Helene sits in the living room of her smoke-stained apartment. Everything is packed up, and the bedroom is blocked off. It seems as if someone else did her packing, because she’s going through each box, auditing her belongings to see what has been salvaged. She pulls out a plaque that reads “Fashion Institute of Technology // Helene Hill // 1974 // Best Young Designer Award.” We flash to back then—a young Helene wins the award from her professors, and then attends a reception afterwards. A handsome young man in a buttoned blazer congratulates her. We cut to the two of them moving in together. We cut to Helene working diligently for an older designer, late one evening. She has a wedding ring now. We cut to her arriving home late: “I don’t think I have it in me anymore, to design,” she says to her husband. “What’s the end goal? If you can’t start your own label, you just fall behind.” // “So start your own label. You have the knack.” // “We don’t have the money.” // “My father has the money.” // “Harvey, no.” // “I’m not debating it. Let’s do it.” Now, we’re back to present-day Helene, smiling nostalgically.
Another box: Photos of Helene and Alina. One is dated March 1997, and shows a young Alina (25ish), and a young-er Helene (mid 40s). They’re smooching at a cocktail party, surrounded by models and flashy fashion people. We cut to the scene: Alina is shy—she’s comfortable and happy to be there, but it’s all very foreign to her. Helene squeezes her arm: “I thought you were used to this stuff, what with all those Vanity Fair parties.” // “Well, those are for work. Everyone has their face on. This… this is like, wild! I mean, I waited for the toilet with Naomi Campbell.” // “Did she take a while in there?” // “Yeah, why?” // “Never mind. Relax, Alina. You’re with me. Everyone is excited to meet you.” // “I feel like a fraud!” // “You’re not a fraud. You’re a talented writer. Even if it wasn’t true, these cronies would believe it. But more importantly, I believe it, and you need to believe it, too. Because it’s true. Let’s get more wine!” Helene slips into the kitchen to refill their bottles. A chic woman with a Rachel Green haircut follows her in, and corners her: “Is that the girl you were telling us all about?” // “She’s no girl. She’s a very talented woman. A writer… and yes. That’s her. Alina.” // “Have you told Harvey yet?” Helene smiles politely as she pours two glasses: “I’ll get around to it. Whenever he’s home again. Whenever that is. He’ll be relieved.” // “It’s good to see you smiling again, Helene.” Back to present-day Helene, who tucks the photo into her planner.
Helene does some digging, and pulls out a few books. They’re Alina’s. She opens the jacket to one, and turns to the back of the book, to Alina’s author biography. She reads it aloud, but quietly, as we zoom into the author photo and the context in which it was shot: Alina posing on their couch as Helene beams from behind the camera man. The photo shoot continues as Helene’s voice narrates: “Alina Elgin is a three-time New York Times bestselling author, who skyrocketed to fame with 1999’s ‘Fuel for the Flame’, followed by ‘High Tide at St. Malo’ and ‘Regal, Illegal’. She lives in New York City with her wife, the designer Helene Hill, and their Labrador, Abbey.” Back to Helene—still warmed by nostalgia—as she leafs to a page at the front of the book. We get a C/U on the page: It’s the author’s dedication page. Alina’s words read: “To my dear Helene. Without you, I would not be possible. Eternity, in your arms, shall be transcendent.” Helene’s eyes scan the text many times over. She runs her fingers over the words, as if to absorb each one.
Another box: Helene fishes out a pair of silk gloves. We flash back to the gloves on her hands, which grip Alina’s hands; they’re seated side by side at an awards gala; it’s more recent, judging by their clothing and age. We pan out, and see on the large projectors that it’s the CFDA’s annual awards—2006. The woman at the podium looks down to Helene, who stares back humbly. “Helene Hill is why half of us in this room are working,” says the speaker. “Her vision, her generosity, her influence over the industry has… blown open our public visibility, making fashion more accessible, yet still ambitious. The modern woman works hard to own Helene Hill garments, because she feels like her best self in those clothes. Helene—the woman AND the brand—transforms anyone from acceptable to exceptional. I am so honored to give her this award tonight…” The accolades fade and we flash to an afterparty, where Helene mingles with other guests—no sign of Alina; Helene glances around the room, searching for her wife. She politely excuses herself. Cut to: Outside the party, Alina leans against the building, her jacket wrapped around her shoulders. Her makeup is smeared. Helene, also bundled up, lights a cigarette. “Baby, what’s the matter?” she asks. Alina searches for the words, then: “I don’t deserve you. I don’t deserve anything you’ve given me. I’m an imposter. I’m only successful because you made me that way. Otherwise, I’d be average. I believe ‘acceptable’ is the word that was used?” // “Alina…” // “I’m going to go home. And then I’m going to find somewhere else to live.” // “Alina…” Now Helene starts to cry. “I’m so sorry, Helene.” Alina pauses as they lock eyes, and then slowly walks away. Now we’re back to Helene in the living room—she gently re-places the gloves in the box.
Last from the boxes, a pink Hawaiian lei. We cut to: Helene and Alina smiling together at a luau. They’re wearing their leis, and are seated next to Ward and his wife Amanda, also adorned accordingly. It’s just a few years prior, maybe 2013 or 2014. They’re all cheering on a performance, looking around at one another and laughing. Helene takes a moment to marvel at her wife, as Alina herself studies the show. Everything moves slowly, mostly because Helene is so drowned by love and happiness. Suddenly, she has to cough, and it’s really aggressive. It takes everyone out of the moment, as Helene grabs her napkin and coughs into it. There’s blood on the napkin once she pulls it away from her mouth. Only Alina sees it otherwise, and Helene quickly folds the napkin and excuses herself. Ward and Amanda look concerned as Alina follows her wife to the restroom. We cut to a doctor’s office, where a doctor exits the room while Alina and Helene sit together, very sober. Helene fights tears. She wants so badly to be brave. Alina takes her hand. “Eternity,” she says. “That’s how long I’ll be by your side, fighting with you. But I need you to fight, too.” Helene squeezes Alina’s hand, to acknowledge her, to express her gratitude. Now, we’re back in the living room, close-up on Helene’s fist as it clutches the lei. Then, wide on Helene, who puts the lei away and finds her glass of wine, eager to chase her emotions.