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Second Chance

Stir Of (Unexpected) Emotions

Though every brunette strand was perfectly in place, every aspect of her makeup was superbly flawless, and every thread of her clothes was impeccably pressed, Brian had to reassure his wife multiple times that she looked presentable. More than, he promised. In fact, she was stunning. Even more beautiful than the day they met, and he told her that twice on the way to the Martinez home.

The guitarist had feelings hitting him from every direction. He was second guessing this meeting. He had a ball of nerves churning in his stomach. He went through bouts of pride over whether this was worth their time, as ashamed as he was to admit it. He knew it was wrong, and felt guilty over it. He also felt as if maybe somehow this was all a cruel joke, though he actually said prayer before they got in the car that it wasn't. It would crush his faith in humanity at this point. To be quite honest, he was scared out of his mind. What if he felt good about it and Emily didn't? What if he felt detached and uninterested in furthering all of this talk, and she felt strongly they should move forward? And the most frightening part; what if they saw the baby and he fell in love? Would that make him a terrible person for loving another baby so soon? He felt completely on the verge of a melt down inside, but on the surface he appeared totally calm. His love, on the other hand, was visibly shaken. She was pale and her hands trembled terribly.

"If this is too much too soon, we can go home," he leaned in to whisper into her quadruple pierced ear. A slight shake of her head was the only reply he got.

His hand came to the small of her back after he pushed the passenger side door shut and they proceeded to walk up to the outdated, but decently sized home. It was not set in the best neighborhood, but it certainly was not in a bad one. It had quite a few similarities to the one he had grown up in, and that helped eased his mind. He lifted a hand to knock on the arched door, and another wave of anxiety washed over them as an older woman, who he recalled being James's mother in law, answered the door.

They were led into a family room where toys were scattered all over the floor. Juice stains marred several places in the well worn carpet, and one of the walls had traces of crayon scribbles that had been cleaned as best they could. Pictures of the family of six were dotted all over the place. The walls, shelves, and even some of the end tables had framed snapshots of what appeared to be a very happy family. Handprint artwork and other crafts were proudly displayed with names and dates written somewhere on them. It was entirely different than the pristine look of the Haner home. It looked lived in, and that was not a bad thing.

It made it feel warm and inviting. Love just seemed to radiate from the walls and it hung almost tangibly in the air. The atmosphere here made the pair visibly relax more upon seeing this was a real family. Their kids were real, not burdens as sadly so many are to their parents, and they were undoubtedly loved and well cared for.

"Thank you both for coming, " James said with a warm smile and a firm handshake to the guitarist. "This is my wife Nicoletta."

"A little nervous to be here, to be honest, but we are still glad to be here. Good to see you again, James. Nicoletta, it's nice to meet you. This is my wife, Emily." he replied as the other woman leaned to shake his hand as well, though it was obvious her attention was on his wife.

"It is good to meet you both, " she said with only slightly broken English. Rich brown eyes locked on sapphire pools of uncertainty, and she let out a nervous exhale. "Can I hug you, Emily?"

"Yes, of course!" she said in the same rush of air. There was just something about knowing they had crossed paths in the operating room and shared the same pain in the aftermath that made her feel a small connection to her. However, as soon as the older woman embraced her, six words left her that sent the grieving mother's heart to her feet.

"I'm so sorry about your son." she offered in the most delicate of whispers.

Her eyes slammed close and tears immediately flooded her cheeks in a searing torrent. The woman may have been a total stranger, but she felt the genuine sorrow in her tone. That struck her to the core.

"I cannot imagine that pain. I am so very sorry." she repeated and held her tighter as a few tears escaped her own eyes now as well.

Their husbands stood by helplessly while the pair had their moment together. It was obvious that this is what each needed. They had both gone through severely painful surgeries. Each had gone through a range of emotions during their spouses' correspondence. Each experienced unimaginable pain and grief over their sons, though their experiences and circumstances were so very different. They definitely felt for one another, and the lengthy hug was the relief of all of that. When they finally parted, Emily felt the need to apologize.

"I'm sorry. I feel ridiculous right now," she sniffed and attempted to dry her cheeks with the backs of her hands.

"We understand, " the older husband assured and moved to grab her some tissue. "No need to be sorry. Like Nicoletta said, we can't imagine your pain. We have four kids, and I can't imagine life without them."

Each took a seat and though all had good reason to be nervous, conversation started naturally. The Martinez's took turns telling them how they met and fell in love. Brian's respect for James grew as he listened to stories of how he grew up and was forced to become the man of his house at just thirteen when his dad became ill. The way he met his wife and began working three jobs to give them a good start in life only served to deepen that appreciation.

Emily took some time to share their own story of how they met, and some of the challenges they had to overcome to stay together. She also spoke about the difficulties of sustaining a healthy relationship with Avenged being on the road so often. It was necessary to explain that, and the many discussions they have had about how they plan to balance raising a family with that kind of extensive travel and crazy schedules. Talking about the pregnancy and loss was incredibly hard, and each shed tears in the process, but they had known going in that it was something that had to be shared.

Through it all, their new acquaintances listened and engaged them delicately. It struck Brian how comfortable everyone seemed, including him. It was the oddest of circumstances, but he felt surprisingly at ease. What was more, he raised his brows when his bride divulged the news that so far only Suzy and Emily's parents knew. The doctors weren't sure whether they would be able to conceive another child due to all of the internal damage and scarring she had sustained. It didn't bother him that she told them, it just caught him off guard. It was definitely a sign she both trusted and felt comfortable with them.

The couples spent nearly three hours getting to know one another. It's crazy to say, but they all felt drawn to one another somehow. Almost like they were long lost friends catching up instead of complete strangers. The conversation would have continued if Nicoletta hadn't been called away to feed their newborn.

James took this opportunity to show them around the house. It wasn't huge, but definitely a good size to raise a family in. It had three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, and a medium sized yard. While they were out there, he pointed out the garden the couple had planted a few summers ago that they now drew from at some point every day to incorporate into their meals.

Laughter rang out from the three girls who were found to be playing outside, completely unaware of their parents' guests or their reason for being there. The two older kids were playing on the swing set their father had built, while the toddler was playing in a small sandbox with their grandmother. It was a heartwarming sight to see.

The trio stood in relative silence for a few minutes taking in the scene. For James, he was looking over the fullness of his garden, the beauty of the day, and joy over the happiness written on his young girls' faces. For the Haners, they were starting to see the dynamics of this young family. All questions of ulterior motives and the level of competency of the parents of the little boy in question had been pretty much washed away by the day's events. Their conversation had been great, but the state of their home and the scene playing out before them really spoke volumes. This family was super close, and any parents who worked five jobs between them to keep it together and running as smooth as possible were to be commended. They truly were doing their absolute best. It showed on their children's faces.

"Emily," Nicoletta's voice cut through the moment and the three turned to see her approaching slowly with their youngest in her arms.

A lump appeared in her throat and she was glad that Brian's hand came to her back supportively in that moment. She was in a semi-frozen state at the sight of the newborn whose birth date was the same day as her son's birth and death.

"Would you... like to hold him?"

"You don't have to, Em." her husband told her quietly.

"No, you do not have to." she said and came to a stop about five feet from the taller woman. "I know we had said this first meeting was supposed to be just the four of us, so if it bothers you, I will take him back inside. I just finished feeding him and he isn't wanting to go back to my grandmother right now." with a mix of emotions settling into her eyes, she bit at the inside of her cheek before she continued. "I also kind of felt like after the talk we just had, you may want to at least see him. I understand if you don't."

"No I... " she tried to take a small step forward, but found she couldn't. "It's okay. I'm just... " a quick glance to the guitarist in an effort to ease her nerves, and she cleared her throat softly before saying, "I want to hold him."

Brian sucked in a quiet breath at her words, and he found it was one he couldn't release so quickly. His heart lurched in his chest and concerned eyes darted to see his wife's reaction as she leaned to take the little boy in her arms. Tears filled her vision, but she pulled him against her anyway. It was such a difficult but beautiful scene to watch.

"He is so beautiful," she whispered almost breathlessly as she got the drowsy little one cradled comfortably in the crook of her left arm. A mix of raw emotion stirred up inside her chest and she wasn't sure how long she was going to be able to hold him, but she wanted to try.

"Thank you," the darker brunette pushed out as her emotions got the best of her as well. "We love him so much!" her husband came to her side to wrap an arm around her supportively. "He means the world to us, just like our others do. He's so precious and such good baby, even with all the tests they have to run on him. It is heartbreaking to see him suffer."

"It's okay, my love. "James encouraged quietly with a light squeeze to her side.

"I can't imagine what you go through and I'm so sorry he has to be put through all of this. He doesn't deserve it." Emily offered with a small pat to the boy's bottom as she instinctively began rocking him gently without a second thought.

"No, he doesn't. But then, you and your husband don't deserve the pain you're going through, either. It isn't fair, and it kills me for you. I can't imagine walking out of the hospital without any of my kids," she wept openly now.

"It's like no other pain in this world. But I still hold onto the belief that everything happens for a reason. I don't know why we lost Grayson, but I can't think about it that way," leaning her head down, she brushed some drops of pained emotion onto her shirt. "You two are so blessed to have this little boy. He is just incredible. I can't picture being able to give up a child. How in the world could that thought cross your mind?" it wasn't an accusation, nor was it tipped with judgement. She was simply looking at this precious gift she held in her hands and it put a face to the feeling that she didn't ever see herself being able to give up a child.

"Believe me, the thought absolutely kills me. He is the most beautiful soul I have ever met, truly he is. We love him with everything in us. But James and I would do anything for our kids, anything it takes to make sure they are well cared for and loved to the fullest. Even if that means he has to grow up in another family to get the kind of medical care he needs."

"Nic and I also believe everything happens for a reason. We don't find it a coincidence that our paths crossed in that waiting room. You see, we were out of town when she collapsed. We should have been taken to a different hospital. There was a bad accident on the freeway, and with as bad as she was, they didn't want to risk sending her to the next closest place, so they rerouted us to Cedars-Sinai." James explained. "For all intents and purposes, we were not supposed to be there. As it stands, we feel we were meant to go there to meet you."

"I don't know either way yet. All I know is whatever happens, this little boy deserves the best chance at life," Emily almost whispered now as she found herself staring down into the eyes of the precious angel who had roused from all the voices around him. "Hi....you're a handsome boy, do you know that?"

"He really is handsome," Brian had to agree. He was afraid to look at him for too long at one time. He wasn't sure whether it was his story, or if it was the fact his missed his own son that drew him to this little guy. Regardless of which it was, it made him nervous to feel that way. Extremely nervous.

Her emotions threatened to get the best of her now, and she felt it best to hand the baby back to his mother. Truth be told, she was on the verge of completely coming apart. She felt the same way the guitarist did, except she wasn't just filled with anxiety. She was borderline terrified.

With the overload of feelings and emotions transpiring, on top of what had already taken place during their earlier conversation, the younger couple decided it best to call it a day. After a promise to be in touch soon, and a request to be updated in between on the little boy's health, they headed back out to the car. They had done fairly well to keep it together up until that point, but that completely went out the window once they pulled away from the curb.

Brian's stomach was in knots and his wife's resolve crumbled immediately. Quiet sobs left her now, and it further broke his heart. It had been a hard day, and they certainly had a lot to think about. He thought about driving straight back to the cabin at Big Bear. However, judging by the way his stomach felt, he doubted he would make it to the highway without pulling over to get sick.

With this in mind, he pulled a u-turn in the road. Once his wife calmed enough to be able to halfway see through her tears, she turned from the window with surprise lining her face. Going this direction could really only mean one thing, and she didn't understand.

"We haven't seen them since I was six months pregnant."

"They're the only ones who will understand, Em. I don't know where else to go."