The Wrong Decision

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"Look at it."

I flip the pages, trying not to cry. A photo of me at the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, laughing in a bikini. One of me and Rafa on the UM campus, kissing. I gasp when I turn to the next page. There are photos I'd taken of myself, self portraits. Some sexy, others sensual. There are also a few others of me that he'd taken back then, haphazardly stuck in between pages.

"Oh, Rafa," I breathe. "What do you do—"

"What do I do with these? What do you think?" he snarls. "What you wanted me to do with them."

I thumb through to find more images of me. I was so young and happy, and it makes my heart plummet to think about how uncomplicated everything was back then.

I extract one loose photo, a black-and-white of us on the bed together. I remember when he'd taken it and how he'd set up a tripod and a time-release shutter with my digital camera.

I trace the silvery image with my finger. "God, we were gorgeous. This was us, Rafa. This was how we used to be. Like one person."

"It's how we still are, Justine. You're the only one who doesn't see it." He clasps his hands together in a prayer gesture. "Why don't you believe in me? Why don't you trust that I'll take care of you? Why can't we get over this last hurdle?"

"I guess because I've been taking care of myself for so long. Because I still hurt from what happened when I was pregnant with our baby."

His hands ball into fists, and those words suck all the air out of the room.

Finally he speaks. "Let me handle everything. Please. Just say you'll be with me. Trust me."

Frowning, I shake my head. "Maybe I don't want you to handle everything. I know that if I close the paper and don't have a job, I'll totally surrender to you. In every way. And I don't know who I'd be anymore. I'd lose myself, like I did when we were together before."

"Jesus, Justine." He raises his arm and goes to punch the door, but stops. I shrink back, stunned. He's never been like this before.

He spins around, his voice rising in volume. "Do you think I would let you lose yourself? Why would I do that to someone I love?"

It's impossible not to sob. I'm ugly-crying now, snorting and sniffling loudly. I wave the photo in the air. "We can't get this back if we stay together, Rafael. Too much has happened between us."

"Look in that other drawer."

I shut the book softly and set it back on the nightstand. Sliding from the bed to the floor onto my knees, I cry harder. I barely know what I'm saying, what I'm feeling. I paw around in the drawer and look up at Rafa.

"They're all my things," I whimper. "You've kept them all these years."

My University of Miami sweatshirt. A silver necklace I'd left behind. A four-inch thick packet of letters and cards I'd sent to Rafael when I was in Latin America.

"You never answered these." I hold them up in his direction.

Rafael paces, then sinks to the floor, his back against the floor-to-ceiling window. His eyes are swollen, and he looks defeated.

I inspect each thing in the drawer, my heart sinking. A stuffed flamingo I'd given him when classes ended one semester. The first generation iPod I bought him for Christmas. A Paulo Coelho book I'd put in his Christmas stocking.

I had copied a quote from the author onto the title page: "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

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