Disclaimers and Notes: Not my characters. They belong to someone else; I just want to borrow them for fun, not money. Thanks to the Fastlane Resource Center for the transcripts. Needed a little reminder...thanks! And a big thank you to Leann, my wonderful beta!
"I told you! I'll never forgive you for this!" His mother's screams hurt his ears.
"Just stay back, Donnie." The big men in suits held his father down on the ground and put metal bracelets on him.
He did as he was told and scrunched down in the corner of the living room. He cried silently and watched as they took his dad away.
"Ma'am, you should see to your son," one of the strangers said as they disappeared out the door.
But his mother was still screaming. She was calling his dad all the things that she had told him were bad words that he should never say.
It was a long time before he saw his dad again.
"Mom! I'm home!" He kicked the door closed behind him and tossed his books on the kitchen counter before heading upstairs to change clothes for baseball practice.
She hadn't answered him though. He hoped she hadn't forgotten again. Coach almost benched him last time she forgot. He'd had to walk to the ballpark and was half an hour late. Van sighed. She was probably off getting her nails done or something. Or maybe she was napping. He decided to check her room.
He opened the door and immediately closed it again. The scene was already burned into his memory, however. At least he didn't have to worry about being late for practice. He could get a ride with Coach.
First, though, he just might be sick. He heard his mom calling him even as he ran for the bathroom.
He should have known it was going to happen. Dad was gone again, and she wasn't going to stay alone for long. Van tried not to cringe when his mom's latest "friend" sat down next to him. He'd get in trouble for being rude again if he wasn't careful.
"So, you prefer to be called Van?"
"Yeah. I mean, yes sir."
"You're a good looking kid, Van."
An alarm went off in Van's head even before the man's hand stroked his thigh. He tried to get up, but an arm across his shoulders held him in place. "Let me go."
"Come on, Van. I just want to get to know you."
Van shoved him hard and escaped his grasp. "If you touch me again, you'll regret it."
The man only smiled.
His mother hadn't believed him. But Teddy did. Teddy told him that the guy never would come around again, and he didn't. Van's mother was furious. She screamed and yelled for hours when Teddy told her that her relationship with that "bastard" was over.
Okay, what his dad did was illegal. And Teddy did it, too. He wasn't a traveling salesman. He wasn't in import/exports. He made money. Literally. Counterfeit money. All those times he was gone, he was in jail or on the run from the law. Okay. Those nickels his father had given him—fake. He'd wondered why his mother was always so mad whenever he had a pocket full of them.
God, he was so stupid. How could he have forgotten? The big men in suits, the metal bracelets, his mother freaking out. His dad had been arrested. And he was being arrested again.
His fault, too. If he hadn't told Teddy, Teddy wouldn't have told his dad. His dad wouldn't have come back, and the cops wouldn't have found him. He had thought that the fight between his parents was bad until the cops arrived.
He couldn't breathe. Everyone was yelling, the sounds echoing in his tingling head.
"I swear to you, Teresa, you let somebody touch my son again, I'll kill both of you! You and the bastard, you hear me?!" His father shouted.
"You won't do anything, because you'll be in prison! Again!" His mother screamed back at him.
Van put his hands over his ears, but it didn't help. He closed his eyes. Didn't matter; he still knew what was happening. They were dragging his father out of the house and back to jail. His hands were tingling, too. Finally, the shouts started to fade. It seemed they were all far away from him now, although he knew they weren't.
"Ma'am, I think your son needs you."
Wow, déjà vu. He'd just learned what that meant in school, and now he was experiencing it. He needed to sit down, so he did, right there on the floor. He wished himself away; amazingly enough, it worked.
Van opened the letter carefully, slowly. He wasn't sure he wanted to see what was inside. This was his future. Taking a deep breath, he pulled the folded sheet from the envelope. He unfolded the sheet and read the words. He was accepted; he'd gotten in. He was going to UCLA, on scholarship no less. He smiled.
"Well?" his mother asked.
"I got in."
"What the hell are you going to study, Van? Do not say music. You can't make a living that way unless you get very lucky. And don't think for one minute I'm going to support you forever."
"What I'm thinking is that you aren't supporting yourself; Frank is. So why would I think you would support me?"
She slapped him across the face. "Don't you talk to me that way! Where would you be without me? Huh? In a foster home or orphanage. That's where. Your father certainly couldn't take care of you from prison. And I had to have somebody around to help me. You think that was easy to do? Not too many guys want to be saddled with somebody else's kid. And you never made it easy! And you don't think your precious daddy spent all his time alone, do you? You know better! I know you do! You can't blame it all on me!"
"I think I'll live in the dorm," he said. She was getting worked up into another fit of whining hysteria. He needed to get the hell out of there. Tuning her out, he walked away.
He registered for the summer quarter instead of waiting for the fall. One month later, he was studying in his dorm room when he got a call. She and Frank were moving to San Diego. He hung up and went back to his room. He had a psych test the next day.
Van grinned, but didn't turn to acknowledge the whistles and shouts. He was too focused on getting that piece of paper from the dean and getting off the stage without tripping over his own feet. He had no idea why he was so nervous. It was over now actually. He'd done it. He had a degree. He also had no idea what he was going to do with it, but he had it, even if he did fall on his face in front of thousands of people. What had possessed him to major in criminal justice anyway? And minor in psychology?
No, he couldn't delude himself. He knew why he'd done it. He wanted to understand. His father, his own life, everything that had happened, he wanted to have some idea what and why. What was so enticing about a life of crime that made his father always go back to it? Why had he not been important enough for his father to stop?
He made it across the stage and down the stairs. As he turned to walk back to his seat, he saw Teddy smiling at him. A few rows behind and to the right was the source of most of the noise, though. He'd made some good friends, and they were still waving and yelling like a bunch of maniacs. He waved back at them and chuckled even as he realized that he was eventually going to lose them. Evie and Mike were getting married and moving back to Seattle, where Mike would finish school while Evie had their baby. His folks were going to help. Dante had one more semester to go before he headed home to Sacramento. Shelby was going home to Oklahoma, dropping out to take care of her mother who was ill. And Allyn had flunked out. He swore he was going to Mexico to become a beach bum and smoke lots of "Mexican agriculture" as he liked to call it.
His mother was not there. A card had arrived a few days before. It was Frank's handwriting on it, though. "Congratulations, Mom and Frank," it said, with a check for two hundred dollars. Frank was a good guy, actually. Unlike most of them. He had lasted longer than most of them, too. The man should have left many times in Van's opinion. He turned the other way while Van's mother cheated on him at least twice that Van was aware of and put up with her whining and temper tantrums. It was more than Van was willing to do. And the money? Definitely Frank. His mother couldn't even be bothered to show up for his graduation.
God, what was he going to do now? He had an interview with the Los Angeles County probation office, but he didn't think he wanted to be a probation officer. Didn't sound very exciting to him. Parole officer didn't appeal to him either. Damn, that would be uncomfortable should he end up face to face with his father one day. He'd toyed with the idea of law school, but somehow, he couldn't see himself defending anyone he thought or even knew was guilty. He'd rather be the one putting them in jail, not getting them out.
That was it. He could be a cop. With his degree, he could get into any one of the plain-clothes divisions pretty quick. He'd like being a detective. His psychology minor would come in handy too. Still meant he might end up face to face with his father on opposite sides of bars, but yeah, that was it.
Now—how was he going to tell his dad? Screw it. He'd send him a telegram. It was a vicious little bit of delight that shot through him at the thought of pissing his dad off by becoming a cop. After all, his mother was right about one thing. His father couldn't have cared too much. He was never around even when he wasn't in prison. Maybe the old man would be mad enough never to speak to Van again. A tiny voice in the back of his mind told him he should be ashamed of himself. He told it to shut up.
"Hey, Dre! Your new partner is here."
The look on the man's face was not promising as he ambled over. "You're giving me this kid as my new partner?"
Van frowned. Great. The guy hated him already. "I'm not as young as I look," he offered.
"Christ, I hope not, because you look sixteen."
The captain chuckled. "Don't let him scare you. His bark is worse than his bite. Van Ray, this is Andre Hayes. Listen to him, learn from him, and you'll live."
"Yes sir." The man walked away then, leaving him with a stranger. He wasn't sure what to do or say next. Thankfully, his new partner took the lead, and where he led, Van was going to follow.
"Well, let's get going then, kid."
"Van—um, call me Van, sir."
"Okay, Van. I'm Dre. Call me Dre, not sir. For heaven's sake, don't shave or something. I feel like I should be dropping you off at school, not taking you on a drug raid."
He grinned. Dre might not be too sure of him, but he was sure of Dre. The captain was right. He would live if he listened and learned from Andre Hayes. He could feel it.
He was alive. He was alive, but Dre was dead. It had happened so fast. Most of it was a blur. All of it was a blur, except for that one horrible moment when he realized that Dre was dead. His partner, his best friend, his mentor was dead. The bloodstain on his shirt felt as if it had branded itself on his chest. He tried to control his breathing, but he was panicking. He wished it had been him instead of Dre.
He'd lost the money; he was going to lose his job, maybe even go to jail. It was all he deserved. Dre was dead. Dear God, Dre was dead.
And he was all alone again. And he'd locked himself out of his car. That was it. He couldn't take it anymore. It was all too much. He freaked.
Then she was there. She gave him the chance to avenge Dre. He took it.
"Welcome to the Candy Store," she said.
A strange note, a hotel room, a gun pointed at the back of his head. Life took some strange turns sometimes. Then the words...
"Is this bedtime? Did I ask for a story?"
"Oh my God," he turned to face the other man. "You're Deaqon." Dre's brother, he was looking at Dre's brother.
"Van, are you in there?" Deaq tapped him on the forehead.
"What? Oh, yeah."
"I can't believe I'm going to say this, but penny for 'em, partner."
"Just wondering what makes us who we are."
"Damn, V, deep thoughts for a Monday morning. So, come to any conclusions?"
"I don't know. Too deep for a Monday morning, I guess."
"Well, now you got me thinking about it. It's going to drive me crazy all day."
"Come up with anything, let me know."
"I ain't telling you nothing. Damn, why'd I ask you anything in the first place? I should've known you'd be having some weird thoughts." He got up and walked away, still muttering about how crazy Van was, how he should have never talked to him and never would again.
Van grinned to himself.