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 26

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

Emotion: “You and me could write a bad romance.”

“You guys are trending,” Brianna said. At least that’s what Allie thought her best friend said. It wasn’t easy to hear with Michelle holding the phone to her ear. It never seemed to be quite in the right place. It didn’t help that Brianna herself was using a hands-free phone set up while en route to a conference on behalf of Oglebay.

“What do you mean we’re trending?” Allie asked, her lingering concerns about Gabe’s secret past giving way to a more immediate fear. Who knew what horrid information might be out on the Internet now? She hoped there weren’t any pictures of the accident scene. Her parents certainly didn’t need to find out what had happened to them like that.

“It was your doctor’s comments,” Brianna explained. “People are picking up on his ‘leave them alone’ statement and using it as a hashtag. A couple of entertainment shows are even asking viewers to do that. And, they’re refusing to use any pictures of you guys or even say your names or the term ‘Bridge BAE’z’ on the air.

 “Hey, maybe Lady Gaga will start using the hashtag. That would put you into the trending stratosphere.”

Allie frowned at that bizarrely real possibility. The musician had deep ties to the Wheeling area. But, would a Lady Gaga assist help or hurt? Who knew? Whatever the case, she was certainly glad to hear it was becoming cool for people to mind their own business.

A nurse came in just then and pointed at Allie and the wheelchair. “I have to go, Brianna. Thanks again for helping us get the house in order.”

“Hey, that kind of thing is pure fun for me,” Brianna said. “Just let me know what time the guys are bringing the furniture and I’ll be there to tell them where to put it.”

Brianna was a firebrand. Even though she was surprisingly supportive of their marriage now that it had actually happened, Allie had a sneaking suspicion Gabe and the guys might want to tell the petite redhead where she could put a sock by the end of the day. She smiled at the sheer humor of the possibility and mouthed a “thank you” at Michelle as the conversation closed.

It wasn’t just a nurse who wanted Allie’s attention, they soon found out. There was also a physical therapist. He wanted Allie to move into a wheelchair for a while, “to help prevent blood clots and keep your vitals in good shape,” he said. It hurt like crazy to maneuver out of the bed and into the chair, but she did it. Once she was seated, the young man wheeled her into the bathroom and showed her how she could better use her casted hand to do a few everyday activities for herself. 

“You’ll be in a removable brace in just a couple of weeks,” he said. “That will make a big difference in the activities of daily life.”

Activities of daily life, indeed. Allie barely suppressed a shudder.

Michelle joined them in the tiny bathroom, standing at her elbow, saying, “Be careful, baby,” every few seconds.

Gabe returned from his quick trip to the house in the middle of this hubbub. “Look,” Allie yelled from the bathroom. “I can brush my teeth all by myself!”

“Very cool,” he said with another choking noise. He really was going to have to do something about those allergies, Allie thought, peeking at him from around the doorframe. There wasn’t any time to suggest such a thing, though. The therapist left her to experiment for a while and Michelle was already gathering up her stuff to go. 

“I’m going to your house to do your laundry,” Michelle announced. “Do you still leave stuff in your pockets, Gabriel Anthony?”

Gabe started to protest. Like pretty much any grown man, he loved his mom, but Allie wasn’t surprised he didn’t want her in his basement and going through his clothes like he was a 10 year old. 

“Get over it,” Michelle said, proving she wasn’t surprised, either. “You need the help.”

“That we do. Thanks, mom,” he said. Allie, peering out at them through the bathroom doorway, could see he was barely managing not to grimace when he spoke the words.

Then, it was her turn. “Allie, baby, do you want me to run down to Centre Market and do your stuff, too, or wait until your friend has everything put away at the house?”

“I did laundry right before the accident, but thank you.” Allie was relieved to be able to say. She gave a small wave to her mother-in-law, then turned back to the mirror in an attempt to expand her repertoire by putting on lipstick. She gave an exaggerated pout. 

Like a Bond girl.

OK. She’d admit it. The spying thing was a little, well, hot. 

Michelle popped back into the bathroom to say goodbye to Allie. Allie winked when Michelle gave a humorous eye roll at the priorities of newlyweds. She nearly laughed when her mother-in-law suggested, “Your wife might need some help in there,” to her son as she walked out the door. 

Allie was definitely going to like this woman.

♥♥♥

“You’re wearing more lipstick than I am,” Allie giggled as she tried to wipe the rosy tint from Gabe’s lips and skin with the fingers of her casted hand. 

Gabe smiled back, charmingly, he hoped. She didn’t seem to care at the moment if he had sneaked into enemy territory in a wetsuit and fins at some point in his life. That boded well, he reflected. He was her husband. Her spying, too-many-women-in-his-past, tattooed husband. But, still her husband.

“You smell so good,” she said, relaxing against her pillows. The nurse had put her back in bed for a rest from her first “outing” not long after Michelle had left. Gabe had sat down by her side with other ideas, however. Rather good ideas, he thought. Allie seemed to agree.

“It’s just soap,” he murmured, leaning closer to press his lips against the curve of her neck.

“I like soap.”

“I like you,” he sighed as he moved north to nibble at one ear. His phone rang just as her giggle lured him back to her mouth. Sigh. It was probably just as well given their location and sad condition, Gabe reluctantly decided. Even before he realized it was Simon. 

“Simon,” he said. “We were just thinking about calling you.”

His surprisingly feisty wife was now tugging at his shirt buttons with her casted hand. “We were?” she teased.

“Behave,” Gabe mouthed, catching her fingers in his own to stop her progress. He brought them to his lips and she giggled again. Well, well. Maybe it wasn’t all anesthesia the other day. 

He stood up and backed several steps away from her with a grin, re-buttoning the two fasteners she had managed to loosen. It was a clumsy process, but he needed his good hand to hold the phone. He nearly laughed at her resulting pout when he managed to get the job done.

“Yes, of course. She’s right here.” He came back to her side to press his phone to her ear.

“Hello, Simon,” Allie said distractedly, playfully walking her fingertips up and down Gabe’s shirtfront again. He grabbed them and held them firmly against his heart.

“Sun…” Gabe heard Simon say and then abruptly stop. Good, the guy had gotten the message. “Allie!” Simon continued. “It’s wonderful to hear your voice sounding so strong. How are you doing?”

“Quite well,” she said. “I even started physical therapy today. Were you able to reach my parents?”

“Not yet. It seems they’ve gone into the villages and, as usual, they don’t seem to have a cell phone anywhere in sight. It may be a couple more days until they’re home.”

Allie sighed. “That’s fine. Thank you for trying.”

“Sylvie and Jean Luc say hello.”

“Hello to them, too.”

For some reason, there didn’t seem to be anything else to say after that. Allie looked at Gabe after a long moment of dead air and shrugged her good shoulder. He got it.

“Simon, this is Gabe again. Allie’s pretty tired. It hasn’t been long since the surgery and I think getting up for a while pretty much wore her out.”

Allie wrinkled her nose at her husband. “I am not tired,” she whispered. But, Gabe noticed her eyelids were actually drooping. He squeezed her fingers, then got up to move toward the window, where he turned his back to her and his face to the broad view of downtown. The Cathedral of St. Joseph stood in stark relief to the bright mid-day sun.

St. Joseph

“Yes, this will be our last night at the hospital,” Gabe told Simon, keeping his voice low. “She’s going to the rehab center sometime tomorrow.”

“Now the really hard work begins,” Simon said. “The long recovery and the physical therapy are going to be tough on her.”

Gabe looked at his wife over his shoulder. She was nearly asleep. “Yes. But, God will help her and so will I.”

How was Gabe to know those words were enough to close a final door between Simon and his once fiancée? Or, that they made the man who had loved Allie for a very long time a little sad? Or, perhaps more surprisingly, that the words made him a lot more relieved? Allie was no longer his to care for. She was simply his friend, which Simon knew without doubt was what she was always meant to be.

Gabe didn’t know any of that. Simon didn’t say any of that. He simply answered with the words that immediately came to his heart. “And, we will pray.”

INSIDE THE STORY:

Lady Gaga actually does have immediate family ties to the Wheeling area. It is not uncommon for local residents to run into her T-shirt-clad self at a local restaurant or the grocery store or, perhaps more surprisingly to some, at church. Alas, I have never seen her. This seems to be a trend for me. I also spent four year in the same small city as rocker John Mellencamp without ever catching a glimpse of him. I may have been the only person in town to make this counter claim. He got around.

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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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