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: an estate sale in Charleston, N 38° 20.2591′ W 81° 36.8464′
Emotion: “I am a material girl.”
“How much do you think we can fit into the truck?” Gabe asked.
“How much do you need to buy?” Allie answered him with another question.
She was already stretching the tiny tape measure she always carried in her purse across the open bed of the truck. “You can fit quite a bit in here. And, it’s not supposed to rain. You don’t have to worry about anything getting wet if you buy something upholstered.”
“I need a lot,” Gabe admitted. “I have a bed, a TV tray, a folding chair and all my kitchen stuff and my clothes. That’s pretty much it. I sold or gave away everything else when I left Washington.”
It somehow made Allie sad to think of Gabe living so starkly when her own apartment was such a finely feathered nest. She wondered if men really don’t care much about such creature comforts, remembering the bare necessities and migrating warrens of dust bunnies Simon and his roommates seemed to exist quite happily with during his med school days. Once, a very dead ficus tree one of the men’s mothers had unwisely supplied sat in the living room for months until Allie suggested they either toss the thing out or start praying for a visible reminder of God’s resurrection power.
“Maybe a nice chair or a settee would be a good start,” she suggested cautiously. She wasn’t sure how much input to his home décor Gabe really wanted. “Do you need a real kitchen table and chairs? What about a bookcase or two, or a dresser?”
“A soft chair would be great,” Gabe said enthusiastically. “I like the idea of some kitchen furniture and a dresser, too. I definitely don’t need any bookcases, though. They’re built into almost every room in the house.”
Allie had walked, biked or driven by what was now Gabe’s house on so many occasions she could picture it without effort. She had, in fact, lived just a couple of blocks away with her parents when she was in high school — in her mother’s childhood home as her grandmother had been ill when they had returned to the U.S. and had soon after died. The Craftsman bungalow’s exterior clearly needed some work, but she suspected the interior was in better condition — especially since Gabe had mentioned he’d done several big upgrades already.
There would be wood floors, miles of dark wood trim and more windows than walls. Her mind had started buzzing with furnishing possibilities as soon as he suggested they spend what was left of their day in Charleston checking out an estate sale that Isabella had helpfully pointed out before they had parted ways. It was on Kanawha Boulevard, in one of the giant houses facing the river. The location alone suggested it would be good.
“Do you want everything to be Arts and Crafts style?” she asked. Her own apartment was more a white and pastel version of English cottage style — lots of floral prints and ginghams. Very Laura Ashley. That wouldn’t be the right look for his house, though. Or, for him.
“I think so, although I don’t really know that much about it yet,” Gabe said. “The house is so great. I just don’t want to do anything to mess it up.”
Allie grabbed his hand as they headed across the lawn into a tented area set aside for the sale. “It’s your house. Gabe. If you like it, nothing you buy will mess anything up. Let’s go!” Gabe responded with such a warm smile she wondered if he was shopping simply to please her.
As it was, he bought enough to please both of them in the ensuing hours. Right around the time she knew they should start heading toward home, he and a couple of helpful guys from the auction house handling the sale were wrangling the last of the furniture into place.
Who knew the truck could hold a pair of red leather wingbacks, a small kitchen table that allegedly began its life in an English pub, four almost-matching kitchen chairs, two completely-matching end tables, an Art Noveau floor lamp that needed rewiring and a dresser large enough to store the unmentionables of a family of five? Big Red, as she had heard Gabe fondly call his vehicle, handled it all. And, it did so without dragging on the ground. Amazing.
The dresser — a Big Red of another kind — was purely a thank you to her, Allie suspected. Her bargaining skills had saved him a bundle. She had fallen in love with the crimson-painted monster when they were nearly ready to leave, going on so rapturously about its marble inset and multitude of drawers that Gabe claimed he would have paid twice as much as he did just to see her do that, “bouncing, hand-clapping, squealing thing” she apparently did when he sealed the deal. Which, of course, made her truly want to do it again, although she didn’t, of course.
“Where did you learn to bargain like that, African Queen?” he asked as he tugged hard on the ropes holding everything into place for the third time. She shuddered a bit at that, instantly reminded of his testing of the harnesses the same way on their fateful day at the bridge.
“I know how to save a buck, but you’re a regular barracuda.” He smiled as if he considered the remark a compliment.
“In Africa,” Allie said with a smile of her own. “We used to buy almost everything we ate or used at these huge open-air markets. You learn pretty quickly that the asking price is merely a suggestion.”
“Well, I sure appreciated your help,” he said. “It will be excellent to have a soft place to sit down. I think I’ll put the chairs by the living room fireplace. That will be a nice place to read in the evenings.” Gabe looked at her strangely. “This winter, with a real fire going.”
It took Allie a second to realize he was still talking about the chairs, but no time at all for her mind to fill with an image of the two of them sitting cozily together with snow-globe flakes flying outside a nearby bank of windows. She was knitting one of her prayer shawls, Marmalade the cat curled around her right hip as she was wont to do. Gabe was reading the newspaper, a giant black lab snoozing across his feet.
Allie smiled involuntarily at the thought. But, she didn’t intend to share any of those daydreams, particularly after Isabella’s antics had already pushed them into a discussion of children just a few hours earlier. There was also the whole “I luv U” thing hanging out there.
“Hey,” he said, suddenly turning the subject in a much safer direction. “Would you mind driving behind me all the way home? I know it’s kind of a pain. But, it would be cool if you could keep an eye on everything in case something comes loose. You could call my cell to warn me.”
“That would be fine,” she answered. “Do you just want to go through a drive-thru somewhere for dinner so we can get home earlier? I still want to make sure I get enough rest to be fresh for church in the morning.”
“Sure. Can I go with you to church, by the way?” Gabe asked. “I’ve been checking out a new place every week since I moved back. I haven’t found anything that feels right yet.”
“That would be great, but I should probably tell you, we’ll be the only white people there. An African American church feels more comfortable to me after all the years I spent in Africa. It’s where I’ve gone ever since high school — except for when I was away at college.”
“It’s not a problem for me, if it’s not for the church people.” He looked at his watch. “We need to get on the road.” Gabe leaned down to kiss her goodbye, then backed up with a growl of displeasure as a blast of light interrupted the moment. “Please tell me that was not a camera flash.”
“Oh, that’s what it was all right,” Allie sighed as they watched the dark SUV carrying the photographer drive rapidly away from them, disregarding the stop sign at the end of the grand, riverfront street in its haste. Horns blared. “I guess our viewing public will have something new to look at by morning. Who needs to post anything on Instagram or Twitter? The whole world can follow us if they’d like.”
“I’d just as soon the whole world leave us alone,” Gabe said, kissing her again as he shut her car door. “This is getting ridiculous.”
Location: Church of the Risen Redeemer, 40.080931, -80.725583
Emotion: “And you’ll have to deal with pressure.”
“This is getting ridiculous,” the Rev. Dr. Dwayne P. Martin said the very next morning. He engulfed Gabe’s hand in his own bear-like grip as the couple tried to leave the sanctuary of the Church of the Risen Redeemer after a lengthy but invigorating service.
Gabe was on the larger side of humanity himself at six-foot-even. But, the Rev. Martin had a good six inches and a significant number of pounds on him. The minister’s mass alone made the man hard to ignore, particularly given the steely scowl he was directing Gabe’s way.
“Sister Allie is a nice girl,” Pastor Martin said. “She shouldn’t be getting embarrassed like this. What are you going to do about it, son?”
Gabe’s mouth opened and stuck that way for a moment. “I’m not sure,” he finally managed to say. “We keep figuring it will die down. But, it obviously isn’t.”
“Her mama and daddy are not going to like this last picture one bit, Brother Gabe.”
“I know,” Gabe said, rubbing his fingers on his right temple. He wasn’t sure if it was the exuberant music from the service or the continuing fallout from last night’s unwanted photo session, but he had a whale-sized headache. “Believe me, I don’t like it, either. Allie was just helping me pick out some furniture for my new house. That’s all there was to it.”
Even knowing they’d been photographed hadn’t prepared either of them for the reality of what had appeared on the Internet overnight. A kissing couple in front of a truck loaded with furniture wasn’t that big of a deal. The “story” that accompanied the photo was what was causing the problem. It flat-out claimed the Bridge BAE’z had reconciled after Gabe had been caught cheating with another woman and were now furnishing a “love nest” as part of their make up.
Allie had actually cried on the way to church. It had nearly killed him.
She’d only calmed down after Gabe insisted she email an immediate explanation to her parents and her closest friends, including Simon. That had seemed the quickest and most private option as both of them had pretty much shut down all social media activity in reaction to their electronic overexposure. He did the same with his own friends and family before they got out of his truck.
They had hoped to forget about their problems by losing themselves in worshipping the Lord. Instead, trouble followed them right into the sanctuary. They endured a gauntlet of surprised stares from church members before service even started. Who knew church folks were so wired to have even seen the picture so early in the day? And, now, they were in what felt like an open confrontation with her pastor.
To their mutual horror, Pastor Martin wasn’t in any way done. The man Allie had described to Gabe the previous evening as an oversized teddy bear put a hand that felt in no way like that of a plush toy’s on Gabe’s shoulder as they stood in the wide church lobby and asked, almost menacingly, “What are your intentions toward our Allie, Brother Gabe?”
Gabe met the man’s gaze unflinchingly. “I love her and I hope to marry her, sir,” he said without hesitation. He glanced at Allie, who looked oddly frozen. He swallowed nervously. Serious courting, indeed.
But, now, it was Allie’s turn. Pastor Martin faced her. “Sister Allie, how do you feel about this young man?”
Allie looked every bit as panicked as she had that day in the pool so long ago, when the pressure of the water seemed to shut off her air supply for a moment. Until her eyes met Gabe’s, at least. Once again, he could feel the moment his calmness reached her. She took a deep, shuddering breath and — it must have been his imagination —seemed to jump.
“I love him, too,” she said shyly, looking down at her own hands, which Gabe now gathered into his own. He squeezed her fingers reassuringly.
“Well, son,” Pastor Martin demanded, looking Gabe straight in the face. “I think you know what to do.”
He did. And, that was how Gabe Morelli came to be down on one knee in front of God, Pastor Martin and most of the Church of the Risen Redeemer, who had zealously lingered behind to see how this little drama was going to play out.
“Gabe, you don’t have to do this,” Allie whispered, obviously both embarrassed and intrigued by what was happening. “People who know us will understand. Our families will understand.”
“Allie, there’s nothing ‘have to’ about this, except for maybe the proposing in a church lobby part,” he instantly replied. “I think I even wanted to marry you when I was 19. I love you, Allison Bennett. I have loved you since the first moment I saw you and I will always love you. Will you marry me?” Gabe glanced up at Pastor Martin, who still didn’t look quite happy. Gabe grinned at him before turning back to Allie. “Will you marry me as soon as possible?”
Pastor Martin gave him a literal thumbs up. Gabe couldn’t help a small laugh, until he saw Allie’s face. She was biting her lower lip in a strong effort to not cry. It was totally not working. Tears were streaming down both of her cheeks and Gabe stood rapidly to draw her into his arms.
“African Queen?” he whispered into her ear. “Are you OK?”
“Yes,” she whimpered. Then she said the word again, with an entirely different meaning. “Yes.”
He eventually got it. Gabe smiled. “Soon?”
She nodded and Gabe’s embrace turned so enthusiastic, he lifted her feet from the floor for a moment. Neither one of them heard the applause and laughter that surrounded them until things turned into an enthusiastic group hug that could have been mistaken for a mosh pit by the casual observer.
They emailed the news of their engagement to their circle of friends and family as soon as they got back into Gabe’s truck lest it somehow leak out some other way. It felt good to actually make an announcement concerning their relationship on their own, instead of letting the Internet drive their story.
Allie, still softly wiping away a tear here and there, looked happier than Gabe had ever seen her. He just wished she didn’t also look quite so scared.
INSIDE THE STORY:
• African Americans and Wheeling churches go way back. First Presbyterian, believed to be the oldest building (1825) still standing in the downtown — once had a balcony where slaves worshipped. Later, the church took the unusual political/spiritual stand of admitting freed slaves as members — long before West Virginia separated from Virginia and the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery. Today, some Wheeling churches are predominantly white, some include a mix of races and descendants of ethnically diverse immigrants and still others remain distinctly African American. Bethlehem Apostolic Temple is the most prominent of these latter churches, with its pastor and congregation being well known for meeting food and school supply needs for city residents of any color.
• “This Old House,” TV crew visited Gabe’s Woodsdale neighborhood a few years ago. The show’s stars, experts at repairing and restoring vintage residences, were so excited about the density of historically intact homes all over Wheeling they said they could film here for years.
•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.