Jim saved his files. “Two a.m.? When the hell did it get that late?” Nine hours after when he should have gone home, that was when. But the program review was at noon, and their biggest customer wouldn’t understand if the review wasn’t ready.
Jim rubbed his face. He couldn’t think. He needed to clear his head. He walked down the half-lit hall to the water fountain. They shut off most of the lights after seven. He splashed cold water on his face and rubbed it in his hair.
He needed one more pick-me-up to keep going. Jim sighed. It was becoming a bad habit, but it always worked. He checked his wallet for dollar bills. He had one, only one, and a wrinkled one at that.
Jim walked up to the hug vending machine. Inside, an elderly man wearing a flannel shirt sat reading a newspaper in an easy chair. He looked more comfortable than anyone had a right to be at two o’clock in the morning. The man smiled at Jim as he walked over, smoothing out a dollar bill.
“Hello, Jim. Back again?” the man asked.
“Coming here is worse than buying Doritos from that machine next to you. At least I kicked that habit,” Jim said.
“Doritos don’t provide any nourishment. At least this is good for the soul.”
“Says you. Hugs and money don’t mix.”
The man shrugged. “I can think of worse ways to spend your money.”
So could Jim. Junk food. Cigarettes. Beer. Crap that he just didn’t need. He wanted to be home in his wife’s arms, but she would be asleep by now, and there wouldn’t be time for anything but a quick hug and kiss before they ran off to their jobs in the morning. He couldn’t very well ask his coworkers for hugs, could he?
Jim handed the man the dollar. The man got up and hugged him. He reminded Jim of his father, dead seven years ago. Jim had gone through a quadruple bypass two years ago, and they were working him to death even now. But he needed the job. He had a daughter getting ready to go to college, and she was good enough to make it to the Ivy League.
He felt better. Enough to wrap up the program review and go home.
“Take care, Jim,” the man said as he sat back down.
“What’s your name?” Jim asked.
He shook his head. “I’m not allowed to say.”
“You’ve got one, haven’t you?”
“It’s our business code of ethics. No relationship with the customers. Otherwise, there’s a conflict of interest.”
Jim felt like he’d just put clothes he hated to wear. “Well, we can’t have that.”
“Don’t work too late. I’ll be here if you need me.”
Jim just walked away. Time to break another habit. And get another job.
This post was inspired by the Daily Prompt “Vending Wishes.” I tried to think of the weirdest, most non-toxic vending machine I could think of. This wound up being far more creepy than just buying beer, a pony, or something else that people buy.