Spoilers: Through close of season 1. Set immediately following the Gina/Ani scene in episode 12.
Disclaimer: Venice and its characters are property of Open Book Productions, LLC. I'm just borrowing a corner of their sandbox for a handful of paragraphs. Due respect to John Wells et. al. for the phrase that just wouldn't go away.
Author's note: We interrupt this regularly scheduled chapter of Otalia for a brief detour into Venice - mostly because Olivia won't let me write her while my houseguests are around. Ani, it seems, is far more cooperative.
It's how the cycle goes. She goes away for three months, and I don't know where she is or what she's doing or even if she's still alive. Then she shows up in my life again. It's the dance we do. We get lost in it for a little while, but it always ends the same. - Abby Lockhart, ER
It's not over.
Ani was walking toward her car when it hit her, the realization seeping into her bones, as cold and hard as the blast of wind barreling off the Pacific. It's not over, no matter how much I try to pretend it is.
She knows this because she knows Gina, knows herself, knows how they are wired. Has known it since the moment she met Gina Brogno, the moment that took her breath away and spun her life so far off the course she'd imagined. Ani liked to think of life as a series of dominoes - one falls, then the next, then the next, all in a relatively orderly progression. Gina was the earthquake that sends the dominoes flying, the patterns shattering. Chaos personified in a killer strut and green eyes that promised everything, if only for one night.
There was a time when Ani had loved that about Gina. Had chased after it, in fact — pursued and wooed and fought to be something more than another notch on Gina Brogno's bedpost, another in an endless series of ex-lovers who Gina shot smouldering looks when she ran into one of them at a restaurant or club. For a year, Ani managed to carve out a place at Gina's side, managed to be the person Gina turned to after the phone calls that left her shaking with fury or the bad dreams that left her quivering in fear. When the cancer that was her relationship with her father threatened to consume a little bit more of her broken soul, it was Ani who patched Gina together, who wrapped her arms around her and told her how much she loved her. Ani was the one who made love to Gina when she needed comfort, and who let Gina take her with intensity and passion when her wild, aggressive nature needed to be unleashed. She tolerated Gina's dark edges — embraced them even. Gave everything to Gina, because everything was what Gina needed whether she could admit it or not.
And then it ended. Not because of the cheating, although there had been plenty of that, and not because of the way Gina let her father's toxic disapproval tear her down. It wasn't Gina's work that killed it, or the travel, or even moving to New York. It ended because at a certain point, being compartmentalized as the person Gina ran to when she was scared or upset or vulnerable stopped being enough. Being "the girlfriend" stopped having meaning when there was no relationship to protect, when there was no exclusivity, when there was nothing but lies and bullshit and the twisted, broken wreckage of what Ani had wanted them to be. In retrospect, Ani couldn't help but wonder if she had been nothing more than a stopgap in Gina's neverending, self-destructive quest for whatever the fuck it was she was looking for. Maybe Ani had simply been a temporary fix, a waystation on Gina's journey toward a Nirvana that could never be, because the bliss that comes from groping for the next drink or the next fuck is temporary at best. It doesn't know contentment or happiness — nothing but the desperate, fleeting pleasure of mouth on mouth, skin on skin. However skilled they might be, those fingers could never find solace; however desperate, that heart could never find peace.
Her mistake, Ani realized, was in thinking that it could be different — that she could be different. She had laid herself bare for Gina, time after time, hoping that everything she was would be enough. And Gina had looked on her with lust and taken what she wanted before wandering off in search of other pleasures, other thrills. Ani had seen the look in Tracy's eyes — had almost pitied her for what the other woman was feeling, because she'd felt it herself more times than she could count. Ani had known the unquenchable want in Gina, and tried as hard as she could to be enough to satiate it. But she was never enough. Nothing was.
She had promised herself that she would let go, get a life, find something of her own. Had boldly declared the same to Gina one windy afternoon on a graffiti-scarred bench while palm trees swayed overhead. She hadn't actually bought into it until she wandered into a coffee shop, pockets empty of everything but a half-used metro card, and met Lara. The woman had been a revelation: smart, funny, soulful, even a little wise. The kind of woman you could go on a date with and not have to worry that she'd be distracted by the next shiny thing that wandered past — the type who made one ponder words like "relationship" or "mortgage" or even "baby." Lara seemed to embody all those possibilities that Ani used to daydream about late at night, and Ani was determined that she was going to give their fledgling relationship everything she had. If Gina got hurt in the process, so be it. Gina had made her own choices a long time ago, and it was about time she started accepting the consequences of her actions.
Ani climbed into the front seat of her car, fumbling for her keys, and managed to get them into the ignition despite her shaking hands. She turned the key, felt the ignition fire. The engine's vibration seeped up through the floorboards, traveling into her feet, her legs, all through her body, a swirl of electrons and neutrons and protons spiraling in the delicate dance of matter that made her the person she was and would forever be. She couldn't see those individual pieces, but they were there, like the pixels that make up a photograph, each discrete speck a part of the composite that formed the image. Remove one, and no one would notice. Remove a hundred and the gaps would show. Remove a thousand — the picture would dissolve into disjointed shapes, fragments that could no longer cohere into a comprehensible whole.
And that was the question, wasn't it? If she removed Gina, then what was she? Was she still a complete person, or would she fragment into a million pieces, an image corrupted beyond all repair?
I don't know, she thought. And worse, I'm terrified of finding out.
The problem with this independence thing was that every time she tried to pull away she got reeled back in again. She'd thought that a year apart would be enough, that it didn't matter if she came back to LA. Convinced herself that going to The Grill was no big deal, just the revisiting of an old haunt. She wasn't wearing a dress she knew Gina would like on her for Gina — she was wearing it because it made her look good. But when she felt the hand fall between her shoulder blades while she was sitting at the bar waiting for a table, and that warm breath caress her cheek while a low voice whispered "Well if it isn't Ani Martin," she'd known beyond any doubt that she was there for one reason and one reason only. To find Gina, to see Gina, to let Gina lure her back into her bed. To feel Gina's hands on her skin, Gina's mouth against her own. To let Gina have her, in the hope that this time — finally, this time — they could figure out how to get it right.
Only it wasn't right. It was perfect, or at least it seemed that way until Gina pulled away. Then Ani felt all the scars that had been left behind when she and Gina broke up tear open anew, the pain as fresh as the moment when they had first said their angry goodbyes. And now they were caught in the same tired cycle that had defined the last few years of her life. Gina made her feel more than she'd ever felt it was possible to feel — and once again, she was feeling it alone.
In her darkest moments, when she was truly being honest with herself, Ani sometimes dared to wonder if what she wanted, what she craved, was not the fulfillment of a real relationship, but the dangerous game that was Gina. She could talk all she wanted about walking away, but deep down, Ani knew that sooner or later she would be back in Gina's bed, wrapping herself in Gina's robe and clambering out of bed to wrap her sleepy self around her lover's frame. She told herself that it was because Gina needed her, but the reality was that Ani needed Gina just as much. She could shout all she wanted, she could boast about being a big girl and trumpet her freedom, but the truth was that she couldn't imagine a picture of her life without Gina somewhere in the frame. A part of her simply would not accept that the last time was truly the last time, because she still harbored the hope that someday, when she wrapped her arms around Gina, her lover wouldn't flinch away. It was the lie she willed herself to believe, the program that autoran whenever her mind fell silent. The pretty poison she swallowed, and returned to again, and again, and again.
We can't keep doing this, she had said before the yelling started. Time to get off the rollercoaster.
But how did one get off the rollercoaster when it wouldn't stop, when its momentum would break you in half if you tried to escape its orbit? How did you stop returning, when all you wanted was one last glimpse of something that might have been love flickering in those wounded green eyes?
Ani didn't know. She just knew that now, in this moment, she was done. She would move forward with her life — with Lara — and try to forget about Gina. She would stop being the person who loved Gina Brogno no matter what.
And yet sooner or later, she knew she would hear that insistent beat, and it would pull her in, drawing her closer and closer until she was captured in Gina's refrain. And no matter how she fought, her feet would find those steps and she would be in it again, unable to break away.
It's who we are, Ani thought. The dance we do.
She put her car in gear and drove away.