Chapter 4: Cherry Grove




In the summer, New York City loses both her beauty and her charm. The heat melts her sparkle and the sunlight strips away her glittery facade. In the winter, New York City feels like theatre and art and glamorous brasseries and eccentrics in fur coats. In the summer, she feels like sadness. Drugs. Desperation. Kids sleeping on the floors of Penn Station.


New York City without the soft blanket of snow, New York City without her Radio City Music Hall glow, New York City without the fragrance of Spring, is ugly and uncomfortable. Sewer rats skitter across the scalding hot pavement wishing they too could be in the Hamptons. The sunbeams decide to gleam on the trash bags that pile up on every street corner and — “oh my god how have you never noticed how fucking awful 17th street smells?”


New York City in the summer will make you bitter. You’ll say “fuck this place!” as you drag your heavy limbs up the stairs to your six-story walk-up apartment, swollen and sweaty, drained and dirty. Your air conditioner will punish you for neglecting her all winter and will stop working in protest. The only wave of relief you’ll feel is when a subway car whizzes by and gives you a fleeting burst of a polluted breeze.


The one percent flee to Sag Harbor. The Jet Set do Amagansett. The Upper West Siders prefer “the cape.” The WASPs go “the vineyard.” The small subset of Manhattan Republicans (all from the Upper East Side) clutch their pearls in Nantucket. Jersey transplants stick to what they know and get their aerobicized bodies spray tanned before hopping a train to “the shore.” Your Jewish grandparents have a house in “the Catskills.”


The gays?


The gays go to Fire Island.


The untouched jewel with no cars and no cares.


The unkempt beauty and her beach.


The sunken forest and her fawns.


Gay boys with deep pockets and visible abs like to stay tucked away in “the Pines” where they never have to fear being confronted with an oh-so-tempting carbohydrate — but the rest of us go to the Grove. Cherry Grove.


The beauty of the place? You don’t have to be rich to go. It’s one of the few places that doesn’t detest a lesbian on a budget.


Knife was a lesbian on a budget, as was Violet, as was Jack. Really, they were all on a budget of sorts, such is the usual state of affairs for New Yorkers who aren’t multimillionaires.


On the ferry, they’d all been in a drunken haze gazing wordlessly into the foggy sunset — but suddenly the sky was stark and clear. Fire Island was near.


“Jacky how fuckin’ good does the air smell?” Gianna squinted into the blood-orange sky.


“What, you don’t like the smell of rat piss and used condoms back home?” Jack cackled. The small stretch of wildland framed by marsh and docks and dive bars appeared


Rainbow flags flapped in the distance. The entire boat clapped their hands in child-like delight.


There are two places in which queer New Yorkers feel the most at home: The gay bar and Fire Island. One serves booze, one serves sand. Both greet you with a rainbow.


Once Violet caught a glimpse of the rainbow flags waving wildly on her favorite tiny island, her tears dried up. She sobered up. An authentic smile stretched across her face. She turned to Patra and crooned: “Babe, we are fucking here.”


*


Besides the steamy train ride they had shared to Sayville where they'd spent the entire time feverishly making out — Knife and Catalina didn’t know each other all that well. And even though Knife had once gone down on Patra in the bathroom of Dolly’s after slugging back six pickleback shots — she didn’t really know Patra, either. And even though Patra partied at Dolly’s at least three nights a week — she didn’t really know Catalina, the bartender, who was notoriously frigid to pretty girls. And even though Violet had split a bag of coke with Knife at a bougie invite-only lesbian party in Southampton last summer — she didn’t really know Knife. And even though Knife incessantly lied and told all of the young girls she tried to sleep with that she and Violet (the sex columnist!) were as close as sisters — she didn’t really know Violet, either. And Catalina who saw everyone all the time didn’t really know anyone because she was cripplingly shy, despite her bold cleavage and forward-facing job.


But they all knew Dara.


Everyone knew Dara. Dara was one of those East Coast lesbians who knows every lesbian not just in New York — but in the entire tristate area.


Dara was not just outrageously friendly — she was refreshingly resourceful and organized, unlike the rest of the messy Dolly's crew. It was Dara who had arranged their share on Memorial Day weekend, one of the most coveted weekends of the summer. She’d booked the house back in October and had invited a hodgepodge of dykes from all five boroughs to join because she loved bringing unlikely characters together. Even though she appeared even-keeled and as sweet as can be — Dara loved lesbian drama. She lived for it.


This is how Catalina, Violet, Patra, and Knife all ended up in the same house.


It wasn’t just them, either. Imani, a former college basketball star in the throes of an identity crisis, was staying in the house too. As was Belinda, the go-go dancer who loved to bitch about how hard it is to be pretty. As was a set of androgynous identical twins from Astoria, Queens, Lane and Lilly, who were both rocking matching asymmetrical haircuts


"Is that Tegan & Sara?" Patra loudly whispered in Violet's ear.


"I think it's their ghost. Remember their song 'Walking with a ghost'?" Violet giggled under her breath. "It was definitely about them."


The three-bedroom little wooden house all nine girls were staying in was named “Mermaid Melissa” and sat at the edge of Cherry Grove — right by the Meatrack — the notorious gay cruising dune that connects Cherry Grove to the Pines.


“I love this area. I call it —” Violet took a long theatrical drag of her Marlboro light — “Cherry Pines.” They rolled their suitcases up the walkway that led to the house.


Dara twisted the key into the door. Right as the girls set foot in the house, Knife chuckled, “I’ve stayed here before.”


“As have I.” Violet purred, as memories of previous summers flooded her brain. “It’s one of those houses that teems with girls and tampons.”


Catalina looked at Violet knowingly. “Right. Like you arrive and every girl in the house gets her period at once?”


Violet raised a well-endowed eyebrow at Catalina. "You've stayed here too, I assume?" She batted her lashes and reached into her famously ratty $2600 canary yellow Balenciaga and popped a sky blue pill into her mouth. “Want one?” she asked the group.


“Yes,” they all answered in unison, opening up their palms, like a druggie lesbian chorus in a Broadway musical.


Catalina tossed the pill into her purse and flashed Violet a shy smile. "To answer your question, Violet, I have stayed here. It's a bloodbath." And with that, she dashed into the bathroom, her giant Juicy Couture weekender bag slung across her shoulder. There was a leopard-print bikini tucked into her bag that was begging to be on her body.


“Anyone bleedin' yet?” Dara asked, attaching the house keys to the belt-loop of her denim shorts. Even though she was only 28, she was an old-fashioned lesbian who’d been wearing her keys around her belt-loop since the eighth grade.


“I am,” said Lane.


“Same,” said Lily.


“Started this morning,” said Patra.


“Three out of nine are already bleeding? Oh well, then we’re all fucked," Knife sighed. She eye-sexed a bottle of Vodka sitting pretty on the kitchen counter. Her mouth watered. "Can we start drinking already?"


"I think I just got cramps,” Violet lamented, throwing her bony body melodramatically onto the sofa. She glanced down at her smocked white mini dress, which covered up her new white crochet bikini. “Of course I’m wearing white. Ha!” she guffawed, turning to Knife. "I want whiskey and I want mushrooms. I have both in my suitcase."


Knife, who could’ve sworn she felt an ache in her uterus, and happened to be wearing low-slung *white* distressed jeans over *white* Calvin Klein men’s underwear suddenly found herself — for the first time — attracted to Violet. She’d always been too intimidated by Violet to even catch her eye, let alone breath in her haunting beauty. There was something about Violet's energy that made her want to be bad. Whiskey and mushrooms. Cocaine and ketamine. Poppers and other party favors.


A dumb smile slowly crept its way across Knife’s face as she gazed at Violet’s creamy pale thighs clumsily strewn across the weathered couch in the living room of “Mermaid Melissa.” She envisioned Violet’s body on top of her body — when Catalina suddenly twirled out of the bathroom in a leopard print thong bikini looking like Miss New Jersey if Miss New Jersey was cool enough to be a Puerto Rican lesbian bartender. Oh, the things she’d do to Catalina. The things Catalina would do to her.


Her eyes darted toward Violet who was twirling her clavicle grazing hair, while sexily smirking into the distance. Oh, The things she’d do to Violet. The things Violet would do to her.


When was the last time I wasn’t on top? When was the last time I scissored? Knife wondered, fishing in her jean’s pocket for Violet’s pill. The self-proclaimed “straight girl addict” felt a rush of electricity pulsate inside of her Calvin Kleins. While she got off on the power trip of being a girl’s first Sapphic experience, she was suddenly overcome with a primal desire to have sex with an out and proud, experienced queer woman.


Speaking of experienced queer woman, little did any of the girls of “Mermaid Melissa” know — the queer matriarch of The West Village, Serafina — right in that moment, was landing in Cherry Grove. Not by ferry. By seaplane.


Suddenly the Island was bathed in a cloud of Chanel Number #5.


*


“Where’s Violet staying?” Jack asked Gianna, trying to sound as disinterested as possible.


“Violet’s staying with Dara and seven thousand other kids. You know the kind of house we used to stay in? The kind that’s full of estrogen and tampon wrappers? Mermaid Melissa is the house, you know the place? Over by the Meatrack?”



Of course Jack knew the house. Of course! It was a lesbian’s rite of passage to stay in Mermaid Melissa at least once. “That place would get filthy. Dirty dishes, underwear littered everywhere, and you’re right — so many tampons. We’d all get synced on the same cycle and fight.” Jack paused for a moment. “And fuck.”


“The schedule at Mermaid Melissa: Bleed. Blackout. Fuck. Fight. Repeat.” Gianna opened up her luggage and carefully removed her Louis Vuitton pour homme toiletry bag. They were staying at “The Pink Oyster,” a new women’s-only bed and breakfast with a stunning view of the bay and a sparklingly clean, electric blue swimming pool. It was owned by a small, frenetic woman named Camilla from Bayshore, Long Island.


Camilla had greeted them on the boardwalk wearing a glittery rhinestone baseball hat. “Welcome to the ‘Pink Oyster.’” She’d croaked while hacking up a lung. “House Rules: No guests. No flushing the toilet unless it’s a BM. Complimentary happy hour starts at 4 sharp and ends at 5 sharp,” she’d ordered militaristically.


“Rhinestone cowboy over there is a real pile of fuckin’ smiles,” Gianna had whispered to Jack as Camilla led them to their suite.


Jack had laughed so hard she choked on her beer.


Despite the staunch rhinestone cowboy in charge, the inn was stunningly beautiful, full of modern art and wild daisies. Plus both Jack and Gianna were perfectly happy to put up with an old New York Italian woman’s rules if it meant supporting one of the few lesbian operations on the Island.


Jack pulled a clean sweatshirt out of her bag and pulled it over her head. It had the words “BEAR WEEK: ASPEN, CO 1997” stitched across the chest. Gianna thought briefly about suggesting she throw on something a little more refined — like, say, one of those button-down shirts Jack bought in the male section at Macy’s and wore during weddings — but decided against it. Jack was in a rare good mood and it felt good to have her old friend back.


Gianna lowered her eyes and smiled at Jack like she was about to set free a long-imprisoned secret. It was a specific smile that Gianna was famous for. It was a smile that makes you drop your guard and spit out your deepest truth.


“What is it, G?” Jack asked cautiously. She detested when Gianna gave her that smile.


“Nothing, Jacky,” Gianna sing-songed. “Just wondering why you care ‘bout where Violet is staying? I’ve never even seen you glance in her direction.”


Just hearing the name “Violet'' made the hairs on the back of Jack’s neck stand up. “Just making conversation, G.”


“Violet’s a good kid, Jack. A lonely kid, though. I think you’d be good for her. Especially now, that’s she’s done with that fuckin’ animal she was dating before. The trainer chick?”


“G, I’m not interested in some party girl sex blogger, ya hear?” Jack spat.


“Alright, alright,” Gianna mused, although she couldn’t help but notice an unmistakable twinkle in Jack’s eye.


Then the scent of Chanel Number 5 filled up their entire room. “Hunnies! Darlings! Loves!” a voice boomed from outside.


“Serafina!” they cheered, rushing to the door.


*


Knife and Violet were passing back and forth a bottle of whiskey, laying on the floor of the living room, while their housemates napped in their respective rooms.


Violet knew Knife was a liar because Violet had a nose for liars. But Violet didn’t care. Today there was a vulnerable charm to Knife that she found sweet and charming.


“So, um, yeah, as I was saying, my agent was calling me earlier ‘bout this fragrance gig,” Knife stammered. For reasons she couldn’t understand — her steady lies were shaky around Violet.


“Let’s not talk about work,” Violet purred. “Let’s do something...fun.”


Knife turned her head and stared into Violet’s warm hazel eyes. Violet blinklessly met Knife’s arctic blue gaze. There was a sparkle glimmering inside of Knife’s eyes that made her blood pressure rise. It was addictive like a slot machine but familiar like her oldest pair of Dr. Marten boots.


They saw each other.


Both their eyes were like unpredictable animals; ever-changing in energy, shifting from sweet to sultry, hot to frigid, open to closed with every exchanged glance. Both girls oozed an intensity that scared normal people away. But Violet and Knife definitely weren’t normal people. They were intense people.


Violet subtly shifted her hip toward Knife’s hip. Knife slowly wedged her knee between Violet's thighs. Their eyes and bodies were locked together like a stubborn arm wrestle and their breath was heavy and staggered. Neither dared to blink.


TO BE CONTINUED.


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