The best part about being a grunge rock star, Al decided, was the girls. They seemed to throw themselves at him, eager to do whatever it took to win his favor.
“That’s stupid,” said his sister, Polly, who was never afraid to tell him exactly what she thought. “Those women are only into you because they think you’re rich. And anyway, you’re only famous in Oregon.”
“And Washington!” Al protested. But scratch that — Polly was right. The women were fun and all, but when it came down to it, all that mattered was his music. Now that he was booking gigs and even selling a few albums, he was able to deliver his music to more people. More people to hear his art. More people to be moved by the magic that poured from his fingertips.
As he matured, so did his style. He lopped off the long, blue locks and traded his flannels for whatever felt right at the time. He branched off from the coastal grunge sound he’d started with and began to dig deep, producing songs with raw, honest lyrics and complex acoustics that the audience seemed to love.
One night, while playing for a small house at a seaside restaurant, Al overheard a woman singing along from the audience. Her rich, husky tone gave him chills. It was like nothing he’d ever heard before.
“Have you ever thought about singing professionally?” He asked the woman after the show.
“I guess we could give it a shot,” she said, in a tone that made Al wonder if she meant more than just music. A few weeks later, Al and Bethany gave their first performance as a music duo. They also went on their first date, but quickly realized that they weren’t very compatible.
Around the same time, Liberty and Callen were making travel plans. “You’re going to love the seashore,” Liberty told Callen, who picked at his French toast, wearing the same sulky expression he always wore.
“Will the beaches be crowded?” he asked gloomily. “I hate crowds.”
Liberty shook her head. “No, you’re thinking of beaches further south. Oregon beaches are cold and uncrowded. But it’s beautiful there.”
They flew to Portland, then drove to the small, coastal town Liberty had read about online. She and Callen stayed in a quaint bed-and-breakfast with views of the rugged coastline. Callen was content to walk beside her and Katniss along the beach, collecting sea glass and sand dollars as the wind whipped their hair. At night, while Callen slept, she sometimes slipped outside and walked along the docks, inhaling the salty air and thinking of Al. For some reason, she hadn’t been able to stop thinking of him since they’d arrived in town. She felt closer to him here, somehow. Almost as though the seagulls were crying his name.
One day, Al was seeking inspiration and strolled over to the park across the street from Polly’s house. As he was strumming, a young boy wandered by. The boy’s expression was so forlorn, Al was tempted to ask him if he was hurt. But then, the boy lifted his head, looked straight at Al, and smiled. Startled, Al hit the wrong string on his guitar, then stopped.
“Do I know you?” he asked, frowning. The boy looked so familiar, and yet Al was sure he’d never seen him around town.
“No, I don’t live here,” the boy said. “I’m just visiting with my mom. I like your music,” he added softly.
“Yeah?” Al grinned, then launched into one of his more popular songs. “Ever hear that one before? It’s an Al Dawson original.”
“Who’s Al Dawson?” asked the boy.
“Oh, he’s super famous,” said Al. “So you’re into music, huh? What kinds?”
“All kinds, I guess. I play music, too.”
“Guitar, like me?”
“No, mostly violin and piano.”
“Hey, my partner and I could use some piano for the song I just wrote. Think your mom would let you visit the clubhouse to make music with us?” Al pointed to the public clubhouse at the edge of the park.
“Sure.” The boy sent his mom a quick text message, then joined Al and Bethany in the clubhouse. To Al’s surprise, the boy was very talented. He took one look at the sheet music Bethany handed him, then began to play, finger flying over the piano keys. The three of them jammed for a good hour before the boy slid off the bench and said he’d better go.
“Hey, it’s was nice to meet you…what’d you say your name was?” asked Al.
The boy looked back over his shoulder. “Callen,” he said. “My name’s Callen.”
“You should have seen this kid,” Al told Polly later. “He was some kind of musical genius.”
“I’ll bet he gets famous before you do,” said Polly, smirking.
“I’m already famous,” Al grumbled. “More famous than you.”
“You’ll never get famous if you stick around here,” said Polly.
“I know.” Al sighed. He loved it there, next to the sea. But he knew that it was time for him to spread his wings. “That’s why I’ve decided it’s time for me to leave,” he said. “I’m headed to New York City.”