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.
Location: the newlyweds’ Woodsdale home; 40°04’33.9″N, 80°41’04.1″W
Emotion: “At last, my true love has come along.”
After the party, actually leaving Kensington Rehab late Friday afternoon was anti-climatic. There were voluminous discharge papers to sign and a handful of goodbyes, some of them quite teary. Then, Allie and Gabe were out the door.
Free as birds.
Free as butterflies.
Free as the wind.
Gabe, having hauled her stuff home already in his truck, interrupted such celebratory thoughts by turning her fancy new motor-driven wheels toward home. This time, there was no welcoming committee at the back door except for Marmalade, who immediately leapt onto Allie’s lap and nestled in as though she had no plans on moving anytime soon.
Once they were safely in the kitchen, Allie looked up at her husband, who was busy fiddling with the door lock. “We’re home,” she sighed happily.
He instantly turned and dropped down onto one knee so that their faces were more or less at an even height. “Hmmm. I noticed that, too,” he laughed before brushing his lips tantalizingly against her own. “Home is nice, huh?”
Allie giggled and Gabe moved in for a kiss that built in intensity until Marmalade fled and Allie thought for one wild, totally sunshiny moment that she could actually hear bells chiming. Bing, bing, bong-bong. Bing, bing, bong-bong.
“Wow,” she sighed softly. She’d thought that kind of thing was just the stuff of silly love songs. “Bells.”
Gabe chuckled, but pulled away from her a bit as the chimes rang again. “Wait. That is bells.”
Bing, bing, bong-bong. Bing, bing, bong-bong. It was clearly a doorbell — their doorbell. Gabe sighed, but kissed her again.
“Shouldn’t we answer it?” she whispered, rather distracted at this point.
“What if it’s your parents?” she countered as the bell rang yet a third time.
He stopped to take a deep breath. “Sweetheart, my entire family knows this house is off limits until the middle of next week. It’s just someone selling something. They’ll go away.” But, even as Gabe said the words, Allie began to wonder. What if his cousins were attempting some payback for his childish misdeeds — in a really irritating way?
Then, there was a loud knocking, followed up with a distinctly male and British voice. “Allison, darling. It’s Mummy and Daddy.”
Allie gasped. Gabe jerked away from his wife like they were two teenagers caught making out on the family sofa. “Unbelievable,” she thought he said as he abruptly stood.
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath. “Just a minute,” he yelled toward the front door. He pushed her chair the same direction, smoothing her hair down with one hand as they went. “Lipstick?” he whispered in a last-second attempt at decorum. A wide-eyed Allie rubbed away a particularly rosy swath from his lips and cheek as best she could. They were almost breathing normally when he opened the door.
“Mummy! Daddy!” Allie squealed. Introductions. Hugs for her. Handshakes for him. Then, three more faces filled the doorframe. “Simon! Sylvie!” Allie squealed again, her voice now a mix of horror and delight. More introductions, hugs, handshakes and an overly excited Jean Luc, who nearly launched himself onto Auntie Allie’s lap before Simon caught him by the back of his shirt.
“Slow down, buckaroo,” Simon said, looking so amused as he took in Allie’s flushed face and tousled hair that she went even deeper pink. Shut up, Simon Bancroft, she telepathed. Message clearly received, he stood a little straighter, cleared his throat and stopped grinning. For the most part.
Allie looked away from him to survey the rest of the group now assembled on their porch. Unbelievable, indeed. Their romantic evening for two had suddenly turned into party of seven. Make that eight. Allie’s eyes dropped to Sylvie’s mid-section. The woman was well along into another pregnancy.
She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But, family was family. “Come on in, everyone,” Allie said shakily, noting with relief that no one was carrying luggage.
“We realized when we were ringing the bell that it would take a long time for you to get to the door,” Mary Bennett said sweetly, bending to hug Allie again once the group was inside the house. “We were so surprised when the hospital workers said you were no longer a patient, we just decided to come right on over to surprise you here. When did you get home, anyway?”
“That would be about 10 minutes ago,” Gabe replied after he checked his watch. The entire group, including Allie, turned to stare at him.
There, over Gabe’s left eyebrow, was an undeniable, Sweet Petunia-colored imprint of her mouth. No wonder Simon was amused. Allie flicked her own eyebrow with one finger, hoping her husband would pick up the hint. He did. He swiped his forehead ever so casually with the heel of his hand. She hoped no one else noticed what he was up to. She glanced at Simon to make sure.
Rats. Simon’s lips were now tightly pressed together in an effort to hold back a laugh. Sylvie was quietly giggling behind one hand. Allie checked out her parents and sighed in relief. They, at least, didn’t have a clue.
“My goodness,” Mary Bennett said, directing her words at Allie even though Gabe was the one who had spoken. “They didn’t tell us that at the hospital. You must be exhausted, baby girl. You should be in bed.”
Double rats. Allie shot Gabe a look of utter desperation.
“Dinner!” Gabe said instantly. “We should all go out to dinner. It’s a little early, but that will give us plenty of time to talk.”
Mary turned to observe Gabe as if she was seeing him for the first time, then turned back to her daughter in concern. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather be in bed?”
Intercontinental jets full of rat passengers. Gabe, Simon and Sylvie all made the same odd choking noise and Allie instantly realized her husband did not have allergy problems at all. She glared at him.
“Dinner,” Gabe sputtered, already pulling truck keys from his pocket. “I know just the place.”
“You’re not too tired?” Mary questioned Allie. Hugh tut-tutted a bit, also convinced Allie was too exhausted to be upright.
It was so ridiculous at this point, Gabe laughed openly. He turned to his wife. “Are you tired?” he asked pointedly.
“Not a bit,” Allie said as evenly as she could. She might laugh about this moment someday, too. She hoped. Maybe 20 or 30 years from now.
“Hey,” Gabe said, clearly trying to draw attention away from his completely flustered wife. “It’s not every day one of us gets out of the hospital and the whole family arrives from Africa. Let’s go celebrate. Like family.”
Simon helped Gabe load Allie’s wheelchair into the back of Gabe’s truck as the group headed to a downtown restaurant caravan style. “You just racked up something like a thousand in-law points in there, dude,” Simon said with a conspiratorial grin. “I promise to keep everyone out of your hair until at least dinnertime tomorrow. But, my crew leaves for my parents’ home in Atlanta Sunday morning. You’re on your own with Hugh and Mary after that.”
“You guys are gone after tomorrow night?” Gabe asked, sounding a little more pleased than he should have.
“Yes, sir,” Simon said with a grin that showed Gabe’s feelings were every bit as clear as the telltale lipstick print had been. “We wanted to see my family while Sylvie can still travel.”
Gabe texted as quickly as he could given his hunt-and-peck technique. He was standing just outside the Vagabond Kitchen’s restroom, taking a break from what had turned out to be a surprisingly pleasant evening given the weird way it had started. Hugh and Mary weren’t bad. Otherworldly to the extreme, but not bad. Simon and his family were actually kind of fun.
Help! Allie’s parnts & frends here frm Afrca. At Vagbnd Kitch now. Frends leav Snday a.m. Can u pull togther a wdding party, maybe pcnic at Grden Prk for tomrw @ 5 p.m. w/o any hlp frm Allie or me?
That electronic missive was sent to his mom, Felicity and Isabella. Each responded with an immediate “yes,” no questions asked. He could well imagine the wheels that were already being set in motion. Wheels with lots of loud telephone talking and hands waving. Military generals might have stealth, but they wouldn’t have anything else on Morelli women with a purpose and a plan.
About a minute later, he sent a second text to his dad, his cousin Mike and Isabella’s husband, Dominic.
Stop lafng n go hlp ur wives. We need U.
They managed to get back to the house just a little after 9 p.m. The second they were inside the door, Gabe kicked it shut behind him with one foot as soon as Allie’s wheelchair cleared the threshold. Then, he turned to her with his hand outstretched. “Phone, please.”
Puzzled, Allie fished through the bag whose loops were hanging over one handle of her wheelchair and located her cell. Gabe took it, powered it off and set it on the kitchen counter. He did the same with his own phone.
He smiled. The same not-brotherly smile she had first seen in the Fort Henry High School pool so, so long ago. Allie stood up, took a shaky step forward and his arms were there to welcome her.
INSIDE THE STORY:
• Readers who live in places where multiple generations of family do not stay put probably cannot imagine what having the kind of support network Gabe employs in this chapter really means. I’ve seen West Virginia families that assemble to can gallons and gallons of garden surplus together and families that book a hair stylist for an entire evening of trims at a central home. Once, I ran across a family that joined forces to tear down an old house on ancestral property. Literally. Mostly with hand tools. Like a barn-raising in reverse. Many hands can do that.
SUSPENDED AGGRAVATION: Epilogue
Location: Ft. Henry High School, 40°04’05.6″N 80°39’10.4″W
Emotion: “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”
Allie sat on the edge of the Fort Henry High School pool, her legs swishing happily, and watched her husband speed from one end to the other, switching strokes as the mood struck him. They’d already swum several lengths at Allie’s pace together as part of her ongoing recovery. Now, Gabe was exercising and she was essentially playing.
“There’s nothing like swimming to regain full range of motion,” Dr. Walla had said a few months ago. “Why don’t you try the public swims at Fort Henry High.”
Gabe had laughed out loud at that. But, they had been taking the doctor’s advice for so long now, it had become part of their routine. They worked. And, three times a week, they came home, changed in a flurry and drove to the pool. Gabe made crockpots full of wintry stews to enjoy on swim nights, and Marmalade the cat and Licorice the new black lab pup seemed especially inclined to curl up in their laps after so much time alone.
Allie looked forward to more of the same tonight. Pumpkin soup and Italian bread was on the menu. A rerun of the Durrells in Corfu was on TV. A good, ordinary day felt delicious after too many crazy days to count.
But, there was also that other thing. The thing she had been planning since their very first night of swim therapy. It was why her smile was extra wide when Gabe popped out of the water and sat down next to her, cold water spraying off of him and onto her arms, which had been warmed by the humid air.
“I never asked,” he said. “How did your day go?”
“I had some interviews at the City-County Building,” she said.
Allie understood his quick, questioning look. It did sound odd. She didn’t write politics much these days. Economic realities had brought yet more staffing changes to the newsroom. She was almost entirely writing features and, frankly, was thankful to even have a job. Many journalists that she knew no longer did.
“Hawks have been hunting squirrels at Heritage Port,” she continued. “There’s quite a stink.”
To his credit, Gabe didn’t laugh or even choke back a chuckle. More than half a year into their marriage, he must be getting used to her quirky statements. He merely smiled. “I see.”
She poked him in the arm. “People like their squirrels.”
“Hey, I like squirrels.”
Allie laughed. “What did you do today?”
“I had to put out a fire on I-70 that had nothing to do with a bridge, believe it or not. A hole opened up near the Pennsylvania border — where they’re undermining for coal — and westbound traffic was totally closed for almost an hour. It was a mess.”
“I heard that on the police scanner in the newsroom. That was you?”
“That was me.”
Gabe used one foot to kick a small stream of water into the pool as he stood. He smiled a not-very-brotherly smile and suggested they hurry home. Allie liked the idea of hurrying, but there was that thing. That thing she had planned.
“Wait,” she said, climbing out of the pool herself and walking gingerly to the diving board ladder.
“Do you really want to try this now?” Gabe asked, looking more than a little worried. “Are you sure your leg can handle it?”
“I had a doctor’s appointment today, too, remember?” Allie said evenly. “Dr. Walla said I am good for this — or anything else. The breaks are all healed. I don’t even need the brace anymore.”
Her words hung there in the hot, humid air as if she could actually see them spelled out.
That was the OK they had agreed to wait for before trying to start a family.
“All healed, huh?” was all Gabe said. But, he smiled.
Allie bounced playfully on the edge of the board, trying to ignore the fact she felt like she was standing as far above the water as if she were back out on the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. “That’s right, all healed.”
Gabe folded his arms across his chest and actually winked at his wife. “Why are you smiling, Mrs. Morelli?”
“Because I love you, Mr. Morelli. And, this is how much.”
The water closed around her in a sudden, silent whoosh, swallowing any lingering trace of the doubts and fears that had plagued her for more than a decade. Surely this would show him better than anything else she could say or do. She was all in. Free to trust him. Free to love him. Free to love as many children as God would give them.
She surfaced, expecting to see his very best smile. She didn’t see him at all, however. Where is he? Did he even watch me dive?
Carrying the leg brace in one hand, she walked back to the locker room. She knew he wouldn’t have actually left her here. They had only his truck with them, after all. She dressed slowly — fretting a bit but knowing he’d be waiting for her in the hallway like he had been so many years ago and like he had been every recent swim night.
Her assumption was right. That’s where he was. That he’d obviously been crying was a surprise, though. She hadn’t intended to do that to him. But, she got it. He’d taken her to that place enough times.
“I do love you,” she said again as she stepped into his open arms.
Gabe said something that might have been, “Mmmmm,” before his lips claimed hers in a kiss so demanding she would have fallen had he not maneuvered her into a spot between the warmth of his body and the cool metal of a nearby locker.
It was a good kiss. A wonderful kiss, Allie decided. Then, they walked down the school hallway and to the exit door. Together. Hand in hand. In a bit of a hurry.
Acknowledgements: This book would not have seen Weelunk light of day had it not been for Phyllis Sigal (editor par excellence), an anonymous arts patron and the Wheeling Heritage team that publishes this online magazine. Thank you all! Thanks also to my family — Bruce, Erica, Rachel and Grammy June — for putting up with me writing in the kitchen throughout this strange, strange year. I can’t think of anyone else with whom I’d rather share a “bubble.” More thanks go out to readers. Discussing the plotline as it unfolded each week with many of you has been a joy. (Psssst. Another Match Made in Almost Heaven book that includes Gabe and Allie is done and a publishing venue is being sought. When there’s something to tell, I’ll tell it at noraedinger.com. Blessings!
• 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.