Casey Anthony now (left) and before the trial (right)
Reuters/Landov; Orange County Sheriff's Office/Getty
05/27/2011 at 04:00 AM EDT
Throughout the Casey Anthony murder trial, senior writer Michelle Tauber will be providing exclusive behind-the-scenes impressions and insights from PEOPLE's up-close courtroom seat
The first thing you notice about Casey Anthony sitting in court during the opening week of her first-degree murder trial
are her eyes: Big, focused and framed by the stern bangs hanging on either side of her forehead, Anthony's once-bright blue eyes look like the light has been surgically removed from them.
They weren't always that way, of course. And in the second day of the trial, jurors got a clear view of a very different – and different-looking – Casey.
The Casey who worked as a sexy "shot girl" at Orlando's Fusion nightclub, pouring liquor for customers and looking after her fellow "girls."
The Casey who gleefully posed for photos with her boyfriend, Tony Lazzaro, around the time her 2-year-old daughter Caylee disappeared
. The Casey who notoriously partied at a "Hot Bodies" contest four days after her daughter's death on June 16, 2008.
Vivacious and fun-loving, "she seemed like a nice person to be friends with," her former fellow "shot girl" Jamie Realander, 22, testified on Wednesday.
She was also a single mother who rarely, if ever, mentioned her daughter, according to the testimony of several former friends on Wednesday. But she was "protective," Realander said, of her fellow shot girls.
"She always made sure we were okay, taken care of, and that we weren't in harm's way at all," Realander testified. The shot girls' mother hen.
Then came the darkness: Caylee's death, which the defense contends was an accidental drowning
covered up by a young mother in deep denial.
To the friends who were with her in the days and weeks following Caylee's death, Casey betrayed no hint that anything was amiss.
"She was like us," testified another former shot girl, Erica Gonzalez, 22. "Happy."
That Casey – the smiley, flirty, bright-eyed Casey – is gone, of course. In her place, grimly passing notes on yellow paper to her lawyers at the defense table, is a 25-year-old ex-shot girl who looks at least a decade older: Dour. Tense. Pale. Prim. Her jaw set hard.
Does the Casey sitting in the courtroom recognize herself in those photos, flashed large on the room's monitors for all to see? Does she look back on those days with yearning for what was, for the girl who brought the party with her wherever she went?
Casey Anthony, and her black-button eyes, aren't saying.