Red, White &Royal Blue By Casey McQuiston , Chapter 13

“Sit down,” his mother tells him, and Alex feels dread coil deep in his stomach. He has no clue what to expect—knowing your parent as the person who raised you isn’t the same as being able to guess their moves as a world leader. He sits, and the silence hovers over them, his mother’s hands folded in a considering pose against her lips. She looks exhausted. “Are you okay?” she says finally. When he looks up in surprise, there’s no anger in her eyes. The president stands on the edge of a career-ending scandal, measures her breaths evenly, and waits for her son to answer. Oh. It hits him with sudden clarity that he hasn’t at all stopped to consider his own feelings. There simply hasn’t been the time. When he reaches for an emotion to name, he finds he can’t pin one down, and something shudders inside him and shuts down completely. He doesn’t often wish away his position in life, but in this moment, he does. He wants to be having this conversation in a different life, just his mother sitting across from him at the dinner table, asking him how he feels about his nice, respectable boyfriend, if he’s doing okay with figuring his identity out. Not like this, in a West Wing briefing room, his dirty emails spread out between them on the table. “I’m…” he begins. To his horror, he hears something shake in his voice, which he quickly swallows down. “I don’t know. This isn’t how I wanted to tell people. I thought we’d get a chance to do this right.” Something softens and resolves in her face, and he suspects he’s answered a question for her beyond the one she asked. She reaches over and covers one of his hands with her own. “You listen to me,” she says. Her jaw is set, ironclad. It’s the game face he’s seen her use to stare down Congress, to cow autocrats. Her grip on his hand is steady and strong. He wonders, half-hysterically, if this is how it felt to charge into war under Washington. “I am your mother. I was your mother before I was ever the president, and I’ll be your mother long after, to the day they put me in the ground and beyond this earth. You are my child. So, if you’re serious about this, I’ll back your play.”
Alex is silent. But the debates, he thinks. But the general. Her gaze is hard. He knows better than to say either of those things. She’ll handle it. “So,” she says. “Do you feel forever about him?” And there’s no room left to agonize over it, nothing left to do but say the thing he’s known all along. “Yeah,” he says, “I do.” Ellen Claremont exhales slowly, and she grins a small, secret grin, the crooked, unflattering one she never uses in public, the one he knows best from when he was a kid around her knees in a small kitchen in Travis County. “Then, fuck it.”
The Washington Post As details emerge about Alex ClaremontDiaz’s affair with Prince Henry, White House goes silent
September 27, 2020
“Thinking about history makes me wonder how I’ll fit into it one day, I guess,” First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz writes in one of the many emails to Prince Henry published by the Daily Mail this morning. “And you too.” It seems the answer to that question may have come sooner than any anticipated with the sudden exposure of the First Son’s romantic relationship with Prince Henry, an arrangement with major repercussions for two of the world’s most powerful nations, less than two months before the United States casts its vote on President Claremont’s second term. As security experts within the FBI and the Claremont administration scramble to find the sources that provided the British tabloid with evidence of the affair, the usually high-profile First Family has shuttered, with no official statement from the First Son. “The First Family has always and continues to keep their personal lives separate from the political and diplomatic dealings of the presidency,” White House Press Secretary Davis Sutherland said in a brief prepared statement this morning. “They ask for patience and understanding from the American people as they handle this very private matter.” The Daily Mail’s report this morning revealed that First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz has been involved romantically and sexually with Prince Henry since at least February of this year, according to emails and photographs obtained by the paper. The full email transcripts have been uploaded to WikiLeaks under the moniker “The Waterloo Letters,” seemingly named for a reference to the Waterloo Vase in the Buckingham Palace Gardens in one email composed by Prince Henry. The correspondence continues regularly up to Sunday night and appears to have been lifted from a private email server used by residents of the White House. “Setting aside the ramifications for President Claremont’s ability to be impartial on issues of both international relations and traditional family values,” Republican presidential candidate Senator Jeffrey Richards said at a press conference earlier today, “I’m extremely concerned about this private email server. What kind of information was being disseminated on this server?” Richards added that he believes the American voters have a right to know everything else for which President Claremont’s server may have been used. Sources close to the Claremont administration insist the private server is similar to the one set up during President George W. Bush’s administration and used only for communication within the White House about day-to-day operations and personal correspondence for the First Family and core White House personnel. First rounds of examination of “The Waterloo Letters” by experts have yet to reveal any evidence of classified information or otherwise compromising content outside of the nature of the First Son’s relationship with Prince Henry.
For five endless, unbearable hours, Alex is shuffled from room to room in the West Wing, meeting with what seems to be every strategist, press staffer, and crisis manager his mother’s administration has to offer. The only moment he recalls with any clarity is pulling his mother into an alcove to say, “I told Raf.” She stares at him. “You told Rafael Luna that you’re bisexual?” “I told Rafael Luna about Henry,” he says flatly. “Two days ago.” She doesn’t ask why, just sighs grimly, and they both hover over the implication before she says, “No. No, those pictures were taken before that. It couldn’t have been him.” He runs through pro and con lists, models of different outcomes, fucking charts and graphs and more data than he has ever wanted to see about his own relationship and its ramifications for the world around him. This is the damage you cause, Alex, it all seems to say, right there in hard facts and figures. This is who you hurt. He hates himself, but he doesn’t regret anything, and maybe that makes him a bad person and a worse politician, but he doesn’t regret Henry. For five endless, unbearable hours, he’s not allowed to even try to contact Henry. The press sec drafts a statement. It looks like any other memo. For five hours, he doesn’t shower or change his clothes or laugh or smile or cry. It’s eight in the morning when he’s finally released and told to stay in the Residence and stand by for further instructions. He’s handed his phone, at last, but there’s no answer when he calls Henry, and no response when he texts. Nothing at all. Amy walks him through the colonnade and up the stairs, saying nothing, and when they reach the hallway between the East and West Bedrooms, he sees them. June, her hair in a haphazard knot on the top of her head and in a pink bathrobe, her eyes red-rimmed. His mom, in a sharp, no-nonsense black dress and pointed heels, jaw set. Leo, barefoot in his pajamas. And his dad, a leather duffel still hanging off one shoulder, looking harried and exhausted. They all turn to look at him, and Alex feels a wave of something so much bigger than himself sweep over him, like when he was a child standing bowlegged in the Gulf of Mexico, riptide sucking at his feet. A sound escapes his throat uninvited, something that he barely even recognizes, and June has him first, then the rest of them, arms and arms and hands and hands,
pulling him close and touching his face and moving him until he’s on the floor, the goddamn terrible hideous antique rug that he hates, sitting on the floor and staring at the rug and the threads of the rug and hearing the Gulf rushing in his ears and thinking distantly that he’s having a panic attack, and that’s why he can’t breathe, but he’s just staring at the rug and he’s having a panic attack and knowing why his lungs won’t work doesn’t make them work again. He’s faintly aware of being shifted into his room, to his bed, which is still covered in the godforsaken fucking newspapers, and someone guides him onto it, and he sits down and tries very, very hard to make a list in his head. One. One. One.
He sleeps in fits and starts, wakes up sweating, wakes up shivering. He dreams in short, fractured scenes that swell and fade erratically. He dreams of himself at war, in a muddy trench, love letter soaking red in his chest pocket. He dreams of a house in Travis County, doors locked, unwilling to let him in again. He dreams of a crown. He dreams once, briefly, of the lake house, an orange beacon under the moon. He sees himself there, standing in water up to his neck. He sees Henry, sitting naked on the pier. He sees June and Nora, hands clasped together, and Pez on the grass between them, and Bea, digging pink fingertips into the wet soil. In the trees next to them, he hears the snap, snap, snap of branches. “Look,” Henry says, pointing up at the stars. And Alex tries to say, Don’t you hear it? Tries to say, Something’s coming. He opens his mouth: a spill of fireflies, and nothing. When he opens his eyes, June is sitting up against the pillows next to him, bitten nails pressed against her bottom lip, still in her bathrobe and keeping watch. She reaches down and squeezes his hand. He squeezes back.
Between dreams he catches the sound of muffled voices in the hallway. “Nothing,” Zahra’s voice is saying. “Not a thing. Nobody is taking our calls.” “How can they not be taking our calls? I’m the goddamn president.”
“Permission to do a thing, ma’am, slightly outside diplomatic protocol.”
A comment: The First Family Has Been Lying To Us, The American People!!1 WHAT ELSE Are They Lying About??!?! A tweet: I KNEW IT I KNEW ALEX WAS GAY I TOLD YOU BITCHES A comment: My 12 y/o daughter has been crying all day. She’s dreamt of marrying Prince Henry since she was a little girl. She is heartbroken. A comment: Are we really supposed to believe that no federal funds were used to cover this up? A tweet: lmaoooo wait look at page 22 of the emails alex is such a hoe A tweet: OMFG DID YOU SEE somebody who went to uni with Henry posted some photos of him at a party and he is just like Profoundly Gay in them i’m screaming A tweet: READ—My column with @WSJ on what the #WaterlooLetters say about the inner workings of the Claremont White House. More comments. Slurs. Lies. June takes his phone away and shoves it under a couch cushion. He doesn’t bother protesting. Henry’s not going to call.
At one in the afternoon, for the second time in twelve hours, Zahra bursts through his bedroom door. “Pack a bag,” she says. “We’re going to London.”
June helps him stuff a backpack with jeans and a pair of shoes and a broken-in copy of Prisoner of Azkaban, and he stumbles into a clean shirt and out of his room. Zahra is waiting in the hall with her own bag and a freshly pressed suit of Alex’s, a sensible navy one that she has apparently decided is appropriate for meeting the queen. She’s told him very little, except that Buckingham Palace has shut down communication channels in and out, and they’re just going to show up and demand a meeting. She seems confident Shaan will agree to it and willing to physically overpower him if not. The feeling rolling around in his gut is bizarre. His mom has signed off on them going public with the truth, which is incredible, but there’s no reason
to expect that from the crown. He could get marching orders to deny everything. He thinks he might grab Henry and run if it comes down to that. He’s almost completely sure Henry wouldn’t go along with pretending it was all fake. He trusts Henry, and he believes in him. But they were also supposed to have more time. There’s a secluded side entrance of the Residence that Alex can sneak out of without being seen, and June and his parents meet him there. “I know this is scary,” his mom says, “but you can handle it.” “Give ’em hell,” his dad adds. June hugs him, and he shoves on his sunglasses and a hat and jogs out the door and toward whatever way this is all going to end. Cash and Amy are waiting on the plane. Alex wonders briefly if they volunteered for the assignment, but he’s trying to get his emotions back under control, and that’s not going to help. He bumps his fist against Cash’s as he passes, and Amy nods up from the denim jacket she’s needling yellow flowers into. It’s all happened so quickly that now, knees curled up to his chin as they leave the ground, is the first time Alex is able to actually think about everything. He’s not, he thinks, upset people know. He’s always been pretty unapologetic when it came to things like who he dates and what he’s into, although those were never anything like this. Still, the cocky shithead part of him is slightly pleased to finally have a claim on Henry. Yep, the prince? Most eligible bachelor in the world? British accent, face like a Greek god, legs for days? Mine. But that’s only a tiny, tiny fraction of it. The rest is a knot of fear, anger, violation, humiliation, uncertainty, panic. There are the flaws everyone’s allowed to see—his big mouth, his mercurial temper, his searing impulses— and then there’s this. It’s like how he only wears his glasses when nobody’s around: Nobody’s supposed to see how much he needs. He doesn’t care that people think about his body and write about his sex life, real or imagined. He cares that they know, in his own private words, what’s pumping out of his heart. And Henry. God, Henry. Those emails—those letters—were the one place Henry could say what he was really thinking. There’s nothing that wasn’t laid out in there: Henry being gay, Bea going to rehab, the queen tacitly keeping Henry in the closet. Alex hasn’t been a good Catholic in a
long time, but he knows confession is a sacrament. They were supposed to stay safe. Fuck. He can’t sit still. He tosses Prisoner of Azkaban aside after four pages. He encounters a think piece on his own relationship on Twitter and has to shut down the whole app. He paces up and down the aisle of the jet, kicking at the bottoms of the seats. “Can you please sit down?” Zahra says after twenty minutes of watching him twitch around the cabin. “You’re giving my ulcer an ulcer.” “Are you sure they’re gonna let us in when we get there?” Alex asks her. “Like, what if they don’t? What if they, like, call the Royal Guard on us and have us arrested? Can they do that? Amy could probably fight them. Will she get arrested if she tries to fight them?” “For fuck’s sake,” Zahra groans, and she pulls out her phone and starts dialing. “Who are you calling?” She sighs, holding the phone up to her ear as it rings. “Srivastava.” “What makes you think he’ll answer?” “It’s his personal line.” Alex stares at her. “You have his personal line and you haven’t used it until now?” “Shaan,” Zahra snaps. “Listen up, you fuck. We are in the air right now. FSOTUS is with me. ETA six hours. You will have a car waiting. We will meet the queen and whoever the fuck else we have to meet to hash this shit out, or so help me God I will personally make your balls into fucking earrings. I will scorched-earth your entire motherfucking life.” She pauses, presumably to listen to him agree because Alex can’t imagine him doing anything else. “Now, put Henry on the phone, and do not try to tell me he’s not there, because I know you haven’t let him out of your sight.” And she shoves her phone at Alex’s face. He takes it uncertainly and lifts it to his ear. There’s rustling, a confused noise. “Hello?” It’s Henry’s voice, sweet and posh and shaky and confused, and relief knocks the wind out of him. “Sweetheart.” He hears Henry’s exhale over the line. “Hi, love. Are you okay?”
He laughs wetly, amazed. “Fuck, are you kidding me? I’m fine, I’m fine, are you okay?” “I’m … managing.” Alex winces. “How bad is it?” “Philip broke a vase that belonged to Anne Boleyn, Gran ordered a communications lockdown, and Mum hasn’t spoken to anyone,” Henry tells him. “But, er, other than that. All things considered. It’s, er.” “I know,” Alex says. “I’ll be there soon.” There’s another pause, Henry’s breath shaky over the receiver. “I’m not sorry,” he says. “That people know.” Alex feels his heart climb up into his throat. “Henry,” he attempts, “I…” “Maybe—” “I talked to my mom—” “I know the timing isn’t ideal—” “Would you—” “I want—” “Hang on,” Alex says. “Are we. Um. Are we both asking the same thing?” “That depends. Were you going to ask me if I want to tell the truth?” “Yeah,” Alex says, and he thinks his knuckles must be white around the phone. “Yeah, I was.” “Then, yes.” A breath, barely. “You want that?” Henry takes a moment to respond, but his voice is level. “I don’t know if I would have chosen it yet, but it’s out there now, and … I won’t lie. Not about this. Not about you.” Alex’s eyelashes are wet. “I fucking love you.” “I love you too.” “Just hold on until I get there; we’re gonna figure this out.” “I will.” “I’m coming. I’ll be there soon.” Henry exhales a wet, broken laugh. “Please, do hurry.” They hang up, and he passes the phone back to Zahra, who takes it wordlessly and tucks it back into her bag. “Thank you, Zahra, I—”
She holds up one hand, eyes closed. “Don’t.” “Seriously, you didn’t have to do that.” “Look, I’m only going to say this once, and if you ever repeat it, I’ll have you kneecapped.” She drops her hand, fixing him with a glare that manages to be both chilly and fond. “I’m rooting for you, okay?” “Wait. Zahra. Oh my God. I just realized. You’re … my friend.” “No, I’m not.” “Zahra, you’re my mean friend.” “Am not.” She yanks a blanket from her pile of belongings, turning her back to Alex and wrapping it around her. “Don’t speak to me for the next six hours. I deserve a fucking nap.” “Wait, wait, okay, wait,” Alex says. “I have one question.” She sighs heavily. “What?” “Why’d you wait to use Shaan’s personal number?” “Because he’s my fiancé, asshole, but some of us understand the meaning of discretion, so you wouldn’t know about it,” she tells him without even so much as looking at him, curled up against the window of the plane. “We agreed we’d never use our personal numbers for work contact. Now shut up and let me get some sleep before we have to deal with the rest of this. I’m running on nothing but black coffee, a Wetzel’s Pretzel, and a fistful of B12. Do not even breathe in my direction.”
It’s not Henry but Bea who answers when Alex knocks on the closed door of the music room on the second floor of Kensington. “I told you to stay away—” Bea is saying as soon as the door is open, brandishing a guitar over her shoulder. She drops it as soon as she sees him. “Oh, Alex, I’m so sorry, I thought you were Philip.” She scoops him up with her free hand into a surprisingly bone-crushing hug. “Thank God you’re here, I was about to come get you myself.” When she releases him, he’s finally able to see Henry behind her, slumped on the settee with a bottle of brandy. He smiles at Alex, weakly, and says, “Bit short for a stormtrooper.” Alex’s laugh comes out half sob, and it’s impossible to know if he moves first or if Henry does, but they meet in the middle of the room, Henry’s arms around Alex’s neck, swallowing him up. If Henry’s voice on the phone was a tether, his body is the gravity that makes it possible, his hand gripping the back of Alex’s neck a magnetic force, a permanent compass north.
“I’m sorry,” is what comes out of Alex’s mouth, miserably, earnestly, muffled against Henry’s throat. “It’s my fault. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” Henry releases him, hands on his shoulders, jaw set. “Don’t you dare. I’m not sorry for a thing.” Alex laughs again, incredulous, looking into the heavy circles under Henry’s eyes and the chewed-up bottom lip and, for the first time, seeing a man born to lead a nation. “You’re unbelievable,” Alex says. He leans up and kisses the underside of his jaw, finding it rough from a full, fitful day without a shave. He pushes his nose, his cheek into it, feels some of the tension sap out of Henry at the touch. “You know that?” They find their way onto the lush purples and reds of the Persian rugs on the floor, Henry’s head in Alex’s lap and Bea on a pouf, plucking away at a weird little instrument she tells Alex is called an autoharp. Bea pulls over a tiny table and sets out crackers and a little chunk of soft cheese and takes away the brandy bottle. From the sound of it, the queen is absolutely livid—not just to finally have confirmation about Henry, but because it’s via something as undignified as a tabloid scandal. Philip drove in from Anmer Hall the minute the news broke and has been rebuffed by Bea every time he tries to get near Henry for what he says “will simply be a stern discussion about the consequences of his actions.” Catherine has been by, once, three hours ago, stone-faced and sad, to tell Henry that she loves him and he could have told her sooner. “And I said, ‘That’s great, Mum, but as long as you’re letting Gran keep me trapped, it doesn’t mean a fucking thing,’” Henry says. Alex stares down at him, shocked and a little impressed. Henry rests an arm over his face. “I feel awful. I was—I dunno. All the times she should have been there the past few years, it caught up to me.” Bea sighs. “Maybe it was the kick in the arse she needs. We’ve been trying to get her to do anything for years since Dad.” “Still,” Henry says. “The way Gran is—Mum isn’t to blame for that. And she did manage to protect us, before. It’s not fair.” “H,” Bea says firmly. “It’s hard, but she needed to hear it.” She looks down at the little buttons of the autoharp. “We deserve to have one parent, at least.” The corner of her mouth pinches, so much like Henry’s.
“Are you okay?” Alex asks her. “I know I—I saw a couple articles…” He doesn’t finish the sentence. “The Powder Princess” was the fourth-highest Twitter trend ten hours ago. Her frown twitches into a half-smile. “Me? Honestly, it’s almost a relief. I’ve always said that the most comfortable I could be is everyone knowing my story upfront, so I don’t have hear the speculations or lie to cover the truth—or explain it. I’d rather it, you know, hadn’t been this way. But here we are. At least now I can stop acting as if it’s something to be ashamed of.” “I know the feeling,” Henry says softly. The quiet ebbs and flows after a while, the London night black and pressing in against the windowpanes. David the beagle curls up protectively at Henry’s side, and Bea picks a Bowie song to play. She sings under her breath, “I, I will be king, and you, you will be queen,” and Alex almost laughs. It feels like how Zahra has described hurricane days to him: stuck together, hoping the sandbags will hold. Henry drifts asleep at some point, and Alex is thankful for it, but he can still feel tension in every part of Henry’s body against him. “He hasn’t slept since the news,” Bea tells him quietly. Alex nods slightly, searching her face. “Can I ask you something?” “Always.” “I feel like he’s not telling me something,” Alex whispers. “I believe him when he says he’s in, and he wants to tell everyone the truth. But there’s something else he’s not saying, and it’s freaking me out that I can’t figure out what it is.” Bea looks up, her fingers stilling. “Oh, love,” she says simply. “He misses Dad.” Oh. He sighs, putting his head in his hands. Of course. “Can you explain?” he attempts lamely. “What that’s like? What I can do?” She shifts on her pouf, repositioning the harp onto the floor, and reaches into her sweater. She withdraws a silver coin on a chain: her sobriety chip. “D’you mind if I go a bit sponsor?” she asks with a smirk. He offers her a weak half smile, and she continues. “So, imagine we’re all born with a set of feelings. Some are broader or deeper than others, but for everyone, there’s that ground floor, a bottom crust of the pie. That’s the maximum depth of feeling you’ve ever experienced.
And then, the worst thing happens to you. The very worst thing that could have happened. The thing you had nightmares about as a child, and you thought, it’s all right because that thing will happen to me when I’m older and wiser, and I’ll have felt so many feelings by then that this one worst feeling, the worst possible feeling, won’t seem so terrible. “But it happens to you when you’re young. It happens when your brain isn’t even fully done cooking—when you’ve barely experienced anything, really. The worst thing is one of the first big things that ever happens to you in your life. It happens to you, and it goes all the way down to the bottom of what you know how to feel, and it rips it open and carves out this chasm down below to make room. And because you were so young, and because it was one of the first big things to happen in your life, you’ll always carry it inside you. Every time something terrible happens to you from then on, it doesn’t just stop at the bottom—it goes all the way down.” She reaches across the tiny tea table and the sad little pile of water crackers and touches the back of Alex’s hand. “Do you understand?” she asks him, looking right into his eyes. “You need to understand this to be with Henry. He is the most loving, nurturing, selfless person you could hope to meet, but there is a sadness and a hurt in him that is tremendous, and you may very well never truly understand it, but you need to love it as much as you love the rest of him, because that’s him. That is him, part and parcel. And he is prepared to give it all to you, which is far more than I ever, in a thousand years, thought I would see him do.” Alex sits, trying for a long moment to absorb it, and says, “I’ve never … I haven’t been through anything like that,” he says, voice rough. “But I’ve always felt it, in him. There’s this side of him that’s … unknowable.” He takes a breath. “But the thing is, jumping off cliffs is kinda my thing. That’s the choice. I love him, with all that, because of all that. On purpose. I love him on purpose.” Bea smiles gently. “Then you’ll do fine.” Sometime around four in the morning, he climbs into bed behind Henry, Henry whose spine pokes out in soft points, Henry who has been through the worst thing and now the next worst thing and is still alive. He reaches out a hand and touches the ridge of Henry’s shoulder blade, the skin where the sheet has slid off him, where his lungs stubbornly refuse to stop pulling air. Six feet of boy curled around kicked-in ribs and a recalcitrant heart. Carefully, his chest to Henry’s back, he slots himself into place.
“It’s foolishness, Henry,” Philip is saying. “You’re too young to understand.” Alex’s ears are ringing. They sat down in Henry’s kitchen this morning with scones and a note from Bea that she’d gone to meet with Catherine. And then suddenly, Philip was bursting through the door, suit askew, hair uncombed, shouting at Henry about the nerve to break the communications embargo, to bring Alex here while the palace is being watched, to keep embarrassing the family. Presently, Alex is thinking about breaking his nose with the coffee percolator. “I’m twenty-three, Philip,” Henry says, audibly struggling to keep his voice even. “Mum was barely more than that when she met Dad.” “Yes, and you think that was a wise decision?” Philip says nastily. “Marrying a man who spent half our childhoods making films, who never served his country, who got sick and left us and Mum—” “Don’t, Philip,” Henry says. “I swear to God. Just because your obsession with family legacy didn’t impress him—” “You clearly don’t know the first fucking thing about what a legacy means if you can let something like this happen,” Philip snaps. “The only thing to do now is bury it and hope that somehow people will believe that none of it was real. That’s your duty, Henry. It’s the least you can do.” “I’m sorry,” Henry says, sounding wretched, but there’s a bitter defiance rising in him too. “I’m sorry that I’m such a disgrace for being the way I am.” “I don’t care if you’re gay,” Philip says, dropping that big fat if like Henry hasn’t already specifically told him. “I care that you’ve made this choice, with him”—he cuts his eyes sharply to Alex as if he finally exists in the same room as this conversation—“someone with a fucking target on his back, to be so stupid and naive and selfish as to think it wouldn’t completely fuck us all.” “I knew, Philip. Christ,” Henry says. “I knew it could ruin everything. I was terrified of exactly this. But how could I have predicted? How?” “As I said, naive,” Philip tells him. “This is the life we live, Henry. You’ve always known it. I’ve tried to tell you. I wanted to be a good brother to you, but you don’t bloody listen. It’s time to remember your place in this family. Be a man. Stand up and take responsibility. Fix this. For once in your life, don’t be a coward.”
Henry flinches like he’s been physically slapped. Alex can see it now— this is how he was broken down over the years. Maybe not always as explicitly, but always there, always implied. Remember your place. And he does the thing Alex loves so much: He sticks his chin out, steeling himself up. “I’m not a coward,” he says. “And I don’t want to fix it.” Philip slants a harsh, humorless laugh at him. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You can’t possibly know.” “Fuck off, Philip, I love him,” Henry says. “Oh, you love him, do you?” It’s so patronizing that Alex’s hand twitches into a fist under the table. “What exactly do you intend to do, then, Henry? Hmm? Marry him? Make him the Duchess of Cambridge? The First Son of the United bloody States, fourth in line to be Queen of England?” “I’ll fucking abdicate!” Henry says, voice rising. “I don’t care!” “You wouldn’t dare,” Philip spits back. “We have a great uncle who abdicated because he was a fucking Nazi, so it’d hardly be the worst reason anyone’s done it, would it?” Henry’s yelling now, and he’s out of his chair, hands shaking, towering over Philip, and Alex notices that he’s actually taller. “What are we even defending here, Philip? What kind of legacy? What kind of family, that says, we’ll take the murder, we’ll take the raping and pillaging and the colonizing, we’ll scrub it up nice and neat in a museum, but oh no, you’re a bloody poof? That’s beyond our sense of decorum! I’ve bloody well had it. I’ve sat about long enough letting you and Gran and the weight of the damned world keep me pinned, and I’m finished. I don’t care. You can take your legacy and your decorum and you can shove it up your fucking arse, Philip. I’m done.” He huffs out an almighty breath, turns on his heel, and stalks out of the kitchen. Alex, mouth hanging open, remains frozen in his seat for a few seconds. Across from him, Philip is looking red-faced and queasy. Alex clears his throat, stands, and buttons his jacket. “For what it’s worth,” he says to Philip, “that is the bravest son of a bitch I’ve ever met.” And he leaves too.
Shaan looks like he hasn’t slept in thirty-six hours. Well, he looks perfectly composed and groomed, but the tag is sticking out of his sweater and the strong smell of whiskey is emanating from his tea.
Next to him, in the back of the incognito van they’re taking to Buckingham Palace, Zahra has her arms folded resolutely. The engagement ring on her left hand glints in the muted London morning. “So, uh,” Alex attempts. “Are you two in a fight now?” Zahra looks at him. “No. Why would you think that?” “Oh. I just thought because—” “It’s fine,” Shaan says, still typing on his iPhone. “This is why we set rules about the personal-slash-professional lines at the outset of the relationship. It works for us.” “If you want a fight, you should have seen it when I found out he had known about you two all along,” Zahra says. “Why do you think I got a rock this big?” “It usually works for us,” Shaan amends. “Yep,” Zahra agrees. “Plus, we banged it out last night.” Without looking up, Shaan meets her hand in a high five. Shaan and Zahra’s forces combined have managed to secure them a meeting with the queen at Buckingham Palace, but they’ve been told to take a winding, circumspect route to avoid the paparazzi. Alex can feel a buzzing static electricity in London this morning, millions of voices murmuring about him and Henry and what might happen next. But Henry’s beside him, holding his hand, and he’s holding Henry’s hand back, so at least that’s something. There’s a small, older woman with Bea’s upturned nose and Henry’s blue eyes waiting outside the conference room when they approach it. She’s wearing thick glasses, a worn-in maroon sweater, and a pair of cuffed jeans, looking decidedly out of place in the halls of Buckingham Palace. She has a paperback tucked into her back pocket. Henry’s mother turns to face them, and Alex watches her expression flutter through something pained to reserved to gentle when she lays eyes on them. “Hi, my baby,” she says as Henry draws up even with her. Henry’s jaw is tight, but it’s not anger, only fear. Alex can see on his face an expression he recognizes: Henry wondering if it’s safe to accept the love offered to him, and wanting desperately to take it regardless. He puts his arm around her, lets her kiss his cheek. “Mum, this is Alex,” Henry says, and adds, as if it’s not obvious, “my boyfriend.”
She turns to Alex, and he’s honestly not sure what to expect, but she pulls him toward her and kisses his cheek too. “My Bea has told me what you’ve done for my son,” she says, her gaze piercing. “Thank you.” Bea is behind her, looking tired but focused, and Alex can only imagine the come-to-Jesus talk she must have given her mother before they got to the palace. She locks eyes with Zahra as their little party assembles in the hall, and Alex feels like they couldn’t possibly be in more capable hands. He wonders if Catherine is up to joining the ranks. “What are you going to say to her?” Henry asks his mother. She sighs, touching the edge of her glasses. “Well, the old bird isn’t much moved by emotion, so I suppose I’ll try to appeal to her with political strategy.” Henry blinks. “Sorry—what are you saying?” “I’m saying that I’ve come to fight,” she says, straightforward and plain. “You want to tell the truth, don’t you?” “I—yeah, Mum.” A light of hope has switched on behind his eyes. “Yes, I do.” “Then we can try.” They take their seats around the long, ornately carved table in the meeting room, awaiting the queen’s arrival in nervous silence. Philip is there, looking like he’s about to chew through his tongue, and Henry can’t stop fidgeting with his tie. Queen Mary glides in wearing slate-gray separates and a stony expression, her gray bob arranged with razor precision around the edges of her face. Alex is struck by how tall she is, straight-backed and fine-jawed even in her early eighties. She’s not exactly beautiful, but there’s a definite story in her shrewd blue eyes and angular features, the heavy creases of frowns around her mouth. The temperature in the room drops as she takes her seat at the head of the table. A royal attendant fetches the teapot from the center of the table and pours into the pristine china, and the quiet hangs as she fixes her tea at a glacial pace, making them wait. The milk, poured with one gently tremoring, ancient hand. One cube of sugar, picked up with deliberate care with the tiny silver tongs. A second cube. Alex coughs. Shaan shoots him a look. Bea presses her lips together.
“I had a visit earlier this year,” the queen says at last. She takes up her teaspoon and begins to stir slowly. “The President of China. You’ll forgive me if the name escapes me. But he told me the most fascinating story about how technology has advanced in different parts of the world for these modern times. Did you know, one can manipulate a photograph to make it appear as if the most outlandish things are real? Just a simple … program, is it? A computer. And any manner of unbelievable falsehood could be made actual. One’s eyes could hardly detect a difference.” The silence in the room is total, except for the sound of the queen’s teaspoon scraping circular motions in the bottom of her teacup. “I’m afraid I am too old to understand how things are filed away in space,” she goes on, “but I have been told any number of lies can be manufactured and disseminated. One could … create files that never existed and plant them somewhere easy to find. None of it real. The most flagrant of evidence can be discredited and dismissed, just like that.” With the delicate tinkling of silver on porcelain, she rests her spoon on the saucer and finally looks at Henry. “I wonder, Henry. I wonder if you think any of this had to do with these unseemly reports.” It’s right on the table between them: an offer. Keep ignoring it. Pretend it was a lie. Make it all go away. Henry grits his teeth. “It’s real,” he says. “All of it.” The queen’s face moves through a series of expressions, settling on a terse frown, as if she’s found something unsightly on the bottom of one of her kitten heels. “Very well. In that case.” Her gaze shifts to Alex. “Alexander. Had I known you were involved with my grandson, I would have insisted upon a more formal first meeting.” “Gran—” “Do be quiet, Henry, dear.” Catherine speaks up, then. “Mum—” The queen holds up one wizened hand to silence her. “I thought we had been humiliated enough in the papers when Beatrice had her little problem. And I made myself clear, Henry, years ago, that if you were drawn in unnatural directions, appropriate measures could be taken. Why you have chosen to undermine the hard work I’ve done to maintain the crown’s
standing is beyond me, and why you seem set on disrupting my efforts to restore it by demanding I summit with some … boy”—here, a nasty lilt to her polite tone, under which Alex can hear epithets for everything from his race to his sexuality—“when you were told to await orders, is truly a mystery. Clearly you have taken leave of your senses. My position is unchanged, dear: Your role in this family is to perpetuate our bloodline and maintain the appearance of the monarchy as the ideal of British excellence, and I simply cannot allow anything less.” Henry is looking down, eyes distant and cast toward the grain of the table, and Alex can practically feel the energy roiling up from Catherine across from him. An answer to the fury tight in his own chest. The princess who ran away with James Bond, who told her children to give back what their country stole, making a choice. “Mum,” she says evenly. “Don’t you think we ought to at least have a conversation about other options?” The queen’s head turns slowly. “And what options might those be, Catherine?” “Well, I think there’s something to be said for coming clean. It could save us a great deal of face to treat it not as a scandal, but as an intrusion upon the privacy of the family and the victimization of a young man in love.” “Which is what it was,” Bea chimes in. “We could integrate this into our narrative,” Catherine says, choosing her words with extreme precision. “Reclaim the dignity of it. Make Alex an official suitor.” “I see. So your plan is to allow him to choose this life?” Here, a slight tell. “It’s the only life for him that’s honest, Mum.” The queen purses her lips. “Henry,” she says, returning to him, “wouldn’t you have a more pleasant go of it without all these unnecessary complications? You know we have the resources to find a wife for you and compensate her handsomely. You understand, I’m only trying to protect you. I know it seems important to you in this moment, but you really must think of the future. You do realize this would mean years of reporters hounding you, all sorts of allegations? I can’t imagine people would be as eager to welcome you into children’s hospitals—” “Stop it!” Henry bursts out. All the eyes in the room swivel to him, and he looks pale and shocked at the sound of his own voice, but he goes on. “You can’t—you can’t intimidate me into submission forever!”
Alex’s hand gropes across the space between them under the table, and the moment his fingertips catch on the back of Henry’s wrist, Henry’s hand is gripping his, hard. “I know it will be difficult,” Henry says. “I … It’s terrifying. And if you’d asked me a year ago, I probably would have said it was fine, that nobody needs to know. But … I’m as much a person and a part of this family as you. I deserve to be happy as much as any of you do. And I don’t think I ever will be if I have to spend my whole life pretending.” “Nobody’s saying you don’t deserve to be happy,” Philip cuts in. “First love makes everyone mad—it’s foolish to throw away your future because of one hormonal decision based on less than a year of your life when you were barely in your twenties.” Henry looks Philip square in the face and says, “I’ve been gay as a maypole since the day I came out of Mum, Philip.” In the silence that follows, Alex has to bite down very hard on his tongue to suppress the urge to laugh hysterically. “Well,” the queen eventually says. She’s holding her teacup daintily in the air, eyeing Henry over it. “Even if you’re willing to submit to the flogging in the papers, it doesn’t erase the stipulations of your birthright: You are to produce heirs.” And Alex apparently hasn’t been biting his tongue hard enough, because he blurts out, “We could still do that.” Even Henry’s head whips around at that. “I don’t recall giving you permission to speak in my presence,” Queen Mary says. “Mum—” “That raises the issue of surrogates, or donors,” Philip jumps back in, “and rights to the throne—” “Are those details pertinent right now, Philip?” Catherine interrupts. “Someone has to bear the stewardship for the royal legacy, Mum.” “I don’t care for that tone at all.” “We can entertain hypotheticals, but the fact of the matter is that anything but maintaining the royal image is out of the question,” the queen says, setting down her teacup. “The country simply will not accept a prince of his proclivities. I am sorry, dear, but to them, it’s perverse.” “Perverse to them or perverse to you?” Catherine asks her. “That isn’t fair—” Philip says.
“It’s my life—” Henry interjects. “We haven’t even gotten a chance yet to see how people will react.” “I have been serving this country for forty-seven years, Catherine. I believe I know its heart by now. As I have told you since you were a little girl, you must remove your head from the clouds—” “Oh, will you all shut up for a second?” Bea says. She’s standing now, brandishing Shaan’s tablet in one hand. “Look.” She thunks it down on the table so Queen Mary and Philip can see it, and the rest of them stand to look too. It’s a news report from the BBC, and the sound is off, but Alex reads the scroll at the bottom of the screen: WORLDWIDE SUPPORT POURS IN FOR PRINCE HENRY AND FIRST SON OF US. The room falls silent at the images on the screen. A rally in New York outside the Beekman, decked out in rainbows, with waving signs that say things like: FIRST SON OF OUR HEARTS. A banner on the side of a bridge in Paris that reads: HENRY + ALEX WERE HERE. A hasty mural on a wall in Mexico City of Alex’s face in blue, purple, and pink, a crown on his head. A herd of people in Hyde Park with rainbow Union Jacks and Henry’s face ripped out of magazines and pasted onto poster boards reading: FREE HENRY. A young woman with a buzz cut throwing two fingers up at the windows of the Daily Mail. A crowd of teenagers in front of the White House, wearing homemade Tshirts that all say the same thing in crooked Sharpie letters, a phrase he recognizes from one of his own emails: HISTORY , HUH? Alex tries to swallow, but he can’t. He looks up, and Henry is looking back at him, mouth open, eyes wet. Princess Catherine turns and crosses the room slowly, toward the tall windows on the east side of the room. “Catherine, don’t—” the queen says, but Catherine grabs the heavy curtains with both hands and throws them open. A burst of sunlight and color pushes the air out of the room. Down on the mall in front of Buckingham Palace, there’s a mass of people with banners, signs, American flags, Union Jacks, pride pennants streaming over their heads. It’s not as big as the royal wedding crowd, but it’s huge, filling up the pavement and pressed up to the gates. Alex and Henry were told to come in through the back of the palace—they never saw it. Henry has carefully approached the window, and Alex watches from across the room as he reaches out and grazes his fingertips against the glass.
Catherine turns to him and says on a shaky sigh, “Oh, my love,” and pulls him into her chest somehow, even though he’s nearly a foot taller. Alex has to look away—even after everything, this feels too private for him to witness. The queen clears her throat. “This is … hardly representative of how the country as a whole will respond,” she says. “Jesus Christ, Mum,” Catherine says, releasing Henry and nudging him behind her on protective reflex. “This is precisely why I didn’t want you to see. You’re too softhearted to accept the truth, Catherine, given any other option. The majority of this country still wants the ways of old.” Catherine draws herself up, her posture ramrod straight as she approaches the table again. It’s a product of royal breeding, but it comes off more like a bow being drawn. “Of course they do, Mum. Of course the bloody Tories in Kensington and the Brexit fools don’t want it. That’s not the point. Are you so determined to believe nothing could change? That nothing should change? We can have a real legacy here, of hope, and love, and change. Not the same tepid shite and drudgery we’ve been selling since World War II—” “You will not speak to me this way,” Queen Mary says icily, one tremulous, ancient hand still resting on her teaspoon. “I’m sixty years old, Mum,” Catherine says. “Can’t we eschew decorum at this point?” “No respect. Never an ounce of respect for the sanctity—” “Or, perhaps I should bring some of my concerns to Parliament?” Catherine says, leaning in to lower her voice right in Queen Mary’s face. Alex recognizes the glint in her eyes. He never knew—he always assumed Henry got it from his dad. “You know, I do think Labour is rather finished with the old guard. I wonder, if I were to mention those meetings you keep forgetting about, or the names of countries you can’t quite keep straight, if they might decide that forty-seven is perhaps enough years for the people of Britain to expect you to serve?” The tremor in the queen’s hand has doubled, but her jaw is steely. The room is deadly silent. “You wouldn’t dare.” “Wouldn’t I, Mum? Would you like to find out?” Catherine turns to face Henry, and Alex is surprised to see tears on her face.
“I’m sorry, Henry,” she says. “I’ve failed you. I’ve failed all of you. You needed your mum, and I wasn’t there. And I was so frightened that I started to think maybe it was for the best, to let you all be kept behind glass.” She turns back to her mother. “Look at them, Mum. They’re not props of a legacy. They’re my children. And I swear on my life, and Arthur’s, I will take you off the throne before I will let them feel the things you made me feel.” The room hangs in suspense for a few agonizing seconds, then: “I still don’t think—” Philip begins, but Bea seizes the pot of tea from the center of the table and dumps it into his lap. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, Pip!” she says, grabbing him by the shoulders and shoving him, sputtering and yelping, toward the door. “So dreadfully clumsy. You know, I think all that cocaine I did must have really done a job on my reflexes! Let’s go get you cleaned up, shall we?” She heaves him out, throwing Henry a thumbs-up over her shoulder, and shuts the door behind them. The queen looks over at Alex and Henry, and Alex sees it in her eyes at last: She’s afraid of them. She’s afraid of the threat they pose to the perfect Faberge veneer she’s spent her whole life maintaining. They terrify her. And Catherine isn’t backing down. “Well,” Queen Mary says. “I suppose. I suppose you don’t leave me much choice, do you?” “Oh, you have a choice, Mum,” Catherine says. “You’ve always had a choice. Perhaps today you’ll make the right one.”
In the corridor of Buckingham Palace, as soon as the door has shut behind them, they fall sideways into a tapestry on a wall, breathless and delirious and laughing, cheeks wet. Henry pulls Alex close and kisses him, whispers, “I love you I love you I love you,” and it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter if anyone sees.
He’s on the way back to the airstrip when he sees it, emblazoned on the side of a brick building, a shock of color against a gray street. “Wait!” Alex yells up to the driver. “Stop! Stop the car!” Up close, it’s beautiful. Two stories tall. He can’t imagine how somebody was able to put together something like this so fast. It’s a mural of himself and Henry, facing each other, haloed by a bright yellow sun, depicted as Han and Leia. Henry in all white, starlight in his
hair. Alex dressed as a scruffy smuggler, a blaster at his hip. A royal and a rebel, arms around each other. He snaps a photo on his phone, and fingers shaking, types out a tweet: Never tell me the odds.
He calls June from the air over the Atlantic. “I need your help,” he says. He hears the click of her pen cocking on the other end of the line. “Whatcha got?”

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