Chapter 6


Tracey drops her tote in Ward’s living room. Alina, a nervous wreck already, now has the added guilt of making Tracey travel further for work. “Sorry,” she says. “I’m going to pay you $500 more every month, to cover the commute, and the inconvenience. And Ward says you can crash here if we ever work too late. The couch is a nice day bed, too.” “It’s fine,” Tracey replies. “I mean, walking a few blocks was kind of perfect, but I always heard nice things about Westchester. Besides, this is temporary, right?” // “Yes. It has to be. I need to be back in the city, in Brooklyn. In Prospect Heights. It’s my home.” She takes a deep breath, and collects her thoughts: “Sorry. Sorry. Or…thank you. Thank you for coming all this way, without any notice. I think with your help I can make this more temporary than it otherwise would be.” Tracey comes in for a hug: “It’s my pleasure,” she says, smiling warmly as she consoles her mentor. “I’ll help you, in whatever way I can.”


Tracey readies the couch for sleep; she’s spending the night. Alina and Ward stand behind her. “Day one, and it’s already turning into an overnight,” Alina remarks. “I’m sorry. And thank you. Again.” “I don’t care one bit, I assure you,” Tracey says. Then, Ward: “Do you have everything you need? Toothbrush? More blankets? There are bath towels on the shelf in the restroom.” // “I think I’m set, thank you.” Alina chimes in: “What about proper pajamas? I have an extra set in my luggage. Come with me.” Together, the two of them go to the guest room, but Ward stays back. “Do you want red or blue?” Alina asks. “They’re both from Helene, which is a lovely reality I’m going to have every day that I get dressed…” Behind her, Tracey is already stripped down to her underwear, sans anything up top. “I’ll take red.” Alina turns to see Tracey, and freezes. They lock eyes for maybe five seconds, maybe ten. Then Alina extends the pajamas to her mentee, who slowly dresses herself. The entire time, they keep eyes locked—it’s intense and charged and terrifying and exhilarating. “Thank you,” Tracey says after she finishes. “I feel very comfortable.” She leaves, and a few seconds later, Ward enters: “Did she change in here? Someone sure gets comfortable fast…”


Alina can’t sleep, again. She tiptoes to the kitchen, careful not to wake Tracey. However, Tracey is already up: She’s standing outside Ward’s bedroom, listening through the door as he talks to himself, or to someone unknown. She gives the “Shhhh!” sign to Alina, but Alina grabs Tracey’s hand and pulls her into the guest bedroom: “It’s his wife,” she immediately explains. “He says he can still see her. She sits at the edge of his bed, whenever he’s home. And they argue. He’s gotten lots of help but, maybe she’s really there?” // “Holy shit, that’s heavy.” // “I don’t want you thinking any differently about him. He’s carrying this on his back, going on two years now.” Finally, Tracey cuts in: “He was talking about selling the house?” // “Well, yes. In the hope that she dissolves with it. This was supposed to be their daughter’s room.” // “Their daughter? Was she…?” // “…A few months along, yes.” // “Please don’t judge him.” // “I won’t. I totally believe in that stuff. It’s real—they have unfinished business, and they want to make sure the people the left behind are taken care of. She probably wants him to start a family here, even if she can’t be part of it.” // “Well, that’s not really on the menu, I don’t think. Which is why he’s having a hard time; he wants to sell, you know, to move on. … Let’s go to bed?” Tracey nods, pauses for a few seconds—was that an invitation?—then exits politely.


After the door shuts behind Tracey, Alina stays upright on the edge of the bed. She’s thinking to herself, torn between trying to sleep and opening the door again… She opens the door again. Tracey is there, as if she knew it would happen. Alina pulls her slowly into the room. She lays back on the bed. Tracey crawls atop her. They kiss playfully, and then passionately. Tracey’s hand roams, and Alina relaxes, finally. Finally. She sits up, and helps Tracey remove her pajamas. As she unbuttons the silk top and pulls it back from both arms, she see the brand tag sewn into the neckline: “Helene.” After a moment’s pause, Alina stifles her restraint and pins Tracey to the bed as their shared fantasy is realized.


A taxi carries Alina, Tracey, and Ward through midtown. Ward, in the passenger seat, is briefing the women on their upcoming meeting with Alina’s publisher. Alina stares out the window through her sunglasses, only half paying attention. Tracey keeps looking over to her, annoyed that she isn’t getting any attention or affection. So, she tickles her fingers around Alina’s waistline—only playfully—until her boss turns and smiles coyly behind her sunglasses. With this cue, Tracey slips her hand down Alina’s waistline while Ward chatters away, oblivious to any of it. He starts quizzing Alina, and she can only respond with a short “Right, noted” and “OK, got it”. She seems indifferent to Tracey’s aggression, or like she’s trying to enjoy it but can’t. They arrive at the office; Tracey’s hand retreats, and she exits the car. Ward leaves his front seat, and opens Alina’s door to help let her out. She’s exhausted. He has a concerned stare: “How are you holding up, my dear?” // “Who, me? Oh, just fine, thank you. Today will be a good distraction. Work will be a good distraction.” // “One day at a time, yeah?” // “Precisely.” Ward kisses her on the cheek and follows Tracey into the building. Alina finds a kerchief, removes her sunglasses, and discreetly wipes away the mascara-stained tears before joining her colleagues.

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