Violet knew ordering a martini before noon wasn’t a good look. But she did it anyway.


She’d arrived twenty minutes early for her lunch date with Gabriella by design. She needed a moment alone. A moment free of Knife. Yes, she was mesmerized by Knife. Yes, she would’ve believed they’d known each other in a past life, if she believed in past lives, which she didn’t. Yes, there were things about her that only Knife seemed to understand. Things she didn’t have to verbalize, things that could be expressed in a glance toward the sky or the tremble of a finger.


And yes. She loved Knife. So much that it freaked her the fuck out. Which is one of the many reasons as to why she was halfway through a martini at 11:40 in the morning.


She tapped a shiny silver nail against the bar and thought about what to pitch her literary agent next. Her mental health might’ve been plummeting into a rabbit hole of darkness, but there was no way she’d let her career go down with it. Violet — you see — might’ve been a party girl but she was also wildly ambitious. When she was fourteen she’d vowed to do everything in her power to become successful and she’d yet to let even the most harrowing cocaine hangover prevent her brain from executing creative brilliance.


Maybe I should write a YA novel about a young girl who moves to New York from Florida to flee the hellscape that is her life? She lives on 16th street until she’s rescued by a fabulous eccentric — who she later finds out is an angel. The eccentric invites her to live at Chelsea Hotel with her, where the girl becomes exposed to artists, culture, the theatre and — finally learns the magic of the chosen family?


Oh, that’s good,” Violet blurted to no one in particular.


What’s good?” asked the bartender, who unbeknownst to Violet had been curiously eying her since she’d arrived.


She was the only bar-patron at the 89th street brasserie but had been too consumed by the rush of her own ideas to take in her environment. Violet looked at the bartender for the first time. He had glimmery, awake eyes — a surefire sign of a creative brain.


“Oh, I was just marveling over the martini you made me,” she looked into her glass. It was empty. She glanced into her clunky vintage tank watch. It was 11:43 a.m.


“Do you want another?” he grinned, sheepishly. As if to say: I like a morning martini too.


“I couldn’t possibly —” Violet theatrically flailed a skinny arm and dropped it against her forehead.


“How about a wine?”


“Are you kidding me,” Violet stared at him, her big doll eyes breathing and alive. “I want a fucking martini! What do you think I am? A republican?”


The bartender chuckled. “I know plenty of republicans who drink martinis in the day. In fact — it’s all I’ve ever known.


Violet brightened. “You must be a WASP! I’ve heard so much about your people.”


“I’m from Darien, Connecticut. It’s one of the WASP-iest towns on the Eastern Seaboard.”

“Well, in that case, it would just be disrespectful of me to not have a martini. I’ll have it dirty with blue cheese olives. To honor your culture.” Violet smirked.


“Thank you. I feel really ‘seen.’” The bartender smirked back.


Violet rolled her eyes and gagged. “Ugh, don’t you hate people who say shit like that? ‘I feel seen?’ They’re the same people who consider getting shoved into the sandbox one time, a ‘trauma.’”


“Same killjoys who write menial grammatical corrections in the comments sections of articles.”


“Same losers who told on me for smoking a cigarette at a high school party and got me kicked out of the play.”


“Theatre kids,” he grinned, pouring Belvedere into a shiny silver shaker.


Musical theatre kids,” Violet made jazz hands and grunted.


“Totally.” The bartender carefully placed a gorgeous martini before Violet.


“This martini is good-looking. Looks fresh out of Nantucket.” Violet took a swig. “Just don’t tell the boys in the salmon pants at the country club I’m Jewish. It’ll break their hearts.” Violet ran her fingers across her tiny Star of David necklace and smiled wickedly.


“You’re…sassy. What are you?”


“I’m Violet. What are you?”


“I’m Cooper.” He stretched his right arm over the bar. Violet studied his hand before shaking it. She hadn’t seen a boy hand up close in years. “And when I’m not tending bar, I’m blowing up my life,” Cooper continued, his boy fingers wrapped around Violet’s girl fingers.


“How?”


“Through a series of bad decisions fueled by lust and reckless impulse. Or maybe it’s just the general damage I’ve caused to my frontal lobe from huffing all those cans of paint as a kid?”


Violet smiled into her martini. “Same.”


*



Imani had never understood why anyone would ever want to watch anyone sleep. In fact, she’d found the whole notion lecherous and creepy. Until now. Nia’s body folded into Imani’s body. Her sleep was weightless. Blissful. Post orgasm sleep.


Watching Nia sleep was like floating on a cloud of Valium. Like smoking a joint on the beach in Barbados. Like lounging in an outdoor hot tub surrounded by snow-capped mountains with a glass of red wine. Like —


RING. RING. RING.


Imani looked for Nia’s phone. She found it screaming and vibrating on the dresser of their West Village hotel room. “Mom + Manager” read the caller I.D.


Imani silenced the phone and tossed it back onto the nightstand. Nia’s mom stressed Nia out. Plus, Nia had told Imani she’d been working sixteen-hour days on set and was desperate for sleep. She was flying out to Los Angeles in the evening and in less than twenty-four hours would be back in the Hollywood grind. Imani of all people understood that high-performers need rest.


She held Nia by the waist. Nia smiled in her sleep. Imani closed her eyes because there was no way in hell this was real.


But it was real. Love. But just because something is real, doesn’t mean it won’t destroy you.


*


“So yeah. I think I’m in love with Knife,” Violet slurred to Cooper. Gabriella was running thirty minutes late and Violet was running on three martinis and twenty milligrams of Prozac. “But —” a growl emerged from the hollowness in her gut. She plucked the blue-cheese olive from her martini glass and bit into it. “— But, every bone in my body recoils when she’s like…I don’t know — ‘loving?’ in bed?


“What do you mean?”


“You know when people get all tender and neck-kissy and whisper sweet things into your ear when you just want cold, savage sex? I hate that.” She stared into her patent black Mary Janes and tried not to think about Ray. “My friend Patra? She thinks I’m dead inside.” Her body begged her for an Adderall. She hadn’t taken any at all today, in an attempt to feel something. “I think she’s right.” She twisted her dark hair into a bun.


“Why?”


“Why what?” The bun unraveled. Violet’s hair dropped over her eyes and grazed the tops of her clavicles.


“Why do you think you’re dead inside?” Cooper asked, hypnotized.


She shrugged. “Lately I’m just numb.” She stared thoughtfully out the grand, floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked 89th street. “Besides the other night. The other night I sobbed like a fucking maniac outside of a lesbian bar. Can you think of anything more gay?” she snorted. “But then it started snowing and I got distracted and have been vacant ever since.”


“Did the snow make you feel happy?”


Violet giggled. “Duh. Like, I said, I’m not a republican.”


Something about Violet’s prickly giggle saddened Cooper. “Well if the snow made you happy, you can’t be dead inside,” he insisted.


“Sometimes I crawl out of the grave,” Violet gazed into the empty bar. There she was. The only person drinking hard liquor in a bar on a beautiful Saturday. Again. “Tell me about you. Are you gay?”


“Sadly, I am not. Though I’m down to try reverse conversion therapy.”


“Want an Adderall?” Her eyes were big and serious as she unzipped her Balenciaga. She was feeling a little sloppy and after her colossal mishap at Gabriella’s birthday party — she didn’t expect her lunchtime drunkenness to be “well-received.”


“Yes!” Cooper beamed. He was working a double with a pounding head. He’d stayed out till 4 a.m. doing ketamine in an East Williamsburg dive. Of course, he wanted a fucking Adderall. “Fuck yes.”


Violet dug her nails into the bottom of her bag, searching for her pink plastic pill-box. “Hold on,” her fingers combed through empty packs of cigarettes and lipstick-stained receipts and the empty plastic drug bags she collected. Her face fell. “Somebody stole my pillbox.”


“Well, I’m sure your doctor will understand. People steal pills all the time these days.”


“It’s not about the pills,” her voice broke.“That pillbox is the only thing left from my childhood. It’s the most sacred thing I own.”


Cooper paused to reflect on the scene: Beautiful girl alone at bar draped in emerald crushed velvet dress over black stockings and buckled heels reports being repulsed by the thought of having tender sex with her androgynous model girlfriend — who happens to be named Knife — also says she can’t feel anything and is dead inside but publically broke down the other night and claims a pillbox is the only token of her childhood? New Yorkers really are fascinating.


“It’s not about the pills,” Violet repeated. A tear slid silently down her cheek and plopped into her martini. “I have extra pills in my wallet.” She unearthed a ratty white wallet covered in black plastic daisies from her bag and pulled out a round tablet the color of a hotel swimming pool. “Open your mouth,” she ordered, a second tear welling in her eye. The tear quivered uncomfortably as if it were trapped.


Cooper felt the edge of Violet’s nail against the surface of his tongue then tasted the chalky texture of a pill. He closed his eyes. What was it about this twisted girl that made him feel both horny and depressed?


“Hey, Violet,” he said, eyes-still-closed, pill-still-on-tongue, reaching for a bottle of water. His eyes flew open. He unscrewed the cap and swallowed the pill with a generous gulp of water. “You’re not dead inside. You’re sad about a missing pillbox.”


The imprisoned tear shivered one last time, before finally spilling out of Violet’s eye. I’m free, it sang as it rolled down her face. “Hey, Cooper.” She batted her lashes. “You aren’t the WASP you claim to be. You need water to swallow a pill.” She flung an Adderall into her mouth and sucked it down dry.


Suddenly the empty bar was flooded with a familiar strawberry musk.


“Miss Dior Cherie,” Violet sniffed. “Gabriella Tortellini must be close.”


Gabriella Tortellini? Cooper wondered, flummoxed. Could this day get any weirder?


Oh, Cooper, it can. Your day can and will get much fucking weirder.


*


Nia’s lids fluttered open. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP went her heart.


What time was it? How long had she slept? Fuck — she had a plane to catch! How could she have been so careless? She wrangled out of Imani’s arms and furiously scrambled around the room searching for her phone to check the time. She found it faced down on the nightstand next to Imani. It was only 2:10 p.m. and her flight wasn’t until 10. Her blood pressure eased. She checked her missed calls. There were seventeen from her mother. Her blood pressure shot back through the air and banged against the top of the Empire State building.


She beelined to the bathroom grabbing her phone so hard her knuckles cracked. She curled into a fetal position in the claw-foot tub in her baby pink sweatpants. Her vision blurred as she dialed her mom.


She didn’t believe in God, never had. But she clasped her hands together and prayed with devout Catholic fervor her mother wouldn’t answer the phone.


But God is a woman who doesn’t take kindly to being used.


Her mother answered on the first ring.


“Nia,” she seethed down the line.


“It meant NOTHING! She means NOTHING! It was a JOKE!” Nia cried so loudly it jolted Imani from her blissful nap.


“She means nothing! I was kidding!”


Imani’s heart sunk. She tiptoed to the bathroom and flattened her ear to the door.


“I’m not a fucking lesbian. You know I’m not a fucking lesbian, mom! She’s a stupid friend and we were just drinking and kidding! I MADE A MISTAKE! I’ll never talk to her again.


Imani dry heaved. She knew what was coming. She sat on the bed and pressed her head into her hands, too broken to cry.


Nia hung up the phone and let tears free-fall down her face. The tears expanded into bloated, salty sobs. Then they stopped. She grabbed the wall and stood up. She ripped off her sweats and threw them onto the tile. She twisted the knob of the shower so the water ran as cold as possible. She took a deep breath before jumping under the spray. At first, the freezing cold drops shocked her system. It was so painful she couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t think of anything beyond the arctic pound against her skin. Her body longed for Imani’s warm body. She adjusted the water pressure. Icicles rained hard over her head.


She gasped.


And then came a great wave of clarity.


She toweled off and felt brand new. Nia Green wasn’t a fool. She knew exactly what she needed to do.


*


“Violet, let’s talk in private?” Gabriella looked at Cooper and decided she didn’t care for him. He’s one of those straight boys that thinks he’s “sensitive” because he’s written, like, two poems. Bad poems. she grumbled to herself.


“Gab, anything you need to tell me, you can say in front of Cooper.” Violet’s eyes looked drunk but her speech was sober like a nun.


“Cooper?” Gabriella blew a bubble of Juicy Fruit. “That’s a rapist name.”


Cooper’s pale cheeks turned deep maroon. “I can seat you in the back?” he squeaked.


Violet grinned. “It’s totally a rapist’s name. In fact, come to think of it, there was a Cooper at boarding school who…” Violet’s voice trailed off. She squinted hard into the distance. “Oh no, that was a Chad. Both are rapey names though, don’t you think?” she loudly mused.


“I’m sorry Violet,” he muttered into his scuffed loafers.


“Sorry for what?” A bright yellow bubble smacked over Gabriella’s bright red mouth. “For being a sexual predator?”


“I’m not a sexual predator! I promise. I was saying sorry because —” he felt himself spin — “I was saying sorry, sorry that Violet had an incident with a guy named Chad?” he answered lamely. He knew he was fucked no matter what he said. And something about Gabriella’s upturned Cleopatra eyes and excessive gum-smacking made him feel like he was on trial for a crime he didn’t commit. Or did he? He desired nothing more than to disintegrate into Violet’s martini. And get swallowed like an Adderall.


“Don’t apologize,” Violet whispered. “It’s not your fault, Chad.” She cackled. “I mean Cooper!”


Gabriella swung her legs around the bar stool. “Get me some champagne, Chad.”


“My name is Cooper,” he said, instantly regretting it.


“Don’t make it about you,” Gabriella snapped.


“Got it,” Cooper skittered away to grab one of the nice crystal flutes they kept in the back.


“You’re on one today,” Violet chewed on her nail.


“I’m just sick of it.”

“Of what?”


“Of never having enough money to do anything in this goddamn overpriced city. Of living paycheck to paycheck. Of getting yelled at by my abusive boss. Of impossible deadlines. Of the empty sex I’ve been having with Gianna —”


“You’re fucking Gianna?” Violet’s mouth dropped open. “But most importantly, it’s empty


Gabriella ignored Violet. “I’m sick of doing coke! A drug I don’t even like — but need to keep up with you crackheads!”


A woman with beautiful pearls lighting up her face draped in a Burberry trench breezed through the doors. Her hair was fastened into a neat chignon. She smelled like La Praire skincare and dust mites. She smelled like money. Republican money. She settled on the other side of the bar and crossed her legs.


“I’m not a crackhead, Gabriella. That’s not nice.” The hurt in Violet’s voice was palpable.


“You are a crackhead. Just because you get it from a pervy old doctor uptown doesn’t mean it’s not crack,” Gabriella clipped.


Violet reached her breaking point. “My doctor might be old but HE’S NOT PERVY!”


The woman in pearls straightened her posture and pulled a silver compact out of her bag. She smoothed her hair as she stared intently into the tiny glass mirror.


“YOU SAID HE STARES AT YOUR TITS!”


Cooper appeared behind them, looking like a bewildered schoolboy, nervous fingers tight around Gabriella’s champagne. “Here you go —”


Gabriella plucked the flute from his hands and guzzled down the golden bubbles like they were going out of style. “Thanks, Chad.”


“You are welcome,” Cooper nodded, backing away. He made his way to the other side of the bar so he could ask the civilized woman with the pearls what she wanted to drink.


“I don’t have tits to stare at,” Violet said, pointing to her B-Cups. “So you’re clearly making this up.”


Gabriella pouted like a petulant adolescent. “Just because they’re not as big and luscious as my tits don’t mean they don’t exist.”


“That’s sweet, but you’re still a liar.”


“I’m not a liar.” Gabriella shrilled. “You’re the liar!”


Cooper cautiously approached the woman with the pearls. “May I take your order ma’am?”


She looked at him, expressionless. “I’ll have a dirty martini with blue cheese olives,”


“I DO MANY HORRIBLE THINGS, GABRIELLA!” Violet screamed so loudly the wallpaper curled. “I ABUSE MY ADDERALL. YES, SOMETIMES I’LL DRINK A FUCKING MARTINI BEFORE NOON. SOMETIMES I WATCH GRAPHIC, UNFEMINIST PORN —”


“Dirty Martini, coming right up,” Cooper winced at the stoic woman in the stoic pearls. He fled to the bar.


“BUT I DON’T LIE!”


“You’re manipulative, Violet. Just like my Aunt Valentina. You say you ‘don’t lie’ but you withhold the truth. Which is just as bad.”


“What truth have I ever withheld from you, Gabriella?”


Tears sprang in Gabriella’s big brown eyes. “I don’t know about your past, Violet. All I know is that it was bad. But whenever I ask you about it, you shut down! I lose you! And I don’t know what really happened with you and Ray.” Gabriella blubbered. “But when I saw Knife going down on you that day in Fire Island — “


“Another round?” Cooper asked the girls, flushing pink.


“PLEASE,” Gabriella and Violet belted.


Gabriella continued. “When I saw Knife going down on you that day in Fire Island I saw —”


“Don’t say it, Gab.”


“I saw —”


“Gabriella, please!”


“I saw cuts and bruises all over your body.”


The bar fell into shamed silence.


The woman in the pearls stiffened.


“When you didn’t show up for my birthday, I thought you were dead. I’d never been more freaked out in my life because I’ve never had a friend — fuck that — a sister — I’ve loved as much as you. I can’t lose you. I’m scared.” Gabriella wept. Violet pulled her stupid blue faux fur over her stupid emerald dress she decided she didn’t even fucking like, and trotted out the heavy silver doors, leaving her best friend crying alone at a bar on the Upper East Side. She slipped into the street and onto a downtown train, soundlessly haunting the subway platform, like a ghost.


“I’ll take the check,” Gabriella sobbed.


“Okay,” Cooper said simply. He wanted so badly to say something better than “okay” but he didn’t know what to say because he was just a boy from Connecticut, you see, and these New York girls were fucking complicated.


The woman in the pearls flagged him down. Great. She’s probably going to be rightfully offended about that ordeal and is going to report me for not handling an unruly customer correctly and I’ll get fired and then my girlfriend will dump me for being a jobless loser! For the fourth time this year! He spiraled.


“I’m so sorry about all that,” Cooper murmured.


The woman in the pearls looked at him, her face still void of emotion. “Please pick up the check for those girls.” She handed him a thick, black Amex. “And send over the sniveling lonely one with the fabulous prosthetic and gorgeous breasts, a bottle of your finest Champagne. Champagne from France — not that prosecco nonsense or none of that cheap cava. Also a plate of fish roe with shaved truffle and maybe, um,” she studied the dessert menu, “a creme brulee.”


“Yes ma’am,” Cooper said, shaking with shock. He walked away.


“Wait!”


He stopped and turned to face the woman in the pearls. Her face wasn’t paralyzed and blank anymore. It was sad. But also hopeful. “Tell her she’s my kind of girl,” she said, gathering her Burberry and rushing to the ladies room.


*


Imani kept her head pressed into her open palms as Nia closed the bathroom door and hovered over.


“Hey,” Nia’s voice was gentle and fake. The kind of voice you use on a cognitively impaired child. “I’ve just worked so hard. Like so, so hard. It’s not you. I just can’t get —”


“Distracted? Yeah, I know.” Imani lifted her head and looked at Nia. For a moment she considered fighting for her. For this sacred love. But the longer she stared at Nia, the more she saw a racehorse with blinders, only able to focus on getting to the finish line first. Imani shivered. She looked exactly the same when she’d rejected Imani all those years ago, in her teen bedroom.


“I’m sorry,” Nia looked straight ahead, past Imani.


Imani wanted desperately to march out the door but she felt frozen in place. NOT NOW LEGS. I NEED YOU TO MOVE. I NEED TO WALK THE FUCK AWAY. She coached her body like she’d done successfully many times on the basketball court. WALKOUT. Just like you did in high school. She hasn’t fucking changed. You don’t need this. MOVE. She pleaded knowing full well her legs wouldn’t listen. ‘Cause athletes understand that the mind controls the body. And there was something she needed to know, deep down in her bones.


“Was I an experiment? Something for you to get out of your system?” She felt a swell of emotion grow in her rib. “Was this even real?”


“This is the only real thing I’ve ever had,” Nia heard herself say. “Why am I destroying it?” She looked at Imani’s face and felt homesick. She dropped to her knees and cried.


Imani begged her mouth to twist out the words: Yeah, why? WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU DESTROYING IT. FOR FAME? FOR MONEY? FOR BULLSHIT THAT DOESN’T MATTER? But no words came out. Instead, she found herself, shamefully and embarrassingly sitting on the floor, next to Nia, wiping her tears away, rocking her heaving body in her strong, steady arms.


*


Cooper rushed over to Gabriella. “The lady sitting over there?” He pointed excitedly to where the woman in the pearls had been sitting.


“What, Chad, I offended her?” Gabriella’s tears turned to ice. “Because I’m too LONG ISLAND, too GAY, too DISABLED, too CRASS, to REAL for her WASPY Upper East Side bullshit?” What was the point in pretending to be polite? Her debit card was probably going to decline anyway.


“Um, actually, she picked up the check.” Cooper smiled. “And bought you this.” He handed her a flute of gleaming, effervescent sunshine-colored liquid. “It’s real champagne. From France.”


Gabriella pinched herself. This wasn’t real. This was a fever dream.


“A plate of Caviar is on its way,” he added.


“Don’t fuck with me,” she took a sip of champagne. It tasted like a glamorous Movie Star sitting in the polo lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel in a silk caftan handcrafted in “Italia.”


“She said to tell you: ‘you’re her kind of girl.’”


Gabriella felt spring bloom within. That was exactly what she needed to hear.


Cooper gently padded away. He didn’t want to say something offensive. He didn’t want to take up too much space. He didn’t want to take advantage of her vulnerability.


“Cooper?” Gabriella choked back a sob.


“Yeah?” he looked at her like a pug, eager-to-please.


“I bet your poems are good.”


“Thank you,” his eyes glistened. “That’s exactly what I needed to hear.” he smiled gratefully, as long-imprisoned tears ran free down his face.


*


Violet was drunk when she met up with Knife at a dive bar called Savalas on Bedford Ave in Williamsburg. It stank of stale pizza and pretty girls going home with unworthy boys.


“Fuck me in the bathroom,” she stage-whispered into Knife’s ear. A bearded boy in too-tight jeans heard her. He turned to his friend who’s fat head bore a sloppy, stringy man bun. “Lesbians,” he grinned, pointing to stumbling Violet and high as a kite Knife.


Knife looked at Violet with astonished cocaine eyes. She sniffed and felt a sprinkle of poison trickle down her throat. Violet looked wrecked. She wanted to take her home. Put her to bed. Take care of her.


“I said fuck me in the bathroom!” Violed demanded, loudly this time.


“I told you,” the boy in the too-tight jeans and his man-buned friend high-fived like losers.


“Okay,” Knife agreed, suddenly feeling very euphoric. “Let’s go.” She glared at the stupid boys as she dragged Violet to the bathroom by the hand.


Knife pulled Violet into one of the tiny stalls. Someone had scrawled: NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY across the wall in bright red ink. Below it read: FUCK YOU, NANCY in smeared purple lipstick.


She pressed Violet against the wall. When their lips touched, Knife ascended to heaven.


Violet pulled Knife’s shoulders away. “Don’t kiss me like that.”


Knife crashed from the clouds. “What?”


“I said don’t kiss me like that. Don’t kiss me at all.” Violet’s voice was flat but her eyes looked like a house caught on fire.


“You’re my girlfriend.”


Violet stared at the cigarette ash resting at the bottom of the toilet. “You stole my pill bottle.”


“I did not.” Knife leaned down and forced her shimmering blue eyes on Violet.


Violet laughed, casually. “You’re lying, Knife.”


“I’m not!”


“Just fuck me. Choke me. Hurt me. Get off, Knife. Get me off. Don’t you want that?”


Knife had never heard Violet talk like this. “I’d never hurt you.”


“Fuck you.”


“What drugs did you take?”


“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” Violet crossed her arms. “I don’t care about the pills. But that stupid pink pillbox is important to me. You don’t understand. It’s all I have,” she trembled.


Knife did understand — that was the thing. She viscerally understood what it was like to fiercely hold on to a strange cheap object because it was the only thing that had stuck by your side in your darkest hour. She understood that when touch has been scary and unsafe, your body learns to reject a touch that’s tender. It’s too foreign, too abstract, not at all safe. She understood what it was like to need to hurt to feel.


She understood Violet.


And to be understood is to be loved. And to be loved is to be destroyed.


Knife felt a sharpness stab her in the chest. The discomfort was too great, she couldn’t handle it. She had no choice but to run from it. She kicked open the bathroom stall.


“Where are you going?” Violet asked, hazy-eyed, watching Knife fling her leather over her shoulders. Knife didn’t say anything; she just gun-slinged to the sink and slicked back her hair.


“Why are you so far away?” Violet asked, looking like a sad little boy in a black and white film about war.


Knife took one last look at her sad-eyed beauty. She wanted to always remember her this way: Adorned in green velvet, needy-eyed, wasted and more pure than ever before. She slammed the door behind her and peeled into the crowded bar.


Violet stood alone in the bathroom stall and missed her mom, who she hadn’t thought of in years.


Knife tore down the streets of South Williamsburg stomping loudly to drown out the sound of Violet’s voice haunting her, repeating on a loop: “Why are you so far away? Why are you so far away? Why are you so far away?”





“Can you hurry the fuck up? You’ve been in there for ten minutes!” pleaded a desperate voice from behind the bathroom door.


Gabriella giggled into Patra’s mouth as her cat eyes sparkled into Patra’s smokey eyes. They roared in helpless hysteria.


“It’s NOT funny! You’re holding up the line!”


Gabriella’s knees buckled as her cackle swelled. Sloppy tears pooled out of Patra’s eyes. Within seconds, the two girls were clutching each other, lying on the filthy bathroom floor, howling like two teenagers sneaking a joint behind the Olive Garden.


“I GOTTA TAKE ” POUND. “A” POUND. POUND. LEAK!” POUND.


When Patra caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, her laugh turned so violent, her organs shook. Her sharp, angular face was covered with theatrical streaks of vibrant Fuschia lipstick. The hot pink color smeared down her neck and faded into her décolletage. She looked like she’d just slaughtered Barbie.


“Oh, shit.” Gabriella pawed at the damp roll of tissue slumped in the cracked marble sink. She handed a hunk of paper to Patra. “She lied to me.”


“Who?”


“The girl working the Chanel counter at Bloomies swore this lipstick was kissproof.” Gabriella stared wistfully into her acrylics. “I keep getting my heartbroken by the beauty girls at Bloomingdales.”


A demented clown smirk stretched so wide across Patra’s face, the edges of her mouth pinched her earlobes. “You know what?” She snatched the crumpled napkin from Gabriella and tore it savagely.


“What?” Gabriella watched, transfixed, as shreds of ugly brown paper piled by her platforms.


POUND. POUND. “I’m getting security!” POUND. POUND.


“I’m not wiping off your lipstick kisses.” Patra preened into the mirror, unphased by the threat. “I look glamorous in pink. And moreover; I’m proud to have your lipstick on my skin on your birthday.”


Gabriella beamed from within. That’s all she’d ever wanted. Someone who could handle her lipstick.


“I’ll break down the fucking DOOR!”


Patra looked at Gabriella with big sociopathic eyes and kicked open the door.


“Disrespectful cokeheads,” hissed a hipster in a purple velvet smoking jacket. A battalion of seething dykes stood behind her, stiff-shouldered, arms folded over hearts, eyes gleaming venom, sour lemons for faces.


“I don’t have coke but if you find some let me know. It’s my birthday!” Gabriella cooed.


Patra turned to the hipster in the smoking jacket. “Your fly is down,” she purred, her voice a twinkie: creamy and fake sweet. Before she had the chance to respond, Patra and Gabriella had already stumbled to the bar, still giggling like the cheeky, charming kind of student teachers intrinsically fear.


“I’d like to buy a round of shots for everyone here!” Patra slammed her Amex against the bar. “In honor of the birthday bitch.”


Catalina, the bartender, was mixing a dirty martini. “This martini is for the birthday girl.” She placed the glass in front of Gabriella. “On the house, of course.”


Gabriella didn’t drink martinis anymore. She knew better. But If someone offers you something NICE accept it and accept it GRACIOUSLY her mother’s voice suddenly menaced from her spleen. She delicately picked up the free martini and flashed Catalina the same dazzling smile that had crowned her “Miss Teen Massapequa” in ‘96. “Thank you so much, Catalina. You’re the kindest,” she chirped.


Catalina forced her lips into a half-moon of her own. While she loved being a bartender at Dolly’s — she didn’t feel like working tonight.


No. She wanted to be having wild, earth-shattering, salacious sex with the middle-aged dyke she’d quietly crushed on for years — and was finally dating. She eyed Jack who was wearing assless chaps, slouched next to Patra, nursing a beer. A kaleidoscope of butterflies fluttered between Catalina’s inner thighs. Even though Jack was wearing the assless chaps over baggy faded denim, just the thought of them possessed Catalina with a loop of dirty thoughts.


Catalina had expected Jack — the notoriously old-school, swashbucklin’ tight-ass dyke of the West Village — to have scoffed when she’d heard that Gabriella had requested everyone dress “bondage chic” for her birthday party. But instead, a twinkle as rare as a shooting star glittered in Jack’s eyes. “Hold on,” she’d rasped, unlit cigarette pressed between waxy, chapstick lips, flannel lazily tossed over men’s undershirt, clean fingernails pressed into pants pocket. She’d dove headfirst into the coat closet of her rent-controlled apartment. After minutes of loud fumbling, she’d re-emerged in the hallway, holding something black. She yanked the Marlboro out of her mouth and slid it behind her ear. “Good thing I still have these.” She shook the mysterious slab of fabric to reveal assless chaps.


Leather assless chaps.


Catalina suddenly felt very faint. Then very wet.


Jack slapped at the worn leather with heavy, worn hands. Little particles of dust floated through the air. “A little torn up, but they’ll do.”


Catalina’s jaw snapped off her face and thudded against the carpet. “You have assless chaps?” She managed, jaw-lessly.


“Kiddo, there’s a lot you don’t know about me,” Jack grinned into the distance. Memories of her brief 1981 stint as a professional leather daddy in a downtown dungeon flooded her brain. Catalina studied the far away look in Jack’s eyes.


That was the thing about Jack. She could be petulant, inflexible, sarcastic. But she was mysterious. Full of surprises. And what makes brilliant, bored, and beautiful girls like Catalina teem with desire? The rare treat of not knowing what to expect.


Tonight, Catalina wore a pointy, structured bra. She’d borrowed the bra from Jose Antonio, whose sock drawer housed an impressive collection of women’s lingerie. “I don’t wear them, I admire them,” he’d clipped, expertly folding the bra into a tiny square, neatly placing her inside an old H&M shopping bag.


She felt sexy in the bra. It was a far cry from the Hollywood Screen Siren attire she preferred to drape over her exaggerated curves, but she liked experimenting with a new look. And she liked Gabriella. Plus she was from Jersey. It was in her culture to harbor unwavering respect for the sacred art of the theme party. But mostly; she hoped her dabbles in “bondage chic” would garner extra attention from Jack.


“Gabriella might want that martini — but I still want to buy the entire bar shots.” Patra’s famously loud voice propelled Catalina from the pale blue clouds and back into the lesbian bar. You know I only buy rounds of Tequila. Good tequila! Not the shit house one —”


Suddenly, the room halted. The walls vibrated. Dolly’s bar was bathed in star-shine.


No one had to turn their heads to know —


Nia Green had arrived.


*


Imani’s heart grew wings and soared blissfully out of her chest. Plastic hearts backflipped out of her eyes and swarmed the bar. Even though it was a dismal November night, she could feel the sun. Her body temperature rose warmer and warmer, as Nia walked toward her, wrapped in a fluffy winter coat, smelling like clean hair and briny air.


“Surprise,” Nia whispered, her hands trembling in her coat pockets.


“But — I thought?” Imani’s chocolate milk eyes were frozen and wide. “We just spoke two hours ago. You were on the movie set in LA?”


Nia’s heart slipped out of her chest. “I lied. I wanted to surprise you.” Had this been a mistake?


“Oh,” was all Imani said.


Nia’s heart shivered on the floor. She looked at it but didn’t bother picking it up.


“Kiss me so I know you’re real?” Imani whispered. Nia’s heart crawled back into the warmth of her body, relieved. Nia looked up at Imani who’s eyes had defrosted. Their lips lingered over each other.


Suddenly their hands were tangled in each other’s hair and no one else existed.


It wasn’t a kiss to numb the hurt. It was a kiss to shock you back to life. I’m here. Everything is going to be OKAY it wailed like an ambulance. Violet heard the siren in the distance as she slinked down Seventh Avenue.


She turned to Knife and said: “Everything is going to be okay.”


Knife stared at the charcoal sky. She scanned for stars but couldn’t find any. She felt a pang of empty depression. She shifted her eyes to Violet who was wearing nude fishnets and buttery leather; spiked cuffs and peach blush; sad eyes and satanic thigh-highs. Her heart hop-scotched. Tiny raindrops of self-esteem gently landed on her brain. She looked back at the sky. Now it was scattered with stars. “I know,” she marveled into the night.


The amphetamines were kicking in and anything was possible.


*


Nia’s hands were fumbling with the zipper of Imani’s torn denim when she remembered she was in public. Imani’s fingers were circling the outside of Nia’s underwear when she realized she was in public.


They pried their bodies apart. A sea of hungry eyes stalked them like sharks.


Nia was no longer a star on the rise. She was famous. Magazine cover famous. About to star in a studio big budget feature famous. And no one knew she was in the throes of a passionate lesbian affair with an esteemed basketball prodigy. Not even her manager. Who was also her mother.


There was no way someone hadn’t snapped a picture of her and Imani swapping spit on the dancefloor of the most famous dyke bar in Manhattan.


“Want to get out of here?” Imani’s breath tickled her face.


“Yes,” she mumbled. She wanted to feel the weight of Imani’s naked body on top of her. “Fuck yes.”


Imani grabbed her by the hand. Shaking with want, they marched out the door and onto Jane Street, leaving the bar sharks salivating, unsatiated, tortured. Ravenous.


But that’s the thing about the innate timing of a true movie star. She always knows exactly when to walk away. Leaving her audience longing for more, more, more.


“Woah,” Gabriella gasped.


“Talk about lovers. Damn.” Catalina hazily dreamed to Jack.


Jack winked. “Those kids are something.”


Patra bit her bottom lip. She could still taste Gabriella’s lipstick. “They make me horny,” she throatily observed.


“Me too,” Gabriella and Jack and Catalina harmonized.


“It’s like a bad lesbian romance novel,” snapped Maxine, a mean-spirited scotch drinker who liked to sit in the corner of Dolly’s alone and scowl. Tonight she was especially triggered. She found Gabriella with her girlish smile and hedonistic catsuit to be disruptive to the overall lesbian ecosystem.


“Didn’t you write a bad lesbian romance novel in the nineties?” Jack croaked.


Suddenly a tidal wave of mania crashed through the room.


The pupils of every party girl in attendance collectively dilated.


“I fucking knew it,” Patra whined under her breath.


No one had to turn their heads to know, Violet was standing by the door, teetering in stiletto boots from a St. Marks sex shop, flooding the bar with prescription pills and cheap thrills; darkness and dance music; glitter bombs and broken promises.


She strolled toward Patra and Gabriella. Dara, who’d been on the other side of the bar chatting up the CEO of a fertility startup, rushed to the group. Jack took in the scene with watchful, beady eyes. Catalina watched Jack watch them and quietly waged a war against a soldier of internalized jealousy. Knife chewed her jaw next to Violet.


“Hi,” Violet cast her eyes downward. “I fell asleep.”


“Fell asleep?” the boom of Patra’s usual screech was louder in its strange stillness.


“Yeah,” Violet felt like a vacuum had sucked the emotion out of her.



Knife felt the burn burn burn of Dara and Gabriella and Patra’s fiery glare. She wasn’t going to let Violet fall into their fire. She threw a protective arm over Violet. “She hasn’t been well,” Knife rubbed Violet’s blue faux fur. “Go easy on her.”


Violet disintegrated.


“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” Gabriella suddenly yelled. She pushed Knife out of the way and grabbed Violet by the face with her robotic fingers. Violet’s eyes were doll eyes. Big. Flat. Dead.


“WAKE UP!” Gabriella’s voice cracked through her scream.


“Leave her the fuck alone,” Knife warned, stepping between them.


“YOU’RE THE REASON SHE’S SLIPPING AWAY. I HATE YOU!”


“Knock it off,” came a voice so grounded in its power, it didn’t need to yell to be heard. Jack had wedged herself in front of the girls, holding a Marlboro red, like a gym teacher holds a whistle. “You’re causing a scene,” she gestured to the fleet of baby dykes stuffing rhetorical handfuls of popcorn into their mouths, wagging their tails, ecstatic to be witnessing the damaged interior of Manhattan’s most elusive network of lesbians.


“But —”


“Knife, don’t start. You’re on thin ice from last summer’s shit-show.”


Knife felt herself shrink.


“Patra. Dara. Gabriella. Violet.” Jack coached them like a field hockey team. “You’ve got ten minutes to cool off. Get some fresh air and work it out, you hear?”


All of them — even Violet — who’d been staring Zombie-eyed into floor — skittered like kittens out the door.

Knife was a kicked puppy. A kid who’d been picked last for the team. A forgotten flower wilting in the basement. Something about her fragile energy made Jack want to cry. “Kiddo,” she grumbled.


“Yeah?”


“I know you’re being protective. But let me give you some advice — don’t get involved in friend shit, okay? I’ve known Violet a long time. Her friends?” Jack gagged down her beer. “They’re her family.”


Knife suddenly felt very cold and very out of place. It was the feeling she’d been running from her whole life.



“You’re a great kid. Just don’t let your emotions get the best of ya,” Jack continued, her bloodstream screaming for nicotine. “You want to go out the side entrance and have a smoke with me?”


Knife looked at Jack’s face. It was warm. Genuine. Tough but gentle. Maybe I could tell her the truth?


“Come on. I’m not gonna grow old waiting for you to decide if you want to smoke a damn cigarette with me,” Jack huffed with kind eyes.


Knife began to follow her through the bar. She stopped in her tracks when something suddenly caught her eye. “You know what Jacky? I’m cold. I’m good though. I’m going to stay inside,” she smiled, casually.


“Fine by me but don’t call me Jacky. You haven’t earned that shit yet, Leonardo DiCaprio.”


*


“Violet, you had us worried. You never not show up. Ever! We were worried something happened to you!” Dara furiously paced the sidewalk. Her black curls blended into the night sky and her pale face looked like a ghost floating through the night.


“I — for one — think you’ve been a selfish piece of shit ever since you got with Knife,” Patra pulled a lavender cigarette (purchased overseas) from her red patent Chanel. “I’ve been here for you for everything. But ever since Fire Island you’ve been distant. I’m sick of giving you excuses. You’ve been a shitty friend for months.” She ashed her designer cigarette onto her designer bag with vengeance.


“Violet, don’t you have anything to say?” Dara asked, incredulous. Violet always had something to say.


“Would you fucking say something?” Patra blew an aggressive cloud of smoke. It stayed suspended in the thick, polluted air.


“I —” Violet tried to be the shiny human they wanted her to be. But she was a soulless robot in “bondage chic.”


Suddenly Gabriella screamed. Screamed like she was witnessing a gruesome murder. Screamed so loudly the stars screamed back.


“WHAT IS IT?” Patra bellowed, her eyes full of animal-like fear. Gabriella wordlessly pointed to the pavement. A rat the size of a privileged male cat teetered by their feet. It released a morbid SQUEAK from its rat lips as its naked rat tail brushed against Violet’s heel.


Violet shrieked so furiously the last of the remaining fall leaves sprinted south. She collapsed onto the filthy ground, crying. Winter had come early this year.


*


Knife swagged to the bar-stool where Violet had left her signature Balenciaga bag. She unzipped it open wide with steady hands. She cooly looked at the bar. No one was paying attention to her. It was after midnight. Everyone was kissing or fighting by now. She didn’t even have to fumble through the empty packs of cigarettes, old mascaras and manic napkin poems littered in Violet’s purse. Her fingers knew exactly where to go.


*


Imani’s head was in her favorite place: between Nia’s legs. Nia’s thighs quivered like the ground before an earthquake. Imani wanted to live in her warmth forever. Tasting her raw. Making her scream.


A shiver tiptoed down Imani’s stomach and into her underwear. As Nia’s breath accelerated faster and faster, the shiver intensified. It was as if she could feel what Nia felt. They both moaned as Imani worked her hands and mouth into Nia.


Before she knew it, they’d both cum.


Hard.


Fast.


At the exact same time.


Imani’s heart sprinted as she kissed Nia’s thighs.


“That was mind-blowing,” Nia said through heavy breaths. “Now let me make you come.”


Imani smiled. She looked at Nia with heavy lids and smiled sheepishly. “I just did.”


“What? You were going down on me. I didn’t even touch you! What are you talking about, crazy?”


“It’s weird,” she blinked into the ceiling. “It’s never happened before and you know I’m not one of those woo-woo lesbians. But —”


Nia’s eyes were beautiful, sharp razors cutting into Imani.


“But what?”


“It’s like I can feel what you’re feeling.”




* Violet sobbed and sobbed and sobbed into the sidewalk.


She let herself be held by the city, the only place she’d ever felt free.


She let herself be held by the familiar awning of Dolly’s bar, the only home she’d ever known.


But mostly, for the first time, Violet let herself be held by her friends, the only family she’d ever had.


“I love you so much,” loaded, heavy tears splattered down her face. “I just don’t know what I’m doing right now.”


They didn’t offer Violet words or advice or assurance. They just stood by her side and cried too.



*


Knife seamlessly popped open Violet’s pink pill bottle. She kept her eyes fixed forward, toward the bar.


“Do you want anything?” Catalina asked. Knife grabbed a handful of Violet’s pills from the plastic case. She stuffed them into her mouth so confidently Catalina didn’t notice anything strange.


“Yeah! How’s a Jack Daniels and Red Bull?” she lilted, her mouth packed with pills.


“Coming right up,” Catalina chirped, wondering where Jack had gone.


Knife felt a stab of regret pierce her gut as she swallowed the amphetamines she’d stolen from Violet. This wasn’t who she was anymore. How could she betray Violet? Violet was her world.


She crept toward the window. She watched Violet and Gabriella and Patra and Dara crying together, wiping tears off each other’s faces. The first flurry of the season fell over their heads. Violet noticed and pointed to the sky. Knife watched their eyes light up like neon signs. Violet twirled in her oversized fur. They all huddled together and stared with glassy eyes into the tiny snowflakes shimmering in the air.


Knife felt the tiny sparkle of speed. She no longer regretted stealing Violet’s meds. Winter had come early. Knife was alone. But as long as she had chemicals, she never had to feel this way again.





On West 23rd Street, smack between two ugly avenues, sits the Hotel Chelsea.


Only the clueless tourists who are forced to snap pictures of her underwhelming exterior by their misfit goth nieces back home in Missouri, call her the Hotel Chelsea. The rest of us — misfit gothic nieces included — call her the Chelsea Hotel.


But to the old-world gallery dwellers of downtown, she’s simply — *lights cigarette and scowls at happy yuppie walking puppy* — The Chelsea.


Born in 1884, the twelve-story building was once the tallest in the city. And in her mid-century heyday, she housed every iteration of New York artist, messy heiress, and falling star.


In the spring of 1968 tortured rock legend, Janis Joplin lived in The Chelsea. So did, brooding singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. “I remember you well at the Chelsea Hotel. You were talking so brave and so sweet. Giving me head on the unmade bed while the limousines wait in the street,” he wrote of their fourth-floor affair in the song, “Chelsea Hotel No. 2.”


Before she was a queen of New York’s early punk-rock scene and before his exquisite portraits of gay men and bondage rendered him an artworld darling, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe cohabitated in room 1017, the smallest unit in The Chelsea. The year was 1969 and rent cost fifty-five dollars a week.


Dumb boys with creepy ponytails who won’t pay for your drinks at KGB bar will tell you that Jack Kerouac wrote On The Road while staying there. But the elite of generation beat knows that’s wrong. Kerouac and Gore Vidal famously fucked at The Chelsea, following a 1953 bar-crawl.


Blue-blooder and sparkly Warholian superstar, Edie Sedgwick set her mattress ablaze after falling asleep candle-still-lit in room 105. A decade later, down the hall, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols would be accused of stabbing his young, troubled lover Nancy to death, in room 100.


Bob Dylan wrote “Blonde on Blonde” in room 211. They auctioned the original door for six figures.


The Chelsea — which, according to Keith Richards, only used to hire bellboys who were “certified drug dealers” is glamourous to the kind of people who glamorize bad behavior and dying for art’s sake.


Naturally, Violet and Gabriella were obsessed with the place. “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” had been playing on a loop in their heads for as long as they could remember.



Violet discovered The Chelsea through her love of Edie Sedgwick, such is the case for most stylish girls with daddy issues.


Gabriella was introduced through her Aunt Valentina, a transgender performance artist turned Long Island school teacher, who’d wax poetic to Gabriella about her alleged affair with a Nigerian oil heiress in room 501.


“That room was the grandest room of ALL the rooms in The Chelsea,” she’d slurred to Gabriella, then an impressionable teenager with a retainer and clip-on bangs. “We did mountains of cocaine and made love until the sun rose over the isle of Manhattan. It was marvelous.”


Gabriella twirled a plastic ring from Wet Seal around her prosthetic finger. “Should I try coke?”


“Honey, I learned a long time ago that blow is for bad girls,” she paused to refill her mug of wine. “Good girls —” she slurped her sauvignon and smirked, “we stick to wine.”


“What’s blow?” Gabriella asked but Valentia didn’t hear her. She was too busy humming along to the Christmas music blasting through her kitchen. Like all manic-depressives, Valentina played Christmas music twelve months a year.


Gabriella recounted this story to Violet on the rooftop of Violet’s building last week. Tenants were forbidden from being up there, but to pretty young things, rules are suggestions.


“Your Aunt sounds cool,” Violet purred into the half-moon. They were sharing a blunt and sipping wine from a bottle shivering in faux fur. “Did she ever take you there?”


“Nah,” gray smoke steamed from her lips. She’d just had a syringe of filler injected into her mouth and looked like a pornstar. “She was supposed to but —” she passed the blunt to Violet.


“— but what?” She brushed a fallen ember off her coat.


“We made it to twenty-first street before she had one of her signature meltdowns.” Gabriella giggled, a sweet, sensual high slowly pouring warm candle wax over her brain. “She saw an Equinox gym I think? Or was it a Whole Foods? I don’t remember. But what I do remember is her screaming ‘DOWNTOWN IS DEAD’ at the top of her lungs, dragging me by the ponytail fifteen blocks to Penn Station.”


Violet leaned backward and flattened her torso into the cement. “I get it.”


Gabriella lay down next to her and stared soulfully into the stars. “So do I.”


The two best friends leaned their heads together and grieved silently for a New York they’d never met and never would. Because that New York had died in the ‘80s when crack and glam rock replaced LSD and poetry.


“I remember you well at The Chelsea Hotel, you were famous your heart was a legend,” their guardian angels sang from the sky, ‘cause let’s face it. Neither girl would have a spirit guide who wasn’t a fan of Leonard Cohen.


A few days later they were lazily strolling through Alphabet City when Violet casually chirped: “I got us a room at The Chelsea for your birthday.”


Gabriella halted in her six-inch over-the-knee boots. “What?”


“I got us a room at The Chelsea for your birthday. It’s booked.” Violet was wearing a mint-smocked baby doll dress under a powder-blue faux fur which she kept taking on and off. She’d had a mild fever for several days and was teetering between piping hot and freezing cold.


“You’re kidding?!” Gabriella shrieked so loudly the intravenous drug user shooting up on the stoop to the left stared at them transfixed.


Violet’s hazel eyes were spinning like two yellow dreidels. Suddenly sweating, she ripped her coat off and hugged Gabriella. “I’ve never had a friend like you.” Her clammy body was sticky against Gabriella’s red patent trench.


Gabriella hugged Violet back. “That’s lowkey offensive.” Tears pooled out of her chocolate-almond eyes. Her fake mink lashes dampened Violet’s face. “You’re a fucking sister.”


Violet pulled away.


Gabriella sadly watched big wrought-iron gates spring from the cracks in the sidewalk and prison guard Violet’s heart. But she didn’t say anything. She just popped a stick of juicy fruit into her pornographic pout. “Bitch,” she chomped.“What the fuck are we going to wear?”



*


Aunt Valentina, much like Gabriella, was vastly different from her family in Massapequa, Long Island. For starters, she’d rocked her traditional Italian-American parents when she’d come out as a transgender woman in the early seventies.


Whenever Valentina babysat a young Gabriella, Gabriella would bat her lashes and squeal in the bath: “Please! Please, Auntie Val! Tell me the story of when you told Nonna you were a woman?”


Valentina would throw her elegant hands into the air and theatrically recount how her mother, Flavia, upon hearing the news, had collapsed onto the plastic-wrapped couch of their Howard Beach apartment.


“She didn’t come to for over six minutes. Can you believe that? Six minutes! We thought she was dead!” The number of minutes swelled each time she told the story, but Gabriella didn’t care. This was her favorite bedtime story.


And according to Long Island suburban legend, right as Flavia’s husband Guiseppe was about to call the paramedics she’d hopped onto her feet, rushed into the bathroom, popped three valiums, and locked the door of her bedroom. Twenty-one hours later, she appeared in the kitchen, bright coral lipstick freshly applied, hair expertly sprayed into a series of indestructible curls, magnificent turquoise swing dress twirling in the breeze of the ceiling fan. She’d first winked at her chainsmoking, nervous-wreck husband, Guiseppe. Then she’d winked at Gabriella’s mother (then a teenager). Lastly, she winked at Valentina (formerly Valentino).


“Valentina, would you prefer we have ravioli or ziti for dinner?” she asked, flashing a brilliant smile.


“Oh, ravioli, for sure,” Valentina answered in her typical entitled way.


“Well too bad ‘cause I’m making ziti!” Flavia bellowed, her pearlescent skin gleaming like never before.


And that was that. Valentina was accepted by everyone in the family — besides one chin-less cousin, no one liked anyway.


But it wasn’t just her gender identity that set Valentina apart from the pack. Instead of getting a “union job” like the rest of her siblings, she’d moved to New York at seventeen to become an artist. She’d hung out at the Warhol Factory and claimed to have had her heart smashed by Jackson Pollock. She’d dropped acid with Dennis Hopper in Peru. She’d had a brief stint working as the executive assistant to a notorious Hollywood Madam. She’d danced on tables at Studio 54. She’d lost all her money to a multi-level marketing scheme and moved to Long Island right when Gabriella was born. But being dead broke, single, and living with her Republican sister in Bayshore didn’t stop her from terrorizing the town with her pink feathered hair bursting into local school board meetings (despite having no children of her own) demanding MORE FUNDING FOR THE ARTS!


Even though she could be a nasty drunk and fiercely criticized Gabriella’s poetry, Gabriella and Valentina were as close as can be. Without Valentina, Gabriella wouldn’t know anything about art or The Chelsea Hotel. Without Valentina, Gabriella wouldn’t have known that the most powerful thing a unique girl can do is throw sequins over the very sparkle that set her apart.


*


Later that night Gabriella sobbed in the shower.


She sobbed because she missed her family on Long Island. Especially Aunt Valentina who, for reasons unbeknownst to her, refused to speak to her since she’d moved to the city.


She sobbed because there was $-25 in her bank account and rent was due next week and how the fuck was she going to pull it off?


She sobbed because despite the heaps of attention, something about New York made her feel squat and ordinary.


She sobbed because her boss at the sex magazine she worked for had yelled at her in front of her superiors three days in a row.


She sobbed because even though she’d always longed to live alone, excruciating pangs of loneliness shot through her bones like growing pains.


But mainly she sobbed because finally —


all of her dreams were coming true.


*


It was a foggy November evening in 2007 and the Chelsea Hotel was music-less and sucked dry by the radiator. Besides a handful of old iconoclasts huddled over a bucket of moonshine in room 304, the only trouble makers in the building were the ghosts of former residents, pissed off about the institution’s new management. Every hour or so Dee Dee Ramone would rise from the dead and furiously shake newly hung paintings ‘til a trust-fund girl skittered away screaming into the street.


But a wild electricity jolted the dull air awake when Gabrillea came stomping through the lobby blowing bright red bubbles of Juicy Fruit, a fresh set of lashes tickling her shimmery brow bone, mesmerized, emotional, and ready to turn twenty-seven.


She slung her vinyl pink weekender bag off her shoulder and watched it thump against the floor of room 506. “Warhol shot some of ‘Chelsea Girls,’ in that room, you know,” Violet had gushed down the phone, just last night. She hadn’t heard from Violet since.


BANG. BANG. BANG. Pounding against the door of her room tore Gabriella from her thoughts.


“Violet!” Gabriella swung open the door, too relieved to be angry. “I’ve been so worried about you, where have you — ”


“Surprise!” belted a stable of eclectic dykes. Gabriella gasped. Piled outside of room 506 stood Patra, Imani, and Dara, curious eyes fox-trotting like ballroom dancers, clutching magnums of champagne and tinfoil boxes filled with pink cupcakes.


Imani swagged into the room and plopped on the queen bed. “Isn’t Violet with you?”


Dara followed her, fumbling with the foil of the champagne bottle she was holding. “She’s probably in the bathroom downstairs writing a mentally ill poem she’ll ask to critique at 4 a.m.”


Patra stood quietly in the doorway.


“She’s here right? I mean this was her idea,” Dara pressed, twisting the champagne cork. POP. Just the right amount of bubbles oozed from the sides of the bottle.


“I don’t know where Violet is. I can’t reach her,” Gabriella instantly resented the quiver in her voice. She felt childish and dumb in her new pleather catsuit and matching dog collar.


“Well, I, for one, am worried. Yeah, Violet can be a fuck up, be she’s a fuck up who shows up,” Dara began to nervously pace in the tiny, historic space.


“Seriously. Let’s go over to her apartment, NOW,” Imani announced, her inner basketball captain taking over.


“No.” Patra glowered. “No one is going anywhere.” She stepped into the room and clicked the door closed. “I refuse to let Violet ruin Gabriella’s night.”


“But aren’t you, like, nervous?” Dara asked anxiously.


“Absolutely fucking not. Violet’s fine. She’s being a selfish piece of shit, that’s all.” She stalked over to Gabriella. “Trust me. I’ve known her the longest,” she rasped in a sexy, lazy voice. “Now let’s get fucked up and celebrate the birth of the hottest lesbian in New York.”


The girls, grateful for instruction, did as they were told and partied in the Chelsea hotel before hopping into a Dolly’s-bound cab at nine-ish as planned, buzzed and beautiful in leather and chains. Their incessant chatter left no room for the darkness of the truth: That perhaps Violet’s seemingly indestructible light had finally blown itself out.


Dolly’s was packed with queers hailing from a multitude of generations dressed in their own, unique interpretations of bondage chic. Most of them didn’t even know the birthday girl. But that’s the thing about party gays. They have no shame. They’ll show up at a stranger’s door dressed to the nines all in the name of having a good time.


Patra grabbed Gabriella by the shoulders and marched her through the crowd so quickly, Jack who was in ass-less chaps over wrinkled corporate slacks, didn’t even notice them speed past her eyes. Patra shoved Gabriella into the tiny dive bar bathroom, pressed her against the graffitied walls, and kissed her hard.


Gabriella kissed her back.


It wasn’t a particularly sexual kiss but it also wasn’t a-sexual. It wasn’t a particularly passionate kiss but it also wasn’t meaningless. It wasn’t a particularly happy kiss but it also wasn’t sad.


It was a necessary kiss between two friends who need a fucking second before getting swept away in the dancefloor tornado.


It was a procrastination kiss.


But it still felt nice.


Like numbing out to a shitty pop song on the radio because you know real art will make you cry and holyshit — you’re over crying. It was a kiss to get lost in, like a video game.


I remember you well at the Chelsea Hotel. That’s all. I don’t even think of you that often. The walls of Dolly’s softly sang until Gabriella and Patra forgot all about their missing friend.