THE CLOUDS HAD DARKENED over Ringwood State Park. Marcia McWaid trudged through the thick woods, her husband, Ted, a few steps in the lead. Marcia hoped rain was not on the way, but the cloud cover was an improvement over the morning's pounding sun.
Neither Ted nor Marcia was much for hiking or camping or pretty much anything that one might categorize as "outdoors." Before-there was always a "before" now, a shattered world of wonderful naivete from a dead age-the McWaids enjoyed museums and bookstores and dinners out at trendy restaurants.
When Ted looked to his right, Marcia could see his profile-and what she saw surprised her. There was, despite the fact that they were performing the grimmest task imaginable, a small smile on his handsome face.
"What are you thinking about?" Marcia asked her husband.
He kept walking. The small, wistful smile stayed in place. His eyes brimmed with tears, but that was pretty much how they had been for the past three months. "Do you remember Haley's dance recital?"
There had been only one. Haley had been six years old. Marcia said, "I think it's the last time I saw her in pink."
"Do you remember that getup?"
"Sure," Marcia said. "They were supposed to be cotton candy. Strange memory. I mean, it was so not her."
Ted stopped in front of an incline. "Do you remember the actual recital?"
"It was in the middle school auditorium."
"Right. We parents sit there and the show is like three hours long and it's so damn boring and you're just waiting for the two minutes your own kid is onstage. And I remember Haley's cotton-candy dance was maybe the eighth or ninth act out of, what, twenty-five, maybe thirty, and she comes on and we start nudging each other. I remember smiling then, you know, and I'm looking at my daughter and for a few moments you feel such a pure joy. It's like there's this light in my chest and I'm looking at Haley and her little face is all scrunched up because you know her-even then Haley was Haley. She didn't want to get anything wrong. Every step is exact and precise. I mean, there is no rhythm or expression, but Haley makes no mistakes. And I'm looking at this little wonder and I'm almost bursting."
Ted looked at her as though to confirm the memory. Marcia nodded and maybe now, despite the grimmest of tasks, there was a small smile on her face too.
"And," he continued, "you're sitting there and you have tears in your eyes and you think about the wonder of this moment, and then-and this is the amazing thing-you look around the auditorium, at the other parents, and you realize that every one of them feels exactly the same away about their own kid. I mean, that's so obvious and simple and yet something about it overwhelms me. I can't believe this tremendous feeling, this wave of love, doesn't belong to us alone, that what we're experiencing isn't unique-and that just made it somehow greater. I remember watching the other parents in the audience. You see the wet eyes and the smiles. You see the wives reach for their husband's hand, no words exchanged. And I remember being just awed. Like, I don't know, like I couldn't believe one room, this school auditorium, could be so full of pure love and not just take off from the ground."
Marcia wanted to say something, but no words came to her. Ted shrugged, turned, and started up the incline. He dug his foot into the ground, took hold of a thin tree, and powered his way up. Finally Marcia said, "I'm so scared, Ted."
"We'll be okay," he said.
The smiles were gone now. The clouds continued to darken. A helicopter flew overhead. Ted reached his hand back. Marcia took it. He pulled her up. And the two of them resumed their search for their daughter.
TWO DAYS LATER, in a shallow grave on the outskirts of Ringwood State Park, the canine unit found the body of Haley McWaid.