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: Allie’s Centre Market apartment, 40.0595° N, 80.7242° W
Emotion: “ ’Cause, girl, you’re amazing just the way you are.”
Gabe texted her at 6 a.m. the next morning. He hadn’t dropped her off to her apartment until 11 the previous night and he still had to swap his dad’s car for his own truck before going home himself. The man must never sleep. Allie squinted groggily at her phone screen before reaching for her glasses.
Gabe: Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners? That wd B U. Gd mrng.
It took her a full minute to decipher his odd mix of the King’s English and seemingly random abbreviations. She finally got it. Allie was certainly wide awake now. She texted him back.
Allie: Good morningeth yourselfeth. Song of Solomon? Seriously?
Gabe: Yep. Ch 6. Verse 10. U really R that bTful.
Allie: I gather you weren’t kidding about the serious courting business.
Gabe: Not a chnc.
Allie: Curious. Why the King James Version?
Gabe: Read sevrl. KJV remnds God’s ways R diff & I need 2 B diff 2.
Allie: Weird. My dad says exactly the same thing. British loyalty in play for him, too, I suspect.
Gabe didn’t comment on any similarities to her dad. That could be a minefield, Allie supposed.
Gabe: Lunch at Colmnz noon meet?
Gabe: Can’t wait 2 kiss U w/ the kisses of my mouth.
That part of his message was certainly clear enough. Allie giggled. She grabbed her current favorite Bible, a very modern paraphrase called The Message, and searched Song of Solomon rapidly for a suitable response. No fair, Gabe, she thought as she scanned the words of love exchanged literally between a king and his bride and, figuratively, between Christ and the Church. There was only one line — just part of a line actually — that she could use without blushing. And, that was a stretch.
Allie: Run to me. (That’s from The Message, by the way. I didn’t just make that up.)
Gabe: Rise up, my love, my fair 1, and get self 2 office erly then. C U 11:45.
Location: Coleman’s Fish Market, 40.0595° N, 80.7242° W
Emotion: “Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof.”
He really did manage to kiss her — in spite of the whole crazy photography thing. Gabe pulled her behind his truck door for a quick brushing of their lips as soon as she approached. He kissed her again, ever so briefly, behind a mammoth hanging basket of begonias as they walked through the outdoor eating area and into Coleman’s seafood eatery.
“That’s it for now,” he teased in a whisper, pulling a salmon-colored bloom out of her hair as they got into line. “I don’t want the Internet-viewing public to think kissing is all we do.”
Allie was so distracted by his kisses and his comment that she accidentally ordered her standard fish ’n’ chips rather than the deviled crab sandwich that she’d been thinking about all morning. “That’s odd,” she said when she opened her wrapper a few minutes later at the table Gabe snagged just outside the restaurant’s back door.
“What’s odd?” Gabe asked as she checked the receipt taped to her sandwich wrapper.
“Never mind,” Allie said as she saw she had gotten just what she had ordered. “I must have not been paying attention. This is fine, though.”
The market birds must have agreed. On cue, five sparrows lined up at her feet in a neat row. “Do they know you?” Gabe asked incredulously as Allie looked furtively around before tossing out an equally tidy line of bread bits for them.
“I think so,” she sheepishly admitted. “This is one of my favorite places to go out to lunch.”
Gabe laughed as he watched Allie share the rest of her meal with what appeared to be an entire flock. When a portly pigeon showed up, he raised a protest, though. “That guy has had enough, Allie. He looks too big to fly as it is.”
They both looked at the pigeon. He was plump enough to make a good showing at a Sunday dinner. Allie popped the last bit of her sandwich into her own mouth, crumpled up the wrapper and resolutely shooed him away. Pete waddled off. It was a reproachful waddle, she noticed. He never left the ground once. Allie looked at Gabe in alarm.
“Do you really think Pete can’t fly?” she asked.
Gabe made that weird choking sound again. “Pete, huh? Oh, he probably can if he wants to.” He reached for her hand across the table and they leaned back in their silvery deck chairs in companionable silence, enjoying the last few sips of their iced teas.
“I have to go down to Charleston for a couple of days,” he said eventually. “There’s a couple of meetings — work meetings — that came up out of the blue and my boss can’t go. So, I’m the guy.”
“I love Charleston.” Actually, Allie loved a specific store at the Town Center Mall there. Brianna had introduced her to it during one of their many weekend forays to her friend’s own hometown over the years. But, the rest of the city was pretty cool, too.
“I’m staying with my cousin Isabella and her family,” Gabe said.
“Another cousin?” Allie asked with a smile. She had three first cousins, all rather middle aged and living far away in the English countryside. Gabe’s massive family amazed her.
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“Yep. She’s an attorney there,” Gabe said. “So is her husband. They have several rug rats. I was thinking you might want to come down early Saturday and spend a day in Charleston – mostly with me but with them, too. I can’t imagine anyone would bother us there. It’s a good three hours from here.”
Allie checked her schedule for the rest of the week on her phone.
“I can do that,” she decided after calculating time for laundry and grocery shopping into the mix. “But, I want to be back to Wheeling early enough that I’ll still feel like teaching Sunday School the next morning. I missed last week. I don’t want to miss two in a row.”
“No worries. We’ll make it work.” Gabe stood and threw their wrappers and stuff in the nearby trashcan. “I’ve got to get back to the office. I’m actually leaving in about an hour or so. I might have to just text you the information about where we can meet. I’m going to be really busy — either packing or driving or in meetings most of the time. It might be last minute. Is that OK?”
Gabe stood, lifting her fingertips to his lips as he did so. “Until Saturday then, African Queen.”
Location: Allie’s Centre Market apartment, 40.0595° N, 80.7242° W
Emotion: ’Cause I dug my key into the side ofhis pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive.”
Gabe texted her early the next morning, however.
Gabe: U C nu photo?
Gabe: Google bbs.
She did Google — as soon as she figured out his “bbs” meant Bridge BAE’z. She imagined she would soon see a picture of the two of them kissing with a hanging begonia behind their heads. She was wrong. There was no begonia. But, there was kissing. There was also another woman.
Gabe was kissing the cheek of a raven-haired beauty who was carrying a briefcase in one hand. A tweet accompanied it, suggesting the Bridge BAE guy had another woman.
For a moment, all Allie felt was a sudden flash of white-hot jealousy unlike anything she had ever experienced in her life. She wanted to belt out a country song about cheaters. She wanted to belt Gabe — this new tendency toward violent thoughts was really out of hand.
Then, her mind became eerily calm. She kicked into journalistic gear, looking more closely at the photo. The family resemblance between Gabe and the woman was clear. Relief washed over her like a warm, frothy wave at the beach.
Gabe: Do U stil wnt 2 b hre Sat.? No privcy.
Allie: We wouldn’t have any here, either. I’m still in.
Gabe: Good. Isabella n fam R lookng 4wrd 2 meet U.
Allie: Me, too.
Gabe gave Allie directions to Isabella’s home, which is where they decided to meet. Then there was a long pause that suggested he had gone back to work. Doing the same, Allie set her phone flat on her desk and eventually calmed her mind enough to go back to the story she was writing about a 50-something couple who provided emergency short-term foster care to babies born with drug addictions, generally to opioids.
Visiting their home had been fascinating. The closet alone was impressive, its open shelves lined with stacks of pink and blue jammies and cases of diapers. The nursery’s soft lighting, the even softer baby skin that she’d rubbed against her cheek when the couple had insisted she cuddle one of their young charges. She couldn’t imagine how they dealt with one or two such extremely needy infants being in their home at all times, but loved it that the world included two people who would do such a thing.
Her phone vibrated against her desk, scattering such thoughts.
Gabe: U stll thr?
Gabe: B carefl drivng. I luv U, AQ, alwys hve.
Allie’s eyes opened wide. She drank in the words on her phone screen — or parts of words as the case was — and suddenly felt the whole internal sunshine thing going again. What was happening with Gabe was fast and crazy and wonderful. And terrifying, she realized as steel-winged butterflies hit just as quickly.
Did she have the guts to text him a truthful response? Did she even know what the truth was? Gabe interrupted her fretting with another text.
Gabe: Just smthng 4 U 2 thnk bout, AQ; not askng u 2 dive off that bord 2day. 🙂 C U Sat.
Allie texted a smiley emoticon back to him. Then, she sat and frowned a real-world frown. He said he loved her. She liked the idea of Gabe Morelli loving her. She really liked it. But, would she ever be able to make the same kind of a leap of faith in him? She had no idea.
INSIDE THE STORY:
• Like many of the places in “Suspended Aggravation,” Coleman’s Fish Market is real. Located in the Centre Market historic district, Coleman’s is a local favorite, particularly on Fridays and during Lent given the city’s large Roman Catholic population. Some former residents miss it so much, they have frozen sandwiches shipped to wherever they are.
• I don’t plan on giving up my tiny, drop-proof flip phone until they don’t make them. This means I text really slowly (toggling through letters takes time, people) and with abbreviations as wacky as Gabe’s — unless it’s businesses. This annoys my teen daughters to no end. 2 bd :)!
• 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.