"People made fun of me for all the stuff I did, but I did it because I deeply… (Joe Burbank / Orlando Sentinel )
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — What a mess. John Edwards lied. Rielle Hunter lied. Andrew and Cheri Young lied. Elizabeth Edwards didn't lie, but was unwittingly living a lie. John and Elizabeth fought about Andrew. Andrew and Cheri fought about John. Rielle and John fought about Elizabeth.
Then everybody (eventually) 'fessed up -- about the betrayals, the love child, the billionaires, the luxe hide-outs, the coverup, the sex tape.
Wasn't that enough John Edwards drama to last a lifetime?
"This thing will never end," said a weary Andrew Young, onetime top aide to the former North Carolina senator and 2008 Democratic presidential hopeful.
Now that is the truth:
* A federal grand jury is investigating whether Edwards funneled campaign money to his mistress, Hunter, for her personal use, which could be a crime. Last summer, Hunter and Young testified for hours in the case.
* After Young revealed he discovered a tape of Edwards cavorting with a pregnant Hunter, Hunter sued the Youngs to get it back. The case could drag on for months, said attorneys on both sides. Hunter said the Youngs purloined the tape from a box she had left in a house they rented for her; the Youngs said she left it as trash.
* Elizabeth kicked John out after he finally admitted to fathering Hunter's baby. Though she is terminally ill, they are heading for divorce. She also briefly threatened to sue the Youngs over alienation of affection and intentional infliction of mental distress.
* After John reached a child-support pact with Hunter, she posed sans pants in the April GQ, criticized Elizabeth and proclaimed her eternal love for "Johnny." She will soon bare her soul to Oprah Winfrey. National Enquirer, which broke the scandal and nominated itself for a Pulitzer Prize, remains vigilant: "John Edwards' mistress uninvited visit to kiddie gym with lovechild in tow" was a recent headline.
* And Young has penned "The Politician," a bestseller being shopped around by top Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel for the inevitable movie. The writer Aaron Sorkin and actor Tobey Maguire have both expressed interest.
You can't see any neighbors from Andrew and Cheri Young's mountaintop home, but more important, no one can see them. On 10 acres of piney woods, the expansive house -- French country meets rustic retreat -- is a 5,000-square-foot, custom-built place they don't want to live in anymore.
"We don't want to be seen, or judged," said Cheri, 36, a pediatric nurse. "We don't even go to church."
Chapel Hill is a small town. They are constantly reminded of the Very Stupid Thing they did to try to save the 2008 presidential prospects of Andrew's boss, John Edwards: agreeing to say Andrew fathered Hunter's baby.
"I feel guilty for saying yes to this horrible mess; I feel guilty for lying to America, to everybody, the world," said Cheri, sitting on a patio chair in a navy blue track suit while their three children were in school. For years, the Youngs fought about how Andrew ignored his own family to serve the Edwardses.
Andrew, 43, has the flattened affect of a man under great strain. "I feel most guilty for what I put you and the kids through."
What about guilt toward Elizabeth Edwards?
"Sometimes," Andrew said. "But she made it difficult."
Elizabeth Edwards has said she disliked Young nearly from the beginning. Young felt she resented his closeness to her husband, but it was more than that. She also thought Young had insinuated himself into their lives for selfish reasons, and would do anything to get to the top with them.
Young recounted in his book that Elizabeth blamed him for a wave of bad publicity in 2006, on the eve of Edwards' second presidential bid, when a staffer called Wal-Mart for help getting a PlayStation 3.
At the time, Edwards was in the news for leading a campaign against the giant retailer for unfair labor practices. Wal-Mart reacted with glee: "While the rest of America's working families are waiting patiently in line, Sen. Edwards wants to cut to the front." Young blamed an inexperienced aide, but Elizabeth demanded her husband fire Young. When he refused, she banished Young from their home.
In December 2006, wrote Young, Elizabeth answered her husband's phone and heard a woman's voice: "Hey, baby." Edwards confessed to a one-night stand with Hunter, his campaign videographer, but told Elizabeth she was actually Young's mistress. Elizabeth believed her husband; Young became the perfect fall guy for Edwards' extramarital dalliance.
In October 2007, as the Edwards presidential campaign was in full swing, National Enquirer broke the scandal. Edwards and Hunter denounced the story as "ridiculous." The mainstream media let it drop.
Even in politics, where "obsequious underling" is a redundancy, Young's devotion to the boss was over the top. "Game Change," the other bestseller about the 2008 campaign, demeaned him as "comically servile."