“What do you mean?”
“No, I’m not. I’m fine.”
“Liar. We’ve know each other way to long to play that game. What’s going on?”
Nick sighed and told him all about the message Lauren left for him. Howie wanted to say so many things but he let Nick finish before saying anything.
“That’s just wrong Nick. You’re her boyfriend not a pet she can keep on a leash.”
“Well what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I like being out here with you but I don’t want to keep sleeping in hotel rooms.”
Howie had just opened his mouth when Nick cut him off.
“And don’t offer to have me stay with you. Emma is already staying with you and as much as I appreciated the sofa bed last night, I don’t want to sleep there for the next few months.”
“Does that mean you’re flying back home.” Howie asked with a sad tone. “I was kind of enjoying hanging out with you.”
“Thanks a lot. Kind of enjoying it?”
“Jackass. You know what I mean. We always seem to be in different places and I know you’re close to Bri. It’s been nice to bond a little.”
“I agree.” Nick replied. “The only problem is finding a place to stay.”
“Emma’s looking for a place. Maybe you can share a place for a while.” Howie suggested without thinking.
Nick choked on some water. “Oh yeah, Lauren would love that.”
“No offense but does she even care? She seems to be doing her own thing. Why can’t you?”
“I can with the exception of living with another woman.”
“It’s not like you and Emma are dating. Plus, we’re going to be traveling to work with some of the songwriters that producer suggested. You’re not going to be there every second of the day. Besides, you both could use the company.”
“But she’s a woman.”
“No shit Nick. I figured that out by myself. There is nothing wrong with two friends living together.”
Nick just shook his head. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Howie was interrupted by his phone vibrating. He opened it up and looked at the text. AJ had sent him some message that had a file attached. Nick noticed out of the corner of his eye that the message was labeled “Lauren”.
“Let me see that!”
Nick grabbed Howie’s phone and opened the attachment. There was a picture of Lauren laughing with some other people at a party. She was looking at someone’s phone and Nick noticed a man standing next to her. Lauren had her arm linked with his. Howie saw the picture and snatched his phone back.
“I’m sure it’s nothing Nick. I think that guy is one of the sponsors.”
Nick wanted to be mad at the guy but he was furious with Lauren. How could she let some other guy do that? As soon as that thought hit him, he was reminded of this afternoon with Emma. She had pulled away from his arm because she didn’t want it to come across like there was something going on. Nick realized he couldn’t be mad at Lauren for doing the same thing he did.
Howie’s phone buzzed again and he found another text from AJ. He couldn’t really hide this one since Nick was already staring over his shoulder. A new picture popped up showing Lauren sitting with the same guy and some other people. She had her hand on his leg and her head nestled on his shoulder. He was whispering in her ear and she was smiling. One more suddenly popped up and this one showed the man leaning in towards Lauren.
Nick had been ready to forget the first picture because he had done something similar. However, this one pushed him over the edge. What the hell was Lauren doing?
“Maybe there’s a simple explanation for this Nick.”
“Why is he leaning in to her? Is he gonna kiss her?”
“Maybe he kissed her on the cheek.”
Even if he did, these pictures felt like a kick to Nick’s gut. How could Lauren not realize that there were photographers everywhere? These pictures were gonna wind up on the internet site of some celebrity trash magazine. The rumors would start next and then the phone calls from people asking if he and Lauren were having problems. Why didn’t she ever take his feelings into consideration?
“Don’t sweat this Nick.” Howie said reading his mind. “You don’t have to explain it to anyone.”
“I wouldn’t even know how to.” he answered quietly. “I don’t even know what’s going on.”
Howie was about to say something but he was interrupted by the women returning. Emma and Addie noticed right away that something was wrong and they could tell it was about Nick. They watched as he placed his napkin on the table and walked out of the restaurant.
“What’s going on?” Emma asked. “Why is he so upset?”
Howie pulled out his phone and showed them the pictures. It didn’t matter that they saw them since everyone in the country was going to see them in the morning.
“That’s awful.” Emma responded. “How could she do that to him?”
“She probably didn’t mean to….”
“C’mon Howie. You guys have the media around you all the time and she didn’t think someone would catch this?” Addie asked.
“I guess she didn’t think.”
“Or care.” Emma replied.
She stood up and put her napkin on her chair. Following the route Nick had taken, she found him sitting in the SUV with the driver’s side window rolled down. He looked like he was having a fight with himself so she walked up to the door and placed a hand on his arm.
“I’m sorry Nick.”
Her voice caught his attention and he turned to face her. He wasn’t crying but his eyes were filled with tears. Emma wiped the ones that spilled out onto his cheek.
“I’m sorry you’re hurting. I wish there was something I could do for you.”
“Can you give me a few minutes alone? I’ll come in soon.”
Emma nodded and headed back to the restaurant. It hit him that this woman, who he had barely known for a month, cared more about his feelings than the woman he had been in love with for the last three years. Maybe Howie was right. Since both he and Emma were looking for some place to stay, they might as well have some company.
He climbed out of the truck and headed back to the table.
“Hey Em? I have an idea.”