We’re in a beautiful glass convention hall, with tables tucked to one half, with dinner plates cleared, with hundreds of stylish people dancing around the other half. There’s a bride—a beautiful redhead in a sleek, sleeveless gown—beaming in her husband’s arms. They do a quick spin, and we see him; he’s beaming even wider. He’s attractive too, though he’s batting up a couple notches; he seems so warm, so charming, so stupidly happy. His three-piece suit rivals her gown in fit and frill. Just past them, we see a sharply dressed guest—ALINA, 45—mingling with two other women. They’re all wearing pant suits or blazers, hair pulled tight and sipping their upped cocktails. While the other two women chatter, Alina has her stony, bespectacled gaze fixed on someone just past the newlyweds.
The object of Alina’s attention is HELENE, 63. Whereas Alina hides behind her own prowess, Helene radiates ease, approachability. Her greying hair is buzzed short, and her legs are crossed at the knees beneath a modest navy dress. Her ivory earrings contrast her dark skin, and a long, beaded necklace accents the number. Helene watches the groom and bride with such grace and sincerity, admiring the purity and splendor of the moment; she’s lost in thought as they dance. Alina’s stare softens as she studies the older woman; then, for a brief second, their eyes meet. This catches Helene off guard, her smile disappearing as she realizes she is being watched. She sends Alina a nod, and Alina raises her glass very subtly, sending a hello back across the room.
The music fades away, and the groom leaves his bride to retrieve a microphone: “Hi everyone. I’ve said it enough times tonight, and I know you’re all thinking it too, but can we just take a few seconds to marvel at this beautiful woman.” His bride blushes again, and even Alina feels elated. We see this beat unfold from her POV, as the groom continues: “Now, we’ve got her fine parents to thank for making sure she turned out so perfect, but there’s someone here who is responsible for this gorgeous gown, and that same someone is largely responsible for how I’ve turned out…a verdict I’ll leave up to you, but as far as I’m concerned, it means I owe this very special person a lot.” He and his bride turn their focus to Helene, who doesn’t want the spotlight, but she’s got it now. Someone shouts drunkenly “We love you, Helene!”, followed by a steady, graduated cheer. Then, the groom again: “Helene, I can’t imagine working for anyone else; I’ve learned more from you in our decade together than any other mentor or teacher or textbook could show me. I admit, I was a little offended when Rebecca wouldn’t let me design her dress…I’m good enough for Kate Middleton to call multiple times, but apparently not for my own wife on her biggest day. That’s reassuring….” The crowd chuckles. “Really though, Helene, I’m not good enough for you. Nobody is. I remain humbled by your kindness and talents.” We see Helene smiling timidly, frozen from the attention; Alina is frozen too, her stare affixed to Helene, even as the groom concludes: “Thank you for making this beautiful gown, and for being here with us today. We love you, so much. May I have a dance?” More cheers as the music resumes with an up-tempo number, as Helene extends her hand to the gentleman and accepts his invitation. Then quickly, once more, her eyes look over to Alina, as if to seek permission, or perhaps to boast.
As the song ends, one of Alina’s friends turns to the other: “Honey, let’s dance. Come on, we never get to.” They set down their cocktails, grab hands, and steer towards the action. The other turns to Alina: “Are you coming? You gotta dance to at least one song…don’t be so pouty!” Then they’re gone. Alina sips her martini, surveying the room and wishing she could disappear. With a deep breath, she builds an ounce of energy to follow her friends and join the mob. She slinks to the dance floor as the music changes to another slow song. She steers nervously toward Helene as the groom hugs her and kisses her cheek; it’s taking Alina a lot of courage to make this approach. The bride comes over to hug Helene as well, before reuniting with her new husband for the next song. Helene turns away from them, right into Alina’s care. Helene’s smile falls flat, as she is unsure again how to handle this attention. She says to Alina: “I thought you were just going to stare all night. Make me sit there, looking like a spinster.” She extends her left hand to Alina; there’s a wedding ring on it. “So here, why don’t I ask you to dance, then?” She emphasizes the “I” and “you”. They both relax as Alina accepts the offer.
The night is over, and the crowd slowly pours out onto the street: Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway, in Prospect Heights. We see the exterior of the building, the massive Brooklyn Museum, beaming like the bride. Alina is alone; she lights a cigarette and crosses the busy street to a boulevard, then across another one-way street before tossing the cig and entering her own front door; the venue location could not have been more convenient. We follow her through the lobby, then up one set of stairs, then down a long hallway, then into her apartment. It’s stunning, as sharply appointed as one would expect from an Eastern Parkway pre-war occupied by a posh power lesbian. She untucks and unbuttons her blouse to relax, then pulls out her ponytail before removing her heels. She walks to the bathroom door. It’s closed, and there is a faucet running on the other side of it. She knocks a couple times: “Are you almost done? Could you draw the bath for me?” The door opens, and we see Helene there, in her pajamas, prepared for bed. “All done. I’ll let you draw it. In 20 years, I haven’t once gotten the temperature right.” She scoots past Alina, then into the bedroom, shutting the door behind her. Alina sighs to herself, then walks to the tub to turn on the water. She cranks the cold handle, and we cut to black.
WARD, 44, 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.
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.
A manuscript thumps down atop Ward’s desk. He looks up at Alina: “You could have emailed it to me.” “I know,” she replies. “But this felt more dramatic. I’m a few chapters shy, but I think they’ll like what’s there so far.” Ward leafs through the pages. “What happens to Erica after her mother kills herself?” he asks of the story’s plot. Alina goes on to explain the storyline, which involves a woman who hires a ghost whisperer after her mother commits suicide, and is determined to admonish any guilt. Things get weird when she and the ghost whisperer fall in love, and her deceased mother, who disapproves of the lesbian love affair, starts communicating her anger. “So, the whisperer Chantal is stuck between them as lover, enemy, medium…” Alina says as she completes the pitch. Ward nods his head: “Into it. Wait, it looks here like you later give Chantal the narration?” // “Yes, we switch to her point of view midway through. That was Tracey’s idea.” // “Oh, great. So Tracey’s being helpful?” // “Quite. She’s smart. And she listens. Asks questions. Makes suggestions.” // “Can she turn back time and give me a completed novel, like, two months ago?” // “I’m starting to think she can make anything happen,” Alina says.
Ward and Alina’s last few lines pour into a scene where Alina and Tracey work together from Alina’s living room. We hear Alina say “She’s smart…” as the two women compare notes; Tracey makes some kind of suggestion, speaking passionately while captivating Alina. Next, “And she listens…” as Tracey studies Alina intently; she’s receiving feedback but is enamored by her mentor. … “Asks questions… makes suggestions…” as Alina reads red-inked notes that have been written in the manuscript, pleased with what she sees. … “Can she turn back time and give me a completed novel, like, two months ago?” as Tracey pours coffee in the kitchen; she has peeled off her button up to reveal a tank top and is now wearing her glasses, while Alina studies every curve of her body, fixated, from behind. … “I’m starting to think she can make anything happen…” as we cut to the bedroom. It’s many hours later, and Alina and Helene are ensnared in each other’s arms. Helene looks like she’s actually enjoying herself, and it’s her turn to speak as Alina rolls off to her side: “What’s gotten into you, Alina? Wow.”
“Wow. What’s gotten into you?” Ward asks Alina, waving the manuscript rapturously. “It’s terrific. Jesus; everything is so melodic, so passionate. I didn’t think you had a knack for romance anymore.” “That makes two of us,” Alina replies. “Or maybe three of us.” “You really like it, though, huh? I was worried about your reaction because of, you know, the death stuff. The burden stuff.” // “I did think some of it felt familiar. But you have to steal from your own life, from your relationships with people,” Ward reassures her. “That’s what makes these things feel real. It never felt invasive or too familiar, don’t worry.” // “Right, because you aren’t fucking your medium.” // “My problems would only just be beginning.” A pause as they both chuckle. “Really, it’s fine,” Ward tells Alina. “You have my blessing here. Especially because the writing is so damn good. Just don’t tell anyone I was your inspiration, yeah?” // “Of course not. I’m so glad you like it, Ward. Thank you. For everything, yet again.”
We’re back in the living room, as Alina and Tracey toil over the manuscript. Tracey abruptly stops what she’s doing and directs a question at Alina: “What’s Ward’s story?” “What do you want to know?” Alina replies, without looking up. Tracey doesn’t miss a beat: “His wife. She died two years ago of bad kidneys. That’s all he said. Is he ok?” Alina closes her laptop, now engaged: “Better than he has been. He, uh… he gave her one of his kidneys after hers gave out, and it failed her shortly after. So he blames himself, which he shouldn’t do.” // “Jesus.” // “He slept here for a long time after that. Maybe a year. He’s a brother to us, you know?” // “So, he’s not back on the market or anything? I guess I wouldn’t want to be for a while.” // “We’re not worried about that as much as we are his peace with the whole matter. They were ready to have kids; probably would have one right now. They just bought the house in Westchester, which is why he couldn’t go back there for so long. You lose your love, you lose your life…until you can see a new one taking shape. We hope he sees it soon.” With that, Alina purses a smile and resumes her work.
Alina and Tracey walk into the apartment with iced coffees in hand, debating the final chapter in the book. Tracey wants a downer ending, but Alina wants redemption for the protagonist; she typically has downer endings and believes it has become predictable. “I don’t want people thinking she has her life figured out,” Alina says. “But I want to leave the door open to that. I’ve put her through hell, almost literally, and I’d like to end on the slightest opportunity for hope, even when she’s being choked out by fear. Like, she sees the tiniest sliver of light…” Now they’re in the apartment. “Ok, ok, I agree I guess,” Tracey concedes. “Maybe that leaves things open for a sequel too.” // “I LOVE where your head is at,” Alina laughs, poking Tracey just below her shoulder. It’s an odd moment, one which has no verbal follow up, one that has them locking eyes, and smiling, and has Tracey reaching again for Alina’s hand, and placing it back near that point, except lower, on her breast, and then placing her own hand around Alina’s waist. A moment that has them inching toward one another, has their lips embrace, their tongues tied, their hands roaming, roaming, roaming…until Alina stops everything. “Helene,” she says. “I can’t do this to Helene. I want to do this, but I can’t do this. Also, I like working with you. Let’s acknowledge an attraction, and leave it be. OK? No harm, no foul.” Tracey nods, although she seems hurt. “OK.” // “And let’s call it a day. OK?” // “OK.”
Alina hustles into the waiting room of a doctor’s office. The secretary recognizes her: “Hi Ms. Elgin. She’s in with Doctor Hanson now. Should be done any minute; why don’t you take a seat?” // “Can I go in?” // “Not now, sorry. She’ll be done any minute.” Alina finds a chair. Thirty minutes go by before Helene emerges. She looks upset; Alina rises to receive her: “Honey, is everything…” Helene cuts her off: “How could you be late to this one? What could possibly be more important?” // “The publisher lunch, you know, Helene. You didn’t have to change the appointment at the last minute… I tried to be here. Is everything OK?” // “Everything is fine. I’m fine.” // “Wait, like… fine with your lungs? Or with us?” // “With my lungs. It’s done. It’s over.” // “Honey. WOW…” Alina starts to cry, and then Helene breaks ever so subtly. “I can’t believe it,” Helene manages to say. “Me either,” Alina adds. “Thank God.”
In the taxi home, Alina takes Helene’s hand as they both stare out the windows. “Let’s go somewhere,” Alina says. “To celebrate. To clear our minds for a while. You’re between seasons, I’ve got the draft in, we could escape for a few weeks. You’ve earned it.” Helene doesn’t miss a beat: “I’ve already booked something.” // “Oh…? Where are we going then?” // “Just me. I’m going alone.” // “Sorry, what?” Alina pulls her hand away from Helene’s. “That’s not like you. Why would you go someplace without me, without even telling me, or asking me how I would feel? Because suddenly I feel like shit.” // “I need some time alone, Alina. Badly.” // “At the doctor’s office, when I asked if things were fine with your lungs, or with us… you just said that your lungs were OK.” A pause. “Are things not fine with us?” // “They haven’t been, and you know it.” // “Yeah, well I’ve been under the belief that we could rebound from it, once you got your energy back. Once we got you back. I’ve been waiting for you this whole time, patiently.” // “I suddenly feel very free, Alina dear. And I want to be free. I want us to be divorced.” Alina asks the cab driver to pull over. “Get out,” she says to Helene. “Be free, if that’s what you want. You’re healthy now, you can walk fucking home. Don’t inhale any smog, you ungrateful louse.” Without a word, Helene does as she is told.
Alina sobs in the bathroom as we hear the front door open and shut. She covers her mouth with a towel to mask the deep breaths, and she listens intently as Helene crosses the living room and enters the bedroom, which is attached to the bathroom. The footsteps stop just outside the door. Then, Helene speaks: “The apartment is mine, as you know. I spoke with Ward just now, and he’ll let you stay with him, as long as you need. You cannot stay here tonight; I don’t want a drawn-out goodbye, so I’ll arrange someone to send you your things as soon as you decide where to receive them.” Alina changes direction: “What if you had stayed sick? Was I just here as your caretaker? My career took a very significant hit; I risked professional relationships, and helped you sew buttons on your goddamn blazers. The number of nights I couldn’t fall asleep…wondering why our marriage seemed to be falling apart, despite my loyalty and selflessness toward you. And I even gave you the benefit of the doubt, like ‘Oh, she thinks she’s going to die soon, this is excusable behavior. I’ll just be a good wife, and wait it out, knowing she’ll survive, knowing we’ll survive.’ You’re so old now, Helene. Who’s going to take you? Take care of you if you get sick again? How can you do any better? You own half my life, all my focus, and…all of that is disposable to you. Are you fucking proud of yourself?” She’s done yelling, and she opens the door to face Helene. Her wife stands there, poised. No tears. She looks like a portrait, a painting. After a few beats, she speaks: “I am very proud of myself.” Alina slams the door.
Ward opens his front door. “Hi my babe,” he says to a sullen Alina. “I’ve got dinner on the way, and wine. Lots of wine. And a chocolate ice cream cake in the freezer, since it’s your favorite.” “All that sounds like we’re celebrating something,” Alina says as she sets her bags down inside. “Maybe take them to Helene, celebrate her freedom, her new lease on life.” // “Maybe, uh, maybe this is YOUR new lease on life too, Alina. Er, um, I won’t go down that road yet. You need time. I should know that better than anyone.” // “Do you suppose it’s easier to lose a spouse to death or to selfishness?” // “Sorry?” // “Not to be a prat. But I hate knowing she can go out there and make herself happy while she juxtaposes it all against me, like I’m the thing that brought her down. At least your wife can’t make you miserable by searching for your replacement…by quote unquote LIVING.” // “I can call a hotel if you like…” // “Sorry. Jesus, sorry. I’m processing, Ward. I’m sorry. Let’s get the wine? And the cake….”
Alina can’t sleep, for obvious reasons. She sniffles, then gets up and teeters toward the kitchen. She fills a glass of water. As she drinks, she hears Ward’s voice coming from his bedroom. Alina tiptoes over to the door, and listens carefully. It’s like he’s carrying on a conversation with someone else, except he’s very clearly alone: “I have to sell it. It’s too big…. Well, yes, Alina’s here for a little while, but I can still put it on the market. Then find a one-bedroom in the city, try the bachelor thing again…. Oh, stop being so sensitive. What good is this place to me? This is the first time the kid’s room as been used. Do you want me sulking here? I need to get on with things, try to be happy. For me. … Yes I still want you around but… No, Amanda, listen… Listen! That’s what I would have wanted for you…. Oh, don’t give me that. Bull shit. Bulllll shit….” Alina’s eyes are wide, but she feels bad for eavesdropping, and for Ward. So, she slinks back to her bedroom, none the happier.
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.
Alina stands outside her old apartment. She pushes the buzzer as she mutters to herself: “This is fucking humiliating.” She covers the camera with her hand, just in time for Helene’s voice: “Who is it?” // “It’s Alina.” // “Why?” // “What do you mean ‘Why?'” // “WHY are you here?” // “Like I need a reason. Come on, I still have my keys. I was just being polite. I’m coming up.” // “Your keys won’t work…” Cut to: Alina unlocking the apartment door and walking in. “Keys work,” she says. “It was worth a try,” her wife responds, annoyed. Helene sits, very guarded, surrounded by packed moving boxes and holding a glass of wine in each hand; she offers one to her wife, who declines. “Alina, I’ve explained myself plenty by now. What do you need?” // “Well, first I need to pee, then you can tell me why everything is in boxes. I also came for some of my furniture. Just in time, it seems…you know half of this is mine.” She lets herself into the bathroom, as Helene’s eyes widen: “No, wait, honey…it’s a mess in there!” Too late: Alina is locked inside, shocked at the dozen-something painkiller bottles that decorate the sink perimeter.
Now they’re both in the living room. Alina is panicking, as Helene fumbles for words: “I’m…sorry. I’m just…drained. I’m empty, I’m tired.” Alina, furious: “And in pain. Still sick.” // “Yes…” Helene pauses. “Still sick.” A beat. “It’s back. But it’s in my spine now.” Alina has to process two emotions: Sorrow for Helene, and disappointment toward her: “No… no no no nononono. … Helene, honey. But…what? You thought you were doing me a favor? Is that your thought process?” // “Baby, I’m this miserable human. A shell of myself. I’m ready to give the brand to Kyle. I’ll get rid of everything here. You’re young enough to have another chapter, another love. You don’t owe me your best years. I got mine from you, and I shouldn’t steal yours in exchange.” // “Jesus Christ, Helene. All of that is SO far from what matters right now. There’s only one right answer for me. Stop packing. Stop…giving in. I want us to spend all of our life together. Maybe you’ll outlive me, even! Let’s make that possible, at least. And don’t give your entire label away yet. Kyle can wait. You’re going to be fine, I promise… I’m… I’m moving back in. Right now.” // “Alina, really, I think I’ll lose faster if I feel like I’m burdening you. The guilt of it all…” Alina sees a pack of cigarettes on the end table: “But smoking those won’t kill you faster? Seriously, Helene? Did you forget how we got here?” She pauses, her eyes begging for Helene to reply. Alina again: “Well?” Another pause. Finally: “I don’t know, Alina.” She turns away. “Let’s try it, then. I suppose it will be nice for you to find my body when I fall over dead in the spring.” Very quickly, Alina loses herself to sobs, and Helene chokes back her wine before starting on Alina’s glass.
Tracey works from Alina and Helene’s living room. She oozes discomfort as Alina unpacks boxes around her. Then, Tracey asks about the scene she’s working on: “I’m stuck on this line, where Chantal tries leaving Erica. I don’t think she actually wants to leave. I think she’s doing it out of guilt.” Alina, only half focused: “It’s like a therapist dating her patient, right? She wants to keep things professional. … It’s the right thing to do, don’t you think?” A pregnant pause… “Is it?” Tracey replies. “Listen, this is really weird for me, Alina. And I want to keep working for you, obviously…” // “It’s no less weird for me. What happened was fun, but circumstances have changed. Don’t wait for someone who’s unavailable, especially when you’re as young and hot as you are.” // “That’s not something most bosses say to their assistants.” // “Then I had better learn to watch my tongue.” // “I’m going to take my clothes off, and I’m going to lay on your bed. Do with that what you will.” // “That’s not something an assistant should say to her boss.” Too late: Tracey is already walking into the bedroom. Alina lingers for a minute, her conscience going back and forth. She goes into the bedroom.
A nurse draws Helene’s blood as Alina squeezes the opposite hand. Helene turns and musters a warm smile to Alina, then mouths “Thank you.” The nurse checks Helene’s vitals before the doctor enters. “Hi Helene, Alina.” She looks grim. “PET scans are showing that the metastasis is just in the spine. Not the best news, of course, but the best possible news given what we already know. So, now we can concentrate our efforts…” // Helene cuts in: “How much longer then?” A pause. “Maybe seven or nine months. That’s just the average. Some people recover entirely.” // “What percentage?” Helene’s tone is direct, aggressive. // “Less than five percent will get past two years. But you already beat this once! And we’ve got you in good hands again.” Helene squeezes Alina’s hand, and nods as she processes all of this. Another warm smile to her wife, who struggles to return the gesture.
Alina and Helene walk, hand in hand. They go south down Park Avenue, and through Madison Square Park, and Union Square, and Washington Square, and SoHo’s cobbled side streets, and Chinatown, and the Brooklyn Bridge, and Downtown Brooklyn, and Borough Hall, and Cobble Hill, and Gowanus, and Park Slope, and past Prospect Park and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch and the Brooklyn Library and Botanic Gardens and Brooklyn Museum… and home. Cut to Helene in the bath, and Alina sitting outside the tub, fully clothed. A charcuterie plate rests atop a foot stool between them, and, of course, they have glasses of wine: “Two years is nothing,” Alina says as they clink the glasses. “You’re gonna make it another 40, easy.” // “As long as you’re here.” // “What could possibly take me away from you?”
Tracey emerges from her bed sheets and comes up for air; Alina catches her own breath as Tracey snuggles beside her. “Looks like we can both teach each other something,” Alina laughs. Tracey goes to her dresser and returns with a joint, which she lights up and shares. “I love being close to you,” Tracey says, somewhat vulnerably. “I want to climb inside your head and see what you see, do what you do, think how you think, and write the same way.” Alina holds her tongue, unsure how to respond to something so intimate. Then, as she exhales smoke: “I think the way you see things, the way you write, the way you think…those should be things you’re proud of. The world doesn’t need another me. That won’t do anyone any good. Maybe the world needs its first Tracey Gorman.” // “Sure, but in the meantime, I can learn a lot by watching you, studying you, copying you. I mean, I’m writing a book in your voice, in your style.” // “Well. Technically I’m writing the book in my voice, in my style. And you’re following cues.” Tracey pushed the wrong button, and she knows it. “But you’re doing a terrific job,” Alina says, trying to remedy the tone. Tracey takes a puff and smiles, but not sincerely.
Alina sulks in Ward’s office, her face in her palms. Ward is flabbergasted: “Wooooooooow. Wow. Wowowowowow.” // From Alina’s corner, a muffled “I knowwwwwww. What the hell do I do?” // “This is totally my fault, Alina.” // “No it’s not. I allowed it to happen.” // “Well, she’s doing the same thing with you as she did with Quinn Healy. He’s got a restraining order on her now.” // “WHAT?!” Alina springs up, shocked and upset at this news. // “After she came to work for you, she still kept showing up at his place. Started following his wife. Crazy shit.” // “You never mentioned that she was a psychopath.” // “Well, we didn’t know that yet. Plus, she was helping you! I figured it would slow you back down if I pulled Tracey out. I thought maybe she was just crazy for Quinn or something. Not crazy all around.” // “And now I’m paying her, and fucking her…” // “And cheating on Helene…” // “Thank you, for that. It didn’t start that way, ass hole. I need to shake her, don’t I?” // “The sooner, the better.” // “Do you have another author you can pawn her off to?” // “I know better than to do that now.” // “So I get to clean up your mess?” // “I’m not the one cheating on my sick wife with my assistant. This is your mess now.” Alina collapses back into her own lap. “Ughhhhhhhhhhhhh!”
Alina and Tracey work quietly at a coffee shop in the West Village. Alina keeps looking up from her computer, trying to find the right moment to say… something. Finally, Tracey looks up and their eyes meet. Alina freezes, and Tracey smiles warmly. Alina forces one in return, then Tracey resumes working. Finally, Alina finds her words: “Tracey, um. Can I talk to you about something?” // “Mhmm, what’s up?” // “Um, I just wanted to say how good it’s been working with you.” // “Likewise. That’s so sweet.” Tracey grabs Alina’s forearm. She draws her finger along the veins, before Alina pulls away. “Well, also, I wanted to say that now that we’re done with this draft, I’m in the phase where I’m all set, you know? Like, the publisher and I work together, so they’re kind of my second eyes, and second opinion.” // “I’m contracted through the end, Alina.” // “Yes! I know. An oversight on Ward’s part. I was shocked yesterday when he told me that. He should know better; we’ve been working together for years…” Tracey starts to smell the BS. Alina continues: “And don’t worry, you’ll still be compensated for the whole contract. We’re good for that.” Tracey’s trigger goes off: “This is about Helene.” // “Why would you say that?” // “This isn’t professional, it’s personal.” // “No, it’s not personal. I’ll even be your reference for other jobs. You’ll be writing your own books in no time, I’m certain. This will help you get there faster.” // “I know what I’m capable of, Alina. And I don’t need to kiss your ass to get there.” “So you’re genuinely attracted to me?” Alina asks. A pause, followed by a staredown. “Yes.” // “Then I’m breaking things off. And you’re fired. Effective immediately.” The stare continues, as Tracey’s upper lip quivers furiously.
“I’ll call you a car,” Alina says to a teary-eyed Tracey. They’re outside the coffee shop. “I’ll just have it drop you on Eastern Parkway.” The car arrives, and Tracey climbs in the driver-side door. She leaves it open and goes to the far seat, then peers out: “Are you coming?” // “No, I’ll get my own, thanks.” // “We live a few blocks apart. I’ll hold it together; I’m capable of that.” Alina rolls her eyes: “Fine. Keep your hands to yourself.” // “Jesus, seriously?” Tracey responds as the car moves. “You must think I’m desperate. You’re the washed-up dyke in this outfit, FYI.” Alina politely ignores her and turns to face the passing scenery. The car arrives outside Alina’s apartment on Eastern Parkway. “This is good, thank you,” Alina says to the driver. She turns to Tracey, whose makeup is smudged halfway down her face. Alina unremorsefully puts her hand on Tracey’s shoulder: “We’ll send you a check for outstanding dues. Good lu–” // “Fuck you.” // “I’m sorry? You should be thanking me…” // “Helene threw you away. She didn’t want you; she’d rather die alone. And now you’re groveling. She’s going to fucking croak and you’re going to waste away waiting on her, when she doesn’t even need you.” // “Wow, and being with you would have been a more rational decision?” // “FUCK you.” It’s pure vitriol, rage, jealousy. Alina slaps Tracey, turning her brown cheek a deep red. Tracey instantly pounces, pulling off Alina’s glasses and ripping out a lock of hair. The driver yells over them, reaching back to break up the quarrel. Alina kicks Tracey away, and even cuts her cheek with her sharp heel. “I’ll see you in court,” Tracey threatens. “Not after you get your second restraining order,” Alina says. “I’m gonna blacklist you, bitch.” “GET OUT OF MY CAR, BOTH OF YOU!” the driver screams. Tracey exits in a huff, still clasping a bunch of Alina’s hair. Alina gathers everything and steps out her door, which is facing the street. Just then, a truck passes, too close to swerve away, and strikes. Alina hardly manages a scream before it rips her into a million goddamn pieces.
Tracey screams, then scopes the scene, her mind racing. She sprints away as the taxi driver yells after her, as the truck driver weeps, as traffic stops and the ambulance and police approach. We hear their sirens still from inside Helene and Alina’s apartment, where Helene washes produce and readies for dinner. She’s rehearsing a speech of some sort, nervously juggling phrases into order: “I’m ready to fight. With you. Thank you. … I’m going to fight. We’re going to fight. … Thank you for reminding me what is important. You are important. Let’s fight together. I need your help. … Oof. I’m not the writer here, that’s you. But thank you, for reminding me what’s important. I want to fight. I am so grateful for you, I love you so much. I want to get better. I want us to get better…” She fills a glass of water, chokes back a handful of painkillers, then peeks out the window to survey the scene on the street. “A shame,” she says as the respondents cover a corpse with a white sheet, as their lights blanket the boulevard in a sobering strobe. Helene instinctively does the sign of the cross, then returns to her dinner preparations. She checks the time, then locates two wine glasses, filling both as she smiles reflectively, graciously.