"Listen, I...uh..." Alexander hesitated as he stood at the front of the congregation, shoving his hands into his pockets and refusing to meet anyone's eyes. "I guess the first thing I want to say is - "
"You fool!" someone's voice rang out. Cassidy Hale. "Don't you know how you've ruined our community? Don't you know what you've - "
Clearing his throat nervously, Alexander tried to speak over his aunt's words, but it was all to no avail.
"I am close friends with Miriam Fletcher's mother, and do you know what she told me? She told me something that I think everyone in this room would be interested in hearing. Something that would shock everyone!"
Thomas Hale stood. "Cassidy, contain yourself!"
Cassidy, however, was not to be subdued. "It was a well-kept secret until now - Agatha Fletcher made me promise not to tell a soul! But I cannot keep it to myself any longer when I see this sinner standing here with a filthy heart!"
Laura was also standing, tears staining her face. "Cassidy, be silent!" she shot out in agreement with her husband.
"Didn't your son tell you his biggest news yet? Oh, but surely he hasn't! Otherwise, your faces wouldn't be so ashen. Don't you know that Alexander has a son or daughter? I can't tell you which - Miriam was still carrying the child when Agatha received the letter, but - "
"Cassidy Hale!" Thomas' voice was loud and insistent. "Be quiet!" He motioned toward William. "Make your wife hold her tongue!"
William was red in the face. "Your son hurt our Jennifer. And not only did he hurt her, but he ruined the reputation she'd been working so hard to establish. My wife has every right to say those words."
Some of the more tender-hearted members of the congregation stated their disapproval at the turn of events, but one voice was louder than the rest.
"It's true. I cannot say I'm surprised at the fact that Alexander has a child. He tricked our own Eve with the worst kind of devilry that exists! He has not a single redeemable quality about him! Why would we ever listen to anything Alexander has to say to us?"
"You're lying!" Alexander responded, but his words were drowned out by Cassidy's persistent screeching.
"See? Jennifer isn't the only one! Made her run away, you did, Alexander! She couldn't bear the judgement of those around her, so she up and left! You made her leave a stable home!"
The sanctuary was in an uproar. The few who supported Alexander were not as verbal as those who were against him, and those who were neutral either sat silently or left the building. Alexander felt hopeless as he watched the congregation squabble over what to do.
But over all the other voices, Alexander heard his aunt say loudly and clearly, "Look at this wretched sinner. Look at the way he hangs his head! Look at the way he knows he's headed straight for the lake of fire! Don't you agree that he is fit for no other end than this? Won't you stand with me when I say he is the embodiment of vanity and hopelessness?
"I confess!" Alexander shouted, and at his sudden words, the entire building grew quiet. "I confess that what you're all saying is true. I have made a fool of myself, taking what I want and not caring about others' feelings. I admit that I am a lustful, drunken, thieving wretch who deserves no better than hellfire." He ran a shaking hand through his hair. "I confess! I have a daughter, and she is more beautiful to me than anything else in this world."
And with that, Alexander turned and ran from the church.