Another storm was rolling in. Skies were usually clear in January, but today was an exception. Clouds were dark and heavy with precipitation. Snow was coming. Winds were strong. The wind chill sent temperatures down to the negative twenties. Even the locals were bundling up. It was cold and football season was almost over. There was no end in sight for this burly winter.
A Starbucks Coffee was huddled in between a variety of stores. Snow dripped over the roof. Many people were inside trying to warm themselves with coffee. Others simply used the shop as a way to escape from the outside conditions. Either way, the place was packed. This was where Cynnie met Julia on a Monday afternoon.
They sat facing each other. Both of them were rigid and tense with forced smiles on their faces. They almost mirrored each other in their appearance. Their hands wrapped around their lattes. Julia was dressed in pink with a fleece hat and scarf around her neck. Cynnie had decided on green and gold for her outfit. Every day was a good day to show pride in her team in Green Bay.
Cynnie broke the silence. “Julia, you never told me how your Christmas was.” Her voice was calm and polite. She did not want to cause any further trouble with her friend.
Julia gave a simple shrug of her shoulders. “It was good. It was great to see my sister. She’s doing fine, by the way.” She raised her eyebrows suggestively. “Though I did tell her about your little ‘friend.’ She was not too happy to hear about that.”
Cynnie’s mouth turned down in a frown. “Why did you have to tell her? Can’t you let this go?” Her eyes looked at her pleadingly. Did she really want this strain on their friendship?
Julia shook her head. Her eyes blazed fiercely. “I can’t, Cynnie. This is too important to me. It hits me too deeply.”
Cynnie’s expression changed to one of sympathy. She cared about her friend’s grievances. She really did. She just wished that Julia would try to see her perspective as well. “I’m sorry about what happened to your sister, Julia, but Darko is not to blame. He did not hurt you.”
“But it was someone like him who did!” Julia insisted fierily.
Cynnie raised her eyebrows. “See? That’s your problem. You can only see Darko as a member of a group. He’s much more than that. He’s a real person with real feelings. You have to take that into account. Look at the situation, not just the crime.”
Julia’s eyes hardened. “He’s a man, Cynnie,” she said thickly. “I know men. They can’t be trusted.”
“What about my father?” Cynnie said quickly. “Or John or Ben?” She paused. “Or Aaron Rodgers?”
Julia frowned. “Obviously, there are exceptions. Maybe Green Bay is different. But Darko has committed a crime.”
“That does not make him bad! Everyone does wrong things. It’s just that not all of them are crimes.” Cynnie did not know what the point was in continuing to argue with her. She would never understand. She only saw her position and no one else’s.
Julia huffed. “How can you still defend him? Surely he’s done something wrong by now?”
“No. You’re wrong about him,” Cynnie said stubbornly. “If you don’t want to get to know him, that’s fine. Just stop attacking him.”
“I will once you stop defending him!” Julia crossed her arms and looked at her angrily. “You’re not helping me out. You know what you are? You’re a bad friend!”
Cynnie’s eyes widened. How dare she! Now she had lost her patience. “”You’re stubborn, judgmental, and prejudice!”
Julia slammed her hands on the table. “I don’t have to deal with this. Good day, Cynthia.”
Cynnie was about to call after her, but it was too late now. She was already gone. Cynnie slumped her shoulders and let out a heavy sigh. How had everything gone so wrong?
The tension in the air was palpable. Everyone knew something big was about to happen. Cynnie’s immediate family was gathered in the living room of her house. John was facing them all. He kept shifting around nervously. He had said there was something he had to say to everyone. Cynnie’s mind was spinning trying to figure out what this could possibly be. There were a number of options.
“There’s something I should have told all of you much earlier,” John began in a slow and steady voice. “I love the Gelateria. I’ve always loved it. I love working there. I love making gelato and ciocolato. I love the people I get to meet.” He paused.
Cynnie smiled and nodded at him encouragingly. She knew what this was about now. She appreciated that he was finally sharing how he felt and what he wanted to do. She wondered where the sudden courage had come from.
John now fixed his gaze on his parents. “I would like to take over ownership of the shop once you two retire. That has always been my dream.”
Surprise showed on the faces of everyone but Cynnie. “John,” Antonio began slowly, “you know Ben has first right to owning the shop.”
“Did you ever ask Ben if he wants to own the shop?” Cynnie interjected.
Antonio turned to her, looking startled. He looked at Ben and frowned. “You know the shop is yours by right.”
“Yes,” Ben said. He took a step forward so that he could look at everyone. He had gotten over his shock. His demeanor is now calm. “But if it means that much to John, I’ll gladly let him take over. Cynnie is right; you never asked me about what I wanted. I never wanted to run the shop. I just thought it was my duty. I wanted to please you. I didn’t want a non-family member to take over.” He shrugged his shoulders and looked away.
Cynnie tried hard to keep the grin from her face. This problem seemed to be working itself out nicely. If only every problem could be solved this easily. Perhaps all that was needed was courage to fight for what one wanted. She would have to remember that for later.
Molly looked at Ben in surprise. “What do you want to do, then, honey?”
Ben hesitated before responding, “I have always wanted to work at the Packers Pro Shop. I’ve just never had the chance.”
Antonio smiled at him. “Thank you for being honest, you two. We never meant to put any pressure on you. We just want you to be happy.” He nodded at John. “If you both agree, you may take over the shop when your mom and I retire.” He turned to Ben again. “You may pursue any path you wish.”
A look of elation crossed John’s face. “Thank you, Dad! And thanks, Ben.” He glanced at Cynnie and smiled knowingly.
Cynnie grinned at him. She was happy for her brother. She was sure he would be much better off now that he was free to follow his dream.
February 7th, 2013. That was the day another Perrino came into the world. Cynnie had been at home grading her students’ work when she received the news. She let her parents go ahead of her before picking up Darko and dashing to the hospital. Ben had said he wanted her friend there, for whatever reason.
Cynnie and Darko had to wait to see Helen and the baby. Finally, as Antonio and Molly walked out, they were allowed inside. Helen was lying on a bed with the covers over her. A tiny baby was wrapped in a blanket in her arms. Ben stood of to the right side of the bed, staring at his wife with admiration in her eyes.
“Hello,” Cynnie greeted them with a smile.
“Hi,” Darko said a little more hesitantly.
Helen looked up at them and gave them a tired smile. “Hey, guys.”
“How are you doing?” Cynnie asked gently.
“Fine. Do you want to come see him?”
Cynnie accepted the invitation right away. She loved babies. She came over to Helen’s side to peer at the little boy. When he opened his eyes she could see that they were green like his mother’s. Darko came to stand beside her. He gazed at the baby curiously.
“He’s beautiful,” Cynnie said.
Helen smiled. “Thank you.”
“What’s his name?”
“Brett,” Ben responded, stepping forward.
Cynnie and Darko looked up in surprise. Helen just laughed. “It’s a good name, is it not?” Her eyes twinkled mischievously.
“It’s great,” Darko said seriously.
Ben nodded. “Good. I’m glad you think so.” He paused. “There’s something we want to ask you two.”
“We were wondering if you would like to be the godparents,” Helen said.
Now Cynnie was really shocked. She could see that Darko was as well. She understood why they were choosing her – John was the godfather of Vince – but why Darko? They hardly knew him.
He seemed to be thinking the same thing, for he said carefully, “Are you sure about this? You know what kind of stigma is attached to me.”
Ben and Helen both smiled. “We’re sure,” Ben said. “We like you. We think you will be a great influence on Brett.” He turned to Cynnie. “Both of you.”
Darko bowed his head. “It would be an honor.”
Cynnie smiled. “Me too.”
Ben looked relieved. “That’s great.”
“Well, we should let someone else come in,” Cynnie said. “It was nice seeing you.”
“Bye,” the couple said.
Darko walked out with Cynnie, not saying anything. Once they were out, John and Daisy headed in. Cynnie wanted to go right to the car, but Darko stopped her in the lobby. He had a contemplative look on his face. She blinked at him. “What is it?”
Darko took a deep breath. Then he said, “Mardi Gras is coming up. I have not been to a parade since high school.” He hesitated. “I will go back to Montgomery if you will go with me.”
Cynnie was first surprised, then happy. She knew how hard a decision this was for Darko. She was glad he was finally ready to confront his family and his face his past. “Of course I will go with you!” She smiled at him. “I’m proud of you.”Darko shrugged. “Let’s just hope I don’t change my mind.”