WARD, 37, a wavy-haired Hispanic man in a buttoned-up vest, yells at Alina from across his desk: “What do you mean it’s not finished? The advance covers you through tomorrow. Will it be finished tomorrow?” Alina’s eyes go wide and she shrugs her shoulders halfway up the sides of her head. “No, are you kidding me?” she says. “I’m stuck. I’m still stuck. I have hit a wall and I can go no further. I am out of ideas, forever. No more ideas. Nunca.” Ward, quieter, but agitated: “You know I can drop you whenever I want to, right? You know that I always stick my neck out for you and the last two years have really compromised my reputation because I’m always defending your sorry excuses…you know that, right?” This has Alina laughing, but not in a sinister way. It suggests he has said something that they both find funny. Her tone is soft now: “Ward. We had this exact conversation after the last book, and you know I’m trying to work my way through this, but I need a couple more months.” He’s speechless, then flicks his hands like he’s waiting on her to offer a solution. Her reaction: “I’ve been there for you, man. I have fucking been there for you. Maybe that’s why you can’t leave me. Maybe you’re stuck with me and I’m stuck with you, huh?”
Now Ward offers a solution: “How can I help? Huh? How can we prevent this from happening time and time again? You’re a publisher’s nightmare. Hell, you’re my nightmare.” Alina sulks, but is quick with a retort: “Then why do they keep asking for more? Seems I’m doing something right.” A pause, as Ward struggles to find the words to argue back, as if it’s worth his bother. Alina again: “How about an assistant?” // “You can’t afford an assistant.” // “You know damn well I can afford 30 assistants, especially if I can afford to keep paying you. Can we please stop arguing?” He drops his defense, and closes his eyes as he speaks: “What will this assistant do? Do you need me to come by the apartment more? Help out with Helene?” // “Mmm, no, don’t be crazy. The assistant could help there, I guess. But I always need help brainstorming plot ideas. Answering fan mail. Doing top edits. Maybe ghostwriting here and there if they’re good enough, to help on first drafts…” // “You would need someone in here, like, ASAP.” // “Yes.” // “I actually know of somebody.” // “Yeah?” // “She’s a smart kid. Quinn Healy’s assistant. His game has really picked up since she came along. Just finished his best, if you ask me.” // “So why steal her?” // “Because he’s fucking her. And it’s going to ruin his marriage.” // “Ha! That’s too good. Jesus. So she’s hot. If Healy’s into her, she’s definitely hot.” // “I won’t answer that. She writes like you, though. I think you would both benefit from one another. I’ll set it up. Just…hurry the hell up and get this book done.”
Alina prepares a French press in the kitchen when her buzzer rings. Cut to: Alina opening the front door, and we see TRACEY, 25, for the first time. She’s more average than we would have guessed—Tracey’s department-store jacket and unkempt hair command little praise—and although she’s doing nothing to highlight her angular facial features, piercing eyes, and full lips, we do see some potential. And so does Alina. There’s just half a beat too much as they study each other, before Tracey sticks out her hand. “Hi Ms. Elgin. Tracey Gorman. It’s…such an honor to meet you.” Alina smiles, shakes Tracey’s hand, and invites the young woman inside. “Any coffee?” Alina asks. Tracey: “Oh, yes, but only if you’re making some for yourself, too.” // “I am. How do you take it?” // “However you take yours is fine, thanks.” // “Well, aren’t we agreeable then?” // “I figure if I’m going to become a better writer, I should start copying my idols.” // “Ha, well, at some point I’m going to need you to disagree with me, Tracey.”
The two women are mid-conversation after coffee: “I read some of your stuff. Ward sent it to me,” Alina says. “It’s really insightful. You’re giving up a promising career as a journalist to pursue publishing. I hope you know.” Tracey blushes. “Well, I like to think it will pay off when I’m a novelist.” // “I like your confidence. It’ll get you far.” There’s a charged pause; Tracey doesn’t know how to accept the compliment aside from a shy smile. “I’ll put these dishes away,” Alina says. She takes the mugs and snack plates to the kitchen, then rinses them in the sink. “It’s so nice meeting you,” she shouts, so that Tracey can hear her in the next room. She dries her hands and walks back into the living room, where Tracey is showcasing a new look: She has pulled her hair back and down, and has put on some thick-rimmed glasses—they look just like Alina’s. “Oh, that was a quick transformation…” Alina says, somewhat unnerved as Tracey grins back.
“I get such a headache without them on, after the whole day,” Tracey says of her glasses. “They help me relax. I have a date, though. I hope I don’t look too dorky.” “Dorky? What’s that say about me?” Alina asks. // “Oh gosh, I would never… you’re the most chic woman I’ve met. And your wife is so regal. You’re not dorky.” // “Good save…” // “Speaking of chic…what’s that fragrance you’re wearing? It’s so…mmm, powerful.” // “Oh, it’s my favorite. It’s called Nanban. From Arquiste.” Alina extends her neck towards Tracey, as if to invite her for a closer account of the scent. Tracey accepts the offer, and they share a brief, intimate moment as Tracey’s nose barely grazes Alina’s neck. “It’s incredible, really,” Tracey says, her face now just inches away from Alina’s. “Here, wear some tonight,” Alina says, disrupting their moment to retrieve the bottle. She sprays each of Tracey’s wrists, then shows her how to dab the scent on her pulse points. “He’ll like that.” // “She,” Tracey says. “She’ll like that.” It’s not the response Alina expected. None of this was.