Conspiracy. Teamwork.

“You’re asking me to move?” Blake asked. The visit from Theodore was unexpected, and the reason even more. He’d only moved into the neighborhood a month ago and now the head of the Homeowner’s Association seemed to be kicking him out. Theodore shook his head.

“Not me, the neighborhood,” he replied. He held up a list of signatures to Blake for effect.

“You can’t make me move,” Blake said. He clenched his fists to keep his growing anger in check. Theodore nodded.

“Of course not, but we can still ask. At least this way, you know where you stand with everyone; we don’t like you.” Blake was genuinely surprised. Everyone he’d talked to in the neighborhood seemed pleasant and chipper every time he talked to them. Occasionally, he thought them too chipper, and suspiciously pleasant.

Ever since Blake arrived, he noticed every aspect of the neighborhood appeared to be perfect. However, it wasn’t long until he started noticing small things that bothered him and no one else. At 45, Blake had lived in a lot of places, but none were as flawless as this neighborhood. The roads were pot-hole free and every yard was perfectly maintained. Even his own, that he never put any effort into; his neighbor happily volunteered to mow Blake’s lawn.

Prices at the local grocery store were the cheapest he’d seen, and even then paying seemed to be optional. He’d witnessed several of his neighbors load up their carts and walk right out the door; he even managed to do it himself a couple of times. Blake knew a town this perfect couldn’t exist and he began investigating.

Blake did not want to draw attention to himself and kept his snooping around to the late-night hours. He went through trash cans around the neighborhood and only grew more suspicious. All recyclables at every house he checked were perfectly cleaned and sorted, and the trash bin was usually only full about halfway. Not a single house put out as much waste as a normal family.

Somehow, despite Blake’s best efforts at stealth, they were on to him. He realized that the only reason they would ask him to leave was if he was close to uncovering something. Still, he wanted to at least try and put Theodore on the spot.

“Why not?” Blake asked. “What’d I do that half the neighborhood hates me?” he asked.

“The whole neighborhood,” Theodore corrected him. Blake only meant it as a turn of phrase, but Theodore’s comment punched him in the gut.

“We’ve seen your kind before,” Theodore said. “This time we’re getting ahead of it.”

“My kind?” Blake asked. “What does that mean?” He immediately tossed out any racial discrimination. Another suspicious thing about the neighborhood was that it was perfectly diverse.

“Cynics,” Theodore replied.

“What?” Blake asked. “So what if I’m a little cynical? Everyone is.” Theodore shook his head.

“Not here,” he said. “It always starts the same. We welcome newcomers to our neighborhood because we were all new at one point. But, occasionally a person refuses to accept how smoothly everything functions here. So, they start digging, confident they’ll find a reasonable explanation. As if a giant conspiracy was somehow more reasonable than a group of people organizing together to make their lives better. We all pitch in and work towards improving things for everyone here.”

“I haven-,” Blake began to protest, but Theodore shook his head.

“You’ve already begun digging,” he said. “This is a very safe neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean we don’t use security cameras. If you’re suffering financially, we’d be happy to donate food. But, going through your neighbor’s garbage is a fairly decent invasion of privacy.”

“My finances are fine,” Blake grumbled. He felt rejected and attacked; his pride insisted he not let him think he was poor on top of all that.

“Wonderful,” Theodore said. “Then, if you’re not going to move, the least you could do is settle your tab at the grocer’s.”

“Tab?” Blake asked. He gave Theodore a slightly confused look, which Theodore mirrored.

“You didn’t know?” he asked. “So… you were just stealing groceries?”

“No no, I-” Blake protested. But, Theodore shook his head and interrupted him.

“It doesn’t matter. Please settle that account by Friday, no questions asked. Stop going through everyone’s garbage, and for god’s sake, man, mow your own lawn. Samuel offered to do it for you one time while you got settled, but you’re really abusing his kindness.”

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