Alexander's first instinct was to laugh and tell Marla to be honest. But at the look on Marla's face, he could tell that she was being honest.
Alexander's second instinct, then, was one he'd fought hard to resist. He could feel that old enemy of alcoholism rise within him, and he steadied himself by gripping the nightstand behind him. Sitting down heavily on the bed, he finally found his voice.
"How far along is she?"
Clearing his throat, since he had nothing better to say, Alexander leaned forward and rested his head in his hands, completely shaken.
Behind him, Alexander could hear Clarence and Marla exchange a few words in whispers. But he was too soul-weary to even try to hear what they were saying. Moments later, Marla exited the room, leaving only Clarence and Alexander.
"You know the child is yours."
Alexander swore. "I know," he said, suddenly weak. "She loved me. She would never go behind my back."
"In all that time you were in prison, she never so much as gave a second look to another man. You were her one and only, Alexander. It broke her heart that her child's daddy was in prison. She told us she almost rid herself of the child, but she said she kept it because it was a reminder of you."
If Clarence's words had been meant to bring ease to Alexander's soul, they had the opposite effect. I never deserved Miriam. "I ruined her life," Alexander said, voice hoarse.
There was a long pause, during which nothing was said. After he'd taken all the silence he could manage, Alexander stood. "So...do you think she'd want to talk to me?"
"I wouldn't count on it."
If Alexander had been in his own apartment, around his own furniture, he would have shouted and thrown a few chairs around. Maybe even a nightstand and a set of drawers. But no, he had no right to lose his temper.
"Stay here, Alexander," Clarence said. "Don't go to the tavern."
So, this is what I have been reduced to. By my own actions, I have established a reputation that says that I can only cope with life if I have a bottle in hand.
"You're an adult, Alexander. It's time to take responsibility for what you've done wrong."
Swearing loudly and not caring who heard, Alexander began to pace. Back and forth, back and forth, as though the repetitive action would bring some closure to his problems.
"Breakfast is ready," Clarence said quietly. "Come down whenever you're ready."
As Alexander paced, he could feel countless emotions preying down upon him. Part of him wanted to face Miriam and find out for himself if she really was expecting a child. Yet the other part of him wanted to hide away forever from responsibility and the consequences of his own actions.
How Alexander wished he'd grown up in a broken family so that he could blame his problems on his childhood! But no, his family had been everything a family should be. How he wished he could blame his first downfall entirely on Eve! But no, he'd been wicked, too, though perhaps not as wicked as Eve had been. How he wished he could say that he'd been pressured into drinking! But no, his choice to drink had been all his own.
And now, there was no undoing the past.
Still, Alexander could not help but sink to the floor and whisper enragedly, "Curse you, Eve, for what you have done to me!"
Attacked by a desperation for his old ways of coping, Alexander allowed tearless sobs to wrack his body.