Good Day, Doctor Easterbrook

Submitted into Contest #213 in response to: Start or end your story with a character receiving a hug or words of comfort.... view prompt

41 comments

Drama Friendship

For more years than he cared to remember, Stanley Easterbrook had been a doctor in the village of Newhall, driving every day through rain, mist, blinding sunshine or bone-chilling snow along back roads lined by wild privet hedges to the main street that led to his clinic. 

He’d served as GP for the small parish town for thirty-seven years and he knew the area inside out, as well as the people who lived there. To him, this was a good thing, as he believed it made him efficient at his job. He knew his patients’ ailments and their maladies, he knew what made them tick and made them sick. On any given day he could look at his appointments schedule and know exactly what to expect, what kind of complaints he’d be dealing with, what kind of treatments he’d prescribe. A top-up of heart medication for Mrs. Ryan; a shoulder to cry on and some helpful reassurance for Mrs. Frayne; some awkwardly hinted at and barely discussed erectile dysfunction pills for Mr. Gilbert; and more prescription painkillers for Mrs. Dean. 

As a man of habit and routine, he liked the sense of order this afforded him. Stanley did not like the unexpected. He was not good at adapting to change, he did not like when things deviated from plan, and he did not like the loss of control this inevitably led to. He wasn’t a fan of anything he couldn’t see coming, which was why something as simple as spotting his current receptionist Eileen Buckles deep in conversation with his ex-receptionist, Maureen Rogers, outside Café Cafe that sunny Thursday morning was enough to make him worry and fret. 

Buckles and Rogers, now what could that be about, he found himself not merely wondering but obsessing over, as he drove past the pair of chatting dears and completed his journey to work. Indicator on, he turned without pause into the clinic’s car park and made his way around to the back, ignoring the occupants of the cars already parked there, waiting for the surgery to open. 

He had his own private parking space that couldn’t be seen from the front, and for him that was important. Without it he wouldn’t have been able to indulge his morning routines, which consisted of three minutes of jaw muscle exercises in the rear-view mirror, a shave with his electric razor over a towel, and a quickly—though never as quick as he wanted—completed sudoku puzzle or two, all while listening to some of his favourite tunes. This morning’s playlist brought up some Taylor and some Ariana and some Harry, popular artists nobody would ever guess he liked, who ordinarily would have had him bopping his head to their beats but who, this morning, barely registered at all. 

Buckles and Rogers, what would they be talking about, and so seriously? It hadn’t looked like a casual, passing hello, and even that would have been a tad suspicious. Maureen Rogers had worked as his receptionist for a good ten years before being poached by Airton Fitzgibbons, a fellow GP who’d opened a surgery on the other side of town—the newer side of town—two years before, and wooed her with a more enticing package. 

He was young and dashing, Doctor Fitzgibbons, he attracted the younger crowd who’d been making homes for themselves in Newhall these last few years, as the commuter belt lengthened and the town expanded to accommodate them. With his fancy car, swanky clothes, full head of hair and Hollywood good looks, it wasn’t hard to understand why, and it hadn’t really bothered Stanley at first. He couldn’t have taken on all the new patients flooding into town anyway. It was only when he started to lose some of his own to the new practice, the children of those he’d been treating for half a century, that it started to get under his skin. 

The average age of his patient base was rising, his patient numbers were falling, and he had plenty of years left to give. He wasn’t ready to retire any time soon and he was too old to start over somewhere new, so what would become of him if he lost all the younger generation to this new doctor? It was a worry, and it had introduced to him many a sleepless night in those early days. 

The last straw had come when Mrs. Rogers handed in her notice to go and work for him. More money, she’d said. Closer to home. Better facilities. She’d never said the words ‘younger, cooler doctor’ but deep down he knew it was true, and when he found out Fitzgibbons had head-hunted her, having heard good things about her from his patients, from that day on he saw the Doctor as a foe. An unmarried man, Maureen was the closest thing to a wife Stanley had ever had, and his heart was broken by her departure as much as any cheated-on spouse’s ever could be. 

Miss Buckles was aware of this. She knew his feelings on the matter and respected them. When he’d taken her on after Mrs. Rogers departure, she’d taken to the role with gusto and quickly proved herself as capable and dependable as her predecessor, perhaps even more so. She was a loyal, trustworthy colleague and friend, and even though she did think his animosity towards Doctor Fitzgibbons was a little childish and misplaced, she never made him feel silly about it. Her husband had left her for a younger woman not long before, so even though the circumstances were different, she understood the betrayal he felt. 

Which was why the sight of her talking to Mrs. Rogers, someone she never spoke about and who she ordinarily went out of her way to avoid, somewhat troubled him. 

Unable to concentrate, and realising he’d made a mistake with the number nine, he abandoned his sudoku in frustration, flinging the book back into the glove box. He looked at his watch and groaned upon seeing the time. 9.05 a.m. Five minutes late, but that wasn’t what brought about the groan. He usually got so lost in his sudoku it could be ten past, or even a quarter past, before he was done. Now he’d be in work early-late instead of late-late, and Stanley found that disappointing.

It was the only bit of rebellion he had left. 

Nevertheless, he had to get on with it, and he wanted to ask Miss Buckles about what he’d seen, so he exited the car, made his way to the back door of the clinic and used the swipe card hanging from a lanyard around his neck to let himself in. He walked down the hall, past his office on the left towards the waiting room—making sure to avoid eye contact with the five or six patients who were sitting there impatiently waiting—and turned into the open reception area, which was situated like an island in the centre of the room. 

“Morning, Miss Buckles,” he gushed, tugging a hanky from his tweed jacket pocket to mop at his brow, which had moistened with sweat when he noticed how many were waiting. “How are you this…” 

He cut himself off because grey-haired Miss Buckles, who was sitting, as always, in her orthopaedic chair with her back to him, had jumped in her seat and let out a gasp when he spoke, swivelling around and dropping the letter she was reading. 

“Stanley!” she wheezed, slapping a hand to her chest and placing a foot over the letter. “You startled me! How many times have I told you not to sneak up on me like that!” 

Stanley frowned as he mopped his sweaty brow, which was sweatier now as a result of Miss Buckles’ reaction. 

“I…don’t think you’ve ever told me that, Miss Buckles. Have you?” 

“Of course I have,” Miss Buckles replied, bending over to snatch up the letter and stuff it back in the envelope she held. “Dozens of times. You just don’t remember. You know how forgetful you are, Stan, you’d think I’d be used to it by now!” 

“You’d think I would be too, but I keep forgetting!” Stanley joked, accidentally looking out over the counter and meeting the gaze of old Mrs. O’Reilly, who beamed back at him from where she sat and lifted a hand in greeting. Stanley nodded curtly and looked away, as quickly as Perseus from Medusa. “Lovely out today, I hope you enjoyed the walk. I think I saw you, actually, were you talking to…” 

This time it was Miss Buckles who cut him off, by plucking a pile of patient records in bulging manila folders from her desk and jamming them into his arms, but only after lifting the pages of her large desk diary and placing the letter she’d been reading at the back. This odd, letter-hiding action was done swiftly, nonchalantly, as though it were a perfectly ordinary, everyday thing she would do and shouldn’t have caught Stanley’s attention. 

Except it wasn’t. And it did. 

“All in order for you,” she said, as he clutched the ream of folders to his chest. “The first six anyway. Busy day ahead, better get on with it.” She was out of her seat then, skirt shuffling as she took him by the shoulders and turned him, guided him, marched him out of her space into the hall, patting him on the back as he continued on the way to his office. 

“Indeed, indeed, time and tide wait for no man...” he muttered, brow still furrowed in confusion over what had occurred. He opened the door with his elbow and shouldered his way into a cluttered but brightly-lit surgery, dumped the folders on the desk next to his laptop and shrugged off his jacket. Something about the exchange with Miss Buckles bothered him, and it wasn’t that he’d startled her in a way he didn’t remember ever having done before, despite what she said, it wasn’t that he hadn’t gotten a chance to ask about Mrs. Rogers, and it wasn’t that he’d seen her concealing a letter. 

So it was a personal letter, there was no crime in that, but something about the letter itself had caught his attention, something he thought he’d glimpsed when it fell to the floor. For the life of him he couldn’t remember what it was now, because everything had happened so fast. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe it was just him worrying about things that were none of his business as usual. Or maybe he was even more forgetful than he and Miss Buckles often joked. Whatever the case, time was ticking on, so he put it out of his mind and picked up the first set of records, noted they belonged to Mr. Hale, and stuck his head out through the door to call him in. 

It had been a day and a half. 

He’d barely had time to grab a lunch, and today grab a lunch was exactly what he’d had to do, as Miss Buckles hadn’t spoiled him like she normally did with a Tupperware container of leftovers from her meal the night before. Monday night was shepherd’s pie night in the Buckles household, Stanley knew, and come 11 o’clock he’d been salivating at the thought of getting to have some. 

But it wasn’t to be. 

Nothing for you today, Stan, she’d said, as she headed out for lunch with her coat and handbag. Left it in the fridge. Sorry! I’m off to meet my sister for a coffee. Pop around the shop and grab yourself a sandwich. Don’t forget now! 

It was odd, Stanley thought. As she’d pointed out this morning, he was the forgetful one, not she. She never forgot anything, not an important piece of paperwork, not a call back to a patient, not a thing. He knew she was right; he had become very absent-minded these last few years, especially since Fitzgibbons came along and made his life more stressful and his future less certain. He’d be lost without Buckles to remind him of the things that slipped his mind on a daily basis, and that very thought inspired him into action, as he pulled on his jacket and closed down his laptop for the day. 

It was 6.45 p.m. He’d seen his last patients—Mrs. Keneally and her trio of rambunctious, sick-but-not-that-sick-a-long-stay-in-bed-and-a-nice-cold-compress-wouldn’t-cure children—an hour before and had spent the time in between updating records and writing referral letters, or rather speaking them into his voice recorder and sending them to Miss Buckles to type. 

He needed to ask her about her chat with Mrs. Rogers. It had been playing on his mind all day. He couldn’t think what they could possibly have been talking about, but the fact they had been talking, coupled with Miss Buckles slightly-off, uncharacteristically distracted behaviour throughout the day—not to mention the forgotten shepherd’s pie—was making him worry. 

Out of the office, he strode purposely the few steps it took to reach the waiting room and veered right straight into reception, a stressed, flustered man on an anxious mission. 

He was ready to blurt it out, “Miss Buckles, I meant to ask, did I see you talking to Mrs. Rogers this morning?” but he couldn’t, because not only was the waiting room mercifully empty, Miss Buckles’ high-backed chair was empty too. 

“Miss Buckles?” he said, casting his gaze around the silent, settling surgery, which itself seemed appreciative of the peace. There wasn’t a sign of her, so she must be in the loo, and Stanley took a breath to relieve the tension. Now he’d been given a reprieve and a moment to calm himself, he told himself he was being very silly. 

What are you doing, Stanley? Get a hold of yourself, man, what exactly do you think she’s hiding? 

That’s when he noticed Miss Buckles’ phone on the desk, screen lit up as someone silently called it. 

He didn’t intend to snoop. He had no desire to know anything about it. But he couldn’t help but recognise the number on the screen before it vanished. It was a familiar number, too familiar, and it made his body burn with anxiety when he saw it, not because it ended in the digits 6-6-6 but because he knew it belonged to Fitzgibbons. 

He stopped breathing for a moment then, as if time froze for a couple of seconds, bringing everything except his thoughts to a halt. Chatting with Mrs. Rogers. Acting secretive. Forgetting his lunch. Receiving a call from Fitzgibbons. And…something else. What was that now? 

The letter. 

He knew what it was then, what had bothered him about the letter on the floor. It was the logo at the top. Miss Buckles had covered it with her foot quickly enough that it hadn’t registered but now it burned in his head, the red and green image of a building with a bright yellow sun overhead, the trademark of Fitzgibbons Clinic. 

As soon as time unstuck, he was moving, couldn’t help it, had to know. He was having a dreadful case of déjà vu; he’d been through this before and it couldn’t be happening again. Operating almost autonomously, his hands reached out to the leather-bound desk diary, opened it at the back, found the enveloped letter trying to hide there, lifted it, pulled apart the torn seams of the opening to reveal the dreaded logo at the top of the page inside. Below the name and address, her name and address, the missive started with the two damning words: “Dear Eileen.” 

“Stanley! What the Hell are you doing?!” 

He uttered a cry of surprise and stepped back, dropping the envelope from shaking hands and turning to face Miss Buckles. 

Her eyes were wide as she stared in disbelief. They were also red and puffy, as though she’d been crying. Stanley blushed and felt ashamed, sweat beads forming on his brow. 

“I-I-I’m so sorry, Eileen,” he said, searching in his pockets for his hanky. “I didn’t mean to pry. I just… I wanted… I was thinking…” 

He stopped. Closed his eyes. Took a breath. Let it out. And with eyes still shut, he asked her. 

“Are you leaving me, Eileen? Are you going to work for Fitzgibbons?” 

He waited, breathing deeply, quaking in his polished Oxford shoes, waited for the body blow he knew was coming. Miss Buckles was silent. He sensed her come closer. She placed her hands on his shoulders and squeezed. 

“Oh Stan,” she said, voice trembling, ready to break. “You silly man. I’m not going to work for Airton Fitzgibbons. I’d never do that to you. I just needed to see another doctor.” 

He opened his eyes and her face was right there, tears streaming down her cheeks. 

“Another doctor?” 

She nodded, smiling sadly. 

“I didn’t want you to be the one. I didn’t want you to have to tell me. It wouldn’t have been fair.” 

Stanley stared deep into her olive-green eyes, heart pounding in his chest. In an instant, he knew, as if he could read it in the endless black depths of her pupils. 

She wasn’t planning to leave him. She didn’t want to go anywhere at all. 

Understanding flooded him and somehow, surprisingly, he grew calm, like he could be in professional situations. He started to nod, holding her gaze, and he kept nodding until she lowered her hands from his shoulders. He’d found his hanky in one of his pockets, so he took it out and handed it over.  

“Well then, Miss Buckles,” he said, stooping to retrieve the fallen letter, while she patted at the wetness on her face. 

“Let’s see what we’re dealing with, shall we?” he said, smiling reassuringly and inviting Miss Buckles closer with open arms, closing them around her in a warm, caring tweed-jacketed hug.

“And then we’ll talk about what we’re going to do.” 

September 01, 2023 12:21

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41 comments

Stella Aurelius
11:51 Dec 29, 2023

Another brilliant one, Derrick ! The flow of the story was so well-written, the descriptions so rich, the characters so relatable that I could see it playing in my mind as I read along. The discussion of fears --- both Dr. Easterbrook's fear of irrelevance and Eileen's fear of death --- was just so...human. I loved it !

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12:58 Dec 29, 2023

Thanks Stella. This was a very different kind of story for me. Was sad it didn't get more attention but I'm glad you found it :)

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15:21 Sep 30, 2023

This is a really sweet, touching story. The way an aging person's fear of irrelevance crashes into the much more pressing elder fear of grief and mortality--it's nice and lighthearted in dealing with heavy topics.

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Helen A Smith
19:53 Sep 21, 2023

An engaging story Derrick. Things that seemed trivial at first took on an importance that matter to people on a daily basis. The minutiae of life and relationships, the petty and not so petty jealousies, the feel of small town life, with all its tittle-tattle and complexity, as well as the more private emotions and the quiet sense of pride the doctor was fighting to retain. You got that across so well. I couldn’t help feeling I’d be far more comfortable with Doctor Stanley Easterbrook and his traditional ways; more so than the new doctor ...

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10:43 Sep 22, 2023

So happy you enjoyed the read Helen. It's not the usual sort of thing I write about (there's normally a lot of horror or science fiction or something supernatural going on) so it was a nice change of pace. I really wanted to work on creating believable and relatable characters here so I'm happy to hear that seems to have worked! Thanks for reading.

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Susanne O'Connor
06:24 Sep 21, 2023

Kept me wanting to read more. Simple storyline but woven such as to give it a sense of mystery. Haven't we all either been the new kid on the block who threatens the security of others and the threatened one who desperately wants to hang onto old fashioned, tried and true sentiments. Hope Stan gets what he wants.

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10:43 Sep 22, 2023

Thanks Susanne! Delighted to hear this! And yes between you and me I think Stan is going to find some peace and happiness... :)

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17:17 Sep 07, 2023

So, as a bit of an over thinker myself, this story resonated very deeply with me. It never ceases to amaze me just how much odd behaviour and no communication can mess up the internal reasoning centers 😳🙄. The tension was very real here. I needed the ending (which was really warm btw)... Finishing halfway and coming back later was off the cards 🤣 Great story, and another solid entry Derrick. 👌💪😎❤️

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09:07 Sep 09, 2023

Thank you Cecilia! Have been busy this week so missed out on reading a lot of stories but I'll catch up on your latest soon!

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13:50 Sep 09, 2023

No rush Derrick 😊, I've taken a short break, I'll submit for the current prompt in a few days time, you're still all caught up.

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Chris Campbell
03:17 Sep 07, 2023

Derrick, Nicely built and maintained tension. Couldn't wait to get to the end to find out what Buckles was up to. Then, when we arrived at that moment, we clearly felt both their bottled-up emotions. Great storytelling!

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09:06 Sep 09, 2023

Thanks Chris! Glad you enjoyed!

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Danie Holland
22:53 Sep 06, 2023

Thou shalt not covet, but alas I couldn’t help myself if I’m honest. The well developed tension and the twist at the end. The relatable characters written so well you could reach out and touch them with the tips of your fingers. The cafe, the doctors office, the thieving next door doctor. All of it. All of it written so well I was there and now I’m back again. And the ending. Nailed it. 😭 I can’t complain about a single thing. Not one line felt out of place and believe me I looked. Anything to make me feel a little better about myself. I go...

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17:07 Sep 07, 2023

Wow Danie this is my favorite comment ever! Thank you! I'm so happy you enjoyed the story so much. Hopefully I can bring more smiles to your face. Though I tend to mainly write weird horror and scifi stuff so can't promise anything!!

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Michał Przywara
21:41 Sep 06, 2023

Good, enjoyable, and a well realized character in the doctor. Naturally, throughout the whole story we too wonder, is she being head hunted? It's been established as the main, obvious conflict. But, it's also *very* obvious, so we wonder if something else is going on under the hood. The memory issues struck me as notable, and it got me wondering if perhaps Easterbrook was off much worse than he realized, if maybe this was an Alzheimer's story - but no, a red herring. The way he works himself up throughout the story is well done and belie...

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17:08 Sep 07, 2023

Cheers Michal. Dr E is inspired by a real person, also a doctor, so I had something to draw on. Thanks for the kind words!

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Martin Ross
17:53 Sep 06, 2023

That is the definition of a thoughtful, lovely character study — IMO, the basis for any quality relationship/romance story. Nicely, nicely done!

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17:09 Sep 07, 2023

Thanks Martin. Glad you enjoyed!

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AnneMarie Miles
17:52 Sep 06, 2023

This is such a magnificent story. So many emotions! Poor Stanley. His paranoia is a bit ridiculous, humorously so, though! And I think we can all relate to the worry of things to come and how to handle the things that are out of our control. I appreciate Ms. Buckles loyalty and her desire to keep this mysterious illness/condition from Stanley. It just goes to show how well she knows him - she doesn't want to worry him. The details you packed into this made the emotional investment easy. It's really well done. Thanks for a good read, Derrick!

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17:09 Sep 07, 2023

Aw thank you AnneMarie. Appreciate those words!

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16:18 Sep 06, 2023

Great story. A great character study of Stanley. With all the little details, like suduko and his love of routine, I can really feel Stanley's sense of duty, and also his loneliness. I hope things work out with Eileen. From the other comments I can see I read the ending correctly (I often miss things) And what a coincidence we both have stories with GP main characters this week, but with very different trajectories!

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17:10 Sep 07, 2023

Yeah I was thinking that when I read yours! Invented our own prompt for this one. Troubled GPs! Thanks!

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Robert Egan
21:20 Sep 03, 2023

Nice one! Very smooth style with third person close, and there were so many great details, like Stanley's shaving-sudoku car routine and his policy of avoiding eye contact in the waiting room (loved "looked away, as quickly as Perseus from Medusa"). Leaving the diagnosis unspoken in the end seemed like the right call to me. Looking forward to reading more of your stories!

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17:10 Sep 07, 2023

Cheers Robert!

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Kevin Logue
11:59 Sep 03, 2023

That was a very different affair for you Derrick, there was absolutely nothing supernatural ha. Jokes aside, really well written, great scene setting, and emmersion with Stan. Also a lovely bit of misdirect. Really well done.

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12:31 Sep 03, 2023

Thanks Kevin. Yes a bit more down to earth this time lol Congratulations on shortlist! Have been busy last few days just catching up!

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Lily Finch
05:29 Sep 03, 2023

Derrick, this story was well done with character descriptions that are fitting to the setting. Not knowing what the prognosis is but knowing that Stan will be holding her through the entire illness. Captivating and masterfully written. LF6

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10:36 Sep 03, 2023

Thank you Lily. I will be catching up with reading soon and you are on my list!

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Nina H
12:41 Sep 02, 2023

The small town setting and cast of characters so familiar to each other really works for this story. I didn’t see this ending coming! You wrote it perfectly to lead the reader down the path Stan was on, thinking the grass was greener with the other doctor. I like that you don’t reveal the diagnosis. In my mind, it’s one that Stan will help her through and they will become even closer in the process and then she will be cured and they will live happily ever after! 🥰

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16:12 Sep 02, 2023

Thank you Nina. Wasn't sure if leaving the diagnosis ambiguous was good idea or not but it's the way I wanted to end it

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05:31 Sep 03, 2023

I want Doctor Easterbrook to have his happily ever after! Time for an encore.

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Mary Bendickson
02:24 Sep 02, 2023

So what's wrong?

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11:55 Sep 02, 2023

I didn't really want to specify what is wrong. Like the doctor we don't know yet . Only that it's serious and is going to be a struggle. But she will have the best support:)

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00:56 Sep 02, 2023

Oh dear. Finished too soon. A most engrossing story and so well written. No hug at the start. One at the end. I reasoned that Miss Buckles planned to leave him for whatever reason. I thought she would be the one to hug him. Maybe his forgetfulness and confusion was worse than he thought and Miss Buckles had had enough. I didn't suspect what had really happened. What is Miss Buckles dealing with? Will we ever know?

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11:57 Sep 02, 2023

I don't know if we will find out of not. But maybe. I like the character, different from my usual ones. I might continue their story actually. I wonder if one of this week's prompts could work. Might actually

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Marty B
00:49 Sep 02, 2023

A small -town doctor, in a small -town type of story. By small-town, I mean a simple cast of characters, with basic motivations, to hope to be on the upside of a good day. Stanley's world was falling brick by brick around him, and he can't quite figure out why. He has checked-out of his practice, and everyone, including his patients, and his staff have noticed. If Miss Buckles left him for the Doctor across town, he would be lost, as his mind can't keep everything in place quite like it used to, even his sudoku. Im glad to see it got ...

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11:59 Sep 02, 2023

Thanks Marty. Not my usual type of story but I enjoyed writing it. Maybe I will try a few like this. My actiony sci-fi fantasy ones don't seem to impress the judges. Though that said two of my horror tales did well so who knows

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L J
21:26 Sep 01, 2023

Ahhh, love this. What a sweetie doctor! I'd like to see an AI write this! No way. this was full of humanity and compassion! Nicely done! Thanks for taking the time to read my entry!

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12:00 Sep 02, 2023

Thanks LJ. Glad ingot the human factor in there.. that was the assignment anyway!!!,:)

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Chris Miller
13:49 Sep 01, 2023

Very sweet, Derrick. You have a nice flowing style that gives your stories clarity. The characters and places come to life quite naturally. Good work. Thanks for sharing.

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12:01 Sep 02, 2023

Thank you Chris. I appreciate those comments. Been a busy week but I'll catch up on some reading soon and check out your latest 👍

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