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Mahogany and Old Lace

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Andy whistled to herself as she climbed the steps to Miranda's townhouse just before 3 P.M. the next day.  I figured she was rich, but this is amazing.  It's not a million dollar home, in this neighborhood it's got to be worth ten million at least.  Wow.  She knocked on the door.

A pleasant-looking older woman answered the door.  "Oh, you must be Andréa.  Miranda told me to expect you.  I'm Linda, her housekeeper and the girls' nanny."

"Good afternoon, Linda.  I'm Andrea Sachs, although almost everyone calls me Andy."

Linda grinned.  "Not Miranda, I bet.  She hates nicknames with a passion.  Please come in."  She led Andy into the house and up the stairs into the kitchen.  "Please have a seat.  Would you like something to drink?"

"Just water, please.  I can get started if you point me to the correct room."

"Miranda told me to ask you to wait.  She said she would prefer to be here the entire time to 'watch the process unfold.'"

Andy squelched a flash of annoyance.  "Ok, that's fine.  I can wait."  She pulled her laptop out of her bag and began to review her initial designs for the table.  As she worked, the front door flew open and she heard voices and noisy feet on the stairs.  Looking up, she met the blue eyes of a pair of identical red-headed girls.  

"Who are you?" asked the one on the right, "And what are you doing in our kitchen?" finished the other.

Linda intervened.  "Cassidy, Caroline, this is Andy Sachs.  She's waiting for your mother to get here so they can talk about a new dining room table.  Andy, this is Caroline—" she indicated the girl on the left "—and this is Cassidy," she finished as she placed her hand on the head of the girl on the right.  

"I'm pleased to meet you, ladies.  I'm Andy."

"Are you really going to build us a new dining room table?" asked Caroline.  "I mean, like by yourself?  Not just order one?"

"Yep," Andy replied, popping the 'p'.  "That's what I do.  I'm a joiner, a woodworker who makes furniture.  I specialize in doing things the old way, by hand."

"Do you chop down the trees?"

Andy laughed with delight.  "No, not that much of the old way."  Caroline started to frown as Andy laughed again.  Andy looked her in the eye and smiled gently.  "But it's a very good question."

"Come on, Care.  Let's go upstairs," said Cassidy, pulling at Caroline's sleeve.

"Ok, ok.  I'm coming, Cass."  The two ran off and pounded up the stairs.

"I swear," said Linda.  "I don't think those girls ever slow down."

Andy returned to working on her laptop as Linda left the kitchen.  After a few minutes, the girls came rushing back down the stairs and into the kitchen.  They settled around the island and started in on a snack tray Linda had set out.  Andy looked from one to the other and grinned.  "Can I ask you girls a question?  Why did you two change clothes?"

Cassidy frowned.  "What do you mean?  We didn't change."  

"Yes, you did, Cassidy.  You're wearing the Ravenclaw shirt Caroline had on, and she's wearing your blue polo."

"No, you've got us backwards.  I'm Caroline.  No one can ever tell us apart," protested Cassidy weakly.

Andy's eyes twinkled.  "I'm pretty sure you are Cassidy, and I bet I can tell you apart.  Go out of the room and change again, and come back in one at a time and we'll see."

"No way.  We're going to put on the same shirt."  Cassidy pulled her twin out of the room. 

As the clock struck a quarter past three, Miranda walked up the stairs listening to Andy, Cassidy, and Caroline laughing and giggling. 

"How did you know, Andy?" asked Caroline.  "Nobody's been able to tell us apart that fast before!"

"Twin detection is my superpower.  Well, one of them.  A couple of looks and I just know."  Andy leaned back against the counter with a smug look on her face.

"Superpower? No way!" shouted Cassidy.  "How did you do it?"

"Well, I'll tell you part of it.  To start with, you made a rookie mistake.  When you switched shirts the first time, Cassidy, you forgot to pull your hair out of your shirt.  That kinda gave it away and it was easy.  After that — well, I told you, it's my superpower."

"Superpower, indeed."  Miranda smiled at her girls from the kitchen doorway.  

"Mom!" the twins shouted, rushing to give her a hug.

"How was your day, Bobbseys?"

"It was good," said Caroline.  "Mom, Andy can tell us apart!  She could from the very first after Linda introduced us!"

"Really?"  Miranda looked over her glasses at Andy with a small smile.  "That is impressive."

What is it with me and older women in glasses? When she looks over her glasses at me like that, I think I'm going to melt right into a puddle.  Andy returned the smile with one of her own.  "Your girls are lovely, Miranda, and a lot of fun.  They tried the ol' switcheroo on me, but unluckily for them, I saw through it."  

Miranda smiled and looked at Cassidy and Caroline.  "If you two are through harassing Andréa, she and I have work to do."  The twinkle in her eye and playful tone made them grin.

"I'm going to go read upstairs," said Cassidy.  "Coming, Care?"

"I don't know.  Can I watch, Mom?" asked Caroline.

"Yes, Bobbsey, as long as Andréa agrees and you are quiet and don't bother us."

"That's fine with me, Caroline.  Please lead the way, Miranda."

Miranda and Caroline took Andy into the formal dining room towards the front of the house. "This is it.  What do you think?"

Andy looked around.  The table and chairs almost filled the room's width, but left plenty of space at either end.  The chairs themselves were crowded together along the length of the table, with not much room between them.  The table was ornate, with a mishmash of stylistic details. The top had glass inserts framed by wood stiles and rails, carved and scalloped edges, and was supported by a massive carved pedestal in the middle.  

"I see what you mean.  It really is a little too much for this space — too wide for the room, not long enough, and too ornate for the architecture."  Andy glanced at the ceiling.  "Something simple and elegant will suit the room better, and will allow people to see the beauty of the room — the crown molding and beautiful plasterwork on the ceiling, and the traditional wainscoting."

Miranda nodded.  "I agree.  This table was my ex-husband's choice, and he had it delivered while I was out of town.  I should have had it removed when he left."  She shuddered.  "So, what do you have in mind?"

Andy made a mental note.  No Mr. Priestly, then.  She pulled a folder with several plans out of her bag.  "I did these before seeing the room, so the sizes will need some tweaking, but I based them on standard measurements that will seat twelve comfortably."

Miranda examined the plans.  "I like the Shaker trestle dining table, but it's too narrow.  I want it at least 48 inches wide."

"I can do that, but let me check something first."  Andy pulled a cloth measuring tape from her pocket and handed one end to Caroline.  "Will you help me measure?  Hold one end on the very edge of the table."  Andy crossed to the other side and read off the number.  "Forty-nine inches.  A little wider than a standard table."

Andy sat down in a chair and pulled up to the table.  "Will the two of you try to walk behind me?" she asked.  "Humor me, please," she continued when she saw Miranda roll her eyes.  Caroline was easily able to fit through but Miranda, slender as she was, had to turn sideways a bit to get by.  

"Now help me push the table back about three inches."  The three of them managed to move the table back, and Andy sat down again.  "Now try walking past," she said.  Caroline and Miranda both were able to fit through easily.  

"See?  With a 42 inch table, you'll pick up more than three inches on each side, and have more room all around.  It will make getting around the table easier when your guests are seated.  We can compensate by adding some length — you have plenty of room.  As a bonus, I think the proportions will look better as well."

"Very well," said Miranda. tapping her lip with the frame of her glasses.  "However, I told you I wanted the boards to run the whole length of the table, but there are boards running across at the ends."

"Yes, they are.  The breadboard ends are necessary to keep the table top flat."

"I don't care.  Bore someone else with the details."  Miranda pursed her lips and glared at Andy.

"Well, I do care, and so should you. The cleats on the bottom aren't enough to keep it flat."  Andy returned Miranda's glare.  "I don't want you to call me back here next summer when the humidity picks up and complain that your table is rocking and twisting.  There's a reason those breadboard ends are on nearly every antique table of any size — the ones without them warped and didn't survive!"

The two women glared at each other for several moments until Caroline giggled.  "What is it, Caroline?" Miranda transferred the glare to her daughter.

"It's funny, Mom.  I've never seen anyone stare you down like that."

"True.  Most don't have the courage."  She tapped her lip again with her glasses and looked at the sketches, then up at Andy.  "Very well, Andréa.  I will be guided by the expert on this.  How much will this cost, and can you get it done by December 21st?  I have a dinner party that night so it would need to be done and in place by the 20th."

"If you will give me a few minutes, I will modify my plans and get you a firm price.  I've already contacted my wood supplier, and he's laid aside a good lot of cherry that will make a beautiful table."  Miranda nodded and turned to leave.  "Oh, Miranda.  May I take a few pictures of the room?  It will help me with finishes and showing you the final plans."  

Miranda nodded again.  "I'll be in my study.  Up the stairs at the end of the hall."

Andy watched her go.  How can anyone walk on miniature stilts like that?  They do make her legs and ass look amazing, though.  Her train of thought was interrupted by another giggle from Caroline.  "What?"

"You were watching Mom!" 

Andy blushed a little.  "Yes, I was.  I was wondering how she walks so well in high heels.  I look like a drunk giraffe whenever I try to wear them, no matter how much I practice!"  Caroline laughed at that as Andy pulled out her digital camera and laser distance tool.  

Andy took pictures of the room — walls, ceiling, and floor — and added them to her model.  Caroline watched intently, peppering her with questions as she worked.  

"What's next?" Caroline peered over Andy's shoulder at the screen.  

"Now we add the new table."  She pulled up a grayscale 3D model of the table and tweaked a few measurements, making it 42 inches wide and fifteen feet long.  A few more keystrokes added wood grain in a dark cherry to the table, and a final click placed it in the digital room. Using the mouse, she showed Caroline how she could swing the room and model around to look at it from different sides. 

"Wow!  That's cool, Andy."  

"Do you like this kind of thing?"

"I love working on computers.  Cass thinks it's boring, but she doesn't have enough patience."

"That's ok, just because you look alike doesn't mean you are the same person.  I think it's great that you have different interests.  You still do things together, right?"

"Oh, yeah.  Lots.  I just like tech more than she does, and she likes sports."

"Cool.  Let's take this up to your mom.  Will you show me the way?"

"You bet.  This way."  Caroline ran out of the room and up the stairs.

"Bobbsey, don't run in the house, please." Miranda's voice came from down the hall.  It wasn't loud but somehow carried over the noise Caroline was making.  Caroline led Andy to the study and slipped inside to sit on her mom's lap.  Andy set her laptop on Miranda's desk and showed her the table.  

"That's beautiful, Andréa.  I approve of this design.  How much, and you are sure you can get it done and delivered by December 20th?"

"I can get it done, but it will cost a bit more.  I have several projects I'm committed to already, and I'll have to complete yours on nights and weekends."  

"Can't you put those others off and do mine first?  I'm sure they wouldn't mind."

"I would mind," Andy stated as she looked Miranda in the eye.  "Besides, if I did that for you, how could you trust me to get your table done on time?  Someone else could make me a better offer."

Miranda huffed and looked away after a moment.  "Fine.  How much will it be?"

Andy pulled up her estimator spreadsheet.  "Let's see, 200 board feet of 10/4 cherry, a hundred hours of night/weekend labor...  Let's call it $12,000 even.  I need $3,000 up front for materials before I get started.  I can take a check or card right now."  She raised an eyebrow as Miranda handed her a black American Express card without hesitating.  

As Andy ran the card, Miranda leaned back in her chair and watched the younger woman.  Her movements were sure, and her fingers, though roughened by work, were long and elegant.  Miranda continued to watch, fascinated, as one of those hands pulled the dark chestnut braid over her shoulder and stroked it absentmindedly.  She looked up and met Andy's eyes and felt herself blush a bit.  She was saved by Caroline.

"Andy, where did you learn to do all this on the computer?"

"I took a night class at CUNY a while back, and spent a lot of time learning on my own.  The program I used for the room is called 3D Modeler Pro.  I actually design the furniture in the pro version of SketchUp with a bunch of additional plugins to automate things.  If you are interested, I can share my setup and some resources."

Caroline looked at her mom.  "Mom?"

"Yes, Caroline, that's fine.  Andy, if you will email the information to my assistant I'll get it to Caroline."

"The redhead?  Will do.  If you have any problems getting set up, give me a call or drop me an email.  Here's my card."  As she handed the card to Miranda, Andy snapped her fingers.  "That reminds me.  I want to invite you and your daughters to the shop on Saturday.  I host a monthly workshop for kids to help them learn to work with their hands.  This month we are building birdhouses!"

"Mom!  Can we?  Please!"  Caroline twisted around to look her in the eye.

"I don't know, Bobbsey.  It sounds dangerous — lots of sharp tools."

Andy smiled and shook her head.  "I understand your concern, Miranda, but I take shop safety very seriously.  No power tools, and I do all the cutting before the kids get there.  They only use hammers, drills, and braces."

"Aren't drills power tools?" asked Miranda.

Andy shook her head again.  "They can be, but I have a bunch of eggbeater drills — one hundred percent human powered.  The brace bits have sharp points, but aren't much more dangerous than a sharp pencil."  Caroline looked at Miranda hopefully.  

"Very well, Caroline.  If you want to go, we will try and make it."  

Caroline squealed and hugged her mom, then hugged Andy.  Andy stiffened for a moment, then gingerly hugged her back.  "I'm going to go tell Cassidy!" shouted Caroline as she ran out of the room.

Miranda rolled her eyes.  "I despair of teaching my children manners.  They persist in behaving like wild creatures inside!"  She smiled in spite of herself.  "It's hard to discipline them."

"They seem like really smart and good kids, Miranda.  A little mischievous, maybe, but that's not all bad."

"True.  I wanted to ask you — how did you tell them apart so quickly?  Their father sometimes has trouble, and my last ex-husband didn't even try."

Andy grinned and waggled her eyebrows at Miranda.   "I told you, it's one of my superpowers."

Miranda gave an elegant snort.  "Honestly, Andréa."

"Spoilsport."  She grinned again.  "It's simple, really — self-preservation.  It started with my identical twin cousins.  They used to play tricks all the time.  There were also four different sets of identical twins and a set of triplets in my high school graduating class, and I was friends with all of them.  I even dated a couple.  I had to learn to tell them apart or stay VERY confused!"

Miranda snorted.  "Well, I guess that would do it.  I don't know if it's just that you can tell them apart, but my girls took to you as fast as they've ever taken to anyone."  She paused, then looked at Andy again and smiled.  "What's your other superpower?"

"Can't you guess?"  Miranda rolled her eyes and shook her head.  "No?  Well, you'll just have to bring the girls on Saturday and find out."  Andy smiled cheekily.  "Oh, and if you do come, you might wear different shoes, like flats or wider heels."

Miranda glared at her over her glasses.  "Are you giving me fashion advice?"

Andy answered the glare with another cheeky smile.  "Wouldn't dream of it.  The floors in the shop are hundred and fifty year old heart pine.  There are open knots and some gaps between the boards.  I wouldn't want you to catch a heel and sprain your pretty ankle." 

As soon as the words left her mouth, Andy flushed bright red and looked away.  Real smooth, Andy.  "Well, I need to go," she continued shakily.  "Lots of work to do.  I hope to see you and the girls on Saturday."  She glanced back at Miranda as she left.  She was looking down at the plans on her desk, but there were spots of color on both her cheeks.  Interesting.