“WHAT?!” Patra screeched so loudly the performing Drag Queen, Anita Syringe, paused smack dab in the middle of her Celine Dion impression.
“Excuse me?” Anita Syringe’s voice boomed into the microphone. “You — you with the loud voice! What’s your name?” The room fell silent. A spotlight shone against Patra’s face.
“I’m Patra,” she answered evenly, praying to the gay gods that Anita Syringe didn’t force her onto the stage of Raspberries, Cherry Grove’s premier bayfront bar. She glanced down. Seventeen gold bangles dramatically dangled from each wrist. A tiny Gucci scarf was wrapped around her torso in lieu of a shirt. Her racehorse legs were encased in fire-engine PVC hot pants and her feet donned matching fire-engine mules. And to top it all off; she’d finally mustered up the courage to rock the pale blue wig she’d bought on a whim when in the throes of a depressive episode last winter. Patra was quintessential drag-bait and Anita Syringe was one hungry Queen.
“This bitch is definitely not from Long Island with a name like Patra. So where do you live, Patra?” Anita Syringe cooed in the microphone.
“The West Village,” she murmured, her eyes flapping around the room like two captive birds.
Don’t make eye contact. If you make eye contact, it’s all over for you.
“And it looks like you brought THE ENTIRE WEST VILLAGE with you!” Anita Syringe pointed to the dozens of bracelets clanking against Patra’s bronzy arms. “So Patra of the West Village — what was so important that you felt compelled to yell during Celine Dion’s first performance of the season?” Her eyes glittered. “It’s only fair you share.”
Patra’s face was suddenly ablaze. “I don’t remember,” she stammered. Patra, unlike pathological Knife, was a horrendous liar.
“Oh look at YOU, all red-faced! You’re hiding something JUICY! SPILL THE TEA!” Anita Syringe playfully batted five sets of eyebrow-skimming lashes to the crowd, who were now chanting: “TEA. TEA. TEA.”
“I wasn’t yelling at anything,” Patra slumped deeper into her bar-stool, sick with fear.
But here’s the thing about Drag Queens.
Drag Queens are like horses.
They can smell your fear.
The next thing Patra knew she was on stage.
“Woohoo!” She heard Violet’s muffled slur bellow through the crowd.
I can do this. She coached herself. I can just play it off like I was screeching because I saw a bat! There are bats here — right? The hot stage lights burned a hole into her cornea. Her vision was suddenly streaked with black bolts of lightning. Why does it look like I’m staring into a scary kaleidoscope?
That’s when she remembered that she’d ingested an entire mushroom chocolate just two hours ago.
“They are potent,” Violet had warned her.
“So am I,” she’d giggled, casually popping the chocolate-adorned fungus into her mouth like it was a lifesaver.
“If you don’t tell us what scandal caused you to scream bloody murder during my show, you’re going to have to dance for us, West Village,” Anita Syringe threatened.
Patra’s blood ran cold. The only thing that came more unnatural to Patra than lying —
“MY BEST FRIEND’S EX JUST WALKED IN WITH A FAMOUS PERSON,” she blurted, before scampering off the stage like a startled mouse escaping the wrath of a trap.
The entire bar had unconsciously felt the energetic shift that can’t help but occur when a bright, shiny star descends upon mortal ground. But now they understood what the erratic change in vibe was about: A Celebrity Was On Property. Nia Green felt hundreds of eyes devour her skin like blood-thirsty leeches. Oh, It feels so fucking good to be sucked dry.
“I know that face,” she overheard the cocktail waitress, a bombshell in a crop-top named Maggie, whisper to the bartender, a hot dyke in combat boots named Alix.
“That’s Nia Green. She had a recurring role on Gossip Girl. She’s going to be the lead in the next Jody Moritz movie. She’s about to blow the fuck up,” Alix whispered back to Maggie as chills sprinted down her spine. “Maybe I should give her one of my headshots?” she wondered aloud, her eyes glistening with hope. Like most Long Island natives, Alix’s life was a Billy Joel song. She was sure she could be a movie star if she could only get out of this place.
“This sounds like some LESBIAN DRAMA!” Anita Syringe joyously howled into the microphone before breaking into an acapella rendition of Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.”
Of course, Nia knew that people were whispering about her, of course! She always had one eye judiciously scanning the landscape to clock who had recognized her. You would never know it, though. Like any star, Nia attained the intoxicating ability to make whoever she was talking to feel as if they were the only person in the room.
“Sorry about that bullshit,” Ray placed a firm hand protectively against the small of Nia’s back.
“It’s fine. I just wanted to blend in tonight,” Nia breezily lied. There was nothing she detested more than blending in.
Of course, Ray knew that Nia loved being the center of attention, of course! Ray had been training celebrities for over a decade! And Ray was perfectly happy to partake in the delusional narratives of the rich and famous. Having a defined role in an interpersonal dynamic made her feel safe. “It’s not okay,” she gruffed, reciting her lines like a pro. “But don’t worry — I’ll keep you safe,” she wrapped a kettle-bell-toned arm around Nia’s waist and pulled her over to the bar. “Hey. Bartender. Give the lady the best champagne you got.”
Nia looked up at Ray with big, concerned eyes.
She’s a natural, Ray thought to herself, amused. “Though you do need to get used to it. You’re about to blow the fuck up,” Ray whispered into her ear.
Ray’s words sounded like poetry to Nia — who on the outside was nodding her head solemnly — but on the inside felt as if she’d just taken a hit of Ibiza-grade ecstasy. Being treated like a star flooded her brain with serotonin.
Ray couldn’t help but grin. The intrinsic understanding of how to perfectly indulge a celebrity was her superpower.
That and making girls squirt.
Violet wasn’t mad at Patra, not even slightly. Patra was her best friend and she knew all about her inability to twist her lips around a lie. In fact, it was Patra’s unflinching honesty that Violet loved about her the most.
Violet wasn’t mad at anyone except for herself. She was mad at herself for allowing the presence of Ray to make her heart leap out of her chest, only to shatter against the hard ground. But mainly, she was mad — no she was livid with herself for behaving like Ray’s pathetic little junkie, desperate for a fix of her attention. Her approval. Her body. Her touch.
Violet’s hazel eyes slowly drank in the scene at the bar. Ray was whispering something in Nia’s ear. Nia — who looked magnetic and beautiful in her simple white tee-shirt and low-slung Fred Segal sweatpants — was giggling like a teen trying to impress a mealy-mouthed boy in the high school parking lot. Violet could tell by the engorged pupils shining in their startled eyes that they were coked to the gills. The curvy redhead she’d witnessed Ray tote around The Sayville Ferry like a Shetland pony lingered sadly behind them.
Violet was about to sneak away to the bathroom to numb herself with one of the many prescription bottles tucked inside of her purse when she heard a familiar rasp behind her. “You okay, kid?” Before her, stood Jack, reeking of Axe deodorant and nicotine.
“Got an extra cigarette?” Violet asked.
Jack reached into the pockets of her low-slung, baggy jeans and fished for a Marlboro. She popped two cigarettes into her mouth, lit them both, and handed one to Violet.
“Thank you so much, Jack,” she sighed. She quickly surveyed her brain for an excuse to walk away but the soles of her scuffed platforms seemed to be glued into the floor.
“Want to go for a walk on the dock?” Jack pointed to the regal marina splayed out in front of the bar.
“Yes,” Violet took a deep breath. “Fuck, yes.”
Catalina clutched a plastic cup of rosè as she watched Violet and Jack make their way down the pier. She felt sorry for Violet — if anyone understood the sting of rejection — it was her. But something about the softness in Jack’s eyes as she guided Violet toward the water, injected a full syringe of jealousy into her arm.
After Catalina’s initial sex dream about Jack fucking her with a purple strap-on dildo in a New Jersey barn last month, she’d had three more. The last had been the strangest.
“You’ve been a BAD GIRL!” Jack had squawked, reaching into Catalina’s grammar school backpack pulling out a neon tiger-printed Lisa Frank binder. “And bad girls need to be punished,” she’d breathed into Catalina’s ear before whipping her with both the backpack and the binder. She’d been wearing fuzzy footed pajamas and Jack had been dressed like a mall security guard. Catalina didn’t know what the fuck the dream meant. She only knew that she’d found it outrageously erotic. That, and maybe she needed therapy.
Catalina felt two clammy hands clasp themselves over her eyes. The fingers were so long they wrapped around her entire face. She shrieked.
“GOTCHA!” Knife hooted, removing her hands from Catalina’s eyes. Knife’s face bore a dumb smile so colossal her cheekbones pressed into her eye-sockets. She noticed a wet mark on Knife’s jeans. She must be so hammered that she’s spilling drinks. Wonderful.
Knife looked messy but also sexy. There was a dilapidated charm to Knife that Catalina couldn’t help but feel affection for. Knife reminded her of a platinum Gia Marie Carangi before her heroine-addled supermodel tenure, back when she was a punky dyke running her dad’s pizza shop in Philly. Catalina’s eyes parked themselves on Knife’s lips. She suddenly forgot all about getting pelted with school supplies by a stone butch thirty years her senior.
Knife reached into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out a small bottle. “I have poppers,” she beamed proudly.
“Are we two gay boys about to have sex?” Catalina cackled.
“Psh,” Knife rolled her eyes and pressed the bottle of poppers against her nostrils. “You think only gay boys use poppers for sex?” She winked at Catalina before taking a fat inhale.
Jack and Violet sat at the edge of the dock. Their legs dangled in the air as they peered into the murky bay. Clouds of gray smoke belly-danced out of their lips.
“You wanna talk about that shit-show at the bar?” Jack asked. She looked at Violet. Her eyes were dead.
“Not really,” Violet tugged on the hem of her skirt. It was the color of a dirty ballet slipper and exposed her thighs which were peppered in bug bites and strange blue bruises. God, was she Jack’s type. “It’s just weird,” Violet continued.
“What’s weird?” Jack pried.
“All of it. The pills. The girls. The feelings.”
Jack noticed a gold necklace glimmering around Violet’s neck. In tiny diamonds, it spelled out the letters: TDB. “Who is TDB?” she asked mesmerized by the way it glittered against Violet’s skin.
Violet clutched the necklace. It was the dog tag Patra had hooked around her neck on the ferry. “TDB. It stands for Three Dollar Bill. As in ‘queer as a three dollar bill.’ It’s Patra’s.”
Jack looked as if she’d seen a ghost. She pulled up the sleeve of her sweatshirt, exposing her flesh to Violet. She flipped her wrist around. And there it was. In the center of Jack’s forearm were three small words tattooed in faded black ink: Three Dollar Bill.
An alarm sounded off inside of Violet’s brain. Suddenly her eyes were full of life. “Wait!” she cried, “The necklace was inspired by you!” She held Jack’s shell-shocked face in her quivering palms and stared into her eyes. “I forgot,” she said quietly. “I can’t believe I forgot.”
She surrendered Jack’s face and released a small scream. “Get this! Patra heard you say you were ‘as queer as a three dollar bill’ one time at Dolly’s and it, it, stuck with her. She loved it so much she made this necklace! She wears it to stay strong around her homophobic family.”
Jack’s jaw dropped open so wide it kissed the surface of the sea.
Catalina worked hard to look sexy. She kept her silky dark waves long to the waist, wore flirtatiously hot-pink lipstick every day, and confidently displayed her wild curves in skin-tight clothing. She was notorious for her sultry stares, which she’d spent countless hours rehearsing in bathroom mirrors. If you were to mutter the sentence “hot bartender from Dolly’s” to a West Village lesbian — there would be no question as to whom you were referring to. Catalina was easily the most desired dyke on the Manhattan scene.
But what people didn’t know about Catalina, is that Catalina wasn’t that experienced, sexually. In high school, she’d been a devout Christian. In college, she’d drunkenly had sex with one guy, which made her realize she wasn’t a devout Christian, she was a devout lesbian. Since then, she’d had two long-term girlfriends, and while the sex had been perfectly lovely, Catalina had never been truly satisfied.
“HOLY SHIT!” Catalina screamed so loudly the rooftop of Mermaid Melissa shook. The muscles in her stomach trembled as Knife’s lips worked their way down her thighs.
“Holy fucking shit,” Catalina breathily whispered as Knife’s body began to slowly grind itself into her.
“Fuck yes,” Catalina purred as Knife pulled her body on top of her body. “I can be a fucking top,” she loudly mused, as an intoxicating wave of newfound confidence crashed up against her heart.
“I’m going to COME!” she groaned. “Like NOW,” Her legs were intertwined with Knife’s legs. Their bodies moved at the speed of light as they banged against each other in flawless sync.
“Not yet,” Knife ordered. “Come with me.”
Catalina squeezed her eyes closed.
“I said come with me,” Knife growled, grabbing a fistful of Catalina’s hair. Catalina’s eyes shot open. She had never been more turned on in her life. She grabbed a fistful of Knife’s hair. Knife felt a delightful yank against her scalp. She’d never been more turned on, either.
They exploded in orgasmic bliss at the same exact time, their hands entangled in each other’s hair.
“We forgot about the poppers,” Catalina giggled, her heart still pounding.
Knife traced her fingers along the outline of Catalina’s body. “There’s plenty of time for poppers,” her eyes burned cold. “I’m not done with you yet.”
It was only after the words tumbled out of her mouth that she realized she meant what she said. Knife wasn’t done with Catalina. Not yet.
Gianna, Patra, Jack, and Violet stared at the violent waves crashing against the pale beach on Serafina’s terrace as they passed a sloppily rolled joint around. Serafina rarely hosted in her grand oceanfront mansion anymore, not since her lover of a decade, Lucille, had hopped a plane to Germany in the middle of the night, never to return again. She could still smell traces of Lucille in that house, and she didn’t want anyone else’s stench to override all she had left of her once-in-a-lifetime love. Tonight felt different, though. Tonight Serafina felt...calm.
There’s something about the beach at night that strips us raw. Maybe it’s because the deadly power of the tides reminds us of how small we are.
“Does it bother you, Violet?” Gianna asked softly, taking an indulgent puff of the joint like it was a delectable Cuban cigar. “That Ray came in with some kinda celebrity?”
“Really, G?” Jack said protectively. “The kid just went through hell.”
“It’s okay. It really is. And I don’t care that Ray is with someone famous,” Violet stared at her hands, intently, and then averted her eyes back to her friends.
“It’s not that.” She felt vulnerable, like an exposed nerve. The speed was wearing off. “It’s not about Ray, either. It’s about me.” She took a hard drag of her cigarette. “My toxic relationship with her is really just a mirror of the toxic relationship I have with myself.”
Her lit cigarette suddenly fell out of her shaking hands. The whole group watched it fall to the beach. The bright red cherry looked pretty floating through the black sky.
“Will you stay here on the weekends this summer?” Nia asked Ray. They were huddled over the mirrored coffee table inside Nia’s summer house. The curtains were drawn and the lights were dimmed. Ray felt like she was trapped in a cave.
“Maybe,” Ray said cooly, before leaning over the table and snorting a line of powder so white it glowed in the dark room.
“Pretty please,” Nia bit her bottom lip.
Ray loved hearing a girl beg. So then, why did she feel so empty? She sniffed and suddenly she could taste the bitter-sweet toxins dripping down the back of her throat. Instantly she was wrapped up in the warm blanket of chemical happiness. “Why not?” she said quickly before the drugs sent her crashing into the beautiful marble floors of a mansion that would never be hers.
Amanda hugged her knees as she waited on the dock for the ferry to arrive. Her phone was dead and she’d never felt more alone in her life.
“Honey” she heard a familiar lilt behind her. “You do know that the next ferry isn’t until the morning?”
She looked up. Standing above her, clad in fabulous thigh-high boots and an ash-blonde Farrah Fawcett wig was Anita Syringe, the drag queen she’d seen perform earlier in the night.
“Oh,” a silent tear slid down Amanda’s cheek.
“Baby girl, come inside,” Anita Syringe pulled Amanda to her feet. “I’m hosting after hours at Raspberries.” She gestured to the lit-up bar overlooking the dark bay.
Arm in arm, the two women cat-walked down the dock. By the time they reached the entrance of Raspberries, Amanda didn’t feel alone at all anymore.
Sometimes the drugs, the heartbreak, the betrayal, the sex, the cliquiness of Fire Island can break you. But the cracks leave room for angels. And this land is full of angels.