Al’s music career was tanking. Hard. He couldn’t understand it. In one year, he’d gone from being a rising rock superstar to a second-rate wedding singer. It wasn’t that he could no longer play the guitar. It was that he was average. No better or worse than thousands of other budding musicians, all fighting to make it in the music industry.
He blamed it on the stress of trying to survive in New York City, where his monthly rent cost more than the used car he’d sold back in Oregon. He blamed it on his music partner, whom he replaced. Twice. He blamed it on shoddy guitar strings, on shoddy sound equipment, on lousy acoustics in each venue he played in.
“Blame yourself,” his manager, Gloria, finally told him one night after a particularly awful show. “Look kid, when you started playing, I really thought you had something. You had a one-hit wonder. What was that song again?”
“In Ruins,” said Al. He’d written the song two years ago, while reminiscing about exploring the rainforest with Liberty, and the love they’d discovered there among he ruins. It had quite a few downloads on the internet, and even managed to break into the top 100 a few months before he’d lost his talent. “It was called In Ruins.”
“Yeah, that one. Well anyway, now, I just don’t know. You’re not exactly selling out shows, you know.”
“I think I just need some inspiration,” said Al. “Maybe if I take some time to get away, and think, it’ll all come back to me.”
“Take all the time you need,” said Gloria. “But don’t bother coming back until your talent comes back, too.”
His talent did come back, sometimes. It came back three weeks later, when he was playing for tips in Central Park. His music was so good that a crowd of people stopped to listen. “Hey, you should be playing professionally!” someone called out.
Finally, Al thought. He was ready to return to the music business. But the very next day, he lost it again, and his music was as mediocre as ever.
“This was a mistake,” he told his sister, Polly, on the phone. “I never should have come out here. I don’t know what I was thinking, trying to make it as a serious musician.”
“Well, you’ll always have your one-hit wonder,” said Polly. “In Ruins. Wow, maybe it was prophetic.”
“You always know just the right thing to say,” said Al, grimacing. It was true, though. His music talent had faded, and his career was in ruins. Maybe it was time for him to use that economics degree, after all. The very thought made him die a little inside.
One night, after spending some time job hunting on his iPad, he switched over to his favorite bookstore app. Yes, he was broke. But maybe he could spare a few dollars to buy a new book. To his surprise, on the front page of the store site, a photo of Liberty stared back at him. Liberty! His Liberty! She was being featured as a bestselling mystery book author. Quickly, Al looked her up. Liberty was author to over thirty books, many with high ratings.
“Well, how about that?” Al sat back in his seat, stunned and pleased, and overcome with a wave of nostalgia. The next day, he went to the public library and checked out four of her books. For the next two weeks, when he wasn’t job hunting, he was reading, devouring the stories Liberty had written. One of her recurring main characters was named Alfred. The thinly-disguised name and similarities made Al grin for the first time in a long time. When he finished reading, he came to a decision. He was going to find Liberty. No matter what it took, he was going to find her, then contact her, and see how life was treating her. She was probably long married by now, with two kids and a dog. He hoped so. He hoped her life had turned out better than his.
What he didn’t know was that at that very moment, Liberty and her now teenage son, Callen, were hosting a Halloween party. Liberty just happened to be standing nearby as a couple of teen girls were listening to a song on a cellphone. Liberty hadn’t heard it before, but something about the singer’s voice sent shivers down her arms. She knew that voice.
“What are you guys listening to?” she asked.
The girl smiled and held up her phone. “It’s called In Ruins. Isn’t it a cool song? It’s by, umm…” she checked her phone. “Al Dawson.”
The tray of food Liberty had been carrying clattered to the kitchen floor.