Read a Short Story About an E-Girl Streamer, Her Toxic Fan, and a Stolen Queer Kiss

Of the three books I’ve published so far, Bugsy and Other Stories is by far the most personal. Even though I wouldn’t describe any of these stories as works of autofiction, I would still say that I have shared many of the characters’ struggles and neuroses – facets of being human that transcend whether or not a character looks like me, grew up where I grew up, et cetera. Writing this collection felt a lot like writing in a diary: the explicitly queer themes I largely skirted in my first book and then packaged into a taut Highsmithian caper in my second are now on display in all their long-form, slice-of-life messiness. Finding an editor who actually understood and wanted to nurture this project has certainly been one of the highlights of my career so far.

The excerpt you are about to read comes from “Like and Subscribe,” a story in the collection which both draws from and speculates upon the life and career of internet celebrity Belle Delphine. I have described this story alternately as “e-girl slashfic,” “Delphine-as-performance-artist encomium” and “Much Ado About Nothing, but with an all-Zoomer cast.” And it really is all of those things: I do think Delphine is a Marina Abramovic-level cultural provocateur, the story is absolutely an ever-escalating comedy of errors with twentysomething players, and yes, Dina Valentine (the Delphine character) does in fact realize that she’s in love with her best friend Aubrey on the same night she’s forced to field a proposal from her cishet gamer dude/reply guy stalker. More than anything, though, this is a story about being young and queer and trying to figure yourself out – something we’ve all done before, whether it was in or out of the spotlight! — Rafael Frumkin

Bugsy & Other Stories by Rafael Frumkin

Garrett was sitting on the same couch as Dina Valentine. She wore her hair — which was a brown no less lustrous than her pink wigs — in a messy bun and tightish gray sweatpants with a pink racing stripe and a Pantera hoodie with a weed leaf on it. The Pantera hoodie had to be ironic because that was a band only he, a generation ahead of her, could have grown up listening to (not that he had). He was trying to watch her without watching her, trying not to think of the indent her body was leaving on the leather couch. Trying not to imagine potential physical flaws: a retainer that she put in to sleep, maybe, or a hammer toe (she had never shown her bare feet in videos). But as his pulse accelerated and Dina joined her weird friend in the kitchen, Garrett found that he had to imagine these flaws in order to stay sane and grounded, in order to be able to take a shot of vodka when the two came back with shot glasses and be able to function as a human being with a nervous system and agency to operate said system. The friend was actually prettier than she’d looked on Instagram but also strong-jawed and truculent, probably a bad influence on Dina. Garrett understood that it would be his goal — quietly, perhaps with the use of the diamond earrings — to extricate Dina from the friend, to walk with Dina upstairs, to carry her like a princess into her room with its pink-and-black gaming chair and many screens and lacy-pink king bed. (All Pink Everything was the title of one of his favorite videos of hers, a four-minute tour of her bedroom in which she showed the viewer each of her pink-haired troll dolls, her closet full of pink wigs, her pink Chibiusa pillows, and a pink dress she’d made for Tyson.) Maybe he’d even get to meet Tyson, who’d made so many guest appearances on Twitch. Maybe the next evening she’d allow him to make a guest appearance of his own, and then bernieflamesyou and the rest would see him, would actually see what he looked like moving and living and breathing in Dina Valentine’s room, having just had sex all night with Dina Valentine in her pink bed.

“I just hate people, don’t you, Garrett?” the truculent friend was saying, and Garrett nodded in agreement. Garrett was already planning to invite the truculent friend to the rambling farmhouse, to talk to her about the many merits of feminism, to even allow Dina to make her godmother to both their children.

“Dude, are you OK?” Dina Valentine was somehow saying. Was somehow saying to him.

“Yeah.” He smiled. “Sorry. I just had a long drive today.”

“Where are you from, Garrett?” the truculent friend asked.

“Well, I’m based out of Murphysboro.”

The truculent friend scrunched up her face. “Where’s that?”

“Come on, you know where that is,” Dina Valentine said. “My family’s from Springfield. I’ve told you about the rest of Illinois.”

The friend made an Ah, so you have face and looked at Garrett. “You’ll have to forgive me, Garrett. I’m from Chicago. I don’t know much about the bumblefuck parts of Illinois.”

Garrett laughed, but Dina Valentine didn’t, so Garrett stopped. It was incredible to see Dina’s face darken, to see her having a mood. Dina Valentine: a person having a mood. This is what Dina could be, what she was to him, right now.

“Wait,” the truculent friend said, her eyes wide. “Did you drive all the way here today to see Dina?”

“I’m here on business,” he said quickly. It was crucial he not miss a beat. “I’m meeting with a data security client.”

“Can we talk in my room, Aubrey?” Dina said.

What a boring name! Yes, Garrett would have to shoo away Aubrey ASAP.

“Why can’t we talk here?” said Aubrey, doing another shot. “Because I think you’re acting toxic,” Dina said.

“Get this, Garrett,” Aubrey said, wiping her mouth. “Dina says I’m gay, and then she kissed me literally as my boyfriend is on the way to come pick me up!”

Garrett was too preoccupied by the thought of Dina kissing Aubrey to think about the boyfriend. Dina kissing Aubrey. Aubrey succumbing, as he soon would, to Dina.

“Jesus Christ, dude!” Dina said. “I apologized! Why are you so mad!”

“Because you’re the one who’s gay!” Aubrey cackled. “You’re the one who’s not out of the closet. You’re the liar who spends her whole life making dudes jack off to your anime faces! And you’re making me feel like such a freak just because my dad’s a MAGA bigot who kicked me out of the house when he caught me kissing Sylvia — who’s dead now, by the way — on the back porch of our dumb suburban McMansion.”

Aubrey filled up a glass, took another shot, and smiled at Garrett, who smiled back out of reflexive politeness.

“Aubrey,” Dina said.

“You wanna know what I’m mad about, Eidina? Dielina? I’m mad that you lie and act like the real one! I’m mad that you’ve gotten so fucking rich by lying and acting like the real one!”

How could Aubrey speak to Dina this way? It could have just been the vodka mixed with adrenaline, but he had lost all desire to invite her to the rambling farmhouse.

“Dina, where’s your molly?” Aubrey asked. And then before Dina could respond: “JK, I know where it is. Have you ever done molly, Garrett?”

“Can’t say that I have.”

Another cackle. “Can’t say that I have. Thank you, Kentucky Fried Colonel!” And then she ran upstairs.

Garrett watched Dina continue to stare somberly at the rug, which he realized bore the pattern of a classic Japanese scroll. “Are you OK?” he managed to ask.

She shot a look at him. “What do you care, Garrett? My best friend’s losing her mind and you’re some random simp who wants to fuck.”

Garrett heard the words but didn’t process them, or rather chose not to. He would press on for as long as he needed in this state of suspension until Dina came to her senses. And she did, after a matter of seconds, with a sigh.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m not like that. I’m just really stressed. I’m sorry you got tied up in this. What was that thing about the doxxing?” He began to explain but then Aubrey was back with a handful of pills. “Oh sorry, am I interrupting?” she said. “Am I interrupting an important conference?”

Simon & Schuster

Garrett shook his head pleasantly and then looked at Dina, his queen, who was grabbing her shoulder and staring at the ground. It was incredible to see her like this. Horrible, of course, but still incredible. He had spent so much time playing League of Legends with some of the friends he’d made from Dina’s stream, lazily leveling up champions and casting spells while debating in the chat the merits of the whole Take the Red Pill thing: it was for Gamergate Neanderthals, of course, but there was some essential truth to it, something undeniable about the pulling-back of the curtain of faux-reality to reveal real-reality. And yes, this had something to do with women, something very important, something those nasty incels couldn’t understand (which was how they became incels in the first place). Women are people, yes, but a special kind of people who are one way in photos and another way in person, one way in videos of their pink rooms and another way sitting unshowered on their Japanese scroll rugs. If you can take this red pill — the red pill that allows you to see women unshowered, to see them upset, to see them hungry and a little angry and a little drunk — then you don’t need to worry about the rapey emasculation bullshit. It made such perfect sense to Garrett, watching Dina’s perfect body folded up on the rug and her perfect face casting dagger eyes at her manic friend: his father had never seen his mother in such a position. His mother was always washed and dressed and making breakfast before his father got up, and didn’t take her makeup off until after he’d gone to sleep. Taking this particular red pill, this walking-out-of-the-cave-of-shadows red pill, was the precursor to love and marriage. And in the twenty minutes since meeting Dina, he had already taken a generous handful of red pills.

Aubrey sat cross-legged in front of Dina and handed her a pill and then handed Garrett one. “For real?” Dina said. “Is this the vibe you want for rolling?”