ryder off for a last-minute babysitter and definitely too late for anybody to just drop by. She sets her pen down, excuses herself from the group, and makes her way to the door. Brian calls out a request for her to bring him another bottle of water on her way back through. She ignores him in favour of peeking through the peephole. Her eyebrows draw together when she sees the familiar face.

“Hey, what are you doing here?” she asks as she pulls open the door. “Didn’t even know you were still in town.”

Niall smiles and takes a wobbly step forward, stumbling then leaning against the doorframe. He waves off her efforts to help him stand. “Sorry, I’m okay. Jus’… just’ a little off my face, ‘s’all.”

Emilie looks over her shoulder, but her friends are still talking amongst themselves in the other room. With a sigh, she turns to Niall and steps back. He walks unsteadily into the apartment; her hands immediately come up to steady him, and she guides him down the short hall, through the bathroom, and into her bedroom. He lets her push him to sit on the bed, and she stares down at him. She’s known he likes to drink occasionally, but he has never come to her apartment already drunk, and never to this point. Even when they’d share a bottle of wine, he always stopped before he got further than tipsy. She isn’t sure how she feels about his surprise appearance tonight.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t have time to dwell on it, not with the way he sways just sitting at the end of the mattress. Emilie helps him to lie down and sighs before leaning down to untie and slip off his shoes. They thump against the wall when she tosses them behind her, and by the time she stands upright, Niall’s eyes are closed, and she wonders if he’s fallen asleep. Her worries are proven unfounded, though, when he peels his eyes open and grins sloppily up at her.

“Stay here,” she orders firmly, and his nod is off-kilter; she groans and leaves the bedroom, pulling the door closed behind her. “Hey, guys, hate to do this, but we gotta break for the night.”

“Everything okay?” Lisa asks.

“Yeah, everything’s… everything’s fine. Just, something’s come up. So we can meet up at Bryan’s or something tomorrow if you still wanna hang out."

Brian smiles, slaps his hands against his knees. “All right. Hope things go okay.”

She walks her friends to the front door, smiling as reassuringly as she can while they put their shoes on and head out. Eventually, they’re gone, and Emilie shuts the door and sighs. She slides the locks into place, turns off the lights in the hallway and living room, and makes her way to the bathroom. After brushing her teeth and washing her face, she exhales deeply, heading to the bedroom.

Niall is still awake when she enters, and his bleary eyes find her almost immediately. Emilie walks carefully to her dresser in the dark, strips off her shirt on the way. She hears a strangled noise from behind her, but she ignores it and focuses on changing into a pair of shorts and a tank-top. Niall’s lips are pulled down into a pout when she turns toward him; she pulls back the blankets on the bed, slips between the sheets. She listens as Niall stumbles through the room to the bathroom.

“Who were they?” he whispers once he’s in bed next to her, and she sighs, letting him scoot closer with an arm over her waist.

“My study group. We became friends during studying for exams, and it became a weekly ritual for them to come over and hang out.”




“Why are you drunk?”

“I just… I don’t really wanna talk about it righ’ now.”

Emilie fights against the urge to roll her eyes and reluctantly lets it go. She lets the warmth of Niall only an inch or two away lull her to sleep, no matter how frustrated she is to smell alcohol the entire time. Drunk or not, sleeping next to Niall has been comforting since the beginning, and she’s not going to refuse it now.

She wakes long before Niall does, opening her eyes to a room full of natural light. Emilie rolls over to face the still-sleeping man, smiles at how lax his entire body is in his slumber. Her gaze rakes across the expanse of bare skin, and she marvels at how utterly gorgeous he is. The sunlight catches on the dips and edges of his shoulders, the divots in his spine toward his lower back, the tiny fine hairs along his flesh. She grabs her phone, swipes across the screen to bring up her camera, and positions herself down by his knee. It takes some finagling and struggling to not wake him, but eventually, she gets the shot lined up. His face is mostly obscured in shadows, the barest hint of light at the ends of his hair and nose, and she snaps the photo, immediately bringing it back up to examine the image. Once satisfied with it, she locks her phone and crawls gingerly out of the bed.

The kettle finishes boiling, and the lever snaps upwards with a click. Emilie drops the teabag into her mug, pours the water over it, and sets the cup aside so it can steep. There isn’t much in the fridge - she’s meant to go grocery shopping for a few days now - but the egg carton isn’t quite empty yet, so she grabs it from the shelf.

Plate of scrambled eggs and cup of tea in hand, Emilie crosses the living room to the doors that lead to her balcony. No one else is moving around outside when she steps outside; she sets her breakfast down on the small table, closes the door behind her. She eats quickly, not wanting to end up with rubbery eggs, then settles into the patio chair to relax. Her sleep last night had been uninterrupted, and she’s grateful for that. It’s Friday now, which means Danielle will be dropping Ryder off this evening, and Emilie is going to need all the rest she can get before dealing with the little monster and all his infinite energy.

She finishes off her tea forty-five minutes later, and she heads back inside. Shivering in the sudden coolness, she crosses the room to the thermostat and turns it up; the air conditioner stops with a quiet sigh. Grabbing the blanket off the back of the couch, Emilie collapses onto the cushion and stretches out. She keeps the television volume on low as she settles in to watch some old reruns of Three’s Company.

There is no warning when Niall flops down, shoving himself into her side, and he breathes out deeply once he has his head on her shoulder. Emilie smiles and wraps her arms around him, holds him close. His hair is soft between her fingers; warm puffs of breath skates across her collarbone, and goosebumps race up her flesh. Something in her chest tightens, something that tells her it isn't going to be pretty once this falls apart - and it will. Her heart wasn't supposed to get involved, this was meant to be a way of fulfilling needs without the risk of getting hurt. She swallows thickly past the lump in her throat. Oh, but it's going to hurt something fierce when he walks away.

Niall has nearly fallen back asleep by the time someone knocks on the door. He mumbles in protest as Emilie wiggles and shifts to get out from between him and the back of the couch. She giggles, slides her fingers through his hair, and heads to the door. A strange man stands on the other side when she looks through the peephole. Brows furrowed, she makes her way back to the man dozing on the sofa.

“Hey, were you expecting anyone this morning?”

“Pro’lly Bruce,” Niall mutters sleepily, letting out a wide yawn and stretching.

“Okay.” Emilie opens the door just a crack; the man hasn't moved at all. “Can I help you?”

“Yeah, lookin’ for Niall.”

“Can I have a name?”


She shuts the door, slides the chain out of place, then steps back to let Bruce in. He doesn't do more than nod before passing by her. She rolls her eyes and mutters manners are important, Brucie under her breath as she locks the door again. Niall is no longer on the couch when she enters the living room, and she opens her mouth to ask where he's gone but is interrupted by the squeaking of the shower starting up. Bruce stands in the kitchen, leans against the countertop, and Emilie sighs.

“Want anything to drink? I have water, milk, coffee, tea, maybe some juice.”

“Uh, coffee is fine, thanks.”

She sets the kettle to boil, grabbing the French press and container of grounds from the cabinet. Bruce stays out of her way as she busies herself with scooping coffee into the press and pouring hot water in. After a few minutes of silence, she fills a mug and passes it over.

“Milk is in the fridge if you want it, jar of sugar behind you on the counter.”

Bruce turns and makes a strangled noise. “Cocaine?”

“I, uh, I was bored while moving in.” She shrugs as his laughter bursts out. “I usually keep the label facing the wall so my godson doesn't see it when he's older and ask ‘Hey, what's cocaine?’ It would be…awful.”

Bruce nods along, and Emilie rounds the counter to fold up the blanket, draping it over the back of the couch. Her phone buzzes on the table; she picks it up and sees a text from Derek asking if she's coming in today for coffee. She sends back a thumbs-down emoji and snorts at the crying face she gets in response. The silence is deafening, only broken by the sound of Niall showering. Bruce drinks his coffee in the kitchen, and Emilie sits back down on the couch. If the man isn't going to talk, then neither is she.

The bathroom door opens after thirty minutes of quiet, and she drags her gaze away from the television in time to see Niall exiting the bathroom, pulling a shirt over his head; she bites her lip at the sight of his muscles and so much bare skin, looks back at the TV before he can catch her staring. Judging by the soft chuckle Bruce lets out, her actions haven't gone unnoticed completely. Niall, thankfully, is blissfully unaware. He bends down and kisses her gently, the barest brush of his lips on hers.

“Sorry,” he whispers against her mouth, and she shivers as the scent of lemongrass and sage fills her nose.

“For what?”

“For having to go.”

Emilie shrugs, leans up to press their lips together more firmly. “It's okay, I understand. Lemme know when you get where you're going.”

“Absolutely.” He finally stands upright when Bruce clears his throat from the entryway. “Tell Ry I said hi and I'll miss him.”

When the door closes a few minutes and five goodbye kisses later, Emilie flops sideways onto the couch and groans loudly. Of course this would happen. It’s just her luck that somehow, someway - despite her best efforts - feelings would interject themselves into the situation and muck everything up. She grabs her phone and opens her photo gallery, staring at the picture she took this morning. Her heart thuds painfully in her chest, and she sighs, presses the home button. She doesn't let herself overthink it - she brings up the text thread with Niall and types out a message.

<< I have a confession to make…

>> ? What's that?

<< I'm not any good at casual

>> Do me a favour. Go look in your top left drawer.

“Huh?” she mutters but does do as he says, confusion causing her thoughts to race.

There, nestled under the small pile of panties, is a long black box with a silver bow wrapped around it. She hesitates then carefully extricates it from the mass of fabric. A coppery taste fills her mouth when she bites down too hard on her lower lip; she ignores it to pull the lid off the box instead. Her fingers tremble, but she manages to pull the necklace from its place in the satin lining, the silver chain almost weightless in her grip. The pendant at the bottom catches the sunlight, shining brightly, and she smiles slightly at the teardrop-shaped gemstone - Ryder’s birthstone. Emilie heads back out to the living room, necklace in hand, and picks up her phone. Niall has sent three messages in the time she was away from her phone.

>> Do you like it?
>> Em?
>> Getting a little nervous here. . .

She exhales heavily, steadily, and tries to force her heartrate to something more acceptable. There are no words to encompass everything she’s feeling. Her breath comes out in a shaky gust, and her heart hammers under her ribs as she responds.

<< I love it. It’s gorgeous. How did you know Ry’s birthstone?

>> I went through our texts until I found one that said his birthday.
>> I have a confession to make, too. It turns out I’m not good at casual, either.

<< Oh? So… Where do we go from here?

>> I don't know. I know I'd like for us to have a conversation about this, and if it leads to more, then great. If not, then… okay.

<< Call me when you get there?
<< I definitely want to have this talk but not before you’re about to get on a plane

>> Okay. I’ll call you when I land. xx

Emilie sets the phone down then immediately picks it back up, fingers trembling as they tap rapidly on the screen. Derek’s reply comes quick, just a K in response to her request for him to come over as soon as he can. Once she reads the message, she tosses the device aside and stares down at the chain in her hands. The opal shimmers, colours shifting under the sunlight, and she stroke a finger lightly over the stone. She sighs, pushes to her feet, and heads to her bedroom to put the necklace back in its box. She loves the thought behind it, but putting it on right now when things are still in limbo between her and Niall just seems like a terrible idea.