SUSPENDED AGGRAVATION: Chapter 24 Nora Edinger July 12, 2020 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 24 Location: Wheeling General Hospital, 40.0637° N, 80.7200° W Emotion: “She’s a mystery girl.” “Why are there feds outside your door?” This time, it was Isabella asking the question, Isabella fussing over the casts and the rest. Little Francesca, one hand in her mother’s firm grip, watched their extended greeting warily. “Gabe mentioned something about them being here to keep photographers away,” Allie finally answered from her bed after a round of air kisses. She gave a bright smile to the toddler, determined to win the little darling over. “Hi, sweetie. Thank you for coming all the way up from Charleston to see Auntie Allie.” Francesca wasn’t buying it. She turned away, with surprisingly dramatic flair for a 2-year-old. This was apparently going to take some time. Allie sighed. The powers that be had decided she’d sat up in her wheelchair long enough for one day. That was good. She was bordering on exhaustion. Who knew broken bones could actually make you tired? They had also decided she had to keep the IV port in her hand until she left the hospital, just in case her intended switch to over-the-counter pain medication didn’t work as well as she hoped it would. No one at the hospital seemed quite as worried about the painkiller abuse that had become the scourge of Appalachia as she was. That puzzled Allie. She’d written too much about it — and the heroin that the addicted had now switching to — to feel comfortable using such powerful drugs for a minute longer than absolutely necessary. “Where is your husband, by the way?” Isabella asked, settling into a chair next to Allie. Francesca hovered at the side of the bed, still on foot. “He went home for a shower and some fresh clothes.” “He left you here alone!” Isabella exclaimed. “My pastor and his wife and my friend Brianna popped by just a few minutes ago and Gabe will be back soon,” Allie laughed. “I’m going to have to get used to being alone, anyway. It sounds like I’m going to be here or at Kensington Rehab for the next several weeks. He has to go back to work.” “Sweetie,” Isabella replied, “you are a Morelli now. You have enough family to keep you company 24-7 if that’s what you want.” Allie laughed. She knew Isabella wasn’t exaggerating. “I’ll keep that in mind.” “Oh, I forgot,” Isabella said, suddenly digging into her handbag. “I brought you some socks.” Isabella stood, pulled up the bottom of Allie’s blanket and carefully rolled a fleecy hot pink sock covered in emojis onto Allie’s right foot then her left. “I broke my lower leg in high school and I remember my toes were always cold.” Allie wiggled her toes, watching the smiling, frowning and winking faces now there flutter a whole day’s worth of emotions back at her. “Thanks,” she laughed. “They were cold.” Francesca, in the meantime, pressed the women’s distraction with each other to her full advantage, choosing that moment to bite Allie’s thumb. Soundly. You little varmint. Allie drew her casted arm closer, checked her thumb for blood, found none and decided to say nothing. She just shot the toddler the stink eye. Francesca gave it back, and then some. Allie blinked first. “Dominic thinks you two should file some sort of lawsuit, just to make a point.” Isabella was up and checking out the excellent view of Wheeling’s downtown from the window. No wonder she hadn’t seen the attack, Allie mused. “What? Oh.” Allie kept one eye on Francesca as she responded. “Who would we sue, Isabella? The driver who hit us was just trying to avoid someone who crossed the street in front of her, from what we’ve heard. She wasn’t trying to take our picture.” “She wasn’t. But, somebody in another car was, according to the news. If we can’t find him, we could try to go after one of the photographers that took the other pictures. It wouldn’t amount to anything, damages wise. We’d probably never even be able to prove who the photographers were. But, it would send a message that you’re not just going to take this lying down.” “That might be about all I can do,” Allie said slowly, gesturing with her head at the bed she was in. “I’m sorry,” Isabella said immediately. “I didn’t mean it to sound that way.” “I know. This is just pretty overwhelming. I can’t do anything for myself. And, I mean anything. I’m just glad Gabe won’t be the one taking care of me.” “He would, you know.” “I know he would. But, I sure wouldn’t like it.” Allie shuddered at the thought of Gabe having to feed her and otherwise care for her most personal needs. It was unimaginable. “Me, either,” Isabella admitted with a bit of a shudder of her own. “I can’t stay long. I need to run by my parents’ house, too, while I’m here in Wheeling. I just came up to tell you guys that we love you and that we’ll help however we can. Is there anything I can do for you before I go?” Allie hesitated. “Can you look up something for me on your phone?” she asked shyly. “Sure,” Isabella said, pulling a glittery smart phone out of her bag. “What do you need? Some sort of doc-in-a-box site for a second opinion?” “No,” Allie said. “Just type in ‘desert sparrow range’ and it should get you to a good site.” Isabella looked at her new cousin quizzically, but did as she was asked. “‘Range’ like an oven? Are you re-doing the kitchen?” “‘Range’ like where the bird lives,” explained Allie, who had been hauled out of bed plenty of pre-dawn mornings to go “adventuring” with her bird-enthusiast father. She had all sorts of unusual avian jargon and knowledge up her sleeve as a result. “Let’s see,” Isabella said, swishing her finger across the phone’s screen several times. “Here it is. It says desert sparrows live in North Africa. And, there’s a sub-species that lives in the Middle East.” She rattled off a short list of nations. Allie blew out a long breath. “It says the Berbers consider it good luck if one nests in the walls of their home.” Isabella looked up and waved the phone at Allie, who was staring at nothing. “Do you need anything else?” “Yes. Can you tell me about the two policemen that are here in the hall?” Allie asked. “Are you sure they’re feds. They’re not state police or city police?” Isabella pondered this for a moment, her legal-eagle brain clearly clicking into gear. “They’re in plain clothes, but they have badges at their belts that they showed when I came to the door. No guns on their hips, but their suit jackets would be enough to cover a holster. They look like feds to me, but they’re scarier looking than what I’m used to down in Charleston. I think you’re quite safe — whoever they are.” “Yes, I’m sure we are safe,” was all Allie said, ignoring Isabella’s obvious curiosity. “Well, tell Gabe we send our love,” Isabella said, obviously reluctant to leave without a full-scale reunion. “I’m sorry we missed him.” At her mother’s urging, Francesca kissed her Auntie Allie on the cheek. Allie was relieved there weren’t any teeth involved this time around. Maybe the little beauty would someday forgive her for stealing Uncle Gabe away. Francesca gave Allie another potent dose of the stink eye as she was gathered into Isabella’s arms. Maybe not. Isabella kissed Allie on both cheeks and swept out the door, the expensive fragrance that accompanied her good-bye lingering for a moment. Allie enjoyed it — so much better than any hospital smell — as she lay still and thought long, Nancy Drew-like thoughts. ♥♥♥ They survived dinner. Gabe managed to smuggle in two giant burgers, French fries and strawberry milkshakes. Allie ate only half of what he’d brought for her, realizing she was probably going to have to watch her weight for the first time in her life given how inactive she was going to be. They survived the ordeal of getting her ready for bed. Finally, Allie lay neatly tucked under her sheet and a thin, pale-green blanket, listening to her husband splashing around in the adjoining bathroom in his own nighttime routine. She was still astonished they were married. I am married to Gabe Morelli. She smiled. He was singing a bit now, a praise song they had sung at church on Sunday — a million years ago. His singing was quite terrible. The rest of him was in no way terrible, however, Allie instantly decided when he reappeared in their room, a T-shirt in his hand rather than on his body. She’d seen him in a couple layers of hospital gowns yesterday — he’d flatly refused the single-gown, back-flapping-open option — but this was way less. He was wearing nothing except plaid boxers, the Velco-laden cast that had replaced his hand splint late in the afternoon and a stretchy wrap around his ribs. And, the nose strip, of course. Wow. Even with medical issues, grown-up Gabe Morelli was definitely even better than high school Gabe Morelli. “I thought I’d show you the tattoo,” he said, moving closer and turning to give her a view of his back and the blue-black compass that covered much of his right shoulder blade. Wow, again. “I’d just as soon leave it there,” he continued. “But, if you really hate it, I’ll get it removed at some point.” He turned his head to look at her over the tattooed side of him. “What do you think?” “Fine,” is all she could manage to squeak out in reply. “Fine.” “‘Fine’ like you-can-live-with-it ‘fine?’” Gabe said in a teasing tone, turning to face her again. He waggled his eyebrows. “Or, ‘fine’ like the ‘fine’ you told Nurse Margaret all about?” “Who is Nurse Margaret?” “Oh, you don’t remember all that?” Gabe laughed. He bent down to kiss her —brilliantly. He tweaked her toes through her brightly colored socks, as if noticing them for the first time, then stood upright. “Does that help?” “That was quite lovely,” Allie sputtered, suddenly quite out of breath. “You still don’t remember Nurse Margaret, do you?” “No.” Gabe chuckled, then winced. “I’ll tell you about it sometime when it doesn’t hurt so much to laugh.” “There is something else you could tell me about now,” Allie said sweetly, seizing the opening he had inadvertently provided. “What’s that, African Queen,” Gabe asked, trailing still more kisses along her hairline and onto the tops of her ears. Allie enjoyed his touch. She really enjoyed his touch. But, she was in no way deterred from her mission. She wanted answers. “You told me about the tattoo, Gabe. You even told me about the women. Why didn’t you tell me you are a spy?” INSIDE THE STORY: •Allie expresses concern about opioid pain killers in this chapter. No West Virginia journalist could do otherwise. This state — whose bombardment with the prescription pills has led to multiple lawsuits filed by its attorney general — has the highest death rate in the nation from opioid overdoses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates more than 750,000 Americans have died from such drug overdoses since 1999. PREVIOUS CHAPTER NEXT CHAPTER • 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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