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 kicking off the series with a delightful story from Christy Admiraal. While editing this piece, I was particularly enamored of its warmth and humor, not to mention how the two characters felt lived in and distinctly human. In Christy's words, this is a story "loosely based around the concept of intimacy, but mostly about kissing" and I'm positive you're going to love it as much as I did
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
Nico would never call himself a baker, though, by definition, that was what he was. Yes, he had a semi-fulfilling day job in marcomm, he ran five mornings every week, and he possessed a borderline encyclopedic knowledge of cult movies, but baking—baking was different. Baking was solace. Whenever he had to work past 8pm, he made a pan of blueberry muffins with lemon zest and browned butter. Whenever things went south with someone he’d seen a glimpse of a future with, he perfected the crust of his key lime cheesecake. And whenever he had to run interference on a petty disagreement between his mother and youngest sister, he returned to his absolute favorite recipe: a chocolate chip and oatmeal cookie with the darkest possible brown sugar, best served with homemade vanilla ice cream on the side. He called the cookie Layton’s Folly, after his own last name and the fact that adding chocolate chips to oatmeal raisin batter had been a complete fuckup on his part. He couldn’t argue with the result, which tasted nothing like a mistake, and he’d been baking and eating or freezing the fruits of his labor ever since.
For tonight, he’d baked a batch of lemon bars. Jenny had told him they were her favorite when he asked—not out of pure curiosity, but because Nico knew he wanted to bake her something, and he wanted to be sure she’d actually enjoy it. He liked to make a good impression on a first date, especially one he was excited about. And he was excited. But he was also annoyed.
By all rights, Nico should have been annoyed at Jenny, not himself. Jenny was the one who was running late, the one who’d forced him out of his apartment and into a dive he’d normally walk past without a second glance, the one who’d kept him up past midnight texting the past three nights. But no, it was Nico who Nico was annoyed with. Nico was the one who hadn’t checked his phone before eagerly tearing the wrapper off the straw in the gin and seltzer and hand-squeezed lime concoction he’d conceded to when the bartender said he was out of simple syrup. Now, even though Jenny wouldn’t be joining him for another 15 minutes, he had to have his first drink. He’d fully intended to wait, but if he waited, he was just a single guy with a five o’clock shadow and a dour expression staring at a glass of something. Had he known a minute or two before, he wouldn’t have ordered yet. Or maybe he would have ordered something he could nurse, a double shot of something sharp. Maybe he still would. No. Dumb. Dumb to be two drinks deep by the time your date arrived, unless said date knew you well enough to know you weren’t a functional alcoholic. Nico was a great many things, but he wasn’t that. He comforted himself with that fact and a New Yorker long read about domesticated foxes until Jenny arrived.
The thing about Nico—not the only thing, but one of a great many things, and the thing Jenny found herself most focused on—was his sweetness. It wasn’t cloying or forced or too much for her. It simply was, and it was the first time Jenny had encountered it to this degree, and she wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. She arrived late to their date and immediately, apologetically offered to pay for the first round, but Nico had already opened a tab and waved his hand dismissively and told her she could pay next time, if there was one, and if there wasn’t, “Then it’s been lovely to meet you.” Then he extended his hand for her to shake, and she must have looked stymied, or horrified, or some combination thereof, because Nico laughed and asked if she’d rather hug, and because he was as cute and as pleasant as he’d come off in photos and text respectively, she said yes, she would. Nico hopped off his stool at the bar and looped his arms around her neck, loosely, for about a second or two, then hopped back on and patted the stool next to his.
“I brought lemon bars,” he said.
“You remembered!” Jenny felt herself blushing. She’d mentioned they were her favorite but didn’t know Nico would remember that.
“Thank you. I brought you something, too.”
She nodded, shaking the crumpled paper bag in her hand. The bartender glanced over and looked at her expectantly. “Could I have a gin and seltzer?” asked Jenny. The bartender nodded, and Nico raised his glass to Jenny, smiling.
“Sorry I didn’t wait to start drinking,” he said. “Nerves and all.”
“That’s OK,” said Jenny, meaning it. In his position, she would’ve done the same thing. Nico rummaged through the messenger bag hanging on the hook between their stools beneath the bar and pulled out a Ziploc containing three bars. “In case you wanted to take any home.”
“That’s so kind of you,” said Jenny, carefully placing the Ziploc on the counter. It was kind, and she wondered if the kindness had a well, and if it would dry up, and where they’d be then. But this was still the first date and she didn’t have to take that into consideration yet. She put her own bag on the counter in front of Nico.
“It’s not going to seem like much now,” she said. “But I got you a cookie. Do you know Oscar’s?”
Jenny watched as Nico’s eyes narrowed for a split second before his facial expression relaxed back into easy kindness. “Yeah, I think I’ve heard of them. Is this the oatmeal one? With chocolate chunks?” Nico opened the bag and unwrapped the cookie. “Ah. So it is.” His face darkened again slightly.
“What? You don’t like it?”
“Oh, it’s not that, it was very sweet of you to bring it,” said Nico, smiling at her, then frowning back down at the cookie. “It’s just…OK, can I be real with you for a second?”
“Have you not been so far?” Jenny raised an eyebrow, and Nico laughed. The bartender delivered Jenny’s drink, and she took a sip.
“I’ve been real,” Nico reassured her. “But it’s just, OK, let’s talk about Oscar’s. Oscar’s was started by a guy who really cared about quality. The cookbook he released before he got famous? Amazing. A revelation. My copy, especially all the pages with pies, it’s filthy. The pages stick together. I just really love that book.” Nico stopped to take a swig of his drink, then continued, “Then the guy franchises his bakery, and the stuff becomes a…a production. Cookies get names like ‘World’s Fanciest’ and ‘The Ultimate Chip’ and there’s happy hour promos and all these gimmicks. And then there’s this.” Nico picked up the cookie Jenny had brought for him. “This is The Thicc, right?”
Jenny didn’t realize one could possibly be embarrassed by the purchase of a cookie. Embarrassment wasn’t really her thing, and had never been. There was an odd sort of confidence that came from being the youngest child and the only girl. At an early age, she’d learned that physically overpowering her brothers was a fool’s errand and had to develop some other means of fighting back. That was when she became what the adults in her life referred to as “mouthy.”
“You were like the world’s smallest insult comic,” her father told her years later. “It was so hard to tell you to stop when everything you said was so funny. You didn’t know how to tell a joke in the right order. You’d say ‘Get it?’ and ‘Give up?’ when you weren’t supposed to. But you always got to the punchline eventually. And sometimes, it was really mean.”
Now, in adulthood, Jenny’s humor was no longer mean-spirited. Still, the bravado she’d had as a kid remained, especially when she was trying, and succeeding, to be the funniest person in the room. But when a situation without humor presented itself, some of that bravado fell away. And, as she nodded to confirm that, yes, this was The Thicc, and Nico’s eyes were all but aflame, Jenny practically felt her bravado dissolve into a puddle on the floor beneath her.
“The Thicc is a concept, not a cookie,” said Nico. “It’s too decadent by half. It’s saturated with oversweet chocolate and candied walnuts and the lightest possible brown sugar--not what you want for an oatmeal cookie, by the way. It’s all these elements that don’t really mesh well together but it’s so sweet and so—so thick that you won’t notice till it’s already gone and you feel as though you’ve eaten a fucking brick.” Nico took a bite of the cookie -- sullenly, if that was possible, and put it down, looking a bit bewildered at his own outburst.
Jenny waited a beat. She wasn’t embarrassed anymore. Sure, she’d given Nico something he hated. But, if either of them looked ridiculous at this point, it certainly wasn’t her.
“So,” she said, drawing out the word.
Nico’s expression went from bewildered to abashed, and Jenny couldn’t help thinking how cute he was when he was embarrassed. It helped that she was past her own.
“I—” Nico started, and Jenny put up her hand, cutting him off.
“That’s what works you up, huh?” she asked. “The chip on your shoulder is a literal chocolate chip?” She delivered her punchline with pride, and Nico laughed, still looking embarrassed, but more at ease.
"Yeah, I guess so,” he said, then paused and looked Jenny in the eye, something he’d been doing consistently, but not creepily. Fine line, that. “Think you can handle that?”
“I’ll try.” Jenny smiled at Nico. “So, did you want one of your own lemon bars instead?”
“I really shouldn’t,” said Nico. “They’re for you.” Jenny rolled her eyes, opened the Ziploc, and handed him a bar anyway, taking one for herself.
Watching someone eat something he’d made, especially for the first time, always made Nico nervous. Sure, he knew he was good at baking, but he also knew that not everyone liked the same things, and something like a lemon bar could be particularly tricky. Achieving the perfect balance of sweet and sour was next to impossible. Nico had been tuning up the recipe for years and felt reasonably confident about it now. But he’d never met Jenny. He didn’t know the precise nature of Jenny’s taste buds. Hopefully that wouldn’t be a problem.
Judging by the look she gave him as she took the first bite, it wasn’t.
“I knew you baked,” she said. “But I didn’t know you were a fucking artist.”
Nico laughed and only briefly considered faking modesty before saying, “Yeah, well, now you do. Any notes?”
Jenny shook her head. “We went over this. I don’t bake. And who critiques genius?”
Nico shrugged. “Lots of people. What’s your degree in, again? Sorry, I know it’s something in STEM.”
“Math,” she said. “Lots of actuaries get math degrees. Some do econ, too.”
“Right. I did comparative literature. And that’s basically four years of critiquing genius.”
“But is there a point in it?” Jenny asked. “Sorry. I don’t mean to dismiss your entire education.”
“Oh, feel free,” said Nico. “I do it all the time.”
Nico ate funnily. He nibbled the lemon bar but didn’t bite, and his expression was closer to frowning than completely neutral. Maybe it was because he was eating something he’d made himself and didn’t want to look as though he was experiencing too much pleasure. They’d talked enough that Jenny knew Nico doubted himself. He’d been so surprised and flattered when she’d asked him out. (Flattery could be hard to convey via text without appearing too earnest, but Nico had simply said, “I’m flattered!” A man who said what he meant: how novel!) Jenny knew from experience that, more often than not, if you let a text conversation with a new person drop off for even just a few days, you’d never speak to them again. And the softer the man, the less likely they were to propose actual plans. Jenny’s strong suspicion before she met him in person was Nico was as soft as they came. She liked that, and she liked talking to him, and because she had a good feeling about this, she had to be the one who proposed meeting up. Nico, after expressing his flattery, claimed he’d been planning on asking her out, and whether it was true or not, here they were, Nico with his oddly tentative bites and stupidly long eyelashes and plaid collar peeking out under his cable-knit sweater. It occurred to Jenny that she wanted to sleep with him. Not yet. But soon.
“Do you regret college, then?” she asked him.
“That’s a really good question, actually,” he said, adding, “I don’t mean ‘actually’ as in ‘I can’t believe you would ask a good question,’ because of course you would, you’re smart as fuck.” Jenny laughed, and Nico smiled and went on, “More like, I’m not sure I know the answer to that. I liked college for the making-friends and developing-taste parts. But I don’t know if I really learned a ton, and it’s still really hard to get jobs even with a bachelor’s, you know? How about you?”
“You can’t really be an actuary without at least one degree.”
Nico wagged his finger. “Not an answer.”
“Well, now you’re asking me if I find fulfillment in my career,” said Jenny. “That’s at least a third date question.”
“Fair point.” He was still smiling. She wanted to kiss it, not off his face, but to give him another reason to smile, to sustain what he looked like right now. But not yet. The night was young—Nico was only just finishing his first drink and attempting to make eye contact with the bartender in order to get another—and while Jenny was close to sure he’d enthusiastically consent to kissing her, she was enjoying their conversation far too much to cut it short. Maybe after the next round. No, not maybe. After the next round, she would.
“So you think we’ll make it to the third date, then?” Nico asked. It felt reckless, but only because vulnerability always did, no matter how flirtatious.
Jenny began to answer but was cut off by the bartender asking for Nico’s order. Nico looked at her questioningly, and she nodded. “I’ll have a Goose Island.”
“I’ll have the same,” Nico said. The bartender nodded and went to the taps. “You were saying?”
“Oh, yeah. Making it to the third date. I didn’t say that,” said Jenny. “But now you know what to expect in case we do.”
“Yeah, mostly that. We can cover shared traumas, too.”
“Well, I hope we don’t have any of those,” Nico said.
“If we do, I don’t want to hear about them yet,” said Jenny. She drained her glass as the bartender brought them their pints. Nico clinked hers against his before taking a swig. He had the thought that he wanted to kiss her, but he also wanted to be absolutely certain that Jenny would welcome it, and Nico wasn’t quite there yet. There was nothing more mortifying than asking to kiss someone and being told no. Granted, that had never happened to Nico. But there was a first time for everything, including one’s worst fears coming to fruition. That’s what he was thinking when Jenny asked him if he had any siblings.
“Two sisters, yeah,” he said. “Both younger. I’m really close to the younger of the two. I don’t have a lot in common with the one in the middle. She’s just at a completely different place in life from me. Does that make sense?”
“Totally,” said Jenny. “I have three brothers, and all three of them have kids and spouses, and they’re all in different suburbs. Our lives are dramatically different. We haven’t had common ground basically ever.”
“Have you ever wanted to, do you think?” Nico asked, knowing it was an invasive question and deciding he didn’t care. “Or would you? I can’t imagine living somewhere else, really. I mean, I can. I grew up somewhere else.”
“I remember everything,” said Jenny. “Well, not everything. Just, like, details. The smallest stuff. If you ask me my parents’ anniversary, no idea. But what I had to drink on my only date with some guy named Chris on the Upper West Side two years ago? It’s in there.” She tapped the side of her temple. Nico wanted to kiss her, again, still, more than before.
“I have follow-up questions,” Nico said. “Who remembers their parents’ anniversary date? And what did you drink?”
“Probably no one. That was a bad example. And it was a paper plane.”
“What’s in that?”
“Too much liquor,” said Jenny. “Hey, can you do me a favor?”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Finish your beer now? I’ve been waiting to kiss you till it’s gone and it’s taking forever.”
“Why wait?” Nico asked. Jenny laughed and leaned toward him as he leaned toward her.
Nico never stopped thinking. He’d been working on that for years—with doctors, in therapy, and of his own accord. While he was editing e-blasts for second-tier online retailers, he thought about what he had left in his fridge. While he was watching TV, he examined the latest conversation he’d had with his sister Kat and attempted to determine whether or not she was really happy (something he could barely tell about himself). While he was listening to music, he got other songs stuck in his head and wondered how that was even possible, how his brain could process something auditory and have another auditory process rattling around in it, and he’d tried to find an answer to this countless times but not even the most careful googling and combing through Reddit had given him one. Point was, Nico never stopped thinking—unless he was kissing. Kissing was the one thing that was nothing but sensation, the agonizing pleasure of the push and pull of figuring out someone else’s mouth. Or was it pleasurable agony? Nico didn’t know because he wasn’t thinking, just feeling, and in the moment, there were no words for that.
Later, Jenny would try to describe to the three friends she described her every date to in painstaking detail how that kiss felt. She would use words that were in direct opposition to each other—sweet, hot, soft, rough—but all of them were applicable, and it was impossible to verbally distill a good kiss (which turned into many, many more kisses, as kisses were wont to do) without cheapening its value somehow. This was a good kiss. This was several good kisses, back to back, and when Nico shifted his mouth from hers down to her neck, Jenny snapped back to reality and noticed for the first time how well-lit the bar was and how many people were in her eye line, and her theirs. Them, theirs. She and Nico were a them now, if only for tonight.
“Hey, could you…” Jenny shrunk away slightly. “Sorry, PDA is just—”
“I get it,” said Nico. “No more neck stuff.”
Jenny laughed. “That sounds awful.”
“Yeah? What would you call it?” Nico’s voice had dropped an octave since before they’d started kissing. Jenny wanted to climb inside him.
“Making out,” she said.
“We were already doing that before I kissed your neck.” Nico grinned. “I think it counted as PDA.”
“Yeah, but not the kind of PDA that leads to heavy petting.”
“You’re OK with the term ‘heavy petting’ but not ‘neck stuff?’”
“I’m not really OK with either,” said Jenny. “Have I ruined the moment yet?”
“Honestly? No,” Nico said. “I still really, really want to be kissing you. ”
“I…” Jenny looked away, picked up her beer, and took a sip, a long one, to buy herself some time.
If she believed this would be her and Nico’s only date, she’d ask him back to her place, a five-minute walk from the bar. Her roommate was out for the night, she had a new-enough bottle of pinot grigio chilling in her fridge’s crisper drawer, and Nico had expressed interest in meeting Dudley, Jenny’s cat—an excellent built-in excuse if she wasn’t brave or blunt enough to ask without an explanation, just the implication of the obvious.
But Jenny didn’t believe that. She believed she’d see Nico again, if not next week, then the one after. Maybe they wouldn’t be exclusive, and maybe their schedules wouldn’t align quite right for them to see each other frequently, but this—the playful back-and-forth, the way Nico didn’t quite know what to do with his tongue when it was in Jenny’s mouth but it felt good there anyway—this wasn’t over.
So she looped her arms around Nico’s neck and said into his ear, “I don’t trust myself not to do more than this if I take you back to my place. And I want to make sure I see you again.”
Nico ducked his head into the side of Jenny’s neck and hooked his chin over her shoulder. “You’re going to. As much as you want to.”
Jenny pulled back enough to kiss him one more time, this one with closed lips, definitive. “OK,” she said. But it was more than OK, and Nico ought to know. “Good.”
Christy Admiraal wrote her first book, the self-published Hide and Seek, at age five. In the thirty-one years since then, she’s won a Michigan Press Association Award for her work on Calvin College’s student newspaper Chimes; written flap copy for The Beginner’s Bible; and contributed to VICE, Nerdist, Birth.Movies.Death., Brooklyn Magazine, The Toast, and the Awl network, among other publications. Christy currently works for a dog rescue as their marketing & social media coordinator and co-hosts Pizza Toast, a podcast covering the film and television adaptations of The Baby-Sitters Club, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and other beloved book series. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two cats.