There’s a restaurant called Juliana on Peterson, out in the northwest end of the city where people commuting to and fro pass it everyday. It’s not much to look at during the day, but at night cars crowd the entrance and lines form outside, even on a Wednesday in the middle of Chicago heat. They talk about Juliana in Zagat’s and the restaurant magazines, as a tucked-away little place with just the right atmosphere to bring even the most stringent socialite out to the near-burbs.

It’s owned by a guy named Lance Bass–and there’s an interesting story there. He told it once to one of those magazines, but anyone who knows him has the story memorised backwards and forwards. He had an uncle, a great-uncle, involved in the War. He shipped out to Italy, spent a good couple years there, and went and fell in love just like so many of those soldiers did. His name was Jody–a good-looking man, but he didn’t seem to have an eye for the ladies after he came back. Jody was taken with a young woman named–you guessed it–Juliana, over on the other side of the world. They never got to be together, because he had to go back to the States and she remained in Italy, but not before she’d caught him with her cooking and her smile. When he came back to Chicago, he opened the restaurant in memory of her.

Lance loved that story so much that he scraped together enough money to buy it back from the people who’d bought Jody’s estate after his death. It took months of preparation to get the restaurant back up to style because of codes, a new look, and more publicity; but when he found Joey, who was as passionate about Juliana as he was, everything came together. They just clicked.

They tell a story about how Jody would call Juliana from the kitchen when the music from the village would reach her little house, and that’s what Lance does now: he calls Joey to the front while the band plays the opening strands of La Vide del Amore for the anticipatory crowd. Joey comes out with a seemingly reluctant grin on his face and wipes his hands on his chef whites. He pulls Kelly carefully into his arms, slipping easily into a dance they’ve done night after night for years, moving with the fluidity of two bodies that know each other very well.

Lance doesn’t dance because he’s convinced himself he can’t; and this really is part of the show, something they do for the customers, for tradition, for Jody. Lance never wants to mess with that, like he fears he would. So he has Joey and Kelly dance, and they don’t mind, because it’s sweet and they’re both good at it anyway.

Even as Joey’s eyes are flying around the room and he’s pressed closely to Kelly with every pretense of attention, his gaze always jumps to Lance. It makes Lance smile, when Joey makes sure to find him across the room as he twists Kelly into a clever turn or dip.

After a few minutes the song ends and Joey and Kelly thank the crowd for their applause and appreciation. Kelly steps away to deal with the minor crises that have cropped up in the time she wasn’t there, and Joey pulls Lance aside as if he’s going to speak with him in private.

Instead they scoot into a conveniently enclosed space just off the main kitchen, and Joey presses his lips to Lance’s as soon as the door shuts. They’ve been doing this for awhile, though the whole kitchen staff knows and grins at each other when Joey comes back into the kitchen kiss-smudged and a little more rumpled than he was before. It’s part of the charm of the restaurant, a little bit of show and intrigue to match the excellent menu that granted them their three coveted Michelin stars.

Critics like to eat here because Lance’s smile isn’t fake when he welcomes them to the dining room, and if they’re lucky, the kitchen. He’s never anything but courteous; even so, if you mistreat any of the waitstaff or seek to give less than honest reviews of Juliana’s, he won’t hesitate to ask you politely but firmly to leave. Lance rarely has to do this, and he’s never gotten truly angry–at least, not on the surface.

There are always tables of family in the back corner of the restaurant, people whose meals are comp’ed even against the better judgment of Lance’s accountant. Every time Howie points out how much they lose on meals each quarter, Lance shrugs and reminds him that Juliana’s is a family kitchen first and foremost.

All their family, the kitchen’s, management’s, waitstaff’s, repay him in their own ways: free advertising in a magazine or newspaper, overtipping the servers, bringing highpaying clients and business parties there. Lance has no chance of going under; he’s seen well to that.

Chris, Joey’s sous-chef, is a tenured professor at Northwestern on sabbatical. He teaches political science and social policy, and one night when he and Lance were shooting the shit after the place had closed and everything got cleaned up he’d confided that he’d gotten sick of explaining why the underprivileged class needed to be understood and cared about to students who’d probably never gone hungry in their entire life.

He’s a good sous-chef, focused and always barking orders or information. The best part of the evenings in the kitchen is when he goes over to the two foot by two foot square of space Lance grudgingly lets him smoke in, lights up, and quotes famous philosophers, poets, and writers between smoky drags on his cigarette. Tonight it was Euclid; yesterday it was John Donne.

Chris goes home to his dogs and his youngest sister Taylor who moved in with him when came to school at Northwestern. She bitches at him for living out in Belmont because of the commute, but he points out with gin at his lips that not only has he done it for four years, there’s an express purple line and she’s not paying rent anyway, so shut it. She does, but only after banging her books around to indicate her mood. But she usually cooks dinner for them both in thanks, which means more to him than anything because he doesn’t have to go anywhere near the kitchen when he gets home.

JC and Justin have been together for-fucking-ever, since practically the womb, and with JC at Loyola and Justin interning at a record company downtown they both need something to get by on. They found Juliana by accident, and JC was captivated when he saw Joey dance for the first time. It’s not exactly close, except by city standards, but they live in Loyola, so it’s only two train stops and a bus ride away. Justin works the front, running tables and charming customers. It pays to work for a high-end restaurant, not only because there’s a steady cash flow, but the tips are magnificent. Tonight Justin makes enough to pay their cell bills *and* their cable internet bill, and that’s enough to make him go through cleanup without so much as one snide comment.

JC works with AJ, the pastry chef, who is slowly teaching him the tricks of the trade. JC is too involved in his theology graduate program to devote the time and effort AJ has put into mastering the art of the cannoli and the crème frềche, but there are days when he looks at the perfectly constructed cakes he helped create and very seriously thinks about switching to a culinary school.

Lance and Joey have finished their small tryst for the evening, and even though Lance regains his composure quickly, he can’t rid himself of the blush that tinges his ears as he smoothes down the front of his suit. JC taps him on the shoulder, and with a grin on his face hands him the banana gelatos for table sixteen, where an influential city alderman has come to dine for the evening. Lance rolls his eyes, but returns JC’s smile, and takes the desserts over to make pleasant conversation with the alderman and his wife for a few minutes.

Justin keeps weaving in and out of Lance’s line of sight, like he’s trying get Lance’s attention, and finally Lance pulls himself away from the people who keep coming up to him with questions and compliments and follows Justin to the back. Justin points out that it’s Thursdays, and Thursdays mean that Kevin comes to argue with Lance about publicity and his image and his growing place in Chicago business. Justin rests his hands in his pockets as Lance rubs his eyes, because Lance has obviously forgotten about the whole thing and everyone knows Lance really regrets ever hiring a publicist in the first place.

As the restaurant grows, though, Lance’s name keeps appearing in newspapers and the invitations for him to come to events and openings and other restaurants are filling his inbox and his email. He likes going out, but his life is in the restaurant, so after seven days a week of schmoozing and talking and carefully overseeing everything he likes to stay at home with Joey in the condo they bought a couple years ago. They have dogs and a garden. It’s nice.

Joey tells him he should go, though, because it’s good for the restaurant and it’s good for him, too. They’ve argued about this a couple times, Lance even bringing his uncle into the mix and Joey pointing out that Jody is dead and would love Lance for whatever he did to make the restaurant a success anyway. Lance just can’t believe that removing himself from the restaurant is in any way good for it, but he capitulates just a little and agrees to find someone to help run the place, freeing him of some responsibility and time. That’s where Brian comes into the picture, and it comes as a complete surprise to him the first Thursday Kevin comes in and greets Brian as his cousin.

With Brian comes Nick, a fidgety big guy with glasses who confesses that he really just needs work, because he moved here to get away from some bad shit and doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. Lance was always a sucker for hard cases and lets Nick work with Kelly. She said she didn’t mind the help, but even so he felt guilty for altering her job so abruptly. Nick seems good at it, though, slowly getting over his nervousness and greeting customers with a friendly smile. He’s so grateful for the work that it almost serves to make Lance uncomfortable, and he tells Justin to make sure Nick goes home with something to eat every night. Justin says he and JC have already taken Nick under their wing, which is probably a good thing.

It’s the end of the week and payday, and there’s something that makes Lance feel good about handing out checks. He likes to take care of people, and this is the best way he knows how. Friday night, three am, and everything is cleaned up and put away. Lance clicks off the light and goes out to the car where Joey is waiting for him, the engine running. Lance thinks his uncle would be proud of him; his mother always said he looked like Jody, anyway.