The downtown area was once the entry of the many settlers who travelled up the river to trade goods. Those who made the decision to live in the land known as the last frontier were considered to be folks of the heartier kind ready for the adventure that life would throw at them. The lifestyle in Fairbanks during the early 1900s were not for the faint of heart.
Today the river that runs through the downtown area still maintain the rich history that it possessed, but its occupants have become modernized in a world that continues to change with the times.
Dante’s decided a few years ago that his dream of building a restaurant must be close to the river. The beauty of downtown is rich with the diversity of its occupants. His vision for the cuisine that he chose to embark represents all that he’s learned throughout his travels but also culminates the life experience he’s had to endure.
His restaurant sits at the bank of the river and provides a view of downtown. The outside patio included tables for those who wanted to eat under the midnight sun. The ambiance in the restaurant represented a certain aesthetic that’s the hybrid from a bit of the London pub scene, an homage to the Alaskan grown, and most importantly, the photography pieces featured on the walls that represented the landscape of Fairbanks. He was specific with what he wanted to feature on the walls and this was something that he was adamant about holding on to.
As his staff prepared for the evening service, Dante made sure that the room reserved for a large party was especially handled with care. He instructed his staff to be on point with the place setting, and to ensure that every detail was met with perfection.
Dante inspected every inch of the restaurant and only when every detail met his expectation that he gave his approval to his staff.
“Folks, you all know the guests that we will need to pay close attention to for tonight’s service. It’s no secret, but I appreciate all of your discretion,” he looked at the staff who he considered his family for the last several years.
“Chef, we’re here for you. This is your night and we are here,” Ben assured the man who he looked up to and considered as a mentor.
“Thank you, Ben,” Dante responded.
“Chef, she will love this place,” Ben reassured him.
“Folks, let’s just say that I am going to apologize to all of you ahead of time should I seem to be out of place, and I appreciate you all backing me up. It’s a big night. Let’s have a good service,” Dante nodded at the faces smiling back at him.
On her drive into town, Nina had a few minutes to herself to imagine the many outcomes of the evening. She prepared several plans to insure that the chaos or damage would be as minimal as possible. However, she was aware that she can plan until she was blue in the face, but she will not have full control on how the evening would unfold. How would her little sister act? Would her old self emerge and call everyone out for planning something quiet outrageous, or would her broken self decide to retreat into complete silence? Nina had planned for these two possible outcomes. She would gently guide Gwyn out of the restaurant and remain as calm as possible. She would explain how life had been since she left, and she would drive her sister home and listen to her cry her eyes out. She’d make her some tea, and hold her until she fell asleep just like how she did each time Gywn needed her. Yes, that was Nina’s plan.
Nina could never get the image out of her head—no matter how hard she tried throughout the years. It was when Gwy walked away from it all. Nina watched Gwyn walk down from her driveway without looking back at her house. In the house, Dante sat in his chair and did not chase after her. At the end of her driveway, was Nina, Joe, and Brosie. All three were going to take Gwyn to the airport. The look on Gywn’s face bore a pain that Nina could never imagine. When Nina thought of Gwyn’s sadness, it was that face that continued to surface.
Molly wouldn’t stop talking. She talked about how she drove down to Chitna by herself, and dip-net for salmon. She described in detail how she killed several rabbits along the way and the many little animals that decided to cross the highway as she drove. She even went as far as detailing the people she met as she camped overnight. She chuckled at some of the newbie Alaskans attempting to figure out where the best spots were to fish for salmon. Molly kept talking as Gwyn sat there listening. Gwyn knew better than to interrupt her cousin when she’s on a roll talking about the things she loved to do.
“Sweetie, when was the last time you ate salmon?” Molly asked.
“When you had it FedEx Frankfurt, remember?” Gwyn answered
“Ah, yes. That’s right. Was it cooked properly?”
“Of course, it was,” Gwyn replied.
“Still not going to bring it up, huh?”
“No, Molly—not right now. I find I don’t have the ounce of energy to discuss it,” Gwyn said.
“Babe, sooner or later. You’re going to have to spill that shit,” Molly clucked her tongue in exasperation.
“Shut-up, Mols,” Gwyn turned her head and watched the fields go by.
Molly parked the car as she continued to rant about how people in town no longer have the capability to drive safely and carefully. Gwyn was half-listening to her cousin as she thought about Molly’s own style of driving. Gwyn felt like she had been in a daze all day long, and she blamed it on the jet lag that she was experiencing. She followed Molly into the restaurant who maneuvered her way through the maze of tables and people. Gwyn looked at her watch and hoped that the evening will end soon. Molly led both of them into a room that was surrounded by large windows overlooking the river. In the center of the room was a large table and the setting looked magnificent. There were peonies in vases that were placed along the center of the table. Gwyn noticed that her family from the morning brunch was already setting in.
“Sweetie, you two made it! Jesus—with Molly driving, who knows how late you two would have gotten here,” Nina rushed up to Gwyn and gave her a hug as if she had not just seen her just hours before. “You ok?” Nina asked Gwyn.
“Yep, I’m fine. Just jet lagged, I think. I’m a bit in a fog,” Gwyn answered. She made her rounds greeting everyone who she just saw a few hours earlier. Gwyn gave her grandmamma a kiss on the cheek where she sat at the head of the table.
“Let’s go ahead and sit, everyone!” Nina said.
Gwyn was looking out the window admiring the view, and she wondered what a great idea it was to open a restaurant right by the river.
“Hi everyone! Should I introduce you to your server tonight?” Gwyn turned around at the sound of his voice. The room fell silent as Gwyn eye’s focused on the man wearing the chef’s jacket. Dante caught her eyes, and gave his nervous smile. Gwyn blinked a couple of times to make sure that what she was seeing was real.
Dante looked exactly how she last saw him except he didn’t. He no longer had the overgrown beard he allowed to take over his face to cover the depression that he felt those years ago. His eyes were still the brightest blue that she had ever seen.
“Wait, what?” Gwyn asked the room that fell silent, and she looked at all the worried faces that looked at her, and then back at Dante, “excuse me, I’m going to step outside for a second, and re-orient myself. Give me two seconds,” she said. She walked herself out of the room, and through the restaurant dining room area where she took in what she ignored when she walked in.
The dining room was beautiful. The walls were filled with photographs, and as Gwyn looked closely, she knew each and every one of them. The room was filled with diners drinking their wine, and savoring their food. She stepped outside to look at the building itself, and for the first time she noticed the restaurant’s name The Aurora.
Dante watched Gwyn walk out of the room in a daze. He immediately recognized her from the bar when she came in following Molly. Molly saw him and gave him a thumbs-up, but Gwyn didn’t notice the restaurant at all. She followed Molly as if she had been lost in a crowd. When he entered the private dining area, her back was turned to him and only when he spoke did she turned around. She looked at him as if she couldn’t determine if he was real or if she had been dreaming.
“I better go follow her,” he said to the family looking right at him.
“Man, I thought she was going to blow up. I think it’s going better than we thought,” Brosie said walking in.
“Dante, you go ahead after her—that way if she is going to explode, you will be the first casualty,” Molly said.
“Molly! Please!” Nina yelled.
“I’m going to talk to her. Ben, please see that everyone is settled for the courses. I’ll bring Guinevere back,” Dante said.
He walked out of the main doors to find her looking up at the restaurant name. She had the look on her face when she was always in awe of seeing something for the first time. Dante’s face would express the same each time he looked at her.
Gwyn looked at him and smiled.
“You did it? You did all of this?” she asked.
“Yes, do you like it?” he asked.
“It’s brilliant, and amazing. I have no other words,” Gwyn said.
“She’s a beauty, but she doesn’t compare to her namesake,” Dante answered. Gwyn looked at Dante and smiled. She walked closer to where he was standing, and faced him.
“How are you?” she asked. Dante fought the urge to wrap his arms around the woman who he’s loved since they were children. Instead, he didn’t trust himself and stuck his hands in his pockets.
“I’ve been well,” he answered, “how about you?”
“Oh, jet lagged. Back home. Can’t really find the words, and stumbling a bit,” Gwyn said.
Dante couldn’t help himself and his hand left his pant pocket and found itself gently moving a strand of hair from Gwyn’s face. It has been years since he’s touched any part of her.
Gwyn stepped back, and looked away.
“I’m sorry—that was inappropriate,” he said.
“No, it’s fine. It’s just… it’s been awhile, and I just remembered where we are now,” Gwyn said.
“Where are we now?” Dante asked. Gwyn looked at him and she recognized the look on his face. It was a look of determination, and Gwyn knew that he has already prepared for her return.
“We’re here. We’re talking after years of absence,” she answered. Dante exhaled, and smiled at her. I know that smile, Gwyn thought.
“How about we start with dinner?” he asked.
“That sounds pretty good,” Gwyn smiled back. Dante opened the door for her, and as she walked right by him, he gently took a hold of her arm.
“Welcome home, my love,” he whispered in her ear.
Gwyn stared at his hand on her arm. She refused to look him like she did all those years ago–more than anything, she feared that she’d see the truth she has worked so hard to keep dormant.