‘Suspended Aggravation’: Chapter 5 Nora Edinger March 1, 2020 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 5 Location: Oglebay Conference Center and Resort, 40°6′7″N 80°40′8″W_ / _40.10194°N 80.66889°W_ / 40.10194; -80.66889 Emotion: You don’t own me. I’m not just one of your many toys. “Allie! Allie, wake up.” Like a pesky fly trying its best to spoil a summer afternoon on the porch, Brianna Reed’s urgent whisper and persistent knocking were all too loud and clear on the other side of Allie’s door — the lovely door to her lovely room at the even more lovely Wilson Lodge. “Shooooooo!” Allie groaned from under the brocade duvet. It didn’t work. Brianna just knocked all the harder. “Get out of that bed!” Brianna hissed. “What time is it?” Allie demanded after she had reluctantly stumbled out of bed and let her friend in. “Six.” “In the morning?” Allie cried. “Brianna! Are you crackers? It’s the weekend.” “Crackers? Cheerio to you, too, m’lady.” Brianna just as quickly abandoned her sad foray into Downton Abbey speak and whipped out a smartphone. “You need to see this.” She showed Allie the image on its screen. Or tried to show her. No contacts at this hour for Allie. Whatever it was, it was nothing but a blur. Allie went to the nightstand and got the turquoise horn-rimmed glasses she’d used to read a Davis Bunn thriller well into the night. When she saw the picture, she almost wished she hadn’t put them on. “Oh, no!” She pulled the phone closer to her face and looked more carefully. She gasped again. “Oh, noooooo.” It was her and Gabe. They were locked in an embrace that was … well, they looked like they were performing for Cirque de Soleil. Or as back-up dancers for the Super Bowl half-time show — if fully clothed performers were a thing. She was surprised the sheer heat of their kiss didn’t make the air above the phone send up shimmery waves like a desert highway does in the sun. “You didn’t mention this part of the interview,” Brianna said with a wry smile, her arms crossed. “Allison Bennett! We talked through pedicures. We talked through seaweed wraps and hot-rock massages. We talked until midnight. And, you left this out?” “It’s complicated.” Allie carefully avoided her friend’s eyes. “Who posted this anyway?” “That’s the weird part, my friend. It started with your own photographer on your own newspaper’s website. And, both your full name and this Gabe Morelli guy’s are in the cutline. It’s already going viral.” “I’m going to kill him,” Allie hissed. “The hot guy or the photographer?” “Both of them.” “That will have to wait,” Brianna said firmly. “Spill it, sister. Who is this guy and just what happened out there under that bridge?” Allie squirmed under Brianna’s intense gaze. She pondered British reserve. She pondered making a break for the potty. Brianna’s eyes narrowed and Allie caved, knowing her friend would ferret out the story one way or another. Allie sank back onto her bed, Brianna flopping down beside her. Then, she closed her eyes and began her sad tale the way all stories used to be told, from the beginning. … ♥♥♥ Twelve years earlier Location: Fort Henry High School, Wheeling, 40°04’05.6″N 80°39’10.4″W Emotional state: It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to. Allie bent nearly double, digging through the cavernous bin of swimsuits until her fingers scraped the rough canvas bottom. Rats. Her efforts were in vain. It was Barney purple or nothing. Once upon a time, someone in the physical education department had apparently had the not-so-brilliant idea to size the school-provided suits by the colors of the rainbow. For faster sorting. At least that was the story buzzing around the locker room at teen-girl speed. Allie frowned as she grabbed the least tattered suit she could find. God could never have meant the ROYGBIV of this particular covenant symbol to ever be so, so … humiliating. The largest of her classmates were holding red suits. The somewhat plump ones had orange models. And, on down it went — all the way to the hideous violet, a color only Allie and one other equally skinny girl could possibly wear. Not one girl in the group looked happy. She sighed in resignation and tried to slide on the unattractive garment without actually being completely undressed at any point. It wasn’t the nudity of the locker room setting, however, that made her tent her T-shirt around herself like some sort of medieval cloak as she wiggled her shoulders into the suit. Allie had lived too much of her life in some of the deepest pockets of poverty in the world to be particularly uptight about that. It was how her body compared to many of the other girls at Fort Henry High School. Where they curved, Allie ran in long lines. Where they had softness, she had sleekness. An uncharitable sort might have even called it scrawniness, she thought. She frowned again. The hideous suit, which started with a plain tank style at the top and ended in modest boy shorts, made her situation even worse. It covered everything. She was thankful for that. But, it hid absolutely nothing. As bad as the suit was, however, Allie suspected it was the least of her problems. It was only a matter of minutes until she’d have to face the worst of it. Make that seconds. A whistle blast broke the nervous chatter of the locker room and the girls filed reluctantly out to the side of the pool to assemble alongside a crew of equally uncomfortable-looking boys. “Everybody in the pool,” barked Coach Wilson, the fierce gym teacher who wielded the whistle and also headed the boys swim team according to the words on his custom polo. “Do whatever stroke you want. I just want to see some laps so I can divide you into ability groups.” Her classmates splashed into the water and took off for the other side with varying degrees of speed and style. Allie was left standing alone with the coach. Double rats. “What’s the problem?” he asked, not even bothering to look at her. “I can’t swim.” “Then dog paddle,” he said. “Do whatever you need to do.” Allie wasn’t sure what “dog paddling” was, but she very likely didn’t know how to do that, either. “I’ve never been in a pool,” she said. Now Coach Wilson looked at her — and it was not with polite interest. “What do you mean, you’ve never been in a pool!” he bellowed. He smacked his clipboard against a leg as thick as a tree trunk. Allie flinched. “That’s ridiculous. You’re going to require one-on-one instruction. I don’t have time for that.” The coach glanced toward a set of metal bleachers that ran the length of the Olympic-sized pool and yelled again, this time to a couple of boys who were, well, Allie could only call it loafing. “Morelli! Get over here,” he bellowed again. Thundering herds of rats. Allie watched in horror as Gabe Morelli of all people walked their way. It was more like gliding rather than walking, really. Both a swimmer and a “back” or “end” of some sort for the American-style football team, Gabe Morelli moved like a cat. A sleek, handsome cat. She didn’t know all that many people at Fort Henry High, having only been in the States since the beginning of the school year. But, it would have been impossible to not know of him. “What do you need, coach?” this Gabe Morelli asked, completely ignoring Allie. That was fine by her. She was much too in awe of his gorgeousness, his seniorness. She might come undone if he actually looked at her. “This one’s all yours for the next nine weeks,” Coach Wilson said, motioning to Allie with the clipboard without looking her way. “She can’t swim. Not at all. She’s never even been in a pool. You’ll actually be earning your escape from study hall this time, Morelli. Figure it out as you go.” And, with that, the coach stalked away to better view the rest of the class, still thrashing away in various lanes. He muttered irritably as he went. Allie caught something about, “stupid school boards, stupid pricey pools and stupid, stupid required swimming classes for the entire student body.” Now Gabe Morelli looked at her. Really, really looked at her. And, surprisingly, Allie did not come undone. She stood it rather remarkably, in fact. Even when the young man’s deep brown eyes swept her — from her long, straight hair that was the palest of blonde, down the length of the awful Barney suit and all the way to her skinny feet. It was a ridiculously lengthy appraisal. If she’d had tires, he would have kicked them. If she had been a horse, he would have checked her teeth. Now, Allie was less in awe than she was peeved. That was a good thing, because it turned out she was going to have to talk to this young man, too. “Why can’t you swim?” he asked in a tone that was curious but in no way offensive. Allie turned on the full frost anyway. “I lived in African villages until the end of last summer,” she said. “My parents are missionaries, but they wanted to come back to the States for a while so I could attend high school here. There weren’t any pools in the villages in Africa. And, the lakes and rivers had crocodiles.” Gabe’s eyes widened as her words sunk in. He either didn’t notice the ice in her voice or didn’t care. A broad smile spread across his face and it was so spectacular she began to thaw in spite of herself. Perhaps his smile was the reason, or at least one reason, for his popularity, she mused. “Crocodiles, huh?” Gabe asked, somehow melting the rest of her reserve with just those four syllables. “That’s pretty cool. Is Africa where the accent comes from, too?” “What accent?” “You sound like you’re from England.” Allie surprised herself further by smiling back at him. She was smiling at Gabe Morelli. “My father is British,” she said. “My mum’s from Wheeling, though, from Woodsdale. I’m sorry to be such a bother.” “Your ‘mum,’ huh?” Gabe smiled again. “It’s OK. You’re not a bother. I’ve been life guarding the city pools in the summer the last couple of years. I’ve taught quite a few kids to swim. I figure I can teach you, too. You’re a freshman?” “Yes.” “What’s your name?” “Allison Bennett. Just Allie is good enough.” “Well, welcome to Wheeling, Just Allie,” he said with a humorous slant to his eyebrows. “I’m Gabe Morelli, by the way. I’m a senior.” As if she didn’t know. Then, Gabe pulled off the retro-cool Beatles T-shirt he’d been wearing over his swim trunks and expertly tossed it toward a bench that stood against the far wall. Her eyes widened as she watched its trajectory. His smile broadened as he took in her surprise. “You do realize we actually have to get into the water?” he teased before he jumped into the pool feet first and swam several fish-like strokes under the surface. When Gabe popped back up near the place where she still stood, his normally light-brown hair was black with wetness and his hand was stretched out toward her. “OK, African Queen, let’s go. You don’t need to jump in. You can come down the ladder if you want.” Allie chose the ladder. The water was far colder than she thought it would be and she shivered. He noticed, but mistook her reaction for fear. “Don’t worry. I can pretty much guarantee there are no crocodiles in here, and I don’t bite, either,” he joked as he took both her hands. “Plus, I promise I won’t let you go. What’s the deepest water you’ve been in anyway?” “The bathtub,” she admitted quietly. Gabe laughed. “No, really.” “I’m not kidding,” Allie said. “Well, I was baptized.” “That’s just sprinkling.” “Not the way we do it in Africa. You’re all in.” “In the river?” he asked incredulously. “Crocodiles and all?” “Crocodiles and all,” she assured him. “We always prayed God would shut their mouths the way he did the lions that were in the den with Daniel. We never lost anyone. At least not that I know of.” Gabe laughed loudly enough this time to draw the attention of not only the coach but the rest of the class, which was now treading water en masse under the diving boards. Every head looked their way. He didn’t seem to notice. He pushed his hair from his face with one hand and looked at her with unconcealed amusement. “Wow. OK. Maybe we should try floating first then.” They walked into deeper water and Allie was relieved he kept his promise to not let go of her as her footing soon became quite unstable. She was surprisingly fine, however, until the water came up to her neck. “I uh-can’t uh-breathe,” she managed to gasp out. His hands slipped instantly to her waist and he lifted her until the tops of her shoulders were above the surface. Allie pulled in so much air so quickly it made her cough. “That’s just the water showing you how strong it is,” Gabe said in a tone that reminded Allie of a father talking to a young child. “There’s pressure, but you can still breathe. Try it again.” He lowered her back into the water until it lapped the bottom of her chin, then sunk down himself until they were face to face, his brown eyes locked with the frightened deep blue of her own. “Take deep breaths, Allie,” he said. Then, he simply watched her, so calm himself that she was eventually able to inhale and exhale remarkably well. That made her bizarrely pleased considering breathing was something she did every minute of every day. Gabe seemed rather pleased, as well. Who knew? “That’s it,” he said. “See, you’re fine.” And, she was. At least she was until he wanted her to float on her back — in his arms. OK. Maybe curves and a working knowledge of crocodiles weren’t the only differences between Allie and the other girls of Fort Henry High, at least the ones someone like Gabe Morelli probably knew much about. She somehow managed to maneuver into his arms without actually touching him. He was touching her. There wasn’t any other way he could keep her from sinking, she supposed. But, she never put so much as a finger on him. In spite of the urgent inclination to cling to his neck in panic, she kept her hands balled into fists so tight they matched the rest of her body, which was stiff with fear. She didn’t even look at him, in fact. He got it. “Um, African Queen,” he said quietly, “pretend I’m your brother and chill out or this is going to be a really long nine weeks. I’m not going to let you sink and that means I’ll be holding you sometimes — like now.” He paused and moved one arm out from under her to gently direct her face toward his own with his fingers. “You’re OK. Take a deep breath in and hold it. That will make you more buoyant.” Allie was doubtful she could pretend Gabe Morelli was her brother — not that she had ever had one, or a sister for that matter. But, she did find enough courage from somewhere to do as he asked and held her breath. Either it was courage or she was too mortified to do anything less. “Hey, that’s it!” he said, obviously surprised. She felt his arms shift under her back again. “Now, I’m only going to hold you up with my hands. The water will do everything else.” And, miraculously, it did. Allie felt Gabe’s hands slip away from her until only his fingertips pressed into her back. Then, even his fingers disappeared and she was floating! Floating! At least she was until Coach Wilson’s shrill whistle signaled the end of the class and her body bent with surprise. She sank like a stone, but Gabe kept his word and caught her before her face could go under the water. “You did it!” he whispered against her ear as he towed her by the hand to the nearest ladder to exit the pool. “Nice job, African Queen. See you tomorrow.” Allie thought she’d never hear the end of it in the locker room. “You are so lucky!” seemed to be the general consensus. But, one girl, a yellow-suited classmate Allie had seen at a few inter-church functions in the city, offered a warning, as well. “Gabe Morelli isn’t that nice of a guy. He dates a lot of girls. A lot. You need to watch yourself with that one.” ♥♥♥ Allie heard what the girl said and took it to heart. But, she never saw anything out of Gabe that worried her. The coach sectioned off one corner of the pool’s shallow end for them and, there, Gabe treated her like he really was her brother. She was a bit disappointed at that, she admitted only to herself. Why did this young man seem to like every other girl in Wheeling and not her? Was she really that unattractive? After a few days, she decided to stop wondering. Just being with him was fun — even if the lessons did make her feel like a resident of Sea World at times. Gabe threw weighted plastic rings that looked like toddler toys into the water and had her retrieve them until she was accustomed to having her face wet. He held his fingers under the surface and had her count them so he could make sure she was opening her eyes enough to actually see. Eventually, they were treading water side by side until Allie could go a full five minutes without touching the bottom of the pool with her toes. And, all the while she learned to do such tricks, they talked. And, talked some more. Gabe told Allie of his dreams of becoming an engineer and building beautiful bridges someday. He was leaving for West Virginia University soon after graduation to begin training with the swim team there. It was part of his scholarship package, a really big one. Reading between the lines of what he said, that funding appeared to be critical to his college plans. He told her about his huge extended family. Even though he was also an only child, it seemed there were Morellis all over West Virginia. “I don’t think I’ve ever talked so much to a girl in my life,” he said one day, with another of his wonderful laughs. Allie nearly rolled her eyes at that comment, but she enjoyed talking to him, too. She patiently answered his many questions about her life in Africa even when they turned into a silly game that started one day when her lessons hit a snag. “OK, African Queen, let’s take a break and float on our backs,” Gabe finally said on that day, temporarily abandoning his quest to get her to float on her stomach, which he insisted she needed to do if she was ever going to swim efficiently. Allie hated being on her stomach in the water. It made her feel like she was drowning and she told him that so many times she could tell he was frustrated almost to the point of giving up. “We both know what you can’t do, or won’t do,” he said as they drifted side by side. He tugged at her hand and kicked his legs several times to keep the pair of them from floating into the way of the other students. “What can you do that I can’t?” “Can you throw a spear?” she asked. “Nope.” “I can,” Allie said, suddenly proud of the fact she could, not that there was a lot of need for spear throwing in Wheeling. “Very cool.” Allie had to think several seconds for another one. “Have you ever helped deliver a baby?” Gabe laughed and abandoned his float to stand next to her, his fingers lightly supporting her back even though she didn’t need them anymore. He smiled down at her. “That would be a definite no. When did you do that?” “My mum’s not just a missionary. She’s a nurse, too, and she served as a midwife for the nearby villages. I started going out on deliveries when I was 13. I’ve helped with five babies now.” “You are amazing, African Queen. So, I’m thinking anyone who was delivering babies at age 13 and getting baptized in rivers that have crocodiles in them can also float on her stomach. If she actually tries.” Gabe flipped her over so quickly, Allie had no time to protest. She just floated. And, when she ran out of air, she popped up, sputtering mad, next to him. Gabe was annoyingly unrepentant. “Try it again,” was all he said. “That wasn’t very … nice.” Gabe looked at her pointedly. “I never said I was. Try it again.” “No,” she said determinedly. “Yes,” he said with similar conviction. “Try it again.” His dark eyes glittered at her and Gabe smiled a different smile than she had ever seen from him. There was nothing remotely brotherly about it. Allie suddenly found she preferred to be face down in the water rather than to have him look at her like that. She flipped onto her stomach and let her body rise to the surface without his help, but not before she heard his soft laugh. The pool water was nearly cool enough to take the flush away from her cheeks. She’d show Mr. Hot Shot Swimmer. She could do this. She didn’t like it. But, she could do it. ♥♥♥ She could dog paddle, too, she learned on another day. The two of them paddled the length of the pool in the two lanes the coach set aside for them, day by day, still playing their game. “Can you shoot a rifle?” she asked, somewhat out of breath as they made the turn and headed back to their starting point. “This is West Virginia.” “Right,” she acknowledged. “Can you frighten an elephant away with a horn?” “I played the trumpet in middle school,” Gabe laughed. “It made our dog howl. Does that count?” “Maybe,” Allie said. “But, it’s more impressive if you can frighten an elephant.” “You got me there.” She asked him a different kind of question this time. “Why do you call me African Queen?” “Well, you’re from Africa, for one thing,” he said with a bit of a “duh” in his voice. The tone changed to pure mischief for his next words, though. “And, my mom is always watching old movies. Sometimes I watch them, too. You remind me of the Katharine Hepburn character in the one by that name. You’re prim and proper — all buttoned up even when you don’t have anything on that buttons.” Allie stared at him in surprise. Gabe stared back, humorously exaggerating the openness of his eyes and smiling that not-brotherly smile again. She wasn’t sure if he had insulted her or was flirting with her or something else entirely. “I am not prim,” she finally said, sounding very prim, indeed, even to her own ears. Gabe raised his eyebrows. She continued. “Proper, maybe. In a British sense.” “Proper, maybe?” Gabe asked, mimicking her accent and rolling his eyes. Allie ignored him and tried to take back control of the game. “Have you ever eaten roasted monkey?” she asked suddenly. “What?” He grimaced. “Noooo. And, please don’t tell me you have, either.” “I haven’t,” Allie giggled, deciding to forgive him for the maybe-insult, maybe-flirt thing. “I never could stand the idea of it, but plenty of people do. I’m sure I would have, too, if I’d been hungry enough.” “You crack me up, African Queen,” Gabe said, laughing loudly to prove it. He waited until they’d reached four feet of water to pull her out of her dog paddle, into a standing position and then, even more surprisingly, hold her by the arms for a moment. “I didn’t expect to have so much fun with you,” he said. “I might have to slow you down, just so I can make sure I keep you all to myself for the rest of the nine weeks.” Allie felt the warmth spread across her face. “I don’t think I can do that, either,” he said, reaching up to trace the side of her cheek with one finger. “Do what?” Allie whispered, her eyes widening but never leaving his. “Never mind,” he said. Then he swam away and headed for the locker room. ♥♥♥ Maybe Gabe wasn’t kidding about the slowing her down bit. Allie made steady progress, but she wasn’t actually swimming until the very last week of school. By then, Gabe was talking caps and gowns and graduation parties and Allie realized their friendship was rapidly drawing to a close. Gabe was leaving Wheeling in short order and she still had three more years of high school. He was going. She knew that. But, she didn’t want him to forget her. So much so, that when he treaded water far to the side of the diving board on the last day of classes and called to her, she nearly took the plunge. “You can do it, African Queen,” he coaxed. “You know you can swim. And, I’ll come right to you as soon as you’re in the water. You’ll be fine.” But — opportunity to make a lasting memory, or not — Allie simply couldn’t do what he asked this time. The rippling water taunted her — so very, very far below where her toes peeked over the edge of the board. It was too much. She backed swiftly down the diving board steps and fled to the locker room without speaking. She deliberately lingered there as the rest of the girls dressed and filed out. It was the last class on the last day of school. People were in a hurry to go. She didn’t expect him to be waiting for her in the empty hallway outside the locker room when she finally left. But, she was terribly glad that he was. And, that he had something to say. She was uncharacteristically speechless. “You have the rest of your life to jump off a diving board, you know,” he said. Allie looked at the floor, at his flip-flop shod feet. Anywhere but at his face. He reached out to tuck a loose strand of damp hair behind her ear. “I’m going to miss you, African Queen.” That got Allie’s attention. She looked up. A little. “I’ll miss you, too,” she said to his chin, terribly afraid she might cry. Her voice was already heading toward the quivers. “Thank you for all your help.” “Allie?” “Yes?” “Don’t forget me, OK?” he said suddenly. And, then Gabe truly shocked her. He tugged the thick, fish-tailed braid that ran down her back just firmly enough so that she finally raised her face to his and he kissed her. Gabe Morelli kissed her. Actually, Allie wondered if it counted as a kiss. His lips had barely brushed hers. Now he was smiling down at her surprise. “Has anyone ever kissed you?” he whispered. She shook her head. “Good.” His face lowered toward hers once more. But, before he could kiss her again, Allie asked him the same question. “Gabe, has anyone ever kissed you?” He had the decency to be embarrassed. “Allie … ” “I mean has any girl ever kissed Gabe Morelli — the person, the guy who wants to build bridges someday? Not just Gabe Morelli the jock.” Gabe looked into her eyes — the ones whose blue he had recently told her reminded him of his favorite pair of Levi’s, yet another comment she wasn’t quite sure what to make of. He grinned so widely she could tell he wanted to laugh. “Um, probably not.” “Good,” Allie said firmly, surprised she was grinning back at him instead of melting or something equally undignified. They were both still smiling when his lips touched hers again. This time, he kissed her softly and slowly and thoroughly. And, Allie kissed him, mimicking the motion and pressure of his mouth until she felt like the sun had somehow started shining inside of her. It almost hurt when he finally broke away. “OK, African Queen, I didn’t expect that,” he breathed somewhat raggedly, resting his chin against her forehead and playing with the braid whose tip he still held in one hand. Drops of water from it slid off his fingertips and seeped into the shirt fabric at her waist. “This can’t happen, you know. I’m leaving. You’re 15. I’m 19. You’re a nice girl. I am … This is goodbye.” “I know,” she sighed against the base of his throat. She knew. He knew. Still, he kissed her again — just not for nearly as long as she wanted him to. “Gabe Morelli! We will pretend we did not see this,” an unwelcome female voice said. Gabe and Allie jerked apart to see a squadron of cheerleaders and guys Allie thought she recognized as football players standing around them in half circle. The cheerleaders looked annoyed. The guys were leering. “Leave your little geek friend alone and come back where you belong, Gabe,” was the silky demand from the same cheerleader who had spoken before. Allie recognized the girl as one she had occasionally seen holding Gabe’s hand in the school hallways. Kenzie Taylor, she thought the girl’s name was. Gabe bent to whisper a soft, “I’m sorry,” in Allie’s ear before he abruptly stepped away and turned his back to her. At least that’s what she thought he said. “So, Morelli,” one of the football players said in a tone that made Allie want to slap him. “Hot, or not?” “Not,” Gabe said, still looking away from her. “I don’t know,” the football player continued. “That looked pretty hot from where I’m standing.” “Well, it wasn’t from where I was standing,” Gabe said firmly. “You want hot — take a look at her, or her, or her. That’s hot.” Gabe pointed to the cheerleaders in the group and made an elaborate show of draping his arm around the queen bee. Then he walked away. Without so much as another glance in Allie’s direction. Not so for the queen bee. She looked back at Allie in triumph. “Geek,” she mouthed silently. Allie stood unblinking until the group rounded the corner. Only then did her eyes fill with tears. She swiped at them before they could spill down her cheeks. The girl in the yellow swimsuit was right. Gabe Morelli wasn’t a nice guy. He lied. He did let her go. And, all she could do was thank God she never had to see him again. ♥♥♥ Location: Back at Oglebay Brianna stared at Allie for a full minute after the story was finished, seemingly stunned into silence. “You won’t have to be the one to kill him,” Brianna finally said, springing to her feet. “Nobody treats my best friend that way. This Gabe Morelli guy will never know what hit him.” INSIDE THE STORY: • This chapter contains the only part of the story that is remotely true. Too long of a story to share it fully, but I really didn’t know how to swim in high school, really did have a swimsuit that was sized by color (mine was green), and really did have not one, but two, members of the swim team as my personal coaches. It was so ridiculous — although not romantic — I recognized it as the germ of a story even then. That experience — which I somehow linked to watching hikers cross the catwalk at New River Gorge and wondering what would happen if they fell — is all I had in terms of plot when I started this book. • The character Allie — as a half-British, African-raised new resident of the U.S. — is a rare bird in Gabe’s life. Wheeling has a long history of new arrivals, however. The industrial boom in the 1800s and early 1900s brought immigrants here from many parts of the world: Italy, Germany, Poland, Lebanon, Greece, the Ukraine and beyond. Some ethnic groups retain a bit of community thanks to churches and specialty restaurants, but assimilation is the more the rule. PREVIOUS CHAPTER NEXT CHAPTER • 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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