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Chapter 5: “I’ma make the best of it. But this is the last time.”

“Nah, man . . . I ain’t wearin’ that!” His eyes are ablaze as he peers at the scarlet red jacket. His young stylist scurries back to the rack and files through hundreds of shirts. “Do I look like Michael Jackson, man? You gotta find something else for me!” Hiram “Wheelz” Wells had built his career through blood sweat and tears, and it has been at least twenty years since people wore Thriller jackets in the hood. If they don’t wear it in the hood, he isn’t rockin’ it on stage. He’s tired of butting heads with these stooges at the label. Lauren is right: he needs to regain control of his image. Just then, as if his thoughts have suddenly become audible, Lauren strides into the dressing room.

“Man, I thought you would never get here,” he laments. “Please save me from this chick. She has NO IDEA what’s hot.”

“No worries,” Lauren says. Her sweet perfume beckons to him as she walks up and kisses him gently on his forehead. “Gabby,” she says to the stylist, “let me give it a shot.” She quickly grabs some baggy, pre-washed jeans and a black t-shirt. Her almond-shaped eyes scan the outfit up and down. Deep in thought, she nibbles her lower lip. “Let’s roll with this,” she says coolly.

Gabby looks puzzled. The outfit is simple, but it’s his style, and Lauren knows it.

Lauren turns to him and holds up the combination. His infamous tough demeanor softens and his eyes smile momentarily before hardening again. Lauren has proven time and time again that she can come through when Wheelz needs her most. He knew the day he met her that Lauren was a real ride or die chick; the type of woman who could stand next to a strong man and make him stronger.

“See?” Wheelz says, glaring at Gabby. “Why they even PAY you, when my lady is doin’ YO job?”

Gabby becomes flushed and hurriedly grabs the jeans so that Wheelz can step in. Gabby lets out a soft whimper. “I’m so sorry, I . . . I thought that . . .”

“No worries,” Lauren says quickly. “It’s really OK, Gabby. Hiram’s gonna go out there and kill ‘em. It’s really OK.” Her kind words do little to comfort the young stylist.

Wheelz’s is known for his quick temper, but lately, it has gotten so much worse. He’s been drinking a lot more and his dressing room is always thick with a fog of marijuana. Though he’s is at the pinnacle of his career and the top of the hip-hop game, he seems more and more anxious as time passes.

Gabby pauses as she begins to help Wheelz with his shirt. She walks over to a rack near Lauren and grabs an all black button down shirt with an image of an Egyptian sphinx with a bandanna over its mouth. She hands it to Wheelz. “How’s this look?” Gabby asks apprehensively.

Wheelz frowns as he examines the shirt. “Now, THAT’s gangsta!”

Gabby smiles at his approval.

“Hey, Hiram, we better start heading down,” Lauren says as she walks toward the dressing room door.

Wheelz lets Gabby put on his shirt and tuck the front behind his large chrome belt buckle. She places his shoes in front of him, he steps in, and she ties them loosely. He turns to the mirror to inspect the two ladies’ handiwork.

“Yeah, this works,” he says softly to himself. “Let’s get ‘em!”

Lauren opens the dressing room door, and Wheelz follows her onto an elaborate video set. Like the initial costume Gabby had prepared for him, Wheelz can already tell this video isn’t going to be his style.

He grabs Lauren’s arm tightly and pulls her close so no one else can hear. “Babe, what the hell is this?”

“What do you mean?” she jumps, seemingly startled by his aggression. Recently it seems like she’s trying to manage his temper—or calm his nerves, which are becoming more frazzled by the day.

When they had met, Wheelz was a young promising artist, new to the label and she was in the middle of a successful singing career that had begun to plateau. So, when they began to grow closer and become more than just label mates, it was actually pretty convenient for both of them. When IXI refused to re-sign her as an artist, her relationship with Wheelz had allowed her to live an entertainer’s lifestyle without many of the professional demands.

Their relationship had started off exciting, and he was everything she had ever wanted. He was driven, charismatic, and most of all, he was brilliant. And if that wasn’t enough, Lauren loved a bad boy, and Wheelz knew he had that edge to make her feel safe when she was around him. Having a bodyguard was common practice in the industry, so Wheelz had security following him whenever he was in public. However, he didn’t need it. Wheelz was a ferocious brawler, and Lauren had witnessed a few people catch the bad end of his temper in bar fights and other altercations. That ability drove her wild and Wheelz loved it.

Times feel rough at the moment, but together, he and Lauren can make it through this rough patch. He can tell this whole image change bothers her as much as it bothers him, but she always says it’s important to evolve in a fickle industry.

“Listen, Hiram.” Her soothing voice begins to instantly calm him. “I submitted your ideas to the director, and he wanted to go in another direction. We came back to consult you, but . . . but you’ve been sleeping so much, and we couldn’t get your input before the deadline. I’m sorry, babe, but our hands are kind of tied at this point.”

Wheelz shakes his head, trying to remember. It’s no use. She’s right; he has been losing it lately. Though super stardom was his lifelong dream, it’s stressful being on top of the rap game, especially with a temper like his. The demands of touring, video shoots, public appearances, and label meetings eliminated any semblance of a normal life he’d once had. That’s why he was so happy when he met Lauren. She was the calm he needed and she could always say the right words. For a couple years, “Lo” was all he needed to balance him out and help him feel secure in his crazy life.

As he became more popular, her presence wasn’t enough. She was on the tail end of her career and their travel schedules didn’t always agree, so he turned to weed to balance him out. He had smoked recreationally since he was about thirteen years old, but the reefer he smoked back then wasn’t as powerful as this new marijuana that filled the fat sticky blunts they smoked these days. That was a good thing because he needed something stronger to help him clear his mind and calm his temper.

His habit was a double-edged sword because, while it helped him stay calm and enhanced his creative process, it also kept him awake for days at a time, leaving him lethargic during performances. A couple Ambien helped him cure his insomnia, but made for a debilitating cocktail that would put him under for hours at a time. It was entirely possible that he missed the opportunity to give input on the video. It was his fault.

“Arright, Lo,” he says. “I’ma make the best of it. But this is the last time.”

She looks at him and lovingly kisses his lips.


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