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love thy neighbour

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It starts — as most feuds start — with something small.

Halfway into Neil’s first season finally playing on Andrew’s team, they move out of Andrew’s tiny apartment and begin renting a bungalow in a quiet neighbourhood not too far from their training grounds.

It’s just temporary, for a year or so until they’ve decided whether or not they’re settled enough to buy a place. But in the meantime, it’s more spacious for the cats and is just a nicer place in general. 

They get all moved in over one weekend, and when they get home from practice on Monday, Neil discovers a hand-delivered note in their mailbox.

It reads, in an erratically capitalised scroll:

 

Woken up at the CRACK OF DAWN by your OBNOXIOUSLY LOUD car! Please be more RESPECTFUL in the future! You’ve set a TERRIBLE first impression!!

Sincerely, an ANNOYED NEIGHBOUR

 

Andrew reads it over Neil’s shoulder and immediately dismisses it as unimportant.

“Who do you reckon wrote that?” Neil says.

“An annoyed neighbour,” Andrew replies, tapping the anonymous sign-off. “Can’t you read?”

Neil scowls. “Alright. Which one though.”

Andrew looks up in time to see the curtain twitch in the front window of their next-door neighbours house, as the man who lives there quickly moves away from the spot he has obviously been peeking out of.

“I’ll give you one guess,” Andrew says, jerking his head in the direction of the still moving curtain.

Neil raises his eyebrows and glances at Andrew. “Should I go over and say something?”

Andrew shrugs. Granted, he and Neil do have to leave early for practice, and the Maserati doesn’t have the quietest of engines, but it’s not like they rev it excessively before leaving, and it’s not enough to wake someone up if they’re already asleep. Andrew would know; he’s a light sleeper and there’s been plenty of times when Neil’s left early in the Maserati and it’s never woken him up before. Odds are that this neighbour has taken offence to their presence for no good reason. Some people are just like that.

“What would you say?” he finally asks Neil.

“I’d tell him to fuck off and mind his own business.”

As entertaining as it sounds to let Neil go and do just that, Andrew thinks it might be more prudent to see how this plays out first without them engaging. Perhaps their new neighbour just needed to get being an asshole out of his system and he’ll leave them alone from now on.

“Let’s leave cussing out the neighbours for the second week we live here, at least,” Andrew suggests.

So they leave it alone.

The next day passes without incident, but on the third, there’s a new note waiting for them:

 

I gave you a chance to change your RUDE BEHAVIOUR and you haven’t taken it. If you continue being DISRUPTIVE EVERY SINGLE MORNING, I will have NO CHOICE but to get the authorities involved.

I am SERIOUS!!!

 

“Three exclamation marks,” Andrew comments mildly. “He really must be mad.”

Neil crumples the note in his hand and his expression hardens as he marches over to the neighbour’s house and knocks furiously on the door.

Andrew — who is down to two cigarettes a day — lights up on the porch to wait for Neil and watch just in case it looks like a fight’s going to break out. He can’t really hear the conversation that follows, but he does hear the neighbour’s door when it gets slammed in Neil’s face.

Neil stomps back home with a face of thunder.

“That went well, I take it,” Andrew says.

“This,” Neil says emphatically, “is not over.”


 

The unreasonable neighbour’s name, it turns out, is Mr Powell. He’s probably in his 60s, and he has a yappy little dog called Sasha.

Other friendlier neighbours who live close enough inform them that Mr Powell has a reputation for being grumpy, but that he’s ultimately harmless.

Andrew and Neil have both dealt with a considerable number of people who have meant them — and caused them  — actual harm, so Mr Powell shouldn’t really even be a blip on their radar, all things considered. 

Andrew is fairly impassive about the whole thing, letting it wash over him without it really making an impact, but Neil is self-righteously fuming about the whole thing, and Andrew gets it. Mr Powell is a nuisance, is the thing. He’s disruptive.

He does call the cops on them, complaining about the noise from the car. He gets informed that Andrew and Neil leaving in the morning for work isn’t enough to constitute a noise complaint, especially when no one else had complained about it, and so the case is taken no further.

As far as Andrew and Neil are concerned, the matter is closed. And for a couple of weeks, it seems to be.

Then, one evening, Neil is mowing the lawn close to the border-line between their front yard and Mr Powell’s when there’s suddenly a horrendous crunching sound before the mower cuts off and Neil comes running back inside to where Andrew is making dinner.

“Do I even want to know?” he asks.

“I ran over half his rosebush,” Neil says. Then, at Andrew’s expression, he adds, “It was an accident.”

Andrew still says nothing.

“Andrew. It was,” Neil insists.

“I believe you,” Andrew says. “I highly doubt Mr Powell will, though.”

Neil goes over to apologise and to offer to buy a replacement rosebush, but Mr Powell is having none of it, insisting it was a malicious attack on Neil’s part. Any guilt Neil felt over the situation swiftly evaporates, and he returns home with a glint in his eye.

“I’m done playing the nice guy,” he says.

“I wasn’t aware you were doing that in the first place,” Andrew says dryly.


 

Neil starts stealing Mr Powell’s newspaper every morning.

At first, they hear nothing about this, but a few days later Mr Powell comes knocking on the door. Andrew answers.

“Yes?” he says blandly. Mr Powell is ruddy-faced and clearly working himself up into a fully-fledged strop.

“My paper,” he snaps. “I know you’ve been taking it.”

As Andrew isn’t actually the one responsible, he merely shakes his head. “Wasn’t me.”

Behind him, Andrew hears Neil pad out into the hallway and approach the door.

“Who is it, Andrew? Oh, Mr Powell, hello,” Neil says pleasantly. He is holding the stolen paper in his hands and makes a good show of reading the headlines.

Andrew watches as Mr Powell’s face gets redder and redder.

“That’s mine,” he finally gets out a moment later.

Neil looks up. “What, the paper?” 

“Yes, you little thief! Give it back!”

Neil shakes his head, a bemused expression on his face. “Don’t think so. This is our paper.”

Mr Powell points his finger at Neil furiously. “Get your own delivered, stop taking mine. I know it’s you.”

Neil leans closer and smiles. “I’d like to see you prove it,” he says. “Goodbye, Mr Powell.”

Andrew shuts the door.


 

Mr Powell starts letting Sasha shit on Andrew and Neil’s lawn and just leaving it there.

Neil responds by scooping it up in pages of the newspapers he’s stolen when he knows Mr Powell is watching, and then putting it in Mr Powell’s own garbage can.

He comes back inside looking awfully pleased with himself, and he’s washing his hands when Andrew clears his throat to get Neil’s attention.

“You’re probably about one incident away from starting an all-out war.”

“He started it,” Neil points out, which is absolutely true, and Andrew can’t deny that Neil’s antagonism is entertaining, especially when it’s directed at someone who won’t literally murder Neil in retaliation.

“He did,” Andrew allows. “Who’s going to finish it, then?”

“Look, I’ve had to deal with my murderous father, Riko and the Moriyamas, and the FBI. I’m not letting a bitter old man get the better of me.”

It’s a fair enough point. Andrew lets it go for now.


 

A week later, Andrew arrives home from grocery shopping to find Neil and Mr Powell out front on the sidewalk in the middle of a heated argument. Neil has King in his arms, whilst Mr Powell is clutching Sasha tightly to his chest.

Andrew parks and gets out of the car in time to hear, “That batshit cat has been terrorising poor Sasha and I know you’ve been putting her up to it!”

“Putting her up—she’s a cat, she doesn’t listen to anything I say,” Neil snaps back, incredulous.

“No, I’m not having that. Sasha’s been an absolute wreck, and it’s that thing’s fault.”

“King wouldn’t hurt a fly, she just wants to play with Sasha, don’t you, baby?” he coos at her, and King starts to purr.

Andrew’s getting too old for this shit.

He walks over to Neil’s side and Mr Powell glares at him. “Anything to say?” he demands of Andrew.

“Did King actually hurt Sasha? Did they fight? Are any vet visits necessary?”

“Well, no, but—” Mr Powell starts, but Andrew cuts him off.

“Great. Then I think we’re done here.” He puts his hand on Neil’s shoulder and gently nudges him back towards the house. Neil goes with one final scowl at Mr Powell.

Andrew gets the grocery bags out of the car and heads inside.

“Let me deal with Mr Powell from now on,” Andrew tells Neil, who’s now sitting on the sofa and rocking King like she’s a baby. Sir is sleeping on the window seat, oblivious to the drama. 

“If you say so,” Neil says. “Just remember you can’t actually kill him.” He’s speaking in a baby voice, still looking at King.

“You dote on that cat too much.”

“That’s because she lets me,” Neil says, then looks up at Andrew with a gorgeous dopey grin. 

Andrew tilts Neil’s chin up and kisses him soundly.

“You are an idiot.”

“Ah, but I’m your idiot.”


 

Andrew has a twice-monthly Skype call with Renee.

He’s mentioned Mr Powell in passing before, but he’s never fully let on the scope of the issue. He does now.

“Maybe he’s lonely,” Renee says. “Maybe antagonising Neil is the most human interaction he gets.”

Andrew mulls this over. “He has his pathetic little dog for company.”

Through the glitchy screen, Renee shrugs. “Just something to think about. I take it Neil’s retaliations haven’t helped.”

Andrew sighs. “Of course not. Neil is more trouble than he’s worth.”

“Is he?” Renee asks with a knowing smile.

“Watch it, Walker.” Neil is worth everything to Andrew, but that’s for Andrew to say. “Do you have any useful advice?”

“You could always try…being nice?” she suggests.

Andrew hangs up on her.


 

Still, he thinks about what she’s said.

Neil, as promised, has stopped going out of his way to be antagonistic, which means he’s stopped stealing Mr Powell’s newspapers. This, at least, seems to be a good start.

The next time he’s at the mall, Andrew picks up a pair of ear-plugs and leaves them in Mr Powell’s mail-box.

He doesn’t say who they’re from, but reasons it’ll be fairly obvious. Mr Powell makes no effort to openly acknowledge the gift, but he stops leaving notes complaining about the car.

Just before a weekend when Neil and Andrew will be out of town for an away game, Andrew takes a Tupperware of brownies he made over to Mr Powell’s.

“Here,” he says, pushing the Tupperware into a flabbergasted Mr Powell’s hands. “We don’t have time to finish these before we leave and I don’t want them to go stale.”

Before Mr Powell can answer, he turns around and walks away.

“What are you doing?” Neil asks suspiciously when Andrew returns.

“I’m being…nice.”

“Huh,” Neil says thoughtfully.

When they return from their game, the Tupperware is in their mail-box, empty and clean.


 

And so it goes.

Mr Powell, although clearly initially confused by Andrew’s gestures, starts to reciprocate. 

When their team win the championships, Mr Powell makes them a cake, bringing it around and looking extraordinarily embarrassed when he hands it to a bewildered Neil, who answers the door.

The next time Neil washes the car, he washes Mr Powell’s too, without being asked.

Mr Powell starts leaving the sports section of the newspaper on their porch step every morning.

Andrew offers to take Sasha for walks when Mr Powell gets waylaid with a particularly nasty cold.

Mr Powell brings around a six-pack of beer as a thank you.

They don’t exactly talk much when they see each other out and about, but they now have this back and forth of kind gestures.

It’s so much easier than making each other’s lives difficult.

By the time they’ve been living there a year, Mr Powell has a spare key which he uses to look in on and feed the cats when Neil and Andrew are away. Neil shovels Mr Powell’s driveway when it snows.

It’s all very neighbourly.

As nice as the bungalow is, it was only ever supposed to be temporary, and before they know it, Andrew and Neil start looking for a property to buy.

They find a house a bit further out, but it’s quieter. More private. More space. They’re cash buyers and it’s a new build so the whole process goes by remarkably quickly, and one Saturday morning they find themselves packing up a moving truck.

They send it on ahead with the movers and then pack up the Maserati with the last couple of small boxes. They’re about ready to leave when Mr Powell’s door opens.

He steps out carrying a big plastic bag and he walks over to them, passing it to Andrew.

“Every new place needs a hanging basket,” he says gruffly, and as Andrew peeks into the bag he sees two hanging baskets, filled with flowers. Andrew’s not sure what kind they are, but the colours are pretty enough.

“Thank you,” he says, and gently places them into the trunk of the car. He holds his hand out to Mr Powell, who smiles as he shakes it.

He shakes Neil’s hand next, and then says, “You’re the best neighbours I’ve ever had.”

He stays on the sidewalk to see them off, and as Andrew drives them out of the street, Neil leans out of the passenger seat to wave.

Once he’s back inside with the window rolled back up, Neil turns to Andrew with a wistful smile. “I’m going to miss him.”

Andrew groans.

“You are impossible.”