"Maybe I WIll" Bonus Content.

…In Three Years

“You ready for this?” Chloe asks, smoothing the shoulders of her husband’s crisp white chef smock.

 

The kitchen swelters already, the prep line working like crazy, soups simmering, skillets sizzling. This hum of noise is a comforting soundtrack for Dylan. The bustle and clang, this hiss and steam, it’s all blending as perfectly as if Jonah had produced it in his studio. The sounds have always meant familiarity, rhythm, groove, good food, hard work, happy diners. But tonight, they mean something else. A fanfare announcing a main event. 

 

Dylan smiles at Chloe’s question. “I want to say something cool, like, ‘I was born ready,’ but I got nothing. I’m freaking out.’”

 

Chloe’s eyes search Dylan’s face. “You don’t look freaked out. You look like you’re ready to go out there and blow everyone’s minds.”

 

“Thanks, babe.” He grabs her and pulls her in for a quick kiss, heedless of any watching eyes from the kitchen staff. 

 

“Watch it, chef.” Jerome brushes past them with a sauce pan and marinade brush, popping his hip to give Chloe a bump. It tips her into Dylan and makes her laugh. 

 

“You watch it, chef,” Dylan retorts. “I’ll demote you and make the dishwasher instead of chef-de-cuisine.”

 

“Joey can’t sauce like I can sauce,” Jerome calls over his shoulder as he opens the oven to glaze the roasting duck. 

 

“True, chef,” Joey calls. He’s already washing the first batch of pans. “I can’t sauce like Chef Jerome can sauce.”

 

“I feel like you aren’t taking my threats seriously,” Dylan complains. 

 

Jerome heads back our way, sauce pan still in hand. “Why should I? You got someone else that can do this?”

 

He wafts it past us, letting the rich smell of his plum sauce do his talking. Dylan smiles and shakes his head, but Chloe’s face freezes in a moment of panic, her eyes widening before she claps her hand over her mouth. 

 

“You don’t like it?” Jerome’s face falls. 

 

Dylan pulls Chloe in for a hug and whispers in her ear. “If we don’t tell him, it’s going to hurt his feelings.”

 

She nods and steps back. “It smells amazing, Jerome. I’m . . .”

 

She glances toward Dylan, who says nothing, just stands there, grinning. 

 

“I’m sensitive to smells right now. And might be for a while.”

 

Jerome narrows his eyes. “I got enough nieces and nephews to know what that means. You being serious?”

 

Chloe gives him a small smile and shakes her head. 

 

He answers with a big smile of his own. “All right, then.” Then he hurries the plum sauce away from her. 

 

“I guess we need to tell everyone else too,” Chloe says. 

 

“Let’s do it tonight after dinner service.”

 

“Deal. Now let me go check on our guests.”

 

Dylan stays in the kitchen to oversee all the plating and service for this first night of the soft open when they’re serving friends and family. In three more days, they’ll have their official grand opening with some of the biggest hitters in the regional food review scene and lots of high-profile local VIPs. But tonight above all nights, he wants to make sure their friends and family enjoy the best that he and Jerome have to offer.

 

Chloe walks out to the front of the restaurant where their closest friends and family fill half the tables. Other staff friends and family are scheduled to arrive in fifteen-minute increments so that the servers and kitchen aren’t overwhelmed. But right now, the faces smiling back at her are the ones she, Dylan, and Jerome love best. 

 

“Welcome to Fuse,” she says, and warm applause greets her. “This is a concept Chef Dylan Jones has wanted to bring to life for several years. Thanks to some brave investors,” she winks at Miles and Miss Mary, “that vision is here. Sourced from the finest ingredients, Chef Jones brings his signature flare and bold flavors to a careful curated list of dishes, fusing unexpected cuisines to make dishes that are unique and wholly his own. We invite you to order a variety of dishes at your tables to embrace as much of this special experience as possible.” She pauses her rehearsed speech for a moment. “On a side note, I’m so proud of my husband. He’s put together an amazing menu.” She smiles as they crowd applauds again, then adds, “If you’re interested in learning any more about these cuisines, please scan the QR code on the back of your menu for a detailed history of each.”

 

“I heard you had some big shot writer do those,” Anneke calls from her table with Jonah, Miles, and Ellie. 

 

“Yeah, a James Beard Award finalist for a written feature on Mississippi foodways,” Ellie adds. 

 

Chloe’s cheeks pinken, but she only gestures for them to settle down. “Enough about that. Let’s eat!”

 

Another round of applause, and then the murmur of voices rises to a happy thrum as people exclaim over the menus and study their choices. 

 

She stops at Miss Mary’s table, where she and her husband sit with Dylan’s parents. “What do you think so far?”

 

“Impressive,” Miss Mary says. “But I knew it would be. Restaurants generally are a bad investment, but Dylan is a sure thing.”

It’s true. He’d proven it with the success of his food trucks which had expanded to three over the last three years.

 

“We appreciate you anyway,” Chloe says. “I’ll have to come back when you get your orders and see what you think.”

 

She moves to her parents’ table next. “Hey, y’all.”

 

“Hey, honey.” Her dad stands and gathers her into a hug. “I haven’t even decided what to order, and it’s already an outstanding experience.”

 

“This is incredible,” her mom agrees. “We’re so proud of you, Chloe.”

 

“Thanks, Mom.” She crouches beside their table and drops her voice. “Can I tell y’all a little secret before Dylan announces it to everyone else when he takes his bows later tonight?”

 

“Of course,” they say in unison, then smile at each other. 

 

Chloe rests her hand against her stomach. “There’s a little fusion happening here too. And you’ll be able to spoil it in about seven-and-a-half months.”

 

Her mom catches on first, her hand flying to her mouth to cover her gasp. “You’re pregnant?” 

 

Chloe nods, and her dad gives a suspicious sniff. “I’m going to be a pawpaw?”

 

“You are,” she says. 

 

“Oh, sweetie.” Her mom reaches out to clasp her hand. “You are going to be such an amazing mama.”

 

“You think so?” Chloe asks. 

 

“I know so.” She pulls Chloe into a hug. “But just remember, Clo. I warned you this would happen if you did too much Netflix and chill.”

 

And the rest of the dining room spends the next few minutes trying to figure out what’s funny enough to make their hostess laugh until she cries.