-30-

Tim O'Brien was tinkering with a computer in the repair office of Hillsboro Computers when the phone rang.

"Hillsboro Computers, May I help you please?" He said when he answered on the sixth ring

"Timothy O'Brien, please."

"Speaking," he replied, distracted with what he was doing with the computer inners.

"Hello, Timothy."

The voice sounded frightfully familiar but Tim talked to dozens of customers a day so he couldn't be expected to place every person every time right away. The caller must have picked up on his hesitation.

"It's Jennifer Sprang, Timothy."

Tim let out a loud sigh as he sat back in his chair. "Hello, Mrs. Sprang," he said with surprise. "It's been a while."

"Yes," she agreed.

"How are you?" He asked politely.

"I'm not calling about me, Timothy," Mrs. Sprang replied.

He paused, waiting for her to continue.

"I thought you might like to know that Darcy is home with me," Mrs. Sprang said.

"Oh?" Tim said, caught off guard.

"She's dying, Timothy."

Tim was momentarily taken aback by Mrs. Sprang's harsh announcement. "What?"

"She drank herself to death, I'm afraid," Mrs. Sprang reported. "Her liver is failing. Time is short."

Tim felt his heart sink and his stomach turn.

"Please don't tell anybody about this," Mrs. Sprang requested. "Darcy wants her privacy. But she wouldn't mind farewell visits from a few select people who were once close to her."

"Thanks for telling me, Mrs. Sprang," Tim managed to say when he was able to regain his composure.

"Don't wait too long, Timothy," Mrs. Sprang advised before hanging up the phone.

Tim sat back in his chair and sighed as all sorts of memories and emotions began to overwhelm him.

A few hours later, Tim was walking through the reception area of The Greenville News and Dispatch newspaper.

"May I help you?" The Receptionist sitting behind the counter asked.

"I know where I'm going," Tim replied without slowing his pace, continuing through the swinging doors at the end of the hall.

Tim glanced around the newsroom to see if there was anybody left from his era who he might recognize but the newsroom had pretty much turned over since he and Darcy last worked there.

He glanced at the two desks where he and Darcy once sat, remembering all the good times. Then he peered toward Lavarnway's office and when he saw that the door was open, he headed that way, stopping in the doorway.

"Darcy Sprang," Tim said.

Lavarnway glanced up from the papers on his desk and grinned. "She was a can't miss kid, wasn't she?"

"Definitely," Tim smiled.

"You weren't so bad yourself," Lavarnway remarked, pausing for a moment and studying his former employee. "What brings you back after all this time?"

"Ah, I was just thinking about her," Tim smiled sentimentally. "Her picture is still out there on the hall wall."

"Yeah, she'll always be one of us," Lavarnway said.

He was a tall man but his long thick blond hair of his youth had abandoned him and now the lights from the ceiling reflected off his balding head and he wore old man reading glasses to see the print on the page before him.

"She made the big time," Tim said proudly.

"From here to the Providence Journal and then the Boston Globe and The New York Times and finally the Washington Post," an impressed Lavarnway agreed. "I think all those papers owe us a thank you!"

"I'm sure she wowed all of them just like she did us," Tim remarked.

"She was ready to take on the world," Lavarnway smiled. "She was an outstanding writer and the life of the party."

"I was in awe of her."

"Any regrets?" Lavarnway asked.

Tim peered at him with momentary confusion.

"That you didn't go with her?"

"They didn't recruit me," Tim said with a shrug. "I was never meant to become a big deal like her."

"You would have done just fine staying here, Tim," Lavarnway assured him.

"If only," Tim sighed.

"You were always small town guy."

"She was much too big for this place," Tim said.

"She was an incredible shooting star," Lavarnway agreed. "Destined to become a big deal wherever she went. She was a prodigy who could do it all," Lavarnway beamed. "Game stories, moving profiles, hard takedowns, whatever was required."

"Were we blinded by her talent?" Tim wondered. "So taken by her that we ignored her vulnerabilities and weaknesses?"

"The booze, you mean?" Lavarnway guessed, sitting back in his chair and chewing on the arm of his glasses. "Lots of people drink in this business."

"Maybe she did too much," Tim said.

"She was a brilliant reporter, a hard worker, and she lit up any room she was in," Lavarnway recalled. "She knew everybody and she was liked by everybody. She made us better."

"That she did," Tim agreed.

Lavarnway opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a bottle of whiskey along with a couple of paper cups.

"She's the smartest person I've ever met," Tim said, finally stepping into the office and taking a seat in the chair across from Lavarnway's desk. "She said she'd work for the New York Times someday on the day she started here!"

"And she did," Lavarnway smiled, having filled the paper cups with booze and handing O'Brien one of them.

"I went to Hillsboro High and she went to Greenville High," Tim recalled. "We'd compete to get our stuff published locally. I knew who she was but we finally met at Green College. We were on the paper there together. She was just so different from everybody else - skilled with this inspiring attitude. Interning here with her was great. She'd be writing for both The Dispatch and for the college newspaper, carrying a full load of classes, getting interviews and writing stories you wouldn't expect from a college kid and even working as a waitress at The Greenville Diner," Tim marveled. "She could do it all."

"You were always taken by her," Lavarnway said knowingly.

"No question about that," Tim sighed. "Everybody wanted to be like Darcy Sprang."

"You wanted to be liked by Darcy Sprang," Lavarnway said with a smirk.

"She liked me well enough," Tim reasoned.

"I was looking for aggressive young reporters," Lavarnway recalled. "Both of you were of that mode - strong journalistic chops and I wanted to keep you together. You were a good team."

"She was so full of exuberance and excitement," Tim smiled. "She was on her way, you know?"

"I wish we could have kept her," Lavarnway sighed.

"She wouldn't have been happy if you did," Tim said.

"She'd come off one story and immediately want the next"

"She always wanted more," Tim said.

"She was a very ambitious, very aggressive, and very talented young woman," Lavarnway concluded. "She could do it all and she knew it. What a mind. What a talent."

"Then she fell off the face of the earth," Tim sighed.

Both men thought about the long gone Darcy Sprang for a few quiet moments. Lavarnway finally lifted his paper cup up in a toasting fashion and Tim met it with his.

"To Darcy," Lavarnway said. "As good as they come."

"To Darcy," Tim said proudly. "The best there was."

"Thanks for the trip down memory lane," Lavarnway grinned.

"A trip worth taking," Tim replied, watching his former editor putting the whiskey bottle back in the bottom desk drawer.

"How you doing, Tim?" Lavarnway wanted to know, putting his reading glasses back on his nose.

Tim shrugged.

"Do you miss it?"

"Every day," Tim sighed, standing.

Lavarnway nodded before returning his attention to the papers in front of him. Tim smiled sadly and left the Dispatch thinking about Darcy Sprang.