Abe’s own answer took a long time in coming. “I don’t know,” he said at last. “No secret that I wasn’t in a good headspace when I married Sarah.” Grief thickened his voice. “Not that it matters. She didn’t exactly hang around when I wasn’t the perfect rock-star trophy husband anymore.”
Noah knew Abe was referring to his problems with drug addiction. “You know I have your back, man, but living with a cocaine addict can’t have been easy.” Abe had once punched Noah while in the fog of drugs; Noah had no idea what had gone on behind closed doors between Abe and Sarah, but he did know that she’d changed from a hopeful, somewhat shy twenty-one-year-old to a brittle, angry twenty-four-year-old by the time of their divorce.
“Yeah well, she landed on her feet.” The furious undertone to Abe’s voice made Noah’s instincts prickle. Until right then, he hadn’t believed Abe was hung up on Sarah; they’d parted in too much anger, their divorce a battleground of lawyers and bitter demands.
Sarah had asked for Abe’s keyboard collection even though she didn’t play. Abe¸ in turn, had accused her of cheating when Sarah just wasn’t the cheating kind. In the end, he’d kept his keyboards and Sarah had suddenly caved and accepted a settlement after months of refusing to sign the divorce papers.
At the time, David had wondered if the two were drawing things out because they didn’t actually want to be divorced. Noah had disagreed, especially since Sarah had been pregnant with another man’s baby by then, but now…
“I don’t know,” he said. “Her fiancé’s a bit of an asshole who keeps her on a short leash from what I’ve heard.”
Abe went very, very still. “He hurting her?”
“No signs of that—all I heard is that the guy’s a control freak,” Noah said evenly, suddenly dead certain Abe’s feelings for Sarah ran far deeper than the other man had ever admitted. Maybe his marriage had simply become collateral damage in the devastating loss that had scarred Abe the same year he married.
“He’s a smug fuck too.” Abe’s words were dark. “You should grab that parking spot up ahead. We’re not likely to get anything closer.”
Noah parked, and the two of them got out to walk the rest of the way. They hadn’t bothered to disguise themselves since the worst that would likely happen in this low-key neighborhood would be a teenager or two asking for an autograph. A minute later, they passed a lanky boy strumming his guitar as he sat on the stoop in front of a small, neatly kept apartment building.
The kid’s double take was funny enough that Noah walked up to him and, taking the guitar, strummed a few bars. “Here’s where you’re faltering.” He’d heard it as they walked. “This is what you do to fix it.” Putting his fingers on the strings, he showed the kid how to compensate for the fact he had a pinky that was missing its top half.
The kid’s eyes locked on his fingers, deep grooves between his eyebrows. Taking the guitar from Noah when he held it out, the boy did exactly what Noah had demonstrated. The smile that bloomed on his face was worth all the shit that came with fame. “I didn’t think I could do that,” he said, repeating the riff before he looked up, hope incandescent in his deep brown eyes. “You think I could be like you? Go all the way to the top?”
Noah wasn’t sure he should be encouraging a sweet, normal kid to join his world, but dreams were dreams. “Don’t see why not.” He tapped a finger against the boy’s temple. “Trick is not to try to do what everyone else says you should do—you have to figure out your own unique style. That’s what I did.”
Flexing his left hand, he held it out so the boy could see the fine scars that spider-webbed it. “It had the hell crushed out of it when I was about your age.” A car accident after he stole his father’s Beemer following an argument during a rare vacation week when Fox wasn’t with him. His friend had been forced to stay an extra week at school as punishment for an infraction Noah couldn’t now remember.
“It’s never going to be as strong as my right hand.” It throbbed at night sometimes, a bone-deep ache.
“Wow.” The kid touched his fingers to Noah’s hand. “I never knew that.”
“Most folks don’t.”
He and Abe spent a few more minutes with the kid, and Noah gave the teen his number before they left. It wasn’t something he did often—kids tended to brag, and he had no intention of dealing with thousands of messages. But he didn’t think this kid would boast. Having the number would be enough for him. And if he did ever call, it’d be because he couldn’t figure something out.
Heading back down the street afterward, they made it to the restaurant right on time.
“This is bad.” Abe glanced at his watch with a scowl. “We’re being way too well behaved. What’s next? No shenanigans on tour? No raising hell? Punctuality is a slippery slope, my friend.”
Noah snorted. “Screw bad behavior. I want to eat.”
“Noah, Abe.” Luca Meluchi came over and shook their hands, his grip that of a man who spent his off time fixing up and flipping houses. “Like I told Abe, I squeezed in a table for you on the patio, but it’s kind of stuck in a corner.”
“Every seat here is the best in the house.” Noah grinned. “And forget about taking our orders. Just feed us.”
“Done,” Luca said with a laugh, and led them out the side door and onto the patio.
Seeing the soft semi-darkness of it, the tables romantically small and lit only with candles, Noah glanced at Abe. “Don’t try anything.”
“You should be so lucky,” the bigger man said as they were shown to their shadowy and tight corner, the table right up against the back wall of the restaurant. “You’re not my type.” With that, Abe grabbed the seat that put his back to the rest of the people out here, which meant Noah ended up with his to the restaurant wall, his view of the other tables uninterrupted.
It was the seat he’d have chosen given first pick—and he knew full well Abe was aware of that.
Luca came out right then with a loaded antipasto platter and they dug in.
“I swear this is the only place I actually eat eggplant,” Noah said, reaching for more.
“I’m all about the olives, man. And those weird pickled pepper things.”
“Those are goo—” Noah froze, his eyes on the woman who’d just stepped out onto the patio.
Never would he mistake Kit’s profile for someone else’s. About to raise his hand, alert her to his and Abe’s presence, his brain finally caught on to the fact that she had a male hand on her lower back. That hand was attached to a man who looked vaguely familiar.
“What’s so interesting?” Abe looked over his shoulder, blew out a breath. “Dude works with Kit, doesn’t he? I remember him from that awards ceremony.”
Noah’s brain clicked. “He wrote the script for Last Flight—she liked working with him.” All at once, he could remember every good thing Kit had said about her date. “Terrence Gates.”
“Maybe they’re working together again.” Abe returned his attention to the platter.
“Yeah, Kit mentioned a new project,” Noah said, but from the way the guy had just reached out to touch Kit’s hand across the table, it was obvious this was a date. He knew he should stop looking, stop watching, but he couldn’t help himself. The candlelight caressed Kit’s face, made her skin glow and her eyes sparkle. Or maybe the glow was because of Gates.
They hadn’t sparkled for Noah in a long time.
“Shit man, we can leave, eat somewhere else.”
He jerked his attention to Abe’s keen gaze. “No. If we do, we’ll only draw attention to ourselves.” Right now, their position made them all but invisible to Kit and her date.
Abe leaned in close, the candlelight throwing shadows on his face. “Then stop staring at her.” A grim order. “I don’t know what you did to mess it up with Kit, but you did. Now live with it.” Pausing to take a drink of the ice-cold water one of Luca’s brothers had placed on the table as they took their seats, he said, “She looks happy. You want to change that?”
Noah’s hand clenched around his own glass. “No.” Forcing his gaze off Kit, he tried to keep it on the food. He knew it was delicious, but he couldn’t taste a bite because he was trying so hard not to look at the only woman who had ever been his friend.
Leaving ten minutes after Kit and her date finally headed out, Noah and Abe didn’t speak much. When he would’ve dropped the other man off at his place, Abe shook his head. “You know what I learned when I ended up drinking myself into the hospital?”
“I don’t need secondhand therapy.” Noah’s hand flexed and tightened on the steering wheel.
“Yeah, well, you’re going to get it. You can’t be alone tonight, Noah. You’re going to go do something stupid.”
“I won’t.” He swallowed. “I promised Kit.”
“There are plenty of kinds of stupid, and I bet you can find a loophole of stupidity.”
Noah wanted to disagree, couldn’t. “What do you want to do?”
“Go do something stupid together.” Stretching out in the passenger seat, Abe grinned. “Let’s go have an impromptu party at Fox and Molly’s. We’ll shanghai David and Thea along the way.”
“You shanghai Thea. I’m not feeling that stupid.”
Abe laughed and Noah felt his lips twitch. It was good to have friends who gave a shit.
And friends who laughed and joined in with their plan for a party, complete with junk food Abe and Noah had picked up along the way. Noah ended up with a guitar in his arms. He always had one nearby. This one had been in his car. Not one of his more expensive ones in case it got stolen, but a solid model. Feeling the strings thrum under his fingertips, he found a calm that was so often missing in his life.
It was Fox who’d given him music, having already had a basic command of the guitar thanks to his grandfather. He’d taught Noah the beginnings of it the week before their lessons properly started. Noah had found a sweet salvation in the strings. When he played, he could forget for a while, go to another place.
Kit had once called it a meditative space.
Noah didn’t think of it like that. He thought of it as escape.
So he played for his friends and with them, and when David drew Thea into a dance, he increased the tempo and the rhythm while Fox took a pair of drumsticks David must’ve had on him and drummed out a beat on a side table. Abe, meanwhile, had Molly in his arms, the two of them swaying together with the ease of friends.
Noah had wanted to dance with Kit for so long, to feel the music through her body. He’d never permitted himself the pleasure, never allowed himself to put his hands on her. Because whatever he touched, he destroyed.
Continuing to play when Fox broke off to grab Molly’s ringing phone to pass to her, he segued into a romantic little ballad that let David twirl Thea. Schoolboy Choir’s usually sharply dressed publicist was barefoot and in an at-home outfit of white shorts and a cherry-pink top, the straps fine against her honey-gold skin, her black hair sleek down her back.
I could do what David did, win my girl.
It was a tiny whisper, from the boy he’d once been. Noah ignored it. If he tried to be with Kit, he’d mess her up so badly nothing would ever put her back together again. Friendship was all he could aim for, hope for.
Coming back into the room after having taken her call by the pool, Molly went back to dancing, this time with Fox. Abe relaxed in the armchair next to the one where Noah sat and, after a short pause, began to sing.
Abe didn’t have Fox’s ferocious vocal cords, but he had a bluesy tone to his voice that was perfect for this night, this moment. And the words he sang, they were gentle, undemanding, yet compelling all the same.
“You could go solo,” Noah said when the song ended.
“So could you, dipshit.”
Lips curving, Noah shook his head. “Me? I’m just a pretty face.”
“And I’m just a schmuck piano player.”
Fox, having caught their conversation, spun Molly to hold her from the back, his arms crossed over her waist. “And David’s just the drum guy, while I can sing some. We are who we are together.”
“We’re better than who we are alone.” David sat down, tugging Thea onto his lap, her long legs hooked over the arm of the chair as she wrapped one arm around his shoulders.
“You aren’t better,” Thea said with an arched eyebrow. “You’re phenomenal. Split you up and you’d be good, perhaps even great, but it wouldn’t be this magic.”
“I’m too lazy to go solo anyway,” Abe drawled. “At least this way, I get a breather during concerts when you showboats take over.”
“Fuck you,” Fox and Noah said in stereo while David fist-bumped Abe.
And he was okay. For tonight, for this instant in time, he was okay. As long as he didn’t think about the fact that some other man was probably putting his hands on Kit right now.