Roosevelt had become a fixture in Romaine and, by association, my lives. Romaine was the focus of his attention; I, an afterthought, occasionally a pest, an obstacle to her affection. From the moment he sat down with us at the picnic table at Hyde Park, he thought of himself as an addition to our friendship. On the bus ride back, he’d even tried to squeeze between Romaine and me on the two-person seat. He was forced to accept defeat when Mrs. Morrison told him he had to sit in his own seat; there were plenty left, she said. That night, his nanny called Lynnie to arrange a play date; I wasn’t invited.
After the Hyde Park field trip, he began to play with us at recess. Romaine and I had usually played alone, creating complex games of pretend while our classmates played handball, foursquare, kickball, swung on the monkey bars. We were happier inventing a talking tree, climbing around the jungle gym on a quest to find pirates’ buried treasure. We never ran out of scenarios. Roosevelt tended to play handball or the occasional game of foursquare at recess. During recess the day after the field trip, Romaine and I resumed a game of make believe in which leaves whispered to us when we noticed him standing nearby, fiddling with his hands.
“Do you think I could play?” He asked timidly. It was the first time I’d ever seen him shy.
“Sure,” we said. I shrugged my shoulders. Romaine smiled kindly.
He never played handball at recess again.
In time, Roosevelt began to invent his own games: three-person games or games with two main characters and a minor character. I never complained about my brief cameos even when I wanted to; Romaine always looked like she was having fun, and I never wanted to spoil it. There was a game in which they played twin siblings while I assumed the role of babbling baby sister. Then there was the game in which they played house; I played the dog. I liked the games Roosevelt invented where we were hiking in the Himalayas, stuck in a blizzard in Vermont. The worst game, though, was Roosevelt’s favorite.
It was a variation of cops and robbers. Being Roosevelt’s favorite, we played it often–almost every time it was his turn to choose a game– and, every time, it was almost exactly the same as the time before. Romaine and Roosevelt played bank robbers, stealing from a bank full of customers. I played a bank teller.
“Oh, please don’t shoot. Please don’t kill me!” I would plead.
Roosevelt and Romaine would then discuss my potential death in mumbled bits of conversation while I braced myself for the inevitable outcome.
“Shoot her, Lorrie.” Roosevelt would growl.
They would both draw their hands together to their faces, pointing like guns. While Roosevelt looked at Romaine, she would glance apologetically at me as she made the motion of pulling the trigger.
“Boom!” Roosevelt would shout.
“Easy kill,” Romaine had been told to reply. It always sounded hollow.
I would stagger backwards, clutching my chest, and collapse.
While Romaine and Roosevelt loudly contemplated where the money might be and how to break into the safe, I would discreetly rise and run to take on my next role.
I pretended to pull open a heavy door, then put my hands together in the shape of a gun.
“This is the police. Surrender your arms!” I would yell.
“Never!” They cried.
They would split apart and begin the gun battle. They’d take shots at me, alternating as partners in crime. I never stood a chance. At one point, an invisible bullet would hit me and I’d fall to the ground, without the drama of the first murder. I liked to have the bullet pierce me early on; I preferred a quick death and a quick end to the game.
Roosevelt and Romaine would slap hands.
“Good work,” they would congratulate.
They would then walk off like partners, best friends, while I lied sprawled on the hot asphalt of the playground. After a few dozen feet, they would return, and Roosevelt, exhilarated, would analyze every detail of the game. Luckily, the line-up bell usually cut him off.
I still went to Romaine’s house nearly every day after school. Sometimes, he joined us in our usual activities: tag, drawing, sculpting with clay. We rarely played dress-up with him because we didn’t have many boys’ dress-up clothes, certainly none in his size. Teatime remained reserved for Romaine and me alone. Sometimes, we walked along in the woods out back, supervised by Lynnie, collecting pine cones and pretty leaves, which we altered into arts and crafts projects, applying paint, glitter and feathers. My mom used mine as centerpieces at the dinner table.
One day, while we walked along the border between the grass and the woods at Romaine’s house after school, Roosevelt told Romaine about a new club he was forming.
“Romaine, do you want to join my club?” He asked. “It’s an ‘R’ club, just for people whose names start with the letter ‘R.’”
“Well, what would we do in the club?” She asked without a note of skepticism in her voice.
“Have meetings, play dates, play games. We could even have our own language.” Roosevelt explained excitedly, his voice rising.
With the exception of the language, it sounded exactly like what we did every day after school.
“Could other people join?”
Roosevelt’s face turned somber. He glanced at me, frowning. I stared at the ground. Romaine noticed nothing.
“No, just people whose names start with the letter ‘R.’”
“But then Emma would be able to join.” Romaine lamented.
“It’s too bad,” Roosevelt said, his top lip peeling upward in a suppressed smile. Any way to play with Romaine without me. In that moment, I really was jealous—and angry.
“But it’s an ‘R’ club and ‘Emma’ doesn’t start with an ‘R,’” he justified.
Romaine was quiet for a minute. I knew she didn’t want to turn down his invitation. She didn’t like to upset him; he sulked.
“I know,” she said, holding one finger in the air. She turned to me. “From now on, you can be Remma. That way, you can still be in our club.”
Roosevelt stomped his foot, but it didn’t make much sound on the grass.
“But that’s not her name,” he pouted.
Romaine faced him, her eyes locking with his. Even had he liked her less, he wouldn’t have refused her in a moment like this.
“I can’t be in your club without Emma. She’s my best friend. You two are my best friends.”
She put her arms around us.
“Fine, Remma can be a nickname,” Roosevelt conceded, crossing his arms only to show that he still wasn’t entirely satisfied with the compromise.
From that moment on, I never questioned Romaine’s loyalty. I was always first, and Roosevelt seemed content enough with second.