English muffins with marmalade

"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: In the last chapter, Lyle and his friend, Irene, discussed Lyle’s recent layoff and breakup. Irene suggested that perhaps the universe has set Lyle on his true path, and that all he has to do is figure out what kind of life he wants. To which Lyle replies: “At this point, any kind will suffice.” 

“You know what you need?” Irene asked. “You need to see a psychic. I can recommend a good one. She can glimpse into your future and tell you if you’re on the right track.”

Lyle nodded. “That’s not a bad idea. It’d be nice to discuss my future with someone. All my therapist wants to talk about is the past. It gets depressing discussing the same failed life over and over again.”

“My psychic helped me a lot,” Irene said. “She told me I’d marry a sweet, sensitive guy who’d stand by me my whole life, no matter what.”

“When was this?” Lyle asked.

“Right after my engagement. She couldn’t believe the ring Tom bought.” Irene held up her hand, to show off the silver band and the sparkling diamonds. “See? Of course, Tom lost his job a month later, and we had a whole wedding to plan for. I had to throw out my good toaster so he wouldn’t drop it in the bathtub. Luckily, we got a new one later as a wedding gift. So things worked out. My husband didn’t kill himself, and once again I can enjoy English muffins in the morning.”

She shook her head. “I really missed those English muffins. I smother them with lemon marmalade and peanut butter, you know. Mmm. To die for. Except when your husband-to-be is unemployed and suicidal.”

“At least she had good news for you,” Lyle said. “I’m afraid of what she might tell me. I don’t want to hear that I’m destined for ten years of bad luck, or something equally depressing.”

“I doubt she’d tell you that. If she didn’t have good news for you, then she probably wouldn’t say anything at all.”

“But that’s not fair. If I’m going to pay a psychic, I want her to tell me my future — good or bad.”

“Do you really mean that?” Irene asked. “I mean, would it really have helped to know about your layoff six months in advance?”

“I would have had my resume up-to-date.”

“What about Annabelle? If you had known about your breakup six months beforehand, would it have mattered?”

“Of course it would have mattered. If I would have known about it, I could have prevented it.”

“But maybe not,” Irene said. “Maybe it was inevitable. Maybe you and Annabelle were on the wrong path, and the universe was reaching out to set you straight.”

“So what’s the point of glimpsing into the future if the future’s set in stone?”

“I’m not saying the future’s set in stone. Personally, I think the future’s as malleable as a politician’s code of ethics. What I’m saying is that sometimes it doesn’t help to know beforehand when something bad is going to happen. Sometimes bad things need to happen to clear the way for good.”

Lyle grinned. “Good thing Tom’s the one who proposed. You have a way of talking others out of your own ideas.”

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean is, you’re the one who told me to see a psychic, but now you’re saying it’s not good to know the future.”

“That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I’m saying is, maybe you and Annabelle didn’t belong together. Maybe the universe pulled you apart so you’d be free to find your true loves.”

“Then maybe the universe should mind its own business. I have enough family members meddling in my life without the universe getting involved.”

“Think of it like this,” Irene said. “Let’s say you have a mouth full of rotten teeth. Bacteria has eaten away the roots, and thick pus is oozing along the gum line.”

“Am I also a wife-beater with seven bloodhounds in this scenario?”

“Hear me out. Now, you know you can’t live with the rotten teeth. The bacteria will seep into your bloodstream and kill you. So what do you do? You extract them — each and every one. And once you pull all the teeth, your mouth will be free to heal. Only by extricating the disease will you be allowed to live a full and rich life.”

“If you call drinking your food through a straw a full and rich life.”

“It’s the best metaphor I could conjure after three glasses of wine,” Irene said. “But did you catch what I meant? You might have loved Annabelle,  but when it came to your long-term happiness, maybe she was the equivalent of a mouth full of rotten teeth.”

“I’ve never had my love life discussed in terms of dental hygiene before. It’s a lot to chew on.”

Irene rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah — hardy-har-har. I hope you got my point, because I’m not repeating myself.”

“That’s what I like about you, Irene. You’re not at all like other women.”

“I’m going to smack you,” Irene said, raising a fist. “And you know, instead of wasting all your time here with me, why not try talking to an unattached woman? There’s plenty to choose from, and it is a party, after all.”

Lyle shook his head. “I don’t think unemployed men are supposed to speak to unattached women. It’s a law.”

“That’s nonsense. Tom was unemployed for most of our engagement, and I still married him.”

“You might not have been thinking clearly from the English-muffin withdrawals.”

“I mean, it, Lyle. Try talking to someone. No one’s here to judge. Everyone’s here to have a good time.”

“Which is exactly why I should keep my mouth shut. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s evening by introducing myself.”

“You know what — I have a new project for the night,” Irene said. “I’m going to find an eligible young woman to set you up with.”

Lyle sighed. “First it’s my relatives meddling with my life. Then the universe. And now you.”

“The universe doesn’t meddle — it steps in to help. Which is exactly what I’m doing. You need somebody, Lyle. Besides, I’m a good judge of character. You’ll like who I pick.”

“Can I have any input at all on my romantic partners?”

“Not if you know what’s best for you,” Irene said. “Men are too superficial. They treasure looks over substance. In fact, I bet if I left it up to you, you’d pick the next woman to come walking through the sliding-glass door.”

“She’d have to be good-looking.”

“All right, that’s it,” Irene said, raising her hand. “I’m really going to smack you this time.”

Lyle pointed. “You’re spilling your wine.”

“Nice try.”

“I’m serious. It’s dribbling on the floor.”

Irene looked down. “Oh, no. I should have seen that coming.”

Lyle grinned. “You probably would have, if you had invited your psychic.”