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 Morelli family’s Downtown Donuts shop, 40.0652° N, 80.7231° W
Emotion: “That’s what friends are for.”
“Gabe and Isabella both love the double-chocolate ones. Take a dozen of those, too.”
Michelle kept boxing up donuts until there were so many Allie couldn’t imagine even the extended Morelli clan could eat them all. She had stopped by Downtown Donuts on impulse, knowing it would be open early enough for her to get on the road with a bit of a hostess gift in hand.
“You do know that the girl in the new picture is Isabella, right, baby?” Michelle asked.
“Yes,” Allie said quietly. It stillembarrassed her to think that Gabe’s mother and father had seen the old picture of their son kissing her. Everyone really did know their business.
“Those Internet people are nuts,” Michelle said.
Allie agreed. Nutty as fruitcakes. Nutty as a squirrel’s nest at Christmas. Nutty as a Snickers bar. She’d be glad when this was all over.
“You two have fun!” Michelle said with a grin as she walked Allie out the door and to her sweetie Cooper, which was parked a few spaces away from the shop’s awning-marked entrance. Allie couldn’t resist the fiery little woman’s friendliness. She turned to hug her goodbye, then immediately wondered if she had overreached. Michelle seemed delighted, however, hugging Allie back with enthusiasm.
“You’ll be perfect,” Michelle said as the door closed. Allie pondered what Gabe’s mom might have meant by that as she drove over the river and through the maze of construction detours. It might take a while, but to the interstate she’d go.
Location: Charleston, W.Va., the Morelli-Alonso home, 38.3377° N, 81.6172° W
Emotion: “That’s the way we became the Brady Bunch.”
Gabe, another man and four wiry, black-haired boys dressed in what looked suspiciously like PJs were wrangling for a football in the front yard when Allie reached the Alonso home. It was 9 a.m. on the dot. Gabe pulled the collar of his T-shirt up to wipe off his face before he opened her car door. He barely grazed her cheek with a kiss and a softly whispered, “good morning.”
“I just got back from a run,” he said, backing well away from her. He seemed almost shy with her this morning. Allie wondered if it was the “I luv U” text, but his next words suggested it was something rather more practical. “I thought I’d be cleaned up before you got here.”
Any reply Allie might have had to that was lost when the boys noticed the stack of boxes Gabe was now holding. “Donuts!” they yelled in unison before descending on the loot.
Gabe made a round of introductions with a chocolate donut in one hand. There were plenty to make. The other man was Dominic Alonso, Isabella’s husband. The boys, who looked to be between maybe 8 and their mid-teens, were Anthony, Marco, Stefano and Guy. From the names alone, Allie guessed the couple were really into their dual Italian heritage. Before Gabe was done introducing the crew in the yard, a woman who had to be Isabella and an adorable girl of maybe 2 years of age came out to the home’s mammoth front porch and down the broad slate steps to join them.
“And this little moppet is Francesca,” Gabe finished up, ruffling the girl’s jet curls with the hand that didn’t have a donut in it. She looked at him adoringly and reached out with both arms.
“Uncle Gabe’s been running, sweetheart. Yucky,” he said. “I’ll hold you later.”
Francesca set up a wail of protest so fierce, Isabella gave only a quick roll of her eyes before she handed off the child. Francesca snuggled against Gabe’s chest and shoulder with a happy sigh. She took a bite of the now conveniently located donut and eyed Allie warily through Bambi lashes while she chewed.
Seeing Gabe completely at home with a toddler in his arms was arresting on its own. Only-child Allie was even more mesmerized when she noticed Isabella’s now empty arms revealed she was again in the early stages of maternal bloom. Four boys, five kids with Francesca, now six!An Italian Brady Bunch! Allie had no idea her astonishment was so obvious and, frankly, humorous that Gabe could no longer resist. Francesca and all, he leaned over for a warm kiss that eventually strayed from her mouth to her ear.
“Mmmm. I’m so glad you’re here,” he whispered there.
Allie could have said the same if she had been able to speak. Gabe tasted of an entrancing blend of pastry glaze mingled with the fresh salt and scent of his workout. Francesca’s baby shampoo somehow added to the heady mix. Allie didn’t realize her eyes and mouth were open in a dazed awareness that made Dominic smile nearly as broadly as Gabe. She didn’t see Isabella roll her eyes again, the boys pretend to gag or little Francesca wrinkle her forehead and nose in a deep frown. For a moment, there was just Allie and Gabe and the amazing deliciousness of their kiss.
Then, Isabella laughed and shoved her cousin in the shoulder, taking Francesca back into her own arms. Allie came back to earth with a jolt.
“Gabe Morelli! Go. Take a shower,” Isabella ordered. “The rest of you, too. Shoo. And, you boys, don’t come back until you smell better.” She shook her head knowingly at Allie and laughed again. “Men.”
“So, how did you come to be dating Snow White?” Dominic teased Gabe as they shaved side by side in the master bath while the boys argued noisily over who should have to take a shower first in the bath Gabe had just vacated for them down the hall. “I thought I saw a couple of doves circling the two of you for a moment there.”
Gabe couldn’t help but laugh. It was too close to the truth. “It’s bluebirds, dude. Didn’t you see the movie? Sometimes one lands on my shoulder.” Gabe wiped a last bit of shaving cream off his chin with a towel. “We were friends in high school. We met again that day on the bridge.”
“Is she really that … nice?”
“And then some,” Gabe said with a grin.
“And, she’s dating you for what reason?”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Gabe swatted Dominic with the damp towel as he left and tried to smile as he went in search of the Snow White in question. He knew his cousin-in-law was joking. But, the comment was, again, a little too close to the truth. “I’m just glad she is,” he called back at Dominic over one shoulder.
Subscribe to Weelunk
“Gabe says you’re a journalist,” Isabella said, giving Allie an appraising look over the bowlful of eggs she was whisking briskly in the Alonso’s sun-drenched kitchen.
“Yes. I work for the Wheeling Tribune.” Allie couldn’t explain why, but she had no desire to talk about her job. That was unusual. She loved her job. “You’re an attorney?” she asked Isabella instead.
“A teensy bit of one,” Isabella laughed. “I work for Dominic’s firm. He’s a senior partner and manages to make sure I have just enough work that I can squeeze it in around a husband and five and a half children. I don’t spend many hours at the office, but it’s enough to keep me from going a little crazy.”
“I can’t even imagine,” Allie said. “I’m an only child, just like Gabe.”
“I think maybe not just like Gabe,” Isabella said with a wry smile. “Gabe’s parents couldn’t have any more — before him or after him. But, he grew up surrounded by so many cousins I’m not sure he realized he didn’t have brothers and sisters of his own until he was practically grown. He was always over at our house, wreaking havoc with my little brothers.”
“That must have been nice. My only cousins live in England and they’re much older than I am. I rarely see them.”
“Gabe loves our big family,” Isabella continued. Allie missed the twinkle that appeared in the other woman’s eyes as she spotted her cousin heading down the hall to the kitchen. “In fact, he’s always said he wants at least 10 children.”
Gabe looked from his cousin’s smirk to Allie’s stunned face and laughed as he entered the room. “Isabella, did you just tell my girlfriend of one week that I want 10 children?”
“I might have.”
“I love you, too,” Gabe said, giving his cousin a sideways hug and hauling Francesca, who was already clinging to his leg, up into his arms. He bent to kiss Allie lightly on the temple. “Why not an even dozen?”
Now, Isabella laughed. Allie had gone pale.
“That was a joke, Allie,” Gabe said with a wide grin. “You might not be able to believe everything my cousins say, by the way. They claim I said some indiscreet things to their dates when I was younger and they’ve been plotting their revenge ever since.”
“Indiscreet! Try fictional,” Isabella hooted. “You told Dominic I needed to shave my face every morning. I don’t think he was truly convinced I didn’t have a mustache and beard until our honeymoon.”
“I remember that,” Dominic said, entering the kitchen fray and heading straight to his wife, whom he soundly kissed. “Did you pay him back, my sweet?”
“She told Allie I want 10 children,” Gabe chimed in helpfully. He still wasn’t above a bit of meddling.
“Of course you do. That’s what every man wants!” Dominic said, his statement somehow revealed to be at least partly in jest by the wince he gave when a herd of freshly bathed boys ran through the kitchen and into the backyard. No doubt, to get dirty again.
He patted his wife’s tiny belly, kissed her again and smiled. “Another girl might not be a bad thing, though.”
They all laughed at that. Allie was amazed at how comfortable she felt only an hour or so into the visit. It was like she had always known these people.
They talked while brunch cooked. She shyly watched Gabe, who eventually put utensils and napkins out on the long kitchen table where they were going to have brunch, and remembered what it was like when he was teaching her to swim. Gabe was warm and boisterous and always ready to laugh. He was like his family. They were like him. No wonder she felt instantly comfortable with the group.
Gabe looked up and smiled when he caught Allie’s perusal. “Sit by me?”
As if he had to ask, Allie thought, scooting onto one of the long benches that ran the length of the table to be next to him. The rest of the crew filed in to every side of them, surrounding them with a nearly tangible warmth.
“This is delicious, Isabella,” Allie said when she took her first bite of the casserole-type of dish that was the main course. “It’s kind of like quiche, but not quite.”
“It’s a frittata,” Isabella explained. “You’re right, though. It’s pretty much a quiche, just with Italian seasonings instead of French ones.”
Allie enjoyed the tomato salad, crusty Italian bread and a richly spiced minestrone soup that were also available and sipped at her strong coffee. She was surprised she was still hungry after eating two donuts. It was the busy chatter that only a family gathering of nearly 10 could bring that pleased her most, however.
“Happy, African Queen?” Gabe whispered in her ear at one point, his breath tickling her hair in the most tantalizing way.
She lowered her head onto his shoulder in a display of affection that would have seemed outrageous in her own family home, but felt perfectly appropriate here. “Very much so,” she said, sighing happily and closing her eyes in delight when Gabe pressed a kiss onto the top of her head.
Then, he shocked her again. “Three or four babies might not be so bad, hmmm?” he whispered into her hair. Allie’s eyes shot open. She didn’t even bother to make sure no one was looking before she raised her head to simply look at him in wide-eyed wonder. Was there any safe answer to that question? She certainly couldn’t think of one.
Gabe gave her a dazzling smile and kissed her lightly on the lips. “Something else to think about, huh?”
She didn’t answer. She couldn’t. But, she did return her head to his shoulder, marveling at the sudden speeding up of his pulse beneath her cheek when she did so. Her own heart was beating even faster.
INSIDE THE STORY:
• Charleston is now the state capital, but when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed West Virginia’s statehood during the Civil War (effectively splitting Virginia in half), Wheeling was the seat of government. This city’s original Capitol Building is still in use and — fun fact — is now partly solar powered. It serves as a home for law offices and a local outlet of West Virginia Public Radio among other entities.
• While working for my most recent newspaper, covering the West Virginia Legislature in Charleston was among my varied duties. Shockingly, the paper paid for posh accommodations at a wonderful B&B called the Brass Pineapple. As it was in sight of the Capitol’s golden dome, it was easy to dash back and forth. It was also smack in the middle of a historic district I grew to love on post-deadline walks each evening. The fictional Alonso home shares this location’s coordinates.
• 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.