Feels Like Forever


Emilie sighs and sets her phone down. Niall still hasn’t responded to her last text that she sent two days ago. He warned her that he would start getting busier now that he’s always having to travel for golf events, and then after that, he’d be focusing on writing music and getting into the studio. Though she knows logically that he can’t always be available to chat, she still thinks it sucks.

They only made things official less than a week ago, and Emilie has found herself torn between two minds - half of her brain is constantly preoccupied with thoughts of Niall, how happy she has been since he came into her life, and hopes that that contentedness and joy will continue through the future; while the other half whispers, especially late in the night when she’s supposed to be sleeping, all the doubts and worries that she successfully shoves aside. She’s honestly so terrified that her feelings aren’t real, that this is all just a way of attaching herself to someone who’s shown her the slightest hint of intimacy. There’s a visceral fear that he’s going to find it all too much to juggle his career and a relationship, that he is going to want to break up with her when Ryder continues to be most important to her.

Blowing a lock of hair from her face, she leans over the canvas, dabs another tiny dot of white into the sea of blue. Taking up running in the mornings has opened her up to the idea of diving back into her past hobbies; painting has been the one thing she loved more than the endorphin rush that comes with jogging around the city, and her mind feels incredibly at peace as she swirls the paintbrush into the water cup. There’s a looseness in her muscles that she’s missed. Her phone buzzes off to her right, and she glances over to read the notification - a text from her father, asking how she’s doing. She switches the paintbrush to her left hand and types back with one finger that she’s fine.

It isn’t until she can no longer see the canvas clearly that Emilie realises the apartment is rapidly darkening and her back throbs with a stabbing ache. She sets the paintbrush aside, pushing herself slowly to her feet, and stretches as she pads across the room to flip the light-switch. The overhead lights burst into life, and she blinks a few times to clear her vision. With a sigh, she starts putting away the tubes of paint and cleans the brush.

The face on the canvas nearly hurts to look at, a twinge deep in her chest, a pang of longing that pulses with cold. The painting isn’t close to being done. There isn’t enough sparkle in the blue of his eyes, and the skin-tone isn’t quite accurate. But the portrait of Niall grins back at her, nonetheless, and she misses him something fierce.

While the single-serve package of macaroni and cheese cooks in the microwave, Emilie leans against the counter and types out a message to her boyfriend. She hesitates, the words Hey, babe, hope you’re doing well. I miss you xx sitting in the composition box, mocking her as she stares down at them. She doesn’t want to send a third message in less than two days. She sighs, presses the send button before she can overthink it.

Niall still hasn’t texted back by the time she crawls into bed. She tries not to take it personally, though it takes much more effort than she cares to admit. She makes sure her alarms are set then puts her phone on the nightstand, face-down. The pit in her gut opens up and threatens to swallow her whole as she curls into a ball in the middle of her bed. The sheets are cold, reminding her that she is utterly alone.

Emilie sighs at the lack of notifications and locks her phone, stepping up to the counter. The clerk asks for her ID in a bored voice, barely glances at the date of birth printed on the plastic, then shuffles off to grab the pack of Marlboros she’s asked for. She grimaces at the total that pops up on the small screen but dutifully passes over a ten-dollar bill. Once the change is in her hands, she nods a farewell and turns to leave.

She isn’t shocked to see Derek leaning against her car when she steps out into the portico. His disappointed expression is unsurprising, too. Thankfully, he doesn’t say anything about the box of cigarettes in her hands - immediately. He asks about Ryder and Niall first then gives the red-and-white package a pointed look.




“It’s just one pack, Derek, it isn’t a big deal.”

“You quit smoking the instant you found out Danielle was pregnant because you didn’t want second- and third-hand smoke affecting the baby.” He grips her chin with his thumb and forefinger, forces her to look him in the eye. “What’s going on?”

“Can we not talk about this in the middle of the fucking gas station parking lot?”

His breath comes out in a heavy exhale, and he releases her. “Fine. I gotta run an errand real quick. Meet at Wally’s?”

She dips her chin in agreement and watches him make his way to his Mustang. He’s just opened the door and gotten one foot inside the vehicle when something hits her.

“Did you cheat and use my Find My Friend to hunt me down and stalk me?”

“Yeah. You weren’t home, so what else was I to do.”

She rolls her eyes, waving as he drives past. It’s been a long morning already, and Emilie knows it’s going to get worse during lunch. Derek is nothing if not a persistent interrogator. She decides not to think about it. If she does, she might just throw up everywhere.

Derek shows up at the burger joint right as she finishes her cigarette. She scrapes it against the bottom of her shoe, stomping on the still-smoldering ember, then drops the butt into the dredges of the Coke in the bottom of the can in the cup-holder. He loops his arm around her shoulder and guides her to the door. They don’t speak as they wait in line, and it’s a testament to their friendship that he doesn’t have to ask what she wants, he already knows.

The silence between them grows painful once they’re seated in a booth waiting for their food. Emilie forces herself not to squirm, but she can’t stop the way her fingers shakily tear a napkin into shreds. With a sigh, Derek rests his elbows on the table, clasps his hands in front of him.

“Emilie, c’mon.”

“It’s been a week since we’ve talked. Like, the last time he responded to any of my texts was a couple days after we made things official. And I know he’s busy, I get that. I mean, seriously, music and golf? But… I dunno, my brain is being dumb.”

“No, your brain is taking past experiences, patterns it’s familiar with, and trying to apply them to this particular situation. It’s incorrect, but it does what it knows.” Derek gently takes the tattered remains of napkin from her. “Look, you said it yourself. He’s busy. And I’m sure he’s going to kick his own ass when he gets the chance to breathe and realises it’s been so long. Okay? You just gotta be patient.”


“I know, I know. Patience isn’t your strong suit, but you’ve had plenty of practice with dealing with Danielle’s bullshit, right?”

Thankfully, his words have put the uncomfortable niggling in the back of her brain to rest - for now. By the time the worker sets the tray of food down, Emilie feels less like she is about to burst from her skin with nerves, and now that low-grade panic has been replaced with guilt. She shouldn’t have reacted this way to the lack of communication, especially since she was warned, and she definitely should not have bought cigarettes. The first month after quitting the first time was nearly impossible; she’s not willing to go through that again. She doesn’t plan on throwing them out, though.

Derek turns out to be right: Five days later, Niall finally texts, and his first message is a mess of an apology. Emilie has a hard time keeping track of all the tangents, but she understands the general gist of it. She has no time to respond before another text comes in, this one promising he wasn’t purposefully ignoring her but if she’s mad at him, he completely understands. The typing bubble appears, and Emilie rolls her eyes, tapping quickly at the screen to get the message sent before he can send another apology.

<< Niall, stop!
<< Give me a chance to respond please.
<< I’m not mad, I promise. You warned me it would happen.

>> I still should not have taken two weeks to reply

<< If you say sorry again, I won’t FaceTime you for a month.

>> You would never

<< Yeah, I know.
<< I’d miss your face too much, and why should I punish myself? lol.

>> I miss you xx

She curls into the arm of the couch and ignores the fluttering of her heart beneath her ribs. Wayne says pitter patter, let’s get at ‘er on the television, but now that she has Niall’s attention, Emilie couldn’t care less about Letterkenny and its eclectic citizens. After an hour and a half, his replies come slower, and she realises she has no idea where he is in the world right now, so it could be the middle of the night for all she knows. She bites her lip and sends him a goodnight text, smiling when his response comes with a dozen heart-kiss emojis.

Conversation with him doesn’t reach the level they had when they first started talking, but they don’t go weeks without at least two texts a day. Emilie nearly chokes on her coffee in the middle of the coffeeshop one morning when the picture loads, and she instantly fumbles to close out of the message thread as her cheeks burn. She’s come to expect the usual good morning, love messages, but never have they been accompanied by a nude selfie evidently taken after his shower. She waits to be safely in the confines of her car before she texts back with a jumbled mass of letters and a few heart-eye and water droplet emojis. And if she stares at the picture for a few minutes without shame, that’s her business.

Danielle is standing outside of her apartment when Emilie rounds the corner, and she wonders how long her former-stepsister has been there. Judging by the disgruntled expression on Ryder’s face, it’s most likely been more than five minutes. Danielle scoffs when she catches sight of Emilie.

“Finally. Where the Hell have you been?”

Emilie unlocks her door and steps inside, but Danielle doesn’t cross the threshold. “I went for a run then got some coffee. Why are you here?”

“Well, as you know, my birthday is on Sunday, and I was hoping you could keep him for a few days so I can celebrate.”

“Let me get this straight. You show up and expect me to suddenly drop everything to watch your kid for a minimum of, what, four days so you can be drunk the entire time?”

“I’d do the same if the roles were reversed.”

“Jesus Christ, Danielle. Fine. I’ll do it. Did you pack enough diapers this time?”

“If you don’t want to do it, I can find someone else,” Danielle snaps out, and Emilie snorts inelegantly.

“No, you can’t. Which is why you always come to me.”

“I really don’t know why you’re being such a bitch about this, Emilie. You love him.”

“Did you bring enough diapers this time?”

Danielle practically throws the bag at Emilie, ducks down to brush a pathetic excuse for a kiss to Ryder’s head, then breezes out the door. Emilie is grateful that the doors here don’t slam, or else Ryder would be a lot more upset than he is right now. She bites back all the curse words she wants to say and gets busy changing her godson into an outfit not covered with crusted food.

Emilie sighs and contemplates ignoring the FaceTime call. It’s been a long week so far, and she still has at least another two days before Danielle might return for her son. But it won’t be fair to Niall. She scrubs at her eyes with one hand while pressing the accept button. His smile dims on the screen.

“You all right, love?”

“I’m okay, just tired and annoyed and wondering why the fuck I got stuck with the stepsister I did.”

At his inquisitive look, Emilie double-checks that Ryder is still sleeping peacefully in his cot in her bedroom and explains what happened to her boyfriend. He frowns as she speaks, his expression darker than she’s seen before. He tries to comfort her, to assure her that things will get better, says Danielle can’t remain immature and so self-absorbed forever. She wants to believe him - she desperately wants to - but she can’t let herself. She’s spent so many nights wishing that the woman would grow up and be the mother that Ryder deserves, only to be let down repeatedly when Danielle never changes.

“I think you need a vacation.”

Emilie reaches for a grape from the bag on her lap, brows drawing together. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, I think you need a vacation. Here. With me.” Niall obviously interprets her expression correctly because he continues without letting her interrupt, “You’re not in school right now, you don’t have work to deal with. I know you’ll miss Ryder. Hell, I miss him, and I’m not nearly as close or attached to him as you are. But… Em, I miss you, and I’m a selfish man who wants to spend time with you.”

Emilie chews the fruit slowly, lets his words sink in. She is surprised at how little trepidation or doubts she feels in regards to the idea; the worst part of it would be being away from the toddler she loves, not knowing if he’s being properly looked after while she’s gone. But she rarely does something spontaneous for herself any more. The runs and painting aren’t huge things to her. This will be. So she promises to think about it, even going so far as to swear on the existence of every Fleetwood Mac song that she will give it a lot of serious thought.

It takes less than thirty hours for Emilie to come to a decision. She screenshots the email and attaches it to a text to Niall then brings up the message thread with Danielle.

<< Hey, just a heads-up. I’m going to be gone for a week starting 28 August, so I won’t be able to watch Ry during that time. He can call me whenever he wants, and if there’s a problem, I’ll come straight back.

>> K. Can u keep the kid again tonite? Got something to do.

“Something more important than your fucking child?” she mutters as she sends back a thumbs-up emoji.