Tracy Quartermaine drew in a deep breath and closed her eyes, counting to ten before looking at the girl standing next to her. "Did you know about this, Brooke Lynn?" she asked her granddaughter, who seemed more interested in watching the goings on at a falafel stand across the street than speaking to Tracy.
"Know about what, Gran," the dark-haired girl muttered.
Tracy stretched out her long, slender fingers and tucked them under Brooke Lynn's chin, turning her head firmly to get her attention. "This…holiday that just showed up out of nowhere and destroyed our itinerary."
Brooke shrugged, tilting her head slightly. "It's a government office, you know? They get holidays out the wazoo."
"I don't even want to know what that means, except that it has ruined our afternoon in the city and may even delay our trip."
"Oh, horrors," Brooke muttered under her breath as her eyes darted towards a really hot guy in dreds rollerblading down the street. She wished she could be him right now, rather than herself, traipsing around the hot city streets with her grandmother plotting out the demise of her summer the whole way.
"You know, you could pretend to be excited about this," Tracy continued, holding out her hand for a cab. "I practically had to blackmail your mother to get her to let me take you to Europe this summer, and—"
"Are you sure it's practically, cuz, well…" Brooke grinned slightly at Tracy's narrowed gaze. "Come on, Gran. Why do I have to go to Europe anyway?"
"Your father toured Europe with me," Tracy began to lecture. "Your Uncle Dillon toured Europe with me. And as god is my witness, you are going to get the same cultural experience they got, whether you want it or not."
"Look around you!" Brooke gestured broadly. "The whole freakin' world comes to New York. It's the center of the universe."
"If you think flirting with the falafel guy to get free hummus is culture, young lady, you are sadly mistaken." Tracy said, still trying to hail a cab.
"What are you doing that for?" Brooke asked, rolling her eyes.
"Because I want them to stop, dear," Tracy said slowly, still waving in frustration as the cabs rolled by. Even with the federal holiday, the streets of New York were packed, Tracy obviously assumed, with government employees not doing what her taxes paid them to do when she wanted them to do it. "I remember a place midtown that might—"
"Give it a rest, Gran," Brooke said, taking Tracy's hand in her own. "Jeez, you're embarrassing me."
"Well, forgive me for trying to get us where we need to go." She tossed her head back, arms folded across her chest. Brooke had to admit, nobody did disgusted entitlement like her grandmother, and with the shimmering blue Golden Girls floaty jacket, the slim black pants and shell, and Harry Winston exploding all over her neck and earlobes, Tracy was certainly playing the part.
"Look, if the main passport office is closed, all the branches are going to be closed." She paused, noticing for the first time the disappointed look on her grandmother's face. With all the fighting and pleading and bargaining and threatening she'd done with her father to try to get out of this two month death march across Europe with Tracy, it had never occurred to Brooke Lynn that her grandmother might actually want to go. That she might actually be looking forward to the trip.
A bus screamed by, kicking up dust and causing Tracy to grimace. "God, I used to hate those things," she said to Brooke. "When Dillon and I lived in SoHo, I never took them if I could avoid it."
"Subway girl, right?"
Tracy laughed, brushing a strand of coal black curls from her granddaughter's eyes. "Hardly," she said. "When are you going to do something with this hair, young lady," she asked, with more than a bit of affection in her tone. "Maybe a nice shoulder-length cut, some highlights?"
"Right after you dye yours blonde and get a buzz cut, Gran," she shot back, surprised to hear her grandmother laugh out loud, instead of the expected haughty look. Brooke grinned. "So, should we go down to Chinatown and see if Miss Chang can fit us in?"
"How about we go to Saks and see if I can get you a new wardrobe," Tracy countered, tugging at the grungy clothes her granddaughter was sporting. "Maybe some Donna Karan? Or Anne Klein?"
"Or maybe I could just shoot myself?" Brooke shook her head firmly against the idea of her grandmother doing her up preppy style. It was bad enough—no, no, she was going to try to have a positive attitude about this vacation thing. Dad had assured her that traveling with Tracy Quartermaine had serious Auntie Mame potential, which was one reason her mom had been so adamantly opposed to the idea, but it still seemed like a hell of a long time to be away from her home and friends. "Whatever, we can't just stand around here in front of the passport office. We look like tourists."
"I look like a tourist, Brooke Lynn. You look like a transient." She tried again to hail a cab, but Brooke tugged her arm and led her down the street. "Where are you taking me?"
"To get food. I'm hungry." She flashed Tracy a defiant grin, and was pleased when her grandmother followed her without argument.
Many people suggested that Tracy was too young to be Brooke's grandmother, although it made sense because she'd been like, four when she gave birth to Ned Ashton. Tracy Quartermaine was a striking woman, who had a decent enough sense of style to be impressive without looking pathetic, or like she was trying too hard. She walked next to her granddaughter with her shoulders high, her head held strong. If Brooke Lynn hadn't known better, she would have sworn her grandmother had been born and raised in The City; she certainly walked like she owned it.
"How about the Russian Tea Room?" Tracy said.
"And then, ladies and gentleman, the illusion is shattered."
Tracy raised her eyebrows. "Translation?"
Brooke pulled her away from the curb. A bike messenger had just whizzed by, and the last thing they needed was for some opportunistic jerk trying to help himself to her grandmother's purse. "The Russian Tea Room? C'mon, Gran, why not just go down to see the Rockettes while we're at it?"
"Well, what did you have in mind? Taco Bell?"
"You're the international jet setter, lady. Surely you have a more sophisticated palate than the stuff they dish out to the tourists." Brooke watched as her grandmother's face transformed. There was a look that Tracy got when challenged; and even though she hadn't spent a lot of time with her, Brooke knew that look well. It was like a light went on inside her, and that light just glowed through her. "I mean, if you want the same-old, same-old…"
"I'm assuming this blatant attempt at reversed psychology is going to lead to a restaurant recommendation at some point…?" From her expression, Tracy seemed open to at least hearing what her granddaughter suggested, so Brooke Lynn went for it.
"What do you think about Panamanian food?"
"Panamanian? Like the Panama Canal?" Tracy frowned, her brow wrinkling severely. "Isn't that where all those people died of malaria?"
"Like, a hundred years ago! It's a really funky place, and I've been dying to try it out…but…" She shrugged nonchalantly as they made it to the corner and waited for the light to turn green. "If you're not up to it…"
"I don't supposed you've checked out its Zagat rating," Tracy began, then grunted as the light changed and Brooke pulled her into the cross walk. "I'll take that as a no."
"Okay, you win." Her grandmother looked perfectly at home in the lush greenery that flooded the main dining room of Las Tinajas. She'd finished her sancocho and pushed the bowl away from her with a satisfied look on her face. "That was amazing."
"Try the plantains," Brooke Lynn said, still picking the remainder of her tamales out of the banana leaves, wondering how she could score summer in the tropics instead of Europe. She pushed the plate to Tracy, who groaned, but took a bite. "Great, huh?"
"I'm going to die." She cocked her head to the side. "Who knew, with all the sins I've committed, that it would be gluttony that finally got me in the end."
"You're not gonna die, Grandmother. You're a Quartermaine." She laughed as Tracy rolled her eyes. "And we all know Quartermaines are tough. Quartermaines are survivors." She grabbed the plate back from her grandmother and popped the last of the plantains into her mouth before saying, "And the Chief FemmeBitch of the Quartermaine Clan is totally not going to be laid low by a deep-fried banana."
"Amen," Tracy said, taking another sip of her drink. Brooke had kept an eye on the number of drinks she'd had, and surprisingly enough, Tracy had taken it slow.
The waiter, a Panamanian guy of about twenty, came by. Tracy had looked at him skeptically at first—what with the tattoos and the shaved head (except for the braided rat tail trailing down the back of his neck) and the muscles from here to Panama City. But he'd turned out to be not only a good waiter, but pretty darned charming. Especially when Tracy had started speaking to him fluently in Spanish. "Senoritas, have you saved room for dessert?"
"Ramon, you are trying to kill us, right?" Tracy tapped her finger on the table. "Get the check and move away from the table. That way, nobody gets hurt."
"You aren't intimidated by a little soup, are you, senorita?" Yeah, the guy had been totally flirting with her, and to Brooke Lynn's amazement, Tracy had flirted right back.
"Not just the soup, Ramon. The plantains, and the burritos, and the tortillas, and the…"
"We're not hungry, Ramon," Brooke Lynn said, emphasizing her accent just a little in case the guy thought he was gonna milk the touristas for a bigger tip. "Just the check." When he left, with just a bit of a snitty look at the younger woman, Brooke gave her grandmother a faux shocked expression. "You were flirting with him!"
"So?" Tracy downed the last of her drink and grinned ferociously. "He was there…"
"You're married, remember?" But she had to laugh, too. Maybe this was what her dad had tried to explain to her, about the whole Auntie Mame thing. She'd rarely seen Tracy away from the Quartermaine Vipers Nest, and she was starting to see a whole different side of her grandmother. The wall that was so apparent, the constant volleying of insults and accusations, even the frown she constantly wore, seemed to vanish along with her relatives. This Tracy Quartermaine was charming and relaxed and even, maybe, a little bit fun. "Where is Grandpa Luke, anyway?"
Tracy snorted at the "Grandpa Luke," then waved her hand dismissively. "Oh, he's off hunting diamonds, or chasing aliens, or fighting weather-changing super-villains. Whatever it is this summer."
Brooke chuckled. Tracy's marriage to the one and only Luke Spencer had been the talk of the town. Even though everybody said the marriage was a joke, she could see a difference in her grandmother. Gran swore it was about the fifteen million—everybody knew about the fifteen million—but still, Tracy seemed lighter, more cheerful than she had in all the time Brooke had known her. Which, granted, wasn't long ….
"You must miss him," she teased. "I mean, being married and all."
Tracy handed her credit card to Ramon, who'd eased behind her and was hovering just a little too close, as far as Brooke was concerned. He caught and held Tracy's gaze for a long moment, then went to run the card. "Now, don't you worry your little head about those things, Brooke, dear. Ours is a special marriage." She used the word "special" like most people used…well, several words, all of the four-letter variety. "Luke runs off and does his little adventures, and I go off to Europe and spend my fifteen million dollars."
"Must be love," Brooke muttered, playing with the garnish on her plate.
"Please." Tracy took the folder from Ramon and signed off on the check, slipping what looked like a very large tip into his hands as she returned it with a smile. "Ramon, I can't tell you when I last enjoyed a lunch so much." As she stood, he took her hand in his and kissed it. "I'll be certain to tell all my friends about your charming little bistro."
She was laughing as Brooke Lynn led her out of restaurant. Brooke had to laugh, too, at the expression on her grandmother's face. "You are completely horrible, Gran," she said, shaking her head. "How much did you give that guy?"
"Just a twenty," she said, putting her arm around Brooke Lynn as they walked down the street together. "It was a good choice for lunch, sweetheart. Thank you for suggesting it."
"Yeah, you get a little lunch time flirtation, and I feel like I'm gonna bust open any minute."
"Flirtation is great for the digestion." She waggled her eyebrows at her granddaughter. "I learned that from an Italian count, one summer in Portofino. Well, it's not only good for the digestion…."
"Uh, Gran, please!" But she laughed as they walked together, taking in the sights and sounds of the SoHo district. Brooke knew her grandmother and Dillon had lived there for a short time when Dillon was little, but that was all she knew. She couldn't imagine Tracy living somewhere so funky. "Hey, Gran, do you have to go back to the hotel right away? I mean, we planned to spend a while at the passport office, and…"
"What about all those friends you're going to miss so terribly while you're off trudging across Europe with Miss Daisy?"
Brooke shrugged. "I just thought, well…" She hesitated. It was always a crap shoot asking a Quartermaine to talk about the past. You never knew when you were going to uncover an affair or an illegitimate cousin or blackmail. But she just… "You and Dillon used to live around here, didn't you?" she blurted. "In SoHo?"
It was like a cloud passed over her grandmother's face, and Brooke could have kicked herself for even bringing it up. Things had been going so well. Why'd she have to—
"Not in this part of SoHo. A little more…downwind," Tracy said with a slight grimace. "I got the building in a settlement." She was looking everywhere but at her granddaughter. Brooke couldn't read the emotions playing on Tracy's face, but she knew uncomfortable when she saw it.
"Hey, sorry, Gran. I shouldn't have—"
"It's a few blocks from here," Tracy said softly. "It's a nice afternoon, if you want to walk."
Brooke drew in a deep breath and nodded.
The place was a dive. Brooke didn't say anything as they stood outside the brownstone. Her grandmother was staring up at it, her eyes shimmering with reflected moisture, her expression a million miles away. It was a fact, her dad used to tell her, that just because you're a Quartermaine doesn't mean you're gonna be rich. She'd heard stories of her grandmother's run-ins with The Old Man and Lila, but it had never really occurred to Brooke that her grandmother had ever been anything but rich.
Sure, she owned the building. But from what Dillon said, they also lived in it. And no landlord lives in his own building unless he has to. There were kids playing stickball in the street, making a racket she knew her grandmother would have hated.
"It's nice," she lied, only to hear her grandmother snort bitterly.
"It's a piece of crap," Tracy corrected. "But for a short, pathetic period of time, it was my piece of crap. Lock, stock and twelve million in back taxes."
"I bet you fit in great, huh?"
Tracy had to laugh in spite of herself. "Oh, like a native. At least Zoe stayed with me. She was Dillon's nanny for a while. Great girl." Tracy shook herself. "God, this is depressing. Please tell me you don't want a tour of this flop house."
"Uh, no, I've seen crappy buildings before." Tracy was already walking away, and Brooke hurried to keep up with her pace. "Thanks for showing me this, Gran."
"Don't mention it." And Brooke knew it was a literal suggestion, not just an expression. Don't mention it, meaning literally to anybody. God, she thought, how bad off were they? But she didn't say anything as they headed down towards Houston Street.
They had just turned onto Houston when Tracy let out a gasp. "You are kidding me! I can't believe it's still there." She was walking toward a run-down movie theater that had obviously not gotten the memo about the 21st century. She paused in front of the box office, her eyes lighting up with amusement.
"You know this place?"
"Brooke, I had a preadolescent kid and no money." She shook her head nostalgically, point up towards the dilapidated marquee. "Every Tuesday, they had Five Dollar Frenzy. Five bucks got an adult ticket, a popcorn, and a soda. Kids under eight got in free." She lifted a single eyebrow. "Dillon was small for his age. We…improvised." She sighed. "I saw more horrible movies than any single human being ever deserves to see. The management at the time seemed particularly obsessed with cheesy Japanese monster films."
"Nice…" Brooke had a hard time picturing Tracy watching Godzilla chase down the good citizens of Tokyo. "You almost sound like you enjoyed it."
Her grandmother shrugged, looking slightly embarrassed. "I was single, broke, and had a kid who never complained. Ever. It meant so much to him."
Brooke looked at her watch. It was just about three; a matinee would probably be starting soon. "Is it Tuesday?"
"No…" But Tracy was grinning, too.
"I've only got a fiver, Gran. Think I can pass for eight?"
Tracy led her to the box office, pulling a wad of bills out of her purse. "This time, sweetie, I think I can swing a matinee for both of us."
"Oh. My. God." The sun was just beginning to sink in the west as they exited the theater. "I cannot believe you just sat through Candyman with me."
Tracy was carrying a large box of popcorn, half full, as they headed towards the subway station. "I've seen it before." She scrunched her shoulders playfully, giving a mock squeal. "I'd be his victim any day or night, thank you very much."
Brooke stopped in her tracks, staring in horror at her grandmother. "Oh, tell me you were not just lusting over the Candyman."
"Ooh, that voice."
"No, no, no….my grandmother and I were not lusting over the same fictional character."
Tracy's laugh was strong and clear. "Guess you never saw that coming, did you?"
She reached over and snagged a handful of popcorn from the box Tracy was carrying. "I never saw you sitting through a horror movie, much less enjoying it."
"Can I tell you a little secret? I love horror movies."
Now Brooke was laughing for real. "You are lying to me, Grandmother. Because I know you did not just honestly tell me that Tracy Quartermaine is a fan of horror movies."
Tracy took her wrist and tugged gently until they were walking again towards the stop. "I spent a lot of time in hotel rooms with my cinematically-inclined little boy. I'd come home to find him fast asleep, the television still on, usually with the remote wrapped in the covers with him. There was always some cable channel playing one godawful slasher flick or another." She smiled warmly. "I was usually toasted—tired, and I'd just lie down next to Dillon and watch the movie. Sometimes he'd wake up and tell me not to be afraid, that it wasn't real blood. Just ketchup." She chuckled. "Strange kid, that son of mine." Tracy reached out and smoothed Brooke's hair. "I wish I'd spent more time with your father when he was young," she said wistfully. "But I guess it's just a mistake I have to live with."
"Yeah," she said, thinking it would have been nice to spend more time with her own dad growing up. "I still can't believe you watched horror flicks."
They were just reaching the subway station when Tracy stopped her. "Can't we take a cab?"
"No. We're in New York. Only tourists and jerks take cabs."
They were standing in front of a flower shop. Tracy turned her granddaughter to look at their reflections in the store window. "Candyman," she whispered.
"Gran, cut it out."
Tracy was cracking up now. "Oh, don't worry. I wasn't going to say…Candyman two more times."
"You are a sick woman, Tracy Quartermaine. You're actually enjoying it."
"Tell you another secret," she said as she admired their reflection in the window. They looked good together, a generation apart but with a little push to the imagination, they might have passed for mother and daughter. "I liked horror movies long before I ever saw them with Dillon. Even before your father was born."
"You are kidding me."
"There was a boy named Cecil Painesworth who went to a boarding school near the one I attended in Switzerland." She nodded purposefully, a wicked gleam in her eye. "He wasn't the brightest bulb in the box, but his father was an earl and he had a car." She rested her head on her granddaughter's shoulder. "He took me to my first horror movie. I loved it. When I watched it, I became the hero. I felt like I was there, like I was doing those things. For a change, I was fighting something nastier than myself." She grinned at Brooke's shocked expression. "For a change, at least in my imagination, I got to be the good guy."
Brooke Lynn didn't say anything for a moment. It had never occurred to her that Tracy didn't actually enjoy being the bad guy. For her whole life, she'd heard the legend of Grandma Tracy, her schemes and crimes and all-round bitchiness. Nobody had ever thought to mention that, maybe, Tracy might have liked to be the good guy for a while. Brooke impulsively hugged her grandmother. "Wow," she murmured.
Tracy kissed the top of Brooke's head, and added, "It didn't hurt that that was the night I lost my—head…" she faltered, flustered. "Yeah, I lost…my head…because the adrenaline was so…yeah." At the sight of Brooke's incredulous expression, she gave up trying to cover up her blunder. "Hey, I was almost legal."
"So, my grandmother, who plans of taking me on a tour of Europe, likes horror movies, advocates teen sex—"
"Only when I was the teen…not you."
"And flirts with tattooed Panamanian waiters." She nodded, impressed. "No wonder you make my mom nervous."
"So you're saying that I'm actually kind of, oh, dare I say it? Interesting?"
Brooke nodded as she led her grandmother down the steps into the subway. "You know, two months in Europe with you could be quite the education, Granny."