Six spiral-bound notebooks

The Ex-Executive Assistant, a story published on Tuesdays and Thursdays in a limited number of installments
"The Ex-Executive Assistant" is a comedic story about a young man who loses both his job and his girlfriend on the same day.

Recap: It’s Friday night, and Shep and Lyle are out for the evening, starting with dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. However, they’re not off to a good start. Lyle inadvertently insults their waitress, and she refuses to take their order. When Shep suggests that they go clubbing and drinking later to meet women, Lyle says, “But you saw how I just spoke to the waitress — and that was after only one margarita.” 

The waitress came by with their dinners. She tossed the plates in front of them, each landing with a loud thud. One of Lyle’s tacos bounced out, landing on the table. The waitress scooped it up and dropped it on his plate.

“Thank you,” Shep said. “By the way, we never did get our—”

The waitress walked away.

Shep frowned. “Drinks.”

He looked at Lyle. “I guess water will do. Right?”

Lyle nodded. “I guess it’ll have to.”

“She didn’t bring the chips and salsa, or the guacamole, either.”

“If I were you, I’d tip only fifteen percent. That’ll show her.”

Shep shrugged. “Maybe seventeen. She is having to deal with a couple of jackasses.”

“You’re right,” Lyle said, nodding. “That does make for cruel and inhumane working conditions. Better make it twenty.”

“Twenty-five. I don’t want her to think I’m cheap.”

“Can you even calculate twenty-five percent in your head?”

Shep frowned. “No. Can you?”

Lyle pointed at himself. “Journalism major. I can’t even balance a checkbook.”

“Balancing your checkbook should be easy when there’s no money in it.” Shep picked up his fork. “All right. We’ll make it an even twenty, then.”

“OK.” Lyle nodded. A moment passed before he asked, “Can you calculate twenty percent in your head?”

“I think so. That’s a little easier. Just figure ten and double it … right?”

“Oh.”

“You didn’t know that trick?”

“Journalism major.”

“So how do you typically calculate a tip?”

Lyle shrugged. “My iPhone.”

“You use the calculator on your iPhone?”

“No — I wouldn’t know how to use the calculator. I have an app that calculates the tip.”

“You seriously don’t know how to use a calculator?”

“I know how to use a calculator for simple things. I just don’t know about percentages. I never remember if you’re supposed to multiply or divide.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

Lyle pointed at himself again. “Journalism major.”

“But you took math in high school, didn’t you? Everyone did.”

“I took lots of math, but I don’t remember much about it. I was always writing.”

“You wrote in class?”

“Yeah. I was writing my novel.”

“You wrote a novel?”

“Yeah. Longhand. It took two semesters and six spiral-bound notebooks.”

“Did the teacher know?”

“No. None of them did, actually. I wrote in all my classes — not just math.”

“What did they think you were doing? Taking notes?”

Lyle laughed. “That’s exactly what they thought. My history teacher even gave me a gold star for my note-taking. Said he couldn’t believe how much information I was jotting down.”

“I don’t know what’s sadder,” Shep said. “The idea of a teacher being that naïve, or the idea of a high-school student getting a gold star.”

“He never did understand how I could take so many notes and still gets Cs on the exams.”

“Do you still have the book?” Shep asked.

“Yep. I typed it up after I was done.”

“Was it long?”

“Actually, yeah. It turned out to be novel-length. I think it was 140,000 words or something.”

“What was it about? Do you still have it?”

“I still have it, but I’d never let anyone read it.”

“Why not, man? After all that work?”

“It sucks. It really does.”

“I want to see it.”

“Nope. Not a chance.”

“C’mon.”

“Trust me, it’s not good at all. I was young, and I didn’t know what I was doing. The narrative’s long-winded, and nothing much happens.”

“That sounds like every book Stephen King’s ever written, and he makes millions.”

“Dude, I’m not even a pimple on Stephen King’s ass.”

Shep grinned. “Now there’s an idea for a horror novel.”

“I wish I could be Stephen King,” Lyle said. “That was always my dream.”

“You wanted to be a writer?”

“Yeah.” Lyle cut into one of his tacos and took a bite. “Didn’t quite work out that way, though.”

“I thought you wanted to be a reporter. Isn’t that why you went to journalism school?”

“No. I never wanted to be a reporter. The only reason I pursued a journalism degree was because I thought it’d be more lucrative than English.” Lyle shrugged. “It seemed smart at the time.”

“So you never wanted to go into newspapers?”

“Not when I was starting college. I wanted to be a novelist.”

“So why not go for the English degree?”

“I didn’t think it’d be smart. I wasn’t sure what I could use an English degree for besides teaching — and I definitely didn’t want to teach. High school’s bad enough the first time around, when you’re a student.”

“So you went for journalism?”

“Yeah. They both taught writing, which was all I really cared about. I figured I’d have more options with a journalism degree.”

“Well,” Shep said, digging into his burrito, “hindsight’s twenty-twenty, I guess.”

“Yeah, but when it comes to foresight, I’m legally blind. I wish I could go back and do it over.”

“Do what over? College?”

“Yeah. I’d go for the English degree instead.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, of course,” Lyle said, swallowing. “That’s what I really wanted. I just didn’t think I could make it work. But looking at my life now, I apparently made the wrong choice.”

“If you’d gotten the English degree, then you never would have worked for the newspaper.”

“Yeah, and I’d be better off for it.”

“But you loved that job. You’re always reminiscing about it.”

“I did love it, but they laid me off. And now look where I’m at.”

“So you think you’d be better off if you’d gotten an English degree?”

Lyle shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe I’d be a graduate student teaching fiction-workshop classes to snot-nosed undergrads. Or maybe I’d have a book published, because I wouldn’t have given up on my writing.”

Shep looked at him. “You stopped writing?”

“Over the years, yeah.”

“Why? I thought you loved it.”

“Too busy, I guess. Never enough time in the evenings, and never enough energy after work.”

Shep stabbed his fork into his burrito. “Well, you can drive yourself crazy going over the what-ifs. You chose a path and took it, and this is where you ended up.”

“Exactly. This is where I ended up. Which I why I could really use that drink the waitress never brought.”

“You don’t really regret it, do you?” Shep asked.

“The drink? Hell, yes. A margarita would go great with these tacos.”

“No, I mean your choices in life.”

Lyle looked up. “My choices?”

“Yeah. Like working for the newspaper. You don’t think that was a bad thing, do you?”

“I don’t know. Compared to what could have been … I just don’t know. Like you said, you could go crazy going over the what-ifs.”

“I’ll tell you one thing,” Shep said. “You wouldn’t have met Annabelle if you’d never worked for the newspaper.”

Lyle shook his head. “That’s not true. I met Annabelle right after I got laid off from the newspaper — not when I was working there.”

“That’s what I mean. You never would have met her if you’d been a graduate student teaching fiction workshop … right?”

Lyle tilted his head, gazing across the restaurant. “I guess. But then again, maybe I would have been better off. Look how she and I ended up.”

“Don’t tell me Annabelle wasn’t a crucial part of your life. You loved her. You still love her.”

“Yeah, and I loved my job at the newspaper, too. But they’re both gone, and all I’ve got is my regrets and my what-ifs.”

“So? They each meant something to you at one time. That’s what’s important. They each made an imprint — an imprint you wouldn’t have if you’d made different choices.”

Lyle picked up his taco, but he didn’t bite it. Instead, he held it above the plate, looking at nothing in particular.

“You see what I’m saying?” Shep asked. “For better or for worse, they’re each a part of who you are now.”

“But what do I do with that?” Lyle asked. “I mean, who am I right now, and who am I going to be?”

Shep shrugged. “I guess that’s something you got to start figuring out.”

Author: Allen

I’m a humorist and fiction writer, as well as the author of two books. One is a collection of humor, and one is a collection of short stories. Both books are available on Amazon. I always wanted to write a comic strip, but I can’t draw. Not even a stick-person. So that’s why “The Lawn-Cutting Crew” is a comic strip without drawings. I hope you enjoy!

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