Pretty soon, it was known all around town that Alexander and Eve were no longer seeing one another - and that William had asked Eve's father if he could court her. As Alexander had guessed, Eve's father said yes, and soon enough, Eve and William were the talk of the town. Alexander, however, was not forgotten, though he wished to God he was.
The worst reaction he'd ever received from anyone occurred at church, when a little girl had seen Alexander giving a peppermint to his younger cousin. The little girl asked for a peppermint, but before Alexander could give it to her, her mother ushered her away. Later, when Alexander passed the little girl's family on her way back home, he'd heard the mother whisper to her daughter, "I don't want you talking to that man. He's a terrible person." He hadn't heard the rest, because he'd walked out of earshot, toward his home.
More accurately: toward the tree at home that hid his liquor. It had been awhile since Alexander had drunk anything, and as soon as he'd heard the girl's mother's words, he couldn't think of anything but how soothing some alcohol - even just a little bit - would be.
His parents, of course, were greatly concerned, but they didn't know where Alexander's alcohol supply was. After all, they could count on one hand all the times Alexander had ever been drunk, so they didn't think he actually owned a stash. They honestly tried to show Alexander love and correction, but Alexander could tell they knew they were losing him.
Alexander felt terrible. He was, after all, the only son that lived nearby. His older sister and her husband had left to go out West, and his older brother lived out East, closer to his wife's ill parents. Alexander was the only son that lived at home, and he wasn't half of what his siblings had been. He wasn't even a fraction of the son he should have been.
Alexander arrived at home, but to his disappointment, his parents were at home, too - so he'd be discovered if he went out to get something to drink. He paced in his room for several minutes, trying to come up with a way to get the liquor unnoticed, but it was no use. He'd have to wait until his parents went to bed, and that would be several hours. More than he thought he could possibly wait.
Stalking into the kitchen to fix himself some coffee, Alexander ignored the worried eyes of his parents.
"Are you alright, Alexander?" Thomas asked after a long silence.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Alexander replied, though he was sure his demeanor spoke the exact opposite.
Laura's voice trembled. "Is it Eve that's troubling you so?"
Alexander wished the coffee would hurry up and be ready for him to drink so he could leave the kitchen. "Yeah, I guess. It's everything. But I'll be fine." He willed the coffee to hurry up.
"If it helps, we didn't think Eve was the right one for you," Laura said hesitantly.
Alexander was irritated. And he was irritated with himself for being irritated. "If it helps, I'd rather not talk about it," he said, voice as bitter as his blackening heart.
Laura tried something else. "Did you read the letter from Miriam's mother?"
Surprised, Alexander turned. "When did that get here?"
"Last night. You were out with Tommy Holbrook, and you didn't seem like you were in the mood to...you know, be talked to."
No, Alexander hadn't been. Tommy had talked with him about God, and Alexander had been more troubled than words could have said. Not angry, just troubled. And tormented by more voices of damnation than usual.
"What's the letter say?"
Laura smiled. "Miriam and her family are coming back to town. They were making plans to return when the letter was written."
Miriam is coming back! Sweet, dear, beautiful Miriam.
Alexander's spirits rose, and the coffee was forgotten as he returned to his room. He was going to write a poem for Miriam. He hadn't written in so long.
And as he wrote, the thought occurred to him that maybe he didn't need the liquor tonight. Maybe the thought of Miriam returning would be enough to get him through.