Ch. 1

Audio transcripts from the confidential files of Dr. Archibald Hopper, MD, MSW, LICSW.

Date: 10/24/11

Time: 6:47pm EST

Patient #24, Henry Mills

Mills: You look sad today, Archie.

Dr. Hopper: You're skirting the issue again, Henry. Our time is almost up and you haven't answered my questions about your father.

Mills: I'm not really in the mood to talk about him today. Why do you look so sad?

[INDETERMINATE NOISES]

Dr. Hopper: I'm sad because my friend has been very sick.

Mills: Geppetto?

Dr. Hopper: Geppetto? Oh, you mean Marco. Yes, he's had the flu all week.

Mills: I think he misses his son.

Dr. Hopper: He doesn't have a son, Henry. We talked about this.

Mills: I know Marco doesn't have a son. But Geppetto does. Pinocchio. Don't worry, he'll be fine.

Dr. Hopper: Thank you, Henry.

Mills: Do you have any other friends, Archie? Besides Marco?

Dr. Hopper: [LAUGHTER] Sure, Henry. Emma and I chat sometimes. But we mostly talk about you, which is what we're supposed to be doing right now.

Mills: It's seven o'clock. Our time is up.

Dr. Hopper: Yes, it is.

0000000

As Archie walked down Main Street, the tip of his umbrella clicking against the sidewalk, he shook his head and marveled at how Henry had the ability to make him feel like the patient instead of the doctor. They boy was smart. A little too smart for his own good, sometimes. And he certainly had a way of prying into other people's lives.

Archie sighed as he passed the bakery. He was sad tonight. He was sad that Marco didn't tell him about his cold, that his one true friend in town couldn't be honest and say that, maybe, this illness was worse than the others. He feared for the old man's well-being, almost as a parent would fear for their child. It was silly, but Archie didn't know how else to describe it.

The psychiatrist pulled his jacket tighter around his chest to block the chilly autumn wind. The streets were nearly empty tonight, with only a few cars passing by on the road and the flickering of business lights going out as people closed their shops for the day. Archie turned the corner to the street where his apartment sat. He saw through the window across the street that Granny's was slow tonight, and only a few patrons sat in the booths.

Pongo greeted Archie when he opened his door, slobbering kisses on the man's face with his tail wagging violently. Archie knelt and patted the Dalmatian. "Good boy. Did you miss me?"

The dog barked a response. Archie led him down the hall to the kitchen and gave Pongo a bowl of kibble. The doctor fixed himself dinner, chicken breast with peas and carrots, and read the Daily Mirror as he ate.

The flat was quiet, always quiet, even as Pongo slurped his food. Archie had gotten used to solitude over the years, but tonight he fidgeted as he washed his dishes, his eyes glancing at the phone, wondering if Marco would call him with an update. After writing up a few notes from his sessions today, Archie sat back in his leather armchair in front of the unlit fireplace. He looked at the clock. 9:30.

Pongo lay across the red couch, head between his paws. Archie smiled slowly and raised a brow. "Wanna go for a walk, Pongo?"

The dog was out the door before Archie could put a leash on him. He took his usual route through the park, across town towards the hospital and cutting through Main Street again. By now, the local businesses were closed, save for Granny's where the lights still shined from inside the diner. Archie crossed the street and peered through the window.

The eatery was completely empty, chairs stacked on top of the tables and a mop and bucket sitting near the front counter. Not a person was in sight, save for Ruby. The young woman with long black hair, streaked with a brilliant red, wore a pair of headphones and danced around the diner with a broom. It wasn't a slow dance, either, but a jazzy, fast dance that she bobbed her head to in between sweeping.

Archie smiled. Pongo pulled the leash, begging to keep going, but Archie held him back. He watched Ruby dance, amused and impressed by her swinging footsteps. He went to the door and knocked. When she didn't answer, he opened it slowly and peered in.

"'Scuse me?"

Ruby had her back to him, tapping her feet.

"Hello?"

Ruby whipped around and gasped. She pulled the headphones from her hears and froze in place.

"I'm sorry!" Archie said. "I-I didn't mean—"

Ruby laughed and put a hand to her heart. "Jeeze, Archie, you scared me half to death!"

"I'm sorry," the doctor said again. "Are you closed?"

The beautiful young woman flashed him a teeth-baring grin and took a chair from the table. "Have a seat," she said. "The grill's closed, but I can whip you up a soda—"

"That's okay, I was just . . ."

Archie paused and tilted his head to the side. Ruby's hair was done up in a tight ponytail, her eyelids painted a bright red. Her crimson lips didn't falter from their grin, and her red hot pants left little to the imagination in terms of the girl's shapely legs. Archie shook his head and felt like a perv. Of course Ruby was beautiful. She was always beautiful. But it was rare that they were alone together so he could asses just how pretty the young woman was.

"What were you listening to?" he asked.

"Oh," Ruby chuckled and clicked her Walkman off. "Just some music Granny let me borrow. It's great, wanna hear?"

Archie glanced back at the door, then to Ruby. "I should—"

"Just two seconds," Ruby said. She took the CD from her Walkman, hurried behind the counter, and popped it in the CD player under the register.

The tune was a snappy, jazzy beat, and Archie recognized the song from the radio. It was JD McPherson's 'North Side Gal,' a song that was never missed on the "swing time lineup" on Storybrook's KOOL 87.4 jazz station. Archie nodded to the music and laughed.

"This is a good one."

"You know it?" Ruby asked.

"Sure." He sat at the booth by the window and had Pongo lay at his feet. "He's no Fats Domino or Buddy Holly, but he plays a good rockabilly."

Ruby went to Archie's booth with an impressed smile. She put her hand on her hip. "I didn't think anyone else liked this kind of stuff."

"Well, anyone with taste would." Archie grinned. He motioned to her. "Hey, where'd you learn to dance like that?"

Ruby waved him off. "Oh, I saw a couple of videos online. Granny's had me closing up for the past week, so when I'm alone, I like to try the steps."

"You're great."

Ruby blushed. "Nah."

"I'm serious!" Archie scooted forward in his booth. "You've got the gift."

JD McPherson crooned, "Crazy 'bout a North Side gal . . ." and Ruby held her hand out to Archie.

"Wanna try?" the young woman asked.

Archie shook his head sheepishly. "No, I couldn't. I have two left feet."

"That's okay, I'm right-handed," Ruby said with a laugh.

"No, really." Archie stood with Pongo's leash in hand. "I should be going, actually." He turned and headed for the door, when Ruby stopped him.

"Hey, Archie? Why'd you come in?"

Dr. Hopped stared at the glass door, at Ruby's reflection. He didn't want to tell her that he admired her dancing and he wanted to see more. He didn't dare admit her red streaks and cherry mouth always intrigued him just a little, like a spice he knew he could never try. And anyway she was just a kid, too pretty for him and far too young for any guy who didn't wear muscle t-shirts. Archie cleared his throat and turned slowly to the woman.

"I was hoping to get some soup," he said. "for Marco. He's been sick lately—"

"Why didn't you tell me?" Ruby cried. She dashed around the counter to the back room.

"Really, don't trouble yourself—"

"It's fine, I haven't turned the warmers off yet," Ruby called from the kitchen.

Archie looked at Pongo, who stared back quizzically. He shrugged at the dog and pulled on his tie, suddenly feeling very warm and tingly under his skin. Ruby reappeared from the back moments later, a Styrofoam bowl of chicken soup steaming in her hand. She popped a lid on it, wrapped it in a brown paper bag, and handed it to Ruby.

Archie smiled. "Thank you," he said. "I really appreciate it." He reached in his pocket for money, but Ruby shook her head.

"It's on me. Tell Marco to get better, okay?"

Archie's mouth stretched in an even wider grin and he nodded. "I will. Thanks again."

"Every song I sing, it screams about a north side gal . . ."

Archie cleared his throat again and clutched the paper bag tightly. "H-Have a good night," he said.

Ruby waved with her fingers. "Bye."

Dr. Hopper led Pongo out of the diner and practically skipped the rest of the way home, cradling the warm soup in his arm, singing, "Crazy 'bout a north side gal . . . Yeah, I'm crazy 'bout a north side gal . . ."

To be continued