The scotch tasted good against her throat. Tracy Quartermaine relaxed against it, allowing it to burn down into her, savoring the feeling of the slight alcoholic pain. No matter how old she got, no matter how much of the stuff she swallowed over the years, she could never get past the slight sting of alcohol.

That's why she drank. Well, one of the reasons, anyway. The shrinks would say she drank to run away, from her own inadequacies as a mother, as a daughter, as a Quartermaine. They might say she drank to stop the words in her mind, the countless, heartless repetition of every cruel thing her father had ever said to her. To stop the memories that seemed to taunt her when she stopped long enough, when she let them in, every memory of her sainted mother's disappointed looks, of every man who married her for money or spite or just plain convenience, of her children's pained expressions- when she left them, and moreso when she'd come back.

The Original Black Sheep.

The shrinks would say she drank to forget, to numb the pain, but the shrinks were wrong. She drank for the burn of it. She drank for the pain in her throat, for the pain in her head as she woke up. She wanted the pain, wanted the hangovers and headaches.

Pain was life, at least for Tracy Quartermaine.

It was a test, Mom. And you failed.

Another freaking test. Dillon was good at them, much better than Ned had been at that age. How he had managed to escape the moral deficiency that seemed to be bred into the Quartermaine line, she didn't know. But Dillon had assigned himself as her own little Jiminy Cricket, and had perched himself on her shoulder, this time to inform her that, yes, Mom, you are a homophobe.

"Boo-freaking-hoo," she muttered into the glass. The glass did not comment, but the icetinked at her from its confinement. "Be quiet," she told the ice and downed another hard gulp of the stuff, wincing as it hit her system.

She leaned back in her chair to stare at the portrait on the wall. Lila Quartermaines image adorned many a wall in this high-priced mausoleum, and Tracy often sought out this particular painting when she wanted to be alone. It was a gorgeous sight, her mother in glorious youth, maybe twenty, twenty-one, a Technicolor ingénue of grace and beauty and wholesome goodness. "Well, here you go, Mother," Tracy said, lifting her glass, mostly empty, in toast. "Another screw-up from your screw-up daughter." She grinned. If Luke were here, he'd probably use this as an excuse to have her locked up in an insane asylum.Your honor, Ms. Quartermaine has been seen talking to ice cubes and paintings of her dead mother. She obviously is not of sound mind.

The thought of Luke made her angry again. She poured another finger of scotch into her glass and downed it in a single gulp. It was all his fault. In her mind, she could trace everything back to Luke, the fight with Dillon, the blow-up with Bobbie… Hell, with enough booze and time, she could probably figure out a way to blame him for the fall of the Roman Empire.

"Sanctimonious little hypocrite," she muttered. That was for Dillon, not Luke. After all, it was Dillon who'd helped Luke trick her into this sham marriage in the first place. Of course, if Luke hadn't used her to hide his stolen money, well, none of this ever would have happened.

Funny how everybody was awful to everybody in this hayseed city, but Tracy was the only one who seemed to get called on it. "So I don't want my son to be gay."

The picture smiled back at her in all its warm, WASPish glory--Lila would have handled this better, no doubt. Lila would have comforted her son, passed out PFLAAG literature, baked a dozen or so cookies, and everyone would have had a good old fashioned warm fuzzy moment.

"I'm not you, Mother," she said softly. "It's a different world, and I'm a different kind of mother. You didn't see that boy Lucas. You didn't see his face." She closed her eyes, trying not to see her mental picture of Dillon, beaten and bruised the way Lucas had been. "You would have felt the same way, Mother."

The image of battered Dillon was suddenly replaced with another image, a couple of years ago, an image of something that had really happened. Dillon, begging her not to go, not to leave him with her family. Promising to be silent, to be invisible, so he wouldn't be a burden to her.

Tracy fought back the hot tears in her eyes. "I'm a lousy mother," she said to the painting. "I'm the worst mother that ever was and evenI don't want him to get hurt like that." She was talking about the gay bashing, of course. The physical bruises that healed eventually, that everybody could see. Not the invisible bruises she'd inflicted on him, the invisible scars of neglect and abandonment.

"It's all your fault, Luke," she whispered, knowing in her mind that it wasn't his fault at all. She wanted someone to blame--maybe her own mother, for never understanding her, or her own father, for his cutting words and rejection. Maybe she could go back for generations of Quartermaines and never find the one, horrible ancestor who'd started the entire line of dysfunction that swept through them genetically.

Maybe nobody was to blame.

Maybe she was to blame. Maybe it really was a deficiency in her, the bad seed, whose parents couldn't love her, who only found men who used her, whose own children turned on her. Maybe she just was that unlovable, and her enemies were correct in hating her.

Here she was, getting drunk alone in a house filled with people who hated her, wondering what in hell she'd done wrong. It was maudlin to the point of being amusing, and she laughed at the smiling painting across from her. "You're loving this, aren't you, Mother? Your little Tracy, your little disappointment, the one you never knew what to do with, sitting alone having a drink with her emotional issues. It's like a god-damned movie of the week." She poured more scotch. The bottle was getting low, and she thought absently that she might want to slow down. But that thought was weak against her thirst, and she lifted her glass for another toast. "Well, here's to the great Quartermaine clan, Mother. Bullies and bitches and con men and consciences. We're quite the bunch." She took a sip, and continued. "Did you know I'm a homophobe, Mother? That's what your grandson thinks, because I don't want him hanging around with his gay friend who gets into bar fights. Because I don't want him to be gay. Because I don't want him in danger. Stupid, huh? If he knew how many gay bars I poured myself out of in New York back in the bad old days; gay men were the only ones I liked for a long time. At least all they wanted from me was money, and they didn't leave the toilet seat up." She took another sip. "I'm not a homophobe, Mother. I'm a mother, and I don't want my son to wind up dead like that kid in Wyoming. In anyone else, they'd understand. They'd cut any other mother some slack. But, no, I'm Tracy, so obviously I'm a homophobe." She put the drink down. It was starting to taste bad.

"I'm getting drunk," she informed the painting, which smiled on in silent agreement. "Did you know I drink too much, Mother? I faked my own death, scared my kid out of his mind, just a week ago. Didn't think twice about it. 'Let him twist.' That's the kind of mother I am." She frowned at the painting. "Stop smiling, you sanctimonious bitch. Why are you always smiling? Don't you ever get angry, or scared, or annoyed? Is that all you can do? Smile, and send Tracy away. Banish Tracy, and the house comes back to order. I'm an awful mother, but I'm still a better mother than you were. At least I'm honest when I abandon my kid. At least the whole world knows when I hurt him, when I misuse him, when I make him feel small. You never let anybody know, with the smiles and the sweetness and the Saint Lila bit. But you never loved me, and you never even tried." She sniffed hard, wiping the tears from her eyes. "I don't want him to get hurt, Mother. Is that so bad? Is that so wrong? I don't want to ever see my baby like that, and I don't care if he hates me forever, I'm not going to let him do anything that puts him in danger." She leaned back heavily, taking a long, deep breath. Her head was beginning to get foggy, and she was suddenly tired. "I'm a better mother than you were," she said softly as she felt herself nodding off.

Dillon found her in the chair, facing the huge picture of Grandma Quartermaine as a young woman. She held an empty glass in her hand, her head tilted at an awkward angle as she snored lightly. "Jesus, Mom," he muttered as he took the glass from her hand and put it on the coaster. He took a look at the bottle--she'd drunk almost all of it. Dillon shook his head, wondering if other guys had to carry their drunk mother to bed as often as he did.

"Mom," he said, trying to rouse her. She stirred slightly, but didn't answer. He shook her lightly by the shoulder, then rubbed her cheek with the back of his fingers. "Mom, come on. You gotta get up. Time for beddy-bye," he added, humorlessly. Luke had better get back soon, because he was tired of being the man of this family.

"Dillon?" she slurred, and opened her eyes with a slow smile. "You're home."

"I didn't go anywhere, Mom. I've been here all night."

"I've been worried about you," she said, putting her hand on his cheek. "You should call when you're going to be late."

"Of course, Mom. I'm sorry; I'll never do it again." He helped her to her feet, grabbing the bottle and letting her lean her weight against him as he led her to her bedroom.

She wrapped her arm around his shoulder and rested her head on him for a moment. "You're not invisible, you know," she whispered.

Dillon rolled his eyes. First thing he was going to do when he had the chance was enroll this woman in AA. "Of course, Mother. Of course I'm not invisible."

"You're not invisible, baby," she insisted as he opened the door to her room. "You're not. I can see you. You're right there."

"That's good to know. I've been really worried about that. Now, you go and tuck yourself into bed, like a good little crazy lady, and everything will be fine in the morning."

"I'm not crazy," she said as she leaned against the door jamb to steady herself. She turned and looked at him intensely. "You'renot invisible, baby; and you never will be. Get it straight." And without another word, she tapped his head with her fingertips and disappeared into her bedroom, closing the door behind her.

Dillon stared at the door for a long moment before turning towards the stairway. He'd drop the empty bottle back downstairs before going to bed himself. With a last, long glance back at his mother's bedroom door, he shook his head. "There is not enough therapy in the universe…."

The End