She looks at her mother across the glitter of raised champagne glasses and, while trying to keep the smile plastered on her face as natural as possible, inwardly shakes her head. Mostly at her mother, but also at the whole absurd sketch taking place around her. At her future step-brother whose whispered slimy insinuations almost feel like a revenge for something, leaving the impression of a kind of bitterness that someone as spoiled and as young as he is should not be able to know. At her own funny, beautiful, strong brother who always wants to do the right thing, but so often finds himself in a wrong place.
But still, mostly, at her mother, who looks so brittle that it feels like she is about to disappear into thin air. Whose lips smile, but whose eyes seem to reflect something dying in her. She can't believe that the guy next to her, the guy that at this very moment is professing his eternal love for her and toasting to their everlasting union, is not noticing this. And all the while, the thought „That's not what I meant, that's not what I meant, that's not what I meant..." keeps rattling in her head, like a freight train.
It's all suffocating, and even though she sometimes feels so alike her mother that it's almost scary, sometimes she can't understand her at all. She has a picture of her at 17 that she stole from her grandmother's photo album the last time she visited (when it was already clear that things were about to change forever, but the world still looked as it always had). On it she is all sharp corners and long flowing hair and wild defiant eyes and her school skirt is rolled up at the waist. And she looks so poised to flee that 20 years later her daughter sometimes catches herself wondering how it is that she still ended up at the same place.
The daughter would discard the moment caught in the picture as a mere hitch in the straight line that was her mother's life, drawn out with a help of a ruler of tradition and obligation long before, but it had been her mother that had taught her independence and never to settle for anything less and even though, looking back, she thinks that maybe it was too much independence a little too soon, at least she knows that her mother will never be one of those Upper East Side mothers who put their daughters in a golden cage that is represented by a grid of streets on a corner of a Manhattan map.
Which is why she is so dismayed to find herself in this grotesque situation. Again. She thinks that she will never understand why her beautiful, proud and graceful mother keeps tying herself up in relationships that will never work because she is doing it for all the wrong reasons. Because the daughter might not know much about life and the choices one has to make just to keep oneself afloat, but if there is one thing she has learned in the past few years it's that being lonely alongside someone might just be even worse, even lonelier than being lonely alone. And as she turns to look at this tall, gray-haired square suit standing next to her mother, his hand possessively on her hip, a line of scenes from the past, remarkably similar to this one, runs through her mind. She concludes (and she probably already knew this) that, essentially, her mother keeps marrying the same man – the man who seems to promise stability and interior decorators and town cars and surprise trips to exclusive tropical islands in a chartered jet and diamond bracelets and sparkling earrings (that his secretary or assistant has picked out) for birthdays and anniversaries. It's as if she is following some kind of a guide book on how one is supposed to live one's life and it's the „supposed to" part that drives her daughter crazy, because she does not see how she can possibly respect a mother who seems to have surrendered her own ambitions and hopes and dreams so easily. A mother with such blatant disregard for passion and love, real butterflies-in-your-stomach, stars-in-your-eyes love that she flippantly exchanges them for stability and status. And though she has only a vague idea of how much love can hurt, she refuses to believe that it is possible to really live without it.
Holding the brim of her champagne glass absentmindedly between her teeth, she looks at her mother again, trying to determine if she really believes that this time it will all work out, that this time it will last. Her mother is good at masks, but years have taught the daughter to spot the telltale signs of the beginning of the end. The way she looked at her husband when he had his back to her – like he was a complete stranger, the increased amount of charities and committees she took up, the switch of perfumes, that she stopped organising dinner parties for his business associates, and (a sure sign of doom) in the end, the way she disappeared for days, taking with her the camera that her daughter had discovered once in a shoe box when she was rummaging in her mother's closet without permission. She has no idea where her mother went and she has never seen any of the pictures she took on those outings, but when it happened she knew to start packing up another one of her rooms in another strange apartment. When another millionaire husband discovered that he had been left (usually from a laconic letter – „Couldn't do it. Sorry. L" – he found on his pillow) he naturally assumed that she had only been after his money and started to build an iron fence of lawyers around his property, only to find out that she wanted nothing from him. So the daughter now looks closely at the woman at the other end of the room, trying to see if there are some signs of that eventual restlessness already raising their spiky little heads underneath the surface and, instead, makes a rather startling discovery.
Never mind a lifetime, her mother looks like she won't last the night. The smile is still sparkling and bright and all the right words come out of her mouth fluently and she touches the arm of her future husband just as she is supposed to, letting the inappropriately big diamond of her engagement ring glitter in the light of the chandelier. But, every little while, it seems like a terrible, overwhelming sadness takes a hold of her, making it hard for her to breathe and it is as if her mother disappears somewhere, leaving her outside shell to take care of the rituals that the years have engraved in her so deeply that she could probably perform them in her sleep. And suddenly she knows that it's all doomed, that this time the camera will be used before she has had a chance to unpack the cardboard boxes in another high-ceilinged room, that the bitter boy she once thought was her friend, but now doesn't seem to know at all anymore will never be able to call her a sister (making that somehow an obscene word). And she would like to think that this time her mother has actually taken a well-advised look into the crystal ball and seen the inevitable outcome of all this and just decided to skip ahead. Or that she has finally remembered that she could just as well choose herself instead of it always having to be a choice between one guy and another. But she has a terrible feeling that it is something completely different, that it always has been, and that it has to do with a whole other kind of choice that had been made a lifetime ago.
What was it that he said to her the night of the ball when he picked her up in his arms and they saw her mother smiling down at them from the balcony? „She sees history redeeming itself in us..." And when she looked at him, all confused, he just told her to ask her mother about a Dan in her life and then kissed her, so that she felt invincible and forever young and thousands of butterflies, and she had forgotten all about it. Until now.
When she later sees his father packing old LPs and framed photos and sheet music into a box, looking like he is at a funeral of a loved one, she realises that it is highly possible she had been fatally wrong. Not only in assuming that her feelings were bigger than her mother's, that her confidence in them made them somehow superior, but about the passion and the stars-in-your-eyes love as well. Having seen her mother's eyes that night by her brother's bedside she should have known – no man, not even the love of her life could ever be „most important" to her. She remembers the steady line of her mother's husbands again, including the man that had announced his intention to become one earlier tonight and recognises them for what they are not, for where they are lacking – they are not a Dan.