Minnesota. He could not believe he had not discovered it before. He thought he had looked through the registration requirements for all 50 states. Apparently, he had not looked hard enough. Three more weeks of hate and anger spewed at him had been enough for him to seriously consider the neighboring rival state. Now he was doing more than just considering it.
Darko was pacing back in forth in his living room, racking his brain for the right answer. Elva sat on the sidelines, watching him. Minnesota had the most sensible approach to sex offender registration that he had ever heard of. Wisconsin was better than some states. He would only be on the list for 15 years and there were no pointless residency restrictions. But Minnesota was even better.
Minnesota’s registry included the term predator. That meant only those offenders who actively sought out victims would be included. That definitely did not describe Darko. If he moved to Minnesota, he would not be required to register.
The way the state decided which offenders were ‘predators’ was admirable as well. They went to great lengths to make sure that they only included the most dangerous people. Psychologists and professionals evaluated each offender before making them register. Every other state in the US assigned registry requirements based on crime alone, not individuals. There was no differentiation in other states. But in Minnesota there was.
Not that the system was perfect. Darko did not think the registry should be online at all, and it should be restricted to the police and only to the public on a need to know basis. Though he supposed this was not so in Minnesota because of a federal law. He also would have advised more treatment, which he knew was very successful with sex offenders, especially with juveniles. All in all, Minnesota seemed like a haven compared to what he was used to.
Darko stopped pacing and turned to face his cat. “I’m going to do it, Elva. I’m going to move to Minnesota.” He took off the Packers cap on his head. He gave it a disgusted look before throwing it across the room.
Darko rolled his eyes, annoyed. “I don’t care that it’s harder to reform something when it’s acceptable. I don’t want to change the law.”
Elva stared at him. “Meow.”
Darko sighed. “Yes, I’ll miss Cynnie, but what else can I do?”
“Meow?” Elva trotted across the room. She picked up the cap in her jaws and brought it back to him, dropping it at his feet.
Darko’s face softened as he bent down to pick up the hat. He sighed again. “Who am I kidding? Anyone I get close to will end up finding out anyway. What kind of father would let his daughter marry a former rapist?” He paused and then added silently, “I wouldn’t.”
He nearly jumped when he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He pulled it out and flipped it open. It was Cynnie.
His heart hammered in his chest as he held the phone to his ear. “Hello?”
Cynnie’s voice filled his ears. “Darko!” She sounded relieved. “How are you doing?”
He hesitated. He decided he owed her the truth. “Terrible. I’m thinking about going to Minnesota.”
“Minnesota? What? To spite Green Bay?”
Darko nearly rolled his eyes. Rivalry. Right. Like he was thinking about that at the moment. Though, now that she mentioned it, the idea was intriguing. He did not know much about the Vikings other than their two years with Brett Favre, however. “No. It’s just the one state that has sensible sex offender laws based on risk to reoffend, not just the offense.” He paused. “I wouldn’t have to register. No one would have to know about me unless I decided to tell them.” His heart sped up again. He suddenly felt nervous.
Cynnie was silent for awhile. When she spoke again, her words sounded forced. “That’s great, Darko. I just…”
Darko swallowed. She did not want him to leave. She still wanted to be around him despite everything. If there was a way… “Is there a reason you’re calling? Do you know anything new?”
“Oh, yes,” she said quickly. “I talked to my family’s parish priest. It took a little convincing, but he wants to talk to you. I think he wants to help.”
Darko instantly frowned. A priest? The last time he had talked to a priest had ended in disaster. “I don’t need any more condemnation, thank you,” he said bitterly.
“No! It’s not like that. Just give him a chance before you leave. For me. Please.” Her voice was pleading.
Darko let out a heavy sigh. How could he say no to her when she was the only one who had ever believed in him? “Fine. Give me the address.”
Father Luke looked like what Darko would have expected of a priest. He seemed nervous and hesitant. Of course. Darko’s eyes darted across the books in the office, picking up a few titles. Nothing out of the ordinary. Why did he think this was going to be any different from when he had talked to the priest in Louisiana?
He had gone straight to the Church after leaving prison. He expected to find compassion and forgiveness like he had read about in the Bible. He thought the priest there would have rejoiced in his repentance. Instead, he had received hatred and condemnation. They did not practice what they preached. They did not truly believe that anyone could be saved. Maybe everyone could – everyone except sex offenders. What was the point in trying to be better if that was the general consensus?
What stopped him was knowledge of the truth. He was saved. He did not need any church to tell him that. He did not need their acceptance. Either Christ’s sacrifice had saved people like him or it had saved no one. If Jesus could not save a sex offender, what power did He have to save the mildest sin?
“Thank you for coming in, Darko,” the priest said gruffly. Darko’s eyes turned to him. “Your friend told me I should listen to your story in your own words. Would you mind telling me about your offense?”
Finally. A chance to explain. He was touched that Cynnie would go to such great lengths to help him out. He wondered if it would be enough. “I was a stupid 18-year-old who had too much to drink. I was confused and my hormones were running everywhere.” He paused. “I made a mistake. I just want to move on from it.”
He quickly told the story. It was a less detailed version than the one he had told Cynnie, but it would suffice. When he was finished, Fr. Luke sat there staring at him for a long while. Finally, he spoke.
“That sure is something,” he muttered. He seemed to be contemplating something. “Well, if you’re truly sorry, I suppose the right thing to do would be to give you a chance. But I’m not sure my parishioners will accept you.”
“Can’t you just tell them to?”
The priest shook his head. “I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way.”
Darko grit his teeth in agitation. “Can’t you at least talk to them? Tell them they’re safe?”
Fr. Luke appeared thoughtful. “Perhaps there is something I can do to help you. I want to do what’s best for them. Maybe I can accomplish both. What if I held a special Bible study for people to get to know you? We could focus on teachings of forgiveness. Maybe they would come around.”
It seemed like a reasonable idea. If people were made aware of their hypocrisy and contradictions, perhaps they would change their attitudes. It was certainly worth trying. He doubted a better offer would come along anytime soon. “Ok,” he agreed. “I don’t know if it will work, but I’ll try anything.”
Fr. Luke nodded. “Good. Let me get back to you on a date. I’ll talk to John, too. I know he’s been giving you a hard time.”
Darko gave him a small smile. “Thank you, Father.” He felt a sudden sense of relief. There was hope again. Maybe he would not have to leave Green Bay after all. At the very least, he had bought himself more time. Time could change everything.
“Does John know about this?”
Darko fixed Cynnie with a gaze as he got into her car with her. They were going to the Packers versus Vikings game. It was absolutely freezing. Darko wore a winter coat and a warm, fleece Packers hat. Cynnie was dressed much lighter in a Packers parka and cheesehead hat.
“Well, no,” Cynnie admitted. “He doesn’t need to know. He can’t control my life. Besides, Father Luke talked to him. He has agreed to go to those Bible studies. He’ll come around.”
Darko frowned. He did not like going against her brother’s back like this, but he could not find the will to say no. He found it intriguing that Green Bay was playing Minnesota. He was still contemplating moving. “Tell me about the Vikings,” he said.
Cynnie snuck a glance at him and blinked. “What about them?”
Darko shrugged. “All I know is that y’all hate them.”
Cynnie did not respond at first. “You still want to go to Minnesota,” she said calmly.
Darko hesitated. “Yes,” he said slowly. “I’m considering it.”
Cynnie frowned. She was silent for awhile. “They’re usually a good team, but they’ve never won the Super Bowl. They’re known for getting close and then failing. But Minnesotans love them anyway. Not like we love the Packers, of course. They’ll complain about their team to other fans. But they’re fierce in attacking the Packers. I think they take out their frustrations on us. Not that we mind. We kindly return the favor.”
Darko nodded. He let it all soak in. “Is it worth being a fan of them?”
“Of course. It would be no fun if there were no Vikings fans to bug. And they’re bound to win eventually, right?”
Darko considered this. “I suppose.”
“Minnesota has a better baseball team than us,” Cynnie added. “I’ll give them that much.”
Darko was silent for the rest of the trip to Lambeau Field. He had a lot to consider and think about. He wished he would receive some kind of sign that would tell him what to do. Unfortunately, signs were scarce.
Cynnie seemed uneasy as they walked with the crowd to enter the stadium. She kept glancing back and forth quickly as if she expected her brother to jump out and catch them. Darko was calmer on the outside, but he was nervous inside as well. He unzipped his jacket to reveal his Favre jersey. He hoped it would help him fit in.
He was apprehensive as to how he would be treated. Everyone in the small village had to know about him by then. The threats and harassments had increased by the days. Many of those people had to be at the game. Would they recognize him? Or would they be too distracted by their beloved Packers? If the Vikings won, his jersey would probably catch attention if nothing else.
“Hello, you two,” Frank greeted them at their seats. He offered them a friendly smile.
“How’s it going?” Winston asked.
Darko was relieved that no one around him seemed to know about his past. He politely greeted them before turning his attention to the game. The people in the stadium booed the Vikings when they came out of the tunnel. Darko was silent as he watched them curiously. “Who’s their quarterback and who’s their best player?” he asked. He wanted to know the basics.
“Christian Ponder is their quarterback,” Cynnie said. “He was a rookie last year. He went to Florida State University. He seems promising. Nothing like Aaron Rodgers, of course.” She smiled. “Their best player is Adrian Peterson, their running back.”
Darko nodded. “I’ve heard of him. One of the best in the league at his position, right?”
“Right. The Vikings have a great running game. We’ve got to stop them.”
Darko was intrigued by the information. He tried to watch silently, but he found that the atmosphere was too contagious. He was soon standing up and cheering along with everyone else. The rivalry was infecting him. A negative attitude was developing against the other team that seemed to come out of nowhere. Was this what being a Packers fan was like?
Darko was fully energized by the end of the game. The Packers had won; it felt great to watch them beat a rival. He walked out of Lambeau Field with Cynnie, a smile on his face. She still seemed worried. He wondered at this. He had been treated like any other fan. Was that not what she wanted? “What’s wrong?” he asked gently.
Cynnie bit her lip. She seemed to be contemplating speaking. Finally, she said, “You’ve gotten a look at the Vikings. Do you want to go to Minnesota now?”
Darko smiled. He had nearly forgotten his plans. Strangely, the attraction to the neighboring state was all but gone. Maybe it was just excitement from the game. But he had regained hope. And as long as he had that, he could not give up. Maybe it would be different if Cynnie were not there, but she was. So he would fight.
“No way,” he said firmly. “I’m a Packer!”