Reeve Stockwell felt sluggish. Of course, how could anyone feel anything but on the four hours of sleep that had become Stockwell's nightly ritual?
Go to bed. Look at the ceiling. Get up. Get a glass of water. Go to bed. Look at the ceiling. Get up. Get a glass of scotch. Go to bed. Is that a spider in the corner?
You get the drift.
Alone in the stuffy, windowless office, Stockwell leaned back in his chair and stifled an enormous yawn. He checked the clock. 5:22 AM, a hateful time of day, one best reserved for sleep in one's late thirties, or clamboring home from an all-nighter in earlier years.
Stockwell's stomach growled, and he caught sight of the oozing pile of sticky goodness on the corner of his desk. He turned his head and faced his breakfast straight on. A fritter the size of a dinner plate stared back at him. Did he dare? Did he dare consume four days worth of sugar before six in the morning?
Who would know? He could toss the granola bar into the trash, tell his wife he ate it, and no one would be the wiser. He could hide his shame, hide his lack of fiber, hide his lack of willpower. He had the metabolism of the Tazmanian devil. The fritter would never show.
He touched the pastry with the index finger of his left hand. That was all it took, enough to send him over the edge.
A clear sugar residue clung to the finger. He had to lick it off. And so, alone in the office, he did.
"Damn that's good," he muttered, savoring the sweetness, a combination of tart and forbidden. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see his adversary, shrouding the plate, lording a power over him that was just this side of insane.
"I'm not gonna do it. I am not going to eat you. You will not win."
Stockwell looked around, and silently thanked God he was still alone.
I'm talking to a fritter. I've lost my ever-loving mind.
Maybe he had. Maybe he had lost his mind. A few years of Tommy's Tool Town could do that to a man. A gentle tapping interrupted his reverie, and the fritter was momentarily forgotten.
Stockwell stood, stretched, and let himself out of the office, careful to hide the fritter beneath a pile of spreadsheets before he did.
"I'll be back for you, you son of a gun," he muttered before slamming the door.
The opening crew of Tommy's Tool Town was assembled outside the glass door, confined to the vestibule for a few last moments of freedom before the daily grind began. As Stockwell approached, two members of his crew waved. The rest looked half asleep, save the tattooed youngster in the back who hadn't slept, opting instead for a night of gaming, Dorito's, and Red Bull.
Twelve faces stared at him through the glass door. This is what I get? thought Stockwell. These folks look more like the freaks from table nine in the Wedding Singer. He chastised himself for his negative thoughts, and raised his hand in greeting. Most of the crew wasn't half bad. Most of them.
Stockwell popped the lock and the crew filed in.
"Morning," they each muttered.
"Morning," Stockwell replied to each green-shirted entrant.
Twelve of his minions skittered away, and he watched them as they did. Tommy's Tool Town, in yellow neon, was emblazoned on the back of each shirt.
Stockwell looked out the window, into the parking lot beyond.
There's got to be more to this life than nuts and bolts, and early risers in neon, he thought.
Savoring the last few minutes to himself, Stockwell returned to his office, locked the door behind him, dug through the pile of reports, and freed the fritter. He sat, leaned back in his desk chair, and consumed the pastry in less than two minutes. He pushed all feelings of guilt aside as the sugar coursed through his veins.
There's got to be more to this life than nuts and bolts, fritters behind closed doors, and early risers in neon, he thought again.
Reeve Stockwell was about to find out.