“‘Secret pals?’” My best friend Laura raises her eyebrows. “What’s that?”
I laugh. Laura loves anything that has to do with secrets. It doesn’t matter that she can’t keep one for more than about a minute before she feels like she’s going to explode.
“‘Secret pals’ is a project my Primary class is working on,” I explain. “Sister Sharp assigned each of us someone to be a pal to. We’re supposed to do nice things for that person and not let her know who’s doing them—it’s a secret. Get it?”
“Of course I get it,” Laura says. “It’s like you’re going to be Santa Claus to whoever your teacher assigned you to, right?”
“Well, sort of, I guess. But Sister Sharp said that our acts of kindness shouldn’t just be gifts.”
“So whose name did you get?” Laura asks, her eyes suddenly growing wide with excitement. “Ryan’s?”
I roll my eyes. Of course Laura would hope I got Ryan’s name. She thinks he’s really neat. Last year she made him a gigantic flowery Valentine card and signed it, “From Your Secret Admirer.” I’m sure she’d love to be his secret pal.
“No—we’re all girls in this class.” I hesitate. “I’m going to be Shiela’s secret pal.”
“Shiela? She’s weird!”
I take a sip of my milk, not saying anything. I remember that was how I felt Sunday when Sister Sharp gave me my assignment. I wasn’t very happy about it. You see, Shiela is new in town, and she wears faded, ugly clothes. Everyone calls her “Raggedy Shiela.” And she is kind of weird. She sits in class, not saying anything. If someone asks her a direct question, practically forcing her to speak, she answers in a whisper! Last week I asked her what math problem she was working on, and I had to say “What?” or “Huh?” about twenty times before she said it loudly enough for me to hear her.
Besides all that, she hardly ever comes to Primary. I didn’t see why I had to be secret pals with someone who seldom comes to class.
On Sunday I sulked all the way home from church. I didn’t want to go out of my way to be nice to weird Shiela. The assignment had put me in a bad mood.
“Lisa, is something the matter?” My mom asked when we got home. “You were awfully quiet in the car.”
I told her about having to be Shiela’s secret pal. “She doesn’t even come to church,” I grumbled. “I wish I could be a secret pal for Kari or Nancy—anyone would be better than Shiela.”
Mom stood silent for a moment, her eyebrows furrowed. I could tell she wasn’t pleased. “Lisa, let me tell you some things about Shiela.”
She sat down on my bed with me and talked to me very seriously. First she reminded me about Heavenly Father, about how we are all His children and how He wants us all to be happy and help one another. She reminded me that in an eternal perspective, Shiela is my sister. That made me feel unhappy because I knew I wasn’t acting the way Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ wanted me to.
Then, making me feel a thousand times worse, Mom told me some personal things about Shiela. Things that made me cry. Suddenly I was glad I had the opportunity to be her secret pal, because she really needs one. I promised myself that I would be the very best one I could possibly be.
“Hey, Lisa,” Laura says, interrupting my thoughts.
I play with the straw in my milk, unsure how to go on. “Did you know that Shiela’s dad died?” I ask Laura, pushing away the rest of my lunch.
Laura raises her eyebrows. “No. I don’t know anything about her.”
“Neither did I until Mom told me. She visit teaches Shiela’s mom. Shiela’s dad died in a car accident last year. That’s why they moved here. Her mom had to get a job. It doesn’t pay very well so she can’t buy many clothes for Shiela.”
“Oh. That’s sad,” Laura replies. “We should stop people from making fun of her.”
I look down at my lunch, feeling miserable. I used to make fun of Shiela—not out loud, but in my head. “You know what else?”
“Shiela used to have a twin sister named April. She died in the car crash with her dad.”
I can see tears forming in Laura’s eyes. “Oh. How awful!”
“Yeah. Mom says that’s probably why Shiela is so quiet. When her sister died, she lost her very best friend.”
Instinctively we both begin to look for Shiela in the cafeteria.
“There she is—sitting over there by herself,” Laura says. “Let’s go invite her to play with us.”
Weeks go by, and Laura and I and Shiela are best friends now. Sometimes Laura and I make cupcakes or cookies after school and leave them on Shiela’s doorstep with a note saying, “From your secret pals!” We’re pretty sure she knows they are from us, but we don’t care. Whenever Shiela asks if we are her secret pals we say: “We’re your best friends—there’s no secret about that!”
And guess what! There’s a new girl named Debbie in our class at school. She has a funny accent and bright red hair. The boys call her “Carrot Top.”
One day while the three of us are walking into the cafeteria, Shiela says, “Look, there’s that new girl, Debbie.”
Laura and I glance across the crowded cafeteria to where the redhead sits eating alone. “She’s always by herself,” Shiela informs us. “It’s hard to be new. Let’s go eat lunch with her.”
“Good idea!” Laura and I say at the same time.
“Maybe we should make her some cookies after school,” Laura suggests with a smile. We all agree.
I smile too. It looks as though we are going to be secret pals to every new classmate. But that’s OK with me. I like doing it. You can never have enough friends.