The moment Violet woke up, her heart took off like a rocket in war-torn air.
WHERE THE FUCK AM I? She squeezed her eyes shut.
PLEASE TELL ME THAT WAS JUST A DRUNKEN DREAM? Her mouth was so dry she felt like someone had stuffed cotton balls inside of it.
THERE’S NO WAY. A furious pulse pounded into her temples.
NO! She peeled open her eyes. GAH. Had she poured peroxide into them?
NO! NO! NO!
Her eyes darted around the pitch dark room. What a surprise. She was in Ray’s Hell’s Kitchen high rise.
Her heart stopped. And it all came rushing back.
Violet had been sitting on a Pepto Bismol-colored couch in a SOHO loft unsure of what she hated more: herself or the empty-binge-drinking-pill-popping-hellscape her life had become. The SOHO loft was the new home of a bougie women’s-only social networking club called “The Circle.” Tonight was The Circle’s launch party and Violet was covering the event for Lint Magazine.
Not only was Violet in the thick of a bleak depressive episode, she detested covering events. Small talk made her brain atrophy and ass-kissing made her soul recoil. The open bar didn’t include Martinis so she’d been sucking down shitty white wine alone as she emailed her psychiatrist to see if it was possible to up her dose of Lexapro.
Happiness is always one perfect dose away.
She stood in the long line for the bar feeling like a freak in a sheer lace dress and scuffed leopard heels among the coven of blow-dried girls in sleek pants and pressed blouses.
“I really like your dress,” said a girl in horn-rimmed glasses. “Is it vintage?”
“No,” Violet reached into her bag and smeared crimson lipstick onto her lips.
“You didn’t have to be such a bitch about it,” the horn-rimmed girl snapped. s
“Am I in the twilight zone?” Violet wondered aloud tossing her lipstick back into her purse.
“It’s called manners.”
Violet rolled her eyes. “It’s called meds.”
“Are you mental illness shaming me?” the horn-rimmed girl asked, her pupils widening.
“If you’re too mentally ill to not be able to handle my dress not being vintage why the fuck are you out in public?”
“Excuse me, is there a problem?” an authoritative voice clipped. Standing before them was the founder of The Circle, a notorious uptown go-getter named Lena Katz. Lena Katz had just been named “the third most powerful woman under 40 in New York” and was not someone to fuck with.
“I truly don’t understand —” Right as the words were tumbling out of Violet’s mouth, she felt a hand on her lower back.
“Sorry to interrupt, but Lena, have you met Violet? She’s a fantastic writer. A rising literary star.” Violet could feel the heat of the hand through the fabric of her flimsy lace dress.
Of course, Ray is here. Of course.
“So nice to meet you Violet,” Lena’s eyes lit up like a carnival. “I’m all about uplifting other women in the grossly patriarchal literary space,” she handed Violet a thick, matte business card. “I’d love to see some of your work.”
Violet didn’t know whether to jump for joy, hysterically laugh, or start loudly weeping.
“If Ray says you’re talented, I’d be stupid not to believe it.” Lena lightly touched Violet on her bare arm before strutting away in an impeccably tailored white Chloe pantsuit, her expensive velvet smoking slippers softly humming as they swished against the shiny floors.
“Can you get the most talented writer in New York City a martini with extra olives?” Ray asked the bartender, slithering her arms around Violet’s waist like a snake.
“They don’t serve martinis here,” Violet said stiffly.
“They do if you’re VIP,” Ray grinned and tugged at the VIP badge hanging off her neck spilling onto her crisp white buttondown.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Violet whispered once they were back on the Pepto Bismal colored couch sipping fresh martinis.
“You’re welcome,” Ray smirked.
“I’m not going to thank you for jack shit,” Violet looked at her shoes. They were badly beaten but by far the coolest fucking shoes in the room.
“Lena is my client. Has been for years.” Ray slid a hand through her slicked-back hair. “She asked me to be a founding board member of The Circle.”
“Really?” Violet couldn’t help but feel an inkling of pride for Ray. She knew Ray back when she was handing out towels at the Greenwich Village Equinox.
“Yes,” Ray placed a hand over Violet’s knee.
Violet’s leg jerked away from Ray’s hand like a dog shocked by an electric fence. “Don’t forget. I hate you.”
Ray looked down at her pinstriped pants tucked into her 20-eye Dr. Marten boots. She might’ve been the only woman at the party in flat boots, but she was by far the fucking sexiest.
“Can I just say you girls are like the most beautiful couple I’ve ever seen?” a fake blonde in a floral romper vocal-fried as she walked by.
“We’re not a couple,” Violet spat.
Ray raised a brow. “Not at the moment.”
Violet slammed her martini against the glass coffee table so loudly the fake blonde in the floral romper gasped before scampering away.
“This is why gays don’t have equal rights. You scare ‘em off with that aggressive attitude,” Ray cackled. God, how she missed Violet’s inability to read the room.
“Oh yeah? Well, it’s gays like you who make me want to go to reverse conversion therapy,” Violet glared.
“Excuse me?” a girl with a pixie cut stomped over to them in chunky clog shoes. “Did you just make a joke about conversion therapy?”
Ray started hysterically laughing. Fat, salty, tears poured out of her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. Violet followed suit and burst into her own fit of hysteria.
“What the HELL is SO funny?” Pixie cut screeched as Violet and Ray dry-heaved.
“Let’s go. We don’t belong here. We are way too much for this place,” Ray managed to choke out between breathless bellows. Violet dramatically clutched her stomach as she hedonistically roared. Ray grabbed Violet by the hand and marched her to the elevator as a sea of bewildered eyes watched them howl their way across the room.
They were doubled over, gasping for air, hooting like two well-dressed lesbian hyenas until they reached the ground floor.
Once they stepped out onto West Broadway a sobering silence fell upon them. It hung between them, as if unable to move in the thick, balmy summer air.
“One drink?” Ray nodded her head toward Cafe Felix, a renowned French Bistro on the corner of West Broadway and Grand.
“One drink, Ray,” Violet warned.
There are two types of people in this world. People who can go out for a drink and people who can not.
Violet and Ray were the latter.
The next thing Violet could remember was watching the blur of the city speed past her drunken eyes from the back of a taxi. Why does it taste so much better when it’s forbidden?
“Good to see you, Violet” Ray’s doorman, Spencer, a fat bald man with hairy hands and a Flatbush accent greeted her.
“Screw you, Spencer,” Violet slurred.
“I’ll take that as a ‘hello’” Spencer chuckled. He’d witnessed this scene a thousand times.
The second they set foot in Ray’s apartment Violet unzipped her floor-length lace dress and tossed it onto the floor. She knew clothes on the floor were Ray’s number one pet peeve.
Ray’s throat went dry. “Shit.”
“Still can’t handle a woman’s dress on your precious little floors?” Violet taunted, a satanic smile slowly transmuting across her drunken face.
“I don’t give a fuck about the clothes.” Even though she knew every inch of Violet’s body so intimately she could’ve written a dissertation on it, Ray felt as if she was looking at Violet for the first time. She wanted to always remember her this way: Full of martinis and fire, black smokey eyes sparkling, talking shit in a red thong.
“What about Nia Greene?”
“I don’t give a fuck about Nia Greene.”
“I said I wouldn’t do this again.”
Ray slowly walked over to Violet. She pinned Violet’s scrawny arms down. Violet gazed blissfully into Ray’s eyes. Oh, how I missed being out of control. Their lips brushed against each other.
“I said the same thing,” Ray breathed into Violet’s mouth before kissing her.
Ray and Violet didn’t have regular sex. They had relapse sex. The kind of sex that can only exist between two addicts who have been depriving themselves of their drug of choice until now. The kind of sex that’s heightened by the cheap thrill of doing something you vowed to never do again. The kind of sex that’s layered. Heartbreak topped by ache topped by guilt topped by desire topped by a high so skyscraping you don’t give a flying fuck about the extraordinary pain of the fall.
When it was all over they laid flat on their backs, breathing heavily, willing their bodies to sleep so they could put off dealing with the consequences ‘til the morning sun bled through the blinds.
As Ray drifted off she wished she could stay in the darkness with Violet forever. Violet shut her eyes and prayed that when she woke up, she’d be the kind of girl who craved the light.
“Hey, Catalina, can I get another beer?” Jack asked, hacking up a lung. She was hunched over a bar stool, alone at Dolly’s attempting to uplift the bleakness inside of her with beer. It wasn’t working.
“Of course,” Catalina crooned. She hadn’t had an erotic dream starring Jack ever since she’d had mindblowing sex with Knife in Fire Island. But damn. She wished more than anything that she could crawl back inside of her unrealistic fantasy of getting down with jack. She was safe there.
Knife, on the other hand, had ghosted her.
It was such an apocalyptically hot day in the city that Jack — who exclusively wore sweatshirts — was wearing an actual t-shirt. It spelled out “EXPLORE PALM SPRINGS” in all caps. She’d bought it during the first-ever Dinah Shore Weekend in 1991. She’d decided to throw caution to the wind and show a little ~skin~ after Gianna had gassed her up and insisted she ask Violet for a drink.
“Jacky, I’m telling you — there’s something there. I saw you two walk out on the dock in Cherry Grove. Send her freakin’ text. Ask her out. What’s the big deal?” Gianna had lectured over dinner at Montes Trattoria on MacDougal Street.
“Nah, G. There’s no point. I think she’s still hung up on that Jillian Michaels wannabe,” Jack croaked through a mouthful of veal pizzaiola.
Gianna gracefully twirled an impeccable loop of spaghetti carbonara onto her fork. “Who knows you better than anyone?”
Jack eyed Gianna’s pasta. Why the hell hadn’t she ordered the spaghetti carbonara? “Gianna Maria De Santis,”
Gianna pointed her fork at Jack like a gun. “And Gianna Maria De Santis happens to know, for a fact — that Jaqueline Kiera O’Sullivan has it bad for Violet.” She stuck a forkful of spaghetti into her mouth. “You know this dish isn’t what it used to be. It lacks...love.” She sadly mused.
“That’s what I thought about the minestrone.”
“So.” A shit-eating grin tip-toed across Gianna’s face. “You gonna text her or what?”
“Only if you give me a bite of that love-less carbonara.”
“Guess you and the carbonara have somethin’ in common?”
Jack and Gianna cackled so hard they blew the tabletop candle out.
At 10 AM the following morning, Jack finally conjured up the courage to reach out to Violet. Her heart raced as she crafted the text: “Hi. Jack here. How are you doing? Was wondering if you wanted to get a drink sometime soon?”
But as soon as Jack pressed “send” it was like a sudden surge of Spring bloomed in her chest. It had been forever since she’d asked a girl out.
When the clock struck 1 PM and Violet hadn’t texted her back, Jack was quick to snuff out the small flicker of insecurity she felt ignite in her bones. I mean it was Violet. The resident night owl of the village and it was a Saturday. She was probably still passed out.
When the clock struck 3 PM Jack began to feel sick with worry. Was Violet okay? Had something happened to her?
When the clock struck 5 PM she felt like a deflated balloon. Why had she listened to Gianna like some kind of asshole? Violet was vibrant. Beautiful. She glittered. What the hell would she ever want to do with a portly middle-aged dyke who hadn’t been laid in so long she might as well use her vagina for storage space?
By 6 PM Jack had knocked back five Miller Lights alone in her apartment and was officially out of beer. Might as well go to Dolly’s and get plastered with the rest of the lonely queers in this town she thought to herself as she stumbled out the door.
By 7 PM she was well on her way to being uncharacteristically bombed.
“Cattt. Where’s Sherafinnnaa?” Jack slurred.
Catalina beamed. Was Jack calling her by an affectionate nickname? “Serafina is in France. Or Italy. I don’t know. Somewhere posh in Europe.”
“That bitch is in Europe and I’m gonna dieth alonethh,” Jack muttered.
Catalina was stunned. She’d watched Jack suck down fourteen beers in one sitting and still be cognizant enough to escort a group of inappropriate frat boys out the door. Catalina smiled to herself. Seeing pickled Jack drunk and vulnerable was sort of sweet. “I’ll be right back,” she assured Jack as she made her way toward two disgruntled customers with matching neck tattoos grimacing on the other side of the bar.
“If those girlths are rude to you, sendth them my way,” Jack grunted.
“Hi,” Jack felt a sharp acrylic nail tap against her bare forearm. She shivered in horror. She’d forgotten her hideous flesh was exposed in her dumb teeshirt. Why hadn’t she just put on a sweatshirt! What was with her today?
“Hi,” repeated the voice. It was one of the most wildly unique voices Jack had ever borne witness to. It was an interesting mix of sultry with a hint of Valley girl upspeak wrapped up with a brash confidence exclusive to girls raised on Long Island. Jack had never heard anything like it.
Jack turned her head and took in the girl attached to the voice. She’d never seen anything like her. Her face bore tilted cat-eyes, accentuated by a thick wing of black khol extending all the way to eyebrows. She looked almost like a cartoon version of Cleopatra. Bronzed cleavage unapologetically poured out of her pink pleather-cropped corset. A matching pink pleather dog collar was tightly fastened around her neck. Her hair was pulled back into a tight blue-black ponytail so long it fell past the barstool she was perched on. She smelled of spray tan and Miss Dior Eau de parfum and Juicy fruit. She radiated a powerful energy that was both sexual and poetic. She had the kind of dominating presence that could tamper with the temperature of a room. Similar to Violet, but entirely different.
Why was this exotic creature trying to talk to her? She probably wants a free drink and knows I’m a desperate ol’ dyke she can take advantage of. Well if she thinks I’m going to fall all over her she’s in for a rude awakening. I’m done with these complicated femme freaks. Done!
“I just wanted to say something,” the girl in pink pleather said, taking a delicate sip of champagne. Who orders champagne at a dyke bar?
“What?” Jack groaned, exhausted.
“I think you’re incredibly sexy and I think the girl behind the bar totally has the hots for you.”
HUH. Jack held her breath and looked at the floor.
“I’m serious,” the girl in pink pleather insisted.
Why was her spicy-sweet lilt breaking down Jack’s walls? Jack couldn’t stop her head from looking up. The second she peered into the girl’s cat eyes, Jack realized she wasn’t trying to manipulate her into a drink. Nor was she trying to hit on her because she inhabited some sort of strange fetish for grumpy lesbians drinking alone in a downtown dive. She meant it.
Jack felt herself come alive for the first time in a decade. It was more profound than the sudden burst of spring she’d experienced earlier. It was something no amount of outside rejection could take away. It was hers.
“I’m Gabriella, by the way.” The girl stood up and extended a prosthetic arm made entirely of carbon fiber. Its bionic fingers made a robotic sound as they opened to clasp Jack’s hand. “I’m new in town.” She batted her Venus Flytrap lashes. “Maybe you could show me around?”