Jana’s Secret

By Lisa Torcasso Downing

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To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: … a time to keep silence, and a time to speak (Eccl. 3:1, 7).

My dad and I were unloading the soccer equipment from his pickup truck, when we heard the telephone ringing. “It’s probably for you,” Dad said.

“I don’t feel like talking,” I responded. Dad gave me “that look,” then went inside while I stored gear in the shed. Was I feeling down! Tomorrow would be our first game of the fall indoor soccer season, and we had just completed another disastrous practice.

My team, the Stingers, was short a goalie. My best friend, Isabel, had been practicing the position, but, well, she’s a much better forward than goalie. My dad, the Stingers’ coach, tried to cheer me up on the way home. “We can still win,” he told me. But I knew that without a good goalie, it wasn’t very likely.

As I stepped into the kitchen, my father replaced the telephone receiver. He turned toward me, wearing a grin the size of a mailbox. “That was the commissioner. Look!” He handed me the team roster.

I saw that my father had penciled in a new name: Jana. Beside her name was listed her position: goalie! “You’re kidding!” I cried out.

“The commissioner said she just moved into our neighborhood and has been playing goalie in another city for three years. He knew that the Stingers were short a player, so …”

“Yes!” I jumped high enough to slap the top of the doorway. “I’m calling the other Stingers right now!”

“Whoa,” Dad said. “How about if you start by calling the newest Stinger? Tell Jana our opener is tomorrow, and that we’ll bring her a uniform tonight.”

I talked to Jana for only a few moments—I didn’t really know her yet—then called all the other girls. They were as excited as I was. But later that night, when Dad and I drove to Jana’s house, no one answered the door. We left her uniform on the mat.

The next day, the Stingers huddled excitedly in our team box. Everyone was there—except Jana. When it was our turn to take the field for pregame drills, Jana still hadn’t shown up. We lined up to practice goal shots. Right after I slammed one past Isabel, I saw Dad trotting toward the stadium door.

At the door stood a girl I had never seen before, wearing a Stingers yellow and black jersey. “Jana’s here!” I called. Then I saw something that made my stomach turn. Jana, our new star goalie, had a cast on her wrist and bruises on her face. I groaned. So did the other girls.

Needless to say, with our new goalie in the bleachers beside her father, we lost our opener.

My dad bought the team consolation ice-cream bars, and we ate them in the bed of his pickup truck in the parking lot. Jana sat alone on the open tailgate. Her dad and mine were nearby, talking about the team’s schedule. Again, my dad gave me “that look.” I knew it was because I wasn’t including Jana. So I slipped beside her and said, “How did you break your arm?”

“It’s my wrist,” she said.

Jana’s father turned and, putting a hand on her shoulder, said, “She broke it on our trampoline.”

Isabel perked up, moving quickly to Jana’s other side. “You have a trampoline?”

Jana nodded.

“Why didn’t you say anything about a broken wrist when we talked on the phone?” I asked.

Jana shrugged. She never took her eyes off her ice-cream bar. Her father said, “It was broken last night after she talked to you. We were at the hospital when you came with the uniform. Luckily it’s only a hairline fracture. She’ll be able to play again in a few weeks.”

“In the meantime,” Isabel began, her dark eyes as wide as coat buttons, “if you need someone to keep that trampoline from rusting, I’m available!”

“Rusting!” I teased.

“It could happen,” Isabel laughed.

Jana’s father said, “We’ll see,” and led Jana away.

Monday was Jana’s first day at our school. Isabel and I sat by her at lunch, and she invited us to her house that afternoon. The three of us took the bus to Jana’s stop, then walked to her house. She led us to her trampoline in the backyard. Not seeing her parents anywhere, I asked if they both worked.

She nodded. But when I told her that she was welcome at my house after school any day, she shrugged and said, “Oh, there are worse things than being alone.”

Isabel was already on the “tramp.” The golden beads on her hair clips shimmered in the sunlight. I climbed on and, as we sailed upward, Jana made silly sound effects to match our jumps. Jana was turning out to be really cool. I couldn’t wait to see her play soccer!

After about twenty minutes, I sat down on the trampoline. Isabel nearly landed on me! “We should go,” I said. Isabel nodded, and together we rolled off the tramp onto the grass.

“Jana, I bet you’re an expert on the trampoline,” I said as we passed through her gate. “You probably practice every day and can do backflips.”

“No,” Jana said, “we just got the tramp Saturday morning before the game, so I really haven’t used it yet.”

Isabel and I stopped and stared at her, confused.

“What’s wrong?” Jana asked.

“Your dad said you broke your wrist Friday, after we talked on the phone, but you just said that you didn’t have the tramp until Saturday.”

The color drained from Jana’s face. “Did I say I got the tramp on Saturday?” she laughed nervously. “That was dumb of me. We got it Friday. I remember now.”

Isabel and I looked at each other. We knew Jana wasn’t telling us the truth. I had a creepy feeling about it. I was about to thank her for letting us jump, when she suddenly faced us, tears on her cheeks, and whispered, “If I tell you a secret about how my wrist was broken, will you promise not to tell anyone?”

The secret Jana told us scared me. Isabel and I hurried home, then sat silently on my front lawn until Isabel’s mother pulled into her driveway. As Isabel rose, I asked, “Do you think we should tell someone what Jana told us?”

Isabel shook her head. “We promised Jana we wouldn’t. It isn’t right to break a promise.”

I went straight upstairs. I told my mother I’d be studying my spelling, but I couldn’t pay attention to it. I kept thinking about Jana. Before I knew it, Mom was calling me downstairs for dinner.

At the dinner table, my brother offered the blessing; then everyone else started talking about their day. I didn’t talk at all. I cleared the table while everyone gathered in the living room for family home evening. Suddenly I heard my two-year-old sister crash into the wall and start crying. I rounded the corner just as my father scooped her up and tenderly rubbed her sore head. My dad is the best dad in the world. He would never, ever, in a million, zillion years hurt me or my brother or sister.

But today I’d learned that some kids aren’t that lucky. Tears jumped into my eyes, and I couldn’t keep them in. I ran up the stairs and slammed my door. I sat against it and cried.

Someone pushed on my door, but I didn’t move away. “Alecia,” Dad called, “please let me in.”

I scooted over so he could open the door. He sat beside me and hugged me. I buried my face against him. He waited, then said, “Do you want to tell me what’s wrong?”

I sobbed. “I can’t. I promised I wouldn’t.”

Dad nodded and stroked my hair. “It’s usually right to keep a promise. But if keeping a promise hurts you or someone else, it’s not a good promise to keep. It looks like keeping this promise is hurting you very much.”

“Oh, Daddy,” I cried, “it isn’t me.”

“Will someone else be hurt if you keep this promise?” I nodded. “Then,” Dad said, “telling me is the right thing to do.” He looked into my eyes. “You can trust me, Alecia.”

I told him exactly what Jana had told me about how her wrist had really been broken. My dad hugged me tight. When he let go, I saw tears in his own eyes. “You made the right choice,” he said. He spoke with Mom, then made a telephone call.

I thought Jana would be mad at me for telling her secret. I thought she’d quit the Stingers and never talk to me again. But that didn’t happen. The next time I saw her was four weeks later, at our match against the Shooting Stars. Her cast was off. At first, she didn’t say anything, then she hugged me—almost as hard as my dad had—and said that she finally felt safe! She was going to a different school now because she is living with her aunt while her parents get help. Soon Jana will be back with them. “But right now, I want to get back on that soccer field!”

The Stingers cheered as we ran onto the field with our new goalie. I had been worried that Jana and I would never be friends, but now, as I watched her make a diving save, I realized that real friends watch out for each other.

Illustrated by Scott Greer