It was a deceptively calm day. A few puffy clouds were scattered across an otherwise blue sky. The temperature was agreeably warm. Darko stood outside his truck gazing out at Green Bay, or the Bay of Green Bay, as he heard the locals called it. The water looked like an ocean to him. It stretched too far for him to see the other side. There were many large ships navigating it. The water was murky and dark. The man guessed there was not too much fishing there anymore.
Overall, he was not impressed. He was not sure what was so great about this town. No one would even know or care that it existed if it were not for their football team. Already, Darko had spotted more than one person sporting Packers gear. He did not understand the attraction. Sure, he liked watching the sport, but these people took fandom to a whole new level. He found it absolutely ridiculous. There were much more important things in life.
The first thing he had to do was find a place to live. Sometimes this took several tries. He had already scouted out a few apartment buildings that looked promising. The first place he visited appeared to be in a decent neighborhood. The houses and buildings were not enormous, but neither were they sketchy or falling apart.
Darko’s place of destination was a plain white building. It was inexpensive, which was the only kind he could afford. There were four floors. The amenities included a workout room, a small pool and hot tub, a lounge area with a TV, and a basketball court outside. It was decent enough for what he was paying for it. It was not like he would be living there for long anyway.
The landlord was a short plump man with balding hair by the name of Mr. Mac. At first, he seemed eager to rent Darko a room, but when the subject came to his unsavory registration status, his smile slowly fell. Mr. Mac ran his hand over his head and let out a long sigh. “I don’t know about this,” he mumbled, staring at the papers in his hand with a frown.
Darko remained calm, but he could not help the hint of fear that was like a flame in his soul. How many times had he been rejected room and board based on that sole event in his past? No one cared about the circumstances. They just did not want a registered sex offender living in their apartment. It looked bad for business. “No one has to know,” he said in a smooth voice. “Trust me, I will not tell anybody. If they do find out and protest, you can do what you want with me. But right now, I have money to pay you and no one is objecting.” He knew how to handle this situation. He had done it a hundred times. Though, that did not mean it worked even most of the time. “I have to have a place to live too, right?”
“I guess so,” Mac continued to mumbled. With another sigh, he set down the papers and looked at Darko with a solemn expression on his face. “Ok, I will give you a room. But if you make any trouble-”
“I won’t,” Darko said, holding his right hand up in a promise.
Mac nodded, seeming satisfied. “Alright then. Let’s get this thing settled.”
The second piece of business was getting a job. Usually, this was the harder of the two, but Darko did have his therapist’s recommendation. He hoped that would give him an edge. Indeed, after handing in an application and resume, he was given an interview on Wednesday.
It was a new Sports Authority store located in the middle of a strip mall. The building was tall and large surrounded by smaller shops. It was a traditional sports store. It was very large inside, the walls rising high. There were sporting goods on the side isles. In the center was team apparel, with the Packers merchandise up front. There were also team posters and memorabilia near the check out isles. Darko’s interview was in a small office room in the back.
The manager’s name was Ted. He was a lanky man with messy brown hair and green eyes. He was currently looking over Darko’s application with a small frown. “Dr. Harold sent you to me?” he said as he looked up.
Darko nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Ted seemed troubled. “Why would he do that?”
“Perhaps he believes you to be a man of good judgment who is willing to give anyone a chance, no matter what their background,” Darko responded calmly.
Ted raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps.”
“You may be able to find employees with better backgrounds than me, but I assure you, no one else will work harder,” Darko said in a firm voice. “After all, I have a lot to prove. Motivation runs in my veins.” It was true. He always felt like he had to work more than twice as hard just to keep up with everyone else. He had to be the best to receive any sort of praise. It was tiring, but it was the choice he had made. The alternative was unthinkable.
Ted nodded. “That’s good to hear. But even if I did believe that your intentions are good, that’s only half the problem. You see, this business is only successful as long as people buy our stuff. Currently, that is no problem. The people here love sports, both playing and watching. It’s a great business. But if people heard that I have hired a sex offender, they could boycott my store in protest.”
“But that’s not fair,” Darko objected. “It would show great character for you to risk a chance with someone of my status.”
“I know. But this is not about being fair. It’s reality. The general public sees thing differently. My hiring you could be seen as supporting what you’ve done.”
Darko shook his head. “That makes no sense.” But the sad part was, he had seen it in action. Not only was he hated and pushed out of society, but so was anyone who dared to support him. That was why he rarely found any allies.
Ted raised his eyebrows. “Do you want to try to change the masses?”
Darko merely shrugged.
Ted sighed heavily. “If you could convince me to hire you, I would be happy to give you a job. Summer is approaching. People are going to want to participate in sports camps and such.”
Darko had come prepared. It seemed he always had to be to get anything these days. He always had to have a defense ready. He never knew when an attack was coming. “Sir, my crime is unrelated to the job. I did not steal nothing. I do not have to be in close contact with people. At the cash register, there is a barrier between me and the customer. And you can have me stock or something. That will keep me out of the way. And people won’t see me much. If I’m less noticeable, there will be less questions. And no one knows about me right now. They’ll form their opinions in time. I will accept extra supervision, longer trainer, and working up to longer hours, if that is what is needed to make you feel better. Above all, I promise to work hard and do my duty.” He sat up tall, his face firm with determination.
Ted stared at him for several long minutes. Finally, he said, “How does ten dollars an hour sound?”
Darko blinked in surprise. First, he had gotten the job. He knew it was his goal, but he still could not believe it had been so easy. Second, that was the highest starting salary he had ever been offered since he had gotten out of jail. A single man did not need much to get by, but this would help him out a lot. He reminded himself to nod. “That sounds great.”
A wry smile spread across Ted’s face. “I’ll have you come in for training on Monday.”
The varying colors of the gelato in the tins made Cynnie’s mouth water. She was working with Megan. Her sister was at the cash register and she was in charge of fixing orders. She enjoyed her job. Summer was one of the busy seasons were everyone wanted gelato. Winter was busy for hot chocolate. Putting the two together, both Italian specialties, made great business sense. Cynnie loved Italian hot chocolate. It was very thick and rich. It was much better than normal hot chocolate. The gelato her parents made was even better.
While “gelato” was translated as “ice cream” into English, it really had its own definition. Gelato was very different from ice cream. It was made from cream and not sugar. The flavors were mainly fruit made from fresh ingredients. Good quality gelato melted on one’s mouth. The texture was very different from ice cream. It was superior, in Cynnie’s mind and that in many Italians’.
Her attention was caught by the ringing of the bell, which signaled the entrance of a customer. She loved watching people. She found them fascinating. This guy immediately caught her attention. He had light brown hair and blue eyes and was wearing a red t-shirt and jeans. He did not appear too happy. He stood against the back of the wall and stared at the gelato. There was only a small space between the wall and the counter, so he was close. His whole appearance seemed to evoke negative energy.
Cynnie did not realize she had been staring until he lifted his head and locked eyes with her. His gaze was intense and fierce. A chill passed through her body.
Then he was gone. He left the shop as quickly as he had come.
“Wow,” Cynnie said in awe.
“Huh?” Megan said quizzically.
Cynnie snapped her attention to her sister. She had just remembered she was there. “Did you see that guy?”
Megan blinked. “That creepy guy who came in and then left?”
Cynnie frowned. “He was not creepy.”
Megan rolled her eyes. “What about him?”
“I wonder who he was. What he was doing here. What he was thinking.” Her voice took a dreamy tone as she gazed up at nothing.
“Oh, don’t start,” Megan said in a tired way. “Why wonder? You’re never going to see him again.”
“Maybe he’ll come back,” Cynnie said hopefully, looking at her sister eagerly.
Megan put her hands on her hips and gave her a look. “Be careful what you wish for. That guy does not seem like good news.”
“How can you tell? You don’t even know him!”
“I don’t have to know him. It’s called intuition.”
“Maybe your intuition is wrong.”
Megan let out a frustrated sigh. “You’re impossible, you know that?”
Cynnie grinned. “I’m just curious.”
“Well, don’t be. I’m serious, Cynnie. Stay away from this guy. You’re just going to get yourself into trouble.”
Cynnie frowned. “Fine.” But she was not convinced. She knew people came in all varieties. Sometimes the scariest people turned out to be the pest people someone could ever meet. Appearances meant nothing. Maybe it scared away some people, but not her. She was fascinated by the strange and unusual. She preferred to suspend judgment and instead, get to know people.
She hoped that guy would stop by again. She wanted to meet him. There was just something about him that had her transfixed. He could not be that bad, right?