The green truck pulled down the street. It stopped in front of a large, white house. Darko was inside the car, and he remained there for a minute, alone with his thoughts. He had not seen Cynnie in a week. The last time they met, he discovered an important piece of information about her. Previously, she had conveniently neglected to tell him that she was a teacher. That was the basis of their last conversation. He knew she had not left it out on purpose; it just never came up. He wished he had known though. This could complicate matters. Not that it should. He was just afraid of how people would view their relationship later on. It could look bad in their eyes even though it was perfectly innocent. And his crime had absolutely nothing to do with children – a fact even lawmakers always seemed to forget.
Darko got out of his car and walked to the door. He had not been to her house since he had had dinner with her family. They had always agreed to meet at his place, but Cynnie had gone back to the whole ‘family is important in Green Bay’ thing. He would only be in there for a few minutes, so he was fine with it. He would survive. And maybe he could make a good impression.
“Darko!” Cynnie greeted him cheerfully at the door. “Come on in.”
Darko stepped inside and looked around. No one but the Scottish terrier in the kitchen seemed to be around. That changed a second later when he saw John come down the stairs. The other guy was wearing an Aaron Rodgers jersey. He gave Darko a slight smile when he saw him. “Hey, you’re going to the game?”
Darko nodded. “That’s right.” He himself was wearing his Packers shirt and cap.
John frowned as he looked over his attire. “You should really wear a jersey to the game. It’s more proper.”
Darko blinked. “I don’t have time to go buy a jersey. Maybe next time.” Not everyone had so much money to spend.
John shook his head. “I have one you can use. I’ll be right back.”
Darko looked at Cynnie, but she just shrugged. He had nothing to do but wait.
John soon returned with a crumpled green jersey in his hands. He tossed it rather carelessly at Darko. “You can keep it, actually,” he said nonchalantly. “I don’t want it anymore.”
Darko stared at the jersey in confusion. Why would any Packers fan not want it anymore? Something was wrong here. He found at the answer when he unfolded the jersey to see the number ‘4’ and name ‘Favre’ stitched on the back. He felt his stomach tighten. This was not right. He tried to hide his troubled expression as he looked at John. “Are you sure? You might want it later.”
The black-haired guy shook his head. “No. I’m sure.” He crossed his arms as he eyed Darko. “I understand if you don’t want it though. Perhaps you can choose a side, unlike some sisters of mine.” He shot Cynnie a look.
The girl rolled her eyes. “Don’t pressure him, John.”
Darko shook his head. “No, I have chosen a side,” he said confidently. He took off his hat for a second so that he could slip the jersey over his head. It felt strangely good.
John quirked an eyebrows. “Really? Would you mind explaining why?”
Cynnie shot him a look. “John!”
John blinked. “What? I’m curious. I always like to hear other’s opinions on this, even if they’re totally wrong.”
While Cynnie rolled her eyes, Darko said, “It’s fine.” He wanted to explain. He wanted these two to know how he felt. He wanted them to see what he saw. He stared at John with a serious look on his face. “It’s not right the way y’all are treating Favre.” He glanced at Cynnie for a second. “Y’all keep saying the Packers are a family, but a family does not treat each other this way. I know it happens in real life, but that is not the way God intended the family to be. I don’t know whether Favre was right in joining the Vikings or not, and frankly, I don’t think it matters one bit.
“I always thought the bond between him and the Packers ran deeper than that. I thought there was real love there. Love does not reject and condemn, no matter what the person has done. Family is supposed to stick by each other no matter what. They’re supposed to be there for each other and help a member come back to the light if they have left the family for darker paths. If reunion is not possible, family members should let each other go peacefully, not with anger and hate like Packers fans. If y’all loved him then, you should love him now. You still have all those great memories. I don’t think you would wish them gone. If that is the case, let those memories be the ones you think of when you think of Favre. Don’t throw away a good thing. Both sides need each other.
“You could say it goes both ways. Favre should be initiating some sort of reconciliation as well.” He shrugged. “Maybe. But who would want to try to reconcile with another party who is angry and hostile? He probably does not think y’all would listen, and I think he is right. Anger and hatred blind. I don’t think any explanation from him would satisfy you. Y’all have to meet him halfway. Show him that you’re willing to forgive and move on. I think you’ll be surprised at how readily he agrees. The bottom line is: this is not the right course of action. No one deserves to be cast from their home. That should be the one place they can go back to for security, comfort, and compassion. I hope one day all Packers fans will see that and change their attitudes.”
Darko had not meant to speak for so long. Once he started, he did not seem to be able to stop. This was too deep and personal to him. Cynnie seemed to have been soaking up every word he said. He wondered if she would get the connection. John was staring at him wide-eyed. Darko just shrugged. He had said what he needed to say. He was satisfied.
“Wow,” John said. “I didn’t know you cared so much.” A skeptic look overcame his face. “Are you sure you were just talking about Favre?”
“We should get going,” Cynnie said quickly. “Goodbye, John.”
John frowned but did not press the matter. “Bye. Have fun.”
Only when they were in Darko’s truck did Cynnie bring up the topic again. “You were talking about your own family, weren’t you?” She was gazing at him in concern.
Darko hesitated before nodding. “Yes, I was.” He had never talked to her about his family before. I was too painful to bring up. But he was willing to talk about it now if that was what she wanted to do.
“That’s not right,” Cynnie said. “I agree with what you said. Family should stick by each other no matter what. It must be terrible to not even be able to go to your parents. Do you have no one you can turn to?”
“No one on earth,” Darko said. He stared at the road as he drove. “But God is always with me. He is the only reason I have survived this long.” He had not talked to her much about his faith either. This was something he wanted to speak about. He felt a twinge of guilt for neglecting the subject. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.
“God?” Cynnie said quizzically. “I thought you weren’t religious.”
“I don’t believe in organized religion. That does not mean I’m not spiritual. I believe in everything in the Bible. I just don’t follow any one Christian religion.”
“Oh.” There was a pause. “I would have thought that, with everything you’ve been through, you would have been mad at God.”
“I was at first while I was in prison,” Darko admitted. “But my only relief came when I discovered that Jesus Christ was the only one who could set me free from what I had done. I repented while in prison and accepted His love. I read the Bible fervently. There was so much I could relate to. There’s even more now that I have to deal with everyone hating me.”
It did not hurt to talk about this. He felt comfortable and at peace as he explained it to Cynnie. “I know the way society treats me is wrong. Jesus forgave all sins, including sexual ones. Even if the world judges me, God will not. Why should I be mad at the only one who has always been there with me? The Bible says that those who suffer silently will be blessed. I could give into society and go back to crime because that is what they expect of me. It seemed simpler much at the time. But that would be abandoning God. It would be giving up my spot in heaven. I already have to go through hell on earth. Why would I want to endure an eternity of it? Whatever happens to me in this world does not matter. I have a bigger goal in mind that can get me through anything.” His voice had grown confident and his eyes were shining.
“I didn’t know your faith was so strong,” Cynnie said in awe. She was silent for a moment. “I never felt that I really needed God. I’ve been a good person. I’ve never had any struggles where I’ve needed to turn to Him.”
After pulling into a parking place, Darko turned to Cynnie and said seriously, “Maybe that’s why He sent you to me.”
Cynnie seemed to contemplate this. Then she said, “We should get to the game.”
They both got out of the car. Outside the stadium was even fuller than at training camp or the Brewers’ game. Much of the same activity was going on as at the baseball game but to a greater extent. Everyone was decked out in green and gold. Some people even had their bodies painted. Darko stared at all of the people celebrating before the game had even begun. He felt a sense of uneasiness. He was unsure if he belonged there. Would these people accept him?
He followed Cynnie into the stadium. The sound made his ears buzz. Their seats were on the Packers’ sideline in the middle, 12 rows back. Cynnie smiled and waved as they walked down the row to get to their seats. “Hey, guys. How’s it going?”
A middle-aged woman with short, curly brown hair smiled at her. “Hello, Cynnie. I’m doing great.” She had on a pink Rodgers jersey and hat. “Who is this young man? Finally got yourself a boyfriend?” She winked.
Cynnie smiled and rolled her eyes. “No, Susan. This is my friend, Darko Stroud.”
“Hello, Darko,” an older gentleman with Packers’ Super Bowl shirt said. “I’m Winston. Is this your first game?”
Darko nodded. “I moved to Green Bay in June.”
“How nice,” Susan said. “I’m sure you’ll love it here.”
“Favre fan, huh?” Winston said. He smiled. “Good choice. I always felt everyone was being too hard on him.”
“I’m Frank,” another guy said. “It’s nice to meet you. Welcome.”
Darko glanced at Cynnie for an explanation. She just smiled. “These are fellow season ticket holders. We’ve gotten to know each other over the years. Just be polite and root for the Packers and you’ll fit right in.”
Darko could only nod. He was then introduced to the rest of the people around him. They seemed friendly enough. He talked to them until it was time for the game to begin. The crowd went wild as the Packers entered the field. Darko felt awkward. He decided it was best to do what the fans were doing. He stood up and clapped and cheered for the team.
Darko began to feel more and more comfortable as the game progressed. He exchanged pleasantries with the people around him as he cheered on the team. He felt like he was involved in something important. These people were not judging him. They did not care who he was. All that mattered was that they were all after the same goal. They were one. This brought a great sense of community.
The crowd erupted when the final score was announced. The Packers had lost. Darko felt the anger of the fans at this obvious injustice; he had a sudden need for comfort. Almost without thinking, he turned to Cynnie and hugged her. She readily hugged him back. He felt warmth and happiness fill him. Though the Packers had not won, he was still not sure as to the cause. It did not matter. He knew he had found something great.
Cynnie’s hair was tied up in a messy bun. She was still wearing her Clay Matthews jersey, but she had tossed off her cheesehead hat. Her cheeks were flushed, but there was a smile on her face. She quickly exited her room and headed down the stairs.
She was happy Darko had had fun at the game. He seemed to be fitting in great. She was glad her plan appeared to be working. She would make a Packers fan of him yet! Maybe he already was one. She was bouncing with energy. She had to talk to someone. She hated to be alone at a time like this. She hated to be alone much at all.
She found John in the living room watching TV. He was still wearing his Packers gear as well. She smiled as she sat down next to him. “Hi!” she chirped.
John gave her a slight smile and nodded. “Hey, Cynnie. How was the game?”
“It was great!” Cynnie exclaimed. She grinned widely. “I think Darko had an awesome time too. I hope he’ll be able to fit in soon.”
John raised his eyebrows. “I wouldn’t bet on it.”
Cynnie’s smile dropped. “Why do you say that?”
John hesitated before speaking. “I don’t know. There’s just something off about him. I don’t trust him.”
Cynnie rolled his eyes. “You’re just mad because he’s a Brett Favre fan.”
John shook his head, his eyes serious. “No, that’s not it. It just… feels like he’s hiding something. I want you to be careful. I have a feeling he has some deep dark secret you don’t know about. He could end up hurting you.”
Cynnie bit her lip. While she had dismissed his observations in earlier conversations, she could not deny that he was right. Darko had been hiding something. He had a good reason though. John still had no right to judge. She felt anger begin to stir inside of her, which was rare for her. “You don’t know that. Darko is a good guy, despite anything that he may have done in his past.”
John frowned. A troubled look crossed his face. “I wouldn’t say that. A person’s past tends to define them.”
Cynnie shook her head adamantly. “It doesn’t matter. People do stupid things. They make mistakes. Even if Darko had committed the worst sin or crime in his past, if he had repented of it, I would still trust him with my life.”
John’s eyes narrowed at her. His voice came out darker this time. “Then you would be a fool.”
“People deserve second chances,” Cynnie insisted.
John raised his eyebrows and leaned back. “You act like you already know he did something terrible.”
Cynnie bit her lip and blushed. She glanced down at her legs. “I didn’t mean that,” she mumbled.
“Cynnie,” John said in a hard tone. “What aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing!” Cynnie exclaimed as she looked up at him, fear in her eyes. John’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Just forget I ever said anything, ok?”
Before he had a chance to speak again, she jumped up and dashed up the stairs. She ran into her room and closed the door. She leaned against the door with her back and slid down until she was sitting. Her heart was beating frantically.
She had said too much. She had given him too many clues. He was suspicious. Was he suspicious enough to do his own research? She hoped not. The results could prove disastrous for Darko. She did not want to cause him any more trouble. She could only pray that John would not look too much into the situation.