Once they were safe in the alleyway, Alexander allowed himself to tell Miriam what he was truly thinking. "Coming here was a big mistake, Miriam. I need you to go home."
"I didn't come all the way here just to be rejected."
"Then what did you come here for?" Alexander demanded. He threw his hands in the air. "You've done nothing but cause more pain for yourself."
Lifting her chin, Miriam refused to be daunted. "Listen, Alexander. The reason I came here was to remind you that I love you, and that I truly believe that you can become someone who you yourself would be proud of. Do you understand? I love you too much and I know you too well to think all's lost!"
"You don't know me anymore, Miriam! You hear me? You've come here for nothing. Go back home, Miriam. There's nothing here for you. Nothing!"
Stomping her foot, Miriam shook her head. "You are here, Alexander! You! You are the reason I came. I didn't want to have to suggest it myself, but Alexander - if we married - we could set all to right again! I could help you and bring you hope for yourself! You love me, Alexander - don't even consider saying otherwise! If we married - "
" - If we married, I'd bring you down with me."
"If we married, then perhaps you would find reason to live again. Really live, not just survive."
"I don't deserve to live, Miriam! The only reason I'm not dead already is because - " Alexander stopped and gave a gutteral groan through his clenched teeth. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to go that far."
Reaching out and taking Alexander's hand, Miriam leaned forward. "What is it, Alexander?"
Alexander's restraint was failing him, and he knew that if Miriam kept talking, he'd cave and confess that she was all he ever dared to dream of anymore. "Don't hold my hand, Miriam."
Respectful of Alexander's request, Miriam removed her hand and sagged against the wall. "What were you going to say?"
"It's nothing," Alexander said, swearing. He shook his head and turned away. "Please, Miriam. Go home."
"I'm not going home, Alexander. I'm standing by your side, no matter how much you resist. I refuse to believe that we don't have any sort of future together!"
"Ella is who I'm in love with!"
"No, Ella is just another woman who you hope will fill the void you've had ever since you walked away from me! Please, Alexander - understand my motive! I'm not staying here solely because of my own feelings - I am here because if you just let me into your heart again, I know we can change things! Together! Alexander, I want to help you! I love you with a real love - not with the 'love' those other women pretend to have for you!"
"Real love," Alexander scoffed. He looked away.
"Yes, Alexander. Real love. The kind that promises I'll never, ever give up on you."
"You know what'll happen if you come back to me. Your reputation will be sullied for associating with me."
Miriam shook her head. "If I come back to you, then we'll be married. I refuse to be just another love interest."
"I'm not the marrying sort, Miriam. You know that."
Miriam drew in a deep breath. For a long time, she said nothing, and Alexander could see she was contemplating Alexander's words. "I'm not so sure about that," she finally said. "I think you're more honorable than all that."
"I wouldn't bet a penny on it."
"I'm betting my love on it," Miriam said. Tenderly, she kissed Alexander's cheek. "I don't want to be a snare to you like so many others have been. Together, we can get you through all this. Even if it kills me, I'll stand by you. I'm not going to leave you. I promise, I am wholly devoted to you. I'm here because I want to help you. And I want to help you because I love you. With a sweet love that you haven't known in a long, long time."
I should break her heart and leave her so that I can't hurt her, Alexander thought. She deserves a man far better than me! Oh, my dear Miriam, how can you be so beautiful? Reaching out gently, Alexander cupped Miriam's face in his hands. "Alright," he said slowly.
Miriam laughed, a pure, carefree sound. "I knew you loved me still," she said, eyes dancing with innocent happiness. "I promise, Alexander, we can get through this. Together. I'm not going to leave you. And this time, you're not going to leave me."
Alexander wanted to feel joy, but all he felt was guilt as he allowed himself to be loved by Miriam once more.