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 34

Location: Gabe’s and Allie’s home, 40°04’33.9″N, 80°41’04.1″W

Emotion: “Look at the skies, they have stars in their eyes on this lovely belle notte.”

Gabe arrived at Allie’s room on Mildred’s heels. Michelle left nearly as quickly. It was almost like a changing of the guard. Michelle claimed she needed to give Allie’s Centre Market apartment one last “going over” before they turned in the keys to the landlord. Gabe knew she was just giving them some time to be sort of alone, and was thankful his mom was so much cooler now than she had been when he was a teen. 

When did that happen?

“You look so beautiful,” he said to Allie, ignoring a snort of disgust from Mildred’s side of the curtain. “High heels and pink toe nails, huh? I wish I could take you somewhere more fun than Eats Side Deli. I want to show you off.”

“Just leaving the building is fun,” Allie giggled. “This is only the second time I’ve been out in a month.”

Gabe smiled. Allie still had no idea that Tony and Mike had installed a wheelchair ramp in addition to all the other stuff that was going on at the house. Or that she wasn’t just going out to eat tonight. She was going home, at least for long enough to check out the co-mingling of their furnishings for herself.

His phone rang. It was Brianna. Already. There were several pictures of furniture and one of a “funky” poster from the Wheeling Artisan Center that Brianna had purchased and framed as a housewarming gift and wanted Allie to see and pass judgment on before hanging it in the kitchen. And, on and on it went. Allie and Gabe chatted on one side of the curtain. Mildred grumbled on the other. And, Brianna phoned in about every 15 minutes with either a question or a photo of something “absolutely critical.” The last contact from Brianna, however, was a text for Gabe’s eyes only.

Wheeling Artisan Center

The Artisan Center in downtown Wheeling.

We’re ready. 

Gabe looked at his watch — 3:57 p.m. Brianna Reed was clearly a force of nature.

Allie figured it out as soon as they left Kensington Rehab’s front door. Gabe turned to the right, as if they were going to the deli. Then, he playfully swung her wheelchair into wheelie mode and headed the opposite way.

“Are we going to the house?” she squealed. When he nodded, he had to put a restraining hand on her shoulder to make sure Allie stayed in the wheelchair. “I feel like I’m getting out of jail,” she squealed again, adding some joyful claps this time. “But, how will I get inside? You shouldn’t try to carry me with your wrist in a brace and all my braces, too. I’m too heavy.”

“You’re not too heavy. Dad and Mike put in a temporary ramp anyway. You’ll need that for a while, even when you come home to stay.”

“Oh, Gabe. Thank you!”

Gabe bent down to kiss his wife right then and again when they arrived at the house. “I’m just glad to have you home, Mrs. Morelli.”

OK, he would have rather had her home without an audience, he realized as soon as they were greeted by about a dozen people seconds later. He sighed. They might technically be home, but they clearly weren’t home free quite yet. He couldn’t even get Allie up the ramp and into the house safely without his dad’s help. Gabe didn’t quite trust his grip on the wheelchair given his injuries. So, he opted to enjoy the endless rounds of Morelli-Martin-Reed hugs and scores of Allie’s first-floor touring and teary-eyed, “Oh, thank you’s” and “everything is so beautiful’s” that the next hour or so brought. 

Later, he reminded himself every 10 minutes or so. Soon, he breathed when the last of the pack filed out and he, Allie, Brianna and Mark — big surprise there, Gabe smiled to himself — were the only ones left. They headed toward the ramp to walk to the deli. They really were going to dinner.

“Wait.” Allie leaned forward in her chair to take a last wistful look at their ridiculously cheerful kitchen before Gabe shut the door. He knew she was on the brink of tears. Gabe wasn’t far behind — knowing that he had to take her back to the rehab center, even after she added, “I can’t wait to come home for keeps,” complete with a quivering lower lip. 

If Mark and Brianna hadn’t been waiting at the bottom of the ramp to help, he would have wheeled his wife right back into the house. They could make it work. Somehow.

“Ahem.” Brianna raised her eyebrows at him as if she had guessed his thoughts. Gabe smiled back at her and resignedly pushed Allie into the alley — with help.

“I can’t wait to have you home for keeps, either,” he whispered, bending low to speak into Allie’s ear as they walked to the deli. He added a kiss and another soft buzz to the comment just because he felt like it. The giggle she gave in response would have to be enough for now.

♥♥♥

Back at Kensington Rehab…

“How did that happen so fast?” Allie seemed amazed at how well her friend and Gabe’s cousin seemed to be getting along over dinner. 

Gabe was pretty surprised himself. Mark the kind-of-uptight accountant and Brianna the PR pro had unwound to the point they actually shared a cupcake with a single fork at one point. It was not unlike the spaghetti scene from “Lady and the Tramp.” Weird. And a little disgusting. Allie had had to kick him under the table with her good leg to prevent him from laughing out loud. 

“You would have thought they had known each other for months instead of hours,” Allie exclaimed. 

“Maybe she had it on that check list on her clipboard,” Gabe suggested. “You know: ‘Install curtains in bathroom, check. Put glass shelves and pots of herbs in kitchen window, check. Fall in love with hot Italian financial analyst who happens to now be related to my best friend, check.’”

Allie gave her husband the best goodnight kiss she could manage given the fact she was already back in her hospital bed. “Knowing Brianna, that’s an actual possibility,” she giggled. “Do you think they’ll be OK?”

“Why not? We are,” Gabe murmured, tucking Allie’s blankets tightly to her sides and taking his goodnight kiss so far beyond “best” they had to stop just to catch their breath. “Maybe it’s something in the Wheeling water.”

INSIDE THE STORY:

• The Wheeling Artisan Center is a real shop operated by Wheeling Heritage, which also publishes this online magazine. Wheeling Heritage is charged by the National Park Service to tell the story of this city’s rich colonial, migrational and industrial history while helping maintain a vibrant living community. The shop’s stock includes local art, food products and clothing with Wheeling and West Virginia flair. Need honeycomb, art glass, a Mothman T-shirt? It’s the place.

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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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