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Yardsticks: Chapter 13

To do a bridal gown on my own, not as a paid worker — it was a dream. But… but. My job. Yocheved. She was my boss, and this was her design




Lieba Dratler looked beautiful.

I stepped back, studying the gold leaves along her dress’s neckline. “Should we remove these leaves?” I suggested.

Lieba, Tzirel, and their mother thought a moment and then agreed. I lifted a seam ripper and started plucking at the stitches.

“Oh, wow, much better,” Tzirel exclaimed. “No, Lieba?”

Lieba nodded in approval.

“Gorgeous,” said Mrs. Dratler. “Much softer.”

I continued picking at the threads. Mrs. Dratler stepped closer.

“You know, Yelena, I’m telling all my friends about you. You did magic with this gown. People will see Lieba at the wedding and go wild. She’ll be a walking advertisement.”

Warmth spread in my chest, a delightful sense of contentment. I smiled. When did Yocheved praise me like this?

“You’re exceptionally talented,” Mrs. Dratler continued. “Unbelievable.”

I rolled the seam ripper in my palm, squinting. Getting compliments was great, but there was a hint of insincerity in the woman’s voice. Was she buttering me up in the hope of a discount? The price I’d quoted her was less than she’d pay anywhere. She couldn’t expect me to go down more.

“What do you think, Yelena, about another challenge?” She glanced at Tzirel, who was staring at her shoes. “You did such a beautiful job on the kallah’s sister’s gown, why not move along and, you know, sew Tzirel’s gown as well?”

What? “What do you— I mean…”

“Think about it,” Mrs. Dratler reasoned. “You have years of experience sewing bridal gowns. Why not do one on your own? It’d be an amazing opportunity for you. You’re so good, you can start your own business.”

A wave of dizziness attacked me. I’d had an idea — when Yocheved had questioned my work, demanded I take orders from Anuradha. In my anger, I’d thought of offering to sew Mrs. Dratler’s mother-of-the-bride gown. Prove to Yocheved, although she’d never know about it, that I was a professional. That I didn’t need that Indian woman telling me what to do. But then I’d calmed down, decided it was a ridiculous idea, and…

A bridal gown, privately commissioned. This was so much more than a mother-of-the-bride gown. Numbers bounced in my head. If Yocheved charged 10K for an average gown, I could easily charge two, three, even four grand, and still be a lot cheaper. A project like this would cover Anna’s salary for a number of weeks.

“We have the sketch ready,” Mrs. Dratler was saying. “So we can start right away.”

The sketch. Of course. The Dratlers had worked on the sketch together with me in Yocheved’s boutique. The sketch was in my notepad, on my table in the boutique. Yocheved had drawn up their dream gown, ironed out all the details.

And then they’d walked out on her.

My throat filled with disgust, but at the same time, my head spun. To do a bridal gown on my own, not as a paid worker — it was a dream. But… but. My job. Yocheved. She was my boss, and this was her design.

The Dratlers’ faces blurred before my eyes. It was one thing to take on private sewing projects. An engagement dress, some mending work, even this, a sister-of-the-bride gown. I was allowed to do this; it didn’t affect Yocheved’s business. But to sew a bridal gown? I pictured myself sneaking Tzirel’s gown into and out of the boutique every day, using Yocheved’s sewing machine to hurt her own business. I shuddered.

“I… I thank you, but… I can’t do it.”

Mrs. Dratler’s face fell. “But… why?”

Why? I swallowed, looking down at the floor and digging my toes into the ground. Three thousand dollars. Four.

No. I lifted my eyes and looked directly at her face. “I work for Yocheved,” I said resolutely. “I can’t do this to her. I’m sorry.”

Mrs. Dratler sighed. “I totally get that. But, look, the fact is, you wouldn’t be taking away any business from her. We”—she glanced at Tzirel—“we won’t be using her, regardless.”

I bit my lip. Please don’t beg me. “I can’t,” I whispered.

Mrs. Dratler’s shoulders sagged. “The wedding is in six weeks, Yelena. Tzirel doesn’t have a gown.”

There was desperation in her voice. I closed my eyes and filled my lungs. “I… I can’t,” I croaked. “Just… no.”

“Please, Yelena? I have a lot of friends. I’ll tell everyone about you. Do you want to think it over?”

I shook my head.


An elegant black bag with white ribbons sat on the reception desk when I walked into the boutique.

“What’s this?” I asked Yocheved.

“Well, open it and see.”

I reached inside the bag and withdrew a gift-wrapped package. There was a card attached. I pulled it out of the envelope.

Dear mechuteneste Mina,

A wedding begins… with a list!


I laughed. “Oh, my…”

Yocheved winked. “Open it.”

I unwrapped the package slowly — I had a meshugas not to tear wrapping paper — and pulled out a beautiful, white leather-bound notebook. There was a gold plaque on the cover embossed with the words The Wedding Planner.


“Like it?”

“Love it.” I ran my finger over the gold-edged pages and thumbed through the notebook. There was a pretty wedding countdown spread, blank calendar sheets, and a bunch of page-per-day sheets with neat spaces for appointments, lists, notes, and reminders. “Whoa, this is a great thing, Yocheved. It’s… thank you, really. So thoughtful of you.”

I was filling out the dates in the calendar when the doorbell rang. “Who’s that?” I asked Yocheved as I fumbled with my buzzer necklace.

Yocheved glanced at the appointment book and knitted her brows. “Kohlman? Their appointment’s in 20 minutes. Think they’re early?”

I snickered. “The Kohlmans don’t do early.”

The door swung open. “Shevy?”

“Hiii,” Shevy sang. She slipped a tray with three iced mochas onto the reception desk. “My partner asked me to switch periods, so I have the morning off.”

She wrapped her hand around a coffee. The diamond on her finger sparkled.

Yocheved noticed. “Waaait,” she said. “Your ring. Show me. I hardly saw it at the vort.”

Shevy proudly extended her hand. Yocheved leaned forward, forehead creased. “Wow. Wow, wow, wow. This is a nice stone. Maybe takanos is not such a bad idea after all.” She chuckled. “I can’t believe this is lab grown.”

Ouch. I ground my teeth, glancing at Shevy tensely. But my daughter was oblivious, smiling calmly.

“Actually, it’s not a lab-grown diamond,” she said.

Yocheved’s eyelids fluttered. “Oh?”

I bit my lip as Shevy answered innocently. “It’s an heirloom diamond. The Engels reserved it all these years for Gavriel’s kallah, and they just reset it for me.”

“So it’s not a takanos ring.”

Shevy chuckled. “I lucked out, didn’t I?”

My teeth were grinding with abandon. Could we change the discussion? Please?

But of course, Shevy had no reason to feel uncomfortable. As far as she was concerned, we were following the takanos plan and Yocheved’s comment held no weight.

It was ridiculous. We didn’t want Shevy to know about our… disagreement with her in-laws, but realistically, how long could we hide the truth from her? A florist brother, an heirloom diamond… We couldn’t expect such convenient luck every time.

When the Kohlmans arrived, Yocheved summoned Yelena, Anuradha, and me for a meeting. Amazing, how Yocheved managed to inflate the customer experience, turning a fitting into a meeting and making richies feel like they were really getting the bang for their buck.

I pulled up a chair, just as the lid of Anuradha’s Bento Box slipped off, releasing a heavy stench of curry. Yocheved ran to the reception desk and returned with a bottle of linen spray, going nuts with the nozzle until I nearly gagged.

The Indian woman flung her braid over her shoulder and reached for the container. One of the Kohlman sisters giggled. Seriously, didn’t these people have lives? Why did they need to come along to every appointment?

The meeting turned out to be a bad idea. Kohlman Sister One made a suggestion, Yelena knocked it down, but then Anuradha voted to go with it and the two of them started arguing. Yocheved intervened, taking Anuradha’s side, not because she was right but because that’s what the Kohlmans wanted. Before long, Yelena was stewing, the Kohlmans were confused, and Yocheved’s smile was starting to fade.

I kept my opinions to myself and tuned out. On the other side of the showroom, Shevy was fingering the fabric on a mannequin, a dreamy look on her face. My heart fluttered. In a few short months, she would be wearing her own gown, walking down the aisle to her chuppah.

After making plans for a follow-up meeting, the Kohlmans left.

“Good thing there’s a deadline,” I grunted to Yocheved, “or this gown will never happen.”

Shevy glanced at her watch. “Oh, my, I need to be in class in ten minutes.” She grabbed her bag.

Yocheved stretched. “Take care. Oh, and Shevy, your gown! When are we starting to design it?”

My breath froze. I glanced at Shevy anxiously.

“Ah, I can’t wait,” Yocheved said, grinning. “It’s going to be the gown of the century.”

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 657)

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