Marco slowed his already slow walk. Somehow he didn’t feel like going home for pranzo (lunch). Usually Carlo ran home with him, but Carlo was angry.
“Why can’t you play in the championship?” Carlo had demanded.
“Because it’s on Sunday.”
“If you don’t play, we forfeit!” Carlo had yelled. “With Guiseppe sick, you’re our only goalie. You have to play!”
When Marco reached home, he was reluctant to go in. But he knew that Mama and Papa were waiting, so he slowly climbed the stairs to their appartamento (apartment).
Mama was already putting food on the table. “I was beginning to worry,” she said with a smile. “Hurry and wash.”
Marco didn’t feel like eating. But after the blessing he bit into the crisp hot bread. Then he dug into the gnocchi (little dumplings) covered with Mama’s salsa. As he savored the spicy goodness, he began to feel better.
“Is anything wrong?” Mama asked. “You’re quiet today.”
“They posted the soccer schedule at school,” he said.
“I have to play on Sunday.”
Mama and Papa were quiet for a minute. They knew that Marco’s team, the Lightning Bolts, had worked hard for a chance to be the top team in all of Milan, Italy.
Papa looked puzzled. “You mean all the games are on Sunday?”
“No, the quarterfinals and semifinals are on Saturday. The winners on Saturday play the final game on Sunday.”
Marco could see a twinkle start in Papa’s brown eyes. “Cheer up, Marco,” he said merrily. “Maybe your team will lose on Saturday! Then you won’t have to play on the Sabbath!”
Marco smiled too. But the Lightning Bolts were very good. They had a chance to win both games Saturday. “Giuseppe has the flu, and Tommaso hurt his ankle,” he explained. “If we win Saturday, I have to play on Sunday—or we forfeit. What do I do?”
Mama put her arm around his shoulders. “We’ve taught you what is right. If your team wins, I’m sure you will make the right decision. Now eat, or you’ll be late for school.”
At school some of the boys whispered and stared at Marco. Carlo just ignored him. It made Marco hurt inside to lose his best friend.
At practice that night, Carlo finally talked to him. “Have you changed your mind?” he asked angrily.
Marco started to get angry himself. Then he remembered Papa and grinned at Carlo. “I think we’d better work on winning Saturday’s games,” he said. “If you don’t practice kicking, we won’t have to worry about Sunday!”
Friday night Marco felt restless and scared. He wished his parents had told him he couldn’t play. Then the boys would blame them instead of him.
Even though he felt sick inside, Marco knelt down to pray. He prayed hard and then waited for an answer. He waited and waited, but nothing happened. He wondered if Heavenly Father hadn’t heard him. But then a warm feeling came to him. He felt very peaceful. All the restless hurts eased. He knew that everything would be all right.
Saturday morning came bright and clear. There was just a wisp of clouds in the sky. The air was sharp and invigorating. It was a perfect day for soccer.
The Lightning Bolts were well prepared and won the first game easily. Lounging around after a light lunch, they looked at the schedule.
“We play the Tigers!” Carlo groaned. “They’ve got the biggest boys in the tournament.”
“And the fastest,” Marco added. “We’ll really have to play hard to beat them.” Part of Marco wanted to win the game, and part of him wanted to lose—then he wouldn’t have to worry about Sunday.
It was a hard-fought match. The speedy Tigers scored the first goal, but the Lightning Bolts fought back and evened the score. After that, the teams traded goals. They were tied 4–4 in the final minutes of the match, when Carlo headed a pass into the net to put the Lightning Bolts on top.
With less than a minute remaining, Carlo had the ball again. He weaved in and out of the Tigers, heading for the goal. Then he tripped and lost the ball! The Tigers brought it back with swift, sure passes straight toward Marco.
Marco stood in front of the goal as the last seconds of the match ticked away. If he could keep the ball out of the net, the Lightning Bolts would win!
A Tiger forward kicked the ball—hard! It was headed for the corner of the net, just beyond Marco’s reach. Marco’s heart seemed to stop beating. He threw himself to the right with all his strength. The ball bounced off his hands just as the whistle blew. He had done it! The Bolts had won!
Marco’s teammates were jumping and cheering. He picked himself up and brushed off the dirt. He saw his parents walking toward him. They were smiling and waving. The head referee was with them.
“Marco, that was good playing,” Papa said, giving him a hug. Then he said, “I want you to meet Mr. Giovetti.”
“Hello, Mr. Giovetti,” Marco said politely.
“Hello, Marco. That was a fine game. But your father tells me you have a problem.”
“I can’t play tomorrow,” Marco told him. “The team will have to forfeit because we don’t have another goalie.”
“Why can’t you play?”
“Because the game is during my church’s sacrament meeting,” Marco explained, “and I need to be there. But even if the game were later, I still wouldn’t play on the Sabbath.”
“I see.” The referee thought for a moment, then said, “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
The team gathered around. When Mr. Giovetti came back, he had another man with him. “Marco, this is Mr. Luigi. He is the coach of the team you are to play tomorrow.”
“Hello, Marco,” Mr. Luigi said. “It seems that we have the same problem. Two of our best players were injured today. We still have enough boys to play tomorrow, but we wouldn’t be at our best. I would like to postpone the game. Is that all right with the Lightning Bolts?”
Marco looked around at his friends and the coach. They all nodded. “Yes!” Marco said. “When do we play?”
“Next Saturday,” the referee answered. “Bright and early.”
As Marco walked home, he felt tired but good. His prayer had been answered. Even if the Lightning Bolts lost the championship, he would always remember it as a victory.