A couple of days later, the outdoor funeral was held for Lenny Santoro, which was attended by everyone from close family and friends to people within the Angel Grove Police Department. Several people went up to speak about Lenny, reciting memories and stories that they had of the fallen officer. Darren, dressed in a Class A uniform like his fellow officers, was asked to speak as well. He was, after all, Lenny’s only partner on the force.
Darren sat beside Sarah, the lieutenant similarly dressed for the funeral. She looked over at him and couldn’t help but notice just how hard he was trying to keep his emotions in check.
“At this time,” A superior officer at the podium spoke, “I’d like to introduce Darren Garver, who would like to say a few words.”
Darren was uncertain of himself at first, but a reassuring squeeze on the arm from Sarah helped him. With a deep albeit shaky breath, he stood from his seat before approaching the podium. The walk to the podium in question felt like an eternity, as several sets of eyes were focused on him. Once he made it to the podium, Darren began to speak,
“Hello, everyone. I’d like to thank everyone for coming and paying their respects to someone I only met about a year ago. As a rookie on the force, it’s tough to make friends, especially with so many personalities. Lenny was one of those personalities that meshed well with me and we hit it off right from the start. Whether it was talks about the weather or how legitimate the ingredients in fast food breakfast burritos were, not a single moment was wasted. What I learned to respect even more about him…” Darren could feel his voice become shaky. “Was his bravery.”
“People who only knew Lenny for a short time would see his comedic outlook on life… The more I got to know him, the more I realized just how brave he was. He loved serving as an officer and it was something that he dedicated himself to. In many respects, I looked to him as not only my friend but…” Darren could feel the tears come down his face. “The best role model I could have asked for. For someone to treat his job with so much respect but continually look on the bright side of life… It would make anyone proud.”
He looked to the crowd and saw a familiar-looking older couple in the front row, the gentleman keeping an arm around the lady’s shoulder, his other hand inside of hers. It was apparent that they were distraught. “Mr. and Mrs. Santoro,” Darren continued, directing his attention toward them. “You should be proud of your son as well. He made me a better person, just by spending time with him. He might not have been blood,” He held back his sobs. “But I was honored to call him a brother in arms. Lenny, I love you and I cannot wait to see you again.”
Darren, knowing that he had said more than enough, stepped away from the podium to take his seat against Sarah once more. She leaned over and whispered to him, “That was a wonderful speech, Officer Garver.”
With a sad smile, Darren replied, “Thank you, Lieutenant.”
His words were not false, though. Darren hoped that, when his time came, he would be able to patrol the skies above with Lenny by his side.
Despite his respect for the recently departed Lenny, though, Darren didn’t quite feel like attending the post-funeral reception. He felt like he had to be alone, but the fact that his journey led him to the diner only seemed to make him sadder. This was the same location that he and his partner would stop at during their coffee breaks. Darren’s go-to drink was a black coffee, while Lenny always went for a latte. It felt strange, then, for Darren to be sitting at a booth by himself. He adjusted the collar of his uniform jacket while the waitress approached the table with a coffee pot.
“More coffee, sir?” She asked.
“Hm?” Darren looked up. “Oh, I’m sorry. Yes, please.”
The waitress gave a kind smile, pouring the officer another drink. “I don’t mean to pry, but don’t you usually come in with the other officer?”
Darren nodded his head a bit. “Yes,” He replied in a sad tone.
“Hope to see him again,” the waitress remarked, moving to another table at the far end of the shop to help them. Darren felt his heart sink after said remark. He knew that the waitress meant well, but that didn’t make it sting any less. He remained at the table for a little while longer, contemplating whether he should pay and leave or not. It sounded strange, at least to him, but spending time in this small diner made him feel like Lenny was still around. Darren kept his hands wrapped around his coffee mug, his eyes focused on the dark liquid inside.
“Is this seat taken?” Darren heard a slightly gruff male voice ask.
Shaking his head, Darren replied, “Help yourself.” He didn’t look up to see who had sat in front of him, not out of rudeness but due to the lack of focus he felt at the time. Darren brought his head up and his eyes widened slightly at who he was greeted by. It was a gentleman, somewhere in his mid-to-late 30s, with dark spiked hair and a small goatee. He wore a black leather jacket over a solid green t-shirt, which confirmed who it was in Darren’s mind, “Wait, aren’t you…”
“Tommy,” He held his hand out. “Tommy Oliver. It’s good to meet you, Darren.”
Darren reached forward and took Tommy’s hand in a shake, though it wasn’t nearly as firm as it usually was. From Lenny’s funeral to meeting arguably the most legendary Power Ranger in history, this was easily one of the most surreal days of the Phantom Ranger’s life.
“I heard about what happened to your partner,” Tommy began, “And I want to offer my condolences. I know all too well what it’s like to lose a close friend or two. Even though that pain never truly goes away, it gets easier to deal with.”
Darren nodded his head before responding, “Tommy, I don’t mean to sound rude, but what are you doing here?”
Tommy then explained, “I came to you because I have an offer.” His tone was hushed as he continued, “I’m assembling a team of Power Rangers for a special mission, one that can change the fate of the world as we know it. I’ve heard what you’ve done in Angel Grove as the Phantom Ranger and, based on that, you’re exactly the kind of person I want on my team.”
Darren blinked a few times, attempting to register what he had just been told. Perhaps it would have been easier to do if his mind wasn’t scattered. He shook his head. “I don’t know if I can. Just a week ago I was a rookie on the force, wanting to make a difference, and now I don’t even have my partner,” He stared down at his coffee mug, seeing a slight reflection of himself in the coffee. “My whole life is changing so fast and it feels like I can’t keep up.”
“I know it’s tough, but you have to change with it,” Tommy urged him, his tone reassuring yet firm. “I still believe that you’d be an excellent candidate for this mission.” He took a napkin from the nearby dispenser on the table and wrote a series of digits on it; his phone number, to be more exact. With his index finger, Tommy pushed the napkin over in Darren’s direction. “You said that, as a police officer, you wanted to make a difference. As the Phantom Ranger, you can change the world, especially with other skilled Rangers to support you.”
Darren picked up the napkin and stared down at the number that Tommy offered.
“Think about it, and give me a call by the end of the week if you’re interested,” Tommy insisted before standing from his seat. He then dropped a few dollars down on the table. “Coffee’s on me. Good meeting you, Darren,” The legendary Ranger said before giving the young officer a clap on the shoulder. As Tommy exited the diner, Darren’s attention remained fixated on the number in front of him.
Before he could accept this mission, though, there was one person in particular that Darren wanted to run this by.
“So, let’s recap: after the service, you left to go to the diner. Tommy Oliver – the Tommy Oliver – walks inside and talks to you?”
“He then offered you a position to be part of his assembled team of Power Rangers, for some kind of secret mission, a potentially dangerous one at that.”
“That’s correct, Lieutenant. And I didn’t accept… Not yet, at least.”
It was awkward, to say the least, to speak to Sarah. It didn’t seem like it was too long ago that she had expressed some kind of interest beyond a professional relationship, though that might have been Darren misconstruing her demeanor. To speak so seriously to Sarah now felt familiar, and not in the best of ways, as if he was back to his first week on the force.
“It’s funny,” Sarah said, giving a slight smirk as she cupped her hands in front of her on her desk. “I remember when you first came onto the force and you were so excited to live up to your father’s standards. From the word of my superiors, he was a great officer.”
“The best that AGPD has seen,” Darren added. “And I’ll get there one day… But I have to pave my own path to get there. I want to change the world. So I’m asking for your blessing, to accept this mission.”
Sarah stood from her desk before extending her hand forward. “You have a knack for attracting danger, Officer Garver, but you’ve proven to have a bigger knack for bringing it down. If this is what you want, then I support you one-hundred percent. And you’ll always have the force to back you up.”
Cracking a slight smile, Darren took Sarah’s hand in a shake, “Thank you, Lieutenant. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to repay you.”
“Just be true to your word and change the world. We could use it.” Sarah turned her head to the side, noticing a poster for the annual Angel Grove Police Officers’ Ball, which was only tomorrow. “Also, if you’d like… I don’t have a date for the ball.”
Darren furrowed his brow, that same smile on his face. “Are you asking me out, Lieutenant?”
“If we’re to put it into those terms, then yes,” Sarah confirmed, giving a nod. “I’d like you to accompany me to the Police Officers’ Ball, but just as associates,” She stressed to him. “Again, if you would like to do so. I know this week hasn’t been easy for you, so I understand if you’d rather not.”
“Tommy said that I could call him by the end of the week… But that’s then. I’d love to go to the ball with you, Lieutenant,” Darren agreed.
“Excellent. I’ll see you tomorrow evening. Oh and one more thing,” She flashed an almost playful smile in Darren’s direction. “It’s ‘Sarah.’”
“Sarah… Right,” Darren returned the smile, though his proved to be a bit timid by comparison to the more rough-around-the-edges lieutenant. He then left the office, this time with a greater sense of confidence about him. Darren would have to learn that, no matter what negative events transpired throughout his life, life would go on.
What lay ahead, Power Rangers-related or not, remained a mystery.