Burn everything beautiful in your world down. It can’t seduce you with its intoxicating eyes ever again. Watching her sleep was like floating on a cloud of Valium. Was I an experiment? Something for you to get out of your system? No one would ever know who kissed who first. Hot rage turned to deep longing. Suddenly their hands were tangled in each other’s hair and no one else existed. The tenderness was too much — she pulled away. THERE’S STILL TIME TO BREAK THE CYCLE. You called. I called? You got skinnier. She felt her before she saw her. YOU’RE THE REASON SHE’S SLIPPING AWAY. Will you touch me? This wasn't who she was anymore. You make me feel so good. I hate you. A heat radiated between them. I'm ashamed. Salty tears stung like peroxide. I'm not like you. But I make you feel good? An ocean of tears exploded out of her eyes. Her heart drew a gun. It was a kiss that felt like music. But dreams aren't real. I love you. You do? I've never wanted somebody so bad in my life. A lit cigarette twisted into her arm. You are perfect. Kiss me so I know you're real. I'm madly in love with her. You have lipstick on your face. I’ll never be dishonest about anything again. She felt herself harden, she needed to survive. Don't touch me. Tell me one last thing. Does she hurt you? This girl. This girl. This girl. She wanted to always remember her this way. We hurt each other. Full of martinis and fire, black smokey eyes sparkling, talking sh*t in a red thong. COME WITH ME TO WHERE IT'S WARM AND SAFE. Adorned in green velvet, needy-eyed, wasted, and more pure than ever before. All hot girls have daddy issues. She took one last look at her sad-eyed beauty. I don't belong here. This girl. This girl. This girl. Choke me. Hurt me. Get off. The body always wins. Don't you want that? I don't belong here. It was blinding but beautiful. I don't belong here. Finding someone you can endlessly kiss is like finding a diamond next to a dead rat on 11th avenue. I don't belong here. It was real, love. Where do I belong?
But just because something is real, doesn't mean it won't destroy you. Her heart accelerated at the speed of cocaine.
The blood moon dimmed
and the movie was over.
Words were playing in Violet’s head on a loop again. But this time it wasn’t movie quotes swirling swirling swirling in her brain. They were quotes ripped directly from her life.
Just because something is real doesn’t mean it won’t destroy you.
The body always wins.
Kiss me so I know you’re real.
The blood moon dimmed and the movie was over.
“Do you want the movie to be over, Violet?” A familiar voice disrupted the rotation of words. She opened her eyes and absorbed her surroundings. She was standing in the center of Dolly’s — her favorite lesbian bar. The only home she’d ever known. Her precious watering hole on the corner of Jane Street and West Fourth.
Except no one was there.
It was just her, teetering in her old leopard-print pumps, her beat-up Balenciaga bag dangling weakly off her arm.
“Hey,” the voice croaked with a comforting smoker’s rasp. “I’m here, too.” Sharon, her guardian angel, was suddenly standing behind the bar smoking a cigarette in a khaki-colored trench. Her no-nonsense bob gleamed in the flickering fluorescent light, beaming over her. Her nails were filed into a perfect square, painted cream. She wore wings — they were rusty-gold and gaudy, like thrifted jewelry.
“What’s with the wings?” Violet asked, shivering.
“Where’s your coat? How many times do I have to tell you to keep track of your coat in the goddamn winter? How am I supposed to protect you when you’re walking around Manhattan wearing a bikini top in a goddamn blizzard?”
“Sharon! I’d never wear a bikini top in lieu of a shirt! Who do you think I am? Britney Spears?”
“Violet!” Sharon sucked on her Marlboro. “You will not distract me with your frou-frou charm. Listen. Do you want the movie to end?”
Violet’s mouth went dry. Her heart was a ticking time bomb. “I don’t even know how I got here. What’s going on?” She felt panic rise and fall in her chest. “Why are we at Dolly’s? Why is it empty? I’m dreaming — right?”
A beautiful cloud of cigarette smoke billowed like a ball gown out of Sharon’s mouth. “You’re dying.”
Violet froze. Dying? “Am I sick?”
“Yes.” Sharon dug into her medium-sized, sensible coach bag and pulled out a shiny pack of Marlboros. She yanked out a new cigarette, stuck it between her lips, and lit the end with a pale pink Bic lighter. She let both cigarettes rest in her mouth for a moment, before plucking out the fresh one and passing it over to Violet.
Violet shakily accepted “That lighter,” she inhaled, “It’s such a pretty color., she exhaled.
“Are you fucking kidding me? You’re DYING Violet. You’re fucking DYING. 29-years-old. And all you can say is ‘what a pretty pink lighter?’ WAKE UP,” Sharon yelled, her face flushing red, a blue vein protruding from her forehead.
Violet looked at the floor. The floorboards were perforated and scratched — but had been scrubbed so clean they sparkled.
Sharon leaned over the bar. She grabbed Violet by her shoulders. “Look at me.” Violet lifted her head. Sharon’s eyes were glassy and blinkless. “This isn’t a game. This is actual life or death,” Sharon deadpanned. “I’m going to ask you one last time. Okay?”
Sharon released her hands from Violet’s shoulders. She took one last drag of her cigarette and smudged it into the portable ashtray she brought with her everywhere. “Now. Do you want the movie to be over?”
It was the lesbian witching hour: 4 a.m.
And Scorpio Mood was more alive than it had been all night. Girls were fucking in the dimly lit hallway. Girls were fighting on the dance floor. Girls were smoking and snorting and teasing in the bathroom. Hearts broke everywhere. Love bled on to everything.
Imani wasn’t sure if she wanted to go home and sob — or do drugs and kiss a stranger. Violet would have the answer. This was her gift. She weaved through the crowd, searching for Violet.
After three loops through the party, a strange, unsettled feeling formed in her belly. She stumbled into Jack. “Have you seen Violet?”
Jack swigged her beer and cocked her brow. “She missing?”
“It’s weird. I’ve been looking everywhere and can’t find her. But she would’ve told me if she was leaving, right?” Sweat trickled down her spine.
Jack stared suspiciously into the mob of girls. “You check the bathrooms?”
Wordlessly, Jack and Imani stiffened their backs and marched like soldiers toward the bathroom. They blew past the line of frenetic girls anxiously waiting for a moment alone in the single stall. Jack pounded her fist on the door. “Violet?” She pounded harder. Imani joined.
“Excuse me, there’s a line,” slurred a girl so drunk her eyelids sagged into her mouth.
Jack ignored her. She pounded and pounded until her knuckles were bone-white. “Violet? Are you in there?”
Finally, the silver doorknob twisted. They held their breath. The door swung open.
Sharon tapped her square nails against the bar of Dolly’s. “Violet, I’m trying to be patient here. But there’s only so much a guardian angel can do.” She ran her fingers through her highlighted hair. “We’re running out of time.”
Violet was sitting on the floor with crisscrossed legs. She felt very, very tired. She let her eyes fall closed.
In the darkness, she saw herself. Five years old. Locked in a closet that smelled like suntan oil and coconut and gun-powder. It smelled like her mother.
But her mother wasn’t with her.
She was by herself. She could hear only her own muffled breath and loud boots stomping through her house. She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream. Something bad was about to happen, she knew it in her bones. But her gut told her she’d better keep her damn mouth shut. She squeezed her fists and tried desperately to distract herself. She tried to pretend she was in a movie that would soon be over and she’d be met with a boisterous round of applause. But the boots smacked heavier and heavier, as they made their way closer and closer to her hiding spot.
It was only a matter of time before it happened.
Her eyelids flew open. She finally had an answer for Sharon. Her eyes burned with confidence. “I want the movie to end.”
A girl twirled out of the bathroom doors, as Jack and Imani stood with bated breath.
The girl had smudgy big eyes and hazelnut hair — but she wasn’t Violet. She twirled out the door with the same magnetic spirit as Violet.
But she wasn’t Violet.
“You are not Violet,” Jack confirmed, looking into her moonbeam skin. The resemblance was jarring.
“Who’s Violet?” The girl asked, her eyes spinning and curious. “Is she here?” She batted an eyelash so long it tickled her brow bone. Jack had to look away. It was as if she’d seen a ghost. The ghost of Violet — except unlike Violet — this girl was free.
She couldn’t tell if she was charmed or repulsed.
“Jack, look—” Imani pointed into the distance. “Knife’s over there. I’m sure she knows something.”
Jack left bizarro Violet standing bewildered and alone, as she beelined to Knife.
Jack grabbed Knife by the collar of the men’s button-down she wore, bra-lessly and open to the sternum.“Where is she?” Jack growled, her chest breaking into hives.
“Who?” Knife felt her feet begin to fumble on the pedestal of artificial happiness she’d been perched on since her last bump of coke.
“Who? You know who.” Why was it that everywhere Knife went, trouble always seemed to follow?
Needy chemicals swarmed Knife’s body and clung to her limbs. “Catalina?” She asked, shakily.
“Catalina? No, fuck no” Jack tightened her jaw. It bulged like a bicep. “Violet, you dumbass.”
Catalina, who no one had noticed was standing behind them, felt her heart drop to her toes.
“Violet?” Knife repeated. As soon the name left her lips, her spirit (along with the leftover coke) crashed into the ground. She felt half dead and sick with regret.
“I’m not playing Knife, did you see her?” At six feet tall, Imani was the only person able to look Knife in the eye.
“No,” Knife met her gaze. Imani could tell by the dark shadow cast over her light blue eyes that Knife was telling the truth.
“Why are you all being so fucking dramatic?” a voice bellowed in the background. Jack freed Knife from her grip, right as Catalina slithered between them, her mint eyes as cold and sharp as green Listerine.
“What’s with you tonight, Cat? Wouldn’t you be concerned if you couldn’t find your friend? Especially if that friend was pretty banged up?” Jack bellowed back.
“Violet’s always banged up!” Catalina threw an exasperated hand into the air. “I’m so sick of everyone giving special treatment to self-destructive people who don’t even try to take care of themselves!” Her curve-hugging body-con and dress and DDs suddenly felt all wrong in the sea of braless cool girls in loose, ratty denim. “You think it’s easy for me to have my shit together? Do you?” Her voice broke. “It’s not! I get depressed too! I don’t talk to my parents, either. But I still show up for all of you, ” she glared at Knife. “Which is pathetic, because all of you —” she glared at Jack “would drop me in a second for Violet. Who only makes messes and never cleans them up.” A fat tear pregnant with mascara and eyeliner and deep, deep effort tumbled down her cheek. “Do you know how shitty it feels to try so hard to be perfect? To try so hard to look pretty and be sexy and indulge all of your whims and late-night booty calls?” she was sobbing now. Jack and Knife stared into the tiles on the floor. “But no matter how hard I work to be ‘enough’ — my efforts are fruitless.” She shrank until she was two feet tall. “‘Cause no matter what I do — I know you’d rather be with her. You don’t even see me — until you can’t be with her.”
Jack and Knife looked up at Catalina, like two dumb German Shepards, who’d unknowingly torn a hole in their owner’s beloved bedspread.
Imani knew this scene would not end well if she didn’t immediately step in. They were going dangerously off-script. “Catalina,” she threw a long arm around Catalina’s slumped shoulder. “Look. We hear you. We see you. We love you and I promise we’ll address this later” she glowered at Jack and Knife, with strong, athletic eyes. “But Violet is missing and I’m telling you,” she crossed her arms, authoritatively, like a coach, “something isn’t right.”
Not that she would ever dare to admit it — but Valentina had fervently missed New York nightlife. She’d, of course, denounce it later and moan to Gabriella about how “the scene was dead” and “New York would never be what it was,” because the “artists had been pushed out by that god-awful Mayor,” droning on with teary eyes about how sickened she was by the slew of “trust-fund brats with no style.” She’d spend the cab ride home making a big show of mourning the death of Bohemia. But deep down inside, Valentina was sort of impressed. She’d secretly had more fun at this Moody Aquarius party — or whatever celestial woo-woo shit the kids were calling it — than she had in the last decade. She’d met some shockingly colorful characters, too. She’d flirted with a twenty-five-year-old drag king, with deliciously strong arms and a sleeve of vibrant tattoos. She’d been introduced to a charming, fabulously tall former basketball star — how different? — how chic? She’d done poppers with the party promoters, one of which was the daughter of the country’s most esteemed astrologer. Also very different, very chic.
But what had stirred her excitement the most was watching her niece, Gabriella Tortellini, get courted by an (allegedly) famous DJ. A Hollywood DJ. She paused to watch them dance. The strobe lights made their young skin look as if it was infused with glitter.
Gabriella certainly takes after me, she thought to herself as Natalia Gonzalez leaned in to kiss her on the mouth for the first time. This Natalia character was clearly mesmerized by ‘Lil Gab. Back in my day, I’d mesmerize the masses too. She guzzled her champagne. Only I mesmerized both women and men. She knew it was a petty thought, but her brain was hardwired to always one-up Gabriella. Gabriella was her obsession, the daughter she’d never had. But since the second she’d emerged out of her sister’s womb grinning, long-lashed, and one-armed, she’d felt wildly competitive with her. As a transgender woman who’d shaken up her traditional Italian family with her unwavering sense of self and artistic prowess — suddenly there was a new bitch in town. A child bitch with a beautiful singing voice and an attention-grabbing bionic arm, nonetheless.
“If I had a bionic arm, it would be over for all you bitches,” she muttered, giggling. She was drunk, but that was nothing new. Valentina loved to drink.
She leaped out of her barstool and threw her gold fur over her shoulders. It was snowing outside and every time the door flew open a burst of cold air clamored her freezing flesh.
She looked at the door. Someone was swinging through it, slowly, allowing little white snowflakes to fall into the entrance. She shivered, annoyed at the blatant disrespect.
And then her jaw dropped.
Breezing through the doors was Serafina, wearing the same pointy stiletto boots she’d rocked in the ‘70s, infiltrating the room with Chanel number #5 and Belvedere-on-the-rocks eyes.
At first, Valentina wanted to hide. It was too much seeing the heiress she’d secretly pined over for two decades, in real life. But then she took a deep breath remembered who the fuck she was. She held her head high and strutted over to Serafina, like one of the great, Amazonian supermodels of the early ‘90s.
Now or never. She reminded herself. Now or never.
Serafina was draped in luxurious red cashmere. Her shiny skin, black and luminous, hadn’t aged a day.
Now or never. Now or never. Now or never.
She tapped Serafina with the tip of her long, fake nail. Serafina turned around.
Valentina pushed her hair to the side, coyly. “Darling, I know it’s been years. You might not remember —”
“— Valentina?” Serafina’s eyes shimmered. “How could I ever forget?” she asked, the words dripping off her swollen red lips, slowly, like candle wax. She wrapped her rich, cashmere arms around Valentina’s dirty old mink.
As they embraced, a wonderful, unexpected feeling bloomed inside of Valentina. It was the feeling that — despite the dark and hopeless scenes peppered throughout — her story just might have a beautiful ending.
“I swear to Donna Karen. I didn’t want the story to end like this,” hot, angry tears splashed out of Sharon’s eyes. “I saw it going this direction, years ago! I tried to help, Vi! I swear I tried to intervene. I visited you more times than I was supposed to!” She began furiously pacing behind the bar.
Would she never see Sharon again? The idea socked her in the gut. “There’s nothing more you could’ve done, Sharon. You’ve been the most amazing angel. I’m just not made for this world —” Violet suddenly felt cracked open wide. A storm of emotions flooded her body. The bad ones felt like a cigarette twisted into the forearm and the good ones felt like a kaleidoscope of butterflies fluttering in a bright blue sky. The opposing emotions soared inside of her, simultaneously.
“You could’ve changed the narrative, you know. Of all the girls I watch over —” Sharon’s gaudy gold wings drooped. “You are the one who I thought would flip the script,” she pushed her hair out of her face and grabbed the emergency cigarette she kept stored behind her left ear.
“But I did! I got out. I left my past behind. I moved to New York and started a new life!” Violet shot up from the floor, her leopard heels steadier than ever before.
Sharon’s lope halted. “That’s precisely where you’ve gone wrong.” she sighed, handing Violet a cigarette and the pretty pink lighter. She could light her own cigarettes from now on for all she cared.
“What do you mean?” Violet struggled with the lighter.
Sharon snatched the lighter back and flicked it for Violet. The tiny blue flame gave a strange, alien glow to her bloodless skin. “The whole leaving the past behind garble! You can’t leave the past behind!” Sharon yelled.
“How am I supposed to change the narrative if I keep holding onto the scenes that broke me?” Violet tried to stifle a tidal wave of a sob.
“You are being so stupid, Violet,” Sharon scoffed. “And it’s a damn shame. Because you’re not stupid.”
A tsunami of emotion crashed out of Violet. It was so violent it knocked her to the ground. She lay there on the scratched-up floorboards, her body heaving up and down, controlled by the tides.
Sharon wasn’t done. She placed her hands on her hips and looked sadly into the roaring ocean of Violet. “Don’t you understand that the plot doesn’t make sense if you delete the scenes that got you to where you are?” Her voice was a deflated balloon. “You’d never have made it to New York City without having experienced the traumas that inspired you to run away at sixteen.”
Violet cried harder.
Sharon continued. “Writing is your passion, right? Do you know how utterly rare and special it is to have a passion? And you would have never had the impulse to pour yourself into your writing if you hadn’t been combusting with all those secrets.” Her arms fell to her sides. She hopped over the bar and sat on the floor next to Violet’s body. Violet’s head was pressed into the ground as salty seawater spilled out of her. “You would’ve never gone to Dolly’s if it wasn’t for your past. You would’ve never met Jose Antonio. Or Knife. Or Gabriella — man, the plot could’ve developed into something fabulous and rich with the two of you.” She stroked Violet’s hair. “You wouldn’t have experienced any of this without those scenes you're trying to delete. You didn’t just get here by magic.”
“What if I get stuck in the scenes I worked so hard to leave?”
Sharon laughed. It was a long, awkward laugh. The kind that could easily turn to a wail. “I hate to break it to you, honey,” she patted Violet’s head. “But you are stuck. You’ve been stuck for years. For awhile we sat back and let you numb the discomfort with all that deadly shit.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, you know what I mean. Treating your body like a punching bag. Starving. Cutting. Pills. Toxic fucking —”
“But I’ve never blown up my life. I could handle it.”
“That’s also the problem. But all that shit has stopped you from progressing. They’ve kept you spinning ‘round the same hamster wheel. But you can only keep going in circles for so long ‘till you tire out.”
“What do I do?”
“All I can say is this: The movie can not and will not move forward if you continue to edit out the parts you don’t like.”
“But those parts will kill me.”
Sharon cackled again. “Silly girl. You’re almost dead and they’re not what’s killing you. You’re the reason the movie is coming to an end.”
A thick theatrical curtain crashed from the ceiling, covering their bodies in heavy, red velvet. “I gotta get out of here,” Sharon muffled, wrangling out of the meaty fabric, pulling herself to her feet, dusting off her trench, unclipping the wings she’d inherited from her guardian angel, tossing them onto the bar, and disappearing to wherever it is that guardian angels go after they’ve exhausted their efforts to keep you safe and there’s nothing they can do anymore.
Knife’s girl alarms hadn’t sounded off in a long, long time. In fact, the last time she’d heard them, she was a teenager.
Once she discovered drugs, they’d strangely gone silent.
But standing in a circle with Jack, Imani, and Catalina, minutes before the blood moon took her final bow and the sun took her reign, an ambulance wailed inside of her.
She ran toward the back door.
“Where are you going?” Jack asked.
“Don’t you need your jacket?” Catalina yelped behind her. “It’s freaking blizzarding!”
Knife didn’t hear them. She just followed the sound of the siren.
She pushed open the door and sprinted to the dumpsters. A ratty street couch was nestled between two bright blue dumpsters. Lying there was a still Violet. A disheveled denim jacket was haphazardly tossed over her tiny ruffled shirt, her Mary Janes were kicked into the pavement, snowflakes piled in her tangle of dark hair.
“Violet!” Knife gasped, shaking Violet by the shoulders Her limbs flailed lifelessly, like a rag doll.
“No. No. No,” Knife’s heart leaped into her throat as wild tears tore down her face. She pressed her lips over Violet’s and began to furiously give her CPR.
Violet realized she was alone, under a curtain, and time was running out. Suddenly she wanted nothing more than to feel it all. Everything. She welcomed the hurt. She welcomed the pain. She welcomed the shame. She welcomed the fear. She welcomed the humiliation. It burned. Then scorched. She was on fire. Was this it?
She wasn’t sure.
But she let herself experience the burn.
Until the fire slowly snuffed itself out. Everything stung. Her eyelids fluttered. She felt warm lips on her lips. She opened her eyes.
She was suddenly freezing cold, trembling from head to toe, ice falling into raw skin. Was that Knife on top of her. “Am I alive?” she managed to ask through shattering teeth.
Knife jolted. “You’re alive,” she cried. “You’re alive.”
Violet smiled; her lips blue, her face frozen, her heartbeat dropping. But somehow she smiled.
Because it was clear. The movie wasn’t over yet.