We had only been in Europe for a couple of weeks, but I was already sick and tired of traveling. Literally. I was sick, and I was tired, and I was ready to go home.
I wasn’t used to feeling that way. Usually, it was the other guys who got homesick, not me. They all had families back home, wives who were waiting for them, kids who missed them like crazy. I never knew what that was like. I’d never had anyone waiting for me at home. I guess I’d just never had a good reason for wanting the tour to end.
Work was like an escape for me. When I went out on the road, I left my problems behind me. I could forget about whatever drama was happening back home and just focus on being a Backstreet Boy. When I was on stage, I wasn’t worried about anything. I loved performing every night and partying afterwards. I loved hanging out with the guys and meeting the fans. It might sound egotistical, but it was nice to be surrounded by people who loved me for the right reasons – my talent, my personality, and, okay, maybe my looks, too – instead of the wrong ones, like my money, my fame, my name. There used to be a lot of leeches in my life, people who latched on and sucked whatever they could get out of me, until I finally broke free.
But not anymore. I had Lauren now, and Lauren wasn’t a leech. She was everything to me.
I wished she was on the road with me, but she had stayed behind in LA to work on wedding plans while I went overseas. It was probably for the best – I knew she needed time to iron out all the little details I didn’t know or care about, and if I were there, I would probably just be in her way – but I still missed her. I couldn’t wait to get home and make her my wife.
When I woke up that morning, the first thing I did was check my phone to see if she had called. She hadn’t, but there was a text from her that said, “Just wanted to say goodnight – or good morning, depending on when you get this. I miss you like crazy and am counting down the days till you come home! I love you! XOXOXO, Lo.”
I smiled and shot her back a reply: “Goodnight, baby. Hope you’re having sweet dreams of me! I love and miss you too, more than I can put into a text.” I knew she wouldn’t get it for awhile – it was the middle of the night back home, and she was probably still asleep – so I set my phone aside and got out of bed. It was early, but we were making an appearance on BBC Breakfast that morning, which meant getting up at the ass-crack of dawn.
I stumbled into the shower, feeling like shit. I don’t know if it was from the drinking I’d done at the pub the night before or the cold I’d had for the past couple of weeks, but my head was pounding. The bathroom light was overly bright. I closed my eyes as I rubbed shampoo into my scalp, letting the hot water soothe my sore muscles. It felt good.
I stayed in the shower probably longer than I should have, and when I stepped out, I could hear someone knocking on my door. Wrapping a towel around my waist, I wandered out of the bathroom and went to the door. I pressed my eye to the peephole and saw Howie out in the hall. Well, of course, it just had to be Howie when I was standing there dripping wet and naked under my towel. Normally I wouldn’t answer the door like that, especially after what had happened with Howie on the cruise, but I wasn’t too hungover to remember what was going on with his son. He had said he was going to talk to his wife again in the morning and see how Holden was doing before he decided whether or not he needed to fly home. I wondered if he already had.
“Hey, Howie,” I said, as I opened the door. I saw his eyes drop below my neck and back up again, and inwardly, I squirmed. I had caught him checking me out several times since the cruise, and it always made me uncomfortable. I was secretly glad he hadn’t come out with us the night before. These days, it was just hard for me to relax around Howie.
“Um, hey, Nicky,” he replied. “Sorry, did you just get out of the shower?”
“Uh, yeah, Captain Obvious.” I laughed, so he’d know I was kidding. “So, have you gotten a hold of Leigh yet?”
“Yeah, that’s what I came to talk to you about.” He shifted, and it was then that I noticed the suitcases sitting beside him. “Holden’s still sick, and Leigh said they’re going to be running more tests on him this morning. She sounded scared, and I just really feel like I need to be there with her instead of here. So… I’m flying home.” He looked apologetic, like he was hurting my feelings or something.
“Howie, it’s okay, dude, I understand. You do what you gotta do,” I said, wanting to be supportive. “Give Leigh my love, and tell Little Man to hang in there, alright? I hope he feels better soon.”
Howie managed half a smile. “Thanks, Nicky.” He started to lean forward, opening his arms like he was going to hug me, and then hesitated. I knew what he had to be thinking because I was thinking it myself, and I hated him for making me question his motives, his feelings for me, and our friendship altogether. But I also knew he needed a hug more than me, so I sucked it up and opened my arms, inviting him in.
“Ha, I got you all wet!” I said after I let him go, laughing at the water spots on his damp shirt.
He just smiled. “That’s okay. Thanks again for understanding.”
I smiled back. “Sure. Hey, you want me to talk to the other guys for you?”
“No, that’s okay; I’ve already stopped by their rooms.”
“Oh.” I realized I was the last one he’d told – another sign of the awkwardness that still existed between us.
Howie shifted his weight again. “Listen, I gotta get going. Good luck with the rest of the gigs, and please tell the German fans I’m sorry I couldn’t be there.”
“Sure, I will,” I promised. “Have a safe flight.”
It was weird watching him walk away, dragging his suitcases behind him. I couldn’t remember Howie ever missing an appearance before. I mean, we did cancel some concerts in South Africa so he could go home and spend time with his dad before he died, but that was different – at least, I thought it was different. Still, I wondered briefly if we should have just rescheduled, instead of showing up without him.
We didn’t, though. I guess no one wanted to disappoint the European fans, so we went ahead with our appearances in England, then continued on to the next country, Germany, while Howie flew back to Florida to be his family. A little part of me was actually jealous of him. He got to see Leigh, while I was still missing Lauren. He got to go home, while I just wanted to go back to bed. My muscles felt stiff from riding in cramped quarters and sleeping on hard mattresses, my head ached from all the late nights and early mornings spent under bright studio lights, and my throat was sore from singing while I was sick. What I wouldn’t give to rest my body and voice for one night.
But it wasn’t like I wanted to be in Howie’s shoes.