Fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from our favorite emerging writers
We were so excited and overwhelmed by the stories we received for our Intimacy chapbook that we had to share a few on The Rail! We're so pleased to publish this story by non-binary queer writer Rachel León. Whether you spent your long weekend with family, chosen family, or in solitude, we're certain you'll love this beautiful piece about the intimacies and intricacies of "unconventional" parenthood.
Keep an eye on Derailleur Press's social media for upcoming announcements on our chapbook releases, and of course keep an eye on The Rail for more brilliant writing each week.
- Derailleur Press
Adrian can’t sleep, his mind running through the list of preparations: he picked up the balloons and cake that afternoon. The invitations were sent two weeks ago — digitally through social media and fifty-three glossy photo cards for close friends and family. Did he go overboard on the invites? His attorney said he could have as many people as he wanted. But he’ll probably need more ice for the party… and would there be enough to drink? He bought eight cases of soda in varying colors, caffeine levels, and diet-friendliness. Plus, water; people could always have water. But maybe he should grab some juice, too? He will when he gets the ice — a couple jugs of apple juice should be just fine.
He wants everything perfect — tomorrow, Adrian will officially, legally, become a father to his son and daughter.
He always wanted to be a father, even as a child. “You’ll be such a good dad when you grow up,” his mom would say as he doted on his younger sister. He’d try to imagine it: a little baby with his chin dimple, the one kids called a face butt. But Adrian would teach his child to ignore the teasing. He’d shower so much love that his child wouldn’t be bothered about what people said about their cleft chin—they’d know they were beautiful.
Adrian found a word for what he was, what he felt inside, when he was eleven. But his kind of gay meant something different from the word kids tossed around at school. “That’s so gay,” they’d complain. Their word meant something else — something stupid or weak.
His gay meant liking boys, and he did. He liked them in a way that made his body do things when he thought of them. And then he’d do things to himself that felt good.
The problem was how did you know who else was gay? Why couldn’t there be some kind of a secret handshake, a badge only visible to other gay kids? Later he’d learn the word ‘gaydar.’ But it didn’t matter — he lacked it. Sometimes he had a feeling a guy was, but he wasn’t bold or brave enough to make a move. That move could cost him his jaw, even his life, if he wasn’t careful. He couldn’t afford to not be careful.
Middle school was the worst with high school a close second. He lost track of how many times he was called a faggot. A homo. A girl. How many times he was pushed into people. Into a locker or the girls’ bathroom. How many times everyone in class would laugh when he’d ask a question, or answer one. How people would tease him about his clothes, his hair. For simply existing.
But things changed his senior year when that sitcom came out with the gay lead character and the most popular girl decided she, too, wanted a gay best friend, and who else to adopt but strange little Adrian? That’s how it felt then, like she’d adopted him. And her friendship provided a protection against the terror he’d put up with for years. She was beautiful and beauty carried immunity. The assholes wanted her and her approval, which they’d never get if they locked her best friend in the weight room.
“They’re all idiots, Adri.” That’s what she called him — Adri, like he was her pet. “God, I can’t wait until college. That’ll be a utopia for you — tons of hot guys and all the sex you want.”
He began counting down the days.
College was not the sexual utopia his friend promised, but Adrian did lose his virginity and found his first boyfriend. They met at an outing sponsored by the GSA. Adrian gravitated to places where assumptions could be made — gay bars, parades, GSA-sponsored events. Sometimes there were straight friends in the mix, but it was easy to tell who was a friend. Adrian didn’t have gaydar, but he could usually spot straight people a mile away. (Is that all gaydar is — a reverse straight-check?)
After falling in love, they met each other’s families and moved in together. After graduation, they got their first jobs. Their future: full of possibility, a giant blank slate they could fill as they wanted. Travel? Grad school? Marriage? Kids?
Adrian’s boyfriend was in law school and wanted to center his life around his eventual career. He’d like to travel, but only after he passed the bar, got hired at a good firm, proved himself, and it became professionally acceptable to take a week off. And no more than a week, as that’d be frowned upon.
Adrian could see it: the long nights, the years of waiting for his boyfriend to be able to take a vacation. Personally, he didn’t care that much about a career, he wanted a family. Marriage! Kids! Travel sounded okay, but the idea wasn’t as exciting as a domestic life — a cat to feed in the morning, lunches to make before school, a family dinner with vegetables that might sit untouched, but the effort was there.
They loved each other, but sometimes love can only go so far. Adrian’s partner could’ve been the career-focused parent and Adrian could’ve been the one to shuffle the kids to and from daycare, or maybe he’d get a job working from home, or part-time when the kids were in school. Maybe he’d be a stay-at-home dad. Except, they were at an impasse: he wanted kids, his partner didn’t.
They stayed together for ten years. A decade! Long enough to get into rhythms — such familiarity, that comfort of knowing someone so well, shared intimacy that feels like it’ll always be there. Until it’s not , until it can’t. “I want you to be able to be a parent, Adrian,” his partner said when they broke up. “You’ll be a great dad. And you should be one; you shouldn’t have to give that up for me.”
Knowing that a decision is right doesn’t make it any easier, doesn’t make it hurt less.
Adrian never met anyone else he could be with. There were other men, but they never lasted. They were like trends, in today, gone by next season.
What had started out as a whisper — fatherhood — became an obsession when Adrian hit forty. He lusted after onesies and baby toes, wanted his shelves lined with children’s books and wooden toys. Single and desperate — not for a partner, but a family.
It was a TV show that gave him the idea. One of those heavy dramas about a roughed-up kid from the streets. The police didn’t know what he was running from, but after some sleuthing, one declared, “Found out he’s in foster care, turns out he’s had a string of bad luck.”
The boy had big sad eyes, and Adrian cried thinking of him bouncing from one bad home to another, this fictional kid who just needed a good home, somewhere he’d be loved. The case worker came to the station to collect him, shaking her head. “Unfortunately, there’s a huge shortage of foster homes. We take what we can get.”
Did that include single gay men?
The licensing process was long and intrusive. They needed his fingerprints, paystubs, birth certificate. There was a home study, which meant they wanted to hear about his romantic history, his relationship with alcohol, and had a million questions about his childhood. Forty hours of training and a ton of paperwork. They tested his water temperature, measured his bedrooms, checked his smoke detectors. Adrian worried he’d get to the end of this long process only to be told no.
Because his sexuality was a barrier to so much: private adoptions, donating blood, receiving assistance from the Salvation Army should he ever need it. Yes, people around here have their ‘Love is Love’ signs and a local restaurant serves rainbow cake in June, yet discrimination persists. Novels featuring gay protagonists banned by school boards. Churches he’d never be able to attend, much less get married at. He could see getting to the end of the process and being told, “Sorry, we didn’t realize you meant gay gay.”
But, miraculously,there were no nos. Four months later he was officially a licensed foster parent for the state of Illinois.
His first placement was a baby girl — seven months old who cried all. the. time. She was cute, but not enough for that. Top volume screams throughout the night. Adrian was too old for chronic sleep deprivation.
“I can’t do this,” Adrian told the case worker. “She screams around the clock.
The case worker said that was fine; they’d found a relative who wanted to take her, anyway.
“Warn the relative she doesn’t sleep.”
She laughed like he was joking. As if to prove he wasn’t, after the baby left, after Adrian kissed baby girl goodbye, after he cried himself to sleep — his body slept for nineteen hours straight. He missed work because he slept through his alarm, then continued to sleep throughout the weekend.
That next Monday he got a call about another placement. “How do you feel about taking a preschooler?” That age seemed good — preschoolers are potty-trained and sleep through the night, but are still cute. He agreed.
The four-year-old boy was mostly potty-trained, but not entirely. Mostly slept through the night, but not always. His favorite word was ‘no.’ A tiny word that seems innocuous until it’s all you hear.. Eat your dinner — NO! It’s time to go — NO! Let’s get you out of the bathtub — NO! Let me tie your shoe so you don’t trip — NO!
Adrian put up with the no’s for nine months. Long enough to grow a baby. It should’ve been long enough to help the kid grow out of whatever stage he was in. There was counseling each week, play therapy. None of it helped. The kid probably needed medication, but his pediatrician thought he was too young. “Maybe when he’s in kindergarten.” Kindergarten was another nine months away — another eternity.
But the boy’s mom had gotten sober and they were looking to return him home at the next court date. The case worker knew Adrian was struggling, but was there any way he could hold out?
Adrian agreed — they were moving to unsupervised visits, overnights. The next four months were bearable because Adrian got a break each weekend. And he earned his first foster parent badge: he’d successfully fostered a child to the end.
The mom would sometimes text Adrian photos: the kid’s first day of school, when he lost his first tooth. She told him she appreciated him and everything he did for her family. It felt nice to know he did something good, once he was on the other side of it.
After the boy left his home, the agency again wanted to fill the spot right away, but he requested a break — one month to decide if fostering was for him. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe if he spent as much energy into dating, he could find a husband and have a family the old-fashioned gay way. He could go back to online dating, nights at the gay bar. He tried, but struggled to stay up past ten — dating in his forties made him feel ancient.
After the month was up, he got another call. “ We’ve got a preteen. Two, actually.”
“Two? No way.”
“Okay, one then. The boy is twelve, the girl is nine. We were hoping to keep them together, but if you can’t take them both, they’ll need to be split up, anyway.”
“Twelve and nine,” Adrian echoed.
“They’re both healthy. Kadenis twelve and has ADHD, but he’s on medication, so it’s well managed. And Kacey is a very spirited nine-year-old..”
‘Spirited’ sounded like code for a hurricane in the making, so he picked Kaden.
It’s amazing how a moment so important can feel so ordinary. Adrian’s stomach didn’t flutter when Kaden arrived. No buzzing in his body. Kaden wasn’t cute like the baby or four-year-old. He had a tiny gap between his two front teeth, the patch of hair that stuck up in the backKaden was a math whiz, but hated reading. He was messy, but somehow loved flossing his teeth. (What kid voluntarily flosses ?) He hoarded food in his backpack, his closet, under his pillow. He could build anything with Legos.
Of course, Adrian didn’t learn these things at once. It was like dating: you took a chance on someone, and over time, you saw who you let into your life. So many moments of wait, I didn’t know you liked— Getting to know someone was a complicated dance. You were supposed to move through those surprising turns, and keep going. But Adrian turned off the music entirely. He’d stop mid-step to talk about it. What do you mean you—?
It was a different dynamic than with the baby or preschooler. This was a talking, thinking being who said interesting things and made jokes and got into trouble. Oh Lord, Kaden got into trouble. Not just at home and school — Kaden tried to steal a candy bar from the store. He was impulsive — that was the ADHD. But sometimes Adrian wondered if it was more than that, as it seemed like Kaden purposely chose the wrong thing every time for a reaction. When he did well — got good grades, had a streak of good days at home, did his chores — Adrian rewarded him. A special treat, a dinner out, that new video game he wanted. And when Kaden did something bad — got suspended from school for fighting, called Adrian an asshole, punched a hole in the wall — Adrian punished him. Grounded him from friends, from his tablet, limited screen time. That was the equation: rewards to reinforce good behavior, punishments for bad, so why was it not working?
Kaden’s counselor said he was still adjusting to the new home and. struggling being separated from his sister.
Maybe Adrian should take her, too? The idea arose each time Kaden mentioned her. Kacey this, Kacey that. Maybe he’d mellow out if they were together?
“She does need a placement,” the case worker said. “I found her a temporary home, but I need to find her somewhere more permanent. And she really misses Kaden.”
“It might be early to say, but we seem to be at a standstill with the case. I think these kids are going to need to be adopted.”
Adrian gulped, swallowing for air. He loved Kaden, but had kept that love on a leash. He knew the rules of fostering: love them, then let them go. That was the playbook. This was something else — love him, take his sister, then, maybe, adopt them both?
But he took a leap and said yes. It might make things better for Kaden. And if it made things worse, if Adrian couldn’t handle it, well, he’d call the case worker and ask her to find them another home.
Three weeks into the arrangement, he called the case worker and asked her to find them another home. The kids had teamed up against him. Things were okay when it was just him and Kaden, but adding a third was like adding gasoline. The dynamics were off. It was too much, too fast. A mutiny, really.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” the case worker said. “I’ll start looking.”
She called a week later to say there was a couple in the process of getting licensed, so it’d be another month or so, but if Adrian could hold out until then, the two could stay together.
A funny thing happened once Adrian let go of them in his heart, they snuck up and stole it.Kacey with her big brown eyes and crooked teeth. Kaden and his easy smile and stuck up hair. Double trouble, Adrian called them. But Kaden was mellowing out a little, having his sister there, too. Her presence tamed his wildness. And Adrian loved her infectious laugh.
The kids had their last visit with Mom after the court terminated her parental rights. It was always rough after visits — he’d been warned about that in his training. It didn’t matter how chaotic or cruel their upbringing was, that was their Mom or Dad and some illogical part of the child’s heart would continue to beat for that person.
As it turned out, a final visit was a whole different beast, one that transformed these children into literal teeth gnarling ones. . Kacey spat on the living room rug and Kaden kicked the coffee table, knocking over the glass paper weight Adrian’s ex had given him, the one shaped like Michigan. The one remaining souvenir from that relationship — busted.
Adrian stared at the calendar, counting backwards to the day he told the case worker he couldn’t do it anymore. Counting forward to when this new home could be licensed and take them. Another week. You can do anything for a week, someone said once — a juice cleanse, give up cigarettes, masturbation. Just seven more days.
When he tucked Kacey in that night, she kissed him on the cheek. “Mommy said you can’t be our dad because you’re gay, but you’d be a good dad.” And everything that happened before — the spit! the busted state of Michigan! — somehow mattered less.
Saying good night to Kaden, the boy hugged him extra hard, for a beat longer than usual.
Adrian didn’t sleep that night. Neither Kaden or Kacey knew their biological father, a man who remained nameless, faceless. An enigma. Their mother was toxic, but they’d never see her again. He replayed the moments he met Kaden, and later Kacey. He replayed family dinners, the time he and Kaden went bowling, when the three of them went out for ice cream and to the park. Kacey’s silly laugh and how she’d imitate her teacher. How Kaden always flossed his teeth and that stuck up hair.
The next day he got a call from the case worker. “Bad news. That home that was willing to take the kids isn’t moving forward with getting licensedI guess training scared them.”
Training had scared Adrian, too. An avalanche of trauma experiences and effects. A dose of reality to counter the fantasy: take in kids who’d been hurt and love the hurt away. Training showed what that hurt looked like. That’s what he was seeing hurt now, what the explosion the night before had been: not anger, but pain. Was he really going to turn away?
“You don’t need to find them another home. I’ll keep them,” he told the case worker.
“Wait, are you sure? They need to be adopted.”
“I think I’m sure.” It wasn’t the right answer. It should’ve been a resounding yes. The kids deserved that kind of commitment. The words should’ve been easy. Love should be easy. But it wasn’t — can he say that? Admit how arduous this love was ?
“But that’s parenting,” his sister said. “Sometimes I want to leave Mason, to run far away.”
“Yes. You act like there’s a difference between biological or not, but if anything, your love is bigger. I have to love Mason. You get a choice, and you’re choosing them. Maybe somedays you question that choice — who cares? I question having Mason sometimes, too.”
They had family counseling to help the kids process what adoption meant — the three of them a legally recognized family.
Kacey’s counselor told Adrian that at the kids’ last visit, their mom said he couldn’t be their dad because he’s gay. The counselor told Kacey that wasn’t true, but his daughter seemed reluctant. “We’ll continue to work on it in sessions,” the counselor promised . “She adores you. She’s not conflicted about wanting you to be her dad, but she doesn’t think it’s possible.”
He sobbed right there in her office, the kids out in the waiting room playing with the sand table. Sobbed about this never-ending prejudice. All the ignorance and hate. How unfair that straight people could have babies they didn’t even want, when he had to go through so much to be a parent.
But now, despite the long tenuous journey, here they are: adoption day.
Adrian makes coffee — a hazelnut roast he’s trying to convince himself doesn’t need sweetening. He’s making an effort to be more health-conscious — watching his fiber and sugar intake, his cholesterol, for wouldn’t it be cruel to adopt these two, then die and leave them orphans?
“Hi, Dad,” Kaden says, entering the kitchen. For the first year, Kaden called him Adrian before switching to nothing at all. A vague hey, you. As if ‘Adrian’ no longer felt right, but he wasn’t ready for ‘Dad,’ either. But today he was.
“Hi, Son,” he chokes out, pressing back tears as he kisses Kaden . “Want eggs? I could make pancakes.”
“Nah, I’m too nervous to eat.”
“Me too,” Adrian admits. “Are you having second thoughts?”
Kaden shakes his head. “Are you?”
“Not at all. It just feels big.”
“Huge,” Kaden agrees. “Kacey and I made you something.” He holds out an envelope. “But can you wait to read it?”
As the kids get ready, in that restless I-feel-like-I-could-explode excitement, Adrian does what most do: he posts on social media. Today is the day! I will officially, legally be K & K’s father.
Thirty minutes later, the post has forty-three likes and thirteen comments. One from his old high school friend: Bestie! This makes me SOOOOO happy. Congrats, boo! xoxo And one from his ex: WOW. What lucky kids . Congratulations.
At the courthouse, they check in and his attorney runs through the proceedings. The attorney assigned as the kids’ guardian ad litem takes them somewhere to talk.
Adrian pulls out the envelope. Inside is a piece of paper in agonizingly careful writing: Thank you for adopting us. We love you Dad.
Adrian ugly-cries on the bench. His body shaking the way the kids’ did the night of their last visit
Then: a hand on his shoulder. “Dad, it’s time.”
In the courtroom their whole family packs in the benches. His sister holds up a sign — Happy Adoption Day Kacey, Kaden & Adrian! The room is full of so much support and love, the judge says she’s never seen such a big crowd.
The adoption takes all of seven minutes. It’s remarkably unremarkable. But it’s official, legal.
“Dad!” Kacey and Kaden both tackle Adrian with hugs. Something inside him bursts. Like fireworks: a rocket rising, then exploding. His body filled with love and wonder.
Rachel León has worked in foster care for over a decade. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Chicago Review of Books, Fiction Writers Review, Entropy, (mac)ro(mic), The Rupture, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. She is currently working on an intersectional novel about the foster care system.