“Hey,” comes the Discord message popping into the corner of my screen.

My eyes flick towards it, shifting away from the bright colors of my game client. The username is unfamiliar to me, complete gibberish in white text.

I’m sure I never added this guy. But he must have heard a glimmer of my voice in an innocuous group call on a mutual server. That’s always how it begins.

“Hello,” I reluctantly reply, allowing myself to take the first step in the familiar dance.

“So, what rank are you?” he asks.

I’m taken aback. Who starts a conversation like that? Rank is an agonizingly sensitive subject to anyone who has ever stared at a screen until sunrise, chasing a win, attempting to muster that latest guide they watched to climb to a place where they could at least close their eyes satisfied. Most people have the couth to at least warm up with small talk.

“Gold four,” I answer anyway. If I wanted to, I could let myself get insecure of the recent loss streak that had dragged me down two tiers and ruined my weekend. But acknowledging insecurity is the first step towards doing something stupid.

“I could coach you, babe. We could reach platinum together at least,” he says.

“That’s nice of you,” I reply, “But I’m not looking for a coach.”

Predictably, he is not deterred. I could have responded with any possible combination of letters, and it wouldn’t have mattered. “This is my main account,” he says, posting a link.

I don’t bother clicking on it. It could be anyone’s account. Honesty is never a high priority on the internet.

“But I’ll need something in return,” he continues.

A grimace slides onto my face like tar. “Like what?” I type.

I click back to my game, hoping that I can make this guy stop existing if I ignore him. But his response is immediate.

“Do you have an insta?” he asks.

I sigh. “No,” I reply.

“That’s too bad,” he types, “Your voice is so cute.”

“Thanks?” I respond.

“Send me some pics?” he asks, “I bet you’re so pretty.”

“…” is all I reply. Anyone with tact would know that these weird compliments are far from flattering. I wonder if he thinks I’m blushing in my chair.

Predictably, my obvious discomfort is ignored. “Send me something sexy?” he asks.

A familiar disgust floods my stomach. “Not a chance,” I type as quickly as my fingers will move.

There is a microscopic chance of him actually accepting no for an answer. They never do.

I had been so much more naive the first time it happened. My childhood had been unbearably lonely. My only companions were my bedroom walls and the weak, dampened light that managed to penetrate my thick curtains. But I knew better to step outside. My unique condition made it a dire risk.

When I learned that I could meet people through online gaming, I dove at the opportunity. It was so rare that I was able to participate in anything, let alone anything that involved real breathing humans. Behind a screen, I could even pretend to be one of them. And if I never revealed any information about myself, maybe I could have really been okay.

But unfortunately, kindness had the power to lower my guard like an army made of candy.

My unexpected suitor had spent the whole evening being undeniably lovely to me. “You are amazing,” he typed, game after game, “The best I’ve ever played with.”

I knew that couldn’t really be true. My skills were barely worth fawning over. But the compliments invigorated my fingers and sent butterflies into my brain. “Haha thanks,” was all I could reply, over and over again, until the letters were practically worn out on my keyboard.

Three games in, he finally hit me with a simple question. “Are you a girl?” he asked.

The inquiry seemed innocuous enough. I didn’t want to make him upset by not answering.

“Yes,” I type. Three simple letters. As I would soon learn, that’s all it takes.

His messages quickly heated up until every pixel made me blush like fire. He called me his sweetheart and his angel, gushing over every tiny little play I made like he was trying to gain the favor of a queen. It didn’t take long for him to slide into my Discord messages, my handle given out to him in a moment of giggly weakness.

The first sentence that popped into the corner of my screen took me off guard. “Can you send a selfie?” it said.

My muscles froze. Why would someone ask for a picture of me? People weren’t allowed to see me. Not if they valued their own safety.

But my traitorous gaze kept staring at the letters in front of me, every pretty white pixel worming its way into my mind. The simple, pining girl inside of me couldn’t stop devising rationalizations, telling myself it could be okay.

If I kept my eyes closed, nothing bad could happen right? The last thing I wanted was to be rude. He had been so nice.

It took about ten minutes of posing against my chair to get a good angle of my face and shoulders, lips pursed, and head slightly tilted. Most of my effort was concentrated in forcing my unruly ponytail behind my back, each thick strand attempting to escape in a different direction. But I didn’t rest until each chunky end remained firmly tucked against my chair. I didn’t want to terrify a perfectly normal guy with the sight of twenty tiny faces in addition to my own.

I closed my eyes just before taking the shot. He didn’t need to know why.

Lowering my phone camera slightly, my hair broke free and hissed into my ears like a choir of nervous whispers. But I forced everything back as I put a pretty filter over my face. What was the worst a little picture could do?

The second I posted it, messages flooded in.

“You’re so beautiful!”

“Such a cute angel!”

I was instantly overwhelmed. Before I could even consider constructing a response another notification lit up the bottom of my screen. I clicked the game window back open. The shock in my eyes reflected in my screen as a bright gift stared me in the face.

What? Why? What kind of person bought a skin for a person they barely knew? It was gorgeous. I didn’t deserve anything like it.

Another Discord message broke me out of my fog. “Could you bless me with something better?” he asked.

My hands suspended over my backlit keyboard. “Um, what do you mean?” I asked. I hadn’t even had the chance to thank him. What could he want now?

The typing signal went on and off and back on again, like he was trying to decide on how to continue. Its flashing white rectangles mimicked the beating of my heart.

When a message finally appeared, my stomach dropped.

“Do you have anything showing more skin? Something sexier?”

My whole body recoiled. My finger flicked towards the “block” button. It would have been so easy. But guilt flooded into my throat. He had already spent all that money on me. And he had been so rapturously sweet up until then. I had never asked for any of it, but still.

Deciding I needed more time to think, I turned off my computer and flopped into bed. If this was what it was like to be normal and desirable, maybe everything was worth reconsidering.

I should have had the foresight to turn Discord notifications off on my phone. Because, about an hour later, the buzzing finally became too much to handle.

I finally turned my head to see messages filling up the entire screen.

“Are you ignoring me? Do you not like me?”

“You’re just such a beautiful princess, I can’t help but want more.”

“I thought I was your man :(”

I feel I am cursed to keep repeating the same conversation until I finally concede and smash every single screen in my room, plunging myself back into isolation.

My most recent pest throws message after message at me like he’s hurling knives at a wall, failing to get within feet of a target.

“Am I not special to you? Damn, so cold XD.”

“Why are females so ungrateful these days? I was offering to help you. I guess you don’t want it.”

“So sorry sweetheart, didn’t mean that. I just think we would make a good team.”

I finally concede and unlock my phone. He should have left me alone.

“I said no,” I reply, giving him one last chance, “I don’t accept your offer. Please stop asking.”

His reply is so scathing that it takes even me off guard. “Frigid bitch,” he types, “You’re lucky that I’m offering to help. And you go and be a bitch about it.”

I know it’s inappropriate, but a tiny smile forces its way into the corners of my lips. Sometimes they really cross the line.

“You’re right,” I type.

Sitting up, I take a few seconds to wake up my hair. It looks better in its natural state anyway, framing my face in every direction, alluringly alive. Pulling up my camera, I put on a tantalizing smile. On a whim, I slide one of the straps of my camisole off my shoulder. That’s what he wants, isn’t it? That’s what everyone wants.

I just hope he isn’t afraid of snakes.

It really is a shame no one gets to see these images for more than an instant. They really are pretty. But the tragedy of my existence is a problem for another time.

Opening both of my eyes I stare directly at the camera and snap the picture.

“I knew you were a nice girl,” comes the reply. Though I don’t even know why he’s still talking.

The picture takes a few seconds to load before popping into the chat in a flash of vibrant color.

My lips purse as I concentrate on the bottom of the page, my lonely white cursor blinking steadily. His typing signal lasts a split second longer before flickering out to nothing.

Given the sensitive and personal nature of her story, this author doesn’t feel comfortable revealing too much information about herself. However, rest assured that she loves gaming, making friends, and collecting cookbooks.

Leave a Reply