All is quiet, all is calm

"LISTEN," Doug said to Nadine, leaning over her shoulder. "I've got a plan that's going to make us rich beyond our wildest dreams."

She glanced up at him from the her laptop with an inquisitive look on her face. She'd heard this line before, but decided to let him play it out again for her amusement.

"Oh, yeah?" she asked. "What now?"

He swiveled her desk chair around to face him and fixed her with an unnerving stare. If she looked closely enough, she was sure she could see the gears grinding relentlessly behind his eyes.

"We've got everything going for us, right?" It was a rhetorical question. "Looks, talent, energy, charm, intelligence...isn't that what people are always saying?"

She nodded, indulging him while contemplating what to have for lunch. Cold chicken on whole wheat with mayo sounded like just the ticket. Her stomach growled.

"Ok, ok," he continued, "so I made a few bad investments over the past year that nearly wiped us out, and family support hasn't exactly been forthcoming like we'd hoped, and your children's book hasn't brought in the revenue we'd anticipated..."

Where was he going with this? she wondered. Why did he always have to bring up the book like it was HER fault they were in such a mess? How was she supposed to know kids weren't interested in the story of the British monarchy as retold in Shakespearean English by a flatulent tarantula in a bowler hat? HE thought it was hilarious! If anything, it was HIS fault she wrote the book in the first place.

Comforted by this last thought, she let him continue - more out of spite than regard for his feelings - knowing that eventually he was going to talk himself into a corner and storm off like a pouting child, leaving her to plan her next Sims adventure in peace.

He plodded on, oblivious to her lack of enthusiasm for this latest brainstorm of his. "I'm thinking along the lines of retail in the high end gourmet food market. We can open a store in a tony neighbourhood and sell the finest chocolate fortune cookies known to man." Sensing her mental retreat, he continued, "No, no - hear me out. This idea's gonna fly! I'm not just talking about any cookie here - you see - instead of an actual fortune, we'll insert a map fragment that people can collect and assemble together to find modern treasures planted around the city: opera tickets, weekend rental packages of luxury vehicles, dinner with a local celeb etc. It'll be great! We'll charge five bucks a cookie, import the best ingredients, concoct wild, exotic flavours and get customers hooked on collecting them all! If the concept takes off - and you know it will - we can franchise the operation to some of the most sophisticated markets around the world: Dubai, South Africa, Hong Kong - anywhere there's a pretentious asshole with a sweet tooth and a gold card. What do you think, huh? Not bad, right??"

Nadine gazed calmly at him and pondered her options: shoot him down with a caustic remark or give him enough rope to hang himself? She chose the latter.

"Where will we get the money from?"

Doug was prepared with an answer. "That's easy. Your lazy, no-good, never-paid-us-back-a-dime-for-bailing-him-out-of-jail brother. I hear he's got a score coming in that's going to pay off dividends. It's about time he expressed some monetary gratitude for what we've done for him. If it weren't for us, his ass would still be rotting in a jail cell and not living the good life thanks to the fancy pants lawyers we've retained for him over the years. Not even a "thank you" note from that pock-marked thug! Where's the brotherly love, huh? Where??"

Nadine could barely contain her alarm. "You want drug money, Doug? Do you really want to get messed up in that asshole's schemes? Hasn't he put us through enough?? My God, what good are you to me and this supposed business if you're ten feet under?"

But he persisted. "That loser owes us, goddammit! I'm tired of standing on the sidelines, doing the right thing as we sink deeper into debt and watching him breeze by in a new Mercedes, or show off some tacky ass pinky ring inlaid with the best blood diamonds money can buy! When's it going to be our turn to get a taste of the good life? Don't we deserve to live a little after the year we had, Nadine?? C'mon, tell me you're on board with this, and I'll make the call right now!"

She sensed his blood pressure rising and knew what it signaled: he was transitioning from highly motivated to maniacally desperate and it was her job to talk him down from the ledge, as she'd done many times before.

Nadine got up from her chair and embraced him. She pulled back a little and gave him her "Don't make me hate you" look.

"There, there - it's going to be alright. We're not going to break any laws, ok? We'll be fine, you wait and see. Things'll improve in no time and then one day we'll laugh about how crazy we got over this little bump in the road."

She gently extracted herself from his limp embrace and sat back down at the desk.

"Now...weren't you going to organize the garage? I thought that's where you were. You know," she chided, "that place isn't going to clean up itself. I've got some things to do here, but I'll make you a sandwich in a bit - is chicken ok? There's some leftovers in the fridge..."

Doug stood behind her, staring at the back of her head for what seemed like an eternity. She sensed his silently overbearing presence but ignored him, intent on finding the perfect shoes for Lily, her Asian hooker Sims character. Louboutins seem more like Lily's style, Nadine pondered, yeah...kick ass Louboutins.

Doug turned on his heel and exited the room. He walked towards the stairs, intent on going down, but suddenly caught the balustrade as his chest constricted and he fought the urge to pass out. The pain felt like acupuncture needles were being shoved into his chest with a ball peen hammer. What is this?? he panicked. Was he going to have a heart attack here at the top of the stairs at the ripe old age of 42? Was this how it was all going to end? His breathing quickened as anxiety coursed through his veins. What would they put on his headstone? "Here lies Douglas Mitchell, loving husband to...to...??" He couldn't finish the thought and realized, No, things WEREN'T going to be alright.

The pain in his chest gradually subsided and he stumbled down the stairs, dizzy from the episode. When he got outside, he stood for a few moments and breathed deeply, filling his lungs with cold, damp, life-affirming air. If he's going to die today, he thought, it may as well be outside on his front lawn than in a house where he feels like a stranger.

He realized it was raining that annoying spit Mother Nature inflicts as if she's shaking the damp from her freshly-washed panties. She probably wears granny panties, he thought grimly. Giant, floral ones with overextended elastic that barely contain her bulges.

He wound his way down the path to the garage, his t-shirt clinging to his skin and imagined that granny panties were something to look forward to as the woman he married rounded the base marked "middle aged" and aimed to slide into "45-and-counting".

Doug felt a bone-deep shudder wrack his slender frame, not sure if it was the cold or his over-active imagination that was getting the better of him. He entered the garage, determined to ward off the dark thoughts that crept over him like a looming shadow.

On the work table, he spied the garden shears he'd been sharpening earlier in the day. They were beautiful: sturdy, dependable and a true work of ergonomic efficiency of which he was more than a little possessive. Neighbours were quite familiar with his lack of generosity when it came to borrowing his shears - or any of his tools for that matter. Call him selfish, but it was his firm belief that if he let foreign hands touch them, they'd no longer be his. For this very same reason, he never borrowed anything from a library when he was a kid. The thought of all those grubby fingers touching what were once crisp, clean pages was enough to make him boycott the entire venture. Thank god his father held enough sway with his teachers to get him exempt from just about anything he didn't want to do. Being the son of a Stanley Cup-winning goalie in a hockey-mad town certainly had its perks, but it really sucked that the old man was such a jackass behind closed doors.

Doug grasped a handle in each hand and held the formidable tool out in front of him. Snip! Snip! Snip! He practiced working the handles as if clipping hedge branches...or tree twigs...or...an...auburn-coloured ponytail? Why yes! he thought to himself. That's it! That freakin' ponytail she's been hanging onto since college! The one she liked to twirl around her fingers when she was annoyed...around and around and...grrrr...he wanted to yank it out of her hand so many freakin' times! Why not just put her out of her misery and liberate her from it?? A deviously wicked half smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. It could be symbolic, he reasoned. A harbinger of a new beginning for the both of them. He'd HELP her let go of the past so she could face the future with him - a future RIFE with possibilities if only she could see it through his eyes.

Doug held the shears by his side and felt comforted by its presence, like a trusted rifle by a hunter's side. Of course, instead of pheasant, he was hunting for a way out of his rut and she was going to help him do it, whether she realized it or not. After all, what was a wife for if not to support her husband every step of the way? That was part of the contract when she married him and all she needed was a little push to remind her of her place relative to his.

He exited the garage and made his way back to the house, barely noticing that the rain was falling down harder and the sky had turned inky with heavy clouds.