Love, Save the Empty

chapter five.

Audrey looked around the large guest room that had been dubbed as hers for the month she would be staying with Brian. Pinkly was scampering around the room, sniffing all that was Audrey's to get the smell of the young girl wired in her system. Audrey sat on the edge of the large bed, looking around. It was neutral colors, with a firm mattress, but soft sheets and pillows. She already had her doll, Bridgett, laying among the many pillows. The barbecue was just beginning in Brian's back yard. Valary and Matt had arrived not much longer before Audrey had disappeared to her room to get her swim suit. It was a cool night, but still prefect for some beach swimming.

"Audi?" Val's soft voice says before she knocks softly on the ajar door. Audrey looks up from her spot, and Pinkly rushes over to shower to familiar human with love. Val smiles once she sees the little girl. "Hey, what are you doing up here all alone? There's tons of people waiting to meet you."

Not saying anything at first, Audrey went over to her bags before riffling through for her swim suit. She found the ruffly one piece easily and held it up to show Val. The woman smiles and nods. "Okay, I see. Well hurry up and change. The family is getting restless about the 'surprise' that Jimmy told them about." Audrey smiles and nods before Val leaves for her to change.

Once in the one piece, Audrey finds a pair of loose shorts to put over them, so her legs don't get to cold. Soon, Audrey finds herself fidgeting with nervousness. And then, with Pinkly at her heels as something to keep her going, Audrey moves from the side of the house over to the one where all the chatter is happening. There are a few scattered in the living room and dining room, bottles of beer at hand. Audrey bypasses them easily without being seen.

In the kitchen, she finds Zacky and Johnny raiding the fridge for extra meat to grill. Johnny looks over at hear foot steps, ad smiles at Audrey. She returns the smile and waves. "Hey, Mini Gates. Your dad's at the grill waiting for you."

Zacky looks up suddenly, surprised that the girl was so quiet. He smiles and gives her a silly thumbs up. "Knock 'em dead, Mini Gates!"

Audrey laughs and shakes her head before moving out of the kitchen and out the back door to the patio deck coming off of Brian's house. A few look over, surprise written brightly on their faces. Audrey is weaving through people, before she comes across a familiar face with a pair of aviators holding back his spikey black hair. She tugs at his swim trunks, causing Brian to look from the steak on the grill and down into the pair of bright hazel eyes that had belonged to his Nina at once.

"Hey, Audrey," he says softly, still uncomfortable with her being so close to him. He had only met her that morning, so he was going to be a little nervous around her. Brian didn't want to screw up and get the award as Worst Dad of the Year.

"Hey," she says meekly, her hand clutching onto the pocket of his shorts, as she keeps close to him. Eyes fall on the two, and then realization struck hard to everyone there that didn't know.

"Well I'll be damned," Jason Berry murmurs, edging his twin brother in the ribs. "It seems Gates got an early surprise Christmas present." Matt just chuckles, shaking his head and drinking his beer.

"Are you really all that surprised?"


More chuckles, and soon, the conversation of the barbecue is the same as it once had been. Brian and Audrey no longer feel extremely uncomfortable. Audrey can feel Orange County growing on her, but Brian still dreads the moment his own dad walks through the doors of his home. He can already imagine the reaction Brian Sr., will have.

"And the party has arrived!" shouts the familiar voice of Brian's younger sister. He takes in a deep breath and looks in the direction of his immediate family. McKenna, the silly little tween, jumps from person to person as she greets them excitedly. Her hair is the dark brown its always been, but the bright blue streak is still there. He can't believe Suzy let her get it.

Behind her, almost on her heels, is his brother Brent. And then behind him, is Papa Gates and Sweet Suzy themselves. Brian takes in another deep breath before handing the grill over to Matt. He takes Audrey's hand and gentle guides her along. Soon, Brian has McKenna wrapped firmly around his neck. Chuckling softly, she eases the tenseness of his shoulders.

"Hey, Kenna," he greets her, getting a happy sound and a tighter hug from his little sister. He looks over her shoulder, smiling at his family. "Hey dad, Suzy." His parents greet him with a smile and his dad goes the extra length to crack a joke.

"Damn, I feel like I'm about to get bad news. Don't tell me someone died, Syn."

There's a chuckle among the Haner's before Brian clears his throat.

"Actually, I got some good news."

This causes the Haner's to fall silent, and soon, the rest of the party is quiet with them. Brian runs through his hair, but he gets a reassuring squeeze of the hand from Audrey. She steps out from behind him, dressed in her ruffling swim suit and shorts, her hair falling in the same soft waves they were in that morning. She smiles. McKenna, not sure how to take the sight of the young girl, looks up at her dad.

"Hey!" Audrey says happily, flashing her teeth in a smile. "I'm Audrey, Audrey Pierce. Nice to meet you," she says and sticks out her hand. McKenna takes it, shaking it like she does whenever she meets another person.

"Hi! I'm McKenna Haner. Nice to meet you, too, Audrey. What you doing here with Bry?"

Audrey looks up at Brian, and the grown man can't find the courage to tell them the truth. Audrey smiles, somehow understanding before grabbing at Brian's hand again, grinning girlishly.

"He's my daddy!"

The dead silence that takes over, and shock slowly makes it way over Brian Sr. and Suzy's faces.

"W-what?" Suzy squeaks, jumping slightly.

"What the hell, Junior?" Papa Gates practically hisses, causing Brian to cringe ever so slightly. He's always hated when his dad called him that.

"Nina didn't tell me," he breathes out, letting the four words sink in. Brian Sr.'s face slowly contorts into understanding and he nods, mumbling to Suzy he will explain later. Nina was before Suzy's time.

"So wait," McKenna starts, looking from her parents, to her older brother, to the little girl standing next to Brian. "Does this mean I'm an aunt?" McKenna squeaks happily, clapping her hands together. Brent laughs, patting McKenna's shoulder and nods.

"Yeah, twerp. It means you're Audrey's," he looks to the girl to make sure he got her name right, "aunt." McKenna jumps and gushes and drags the little girl off to where the sand of the beach starts, asking all kinds of questions of the little girl. The rest of the Haner's have a small family meeting.

"What do you mean Nina didn't tell you?" Brian Sr. growls, his usually happy expression disappeared into the dark depths of his angry brown eyes.

"Exactly that, dad," Brian growls right back, his fists clenched on top of the table as the two butt heads. "We got in the fight. She wanted to settle down because she was pregnant. I didn't know, I told her the band was more important at that moment. Nina runs off to Florida and then Audrey shows up on my door step this morning - so don't go playing like you're the last person to know and--"

"Wait," Papa Gates interrupts, the angry expression cooling. "She showed up on your doorstep this morning?"

Brian sighs and nods, running his hand through his hair again. "Yeah. Nina had a note - there was a familiar emergency in Spain and she couldn't take Audrey. Rosa and Maria Carmen died about a year ago. I was the last person available apparently."

The elder Haner wears a slightly confused expression before sighing. He runs his own hand through his hair.

"Well. It's about time you grew the fuck up," he jokes with his son, flashing Brian a joking smile. Brian gives one back, but it barely makes his lips curl.

"Still have to tell Michelle though..." he mumbles, and Brian Sr. raises an eyebrow.

"Sorry, son, what was that?"

Brian shakes his head. "Nothing, don't worry about it. Talking to myself."

"Alright then!" Matt shouts, carrying a large plate full of steak. "Let's get this barbecue on with! Who's saying grace?"

There's a few mumbled responses before Jimmy stumbles forward and volunteers. 'Grace' is filled with many cuss words and silly analogies that even has Papa Gates in chuckles. And then the family dinner is moving along slowly, but it's moving along.

"So, ready for the wedding, Val?" McKenna asks before taking a large bite out of her ribs. Val smiles and nods, reaching over to hold Matt's free hand.

"Yup. We've got everything set. Just waiting for October seventeenth to get here."

"What about me?" Audrey says suddenly, surprising everyone. She looks up from her burger and fries, pouting slightly. "What am I gonna do?"

And then Val is gushing over flower girl dresses and how to do Audrey's hair. Brian rolls his eyes, mumbling to himself why couldn't Nina have had a boy instead of a girl.

"That is, if you want to be the flower girl," Val says, eyes wide and bright as she looks at the youngest Haner. Audrey grins and nods before going back to her burger. "Then it's final!" Val says. "Flower girl dress shopping tomorrow!"

And it's this night, at the house positioned just off the Pacific Coast Highway, where the waves crash into the shore before receding back, that life goes forth. And life continues and stirs in the depths of the belly of Fate. It's here, at this table filled with loving laughs and wide smiles, that life is lived, and family - the bond that is more than just blood - makes itself at home.

And it's here, that Brian Haner Jr., realizes something isn't right with the little fair haired nine year old at his side. And there's more to her than she's telling them.

"Let's play a game!" Jimmy suggests, once the party has died down, and the Haners and Berrys have gone home. It's just the band and Val in Brian's living room, with Audrey curled up in his lap as she tries not to doze off.

I could get use to this.
♠ ♠ ♠
Yay! Another update! I was feeling inspired and thought - why the hell not? Audrey is just toooo cute to not want to write about.

Who all thinks Michelle is going to be okay with Audrey? Who all thinks she's gonna have a bitch fit? (lol)

Next chapter? Daddy-daughter bonding! yays!

xoxo. enjoy!

ps. have any certain questions needing an answer? comment with them! they may be answered soon, or I can answer them for you! hit me up, ya hear?