By Zoë Sparque
Arthur had been very clear. The only way for me to come along was if nobody would ever find out who I was. I had nodded. Of course I had nodded. I looked up to Arthur, even if I was a good six inches taller than him. And older than him, too.
He had come up with the plan when we were in his bedroom one rainy afternoon. He was thinking out loud as he paced up and down the carpet, hands folded behind his back—just like dad always used to do. We would have to establish some ground rules, Arthur said. We could never arrive at practice together. Mom couldn’t know about it, either. And I’d have to wear the suit, so I would be incognito. I didn’t know what that was. I thought he said “in cookie dough,” but that made absolutely no sense either. So I let it slide. Besides, I liked the suit. It was bright green—the color of a Granny Smith apple. My favorite.
From then on, every Saturday morning, I would sneak out of the house and get onto my bike. It took me about fifteen minutes to get to the soccer field at the edge of town. I was always there before any of the other boys showed up. I would pass the time by collecting the soccer balls that had been kicked over the chain-link fence. Friday evening was when the men’s team practiced, Arthur had told me. He said they were really good and if he practiced really hard one day he would be in their league. I remember thinking if they really were that good then all of the balls would have ended up in the goal and not in the ditch behind the fence. But I didn’t argue. I never did. I just nodded.
After practice, everyone would disappear into the small brick building over by the parking lot, all sweaty and excited and loud, shoving and pushing each other around and accusing Arthur of not running fast enough, or missing a shot. When the door to the locker room closed behind them, it was like their voices became covered under a thick blanket of snow. I could only pick up muffled sounds. Once, I climbed up onto a trash can so I could peek in through the window. I think I saw Arthur crying but I’m not entirely sure.
Later on, they would all move over to the cafeteria. I could only get my bike out of the bushes when everyone had left to go home and it usually took them a good forty-five minutes to finish their stories and sodas. I would pass the time dribbling the soccer ball around for a bit, watching Arthur sit by himself, and I didn’t really understand why he made me wait outside if he wasn’t gonna talk to any of the other boys, either.
During practice, Arthur would mostly ignore me as well. He had made it very clear that that was part of the rules, too. I could not just talk to him while he was out on the field. I could never talk to any of his friends either. So I just ran up and down the field with him, silently cheering him on. That’s why he got me the costume, of course. What kind of a mascot would I be without one?
He didn’t really get the ball a whole lot, but when he did, Arthur said, that’s when the rules were different. That’s when I had to shout his name at the top of my lungs and yell profanities at the umpire or the bigger boys that tackled him. And when he got kicked in the shins and was down on the ground, I was allowed to run out onto the field and stand over him to tell him it was gonna be okay and he should be strong and not cry. I think it helped. A bit.
I still remember that afternoon when Arthur came up with the rules. He asked me if I would stick to them. I just nodded. Of course I nodded. That’s what imaginary friends are for.