Chapter 5: Stars






Nia Green was about to become the biggest star in America. Her agents knew it. Her managers knew it. Jody Moritz, the indie darling director extraordinaire who’d just cast Nia as the ingénue in her first studio film, knew it.


But no one knew that Nia Green was a star on the rise quite like Nia Green herself.


She’d known she was a vibrant, ever-spinning star since she was a six-year-old kid living in the suburbs of Chicago.


“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Nia’s first-grade teacher, Mrs. Seaman asked the classroom on a freezing cold mid-winter day.


“I want to be President of The United States,” Bradley Banks, a blue-blooded six-year-old spat. “Just like my great, great, great grandaddy!”


“How lovely!” Mrs. Seaman beamed (she was a notorious right-wing star-fucker). “You have my vote!” Her warm eyes turned cold as she gestured to Nia. “Nia, you're next.”


Nia took a deep breath. “I will be famous.”


“Famous for what?” Bradley chortled.


Nia noticed milky drool pooling in the corner of Bradley’s chapped lips. “I’m just going to be famous.”


“Well, you need to choose something to be famous for, Nia. Fame doesn’t just happen,” Mrs. Seaman hissed, her venom piercing Nia right in the heart.


Nia’s six-year-old eyes stared into Mrs. Seaman’s forty-six-year-old eyes when suddenly she felt a match strike inside of her iris. Then a flicker. Then a burn.


“Mrs. Seaman. I will be famous, that’s all.” Nia prophesied curtly. And I will do everything in my power to prove YOU WRONG. She thought to herself, taking a confident slurp out of her Juice Box.


Nia’s eyes had been on fire ever since.


Have you ever met anyone famous? Not reality TV famous or the ever-tedious “social media famous” —


I mean have you ever met a star?


There’s a fire that burns inside the eyes of stars. It’s illuminating. Intoxicating. Intimidating. It seduces us with its fabulous orange glow. But it also radiates a deadly heat — reminding us that the fire will gleefully destroy us if we dare get too close. I’ve come too far for you to take this away, it huskily whispers, teasing us as it flaunts its titillating flames before our layman eyes.


Nia was eight when she realized she’d be famous for acting. She’d scored the lead role in a community theatre rendition of “Annie.” When she felt those stage lights shine against her face on opening night, a bomb of glitter burst out of her chest. The audience burst into a standing ovation as she curtsied. This was her superpower.


Nia didn’t just have stage presence and charisma — she had the I WILL WIN AT ALL COSTS work ethic possessed by all those hell-bent on proving their teachers wrong.


Nia never took a vacation. Ever. But her agent Mack Mellardo at WME had told her she needed to for her career.


“You need to be part of the world and live a little if you want to really hone those acting chops, Nia. You’ve got two months until you film your breakout movie. Now is the time,” he’d lectured over dinner at The Palm Steakhouse in Tribeca.


“Stay at my house in Fire Island for a month. Cindy and I will be in Vancouver all summer. It’s yours,” Jody Moritz had offered Nia over the phone, the following morning.


“I don’t know...I’ve never been,” Nia anxiously envisioned everything she’d worked so hard to build, being struck down by a wicked bolt of lightning on a small, remote island.


“Sweetheart. You’ll love it. It’s so gorgeous and my house happens to be the second biggest with an ocean view on the whole island.”


“Cool.” Nia was still not sold.


“There’s only one thing, kid. You might not find a dude to play with because Fire Island is all dykes and fags,” Jody cackled.


“I’ll take it,” Nia answered quickly, a sudden and strange sensation buzzing through her bones.


This is how Ray, Nia, and Amanda ended up drinking vodka in a seaside mansion overlooking a dark, roaring ocean lit up by a pregnant, glowing moon.


Ray had been Nia’s personal trainer for the past seven months and was the closest thing to a friend she had in New York. Not only that — but she knew Ray was gay and according to Jody, Fire Island was too.


“So Nia. What time do we train in the morning, babe?” Ray asked, as the three of them gathered in the Fire Island mansion. She called all of her celebrity clients “babe.” Seeing the soft blush in their cheeks after she casually dropped the word babe gave her a lovely kick of dopamine. Her “babes” seemed to fluster everyone.

Everyone except for Nia.


“I’ll let you sleep in. How is six-thirty?” Nia asked, hungrily sucking down the remains of her vodka soda.


“What? Nooooo!” Amanda squealed, her eyes round and wide like a Bratz Doll.

Nia and Ray ignored Amanda’s squeal.


“Let’s drink some champagne, Ray. Let’s be bad.” Nia purred. She could feel the lovely lubricant of vodka softening the tension in her tight shoulders. She skipped over to the fridge and pulled out an unopened bottle of Perrier Jouet. Her long legs looked as if they were swimming in her faded gray sweatpants. Her slim upper body was swallowed by an extra-large, sky-blue, sweatshirt. Her raven hair was fastened into a tight bun and her luminous terra cotta skin had been scrubbed clean of makeup. Even though she was dressed like a fallen celebrity en route to a Malibu rehab center, her effortless beauty was so shiny it made the brilliant moonlight appear dull.


“Ray only drinks Vodka,” Amanda giggled, tightly grabbing Ray’s hand.


Ray rolled her eyes. “If I’m drinkin’ with Nia, I’ll drink champagne,” Ray grunted, shaking her hand free of Amanda’s shackles.


Nia served the two girls tall stem glasses of gorgeous golden bubbles and hopped onto the couch. She towered over them as she banged her nails against her champagne glass.


“I’m making a toast. Cheers to...cheers to…” Nia stared into the skylight on the ceiling and took in the moon. “Cheers to my first buzz in nine months,” she smirked at Ray whose legs were stretched open so wide she was practically straddling the armchair. One exposed knee cap shot through a contrived tear in her True Religion skinny jeans. Her naked kneecap looked so exposed it was almost obscene — and bizarrely sexy.


“I’ll drink to that!” Ray chugged down half of her champagne in one gulp. She, too, was starting to feel a refreshing buzz gently vibrate through her body.


Nia pranced over to the floor-to-ceiling living room window and stared into the distance, intently.


“I don’t know,” she watched as two girls ran down the dark beach completely nude, clutching bright red solo cups. “But something about this Fire Island place makes me…”


“Want to go off the fucking rails?” Ray hummed, jumping out of the chair and pressing her nose against the cool glass window.


“Yes,” Nia answered. The two naked girls were dipping their feet in the ocean now.


“Should we get some coke?” Ray murmured under breath.


“How do you know me so well?” Nia whispered fogging up the window with her breath.


“My cousin Anthony sells coke down in Ocean Beach!” Amanda exclaimed. “I could call him?” She pulled out a stick of Juicy Fruit gum and began to chomp.


“We’re not going to fuckin’ Ocean Beach,” Ray chuckled, her face still pressed against the window. “You think we’d take the hottest actress in Hollywood to meet your cousin ‘Tony’ in Ocean fuckin’ Beach?”


“I am a hot actress, aren’t I?” Nia crooned, letting the beautiful reality that her lifelong goals were coming to fruition, wash over her.


“The hottest,” Ray growled.

Amanda looked down at her tight yellow knock-off Hervé Léger mini dress and her tight yellow Forever 21 kitten heels and fought back the urge to cry.


“His name isn’t Tony. It’s Anthony,” she squeaked softly, as a fat tear splashed against her bare thigh.


*


“Should we kiss?” Knife asked.


“No,” Violet pushed a lock of white-blonde hair out of Knife’s ice-blue eyes.


“Are you sure?” Knife whimpered. Her leg was still shoved between Violet’s thighs.


Violet pressed her body weight deeper into Knife’s leg. “I’m sure.”


“Okay,” Knife stammered. As Violet pressed her body deeper and deeper into her leg — Knife could’ve sworn she felt a small pulse softly beating through Violet’s white crochet string bikini bottom.


“I think it’s time for my favorite Drag Show. It only happens on Fridays at 9 PM,” Violet sing-songed, gazing into Knife’s eyes. Her breath smelled sweet like sugary amphetamines. Her pillowy lips kissed Knife’s cheek. She let her lips linger on the surface of Knife’s face for a few precious seconds before hopping to her feet and scampering into the bedroom to get pretty for a night of drag and drugs.


Knife stared at the cracks in the ceiling. It was then that she felt a dampness penetrating her white jeans, creeping its way to her bare leg. Violet had marked her with her wetness.


*


It’s not rare for grief-stricken people to act out. To attempt to fill the gaping voids by slugging back too much wine and crawling into strangers’ beds. Maybe they’ll have a short-lived affair with a wacko — or if the pain cuts really deep — they might do something super self-destructive like cut their hair into a god-awful, wildly-unflattering, fashion mullet of sorts.


“Oh they’re just going through it right now,” we’ll whisper when someone asks us about their sudden bout of bizarre behavior.


The rich are just like regular people.


Only not all.


When Serafina’s beloved toy poodle “Maggie” passed away from an unexpected heart attack in the lobby of the Plaza in 1981, Serafina was — indeed — deeply, utterly and completely, grief-stricken. I mean, that dog was the closest thing to a child she’d ever know.


But in lieu of shaving her head à la Britney Spears, Serafina dropped $10 million on a house.


That’s right, babes, Serafina was the owner of the first biggest oceanfront house on Cherry Grove.


“Are you sure you wanna spend all that on a house you’ll only be able to go to for three months a freakin’ year?” Jack had asked Serafina right before she sealed the deal. They were having martinis at the Life Cafe in the East Village.


“I’ve never been sure about anything in my life!” Serafina had wailed, flailing her lit cigarette recklessly through the air. “WAITER, MORE MARTINIS. KEEP ‘EM COMING,” Serafina screamed. Serafina had a house account at Life Cafe so she never worried about getting too drunk to remember to sign the bill. (She also had a chauffeur waiting outside for her so she didn’t have to worry about getting too drunk to find her way home, either.)


Over twenty years had flown by since her sporadic investment and Serafina never regretted her purchase, not once. She’d grown notorious in the art world for throwing fabulously eclectic dinner parties in that house. She’d hosted Warhol and Lichtenstein and Vreeland there. Architectural Digest had done a full feature story on the house. It was epic — a sprawling ten thousand square feet with a long, narrow black-bottomed infinity pool that spilled right into the sand. The entire back of the house was glass, so when Fire Island was in the throes of one of her famous sunsets, the whole house was bathed in electric pink. During nightfall, the house twinkled with stars.


She’d decorated the house using exclusively seafoam and white shades, only disrupted by a gorgeous onslaught of massive, colorful paintings from young emerging artists. Serafina was a world-class collector who only invested in “living artists” and never worried about matching her art to her decor. “One must never match their makeup to their outfit or their art to their furniture,” she’d lecture the young femmes at Dolly’s.


The most exquisite part of Serafina’s mansion wasn’t the exotic infinity pool or the gargantuan glass windows. Nor was it the insanely hip art or the expertly curated decor.


It was the deer.


For reasons only God herself understands, wild deer were drawn to Serafina’s property like a mosquito to blood.


Anytime of day or night you could find at least half a dozen fawns dramatically splayed across her property, nuzzling up against their mothers, as they blissfully napped on Serafina’s immaculate front lawn.


Serafina loved the deer and was secretly convinced her beloved poodle had sent them to her in the afterlife.


It was strange that the deer acted as if they knew Serafina. They stalked her property when she was away and bowed their antlers in respect when she arrived. The babies didn’t even skirt away when she came stumbling home drunk after a liquor-fueled night.


Serafina was mesmerized by one particular fawn this summer. The fawn was the color of honey and had a spectacular constellation of white spots scattered across her back. Her eyes looked like two mugs teeming with black coffee and each ear was twice the size of her tiny face. She was smaller than the rest of the pack but was by far the most daring. Serafina had watched her boldly gallop toward the pool as the rest of her siblings cowered, terrified by this artificial body of water they didn’t quite understand.


The fawn reminded her of someone.


The fawn reminded her of Violet.


*


The girls of Mermaid Melissa were on one.


On top of the full bottle of rosé she’d downed on the train with Knife, Catalina had topped off two more. She’d also washed down the Adderall Violet had given her with a shot of tequila the whole group took before leaving for the drag show.


The identical lesbian twins from Queens were on Molly.


Dara and Belinda had each done four fat rails of coke and split a handle of tequila.


Patra had found Dara and Belinda in the bathroom doing the coke and demanded a bump. After the bump, she’d decided it was a good idea to take one of Violet’s mushroom chocolates. After the chocolate she grew paranoid about her pending trip, so she’d decided she needed to drink half a bottle of sauvignon blanc to calm her nerves.


Imani had found a nervous Patra taking desperate swigs of wine right out of the bottle in the backyard, so she’d decided it was only polite to help her polish it off. When she caught wind of the coke she’d knocked on Dara’s door and demanded Dara give her a bump, which of course, Dara did because Dara was gorgeously selfless.


Violet had taken so much Adderall she’d found herself counting the number of tiles in the bathroom as she’d showered. She’d also ingested a delicate nibble of a psilocybin mushroom chocolate, downed a quarter of a bottle of whiskey with Knife, and then treated herself to a glass of prosecco as she adorned her face in makeup. That’s not including the two dirty martinis she’d inhaled on the ferry and the martini she’d just ordered at Raspberries, the iconic outdoor bayside bar that hosted her favorite Friday night drag show.


Knife, who had taken one of Violet’s Adderall pills orally and crushed a second one up and inhaled it with her nostrils, had also thrown back her own bottle of rosé on the train with Catalina, passed back and forth a bottle of whiskey with Violet, gagged down two tequila shots with her housemates, and was currently scouring Raspberries for ketamine.


“Serafina!” Violet screeched, twirling toward the entrance of the bar. Serafina was wearing a sheer, tropical-printed Versace blouse, rhinestone-encrusted Versace jeans, and lime-colored mules. Behind her stood Jack in her “BEAR WEEK” sweatshirt and Gianna in a crisp button-down and Gucci sneakers so white they could blind a man.


“Darling!” Serafina bellowed, her arms enveloping Violet.


“Gianna!” Violet cried, feeling safe in Serafina’s cloud of love and Chanel number 5.


“Hey, kid!” Gianna flashed her freshly bleached teeth.


That’s when Violet noticed Jack. Like noticed, noticed Jack. There was a glimmer in her eyes she’d never seen before. “Hi,” Violet slurred. Since when did Jack have such magnificent cheekbones? She wondered.


Jack looked at Violet and her heart shattered. Violet’s black eyeliner circled around her sunken eyes making her look like a beautiful raccoon. Her billowy lavender dress revealed dramatic shoulder blades that shot out of her back like fairy wings.


“Hi, Violet,” Jack’s eyes zeroed in on Violet’s hands. They were tightly wrapped around a martini glass and furiously shook like a freight train. Her usually immaculate nails were chipped and bitten raw.


“Let’s get a round of drinks!” Serafina crooned. “On me, of course, darlings.”


“Does Violet need another drink?” Jack whispered to Gianna. “She looks pretty banged up.”


“Why the fuck you care?” Gianna’s eyes began to dance. “Oh shit. You got it bad, Jacky,”


Jack socked Gianna in the arm. “Cut it out, G,” she warned as she shoved her way to the bar.


They say Madonna ruins every party she attends because the magnitude of her presence is so powerful it intimidates the guests. No one dares to dance because who the fuck has the balls to dance around the one and only Madonna? Everyone is reduced to a quiet, stammering, fumbling-over-their -words dance-less mess.


One could say it’s fame that shuts normal people down. And yes — that’s part of it, of course. We’re all high school kids, really, nervous and shy around the popular girl. But it’s more than a mere popularity contest with people like Madonna. The Madonnas of the world emit a peculiar frequency only a select few are blessed with (or cursed with, depending on how you look at it). It’s an electric current so powerful it blows out all the other lights in its radius. You can feel it before you see it. It doesn’t have much to do with celebrity, it’s more to do with energy.


It’s beautiful, but blinding.


The visions of every entity at Raspberries blackened when Nia Green arrived.


I suppose that’s why they call it “star power,” it makes it so every star in the sky is rendered invisible and our eyes are only able to focus in on one.


The only people immune to the power of a star?


The over-medicated. Like Violet. Like Ray.

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