Chapter 15. Winter Had Come Early




“Can you hurry the fuck up? You’ve been in there for ten minutes!” pleaded a desperate voice from behind the bathroom door.


Gabriella giggled into Patra’s mouth as her cat eyes sparkled into Patra’s smokey eyes. They roared in helpless hysteria.


“It’s NOT funny! You’re holding up the line!”


Gabriella’s knees buckled as her cackle swelled. Sloppy tears pooled out of Patra’s eyes. Within seconds, the two girls were clutching each other, lying on the filthy bathroom floor, howling like two teenagers sneaking a joint behind the Olive Garden.


“I GOTTA TAKE ” POUND. “A” POUND. POUND. LEAK!” POUND.


When Patra caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, her laugh turned so violent, her organs shook. Her sharp, angular face was covered with theatrical streaks of vibrant Fuschia lipstick. The hot pink color smeared down her neck and faded into her décolletage. She looked like she’d just slaughtered Barbie.


“Oh, shit.” Gabriella pawed at the damp roll of tissue slumped in the cracked marble sink. She handed a hunk of paper to Patra. “She lied to me.”


“Who?”


“The girl working the Chanel counter at Bloomies swore this lipstick was kissproof.” Gabriella stared wistfully into her acrylics. “I keep getting my heartbroken by the beauty girls at Bloomingdales.”


A demented clown smirk stretched so wide across Patra’s face, the edges of her mouth pinched her earlobes. “You know what?” She snatched the crumpled napkin from Gabriella and tore it savagely.


“What?” Gabriella watched, transfixed, as shreds of ugly brown paper piled by her platforms.


POUND. POUND. “I’m getting security!” POUND. POUND.


“I’m not wiping off your lipstick kisses.” Patra preened into the mirror, unphased by the threat. “I look glamorous in pink. And moreover; I’m proud to have your lipstick on my skin on your birthday.”


Gabriella beamed from within. That’s all she’d ever wanted. Someone who could handle her lipstick.


“I’ll break down the fucking DOOR!”


Patra looked at Gabriella with big sociopathic eyes and kicked open the door.


“Disrespectful cokeheads,” hissed a hipster in a purple velvet smoking jacket. A battalion of seething dykes stood behind her, stiff-shouldered, arms folded over hearts, eyes gleaming venom, sour lemons for faces.


“I don’t have coke but if you find some let me know. It’s my birthday!” Gabriella cooed.


Patra turned to the hipster in the smoking jacket. “Your fly is down,” she purred, her voice a twinkie: creamy and fake sweet. Before she had the chance to respond, Patra and Gabriella had already stumbled to the bar, still giggling like the cheeky, charming kind of student teachers intrinsically fear.


“I’d like to buy a round of shots for everyone here!” Patra slammed her Amex against the bar. “In honor of the birthday bitch.”


Catalina, the bartender, was mixing a dirty martini. “This martini is for the birthday girl.” She placed the glass in front of Gabriella. “On the house, of course.”


Gabriella didn’t drink martinis anymore. She knew better. But If someone offers you something NICE accept it and accept it GRACIOUSLY her mother’s voice suddenly menaced from her spleen. She delicately picked up the free martini and flashed Catalina the same dazzling smile that had crowned her “Miss Teen Massapequa” in ‘96. “Thank you so much, Catalina. You’re the kindest,” she chirped.


Catalina forced her lips into a half-moon of her own. While she loved being a bartender at Dolly’s — she didn’t feel like working tonight.


No. She wanted to be having wild, earth-shattering, salacious sex with the middle-aged dyke she’d quietly crushed on for years — and was finally dating. She eyed Jack who was wearing assless chaps, slouched next to Patra, nursing a beer. A kaleidoscope of butterflies fluttered between Catalina’s inner thighs. Even though Jack was wearing the assless chaps over baggy faded denim, just the thought of them possessed Catalina with a loop of dirty thoughts.


Catalina had expected Jack — the notoriously old-school, swashbucklin’ tight-ass dyke of the West Village — to have scoffed when she’d heard that Gabriella had requested everyone dress “bondage chic” for her birthday party. But instead, a twinkle as rare as a shooting star glittered in Jack’s eyes. “Hold on,” she’d rasped, unlit cigarette pressed between waxy, chapstick lips, flannel lazily tossed over men’s undershirt, clean fingernails pressed into pants pocket. She’d dove headfirst into the coat closet of her rent-controlled apartment. After minutes of loud fumbling, she’d re-emerged in the hallway, holding something black. She yanked the Marlboro out of her mouth and slid it behind her ear. “Good thing I still have these.” She shook the mysterious slab of fabric to reveal assless chaps.


Leather assless chaps.


Catalina suddenly felt very faint. Then very wet.


Jack slapped at the worn leather with heavy, worn hands. Little particles of dust floated through the air. “A little torn up, but they’ll do.”


Catalina’s jaw snapped off her face and thudded against the carpet. “You have assless chaps?” She managed, jaw-lessly.


“Kiddo, there’s a lot you don’t know about me,” Jack grinned into the distance. Memories of her brief 1981 stint as a professional leather daddy in a downtown dungeon flooded her brain. Catalina studied the far away look in Jack’s eyes.


That was the thing about Jack. She could be petulant, inflexible, sarcastic. But she was mysterious. Full of surprises. And what makes brilliant, bored, and beautiful girls like Catalina teem with desire? The rare treat of not knowing what to expect.


Tonight, Catalina wore a pointy, structured bra. She’d borrowed the bra from Jose Antonio, whose sock drawer housed an impressive collection of women’s lingerie. “I don’t wear them, I admire them,” he’d clipped, expertly folding the bra into a tiny square, neatly placing her inside an old H&M shopping bag.


She felt sexy in the bra. It was a far cry from the Hollywood Screen Siren attire she preferred to drape over her exaggerated curves, but she liked experimenting with a new look. And she liked Gabriella. Plus she was from Jersey. It was in her culture to harbor unwavering respect for the sacred art of the theme party. But mostly; she hoped her dabbles in “bondage chic” would garner extra attention from Jack.


“Gabriella might want that martini — but I still want to buy the entire bar shots.” Patra’s famously loud voice propelled Catalina from the pale blue clouds and back into the lesbian bar. You know I only buy rounds of Tequila. Good tequila! Not the shit house one —”


Suddenly, the room halted. The walls vibrated. Dolly’s bar was bathed in star-shine.


No one had to turn their heads to know —


Nia Green had arrived.


*


Imani’s heart grew wings and soared blissfully out of her chest. Plastic hearts backflipped out of her eyes and swarmed the bar. Even though it was a dismal November night, she could feel the sun. Her body temperature rose warmer and warmer, as Nia walked toward her, wrapped in a fluffy winter coat, smelling like clean hair and briny air.


“Surprise,” Nia whispered, her hands trembling in her coat pockets.


“But — I thought?” Imani’s chocolate milk eyes were frozen and wide. “We just spoke two hours ago. You were on the movie set in LA?”


Nia’s heart slipped out of her chest. “I lied. I wanted to surprise you.” Had this been a mistake?


“Oh,” was all Imani said.


Nia’s heart shivered on the floor. She looked at it but didn’t bother picking it up.


“Kiss me so I know you’re real?” Imani whispered. Nia’s heart crawled back into the warmth of her body, relieved. Nia looked up at Imani who’s eyes had defrosted. Their lips lingered over each other.


Suddenly their hands were tangled in each other’s hair and no one else existed.


It wasn’t a kiss to numb the hurt. It was a kiss to shock you back to life. I’m here. Everything is going to be OKAY it wailed like an ambulance. Violet heard the siren in the distance as she slinked down Seventh Avenue.


She turned to Knife and said: “Everything is going to be okay.”


Knife stared at the charcoal sky. She scanned for stars but couldn’t find any. She felt a pang of empty depression. She shifted her eyes to Violet who was wearing nude fishnets and buttery leather; spiked cuffs and peach blush; sad eyes and satanic thigh-highs. Her heart hop-scotched. Tiny raindrops of self-esteem gently landed on her brain. She looked back at the sky. Now it was scattered with stars. “I know,” she marveled into the night.


The amphetamines were kicking in and anything was possible.


*


Nia’s hands were fumbling with the zipper of Imani’s torn denim when she remembered she was in public. Imani’s fingers were circling the outside of Nia’s underwear when she realized she was in public.


They pried their bodies apart. A sea of hungry eyes stalked them like sharks.


Nia was no longer a star on the rise. She was famous. Magazine cover famous. About to star in a studio big budget feature famous. And no one knew she was in the throes of a passionate lesbian affair with an esteemed basketball prodigy. Not even her manager. Who was also her mother.


There was no way someone hadn’t snapped a picture of her and Imani swapping spit on the dancefloor of the most famous dyke bar in Manhattan.


“Want to get out of here?” Imani’s breath tickled her face.


“Yes,” she mumbled. She wanted to feel the weight of Imani’s naked body on top of her. “Fuck yes.”


Imani grabbed her by the hand. Shaking with want, they marched out the door and onto Jane Street, leaving the bar sharks salivating, unsatiated, tortured. Ravenous.


But that’s the thing about the innate timing of a true movie star. She always knows exactly when to walk away. Leaving her audience longing for more, more, more.


“Woah,” Gabriella gasped.


“Talk about lovers. Damn.” Catalina hazily dreamed to Jack.


Jack winked. “Those kids are something.”


Patra bit her bottom lip. She could still taste Gabriella’s lipstick. “They make me horny,” she throatily observed.


“Me too,” Gabriella and Jack and Catalina harmonized.


“It’s like a bad lesbian romance novel,” snapped Maxine, a mean-spirited scotch drinker who liked to sit in the corner of Dolly’s alone and scowl. Tonight she was especially triggered. She found Gabriella with her girlish smile and hedonistic catsuit to be disruptive to the overall lesbian ecosystem.


“Didn’t you write a bad lesbian romance novel in the nineties?” Jack croaked.


Suddenly a tidal wave of mania crashed through the room.


The pupils of every party girl in attendance collectively dilated.


“I fucking knew it,” Patra whined under her breath.


No one had to turn their heads to know, Violet was standing by the door, teetering in stiletto boots from a St. Marks sex shop, flooding the bar with prescription pills and cheap thrills; darkness and dance music; glitter bombs and broken promises.


She strolled toward Patra and Gabriella. Dara, who’d been on the other side of the bar chatting up the CEO of a fertility startup, rushed to the group. Jack took in the scene with watchful, beady eyes. Catalina watched Jack watch them and quietly waged a war against a soldier of internalized jealousy. Knife chewed her jaw next to Violet.


“Hi,” Violet cast her eyes downward. “I fell asleep.”


“Fell asleep?” the boom of Patra’s usual screech was louder in its strange stillness.


“Yeah,” Violet felt like a vacuum had sucked the emotion out of her.



Knife felt the burn burn burn of Dara and Gabriella and Patra’s fiery glare. She wasn’t going to let Violet fall into their fire. She threw a protective arm over Violet. “She hasn’t been well,” Knife rubbed Violet’s blue faux fur. “Go easy on her.”


Violet disintegrated.


“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” Gabriella suddenly yelled. She pushed Knife out of the way and grabbed Violet by the face with her robotic fingers. Violet’s eyes were doll eyes. Big. Flat. Dead.


“WAKE UP!” Gabriella’s voice cracked through her scream.


“Leave her the fuck alone,” Knife warned, stepping between them.


“YOU’RE THE REASON SHE’S SLIPPING AWAY. I HATE YOU!”


“Knock it off,” came a voice so grounded in its power, it didn’t need to yell to be heard. Jack had wedged herself in front of the girls, holding a Marlboro red, like a gym teacher holds a whistle. “You’re causing a scene,” she gestured to the fleet of baby dykes stuffing rhetorical handfuls of popcorn into their mouths, wagging their tails, ecstatic to be witnessing the damaged interior of Manhattan’s most elusive network of lesbians.


“But —”


“Knife, don’t start. You’re on thin ice from last summer’s shit-show.”


Knife felt herself shrink.


“Patra. Dara. Gabriella. Violet.” Jack coached them like a field hockey team. “You’ve got ten minutes to cool off. Get some fresh air and work it out, you hear?”


All of them — even Violet — who’d been staring Zombie-eyed into floor — skittered like kittens out the door.

Knife was a kicked puppy. A kid who’d been picked last for the team. A forgotten flower wilting in the basement. Something about her fragile energy made Jack want to cry. “Kiddo,” she grumbled.


“Yeah?”


“I know you’re being protective. But let me give you some advice — don’t get involved in friend shit, okay? I’ve known Violet a long time. Her friends?” Jack gagged down her beer. “They’re her family.”


Knife suddenly felt very cold and very out of place. It was the feeling she’d been running from her whole life.



“You’re a great kid. Just don’t let your emotions get the best of ya,” Jack continued, her bloodstream screaming for nicotine. “You want to go out the side entrance and have a smoke with me?”


Knife looked at Jack’s face. It was warm. Genuine. Tough but gentle. Maybe I could tell her the truth?


“Come on. I’m not gonna grow old waiting for you to decide if you want to smoke a damn cigarette with me,” Jack huffed with kind eyes.


Knife began to follow her through the bar. She stopped in her tracks when something suddenly caught her eye. “You know what Jacky? I’m cold. I’m good though. I’m going to stay inside,” she smiled, casually.


“Fine by me but don’t call me Jacky. You haven’t earned that shit yet, Leonardo DiCaprio.”


*


“Violet, you had us worried. You never not show up. Ever! We were worried something happened to you!” Dara furiously paced the sidewalk. Her black curls blended into the night sky and her pale face looked like a ghost floating through the night.


“I — for one — think you’ve been a selfish piece of shit ever since you got with Knife,” Patra pulled a lavender cigarette (purchased overseas) from her red patent Chanel. “I’ve been here for you for everything. But ever since Fire Island you’ve been distant. I’m sick of giving you excuses. You’ve been a shitty friend for months.” She ashed her designer cigarette onto her designer bag with vengeance.


“Violet, don’t you have anything to say?” Dara asked, incredulous. Violet always had something to say.


“Would you fucking say something?” Patra blew an aggressive cloud of smoke. It stayed suspended in the thick, polluted air.


“I —” Violet tried to be the shiny human they wanted her to be. But she was a soulless robot in “bondage chic.”


Suddenly Gabriella screamed. Screamed like she was witnessing a gruesome murder. Screamed so loudly the stars screamed back.


“WHAT IS IT?” Patra bellowed, her eyes full of animal-like fear. Gabriella wordlessly pointed to the pavement. A rat the size of a privileged male cat teetered by their feet. It released a morbid SQUEAK from its rat lips as its naked rat tail brushed against Violet’s heel.


Violet shrieked so furiously the last of the remaining fall leaves sprinted south. She collapsed onto the filthy ground, crying. Winter had come early this year.


*


Knife swagged to the bar-stool where Violet had left her signature Balenciaga bag. She unzipped it open wide with steady hands. She cooly looked at the bar. No one was paying attention to her. It was after midnight. Everyone was kissing or fighting by now. She didn’t even have to fumble through the empty packs of cigarettes, old mascaras and manic napkin poems littered in Violet’s purse. Her fingers knew exactly where to go.


*


Imani’s head was in her favorite place: between Nia’s legs. Nia’s thighs quivered like the ground before an earthquake. Imani wanted to live in her warmth forever. Tasting her raw. Making her scream.


A shiver tiptoed down Imani’s stomach and into her underwear. As Nia’s breath accelerated faster and faster, the shiver intensified. It was as if she could feel what Nia felt. They both moaned as Imani worked her hands and mouth into Nia.


Before she knew it, they’d both cum.


Hard.


Fast.


At the exact same time.


Imani’s heart sprinted as she kissed Nia’s thighs.


“That was mind-blowing,” Nia said through heavy breaths. “Now let me make you come.”


Imani smiled. She looked at Nia with heavy lids and smiled sheepishly. “I just did.”


“What? You were going down on me. I didn’t even touch you! What are you talking about, crazy?”


“It’s weird,” she blinked into the ceiling. “It’s never happened before and you know I’m not one of those woo-woo lesbians. But —”


Nia’s eyes were beautiful, sharp razors cutting into Imani.


“But what?”


“It’s like I can feel what you’re feeling.”




* Violet sobbed and sobbed and sobbed into the sidewalk.


She let herself be held by the city, the only place she’d ever felt free.


She let herself be held by the familiar awning of Dolly’s bar, the only home she’d ever known.


But mostly, for the first time, Violet let herself be held by her friends, the only family she’d ever had.


“I love you so much,” loaded, heavy tears splattered down her face. “I just don’t know what I’m doing right now.”


They didn’t offer Violet words or advice or assurance. They just stood by her side and cried too.



*


Knife seamlessly popped open Violet’s pink pill bottle. She kept her eyes fixed forward, toward the bar.


“Do you want anything?” Catalina asked. Knife grabbed a handful of Violet’s pills from the plastic case. She stuffed them into her mouth so confidently Catalina didn’t notice anything strange.


“Yeah! How’s a Jack Daniels and Red Bull?” she lilted, her mouth packed with pills.


“Coming right up,” Catalina chirped, wondering where Jack had gone.


Knife felt a stab of regret pierce her gut as she swallowed the amphetamines she’d stolen from Violet. This wasn’t who she was anymore. How could she betray Violet? Violet was her world.


She crept toward the window. She watched Violet and Gabriella and Patra and Dara crying together, wiping tears off each other’s faces. The first flurry of the season fell over their heads. Violet noticed and pointed to the sky. Knife watched their eyes light up like neon signs. Violet twirled in her oversized fur. They all huddled together and stared with glassy eyes into the tiny snowflakes shimmering in the air.


Knife felt the tiny sparkle of speed. She no longer regretted stealing Violet’s meds. Winter had come early. Knife was alone. But as long as she had chemicals, she never had to feel this way again.


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