It was another sunny day. The snow was still sparkling. There were heaps and hills of the white stuff pilled in yards from shoveling done days earlier. Trees littered almost every yard. Cynnie’s house was not among these. The family always kept their tree until January 6th, Epiphany and the last day of Christmas. Not many people remembered the 12 Days of Christmas except when singing the song. Molly always insisted a strict adherence to the holiday rules. The Christmas decorations always made everyone feel so good that no one complained.
Cynnie was glad to have Megan back for a couple weeks. The house had become lonely with just her and her parents. She also took the chance to fill her sister in about Darko. Megan, being the girly girl she was, readily accepted him and squealed about their interactions. It was like talking to Julia before trouble hit. But Megan was young and innocent. She had only had one boyfriend. She did not know the pain of Cynnie’s friend.
Cynnie designated December 26th as a day for the two of them. They were going to stay home and relax. It was early when the doorbell rang. Megan was in her room getting ready. Cynnie was muttering something about interruptions as she went to open the door.
It was John.
Cynnie stared at her brother in surprise. “Shouldn’t you be with your wife?”
John was fidgeting, which was unusual for him. He was usually very sure of himself. “I want to talk to you,” he said with a hint of hesitation in his voice, “about Darko.”
If the subject he had suggested had been anything else, she would have turned him down. But she found herself nodding and inviting him in. She shooed away Taz and led her brother to the couch. She folded her knees on her lap and turned to look at him. “Ok, what is it?” she asked calmly.
“I-” John stopped. He ran a hand through his straight black hair and sighed. “He’s different than I thought he was. Will you tell me about him?”
Cynnie blinked. “Why don’t you just get to know him yourself?”
John frowned. He shook his head. “I will, but-” He paused. “I’m just remembering that first dinner when I met him. I understand now what he had against religion. But why does he hate the government? I mean, besides the obvious?”
Cynnie chuckled. John had his reservations about the government as well, but they were mostly about economics. This was different. John had always been hard on criminals, like most conservatives. This would be more difficult for him to accept. But she had to try to explain. For Darko. “I think he has a problem with the whole criminal justice system, but he’s mostly talked about the sex offender registration laws. They’re not what you think.”
John seemed to consider this. He tilted his head to the side. “What do you mean?”
“They don’t just put dangerous predators on there. They should, but they don’t. Most offenders on the list are harmless.”
John frowned. “I would have a hard time believing that if I did not know Darko.”
Cynnie nodded. “Me too. That’s why it took awhile before I decided to give him a chance.”
John raised his eyebrows. “You mean you didn’t just rush into it? You actually thought about it? I haven’t been giving you enough credit. I’m sorry.”
A smile flickered on Cynnie’s face. “I told you I could take care of myself.”
John shrugged. “I believe you now. Please continue.”
Cynnie smiled more fully now. She had not talked to John like this for a long time. It felt very good. She had missed having him on her side. He was a valued companion. “Well, anyone who’s committed even the smallest sex crime is put on the registry for a long time. They do not even do an assessment about how likely they are to reoffend.” She frowned as she remembered something Darko had told her. “Well, except Minnesota. That’s the only state to put offenders on the list based on risk and not just the crime. They actually take the situation into consideration. Darko would definitely not be required to register if he moved there.” She wondered if he was still considering moving there. With his recent success with her family, she bet he was not. But that would always be there as a backup plan. She was comforted by knowing he would be taken care of if the worst happened.
John raised his eyebrows. “Minnesota? Intriguing. Why did he not move there?”
“He didn’t find out until a couple months ago,” Cynnie explained. “I got him to stay. I brought him to the Vikings game.”
John laughed. “That would do it. He’s loyal to the Packers then, huh?”
Cynnie nodded with a smile. “I got him hooked.”
John chuckled. “Good work, sis.”
Cynnie flashed him a grin. “Thanks!” She thought back to the topic at hand. “Anyway, most people don’t know that most sex offenders aren’t dangerous monsters. They think they’re all vicious pedophiles.” She frowned. “They don’t even bother to find out the facts.”
John frowned and glanced down. “I know how that is.”
Cynnie nodded. “People hate him for it. He’s received many threats and insults.” She looked at him seriously. “They want him to die, John. They would do it themselves if they weren’t afraid of the law. People have killed sex offenders in the past. And they’re not sorry about it either. They think they’ve done the world a favor. And many did things less worse than Darko. 17-year-olds are convicted for having sex with their 15-year-old girlfriends because the girls are under the age of consent.”
John had begun to look uneasy, but now his eyes widened in shock. “That could have been me,” he whispered. “I-” He stopped as he began to tremble.
Cynnie frowned. She knew about the incident he was talking about. He had made her swear to keep it a secret from their parents. She did not know he still felt guilty about it. She put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “It’s ok. It wasn’t you.”
He shook his head. “But it could have been me. I’ve been hating people who are no worse than I was.”
Understanding shook Cynnie. In an act of sympathy, she pulled him into her arms. He wrapped his arms around her waist. “It’s alright,” she said softly. What would she have done if it had been her brother? His whole life would have been ruined.
“I’m the reason everyone knows about Darko,” John said, his voice full of horror.
“He forgives you,” Cynnie said. She knew it was true. All he had wanted was his acceptance. “God forgives you. Like he forgives Darko.”
John pulled away from her. His wiped his bleary eyes and nodded. “I’ll make it up to them. Is there anything I can do to change these laws?”
Cynnie frowned. “I tried to talk to a politician, but he wouldn’t listen. They won’t do anything the public doesn’t approve of. I think, more than anything, people need to know the truth. Someone has to tell them. That’s what Fr. Luke is trying to do. Darko is trying to show the people of Green Bay the truth.”
“I’ll help too,” John vowed. He hesitated. “And I’m sorry for not listening before.”
Cynnie smiled. “I’m glad to have you with us now.” She leaned forward to hug him again.
“I’m glad to be with you too,” John said softly.
“Am I interrupting something?”
Cynnie pulled away to see Megan near the stairs, staring at them. She looked at John. He nodded. “I’ll see you later.”
Cynnie smiled as she watched him leave. “Later, John.”
Cynnie saw John again on Saturday at the gelateria. He was working at the cash register. No one else was around. They were chatting idly when Julia stormed into the building. She was panting hard. Her face was contorted into an angry glare.
The siblings looked at her in surprise. “Julia,” Cynnie said slowly. “Are you alright?”
Julia shook her head violently, sending her blond hair flying everywhere. “Guess what I just heard from one of my clients at the barber shop.”
Cynnie took a large step back and gave her friend a weak smile. She knew to stay away from her when she was angry. She could get worked up about the smallest thing. “What, Julia?”
“Rosalyn said that rapist Darko spent Christmas with your family!” Julia exclaimed. Her eyes held a wild look to them. “And she said your church is holding special Bible studies for him to seduce people into trusting him! You are going to let him undermine our great city and cause havoc!”
Cynnie winced at Julia’s harsh words. “Julia, calm down!”
Julia stormed closer and jabbed her finger at her. “Not if you insist on harboring this fiend!” She swung around and made her way to the registry. “John, make your sister see reason.”
John frowned. “Actually, I agree with her,” he said awkwardly. “Darko is not a threat to our community. He has been misjudged.”
Julia’s eyes turned huge as she gasped. “How can you say that? Don’t you know what people like him do?”
John narrowed his eyes. “People like what? He’s a sinner like all the rest of us. Don’t go around acting like you’ve never done anything wrong.”
“How dare you!” Julia cried. “I demand justice!”
“Justice has already been served,” Cynnie said, trying hard to fight back anger. “He already served his sentence. What more do you want?”
Julia narrowed her eyes at her. “Nothing will ever be enough.”
“Then it’s a good thing you’re not the one who decided these things,” Cynnie retorted.
“Julia, I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” John said firmly.
Julia pursed her lips. “Fine.” She turned and stormed out of the shop.
Once she was gone, Cynnie’s shoulders sagged. She cast a sorrowful gaze at her brother. “John, what am I going to do? We don’t usually fight like this.”
John’s face softened.”I’m sure she’ll come around,” he said softly. He paused. “I did.”
Cynnie wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “Am I doing the right thing?”
John nodded. “You should defend your friend and what you know is right. Just wait. Everything will turn out for the better.” He walked around the counter so that he could touch her shoulder.Cynnie turned and hugged him. She let out a long sigh. “I hope you’re right."