“Are you writing?”
“Are you busy?”
Shaun sighed heavily, but quietly. He set the Slicci nib aside and blew on his pages before closing the miniature book. He pursed his lips and shook his head slowly, trying to will his frustration to dissipate. “Not anymore,” he hollered out the window. “What’s going on?”
The dollhouse resounded with the notifying OMM-MM, and all the house lights glowed dimly red. “Mind if I come in?”
He bit his bottom lip and swore under his breath, then shoved his chair back from the expensive Japanese escritoire. He crossed the room to hit the go-ahead switch, turning the LEDs to green, and grasped the corner of a wall for stability.
The roof cracked with brass latches popping open, and then light flooded into his writing office, the bathrooms, his bedroom, etc. Every single room was split in half as his gigantic girlfriend carefully pulled the front of the Victorian dollhouse open. Beyond the island of the leather ottoman on which his house was planted, Janine’s thighs rose up like denim-clad redwoods. She knelt, folding her arms and resting her head on them, grinning sunnily at him. Frustrated as he was with the interruption, his dark little heart melted to see her lovely face cradled on the plush, cuddly sleeves of her Irish sweater. He smiled, stepped out of his house-half, and approached her warm façade to reach up and haul a lock of hair away from her eye and mouth. He kissed the corner of her mouth, and she held very still as he did so, before returning to the house to reduce the strain on her eyes to look at him.
“You look quite pleased with yourself, lover,” he said. “What’s going on? Did the snow all melt?”
She shook her head. “It just won’t stop. It’s like a sci-fi world out there or something. And we’re supposed to get another eight inches on Wednesday.”
Being this close to Janine’s face, feeling her breath puff against him, always got his heart pounding. “I’ll give you eight inches: I’ll crawl inside you twice.” Her deep blush and the way her eyes lit up were better than he could’ve hoped for.
She sat up and looked over her shoulder at the hallway, leading to the bedroom… “Later. There’s something going on outside I want you to see.”
“What, like at the window?”
“No, actually outside. I’ll get your clothes and we’ll go out. It’s an amazing surprise!”
Shaun frowned. “Uh-uh, no way. Nope. Not doing it.”
Janine frowned back at him, resting her long, graceful hands on either side of him. “Come on! It’s really cool. Don’t you trust me?” His expression prompted her to raise her eyebrows threateningly. “Is there something you’d like to share, little man?”
Shaun licked his lips and glanced around. “Sorry. But you know that I hate this weather. It’s dangerous.”
“But we shopped for that nice new Norwegian gear!” Her tone dropped. “We did not plonk down over $1,000 on high-quality winter gear from Veksten, just so you could hide in your little house and pout until the planet rolls toward the sun for you.” She loomed over him, which he disliked, but doing so meant she was very serious.
He didn’t have the armory of arguments he needed to counter her. It was just his preference, his personal misgivings, up against that online shopping spree. He couldn’t even say it was her idea she forced on him. Shaun had proofed an article for Parva Gradus, an outdoors magazine for mixed-size couples, covering new developments in polar-grade outfits for Anthropoles. Veksten was doing interesting things with dense wool and microfiber fleece, but Shaun had only intended to bring it up as a topic over dinner, just something interesting to share. Immediately, Janine had fetched her laptop and went to the website, and Shaun was deeply intrigued by some of the smart outfits and ingenious design. In a week, a little box arrived from Bergen, Norway, and he had a sinking feeling, one that was coming to fruition.
“Ten minutes, no more,” he yelled from her clenching fist, as they darted to the bedroom. “Do not leave me out of your sight, not even for a minute.” She tugged his clothes off and pasted thick kisses over the length of his body; he swatted at her nose and kicked at her chin, to no effect. “And keep asking me questions about how we met, okay? As soon as I get one wrong, take me inside.”
“I’ll just shove you down my bra.” She smirked, tossing him his nanosilk base layer while she sniffed his new clothes. “Mmm, Norwegian wool! You’re going to look so cute!”
“And what happens if there’s a dog outside?”
“Oh, I’ll keep it away, don’t worry.”
“No, Janine! I’m serious! I need you to be serious about this too!” He stood at the edge of the bed, fists on his hips, half-dressed in wool trousers. “If I can’t trust you, I’m not doing this! I need to know that I can rely on you!”
Janine looked at him, hard. She tossed down his little coat and stood imperiously before him, glaring down at the little half-nude smudge on the eiderdown. He could only easily see her thighs, where the wrinkles in the denim drew down toward her crotch. He looked away, pursing his lips, because looking straight up above him was too much of a strain.
“Shaun, look at me.”
“Come down here where I can see you.”
“Little man, you do not get to tell me what to do.” Her voice was growing stronger, and soon it would become painful to his ears. “I’ve been very accommodating of you for the past two weeks. I haven’t asked you out to any events, I haven’t brought you along when I go shopping, and don’t think I didn’t notice your sour expression when you came out from writing.” She rammed her thighs against the mattress. Shaun lost his balance and toppled backward: now there was no problem with looking up at her. “You’ve been writing for four fucking hours, Shaun. I interrupted you once before that, to bring you a little fish-rice bowl I saw on Epicurious, and instead of thanks I caught shitty attitude from you.”
Four hours? Shaun suddenly realized he didn’t know what time it was. Had it been so long?
“But you know what? I’m going stir-crazy in here. I hate not having the windows open, I hate not being able to drive until the fucking plows come through, and I hate having to entertain myself for days on end because my goddamned boyfriend just wants to stay locked up in his house!”
“Hey… sweetie, I’m−”
“No, Shaun. You don’t get to apologize now.” The giantess dropped with frightening rapidity, her elbows driving into the eiderdown, her stern face closing in on him like a low ceiling. “You should have apologized four hours ago, the first time something was wrong. Better than that, you should’ve done the right thing and not ignored your beautiful, hard-working girlfriend who takes care of you because she loves you but also because, frankly, you’re a bottomless pit of needs!”
He froze, staring up at her. One of her hands flew up to her mouth. “Oh, my Goddess. I’m so sorry, Shaun.” This was one moment he hated being so small: from what he’d seen in movies, it looked very satisfying to stomp out of a room and slam a door. Instead, he could only lie there on the thick down comforter (completely unnavigable for fleeing), wearing a thick pair of winter pants and nothing else, and wait for her to do whatever she was going to do.
She sat down on the bed beside him, slipped him out of his pants, and cupped him against her breast. “I’m so, so sorry, Shaun, I didn’t mean to say that.”
“I know, sweetie.” He was furious, and containing it made him feel sick, but what else could he do? “I know, you’ve done a lot for me and I appreciate it.”
“You don’t have to say that. I really didn’t mean−”
“Thank you for the fish bowl. The rice dish. It was incredible, I wish I’d told you.”
She sighed deeply. It sounded like the tide of the ocean behind her ribs. “Thanks.”
“I’m getting cabin-feverish too. I just deal with it differently than you do.”
“You go internal.”
“I do. You already deal with so many of my problems, all the shit that comes with managing an Anthropole. I don’t want to burden you further.” His face lay against her shirt, half on the coarse lace of her bra, half against her pliant skin.
“You idiot. I keep telling you to share those things with me.” Janine pulled her hands away and held him in the bowl of her palms. “I’ll decide what I can’t handle. But we can’t be isolated from each other. Okay?”
Shaun agreed, and she lifted him to brush his face against her lip before setting him down by his new clothes. He stood up and walked awkwardly over to the wool jacket. The fleece liner slipped easily over the nanosilk base, and the stitches were nearly invisible. “Why do we always have to drag this heavy shit out before we do anything.”
She looked at her hands, resting palm-up on her lap. “Because we bottle it up too long.” She watched him pull the jacket on. Her hands twitched as she held back from doing it for him. “I really just wanted to have some fun with you, Shaun. The neighbors are doing something amazing.”
Slowly he looked up at his girlfriend. “The neighbors hate us.”
“You still don’t think they left that ‘freak-fucker’ note under the windshield wiper?”
“It was probably just some stupid teens. At least they didn’t egg our car.” She scowled at him. “Don’t give me that look. I’m not naïve. I’ve talked with them, you haven’t.”
“Down the block, the craftsman house. They do landscaping.”
“Huh. I like that place,” he muttered, struggling to push the buttons through unused holes. “Boots?”
Janine dug through the packaging and found his mittens, retrieved his Taka boots from her dresser. He had to sweat it out on their dining room table while she put on her snow gear, and within minutes they were out. Gently clamped within her fuzzy mitten, he watched their apartment door pull open, heard it close behind him and his giantess. He heard her boots clomp down the staircase, watched the walls spin and wheel around him, until the glaring light of the winter wonderland blasted through the front door’s windows.
“You ready to be amazed, little lover?”
“Just keep me safe, that’s all I care about.”
“Just keep an open mind, Shaun.”
The deadbolt thunked away, the heavy door creaked and swung free, and the woman and her tiny man were shocked with a gust of frigid wind. Janine’s eyelids fluttered and she grinned into the fresh air; a snowflake landed on Shaun’s cheek and he cried out. It melted immediately, earning him an unsympathetic giggle from his girlfriend, and they stepped outside.
“How’re ya doin’, guy?”
“Fine. I’m fine. Just hold me.”
“So hard to feel you in these mittens.”
“Don’t even joke about that.”
“Look at all the cars plowed in! That’s gonna suck when they need to go somewhere!”
“There is no reason to go anywhere.”
“How’s your new gear holding up?”
Shaun started. He’d been so terrified of the weather, he forgot to notice. Slowly he moved his arms, turned his head inside his hood. “I can’t believe how light this jacket is. I’ve really got to find out how they did that.” He bent his elbows and stared at his hands in their own black mittens. He could almost touch his own shoulder before he felt the fabric bunch up and resist.
“But how’s it feel? Are you warm enough?”
“I feel okay for now, but that could just be your hands.”
“Want to find out for sure?”
“Not until we absolutely have to.”
They walked down the street, headlong into a corridor of light wind. Janine pointed out the tall pines, how heavy they were with blobs of implacable snow, how they swayed gently. She showed him how one of the nice neighbors had used his snowplow on the entire block’s sidewalks, creating a deep channel of sheer snow walls. “Hold on, I want to see something.”
Biting back his complaint, he watched the icy sidewalk rush up at him. Janine’s orange quilted jacket bloomed overhead, and she hardly fumbled at all to set Shaun upright as she placed him on the ground. Then her fuzzy mittens spread and left him, and there he stood, by himself. He twisted one of his boots on the ground: it slipped under his control, and it held enough traction when he wanted it.
He stared ahead of him. There was very little to see: two massive walls of light wintery blue, stretching far overhead and running off to the interminable distance. The sidewalk was so broad, so flat, that Shaun held his breath in staring at it. It looked like streets did, from his apartment window. He half-expected a Tiny-sized car to come racing up. But no, he had the space all to himself. He puffed out his breath in a moment when the breeze died, and he stared at the steam he produced. He had enough heat in him to make steam, or it was just that cold! Checking himself, his chest felt cozy and his arms were cool but flexible. He turned and looked up at Janine. She crouched behind him, her denimed knees and calves bulging overhead, her fuzzy mittens pressed against her excited, tearful expression.
“Are you okay?” he called up to her over the wind.
She smiled and nodded and wiped her tears. “Look at you, Shaun. You look…” She tore off a mitten and fumbled to draw out her smartphone and stage a couple pictures of him. Then she showed him one. “See, here, look. This one, with just you and the sidewalk and the wall of snow. There’s nothing else around you, no trees, plants, nothing. You look…” Her breath hitched and she covered her mouth again.
“I look normal,” he finished for her, but not in the bad way. “If I couldn’t see my face, Janine, I wouldn’t know that was me.” His tiny, dark eyes twitched as he examined the mittens at the ends of his jacket, the tiny buttons down the front, his specialty boots on the ice. “I look like anybody else. That could be anybody.” He turned his face up to her and laughed, nervously. She nodded back at him. He stared at the screen again, then turned away and slowly, cautiously attempted walking across the icy patch.
Janine didn’t tell him to be careful. He didn’t demand her to protect him or sit closer or taking him away from this frozen hell. With a half-smile and wide eyes, feeling like a child, he picked his steps carefully and crept up the sidewalk. Above him, past the huge snowy barriers, there was only a few barren branches traced in thin black lines against the bright, off-white sky. Other than the walls, no, there was nothing to tell him how minuscule he was in this world. He’d had dreams like this, standing alone in a vast plain, nothing else around him to tower overhead or block his view.
“Janine,” he called over his shoulder. “Look at me. I’m walking outside… in winter.”
“I can’t stop staring at you, Shaun. You’re beautiful.”
He smiled at her. “Let’s go meet our neighbors.”