The days that dragged on were agony for Cynnie. She had hoped that, with time, she would be able to convince more people, especially her friends, of Darko’s innocence, but no one would budge. She found herself covered in a hopelessness and despair that she knew he must be feeling as well. She did not like to feel it. She was usually quite happy and positive.
She could not understand how Darko’s friends could turn on him. Even if he had done what he was accused of, that did not mean they had a right to abandon him. Was that not what they had discussed in the Bible studies over the past several months? A person’s mistakes did not define him, no matter how many times he made them. Love meant supporting and forgiving someone no matter what. It seemed like she was the only one who had held onto that, and she had never thought of herself as a great Christian!
She wondered if they were afraid. Afraid of what? Afraid of being hurt. Afraid of being seen as standing up for a sex offender. Afraid of evil. Afraid of so many things. How could Cynnie give them the courage to do what was right?
Maybe she couldn’t. Maybe there was no answer. All she knew was that she could not live like this. It was just too much. Darko had already given up. Why should she not do the same? She was of no help to anyone in Green Bay. Everything, even the Packers, were reminding her of past experiences that now brought her pain.
So she decided to take the job offered to her in Pittsburg. It was the only way she could see to move forward. She could start a new life and have the exciting adventure she had always dreamed of. She would leave the boring plainness of her town and go out into the real world. It would be great. And she would not be alone. She had agreed to take care of Elva, Darko’s cat. It seemed to be the least she could do for her friend. The cat was warm and nurturing and made her smile. She would be good company.
She was packing now. She was going through her clothes and deciding what to bring. She could not erase the tremor of doubt that resided in her heart. This was what she had always wanted. Why was she feeling reluctant now?
In the back, bottom corner of the last dresser drawer, she pulled out something she had not seen in a long time. It was her old Brett Favre jersey. Cynnie was struck by the sight. She pulled the shirt out and ran her hands over the material. She felt a tug at her heart. Despite Darko’s self-association to the quarterback, she had never really made up her mind about Favre. Suddenly, everything seemed clear to her.
Her brothers had always gotten on her case for being indecisive. For not being able to make a judgment. She knew it was wrong to judge people without knowing them, but perhaps it was equally important to make a right judgment so that she could act appropriately.
Well, she was making a judgment now. She would forgive and support Brett Favre. H deserved another chance with the people who had meant so much to him. How could she just forget about all those wonderful years? He had hurt them, but it was time to move on.
And she would stand up for Darko. Both were good people. Both deserved chances. She knew Darko had done nothing wrong, and even if he had, that would mean he needed love more than anything. She needed to be a good friend and stand by him.
Something else seemed painfully obvious as she thought about it. Why had she been so obsessed about going out and finding exciting adventures? In retrospect, that was not what was important. It had not done anything for Darko; what he had needed was friendship. Perhaps leading an exciting life did not mean Cynnie had to go to a strange, new place. More than anything, she wanted an exciting life with the people she loved, like Darko. The people who were there in Green Bay. She loved Darko. She had a duty to fight for him and set things right. And so that was what she would do.
Cynnie found John alone in the gelato shop. The cold front was keeping customers away. John seemed surprised to see her. His eyes immediately fell to her shirt. She was wearing the Brett Favre jersey. “John,” she said in hard determination, “I have made some choices.”
John blinked, appearing startled. He walked around the cash register to stand closer to her. “What kind of choices?” he asked hesitantly.
“Choices about people and my life,” Cynnie said. “You and Ben were right. I haven’t been good at deciding and making judgments. But I’ve figured it out now. I’m going to turn down the job in Pittsburg. I’m going to stay in Green Bay. I don’t want to leave the people I love. This town is exciting enough for me. And it’s my home.”
A slight smile came over John’s face. “That’s great, Cynnie.”
She nodded. “I’ve also decided to support Brett Favre. People deserve second chances. And I’ve made a judgment about Darko as well.”
John raised his eyebrows in interest. “I agree about Brett. I was wrong to hold onto a grudge for so long. Now, what about Darko?” He nodded her on.
Cynnie was pleased by her brother’s admission; it gave her the strength to continue on. “He is a good friend and a good person,” she said slowly and deliberately. “I know he did not commit the crime he is accused of. I have faith in him. I will do whatever I can to get him out of this situation. I choose him.”
John stared at her for a long while, his face unreadable. Finally, he said, “Well, if you believe in Darko, then I do too. What do you need me to do?”
A grin broke across Cynnie’s face. She was glad to have an ally at last! She knew her brother would come around eventually. She immediately took an attitude of one in charge. “Well, we should figure out why this little girl is accusing Darko. I think someone put him up to it, to be honest. Someone who wants to get rid of him. It could be anyone.” She frowned. She knew there were a lot of people in town who hated him for his sex offender status. Where did they even begin?
John’s eyes widened. “Cynnie,” he said slowly, “when is the last time you saw Julia?”
Cynnie gasped. “She would never do such a thing!” She added quietly, “Would she?”
“I wouldn’t put it past her,” John said seriously. “She has seemed pretty out of it lately.”
Cynnie sighed. “I guess I’ll go talk to her.”
John nodded, his eyes hard. “Let me know what you find out.”
“Of course,” Cynnie said, giving her brother a small smile as she left. An ally at last!
It was on the following Monday afternoon that Cynnie found Julia in her apartment. Julia was polite and curt as she invited her in, but Cynnie could sense that there was still something broken between them. She had not come to fix anything. It was perhaps about to get worse. It was regrettable, but it was what had to be done.
“Would you like some tea?” Julia asked with a forced smile.
“No,” Cynnie said flatly. “Let’s just sit and talk.” The two of them walked over to the couch and sat down, leaving a seat between them. Cynnie looked over her friend carefully. “Julia, how have you been?”
Julia flashed her a grin. “Great! It’s so good to see that Darko character off the streets and in jail where he can do no harm.” She frowned and shook her head. “Can you believe what he did? Well, I knew it all along!”
Cynnie narrowed her eyes. “Julia, what do you know?”
Julia appeared affronted. “What are you talking about?”
“The girl who is accusing Darko is Hailey; she’s in my class,” Cynnie said. “I know her. She would never make something up like this. Someone must have influenced her.”
Julia became rigid. She glared at her. “That’s always been your problem. You just can’t admit you’re wrong, can you? He’s guilty! Just face it, he’s no good!”
“That’s a lie, and you know it,” Cynnie growled. “Tell me what you did.”
Julia rolled her eyes. “I did not do anything. If you must know, I did witness the crime.” She paused. Cynnie kept her eyes narrowed on her. “It was at the grocery store. Little Hailey was alone and trying to reach something from a high shelf. Darko picked her up and lifted her so that she could reach what she wanted.” She shook her head. “It was highly uncalled for, if you ask me.”
Cynnie did not look impressed. “That’s your crime? That was completely innocent. He was trying to help her!”
“He did not have to touch her!” Julia exclaimed.
Cynnie gritted her teeth. “How could the girl have possibly thought she was a victim?” She was seething with anger, but she tried to hold it down.
Julia frowned. “Well, of course I had to help along the situation. I got Hailey to see things a bit differently. But it was not lying! It was for a good cause! I had to say something to get him out of here! It was only a matter of time! I was simply speeding up the process!” Her eyes had suddenly become frantic and wild.
Cynnie’s eyes were wide with shock. “Julia!” she exclaimed. “How could you do such a thing?”
Julia fumbled her hands together and looked away. “It was for the good of the city. It’s almost over now. You’ll thank me for it later.”
Cynnie let out a heavy sigh. “Julia… You have to tell them the truth.”
Julia turned on her, eyes wide. “No! I can’t do that. And you must not tell anyone, Cynnie! Please? No one can ever know.”
Cynnie shook her head. “You had your chance. I’m looking out for Darko.”
Julia grasped her arms. “Don’t! No one will believe you anyway! He deserves it!”
Cynnie’s gaze hardened. “That has always been your problem. You can’t recognize goodness when you see it. He never did anything to you or anyone else in this city.” She pushed her away and stood up. “I’m sorry, Julia.” Then she walked out the door. She had to see Darko!