Twelve-year-old Autumn's world is shattered when her beloved Great-Pop, Tommy Johnson, suffers a stroke that leaves him comatose. With everyone around her resigning themselves to the inevitable, Autumn is the only one not willing to give up. She and Great-Pop have more secret stories to share with each other, after all. More stories about Roy McMillan—the great love of Tommy's life whom he lost fifty years ago.
Autumn struggles to keep Great-Pop on this side of death's door. But how can she compete with the beautiful and mysterious Valley—a place of surreal magic where the sun never fully sets? Especially when there's someone familiar in the Valley who will do everything he can to keep Great-Pop from returning to her.
2015 Rainbow AwardsBest Gay Fantasy RomanceBest Gay Debut
Best Gay Book Runner-Up
TOM SQUINTED over the top of his glasses at the two bottles in his hands, trying to remember, as he did every time he made the short trip to the pharmacy, which brand Virginia preferred. She was never the type to yell, and he didn’t think she’d even make a fuss, really, but she would give him that look, and he’d know—as he always did—that he’d made a mistake. After almost fifty years of marriage, he knew his wife’s looks.
He set one bottle down, the green one with the yellow cap, and tried to imagine it on the bathroom counter. Except this particular brand made lots of pills, and he could see, in his mind, ten bottles with this same design. The pink bottle was familiar, but he felt like he could remember her saying, “Now Tommy, don’t buy this one. I don’t like the way it makes me feel after I take it.” Then again, that could have been a whole different bottle for a whole different pill, or maybe he’d made it all up.
With his free hand, he felt in his pocket for change before he remembered they’d pulled out the payphone outside, leaving a gaping hole in the wall. Hadn’t worked half the time anyway. Times like these, Tom wondered if he oughtn’t get himself a cell phone; his grandkids had been harping on him about it for long enough.
“Daddy, what if the car breaks down on the side of the road?”
“Do what I’ve always done,” he told them.
“Fix it? Daddy, your hands are shaking so bad these days. And you can’t just rely on passersby—they’re liable to mug you.”
“Just let me get you a phone. I’ll pay for it. We’ll get the simplest one they have on the market.”
But that was the thing about getting older; simple wasn’t so simple anymore. The kids spoke a foreign language half the time, even when they were talking in English. And their toys and gadgets and electronics, even the “simple” ones, confused him. His great-granddaughter, Hannah, had a phone that looked like a tiny computer, and she carried it everywhere she went. Even to the bathroom. Nah, he didn’t need a cell phone. He wouldn’t be able to work it. Just another piece of plastic taking up space in his life. Virginia still used her old typewriter when she wanted to write up a letter, so more often than not, their computer sat dead in the office.
Tom shifted uncomfortably, his arthritic knees protesting that he’d been standing too long. He should get the green bottle with the yellow lid, he decided. He had a bad feeling about the other one, and he had no way of knowing which was correct unless he drove home.
He put the bottle up on the checkout counter at the pharmacy, along with a bag of cough drops, menthol rub, and Epsom salts, and waited for the young lady pharmacist to notice him. She was tall and slender with dark brown hair she’d pulled back, except one piece, which was hanging down loose in her face. She would have been pretty, except for her sour expression. And she was ignoring him.
Tom glanced down at the bell and shifted his legs again. He hated to ring it when she was standing right there, but she didn’t seem to notice him either. He cleared his throat, and when that did nothing he said, “Excuse me, Miss?”
She shot him a look that said she didn’t like being interrupted. Except she hadn’t been doing anything that he could see—except ignoring him.
“Floor purchases at the front,” she said.
A muscle twitched in his cheek. Time was the pharmacist came out and shook your hand when he made a sale. This little girl—could have been his granddaughter’s age—had no service skills.
“I’m picking up a prescription,” he told her as calmly as he could manage. His hands were starting to shake, and his knees burned, and he felt a little dizzy. It was hot in the store. He needed to get outside, take in a few cool breaths, and he’d be fine. But he couldn’t leave without their prescriptions.
“Name,” she prompted him with no apology.
“Johnson,” he said, “Thomas and Virginia. Should be four prescriptions between us.”
She took an extra-long time getting up and checking the rows and rows of metal shelves for his request. Meanwhile, the room really had started to spin. He had these dizzies sometimes. He’d pay, and he’d sit down, and he’d be fine.
“Here we go,” she said after the longest time, and punched the numbers into the register. “Four hundred and fifty-seven thirty.”
“Four hundred?” he repeated, flabbergasted.
“Yup,” she said, holding out the Y in the word. She cut her eyes over to something or someone behind her.
“Just last month it was three hundred.”
“Price went up on the heart meds,” she told him, unconcerned.
“A hundred dollars?”
She stared at him.
“Could you possibly check on it? Check to make sure there wasn’t an error in the pricing?”
She looked at him and tucked the loose hairs back behind her ear. She examined the bottles and then back at the register and then back at him and said, “Four hundred and fifty-seven thirty.”
For a long time after he left the store, Tom sat in his old Dodge and stared at the wheel. The dizzies hadn’t passed, even with gulp after gulp of cool air. But his knees were bothering him so badly he couldn’t stand, even propped against the brick side of pharmacy. Slowly he laid his head against the ribbed wheel and closed his eyes. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he realized he’d bought the wrong pills for Virginia. It was the pink bottle she wanted, not the yellow and green one.
THE YOUNG police officer just happened to be starting his patrol when he walked past the truck, and he found an elderly man slumped over the wheel. The officer knocked on the window, causing the man to stir. He turned his head slightly, blinked with heavy lids, but there was no light of recognition in his eyes. His mouth worked, opening and closing, and when the officer pulled open the door, he heard the man’s gibbering. The old man pressed the gas, but the car didn’t move because the keys had fallen out of the ignition.
“—n-needs her pills,” he mumbled over and over. The young officer saw the pained look on the man’s face, saw the white foam that had leaked from the corners of his mouth and crusted there, saw the way he could barely hold himself up, and the violence with which his hands were shaking.
The officer grabbed the radio at his hip as the old man reached out for his dashboard where several photographs were taped. There was a picture of a young, redheaded girl with wide, curious green eyes. The officer requested an ambulance just as the man slumped off the steering wheel, his hand catching, and tearing loose, the photograph of the girl. It fluttered to the floorboard, and he landed in the passenger seat.
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