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For years, their childhood had been dominated by Mr Perkins next door.

Balls that went over his fence were lost forever. Even when their parents went over to ask, they came back empty handed.

Playing in the back garden was always short-lived. They’d catch a glimpse of Mr Perkins’ angry face in his kitchen window, then he’d be gone, and five minutes later Mum was calling them in, telling them he’d complained that they were too noisy.

Their treehouse was taken down within a week, because Mr Perkins complained that it let them see into his garden and left him with no privacy.

A few nights before their eighth birthday, one of the boys had crept downstairs late at night for a glass of water and overheard them talking.

“I think it would be a wonderful present for them,” their mother said, “But what about Mr Perkins? He’s bound to complain.”

Their father sighed. “You’re right. He’ll definitely complain.”

The little boy stood silently in the shadows. He was furious. What wonderful present were they going to miss out on now, and all because of Mr Grumpyface Perkins?

“Mr Perkins be damned,” their father said, and the little boy’s eyes widened. “They’re my boys, I’ll get them what I want for their birthday.

The little boy scampered upstairs and whispered excitedly to his twin. The days until their birthday seemed to stretch on forever, but finally the morning dawned, and their mother took them to the back door to meet their birthday present.

It bounced towards them, a furry bundle of paws, furiously wagging tail, adoring eyes and a wet nose.

The boys gasped and shouted as one. “Oh my god! A puppy!”

The puppy started barking, an excited, high pitched yip-yip-yip, and they raced around the garden with him.

Biting her lip, their mother turned to look over the fence at Mr Perkins’ kitchen window. She saw him there, just as he turned away, and she was just about to hurry the kids inside with their new pet when she realised that there was something different about him.

He was smiling.

The door bell rang, and the puppy barked even more. Bracing herself, the boys’ mother went to answer the door.

“I see your boys have a puppy now,” Mr Perkins said.

“Yes, he’s their birthday present,” she said, ready to apologise and make promises to keep the poor thing indoors so he wouldn’t be disturbed.

“Birthday, hm? Well in that case, I’d like them to have this with my regards on their special day.”

He held out a book. Frowning, she took it. On the front, above a large picture of an exceptionally cute Golden Retriever puppy, it said Waggy Tails – How To Train Your Puppy by Reginald Perkins.

“Oh,” she said, “This is- you?”

He smiled and nodded. “If they have any questions, you know where I am.”

He turned and crossed the driveway back to his house.

© Kari Fay