Dexter's Renaissance Ch. 11-12

bycoaster2©

"You're serious?"

"Yup. I may be making light of it but I'm told you and David were a very effective team in keeping our company name in front of the people who made decisions about which engineering firm to use on their projects. I'd like to re-establish that team approach."

She looked at me long and hard. I'm not sure what she was thinking but after a bit she broke into a smile.

"Alright," she said warily. "I want to see you work your magic on some of those crusty old buggers we had to put up with."

I pulled her into me again.

"Thank you. I was worried you might not want to. I'm not very confident myself about this but I think we should make a try at it."

"Maybe I've got more faith in you than you have. I think we might make a very effective team. You're nothing like David. Nowhere near as intense. I have a hunch you'll charm them much more easily than you think. You just be yourself and I'll be decoration."

"I'll have to rely on you to tell me who's who on the list of targets. You will have met most of them while I won't know any of them. I'm thinking we could do one or two each week if that's feasible," I suggested.

"I think that's very doable but we won't know until we try. When do you want me to start?" she asked with a smile.

"No time like the present. How about next week? You can cook up a list of contacts and we'll start making phone calls."

I was sitting, now. It was a large wing chair with an upright back, big enough for a very large person. On a small table beside me was a glass of single malt scotch, a brand I'd never heard of and in the past, unlikely to have been able to afford. Michelle had finished the dinner preparations and was sitting across from me, waiting for the oven timer to signal our meal was ready.

I don't exactly know how I became aware of the change but I felt a tightness in my chest and it seemed to be intensifying. I put my head back in the chair and attempted to breathe slowly and relax every muscle I had control of. I couldn't seem to effect any change and the tightness continued to increase. Now I could feel the onset of a headache. This wasn't right.

"Michelle," I said weakly, looking toward her.

I remembered seeing the look of shock and then fear on her face before I lost consciousness.

Chapter 12 A Nasty Surprise

I awoke slowly, bits and pieces of consciousness coming and going along the way. I could hear sounds and when my brain collected enough information I was fairly sure I was in a hospital. That made sense, although I had no idea why I was there. I tried to remember but all I could think of was the look on Michelle's face. I closed my eyes and let go of all thoughts once more.

My next moment of consciousness had a badly overweight nurse fussing over some machine that was beeping along quite happily on its own. Whatever happened to the lovely, lithe young ladies that used to populate the nursing corps? Once again, I drifted off.

I completely lost sense of time and place when I next awoke. I was no longer surprised to find myself in a hospital room, hooked up to various probes, tubes and other paraphernalia. I lay there for a while, now fully awake, wondering just what might have happened to me and when I would find out. A little judicious exploration revealed I had what I would learn later to be a nasal oxygen tube fitted around my head and a catheter in my penis that would allow me to urinate without having to use a bedpan.

My mind was functioning better now. I had a clue what had happened. I remembered the chest tightness and then blacking out. I guessed I had suffered a heart attack or something similar. A clock on the wall told me it was nearing seven o'clock but I had no idea whether it was am or pm. This time of year it would be light at either.

I closed my eyes and tried to think about what it might mean. A heart attack! As far as I knew, there was no history of heart problems in our family. I was a non-smoker and a light drinker since the fun of getting shit-faced evaporated sometime before I got married. I didn't weigh any more today than I did back in college. My time in the Caribbean had corrected that. I exercised, although I had to admit it was pretty haphazard lately. What the hell had happened?

I must have dozed off again, waking when I felt a gentle touch on my arm and a soft voice calling me.

"Wake up, Mr. McLeod. Come on, time to wake up."

I opened my eyes to see the nurse I had observed before leaning over me with a smile and that oh-so-soothing voice.

"There you go. How are you feeling? Any pains or aches? Any discomfort?" she asked.

I shook my head a croaked a "no" in response.

"Water?" I finally asked.

She passed me a foam cup with a bent straw and I sipped it greedily. I could feel the easing in my throat.

"Your doctor will be along shortly. He's probably going to want to ask you some questions. I'm sure he can tell you what's going on," she said sweetly.

If I had only heard her voice and not seen her, I would have pictured as a slim, lovely woman in her mid-twenties. Just the same, she might not have been a picture of loveliness but she was reassuring and professional and I could live with that.

She moved around the room efficiently and made sure I was comfortable before she left. I could see what I assumed was an IV drip on a stand near my right side. I counted several electro-probes attached to my chest, neck and one arm. Wondering what they were recording I looked around. I could see a colour monitor showing a number of values, including heart rate, respiration and who knows what else. I was definitely wired for sound.

Twenty minutes later, a doctor walked into my room and introduced himself.

"Good morning, Mr. McLeod," he said in a friendly manner.

Well, that solved one mystery. It was morning. Just what day it was, I wasn't so sure.

"I'm Doctor Holtz. I'm a resident on the cardio ward and I'm going to be working with you for the time being."

"Good morning, doctor. Where am I?" I suddenly wondered.

"Lakeshore Regional Hospital. You were brought here when you had some sort of event at your home."

I nodded my understanding.

"What day is this?"

"It's Wednesday. They brought you in Monday night. We've been keeping an eye on you and making sure you're stable before we woke you up."

"Michelle? Where's Michelle?"

"Your wife had been here constantly since you arrived. I think she went home late last night to get some sleep. I didn't want to see her as a patient as well."

I didn't bother to correct him on our status.

"Any idea what happened?"

"I think we've got a pretty good idea but we'll need to do some scans and tests to confirm it. My gut tells me you have a wonky valve in your heart. Maybe more than one."

I kind of appreciated the humour the doctor chose in his description. He was making this sound something less than life-or-death.

"Fixable?"

"Easily. Probably with non-invasive surgery. That means we don't have to crack your chest open to repair it. Of course, that assumes our guess is correct. We'll know better later today. Why don't I get a little history on you?" he smiled.

For the next fifteen minutes he asked questions and I answered them to the best of my ability. I could see him nodding and occasionally smiling.

"Well, your history and habits indicate just what we think might be the problem. You may have been carrying this around with you for quite some time and be completely unaware of it. I'd like to know what brought it on, though."

I shook my head and shrugged. I had no idea.

"Have you been under stress lately? Home life, job, that sort of thing."

"Job, I guess. I'm a newly appointed general manager at a local firm. It's a whole new thing for me. Something I'd never been trained for and never thought I'd achieve."

"Ah, well that could be a contributor, all right."

"I'm in the final stages of getting a divorce, as well."

"Another factor that could add to your stress. Anything else?"

"No ... not really."

"Good. Well, we're going to put you through some scans and tests today so be prepared to be run around the hospital a couple of times. I'll see you again tomorrow morning when we have a better idea of what might be wrong with you."

"Thank you. When can I see Michelle ... my wife," I added quickly.

"As soon as she returns. I'll let the duty nurse know it's okay."

Michelle showed up a little after ten. I didn't think it was possible for her to look haggard but she did this morning. I could see her eyes were red and bloodshot and her jaw was trembling as she approached my bed.

"Dex? Are you all right?" Her voice was tentative and uncertain. She was clearly very upset.

"I'm going to be fine," I reassured her. That might have been premature but she didn't need any more doubt.

I raised my hand, mindful of the tubes and took hers, squeezing it in confirmation.

"Oh, Dex. I was so scared. I thought I might lose you. I couldn't go through that again. I just couldn't."

"I know, love. Don't you worry about me. The doctor was in earlier and they think they know what's wrong and it's something they can fix easily."

"Are you sure?"

"As sure as I can be. They're going to do a bunch of tests today and then they'll know for sure. Don't go worrying yourself sick now. You look like you've been having a bad time and I don't want to see that."

She nodded with a grimace that was an attempt at a smile. She bent over and kissed me. A nice, long, sensitive kiss that left me feeling a lot better. I hope it did the same for her.

"Do Rueben and Tom know what happened?"

She nodded again. "Yes, I called them yesterday morning before I knew you were still unconscious. The hospital told me you were in intensive care and stable. They didn't know any more than that."

"I just woke up this morning. I guess they wanted me quiet for a while until they could figure out what happened. Have you had any sleep in the last day or so?"

"Not much. A little early this morning. I couldn't get my mind to shut off. I kept thinking about what happened to David and now you. I couldn't believe it was happening all over again."

"It isn't. I'm still here and it wasn't an aneurism. They think it might be a heart valve. If it is, it's no big deal to fix it."

"Oh, I hope so, dear. I need you so much. I love you, Dex. I truly, truly, love you."

"Do you? God, that sounds good. I love you too, Michelle. I don't think I realized it until you weren't here when I woke up. I wasn't afraid for my health, I was afraid I might not see you."

Now the tears came. I had to assume they were happy tears because she was kissing me and holding me by the shoulders, all the while blubbering like a baby. I felt nothing but relief. I was alive and I was in love and I finally admitted it to myself. Thoughts of Sandra never once entered my mind. There was no comparison between Michelle and my ex-wife in personality. For all her status and wealth, Michelle was a giving person. I was sure now that she was the right one for me.

Thursday morning came with Michelle once more by my side. She looked so much better today than she did yesterday. She would be with me when Dr. Holtz gave me the results of their tests; good or bad. She insisted and I wouldn't deny her. Not if she was really going to act like my wife.

When I was admitted, Michelle gave them all the necessary information that she could glean from my wallet. Since we were living at the same address the admitting staff assumed we were married. A lucky break for both of us. If I had my way, we would be confirming that properly sometime in the near future.

Dr. Holtz explained that his suspicion had been confirmed and that one of the valves in my heart had a malformation that probably occurred before I was born. I had carried this defect around with me for nearly fifty years without any hint of a problem until now. Happily, it could be corrected with non-invasive surgery and he recommended that I be scheduled for that as soon as possible. Neither Michelle nor I were about to argue with him.

"As soon as possible" turned out to be five weeks, the second week of September. I had been resting at home for most of it, with supervised visits to the office with Michelle making sure I didn't get too involved in the day-to-day. I was pleased that the office was doing well under Reuben's supervision but everyone wished me a speedy return.

I was admitted the day before the surgery was scheduled, and the next thing I knew I was being wheeled out of the operating theatre and back to my room. An hour later, Dr. Holtz stopped by to let me know the surgeon had said everything went exactly according to plan and I should be as good as new in a couple of days.

Three days later I was on my way back to the apartment with Michelle. I had been told to take it easy and not get involved in any strenuous exercise for two weeks. I would be back to see my doctor for a follow-up then. Michelle floored me when she asked the doctor about sex. He smiled and said it would be fine as long as we didn't get too carried away. I wasn't sure about what "too carried away" meant but I didn't think I'd test the boundaries.

My realization that I loved Michelle wasn't some bolt-from-the-blue revelation. It snuck up on me and when I first awoke in the hospital that morning after my collapse I was disappointed that I didn't see her there. That stuck with me for the rest of the time before she arrived and then I knew what it meant. I wanted her there. I wanted her to be with me. There wasn't anyone else. Her reaction to my condition was all the proof I needed that she felt the same way. I didn't need her to tell me she loved me. It was her actions, not her words, that told the tale.

We didn't make love that first few days. I think Michelle was being overly protective of me. But in bed at night she held me to her and rained soft kisses on me. It was great medicine and I returned them, getting a bit bolder with them each day. At last, five days after I had been released, we joined. I didn't last very long at first but with a little help from her, I managed a second session that was much more satisfying for her. I felt no after effects from the effort except euphoria.

"Now that I'm getting my strength back, I'm going to be able to bend you over the kitchen counter and have my way with you again," I chuckled.

"Promises, promises," she laughed. "I'm just so happy you're better and we don't have to worry about it happening again. The doctor said everything else is fine and you're in very good health. It's probably what kept you from having this happen even sooner."

"Moving on to another subject," I began. "Michelle, you know I love you. It took me a while to realize it but I do. Will you marry me?"

She looked at me in surprise, but quickly recovered.

"Yes. I will. I will marry you," she cried, tears now flowing freely. She wrapped her arms around my neck and held me closely.

It took a while before she regained her composure and then kissed me, thoroughly and deeply.

"I think we should go looking for a ring today," I suggested.

"No. No, we won't," she said, holding up her left hand. "This ring was my grandmother's and was given to me by her. I promised to wear it for the rest of my life. I don't want you to think it's a symbol of David. It's a family heirloom, and I hope you can understand that."

"Yes ... of course I can. It's a very beautiful ring and I'm happy you want to respect your grandmother's memory. But I would like to get you something that symbolizes our engagement and love. What do you suggest?"

"Your body in my bed every night and waking up to see you every morning," she smiled.

"Very nice, but not quite what I had in mind. Something more tangible. Maybe a tattoo or a piercing?" I kidded.

"Never!" she spat. "Not in a million years!" she reemphasized.

"Okay ... let's see ...," I began again.

"Don't bother. Teasing me won't help you find the answer. I'm going to give you a few days to think of something and you'd better be serious about it. Just as serious about it as you are about me."

I didn't get the impression she was kidding so I nodded acceptance of her condition.

I know Michelle contacted her family to let them know she intended to remarry. I heard a couple of the conversations in the evening but she was reluctant to discuss them with me. In any event, she assured me that all of her living family, mother included, would be invited to the wedding.

I would contact my parents and offspring to let them know as well. It had been over two years since Sandra and I had separated. I wondered what their reaction would be. I wasn't worried about my parents. They didn't particularly warm to Sandra in the first place, although I never really knew why. We weren't estranged but my father had taken an early retirement and they travelled quite a bit. I envied them and hoped that within a few years, Michelle and I could emulate them.

Michelle and I began our program of visits to architects and contractors the next week. We decided we would re-visit those whom she and David had formerly made contact with. It turned out to be a good decision. In each case, they remembered Michelle and welcomed her visit. It was the first one that caused me concern. I wasn't sure just what to expect and I hoped I wouldn't be found wanting.

"Hello, Mr. Whitmore," Michelle said brightly as we were welcomed by one of the senior partners of McAllister, Fulton, and Whitmore, Architects.

"Please, Michelle, I thought we had progressed to 'Charles' when last we met," he smiled.

"Thank you, Charles. I'd like to introduce Dexter McLeod, our General Manager. There's been reorganization at Trent Engineering and I thought you might want to hear about it."

Michelle was smooth and we were welcomed and escorted into a meeting room. She gave a brief synopsis of what had changed at Trent in the last year and suggested I had been the driving force behind those changes. Whitmore turned to me and gave me a questioning look.

"I don't recall you from my previous visit to Trent, Mr. McLeod."

"No, sir. I'm from Vancouver and I've only been here in Toronto a few months. I have been at Pinecone Engineering for over twenty years, however."

"And what is your area of expertise?" he asked, clearly curious.

I was caught with a question I didn't expect, so I answered truthfully.

"Design. My skills are related to converting concepts to finished designs via computer."

"Well, that's certainly an important area in any business. Keeping up with all the changes is a bit overwhelming, I imagine. Everything I read suggests the ground moves on a regular and frequent basis," he grinned.

I breathed a silent sigh of relief. I had passed the first test.

"Dex has re-made our design department, Charles," Michelle slipped in. "We would be delighted if you and any of your staff would care to visit the offices at any time in the future. I think you'll be quite impressed with the new vitality at Trent."

"I'd like to, Michelle. Perhaps we can have lunch one day and a tour."

"The University Club suit you?"

"That would be very nice. I'll have my secretary check my schedule and I'll let you know when we can find some time."

The meeting ended a few minutes later and Michelle and I left the offices, my chest still tight from tension. It had gone much better than I expected, particularly since I had fielded the unexpected question about my "expertise."

As we stepped out onto the sidewalk, I breathed another sigh of relief, this time audibly.

"You were great, Dex," Michelle smiled and hugged my arm. "Your answer to his question was just right. Well done."

I nodded in agreement. "That was something I didn't expect but I gather from his comments it's an area that interests him so I'll make sure we have a good show for him when he visits. For a first time, I thought we did okay."

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