Edge eyed him. It was late, the March sun already lightening the Rathfarnham sky, the shadows of the mountains in the distance. Adam and Larry had gone downstairs to the control room some time ago and, judging from the noises reverberating through the floorboards, had already started work on the rhythm line of the new song.
“Still?” Edge knew, obviously; he’d been right there with Bono three days ago when he’d gotten the call. Bono had first let it ring for a while, understandably occupied as he’d been with Edge in their bed, where they’d been trying to lose themselves in familiar sweat, in urgent voices, in the slide of skin against skin.
Edge had let out a string of invectives when Bono finally swung his weight off him to reach for the handset, and then had to silently bear witness to what followed. He’d watched Bono’s shoulders slump, listened to the ardent apologies that had followed but weren’t accepted then. And weren’t now, either, apparently.
He knew it wasn’t anything compared to how Bono had felt, how Bono still felt. Only a shitheel of the worst order forgot his wife’s birthday while off recording in the suburbs with the boys and dallying with his lover.
Bono shrugged his bare shoulders and put a morsel of toast into his mouth. “You know how she gets. And it’s not like I don’t deserve it,” he added.
Edge made himself focus. The sight of Bono’s lush mouth in motion would always be distracting. “Is she upset with me?” he asked cautiously.
Ali knew, of course, had known before she married Bono that she shared him with his best friend. Had loved that best friend, even, in her own way, and usually that was all right and as it should be.
But their world had changed from those early Northside days of hard and simple truths, where he’d fallen in love with a boy and his surreal voice and would have followed him wherever he went and with whomever he walked. In those days love and music and God Himself were one. They’d gone steaming right into the centre of things; they didn’t care about the divide in their Dublin or their world.
Now they were older, and everything was exponentially wider and more complicated and harder to define. It was an uncomfortable feeling, like trying to deal with an unrolling map of new countries that kept bleeding off at its edges from too much conquest. It was becoming more difficult to tell the truth from lies.
It seemed to be getting harder for Aislinn too, somehow, although she’d also known before she’d married him that this was the way things were and should be. She’d told him she was prepared to share him with Bono and with rock and roll, and at the time he’d really believed that to be true.
Edge put thoughts of Aislinn to one side; it was Ali he was concerned about now. He needed to know this one thing hadn’t changed.
Bono stopped mid-bite to look levelly at him. “No, boyo, she isn’t. Not to worry.” He put down the slice and reached over. Then the smirk: “Not everything’s about you, y’know.”
Edge shook off Bono’s hand, trying not to smile. “Can’t argue with that. Maybe write her a song, then.”
Bono sighed. “I’m trying. I sang some of it to her last night but it didn’t really go down well. She just throws me like a rubber ball, man, you know how it is.”
Edge stopped himself from asking Bono to sing the song to him. This was between Bono and his wife, and he loved Ali too; that was another thing that hadn’t changed.
“You should go home,” Edge said. “Take a couple of days off, the weekend or something. There’s no reason for us to be holed up here all month.”
They fell silent, listening to the dense, syncopated bass line coming out of the floor. For the last couple of weeks the lads had been experimenting with the drums in the recording room, a high-ceilinged drawing room that really kicked the rhythm acoustics around.
In the next room, there was the sound of something hitting the wall sharply and then bouncing off. Clearly Guggi’s painting-of-the-week wasn’t going well and their friend had decided to have it out with his muse in his usual way.
“And leave the lot of you to fuck up our new album by yourselves? Not bloody likely,” Bono said, after a while.
Edge snorted. “As opposed to having you around to fuck up?” He considered what he’d just said, and the images of light and colour that came with it. “Maybe I should rephrase that, now.”
Bono relocated his hand to the border of Edge’s dressing gown and squeezed Edge’s thigh. “Ah, Dr. Freud knows sex is the centre of life,” he said, snickering.
This time, Edge was slower to shake off Bono’s hand as it traced a slow and complex pattern against his skin. Trajectories, stars in their courses... “You could always try this with Ali,” Edge said, his voice unaccountably thick.
It spoke measures about the man Bono was that he considered this, never taking his hands from Edge. About the man Edge was, too, and about what they were to each other, the three of them, bound together on so many levels like an unbroken ring of gold. Aislinn wasn’t part of it, maybe that was part of the problem.
“Think it might work?” Bono asked, eventually.
Edge said, unevenly, “She could never resist you, B.” No, nor could he, as it happened.
There were heavy footsteps on the wooden floor outside, and someone banged on their door. “Hate to break it to you, lads, but we’re burning daylight out here,” Daniel drawled. “You don’t get your sorry selves downstairs, maybe we’re making an acoustic record!”
Like schoolchildren, they leaped from their crumb-strewn bed; Bono clawed his way into his t-shirt, Edge found his jeans. No more unauthorised detours, it was time to get back to work.
Edge paused by the threshold of their room, where the grey morning heralded storms up ahead, and more if they didn’t navigate this small, true thing very carefully.
“Go,” Edge said, and Bono sighed.
Bono went in the end; he made his lengthy apologies and ended up taking Ali to Nicaragua after the Amnesty Concert.
He finished the song, too, though the band would end up deciding to leave it off the album, because, as Larry said, “It doesn’t fit the rest of the songs, and, explain to me again why we need to include your ‘I’m sorry I fucked up’ vanity number on here?”
Ali forgave her husband, not that that was in any doubt. Edge suspected she’d forgiven him much earlier than Bono had let on, but had been enjoying the lengthy apologies too much to let him off the hook any earlier.
Besides, nothing said “Sorry” like an elephant with the word SORRY stencilled upon its noble brow, and Bono had managed to procure one and fetched up with it at their house. It had apparently caused quite a stir, and had proved the turning point on the forgiveness front.
It was ten years (after Berlin, after more children, after Aislinn decided part of him wasn’t enough for her after all, and told him that she couldn’t stay) before they decided to resurrect “The Sweetest Thing” for their Best Of album. It started because Bono needed to apologise to Ali about something else.
Edge had been staying for a couple of days with Adam in Rathfarnham to help him keep dry, when Bono materialised on Adam’s doorstep and tried to explain the whys and wherefores to anyone who’d listen.
“Really don’t need to know about this,” Edge said, trying not to grin. There’d always be something else between B and Ali; it was just part of their push-and-pull, the space they gave each other and the eternal fire they filled it up with.
“Well then, let me tell you about my apology video ideas!” said Bono; being thwarted did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm. He pushed his tinted spectacles up on his head, all the better to pin his guitar player with what he probably felt was an irresistible gaze.
The light in the hallway of the refurbished Danesmoate House was flattering, as if it had the power to turn back time. Turn it back ten years, to be precise, when they were on the cusp of the one album that would change everything.
Edge examined his lover’s elegant hairline and smiled unwillingly when Bono babbled about reprising the elephant scene, and co-opting Riverdance and “fucking Boyzone!”
“Boyzone, for real?”
“Yeah, and the fucking Chippendales! Because nothing says sorry like a bunch of firemen in their knickers, am I right?” Bono grinned, a teenager in love again, for the umpteenth time.
That was all right, Edge knew how Bono felt about his wife. At the same time he knew how much he also felt about B, possibly even as much as the old bastard loved himself.
“Remind me to ask for firemen the next time you piss me off and have to say you’re sorry,” said Edge.
Bono squinted assessingly at Edge. “Love a man for twenty years, think you know what does it for him, and you discover you never really know, do you?”
Edge could have shoved him off, but he actually tended to agree. “I also prefer Westlife,” he ventured.
“Duly noted. That new lad, Nicky Byrne, has got something and no mistake.”
Bono paused, and then widened his eyes cinematically. “So, will you please be in my apology video, Reg?”
Edge found himself saying, “Any time,” and meaning it. Damn, those blue eyes were persuasive: a river in a time of dryness and other songs he could name.
“Ain’t love the sweetest thing,” Bono sang lightly, his upper register even more gorgeous than it had been in their shared and splendid youth. He put his head on Edge’s shoulder and hung on tight.
“I’ll always catch you and break your fall,” said Edge, before he could stop himself, and Bono smiled like blue skies and sunshine, like Edge knew he always would.