Even throughout the years of being weather worn with peeled chip paint and neglect; nothing had changed. Dazed, Van stood there transfixed; before him was the house he had spent the first half of his life. The house stood the same, a small rundown box among a string of other track houses. Patches of front lawns consisted mostly of dry yellow weeds; broken windows boarded up with cardboard, trash littered everywhere. From one house to another this was his neighborhood—his home.

Memories flooded his mind. Voices of the past echoed around him. Most prominent were the heated arguments with, Phyllis, his mother. Even now, he could hear her; rough cigarette smoke voice barked from the grave loud enough to drown out all the other memories. The haunted words beckoned and berated him. Often they were slurred drunken obscenities that followed and ricocheted loudly as the screen door slammed in his wake, screaming that he was no different than his loser bum of a father.

Eyes winced shut, as old wounds were sliced open. One memory after another rolled through his mind, and not a single one could be described as pleasant.

Only six days prior he had gotten word. Billie had called him in after a job to inform him of the news. Phyllis Louise Hollister formally Phyllis Ray, aka Mrs. Raymond Ray, had died. The topper or ironic universal joke was a she was sober when she died, hit by a drunk driver while walking across the street.

Blinking several times, Van just stood there stunned.

Billie immediately misread his reaction then responded as a friend. Gentle words were translated into comfort followed by caresses and tight hugs. She was empathic with sympathy---but why wouldn't she be? She didn't really know anything about his past. Billie only knew what was on paper, in his files, but nothing else.

Knew he was a troubled teen—that was a no brainer. Even without his juvenile records his psych profile that Billie had access to would have mentioned his family background—not just Ray Ray. And Ray was a conflict all his own. His once famed father was none other than, one Raymond Ray, a professional criminal, and recent ex-con. Previously wanted by the FBI, as one of the counties top leading counterfeiters. Friends and those around Van honestly believed the hostility he had always directed at Ray was because they were on opposite sides of the law. But the reality was, Ray repeatedly proved his lack of devotion to fatherhood when he continued to leave Van behind with Phyllis. Even after, at age 10, when Van broke down and blatantly told Ray how they really lived when he was gone—why he wouldn't call her Mom, of Phyllis' drinking, how often, and their fights. Ray had actually cried, had hugged his then Donnie, promising he'd make it right, that he'd fix everything.

For a while Van believed.

The problem was Ray believed in the 'Big' score, the one that would fix everything. The one 'big score' that was right around the corner. The same big score that never came into being and only landed Ray in the state pen--- leaving Van alone to fend for himself.

Van could barely recall Billie's words, or of Deaq's condolences. None of it mattered, he was numb with disbelief. A hard lump of unexpected and unwanted emotions welled up then lodged within his throat. He was surprised enough that he almost choked on the foreign emotions. What he wanted, wished he could do was laugh and rejoice, but reality played a different game where the joke was on him. For years he had wished even prayed for her death—prayers and wishes that went unheeded.

Ultimately, his anger turned sharpened made him edgier; Van knew it made him a better cop. 'Tools', that's what Johnny O had said, "It's all about tools, kid, best you figure out how to twist them to your advantage—makes it a step up from just surviving".

And he did. While Phyllis lived her life in the bottle, Van hid and when he could he found safety and salvation with Johnny O. It worked for a while until Johnny was arrested.

The true testimony of that lesson was after Johnny's arrest. Van Survived and learned; he heeded Johnny's advice and discovered a new focus that eventually brought about his career.

Overall looking back he had no regrets about his life—including where Phyllis was concerned.

Van's anger began to slowly dissipated followed by slight pangs of emptiness. Van stiffened, his feet shuffled as he heard a car pull up then the car door slam across the street. A quick glanced; Van sighed in relief when he realized it was no one he knew.

The dull emptiness spread. It was over. Closing his eyes, Van whispered good-bye---in his minds eye she wasn't the abusive drunken woman who had raised him, but the fantasy loving Mom he had always hoped she'd be one day. He had to let go; the fantasy was gone—gone and as dead as Phyllis.

Pain, spiraled and grief grasped his heart. The man in him stood stoic while the boy Donnie rocked in pain and steadily cried for his mother and all his childish dreams of what will never be.

Slowly his eyes opened, blinking away tears as they slowly slid down his face blurring his vision. It all went unnoticed. A moment passed before he could see clearly. The moment he was able Van turned and for the last time walked away from the house that was once his home.

FiN