Manhattan’s West Village is different from other neighborhoods. It’s like the sun beams directly on her cobblestone streets and historic gay bars. She sparkles.
This is why Violet — who lived for glimmer and beauty — was always relieved to be back in the city. Fire Island was her passionate affair, but the West Village was her life partner. Violet often traipsed down Jane street with her laptop banging against her hip from inside of her oversized yellow Balenciaga, clutching a black coffee in one hand and a tattered copy of Mary Gaitskill’s “Bad Behavior” in the other, her hair softly brushing against her clavicles as tiny droplets of air-conditioner water land like lilypads on top of her head, the weight of her chunky boots keeping her from ascending into the sky, the light catching her brilliant orange eyes as they soak in the lovingly planted street flowers. Yes, Violet and the West Village were a match made in heaven.
Violet felt a tiny flood of serotonin wash through her depleted brain as she swung open the heavy door of Dolly’s. Her whole body exhaled. If the West Village was her soul, Dolly’s was her heart.
On Mondays, her favorite bartender, Sia, worked. After a long day of chasing demanding deadlines at Lint Magazine, Mondays at Dolly’s felt like a treat. Violet never invited friends to join her on her Monday night ritual, she liked to sit at the bar alone and shoot the shit with Sia, who was as whip-smart and energetic as the city herself.
“You’re just in time,” Sia winked from behind the bar. Nine shot glasses filled to the brim with clear liquid lined up like soldiers in front of her. Violet hopped on a barstool a few seats away from Cassidy, a sour-faced regular, who never smiled but always showed up.
“Shots on the house!” Sia merrily chirped, passing all nine barflies a shot of tequila. The small crowd hungrily accepted and raised their glasses in the air. They knew the drill. People who frequent the lesbian bar on a Monday don’t screw around.
Sia cleared her throat. “Cheers to surviving another Monday. Cheers to Meredith,” Sia gestured to a portrait of Dolly’s deceased founder Meredith, framed in the corner of the bar. “You know what? Tonight we drink to her legacy. Queers who came out on a Monday were Meredith’s favorite,” her eyes shined with repressed tears. She shoved them back into her throat. “Let’s fucking drink,” she bellowed as the bar hooted in delight.
The shot went down a little too easily for Violet. In fact, shots had been going down a little too easily for her ever since she’d seen Ray at the Sayville Ferry. She knew she was slipping into a dangerous cycle of over-medicating her firestorm of feelings — but it was like her brain and her body were functioning in two different dimensions.
Deal with the sadness her brain lectured.
Feed me drugs her body begged.
The body always wins.
Knife slicked her platinum hair back and smirked into the bathroom mirror of her studio apartment. She sprayed herself down with Gucci Rush for men. She gave herself an extra spritz when her hands made their way to the crotch of her leather pants. She rarely wore leather pants, especially in the summer, but tonight, she needed an extra boost of confidence. And nothing encourages the self-esteem of a lesbian quite like leather.
The truth was, Knife couldn’t stop thinking about the weight of Catalina’s naked body pressed on top of her naked body, and it was fucking with her head. She had done what she’d intended to do — she’d finally had sex with the most lusted after lesbian in the city. So why was she still craving Catalina like some lovesick junkie?
You need to get out of the apartment. This isn’t what you do. Go to Dolly’s get loaded and take home someone new, she repeated to herself as she gathered her wallet and keys. She paused in front of the full-length mirror for one last glance before heading out. She sighed into her reflection. Something was missing. Her eyes darted around the room until they zeroed in on an old Dr. Marten shoebox shoved against the radiator. That shoebox housed her favorite strap-on. She grinned. Suddenly, Knife knew exactly what she needed to do.
“Sia, have you ever read that Oscar Wilde short story about the Nightingale and The Rose?” Violet asked.
Sia squinted into the distance as she handed Violet a Martini loaded with olives. She was the only person who seemed to know all of Violet’s obscure literary references. “It’s about a nightingale who sees a boy fall in love with a girl, right?”
“Yes,” Violet popped an olive into her mouth. Martini olives were the staple of her diet these days. “And the girl refuses to give the boy a chance unless he gives her a red rose. The trouble is, there aren’t any red roses left, only white ones,” she took a liberal slurp of her cocktail, “so the nightingale kills herself by pressing a thorn into her heart. The blood from her body renders the white rose red. See — the nightingale understands that human love is so deep it’s worth sacrificing her birdlife for.”
“That’s so romantic,” a young girl with an eyebrow ring slurred. She’d been drinking alone at the bar since 2 PM.
“Yes, but after the nightingale kills herself, the girl still refuses to go on the date with the boy who loves her. She tosses the blood-red rose into the street and takes off in a fancy carriage,” Violet mused darkly, staring dead ahead.
“That’s fucking bullshit,” the girl with the eyebrow ring spat before picking up her drink and relocating to the other side of the bar.
Sia shook her head. The bar had been packed with broken-hearted baby dykes all summer.
Violet didn’t notice, she was too busy thinking about this strange Oscar Wilde story that had been haunting her brain for weeks now. “People are cold,” she said evenly. “Which is why I prefer birds.”
“I think you prefer me,” a voice rasped behind her. Violet turned her head. It was Knife, reeking of expensive men’s cologne wearing the most fabulous leather pants Violet had ever seen.
“Wow,” Violet pressed her hand against her heart. “You look amazing.” Her brain flashed back to the strange, intimate moment she’d shared with Knife in Fire Island.
“The Village looks good on me,” Knife crooned, looking Violet up and down. In her black tennis skirt and cropped black sweater, Violet looked like one of the anarchist cheerleaders from the Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video. “The Village looks good on you too,” she hummed so softly her words floated right past Violet’s ears.
“Want to go outside and have a cigarette?” Violet asked.
“Yes,” Knife answered. Fuck. yes.
Violet hopped to her feet. She’d traded in her signature leopard pumps for a fierce pair of flat motorcycle boots. It was the first time Knife had seen Violet without heels and was taken aback as to how short she was. She decided she liked towering over Violet. It leveled the playing field.
“Let’s go,” Violet purred. Her eyes scanned Knife’s body. She noticed a subtle bulge in the crotch of Knife’s fabulous leather pants. Cool, she thought, linking arms with Knife and pulling her outside. She was hungry for a smoke.
Cassidy watched Violet and Knife skip outside of Dolly’s and rolled her eyes. Something about the two of them rubbed her the wrong way. “Sia,” she growled. “What’s the deal with those two?”
“What do you mean?” Sia asked, even though she knew exactly what Cassidy meant. She meant give me the dirt, bitch.
“I mean what do they do? Do they have jobs?” Cassidy’s brown eyes hissed like a snake. A trust fund baby and daddy’s little princess?
“Knife is some kind of model and Violet is a writer,” Sia answered.
Cassidy chuckled. A writer and a model? Give me a break.
“Where did you grow up?” Violet asked Knife.
“DIE, BITCH! DIE!” a wild-eyed man in a business suit screamed at no one in particular. It was one of those Mondays where the whole city seemed to be on the verge of a collective breakdown.
“DIE BITCH!” Knife screamed back in solidarity. Knife reached into her pocket and pulled out a lighter. She held the lighter up to Violet’s face.
Violet inhaled. “So?”
“So where did you grow up?!” Violet exhaled.
“Oh,” Knife paused. “Somewhere far away. What about you?”
“Somewhere very far away,” Violet watched a Drag Queen take a selfie in front of a vintage boutique. “I like to pretend I was born right here on Jane Street.”
“Me too,” gray smoke billowed out of Knife’s lips.
“I actually don’t have parents,” Violet blurted. She looked at the pavement. It was full of so many cracks she didn’t understand how it managed to not fall apart.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to kill the vibe.”
“You didn’t kill the vibe. At all. And this is a strange thing to say, I know —” they locked eyes “ but I sort of like getting real with you, Violet.”
“You don’t get real with people much, do you?”
“Neither do I,” Violet leaned up against the building. A rat skittered by.
“Was it rough?” Knife asked.
“Yes.” A siren wailed in the distance. “Was it rough for you?”
Knife nodded her head slowly. A window opened in her mind. She peered inside and saw herself in the locker room of her high school in Warrens, Wisconsin. She was wearing boxer briefs and three sports bras.
“I’m going to fucking murder you,” threatened a voice. She felt a fist smash into her eye.
“Can’t take a hit like a man, can you?” taunted a different voice. Her body was shoved up against a wall. Hands clasped around her throat.
And just like that, curtains fell over the window.
Violet knew exactly what was happening. Fragmented scenes of tucked-away traumas dragged her out of the moment all the time. Knife stared into the blackness. Violet reached for her hand.
Violet’s heart stopped.
The fear in Knife’s eyes was animal. We’re the same.
“Come back,” Violet whispered.
“I had to leave the way I did,” Knife murmured, still staring into the pitch-black folds of disjointed memory.
“I know,” A lump formed in Violet’s throat. “I know.”
They fell into each other as the city protectively bustled around them. That’s the thing about New York. Regardless of how weathered her pavement, she always knows exactly how to hold you.
Nia Green sat alone in the Fire Island beachfront mansion, staring into space, desperately trying to make sense of the previous weekend. She’d done a lot of things she didn’t usually do — I mean she’d partied. Hard. But it wasn’t the slew of substances she’d pumped into her body that was jarring her. It was the sex.
The sex she’d had with Ray.
Even though she’d been high as a kite, she’d never felt so in her body during sex. So present. Her lip trembled as she remembered the way Ray had kissed every inch of her body including her eyelids.
“Am I gay?” she’d asked Ray, after her third orgasm of the morning.
“I dunno,” Ray had said, pulling Nia close. “You like me?”
“I do,” Nia had answered. She did.
“Then who the fuck cares?”
You’re right. Who the fuck cares? She’d thought to herself drifting into a blissful nap.
But now, curled up alone on the leather couch of this unfamiliar house, she couldn’t help but care. She picked up the phone and dialed her mother.
“Hi, sweetie,” Her mother greeted like always. “What’s going on?”
Well, I just had mind-blowing sex with my personal trainer who happens to be a woman and now I’m questioning everything and freaking out because what if I’m a lesbian? A mainstream actress can’t be both black and gay, CAN SHE? Nia wanted to scream into the phone. But instead, she just said, “Not much, mom. Not much.”
“Well, you need to rest up because you’re about to shoot the biggest movie of your life.” Her mother paused. “Now isn’t the time to stir up trouble, Nia,” she warned, her voice dropping several octaves.
How did her mother always seem to sense her restlessness? “I am literally sitting on a couch doing nothing, mom.”
“I know. Just keep it together, Ni. A lot is riding on this film. Don’t get distracted.”
She closed her eyes. A memory rocketed through her brain.
She was fifteen laying on the floor of her childhood bedroom next to Imani, her new best friend. They’d met in social studies and had been instantly magnetized to each other. Imani, who was such a wildly talented basketball player college recruiters had been stalking her since she was eleven, was the only other teenager Nia had ever met who was as dedicated to her future as she was.
Nia stared at Imani’s broad, toned shoulders. She admired the way an athlete’s body honored their hard work by gifting them sculpted muscles.
“You’re going to be a famous basketball player one day,” she looked at Imani with big, serious eyes. “I just know it.”
“And you’re going to be a famous actor,” Imani playfully jabbed Nia in the stomach. “I just know it,” she crooned, sweetly mocking Nia’s dramatic delivery.
A feeling of longing hovered above them. When their eyes met, Nia was stunned. Imani’s eyes teemed with desire. The kind of desire that’s painful to repress. Nia felt woozy. Their faces crept toward one another.
Don’t get distracted, she heard her mother’s voice sound off in her head. She pulled away. “We can’t get distracted.” Nia instantly regretted allowing those words to spill out of her mouth.
Imani stood up. “Yeah. I’m going to go,” Nia could tell by the hurt in her eyes that she would never come back.
Imani closed the bedroom door shut. Nia felt her heart drop. She picked it up off the floor and tucked it beneath the bed where it slipped quietly into a coma.
“Honey?” It was her mother’s concerned voice.
Nia snapped into the present. “Yeah?”
“Are you okay? You’re so silent. That’s not like you.”
“Sorry. I guess I got distracted,” she said. Or maybe I’m finally waking up.
Sia, like most of her Monday night crowd, was also heartbroken. She’d just been dumped by her girlfriend of four months. Every thirty minutes or so, a shock of pain burst through her.
“Sometimes pain needs to be put on pause,” Violet sing-songed as she twirled back into the bar.
Sia stared at her. “Would you get out of my head, please and thank you?”
“Never,” Violet smiled like the Cheshire Cat. “But seriously. Take a shot. Sometimes a shot at a dyke bar on Monday is the perfect numbing mechanism.”
“I think you're right,” Sia agreed, picking up a fresh shot glass.
“Imani!” Knife and Violet belted in unison. They might have shared a house with Imani for only one weekend in Cherry Grove — but two days in gay years is two months in straight years. They’d experienced a summer’s worth of intensity together.
“Give me all the Fire Island gossip,” Sia demanded.
“Can I order a drink first?” Imani chuckled.
“What’s your poison tonight?”
“You athletes and your vodka sodas. So boring,” Knife teased, swilling her Jack Daniels around her tumbler.
“Might as well drink a pair of khaki pants,” Violet snickered. “Speaking of khaki pants and vodka — I think I’m truly over Ray.”
“Well, seeing your ex walk into Raspberries with a celebrity will do that to a person,” Imani said. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for that whole scene. I’d downed too much wine with Patra at the house to make it out.”
“Back up,” Sia’s pupils dilated. She loved a good scandal. All nightlife people do. “My head is actually spinning. Ray — as in your ex?”
Violet nodded. “Ray as in my ex —”
“ — was not only in Cherry Grove at the same time as you but —” Sia peered into Violet’s eyes, “brought a celebrity as her date?”
“Something like that,” Violet poured the remains of her martini down her throat.
“Um. You’re missing a few key details, babe. Patra announced that Ray had arrived with a starlet on stage at the drag show in front of an audience,” Knife chuckled. She turned to Violet, “Sorry, I shouldn’t be laughing.”
Violet began to roar with laughter. “Honestly, this shit’s funny as fuck,” she managed to squeak before breaking into another breathless fit of hysterical laughter. If you’re not laughing, you’re crying.
“Now you’re just messing with me,” Sia said, wiping down the bar.
“I swear to The Indigo Girls,” Violet promised.
Sia looked up, rag in hand. She knew Violet well enough to know that she would never dare swear to the sacred, Sapphic Indigo Girls if she was fibbing. “Before we even process the Patra situation, I need to know. Who the hell was the celebrity?”
“Yeah. Who the hell was the celebrity?” Imani asked. “Patra said she was some actress from some show I’d never heard of?” Imani had been so laser-focused on basketball for the past decade she’d missed a whole generation of pop culture.
“Her name is Nia,” Knife purred. “Nia Greene.”
If Imani had been holding a drink it would have slipped through her fingers and smashed against the floor. Instead, she froze.