Lots of chopping: chopping onions, chopping carrots, chopping celery, chopping potatoes. Alina, Helene, and Ward are busy in the kitchen, as a chicken-stock broth boils on the stove. Ward finishes the celery and eases it into the stew. He grabs a bottle of wine and searches for the corkscrew. Helene adds her potatoes to the mix, and suddenly an errant carrot flies into the water, startling her with a splash. Alina snickers from five feet away. “Not funny,” Helene says, just before another one plops into the cauldron. “Honey. Enough,” she mutters, annoyed. She grabs Alina’s plate of carrots and adds them to the stew herself. Ward has poured three glasses of wine now, giving two to Alina. She brings one to her wife and forces eye contact upon clinking them together. “To good health,” Alina says. “I love you.” Helene responds with “I love you, too” and musters enough enthusiasm for a kiss. They toast Ward as well, who thanks them for their hospitality. Then the doorbell rings. We cut to Alina opening the door, revealing the other dinner guest: a more refined Tracey, looking suave enough to keep court with this company. “Hello,” she says with an attractive confidence, with a smile.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Helene says to Tracey as she pours her a glass of wine. Alina and Ward sit on a love seat nearby, with Alina keeping an ear on the other conversation. “Oh please,” Tracey says. “The pleasure is mine. Every woman and gay man I know will be jealous of my meeting you. You’re just as beautiful in person. And…I’ve never had to think so hard about what I was going to wear.” “Well, you look very elegant, I assure you,” says Helene. “And natural. It’s important to feel comfortable in your clothes, not wear something you think you need to be wearing just to fit in. You did a great job. I love this blouse… Proenza, right? Last spring?” Tracey blushes. “Yes. Wow. You’re good.” “I wish I didn’t know as much about clothes,” Helene says. “Tell me, though, about your writing. Alina has said terrific things about you, and she showed me your essays. I was very moved.” Tracey is beside herself: “YOU read my essays? I was nervous enough about Alina reading them. You two are like, every woman’s idols. You didn’t seriously like them? I’m embarrassed; I wrote those when I was 23. I hardly had a point of view.” // “How old are you now?” // “I turn 25 in six months.” Helene chuckles at the phrasing, then adds: “Younger than Alina when she really got started. Around when she and I met. You remind me of her.” Now, Alina interrupts: “That’s exactly what I thought, too, Tracey.” A group toast follows.
Mid-dinner, Tracey excuses herself to the restroom. As soon as she is gone, the remaining three unload about her. “Now you see why Quinn Healy was so enamored,” Ward says. “She was his muse.” “Yes,” says Alina. “She’s so intelligent. Her energy is magnetic, but terrifying all at once. I’m fascinated.” “She’s exactly what you need,” Helene adds. “She could be the same for you as Kyle has been for me…hell, even I’m feeling young again, just sitting beside her. Ward, another bottle?” He goes to the wine rack as Alina slips away to the bedroom: “I’m going to take my contacts out.” She steps into the bedroom, where she discovers Tracey browsing various framed images and paintings. “Oh, hi there.” Tracey isn’t startled, as if she thinks it’s perfectly fine to have lingered in Alina and Helene’s bedroom. “I just wanted to see your artwork.” Alina takes her contacts out in the vanity, and once she slides her glasses on, she sees that Tracey is hovering behind her, having seated herself at the end of the bed. Alina is careful to not look up, aware she is being studied. However, for just a split second, she does: Tracey’s intense, hungry stare breaks into a smirk. “I’ll be right out,” Alina says, suggesting that Tracey excuse herself. “Sure, of course,” Tracey replies as she steps away. In her moment alone, Alina closes her eyes and imagines herself and Tracey falling back onto the bed in a naked embrace. Alina jolts up from her vanity, wipes her brow, and returns to the dinner party.
“So you both met when Alina was my age?” Tracey asks the couple over dessert. “Yes,” Helene says. “She was covering my show for Vanity Fair, and I saw her backstage. She had already interviewed me a week earlier and had just captivated me, so when she was in the staging area, it felt like the right chance to ask her for a drink, even amidst the madness as I tried to get my models ready.” “She wanted to keep talking with me,” Alina says. “And I could only do that if I followed her around and helped powder the girls and let her talk whenever she had a free second. I just got to see her in her element, and she was so calm, so sure of herself, so radiant. She was married at the time…” “…to a man,” Helene finishes Alina’s sentence. Then Tracey jumps in: “Harvey Kleinhaus, the news producer. I read your Wikpedia.” “Ha, well, it’s not all accurate…don’t trust everything. A lot of people think we had already split up, but the truth is that I called it off when Alina came along. He had already been cheating on me, which I didn’t know, and so my leaving made it easy for him to just publicly transition to her, and they eventually married. So I got out with a hot young girlfriend and everyone thinking I was going through a strange rebound phase. Twenty years later…” “And I’m not so hot and young anymore,” Alina jokes. It should be funny, but there is some resentment in her tone. “Helene introduced me to her friend, who was Ward’s boss. Ward and I were the same age, and he was looking for his first couple clients as a junior agent.” Now Ward chimes in: “So Alina and I have been together just as long.” “Wow,” Tracey remarks as she swirls the last of her wine around in her glass. “Y’all have some serious history. And Ward, do you have a girlfriend or anything?” Ward has a trained response for this: “Yes, I was married, but she passed two years ago.” // “Oh. Sorry.” // “Thank you.” // “How did she die?” He doesn’t have a trained response for this. He’s a bit put off, but there’s no need to dance around the truth: “Bad kidneys,” he says, punctuated just enough to make Tracey recoil in embarrassment.
Alina and Helene are in the bedroom now—Helene reading with a dim glow from a bedside lamp, and Alina picking out her next day’s outfit. Alina hangs her clothes on the door hook, and sits at the vanity to brush her hair. She grabs the brush, and notices that it’s entirely clean of any tangled knots. “Did you clean out my hairbrush?” she asks Helene. “Hmm? No,” Helene replies. “That’s just gross.” “Maybe the cleaning lady, then,” Alina says. “Maybe,” Helene agrees, hardly listening. Alina brushes out her hair, as flashes of her earlier fantasy re-enter her thoughts. She stifles them quickly, but feels aroused from the idea. She turns to her wife: “Put the book down, honey.” // “Sorry?” // “I want you. I want you like I wanted you twenty years ago. With that kind of fire.” // “I don’t have that kind of fire, Alina. And I can’t just turn it on.” She keeps reading, as if the conversation is over. “Well, I’m the same age now as you were then. So maybe it’s my turn to teach you. Put the book down.” She steals the book and takes her wife’s hands. “Baby, it’s me. It’s Alina. Your wife. Of 20 goddamn years. Eighteen of which were really fucking wild. I want to make you well again. Can you give me that chance? Can you give us that chance?” Silence, as Helene struggles for a meaningful response. Alina continues with a joke: “Can you take your shirt off so I can remind you what it’s like?” “Fine,” Helene laughs. “You got bossy.” // “Yeah, while you went soft. Panties too, darling.” // “These hardly qualify as panties.” Alina slides them off, while imagining in her head that Tracey is lingering in the doorway, watching the two of them in all their intimacy.