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F.E.R.N.S.

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“Hello, This is Don Scripps”

 

“I need Pos, can you put him on please?”

 

Blimey, it must be bad if Dakin can’t even be bothered to mock his phone answering technique.

 

“Lovely to speak to you too.” He holds the phone away from his face to shout down the hall. “David! It’s Stu. I think he needs you to help him dump a body…”

 

 

 

Across the city, Dakin laughs shrilly, if only he knew how close to the truth he was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posner surveys the victims of Dakin’s care and shakes his head.

 

“Yep. You’re a dead man”

 

“Not if you help me!” He sounds hysterical. David sighs and bends to inspect a previously gorgeous palm

 

“What did you even do?”

 

“I did exactly as I was told. I watered them, fed them and sprayed them”

 

“Really?” He asks sceptically, inspecting a black and withered leaf

 

Dakin avoids his eyes. “I may have forgotten for a few days, but I made up for it as soon as I remembered!”

 

Pos touches a finger to the soil beneath another, particularly sad looking specimen.

 

“See? I’ve soaked it, and it’s still all dried out”

 

“Dried out, Dakin, it’s gone mouldy! The soil is soup!”

 

“I know, it’s leaking all over my cabinet. The things I do for that man”

 

“Like kill all of his houseplants? Yeah, you’re a diamond”

 

“Look, are you going to help me, or what?”

 

“Help you how?” He snorts.

 

Dakin spreads his hands as though it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “You’ve got an allotment. Make them live”

 

“Dakin, Stuart, darling. I grow runner beans, I’m not a necromancer.”

 

Dakin groans and sinks into a chair, his head in his hands. “He’s back tomorrow, he’s going to kill me”

 

“And why didn’t you think to do something sooner?”

 

“The hot lad in the garden centre said they’d perk up with a bit of water”

 

“Right. And he’s a gardener is he?”

 

“They employed him, he must be!”

 

“You’ve witnessed him looking after the plants?”

 

Dakin blushes and mumbles something.

 

“Sorry what was that?”

 

“He carries deliveries to the car for you”

 

“Oh, that garden centre.” Already imagining what Don will say when he tells him, David bites the inside of his cheek to curb his giggles. “Trust you. And you didn’t ask Maureen in the nursery, because?”

 

“Who?”

 

“Elderly lady, bleach blonde, big hair,” He mimes a bouffant hairdo “quite grumpy, wears a fleece”

 

“Oh, geriatric Marilyn! Didn’t know she had a name”

 

“She knows everything about plants, as you’d know if you hadn’t been sidelined by the nearest bit of beefcake”

 

“What do you want from me, Pos? Blood?”

 

He sighs. “I’ll help you dump the worst of the evidence, but you’re going to have to admit what you’ve done and face the music. I suggest maybe buying him some new ones as soon as he gets back”

 

Dakin’s eyes glint.

 

“Don’t even think about trying to replace them without him noticing, you’ll only make an idiot of yourself”

 

“It’s not like they have personalities or anything…”

 

God, he actually seems to think he’d get away with it. David rolls his eyes. “Yeah but you’re such a clown, you’d probably get the wrong species”

 

“Not if you help me!” There’s a desperate, keening note to his voice that David forces himself not to be swayed by.

 

“Dakin, if you think I’m getting up at arse o’clock in the morning to get you out of a spat with Tom, you’ve got another thing coming”

 

“Judas”

 

“Your Christian insults are meaningless to me”

 

“I think he was Jewish”

 

“So what? Are you truing to say something about Jews? You won’t get anywhere being racist”

 

“Jesus! I mean - Christ… No! I just”

 

He splutters helplessly for a few seconds before he notices the grin David can’t keep back.

 

“You fucker!”

 

They dump what they can in the compost bin and stash the rest in the small tool shed until the bin men come.

 

 

 

It’s late when he gets home, but David feels a glow of accomplishment as he climbs into bed.

 

Don sets his book aside on the covers between them and kisses him hello.

 

“How was Dakin?

 

“Hilarious”

 

“What?”

 

“In a dreadful state. Anyone would think Tom beats him”

 

“If he does he probably enjoys it”

 

Pos kisses his cheek. “You’re a terrible man”

 

“It’s why you love me” He smiles, tucking an arm around him and resuming his reading.

 

 

 

***

 

 

“Hey, baby!”

 

“Jesus!” Tom jumps in fright. “Were you just waiting behind the door?”

 

“I’ve missed you”

 

“Thanks,” He frowns in puzzlement and flicks on the light. “I missed you too. Why were you sitting in the dark?”

 

Instead of answering this – as far as Tom’s concerned, deeply valid – question, Stu launches himself against his face.

 

“Let’s go upstairs” He bites his lip suggestively as Tom manages to peel him off.

 

“Stu, I’m flattered, but I’d like to have some supper first, I’ve been driving all day, I’m shattered.”

 

“Why don’t you have a bath and I’ll order us something? We can eat it in bed”

 

“Because …that sounds disgusting… what is wrong with you?” He frowns as Stu throws himself bodily in the doorway of the living room, barring entry.

 

Belatedly, he removes the panic from his face and makes a pathetic effort to drape himself alluringly against the frame. “I’ve just really missed you – physically”

 

“I’ve been gone for ten days” Tom snorts, suspicion blooming across his features as he changes direction and tries to go down the hall to the kitchen, only to find Stu blocking his way again.

 

“Yeah but I’ve been really horny”

 

“Ok,” He sighs “there’s obviously something you don’t want me to see, so why don’t you just come clean and save yourself further embarrassment”

 

Stu thinks about it for a moment before giving in, his face falling and shoulders sagging in defeat. “Ok, but I promise my idea is better”

 

Reluctantly he steps aside, and allows Tom to unlock the living room door.

 

The room looks fine, there’s nobody there but them and no structural damage. Feeling like a fool, he shakes his head. “Sorry, I don’t know what I was expecting. You were just being really weird and I got paranoid. Fuck, I’m sorry – “ He freezes on the point of taking a relieved Stu into his arms. “Stu? Where’s the palm tree? Actually, where are all of the plants?”

 

Stu’s face falls faster than gravity. “Ok, look. They might have, you know… died. A little.”

 

“I knew it! You’re bloody hopeless.”

 

“I am sorry. I tried to fix it. Just bear in mind, if you’d gone along with the plan, you’d be at least one good orgasm down right now and too sex-addled to care about them”

 

“You were trying to use sex to manipulate me?” Tom folds his arms and puts on his best disapproving expression.

 

“Oh, don’t come over all high and mighty, you would have enjoyed it! I will get you some new ones”

 

“Too right you will”

 

“I don’t know what more I can do”

 

“Follow some simple instructions so this doesn’t happen every time I‘m away longer than a week”

 

“No need to sound so disappointed. It’s not like anyone died”

 

“Er...” Tom gestures angrily to the living room.

 

“It’s not like I died”

 

“If only”

 

“Hey!”

 

“I’m going for a shower”

 

“I’ll join you if you like?”

 

“I’d prefer you to make the dinner while I’m in there”

 

 

 

Grumbling, Stu makes his way to the kitchen to start dinner. He spends a miserable, sexless evening feeling like a prize idiot, but at least he isn’t relegated to the sofa for the night.

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

They’re chatting to Maureen in the garden centre when David next sees Dakin. He has a pained look on his face, and is pushing a laden trolley, Tom is beside him leaning heavily on his stick and wearing a satisfied half-smile.

 

He nudges Don who beckons them over with a beaming smile.

 

“Looks like you’re stocking up”

 

“Yes, someone promised” Tom directs a pointed look at Dakin, who grumbles.

 

“If I knew how expensive these things were I would never have agreed to any of it.”

 

“Maybe next time you’ll remember to water and feed them”

 

“Bollocks to that, I’m hiring someone else to take care of them. Are you sure you don’t just want to get plastic ones?”

 

Tom’s answering glare is withering.

 

Don clears his throat, ever the peacemaker –David’s glad; the last thing they want is to be caught up in the lunch time domestic – Maureen thinks they’re normal and he’d rather not have Dakin disabuse her of the idea.

 

As usual, Dakin stubbornly refuses to take the hint. “Why does everyone need all this foliage anyway?”

 

“Because it’s nice”

 

“It isn’t nice. It’s just something to worry about when you go away”

 

“It’s healthy to have green around, you philistine” Don smiles, falling back into the easy routine of taking the piss out of Dakin. David has been a comfortable observer since childhood.

 

“I go for a jog around the park every day, I don’t need to spend hundreds of pounds on some extra leaves to put in the house”

 

Maureen turns her back with a snort and noisily resumes her re-potting.

 

He exchanges an amused look with Don and Tom, careful not to make any noise in case they bring Maureen’s disapproval on themselves.

 

I don’t worry when we go away, because our trustworthy neighbour looks after them” He smiles.

 

“But it’s all just hassle, this is exactly why we don’t have a pet”

 

“If you remember, I wanted to get a dog” Tom’s eyebrows shoot up indignantly.

 

“No way! I’m not coming home to a house that stinks of wet dog and chewed up shoes.”

 

“Well, what about a cat? They don’t chew or smell”

 

“They shit in the house! Besides I’m not walking around with claw marks and fluff over my clothes like this pair of be-clogged grannies.” He gestures to them both.

 

Beside him, Don glances down at his crocs and shrugs.

 

David folds his arms over his much loved gardening cardigan. “You’re so kind, Dakin”

 

“Well then,” Tom continues as if they weren’t there. “all the more reason to stop complaining about my plants”

 

David turns away, ready to move on to something other than their friends’ eternal squabbling and is confronted with a trundling pallet trolley, steered by the garden centre’s prime attraction.

 

“Oh look, Dakin. Here’s your boyfriend”

 

“Oi, Maureen, where’dja want this lot of um… pink things?” The hot delivery guy gestures at the delivery of petunias, catching sight of Dakin as he does so. “Oh, hi, mate! How did your plant sitting go? They perk up with a bit of water in the end, yeah?”

 

“Oh, absolutely fantastically” Tom drawls nodding to the laden trolley.

 

“There, what did I tell you?” He beams at Dakin, oblivious “Piece of cake”

 

At least he has the good sense to look embarrassed.

 

Luckily for Dakin’s dignity, Maureen directs the petunias away to bedding plants and they all turn to watch as he pushes them away, tiny denim shorts stretching taut above strong brown legs.

 

“It’s not even hot today,” Scripps mutters.

 

Maureen doesn’t seem to notice their attention is elsewhere and tuts disgustedly at Stuart. “You came here for advice and asked the delivery boy? Why on Earth would you do that?”

 

“I can’t think” David suppresses a snigger as the delivery boy in question walks through a set of timed sprinklers, soaking his green polo shirt and decorating him in a halo of rainbow droplets.

 

“You are shitting hopeless” Tom admonishes, once the guy has passed out of sight and the show is over.

 

“Come on, I tried” He glances to Don and then David for support like a trapped rabbit.

 

Shaking his head, Tom heads towards the tills, leaving him to follow.

 

Don turns to him, cheeks red from holding in his amusement. He flicks his eyes after their friends. David agrees; It’s too good to miss.

 

“Maureen, love. I think we’ll pay for these now, if that’s ok”

 

Over at the tills, Dakin is whinging. “Is it café time yet? The whole point of these places is the café”

 

Maureen glowers at him.

 

“I deserve cake after forking out for this lot” He moans, digging out his wallet with obvious reluctance.

 

“You deserve a kick up the arse” Tom mutters, and Maureen’s tight smokers-mouth quirks into a rare smile.

 

“What even is the appeal of Dakin?” Don asks as they look on.

 

“I honestly couldn’t tell you any more” David sighs, resting some of his weight against his boyfriend. “It works on a lot of people though”

 

“I suppose he has some of the same helpless charm as Gizmo”

 

“Oi! I can hear you. Don’t you dare compare me to your manky disabled cat!”

 

“Gizmo’s not manky, he’s a doll!”

 

“His face is messed up” Dakin screws up his eye and juts out his lower jaw to mimic their – admittedly not conventionally attractive – rescue Persian.

 

“He has a syndrome.” David sniffs indignantly. “Actually, Scrippsy’s right, there are a lot of similarities between you: you both spend all day either preening or demanding attention, you’re always draped over someone’s lap or with your face right in a plate of food”

 

“Oi!” He shouts again.

 

They pause their piss-taking to take their turn and chat to Maureen, who gives them some extra seedlings and a voucher for the café, and calls them ‘gentleman’ instead of grunting at them like she does most other customers. David suspects it’s exaggerated for Dakin’s benefit but he’s not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

 

“How come you get discounts and respect?” Dakin grumbles as they make their way to their cars.

 

“Because we’re always buying plants and keeping them alive”

 

“How can you possibly need more plants? You can already barely see that piano of yours under foliage and cats”

 

“You always need more plants, Dakin”

 

“You lot are so weird”

 

Don sighs dramatically. “He doesn’t get it”

 

“I know” Tom replies mournfully.

 

“Oh shut up the lot of you and lets load these up before the café closes. I need coffee and cake”

 

“Careful, Stu” Don pokes him in the side “you’ll get fat”

 

“Fuck off!” Dakin squirms away, scowling.

 

“Need a hand, lads?”

 

They turn to see the delivery guy leaning on a stack of compost bags at the edge of the car park where he’s suggestively eating an ice-lolly, his wet shirt clinging in all the right places.

 

“Yes please” Tom gestures to his walking stick with a helpless shrug.

 

“I can do it – ow!” Dakin grits out as Tom none too subtly uses it to smack him in the shin.

 

“What were you saying about getting a seat in the café before it closes?”

 

David ducks his head into the car to hide his laughter, and Don doesn’t make any pretence at all, but leans against the bonnet to watch and chortle.

 

“Is your – er, boyfriend? - ok?”

 

“No,” Tom tells him. “he’s fucking hopeless”

 

There’s a scuffle as Don just manages to save his tray of seedlings from dropping to an ignominious end.

 

“Oh... Ok” Visibly confused, he returns to his stack of bags to wait for them next customer.

 

 

 

 

They find Dakin hogging the sofas in the café, with a cappuccino and an empty plate in front of him

 

“Fucking hypocrite” he moans, shuffling up to make space for Tom beside him.

 

“I’m only human”

 

“So why is it bad for me to like him?”

 

“It isn’t. Nobody objects to you liking him, it’s relying on his advice that’s wrong”

 

“Honestly, Stu” Don laughs “he’s a nice lad but he’s thicker than the compost”

 

“Do you lot want cake or not? I’m getting cake”

 

David points to the empty plate. “Didn’t you just?”

 

“Get off my case, Pos!”

 

“Do you think we’ve made too much fun of him in public today?”

 

“He’ll be fine”

 

By his third slice of chocolate cake Dakin’s calmed down enough to join in the gossip about the hottie. “Do you think he is one of us? One of you, I mean?”

 

“Sorry, Dakin, you’re out of luck”

 

“David Posner, I’m a happily committed man! I’m just interested –it’s fun”

 

“Nosy” Don smothers in a fake cough.

 

“Gossip” David joins in.

 

“Accurate” Tom smiles into his coffee.

 

“How come you know so much then?”

 

‘Because when I come here, it’s to talk to people, not just dribble at them”

 

 

 

 

When they get back to the car, alone this time – Dakin and Irwin having taken their sniping and their new houseplants home, the delivery boy is waiting for them.

 

“Guys? I don’t mean to be rude, but I have to ask you something...”

 

“You ok, Ryan?” Don drops his hand in surprise, but takes it again loosely when he realises who it is.

 

“Yeah, it’s just…Are your friends um, ok?”

 

“Yeah they’re fine, why?”

 

“Oh they just seem kinda… stressed”

 

David laughs. “Oh no, don’t worry, they’re always like that”

 

“I’ve seen them in here arguing a few times, it’s sad. They should try couples therapy, it worked wonders for my mum and dad”

 

“I’m glad your parents are getting on better. Honestly, bickering is sort of foreplay for them”

 

“Oh, wow. Er… sorry I asked..?” He glances pointedly at their entwined fingers, clearly wondering if this is something new he’s learning about gay relationships.

 

“It’s fine. They’re weird. How’s your daughter?”

 

Ryan pulls out his wallet to show a picture of his baby. “She’s getting big, starting to sleep through and everything. How are the cats? Is your little disabled one ok?”

 

“Yeah, thanks, he’s over his eye infection”

 

“That’s great. I’ll see you next week. I’ll get the name of that therapist if you like, for your weird friends?”