Tuna Helper with peas and pink salmon

A young man decides to cope with his recent breakup and job loss by writing a story about his ex-girlfriend and how the two of them met.

"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: After spending all Friday night drinking, Lyle wakes up on Shep’s apartment patio with an awful hangover. He and Shep figure out that when Lyle was drunk, he called his ex-girlfriend, Annabelle, and begged her to come back to him. Shep tells Lyle that he needs to get over Annabelle. He suggests Lyle write about her and their relationship — not only as a way for Lyle to cope with his breakup, but also to get him writing again. Earlier in the evening, Lyle had confessed that he had wanted to be a novelist when he was younger, but gave up on his dream over the years. Shep says that writing about Annabelle could help Lyle kill two birds with one stone. 

Tuesday afternoon, four-thirty. Shep came home to find Lyle on the living-room couch, his laptop propped open.

“What’s up?” Shep asked.

Lyle looked up, grinning. “Hey, man. I’m taking your advice.”

“My advice?”

“Yeah. You suggested I start writing about Annabelle, to help me get over her. I thought I’d start today.”

“No kidding?” Shep leaned against a bookshelf. “How’s it going?”

“Not too bad. I haven’t actually started writing, yet. I’m just jotting down ideas.”

“Well, like I said, you’ve got to start somewhere, right?” Shep strolled into the kitchen. “I’m going to grab a beer. You want one?”

“No thanks. I’m back to not drinking.”

“Good – I’m glad to hear it. It’s nice to come home and fine you in an optimistic mood.”

“No, I’m still a bitter, cold-hearted cynic. I just won’t slur as much, is all.”

“Ah.” Shep opened the fridge and popped open a Coors. “It smells good in here. Is something cooking?”

“Tuna Helper. It should be ready in a few minutes. It’s simmering.”

“It smells pretty good.”

“I added peas and replaced the tuna with Atlantic pink salmon. You only live once, so why not do so in style?”

“Is it a special occasion, or something?”

“Kinda. I’ve decided to make some changes in my life.”

“Those changes wouldn’t involve limiting the processed foods in our diet, would it?”

“Too big of a leap right now. I’m focusing on having a better attitude and expressing gratitude for the things I have.”

“Shouldn’t take long. You don’t have much.”

“See – that’s something the old Lyle would say. The new Lyle is counting his blessings and showing appreciation for even the smallest of things.”

“By showing appreciation, do you possibly mean helping to pay the rent?”

“I’m talking in more of an abstract sense. I want to convey an aura of positivity at everything I come across.”

“Let me know if you come across a job. I could use help on the rent.”

“The old Lyle would take a comment like that to heart and feel bad about himself. The new Lyle realizes you’re only teasing, and he’s taking the comment in stride.”

“This new Lyle sounds a little naïve and assuming. Maybe my comment was intended to make you feel bad about yourself.”

“I’m not naïve at all,” Lyle said, closing his laptop and setting it aside. He stood and walked to the kitchen to check on dinner. “I just realized that I’ve spent so much of my life immersed in a stagnant swamp of negativity. I want to be energetic and happy – which I why I want to cook more and help out around the apartment.”

“Speaking of stagnant swamps, if you want to help out more, you can clean the bathroom when you’re done using it. Also, you can start cooking real foods, instead of this processed garbage.”

“So you’re saying peas and Atlantic pink salmon aren’t real foods?”

“No, they’re only helping the Tuna Helper — which, by the way, needs all the help it can get. Kind of like you.”

Lyle glared. “It’s like you’re trying to slice through my positive aura today. Don’t you want me to be happy?”

“Of course I want you to be happy. I just figured I’d give you some helpful suggestions, now that you’ve decided to become useful all of a sudden.”

Lyle sucked in a breath through his nostrils. “The new Lyle isn’t prone to knee-jerk reactions or responding to perceived insults. He’ll kindly ignore that mark and continue cooking this awesome dinner.”

“It does look awesome. All it’s missing is the crumbled potato chips on top, to add not only a layer of crunch, but also an additional layer of fat.”

“Isn’t there someone at work you can pick on, instead of saving it all for me?”

“No – I’m the low man on the totem pole there. Which is why I have to come home and pick on you.” Shep motioned to the stove. “Is the dinner done? I’m starving.”

Lyle turned off the flame to the pan, then picked up the open Tuna Helper box sitting on the counter. “This says the sauce has to stand for ten minutes to thicken.”

“Well, if that’s what the box says. Nobody can overrule the box. Unless, of course, it’s to add peas and pink salmon.”

“Atlantic pink salmon. I might be unemployed, but I like to live large.”

Shep smiled. “All kidding aside, I really am proud of you, buddy. I’m glad you’re trying to be more positive.”

“Thank you.”

“And you deserve to be happy.”

“Thank you.”

“And you have as much of a right as anyone to enjoy everything life has to offer.”

Lyle nodded. “Again, thank you.”

“Of course, you’re going to have to get a life some point, but like we said, you got to start somewhere.”

“And there it is. I sensed an oncoming barb.”

“I just wanted to make sure Old Lyle hadn’t abandoned me completely. Your cynicism is irksome, but I also find it amusing. I wouldn’t want it to be all ponies and rainbows from now on.”

“If it’s ponies and rainbows you’re after, you might need to get a new roommate. Don’t get the wrong idea about me cooking and cleaning more.”

“Don’t worry – I’d only be concerned if you cooked and cleaned at all. So far, what I’m seeing doesn’t count.”

“Do you want me to wash this dinner down the drain?”

“I thought you’d never ask. You rinse out the pan, and I’ll get the number for pizza.”

“Yeah, there’s a health-conscious alternative. Just for that, I’m adding a layer of chips.”

Shep sipped his beer. “So, tell me more about this Annabelle story.”

“It’s not really a story. It’s more of a series of memories I had with her.”

“Like what?”

“Like how we met, what her family was like – stuff like that.”

“You seem excited about it.”

“I kind of am. I wasn’t at first, but just writing down ideas got my mind to thinking. I felt that familiar spark of creativity that I haven’t had for a long time.”

“So you never really forget. Sort of like riding a bicycle, or making passionate love to a beautiful woman.”

Lyle shrugged. “The bicycle part for sure.”

“Are you going to let me read any of it, or is it too private to share?”

“I don’t really know yet,” Lyle said. “I guess it depends on how many buried skeletons crawl out of my subconscious during the actual writing process.”

“Sort of like roiling up a pond, huh?”

“Or a stagnant swamp,” Lyle said, grinning.