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.
“I M sorry, 2. 4 mny things including bad fone battry. Nvr sorry 4 mrrying U. Talk 2 U a.m. Luv u.”
That was the text that finally came. So late in the evening that Mildred was snoring and Allie was nearly asleep herself. As she deciphered his shorthand, she realized it was the first text she’d had from Gabe since before their wedding. He had obviously figured out that she could hold her own phone again when she texted him early in the day.
I love you, too, she texted back in proper English, the only form of which she was capable. Then, she fell asleep with her phone and Mr. B clutched against her heart.
That’s how she woke up, the phone buzzing her back to consciousness. Allie checked its clock as she answered — 6 a.m.
“Good morning, Mrs. Morelli,” her husband said cheerily.
“Gabe, I’m so sorry,” she whimpered, tearing up once more.
“Shhh, sweetheart. It’s OK,” he soothed. “I get it. Life is just too much sometimes. Maybe a lot of times.”
“It … it scared me when I didn’t hear from you.”
“I know,” Gabe said. “That’s what I was sorry about. My phone battery died and, to be honest, I needed a little time to just figure out how all this is going to work. But, I’m OK now. Are you?”
“I think so,” Allie sniffled. She really needed a hug. “Are you coming in this morning?”
“No. I’m in Charleston.”
OK. That was strange. Gabe hadn’t left Wheeling since the accident. “Are you at Isabella’s?” Allie asked quietly, remembering the wonderful day they had spent at Gabe’s cousins’ joyous, child-filled home.
“Yep. DOH needed me back in the capital for a bit right now so I can be home later while you get settled in.”
“What do you mean?”
“Didn’t anyone there tell you?” Gabe asked in frustration. “The doctor said someone would. You’re coming home Friday.”
Allie squealed so loudly Mildred issued a sharp, “Can it, Blondie,” from under her blankets.
“Oh, Gabe,” Allie cried out anyway. “I’m coming home! I figured it would be soon when they took away the brace and the sling. But, nobody told me anything. You did this, didn’t you? I don’t know how you did it, but thank you. Thank you so much!”
“Trust me, I’m as happy about this as you are,” he said. “I probably won’t see you until then, though. I have some serious catching up to do at work. Text me or call me whenever you want, but I might not always be able to answer right away. It’s not my phone. That’s taken care of. It’s just work. Ordinary work.”
“OK,” Allie said with a happy sigh, latching onto that key word “ordinary.” “I love you, Mr. Morelli.”
“I love you, Mrs. Morelli. I’ll call you again tonight and I’ll see you in just a couple of days.”
Allie hugged the phone to her chest once more and whispered a quick “thank you” toward heaven. She was going home. Home. To her husband. Maybe there would be a happy ending to all this drama after all.
Allie was obviously the only woman on the face of God’s green earth who was embarrassed to enter a Victoria’s Secret. The impromptu bridal shower Gabe’s cousin-in-law Felicity had organized in Kensington Rehab’s common room had already yielded such a pile of racy, lacy stuff it boggled the mind. That some of it was from Michelle only enhanced Allie’s astonishment.
“Hey, I want grandchildren,” was all her mother-in-law had had to say when Allie had peeked at her warily after opening her gift.
And, there were still two packages to go.
“This one’s from Mildred,” Felicity said as she handed Allie one of them.
It weighed too much to be lingerie, Allie noted with relief. It almost felt like a book. That really got Allie’s mind racing, however. She was surprised that Mildred even chose to attend. What kind of a book might she have bought for a bridal shower present? Allie opened the packaging carefully, determined to get a clear look at the title before unveiling it to the party at large. She needn’t have worried, however.
“Sonnets from the Portuguese?!” Allie slid the entire volume out of its wrapping. It was a leather-bound, beautifully illustrated version of the love poems written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her husband and fellow poet Robert Browning.
Allie looked at Mildred, surprised but delighted. “Thank you! I love these poems. ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,’” she quoted the most familiar passage from memory.
“Yeah, yeah,” Mildred said. “I thought you might like it, since you’re a writer. My students always did.”
“Were you a teacher?” Allie asked, even more surprised.
“English professor. Columbia.”
Allie stared at her roommate in shock. Mildred “Cut the Crap” Taylor was a retired English professor? From a university in Manhattan?
“Don’t judge a book by its cover, Blondie,” Mildred said with a smirk.
Duly chastened, Allie moved on to the last package. This one was from Rosie Kirby, the sweet little lady who had welcomed Allie to her dining table when she was new to the rehab center. It was also too heavy to be lingerie, thank God. It wasn’t a book, either. It was, well, a horseshoe. A horseshoe?
“Thank you,” Allie said on British automatic pilot. A memory from a tour of Amish country swam to the surface. “This should bring us good luck, right?”
Rosie laughed. “Maybe, but that wasn’t what I meant it to be. I gave it to you so you could always remember a little story about love and marriage that I wanted to share with you before you leave. There will be days when you might need something like it tucked under your jacket.”
Allie settled back into her wheelchair, quite curious about what the elfin nonagenarian would have to say. The other women in the group seemed to feel a similar impulse. There was a sudden hush as Rosie began speaking again.
“I was only 17 when I got married,” Rosie began. “My Tom was 36.” She laughed her little-girl laugh at the women’s collective gasp. “That’s right. It sounds strange now. It was even a bit strange in my day, but Tom Kirby was a widower with two daughters and a dairy farm over the river, in the outskirts of Barnesville. He needed a wife who could take care of the girls and give him a son or two to take over the farm someday. Marrying a woman his own age just wouldn’t have made any sense.”
“Did you love him?” This was from Allie, who had been a journalist so long that she could ask pretty much anyone about pretty much anything without flinching.
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“Well, let’s just say it didn’t hurt that he was handsome as all get out, what you girls would call a real ‘hottie,’” Rosie said with a wink. They laughed again. “Plus, he had money. He had the best dairy herd in the county and a very pretty farmhouse, in fact.”
The women laughed yet again. “Mr. Knightly and Pemberly!” Allie and Mildred said at the same time. They looked at each other with a mix of shock and awe for a moment before Rosie went on.
“Well, I gave him a son less than a year after we married,” Rosie said. “So, things should have been good, but they weren’t even OK. There I was, just 18 or 19, still a girl myself in many ways. And, I was trying to take care of three girls not that much younger than I was and a baby. On top of that, I was responsible for keeping an entire household running. It was just too much.
“One day, Tom came in for dinner and I’d burnt everything. I was sitting on the porch steps with the baby on my lap and the girls at my sides. We were all crying. Even the baby. Silas was about a year and a half by then I think. I’m not sure who was more exhausting, him or the girls. Or, maybe it was the house. Housework’s no joke, especially on a farm.”
“What did Tom do?” This was from Mildred, who clearly wasn’t afraid to ask questions, either.
“He handed Silas to Amanda, his oldest girl, and told her to feed everybody whatever she could find. Then, he walked me out to the horse barn of all places. I didn’t know what he was about. He didn’t say a word. We just walked there. Then, he took me inside and showed me the new colt that had come just that morning. She was sleek and beautiful and smelled like fresh hay and sunshine.
“‘Rosie,’” my Tom said. ‘I knew I was askin’ a lot from you when I brought you here. You were as much of a baby as little Silas or this colt in some ways and I should have known better. I’d sure like it if you stayed here forever, you’ve become a mighty fine woman. But, that’s got to be up to you.’
“Tom wasn’t a talker unless it was about the cows, or politics. So, I was surprised. Then he asked me the big question,” Rosie continued. “‘Will you stay?’”
Now, a collective sigh rose up, as each of the younger women tried to imagine herself in such a scene. It was almost unfathomable in today’s world — a page out of a Laura Ingalls Wilder book or Little Women.
“What do you ladies think I said?” Rosie asked with a grin.
“You took him up on his offer and left the farm for good!” Mildred offered.
So much for, “Sonnets from the Portuguese.” Allie decided her roommate was clearly not the romantic in the group.
Isabella was, however. “I think you gave your man a Mama Mia kiss and removed all doubt,” she suggested.
“Says the woman who is expecting her sixth child,” Felicity chimed in with an eye roll. They all laughed again.
“What do you think, Miss Allie?” Rosie asked, her eyes twinkling. “You’re awfully quiet.”
“I think you forgave him,” Allie said, almost in a whisper. “And, you stayed and you were happy.”
“Good girl, Miss Allie,” Rosie said. “That’s exactly what I did. I forgave him. I kept on forgiving him and he kept on forgiving me for another 53 years. We were happy — most of the time, especially after Tom hired a housekeeper. That’s what it takes, you know.”
“A housekeeper?” one of the women suggested with a giggle.
Rosie laughed. “That does help, but I’m talking about forgiveness. That’s what every bride needs tucked into her jacket. Feeling in love comes and goes — sometimes in the same day. But, trusting and forgiving each other enough to stay and make the best of it is what marriage is all about — day after day, year after year.”
“Did you have more children?” Michelle asked wistfully.
“Three more. All boys.” Rosie turned in her wheelchair to look at Isabella and winked. “One of them just about nine months later.”
Isabella hooted and gave Rosie a double thumbs up. Felicity just shook her head and sighed. “Oh, Rosie, stop! She doesn’t need any encouragement. She’ll end up with an 11-passenger van before it’s over.”
“They make 16-passenger ones, too,” Isabella laughed back. “Don’t anyone tell my husband I said that.”
When the women stopped laughing, Allie smiled her best smile at Rosie. “I think I’ll hang this horseshoe somewhere where I can see it every day, Rosie,” Allie said, already dedicating a spot on her kitchen wall for the memento. “Thank you.”
The party eventually broke up. Wrapping paper and bits of ribbon were gathered into garbage bags. Presents were neatly folded. Yet, Allie was somewhere far, far away from this buzz of activity.
In her heart, she took Rosie’s advice. Right then and there. She had already accepted — more or less — some of the things about Gabe that she didn’t like. Now, she took it to another level and forgave him. She forgave him for walking away from her when they were still kids. She forgave him for whatever weirdness he had been up to for the government and for being unable or unwilling to talk about it. She even forgave him for Kenzie. That last one was the toughest, but she did it.
And, she was suddenly so happy she felt like she might actually float out of her wheelchair.
She wasn’t the only one.
“I think I might be in love.” This was from Brianna, who had lingered behind when all the others had said their goodbyes. “It’s only been a couple of weeks with Mark, though. Do you think that’s possible?”
Allie gave her friend a wry grin.
“OK. You’re probably not the best person to ask that question, are you?” Brianna laughed. “You’ll probably wind up like Isabella. A whole baseball team of kids.”
“Not that many. But, back to Mark, it’s kind of tricky with you guys living so far apart,” Allie replied evenly. “You’ve been in Wheeling for several years. Do you think you would ever want to live back in Charleston again?”
“I gave notice at Oglebay this morning,” Brianna said. “You’re looking at the governor’s new director of media relations.”
Allie just smiled. Ah, romance.
INSIDE THE STORY:
• Wheeling is located in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle, a strip of land only 13 miles wide near the city. Ohio is literally within sight, just across the river. While West Virginia’s hills and valleys continue to be home to beef cattle, Ohio has flatter land that allows full-fledged farms, many of the regional ones operated by Amish families. So, in a very small space there are hipsters and men in straw hats and suspenders, organic meat producers and old industrial money. It’s an interesting mix.
• 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.