Through His Eyes

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“Chin up, Loni, and smile.”

            “I’m always smiling, Mother.” If Loni smiled any wider, her cheeks would explode, but if she had to hear one more camera click or see one more paparazzi pop into focus…

            “Best behavior, please.” Faye Talbot chimed through her own perfected smile and lifted her pristine, cosmetically preserved face to the morning sun as the media lackeys moved on. “I can’t believe this is the last charity event your father’s company is participating in before we move to Texas. This is our final opportunity to leave a good impression on Lantano Valley society. We need it to be the right one.” 

            Her mother wound her arm through Loni’s and patted the back of her hand in that way Faye had; not quite comforting, not quite calming. Maybe she was finally picking up on the storm brewing inside her middle child.

            “Don’t worry, Mother.” Loni took a long sip of her wine as she dismissed the thought. “I won’t make a scene.” Making a break for freedom and racing through the country club to retrieve her BMW, now that would make a scene. Loni knew this place better than her own house; from the surrounding pristinely manicured gardens, the Olympic sized pool surrounded by enough lawn furniture to supply a small country, to the banquet hall and spa on either side of the marble lobby. Tempting as fleeing was, she’d promised to put in an appearance—for the sake of the family. But more than two hours had passed and she was still here. Pinned.  Committed.

Trapped.

            “I told you the other day and again this morning,” Loni reminded her mother. “I have a job interview downtown this afternoon. I can’t stay much longer.” How many times had she fought the urge to glance at her watch?

            “Yes, yes, I know.” Faye waved away Loni’s reminder as if it were an irritating mosquito. “I still don’t understand why you’ve suddenly decided to get look for a job. We’re moving in a few weeks. What’s the point when you’ll just have to quit?”

“It’s something I need to do,” Loni said instead of the truth. She wasn’t planning to quit. She wasn’t planning to leave Lantano Valley. But she left it at that for now and accepted the weight of guilt pressing down on her. 

She still hadn’t mustered the courage to tell her parents she wasn’t going with them. Once she had that job, once she had a steady income and could afford the studio apartment she’d had her eye on for the last few weeks, then she would.

Then she’d be able to break free; be on her own. The idea both terrified and exhilarated her.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Faye said in that dismissive, carefree tone that had caused so many wounds in her children. “The idea of a Talbot working in some dinky coffee shop is absurd. Honestly, Loni, what will your father say when he gets back?”
            “I’m sure you’ll tell me.” Loni offered her a bitter smile. Faye often trotted out the “R” word when she disagreed with Loni’s position. Choosing public over private school had been ridiculous. Her art history degree had been ridiculous. Loni could only imagine what new word Faye might come up with once she learned of Loni’s great escape plans.

There were times Loni envied her older brother, Scott, who had already moved with his wife to the new Talbot Shipping headquarters in Houston. The pride and joy of the Talbot family, or rather their father, had fallen in line as the heir apparent, complete with the picture-perfect-5-month-pregnant wife and a solid future ahead of him.  Somehow Scott managed to escape the obsessive attention Faye lauded on Loni and, at one time, Loni’s little sister Joss.

            Joss had fought back and broken free without a second thought or a backward glance. Last Loni heard, her sister was living in San Francisco and working at an advertising firm. Loni might have thrown her a going away party if Joss’ exodus hadn’t left Loni stuck and sinking in the quicksand of what remained of the Talbot family.

            What her mother wanted always trumped Loni’s intentions, no matter how important they were to Loni. Case in point? Today’s Fashion Forward Charity Luncheon. Her mother didn’t need her here; not when all she’d done was bookend her mother and nod and smile. She felt like an overused bobble-head, dragged out for whatever reason and tapped on the head and told to dance.

            It was time for things to change. All she needed was to get that job. But she wasn’t getting anything if she didn’t get out of here. Loni twisted her arm free. “If you’ll excuse me—”

             “Carmela, how lovely to see you.” Faye dug her fingernails into Loni’s arm, keeping her in place as a handsome Hispanic woman headed their way. “And is this Amelia?” Faye gushed. “Goodness, what a beauty you’ve turned into. Carmela, this is my daughter, Loni.” Faye’s narrowed gaze told Loni she hadn’t been dismissed.

            Years of practice had Loni shifting into polite, albeit reluctant hostess.  Times like this, Faye reminded Loni so much of her maternal grandmother it turned her stomach. The few memories Loni had of the old woman weren’t pleasant; she’d made no secret of the fact she thought the only thing between Loni’s ears was empty space. Faye had no qualms reminding Loni how difficult her upbringing had been with a controlling and critical parent, yet the fact she’d attempted the same with her own children escaped her notice. Faye hadn’t broken the cycle.

            But Loni would.