The Year The Aurora Met The Sun: A Novel

BIRCH TREES
A road among the Birch Trees. Photo by Rachel Marney. http://marneyphotography.wixsite.com/mysite

CHAPTER ONE

In The Beginning

 

Nina

My brother, the middle child, was sitting in front of me. A picture of a man in perfect health. His dark blonde hair was wavy and a hint of gray had started to surface at his temples. He smiled at me, perhaps mocking my reaction, one that he always considered to be dramatic. But, in this setting, he was hoping against all hope that his smile will offer me some comfort, the way he used to when we were growing up: comfort of not having to worry about matters that I have no control over—I’ve never had the luxury to do that. The eldest of children never do.

“Nina, it’s going to be fine.” He said as he affectionately held on to his wife Piper’s hand. Piper looked at me knowing full well that she and I are feeling the same way. Piper and I are similar in a sense that we were raised to take on the burden of the world—a responsibility we cannot help but uphold.

“How long are we looking at?” I asked him. I felt a hand grab mine and I realized that my husband Kent had been sitting next to me all this time. I looked at him looking at me with concern. He knew without having to ask how I was feeling and what I was thinking.

“Sis, a year at the most,” Joe said with an air of nonchalance that I could not understand.

“I know this news is troubling to you, and I’ve.. we’ve looked.. we’ve sought advice from several specialists. I didn’t want you to worry, and now that we have the answers, we can move forward and accept the truth from here on forward, Nina.” Again, that smile.

“So, I won’t ask and I guess you are saving me from inquiring into such matters,” I didn’t smile. I was holding back.

“See! I got ahead of you on this one. I knew you’d want to do all the hard work on research, and I wanted to spare you from the mundane,” Joe raised one eyebrow at me. An expression of triumph over his older sister.

“BUT, I’m going to leave you with the task of calling the little lotus,” He smirked as he said this.

I looked at him and I wished that I can send him to time out the way I did when he was a young boy. It would have been easier as Joe was always the one willing to take the consequences for any naughty thing he’d ever done. What I would do to have that instead of what the now had become. All I could do was nod, and I thought I could not break down in front of him.

I will do what he said and call our little sister who, unlike Joe, had ran away from her family and had kept herself away for almost a decade. We nicknamed her the Lotus because that girl always rose above the irky and muddiness of her life. Sadly, she decided to get away from such murkiness and hasn’t realized that it will follow her, regardless.

And now, she will learn that when she uprooted herself years ago away from home, she must return to the very muddy root in which she came from.

Her brother was dying.

She had no choice, but to come back to the mud.

 

Joe

There were moments when I thought that Nina knew. As observant as she had been in all of our lives, I’m surprised that she didn’t see this one coming. I’ve done a good job keeping her from all the worrying over nothing. There is nothing to be done. This cancer had spread.

All we are left with was what we have, and there was no sense in killing something that was already slowly dying.

I smiled at her, and I knew that for me, she will do her everything she can to make this last year the best she knew how.

This time, Nina cannot control this outcome.

 

Gwyn

The market was alive with all these colors. The fruit and vegetable stand where Herr Freidel sold his produce was always vibrant this time of year, and as always, he offered me a pint of blackberries from his farm.

“Guten Morgen, Herr Freidel,” I nodded at his direction. He nodded in return, and smiled in his usual manner. I shouldn’t say ‘smile’—since it took me several visits to finally say hello to him, and I received a half nod. These days, I received a full nod and the Freidel smile: the side of his mouth slightly turned upward—-crooked. Hell, I’ll take it.

It was at Herr Freidel’s stand where I first saw him looking at another vegetable stand a few feet away from me. He was wearing his black hoodie sweater, a leather jacket, and a grocery shopping bag in one hand. I’d recognize his silhouette, his physique, and even his hands–anywhere. I followed him through the alley of the market, and lost him towards the end. He must have sensed that I recognized him, and found a way to run from me. When I think of that day, I wondered about a few things. Was it really him? What would he be doing in Frankfurt? Was I just imagining things? Have I lost my mind and have gone mad? And, if it was him, what would have I done if I caught up to him? Asked him what he was doing here? It would have led to an argument that would have caused Herr Freidel to think low of me.

“Frolein, her vis some verries, from Frau Emma,” I looked at the old man’s hand holding on to a pint of blackberries, and I smiled at him.

“Danke Herr Freidel. Can you let Frau Emma know that I will be leaving and may be gone for a while. You may not see me for a long time and I wanted to tell you both danke for everything.”

The old man looked at me and I recognized the similarities between us. Years ago, while I was browsing through his stand, I paused as a memory hit me when I saw a bucket of sunflowers leaning against the wall behind his stand. Frau Emma and Herr Freidel recognized something in me that only another can detect. It was a pain that cannot be described as it stemmed from deep within the bowls of the soul, a pain embedded within every vein and feds on the air each time a breath was drawn. I remembered watching Frau Emma take the sunflowers from the bucket, walking over to the nearest dumpster and without hesitation threw them all in there. She walked back towards her stall, towards me, and grabbed my hand only to say “Keine Schmerzen mehr.” No more pain.

“I vill tell Frau Emma for you,” he pats me on my back, “you must go home, and face your memories, dear child.”

 

I believed that Freidel and Emma knew the pain that I’ve been harboring all these years without me having to fully explain it to them. There are no words for those who have and are lost–written or spoken–only the lost can recognize the pain in another. And, even then there was no solace.

Nina called me this morning.

Death was what uprooted me. Now, death had once again decided to root me back home.

 

Dante

June was the time of year when the salmon was abundant. There had never been a place in this world where the salmon are exquisite. I’ve watched how a school of salmon come in through the Homer spit each summer. All sorts of fishermen would gather around this football size fishing hole as many call it and would wait until the salmon would come in from the ocean. There is nothing quite like it.

Every summer since I’ve called Alaska my home. For years, we would drive down to Homer to watch this event, and I’ve learned how to fish next to other fishermen who oftentimes shared their fishing stories, and how much they looked forward to this time of year. When I’ve told them my experience, they were a bit taken aback to realize that I’m English—it must be the accent that threw them off. After a while, they no longer noticed the difference in the inflection of my words, because fishing really had no boundaries.

The nature of the salmon that always fascinated me was the simple fact that they always knew how to return home to where their life first began. The king salmon returns to the very root of where it was spawned.

Home is embedded within their genetics.

Human nature, on the other hand, differs from this path.

For the most part, we leave home to seek greener pastures. Sometimes we arrive at what we believe to be a temporary destination without ever realizing that it was the finality of our journey. I had no idea then that attending my sister’s wedding meant I finally found home.

All because of her.

She was the finality of my journey.

And, now she was coming home, pissed off at the world.

Pissed off at me.

Pissed off at the fact that I have refused to sign those

bloody papers.

It’s about time that we faced what she had been running away from all these years. And, whether she liked it or not, I bloody well will make sure that we are going to face this together.

~0~

     Gwyn arrived at the Fairbanks International Airport exhausted from her flight. The one hour layover in Seattle reminded her that there was no luxury flight from Seattle to Fairbanks. When she left the Emirates flight in Seattle to connect to the Alaska Air flight, she was once again reminded of the way things are when she headed home. The first class cabin in the Alaska flight had no comparison to her first class cabin in Emirates. How humbling and comforting at the same time, Gwyn thought.

As she exited the gate, she walked to the only escalator available in the airport. She got on it along with the other passengers from her flight, and as the escalator took her down, she searched the crowd for a familiar face. Standing among the other excited folks waiting for their recently arrived loved ones, stood her little brother, Ambrose or Brosie as how Gwyn nicknamed him when he was born. Brosie stood with the crowd carrying a large poster sign decorated in glitter and feathers with a simple message written in neon pink letters:

It’s about time, Sis.

“Seriously?” Gwyn asked as she gave Brosie a hug.

“I’m surprised you even got off the plane. I had a bet with Nina that you’d flake out,” Brosie smiled at Gwyn. A smile that she knew to be his genuinely nervous one as if it would be he to suffer the consequence if he did not bring his sister home.

“Brosie, I would never leave you to suffer Nina’s wrath. I take it she sent you on this mission, hmm?” Gwyn winked at him.

“Nina has a mission for everyone. She’s on her ‘Gwyn is coming home, everyone get your shit together mode!’” Brosie shrugged his shoulders as if he was kidding around, but knew fully well he really couldn’t afford to do so.

Gwyn and Ambrose laughed as they headed to the baggage claim sharing a common knowledge of exactly how it felt to be the recipient of Nina’s wrath.

When all of Gwyn’s luggages were collected (6 in all!), Brosie ran to the parking lot to retrieve his truck. Gwyn stood outside the airport and waited for him. She recognized the June air immediately. There was a cleanliness in the air that only her hometown could produce. The recognition was difficult to explain and only those raised in her town can comprehend such recognition. There was no odor of car exhaust that one would experience in a city, there wasn’t a feeling of vapid humidity or a staleness in the air, nor was there that smell of industrious building spewing off an undetectable iron like odor. There was just clarity in the air, if clarity had a fragrance.

Gwyn ignored the immediate pang that hit her insides, and reminded her self that she cannot succumb to the memories that would eventually flood her being. She must suppressed it for she has worked at it for years, and she cannot and will not come undone

Brosie pulled up in front of her and they loaded his truck with all of her luggage.

“I take it that this is how a woman packs when she’s planning on staying at home for a while, eh?” Brosie nonchalantly asked. He busied himself with loading her luggage in the bed of his truck.

“Possibly,” Gwyn smiled at him.

“Well, ok. At least text me if you’re planning on skipping out of town in the middle of the night like a wannabe badass,” Brosie winked at his sister, and not waiting for her reaction quickly walked to the driver side.

Gwyn opened the truck door and realized that she would need to actually catapult herself into the leather passenger seat.

“Jesus Christ, Brosie! Did you upgrade to a bigger and even bigger truck every year?!”

“Why, yes, I do. You know how monsters like these help with loading and unloading shit all the time: hay for the horses, equipment, bags of feed for the cows, a sister’s six piece designer luggage,” He reached out his hand to assist his sister. “Do you want me to go to the other side and give you a boost?” He laughed at her.

“Oh, shut up,” Gwyn took his hand and jumped gracefully to the passenger seat. “I should’ve backed up a bit while I was waiting for you, so that I had room to run and throw myself on to this seat!” Gwyn looked at her brother who easily maneuvered the beast into the driving lane.

“That would have been funny as all hell to watch you do that!” Brosie laughed at the thought of his sister catapulting herself onto his truck when just moments earlier she looked as if she was floating down the escalator while he waited for her. Brosie knew that Gwyn did not realize how out of place she looked among the passengers who were riding the escalator down with her. His sister’s outfit composed of a white buttoned down blouse tucked into her designer jeans, her lightweight black blazer neatly pressed, and her cashmere pashmina is a dead giveaway that she hasn’t lived in Fairbanks for a long while. All the other passengers looked scruffy next to his sister. Brosie noticed how some couldn’t help but gawked and glanced at her as she walked towards him. Besides her taste in fashion, Brosie had always been in awe with the way people acknowledged his sister’s beauty. His first memory was of her face singing him a lullaby when he was a baby. It was her face who comforted him back to sleep when he had nightmares soon after their parents died. He sought for her gentle almond shaped eyes like his mother’s, but unlike his mother’s, Gwyn’s eyes were the color of their father’s, green with the specks of blue. The color of her eyes grew brighter during the summer months when they were both just kids and spent time outside in the sun. Her hair would lightened up into a lighter brown during the many summers under the midnight sun. Many have been fascinated by the way they both look, and oftentimes were embarrassed to ask them of their origins—as if they were an unique species.

Brosie inherited their father’s height at 6’2, and while he also inherited his father’s light brown hair and pale skin—his features were credited to his mother—almond shaped eyes, and prominent nose. Brosie did not inherit, on the other hand, the maternal love their mother lacked. Brosie never longed for such love, because it was Nina whose maternal instinct took care of him from the moment he cried out loud in this world. Nina who always told him that she loved him like a mother should, but will kick his ass like a sister should she ever need to.

Gwyn, on the other hand, was always his partner in crime. She would defend him to protect him, chastised him when she felt he was being a brat, and loved him even if he had failed her. And, he had failed her in the past. He watched her broken, and could not find the words to soothed her pain. He was embarrassed that he wasn’t enough to help her through her brokenness. Instead of helping her face her pain, he helped her run away from it with the hope that she can fix her broken self.

“Why are you all quiet and deep in thought? Shouldn’t you be filling me in on this upcoming wedding?!” Gwyn asked her brother. Brosie looked over at his sister inquisitively looking at him.

“Ah, yes, the wedding. It will be two weeks of celebration. One week of an Indian celebration, and the other week of the blah-blah of the mundane wedding,” Brosie shrugged indifferently.

“Hmmm… I guess I’ll need to talk to Asha for the details?”

“Yes, that you should,” Brosie looked at Gwyn and raised his eyebrows nonchalantly.

“Ambrose. Are you sure this is what you want?”

“Look who is getting all serious all of the sudden?” he asked.

“Fine. I’ll have plenty of time to interrogate you,” Gwyn said to avoid any more discussions that may potentially lead to topics that both of them are not ready to discuss.

Brosie drove through Fairbanks, and immediately Gwyn noticed the change in her hometown. There are new buildings that have erected on lands that used to be quite empty, and there are more Thai food restaurants that didn’t even exists when she left. The roads remained the same, and as Brosie continue to drive on, each area brought forth a memory that Gwyn had long forgotten.

Brosie was careful to avoid certain streets that may trigger a memory that neither both of them would like to reminded by. But, what Brosie doesn’t understand was that it did not matter whether he avoided certain areas on their way to the house, every place in town reminded Gwyn of everything. Brosie was right in his hopes that Gwyn will learn how to fix herself, because she did: she found a way to block all that she could remember, and this drive through town was a testament to how she had learned to block all the emotions that had pounded at her very core to be released into exposure.

As Brosie turned into the Old Steese highway to Chena Hot Springs Road, Gwyn was triumphant that she passed her first test of overcoming her emotions. While she understood that the fix was temporary, she was hopeful that when the dam had been broken down out of her control that it should happen when there was no one there to witness it.

The drive home from town had always been Gwyn’s favorite. The highway that leads to their home exposed itself to vastness of the properties in the area. Once Brosie exited onto Chena Hot Springs Road, it would be about 2 miles when they can see a section of their family’s property. The acres of the flat land facing the highway are always green during the summer. Sometimes, the cows or the horses are out wandering the fields. Further back and away from the highway, those driving by will see houses peeking out from the trees that were strategically built or left there so that the houses were not fully exposed to the highway. When Gwyn’s great grandfather first trekked onto the last frontier, he knew immediately that while he would do business in town, he would settle his family and the future generations outside. He wanted a privacy that oftentimes cannot be found when living in the Golden Heart City. It was his hope that the acres of land he purchased would one day have several houses that will be called home by his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He built a lane that would serve as the main access to his property, and right along this lane with about 2-3 acres in between stood the houses for his family. He named the lane after his family name: Orendain. Francis Orendain lived to see who he thought would be his last great grandchild. As he lay dying, she told him as a only a 7-year old would “Poppa, I promise I will never leave home. I already carved my name, Guinevere, on the big birch tree.” Her smile was the last image he saw before he closed his eyes for the last time.

Guinevere grew up and everyone called her Gwyn. She carved other names on the big birch tree, but she failed on her promise and left far away from home.

 

~0~

     Thank goodness Gwyn’s flight was on time. As Brosie and Gwyn made their way to Orendain lane, Nina was outside as she kept herself busy preparing the family picnic table. The yard on the side of her house faced the acres of land in their property. A few years ago, she had Kent build her a garden cobblestoned pathway that served as stepping stones should one decide to take a nice walk into the property. Nina planned everything so that Gwyn’s welcome home brunch would remind her of what she has missed the last few years of being away.

Nina cooked all of her favorite dishes: omelet fritatas, Belgian waffles, Nutella crepes, and she even picked up some fresh fruit from the market and laid it all out for her. Of course, she didn’t ignore how the boys preferred a more heartier meal filled with several pounds of bacon, and sausages. The butcher made sure that he had it ready for Nina, when she did her running around town the day before Gwyn’s arrival.

She looked out over the flat land to see if she can spot Brosie’s truck, and when she didn’t, she made last minute checks on the layout of the table. She had her daughters decorate the table in which her eldest, Emily called “tres rustic chic.” Her youngest Julianna could care less about the table, but she understood how important it was to have Aunt Gwyn back home. The girls were excited to see their long lost Aunt. Emily was excited because she had seen through her social media how fashionable Gwyn conducted herself, and Julianna was more interested in the Aunt who found a way to escape this town.

After checking to make sure that the table had met her expectations, Nina went inside the kitchen and as she passed through the hall, she noticed the family portraits on the grand piano. In particular, the family photo before Ambrose was born, when it was only Papa, Mama Anchee, Nina, Joe, and a 2-year old Gwyn. Papa and Mama Anchee held on to each other for dear life. Her stepmother was looking up at her father with great affection and love, while her father looked lovingly back at her. Nina, on the other hand, had one arm wrapped around Joe’s shoulder, and the other carried Gwyn on her hip. Gwyn was holding on to her for dear life with one arm wrapped around Nina’s neck, and the other hand up to her mouth. In the same hand, Gwyn was holding on to her pink baby blanket and sucking her thumb.

Nina was only 12 years old when her father told her that he got married while he was in London, and that her stepmother will be arriving to Fairbanks with her baby sister. When Nina asked if the baby was her stepsister, her father told her that he had been in a relationship with his stepmother for the last 5 years. Her baby sister was biologically her half sister. Nina was confused, she was excited to the moon and back to have learned that she had a baby sister, but was appalled that her father was in a relationship with a woman who he kept secret from her. Nina was mortified when she soon learned that her baby sister was already two years old.

The night her father told her about the addition to their family, Nina snuck out of the house and ran to Grandmama’s house down the lane. Miss Patty, who had been Grandmama’s best friend answered the door, and immediately took her to Grandmama’s tea room. Miss Patty went back to the kitchen to make her some hot cocoa while her Grandmama filled her with the reality that her own father could not.

Grandmama was never one to hold back when it came to the truth. She was raised in the south (Georgia for that matter), but spent her summers in Europe where she visited her mother’s family. She stayed in London and it was there where she became cultivated in all aspects of life from different cultures.

Grandmama was a rare woman, indeed. For while she was nurtured in the hospitality and the generosity of the south, her worldly experience also made her critical of the ugliness that she had witnessed growing up. She was never one to shy away from her opinions, and as such found herself in opposition of the common views of her father’s family.

Nevertheless, Grandmama chose her battles well. When she fell in-love with Weston Orendain and his adventures, she found that a part of herself belonged to the mind of a man. Weston believed it was his heart, but Edwyna believed the heart was a fickle thing that changed the way one changed their clothing. But, the mind on the other hand, was far more stable in nature. At least, more so in others.

When Nina asked her grandmother about the news her father told her, Edwyna simply told her this:

“When I sent your father to take my place with visiting family in London four years ago, he met Anchee. She had just finished with her studies at Oxford. They met through one of your father’s cousins. It was love at first sight according to your father. And, of course, I had an inkling of the sort when I spoke to my sister, who indeed confirmed their relationship. They were completely and pathetically in-love. So much so that Anchee did not blink an eye when her mother disowned her. Her father, on the other hand, loved her truly that he continued to financially support her. Every year when your father visited London, he spent time with her. He found that he couldn’t live without her. Dear child, I do believe that he loves her more than he loved your mother. This was not to say that he loves you any less. Parents love their children differently than they do their lovers. In Anchee, he found the passion he desired for, whereas with your mother, he delighted in the friendship that she offered him. You must accept this, Marjielina. You now have a little sister who will need you far more than you can ever imagine. Accept it, and you’ll find life to be less troublesome.”

As always, Grandmama was right.

Nina welcomed Anchee and her little sister when they arrived in Fairbanks. Anchee was different in a sense that she did not belong in a town where there were no skyscrapers. She spoke differently and dressed differently. But, Nina accepted her because when her little sister first laid eyes on her, she ran to Nina as if she already knew who will be taking care of her. Nina can still remember how Gwyn ran to her and asked to be picked up. She said two words as if she had been practicing them all along “jiejie Nina,” she then hugged Nina’s neck and squeezed. Gwyn spoke a little Mandarin, and jiejie meant eldest sister. Ever since then, she was no longer called Marjielina—everyone simply called her Nina.

Nina remembered how fragile Gwyn was at 2 years old and brought a smile to Nina’s lips, and tears welled in her eyes. While Nina lived her life as she should, she always wanted the best for Gwynn. She worried about Gwynn, and mothered her. Gywn called it “smothering” instead. Nina thought that her smothering would lessen when she gave birth to her daughters. It didn’t. The feeling intensified. And, when the day came that she couldn’t fix the tragedy Gywn suffered, she felt her little sister break into a million pieces. And all Nina wanted to do was fix it for her.

However, for today, what Nina can do is to make sure that her homecoming was as welcoming as ever—at least, that Nina can fix.

~0~

     As Nina continued to busy herself with getting brunch ready, Joe was getting up to do get started with his day. While Piper was getting the kids ready, Joe focused on getting up. His daily routine for as long as he can remember included getting up to get dressed and go on his morning run. No matter the season, the only thing that held change would be the attire for his run. The winters are harsh and the temperature can range from zero degrees to fifty below. His cut off temperature was fifteen below. His wife had to compromise with him when it came to the extreme weather in the winter. After so many years of living in Fairbanks, Piper could never get used to it. She would need to adjust once he was no longer of this world. It would kill her to leave this town where the kids have called home. But, Joe knew it would kill her to live here with all the memories of them together.

When the oncologist in Seattle informed him of the cancer, he became angry with the world and with God. His anger became rooted to his core and attached itself to the cancerous cells, which may have been the cause for the spreading. He fueled them with his anger and they responded by multiplying. There is still so much he had planned.

He walked off the beaten path and into the woods that surround the family houses. There’s a serenity that Joe fell in-love with while growing up in Alaska. He’d seen the world, traveled to every continent when he was younger, and even still he’d return home to find that it was still the best place in the world.

He tried to pick up his pace while trying to be careful not to push too much or he’d find that he would have to return home. Joe knew the gravel path well that laid between the birch and black spruce trees prominent in the area.

How many times had he taken this path to escape to his thoughts, or sometimes from them? These tress have watched him grow up, and listened to him talk out loud by himself when he had to make those life-changing decisions.

He decided to pick up his pace a bit into jogging speed and thought of Piper. His Piper. His love for her has failed him—not even love can save them from cancer. As he felt his body give in to death, he told himself that he wanted to remember every single moment in his life. The memories with Piper are one of the most important. It took years for him to accept that she loved him enough to settle with him, and she didn’t blink when he suggested that they returned to his hometown.

They were both assigned to the same unit in the save the children organization which sent their workers to remote and dangerous areas in the world. Their youthfulness and passion for the belief that they can save the world one child at a time led them to fight for the same cause. Perhaps it was because they were both young, and passionate about their work that ignited an attraction between them. Or perhaps beneath it all, Piper recognized a mannerism in him that reminded her of home back in England. When Joe told her that he had distant relatives in London, she immediately gravitated towards him—a bit of home, even if it was found in an American.

In the end, as they spent five years together in places where famine and death were an everyday occurrence, they realized that life was a delicate thing and would be best spent with each other raising their own children; most importantly away from the devastation that they both faced while trying to save the world.

Joe wanted to run, to run as fast as he used to without collapsing. His body refused him, and had now betrayed him. Such realization slowed him down and he decided to walk instead. He looked up at the trees and he saw the sun attempting to penetrate the leaves. Such beauty surrounded him and he breathe it all in. What a wonderful sad beauty. He closed his eyes and attempted to feel the ray of sun that shined twenty-four hours during the summer. His skin prickled as the heat gently touched him. He opened his eyes and he was still looking up. He smiled and turned his gaze straight on ahead.

There, standing before him, was a sight that he had not seen in a long time. His darling little sister was looking straight at him with the smirk on her face when he used to catch her sneaking cookies in her hiding place.

My, my, little Gwynnie—the lotus rose–has come home.

~0~

     Dante woke up with a nervousness that he had not felt in a long time. His restlessness grew tiresome, as the days got closer to Gywn’s arrival. All those years that he buried deep into his bones are surfacing to the very fibers of his hair. He dreamt of her coming home and, while the reason behind her homecoming was not meant for him—she was coming home nonetheless. Brosie texted him yesterday to see if he would like to accompany him to the airport to pick her up, as much as cared for his once brother in-law, he too, must admit that the kid had no sense of the reaction his sister would have had should her (ex)-husband (husband to Dante, ex-husband to Gwyn) show up at her arrival. Dante texted Brosie back to tell him “no thanks.”

Dante looked at the clock and realized that her plane must have touched down already and they are making their way to Orendain lane. Nina and Grandmama extended the brunch invitation out to him a few days ago, and he had to negotiate with the matriarchs that while he won’t be able to make it to brunch, he will make it up by cooking them dinner at the restaurant. Dante wanted Gwyn’s homecoming to be a happy one, and he felt that his presence may take away from their reunion.

Dante and Gwyn’s reunion will need to be done in private.

He told them that he reserved the private dining room just for the clan, and he will oversee every detail of the dinner—including dessert. The dessert finished off a meal to perfection. Even more so important to Dante was that the dessert will be specially made for Gwyn. It’s about time he told her the truth (one of many). The only way he knew how was through dessert.

One of the truths that he will need to confess was that he followed her a year after she left when moved to Paris. While she stayed there to establish herself as a food critic and writer, he studied to be a chef. He kept busy during the day, and at night he spent his time at the Patisserie learning how to make desserts—in particular, the famous macaron. Gwyn fell in-love with the confection. She mastered it one winter, and when she finally perfected the “feet” of the macaron, she and Aurie screamed in delight.

Dante’s heart felt a pang at the thought of Aurie. The macaron became Gwyn’s obsession that winter. It was a reminder of better days when Gwyn smiled at the thought of accomplishing something so that she can show Aurie what it meant when a woman puts her mind to something.

One day while he was in Paris, he caught a glimpse of Gwyn stepping into the pattiserie, he snuck to the back, but was able to watch her behind the door that led to the kitchen.

Marguerite, who always greeted her customers, asked Gwynn if there was anything she would like. Dante heard Gwynn ask if they had any raspberry macarons.

“Oh non, Mademoiselle. I believe we do not. Not today.”

“Pardonnez, moi. Raspberry macarons was ma fille’s favorite. We used to make it together for her birthday.”

“Ah, bonne anniversaire pour au fille, Madame!”

“Oh, merci. She would have been eight years old tomorrow.”

Dante could tell that it must have struck Marguerite that the woman she was helping had lost her daughter. He noticed Marguerite’s hand rise up to her eyes to wipe away what tear may have pooled at its corner. Gwynn smiled her empty smile and told Marguerite that it was fine. The women chatted a bit more and he heard Gwynn tell her that she will return the next day.

Soon after Gwynn left, Marguerite ran to where Dante and the Chef was working. “C’est horrible!” Marguerite kept saying over and over as she recounted the story of Madamoiselle. It was a story that Dante did not need to hear, but was strong enough to sit through. He was there that day, and he didn’t have the energy to let both of them know. Dante offered to make the raspberry macaron for the American woman, and both Marguerite and Chef Patou agreed. They both had no idea that the father of the child was also feeling the pain that the American woman felt. Dante was touched at their reaction to Gwyn.

He perfected the macaron a la framboise that night. When Gwyn stopped by the next evening, Marguerite handed her a box of the macaron. She told Gwyn that they named the macaron – the Aurorie. Gwyn was touched by their kindness.

It was only when Gwyn got home that she realized she did not tell Marguerite her daughter’s name. Gwyn shrugged it off as mere coincidence, and perhaps she did mention it to Marguerite and simply forgot. Her mind told her this, but her heart told her a different story. During this time in Gwyn’s life she suffocated all things that came from her heart. While Gwyn may have denied her heart its ability to remind her of such sorrow or happiness, Dante, on the other hand, could not.

Dante called his restaurant to let them know that he will be on his way soon. He told Jack, his sous chef, to receive the order of fresh salmon, and prepare it for the evening’s menu. As soon as he got off the phone, he took a shower, and got dressed. His usual uniform of baby blue buttoned down shirt (a reminder that he was English, after all and still), and his blue jeans. He looked in the mirror and the man who stared back at him had eyes as blue as Fairbanks’ sky on a midnight sun morning. His hair gleamed a light brown with the gray that have yet to showcase themselves. His squared jaw was now covered in a close shaven beard. He looked Alaskan, yet his British accent betrayed him and always revealed his origin. An outsider who made Alaska his home. Gwyn always told him that men who are not aware of their own handsomeness added to their appeal. Dante never cared for his looks–even when he suffered through his mental lapse nor when he returned to life after that.

He checked his watch. Eight hours before he will come face to face with the first and the last woman in his life.

~End of Chapter 1~

A Note: This project of a novel was started in 2013, and it has been in its slumber since.  I’ve decided to resurrect this project so that I can finish it several chapters at a time.  I will post a few chapters here and there, and sometimes excerpts.  The stories that weaves within these lines continue to flitter in my mind–that the only way, it seems, to ease the flittering is to set them free… 

Photos by The Talented Fairbanksan Photographer Rachel Marney of Marney Photography: http://marneyphotography.wixsite.com/mysite

 

One thought on “The Year The Aurora Met The Sun: A Novel

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