Artie peered in the open front door of the Desmarais’s house. No way he’d pass that opportunity up. He stepped inside and followed the sound of voices. Man, what a house. All fancy and traditional and shit, with paintings on the walls of scary-looking people. Funny. He wouldn’t exactly expect that messy, casual, snarky guy to live in a house like this.
He walked quietly down the hall the woman had run down. Voices came from ahead of him.
“The man said you were hurt, Senor Desmarais.”
“I’m okay. I’m fine. Just go back to—whatever. Honest, I’m fine.”
“But he said—”
“Where is this man?” He sounded pissed and upset.
Artie stepped into the doorway. He might get a vase in the face, but—he just needed to be sure Francois was okay. “I’m here. Sorry. I was just worried that you were hurt.”
“Why? Because you scared the bloody hell out of me and made me fall on my butt?”
Artie fought a smile. Francois must be feeling better if he could be a wiseass. “Yeah. Sorry about that.”
The woman looked back and forth between them like she was watching tennis.
Francois crossed his arms. “It’s okay, Maria. I want to talk to Artie here for a minute. Thanks so much for looking out for me.”
“But—” She looked seriously uncertain.
He waved a hand. “It’s okay. Honest.”
He turned a full frown on her. “What does my mother have to do with this?”
“Nothing.” She shook her head. “Can I get you anything?”
“No thanks. I’ll get it.” He walked to the door of the room, herding her toward it. When they got there, he smiled, thanked her again, and closed the door; then he turned to Artie with a crease between his eyebrows—barely visible under his pale, shaggy bangs. “So why are you messing in my life? What business is it of yours?”
Good question. Artie gave Francois a look. The gorgeous face was still blotchy from crying, and he vibrated with stress. “Look, crying’s one thing. Everybody needs a good cry sometimes.” Francois looked shocked at that statement, but Artie pushed on. “But when I hear your music going all to shit, I figure something’s really wrong, and I don’t see anybody doing fuck about it, so—” He shrugged and took a breath. “—I did. Sorry I scared you, but I couldn’t think of what else to do.” He let his eyes meet Francois’s.
Francois stared at him like maybe he’d lost his mind—or maybe he’d found it. Somewhere in between. “What do you mean, my music went to shit?”
Artie gave him a duh look. “You were all over the place. All angry and making no sense. It sounded like you were pissed at the piano. I mean, when you write, you stop and start, but it has a flow. You know? This didn’t. It was just like a bunch of notes, like—” Artie stopped because Francois’s lips were parted and he looked like he might pass out. Well, hell. “Look, I don’t mean anything by it. I never heard better music than you play, but what the fuck do I know? I’m just a plumber. So don’t pay any attention to—”
“How do you even know that?”
“What my music sounds like. How I was all over the place?”
Artie pointed toward the window. “I listen.” He held up his hands. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t eavesdrop. But I work right out there. How could I not hear?”
“You listen.” He said the word like he was sleepwalking, and his eyes got all shiny. “People pay huge prices for tickets to my concerts and don’t listen!” Shit, is he going to cry again?
Artie didn’t say anything. Hell, he didn’t know what else to say. But crying men weren’t really an everyday thing for him. He’d never seen his father cry. His brother, a little, but never any guy he worked with, even when they got hurt bad.
I cry. Alone, under a pillow. Sometimes to the fish. I know what that feels like. He’d stick his fingers in the water and let them nibble just to have something touch him that wasn’t cold or hurting. Tentatively, he reached out and put a hand on Francois’s arm. “It’s okay.”
The crease flashed between his brows as he stared at Artie’s hand. “What’s okay?”
“Whatever.” Artie smiled. “All of it. Sometimes being a particular way is just a pile of shit.” Jesus, he didn’t even know why he’d said that.
Francois gasped—and suddenly Artie had an armload of guy. Francois threw his arms around Artie’s neck and just squeezed.