Love, Save the Empty

chapter ten.

Just off of the PCH, is a home that sits on the beach. It's a one story flat, with a sleek exterior and a cozy interior. When you come in through the front door, you're met with the messy, yet homey look of that of a bachelor pad. Going in farther on the house, you start to see the workings of a woman; small trinkets that bring out the colors in the wallpaper, fashion magazines strown across the coffee table, shoes in the little cubby with a small sign saying Wipe your feet.

And then once even farther in, are the signs of a family.

Little girl toys and dolls and clothes are hanging and sitting in random spots. The familiar sound of the Disney channel comes from the television, and then there are the soft giggles and heartfelt arts-n-crafts that litter the surface of the fridge.

It is here, on this home just off the PCH at the beach, that Brian stands in his kitchen, a Kiss the Cook apron on and his body making silly movements to the music that plays from the radio. His daughter, a sweet looking nine year old named Audrey Pierce, watches from the stool seat at the island in the kitchen, grinning happily at the smell of warm macaroni and cheese.

"'Cuz you give love, a bad name!" Brian sings loudly, using his wooden mixing spoon as a makeshift microphone. Audrey almost falls out of her seat as she watches her father. It's been a week since she showed up on her door step. There was a rocky beginning, and an even rockier start, but it has smoothed out, for now, and they just take whatever comes at them.

"Baby, I'm home!"

Suddenly, Brian stands stock still in the middle of the kitchen, the cheese covered spoon still held up to his lips. Wide chocolate brown eyes look from the kitchen entrance, where he can just barely see Michelle coming from around the corner, to the slightly confused face of Audrey. She has a frown on her lips, the happy grin no longer there as confusion sets in. Brian knew this moment in time was coming, but now? He wasn't ready for now.

He probably would never be ready.

"Oh gosh, that smells good, what are you cooking, Bry-"

Michelle walks into the kitchen and stops. She sees Brian standing in his apron with the spoon, but her eyes are falling on the silent Audrey.

"Bry, who's this?" she asks softly, not believing him to be a babysitter. Was she one of the guy's nieces?

"I'm Audrey, who are you?" Audrey says, clutching her doll to her chest in the slight fear that this woman was going to take away her happiness with her father.

Michelle, slightly taken back by the harsh introduction, steps forwarding, leaving her bag on the floor from where she first came in, and goes between the two, leaning against the counter.

"I'm Michelle, Brian's girlfriend. It's nice to meet you, Audrey."

Suddenly, Audrey is looking from Michelle to Brian with wide eyes. The look in her bright hazel eyes makes Brian finally move, but he's too late. "You didn't tell me you had a girlfriend!" Audrey has jumped from the chair and run to her room. He sighs, rubbing a hand over his face as he tries to think out what exactly he's going to do on the situation. He's screwed either way.

"Brian, what the hell is going on?" Michelle hisses, moving in his path so he can't go after the little girl.

Brian, who has no idea what to say, puts the spoon back in the pot, turns off the stove, and slips out of the apron.

"You remember Nina?" he asks.

"Nina? Nine as in Nina Pierce from highschool, Nina?" He nods. "What does Nina have to do with any of this-"

There's a moment of silence, and the look on Michelle's face slowly goes from frustrated to that of when someone finally understands something.


"Yeah," he grumbles, taking a seat on the stool. "She showed up the morning after you left. Nina had a family emergency and couldn't take Audrey with her."

"She's really yours?" Michelle whispers, hurt and pain laced in her voice. Brian nods, and he goes to hug her waist, but Michelle steps back for a moment. "Are you sure she's yours? This could just be some horrible prank by some stalker-fan and-"

"She's really mine, Chelle," Brian says, his voice unquestioning. "I got a test done."

And he really had, without Audrey ever really knowing. It's not like he would have thrown her out if she wasn't. Brian wasn't the kind of guy, and Audrey had grown on him.

"No way," she breathes out, dropping her eyes to the counter before she pushes off and goes to the fridge. "I need a dri-" She stops, looking at the alcohol-free fridge. "Where's my frozen margaritas?" Michelle asks, eyes wide when she can't find her alcohol.

"In the shed hidden behind the power-tools bench. Val made me kid-proof the house after I left her at the mall..."

"You left her at the mall?!"

Brian groans and gets ready for the earful he's going to definitely get now. Me and my big mouth...


Audrey sits in the floor of her room, her Bridgett doll laying beside her as she looks down at the large scrapbook under her. She doesn't look up when someone walks in, and still doesn't move when they sit down beside her. His back is leaning against the base of the bed. He sits there quietly for a few minutes before moving Audrey gently into his lap, the book spread out on the bag she stopped on. It's the latest page; the whole design formed around Audrey's ninth birthday from earlier that February.

Brian can't help but smile fondly as he looks at the smiling face of Nina Pierce. Her hazel eyes are bright, and her blonde hair falls past her shoulders. He has missed her smile, her laugh, that look she gets when she's confused or concentrating and scrunches her nose. She used to wiggle her ears, and they'd get a good half-hour laugh out of it. He misses her. Then again, that was high school, and they all made stupid mistakes and choices in high school.

Nina definitely wasn't one of his stupid mistakes or choices.

"I miss her," he says, finally getting a word out of Audrey.

"Me too."

There's silence, and he knows the little girl must be home sick. California and Florida are two completely different worlds. He wonders if Nina ever misses it - misses him.

"When did you start dancing?" Brian asks, trying to get the subject off of Nina.

"Momma took me to see Swan Lake when I was four. I went to my first class the next day."

Brian nods, and reaches over to flip the scrapbook to the first page. It's got a tired looking Nina, with greasy hair, half-lidded eyes, but a proud smile. She holds a small pink bundle in her arms. Behind Nina are her sister and father. The next page, Audrey turns to. It's the simple little 'firsts' with notes on things that she couldn't take pictures of. Brian grins proudly at the little note.

Said her first word, July 7th: "Dada"

There's a few more, before the pages blur into Audrey's life and Brian realizes just how much he's missed in his daughter's life. He missed her ride her first two-wheel bike. He missed her first dance recital. He missed the first tooth - the first scraped knee - the first nightmare during a storm. He missed all the things that came with being a dad; and here he was about to screw it all up. Brian had grown up fast over the past week, and even though his head was still lodged pretty far up his ass, Audrey was making him see through all the shit.

"Did you love my momma?" Audrey asks, looking up from the book and at Brian. He nods without hesitation.

"Very much."

"When did you stop loving her?"

Brian frowns and looks at Audrey. "What do you mean?"

"You said you 'did', not that you 'do'."

"Well... I..." He can't answer, because deep down he still misses the spitefire Latina with natural blonde hair and bright hazel eyes that got his heart beating so fast he thought it would fly right out of his chest. And even though he still misses her, does he still love her?

"I still love your mother," he says, carefully picking his words. "But I have Michelle, and I love her also."

"If momma had stayed, would we be a family?"

Brian isn't sure of how to answer.

"But you already are a family," Michelle says, stepping out of the dark hallway and sitting on the floor in front of the two. Audrey gives her a weary look. "Family is more than just blood and being there since birth. Family means that no one is forgotten, that no matter what, you love them until you run out of love. Obviously, your dad hasn't run out of love, yet."

Brian smiles faintly, mouthing a 'thank you' to Michelle. She nods, but her eyes stay on Audrey.

"Just like you and me, Audrey. We're family, even though we've only known each other for a few hours." Audrey still looks weary. "You can call me Chelley, but only you get to call me that. Not even your dad gets that honor." It makes Audrey loosen up and nod, relaxing against Brian's chest.

"You can call me AJ," Audrey mumbles. Michelle tilts her head, but nods in return.

"Okay then, AJ. How about we go put on a movie and let your dad make us some popcorn and strawberry sundaes?"

Audrey isn't instantly jumping up, grinning happily before she sets her hand in Michelle's and the two blondes walk out of the newly-refurbished room and down the hall to the entertainment room. Once situated comfortably on the couch, Michelle pulls up the instant-on-demand movie set and lets Audrey pick.

"Lilo and Stitch, Lilo and Stitch!" she cries happily, pointing at the title with a grin. Michelle clicks on the title and the movie begins. A little over five minutes later, Brian has come into the room, a bowl of popcorn under one arm as he carries three strawberry and caramel sundaes. Audrey takes hers without a sound, her hazel eyes glued to the screen. Brian smiles, looking over at Michelle and softly whispers a 'thank you'.

"You're welcome," she says, before leaning over behind Audrey and pressing her lips to his. He returns the kiss, glad to have his lover back home, before Audrey moves herself and repositions her body to be curled against Brian. With one arm hanging over the back of the couch, this leaves his left side available for her to snuggle into, while his right hand shovels ice cream into his mouth.

"Ohana means family," Audrey quotes, having obviously seen this movie many times before. "Family means no one gets left behind."

Or forgotten.

The guys were definitely not going to be forgotten. Half way through the movie, his best friends come storming into his house, and all of them pounce onto the distracted Audrey. Their fingers tickle and their words joke, causing Audrey to be left in a stitch of giggles by the end of the tickle attack.

By the end of the night, Brian is standing in the doorway of Audrey's bedroom, smiling at the sight before him. Matt, Zacky, and Johnny are all fast asleep, leaning against Audrey's bed, while Jimmy lays beside her, half way there while the little nine year old reads her bedtime story. It's a sight that's Kodak prefect. Michelle shows up out of no where with a camera and is sure to take plenty.

After tucking Audrey in and turning off the lights, Brian slowly slinks into his bed, Michelle already under the covers. His muscled arm wraps firmly around Michelle's waist, pulling her flush against his bare chest. No words need to be spoken.

Everything that is in the silence, is understood.

Family is more than blood; it's the everlasting bond of those who care for each other.
♠ ♠ ♠
Such a sweet chapter. <3
And yay! No bitch fit from Michelle! I wonder if I had her take it too well... Too bad, I'm sticking with this.
However, shit is about to hit the fan. The next chapter will not be as sweet and understanding.
Plus the wedding is coming up in a few chapters! who's excited to see little Audrey as a flower girl?

xoxo. aquarius.