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.
Emotion: “She’s so afraid to kiss and so afraid to laugh.”
Allie hugged Mr. B so tightly to her chest she could feel the stuffed bunny’s glass eyes pressing little indentations into her skin.
She and Gabe had talked enough before he’d left the night before to make their goodnight kiss feel awkward. On his side, there were no real details, just vague words suggesting she couldn’t possible understand a world full of danger and the things that sometimes have to be done to counter it. On her side, she had practically blasted back with the fact that, as a veteran journalist with the Wheeling Tribune, she knew all about gray — murderers whose circumstances made her want to weep rather than condemn, victors who made her want to come out swinging.
Talk they did. But, she was unable to give his mysterious past work the blessing he was obviously seeking and it felt like a thick curtain had fallen between them.
And, if all that wasn’t enough, Gabe had suddenly revealed their insurance conundrum during their conversation. Hours of surgery, ambulance transport and what would count as a day of Wheeling General care with absolutely no coverage. He’d apparently known about this from nearly the beginning and hadn’t wanted to “worry” her. She was worried now —and about a lot more than money.
Secrets and more secrets.Will I ever be able to trust this man?
Allie pondered Gabe’s parting words — a repeat of his promise from the florist card, the one that now seemed to have arrived on her desk at the Wheeling Tribune in another lifetime. “I will never walk away from you again,” he had promised in both cases. Yet, this morning, there was no typical morning visit. No Gabe at all.
Where is he?
Allie sat in her wheelchair bordering on panic. Had he already changed his mind?
Location: Gabe’s and Allie’s Woodsdale home, 40°04’33.9″N, 80°41’04.1″W
Emotion: “My father’s house shines hard and bright.”
Gabe checked his watch for the umpteenth time, but knew he couldn’t end this call. It was Hugh Bennett, Allie’s father. There was no way he was going to make it to the rehab center before work. This morning, of all mornings, when he desperately needed to be there and talking things through with his wife, not hanging around the house with Marmalade slinking between and around his feet in a figure eight.
“My wife is having a relapse of malaria, Mr. Morelli,” Hugh explained. “That is why our Simon had such a difficult time locating us. We’ve been staying at a small clinic in an equally small village for more than a week so that she could rest. We are very concerned about our daughter, but I don’t expect Mary to be able to make such a long trip for some time and I don’t feel that I can leave her here. You’re quite sure Allison is doing well?”
“Allie is as well as can be expected, considering her injuries,” Gabe said, hoping he had understood everything Hugh was saying correctly. The connection wasn’t the greatest and, between the man’s British accent and what sounded like greater age than Gabe would have expected Allie’s father to have, it was a challenge. “The doctor said her bones are healing well and she’s doing a good job of keeping her strength up with the physical therapy. She’ll be coming home pretty soon, I hope.”
“Very good,” Hugh said. Then, he lowered the boom. “I must say, we were quite surprised to hear from Simon that the two of you are already married. This seems rather sudden. Very sudden, indeed.”
That statement was clear enough. Gabe could actually feel the heat rise around his neck at the ever-so-gentlemanly confrontation. He wouldn’t have been entirely surprised if Hugh called him out for a duel, but Gabe managed to sound calm enough when he explained a little about his friendship with Allie in high school and how they had actually met years ago. It was clear Allie had never made any mention of him at home, at least to her dad. He wasn’t surprised. It’s not like he had gone around discussing her with anyone at the time.
Subscribe to Weelunk
“Allison’s mother and I still don’t understand why the two of you felt you needed to marry in such haste,” Hugh responded. Then, he lowered another boom. “Unless Allison is expecting, of course. Is that the case?”
“No!” Gabe exclaimed, kicking himself for not having anticipated this kind of conversation.“She is absolutely not expecting. We haven’t … The car accident happened just a few minutes after our wedding.”
“Good,” Hugh said smoothly. He lowered a third boom. “There will be no problem getting an annulment, then, should the current trials you are facing bring a change of heart.”
OK. Now Gabe was mad. How many booms did this stupid boat have anyway? “There will be no change of heart, Mr. Bennett,” he said coolly.
Gabe’s nostrils actually flared.
“OK, Hugh,” he said, still maintaining a complete calmness of tone. “I realize our marriage has taken you by surprise. But, you need to know I love your daughter very much and I am going to love her for the rest of my life. I plan to make a home with her and have your grandchildren with her and sit on our porch with her someday rocking our own grandchildren to sleep. Allie is my wife and I am her husband. Until death do us part. There is not going to be an annulment.”
“That was a very pretty speech, Mr. Morelli.”
Aaaarghhhhhh. Gabe gritted his teeth. “Gabe is fine.”
Hugh didn’t miss a beat. “Gabe, then. Is it possible my daughter feels differently given all that has happened?”
Gabe counted to eleven before he answered. “I believe Allie takes the covenant we made with each other and with God just as seriously as I do.”
“We shall see,” Hugh Bennett said before abruptly ending the call.
Gabe — who had no idea Hugh was now smiling in deep satisfaction and already quoting his new son-in-law to Mary — was simply glad his father-in-law was on the other side of the world. He was also glad he was going straight to the construction site at the Fort Henry Bridge to start his workday. Maybe the contractor would give him a turn with the sledgehammer.
Emotion: “I look inside myself and see my heart is black.”
“I remember you,” Belle the florist said with a wide grin. Her hair was streaked with green this morning instead of pink or red or whatever had made her head look bloody the last time he was there — a million years ago. Grinch green. This was even worse, Gabe thought, not unlike moldy cheese.
“I’m guessing you need more idiot flowers,” she said.
Gabe smile was tight-lipped. It really was quite the morning. “If I order a large bouquet of daisies, can they be delivered to Kensington Rehab this morning?”
“For you, cutie,” Belle said with a wink, “I’ll drive them over myself.”
Gabe grimace-smiled again, scribbled a quick note and paid a ridiculous amount of money for the flowers. He was half tempted to skip the full slate of morning meetings he faced at work to spring Allie from rehab. He wondered how far he could push her wheelchair before anyone would notice she was gone. Then, he wondered if she would willingly go anywhere with him. Even worse, he wondered if she might not find the idea of an annulment acceptable — or even appealing.
He figured that was what he should expect. He was Gabe Morelli, after all, not some good-guy husband like Hugh or “our Simon.”
Yes. You. Are.
Great, Gabe thought. Now, I’m hearing voices. He headed for work, hoping it was only the lingering effects of the concussion.
INSIDE THE STORY:
•As I finished editing this chapter, Wheeling’s beautiful Fort Henry Bridge over the Ohio River, was two-toned. The westbound side is now a deep blue. The eastbound side is the original seafoam green. Our massive bridge upgrade (24 of 26 interstate bridges at the same time!) has been a long haul, but the paint change is a reminder that major progress is being made.
• 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.