"You're supposed to hate me, Miriam. Please, hate me," Alexander whispered, not allowing himself to return Miriam's embrace.
But Miriam only shook her head, unable to speak because of the tears that were flowing down her face in torrents.
"Miriam, please, hate me," Alexander pleaded weakly.
"Why-why do you want me t-to hate you?" Miriam hiccuped.
"Because then I won't be associated with you. I don't want to bring down your reputation."
Miriam sighed and drew away from Alexander, finally meeting his eyes. "Look at me, Alexander. I don't want to hate you. I love you, for crying out loud! You're my closest friend!"
Shaking his head, Alexander averted his eyes. "No, Miriam. Don't say that."
"I don't care if being friends with you makes other people resent me. To me, you are the best friend any girl could ever have." She paused and looked away. "But to say I'm not hurt by what you've done...that would be a lie."
Alexander remained silent. He found he couldn't say anything, even if he'd wanted to.
"Why did you let all those things happen with Eve? Why didn't you stop them from happening?" Miriam's voice was rising with tears, and she stopped before her voice could break.
"I don't know, Miriam." The silence after that was thick and almost tangible. "I've changed. I don't know why, but I have. I guess it was always in me to be a terrible person."
Miriam shook her head. "You're not a terrible person. I'm just shocked by what you've done." Another pause. "I'm sorry. It sounded worse than I meant. But I have to say that...it breaks my heart for you."
"So shun me," Alexander said blankly. "Shun me so that you don't have to get involved in this mess."
"I'd never shun you, Alexander, even if my life depended on it." Miriam raised her eyebrows. "Would it help to talk about it?"
Alexander shrugged. "At this point, I don't think anything will help."
With a soft sob, Miriam reached out and took Alexander's hand. "Promise me you won't drink tonight," she whispered.
Alexander removed his hand from Miriam's. If it had been any other person standing before him, he'd have made the promise, then broken it later. But he couldn't lie to Miriam. He'd never been able to lie to Miriam.
"Promise me, Alexander," said Miriam, desperation in her voice.
"I can't," Alexander whispered brokenly. "I can't promise you anything."
"Then let's talk about it," said Miriam. "Talk to me, Alexander. Maybe talking about the mistakes you've made will make it easier to deal with them."
Alexander shook his head. "No, it'll only make it worse."
Miriam hesitated, then nodded. "Well, I want to do what makes you feel better. I want to do what makes it easier to keep from...going back to drinking or Eve."
Alexander knew he was breaking Miriam's heart, and he hated himself for it. He turned and gripped the railing of the porch, not allowing himself to face the only woman who he could talk to anymore.
He turned to face Miriam. "Enough about me. How about you?"