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.

CHAPTER 22

       Location: Wheeling General Hospital, 40.0637° N, 80.7200° W

Emotion: “Now I’m lyin’ on the cold, hard ground … Trouble, trouble, trouble.”

The drugs wore off at 3:27 a.m. 

Nurse Margaret had been right. Allie was no longer perky. It was the quiet desperation of her, “I’m going to be sick,” that was enough to wake Gabe up. The alarming cry that followed that statement had him valiantly struggling to disentangle himself from his sheets to get to her.

Allie, apparently awakened by intense queasiness, had shot straight up in her bed, forgetting her injuries until the pain her sudden movements caused stopped her cold. Gabe managed to get a nearly empty water pitcher in front of her face just in time. Then, he had to set it down before he could press the call button. This one-handed thing was going to be a real pain, he could already tell.

“She’s getting sick,” he said into the speaker on her bed’s railing.

The nurse that had been waking him every couple of hours to monitor his concussion by checking his eyes with a penlight came in immediately. It took a while, but she got Allie cleaned up and settled her back into bed, reassuring them both throughout the process that nausea was not uncommon after surgery. 

She gave Gabe the dose of over-the-counter painkiller he had requested in lieu of the stronger stuff and draped a wire from Allie’s bed over to him. She told him he could press a button to send more pain medication through Allie’s IV tubes whenever she requested it. Then, she went about making everything else right, whisking the offending pitcher away and setting both a new one and an empty basin on the rolling table between their beds in case it was needed again. 

“Do you think you’re done for now?” she asked Allie before she left. “You probably don’t have anything left in your tummy.”

His wife nodded. She didn’t start to cry until the nurse was gone. Gabe managed to lower her bed railing with his good hand and his knee. He perched precariously on the narrow edge of her mattress and wiped the tears from her cheeks with his fingers as they fell.

“It’s OK,” he whispered.

“No, it isn’t. I’m a m-mess. I don’t want you to see me like this.”

Gabe smiled wearily. “I’ve seen vomit before. I think I’ll survive.”

Allie cried some more. He dried those tears, as well, then traced her features, tugging gently at the corners of her lips with his fingertips until she gave him a small smile in return. The smile didn’t last for long. “It’s our wedding night. We’re supposed to be in Canaan Valley,” she whispered sadly. “This isn’t … this is just awful.”

“You know, I was thinking about that yesterday while I was waiting for you to come back from surgery,” Gabe said, smoothing her hair from her face. “If it hadn’t been for all this Internet craziness, there’s no way we’d be married yet. We’d have just started dating, Allie. This stinks. It really, really stinks. But, it will give us a chance to get to know each other better and learn to work together as a couple right from the start of our marriage. This could be a good thing.”

“Getting the ‘for worse’ and ‘in sickness’ vows on the table straight away is a good thing?” Allie smiled in spite of her obvious discomfort.

“Well, when you put it like that…” Gabe laughed, then turned quite serious. “I meant all the promises I made today or yesterday or whenever it was we got married, African Queen. To have and to hold. In sickness and in health. For better or for worse. ’Til death do us part.” He paused. “Was there anything else?”

“For richer or for poorer,” Allie suggested.

“Let’s hope we won’t have to test that one out anytime soon,” he said with a small laugh. “But, I meant that, too.” 

Wheeling Hospital

Gabe did his best to put the questions about when either of them would be getting back to work and just how much of all this their medical insurance would actually cover out of his mind for the moment. Her surgery alone had to be astronomical in cost. No doubt some administrative type would be in soon enough to talk about policy numbers and the like.

“Do you need more pain medicine?” He leaned over to his bed, put his thumb on the medication button and pressed it twice when she nodded. Then, he kissed her lightly on the nose and went back to his own bed. “Let’s try to get back to sleep. Do you want me to tell you a story?”

Allie laughed softly. “A bedtime story?”

“That’s right,” Gabe laughed. “A honeymoon bedtime story.”

Her eyes shot open. He could see them glitter in the darkness. “I’m guessing this is not going to be a fairy tale,” was all she said.

Gabe laughed again. “We’re over 18, African Queen. Shhh. Just listen.” 

They lay quietly in the darkness — a good six feet apart, but there wasn’t anything he could do to fix that. If she wondered what he might possibly say, she didn’t say anything herself. He was quite sure she didn’t expect him to tell her about birds. She certainly couldn’t have expected him to describe an elaborate courtship ritual he had once witnessed in a story that was straightforward enough for a middle school science class and yet was so full of love and longing that he hoped it left her breathless.

“Did you like my story?” Gabe eventually asked, unsure if she was still awake given her complete stillness.

“I loved your story, Mr. Morelli,” she said, breathlessly enough to make him smile. “I love you.” 

“I love you, too, Mrs. Morelli.” Saying that left him a little breathless. “I’ll save the bee story for another night,” he added mischievously. 

It took only a second for Allie to giggle in reply. Gabe smiled into the darkness once again.

INSIDE THE STORY:

•As “Suspended Aggravation” is unfolding in an alternative-yet-real-time version of Wheeling, COVID-19 is not a part of the story. You’re welcome! ☺ There are some common themes, however, that were not pre-planned as this manuscript began life in 2016. Just like the rest of us, Gabe and Allie are facing sudden life disruption, separation, economic uncertainty and a need for a quality health care system. 

•To keep things timely, though, I plan to keep sneaking in tiny references to the humorous side of the pandemic. There is one in this chapter. Did you find it?

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• 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.

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