Love, Save the Empty

chapter four.

Val looked at the little nine year old that sat across from her in the middle of the Huntington Beach Mall food court. She was slowly eating her fast food meal with one hand, the other clutching the little doll that she wouldn't let go of. Audrey Pierce, Val said over and over again in her head. Val could still remember the little talk she had with the blonde Latina - how they wanted to have kids some day.

Matt and Val weren't going to try for a few more years - the guys were still at the top of their game and it's too old fashioned to have a baby nine months after the wedding night. They would wait, wait for something amazing to make them want a baby. And besides, if Audrey really was Brian's daughter from Nina, there would be no need for a baby for some years. They could just spoil her.

"You lived in Palm Beach?" Val asks Audrey, pulling the little girl away from her own silent thoughts. The nine year old nods, her golden hair bouncing. She continues eating, and Val watches her. "Did you mom ever... find someone?" Val asks, and Audrey doesn't answer immediately.

"If you mean, has she dated anyone, then no. It's just been her, my aunt and me. Well, it was us before Aunt Rosa died."

Val frowned, remotely remembering meeting Rosa Pierce once before Nina ran off to live in Florida.

"And David, your grandfather, he's in Spain?"

Audrey nodded, pushing away the leftovers of her meal. "Momma had to go look after him. He's really sick."

Val frowned. "What about Maria Carmen?" The mention of Audrey's grandmother, mother of Nina and Rosa, caused a silence to fall over the two. Val was curious and she wanted to know why Nina had dropped Audrey off with Brian now. Why hadn't see come back? Why hadn't she called?

"Abuela was in the car when Aunt Rosa died ... they were on there way to meet momma and I for lunch. A truck ran a redlight, hit Aunt Rosa's side and caused the car to flip."

The silence was there again, and this time, it was crushing Val's heart. This little girl knew too much than she should. It was so frightening. She was a miniature version of Nina, but she had her flicks of Haner blood in her. There was the pointed, round nose, great for getting into other people's business. There was the high cheek bones, great for putting on a mask when the time called for it. And then there was the way she held herself - there were things she was keeping from them, but Val knew she wouldn't get all her answers today.

"I'm sorry about your aunt and grandmother, Audrey," Val says softly, reaching across the table to take the little girl's hand.

"Audi," Audrey says suddenly, causing Val to wear a confused expression. "You can call me Audi. That's what momma called me." Val smiles at this, and nods. The little girl is warming up to her, which Val is more than happy with.

"Okay, Audi, it is," Val says, holding out her hand for the little girl to shake. "You can call me Val." Audrey looks at the hand for a moment before reaching out and taking it in her small one. They shake, and suddenly, a bond is formed between the two females. They let go, and Audrey goes back to eating her meal as Val watches. Once Audrey is done, the two throw away what trash they have, and Val makes sure to keep her sunglasses firmly on her nose. No need spreading rumors about the little girl and the band ...

Val would have thought that the first place Audrey would pull her to was one of the toy stores or children clothing stores, but instead, Val finds herself following Audrey through the pet store in the mall. She watches as the little girl presses her face to the glass, watching the puppies and kittens through the thick glass. The little girl giggles and moves to the next window. Soon, Val comes across a window with a familiar looking dog.

"Hey! This one looks like Pinkly," Val says, pointing to the small white Maltese puppy. Audrey's brow furrows in confusion.

"Pinkly?" she asks, and Val nods.

"Yeah, Pinkly. That's the name of your dad's dog." There's some recognition on Audrey's face before she nods.

"What kind of name is Pinkly?" she murmurs, causing Val to laugh as they move away from the kitten and puppy windows and over to the cages with the birds and rodents and tanks full of colorful fish.

"I don't know. You'll have to ask your dad about that one."

Suddenly, Audrey stops and looks up at Val. Val, surprised, looks down with a confused expression.

"So... you believe me? About him being my dad?"

Val smiles softly, kneeling down to eye level with the little girl. She nods. "Of course I believe you. You look too much like Nina for me to deny it."

Then, Audrey is grinning and has latched herself onto Val's neck, hugging the woman. Val, surprised, suddenly grins like an idiot and wraps her arms around the little girl. There's a soft whispered "thank you" from Audrey that Val almost can't hear. But she said it, and Val softly strokes the little girls hair.

"C'mon, Audi. Let's get back to the guys. I bet they're starving for some lunch."

Audrey giggles and nods, before Val stands back up and they latch their hands together, walking out of the pet store and back into the mall.


"Dude, what the fuck?"

Are the first words to leave Matt's mouth once Val leaves with the little girl that followed Brian in just a few moments ago. Brian ducks his unspiked head down, trying to hide from the guys as he rests it on the palms of his hands, with his elbows propped on his knees. He can't look at them. They want answers to questions that he doesn't know how to answer.

"You fucking knocked up, Nina?" Matt practically growls. Brian looks up suddenly, pissed off with the tone of voice that he's getting.

"Well excuse me, Mr. Only-Do-Good! I didn't fucking know, as that is fucking obvious enough!"

Soon, Brian and Matt and butting heads, with Zacky and Johnny having to hold the two back before any punches were thrown. Jimmy just sits back, watching the scene as Mudrock and Fred do the same.

"How do you know she's yours? And who's Nina?" Johnny asks, not knowing the past that the rest of the guys knew of. After all, Johnny was the only one that hadn't been a best friend of any of the guys since early grade school.

"Nina was, just as Val said, a little spitfire. She's got Latin blood, so she had a temper," Zacky starts, causing Brian to go from raging-pissed-off, to moping in wonderful past memories. "She and Bry used to constantly have guitar battles. Nina actually beat him a few times, but they'd make up with sex and shit." There's a few resounding chuckles as the guys cool off.

Now Brian has his own happy, amused look on his face.

"Had the voice of an angel," Matt compliments, and Brian can't help but nod.

"She was the first girl I was ever serious with," Brian says, and suddenly his heart is sewed to his sleeve. Nina Pierce, the blonde Latina that could kick his ass and love him with a heart of gold that he didn't deserve.

"We got in a fight right after graduation," Brian begins, telling the story that he had to live through for so many months. "She started talking about settling down, and maybe going to college, and the band was just starting to make it."

There's a moment of silence. No one even hears a breath being given or taken.

"I was stupid enough to tell her that the band was more important. She up and leaves for Florida to live with her sister and dad. I guess I know now why she wanted to settle down..."

And then, soon, everyone's grinning like a bunch of idiots. Mudrock and Fred are even more confused.

"Ya know," Zacky starts, leaning back on the leather couch that he sits at. "I always thought it'd be Rev that had a illegitimate child or some shit."

"Dude, what's with the sophisticated vocab?"

There's resounding laughs, and the mood is lightened. Mudrock and Fred leave, still trying to wrap their heads around the nonsense that the guys have created.

"So..." Matt starts, causing all eyes to fall on his smiling dimpled face. "Audrey Pierce. What are we gonna do about her?"

"Spoil her like any awesome uncles would," Jimmy says, causing a few other chuckles to come. And then the grin falls, and everyone's surprised by the serious look. "You know what this means now, right?"

The guys share looks before shaking their heads.

"No more drinking ... or smoking ... or cussing."

There's groans now. "C'mon! I can deal with the drinks and the smokes, but the fucking cussing? Hell no. I gotta drop my fucking F bombs every now and then, shit," Zacky groans, falling back into the cushion of the couch. All the guys chuckle, and soon Mudrock and Fred are back with Val and Audrey in tow. There's bags of food full of their lunch.

"We got tacos!" Audrey says excitedly, carrying the drink holder full with large sodas.

"You got me a steak taco?! Oh, Val, you are so wonderful to me!" Jimmy says excitedly, grabbing the large wrapped food that will be giving him gas later on, and the large sugary drink that Audrey holds out for him. The room is laughing, and the tense moment from before is over with.

Audrey has made herself comfortable on the couch between Johnny and Matt. Jimmy, after eating his steak taco and chugging almost half of his soda, is in the tracking booth doing his drums. Zacky sits off to the side, watching the computer screen with Fred and Brian leans back in the computer chair that he claims as his when guitar tracking. He watched the sight of his just-discovered-daughter and two of his best friends. There's a smile on his face that doesn't leave.

Until Jimmy brings up a 'brilliant' idea.

Jimmy walks out of the tracking booth, grabbing his drink and slurping at it loudly before saying, "We should have a barbecue." The guys look at him in confusion before he continues. "You know. Invite everyone over and introduce Mini Gates. You now your dad is gonna wanna know about this kind of sugar honey ice tea, Syn."

Brian raises a dark eyebrow. "Sugar honey ice tea?"

"Yeah, you know. The drink of the independent black woman that don't need no man."

Then there's the ghetto z-snap that sends the room into a fit of chuckles. Audrey herself is rolling on the couch laughing, finding the change in voice hilarious.

"But serious, barbecue, tonight, your place, Gates."

The room just continues to laugh.
♠ ♠ ♠
abuela - grandmother, for those who don't know Spanish.

Well, seeing as it's Syn's 31st birthday, I thought I'd update the story. Happeh Birfday, Syn! :3
btw. while writing this, I was listening to EarlyRise's cover of KoRn's "Narcissistic Cannibal". It's really good - go listen to it. Like, now.

Also want to thank my wifeys Kassi (kassipoola) and Ruthy-boo (sweet like poison.) for giving me inspiration to write. Go check 'em out, yeah?

xoxo. enjoy!