Red, White &Royal Blue By Casey McQuiston , Chapter 12

There’s a diamond ring on Zahra’s finger when she shows up with her coffee thermos and a thick stack of files. They’re in June’s room, scarfing down breakfast before Zahra and June leave for a rally in Pittsburgh, and June drops her waffle on the bedspread. “Oh my God, Z, what is that? Did you get engaged?” Zahra looks down at the ring and shrugs. “I had the weekend off.” June gapes at her. “When are you going to tell us who you’re dating?” Alex asks. “Also, how?” “Uh-uh, nope,” she says. “You don’t get to say shit to me about secret relationships in and around this campaign, princess.” “Point,” Alex concedes. She brushes past the topic as June starts wiping syrup off the bed with her pajama pants. “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover this morning, so focus up, little Claremonts.” She’s got detailed agendas for each of them, bullet-pointed and doublesided, and she dives right in. They’re already on Thursday’s voter registration drive in Cedar Rapids (Alex is pointedly not invited) when her phone pings with a notification. She picks it up, scrolling through the screen offhandedly. “So I need both of you to be dressed and ready … by…” She’s looking more closely at the screen, distracted. “By, uh…” Her face is taken over with a horrified gasp. “Oh, fuck my ass.” “What—?” Alex starts, but his own phone buzzes in his lap, and he looks down to find a push notification from CNN: LEAKED SURVEILLANCE FOOTAGE SHOWS PRINCE HENRY AT DNC HOTEL. “Oh, shit,” Alex says. June reads over his shoulder; somehow, some “anonymous source” got the security camera footage from the lobby of the Beekman that night of the DNC. It’s not … explicitly damning, but it very clearly does show the two of them walking out of the bar together, shoulder to shoulder, flanked by Cash, and it cuts to footage from the elevator, Henry’s arm around Alex’s waist while they talk with Cash. It ends with the three of them getting off together at the top floor.
Zahra looks up at him, practically murderous. “Can you explain to me why this one day of our lives will not stop haunting me?” “I don’t know,” Alex says miserably. “I can’t believe this is the one that’s —I mean, we’ve done riskier things than this—” “That’s supposed to make me feel better how?” “I just mean, like, who is leaking fucking elevator tapes? Who’s checking for that? It’s not like Solange was in there—” A chirp from June’s phone interrupts him, and she swears when she looks at it. “Jesus, that Post reporter just texted to ask for a comment on the speculation surrounding your relationship with Henry and whether it— whether it has to do with you leaving the campaign after the DNC.” She looks between Alex and Zahra, eyes wide. “This is really bad, isn’t it?” “It ain’t great,” Zahra says. She’s got her nose buried in her phone, furiously typing out what are probably very strongly worded emails to the press team. “What we need is a fucking diversion. We have to—to send you on a date or something.” “What if we—” June attempts. “Or, fuck, send him on a date,” Zahra says. “Send you both on dates.” “I could—” June tries again. “Who the fuck do I call? What girl is gonna want to wade into this shitstorm to fake date either of you at this point?” Zahra grinds the heels of both hands against her eyes. “Jesus, be a gay beard.” “I have an idea!” June finally half shouts. When they both look at her, she’s biting her lip, looking at Alex. “But I don’t know if you’re gonna like it.” She turns her phone around to show them the screen. It’s a photo he recognizes as one of the ones they took for Pez in Texas, June and Henry lounging on the dock together. She’s cropped Nora out so it’s just the two of them, Henry sporting a wide, teasing grin under his sunglasses and June planting a kiss on his cheek. “I was on that floor too,” she says. “We don’t have to, like, confirm or deny anything. But we can imply something. Just to take the heat off.” Alex swallows. He’s always known June was one inch from taking a bullet for him, but this? He would never ask her to do this. But the thing is … it would work. Their social media friendship is well documented, even if half of it is GIFs of Colin Firth. Out of context, the photo
looks as couple-y as anything, like a nice, gorgeous, heterosexual couple on vacation together. He looks over to Zahra. “It’s not a bad idea,” Zahra says. “We’d have to get Henry on board. Can you do that?” Alex releases a breath. He absolutely doesn’t want this, but he’s also not sure what other choice he has. “Um. Yeah, I. Yeah, I think so.”
“This is kind of exactly what we said we didn’t want to do,” Alex says into his phone. “I know,” Henry tells him across the line. His voice is shaky. Philip is waiting on Henry’s other line. “But.” “Yeah,” Alex says. “But.” June posts the picture from Texas, and it immediately burns through her stats to become her new most-liked post. Within hours, it’s everywhere. BuzzFeed puts up a comprehensive guide to Henry and June’s relationship, leading off with that goddamn photo of them dancing at the royal wedding. They dig up photos from the night in LA, analyze Twitter interactions. “Just when you thought June Claremont-Diaz couldn’t get any more #goals,” one article writes, “has she secretly had her own Prince Charming all along?” Another one speculates, “Did HRH’s best friend Alex introduce them?” June’s relieved, only because she managed to find a way to protect him, even though it means the world is digging through her life for answers and evidence, which makes Alex want to murder everyone. He also wants to grab people by the shoulders and shake them and tell them Henry is his, you idiots, even though the whole point of this was for it to be believable. He shouldn’t feel wronged deep in his gut. But that everyone seems enamored, when the only difference between the lie and the truth that would burn up Fox News is the gender involved … well, it fucking stings. Henry is quiet. He says enough for Alex to glean that Philip is apoplectic and Her Majesty is annoyed but pleased Henry has finally found himself a girlfriend. Alex feels horrible about it. The stifling orders, pretending to be someone he’s not—Alex has always tried to be a refuge for Henry from it all. It was never supposed to come from his side too. It’s bad. It’s stomach-cramps, walls-closing-in, no-plan-B-if-this-fails bad. He was in London barely two weeks ago, kissing Henry in front of a Giambologna. Now, this.
There’s another piece in their back pocket that’ll sell it. The only relationship in his life that can get more mileage than any of this. Nora comes to him at the Residence wearing bright red lipstick and presses cool, patient fingers against his temples and says, “Take me on a date.” They choose a college neighborhood full of people who’ll sneak shots on their phones and post them everywhere. Nora slides her hand into his back pocket, and he tries to focus on the comfort of her physical presence against his side, the familiar frizz of her curls against his cheek. For half a second, he allows a small part of him to think about how much easier things would be if this were the truth: sliding back into comfortable, easy harmony with his best friend, leaving greasy fingerprints along her waistline outside Jumbo Slice, laughing at her crass jokes. If he could love her like people wanted him to, and she loved him, and there wasn’t any more to it than that. But she doesn’t, and he can’t, and his heart is on a plane over the Atlantic right now, coming to DC to seal the deal over a well-photographed lunch with June the next day. Zahra sends him an email full of Twitter threads about him and Nora that night when he’s in bed, and he feels sick. Henry lands in the middle of the night and isn’t even allowed to come near the Residence, instead sequestered in a hotel across town. He sounds exhausted when he calls in the morning, and Alex holds the phone close and promises he’ll try to find a way to see him before he flies back out. “Please,” Henry says, paper-thin. His mother, the rest of the administration, and half of the press at this point are caught up for the day dealing with news of a North Korean missile test; nobody notices when June lets him climb into her SUV with her that morning. June holds onto his elbow and makes half-hearted jokes, and when they pull up a block from the cafe, she offers him an apologetic smile. “I’ll tell him you’re here,” she says. “If nothing else, maybe that’ll make it a little easier for him.” “Thanks,” he says. Before she opens the door to leave, he catches her by the wrist and says, “Seriously. Thank you.” She gives his hand a squeeze, and she and Amy are gone, and he’s alone in a tiny, secluded alleyway with the second car of backup security and a twisted-up feeling in his stomach. It takes all of an hour before June texts him, All done, followed by, Bringing him to you.
They worked it out before they left: Amy brings June and Henry back to the alley, they have him swap cars like a political prisoner. Alex leans forward to the two agents sitting silently in the front seats. He doesn’t know if they’ve figured out what this really is yet, and he honestly doesn’t care. “Hey, can I have a minute?” They exchange a look but get out, and a minute later, there’s another car alongside him and the door is opening, and he’s there. Henry, looking tense and unhappy, but within arm’s reach. Alex pulls him in by the shoulder on instinct, the door shutting behind him. He holds him there, and this close he can see the faint gray tinge to Henry’s complexion, the way his eyes aren’t connecting. It’s the worst he’s ever seen him, worse than a violent fit or the verge of tears. He looks hollowed-out, vacant. “Hey,” Alex says. Henry’s gaze is still unfocused, and Alex shifts toward the middle of the seat and into his line of vision. “Hey. Look at me. Hey. I’m right here.” Henry’s hands are shaking, his breaths coming shallow, and Alex knows the signs, the low hum of an impending panic attack. He reaches down and wraps his hands around one of Henry’s wrists, feeling the racing pulse under his thumbs. Henry finally meets his eyes. “I hate it,” he says. “I hate this.” “I know,” Alex says. “It was … tolerable before, somehow,” Henry says. “When there was never—never the possibility of anything else. But, Christ, this is—it’s vile. It’s a bloody farce. And June and Nora, what, they just get to be used? Gran wanted me to bring my own photographers for this. Did you know that?” He inhales, and it gets caught in his throat and shudders violently on the way back out. “Alex. I don’t want to do this.” “I know,” Alex tells him again, reaching up to smooth out Henry’s brow with the pad of his thumb. “I know. I hate it too.” “It’s not fucking fair!” he goes on, his voice nearly breaking. “My shit ancestors walked around doing a thousand times worse than any of this, and nobody cared!” “Baby,” Alex says, moving his hand to Henry’s chin to bring him back down. “I know. I’m so sorry, babe. But it won’t be like this forever, okay? I promise.”
Henry closes his eyes and exhales through his nose. “I want to believe you. I do. But I’m so afraid I’ll never be allowed.” Alex wants to go to war for this man, wants to get his hands on everything and everyone that ever hurt him, but for once, he’s trying to be the steady one. So he rubs the side of Henry’s neck gently until his eyes drift back open, and he smiles softly, tipping their foreheads together. “Hey,” he says. “I’m not gonna let that happen. Listen, I’m telling you right now, I will physically fight your grandmother myself if I have to, okay? And, like, she’s old. I know I can take her.” “I wouldn’t be so cocky,” Henry says with a small laugh. “She’s full of dark surprises.” Alex laughs, cuffing him on the shoulder. “Seriously,” he says. Henry’s looking back at him, beautiful and vital and heartsick and still, always, the person Alex is willing to risk ruining his life for. “I hate this so much. I know. But we’re gonna do it together. And we’re gonna make it work. You and me and history, remember? We’re just gonna fucking fight. Because you’re it, okay? I’m never gonna love anybody in the world like I love you. So, I promise you, one day we’ll be able to just be, and fuck everyone else.” He pulls Henry in by the nape of his neck and kisses him hard, Henry’s knee knocking against the center console as his hands move up to Alex’s face. Even though the windows are tinted black, it’s the closest they’ve ever come to kissing in public, and Alex knows it’s reckless, but all he can think is a supercut of other people’s letters they’ve quietly sent to each other. Words that went down in history. “Meet you in every dream … Keep most of your heart in Washington … Miss you like a home … We two longing loves … My young king.” One day, he tells himself. One day, us too.
The anxiety feels like buzzing little wings in his ear in the silence, like a petulant wasp. It catches him when he tries to sleep and startles him awake, follows him on laps paced up and down the floors of the Residence. It’s getting harder to brush off the feeling he’s being watched. The worst part is that there’s no end in sight. They’ll definitely have to keep it up at least until the election is over, and even then, there’s the always looming possibility of the queen outright forbidding it. His idealistic streak won’t let him fully accept it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
He keeps waking up in DC, and Henry keeps waking up in London, and the whole world keeps waking up to talk about the two of them in love with other people. Pictures of Nora’s hand in his. Speculation about whether June will get an official announcement of royal courtship. And the two of them, Henry and Alex, like the world’s worst illustration of the Symposium: split down the middle and sent bleeding into separate lives. Even that thought depresses him because Henry’s the only reason he’s become a person who cites Plato. Henry and his classics. Henry in his palace, in love, in misery, not talking much anymore. Even with both of them trying as hard as they are, it’s impossible to feel like it’s not pulling them apart. The whole charade takes and takes from them, takes days that were sacred—the night in LA, the weekend at the lake, the missed chance in Rio—and records over the tape with something more palatable. The narrative: two fresh-faced young men who love two beautiful young women and definitely not ever each other. He doesn’t want Henry to know. Henry has a hard enough time as it is, looked at sideways by his whole family, Philip who knows and has not been kind. He tries to sound calm and whole over the phone when they talk, but he doesn’t think it’s convincing. When he was younger and the anxiety got this bad, when the stakes in his life were much, much lower, this would be the point of self-destruction. If he were in California, he’d sneak the jeep out and drive way too fast down the 101, doors off, blasting N.W.A., inches from being painted on the pavement. In Texas, he’d steal a bottle of Maker’s from the liquor cabinet and get wasted with half the lacrosse team and maybe, afterward, climb through Liam’s window and hope to forget by morning. The first debate is in a matter of weeks. He doesn’t even have work to keep him busy, so he stews and stresses and goes for long, punishing runs until he has the satisfaction of blisters. He wants to set himself on fire, but he can’t afford for anyone to see him burn. He’s returning a box of borrowed files to his dad’s office in the Dirksen Building after hours when he hears the faint sound of Muddy Waters from the floor above, and it hits him. There’s one person he can burn down instead. He finds Rafael Luna hunched at his office’s open window, sucking down a cigarette. There are two empty, crumpled packs of Marlboros next to a lighter and an overflowing ashtray on the sill. When he turns around at the slam of the door, he coughs out a startled cloud of smoke.
“Those things are gonna fucking kill you,” Alex says. He said the same thing about five hundred times that summer in Denver, but now he means, I kinda wish they would. “Kid—” “Don’t call me that.” Luna turns, stubbing out his cigarette in the ashtray, and Alex can see a muscle clenching in his jaw. As handsome as he always is, he looks like shit. “You shouldn’t be here.” “No shit,” Alex says. “I just wanted to see if you would have the balls to actually talk to me.” “You do realize you’re talking to a United States senator,” he says placidly. “Yeah, big fucking man,” Alex says. He’s advancing on Luna now, kicking a chair out of the way. “Important fucking job. Hey, how ’bout you tell me how you’re serving the people who voted for you by being Jeffrey Richards’s chickenshit little sellout?” “What the hell did you come here for, Alex, eh?” Luna asks him, unmoved. “You gonna fight me?” “I want you to tell me why.” His jaw clenches again. “You wouldn’t understand. You’re—” “I swear to God, if you say I’m too young, I’m gonna lose my shit.” “This isn’t you losing your shit?” Luna asks mildly, and the look that crosses Alex’s face must be murderous because he immediately puts a hand up. “Okay, bad timing. Look, I know. I know it seems shitty, but there’s— there are moving parts at work here that you can’t even imagine. You know I’ll always be indebted to your family for what you all have done for me, but —” “I don’t give a shit about what you owe us. I trusted you,” he says. “Don’t condescend to me. You know as much as anyone what I’m capable of, what I’ve seen. If you told me, I would get it.” He’s so close he’s practically breathing Luna’s reeking cigarette smoke, and when he looks into his face, there’s a flicker of recognition at the bloodshot, blackened eyes and the gaunt cheekbones. It reminds him of how Henry looked in the back of the Secret Service car. “Does Richards have something on you?” he asks. “Is he making you do this?”
Luna hesitates. “I’m doing this because it’s what needs to be done, Alex. It was my choice. Nobody else’s.” “Then tell me why.” Luna takes a deep breath and says, “No.” Alex imagines his fist in Luna’s face and removes himself by two steps, out of range. “You remember that night in Denver,” he says, measured, his voice quavering, “when we ordered pizza and you showed me pictures of all the kids you fought for in court? And we drank that nice bottle of scotch from the mayor of Boulder? I remember lying on the floor of your office, on the uglyass carpet, drunk off my ass, thinking, ‘God, I hope I can be like him.’ Because you were brave. Because you stood up for things. And I couldn’t stop wondering how you had the nerve to get up and do what you do every day with everyone knowing what they know about you.” Briefly, Alex thinks he’s gotten through to Luna, from the way he closes his eyes and braces himself against the sill. But when he faces Alex again, his stare is hard. “People don’t know a damn thing about me. They don’t know the half of it. And neither do you,” he says. “Jesus, Alex, please, don’t be like me. Find another fucking role model.” Alex, finally at his limit, lifts his chin and spits out, “I already am like you.” It hangs in the air between them, as physical as the kicked-over chair. Luna blinks. “What are you saying?” “You know what I’m saying. I think you always knew, before I even did.” “You don’t—” he says, stammering, trying to put it off. “You’re not like me.” Alex levels his stare. “Close enough. And you know what I mean.” “Okay, fine, kid,” Luna finally snaps, “you want me to be your fucking sherpa? Here’s my advice: Don’t tell anyone. Go find a nice girl and marry her. You’re luckier than me—you can do that, and it wouldn’t even be a lie.” And what comes out of Alex’s mouth, comes so fast he has no chance to stop it, only divert it out of English at the last second in case it’s overheard: “Sería una mentira, porque no sería él.” It would be a lie, because it wouldn’t be him. He knows immediately Raf has caught his meaning, because he takes a sharp step backward, his back hitting the sill again.
“You can’t tell me this shit, Alex!” he says, clawing inside his jacket until he finds and removes another pack of cigarettes. He shakes one out and fumbles with the lighter. “What are you even thinking? I’m on the opponent’s fucking campaign! I can’t hear this! How can you possibly think you can be a politician like this?” “Who fucking decided that politics had to be about lying and hiding and being something you’re not?” “It’s always been that, Alex!” “Since when did you buy into it?” Alex spits. “You, me, my family, the people we run with—we were gonna be the honest ones! I have absolutely zero interest in being a politician with some perfect veneer and two-pointfive kids. Didn’t we decide it was supposed to be about helping people? About the fight? What part of that is so fucking irreconcilable with letting people see who I really am? Who you are, Raf?” “Alex, please. Please. Jesus Christ. You have to leave. I can’t know this. You can’t tell me this. You have to be more careful than this.” “God,” Alex says, voice bitter, his hands on his hips. “You know, it’s worse than trust. I believed in you.” “I know you did,” Luna says. He’s not even looking at Alex anymore. “I wish you hadn’t. Now, I need you to get out.” “Raf—” “Alex. Get. Out.” He goes, slamming the door behind him. Back at the Residence, he tries to call Henry. He doesn’t pick up, but he texts: Sorry. Meeting with Philip. Love you. He reaches under the bed and gropes in the dark until he finds it: a bottle of Maker’s. The emergency stash. “Salud,” he mutters under his breath, and he unscrews the top. bad metaphors about maps
A <[email protected]>                9/25/20 3:21 AM to Henry h, i have had whiskey. bear with me. there’s this thing you do. this thing. it drives me crazy. i think about it all the time. there’s a corner of your mouth, and a place that it goes. pinched and worried like you’re afraid you’re forgetting something. i used to hate it. used to think it was your little tic of disapproval.
but i’ve kissed your mouth, that corner, that place it goes, so many times now. i’ve memorized it. topography on the map of you, a world i’m still charting. i know it. i added it to the key. here: inches to miles. i can multiply it out, read your latitude and longitude. recite your coordinates like la rosaria. this thing, your mouth, its place. it’s what you do when you’re trying not to give yourself away. not in the way that you do all the time, those empty, greedy grabs for you. i mean the truth of you. the weird, perfect shape of your heart. the one on the outside of your chest. on the map of you, my fingers can always find the green hills, wales. cool waters and a shore of white chalk. the ancient part of you carved out of stone in a prayerful circle, sacrosanct. your spine’s a ridge i’d die climbing. if i could spread it out on my desk, i’d find the corner of your mouth where it pinches with my fingers, and i’d smooth it away and you’d be marked with the names of saints like all the old maps. i get the nomenclature now—saints’ names belong to miracles. give yourself away sometimes, sweetheart. there’s so much of you. fucking yrs, a p.s. wilfred owen to siegfried sassoon—1917: And you have fixed my Life—however short. You did not light me: I was always a mad comet; but you have fixed me. I spun round you a satellite for a month, but shall swing out soon, a dark star in the orbit where you will blaze. Re: Bad metaphors about maps
Henry <[email protected]>                9/25/20 6:07 AM to A From Jean Cocteau to Jean Marais, 1939: Thank you from the bottom of my heart for having saved me. I was drowning and you threw yourself into the water without hesitation, without a backward look.
The sound of Alex’s phone buzzing on his nightstand startles him out of a dead sleep. He falls halfway out of bed, fumbling to answer it. “Hello?” “What did you do?” Zahra’s voice nearly shouts. By the clicking of heels in the background and muttered swearing, she’s running somewhere. “Um,” Alex says. He rubs his eyes, trying to get his brain back online. What did he do? “Be more specific?” “Check the fucking news, you horny little miscreant—how could you possibly be stupid enough to get photographed? I swear to God—” Alex doesn’t even hear the last part of what she says, because his stomach has just dropped all the way down through the floor and into the fucking basements two floors below. “Fuck.”
Hands shaking, he switches Zahra to speaker, opens up Google, and types his own name. BREAKING: Photos Reveal Romantic Relationship Between Prince Henry and Alex Claremont-Diaz OMFG: FSOTUS and Prince Henry—Totally Doing It THE ORAL OFFICE: READ FSOTUS’S STEAMY EMAILS TO PRINCE HENRY Royal Family Declines to Comment on Reports of Prince Henry’s Relationship with First Son 25 GIFs That Perfectly Describe Our Reaction When We Heard About Prince Henry & FSOTUS DON’T LET FIRST SON GO DOWN ON ME A bubble of hysterical laughter emerges from his throat. His bedroom door flies open, and Zahra slams on the light, a steely expression of rage barely concealing the sheer terror on her face. Alex’s brain flashes to the panic button behind his headboard and wonders if the Secret Service will be able to find him before he bleeds out. “You’re on communications lockdown,” she says, and instead of punching him, she snatches his phone out of his hand and shoves it down the front of her blouse, which has been buttoned wrong in her rush. She doesn’t even blink at his state of half-nakedness, just dumps an armload of newspapers onto his bedspread. QUEEN HENRY! twenty copies of the Daily Mail proclaim in gigantic letters. INSIDE THE PRINCE’S GAY AFFAIR WITH THE FIRST SON OF THE UNITED STATES! The cover is splashed with a blown-up photo of what is undeniably himself and Henry kissing in the back seat of the car behind the cafe, apparently shot with a long-range lens through the windshield. Tinted windows, but he forgot about the fucking windshield. Two smaller photos are inset on the bottom of the page: one of the shots of them on the Beekman’s elevator and a photo of them side by side at Wimbledon, him whispering something in Henry’s ear while Henry smiles a soft, private smile. Fucking shitting hell. He is so fucked. Henry is so fucked. And, Jesus Christ, his mother’s campaign is fucked, and his political career is fucked, and his ears are ringing, and he’s going to throw up. “Fuck,” Alex says again. “I need my phone. I have to call Henry—”
“No, you do fucking not,” Zahra says. “We don’t know yet how the emails got out, so it’s radio silence until we find the leak.” “The—what? Is Henry okay?” God, Henry. All he can think about is Henry’s big blue eyes looking terrified, Henry’s breathing coming shallow and quick, locked in his bedroom in Kensington Palace and desperately alone, and his jaw locks up, something burning in the back of his throat. “The president is sitting down right now with as many members of the Office of Communications as we could drag out of bed at three in the morning,” Zahra tells him, ignoring his question. Her phone is buzzing nonstop in her hand. “It’s about to be gay DEFCON five in this administration. For God’s sake, put some clothes on.” Zahra disappears into Alex’s closet, and he flips the newspaper open to the story, his heart pounding. There are even more photos inside. He glances over the copy, but there’s too much to even begin to process. On the second page, he sees them: printed and annotated excerpts of their emails. One is labeled: PRINCE HENRY: SECRET POET? It begins with a line he’s read about a thousand times by now. Should I tell you that when we’re apart, your body comes back to me in dreams … “Fuck!” he says a third time, spiking the newspaper at the floor. That one was his. It feels obscene to see it there. “How the fuck did they get these?” “Yep,” Zahra agrees. “You dirty did it.” She throws a white button-down and a pair of jeans at him, and he pitches himself out of bed. Zahra gamely holds out an arm for him to steady himself while he pulls his pants up, and despite it all, he’s struck with overwhelming gratitude for her. “Listen, I need to talk to Henry as soon as possible. I can’t even imagine — God, I need to talk to him.” “Get some shoes, we’re running,” Zahra tells him. “Priority one is damage control, not feelings.” He grabs a pair of sneakers, and they take off while he’s still pulling them on, running west. His brain is struggling to keep up, running through about five thousand possible ways this could go, imagining himself ten years down the road being frozen out of Congress, plummeting approval ratings, Henry’s name scratched off the line of succession, his mother losing reelection on a swing state’s disapproval of him. He’s so screwed, and he can’t even decide who to be the angriest with, himself or the Mail or the monarchy or the whole stupid country.
He nearly crashes into Zahra’s back as she skids to a stop in front of a door. He pushes the door open, and the whole room goes silent. His mother stares at him from the head of the table and says flatly, “Out.” At first he thinks she’s talking to him, but she cuts her eyes down to the people around the table with her. “Was I not clear? Everyone, out, now,” she says. “I need to talk to my son.”

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