I was glad to be back on tour, but by the second show, I was sick of being asked the same questions. When are you getting married? Have you and Lauren set a date yet? Why isn’t Lauren on the road with you?
I had never understood why the fans cared so much about my personal life, my relationships, but for whatever reason, they did care, and their constant inquiries were starting to make me feel guilty. It was like Lauren and I had let them down somehow, like we were lying to them by not making it public knowledge that we’d broken off our engagement. I knew it was none of their damn business and was sure Lauren would want to keep the details of our break-up private, but I was starting to think maybe we should release a statement, just so the fans would stop asking about a wedding that was never going to happen.
“What do you think?” I asked Howie the next morning as he was getting dressed. We had the day off, so we’d spent the night in a hotel room instead of staying on the bus. Since we were in New Jersey, he was spending the morning with Leigh and his kids. She’d brought them to our show the night before, and he was planning to meet them for Sunday mass, followed by brunch with the in-laws (ex-in-laws?) before we got back on the bus to head to Boston that afternoon. It sounded sufficiently awkward to me, but who was I to judge?
“I think you should talk to Lauren,” said Howie, adjusting his tie in the mirror. “Get her blessing before you say anything to the media.”
“Oh, I know,” I replied quickly. “I wasn’t gonna go behind her back. I was just wondering, do you think it’s a good idea to give a public statement, or should we keep it private?”
“I don’t know, Nick,” said Howie, shrugging. “I think that’s up to you and Lauren to decide; it’s not really my place to say.”
“Yeah, but you’ve been there,” I said, hoping for some advice. Howie had always given me good advice. If only I’d listened to more of it…
He shook his head. “I didn’t have much of a choice in my situation, since my divorce was a matter of public record. Once Leigh filed, the press was eventually going to find out one way or another. You and Lauren don’t have any legal ties to each other, though, so you shouldn’t feel obligated to make a statement.” He paused, then turned around to look me in the eye. “But if you want the fans to stop asking about her, you should probably let them know it’s over.”
I nodded. That was what I had been thinking, too. “Yeah… I guess I’ll give her a call after you leave.” I looked at the clock, calculating the time difference. It was only six-thirty on the West Coast, but knowing Lauren, she’d be up before long. She liked her early morning workouts. “We’ll see if she even answers,” I muttered, more to myself than anyone.
Howie frowned. “Why wouldn’t she answer?”
“I dunno, she barely replied to my texts this summer. I think she’s trying to sever ties with me so she can move on, y’know?”
He gave me a weird look. “I didn’t know you were still texting her over the summer.”
“Just a couple times. So?” I asked defensively, wondering why he would expect me to tell him who I was texting. “You jealous or something?”
“No,” he snapped in a tone that totally made him sound jealous. I didn’t know whether to be amused or annoyed by that.
“We’re still friends,” I said, “or at least, I want to be. Not sure she does, but maybe down the road she will. That’s not gonna be a problem for you, is it?”
“No, of course not,” Howie replied quickly, but it made me wonder what he thought was going on between Lauren and me. Didn’t he understand why I could never go back to her, even if I wanted to? And why would he think I’d want to, anyway? He and I had never actually defined our “relationship” – or whatever you wanna call it – as exclusive or anything, but whatever it was, it was working for us.
“Good. ‘Cause, I mean, it’s fine with me that you and Leigh are still friends,” I added. “I have no problem with you hanging out with her today.”
Howie looked at his watch. “Speaking of which, I should get going,” he said. “The service starts at ten. You sure you don’t wanna come?”
I snorted. “What, come ‘pray the gay away’ with your ex-wife and her family? Thanks, but no thanks. You have fun with that, though.”
He rolled his eyes. “That’s not what Catholic church is like… which you would know if you came.”
“I’d be more worried about the brunch afterward. Dude, don’t you think Leigh’s dad wants to castrate you for what you did to her?”
Howie’s face went pale. “Do you think it’ll be that bad?” he asked in a whisper.
“Well, I don’t think he’ll actually try to castrate you, but do I think it’ll be extremely uncomfortable? Oh hell yeah.”
His shoulders slumped. “I know. Leigh and I are just trying to keep things as normal as possible for James and Holden. It would be hard for them if they thought their grandparents and I didn’t get along.”
“I understand. I was just joking, anyway,” I said quickly, even though I didn’t and wasn’t. I tried to put myself in Howie’s shoes. I loved Lauren’s dad, Larry, but would I have the balls to sit down for a meal with him after breaking his daughter’s heart? I didn’t think so. I hadn’t even spoken to him since I’d left L.A. last March. It was too awkward.
Howie sighed. “Well… wish me luck.”
“Good luck,” I said, thinking he was going to need it. “Gimme a call if Mr. Boniello brings a hatchet to brunch.”
He laughed and shook his head. “Jesus, Nick.”
“Yeah, you better pray to Jesus that Leigh’s dad doesn’t use his steak knife to cut something other than his own meat.”
Howie winced. “Nick! Stop.”
I snickered. “See ya later… I hope.”
“Ugh.” He stuffed his wallet in his back pocket and walked out, slamming the door behind him.
I waited until ten to call Lauren. It was seven o’clock in California, and I figured she’d be awake by then, getting ready to go to the gym. But would she answer her phone for me?
The phone rang a few times, and then I heard her voice. “Hi… Nick?” She sounded puzzled, like she wasn’t sure it was me. She was probably curious about why I was calling. I hadn’t talked to her since our lunch with AJ and Rochelle.
“Hey, yeah, it’s me,” I replied. “I didn’t wake you up, did I?”
“No, I was up. Is everything okay?” I heard the concern in her voice and hated that she assumed I was calling because something was wrong.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Um, how are you?”
“Fine…” she said slowly. “So… what’s up?” Clearly, she wanted me to get to the point.
“Well, I wanted to run something by you. I’ve been getting a lot of questions from fans about you – well, about us, really – like ‘When’s the wedding?’ and that kind of thing. So I was wondering, would it be okay with you if I announced that we ended our engagement?”
“We didn’t end anything,” she corrected me. “That was all you.”
Her words hit me like a punch to the gut, mostly because they were true. She had played no part in our break-up; in fact, she’d begged me to stay. I was the one who had left her, and even though I knew it was for the best, I still felt guilty for hurting her the way I had.
“Okay, so… would it be okay if I announced that I ended our engagement?” I asked, amending my original question.
“Hell no!” she snapped. “If you say it that way, your psycho fans who’ve spent the last six years giving me shit for dating you will think that they were right about me all along and that you finally saw the light. I’m sorry; I know I sound like a bitch right now, but just the thought of giving them that sense of self-satisfaction makes me sick to my stomach.”
I laughed awkwardly, even though I knew she wasn’t kidding. “So I take it that’s a ‘no’ to making an announcement of any kind.”
Lauren sighed. “I didn’t say that. Personally, I would prefer our business be kept private, but I understand why you want to let the fans know. Could you please just do it in a way where our relationship drama won’t be plastered all over the cover of People magazine?”
I knew she was alluding to the article about Howie, the headline promising juicy details about his HIV diagnosis, health crisis, and divorce. He had put his story out there to take the heat off me, I reminded myself. I hadn’t wanted that kind of media attention then, and I definitely didn’t want it now, either.
“Absolutely,” I agreed. “I was thinking a simple statement on our website and maybe a tweet. Short and sweet, to the point, not too many details.”
“That sounds perfect,” she replied, her voice softening. “Maybe just say we’ve decided to go our separate ways and leave it at that.”
“Yeah… what’s that phrase you always hear when celebrity couples get divorced? ‘Irreconcilable differences?’ Maybe we could throw that in there.”
“Whatever you wanna do, Nick,” Lauren said. She sounded sad – dejected, even. I didn’t know what else to say. Maybe she didn’t see it that way, but in my eyes, we did have irreconcilable differences. I was HIV-positive, and she was negative. I couldn’t change my status and didn’t want to change hers, so there was really no way for us to reconcile our differences and have a healthy marriage.
“Alright… well, do you at least want me to send you a draft to approve before I post anything?” I offered.
“Sure. I’d appreciate that.”
“Okay. I’ll do that.”
We both fell silent for a few seconds, neither of us sure what to say next. Finally, Lauren asked, “So is that all you wanted?”
“Yeah, I guess,” I said. I wasn’t ready to get off the phone with her yet, but could see no point in making small talk just to keep her on the line. “I should probably let you go now.”
“Yeah, I’m getting ready to head to the gym,” she replied. I smiled to myself; she hadn’t changed a bit. I was the one who had changed.
“Enjoy your workout. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Okay. Take care, Nick.”
Awkwardly, we hung up.
I was already on the bus when Howie got back from brunch. “How’d it go?” I asked, as he came down the aisle of the tour bus the two of us were sharing.
He made a face. “It was… uncomfortable,” he admitted.
My eyes dropped to his crotch. “Are you still ‘intact’ down there, at least?”
Howie laughed and shook his head. “It wasn’t that bad.”
“Good.” I smiled. “So I talked to Lauren.”
“Was she okay with you releasing a statement?”
“Yeah, as long as it’s not in a magazine.”
“What, no People interview about your break-up?” He smiled knowingly, as I shook my head. “Did you tell her about us?”
I raised my eyebrows, surprised by his question. Howie and I were still hiding our relationship from everyone except our closest friends and family, so it hadn’t even occurred to me to tell Lauren. Sure, she had once been my closest confidant, but not now that we were no longer together. We could barely carry on a five-minute conversation without it feeling awkward. I couldn’t imagine admitting to her that, after all the drama over what happened on the cruise, I had ended up with Howie. It would only hurt her, not to mention how mortifying it would be for me.
“No,” I said. “Should I have?”
He hesitated. “Don’t you think she’ll find out from one of the wives? I don’t know if she still talks to Kristin or Leighanne, but she and Rochelle were close, and AJ can’t keep a secret to save his life. He probably called Ro right after that rehearsal when the guys found out about us to tell her what happened.”
My heart sank. I hadn’t thought of that, but Howie was right. There was no way AJ and his big, fat mouth would be able to keep something like that from his wife. “She didn’t say anything about it when I talked to her today…”
“Maybe she was waiting to hear it from you.”
That made me feel guilty, like maybe I should have told Lauren I’d moved on from her with Howie before she found out from someone else. Then another thought occurred to me. “Have you told Leigh about us?” I asked.
Slowly, he nodded. “I told her today.”
He rolled his eyes. “No, not at church. I pulled her aside at brunch, while the boys were with her parents, so we could talk privately. I’ve been wanting to tell her, but I felt like that kind of conversation needed to take place in person, you know?”
“Wow,” I said, stunned. “I guess that makes you a better ex than me. So how’d she take it?”
“Not bad.” He shrugged. “To be honest, I think she already knew, or at least suspected. She didn’t seem too surprised. She said she hopes it works out for us.”
Somehow, I couldn’t imagine Lauren reacting quite the same way. Unlike Leigh, she’d been nothing but supportive after my HIV diagnosis, but she also hadn’t been the one to leave. That, as she’d said earlier, was all me. So while Leigh, having made the decision to move on herself, could be happy that Howie was doing the same, I just felt like Lauren would be hurt. And the last thing I wanted to do was hurt her again.