The Ballad of Lil’ Rock

Gregory Pierce swipes his keycard through the hotel door lock, and waits a second for the lock to click and the light to turn green. Even though he has double checked the hallway a dozen times since he got off the elevator, he checks once more before letting himself into the presidential suite. The room service cart is unattended halfway down and covered with towels and rolls of toilet paper, otherwise the hall is empty. He takes a deep breath and lets go of the false confidence he had walked through the lobby and hallway with.

He walks in with his hands full. First he puts the wax paper bag with the two muffins down on the mahogany desk. He is somewhat jealous, because his own desk at his house isn’t as nice as this one. With a hand now free, he pulls the newspaper out from under his arm and finally he puts the coffee tray with the two coffees in it down next to the muffins.

It doesn’t matter how many times he slips into one of these suites, he will never get used to it. Gregory makes a very good living, and arguably can afford it on occasion, but can’t really justify to himself anything as extravagant as this room. This particular suite is impressive, but a little more modern than Gregory prefers. He doesn’t care for the starkness of it—there are no paintings, and the blankness of the walls emphasizes their size—but that doesn’t take any of the ‘wow’ factor out of it for him.

He looks at the drawn vertical blinds that he knew were hiding the
balcony. The one thing that he really wishes that he could experience in these rooms are the balconies. He knows it isn’t because there is some great view on the other side of their blinds, but because he can’t go out there. The taboo of it calls to him.

He takes the newspaper, which is already folded in half, and rolls it one more fold lengthwise, before swatting at Allan Wallace’s bare ass.

“Hey!” Allan says turning onto his back and look up at Gregory. “What the fuck?”

He wakes him this way nearly every time that he’s visiting him in a hotel. Gregory can tell that he is half irritated from being woken up, but his eyes dance playfully as well. He sees the dark bags under Allan’s eyes, and his hair is too short to be disheveled, but it looks ironed on the left side of his head, where he had been resting it.

Finally, he sits up, and Gregory bends down and meets him for a kiss. Allan’s breath is stale from the night, but not unbearable. Gregory closes his eyes and focuses only on the feel of Allan’s lips. He’s nervous that any kiss may be the last.

He unrolls the newspaper, opens to the entertainment section, and hands it to Allan, who reads the headline out loud. “‘Lil Rock’s most recent tour ender promises to be legendary.’ …Great no pressure there.” His voice is gruff from the lingering sleep. He reads the rest of the short piece silently.

Gregory sits next to him on the bed, and takes his hand. “It doesn’t
matter how it goes does it?” He isn’t good at being vulnerable, not even with Allan, but lately he’s been forcing himself to be. Allan is even more closed off than Gregory, which hasn’t been helping Gregory to open up.

Allan looks up from the newspaper at him indignantly. “Of course it matters. It could be my last big show!”

Gregory sighs—he has felt on edge for weeks—and says, “no, I mean does it change your mind? Are you still going to come out after if for some reason it fails? Or are you going to try to get ‘one last’ finale?” It takes all his effort to maintain composure. For the last two years he had thought Allan was never going to come out, that it would just be sneaking around until he was tired of it, but then Allan had told him he wanted to come out after one final tour. He had tried to explain to Allan that he understood why he stayed closeted. He asked him not to make any promises that he wasn’t going to be able to keep, but Allan insisted that he would. Gregory couldn’t help doubting, he was still waiting for Allan to change his mind.

Allan grabs Gregory’s smooth freshly shaven face, his hands are clammy, and stares into his eyes. “I told you, this was it! I’m not gonna back out. I promise.” Allan kisses him, and Gregory closes his eyes in relief.

Gregory sighs. “Good. We’ll work through any backlash.”

Allan nods. “Becky’s excited too.” He gives what Gregory knows is an insincere smile. “The kids in her class don’t like me too much. A boy in her class told her that he has two moms and that my music is disgusting.” Allan’s voice is trembling and Gregory knows that he is trying to keep it together. “I never wanted to make her an outcast. I just thought said the things I knew would sell.” Tears begin welling in his eyes and he isn’t able to keep eye contact with Gregory.

Allan has never had a problem expressing his emotions about his daughter, Becky—it was the reason that Gregory had even considered dating him. His lyrics have always been violent, misogynistic, and homophobic but occasionally he wrote a song in which he showed himself as a father and human, and not just a rapper. Gregory knew that in rap, controversy is relevance, but he had initially found Allan’s lyrics to be particularly disturbing. Gregory had been assigned a long form interview with ‘Lil Rock’ for a news magazine show. He had requested that someone else be given the assignment, but his producer had thought that having a gay man interview a seemingly homophobic rapper would give the piece a little more depth and intrigue. He had said to Gregory, “you used to stand out in the fucking desert with a flack jacket, and a helmet to tell your stories, and you’re afraid of some big mouth?” Gregory knew that he had in fact been fearless in the past, but this wasn’t as much fear as disinterest. Eventually he agreed to the assignment as a defiant challenge.

During the interview Gregory had been surprised but got to see a very different side of Allan. Allan had taken him to a local Boys and Girls Club, where he had helped to reinvigorate some of the same programs that had kept him from having a much worse life for himself as a child. In between shots, while the cameraman was setting up, they spoke candidly, and Gregory got the impression that Allan was truly deeper than his music.

The segment’s shoot took three days, one was to focus on Allan’s early life in which they went into his childhood home and schools, the second when they focused on his community outreach, and finally the sit down interview on the third day. It was just Jerry the cameraman, and Gregory in town for the shoot, and when they were done for the night Jerry would look over the different footage, and begin pulling together what they would likely need, and setting up for Gregory to review in the morning to adjust the day’s schedule based on the the previous day. So Gregory had a little time in the nights, and wasn’t really familiar with the city. Allan had offered to bring him to some of the better restaurants.

Two nights in a row, they went to restaurants that were pretty quiet and ate like kings. Gregory was surprised at how little Allan drank. He had assumed that a rapper would imbibe, but Allan explained “When I was younger, it wasn’t a big deal for me to do a couple of lines, maybe smoke a bowl, and drink a six pack, but it was fucking miserable. I’d feel like shit most days, and I don’t think I was ever addicted, at least not enough to justify throwing all that money away on it. I still smoke a little, and drink even less, but really only when I’m on tour. It just kind of gets me settled down after a show. Probably no more than a beer and a few puffs after and I’m good to go to bed, or watch TV or whatever.”

After they wrapped the piece Gregory made an effort to keep in touch, and was pleasantly surprised when Allan put the effort in as well. Neither was fully aware as their friendship transitioned to flirting. Allan would send Gregory pictures whenever he went out to the restaurants that he had been to with him. Gregory had thought it was funny, and cute that this straight boy didn’t realize what he was doing. It didn’t shock Gregory when Allan texted him one night that he was in New York and that they should meet up after a show for drinks and to catch up. What did shock him, was when he found himself in the nicest suite in the Ritz-Carlton, with a mostly sober Allan kneeling between his legs.

Nearly two years later Gregory sits on a bed in a beautiful suite and puts his arm around Allan, and kisses him on the cheek. They both sit silently for a couple minutes, Gregory feeling a mixture of terror and hope. He looks at his watch, “alright, you need to get ready and get down to sound check, and I need to disappear before someone sees me.” He kisses him one last time, and holds his hands. “I love you, you’re gonna be great.” He stands and walks out.

* * *

Allan had been performing to packed stadiums for more than ten years, and to smaller venues for ten before that, but the butterflies in his stomach never went away. They faded slightly; they certainly weren’t as intense as that first time he headlined at Madison Square Garden. It took every ounce of courage that he had—and nearly a gram of weed—to get through that show, but when it was over he felt amazing. He had never felt anything as incredible. When Becky had been born he had felt something similar, but it was spread out, and there was fear and so much else that he couldn’t describe mixed in with it. When he got off stage for the rest of the night he felt unbeatable.

It took him a few years to realize that he wasn’t unbeatable no matter what he may have thought. He’d come off stage, and he’d go out to bars, or back to hotel rooms, and he’d frequently get in trouble. He had been in more than a few fist fights, and trashed a few hotel rooms.

As he gets dressed, and ready for what he fears will likely be his last performance ever, he has not only the butterflies for the show, but almost a hollow feeling. He wants to live his life with Gregory and Becky, and just be a person in a family, and he knows that the feeling will be not only better in many ways, but healthier. He knows it isn’t the same drug as going out and performing, and that there is a little bit of him that is trying to prepare to get the last hit of it that he probably ever will, and he worries that it won’t feel right. He’s anxious that being aware that it is going to come to an end, will actually ruin tonight’s high.

The stage manager pokes his head into Allan’s dressing room and tells him it is a minute until he is scheduled to be on stage. He can’t hear Seuss—his opening act, whom he had signed to his label two years prior—because his heart is pounding so hard that he can feel the blood slamming through his ears. He walks down the hall to the wings, and stands a couple feet away from the sight line.

Seuss finishes his song “Fuck Tha Past” and takes a big suck of air, wipes his glistening forehead with a towel, and says to the crowd, “ya’ll ready for my motha-fuckin’ boss?” The crowd goes ballistic. “I asked ya’ll motha-fucka’s a question! Ya’ll ready for my motha-fuckin’ boss?” The crowd goes even more insane. “Here he is, the man ya’ll came to see. Allan ‘Lil Rock’ Wallace! Make some noise!”

Allan walks out carrying his own microphone, claps hands and hugs with Seuss, and then turns to face the crowd. He waits for the cheering to subside—and secretly hopes it never does—before he begins.

* * *

In what has been a relatively quiet two weeks—as far as Allan’s name being mentioned in the media—Gregory has been busy coordinating a cameraman, and Chad O’Brien one of the other reporters at his news magazine show “Front Page,” as they come into Allan’s house. The cameraman and Chad, as well as all the production staff back in the office in New York have been made to sign NDAs in order to ensure that none of the contents of their interview with Allan will be leaked prematurely.

Now Gregory and Allan sit on the couch watching Allan’s fifteen minute long interview as it airs, neither fully able to absorb it all, mostly just intake different bits of sound bytes. Allan saying “I’m a gay man,” echoes in their heads until the next sound byte of “…I’ve been in a relationship with Gregory Pierce for about two years now.” They squeeze each other’s hands. “Him, and my daughter are everything to me.” Allan is nearly having a panic attack, and Gregory is overcome with relief.

Allan is worried about not only the sales of future albums, if he has anything left to write about, but also the legacy that he is leaving on the rap game. As much as he, and most other rappers like to pretend that it’s about getting the money and getting out; there is no denying the fact that it is also hugely ego motivated. He knows that ‘straight’ Allan Wallace would have gone down in rap history as one of the greatest of all time, but he isn’t sure how being gay Allan Wallace is now going to affect his standing.

Several of the people at his label, including Kenobi—his mentor and the guy who found him—and Seuss already know. They have assured him that his talent is too undeniable to be tainted even by something that is this much in contrast with the lifestyle of hip hop, but it doesn’t help his feeling of impending doom.

Allan knows that the dis-tracks will start coming, not only from his rivals, but from anyone looking to come up by starting beef. Dis-tracks only take a couple of days before they drop, and how he will react has to be decided quickly in response. He isn’t sure if he even should respond. He knows that if this had been the case when he first came up there would be no hesitation in spewing the hate right back. He has been in his fair share of hip-hop beefs, but ultimately they have always been low stakes.

Gregory is concerned about Killa Kush attacking Allan in a song. He doesn’t know much about rap, even after two years with Allan, but everyone knows about Killa Kush’s ability to rip into any and seemingly all other rappers ruthlessly. Kush found that Beat Breaker, who was on the same label as Allan, was illiterate and he had written a dis-track, and subsequently made sure the lyrics were everywhere on the internet and in the CD’s booklet so everyone but Beat himself could read it. He has even gone so far as to capitalize letters seemingly at random to spell out the message “FUCK BEAT, WHY YOU AINT RESPOND BACK YET?”

Part of the reason why Allan decided to come out in the first place was not only to be true to himself, but to find some peace. Gregory wants to think Allan is going to take the higher road, but he is terrified of how bad things might get for him.

As they watch the interview it is strange for them, because the reporters—whom Gregory has worked with for nearly a decade now—were in their home, at first interviewing Allan, but eventually Gregory too. When Gregory sees himself holding hands with Allan on TV, it becomes real to him. There is no going back, and even though he knows that Allan isn’t handling it as well, he begins to cry quietly. Two years of secrecy, of the shame of being closeted again, pour out of his eyes. He smiles through the tears, and feels non-labored breathing for the first time in a long time.

Allan looks over at him, and despite fighting begins to well up. He is so scared for his career, but he doesn’t have to be Gregory’s dark secret, and maybe he doesn’t have to be Beck’s embarrassment. He can just be.

After the segment ends, they kiss and look at their phones which are face down on the coffee table, and on silent. They each lean forward and flip them, knowing that there would be a ton of alerts. Allan ignores the whole list of texts and emails, and dials Becky’s number.

“Hi Daddy.” Her voice chirps enthusiastically. Another wave of relief rolls over him. “Mom and I just watched the show. She said to tell you, she’s proud of you.” He immediately feels tears streaming down his cheeks. His ex-wife, Alice, has been supportive of him, for so long, but it had been really hard on her when they divorced and she found out he was gay. She was really hurt, and he felt terrible because he did love her. “I am too, Daddy. I love you so much.”

Gregory can hear Becky’s voice, and he smiles and squeezes Allan’s hand. Allan hadn’t had Gregory meet her during the interview two years earlier. He had never really let any interviewers meet her, but after he had begun regularly meeting up with Gregory, Allan let him meet then twelve year old Becky. Becky had been aware that Allan was gay, for about a year at the time, and had understood the need to keep it secret.

Gregory had been so impressed with the maturity, and poise that she had. Even at twelve years old, she spoke with a vocabulary and voice of a more mature young woman, and he could tell she was sweet, as she had spoken to him about how she eventually wanted to be a doctor. She explained that she had seen a video of her father meeting a young boy who had been burned over most of his body, and she explained that her father had cheered him up, but she wanted to be able to help people in an even more impactful way.

He had known he was falling in love with Allan, but as he got to know Becky, he found out how deep he was falling. He had long accepted that he’d probably never be a father, because it hadn’t been a big enough priority, but when he had hit forty, and it sank in that it may actually be too late, he had become dangerously depressed. Becky was the sweet intelligent child, that he would have wanted and seeing Allan nurture that within her, overwhelmed him.

As they speak on the phone, Allan is crying harder but trying not to let her hear it, and he says to her “Thanks baby, I love you so much.”

“Daddy, I gotta go to bed, Mom let me stay up a little past my bed time to watch this. Tell Greg I love him too. ‘Night Daddy.”

“Goodnight baby.” He hangs up the phone to see Gregory isn’t focused on his texts but has a look that Allan knows means “I told you things would be fine.” He isn’t convinced, but he begins to relax and smiles through his tears.

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