It had been the first time in which Alexander had sought out a girl instead of letting himself be found. Eve had been the first to approach him, and Jennifer had certainly been the one to initiate their short-lived "romance." Helen had, of course, hinted at being interested in Alexander, but he'd pursued her almost from the start.
As Alexander finished the dance with Helen, he saw Miriam watching them. She smiled softly, but Alexander could sense the worry that practically emanated from her. Excusing himself, he approached Miriam.
"Are you alright?" Alexander asked, putting his hand on Miriam's shoulder.
Miriam shrugged and looked away. "Honestly, I'm worried about you."
"Why are you worried about me?" Alexander asked, but he already knew the answer.
"I don't know," Miriam said, but she gestured with her eyes to a more private section of the gathering.
Alexander followed Miriam to a place where they could talk without anyone overhearing, though they were still in a place where people could see that they were only talking, nothing more. "Okay, Miriam. Tell me everything. I need to know what's going on."
"It's just that..." Miriam hesitated. "It's just that you often tell me how much you regret the path you chose for yourself. You know what I'm talking about. I can see the guilt and grief in your eyes, even when you smile and laugh. If you really want to change, then why are you flirting with Helen in such an obvious way? I don't want to be harsh, but if you want me to be honest, I'd say that you're taking it too far."
Alexander tried not to show his frustration. "Who's saying what happened with Eve and Jennifer will happen with Helen? She's different. Sweeter."
"I don't care how sweet she is, Alexander. She's a beautiful woman, and you're an attractive man." Miriam blushed and looked away. "Did you predict what would happen with Eve?"
"Actually, yes, I did."
Miriam paled. "Wait, what? You did predict what would happen with Eve? What are you talking about?"
"I wish you wouldn't be so downright possessive, Miriam. I know we're close friends, but I can handle things on my own without you butting into my personal life!"
Hands on her hips, Miriam made a visible effort to control her tongue. "Alexander, if you really want to become a better person, then - "
"What's the use, Miriam? What's the use of trying to become a better person when we both know I will never be who I used to be? I'm used up, Miriam. Damaged. And what's more, becoming addicted to alcohol and other sins. If I'm not going to improve myself, what's the use of trying?"
Miriam's eyes flashed. "You talk as though you're hopeless, Alexander. You talk as though nothing you do will ever improve your life!"
"Why do I need to improve my life?" Alexander swore and looked away. "Listen, Miriam. Nobody respects me anymore. How can I blame them? I don't even respect myself! You know, you're acting like I'm some innocent person, Miriam, when you very well know that nothing I do will ever erase the sins I've committed!" Alexander knew he was speaking without thinking, but he didn't care anymore. "I can't go back, Miriam. I can't go back to the person I was. If you think I can, then you're mistaken. If you think I'm worth anything, then you're mistaken. If you think I can ever be loved or respected, then you're completely and utterly mistaken!"
Miriam's eyes had widened with Alexander's outburst, but she refrained from speaking until Alexander fell silent. Finally, she expressed what was on her mind. "You say nobody could ever love you or respect you, Alexander. But that's not true. The only reason you don't think you could ever be loved or respected is because you've lost all love and respect for yourself. You think other people will judge you the way you judge yourself. Well, Alexander, if you'd just open your eyes, you'd realize that there is a woman who has loved and respected you this entire time, and she's standing right in front of you!"