THE SUN ROSE at five forty-five AM.
Patricia McWaid, Haley's younger sister, stood in the middle of the activity storm and didn't move. Since the police found Haley's iPhone, it felt as though they had gone back to those numbing first days-stapling up posters, calling all her friends, visiting her favorite spots, updating her missing-girl Web site, handing out her photograph at the local malls.
Investigator Tremont, who had been so nice to her family, seemed to have aged about ten years in the last few days. He forced up a smile for her and said, "How you doing, Patricia?"
"Fine, thank you."
He patted her shoulder and moved on. People did that a lot with Patricia. She didn't stand out. She wasn't particularly special. That didn't bother her. Most people aren't particularly special, though they may think they are. Patricia was content with her situation-or at least she had been. She missed Haley. Patricia did not relish attention. Unlike her big sister, she hated competition and avoided the limelight. Now she was a "pity celebrity" at school, the popular girls acting friendly, wanting to get close to her so they could say at parties, "Oh, that missing girl? Well, I'm friends with her sister!"
Patricia's mother was helping to organize the search parties. Mom was pure strength, like Haley, a pantherlike power to their walks, as if even a stroll was a challenge to those around them. Haley led. Always. And Patricia followed. Some people thought that bothered her. It didn't. Her mother would sometimes get on her, tell her, "You need to be more decisive," but Patricia never saw the need. She didn't like making decisions. She was just as happy seeing the movie Haley liked. She didn't care whether they ate Chinese or Italian. What was the big deal? When you think about it, what's so great about being decisive?
News vans were being corralled into a roped-off area like she'd seen cowboys do with cattle in the movies. Patricia spotted that shrill-voiced, frosted-hair woman from that cable station. One of the reporters sneaked past the barricade and called out Patricia's name. He gave her a toothy smile and showed her a microphone, as if it were candy he was using to lure her into his car. Tremont walked over to the reporter and told him to get the f-something behind the barricade.
A crew from another news van started setting up a camera. Patricia recognized the beautiful reporter with them. Her son, Charlie Tynes, went to their high school. Charlie's dad had been killed by a drunk driver when he was young. Her mom had told her that story. Whenever they'd see Mrs. Tynes at a game or the supermarket or whatever, Patricia and Haley and Mom would all go a little quiet, as if in respect or maybe fear, wondering, Patricia guessed, what her life would be like if a drunk driver did something like that to her dad.
More police arrived. Her dad greeted them, forcing up a smile, shaking hands like he was running for office. Patricia was more like her father-go with the flow. But her father had changed. They all had, she guessed, but something inside of her dad had shattered, and she wasn't sure whether, even if Haley came home, it would ever be right again. He still looked the same, smiled the same, tried to laugh and act goofy and do those little things that made him, well, him, but it was as if he were empty, like everything inside of him had been scooped out or like some movie in which the aliens replace people with soulless clones.
There were police dogs, Great Danes, and Patricia walked over to them.
"Is it okay if I pet them?" she asked.
"Sure," the officer said after a brief hesitation.
Patricia scratched one behind the ears. His tongue flopped out in appreciation.
People talk about how much parents shape you, but Haley was the most dominant person in her life. When girls in second grade started picking on Patricia, Haley beat up one as a warning to the others. When some guys catcalled at them by Madison Square Garden-Haley had taken her little sister to see Taylor Swift-Haley had slid in front of her and told them to shut the hell up. At Disney World, their parents had let Haley and Patricia go out alone one night. They ended up meeting some older boys and getting drunk in the All-Star Sports Resort. The good girl could get away with stuff like that. Not that she wasn't good-Haley was-but she was still a teenager. That night, after having her first beer, Patricia had made out with a guy named Parker, but Haley made sure that Parker went no further.
"We'll start deep in the woods," she overheard Investigator Tremont say to the officer handling the dogs.
"If she's alive, if the bastard has built some kind of shelter to hide her, it has to be pretty far off the path or someone would have noticed already. But if she's near the trail..."
His voice trailed off as he realized, Patricia was sure, that she was in earshot. She looked off into the woods and petted the dog and pretended that she didn't hear. For the past three months, Patricia had blocked everything out. Haley was strong. She would survive. It was as though her big sister had just gone on some weird adventure and would be home soon.
But now, looking out in the woods and petting this dog, she pictured the unfathomable: Haley, alone, scared, hurt, crying. Patricia squeezed her eyes shut. Frank Tremont walked toward her. He stood in front of her, cleared his throat, waited for her to open her eyes. After a few moments she did. She waited for his words of comfort. But he didn't offer any. He just stood there, shuffling his feet, indecisive.
So Patricia closed her eyes again and kept petting that dog.