The brown cat sat on the floor staring at her owner pacing back and forth. The last couple of weeks had been an exciting blur for Darko. The Bible studies had been increasingly more successful. They read passages about tax collectors and Pharisees. The people seemed to be more open to Darko. They ventured to ask more questions. Some sort of mutual trust had established between them. They were genuinely trying to get to know each other.
John had proven to be very helpful. He often led discussions and such. He and Cynnie were valuable allies. Darko saw them both together and separately several times. He was grateful for both of them.
Now the Packers were in the playoffs. They were playing the wildcard winner the Vikings, which was pretty exciting. The Vikings had made it to the playoffs by beating the Packers in the last game of the season. It was pretty heartbreaking, but at list Minnesota’s win had kept the Bears out of the playoffs. This first game was bound to be exciting. Cynnie had invited everyone in their Bible study group over for a viewing party. Darko knew it was going to be fine, but nervousness still itched at his skin. He turned to face Elva. “How do I look?” He was wearing his Brett Favre jersey, Packers tie, and cheesehead hat.
Elva licked her paw before meowing.
Darko nodded. “You’re right. This will be great. It’s a chance to bond.” And a chance to really open up to them. But he was afraid. He had been rejected so many times in the past it seemed instinctive. These people were different though. This was where he belonged. He would stake his claim.
Darko got himself into his truck, and he drove to the house. Cynnie, John, and their parents were the only ones there. Darko was grateful for their presence. He helped them set up the food in the living room.
“You look good,” Antonio said with a smile as they set platters down on the coffee table.
Darko gave him a small smile in return. “Thank you, sir. Are you still a Brett Favre fan?”
Antonio nodded. “Molly and John are the only two who still hold a grudge against him.” He paused. “Although…” He glanced at John. “He seems to be coming along.” He looked back at Darko and smiled again. “I suppose I have you to thank for that.”
Darko shrugged. “It was unintended.”
Antonio just continued to smile at him. “It just goes to show you, football is more than just a game.”
Darko had to agree with him. How could he not after living in Green Bay? Sure, at the surface it was just a game; it did not really matter who won. But there was also something greater behind. There were parallels and lessons to be learned. The way someone acted towards their team or players could show the strength or weakness of their characters. It was sort of amazing. The residents of Green Bay did have some relationship issues to work out, but there was a lot of potential. Not many fans could rival them.
The first visitor to arrive was Todd. He was a tall, lanky, blond 24-year old. He nodded at Darko as he walked into the living room. “Hey.”
Darko nodded back. “Hey.” He accepted this non-hostile recognition. He pushed back the uneasiness that threatened to settle in.
Soon, the house was full of men and women of various ages. All of them were chattering with each other. As the game was about to start, one of the men moved over on the couch and patted the now-empty space next to him. “Come on, Darko.”
Darko hesitated before going over to sit down. His experience watching the game was like any other involving the Packers. He was accepted into the group. He found himself happily talking with the others about what was going on in the game. He felt happy. He felt a sense of belonging.
“Hey, Darko,” Todd said during halftime. “I want to apologize for the way I treated you before. I was wrong. You’re pretty cool.”
Some of the others murmured their agreements.
Darko was almost overwhelmed by the apology. “Thank you,” he said quietly. This was quite uncommon. It meant a lot to him. The others went back to discussing football, but he found himself lost in the wonder of what was happening to him.
In a great game, the Packers took home the victory. Darko could not wait for the next week; football was amazing!
It took awhile for everyone to leave once the game was over. John stayed to help clean up the mess. Antonio and Molly had to head to the shop for post-game cocoa. Cynnie and Darko were not left alone. They both stood in the living room, wondering what to do.
“I’ve been thinking,” Cynnie said slowly. “It’s great that you’re getting along with my family and all these other guys, but don’t you think you should go home and reconcile with your own family?”
Darko’s face immediately hardened. His jaw clenched. “No,” he said firmly.
Cynnie frowned. “Why not?”
Darko turned his head away. “My family wants nothing to do with me.” It hurt to even think about them, much less talk about him. Why had they abandoned him?
“Maybe they’ve changed their minds,” Cynnie suggested. “It’s been a long time.”
Darko hesitated. He wanted it to be true, but he could not allow himself to entertain the thought. He could not hope. Not on this matter. It would destroy him if he was let down. He cast Cynnie a sad gaze. “They would have contacted me if that were the case. They’ve always had my information.”
“I could go with you,” Cynnie said quietly.
Darko shook his head. “No. Please don’t ask me again.” He fumbled with the cross around his neck. No, he couldn’t go back to Louisiana. Not ever. He cleared his throat. “Thank you for the party. It was fun. I’ll see you later.”
Cynnie gave him a sad smile. “Bye.”
Darko left without another word.
At home, he found himself pacing in front of his cat again. “She’s wrong,” he said. “I can’t go back. They don’t want me there.” He had rejected Louisiana because those there had rejected him. The system worked against him. He was better in Wisconsin. He was happy. He was making progress. Why go back to Louisiana now and reopen old wounds?
Elva looked at him with curious eyes. “Meow?”
Darko shook his head. “I know they’re my family and family must stick together, but it’s their fault! They broke the line of trust first!”
“Meow.” Elva walked over to him and rubbed against his leg.
As Darko bent down to pet her, he caught sight of the jersey he was wearing. He frowned as a thought settled in his mind. “Do you think they secretly miss me like Packers fans secretly miss Brett?”
Elva backed away and sat down. “Meow.”
A contemplative look crossed Darko’s face. “If Cynnie was with me…” He shook his head again. “I don’t know, Elva. It seems too great a risk.”
Elva tilted her head to the side as she looked at him. She said no more.