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The Single Gay Dad's Club

Chapter Text

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.

Sort of.

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.”

“Really?”

“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.”

Chapter Text

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-”

“But Pà…”

“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.”

“Great.”

“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.”

“Sounds good!”

“Thanks, honey.”

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.

Chapter Text

Friday night rolled around much faster than Roy expected, but he made it happen; he got everything done at work in record time, picked up Adore from school, walked the dogs, made dinner and even managed to get the kitchen mostly clean by the time Courtney came over and knocked on the door.

Roy showed Courtney where all the snacks and Adore’s toys were, told her when bedtime was, what the dogs needed, and made sure she had his phone number. Adore looked at Courtney with partial admiration and partial shyness, all huge eyes, while holding her favourite stuffed triceratops. Roy had attempted to make the place neat, even going so far as to vacuum all the dog hair off the big rug in the living room earlier, while Adore had stood up on the couch and covered her ears and yelled when the vacuum came too close.

“Yeah, so that’s it,” said Roy, finally, glancing at the door, “Call me if anything comes up.”

“For sure,” replied Courtney leaning against the wall with her arms crossed, “What time do you think you’ll be back?”

Roy realized he hadn’t thought about that. But, if things went Roy’s way, not only would he spend some time drinking and talking with another fellow adult human without any five-year-olds present, he’d also get laid.

“Probably somewhere around midnight,” replied Roy, with a decisive nod.

“Great!” replied Courtney, and then put her hands on her knees and looked to Adore with all the enthusiasm of an Olympic gold-medal winner. “We’re gonna have so much fun tonight!”

Adore smiled cautiously at her, and then bounced over to Roy, looking a little nervous. He crouched down and hugged her, kissed her cheek and said, “I’ll see you in the morning, mijita. Love you.”

Adore nodded. Roy was confident that she'd be okay, he'd been away for the evening before, but it didn't happen very often.

With that, he left.

Roy walked down the road with a feeling of freedom and relief. He’d picked a nearby bar down on Main Street, which was in the neighbourhood but far enough away from home and school to feel like an excursion. Roy was looking forward to this date a lot more than he’d been willing to admit. Because although, yes, his primary task in life these days was raising Adore, it wasn’t like Roy’s libido had vanished when he’d become a parent. And Roy was certain that Sutan’s hadn’t either.

So Roy arrived a mature, respectable seven minutes late, but found that Sutan wasn’t there yet. It was a warm night and he sat down outside at a wooden table on the open patio under some string lights, and quickly ordered a vodka soda, with extra lime.

Minutes ticked by and Roy waited, glancing down at his phone. Ten minutes passed, and then fifteen, and then twenty. Roy irritably smoothed down his hair, and glanced again at his phone. No word from Sutan.

Annoyed, Roy ordered a second drink and made a backup plan. If Sutan stood him up, Roy would take advantage of the night anyway and go downtown to a gay bar and see if anyone he knew was there, and try to meet somebody. Or open up his neglected Grindr account and find somebody with a warm body and their own apartment. Whatever. He had options.

But just as Roy was giving up, a tall, harried-looking figure with long grey hair rushed onto the patio from the street. Sutan raised his hand to Roy, then made a beeline to the bar, ordering something and coming over. Sutan sat down heavily across from him, plunking his wine glass on the table.

“God, sorry I’m late,” muttered Sutan, shaking his head and pushing his hair back.

“No problem,” replied Roy, glancing at Sutan’s chest and collarbone where his blue linen shirt sat partially unbuttoned. “What happened?”

“It was a whole fucking thing,” continued Sutan, taking a big gulp of his white wine, “Ugh, so I was dropping Raja off at my sister’s place where she’s gonna stay over and like everything’s fine, right? But then I turn to leave and she just starts screaming. She has this huge fucking meltdown.”

Roy hadn’t been prepared for the onslaught of words but he nodded, cocking his head to the side and motioning for Sutan to continue.

“So she won’t let go of me, and I can’t figure out what’s making her so upset,” said Sutan, shaking his head again, visibly ruffled, and gesticulating as he spoke. “Until I realized that the last time I left her with my sister overnight was during like the worst part of the divorce, when David was finally moving out, and…” Sutan paused, a flash of bitter frustration crossing his face, “And that when she came back the next day he wasn’t there anymore. I mean he’s not like, dead, but we’re not talking, there’s been this complicated custody thing- whatever. But she hasn’t seen him since, right?”

Roy understood, and winced, “Ouch.”

“Yeah,” sighed Sutan, taking another deep drink of his wine, “So I managed to convince her that I’m not going to abandon her, but now it’s like fuck, is she traumatized or something? Or is she just, you know, five?” Sutan sighed, gave Roy a charming, tired smile and put his elbow on the table to support his chin in his hand. “Anyway, wanna talk about literally anything else?”

That was quite the speech. Sutan was clearly a bit overwhelmed. But Roy had to admit that he was charmed, and drawn in by their shared experiences. But maybe it was time for some lighter subject matter.

Roy leaned forward, giving Sutan a flirtatious smile, and said, “Sure, want to hear about the truly incredible mismanagement of the show I’m doing costumes for?”

“Yes, please,” replied Sutan, eyes warm, finishing his glass of wine, “And let me get another one of these, and another round of whatever you’re drinking.”

The night went along, and Roy and Sutan realized they had more in common than just their shared experience of being (newly in Sutan’s case, and mostly in Roy’s) single gay dads. They had a shared interests in fashion and art, though admittedly different ways of approaching those interests, and some friends with a few degrees of separation. They complained about how they’d never connected before this, after putting together that they’d been at the same events and parties around the city quite a few times when they were younger, but had passed like ships in the night.

And as they connected, Roy found himself even more attracted to Sutan, and it was clear that Sutan was attracted to him as well. Roy’s phone remained quiet, with nothing other than a text from Courtney saying that Adore was asleep.

Soon enough they left the bar, pleasantly tipsy, and meandered back through the neighbourhood.

“So, uh, who’s watching Adore tonight?” asked Sutan, walking slowly with his hands in his pockets.

“I got my teenaged neighbour to babysit,” replied Roy. “She’s sixteen, and she's very... bubbly.”

“Ha, I know that type,” chuckled Sutan, “Lucky you've got someone reliable, I don’t really know anyone around here yet except for you.”

“Well you’re not missing much, I’m the only person worth knowing.”

Sutan laughed again, and then there was silence between them.

“So, Raja’s staying with my sister…” said Sutan, and looked to Roy, suggestive, “Do you want to come over and smoke a joint?”

“Thought you’d never ask.”

With that they continued, walking perhaps a little faster than they had before, the tension slightly sharper between them. Roy smoothed down his hair, compulsively running his hand over the fade on the side of his head. Anticipation grew in his gut.

At Sutan’s now-familiar address, he unlocked the door and led Roy inside. Roy followed curiously, toeing off his shoes at the door. He wandered in after Sutan, and took in the living room. There were houseplants everywhere, and lamps, and art all over the walls. A couch sat by the wall with a coffee table in front, a neat desk stood by the window with a laptop and a tablet, and toys were strewn all over the floor. A few yet-to-be-unpacked cardboard boxes sat along one wall next to a half-empty bookshelf. In the far corner was a messy drop-cloth, various paints and abandoned brushes, with sloppy paintings made by Raja pinned to the walls next to more detailed, beautiful illustrations that must have been made by Sutan. He was talented, that much was obvious.

“You found the art corner,” said Sutan dryly.

“At my house we keep the art a little more contained than this,” said Roy, giving him a smirk, “Especially since the marker incident.”

“Ooh tell, I love an incident.”

“You know those markers that smell like fruit? I turned my back for five minutes and Adore decided to draw all over the wall.”

Sutan winced and laughed, “Were they washable?”

“Well it said that on the box,” replied Roy, shaking his head, “But it turned out that was bullshit, so I just rearranged the room and now the couch tastefully covers it.”

“That’s one solution,” replied Sutan, “But I don’t really want to talk about our kids any more.”

With that, Sutan turned on his heel and disappeared across the hall, calling over his shoulder, “You want anything? Uh, water, another drink, weed?”

“Sure,” acknowledged Roy passively, and followed Sutan across the hall. What he wanted was to take Sutan by the collar of that loose linen shirt, kiss him hard and then push him into his bedroom, strip the clothes from that tall, lean body and fuck him thoroughly. But how to approach it…

He went through to the kitchen and found Sutan leaning back against the counter. Sutan was all casual long lines and half-lidded eyes, watching Roy across the room. Roy glanced around, taking in a small round table, the counter crowded with dishes and appliances, and yet more house plants piled on the windowsill above the sink.

“You didn’t answer my question,” said Sutan again, raising his chin and giving Roy a considering, charged look.

“What was it again?” replied Roy, with a hint of challenge in his tone.

“Do you want anything?” asked Sutan, for a second time, his voice low and suggestive.

“Yeah,” replied Roy, as the tension spiked between them, stepping forward so that he stood directly in front of Sutan, “That should be obvious by now.”

Sutan let out a tiny, relieved breath and Roy moved in, finally closing the distance between them, tilting his head up to kiss him. Roy touched Sutan’s shoulder and Sutan grabbed his waist, pulling him in. The tension between them surged even stronger as they kissed, and Roy moved his hand up to the back of Sutan’s neck to tangle in his long grey hair.

Sutan pulled back with a lazy tilt of his head like he was still tipsy, which, well Roy was too. Roy felt the beginning of Sutan’s erection pressing into his low belly. Perfect. He smirked. His own was pressing into Sutan’s thigh, and Roy was certain Sutan was aware of it.

“I’m going to absolutely rail you,” stated Sutan, his voice low and breathy, and Roy laughed.

“Yeah, right,” replied Roy, tracing Sutan’s collarbone where his shirt remained open, “What’s going to happen is that you’re gonna show me to your bedroom, and I’m gonna take those tight little shorts off your skinny ass and show you a good time."

“Mm, but I don’t really bottom, though,” replied Sutan, amused, sneaking his fingers under the edge of Roy’s shirt and touching his lower back in delightful way that sent an unexpected shiver throughout Roy’s body.

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Huh, I don’t usually either.”

“Oh,” said Sutan, looking a bit confused, and then shrugged, “Well, okay. I guess I’ll suck your dick instead.”

“That’s acceptable,” teased Roy, feeling himself hardening further in anticipation. Apparently he wasn’t going to fuck Sutan tonight like he’d fantasized, but that didn’t mean they both couldn’t get something out of the encounter.

“Bedroom? I’d do it right here but my ancient knees can’t handle the linoleum these days.”

Roy laughed and stepped back, and Sutan led him out of the kitchen to a door in the hallway. The bedroom was simple compared to the living room, it had a dresser with various everyday items and trinkets scattered over it, a pile of clothes sat on the back of a chair, and several long spider plants sat along the windowsill.

But Roy didn’t take much notice of the decor, because there was exactly one thing on his mind. Sutan sat down on the edge of the bed, comfortable and confident and Roy smoothed his hair back in a rapid movement and then impulsively knelt on the soft carpet before him, urging Sutan’s legs open.

“Oh, do I get to go first?” purred Sutan, teasing. His erection was now tight and distinct against his shorts, nearly making Roy’s mouth water. It had been a long time since Danny had been back, and an even longer time since he’d been with anyone who wasn’t Danny. Roy was intent with excitement and anticipation, but hid it behind an unimpressed expression.

“Let’s see what you’re working with before you get ahead of yourself, sweetheart.”

With that, Roy unbuttoned Sutan’s fly, quickly and easily freeing his hard cock from his shorts, because Sutan wasn’t wearing underwear.

Well, damn. He was hung.

Roy blinked, but didn’t let how impressed and turned on he was show on his face. A degree of emotional removal was always in Roy’s modus operandi. He looked up to see Sutan smirking smugly at him.

“No underwear, you whore?” said Roy, amused.

“Well,” replied Sutan, far too pleased with himself, pushing his shorts further down, “I had a good idea of where this evening might go, so…”

Roy just rolled his eyes and decisively gripped the shaft of Sutan’s cock in his hand, and dipped his head, taking the end into his mouth. Sutan let out a breath, and sighed, relaxing back as Roy worked him, taking it slow, swirling his tongue around the tip and then bobbing his head up and down. While Roy knew that objectively it hadn’t been that long since Danny had been back, it still felt like forever since Roy had gotten laid, and he’d been hungry for it.

Sutan ghosted his fingers over the top of Roy’s head, a delicate and unexpected sensation.

Roy went about giving Sutan a blowjob with the usual enjoyment and efficiency he had for such a task. Sutan sighed, and then moaned in a low undertone that sent a shiver down Roy’s spine. Soon enough, Sutan’s cock was intensely hard and hot between Roy’s lips, with a satisfying vein standing out on the side. Roy glanced up at Sutan for a moment, and noticed a strand of hair had stuck to the sweat at his temple.

Sutan let out a long breath, and gasped, “Shit, fuck, I’m gonna come-”

Roy pulled back because he’d never particularly liked getting come in his mouth, and rapidly stroked Sutan’s saliva-slick cock as he gasped with pleasure and release.

“Fuck,” groaned Sutan, shutting his eyes and collapsing back to his elbows, spent. “That was good.”

Roy glanced briefly at the mess in his hand, and Sutan gestured to a box of tissues on the beside table. While Roy cleaned his hand off, Sutan stood up and pushed his shorts to his ankles, revealing his long, agile legs in their full glory, and the kicked them off, then went to the dresser and located some underwear to put on. But Sutan didn’t take his shirt off, leaving it to drape elegantly on his torso before turning back to Roy, who’s hand was now clean, expression decisive.

“Get on the bed.”

Roy got on the bed, lying back, and Sutan joined him. Sutan kissed him again, briefly, before sneaking a hand under the edge of Roy’s shirt and pushing it up to admire his toned abs and chest. Roy let him, because, well, he worked out for a reason. Which was to be admired by hot guys, obviously. Sutan lazily circled his nipple with his thumb.

“Do you like that?” murmured Sutan.

Roy liked nipple play, under different circumstances, but he wasn’t in the mood for it right now.

“I don’t mind that,” said Roy, gesturing downward, “but I’d prefer if you got around to sucking my cock.”

Sutan laughed and returned to task, crawling down and flopping on his stomach, making room between Roy’s legs. He unbuckled Roy’s belt, and Roy propped himself up on his elbow to get a better view, tense with pleasurable anticipation…

…and then his phone rang loudly.

“Ugh, fuck,” muttered Roy, frustrated, reaching down into his pocket.

Sutan paused, looking up at him with both ends of Roy’s belt in his tattooed, many-ringed hands.

But as Roy looked at the phone, expecting Courtney’s name, he saw a very different one and his heart skipped a beat.

Roy sat up, bringing the phone to his ear.

“Hello?”

“Mm, hey baby,” whined Danny breathily from the other end, and Roy could immediately tell that he was tipsy, picturing Danny in all his genderfuck rockstar glory, his long, messy, dyed-blond hair with the dark roots showing, his black cut-up T shirt, the leather choker necklaces he’d taken to wearing, his hint of stubble, his soft, plush lips-

Sutan dropped Roy’s belt and shifted back, eyes flicking to Roy’s, his expression indiscernible.

“Uh, what’s up?” asked Roy, moving to sit on the edge of the bed and glaring down at the carpet. Hearing Danny’s voice in his state of arousal was simultaneously exciting and frustrating.

“Nothing… I’m about to go back onstage and I wanted to say hey,” replied Danny, and Roy heard laughter and clamouring behind him, and the way Danny’s words gently slurred together, “I miss my baby girl. Where’s Adore, put her on!”

“I’m- she’s not here, she’s in bed,” said Roy quickly.

“Oh my god but it’s so early?!”

“Danny,” sighed Roy, his well-worn patience somehow holding, “She’s five. And I’m- look, I’m kind of in the middle of something.”

Sutan let out a quiet chuckle, tucking a curtain of hair behind his ear.

“Really? But you never do anything!” laughed Danny, and someone else shouted and laughed behind him. Roy let out a breath through his nose, resentful.

“Well, I’m doing something tonight,” replied Roy, adjusting his grip on the phone, “Do you have anything important to tell me, or-?”

“Just that I miss you, baby, that’s important!” giggled Danny, “And I’m, uh, I’m in maybe Austin? Is it-” someone shouted a confirmation in the background. “Austin, yeah! I’m gonna be back in L.A. soon though, but like a couple weeks later than I thought! Oh and I met some awesome lesbians in our opening act tonight and they want me to do vocals on this track so I might have to swing by Denver-“

“Okay,” said Roy, cutting him off, his heart sinking a little, “Alright, thanks for telling me. I gotta go, break a leg when you go back out.”

“I’ll break my back for you!” sang Danny into the phone, “Love you! Byeee!”

With that, the line went dead.

Roy tossed the phone down on the bed next to him. Sutan watched him, once again sprawled out on his stomach, long legs bent at the knee, his chin resting in his hand.

“Was that your ex?” asked Sutan, apparently deciding to make his nosiness blatant.

“No.”

“So he’s your boyfriend.”

“It’s complicated,” replied Roy, not wanting to or knowing how to talk about it, “Is that a problem for you?”

“Absolutely not,” replied Sutan, his charming grin reappearing, “Shall we?”

“Yeah, let’s.”

Sutan didn’t need to be asked twice, apparently, and when Roy lay back down he approached Roy’s belt and fly with equal enthusiasm as before the phone call. But Roy felt detached, distracted, and he resented the casual intrusion of Danny’s call into the rare and necessary private time that both he and Sutan had gone to such lengths to get.

“You don’t seem particularly relaxed,” commented Sutan, tugging Roy’s shorts down and admiring his black underwear for a moment.

“Just give me a minute.”

“Sure.”

But Sutan didn’t ignore him, he just gently palmed Roy’s half-hearted erection through his thin cotton underwear. Sutan’s many rings made for an interesting sensation, and it caught Roy’s attention, bringing him properly back to the present. Sutan gripped the rapidly hardening shaft of Roy’s cock through the thin fabric.

Roy’s heart rate quickened, and he lay back, putting his arm under his head to watch Sutan as he quickly tucked his hair back, and pulled Roy’s underwear down to reveal his now appropriately hard cock. With a kind of hedonism that Roy recognized in himself but rarely indulged, Sutan licked the hard phallus from the base to the sensitive tip, and took it in his mouth.

The warm, wet sensation of Sutan’s mouth around his cock made Roy curse with relief, all thoughts of his resentment and frustration with Danny leaving his mind. He hadn’t had a good blowjob in what felt like fucking forever.

And Sutan was really, exceptionally, talented.

Roy reached down, stroking Sutan’s long grey hair, the memory of Danny’s hair under his fingers flashing through his mind before he managed to banish it and refocus. Sutan moved his head up and down on, the feeling of light suction absolutely glorious, as Roy’s body grew warm, all the heat pooling in his groin.

“You’re good at this,” commented Roy, and he felt Sutan’s mouth twitch around him in a smile.

Sutan glanced up, wicked brown eyes holding Roy’s for a moment before he pressed Roy’s cock deeper into his throat. Roy looked up at the ceiling, resisting the urge to buck his hips, letting Sutan slowly pull back before tonguing the tip of his cock and pressing back down again, and increasing his pace.

In little time at all, the heat and tension in Roy’s groin came to a peak. He gave Sutan a warning, but Sutan didn’t seem bothered, he let Roy come into his mouth as Roy cursed under his breath, tangling his hand in Sutan’s hair.

Sutan sat up and wiped his mouth with the back of his wrist. Roy caught his breath, and silence between them fell, companionable and easy. It was coupled with a sense of mutual satisfaction that neared relief, like they’d both been waiting a long time for this.

“What time is it?” asked Roy, sitting up, tucking his now-flaccid cock back into his underwear and looking around for his phone. He’d never been that into pillow talk, especially with people who weren’t Danny.

“Uh,” replied Sutan vaguely, “I don’t know, midnight-ish?”

Roy found his phone and checked. It was just after twelve.

“Yeah, I gotta go.”

“Oh right, the babysitter. Does she know you're out getting your dick sucked on her paid time?"

“Fuck off!” laughed Roy, grimaced, amused, at Sutan’s filthy smirk. “Of course not. You’re nasty.”

“Thank you," said Sutan, touching a hand to his chest, smug. "All my lovers say the same thing.”

Lovers. Roy considered the word for a moment, decided that it didn't describe what was happening here and didn’t comment. Nonetheless, Courtney was going to get paid extra tonight, given that it had gone so well. Not that Roy would tell her why, of course. Roy got up from the bed, and Sutan did as well, stretching out his long arms, yawning, pawing through some of the items on the dresser and locating what appeared to be a pack of rolling papers. Roy did up his belt, and put his phone back in his pocket. Sutan followed him down the hall to the door, where Roy quickly slipped on his shoes.

“Well anyway,” said Sutan, leaning in quickly to kiss Roy’s cheek, a gesture that surprised him, and said, “That was fun, I’ll see you at kindergarten pickup.”

“Ha, sure,” replied Roy, shaking his head. “I’ll see you around.”

He reached for the door, opening it to the cool night air.

“Do you think Adore and Raja are gonna be friends?” asked Sutan, and Roy turned back to him, one foot over the threshold. Sutan leaned casually against the wall in his underwear and that blue linen shirt, his hair endearingly disheveled, rolling papers held in one hand, expression mild and curious.

“I don’t know, maybe,” said Roy, shrugging, “They’re in the same class.”

“Yeah, I guess we’ll see.”

“Yeah. Goodnight.”

Chapter Text

The Sunday afternoon trip to the beach the following weekend had been Sutan’s idea. And he’d somehow convinced Roy to drive.

It was in the midst of another heat wave that Roy rolled up to Sutan’s apartment in his car with the beach gear in the trunk and Adore in her booster seat in the back. She was probably getting too old for it, but the force of habit and mild worry kept it in the back of Roy’s car. Adore wore a pink dress over her bathing suit, and her hair in two tight, neat braids along the sides of her head. The morning had been mildly chaotic, trying to walk the dogs and get ready, but Roy always liked taking the time to gently brush and braid Adore’s hair. It was soothing for both of them. Plus, it meant fewer tears later when Roy had to brush out the inevitable knots and mess that Adore managed to accumulate by the end of each day.

Roy texted Sutan and waited in the air conditioned vehicle. After their date last week they’d run into each other at kindergarten pickup as promised, and Roy was pleased to see that Sutan wasn’t making their encounter a thing. Roy didn’t like clingy people, and he didn’t want this to become anything more than he deemed that it to be. But to his luck, Sutan was extremely chill.

Sutan and Raja appeared out the door, Sutan laden with tote bags full of snacks and beach gear. Raja was already in her swimsuit with a big white T-shirt overtop of it, and bounded up to the car and pulled the back door open, both hands on the handle. Sutan wore a long, loose robe with a leafy green and white pattern, and went around to throw the gear in the trunk, and then put Raja in the back seat, and did up her seat belt.

“Does she need a car seat?” Roy asked Sutan as he got in, adjusting the passenger’s seat to accommodate his long legs.

“No, she got too tall for the one we had, and I think it’s fine,” replied Sutan, glancing over his shoulder at her, “You’re good, right puteri?

But Raja stared at Adore’s booster seat, before grinning and pointing at her, announcing, “Ha! You’re still in a baby seat.”

“No, I’m not!” protested Adore, her mouth falling open.

“I’m a big girl and you’re a little baby!” crowed Raja, laughing maniacally.

“I’m not a baby!” shrieked Adore, wriggling in the booster seat and kicking her feet violently.

After Roy had calmed Adore down and reminded her that she and Raja were the same age, and that yes, Adore had to stay in the booster seat, and Sutan had told Raja to apologize and not to make fun of her friends, not that Raja seemed particularly regretful about it, Roy drove to the beach.

“Oh, hey, it’s Dolly Parton,” commented Sutan, and turned up the radio, catching the first verse of Islands In The Stream. He turned around, addressing the girls in the back, mock-serious, “We all love Dolly here, right?”

Roy glanced in the rearview mirror to see Raja sticking out her tongue and Adore nodding solemnly. Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers crooned on the radio. Sutan hummed along.

“…islands in the stream, that is what we are, no one in between…”

Roy understood being an island, and it wasn’t as romantic as Dolly made it out to be.

Soon enough they rolled up to the parking lot. They trooped across the gravel lot to the sand, and the sun blazed down on the four of them.

Adore and Raja rushed ahead, and Roy and Sutan followed with their bags, and picked their way along the beach. This particular beach had a long stretch of good sand and safe, gentle surf, and then a large spit with an outcropping of rocks and trees with a couple of paths that cut through to a secluded second beach, which was a well-known gay cruising spot.

“How about here?” suggested Roy, because the particular area looked as good as any. The main beach was busy today, a large swath couples, singles, groups of friends and families set up all around them.

But Sutan shook his head, expression unclear behind his mirrored aviator sunglasses, took another few steps and carefully looked around, seeming to note those who was sitting where and who was walking by.

Roy grumbled at him impatiently, but Sutan apparently decided he’d found the perfect spot, dropped his bags to the ground and announced, “Here’s good.”

They set up camp, putting down a blanket and arranging their stuff, and Roy set up his chair and the beach umbrella in the particular arrangement he preferred.

“Come here, you need sunscreen,” ordered Sutan, attempting to wrangle Raja while she squirmed and giggled.

Adore seemed determined to prove that she wasn’t a baby and sat much more still for Roy than she normally would have as he put sunscreen on her arms, shoulders and face.

“I’m not a baby,” said Adore, glaring reproachfully at Raja as she squirmed upside down in Sutan’s lap, her foot pushing at his chin as he attempted to get sunscreen on her. “See look, she’s acting like a baby!”

“You’re very mature, mijita,” replied Roy, carefully rubbing sunscreen onto her nose.

Roy smirked at Sutan as he huffed in frustration, instructing Raja to stay still as she shrieked with laughter and tried again to wriggle out of his grip.

“Your turn, do my back,” said Roy, and gave Adore the bottle of sunscreen, then turned and took his shirt off. He smugly noted Sutan’s gaze briefly flicking over his chest, shoulders and skintight black swim shorts.

“Can I draw a smiley face?” came Adore’s voice from over his shoulder.

“What, in sunscreen?” replied Roy, glancing over his shoulder to see Adore’s smile. “Come on, you know how, it’s your turn.”

“Raja, seriously,” muttered Sutan, attempting to dab sunscreen on Raja’s face while she scrunched up her nose and craned her head away.

Adore smeared the sunscreen around until she’d mostly covered the part of Roy’s back that he couldn’t reach, he turned back to her. Sutan had apparently decided his attempts were good enough, and Raja rolled away from him off the blanket before leaping up. Roy plopped a bucket hat on Adore’s head and let her and Raja run off to the nearby edge of the water, with a stern warning not to go in unless one of the adults was with them.

“These fucking kids,” sighed Sutan, disgruntled.

As Roy continued to put sunscreen on, Sutan spread out a gigantic beach towel on the sand. With that, he dramatically dropped his robe, revealing a purple Speedo on his tall, lean body underneath, and flopped down on the beach towel on his stomach. While they’d hooked up the week before, their clothes hadn’t really come off, so Roy took his opportunity to look. Roy could tell that Sutan would’ve been fine in his prime, toned and leaned. The case was a bit different now, but Roy didn’t mind the lack of sculpted muscle tone under Sutan’s light brown skin, or the soft hint of his belly. Roy wasn’t particularly attracted to visible muscle tone on others, Roy worked out and kept himself in shape so that he could be the one being admired. He didn’t give a fuck if that made him vain.

“You wanna put some of that sunscreen on my back?” asked Sutan coyly over his shoulder.

Roy rolled his eyes, “Sure.”

Of course, there was something nice about massaging sunscreen onto Sutan’s warm skin as they both relaxed under the sun and kept an eye on Adore and Raja, who were running back and forth between them and the water, shrieking as the cold ocean hit their feet.

“Mmm,” commented Sutan, propping himself up on his elbows. “I love the beach.”

Roy followed Sutan’s gaze, and noted a small group of visibly gay young men walking by, heading to the rocky area that split the beaches. One of them, a lovely brunette guy in his early thirties with a truly fantastic ass, looked Roy up and down and gave him a friendly, flirtatious smile. Roy nodded to him as they passed.

Sutan watched Roy watch them.

“I picked a good spot, huh?” said Sutan, with a self-satisfied grin.

“You’re truly living up to your whore standards.”

“No, come on, this is perfect,” argued Sutan, throwing his hair over his shoulder and sitting up, and digging a floppy, wide-brimmed hat out of his bag, “We’re close enough to watch guys walk by and flirt a little, and keep an eye on the kids without, you know, having them be in the actual cruising area which wouldn’t be cool. I’m a genius and you should appreciate that.”

Roy noted another very attractive man walking by.

“Fine, you’re right,” admitted Roy, glancing over at the girls, who had found a shell in the sand, “Every other queer in L.A. will be at the beach on a day like today, so we may as well be here too.”

“Exactly.”

Raja and Adore rushed back to them, excitedly showing off the shell they’d found, and Sutan and Roy made appropriately interested noises and complimented the find before they ran off again, looking for more.

Sutan tilted his head back and shook his hair out, running his fingers through the long, grey waves. Roy stared for a second, because the action was so similar to the way Danny shook his long, dyed-blond hair out.

“What is this, a Whitesnake video?” snarked Roy.

“Whitesnake? Really?” laughed Sutan, putting on his wide-brimmed floppy hat, “Is it 1982? You’re really dating yourself here…”

“Says the greying one.”

“I prefer the term 'silver fox.’”

Roy broke his cool, laughing. Sutan smiled to himself and lay back down on the beach towel.

The afternoon ticked by pleasantly. The adults intermittently watched hot guys walk by, and took the girls in the water, equipping them with life jackets and water wings, because although it was a shallow, safe beach, the ocean was the ocean. Snacks were had, sunscreen was re-applied, and Adore and Raja seemed to be having a great time. The girls had decided to dig a hole in the sand near the edge of the water, and went about it enthusiastically with little plastic buckets and shovels.

Sutan lay on his stomach on the beach towel, watching a pair of men in their late twenties who were walking by on their way to the second beach beyond the rocky spit, and were eyeing Sutan and Roy in return.

“Hi,” said Sutan, his voice low and suggestive.

“Mmm, hey,” said the skinny blond one, pausing. The other looked Roy over and cocked his head admiringly. Roy raised his eyebrows in return from where he sat with one knee up, his elbow resting across it, and didn’t say anything. As much fun as it might be to flirt, he didn’t want to lead anybody on today. Sutan apparently didn’t have that problem.

“How’s your beach day so far?” purred Sutan, as the skinny blonde guy looked him up and down, biting his lip.

“Pretty good, but it’d be better with you, Daddy.”

Sutan laughed, and grinned like a shark.

“Oh, do you wanna meet his daughter?” said Roy, amused, “She’s right over there.”

He pointed about twenty feet away to where Raja and Adore were covered in mud and sand, still digging the hole and now building some kind of retaining wall around it.

“Uh-” said Sutan, attempting to sit up.

“What?” said the blond guy, his expression going from flirtatious to disgusted, “Ugh, wait, you’re like an actual father? That’s so weird.”

“Hey!” protested Sutan, as the blond guy shook his head judgementally and turned away.

“Bye!” sang the second guy, amused, turning on his heel to follow the first.

“What’s your problem?” said Sutan, turning to glare at Roy. “You just made that hot twink leave, he was flirting with me!”

“I don’t have a problem,” shrugged Roy, but he couldn’t suppress his smirk, “Daddy.”

“Yeah, right,” grumbled Sutan, taking his sunglasses off and glaring after the two guys as they made their way to the path behind the rocky area, “You’re just jealous because he definitely would’ve offered me his number, or like, a blowjob in a shrub somewhere-”

“Oh, so that’s what you want out of today?” snapped Roy, insulted and annoyed as the realization hit him, “For me to watch your kid while you fucking cruise?”

“Of course not, you really think I’m that irresponsible?” argued Sutan, frowning, “That I’d actually go off to fuck somebody and just leave her here? Fuck off. It would be nice to get an offer, it's fine to like, flirt and fantasize a little."

Roy scoffed and shook his head.

“I’m just saying,” continued Sutan, lowering his voice and gesturing. “I just- I never get the opportunity to even be around the like, community, anymore. And don’t tell me you don’t feel that too, because you were on me the minute you saw me at kindergarten pickup.” Sutan paused. “We’re in the same boat. We could easily share the responsibilities a little, since neither of us has a partner to help right now, if you weren’t so uptight-”

“I’m not uptight!” snapped Roy.

“Sure,” drawled Sutan, staring at Roy, “You’re the damn president of the single gay dad’s club and you’re not uptight.”

Roy had to admit it, Sutan had hit the nail on the head. Not with the uptight thing, but his previous point. They glanced over to the girls, who remained completely engrossed in their activity.

One of the most difficult parts of raising Adore alone, one that Sutan was obviously feeling too with his newfound situation of solo-parenting Raja, was that a good portion of gay culture and community happened in places like bars and clubs that were no longer as accessible to either of them. The spaces weren’t child-friendly, or events and gatherings happened during hours when they couldn’t leave their kids alone at home. Roy didn’t hold a grudge about it, adult spaces (both platonic and sexually charged) were important and essential, but unfortunately it meant he felt peripheral to the community where he had once belonged.

“Okay look, I know it’s... lonely and frustrating,” began Roy, turning back to Sutan, annoyed, “I don’t particularly like the way those waspy bitches stare at us at kindergarten pickup, either. I don’t like missing all the club nights, the leather and drag shows. Or not making it to dinner parties and events with my friends because Adore can’t come along, and who else is gonna watch her-” Roy continued, his frustration rising to the surface, vaguely aware that his speech was turning into a rant, “-or going on Grindr and having to tell some hottie who wants me to plow his ass that no, I can’t come over right now because I have to put my kid to bed, only to have him just completely ignore me the next time I message him-”

“Wait,” interrupted Sutan, sitting up straight, alarm on his expression, “Where’s Adore?”

Cold panic washed over Roy as he scrambled to his feet, his rant completely forgotten, frantically scanning the area as Sutan did the same.

But then they saw Raja trying not to laugh, her sandy hands pressed over her mouth, and, now that they were standing, saw Adore’s back where she'd been previously invisible, crouching down and hiding in the hole they’d dug, behind the wall of sand.

“For fuck’s sake-” snarled Roy, his voice sharp and angry. For an awful moment he’d pictured Adore struggling in the water, her tiny body caught in a rip current-

“I’ll handle it,” said Sutan firmly, touching Roy’s arm and bringing him back to reality, while Raja shrieked with laughter and rolled on her back, and Adore popped up out of the hole, covered in sand, a huge grin on her face, and Sutan walked over to the girls, “I think I know who’s idea this one was.”

-

Later, when Raja and Adore were sun-tired, sandy, and fussing, Roy and Sutan packed everything up, Sutan put his robe back on and they made their way back to the car. They’d dropped the earlier subject completely, and found other things to talk about. As the evening approached, more and more men and queer people were making their way to the second beach, the opposite direction in which Sutan and Roy were heading, and Roy ran into an old friend.

“Auntie Jinkx!” hollered Adore, shrieking the nickname and rushing over to greet Jerrick in all their beach-going glory.

“Hi sweetie,” crooned Jerrick, lifting Adore up and spinning her around, their ginger hair catching in the evening sun before setting her down, “Enjoying the beach?”

“I got sand in my bathing suit…”

Jerrick laughed, and Roy came over to greet them, offering a smile. It had been forever since he’d had an evening of liquor and bitching with Jerrick and their friends, but they’d known each other for years. Sutan nodded a greeting and kept going with Raja and Adore, herding them to the car.

“Well hello, who’s that tall drink of water?” asked Jerrick, eyeing Sutan up and down while he continued ahead.

“His name is Sutan,” replied Roy, motioning with his head and adjusting his bags of beach gear. “He’s a friend, his kid is in Adore’s class.”

“Oh, so the second child is his?” said Jerrick, ponderously, “Interesting, I’d wondered whether Adore had spontaneously multiplied…”

Roy laughed and cocked his head to the side, giving Jerrick a look.

“And he’s just a friend, really?” said Jerrick, ignoring the look and raising their eyebrows with a filthy grin. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” replied Roy, rolling his eyes. “Now tell me about your latest theatre thing real quick, do you need someone to do costumes? I’ve got a few time slots available.”

Jerrick quickly told Roy about their latest project, and they planned to have a meeting about it sometime when they were both available. With that, they said their goodbyes and headed in opposite directions.

Once all the beach gear was in the trunk, and the girls were sleepy and getting sand all over the back seat, Roy drove home. Adore yawned, and Roy glanced at her in the rearview mirror and couldn’t help but smile. Adore was sleepy, her once-neat braids loosened and crusted with salt and sand. Raja blinked slowly, looking out the window.

But Adore perked up as they drove past Dairy Queen.

“Can we get ice cream?” asked Adore, loudly.

“Yeah, can we get ice cream?!” repeated Raja immediately, sitting up straighter.

“No, you’re both covered in sand and-” began Roy, coming to a stop at the red light.

“Pà, please!” shouted Adore, eyes huge, pressing her hands together in a desperate plea.

“Please, Ayah?” begged Raja, expression pleading, imitating Adore.

Roy rolled his eyes and glanced at Sutan, only to see him turned in his seat, facing Roy with his credit card somehow already out and held between his fingers.

In a high-pitched voice, with a shit-eating grin, Sutan said, “Oh please, Daddy?”

Roy had been out-voted. He sighed and did a U-turn, heading for Dairy Queen, and everyone else in the car cheered.

Chapter Text

On Friday at work, Roy’s cell phone trilled out just as he was finishing off a seam. He glanced at the screen and recognized the number of Adore’s school, and quickly answered, leaving the pinned fabric in the humming serger.

The administrator on the other end told him that Adore’s kindergarten teacher would ‘like to have a conversation about Adore’s learning,’ and ‘it would be great if he could stop in for a few minutes after school today.’

Vaguely concerned, Roy put the phone down, pressed on the pedal again and fed the fabric through his trusted, well-worn Singer.

Later, Roy walked up to the usual group of adults standing around the edge of the schoolyard to find that Sutan was already there, smoking a joint off to the side. Roy suppressed his amusement as he walked over to Sutan, while the clique of moms wrinkled their noses and sent them dirty looks. Roy ignored them, but Sutan waved ironically, calling out a greeting that the clique couldn’t pretend not to hear, and awkwardly returned the salutation. Roy allowed himself a smirk.

“Hey,” said Sutan, as he noticed Roy, with a nod, “What’s new?”

“Nothing much, well,” replied Roy, putting his hands in his pockets, “I’m supposed to go in to talk to the teacher today, I don’t know what she wants.”

Sutan shrugged, taking another drag on his joint, “Probably nothing major. Adore’s a great kid.”

“Yeah, she is.”

They stood in companionable silence for a moment, while Sutan smoked and Roy remained lost in his own nebulous thoughts.

“That beach trip was fun, but we should get together again,” said Sutan abruptly, still staring ahead at the doors of the school, “Some night if we can get away from the two of them.”

“Yeah, for sure,” replied Roy neutrally, neither eager nor removed. He liked Sutan, but he didn’t want to commit to anything regular right now. Although the idea of getting some time alone with him again, if only for the company and sexual release, was tempting.

“Well, text me or whatever. You know where I live.”

Roy said he would, and then as the bell rang and kids began to stream out of the school doors he did the opposite of what he usually did, and walked across the yard. He went inside and down the hallway, navigating his way around kids and teachers and other parents and made his way to the little locker labelled Adore, and found Adore slowly and carefully tying her shoes.

Roy walked up to her and Adore looked up, expression momentarily confused, before rushing over to hug him. Roy patted her back, and then told her to finish tying her shoes. Adore managed it, her sticking her tongue out of the side of her mouth in concentration.

Roy took Adore’s hand and led her through the open door into the colourful classroom and approached her kindergarten teacher, who wore a practical, soft green shirt, and was just turning away from cleaning up some loose craft supplies.

“Hi,” said Roy, wary, quickly brushing some loose ends of thread off his shirt that he hadn’t noticed before, “You wanted me to come in.”

“Yes,” replied the teacher, known to Adore as Ms. Hytes, and known to Roy and the other parents as Brooke, tucking back a strand of blonde hair that had fallen from her French twist, with a smile, “Thanks for coming in, Roy, I just have a couple of concerns about Adore’s learning I’d like to discuss today.”

Mijita, go play in the corner,” said Roy, gently nudging Adore’s back, and she scampered off to a corner full of blocks that hadn’t yet been put away. “We’ll be a minute.”

“Okay, so?” said Roy, turning back to Brooke and crossing his arms.

“Adore’s a lovely, sweet kid,” said Brooke with a smile, opening her hands as if to put him at ease, “But she seems to have trouble concentrating, she daydreams a lot and can’t always finish the tasks assigned to her. She needs things repeated a little more than is typical, but once she finds something that interests her she really sticks with it, sometimes to the point where she won’t engage with anything else.” Brooke chuckled. “I’m sure you’ve noticed how much she likes dinosaurs.”

Roy nodded but didn’t reply, and held eye contact with Brooke until she looked away. Brooke hadn’t said anything that Roy hadn’t observed in Adore himself, and he knew how to mitigate and work around her particularities. If Brooke had some kind of problem with Adore’s behaviour, then she could damn well say it out loud.

Brooke cleared her throat and continued, “I’m concerned she might have ADHD-”

“What?” snapped Roy, “She’s not stupid.”

“No, of course not!” said Brooke quickly, adjusting another loose piece of hair, “Neurodivergence has nothing to do with intelligence, in fact-”

“It better not, because she’s not dumb,” interrupted Roy, glaring at Brooke.

A moment of silence sat between them, and Roy shifted with impatience and mild embarrassment, an emotion he abhorred.

Brooke frowned slightly, and continued, “I do think it could be worth looking into getting her tested-”

“She’s five, I’m not putting her on Ritalin.”

“That’s not what I’m suggesting,” replied Brooke, with a learned patience that Roy found grating, even mildly condescending. “Learning difficulties at this age can mean anything, but they usually show up on a kind of spectrum; it could be ADHD, dyslexia, anxiety, or even mild autism-”

“Isn’t it your job to make sure she’s learning?” said Roy bluntly, his arms crossed tightly across his chest. “Maybe the problem isn’t with her.

“O-kay,” said Brooke slowly, and took a deep breath, tucking yet another loose strand of hair aside, “I understand that this kind of thing can be difficult to hear about your child, but we like to keep parents informed if we notice anything. Like you said, it’s part of my job.

They remained at an impasse, staring at one another.

“Well…” muttered Roy, keeping his arms crossed, and biting his tongue so he wouldn’t snap at Brooke again. A brief memory of discomfort flashed through his mind. Second grade, some douchebag kid named Ricky mocking the way Roy spoke, saying he sounded like a sissy. Anyone who was different was a target. And having that difference pointed out and labelled would surely make it even worse.

“There is no problem with Adore, she’s a genuine pleasure to have in class,” said Brooke, calmly reiterating, “But I do think she may be displaying symptoms of ADHD, and that getting her tested wouldn’t do any harm. You can make whatever choice you feel appropriate with that information."

“Yeah, obviously.”

“Well,” said Brooke, “Thank you for coming in and talking with me.”

“No problem,” replied Roy, narrowing his eyes and nodding once in return.

With that, Roy walked across the classroom and picked up Adore’s backpack, took her hand and led her out into the hallway. By the time they were back outside, Sutan and Raja had left. Roy was glad they'd gone, he didn’t feel like he could deal with another human asking him questions right now.

“Is it okay?” asked Adore, looking up at him with big, worried eyes. He hadn’t noticed it before, but there was a smear of what appeared to be pink icing in her hair. It must have been some kid’s birthday. “What did Ms. Hytes say?”

“Yeah it’s okay, she just said how great you are to have in class, but sometimes you daydream a little,” replied Roy, and then he crouched down, and said, “Here, get on my back, you’re getting a ride home today.”

Adore giggled and climbed up on Roy’s back, linking her hands across his neck, and he tucked his arms under her legs, then stood and walked down the street, carrying her piggy-back style. Adore giggled and talked aloud, describing some kind of scenario to herself in which she was a pre-historic warrior and Roy was…. a stegosaurus, apparently. Roy tuned her out, the conversation with Brooke circling in his mind.

Later that night when Adore was asleep, Roy called Danny, and the call rang through to voicemail. He tried again an hour later, and had the same problem. Roy listened to Danny’s voice on the message recording before sighing as the tone sounded.

“Hey, it’s me. So Adore’s fine, but there’s something going on with her at school that I need to talk to you about. Hope that thing in Denver is going well. Call me back when you get a minute… bye.”

-

Roy stood at the edge of the soccer field with the Pomeranians flopped on the grass by his feet. He made small talk with some of the other parents, locals from the neighbourhood who’s kids were also in the pee-wee soccer league, and clapped vaguely as the group of four-to-six-years-olds chased the ball all together in a clump, running back and forth across the field. Adore, in her long red jersey, stopped to pick a dandelion.

Roy pursed his lips, as anxiety curled in his stomach. To him, that was just typical Adore, but now he doubted himself. Was it a sign of ADHD? And what was he supposed to do about it? Roy’s attempts to google it hadn’t helped him feel any better. Roy looked around surreptitiously, but no one seemed to be commenting on Adore’s behaviour.

Roy’s phone dinged, and he took it out of his pocket.

DANNY: Hey baby I got your voicemail but I’ve been super busy, what did you want to talk about?

Roy sighed, and pushed his stress down, staring at the screen and wondering where Danny was right now. He hadn’t been able to find the time to see Sutan again, except briefly at kindergarten pickup after school. Roy typed out a message in response.

ROY: Yeah I can’t really explain it over text just give me a call, I’m around tonight.

Shouts came from the field, and Roy looked up. Adore, while distracted by the dandelion, had been in the right spot as the ball came loose from the clump of kids, rolling across the grass right towards her. In the spur of the moment, she turned and kicked it, hurtling exhilarated towards the opposite goal. Giving the ball her best kick, she overbalanced and fell onto the muddy grass.

But the ball went past the goalie and into the net.

Adore leapt up, mud all over her her side, grinning hugely. Roy smiled and raised his hand to his mouth, and let out a piercing, celebratory whistle that made the dogs jump up and bark.

But Roy’s worries remained, even as they drove home afterwards.

-

“Be good for the doctor and you get to choose dinner tonight,” said Roy to Adore, about a week later, after school, as they sat in the waiting room at the child psychiatrist’s clinic.

Roy had been stressed out, the conversation with Brooke leaving him worried and irritable. But he had caved to her suggestion, and had made the appointment to get Adore tested for ADHD or whatever. Not that he had any intention of admitting it to Brooke, or mentioning it to anyone else. Well, he had mentioned the appointment to Sutan, but only because he’d asked if Roy and Adore wanted to go to the park after school with him and Raja today, and Roy had declined.

Adore heard him, but didn’t respond yet, fully engrossed in the wooden bead maze game on the carpeted floor.

Danny still hadn’t called him back.

“Adore, what do you want to eat for dinner?” prompted Roy, leaning forward and gently nudging her.

Adore looked up and smiled, showing off her missing front tooth. She hadn’t let Roy fix her hair before the appointment and it was tangled from the day at school, but luckily there wasn’t gum or paint or other debris in it. Yet. Roy hoped Adore would want pizza, because ordering in would be the easiest option.

“Pollo guisado? With ‘repas?” asked Adore, reverently.

Roy sighed. Pollo guisado was a dish he’d eaten growing up, and he made it semi-regularly. He’d experimentally paired it with arepas one night a few months ago in a burst of pantry creativity inspired by having forgotten several things on his grocery list that week. Adore hadn’t stopped asking for it since. Unfortunately, pollo guisado with arepas took a while to cook, and Roy tired and stressed out. But he’d offered Adore her choice.

“Yeah, okay,” replied Roy, “But it’s gonna take a while, you’ll need to have a snack when we get home to hold you over.”

Adore grinned and bounced happily, then went back to playing with the bead maze. Roy watched her, tapping his foot and unable to stop himself from worrying. If Adore was diagnosed with something, whatever it was, it would definitely put a target on her back at school. Kids could be spectacularly mean. Even if bullying was supposed to be ‘over.’ While Adore hadn’t had a difficult time yet, Roy knew from experience it could, unpredictably, become worse at any moment. And sure, he’d built a shell around himself and had developed a sharp tongue, an ability to insult anyone who tried anything with him and make all the witnesses laugh, but Adore wasn’t the same. Adore was sensitive.

“Roy and Adore?” called a woman from the far doorway. Her curly, natural hair was in a neat ponytail, and she wore a white doctor's coat.

Roy got up and took Adore’s hand, and walked over to her.

“I’m Dr. Monique Heart,” said the woman, offering her hand, and Roy shook it, “It’s nice to meet you.”

Roy returned the greeting, noting the small rainbow pin on her lapel.

“I like your sweater,” said Adore, looking up at her shyly. Dr. Heart wore a fuzzy green sweater with a brown and white spotted cow on the front underneath her medical coat.

“Thank you, honey,” replied Dr. Heart, with a smile, “Brown cows are my favourite animal, what’s yours?”

“Velociraptor.”

Dr. Heart laughed, and Roy managed a smile, and she led them into her office. The office contained a dual set of small rooms, one more like a therapist's office with a couch, a bin of children’s toys on the carpet and a large window on one end, and the other like a typical doctor’s office, with a desk and a medical bench.
They began there, Dr. Heart testing Adore’s vision, hearing, and reflexes, all the while keeping up an easy flow of conversation with her, the subject rapidly turning back to and staying on dinosaurs. Adore seemed a little nervous, but easily warmed up to Dr. Heart. Roy noted a small, framed photo on the desk, of the doctor with her arm wrapped around a beautiful woman with long box braids, sitting close together and pressing a kiss to her cheek. Hm, must be her girlfriend.

So it was with a vague sense of LGBT solidarity that Roy hovered in the corner, looking from his phone to Adore and back again, while Dr. Heart and Adore moved into the other room. The doctor asked Adore a series of questions and put her through a series of tests. But it seemed like Dr. Heart was mostly… having Adore play games and try to read things. Roy didn’t understand how it would help her do the assessment, and tried not to tap his foot impatiently and think about how expensive it was all going to be.

Roy didn’t let his nerves show on his face, leaving his expression at his typical resting bitch, but underneath his worry swirled. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do if Adore was diagnosed, and five years old seemed really young for all of this. It used to be that kids were either obviously developmentally delayed or they were just normal, right? It hadn’t been this complicated, and no one talked about fucking spectrums. Not that anyone had ever talked to Roy about anything like this, at all. Roy had been the oldest of four and his mother had worked all the time, his dad hadn’t really been in the picture, and he’d always been the one responsible for his younger siblings-

“Excuse me, Roy?”

Roy snapped out of his reverie, and faced Dr. Heart. Adore came over and reached for Roy’s hand, and Roy let her take it.

“Yeah?” said Roy, harsher than he’d intended.

“I’m all done with Adore for today, she’s an absolutely lovely child,” said Dr. Heart, with a disarming smile, turning to show Roy the notes on her clipboard, “Her symptoms are mild in this environment, but I’m going to give you a form with criteria to fill out as you observe her behaviour at home over the next two weeks, so I can make the full assessment.”

Roy looked at her blankly.

Dr. Heart continued, apparently used to this kind of reaction, “She doesn’t appear to have dyslexia, or to be on the autism spectrum. Her current interest in dinosaurs is probably age-based, a behaviour pattern that will likely become less intense as she gets older. But it’s something to keep an eye on.”

Roy mostly understood, and nodded.

“Okay good,” said Roy, trying to keep it light, “I thought you were gonna put her on Ritalin or something.”

“No,” chuckled Dr. Heart, “That’s not something I usually recommend for the under-seven crowd.”

“Great, so she’s fine, right?” insisted Roy, wanting something concrete.

“Well…” said Dr. Heart, concern momentarily wrinkling her brow, and Roy found her calm professionalism, much like Brooke’s patience, to be grating, “As I said, her symptoms are mild, but the testing process isn’t complete. You’ll need to observe her at home to see how environmental factors play in, and if she has dual households-“

“No, it’s just us.”

“Then that makes it simpler,” said Dr. Heart, tapping her nails on her clipboard, and Roy was annoyed with how she managed to spin everything positively. As though this wasn’t a stressful situation which could impact the way Adore was treated not only at school, but throughout her entire life.

“Given that she’s so young, her symptoms could change as she ages,” continued Dr. Heart, despite Roy’s silence, “And really, it’s when the symptoms interfere with learning and daily functioning that intervention is necessary. These disorders do occur on a spectrum. Keep an eye on her habits, and in communication with her teachers about how her learning develops and if accommodations become necessary then we’ll move forward with them.”

Again, talk of spectrums. Roy didn’t like that. He preferred when things were certain. He wasn’t sure how to ask how the diagnosis, the label, would affect Adore socially. Or what 'accommodations' even looked like, and if such things might make her stand out from the crowd in a negative way. Adore fidgeted and Roy realized he was squeezing her hand tightly, and loosened his grip.

“Yeah, okay,” said Roy abruptly, because he realized Dr. Heart expected an answer.

Dr. Heart nodded, and took some papers out from behind her assessment on the clipboard and handed them to Roy.

“Here’s some additional information, and what to look for,” said Dr. Heart firmly, holding eye contact with Roy as if to ensure he understood, “If you have any questions at all, please call me, and I’m happy to discuss them with you. I’ll see if I have the results to diagnose her at your next appointment.”

“Thank you,” said Roy, shaking Dr. Heart's hand again. “I’ll be in touch.”

Dr. Heart nodded, and then turned to Adore with a smile, and held her hand up for a high-five, “Honey, you did great today and it was lovely to meet you.”

“You’re welcome!” said Adore, with a big grin, and high-fived her.

Dr. Heart laughed, Roy managed a smile, and then he turned and left with Adore.

On the drive home Adore brought up the subject of dinner again and Roy sighed. It was later than he’d like to start something like pollo guisado with arepas, which meant they’d be eating much later than usual. And he was hungry. But Adore had been good, in fact she’d behaved excellently, so Roy would put in the effort to reward that.

Once they were home, Roy went to the kitchen and quickly fed the dogs, who were yapping and jumping at his ankles. He called Danny again, gripping the phone between his head and his shoulder while he took the ingredients he needed out of the fridge, as Adore sat down and attempted to undo the massive knot she’d made in her shoelaces. Roy should’ve bought her shoes with velcro, but he loved the way her little white Keds matched his.

The call rang and rang, and Roy sighed impatiently. He looked in the freezer and found that the frozen arepas he’d thought were in there were gone. Well, he had ingredients in the cupboard and it was quick enough to make them from scratch, but it was just another step making this meal more complicated. The call went to voicemail. Roy hung up, annoyed.

Adore came into the kitchen, with one shoe still on, complaining that she was hungry. Roy took some baby carrots out of the fridge and offered them to her and Adore shook her head and whined, “You said we were gonna have pollo guisado!”

“Well, we are, this is snack to hold you over, it’s gonna take a while to cook-”

“I want it now!” said Adore, stomping her foot, “I was good at the doctor, you promised-”

“Yes, mijita, you were good,” replied Roy, turning away from her to turn the knob on the oven to pre-heat, finding the cutting board and reaching for the knife block, “Come here and I’ll help you with your shoe. But you need to have a snack because it’s going to take a while, this isn’t the quickest meal-”

“But I’m hungry!” shouted Adore, her voice breaking.

Roy paused, and looked back down at her. Adore stared up at him, tears in her eyes, her little hands clenched into fists, and then she yelled again, breaking into a sob. It wasn’t about the dinner. The stress and worry that Roy had been trying to hide all week was reflected in her expression. While Adore had seemed fine at the doctor’s office, apparently the whole experience was making her just as stressed out as it was making him, and Adore didn’t even understand why.

That, and Adore was more observant and sensitive than she let on, even for an easily-distracted five-year-old. But Roy was tired and hungry and irritated, attempting to make this complicated meal, worried about Adore, and underneath it all furious that Danny hadn’t even bothered to call him back-

Adore stomped her feet and screamed, tears running down her cheeks, face red, descending into a full-on tempter tantrum.

“Adore,” said Roy firmly, “Stop that now.”

Adore shook her head violently, then threw herself on the floor and sobbed, “No! No, I was good! You said, you promisesd-

Fucking Christ.

Roy was an island. He’d always been an island. But the sea around him was cold, and dark, and empty. He took out his phone again, and, without really thinking about what he was doing, hit call.

“Hey,” said Sutan, a couple of seconds later. “What’s up?”

“Hey,” said Roy, putting a hand on Adore’s shoulder to pull her in and comfort her but she batted his arm away, screaming and crying. “Are you in the middle of anything?”

“Not really, we’re just hanging out, thinking about dinner soon.” Sutan paused. “But I can hear somebody crying. The appointment went okay, or…?”

“Yeah, no, it just took fucking forever and I’m trying to figure out dinner, she wanted this complicated dish, I’m trying to cook but she’s-” began Roy, running his hand over his hair, once, twice, smoothing it flat and then gripping it in his fist, feeling the roots tug on his scalp, as Adore screamed, before cutting himself off, “Look, I- it’s fine, never mind. We’re good.”

Roy could figure this out on his own; he’d find a solution to the tantrum, to dinner, Danny not calling back, Adore’s future, and the fucking ADHD. He didn’t need Sutan’s help, he didn’t need anyone’s help-

“Well…” said Sutan, and paused for a second. Roy couldn’t bring himself to hang up, while Adore sobbed and gulped down air in front of him. Sutan continued, “I’m bored and I was thinking about getting dinner from that taco truck by the park near your place anyway.”

Roy listened, frowning.

“I could pick up some tacos for everyone and drop by with Raja,” suggested Sutan, casually, “You good with that?”

“I- yeah,” said Roy, relief flooding through him that by some miracle Sutan had proposed an easy solution to at least one of his problems. “That would be great. I’ll calm her down before you get here.”

“Cool, I’ll be there in like twenty minutes-” continued Sutan, while in the background Raja shouted, tacos, tacos! “Yeah puteri, tacos! And we’re gonna go see Adore. Any requests?”

Roy looked back down at Adore, who was pounding her fists into the linoleum kitchen floor, screaming and sobbing. He sighed, and tried draw her in to him again only to be yelled at and kicked, “Chicken, if they have it.”

-

In exactly twenty-four minutes, Sutan arrived with tacos. Roy had managed calm Adore down, gave her a juice box and her favourite stuffed animal and got her to lie on the couch. The tired, confused, distressed expression on her face was difficult to witness, but Roy wiped away her tears and snot, and sat next to her, gently rubbing her back.

“Hey,” called Sutan, coming in the front door, which Roy had left unlocked for him. Sutan walked around into the living room, one hand holding Raja’s, and a big paper bag in the other. He wore a plain white T-shirt and black pants, his hair back in a bun. “They had the chicken ones.”

Adore looked up, confused, her mouth still closed around the straw of the juice box. The dogs barked greetings from their beds by the edge of the room.

Raja, who was fidgeting with her plastic bracelet, stared at Adore on the couch for a second, her face going on a journey from confused to sympathetic to jealous, and then she turned to Sutan and said, “Can I have a juice box too?”

Well, that seemed about par for the course.

Roy got up and carried Adore with him because he was feeling sorry for her, and led everyone through the doorway to the round kitchen table. Roy put Adore down in her usual chair, which she accepted with a dazed, shocked expression. Sutan put the paper bag down and took the packages out, and placed a chicken taco in front of Adore, which she stared at blankly for a second before picking up and biting into, while Roy got a juice box out of the cupboard for Raja who had climbed into the chair across from Adore without prompting. Roy and Sutan sat down, and then they all tore into the food like one big happy fucking family.

Or whatever.

Adore was much happier once she’d eaten, as Roy knew she would be, and he felt better too. At least the problem of dinner had been taken off his list. Roy didn’t know what to say or do now, so he got a damp cloth from the sink and wiped the drips of taco sauce from Adore’s shirt.

“Wanna go play with my Barbies?” said Adore to Raja. Her previous distress seemed to have disappeared but for a little redness around her eyes.

“Yeah!” replied Raja, getting out of her chair, “Do you have Princess Moana Barbie?”

“Wash your hands first,” instructed Sutan.

“I can’t reach the sink!”

“Well then there’s only one solution, buah hatiku,” said Sutan, and stood, and lifted Raja up by her armpits so she could reach the kitchen sink, and pressed a kiss to her dark hair.

“How come I have to use the step-stool?” whined Adore, looking at Roy.

“Because I’m not going to pick you up for everything, mijita.

Once Adore had taken her turn to wash her hands, somewhat resentfully showing Raja the step-stool system, the girls rushed off to Adore’s room.

Roy cleared the remains of the dinner off the table while Sutan sat and frowned down at his phone, texting rapidly. Roy refilled his glass of water and sat back down at the table with him.

“So what happened?” asked Sutan, looking up from his phone.

“Nothing happened.”

“I just brought you tacos, you owe me.”

Roy let the silence draw out. Normally he could get people change the subject themselves with this method, it always worked on Danny. But apparently Sutan was just as stubborn as Roy was, because he didn’t speak again, he just cocked his head to the side, and waited, staring Roy down.

Roy gave up, smoothed down the hair on the side of his head, and said, “Do you know anything about ADHD?”

“What?” replied Sutan, baffled.

“Attention deficit hyperactive whatever,” said Roy, gesturing impatiently, “You heard about it?”

“Well yeah I’ve heard about it,” replied Sutan, rolling his eyes. “I don’t know, doesn’t it just mean that like, kids fidget and get hyper or can’t pay attention?”

“Sure, yeah,” said Roy, crossing his arms on the table, “I mean it’s not that big of a deal, right?”

“Not a bigger deal than anything else,” said Sutan. “Why are we talking about this?”

“Brooke said she thought Adore wasn’t learning right and I should get her checked out,” said Roy, with a heavy sigh. “So I took her to this child psychiatrist, and she tested her on a bunch of stuff, and then told me that Adore’s basically…” Roy gestured vaguely, he wasn’t sure how to explain it, because he didn’t have an answer yet, and it almost seemed like he wouldn’t get one for sure. Dr. Heart had provided him with technical information, but it hadn’t really eased his worries. “Everything these days is on a spectrum, apparently, and like that doesn’t help me, I just want to know whether she has the fucking disorder or not.”

Roy paused, trying to reel in his worry and frustration, but it spilled out anyway. “I don’t want her getting, like, labelled with it. Kids are little dipshits anyway, they’ll pick on anyone who’s different, and if she- it’ll only give them ammunition. And she’s only fucking five-”

“Okay, so what?” interrupted Sutan, opening his hands, encouraging Roy to get to the point. His rings reflected dully under the kitchen lights. “You’re worried she’s gonna get bullied?”

Roy didn’t reply. Sutan had cut right to the point. Roy certainly had other worries, like getting the assessment done, what he’d do if Adore was diagnosed, if she’d eventually need medication or something, but at the centre of his stress was the reminder that there was cruelty and prejudice out in the world that he couldn’t protect her from.

And sure, as a kid in the eighties who’d never been able to hide the fact that he was gay, making him different, making him a target, Roy had formed a shell around himself. But he didn’t want Adore to have to do the same.

“Yeah,” said Roy abruptly, “And I don’t know what to do about it. I didn’t want to get labelled as ‘the gay one’ back when, before I even knew what that meant. It’s just gonna be same shit, different reasons for her if she gets labelled as some weird ADHD kid, right?”

“Well…” said Sutan, shrugging and sitting back, his tone somewhat cynical, “You can’t do anything to prevent what other kids are gonna say. We both know that.”

Roy smoothed his hair down again and crossed his arms, elbows on the table.

“But,” continued Sutan, “If she’s got a problem with learning or ADHD or whatever, and you let it go undiagnosed, and like you said she might not have it-” added Sutan quickly as Roy opened his mouth to argue, “Or maybe it’s mild but if she does, then even if she doesn’t get bullied ignoring it is just gonna make it worse and she’ll find her own ways to cope. Which I’m sure we also both know might not be the, uh, healthiest. So that’s something you actually can prevent.”

Roy hadn’t thought about it like that, but Sutan was right. And, for whatever reason, talking about it with someone who could truly sympathize with his situation was oddly comforting. Not that Roy needed comfort or anything.

“Yeah,” sighed Roy, “But maybe it’s nothing. I’m just supposed to wait and see if it gets worse, apparently. I have to do this at-home assessment thing and keep an eye on her.”

“Yeah, just chill out with her and see how it goes,” replied Sutan. Raja’s raised voice sounded from the Adore’s room, and Sutan leaned back and peered down the hall, but then he looked back at Roy when it become obvious her voice was raised in excitement and not distress.

“I don’t know about putting her on medication or whatever,” said Roy, and then he offered Sutan a conspiratorial little smile, “Not that I’m confessing to anything here but, uh, I might have snorted a little ground up Ritalin at the club once or twice, you know, a good twenty years ago…”

“Ha, me too!” laughed Sutan, nodding with nostalgia and looking Roy over with newfound consideration, almost flirtatious, “Maybe you’re not so uptight after all. But you know taking it like that is really, really different from how it affects kids, and meds can help a lot with that kind of thing.”

Roy chuckled and shook his head, relieved to have spoken his worries aloud. But what he really wanted, needed, was to have this conversation with Danny. Who hadn’t fucking called him back.

But instead Roy was talking with Sutan about it because, well, he was here.

“But what do I know about child mental health or whatever?” continued Sutan, tucking a loose strand of hair behind his ear and sighing, “Raja keeps waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares and coming into my room to sleep next to me. I don’t know if she’s too old for that now and I shouldn’t let her?” Sutan paused, rubbing at his chin, where a ghost of stubble was growing in, looking older as worry crossed his face. "I think it’s just an adjustment thing from the divorce and the move, but… sometimes when she comes in she’s like, shivering, and it freaks me out.”

“Is it every night?” asked Roy, frowning as he considered the problem, “Does she wet the bed, or-?”

“No,” replied Sutan, shaking his head, “It’s happening less often, about once a week now… but it seems like the nightmares just really scare her and I don’t like that.”

“It’s probably not a big deal, it’ll go away as she gets more comfortable in her new room,” said Roy, recalling the sleeping habits of his younger siblings growing up, one of whom had had weekly accidents, and Adore’s occasional bouts of sleepwalking. Roy continued dryly, “But I can recommend a real good child psychiatrist…”

“I’m sure you can,” replied Sutan, rolling his eyes, but he seemed relieved. Then he laughed, and groaned dramatically, dragged his hands down his face to press into his neck, and sighed, “Ugh, it just feels impossible sometimes, doesn’t it?”

Roy nodded his agreement, and the girls' voices drifted in from the other room as they created some kind of play world. Tomorrow, Roy would read the information Dr. Heart had given him, figure out the at-home assessment and proceed. He'd figure it out. As he was sure Sutan would too, if Raja's nightmares didn't go away on their own. The two empty juice boxes sat on the table between Roy and Sutan.

“Thanks for the tacos by the way,” added Roy, nodding, “You really saved my ass tonight.”

“There are other things I’d like to do your ass,” replied Sutan, with a filthy grin.

“Fuck off,” laughed Roy, with an unexpected surge of affection. “But I owe you one.”

“Bring Adore over with takeout sometime, we’ll call it even.”

“Works for me.”

Chapter Text

The dinner thing became an unspoken habit.

A couple of nights a week Roy would go to Sutan’s apartment with Adore, or Sutan and Raja would come over to Roy’s house. While the hosting adult cooked the meal or ordered takeout, the guest adult would keep an eye on the kids, who were absolutely thrilled to see one another, and, as Sutan had predicted, were becoming good friends. Sharing responsibility like this was easy. Roy occasionally began leaving Adore with Sutan and Raja after school instead of at daycare when he had an appointment or a serious deadline at work. He’d run an errand or two for Sutan in return. Adore seemed to like it better than daycare, when Roy returned to pick her up he found her happy and often half-covered in paint, holding up splotchy artwork for him to admire.

It wasn’t as easy for Sutan, because Raja became anxious when separated from him for any length of time other than when she was at school. Especially as the evenings approached, Roy noticed when he took his turns watching the girls, Raja would get worried and irritable.

The adults did their best to mitigate. Roy usually took the girls to the park, which helped to keep Raja distracted while Sutan had a break from her. Roy kept an eye on Adore for worsening ADHD symptoms, but she didn’t seem any different than usual. He tried to fill out the home assessment form, and planned the next appointment with Dr. Heart to complete the diagnosis. He wasn’t exactly sure what he’d do after that. As far as he could tell, Adore was doing well.

To Roy’s ongoing background frustration, he and Sutan hadn’t been able to find a night to get together and escape from Adore and Raja.

But tonight was going smoothly. It was Roy’s turn to host again, and Sutan had dropped Raja off after school with the promise to be back in time to eat. Roy kept an eye on the girls as they entertained themselves with Adore’s collection of plastic dinosaurs, and fed the dogs, and ordered takeout.

Sutan returned just after the food arrived, as Roy was getting Adore and Raja set up at the kitchen table. Roy had left the door unlocked for him.

Sutan came in and sat down heavily in the empty chair with a sigh. Roy glanced at him across the table while helping Adore spoon chicken fried rice onto her plate. Sutan had dark circles under his eyes, and his expression was drawn. In the chair next to him, Raja tugged on the sleeve of Sutan’s faded striped shirt to get his attention.

“Ayah, I wanna tell you about the dinosaurs-”

“Hm?” said Sutan, blinking.

Raja frowned, and stood up in her chair and clambered over into his lap. Sutan winced as she stepped on his leg, and then steadied her as she sat down, murmuring resignedly, “Okay, here you are.”

“Adore told me all their scientific names, and then we-”

The meal proceeded, Raja apparently deciding to remain in Sutan’s lap as she chattered about her day. He let her, reaching over to put her plate next to his and piling it with spicy shrimp noodles. Adore remained where she was without protest, focused intently on the chicken fried rice.

After they’d all eaten, Adore and Raja insisted on watching She-Ra together and Roy set up Netflix for them in the living room. He heard Sutan in the kitchen, clearing the table and leaving the dishes in the sink. He’d learned over the past few weeks that Roy was particular about how his dishes were done. Roy came back into the kitchen, the theme song of the show playing out behind him as Adore and Raja sang along, loudly and off-key.

Sutan sat back down in the kitchen chair and slumped forward on his elbows, his hair falling like a curtain along the side of his face as he glared at his phone.

“You look like shit,” commented Roy, turning the hot water tap and squirting dish soap into the sink. “What happened?”

Sutan shot him a glare, then sighed heavily.

“David is contesting the custody agreement,” stated Sutan, his voice quiet and bitter, rubbing at the dark circles under his eyes, “I can’t afford this, I’m already in debt and now I’m gonna need to pay the fucking lawyer again, and, and,” emphasized Sutan, pointing his finger in frustration, “I know for a fact it won’t go anywhere because he hasn’t changed anything on his end. It’s a waste of time and money. He’s a petty little fuck who can’t accept that he lost.”

Roy noted that Sutan still wore the gold wedding ring on his fourth finger, among his other rings.

“Well that sucks,” said Roy bluntly, leaning back against the counter while the sink filled, and toying at his silver stud earring. Things were complicated between him and Danny but at least they hadn’t endured a messy, bitter divorce. “How’s Raja taking it?”

“I’m not telling her, obviously,” sighed Sutan, “How do you explain this shit to a five-year-old? She doesn’t ask for him as much anymore, but I don’t know if that’s a good thing…”

He paused, and the noise of the TV and the girls giggling leaked in from the other room. Roy turned back to the sink, and put his hands into the hot water, washing up the dishes.

“Maybe I’m paranoid, but I have this feeling that she’s gonna like, choose him?” said Sutan quietly, with an unexpectedly vulnerable tone in his voice that made Roy glance over his shoulder while putting a rinsed plate in the drying rack. Sutan twisted his fingers together as he continued, “And then I’m never gonna get to see her. He was so good with her when she was really little, they have this strong bond… but he’s too chaotic, he works at night, I don’t really trust- it’s a whole thing, ugh. Fuck.” Sutan rubbed his tired eyes.

“That sounds incredibly annoying,” said Roy, continuing with the dishes because he wasn’t particularly good at offering sympathy.

“It is,” stated Sutan dryly, “Like, he was more concerned about keeping the car and the contents of our joint savings account than sharing custody in the first place. So he should stop being such a little bitch about it.” Sutan brushed away a single long grey hair that had settled on his shirt, with a look of disgust. “And if the stress makes my hair fall out I’ll personally murder him.”

Roy laughed, and reached into the sink, pulling out the plug and letting the soapy water drain, and said, “Want to drink about it?”

“I’d prefer to fuck about it, but drinking will do for now.”

Roy chuckled again, amused by Sutan’s crass honesty, dried his hands and went to the fridge to locate the bottle of chardonnay he’d bought earlier in the week. Not because Roy knew chardonnay was Sutan’s wine of choice. Not that Roy had been thinking about it.

Roy sat back down at the kitchen table across from Sutan, and poured two glasses of wine. Adore and Raja talked excitedly in the other room, apparently having given up on She-Ra. Sutan offered him a tired smile, then took a sip of the wine and grimaced, looking into the glass.

"This tastes like it cost six dollars,” complained Sutan.

“Six-ninety-nine special for you,” replied Roy with a mocking grin, and Sutan rolled his eyes, but drank the wine anyway.

Roy looked Sutan over again while he drank, his eyes going from Sutan’s mouth to his hands decorated with tattoos and rings, to the way his shirt draped on the frame of his torso, and a something tightened in Roy’s lower belly. If they could just get away from their kids, Roy would be perfectly content to skip the preamble of a date and a drink and just get right to it-

The patter of feet on the floor interrupted Roy’s musings, and both adults turned.

“Can we have a sleepover?” asked Adore, rushing into the kitchen, eyes wide, a small plastic dinosaur in each hand.

“Yeah, can we, can we please?” shouted Raja, wearing a blanket like a cape, turning her begging gaze to Sutan.

“Uh, probably not, puteri,” began Sutan, putting his wine glass down, “I don’t think you’d really like staying over on your own…”

But as Sutan looked to Roy for agreement, Roy realized that this presented an opportunity.

“Maybe not under normal circumstances,” said Roy, glancing to Sutan and ignoring Adore’s pleading gaze with practised ease, “But if we’re both there for them, just in case…”

Sutan looked confused, but Roy held eye contact until he saw the metaphorical lightbulb click on behind Sutan’s dark brown eyes. Sutan grinned, and looked back down at the kids.

“Alright, you two can have a sleepover this Friday,” said Sutan, and Adore and Raja cheered, jumping up and down, and ran off back to the living room.

“Who’s a genius now?” replied Roy, leaning forward with his chin in his hand, very pleased with himself.

“So what’s your angle, hmm?” said Sutan, tapping his fingers on the table and tilting his head to the side, flirtatious, “Hang out and wait until they’re asleep, and then we take some, ah, time to ourselves…?

“You got it, sweetheart.”

“Mmm.”

Roy took another sip of his bad wine, and let the suggestive silence linger between them. It was easy to drink and chat with Sutan in one of their respective kitchens while Raja and Adore played in the other room until they got tired. Roy wasn’t lonely, obviously, but this kind of casual social activity had been missing from his life.

Roy’s attraction to Sutan was simple, mainly based on proximity. Comparably, with Danny, Roy felt a deep, intense desire that surged in his presence to take over all rational thought. So with Sutan it was easy, just sex with someone who understood and could relate to his personal situation a little better than most. Companionable. Not that Roy needed companionship or anything, he was just fine. He was an island.

Sutan smiled to himself and topped up his glass of wine, and took another drink.

“Are you absolutely sure you never bottom?” asked Sutan, leaning in with his elbow on the table, his voice low. He exuded confident dominance, an odd contrast with his earlier stress and vulnerability.

“Are you?” replied Roy, unmoved, guessing where this was going. In the other room, the girls’ conversation transformed into some kind of mysterious sing-song chanting.

“It’s a preference not necessarily a rule, but I happen to think we’d fit well together…”

“I happen to think that too,” said Roy, offering Sutan his most charming, shark-like smile, “Thank you for volunteering, Sutan.”

Sutan’s dominant act dropped, and he opened and shut his mouth like a fish, looking so much like Raja that it made Roy laugh out loud, sipping his wine and raising his eyebrows victoriously.

“Fine,” grumbled Sutan, swirling his wine around in the glass, “But I’m gonna have to get my hands on some poppers.” Sutan rolled his eyes, then smirked, pinning Roy with his gaze, “Oh, and if I make this sacrifice for the club, then it’s your turn next time.”

“Sure, doesn’t bother me,” replied Roy smugly, because he wasn’t unreasonable, he just liked to win.

No! Malibu Barbie’s mine, you can’t have her!” came a shriek from the living room, followed by a thump, a crash and another yell.

Roy put his glass down and got up to resolve the problem while Sutan sighed and called, “Raja, chill out!” over his shoulder, and poured himself more wine.

-

Friday night rolled around, and as Roy drove to the school from work it occurred to him that Danny still hadn’t found the time to call him back. In fact, he got the sense that Danny was avoiding him. Roy decided that it didn’t bother him, he didn’t need to discuss anything with Danny, he was a competent adult who could make decisions about Adore on his own.

It wasn’t like Roy felt hurt by it or anything. He was merely annoyed.

But anyway, Roy was going to fuck Sutan tonight and that in itself was worth celebrating. Anticipation had been lingering in Roy’s stomach all day.

After picking up Adore after school and taking her home to pack up her things for the sleepover, Roy dropped her off at Sutan’s apartment, leaving him to deal with the kids for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Roy would return just before bedtime to get Adore settled. In exchange for watching the kids, Roy offered to pick up Sutan’s groceries. Sutan accepted wryly, and handed him some cash and a grocery list scribbled on the back of a receipt.

Roy’s hair was five millimetres longer than he deemed ideal, so he went to the barber for a quick appointment. His rare and precious time without Adore was meticulously scheduled.

Roy drove back to the studio to get another hour of work in, and texted Danny, asking if he had time to talk. He didn’t. Roy put his feelings aside, finished the gown he was tailoring, went home and showered, and changed into a tight button-up shirt and the same shorts he usually wore. There no need to be excessively dressy. But he did wear his second-favourite set of stud earrings with the red stones. Then he took out Sutan’s scrawled, near-incomprehensible grocery list and headed to the store.

-

“Pà! We made a blanket fort! Come see, come see!” shouted Adore as Roy came in the door of Sutan’s apartment, rushing around the corner with a huge smile on her face and taking his hand, pulling him into the main room.

Roy put down the bags of Sutan’s groceries and blinked, taking in the sight before him. The blanket fort was truly one of the best he’d ever seen. It featured a homemade canopy made from two thin blue sheets that hung from a hook in the ceiling where Roy was fairly sure he’d seen a potted plant hanging the last time he’d been over. The sheet canopy half-draped over Sutan’s desk which had been pushed out from the wall, with the long end of an air mattress underneath it, covered in pillows, blankets and stuffed animals. The sheets draped over a chair at the opposite end. Strings of twinkly lights were hung all around inside, giving it a soft, ethereal glow.

If Roy were a five-year-old girl, it would’ve been heaven.

“We made it!” announced Raja proudly, from where she sat inside with a huge grin. She wore a silver plastic tiara, and one of Sutan’s tank tops as an oversized dress.

“Wow,” said Roy, impressed, and turned to Adore, “Did you do this all by yourselves-?”

“No, they didn’t,” said Sutan dryly, appearing at the edge of the room, drying his hands on a cloth.

“Ayah helped a little bit,” said Raja, raising her hand with her finger and her thumb separated by a sliver.

“Oh, only a little bit, puteri?” replied Sutan, with an exaggerated pout. “Did you hang that sheet from the ceiling all by yourself?”

Raja giggled evilly in response and ran over to him.

“Look, look!” insisted Adore, dragging Roy inside with her and showing him every detail, while he nodded and listened, even as Adore repeated herself and showed him where she’d lined up every one of the plastic dinosaurs she’d insisted she bring with her.

Roy crawled back out of the blanket fort with perhaps less dignity than he usually possessed, while Sutan put away the groceries, having sent Raja off to her bedroom to put on her pyjamas. Sutan wore one of his typical outfits, a loose silk shirt on top of tight black denim shorts.

Neither Raja nor Adore questioned Roy’s presence. Sutan and Roy went through the slow process of getting Adore and Raja ready for bedtime, as the girls were continually distracted by one another, pointing out the differences between their pyjamas and toothbrushes.

Adore insisted that Roy read a storybook out loud to her before bedtime, as they usually did at home, so they got set up on the couch. Sutan puttered around in the kitchen and Raja entertained herself with her stuffed animals in the blanket fort, as both girls quieted down for the night. Adore yawned, snuggling into Roy’s side as he read out loud, and he put his arm around her, squeezing her close. Sutan came back in to hug Raja goodnight, picking her up and spinning her around while Raja giggled.

Finally, Adore and Raja were on the air mattress in the blanket fort with the lights out, whispering to one another between yawns. Sutan and Roy lingered at the edge of the room, making sure everything was fine.

Bedtime had been successful. It was barely nine, the night was young for the adults. Roy followed Sutan into the kitchen.

“The blanket fort was a nice touch,” said Roy, keeping his voice down and leaning against the counter near the sink.

“At least someone’s giving me credit,” replied Sutan dryly, and reached into the highest cupboard, taking down a small metal grinder, rolling papers and a mason jar full of weed, “Thanks for getting groceries, by the way. The girls had a great time, the first third of My Neighbour Totoro was a big hit.”

“The first third?” inquired Roy.

“Yeah,” replied Sutan, unscrewing the jar, bringing it to his nose and inhaling deeply, “Mmm. Adore had trouble focusing after the first little while, she seemed like super zoned out, so I turned it off and we made the blanket fort instead. She was back to her usual self once we were all moving around again.”

“Okay,” said Roy, wondering if that qualified as a symptom, “So… look, I’m still doing the ADHD assessment thing, what do you think that was about?”

“I don’t know,” shrugged Sutan, putting a few green buds of weed into his grinder and twisting it absently, “I mean, those Studio Ghibli movies are pretty slow. But Raja was paying attention okay, so it might be worth noting. It’s up to you whether or not you think it’s a big deal.”

Roy nodded, smoothing down his hair, lost in thought.

“Raja’s been okay with you and Adore in the afternoons, right?” said Sutan, taking out a rolling paper and emptying the finely ground weed onto it.

“She still doesn’t like it when you’re gone,” stated Roy bluntly, “But she’s getting better about it. Usually she’s fine if we’re at the park, or if I get the two of them busy colouring.”

“Well… that’s progress,” sighed Sutan.

Roy watched as Sutan brought the paper to his mouth and licked the edge, rolling and sealing the joint. Sutan glanced back at him, the energy changing in the air between them now that the girls were nearly asleep, their whispers from the living room fading into silence.

“Wait, did you get a haircut?” said Sutan, leaning in closer to inspect Roy’s head, and reaching out.

“I’d already booked the appointment,” grumbled Roy, batting Sutan’s hand away without any true irritation. “It just happened to be on the same day-”

“Look at you,” said Sutan, with a mocking grin, “Getting all cleaned up for me.”

“Who says it’s for you?”

“Are you fucking someone else tonight?” replied Sutan loftily, before smirking and turning away, holding the unlit joint between his fingers. “I’m gonna go smoke this on the step, do you want some?”

Roy declined, and Sutan went outside to smoke. Roy walked quietly to the living room and glanced at the blanket fort. No movement or voices. Adore and Raja were sound asleep.

Roy walked back into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water, then decided to be nosy. He peeked in the fridge and noted it was in about the same condition as his own; organized chaos. Plastic containers with leftovers. A half-opened pack of tempeh. Condiments. Vegetables in the crisper. Child-friendly snacks. A six-pack of the kind of sugar-free vodka sodas that Roy liked on the top shelf, and half-empty bottle of chardonnay in the door.

Roy shut the fridge, and something caught his eye.

The front of the fridge was plastered with alphabet magnets, photos, and art made by Raja, but among the chaos was a photo up on the freezer. It was a grubby polaroid, with Raja’s first Pride scribbled in pen on the bottom border. In the photo was a man Roy didn’t recognize, his broad, tanned back contained in a thin white tank top. The man had dark brown hair, and was smiling and glancing back at the camera, face in profile, with sunglasses hiding his eyes. He held Raja, who was maybe one year old, as she peered over his shoulder, looking directly at the camera with big brown eyes. She had a smile on her round face, and rainbow-emblazoned noise-cancelling headphones over her ears. Beyond them was a crowd of people, colour, and movement, out of focus.

Roy smiled to himself. It was a cute picture. The love in it was clear. It didn’t take a genius to guess the man in the picture was Sutan’s ex-husband.

Why Sutan kept the picture up on the fridge despite the bitter divorce was none of Roy’s business. But it was probably a similar reason to why the background of Roy’s phone was a photo of Danny, onstage in a swirl of light and movement, the mic held to his mouth as he sang.

The front door opened and shut quietly as Sutan came back in, and Roy stepped away from the fridge, and followed him down the hallway to his bedroom.

Sutan shut the door behind them, turning the lock in place, then let out a content sigh. He smelled vaguely of weed. Roy sat down on the bed, as Sutan turned off the overhead light and clicked on the bedside lamp, casting the room in a gentle orange glow. The low level anticipation that had been lingering all day began to heighten.

“Do you need anything?” asked Sutan vaguely, turning away from Roy and slipping his rings off into a little bowl on the dresser, then pulling his shirt off over his head.

“No thanks,” replied Roy, watching Sutan’s naked back, “I’m enjoying the view.”

Sutan laughed, and then took off his shorts and underwear. Something stirred in Roy’s gut as he watched. Sutan didn’t remain unclothed for long, he reached for a long, dark green silk robe hanging on the back of his closet door and quickly put that on.

He turned to Roy, expression amused, eyes dark and challenging. Roy smoothed down his hair, eyeing Sutan’s tall body up and down, impatient to touch him.

Sutan sat down next to him, eyes half-lidded.

“So are you gonna take your shirt off, or do I have to ask?” said Sutan.

Roy laughed, and acquiesced, unbuttoning his shirt and taking it off, then removing the undershirt beneath it, as Sutan brazenly watched.

“That’s much better,” murmured Sutan, smug, eyes raking over Roy’s toned chest and abs.

“So’s this,” replied Roy, leaning in and running his hand under Sutan’s robe and up his thigh.

Sutan met his lips, kissing Roy hungrily. Sutan tasted like weed smoke, and Roy slid his hand further up Sutan’s thigh to palm his half-hard cock. Sutan stroked Roy’s abs and chest, once again quickly seeking out his nipples, circling one with his thumb. It was… stimulating.

Sutan lay back on the bed with his hand propped behind his head, lazy, watching as Roy decided he may as well take the rest of his clothes off too.

With that, Roy crawled on top him, lowering himself down to kiss Sutan again, as Sutan ran his hands through Roy’s hair, thumbing the fresh, short fade on the sides of his head. Sutan’s skin was warm as Roy kissed his neck, and Roy relished the contact.

It was different than last time, more intimate than a half-clothed blowjob.

“Wait,” said Sutan, lifting his head, “Did you hear something?”

Roy froze on top of him, dead silent as they both listened. But no noise came from the living room, no sound of little feet in the hall, no murmurs or complaints or knocks at the door. The girls remained asleep.

“I think we’re good,” said Roy.

“Thank god,” muttered Sutan, and motioned for Roy to shift back so he could undo his robe and take it off completely.

“You do realize,” said Roy, ironically, “That in like ten years they’re gonna say to each other, ‘hey, remember how we used to have sleepovers, when did you realize our dads were fucking?’”

“Ideally they’ll never figure it out,” laughed Sutan, rolling his eyes. "But I like that you think they’re still gonna be friends in ten years.”

Roy didn’t respond, feeling as though any further mention of the future would collapse the emotional removal he’d done his best to maintain between them. But Sutan rolled on top of him, and kissed Roy’s neck, and they rutted against one another, rapidly hardening erections trapped between their bodies. The motion was hot and good, but it wouldn’t be as good as what Sutan had promised to Roy a few days earlier.

Sutan reached between them, loosely holding their cocks together and rolling his hips, and Roy let out a breath at the sensation, the friction and tension building deliciously between them. Judging by Sutan’s sudden intake of breath, he was enjoying it too.

“Okay, let’s do this,” stated Sutan, expression decisive.

With that, Sutan moved aside and opened the drawer to the bedside table and took out a little bottle. Roy sat up, and recognized the label. He’d been around the block a few times and had been with plenty of people who used poppers to enhance sexual experiences and make bottoming easier. Sutan opened the cap on the bottle, brought it to his nose and inhaled deeply, then shut it again and put it aside. A slightly solvent smell drifted around them. Sutan held his breath and then sighed, and turned to Roy, leaning back in to kiss him. His breath tasted slightly chemical.

Roy knew from experience that the drug hit quick, and Sutan seemed a slightly giddy and touch-happy as they made out again. Roy firmly stroked Sutan’s cock, now extra-sensitive, and Sutan let out an impatient whine. Very pleased with how this was going, Roy reached into the bedside table drawer for condoms and lube, then crawled back next to Sutan, who had laid down on his stomach, up on one elbow as he watched Roy. Roy carefully brushed Sutan’s long grey hair off his neck, and kissed the back of it, then down his shoulder. He slicked his fingers with lube and slipped them between Sutan’s legs, fingering his soft, relaxed asshole open.

“Are you ready for me?” asked Roy, unable to prevent the ragged note in his voice.

“Mm-hm, yeah.”

It had been a while, and Roy was achingly hard, so he put the condom on and slicked it down with extra lube, and then straddled Sutan and got to work. Roy tried not to let a noise of pleasurable relief escape him as he entered the slick, warm hole, and failed.

Sutan shifted under him, and Roy paused to let him adjust until the angle felt right, then gripped Sutan’s hip and started with an experimental thrust. Sutan took it well, with a sharp inhale at the initial sensation, and then a nod. Roy set a rhythm.

Sutan’s long hair flowed loosely down his neck to his back, soft and tempting.

Roy ran his fingers through Sutan’s hair, wanting to gather it up in his fist, pull his head back and really ride him, “Are you into if I…?”

“I’m not into hair-pulling,” replied Sutan, propping himself up on his elbows and glancing over his shoulder.

Roy nodded in confirmation, and decided to just focus on fucking him.

It felt amazing, much better than Roy was willing to admit. Not quite as good as with Danny, a bitchy little voice in the back of Roy’s mind reminded him. Despite Sutan’s admission that it wasn’t what he preferred, the breathy groans leaving his mouth with each thrust told Roy that Sutan was enjoying himself as well. Which was the point.

The tension built, everything hot, tight and close, slick with lube and sweat. Roy dug his fingers into Sutan’s hip, and Sutan arched his back, raising his head and pressing his ass back against Roy.

“Yeah, that’s good-”

Roy shut his eyes, Danny’s face flashing briefly in his mind, the sensation of Danny’s hair in Roy’s fist as he pulled his head back, Danny arching and moaning-

“Fuck, I’m close-” managed Roy, his eyes opening of their own accord, and fixing on the sweat on the back of Sutan’s neck.

Sutan grunted an acknowledgement and shifted, reaching under himself, arm moving as he stroked his cock, and Roy managed to move with him, holding them together as he was encompassed with white-hot pleasure.

Roy briefly astral-projected into outer space with the force of the orgasm, coming back down to see Sutan glancing over his shoulder, a curl of a smile at the edge of his mouth. Sutan’s arm was still moving, he hadn’t finished. Roy carefully slid out of him, taking the condom off of his softening cock, tying it off and throwing it in the waste-basket by the side of the bed. Sutan rolled onto his side with a groan, hand moving rapidly as he aimed for completion.

“Let me do that,” said Roy, and put some more lube into his palm and reached over to finish Sutan off with a quick hand job. Sutan shut his eyes and bit his lip, before spilling warm liquid all over Roy’s hand and his own stomach.

“Fuck,” murmured Sutan, blinking slowly as he came down, “That was actually really good.”

“Yeah,” said Roy, lying down next to him, spent and thoroughly exhausted.

Sutan sat up and reached for a tissue, efficiently cleaning himself up.

“My turn next time,” said Sutan, laying back with a smirk, his eyes sleepy and bloodshot. “I’m gonna pound your ass so hard you’ll forget your own name.”

“Good luck with that,” replied Roy, dryly.

“Oh and, are we having a sleepover too?” asked Sutan, yawning, “Or would you rather take off and pick up Adore in the morning? I’m good either way.”

As if on cue, Roy yawned.

Sutan chuckled and pulled the sheet up over himself. It was Roy’s general policy that he didn’t stay over in casual situations. And this was just a hookup made convenient for them both by Adore and Raja’s friendship. Obviously.

But then again, Adore was peacefully asleep in the living room, and what did Roy have to gain from getting up, getting dressed, and going home to his empty house to sleep alone, only to come back here the next morning anyway?

“Yeah whatever, I may as well stay.”

Chapter Text

Roy and Sutan stood off to the side of the crowd of parents at the edge of the schoolyard, waiting. It was a hot Friday afternoon and Roy had had a long hectic week, but he and Sutan planned to take Adore and Raja to the park after school. Later they’d get pizza and chill out at Roy’s place until the girls were tired and Sutan took Raja home. The rest of the weekend was up in the air. Roy was fairly certain that Adore and Raja would ask for another sleepover soon, but he didn’t want to force the matter. If another one couldn’t happen, he and Sutan would have to figure out a babysitter or something if they wanted to have time alone again.

And Roy definitely wanted more time alone with Sutan.

Sutan smoked a joint, his look complete with mirrored aviator sunglasses and a dark green shirt stained with streaks of paint, and black shorts underneath. His long grey hair moved slightly in the breeze as he passed the joint to Roy. Roy accepted it, shifting his weight to bear on one foot and glancing down at his outfit; a blue cotton tank top which he’d worn at work at the costume studio while the air conditioning was broken, comfortable grey shorts and his typical bright white Keds.

They looked good together, considered Roy. But he quickly dismissed the thought. He looked better with Danny.

“What’s with the shirt?” asked Roy, passing the joint back to Sutan.

Sutan glanced down at his paint-streaked outfit, “Oh, it’s my painting shirt. Most of my work is digital but this one video game designer wants like, original concept artwork so I was working in acrylics all day. I didn’t have time to change.”

The bell rang, and children began to stream from the school, heading to their parents or the busses grouped around the far side of the building.

Adore appeared wearing her purple shirt, her hair falling out of the ponytail Roy had carefully tied it into this morning. She walked across the yard faster than usual, her face crumpled with worry. Sutan shifted and craned his neck, looking around for Raja.

Roy frowned, suddenly concerned. Had Adore been bullied?

Adore broke into a run, her backpack thumping against her back. She rushed up to Roy with her arms open. Roy crouched down and caught her in a hug, his mind racing anxiously through scenarios involving Adore being mocked or yelled at, pushed to the ground-

“Adore, what happened?” asked Roy concernedly, holding her back to take a better look at her. Adore’s expression was distressed, but Roy noticed a streak of blue marker on her cheek and instinctively licked his thumb to rub it away. Adore whined and batted his hand back.

“Raja got sent to the principal’s office,” said Adore, with all the gravity of declaring someone was on death row.

The gravity was lessened by the fact that she was five, and had a streak of blue marker on her face. Roy suppressed an amused smile, grateful it wasn’t something worse.

“Oh,” said Sutan, mildly surprised. He took another drag on the joint and blew smoke out of the side of his mouth.

Adore continued without prompting, looking at Roy with big, serious eyes, “We were next to Katie during tidy-up and she was talking about her mom and all the things that her mom does, and Raja said that she doesn’t have a mom and Katie said no, everyone has a mom ‘cause that’s where babies come from.”

Sutan raised his eyebrows and Roy nodded vaguely. He’d explained to Adore in non-specific terms how she had come to be, but he didn’t mention it much given that Adore’s birth mother wasn’t involved in her life.

“So then, so then,” continued Adore, fidgeting, her voice high with worry, “Raja said no, she has two dads! But then I said how come I only ever see one?”

Adore looked to Sutan questioningly. Sutan opened his mouth to answer, and shrugged instead, motioning for Adore to continue. Roy was tempted to laugh, but managed to maintain a serious expression. Sutan’s strong, dank California weed was working, apparently.

“And then,” said Adore, eyes widening, “Katie got mad and said that Raja has to have a mom, and, and, and, she’s lying about her other dad!”

This time, Roy’s serious expression was genuine, and Adore looked at him as if to confirm he found the statement as distressing as she did.

“So… then what happened?” asked Sutan, expression concerned. But his tone was soft as he spoke to Adore.

“Raja bit her. On the arm.”

Roy really, genuinely tried his best but a snort of laughter escaped him anyway. It must be the weed. Sutan’s mouth dropped open in surprise, then he sighed and glanced at the sky as if seeking advice or patience.

Adore looked between them, and said, earnestly, “We have to go rescue her!”

“From the principal’s office, mijita?” managed Roy, grateful that Adore didn’t realize how unintentionally hilarious she was. He gave her another hug because she seemed to need it, and stood, taking her hand.

“Okay,” said Sutan, with a sigh, “I’ll… go deal with this. I should’ve worn a clean shirt today, I knew it.”

Sutan glanced down at his paint-covered shirt and flicked the end of the joint to the ground, stepping on it. His eyes were hidden behind his mirrored aviators, but his jaw was tense.

“We’ll come in with you,” suggested Roy, his tone neutral.

“You don’t have to-”

“I want to see how they’re gonna handle something like this,” replied Roy, with a casual shrug, “And we can still go to the park after if Raja’s feeling up for it.”

“Alright,” said Sutan, and they wove their way across the schoolyard among the kids, parents and teachers to the school doors and inside. Adore gripped Roy’s hand, her expression determined. Rescuing Raja from the principal’s office was practically Mission Impossible for five-year-olds.

“Wait,” said Sutan, as he paused outside the office and turned to Roy, lowering his voice, “Do I smell like weed?”

There was no denying it. “Yeah, you do.”

Sutan groaned, and pushed his sunglasses up on his head. He walked into the office, and Roy followed. The office was familiar, Roy had been here before when he’d filled out the paperwork for Adore’s enrolment. The reception counter sat immediately in front of them, and behind it the offices were divided up by walls with glass partitions. It was decorated with spring colours, given the time of year. Various admin people walked around, a few other kids and parents were talking or waiting. Adore inhaled nervously as they walked in, and Roy squeezed her hand.

“Hey, uh, I’m here to pick up my kid,” said Sutan, approaching the receptionist. “She got in trouble or something-”

But he cut himself off, glancing to the side, and Roy followed his gaze. Raja sat at the far end of a bench along the wall with her backpack next to her. Her arms were crossed, and she had a pouting frown on her tear-streaked face. Her favourite blue dress, the one Roy recognized from the day of the paint spill, had a several muddy stains on it. Roy doubted the dress would survive the year.

Sutan sighed heavily and walked over to her, “Raja…”

Raja glared daggers at him. Roy had expected Raja would run to Sutan the minute she saw him, as usual, given that she experienced significant separation anxiety. But Raja turned away from him, lifting her knees up and hiding her face.

“Hey puteri, what happened?” asked Sutan quietly, crouching down in front of her.

“I want Dad.”

Sutan’s back tensed, but he continued, “Adore told me that a girl said something mean to you, and you bit her.”

“Katie said I was lying about Dad because no one has two dads, but I do!” argued Raja, her voice shaking with tears and frustration. “She’s lying! But I c-can’t prove it ‘cause- ‘cause- but I’m not lying!

“I know you weren’t lying, Raja. But come on, you can’t just bite people.”

No! It's her fault!”

A few parents and administrators looked over. Roy glared warningly at them. He recognized Raja’s hysterical tone, it was similar to Adore’s right before she had a tantrum.

Brooke entered the office, and paused, taking in the scene.

“Hi Brooke,” said Roy, offering her an only-slightly-evil smile.

“Hello Roy,” replied Brooke, her eyebrows coming together as she glanced between Roy standing by the entrance with Adore, and Sutan over by the end of the bench, crouched in front of Raja. Raja had turned away from him again, shaking with sobs.

“Raja,” tried Sutan for a third time, a note of warning in his voice, reaching to comfort her. “I know you’re upset, that’s okay, but-”

“No I don’t want you, Ayah!” sobbed Raja, batting his hand away, her voice turning to an angry scream that split through the office, “I WANT DAD!

Sutan froze. To Roy’s surprise he stood up and turned away from Raja, completely ignoring her as she yelled again.

Brooke took a few steps towards him, and said, “Hi Sutan, thank you for coming in, there was an incident with Raja about ten minutes ago-”

“Yeah, I heard about it,” replied Sutan, crossing his arms.

Roy smugly considered the fact that he could never, ever possibly be paid enough to do Brooke’s job. Behind them Raja gulped air and looked around in confusion, but without an audience she’d fallen silent. Roy walked over with Adore and stood next to the bench where Raja sat.

“We’re gonna wait this one out, honey,” said Roy to Raja, who glared at him furiously. But Roy wasn’t insulted, that was approximately the reaction he’d expected.

It was the perfect spot, close enough to keep an eye on Raja, but removed enough to avoid being an audience for further hysterics. And he could still listen in on Sutan’s conversation.

“Yes,” said Brooke brusquely, nodding, “Another girl accused Raja of lying about her… family situation, and Raja reacted quite strongly.”

“So, where’s the other kid?” said Sutan impatiently, looking around the office and then back to the receptionist and Brooke, who looked at each other. “The one who provoked her?”

“Well, Katie’s mom came in earlier to pick her up,” said Brooke, “and they left-”

“So you held back my kid and not the other one?”

“Biting is unacceptable-”

Roy felt movement next to him and glanced down. Adore let go of his hand and took her backpack off.

“Yeah, I- look, I know she can’t just bite other kids,” said Sutan, gesturing with exasperation, “But she’s only five and it’s not like she did it out of nowhere, the other girl provoked her, right? You can’t just let kids go around saying things like that to each other-”

“I did reprimand Katie in the moment, and I’ll take this up with her parents-” began Brooke, glancing unexpectedly to Roy who shrugged, happy to be a witness and not get involved. He was only here because he wanted to see how the school would handle it. Not because he cared about how Sutan felt or thought he might need support, or anything.

“-and make sure she understands not to make comments like that again,” continued Brooke, who looked like she needed a stiff drink. “But Raja’s reaction was extreme, and we do have to follow our policy when it comes to violence-”

“Woah, we’re calling it violence now? What, was the other kid bleeding or something?”

“Well, no, but-”

“Look, I don’t know how early you guys teach like, diverse family structures or whatever,” said Sutan, making air quotes around the term, “But this kid doesn’t just get to accuse Raja of lying about her other parent, okay, it’s kind of a sensitive subject for her right now-”

Adore took a small plastic dinosaur out of her backpack and climbed onto the bench next to Raja, who had hid her face in her knees again. A man Roy recognized as the vice-principal came out of his office to join in the conversation with Brooke and Sutan.

Roy crossed his arms and watched the conversation volley back and forth between them. As Sutan’s frustrated increased, and it occurred to Roy that they were both a little more stoned that they probably should be. The conversation wasn’t going well. In fact, it seemed like the school was coming down unnecessarily hard on Raja, and the fact that Sutan wore a paint-streaked shirt and reeked of weed wasn’t helping him come across as the capable parent Roy knew him to be.

Out of the corner of his eye Roy noticed Raja peeking out at Adore next to her, tear-streaked and frowning.

Adore carefully balanced the plastic dinosaur on the bench between her and Raja, and said, “This one’s new, it’s a para- a parasaurolophus.”

Roy felt a burst of pride. Adore had practiced the name with him several times earlier this week until she got it right.

Roy glanced back at Sutan, who’d raised his hands, palms out in surrender at the school employees before him.

“You know what, it’s fine,” stated Sutan, taking a step back. “You have your policy, whatever, I get it. I’ll talk to her, and she won’t bite anybody again, alright?”

Brooke and the administrators nodded and agreed, and promises were exchanged. Sutan turned back to Raja, who held the plastic dinosaur. She turned it over in her hands, looking at it curiously while Adore listed off parasaurolophus facts.

“-and it only eats plants, and it has a big crest which helps it call, and-”

Sutan glanced questioningly at Roy. Roy shrugged. He hadn’t directed Adore, she’d acted on her own.

“Raja, we’re leaving,” said Sutan.

Raja looked up and her expression crumpled like she might resist or scream again. Sutan snapped his fingers and pointed at the floor next to him, his voice a firm order, “Now.”

Raja hopped off the bench holding the little plastic dinosaur, and picked up her backpack, rushing over to him. Sutan softened slightly when she arrived at his side, and he took her hand and led her out of the office.

Adore looked at Roy, offended, and said, “She took my new dinosaur!”

“Well she’s not gonna keep it, you’ll get it back when we get to the park,” replied Roy, exasperated. “Get your backpack, let’s go.”

They followed Sutan and Raja out of the office, down the hallway and out into the schoolyard.

Raja held Sutan’s hand tightly, and looked up at him repeatedly as they walked. Sutan decisively flicked his sunglasses back down over his eyes and huffed out an impatient sigh. He bent over to pick Raja up and carried her through the schoolyard to the street, speaking to her quietly but firmly before kissing her cheek and putting her back down. Raja nodded, and they walked ahead.

Roy didn’t particularly like the way the school had handled the conflict. He wondered if he should have pointed out the underlying homophobia in the situation. But at least Raja hadn't been punished or suspended.

Roy walked behind Sutan and Raja with Adore, and Adore surreptitiously tried to pick her nose.

“Hey, you know better,” said Roy, nudging Adore, who looked up at him with an embarrassed, goofy grin. “Ask for a tissue, mijita.

“Can I have a tissue, please?”

“Yes.” Roy dug around in his pocket, found one and passed it to Adore, who wiped her nose with it.

“Pá?”

“Yeah?”

“When is Danny coming to visit?”

Roy sighed. Adore had never really developed a paternal nickname for Danny. It didn’t bother Roy, because none of the potential monickers had suited Danny anyway. Adore’s first word had been papá, said to Roy with abrupt clarity late one night as he’d been slowly pacing the hallway with her in his arms, trying to get her to fall back to sleep.

“I’m not sure,” replied Roy, casually, “He’s busy, being a rockstar is a difficult job.”

Adore nodded solemnly, like she understood the demands of the music industry.

“I miss him,” said Adore, swinging Roy’s hand back and forth in hers.

“I do too,” admitted Roy, his heart giving a painful little twist in his chest. “You know he can’t wait to see you.”

“I know!” replied Adore, giggling. “Because I’m the coolest.”

Roy rolled his eyes and patted her shoulder, “Go get your dinosaur back from Raja.”

Raja turned back and looked at Adore, and Adore ran over to her. Raja glanced up at Sutan as if for permission, and then the girls ran ahead down the street towards the park.

Roy strolled up to walk next to Sutan.

“Well, that whole thing was stupid,” said Roy bluntly.

“Yeah, it was,” replied Sutan, pushing his hair back. “I was too high for that. And where did she learn that biting is like, a reasonable response to anything?”

The park was nearby so Roy and Sutan followed Adore and Raja down the block. When they got to the park, the girls dropped their backpacks by the bench and attacked the playground with enthusiasm. Raja’s earlier distress was mostly gone, but she glanced over her shoulder as if to make sure Sutan was still there.

Sutan sat down on the park bench, and Roy joined him. They sat in silence, and Roy surreptitiously checked him phone.

“David's better with this kind of thing,” began Sutan out of the blue. He took his sunglasses off and squinted in the bright afternoon sun. “Like dealing with the school. He would’ve known what to say to calm Raja down, and she’d never have screamed like that with him. She wouldn’t have had any reason to bite that ignorant brat in the first place if he was actually here, fuck.”

Roy didn’t say anything. Sutan was probably reading too much into the situation, but clearly having Raja scream that she wanted her other parent instead of him had thrown him off. The weed probably hadn’t helped. But sometimes kids just said things.

Admittedly, Adore almost never screamed at Roy like that, and never about Danny. But their situation wasn’t the same. Sutan’s ex-husband had abruptly vanished from Raja’s life, and she was having trouble adjusting to the change. The random accusation that she was lying about his existence had been too much for her. Sutan didn’t seem to know how to talk to her about it, in fact he barely seemed like he knew how to talk about it.

“He’s the better parent,” muttered Sutan, all resentment and self-pity. He flexed his right hand and glared at the gold ring on his fourth finger, distinct among the others. “He’s one of those people who’s naturally good with kids, he always was. They were so close. Of course Raja wants him instead of me when she’s really upset-”

“If he’s such a good parent,” interrupted Roy, gazing out at the playground where Raja chased Adore who shrieked and giggled, and threw herself head-first down the plastic slide. “Then why isn’t he here?”

“What?”

“Why are you the one with custody?” asked Roy bluntly, looking back at Sutan, who frowned confusedly at him. “If he’s so great, where the fuck is he?”

“Well, he’s-” began Sutan, apparently stumped. “I mean, he didn’t-”

“You’re not giving yourself enough credit.” Roy shook his head, and continued. “Sure, it’s ridiculous that she bit another kid, and dealing with the school is annoying. Being with her while she cries and yells and makes a scene in public is always gonna be frustrating and embarrassing, but you managed.” Roy paused. “And someone’s gotta do it. No offence, but your ex-husband isn’t exactly showing up.”

Sutan sighed heavily, crossing his arms.

“So if you want my opinion, stop beating yourself up,” said Roy, nudging Sutan’s knee with his own. “You handled it fine. It’s over, and she’s okay.”

A smile crooked at the edge of Sutan’s mouth, and he said, “I didn’t ask for your opinion.”

“Too bad, bitch, you got it anyway.”

Roy wasn’t usually one for inspirational speeches and wasn’t certain how to follow up, so they sat in silence, watching the girls run along the playground. Raja and Adore talked and shrieked and chased each other in a convoluted game of tag. Every few minutes Raja would look back at the bench to check if Sutan was still there. Adore seemed fine, happy to be outside and moving around after the long and stressful day indoors.

“You’d think a kid with two dads wouldn’t end up with daddy issues,” chuckled Sutan to himself, before inclining his head towards Roy and lowering this voice, “So are we having another sleepover tomorrow? Do I at least get to get laid after all of this, or nah?”

Roy laughed out loud, without any need to suppress it.