Chapter 9: Gabriella




“Did you hear about this new lesbian party happening tonight? It’s invite-only and extremely hard to get into,” Patra asked Violet over the phone. She sat alone at her desk in her stylish meatpacking district office, casually puffing on a royal blue vape pen as she wrapped up yet another long-winded workday.


“The one at the top of The Standard?” Violet cautiously asked. She’d been hiding out in an empty conference room at the Lint Magazine headquarters, avoiding her editor who kept insisting she interview a former reality TV star about her new line of tote bags, allegedly made out of “one hundred percent recycled” menstrual pads. Her day had been long too.


“Yes. You’re going, right?” Patra asked as she breezily punched numbers into an expense report. Multitasking was her superpower.


“I’m definitely going,” Violet reached into her tattered yellow Balenciaga and popped an Adderall. The ability to suck down pharmaceuticals without water wasn’t her superpower. But it certainly was impressive.


“Want to grab a personality drink beforehand?” Patra’s cocktail ring adorned fingers began to rapidly type a scathing email to a fame-hungry former employee who’d alleged that she ran “a toxic work environment” to a prominent woman’s magazine. You try building a jewelry empire from the ground up in a man’s world.


“Yes.” Violet firmly massaged the pretty blue pill down her throat like a cat force-fed medication. You try meeting digital media deadlines without drugs. “Fuck yes.”


*


“Hiiii Jack,” Gabriella purred into the phone. She gazed into a giant gold-gilded mirror as her new hairstylist, Jose Antonio, adhered a fresh batch of twenty-six-inch hair extensions onto her skull.


“What’s up, Gab?” Jack lit up a cigarette next to a dumpster on eleventh avenue. She was on a quick break from her job as an “Account Payables Specialist” for a Hell’s Kitchen strip club.


“I wanted to see if you were going to that new party tonight? At the top of The Standard?” Jose Antonio aggressively tugged at a long-neglected knot in the back of Gabriella’s hair. She felt like she was being scalped, but didn’t dare complain. Beauty was her favorite kind of pain.


“No way, kid,” Jack scoffed. Two tourists armed with fanny-packs trotted by. They threw their hands over their noses and gagged loudly at the stench of the trash bags baking against the hot pavement.


Jack didn’t notice. She’d been breathing in garbage for so long she went into anaphylactic shock when confronted with clean air.


Gabriella didn’t even have to ask why Jack didn’t want to go. She’d only be hanging around Jack for a few weeks but it didn’t take a psychoanalyst to figure out that glittery meatpacking district parties weren’t exactly her thing.


“Lit,” she purred. She took a sip of champagne. (She always had champagne.) “That’s totes okay. I’ll go on my own.”


“Be careful, kiddo,” Jack croaked. “This community is full of fuckos.” She stamped out her cigarette and rushed back to work.


“I heard all about this party. A bunch of rich bitches are throwing it. I heard they’re all hot and from the Hamptons. I love a glamorous lesbian. If they allowed men I’d totally go with you.” His honey-brown eyes glittered in the mirror. “Actually —” he paused, “Violet, my best friend, will be there. I’ll connect you.”


Gabriella picked up her filthy YSL Loulou bag and pulled out a stick of Juicy Fruit. Jose Antonio peered into her bag. It was full of drug-store lipsticks, eyeliner smudged receipts, loose hair extensions, Ardell strip lashes, and oversized sunglasses. “You and Violet are going to be the best of friends,” he chuckled. “Trust me.”


Gabriella blew a giant bubble. It smacked loudly against her glossy lips. “Lit.”


*


Hey,” Knife tapped Katya on the arm. Katya was the model she’d been shooting an obscure editorial for a Japanese fashion magazine all day with. Katya had a thick Russian accent, sunken gray eyes, and thick wiry eyebrows she brushed dramatically upward.


“What?” Katya spat. She’d spent the last twelve hours caked in oily foundation clad in nothing but lace Minnie Mouse ears and clunky platform sneakers two sizes too small, posing against abstract paintings of male genitalia. She was in no mood.

“I think you should go to this party with me,” Knife winked. She stuck a hand into the makeup artist’s kit and pulled out a $50 pack of clé de pea cleansing wipes. She began clumsily rubbing a moist toilette beneath her eyes.


“Excuse me?” the makeup artist snarled, steam emerging from her ears. “How dare you stick your unsanitized hands into my kit without asking?” She’d worked with Knife before, and like most people in fashion, was over her.


Knife ignored the makeup artist.


Katya tossed her mousy brown hair into a bun that shot out of the top of her head like a horn. “No,” she grimaced, slinging a fake-looking Chanel over her shoulder.


Knife suddenly felt ravenous for Katya’s approval. “There’s going to be a lot of important people in fashion there,” she dropped casually. “Just trying to do you a favor.”


“Wait —” Katya stopped dead in her tracks. While she found Knife’s endless yammering exhausting to be around, she was determined to make it in New York.


Knife stuffed her dirty makeup wipe into the pocket of her wax-coated black jeans. “Cara will be there.”


Katya’s pupils blackened and expanded. “Cara Delevingne?” she whispered.


Knife shrugged. “She’s cool. One of my best friends, actually. I’ll introduce you.”


Katya’s heart slammed against her chest. Suddenly she knew that all those hours locked away in her colorless bedroom in the Moscow slums, feverishly reading The Secret had actually paid off. She’d always envisioned her and Cara Delevingne being best friends. And now...it was happening. She’d manifested it.


The makeup artist rolled her eyes. Anyone who was anyone in this town knew that Cara Delevingne wasn’t in New York. She was shooting a Burberry campaign with Mario Testino in the English Countryside. She contemplated telling Katya that Knife was completely full of shit and everyone in the industry knew it. Then she quickly remembered a production assistant informing her that Katya had bitched about her makeup to the photographer earlier in the day. So she kept her mouth shut, quietly packed up her kit, and got the hell out of there. It was true what they said. Fashion people were the worst.


*

Gabriella Tortellini was different from most girls in their twenties. For starters, she loved going to parties alone. Her drug of choice was attention and she knew nothing elicited curious stares from the masses quite like a girl confidently strutting into a bar solo.


Gabriella had never been a girl who’d blended in. Not because she’d been born missing her left arm, but she inhabited a wild sexuality too rambunctious to ignore. Girls who burn brightly go one of two ways: They either work tirelessly to dull all that makes them shine, or they throw sequins on top of the sparkle.


Gabriella was the latter.


She dressed up her hot pink carbon-fiber prosthetic arm with a giant diamante cuff. Her closet housed a slew of (real) Hervè Leger body-con dresses, vintage Versace gowns with plunging necklines, high-gloss liquid leggings, snug PVC jackets, leather collars, cropped corsets, and heels so high they brought Gabriella eye to eye with God herself. Sometimes she sprinkled drugstore glitter across her cleavage. Sometimes the wingspan of her eyeliner stretched out so wide she looked as if she might fly away. Sometimes she draped herself with gaudy Chanel costume jewelry. Sometimes she fastened a large gold-plated nameplate that spelled out the word DYKE around her neck. Sometimes she went to work in a crystal-encrusted bra-top.


But she always wore red lipstick.


Which is how the lifelong friendship between Violet and Gabriella began. Red. Lipstick.


Gabriella blissfully stared out of the floor-to-ceiling windows that graced the walls of the famed nightclub club that stood on top of the Standard Hotel. The bougie lesbian party buzzed around her but she was too hypnotized by the view of the city twinkling beneath her to pay attention. I can’t believe I finally live here, she thought breathlessly. Just then, two cartoonishly fabulous women tripped over their towering heels and into Gabriella’s overflowing cleavage.


“I’m so sorry, we’re not creeps, I promise!” an extraordinarily tall girl in a fabulous orange blazer squeal-screamed.


“Don’t lie, Patra,” cooed a big-eyed brunette in a sheer white leotard. “We’re the creepiest lesbians in all of New York.” She flashed a wicked smile. “But that’s beside the point.” Her mischievous eyes turned serious. “Where is your lipstick from? It’s the most perfect red I’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s the red I’ve been searching for all my life.”


“Pirate Red by Chanel. It’s all I wear.” Gabriella reached into her purse with her prosthetic arm. The robotic fingers clasped open and pulled out a tube of lipstick. “I have an extra.” Gabriella’s cat eyes flickered. “It’s yours,” she purred, handing the lipstick to the big-eyed girl.


The big-eyed girl clutched the red lipstick against her heart. “Oh. My. God. I know exactly who you are. And Jose Antonio, that piece of shit, was fuckin’ right. Gabriella —” she gasped, “I’m Violet. Your new best friend.”


*


Knife met Katya inside of the lobby of the Standard Hotel.


“You’re late,” Katya sniffed. A loose Ulla Johnson dress hung lifelessly on her coat-hanger body. She reeked of menthol and Dolce & Gabbana “Light Blue.” Her pin-straight hair was slicked back into a tight, low ponytail. Knife grinned. She looked like a model.


“You ready for this party?” Knife asked, her cold blue eyes arctic from the rails of cocaine she’d inhaled in the bathroom of Dolly’s.


“Obviously,” Katra primly tucked a snakeskin clutch beneath her bony arm. “Come on,” she barked, “I don’t have all night. I’m shooting in the morning.”


“Me too,” Knife lied.


Knife held the heavy lobby door wide open for Katya.


“I thought the party was in the Standard Hotel?” Katya hissed, suspiciously, as she stepped outside.


“It is. But the entrance to the club is at the side of the hotel.” Knife couldn’t wait to show up to the party with Katya. She attained the perfect ingredients to satiate Knife’s starving ego. She was bitchy. She was frigid. She was fashion.


The line to get into the lesbian party was so long it slithered around the side of the building. It was full of girls.


Williamsburg girls in high-waisted shorts rolling their own cigarettes, with tattooed fingers.


Bushwick girls braless in loose tanks cut down to the hip, their silver septum rings gleaming in the moonlight.


East Village girls in big black halo hats, secretly doing bumps out of their parliament light cigarette packs.


Park slope girls looking dapper in their tailored blazers and ankle-grazing trousers revealing sockless loafers.


Chelsea girls with daddy’s money furiously texting every promoter in town demanding they be allowed inside right now.


Knife grabbed Katya’s hand and led her to the front of the line. Katya felt her body turn electric. Tonight was going to be the night she finally weaseled her way into the fashion glitterati.


“Are you on the VIP list?” a girl with a shaved head and a London accent asked, clutching a clipboard.


Knife flashed her teeth. “Really?”


She looked at Knife with dead eyes. “Really.”


“It’s Knife,” she said, glowering at the girl with the shaved head. Don’t fuck with me. I’ve been on billboards. I run this scene.


The girl with the shaved head scanned the list. “You’re not on VIP,” she drawled boredly.


“Text Cara,” Katya demanded. “She’ll get us in.”


“Cara who?”


“Delevingne,” Katya confidently declared. “They’re best friends. Once she hears about this you’ll surely be fired.”


“I’m going to text her to come down right now,” Knife clipped. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. A tiny plastic baggie filled with white powder dropped onto the sidewalk. No one noticed.


The girl with the shaved head roared with laughter. “Cara Delevinge is not upstairs. She’s in the UK shooting with Mario Testino.” She scratched her bald head and smiled like a pageant queen. “And you’re not her best friend. I am. And I have no clue who the fuck you are.”


Knife suddenly felt a clammy hand slap against her face. “FUCKING LIAR!” Katya screamed. “I CAME TO THIS DUMB PARTY WITH YOU AND I’M NOT EVEN A FUCKING LESBIAN, YOU FREAK!” And with that, she turned around and stomped into the darkness, leaving Knife alone and exposed in the flickering neon light.


*


“Patra is an actual icon,” Gabriella said to Violet as they watched Patra wildly make out on the dancefloor with a shaggy-haired woman in a gorgeously tailored suit.


“Do you know who that is?” Violet stage whispered.


“No,” Gabriella’s eyes glimmered. She loved gossip.


Violet’s eyes glimmered in solidarity. She too loved gossip.


“The celebrity hairstylist that charges $900 a cut! She’s responsible for the Meg Ryan shag.”


“Oh my god! Yes!”


“I heard Shane on The L Word was loosely based on her.”


“I heard that too.”


They silently took in the scene on the dancefloor: A YouTuber infamous for her rants on gender aggressively grinded against the Editor-in-Chief of a notoriously transphobic lesbian magazine. The star of a now-defunct lesbian reality show screamed at her travel-influencer girlfriend with cocaine-encrusted nostrils. A newly engaged fashion blogger eye fucked a pretty blonde that was definitely not her fiance. Two girls with matching pink hair began passionately kissing. A disco ball rained glitter. A giggling redhead in combat boots spilled champagne into the hot tub that was in the middle of the dancefloor. A girl wearing a bowtie rushed to her side. A goth in ripped fishnets tweeted as she listlessly danced. New York giggled from outside the giant window.


Violet looked at Gabriella with conspiratorial eyes. “Want to get the fuck out of here? Go somewhere chic, devour a cheese-board, order good champagne, and talk about life?”


Gabriella’s heart leaped out of her chest and landed on the dance floor, blood-red and beating in rhythm with the house music blasting from the DJ booth. “Yes,” she said, slamming down the remains of her drink. “Fuck, yes.”




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