On Friday, Jacqueline Halasz and her two children met at a bakery in Los Angeles and decorated an elaborate birthday cake, writing the recipient's name in frosting and topping it with a single candle.
Afterward, they returned to Halasz's nearby apartment, where they treated themselves to a single slice.
Then they stuck the rest of the cake in the freezer, where it will live indefinitely.
The cake's recipient was Marc Cross, Halasz's ex-husband, who disappeared a year ago apparently while kayaking in Newport Harbor. July 27 was — or would have been — Cross' 54th birthday, and Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of the day he was last seen.
Until he arrives home safely, the cake will remain in the freezer.
"I hope to find him and give him the biggest hug in the world," Halasz said.
Perhaps you recall the stories we ran about Cross a year ago. The Huntington Beach resident, a former lifeguard and middle school teacher, went missing after he told family members he was taking his kayak out to paddle around the harbor. When he hadn't returned by the next morning, his family called the police.
The U.S. Coast Guardconducted a 52-hour search for Cross or his kayak, covering 2,446 square miles of water by boat, helicopter and airplane and checking as far as Catalina Island. Then, nearly two weeks later, an off-duty Orange County Sheriff's Department Harbor Patrol deputy found Cross' kayak about a mile offshore in Laguna Beach.
After that? As with so many disappearances, nothing.
The Coast Guard and Newport Beach Police Department both said in the last week that they have no new leads in the case.
I've never had anyone close to me disappear. I imagine the anxiety would be overwhelming.
A few years ago, in the Fullerton neighborhood where I grew up, a man went missing while walking his dog. Like Cross, he seemed like an unlikely candidate for a missing person: young, tall, a local college athlete, hard for an attacker to overwhelm.
Suddenly, his name and face dotted light poles up and down the block. Everyday sights looked suspicious — had he vanished between these trees, through this hole in the fence? Had a sinister car pulled up alongside one of the perfectly maintained curbs? Had the neighborhood, always so tame and quiet, just swallowed him up?
Days later, the man's body was found near a flood-control basin. Police said he may have fallen into a creek during a rainstorm while walking his dog. Was learning his fate, however tragic, preferable to not knowing it at all? There are some questions that may not have answers.
So back to Cross. When his kayak turned up last year, Newport Beach police said it was in good condition and showed no signs of foul play. To Halasz, that's a sign that Cross may be alive.
But if Cross escaped, why? And to where?
"That's what we rack our brains with every single day, trying to figure out what happened," she said.
Halasz, who was married to Cross for 26 years before they divorced in 2007, remained close to him and described their relationship as "like brother and sister." The two remained devoted parents to their son and daughter, and Cross supported Halasz as she entered nursing school.
Perhaps something did happen to Cross on the water, even if evidence hasn't pointed to what it was. Perhaps, for whatever reason, he ran away voluntarily. Perhaps no one will ever know, or perhaps those who do haven't come forward yet.
In the meantime, the cake, with Cross' name and a single candle on it, remains as a hopeful sign in the freezer.
City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at email@example.com.