Editor’s note: Suspended Aggravation is an original, Wheeling-centric novel by Nora Edinger and is published exclusively through Weelunk. While some of the places mentioned in Suspended Aggravation are real (or nearly real), the storyline and most characters (with the exception of a few cameo appearances by actual city residents) exist only in the author’s imagination. For the backstory, read our Q&A with the author.
Location: The Wheeling Tribune, 40°04’42.8″N 80°43’28.1″W
Emotion: “Welcome to the fishbowl.”
“This is ridiculous!” Allie hissed into her phone.
Brianna, who had obviously appointed herself PR monitor of all things Bridge BAE, had tipped her friend off to the new photo immediately. Allie stared at the image on her office computer — which had posted all of three minutes ago — and wondered if Brianna had actually set her phone to chime some sort of alert. Oglebay was a sea of tranquility for guests, not employees. There’s no way she had time for such nonsense. The fact Brianna was taking it was sobering.
So was her tone, which didn’t have a speck of her friend’s normal PR perk in it. “Ridiculous!” Brianna agreed.
Allie gave the screen the stink eye — then quickly looked around the newsroom once more to make sure no one was paying attention. Thankfully, it was nearly empty — a not uncommon occurrence given the ever-unfolding decline of the newspaper empire. Allie frowned at that, too. Whatever. At least it was safe to speak.
“The bridge picture was sort of news. I get that,” Allie said. And, she did. It was an accident in a public place. The image was fair game, even though she didn’t like it that she was in said photograph. “This new picture is a spot-on violation of privacy.”
Brianna chuckled, as she always did when Allie spoke British.
“Well, you say you guys don’t want to do a TV show, but that might actually help stop this,” Brianna said. She went on to note Allie had also said she was going to “kill” Gabe just a few days ago and was now dating the man. “I think people just want to get a good look at you guys. You two are so dreamy — sweet and hot at the same time.”
“We are not Thai food, Brianna.”
“Whatever,” Brianna trilled happily, clearly having backed off her unexpectedly low-key reaction as well as her own intention of taking Gabe down — or out. “You guys have captured people’s imaginations.”
“Well, they can just get uncaptured!” Allie replied, hissing again in spite of the deep, cleansing breaths she’d been taking for the last minute.
“I don’t think uncaptured’s a word, writer chick,” Brianna laughed again. “Not all the talk shows are sleazy, Allie. You could go on Dr. Phil or something like that and talk about the fallout of social media. You know that, if you’d admit it.”
Allie was slow to respond. More deep, cleansing breaths. “I know,” she finally said.
“Think about it, my friend,” Brianna said. “I’m afraid you’re kidding yourselves if you think this is going to just go away. When you’re trending, you’re trending.”
Gabe called a few minutes later, just as Allie was packing up her bag to head home. She had already shut down her computer, in part so no one would see the new image on the screen. People can come and go quickly in a newsroom. She wasn’t ready for a fresh round of teasing.
“There’s another picture,” he said without any greeting.
Does everyone have some sort of alert system? Is this what people do?
“Did you see it?”
“Just now,” she said. “My friend Brianna called me about it.”
“Can we meet for dinner tonight and talk about this?”
“Do you know of a place that doesn’t allow smartphones or any other form of camera?” Allie asked with a wry laugh.
“We could drive out the pike and have dinner at Mike and Felicity’s,” Gabe suggested. “They live outside West Liberty, almost to the Brooke County line. We wouldn’t be able to really talk while we’re at their house, but we’d have the drive there and back all to ourselves.”
“That sounds good,” Allie said. And — even though it was a second meet-the-family dinner in a row — it did. Particularly since it meant she didn’t have to cook. It had been a long, long day. “But, can you pick me up at my apartment instead of here? I need to feed Marmalade.”
“That’s your cat? Sure.” Gabe hesitated. “Um, Allie, where do you live?”
It seemed ridiculous that he had to ask given the bizarre, public nature of their relationship. Allie rattled off the address of her cozy Centre Market apartment atop one of the city’s more popular coffee spots and was surprised when Gabe laughed.
“I have coffee there every time work brings me downtown,” he said. “I wonder if we’ve driven past each other at some point.”
“Probably not,” Allie countered. “I park on the alley and go in and out of the back door.”
“Hmmm,” Gabe said after a brief pause. “Tell you what, African Queen, let’s play it extra safe. Why don’t you leave your apartment by that back door and I will pick you up in the alley — in my dad’s car. It was actually my grandpa’s car — one of the old-boat variety — but it runs well enough. No one could possibly recognize that.” He laughed. “You could even wear your darkest glasses.”
Allie giggled again. She had to stop this annoying new habit. “Would you like me to wear a silk scarf over my hair, too? And, maybe some black capri pants? Like a spy in one of those 1960s movies? You know — an Audrey Hepburn type of look.”
She could hear Gabe release a slow breath before he responded. “Um, Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn. Either certainly works for me. You’ll be beautiful no matter what you wear. Is 6 good?”
Allie smiled. Beautiful. How nice to hear such a thing. “It is. See you then.”
INSIDE THE STORY:
• “Out the pike” is a general term used in Wheeling to describe anything on or around Bethany Pike, a roadway that connects Gabe’s fictitious home in the real Woodsdale neighborhood with rural points to the north, including Oglebay Resort and Conference Center. Woodsdale was originally a suburb of Wheeling, connected to the downtown by a streetcar line.
• While Woodsdale and farther-flung neighborhoods were once the hot residential ticket (and still are for young families), singles, young marrieds and empty nesters are now flocking back to Wheeling’s downtown. Many stores have an apartment or two like Allie’s in their upper floors. And, larger buildings ranging from an old department store (Stone Center) to warehouse space (Boury Lofts) to the former Wheeling-Pitt Steel building (in the possibility stage) are creating a critical mass of apartments and condos that are close to downtown festivals and concerts.
• A long-time journalist, Nora Edinger also blogs at noraedinger.com and Facebook and writes books. Her Christian chick lit and faith-related non-fiction are available on Amazon. She lives in Wheeling, where she is part of a three-generation, two-species household.