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Caught Up: Chapter 39


I wake, reorienting myself.

I’m in Chicago.

Kai’s bed.

A smile immediately blooms on my lips until I blink away the sleep, looking around, looking for him.

Only I’m not in his bed. I’m in my van.

I’m in LA.

My stomach dips just as it did the first day without him because each morning, as I wake from my sleep, the realization sinks in that I’m two thousand miles away.

The realization that today I won’t be baking in their kitchen, won’t hear Kai’s encouragement, won’t get to kiss him. And I won’t be playing outside with Max in the afternoon. I’ll be at Luna’s to meet with Maven over her menu changes.

Stretching, I roll my way out of bed but as my feet hit the floor, so does the framed photo I slept with, crashing with an undeniable crack.

No, no, no. I’m too fragile for this right now.

I cautiously pick it up. The glass from the frame is completely splintered with the center of said crack landing right over my face.

That seems fitting.

A pathetic whimper creeps up my throat because yes, now I’m the person to cry over a broken frame. I guess that’s what happens when you start forming attachments.

I carefully place it upside down on the counter, promising to buy a new frame on the way back from my meeting with Maven. I unclasp the prongs, loosening the backboard so I can pull the picture out, hoping it didn’t get scratched in the fall.

And as I disassemble the thing, Kai’s handwriting comes into view, right there on the back of the photo.

Our names—Max, Miller, and Malakai are accompanied by the date and year with a small inscription below.

I hope you’re out there finding your joy because you’re the reason we found ours.

And just like that, on day eight, I’m ruined all over again.


“I’ve followed your career since I was in culinary school,” I admit like the fangirl I am. “You did a four-day seminar on brioche. Mixing, shaping, proofing, baking, all of it, and I don’t think I had ever been so excited about bread before.”

“I remember that. I think I gained like thirty pounds going around the country and teaching that class.” Maven brings her espresso to her lips. “You’re impressive, Chef. I enjoyed watching you on the line last night.”

“As are you. Your line is . . . well-trained.” I blow on my chai tea latte, helping it cool.

“They’re the best, and I’m looking forward to having you join us for the next three months. I can’t wait to see what kind of changes you’re thinking about for the dessert menu.”

I pull out my notebook and pen, setting it on the table between us. The pages are filled with ideas on how to incorporate all the fresh California fall fruits. I don’t know that it’s inspiration that’s struck me since I got here last week, but instead, a fear of allowing my mind to be quiet. To allow it the space to miss everything I left behind.

“There’s a pomegranate dish stirring in my brain that I can’t wait to play with,” I explain as Maven flips through the pages of my notebook.

“Why haven’t you opened your own patisserie? With your name on the project, there’d be a line down the block.”

“I uh . . . never felt the desire to stay in one place long enough to do that. I liked getting to live in a new city every three months.”

She nods, continuing to flip through my notes. “Do you still like it?”


“You said ‘liked’. Do you still like it?”

Her brown eyes lift from the pages to find me sitting in silence.

I take a sip of my chai. “I won’t lie, it’s lost a bit of its luster.”

She chuckles, closing the book and sliding it back to my side of the table. “My advice, after twenty years in the industry, stop giving your brilliance to other people. Put your name on it and own it.” She pulls her espresso back to her lips, smiling behind the tiny cup. “After you finish donating a bit to me this fall, of course.”

Chuckling, I tuck my notebook back in my bag.

“Sorry we haven’t gotten a chance to sit down like this yet,” she continues. “You know how hectic prep time is and I’m sure you’ve noticed I only work two dinner shifts a week.”

Thursdays and Sundays, to be exact.

“Shannon, your second in command, is great too. The kitchen really respects her.”

“She’s a lifesaver, having someone I trust so much to run things while I’m not here. When I decided to open Luna’s after my daughter was born, I promised myself and my family that work would come second. It’s a hard balance to have. This industry isn’t conducive to families, as I’m sure you know.”

“Oh, I’m well aware.”

“But I love this.” She gestures around the dining room. “Running a kitchen, shaping a menu. Trusting my staff is the way I get to have both.” She finishes her espresso, pushing the saucer away from her. “So, what’s your favorite part of all this, Chef? Is it the chaos? The gratification of getting through a busy night? The creativity? What’s your why?”

There’s no hesitation when I say, “Feeding the people I love.”

Maven chokes on her own saliva with a laugh. “Then what the hell are you doing here? I couldn’t tell you the last time I cooked for a loved one. Now it’s all critics and fine dining . . . what do they call themselves? Foodies? But that’s what I enjoy most, feeding the people who want that kind of food.”

I don’t respond, using my chai to keep my mouth occupied.

“This little summer hiatus of yours,” Maven fills the silence. “You’re named Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year and disappear. You had the food world in a tizzy, Miller, and I’m honored to be your first kitchen back. But you’ve got to tell me, what the hell was that about?”

Do I tell her the truth about the burnout and the pressure? Will she look down on me for it? Judge me? Use it against me?

I tread cautiously, but honestly. “I was feeling a bit burnt out.”

“Already?” she raises a single brow.

I pull my eyes from her.

“I hit that place about four years ago. Granted, I was fifteen years in at the time. I left and had my daughter. Found a new passion for life in her, but I still had this ache to be here too.” She taps her finger against the tabletop, referencing her restaurant. “Do you mind if I give you a piece of advice? From one old chef to a fresh, young one?”

I laugh. “You’re not old, but yes, please do.”

“If you ever feel like you’ve truly lost your passion for this, quit. Your food will never meet its potential because you’ll never meet your potential. This career is not for the faint of heart. You will be beaten down on the line, day in and day out. You know this. But if you’re questioning if you made the right decision, you’ve already made the wrong one.

“Find your passion, Miller. Find what makes you excited to get up every morning and if it’s not this, walk away.”

Well, fuck me, am I that obvious?

“This is what I’m good at.”

“Oh, you’re fucking brilliant at it. But you know what’s better than being the best at something you don’t love? Being mediocre at something you do.”

“It’s really not that easy, Chef. I have a four-year waitlist of kitchens I’m scheduled for, just like this one.”

“Do you have signed contracts? Has money been exchanged?”

“Just verbal agreements.”

She waves me off as if saying I didn’t owe anyone anything with only a verbal contract.

I don’t have much more to add to that piece of the conversation because my mind has been doing cartwheels all summer knowing something has felt off for quite a while.

“All right Miss Food & Wine cover girl.” Maven claps her hands, putting the big questions on pause. “I need to know about these top-secret recipes. And where did you end up taking the cover photo? They called to get my permission to shoot here, but then called back to say they had a set in Chicago.”

A set in Chicago. I could laugh. They had a beautiful kitchen in someone’s home with a toddler running around.

“I was helping my dad this summer in Chicago. He’s a baseball coach and his starting pitcher has a son who needed a nanny for a couple of months. We took the pictures in his kitchen. Actually . . .” I pull my phone out of my pocket. “Violet sent over the layout for the article. They just need to add the write-up from the interview we’re doing this afternoon.”

Maven and I scoot our chairs closer as I scroll through my emails, finding the one Violet forwarded. As soon as I pull it up, the cover shot takes over the screen.

It’s blurred in the background, but it’s there. The kitchen I made so many memories in. I’m standing in front of it, chef coat in place, arms crossed over my chest.

But the most alarming part of this photo is how unhappy I look. Did no one else notice when they picked this shot?

“Wow,” Maven exhales. “Stunning photo, Miller.”

I don’t respond, scrolling down to find the images of my desserts and the recipes that accompany them. There are more photos of me, whisking, cracking an egg. I look just as unhappy.

“Oh,” Maven awes. “We need to feature that dark chocolate cylinder this fall.”

The dessert I thought of when I was in Boston with Kai.

And once again, I want to cry, crumble, dissolve into nothing because he’s everywhere.

He was so concerned about noticing my absence in his house, but I’m two thousand miles away and that man is embedded in every moment of my life.

As he should be.

I shake it off, trying to regain my excitement.

“Violet said the photographer sent over the shots that didn’t make it. I’m sure there’s more angles of the desserts there too. The mozzarella cheesecake turned out beautiful.”

In my emails, I find the photographer’s message with the subject line that says, “Thought you should have this.”

I click, letting them load, but once they do, I realize there are no photos of the desserts. No action shots or pictures of the kitchen.

Only one photo is attached. Me in my chef’s coat holding Max with a smile so big, my eyes are almost non-existent. He’s equally as happy in my arms, big gummy grin, and I’m looking at him like he’s everything that’s been missing from my life.

This must have been from when Max wobbled onto set, right before Sylvia lost it on me for daring to wrinkle my chef’s coat.

It’s undeniable, the joy on my face in this photo compared to the one that landed its way on the cover.

“Is that your son?” Maven asks, looking over my shoulder at the screen.

“Oh,” I startle, forgetting for a moment that she was here. “No. This is Max. The little boy I was nannying for.”


“What is?”

“You look at him the way I look at Luna—my daughter, not the restaurant.”


With my new frame in hand, I thank the rideshare driver as he drops me off in front of the house rental in the Hollywood Hills. Parking is a real bitch in LA, so I’ve been taking rideshares and leaving my van parked in the driveway here.

The driver takes off and I look up to see a giant man sitting on the front steps, tattooed elbows leaning on his knees.

“Dad?” I ask.

His smile grows. “Hi, Millie.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I got your voicemail this morning. You sounded like you needed me.”

I quickly nod, picking up my pace to meet him at the steps. “I do.”

He wraps me up in a hug that’s big and comforting. A hug that feels like home after telling myself for so long that I didn’t have one.

“Missed you, my girl,” he says into my hair.

“I missed you.”

After convincing him and myself of my independence, like I could go through my life alone, it sure feels nice to admit how much I need him.

“What are you doing here?” I ask, quickly pulling away to get a view of him. “Is Max okay? Kai?”

“They’re fine. That’s not why I’m here.”

“Don’t you have baseball?”

“Day off. We have a game tomorrow, so I need to get right back to the airport after we have this conversation.”

“What conversation?”

He gestures to the top step and we both take a seat.

“We’ve had this conversation a handful of times throughout your life, Miller, but I don’t think it’s ever really sunk in. I’m hoping it will now.”

He intertwines his hands, leaning his elbows on his knees. “When your mom died—”

“Dad, we don’t need to talk about this.”

“We do.” He takes a deep inhale, starting again. “When your mom died, I had my dream career.”

“I know.”

“What I thought was my dream career,” he corrects. “Until my dream job walked right into my life, and suddenly, all I wanted was to be whatever you needed. I didn’t care about baseball anymore. I didn’t think twice about what could have been. All I saw was this little green-eyed girl who looked at me like I was her entire world.”

He shakes his head. “Never once, to this day, have I ever viewed our relationship or how our family came to be as a sacrifice. It’s been a privilege to be your dad.”

His voice cracks a bit on the last word, so I slide my palm over his shoulder, resting my head there.

“Do you remember the first time you called me that?” he asks.

I shake my head. He’s always been my dad. I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t.

“It was the first Mother’s Day after your mother had passed and a mom from your kindergarten class was hosting a Mother’s Day tea party for all the moms. I was so new, taking on this role and I didn’t know how to handle it. I was pissed that she’d host something like that when your mother had only been gone for a few months. So, when all of the other moms filed into the classroom that day, I walked in too and sat right next to you.”

I exhale a chuckle. “You were wearing this giant floppy hat with purple flowers on it. I remember that.”

“Well, of course. It was a tea party. A hat was a requirement for a tea party and all the moms were doing it, so I did it too.”

I melt further into his shoulder.

“They all looked at me like I was completely out of my mind, but I just sat there drinking tea and eating little biscuits and basking in the smile you had on your face.” He shakes his head, his first tear falling onto the cement. “That became my new dream, seeing that smile every day.

“There was this one mom, she was a real piece of work. She was the one hosting the whole thing and she looked right at you and asked who I was in a tone that was so obvious she thought I shouldn’t be there, but you didn’t pick up on any of it. You just took a bite of one of those little cucumber sandwiches, looked her square in the eye, and said, ‘This is my dad.’ It was the first time you had ever called me that, and after the tea party I cried in your school’s bathroom for a solid thirty minutes.”

My eyes burn. “You never told me that.”

He tilts his head, placing a quick kiss to my hair. “It was one of the best days of my life. One of the scariest too, because that name holds so much weight. So much responsibility. And all I wanted to do was live up to it.”

My stomach hollows. I know exactly how he feels.

“Kai told me what Max called you.”

I lift my head from his shoulder to look at him. Red nose and shiny eyes.

“It’s hard to know if you’re living up to the name. There are no tests you get to pass or checkmarks you can aim for. And for someone like you, someone who has chased titles as a way to prove to yourself . . .” He pauses. “Or to prove to me that you’ve accomplished something, I’m sure that’s even scarier. You’re an All-American pitcher, a James Beard recipient, but you’ll never earn the title Best Parent because that award doesn’t exist. You can only try your best and hope it’s enough.”

“I don’t know how to . . .” I shake my head. “I have no idea how to be someone’s mom. I was just supposed to be there for a quick two months.”

“Do you think I had any idea how to be a dad?” he asks in rebuttal. “I was so far out of my comfort zone. I had gone from playing major league baseball to putting your hair in pigtails for school every morning. Do you think I knew how to do that? Hell no. I had to ask our neighbor to teach me. I had no idea how to deal with mean moms or mean girls in school, and don’t even get me started on how terrified I was when you got your first period, and you asked me to take you to the store. My Google search was questionable at best because I was trying to find the answers to the questions I knew you were going to have.”

We both laugh at that one. Talk about an awkward day.

“Or when you were sad about missing your mom, Millie. I was so afraid I was going to say the wrong thing.”

“You were perfect, Dad. You always seemed so confident. Like you knew exactly what to do. I had no idea you were scared.”

“I just figured it out as I went. One day at a time. I’ve only ever had one goal when it came to being your dad, and that was to make sure you found your happiness.”

I hope you’re out there finding your joy because you’re the reason we found ours.

Kai’s words written on the back of our family photo.

My dad nudges his shoulder into mine. “I’m not telling you what you should or shouldn’t do with your life. I just don’t want you to be so afraid to fail at something new that it keeps you from finding your happiness when you’re the reason I found mine.”

“Geez, Dad.” Lifting the collar of my shirt, I use it to wipe at my face. “I thought you’d call me back today and tell me how proud you were of me for doing these great and impressive things with my life. I didn’t think we’d be having this conversation.”

“I’m always impressed by you, you know that. It really doesn’t take a lot. When you were a kid, you got a Lego stuck up your nose and I found that impressive.” He chuckles to himself. “But there are other avenues in life that are equally great and impressive. You don’t need everyone to know your name for it to mean you’re doing something great with your life. Trust me, when the right person knows your name, it’s enough.” He nudges his shoulder into me. “Or in your case when the right people know your name. Two to be exact.”

Kai and Max.

“This is bullshit, by the way,” I say, pointing to my tear-soaked face. “This is the worst part of learning you have feelings.”

He smiles, wrapping his arm around my shoulders. “That’s love, honey.”

“I don’t think love is supposed to feel like this. It’s too overwhelming. Too consuming. I don’t know how people get through life this way.”

“That’s because you, my girl, fell in love with two people at the same time. I’ve been there. It’s a lot.”

I suck in a shuddering breath, trying to get my shit together.

“Miller, when you think of Max, what do you want for his future?”

“I just want him to be happy.”

“Would you ever expect him to repay you for loving him?”

“Of course not.”

He looks up to the sky, the sun beating on his smiling face. “Exactly.”

We’ve had this conversation before, but it hadn’t sunk in until today. I didn’t relate to him until today.

“I think you understand,” he continues. “Leaving my career to become your dad doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice now, does it?”

I shake my head. “Not when I’m thinking of doing the same.”

He turns to me, brown eyes soft, looking at me as if I were his entire world. I understand that sentiment more than I ever thought I would.

“Go find your happiness, Miller.”


When I get back to Luna’s for my Food & Wine interview, I’ve got an annoyingly giddy grin on my face and so much clarity on my mind.

I leave the kitchen to take a seat across from the interviewer, crossing one leg over the other. We shake hands, introducing ourselves.

“I feel honored to have landed this interview with you, Chef,” she says. “I’ve been looking forward to it.”

“I’m looking forward to this too.”

“With the restaurant closed tonight, do you have any big plans after we’re done?”

“I do,” I admit with a smile. “I’m gonna go see about a boy. Two boys, actually.”


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