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Will isn’t a total dick. He gets that there are rules for friendship, like “don’t punch your friends in the face without very good reason” and “share the good booze.” He even follows these rules. He’s a fucking ace best mate, considering he coached Merlin through adolescence without either of them actually being put in hospital for being mouthy or weird or, in Merlin’s case, tragically awkward.

Perhaps the first and most important of all friendship rules is this: do not fuck your best mate’s mum. Exes are forgivable. Sisters are forgivable. Mothers are not, Will is pretty sure. And he’s only human, he maybe wanked himself off a few times in his impressionable years to Merlin’s mum, warm and funny and hot, but it wasn’t like he had a chance and it wasn’t like he was going to tell Merlin that. (Although if Merlin ever finds out that whenever Will was waxing poetic about Jodie Foster he meant Hunith, Merlin is probably going to cry.) But now Merlin is off at uni most of the year and Will is farming because he can’t see much use in more school when he knows what he wants to do with his life, and it’s really hard to think about Merlin when Hunith is there.

And Hunith, see, Hunith has this red dress.

It’s not like it’s some sort of fucking evening gown, because who needs one of those in Ealdor? Some friend of hers gave it to her last birthday and she wears it around the farm on hot days. And it’s not like Will knows shit about fashion, but it makes her look more sexy than any mum has a right to look, all low-cut and barely sweeping her knees, and the color only makes it more eye-catching, this bright red that stands out against any background, and when she wears it around Will can’t take his eyes off her.

If Merlin were still around, that would be one thing, but Merlin isn’t, and Hunith and Will are still neighbors and still weeding their fields side by side, swapping farm machinery back and forth and trading vegetables in the summer while Merlin is off with his new posh friends touring France or some shit. (Merlin, if you do not come home I am probably going to fuck your mum, situation getting extremely dire, she bought a red blouse last week because she decided she likes the color, says the e-mail Will does not send.)

“You should come over for dinner one of these nights,” Hunith says sometime in August, hands on her hips looking over the field. “I’m sick of cooking for one, you like my cooking and if I remember right you’re probably living off crisps and beer more often than not.”

Will ducks his head on instinct. “Sometimes there’s something from the garden,” he offers.

Hunith laughs like that was a joke and not the truth, which she would not have done a year ago. “Then you’ll definitely have to come for dinner. Tomorrow?”

“Sure, tomorrow,” says Will, and goes home to jerk himself helplessly off thinking about the way Hunith’s eyes crinkled when she laughed at him, because this is a problem now, apparently.

(Will has a whole folder of unsent e-mails to Merlin, which is at least smaller than the folder of e-mails he has actually sent to Merlin. The one he writes once he’s finished contemplating how deeply, deeply fucked he is reads May actually be falling in love with your mum. I made “your mum” jokes at you a lot when we were younger. I apologize for each and every one of them right now, especially the time I said “your mum gives great blowjobs”.)

Will goes to dinner the next night wearing a nice shirt he hasn’t worn since he graduated school, and Hunith wears her red dress, and red lipstick, which Will spends most of dinner mesmerized by while he eats something that tastes obscene or gourmet or maybe just out of the ordinary, like she made it for a friend and not for her son and his best mate, expecting them to be garbage disposals.

And Hunith smiles at him and asks him about his plans for the farm and touches his arm when she offers him dessert and it feels like she’s avoiding the subject of Merlin too, which, well—turns out Merlin isn’t all they’ve got in common. Will definitely didn’t need to know that. He did not need to know that Hunith roots for Chelsea and wants to go to Spain for a vacation someday and took cooking classes a few towns away on the nights she needed them out of her hair when they were in secondary school.

“We’ll do this again,” Hunith says at the end of the night, and Will just nods helplessly and doesn’t ask if he can snog her because that would be the opposite of cool. And also because then Merlin would be justified in punching him in the face.

Luckily, Merlin turns up for a two-week visit soon after that, waiting for term to start, and Merlin is a human cockblock. Will falls back into routine, because he loves Merlin like he loves a brother, but that only makes it more obvious that he … really does not love Hunith as a mother. And maybe he kind of misses talking to her. And maybe they keep getting distracted talking about the farm whenever Merlin leaves them alone for a minute to answer a text from his uni friends.

Much as Will likes to joke about it, though, Merlin’s not stupid, so the day he gets on the train, he puts a bracing hand on Will’s shoulder and says “I don’t want to know anything” before he wanders off whistling.

Will is not going to break every best friend code known to man just because Merlin says it’s okay, though, because Merlin’s got no clue what he’s talking about, and he’s determined to keep on as he has been. He is resolved. Jumper weather is on its way, and the red dress will go away for the winter, and Will will find some girl to shag who isn’t Hunith, and this whole thing will go away.

That lasts just about as long as it takes to find Hunith in the orchard when the apples get ripe, halfway up a tree with the wind blowing around the skirt of the fucking red dress. He clears his throat because he really didn’t need to know that she’s wearing sky blue panties, and she grins, hopping out of the tree like she’s his age, and tosses him an apple. “Good crop this year,” she says, and before he can take a bite (not that he’s sure he can move a hand) she pulls him close and kisses him, all frank and matter-of-fact and really fucking hot.

They fuck under the apple tree like a real fucking Biblical cliché, Hunith’s red dress pushed up to her waist while she rides him.

Your mum is a fucking gift in the sack, says the e-mail Will does not send that night. Every joke I ever made is apparently true.

Christmas is going to be awkward, but it’s not like he’s going to stop now.