In Dreaming of Xeres, you heard several times about what happened when Alex helped Riley and Tessa get their old, lumpy couch. Now you can find out for yourself what actually happened. Enjoy!
“We can’t afford a sofa,” Riley MacPherson protested from where he was finishing drying the supper dishes.
Tessa Connors, his girlfriend or ‘significant other’ as she preferred to be called, was sitting at the kitchen table with a dozen or so catalogs strewn across it. Looking up from one of them, she said, “Maybe I could talk my way into a discount at one of these places. My business with Diana is too small to get things at wholesale yet, but we’re getting bigger contracts every day.” She dug through the pile and pulled out a catalog. “Look at this one.”
He walked over to the table, wiping his hands on the dish towel. Giving the picture a glance, he whistled. “Whoa, the retail on that is more than my first car!”
“Grow up,” Tessa said with a smile. “You’re a professional therapist now, not the starving student I fell for.”
“Maybe not, but we still have to save every penny if we want to make a down payment on a house.” He shook his head. “Even then, we might need help from my parents.”
“Every penny?” Tessa tilted her head at him. “Don’t be such a miser, mister.”
Riley threw the towel at the sink and stalked into the living room, flopping down in one of the two overstuffed chairs they’d found at a thrift store. “I don’t want to buy a new sofa. That’s that.”
Tessa followed him through the archway.
Looking down at him, she crossed her arms. “Don’t be like that, honey. We make enough to get better furniture.”
“But what if it doesn’t look good in our future house?” he said, raising an eyebrow at her. “Then we’d be stuck with some expensive monstrosity.”
She squinted down at him. “You know, it’s not nice to throw my own words back at me, even if you’re probably right about that.”
“See! Anyway, there’s just the two of us here usually. Who needs a sofa?”
They were interrupted by a solid knock at the door. Looking at each other, they said in unison, “Alex.”
Riley raised his voice. “It’s open, Alex. Come on in.”
Alex Wilson peered around the door before stepping fully inside the apartment. “I thought I’d better see if there was anything flying around that might hit me.”
“Huh?” Riley said.
“I heard you arguing as soon as I topped the stairs,” Alex said, leaning his bicycle against the wall beside the door.
“We weren’t arguing…” Riley protested.
“I only mentioned we should buy a couch…” Tessa said.
“Couch? As in sofa? For in here?” Alex said, handing several file folders to Riley before sinking cross-legged on the rag rug Tessa had made over the past winter. “Well, it might be more civilized than everyone sitting on the floor for our D&D games.”
Riley scratched the side of his face, trying not to smile. “Civilized? What’s civilized about hacking our way across the Kingdom of Kythrari in search of the Lost Gem of Dravrup?”
“You know what I mean,” Alex groused. “Hey! That reminds me, I saw a couch outside your office building when I stopped by for those papers.” He gestured at the papers in Riley’s hand. “It looked fairly new, so I wondered why it was on the curb.”
Riley made a sour face. “Stevenson. He’s redecorating his office. Again! He’s the one with the big corner office. Makes my office look like a coat closet. I’ll bet he’s got a brand new couch coming tomorrow.”
“Oh, right. He’s probably having it picked up tomorrow morning.” Alex leaned back against the TV stand. “Why don’t we go over and ‘adopt’ that one? It wouldn’t cost you anything and,” he said, a pleading look in his eyes, “I wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor when I stay over after gaming.”
“Right,” Riley said with a wave of his hand. “And I’m sure the rest of the gang would just love to help carry the thing up two stories worth of stairs, too.”
“Besides,” Tessa said, “what does it look like? Is it in good condition? Would the pattern look good in here…”
Riley gave her a look. “Does it matter? It’s free.”
She heaved an exasperated sigh. “Men!” Pivoting on one foot, she went back into the kitchen.
Three light taps sounded on the door and a very tall, red-headed man opened the door.
“You home?” he asked.
“Come on in, Red Tom. We were discussing procuring a sofa for the living room,” Riley said.”
“Sweet! I’m getting tired of gaming on the floor,” the man said, leaning on the door frame.
“Sofa? You’re getting a sofa? About time,” grumbled a voice from the hall. Coming through the open doorway, the dark-haired man carefully placed his large briefcase under the hall table.
“Yeah, I second the motion.” This comment came from the short Latino with a droopy mustache and lively dark eyes.
“Red Tom! Satoshi! Julio!” Tessa rushed out of the kitchen to hug the three men. Peering behind them, she asked, “Where’s Terry and Jenna?”
Julio answered her. “Parking their car. Must be a party somewhere around here tonight, ‘cause there isn’t a single place to park anywhere near here.”
“Yeah, I got the last one, a piece down the street.” Red Tom shook his head, red wisps flying about his face. “I hate parallel parking!”
Riley laughed. “You and me both!”
“I keep telling you,” Alex said, shaking his head, “bikes make more sense in the Bay Area. Good for the environment and good exercise too.”
Satoshi chucked one of Tessa’s throw pillows at Alex, then stuck out his tongue.
Snatching the pillow out of the air, Alex protested, “Hey! There’s no call…”
“What did Alex do now?” A willowy girl with long ash blond hair stood behind Julio, rolling her eyes.
“He probably got smart with Tessa,” proposed the skinny man behind her.
“It’s about time you showed up, Terry. Where’d you guys park, Berkeley?” Tessa said.
Terry laughed, “It felt like it.” He edged through the knot of people in the doorway and dropped his backpack next to Alex. “So, what’s the topic of discussion?”
Julio pointed at Riley. “He’s finally getting a couch.”
Terry’s bushy eyebrows rose like caterpillars running for high ground. “Really? Those things cost a bundle.”
“I found a free one here in Oakland, outside Riley’s office,” Alex said, looking appraisingly at Red Tom. “All we need is a truck…”
“My truck, you mean,” said Red Tom. “Sure, but you all have to help bring it up the stairs.”
The others groaned, then reluctantly nodded.
“And it’ll probably take all of us, too,” grumbled Julio.
Tessa hugged Terry and Jenna, then took Jenna’s arm, leading her toward the kitchen. “Let’s get baking. These guys are gonna need cookies when they get back.”
Jenna laughed. “And pizza! Don’t forget the pizza!”
* * *
“I’m back! Did ya miss me?” Terry said as he came bounding up the stairs. “I had to park your truck about six blocks away, Red Tom. But at least it’s closer than where you parked earlier.” He tossed the heavily-laden keyring up to Red Tom.
Snatching the keys out of the air, Red Tom called down, “Thanks!”
Terry asked, “What can I do to help?”
“Stay out of the way,” growled Riley, “unless you can figure out how to get this thing around that bend without breaking the window up there!”
“Come on, guys,” Alex said, “let’s stay focused here.”
“Easy for you to say, you’re not the one holding this fracking heavy sofa,” Riley complained.
Tessa peeked around the corner of the wall that separated the two flights of stairs and asked, “Having problems, boys?”
“No, honey,” Riley called up, “we’ve got this. Did you and Satoshi get everything moved out of the way so we have a place to put this beast once we get it up there?”
“Of course we did. Twenty minutes ago. If you don’t hurry up, Satoshi here,” she said, pointing at the man beside her who was stuffing a chocolate chip cookie into his mouth, “is going to have polished off all the cookies before you get up here.”
Alex shouted, “Hey, Satoshi! You’re not moving the couch so you don’t get to eat all the cookies! Save some for the people actually doing hard work.”
Satoshi mumbled out an unintelligible reply.
“You’ve got a mouthful of cookies right now, don’t you?” Riley grumbled. “Tessa! You can’t give in to his good looks. I’m wasting away down here.”
Satoshi swallowed visibly. “Wise man knows to eat first, move furniture later.”
“Whatever. I know someone’s knight who’s going to have a major mishap during our campaign.” Alex steepled his fingers in the classic villain pose. “A horribly painful death from starvation.” He cackled menacingly.
Julio burst out laughing and the others joined in.
“Back to business, guys. How the hell are we going to get this thing around the bend without breaking the window?” Riley said.
Alex chuckled as Tessa scanned the scene. He could practically see the wheels turning in her head. The woman definitely had an analytical mind. She’d unraveled more than a few of his D&D campaigns by picking up on some obscure hint he’d dropped.
“How about…” Tessa suggested.
Riley shook his head. “We’ll get this. You go guard the cookies from Satoshi!”
“Well, if you’d only…” Tessa began.
“Dear maiden healer,” Julio said, “we brave adventurers shall solve the current puzzle posthaste. Then we shall join you for our evening repast in your humble domicile.”
Tessa threw up her hands. “Be that way, thou scurvy pig-headed knaves!” She turned and marched up the stairs, Satoshi right behind her.
Alex watched them disappear, then yelled up at Julio, “See what you’ve done? Now there definitely won’t be any cookies left when we get up there!”
“Could we hurry here?” Riley puffed. “I’m beginning to hate this couch, even if it was free!”
Fifteen minutes of huffing and puffing later, they finally managed to get the sofa around the bend.
And they managed to do it without breaking the window.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, Riley turned to Alex. “Your turn! I’ve had about as much of this damned thing as I can manage.” He stepped back, allowing Alex to move into his spot at the bottom of the stairs.
Julio, invisible on the underside of the upright sofa, sneezed, then called out, “Hey, Riley? You might want to dust under here. It’s filthy.”
“Grab the edges and I’ll tip it towards you,” Alex said. “Have Red Tom catch it so you two can trade off up there.”
“You got it,” Julio replied.
Alex pushed the sofa until it began to tilt.
There was a scrambling of feet above him, then the couch stabilized and Red Tom’s face appeared above the armrest. “I’ve got it. Let’s get this damned thing into the apartment. I hear cookies calling.”
They’d only gotten as far as the third step when exhaustion, or maybe fate, intervened.
“Look out below!” Red Tom yelled.
But it was already too late.
Oh shit, I’m dead, was all Alex had time to think before the full weight of the couch suddenly slammed into him, knocking him backwards down the stairs.
Backpedalling, Alex barely managed to keep his feet under him. His whole body tensed up, waiting to be crushed between the couch and the wall of the landing.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” came a voice at his shoulder.
Hands braced the couch next to Alex’s, halting it’s downward momentum.
Alex looked over at his rescuer and found himself nose to nose with Riley.
“Who’s going to run my errands and type up my notes if I let you get smooshed by the sofa?” Riley said with a lopsided grin on his face.
Alex felt his heart racing with far more than just the adrenaline spike from almost being crushed. How did I not notice how handsome Riley is before now? His eyes are the warmest brown I’ve ever seen. And he smells so nice, even after lugging this couch up the stairs.
“Earth to Alex. You okay, buddy? You look a little dazed.” Riley’s face was etched with concern.
Alex blinked. “Uh, sure. Just peachy.”
“You guys okay down there?” Red Tom asked, concern lacing his voice. “Sorry about that. Julio knocked me down when he crawled past me.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Riley called. “Likely story. Can we just get this damned thing in the apartment?”
“Okay,” Red Tom huffed. “Ready?”
“Heave,” Riley ordered.
The rest of the move went off without a hitch.
Tessa approached the sweat and dust-covered group carrying a cooling rack laden with a fresh batch of cookies.
“Satoshi ate most of the first batch, but thankfully,” Tessa giggled, “I had enough dough and time to make a second batch.”
Alex plopped down on their former adversary. “Whew, I thought I was a goner for a moment back there, before Riley saved me.” He looked up at Riley. Batting his eyes and placing his hand on his chest, he exclaimed breathlessly, “My hero!”
The entire room devolved into giggles at Alex’s antics.
Riley shook his head and grinned. “Well, if I’d known you were going to act like this, I’d have let the couch squash you.”
Alex squirmed on the couch, trying to find a comfortable position. “I think I know why Dr. Stevenson got rid of this thing. It’s lumpy as hell. Didn’t anyone sit on it first to see if it was worth taking?”
Riley sat down next to him on the couch. “It’s not that bad.”
Alex felt like the temperature in the room had suddenly gone up twenty degrees. Why does he have to sit so close to me? It’s a huge couch. Think pure thoughts. Nuns. Nuns with bunnies. And kittens, he thought desperately.
Just then, a knock at the door shocked Alex out of his predicament.
Satoshi, standing in the kitchen archway with a cookie in hand, sang out, “Pizza! About time. I’m starving!”
Tessa strode to the door to retrieve their dinner. “I’m suddenly very glad I still have my comfortable chairs to sit in. That couch is all yours, Doc.”
Alex leaned forward and snagged his backpack. Pulling out his Game Master’s Screen and rule books, he balanced them on the arm of the new sofa.
“Now, let’s see, where did we leave off last week?”