Within moments, Alexander had reached Miriam and wrapped her tightly in his arms. At last, at long last, his best childhood friend had returned. He closed his eyes and relished her crushing hug.
When the hug ended, Miriam took Alexander's hands in her own and laughed. "I can't believe I'm here and you're here and we're together," she gushed, her sweet smile causing Alexander to relax in her presence. "I have been counting down the days until I could see you. You never wrote me. Why didn't you ever write me? I missed you so much! I have so much to tell you. So much has happened since we last saw each other!" She caught her breath. "Did you miss me?"
Alexander kissed both of Miriam's hands. "More than you'll ever know," he said softly, finally allowing himself to meet Miriam's eyes.
There she was. Miriam. The delight of Alexander's heart. He laughed with the joy of it all and led her into his house. "Come on. My parents will be so happy to see you!"
"I'm so excited to see them!"
"Then come on! There are only a few more hours left in the day!"
Miriam threw back her head and laughed. "I'm wondering if a midnight stroll would be possible! Remember when we used to sneak out to be together?"
Troubled, Alexander remained silent. His silence went unnoticed because Miriam had rushed into the house to say hello to his parents. They'd always been fond of each other.
Staying outside on the porch, Alexander tried to come up with some excuse as to why he couldn't meet at night anymore. His and Miriam's meetings had never, ever been anything scandalous, but how could he explain that to his parents? If he got caught, he couldn't even imagine what the consequences would be.
Miriam was back out with Alexander soon enough, and the two sat down on the porch swing, laughing and talking like old times. Only this time, the smile didn't reach Alexander's eyes.
"Alright, Alexander. You've got to tell me what's wrong. You're not really laughing or smiling. You're just pretending to be happy." Miriam raised her eyebrows. "What's wrong?"
Alexander coughed nervously. "Well..."
It was the first awkward silence that had ever passed between them. Alexander reached up and ran a hand through his hair.
"Well, what? Don't tell me nothing's wrong. I could tell ever since the first moment we saw each other today."
"It's just that...things have changed, Miriam. I've changed. Surely you know about it all."
"No..." Miriam said, halting.
"My mother wrote to your mother about it," Alexander said. He desperately hoped Miriam knew about the mistakes he'd been making. Otherwise, he didn't know if he'd have the courage to tell Miriam about what he'd become.
"I don't know anything," Miriam said, her words slow. "My mother never let me read your mother's letters. She said they were too personal." Miriam paused. "Why didn't you ever write me? I mean, you wrote me a few times, but the letters were always short. I got worried about you. I'm still worried about you."
Alexander looked away. "It's just that...I don't know. Things have happened since you've left."
"Bad things?" Miriam asked breathlessly, her eyes concerned.
"Very bad things," Alexander whispered. "I don't even want to tell you."
Miriam tried to take Alexander's hand, but he pulled it away. "Ask your mother about them. I don't have the heart to tell you myself."
Miriam's eyes were still worried, and she shook her head. "If it's about you, then I think you should tell me."
"I'm not as innocent as I used to be." This time, Alexander allowed Miriam to take his hands. "I don't even know where to start. I guess I'd better tell you about Eve."
Miriam bit her lip, and Alexander could tell she was already filling in the blanks correctly.
"It started a little over a week after you left." Alexander stood and began to pace. "I really don't want to tell you this."
Miriam stood. "Would it make you feel better if I didn't watch you?"
"Miriam, I let myself be played like a fool," Alexander said, not bothering to reply to Miriam's question. "I let myself be corrupted. I'm not the innocent person I was when you left." He turned and looked Miriam in the eyes. "Swear to me you won't hate me."
"I could never hate you. I swear, Alexander, nothing you say will make me hate you."
Alexander then began. He told Miriam everything, never once meeting her eyes. When he finished, Miriam was silent.
"I changed my mind. You have every right to hate me," Alexander whispered.
Miriam began to cry. But instead of running away, as Alexander had predicted, she ran straight for Alexander's arms.