The second Knife stumbled through the doors, she spotted her prey. Bar None was a dimly lit East Village dive notorious for its raucous college clientele.


Her prey was a college girl.


A pretty college girl.


A pretty college girl with a horse mane of highlighted hair that kissed the top of her ribcage. A halo of frizz circled her head like a crown. Her spray-tanned skin glowed vibrant tangerine. She smiled shyly into space as a troop of glossy-lipped sorority girls armed with Canal Street Guccis chatted away, their speech speedy and strange from a surplus of Ritalin.


Knife chose this particular girl not just because she was by far the prettiest pick of the litter, but because of her vacant eyes. Knife could intrinsically sense the pretty girl was soul-shatteringly bored with her Delta Zeta Whatever life. And nothing aroused Knife quite like a girl gone bored. Resuscitating the flatlined heart of a listless girl wasn’t just her superpower, it was her kink.


Knife licked her pointer finger. She reached into the coke bag tucked into the pocket of her distressed black jeans. She kept her gaze fixed forward as she twisted her spit-laden finger into the sticky white powder. She ran her finger across her Pepto-Bismol gums. A sprinkle of coke fell from the top of her mouth and landed like a snowflake on her tongue. It tasted bitter. Synthetic. She rubbed her finger back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, until her mouth was so numb she forgot she had teeth. Her eyes sparkled. Her heart tap-danced. The chemicals never ceased to let her down. She hoofed her way to her prey.


“Excuse me?” Knife asked the pretty girl, penetrating her with an invasive, blinkless stare. The pretty girl smelled of burnt hair and Pantene “smooth and sleek” conditioner and Dihydroxyacetone.


“Yes?” The pretty girl pulled her fried hair to one side and began smoothing down the fly-aways with trembly fingers.


“I swear I know you from somewhere. What’s your name?” Knife wondered what would happen to the pretty girl if she were to set her curls free. She’d probably ditch the frat party, come to terms with the fact that she detested NYU, dump her finance major boyfriend, drop out of college, relocate from Murray Hill to East Williamsburg and become the kind girl who wears cat eye glasses and high-waisted shorts and attends monthly bondage parties in sex dungeons in Bed Sty. Yes, Knife might’ve been a compulsive liar with a fragile ego and troubled past — but that didn’t mean that she didn’t possess an impressive understanding of the life-changing power of a change in hair.


“Lissie,” the pretty girl’s voice was sweet and bright like a maraschino cherry.


“I’m Knife. You work in fashion, right?” Knife asked despite the fact that Lissie looked nothing like a fashion girl. But Knife knew that everyone in New York secretly wants to be mistaken for a fashion girl. You don’t move to do this mess of a city if you aren’t a little bit starry-eyed for style.


Lissie looked at Knife, her eyes twinkling with innocent joy like she’d just won a Teddy Bear at a small-town fair. “I do!” She beamed. “I work in accessories at Bloomingdales. The 59th street location for now, but I’m about to transfer to SOHO. SOHO is so much cooler than midtown.”


Knife nodded at the gorgeous pools of coral flesh spilling out of the sides of Lissie’s skin-tight jeans. She could hear a soft growl emerge from inside the crotch of her leather pants. Her body was hungry for more bare flesh. “I did an event in your store. I’m a model,” Knife winked.


“Oh my god,” Lissie gasped. “You were the girl in the men’s underwear campaign two years ago? That was you — right?” She studied Knife. “It totally was you. This is amazing. This girl I know who works at the Chanel beauty counter realized she was, like, bi after you made that appearance at Bloomies!” Lissie threw her hand against her heart. “Wow. A real model. A New York City model.”


Knife’s ego took a hit of ecstasy. “I remember you,” Knife lied, glamouring Lissie with her Vampire eyes.


“Really?” Lissie felt like she was under a spell.


Really.” Knife touched Lissie’s arm. They were hairless and damp with spray tan. “Want to have a cigarette outside with me?” Knife asked, her eyes glittery and heartless like a nightclub.


Lissie stared into her manicure. She suddenly regretted not asking for the pointy stiletto nails she desired but feared she lacked the cool-girl “je nais se quois” to pull off. “I’m here with my friends,” She murmured, gesturing to Troop Designer Dupe. The wolfpack glared at Lissie and folded their arms cultishly. “They’re really sensitive about girls’ nights.” She whispered into Knife’s ear. The heat of her breath curled into the air like smoke.


“Your friends are grown women,” Knife whispered back. “And so are you.” Knife pulled two Parliaments out of her pocket and stuck one in her mouth. It casually hung out of the folds of her puffy lips. Lissie felt nervous. Dizzy. Alive.


“I’ll be right back!” Lissie promised, saluting to the sea of suspicious eyes. “I promise. You know how seriously I take girl code. She hopped off her barstool. Her thick wedge sandals smacked hard against the bar floor.


“You don’t even smoke,” a cold blonde dripping in fake gold hissed.


“People change, babe,” Knife cooed, twisting her hips and slinking toward the bar door.


Knife chuckled. Lissie wouldn’t be coming back. She’d be coming. But not back.


*


“So, tell me what the fuck really went down between you and Ray?” Gabriella asked Violet. They were gossiping over champagne and snails at Buvette, a scene-y, pocket-sized, brasserie in the West Village.


Ever since they’d met at the bougie lesbian party at the Standard hotel the weekend prior, Violet and Gabriella had been inseparable. They had just the right amount in common: Gabriella was the Senior writer for a lesbian sex magazine; Violet was the Senior writer for a mainstream digital media outlet. Gabriella took Prozac; Violet took Lexapro. Gabriella suffered from unpredictable bouts of violent diarrhea that caused her to abruptly leave fabulous parties early. Violet’s bowels were drier than the Sahara Desert, acute constipation causing her to also leave fabulous parties early because no one likes being at a fabulous party constipated. Gabriella had battled a crippling anxiety disorder since the seventh grade; Violet had spent a decade paralyzed by depression. Gabriella dropped out of Parsons; Violet dropped out of Pratt. Gabriella self-medicated with shopping sprees; Violet self-medicated with martini benders. They both preferred their red lipstick to have a blue undertone, worshiped at the altar of Sylvia Plath, thought vintage jewelry was chic but found vintage clothing to be “creepy,” devoured the Andy Warhol diaries when feeling blasé about life. Adored Paris Hilton. Edie Sedgwick. Jackie Collins. Daddy dykes. Glamour. Les Misérables.


Neither made a lot of money nor had rich parents, but damn, did they act like they had both.


“Answer me, slut,” Gabriella pried. They’d taken to calling each other affectionate nicknames like “slut” “whore” and “bitch.”


“You’re the sluttiest little bitch in town, which is the only reason I’m willing to discuss this depressing subject matter with you” Violet tapped her lavender-painted nails against her champagne glass. She’d been experimenting with switching from a martini diet to a champagne diet. It seemed like a step in the right direction.


Gabriella stuck a snail into her mouth and looked at Violet, expectantly.


“So, I guess I should start by saying I have daddy issues.”


“All hot girls have daddy issues.”


“I don’t mean like hot daddy dyke issues,” Violet stabbed the last snail with her fork and coyly popped it between her lips. “I mean who are we kidding, I have those too,” she purred. “But, like, I mean I also hate my actual dad.”


“All hot girls hate their dads.” Gabriella peered into Violet’s sad eyes. “I get it,” she added softly.


“You do?”


“Okay, let me preface: I’m obsessed with both of my parents. But — “ Gabriella took a loaded pause. “My mom’s abusive dad walked out on the whole family when she was eleven and before she dealt with all that in therapy she had this – ”


“Perpetual fear of rejection?”


“Yes. And she recently told me that before she met my dad –”


“She sought out father figures in the form of toxic codependent emotionally abusive partners?”


“Yes! Totally. She dated some real assfucks back in her day! She didn’t know how to —”


“Receive love?” Violet sighed. She looked at her empty champagne glass. Fuck it. She flagged down the waiter. “Can we have two martinis please?”


“You know I only drink champagne,” Gabriella crossed her legs. She was wearing black vinyl leggings with strategic slashes across the thighs.


Violet crossed her legs. Her legs were bare except for the frilly white socks peeping out of her patent Mary Janes. “Champagne is for whores.”


“Perfect. I’m a whore. But I’m a whore that’s also an amazing friend so yes, sir,” Gabriella batted her long, fake eyelashes at the mortified-looking waiter. “We’ll take two martinis. Make ‘em extra dirty. Like my friend here who is a NASTY SLUT.”


“Um, sure!” The waiter managed to croak before scampering away like a street cat.


“So describe Ray. What makes her so toxic?” Gabriella pressed.


“One minute she’s obsessed with me. Tells me she wants to be with me forever. The next minute she hates me. Accuses me of cheating. Says my career is a joke. Tells me I’m ugly.”


“Violet, you’re beautiful. You are like lowkey the hottest girl I have ever seen.”


“I’m not. But that’s okay.” Violet rolled her eyes. “Look, I don’t want to do the whole ‘you’re pretty’ song and dance. I don’t feel pretty in the slightest, I feel like a space alien. And I know my career is completely ridiculous and probably won’t go anywhere and that I’ll be broke for the rest of my life. I also know that I’m fucking up my life by avoiding my past and silencing the demons with booze and drugs. And I know this is all going to come crashing down. Soon.”


Two martinis appeared before their eyes. “You know what I think?” Gabriella asked, her sultry eyes suddenly cozy and pillowy.


Violet took a gulp of her martini. “What?”


“I think that you’ve chosen someone whose shitty opinion of you matches your shitty opinion of yourself. Your shitty opinion about yourself that your deadbeat fuckin’ dad pounded into you. And I think that you think if you can convince Ray you’re actually amazing and worthy of love, you’ll convince yourself that you’re amazing and worthy of love.”


A lonely tear slithered its way down Violet’s face.


“I’m sorry. That was a lot,” Gabriella grabbed Violet’s hand.


“No. Thank you.” Violet squeezed Gabriella’s hand back.


Violet found herself strangely grateful that Gabriella had ripped her protective band-aide off. She nervously watched as Gabriella stared into her open wound. She anticipated the bitter sting of peroxide, but instead, felt a rush of fresh air.


“Tell me one last thing,” Gabriella’s voice dropped three octaves. “Does she hurt you?”


“We hurt each other,” the electricity suddenly zapped out of Violet’s vibrant, gold eyes. Gabriella observed her new best friend. She looked far away, like a blurry photograph of a different time captured on a disposable camera. Gabriella’s lingering suspicion that the situation with Ray was far worse than Violet had led on, suddenly confirmed itself. She shivered. Was Violet in danger?


*


Ray was sound asleep, her back flat against the Tempurpedic mattress that lay atop Nia Green’s king bed in her Fire Island summer home. Ray hadn’t visited Nia in weeks. She’d claimed she’d taken on a new slew of clients who wanted her out in the Hamptons. Logically, it made sense. Ray was becoming one of the most coveted celebrity trainers on the Eastern Seaboard, and of course, all the Wall Street wives would pay whatever it took to acquire Hollywood-grade abs. But Nia had a sneaking suspicion there was more to the story. They’d been in their usual Fire Island routine of rigorous morning beach runs followed by a marathon of orgasms, but something was off.


Mainly it was the sex. The sex was different. Ray normally stared into Nia’s eyes when she came. This time she’d kept her eyes squeezed shut as if she was actively working to visualize something (or someone) else. On top of that, Ray usually seemed to take great delight in bringing Nia right to the brink before pulling her mouth away from between her legs and lightly running her tongue across her thighs. Tonight Ray hadn’t teased her at all. And while Nia wasn’t exactly well versed in the art of lesbian sex, she was pretty sure teasing meant caring. Especially for lovers like Ray.


But Nia had also been harboring a dirty little secret of her own. Ever since she’d been shell-shocked by a random flashback of almost kissing her teenage crush Imani, she’d couldn’t stop thinking about her. With a little sleuthing, she’d found her on Facebook. She’d lost an entire eight-hour day to stalking her on social media. She wasn’t surprised to discover she’d been a star basketball player for the UConn Huskies, but had been devastated to learn that a knee injury had prevented her from going pro.


But what really cracked her heart open wide, were the pictures of Imani’s face.


Her smile was equal parts fierce and equal parts gentle. Her wide-set eyes were both strong and kind. Looking at Imani through the cold static screen of her laptop made her feel safe. And excited. She’d never experienced the two sensations at once.


Nia stared at Ray’s sleeping naked body and quietly tiptoed toward the living room, nervously clutching her phone. What was it about Ray that made her feel afraid? She was Nia Fucking Green. She’d fearlessly stared the wrath of Hollywood in the eye and had thrown punches into the boxing ring of fame. She felt a match strike inside of her eyes. Within seconds, she was full of fire. She curled her long legs beneath her and opened up the Facebook app on her phone, as flames danced around her.


*


Knife pressed Lissie up against the bar bathroom wall.


“I’ve never even kissed a girl before,” Lissie whispered breathlessly, basking in the new sensation of a girl chest leaning against her girl chest. “I want you. But I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”


“I’ll show you what to do,” Knife traced her bony fingers along the outline of Lissie’s collarbones. Goosebumps popped up, one by one, across Lissie’s entire body. Knife leaned down and began kissing her neck. Lissie moaned. Knife laughed. She wasn’t going to give it to her that easily. She lightly pinched Lissie’s nipple and let her lips linger over hers before softly biting her lower lip.


POUND. POUND. POUND.


Someone was aggressively knocking on the door. “Don’t worry ‘bout it,” Knife assured, unzipping Lissie’s jeans.


Lissie didn’t seem to notice the knocking. She breathed loudly. “Please,” she begged.


“Open the fucking door,” boomed a loud male voice.


“Oh. My. God.” Lissie suddenly froze. “That’s my boyfriend.”


“You have a boyfriend?


“Yes. And I love him. What the fuck am I doing? I’m not even gay!” She yanked up her jeans and opened the bathroom door. “It’s not what it looks like,” she cried. “I promise.”


The boyfriend stood at least seven inches taller than six foot Knife. His arms angrily bulged out of his black Hanes t-shirt. His beady eyes teemed with primal rage. He stalked over to Knife and grabbed the collar of her white shirt with meaty hands. Her shirt was covered in Lissie’s orange foundation and sparkly pink lipgloss. He pushed Knife up against the brick wall of the bar. Knife floated to the ceiling and watched the scene, safe up high from the rafters.


“What are you doing here?” she faintly heard him growl into her ear. “Get the fuck out of here before I beat the shit out of you. Fuckin’ dyke. You don’t belong here.”


She suddenly fell from the ceiling and slammed back into her body. He’s right. I don’t belong here. What am I doing? She ripped herself out of his grasp and shot out of the door like a cannon.


I don’t belong here. I don’t belong here. I don’t belong here. I don’t belong here.


Where do I belong? She wondered, staring into the starless sky.


Suddenly the memory of Catalina’s bright green eyes cast a tiny glimmer of light on her. She knew exactly where to go.


*


Maybe it was the intensity of their conversation at brunch.


Maybe it was the three glasses of champagne and two martinis.


Maybe they were high off the thrill of new friendship.


But for whatever reason, the moment Gabriella and Violet stumbled into Dolly’s, they felt possessed by a fabulous demon.


“Slap me!” Violet slurred to Gabriella. “I can’t feel anything!”


“Only if you slap me first,” Gabriella giggled as Jack gawked at them from the corner of the bar.


Violet gently rested her hand against Gabriella’s face. Her cat eyes danced wickedly. Violet’s hand slapped hard against Gabriella’s jaw. Gabriella’s fire engine mouth broke into a shit-eating grin.


“Harder!” Gabriella shouted so loudly she silenced the bar. Violet raised her freshly manicured hand in the bar air. Her oversized turquoise ring glinted beneath the naked bulbs that hung over their heads.


God damn it. Jack thought to herself, stomping over to Violet and Gabriella. She knew where this was going and it wasn’t going to end well.


“Alright, alright, I’m putting a stop to this shit, right now.” Jack lectured, wedging her sweatshirt adorned torso between the two bewitched girls.


“But I need to FEEL something,” Violet bellowed theatrically.


A group of notoriously gossipy dykes lapped up the scene, their tongues wagging out of their parched mouths. Jack grimaced at them. “Mind your own fuckin’ business, ya hear?” The thirsty girls scattered. Jack was an elder. And if an elder yells at you at the gay bar, you’d be a fool not to listen.


Jack wrapped her arms authoritatively around Violet and Gabriella. “Listen kiddos — why don’t we get some fresh air?”


“I quit smoking,” Violet smirked. “And martinis. And pretty soon I’m going to stop abusing pharmaceuticals and start loving myself.”


“Um, I love that for you, but like, I just lowkey saw you smoke a cigarette and you forced martinis down both of our throats less than an hour ago,” Gabriella smirked back.


“The past is in the past, darling,” Violet said primly.


“You girls are fuckin’ nutty tonight. What is it, a full moon?” Jack asked. Or a lifetime of unresolved trauma manifesting itself in strange ways? she added, silently.


Gabriella planted a wet kiss against Jack’s cheek. “It’s always a full moon, Jack,” she crooned. Jack blushed so hard it was impossible to tell what was more red: Her face or the bright red Chanel lipstick imprinted into her skin.


“Look —” Violet dizzily pointed toward a woman with short black hair, buttery olive skin, and shiny chocolate eyes, sitting alone at a cocktail table to the left of the bar. Even though it was summer, she had a black leather jacket draped over her broad shoulders. Her tattooed hands clutched a beer. Her raised eyebrow and relaxed jaw emitted a casual confidence exclusive to celebrities who’d never sought fame, fame had sought them.


“Is that —?” Gabriella looked curiously into Violet’s big doll eyes.


“It’s Natalia Gonzalez. The famous international DJ. Jose Antonio does her hair. She is so sexy.” Violet suddenly looked demonic. Jack wouldn’t have been shocked if horns surfaced out of the sides of her head. She looked at Gabriella. Her stretched-out smile was...satanic.


“We should totally have a threesome with Natalia,” Gabriella hooted. “Before we fall in love with some asshole and can’t do this kind of fun shit anymore.”


“If we don’t have a threesome tonight, we’ve FAILED at life,” Violet sing-songed, twirling. Her navy fit and flare dress billowed around her.


Jack rolled her eyes. She suddenly no longer desired Gabriella or Violet. Her lust turned metamorphosed into something entirely different. Protection. For better or worse, these whack-job girls were family. And she couldn’t have them loudly blathering on about their drug problems and threesomes in public. “Come on girls,” she declared, glaring at the snickering gossip lesbians, who were savagely stuffing handfuls of rhetorical popcorn into their mouths as they watched Violet drunkenly spin in circles. “You both need to cool off.”


“Yes, daddy,” Violet lilted.


“Whatever Daddy says, we do,” Gabriella meowed like a kitten.


“How’d I get stuck with this shit?” Jack spat, leading them out the door, her face arranged in an irritated expression, even though a field of wildflowers were blooming inside of her heart.


The three dykes stood beneath the awning of Dolly’s passing a cigarette back and forth.


“Have you asked Catalina out yet?” Gabriella blew out a ring of smoke and passed a lipstick-adorned cigarette to Violet.


“She is so clearly in love with you,” Violet chirped.


“You’re all out of your fuckin’ minds,” Jack croaked, though she was loving every second of this.


“I’m sorry I never texted you back,” Violet stared sadly into the pavement. “I’m a wreck. It’s best to not come near me. But Catalina —” Violet smiled at Jack. “Now, she’s cool.” She passed the cigarette back to Gabriella.


“Hey! Isn’t that Imani?” Gabriella asked, waving the cigarette toward a tall figure loping toward Dolly’s. They’d briefly met at Dolly’s two weeks prior.


“Imani!” Violet squealed, wrapping her arms around her. “What’s up?”


“Just looking for something to do on a dismal Friday?” She flashed them a brilliant smile. “I’ve had a boring day. Week. Year.”


“You’re gonna crave some healthy boredom if you hang out with these two tonight. They’re bonkers,” Jack warned, lighting a new cigarette of her own. It was bad enough she sucked back nicotine and tobacco. She didn’t need to be inhaling the chemicals of lipstick, too.


Imani’s phone loudly beeped. “I’m so over my phone. The only messages I’ve been getting all week have been from this desperate recruiter trying to hire me as a basketball coach for some homophobic catholic school. I’m not going back in the closet for anything, let alone a shitty salary,” she ranted, reaching into her pocket and pulling out her phone. She looked at it with dread and reluctantly punched in her passcode.


Violet grabbed the lipstick cigarette out of Gabriella’s hands and stamped it into the ground. Gabriella pulled out a pack of unopened Juicy Fruit. Jack shook her head at the full, pregnant moon towering above their heads.


“Are you fucking kidding me?” Imani exclaimed, her voice incredulous.


“What?” Gabriella, Jack, and Violet asked in unison.


“This girl. This girl. This girl,” Imani’s voice shook like a leaf.


“What girl?” Violet asked.


“I loved her in high school. She broke my heart. I haven’t spoken to her since. She just Facebook messaged me. It’s been ten years,” Imani’s eyes were full of disbelief like she’d just seen a ghost (which she had).


“Wow,” Gabriella spritzed a travel-sized bottle of Miss Dior across her decolletage and passed it to Violet who did the same.


“Well, what’s her name?” Jack coughed into the air. What was with these girls and their incessant spraying of perfume? Didn’t they understand they were interfering with their pheromones?


“Nia. Nia Green.”


Violet’s stomach did a backflip. “Wait — the one I saw with Ray at the drag show? What the fuck? Why didn’t you tell me you knew her?”


“I wasn’t sure it was the same Nia Green. I was freaked out and just convinced myself they had the same name. But now I am positive. It’s her.”


Violet grabbed Imani by the shoulders. “You love her. I can tell. So we need to get her the fuck away from Ray.”


“What? Wait, Violet, what do you mean?” Imani asked.


“Hiiiii, family!” A drunken voice screamed behind them. No one had to turn their heads to know Knife had arrived.


TO BE CONTINUED…





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


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


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


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


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


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


*


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


*


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


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

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


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


Knife ignored the makeup artist.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


*

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


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


Gabriella was the latter.


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


But she always wore red lipstick.


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


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


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


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


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


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


*


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


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


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


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


“Me too,” Knife lied.


Knife held the heavy lobby door wide open for Katya.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Knife flashed her teeth. “Really?”


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


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


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


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


“Cara who?”


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


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


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


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


*


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


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


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


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


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


“Oh my god! Yes!”


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


“I heard that too.”


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


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


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







The moment Violet woke up, her heart took off like a rocket in war-torn air.


WHERE THE FUCK AM I? She squeezed her eyes shut.


PLEASE TELL ME THAT WAS JUST A DRUNKEN DREAM? Her mouth was so dry she felt like someone had stuffed cotton balls inside of it.


THERE’S NO WAY. A furious pulse pounded into her temples.


NO! She peeled open her eyes. GAH. Had she poured peroxide into them?


NO! NO! NO!


Her eyes darted around the pitch dark room. What a surprise. She was in Ray’s Hell’s Kitchen high rise.


Her heart stopped. And it all came rushing back.


Violet had been sitting on a Pepto Bismol-colored couch in a SOHO loft unsure of what she hated more: herself or the empty-binge-drinking-pill-popping-hellscape her life had become. The SOHO loft was the new home of a bougie women’s-only social networking club called “The Circle.” Tonight was The Circle’s launch party and Violet was covering the event for Lint Magazine.


Not only was Violet in the thick of a bleak depressive episode, she detested covering events. Small talk made her brain atrophy and ass-kissing made her soul recoil. The open bar didn’t include Martinis so she’d been sucking down shitty white wine alone as she emailed her psychiatrist to see if it was possible to up her dose of Lexapro.


Happiness is always one perfect dose away.


She stood in the long line for the bar feeling like a freak in a sheer lace dress and scuffed leopard heels among the coven of blow-dried girls in sleek pants and pressed blouses.


“I really like your dress,” said a girl in horn-rimmed glasses. “Is it vintage?”


“No,” Violet reached into her bag and smeared crimson lipstick onto her lips.


“You didn’t have to be such a bitch about it,” the horn-rimmed girl snapped. s


“Am I in the twilight zone?” Violet wondered aloud tossing her lipstick back into her purse.


“It’s called manners.”


Violet rolled her eyes. “It’s called meds.”


“Are you mental illness shaming me?” the horn-rimmed girl asked, her pupils widening.


“If you’re too mentally ill to not be able to handle my dress not being vintage why the fuck are you out in public?”


“Excuse me, is there a problem?” an authoritative voice clipped. Standing before them was the founder of The Circle, a notorious uptown go-getter named Lena Katz. Lena Katz had just been named “the third most powerful woman under 40 in New York” and was not someone to fuck with.


“I truly don’t understand —” Right as the words were tumbling out of Violet’s mouth, she felt a hand on her lower back.


“Sorry to interrupt, but Lena, have you met Violet? She’s a fantastic writer. A rising literary star.” Violet could feel the heat of the hand through the fabric of her flimsy lace dress.


Of course, Ray is here. Of course.


“So nice to meet you Violet,” Lena’s eyes lit up like a carnival. “I’m all about uplifting other women in the grossly patriarchal literary space,” she handed Violet a thick, matte business card. “I’d love to see some of your work.”


Violet didn’t know whether to jump for joy, hysterically laugh, or start loudly weeping.


“If Ray says you’re talented, I’d be stupid not to believe it.” Lena lightly touched Violet on her bare arm before strutting away in an impeccably tailored white Chloe pantsuit, her expensive velvet smoking slippers softly humming as they swished against the shiny floors.


“Can you get the most talented writer in New York City a martini with extra olives?” Ray asked the bartender, slithering her arms around Violet’s waist like a snake.


“They don’t serve martinis here,” Violet said stiffly.


“They do if you’re VIP,” Ray grinned and tugged at the VIP badge hanging off her neck spilling onto her crisp white buttondown.


“What the hell are you doing here?” Violet whispered once they were back on the Pepto Bismal colored couch sipping fresh martinis.


“You’re welcome,” Ray smirked.


“I’m not going to thank you for jack shit,” Violet looked at her shoes. They were badly beaten but by far the coolest fucking shoes in the room.


“Lena is my client. Has been for years.” Ray slid a hand through her slicked-back hair. “She asked me to be a founding board member of The Circle.”


“Really?” Violet couldn’t help but feel an inkling of pride for Ray. She knew Ray back when she was handing out towels at the Greenwich Village Equinox.


“Yes,” Ray placed a hand over Violet’s knee.


Violet’s leg jerked away from Ray’s hand like a dog shocked by an electric fence. “Don’t forget. I hate you.”


Ray looked down at her pinstriped pants tucked into her 20-eye Dr. Marten boots. She might’ve been the only woman at the party in flat boots, but she was by far the fucking sexiest.


“Can I just say you girls are like the most beautiful couple I’ve ever seen?” a fake blonde in a floral romper vocal-fried as she walked by.


“We’re not a couple,” Violet spat.


Ray raised a brow. “Not at the moment.”


Violet slammed her martini against the glass coffee table so loudly the fake blonde in the floral romper gasped before scampering away.


“This is why gays don’t have equal rights. You scare ‘em off with that aggressive attitude,” Ray cackled. God, how she missed Violet’s inability to read the room.


“Oh yeah? Well, it’s gays like you who make me want to go to reverse conversion therapy,” Violet glared.


“Excuse me?” a girl with a pixie cut stomped over to them in chunky clog shoes. “Did you just make a joke about conversion therapy?”


Ray started hysterically laughing. Fat, salty, tears poured out of her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. Violet followed suit and burst into her own fit of hysteria.


“What the HELL is SO funny?” Pixie cut screeched as Violet and Ray dry-heaved.


“Let’s go. We don’t belong here. We are way too much for this place,” Ray managed to choke out between breathless bellows. Violet dramatically clutched her stomach as she hedonistically roared. Ray grabbed Violet by the hand and marched her to the elevator as a sea of bewildered eyes watched them howl their way across the room.


They were doubled over, gasping for air, hooting like two well-dressed lesbian hyenas until they reached the ground floor.


Once they stepped out onto West Broadway a sobering silence fell upon them. It hung between them, as if unable to move in the thick, balmy summer air.


“One drink?” Ray nodded her head toward Cafe Felix, a renowned French Bistro on the corner of West Broadway and Grand.


“One drink, Ray,” Violet warned.


There are two types of people in this world. People who can go out for a drink and people who can not.


Violet and Ray were the latter.


The next thing Violet could remember was watching the blur of the city speed past her drunken eyes from the back of a taxi. Why does it taste so much better when it’s forbidden?


“Good to see you, Violet” Ray’s doorman, Spencer, a fat bald man with hairy hands and a Flatbush accent greeted her.


“Screw you, Spencer,” Violet slurred.


“I’ll take that as a ‘hello’” Spencer chuckled. He’d witnessed this scene a thousand times.


The second they set foot in Ray’s apartment Violet unzipped her floor-length lace dress and tossed it onto the floor. She knew clothes on the floor were Ray’s number one pet peeve.


Ray’s throat went dry. “Shit.”


“Still can’t handle a woman’s dress on your precious little floors?” Violet taunted, a satanic smile slowly transmuting across her drunken face.


“I don’t give a fuck about the clothes.” Even though she knew every inch of Violet’s body so intimately she could’ve written a dissertation on it, Ray felt as if she was looking at Violet for the first time. She wanted to always remember her this way: Full of martinis and fire, black smokey eyes sparkling, talking shit in a red thong.


“What about Nia Greene?”


“I don’t give a fuck about Nia Greene.”


“I said I wouldn’t do this again.”


Ray slowly walked over to Violet. She pinned Violet’s scrawny arms down. Violet gazed blissfully into Ray’s eyes. Oh, how I missed being out of control. Their lips brushed against each other.


“I said the same thing,” Ray breathed into Violet’s mouth before kissing her.


Ray and Violet didn’t have regular sex. They had relapse sex. The kind of sex that can only exist between two addicts who have been depriving themselves of their drug of choice until now. The kind of sex that’s heightened by the cheap thrill of doing something you vowed to never do again. The kind of sex that’s layered. Heartbreak topped by ache topped by guilt topped by desire topped by a high so skyscraping you don’t give a flying fuck about the extraordinary pain of the fall.


When it was all over they laid flat on their backs, breathing heavily, willing their bodies to sleep so they could put off dealing with the consequences ‘til the morning sun bled through the blinds.


As Ray drifted off she wished she could stay in the darkness with Violet forever. Violet shut her eyes and prayed that when she woke up, she’d be the kind of girl who craved the light.


*


“Hey, Catalina, can I get another beer?” Jack asked, hacking up a lung. She was hunched over a bar stool, alone at Dolly’s attempting to uplift the bleakness inside of her with beer. It wasn’t working.


“Of course,” Catalina crooned. She hadn’t had an erotic dream starring Jack ever since she’d had mindblowing sex with Knife in Fire Island. But damn. She wished more than anything that she could crawl back inside of her unrealistic fantasy of getting down with jack. She was safe there.


Knife, on the other hand, had ghosted her.


It was such an apocalyptically hot day in the city that Jack — who exclusively wore sweatshirts — was wearing an actual t-shirt. It spelled out “EXPLORE PALM SPRINGS” in all caps. She’d bought it during the first-ever Dinah Shore Weekend in 1991. She’d decided to throw caution to the wind and show a little ~skin~ after Gianna had gassed her up and insisted she ask Violet for a drink.


“Jacky, I’m telling you — there’s something there. I saw you two walk out on the dock in Cherry Grove. Send her freakin’ text. Ask her out. What’s the big deal?” Gianna had lectured over dinner at Montes Trattoria on MacDougal Street.


“Nah, G. There’s no point. I think she’s still hung up on that Jillian Michaels wannabe,” Jack croaked through a mouthful of veal pizzaiola.


Gianna gracefully twirled an impeccable loop of spaghetti carbonara onto her fork. “Who knows you better than anyone?”


Jack eyed Gianna’s pasta. Why the hell hadn’t she ordered the spaghetti carbonara? “Gianna Maria De Santis,”


Gianna pointed her fork at Jack like a gun. “And Gianna Maria De Santis happens to know, for a fact — that Jaqueline Kiera O’Sullivan has it bad for Violet.” She stuck a forkful of spaghetti into her mouth. “You know this dish isn’t what it used to be. It lacks...love.” She sadly mused.


“That’s what I thought about the minestrone.”


“So.” A shit-eating grin tip-toed across Gianna’s face. “You gonna text her or what?”


“Only if you give me a bite of that love-less carbonara.”


“Guess you and the carbonara have somethin’ in common?”


Jack and Gianna cackled so hard they blew the tabletop candle out.


At 10 AM the following morning, Jack finally conjured up the courage to reach out to Violet. Her heart raced as she crafted the text: “Hi. Jack here. How are you doing? Was wondering if you wanted to get a drink sometime soon?”


But as soon as Jack pressed “send” it was like a sudden surge of Spring bloomed in her chest. It had been forever since she’d asked a girl out.


When the clock struck 1 PM and Violet hadn’t texted her back, Jack was quick to snuff out the small flicker of insecurity she felt ignite in her bones. I mean it was Violet. The resident night owl of the village and it was a Saturday. She was probably still passed out.


When the clock struck 3 PM Jack began to feel sick with worry. Was Violet okay? Had something happened to her?


When the clock struck 5 PM she felt like a deflated balloon. Why had she listened to Gianna like some kind of asshole? Violet was vibrant. Beautiful. She glittered. What the hell would she ever want to do with a portly middle-aged dyke who hadn’t been laid in so long she might as well use her vagina for storage space?


By 6 PM Jack had knocked back five Miller Lights alone in her apartment and was officially out of beer. Might as well go to Dolly’s and get plastered with the rest of the lonely queers in this town she thought to herself as she stumbled out the door.


By 7 PM she was well on her way to being uncharacteristically bombed.


“Cattt. Where’s Sherafinnnaa?” Jack slurred.


Catalina beamed. Was Jack calling her by an affectionate nickname? “Serafina is in France. Or Italy. I don’t know. Somewhere posh in Europe.”


“That bitch is in Europe and I’m gonna dieth alonethh,” Jack muttered.


Catalina was stunned. She’d watched Jack suck down fourteen beers in one sitting and still be cognizant enough to escort a group of inappropriate frat boys out the door. Catalina smiled to herself. Seeing pickled Jack drunk and vulnerable was sort of sweet. “I’ll be right back,” she assured Jack as she made her way toward two disgruntled customers with matching neck tattoos grimacing on the other side of the bar.


“If those girlths are rude to you, sendth them my way,” Jack grunted.


“Hi,” Jack felt a sharp acrylic nail tap against her bare forearm. She shivered in horror. She’d forgotten her hideous flesh was exposed in her dumb teeshirt. Why hadn’t she just put on a sweatshirt! What was with her today?


“Hi,” repeated the voice. It was one of the most wildly unique voices Jack had ever borne witness to. It was an interesting mix of sultry with a hint of Valley girl upspeak wrapped up with a brash confidence exclusive to girls raised on Long Island. Jack had never heard anything like it.


Jack turned her head and took in the girl attached to the voice. She’d never seen anything like her. Her face bore tilted cat-eyes, accentuated by a thick wing of black khol extending all the way to eyebrows. She looked almost like a cartoon version of Cleopatra. Bronzed cleavage unapologetically poured out of her pink pleather-cropped corset. A matching pink pleather dog collar was tightly fastened around her neck. Her hair was pulled back into a tight blue-black ponytail so long it fell past the barstool she was perched on. She smelled of spray tan and Miss Dior Eau de parfum and Juicy fruit. She radiated a powerful energy that was both sexual and poetic. She had the kind of dominating presence that could tamper with the temperature of a room. Similar to Violet, but entirely different.


Why was this exotic creature trying to talk to her? She probably wants a free drink and knows I’m a desperate ol’ dyke she can take advantage of. Well if she thinks I’m going to fall all over her she’s in for a rude awakening. I’m done with these complicated femme freaks. Done!


“I just wanted to say something,” the girl in pink pleather said, taking a delicate sip of champagne. Who orders champagne at a dyke bar?


“What?” Jack groaned, exhausted.


“I think you’re incredibly sexy and I think the girl behind the bar totally has the hots for you.”


HUH. Jack held her breath and looked at the floor.


“I’m serious,” the girl in pink pleather insisted.


Why was her spicy-sweet lilt breaking down Jack’s walls? Jack couldn’t stop her head from looking up. The second she peered into the girl’s cat eyes, Jack realized she wasn’t trying to manipulate her into a drink. Nor was she trying to hit on her because she inhabited some sort of strange fetish for grumpy lesbians drinking alone in a downtown dive. She meant it.


Jack felt herself come alive for the first time in a decade. It was more profound than the sudden burst of spring she’d experienced earlier. It was something no amount of outside rejection could take away. It was hers.


“I’m Gabriella, by the way.” The girl stood up and extended a prosthetic arm made entirely of carbon fiber. Its bionic fingers made a robotic sound as they opened to clasp Jack’s hand. “I’m new in town.” She batted her Venus Flytrap lashes. “Maybe you could show me around?”