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Mahogany and Old Lace

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Andy looked up from her work as the bell on the shop door rang.  "I'll be right with you," she called.  Taking one more pass at the board with the smoothing plane, she set it aside, brushed the shavings off her shop apron, and walked to the front.  

The customer was not what she expected.  A tall, thin redhead, nervously wringing her hands, wearing very stylish and expensive-looking clothes was waiting for her.  She's a far cry from most of the customers I get in here.  Wonder if she's lost?

"How can I help you?" Andy asked as she approached the counter.

"Miranda Priestly needs a custom dining room table.  Here's a sketch.  It has to be done for a dinner party on December 21st.  That's all."  The young lady — British by the sound of her — turned to leave.

"Wait, stop!  Hang on a sec.  That's definitely NOT all from my end.  This sketch doesn't even have dimensions—"

"It needs to seat twelve," the woman interrupted.  "Just make it big enough."

"It's not that simple.  How wide does it need to be?  How big is the room?  What kind of light does the room get?  What kind of wood?"  Andy looked at the notes on the sketch again.  "'Nice' and 'warm' are not kinds of wood, and 'simple but elegant' covers a lot of ground."  She paused as the woman looked at her with wide eyes.  Here we go again.  I wonder if this one can see reality?

Sighing, she continued.  "Look, I know your boss probably sent you in here to order this for her.  I get that, I really do.  But I need more information about the table than this little piece of paper — a lot more.  I have a process I go through when I build custom pieces, and I'm pretty particular about it.  I want your boss — Ms. Priestly? — to be happy with what I build.  It's my name and reputation on the line, after all."

"I really don't care.  You don't ask Miranda questions!  Just build it!"

Andy raised her eyebrows.  "I see.  Well, I'm sorry you wasted your time coming here.  I don't think I will be able to take this commission."

"What?  You can't say no to Miranda!" the woman screeched.

"Considering I've never heard of her, I can and I will.  Have a good day."  Andy tossed the sketch on the counter and walked back to her workbench.  She took a deep breath to center herself.  What an empty-headed little twit.  I'd hate to see her boss — probably some rich old bag with no idea of reality, who never gets told no.  Picking up the plane, she finished smoothing the board with a few strokes.  She ran her fingers across it, feeling the silky-smooth surface left by the plane.  Nice.  This will work well for the top of that chest of drawers.  She picked up the next board in her stack and examined it for grain direction and the best side.

Her study was interrupted by the sound of the bell.  She sighed and turned around.  "I told you I wasn't going to..." She trailed off as she saw two women standing in the shop.  The young redhead was standing by the door with a blank expression on her face.  The other...  Andy's breath caught in her throat.  Beautiful, with strikingly silver-white hair and an s-shaped curl on her forehead, the other woman radiated elegance from her jewelry to her perfectly-fitted dress and jacket.  As Andy approached the counter, the woman looked with piercing blue eyes at Andy.

"I understand you are refusing to complete a commission for me."   

The ice in the woman's tone caused the hair on the back of Andy's neck to stand on end.  "You must be Ms. Priestly."


"Very well, then.  Miranda.  I'm Andy Sachs.  And yes, I refused the commission as your employee presented it."  She nodded at the redhead.

"My first assistant, Emily.  And why is that?" asked Miranda, her voice low and deathly cold.  Andy had to lean in to hear it.

"Because I could not guarantee we would both be happy with the result."  Miranda raised an eyebrow.  "Over the years, I have developed a step-by-step process that I go through with every client, no matter who they are.  There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be nailed down before I start cutting wood.  I find it helps to avoid surprises and manage expectations so that everyone is satisfied with the final product.  On the very few occasions I have not followed this, it has been an unpleasant experience." 

“‘Stuff?’”  Miranda sniffed, looking her up and down.  "You are young.  It cannot have been very many years."

Andy frowned and spoke through clenched teeth.  "I have been building furniture since I was nine.  I've made my living doing this for the last ten years, eight of which have been as an independent business owner and craftswoman." 

"I see.  Still, I am not everyone.  Do you not understand that?"

She raised an eyebrow. "Each of my clients is unique, and I treat them all with equal respect."  Andy stared into Miranda’s eyes.  "I also require that they extend the same courtesy to me."  

Miranda stiffened and she pursed her lips.  Her eyebrows slowly rose.  Behind her, Emily's eyes widened and her jaw dropped.  Andy thought she heard her mutter "I love my job, I love my job" under her breath as she took a half-step backwards.  

"Do you know who I am?" Miranda's voice was a soft hiss as she leaned forward across the counter to glare directly into Andy's eyes.

Ignoring the tingle that went down her spine and landed somewhere below her belly button, Andy gave her trademarked smile.  "You’re Miranda Priestly, a woman who needs a new table."  

Miranda stood upright and stared at Andy.  Emily's naturally fair skin had gone even whiter and she was hanging on to the door frame to support herself.  Suddenly, Miranda laughed.  Her smile was a thing of beauty and Andy felt the tingle grow into a soft heat as she chuckled in return.

"Very well.  You at least are not intimidated easily.  Tell me about this process."

"Certainly.”  Andy fell into what she thought of as her ‘sales’ voice.  “My goal is to make sure you are as satisfied as possible while giving you the best value for your dollar.  All pieces I make are solid wood and mostly handmade using old methods.  I use machinery to break down stock into manageable sizes, but hand tools for the rest of the work.  I can work in nearly any wood, although I prefer domestic hardwoods.  I prefer oil finishes as well.  Although not quite as durable, they age to a gorgeous patina and are easy to repair if damaged."  Andy pulled out a sample board showing different types of wood and finishes.  

"As a rule," she continued, "I also visit the room where the piece will stay once finished.  This lets me take exact measurements and tweak the size of the piece if needed.  I also check the floor to make sure it doesn't have any major dips or bumps; if it does, I can add levelers so the table doesn't rock.  Depending on the room and the lighting, I might recommend a different finish or a stain — light can make a huge difference in how the piece looks in place.  For a large table like you want, I also check the clearances to make sure we can actually get it into the house."  She paused, remembering.  "The first large dresser I built required us to remove the bedroom window and bring it in with a lift.  That was embarrassing!"  Andy shook her head.

Miranda smirked.  "I imagine so.  Still, I don't often allow people in my house."

Andy nodded.  "Of course.  If it is a matter of privacy, I can be in and out in less than 30 minutes.  I am also willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement to cover anything I might see or hear while at your residence.  I've had clients ask for that before and I can provide references."

Miranda looked at Andy for a long moment.  "Your references are why I am here — you built a table for an acquaintance of mine and she was very happy with it."  She looked Andy up and down again.  “I don't think an NDA will be necessary.”  

Andy returned the stare and nodded slowly.  "Thank you, I appreciate the trust.  If you have time now, why don't you tell me what you would like and why your current table isn't working."

Miranda turned to her assistant.  "Emily, push back the rest of my schedule today by a half hour.  And find a two hour block tomorrow where I can be away from the office at the townhouse."  She turned back to Andy as Emily stepped outside, already talking on her phone.   "Will that work for you?"

"Yes, thirty minutes now will get us a long way down the road.  I don't have anything scheduled for tomorrow other than working in the shop, so any time that works for you will work for me."

Miranda nodded.  "Acceptable.  Now, the current table is somehow both too big and too small, and just doesn't work.  The house is late 19th century but has been redone.  I'd like something simple but elegant; the current table is too—"  Miranda waved her hand "—much."

"Hmmm.  Without seeing the room it's hard to tell, but I think something Danish modern or even Shaker might work."  

Miranda frowned.  "While my taste in couture is decidedly modern, I don't feel the same way about furniture."

"I see.  Let me show you a sample I keep around."  Andy reached underneath the counter and pulled up a small three-legged table.  "This is a reproduction of a Shaker candle stand from Hancock Shaker Village.  It's similar in style to what I was thinking."

"It's beautiful," Miranda breathed.  "The proportions are exquisite and I love how the legs seem to flow from the main stem.  The wood is gorgeous as well."

"I agree.  The shape of the spindle — the stem — and the legs make this a tricky piece to get exactly right.  I've seen some ugly ones.  However, it's probably my favorite piece of furniture to build.  It’s deceptively simple, but amazingly beautiful.  I've lost track of how many I've made over the years."  Andy smiled fondly at the stand.  "Cherry is still my favorite wood to work in — it finishes and ages so well."

"I like it as well.  I think I'd like the table made from cherry.  I'd also like the table top to be made of a single board."

"Cherry will make a beautiful table, but I don't think I can find a slab of cherry that is wide enough for a dining table.  The biggest I can get is probably sixteen inches — cherry just doesn't grow that big.  If I buy enough, I can match the grain and glue up two or three boards and the joints should be almost invisible."

"I suppose that's acceptable.  But I would like the boards to run the whole length of the table."

"I think I can find the wood to do that.  Let me do some sketches tonight and I will bring them with me tomorrow when we meet at your house."

"Acceptable.  Emily, give... Andy my address and your contact information.  That's all."  She turned to go.

She says my name like she wants to spit and rinse her mouth out after saying it.  Lovely.  "Miranda, my full name is Andrea," she said softly.

Miranda stopped and spoke without turning.  "I shall see you tomorrow, Andréa."  

Andy’s heart skipped a beat at the way Miranda pronounced her name.  Her eyes couldn't help but follow as she walked out the door, heels clicking on the wood floor.  She barely paid attention to Emily giving her the address and the meeting time as she stared at Miranda's high heels, toned calves, and the sway of her amazing hips shown off by the short cashmere caban jacket.

Emily followed her gaze, then snorted.  "As if.  She's the editor-in-chief of the best fashion magazine on the planet.  She wouldn't be seen in public with the likes of you.  Get over it, you cow."

Andy picked up the wooden joiner’s mallet she kept under the counter and laid it in front of her, then leaned forward and fixed Emily with hard brown eyes.  "You don't get to insult me in my own shop.  Get out before I throw your scrawny ass out on the sidewalk."  Emily squeaked and ran for the door as Andy smiled. 

This might turn out ok after all.  The scenery is definitely not bad.  And if the table is going to be as big as I think, it's going to cost her a pretty penny.  Be worth the nights and weekends I'll lose.  Of course, it's not like I've got anywhere to go during the holidays.  She shook her head and turned back to her bench.  The more I can get done on this dresser today, the more time I'll have to work on Miranda's table.