“I have only seen my dad cry once in my life,” Mary Aurelia Ross informs me in a soft voice that I have to strain to hear over the clatter of cutlery. We sit in a crowded Italian cafe just off the King’s Road. She is smaller and more delicate looking than she appears in the handful of photos that have been published of her over her lifetime. She stirs her decaf mocha slowly as she recalls “He was never one to show his emotions. He lived in constant fear that Uncle Gary would drag him into a ‘chick’ moment.” A brief smile touches her face and the resemblance between her and her mother is more evident than ever.
I can well believe that as Joel Mackay’s public persona has always been that of a stoic protector of his ex wife’s memory and reputation. There has been no official statement from any of the men that have had a romantic relationship with Alicia, in the five years since she died. Roger Hart, Nick Adamson, Theo Ross and Joel have all maintained a fierce protectiveness since her death, using their legal and financial resources top stop anyone publishing a story about her. Whatever else happened between the men, during the course of their separate relationships with Alicia, they have one common goal now. I sip my own coffee, waiting for her to continue. “H was destroyed that night though. He could barely speak when he phoned me. Papa Will had to tell me…tell me that my mum was gone,”
“Papa Will?” the name confuses me and I can’t hold back the question.
“Will Gregson. He’s been like a dad to my dad, since Granddad died.” Mary takes a sip of her mocha, after she finishes speaking, her eyes flickering away from mine, a hint of sadness in them. “You should interview him too. He was there when mum and dad were kids,” I scribble the name down on my notepad, adding him to the ever growing list of interviewees. When I started this project I had no idea how many people had had a serious influence on Alicia’s life. I’m already up to twenty names and it’s been just a week since Theo asked me to do this. Mary sucks in a reassuring breath before she continues. “Those months were tough for him. He couldn’t do anything to bring her back, and she was the very heart of our family. She was the one that kept him smiling even though his job was stressful and dangerous.”
“What was his job?” that has been one thing that I have yet to discover. My research hasn’t turned up a paid occupation for either Mackay between 1997 and 2008, when they were included on the payroll of the Amour Federation, the Swan family’s charitable organisation. Alicia’s father had set it up, a long time before she was even born.
“He would never tell me, but he did some work in law enforcement when I was small. I remember finding his state trooper Id.” Mary’s eyes flicker, and she brushes a lock of hair back behind her ear. “Anyway he didn’t start to recover from the loss until a year later.”
She shakes her head, “I would prefer to write about it. I will have to ask my dad if he wants to have it included in the book.”
I received the following a few days later.
The sounds of laughter reached Joel Mackay’s ears from his position on the balcony. He took another healthy swallow from the champagne flute in his hand, relishing the taste as the liquid rushed down his throat, the alcohol driving away some of the more painful memories. His solitary reverie was interrupted by a soft and familiar female voice “Hey Jo,”
Joel turned to see that she was standing in the doorway. The tall brunette was clad in a creamy silk halter dress that clung to her frame, her hair pulled up off her face. “Hey Ali,” He smiled warmly, relieved to se her. “I didn’t think that you would be able to come again.”
“Neither did I.” When she stepped closer, he saw tiredness in her eyes. “How have you been?”
“Seems as through we’ve both been very busy,” she reached up, touching the wrinkles between his brows. Her touch made him shiver, and she dropped her hand, a hint of embarrassment and hurt glinting in her expressive blue eyes. Joel grasped her hand, before it fell back to her side, interlacing their fingers “I’ve missed you,” he whispered, his other hand coming up to caress her cheek. Her bronzed skin was just as warm as he remembered, a slight flush painting her cheekbones at the intensity of his gaze. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from her though, drinking all of her well loved features.
“Oh you have no idea,” she leaned into his caress, savouring the warmth of his fingers against her skin. Leaving the people that she loved, was the sole regret over the life that she had chosen. “You’re getting reckless,” she observed, gently tracing the new scar that ran from his left ear lobe to his chin. His stubble rasped against her fingertips, another visual hint that he hadn’t been taking the best care of himself.
“I….” Joel closed his eyes briefly, avoiding the disappointment he could see in her eyes. “That wasn’t recklessness but revenge,” He opened his eyes again, as he moved his hand from her cheek to her stomach: he could feel the raised skin from the scar even through the silk. “I couldn’t let her..I couldn’t let her get away with it,” his voice broke, as he recalled the events of Aurora. “I’m just sorry that it took me so long to track her down.”
“I’m not,” Alicia’s hand came to rest over his heart, the gentle pressure causing him to meet her eyes again. “You’re too important to the world to risk your life chasing shadows for revenge. She could have killed you. Watching you take her on was one of the most terrifying moments of my life,”
“You saw me?” she nodded, the fear evident in her eyes and overtaking the tinge of disappointment. “How?”
“I’m always going to watch over my family. You mean the world to me,” she smiled weakly, “You know that,”
“You mean the world to us,” Joel’s voice was filled with emotion as he reached out for her. “Please…don’t go…”
“I have to.” Her sadness echoed his, but she could feel the pull being exerted over her, and knew that she would have to leave soon. “You are so strong. Our daughter needs you to be strong for her.” something within her made her kiss him, in a attempt to ease the grief she could see in his face. The instant that their lips touched, Joel pulled her as close as he could. His eyes closed at the utterly familiar scent of her, and the sensation of her curves pressing against him as they kissed hungrily.
He only opened his eyes, as he felt a rush of wind, and coldness settled over him when he realised that she was gone. I love you. Always. Her lilting tones resounded in his head, and the emotion he could feel in her voice, gave him a foothold to pull himself out of the grief that he felt.
“Dad?” Mary’s tentative voice drew his attention away from the stars glittering overhead. “You okay?” she asked, when he met her gaze.
“No. No. But we’re gonna get there together right?” she nodded, taking his outstretched hand and leading him back into the party.