The Best Neighbours Make the Best Homes
“Okay, now I’m going to put it in.”
“You’re too tense. I don’t want you to fall over.”
“Sorry, like this?”
“That’s better. Okay, putting it in…now.”
“Fine. Go harder.”
“Yeah, fuck, ow!”
“Shit,” Tanner said, peering over the bedframe at Ron. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Ron muttered, moving his foot back. Part of it had crushed his toe, but he wasn’t badly hurt. “No big deal. Maybe that was a little too hard.”
Tanner chuckled. “Yeah. Carpentry is tricky like that. But it’s in.”
Ron looked down. The two sections of the bedframe were slotted together. “That’s great,” he said. “Is that all?”
“Yeah. Well, we need to cut some slats to put in the frame, but then yeah, we can build the head and footboards,” Tanner said, smiling. “We’re going to need to go get more wood.”
“Okay,” Ron said. He carefully stepped around the bedframe, avoiding the tools and piles of sawdust, and followed Tanner out of Jed and Micha’s room and then out of the house. “Thanks for—”
“Stop thanking me for doing this,” Tanner told him, before Ron could get it out. “I already told you I like building stuff. I’m literally happy to help. ”
“I know, but…” Ron shrugged. “You’ve got your own stuff going on with moving into your house, and you’re taking all this time to help me with my house instead…”
Tanner patted Ron’s back as they approached the river. “The next time you thank me I’ll tell James to punish you. I built the important stuff for our house while you weren’t here, and you have two boys who are sleeping on your floor and need a bed.”
“Yeah, but…you also helped with the chairs, and the shelves, and…”
“And we’re not keeping score,” Tanner promised, wading into the river. “And if we were, I’d remind you that you planted us an entire magical garden before we even moved in.”
“Oh, well…” Ron blushed a little. “That wasn’t such a big deal. I just got some seeds from the seed vault and asked the forest to take care of them until you guys got here.”
“Right. And this isn’t such a big deal. I’m just getting some wood and turning it into furniture.”
The forest was laughing at him, so Ron sighed in defeat. “Fine, fine. Still, I appreciate it, even if I can’t thank you for it.”
They crossed the river together, Tanner shaking off once they were on the other side. “You were right,” he muttered. “It’s much faster just to stay naked.”
“Story of my life,” he said, nodding. After crossing six or seven times in one day, he’d suggested to Tanner that there was a better way than carrying clothes over every time and that it was rude to keep asking the forest to dry them. It was faster just to stay naked, but Ron had maybe also done it because he’d known Jay would appreciate it.
Tanner snickered, approaching the lumber pile near the house. Jay and Tanner’s house was of a size with Ron and James’s, though a little more square. It was made mostly from light wood and had big windows looking into a nice living room, through which Ron could see the kitchen. He knew there was also a bedroom and a study in there, and a big basement underneath that also had furniture and stuff in it.
The house was about fifty paces back from the river, near the treeline, and between the house and the river was the garden. Closest to the house were the plants that Jay had grown at his old place, most of which were only medicinal if Ron was being generous with his use of that word. The rest of the space was filled with plants Ron had grown from the seed vault, which matched the hot, humid air of the modified summer spell he and James had put around the house. They were all singing several different versions of the same song, but stopped to greet Ron when he stepped onto the soil.
“The sap is really potent,” James was explaining to Jay, very patiently. The two of them were sitting in front of a plant with golden bulbs called a Goldwage. “You have to be careful not to touch it while harvesting or it’ll be very dangerous. It’ll need to be harvested once every two months or else it will start spitting, which can be dangerous. I’ve also written out some instructions on how to make the tincture that cures it, which I suggest you keep a small supply of on hand for when one of you gets spat on.” Ron winced, and James paused. “Which isn’t a criticism of you. It’s just inevitable with spitting plants. Ron gets spat on all the time.”
“Right,” Jay said, smiling at Tanner. “Hey, babe, how’s the carpentry going?”
“Good, making a bed,” Tanner said, wandering over to kiss Jay’s head. “How’s the botany?”
“Good. I’m pretty sure I know how not to have the plants kill us.”
“Do me a favour and keep going until you’re, like, totally sure? If only so we can keep the dog alive.”
Jay and Tanner had gotten a dog at some point, a dopey golden-coloured puppy named Hunter whose tail would be knee-breaking when he was bigger. Demon was unimpressed even from the other side of the river, and James was less so since Hunter had licked his face earlier. That was probably why he hadn’t told Jay about the Cliff Wish’s hypnotic petals, but Ron would just tell Tanner later. He personally thought Hunter was a sweet little thing.
“Promise,” Jay said. “Then maybe I’ll try and learn how not to kill them in exchange.”
“Sounds fair to me. Going to go, we still have a lot of wood to hammer.”
“Ron’s not allowed to do that, babe.”
“Maybe he’s just going to watch.”
Jay snickered, blushing a little as he watched Tanner and Ron pick up some planks of wood from the pile they had. He leaned in and whispered something to James, who was uncharacteristically quiet as he answered.
Whatever. Ron hefted his wood and turned to follow Tanner back to the river. They had just gotten past the currently-nameless Goldwage when Jay called out, stopping them both. “Hey, Tanner?”
“You’re not allowed either.”
Tanner looked back, then he looked at Ron, and Ron shrugged, but only the shoulder the wood wasn’t on. Tanner smiled, at least one part of him already behaving rebelliously. “Okay. See you later.”
“Bye,” Jay said, giggling.
“Okay, if you can stop being horny and pay attention,” James said to him, waving at Ron. “If you want to use Goldwage for horny purposes and not have your balls explode, you should dilute the sap to at least one part per hundred…”
“Hey, just out of curiosity,” asked Tanner, as they approached the river. “Do any of the plants in the garden not have horny usages?”
“Uh…” Ron glanced at their garden, which had gone back to trying its harmony out. “The Pailwhacker causes impotence if you turn its leaves into tea, does that count?”
Tanner just laughed, and Ron led him into the river. “You know, you really need a bridge here.”
“Yeah, I know. We’ll build one eventually, I guess.”
“I guess. It’s a lot of work and a lot of nudity just to go to the neighbours’ for supper, you know.”
“I do know. Did you notice that your clothes weren’t where you left them, right?”
“Yeah, Jay’s being cute,” Tanner said, sighing. “It’s wild how being told not to do something makes you want to do it, you know? Like, I wasn’t actually thinking of jerking off until Jay said I couldn’t, and now I kind of want to?”
“Yeah, you get used to that,” Ron said. He had no idea if Tanner was going to end up like him or if he even wanted to, but he seemed pretty interested. “How many slats do we need to cut for the bed?”
“Depends. Are Jed and Micha going to be fucking in it?”
Ron glanced over at them. They were in the garden, Micha near the riverbank and Jed near the trees. He couldn’t hear them but they were arguing, even though the garden was asking them really politely to stop. Ron gently told it to let them work it out themselves. “I don’t know, they basically only ever argue, so probably not.”
“They only ever argue and you’re making them sleep in the same bed?” Tanner asked. “ We’ll get some braces, too.”
“Next time I need them to shut up for a bit I’m going to tell them we made their bed fuck-proof,” Ron said, wincing.
“Not supposed to swear. It’s fine, I’ll tell James later.”
“Why would you tell him?”
Ron smiled. “Games are no fun if only one person’s cheating.”
“So you’re saying I should…jerk off and tell Jay about it?”
“Up to you, it’s your ass,” Ron told him.
“I’m starting to think that’s not totally true,” Tanner muttered.
“Now you’re getting it.”
They went back into the house and got back to work, and Ron was pretty sure that he wasn’t going to mind having such close neighbours.