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 23

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

Emotion: “Taking care of business — every way.”

 “Why are there two men outside your door? Are they policemen?”

The questions were reasonable. Gabe just wished his mom hadn’t asked them.

“There are policemen here?” Allie echoed, already sounding tired even though they had just had a late breakfast. 

His bride was clearly worn out from a morning that had already included a fleet of medical workers getting her bathed, fed and sitting up in a wheelchair. It had been an ordeal. Gabe had left their room several times just to give her a bit of privacy. That’s how he found out about the two “policemen” part of keeping them, “locked up like Fort Knox.” 

That’s also how he found out about an insurance “peculiarity” he was trying to shelve far at the back of his mind for the moment. An administrative type from Wheeling General had nabbed him in the waiting room. Allie had been added to his health insurance policy as of midnight on Friday. That he knew. He’d done the paperwork himself. The part he didn’t know about is that her policy through the newspaper had ended as of 12:01 a.m. Friday. That quirk meant the first 24 hours of her medical care — including multiple hours of orthopedic surgery that evening — was their personal responsibility. 

“You may want to consider suing the driver that hit you,” the hospital administrator suggested, her tone somehow foreshadowing a bill that would be staggering. It was sobering news to a guy wearing nothing but a couple of hospital gowns — one front facing, one back facing — and socks with rubbery strips on their soles.

Lord. Have. Mercy.

Gabe sighed heavily, then noticed his parents and Allie were all staring at him. His mind flipped back to the moment at hand — parents in the room and “policemen” at the door.

Lord. Have. Mercy. Squared.

 His mother’s eyes opened so widely the whites showed top and bottom, at the edge of both lids. Her query was apparently forgotten. “Gabriel Anthony! Your face!” Then Michelle looked at Allie, truly taking in the various pieces of medical exo-skeleton and bruises in a single, horrified glance. “Oh! Oh, baby, no.”

Gabe ran through their laundry list of injuries for his parents while Michelle stood by Allie and smoothed down her new daughter-in-law’s still-wet hair, adding a few tears of sympathy to the dampness. Tony rubbed his jaw with one hand and pulled a pen out of his shirt pocket before Gabe was done speaking. His dad got a paper towel from the dispenser near the door and sat down, clearly intent on making a list. “OK. What do you need us to do?”

“May I have my glasses?” Allie asked immediately. “I won’t be wearing contacts for quite a while since I can’t use my hands much. I don’t even know what happened to the ones I was wearing. My glasses were in my purse, but I don’t know where that went either.”

“They have it at the nurses’ station,” Gabe said, trying to concentrate on his dad’s list, but overwhelmed with gratitude for his parents’ quick acceptance of not only their circumstances but their marriage. Even though they hadn’t said anything, he knew them well enough to tell any anger that was there last night had dissipated as soon as they had walked in the door and seen their injuries. Allie was a Morelli and Morellis stick together, especially in a time of need. That was that.

The glasses were about the only thing that could be handled in the hospital. Onto the list went such other tasks as getting the keys to Allie’s apartment in Centre Market out of her purse and someone going to her home to figure out some kind of long-term care for Marmalade the cat and a variety of house plants and to tend to the perishable items in her refrigerator. And, on and on. They needed to move his truck and her car, both of which were still at the Ohio County Courthouse — and likely smothered in parking tickets if they hadn’t already been towed. Tony and his brother would do the vehicle stuff immediately, he said. Gabe said he could take care of his other most pressing needs himself.

wheeling courthouse

“I’m supposed to be discharged soon. I’m going to go home for a shower and to put on some real clothes, but I’m going to be sleeping here until Allie is transferred to Kensington Rehab,” Gabe said. “That probably won’t happen until Monday, according to the doctor. I’m going to have to go back to work at least part time not long after that. It’s going to be tough. The rehab center is right by my house but, between work and Allie, I probably won’t be home very much for several weeks. Speaking of home, Allie, when is your apartment lease up?”

“Not until September.”

Gabe sighed in relief. “Well, we don’t need to worry about moving your furniture immediately at least.”

A nurse popped her head in the room at that point. “You guys are on TV if you want to watch.” At their round of nods, she used the remote on Allie’s bed railing to turn to a national news program. None other than Dr. Sanjay Walla, their mutual orthopedist, was wrapping up the one-time-only media update Gabe and Allie had authorized early in the day. It was a brief statement, just acknowledging that their injuries were extensive, but that they were expected to make a full but slow recovery. Then, the good doctor surprised them all.

“I want to add something on a personal note,” Dr. Walla said in an accent that was a delightful mix of Indian and British notes. “In the last 24 hours or so, it has been a privilege to treat this couple. The Morellis are two of the most exceptionally decent young people I have ever met. It offends me that others’ inappropriate obsession with their private life has put them both in the hospital and is going to make them suffer a great deal of pain for several months. This should offend any honorable person. Leave them alone.”

The three Morellis in room 402A of Wheeling General Hospital who could actually do so applauded. Allie said, “Hear, hear,” in such a British way that Gabe had to either choke back yet another laugh or do a bit of feather ruffling. He picked feather ruffling. 

“Hear, hear? Hey, I can’t have you going all prim and proper on me again, African Queen,” he whispered before making a gentle buzzing sound in her ear. He was going for bumble bee or honey bee or some kind of bee. He must have achieved it. She blushed a delightful pink and it turned out he had to smother a laugh, as well.

Tony watched the brief exchange and no doubt wondered what on earth his son could possibly have said or done to make his bride look so, well, bridal given the circumstances. Gabe swallowed still another laugh when he noticed his father’s raised eyebrows. “Don’t ask,” he mouthed silently.

His dad just smiled and shook his head.

♥♥♥

“Why are there cops outside your door?” This time, the question came from Mike, who arrived an hour or so after Michelle and Tony left.

“Long story,” and a shrug was all Gabe offered.

Mike accepted the statement with nothing but an eye roll, then fussed over their injuries for a few seconds before doing exactly what Gabe’s dad had done. He was clearly on board with the marriage, as well. “What do you need me to do?”

Gabe decided to go for the furniture move while he had willing bodies — even if that meant Allie’s apartment sat empty for quite a while. He certainly wasn’t going to be hauling anything anytime soon.

“You could ask Pastor Martin for help, too,” Allie suggested. “He’s got three teenage sons who are almost as tall as he is.” Phone numbers, keys and extensive directions were exchanged. Allie had a bit of a frown on her face, though.

“What’s wrong? Do you need more pain medication?” Gabe had noticed Allie seemed to already be trying to wean herself from the massive doses she’d been getting by IV.

“Not right now,” she said. “But, can you call my friend Brianna Reed to arrange the furniture and stuff when it actually gets to your house?”

“Our house.”

Allie smiled. “Our house. She and I were roommates for a couple of years. She’ll know how I would want things to look. Or, she’ll ask me first if she doesn’t.”

“You mean you don’t want Mike and the Martin boys hanging paintings and arranging furniture?”

“Not particularly,” she said with a grin.

“Done.”

Gabe, having been discharged in between the two visits, left the same time Mike did, lingering just a moment to kiss his wife. “Are you sure you’ll be OK while I’m gone?” he whispered into her hair.

“Of course, I’ll be OK. I’m a big girl.” He knew she was lying. It was pretty obvious she wanted to curl up in ball and cry. But, she didn’t. She smiled. “You’ll be coming back soon?”

Gabe smiled back. “Very soon.”

♥♥♥

Location: the newlyweds’ Woodsdale home, 40°04’33.9″N, 80°41’04.1″W

Emotion: “She’s a silver sun. You best walk her way and watch it shine.”

His honeymoon luggage was going back to the hospital with him for the most part. He left that in the truck, which his dad had already managed to get to the hospital so Gabe could drive himself home. In spite of his various aches and pains, getting behind the wheel and onto Wheeling’s streets felt a bit like getting out of jail.

Or not, he decided as he checked the rearview mirror.

In spite of what the man had said on the phone, the shadows weren’t entirely gone, he noticed. One trailed several car lengths behind him in a dark gray sedan that was so inconspicuous it could only be intentional.

Gabe pulled up to the curb in front of their house to grab Allie’s weekend bag out of her car, which was already parked as if it belonged there. He also grabbed a scribbled note out from under the windshield wiper. His dad was taking care of the slew of parking tickets both vehicles had accumulated online.

Woodsdale wheeling

Gabe whispered a “thanks, dad,” to the air and headed inside. He figured he might as well put most of her stuff away and take just the few items she might need back to the hospital in his own suitcase.

Easier said than done, though. He stood in front of the painted dresser in their bedroom and realized he had never shared that kind of personal space with anyone. Would Allie want her own drawers or half of each drawer? He finally decided she’d want her own and opened her bag to put whatever was in there into the top one — four drawers for her, two for him ought to do it. 

Gabe was almost embarrassed at the silky contents he discovered at the top of her suitcase. He re-folded the nightgowns and underclothing and placed them in her drawer as neatly as he could given his injuries, trying to not look at them so he could be genuinely surprised later. 

He sighed. Later. Later. He sighed again as he made his way to the shower, pondering two critical questions. Just how long would it be before he could bring his wife home? And, would he be able to keep her safe once she got here?

INSIDE THE STORY:  

Police presence. Government. Health care costs. Social media vs. privacy. The reason this 2016-originated manuscript reads somewhat real in 2020 is because these issues have been around for a long time. May this difficult season spark the wisdom and courage to change the things we can.

Parking tickets! They happen even in Wheeling. But, while I have no proof, I strongly suspect that the city might forgive them all in a case like this. Choosing rationality over bureaucracy — when that’s what makes sense — is one of the many joys of small-city life.

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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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