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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."

"Miranda."

"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.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Roy pulled the Mercedes up the curb outside Andy's shop.  Miranda got out and looked around as Caroline ran to the door.  It had been twilight when she visited before, and she hadn't paid attention.  The area is... not bad.  Looks like many new businesses moving in. Even on a Saturday, people were out and about and the area had a pleasant, almost old-fashioned city feeling to it. 

"Roy, we'll probably be at least an hour.  I'll text when we are ready."

"Yes, Miranda.  I'll find a place to wait.  Want coffee when I pick you up?"

"Possibly.  We can stop on the way home."  Miranda nodded at Roy's wave, then turned to walk to the door.  Caroline was knocking again, pressing her face to the glass.  She checked her watch — 7:45.  I guess she's running late.

Inside the shop, Andy looked up from sorting stacks of birdhouse parts.  She grinned seeing the face, framed by bright red hair, pressed to the glass and got up to let them in.

"Good morning, Caroline.  Miranda.  Sorry the door was locked — you're a little early.  I wasn't expecting you until eight."  Looking behind Miranda, she realized the two were alone.  "Is everything ok with Cassidy?"

"Yeah, she didn't wanna come so mom let her stay home with Linda," answered Caroline.

"Caroline — diction, please!" said Miranda.

"Sorry, Mom.  What I meant, Andy, is that Cassidy didn't want to come.  She stayed home this morning."

Andy smiled and winked at Caroline.  "That's ok.  That just means you get your mom — and me — all to yourselves.";

Caroline giggled.  "So, we are building birdhouses today?" she asked as she grabbed Andy's hand and dragged her to the back of the shop.

"Yep.  I was just setting the parts up when you got here."  She showed Caroline to a workbench.  "Here's yours.  There will only be two or three other girls here, so it should be fairly low key.  I've had as many as ten, and that gets a little crazy!"

Miranda was looking with interest at all the tools and other items on the walls of the shop.  Besides a nice sign with 'Sachs Fine Furniture' carved in relief, there were several antique signs including a 'Measure Twice, Cut Once' admonition and a...  "'Horse Shoeing for Cash Only', Andréa?  I didn't realize you were branching out."

Andy rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out at Miranda. Oh, god.  Real mature, Andy.  Why did you do that?  "It's traditional, Miranda.  Besides, it belonged to my grandfather — it's almost the only thing I have left from him now.  He’s the one that taught me how to work with my hands."

Miranda’s lips began to purse but changed into a barely-discernible smile.  "I'm sorry, Andréa.  I didn't intend to come across as critical of your decorating choices."

Caroline blinked.  First Mom teased her and then smiled when Andy stuck her tongue out, and now she actually apologized?  This is weird — I wish Cass was here.  I'll have to tell her later.  "Andy, what are those pictures?"  She pointed to some drawings framed and hung below the Sachs Fine Furniture sign.  One in crayon showed a brown-haired girl holding up a drill and a saw with a table in front of her.  A second drawing in pencil was clearly Andy, leaning over a workbench sawing a board.

Andy swallowed and looked away for a moment.  "Those are from my baby sister.  When she was little, she would sometimes sit in our garage while I worked.  The pencil drawing was after I'd gone off to college.  She was only eleven when she drew it, but she was really good."

"Does she still draw?"  

Andy turned away and looked out the front window of the shop.  "I don't know, really.  I haven't talked to her in a long, long time," Andy answered softly.  She pinched her nose to wipe away tears, then turned back.  "C'mon.  You can help me get ready for the other girls."  She pointed out the stacks of parts to Caroline, and they quickly distributed them to the other benches and laid out the tools.

Miranda continued to look around the shop, but kept an eye on Andy and Caroline as they worked and chatted.  I wonder what's going on between Andréa and her sister?  She hid it well, but she's obviously upset.  She does get along well with Caroline, though, and Cassidy seems to have taken a liking to her as well. A lot more than they ever did with Stephen.  She pursed her lips at the thought of her ex-husband.

Soon the other girls had arrived, and Andy got them started with a safety talk.  "Don't point anything sharp at yourself or anyone else, and always make sure you know what's behind you.  When you drill or hammer, you also have to make sure you know what's under the board you are working on so you don't end up with a hole where it doesn't belong.  Biggest safety rule of them all is this:  ask questions.  If you don't know how to do something or aren't sure, just ask.  I promise no one will make fun of you!"

With that, the girls split off to their benches and started to work.  Andy got each of them going, finishing with Caroline.  Miranda was hovering nearby, watching closely.  

"Miranda?  Would you like to build one?  I've got an extra since Cassidy didn't come."

"Well..."

Andy grinned at Miranda.  "You never know, you might like it."  Miranda snorted elegantly, but reached for the stack of parts next to Caroline.

"You need to start by drilling pilot holes for the nails.  This pine is brittle enough that it will split when you nail it together without them."  She handed Miranda an eggbeater drill.

Miranda took it gingerly and tried to drill where Andy had marked, but didn't make much headway.  Andy smiled, and placed her hands over Miranda's.  As they touched, a thrill went up her spine and she heard Miranda inhale sharply.  "You're turning it backwards.  Try this way, and make sure the drill is straight up and down."

Once the drill bit was making progress, Andy let go and moved to check on Caroline.  She could still feel the warmth and softness of Miranda's skin as she wiped her palms on her shop apron.  "How's it going, Caroline?"

"Pretty good.  I think I'm ready to drill the hole for the door."

"OK, use the brace and auger for that.  Put a sacrificial board underneath yours and clamp it down.  Now put the point of the bit in the center of the circle, push down, and turn the brace.  It should take about 10 or 12 turns to get through."

"Got it, Andy."

After watching Caroline for a minute, Andy moved to check on the other girls.  She corrected a few things, and then came back to Miranda.  She was also struggling with the brace.  The brace itself was turning, but the bit wasn't.  "Hang on, Miranda.  I think you need to tighten the chuck."  She took the tool from Miranda's hands and turned the chuck a few times until it was tight around the shank of the bit.  "That should do it.  Sorry I didn't have it set up right for you."

Miranda took the brace back silently and tried again.  The bit turned, but didn't seem to bite into the wood.

"You need a little more pressure on the head, I think."  Andy placed her hand on top of Miranda's and pushed down.  Another thrill went through her but was short-circuited when Miranda shook her off.

"I'm perfectly capable of doing this myself, Andréa!" snapped Miranda.  The spots of color on both cheeks were back.

Andy let go and responded in a carefully neutral voice.  "I'm sorry, Miranda.  I'll be more careful.”  She turned away.  “Caroline, how are you doing?"

"Almost done, Andy.  How does it look?"

Andy examined the birdhouse, complete except for the perch underneath the door.  "Looks pretty good!  You did a good job nailing the roof on, and it looks like the screws for the removable bottom are nice and tight.  Here's the quarter inch bit for the perch."  She handed the bit to Caroline, then watched as she puzzled out how to swap it for the smaller one used to drill pilot holes with the eggbeater drill.

After a few moments, she held the drill up in triumph.  "Got it!"

"Good work, Caroline.  Drill that hole and put the perch in with a little glue, and you're all set.  I'll check on the others."  The other girls were also finishing up, and chattering loudly.  Andy helped them pack up their birdhouses and gave them each a small brush and jar of paint to finish when they got home.

She was about to return and help Caroline and Miranda when the bell on the shop door sounded.  When Andy recognized the woman entering the shop, she rolled her eyes to the ceiling and groaned.  "Heather, now is not the time!"

"What's wrong, Andy?  Why haven't you called?  We haven't been out in weeks!" returned the long-haired blonde.

"That's because I've been too busy working, and too tired when I'm not."

Heather laughed.  "Haven't you heard?  All work and no play makes Andy a dull girl!"

"Yeah, yeah, well, I'm pretty dull anyway.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some folks I need to help finish up." Andy walked around the counter and led the woman to the door.

"Fine.  You can't ignore me forever, Andy Sachs."  The blonde threw her arms around Andy and planted a sloppy kiss on her cheek.  "I'll call you," she said as she flounced out.

Andy shook her head and wiped her cheek as she walked back to Caroline and Miranda, who had observed the whole exchange.  "Sorry you had to see that.  I've asked her not to come by the shop, but she doesn't take 'No' for an answer very well."

"Is that your girlfriend, Andy?" asked Caroline.

"What?  No!  I mean, I think she really wants to be, but she's not my type."

"You mean because she's a girl, or because she's rude?"

Andy's shoulders tensed.

"Caroline Ann Priestly!" scolded Miranda.  "You apologize for that right now — you really shouldn't pry into Andréa's personal life."

"It's ok, Miranda. It just surprised me, that's all." She forced herself to relax. "Caroline, it's definitely the fact that she's rude, and many other things, not because she's a girl. "  She looked down at the floor and sighed.  Looking up into Miranda's blue eyes, she took a deep breath.  "I hope that's not a problem."

Miranda shook her head.  "Andréa, I work in the fashion industry.  It's actually more likely to be a problem for some in my industry if you only prefer men!"

"Yeah, Cass and I have several friends at school that have two moms or two dads.  I was just curious — I'm sorry if I was rude."

Andy let out the breath she didn't know she had been holding.  "It's okay.  Thank you both for understanding.  In my business I never know who I'm going to run into and what they will say, so I try to keep my private life out of the shop as much as possible.  I get the old 'you just haven't met the right man yet' spiel a lot."

Miranda rolled her eyes.  "I'd thought we were past such idiocies."

Andy shook her head.  "Not in my business, anyway.  I used to have to get really harsh with guys on job sites until word got around that I was competent and knew what I was doing.  The foremen just want to get the job done, so they keep the cra— cracks down.  It’s mostly just harmless comments that I laugh off these days."  She moved to the bench and packed up the birdhouses.  "Here, let me help you get these out to your car.  The paint and brushes are in this bag, and it's water based, so cleanup should be easy."

As they got into the car, Andy stopped Miranda.  "Did you ever figure out what my other superpower was?"  She grinned.

Miranda shook her head.  "No.  Are you going to tell me now?"

"It's easy," Andy said.  "I turn wood—" she knocked on a board in her hand "—into things."  She knocked again, this time on the birdhouse Miranda was carrying.   Her cheeky grin was transformed into a broad smile as Miranda laughed.

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Caroline waved at Andy, then rolled up the window and turned to her mom.  "Mom, do you think Andy is sad or lonely?"

"What, Bobbsey?  Where did you get that idea?"

"Well, when I asked about those pictures, the ones she said her sister did, she sounded a little like she was crying.  And after that blonde lady left, she just looked lonely to me."

"I don't know, Caroline.  It can be hard being a single young woman in New York City.  I agree with you that there's something sad about her sister.  She teared up talking about the pictures."

"Do you think she died, Mom?  I can't imagine not talking to Cassidy for a really long time."

"I can't imagine it, either, Bobbsey.  I wouldn't bother her about it if you see her again, though.  She'll say something if she wants to."

Caroline nodded and turned back to the window. The two were silent the rest of the way home, each lost in their thoughts about the chestnut-haired woman and her shop.

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After returning Caroline's wave as they pulled away, Andy walked back into her shop, turned the sign to read Closed, and locked the door.  She sat down at the counter.  I don't know why it matters, but I'm really glad Miranda and Caroline were ok with me being a le... with me liking girls.   She snorted.  Even after ten years, I still have a hard time even thinking the 'L' word and applying it to myself after what my parents said. Rubbing her face, she sighed dreamily. I know Miranda's been married at least twice, but I wonder if she's ever been interested in a woman?  Andy shook herself out of her daydreams.  Let's not go down that path.  She's going to pay you a lot of money to build a table.  You better deliver.

Chapter Text

Ssshhhhsh. Ssshhhhsh. Ssshhhhsh.

For hours, Andy's world had been reduced to three things.  The whisper of her #3 smoothing plane over the tabletop.  The gossamer-thin shavings piling up on the top before she swept them to the floor.  The silky-smooth surface of the planed wood under her hands.  She took the last pass on the breadboard edge and straightened up.  Laying the plane carefully on her toolchest, she arched her back and stretched to get the kinks out.

Finished.  Finally.  I wonder what time it is?  Well after midnight, I think.  That took quite a bit longer than I thought, but not as long as it could have if I hadn't used The Beast.  She snorted at herself as she looked over at the giant wooden plane resting across two sawhorses.  She'd picked up the nearly six foot long jointer plane as a joke years ago, intending to display it on the wall of the shop.  It's come in handy for these big tables and countertops since then, that's for sure.  No way I could have gotten a tabletop this big nearly flat enough with a regular #8!  It was bad enough rough leveling it with the jack plane.  Even with the splines, the boards for the top didn’t stay perfectly aligned, not that I thought they would.

She adjusted a work lamp to throw a raking light across the top.  Crouching down and sighting across the wood, she looked for uneven spots or large imperfections.  There were none.  It's not factory perfect, but it's as close as I'm going to get with hand planes.  Once the finish is on and built up, you won't even notice.  Let’s see — 3 or 4 coats of tung oil and some wax, and this will be ready for delivery.  I better call her and set up a time.

Andy pulled her phone out of her shop apron pocket and checked the time.  Three A.M.?  I didn't think it was that late.  I've got to learn to say no to projects that require late nights like this.   She shook her head.  Morning is going to come awfully early.  At least this table is almost finished.

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The next morning, Andy called the number Miranda's assistant had given her.  Thinking back to the way Emily had scrambled out of the shop after Miranda’s first visit, she grinned and almost missed the red-headed British girl's opening words. 

"Miranda Priestly's office."

"Good morning, this is Andy Sachs from Sachs Fine Furniture.  I need to speak to Miranda," answered Andy.

"Miranda is not available right now.  I can take a message and someone will get back to you."  

Andy arched an eyebrow at Emily's snotty tone but let it pass.  "Okay, then.  I will have Miranda's new dining room table finished soon and need to schedule a time on December 20th to deliver it to her home.  Before delivery, the old table should be removed and the chairs moved to another room.  I can do that for an additional fee, if necessary, but it will require a separate visit.  I will also be using a moving company to help me get the new table in the house, probably a four man crew."

Emily sniffed.  "Miranda is very particular about who she allows in her house.  I doubt she will agree to that."

"Well, that's fine with me," Andy snapped.  "She can arrange the movers and pay for it herself, then, and I will just be there to put it together.  Please give her the message and let me know the time.  Goodbye."  Andy ended the call and took a deep breath.  Why did you let that... assistant... get to you, Andy? Get a grip. She shook her head and walked to the coffee pot in the back office to get another cup. As she poured, her phone rang.  She jumped a little, spilling coffee on her desk.

Dammit. "Sachs Fine Furniture."  She cradled her phone on her shoulder while she wiped up the coffee.

"What is this nonsense about bringing four men into my house, Andréa?" Miranda's voice was icy.

"And good morning to you, too, Miranda."  Andy paused, waiting.

Miranda huffed over the line.  "Good morning.  Well?"

"I see Emily gave you my message.  I'll need help getting the table into your house, especially since the table has to go up the front steps, through the door, and up the inside steps."

"I don't see why you can't just carry it yourself," Miranda huffed again.

Andy chuckled at the thought.  "Miranda.  The tabletop alone weighs three hundred plus pounds, and it's more than three feet wide and fifteen feet long.  I can't exactly tuck it under my arm and waltz in the front door.  If it was in two or three pieces, sure.  But since you wanted it in one piece, not going to happen.  Then I need to put it together and set it in place, also not a one-person job."

There was silence for a moment.  "Very well.  However, I have a moving company I use for all my deliveries.  It's called Imperial Moving, I'll have Emily send you their information."

"No need, Miranda," responded Andy.  "That's the company I always use.  Their movers are all bonded and insured, and they are great to work with.  They are the only company I call for big jobs I can't handle — I learned that the hard way."

"I'm glad to hear it."  She paused.  "Will three o'clock work again?  I would like to come home and see it as soon as you have it in place."

"Of course.  With ten days of lead time, I can make that work easily.  Will you have the old table removed, or do you want me to do it?"

"It is already gone, Andréa."

"Good to know.  I guess I'll see you on the 20th, Miranda.  Oh, and I will need payment of the remainder of the invoice at that time."

"Very good, Andréa.  That's all."  

The call went dead.  Andy looked at her phone. Seriously?  She really needs to learn some manners.  Maybe I can teach her... Andy grinned and shook her head, remembering the thrill that had gone through her as she helped Miranda with the birdhouse, and watching her walk out of the room in stiletto heels. Now, now, Andy.  Keep your mind on business.

------------------------------

Andy hopped out of the cab of the truck as it pulled to a stop at Miranda's townhouse.  She ran up the steps and rang the doorbell.  Linda let her in, and Caroline and Cassidy came pounding down the stairs.  Cassidy merely said hello, but Caroline wrapped her up in a hug.

"Good to see you, munchkin.  You too, Cassidy," said Andy, returning the hug.  "You girls are home early."

Cassidy scrunched up her nose.  "’Munchkin?’  That's weird.  Besides, why does she get a nickname and I don't?"  Caroline let go of Andy and gave her sister a look.

"Well, Cassidy, I haven't spent enough time with you to properly nickname you.  Since Caroline came to my shop and worked, and helped me plan the table, I've spent a little more time with her.  If I see you enough, I'll figure something out."  Andy looked from Cassidy to Caroline then ruffled their curly red hair.  "Maybe I’ll call you Thing One and Thing Two from Dr. Seuss."  The twins both ducked away and wrinkled their noses at that while Linda laughed.

Footsteps sounded outside the door as the movers came up.  "Ok, girls, I need you to make some room for us so we can lay down the mats and get your mom's table in here."  Linda headed for the kitchen, while Cassidy went to her room and Caroline stuck around to watch. 

In a few minutes, the movers had made a path through the entryway, up the stairs, and into the dining room.  After some discussion, they had a plan for moving the top in.  Andy set up some padded sawhorses in the dining room while the movers maneuvered the table top into the house.  They placed it upside down on the sawhorses and started to unwrap it while Andy brought in the legs and cross brace.

Caroline watched curiously from a corner as the movers placed the legs feet up into the sockets on the bottom of the table.  Before they slipped the legs in place, Andy lifted the cross brace and slipped the ends into the mortises in the legs.  There was enough play that they were able to slide the legs into the socket without trouble.  "What are those holes for, Andy?  Are you going to nail or screw the legs in place?" 

"Neither one, Caroline.  The holes are for pegs, so your Mom can have the table taken apart if she needs to move it.  They will hold better than screws or nails."  She took a small wooden mallet from her tool bag along with some tapered pegs and tapped them through the holes.  "The holes in the leg are offset just a little from the holes in the sockets.  That helps lock it in place."

"That makes sense," said Caroline.  She moved to stand behind Andy and watch over her shoulder.

"Want to drive the pegs in the other leg?"

"Can I?  I won't break it, will I?"

"No, you'll be fine.  Just tap it and I'll tell you if you need to go harder or softer."

Caroline took the mallet and pegs and moved to the other end of the table.  She pushed a peg into the hole and tapped it gently at first.  At Andy's encouraging nod, she tapped it a little harder, continuing until it was through the other side of the socket.  Caroline quickly drove home the other three pegs and stood back. 

Andy gently tried to move the leg and nodded in satisfaction. "That will do it.  Let's get this table right side up."

Andy and Caroline moved the sawhorses out of the way as the movers lifted the table.  They turned it over, placing it in the middle of the room.  Andy grinned.

"Looks good guys.  I think that's all I'll need you for."

"Ok, Andy.  See you next time."  The guys grabbed the moving blankets and picked up the floor mats as they left.

Caroline pushed on the table and watched it move.  "Andy, it's kinda wobbly."

"Yep, it is.  We aren't quite finished yet, so be careful.  See the holes in the ends of the cross brace where it sticks through the legs?"

"Yeah.  I noticed those — what are they for?"

"That's called a mortise.  Those are for these wedges."  Andy held out a pair of rounded and tapered pieces of wood.  "These go in the holes and get driven in, pulling the legs into the cross brace and making everything tight.  Let me do the first one and you can do the other one, ok?"

"Sure, Andy!"

Andy and Caroline crawled under the table.  Andy slipped the first wedge into place, then hammered it home.  She handed the mallet and second wedge to Caroline, who crawled to the other end of the table.  Imitating Andy, she placed the wedge in the mortise and tapped it until Andy nodded.  "Is that good, Andy?"

"Let's see."  Andy grabbed the table leg above the brace and pulled, but the table didn't move.  "Looks great!  Good job, Caroline."  They crawled out from under the table and stood up.  "Now, as the table adjusts to the conditions in the house, the wedges may loosen up.  If so, just take the mallet and tap them tighter until the wobble goes away, ok?  There's a spot on one of the legs to hold the mallet so you don't lose it."

"Got it, Andy!  Are we done?" asked Caroline.

"Just about, munchkin.  I need to give the table a final polish before your mom gets here, but that's a one-woman job, and kinda boring. Thanks for all your help."

Caroline hugged her.  "Thanks for letting me, Andy.  I'm going to go work on homework."  She ran out of the room and pounded up the stairs.  Andy shook her head and smiled.

As Miranda entered the townhouse and hung up her coat, she heard the sound of piano music floating down the stairs.  Is that Mozart? Are Caroline and Cassidy practicing a duet?  I didn't think they were at that point yet. As she walked up, she realized the music was coming from the dining room.  She walked to the door and froze at the vision in front of her.

The late afternoon sunlight streamed through the window, falling on Andy as she buffed and polished the tabletop.  Her hair was pulled up in a messy bun, held in place with two long wooden pins.  The escaping strands gleamed with golden highlights in the sun, forming a bright halo around her head.  She was wearing cargo pants topped by a white tank top over a sports bra.  Miranda's mouth went dry as she watched the muscles in Andy's shoulders, arms, and back ripple while she buffed the table top.  Bending over as she worked, the white tank molded her figure and rode up a little, revealing her tight abs.  The cargo pants hugged her hips as her body swayed in time with the music.

The vision of Andréa working spread a warmth through Miranda's body.  She felt her cheeks flush and the warmth carried straight to her core.  What am I doing?  Why am I reacting this way to another woman, especially one dressed like that? Swallowing convulsively, Miranda whispered Andy's name.  "Andréa. Hello."

"Whoa!"  Andy jumped, turning around and clutching her chest.  "Good grief, Miranda!  Don't do that!  You're going to give me a heart attack!"  She tapped her phone to stop the music.

Miranda smirked.  "I'm sorry, Andréa.  I thought you heard me."

"How do you move so quietly in those heels?" 

"Years of practice, Andréa.  Believe me, I can be loud when it suits me."

"I'll just bet."  Andy moved back from the table and gestured with one arm.  "What do you think?"  She grabbed her long-sleeved shirt and shrugged into it, buttoning it as Miranda watched.

Tearing her eyes away from Andy, Miranda examined the table.  The cherry top was glowing in the sunlight.  The more she looked, the more she was impressed.  "As I would say at Runway, acceptable."  Andy frowned and raised an eyebrow.  "I'm not given to excessive praise or hyperbole.  Andréa, this is truly remarkable.  It's almost a work of art.  The wood is beautiful, and the proportions are exquisite.  It fits the room so much better than the previous... monstrosity."

Andy beamed.  "Thank you, Miranda.  I'm happy that you like it — I think it turned out well, too.  I can't take credit for the design, but it does look good."

"Nonsense.  You still had to execute it, and there were many ways it could have been less than excellent."

Andy smiled widely.  "Thank you for the compliments, Miranda.  I appreciate them."  She nodded and began to pack up her tools and materials, then pulled a folder out of her bag.  "Here are the plans, information on how to maintain and repair the finish if needed, and how to tighten the joints if they loosen up.  I've already shown Caroline how to do it, and I think she'll be happy to help.  You may, of course, call me and I will be happy to come take a look.”

"Thank you, Andréa."  Miranda flipped through the folder, then glanced at Andy.  She was bent over putting things in her bag and Miranda's gaze lingered on her figure again.  She nodded and made a decision.  "Andréa, would you join me for a cup of coffee?  I need to pay you, and I suspect my project has cost you some sleep over the last month."

Andy looked up and beamed at Miranda.  "That sounds wonderful.  And thank you for the offer — I am running low on gas after a bunch of late nights.  I'll be glad to take a few days off now that this is finished."

The two women moved into the kitchen.  Miranda handed Andy her black American Express card, then moved to make coffee while Andy closed out the invoice.  In a few minutes, both were seated at the island with steaming mugs. 

Andy took a sip.  "Oh, Miranda, that's good coffee.  Thank you again."

"You're welcome, Andréa."  She paused.  "Are you going somewhere for the holidays?  Family, perhaps?"

Andy looked down at her coffee and swirled it in her mug.  "No, no travel plans,” she answered softly.  “I have some New York City Christmas traditions I need to get to.  Macy's and the tree at Rockefeller Center are two of the big ones." 

"Forgive me for prying, but what about family?  If you don't want to talk about it, that's ok," she added quickly.

Andy looked up with tears glittering in her eyes.  "It's ok.  You'd think after almost ten years, I'd be over it, but it still hurts.  My parents didn't agree with me moving to New York, or with my 'lifestyle choice.’  They haven't spoken to me or returned my calls since then."  A tear ran down her cheek.  "I miss them, but I really miss my little sister.  Probably not so little now — she'll be 22 in February and she should graduate from college this spring if everything is on schedule."

Miranda placed her hand over Andy's.  "I'm sorry to bring up painful memories, Andréa."  She swallowed hard and continued in a soft voice.  "Take it from an old woman who knows:  as far as it depends on you, reconcile with your family.  One day it will be too late and there won't be another chance."  Miranda blinked her own tears away, then turned and busied herself at the sink. 

Andy nodded solemnly.  "Thank you, Miranda.  For the business, but also for the advice.  I will keep trying."

Miranda's voice was thick.  "I think Linda can show you out, Andréa.  Have a good holiday.”

“You too, Miranda.”  Andy glanced back as she left the kitchen.  Miranda’s head was bowed, shoulders hunched.  I think she has had her own family troubles, maybe worse than mine.  We may have more in common than we think.

Chapter Text

"No, Doug, that won't work."  Andy shook her head.  "It's too complex and there are too many things that can go wrong.  We have to simplify if we want to be able to actually manufacture these, and do it in the U.S.!"  They had been going around in circles on this for an hour.

"But Andy—" began Doug.

"But nothing, Doug.  Don't they teach 'simple' in engineering design these days?"

Doug rolled his eyes.  "Of course they do.  There are some things that just can't be simplified, though.  Like this!"  He tapped the schematic on the desk.  "With a minimum of seventeen parts for the top for the bigger tables, I think this is as simple as it's going to get."

Andy rolled her eyes.  "I think we're too close to this, Doug.  Let's let it sit for a week and revisit.  We are missing something, I know it.  Remember that 'Perfection is achieved not—'"

"'—when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.’  You can beat me over the head with that saying all you want, it doesn't make it true!"  Doug glared at Andy, who narrowed her eyes and returned the glare with interest.  Both jumped when the bell on the shop door rang.

"I'll go see who it is.  Why don't you pack up and we'll try it again next week."  She sighed as she left Doug in the office gathering plans and paper, and headed to the front of the shop.  That boy is so stubborn.  But then again, so am I.

As she neared the counter she felt butterflies rise in her stomach.  "Miranda!  This is a pleasant surprise.  I hope all is well and your new table is holding up."  She smiled in greeting.

Miranda returned the smile with a nod and small smile of her own.  "Andréa.  One trusts you had a chance to rest up in the last few weeks?"

"Yes, I did, thank you.  I checked off all my Christmas traditions, too.  I hope you and your girls had a good Christmas.  Now, what can I do for you?"

"Well, I think I need some chairs to go with my table.  They worked when we had a full house and you really couldn't see them, but looking at them now they just don't work."  She tapped her lower lip with her forefinger and looked at Andy over her glasses.  "You do build chairs, do you not?"

"I do.  What style were you thinking?" Andy asked, blushing slightly.  "Shaker, to match the table?"

"No, I think Windsor.  I like the curved frame for the back, like this."  She handed over a printed picture. She blushes so easily. I wonder why?

Andy winced.  "That's a very different style than Shaker, Miranda.  I'm afraid if you put those chairs at that table, it's going to clash badly.  Shaker-style chairs will look much better."

"I don't believe it will," Miranda snapped.  "I'm not used to having my design judgment questioned!"

"Nor am I," responded Andy, matching her glare.  

After a moment, Miranda relented slightly.  “Do the chairs really make that big of a difference?  Most people will only notice the table — they are just something to sit on, after all.”

Andy’s eyebrows rose to her hairline.  “‘Just something to sit on?’  Okay. I understand. You think this is no big deal.  You go to a designer and select, say, a Windsor chair because you think it looks sophisticated and you want to tap into that.  You don’t know about all the fits and false starts and, quite frankly, terrible designs that are out there.  The Shakers took it one direction, simple and elegant.  William Morris disliked early mass-produced furniture so much that in 1865 he created the Morris Chair, and almost single-handedly started the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Don’t even get me started on early office chairs, or how Charles Darwin was the first to put wheels on a chair in 1849 to help him work, or how in 1904 Frank Lloyd Wright created the Larkin Building chair for typists that failed spectacularly because people kept falling out of them!  Then after the absolute horror of early twentieth century Art Deco furniture, designers rediscovered Shaker simplicity but labeled it ‘Danish Modern.’”

“What you don't know or care about is that chair represents hundreds of thousands of hours of work on thousands of prototypes over hundreds of years to perfect.  It’s the formal form of a stick chair coming out of rustic traditions, chairs that were adopted by the wealthy because they just worked and were damned comfortable. In truth, you are buying a chair that was imagined, designed, and created by people like me from a pile of wood.  ‘Just something to sit on’, indeed,” she finished with a snort.

When she met Miranda’s icy glare, she recoiled a little.

Miranda continued to stare coldly at her for a few moments.  She’s as passionate about her craft as I am about mine.  The disrespect is far from acceptable, though.  "Perhaps I should go somewhere else, then."  Her voice was a soft hiss.

Andy took a breath and raised her hands in surrender.  "Sorry.  I’m sorry.  I’m just passionate about my work and the history and traditions behind it.  You're the customer.  I will make your Windsor chairs.”  She lowered her hands and paused thoughtfully.  “If you want them made out of cherry, it will be hard to pull off — cherry is not easy to steam bend to get the curves for the bow.  The last time I tried, I had more broken pieces than successful ones.  You have to have perfectly straight grain to make it work."

"Bore someone else with the details, Andréa.  Can you do it or not?"  Miranda's tone was still cold.

Andy raised an eyebrow.  "Yes, I can do it.  It will take a while to set up the jigs and fixtures for the first one, but the rest should be quicker.  How many do you want?  Twelve, to match the table?"

"Yes, twelve.  Two with arms, and ten without."  

"Since I've seen your house and the room they will go in, I think I can skip the house visit.  I will work up sketches today and send them to you tomorrow.  For Windsor chairs, I charge $1,600 each for the regular chairs and $1,800 for the two with arms."  Andy looked at Miranda, waiting for the protest.  To her surprise, Miranda merely nodded.

"You are valuing your time, I see.  I suspect these chairs will be significantly harder to build than the table."

"Different challenges than the table, for sure.  It will take time.”  Andy checked her shop calendar.  “I think I can have them for you in about six weeks, by the week of March 1st.  I don't have any other major projects at this time, so you've got dibs on my time."  Andy raised her eyebrows at Miranda.

Miranda raised one of her own eyebrows.  "'Dibs,' Andréa?  Honestly."  She handed over her credit card.  "The same twenty-five percent up front, I assume."

Andy nodded and printed the invoice and receipt.  "Yes.  I won't run the charge until you approve the design.  I'll get them to you first thing tomorrow, then get the first chair done as soon as possible.  Once you clear that, I'll do the rest."

Miranda nodded.  "Very well, Andréa.  I will look for your email."  She turned to go and bumped into a blonde woman staggering through the shop door.  She glared at her, but the blonde’s gaze was fixed on Andy. 

“Andy!” She hiccupped, then giggled.

Miranda watched as Andy glanced up from her order book and rolled her eyes.  “Heather, what are you doing here?  I told you I’d call you IF I was interested, and not to come to my shop during business hours.”  She came out from behind the counter and took the woman by the arm.  “Phew!  You reek like a brewery — don't you think it's a little early to be smashed?  Let me call you a cab.”

“You could let me stay, Andy.  I’d make it worth your while!”  Her raised eyebrows left little doubt as to her meaning, and Miranda pursed her lips.

Andy’s cheeks reddened and she looked to Miranda.  “I’m sorry about this.  I’ve tried to get her to stop coming around, but she doesn’t want to take a hint.”

“Or a direct order, either. I understand.”  Miranda’s eyes sparkled.  “It’s often hard to keep the trash from blowing in when you have an open door.” 

Andy snickered, while the blonde just looked around at the floor, confused.  “Thank you, Miranda.  I’ll call her a cab and get to work on your chairs.” 

When Andy returned to the shop, Doug was standing at the front.  He was drumming his fingers on the countertop and practically vibrating with excitement.

"Oh my god, Andy!" he burst out as the door closed behind her.  "I didn't know you had Miranda Priestly for a client.  That's amazing!"

"Why is that amazing, Doug?  Lots of people need furniture."

"Lots of…”  Doug shook his head sadly.  “Good grief, Andy, she's not just 'people'!  Don't you know who she is?"

"She's a client, Doug.  What more do I need to know?"

Doug shook his head again.  "You’re hopeless, aren't you?  Miranda Priestly is the queen of style.  They call her La Priestly, the Dragon Lady, the Devil in Prada, and the Ice Queen.  She's been the editor of Runway, the world's premiere fashion magazine, for twenty-five years.  Do you ever wonder why certain clothes get popular, or why hemlines go up or down?  It's her!"  He pointed out the door.

"So?  Look at me, Doug."  She waved an arm up and down at her jeans, long sleeve tee, and shop apron.  "Unlike your fashion-obsessed self, I don't have a lot of need for nice clothes.  Khakis and a button-down is about as fancy as I get.  Plus, all those other names just sound like jealousy to me.  She's nice."

"’Nice?’  You, Andy, really are hopeless."  He sighed and shook his head.  "Maybe you can introduce me sometime.  I'd love to meet her."

"You’re the only engineer I know who is obsessed with clothes.  Aren't you supposed to be fashion-challenged and wear a pocket protector?" Andy asked with a sly grin.

"As if.  The only way you're getting me near a pocket protector is if it has an Armani logo on it!"  The two shared a laugh as Doug headed out the door.  

Dragon Lady?  Ice Queen?  Why would they call her that?  She's been a bit abrupt and maybe rude to me, but nothing that would justify those kinds of names from jealous men. Goodness knows I got called enough names when I was starting and held the line on standards and respect.  Andy shook her head.  Probably out of my league, though. She shook her head sadly.

------------------------------

A week later, Andy was cursing herself for not arguing harder to persuade Miranda away from Windsor chairs.  The first three pieces she'd tried to steam bend for the chair bows had broken, two during the initial bend and one later while it was drying in the form.  The latter was spectacular — the crack had been loud enough to wake her two floors up in her loft apartment and bring her running downstairs with a softball bat thinking someone was in the shop.

Dammit, why did I agree to this again?  The money is not worth the aggravation!  If this one doesn't work, I'm going to scream.  She massaged her temples, trying to ease the ache in her head.  I've tried every trick I know of, and a few I didn't, to make this work.  I may have to start with the regular chairs and not the armchairs, even though the armchairs are more complicated.  The simple bow on the regular chairs should be easier to work with — it's bending in three dimensions that seems to put so much stress on the wood.

She eyed the bending form as she pulled on her gloves.  Even steaming the wood for two hours, you’ve only got about ninety seconds to get this thing into the form, Andy.  Checking that all the clamps were in place, she opened the steam box and pulled out the piece she'd chosen for the bow.  Working quickly, she clamped the center to the form and began to bend.  She reached the final bend just as the bow began to stiffen.  Using all her strength, she bent it around the last curve and clamped it in place.

Whew.  Well, at least it didn't break while I bent it.  Let's add some more clamps and call it a day.  Maybe it will make it through the night...

------------------------------

The following Monday, Andy walked into the lobby of the Elias-Clarke building downtown carrying the first chair.  Miranda had asked her to bring it to her office for approval before she left town for a week.  Andy checked in at the security desk, ignoring the looks she was getting from the fashionably-clad (and ultra-thin) women around her. Her broad shoulders and solid build would have marked her for an outsider, even without the clothes she was wearing. Well, I suppose khakis and work boots aren't exactly dress code at a fashion magazine.  As the doors to the elevator closed, she heard someone say something about tradesmen and freight elevators and rolled her eyes.

When the doors opened on the seventeenth floor and Andy stepped out, she paused for a moment.  There was an indefinable something in the air, an energy she recognized.  It had been faint in the shop and at the townhouse, but was more perceptible here.  Miranda.  I'm impressed.  I feel like I'm stepping into the workshop of a master craftsman.

As she looked around for Miranda's office, a sharply-dressed, slightly balding man approached her.  "Can I help you?  You look a little lost."

Andy smiled.  "Thanks.  I'm Andy Sachs, I've got a chair Miranda Priestly ordered that she wanted to see."

"Miranda?  Ordering her own furniture?"  He raised an eyebrow.  "That's new. Well, follow me then.  I’m Nigel."  He led her down the hall to Miranda's office.  She heard Emily's voice as they approached.

"Serena!  Can't you see I'm busy?"  The slight annoyance of the words was overshadowed by the small giggle that followed.  

Nigel and Andy entered the office.  Andy was struck by the tall blond leaning over Emily's desk in a sinfully short skirt, showing off legs that went on for days down to red-soled four inch stilettos.  Wow.  She must be one of the models around here.  Those heels really make her legs and... assets pop.  Andy grinned cheekily as Emily looked up and glared at her.

"I've got someone to see Miranda, Emily," said Nigel.  "Andy, I'll leave you in Emily and Serena's capable hands.  I've got a run-through to prepare for later."  Nigel patted her shoulder.

"Her?  What does that carpenter want with Miranda?  She doesn't have an appointment!"  Emily turned her attention back to Andy.  “What do you want, you cow?"  Her voice was a low hiss, reminiscent of Miranda but not nearly as intimidating.

Andy ignored her. "Thanks, Nigel.  I appreciate the help," she said as he turned and left.

"Emily!  Be nice!"  Serena smiled and held out her hand.  "I'm Serena.  What brings you to Runway?"  Andy didn't miss the deep scowl on Emily's face as she shook Serena's hand.

"Well, it was to show Miranda one of the chairs she ordered.  But, I think I may have found an even better reason."  She winked at Serena, looking up into the woman's eyes.  That's new.  Don't often find a woman that much taller than I am.  Of course, those heels don't hurt!

Que maravilhoso!”  Serena laughed with delight and clapped her hands.  "Oh, you are a fun one!"

"I do try," Andy replied with a grin.  "Let me take care of business and maybe we can talk a little."  Serena nodded as Emily muttered under her breath.

Andy turned back to Emily.  "I know I don't have an appointment, Emily, but Miranda asked me to come by today and show her this chair.  It won't take five minutes, so whenever she has a break will be fine."  Andy glanced at Serena and found her gazing down thoughtfully at Emily with a sad little smile on her face.  Interesting.  Looks like Serena might have a thing for a certain Brit. I wonder if Emily has realized it?

"Fine," answered Emily, flatly.  "You can wait here until she's finished and I'll see if she wants to see you."

"Sounds good."  Andy relaxed and leaned on the chair she brought.  "So, Serena, what do you do around here?"

"I'm head of the Beauty department.  We work to make the models look their best on camera, design their makeup schemes, and test and review all sorts of different beauty products from shampoos—" Serena ran her hand through her hair "—to lipstick."  She blew a kiss to Andy.  Emily made a strangled noise, which both women ignored.  

"Well, the Beauty department is certainly fitting!" Andy's blinding smile became sly.  "But I pictured you on the other end of the makeup brush."

"Que?"

"With those legs and your beautiful face, I thought you were a model!"

"Flatterer!  No, I had my time in front of the camera in Brazil, and it wasn't for me."

"Brazilian, eh?"  Andy waggled her eyebrows.

Emily broke in as Serena blushed and laughed.  "Can you not?  You're here to deliver a chair, not bloody flirt!"

Serena's head snapped around and she locked eyes with Emily.  "Why do you care, querida?  You've ignored all my attempts to flirt and ask you out, why shouldn't I have some fun with her?"

Emily's jaw dropped and her eyes went wide.  "But... you didn’t... were you... flirting... me…”  She trailed off and swallowed.  “Why?"

"Cabeça na lua," Serena muttered and rolled her eyes. "Oh, you are clueless, aren't you, Emily?" She snorted delicately. "Why?  Because I like you, and want to get to know you better.  Whether as a friend, or something more, is up to you."  She sighed.  "I don't know how I can make it more obvious."

"I'm not sure, either, Serena."  All three women jumped at the sound of Miranda's voice.  She stood at the office door.  "Emily, the entire floor knows that Serena has been running after you for months.  You are the only one who hasn't seen it."  Both Serena and Emily blushed at that, and Andy grinned.

"Andréa, why don't you bring the chair into my office.  That will give Serena a chance to try and talk some sense into Emily, or at least ask her out."

Serena nodded and flashed Miranda a broad smile.  "I will certainly try again, Miranda."

"Emily, perhaps you should listen this time.  Come along, Andréa," said Miranda.

"Yes, Miranda,” echoed from both Emily and Andy.

In Miranda's office, Andy put the chair in the center of the room.  Miranda walked around it, examining it from all angles.  While she was occupied, Andy looked around the office.  She quickly spotted a picture of Cassidy and Caroline on Miranda's desk, probably from their last birthday.  The twins were beaming at the camera over a pair of beautiful cakes.  Andy's eyes filled with tears.

She finally nodded.  "Acceptable.  You may proceed with the rest of the chairs."  Miranda followed Andy's gaze to the picture, and back in time to see Andy pinch the tears away.  "Is there something wrong, Andréa?"

"No, not wrong.  It's just...  Today is Angela's birthday."

"Your sister?" asked Miranda softly.

"Yes.  I haven't heard from her in a long time.  I tried again after we talked at your house, but I never got an answer."  Andy hesitated.  "Miranda...  May I make one suggestion?"

Miranda arched an eyebrow.

"Before I start on the rest of the chairs, I'd like you to look at this one while it's in your dining room, next to the table.  I can deliver it to your house and you can look at it tonight.  I've got some other work to do for the rest of the day before I start the other chairs."

Miranda frowned for a moment, then nodded.  "Very well.  I'll let Linda know to expect you, and will get back to you late tonight.  I won't be home until after ten."

"That's fine, Miranda.  Thank you for indulging me — I want you to be as happy with the chairs as you were with the table."

Miranda nodded, eyes focusing on her desk.  "I have to get back to work, Andréa.  Shut the door behind you.  That's all."

As she left, Andy found Serena sitting on Emily's desk, legs crossed, whispering softly to the redhead.  Serena looked up with a smile.  "Looks like you survived your visit to the dragon's lair, Andy."

"I think I may add dragon-taming to my list of superpowers."  Andy's grin was smug, as Emily frowned and smacked Serena's arm.  "I've got to get this chair to Miranda's house.  By the way, Serena, you owe me a drink."

"Whatever for?"  If possible, Emily's glare would have incinerated Andy where she stood.

"For flirting with her and making you jealous, Emily," returned Andy with a brilliant smile.  "Miranda was right.  It only took me about fifteen seconds to see that she was interested in you.  I meant what I said about Serena, but I was mostly looking to get a rise out of you!"

Serena grinned and laughed.  "I think you certainly did that, Andy.  I'll buy you that drink — after I take Emily out to dinner!”

"That's a deal, Serena.  You two have fun!" Andy waved as she headed out.

------------------------------

Later that night, Andy’s phone rang as she was drifting off to sleep.  Who's calling at this hour?  "Hello?"

"Andréa?  This is Miranda."

Andy sat up and rubbed her face.  "Hello, Miranda.  What can I do for you tonight?"

There was a long pause.  "I'm going to do something I don't often do, and if you repeat it to anyone, I will deny it."  There was another pause.

Andy pulled the phone from her ear and stared at it.  "Miranda?"

"You were right, Andréa."

"About?  I'm sorry, Miranda, but I'm dead tired and my brain isn't quite awake."

"About the chairs, Andréa.  Please change them to Shaker-style chairs.  I will gladly pay for the one you've already built, but I don't want it."

"I understand.  I'll send you the drawings first thing in the morning so you can approve, and then I'll get started."

"Thank you, Andréa.  And thank you for not saying 'I told you so.'"

Andy grinned.  "I wouldn't dream of it, Miranda.  You have a good night.  Sweet dreams."

There was a pause.  "Yes.  Well.  Good night to you as well, Andréa."

Oh my god.  Did I just wish her 'sweet dreams'?  Andy, what are you thinking?!?

Chapter Text

The winter sunlight glittered on the Conservatory Water, and the cold air burned in her lungs as Andy ran down the path in Central Park.  It feels good to get out and stretch my legs.  I've spent way too much time inside at the lathe the last couple of weeks.  Windsor chairs would have been harder, but Shaker chairs have a lot more parts.  Twelve chairs — twenty-four steam bent back legs, twenty-four front legs, a hundred and forty-four stretchers, not to mention forty-eight back slats.  Thank goodness I've got all the turning and bending done. She dialed back to a slow jog as she reached the end of the trail.  I just wish that twit Heather would quit coming around.  I didn’t think I liked her when we went out, and now that she won’t leave me alone, I KNOW I don’t! 

"Andy, Andy!"  She jumped as a voice behind her called her name.  Turning, she just had time to recognize the red-headed tornado and brace herself before the girl crashed into her.  "Oooof!  Hey, munchkin!  What are you doing?"

"Me and Cass are out walking with Linda."

"Hey, Care — look out!"  Andy's head snapped up at the yell, and she spotted a soccer ball headed right toward Caroline's head.  On instinct, she stepped around her and caught the ball on her chest, letting it fall to her thigh, then bumping it high in the air.  When it came down, she headed it back up, then caught it on her foot and began to juggle it using her knees and feet.  She finished by catching it with her foot and trapping the ball underneath.

Cassidy came running up.  "Whoa, Andy!  That was way cool!  Where did you learn to do that?"

"Yeah," chimed in Caroline.  "We didn't know you played soccer!"

"Well, there's a lot about me you don't know.  We've only met a couple of times, and that was mostly business."  She waved at Linda, who looked a little relieved as she recognized Andy and returned the wave.  "I played soccer as a kid, all the way up through college."

"You played college soccer, Andy?" asked Cassidy.

"Yep.  I played four years for Northwestern."

"No way!  Were you on the national championship team?"  

"I was — that was my senior year.  It was great!  Those girls were like sisters to me and we still keep in touch.  We even had a ten year reunion I got to go to last summer."  Andy smiled.  "But enough about my ancient history.  Do you girls play?"

"Yeah, I really like soccer," answered Cassidy.  "Me and Care are going to try out for one of the city league teams this spring if Mom lets us."

"That's great — I will probably see you then.  I'm going to volunteer to coach one of the teams.”  She grinned at the girls.  “Do you want some tips on how to get ready for tryouts?  I learned a lot while I was playing, and I used to coach, too."  Both girls nodded.  "Ok then.  Let's get going."

For the next hour, Andy put the girls through a series of drills while Linda watched from a bench.  Ball control, passing back and forth, dribbling through an obstacle course of sticks and pine cones, and quite a few others.  Most of the drills started and ended in laughter as Andy demonstrated the wrong way — usually klutzy — to do them before demonstrating the proper form.

As they worked, Andy noticed that the twins always seemed to know where the other was.  Several times Cassidy passed the ball right to Caroline without looking, and Caroline seemed to know it was coming before it got there.  She finally commented on it.  

"How do you guys do that?" she asked.

"Do what, Andy?" responded Cassidy.

"Pass without looking.  It's like you always know where your sister is."

The twins looked at each other, and Andy watched their expressions change and respond.  They both nodded, and Cassidy turned back to Andy.  "I'm not sure, but we've always been like that.  It's like I can feel where Care is and there's a string I can follow to get to her."  Caroline nodded.  "Same here."

Andy grinned.  "That's a little freaky," she said, ruffling their hair.  "But as long as you use your superpower for good, it will be ok."

"You think that's a superpower?" the girls asked excitedly.

"You bet!  If it works on the soccer field, you two would make a great pair of strikers.  Being able to pass across the field without tipping off the defenders would let you score a lot of goals.  High five?"

They slapped palms and walked over to where Linda had been sitting on a bench.  The nanny smiled as she stood.  "Ready to go, girls?"  

"Yeah, it's time for lunch.  Join us, Andy?" asked Caroline.

"I can't, munchkin.  I have to get back to the shop to work.  I've got a bunch of chairs to get done for your mom, and a friend is coming over later to work on a project."

Caroline huffed.  "Is it your girlfriend?"

"Girlfriend?"  Andy laughed.  "No, far from it.  Doug is just a friend, who happens to be a really good engineer.  We're trying to figure out how to build something cool we think could sell really well."  I wonder why she's so concerned with me having a girlfriend?

"Oh.  Ok, Andy.  Hope we see you later!"  

"You too, munchkin.  Maybe at tryouts!"  She waved at the three as they walked away.  That was fun.  Those girls could be really good soccer players if they put the effort in.  Never seen anything like that before.  She checked her phone.  I've got to get a move on if I'm going to get home in time to shower before I meet Doug.

------------------------------

As Miranda hung her coat in the closet by the stairs, she could hear Cassidy and Caroline chattering loudly.  She paused in the kitchen doorway for a moment to listen to them talk with Linda as they ate lunch.

"Did you see Andy catch and juggle that ball I kicked, Linda?  That was so cool!"

"I did, Cassidy.  I'm glad she was there, or you might have hurt Caroline."

"What's this about Caroline getting hurt?" asked Miranda.

"Mom!"

The two girls jumped off their stools and wrapped her up in hugs.  She returned the hugs, then joined them at the breakfast bar.  "So, tell me what you did this morning.  I gather it had something to do with soccer."

"Linda took us to the park, and we ran into Andy, Mom.  She's really good at soccer!  She showed us a bunch of drills and how to practice to get better.  We really want to play this spring, Mom.  Can we?"  As usual, the twins took turns and it was all Miranda could do to keep track.  She laughed a little.

"One at a time, Bobbseys, one at a time.  What were you saying about Caroline almost getting hurt?"

"Oh, that," answered Cassidy.  "Care recognized Andy — she was out running in the park — and ran over to her.  I kicked the ball and she didn't see it coming, but Andy stepped in front of her and caught it before it hit her.  It was cool!"

Miranda frowned at Caroline.  "Why did you bother Andréa if she was running?  You should know better than to run off to strangers in the park."  She glanced at Linda and raised an eyebrow.

"But Mom, Andy's not a stranger.  She's been in the house and we've been to her shop.  You know her."

"I know of her, Caroline.  We really don't know much about her at all.  Please be more careful in the future — both of you."

Caroline looked at Cassidy.  "Yes, Mom."  Both girls nodded.  "May we be excused?"

Miranda nodded.  I've never seen them take to someone this quickly.  It worries me a little.  I think I need to make a call and get Alex on the case.

------------------------------

Monday morning dawned grey and dreary as Andy opened the shop.  She sipped her coffee and considered the piles of chair parts and forms covering all of her benches and assembly tables.  Maybe I should relocate this mess upstairs to the open loft?  Nah, by the time I got that done, I could have the project half done.  I guess today I can form the back slats and start the seats, then I can start assembling the chairs.

She thought back to yesterday in the park.  That was an awful lot of fun.  I'm glad I decided to coach this year — I've missed the game.  Playing with those two reminded me so much of playing with Angela.  That last spring break before I graduated and came to New York...  she was the same age as the twins are now.

The ding of the bell on the front door broke her train of thought.  She grinned as she saw Miranda come through the door and up to the counter.

"Miranda!  I wasn't expecting to see you for a few weeks.  What can I do for you today?"

Miranda's face was stiff and her tone was cold when she answered.  "How much do I owe you?"

"I'm sorry?  You don't owe me anything until I deliver the chairs."

"Not for the chairs, Andréa."

"I honestly have no idea what you are talking about, Miranda."  Andy pulled out her order book and flipped through it.  "Did you ask for some additional pieces besides the chairs that I have forgotten about?"

Miranda frowned.  "I'm talking about yesterday.  You gave my girls a soccer lesson in the park, and I expect you want to be paid.  How much?"

Andy stared at her, mouth open.  "What?  Where did that come from, Miranda?”  She took a deep breath and blew it out.  “I didn't do that to get paid.  I love soccer and I like to teach, especially with girls as talented as yours!  You don't owe me anything."

Miranda sniffed, and looked Andy up and down.  "What are your qualifications to coach soccer, anyway?"

Andy stiffened and slammed the order book closed.  Seriously?  I don’t believe this crap!  "Sixteen years of competitive soccer, a state high school championship, four years of NCAA D1 soccer with one national championship, plus six or seven years coaching youth soccer," she ground out, staring directly into Miranda's eyes.

Miranda returned the stare silently for a moment, then looked away.  When she looked back, she held out her credit card.  "Yes, well.  Just let me pay you."

"I didn't do it to get paid, I did it for your girls.  It was fun, OK?"  Andy's voice cracked and a single tear rolled down her cheek.

"Nobody ever does something for me or my girls for ‘fun.’  They always want something."

Andy threw up her hands.  "God, Miranda.  That’s…  I don’t know what that is, but it is seriously fu—" She bit off what she was going to say.  "That is seriously messed up!  I'd hate to live in your world!  I don't want any money from you unless you order more furniture, period."  Her voice broke.  "I'll leave your girls alone. They just reminded me of..." she whispered, her eyes brimming with tears.  "Please leave."

Miranda looked at the tears threatening to spill out of Andy’s eyes and blinked.  Maybe I've made a mistake here.  Maybe she really doesn't want anything.  "Andréa?"

"Just leave, Miranda."  Andy turned to the bench behind her.  She started to rearrange the stacks of parts while she struggled to compose herself.

"Andréa, this isn't about my girls, is it?"

Andy choked back a sob.  ”I’d like you to leave.  Now."  She stayed in place until she heard the door close, then wiped her tears and got to work.  Dammit, that woman is impossible!  Why am I so attracted to her?  

------------------------------

Miranda leaned back in her chair and took off her glasses.  She'd been staring at the photos on her desk for an hour without really seeing them.  She turned to stare out the window.  

Why did she work with Cassidy and Caroline like that if she really didn't want anything?  What motive could she have?  Selling more furniture?  Miranda thought back on her interactions with Andy over the past several months.  She seems so innocent and guileless, not like a run of the mill model at all.  She paused, eyes widening.  When did I start to think of her as a model?   She snorted delicately.  In those clothes?

What was it she said?  Oh, yes.  "I'd hate to live in your world."  Maybe that's it.  She really doesn't live in my world, and only knows me through her business.  Maybe she really does like soccer, and the girls.  Miranda opened her desk and took out one of her personal note cards.  After filling it out and addressing it, she called Emily in. 

"Emily, I want you to go to that florist I like and have an arrangement of white lily of the valley, red helenium, and red bee's balm delivered to Andréa Sachs.  This note goes with the flowers, and I want it delivered by five o'clock today."

"Yes, Miranda."  The thin redhead took the envelope from Miranda's hand and rushed out.  

Miranda shook her head.   I really don't know what I'm thinking.  She turned back to the photos, finally able to concentrate.

------------------------------

Andy had just locked the shop when someone knocked.  "We're closed!" she called, irritated.  Can't people read?

The knocking continued.  "I've got flowers for Andrea Sachs at Sachs Fine Furniture," came the voice through the door.  Andy opened the door and allowed the uniformed delivery woman in.  "Sign here," she said as she placed the red and white arrangement on the counter.

Andy signed the pad the woman handed her.  "Hang on a second — let me get my wallet out of the office."  She returned after a moment and handed the woman a ten.  "Who's it from?"

"No idea, but there's a card."  She winked at Andy.  "You must be somebody special — this wasn't cheap!"

Yeah, special. Right. Andy rolled her eyes and locked the door again, drawing the blinds.  This was the time of day that she usually tried to come around, and Andy wasn't in the mood to put up with Heather today. She turned back to the counter and pulled the card.  The envelope was heavy paper, and turning it over she found a gold foil 'M' on the front.  Who could that be?  Miranda?  She opened the envelope and began to read the elegant handwriting.

Andréa,

I wish to apologize for my words and attitude this morning.  As you indicated when we spoke, you really don't live in my world, and I didn’t take that into account.  Almost everyone I meet wants something from me in one way or another.  You seem to be a glaring exception.

The flowers in the arrangement are very specific. The red helenium (wide petals) stand for tears, the red bee's balm (long, sharp petals) stand for sympathy, and the Lily of the Valley (white bells) are for the return of happiness.  Broadly, in the language of flowers, I am sorry for your tears and I wish for the return of your happiness.

I look forward to seeing the chairs in my dining room when you are finished.

-M 

P.S.  I will admit that this is very unusual for me, and I'm not sure why.

Andy sat down heavily on the stool behind the counter.  She leaned forward and breathed in the scent of the flowers.  A pleasant mix of sweetness, mint, and spiciness (almost like oregano) filled her nostrils.  She read the note again.

Well.  I certainly didn't expect that after this morning, but I'm really, really glad she did.  I guess I should reply.  She read the note a third time, especially the last line.  I wonder if she feels something, too.  Maybe I can help her make up her mind.

Carrying the flowers, she went back to her office and rummaged through her desk.  Finding a pack of greeting cards from her trip to Hancock Shaker Village, she selected one showing the workshop and penned a note to Miranda, inviting her to meet for coffee sometime.  She tucked a picture of her own shop, piled high with chair parts, into the envelope, sealed it, stamped it, and addressed it. 

Humming softly, she turned out the lights in the shop and headed upstairs with her flowers. 

------------------------------

Andy fumbled with her phone trying to stop the ringing that was pulling her out of sleep.  She finally hit the right button and answered.  "Hello?"  Excited shouting greeted her.

"I got it, Andy, I got it!"  Andy groaned and held the phone away from her ear as Doug continued to shout.  "You were right — there was a simpler way!"

"Doug!  It's four o'clock in the morning.  What in the hell are you talking about?"

"The table mechanism!  I figured it out!  It's so simple!"  

Andy sat up in bed and wrapped her blanket around her shoulders.  "Seriously?  Are you sure?"

"Yes!  I think this is it, Andy.  At least we can get a scale prototype built and see if it will work in real life, not just in the CAD system."  Doug's excitement was infectious.

"That's awesome, Doug!  You'll have to send me the new plans, and I'll buy you a beer tonight if they look good.   You can tell me all about your flash of genius.  Good night!"

Andy flopped back down in bed, groaning, and pulled the covers over her head. 

------------------------------

Miranda spotted Andy immediately as she entered the coffee shop.  The brunette's glowing smile was impossible to miss as she waved Miranda over.  Miranda answered with a nod and a small smile of her own.  Just after the morning rush, the shop was full but not excessively so.  As she walked toward the booth Andy had claimed, she examined the small shop.  Lots of dark wood and comfortable seating, and customers that looked mostly like locals.  She slid into the booth across from Andy.

"Good morning, Miranda," Andy said with a smile.  

"And to you as well.  This is a lovely shop, Andréa.  I see why you chose it — as long as the coffee is as good as the décor."

"Oh, I think it is.  What would you like?"  Andy waved over the barista.  "Megan, this is my friend Miranda.  Miranda, this is Megan, the owner of this little slice of heaven.  She keeps me in caffeine when I have a lot of work — you should probably thank her for your table!"

Miranda nodded politely.  "One scalding hot latte with an extra shot."

Megan nodded.  "Your usual, Andy?"  Andy returned the nod.

"I'm glad we could get together, Miranda.  I wanted to thank you in person for the flowers.  They were absolutely beautiful."

"Yes, well.  I don't usually apologize, but this seemed like the occasion to make an exception."  She paused.  "You do seem to be an exception to many things, Andréa.  As I said, I'm not sure why."

"Me, neither, but I'm glad you did.  It really made my day.  Heck, it made my whole week last week."  She smiled at Miranda, who looked down at her hands. "Maybe it's because I didn't know who you were when we first met — still don’t, really. I just know Miranda the customer and Miranda the mom."

Megan interrupted with their drinks.  After a few sips, Andy opened the conversation again. "How are your girls doing?"

Miranda sighed.  "They seem to be soccer-crazy these days.  It's all they can talk about."

"I hope that's not my fault.  I suspect I encouraged it when we worked in the park."  Way to go, genius, remind her of what got her mad at you in the first place!

Miranda huffed and shook her head.  "Oh, I have no doubt you encouraged it, but it was there already.  I just hate to think of them getting hurt playing sports."

"I understand.  Still, soccer is one of the least dangerous sports out there.  There's not a lot of contact, and except for heading the ball, not as much danger of serious injuries like concussions.  I only had one injury in all the years I played, and that was a sprain where I rolled my ankle when I jumped and came down on another girl's foot."

Miranda huffed.  “Still, I don't know the coaches and not all of them will be careful of the girl's health."  She pursed her lips as she considered the danger.

"Well, if it would ease your mind, I can request to have Cassidy and Caroline on my team.  I'm going to be coaching this spring.  It would probably help you to only have to come to one set of games and practices."

"True.  Well, enough about soccer.  How is the furniture business, and how are my chairs?" asked Miranda. 

The two women continued to talk, trading information about Andy's business and Miranda's domain at Runway.  They were interrupted when Megan placed a small plate with two cookies on the table.  Andy and Miranda looked at the two pink hearts, then up at Megan.  Andy found her voice first.

"What's this, Megan?  We didn't order these," said Andy softly, glancing nervously at Miranda.  

"Well, um, I thought," stammered Megan.  "It is Valentine's Day, after all."

Andy and Miranda glanced at each other. Andy's eyes shied away to watch the pedestrians on the street outside, while Miranda found the dark oak of the table extremely interesting.  There were spots of red spreading from her cheeks to her ears, while Andy's blush started with her ears and crept down her neck.  

Miranda broke the awkward silence.  She picked up a cookie and took a delicate bite.  "While I didn't realize it was Valentine's Day, my girls tell me good cookies are not to be wasted.  However, I do need to get to the office."  That blush looks adorable on Andréa.

Andy stood and offered her hand.  God, she's beautiful.  Miranda ignored the hand and pulled her in for air kisses next to her cheeks.  "Thank you for the coffee, Andrea.  Next time, I will buy."  She turned to go, but spoke over her shoulder.  "We can have cookies, then, too."

Andy's flush returned.  She put her head in her hands.  What am I going to do?  Was she flirting with me?  Really?  Am I really falling for her like I think I am?

Chapter Text

The open loft above Andy's shop was filled with a baker's dozen of Shaker chairs, softly gleaming in the sunlight.  After a lot of work and a few late nights, she was finally done with Miranda's latest order.  Andy straightened up and wiped her forehead.  Her hair was piled up on top of her head, covered by a bright red bandanna.  She stripped off her gloves and dropped the polishing rag back into the can of wax.  

Well, that's another commission finished.  I guess I can see if Miranda wants the extra chair, or try and sell it in the shop along with the Windsor.  She arched her back and stretched.  Oh, my aching back.  You're getting old, Andy.  She snorted.  I think I'm tired of chairs — making this many was too much like production work, no matter how much she paid.  Now that this is done, Doug and I can get back to our table project.  I wonder if he's been able to fix the mechanism yet?

She pulled out her phone and called Miranda's office again.  "Emily, this is Andy Sachs.  I need to schedule another delivery to Miranda's townhouse."  

Emily huffed over the line.  "Again?  What is it this time?"

"I don't discuss my client's orders with anyone without permission," Andy snapped.  "I have all day tomorrow or any time next week."

"Fine," Emily huffed again.  "I'll let Linda know you will be there tomorrow at four o'clock.  Miranda won't be there — she is unavailable."

"Ok, Auntie Em.  That works for me.  Talk to you later."  She grinned as she listened to Emily sputter before the line went dead.

------------------------------

The park was noisy with girls shouting and whistles blowing as the coaches conducted drills.  Andy looked up from her clipboard to see twin redheads in front of her.  Of course Miranda’s kids would wear designer gear for soccer tryouts!  She rolled her eyes internally, then greeted the twins.  "Hey, Caroline.  Hello, Cassidy."  She nodded to them as she spoke.

"Hi, Andy!" they returned in unison.

"Where's your mom?  She's supposed to sign you up."  Andy looked around and spotted Miranda by her signature hair and designer leather coat.  She was pacing back and forth with short, sharp steps, talking on her phone.

"She's talking to Nigel.  Some crisis about the newest issue of Runway."  Cassidy rolled her eyes.  "But she signed everything and gave us the forms."

Andy took the papers from the girls and read through them.  She looked up at the girls.  "Are you sure about this?  This says she wants you to play on different teams."  Cassidy and Caroline looked at each other with alarm, then back to Andy.  

"Umm...  That's not what she said.  She told us we were both going to be on your team," said Cassidy.

"That's what I thought, too.  I think she just checked the wrong box.  We can fix it, I just need to get her initials.  I'll go talk to her."  She missed the concerned look the twins gave each other as she walked towards their mother.  "You two go get in line for the drills — I'll be right back," called Andy over her shoulder.

As she approached Miranda, Andy could hear her berating the person to whom she was speaking.

"No, no, no, Nigel.  It is not working the way it is.  That layout is absolutely atrocious!”  She listened for a moment then cut him off.  “I understand the print deadline is next week, but we are not going to print this way.  Try something else—"

"Excuse me, Miranda?"  Andy tried to break in.  

Miranda turned her back and continued to talk.  "Do we have the accessories from the winter line we could add?"

Andy tapped Miranda on the shoulder.  "I'm sorry, Miranda, this will only take a moment."

Miranda whirled and glared at Andy.  "Can you not see I am busy, Andréa?" she hissed.

Andy returned her glare.  "Fine, Miranda.  If you think you are busy now, wait until you try and juggle two different sets of practices and games with your girls on different teams!"  Her sharp tone drew looks from some of the parents on the sidelines. She turned away to walk back to the registration line, muttering under her breath.  

"Nigel, I have to go.  Fix it, and we will talk later.  That's all.  Andréa, wait!" Miranda called after her.  "What's this about two different practices?" she asked when she had caught up with the younger woman.

"You checked the wrong box on the registration forms.  I can't change it without your permission — just initial here." Andy pushed the clipboard and pen into Miranda's hands.  "Thanks.  I will take care of the rest.  You can get back to work now." Andy turned away and rolled her eyes.

Miranda stared after her, fighting down her own irritation while watching Andy's swaying hips as she joined the other coaches.  Those leggings really show off her curves.  For a moment, she imagined feeling those curves pressed against her, their legs entwined, and felt a flash of heat run through her.  What are you doing?  She's a woman and twenty years younger than you are! She'd never be interested in you anyway

After the girls had tried out and the teams had been chosen, Andy took Caroline, Cassidy, and the rest of the girls off to another field for a short practice.  She started by gathering the girls around her for a quick introduction and pep talk.

"My name is Andy Sachs, you can call me coach, coach A, coach Andy, or just plain Andy.  I answer to them all.  I played soccer for about sixteen years growing up, including winning a state high school championship one year and winning the NCAA women's soccer title in college.  I also coached little league soccer along the way, so I've had some experience."

"To be a winning soccer team, two things have to happen:  you have to be in great shape, and you have to be a team.  We'll be doing a lot of running — I believe the more you sweat in practice, the more goals you score.  We'll also be doing a lot of work together as a team, so that we work well together on the field, too.  We are going to have a lot of fun doing this, so let's get started!  Everybody up — one lap around the field and then we'll run some drills."

Miranda watched as Andy interacted with all the girls, cheering them on when they did well and encouraging and helping them when they fell a little short.  As the practice wore on, she began to get irritated.  Why does she always have Caroline and Cassidy in the back?  They are better than those other girls!  She should give them a chance to shine, too!

During the final drill, a full-field scrimmage where Caroline and Cassidy were held back at the fullback position, Miranda had had enough.  She stalked over to Andy.

"Andréa!  Why are you keeping my girls back?  They are better than you are allowing them to show!" she hissed.  Several other parents’ heads turned toward them, but Andy ignored Miranda and continued to coach the girls through the scrimmage.  "Andréa!  Answer me!"

Andy sighed and blew her whistle.  "Ok, girls.  Come on in and take a five minute water break. Then we'll finish up!"  She jerked her head away from the group.  "Follow me, Miranda."

Once they were out of earshot of the team and their parents, Andy rounded on Miranda, eyes flashing.  "Miranda, you may get away with that crap at work where you are the boss, but this is my field!  I'm the coach, and I'm the one that decides where the girls play, understand?"  Miranda's jaw dropped.  "If you have questions, you are welcome to ask, but you don't get to dictate where your girls play — especially when you don't know my reasons!"

Before she could respond, the last phrase caught Miranda's attention and she bit off the scathing comment on the tip of her tongue.  "So you have 'reasons' for my girls not playing their best positions, Andréa?  Might one inquire as to what those are?"  Her voice dripped with sarcasm.

Andy ignored the tone and explained.  "Two reasons, Miranda.  First, and most important, I spent an hour in the park with your girls.  Between that and the tryout drills, I already know what they can do.  I needed to see what skills the other girls have so I can figure out the best lineup for the team.  Second, I think Cassidy and Caroline are going to take the other teams by surprise, and I don't want to give away that advantage just yet.  This league is about learning and fun, but I'm not naïve enough to think that winning isn't important.  Good enough reasons for you?"  

She paused and waited as Miranda processed what she had said.  Finally, Miranda nodded.  Andy returned the nod, and then called out to the girls.  "Who's ready for ice cream?  My treat this time!"  She put aside her irritation at Miranda and led the laughing group across the park to Venchi Chocolate & Gelato, just off Columbus Circle.

Miranda sat in a booth by herself and pretended to work on her phone while keeping an eye on Cassidy and Caroline as the team chattered away.  The other parents had gathered their own tables together. They sat getting acquainted while Andy made the rounds of the girls on the team, and Miranda noticed wherever Andy sat, the noise level increased and laughter followed.  She talked to each of the girls and their parents before going to the counter.  Miranda shook her head. She was looking down at a text when she felt someone approach her table. 

"May I?" asked Andy.  Miranda looked up and nodded, her face expressionless.

Andy slid into the booth opposite Miranda, and passed a cup across the table.  "One center-of-the-sun hot latte with an extra shot.  You seem like you could use it."  She paused.  "I’m sorry if I made it worse by yelling at you — twice! — today."  She gave Miranda a shrug of apology and a tentative smile.

Miranda took off her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose.  "No, no.  I should be the one apologizing.  I took out my anger at my staff on you."  She lifted her coffee and took a small sip.

"Want to talk about it?" Andy asked softly.

Miranda looked up, then sighed.  "Why not?  Maybe you can make sense of this mess, goodness knows my employees cannot.  In brief, our print deadline is Thursday and one of the major spreads is in absolute shambles.  Nothing is right — not the content, the outfits, the models, the photographs, the layout — nothing is working.  And nothing I change is making a difference.  It is the most frustrating experience I have had in many years, and my staff only seems to grow in incompetence as we get close to the deadline!"  She forced herself to relax and take another sip of coffee.

"Forgive me if I'm being presumptuous, but I overheard you on the phone say something about adding accessories?"

"Yes, I thought it might complement some of the outfits and tie things together.  Instead, it just made it worse."

Andy nodded.  "One of my favorite sayings is 'Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add’—"

"—'but when there is nothing left to take away.'  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry," finished Miranda.  "One of my favorites, too.  How does that help?"  

Andy pulled a sketchbook out of her bag.  “Take a look at this — it’s some concept drawings for a chest of drawers a client wants.  See how the initial sketch is fairly straightforward, but they get more and more complicated?  They also get farther and farther from the concept, and I couldn’t figure out what to add to make the client happy.” 

Miranda nodded.  The last sketch was ornate and superficially attractive, but somehow very wrong.

“Then I went back to basics.”  Andy turned the page, and Miranda gasped.  The final sketch was beautifully clean, with flowing lines and perfect proportions.  All of the ‘extras’ that had decorated the ornate chest were gone.  "Instead of asking what can you add to make the spread better, maybe ask what you can remove?" 

Miranda stared at Andy, then looked down at the table.  Andy watched, fascinated, as her eyes flickered under half-closed lids, her fingers twitched, and her lips moved, picturing, rearranging, and evaluating hundreds of options in a few seconds.  When she looked back up, her eyes had a sparkle that wasn’t there before.  "I think you are right.  We are trying to do too much.” 

She lifted her phone and began to speak as soon as the person on the other end picked up.  “Nigel.  Scrap the entire layout on which we have been working.  I will come by the office in an hour and I want an updated copy of The Book with that layout blank.  I also want folders with everything from the shoots.  I will sketch the new layout and we will meet first thing tomorrow to go over it.  That’s all.”

Miranda put the phone down and smiled.  “Thank you for the reminder, Andréa.  I believe my block has been broken.”

Andy blinked and returned the smile with a brilliant smile of her own.  “I’m happy to have helped, Miranda.  I know first hand how irritating it is to reach a dead end like that, and how much a different viewpoint helps.”

“Perhaps publishing and woodworking are not so different after all, Andréa.   You certainly taught this editor something today.  Do you often design from scratch like that?”

"Many times, but it depends on what a client wants.  For your table and chairs, I had lots of historical designs to draw on so I only made a few sketches to match your needs better.  If I'm not building, I'm capturing ideas on paper for the future.  I fill a lot of sketchbooks with ideas."

"The chairs are beautiful, Andréa.  Your sketchbooks sound a lot like what I used to do when I first started working in a dress shop.  I had notebooks with ideas everywhere.  I didn't want to lose an idea just because I didn't have a piece of paper handy!"

"Exactly!  I've done that before, and it's very frustrating."

Miranda smiled as she rose from the booth and turned to go.  “It's been good talking to you, Andréa.  Thank you again.  I— we will see you next week.”

Andy smiled.  “Yes, you will.”  And hopefully we can have more of these chats then, too.  It would be worth paying for ice cream for everyone just to get to talk to you.

------------------------------

"Miranda, your 10:15 is here," announced Emily from the outer office.

"Show Ms. Winters in and close the door, Emily.  That's all," responded Miranda, rising from her desk.  She crossed the room and greeted the woman with her usual air kisses.  "Alex, wonderful to see you!"

"You too, Miranda," Alex answered.  

The two women sat on the couch and looked each other over.  Miranda was her usual stylish self, with a grey pencil skirt topped by a cream blouse and navy Hermès scarf.  She crossed her legs and allowed her four inch Prada heel to hang off her toe.  Alex was dressed conservatively in a dark blue pinstriped pantsuit with a white blouse and low black heels.  The smaller woman was indistinguishable from any other New York City professional — until you looked closely at her face.  There was something about the set of her green eyes and the faint lines around them that spoke more of the jungle predator than the urban professional.

Alex Winters had been Miranda's private investigator for more than two decades.  She'd been instrumental behind the scenes in building the reputation of the Devil in Prada, finding Miranda's opponent's secrets and enabling her to outmaneuver them easily.  Both of Miranda's divorces had seemed headed for long, drawn-out fights until her ex-husbands had received sealed packets from Alex detailing their 'indiscretions.’

"So, what do you have for me, Alex?"

"Well, you really made me earn my retainer this time, Miranda.  This was a tough one — not much to go on."

"You found something, then?  I had a feeling she was too nice."

Alex shook her head and pulled a folder from her bag.  "No, not at all.  Just the opposite.  It took longer than usual because I wanted to double-check everything.  She's clean.  Unless you want me to do a really deep dive and get into bank accounts and health records."  She handed the folder over to Miranda.

Miranda took the folder with a slightly stunned expression.  "Really?  I can hardly believe it."

"It's all in the folder, Miranda.  I think you were a little too suspicious this time."

"Give me the short version."

"Andrea Elizabeth Sachs, 32 years old.  Born Cincinnati, Ohio.  Graduated early from Northwestern University ten years ago with a combined BA and MA in Journalism.  Came to New York City after graduating but failed to find a job right away.  Started working at a carpenter's shop after about three months, and was listed as an apprentice on the rolls of the Council of Carpenters and Joiners.  She was made a journeyman less than a year later — very quick — and then the master for whom she was working passed away.  He left her his business and his shop building, and she's been running it ever since.  She became a master craftsman after two more years — again, very quick.  Pays her dues and taxes on time, no trouble with the law — not even a parking ticket.  Has a woodworking blog where she posts pictures of her work and thoughts on design, but no other social media.  Oh, and you almost had a chance to hire her ten years ago."  

"What?"  Miranda gaped at Alex.

"I checked through the Elias-Clarke records you gave me access to. Seems she applied for a job, and there were openings for assistants at Runway and Auto Universe.  The note in her file said ‘Not dressed suitably for Runway’; she was sent to Auto Universe and they failed to hire her.  Their loss, I think."  Alex grinned with a twinkle in her eye.

Miranda snorted.  "The editor then wouldn’t have known talent if it bit him on the nose — he was too busy draping half-naked models over every vehicle in sight.  Too bad.  If she's half as good with words as she is with wood, she would have been an incredible addition.  Anything else?"

"She does have a fairly exclusive clientele.  I used my contacts at Imperial Moving to get a list of the addresses where she has contracted for delivery over the past two years.  No names, but the addresses are in very nice neighborhoods.  I suspect you might recognize a few of them. There's a list in the folder."

"Interesting.  I will let you know if I have any more questions.  I may have one additional thing for you, I just haven't decided yet.”

As Alex left the office, Miranda moved to her desk and looked at the closed folder. She turned and stared out the window. Now what do I do?

Chapter Text

Andy looked up to see Caroline and Cassidy trudging towards her across the field with Linda following behind.  They look a little down.  I wonder where Miranda is? "Good morning, ladies!  You're a little early — excited for the game?"

"I guess," answered Caroline with a frown.  Cassidy just sighed.

"Something wrong, Caroline?  Where's your mom?"

The two girls exchanged glances.  "She's not here," said Caroline.  "She's always missing things she said she would be at," continued Cassidy.  "She had to go to London suddenly last week and she said she would be back in time, but she's not."

Andy thought back over the last month and smiled at the memories.  Miranda had attended all of the games and all but one of the practices so far, and she and the twins had also attended all of the team get-togethers afterwards.  Miranda even showed up at Venchi's after the practice that she missed. It had quickly become something of a tradition — the team would order and sit down, Andy would make the rounds of the kids and parents, and then sit down with Miranda to chat.  Several times they had talked on, long after the rest of the team had left.  The girls had joined them and quickly had Andy in stitches with tales of middle school drama and the pranks they like to play.

Andy returned to the present as both girls wiped away tears.  Uh-oh.  Looks like I need to do some damage control.  She knelt and pulled the girls into a hug. 

"Girls, I'm just getting to know your mom, but I do know this.  She loves you very, very much and would never break a promise if she could help it."

"But she does, Andy.  All the time!" retorted Caroline. 

Andy paused to consider her words.  She cupped Caroline’s cheek in her hand and looked her in the eye.  "I know it might seem that way, munchkin.  But being an adult is complicated sometimes — your mom has a really important and hard job.  And sometimes she really can't help it.  If she said she would be here, I bet there's a really good reason she isn't, ok?"

Caroline and Cassidy looked at each other, and then nodded.  "Ok, Coach A," they chorused in stereo.

Andy grinned.  "Off with you then, you scamps!  Go stretch and get ready to play!"

------------------------------

Andy's team started the game slowly.  The other team scored twice early and threatened to do so again until Cassidy intercepted the ball and passed it off to Caroline.  Caroline wound up and faked a long kick, then dribbled around a defender until she could send the ball back to Cassidy.  Cassidy bumped the ball over the fullback with her knee, stepped around her, and kicked the ball into the net past a diving goalie.  

The game stayed 2-1 until late in the second half.  Andy signaled Cassidy to take charge, and she and Caroline headed up the field.  They passed the ball back and forth, avoiding the defenders easily, until Caroline was able to take a shot.  She faked a hard kick and tapped the ball home into the corner of the net.  

With the score tied at 2 and less than two minutes left, Andy's goalie blocked a kick and cleared the ball into the other end of the field.  Caroline raced downfield and took the ball deeper, then, before anyone could react, kicked the ball towards the opposite corner.  Andy gasped until she saw Cassidy sneaking in behind the final defenders.  She step-faked the goalie out of position and sent the ball curling past her into the net.  The referee signaled the goal just before the final whistle blew.  Andy and the team burst into cheers and ran onto the field to celebrate.  

A few minutes later, the team ran off the field and the twins were astonished to see Miranda waiting for them.  "Mom!  You made it!" Cassidy shouted.  Andy grinned at their excitement.  

Miranda knelt and opened her arms to hug the girls.  "I did, Bobbseys.  I'm so sorry I was late, but my plane had to divert to Newark and the traffic was horrible.  Roy did his best, but we didn't get here until close to the end of the game."

"Did you see my goal, Mom?" asked Cassidy.

"I did!  I saw you both score.  You and Caroline were wonderful charging up the field."  She looked up at Andy.  "I think your coach did a great job putting you in the right spots."  Her eyes twinkled as Andy's smile lit the field.  

------------------------------

The twins chose to sit with Miranda while they ate their ice cream after the game.  Andy made her rounds of the players and parents, and then returned to sit with the rest of the team.  When the twins finally excused themselves to talk to their friends, Miranda caught Andy's eye and raised an eyebrow.  She was treated to another blinding smile and a nod. 

A few minutes later, Andy slid into the booth with two cups.  "One center-of-the-sun latte, as ordered.  I still don’t know how you drink it that hot."  She grinned as she nodded at the cup.

"Don’t you know they call me the Dragon Lady?”  Andy rolled her eyes as Miranda smiled.  She continued softly.  “Thank you, Andréa.  Not just for the coffee — my girls told me what you said to them before the game today.  Thank you for caring for them, and for not throwing me under the bus."

Andy looked at her quizzically.  "How and why would I throw you under the bus, Miranda?  I don't get it."

"As you reminded me several months ago, you don't live in my world."  Miranda paused.  "There are many people, including my ex-husbands, who would delight in making me look bad in front of my girls and in letting them know what a bad parent I am."

"That's bullshit, Miranda," Andy growled.  "Everything I've seen says you are a great mom to those girls.  They really missed you, and I understand that.  When Daddy had to travel, I remember how glad Angela and I were to see him when he got back..."  Andy's voice trailed off as she finished.  She looked away as tears filled her eyes.  Her hands were clenched into fists on the table.

Miranda laid her hands over Andy's fists and squeezed gently.  "Still no word from your family?" I think I need to get Alex on that second task after all.

Andy blinked away tears.  "I send an email and a letter once a month.  Still nothing," she whispered.  She shook her head again.  "Enough of that.  How was London?  I've always wanted to go."

Miranda paused before responding.  "It was business, the usual incompetence that plagues me.  I had to fly over to secure locations for a couple of photoshoots, something that should have been done months ago but apparently 'fell through the cracks.’”

Andy winced.  "How many people did you fire?"

"Just one incompetent.  He seemed to be the epicenter of the entire problem.  Once removed, everything went smoothly and I was pleased with the results of the shoots."  She smiled until her phone buzzed.  Looking down, she stiffened and her face went blank.  As she read the email, color crept up her neck to her face and Andy could see the muscles in her jaw clenching.

Andy held her breath.  I've never seen her look that way before.  You can practically feel the anger radiating off her like heat from a fire — no wonder they compare her to a dragon.  I wonder who that's from, and what they said?  "Miranda?"

Miranda looked up and her mouth opened to speak, then snapped shut.  Closing her eyes, she breathed out slowly.  "Andréa.  I almost took out my anger on you for something you didn't deserve."

"What's up?"

"It seems that Irving Ravitz — the Elias-Clarke CEO — overheard me at our last board meeting talking about what a lovely job you did on my table and chairs.  That apparently makes me an expert on furniture now, so he wants me to order new furniture for the boardroom."  She rolled her eyes.  "He's quite a thorn in my side, trying to interfere with Runway.  I've outmaneuvered him several times, so he tries to be a little more subtle, but this is probably the beginning of another attempt to get rid of me."

"Why would he do that?"

"I won't kowtow to his whims, and he thinks anyone can do my job, and do it cheaper."  She ground her teeth.  "He's wrong, and I won't let him drive Runway into the ground."

"Sounds like a typical MBA — prioritizing lower cost over higher quality.  That's why we have so much crap furniture that falls apart in a few years.  I want mine to be around a lot longer than that."  Andy paused and shook her head.  "So what kind of furniture does he want?  It doesn't seem like it would be that difficult for you."

"It normally wouldn't be, but he has some rather contradictory requirements.  He wants it small enough so that a group of eight can sit close together without excessive space between them, but can also fit the whole board — up to sixteen people — without crowding.  He doesn't want multiple tables or parts that have to be stored.  I really don't know what he's thinking!"  Miranda closed her eyes and rubbed her temples.

"What's your budget?" Andy asked.

Miranda's eyes snapped open.  Andy was looking at her with her trademark blinding smile and shining brown eyes.  "What?  Do you know of something?"

"You could say that.  Seriously, what's your budget?"

Miranda raised an eyebrow.  "Irving didn't say, but considering what he spent on his office renovation, I think I'll assume I have carte blanche.  Why do you ask?"

"I'd rather show you than tell you.  Do you have some time to spare this afternoon?"

Miranda nodded.  "I had planned to spend the afternoon with Cassidy and Caroline, but I can give you an hour."

Andy pulled out her phone and hit her speed dial.  "Doug?  Meet me at my shop in thirty minutes."  She paused to listen.  "I know it's your first day off in two weeks, but I think I might have our first customer.”  She winked at Miranda and grinned evilly.  “Oh, and Doug? Wear a suit.  It's Miranda Priestly."  She winced and pulled the phone away from her ear.   

Hearing the high-pitched sound coming from the speaker, Miranda raised her eyebrows at the noise.  "I think Caroline and Cassidy call that a 'squee.'  Is this Douglas a middle-school girl, by chance?" 

Andy laughed heartily and grinned at Miranda, then spoke into the phone.  "Are you done?  Now get cleaned up and meet us at my shop!"

"How do you know Douglas?" Miranda asked as they were packing up.  Her tone was casual — almost too casual.

"I met him on a job site a couple of years ago — he was a junior engineer on a project.  We teamed up to keep the general contractor and lead engineer from making a big mistake that would have resulted in a seriously unsafe building, and became friends. Truth be told, he's the one of the only friends I have. He's been great." She snorted. "Except for the fact that he introduced me to that blonde that keeps hanging around. We started working on this table in our spare time last year, and, well, you'll have to see for yourself what we've come up with."

------------------------------

Miranda was impressed.  Doug and Andy explained that the table she was about to see was a result of nearly a year's work, with many false starts.  Andy pushed for simplicity while Doug translated the ideas they had into actual plans.  The final product was a working model that could be scaled up to any size from four to eight feet. 

When Andy pulled the cover off the model, Miranda's eyebrow rose.  "It doesn't look like much..." she began.  She trailed off and her jaw dropped as Andy expanded the top in a few seconds from two feet in diameter to almost four feet.  "That... that is amazing!" she exclaimed.  "I would have never guessed that the top wasn't a single piece."

"It requires some pretty careful setup and precise engineering of the pieces to fit them perfectly together," said Andy.  "The model uses high-quality laminated wood for strength and stability.  The final products will be the same, but include a veneer layer so you can have any wood species you want on it."

"Very well.  I think this table will do nicely.  How much?" asked Miranda.

Andy and Doug exchanged glances.  Doug swallowed nervously.  "The price we've set for an eight foot table that expands to sixteen feet is $75,000."  He paused.  "Because this is the first one, we also need an additional $50,000 to set up the dies and tooling for the mechanism."  He winced as Miranda's face went still.  

After a moment, she nodded.  "A total of $125,000?  Acceptable."

Andy and Doug looked at each other.  "Are you sure, Miranda?" Andy asked.  "I know that's a lot for a single piece of furniture, and a brand new design at that."

"Andréa, you should know I never say things I do not mean.  If Irving objects, I will pay the difference out of my own pocket between what you need and what he is willing to pay.  I believe the effort you have already put into this and your skill will make this an absolutely remarkable piece. Can you bring your model to Elias-Clarke tomorrow for a demonstration?"  

Andy nodded, while Doug shook his head.  "I have to fly out to Atlanta tomorrow to meet with a client.  I won't be back until Friday.  Andy can handle the demo — it's mostly her baby anyway."

Andy smacked him good-naturedly on the shoulder.  "Sure, blame it on me.  I just kept you on track until you got it right!"

Miranda pulled her phone out of her pocket and spoke as it connected.  "Set up a meeting in the boardroom tomorrow with Irving and Elizabeth.  Make sure there is a visitor's pass for Andréa Sachs and that security knows to expect her at the freight elevator an hour before the meeting.  That's all."

------------------------------

Andy straightened from polishing the table and looked around the Elias-Clarke boardroom.  I think we can get wood to match the paneling in here, although it might cost a bit more.  It looks like old Honduran mahogany.  She looked down at the table.  After the meeting with Miranda the day before, she had spent time sprucing up the model table.  A coat of colored paste wax and some buffing had turned the relatively unremarkable pine into a passable tabletop.  As she polished a few last spots, she began to feel like someone was watching her.  

Turning, she saw a short, unattractive man watching her from the doorway.  His eyes traveled up her body, pausing at her chest, and then met her eyes.  Andy pulled the fabric cover back over the table.  "Can I help you?" she asked.  

"Oh, I think you probably can, young lady," the man leered.  "I'm sure there's all kinds of things you can do for me.  But right now, get me a cup of coffee before the meeting starts."

Andy raised an eyebrow.  "Excuse me?"

"You heard me, girl.  Get me a cup of coffee, and be quick about it.  You wouldn't want your boss to lose a sale because you were rude, would you?"

Her jaw dropped.  "My boss?  What do you mean?"  

The man moved further into the room.  "You obviously work for this Sachs fellow, the one who built this table.  Now run along for my coffee before I tell him how rude you are."  He waved her toward the door.

Who the hell does this guy think he is?  Is he really that much of a Neanderthal to think I couldn't build this table?  What a jackass.  The muscles in her jaw clenched as she ground her teeth.  Don't blow it, Andy.  Keep your temper and just wait.

"Well?" he asked.

"Well what, Irving?" Miranda's voice came from the doorway.  She entered the room, resplendent in a charcoal Alexander McQueen suit with a white silk blouse and cerulean Hermès scarf, accompanied by another woman in a dark Armani suit. 

"I was just asking this young lady to get me some coffee while we waited for you and her boss, Miranda, but she seems reluctant to comply.  Where is he, anyway?  I'm busy and don't have time to wait on—" he waved his hand dismissively "—a carpenter."

Miranda's thin smile didn't reach her eyes. "I see that introductions are in order.  Irving, Elizabeth, allow me to introduce you to Andréa Sachs, master woodworker, owner of Sachs Fine Furniture, and one half of the team that designed and created the table you are going to see today.  Andréa, this is Irving Ravitz, our CEO, and Elizabeth St. James, the chair of the Elias-Clarke board of directors."

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Ravitz, Ms. St. James.  Please call me Andy."  She held out her hand.

Elizabeth immediately shook it.  "A pleasure to meet you, Andy.  Please call me Elizabeth."  She looked sideways at Irv, who was glaring at Andy with narrowed eyes.   

Andy continued to hold her hand out, looking straight into Irv’s eyes.  Neither her hand nor her gaze wavered.  He's obviously pissed.  I don't know if that's because I didn't tell him who I was, or because I didn't kiss up to him.  That was one of the reasons Miranda said he doesn’t like her, wasn't it? Irv eventually shook her hand, dropping it quickly.  Andy glanced at Miranda and caught her smirking, before she smoothed her expression into one of polite interest and nodded at Andy to start.

"I know you are all busy, so I won't waste time.  Miranda and I were talking this weekend, and I think I have the answer to your boardroom table problem.  What I'm going to show you is a scale model, and can be produced in any size from four up to eight feet—"

"Neither one of those is big enough," interrupted Irv.  "I thought you weren't going to waste our time?"

Andy grinned.  "Any size from four up to eight feet," she repeated, then continued smoothly. "But the table can roughly double in size in under sixty seconds.  Would you like to see?"  Elizabeth nodded, and Andy pulled the fabric off the model.

"This model has a top two feet in diameter, so it would be a one-quarter scale model of an eight foot table.  Now, if you will all humor me and close your eyes?"  Elizabeth and Miranda did so immediately, while Irv rolled his eyes until Andy glared at him.  The three heard a soft click and a long whisper of metal on metal, followed by another click.  "Ok, open your eyes."

Miranda knew what was coming and smiled in advance.  Elizabeth opened her eyes and gasped.  The tabletop had somehow doubled in size, and was now nearly four feet across.  Irv looked and scowled.

"So what?  You just added another top to the table.  I didn't want any extra pieces to keep up with!" he whined.

Andy shook her head.  "Nope.  No extra pieces, no separate tops."

"Then how?" asked Elizabeth.

"Close your eyes again and I'll show you."  They obeyed, and when they looked again, the top was back to two feet in diameter.  "Now watch," she said.

Andy pressed gently on the table apron and it rotated counterclockwise and down.  Then, grasping the table top, she rotated it clockwise.  Elizabeth gasped again as the top, which had appeared solid, split into eight segments which moved out and apart.  At the same time, additional pieces rose and moved to fill the gaps between them, expanding the top from two feet to four feet.  Finally, a star-shaped piece rose from inside the table base to fill the gap left in the center.  As Andy finished rotating the top, the pieces came together tightly with a soft click.  Elizabeth and Irv stood silently for a moment.  

"It's like a moving sculpture, a piece of art," breathed Elizabeth.  "How much?"

Andy swallowed and started to answer, but was cut off by Miranda.  "Andréa and I have agreed on the bargain price of $125,000," she stated.  

"What?" Irv exploded.  "That's insane!  We can get a boardroom table for a tenth of that price!"

"Of course we can, Irving.  But it wouldn't meet the requirements — the requirements you so very helpfully laid out to me." Miranda gave Irv her most insincere smile.

“Miranda…” Irv growled.

"I agree," Elizabeth interrupted.  "This will be an amazing addition to Elias-Clarke, even when more tables are produced.  We will always have the first one!  Besides, Irving, how much did you pay for the artwork in your office?  How much did it cost to redecorate your suite?"

Irv gritted his teeth and looked away.  "I can see your mind is made up, so I will get back to work.  Good day, ladies."  His eyes ran over Andy's form again as he turned to leave.

"Andy, I will leave you and Miranda to work out the details.  How soon do you think you can deliver?" Elizabeth asked.

"I think it will take about two months, but it could be a little longer if we run into any issues.  We have to get the tooling set up, and then manufacture the mechanism.  We can start on the wooden parts as soon as you choose what kind of wood you would like — I recommend Honduran mahogany.  It will be expensive but I think it will match the paneling in this room well.  I know a source where we can get some beautiful veneers from reclaimed lumber."

"That sounds good.  Miranda has told me how good a job you did on her dining room table.  I will look forward to seeing the finished product."  Elizabeth shook Andy's hand and left the room.

Andy collapsed into a chair and blew her bangs out of her face, grinning.  "Oh, my god.  They bought it.  Well, Elizabeth did. I can hardly believe it!  Oh, my god!"

Miranda smiled down at her.  "Was there ever any doubt, Andréa?  You are... your work is remarkable."

Andy returned the smile with a blinding one of her own.  You are pretty remarkable yourself, Miranda.

Chapter Text

Andy flopped down in the booth across from Miranda, blowing her bangs back with a good-natured huff.  Miranda looked up from her phone with a raised eyebrow.

Andy grinned.  "I love all these girls, but they are just too much right now."

"They do seem to be excited, don't they?"  Miranda glanced around at the merry chaos of Venchi's.  "I suspect winning nine games in a row and the league championship has something to do with that."  She smiled softly at Andy.  "The fact that their coach did such a good job turning them into a team is another factor."

"Thank you, Miranda."  Andy reached across the table and squeezed the other woman's hand.  "Your girls were a big part of that.  Cassidy is amazing, and Caroline is not far behind, but they didn't get big heads or forget that it takes a whole team to win."  She paused.  "Speaking of amazing — the girls have told me how busy you are and how hard you work.  I know they appreciate you making all the games, and almost all the practices."  Not to mention how much I appreciate it, too.

"Yes, well, I do try.  After my last divorce, I finally laid down the law with Emily and insisted she block out sufficient time with the girls.  They are growing up so fast."

"I bet they are.  I remember Angela going from a little girl in frilly dresses to a preteen almost overnight."  Andy smiled sadly.

Miranda tilted her head and looked at her.  "You still haven't heard from your family?"  Andy shook her head, and Miranda nodded as if coming to a decision.  "The girls and I would like to invite you to dinner tonight, Andréa.  If you are available."

"Oh!  That would be lovely, but I wouldn't want to impose on your time with Cassidy and Caroline."

"I assure you, Andréa, I would not have made the offer if you would not be welcome.  I do not say things I don't mean.  My girls seem to love their 'Coach A.’”  She looked away for a moment, then looked back into Andy's eyes.  "There are... there are also some things I need to discuss with you.  So please, join us."

Andy nodded slowly.  "What time do you want me there?"

"I thought you might come with us now, and spend the afternoon.  Roy will be here soon, and it will save you a trip on that miserable subway."  

Andy shook her head.  "I really need to go home first, Miranda.  I need to shower and maybe take a nap — I just barely made it to the game on time today.  I took a 5 A.M. flight out of Houston this morning and didn't sleep on the plane."

Miranda frowned.  "What were you doing in Texas of all places?"

"I was checking on the final manufacturing of your boardroom table mechanism.  It's all done and will be shipped tomorrow!  I have the wooden parts in my shop — I'll bring pictures tonight.  Say six o'clock?"

"Very well.  I will see you then, Andréa."

------------------------------

Dinner was delicious.  Miranda had prepared coq a vin and roasted asparagus, with fresh French bread from the corner bakery, paired with a light pinot noir.  The twins and Andy had kept a steady flow of conversation and laughter going throughout the meal, with Miranda joining in with the occasional dry observation that had Andy sputtering with laughter.  As the meal went on, however, Miranda became quiet and withdrawn.

What's wrong with her?  Miranda seems so uncomfortable, almost like she was when we first started having coffee.  Did I do something wrong?  I hope she didn't call me here just to tell me goodbye, that the end of the soccer season is the end of our...  Friendship?  Relationship?  Whatever we are?  It’s going to be hard enough not seeing her twice a week for soccer.

"Mom, can we watch a movie with Andy?"  Caroline's question drew Andy back to the present.  

"No, Caroline.  You need to get ready for school tomorrow.  I know it's nearly the end of the year, but you still have things to learn.  Besides, Andréa and I need to talk.  Now, put your dishes away and go get ready for bed."     

After a bit of pouting, the girls headed to their rooms to prepare for bed.  Miranda refused to let Andy help with the dishes and sent her to the living room with a fresh glass of wine.  She sat in uncomfortable silence, running over everything she and Miranda had talked about and wondering what was wrong.  By the time Miranda appeared with her own glass of wine, Andy's hands were shaking and she had to force herself to breathe normally.  

"Andréa, would you mind joining me in my study?  As I said earlier, there are things I need to discuss with you."

Andy swallowed hard.  "Yes, Miranda," she whispered and followed.  In the study, she sat on one end of the couch, while Miranda took the other.  Miranda stared into her wine glass.

"Is everything all right, Miranda?  You are kind of scaring me."

Miranda looked up and met her eyes.  "Yes, well, no, well, I really don't know, Andréa."  She stopped and looked down.  "I don't really know where to begin."

"As one of my favorite movies says, why not 'start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.’"

Miranda smiled.  "One of my favorites as well.  Julie Andrews is amazing."  She nodded.  "Very well, the beginning."

"First, you can probably tell that I am a very private person, even though I am in the public eye.  I have very few friends.  Many acquaintances, coworkers, people who need or want something from me, but very, very few people that I can truly call friends.  I suspect that is because I am not much of a friend in return.  No, please let me speak."  She held up her hand as Andy tried to break in.  "Then you came along.  You had no idea who I was or what I did and you weren't awed or afraid or needy — leaving aside certain demands about chair design."  Andy caught the twinkle in her eye and grinned as she continued.  "You talked to me as an equal, which is very refreshing, and I feel like you are a friend.  I have looked forward to the time we spend talking after the twin's practices and games."  

"Thank you, Miranda.  I have very few friends as well, and I am honored to count you as one.  Why do I think there is more, though?  Surely this isn't why you have been so nervous."

Miranda shifted and looked away, then got up and moved to her desk.  She opened a drawer and pulled out two file folders.  "I am nervous because I value our friendship, and I'm afraid I may have ruined it by something I did before we even got started."

"Miranda, you are scaring me again."  Andy hugged a throw pillow to her stomach.  I can't imagine what she is dancing around.  "What did you do that you think is so bad?"

"Do you remember the day you met my Bobbseys in the park and helped them with soccer?"

"Yes, of course.  I thought we moved past that the next day."

Miranda's shoulders tensed.  "We did.  But before we talked the next day, I put something in motion that I should have stopped.  Because I was concerned about my girls, I asked my private investigator to do a rather thorough background check on you.  Nothing illegal — all public information.  I needed to make sure you were who you said you were.  This is what Alex found."  Miranda handed one of the folders to Andy.

Opening it, she found a summary of her life.  Birth date, high school graduation photo from the Cincinnati Enquirer, and various news items from her time at Northwestern.  Once she moved to New York, it thinned out a little, but had her business history, building property taxes, and her registrations with the Better Business Bureau and the Council of Carpenters and Joiners of America.  The final section held copies of some of her blog posts and woodworking articles from various online sources.  

"What the hell, Miranda?" Andy asked in a low voice.  She could feel her face reddening.  "What gives you the right to pry into my life like this?"

"Andréa, I..."

"Well?"

"Nothing."

"'Nothing', Miranda?  You have nothing to say to this?"  Andy stood and paced back and forth, her voice rising as she spoke.  “I can’t believe this!  I’ve done nothing but treat you and your girls with respect and kindness, and this is how you repay me?  Investigating me like I’m a damn criminal?  'Nothing?'”  She looked at Miranda, whose eyes were downcast.  When Miranda wouldn’t meet her gaze, she turned to leave.  "Goodbye, Miranda."  She brushed the angry tears from her cheeks as she walked out.

Her hand was on the handle of the front door when Miranda's voice came from the stairs in a whisper she had to strain to hear over the pounding of her own heart.

"Nothing gave me the right, Andréa.  I have no excuse other than my concern for my girls." 

Andy could feel Miranda's eyes boring into her back and her voice was soft but earnest, seeming to ask for understanding.  She didn't look back.

"I won't apologize for caring for Caroline and Cassidy, but I do apologize for invading your privacy in this way.  I had to know."

Andy turned and looked up at Miranda for a long moment, hard brown eyes locked with vulnerable blue.  Without breaking eye contact, Andy let go of the door handle and climbed back up the stairs.  She took a deep breath, and then another, closing her eyes.  "I am horrified to know that this much information is out there about me for anyone to find."  She took another deep breath.  "I accept your apology, Miranda.  Your heart was in the right place, but don't ever do anything like this again.  Ever.  Just ask me.  I’m pretty much an open book in person."

Miranda sagged a little as some of the tension left her shoulders.  "Thank you, Andréa.  However, you might want to wait to accept my apology.  I have one other thing to share with you.  Will you come back to my study?" 

Andy hesitated, but nodded, and followed the other woman down the hall.  She closed the door behind her and leaned back against it.

In the study, Miranda looked down at the remaining folder on her desk.  Picking it up with shaking hands, she turned to look Andy in the eye before she spoke.  "I encouraged you to reach out to your family again, and I still think that is a good thing, even if you don't hear from them."  She swallowed hard.  "I know you don't want to think ill of your parents even now, but it's possible they are intercepting your letters to your sister."

Andy shook her head.  "I can't believe they would do that, Miranda, no matter how angry they were at me."

Miranda smiled sadly.  "It happened to me.  That's one reason my estrangement from my family lasted so long.  One of my siblings took it upon himself to 'protect' my parents from me, and by the time I found out, it was much too late."  Tears glistened in her eyes. "That's why I asked Alex to find contact information for your sister."

Andy's eyes widened. She stepped forward and took the folder Miranda held out.   The label read 'Angela Eleanor Sachs.’  She opened it to find a graduation announcement from Miami University of Ohio along with a color picture.  The next page had her apartment address in Oxford, cell phone, email addresses, and a long list of social media accounts.

Andy burst into tears.

Miranda quickly pulled her down to the couch and held her as she cried.  "I'm sorry, Andréa.  I didn't mean to upset you," Miranda whispered after a few minutes.

"It's OK, Miranda.  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  It just...  it just all hit me at once.  Seeing her picture, seeing her all grown up, all ten years just hit me.  It's been so long..."  She untangled herself from Miranda and sat up straight.  "I still accept your apology, Miranda.  Just don't do anything like this again without telling me."

"Thank you, Andréa.  I did this for you as a friend, not to somehow make up for invading your privacy.  I know how I felt when I missed my chance to reconcile with my parents, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone."

Andy smiled through tears.  She stood and pulled Miranda to her feet, folding her into a tight hug.  "Thank you," she whispered.  "I have more hope now than I have in a long time."

Miranda returned the hug, then stepped back.  "I live on hope, Andréa."  She reached out to touch Andy's arm.  "You are welcome to stay, but I suspect you want to go home and try to contact Angela."

"I do.  Thank you again, Miranda.  Maybe we can keep having coffee regularly even with no soccer games?"  Andy crossed her fingers behind her back.  “And mix in ice cream as well to include Cassidy and Caroline?”

"I'd like that very much, Andréa."  Miranda’s genuine smile dazzled Andy. I'm glad she asked. I would have missed our chats, and I know the girls would miss her.

Andy's return smile was blinding.  "I’ll give you a call soon, Miranda!  And I'll text you and let you know what I hear from Angie."

------------------------------

Andy stared at her laptop screen.  The clock had struck midnight some time ago, and she still couldn't find the words.  She had written and deleted at least twenty emails to her sister.  What do you say to a relative — a sister — you haven't seen since they were a child?  What if she doesn't want to hear from me?  What if Miranda is right?  Before she talked herself out of it, she typed a few lines and hit send.

To:  angiesachs@gmail.com, angela.sachs@miamioh.edu

From:  andy@sachsfinefurniture.com

Subject:  Hello

Angie,

It's been a long time since I talked to you, and a friend just helped me find your email addresses.  I'd love to talk - please email me back or give me a call/text on my cell.  212-897-1964

Your sister,

Andy

Well.  Now I guess I wait.

------------------------------

The next ten days flew by.  There was no response to her email to Angela, but she stayed too busy to worry much about it.  Andy and Doug worked late nights assembling the new boardroom table in the loft above Andy's shop, tweaking it until it worked perfectly.  When they were satisfied, they took it apart and packed it for the move to the Elias-Clarke building.  

The Thursday of the move, Andy took charge.  After the movers unloaded the crates in the boardroom, Andy started putting it together.  By noon, the table was assembled and ready to go.  She expanded it to its largest size and began polishing it to remove all the fingerprints and streaks.  As she bent over reaching toward the center, she felt a body press hard against her, sprawling her out on the table top.

"What the hell?  Get off me!"  Her fingers scrabbled across the table trying to find a grip.

The voice in her ear chilled her.  "So the little tramp is back, eh?  Flaunting it again like you did last time!"  Irv pushed his pelvis into Andy's rear, pinning her against the table edge.  "Maybe next time you'll get me coffee."

Oh, god. What is he doing?  Is that his...  "I said, get the hell off me!"  Andy flattened her hands against the table and pushed but they slipped before she could get enough traction to move Irv.  Bile rose into her throat and she fought the urge to retch as Irv ground harder into her.  Her hands found the edge of the table and adrenaline surged through her.  She pulled with her hands and thrust her hips backwards, throwing Irv back a couple of feet.  Turning, she slapped him hard across the face.  "Get the hell away from me!"

"You bitch!"  Irv growled as he stepped forward and grabbed Andy's breasts, leaning in to try and kiss her.

Andy shoved him again, sending him stumbling backwards.  Irv took two steps forward. Andy met him, hips turning, left hand curled into a fist that connected with Irv's nose, landing solidly with a loud crunch that seemed to echo in the room.  Irv fell backwards and went down hard clutching his face.  

"Don't touch me again, you filthy son of a bitch!" she shouted.  Andy stepped back to the table and shook her hand.  Her vision blurred with tears, she watched as blood flowed from Irv's nose.  

He shook his head and rose unsteadily to his feet.  "You bitch, you, you hit me, you broke my nose!"  His voice was distorted.

"That is enough!  What is going on in here?"  Miranda's normally-soft voice was hot with anger and cut through Irv's complaints and Andy's tears.  She stood in the doorway with Emily and several others behind her.  Her eyes flickered from the tears on Andy’s cheeks to Andy's scraped knuckles, and narrowed when she saw Irv’s face — a red palm print glowing on his cheek and blood streaming from his nose.  "Are you all right, Andréa?"

"What do you care about this bit—”  Irv cut off the word  “—this tramp for, Miranda?  She's the one who hit me!"

"Only after you assaulted me, you asshole!"  Andy stepped forward, fist raised.

Miranda raised a hand.  "Andréa.  For now, leave this to me."  Turned to Emily.  "Call security.  I want them here five minutes ago.  Then someone get Irving a towel."

"Yes, Miranda.  They are already on their way."  

Miranda nodded.  "Now.  What happened here?  Irving, you first."

"I saw her working on the table."  He nodded at Andy.  "When I stopped in to say hello, she came on to me and told me she would 'help me out' if I could return the favor.  When I refused, she hit me."

All eyes turned to Andy, whose fists had clenched again as Irv spoke.  Tears flowed as she whispered "That's not what happened, Miranda.  Not at all."

Miranda glanced at Irv, then nodded at Andy.  "Tell us what happened then, Andréa."

Irv broke in as Andy started to speak.  "I already told you, Miranda.  What more do you need to hear?"

"The truth,"  Miranda hissed. The fiery glare that accompanied Miranda's words made Irv's jaw drop.

"Andréa?"

Andy told her story, never looking at Irv but staring into Miranda's eyes.  When she finished, Miranda turned to Irv.  

"Well?"  From fire to ice, the contempt in Miranda's face and voice should have frozen every drop of water in a ten-block radius.

Irv exploded.  "That's a total lie!  I'd never do that — are you going to believe this little tramp over the CEO of Elias-Clarke?  She's just trying to get a payoff— "  

Another voice cut through his rant.  "What's going on in here, Irving?  I could hear you shouting before the elevator doors opened!  Why was security called?"  Elizabeth St. James stalked into the room followed by two security guards.

"Elizabeth, this, this tradesperson assaulted me after I refused her advances!"  Irv’s voice was practically a shout.  He looked at the security guards.  "You two — throw this girl out of the building!"  He narrowed his eyes when the guards halted at the small shake of Elizabeth's head.

Andy's face had gone red as Irv spoke.  "That's not what happened and you know it!"

Elizabeth looked between Andy and Irv, and then turned to one of the security guards.  "Sarah?  Can you shed some light on this with our new security system?  After all, that's why we had it installed."  

"I think so, Ms. St. James.  Just give me a moment to pull up the camera feed from the boardroom to verify Mr. Ravitz' story."  The sneer in her voice left little doubt as to her opinion.  "This will be a good test to see if the audio is as good as they claim."

Irv paled.  "We don't need to do that, Elizabeth.  Isn't my word enough?"

"Since you are a lying bastard, no it's not!" Andy hissed.

Miranda laid a hand on Andy's arm.  "Please, Andréa.  We will get to the truth."  She leaned in and whispered in Andy's ear.  "I believe you, but Elizabeth needs to see the video."  She squeezed Andy's forearm.

Andy met her eyes and slowly nodded.  

After a moment, the projector came to life.  Sarah pulled up all the cameras in the building, then selected the Elias-Clarke boardroom feed.  

"Go back about fifteen minutes," Miranda commanded.

Sarah nodded and entered the time.  The screen went black for a moment, then the high-quality video began to play.  It showed Andy working her way around the table, polishing and buffing it to a high shine.  After a couple of minutes, there was movement in the background.  Irv could be seen in the doorway, his right hand touching the front of his pants.  He stood there staring at Andy and stroking himself, then moved behind her and pinned her to the table.  The group listened to his words and watched as Andy threw him off and slapped him.  Elizabeth gave him a sharp look after she watched him grab Andy's breasts, and there were several gasps as the sound of Irv's nose breaking came clearly through the speakers.  Sarah paused the video.

Elizabeth's face was stiff and cold as she turned to Irv.  "I suspected this kind of behavior from you before, I just couldn't prove it.  Now I can.  Irving Ravitz, you are fired, effective immediately.  You have violated multiple clauses in your contract and are no longer the CEO of Elias-Clarke."  She turned to Sarah.  "Sarah, I want you and David to escort Mr. Ravitz from the building immediately and revoke his access privileges.  We will ship his belongings to him.  Get him out of here!"

Irv's mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out.  Finally, he found his voice as the security guards took his arms.  "You can't do this, Elizabeth!  I'll sue!"

"I think you'll find I can, Irving, and I already have.  The board hasn't been too happy with you lately, and they will ratify my decision at the meeting tomorrow.  Sue if you want, you won’t work here ever again and you won’t get a dime from us."  She turned to Andy as the guards led him out.  "Are you hurt, Ms. Sachs?"  Andy shook her head, then burst into tears again.

Miranda pulled her into a hug and gently rubbed her back as she shook and sobbed.  She looked up to find Emily staring wide-eyed at the scene.  "Emily, do you not have something better to do?  Get me an ice pack!"  She looked at Elizabeth.  "We need to get her hand checked out if she hit him hard enough to break his nose."  

Elizabeth nodded.  "I can call my doctor, or you can call yours.  Elias-Clarke will, of course, pay for any necessary treatment."  She laid a hand on Andy's shoulder.  "Ms. Sachs?  On behalf of Elias-Clarke, I want to apologize for the actions of our former employee.  I hope you will allow us to take care of you, especially after you have come through with such a wonderful piece of furniture.  I know that's probably the last thing you want to think about right now, but it's true."

Andy looked up into Miranda's eyes.  "Thank you," she mouthed silently, then turned to Elizabeth.  "Thank you, Ms. St. James.  I do accept your apology — you had nothing to do with his choices today."  She looked down at her hand and flexed it.  "I think it's ok.  Nothing seems to be broken, just a little split skin on my knuckle.  The table just needs a little more cleanup and it will be ready."

"Great!  Our staff can handle that."  She paused.  "The board meeting will be tomorrow.  If you are up to it, would you mind coming and showing your work off to the rest of the board?"

Andy smiled her best million-dollar smile.  "I'd love to!"

Chapter Text

Andy wiped her hands on the kitchen towel and looked around to make sure everything was ready.  The steaks and corn were ready to go on the grill, and the appetizer tray — cheese and potato pierogies and mini pasties with beef, carrots, and onions — was in the warmer.  A bottle of a nice red wine she'd found while at a party with Doug was breathing on the kitchen island.  The rest of the loft was cleaned and tidied up — she'd even managed to put away the stacks of books that usually sprawled over the end tables and couch.  She took off her apron and reflected back over the past two weeks.

------------------------------

The board meeting on Friday after Irv had assaulted her was a triumph.  Elizabeth St. James had put on a show, seating the board members in a large circle around the too-small table and starting the meeting.  When a board member complained about not having anywhere to place documents, she snapped her fingers as if she had forgotten something and expanded the table to its large size.  The board members were amazed and delighted with the table, and very interested in Andy's work after Elizabeth introduced her as the creator of the table.  Andy had given out all the business cards she had with her, with a promise to get more to Elizabeth and Miranda.  Several had expressed interest in tables for their own businesses and in Andy's other work.

She was disappointed that she didn’t get to talk much to Miranda, but was fascinated to see her work.  Watching her interact with the board and others, Andy saw where the “Dragon Lady” sobriquet came from.  She was formal, formidable, and in her element, with little trace of the woman Andy had come to know over soccer games and coffee.  A few times she caught Miranda’s eye from across the room and was rewarded with a small smile and a twinkle in her eye as the mask slipped a bit.

Saturday, Miranda had called to check on her, waking her out of an afternoon nap.

"What?"  Her voice was rough with sleep and irritation.

"Andréa?  Are you well?"

Andy rubbed her face.  "Yes, Miranda, I'm fine.  Sorry.  You just woke me up from a nap."

"Are you having trouble sleeping after Irving—"

"No, no, that's not it.  I was just out late last night and celebrated a little too much with Doug.  He was really bummed that he didn't get to come to the meeting yesterday."  Andy stretched and yawned.

"Well, if you do have nightmares or other issues, please tell me.  I...  Elias-Clarke will happily pay for you to see a counselor."  Miranda's voice was concerned.  When Andy started to object, she cut her off.  "Just say yes, Andréa."

"Yes, Miranda."

"Good.  Now that that is settled, will you join us for dinner tomorrow?  Cassidy and Caroline are missing their ‘Coach A.’"

Andy smiled.  "I miss them, too.  I'd love to see all three of you — I missed our chat last week."

There was silence for a moment from Miranda.  "I missed it, too.  We didn't get to visit much the last two days."

"I'm glad you were there on Thursday, Miranda."  Andy grinned even though Miranda couldn't see it.  "You're my hero," Andy finished in a sing-song voice.

"Honestly!  You are ridiculous sometimes, Andréa.  But I'm happy you can laugh a little about it.  I'll see you tomorrow.  Four o'clock?"

"Sounds good.  See you and the girls then."

When Andy arrived, the twins roped her into a game of Dance Dance Revolution.  She held her own against Caroline, but Cassidy absolutely destroyed her.  Miranda had cooked a stir fry, and the four had eaten in the kitchen with the twins chattering away about their day and their summer plans.  After dinner, Cassidy challenged Miranda to a dance-off, which Miranda had won handily.  Cassidy shook her head.

"One of these days, mom, one of these days, I'm going to beat you!"

"Yes, Bobbsey.  But not today."  Miranda smirked and tapped Cassidy on the nose.  "Andréa?  Would you care to try me?"

"Oh no, Miranda.  Give me a soccer ball to dribble and I'll do fine, but I'm afraid I'm going to tie my legs in knots playing that game!"

Cassidy grinned.  "Yeah, mom.  Andy's good on the soccer field, but when she tried to dance she looked like a baby giraffe on ice!"

The three Priestly women laughed while Andy pouted.  "I see now, ganging up on me.  I know who's going to be doing extra laps next time we have a soccer practice..."  She narrowed her eyes and glared at Cassidy.  Cassidy's only response was a raised eyebrow.

Andy laughed. "You look just like your mom when you do that, Cassidy!"

"Right, ummm...  How about a movie?"  Caroline jumped up and pulled a DVD off the shelf.  "We haven't watched Harry Potter in a while.  Do you like Harry Potter, Coach A?"

Andy winked at Cassidy.  "Looks like you're off the hook, kiddo.  Caroline, Harry Potter sounds good."

By the time Chamber of Secrets was over, Caroline and Cassidy were fast asleep.  Andy helped Miranda put them to bed, and they retired to the study for a glass of wine.  They talked for hours, until Andy heard the grandfather clock downstairs strike midnight.

"Oh, my.  I need to get home."  At the door, Andy turned to Miranda and hugged her.  "Thank you so much for the wonderful evening, Miranda.  I really enjoyed spending time with you and the girls."

"I enjoyed it as well, Andréa.  Perhaps you would like to have dinner again next Sunday?"

Andy's smile lit the foyer.  "Absolutely.  Maybe you and the girls can come to my loft sometime, too."

"I think they’d like that.  Be safe, Andréa.  Please let me know you got home safely."

Andy nodded and waved as she entered the taxi.  

The following Sunday had been much the same.  Games with the girls and Miranda, dinner, a movie, and then conversation long into the night.  Miranda had surprised her by agreeing to dinner at Andy's place the next week.  Andy had extended the invitation after learning that the twins were out of town.  

In addition to the dinners, Miranda had invited her to coffee twice.  Andy had made it clear that her schedule was flexible, so whenever Miranda wanted to reach out, that was more than fine.  They had met once for an hour after Miranda had walked out of a disastrous showing, and once for thirty minutes when Miranda felt the need to get out of her office.  Andy had been treated to diatribes on incompetence and bad taste.  She had made sympathetic noises and let Miranda vent.  

------------------------------

The buzzer from downstairs brought her back to the present.  Looking around one last time, she buzzed Miranda through the downstairs door and opened the door to the loft.  She wiped her hands on a kitchen towel.   Quit worrying!  Friends have dinner with each other all the time, right?  Yeah, Andy, that's why you're so nervous.  "Friends."  

Miranda appeared quickly, puffing a little from climbing the stairs.  She greeted Andy with air kisses.  "I see why you stay in such good shape.  Doing those stairs a few times a day would be good cardio!"

Andy laughed.  "Yep.  I admit there are times I've gone out for lunch when I had food in the fridge up here just because I didn't want to climb the stairs!"  She took Miranda's coat and hung it on the hall tree next to the door.  Turning back to Miranda, she frowned a little at the bottle in Miranda's hand.

Miranda just smiled and handed her the bottle.  "I know you said I didn't need to bring anything, but this is a gift I thought we might share afterwards.  It's a lovely port I just discovered that goes well with — or instead of — dessert."

"Well, then.  Thank you, Miranda.  Please come in and have a seat."

Taking a few more steps into the loft, Miranda stopped.  "Oh, my.  Andréa, this is breathtaking.  Not what I was picturing at all."

The afternoon sun flooding through the wall of windows to her left gave the loft a rich, warm glow.  Double doors led out onto a wide balcony running the width of the loft.  The ceiling was high, at least fifteen feet.  In front of her was the living area with a couch and chairs, a wood-burning stove, and the beginning of a full wall of wooden bookshelves and cabinets stretching from the seating area past the dining table, at least forty feet.  A rolling library ladder provided access to the higher shelves, which were well out of reach from the ground.  Above the shelves, the brick and metalwork of the building was exposed.  To her right, past another wall of bookshelves, was the kitchen area with maple butcher block counters and a large island with a farmhouse sink.  Past the kitchen, wooden panels screened off what she assumed was the private bedroom area.  She could see a row of windows high in the wall behind and above the panels.

"What were you expecting?"

"Oh, something more... industrial, I guess.  That's what so many of these lofts turn into.  They are just cold and uninviting to me.  I should have known better, knowing you."  She smiled at Andy.  "I should have expected all of the wood.  How much of this did you make yourself?"

Andy looked around.  "Pretty much all of it, I even built the frames for the upholstered pieces.  I've been here a little less than eight years, and I've added over time.  I use it as kind of a showroom, to give clients ideas.  Let me give you the fifty-cent tour."

She took Miranda through the kitchen area and put the port in the fridge to chill.  Just past the kitchen, wooden panels of walnut and birdseye maple standing eight feet high divided the main living space from Andy's sleeping area.  "My version of Japanese shoji screens," she commented.  "The wood is more durable than rice paper and cuts sound a little more."

The sleeping area was obviously Shaker-inspired, from the king-size four-poster bed to the freestanding armoire and tall chest of drawers.  A cozy seating area with a ladderback rocking chair, window seat, and a Shaker candle stand in dark walnut rounded out the space.  

"Andréa, you really have a lovely home.  This feels so warm and inviting — I'm honored you invited me here."

"Anytime, Miranda, I don't often have people over.  This is my retreat from the craziness of New York City."

"I'm doubly honored, then."

They moved back to the kitchen.  Andy pulled the appetizers from the warming drawer and set them on the island.  "If you'll pour the wine, I'll get the steaks on the grill.  How do you want yours cooked?"  She grinned.  "I'll warn you that I can handle 'blue', but if you say 'well done' I may have to reevaluate our friendship!"  She glared at Miranda, but couldn't keep the smile from her voice.

Miranda laughed deeply.  "Oh, Andréa, neither one of those will do.  I like my steak medium rare, with a warm red center."

"Ah, a woman with excellent taste!"  Andy wiggled her eyebrows.  "One medium rare steak coming up, boss."

They ate the meal of steak, grilled corn, and tomato and cucumber salad at the island, talking and laughing.  Several times Miranda broke off to look around the loft.  After finishing, they cleared the dishes away and Andy ushered Miranda to the couch.

"Have a seat, and I'll get dessert ready."  At the small sound of Miranda's protest, Andy smiled.  "It's not a lot, but I wanted to give you the experience of a real midwestern dinner, and that means dessert too!"  She went to the kitchen and returned in a few minutes with two small bowls.  "Here you go.  Homemade vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries."

"Andréa, this is delightful.  I haven't had homemade ice cream in years!"

The two sat side by side in companionable silence and enjoyed the ice cream and the port Miranda brought.  Miranda continued to look around the loft.

"Is there something bothering you, Miranda?  You keep looking around.  Not that I mind — I’m proud of my space!"  Andy smiled.

"No, nothing is wrong.  Unless you count me being unable to stop thinking about work and enjoy spending time with a friend."

"Work?"  Andy's forehead wrinkled.  "My loft reminds you of work?"  

"Not work, exactly, but the potential of the space."  Miranda turned to face Andy on the couch.  "I know you said this is a retreat for you, and you don't often have people over.  How would you feel about me using this as a location for a photoshoot for Runway?  There are a couple of collections we are going to feature that this space and your work would complement.  We would pay you for the option, and no one outside of Runway would know where the site was.  They all have NDAs, so there's not much risk of them talking."

Andy sat back and looked around.  "I don't know, Miranda."  She frowned a bit.

"I understand, and I won't pressure you.  Just think about it.  I can have Nigel and Patrick come by and do some test shots so you can get an idea of what it would involve.  We would have to bring in lights and possibly move some furniture a bit, but we would put it back."

"As long as no one knows it's my place, I think it will be fine.  Let me know when you want to have them come over and I'll make sure I'm here."

"Thank you, Andréa.  I'll have them take some nice shots of your loft and get you 8x10s of them — you can use them in your catalog in the shop."

Talk turned to other topics — upcoming events at Runway and new projects Andy was working on.  She and Doug were busy trying to ramp up production of their tables in response to several orders from Elias-Clarke board members.  They talked for hours as the sun went down.

A soft, kind voice penetrated her consciousness.  "Wake up, Andréa.  It's getting late and I need to go."

Andy burrowed closer to the warmth next to her.   "Mmmmm.   Warm and cozy.  Don't wanna wake up."  She felt hands carding through her hair, gently massaging her scalp and then drawing out through the long strands.  

The soft voice returned.  "Andréa."

Andy bolted upright, cheeks burning.  "Miranda!  I'm so sorry!  I didn't mean to fall asleep on you!"  Oh my god, what am I thinking?  Did I drool on her?

Miranda smiled.  "It's fine, Andréa.  You worked hard to put this dinner together after a long week, and you just drifted off.  It was pleasant to sit here beside you — you are rather adorable when you sleep."  She gave Andy a sly grin.  "At least you didn't drool on me like my girls do!"

"Oh, thank god.  I would have been so embarrassed!"  Andy laughed and covered her face with her hands.  "I am so sorry!  I won't fall asleep next time."  She got up and helped Miranda into her coat.  

"Next time, we'll have coffee instead of the port.  You, Andréa, are a lightweight!"  

Andy snickered.  "Apparently so.  Maybe we can have coffee this week?  My treat since I fell asleep."

"Acceptable.  My schedule is still a bit up in the air, so I'll call you."

They exchanged air kisses, and Andy walked Miranda downstairs to where Roy was waiting with her car.  After checking that the shop was secure, she headed back upstairs.  Well, that was embarrassing, but kinda nice.  I wonder why she was playing with my hair?  She mentioned her girls — she probably thinks of me like another daughter.  With that depressing thought, she finished cleaning up and went to bed.

------------------------------

Monday started off with a literal bang.  A delivery truck backed into the loading dock behind her shop, waking Andy early.  There was minimal damage, but by the time she finished arguing with the driver, she was beyond ready for coffee.  Midway through her first cup, her phone rang.  She spent two hours talking through issues with the Houston company manufacturing the expanding table mechanisms, finally getting things resolved.  Her coffee had long since gone cold.  

In her shop office, she spent time planning out work for the next couple of months.  With orders for three expanding tables plus a growing number of regular commissions, it was going to be busy.  Lunch was a grilled cheese with smoked mozzarella and turkey from the Gorilla Cheese food truck a couple of blocks away.  Back in the office, she took a bite of her sandwich before pulling up her email.  Taking another bite, she glanced at the screen.  She saw the email at the top of the list and her sandwich dropped from fingers gone cold and nerveless.

To:  andy@sachsfinefurniture.com

From:  angiesachs@gmail.com

Subject:  Re:  Hello

Seriously?  Ten years of silence and "I'd love to talk" is the best you can come up with?  Why would I want to talk to someone who walked away from our family and never looked back, never tried to reach out?  I used to think I wanted to grow up to be like you, but that sure changed.  You obviously didn't care about me at all.

-Angie

The words on the screen blurred as tears welled up in Andy's eyes.  

To:  angiesachs@gmail.com

From:  andy@sachsfinefurniture.com

Subject:  Re:  Hello

I don't understand.  I know I wasn't there, and I haven't talked to Mom or Dad in years, but I never walked away from you.  Dad threw me out and told me to leave and not come back when I decided to break up with Nate and stay in New York.  What did they tell you?  Didn't you get my letters and packages?  I wrote letters every month and sent you presents for your birthdays and every Christmas.

-Andy

The reply was almost instantaneous.  

To:  andy@sachsfinefurniture.com

From:  angiesachs@gmail.com

Subject:  Re:  Hello

Dad said you abandoned us and told him you never wanted to see us again, that you were happier away from us and didn't want anything to do with us.  Why would he throw you out like that?

I don't believe you tried to stay in touch.  Your email was the first thing I've had from you since my twelfth birthday.  Don't email me again.

-Angie

Andy stared at the words on the screen, tears running down her cheeks.  She reached out and touched Angie's name, hand shaking, then collapsed on the floor sobbing. 

Chapter Text

"Really, Jocelyn?  Earth tones for fall?  How groundbreaking."  This started out to be such a good day.  I had a great weekend — dinner with Andréa and my girls coming home — but today has turned out awful.  Emily is out sick with the latest version of viral plague and the new Emily is completely incompetent.  How does it take fifteen minutes to deliver lukewarm coffee?  And now this... mess.  She opened her mouth to order the whole runthrough scrapped and was surprised when her cell phone rang.  She answered without looking.

"Hello?"  Silence answered her.  “Hello?  Is anyone there?”

"Miranda?"  Andy's voice cracked.

"Andréa?  What's wrong?  Are you okay?"  Instead of an answer, she heard the sound of crying.  Placing her hand over the phone speaker, she hissed at her staff.  "Get out.  Now.  You have until tomorrow afternoon to redo this and make it acceptable."  Lifting the phone again, she spoke quietly.  "Andréa, are you injured?"

"N-n-no."

"Can you tell me what happened?"

Through the young woman's sobs, Miranda caught the words 'email' and 'Angela'.  The rest was unintelligible.  "Where are you?"  

"Shop," Andy whispered.  "Miranda, I..."

"Stay there.  I'll be there as soon as I can."  She hung up and walked towards her door.  "Call Roy and tell him I am on my way down, then clear my calendar for the rest of the day.  I'll be out of the office and unavailable.  Purse."  She glared at her newest assistant as she waited, then strode off down the hall, stiletto heels clicking on the tile.

Twenty minutes later she walked through the door of Andréa's shop.  Andy was leaning with both hands on a workbench, shoulders hunched, staring down at the bench.  As she got closer, Miranda could see two framed drawings on the bench.  I remember.  Drawings her sister made.  

"Andréa?"  Miranda gently laid a hand on Andy's shoulder.

Andy's eyes were red-rimmed and unfocused when she looked up.  "She doesn't want to talk to me.  She doesn't want me to email her again."  Tears ran down her cheeks, dripping onto the glass covering one of the drawings.  

"Andréa, let's go upstairs.  I'll make you some tea and we can talk if you want."  Andy nodded shakily.  "Give me your keys and I'll lock up."

Miranda closed and locked the shop and led Andy upstairs to her loft.  Andy carried the two drawings — one in crayon of a brown-haired girl holding up a drill and a saw, and one in pencil of herself leaning over a workbench planing a board — and laid them on the coffee table by the couch.  She continued to stare at them while Miranda made tea.  They sat together in silence, sipping their tea, for a while before Andy began to speak quietly.

"I emailed Angela right after you got me her email addresses."  She glanced at Miranda and gave her a small, sad smile.  "She replied back this morning, and I read it after lunch."  Andy handed Miranda her phone and let her read the email exchange.

"Daddy told her that I walked away, that I never wanted to see them — her — again.  You were right, Miranda.  You were right!  All the letters and gifts I sent, Angie never got.  She thinks I don't care and doesn't want to have anything to do with me."  Andy began to cry again.  Miranda pulled her close, holding her tightly and murmuring soft words as the crying turned to sobbing.  She rubbed soothing circles on her back until the tears stopped.  

"Andréa, you said your father cut you off?  Why would he do that?"  Andy was silent so she continued.  "If you don't want to talk about it now, I understand." 

"No, I need to talk about it.  I didn't have anyone to talk to then.”  She paused for a moment.  “When I broke up with my boyfriend, all my friends took his side.   Daddy cut me off from the family because I was his 'biggest disappointment.’"  Her voice was rough from crying.  "He hated the fact that I turned down Stanford Law to major in journalism at Northwestern, and then moved to New York City.  He wanted me to stay close to home, where he could control me.  When I couldn't find a job at a newspaper or magazine, I started doing construction and carpentry."  Andy's voice turned harsh.  "You should have heard him rant about wasted potential and wasting his money.  Mom at least worried about me, but all Daddy could see was his money going down the drain.  We didn't speak for quite a while after that."  

"I think there must be more to the story than that.  I can imagine being disappointed, but I would never cut the girls off over money."

"There was.  I was living with my college boyfriend, Nate.  It was comfortable, but I didn't really love him.  The longer we were together, the less attracted to him I was and the farther apart we grew.  Our schedules really didn't work.  I was off early to job sites and got home, exhausted, right about the time he left for his job as a chef.  We rarely had the same days off — it seemed like weeks would go by and we would hardly see each other."

"One of those rare nights when we were both off and not tired, we went out to a club.  In between dances, I realized I was watching the women more than the men.  One of them caught my eye and pulled me onto the dance floor.  Nate was drunk and happy about it — he was always making noises about threesomes.”  Andréa rolled her eyes.  “Dancing with her was incredible.  No stubble, no hard muscle, just soft curves, and she smelled so good.  It hit me that it had always been that way, that I had dated men out of an expectation not an attraction."

"We snuck away to a dark part of the club and made out for a while." Andy paused, eyes half-closed and cheeks reddening. "I swear, I was closer to coming after five minutes fully clothed kissing her than I'd ever been with Nate. After that night, I just couldn’t be with him.  When he got a job offer in Boston a few weeks later, we broke up and I let him go.  Our friends took his side and... well, I was left alone."  She sighed. 

"When I told my parents we had broken up, my father was furious.  He demanded I either come home or get back together with Nate, that the only reason he 'allowed' me to come to New York was that I had a man to protect me."  She swallowed hard and closed her eyes.  When she continued, it was in a whisper.  

“I made a mistake.  I was furious, and told him there was no chance I was getting back together with Nate, or with any man for that matter, as I was not straight.  He screamed at me, he went berserk.  He called me every foul name in the book until I hung up on him and turned my phone off.  I cried myself to sleep that night."

"The next day I got an email with an ultimatum:  move to Boston and get back together with Nate, or move home to Ohio and find a good man and settle down.  If I didn't pick one, he and my mother wanted nothing further to do with me.  He didn’t even have the decency to say it directly to me, and he wouldn’t take my calls.  I haven't talked to either of them since."   

Andy looked up at Miranda, rich brown eyes wide and full of tears.  "Why don’t they want me?  What’s wrong with me?  They even took my baby sister away from me!"  She broke down sobbing again, hiding her face against Miranda's shoulder.  Miranda pulled her close, murmuring soothing words into her hair.  Inside, the dragon was roaring.

What kind of parents do that to their daughter, no matter what she has done?  Dictating who she can see as an adult, not loving and accepting this amazing young woman for who she is?  She lost herself in thoughts of her own daughters as Andy's sobs slowed and her breathing softened.  Miranda looked down to find Andy asleep on her shoulder again.  She smiled softly and made herself comfortable. 

An hour later, Andy roused enough for Miranda to get her into bed.  Andy looked at her with pleading eyes and clung to her hand.  "Don't leave, Miranda.  Please don’t leave," she whispered.  

Miranda smiled and kissed her forehead.  "I won't.  I'm going to work on my laptop, and in a couple of hours I'll order us some dinner.  You sleep.  Rest will be good for you."  Andy returned the smile and snuggled into the covers.

Andy woke to the delicious smell of steak floating through the loft.  She padded into the kitchen as Miranda was unpacking containers from Smith & Wollensky.  To her surprise, Miranda placed a small steak and large bowl of macaroni & cheese in front of her.  She raised her eyebrows.

"You can have more steak if you wish — there's another in the bag — but I remember you said macaroni & cheese was a comfort food,"  Miranda smirked.  "There's a container of Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream in the freezer, too."

Andy's smile lit the loft as she laughed.  She shook her head and continued in a whisper.  "Thank you for taking care of me today, Miranda.  I don't know what I would have done.  I was... I was falling apart.  I’ve never told anyone what I told you.”  Tears gathered in her eyes.  “I've been so alone the last ten years."

“You are most welcome, Andréa.”  Miranda smiled and reached across the island to pat her hand.  “Your friendship is important to me, and I want to be here for you.  I’m sure Angela’s email was quite a shock, but you are stronger than you think.  You’ll get through this.”

Andy took Miranda’s hand as she went to pull it back and squeezed it.  She gave a sly grin.  “If it gets me steak and mac & cheese, I might have to fall apart more often."

Miranda sniffed.  "You are ridiculous, Andréa.  Please eat — I'm afraid I can't stay much longer.  I need to get home to my girls."  She paused, tapping her lip with her forefinger.  "Why don't you come back to the townhouse with me?  We can have a movie night.  We'll watch a couple of comedies to help get your mind off your troubles for a while.  You can stay the night in one of my guest rooms and I'll drop you at your shop on my way to work tomorrow."

Andy smiled and nodded.  "That sounds like fun.  I'll pack an overnight bag after I finish and we can go."

------------------------------

A night with Miranda and the twins was just what Andy needed to get her mind off her family.  They piled onto the couch in the TV room, with Miranda at one end of the couch and Andy at the other.    

They started with Mama Mia, with the twins dancing around the room to ABBA.  After a quick break, they put on The Princess Bride.  Cassidy and Caroline started on the floor, then migrated to new positions every few minutes.   Eventually, Caroline curled up with Miranda, and Cassidy snuggled into Andy's side.  Before long, Andy had the twins in stitches and Miranda rolling her eyes while trying to hide her smile as Andy did the voices and quoted the movie.  

Afterwards, as she helped put the girls to bed, she noticed Caroline studying her in the mirror.

"What's up, munchkin?  Do I have popcorn in my teeth?"  Andy made a production of checking her reflection in the mirror.

Caroline giggled, then got serious.  "No, Andy.  I was just wondering if you were okay.  Your eyes were red and you seemed really sad when we got home tonight."

"Well, I was pretty sad.  You and your mom and sister really helped me out today."  She paused.  "Do you remember when you first came to my shop, and asked about the pictures I had hanging?"

"The ones your sister drew?  I remember."

"Well, I hadn't talked to her in a long time.  Your mom helped me find her email address, and I reached out."  Andy brushed away a tear.  "It didn't go very well.  She's angry because she thinks I abandoned her — and from her perspective, I did."

Caroline hugged Andy tightly around the middle.  "Can't you just tell her what really happened?"  

"It's complicated, Caroline.  I'm really not sure exactly what to tell her."

"Well, she doesn't know what she's missing.  You're great!" Caroline finished with a squeeze.  

Andy laughed.  "You better believe it!  And on that note, off to bed, you scamp!"

------------------------------

The next morning, after a night of dreamless sleep, Andy told Miranda she intended to take the subway back to her shop.  Upon hearing the word, both Miranda's eyebrows had risen to her hairline.  

"Absolutely not.  I told you I would drop you at your shop."

"But Miranda—"

"No.  I will not have you riding in that incubator of viral plague when I have a perfectly good car, Andréa."

"Miranda, I—"  Andy shook her head and smiled.  “Yes, Miranda.”

The ride was mostly silent as Andy watched Miranda slowly transform into the editor-in-chief of Runway.  As they pulled up to Andy's shop, Miranda turned and spoke.   

"Perhaps we might have coffee tomorrow?"

"Just tell me when and I'll be there."  

"I will let you know once I get my schedule straightened out."  Miranda paused, thoughtfully, and looked back into Andy's eyes.  "If you will take advice from me, I would wait a few weeks and then contact Angela again.  I know she said she doesn't want you to email her, but she might change her mind."

Andy nodded.  "I was thinking about writing a longer email and sending it.  Just telling her about my life, and some of the reasons why I stayed in New York without mentioning my father."

Miranda got out of the car and walked with Andy to the door.  "Roy, I'll be right back."  As they entered the shop, Miranda hugged Andy and pressed her lips to her cheek.  "You will get through this.  Call me if you need anything or want to talk more."

Andy waved as the car pulled away from the curb, and touched her cheek where Miranda had kissed her.  Wow.  Maybe I'm just overly emotional today, but that didn't feel like a 'friend' kiss.  I wonder…  I should send her something to say thank you. 

------------------------------

Miranda looked up from her desk as Emily entered the office.  "I don't recall summoning you, Emily."

"My apologies, Miranda, but there is a flower delivery for you."

Miranda raised an eyebrow.  "Well, bring it in."

The arrangement was small, but elegant, a mix of dark pink roses, pink tulips, and a purple flower she couldn't readily identify.  Let's see.  The roses and tulips are "thankfulness" and "caring."  Miranda considered the flowers for several minutes before opening the card.  

Miranda,

I can't thank you enough for your words and actions yesterday — I absolutely would have fallen apart without you.  I'm so grateful for your friendship.  It’s been a long time since I had a friend I could confide in. 

The message I asked the florist to convey was "Thank you for caring and being there."  I'm not fluent in "flower" so I hope that's what they say.  I recognized the roses and tulips, but the purple ones — milk vetch — were new to me.  She said they stand for "your presence softens my pains," which fits perfectly and is absolutely true!

I'm looking forward to coffee.

Andy

Miranda smiled.  I hope Emily doesn't speak "flower" either, or the Ice Queen's reputation will be ruined.  

------------------------------

Late morning coffee turned into an early lunch, and then a late one.  Miranda and Andy started discussing the difference in trends in clothing and in furniture, and time got away from them.  

"I see how designers like Coco Chanel are similar to artisans like Gustav Stickley from the Arts and Crafts movement.  Where would you fit someone modern like Norm Abram from This Old House and The New Yankee Workshop?  He's not doing original designs, but he popularized woodworking for the masses.  More people know his name than will ever know James Krenov, or Tage Frid."

"That's a good question, Andréa.  I'm not sure there is anyone like that for fashion.  The designers themselves are popular and relatively well known because of mass media.  We have a lot of people copying the trends from them, but no one is really popularizing it for hobbyists like Mr. Abram."  She paused.  "Would you consider writing an article on this?  I don't know if we could publish it in Runway, but I think we might find somewhere else."

"I don't know, Miranda.  I haven't done any serious writing in years."

"Don't underestimate yourself, Andréa.  I've read some of your blog posts — they are excellent."  She smiled gently.  "Even the ones I didn't understand!"

They both jumped as Miranda's phone rang.

"Yes, Emily?" Miranda answered.

"Miranda, Thakoon has been waiting for you for thirty minutes!"

"I was delayed.  Tell him I will be there in another fifteen minutes."  She hung up and sighed.  "I'm sorry Andréa, but I have to go.  This has been a most pleasant discussion that I would love to continue.  Perhaps over dinner this weekend?"

"That sounds good, Miranda.  The usual time?  Can I bring anything?"

"Yes, Sunday at four sounds good.  Maybe bring your ice cream maker?  I'm sure Caroline and Cassidy would love to try it."

"You got it, boss."  Andy's smile was blinding as they exchanged air kisses and headed back to work.

------------------------------

Later that night Miranda texted to see how Andy was doing.  She provided running commentary on the issues she found in the Book ("I should have known that most of the Art Department was colorblind — it explains so much!") while Andy replied sympathetically.  In turn, Andy talked through her busy schedule and tried to decide whether or not she should take on an apprentice to handle some of the workload.  They finished just before midnight.

Miranda:  Goodnight, Andréa.  Sleep well.

Andy:  Sweet dreams, Miranda.

Miranda's comforting of Andy through her crisis, and the things they had shared, marked a new stage in their friendship.  The dinner at the townhouse and the texts they exchanged that night set the pattern for the rest of June and most of July.  Dinner every Sunday either at the townhouse or Andy's loft, and coffee or lunch a couple of times during the week.  They texted often throughout the day, with Miranda venting about her employees' incompetence and Andy returning the favor when it came to manufacturers and shippers for her tables.  Each night ended the same way.

Miranda:  Goodnight, Andréa.  Sleep well.

Andy:  Sweet dreams, Miranda.

Chapter Text

One Friday afternoon in late July, Andy was working in her office. I don't see any way around it.  If I want to get these new tables shipped and get all this work done, I'm going to have to have some help around the shop.  That means an apprentice, if not a journeyman, at least until Doug and I can get a company set up to manufacture the tables.  She fanned herself and blew a limp strand of hair out of her eyes.  I'll be glad when this heat wave breaks — it has been crazy hot.  Even with the front and back doors open, it's like an oven in here.

Sound from the shop front interrupted her musings.  Glancing at the feed from the security camera, she saw a slender blonde woman in a stylish pencil skirt suit step up to the counter.  "I'll be there in a sec," she called.  I wonder if Miranda got a new assistant?  She hasn't complained about too much incompetence from them lately, so I sort of doubt it.

As she approached the front of the shop, the woman turned from looking at the furniture in the window.  "Andy?  Is that you?"

Andy froze, eyes wide.  "An...  Angela?"  She stopped herself from rushing to hug her sister and took a deep breath.  When she spoke, she kept her voice level and emotionless.  "What can I do for you?  Are you looking for some furniture?"  Her words had a little more bite as she continued.  "Don't they have furniture shops in Ohio anymore?"

Angela bit her lip and looked down.  "I’m sorry.  I understand if you don't want to talk to me.  I was pretty rude when we emailed."  She looked back up at Andy.  "But I was in shock, and not thinking very straight."  

"Really."

"Yes, really."  A tear rolled down her cheek.  "I thought...  I thought I had dealt with you leaving a long time ago.  I was wrong."  Angela looked up at Andy.  "You really were my hero, and it hurt so badly when you were gone."

"Angela, I—"  Andy stopped and blinked back her own tears.

"I'm not blaming you, Andy, just telling you how I felt."

"Why are you here?" Andy whispered.

Angela's green eyes came up to meet Andy's brown.  "After you emailed, and I told you not to email again, I had a breakdown.  As I said, it hurt so badly when you were gone.  Mom had taken me to lots of therapists to help me get through my 'abandonment issues.'  Nothing really helped, but I learned the words to say to get them off my case.  I never really dealt with it, though, and it all came flooding back when I got your email."

Andy came closer and leaned on the counter, tears on her cheeks.  "What did you do?"

"My roommate found me sobbing in a heap on the floor and helped me pull myself together.  After a few days, I started looking for you online and found your blog.   When I saw the picture of your shop—" Angela gestured to the back wall "—with my drawings framed under your name, I knew there had to be more to the story."

Andy blinked back more tears.  

Opening her messenger bag, Angela handed a folder to Andy.  "I drew this on my birthday a couple of years after you left."  

Andy opened the folder.  It contained a single sheet, a finely-detailed pencil drawing of her old workbench at home, looking just as she remembered it.  "Why did you draw this?  And why bring it to me?"

"Look closer, Andy."

She examined the drawing again, focusing on each tool.  The saws, braces, planes in their till, the chisels…  The chisels.  They were lined up in order, with the backs facing out.  Andy had always been (and still was) fanatical about sharpening, and chisels were no exception.  The backs were flattened and polished to a mirror shine.  They reflected the broken face of a young teen girl, Angela’s face, tears running down her cheeks.  

Andy's own tears started to flow freely.  "Oh.  Oh, Angela.  I'm so sorry for leaving, I never meant to hurt you."

"I believe you, Andy.  I'd like to know more.  And have that talk you suggested."  Angela's voice was shaky.

The staccato sound of stiletto heels preceded a voice and both women jumped.  "Andréa?  I was wondering if you were available for dinner tonight.  I finished early and the girls are in town."  Miranda swept into the shop and halted at the sight of Andy's tear-streaked face.  "Andréa?"  She turned to Angela with pursed lips and ran a critical eye over her outfit.

Angela’s eyes widened.  "You're Miranda Priestly!  From Runway magazine!"

"Yes, I am.  I would ask who you are, but unfortunately I recognize you.  Did you come here to cause your sister more pain?"  Her voice was icy.  "I sincerely hope not, especially if you wish to work in this city."

"No, I—"

"Miranda, it's okay," Andy broke in.  "Angela came to talk."

Miranda raised an eyebrow.  "I see."

"Let's all go upstairs and get out of the heat.  Miranda, why don't you take Angela upstairs while I lock up down here?"

"Very well.  Come along, Angela."

Andy laughed to herself at Angela’s near-automatic response:

“Yes, Miranda.”

------------------------------

Upstairs in the air-conditioned loft, Miranda took three bottles of Pellegrino from the refrigerator and handed one to Angela.  They were eyeing each other warily when Andy came in.

"Oh, it feels good in here.  I'm going to change out of these sweaty work clothes.  Back in a sec."  She pulled her work shirt over her head as she passed through the opening to the bedroom.  Miranda inhaled sharply at the view of her muscular back.

She blinked and exhaled slowly, then turned to Angela.  Angela had to lean in to hear her whisper.  "If you are here to hurt Andréa, I warn you I will not be merciful.  She is a dear friend, and I care deeply for her."

Angela stiffened.  "I have no desire to hurt her.  I want to understand what happened, what my — our — parents told me is obviously not the whole truth."

Miranda pointed across the loft to the couch.  "Do you see that couch?"  Angela nodded.  "Six weeks ago I held your sister there while she broke down and sobbed on my shoulder, absolutely shattered by your rejection and that of your parents.  Ten years of pain and grief hit her at once."

Angela swallowed.  "I'm sorry.  I never should have sent that email."

They were interrupted by Andy's return.  She took a bottle of Pellegrino from the island and chugged it down.  "Ah, I needed that!"

Miranda rolled her eyes.  "Would you like another?  You drank that one so fast I'm not sure you got any benefit from it!"

Andy stuck her tongue out.  "You're just jealous you have to sip to maintain your dignity at Runway."  A huff was her only answer as she turned to Angela.  "So, Angela, why are you in New York City?  Given the suit, it can't be just to see me."

Angela felt Miranda's eyes on her again.  "I was here to interview at Columbia Law School.  I really want to go there instead of Stanford like Dad wants.  They actually don't know I'm interviewing here — I scheduled an interview at Yale and told them I was going to stop for a couple of days in New York to shop and see a show."

"Columbia or Yale?  That's amazing, and either one would be great!”  Andy thought for a moment.  “Do you think they want you to go to Stanford because I didn’t?" 

"I don't know.  Maybe.  They originally wanted me to stay close to home and go to Cincinnati Law, but I put my foot down.  I do know Dad expects me to get a law degree and then come back and take over his law firm so he can retire."

"That sounds familiar.  He said the same thing to me fourteen years ago when I was planning for college, and got really upset when I chose journalism at Northwestern over Stanford."

"Is that why he..."

"No, that wasn't it, at least not completely."  Andy looked down for a moment, then out the window.  "He was getting over the fact that I went to Northwestern, but he hated that I was in New York and couldn't find a job.  He didn't care that I was making twice as much doing construction as I would have at a publishing job."

"Really?"  Miranda's eyebrow arched skeptically.

Andy grinned.  There was a twinkle in her eye.  "Oh, yes.  I took home at least double what I would have made as an assistant at Runway or Auto Universe."  She looked down at her lap again.  "No, what got me cut off was coming out to him.”  

Angela’s eyes widened.  

“We had a big fight when I broke up with Nate, and I told him there was no way I was going to get back with him or any other man, ever.  He went crazy."  A tear rolled down Andy’s cheek.  

Miranda reached across and took her hand.

"You're a lesbian?"  Angela's look was thoughtful.

Andy flinched, and Miranda glared at Angela.  "If you have a problem with that, I suggest you keep it to yourself.  Andréa has had enough condemnation."

Angela shook her head and held up her hands.  "No, no.  It seems like half my friends in college were lesbians."  She looked into Andy's eyes.  "As long as you are happy, who you love is up to you."  

Andy's voice was soft.  "Thank you, Angela."  She swallowed nervously and changed the subject.  “When would you start at Columbia?"  

"In about a month.  I just have to figure out what to tell Mom and Dad.  I really want out from under Dad's thumb for now.  I don't want to go to California, and if I stay in Ohio, I think he will try to run my life.  I am a little afraid of what he will say."

Andy snorted.  "As long as you don't come out, too, he'll probably get over it."

Angela looked down at Miranda and Andy's joined hands, then looked between the two of them with a raised eyebrow.

Miranda pulled away and stood, cheeks reddening.  "Well, I must be going, my Bobbseys are waiting for me at home.  Will I see you Sunday for dinner, Andréa?"

Narrowing her eyes at her sister, Andy nodded.  "Yes, Miranda, I'll see you and the girls then.  Let me walk you out."

Miranda waved her off.  "No need.  Stay and catch up with your sister."  

Andy sighed as Miranda closed the door to the loft behind her.  "I wish you hadn't done that, Angela.  Our friendship is new enough and fragile enough that I don't want to push things.  She knows I'm gay, but it's never been an issue.  I hope you didn't just make it one."

"Sorry, Andy.  It just kinda hit me.  She was acting like you were a lot more to her than a friend."

"Mmmm." Andy paused thoughtfully. "It's okay.  I'll talk to her about it Sunday."  She shook her head.  "Now, back to you.  If you decide to come to Columbia, you can stay with me.  I've been thinking about redoing the second floor into two apartments and renting them out.  I could get that done in a month or so."  

"Oh, Andy, I couldn't ask you to do that."  

"You didn't ask, I offered.  Plus, I could rent the other out for some extra money.  I'm going to need it if I take on an apprentice."  She paused.  "Will you tell mom & dad you saw me?  It would probably be easier for you if you didn’t."

Angela paused thoughtfully.  "No, I don’t think so.  That would just make the argument worse."

Andy nodded.  "If you live here, they'll know if they ever visit you."

"Yeah."  There was a long pause.  "So.  Miranda Priestly?”

“You seemed to recognize her right away — how do you know her?”

“I’ve been reading Runway since I was fifteen.  I love couture!  Don’t you read her magazine?”

“Just for the articles.”  

Angela laughed and rolled her eyes.  “Seriously, how did you become friends with Miranda Priestly of all people?"

"Well, it all started with a snotty Brit walking into my shop and demanding I build a table for her boss while reading her mind..."

------------------------------

Andy took a deep breath and knocked on the door of the townhouse Sunday afternoon.  She and Miranda hadn’t spoken since Miranda left her loft, but they had exchanged their usual texts.  Miranda hadn’t seemed upset, but then again, they hadn’t been face to face. 

Caroline opened the door.  “Andy!  Come on it — dinner’s almost ready.”  She ushered Andy up the stairs, chattering all the way.  “Mom says you are really busy — are you really going to take on an apprentice?  What about your new company?  Have you sold more of those cool tables? What about other stuff like our table and chairs?”

Andy laughed and held up her hands.  “Whoa, munchkin!  One question at a time.”

“Yes, Caroline, let Andréa come in and catch her breath before you interrogate her.”  Miranda’s eyes twinkled.

Hmm…  This might not be as awkward as I thought.  Thanks, Caroline.

After dinner and a movie, Miranda and Andy settled in the den.  Miranda poured the wine and handed Andy a glass, and sat at one end of the couch.  Andy took the other end.  Miranda was silent, staring at her wine, while Andy fidgeted.  She finally took a deep breath.

“Miranda, I—”

“Andréa—”

They both smiled and Andy shook her head.  “Let me go first, Miranda.”  She kicked off her flats and tucked her feet under her.  “I’m sorry if Angie made you uncomfortable on Friday.  She was making assumptions she had no right to make — she doesn’t know me any more, and she certainly doesn’t know you.”  

She looked out the window at the sunset, avoiding Miranda’s gaze.  “Over the last six months, you’ve become my closest friend, Miranda, my only real friend.  I don’t want anything to jeopardize that.  I can talk to you like I haven’t been able to talk to anyone since…  Well, since longer than I can remember.”  Her voice broke as she continued.  “I don’t know what I would have done without you when Angie emailed me.”

Miranda reached out and put her hand over Andy’s on the back of the couch.  “Andréa, I feel the same way.  I have very few friends — lots of acquaintances, coworkers, and people who want something from me, but very few friends.”  She paused.  “Angela’s look did make me a little uncomfortable.  I’ve spent the last two days thinking and wondering about it.”  Miranda took Andy’s hand and interlaced their fingers.

Andy's breath caught in her throat as she stared at their joined hands.

“I’m surrounded by beautiful women every day, but never felt anything.  I've never even considered being with a woman before, but I can't deny the attraction I feel for you.  I think it started when you brought the table to my house.  Seeing you working on it, a picture of health and beauty, left me breathless."  

Andy’s heart began to race.  “Miranda, I don’t want to lose our friendship, but I have to confess.  You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen — I was attracted to you from the moment you walked into my shop.  If there’s… more, if you want to explore a deeper relationship, I’m open to that.”   

Miranda was silent for a few minutes.  She looked up and met Andy’s eyes.  "Can I take time and think about it?"

Andy’s smile lit the room.  "Of course!  Take all the time you need.  I'll always be your friend, and if you decide you want to explore more, I'm open to that."  She squeezed Miranda’s hand and pulled her across the couch for a hug.

Miranda wrapped her arms around Andy and laid her head on her shoulder, breathing in her clean scent.  How have I never noticed before that she doesn’t wear perfume or much of any fragrance, yet she still smells so good?

They parted after a few minutes of silence.  Hands joined, Miranda walked Andy to the door where they shared another hug.  

Andy looked into Miranda’s eyes.  “Talk to you tomorrow?”

“Acceptable.”  They both laughed as Andy walked down the front steps, turning halfway down to wave.  Miranda returned the wave and closed the door.  

Do I want to do this?  CAN I do this?  The press will be horrendous, but the girls seem to love her.  Her thoughts were jumbled as she walked to her office.  Trying to go over the Book was impossible — the models kept changing from blonde to brunette, from fashionably thin to muscular and curved.  Blue eyes morphed to deep pools of brown.  

Sighing, she put the Book aside. Her thoughts were interrupted by the buzzing of her phone.

Andy:  I’m home.  I enjoyed dinner and our talk tonight.  Thanks for the hugs. ;-)

Miranda:  I enjoyed them, too — the dinner, the talk, and the hugs.  

Miranda:  Goodnight, Andréa.  Sleep well.

Andy:  Sweet dreams, Miranda.

Smiling, she went to prepare for bed.   Sleep was slow to come, and fitful when it did.

She woke several hours later with clarity.  Taking her phone, she sent a text to Emily.

Miranda:  Clear my schedule after 4:30 tomorrow.  I’ll be leaving by 5.  

Miranda stepped into the bathroom and looked into the mirror. She was surprised at how bright her eyes were and how much more relaxed she looked. Sleep came quickly after that.

------------------------------

Miranda fidgeted as Roy drove through the late afternoon traffic.  “I can’t imagine what is taking so long, Roy.”

“Sorry, Ms. Priestly.  I think there’s an accident a few blocks away that is rerouting traffic.”

She rolled her eyes, and turned to stare out the window.  Just as she was about to tell Roy to let her out to walk, they turned onto Andréa’s block.  Roy pulled to the curb and started to get out, but she had her door open before he could leave the car.

“Stay here, Roy.  I don’t know if I’ll be leaving soon or not, but I will let you know.”

He nodded.  “I may have to circle the block, but I won’t be far.”

Miranda took a deep breath and walked to the open shop door.  She stepped inside and all the air was driven from her lungs.  

Andy stood in front of the counter, bent backwards over it by a blonde in a short skirt and fishnet stockings.  Andy’s hands were on the blonde’s shoulders and she could just see her eyes as she kissed the blonde.  They widened when she saw Miranda.

“I guess I know what, or rather who, your choice is, Andréa.  Obviously mine didn’t matter,” Miranda hissed.  She turned and stalked out of the shop.  Behind her she heard scuffling noises and a loud “Hey!”  

“Drive, Roy!” she commanded when she entered the car.  As she closed the door, she heard footsteps and Andréa’s voice:

“Miranda, wait!”

Chapter Text

“Miranda, wait!”  

Andy started to run after the car, but the light was green at the corner and she realized she would never catch up.  She hurried back through the open door into the shop to get her phone, pushing past the blonde, Heather.

As she went by, Heather grabbed her arm.  “C’mon, Andy, kiss me again.  That was fun!” she slurred.  

Andy’s face twisted with rage.  “Get off me, you stupid lush, and get the hell out of my shop!  I’ve got to talk to Miranda!” 

“Seriously, Andy, that old bag?  I’m so much prettier than she is.”

The sound of Andy’s palm connecting with Heather’s cheek caused heads to turn outside the shop.  “Don’t you ever talk about her again!” Andy yelled.  “Get it through your fucking thick skull:  I don’t fucking like you and I’m NEVER going to date you again.  Get OUT!”

Heather’s jaw dropped as the handprint on her cheek bloomed.  She stammered incoherently.  Andy grabbed her by her collar and belt and propelled her out onto the sidewalk into the crowd that had started to gather, drawn by the yelling.

“Don’t come back, Heather.  Don’t come back ever, or I won’t be responsible for what I do to you,” Andy growled.  “I’d say we were through, but we never started except in your fucking imagination.  Now take your stupid drunk ass and your skanky clothes out from in front of my shop — garbage draws flies and I don’t want you scaring off my customers!”  Heather gaped at Andy as several passersby laughed.

Slamming and locking the door in Heather’s shocked face, Andy grabbed her phone and dialed Miranda.  The call went straight to voicemail.  Andy swore under her breath and began to text.  

Andy:  Miranda, please call me.  I need to explain.  I know what you saw, but it wasn’t what you think it was!  Please!
Andy:  I would never lie to you or do anything to hurt you like that.

Darkness fell and the streetlights came on, and Andy still sat in the shop waiting for a reply.  Her mind was in turmoil, replaying the scene over and over again.  

Heather coming into the shop and refusing to leave.  Andy coming around the counter and taking her arm to lead her out the door.  Heather throwing her arms around Andy and kissing her.  The reek of alcohol on her breath and the stink of stale sweat and cigarette smoke.  Andy almost gagging, closing her eyes, pushing Heather away by the shoulders.  Opening her eyes.  Seeing Miranda, the shock and pain in her eyes.  Miranda turning away, ignoring Andy’s voice. 

She jumped at a knock on the door.  Glancing up, she saw a blonde rapping on the frame.  “Dammit, Heather, I told you to go away!” she shouted.

The reply came faintly through the glass.  “Andy?  Who’s Heather?  Will you let me in?”

“Oh!  Angie!  Just a sec.”  She unlocked the door and let her sister in.  “I thought you’d already left town.  Sorry about that.”  

Angie set her bag on the counter as Andy locked the door behind her.  “What’s going on?  Who’s Heather?  And have you been crying?”

Andy wiped her eyes.  “Yes, I’ve been crying.  Miranda walked in on a girl kissing me, and now she won’t answer her phone or respond to my texts.”

“Kissing you?”

“Yeah.  An idiot I went on a couple of dates with who won’t take no for an answer.  She’s been coming around every few weeks for months.  I slapped her and threw her out of my shop.”  Andy laid her head down on the counter.  “God, this sucks!  I finally have a friend, and maybe more, and that stupid tramp ruins it.”

Angela laid her hand on Andy’s.  “Surely you can explain to Miranda that it was just a mistake?”

Andy looked up into Angela’s eyes.  “I don’t know, Angie.  She looked so happy and hopeful when she walked in.  When she saw what was happening, she just deflated and all the light went out of her eyes.  Her voice was just venomous.  She won’t take my calls or reply to my texts.”  She shook her head.  “Anyway, what are you still doing in town?  I thought you flew out this afternoon.”

“I was supposed to, but I had another meeting at Columbia.  They accepted me!”

“That’s great, Angie!”  She reached across the counter and squeezed her hand.  “The offer of an apartment is still open — I can have it ready by the time you start in September.”

“I think I’ll take you up on that.  It’s fairly convenient taking the subway from here — there’s a stop right by the school.”  She smiled shyly at Andy.  “Can I crash on your couch tonight?  I let my hotel room go this morning.”

“Sure.  Come on up and I’ll order something for dinner.”  Andy led the way upstairs, glancing at her phone every few steps.  It remained silent.

Later that night, she picked up her phone.  She’d sent a couple of more texts to Miranda, and tried to call, but hadn’t received a response.  Opening the message app, she sent her usual end of day message.  

Andy:  Please call or text me.  I need to talk to you.

Andy:  Miranda!  I really need to talk to you so I can explain.  It’s not what you think!

Andy:  Sweet dreams, Miranda.

------------------------------

A week later, Andy was desperate.  All calls and texts to Miranda went unanswered.  She had even gone by the townhouse on Sunday at the usual time for their weekly dinner.  No answer came from inside when she rang the bell and knocked, and she couldn’t see any lights inside.  She sat on the steps for thirty minutes before she decided Miranda wasn’t going to answer the door, assuming she was even home.  Even though it was early, Andy sent her goodnight text as she walked back to the subway.

Andy:  I guess we aren’t having dinner tonight. 
Andy:  Sweet dreams, Miranda.

Andy sighed and rubbed red-rimmed eyes.  She hadn’t slept much during the week.  Maybe… Maybe I should call her at work.  I never have before other than for her orders, but this is different.  She picked up her phone and dialed Miranda’s office.

“Miranda Priestly’s office.”  The voice was decidedly British.

“Emily, this is Andy Sachs from Sachs Fine Furniture.  I’d like to talk to Miranda, please.”

“She’s in a meeting and not to be disturbed.  I can take a message if you care to leave one.  Or don’t, I don’t care.”  Emily’s voice was cold.

“Just…  Just ask her to call me.  She has my number.”

“As if she didn’t have better things to do.  She’ll call you if she feels like it,” Emily huffed before the line went dead. 

Andy rolled her eyes, shook her head, and got back to work.

As she went to bed that night, she texted Miranda.  After she put her phone down, she turned over and cried herself to sleep.  The screen of her phone glowed bright in the darkness with her texts.

Andy:  Please call me.
Andy:  Sweet dreams, Miranda.

------------------------------

After dealing with the frosty Brit for another week (and still getting no response from Miranda), Andy decided she wasn’t going to get through to Miranda by phone.  

She entered the lobby of the Elias-Clarke building and walked to the security desk.  “I’m Andy Sachs, here to see Miranda Priestly.”

The guard looked at his computer.  “Sorry, you’re not on the access list for today.  I can’t let you in.”

“Please, I need to talk to her.  It’s really important!”

“I’m sure it is, miss, I’m sure it is.  You want to be a model, right?  And you think all you have to do is throw yourself at Miranda’s feet and she’ll put you on the cover?  A million girls would kill for that job, and you are just one of hundreds who’ve tried to sneak in to see Miranda over a pipe dream.”

Andy frowned.  “That’s not it at all — this is something much more important.  I couldn’t care less about being on the cover of Runway.  Miranda’s a friend.”

The guard scoffed.  “Right,” he drawled.  “Why don’t you tell me what it is, and I’ll see if it’s worth letting you up.”

“I can’t tell you, it’s personal.  Very personal.”  Her voice was soft and her eyes bored into those of the security guard.

“Sure it is.  ‘Personal’ business with the Devil in Prada,” he mocked.  “Sorry, no badge for you.”

“Don’t call her that!” Andy shouted, clenching her fists.  She scowled when she saw she was drawing stares from the crowd in the lobby, and turned away from the desk.  Maybe I can talk Emily into vouching for me.  Sure, Andy.  Rolling her eyes, she pulled out her phone and dialed.

“Miranda Priestly’s office.”

“Emily?  Will you request a guest badge for me from security?  I want to come up and talk to Miranda.”

“Miranda is far too busy to meet with you, Ahn-dray-uhh.  I told you last week she would call you if she felt like it, and obviously she hasn’t.”

“Can’t you just transfer me to her line?”

“No.  It really doesn’t matter when you call, Miranda won’t be available and you are still going to have to leave a message,” Emily sneered.  “Would you like to do that now?” 

“No, I guess not.”

“Well, then you obviously don’t need a guest badge.  Goodbye.”  The line went dead.

Andy stared at her phone and shook her head.  She turned back to the security desk.  “Guess you’re right.  I’m not going up today, guys.  Sorry to bother you.”

Her message to Miranda that night was different.  She wiped a tear as she typed.

Andy:  I stopped by your building today, but they wouldn’t let me up to see you.
Andy:  Sweet dreams, Miranda.

She cried softly as the light of the phone went out.

------------------------------

The rest of August and the month of September passed in a blur with custom furniture orders coming to her faster than ever, as well as working with Doug to finish getting a company set up to handle the table manufacturing business.  They’d delivered seven more to different businesses over the past few months, and had more on order.  She’d gotten the second floor loft divided and turned into two separate apartments by the time Angie was ready to move in at the end of August.  

Each night still ended the same way, with tears and a text:

Andy:  Sweet dreams, Miranda.

------------------------------

Andy clutched the envelope in her left hand while she held the bar on the subway with her right.  She swayed with the movement of the car, but her mind was far away.  At the station, she climbed the stairs up to Lexington Avenue and turned south towards Miranda's townhouse.  Her steps slowed as she neared 73rd Street and turned the corner. She swallowed hard.  It was mid-morning, and no one was likely to be home, but her hands were still shaking.

Arriving at Miranda’s townhouse, she sat down on the front steps and pulled out the handwritten letter.

Dear Miranda,

I miss you.

It’s been two months since we last spoke or saw each other.  I know you walked in on something you didn’t expect to see.  Please know that I didn’t expect it either, and I definitely didn’t want it.  To be completely honest, it was disgusting.  I can only tell you that it wasn’t what you thought.  I know you don’t believe that — at least, I think I know, since you aren’t speaking to me.  I want to tell you what really happened, but I have to do it face to face so you can look me in the eye and believe me.  Please call me or come see me.

I have to say again that I miss you.  I miss your girls, wonderful scamps that they are.  I miss our talks, sharing coffee with you, sharing meals with all three of you.  If your silence and distance is because of what we talked about that night on the couch in your home, I want to say it again:  I am happy to be your friend and nothing more.  I don’t want you ever to feel pressure from me.

While I deeply miss you and care for you and Caroline and Cassidy, I also know that it takes two to make a friendship, or anything more.  Our friendship has been decidedly one-sided the past couple of months.  For the sake of my own heart and health, I have to stop trying to contact you.  I hate to say that, it’s killing me, but I feel like it’s the only decision I can make right now.  I have to take care of myself even if it seems like giving up on you, on whatever ‘us’ there might have been.

You have my number, my email, and you know where my shop is.  I will always take your call, I will always answer your texts, and I will always welcome you into my shop or into my loft, any day, any time of the day or night.

Goodbye, Miranda.  I hope to see you again soon.  Thank you for being my friend, for spending time with me, and for everything you have done for me, especially helping me to reconnect with my sister.

-Andy

P.S. I miss you.

A tear dropped on the letter as she refolded it and placed it back in the envelope.  Looking around, she climbed the steps of the townhouse and slipped the letter through the mail slot.  She pressed her hands and leaned her head against the door before straightening up.

“Goodbye, Miranda,” she whispered as she walked away.

Her texts that night were the longest she’d sent in six weeks. 

Andy:  I left a letter for you at your house today.  
Andy:  I won’t bother you any more, but I'll always be here if you want to talk. 
Andy:  Sweet dreams, Miranda.

Chapter Text

Andy blew damp bangs out of her eyes.  Even with the crisp, cool wind of late fall blowing through the shop, the work was enough to make her sweat.  The heat of summer had held on through the end of September, and even October and November were unseasonably warm.  With the passing of Thanksgiving, the weather had turned and seemed to be finally headed for winter.

She sighed and bent back over her bench, cutting sides for the drawers of a custom desk.  She was busier than ever, even with the addition of a journeyman to take some of the easier projects off her plate.  Commissions continued to come in almost faster than she could keep up with. I guess those cards I passed out at Elias-Clarke are still making the rounds, judging by the addresses we are delivering to.  Elias-Clarke…  Even after four months of silence, the thought of Elias-Clarke and the elegant silver-haired editor of Runway still brought pain.  She shook her head and picked up the dovetail saw.

After cutting the dovetails and dry fitting the drawers together, she set the parts aside and grabbed her water bottle.  Looking around the shop, she easily picked out the different projects that were underway.  She mentally ticked off tasks in her head, and nodded.  Everything should be completed on time, barring any major issues.  I might even get to take some time off at Christmas this year.

Thinking of holidays brought back memories of the previous weekend.  Angie had gone home to Cincinnati for Thanksgiving and had brought back news from her parents.  Both were in good health, but neither was happy that Angie was in New York.  Andy grinned as she remembered Angie's blow-by-blow recounting of the argument she had with their parents. She loved Columbia and being in New York City, and no, she wasn't going to transfer to Cincinnati Law or Stanford. Angie had managed to dodge the issue of her ‘landlady’, as she had referred to Andy, merely pointing out that the loft was in a safe part of the City and the rent was affordable, and that there was no need for them to come check up on her. 

Andy shook her head.  More than affordable, Angie.  You’re paying way less than market rate, and I’m going to give you the money back when you graduate, anyway.  It’s not like I really need it now that our tables are selling.  She shook her head again.  I’m really not looking forward to our parents — especially dad — finding out I’m Angie’s ‘landlady.’  I doubt we can keep it a secret for three years!

Setting the water bottle aside, she began to assemble and glue up the drawers.  The job was routine and familiar, so her mind wandered.  Last weekend was hard, being alone.  You’d think after ten years I’d be used to it, but I’ve gotten used to having Angie around really fast.  I wish I could have seen Mir—  The thought was cut off by a knock on the front door.  “With you in a minute!” she called.

“Hello, Andy.”

Andy froze.  She lowered her head and placed the glue brush back in the pot, then took a deep breath.  Without turning around, she responded.  “Hello, Caroline.”   

“Wow, you can still tell us apart.  Amazing since we haven’t seen you in four months.” Bitterness laced Caroline’s voice.

Andy rubbed her face.  “Caroline…  Please.  Don’t start.”  Pinching tears from her eyes, she turned to the counter.  “I’m glad to see you, Caroline.  Does your mom know you are here?”

Caroline ignored the question.  “Why did you leave?  Mom just told us we weren’t going to see you again and not to bother you.”  Her blue eyes were hard and cold, just like Miranda’s, and Andy felt her heart ache remembering Miranda’s first visit to the shop.  

“It’s complicated, Caroline.  Just leave it at that.” The ache in her chest intensified.

“Can’t you come back?”  Caroline’s voice softened.  “Mom misses you, I know she does.  She’s really sad without you.” 

Andy’s heart fluttered at Caroline’s words, but she shook her head.  “It’s hard for me to believe she misses me when she won’t talk to me.  She’s ignored me for four months, since the end of July.”

“It’s true, Andy.  She really does miss you,” Caroline insisted.  “You remember when you dropped that letter through the mail slot for her?” Caroline barely heard Andy’s answering whisper.

“I remember.” 

“Cass and I saw it before she got home and we knew it was from you.  She was really upset that night — she thought we didn’t notice, but we did.  The next night I hid and watched her sitting in her study about the time you usually texted.  She was just sitting there staring at her phone, Andy.”  Caroline reached over the counter and grabbed Andy’s arm.  “After a while, she started crying.”

Andy swallowed hard, blinking back tears.  “I’m sorry.  It really is complicated, but she has to… I need her to reach out to me.  I tried to get her to talk for two months, Caroline.  I had to stop — my heart was breaking.  Your mom has to reach out to me.”  Taking a deep breath, Andy continued.  “It takes two, Caroline.  If your mom doesn't trust me enough to even talk to me, how can we even be friends?  I guess she meant a lot more to me than I meant to her.”

Caroline reached out and wiped a tear off Andy’s cheek.  “She really misses you, Andy.  We really miss you, too,” she whispered.  

Andy smiled weakly through tears at Caroline.  “Let’s get you home, munchkin.  I bet you skipped school to get here, didn’t you?”  At Caroline’s nod, Andy sighed.  “I’m not even going to ask how you managed that, but we need to get you home before you’re missed.  I’ll call us an Uber.”

When they got in the Uber, Andy turned to Caroline.  “I have to let your mom know — if she finds out you are not at Dalton, she may panic and get the police involved.  I don’t think either of us wants that.”

“Are you sure you have to?”  At Andy’s nod, she continued.  “She probably won’t care, though.  Like I said, she’s been so sad and working more than ever lately.  She’s hardly ever home.”

“You know your mom loves you and your sister more than anything, don’t you?  I sure saw that when…  when I was around.”  Andy dialed Miranda’s cell and left a message, then tried her office.

“Miranda Priestly’s office.”

“Hello, Emily.  This is Andréa Sachs.”

Emily huffed. “I thought you'd finally given up. As I told you months ago, Ahn-dray-uhh, I will pass your messages on.  If Miranda chooses not to respond, there’s nothing I can do.”

“Fine.  I just thought she should hear about Caroline.”

“What?  What about Caroline?  Did you kidnap her?” Emily squawked.

Andy snorted.  “Seriously, Emily?  Kidnapping?  Caroline came to my shop today — she’s fine.  I’m taking her back to the townhouse in an Uber right now.”  She looked over at Caroline and winked.  “I’ll make sure she gets home safely.”

“Yes, well, good.  I’ll tell Miranda right away.”

“You do that.  Oh, and Emily?”

“Yes?”

“Just so you know — you’re a bit bitchy these days.  Sounds like you and Serena need some more quality time together to take the edge off.  That’s all.”  Andy ended the call, cutting off Emily’s outraged sputterings as Caroline covered her mouth and giggled.  

At the townhouse, she walked Caroline up the steps.  Giving her a big hug, she held her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes.  “You and your sister are welcome to visit me any time, Caroline, but I want you to get your mom’s permission first.  Promise me, okay?”  

Caroline rolled her eyes.  “I promise.”  She hugged Andy back and held on to her hand.  “Don’t go, Andy.  Stay and talk to Mom.”

“I have to get back to work, munchkin.  If your Mom wants to talk, she knows how to get in touch.”  After seeing Caroline inside, Andy walked to the end of the block.  Glancing back, she stopped and stared.  Miranda was just stepping out of a silver Mercedes.  Andy held up a hand in greeting and smiled at the woman she hadn’t seen in person for four months.  

Miranda looked at her for a moment, then marched up the steps into her townhouse without acknowledging the wave, or giving any sign that she had recognized Andy.

Andy hung her head and turned away, wiping a tear from her cheek.  

------------------------------

She had followed Miranda’s car to the Elias-Clarke building.  

Miranda stepped out of the car and began to walk away from her.  The distinctive hair was easy to track in the crowd, but there were so many people.  She hurried along, trying to catch up.  “Excuse me.  Excuse me.”  Faceless men and women streamed past her, bumping into her, knocking her to the ground.  “Miranda!  Wait!”

The silver-white hair stopped and turned back.  As Andy rose, Miranda was right in front of her.  “Why would I wait for you, Andréa?” Miranda sneered.  

Andy’s mouth fell open. 

“Nobody wants you — I certainly don’t!”  Her smile was thin and cruel.  “But you knew that, didn’t you?  That’s your problem, isn’t it, Andréa?  Always pushed away, always unwanted.”  She laughed as tears streamed down Andy’s face. 

A man stepped in front of Miranda as Andy recoiled.  “Daddy?”

“No, I’m not your Daddy.  I would never be the father of a disappointment like you!  You could have been a successful lawyer, working with me, but you decided to be a stupid reporter.  When that didn’t work out, you just quit, didn’t you?”

"No, Daddy, NO!”

“I told you I’m not your father any more.  You’re worthless!”

A woman stepped in front of the man.  Brow wrinkled and lips set in an expression of disgust, she shook her head.

“Mom?”  Andy’s voice shook as she reached for the woman’s hand.

The woman pulled back out of reach.  “Hardly.  My daughter would never hurt me the way you did, choosing to chase women over that nice boy you were dating.  Do you know how embarrassing it was to tell my friends you’d never have children because you were one of them?  I can’t believe how twisted and perverted you are!” 

Andy let out a cry of anguish and began to sob.  When she looked up through her tears, another man was standing in front of her.  “Nate?” she whispered.

“That’s right, Andy.  The one you walked away from.  You disgust me, Andy.  We could have had a good life together, but no, you wanted to be a lesbian, a fucking dyke.  You couldn’t even find one of those to be happy with, and now ten years later you’re still all alone.  And you always will be!”

Nate disappeared and the crowd on the sidewalk continued to pass around her as she stood, shaking.  Tears streamed down her cheeks.  She recognized faces passing by — Doug, Angela, Emily, Serena, teachers from high school, professors from college, friends, coworkers.  Their words as they passed echoed in her ears.

“Failure!”

“Never amount to anything!”  

“Awful!”

“Useless!”  

“No one likes you!”  

“Twisted pervert!”

“Waste of time!”

“Unlovable!”

“Abomination!”

“Terrible!”

“Disgusting!”

“Filthy dyke!”  

The cacophony rang in her ears, making her dizzy.  Three words echoed over the others as she fell to her knees, sobbing:

“No one cares!”

------------------------------

Andy woke screaming, soaked in sweat, sheets tangled around her legs.  “Oh, god, not again.”  She buried her face in her hands and began to weep.  

Hours later, she sat curled up on the couch hugging a pillow.  The memory of Miranda comforting her, holding her, was the only thing that soothed her after the nightmares.  “God, I’m pathetic.  She hasn’t talked to me in four months and I’m still hung up on her.”  Her voice fell flat in the large loft.  When she finally heard her alarm in the bedroom, she groaned, but got up to start the day.  

She was working in the shop when Angela stuck her head in the door.  “You’re starting early, Andy.  Everything okay?”

Andy didn't look up. “Fine.  I’m busy. Lots to do.”

“Andy, talk to me.  I heard you scream last night.  Another nightmare?”

Andy rubbed her tired eyes.  “Yeah,” she whispered.  “This was a bad one.  I think seeing Caroline yesterday might have brought it on.  That and…”

“You saw Caroline?  Where?”

Andy explained how the girl had come to the shop and she had taken her home.  

“Did you see Mi— her?”

Andy nodded, her face expressionless.  “I saw her look at me, turn her back, and walk away from me again.”

"Oh, Andy, sweetheart.  You need to get out and start getting over her.  This isn’t healthy, obsessing over someone like this.  Especially when they’ve shown they don’t—"

“I know, dammit!”  Andy shouted and slammed her fists down on the workbench, making tools and furniture parts jump.  "Sorry.  I'm sorry. My head knows that, but my heart doesn't."  She rubbed her eyes again.  “Maybe you’re right and I need to get out.  Are you still going to that new club tonight?”  

Angela beamed.  "Yes, we are.  You should come with us, just for a little while.  I’ll see if Doug can make it, too.  You need to get out among people again."

“I’ll try.  Depends on how much work I get done today.”  She looked at the furniture parts stacked around her shop.  

------------------------------

The bass line of the music in the club thumped in her chest as she sat, watching the dance floor.  She tugged her skirt down a bit. I'm really not used to dresses, especially short ones like this.  Her mind shied away from the fact that Miranda had given it to her for a networking event after she complained she had nothing to wear.  It was far more revealing than her normal khakis and work shirts, and a little lightweight for fall, but Angela and Doug had reacted with wide eyes and praise for how good she looked in the classic little black dress.  

Andy sipped her drink and let her gaze wander over the dancers.  A slender, short-haired platinum blonde caught her eye, dancing alone in a spotlight.  They made eye contact.  Andy smiled tentatively and the woman returned the smile and winked before closing her eyes and turning away, swaying sinuously with the music.

“C’mon, Andy, let’s dance.”  Angela pulled her away from the table and onto the floor.  She began to dance to the beat, grinning as she moved.  

A few songs later, the DJ had slowed the pace.  Andy was slowly dancing by herself when she felt hands on her waist and a voice in her ear.

“This okay?  Thought you might like a dance partner after I saw you watching me.”

She turned and looked down into a pair of sky blue eyes below a platinum blonde pixie cut.  Andy nodded and clasped her hands behind the woman’s neck.  They moved together and danced slowly through that song and the next, then separated to dance to the faster music that followed.  Andy spent the rest of the night dancing with her.  They parted occasionally on the faster songs, but always came back together for the slow dances.  

Wrapped in each other’s arms and moving to the music, the woman rested her head on Andy’s shoulder.  Andy closed her eyes, enjoying the closeness and the sweet scent of the other woman’s perfume.  

The blonde moved her lips to Andy’s neck and kissed her way up to her ear.  “Want to go somewhere quieter and more private?”  

Andy nodded.  “My place is only a couple of blocks from here if that’s ok.  I’ve got a loft above my shop.”

The woman nodded and took Andy’s hand.  Outside, they walked side by side with an arm around the other’s waist as Andy guided them.  It took longer than Andy thought it would — they stopped in the storefront shadows for increasingly-passionate kisses several times along the way.  

By the time they reached the shop, Andy’s hands were shaking and the fire in her was almost out of control.  She barely managed to unlock the outer door.  They ran up the stairs to Andy’s loft hand in hand, giggling.

Inside, Andy pushed the door closed and the smaller woman swung her against it. She pressed her body into Andy’s and their mouths met in a passionate kiss.  Tongues sliding past each other, her breath came in short pants and she felt wetness pooling as the woman slid a thigh between her legs.  Andy moaned and threw her head back, pressing it against the door as the other woman kissed down her neck and pressed her lips to her pulse point.  Her eyes slammed shut. 

The lips caressing her moved down to her collar bone, then across to the other side of her neck.  Her eyes fluttered and she looked over her loft through half-closed eyes, finally focusing on the couch.

The couch.

She froze. The feelings of that summer day flooded back into her.  The abandonment and scorn of her parents.  The rejection of her sister.  Ten years of grief.  Miranda.  Holding her as she fell apart.  Keeping her safe and comforting her in her grief.

She came back to the present to find the woman staring at her, forehead wrinkled.

“Are you alright?  You kinda froze up on me.”  She smiled gently.

Andy blinked.  At that moment, she realized what had happened.  The platinum blonde hair wasn’t silver or white enough.  The eyes were the wrong shade of blue.  The snub nose, the smile, the perfume… nothing was right.  Tears sprang to her eyes and she began to sob, burying her face in her hands.

The woman pulled her into a gentle hug and began to pat her back.  “It’s okay.  We can stop.  I didn’t mean to push.”

“You didn’t push.”  Andy pulled away and wiped her eyes.  “God, I’m pathetic.  I’m so sorry.”

“No, it’s okay—”

Andy placed a finger on her lips.  “I’m sorry, I thought I was ready for this.  I can’t — I just can't.  Let me call you a cab.”  

She shook her head.  “I can do it.  I’ll just go.”  She reached out and cupped Andy’s cheek with her hand.  “I could see the sadness in your eyes but I thought…”  She shrugged.  “Whoever she is, she’s a fool to leave you."  She hugged Andy again and let herself out.  

Andy stood waiting at the door to the loft until she heard the outer door open and shut.  Then she stumbled to the couch and threw herself down, sobbing. 

Chapter Text

Andy sat in the window looking out at the street below.  She hugged her legs, eyes puffy, red, and tired from all of the tears she’d shed, and lowered her forehead to her knees.  Her cup of coffee sat beside her, cold and forgotten.  The beautiful fall weather of the past week had turned to cold rain as she tossed and turned all night on the couch.  When darkness gave way to dawn, she had risen, groaning a little, and retreated to her bedroom.  The grey day fit her mood all too well.  Although the work was piled up in her shop, she just couldn’t bring herself to start.  

She jumped a little as her phone rang.  She was surprised to see the time — almost noon — when she answered.  “Hello.”

“Hey, sis.  How are you?  I saw you leave the club with that cute blonde.  Did that go ok?”

A few tears leaked from Andy’s eyes as she sniffled. 

“Andy?”

“No, it didn’t go ok.  We got back to my place, and I just froze.  All I could think was she wasn't Miranda.  I’m pathetic.”  Andy broke down crying.  She barely heard Angela talking.

“It’ll be okay, Andy.  We can try again some other time.  Maybe next time just have fun at the club and not take it further.”  She paused.  “Listen, I’ll call you tomorrow and we can get lunch.  I’m going to be studying for my final until late.  I’ll probably crash at a friend’s place so I don’t have to take the subway back in the middle of the night.  I love you, sis.  Call me if you need me.”  After a few more comforting words, she ended the call.  

Andy tossed her phone on the seat and placed a hand on the window.  She traced the paths of water droplets down the pane.  They know where they are going.  Why don’t I?

She didn’t know how much longer she had been sitting there when her phone rang again.  She looked at it and the hair on the back of her neck stood on end.  The caller ID read ‘ELIAS-CLARKE PUBLISHING.’  She swallowed hard and reached for it.  

“Sachs Fine Furniture.  This is Andy.”

“Ms. Sachs?  This is Melanie, Elizabeth St. James’ assistant.  Are you busy?”

“No, not at the moment, Melanie.  Not with anything that can’t wait.”

“Good,” the woman continued.  “We’re having some trouble with the table in the boardroom and Elizabeth wanted me to have you come take a look at it.  We have a board meeting next week.”

Andy stood and shook herself back to alertness.  “I’ll be happy to come take a look.  What is it doing?”

“Last time we tried to expand it, it made kind of a screeching noise, and it was hard to push.”

“That’s not good.”  She looked at her clock.  “I’ll be there in about an hour, if that works for you.”

“Excellent.  I’ll have a badge waiting for you at security.  Thank you, Andy.”

Ending the call, Andy stepped into the bathroom.  She looked in the mirror and grimaced.  I have to take a shower and maybe even put on some makeup to disguise these bags under my eyes.  I’ll be damned if I take the chance of seeing Miranda looking like death warmed over.

------------------------------

Settling her tool bag on her shoulder, Andy pushed through the door of the Elias-Clarke building.  After checking in with security — they had a pass for her this time — she took the elevator and pushed the button for the boardroom floor.

As the elevator climbed, she lost herself in memories.  Bringing the chair to Miranda’s office, flirting with Serena, coming up with the demo table to the board room, arguing with Irv over coffee, bringing the finished table, being assaulted by Irv, Miranda…

Her reverie was broken by the ding of the elevator announcing its arrival.  She looked up and held her breath when she saw the number 17 lit on the panel above the door.

It opened to reveal Emily and Serena.

“You!” Emily hissed.  “What are you doing here?  Are you stalking Miranda now?  I told you she’d return your messages if and when she wanted to!”

Andy's face went red.  “I’m here doing my job, Emily.  Something you might want to consider doing yourself.  Now either get on or get out, I have someplace to be!”  Andy paused.  “Oh, and just so you know — I’ve changed my mind.  You’re not a bit bitchy, you’re just a bitch.  I don’t think even Serena can help.”

Emily’s eyes went wide and her mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water.  Serena rolled her eyes.  “Go ahead, Andy.  We’ll take the next one.”

Andy nodded sharply.  As the doors closed, she heard Serena’s voice.

Querida, why do you act this way?  Andy is nice, and has…”

Andy closed her eyes and leaned against the back wall of the elevator.  She took a deep breath and blew it out.  At least it wasn’t Miranda.  I can handle Emily acting like a bitch.  She snorted.  It’s too bad.  She’s actually kind of funny once you get past the bitchiness.  She and Serena would be fun to get to know, I bet.  Smiling sadly, she shook her head.  Not that I’ll ever get a chance.

Melanie, the assistant who had called her, met her on the boardroom floor.  After showing her the table and what it was doing, she started to leave.  

“Melanie, if you don’t mind, will you stay while I work on this?”  Andy set her toolbag on the floor and looked at the woman. 

“I guess so, Andy.  Do you need some help?”

“Not exactly.  I just…”  She swallowed nervously.  “Last time I was in this room by myself, I got assaulted.”

Melanie’s eyes got wide.  “Oh!  You’re the one that got Irv fired!  I didn’t realize that.”

Andy snorted and rolled her eyes.  “I didn’t get him fired, he did that to himself.  I’m just glad I was strong enough to throw him off and break his nose when he tried to continue.”

Melanie giggled.  “I know, right?  That video is still making the rounds at Elias-Clarke.”  She lowered her voice.  “You know, you’re a hero to a lot of women in this building.  You weren’t the first one he did that to.”

Andy blushed at the praise.  ”Doesn’t surprise me.  I just hope I’m the last.”

An hour later, she was putting a final polish on the table after repairing it.  She chatted with Melanie the whole time, finding some common interests in literature and TV.  As they talked, Elizabeth St. James stuck her head in the door.

“There you are, Melanie.  Everything okay?”

Melanie started to stammer before Andy cut her off.  “I asked her to stay with me, Ms. St. James.  The last time I was alone in this room wasn’t exactly pleasant.”

“I understand, Andy, and please call me Elizabeth.  I’m sorry I wasn’t here to greet you.  It's been a little hectic lately as we break in a new CEO." She smiled and stepped over to the table, running her fingers across the gleaming top.  “Did you find out what was wrong?”

“Yep.”  Andy dug something out of her pocket.  “This retaining nut cracked and fell off, causing part of the mechanism to rub together.  I think it’s just this one — the rest look ok.  If it happens again, I’ll get a different batch and replace them all.”

Elizabeth smiled.  “Good.  Thank you for taking care of it so quickly, before our board meeting next week.”  She paused as if thinking.  “You know, the board loves this table.  I have to keep them from playing with it during the meetings.  It’s a bit of a distraction.”  She and Andy exchanged grins, but Andy’s smile vanished at her next words.

“Miranda loves the table, too.  She brags about it, and about you, all the time.  She speaks very highly of you and your work.”

“I didn’t know,” Andy whispered, staring at the floor.

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow.  “She really does think highly of you, Andy.”

“It would be nice to hear that in person.  I haven't seen her in months…"  Andy’s voice trailed off at the memory of the last time she saw Miranda.  She didn't even acknowledge I was there.

Elizabeth shivered at the pain in her voice and eyes.  “Really?  It sounded like you were friends."

Andy swallowed hard.  "I thought so, too."

Elizabeth laid a hand on Andy’s arm.  "I'm sorry I brought up unpleasant memories.  If there’s anything I can do…"

“I have to go.”  Andy pulled away and hoisted her toolbag to her shoulder.  She hurried from the room before the tears could spill from her eyes.  

Back in the elevator, Andy leaned again against the wall and closed her eyes.  She wiped tears from her cheeks and took several deep breaths before the elevator dinged.

When she opened her eyes she was looking into the bright blue eyes of Miranda Priestly.

Neither woman spoke.  Miranda stared at her, face expressionless.  As the doors began to close, she stepped onto the elevator and turned to face the door.

"Hello, Miranda."

Miranda didn’t respond, and the elevator continued to the ground floor in silence.  Andy glanced up once at the mirrored doors and saw Miranda’s eyes looking her over.  She kept her eyes on the floor the rest of the ride.

When the doors opened, Miranda stepped out and took several steps through the crowd in the lobby.  She stopped and turned to look at Andy as she exited. 

“Well?”

Andy flushed and spoke through clenched teeth.  “Well what, Miranda?”  When Miranda didn’t answer, she continued.  “What do you want from me?  You ghosted me. You've ignored me for four months.  I told you. It's your turn to talk to me now.  If you have something to say, say it!”  It was not — quite — a shout.

Dead silence fell in the lobby, radiating outward from Andy and Miranda like ripples on a pond, only punctuated by gasps from several of the clackers in the crowd.  Miranda’s shoulders stiffened and she pursed her lips, causing another round of gasps.  The crowd parted as she stalked through the lobby to the doors, heels clicking on the tile, only halting at the sight of the heavy rain outside. 

Andy walked past her and thrust an umbrella into her stomach.  "Here.  I wouldn't want your hair to get wet."  Miranda took it automatically as Andy stepped out into the downpour and turned toward the subway station.  The rain hid the tears running down her cheeks.  

------------------------------

Late that night, Andy sat in the window in her bedroom watching it rain, eyes again puffy and red.  The lights of the city and the passing cars barely lit the room, but she didn’t have the energy to get up and turn on a light.  She hugged a pillow to her chest and tried to ignore the pain in her heart.  God, why did Elizabeth have to bring Miranda up?  She may think highly of me, but I’ll never be anything to her now, no matter what I want.  Why did she have to be taking the elevator just then?  Why?  Why can’t I just let her go?  I just want to stop hurting.  More tears ran down her face.

The buzzer for the outer door barely registered over her thoughts.  Who the hell can that be?  Not Angie.  Whoever it is can just go the hell away.  She continued to stare out the window.

The buzzer sounded again, and then again.  Andy pressed the intercom button on her bedside table.  “Hello?”  The answer was unintelligible.  She sighed, slipped on her shoes, picked up her softball bat, and walked downstairs to the outer door.  The buzzer sounded again as she looked through the glass.  A thin figure, backlit by the lights of the street, huddled close to the door out of the rain. 

“What do you want?”  She could barely hear the reply.

“An-dr-dr-dréa.”

Heart in her throat, she fumbled with the lock and opened the door with a jerk.  Miranda stood on the doorstep.  Andy stared at her for a long moment — her hair was soaked, forelock limp and hanging in her eye.  She had her arms wrapped around her middle and her teeth chattered behind blue lips.  Water ran from her clothes onto the step and she shivered uncontrollably.

“Good god, Miranda!  Get in here."  Andy grabbed Miranda’s hands and pulled her inside.  "Your hands are like ice!”  Wrapping one arm around Miranda’s waist to support her, she guided her up the stairs.  When she grew concerned with Miranda’s shivering and glacial pace, she hooked one arm behind her knees and the other behind her back, lifted her, and carried her the rest of the way up.  Miranda didn’t protest or make a sound.

In the loft, Andy carried her to the bathroom before setting her on her feet and giving her a terse command:  “Strip.”  At Miranda’s wide-eyed look, she snorted.  “Dammit, Miranda, for once do as you’re told!  You have to be close to hypothermic after getting chilled to the bone in that cold rain.  We have to get you warm and those wet clothes aren’t helping!  Take them off — all of them!”

Miranda slowly began to undress, hands shaking, while Andy turned on the heater and rummaged for towels.  Once her shirt and slacks were gone, Andy gently patted her dry with the softest towels she had.  Wrapping a thick terrycloth robe around her shoulders and a towel around her head, she kept her eyes on Miranda’s face while removing her bra and panties.  Miranda’s eyes were half-closed but she never looked away from Andy's face.  

Once dry, Miranda’s shivers slowed.  Andy placed her in front of the heater with another command.  “Stay here.  I’ll get you something warm to wear.”  She returned in a moment with long flannel pajamas and thick wool socks.  She closed her eyes and knelt as she held the bottoms for Miranda to step into.  Pulling them up, she stood and held the top as Miranda turned and dropped the robe.  Andy's eyes devoured the smooth, creamy skin of her back while she guided Miranda’s arms into the sleeves.  Miranda fumbled with the buttons until Andy brushed her hands away and did them herself.  She knelt again and pulled the wool socks onto her feet, smiling in spite of herself at the perfectly-painted nails on Miranda's dainty feet. Standing, she took the towel from Miranda’s head and nodded at the almost-dry hair with a gentle smile.  “There are advantages to short hair.”

Andy led Miranda to the couch and covered her with a fuzzy fleece blanket.  She added fuel to the wood stove and warmed a mug of chicken soup, and filled another mug with hot chocolate.  Miranda remained silent, her eyes following Andy wherever she went.  Her blue eyes were shaded deeper and darker than usual.

Andy sat on the other end of the couch, watching, while Miranda sipped the soup and drank.  As she did, her shivers stopped and color came back to her face and lips.  Her hands were steady when she placed the empty mugs on the table.  Andy’s, however, began to shake as she stared into Miranda’s eyes.

Andy finally broke the silence.  "Miranda, why are you here?  What were you doing walking in the rain?  Why didn’t you take your car?”  Miranda only stared.  “Please, please talk to me."

Miranda's voice was so low Andy had to lean in to hear it. "I don't know what to say, I just knew I couldn’t stay away any longer. I had to see you and I couldn’t wait. My umbrella blew inside out halfway here, and I didn’t realize how cold it would be.” She paused and looked down.

“I told myself I didn't need you, that I would get over you. But it only got worse.” Miranda looked back up into Andy’s eyes. “I miss you, Andréa. I miss what we had. I miss talking to you about my day, about your day, about the twins, about anything, about everything. I miss you."

"I miss you too, Miranda.” Andy’s voice was soft and full of pain.

"I know.” Miranda swallowed hard. “I read all your texts, your emails and your letter, and listened to your voicemails. I let my fears and my pride keep me away. I'm so sorry.”

"I'm sorry, too, Miranda. I missed you, more than I can say. I still miss you." A tear ran down Andy’s cheek.

Miranda held out a hand, palm up. "Will you... will you tell me what really happened that day? I have no right to ask now, and I doubt it was what it seemed, but... "

Andy moved closer and took Miranda’s hand, reveling in the warmth and softness of it as she gazed into Miranda’s eyes. Here’s your chance, Andy. The words wouldn’t come past the tightness in her throat. You’ve been wanting to talk to her for four months, and now you have nothing to say?  She took a deep breath.

“I’ve thought about what I would say to you if I ever had the chance so many times since that day, Miranda, and now all those words are just gone.” Looking down at their joined hands, she turned them so Miranda’s was on top and ran her thumb over the back. She looked down at the floor, as if she could see the workshop on the first floor.

"Back in July, her name was Heather. We had been on a few dates before you and I even met, and I decided she definitely wasn't my type. I don’t know if you remember, but she came by the shop the day you and Caroline built birdhouses, and the day you ordered your chairs. She kept coming back every few weeks even when I made it clear she wasn’t welcome. She didn't take that well and kept asking me out. Anyway, that evening, she pushed her way into the shop, drunk, trying to 'get me back,' and grabbed me and kissed me right before you came in. I was trying to push her off when you opened the door. I threw her off and ran after you, but you were already gone.”

Tears began to stream down Andy’s face. “Then you wouldn't answer no matter how I tried. And I did try, Miranda, for almost two months.” Her voice grew louder. “Two months, Miranda! I had to stop trying or it would have broken me. If you had given me one sign, just one small sign that you cared, I would have tried forever!" Andy hid her face in her hands as she sobbed.

Miranda’s cheeks were wet with tears as well. “I know, I know.” She moved to sit next to Andy, close enough that their legs were touching, pulled her hands away from her face, and held them. Miranda looked into Andy’s eyes. "I'm sorry, I’m so sorry. When I saw you with her, I didn't know I could feel that jealous, or that rejected. You are so beautiful, and so young, and I'm not.” She reached up to cup Andy’s cheek in her hand. “You could do so much better than me, an old woman they call the Devil in Prada, the Ice Queen, and the Dragon Lady.” Miranda glanced away for a moment, then looked back into Andy’s eyes as she continued in a whisper. “When I saw you in her arms, it broke my heart. It was worse than finding my first husband in our bed with another woman."

Andy’s brown eyes were wide. "What are you saying, Miranda?" she whispered.

"I'm saying I didn't just miss you as a friend. That’s why I was there that night, to tell you I wanted to try being more than friends. The night before, I kept replaying our conversation in our head, and wondering if I could do it — be in a relationship with you. Then I realized I didn't have a choice. You had worked your way into my heart. You made it past all the walls that surrounded it, and found that hidden place I only ever let my girls into, and I had to try.”

She looked away and continued in a barely audible voice. “I’m terrified, because now that you are there, now that you are in my heart, if you leave like everyone else has... My divorces hurt, but if you leave, it will kill me. I've never felt like this before, not for anyone. Nobody has ever had this power over me. The last four months have been a living hell.  Husbands I could get over, but not you — never."  She paused and looked deep into Andy's eyes.  "I love you, Andréa."

The breath left Andy’s lungs as more tears fell. Shaking, she knelt at Miranda’s feet, taking her hands and crying as she rocked forward and back. "I never knew, Miranda, I never knew. If I had known, I would have never stopped trying to reach you. I wanted my friend back, but if I had known you loved me, nothing would have kept me away. Not security, not Emily, nothing! How could I have stayed away?"

Miranda’s blue eyes widened, looking deep into Andy’s dark brown pools. "Do you mean..."

Andy raised Miranda's hands to her lips and gently kissed them.  “Yes, Miranda, I love you. I have for a long time. Somewhere between the time you walked into my shop the first time and the day you held me after Angela emailed me, I realized it wasn't just friendship to me. That day you took charge after I flattened Irv was so damn amazing. The dragon — my Dragon Lady — was breathing fire, but you were protecting me and all I could see was the woman I loved underneath. Then when you dropped everything that day I heard from Angie, when you kept me from falling apart…” She trailed off and swallowed. “My heart was yours."

Miranda pulled her close, weeping on her shoulder. Andy returned the favor, holding her tight as her own tears fell on Miranda's neck. They wept for pain, for the time apart, and for the joy of coming back together. They cried until no more tears came, and then pulled apart and stared into each other’s eyes, foreheads touching, communicating without words, reconnecting, promising.

Andy pulled away first, yawning. “Sorry.” She covered her mouth with her hand. “I didn’t sleep much last night.”

Miranda returned the yawn. “May I…” She looked uncertain, then whispered. “May I stay?”

Her tentative question was met with a soft smile. “As if I’d turn you out on a night like this. Come on, let’s get to bed.”

Miranda’s eyes widened.

Andy smiled and caressed Miranda’s cheek with the backs of her fingers. “Just to sleep, Miranda. We have a lot more talking to do before we think about that.” She leaned in and whispered in her ear. “Rest assured, we will get to that, though. I think we passed the third date rule a long time ago without realizing it.”  She placed a soft kiss just below and behind her ear and grinned when she shivered. 

Andy picked a blushing Miranda up and carried her to the bed, settling her under the comforter before stepping away. “Let me change and brush my teeth and I’ll be right back.”

A few minutes later they lay spooned together, cozy and warm. Andy’s arm was around Miranda’s waist with Miranda’s hand pulling her close. As her eyes closed, she heard a murmur from in front of her.

“What’s that, Miranda?”

Her heart danced at the soft answer. “I love you, Andréa. Sleep well.”

“I love you, too. Sweet dreams, Miranda.”

Chapter Text

Andy came up out of a deep sleep to the pleasant awareness of warmth and comfort, relaxed for the first time in months.  She started to stretch but stopped when she realized she was pinned down by weights on her shoulder, stomach and hips.  Evidently, they had switched positions in the night, from her spooning Miranda to lying on her back with Miranda wrapped around her. Opening her eyes, she saw Miranda’s silver hair on her shoulder and felt it tickle her chin.  Farther down, Miranda’s leg was thrown across her hips.  On her stomach…  That was Miranda’s hand, underneath her flannel pajama top.  She squirmed a little as the fingers started to move.

Miranda stirred and her fingers flexed as Andy’s abs twitched under them.  She stilled for a moment, not believing what she felt, then began to caress Andy’s stomach, gently exploring the smooth skin and firm muscle underneath.  After a deep breath, she looked up at Andy, her chin pillowed on her chest.  

Andy’s smile grew wider.  “Good morning, Miranda.”

“Mmmm, yes.  Good morning, darling.  I don’t remember the last night I slept so well.”  She pulled Andy even closer, pressing down with her leg and pulling with her hand on her ribs while nuzzling into her neck.  

"Miranda Priestly a snuggler, who would believe it?"  Andy giggled.

“I do not—” Miranda cut herself off.  “I think… I think maybe I just hadn’t found the right person to snuggle with before now.  But now that I’ve found you, I don’t think I’ll mind snuggling.  I may never stop.”  She raised her head and shook a finger at Andy.  “Only with you!  Don’t even think of telling anyone!”  Her bright smile made Andy laugh.  

Miranda moved up to look deep into Andy’s brown eyes.  Sparkling blue peered into rich golden brown.  “Thank you, Andréa.  Thank you for forgiving a foolish old woman.”  She reached up and caressed Andy’s cheek.  As she continued to stare into her eyes, her forehead wrinkled.

"Something wrong?"

"No. Just something I wanted to do last night but decided to wait.  Now I don't want to wait any longer."  She leaned forward and pressed her lips to Andy's.

Andy’s eyes fluttered closed.  She made a small sound of dismay when Miranda pulled back.  Opening her eyes, she smiled her trademark smile at Miranda, then pulled her back down for another kiss.  Their lips moved together gently.  Andy marveled at the softness of Miranda’s lips while she reached up and ran her fingers through Miranda’s hair, scratching gently at her scalp.

Miranda moaned at the sensation and cupped Andy’s cheek in her palm.  She sucked on her lower lip and ran her tongue across it, seeking entrance.  

Andy opened to Miranda’s tongue, and groaned as Miranda explored her mouth.  She could feel wetness gathering between her legs, and a fire rising in her belly.  Before things could escalate further, she backed off a little, returning to softer, less passionate kisses, smiling to herself at Miranda’s whine of disappointment.  Andy kissed her firmly, but placed two fingers on her lips when she tried to continue.

Miranda’s eyes opened and Andy could see the doubt and the questions there.  

"Miranda, I told you last night that I love you, and I meant that with every fiber of my being.  I want you, I want to make love to you, so badly, but I need to take this slowly.  A big part of me wants to continue what we’ve started, but I want to make sure you are well after last night. I'm also…” She trailed off.  “You said last night you were terrified.  I’m scared, too.  I don’t want to move too fast and do things you will regret.” 

She swept Miranda’s forelock out of her eyes and continued, her voice thick with unshed tears.  “It hurt me so badly when you wouldn't talk to me.  It was like being abandoned again.  I want to build a relationship with you, with everything that means, but I need you to promise me something."

Miranda reached up to cup Andy’s cheek with her hand.  "Anything, darling.  I'm so sorry I hurt you."  Miranda’s voice was gentle as a tear traced its way down one cheek.

Andy wiped the tear away with the pad of her thumb.  “You have to promise me that you will never, ever do that again, that you will always talk to me.  I don't think I could take that.”  She paused and looked away.  “I think it would kill me if you shut me out again.  You can't do it."  She swallowed hard. "I will always talk to you and tell you the truth.  We may disagree, we may fight over things, but I will never intentionally hurt you.  You are the only one I want, now and forever.  I will always—"  Andy’s eyes returned to Miranda’s "—I will always love you.”

“I promise, Andréa.  I love you, too, and I know it would kill me to shut you out.  I simply wouldn’t survive it.”

Andy’s smile lit the room.  She pulled Miranda in for a tight hug and a firm kiss.  “Now, I have a question for you."

“Yes?”

“I think we 'dated' a lot last summer, but will you go on an official date with me?  Even if it’s just dinner and a movie here or at your house?  I want to spend time with you catching up and getting to know you better.  I want to spend time with Caroline and Cassidy, too.”

“Of course, darling.”  Miranda blushed at the endearment.  “Anything you want.  We can stay in or go out somewhere — I have no intention of hiding you away forever.  A few weeks or a few months is fine while we adjust, but sometime soon I want to show you off.”  

Andy snorted.  “Show me off?  To whom?  I’m not exactly a Runway model.”

Miranda sat up and made a show of looking Andy up and down.  “No, you aren’t a model, thank god.  I’ve seen enough clothes-hangers in my life and they leave me absolutely cold.  You, lying here in flannel pajamas with your curves and solid muscles, my darling, are more beautiful than any woman that has ever graced the pages of Runway.  I will be the envy of every man and woman in the City with you on my arm!”  She paused for a moment in thought.  “Will you let me dress you for an event or three? There are so many gowns that would make you look even more lovely than you do now.”

Andy smiled her million-watt smile, and kissed Miranda again.  “Of course!  For you, I might even risk my neck in high heels!”

Miranda threw back her head and laughed.  “There’s no doubt — that’s true love!”  Andy joined her in laughter.  

Miranda laid her head back on Andy’s chest and the two women enjoyed just being close together.  Andy broke the silence.

“Miranda?  If you really don’t mind going out in public, would you and the girls join me for some of my Christmas traditions?”

“Certainly — Cassidy and Caroline would love to spend time with you.  I remember you said you did the tree at Rockefeller Center and shopping at Macy’s?”

Andy smiled.  “You amaze me.  How did you remember that?  I usually just go to Macy’s to look at the decorations, but this year I actually have people to shop for.”  She kissed the top of Miranda’s head.  “Don’t worry, I’ll get your seal of approval before I buy them any clothes.”  Andy jumped when Miranda pinched her, then giggled when Miranda growled in her ear.

“You’d better.”

After more time snuggling (with a few stolen kisses), they got up to start the day.  While Miranda was showering, Andy laid out warm, comfortable clothes for her, then started the coffee and stoked the wood stove.  Andy looked up when Miranda exited the bedroom. 

"Oh, my."  Actually seeing Miranda in casual wear — yoga pants, wool socks, and an old Northwestern hoodie — made Andy's mouth water.  "You look amazing, my love."

Miranda looked down at herself and smiled mischievously.  "I'm surprisingly comfortable.  Should we go out like this? I think the jackals of Page Six would have a meltdown!"

When Andy reappeared after her shower, Miranda had eggs and bacon waiting.  They spent the day curled up on the couch, or on the rug in front of the fire.  The heat helped ward off the weather from outside —  the cold rain had turned to sleet overnight.  They talked for hours, reading, sitting in silence, or softly kissing at other times, enjoying each other’s company.  The distance between them from the time they had spent apart quickly evaporated.  Miranda apologized so many times that Andy finally had enough.

"Miranda, from now on, every time you say you're sorry, I'm going to— I'm going to kiss you to shut you up!"

Miranda's blue eyes twinkled. "Are you sure you want to do that, darling? I'm not sure I will ever stop if you kiss me every time!

Over the course of the day they talked through a plan for the next few months.  If Miranda was adamant that she wouldn’t hide Andy away like a dirty little secret, Andy was equally insistent that they not do anything that would harm Miranda’s job or cause problems for Caroline and Cassidy.  

Miranda laughed a bit about the effect on her job.  “Darling, now that Irving is gone, I’m practically bulletproof.  Both Elizabeth and the new CEO know that Runway is what keeps the entire Elias-Clarke empire afloat, and that I am what keeps Runway on top. They communicate that regularly to the board.  Plus, I’m in the fashion industry.  Having a female partner will absolutely not be a problem!”

Andy nodded.  “I understand.  I still worry, though.”

“I love that you are thinking of me and the girls.  The press definitely won’t be fun, but it will only last a couple of months.  Maybe less if someone famous does something newsworthy — my first divorce got bumped off Page Six by a Charlie Sheen meltdown!”  She took Andy’s hand and squeezed it.  “I don’t want your businesses to suffer, either, Andréa.”

Andy shook her head.  “I don’t think it will, Miranda.  One of the reasons I’m so busy right now is all the references you’ve given.  I doubt those people will drop me just because I’m dating you instead of just your friend.  It will be a case of any publicity is good publicity.  I’ll just keep my mallet handy, and if the press gets too annoying—”

Miranda snickered.  “Please don’t, darling.  I really don’t want to bail you out of jail.  Besides, no one looks good in horizontal stripes and prison orange would clash horribly with your complexion!”

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After another warm and restful night’s sleep wrapped around each other, Andy cooked pancakes for Miranda, rolling her eyes and ignoring the grumbles about ‘death by carbs.’ Later, they curled up on the couch and enjoyed the heat from the wood stove. Andy sat with Miranda between her legs, arms wrapped around her waist. She was exploring the sensitive spots behind Miranda’s ear with her lips when Miranda pulled the blanket up over them.

“Darling, you are giving me chills!” She paused, and her voice grew wicked. “And if you keep that up, I won’t be responsible for the consequences.”

Andy hummed and nudged Miranda’s ear with her nose, then captured the lobe between her teeth. Miranda squeaked in surprise. "That's not a great deal of motivation to stop, Miranda," Andy whispered in her ear. She ran her tongue along the shell of the ear, then down behind it to the sensitive spot on her neck. She was rewarded with a shiver and a low moan.

“Andréa…”

“Yes, Miranda?” Andy’s voice was light and innocent before she went back to kissing Miranda’s neck.

Miranda turned in Andy’s arms so they were face to face. “I want you, Andréa. Please don’t make me wait any longer.”

Andy’s eyes widened. “Are you sure, Miranda? Really sure? I don't want you to—”

Miranda pressed two fingers to Andy's lips. “I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life, darling. Please.” Her eyes were dark with desire.

Andy caressed Miranda’s cheek with a shaking hand, then pressed a kiss to her lips. “I love you,” she murmured before slipping her tongue into her mouth. They moaned in concert as they explored each other.

Andy’s hands slipped up under the hoodie to caress Miranda’s back. She groaned with want as she ran her fingers over the smooth skin, delighting in the small shivers and goosebumps that followed her fingers. She shivered herself as Miranda’s hand crept up under her shirt, lightly touching her side until it grazed the side of her breast.

Miranda pulled back a little and looked into Andy’s eyes, questioning.

“Yes, my love. Don’t stop, please don’t stop.”

Miranda cupped Andy’s breast, feeling the weight as the nipple tightened and pressed into her palm. She kissed Andy again, sucking her tongue into her mouth as her thumb brushed across her nipple.

Andy pulled Miranda closer, grinding her aching core into Miranda’s. She sucked in a breath as Miranda guided them to stretch out on the couch, slotting their legs together. She could feel the heat from Miranda through both layers of clothes, and felt her begin to move against her leg. Soon they were both panting and moaning. Andy opened her eyes and looked deep into Miranda’s.

“Together,” she gasped.

Miranda nodded and ground down harder, pinching Andy’s nipple. Her other hand was under Andy's head, tangled in her hair and supporting her.

“Oh, god!” Andy wailed as her orgasm swept over her. She pulled Miranda down into an open-mouthed kiss, tongues sliding past each other and eyes still open.

Miranda shuddered through her own climax, groaning into Andy’s mouth.

Their movements slowed as they calmed, but their eyes never wavered. They stayed forehead to forehead, nose to nose, then moved into gentle kisses for several long minutes.

Andy broke the silence with a small giggle. “That was… I don’t know what that was, Miranda, I have no words. Except to say I want it again, and again.” She lit the loft with her smile.

Miranda laughed, throwing her head back. “It’s a good thing I’m an editor, then, isn’t it? I’ll find the words if you can’t. Amazing, incredible, delightful, heavenly, out of this world. Will those do?”

Andy returned the laugh and smiled her trademark smile again. “Oh, yes. Along with superb, stupendous, earth-shattering, and lets-do-it-again-real-soon!” She paused and smiled. “I mean that. Let’s take this to the bedroom where we have a little more room. That was all of those things, but I want to take my time with you and explore every inch of your beautiful body with my fingers, lips, and tongue while you are spread out on my bed.”

“I can see you have a way with words as well as wood, darling.” Miranda blushed as she stood. “I’m afraid I’m going to need a new pair of pants — I seem to have ruined these.”

“That’s ok, I have a washing machine.” Her smile was wicked. “I also have a shower, and a nice big tub we can get cleaned up in. Later.” She took Miranda’s hand and led her through the loft to the bedroom.

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After several hours of lovemaking and a late lunch, they moved to the townhouse and worked in Miranda’s study.  Miranda was going over the Book, while Andy lay with her head in her lap and read.  As the clock struck five, they heard the front door open.

“Quick — hide behind the door!” Miranda ordered with a mischievous smile.

Andy smirked and jumped up.  

Caroline and Cassidy trudged up the stairs and peeked in the door of the study.  “Mom?”

Miranda looked up, a big smile on her face.  She closed the Book and put it on the table, and opened her arms.  “Come here, Bobbseys.  I missed you!”  They ran to her arms and she squeezed them tightly, kissing their foreheads and holding on when they tried to squirm away.  She ran her fingers through their red curls and smiled again.

Caroline frowned a little.  “What’s up, Mom?  Why are you so happy?”

“Can’t I be glad to see you?”

Cassidy rolled her eyes.  “Give us a break, Mom.  You haven’t been happy in months.”

“I know, Bobbseys, and I’m sorry about that, but I am happy now.”  She paused, taking in their confused faces.  Her eyes were twinkling.  “I have a surprise for you.”

"What did you bring us?" "Where is it?"

"Can I get a hug, too?"

The girls whipped around as Andy stepped out from behind the door.

“Andy!”  “It’s Andy!” came the twin screams.  They threw themselves into her arms.

Andy’s smile was blinding as she knelt and held the girls tightly.  “Oh, I’ve missed you girls!”  Tears streamed down her cheeks.  She looked across the room at Miranda.  “Thank you.”  She mouthed the words silently. 

Cassidy pulled back and saw Andy’s tears.  She poked Caroline, who looked up and reached to touch Andy’s cheek.  “Andy?  Are you okay?”

“More than okay, munchkin.  These are happy tears.  You, your sister, and your mom are all back in my life — I don’t think I’ve ever been happier!”

Caroline looked at Miranda.  “So you finally wised up and got her back?”

“Caroline Anne Priestly!”  Miranda narrowed her eyes, then huffed and shrugged.  “I should scold you for that, but I’m far too happy to do so.  I suppose I did.  I ran into Andréa at Elias-Clarke when she came to fix the boardroom table, and I couldn’t let her go.  I hurt her badly, but she’s forgiven me.”

“She walked from your house to my shop in the freezing rain.  I couldn’t turn her away after that,” Andy added.  “Her hair was a mess, her makeup was completely gone, her clothes were soaked, and her lips were blue.  And I’ve never seen a more beautiful sight in my life.”  She locked eyes with Miranda.

Cassidy looked between the two of them.  “So you guys are together now?  I mean, like, really, properly dating?”

“Yes, we are, Bobbseys.  Do you have a problem with that?”

Caroline and Cassidy looked at each other, faces in motion, silently communicating.  They nodded to each other before Caroline answered.  “No, we are good with the two of you.  Before you ‘broke up’ we were talking about what we were going to have to do to get you to kiss her, Mom.”

Miranda's eyebrows rose to new heights.  “Excuse me?”

“Oh, come on, Mom.  It was totally obvious to us that you were gone on each other,” Cassidy said.  “Neither one of you was willing to make the first move!”

Miranda looked at Andy, who shrugged.   "I guess we were the only ones who didn't have clue!"

Andy hugged the girls again.  “You’re really okay with us?”

Cassidy nodded.  “You two make a way better couple than Holland and Sarah, or even Ellen and Portia”.

Caroline pulled back and shook her finger at both Andy and Miranda.  “But no more avoiding each other!  If you have a problem, talk about it.  Or come to us and we’ll help you figure it out!”

Miranda looked scandalized for a moment, but Andy just threw back her head and laughed.  Miranda soon joined her, followed by the girls.  She knelt with them on the floor, gathering all three into a hug.  My girls.  I think this is going to be the best Christmas ever!

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On Christmas Eve, Roy dropped Miranda, Andy, Cassidy, and Caroline out on 6th Avenue two blocks north of Radio City Music Hall.  They lost themselves in the crowd exiting Radio City after the Christmas Spectacular and made their way to Rockefeller Center.  All four were bundled up against the cold, with gloves, scarves, and warm hats.  Miranda had even exchanged her trademark stilettos for a pair of Christian Louboutin Oriona boots (with red soles, of course).

“Mom?” Cassidy asked, looking up.  “Can we come to the Radio City show next year?”

Miranda smiled.  “Of course, Bobbsey.”  She squeezed her daughter’s hand, and the hand of the woman next to her.  “We can make it a new part of the tradition, if that’s all right with Andréa.”

Andy smiled one of her brilliant smiles.  “I’d love that!”  

At Rockefeller Center, the crowds were a little thinner.  They bought some hot chocolate and stood leaning on the rail, looking across the ice rink to the tree.  For a while, they were silent, taking in the enormous tree, the decorations, and the skaters.

“What’s special about this to you, Andy?” Caroline asked.  She looked up from where she was snuggled into Andy’s right side.

Andy smiled down at her, then looked up at the tree with a faraway look in her eye.  “I started coming here the second Christmas I was in New York City,” she said softly.  “I was all alone — I’d broken up with my boyfriend, most of my friends took his side, and my parents…  Well, my parents wanted nothing to do with me after I decided I wasn’t going to stay in the tiny little box they had for me.”  Miranda put her arm around Andy and hugged her to her side.  Andy laid her head on Miranda’s shoulder before she continued.  

“I made a wish that year, that things would get better and that I would find someone to love, someone who would love me back.  It wasn’t really a prayer, and I’m not sure why I did it.  I don’t know if I expected Santa to grant it, or what.’”

Cassidy piped up from under Miranda’s other arm. “Did it come true?”

Andy smiled softly.  “No, munchkin, it didn’t.  Not that year, or the next, or even the third.”  She paused, and when she continued her voice was even softer.  “I was very lonely, and very discouraged.  I was working, making it, doing something I loved, but I was all alone.  I just kept coming back at Christmas to make the same wish.  Do you know what I learned?”

The twins shook their heads.  

“I learned that you have to keep trying, that things don’t always happen when we want them to.  The very best things can take a long time to happen and can come in disguise.”

Her brilliant, gleaming smile made an appearance.  She looked at Miranda.  “My very best thing was disguised as a commission from a clueless, snotty Brit who came into my shop.  She was followed by the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.”  Miranda snorted elegantly at that.  “I made another wish last Christmas, and it did come true.”  She looked down at Caroline, up at Miranda, and over at Cassidy.  

“Now I have my sister back, and I have your mom, and, heaven help me, I have you two scamps, too!”  She grinned and poked Caroline’s ribs, who jerked away, squealing.  “You have to keep trying, because true love can take a long time to find.”

Miranda smiled at Andréa.  “I didn’t make a wish here, but my deepest wish came true, Bobbseys.  I found someone to love as well, someone who truly loves me for who I am.”  She pulled Andy around to face her, looking deep into Andy’s eyes.

“Oh, no, Care — they’re doing the eye thing again!” Cassidy groaned.  Caroline giggled and stepped back to snap a picture of her mom and Andy silhouetted against the huge tree.

“Close your eyes, girls.”  Andy threw caution to the winds and her arms around Miranda’s neck.  Their lips met in a perfect, passionate kiss, and for a moment, no one else was there.  It was just the two of them, coming together, with a kiss full of promise for the future.

Chapter Text

Andy stood in the empty shop and looked around. The back wall with the darker patches where her signs and Angela’s pictures had hung, the empty hooks and pegs for tools and jigs and patterns, the worn spots on the floor in front of where the workbenches used to be. The emptiness reminded her of how so much had changed in the last two years, from being alone to reconnecting with Angie to being in love and part of a family again. She sighed. It’s not like I’ve sold everything, or given up my trade, I’ve just upgraded shops. It makes much more sense to work in the building where Doug and I are manufacturing tables, plus it’s closer to Miranda’s. That happy thought reminded her of the loft above, rented out to a young couple now, but also of the joy of waking each morning in Miranda’s arms.

Miranda stood at the door watching Andy lost in thought.  She looks amazing — that Valentino dress is perfect on her, and the red brings out the highlights in her hair.  The diamond necklace sparkled even in the dim light of the shop.  “Darling?”  She knocked gently on the door frame. “Are you about ready? We’re going to be late.”

Andy nodded. “There are just so many memories, I got a little lost.” She smoothed down her gown and turned to smile at her love. “Thank you for stopping. I know it was a little out of the way, but the new tenant is moving in tomorrow and this is the last chance I’ll have to say goodbye to the old place.”

Miranda smiled and wrapped her arms around Andy’s waist, laying her head on Andy's shoulder. “You are welcome. I know how important this place is to you. It’s important to me, too — after all, we met on this very spot.”

“Yes, we did. That’s probably the second best memory I have of this place.”

Miranda raised an eyebrow and looked up at her suspiciously. “Second best?”

Andy snickered. “Yes, second only to opening the door and finding what I thought was a drowned rat on my doorstep, only to discover it was the love of my life who walked across town in the freezing rain to grovel for forgiveness. Ouch!” Andy swatted Miranda’s hand away from her rear.

“That’s what you get for teasing me, darling.” Miranda paused, and her face grew solemn. “So many memories. Do you think… Do you think you would like to make another one?” The smoke in her voice sent a flash of heat through Andy.

“Why, Ms. Priestly! There are no blinds on the windows!”

Miranda tapped her lip. “Mmmmm. There’s always the office. Or the bathroom.”

Andy looked to the back. “You have all the best ideas, my love,” she purred, then turned back to Miranda with a shy grin. “That might help my nervousness about tonight, to be honest.”

“Nervous? Why are you nervous? We’ve been out together before.”

“I know, but there is something different about going to an event by your side as your girlfriend, and going as your fiancée.” She glanced at the diamond eternity band on her left ring finger. “I’m glad I get to wear it tonight — on my finger I mean.” She looked into Miranda's eyes. “Does it bother you that I don’t wear it in the shop?”

Miranda smiled and leaned in for a soft kiss, then rested their foreheads together. “No, it doesn’t bother me, especially since you still wear it on a chain. I understand you don’t want to lose it or break it, that’s why I bought you an eternity band instead of a traditional engagement ring.”

Andy sighed a little, then wrapped her arms around Miranda and dropped her lips to Miranda’s neck. “Are you sure we have to go?” she murmured.

“As amazing as that feels, and as delicious as you look, I’m not going to miss my first Runway gala with you. Come along, Andréa.” Miranda turned and swept out the door.

Andy laughed and followed, turning out the lights as she went.