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Funny Contemporary Romance

It was blizzarding again and Seb was worried. He woke up at one in the morning (without needing to go to the bathroom, for once) and stood in front of the glimmering window with his hands in his pockets, head down, lips folded underneath his teeth. 

Berean rolled over off her silently pulsing SmartPillow; her head smacked the mattress and she opened her eyes. 

It was white outside. That was the only way to describe it. It was pure, burning white. Snow cloaked the big oaks outside, dusted the screens on the windows, blanketed the windows, and was still falling through the sky. The light leaked through the window and spilled out over the floor, the many heavy blankets on the bed, the two squat dressers and the scattered pairs of shoes.

“Seb,” Berean said softly. He turned around. The hard, worried expression on his face softened somewhat. 

“You can’t do anything about it,” Berean said. “Get back in bed, Seb. You’re gonna freeze.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“You’re gonna be exhausted tomorrow.”

“The grocery delivery service probably won’t come today.”

“That bad, huh?” Berean rubbed her eyes and groaned. 

“And I was planning to fry the salmon for you tonight.”

“What, is it morning already?”

Seb turned and sat on the edge of the bed. He pulled his silver-insulated socks up over his knees, adjusted his thick grey sweatshirt, and relaxed onto his back with his legs above the blankets. 

“When was the last time you ran that shirt through the machine, Seb?”

He broke into the lopsided grin she loved so much. “Couple weeks.”

“Seb!”

He shrugged and pulled the blankets up over him. “It’s not like I go into an office or anything.”

Berean snickered. “Did your parents even go into the office?”

“Not since twenty-twenty. And they took that as a blessing.” Seb turned over onto his stomach and started to snore. 

Berean rolled her eyes and watched the dark ceiling, listening to the long-familiar sound of snow falling outside until she fell asleep. 

***

Berean and Sebastian saw snow for the first time when they were both thirteen, skinny, and had braces. They sat together on Seb’s apartment’s rooftop in midafternoon, some January afternoon in twenty-twenty-one, since Seb’s mom had said the day before there was a chance for snow. 

“The first snowfall in twenty-three years,” old Ms. Eliot had said in church. 

Most adults were skeptical. Bo and Seb sat cross-legged on the flat concrete apartment roof, shivering, since it was forty-five Fahrenheit and falling. After a minute or two Seb said daringly, “Eff it all. I’m going to get a blanket.”

They waited fifteen minutes under Seb’s mom’s favorite red blanket. 

“Bo,” Seb said. “I love you.”

She laughed him off. She didn’t believe it, didn’t want to. The sky began to bruise and darken, buttoned over with heavy clouds, until something cracked and snow started falling. 

They stood up and whooped and danced around under the little insubstantial flakes until Seb’s mom called up demanding the blanket. 

That was the first time. Since then, it snowed at least twice every year, and often up to five times. Each year, the snows lasted longer, built up higher, ruined more crops, exploded more water pipes, snapped more power lines. They turned from light, lovely flurries to snowstorms full of whipping ice shards that cut and buried entire houses. Collectively, the globe was entering another Ice Age. And no one was ready. 

***

At age seventy-seven (and yet to start getting their Social Security checks), Berean and Seb had now seen a total of 320 snow storms, plus ten rime snows, and three massive blizzards. They knew because Seb had been counting since it had snowed for the third time in twenty-twenty-one. He kept the old iPhones in a drawer by the bed, and each of them was full of pictures, one for each snowy day, one for each day he and Berean were together. 

If 2020 was the year they all stayed home to keep each other safe, 2021 was the year they stayed home because they had no other option. Berean and Seb had been long distance from five miles apart, just because they couldn’t drive through town on such shaky wheels in such shaky conditions. For a while, everyone was shaky. Eventually the initial shock wore off, and the world accepted their new terms. Berean and Seb may have been barely thirteen the day the news exploded with announcements of the new Ice Age, but even they knew the world they grew up in would not be the world their parents lived in. 

Lucky for two kids growing up in a cold world, though, they had the warmest hearts around. 

Seb picked up the phone he liked best, the one his mom bought for him on his seventeenth birthday, and sat down on the bed again. Luckily, it was a later version of the iPhone. That meant it held a longer charge life, and Seb was able to turn the phone on to 25% even after three days of not charging. Berean smiled: Seb got out this phone when he wanted to look at pictures of them as youngsters in love. When he wanted to look at oldsters in love, he stood next to her and looked in the bathroom mirror. 

“Remember that weird mirror dance I sent you when I first got a TikTok account?” Bo asked. “All those over-the-top violent arm moves?” 

“No.”

“Your mom said you laughed until milk came out of your nose.”

“I got nothing.”

Berean rolled her eyes. “You must’ve been too young to remember that.”

“We are the same age.” 

“You were much more sheltered.”

“Don’t rub it in.”

Their voices were calm as they poked and prodded verbally, like they’d had such conversations countless times.

Seb’s eyes glittered grinningly. “Wanna watch something with me?” 

Berean’s smile softened. “I think I’ll go catch up on dishes before the next blackout. You go ahead and watch them if you want.” 

Seb watched her leave the bedroom. He put the phone back in the drawer. With those old videos, it was always a toss-up: Would they make him cry or laugh? He hated to do either one alone. 

Berean had been quieter lately. Seb would walk into the room and see her staring at her high school yearbooks, or wandering through the living room and picking up John Green novels off their bookshelves. Seb never liked to read those. They were sad and boring and once you read one, you could tell what would happen in all of them.

Seb lay back on the bed and stared at the poster on their ceiling. Harry Styles with his second wife. He laughed. That had been the gossip of 2031. Berean had nearly jumped out of her socks when he gave her that poster. He was glad she kept it all these years. Harry Styles. Seb shook his head and rolled off the bed.

***

Seb went off to college first. Bo had decided to take community college classes to save money and then join him at Grove City for junior and senior years. 

They stood in front of the big window at Bo’s house, holding hands. It was dark outside, dark and cold, and they’d finally started getting used to the idea of global cooling. They practically lived in three pairs of socks and once-a-week showers by now. The window was crusted with ice and black beyond, the incoming blizzard clouds hiding the moon and stars.

Seb held Berean’s hand tightly. He didn’t want to leave. But she knew he needed to go. 

“Bo,” he said desperately, “I love you.”

This time she believed him. 

***

“Seb,” Berean called from the kitchen. “We’ve got good water pressure right now, so I’m gonna do a load. Bring me all our dirty clothes and don’t you dare forget that disgusting sweatshirt.”

He stood up, grumbling. He pulled off his sweatshirt, dumped it on top of their overflowing dirty clothes basket, and stumped into the kitchen. She took the basket from him, hand comically over her eyes when she saw his bare chest, and took the basket to the laundry room, giggling. He followed her.

“You wanna watch an old movie? Old times’ sake?”

She sighed. “Sure.” She dumped the basket of clothes into the washer-dryer-folder machine and flipped the folder knob to Off. 

“What was that for?” Seb asked. “You hate folding clothes.”

“I’m feeling sentimental. What do you want to watch? And go put on a shirt.”

“I found the 2029 RedRay edition of Sator.

“What’s that?”

“The sequel to Tenet.

Tenet? Oh—yeah, I remember that. Okay, sure.”

“I’ll go set it up.”

“Seb, we haven’t even eaten dinner yet!”

“I ordered pizza!” he called from the VR room. “I was gonna surprise you!”

“I hope you got vegetable toppings,” Bo mumbled. “Do we even have a RedRay player anymore, Seb? Seb!”

She heard him grunting and machinery sliding. “Yeah, they only stopped making them thirty years ago, dahlin’.”

She laughed and followed him into the VR room. It had four walls of glass-like TV screens, with a neat basket full of headsets by the door. The room was supposed to be clear of furniture but they’d long dragged a fold-up couch inside so they could watch old-fashioned VR and RedRay movies. It was quiet and peaceful inside, like the rest of their house. A haven from outside.

Seb was kneeling on the floor when she came in, pulling on cords and sliding in the nickel-sized RedRay device into the player slot. Berean went straight to the window that looked out onto their small, white-blanketed backyard, folded her arms, and pressed her forehead against the chilly wall. After a minute, Seb joined her, and she unfolded her arms and turned to him, about to say, “Let’s start the movie.”

Instead, he took her hand, and she leaned her head on his shoulder as they stood together, watching the snowstorm outside. Seb would think that after watching the number of snowstorms they had, it would be tiring, but he was still taken aback by the white sheets of snow falling from the sky. Seb wasn’t sure if it was the snow he loved watching, or who he got to watch it with. Both, maybe. Berean yawned and Seb pulled her back to the couch. They sat for a second in silence before he bounced—as much as he could bounce at seventy-seven—and turned on the machine. 

***

Berean directed her first official short film in 2028, her junior year at Grove City. She had wanted Seb to star in it, naturally, but he couldn’t get a break from his classes long enough to be there for filming. He helped her write the script. They’d be on the phone until late, late morning, when the moon peeled back like a banana and the sun poked through the curtains, apple-red and warm as cobbler by noon. 

Seb would sit in his little dorm and whisper to Berean the lines he found best while his roommate snored above in the top bunk. 

“You should make the characters smile more, Bo.” 

“I don’t think that would fit the tone of the story.”

“That’s because you’re so mopey about it. Smiles can be sad too.” 

“I don’t want to see you smile if you’re sad.” 

“I didn’t say I would. You know I’d tell you.” 

“Would you?”

“Yes. Now add this next line…” 

***

They held hands as Sator began. The storm outside began to rage in earnest, blowing huge gusts of ice pellets up against the glass VR walls and booming loudly over the noise of the movie. After a few minutes of turning the volume up and then moving closer and then turning the volume up again and then moving so close it was physically painful to watch the screen, Seb turned to Bo and gave her The Look. 

“Well…” he said. 

“Yeah,” she said. “Let’s give this up.”

So they turned the RedRay set off and stood watching the storm try to reach them instead. Seb put his arm around Berean’s shoulder and watched the twisted white light of the storm play on her face. 

“Are you smiling?” she said without turning. 

“Yeah.”

“Don’t smile if you’re sad.”

Outside, it was thunderous and cold and frightening, with enormous swathes of snow sheets crashing to the ground each second, and more to come, killing power and snapping water pipes and cutting off food supply. But inside it was warm and comforting, if not quiet. They stood together, touching, just watching.

“I’m not sad,” Seb said, and meant it.

February 19, 2021 15:10

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18 comments

Zilla Babbitt
15:11 Feb 19, 2021

Both tender and funny. Great job, Manticore!

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The Manticore
18:44 Feb 19, 2021

Thanks, Z!

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Dorian Gray 📖
15:20 Feb 19, 2021

Btw, Zilla, I put a pic in my newest story!!

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Kathleen March
14:59 Feb 20, 2021

This is the type of story that hooks the reader quickly and never lets go. It is reeky intriguing in its use of time and this from a reader who dislikes sci-fi in general. The characters seem more real than the usual sci-fi ones. The relationship between Berean and Sen seems timeless. This begs for a reread, and I plan to do that. Congratulations on a lot of things, although Sen bouncing us my favorite. You respect aging very well.

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Waverley Stark
20:12 Feb 19, 2021

This was adorable, you guys! My favorite part had to be the ending: the reiterating of smiling when you're feeling sad, and the obvious romantic attachment between the two. The detail of global warming made me sad, because that's something that really bothers me, but your story was so well-done I chose to ignore it. You kept things simple and still managed to get your point across. Congrats. P.S. In response to your comment on one of my own stories, I have been shortlisted once. It was for a story called "Real", imagined from my grandmother...

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The Manticore
20:51 Feb 19, 2021

Hi Waverly! Thank you so much for reading! We wanted to do a sweet romance with an element of an issue that we think is a big deal too, but we subverted the global warming plotline into one about global cooling instead. We will definitely check out your shortlisted story and thank you for considering community writing, we promise it would be fun and rewarding. <3

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Payton Koskela
18:25 Feb 20, 2021

I really, REALLY liked this story! wonderfully written :) The characters are so adorable and I love the futuristic touch! Thanks for the recommendation!

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Amany Sayed
18:12 Feb 19, 2021

This was wonderful! I love the future setup and funny dialogue. Global cooling is an interesting concept. Where I am right now, it's really snowy and cold, and I was in the perfect mindset to read this story. It's very creative and I smiled lots while reading. Keep writing!

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The Manticore
18:43 Feb 19, 2021

Thanks a million, Amany! We really appreciate the read. I think one of the reasons we chose global cooling is because the US is having that weird stripe of cold down the middle. It's unique, and lo and behold, a story idea!

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Amany Sayed
18:55 Feb 19, 2021

Welcome! Cool!

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Amany Sayed
18:59 Feb 19, 2021

(also, if the manticore is ever free, Amany would appreciate their doubtlessly valuable feedback on one of her stories)

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The Manticore
19:32 Feb 19, 2021

That sounds like a good plan! The Manticore would love to read your work. have you thought about applying to write with us? The link is on our bio.

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Amany Sayed
19:43 Feb 19, 2021

Hm, I'll consider it!

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Dorian Gray 📖
15:17 Feb 19, 2021

This is awesome!!! I think that one of the references was misplaced, the tiktok one, because that certainly wasn't around when they were teens. Also, the scene where he tells her he loves her seemed a tad rushed. However, the relationship was so sweet and I loved it!! I adore the comedy that's always in your work!!

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The Manticore
16:34 Feb 19, 2021

TikTok definitely was around when they were teens. Their youth was spent in the new twenties, so that's right now and TikTok is around right now, if that makes more sense. I think we can tweak the scene where he tells her he loves her to make it better paced. Thank you for reading! We're still reviewing applications.

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Dorian Gray 📖
16:35 Feb 19, 2021

Oh okay I understand now, so its like... oh ok!!!

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The Manticore
18:44 Feb 19, 2021

:)

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Dorian Gray 📖
18:51 Feb 19, 2021

:D

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