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It’s often said that true love can conquer all, but is it true? Can two strangers ever form a connection that is typically first formed in a household between close family members? It is a rare, but magical force to be taken hold of by. No one in recent history can know the power of true love more than Lily and Danny, a pair who is currently facing an ultimate battle of life and death against an enemy that cannot be seen with the odds not in their favor. Despite their now unbreakable bond, that even this invisible assassin could not shake, the two started off as nothing more than strangers from separate worlds.
Lily Warner was born on a freezing, winter’s night and the cold that chilled infant bones that first evening was just the start of a life of harsh blows that rocked her at her core. Lily came into this world unwanted, for she was found in a dark alleyway by a fireman with nothing more than a tattered shirt wrapped around her as a makeshift blanket. The man just happened to hear the wailing cry while walking to get a cup of coffee after a rough night at the station, and he couldn’t believe a mother could leave a newborn out in such harsh conditions. With no trace of identification or even how the child got there, he wrapped her in his coat and brought her back to the station. At eleven o’clock, the state arrived and took her away.
One would think being rescued from the streets and having a chance at life would have meant great things for the baby; however, in a cruel twist of fate, Lily’s life evolved into what could never be classified as great. Although her first foster home was a child’s dream: brothers and sisters, a playroom, and even a dog, the year she was four years old, her foster father suffered from a debilitating car accident. As a result, even though they were heartbroken to do it, the only family she ever knew put her back into the foster care system. For the next few years, the girl switched from three foster homes, deemed too rambunctious and a bad influence on the other children, all from the emotional scars of never having a true home. When she was ten, she was finally placed in a home that ended up being her final stop in the system.
It may seem fortunate to an outsider, but despite staying at one residence, Lily’s house was not a home. Her foster mother was extremely verbally abusive to her, while she favored her biological children. The insults were constant as the years progressed. “You’re worthless.” “You’re going nowhere in life.” “You are useless loser.” “I can’t stand you.” “Just having you here disgusts me.” “You’re nothing more than a check to me.” Each attack damaging her self-esteem more and more. However, the one Lily hated more than all the rest was when her foster mother would taunt, “Your own mother didn’t want you, that’s why she left you out to dead with the trash.”
Lily felt powerless; there was no physical evidence of her mother’s awful words so she thought nothing could be done. This led to years of suffering in silence. The other children in the house tried to defend their foster sister a few times, but were punished severely for their disobedient actions which quickly stopped any further avenges.
Fortunately school was her comfort zone, because the longer she stayed there, the longer she could avoid the tormenter at her house. Lily joined every club she could in high school and even earned high grades when she found another escape—the library. All the time spent at school and studying forged a path to go to college, a permanent escape to finally get loose of the tight grip of her abusive upbringing. After she turned eighteen and aged out of the foster care system, there was no check coming to the house every month, so Lily’s exit was not protested since she was used for all she was worth.
Though it hurt on “Move-In Day,” as she watched watching as all the parents helped their children to their dorms, Lily was so jubilant to be out on her own that the negative feelings didn’t last long. Also, because she was an independent and had such high grades, the school worked out all her financial concerns with scholarships, grants, and a work study program that brought her into giving campus tours. This is where she really thrived, by being so grateful to be at the school, she channeled all her enthusiasm into her tours; soon, she became a mentor for the new guides that were hired every semester. This is how she met Danny.
Danny Conklin was born into a classic, suburban American family on a sunny day in March. His mother always likes to tell the story of how she was at the playground with his older brother Tommy when she got the first pains that told her Danny was on his way to the world. The Conklins lived in a blue, two-story house that had was encased in a white picket fence that Danny’s father built himself to prevent the mass of neighborhood kids that visited daily from ruining his fresh green lawn with their bike tires. Throughout his school years, Danny was always shadowed by his athletic, smart older brother. He was an average student that was into music and didn’t care much for the spectacles that surrounded Tommy. In fact, when he graduated high school, he was happy when he was not called up for an award because he hated being the center of attention. As his brother went the out-of-state honor’s college route, Danny was content in a state school. Despite the money they were saving from the difference in institutions, Mr. and Mrs. Conklin eventually told their younger son that he needed to get a part-time job.
In his sophomore of college, Danny started working for the school’s admissions office. The department he was placed in was titled, “Campus Tours.” He had never been one to be particularly comfortable with talking in front of groups of people, but he needed the money, so he tried to not let his fear get the best of him. The next week he was paired with an experienced tour guide to shadow, so he could learn the effective way to give a campus tour. Although he knew the campus very well and there was a script to follow for certain points, the university would do this to give the new guides first hand observation. The girl he was matched with was named Lily. She had long brunette hair, deep brown eyes, and a bubbly personality. These features made Danny immediately attracted to her.
During the tours, Lily seemed like a pro as she knew all the locations perfectly and could answer every question from the group with ease. She even had a way of engaging the crowd with jokes and activities. For instance, there was one time their tour group was approaching another, so Lily told the group to wave at them. The prospective students were reluctant, but once she did it with such enthusiasm, the whole group joined in. “This may seem awkward, but you have to understand, you have to step out of your comfort zone to meet new people in college,” she explained. “Those people in that other group could possibly be your future classmates. That girl in the red dress could be in your math class begging you to let her copy your homework. You now have an excuse to say no because she was rude and didn’t wave to you during this tour. She won’t remember, but you will! And that guy in the back with a bright orange shirt, he could be a great writer that can help you with your papers. You never know someone until you start the conversation. It may seem silly or weird, but if you want to make friends, you have to take risks.” Danny admired her philosophy and was eager to incorporate his own into the tours he would man in the future. After the day was done and the pair completed a total of four tours, Lily stopped Danny as they were walking back to the admissions office. “So what did you think of the tours? You think you have what it takes,” she asked. “I think I have what it takes to guide a tour, but I’m not sure I’ll be as good as you. You really know how to command a crowd,” Danny complimented. “You really think so? I was so nervous! I was afraid it would show! I have been doing these tours for about a year now and I still get anxious every time. I hate talking in front of people,” she admitted. Her openness led them deeper into conversation, and Danny was enjoying every minute.
The two ended up talking for over an hour when Lily looked at the time and realized she had to leave for a class. Before they split ways, Lily insisted they exchange numbers. She said it was for work purposes, but Danny hoped it meant more. Those days seemed so innocent and given the choice, the two would go back to that time in a heartbeat if they could, for the present was anything but innocent.
The strong smell of antiseptic grazed Lily’s nose as she walked through the bare, white hospital hallways. The odor used to burn, but she had been there so many times since the first frightening visit that it was a surprise that she even smelled it at all anymore. After a long walk through the winding corridors, she cautiously approached the all-too-familiar hospital room, labeled 306. A chill ran up her spine as she touched the cold, metal doorknob, knowing that Danny, the love of her life, would be behind that door looking as worse as he ever had. He had always been a fighter, battling every challenge that had come his way ever since he was first diagnosed with cancer. However, the doctors said that he didn’t have much time left, so Lily has spent every possible moment that she could by his side. The door slowly opened with a loud creak. Lily tried to quiet the squeal, but it was too late. Danny’s eyelids weakly separated. Such a simple task seemed to take away most of his energy. As their eyes locked, a memory flashed into Lily’s mind. It was of him and her in the past, before the deadly disease, on their first date.
Before the actual date happened, it is important to describe the events leading up to it also, as it took quite a while for these two to get together. It was three months after Danny first met Lily for him to finally sum up all his courage to ask her on a date. He had tried a few times before, but always backed out at the last second for fear of rejection. Little did he know, Lily was waiting in excited anticipation for him to make the first move. She had an inkling that he had feelings for her, but she would quickly quiet those thoughts with her own insecurities. Danny doesn’t like me, she thought, there are so many other pretty girls he could get. He would never want me. Fortunately, Lily was wrong. One day, as they were eating lunch together, just like they did every Thursday, she could see Danny was not the laid back guy he usually was. He wasn’t talking much and kept playing with his hair, a nervous habit that Lily had observed as she got more acquainted to him. After thirty minutes of this treatment, Lily couldn’t take it anymore. “Are you okay? You seem. . . upset,” she asked softly. “Yeah, I’m sorry. I just have a lot on my mind,” Danny replied in a shaky manner. “Do you want to talk about it,” Lily offered. “No, it’s alright. Don’t worry about me.” He tried to assure her with a half-smile.
For the next fifteen minutes, they attempted to make small talk. However, Danny’s manner was making it too awkward, and Lily was baffled. Danny had never acted this way before and she wanted to figure out why. However, before they knew it, it was time for them to part. Lily said she’d see him later and started to walk away. Just then, Danny gently grabbed her arm. “There actually was something I wanted to talk to you about,” he confessed, “Do you want to go to the St. Dominic Fair with me this Saturday?” “Of course,” Lily agreed eagerly.
What she remembered now, as she looked into his weak eyes in the hospital room, was when they were at the top of a Ferris wheel, at a local town’s annual fair. The scene was as if it was taken out of a brochure. The sun was just setting past the trees and the autumn wind cooled the air. Lily watched as the breeze blew Danny’s shoulder length, black hair in all different directions. She smiled at the sight; soon after, they kissed.
A groan escaped into the silence of the moment and broke Lily out of her blissful flashback to see Danny for what he was now. His once tan skin was now a pale grey. His once full head was bare; and worst of all, his once optimistic attitude was now a distant memory.
“You didn’t tell me you were coming today,” Danny complained as he turned his head in an attempt to shield his face from her sight. He knew what he looked like and didn’t want her to see him as such because he knew it would upset her. Lily smiled lightly, “You know I come here as often I can.” She turned his face to her and kissed his forehead. “Can you get me some water? My mouth is so dry, and the nurse hasn’t been in to check on me in a while.” He feebly pointed to the pitcher of water on a small wooden table by foot of his bed. Immediately, Lily had the container in her hand and was pouring water into a small cup. She then handed it to him. It happened so fast that one would think that Danny had had the glass in his hand the whole time.
“I didn’t want to talk about this, but it has to be dealt with.” He took in a long, deep breath. “Call Tommy; I want him to help you gather all my things once I’m. . .I can’t,” He couldn’t bring himself to say it. He had accepted his grim fate, but he knew Lily hadn’t. Still, as he gave her the instructions, a sad distant look was held in his eyes. Lily settled in the chair next to his bedside and shook her head. “Don’t talk that way, honey. You’re going to be fine. It’s hard now and things look bad, but they will turn around. I don’t care what the doctors say.” Lily tried her best to hold back the tears.
In an attempt to distract herself from the dismal reality, Lily found herself yet again daydreaming of a memory from the past. In this instance, she thought of the first time the pair exchanged “I love you’s.” It had been six months since Danny and Lily had officially become a couple, and they were spending the day at Danny’s brother’s wedding. It had been a beautiful, outdoor ceremony, and now everyone was celebrating the momentous event at the reception. They both didn’t like to dance, as they were self-conscious of their lack of technique, but the DJ pulled everyone to the dance floor with a casual hit that told the guests the moves to make as the song went on. Therefore, the couple knew they couldn’t mess it up too much and decided to give it a try. The song was over and although it was fun, Danny and Lily were eager to retreat back to their seats, but then something happened that made them both pause. As he asked for the couples to remain on the floor, the DJ played a slow song that just happened to be their song—“Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls. A few months later Tommy had revealed that he requested the song, “to help his little brother get some game,” but for the moment, Lily and Danny were both surprised. Since this was their first formal event, the two had never slow danced together before, so in the beginning it was a bit gawky. However, as the notes played on, their moves became more in sync. With Danny’s hands on her hips and her arms around him, Lily felt so at peace in this pose as they swayed back and forth. Then, she felt his grip tighten and his hands move as he repositioned to dip her. Though surprised, she smiled as she was impressed at his skill. “I’ve been practicing that with my mom for weeks,” he confessed with a small blush on his face. “Practice makes perfect I see,” Lily replied with a grin. He drew her in closer and put his mouth to her ear, “I love you,” Danny whispered. She hesitated and bit her lip. A guy had never said those three words to her first and the last guy she said them to had broken her heart. Was she really ready to let someone in like that again? Just then, the song stopped and transitioned to another. Despite the alteration of movement from the other couples, Lily and Danny stayed where they were. “It’s okay. You don’t have to say it back; I get it,” he said disappointed as he began to pull away. No, he’s not like the others, she thought, I can’t let bad experiences from the past stop me from this moment. “Danny, I love you too,” she blurted out. “You know how I am; I always have to think before I do something. I’m sorry it took so long.” He looked at her with doubt and she knew she had to fix the situation before she lost him irrevocably. Lily then grabbed hold of the lapels of Danny’s suit and pulled him in for a passionate kiss. Merely thinking of that memory made Lily smile in the present day which brought her back to the hospital room. She suddenly wanted to kiss him again.
She bent forward and just as her lips were about to make contact with his, Danny protested, “No, stop. You know, I don’t like kissing.” When he had first started chemotherapy, Danny was instructed not to kiss anyone because he had to be very cautious of infection. However, after the doctors warned he was approaching the end, they said there was nothing a kiss could do to make it any worse and that it might even help his morale. It was the worst conflict of emotions within them both. They longed to be able to kiss again, but the price of it, Danny’s life, could never outweigh their desire. Their first kiss since they were given the okay was only a month ago; however, for a week now he hadn’t let her go near him in that respect. Lily let out a frustrated sigh and sat back down. “You have to get used to it, you know, not kissing me. I’m actually helping you. It’s tough for me too; because where I’m going, I won’t have you either.” Danny said faintly, yet was adamant. “No, it’s not tough because you aren’t going anywhere. You’ll always be here, right by my side.” She always lied to him and even herself. She couldn’t bear the thought of him losing forever, no matter how inevitable that possibility was.
“I don’t even know why you’re here with me now,” Danny admitted depressingly. “Have you looked at me? I look like some kind of experiment gone wrong with a bald head and such pale skin. If I were you, I wouldn’t stay with Sci-Fi me.” He often had these moments of insecurity, anxious that his mere appearance would make Lily leave him. “No, you don’t. If you did, would I have stayed with you this long?” She asked to try and lighten the mood, but it was hopeless. “You know what really gets me though?” Danny inquired while jumping topics feebly. “How I will never get to marry you.”
Lily had thought about that very notion so many times. As a matter of fact, the thought would keep her up in the middle of the night in tears. It was such a stark contrast from the first few years they dated, when she would often have dreams about her and Danny standing in front of an alter as a priest pronounced them man and wife. She imagined Danny in a classic black tuxedo and herself in a long, white, sleeveless dress, all surrounded by their family and friends in an elaborately decorated church. Now that those plans would never be and with Danny being so casual in assuring that, she couldn’t help herself or hide her emotions any longer. “I said don’t talk that way!” Lily shouted as she jumped up from her chair. “You think I like thinking about the thought of not having you in my life? Do you think it’s easy to know that one day, much earlier than I would have ever imagined, I won’t be able to hear your voice or hold your hand or even just tell you that I love you?” She bowed her head and breathed heavily as a rebellious tear fell down her cheek.
Danny was ashamed. He didn’t mean to hurt her. He was just having a rough day and was carelessly venting out his emotions. He sighed and motioned for her to come over to him. This time, she sat on his bed, just as Danny wanted—she always knew the best thing to do—and he softly grabbed her hand. “Baby, I’m just exhausted and foggy from the chemo.” He tried to apologize for his behavior, looking her in the eye. “I know it’s hard for you and you have been the best girlfriend anyone could ever ask for. I am so lucky to have you in my life and by my side throughout this whole thing.” He gripped her hand tighter. “But Lily, it’s even harder for me to deal with if you don’t let me talk about what’s going to happen. If you keep pretending I’ll get better and it will all go back to what it used to be, once I’m gone you’re going to be destroyed. And I can’t stand the idea of that happening. I love you more than anything in this world and I hate that this disease is taking me from you…but it is.” “I know Danny, but you have to get in a better mood…even if it’s your last.” That was it, she couldn’t handle it anymore. Lily fell apart right in front of Danny, something she swore she never would. She had to be his rock, but then in that moment, she crumbled. Her body slumped over and shook violently as she sobbed heavily. Danny, although lacking an appropriate amount of energy, wrapped his arms around her and held her.
It’d been a long time since he’d done this very action. In the past, Lily had been the one holding him, like the day he got diagnosed with Stage III Glioblastoma—brain cancer. He had been getting headaches a lot, but blamed them on the stress of being a recent college graduate and still looking for a job. However, one day when he was driving, his vision became very blurry. Just as he was able to pull over, his field of sight went black. Although it was only out for a few minutes and he was able to drive home without another issue after that, he knew he had to get it checked out. After a few visits to different physicians and an MRI later, Danny sat in front of his doctor when he was told the awful prognosis. Beforehand, he purposely wanted to go alone so he wouldn’t worry his parents, his brother, or Lily, but now he wished he had someone there with him. Danny’s mind was spinning so fast with thoughts that he could barely hear the doctor as he used the words “oncology,” “chemotherapy,” and “radiation.” All he could think about was how worried he was that he would die. He was only twenty-three years old; he had so many plans and expectations for the future. Could it really all be gone in one visit to the doctor?
He was waiting at the bus stop for the next bus home, as he was unable to drive for fear that he would go blind again; all he could think of was how he wanted to see Lily. She always made him smile on his worst days, and he knew he needed her now more than ever. Danny walked into the apartment where he saw Lily sitting on the couch. She stood up and asked, “Are you okay? Why didn’t you answer my calls?” “It’s cancer, Stage III brain cancer. The doctor told me a lot of things, but I could barely understand him. I was too busy worried about dying.” Danny hadn’t admitted that thought out loud until that point and once he had, it felt too real. He started to cry and Lily put her arm around him and walked him over to the couch. She let him reveal all his fears and soothed his cries. Once he calmed down, she kneeled in front of him and looked him in the eye. “Danny, you are going to get together this. You are going to fight. You are so strong and you can beat this. You won’t be alone, your parents, your brother, and I will be there for you every step of the way. No matter how hard it gets, you can never give up. I won’t let you.” For the past three years, she had held that promise and had always been there for Danny no matter what: holding his hair as he got sick from his first round of chemo, shaving her own head when his hair fell out, and even now, during his darkest hour yet. Although he was so weak, he knew he had to be there for her too.
“Never give up, right Lily pad?” Danny asked, using a nickname he’d given her years ago. She looked at him and smiled. “I love you,” she said as she snuggled next to him. “I love you too,” he replied and kissed her lips. This entire event used up all his energy and just as they got settled, Danny fell into a slumber. Lily laid there for a while, in his arms, listening to his gentle breathing in and out, and feeling his heart beat. A few years earlier, she would have taken these little things for granted, but now every second she experienced them, she felt as if she had won the lottery. Because in her opinion, every extra moment she had with him was better than any cash prize in the world could have ever been.
Eventually, Lily delicately moved from the bed to her chair, taking the greatest care not to stir him. She treasured his sleep since it seemed to be the only time he wasn’t in pain. From the moment she met Danny, she knew their journey would be one she would never forget. However, Lily would have never thought it would have been cut so short. The future was bleak and uncertain, but whatever it would bring, Lily promised to stay by Danny’s side—even if that meant kneeling by a tombstone.