Scorpio Mood was held in a large nightclub tucked beneath a trendy coffee shop near Union Square like any proper illegal queer girl party should be.


Two Fridays before Christmas was Scorpio Mood’s opening night and queer girls of every borough were chomping at the bit to give it a go. Largely, because of its swaggy trio of promoters. There was Finn, an up-and-coming celebrity chef, and proud owner of Tribeca’s very first vegan brasserie: My Pussy is a Carrot. There was Buffy, an esteemed barber to both huge male celebrities and androgynous downtown darlings. And lastly, there was Domino, the sultry daughter of the famous “Celia Celestial: astrologer to the stars.” Domino wasn’t about to let her mother have all the fun though. Her line of rare vagina crystals designed to “amplify your sexual energy” would be launching in the spring. The three promoters were fixtures of New York nightlife. Between them, they’d collectively slept with two-thirds of the lesbians in Manhattan and half the lesbians in Brooklyn, a quarter of the lesbians in both the Bronx and Queens and a fifth of the lesbians in Staten Island. This was their first event and they’d garnered a ton of hype by paying party “it girls” (like Knife and Patra and New York Newbie, Natalia Gonzalez) to blast the event all over their Myspace and Facebook pages. They’d also hired the sexiest lesbian go-go dancer in town, “Veronica Vixen” to perform with her troupe of burlesque dancers, referred to as the “The Veronica Vixen Vortex.”


“I truly fucking hope my ex doesn’t show up,” Finn huffed into the star-scattered sky, stamping their cigarette into the pavement. The promoters were huddled together behind the club, sandwiched between a dumpster and an abandoned velvet green sofa that reeked of piss.


“Which one?” Buffy cackled, shivering in her black leather jacket that was in no way warm enough for the sixteen-degree night.


Finn stared into their scuffed Timberlands. “All of ‘em.”


“Same,” smirked Domino, which was a lie. She hoped at least a few of them turned up — she’d just had her tits done and couldn’t wait to flaunt them at the bitches who’d scorned her.


The truth was, deep down, they all secretly hoped an ex or two would make an appearance. Nightlife people live for relevance, and what makes you more relevant than an ex who claims to hate you — showing up dressed to the nines to your party?


At 10:45 p.m. the club was vacant except for the three promoters and the Veronica Vixen Vortex, who were dressed as fallen angels. They quelled the sinking sensation in their stomachs with a shot of Jägermeister.


By 11:09 p.m. the line for Scorpio Mood was so long it snaked around the block, bleeding into Union Square.


*


Tears slid down Gabriella’s face as she lined her big, fake lips with a beige pencil.


What’s the point in getting needles full of poison injected into your lips when you can’t even afford to go to dinner and your entire life is in fucking shambles? she whispered into her reflection.

She stared into the pink mirror that hung above the sink of her tiny, cold bathroom. Because she’d run out of money she’d had to spray tan herself. Her chest was streaked with an Oompa Loompa orange. Half of her lash extensions had fallen out of her left eye while her right eye was perfectly intact. The dramatic imbalance between her two eyes gave her a strange, untrustworthy appearance. The kind where women with strollers skitter quickly past you, as if your mania is somehow contagious.


“Fuck. This!” she wailed into her reflection. She’d not only had one of the worst days of her life — who even was she without two sets of big, fluttery lashes?


She ripped off her black plastic mini dress and stomped to the bed in her black fishnets and little gold pasties shaped like the Eiffel Tower. She looked at her leopard print sheets. She’d had the same sheets since high school. She’d forced her mother to buy them for her when she was in the thick of her first guidette phase. Her mother loathed them but bought them for Gabriella anyway. Tonight they made her want to cry.


“I tried. I swear to Donna Summer, I tried!” Warm tears spilled out of her eyes and splashed into cleavage, further streaking her spray tan.


KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.


Gabriella froze. Who in Mother Mary’s name could possibly be at her door? No one knew where she lived. Except for Violet. Who she hadn’t spoken to in three weeks. And of course, Gianna who’d fucked her twice in that apartment, with a cherry red dildo, nonetheless. But it couldn’t be Gianna. Gianna had broken up with her earlier that week — which enraged her because they weren’t even fucking dating.


KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.


Gabriella quietly unearthed the shiny silver switchblade and mini bottle of pepper-spray she kept neatly tucked under the mattress and tip-toed toward the door. Her heart pounded pounded pounded as she mustered up the courage to peer through the peephole. She braced herself. She just knew a serial killer clutching a gun, covered in blood, would be standing at the door with vacant bloodshot eyes. She prepared for her death, sighed, and finally looked through the tiny fish-eye lens of her thin, wooden door.


“You’ve got to be kidding me.” She muttered, swinging open the door.


*


It was 11:34 p.m. and Scorpio Mood was stocked with more dykes than cheap Toy Soldiers in a Christmas Warehouse.


“This is a fuckin’ Fire Hazard,” Jack observed her voice and demeanor rough as sandpaper. She wished she hadn’t let Catalina, Serafina, and Giana manipulate her into coming. She’d much rather be drinking beer at her neighbor Bernice’s house. Bernice was an ugly old crone who’d lived in the same one-bedroom for forty-two years. Jack loved to spend her Friday’s sitting at Bernice’s kitchen table, playing cards, chainsmoking and moaning about the young kids who’d infiltrated their building.


“Don’t they realize it’s a pre-war building? You can’t flush fuckin’ tampons down the fuckin’ toilet in a pre-war! Floods the whole building! Entitled fucks,” Bernice would bellow slapping a card against the table.


“Tell me ‘bout it,” Jack would agree, lighting up her eleventh cigarette of the hour.


But oh, no, she wasn’t with her beloved old witch next door. She was at some queer astrology party with a bunch of, to quote Bernice “entitled fucks.” She crossed her arms and scowled at the strobe lights. “Don’t those things cause seizures?”


“Do you have to be so negative all of the time?” Catalina snapped. It wasn’t like Catalina to snap but she’d been uncharacteristically irritable for the past several days.


“Allow me to introduce you to my dear friend, Jacky?” Gianna socked Jack in the arm. “It’s her duty to be a grump, Cat.”


Catalina rolled her minty-green eyes and cat-walked to the bar.


“What the hell is her problem?” Gianna asked. “You’re just playing around like usual!”


“Cat’s had a stick up her ass all day.”


“Maybe ‘cause she isn’t getting fucked, huh?” Gianna smiled. Her teeth were shinier than her new patent Gucci loafers.


“Well if that’s the case, you should have a flag pole up your ass.” Jack grinned. “You haven’t been fucked since the 80s.”


“Oh, I’ve been fucking.” Gianna’s eyes twinkled.


“G, when are you going to get the memo? Vibrators don’t count.”


“You’re right — vibrators don’t count.” Gianna cooly ran her fingers through her dyed black hair. “But Gabriella Tortellini does,” she flashed another Gucci grin before turning on the heels of her glimmering loafers, stalking over to the bar.


Jack’s jaw was on the floor when Violet cannonballed into her.


“Jack!” she squealed like an excited little kid whose daddy had just come home from a long day of work.


“Did you know Gab and G were fuckin’?” was all Jack could say.


Violet twirled an oversized turquoise ring around her slim finger. “Yes,” she said, the light in her hazel eyes dim. “Except we haven’t even had the chance to process all that, because we’re not even speaking.”


“First I find out that Gianna’s sleeping with Gab, now I find out that tweedle dee and tweedle dum are fighting?” Jack fumbled with the suspenders holding up her new pinstriped slacks. “What’ve I been living under a rock or somethin’?”


“Knife and I broke up too.” Violet suddenly grabbed Jack by the hands and spun. She leaned into Jack’s sturdy arms and lifted her leg, resting it briefly against Jack’s plump, tattooed bicep. They began foxtrotting.


“Honestly, kiddo.” They glided across the sticky bar floor. “You two had killer chemistry, but —”


“But?”


Jack paused to twirl Violet. Violet’s long black skirt fanned around her. “I just think she’s got a lot of shit to work through before she gets into a relationship with a girl like you,” she tipped an imaginary hat and dipped Violet.


Catalina glared at them from across the bar.


Violet threw her torso back. Her chocolate hair kissed the ground. Her amphetamine ribs pressed against her exposed flesh. She was wearing just a long black skirt and a tiny ruffled cream-colored bralette. “I have shit to work through, too,” she said, twisting her skeleton upright.


Jack looked her in the eye. “We all do, kid.” They clasped hands, and with stiff, straight arms shot in front of them like cannons, continued to dance.


“What are you, classically trained?” Violet asked.


“Nah. Just something I learned from my old roommate, Buck Handyman.”


“You lived with Buck Handyman?” Violet gasped. “The world-famous Drag King?”


Jack chuckled. They silently waltzed for a moment. “Where’d you learn to do this? Let me guess? When you were training for the Debutante ball?”


It was Violet’s turn to chuckle. “I grew up in Florida, babe. My parents were actual crackheads and the only dance I was ever exposed to as a kid was pole dancing at my uncle’s strip club in Bradenton.” They rotated counter-clockwise through the club. “An old queen who took me in after I ran away at seventeen, taught me to ballroom dance.” They broke into a tango. “But I’m very glad that I’m giving you debutante vibes. You know I could’ve been Princess Diana” she added, dreamily closing her eyes. “But my parents are crackheads.” she giggled and flung her lids open.


“I guess we don’t really know that much about each other, huh?” Jack’s lungs began to scream for a smoke. “Want to have a cig?”


Violet did one final twirl. She curtsied and looked up at Jack, her eyes two lucky stars shooting bright light around the dingy, dark club. “Yes,” she grabbed her ice blue faux fur off the nearby bar stool and threw it over her shoulders. “Fuck yes.”


They marched out the door and lit up. They craned their necks toward the sky.


“Oh, no,” Jack said, wearily.


“If we weren’t fucked before, now we are.” Violet sighed.


The blood moon rained bright red over their pale faces as they silently blew rings of smoke into the black sky.


*


Standing before Gabriella, brown leather gloves firmly clutching the handle of her Louis Vuitton suitcase bought on Canal Street in China Town for twenty bucks in ‘91, stood a six-foot-two Cruella Develle in a gold floor-length mink.


“Gabriella Aria Tortellini,” Aunt Valentina beamed, stretching her arms open, encasing Gabriella’s mostly nude body in a blanket of gold fur and souring Chanel #5.


Gabriella wanted so badly to tell Aunt Valentina to fuck off. She’d needed her support, desperately, since her move to New York and Aunt Val had completely ignored Gabriella’s incessant voicemails. Being ignored by her beloved Auntie had devastated her to the core. She prayed for the courage to do what her new friends in New York seemed to effortlessly do whenever they had their heart broken: Go Cold.


But then she smelled the boxed red wine on Aunt Valentina’s breath and felt encased in warmth. She melted into her arms.


Aunt Valentina softly stroked Gabriella’s patchy orange back with soft leather fingers. “What’s wrong, darling?”


Just the sound of the word “darling” dripping from Valentina’s lips caused Gabriella to break into a deep, gutterull sob.


Fat tears splashed into the gold mink, rending it a strange smoky tangerine.


“I was fired,” Gabriellaella sobbed.


Valentina grabbed Gabriella hard, by the shoulders. A dangerous heat radiated out her big, black eyes. “Don’t you know getting fired in New York is a sign of good luck? Silly girl. Every Manhattanite knows it just means something wonderful is about to happen.” She smacked her red lipstick lips against Gabriella’s wet cheek and model-walked toward the fridge, her kitten heels click-click-clicking against the old creaky floors.


The harsh fluorescent light cast a purple glow against Valentina’s profile, as she stared into the fridge. “Well you’ve still got a deplorable taste in Champagne…but…” she peeled off her gloves and tossed them onto the counter. “But…” she leaned her long torso deep into the fridge like was digging for gold. She breathlessly emerged, holding a $12 bottle of prosecco. “This will do.” She frowned at Gabriella. “For now.”


She click-click-clicked back to Gabriella. She peeled off her gold fur, draped it over Gabriella’s naked shoulders and purred: “We’re going to drink some of this revolting drug store Champagne, and you’re going to snivel to Auntie Val all about getting fired and whatever else is going wrong in this filthy excuse for a city —” she stuck her hands on her hips “and then we’re going to taxi to whatever fabulous lesbian party is going on tonight.” Her black eyes burned into Gabriella. “As long as it’s not in Brooklyn.”



*


By midnight Violet and Jack had neglected the realities of their dark lives and were lost in the glitter of a party. They were piled onto a dusty pink couch in the back of the bar, drinking warm champagne with the three Scorpio Mood promotors, the famous DJ Natalia Gonzalez, an androgynous runway model named Ash (Knife’s nemesis), and a cast member of “The Real World” who’d recently made headlines after publicly coming out as a bisexual. Violet was perched on Finn’s lap, but her legs were stretched long and lavish across the hungry thighs of Ash, Natalia, Domino and Buffy. Buffy’s hand rested lightly on Violet’s ankle, which was bare and silky beneath her billowy floor-length skirt. The tops of her black Mary Janes graced the tops of Domino’s thighs.


The air was full of sex and hedonism and blood moon magic.


“I’ve never seen you drink champagne,” Violet rasped to Jack, who was holding her crystal flute like a beer can.


Jack took a swig of blonde bubbles. “It’s not so bad,” she said, her gruff voice strange and out of context against the dusty pink velvet couch.


They silently stared into the heaving dancefloor. “I know I’m biased but this is a great fucking party,” Buffy observed, her fingertips lightly drumming Violet’s ankle bone. Violet pressed her leg deeper into Buffy’s leg and softly ran her lavender nails down the back of Finn’s neck. The blood moon winked at them from the black sky. Violet had missed this. Belonging to no one.
























Part 1. Hate sex.


Nia and Imani had a classic lesbian breakup.


First, they sobbed.


“You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I can’t breathe without you!” Nia wailed. Even though their glamorous suite at the Jane Hotel boasted both a King-sized bed and two plush sofas, they sat cross-legged on the hardwood floors because girls who like girls are girls who like to hurt.


“You don’t have to lose me!” Imani cried, flailing her hands in the air.


Nia pressed her face into Imani’s lap. Tears slid down Imani’s swollen face. She watched them splash into Nia’s hair.


“But..but…I’m…I’m…just so, so scared of everything I’ve worked so hard to build…crumbling in front of my eyes,” Nia choked.


Their warm tears froze into sour icicles.


“All of this shit that you think matters? It doesn’t,” Imani spit, as she strutted to the floor-to-ceiling window and stared coldly into the soft flurry of snow blanketing Jane Street. “Fame, celebrity, all of that bullshit? It’s not real. It’s fleeting. It can be snatched from you in a second.”


Nia crossed her arms and gazed vacantly into her manicure.“How do you know what’s real, Imani?” she deadpanned.


Imani watched cigarette ash clumsily flung from the window above swirl into the wind. “Because I’ve lived for the recognition, the career, the fame. And I learned it was never mine.” The ash disappeared, becoming one with the film of gray smoke polluting the winter sky.


“It’s not my fault you got injured and your dreams of becoming a professional basketball player died.” Nia knew — in that moment — she’d taken it too far. But she was in too deep to back down. “You resent me,” she added, hating herself, but unable to stop herself.


And that’s when the icicles melted and turned into boiling hot rage.


Imani turned her head around in slow motion. “You are a typical fame-hungry, insecure narcissist!” She bellowed. “I’m done!” She grabbed her backpack and marched toward the door. It was twenty-one degrees and her winter coat was on the other side of the room. She briefly thought of turning back but quickly realized it would ruin her cinematic exit so she kept on marching.


“You’re just going to leave!” Nia screamed, throwing herself on the bed. Her elegant terra cotta limbs sprawled theatrically against the white french cotton matelasse.


Imani felt fire burn from her eyes as she silently marched, marched, marched like a lesbian soldier hardened from fighting the long battle of Sapphic Love, toward the door. Right as fingers curled around the golden doorknob she felt Nia’s hands grab her waist.


“Don’t go! Not like this!” Nia’s voice was hysterical; shrill and high-pitched like a bad horror movie.


“Nia,” Imani growled. “What is the point?


“The point is —” Nia tightened her grip. “The point is —”


“Nia, don’t make this harder than it already is,” Imani banged her head against the door.


“The point is I — I — don’t know! But you can’t go until you look at me!”


Imani desperately didn’t want to turn around and face Nia. She liked the character she was embodying. The cold-hearted butch, who had enough self-respect to keep her dignity and pride intact. But then —


she caught a whiff of Nia’s perfume.


And it was all over.


The next thing she knew, they were face to face, staring into each other’s eyes.


And that’s when something dangerous happened. The hot rage turned to deep longing.


They began to kiss. It was one of those kisses that’s so soft you don’t realize it’s gently, slowly, breaking you down until you’re a puddle on the floor. Nia massaged Imani’s back. Imani touched Nia’s cheek, lightly.


Nia felt herself sink. “I hate you,” she breathed into Imani’s mouth.


“I hate you too,” Imani breathed back.


And that’s when the deep longing turned to a primal heat.


They began to fuck. Hate fuck.


Nia yanked Imani’s hair. Imani’s pupils dilated. She felt junkie-sick as she picked Nia up and tossed her on the hotel bed. Nia’s body buzzed as she wrangled out of Imani’s grip and pushed her flat into the mattress. Imani’s body buzzed back as she experienced the weight of Nia’s body on top of her body, for the first time. Nia felt a rush of newfound power as grinded her hips into Imani.


Imani chuckled, she wasn’t going to let her win that easily. She was the athlete. She was in charge.


But the only kind of person more competitive than an athlete?


An actress.


Nia bit Imani’s lip hard. Imani pinched the backs of Nia’s thighs. Nia dug her nails into Imani.


Their sweaty girl bodies wrestled in the fight for control.


It hurt. So good.


They came at the same time, explosively, aggressively, jaws locked, eyes locked, hands locked, demon unleashed.


When it was all over, they lay on twisted, sweaty sheets staring into the darkness, in quiet understanding that nothing would ever be the same again.


 

Part 2. No sex.


Jack was a classic Manhattan dyke. She’d seen the Indigo Girls perform live every summer for the last twenty years. She inhaled a pack and a half of Marlboro reds daily and slugged a six-pack nightly and never got sick. She incessantly grumbled about the “insincere activism” of the younger generation and the “gross gentrification” of the West Village; yet exclusively dated girls a decade younger and rarely went East of Sixth Avenue. She detested smiling hipsters but was wildly attracted to weeping intellects. She slept with the windows down in the winter, claimed the radiator would be the thing to kill her. She had neatly-trimmed nails and a barbershop cut. She was always telling her friends this would be the year she relocated somewhere civilized: North Hampton, The Cape, Key West.


But everyone knew Jack would never leave the city.


What most people didn’t know about Jack was this: Jack was a freak. Especially in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. She’d worked the door at a notorious underground sex club on Fourteenth street, donning only ass-less chaps and a patent leather dog collar. She’d had a year-long stint as a professional leather daddy at an exclusive downtown dungeon, where she secured a colorful array of private clients; including the wife of a right-wing Fox news correspondent and a twink-y gay boy with Daddy Issues. She’d taught a class on “Rope-tying, Bondage & Safe Words” at the LGBTQ Center in Chelsea. Under the pen name “Stone Jim” she’d self-published an anthology of queer erotica: “Butches, Ball Gags & The Bowery” sold in sex shops across the city. Depending on your sleuthing skills, you can still find a couple of used copies, sifting through the dark corners of eBay, ready to be shipped to your door for $7.99.


But after her ex-wife up and left her for a balding male stockbroker in ‘02 — she hadn’t had much of a sex drive at all. She’d tried to have a few one-night-stands but always ended up too drunk and too sad to make it further than a hand to the thigh. Porn made her feel dead inside and why masturbate when you could cry over a pint of Hagan Daz while watching Desert Hearts?


And even though she’d been casually dating Catalina, the hottest lesbian bartender in New York, for a solid two months, they had yet to have sex.


“You haven’t had SEX with her yet?” Gianna howled over runny eggs at the Waverly Diner.


Jack scowled into her coffee. “No.”


Serafina gasped. “That’s not like you Jack. I remember when you were Stone Ji—”


“That was a lifetime ago, Serafina.”


Gianna sighed. “I know yous had your heart broken by that colossal bitch, but enough is enough. Cat is hot. Cat is bright. Cat is into you. What’s the problem?”


Jack looked up from her murky brown coffee. Serafina and Gianna were staring at her, expectantly. She wanted so badly to lie. Tell them she was merely being “respectful.” A “gentleman.” That she wanted to take it slow because she had “real feelings.” But the longer she looked into her old friend’s faces, the more her walls cracked and cracked until there was nowhere left to hide. “Fine!” Jack croaked. “I’m nervous!”


“Nervous?” Gianna and Serafina sing-songed.


“I don’t know why I tell you guys anything,” Jack pouted, reaching into her pockets for her pack of Marlboros, slithering out of the red plastic booth, swagging out the front door, cigarette hanging out of mouth, matches ready to strike.


 

Part 3. Hurt sex.


Violet was working in the office of LINT magazine at 11 a.m. on a Saturday. There were so many things to run away from. Her fight with Gabriella. Her fight with Knife. Her fight against her body, her addictions, the haunting shadows of her past. When she was a teenager, running away was physical. She’d climb out the window of her hell-hole of a house and race down the street until she snuck through the back door of her neighbor, John’s house. She’d stub lit cigarettes into her legs, the excruciating burn helping her escape the pain of her suffocating family. She’d grab the closest skater-boy with a car and beg him to drive her somewhere far, far away.


But now running away was mental. And chemical. She’d type type type until her fingers bled and then avoid dealing with the gruesome mess by drowning herself in whatever drug or drink was available. And yes, most people can’t do both. And by both I mean withstand the grind of an intense career and survive the wear and tear of a hard-partying lifestyle.


But some people can.


And those people live in New York.


Violet loved the office when it was quiet. She liked to pretend she was the boss as she dreamily sat at her desk and dutifully clanked her fingers against the keyboard. It was one of the few times she felt in control. Like she was calling in the shots. Like the future was as certain as the sun, glowing orange, as it set between the skyscrapers of Manhattan.


She was grinning like a lunatic into her laptop when she felt a hand tap her shoulder.


“Fuck!” she screamed, her peaceful work trance broken.


“Sorry,” husked a voice so gravely, for a moment she wondered if it was Jack’s? She whipped her head around.


But Jack wasn’t behind her, oh no.


It was Sarah Cohen. The controversial new Editorial Director of LINT Magazine. She’d just left her big fancy job at Condé Nast for the scrappy up-and-coming little magazine. She’d just started the previous Monday and everyone on staff was terrified of her.


“Hi,” Violet squeaked looking up at Sarah who hovered above her, body encased in tight leather pants and a tight leather jacket (otherwise known as the lesbian tuxedo).


“What are you doing here?” Sarah frowned, her glossy black eyebrows furrowed at the top of her forehead.


Violet felt a twinge of irritation pulsate through her veins. She was a damaged person. And while damaged people have the most indestructible, die-hard work ethics you’ll ever witness — they have a visceral hatred for authority. “I come here every Saturday morning to get ahead,” she couldn’t help but primly clip. Sarah Cohen might be the boss, but I was here first, she thought to herself, unable to stop herself from glaring.


Sarah wasn’t used to anyone looking her in the eye, let alone staring at her, like Violet. Violet’s eyes looked like two blood moons. She couldn’t stop her lips from stretching into a grin. There was something about Violet’s blatant lack of fear of her that was…refreshing. “Alright,” Sarah huffed, her stern face bright and twinkly.


“Well,” Violet snapped her laptop closed.


“Well?” Sarah ran her fingers through the soft buzz of her undercut and looked at Violet curiously.


Violet grabbed her navy peacoat from behind her chair and draped it over her. It dramatically fell over her shoulders, like a witch's cape. She stood up. “I should really get going —”


Their eyes burned into each other.


“See you Monday,” Sarah stuck her hands into the pockets of her leather pants.


Violet noticed Sarah’s leather pants. They looked expensive. Designer. Her mouth watered. She fought back the primal fashion girl instinct to ask her where they were from and instead trotted down the big cemental hall toward the elevator. “See you Monday,” she lilted, her Balenciaga banging hard against her hip.


Right as her finger pressed the elevator button, Violet felt full of holes.


She was overcome with an insatiable missing for Knife. That beachy blonde hair. That dilapidated charm. The comfortable silence. The need to never ever explain herself because Knife understood. Then she felt the empty space of Gabriella. The best friend she’d ever had. The shiniest girl she’d ever met. The closest thing to a sister she’d ever known.


Then her heart ached for her mom.


Then…for herself. The girl she’d been before the chemicals hijacked her personality.


She swiveled her head and looked at Sarah. Sarah was casually typing with an open beer, her face glowing static from the silver light radiating from her laptop. “Wait!” Violet’s voice echoed across the open workspace.


“What?” Sarah’s glossy black eyes stared at her from the top of her laptop.


“Why are you here?”


“Um. Work, Violet.”


“Really?”


“Yes, really.” The nerve of this Violet girl. “Why are you here? Really? You don’t make enough money to work on a Saturday.”


Violet laughed. “Truer words have never been spoken.” She dropped her giant, tattered Balenciaga. It clanked against the cement. “I’m heartbroken.”


Sarah took in Violet, a lowly staff writer, in a strangely preppy peacoat, torn black stockings, brown hair swept into a haphazard bun, last night’s black eyeliner smoky and smudged, gazing fearlessly at her superior, vibrating with speedy sadness. Fuck it. “Me too.”


Violet paused. She took in Sarah. Sarah had a corporate, put-together swag she wasn’t used to. But at this moment, it felt like the most comforting thing in the world. Like a solid foundation, she could safely crash into.


“Can I give you a hug?” Violet asked, knowing it was wildly inappropriate and deeply unprofessional — but hey. Heartbreak in the winter will weaken the impulse-control of anyone, right?


Sarah nodded. She rose from her chair and loped toward Violet, steady like a thoroughbred. “I shouldn’t be doing this,” she sighed, wrapping her arms around Violet. “But I get it,” she added, quietly, her voice suddenly smooth like whiskey neat.


Violet let her body melt into Sarah. Sarah felt different than Knife. Her body was soft and stocky, not sharp and weightless. She smelled different too. Sarah smelled like a clean, modern art museum. Knife smelled like home.


Sarah held Violet. Violet felt very different from Marissa, her partner of five years, who’d just left her for a tech job in the bay area. Marissa was all pilates muscles and Jergens body lotion. Violet was delicate and desperate and warm and slathered in grapeseed oil.


No one would ever know who kissed who first. They only could feel the moment their lips smashed together. The moment their tongues worked themselves inside each other's mouths and their hipbones introduced themselves.


“Can we take this somewhere else?” Sarah asked after fifteen minutes of touching and kissing.

Violet was officially free from the hurt. From herself. She wanted to stay on vacation for as long as possible. “Yes.” Violet pressed her body into Sarah’s. The buttery leather of Sarah’s coat squeaked against the wool of Violet’s coat. “Fuck yes.”


Before either of them could process what a bad fucking idea this was —they were naked in Sarah’s low to the ground, oval-shaped bed, fingers inside each other.


They had slow sex.


The kind of sex you want to draw out because stopping means confronting reality. And getting lost in a stranger’s skin is so much sweeter than gazing into the bright, fluorescent light of reality. For hours, they explored each other’s unfamiliar bodies, like scuba-divers slowly swimming in the dark underbelly of the ocean for the first time.


Neither of them came. They couldn’t. Because the whole point of hurt sex is to anesthetize the pain. And coming meant feeling…everything.


 

Part 4. Dream sex.


Far, far away in the suburb of Bayshore, Long Island a beautiful, queer 55-year-old woman slept in the guest room of Republican sister’s house. The woman’s name was Valentina. And she had knocked back one too many glasses of Moscato that night.


Valentina had picked a fight with her sister’s husband, Leonardo.


“Ya know, Leo, you really did the whole family a dis-fucking-service by not taking that job in the department of education,” she slurred, waving a rhinestone wine glass around the air, like a wand.


“Yes, Valentina,” Leo sighed. He’d seen this act a million times and wasn’t in the mood for theatrics tonight.


Valentina had lit a cigarette in the house even though she knew it would rile up her Republican sister. Maybe that’s why she did it.


“Val! I told you! My only boundary is that you don’t smoke in the house!” she screamed, violently fanning the air with her leopard print faux fur throw.


Val rolled her eyes. “‘Boundary?’ Give me a freaking break. You go to therapy twice and now you’re using all this ‘boundary’ jargon? Let me tell you, I’ve been going to therapy for thirty-five years —” her voice trailed off. Her eyes fell heavy.


The next thing she knew she was in the guest bed dreaming of her time living at the Chelsea Hotel in 1979, having mind-blowing, heart-racing, coke sex, with the one that got away. A fabulous, eccentric heiress from Nigeria, who wore mink and only purchased art from young, struggling artists. “Serafina!” she cried out in her sleep so loudly she woke herself up.


She opened her eyes and peered into her surroundings. A framed photograph of Ronald Reagan was hammered into the powder blue wallpaper.


At that moment she vowed, no matter how broke she was, she’d find her way back to the city. She had to.


Meanwhile, on a bi-coastal flight from LAX to JFK a swaggy, well-known DJ was sound asleep, shaved head leaned up against the cool window. White clouds floated next to her. Natalia Gonzalez was finally on her way to her new home, in Manhattan.


But in her dream, she was already there. Feverishly kissing a bionic mega babe. They’d met months ago in the city. In fact, they’d had a threesome with the mega babe’s best friend. But in this in-flight dream, there were only two people: Natalia and Gabriella. Her fingers were in Gabriella’s mouth and Gabriella was moaning loudly. Right as her hands worked their way down the skin-tight latex of Gabriella’s pants, the plane hit the ground.


“Welcome to New York,” squeaked the flight attendant over the loudspeaker.


 

Part 5. Fuck up your life sex.


A cool blonde with beachy hair and bloodshot eyes tapped her long fingers over the wild curve between a sultry brunette’s thigh and hip. The sultry brunette wriggled her tight dress over her glitter-dusted limbs and threw it onto the floor of the cool blonde’s West Village studio.


The cool blonde slid down her black distressed denim to reveal black Calvin Klein men’s underwear. There was a bulge in the underwear. The cool blonde was packing. The sultry brunette smiled as the cool blonde crawled on top of her.


“If this got out, this could really fuck up our lives,” the sultry brunette whispered into the cool blonde’s skin. Her flesh was pale and bloodless, like a junkie, and juxtaposed dramatically against the sultry brunette’s deep olive glimmer.


The cool blonde knew it was true. If their hookup got out, it would fuck up their lives, royally. But that was precisely the point. Burn everything beautiful in your world down, so it can’t seduce you with its intoxicating eyes, ever again.


The sultry brunette had a different agenda. She just wanted to feel wanted. You know what that feels like, right? Feeling undesired will shatter your self-esteem and when that’s shattered, the part of your brain responsible for making good decisions shatters in solidarity.

The woman she was currently dating she liked. A lot. But the woman hardly touched her. And that made her feel invisible, young, dumb.


“Do you want me?” the sultry brunette asked, looking into the cool blonde’s arctic blue eyes.


The cool blonde stared at the sultry brunette. She was gorgeous. Shiny dark hair that fell past her nipples, electric green eyes, smooth thick thighs.


But for some reason, she wanted to crawl out of her skin and run down 16th street, skinless.


The cool blonde, who was as high as a kite on a myriad of substances, suddenly felt very sober. She realized there was still time to undo this dire mistake that she’d never be able to take back, ever. One that would ruin her shot with the one girl she’d ever really loved. One that would villainize her in her community. Alienate her from her chosen family.


One that she would regret for as long as she lived.


But she was too far gone. “Yes,” she lied, running her hands down the sultry brunette’s soft stomach. “I want you.”


The brunette didn’t believe her. It felt all wrong.


But Knife and Catalina did it anyway.







Violet wasn’t her real name but no one in the city knew that.


She’d been coined “Violet” when she was sixteen after bleaching her chocolate brown hair blonde and dying it a soft, smoky purple.


“You’re not what they say you are,” a skater-boy with sad silver-topaz eyes said to her over a cigarette on Siesta Key beach on a mid-winter night in ‘96.


“What do you mean?” she ashed into the white powdery sand.


The long-lashed skater boy looked at her shyly and pointed to her freshly dyed hair. “You’ve got Violet hair. You’re Violet.”


She stared into the ocean. It was so dark it blended into the black sky. Stars sparkled over their heads. She’d never felt more alive. More free. More herself. “I’m Violet,” she whispered into the half-moon.


Six months later the boy would start using heroin and Violet would get roofied at a house party — but in that moment everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.


They sat on the beach till sunrise, smoking clove cigarettes, talking about New York and their fathers and their favorite Smashing Pumpkins album: Siamese Dream.


She’d been Violet ever since.


Violet wasn’t like most sixteen-year-old girls on the gulf coast of Florida. She wasn’t tan. She wasn’t blonde. She wasn’t a cheerleader. She wasn’t a hick. She wasn’t beachy.


She wore clunky black Dr. Martens over torn black tights every single day, even when the air was scorching and pregnant with humidity, which it was often. She wore distressed wool sweaters with arms that fell past her knees, so you could never see her hands with the exception of her thumbs, which peeped out of little holes she’d cut with her pocketknife. She wore black velvet chokers studded with tiny silver hearts and rimmed her hazel eyes with intense black kohl and dragged a giant black canvas backpack with her everywhere she went.


She embodied winter. Not the slate-skyed, morose winters of London or Paris. She was bright blue and blanketed in crystal white snow. She was the kind of freezing that makes your blood flow. She was the feeling of walking out of a Broadway matinee in February, shivering excitedly, cold hands stuffed into parka pockets, chattering away with friends about art and life and theatre; flush-cheeked and high off the culture.


She was winter —

in New York —on her best day.


Violet’s home life was chaotic. She lived in an apartment overlooking a flat highway littered with sunbaked trash. It was motherless and messy, spearheaded by her unpredictable alcoholic shadow of a dad.


She went to a shitty public school with crumbling ceilings and rowdy students and overworked teachers with cortisol levels too high to be paid so low. She got deplorable grades and spent her time in class drawing pictures of girls with big, bruised eyes into her notebook. She didn’t get in trouble for never raising her hand or completing an assignment on time ‘cause her teachers had bigger fish to fry. They had fights to break up, child-abuse reports to file, small classrooms packed with thirty-five teenagers to wrangle.


Her only friends were a group of lost boys armed with skateboards who grew up feral and unsupervised like her. After school, they’d sit on little rocks by the bay downtown and drink beer and get high. The lost boys were crass and delinquent; under-showered and over-stimulated; starving for nurture and overfed with neglect; wild and ready to party; crusty and beautiful; fiercely protective and full of potential. The kind of potential adults can’t see.


But Violet wasn’t an adult. She was sixteen. She saw everything.


“One day we’re going to all move to New York,” she’d croon, elegantly clutching her canned beer like it was a flute of champagne.


“Why would we ever do that? The weather is shitty up north,” Will, a small sandy blonde with the saddest brown eyes you’ve ever seen, would ask. He’d toss a pebble into the bay and watch it skitter across the surface of the murky water.


Violet would snatch a cigarette out of his pack without asking, strike a match and light up, lean her back against a skinny palm tree. “Because they don’t get us here. But New York —” she’d inhale soulfully and part her lips. The boys would watch mesmerized as smoke billowed out of her mouth. “New York,” she’d continue, “is full of people like us.”


“People like what?” Alex, the most charismatic and broken of the group would ask, hoodie-over-head, skateboard resting by his feet like a dog.


“Winter people,” Violet would smirk, her moonbeam skin looking strange and out-of-context in the tropical wasteland.


“Bitch,” John, her next-door neighbor who’d hide her in his mom’s pantry when shit got real bad at home, would cackle. “You’re fucking crazy.” He’d sock her playfully in the arm. “But let’s get high,” he’d pull a joint from behind his left ear. They’d huddle together and smoke until their brains were blurry enough to forget that Violet was right. They didn’t belong here. But they’d never get out.


Except for Violet. Violet would get out. Which made them happy and sad at the same time. Sort of like setting something free that you love but was never really yours, to begin with.


*


Knife wasn’t her real name, but you already knew that.


Before she was “Knife” the notorious cokehead and androgynous model of lower Manhattan, she was the gangly daughter of Christian cranberry farmers in Warrens, Wisconsin.


At sixteen she was coined Knife by a popular cheerleader named Madeline. Madeline didn’t speak to her in school, but after school, they were the best of friends.


One week, Madeline’s parents traveled to Dallas with her little sister for a beauty pageant. Madeline and Knife had the house to themselves.


“You know what you remind me of?” Madeline asked. They were laying in her parent's four-poster bed, stuffing Doritos into their mouths, talking shit.


“What?”


“A knife.”


“Why do you say that?”


“You’re sharp and shiny.” Madeline giggled, still in her cheerleading outfit, pom-poms tossed haphazardly on the wood plank floors beneath them.


“I like that,” she said, suddenly unafraid. She grabbed Madeline by the waist and kissed her for the first time. Madeline’s body was warm and wanting, tan thighs trembling as she breathlessly kissed her back. “From now on, I’m Knife,” she grumbled into Madeline’s ear.


“I like that.”


“The kiss or my new name?”


“Both.” Madeline peeled her shirt off and threw it across the room. Knife lost her breath. The broken pieces fell into place.


“Will you touch me,” Madeline fluttered her eyelashes. “Knife?”


Knife nodded, slowly. She touched Madeline the way Madeline had always wanted to be touched. She touched Madeline in a way her football-playing boyfriend would never understand. She touched her carefully. Gently, like she was an expensive, fragile orchid. And then she clumsily breezed over her, brashly and playfully, like she was a tough little dandelion.


Madeline loved it.


Because all girls — regardless of where we come from — regardless of our social status or creed or upbringing — are equal parts orchid and equal parts dandelion. Beautiful but easily broken; scrappy and able to withstand the winter.


When it was over, they lay naked, Madeline’s parent’s expensive Egyptian cotton sheets damp and smelling like teen spirit. “This is always how I imagined it,” Madeline sighed, pressing her head beneath Knife’s arm.


Knife stroked Madeline’s freckled arm. “How you imagined what?”


Madeline looked at her with twinkly eyes. “Sex.”


“Kiss me so I know you’re real?” Knife asked, brushing her platinum wavy hair out of her blue-lagoon eyes.


Madeline kissed her until 2 a.m. on a school night. They fell asleep with raw, sore lips brushed against each other, sharing the same breath, sweaty and sixteen.


*


Violet had a black eye the day she met her.


They were at a house party in a backyard in Bradenton. Violet was sitting by the bonfire, uncomfortable and sticky-hot in her signature black tights and combat boots; sore-eyed and unable to cry; her sparkle fading fading fading with every swig of shitty beer, puff of a spliff, punch and putdown from her deadbeat dad. The skater boys had dragged her to the dumb hippy party because they made good money selling drugs to this class of kid. Oh, you know. Blue-collar white boys who listen to jam bands and wear hemp necklaces and fancy themselves “beatniks” after reading “Howl” in AP English.


Violet felt her before she saw her.


ZAP ZAP ZAP.


Violet jolted and swung her head around. It was like she’d been thrown into a field of electricity. Strange green eyes shined a spotlight against her face. It was blinding. But it was beautiful.


“What are you?” Violet asked, squinting from the bright light radiating from the mysterious green-eyed girl.


ZAP ZAP ZAP.


“I’m Shay.” The green-eyed girl paused. “And you’re…you’re —” she arched her brow “ — Violet, right?”


Violet couldn’t find words. She’d never seen anything like Shay.


Shay was dressed like a skater boy: low-slung baggy jeans, scuffed vans, oversized hoodie draped-over-head. But it wasn’t just Shay’s style that reminded Violet of a skater boy. It was her uncontained, rabid-dog-with-heart-of-gold energy. “How do you know who I am?” she finally managed.


“Alex told me ‘bout you. He said you’re the only other girl he knows who can hang,” she grinned. Her legs were spread open wide and her shoulders were the most relaxed shoulders Violet had ever seen. On a girl.


A punk show erupted inside of Violet’s body. “I’ve never seen you before.” Her chest was the moshpit. “I don’t think?” Her heart was the misunderstood rock kid thrashing violently around to the slam of the beat.


“I’ve never seen you either, I think.” Shay pulled her hood down. Her short, spiky hair was purple, like Violet’s. “We go to different schools.”


“Same hair color, different schools,” Violet stared into the flames.


“Different schools, same story.” Shay stared at Violet.


Violet turned to Shay and stared back at her. She noticed a large, expensive-looking camera resting in the folds of Shay’s baggy denim lap. “You take pictures?”


“If there’s something worth capturing.”


“How do you know?”


“How do I know what?”


“What’s worth capturing?”


“I don’t know. I just do. I guess it’s a feeling or something.”


“Huh.” Violet felt like she was in a Bizzaro universe where up was down and down was up and left was right and the sun was the moon and the moon was the stars and the ocean was the desert.


Shay reached into the pocket of her black hoodie and pulled out a plastic bag with a dozen or so tiny white pills rattling inside of it. She grabbed one and shoved it into her mouth, washing it down with a Pabst Blue Ribbon.


It was the mid-90s. Not all fuck-up teens had prescriptions. The pill thing was just getting started.


But Violet was curious. She was always curious, that was her problem. “What’s that?”


“Ritalin.”


“What’s Ritalin?”


“It’s medication for ADD.”


“What’s ADD?”


“A disease I have that makes it actually impossible for me to do homework or pay attention in math.”


“Oh. Then I definitely have it too.” Violet giggled.


“Well, if you take enough of these pretty white pills,” Shay’s pupils were big and round and glowing vibrant black rings inside of her green gemstone eyes. “You can do anything.”


“You know, I used to feel like I could do anything.” Violet suddenly felt homesick for her mom. She hugged her knees. “But it’s been so long, I can’t even remember what that feels like.”


Shay shook two loose pills out of the plastic bag and held them tight in her fist. “Maybe this will remind you?” She extended her hand toward Violet and unlocked her fingers. Violet suddenly realized they were alone. Everyone had left to take shots of 151 in the kitchen. It was dead quiet except for the cackle of the fire. Violet’s fingertips danced along the surface of Shay’s palm.


ZAP. ZAP. ZAP.


She lingered over Shay’s hand for a small, electric moment before curling her fingers around the pills, popping them into her mouth, and swallowing them down without liquid because Violet was nothing if not a natural.


“Want to get out of this shitty party? I could take your picture at the beach?”


Violet couldn’t recall ever wanting to do anything more. “Yes.” The flames cast a warm orange filter across Violet’s pale face. “Fuck, yes.”


“Let’s get the fuck out of here!” Shay jumped out of the rusty lawn chair she’d been sitting in. “My truck’s out front.”


Violet leaped into the air weightless, like a fawn, and trotted across the wet lawn.


They peeled out of the driveway, stray pieces of gravel flying behind them.


“Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill blasted through the speakers.


Violet rested her hand against the console.


Shay kept her stare intensely fixated on the road but shifted a free hand next to Violet’s hand.


Violet stared at their fingertips. Her nails were painted black with a shiny top coat of gold glitter. Shay’s nails were short and chewed down. Their hands spoke their own language. They wordlessly decided to intertwine.


ZAP ZAP ZAP.


The windows were down. The air reeked of burnt oranges. The headquarters of Tropicana. The truck sped down the dark industrial road. Their nervous systems sped even faster. Seatbelts carelessly unbuckled, squeezing hands, like two girls on the run with nothing left to lose.


Rebel Girl, Rebel Girl, You are The Queen Of My World.


*


Knife snuck into Madeline’s room every single night for thirty-one days after their first kiss.


They had it down to a science.


Madeline’s mom took her nightly Valium at 9 p.m. and by 10 p.m. she was knocked out on the couch, sound asleep, her mouth stretched open wide. Her dad slugged whiskey in his home office till 10:30. At 10:35 Madeline would listen to his slippers shuffle against the floorboards as he padded to bed. As soon as Madeline heard his snoring, usually at 11 on the dot, she’d beep Knife, who’d be sitting on her bed clutching her beeper, anxiously awaiting her cue. Knife’s parents would already be in a deep farmer’s sleep, exhausted from a day of manual labor.


Knife would quell the barking from the family’s three sheepdogs by offering them each a slab of ham in exchange for a vow of silence. They dutifully kept their promise, as sheepdogs always do.


Knife would pet them goodbye and tip-toe through the snow, past the cows, past the barn, past the chicken coop, until finally, she made her way to the fence that circled their property. She’d easily hop the fence like an English Schoolboy and sprint a mile in heavy snow boots to Madeline’s house. If the light to Madeline’s bathroom was on — that meant it was safe for Knife to sneak through the backdoor and slink upstairs to Madeline’s room.


Before she knew it, Knife would be in Madeline’s pink puffy bed, kissing her everywhere, golden trophies and framed family portraits, gawking at them.


“You make me feel so good,” Madeline would whisper, her eyes soft rose petals, her body limp and safe.


Knife gave Madeline an orgasm every night. Madeline never touched Knife between the thighs but Knife didn’t care. She was just happy to be there.


Knife would kiss Madeline’s eyelids, her heart a field of wildflowers, holding Madeline in her arms until she drifted to sleep. Once Madeline had been asleep for at least twenty minutes, she’d make sure she was fully covered and cozy in pink quilts and blankets, and would quietly make her way down the stairs. Then she’d tear into the vast open night, running, running, running.


But the thirty-first night was different. After they had sex she whispered “I love you,” into Madeline’s ear. “I love you too,” Madeline whispered back, closing her eyes. Knife closed her eyes too. Within minutes, she was passed out cold, long skinny arm draped over Madeline, platinum mohawk and black tattered Metallica shirt looking strange and out of context in the bubblegum teen dream.


*


They were high on Ritalin and mushrooms in a grassy park overlooking a neglected Marina when Violet told Shay she loved her.


They’d known each other for two weeks.


Violet would’ve found that funny if she’d known the joke about lesbians and u-hauls but she didn’t.


Violet sunk into the grass and observed Shay. Shay was zipping wildly around the docks on her longboard. I want to crawl into your skin and live there forever, she thought.


Shay panted over to Violet, her cheeks bright red, her eyes christmas tree green. She lay in the grass next to Violet.


“Has anyone ever told you that your eyes are the color of Christmas?” Violet mused, dreamily.


“The shrooms are kicking in, huh?” Shay laughed, wiping beads of sweat off her forehead. She laid down in the grass.


The two sixteen-year-old girls stared silently into the sky. The sky was cloudless and blinding white. It was surreal; like heaven in a movie.


“I have to tell you something.”


“Tell me something.” Shay closed her eyes. A kaleidoscope of colors burst through her brain.


“I love you.”


“I love you too.”


“No, like, I love you, love you.


Shay’s eyelids flung open. “Like as a friend?”


A big yellow butterfly hovered over Violet’s face. “No.”


“Violet.” She watched the butterfly land on Violet’s arm. Violet didn’t seem to notice. “You’re straight.”


“No. I’m not.”


“But you have all these boyfriends?”


“Who doesn’t?” Violet twisted a lock of faded purple hair around her finger. “You don’t have to feel the same way. But I had to tell you the truth.”


Shay’s silence hung heavy in the thick humid air. The butterfly fluttered her wings and took off into the strange, white light. Come back, she thought quietly.


“I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable.” Violet felt a tear roll down her cheek. It wasn’t a sad tear. It was an honest tear.


“I want to show you something.” Shay grabbed Violet by the hand and pulled her to her feet.


“What?”


“Let me show you.” She led Violet past the Marina and down a jungle-y, sandy path. They walked and walked and walked until they reached a silent stretch of water. The sand was soft and the palm trees were still. There was nothing there besides the two girls and an old wooden bench.


Shay turned to face Violet. “What do you think?”


“It’s beautiful.”


“Can I kiss you?” Shay asked softly.


Violet nodded, slowly.


Shay’s fingers lightly brushed her face. Her black eye was healing. They hadn’t spoken about it.


She kissed Violet on the eye first.


And then on the mouth.


Slowly.


It was a kiss that felt like music.


They got lost in the symphony. Even though there was no wind, the palm trees couldn’t help but softly swish to the swell of the beautiful sound of young love.



*


Knife tasted metal inside her mouth.


Her head throbbed and she couldn’t see.


But her legs kept running.


Blood poured out from her nose, staining the pristine green football field a violent crimson, as she sprinted to Madeline’s house.


*


No one knew Violet and Shay were in love at that party. Maybe if they had things would’ve turned out differently.


Maybe the boy wouldn’t have done what he did.


Maybe he would have done worse.


*


“Knife!” Madeline bolted out the front door of her large colonial house.


“Your boyfriend — he, he,” Knife couldn’t breathe. Her vision cut to black. She fell hard against the snow-adorned lawn.


Madeline stood above her. “I’m sorry. My sister saw us. She told him everything. Why did you stay the night?” she screamed. “You were supposed to leave!”


Knife felt like her skull, ribs, and nose were cracked. Like shattered particles of glass were piercing through her flesh and puncturing her bones. She wasn’t human. She was raw nerve. Raw nerves can’t speak.


“Knife! You were supposed to leave last night.”


Knife opened her eyes. Salty tears stung like peroxide to a gaping wound.


“Knife. You need to go. Now. I don’t want anything to do with you,” Madeline shrilled.


Knife felt the sky fall on top of her. “But I make you feel good,” she whispered as an ocean of tears exploded out of her eyes, crashing and burning into her broken heart.


“I’m not like you, Knife. I’m not a dyke. I have a boyfriend. I love him. And I never, ever want you to touch me again. You tried to poison me. Now get out of here before I call the police,” Madeline’s voice was cold and quiet like a corpse.


Knife picked herself and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed and screamed and screamed and screamed as she ran and ran and ran a mile home with a fractured skull and two broken ribs.


*


“Where’s Shay?” Violet slurred. Her head felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. Her mind was mush. Her body lead.


“Shay’s fine,” A boy voice assured.


Violet could hear party sounds from behind the door. High-pitched girl laughter. Liquid splashing into plastic cups. Cheap Bic lighters falling out of jean pockets, landing quietly on ugly carpets.


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,” Violet 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.


She felt nothing but the weight of boy on her girl bones.


*


“We’re not mad. We want to help you.” Knife heard her mother’s voice weep. She opened her eyes and looked around. She was in a hospital. An IV bag was stuck out of her arm.


“There’s a place.” Her dad’s voice was void of emotion. “It will fix this,” he added firmly.


Knife heard a deep sob erupt from her mother’s throat. “We love you. We’re going to get this demon out of you! It’s been in you for so long! I’ve known about it for so long! It’s my fault I didn’t fix this sooner,” she wailed and wailed and wailed.


Knife knew her parents loved her.


But she had just learned the most painful lesson of all: to be loved is to be destroyed.


She felt herself turn hard.


She was a survivor.


And a survivor doesn’t let herself get destroyed.


*


“Where’s Violet?” Shay’s heart rocketed through the war inside of her body.


“Violet’s fucking Chad in his little brother’s bedroom.”


Her heart drew a gun. “No, she’s not.”


“Why don’t you go look?”


She marched like a soldier down the crowded hall of the house party and opened the bedroom door. There was Violet. Beneath Chad. “Violet!” She screamed.


Violet said nothing.


Shay’s heart was shot down dead.


She knew Violet would destroy her.


But not like this.


She sobbed in her truck ‘till dawn.


Violet had made her feel like she belonged.


But Violet had been a dream.


And dreams aren’t real.


Even when they feel so real you can taste them.


Touch them.


Hold them in your hand.


Luckily, Shay thought to herself. Dreams are forgotten easily. She felt her heart harden. She put her key in the ignition and sped home.


*


“I’m sorry, but I don’t belong here.” Knife whispered to the sheepdogs. They’d been her only friends for so many years. She shoved slabs of meat into their mouths. “I’ll miss you.” She wiped her tears and took off into the night. I don’t belong here. I don’t belong here. I don’t belong here played in a loop in her head as she ran past the barn and hopped the fence. She sprinted past Madeline’s house, past her shitty hellhole of a school, and didn’t stop till she reached the bus station.


She had nothing but a backpack. And a bus ticket to the only place she thought she might maybe belong:


New York.


*


Violet wasn’t sure what happened. But she knew it was bad.


Girls always know when it’s bad. Even if the brain is blacked out. The body remembers everything.


She felt paralyzed, chained to her own bed. Too ashamed to call Shay. This was her fault. She came from a long line of this sort of thing.


But she wouldn’t let Shay get dragged into the dirt with her. Shay belonged in the sun.


She heard her father and a gaggle of his drunk friends cackle in the living room. Her door didn’t lock. It was only a matter of time until it happened. Again.


I don’t belong in the sun. But I don’t belong here, either.


She picked up the phone by her bed.


Alex picked up on the first ring, broken boys always do.


“Want to drive to New York?” Violet asked.


He looked at his stepdad who was slugging beer on the couch. It was only a matter of time before he was wasted and it happened. Again.


“Yes,” Alex answered. “Fuck yes.”


Shay had made her soft, but Violet couldn’t be soft. Violet felt herself harden. She needed to survive.


*


Do you see why I had to leave the way I did?


I had to get out.