Recap: In the last chapter, Lyle came home after losing his job as an executive-assistant to find his girlfriend, Annabelle, in the kitchen with no pants. When he saw that the bedroom door was closed, his suspicion got the better of him….
Lyle turned the knob and flung open the door. His best friend, Brent, sat in his underwear atop the unmade bed, the tattered sheets bunched up around him.
“Hey, buddy!” Brent said. He tried to grin, but it came out as more of a grimace. “I know what you’re thinking, and let me assure you, this is not what it looks like.”
“Brent, don’t even try,” Annabelle said. “Lyle’s not stupid. This is exactly what it looks like, and you know it.”
“Yeah,” Lyle said. “And besides, I’m a trained journalist. There’s no escaping my laser-like intuition.”
He turned to Annabelle, who had cautiously approached from behind and now stood beside him in the doorway. “My best friend? Really?”
Annabelle shrugged, looking at the floor. “I don’t know what to say, Lyle. I’m so sorry.”
Brent coughed, gently. “If it means anything, we didn’t want you to get hurt. That’s why we kept this from you for as long as possible.”
“Oh, is that why?” Lyle asked, crossing his arms and frowning.
“It’s true,” Brent said. “You got to believe me. Annabelle and I want nothing but the best for you.”
“It’s nice of you two to put my feelings first.”
“He’s telling the truth, Lyle,” Annabelle said. “None of this was planned. It just sort of happened. One thing led to another, and before we knew it, we were … involved.”
Lyle raised an eyebrow. “So you’re together? Just like that?”
“Not ‘just like that,’” Brent said. “Our relationship developed over a period of months. Isn’t that right, Annabelle?”
“Brent.” Annabelle shook her head. “You’re not helping.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re both involved,” Lyle said. “I enjoy a sweet, sappy love story as much as the next guy. But the major hangup I have here — and I’m hoping you’ll see my perspective on this — is that Annabelle and I are already ‘involved.’ To my knowledge, we never ‘devolved’ before you two became ‘involved.’ You can’t be involved if you’re already involved.”
Annabelle shrugged. “What can I say? Sometimes people evolve.”
“Well, then, that’s great,” Lyle said. “I’m glad I could bring you two together. I should become a matchmaker. I could hook up eager guys with the women I’m dating.”
“Lyle,” Annabelle said, biting her lower lip, “I’m really, really sorry. I don’t want you to get upset.”
“I’m not upset, hon; I’m pissed off,” Lyle said. “It’s just such a cliche. Guy loses his job, then comes home to find his girl in bed with another man. I mean, they write country-western songs about this sort of thing. Truckers everywhere will be crying in their beers when the word gets out.”
“Whoa, whoa,” Brent said. “Back up there. You said you lost your job?”
“C’mon, Brent,” Annabelle said. “You know he did. Don’t pretend you didn’t hear everything we were saying in there.”
“I was plugging my ears,” Brent said. “I didn’t want to intrude on your private conversation.”
“You’re lying half-naked in my bed, and you’re worried about intruding on my private conversations?” Lyle asked.
“Lyle, c’mon,” Annabelle said. “If you’re going to be mad at anyone, be mad at me. This is just as much my fault as his.”
“Don’t listen to her, Lyle,” Brent said. “It’s my fault. Blame me. I’m the one who initiated the relationship.”
Lyle held up his hands. “I can’t choose between you two. You both mean too much to me. I’ve got plenty of rage to go around, so I’ll hate you both equally.”
“I knew you’d be rational about this,” Brent said.
Annabelle sighed. “Lyle, you have an absolute right to hate us both. I wouldn’t blame you if you decided never to speak to us again.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Lyle said. “But I wouldn’t expect any fancy wedding gifts from me. Especially considering I’m unemployed now.”
“I’m really sorry you lost your job, man,” Brent said. “What are you going to do?”
“Well,” Lyle said, “I’d planned on coming home and throwing myself into the arms of my loving, understanding girlfriend, but I can see she’s occupied at the moment. So I guess I’ll go downstairs and get a drink.”
“Good idea,” Brent said. “I’ll buy you one.”
“Brent.” Annabelle shook her head again.
“What, I can’t buy my best friend a drink?” Brent asked.
“I’m thinking your friendship’s probably over,” Annabelle said.
“Well, I feel like I owe him something,” Brent said. “Just one drink. Is that OK with you, Lyle?”
“I don’t see why not,” Lyle said. “I caught you half-naked in my own bed about to make love to my girlfriend. I think a drink should cover it.”
Brent winced. “Maybe two drinks, then?”
“I think you should just go, Brent,” Annabelle said. “Lyle and I should talk.”
“Are you going to talk about me?” Brent asked. “Because if you’re going to talk about me, I should stay to represent myself. Who knows what you’ll say if I’m not here. I don’t want you to make it sound like this whole thing was my fault.”
Lyle frowned. “But it is your fault. You said that you initiated the relationship!”
“Yeah,” Brent said, “but that was only after she flirted with me.”
Annabelle held up her hands. “C’mon. We don’t need to start finger-pointing.”
“You only say that when all the fingers are pointed at you,” Brent said.
“Tell you what,” Lyle said, walking into the bedroom. “I don’t want to be in the middle of a domestic dispute. Let me just grab my jeans, and I’ll leave you two alone.” He picked up a pair that were lying on the floor near the foot of the bed.
“Actually, those are mine,” Brent said.
“Oh. My bad.” Lyle wadded Brent’s pants up and threw them at the desk. “Annabelle, can we get Brent his own rack in the closet? He’ll be needing his private space so his clothes don’t get mixed up with mine.”
“I know you’re upset about this,” Annabelle said, still standing in the doorway. “You get sarcastic when you get upset.”
“Well, I would get violent and in-your-face, but I have a problem with confrontations. So I’ll just throw an immature tantrum, instead.” Lyle stormed to the closet and grabbed shirts off their hangers, throwing them over his shoulders. One almost hit Brent in the face. He ducked, wincing.
“Can we talk about this?” Annabelle asked. “Please? Like adults?”
“Like adults?” Lyle turned. “You’ve known me for how long, hon? Besides, how are we supposed to have a grownup discussion when neither of you is wearing pants? I can’t take either of you seriously — especially when Brent is wearing Spiderman underwear.”
“Maybe I better go,” Brent said, shuffling off the bed.
“No, wait,” Lyle said, digging deeper in the closet. “I haven’t found my bat yet.”
Brent leaped off the bed and crammed a leg into his jeans.
“Lyle!” Annabelle said. “You don’t need the bat!”
Lyle looked up. “You’re right. Not lethal enough. Where’s the crossbow?”
Brent hopped out of the bedroom, a pant leg dragging behind him.
“Can I call you later?” he asked Annabelle.
She shook her head. “Probably not appropriate now that we’re found out.”
“Ah. Right.” He hopped toward the door as Lyle emerged from the bedroom brandishing a long, plastic vacuum nozzle.
“I’m sorry, buddy!” Brent called, bouncing outside. “I’ll make it up to you someday.”
Lyle threw the nozzle with all his strength. It missed Brent by a good six feet, knocking over a lamp.
Brent slammed the door; both Lyle and Annabelle stood and listened as he clattered down the concrete stairs, screaming.
Lyle took a deep breath, then turned and walked into the bedroom. Annabelle followed. She stood in the doorway with her arms crossed as Lyle stripped off his dress pants and put on jeans.
“Well?” she said, after awhile.
He looked up. “What?”
“Don’t you want to talk about this?”
“Talk about what?”
Annabelle snorted. “What do you think? Us.”
Lyle fastened his belt, then reached into his nightstand for some money. “I’m not sure there is an ‘us.’”
“So you’re saying it’s over?”
“Sure, why not? My career’s over. My life’s over. It’s only fitting my relationship should be over, too. Good things come in threes, right?” He walked past her and into the living room, toward the front door.
“Maybe we just need some time apart,” Annabelle called, remaining in the bedroom doorway.
Lyle paused at the front door, his hand resting on the knob.
“That’s probably a good idea,” he said, without turning. “And if it’s OK with you, I think we should start seeing other people.”
He opened the door and left.