Manhattan’s West Village is different from other neighborhoods. It’s like the sun beams directly on her cobblestone streets and historic gay bars. She sparkles.


This is why Violet — who lived for glimmer and beauty — was always relieved to be back in the city. Fire Island was her passionate affair, but the West Village was her life partner. Violet often traipsed down Jane street with her laptop banging against her hip from inside of her oversized yellow Balenciaga, clutching a black coffee in one hand and a tattered copy of Mary Gaitskill’s “Bad Behavior” in the other, her hair softly brushing against her clavicles as tiny droplets of air-conditioner water land like lilypads on top of her head, the weight of her chunky boots keeping her from ascending into the sky, the light catching her brilliant orange eyes as they soak in the lovingly planted street flowers. Yes, Violet and the West Village were a match made in heaven.


Violet felt a tiny flood of serotonin wash through her depleted brain as she swung open the heavy door of Dolly’s. Her whole body exhaled. If the West Village was her soul, Dolly’s was her heart.


On Mondays, her favorite bartender, Sia, worked. After a long day of chasing demanding deadlines at Lint Magazine, Mondays at Dolly’s felt like a treat. Violet never invited friends to join her on her Monday night ritual, she liked to sit at the bar alone and shoot the shit with Sia, who was as whip-smart and energetic as the city herself.


“You’re just in time,” Sia winked from behind the bar. Nine shot glasses filled to the brim with clear liquid lined up like soldiers in front of her. Violet hopped on a barstool a few seats away from Cassidy, a sour-faced regular, who never smiled but always showed up.


“Shots on the house!” Sia merrily chirped, passing all nine barflies a shot of tequila. The small crowd hungrily accepted and raised their glasses in the air. They knew the drill. People who frequent the lesbian bar on a Monday don’t screw around.


Sia cleared her throat. “Cheers to surviving another Monday. Cheers to Meredith,” Sia gestured to a portrait of Dolly’s deceased founder Meredith, framed in the corner of the bar. “You know what? Tonight we drink to her legacy. Queers who came out on a Monday were Meredith’s favorite,” her eyes shined with repressed tears. She shoved them back into her throat. “Let’s fucking drink,” she bellowed as the bar hooted in delight.


The shot went down a little too easily for Violet. In fact, shots had been going down a little too easily for her ever since she’d seen Ray at the Sayville Ferry. She knew she was slipping into a dangerous cycle of over-medicating her firestorm of feelings — but it was like her brain and her body were functioning in two different dimensions.


Deal with the sadness her brain lectured.


Feed me drugs her body begged.


The body always wins.


*


Knife slicked her platinum hair back and smirked into the bathroom mirror of her studio apartment. She sprayed herself down with Gucci Rush for men. She gave herself an extra spritz when her hands made their way to the crotch of her leather pants. She rarely wore leather pants, especially in the summer, but tonight, she needed an extra boost of confidence. And nothing encourages the self-esteem of a lesbian quite like leather.


The truth was, Knife couldn’t stop thinking about the weight of Catalina’s naked body pressed on top of her naked body, and it was fucking with her head. She had done what she’d intended to do — she’d finally had sex with the most lusted after lesbian in the city. So why was she still craving Catalina like some lovesick junkie?


You need to get out of the apartment. This isn’t what you do. Go to Dolly’s get loaded and take home someone new, she repeated to herself as she gathered her wallet and keys. She paused in front of the full-length mirror for one last glance before heading out. She sighed into her reflection. Something was missing. Her eyes darted around the room until they zeroed in on an old Dr. Marten shoebox shoved against the radiator. That shoebox housed her favorite strap-on. She grinned. Suddenly, Knife knew exactly what she needed to do.


*


“Sia, have you ever read that Oscar Wilde short story about the Nightingale and The Rose?” Violet asked.


Sia squinted into the distance as she handed Violet a Martini loaded with olives. She was the only person who seemed to know all of Violet’s obscure literary references. “It’s about a nightingale who sees a boy fall in love with a girl, right?”


“Yes,” Violet popped an olive into her mouth. Martini olives were the staple of her diet these days. “And the girl refuses to give the boy a chance unless he gives her a red rose. The trouble is, there aren’t any red roses left, only white ones,” she took a liberal slurp of her cocktail, “so the nightingale kills herself by pressing a thorn into her heart. The blood from her body renders the white rose red. See — the nightingale understands that human love is so deep it’s worth sacrificing her birdlife for.”


“That’s so romantic,” a young girl with an eyebrow ring slurred. She’d been drinking alone at the bar since 2 PM.


“Yes, but after the nightingale kills herself, the girl still refuses to go on the date with the boy who loves her. She tosses the blood-red rose into the street and takes off in a fancy carriage,” Violet mused darkly, staring dead ahead.


“That’s fucking bullshit,” the girl with the eyebrow ring spat before picking up her drink and relocating to the other side of the bar.


Sia shook her head. The bar had been packed with broken-hearted baby dykes all summer.


Violet didn’t notice, she was too busy thinking about this strange Oscar Wilde story that had been haunting her brain for weeks now. “People are cold,” she said evenly. “Which is why I prefer birds.”


“I think you prefer me,” a voice rasped behind her. Violet turned her head. It was Knife, reeking of expensive men’s cologne wearing the most fabulous leather pants Violet had ever seen.


“Wow,” Violet pressed her hand against her heart. “You look amazing.” Her brain flashed back to the strange, intimate moment she’d shared with Knife in Fire Island.


“The Village looks good on me,” Knife crooned, looking Violet up and down. In her black tennis skirt and cropped black sweater, Violet looked like one of the anarchist cheerleaders from the Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video. “The Village looks good on you too,” she hummed so softly her words floated right past Violet’s ears.


“Want to go outside and have a cigarette?” Violet asked.


“Yes,” Knife answered. Fuck. yes.


Violet hopped to her feet. She’d traded in her signature leopard pumps for a fierce pair of flat motorcycle boots. It was the first time Knife had seen Violet without heels and was taken aback as to how short she was. She decided she liked towering over Violet. It leveled the playing field.

.

“Let’s go,” Violet purred. Her eyes scanned Knife’s body. She noticed a subtle bulge in the crotch of Knife’s fabulous leather pants. Cool, she thought, linking arms with Knife and pulling her outside. She was hungry for a smoke.


Cassidy watched Violet and Knife skip outside of Dolly’s and rolled her eyes. Something about the two of them rubbed her the wrong way. “Sia,” she growled. “What’s the deal with those two?”


“What do you mean?” Sia asked, even though she knew exactly what Cassidy meant. She meant give me the dirt, bitch.


“I mean what do they do? Do they have jobs?” Cassidy’s brown eyes hissed like a snake. A trust fund baby and daddy’s little princess?


“Knife is some kind of model and Violet is a writer,” Sia answered.


Cassidy chuckled. A writer and a model? Give me a break.


*


“Where did you grow up?” Violet asked Knife.


“DIE, BITCH! DIE!” a wild-eyed man in a business suit screamed at no one in particular. It was one of those Mondays where the whole city seemed to be on the verge of a collective breakdown.


“DIE BITCH!” Knife screamed back in solidarity. Knife reached into her pocket and pulled out a lighter. She held the lighter up to Violet’s face.


Violet inhaled. “So?”


“So what?”


“So where did you grow up?!” Violet exhaled.


“Oh,” Knife paused. “Somewhere far away. What about you?”


“Somewhere very far away,” Violet watched a Drag Queen take a selfie in front of a vintage boutique. “I like to pretend I was born right here on Jane Street.”


“Me too,” gray smoke billowed out of Knife’s lips.


“I actually don’t have parents,” Violet blurted. She looked at the pavement. It was full of so many cracks she didn’t understand how it managed to not fall apart.


“Really?”


“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to kill the vibe.”


“You didn’t kill the vibe. At all. And this is a strange thing to say, I know —” they locked eyes “ but I sort of like getting real with you, Violet.”


“You don’t get real with people much, do you?”


“I don’t.”


“Neither do I,” Violet leaned up against the building. A rat skittered by.


“Was it rough?” Knife asked.


“Yes.” A siren wailed in the distance. “Was it rough for you?”


Knife nodded her head slowly. A window opened in her mind. She peered inside and saw herself in the locker room of her high school in Warrens, Wisconsin. She was wearing boxer briefs and three sports bras.


“I’m going to fucking murder you,” threatened a voice. She felt a fist smash into her eye.


“Can’t take a hit like a man, can you?” taunted a different voice. Her body was shoved up against a wall. Hands clasped around her throat.


And just like that, curtains fell over the window.


Violet knew exactly what was happening. Fragmented scenes of tucked-away traumas dragged her out of the moment all the time. Knife stared into the blackness. Violet reached for her hand.


Knife jumped.


Violet’s heart stopped.


The fear in Knife’s eyes was animal. We’re the same.


“Come back,” Violet whispered.


“I had to leave the way I did,” Knife murmured, still staring into the pitch-black folds of disjointed memory.


“I know,” A lump formed in Violet’s throat. “I know.”


They fell into each other as the city protectively bustled around them. That’s the thing about New York. Regardless of how weathered her pavement, she always knows exactly how to hold you.


*


Nia Green sat alone in the Fire Island beachfront mansion, staring into space, desperately trying to make sense of the previous weekend. She’d done a lot of things she didn’t usually do — I mean she’d partied. Hard. But it wasn’t the slew of substances she’d pumped into her body that was jarring her. It was the sex.


The sex she’d had with Ray.


Even though she’d been high as a kite, she’d never felt so in her body during sex. So present. Her lip trembled as she remembered the way Ray had kissed every inch of her body including her eyelids.


“Am I gay?” she’d asked Ray, after her third orgasm of the morning.


“I dunno,” Ray had said, pulling Nia close. “You like me?”


“I do,” Nia had answered. She did.


“Then who the fuck cares?”


You’re right. Who the fuck cares? She’d thought to herself drifting into a blissful nap.


But now, curled up alone on the leather couch of this unfamiliar house, she couldn’t help but care. She picked up the phone and dialed her mother.


“Hi, sweetie,” Her mother greeted like always. “What’s going on?”


Well, I just had mind-blowing sex with my personal trainer who happens to be a woman and now I’m questioning everything and freaking out because what if I’m a lesbian? A mainstream actress can’t be both black and gay, CAN SHE? Nia wanted to scream into the phone. But instead, she just said, “Not much, mom. Not much.”


“Well, you need to rest up because you’re about to shoot the biggest movie of your life.” Her mother paused. “Now isn’t the time to stir up trouble, Nia,” she warned, her voice dropping several octaves.


How did her mother always seem to sense her restlessness? “I am literally sitting on a couch doing nothing, mom.”


“I know. Just keep it together, Ni. A lot is riding on this film. Don’t get distracted.”


She closed her eyes. A memory rocketed through her brain.


She was fifteen laying on the floor of her childhood bedroom next to Imani, her new best friend. They’d met in social studies and had been instantly magnetized to each other. Imani, who was such a wildly talented basketball player college recruiters had been stalking her since she was eleven, was the only other teenager Nia had ever met who was as dedicated to her future as she was.


Nia stared at Imani’s broad, toned shoulders. She admired the way an athlete’s body honored their hard work by gifting them sculpted muscles.


“You’re going to be a famous basketball player one day,” she looked at Imani with big, serious eyes. “I just know it.”


“And you’re going to be a famous actor,” Imani playfully jabbed Nia in the stomach. “I just know it,” she crooned, sweetly mocking Nia’s dramatic delivery.


A feeling of longing hovered above them. When their eyes met, Nia was stunned. Imani’s eyes teemed with desire. The kind of desire that’s painful to repress. Nia felt woozy. Their faces crept toward one another.


Don’t get distracted, she heard her mother’s voice sound off in her head. She pulled away. “We can’t get distracted.” Nia instantly regretted allowing those words to spill out of her mouth.


Imani stood up. “Yeah. I’m going to go,” Nia could tell by the hurt in her eyes that she would never come back.


Imani closed the bedroom door shut. Nia felt her heart drop. She picked it up off the floor and tucked it beneath the bed where it slipped quietly into a coma.


“Honey?” It was her mother’s concerned voice.


Nia snapped into the present. “Yeah?”


“Are you okay? You’re so silent. That’s not like you.”


“Sorry. I guess I got distracted,” she said. Or maybe I’m finally waking up.


*


Sia, like most of her Monday night crowd, was also heartbroken. She’d just been dumped by her girlfriend of four months. Every thirty minutes or so, a shock of pain burst through her.


“Sometimes pain needs to be put on pause,” Violet sing-songed as she twirled back into the bar.


Sia stared at her. “Would you get out of my head, please and thank you?”


“Never,” Violet smiled like the Cheshire Cat. “But seriously. Take a shot. Sometimes a shot at a dyke bar on Monday is the perfect numbing mechanism.”


“I think you're right,” Sia agreed, picking up a fresh shot glass.


“Imani!” Knife and Violet belted in unison. They might have shared a house with Imani for only one weekend in Cherry Grove — but two days in gay years is two months in straight years. They’d experienced a summer’s worth of intensity together.


“Give me all the Fire Island gossip,” Sia demanded.


“Can I order a drink first?” Imani chuckled.


“What’s your poison tonight?”


“Vodka soda.”


“You athletes and your vodka sodas. So boring,” Knife teased, swilling her Jack Daniels around her tumbler.


“Might as well drink a pair of khaki pants,” Violet snickered. “Speaking of khaki pants and vodka — I think I’m truly over Ray.”


“Well, seeing your ex walk into Raspberries with a celebrity will do that to a person,” Imani said. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for that whole scene. I’d downed too much wine with Patra at the house to make it out.”


“Back up,” Sia’s pupils dilated. She loved a good scandal. All nightlife people do. “My head is actually spinning. Ray — as in your ex?”


Violet nodded. “Ray as in my ex —”


“ — was not only in Cherry Grove at the same time as you but —” Sia peered into Violet’s eyes, “brought a celebrity as her date?”


“Something like that,” Violet poured the remains of her martini down her throat.


“Um. You’re missing a few key details, babe. Patra announced that Ray had arrived with a starlet on stage at the drag show in front of an audience,” Knife chuckled. She turned to Violet, “Sorry, I shouldn’t be laughing.”


Violet began to roar with laughter. “Honestly, this shit’s funny as fuck,” she managed to squeak before breaking into another breathless fit of hysterical laughter. If you’re not laughing, you’re crying.


“Now you’re just messing with me,” Sia said, wiping down the bar.


“I swear to The Indigo Girls,” Violet promised.


Sia looked up, rag in hand. She knew Violet well enough to know that she would never dare swear to the sacred, Sapphic Indigo Girls if she was fibbing. “Before we even process the Patra situation, I need to know. Who the hell was the celebrity?”


“Yeah. Who the hell was the celebrity?” Imani asked. “Patra said she was some actress from some show I’d never heard of?” Imani had been so laser-focused on basketball for the past decade she’d missed a whole generation of pop culture.


“Her name is Nia,” Knife purred. “Nia Greene.”


If Imani had been holding a drink it would have slipped through her fingers and smashed against the floor. Instead, she froze.





“WHAT?!” Patra screeched so loudly the performing Drag Queen, Anita Syringe, paused smack dab in the middle of her Celine Dion impression.


“Excuse me?” Anita Syringe’s voice boomed into the microphone. “You — you with the loud voice! What’s your name?” The room fell silent. A spotlight shone against Patra’s face.


Shit.


“I’m Patra,” she answered evenly, praying to the gay gods that Anita Syringe didn’t force her onto the stage of Raspberries, Cherry Grove’s premier bayfront bar. She glanced down. Seventeen gold bangles dramatically dangled from each wrist. A tiny Gucci scarf was wrapped around her torso in lieu of a shirt. Her racehorse legs were encased in fire-engine PVC hot pants and her feet donned matching fire-engine mules. And to top it all off; she’d finally mustered up the courage to rock the pale blue wig she’d bought on a whim when in the throes of a depressive episode last winter. Patra was quintessential drag-bait and Anita Syringe was one hungry Queen.


“This bitch is definitely not from Long Island with a name like Patra. So where do you live, Patra?” Anita Syringe cooed in the microphone.


“The West Village,” she murmured, her eyes flapping around the room like two captive birds.


Don’t make eye contact. If you make eye contact, it’s all over for you.


“And it looks like you brought THE ENTIRE WEST VILLAGE with you!” Anita Syringe pointed to the dozens of bracelets clanking against Patra’s bronzy arms. “So Patra of the West Village — what was so important that you felt compelled to yell during Celine Dion’s first performance of the season?” Her eyes glittered. “It’s only fair you share.”


Patra’s face was suddenly ablaze. “I don’t remember,” she stammered. Patra, unlike pathological Knife, was a horrendous liar.


“Oh look at YOU, all red-faced! You’re hiding something JUICY! SPILL THE TEA!” Anita Syringe playfully batted five sets of eyebrow-skimming lashes to the crowd, who were now chanting: “TEA. TEA. TEA.”


“I wasn’t yelling at anything,” Patra slumped deeper into her bar-stool, sick with fear.


But here’s the thing about Drag Queens.


Drag Queens are like horses.


They can smell your fear.


The next thing Patra knew she was on stage.


“Woohoo!” She heard Violet’s muffled slur bellow through the crowd.


I can do this. She coached herself. I can just play it off like I was screeching because I saw a bat! There are bats here — right? The hot stage lights burned a hole into her cornea. Her vision was suddenly streaked with black bolts of lightning. Why does it look like I’m staring into a scary kaleidoscope?


That’s when she remembered that she’d ingested an entire mushroom chocolate just two hours ago.


OOPS.


“They are potent,” Violet had warned her.


“So am I,” she’d giggled, casually popping the chocolate-adorned fungus into her mouth like it was a lifesaver.


OOPS.


“If you don’t tell us what scandal caused you to scream bloody murder during my show, you’re going to have to dance for us, West Village,” Anita Syringe threatened.


Patra’s blood ran cold. The only thing that came more unnatural to Patra than lying —


was dancing.


“MY BEST FRIEND’S EX JUST WALKED IN WITH A FAMOUS PERSON,” she blurted, before scampering off the stage like a startled mouse escaping the wrath of a trap.


The entire bar had unconsciously felt the energetic shift that can’t help but occur when a bright, shiny star descends upon mortal ground. But now they understood what the erratic change in vibe was about: A Celebrity Was On Property. Nia Green felt hundreds of eyes devour her skin like blood-thirsty leeches. Oh, It feels so fucking good to be sucked dry.


“I know that face,” she overheard the cocktail waitress, a bombshell in a crop-top named Maggie, whisper to the bartender, a hot dyke in combat boots named Alix.


“That’s Nia Green. She had a recurring role on Gossip Girl. She’s going to be the lead in the next Jody Moritz movie. She’s about to blow the fuck up,” Alix whispered back to Maggie as chills sprinted down her spine. “Maybe I should give her one of my headshots?” she wondered aloud, her eyes glistening with hope. Like most Long Island natives, Alix’s life was a Billy Joel song. She was sure she could be a movie star if she could only get out of this place.


“This sounds like some LESBIAN DRAMA!” Anita Syringe joyously howled into the microphone before breaking into an acapella rendition of Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.”


Of course, Nia knew that people were whispering about her, of course! She always had one eye judiciously scanning the landscape to clock who had recognized her. You would never know it, though. Like any star, Nia attained the intoxicating ability to make whoever she was talking to feel as if they were the only person in the room.


“Sorry about that bullshit,” Ray placed a firm hand protectively against the small of Nia’s back.


“It’s fine. I just wanted to blend in tonight,” Nia breezily lied. There was nothing she detested more than blending in.


Of course, Ray knew that Nia loved being the center of attention, of course! Ray had been training celebrities for over a decade! And Ray was perfectly happy to partake in the delusional narratives of the rich and famous. Having a defined role in an interpersonal dynamic made her feel safe. “It’s not okay,” she gruffed, reciting her lines like a pro. “But don’t worry — I’ll keep you safe,” she wrapped a kettle-bell-toned arm around Nia’s waist and pulled her over to the bar. “Hey. Bartender. Give the lady the best champagne you got.”


Nia looked up at Ray with big, concerned eyes.


She’s a natural, Ray thought to herself, amused. “Though you do need to get used to it. You’re about to blow the fuck up,” Ray whispered into her ear.



Ray’s words sounded like poetry to Nia — who on the outside was nodding her head solemnly — but on the inside felt as if she’d just taken a hit of Ibiza-grade ecstasy. Being treated like a star flooded her brain with serotonin.


Ray couldn’t help but grin. The intrinsic understanding of how to perfectly indulge a celebrity was her superpower.


That and making girls squirt.


*


Violet wasn’t mad at Patra, not even slightly. Patra was her best friend and she knew all about her inability to twist her lips around a lie. In fact, it was Patra’s unflinching honesty that Violet loved about her the most.


Violet wasn’t mad at anyone except for herself. She was mad at herself for allowing the presence of Ray to make her heart leap out of her chest, only to shatter against the hard ground. But mainly, she was mad — no she was livid with herself for behaving like Ray’s pathetic little junkie, desperate for a fix of her attention. Her approval. Her body. Her touch.


Violet’s hazel eyes slowly drank in the scene at the bar. Ray was whispering something in Nia’s ear. Nia — who looked magnetic and beautiful in her simple white tee-shirt and low-slung Fred Segal sweatpants — was giggling like a teen trying to impress a mealy-mouthed boy in the high school parking lot. Violet could tell by the engorged pupils shining in their startled eyes that they were coked to the gills. The curvy redhead she’d witnessed Ray tote around The Sayville Ferry like a Shetland pony lingered sadly behind them.


Violet was about to sneak away to the bathroom to numb herself with one of the many prescription bottles tucked inside of her purse when she heard a familiar rasp behind her. “You okay, kid?” Before her, stood Jack, reeking of Axe deodorant and nicotine.


“Got an extra cigarette?” Violet asked.


Jack reached into the pockets of her low-slung, baggy jeans and fished for a Marlboro. She popped two cigarettes into her mouth, lit them both, and handed one to Violet.


“Thank you so much, Jack,” she sighed. She quickly surveyed her brain for an excuse to walk away but the soles of her scuffed platforms seemed to be glued into the floor.


“Want to go for a walk on the dock?” Jack pointed to the regal marina splayed out in front of the bar.


“Yes,” Violet took a deep breath. “Fuck, yes.


*


Catalina clutched a plastic cup of rosè as she watched Violet and Jack make their way down the pier. She felt sorry for Violet — if anyone understood the sting of rejection — it was her. But something about the softness in Jack’s eyes as she guided Violet toward the water, injected a full syringe of jealousy into her arm.


After Catalina’s initial sex dream about Jack fucking her with a purple strap-on dildo in a New Jersey barn last month, she’d had three more. The last had been the strangest.


“You’ve been a BAD GIRL!” Jack had squawked, reaching into Catalina’s grammar school backpack pulling out a neon tiger-printed Lisa Frank binder. “And bad girls need to be punished,” she’d breathed into Catalina’s ear before whipping her with both the backpack and the binder. She’d been wearing fuzzy footed pajamas and Jack had been dressed like a mall security guard. Catalina didn’t know what the fuck the dream meant. She only knew that she’d found it outrageously erotic. That, and maybe she needed therapy.


Catalina felt two clammy hands clasp themselves over her eyes. The fingers were so long they wrapped around her entire face. She shrieked.


“GOTCHA!” Knife hooted, removing her hands from Catalina’s eyes. Knife’s face bore a dumb smile so colossal her cheekbones pressed into her eye-sockets. She noticed a wet mark on Knife’s jeans. She must be so hammered that she’s spilling drinks. Wonderful.


Knife looked messy but also sexy. There was a dilapidated charm to Knife that Catalina couldn’t help but feel affection for. Knife reminded her of a platinum Gia Marie Carangi before her heroine-addled supermodel tenure, back when she was a punky dyke running her dad’s pizza shop in Philly. Catalina’s eyes parked themselves on Knife’s lips. She suddenly forgot all about getting pelted with school supplies by a stone butch thirty years her senior.


Knife reached into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out a small bottle. “I have poppers,” she beamed proudly.


“Are we two gay boys about to have sex?” Catalina cackled.


“Psh,” Knife rolled her eyes and pressed the bottle of poppers against her nostrils. “You think only gay boys use poppers for sex?” She winked at Catalina before taking a fat inhale.


*


Jack and Violet sat at the edge of the dock. Their legs dangled in the air as they peered into the murky bay. Clouds of gray smoke belly-danced out of their lips.


“You wanna talk about that shit-show at the bar?” Jack asked. She looked at Violet. Her eyes were dead.


“Not really,” Violet tugged on the hem of her skirt. It was the color of a dirty ballet slipper and exposed her thighs which were peppered in bug bites and strange blue bruises. God, was she Jack’s type. “It’s just weird,” Violet continued.


“What’s weird?” Jack pried.


“All of it. The pills. The girls. The feelings.”


Jack noticed a gold necklace glimmering around Violet’s neck. In tiny diamonds, it spelled out the letters: TDB. “Who is TDB?” she asked mesmerized by the way it glittered against Violet’s skin.


Violet clutched the necklace. It was the dog tag Patra had hooked around her neck on the ferry. “TDB. It stands for Three Dollar Bill. As in ‘queer as a three dollar bill.’ It’s Patra’s.”


Jack looked as if she’d seen a ghost. She pulled up the sleeve of her sweatshirt, exposing her flesh to Violet. She flipped her wrist around. And there it was. In the center of Jack’s forearm were three small words tattooed in faded black ink: Three Dollar Bill.


An alarm sounded off inside of Violet’s brain. Suddenly her eyes were full of life. “Wait!” she cried, “The necklace was inspired by you!” She held Jack’s shell-shocked face in her quivering palms and stared into her eyes. “I forgot,” she said quietly. “I can’t believe I forgot.”


“Forgot what?”


She surrendered Jack’s face and released a small scream. “Get this! Patra heard you say you were ‘as queer as a three dollar bill’ one time at Dolly’s and it, it, stuck with her. She loved it so much she made this necklace! She wears it to stay strong around her homophobic family.”


Jack’s jaw dropped open so wide it kissed the surface of the sea.


*


Catalina worked hard to look sexy. She kept her silky dark waves long to the waist, wore flirtatiously hot-pink lipstick every day, and confidently displayed her wild curves in skin-tight clothing. She was notorious for her sultry stares, which she’d spent countless hours rehearsing in bathroom mirrors. If you were to mutter the sentence “hot bartender from Dolly’s” to a West Village lesbian — there would be no question as to whom you were referring to. Catalina was easily the most desired dyke on the Manhattan scene.


But what people didn’t know about Catalina, is that Catalina wasn’t that experienced, sexually. In high school, she’d been a devout Christian. In college, she’d drunkenly had sex with one guy, which made her realize she wasn’t a devout Christian, she was a devout lesbian. Since then, she’d had two long-term girlfriends, and while the sex had been perfectly lovely, Catalina had never been truly satisfied.


Until now.


“HOLY SHIT!” Catalina screamed so loudly the rooftop of Mermaid Melissa shook. The muscles in her stomach trembled as Knife’s lips worked their way down her thighs.


“Holy fucking shit,” Catalina breathily whispered as Knife’s body began to slowly grind itself into her.


“Fuck yes,” Catalina purred as Knife pulled her body on top of her body. “I can be a fucking top,” she loudly mused, as an intoxicating wave of newfound confidence crashed up against her heart.


“I’m going to COME!” she groaned. “Like NOW,” Her legs were intertwined with Knife’s legs. Their bodies moved at the speed of light as they banged against each other in flawless sync.


“Not yet,” Knife ordered. “Come with me.”


Catalina squeezed her eyes closed.


“I said come with me,” Knife growled, grabbing a fistful of Catalina’s hair. Catalina’s eyes shot open. She had never been more turned on in her life. She grabbed a fistful of Knife’s hair. Knife felt a delightful yank against her scalp. She’d never been more turned on, either.


They exploded in orgasmic bliss at the same exact time, their hands entangled in each other’s hair.


“We forgot about the poppers,” Catalina giggled, her heart still pounding.


Knife traced her fingers along the outline of Catalina’s body. “There’s plenty of time for poppers,” her eyes burned cold. “I’m not done with you yet.”


It was only after the words tumbled out of her mouth that she realized she meant what she said. Knife wasn’t done with Catalina. Not yet.


*


Gianna, Patra, Jack, and Violet stared at the violent waves crashing against the pale beach on Serafina’s terrace as they passed a sloppily rolled joint around. Serafina rarely hosted in her grand oceanfront mansion anymore, not since her lover of a decade, Lucille, had hopped a plane to Germany in the middle of the night, never to return again. She could still smell traces of Lucille in that house, and she didn’t want anyone else’s stench to override all she had left of her once-in-a-lifetime love. Tonight felt different, though. Tonight Serafina felt...calm.


There’s something about the beach at night that strips us raw. Maybe it’s because the deadly power of the tides reminds us of how small we are.


“Does it bother you, Violet?” Gianna asked softly, taking an indulgent puff of the joint like it was a delectable Cuban cigar. “That Ray came in with some kinda celebrity?”


“Really, G?” Jack said protectively. “The kid just went through hell.”


“It’s okay. It really is. And I don’t care that Ray is with someone famous,” Violet stared at her hands, intently, and then averted her eyes back to her friends.


“It’s not that.” She felt vulnerable, like an exposed nerve. The speed was wearing off. “It’s not about Ray, either. It’s about me.” She took a hard drag of her cigarette. “My toxic relationship with her is really just a mirror of the toxic relationship I have with myself.”


Her lit cigarette suddenly fell out of her shaking hands. The whole group watched it fall to the beach. The bright red cherry looked pretty floating through the black sky.


*


“Will you stay here on the weekends this summer?” Nia asked Ray. They were huddled over the mirrored coffee table inside Nia’s summer house. The curtains were drawn and the lights were dimmed. Ray felt like she was trapped in a cave.


“Maybe,” Ray said cooly, before leaning over the table and snorting a line of powder so white it glowed in the dark room.


“Pretty please,” Nia bit her bottom lip.


Ray loved hearing a girl beg. So then, why did she feel so empty? She sniffed and suddenly she could taste the bitter-sweet toxins dripping down the back of her throat. Instantly she was wrapped up in the warm blanket of chemical happiness. “Why not?” she said quickly before the drugs sent her crashing into the beautiful marble floors of a mansion that would never be hers.


*


Amanda hugged her knees as she waited on the dock for the ferry to arrive. Her phone was dead and she’d never felt more alone in her life.


“Honey” she heard a familiar lilt behind her. “You do know that the next ferry isn’t until the morning?”


She looked up. Standing above her, clad in fabulous thigh-high boots and an ash-blonde Farrah Fawcett wig was Anita Syringe, the drag queen she’d seen perform earlier in the night.


“Oh,” a silent tear slid down Amanda’s cheek.


“Baby girl, come inside,” Anita Syringe pulled Amanda to her feet. “I’m hosting after hours at Raspberries.” She gestured to the lit-up bar overlooking the dark bay.


Arm in arm, the two women cat-walked down the dock. By the time they reached the entrance of Raspberries, Amanda didn’t feel alone at all anymore.


Sometimes the drugs, the heartbreak, the betrayal, the sex, the cliquiness of Fire Island can break you. But the cracks leave room for angels. And this land is full of angels.








Nia Green was about to become the biggest star in America. Her agents knew it. Her managers knew it. Jody Moritz, the indie darling director extraordinaire who’d just cast Nia as the ingénue in her first studio film, knew it.


But no one knew that Nia Green was a star on the rise quite like Nia Green herself.


She’d known she was a vibrant, ever-spinning star since she was a six-year-old kid living in the suburbs of Chicago.


“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Nia’s first-grade teacher, Mrs. Seaman asked the classroom on a freezing cold mid-winter day.


“I want to be President of The United States,” Bradley Banks, a blue-blooded six-year-old spat. “Just like my great, great, great grandaddy!”


“How lovely!” Mrs. Seaman beamed (she was a notorious right-wing star-fucker). “You have my vote!” Her warm eyes turned cold as she gestured to Nia. “Nia, you're next.”


Nia took a deep breath. “I will be famous.”


“Famous for what?” Bradley chortled.


Nia noticed milky drool pooling in the corner of Bradley’s chapped lips. “I’m just going to be famous.”


“Well, you need to choose something to be famous for, Nia. Fame doesn’t just happen,” Mrs. Seaman hissed, her venom piercing Nia right in the heart.


Nia’s six-year-old eyes stared into Mrs. Seaman’s forty-six-year-old eyes when suddenly she felt a match strike inside of her iris. Then a flicker. Then a burn.


“Mrs. Seaman. I will be famous, that’s all.” Nia prophesied curtly. And I will do everything in my power to prove YOU WRONG. She thought to herself, taking a confident slurp out of her Juice Box.


Nia’s eyes had been on fire ever since.


Have you ever met anyone famous? Not reality TV famous or the ever-tedious “social media famous” —


I mean have you ever met a star?


There’s a fire that burns inside the eyes of stars. It’s illuminating. Intoxicating. Intimidating. It seduces us with its fabulous orange glow. But it also radiates a deadly heat — reminding us that the fire will gleefully destroy us if we dare get too close. I’ve come too far for you to take this away, it huskily whispers, teasing us as it flaunts its titillating flames before our layman eyes.


Nia was eight when she realized she’d be famous for acting. She’d scored the lead role in a community theatre rendition of “Annie.” When she felt those stage lights shine against her face on opening night, a bomb of glitter burst out of her chest. The audience burst into a standing ovation as she curtsied. This was her superpower.


Nia didn’t just have stage presence and charisma — she had the I WILL WIN AT ALL COSTS work ethic possessed by all those hell-bent on proving their teachers wrong.


Nia never took a vacation. Ever. But her agent Mack Mellardo at WME had told her she needed to for her career.


“You need to be part of the world and live a little if you want to really hone those acting chops, Nia. You’ve got two months until you film your breakout movie. Now is the time,” he’d lectured over dinner at The Palm Steakhouse in Tribeca.


“Stay at my house in Fire Island for a month. Cindy and I will be in Vancouver all summer. It’s yours,” Jody Moritz had offered Nia over the phone, the following morning.


“I don’t know...I’ve never been,” Nia anxiously envisioned everything she’d worked so hard to build, being struck down by a wicked bolt of lightning on a small, remote island.


“Sweetheart. You’ll love it. It’s so gorgeous and my house happens to be the second biggest with an ocean view on the whole island.”


“Cool.” Nia was still not sold.


“There’s only one thing, kid. You might not find a dude to play with because Fire Island is all dykes and fags,” Jody cackled.


“I’ll take it,” Nia answered quickly, a sudden and strange sensation buzzing through her bones.


This is how Ray, Nia, and Amanda ended up drinking vodka in a seaside mansion overlooking a dark, roaring ocean lit up by a pregnant, glowing moon.


Ray had been Nia’s personal trainer for the past seven months and was the closest thing to a friend she had in New York. Not only that — but she knew Ray was gay and according to Jody, Fire Island was too.


“So Nia. What time do we train in the morning, babe?” Ray asked, as the three of them gathered in the Fire Island mansion. She called all of her celebrity clients “babe.” Seeing the soft blush in their cheeks after she casually dropped the word babe gave her a lovely kick of dopamine. Her “babes” seemed to fluster everyone.

Everyone except for Nia.


“I’ll let you sleep in. How is six-thirty?” Nia asked, hungrily sucking down the remains of her vodka soda.


“What? Nooooo!” Amanda squealed, her eyes round and wide like a Bratz Doll.

Nia and Ray ignored Amanda’s squeal.


“Let’s drink some champagne, Ray. Let’s be bad.” Nia purred. She could feel the lovely lubricant of vodka softening the tension in her tight shoulders. She skipped over to the fridge and pulled out an unopened bottle of Perrier Jouet. Her long legs looked as if they were swimming in her faded gray sweatpants. Her slim upper body was swallowed by an extra-large, sky-blue, sweatshirt. Her raven hair was fastened into a tight bun and her luminous terra cotta skin had been scrubbed clean of makeup. Even though she was dressed like a fallen celebrity en route to a Malibu rehab center, her effortless beauty was so shiny it made the brilliant moonlight appear dull.


“Ray only drinks Vodka,” Amanda giggled, tightly grabbing Ray’s hand.


Ray rolled her eyes. “If I’m drinkin’ with Nia, I’ll drink champagne,” Ray grunted, shaking her hand free of Amanda’s shackles.


Nia served the two girls tall stem glasses of gorgeous golden bubbles and hopped onto the couch. She towered over them as she banged her nails against her champagne glass.


“I’m making a toast. Cheers to...cheers to…” Nia stared into the skylight on the ceiling and took in the moon. “Cheers to my first buzz in nine months,” she smirked at Ray whose legs were stretched open so wide she was practically straddling the armchair. One exposed knee cap shot through a contrived tear in her True Religion skinny jeans. Her naked kneecap looked so exposed it was almost obscene — and bizarrely sexy.


“I’ll drink to that!” Ray chugged down half of her champagne in one gulp. She, too, was starting to feel a refreshing buzz gently vibrate through her body.


Nia pranced over to the floor-to-ceiling living room window and stared into the distance, intently.


“I don’t know,” she watched as two girls ran down the dark beach completely nude, clutching bright red solo cups. “But something about this Fire Island place makes me…”


“Want to go off the fucking rails?” Ray hummed, jumping out of the chair and pressing her nose against the cool glass window.


“Yes,” Nia answered. The two naked girls were dipping their feet in the ocean now.


“Should we get some coke?” Ray murmured under breath.


“How do you know me so well?” Nia whispered fogging up the window with her breath.


“My cousin Anthony sells coke down in Ocean Beach!” Amanda exclaimed. “I could call him?” She pulled out a stick of Juicy Fruit gum and began to chomp.


“We’re not going to fuckin’ Ocean Beach,” Ray chuckled, her face still pressed against the window. “You think we’d take the hottest actress in Hollywood to meet your cousin ‘Tony’ in Ocean fuckin’ Beach?”


“I am a hot actress, aren’t I?” Nia crooned, letting the beautiful reality that her lifelong goals were coming to fruition, wash over her.


“The hottest,” Ray growled.

Amanda looked down at her tight yellow knock-off Hervé Léger mini dress and her tight yellow Forever 21 kitten heels and fought back the urge to cry.


“His name isn’t Tony. It’s Anthony,” she squeaked softly, as a fat tear splashed against her bare thigh.


*


“Should we kiss?” Knife asked.


“No,” Violet pushed a lock of white-blonde hair out of Knife’s ice-blue eyes.


“Are you sure?” Knife whimpered. Her leg was still shoved between Violet’s thighs.


Violet pressed her body weight deeper into Knife’s leg. “I’m sure.”


“Okay,” Knife stammered. As Violet pressed her body deeper and deeper into her leg — Knife could’ve sworn she felt a small pulse softly beating through Violet’s white crochet string bikini bottom.


“I think it’s time for my favorite Drag Show. It only happens on Fridays at 9 PM,” Violet sing-songed, gazing into Knife’s eyes. Her breath smelled sweet like sugary amphetamines. Her pillowy lips kissed Knife’s cheek. She let her lips linger on the surface of Knife’s face for a few precious seconds before hopping to her feet and scampering into the bedroom to get pretty for a night of drag and drugs.


Knife stared at the cracks in the ceiling. It was then that she felt a dampness penetrating her white jeans, creeping its way to her bare leg. Violet had marked her with her wetness.


*


It’s not rare for grief-stricken people to act out. To attempt to fill the gaping voids by slugging back too much wine and crawling into strangers’ beds. Maybe they’ll have a short-lived affair with a wacko — or if the pain cuts really deep — they might do something super self-destructive like cut their hair into a god-awful, wildly-unflattering, fashion mullet of sorts.


“Oh they’re just going through it right now,” we’ll whisper when someone asks us about their sudden bout of bizarre behavior.


The rich are just like regular people.


Only not all.


When Serafina’s beloved toy poodle “Maggie” passed away from an unexpected heart attack in the lobby of the Plaza in 1981, Serafina was — indeed — deeply, utterly and completely, grief-stricken. I mean, that dog was the closest thing to a child she’d ever know.


But in lieu of shaving her head à la Britney Spears, Serafina dropped $10 million on a house.


That’s right, babes, Serafina was the owner of the first biggest oceanfront house on Cherry Grove.


“Are you sure you wanna spend all that on a house you’ll only be able to go to for three months a freakin’ year?” Jack had asked Serafina right before she sealed the deal. They were having martinis at the Life Cafe in the East Village.


“I’ve never been sure about anything in my life!” Serafina had wailed, flailing her lit cigarette recklessly through the air. “WAITER, MORE MARTINIS. KEEP ‘EM COMING,” Serafina screamed. Serafina had a house account at Life Cafe so she never worried about getting too drunk to remember to sign the bill. (She also had a chauffeur waiting outside for her so she didn’t have to worry about getting too drunk to find her way home, either.)


Over twenty years had flown by since her sporadic investment and Serafina never regretted her purchase, not once. She’d grown notorious in the art world for throwing fabulously eclectic dinner parties in that house. She’d hosted Warhol and Lichtenstein and Vreeland there. Architectural Digest had done a full feature story on the house. It was epic — a sprawling ten thousand square feet with a long, narrow black-bottomed infinity pool that spilled right into the sand. The entire back of the house was glass, so when Fire Island was in the throes of one of her famous sunsets, the whole house was bathed in electric pink. During nightfall, the house twinkled with stars.


She’d decorated the house using exclusively seafoam and white shades, only disrupted by a gorgeous onslaught of massive, colorful paintings from young emerging artists. Serafina was a world-class collector who only invested in “living artists” and never worried about matching her art to her decor. “One must never match their makeup to their outfit or their art to their furniture,” she’d lecture the young femmes at Dolly’s.


The most exquisite part of Serafina’s mansion wasn’t the exotic infinity pool or the gargantuan glass windows. Nor was it the insanely hip art or the expertly curated decor.


It was the deer.


For reasons only God herself understands, wild deer were drawn to Serafina’s property like a mosquito to blood.


Anytime of day or night you could find at least half a dozen fawns dramatically splayed across her property, nuzzling up against their mothers, as they blissfully napped on Serafina’s immaculate front lawn.


Serafina loved the deer and was secretly convinced her beloved poodle had sent them to her in the afterlife.


It was strange that the deer acted as if they knew Serafina. They stalked her property when she was away and bowed their antlers in respect when she arrived. The babies didn’t even skirt away when she came stumbling home drunk after a liquor-fueled night.


Serafina was mesmerized by one particular fawn this summer. The fawn was the color of honey and had a spectacular constellation of white spots scattered across her back. Her eyes looked like two mugs teeming with black coffee and each ear was twice the size of her tiny face. She was smaller than the rest of the pack but was by far the most daring. Serafina had watched her boldly gallop toward the pool as the rest of her siblings cowered, terrified by this artificial body of water they didn’t quite understand.


The fawn reminded her of someone.


The fawn reminded her of Violet.


*


The girls of Mermaid Melissa were on one.


On top of the full bottle of rosé she’d downed on the train with Knife, Catalina had topped off two more. She’d also washed down the Adderall Violet had given her with a shot of tequila the whole group took before leaving for the drag show.


The identical lesbian twins from Queens were on Molly.


Dara and Belinda had each done four fat rails of coke and split a handle of tequila.


Patra had found Dara and Belinda in the bathroom doing the coke and demanded a bump. After the bump, she’d decided it was a good idea to take one of Violet’s mushroom chocolates. After the chocolate she grew paranoid about her pending trip, so she’d decided she needed to drink half a bottle of sauvignon blanc to calm her nerves.


Imani had found a nervous Patra taking desperate swigs of wine right out of the bottle in the backyard, so she’d decided it was only polite to help her polish it off. When she caught wind of the coke she’d knocked on Dara’s door and demanded Dara give her a bump, which of course, Dara did because Dara was gorgeously selfless.


Violet had taken so much Adderall she’d found herself counting the number of tiles in the bathroom as she’d showered. She’d also ingested a delicate nibble of a psilocybin mushroom chocolate, downed a quarter of a bottle of whiskey with Knife, and then treated herself to a glass of prosecco as she adorned her face in makeup. That’s not including the two dirty martinis she’d inhaled on the ferry and the martini she’d just ordered at Raspberries, the iconic outdoor bayside bar that hosted her favorite Friday night drag show.


Knife, who had taken one of Violet’s Adderall pills orally and crushed a second one up and inhaled it with her nostrils, had also thrown back her own bottle of rosé on the train with Catalina, passed back and forth a bottle of whiskey with Violet, gagged down two tequila shots with her housemates, and was currently scouring Raspberries for ketamine.


“Serafina!” Violet screeched, twirling toward the entrance of the bar. Serafina was wearing a sheer, tropical-printed Versace blouse, rhinestone-encrusted Versace jeans, and lime-colored mules. Behind her stood Jack in her “BEAR WEEK” sweatshirt and Gianna in a crisp button-down and Gucci sneakers so white they could blind a man.


“Darling!” Serafina bellowed, her arms enveloping Violet.


“Gianna!” Violet cried, feeling safe in Serafina’s cloud of love and Chanel number 5.


“Hey, kid!” Gianna flashed her freshly bleached teeth.


That’s when Violet noticed Jack. Like noticed, noticed Jack. There was a glimmer in her eyes she’d never seen before. “Hi,” Violet slurred. Since when did Jack have such magnificent cheekbones? She wondered.


Jack looked at Violet and her heart shattered. Violet’s black eyeliner circled around her sunken eyes making her look like a beautiful raccoon. Her billowy lavender dress revealed dramatic shoulder blades that shot out of her back like fairy wings.


“Hi, Violet,” Jack’s eyes zeroed in on Violet’s hands. They were tightly wrapped around a martini glass and furiously shook like a freight train. Her usually immaculate nails were chipped and bitten raw.


“Let’s get a round of drinks!” Serafina crooned. “On me, of course, darlings.”


“Does Violet need another drink?” Jack whispered to Gianna. “She looks pretty banged up.”


“Why the fuck you care?” Gianna’s eyes began to dance. “Oh shit. You got it bad, Jacky,”


Jack socked Gianna in the arm. “Cut it out, G,” she warned as she shoved her way to the bar.


They say Madonna ruins every party she attends because the magnitude of her presence is so powerful it intimidates the guests. No one dares to dance because who the fuck has the balls to dance around the one and only Madonna? Everyone is reduced to a quiet, stammering, fumbling-over-their -words dance-less mess.


One could say it’s fame that shuts normal people down. And yes — that’s part of it, of course. We’re all high school kids, really, nervous and shy around the popular girl. But it’s more than a mere popularity contest with people like Madonna. The Madonnas of the world emit a peculiar frequency only a select few are blessed with (or cursed with, depending on how you look at it). It’s an electric current so powerful it blows out all the other lights in its radius. You can feel it before you see it. It doesn’t have much to do with celebrity, it’s more to do with energy.


It’s beautiful, but blinding.


The visions of every entity at Raspberries blackened when Nia Green arrived.


I suppose that’s why they call it “star power,” it makes it so every star in the sky is rendered invisible and our eyes are only able to focus in on one.


The only people immune to the power of a star?


The over-medicated. Like Violet. Like Ray.