Roy was quite used to being the only single gay dad standing among the small crowd of parents lingering at three-thirty by the local elementary school, waiting to pick up their kids as the senior kindergarten class was let out. The other parents were mostly friendly, and it was a diverse crowd of people from different backgrounds, but as usual, mostly women. Roy was lucky enough to live and work nearby, and took a break from work every day to pick up his five-year-old daughter Adore. Depending on his workload he'd either bring her over to the local daycare and go back to work for a couple of hours, or just call it a day and take her home. But Roy had been particularly efficient this week, and it was a Friday, so he’d decided on the latter.
But today, as Roy waited and glanced at his phone and ignored the little clique of gossipy white middle-class moms, he noticed somebody else walking up to join the crowd and the individual caught his attention.
The person was quite androgynous, but Roy looked a little closer and realized he was probably male. The individual stood very tall, lanky, and had long grey hair that had been the initial source of the confusion. He wore a purple, feminine button up shirt with tight knee-length black denim shorts, and sandals. His skin was a light brown, and his eyes were covered with mirrored aviator sunglasses, he had several rings on his fingers on both hands, and was smoking what Roy initially thought was a cigarette until he caught the scent of the smoke.
It was definitely weed.
Roy smiled to himself, amused, and watched as the clique of white moms caught the smell of the smoke and looked up, expressions twisting judgementally. What kind of a weirdo wandered up to the elementary school just blatantly smoking a joint?
The man didn’t seem to notice anyone’s disapproval, he stood by the edge of the crowd with his weight on one hip, smoking casually.
Roy couldn’t help his curiosity, mainly because the man exuded massive queer energy. Roy was the only LGBT-spectrum person (that he knew of) among the parents of the kids in Adore’s class, and well, he was single.
Roy smoothed down his short, neat, dark brown hair and sidled over the man.
“Hey,” greeted Roy, flashing a dimpled smile, “New in town?”
“Hi,” replied the man, turning to him and offering a smile as well. Roy couldn’t see his eyes through his mirrored aviator sunglasses, but he seemed friendly. “Yeah, well no, new to the neighbourhood. Just moved. My kid’s in senior kindergarten, it was her first day.”
“Sounds like she’s in the same class as mine,” replied Roy. The man’s low, baritone voice sent a hint of interest down his spine. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the clique of white moms eyeing them judgementally. Luckily Roy didn’t give a shit about what any of those bitches thought, and turned back to the mysterious man, and introduced himself, “I’m Roy, what’s your name?”
“Sutan,” replied the man, with a little tilt of his head, and he took one last drag on his joint before flicking the end to the ground, and stuck out his hand.
Roy was about to reach out and shake his hand, but suddenly the man now identified as Sutan looked up as movement caught his eye, and turned, retracting his hand and frowning with concern.
A little girl with a blue backpack walked furiously across the yard, making a beeline directly towards Sutan, with her lower lip trembling like she was about to cry. Her jet-black hair was cut in a bob, and she had the same light brown skin tone as his, and looked to be about five years old, but tall for her age.
Sutan sighed and took a few steps forward, and the little girl broke into a run, rushing across the schoolyard.
The girl ran up to Sutan, big brown eyes swimming with tears, and reached up in the universal child demand to be lifted and held. Sutan acquiesced, crouching down and lifting her off the ground with a small grunt. In Roy’s opinion the kid was probably too old to be carried, she was Adore’s age and Roy didn’t carry Adore much anymore. But apparently the girl was distressed because she immediately burst into tears, wrapping her arms and legs around Sutan and hiding her face in his shoulder.
“Raja, puteri,” murmured Sutan, rubbing her back, and Roy noted the unfamiliar term of endearment. “What are you so upset about, hm? Did you miss me that much?”
“I don’t like being new,” sobbed the girl who’s name must be Raja, dramatically, her arms tight around his neck.
Sutan glanced at Roy, and gave him a half-shrug. Roy nodded in response because he knew well enough what kids were like. Raja didn’t seem to have reacted to the smell of weed that emanated from Sutan, either. Roy looked up for Adore, and located her.
Adore ambled slowly and solemnly through the crowd of kids, looking with round hazel eyes at everything around her, which was pretty typical. Adore had a tendency to space out and spend time in her own imagination. She wasn’t slow, as matter of fact she was very observant, but she liked to go at her own pace. But when she saw Roy, she broke out into a smile and walked a little faster. Roy smiled back, and then noticed that Adore’s left shoe was untied.
But Adore managed to make it over to him without tripping on it, and Roy noted that she had gum in her dark brown hair, which was half-falling out of the ponytail he’d tied up on the top of her head that morning. Again.
“Mijita, you missed your shoelace,” said Roy, pointing down. The gum would be dealt with when they got home.
“Oh!” replied Adore, noticing it, and then getting down on one knee to re-tie her shoe, sticking her tongue out of the side of her mouth as she focused.
“Nice to meet you,” said Sutan quickly over his shoulder as he turned and walked away, holding the still sobbing Raja and murmuring soothing words to her.
“You too,” replied Roy, letting himself watch Sutan’s tall figure as he walked away, noting that below those tight shorts he had quite nice calves.
Adore stood back up with her shoe tied and gave Roy a proud grin, missing one of her front teeth, and reached for his hand. Roy held her hand and they walked down the street in the sun, in the direction of home.
“Learn anything worth remembering today?” asked Roy.
“Yup, we learned the names of five new dinosaurs!” replied Adore happily, and then told him about it in great detail. Dinosaurs had been a strong theme lately. Roy knew far too much about palaeontology for any self-respecting non-scientist adult.
But Roy listened and paid attention, as he always did when Adore spoke, and couldn’t help but wonder whether Sutan might show up again next week.
Later that night, once the gum had been combed out of Adore’s hair with only a handful of tears, and Adore was finally in bed after several episodes of what was apparently a new She-Ra reboot, and Roy’s two little Pomeranian dogs were settled, Roy finally had time to himself. He tidied the house, and scrolled through his phone and did some quick concept sketches for the costumes he’d been hired to design. He moved a few more of the clothes that weren’t his out of the dresser and into the bins in the closet.
Finally, Roy lay alone in bed under his dark blue comforter and read back through several week-old texts on his phone. Roy sighed, and hovered his thumb over the keypad. He shouldn’t send a text. He knew he shouldn’t… but he did anyway.
ROY: Hey, where are you?
Roy put his phone down and picked up the book he was reading, not that he’d been making much progress, and stared at the page without taking in the words.
The phone buzzed and Roy reached for it, his heart inevitably quickening as it did every time.
DANNY: heyyyy baby im still in Vegas, the tour is going so well but im gonna be back in like a few weeks, promise! give Adore a big kiss from me <3 <3
The following Monday the city was met with a heat wave. When Roy got out of his car and approached the waiting group of parents in the schoolyard, he looked for a tall figure with long, grey hair and mirrored aviator sunglasses. And found him at the edge of the crowd. Sutan wore the same shorts, highlighting his assets, but with a loose yellow tank top that showed off wiry, not particularly muscular arms, with tattoos weaving their way from wrist to shoulder. He wasn’t smoking a joint today, but the clique of judgemental moms eyed him suspiciously nonetheless. A couple of other parents approached him to say hi and introduce themselves.
Roy looked down at his outfit. It had been hot in the studio, and his sweaty blue T-shirt was covered in bits of thread because it was a sewing day, and he wore boring khaki shorts underneath it and bright white Keds on his feet. Roy brushed the ends of thread off himself, decided this was as good as it was going to get, smoothed his hair, and walked over to say hello again.
Of course Roy couldn’t just say hello a second time, like an idiot. He needed an angle. He glanced at Sutan’s hands again and noticed that among his many rings was a distinct, classic gold band that sat on his fourth finger. Roy decided to be bold.
“So do you always pick her up or will your husband be taking a turn?” asked Roy, flashing a charming smile and stopping next to Sutan.
“My husband?” replied Sutan, turning to Roy with a smirk, “What makes you think I have one?”
Roy pointed to the wedding ring on Sutan's finger, and Sutan looked down at his hands, then chuckled and shook his head.
“Only technically,” replied Sutan dryly, tilting his head to the side and Roy caught the flirtatious energy with smug satisfaction. “He’s not around. You know, a lot of people talk about gay marriage but you don’t get that many talking about gay divorce…”
Roy laughed, and decided that he definitely liked Sutan.
“Oh, then welcome to the single gay dads club!” replied Roy, with his typical brand of caustic, sarcastic enthusiasm.
Sutan laughed again, his body language amused, and Roy smiled, showing his dimples, which were one of his many charms. Things seemed to be progressing nicely. The group of white moms shifted uncomfortably, one or two of them glancing over their shoulders at them. Roy ignored them and looked up at the school doors, which had just opened.
Once again, Raja approached quickly and determinedly across the school yard, like she had survived an interrogation. Today she wore a sky blue dress that had a massive green paint stain down the front.
“Ouch,” winced Sutan to Roy in an undertone, taking his sunglasses off to reveal heavy lidded dark brown eyes, and tucking them into his back pocket as Raja approached. “Shit, that looks like it’s gonna be permanent.”
“Try scrubbing it with salt and baking soda.”
“Ayah!” cried Raja, once again running the last few steps to her dad, and reaching up. Roy noted the unfamiliar term, and decided he’d ask Sutan what language they spoke at a later date. Sutan picked her up and Raja wrapped her arms around his neck and hid her face in his shoulder, crying again, like a mirror of the first day.
“What happened today, puteri?”
“I did a painting and it was really good and then I spilled green all over it and on my dress and everyone laughed,” sobbed Raja, “I wanna go back…”
“Well, we can’t because we live here now,” replied Sutan, kissing the side of her head, “And if people are mean to you just remember, you’re better than everyone else.”
Roy managed to turn his bark of laughter into a cough. Sutan looked at him over Raja’s shoulder and winked. A curl of interest announced itself in Roy's stomach. Hmm.
But he was immediately distracted by Adore approaching. She had green paint on her ear, and on her elbow and also, somehow, in her hair. Roy knelt down on one knee and Adore rushed over to him.
“Let me guess, art class?” said Roy dryly, as Adore gave him a hug. She stepped back, and Roy licked his thumb, attempting to wipe the partially-dried green paint from her ear. “Adore, let me get that. Lucky I’m not the one cleaning the classroom up.”
Adore guffawed and fidgeted, and Sutan chuckled from somewhere to Roy’s left.
Roy got most of the paint off Adore’s ear, then straightened up and asked, “So, do you two live around here?”
“Yeah,” replied Sutan, pointing with his chin down the same street as the school while Raja sniffled against his shoulder. “Our apartment is only a few blocks that way, so I can walk over to pick her up. I’m an illustrator and I work from home, so it’s pretty easy.”
“It’s good to be nearby,” replied Roy, “I’m a costume maker, my studio is down on Main Street. But our house is just up the other road.” He motioned the parallel direction, leading west from the school. They weren't too far apart.
“Well, maybe I’ll see you around the neighbourhood sometime,” said Sutan, with a smile, and turned away and murmured something to Raja before putting her down, and they walked down the street together.
Roy would certainly like to take Sutan up on that. He turned back to Adore, who absentmindedly rubbed at the green paint on her elbow.
“Today’s a daycare day, right?” asked Adore, looking up.
“Yeah,” replied Roy, with mild regret, “I’m gonna drive you over and then go back to work, Daddy's got a deadline.”
“I hope they have potato wedges and baby carrots today…”
“I’m sure they will.”