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There's Something About Gina

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Ani had known the relationship between her and Lara was over the moment she recognized Gina's handwriting on the envelope addressed to her. It had been crumpled and stuffed in the pocket of Lara's Armani suit coat that Ani had intended on sending to the dry cleaners in what was most likely a futile attempt in getting out the bourbon stain on the lapel. Ani had started toward the trash to throw it away when the writing had caught her eye.

Now, after what seemed hours later, Ani sat on the couch staring at the wrinkled envelope. She had smoothed the paper as she studied the writing, tracing each inked letter as if by touching them she could connect with the mind of the woman who had written them. However, despite the passage of time, she could glean no clues as to what was written inside.

While she loved reading murder mysteries, she was no detective, but it did not take a Hercule Poirot to figure out from the postmark that Lara had hidden the letter from Ani weeks ago. With a sigh, Ani finally slipped the paper from the envelope. It was time to find out what Lara had kept hidden from her.

"Dear Ani," the letter started in the same hand as that on the envelope. Gina's.

After Ani finished reading the letter, her hand dropped to her thigh as if the letter held the weight of the world. A love letter, she thought. A beautiful proclamation of eternal love from Gina, the woman she once thought was the love of her life. And Lara, the same Lara who had spend the weeks since the accident going to therapy and AA meetings in an effort to salvage their fragile relationship, had intercepted the letter, read it and kept it hidden from its intended recipient.

"Well," Ani said and looked around the living room as if seeing it for the first time. "Well," she said again and finally stood up and headed for the bedroom, taking her letter with her.

She dropped the envelope on the bed and then pulled a duffle bag from the closet and began to stuff it with her clothing.

As she was packing her toiletries, she heard the front door open and a moment later, "Ani?" came from the living room.

She said nothing, just continued her packing.

"Hey, what's going on?" Lara said, walking into the bedroom. She looked between the suitcase and Ani once again emerging from the closet. "Going on an assignment?"

"No, I'm leaving you," Ani said shortly, zipping up the main compartment of the bag.

"What?" Lara asked, the shock on her face evident. "Why? I thought we were doing good?"

"We were," Ani said. "But that was before I found that." She jerked her head toward the bed where the letter was, hearing the other woman's gasp.

"Ani, I can explain," Lara said.

"Explain?" Ani shot back. "Go ahead; explain how you've been lying to me."

"I never lied," Lara protested.

"No?" she said, raising an eyebrow. "You stole my letter and kept it from me. How is that not lying?"

"You said you were through with Gina," Lara said. "You didn't need her fake promises."

"That's for me to decide, Lara, not you," Ani said, angrily pointing to her chest.

"Oh, so you're going back to her now?" Lara said, angrily. "She writes down some frilly words and you believe her?"

"I'm not going back to her," Ani said. "But I am leaving you."

"She's done this to you before, Ani," Lara said. "Did you forget all the times she let you get close only to shut you out? Do you really think she means it this time?"

"It doesn't matter, Lara," Ani said. "It's over. We're over."

"Where are you going to go?" Lara asked.

"I was offered an assignment in Europe, but I was going to turn it down so I could be here for you, but there's no reason not to take it now," Ani said as she picked up the letter and her bag and headed to the door.

"Ani, please," Lara begged, rushing forward to block the doorway. Ani hated herself for the stab of fear that shot through her at the memory of when Lara had rushed toward her before and the blinding flash of pain that followed. She hated feeling any kind of weakness and in that moment, she hated Lara for making her feel that way. "Get out of my way, Lara," she said, forcing her voice to remain steady.

"Ani, please, I'm begging you," the tall woman said, her voice gravelly with desperation. "Don't leave me."

Ani feinted to her left and when Lara went to block the way, she sidestepped to her right and shot past the other woman.

"Ani, no!" Lara cried, but Ani never looked back.

Milan was just the distraction Ani needed and by the time she got back to California, she felt she had finally put the nightmare with Lara behind her. The shoot had resulted in so many new contacts for potential jobs that she had to hire an assistant to help her keep up with it all. In the time following her return from Europe, Ani threw herself into her work in an attempt to numb the growing ache of loneliness in her heart.

To that end, Ani was meeting with a potential client to discuss the details for a large print campaign for a local organic foods market with a half dozen locations throughout the Southern California region. The chain's owner wanted a photographer based in the area to keep with their philosophy of utilizing local resources and Ani's small business and her reputation for professionalism fit that.

Halfway through the meeting, which Ani was happy to find was going well, the waitress put down the second round of drinks. When Ani lifted hers to take a sip, she noticed writing on the napkin. "Hey pretty lady," it read. "Long time no see. How's it hanging?"

Turning toward the bar, she saw the tall form of Owen Brogno. He gave her a jaunty wink and his trademark smile that Ani returned. After her meeting concluded, and quite successfully to Ani's relief, she bid her new client farewell and headed for the bar. Leaning over it, she gave Owen a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"Oh, it's so good to see you," she said.

"You're looking good, girl," he said.

"Thank you," she replied. "I just got back from Europe."

"Travel agrees with you, then," he said."And how is tall, dark and gorgeous?"

Ani's smile disappeared.

"Oh," he said, his face darkening with a frown. "Sorry."

"It's okay," she said, patting his arm. "How…how's Gina? And the Colonel?"

"The Colonel is fine," Owen answered. "He's on the mend."

Ani noticed he hadn't mentioned his sister. "What about Gina?" she asked, concern filling her voice.

Owen sighed. "Not so good," he said. "Problems with the business. She's been so focused on the Colonel that she let things go. I'm guessing she's kind of depressed about that."

Ani felt her heart clench at the news. Gina's business was what defined Gina herself, it was her baby and to hear it was failing would mean Gina must not be doing well at all.

"I've got to go," she said suddenly and at Owens's frown, lied, "I've have another meeting later this afternoon to prepare for."

"Yeah, okay," he said with a nod. "Take care and don't be such a stranger, all right?"

She leaned in to kiss his cheek again. "I'll see you soon, Owen," she said and grabbed her portfolio before quickly leaving the bar.

At the stop light, Ani sat thinking, rapping her fingers on the steering wheel. A horn blast from behind her interrupted her thoughts and she saw the light had turned green. Making a sudden decision, she turned the wheel to the right and headed for the non-descript subdivision where the Colonel lived.

She didn't see Gina's car in the street, but she knocked on the door anyway, and a few minutes later it was answered by the tall, but to Ani's shock, very gaunt figure of the Colonel.

The man stood staring at her for a long moment and then said, "It's about time you showed up here, girl."

Ani's mouth dropped open as she made the connection. "You sent that letter, not Gina."

The Colonel sighed and turned around, leaving the door open. Ani followed him into the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a carton of orange juice and poured two glasses without asking if she wanted one. Ani picked up the glass and sat at the counter, taking a small sip as she waited.

"Yes, I sent that letter," he said.

"Why?" Ani asked. "I thought you hated me."

He scowled at her. "I never hated you, young lady," he said. "I hated what you represented."

"What was that?" she asked, warily.

He shrugged. "Heartache, loneliness, a life spent outside normal society," he answered. "I just wanted my daughter to have a normal life, a happy life with a husband and children."

Ani felt like laughing at such outdated thinking, but restrained herself in the presence of the imposing man. "Even if that's not what Gina wants for herself?"

"I know, I know," he said, wearily, holding up a hand. "And that's why I mailed her letter to you. I knew Gina wouldn't." He paused. "But I guess that was a waste of a good stamp. You never showed up."

"I never got the letter until recently," she said, shaking her head. "I didn't know it existed and when I did, I didn't know what to do."

"What are you going to do now that you know how my daughter feels about you?" he asked, the challenge evident in his voice. Ani reflected that his illness may have weakened his body, but it certainly hadn't changed his iron will.

"Where's Gina?" she asked.

He stared at her for a long moment as if weighing a decision and then he nodded. "This time of day she goes to the beach," he answered. "I'm not sure where, though."

"That's okay," she said. "I know where." She stood up and headed for the door.

"Ani," he said and she paused, marveling that this was the very first time he had used her name. She turned to look at him with a raised eyebrow. "Please," he continued. "Make my daughter happy. You're the only one who can."

She looked at him a moment and then walked toward him. Placing a hand on his chest, she stood on tiptoe and kissed his stubble covered cheek. "I will," she said. "I promise."

"Thank you," he said, his eyes moist.

She gave his chest a pat and then turned and quickly left the house.

From the beach parking lot, Ani could see a lone figure sitting on the sand facing the roiling ocean. As she stepped from her car, she glanced up at the sky. The day had turned chilly and overcast and as she took off her shoes and started to walk across the sand, she shivered and tried to tell herself it because of the weather.

As Ani circled around the corner of the blanket, Gina looked up. Her face registered surprise as she said, "Ani!"

Ani dropped to her knees on the blanket in front of Gina. "Hi," she said, placing her satchel next to her.

Gina's face mirrored her confusion. "What…what are you doing here?"

Ani tilted her head as she regarded Gina. Slowly, she reached into her satchel and pulled out the worn and wrinkled envelope. Inwardly, she reflected that since it had finally come into her possession, the letter had not been more than five feet from her and that should have given her some clue that this moment was destined to happen, no matter how confused she had been.

Gina's breathing seemed to stop as her eyes focused on the envelope that Ani held out. Her hands twisted in her lap until Ani dropped it on the blanket between them. "How…" Gina's voice cracked on the single syllable. "How did you get that? I never…"

"I know," Ani said, inching closer to Gina and picking up the other woman's trembling hands in her own. "The Colonel mailed it."

"The Colonel?" Gina asked, incredulously.

Ani laughed. "I know, right?" she said, smiling at Gina. "He wants you to be happy, Gina."

Gina's eyes searched Ani's. "He does?"

"Yes," Ani replied with a nod. "And for some reason, and I'm guessing it's based on what you wrote in this letter, your father thinks I'm the only one who can make you happy."

Once again, Gina's breathing seemed to cease, but then she drew in a huge lungful of air. "He may be right," she whispered. "But Ani, can you? And more importantly, do you want to?"

Ani's eyes traced the elegant curves of Gina's face. She released one of Gina's hands and gently caressed her face, moving her hand around to the other woman's neck to slowly pull her in for a kiss.

To Ani, it seemed the time between this kiss and their last evaporated in that instant and welcomed her heart to where it belonged, where it had always belonged. With Gina.

Ani hummed in contentment as Gina responded to the kiss, deepening it as she wrapped her arms around Ani and pulled her closer and closer until Ani was nearly sitting in her lap. Ani let out a little giggle as she finally broke the kiss.

"Ani?" Gina questioned, her eyes dazed and the wonder evident in her voice.

"Yes, Gina," Ani said with an emphatic nod, making sure her statement was not a question.

"Yes?" Gina echoed.

"Yes," she repeated. "Yes, Gina, I think I can make you happy. And you want to know something else?"

"What?" Gina asked, breathlessly.

"I want to make you happy," she answered. "Okay?"

Gina's eyes filled with tears as she nodded. "Okay."

"Okay," Ani said and to seal the deal, she leaned in for another kiss. As they sat on Venice beach and reconnected with one another again, the sun emerged from behind the clouds to bless them with its warmth.

The End