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Old 10-05-2016, 09:20 AM   #1
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Innocent Experience - Chapter 5

Disclaimer: Not true. I only own the original characters. Thanks so much for waiting patiently. In this one, Florence and Bono finally meet again. Hope you enjoy it!

Chapter 5: "Meeting Up Again"

The ache in my heart is so much a part of who I am.”

Bono's eyes were fixed on the light gray bubble on his phone's screen as he sipped his drink. Florence had told him she’d be at the restaurant by eleven in the morning. He looked at the numbers at the top of the screen. Twenty minutes past eleven. Before starting to feel like an idiot, he looked at her message again. She was just a bit late, he thought. It’s not as if Larry was right and he was just wasting the band’s time… and his own. A new notification appeared at the top of the screen. An email from his son. What could it be? He slid it down.

Loading…



Within seconds he read the text.

We won today’s game. John.



He flipped down to see a picture of his two sons and his wife. They were smiling. John was dirty and sweaty in his uniform while Eli wore a grey hoodie. As he looked at Ali, he wondered who had taken the picture. It wasn’t definitely a selfie; both kids were embracing their mother and her arms were wrapped around their shoulders, protectively. She was smiling. Bono knew he was missing a lot, but there was nothing he could do about it. At least not now, that the band was trying so hard to get afloat. He looked at his youngest son, and he thought of his own mother. Bono saw her smile in John’s. He’d been thinking of her lately. More than usual. It’d been almost forty years since she had been gone, but the ache remained. He might not wear it on his sleeve, but he kept it in his breast pocket.


He was fourteen when he last saw her. He tried to fill the hole she'd left with music, and he got far beyond his wildest dreams. Yet, there was something missing. There would always be. He grabbed a pen from his shirt pocket. A napkin would do. With Edge’s melody wandering around his head, he scribbled down a few words.


Long before the night the stars went out
I’m meeting you again.


He crossed out the pronouns. He felt the need to be closer to his mother, if only on a piece of paper.


We.

He wrote down the words as he thought of Iris and her beautiful smile. The image of his mother had become so vivid in recent weeks.
We, he thought and looked down again at the letters— apostrophe. He finished fixing the sentence.


We’re meeting up again.


His attention was dragged from the napkin to his phone. A message. Florence?

So sorry I’m late. Be there in 5. Florence.



Don’t apologise. You owe me a ‘yes’ for an answer. B


Bono left the phone on the table. Nursing his cocktail, he leaned back. He was willing to wait. He realized all he wanted in that moment was to see Florence. He felt there had been a lot of things that had been left unsaid in that first conversation.


***
After coming back from a morning session at the gym, Edge was surprised to see his wife at home.

Hey! I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow,” he said and dropped a kiss on her lips.

We wanted to surprise you.” Morleigh smiled. She saw concern all over her husband's face. “Tough morning, eh?”


Tough week.” He sat on the couch. She followed. “Tough year.”


How are things with Bono and Larry? Last time I spoke with you they were having quite an argument.”

As usual, you know. Larry’s trying to encourage Bono to look back and write that song, the one about Bono’s mother. But Larry can be so black and white… He thinks Bono’s wasting our time.” He sighed deeply. “I don’t know... I feel awful.”


Aw, honey…” She kissed his forehead.


I’m afraid this is going too far. It is painful to Bono, but he knows he has to write that song. He wants to write that song. Larry just doesn’t know how to deal with the situation. And on the other hand, Adam and I can just… sit and wait. What else?” He shrugged. “I’m doing my best, but what if it’s not enough. What if U2 is not U2 anymore, and we’re all just four fat-ass old men trying to stay relevant. I just—I just don’t know, Morleigh.”


You guys will get through all this mess… like you always do. I don’t like seeing you so tense and… worn out,” she said with concern.


I look haggard, don’t I.” He wrinkled his nose.


Have you been sleeping, Dave?”

Not much. You know I’m a night owl… and I’ve been working non-stop on the rest of the songs. The album’s almost finished.”


That’s good!” She tried to cheer him up with a small squeeze and a gentle kiss on the corner of his lips. “You need to relax.”


She whispered.


Maybe you could help me.” Edge raised an eyebrow. A kiss was all he wanted right now. He needed to feel he wasn’t alone; that he had someone he could count on. “I’ve missed you so much, honey. I was going insane.”


Now I’m here.” She moved closer and kissed his neck. A gentle, but burning kiss that later died on his lips. “I missed you too. So, eating out tonight the four of us?”


Sounds like a good plan. Where’re the kids?”

Upstairs. They’re also worried about you.”


Did they say anything?”


They’re not kids anymore, Dave.”


I’ll let them know that the band will be just fine, we've been on this ship for almost forty years,” he took a deep breath and smiled. “We made sure to buy ourselves water wings a while ago.”


I hope so.”


***
Florence smoothed her red blouse as she entered the restaurant. She would have chosen a more casual place, but Bono had insisted on one of his favorites. He promised the best lox in town. She glanced at her watch as she followed the head waiter, who showed her the table.


I’m sorry it took me so long,” Bono looked up when he heard her voice. Hastily, he stood up and held the chair for her.

You’re here now,” he took his seat again. “Wine?”

Just water, thanks.”

Sparkling?”

Whatever, as long as they don't charge for it.” He raised an eyebrow as she smiled slightly. He motioned to the waitress, and asked for a bottle of Evian. It wasn't long until Florence was pouring some water in her glass.


So,” Bono hesitated. All he wanted was for Florence to take the offer. He couldn't explain why he needed her to say yes so badly. He watched how she sipped her water while he tried to form the words. This wasn’t normal. He wanted to bang his head against the table, over and over until he could string more than two words together; and talking about the water did not count.

What did you think about my offer?”

You don't beat about the bush, do you?”


Should I?” He raised an eyebrow. “There's no time to waste. You need this job and I need your work.”


Noticing the reaction in Florence's face, he ran his palms over his face. He was seriously messing things up. He was sick of apologizing every time he talked to her. He knew it was probably wearing her out.


I'm sorry. I don't know what's happening, lately. I'm not that...”


Rude?”


Florence, the last thing I want you to think of me is that I'm rude.”


You're not trying very hard, are you?” She took a sip of her drink., and looked over the menu. She could only play his game for so long. Despite all the confusion, Florence felt there was something else behind Bono's behavior. She could give him the benefit of the doubt, but she had another option. She could just stand up and leave the restaurant. She'd have to deal with Jordan later.


Florence,” he said, taking a deep breath. He found himself enjoying the way her name escaped his lips. “I know this is totally new for you, but trust me... I've been in the business for years now. It's been a long time since someone has reached me with their art. We've been dealing with photographers and designers to promote our new tour, but they just don’t get it. And then I met you and you just... blew my mind with your work.”


If the spark in his eyes was fake, then he was one hell of an actor. Florence's ears tried to catch all his words. He was too nervous to notice her gaze. His reputation as a good speaker was failing. She hadn't been aware of his stuttering and sudden struggle with words as he spoke, until the moment she made her mind. She didn’t want to trust him. She couldn’t trust him. Trust was dangerous; and from the beginning, Bono hadn’t proven to be reliable. He had, in a way, plotted with his daughter r to get Florence’s portfolio.


I'm not the artist for you.”


W– what?” He stared.

Mr. Hewson, I told you the day we met that art and pressure don't get along very well in my life. I paint because I love to, not because I have to. And...”

And you feel deep inside that the world won't like what you do.” She raised an eyebrow. His mouth was like a shotgun. A volley of shots was intended to shatter her stubbornness. She needed to believe in herself. His voice vas soft, but steady as he spoke. “Florence, people mock what they don't know. You don't paint for the world; you paint for yourself. You have a hole in your soul, and you fill it with your paintings. I don't know why, but I saw it the first time we met. I saw the pain in your eyes, and I'm seeing it now. I've got a hole too, and I fill it with songs.”

I don't want to be spat on the face if my work doesn't seem good enough.”

Nonsense,” Bono leaned forward on his seat; his elbows on the table. “Who said you're not good enough? Whoever said that knows nothing about art or passion. What you do is amazingly true. And that is what really matters, Florence. You can hide yourself behind a façade your entire life, but when you create art, you're being yourself. That's what happens when I write a song.” He tapped on the table with his first finger as he looked her in the eyes. “and that's exactly what happens when you paint. Think about it. You've got what you need. Show yourself what you're made of.”


Mr. Hewson,” Florence said and sipped at her water. “You are very nice, but I don't think the world...”

Fuck the world, Florence, pardon my French. You don't need the world.”


There are so many people out there creating amazing art.”

You don't get it, do you?” he chuckled.


Get what?”

It's not about the magnificence of the work you do. I mean, what makes anyone's work magnificent is the truth with which they create it. You write a song about your childhood, add truth to that and you've got a masterpiece; otherwise you'll have another silly pop song reaching #1 in Billboard's list. You'll get this as time goes by.”


He paused. He felt the sub-machine gun overheating. Maybe it was time to change strategy; give her some time to think while the ate. The best smoked salmon in town was waiting for them.


***


They ate, and Bono tried to organize his ideas. Florence didn’t speak much, at least not about herself. Bono asked about her life in Florida. She never took his bait. He tried asking her about painting. For how long had she been painting?


Since I was a teenager,” she replied with a sweet edge in her voice. A smile tugged at the corner of her lips. “My sister… she used to hang my paintings on the walls of her bedroom.”

She still lives in Florida? Your sister.” His tone dropped an octave. The second he asked it he regretted it. He knew it was none of his business, but he couldn't help being curious. He thought she would avoid the question; he hoped she would. But instead, he heard her speak.


Yes,” she said. He realized she'd noticed he wanted to apologize about such intrusion, but she didn't mind it.


Florence's voice was soft but steady; it reminded Bono of their first meeting. It was confident, and it was meant to build a wall between her and the world. It seemed that she was secretly desperate to be heard, but was afraid of being hurt. Bono sensed that trace of sadness in her tone; an air of mystery that haunted her words. Maybe her insecurities were chained to that past she refused to talk about. He wondered if he would be seeing ghosts where there were none. She was probably a very private person, and didn't feel the need to open up to a stranger.


In any case, Bono caught a few small details in the fraction of a second. Her shoulders had relaxed, and her expression had softened considerably. And there was a spark in her eyes, like fire reflected through polished amber stones... Could he call that spark trust? He wasn't certain, but somehow, Bono knew he would see her again.


Nodding, he changed the subject. Too much awkward silence.


You told me you like music, right?” he asked.

She nodded.



What do you think of U2?”


Let me be honest,” she said. “I have never cared about U2.”


The confession struck Bono’s ego. A part of him felt insulted, while the other felt even more intrigued by the woman sitting across from him. He downed his drink in one gulp, and waited for the buts.

But I downloaded your albums a few days ago, and have been listening to your songs.”

He leaned closer. He didn’t want to cut off her words, for her eyes told him that there was more to be said.



Particularly, there’s a song that won’t leave my head, and I’d like to know more about it,” she said. “I felt somehow inspired by it. I didn’t google it, I wanted to hear it from you, if you don’t mind.”


I’d be glad to tell you about it. Which one is it?”


Tomorrow.”


His mind went back to the past. Again. All roads led to Cedarwood Road.


I felt that truth. The truth you've been talking about is everywhere when I listen to that song. What's the story behind those lyrics?”

He took a deep breath. Just looking at his eyes, she knew the answer wasn't a secret for anyone, but it was uncomfortable for him to go there.


I– I lost my mother when I was fourteen.” When he spoke, she felt a dagger pierce her heart. Her pulse got quicker. It was real; the pain in his voice was real. “Florence–”


I'm sorry.” She held back her tears.

It's okay,” he said. She really was sorry. Many people used to say the words like going through the motions; Florence didn't. At least not this time. He leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table. “It was a long time ago.”


Such wounds never heal.”

Straightening up without looking away from her, he felt his head fill with questions without answers. He wanted those answers. He needed them. Florence was truly affected by his words. Why? Did it have to do with her past in Florida? A past she tried hard not to talk about?


But Bono had to be careful. It was probably a sensitive topic, and he didn't want to provoke her.


You're right.” He took a deep breath. “My father never talked about her. We didn't talk about her. I was so angry at the world... I guess I used music as a way of escape. A way to fill that hole my mother left in my heart when she passed away.”


His voice deepened.


Could you take your sunglasses off, please?” she asked. She needed to look into his eyes, somehow they lightened he burden she carried with her. He took them off and hung them in the neck of his shirt. As he looked at her with naked eyes, he wished she saw the real Bono. “Thank you. It's better to look into your eyes rather than a pair of sunglasses.”


And it's easier talking to you when you drop your defenses.”

She shrugged. “Everybody hides themself in their own way. You cover your eyes… I cover my soul.”



I'm not going to hurt you, Florence.” His words were pure, the feeling too. He'd been trying to gain her trust for hours, if not for days. Maybe it was a matter of saying the simplest words, he thought.

It's part of human nature. People hurt you; and if they don't, they leave.”


No, don’t say that...” his words were almost a whisper. He wanted to cover her hand with his. But he restrained himself. She might misunderstand it.

She said nothing as she thought of her past. Pain and farewells. Her life was full of those. She felt the urge to cry. Listening to him through a pair of headphones was an intense experience; but now that she'd heard his story, she felt the need of opening up about her past.



She died when I was fifteen.”


No words. And no more questions haunting Bono. Both their lives where matching pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Now he knew what had torn the hole in her heart. Now he knew why he'd seen himself in her drawings.


I'm sorry, I-”

It’s funny…” She said, staring into space. It was no longer a stranger to whom she was talking anymore. She had so many things to say, and he wanted to hear them. He leaned forward once again. “I don't remember her smiling. She rarely did. She wasn't happy. A few memories come in flashes... I remember the smallest details, though. The sound of her voice...” she chuckled. “Her pancakes, and… the way she kissed me goodnight. That’s what I miss the most.

Bono saw a reluctant tear roll down her cheek. It died in the corner of her lips when she smiled slightly. A resignation gesture? There was no joy in her face.


She was very proud of us... of my sister and I. She never told us to stop dreaming. She wanted me to be an artist because she knew I loved painting.”

What did you do?”


She shrugged, looking down at her own trembling hands. “Nothing lasts forever. I buried all my dreams with her. No point in hoping for something impossible.”

He couldn't restrain himself anymore. Reaching out, he covered her hand with his. It was soft and warm. He gave it a little squeeze.


Nothing is impossible, Florence.” Her name was easy on his lips. So pure, like reading the Holy Scripture. “My father tried to protect me from the world by advising me not to dream. But I did. That was the only thing I did. I failed sometimes, but I didn’t give up. What's the point of life if you can't dream? You're a great artist.”


She met his gaze. Of all the times he had praised her, this one felt the most real, and sincere. He had almost forgotten about his offer.


I felt a connection when I first saw your drawings, even though I didn't know your story. I was touched. I want to help you, Florence Lewis,” he said, staring into her eyes. His voice was low and mellow. “Let me help you unbury all those dreams, and make them come true.”


Help—”


Before Florence could say anything, she was interrupted by the ring of Bono's phone. Looking at the screen he saw his wife's name. Bono knew it could be important, but he didn't want to break that connection with Florence. He tapped on the ‘message’ icon and chose his first customized answer: ‘Busy’. He'd call Ali later.


It could be important,” she said.


I'll return the call later. I'm in a business meeting now. Were you going to give me an answer?” his eyes pleaded. He was dying to give this conversation a new direction.


I've never had a job like this one. That's a huge responsibility.”


Yes, you're right. You won't have time for anything else. You'll have to work hard, won’t get much sleep, and will get thousands phone calls in one day. You’ll breathe U2’s music. In dreams begin responsibility.”


Yeats?”


Schwartz. He used Yeat’s line as the title for one of his short stories. I stole the line myself and used it in one of our songs… Schwartz’s book was on my mind when I was writing the lyrics.”


I haven’t read him.”


Like to read as well?”


Not as much as I like to paint, but I certainly do.”


I have a few books I’d like to give you. I know you’ll enjoy them very much.”


I’ll gladly read them,” she said as a smile tugged on the corner of her lips.


He stared at her for a minute in surprise. He went on about novels and poems that had shaped his life. Her eyes were locked on his as if her life depended on his next sentence. He relished having her complete attention. Forget about large venues full of people screaming your name, he told himself, Florence's eyes on him revived the confidence he had to find every night he got onstage. Suddenly, it occurred to him that there was one thing he didn't yet know.


"Pardon me for asking, but how old are you?"

Florence chuckled slightly.



"How old are you?" She asked.

"I asked first, but... How old do you think I am?"


"Hmm, I don't know... Sixty-two, maybe?"


His smiling eyes squinted.


"W— What?"



"You asked." She shrugged. She wanted to laugh at his astonished face. She was starting to realize Bono's weak point: his ego.


"I'm in my early fifties," he said.

"I'm in my early thirties."


"Touché!" He finished his wine. "Fifty-four."



"Thirty-three."

Oh, but you are a baby,” his eyes lit up.


Were you a baby at thirty-three?”

"No, just a naïve old man with short legs."



He sighed and leaned back trying to recapture that feeling. There was still some innocence in his look when he smiled. Fifty-four. His eyes didn’t show his age; they look like those of a reborn Phoenix. She had just met him, nevertheless his eyes spoke to her in tongues, not about those times he said he’d failed, but of all the times he had risen from the ashes. Those sapphire razor eyes relieved her of any lingering doubt

Okay. I'm gonna do it.”


Do what?” Bono knew what she was talking about, but he wanted to hear her say it.

I'm gonna work for you.”

Not for me, with me.”

Good. Let's draw up a contract, then.”


Easy love,” he chuckled. “Don't show your claws just yet.”

I'm sorry.”

Don't apologize, because if it ever gets to the point where you owe me an apology, I will already have dropped you like a hot potato.”

You know,” the tone of her voice changed abruptly, “I had my reasons when I said I didn't trust you the day I met you.”

And I don't intend to change your mind... yet.” He grinned.


Dessert?”

***


Bono was glad that she let him order his favorite for the both of them. After those minutes of deep confessions, they each felt a burden had been lifted off their shoulders. He saw her laugh at his funny remarks, with a childish enthusiasm. They fell into easy conversation that lasted long after their plates were empty. Music being the main topic, Bono was curious about Florence’s favorite artists.


Patti Smith,” she said.

Interesting.” He recalled her post on Facebook.


“Her music’s the reason why I left Florida… Her voice has this thing about it. Freedom, I think. It must be it. You know the feeling, don’t you? I mean, I don’t know if you like her music.”


He nodded. For once in his life, he wanted to listen rather than talk.


Her music is the closest I’ve been to being free. I’ve never been free… I don’t think I’ll ever be, actually. But I got rid of some heavy chains when I came to Ney York--”

W— Why do you say you’ll never be free?”


Dylan says not even birds are free, they’re chained to the skyway. That’s what my past is… the sky above me, and I’ll be chained to it for the rest of my life. That’s it,” she said, looking at her watch. “It’s two-thirty, I think we should be going.”

Thought you were enjoying my company.” He winked.


I had lovely time.” She smiled. “You’re a nice conceited man, Mr. Hewson.”


Is that a compliment?”


She chuckled. “Oh, no… that’s a fact.”


***
When will I see you again?” Bono asked as he opened the taxi’s door for her.


You’re the boss.”


No, I’m not… I’m your future business partner.”

Does your band know that you just hired me?” she asked with concern. “Do they even know I exist? You told me you were looking for photographers.”

Oh, our drummer got one… The guy's not bad, but he's too predictable. I don't think he's got the guts. I’ll talk to my bandmates, and to our manager. He will sort out the contract issue.”

Okay, then just give me a call when you’ve everything sorted out.” She paused. “I never thought I’d say this but, it was nice talking to you.” She got in the cab, and he closed the door. Leaning into the window, he gave her a peck on the cheek.

You’re an angel, Florence. I wish we could spend another two hours chatting. But I know we’ll have time for that. Maybe I can tell you the stories behind some of my songs, I’d trade them for the stories behind your eyes, the ones you project on your canvases.”


She smiled tenderly. He was all charm. “See you, Mr. Hewson,” she said, putting on her Wayfarers as she waved him goodbye.


In any other time, with any other person, except for his family and closest friends, Bono couldn’t have waited for the business lunch to be over; yet now he craved for more time with Florence. Two hours. Half an hour. Ten more minutes. There was no way she could put him off. A few days ago she had been a blank page to him; today he found some lines written on that page, and he wanted to discover more. An interesting story to Bono’s questioning soul.

As he tried to get a taxi, people turned to look at him, some hesitated before approaching him to ask for autographs or his picture. Women tried to kiss him, while men patted him on the back. He smiled, even though he was tired. You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. It was part of the job, and he knew it. He usually didn’t mind being the focus of attention, but today he just wanted to get home and finish the lyrics. All he could think of now was his mother. After a few minutes he finally decided to stop a cab.


Thanks a lot, folks. See you soon!” he said, getting in the car.


The smallest details. Details.


Florence’s words whirled around in his mind even after he’d gotten home. He plopped down on one of the couches, and stared at the ceiling for fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes that felt like hours. He had a feeling that there was more behind Florence’s story. What would it be?
He got up and walked to the bar. After pouring himself a whiskey, he returned to the living room and sat on the couch again; took a sip and put the glass next the telephone, on the coffee table. His acoustic guitar still lay on one of the seats from the night before when he’d tried to finish the song. He didn’t need to pull the napkin out of his pocket, for he remembered the words. He recalled what he had last written.


We’re meeting up again.


He pulled out his phone and tapped on the voice memos app. He knew he was never going to be able to repeat the words he was about to say. He tapped on the red button, and sang. Parts of the lyrics he had written long before. Suddenly it was like a jigsaw falling into place. The old ones and the new ones. Months of a murderous writer’s block were about to be unleashed. Words flowed from his mind out of his mouth. He thought of Ali. He thought of his children. He thought of his mother. His mother. His mother. Iris… Iris… Iris… Iris… Her named hurt on his lips. But he held on tight to it if only for a few minutes. Iris… Iris…


Iris standing in the hall
She tells me I can do it all
Iris wakes to nightmares
Don't fear the world it isn't there


Iris playing on the strand
She buries the boy beneath the sand
Iris says that I will be the death of her
It was not me

It was not me. It was not me…” Tears came in a flood, burning the back of his throat and clouding his blood-shot eyes. All the years he’d avoided thinking of Iris’ death, all the memories splintered in the walls of his soul… all came back to him like gale-force winds lashing the coast. Smashing the guitar against the floor, he folded to his knees and cried. He cried over his mother, and cried over his father. He cried like he hadn’t cried in years. “It was— it wasn’t me. Not me. Where are you?” He wasn’t sure who he was talking to, but he wished it was his mother. Wrapping his arms around himself, he lay flat on his back. His phone was still recording, but he didn’t care. With his eyes closed, he could only whisper. “Hold me close… Iris.”
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