She looked so beautiful, standing there in a dress of royal blue, her whispy blonde curls piled high atop her head. Her red cherry mouth was curved in a nervous smile, and her emerald eyes darted to and fro, looking anywhere but at Alexander.
Feeling suddenly both excited and ashamed, Alexander cleared his throat and looked away. "Hello," he said, not allowing himself to speak her name.
She walked off the stairwell and came to stand beside Alexander. "I'm sorry I came so all of a sudden. I wasn't sure if you'd want to see me or not. I thought you'd probably avoid me. It seemed the only way I could see you for sure was to surprise you like this."
"I don't mind," Alexander said, then swore and shook his head. "That is to say...I don't know, Miriam. I think we should talk later."
Miriam smiled understandingly, but from where he stood, Alexander could see the pain and confusion in her eyes. He could just imagine what she was thinking. Why did you leave me? Didn't you love me? Why didn't you say goodbye?"
"You hate me," Alexander whispered as the others went to the table.
"Hate you, Alexander? Hate you? I admit, for the past five years, I've been fostering all kinds of feelings...bitterness, anger, hurt, confusion...but not hatred. You have made a fool of me, but God help me, I still love you."
The words were so similar to what Amara had said several months prior that Alexander stiffened and felt anxiety in his soul.
Walking over to the table, Alexander pulled Miriam's chair out for her and seated her. He then took a chair next to her; he didn't think he could stomach sitting across from her and having to face those soul eyes of hers. He was so distracted that it took him quite awhile to realize that Katrina, James, and Elijah had arrived for the meal.
"So, Miriam, how do you like Hendrick?" Marla asked.
"It's a charming town," Miriam replied. "Quaint, perhaps, but charming, all the same. Everyone seems so friendly. It makes me want to live here!"
Auntie Lala smiled. "You know I'd help you find a place if you wanted to stay."
Sighing, Miriam shook her head. "I don't think I could ever leave my parents. They need me, what with Joshua and Abe taking off to go out west. I don't think they'd ever recover if all their children left."
Alexander knew there was more to the story that what Miriam had said. He could tell without even asking that Miriam didn't want to live in Hendrick because of Alexander himself. Coughing uncomfortably, Alexander shifted in his seat and resolved not to say anything until he could speak with Miriam in private.
The conversation flowed swiftly enough for everyone but Alexander, who was chillingly aware of Miriam's close proximity. Every so often, he'd bump elbows with her, and then he'd stiffen again and awkwardly look away. He felt uncomfortable, knowing that he had no right to ever be in Miriam's life again, after leaving her like he had.
After the meal, Marla and Auntie Lala got up to wash the dishes. Miriam volunteered, and Alexander offered, as well. After quite awhile of good-natured argument, Marla and Auntie Marla retired to the sitting room with the others to let Alexander and Miriam talk alone in the kitchen.
There was a long silence as Miriam heated water in which she'd wash the dishes. Alexander stood by, watching even though there was nothing particularly interesting about dish washing. No, he was there because he wanted to speak with Miriam.
"You have every right to yell," Alexander finally said.
Miriam snorted. "With everyone else out there? No, thank-you."
"What's on your mind, Miriam? Why aren't you livid with me right now? I know I did some stupid things - okay, millions of stupid things - so why are you just standing there calmly?"
In an unnervingly cool manner, Miriam shook her head. "I'm not just standing here, Alexander. I'm washing dishes."
"If you don't want to talk, that's fine. But then, why are you here, if not to talk?"
"Why did you leave, Alexander?" Miriam asked, cutting right to the heart of the matter.