John was married over the weekend. Cynnie just loved weddings. It was beautiful. It was almost enough for her to forget about Darko. She helped her brother pack his things to move into his new wife’s apartment. She had admit, it would be good to have the house to herself and her parents. She wished John the best of luck in his future. Now she would have more time to think about everything without him hovering over her. She loved him, but sometimes it was just too much.
She was still going crazy thinking of ways to help Darko. The Church came to mind more than once. Father Luke had seemed dismissive of her last time, but maybe if he knew the facts and the situation he would be more compassionate. Was not that what Christianity was about?
Fr. Luke seemed surprised to see her a second time. He motioned for her to sit in the same spot as before. He had a guarded look on his face. “Are you here to talk about criminals again?” he asked. “You were talking about that sex offender, weren’t you?”
Cynnie smiled sheepishly and glanced down. “He’s my friend,” she mumbled.
“I understand,” Fr. Luke said gently. She looked up to see that his face shone with sincerity. “I’m sure your heart is in the right place.”
A pained look crossed Cynnie’s face. “I just want to help him. Everyone hates him. I’m afraid they will run him out of town.” She could not blame him if he did leave. But where would he go?
“Of course everyone hates him. Sex offenders are the most hated group in America. And for good reason.”
“But most of them aren’t dangerous!” Cynnie cried. “They’re all lumped together and everyone assumes the worst. The innocent get punished with the guilty.”
“There are no innocents when it comes to sexual assault,” Fr. Luke said firmly. “Even if it is just a minor offense, that can lead to greater offenses. The path to evil starts with small steps.”
Cynnie saw an opportunity and grasped it. “Exactly! That’s why they need help right away. We should spend our time trying to treat them and preach to them instead of ostracizing them.”
Fr. Luke shook his head. “I cannot let that young man into my church.”
Cynnie frowned. “Why not? Isn’t this the place that can help him more than anything else?”
“If he wants to meet with a priest one-on-one, that’s fine. But I will not expose my parishioners to danger. There are children here!”
Cynnie resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Why did everyone automatically associate sex offenders with pedophiles? That was only one of the many crimes the label covered! “But his offense had nothing to do with children. And it was nine years ago. I know him. He’s a good guy. He does not deserve to be treated this way.”
Fr. Luke gave her a sympathetic look. “You have a good heart, Cynnie. That will do you well. But I’m afraid it could also get you into serious trouble. Girls always want to go and ‘save’ the ‘bad boy.’ But the truth is, it usually turns out for the worst. Just forget about this guy. He’ll be fine on his own.”
Cynnie bit back a retort. “Fine. I won’t see him. But I still think he should come to church. It would do him good. He needs some sort of community to belong to.”
“This is not the right community,” Fr. Luke said almost coldly. “My parishioners are good people. I must protect them from evil influences so that they stay that way. If I let a sex offender in, the stigma would never go away. He’s a different kind of person, Cynnie. It’s best if the two groups stay separate. Bad people do not belong with good people.”
Cynnie was growing more frustrated by every minute. How could she get him to understand? She had to appeal to him using Christianity. Maybe that would work. “But Jesus was always around sinners. A healthy man does not need a doctor, right?”
Fr. Luke frowned. “Well, yes. All of us are sinners, but-”
“There are some sins that can’t be forgiven?” Cynnie said with raised eyebrows, not believing it. “The Pharisees were the ones who followed the law and thought they were better than everyone else, but Jesus said sinners would reach heaven before them. It’s the heart that matters. And what about Mary Magdalene? This church is named after her. Wasn’t she an adulteress? Jesus stopped her from being stoned to death. He said we have no right to judge because we have all sinned. We all make mistakes. My friend Darko made a mistake. I know God has forgiven him. Why can’t society do the same?”
Fr. Luke let out a heavy sigh. “I’m afraid it’s not that easy. This is a very complicated matter. Let me do my job. I’m only trying to do what is best for my church.”
Cynnie narrowed her eyes. “I see. Just so you know, Darko turned away from religion because of the hypocrisy of Christians like you. He believes in the teachings, he just does not want to be condemned by those who preach love and forgiveness.” The priest seemed surprised at this. Cynnie did not wait to see if he had anything more to say. She was out of there. Perhaps Darko was right about religion after all.
They were waiting for him when he returned from work. A crowd of people were gathered in the lobby of the apartment building. They were exchanging hard looks and talking angrily amongst each other. The landlord Mr. Mac squeezed through the crowd to get to Darko as he entered. A deep frown was on the balding man’s face. He was apparently troubled.
Darko could make out some of the angry shouts that were aimed at him. They were all the same sort of things he had been hearing over the past few days. They did not want him there. His exterior was calm, but inside uneasiness was growing. If he was kicked out, he would be forced to move to a new town.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Darko,” Mac said with a wary expression.
“Do you want me to move out?” Darko asked in a steady voice. He looked over the crowd of people. “I suppose y’all would have me living on the streets. You think that would make y’all safer?”
A murmur broke out amongst the residents. Finally, one man shouted, “No! Don’t let him roam the streets homeless. That’ll be worse.”
“Yes, don’t kick him out,” a woman said with a vigorous nod.
Another man jabbed his finger in Darko’s direction. “We want you to move out of Green Bay!”
“Yeah, let us have some peace.”
Mac blinked in surprise. He looked at Darko and shrugged. “I guess you can stay here.” This was a change from what Darko had experienced in the past. At least they had some sort of sense. It was definitely an improvement.
“Leave our city!” another resident cried. “Green Bay does not need your filth!”
Something snapped inside of Darko. Everything seemed to suddenly make sense to him. He could not take it anymore. Years of suppressed anger were bubbling to the top. He needed to let it out before he exploded. He decided to take it out on the city.
“I know what’s going on here,” he said slowly. “This city can’t deal with conflict. This is Green Bay. It’s supposed to be the ideal place for families, with the perfect football team that has loyal players and fans. You don’t want anything to break this perfect image. That’s why you turned on Favre, isn’t it? He threatened to ruin the city’s perfect image. You push everyone out that does not meet your standards of ‘goodness.’ All this talk about family and community means nothing. They’re shallow words. It’s what you want everyone to see. But it’s fake. You can’t keep away all troubles. You won’t be able to keep this masquerade going for long. One day y’all will wake up and realize how broken y’all are. Guess what? The problem is not Favre. Or me. It’s you.”
It was the same thing with his small hometown, he realized. And his own family. Darko had threatened the image of a perfect family his parents wished to maintain. He threatened the greatness of small towns. The same thing was happening with Green Bay. He suddenly hated the city. He hated it for its deception and false hopes. The crowd was staring at him, stunned. Good.
“Y’all are actors. That’s what you are.” He scoffed. “There’s no depth to this city. It’s all about appearances. Well, I’m not going to buy into it any longer. There is nothing for me here. Have fun with your perfect lives.”
Darko spun around and stormed out of the building. What was he thinking? Green Bay was worse than all the other cities. It was worse because he had expected more. He turned towards the brick building and pounded his fists on the wall. He ignored the blood that dripped down his hands. If it were not for Cynnie, he would have left the state that very instance. Maybe he still would.
Cynnie was lying on the beige couch in her living room upside down. She groaned when she heard the doorbell. She did not feel like getting up. To her surprise, the door opened by itself. She must have forgotten to lock it. Uh oh. She immediately sat up.
Fortunately, it was only John. He smiled at her as he walked over. “Hey, Cynnie. How is it going?”
Cynnie smirked. “Couldn’t stay away, huh?” She laughed as he rolled his eyes. “How’s married life?”
“Great,” John said. He sat down on the couch next to her and leaned back. “Daisy’s back at work now. I had nothing to do, so I thought I’d come over.”
Cynnie smiled slightly. “Good. Mom and Dad are out.” She looked away distractedly. She was not in the mood for company, which was unusual for her. There was only one person she wanted to see.
“Are you alright?” her brother asked in concern.
Cynnie turned her head to face him, forcing a grin. “I’m spectacular!”
John raised his eyebrows. “I don’t believe you.”
Cynnie’s face fell. He could always see through her. Maybe that was why they were so close. Recently, though, they could not seem to agree on much. She glanced down at her lap. “Ok, I miss Darko,” she mumbled.
“I’m sorry,” John said, surprisingly, with compassion, “but it’s better this way.”
Cynnie’s head shot up. “Better for who?”
John shifted uncomfortably. “Better for everyone. I don’t have to worry about you, you won’t be hurt, and Darko won’t have temptation in his path. It’s obvious you two are attracted to each other.”
“That means nothing,” Cynnie said angrily. “Don’t you trust me?”
“I trust you,” John said pointedly. “But there’s no way I can trust Darko.”
“Because of what happened nine years ago?”
“It would take a lot for me to trust any guy who was interested in you. This just makes it worse.”
“That’s not fair!” Cynnie cried.
“But it keeps you safe.”
Cynnie gritted her teeth. It did not have to be this way. It should not be this way. Her annoyance took a hold of her. “You have no idea what you’re talking about!”
John gave her a look. “He’s a sex offender, Cynnie.”
“He’s a human being! I can make my own choices, thank you very much. And like you’ve never done anything wrong. You’re a judgmental, hypocritical, self-righteous jerk!” Cynnie regretted the words soon after they left her mouth. She had not meant to insult her brother. She did not want to hurt him. He was only trying to look out for her, even if he was going about it the completely wrong way.
John looked like he had taken a blow. Then his face hardened. “You have no right to talk to me that way. I’m older and wiser than you. I’m not a naïve girl. I know how the world works! I know how guys work. If you were smart, you would take my advice.”
Cynnie narrowed her eyes at him. Advice? Ha! “You mean I’d obey your commands,” she said bitterly. She stood up. “You don’t know Darko.” With that, she stormed off to her room angrily.