The week passed, and Roy and Sutan continued to see one another on and off at kindergarten pickup. They didn’t stray much from small talk, but kept up a friendly back and forth, and the clique of judgemental moms threw sour glances over their shoulders at them.
The weekend rolled around and Saturday afternoon was warm and sunny, which meant exactly one thing for Roy and Adore: the park.
Adore ran ahead as they approached the wide area of green grass with a smattering of trees and shrubs, and the old worn wood and metal playground in the sand patch. There were already like a million kids on it, and parents standing around watching, smoking, and talking amongst themselves. Roy found a spot and put down his tote bag, which contained snacks, water bottles, a soccer ball, and a spare shirt in case Adore managed to smear hers with mud or something, which was likely. He put his hands in his pockets and watched Adore climb the playground, gunning immediately for the tallest slide, her thick brown hair in two neat French braids that Roy had barely managed to get her to sit still for earlier.
Danny would’ve joined Adore in the playground, he wouldn’t have felt embarrassed to climb up and make a fool of himself, to slide head-first down the slide with Adore on his back, and to let her climb all over him. He had an endless capacity to play with her, and more patience than Roy had ever possessed.
Roy sighed and looked down. Danny wasn’t here. He would be back, at some point. What Roy wanted from today was for Adore to tire herself out enough to have a nap when they got back from the park so he could work out without interruption.
“Hey,” said a familiar, low voice, and Roy looked up.
Sutan stood next to him, his long grey hair down and flowing around his shoulders, wearing a floral-printed shirt and a smirk.
“Hi there,” replied Roy, with a flirtatious little tilt of his head, thoughts of Danny rapidly fading.
“I guess we’re neighbours,” said Sutan, his voice practically a purr. “Aren’t we?”
His eyes were visible today, through red-tinted sunglasses, and he looked Roy up and down. Roy paid attention, because just as he’d suspected, the energy coming off of Sutan was interesting.
“Where did you say you lived again?” asked Roy.
“Oh, just a few blocks down that way,” replied Sutan, with a shrug, pointing across the park, “Our apartment’s in the row of townhouses, 236A.”
“We live on Sunset Ave, the one-storey near the corner with the rhododendron out front. You’re close to the park or the school, aren’t you.”
“Yeah, they say proximity is everything.”
“It really is…”
Roy held eye contact with Sutan from a moment, and decided to ignore the exciting tension growing in his gut. He was a grown adult after all, and he knew when he was attracted to someone. And when someone else was attracted to him. There was no need to make a big deal of it.
“So, uh,” said Sutan, clearing his throat, “The salt and baking soda thing worked and I managed to save the dress, which is one of her favourites, so thanks for the advice. How’s Adore?”
“She’s great,” replied Roy, pleased, because getting stains out of fabric was one of his many talents, and gestured to the playground where Adore was climbing back up to the slide. He hadn’t told Sutan Adore’s name, which meant he must have either overheard him talking to her and remembered it, or had asked Raja if she knew it. Interesting. “She’s over there, the one with the green shirt.”
“Yeah, I recognize her,” said Sutan, nodding and looking out at the playground, but then he frowned. “Wait. Where’s Raja? Oh okay, there she is.”
Roy chuckled, and located Raja with her distinct jet-black bob haircut, on the far end of the playground swinging from the monkey bars, then kicking her feet up and hanging from her knees, her yellow shirt falling down to her armpits as she giggled.
“I’m raising a small monkey,” stated Sutan wryly, crossing his arms.
“It’s probably good for her, as long as she doesn’t break her neck.”
“God, let’s hope not. My health insurance ain’t shit.”
Roy laughed, shaking his head. His brand of sarcastic, occasionally dark humour wasn't for everyone, but Sutan seemed to take it well. Sutan grinned, and the moment expanded warmly between them. Roy let his mind wander, considering the fact that if he and Sutan had met over Grindr, in a club, a bar, or a cruising spot, and there’d been this much obvious attraction between them they would’ve easily invited one another over, or disappeared into a dark corner, or Roy’s car, and had a brief and hot good time.
Unfortunately Roy’s responsibility for Adore cut into that fantasy at all sides. Roy didn’t regret his commitment to raise her, but he couldn’t help but feel a trickle of envy for all the single, childless gays out for a good time in the world. Or even the ones who had partners to look after the kids while they went out to have their fun.
Roy hadn’t had that kind of fun in a while.
“So, how’s Raja settling in?” asked Roy, for the sake of keeping the conversation going. He shifted his weight from one hip to the other.
“Well…” sighed Sutan, shrugging and glancing around before reaching into his shirt pocket and pulling out a tiny joint, “Uh, do you mind if I smoke?”
“Are you gonna share it?” answered Roy.
“Hell yeah,” replied Sutan, nodding with his entire torso, pleased. He fished his lighter out of his pocket and brought the joint to his mouth and lit it. “I thought you seemed alright.”
“Oh, I’m more than alright.”
“I’m sure you are.”
The sexual tension curled again between them, and Sutan passed Roy the joint. He took a quick drag and passed it back.
“Oh yeah, I should actually answer your question,” said Sutan mildly, glancing back over at the playground, “Yeah, she’s settling in okay. But like, it could’ve been an easier move, it could’ve been an easier transition to school so she wasn’t the new in the middle of the year, and it could’ve been an easier fucking divorce.” Sutan paused to inhale from the joint and blow smoke away from Roy. “So, I don’t know. I’m just hoping she’ll chill out and make some friends soon so that getting to school won’t involve as much kicking and screaming.”
Roy knew well enough to infer that Sutan meant literal kicking and screaming. Some of which was expected from any five-year-old child. Sutan passed him the joint.
“Yeah, I’m sure it’ll sort itself out,” replied Roy, taking another drag, deciding that that was probably enough for him for now, and passing it back. “At least they’re adaptable at this age. Or Adore is, she’s always been good at rolling with the punches.”
Adore and Raja didn’t seem to have interacted on the playground, they were at opposite ends of the large structure. Adore repeatedly went down the slide until she got bored, and stepped back, staring at the playground blankly as if overwhelmed with the options. But Roy knew she just needed a couple of minutes, and as he’d predicted Adore recovered, and joined some other kids making a sand castle. Raja had apparently decided the monkey bars were no longer enough of a challenge and appeared to be trying to scale the little pointed roof the highest point of the structure.
“Ah, see,” commented Sutan, gesturing at Raja with the joint held between two fingers in a way that Roy found oddly endearing, “Just watch, she’s gonna climb that, she’s gonna get to the top and then she’s gonna realize she’s got no exit strategy and get scared and cry. Then I’m gonna have to go over there and climb up and get her down. This happened literally last week.”
Roy chuckled again, “Yeah, believe me I know. I had to convince Adore the other day that when the dogs bark and snap at her it doesn’t mean she should try harder to put the doll clothes on them. She wasn’t convinced.”
Sutan huffed out a laugh and brought the joint to his lovely mouth again, and Roy watched him place it between his lips.
Just as Roy was thinking of another question to ask, Adore came sprinting over from the playground, apparently done with it. There were flyaways coming off her previously neat braids.
“I wanna play soccer now!” shouted Adore, coming to a breathless stop in front of Roy. Then she looked up at Sutan with gigantic eyes, brow wrinkling as if confused by his very existence.
“Hey honey,” said Sutan, with a nod down at her.
“Yeah, we can go play in a minute, mija,” said Roy to Adore, attempting to draw out his time with another adult as long as he could, “How about you drink some water-”
“Ayah, I’m stuck!” came Raja’s cry from the playground. Roy and Sutan both looked over and saw Raja, exactly as Sutan had predicted, up at the highest point of the playground on the small pointed roof, clinging nervously to the top.
“That’s my cue,” said Sutan dryly, and flicked the end of the joint to the ground, stepped on it, then walked patiently over, saying, “Puteri, you did this last time…”
Roy briefly regretted that he hadn’t asked Sutan for his number, or out for a drink or something. But whatever, they were practically neighbours and Roy was certain they’d run into each other again.
Adore took the soccer ball out of Roy’s bag, and looked at him expectantly. Roy bent down to pick up the tote bag, and felt a little rush to his head that said the weed was working, and that this gentle high would likely make this afternoon run smoothly, and said, “It's your turn to be the goalie.”
“No, no fair, you’re a grown-up!” shouted Adore, and ran ahead to the field.
The following weekend, Roy walked through the neighbourhood with Adore, who was staunchly riding her red tricycle even though she was getting a little too big for it. She didn’t seem interested in learning how to ride a two-wheel bicycle yet. It was overcast and muggy, threatening rain, but they needed to get outside anyway and walk the dogs. Roy’s two tiny Pomeranians trotted obediently along beside them.
Danny had texted Roy again, with something vague about when he might have time to visit. Danny was inevitably drawn to the freedom and glory of being a rock star, and between song-writing, making albums, recording and touring, he wasn’t always the most organized. Over the past couple of years as Danny’s career ramped up, his ability to stay in touch and have a reliable schedule got worse and worse, and his visits fewer and farther between. Roy had decided he wouldn’t be mad about it, or let it get to him, so it didn’t. He aggressively compartmentalized. Roy was an island, perfectly capable of looking after Adore without help from anyone else.
In fact, Roy had already planned out the day. After the walk, he’d take Adore with him to get groceries, and he’d cook dinner and do food prep for the week, and Adore would ‘help’ or nap, depending on how she felt, and then they’d watch some TV, or read books aloud, and Adore would go to bed and Roy would finally get some time to himself.
Being a (mostly) single parent was a full-time job, on top of his actual full-time job.
Roy looked up and noticed that they were approaching the street with the row of townhouses. A few of them were divided into apartments, and some stood as full homes.
“Let’s go this way,” suggested Roy, indicating that they turn instead of continuing straight on as usual. Adore shrugged and steered her tricycle down the sidewalk. The dogs trotted along, and Roy loosely held their leashes.
Roy wasn’t lonely, obviously, it was just that being a single gay dad wasn’t exactly the most common situation out there. It was hard to find people who he could truly relate to. He was too busy to see most of his friends, who didn’t have kids, and out the tiny handful that did have them, their kids weren’t Adore’s age.
So Roy glanced up at the numbers on the houses and apartments, and gentle anticipation geared up in his chest. Brief, thrilling images crossed his mind, the idea of stripping Sutan from his clothes, touching his naked body, getting him on a bed and fucking him-
Deciding once again to be bold, Roy approached 236A, a first-floor apartment in the row of townhouses, and knocked on the door before he could think of a reason not to.
Adore rolled up the front walk with him, curious, and the dogs sat next to him, tongues out, panting and obedient.
From behind the door came a thunk, and then it opened and Sutan stood before him.
Roy took one look at him and laughed.
Sutan wore a long paisley blue sarong-style skirt and a black crop top and a purple feather boa. His long grey hair had several lumpy braids in it, and atop his head sat a pair of fuzzy cat ears. He had badly applied, exaggerated rouge on his cheeks, clumpy mascara, thick raccoon-like eyeliner and shiny purple lipstick on his mouth.
“Hi,” said Sutan flirtatiously, leaning against the doorframe, his confidence at odds with his hilarious, ridiculous appearance. “You remembered my address.”
“Maybe,” replied Roy, letting himself shrug with equal flirtation, “You’ve got a little something on your face there, sweetheart.”
“Oh, right,” laughed Sutan, perfectly comfortable, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and coming away with a smear of purple. “The theme for dress-up today was ‘cat princess.’”
A loud giggle echoed from behind him, and Raja rushed down the hall, arriving at Sutan’s side and bunching her fist into his long blue skirt. She wore a pink dress, a blue feather boa, a plastic silver tiara, and her makeup was impeccably done, the neat ruby red lipstick and dramatic dark eyeshadow looking out of place with the cat nose and whiskers drawn onto her young face.
“I guess it’s pretty obvious who was doing who’s makeup,” commented Sutan.
“Yeah, you did a great job on yourself,” replied Roy with a straight face, unable to resist teasing him, “Real professional.”
Sutan laughed at himself, and replied, “Oh you’re a little bit of a bitch, aren’t you?”
Ready to happily roast Sutan to an early death, Roy opened his mouth to answer, but then Adore spoke from next to him, staring at Raja, “Wow, you look pretty. Like Catra from She-Ra.”
Raja appeared thrilled for a moment and then she frowned mistrustfully and hid her face in her dad’s skirt.
“Hey,” said Sutan, nudging her, “She gave you a compliment, what do you say?”
“Thanks,” said Raja quietly, peeking out at Adore.
Adore scratched her head and cocked it to the side, taking in the situation. Roy preferred to let Adore dress herself on weekends, and today wasn’t any different than usual. Adore wore a big tie-dyed T-shirt with purple striped shorts and mis-matched socks, one blue and one with polka dots, and little white sneakers. Roy was relatively proud of the fact that Adore hadn’t spilled or smeared anything on herself today. Yet. The day was still young.
“Can I pet your dog?” asked Raja, directing the question at Adore.
Adore looked at Roy, who nodded and then Raja came through the doorway and bent down and patted Samson the Pomeranian, who panted calmly, happy with the attention. Adore got off her tricycle and squatted down to pat the other dog.
“So is this just an average Saturday afternoon for you?” asked Roy, looking back at Sutan, and wanting to tease him just a little bit more. Maybe tease him in other ways.
“Mm,” replied Sutan with ironic loftiness, touching his chest delicately with his fingertips, “You caught me out. I’m reinventing myself, running from a dark, secret past as a drag queen.”
“Ha! You would be.”
They eyed one another up and down, again. Despite the silliness of his outfit, Sutan looked good, clearly comfortable in the well-fitting skirt, and the crop top showed a lovely slice of his torso that Roy really wanted to get to know better. Sutan had a fun, eccentric, androgynous energy to him, a kind of laissez-faire attitude that almost reminded Roy of Danny, but calmer and more refined. And Sutan eyed him in return, glancing over Roy’s impeccably neat hair, the silver stud earring in his left ear, his athletic shirt, and casual shoes.
“So,” said Roy, meeting Sutan’s gaze, “Would you like to get a drink sometime?”
A grin split Sutan’s face, “Thought you’d never ask.”
“So maybe…” began Sutan, shrugging and looking down at their respective children, who’d started a conversation as Adore attempted to show Raja that the dogs could do tricks, and the dogs refused. “Well. I’m not super available, I can’t exactly leave her alone.”
“No, I can’t leave Adore either, obviously,” stated Roy, and disappointment hung between them. Again, Roy felt that envy, how it seemed like things must be so much easier for practically every other gay person in the city. He knew rationally that it was inaccurate, but it irritated him nonetheless.
“But I can find someone to watch her if we plan it far enough in advance?” suggested Sutan, cautiously, as though he didn’t want to ask too much.
“Yeah-” said Roy, smoothing his hair and glancing down as one of the dogs began to bark, annoyed with Adore as she pressed on his back to make him sit. “Yeah, I can too, that could work.”
“Okay, I’ll give you my number,” said Sutan, with a smile that he couldn’t quite suppress. Roy found he liked it.
After a brief scuffle where Roy separated Adore from Delilah the Pomeranian, with whom she had decided to wrestle, and Raja bossily (and ineffectively) scolded the dog while Sutan looked on, amused, Roy took out his phone and managed enter Sutan’s number in it before anything else happened.
With that, Roy got his convoy of two dogs, a tricycle and Adore back down to the sidewalk, and Sutan brought Raja back inside, saying something about washing their makeup off.
But Roy was quite pleased with himself. He’d scored a date, and it hadn’t even been that difficult.
Admittedly figuring out when the date could possibly happen might be challenging, but that was a problem for the future.
Adore had fallen asleep with her mouth open, sprawled out on the living room couch in the light of the orange Tuesday evening sunset. Roy gave up on sitting in the chair across from her staring at his phone, and got up, went into the kitchen and poured himself a quick vodka soda, then went to stand on his little front porch and watch the street.
After a drawn-out back and forth with Sutan, they managed to agree on the following Friday to go out and get a drink. Now all that Roy had to do was figure out who could watch Adore for the evening. But Roy had been so determinedly independent for so long and didn’t ask for (or tend to accept) help from others that he didn’t have anyone to lean on. And Adore wasn’t used to him being gone.
Things would be easier when Danny got back. And their relationship was open, so this little date with Sutan wasn’t an issue. Roy had always survived just fine on his own, thanks, and he intended to continue doing so.
But luckily, a solution to the problem appeared right before Roy’s eyes, in the form of his teenaged neighbour.
The blonde, sixteen-year-old Courtney wandered out of the house next door and walked down the sidewalk, eyes on her phone. Roy saw his opportunity, put his drink down and hurried down the steps to intercept her.
“Hey Courtney,” said Roy, with a charming smile.
“Hi!” replied Courtney, with all her bubbly, outgoing teenaged energy.
“How would you like to make some good money this Friday night?”
“Doing what?” asked Courtney, raising an eyebrow.
“Babysitting Adore, if you’re available.”
“Oh, sure! Yeah, I am.”
“Great,” replied Roy, trying not to let his relief show. Courtney and her parents were friendly, amiable Australians, and Adore regularly waved hello to Courtney when they passed one another on the street, or if they were coming and going at the same time. “Well, come over around seven-thirty on Friday, and I’ll get you two set up.”
With that particular victory unlocked, Roy quickly went back into the house to check on Adore, and found her content and undisturbed.
Things were looking up.