Lily Meyer: Lily, why in the genuine hell did you write a story [The Third] about a person who falls in love with Drake?
Lily Meyer: I know it’s strange. I wrote it during my MA year, and no one in my workshop believed me when I told them what I was working on. And then they were all surprised when they liked it.
LM: But seriously, why?
LM: Well, the original idea was that Guille, the protagonist, was going to be in love with the Virgin Mary. I write a lot about religion — my novel, Providence, is about a Jewish kid in an all-Catholic community in the 1970s. I’m very preoccupied with my own Judaism. And I really couldn’t get away from that, as it turned out. I couldn’t write about Catholicism from a Catholic perspective, but I still wanted to write a story about a character who was in love with someone completely unattainable, and maybe worshipping that person a bit.
LM: And Drake was the natural choice?
LM: Yes! Once I gave up on the religious figure, I thought the love object had to be a celebrity. And for the most part I don’t care about celebrities, but I care a lot about hip-hop. I read the same magazines Guille does — XXL, Fader, all of that. I spend a lot of time thinking about rap music and rappers, and the only one who I thought a character could fall seriously in love with was Drake. First of all, he’s not misogynistic or homophobic like so many rappers are, which I think makes him more accessible to me and to Guille both. Second, his songs are very emotional. He raps a lot about being lonely. He’s usually not saying, I’m so great at sex. He’s saying, I want somebody to spoon at night.
LM: So once Drake got involved, how did your writing process change?
LM: I don’t usually listen to music while I write, but for this story I had So Far Gone on loop for about a month. I know all the words to every song on that mixtape. In my old house I always wrote at the kitchen table, and I remember my housemate coming home one day while I was working and saying, “Why does it sound like a club in here?” I wanted to get the rhythm right.
LM: Is that where the structure came from?
LM: No, the structure came from Margaret Atwood. She taught master classes at the University of East Anglia while I was doing my MA there, which was amazing, and one day she made a comment about structuring a novel like a symphony. I was stuck on this story at the time, about to give up on it, and I thought, Oh! I can structure my Drake story like a Drake song. And that saved it. That’s how Lulu got a voice.
LM: Lulu! I love Lulu.
LM: So do I. Of course I love Guille too, but it’s more complicated. He’s having a tough time after his grandmother dies, and he’s struggling with his sexual identity, but he also treats Lulu terribly, and you could say he’s a little delusional. Guille is trying to be tough, but Lulu is a lot stronger. He has the strength to save Guille at the beginning of the story, and then he has the strength to walk away when he finally sees that the relationship can’t improve. I feel bad for writing Lulu such a bad boyfriend, you know? He deserves a better partner. To make up for it I gave him a cameo in another story I wrote that’s set in D.C., but in 2014 instead of 2009. I like to think that by then Lulu’s living with some really great guy and every so often Guille comes to their place for dinner.
LM: Why is The Third set in 2009, anyway? Aren’t there lots of Drake songs from later in his career that you could have used if the story happened now?
LM: Probably, but when I wrote The Third I hadn’t spent much time in D.C. since 2009, even though I grew up here, and I wanted to write about the city as I knew it best. Plus, that Drake concert at the end of the story — I went to that show with my brother. He’d broken his arm earlier that day, in a soccer game, and he’s in there. He’s the white boy with his arm in a sling standing next to Guille and Lulu on the balcony of the 9:30 Club. So I’m there too, hidden. Guille and Lulu don’t notice me, but I’m right near them.
LM: Like Where’s Waldo.
LM: I like having jokes with myself in my writing, and I often stealth-include members of my family. I wrote my grandfather into a scene in my novel.
LM: Okay, I have one more question for you. It’s very important.
LM: Do I love Drake?
LM: I was going to say: are you in love with Drake?
LM: No, I’m not. But I definitely think he’s the hottest Jew alive.
Lily Meyer was born and raised in Washington, DC. Her fiction has appeared in Words and Women, Elbow Room, and The Round. She is at work on her first novel.
It took me a long time to love a man. Growing up my options were Jesucristo or Papi, but my father lived in El Salvador with his wife and my two half-sisters. He dropped me with my grandmother in the District when I was two, flew up to visit when I was five, died when I was six. I got two hundred dollars Western Union and a hazy memory of a mustached, potbellied figure boosting me onto a carousel horse. After that Abue went more Catholic than ever, wanted me to follow, except Jesus gave me the creeps. Praying to a dead man. But growing up it was Sagrado Corazón every Sunday, eleven o’clock Spanish misa, no squirming or Abue locked my earlobe in her tough fingers, hissing, Y quién te crió? Tú escucha la Palabra ahora mismo.
My reward for church was Luis. My best friend. We used to play soccer behind Chávez High after the service, still in our good shoes. Already kids at school called him Lulu. It was that obvious. Those long lashes fluttering when he looked at Jesucristo. Or at me.
Eres todo que tengo en la vida. Perdí mi hijo, mi esposo, mi país, pero te tengo a ti. Eres mi sol y mi luna, mis estrellas, mi razón. Mi corazón, Guillermo.
[VERSE 1: GUILLE]
The March I turned seventeen, Abue fell down the front steps, hit her head on a light pole, and had a stroke there on the sidewalk. I spent the next eight months sponge-bathing her and spooning baby food between the nubs of her teeth. No more church for me then. No school. Just Abue’s cracking words, her telenovelas playing day and night. My only company was the shower radio and Lulu’s twice-a-week visits. He’d bring weed and a soccer ball and I’d follow him outside, so grateful I could have punched him. Un bue’ muchacho, Abue would slur when he left.
When she died I stopped going into her room. Her perfume was worn into the carpet, her Divino Salvador prayer cards and photographs of Monseñor Romero wedged in the mirror. I boxed up her clothes, hung her cheap bedside rosary around my neck, and locked the door, but every night I heard her angry mutters and slow attempts to turn over. Some nights my father joined her from his grave in Nueva Concepción, barking about his dolor de cabeza, his negocios. After a month I told Lulu. We were in the Girard Street playground huddled against the December cold, smoking a blunt under the slide. I can’t sleep, I said. I don’t think I’m ever going to sleep again.
Lulu touched my neck above the collar of my fake-leather jacket. The weed sent a shiver from his fingertips to the ends of my guts. Alone? he said. I nodded. He cradled the back of my head in his palm. I can come, he said. I nodded again. He turned my head for me. His lips were parted and wet. The loosely rolled weed fizzled out as I dragged on the blunt. Instead of sparking it I tossed it to the asphalt. Lulu leaned halfway in, pulled me to meet him. His tongue tasted burnt. He walked me home an hour later and stretched me flat on the thin bed, my feet hooked into its metal frame, face pressed into the sweaty sheet. It did nothing to lift the granite weight in my chest, but I still asked him to stay.
I went back to school the next month. Charter, not public. Bulletproof glass like a corner store, uniform white shirts and no bandannas, hats or hoods allowed. The student body was ex-gang, current gang, dealers. Most of the girls had kids. No real classes, just ESOL and GED. Lulu had transferred there because he was too gay for our old school, kept getting beat up in the locker rooms. He told me not to follow, but I wouldn’t listen. I thought I’d missed too much. Thought I couldn’t make up that year at the foot of Abue’s bed, watching dust motes dance in the light.
Besides, I was getting anxious when Lulu went out of reach. Convinced him to move in, keep me safe from the ghosts. Así que somos novios? he asked as he folded his T-shirts and stacked them on my shelves.
I shrugged. If you want to be a fag. His face crumbled to nothing and I made myself laugh. Course it does, Lulu. Ven aquí.
He woke me up mornings, put coffee on the stove, made me shower and shave. We walked a block apart to school so I could pretend to our classmates he was the only maricón they knew. Safer that way, I said. For both of us.
Rap music was all that held my attention that first year without Abue. I couldn’t focus on a book, a TV show, a story Lulu told me, but those deep voices rhyming in my ears, the thrown-back heads and ropy arms in the pictures, that worked. Lulu was pure DJ Wanako, and I let him play his Heavy Clan and Wisin y Yandel in the house, but all I wanted was hip-hop. I used the school computer to watch interviews with rappers and videos of sold-out arena shows, followed the record labels, who signed with Jay-Z and who went with Lil Wayne. I read XXL and Fader and Source instead of my English for Spanish Speakers printouts. That November I couldn’t vote, still underage and green-card anyway, but when Obama won I listened to Young Jeezy’s “My President is Black” all month. Like most songs, I heard it first on WKYS, D.C.’s hip-hop station. It was WKYS that introduced me to Clipse, Brother Ali, Mos Def and Common. WKYS that introduced me to Drake.
[VERSE 2: GUILLE]
I found him March twelfth, the day I turned eighteen, a birthday present from the radio station. I was slouched in study hall, watching the back of Lulu’s gelled head while I listened to the afternoon urban-and-R&B show. The song before it was “Imaginary Players,” from Wale’s Paint A Picture. I remember the DJ saying he knew we liked that good D.C. shit, but now it was time for a new single, a new artist from Young Money Entertainment, and all the men listening better find a lady for this one ’cause Drizzy Drake turned the girls wild. Then he hit play and from the first sliding note of “Best I Ever Had” I was in the booth with the rapper, his lips on the microphone behind my ear, words rumbling up his long throat low and spoken, then stretched into melody. His voice vibrated on the beads around my neck. When the track ended I was half hard. I crossed one leg over the other, clicked my way to a download, and started the song again.
I’d never heard hip-hop like it. Seven songs on So Far Gone when plenty of rappers drop mixtapes with fifteen, twenty. There was bravery in that. Claiming he could say it all in half an hour. And plenty of bravery in the verses, but a new kind. He couldn’t keep up with Wayne and Jeezy bragging on “I’m Goin’ In.” The wobble of his voice cut through his boasts, mixed the money and sex with fear, confusion and shame. He was offering himself up to the listener.
By the end of the day I’d read every interview, watched every video, scrolled through two hundred pictures of his perfect shape-up, wide black-Jew nose, dark eyes with the same downward curve as his lips. I burned the mixtape to disc, hauled Lulu straight home and said, I know you don’t like hip-hop but this shit, hay que escuchar. We sat side by side for “Houstatlantavegas” and “Successful,” the music running sprints down my spine. Drake’s voice warmed our dark apartment to the Fourth of July. When “Best I Ever Had” started, I turned to Lulu. He was watching me, his acne-pitted forehead creased up. See? I said.
I shook my head, not wanting to talk over Drake’s quick singing. Instead I reached for Lulu’s hand, pulled it to the tented fly of my jeans. His eyes widened. He flicked the button open, said, Now? I pushed him backward and climbed on top, licked the soft skin under his Adam’s apple, lifted my mouth to his. When the kiss broke I stripped his shirt over his head, bit my way past his sunken six-pack, undid his fly and slid his straining cock over my tongue, my eyes closed. We’d lived together two months and I hadn’t sucked Lulu off once, but with Drake’s voice in my ears, his hands in my hair, his broad mouth half open in my head, it came easy.
Before long I couldn’t get hard without So Far Gone playing. Lulu took it as a trade, and for over a year it worked, the two of us wound together with Drake setting our rhythm. That June Fader profiled Drake, shot a picture of him bent over his grandmother, foreheads touching, his palm on her cheek and a black rosary swinging between his chest and the crook of his elbow. I bought the magazine, clipped the image and stuck it by our window. Abue had been dead nine months and the lines of her face had begun to wash together in my head. I couldn’t remember her voice before the stroke. I hadn’t done shit that she wanted. Her dream was for me to go to college and get my citizenship, and I was earning minimum wage at El Latino Bakery. I hadn’t opened her bedroom door, rolled the stone in my chest, prayed for her once. I’m letting her down, I told Lulu.
He ran a hand down my arm. You try hard.
Not hard enough.
So take the GED, he said. Or find a real school. She knew you were smart.
I kissed the bridge of his nose. You know she liked you?
Course I do.
Listen to me, Guille. I have no one but you. No friends but you, and my family, pa’ qué quieren un hijo maricón? All I have is you.
[VERSE 3: GUILLE]
In September I started at UDC, signed up for Biology I, English Comp I, Materials of Music I. My broom-mustached advisor wanted to put me in ESOL but I planted myself in front of his desk, picked up the Post front page and read it in my best white-teacher voice till he waved me to stop and signed the form saying I could speak the language. From then on I split time between the campus in Van Ness, morning shifts at El Latino, and the Mount Pleasant library, diagrams of chord structure or cell structure spread on the scratched table in front of me.
And I found myself study buddies. UDC had an endless flow of boys that looked the slightest bit like Drake. Heavy eyebrows, close stubble, lots of cream in the coffee. I ain’t no fag, they’d tell me. We’d slap hands and I’d say, Me neither. Then I’d mention I had my own place, good speakers and the new Wale album. Maybe we could hang out later, smoke something, listen. Lulu worked late Friday nights. Made it easy. If he’d caught me I would have said, Lulu, you know those guys ain’t nothing. What I do with them don’t matter. You know I need you.
Lulu. Five foot three with his back straight, and he always held it straight. He’d grown into his big nose, out of his angry blackheads, traded his Sonic the Hedgehog spikes for a soft buzz. He was working the front desk at the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, plus interpreting at the Whitman-Walker Clinic. I was proud of him, proud of the work, but I got lonely mornings he went early, evenings he stayed late. I’d wait for him at the window, listen to the radio and watch the world pass, and when Lulu came up the sidewalk he looked like a grown man. Why don’t you go by Luis now? I asked him when he started at the LGBT Center.
He shrugged. Why don’t you go by Guillermo?
Only Abue called me that.
Well, only my dad calls me Luis and my dad don’t call me shit now. I didn’t know how to answer, so I put a hand on his back and pulled him close. He shook me away, saying, I don’t need that.
A few weeks later my English Comp TA, an ex-Cardozo linebacker named Michael I’d fucked a few times, pulled me aside in the hall and said, You know your man’s playing the 9:30 Club next month?
I don’t have—
Your man Drake, he said. Touring before Thank Me Later drops. Check it out.
I spent two weeks’ paychecks on our tickets, ordered them online and broke out sweating when I pulled the envelope from our pigeonhole two days before the show. The sweat came back the minute we got past the bouncer, followed up by a loose, sick sensation behind my tailbone, a tight pain in my jaw as we walked through the club. The crowd there was three-quarters Howard, boys in skinny jeans and skate shoes, women in monument heels. Lulu and I were so much shorter than the rest we had to stand on the balcony to see, jammed between a pack of high school girls and a white boy with his arm in a sling. The air was dense with sweat and cheap perfume, the floor sticky with beer. Lulu dug his elbow into my side, hissed, You better suck it twice tonight.
I pushed closer to the front of the crowd. The speaker bank was wailing “I Care 4 You” but suddenly Aaliyah cut out, the lights rose into my eyes, and when the glare softened there he was on stage. Bounce in his step, biceps curving out his tight sleeves, grin big and white as the Capitol dome, rapping, I know way too many people here right now that I didn’t know last year. Who the fuck are y’all?
By the end of the first verse I was so hard it hurt, pressing my boner into the seat of Lulu’s jeans to hide it. I could feel Drake’s words in my mouth, his confessions I’d learned by heart. It was like kissing. I expected that, had imagined it a thousand times. What I never imagined was the shine around him and the feeling that I was shining too. Like there was a current between us. He couldn’t see me but I felt him knowing I was there, hidden in the screaming crowd, waiting for him. Belonging to him. I’d seen that feeling in Lulu’s eyes late at night, seen it when he pushed my hair behind my ears, when he caught me watching the picture of Drake and his abue. I’d thought someday I’d love him back.
I got a good feeling about you, Chocolate City. I think I got good luck tonight. I been lonely, D.C., but I think tonight I’m going to find—the best I ever had.
When Guille told me he was taking me out, I thought dinner. A club, maybe. A party where I’d meet some of those UDC boys he never told me about, but I thought—estúpido—it was a date. Finally. I’d been thinking about giving up. Hadn’t told anyone. At work he was the perfect novio. Best friends since we met at someone’s fifth birthday party, moved in two years ago this December. I’d waltz out the Whitman-Walker door calling, Have to head home, everyone, sorry, my boyfriend made dinner. Get back to tamale wrappers on the flowered plastic tablecloth and Guille smoking a blunt, barely turning his head to say, Lulu, hey, te estaba esperando pero I got hungry.
When he showed me the tickets, I got excited. By then Drake meant sex to me. Put on the mixtape, get what I want. The songs were just sounds, like the bed frame squeaking or the lube packet tearing or Guille groaning when I pushed inside him. Entiende? He bought me a ticket to see Drake and I took it for romance.
The second we walked in the club I saw that idea was pure bullshit. Guille’s eyes went to everyone but me. I followed him to the front of the balcony and looked into a sea of cornrows, weaves, dreads, the odd white kid but not a solitary Latino except him and me. Standing next to him, not touching or talking, I knew how dumb I’d been. Ese hijo de puta, no me quería a mi. Quería hacerse la paja to that Auto-Tuned music and he wanted me there because he couldn’t be alone, not in bed at night and not in a room with his savior, his Drake.
I didn’t want to hear him. I hated his drawling voice in the speakers, his arms spread to the crowd, his words I knew too well, all those songs about straight men fucking straight girls and what did I care. I wasn’t the one who wanted to be straight. My cock crept up listening, and I hated myself, too. I wanted to walk out but Guille was pressed behind me, trapping me till the show ended. When the lights came up and I turned to face him, there were tears running down his thin cheeks. What’s wrong with you? I said.
Outside, he said, and took off down the balcony stairs. Almost knocked down a girl in drag-queen stilettos but he didn’t stop, left me to steady her and apologize. When I got out the door I couldn’t see him. The June air was warm on my arms but my hands and face were cold. Behind me the bouncer growled over and over, Have a nice night, folks. This way. Have a nice night. A line of taxis circled the block, skirting the couples and groups weaving toward the Metro. Across the street there was a parked tour bus with its windows blacked out. A dark shape leaned on its hood, smoking. I smelled our cheap weed. Hijo de puta.
I walked to him chest out, shoulders up. Qué carajo—
Toma. Guille held out the blunt. I could hear he was sobbing.
You don’t get to cry, I said. I do. I sucked in smoke and held it, repeated, waited for my head to cloud but there was nothing inside to begin with except the spinning words, He’ll never love me. Ese hijo de puta, he’ll never love me.
The crowd thinned and disappeared. Groupies clustered by the club’s back door and the bouncer rolled over, folded his arms, and they scattered. I took a last gulp of the blunt, dropped it and ground the butt out with my heel. Guille was still crying. Me voy, I told him.
The bouncer locked the front door and went inside. The street was empty. Me voy, I said again. Guille covered his face with his fingers. I wanted to touch him. Wanted to kiss his high forehead, push him against the bus, fuck him there in the street. I buried my hands in my pockets.
The club’s back door swung open, and I heard laughter, clacking heels. The rapper stepped onto the sidewalk, a short-skirted, long-haired mujerón hanging from each bare arm. A six-foot security guard trailed them across the street. Guille lowered his palms, pressed them together like he was praying, his eyes locked on Drake. Another tear snaked a track past his nose. I was gone.
I could see the outline of his lips, the creases around his eyes, the muscles coiling down his neck. The women tripped over their feet gazing up at him, but he was looking ahead. The stone in my chest was gone. The bus spun against my shoulderblades. The bus door swung open and he helped the first puta up, then the second, his fingers edging between each one’s thighs, and then he rapped his knuckles on the wheel well and walked over to me, jerked a thumb toward the dark club and said, You mind? Been a long day, and I got some fine ladies up in that bus waiting to go where we going, you feel? He grinned and turned away. Thanks.
I couldn’t move. The bus engine revved behind me. I heard the door slam shut. The street was empty. Lulu? I called. Lulu? My voice bounced off the buildings. The bus driver honked his horn. The club door swung open and the bouncer stepped out. I put my head back and howled Lulu’s name, but he didn’t come back, not when the bouncer dragged me out of the street, not when Drake pulled away, not ever.
Lily Meyer was born and raised in Washington, DC. Her fiction has appeared in Words and Women, Elbow Room, and The Round. She is at work on her first novel.