Royally Claimed - By Marie Donovan


JULIA COOPER SQUEEZED her eyes shut and blinked hard a few times as she sat at a small café table. She couldn’t have seen what she’d thought at first. Ever since her concussion, she didn’t quite trust how her optic nerve was shooting messages back to her cerebral cortex. Misbehaving brain. Had to be playing tricks on her.

Even so, her heart still pounded as the man walked down the cobblestone street. He chatted with an older man, hands moving animatedly. Darned if he didn’t look like Frank, at least from the back, black hair curling over his collar as if he’d forgotten to get a haircut. The man disappeared around a corner before she saw his face. Of course, all the men on this Azorean island of São Miguel, St. Michael’s island, were dark, their sunny Portuguese heritage transplanted to a cool and misty string of rocks in the middle of the North Atlantic. Although the chain of islands stretched almost four hundred miles from end to end, São Miguel, the largest, was less than three hundred square miles in area according to her father, a huge geography buff.

Did the Azorean men ever have some ancestral longing for the hot, dry mainland, she wondered idly. A remnant of mitochondrial DNA passed from their mothers that made them crave the juice of blood oranges running down their chins as the Mediterranean sun beat on their heads?

She shook her head—cautiously, though. Fanciful thoughts for a decidedly unfanciful woman. Perhaps she was experiencing one of those moments that the poets described, where magic and reality entwined, the hazy time between waking and sleeping when you dreamed strange things—or were they dreams?

And what was reality? Was it that past life of hers in Boston, that world of white fluorescent, green scrubs and red blood? Blood and oranges. Blood oranges. She had a sudden craving for citrus, a craving for sun.

Or was it a Vitamin C deficiency? Ah, there was her normal nature asserting itself. She laughed softly, not wishing to appear as flaky on the outside as she sometimes felt on the inside.

It was normal, they had assured her. Normal, she scoffed. As if anything that had happened to her could be called normal.

But she was here, not just in the Azores, but here here, alive and breathing. Still on this earth. And that was something. What, she couldn’t exactly say.

Frank, the recesses of her mind whispered to her. Francisco, they insisted. And that was what she had feared, coming back here—the insistence of her thoughts. Not just her thoughts, her emotions.

Enough. Julia set her coffee cup down with a resolute clink and stood. Good, no more dizziness today. But she was a bit tired. Fatigue is your body reminding you to rest. She had learned that in nursing school and grad school, but mostly ignored it. Her reserves were much lower now than back then.

Home again, home again. She picked her way along the uneven street, stopping to peer into store windows. Around her, friends greeted each other with affectionate cheek kisses, talking animatedly in the local Azorean dialect. She remembered a couple of words from when she was a child but not enough to understand their conversation.

Julia just let the noise wash over her and bought an English-language newspaper for her dad and a German candy bar her mother enjoyed. She climbed a small hill to her parents’ apartment in a renovated old stone farmhouse, brushing her dark curly hair out of her face in the ever-present ocean breeze.

She could use a good trim. Her hair was the type that grew bigger, rather than longer, and the humidity was poufing her hair into a dark facsimile of a clown wig. Maybe she’d ask around to see if any of the island beauty shops could handle the daunting task.

She waved to their landlord, Senhor de Sousa, who offered her fresh berries. He chatted away to her in a mix of English and Portuguese. She nodded and smiled and couldn’t help contrasting it with her own condo building, where she knew her next-door neighbors only by sight and not by name.

She gracefully withdrew from what looked to be a rather involved conversation and climbed the steps to the apartment.

Instead of seeing her parents sharing a quiet cup of coffee, they were in a tizzy. Her mother paced back and forth, listening intently to the phone while her dad clicked away on the laptop. “If we book now, we can get a flight out later this