There are two types of girls who move to New York.


One girl you’ll find standing in midtown, her mouth agape, eyes big like a Bratz Doll staring into the dizzying display of neon and billboard; her brain vibrating, silently screaming:


I belong here.


I belong here.


I belong here.


But then a man with dirty fingernails and a Joker’s grin will swoop by and snatch her knock-off Balenciaga right out of her trusting little hands. He’ll tear down the street, holding her entire identity between the grip of his thumb and forefinger. And by the morning, she’ll be booked on the first flight back to Carolina.


Or maybe she’ll simply stumble over a rat in her prom stilettos. That’s demoralizing for reasons beyond the rat.


Often it’s an audition that breaks her. A cattle call for a low-budget horror movie with a poorly-written script written by misogynistic film grads who harbor resentment toward their mothers. And as she sweats in the stable of thousands of girls — girls as ambitious and as gorgeous and as unique as she — a sobering realization will wash over her: I’m nothing but a speck of drug-store glitter in a sky of stars.


But then there’s the other girl.


Same shit happens to her. But she chooses to stay. And eventually, she learns to stop flaunting her designer bag (even if it’s a fake) at night, alone in Time’s Square. She’ll learn to stay the fuck away from Time’s Square, in general. She’ll eventually decide to ditch her small-town stilettos for a pair of big-city boots. She’ll accept that rats in New York are as rampant as the competition and she’ll stop fearing them. Or more likely, she’ll still be scared shitless of both, but she’ll figure out how to exist in the fear.


The girls on Jane, are the latter.


*


It was Christmas Eve and Violet and Knife were standing on the corner of Sixteenth Street and Seventh Avenue, shivering in fourteen-degree weather.


Violet stared into her black Mary Janes. “I didn’t think it was going to be this hard to catch a taxi.”


“Fuck,” Knife fumbled nervously in the pockets of her black leather jacket. “I forgot cigarettes. Do you have one?”


Violet stuck a freezing cold hand inside of her tattered Balenciaga and unearthed a Marlboro. It was covered in black eyeliner. “It’s got makeup on it, but it still works?” She forced a smile.


“This cigarette is you,” Knife laughed, plucking it out of Violet's hands, popping it into her mouth. “Messy but deadly.”


“Yes. But —” Violet kept her eyes fixed into the ground, “you still can’t resist smoking it.”


“I’d smoke it if I could find a goddamn lighter.”


“I don’t think I have one, but I’ll check” Violet’s fingertips grazed the inside of her bag. She felt a lipstick. A couple of crumpled receipts. Her pink Nokia flip phone. And then something plastic. “I do have one! Christmas miracle for this Jewish girl.” Violet was one of those girls who never had a lighter.

“Wow, it’s the prettiest shade of pink I’ve ever seen,” she admired, passing it to Knife. “I wonder how it ended up in my bag of all places.”


Knife lit the end of her smokey-eyed cigarette and inhaled. “I’ll miss you.” She exhaled.


Violet turned around and faced the window of her local bodega. She watched Rita, the neighborhood yenta who’d lived in Violet’s building for over thirty-five years, gossip with Frank, the bald-headed man who’d run his family’s bodega for over twenty years. She thought about the time she’d accidentally sliced her palm with a kitchen knife while tearing open a package after a bottle and a half of wine. She was only eighteen and didn’t have money or health insurance, there was no way she could afford a trip to St. Vincent’s hospital. Frenzied, drunk, and unsure of what the fuck to do, she’d run down the stairs of her six-story walk-up and into that bodega. Frank had acted annoyed with the scrawny teen girl bleeding all over the freshly-mopped deli floors, but within minutes was wrapping up her hand with medical gauze, instructing her on how to stop it from getting infected.


“Clean it with antibacterial soap and water. None of that Neosporin crap, you hear?” he’d lectured in his thick Bronx accent. Every day after that Violet had stopped by the bodega to report on the status of her healing wound. Frank always wanted to look at it, no matter how gruesome the state. When it finally scabbed over, he smiled proudly. “Kid, what did I tell you about the simple soap and water trick?” He’d given her a pastrami sandwich on the house for being such a good patient.


Violet’s heart ached thinking about Frank. She’d miss him. “I’ll miss you too,” she finally answered Knife, watching her flick cigarette ash onto the pavement.


“I could go with you?”


Violet peered up at Knife who was half a foot taller than her. She stretched her arms long, so they reached Knife’s face. She touched Knife’s cheek with a lovely, lavender-painted nail. Hipbone brushed against hipbone.


A heat radiated between them.


They kissed slowly at first. Like they were performing in slow-motion, for some new-age, downtown one-act about lesbian love in the 80s. They savored the inside of each other’s mouths. Until their bodies said: Performance is over. Let’s fucking ravish each other.


The kiss went from slow and gentle to fast and vicious. Violet bit Knife’s lower lip. Hard. Knife grabbed Violet by the hair. Hard. Violet brought Knife’s hand to her mouth and ran her tongue and sucked her fingers. This was Knife’s weakness. Violet knew this.


“Are you testing me?” Knife mumbled. She felt her knees buckle and her nipples stiffen. “Because you’re not going to win,” she smirked, shoving Violet against the sliver of exposed brick between the bodega and the wine shop.


Violet leaned into the wall. She pulled Knife’s body into hers. “Fuck me. One last time,” she whispered into Knife’s ear. “So I know you’re real.”


Knife paused for a moment. She furrowed her brow and averted her eyes up and to the left. As if she was weighing the pros and cons of fucking Violet. One last time.


Violet felt sick with anticipation, desire, fear of rejection.


Knife let the tension build and build and build. Until she caught a glimpse of Violet’s mauve lips, pouting, her big golden eyes, staring up at her, longingly. Knife couldn’t take it anymore. She looked around. The street was mostly empty. She slowly slid her hands up Violet’s dress. It was fourteen degrees, but Violet wasn’t wearing tights. She traced the outline of her underwear before working her way beneath the flimsy lace fabric. Violet was wet. “Ask me to fuck you again?” she whispered, sliding her finger easily inside.


“Fuck me,” Violet begged.


Violet knew what Knife needed: to be wanted. To be in control. And Knife knew what Violet needed: to want badly. To be out of control.


Within minutes, they had dragged Violet’s heavy purple suitcase up six flights of stairs and were in her twin bed fucking each other’s brains out.


*


Gabriella decided not to go home for Christmas this year. It was the first time in her entire life she wouldn’t be on Long Island for the holidays. She told her parents she had to work, she’d be home for New Year’s, but the truth was she couldn’t face them. She couldn’t look them in the eye and admit the truth. That they were right. She wasn’t suited for the New York game. She’d lost. So many things. Her first job. Her first best friend. Her life-long confidence.


Aunt Valentina had decided to stay with Gabriella through Christmas. She told everyone it was so “poor Gabriella wouldn’t be all alone for the holidays” — which was partly true. But it wasn’t the whole truth. The real reason she didn’t want to go back to Long Island, was because she was afraid if she left the city — even for a long weekend — she’d never muster up the courage to come back. The last time she’d taken the LIRR home to Bayshore for a short vacation, she’d stayed twenty-five years. Because the truth was, whenever she was there, she felt ashamed. Of what? She wasn’t exactly sure. Maybe it was because she was nothing like the people there. Or maybe it was because, beneath the layers of mink and Chanel number 5, she was exactly like them.

And it certainly didn’t hurt that Serafina had invited her and darling Gabriella over for a seven-course Christmas dinner in her uptown Penthouse. It was about time Val had a glamorous holiday. She’d slurped down enough spaghetti at her great Aunt Joyce’s house in Islip to last a lifetime. She’d earned fucking her caviar.


But tonight — before the glitzy Christmas Dinner — they were to attend the annual Christmas party at Dolly’s.


“Come on you big ole’ dyke!” Valentina hooted, pounding her fists against the steel door of the bathroom. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you dykes aren’t supposed to take long to get ready? Throw on a sports bra and move it, lezzie.”


“Didn’t anyone tell you that house guests are like the dead? You can smell them rot after three days?” Gabriella yelled back, carefully adhering glue to her lash line.


“Oh, I’m a guest?” Valentina playfully cooed from behind the door. “What are you a WASP? I’m FAMILY, BABY!”


Gabriella snickered and took a sip of her drink. She checked her teeth for red lipstick and twirled out of the bathroom door, two glasses of prosecco, three sets of false eyelashes, and half a bottle of Miss Dior deep. She grabbed a studded McQueen clutch, threw an electric green faux fur cape across her spray-tanned shoulders, and batted her Venus Fly Trap eyes at Valentina. “I’m ready.”


Valentina who had been sweating in her mink for the past thirty-minutes minutes waiting for Gabriella to emerge from the bathroom, rolled her eyes. “Are you really ready?”


“I’m not ready to face my jobless future, but I sure am ready to get fucked up at Dolly’s,” Gabriella popped a fresh piece of Juicy Fruit into her mouth and began to chomp. “So let’s get the fuck out of this dump pretty please?”


“Finally! You admit it! Your place is a dump!” Auntie Valentina belted. She turned on her gold pumps and linked arms with Gabriella. Auntie and Niece, both queer and teeming with dilapidated Christmas cheer, clip clopped all the way down the stairs and into the night.


*


Gianna pointed her finger at Jack like a gun. “I told ya, Jacky, ya just don’t shit where you eat,” she fired slowly, each word a fresh bullet.


“Would you shut the fuck up? She’s right over there.” Jack pulled the hood of her sweatshirt over her eyes and slouched further into her seat. Instead of sitting at her usual spot, front and center of the bar, she was tucked into the back table of Dolly’s. It was a dusty corner of the bar void of light, where old, bitter lesbians went to die. The truth was Jack would rather die than risk an awkward confrontation with Catalina, who was busy mixing cocktails behind the bar, in a sexy black tube top and red velvet Santa Claus hat.


Gianna sighed. “You think she don’t know you’re here?”


“I don’t think she saw me.”


“Will you get a grip? Of course, she saw you. For starters, you look like you’re about to rob the place.”


“G. I don’t ask for much, but I’m going to ask you. Can we smoke a goddamn cigarette?”


“Only if you tell me what kind of shit happened between the two of youse.”


“Fine,” Jack grumbled, slumping out the door, beanie-clad head facing the floor.


Gianna grabbed her new puffer coat (bought that day on sale at Barney’s) and followed Jack outside, her shiny shoes gleaming in the moonlight. It was quiet in the West Village. Everywhere except for the gay bars. Packs of lost gays with nowhere to go on Christmas Eve hoofed the streets of downtown, making their way to the queer Oasis of their choosing.


“So,” Gianna pulled her shiny gold, monogrammed lighter out of the pockets of her pressed black dress pants and handed it to Jack.


Jack snatched it and lit up. “I don’t know. G. Last weekend?” She puffed, hungrily. “At the Scorpio Mood party, when Violet was missing?”


“Don’t tell me you're still hot for that headcase?”


“That headcase is your friend.” Jack glared at Gianna.


“Thought we got over your kink for crazy girls?”


“That was a low G.”


“Sorry, sorry. I’m just sick of seeing you waste your life, Jacky. I’m not talking shit ‘bout, Violet. You know I love the kid but she’s —”


“It’s not about Violet, G!” Jack interrupted.


Gianna folded her arms. “Don’t lie to me. I know you better than anyone.”



“It’s really not about her.” A giant cloud of smoke emerged from Jack’s mouth. “It’s just that when Violet went missin’ and Imani and I were looking for her — I got scared. I mean come on, G. My heart was racing. And when I saw Cat — I didn’t want to be around her. I don’t know what it was. I just got this feeling that she wasn’t my person.” Jack stared at the half-moon, inhaling, exhaling her beloved tar and nicotine.


“Did you talk?”


“No. I haven’t called her. She hasn’t called me, either. It’s fuckin’ awkward.”


Gianna was about to open her mouth and monologue to Jack once again, about the dangers of one shitting where one eats. But then she caught a glimpse of Gabriella strutting down the block. Her high ponytail bopping up and down with every step, like a sprightly, young equestrian on top of a prized pony. Gabriella, who’d she’d abruptly stopped hooking up even though the sex had been mind-blowing. She didn’t know why she’d broken it off. She was always breaking things off too quickly. “Fear of commitment” and other daddy issues. But the moment she clocked Gabriella kissing that tacky DJ motherfucker from LA, she’d deeply regretted it. She didn’t know how to correct her colossal mistake and had been dreading running into Gabriella so vehemently, she hadn’t been to Dolly’s in five business days. A personal record.


“I’m going to go back inside. I need a whiskey sour,” Gianna grumbled through gritted teeth.


*


Violet and Knife had come four times each. But they weren’t done. They kept going and going until the fifth orgasm, after which Violet fell into a lifeless heap on top of Knife. Her head rose and fell in the swell of Knife’s heaving chest. Knife willed her heartbeat to calm the fuck down, before wrapping her long python arms around Violet. Their bodies melted into each other.


“That was the best sex I’ve ever had.” Knife didn’t care if she sounded like a loser. No one is cool after five explosive orgasms.


“Honestly —” Violet curled under Knife’s armpit. “I’ve never had sex like that.”


“Sex like what?”


“Sex, like, I don’t know. It’s embarrassing.”


“Tell me,” Knife twisted her body to the side and scooched down so she was eye-to-eye with Violet.


Violet was hit with the sudden urge to rip her flesh off her bones. Knife noticed. She placed her hands firmly over Violet’s shoulders. “Tell me. You can’t hide from everyone forever.”


“It’s fucked up,” Violet warned.


“Who do you think you’re talking to? It’s me.”


The fire in Violet’s eyes softened into two pale yellow buttercups. “Sex. I can’t do it. I can’t do it unless it’s, like, violent, or whatever.”


They stared silently into the ceiling for a moment. “I get it,” Knife said softly, turning her head to face Violet.


Violet felt like she was being split in half. Like half of her was in bed with Knife and the other half was floating numbly through outer space.


Knife cleared her throat. It was time. “Violet, I need to ask you?” Her voice was calm. Steady like the kind of bay gentle enough for kids to wade in.


Violet closed her eyes. Let more of herself slip into the galaxy.


“Violet, please look at me.”


Violet’s lids fell open wide. Knife’s eyes dove into her eyes. “What happened to you?”


“What do you mean?” Violet was suddenly tired. She wanted to drown in Knife. But she was a survivor. She forced herself to fight the tide.


But Knife was stronger than Violet realized. Her eyes were beautiful and otherworldly. Enticing and rare like Iceland’s blue lagoon.“What happened to you that made you this way?” She circled her fingers around Violet’s scarred, naked thighs.


Violet suddenly had no fight left in her. Her will to hide was overpowered by her will to rest. She took a deep breath. “I was fifteen, he was thirty-five. One of the many drunks in my building. My room — it didn’t have a lock. I kept asking for a lock, but no one would let me have a lock. Why didn’t anyone let me have a lock?” Violet waited to disassociate, but for whatever reason, she stayed locked into the moment. “He’d pass out on the couch and come into my room. One night I tried to fight him. He punched me. In the eye. Gave me a black eye. Everyone thought it was my dad and I didn’t correct them. So yeah. That was my first time.”



Knife wanted to tell Violet that was not her first time — rape is not someone’s first time — but something inside of her told her to stay quiet.


Violet continued. “Then I met this girl. Shay. She loved me, even with my dumb black eye. And I loved her. She was the first person I loved. But it was like — I swear — they could smell it on my skin.”


“Who?”


“It happened again. A few weeks later. At a high school keg party. Shay found out. She wanted nothing to do with me after that. I shut down. I’ve been shut down. Except when someone touches me, it’s like I open up. But I don’t get to choose where I go. And I always end up back there. I don’t want to go back there.”


Knife fought the urge to assure Violet she would make sure she never went back there. But she of all people understood that no human being can shield you from the demons of the past.


Violet continued. “It’s getting worse too. That night at Scorpio Mood — I saw Ray. I didn’t tell you I saw Ray. But I saw her. And it fucked me up. And then I was kissing — what’s her name —? Like the Vampire Show. Buffy? Yes. Buffy. Everything was fine until I had this, like flash. I was a kid. Four maybe five? I was locked in a closet. That’s as far as I got before I froze. That’s what I do. I freeze. I go away. The only thing that brings me back in my body? Pain. Physical pain. Choke me. Hurt me. That’s all I can handle.”


Violet waited for Knife to turn to stone. To freak out about her run-in with Ray, her kiss with Buffy. They’d never officially broken up, after all. Plus, Knife had not only saved her life but had forced her to the hospital, stayed all night by her side. In fact, Knife hadn’t left her side all week. “What can I say? I’m the marrying kind,” Violet added, willing herself out of her body again.


But Knife’s facial expression didn’t have a fragment of jealousy. Or pity. Or disgust.


All she could say was: “I knew it. I knew it. I knew it,” as fat tears slid down her cheek.


“How did you know it?”


“Because that shit’s happened to me.”


“I knew it.”


“What? How?”


“I saw it. That day in the summer, when we were smoking outside of Dolly’s. Just us. I saw it.”


“Saw what?”


“I saw you leave your body.”


“No one has ever noticed that.”


“I’m not ‘no one.’”


“Please, please don’t take this trip to Florida. Please. Please. Please. Don’t leave me.”


“I have shit to deal with.”


“What about the shit you have here? What about your New York family? What about me?”


“I have to figure out what happened. What that whole flash was about. If I don’t, I’ll never break out of this cycle.”


“But you didn’t freeze tonight! You said so. You trust me. I trust you. You can’t keep running away.”


Violet jumped on top of Knife. Knife let Violet pin her arms behind her head. “Did you take my pillbox?” She squeezed Knife’s wrists with everything she had.


“Yes.” Knife answered her body intentionally limp beneath Violet’s grip. She felt like a dog exposing its belly to show submission. She stared into Violet’s eyes. “I’m not proud of it. But I didn’t take your pillbox. I stole your pillbox. And after I left you in the bathroom in that dive that night? I fucked Catalina.”


Violet unshackled Knife from her sweaty hands. She lay down next to her. “I fucked my new boss,” she flipped over and dug her elbows in the sheets. “In the office,” she added, resting her face in the palm of her hands.


“You did?”


“I did.”


“Why?”


“Same reason you fucked Catalina. To blow up my life.”


They began to laugh. Not because it was funny. Because they were relieved. There were no secrets anymore.


“Look, I don’t know what is going to happen with us, Knife. I really don’t. We are so fucked up. Like, so, so fucked up. But all I know is that I need you in my life. I can’t do this without you.”


Knife nodded. She buried her face in Violet’s chest. “I understand if you have to go to Florida for a while. I do. But there’s one thing you need to do first.”


Violet shot up like a meerkat. “But wait. My flight? Doesn’t it leave soon?”


“Babe. I love you. But your flight? Your flight was boarding long before I gave you your third orgasm. By the time I gave you your fifth? It was halfway to fucking Florida.”


“I’ll book for tomorrow. But before we do whatever you’re so sure we need to do — you need to tell me —” she placed her hand over Knife’s heart. “What happened to you? What made you this way?”



By 11 p.m. the vibe at Dolly’s was awkward, to say the least. Natalia Gonzalez was in Los Angeles for the holidays, and Gabriella wished she was there because maybe if she was there it would be easier to avoid Gianna, who kept trying to approach her. And talking to Gianna would be her biggest nightmare because even though Gabriella was livid that Gianna had broken up with her — when they weren’t even dating — Gabriella couldn’t deny that Gianna looked incredibly sexy in that swaggy, tailored way that always robbed her of her dignity. In other words, Gabriella couldn’t be certain she wouldn’t sleep with Gianna if given the choice, and she didn’t want to be “that girl.” Gianna could feel Gabriella avoiding her which made her feel creepy but she couldn’t seem to stop trying to talk to her even if she didn’t know what to say and she couldn’t ask useless Jack to break the ice because Jack was hiding in the back, becoming one with the old lesbian guard in her stupid beanie and stupid hoodie as if that would ever disguise her from Catalina? Didn’t Jack understand her very recognizable stench of Axe men’s deodorant mixed with Marlboro reds? Jack, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to shoot the shit with Gabriella and her glamorous Aunt from Long Island but she was terrified if she left the dark corner of the bar she’d run into Catalina and she had no idea what to say to Catalina who was so sweet and gorgeous but something was missing. How do you tell someone that something is missing? The thing was, Catalina really wanted to talk to Jack. To clear the air. Apologize for her outburst and maybe ask her for a fresh start. But every time she looked at Jack — in that stupid fucking beanie and hoodie — her stomach did a backflip. She would suddenly remember how she’d fucked Knife behind Jack’s back and then she’d feel consumed with guilt. She wasn’t like that. But then the guilt would wear off as quickly as it had come, and she’d feel herself twitch between the thighs because holy hell had the sex with Knife been destructive but also, kind of thrilling? And then she’d catch a whiff of nicotine and men’s drug-store deodorant and all of the sudden lust after Jack. Jack and those ass-less chaps. She decided it was best to stay busy behind the bar because she was too horny and too confused to deal with any of this. She had a job to do. Plus, Serafina, her boss was there for the first time in months, demanding Vodka water after Vodka water, because unbeknownst to Catalina she was wracked with social anxiety, herself. Something about Valentina made Serafina’s heart run a marathon. Maybe it was because she’d secretly been replaying their fleeting love affair in her head for the past two decades? Maybe it was residual anxiety from all the cocaine hangovers they’d withstood together? Maybe it was because Serafina had never felt so alive as she had during her tryst with Valentina? And Valentina? She was equally nervous around Serafina. She kept dipping out for a cigarette, giving herself not-so-subtle pep-talks on the curb: “I’m Valentina and no one fucks with me,” she’d declare so loudly she’d startle the baby dykes waiting outside in the freezing cold, to be allowed inside. Meanwhile, Gabriella could sense that Valentina was on the verge of a freakout which freaked her out more than she already was because Valentina had a notoriously bad temper. The only person who was perfectly at ease was Patra, though that would soon change because right as Patra smugly grinned into her tequila-splash-of-soda-and-lime — Violet breezed through the front door of Dolly’s with Knife and Patra’s heart dropped against the bar floor.


“Shit,” Patra whispered under her breath.


“Shit,” Gabriella murmured into her champagne.


“Shit!” Valentina yelped, leaping gracefully off her barstool, like a ballerina. “ PETAL!” She twirled over to Violet, her tulle skirt spinning like a clock. She put her arms over Violet’s fuzzy, faux-fur shoulders. “I’m so glad you’re okay, sweet Petal. Or is it Rosebud? Or Daisy? Whatever. Like Shakespeare says: What’s in a name? Oh, I didn’t introduce myself, how rude. I’m Valentina. Your new Long Island Auntie,” she fluttered her lashes and gently kissed Violet’s hand.


It wasn’t just Christmas in the city. It was now Christmas in Violet’s brain. She was mesmerized by the wild glittering light that was Valentina.


“I’m Violet,” she managed, star-struck.


“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet as you, honey bunny. Now, look. Let’s clear the air. We all know what happened the other night and I want you to know there’s nothing to be ashamed of. You’re not a New Yorker till you’ve been found unconscious by a dumpster!” She swung her head toward Serafina, who was rushing to Violet’s side. “Am I right, Serafina?” she purred.


“Well, in our day it was getting put into a straight jacket in the lobby of the Chelsea after a cocaine-fueled meltdown — but yes. I suppose passing out by the rubbish is the modern-day equivalent,” Serafina clipped, primly petting the top of Violet’s head. “Sweetheart! I’m so upset with you. I leave for a month and you get into all of this nonsense? I will not tolerate it,” She looked at Violet harshly, like she was the headmaster of an elite boarding school.


“I’m so, so sorry Serafina. I fucked up. Royally.” Tears sprang into Violet’s eyes for the second time that day.


Serafina sighed and kissed Violet on both cheeks. “We’ll talk about it next week. But tonight it’s Christmas Eve! And we will celebrate as a family!” Serafina whooped. She banged her oversized Ruby cocktail ring against the Swarovski crystal tumbler holding court in her left hand. “Get over your shit everyone! Tonight, everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.”


“Closer To Fine” by the Indigo Girls began roaring through the speakers. And no one — not even Jack — could help themselves. The entire bar began passionately singing and dancing like idiots. After all, it was Christmas Eve in New York. And even though none of them were surrounded by siblings or parents or partners for that matter — none of them were alone.


That’s the thing about the few who stay in New York. The people who long to live the “big lives." They are special. Not because they’re talented or beautiful or fascinating. Because they can build a family in a building, in an office, in a coffee shop, in a gay bar.


At midnight, it began to snow. Violet pressed her nose against the glass and watched snowflakes fall over Knife’s blonde head, as she laughed and smoked outside with Jack. Gabriella walked over to her. “I got fired,” she whispered, pressing her nose against the glass.


Violet smiled, into the cool glass. “And this is where your life begins,” she said simply. They quietly observed Jack reaching into her pockets and giving a crisp $100 bill to a woman huddled on the street. “I did some stupid shit. Shit so stupid I got fired. By my own guardian angel,” Violet looked away from the window and right at Gabriella.


Their eyes met. “And this is where your life begins,” Gabriella beamed.


Violet looked back out the window. The sky was black and Jane street blanketed in white. “I’m sorry,” Violet whispered.


“I love you,” Gabriella whispered back. The two girls stared quietly out the window, the heat of their breath fogging up the glass.



*



Violet was the last to get on the plane of course. She was relieved to find she was seated next to a girl. A girl with pretty warm brown eyes and hair the color of cotton candy. They smiled at each other shyly.


“Why are you going to Florida on Christmas Day?” Violet couldn’t help but ask as the plane ascended into the air.


The pink-haired girl laughed. “I’ve got shit to deal with. How about you?”


“Same,” Violet answered, watching Manhattan get smaller and smaller, as the plane flew higher and higher in the bright blue sky.




“I know we’re strangers. But do you want to talk about it?” the girl asked.


“Yes,” Violet smiled, “Fuck yes.”





Burn everything beautiful in your world down. It can’t seduce you with its intoxicating eyes ever again. Watching her sleep was like floating on a cloud of Valium. Was I an experiment? Something for you to get out of your system? No one would ever know who kissed who first. Hot rage turned to deep longing. Suddenly their hands were tangled in each other’s hair and no one else existed. The tenderness was too much — she pulled away. THERE’S STILL TIME TO BREAK THE CYCLE. You called. I called? You got skinnier. She felt her before she saw her. YOU’RE THE REASON SHE’S SLIPPING AWAY. Will you touch me? This wasn't who she was anymore. You make me feel so good. I hate you. A heat radiated between them. I'm ashamed. Salty tears stung like peroxide. I'm not like you. But I make you feel good? An ocean of tears exploded out of her eyes. Her heart drew a gun. It was a kiss that felt like music. But dreams aren't real. I love you. You do? I've never wanted somebody so bad in my life. A lit cigarette twisted into her arm. You are perfect. Kiss me so I know you're real. I'm madly in love with her. You have lipstick on your face. I’ll never be dishonest about anything again. She felt herself harden, she needed to survive. Don't touch me. Tell me one last thing. Does she hurt you? This girl. This girl. This girl. She wanted to always remember her this way. We hurt each other. Full of martinis and fire, black smokey eyes sparkling, talking sh*t in a red thong. COME WITH ME TO WHERE IT'S WARM AND SAFE. Adorned in green velvet, needy-eyed, wasted, and more pure than ever before. All hot girls have daddy issues. She took one last look at her sad-eyed beauty. I don't belong here. This girl. This girl. This girl. Choke me. Hurt me. Get off. The body always wins. Don't you want that? I don't belong here. It was blinding but beautiful. I don't belong here. Finding someone you can endlessly kiss is like finding a diamond next to a dead rat on 11th avenue. I don't belong here. It was real, love. Where do I belong?


But just because something is real, doesn't mean it won't destroy you. Her heart accelerated at the speed of cocaine.


The blood moon dimmed


and the movie was over.


Words were playing in Violet’s head on a loop again. But this time it wasn’t movie quotes swirling swirling swirling in her brain. They were quotes ripped directly from her life.


Just because something is real doesn’t mean it won’t destroy you.


The body always wins.


Kiss me so I know you’re real.


The blood moon dimmed and the movie was over.


“Do you want the movie to be over, Violet?” A familiar voice disrupted the rotation of words. She opened her eyes and absorbed her surroundings. She was standing in the center of Dolly’s — her favorite lesbian bar. The only home she’d ever known. Her precious watering hole on the corner of Jane Street and West Fourth.


Except no one was there.


It was just her, teetering in her old leopard-print pumps, her beat-up Balenciaga bag dangling weakly off her arm.


“Hey,” the voice croaked with a comforting smoker’s rasp. “I’m here, too.” Sharon, her guardian angel, was suddenly standing behind the bar smoking a cigarette in a khaki-colored trench. Her no-nonsense bob gleamed in the flickering fluorescent light, beaming over her. Her nails were filed into a perfect square, painted cream. She wore wings — they were rusty-gold and gaudy, like thrifted jewelry.


“What’s with the wings?” Violet asked, shivering.


“Where’s your coat? How many times do I have to tell you to keep track of your coat in the goddamn winter? How am I supposed to protect you when you’re walking around Manhattan wearing a bikini top in a goddamn blizzard?”


“Sharon! I’d never wear a bikini top in lieu of a shirt! Who do you think I am? Britney Spears?”


“Violet!” Sharon sucked on her Marlboro. “You will not distract me with your frou-frou charm. Listen. Do you want the movie to end?”


Violet’s mouth went dry. Her heart was a ticking time bomb. “I don’t even know how I got here. What’s going on?” She felt panic rise and fall in her chest. “Why are we at Dolly’s? Why is it empty? I’m dreaming — right?”


A beautiful cloud of cigarette smoke billowed like a ball gown out of Sharon’s mouth. “You’re dying.”


Violet froze. Dying? “Am I sick?”


“Yes.” Sharon dug into her medium-sized, sensible coach bag and pulled out a shiny pack of Marlboros. She yanked out a new cigarette, stuck it between her lips, and lit the end with a pale pink Bic lighter. She let both cigarettes rest in her mouth for a moment, before plucking out the fresh one and passing it over to Violet.


Violet shakily accepted “That lighter,” she inhaled, “It’s such a pretty color., she exhaled.


“Are you fucking kidding me? You’re DYING Violet. You’re fucking DYING. 29-years-old. And all you can say is ‘what a pretty pink lighter?’ WAKE UP,” Sharon yelled, her face flushing red, a blue vein protruding from her forehead.


Violet looked at the floor. The floorboards were perforated and scratched — but had been scrubbed so clean they sparkled.


Sharon leaned over the bar. She grabbed Violet by her shoulders. “Look at me.” Violet lifted her head. Sharon’s eyes were glassy and blinkless. “This isn’t a game. This is actual life or death,” Sharon deadpanned. “I’m going to ask you one last time. Okay?”


Violet nodded.


Sharon released her hands from Violet’s shoulders. She took one last drag of her cigarette and smudged it into the portable ashtray she brought with her everywhere. “Now. Do you want the movie to be over?”


*


It was the lesbian witching hour: 4 a.m.

And Scorpio Mood was more alive than it had been all night. Girls were fucking in the dimly lit hallway. Girls were fighting on the dance floor. Girls were smoking and snorting and teasing in the bathroom. Hearts broke everywhere. Love bled on to everything.


Imani wasn’t sure if she wanted to go home and sob — or do drugs and kiss a stranger. Violet would have the answer. This was her gift. She weaved through the crowd, searching for Violet.


After three loops through the party, a strange, unsettled feeling formed in her belly. She stumbled into Jack. “Have you seen Violet?”


Jack swigged her beer and cocked her brow. “She missing?”


“It’s weird. I’ve been looking everywhere and can’t find her. But she would’ve told me if she was leaving, right?” Sweat trickled down her spine.


Jack stared suspiciously into the mob of girls. “You check the bathrooms?”


“Not yet.”


Wordlessly, Jack and Imani stiffened their backs and marched like soldiers toward the bathroom. They blew past the line of frenetic girls anxiously waiting for a moment alone in the single stall. Jack pounded her fist on the door. “Violet?” She pounded harder. Imani joined.


“Excuse me, there’s a line,” slurred a girl so drunk her eyelids sagged into her mouth.


Jack ignored her. She pounded and pounded until her knuckles were bone-white. “Violet? Are you in there?”


Finally, the silver doorknob twisted. They held their breath. The door swung open.



*


Sharon tapped her square nails against the bar of Dolly’s. “Violet, I’m trying to be patient here. But there’s only so much a guardian angel can do.” She ran her fingers through her highlighted hair. “We’re running out of time.”


Violet was sitting on the floor with crisscrossed legs. She felt very, very tired. She let her eyes fall closed.


In the darkness, she saw herself. Five years old. Locked in a closet that smelled like suntan oil and coconut and gun-powder. It smelled like her mother.


But her mother wasn’t with her.


She was by herself. She could hear only her own muffled breath and loud boots stomping through her house. She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream. Something bad was about to happen, she knew it in her bones. But her gut told her she’d better keep her damn mouth shut. She squeezed her fists and tried desperately to distract herself. She tried to pretend she was in a movie that would soon be over and she’d be met with a boisterous round of applause. But the boots smacked heavier and heavier, as they made their way closer and closer to her hiding spot.


It was only a matter of time before it happened.


Her eyelids flew open. She finally had an answer for Sharon. Her eyes burned with confidence. “I want the movie to end.”


*


A girl twirled out of the bathroom doors, as Jack and Imani stood with bated breath.


The girl had smudgy big eyes and hazelnut hair — but she wasn’t Violet. She twirled out the door with the same magnetic spirit as Violet.


But she wasn’t Violet.


“You are not Violet,” Jack confirmed, looking into her moonbeam skin. The resemblance was jarring.


“Who’s Violet?” The girl asked, her eyes spinning and curious. “Is she here?” She batted an eyelash so long it tickled her brow bone. Jack had to look away. It was as if she’d seen a ghost. The ghost of Violet — except unlike Violet — this girl was free.


She couldn’t tell if she was charmed or repulsed.


“Jack, look—” Imani pointed into the distance. “Knife’s over there. I’m sure she knows something.”


Jack left bizarro Violet standing bewildered and alone, as she beelined to Knife.


Jack grabbed Knife by the collar of the men’s button-down she wore, bra-lessly and open to the sternum.“Where is she?” Jack growled, her chest breaking into hives.


“Who?” Knife felt her feet begin to fumble on the pedestal of artificial happiness she’d been perched on since her last bump of coke.


“Who? You know who.” Why was it that everywhere Knife went, trouble always seemed to follow?


Needy chemicals swarmed Knife’s body and clung to her limbs. “Catalina?” She asked, shakily.


“Catalina? No, fuck no” Jack tightened her jaw. It bulged like a bicep. “Violet, you dumbass.”


Catalina, who no one had noticed was standing behind them, felt her heart drop to her toes.


“Violet?” Knife repeated. As soon the name left her lips, her spirit (along with the leftover coke) crashed into the ground. She felt half dead and sick with regret.


“I’m not playing Knife, did you see her?” At six feet tall, Imani was the only person able to look Knife in the eye.


“No,” Knife met her gaze. Imani could tell by the dark shadow cast over her light blue eyes that Knife was telling the truth.


“Why are you all being so fucking dramatic?” a voice bellowed in the background. Jack freed Knife from her grip, right as Catalina slithered between them, her mint eyes as cold and sharp as green Listerine.


“What’s with you tonight, Cat? Wouldn’t you be concerned if you couldn’t find your friend? Especially if that friend was pretty banged up?” Jack bellowed back.


“Violet’s always banged up!” Catalina threw an exasperated hand into the air. “I’m so sick of everyone giving special treatment to self-destructive people who don’t even try to take care of themselves!” Her curve-hugging body-con and dress and DDs suddenly felt all wrong in the sea of braless cool girls in loose, ratty denim. “You think it’s easy for me to have my shit together? Do you?” Her voice broke. “It’s not! I get depressed too! I don’t talk to my parents, either. But I still show up for all of you, ” she glared at Knife. “Which is pathetic, because all of you —” she glared at Jack “would drop me in a second for Violet. Who only makes messes and never cleans them up.” A fat tear pregnant with mascara and eyeliner and deep, deep effort tumbled down her cheek. “Do you know how shitty it feels to try so hard to be perfect? To try so hard to look pretty and be sexy and indulge all of your whims and late-night booty calls?” she was sobbing now. Jack and Knife stared into the tiles on the floor. “But no matter how hard I work to be ‘enough’ — my efforts are fruitless.” She shrank until she was two feet tall. “‘Cause no matter what I do — I know you’d rather be with her. You don’t even see me — until you can’t be with her.”


Jack and Knife looked up at Catalina, like two dumb German Shepards, who’d unknowingly torn a hole in their owner’s beloved bedspread.


Imani knew this scene would not end well if she didn’t immediately step in. They were going dangerously off-script. “Catalina,” she threw a long arm around Catalina’s slumped shoulder. “Look. We hear you. We see you. We love you and I promise we’ll address this later” she glowered at Jack and Knife, with strong, athletic eyes. “But Violet is missing and I’m telling you,” she crossed her arms, authoritatively, like a coach, “something isn’t right.”


*


Not that she would ever dare to admit it — but Valentina had fervently missed New York nightlife. She’d, of course, denounce it later and moan to Gabriella about how “the scene was dead” and “New York would never be what it was,” because the “artists had been pushed out by that god-awful Mayor,” droning on with teary eyes about how sickened she was by the slew of “trust-fund brats with no style.” She’d spend the cab ride home making a big show of mourning the death of Bohemia. But deep down inside, Valentina was sort of impressed. She’d secretly had more fun at this Moody Aquarius party — or whatever celestial woo-woo shit the kids were calling it — than she had in the last decade. She’d met some shockingly colorful characters, too. She’d flirted with a twenty-five-year-old drag king, with deliciously strong arms and a sleeve of vibrant tattoos. She’d been introduced to a charming, fabulously tall former basketball star — how different? — how chic? She’d done poppers with the party promoters, one of which was the daughter of the country’s most esteemed astrologer. Also very different, very chic.


But what had stirred her excitement the most was watching her niece, Gabriella Tortellini, get courted by an (allegedly) famous DJ. A Hollywood DJ. She paused to watch them dance. The strobe lights made their young skin look as if it was infused with glitter.


Gabriella certainly takes after me, she thought to herself as Natalia Gonzalez leaned in to kiss her on the mouth for the first time. This Natalia character was clearly mesmerized by ‘Lil Gab. Back in my day, I’d mesmerize the masses too. She guzzled her champagne. Only I mesmerized both women and men. She knew it was a petty thought, but her brain was hardwired to always one-up Gabriella. Gabriella was her obsession, the daughter she’d never had. But since the second she’d emerged out of her sister’s womb grinning, long-lashed, and one-armed, she’d felt wildly competitive with her. As a transgender woman who’d shaken up her traditional Italian family with her unwavering sense of self and artistic prowess — suddenly there was a new bitch in town. A child bitch with a beautiful singing voice and an attention-grabbing bionic arm, nonetheless.


“If I had a bionic arm, it would be over for all you bitches,” she muttered, giggling. She was drunk, but that was nothing new. Valentina loved to drink.


She leaped out of her barstool and threw her gold fur over her shoulders. It was snowing outside and every time the door flew open a burst of cold air clamored her freezing flesh.


She looked at the door. Someone was swinging through it, slowly, allowing little white snowflakes to fall into the entrance. She shivered, annoyed at the blatant disrespect.


And then her jaw dropped.


Breezing through the doors was Serafina, wearing the same pointy stiletto boots she’d rocked in the ‘70s, infiltrating the room with Chanel number #5 and Belvedere-on-the-rocks eyes.

At first, Valentina wanted to hide. It was too much seeing the heiress she’d secretly pined over for two decades, in real life. But then she took a deep breath remembered who the fuck she was. She held her head high and strutted over to Serafina, like one of the great, Amazonian supermodels of the early ‘90s.


Now or never. She reminded herself. Now or never.


Serafina was draped in luxurious red cashmere. Her shiny skin, black and luminous, hadn’t aged a day.


Now or never. Now or never. Now or never.


She tapped Serafina with the tip of her long, fake nail. Serafina turned around.


Valentina pushed her hair to the side, coyly. “Darling, I know it’s been years. You might not remember —”


“— Valentina?” Serafina’s eyes shimmered. “How could I ever forget?” she asked, the words dripping off her swollen red lips, slowly, like candle wax. She wrapped her rich, cashmere arms around Valentina’s dirty old mink.


As they embraced, a wonderful, unexpected feeling bloomed inside of Valentina. It was the feeling that — despite the dark and hopeless scenes peppered throughout — her story just might have a beautiful ending.


*


“I swear to Donna Karen. I didn’t want the story to end like this,” hot, angry tears splashed out of Sharon’s eyes. “I saw it going this direction, years ago! I tried to help, Vi! I swear I tried to intervene. I visited you more times than I was supposed to!” She began furiously pacing behind the bar.


Would she never see Sharon again? The idea socked her in the gut. “There’s nothing more you could’ve done, Sharon. You’ve been the most amazing angel. I’m just not made for this world —” Violet suddenly felt cracked open wide. A storm of emotions flooded her body. The bad ones felt like a cigarette twisted into the forearm and the good ones felt like a kaleidoscope of butterflies fluttering in a bright blue sky. The opposing emotions soared inside of her, simultaneously.


“You could’ve changed the narrative, you know. Of all the girls I watch over —” Sharon’s gaudy gold wings drooped. “You are the one who I thought would flip the script,” she pushed her hair out of her face and grabbed the emergency cigarette she kept stored behind her left ear.


“But I did! I got out. I left my past behind. I moved to New York and started a new life!” Violet shot up from the floor, her leopard heels steadier than ever before.


Sharon’s lope halted. “That’s precisely where you’ve gone wrong.” she sighed, handing Violet a cigarette and the pretty pink lighter. She could light her own cigarettes from now on for all she cared.


“What do you mean?” Violet struggled with the lighter.


Sharon snatched the lighter back and flicked it for Violet. The tiny blue flame gave a strange, alien glow to her bloodless skin. “The whole leaving the past behind garble! You can’t leave the past behind!” Sharon yelled.


“How am I supposed to change the narrative if I keep holding onto the scenes that broke me?” Violet tried to stifle a tidal wave of a sob.


“You are being so stupid, Violet,” Sharon scoffed. “And it’s a damn shame. Because you’re not stupid.”


A tsunami of emotion crashed out of Violet. It was so violent it knocked her to the ground. She lay there on the scratched-up floorboards, her body heaving up and down, controlled by the tides.


Sharon wasn’t done. She placed her hands on her hips and looked sadly into the roaring ocean of Violet. “Don’t you understand that the plot doesn’t make sense if you delete the scenes that got you to where you are?” Her voice was a deflated balloon. “You’d never have made it to New York City without having experienced the traumas that inspired you to run away at sixteen.”


Violet cried harder.


Sharon continued. “Writing is your passion, right? Do you know how utterly rare and special it is to have a passion? And you would have never had the impulse to pour yourself into your writing if you hadn’t been combusting with all those secrets.” Her arms fell to her sides. She hopped over the bar and sat on the floor next to Violet’s body. Violet’s head was pressed into the ground as salty seawater spilled out of her. “You would’ve never gone to Dolly’s if it wasn’t for your past. You would’ve never met Jose Antonio. Or Knife. Or Gabriella — man, the plot could’ve developed into something fabulous and rich with the two of you.” She stroked Violet’s hair. “You wouldn’t have experienced any of this without those scenes you're trying to delete. You didn’t just get here by magic.”


“What if I get stuck in the scenes I worked so hard to leave?”


Sharon laughed. It was a long, awkward laugh. The kind that could easily turn to a wail. “I hate to break it to you, honey,” she patted Violet’s head. “But you are stuck. You’ve been stuck for years. For awhile we sat back and let you numb the discomfort with all that deadly shit.”


“What do you mean?”


“Oh, you know what I mean. Treating your body like a punching bag. Starving. Cutting. Pills. Toxic fucking —”


“But I’ve never blown up my life. I could handle it.”


“That’s also the problem. But all that shit has stopped you from progressing. They’ve kept you spinning ‘round the same hamster wheel. But you can only keep going in circles for so long ‘till you tire out.”


“What do I do?”


“All I can say is this: The movie can not and will not move forward if you continue to edit out the parts you don’t like.”


“But those parts will kill me.”


Sharon cackled again. “Silly girl. You’re almost dead and they’re not what’s killing you. You’re the reason the movie is coming to an end.”


A thick theatrical curtain crashed from the ceiling, covering their bodies in heavy, red velvet. “I gotta get out of here,” Sharon muffled, wrangling out of the meaty fabric, pulling herself to her feet, dusting off her trench, unclipping the wings she’d inherited from her guardian angel, tossing them onto the bar, and disappearing to wherever it is that guardian angels go after they’ve exhausted their efforts to keep you safe and there’s nothing they can do anymore.


*



Knife’s girl alarms hadn’t sounded off in a long, long time. In fact, the last time she’d heard them, she was a teenager.


Once she discovered drugs, they’d strangely gone silent.


But standing in a circle with Jack, Imani, and Catalina, minutes before the blood moon took her final bow and the sun took her reign, an ambulance wailed inside of her.


She ran toward the back door.


“Where are you going?” Jack asked.


“Don’t you need your jacket?” Catalina yelped behind her. “It’s freaking blizzarding!”


Knife didn’t hear them. She just followed the sound of the siren.


She pushed open the door and sprinted to the dumpsters. A ratty street couch was nestled between two bright blue dumpsters. Lying there was a still Violet. A disheveled denim jacket was haphazardly tossed over her tiny ruffled shirt, her Mary Janes were kicked into the pavement, snowflakes piled in her tangle of dark hair.


“Violet!” Knife gasped, shaking Violet by the shoulders Her limbs flailed lifelessly, like a rag doll.


“No. No. No,” Knife’s heart leaped into her throat as wild tears tore down her face. She pressed her lips over Violet’s and began to furiously give her CPR.


Violet realized she was alone, under a curtain, and time was running out. Suddenly she wanted nothing more than to feel it all. Everything. She welcomed the hurt. She welcomed the pain. She welcomed the shame. She welcomed the fear. She welcomed the humiliation. It burned. Then scorched. She was on fire. Was this it?


She wasn’t sure.


But she let herself experience the burn.


Until the fire slowly snuffed itself out. Everything stung. Her eyelids fluttered. She felt warm lips on her lips. She opened her eyes.


She was suddenly freezing cold, trembling from head to toe, ice falling into raw skin. Was that Knife on top of her. “Am I alive?” she managed to ask through shattering teeth.


Knife jolted. “You’re alive,” she cried. “You’re alive.”


Violet smiled; her lips blue, her face frozen, her heartbeat dropping. But somehow she smiled.


Because it was clear. The movie wasn’t over yet.





“Once upon a time, there was a very pretty girl who lived in a beautiful BOX, and everybody loved her,” Violet slurred into her blurry reflection.


It was rearing toward 1 a.m. and Scorpio Mood was jammed with hundreds of girls. Girls sparkling with sweat, smelling like salt and sex, scanning the bar for something or someone to satiate the after-midnight longing.


Violet was drunk and alone in the bathroom, applying eyeliner and quoting lines from the movie Gia. She’d first watched it when she was eighteen, right when it came out on HBO. Angelina Jolie plays the role of Gia Marie Carangie — a drug-addicted, lesbian supermodel with a dark past and a fragile heart. It ends with Gia dying of AIDs, only twenty-six.


She’d watched the movie at least a hundred times since then. And even though Gia’s life was objectively tragic and Violet cried through the credits every single time, she couldn’t help but deep down inside, find her death sort of beautiful? Sad beautiful. Sad because Gia had never belonged in this world. Beautiful because now she was free.


Lately, her own thoughts seemed to be replaced by random quotes pulled directly from the movie, that would play over and over in a loop in her head. She liked it. She liked anything that took her outside of herself.


She clumsily rimmed the waterline of her eyes with smoky black kohl and shook her hair loose. She watched it tumble out of the bun at the top of her head, free fall past her cheekbones, smacking against her clavicles.


“I don’t think a woman is really a woman unless she’s a blonde,” she purred, drumming her lavender nails against her ribcage. She sucked in her stomach, smiled hello to the bones, and unzipped her new dirty-white vintage clutch. A burst of bright orange flashed across her eyes. I don’t need you tonight, Adderall, she sing-songed to the prescription bottle, dropping her eyeliner into her bag, breezing out the door and onto the dancefloor.

Tonight she was free. She didn’t belong to anyone. Not even her drug of choice. She slipped through the crowd and slithered up to the bar, right next to a brooding Imani. Imani was by herself, sipping beer out of the bottle, baggy jeans slung low on the hip, nipples hard and braless in a flimsy, loose tank.

Violet socked her in the arm. “Boo,” she giggled.

Imani whipped her head around. A bleary-eyed Violet stood before her in a frilly cream bra top and long black skirt that dragged against the sticky bar floor. “I’m surprised,” Violet arched her brow.

“Surprised about what?” Imani asked, wrapping her six-foot-two arms around Violet’s five-foot-five frame.

Violet wrestled out her arms: “I thought I was the only one who went bare-sleeved in the winter.”

“Gotta shake it up every now and then,” Imani shrugged, wondering why Violet didn’t want to be hugged. She’d known Violet a long time. Violet was a famous hugger, she’d cling to your limbs, feverishly, like she’d been starved of affection.

“I like to see you shaking it up,” Violet dug her hands into her scratched-up clutch and pulled out a cracked blue Amex. “I know you’re going to say no —” she waved at someone from across the bar “but I’m going to order it anyway!” She sing-songed raucously; as if she was announcing the names of two boxers before a fight.

The bartender, a stone butch in bowtie turned to assess the girl behind the big, boisterous voice. She needed to keep tabs on these hammered little baby dykes. It was a blood moon, after all. She was shocked to find a small pale girl, with big bratty eyes, sheepishly smiling at her from the other side of the large granite bar.

“Sorry, I’m a little rowdy tonight.” Violet batted her long, fluffy lashes. “Could I trouble you for two shots of Belvedere and a dirty martini, extra olives pretty please?”

The bartender nodded, handsomely, and swiveled her hips straight toward the big bottles of liquor glowing in the distance.

“I’ll do a shot. I’m shaking it up.” Their eyes met.

“Your eyes —” Violet gasped.

“What about my eyes?”

“They look different.”

“What do you mean ‘different’?”

“They’re on fire. They have the burn of a woman going through some real ass shit.”

“Fuck. Really?”

“It’s hot.”

Two shot glasses filled to the brim with vodka and one sad-looking martini appeared before them. “Thanks,” Violet winked to the bartender, handing over her card. “I’ll keep it open” she chirped, for the millionth time in her life.

She handed a shot glass to Imani, who graciously accepted. In perfect unison, they clinked glasses, slung their heads back, and poured back the poison.

“Goddamn, that was strong.” Imani hooted, feeling instantly loose. “Nia and I broke up.” The words stumbled out of her mouth as gracelessly as the shot had rocketed down her throat.

“I knew it,” Violet declared, her voice as clear as day. Had the shot somehow sobered her? “I hate that you’re in pain —” her eyes glittered “— but this is the best thing that could’ve happened to you.”

“What do you mean?” Imani stared at the floor, dumbfounded.

“You’re not meant to be a shadow person.”

Right as Imani opened her mouth to ask Violet what she meant by “shadow person” — Violet had disappeared into the crowd.

*

Violet slinked to the back of the bar, looking for the dusty pink couches, where she’d sat with Jack and the promoters, earlier in the night. Her abrupt exit from Imani was by design. Like any good therapist, she knew the most hard-hitting way to get through to someone, is to casually drop a bomb on them.

The couch was empty. Where was Jack? She felt ravenous for a smoke. “Jack?” Her eyes were a drunken game of darts, flying recklessly around the room.

Until they landed. Sharply.

Right in the eye of the bull.

She froze.

She was face to face with Ray.

“Martinis at a dive bar?” I guess some things never change.” Ray rasped. She was wearing expensive-looking boots Violet didn’t recognize and a black satin blazer she also didn’t recognize. Ray looked like a statue. Still with muted eyes. Ray inched closer to her. Violet felt Ray’s breath snake down her chest. She felt it trickle down her rib cage, teasing the waistline of her skirt. Violet was hypnotized.

And then out of control.

Unsafe.

She closed her eyes and heard the sound of drunk middle-aged men. She was back in her teenage bedroom. With a broken lock. She stared at the Smashing Pumpkins poster tacked up on her wall as she sat on the dingy carpet with her back shoved against the door praying desperately to a God that didn’t exist that pretty please this didn’t happen. Again.

“Still a space cadet?” Ray laughed.

Violet opened her eyes. She was back at Scorpio Mood.

Ray’s hand brushed against her cheek.

I will not feel this.

“Um, hi. I need to go,” Violet turned her back to Ray and scrambled away. Rough hands grabbed at her waist. She held her breath and looked behind her, ready to snap.

But no one was there. Not even Ray.

I will not feel this.

She beelined toward the bathroom. She’d splash her face with cold water. She’d reapply her eyeliner. Fuck, maybe she’d even take an Adderall. Adderall was like an ambulance, it could rescue her, speed her away from her past. Maybe she’d take two.

She peeled down the hall where a second, secret bathroom was. She was pleasantly surprised to see Buffy — the famous downtown barber and notorious party promoter, alone, watching the party wearily.

“Why do you look so sad?” Violet asked, standing next to her, leaning into the exposed brick wall.

Buffy kept her gaze dead ahead. “The better question is —” she turned to face Violet, “— why do you look so sad?”

“I’m not sad,”

“Neither am I.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

They stood in stubborn silence for several seconds. Before either of them had a chance to crack, Violet heard her voice softly ask: “Can I kiss you?”

“Yes,” Buffy’s heart began to race. She swung her body in front of Violet’s body. “Fuck, yes.” She softly kissed Violet. Violet kissed her back.

“I like this,” Buffy breathed into Violet’s mouth. “A lot.

Violet traced the outline of Buffy’s body. Buffy bit Violet’s bottom lip. Hard.

“Once upon a time, there lived a very pretty girl who lived in a beautiful BOX, and everybody loved her,” Gia repeated in her head as her tongue explored the inside of Buffy’s mouth.

Violet was good and numb again.

*

Gabriella took in the blur of the city from the back of a yellow cab. Next to her, adorned in floor-length yellow-gold fur, smelling of cheap prosecco and chalky lipstick, was her Aunt Valentina.

“What happened to that new best friend of yours? Your mother said you two were attached at the hip?” Valentina asked, reaching into Gabriella’s YSL, helping herself to a generous spritz of her Miss Dior. “Rose petal, or something like that?”

Gabriella looked into the moon. It was orange-red and abrupt, like a stop sign on a long country road.

It was a blood moon.

“Violet,” she said flatly, drawing a heart with a pointy, pink acrylic nail on the frosted glass window. “Or something like that.”

The steam from the car-heater made the heart disappear, instantly. Gabriella frowned and drew another.

The blood moon rolled her eyes from her throne in the inky black sky.

*

Knife didn’t know why she’d decided to come to the party. She didn’t want to run into Violet. Did she? It didn’t make sense if she did. She’d buried Violet these past couple of weeks. Yes, Violet emerged from the grave and haunted her dreams— but in the coked-up night — she was free from her ghost.

But she’d willingly put herself at high risk by showing up at Scorpio Mood. And the blow was wearing off.

She’d need something stronger.

That’s when she noticed Catalina’s glossy black hair and big almond eyes staring at her from across the room.

Big droplets of adrenalin rained in her brain as she stared, blinklessly, back at Catalina, her blue eyes so cold the entire bar shivered.

*

Buffy’s lips were on Violet’s neck. Violet’s palms pressed into the naked flesh of Buffy’s back. They were hot and breathless and perfectly in sync.

Buffy’s knee worked its way between Violet’s thighs.

Violet suddenly longed for something — someone.

In her mind’s eye, she saw Knife. She felt Knife’s knee shoved between her legs. She was back in Fire Island, in June. Laying on the hardwood floors of the Mermaid Melissa house. Knife’s platinum hair fell into her blue lagoon eyes. Their foreheads were touching, but their lips wouldn’t dare. They were sharing a bottle of Jack Daniels, the tension between them sexual and chaotic and calm and loving all at once. The most in her skin she’d ever felt.

“What’s wrong?” Buffy asked, cautiously pulling away. Violet jolted back into the present.

I’m in the wrong scene.

But what if there was no right scene? What if no movie would ever feel right? A wash of homesickness poured over her.

I will not feel this.

“Nothing,” Violet whispered, grabbing Buffy by the hand, pulling her close. She looked at her seductively, hoping she had coke. They could bump in the bathroom and have sex and forget about everything.

“You froze,” Buffy insisted, pulling her hand away.

Why was everyone always telling her that lately? It was embarrassing.

Violet studied the wrinkled frown on Buffy’s forehead and looked into her warm, worried eyes.

She suddenly felt very sick. Vomit sick. Buffy felt sorry for her. And there was nothing she hated more than someone feeling fucking sorry for her.

It reminded her of being sixteen, the day she walked into school with her first black eye. Buffy was every teacher, looking at her helplessly, pitifully, poor little thing. Their concerned faces made Violet feel like her life was small. Meaningless. Like a scrawny street kitten in a shelter. Well-meaning people with big lives might stroll in, and consider adopting her — but then they’d realize: They had too much going on. They’d sigh and walk back into the street, promising they’d donate to the ASPCA, while she watched from a filthy cage, a prisoner of her circumstance.

That was the first time she’d ever been ashamed.

The only other time she’d ever felt shame that ugly was —

Suddenly she heard party sounds. Not New York City lesbian party sounds. High school party sounds.

High-pitched girl laughter. Liquid splashing into plastic cups. Cheap Bic lighters falling out of jean pockets.

She looked around. She was in a bed. A boy bed. There were Pearl Jam posters taped to the wall. The sheets were plaid and cheap and stunk of drug store cologne and semen.

“I need to find Shay,” she said. She tried to swing her legs to the ground but they felt crazy glued to the sheets.

She felt boy breath land on her girl face. “You’re safe here with me.” The boy breath slithered across her body like a snake. The room spun.

“Violet!” Buffy was shaking her by the shoulders. “You like — nodded out! Again!” She gasped.

“I’m so sorry,” Violet whispered. “I’m not feeling well, I’m going to be sick” she ran into the dark hall, toward the secret bathroom.

Buffy watched her go. She thought about the last thirty minutes. She’d been lost in the sexiest hookup with a pretty girl and suddenly the pretty girl was gone. She wanted to feel surprised.

But strangely she wasn’t.

She might’ve been a barber with buzzed hair and combat boots, but she’d still been raised a girl. There were certain things she understood. Even if she wished she didn’t.

Violet slammed her body against the bathroom door. It was locked.

There’s a line,” a girl with blue-faux-hawk sneered through thin, pale lips. Violet took in the six women waiting before her. They glowered at her with folded arms.

“Sorry,” she headed toward the back of the line. “Fucking bitches,” she mumbled under her breath, as a sliver of cold, panicked, sweat trickled down her spine.

She fumbled with the clasp of her tiny stupid decrepit vintage clutch. What had possessed her to buy that dumb bag? It was hideous. She hated it. Finally, the clasp flew open. With the muscle memory of a true addict, she was able to quickly locate her pill bottle as she kept her gaze forward. She twisted off the child-proof cap and curled her fingers delicately around two pretty blue pills.

I will not feel this. I will not feel this. I will not feel this.

The next thing she knew the pills were on her tongue she was back in the comfortable loop of Gia quotes.

“Once upon a time, there lived a very pretty girl who lived in a beautiful BOX, and everybody loved her,”


“I don’t think a woman is really a woman unless she’s a blonde.”


A new one joined the line-up.


“Life and death. Energy and peace.”


“Life and death. Energy and peace.”


“Life and death. Energy and peace.”


By the time it was her turn to go into the bathroom the pills had kicked in and she couldn’t feel anything at all.


Natalia Gonzalez lost her breath when Gabriella waltzed through the doors of Scorpio Mood. Her long dark hair was fastened into her signature, tailbone grazing ponytail. Her lashes Venus Flytraps, trapping the room’s attention. Her curvy body encased in a strapless velvet dress the color of red wine, with a split so far up the thigh you could stare into the soft skin of her naked hip.


She radiated sex. Energy. Emotion.


Natalia was intoxicated. She took a deep breath and slowly hoofed her way to Gabriella.


The sweet stench of Gabriella’s Dior fragrance, Juicy Fruit gum, spray tan and drug-store glitter was so potent Violet smelled it from inside the bathroom.


Gabriella, she thought. Gabriella is here.


Stars shot across her heart. The walls sparkled. She felt giddy. Like she’d won a prize. She kicked open the door with her black Mary Jane platform shoe and spun into the strobe-lit party. Shiny Gabriella was here and everything would be beautiful and nothing would hurt.


And then she tripped over her too-long skirt and suddenly remembered Gabriella wasn’t speaking to her. Her toe throbbed. Her heart broke.


I will not feel this. I will not feel this. I will not feel this.


“A woman isn’t really a woman unless she’s a blonde,” she whispered.


She took off for the bar. Her eyes were open. She could see. But she could only see shapes and bodies, not faces. She couldn’t hear voices, either. Just:


“Life and death. Energy and peace.”


She heard herself order a shot of vodka.


“I don’t think a woman is really a woman unless she’s a blonde.”


She watched herself take the shot of vodka. But she didn’t feel its usual peroxide burn.


She wasn’t in her body anymore. She was floating in the air. Hovering above the bar, watching the scene, without being in the scene.


She ordered another shot. Her body floating so high she reached the ceiling and settled into the rafters.

How can I be in the wrong scene, if I’m not in a scene at all? She wondered, curiously, watching Gabriella pout and giggle and bat her lashes at a smitten Natalia. Next to her stood a beautiful tall woman in a fabulous floor-length fur coat. Aunt Valentina, she thought to herself. Aunt Valentina was talking with her hands, Italian New York style. They all looked vibrant. And happy. Watching them be happy made her happy. The safe kind of happiness you can only experience from a distance. Like when you’re at the movies and the character you’ve been rooting for is thriving.


I could do this.


“Life and death. Energy and peace” was disrupted by a new voice. Knife’s voice: “Why are you so far away?”


I will not feel this.


“Life and death. Energy and peace.”


I will not feel.


She looked into the crowd swarming the bar. She saw Jack with a cigarette hanging out of her lips, settling up her tab. For a moment she was tempted to fly back to earth and join her for a smoke.


I will not.


But she stayed put. And then she saw Knife. Animated, talking, to a big group of girls, magnetizing them with her dilapidated charm.


“Life and death. Energy and peace.”


She remembered the second part of that quote.

“If I stopped today it was all worth it.”


She smiled because it was true.


It was all worth it.


Then the screen cut to black. The blood moon dimmed and the movie was over.