He was only nine years old, but Danny knew what was best for his mom and dad. That was why he'd asked for a trip to the Grand Canyon. So they could be together again. Like a real family.
Sherri and Luke Morgan knew this vacation was just what Danny needed. So they put aside their differences for their little boy's sake. Everything was fine--until...
Sherri remembered how good it had been waking up in Luke's arms.
Luke remembered the love he'd all but given up on.
Maybe Danny would get his wish....
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December 01, 2009
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Excerpt from Anything for Danny by Carla Cassidy
"Sherri, you can't be serious about this," Margaret, Sherri Morgan's best friend, said in dismay.
"I'm very serious about it." Sherri poured Margaret another glass of iced tea, then rejoined her at the kitchen table. "You know what this means to Danny."
"Yes, but a cross-country trip in a motor home... in the winter... with Luke... it's madness, sheer madness." Margaret frowned and twirled a strand of her shoulder-length blond hair. "Mark my words, it's madness."
Sherri smiled ruefully. "It probably is, but Luke and I have agreed that if this is what Danny wants, then we'll give it to him. Besides, with three weeks of Christmas vacation from school, it's the best time to go."
"But I thought you and Luke barely speak to each other, that there was all kinds of bad blood between you."
"We speak," Sherri replied. "We don't see each other often but when we do we're always civil and polite. As far as bad blood... it's been five years since our divorce. I don't hold any grudges. I have my life and he has his."
"I still say the whole idea is crazy. What are you going to do if you get snowed in someplace?"
"Dig out," Sherri returned with a grin.
Margaret frowned. "What did the doctor say? Is Danny really well enough to make the trip?"
Sherri's smile trembled slightly. "Dr. Winthrope says if we're going to do it, now is the time. Danny's stabilized for the moment, but who knows how long it will last?" A sharp stab of pain pierced her heart as she thought of her nine-year-old son.
Sweet Danny with the sunshine smile and overwhelming enthusiasm for life. Cheerful Danny...her life. His diagnosis of leukemia a year before had thrown her world topsy-turvy. "Anyway," she continued, shoving these sad thoughts aside, "it's all set. With both Danny and me on Christmas vacation and the weather so unusually mild, there's no reason not to go. We leave first thing in the morning."
"Well, I think the whole thing is crazy," Margaret repeated once again. "Can you put up with Luke for three weeks in the cramped confines of a motor home?" Margaret eyed her skeptically.
Sherri slowly nodded. "Sure. I can put up with anything for any amount of time for Danny," she replied with grim determination. "Even Luke."
"Hey, Mom, it's here!" Danny's excited voice drifted in through the kitchen window. "Come out and see. It's here. It's here!"
"Goodness, what's he talking about?" Margaret looked at Sherri curiously. "You'd think the Goodyear blimp just parked on your front yard."
Sherri laughed. "Not the Goodyear blimp... the motor home. The people from the Dream Producers said it would be delivered some time this morning. Come on, we'd better get out there or Danny will have a fit."
Together the two women grabbed their coats, left the kitchen and walked out into the early-morning Connecticut sunshine. Sherri stepped off the porch, then stopped and caught her breath as she eyed the shining vehicle parked along the curb in front of the house.
It was bright blue, with the Dream Producer's logo on the side. It was huge. It was a monstrosity. It looked more like a house than a vehicle. And that's exactly what it would be for the next three weeks, their home on wheels.
"Hi, Sherri." The driver, one of the volunteers from the Dream Producers Charity, got out of the motor home and gave her a jaunty salute.
"Hi, Ross," she greeted him warmly. Over the past several weeks Sherri had grown close to all the volunteers who'd worked so diligently to make Danny's dream wish come true.
"Here are the keys, an instruction manual and an itinerary and map that will take you to the Grand Canyon." He handed her the items. "We've marked the campsites that are close to area hospitals and also tourist attractions that are open year-round that we thought might interest Danny. We've also got a weather radio inside the R.V. so you can find out about weather conditions." He frowned, eyeing Sherri's slender arms and short stature. "You sure you can handle driving this baby?"
Sherri nodded confidently. "My family took a trip with a motor home the summer I was sixteen. I did a lot of the driving." She smiled at Ross. "I don't know how to thank you... how to thank all of you." She took Ross's hand in hers and held it close. "You've all done so much for us... for Danny."
"The best thanks is to give that boy the trip of his dreams." Ross patted her hand and released it. "Make yourself and that boy some precious memories. That's all the thanks we need."
"Hey, Mom, come on in... this is awesome!" Danny's voice rang from one of the windows of the huge R.V. "There's a bathroom and bedroom and everything. Margaret, come on in and see everything. Mom, come on!"
Ross laughed. "Go on, he's waiting to show you around." He paused and smiled at Sherri once again, a bittersweet smile. "That Danny, he's a special kind of kid."
She nodded, a lump forming in her throat as she remembered that Ross had lost his thirteen-year-old son the year before to bone marrow cancer.
"Go on, go to him. Make every moment count. Make some memories." Ross's eyes were over-bright as he gave her arm a quick squeeze, then went to the car that waited to take him back to the Dream Producers headquarters.
Sherri hesitated a moment, swallowing the emotions that lately were always too close to the surface, the tears that always pressed against her eyes.
It was a rule...Danny's rule. No crying allowed. From the moment they had learned the extent of his illness, he'd been firm in his demand of no crying where he could see it or hear it. In the months that had passed, she had grown quite proficient at silent weeping, usually at night into her pillow.
"Mom!" Danny's voice cried out impatiently.
"All right, all right, I'm coming," Sherri exclaimed. She stepped into the motor home, and looked around in amazement. It was like a miniature home. There was a table with a bench seat, a stove, a small refrigerator and wooden cabinets just behind the four captain's chairs.
"Mom, come here," Danny called from the back of the vehicle.
Sherri passed the bathroom complete with stall shower, then entered the back area, where Danny sat on the top bunk, and Margaret was on the bottom bunk. "This is so cool." Danny's eyes were bright with excitement, their blueness perfectly matching the ball cap on top of his head. "Look, there are little cubbyholes up here to put stuff."
"The whole interior has been customized," Margaret commented.
Sherri nodded, noting the unusually wide entrance to the bathroom. "They've customized it so it can accommodate wheelchairs," she observed. "The space around the table is also larger than usual."
"Can I sleep up here? Can this be my bed?" Danny asked.
"I don't know, we'll have to wait and see." Lord, she hadn't even thought of the sleeping arrangements. There were two beds, the top bunk and the bottom, and although both were nearly double size, there was no way Danny would have one of those bunks to himself, leaving her and Luke to share the other.
"Madness," Margaret repeated, as if reading Sherri's thoughts. "I told you this was all crazy."
Sherri shot her a look of warning. She didn't want anything to take away Danny's joy, especially her friend's negative prophecies concerning this trip. "It will be fine," she assured Margaret with a confidence she didn't feel. "Come on, Danny, let's start loading our supplies."
Danny nodded enthusiastically. As he jumped down from the bunk, his cap fell off, exposing the bald head beneath. Sherri's heart constricted at the visual reminder of the chemo treatments from the weeks before. Although Danny had been a little trouper, Sherri was grateful the treatments were behind them, at least for now.
It took them most of the day to pack the motor home. They had suitcases, boxes and cans of food, lanterns and camping equipment, coats and gloves and anything else they could think of for their home away from home.
Danny wasn't satisfied until each and every item was in its place and they were ready to leave the next day.
The packing took longer than expected because they had to explore every nook and cranny. Each cabinet was opened, each drawer pulled out, every built-in convenience was marveled over with appropriate awe.
"I think it's bedtime for you," Sherri said that evening as they finished eating a late supper of soup and grilled-cheese sandwiches. The day had been almost too much for Danny, who'd drooped over the meal and scarcely eaten a bite.
"I'm not tired," Danny protested, although his words lacked conviction. He yawned, his eyelids drooping. "Well, maybe a little," he admitted with a small smile.
"You get ready for bed and I'll come to tuck you in as soon as I clear off these dishes."
Danny nodded, yawning once again as he disappeared down the hallway and into his bedroom. Sherri finished putting the last of their dinner dishes into the dishwasher, then filled the sink with soapy water to wash the pots and pans.
As she worked, her gaze went out the window, to the house next door where the kitchen light burned brightly, illuminating the drapery of darkness that had fallen in the past hour.
Margaret and her husband Jim, and their four boys would probably be at the kitchen table, enjoying the usual noisy, chaotic evening meal. They would all be talking at once, sharing the events of their day.
There were times Sherri envied Margaret her healthy boys and her loving husband, envied with a passion she could almost taste. She envied the noise, the confusion, the love, the family.
Family... she'd dreamed once of a houseful of kids and a handsome husband. But reality was that she and the handsome husband had divorced when Danny was almost four years old. Reality was lonely nights and early mornings of silence. Reality was Danny's illness and living on borrowed time.
"Mom, I'm ready," Danny called from his bedroom.
"Coming," Sherri replied. She dried the last pan and placed it in the appropriate cabinet, then hurried into Danny's bedroom where he awaited their bedtime ritual.
Danny's room was a study in motion. Model airplanes hung suspended on thin wires from the ceiling, their silhouettes dancing in the light from the hallway. Pictures of birds, helicopters and jets decorated every inch of the walls.
From the time Danny was a baby, he'd been fascinated with the action of flight. When he was five, he'd constructed a pair of cardboard wings and tried to fly off the top of the garden shed. The ill-fated landing had resulted in a broken arm and a stern lecture.
Most recently before his illness, he and a buddy had rigged up a bungy-jumping cord to the backyard tree, deciding that bungy jumping was the closest thing to really flying. Thankfully, Sherri had spied the equipment before it could be tested and put to use. Since his illness, there had been no more experiments in actual flying, but Danny's obsession with flight hadn't faded.
Sherri sat on the edge of his bed and stroked the smoothness of his scalp. "Just like when I was a baby, huh?" Danny asked, casting her a sleepy grin.
"Exactly like," she agreed. "Your dad and I thought you'd be bald forever. You didn't have a hint of hair until you were over a year old."
"But I was still the best-looking kid you'd ever seen."
Sherri laughed and touched the end of his nose. "Yes, you were, and now you'd better get right to sleep. We've got a big day tomorrow."
"It's gonna be great, isn't it?" Danny closed his eyes, a sweet smile lingering on his lips. "I can't believe it's really gonna happen. It's gonna be the best time ever."
"Yes," Sherri whispered softly. "It's going to be the best time ever. Are you still sure you don't want any presents?" They would be spending Christmas in the R.V., and so far, Danny had been adamant that the trip alone was present enough for him.
He nodded, his eyes drooping closed once again. "Just us being together is the best Christmas present in the whole wide world."
She pulled the sheet up around his neck and placed a kiss on his forehead. Seeing the soft, even rhythm of his breathing, she stood up and started to leave.
She turned and looked back at him. With the light from the hallway shining on his features, she was struck by how much he looked like Luke. The strong little chin, the high cheekbones, the sensual bottom lip...a chip off the old block. A bittersweet pang raced through her, there only a moment then gone. "What, honey?"
"It's gonna be just like it used to be. Me and you and Dad all together again like a real family. It's gonna be the best time in my whole life."
Sherri hesitated, then nodded and left the room. She should have told him, she berated herself. She should have told him that there was no way it could ever be the way it used to be. Even though the three of them would be together, there was no way to go back and be a family. Too much time had passed, too many bitter memories made that particular dream of Danny's impossible. She and Luke were divorced and no amount of time spent together would change them into a normal, loving family.
She pulled on her coat and walked out the front door. She sat on the porch swing and pushed her feet against the wood. The motion set the swing moving back and forth in a lulling, easy movement.
Night had fallen completely and insects buzzed and clicked in the darkness. A cold evening breeze rippled through her long dark hair as she continued to swing.
Thank God the weather was cooperating for their winter cross-country trip. The entire country was enjoying an unusually mild winter.