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: “I’m crazy for trying and crazy for crying. And, I’m crazy for loving you.”
“Have you lost your mind, Sunshine? You barely know this guy! You’ve been dating him for what — one week?”
Now that remark really left Allie steamed. How dare Simon keep her up late for a Skyped-in inquisition? She checked her phone clock — 11:02 Monday evening! At least he hadn’t responded to her email before West Virginia dawn this time.
“And, just how well did you know Sylvie when you married her, Simon Bancroft?” she fired back. “A few weeks? Or maybe it was a little longer? Were you dating her even before we broke things off?”
Allie had never actually spoken that question out loud before, although it had crossed her mind a few times. OK. It had crossed her mind a few hundred times since the day Simon had called her from some African village to tell her he wanted to call off their wedding. He said it was because there was “something vital” missing in their relationship. She knew he was right — so she agreed. Regretfully, but without argument.
She cried. He cried. They vowed to remain friends, but agreed to give each some time to construct a life that didn’t include an impending marriage before making any further contact. They both held up the agreement. No calls, texts, emails or anything. But — when Simon did contact her a little more than a month later, with a two-sentence postcard — it was from France, where he and a woman he had never previously mentioned were now honeymooning.
How Allie and Simon had actually followed through on their promise of continued friendship after that and why Sylvie had allowed it were mysteries Allie had opted not to investigate.
Not unlike her question of the timing of Simon’s introduction to Sylvie.
When she saw Simon’s normally full lips suddenly compress into a tight line, she almost regretted her words. She knew him well enough to read that expression as barely contained fury, even though his next words sounded calm enough.
“Of course I wasn’t dating Sylvie before then,” he said quietly. “I would never have done that to you. You know that. I didn’t even meet her until a week after things ended between us. When we met, we both just knew it was right, and it was. This is Africa. Life is uncertain. It was fast, I’ll give you that. But, we didn’t see any point in waiting.”
Simon groaned in a combination of exasperation and resignation, his anger fading into a weary smile. “And, I pretty much shot myself in the foot there, didn’t I?” He sighed at length. “You’re really going to do this, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I’m really going to do this. I love him, Simon.” Allie looked away from the screen for a moment, then returned Simon’s troubled gaze with an intent one of her own. “I can’t really explain it to you, but I’ve loved him ever since I was 15 years old.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty much figuring that out, Sunshine,” he sighed again. “I would never have dreamed it was another guy, but I always knew there was some reason your heart wasn’t available. I just kept thinking more time or more commitment would fix things between us.” Simon propped his chin up with his hand and stared sadly at her. “Allie, why on earth didn’t you tell me about him? You should have. It would have saved us both a whole lot of hurt and confusion.”
“I know now that I should have told you,” Allie replied, truly sorry that she didn’t. “But, I didn’t know that then. It’s complicated, Simon. Gabe wasn’t in my life at all when you and I were together. I didn’t understand how very much I still loved him until the moment I saw him again. All the things I loved in the first place are still there. But, the things about him that hurt me and scared me are all gone.”
For the most part.
“Are you sure, Sunshine?” Simon demanded and Allie wondered if he had read her thoughts. “This is happening really fast. You say you don’t want to talk about it, but I know this guy really hurt you. I can see it on your face even now. How can you be so sure he won’t do it again?”
“I’m as sure as anyone can be,” Allie replied with much more bravery than she felt. “Like you said, Simon, life is uncertain, even in West Virginia. But, I’ve decided to trust God to take care of us both. Gabe and I are getting married. You can’t stop me.”
“I know I can’t stop you, Sunshine. I don’t even know that I want to try. I just want the best for you, and the speed of this is really scaring me. I love you like you’re one of my sisters and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
Simon unconsciously put his open palm up to the screen camera in the gesture of comfort and affection they had perfected during their years of kiss-free dating. Allie did her electronic best to meet the image of his hand with her own, but shook her head at the sheer oddness of their enduring bond. It was bizarre given their history, but she knew their lives would always be connected as if they were family.
She also finally understood why Sylvie was fine with their continuing friendship. Sylvie was secure in her husband’s love. So secure, that she had little concern about a woman who clearly was, and had always been, a sister.
“I love you, too, my brother.” Allie dropped her hand back onto her lap and tried to reduce the intensity of their conversation. “Are my mom and dad as freaked out about this as you are? Wait a second. Why are you the one calling me anyway?”
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Simon glared at her for a moment.
“Allie!” he exclaimed. “All of this with you and this Gabe guy has happened in a week! They saw the first picture and got an email from me after you and I talked the first time. They know you’re having a whirlwind romance, but that’s probably all they know. They’re traveling from village to village right now. You know your parents. They either don’t have a cell phone with them or they have one with a dead battery. I haven’t had any contact with them. I don’t know if they’ve seen or read anything else. But, yeah, I suspect they’re going to feel the same way. They love you too much to not be concerned about this.”
That got to Allie.
“Simon, if we wait a while, would that really make everyone feel better?” she asked quietly.
He visibly brightened. “You better believe it would. You would have a chance to get to know this guy better. Maybe your mom and dad could fly over and actually meet him. If you and Gabe are really meant to be, a little more time isn’t going to stop this. If this is not God’s plan, taking some more time now could sure save you both a lot of misery later.”
Allie decided this was not the time to tell him that she and Gabe already had a marriage license in hand and were considering either a small ceremony at her church or at the courthouse in the next week or so.
“I’ll think about it, but I’m not making any promises,” she conceded.
“That’s all I ask, Sunshine. Just think about it.”
Allie hugged Marmalade to her chest as soon as she switched off the computer connection. What would Gabe think if she asked him to postpone the wedding she had already agreed to?
Location: Gabe’s house in Woodsdale, 40°04’33.9″N, 80°41’04.1″W
Emotion: “You better slow down! Baby, now you’re movin’ way too fast.”
Gabe hadn’t fared much better on his end.
“Who cares if people think you’re living together? Lots of couples live together these days. It’s not that big of a deal.” That had been from his mom, who was seated with Gabe and Tony at their son’s new kitchen table come Sunday afternoon. They’d been waiting at his house when he had arrived home after church and a lingering lunch date with Allie.
“We know you want to marry this girl, and we don’t have a problem with that. She’s a sweetheart,” Michelle said. “It just seems way too fast. You don’t know each other very well. What if you change your minds?”
“You guys don’t understand what the last week or so has been like for us,” Gabe had said in quick defense of their plans. “Every time we turn around, someone is exposing our lives to the whole world. There is nothing ungodly about our relationship, but the pictures and the so-called stories are making us both look bad as Christians and as people. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it’s a big deal to us. It’s an extraordinary circumstance and that makes an extraordinary courtship seem perfectly reasonable — kind of like getting married in time of war.”
“Gabriel Anthony,” Michelle had exclaimed, “this isn’t 1890, or 1942 for that matter! You act like you’re some kind of saint now, better than the rest of the world. You’re not.”
“Trust me, mom, I know I’m no better than anybody. I’m just trying to do what’s right for once in my life.”
Then, the three of them had stared at each other in a stalemate.
“You know, son, if you really love this woman, I don’t have a problem with the timing,” Tony finally had said, putting his hand on his wife’s shoulder when she started to protest again. “I knew I wanted to marry your mom after our first date. Sometimes it happens like that. Just think it through. You can have a wedding in a matter of days, or even hours if you want. But, marriage is for a lifetime.”
“I know that, Dad. Allie knows that. We’ll talk about it and pray about it some more, OK? Would that make you both happier?”
Michelle and Tony had nodded so solemnly, Gabe had felt suddenly ill.
The two heated phone calls that followed his parents’ visit — one with Mike on Sunday evening and one with Isabella in the wee hours of Monday — did nothing to make him feel any better. Everyone liked Allie. That was clear. Everyone went so far as to agree that a marriage with her was probably a good thing. But, not a single person whose opinion he valued was happy with the proposed timing of their wedding.
That had kept him so preoccupied at work he’d accomplished very little engineering wise. He had managed a trip to the courthouse with Allie over lunch without revealing his family issues, but his parents’ words in particular had weighed heavily on him all evening. Now, he couldn’t even sleep.
How on earth was he going to tell Allie they might need to slow things down?
INSIDE THE STORY:
• The level of family involvement Gabe experiences may seem unrealistic in many parts of modern America. It is not in Wheeling — or the rest of West Virginia. While a percentage of youth is always moving out to seek broader employment possibilities, many families are devoted to the state, sometimes down to a specific city or even a large parcel of land that has been owned for multiple generations. You can see this in every cemetery in Wheeling. The names on the gravestones are often the same names as the citizens who are still moving and shaking things for the city today.
• 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.