Darko could not stop thinking about the girl in the gelato shop as he drove home that afternoon. He had planned to stop by the shop after his interview with Ted to try out their ice cream, but he had lost interest when he saw that particular employee. He had been at a loss of what to do and too afraid to talk to her, so he had left. He had regretted the decision ever since.
He did not know what it was about her that interested him so much. Sure, she was pretty, but it was much more than that. Maybe it was the way she was looking at him. It was not the way most people looked at him, even before they discovered what he had done. It was almost like she was seeing into him. Like she genuinely wanted to know who he was.
When he reached his apartment, he had made the decision that he needed to go back. He would not be satisfied until he found the answers he was looking for. He just hoped they would be worth it.
But the girl was not there the next day. Two strangers were working. Darko just walked right back out. He would not be deterred. He decided to return the following week.
After his training at Sports Authority on Monday, which went relatively well, he found himself once again inside Gelateria di Perrino. The shop was small and decorated with Italian paintings. He was pleased to see that the girl was there. He tried to appear disinterested as he walked up to the counter and peered down at the gelato.
“Hi,” a friendly voice said. “Do you need any help?”
Darko raised his head to see the girl smiling at him. Her name tag said ‘Cynnie.’ “No, ma’am, I’m just looking.”
Cynnie stared at him curiously. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
Darko raised his eyebrows. “How do you figure that?” This could not be a town small enough where everybody knew everybody. He had grown up in a place like that. It had been way smaller than this.
“You just look like you’re not sure what to do,” Cynnie said. She smiled. “And you have an accent.”
Darko shrugged. He wanted to point out that she was the one with the accent, but he kept silent. “I just came here from Detroit.”
This seemed to have caught Cynnie’s interested. She leaned her elbows on the counter and rested her chin in her palms. “Really? What were you doing there?”
“Just tryin’ to find a place to fit in. I’ve been moving around a lot for the past few years.”
“That sounds exciting.”
Darko frowned slightly. He did not think so. It was tiring. “I’m just trying to find a place to settle. No place seems to fit for me. I doubt Green Bay will be any different.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t be so quick to judge.” Cynnie dropped her arms and stared at him earnestly. “This is a great place to live. It has much to offer. We all love it here.”
Darko raised his eyebrows. “Because of the Packers?” If to fit in this town he had to be obsessed with some football team, then this was not the place for him. He could make much better use of his time.
Cynnie frowned, appearing offended. She quickly brushed it off. “Green Bay is about a lot more than just the Packers. It goes much deeper than that. They are more of a medium, a means to an end and not an end in themselves.” Darko had started to pay careful attention. If she was going to defend her city, he would listen. He wanted very much for her to convince him to stay. He wanted hope. “Green Bay is about community, family, and tradition. We’re passionate, loyal, and dedicated. The Packers are the way we express ourselves. It could have been anything that brought us together, but it just happened to be football. It gives us something to talk about and bond over. It’s not just about the team itself. It’s about getting together with your friends on Sundays to watch games, sitting through the freezing cold with other fans like you all united for a common purpose, drinking beer and eating brats. We’re very inclusive. It does not matter if you’re male or female, black or white, rich or poor. We’re all connected and we accept each other.
“I will admit, there is not much else to do in terms of entertainment. If you want nightlife, go to Milwaukee or some other larger city. But if you want a good community to raise a family where everyone feels like they belong, then maybe Green Bay is the place for you.” She shrugged. “It’s not perfect, but it’s home. If that’s what you want, this is a good place to start.” She blushed slightly and glanced down. “I’m sorry I’ve been talking so much. I just can’t help it.”
Darko smiled in amusement. He had enjoyed her little lecture. He thought over what she had said in his head. After a minute of contemplation, he decided she was right. He had to try to fit in with Green Bay. It may be his only shot. He felt more confident with his new goal. “It’s no problem. I should thank you, actually. Perhaps I should give this place a chance. But I don’t know how to find my way around.”
Cynnie brightened. “I’ll help you. I’ll show you everything you need to know. I’m Cynnie, by the way.” She extended her hand.
Darko hesitantly took her hand and shook it, shivering at the touch. “Darko Stroud. And thanks. Maybe I’ll stop by again and take you up on that. Or you can come see me at work. I’m at the Sports Authority a couple stores away.”
Cynnie nodded. “Ok, cool. So, do you want any gelato?”
Darko thought for a second. “Which flavor do you recommend?”
Cynnie smiled. “You can have two flavors for a small. Banana has always been my favorite. Coconut is good too. All of our gelato is made with real fruit.”
“That sounds good,” Darko said. “Give me a small bowl.” He was not a big cone fan. The ice cream just melted down the cone and got his hands sticky.
Cynnie flashed him a grin before picking up a bowl and an ice cream scooper. She scooped in two spheres of white gelato. Darko could not tell the difference between the two. Then she put in a spoon and handed him the bowl. “That’ll be $4.50. You can pay Ben over there.” She nodded at the guy at the register. “Though, maybe you should try it first.” She smirked slightly.
Darko inspected the ice cream with his eyes first. It looked dry and was smooth like silk fabric. He tentatively filled his spoon with the substance and brought it to him mouth. The flavor was strong and very good. It was creamy and softer than ice cream. He looked at Cynnie and saw that she was watching him eagerly. He gave her a small smile. “It’s excellent.”
Cynnie clapped her hands together and grinned. Darko could not help but chuckle.
The sun was slowly setting in the west, casting dark shadows on the streets. The inside of the Perrino home was warm and friendly. Cynnie was walking out of the kitchen with two glasses of ice tea to the couch where Julia sat waiting expectantly. She placed the glasses on the coffee table before sitting down beside her friend.
“So, is he cute?” Julia asked eagerly.
Cynnie rolled her eyes. They were talking about the man she had met earlier in the day. Her companion took to the topic readily. “I wouldn’t say ‘cute.’ It’s more like… ruggedly handsome, if you know what I mean.” She was not exactly sure how to describe Darko. All words seemed to fall short of the truth.
“Ooo…” Julia cooed. She grinned wildly. “Did he ask you out?”
Cynnie shook her head. “No, and I don’t think he will. He seems one of those loner types.”
“Like one of those mysterious cowboys from old western movies? Those are the best to try and figure out.” She smiled and nodded. Then her smile faded as a more serious look overtook her face. “But be careful not to get too attached. You have to look out for yourself.”
Cynnie barely registered what she said. “I’ll be fine. I know what I’m doing.”
“I’m serious, Cynnie,” Julia said in a warning tone. “Be careful. You don’t want to get too close too quickly. That’s how you are going to get hurt. It’s fun to play around with guys, but you must be extremely selective if you want to actually go somewhere.”
Cynnie shook her head. “You need to give people the benefit of the doubt. They’ll surprise you.”
Julia crossed her arms and leaned back. She shook her head. “Trust me, I know guys.”
“You don’t know this guy.”
“I don’t have to. The same principle applies. You said he’s from the South, right?”
“Well, that’s what his accent tells me.”
Julia touched her shoulder so that she would look at her. “Listen to me: there is a certain culture of hospitality Southerners share. They’ll act all nice and polite to you, but that’s just what it is: an act. It’s all for show. They don’t really mean it. It’s totally superficial. At least in the North if someone is a jerk you know it. Southerners are touch and violent. They carry guns and will attack you if you insult them.”
Cynnie raised her eyebrows at this. It sounded like an exaggeration or stereotype. “And how many Southerners have you met?”
Julia swatted her hand at the air. “Enough.”
Cynnie frowned. Her companion’s judgmental attitude troubled her. It didn’t seem right. Something inside of her rebelled against it. “I think you’re worrying too much. I can look after myself.” She appeared thoughtful. She really wanted to get to know Darko better. Perhaps she should take matters into her own hands. “You know, I think I’ll initiate contact next.” Did her friend really know what she was talking about? She was probably just being paranoid.
Julia shook her head. “Fine, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Cynnie’s mind was set. She was not sure when Darko worked, so she decided to try Wednesday afternoon. Fortunately, her intuition was correct. As she opened the doors to Sports Authority and stepped inside the large store, she could see him at the second cash register near her.
Cynnie smirked to herself before putting on her best smile and gracefully making her way over to the man. “Hello,” she said cheerfully.
Darko had been staring off into the distance, seemingly at nothing. When she spoke, he slowly turned to look at her. “Hi, how may I help-” He stopped short when he saw who it was. She grinned at him. “Cynnie. Hi.” He seemed surprised to see her.
“You did tell me I could stop by, right?”
Darko glanced down before looking back up at her. “Right. How are you doing?”
She smiled gently. “Great. How are you?”
Darko shrugged. “I’m still trying to figure out how this store works.”
“Ah. I’ve been working at the gelato shop my whole life, so I’ve pretty much got it down. My parents own it, actually.” It was really great having a family business. It was fun and impressed other people.
Darko blinked in surprise. “Really? How did that happen?”
Cynnie smiled. “That’s a long story. Maybe I’ll tell you someday.”
Darko nodded. “Are you Italian?”
“My dad is half Italian,” Cynnie said. She used her hands while she talked. It was something she did naturally and did not even have to think about. “His father was an immigrant from Italy. My dad has spent much time there with him. He knows how to make gelato the right way.” She grinned. Many Americans tried to copy Italian ice cream, but it never seemed to work out. People really appreciated the authenticity of her family’s products.
“That’s really cool,” Darko said. He looked around him, probably to see if he had any customers.
Cynnie took this as her cue. “So, my brothers and I are going to a Milwaukee Brewers game next Friday,” she began slowly. “I was wondering if you would like to come with.”
Darko started. He obviously had not been expecting that. He frowned slightly. “Isn’t Milwaukee two hours away or something?”
Cynnie smiled grimly. “Yes. But it’s worth it. Don’t worry, you won’t be bored.”
“Do Wisconsinites care about any team other than the Packers?”
Cynnie gave him a look.
Darko shrugged. “Sorry.” He shook his head. “I don’t know…”
“Come on, I want us to have a chance to get to know each other better. Baseball games are a great form of bonding. And it will be fun!” She looked at him hopefully. She wished he would accept. This was a great opportunity for the both of them.
Darko hesitated before dipping his head. “Ok. I’ll go with you.”
Cynnie grinned gleefully. “Great! Don’t worry about the tickets. I’ve got them covered.” She was elated. This was going to be so awesome!