Chapter 12. Why Are You So Far Away?




THURSDAY


Nia Green felt like she was in a dream. She felt different than she’d ever felt before. Light. Airy. Like if she wasn’t careful, she’d ascend into the soft-blue Mid-August sky, soar past the creamy pillows of clouds and clink champagne glasses with the sun.


She stood tall on the highest tips of her toes as she floated through the Fire Island mansion. Ever since Imani had messaged her back on Facebook, Nia couldn’t keep seem to keep the soles of her feet planted into the ground.


You don’t know this girl, her brain cautioned her heart. It’s been ten years. Chill the fuck out. Stop prancing around like a love-sick lawn fairy! She picked up her flashy new iPhone; a gift from the studio producing the movie she was set to star in, come fall. Pretty soon she’d find herself in smoggy-skied Los Angeles, spinning ‘round the hamster wheel of rehearsals, late-night shoots, harrowing dietary restrictions, 6 a.m. spin classes, and self-imposed seclusion (to protect herself from the slew of career-destroying temptations flitting recklessly about the real world).


She checked the time on her phone. “8:15 a.m, bitch” it taunted through the static screen. In exactly three hours and fifteen minutes, Imani’s ferry would be gliding down the Long Island Sound, ready to anchor itself in the rainbow-flag-adorned Cherry Grove harbor.


Nia suddenly became hyper-conscious of her heart. This usually only happened when it was racing through her body. Or slamming itself against the pavement of her chest. Or lodging itself into her throat. But in this moment, it wasn’t doing any of those things. It was simply beating: You’re alive. You’re alive. You’re alive.


*


Violet curled her limbs into a fetal position in her twin-sized bed. She shared a three-hundred and thirty-three-foot studio with her closest confidant, Jose Antonio. They were the not-so-rare breed of New Yorker that prioritizes location over space. Their studio was in a fabulous pocket of Chelsea; the corner of sixteenth and seventh. Violet had coerced one of the many tool-belt lesbians she knew from Dolly’s into building them a temporary wall that divided the closet-sized space into two private “rooms.” The walls were so thin Violet’s sleep was often disrupted by Jose Antonio’s violent snoring, and Jose Antonio’s emotional wellbeing was often disturbed by the sound of Violet’s medication-induced night terrors. But besides that, they were as happy as can be!


Violet basked in the calm warmth of her blankets for longer than usual this morning. She knew it was a matter of hours before she’d find herself speeding through another frantic day at Lint Magazine. They’d just made Violet in charge of FUCKED, an anonymous first-person column detailing the sex life of a promiscuous New Yorker each month. It was hard to find engaging, literate people willing to pen a 2,000-word explicit essay highlighting the most intimate details of their slutty lives for $60, with no credit to their byline. She’d found that the people who get off on writing about fucking are the same people who get off of on attention.


Violet stared into the ornate spiderweb stretched across the ceiling fan. She pinched the flesh on her stomach. Is Lexapro making me bloated? she sleepily wondered.


POUND. POUND. POUND.


Her heart leaped out of her chest. It was only 7:05 a.m. Was she still delirious from the two Ambien she’d swallowed before bed?


POUND. POUND. POUND.


She grabbed a fresh bottle of pepper spray from her nightstand and tip-toed to the door. She held her breath as she peered through the peephole. All she could make out was a fish-eyed view of a large platinum head.


FUCKING REALLY?


She unbolted the door and swung it open. Knife shattered into her arms, like a beer bottle tossed off an East Village rooftop.


*

“I’m motherfucking alive,” Nia hummed aloud to herself. It was the first time she’d utilized her vocal cords in days. Come to think of it, she’d been alone in the sprawling Fire Island mansion void of human contact, ever since Ray had left for the city early Sunday morning.


Nia had only slept an hour when Ray rasped “I have to go,” into her ear at 6 a.m. She pried open her lids to see Ray’s taut, freshly-showered-and-dressed body, hovering above her like a ghost. Ray’s black leather Marc Jacobs weekender bag clanked against her hips as she stretched her spine straight. “I have an important client at noon,” she added, squinting into her Rolex.


“Okay,” Nia yawned. “I guess I won’t see you for over a week?”


“Yeah, I’m slammed with the Victoria’s Secret girls all week and then I’ll be out in the Hamptons with Gwenyth on Friday.” Ray scanned Nia’s naked body. Her critical gray eyes felt like rubber bands snapping against Nia’s exposed flesh.


“I’ll miss you,” Nia cooed.


The chiseled muscles of Ray’s biceps rippled beneath her tight, black t-shirt. Her electric eyes zapped Nia wide awake. Ray bit her lower lip, holding Nia hostage in a dangerous, blinkless, gaze. “Oh yeah?” She raised her brow so high it touched the skylight flooding streaks of blue-gold sunrise across the king bed.


Nia’s stomach cartwheeled.


There was no way Ray had any idea she’d feverishly been messaging another girl as she slumbered next to her — right? I mean, she’d fallen asleep grasping her phone. She glanced down and smiled. Her fingers were still tightly curled around her contraband. Phew! She was safe. But what was it about Ray that made her so...paranoid? She loosened her grip and carelessly tossed her brand new iPhone onto the nightstand next to the bed. She flashed Ray a vibrant pink bubblegum smile. It was the same smile that had gotten her signed by Natalie Portman’s manager at seventeen. Unlike most girls in their twenties, Nia was fully aware of the intoxicating power that accompanies youthful beauty and charm. And she was in no way ashamed to exploit her sparkle if it meant keeping her secrets safe.


“Of course, I’m going to miss you,” Nia sing-songed, tilting her head toward the skylight. Her brilliant terracotta cheekbones glittered in a pool of yellow bathed turquoise.


“That’s fuckin’ right,” Ray murmured. Without freeing Nia from the grip of her stare, Ray kicked her Vans off her feet. She removed her giant bag from the shelf of her sculpted shoulder and placed it carefully on the green velvet chaise that sat at the foot of the king bed like a fat cat.


She crawled on top of Nia. Her clothed body pressed hard against Nia’s naked body. Nia felt a kick of adrenaline pulse through her veins. She wasn’t sure if Ray’s manic energy was rendering her ferociously turned on or downright repulsed. The chalky dryness in her throat and slippery wetness between her legs told her she was both. Ray kissed her. She slowly ran her fingers down Nia’s ribcage. The pace of their kiss accelerated and accelerated and accelerated until their lips were ravaging one another. The inside of Ray’s mouth felt hot and minty; inviting and unpredictable; territorial and dismissive; sweet and mean. Ray shoved a steady knee between her trembling thighs. She wrapped her arms around Ray. Ray pushed her knee deeper and deeper and deeper into Nia. Nia felt a bomb of raw desire burst through her body.


And then the kissing stopped.


Abruptly —


Like the slam of the breaks of a speeding car when confronted with a blood-red stop sign in the dead of the night.


“I have to go,” Ray whispered. “Like now,” she slithered her knee from the chokehold of Nia’s famously long legs and hopped to the floor. She wrangled her feet into her sneakers. She slung her bag across her bulging forearm and smoothed back her hair. “Be good,” she winked, before softly clicking closed the bedroom door.


“You know it,” Nia giggled after her.


And then she held her breath. She listened carefully as the pitter-patter of Ray’s footsteps shuffled against the kitchen tile, then across the shiny marble floor of the living room. She waited until she heard the heavy steel front door swish open and then slam shut before she exhaled. She spent the rest of the day oscillating between debilitating panic attacks and furious masturbation.


A part of her felt wrought with rejection. Why hadn’t Ray been foaming at the mouth to connect with her this week, like usual? Why had her incessant requests for nudes suddenly subsided? What had become of their nightly phone calls and midday check-ins? They’d spent nearly every single weekend of the summer glued at the hip. Grunting their way through gruesome beachside workouts. Fucking each other’s brains out. Snickering at the daily boatloads of dykes, fleeing their mundane lives, hurdling down the docks with their mega coolers, wagging their tongues like rabid dogs. Waxing poetic over what amazing, perfect, gorgeous, and superior humans they both are whilst snorting bumps of white powder off glass tables.

But a bigger part of Nia felt relieved by the radio silence. The past couple of weekends she’d seen a disorienting shift in Ray. Or maybe the mind-blowing orgasm fog was starting to clear and she was finally seeing Ray for who she was (criticizing, controlling, vain). Whatever the case, something about Ray’s lifeless eyes and senseless demands had begun to make Nia uneasy. Plus, now she was absolved of any guilt she might feel about inviting Imani to stay the night. Not that she had any reason to feel guilty. It’s not like she and Imani were going to hook up. They were old childhood friends, why the fuck would Nia be obliged to tell Ray about such an innocent reunion? For all Imani knows, I’m fucking straight, Nia thought to herself, splashing ice-cold water against her face.


*


Violet stood in the doorway and let Knife shake in her arms for a good ten minutes before ushering her inside.


“Let me see your face, Knife,” she demanded, stepping away.


Knife hung her head.


“Let me see your face,” Violet repeated.


Knife hesitantly lifted her head and faced Violet, keeping her eyes to the floor.


“Shit,” Violet whispered, taking in Knife’s face. The delicate flesh around her left eye was a raised dark purple. A smear of dried blood sat between her nose and mouth. Her skin was a strange pale gray.


“I’m sorry,” Knife murmured, finally meeting Violet’s eyes. “I’m ashamed.”


Violet reached up and gently touched Knife’s face with her shiny lavender nail. “Of what?” she asked, softly. “I love you,” not realizing she meant what she said until after she said it.


“You do?”


Violet looked away. She looked back at Knife. Even though Knife looked like an extra in a Night Of The Living Dead reboot, she was gorgeous. Razorblade cheekbones towering over swollen pink lips. Beach hair and a blue lagoon stare. Delicate long limbs shockingly strong. “Let’s get you showered,” Violet sighed, leading her to the bathroom.


Violet stood behind Knife in the shower. Scalding hot drops of water poured over them, but Knife continued to shiver. Violet silently washed the blood, dirt, and drugs off Knife.


“V-v-Violet?”


“Yes?”


“I-I l-l-love you too,” she quivered, through chattering teeth.


*


Imani sipped her bloody mary as she breathed in the salty air. She’d been to Cherry Grove dozens of times but this was her first time taking the ferry alone. She was usually far too deep in a sea of yappy, excited dykes to notice the actual sea, glimmering in the Long Island sun. How have I NEVER really appreciated the beauty of this boat ride? she wondered, gazing dreamily into the blue dark water. She wasn’t sure if her bloody mary was exceptionally strong, or if she was intoxicated from the sudden onset of nature. There was no way — no way — that her uncharacteristic giddiness had anything to do with the fact that in ten short minutes she’d be face to face with Nia Green.


Nia Green who she hadn’t seen in a decade.


Nia Green who she had fallen madly in love with at the tender age of fourteen. Nia Green who’d innocently crushed her heart after her dumb fifteen-year-old self thought maybe she felt the same way. Nia Green who’d been the first girl that made her realize, holy-shit, I’m a raging fucking lesbian. Nia Green who’d drifted out of her life but always lingered in her mind, like a swimmer in the background of a beach movie.


Imani didn’t know how to feel about this strange reunion with Nia. She’d always struggled with identifying emotions in her personal life. She’d channeled all of her energy into basketball for as long as she could remember. Sure, she’d dated a handful of women, here and there. She’d had her fair share of hot sex too. But there’s only room for so much when you’re the star of the most successful college basketball team in the entire NCAA Division 1 league. Her brief romances at U-CONN had been frivolous little flings that fizzled as soon as the girl realized Imani couldn’t bestow her with much attention. After all, she was slated to become the next Tamika Catchings. There had been no question whether or not Imani was going to go pro. Her life was set.


Until a car spun out of control on the 1-95 tearing her already banged up ACL and leaving her with a broken femur and traumatic head injury to boot.


Her life-long dream had been ripped from her arms right as they were about to come to fruition. One feeling Imani understood? Grief. And grief had been her baseline for the last year and a half. And the bitch about grief is that there’s no escape from it. Everything Imani had done or said or experienced since her accident was clouded in the smog of what could have been.


But when her phone sounded off outside of Dolly’s the other night — and she saw the name “Nia Green” flash against her screen — it was like the smoke cleared and could she see the sky again. Imani’s heart pounded like keys on a piano the moment she clocked the rainbow flags waving in the distance. She’d be pulling up to Cherry Grove in minutes. Nia had casually mentioned meeting her at the dock, but Imani didn’t expect her to. Wasn’t Nia sort of famous now?


The ferry dutifully pulled into the harbor. She threw her custom Nike Heritage backpack on her back and slowly worked her way through the crowd of excited New Yorkers, ready to spend a long weekend staring into sky-scraper-free stars.


The second her feet landed on the dock it was as if everything in the background faded into nothingness.


All she could see was her.


Standing alone.


Big, expressive eyes darting back and forth like startled birds.


Looking perfect and nervous fumbling with her phone in faded denim and cream.


Nia didn’t notice Imani right away. But the second her eyes landed on Imani, Nia’s face broke into the biggest, toothiest smile Imani had ever seen. It was the smile of a little kid on Christmas morning. A smile that cracks open a long-sealed window and fills a dark room with light. A smile so vulnerable its hopefulness will crack you open and shine magnificent golden beams onto your saddest memories, showing them that they too are worthy of a moment in the sun.


In slow motion, they made their way toward each other. “Hi,” Imani managed to muster.


“Wow,” was all Nia could say.


*


Knife vomited into Violet’s toilet bowl the second Violet left for work.


You don’t belong here.


You don’t belong here.


You don’t belong here.


Her stomach lurched. She wretched and wretched and wretched. She wretched her throat raw.


Her eyes bloody.


Her body sore.


She wretched until she fell asleep on the bathroom floor and dreamt of an entirely different life. A life without drugs and violence and pain and fucking up and hurting people. A life where she belonged.


*


Nia and Imani sat on the beach nervously clutching plastic cups of wine as the deadly ocean roared before them. It was a brilliant August day. The sky was an electric blue and the sun a vibrant neon. The beach was empty except for small scatters of gay men, lounging naked on the sand. The air smelled of brine and rosè.


“This feels surreal, huh?” Nia asked, keeping her eyes fixed on the crashing waves. She didn’t trust herself to look at Imani. She figured Imani would be beautiful — but she had no idea she’d be this beautiful. Silky espresso skin with amber undertones. Dreadlocks falling into milk chocolate eyes. Brawny six foot two. Smile so shiny like brand-new.


“It does,” Imani agreed, staring into the splash of dusty pink liquid inside of her plastic cup. Nia was so utterly stunning, it was almost painful. Looking at her was sort of like staring into the sun. What struck her the most was how casual her beauty was. Effortless. Like a Calvin Klein ad from the 90s.


“I meant what I said, you know.”


Imani’s heart skipped a beat. “What, specifically?”


Nia kept her gaze to the water. “That I regret not kissing you back all those years ago.” Suddenly she felt covered in mosquito bites. Itchy, hot bumps of embarrassment permeated her body. Imani probably didn’t even remember trying to kiss her. What was her problem? Why was she such a fucking freakshow these days? She began to furiously scratch her arms.


Imani turned and faced Nia. Her skin looked as if there were moonbeams inside of it. “Nia —”


Nia’s eyes floated away from the sea and dove into Imani. “Yeah?”


Time stood still.


Imani brushed her hand against Nia’s cheek.


She wanted to memorize Nia’s face. And then tuck it away, somewhere safe and deep in her mind.

Suddenly Nia’s lips were touching her lips.


And for the first time in her life, outside of Basketball, Imani found herself lost in a moment. The rumble of the ocean. The texture of the sand. The sunlight raining gold over them. The car crash. The mourning of what could have been. The pressing fear of the future.


It all fell away.


For hours they sat on the beach, kissing.


It’s true what they say. Finding someone to fuck is easy. Finding someone you can endlessly kiss? That’s like finding a diamond next to a dead rat on 11th avenue.


They kissed and kissed and kissed until the sun softened and the sky dimmed.


“Imani?” Nia asked once they came up for air.


“Yes?”


“I loved you back then. And I think I still do.”


“I think I still do too.”


“Are we crazy?” Nia asked. Sparklers twinkled in her brain. She playfully pushed Imani into the sand. Imani dramatically fell flat on her back. Nia tumbled on top of her.


“If this is crazy, sign me the fuck up,” Imani breathed. “And even though I could stay here forever with you, I’d love to —”


“Have sex?” Nia blurted, a primal lust suddenly consuming her.


“I mean, yes. Shit. I’ve never wanted anyone so badly in my life,” Imani slowly whispered into Nia’s ear. “But first I’d love to take you on a date. There’s this place called Sandcastle. It overlooks the beach. I think you’d like it.”


It suddenly dawned on Nia that she’d never been on a real date before. Unless you counted gagging down skinless breasts of chicken in sweatpants with Ray a date. “I’d love that,” Nia grinned, running her fingers through the sand.



FRIDAY.



“I’m glad we got here before everyone else,” Violet said to Knife, as they twirled into Mermaid Melissa, the name of their Fire Island house for the epic LezVolley weekend.


The deep purple around Knife’s eyes had faded into a soft, hazy blue. With Knife’s heroine chic looks, it looked almost fashion: A Dramatic Smoky Eye on an Androgynous Runway Model, not a bruise. Her gray pallor had disappeared, and her bloodless white skin was flawless, like a porcelain doll. Her hands still shook and her lip still trembled, but Violet swore she could see a tiny dust of glitter gleaming inside those sad eyes.


They hadn’t spoken about Knife showing up to her door, bruised and beaten. After the shower, Violet had tucked Knife into her twin bed. Knife’s long legs had comically draped over the edge of the mattress; she was too tall for Violet’s bite-sized room. Violet stretched wool socks over Knife’s feet, kissed her on the forehead, and rushed off to work. She’d come home to find Knife — still red-eyed and sickly — hammering up bookshelves for Jose Antonio. The studio smelled of bleach and Windex. Knife had scrubbed every surface of the space spotless.


“Thank you, Violet,” Knife stammered shyly when Violet walked through the door. “I’m going to go. Leave you alone.”


“No. You can’t do that.” She suddenly felt panicked.


“Do what?”


“Leave me alone, asshole.”


Knife looked at her curiously. “You want me to stay?”


Violet nodded. They’d crawled into her bed and watched Seinfeld from Violet’s laptop until they passed out, hipbone to hipbone, laughing at George Castanza, that putz.


And now here they were. Alone in Mermaid Melissa waiting for the tornado of Gabriella, Dara, Patra, Imani and the identical twins who bear an uncanny resemblance to Tegan and Sara, to arrive. Catalina wasn’t arriving until Saturday morning, before the tournament. Catalina, Patra, and Dara were the only members of the weekend house who’d be competing (naturally, they were representing the Dolly’s team).


Despite the emotional hurricane of the past twenty-four hours, they were in blissfully carefree moods. Violet had only popped one Adderall and only sucked dry one champagne on the ferry. Yet she felt slap-happy drunk. Knife hadn’t taken any speed and had only guzzled down one beer. Yet she was wound up and wild. As if she’d swallowed a handful of speed and chased it down with shots of Jack Daniels (and maybe taken a nibble of a psilocybin mushroom). Knife, sober, always felt perforated. Like she was full of bullet holes. The only things that had ever sealed the gaping wounds were hard drugs and hard liquor.


And Violet.


When she was with Violet, the impulse to alter her body chemistry came to a halt. Violet with her oversized orange eyes and twisted giggle and teen-girl spirit made her heart pound harder than a fat rail of coke.


Violet pushed her body up onto the kitchen counter and began to swing her legs back and forth. She wore a gingham halter dress over a cherry-printed bikini. Her hair was swept into a messy bun twice the size of her head. Her Bambi lashes tickled against her forehead. With her big upswept hair and melodramatic black eyeliner and pale lipstick; she looked like a cooler, druggier Bridgette Bardot.


“Why are you so far away?”


“I don’t know,” Knife realized she was standing against the back wall of the open-plan living room. As far away from Violet as possible without being outside. “I guess I don’t want to crowd you?”


A heat radiated between them.


“I can come closer if you want?”


Violet said nothing.


She didn’t have to.


Her sultry eyes told Knife everything she needed to know.


Knife stuck her hands in the pockets of her torn-to-shreds-black jeans and treaded to Violet. She stood like a crumbling tower before her. Violet craned her neck. Her giant eyes studied Knife’s face, intensely, like a museum artifact.


“What?” Knife asked. She tugged at her faded black Metallica shirt.


“Am I not your type?” Violet blurted.


“What?” Knife’s eyes widened. Was she hearing things?


Violet’s swinging legs stilled. “It’s okay if I’m not.” She smoothed the lap of her crinkled halter dress.


“Violet.” Knife felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. “You are more than my type. You are the most gorgeous girl, person, fucking creature I’ve ever seen.”


“Why don’t you ever, you know, try anything? Like you do with everyone else?”


Knife swallowed. She moved half an inch closer to Violet. “Because I didn’t think you wanted me to.”


“Really?’ Violet edged her body to the tip of the counter.


“Also because…” Their knees touched.


Violet arched her brow. Her big bedroom eyes burned into Knife.


Knife leaned down. Their faces were an inch apart now. “I like you.”


“As a friend?” Violet bit her bottom lip and leaned back on her elbows.


“Fuck no.” Violet was killing her. Was she intentionally teasing her?


Torturing her?


Testing her?


“Then show me.” Violet wrapped her legs around Knife. Knife stared into her rose-petal mouth.


And then they were kissing. Madly. Furiously.


Like it was the last kiss before walking the gallows.


Violet pulled away. Knife held her breath. Violet smirked and pulled her dress over her head.


“I like your bikini top,” Knife chirped lamely. “The cherries are cute.” Cute? Really Knife?


Violet’s eyes went cold for a loaded thirty seconds. Knife felt like she was trying to solve a math equation. What the fuck does this girl want from me?


Violet untied her bikini top. She flung it into the air. Knife could no longer contain herself. She jumped onto the kitchen counter like a scrappy adolescent boy hopping a fence in a 1950s movie. She pushed Violet flat against the marble. Her eyes consumed Violet’s creamy bare chest.


“You have your nipples pierced?” Violet’s gold nipple rings sparkled in the fluorescent kitchen light.


“You think it’s weird?” Violet had a sudden flash of Ray. She’d been furious when Violet had pierced her nipples, deeming Violet both “cheap” and “embarrassingly damaged.”


“I think it’s hot,” Knife growled. She pulled her faded Metallica shirt over her head. She wasn’t wearing a bra (she never wore a bra). Yellow daisies bloomed in Violet’s gold-plated eyes. Knife’s nipples were also pierced. They weren’t gold hoops, they were silver studs.


Purr.


Knife leaned her body on top of Violet. Silver pressed up against gold.


“You are perfect.” She ran her fingers across Violet’s upper body.


“Really?” Violet felt betrayed by the hot tears springing into her eyes. She was on 40 milligrams of Lexapro. She was supposed to be safe.


Knife noticed a bevy of evenly spaced scars displayed inside Violet’s thighs.


Violet twitched.


“Yes.” Knife answered between inner-thigh kisses. “Fuck yes.


*


Imani and Nia were buzzed from the two bottles of wine they’d devoured at Sandcastle. They’d spent the evening spilling secrets and eating oysters. Clutching hands and exchanging glances. Laughing like lunatics and kissing like lovers.


And they were still kissing.


Only this time they were Nia’s king-sized bed in the borrowed Fire Island mansion.


Their kisses were pixie-sticks. Sweet, innocent. Candy store kisses.


Until they began tearing each other’s clothes off with religious fervor.


Then the kisses were nipple clamps and ball gags. Savage, starving. Sex store kisses.


They grinded into each other with staggered breath.


“I’ve never wanted anything this bad,” Nia whispered as Imani’s hands worked their way into her underwear.


Imani slid her fingers deep inside of her. Nia moaned.


“Should I get the strap-on?” Imani asked, kissing her neck.


Nia was stunned.


She thought strap-ons were a lesbian urban legend. A porn thing. “You brought one?” She asked, unable to hide the shock in her voice.


“I did,” Imani confessed. “But hey. We don’t have to use it. We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. I want to make you feel good.”


“I want to use it.”


“You sure?”


“Fuck me with a strap-on right now,” Nia meowed.


Imani sprang out of bed and returned seconds later wearing a black leather harness with a sparkly, lilac dildo emerging out of the center.


Nia smiled. Lilac was her favorite color.


Before Nia knew it, she was having full-blast strap-on sex. It was nothing like she’d seen in the lesbian porn clips she’d been secretly downloading since sixteen.


It was so much —


hotter.


Oh how quickly one summer can change everything, she thought as she screamed in euphoria. She’d never felt so free or so alive or so goddamn herself in her entire life.


Imani thrust her hips into Nia. She understood Nia’s body, intrinsically. It was like their bodies had been having sex for lifetimes.


“Harder,” Nia yelled.


“What the actual fuck is going on?” a voice deadpanned.


They froze.


Nia didn’t even have to turn her head to know Ray was standing in the doorway.


*


“So Patra, I can’t believe you missed the shitshow the other night,” Gabriella babbled excitedly. “Knife had a total FREAKOUT at Dolly’s.”


“I’m so pissed I wasn’t there to witness that,” Patra scream-smiled.


They both loved gossip.


“Wait, I need to know everything,” Dara intervened. She didn’t just love gossip, gossip was the heartbeat that kept the blood pumping in her veins.


“SO!” Gabriella clutched a plastic cup of champagne with her bionic hand and dragged a hot pink suitcase with the other. They’d just stepped off the boat and were sauntering down the boardwalk toward Mermaid Melissa. “Knife was completely drugged out of her mind! I’d never met the bitch before and look, bitches. I do drugs! Sometimes! I’m not judgemental about that shit at all. But I swear on Andy Warhol —” she paused dramatically. “Her eyes were rolling in the back of her head. It was fuckin’ dark.” Gabriella’s chandelier earrings jingled like Christmas bells as she stomped on the wooden planks, in white patent leather thigh-high boots.


“That girl takes it to a whole other level with drugs. She’s too much,” Dara sighed, reaching into the pocket of her distressed black denim shorts, making sure her coke vial hadn’t accidentally slipped out.


Way too much,” Patra agreed, wondering if Dara still had that great drug connect on Cherry Grove. A sweet little bump of blow sounded like a divine idea.


“Anywhoo —” Gabriella continued “— she like freaked out on Violet. Called her a ‘fucking junkie with no family!’ I swear on the house of Chanel I’m not exaggerating. How could she say that to Violet? Like high-key NOT OKAY. I almost knocked her out.”


Animalistic rage surged through Patra’s veins. She was the only person who knew the full truth about Violet’s past. That was it. She was going to drown Knife in the Atlantic this weekend. “That bitch is fucking dead,” she grumbled through gritted teeth.


“Yes! And then she confessed her love to Catalina. Jumped over the bar and chased her down while she was working.” Gabriella chomped on her Juicy Fruit.


A dance team of Dopamine flash-mobbed in Dara’s brain. “Oh. My. God,” was all she could say, as her pupils blackened. She unclipped the house key dangling from her belt loop and twisted it into the door of Mermaid Melissa. They were finally there.


“I know. And then get this. Violet and I had a threesome with Natalia Gonzalez!” Gabriella announced as they dragged their luggage down the hall.


“No way! I need all the details. Natalia is HOT,” Patra belted like she was on a stage. She looked like a movie star in her blood orange fit and flare dress.


“I just can’t believe you and Violet had a ménage à trois with Natalia Gonzalez,” Dara repeated in disbelief.


Suddenly three mouths slammed against the kitchen floor.


Violet screamed.


Knife’s head peeped from between Violet’s thighs like a turtle. “You had a threesome with Natalia Gonzalez?” she asked softly.


“YOU ARE LETTING KNIFE GO DOWN ON YOU AFTER WHAT SHE DID?” Patra screamed, lunging her body toward Knife.


Violet suddenly realized she was completely naked, spread eagle on the kitchen table. She screamed again.


Knife, topless in black Calvin Kleins threw her hands in the air, slid off the table, and walked to Patra. “Look, Patra, you have every reason to beat the living fuck out of me. I can take it. Punch me.”


Patra looked at Violet. Violet shrugged. Patra lifted her cocktail ring adorned hand in the air and slapped Knife hard across the face.


“I deserved that,” Knife winced. “Do it again.”


Patra slapped her even harder. A fire-engine handprint gleamed against Knife’s milky white cheek. “You’re a piece of shit,” Patra hissed.


“I know,” Knife agreed, turning her head to take in Gabriella, who was smacking gum with Barbie pink lips, manicured hand on hip. She hazily recalled meeting Gabriella outside of Dolly’s last week. “I don’t think a million apologies could ever make up for my behavior the other night. That was the worst first impression a person could possibly make. If you want to slap me, punch me, shoot me...feel free. But please, please believe me when I say—” she took a deep breath. “I’ll never do anything like that again.”


Gabriella’s Cleopatra eyes rested on Knife’s bare chest. “You’re a jackass,” she sing-songed, her voice sugar venom and other things Lana Del Rey might say. “You have great tits, but you’re a jackass.”


“Um, look Gabriella. I’d love to re-introduce myself to you. Maybe we could have a do-over?”


“Whatever, fine.” Gabriella blew a perfect bubble with her gum. SMACK. She noticed Knife’s pierced nipples. Lit.


Knife bowed like an English gentleman. “I’m Knife.” Her voice was formal; finishing-school-in-Switzerland style. “Lovely to meet you, Gabriella. I’d be delighted to get you a fresh glass of champagne or anything else you desire.”


Gabriella held out her now empty plastic cup. Knife whisked it out of Gabriella’s hand and stalked over to the fridge. She poured gold bubbles into the plastic cup and tossed in a few cold strawberries.


“You can’t charm your way out of this,” Patra suddenly bellowed, lunging for Knife again. Knife stood tall and let Patra shake her by the shoulders.


“Patra, I know you aren’t going to believe me and you have absolutely no reason to.” Knife pointed to Violet who was frozen on the kitchen counter behind her. “But here’s the truth. Violet is everything to me. Everything. Since the moment I met her I’ve been madly in love with her. I know I don’t deserve her. I know. But I’m madly in love with her and will never, ever hurt her again.”


“What?” Violet’s eyes widened. Was she hearing things? “You’re madly in love with me?”


“Fuck it,” Knife sighed. She turned to Violet. “Yes. I don’t just like you. I love you.”


Before Violet could say anything Knife dropped to her knees and peered into her eyes. “I don’t love you in a ‘friend’ way, either. I’m in love with you. And I’m not going to be afraid of that anymore. Even if you don’t feel the same way. I have to tell you. I love you.” Her eyes landed softly against Violet’s scarred thighs. “All of you.”


“The plot always fuckin’ thickens, bitches” Gabriella lilted, tapping her long nails against her plastic cup of champagne.


Violet jumped off the kitchen table. “I’m going to shower and get pretty for tonight.” she skipped to the bathroom. Before opening the door she turned around and faced her friends. She was shockingly pale and worrisomely thin and peppered with light bruises and strange cuts, but she still sparkled like a sequin dress dancing beneath strobe lights. “I love Knife,” she crooned to the group. “Not as a friend. I love, love her.”


Knife looked at her like a little kid who’d just discovered Santa Claus is indeed real, humankind is indeed good and life will indeed turn out as magical and amazing and beautiful as it is in the movies.


*


“What are you doing here?” Nia choked after a swell of excruciating silence.


“What are you doing here?” Ray asked Imani who was still on top of Nia in nothing but a leather harness.


“I was invited,” Imani answered, her heart slowly breaking. Had it all been a delusion? A teen fantasy doomed to turn into an ugly grown-up reality?


Ray stood like a statue in the doorway. She was wearing stylish new harem pants and a Helmet Lang asymmetrical tank-top. Her cool blonde hair glimmered silver. She suddenly erupted into a fit of laughter. It was demonic and twisted; a Cruella Deville laugh. “I’ve been fucking Nia all summer. Hadn’t nailed her with a strap-on yet, so well done.” She licked her lips. “I’m glad we’re on the same page, Nia.” Her voice dropped several octaves. “You were only ever a cold fuck to me too. I was worried you wanted more. All those late-night phone calls and desperate nudes you kept serial sending me. Your wet pussy begging me to make you cum over and over and over again.”


“Don’t you dare talk to her like that,” Imani warned, her eyes turned to two soldiers armed with machine guns.


“I’ll talk to the bitch, however, the fuck I want,” Ray’s eyes were two pythons.


“You’re a disgusting, vile, sad human, aren’t you? Violet was right about you,” Imani glowered. Suddenly she realized she was dealing with a sparkle-hungry dark inside, Energy Vampire who fed off a supply of shimmery girls who radiated light.


“Violet’s a junkie,” Ray grinned. “A junkie who likes getting fucked by me. But a junkie nonetheless.”


“And you’re abusive,” Nia’s voice cracked. “I almost let you knock my self-esteem into the dirt, Ray. Almost. But then I remembered who I am. And who I love. And it’s her.” Nia kissed Imani. Imani felt the fireflies buzz inside of her again.


“I’m sorry, Imani. I should’ve told you about this dumb fling. I was afraid you wouldn’t take me seriously when I told you how I felt. I didn’t want to fuck it up. I didn’t want you to back away,” Nia said desperately, her eyes flooding with tears.


“That clown?” Imani chuckled, wiping the tears spilling down Nia’s cheek. “That clown could never make me back off. I love you. I’ve loved you for ten years.” She kissed Nia back.


“Clown? You’re wearing a purple strap-on. Nia, good luck with your career. You’re going to need it.” Ray yawned and wondered which of the salacious nudes of Nia she was going to send her contact at US Weekly. “I’m out,” she added, casually strolling out of the bedroom.


“I’m so sorry,” Nia sobbed.


“So am I. Violet told me to protect you from Ray. I didn’t listen even though I could feel deep down inside of me she was dangerous. I’ll never ignore my gut again. I’ll never let her near you again.”


“And I’ll never be dishonest about anything again. My past. My feelings. Who I am,” Nia said, her tears of sadness transforming into tears of relief.


Later that night when Nia gazed into her bathroom before washing her face, she couldn’t help but notice that she looked completely different.


She looked


free.


*


SATURDAY.


Cherry Grove was full of girls.


Girls in string bikinis drinkin’ bellinis. Girls wearing boy briefs, creating a beautiful motif of colors and sizes along the beach. Girls looking into each other’s eyes like they’d won the love prize. Girls kissing. Girls missing the gritty city but reminding themselves this is the last glimpse of time where they’ll be free to glitter in the sunshine. Girls slathered in sunscreen. Girls letting their bodies soak in the deadly day gleam. Girls playing on the same team. Girls lost in the dream. Girls in snapbacks, girls having flashbacks of meeting each other late-night when the moon glowed bright but oh what’s your name? Don’t forget when we met I was as high as a kite and don’t remember anything besides the falling embers of the cigarettes I smoked and still regret. Girls on Molly. Girls who hang out at our beloved dyke bar Dolly’s.


Girls who make up the fabric of LezVolley.


LezVolley the beachside volleyball tournament that queer girls flock to, stalk to, walk to, in droves, excited to either compete or flirt in the heat of it all. Dance to the beat of the heart of it all.


Violet loved LezVolley. For her, LezVolley marked the end of summer. It was bittersweet but so beautiful to have one last look at her people sparkling on the sand.


The game was about to begin in thirty minutes. She and Gabriella lounged like kittens in the sun. Gabriella wore a neon green bikini and a large Dior visor. Violet’s hair was in two french braids. She wore a white skimpy bathing suit and gooey clear lip gloss and giant gold cuff bracelets. Both were covered in drug store glitter and smelled obscure and expensive. Knife puffed on a cigarette next to them. She wore baby blue and white striped swimming trunks gifted to her by a gay boy makeup artist she’d met on a shoot in the Maldives, years ago. She wrapped her tattooed arms around Violet. They all observed Dara flirt with a finance dyke none of them knew well, as she unpacked a cooler of vodka spiked Gatorade. Imani and Nia clutched hands and walked over to them.


“Hey family,” Imani winked to the eclectic stable of queers. “Ready to win?”


“Yes,” Gabriella and Violet purred in unison, even though they weren’t going to be playing. Just watching and drinking and tanning and talking.


Patra recognized Nia and her brain quickly flashed back to the night of the Drag Show at the beginning of summer. That was the celebrity girl Ray had come to Raspberries with, she was sure of it.


Why can’t we just have one day of zero drama? Why? She silently pleaded to the waves violently crashing against the camel-colored sand.


“I don’t know if you all have formally met Nia,” Imani threw a protective arm around Nia as she silently prayed to the Ocean Gods that everyone was civil and kind and able to keep the past in the past.


“We haven’t formally met,” Violet skittered to her feet. She extended a turquoise ring adorned hand to Nia. “I’m Violet,” she purred, her eyes twinkly. Violet.


Nia knew that name. How did she know that name again?


“I’m Nia,” Nia purred back. There was an intoxicating shininess to Violet and the girl laying beside her, tanning in the giant Dior visor. Their energy lit up her energy. The three girls glittered quietly for a moment.


Jack, Gianna, Catalina, and Serafina jogged over to them.


“Guys!” Catalina said breathlessly, pressing into them with her pleading eyes.


“We’re screwed and need your help,” Jack croaked, wiping beads of sweat off her forehead, suddenly longing for the dismal Manhattan winter.


“We’re two players short on the Dolly’s team. Sia and Maxine had a bad oyster shooter last night. Been huddled over the toilet all freakin’ morning,” Gianna said, eyeing Gabriella. She’d heard about a hot new lesbian in town — but this girl wasn’t just hot. She was Sophia Loren Sexy. Blood bath beautiful. Glamorous like a fur coat.


“Darlings! If we don’t have the proper amount of players we can’t compete!” Serafina wailed dramatically, her tortoiseshell Versace glasses covering half of her face.


“We’re one of the only dyke bars left. If we don’t have a team during the iconic LezVolley? That’s fuckin’ pathetic,” Jack gruffed.


Knife stood up. She looked in the eye. “Dolly’s isn’t just a dyke bar. It’s a home. And a family makes a fuckin’ home. It’s time I stepped up for my family.” She socked Jack, playfully in the arm. “I’m in, Jack.”


Jack couldn’t help it. She fiercely loved Knife and her dilapidated charm. Knife was a fucked up kid, that was for damn sure. But that platinum swaggy little fuck up was most definitely a part of her family. And family forgives, right?


“You apologize to Catalina yet?” Jack asked Knife, socking her back. Catalina blushed.


“I’m so, so, sorry. I was so wrong.” Knife’s arctic eyes melted and turned to liquid.


“I don’t want to spend today thinking about anything but LezVolley. Help us win and all is forgiven, Knife,” Catalina sighed. The truth was, she didn’t really care about Knife at all anymore. Ever since her amazing date with Jack a few nights ago, she’d been focused on Jack and Jack alone.


“We need one more person,” Gianna looked at the group, hopelessly. They were party girls. Volleyball wasn’t going to happen.


“I’ll play,” Violet proclaimed, jumping up and down.


What?” Patra, Jack, Gianna, and Dara said in unison.


“Iconic,” Gabriella cooed.


Violet looked at the water. A small fawn fearlessly pranced where the waves broke.


A scrawny big-eyed fawn so unafraid in the face of salt splashing all over her little hooves.


Unafraid of the masses of untrustworthy humans blasting music across the sand.


Unafraid to be alone. To do her own thing.


“But I thought you hated sports more than anything?” Patra asked, incredulous.


“Yeah, I thought you said you’d rather take a bubble bath with Dick Cheney than play volleyball?” Dara added.


Jack crossed her arms. “You really gonna play? We need to know,” her nicotine voice scratched.


“Yes,” Violet said, watching her fawn gallop down the beach, wild and free and full of life. “Fuck, yes.”


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