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: “It’s been a hard day’s night; I should be sleeping like a log.”
Gabe: U awake?
It was nearly midnight. Had Allie not still been stewing about her conversation with Simon, she wouldn’t have been alert to the text, even given the late nights her 10 a.m. work start allowed. But, she was still stewing, of course.
She was glad Gabe couldn’t see her fuzzy, polka-dot robe or the bunny slippers Brianna had given her back in college as a Secret Santa joke. Allie’s love of them was certainly no secret. She had worn them so much the outer “ear” of each slipper was nothing but a memory.
Gabe: Do U wnt go 4 wlk? I cn meet U @ yr bck door 10 min.
Hmmmm. They had already seen each other when they picked up the marriage license over lunch. Allie could have ticked off several reasons to not meet again for a late-night walk on her fingers. One, she had spent the rest of her evening catching up on chores that had piled up during their crazy weekend and she was plumb tired. Two, it was still unusually chilly for May. Three, her conversation with Simon had left her more than a little crabby.
But, she texted back, Sure. She was going to marry this man. She could lose a little sleep if he wanted her company. Allie threw on some running clothes and was at the alley door a few seconds before Gabe arrived.
“What’s going on?” she whispered, stretching onto her tiptoes to meet his kiss.
“Let’s just walk.”
Allie suddenly wasn’t tired anymore. She was worried. Gabe had been distracted at lunch. That hadn’t bothered her. She was plenty distracted given all that had happened in the last 24 hours. But, now, he looked upset. She wanted to pepper him with questions like she was doing an interview. Instead, she breathed a prayer and concentrated on the warmth of his hand wrapped around her own.
They made their way down to the riverfront trail and, as if led by magnetic force, headed toward the suspension bridge. He motioned to a bench just outside of a pool of lamplight. “Allie, what does your family think about our engagement?” he asked as soon as they sat down.
Allie looked over his shoulder at the bridge, its fairy-like lights shimmering in mid-air and reflecting dance-like in the slow, dark water. Gabe ran a finger down her cheek, gently turning her face back toward him. It felt familiar. Were late-night walks going to be their thing?
He gave her a weak smile while he waited for her answer. Something — was it his lackluster smile or the cool spring evening — made Allie shiver. Gabe didn’t seem to notice her tremble and that was so uncharacteristic of him that she felt a coldness creep over her spirit, as well.
“Allie?” he asked again. “Your parents?”
“I don’t know what they think,” she said, not at all surprised that her voice was now trembling, as well. “I still haven’t been able to make any direct contact with them. They’re traveling. Simon called by Skype this evening, though.”
Gabe sighed and rubbed his face wearily with one hand. “OK. What did Simon say?”
Allie smiled at his words and tried to make a joke. “Put your hand on your head and jump three times.”
“Nothing,” Allie said, even more worried that Gabe had missed her lame attempt at a joke. His sense of humor was usually excellent. “You asked what Simon says. You know, like the kids’ game.”
“Oh, yeah.” Gabe was rubbing his face again.
Scurrying legions of rats.
Allie pulled at his hand and looked into his eyes with outright concern. “Gabe, tell me. Did something happen today? Are you regretting our engagement?”
The tension and weariness that had marked Gabe’s face melted instantly — in front of her worried eyes. He pulled her firmly against his side and kissed the top of her head as she nestled it onto his shoulder. In spite of the intensity of the moment, she couldn’t help but notice how the lines of their bodies fit together as if they had been made expressly for each other.
“No,” he said gently, the single word sending a tickling warmth through her hair. “I am absolutely not sorry for asking you to marry me. I will never be sorry for that.” He kissed her head again. “It’s just been a rough couple of days. Everybody in my family and at work thinks we’re crazy to be moving as fast as we are. Is that what Simon thought, too?”
“Pretty much,” Allie admitted. “The same for the people at the newspaper.”
“And, what do you think, African Queen? Do you feel like I’m pushing you in any way?”
Allie breathed a lightning-fast prayer for wisdom before she answered. “No, Gabe. I feel like you are pursuing me and doing it more quickly than I would have expected. But, it doesn’t feel like pushing. Do you feel like I’m pushing you, or that Pastor Martin is? That was a crazy moment at the church yesterday. That wasn’t coming from me, I hope you know that.”
“Hmmm. A 6-foot-who-knows-what pastor looming over us both? No, I didn’t feel pushed, not at all.” Gabe puffed a laugh into her hair. She stiffened. Gabe kissed her yet again. “That was a joke. I asked you to marry me because I want to marry you. No other reason.”
“What, my love?” he answered, drawing her still closer and nuzzling his whole face into the silkiness of her hair.
My love. That was a new one. A good new one.
“Do you think our wanting to get married so quickly is just about lust?” Allie asked hesitantly, recalling another doozy of a conversation. “That’s what my friend Brianna thinks. She called this morning.”
Gabe pulled away instantly, but not before making that odd choking sound again. Allie wondered if he had some sort of tree-pollen allergy. The trees really were doing their thing this time of year. He wasn’t sniffling or anything, but she could tell he was biting his lips tightly together. Was he stifling a sneeze?
“Desire isn’t lust,” Gabe said in a voice that didn’t suggest any inclination to sneeze. “I’ll wait as long as you need if you want to slow things down. I know you can do the same. Lust isn’t patient like that. Love is.”
“Then why is there such an urgency to marry now? I really feel it. Do you?” Allie asked.
“Believe me, I feel it,” Gabe said with a sigh. “And, I don’t know why. I know the Internet stuff is part of it. I feel a strong need to protect you from the exposure and I think a marriage would probably do that.
“But, Allie, I’ve prayed a lot about this even though it’s only been a week or so. I kind of feel like God is driving this, too. Does that sound crazy? You’ve been a Christian a lot longer than I have. Do you think it’s actually possible that God wants us to get married now for some reason?”
Allie thought of the many times she had prayed for God to send someone to love her and care for her, particularly in the last year or so, as a string of one- and two-date “relationships” made her loneliness even more intense. She thought of her prayers of thanksgiving in the last week and their sharp contrast with her anguish over all the Internet photos. It was not difficult to answer Gabe with the full truth of her heart.
“I do,” she said. Then, she giggled. “No pun intended.”
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This time Gabe got the joke. He kissed her again. “Very cute, African Queen. Very cute. So, what do you want to do? Do we make everybody else happy and wait for a while? And, I am totally willing to do that if that’s what you want. Or, do we go for it?”
A deep peace settled over Allie before she even spoke. She leaped again. “I think we go for it.”
He kissed her yet again. “Me, too. But, Allie?”
“Hmmm?” she hummed against his lips.
“Why do I have a feeling we are going to need God and need each other in a big way before this is over?”
She moved far enough away to look into his eyes. “We already have God, Gabe. And, you already have me, too.”
Gabe skipped words this time. He simply showed her how much she already had him with a kiss so electrifying it made her feel as if her skeleton had suddenly and mysteriously vaporized. Desire?Oh, yes, Allie acknowledged fleetingly as she returned his kiss with some fire of her own. We have it. In spades.
“Let’s get you home,” he breathed into the hair above her forehead when they came up for air. She appreciated his arm around her waist for the most practical of reasons as they began the long walk back. It’s difficult to stand with no bones.
Gabe wasn’t quite done with their talk, though. “What’s your middle name again?” he whispered, dropping their conversation below the decibel level that could drift into a neighbor’s bedroom window as they re-entered Centre Market, which was dotted with over-the-shop apartments. “I don’t remember what you put on the marriage license.”
“Elizabeth. Why?” Allie whispered back.
“It seems like the kind of thing a husband should know by heart. Mine is Anthony, by the way.”
“I know. Your mom said it several times the other night at dinner.” Allie smiled saucily. “I have a feeling you heard a lot of that growing up. ‘Gabriel Anthony, why is there a hole in the knee of your jeans?’ ‘Gabriel Anthony, just why are you bleeding?’ ”
“Yeah, I did,” Gabe admitted, his eyes twinkling in the moonlight. “When’s your birthday?”
Allie smiled. “October 14.”
“OK. Can you remind me again a week or two before?”
“Well, you sound like a real husband, at least like my dad,” Allie giggled. “When is yours?”
Gabe checked his watch. “Today, believe it or not. I turned 31 a few minutes ago.”
“Happy birthday,” Allie squealed. Gabe turned down her volume with an instantaneous kiss. “Is that part of the urgency?” she asked when he released her.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Thirty-one feels fine to me. Oh. There’s one more thing. I have a tattoo.”
Allie giggled again. She was marrying a man with a tattoo — in haste. How deliciously outrageous. She wondered again if Brianna might be at least a teensy bit right about the whole lust thing. “What kind of a tattoo? A hula dancer? A mermaid? And, where?” she asked mischievously. “Or should I ask?”
Gabe rolled his eyes but grinned. “It’s just a compass — kind of a geeky engineering thing really. I got it in college when I was in New York for a conference. It’s on my shoulder, by the way. You can see it if you want.”
“You probably shouldn’t take off your shirt in the middle of Centre Market, given our history of drawing an audience,” Allie said nervously. She looked around, sincerely hoping no one was following them this late at night.
Gabe laughed softly, but Allie noticed he also scanned the area around them the same way he had been ever since he’d met her at her back door. “I wasn’t actually planning on showing it to you right now.”
“Anything else?” she asked, still feeling surprisingly playful given the hour.
How was she to know her question gave him pause? Anything else? Oh, boy, there was something else, Gabe was thinking. And how. He pondered that for a second and couldn’t come up with a single responsible — or even acceptable — way to share that kind of information. How was she to know he so wanted to avoid that topic he opted to bring up that other risky subject instead?
“You already know I dated way too much and with way too little respect for myself or anyone else,” he said grimly.
“Yes. And, I think it’s time to stop beating yourself up over that,” Allie said with honest firmness. “God forgives you for whatever, whenever. I forgive you. You need to let it go.”
“I’m trying,” he said, holding her hand a little more tightly. “What about you, love? Any deep, dark secrets a husband should know?” Gabe smiled in the darkness, no doubt at the ridiculousness of the question.
“Well, you already know about Simon,” Allie said in all seriousness.
“Yes, I know about Simon,” he said slowly. “Anything else?”
“I have dual citizenship.”
“I know that, too.”
Allie gave Gabe a puzzled look. “I don’t usually tell anyone that.”
“I know your dad is British,” he answered quickly. “The rest follows.”
They were at her apartment door. Gabe stopped and looped his arms loosely around Allie’s waist. “So, how soon is soon? Do you want to do this Friday — at the end of the workday? That way, we’d be able to have at least a little bit of a honeymoon over the weekend. It stinks that I haven’t been on the job long enough to get any time off, but we could go somewhere nearby. Maybe Canaan Valley? It’s so beautiful. Have you ever been there?”
Allie blushed just thinking about being on a honeymoon with Gabe in a few days. “No, but I’m sure I’d like it if you do,” she said somewhat breathlessly. “That would even give me time to get a special dress and a bouquet.”
“Do you want to get married at your church?”
“No, at the courthouse,” Allie said without hesitation. “I don’t want to have a church wedding unless our families can be there. Maybe we could just have a reception sometime later, when they can all be with us?”
“That sounds good. Let’s get some sleep right now, though,” he said, giving her a quick kiss on the nose and a gentle push toward the stairs that led to her door. “Good night.”
Allie was suddenly tempted to throw herself into his arms instead of returning to her apartment for yet another night alone. She turned toward the stairs, but didn’t actually move. “Good night?” she called over her shoulder instead.
He must have heard the question in her voice. “Good night.” His voice was almost stern, but he smiled as he pointed at the stairs that led to her door. She smiled back at him, took a first step up and was just as suddenly glad that she had. She flew up the rest of the flight before she could change her mind.
Gabe watched her until the door shut and took her out of view. How was she to know he stood there until she had locked her apartment door securely and settled into bed with Marmalade curled against her back? How was she to know the thought that echoed through his mind all the way back to his own home?
Not telling her is OK. It is. She will never need to know. Never.
INSIDE THE STORY:
• Allie’s middle name is Elizabeth, which makes her full name Allison Elizabeth Bennett. Jane Austen fans will get this small bit of homage, even with the extra “T.” Mr. Darcy. Happy sigh.
• The Ohio River — and its bridges and adjacent Wheeling Heritage Trail — is practically a character in this book. Wheeling, once positioned at the edge of European American’s western frontier, is peaceful enough now. But, the exact stretch of riverbank Gabe and Allie frequent has seen bloody conflicts between Native Americans and Europeans, Revolutionary War action between colonists and the British and murderous river piracy. The path to today’s city was a long and complicated one.
• 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