Red, White &Royal Blue By Casey McQuiston , Chapter 7

Henry does get out of Germany, and he meets Alex near a herd of crêpeeating tourists by Place du Tertre, wearing a sharp blue blazer and a wicked smile. They stumble back to his hotel after two bottles of wine, and Henry sinks to his knees on the white marble and looks up at Alex with big, blue, bottomless eyes, and Alex doesn’t know a word in any language to describe it. He’s so drunk, and Henry’s mouth is so soft, and it’s all so fucking French that he forgets to send Henry back to his own hotel. He forgets they don’t spend the night. So, they do. He discovers Henry sleeps curled up on his side, his spine poking out in little sharp points that are actually soft if you reach out and touch them, very carefully so as not to wake him because he’s actually sleeping for once. In the morning, room service brings up crusty baguettes and sticky tarts filled with fat apricots and a copy of Le Monde that Alex makes Henry translate out loud. He vaguely remembers telling himself they weren’t going to do things like this. It’s all a little hazy right now. When Henry’s gone, Alex finds the stationery by the bed: Fromagerie Nicole Barthélémy. Leaving your clandestine hookup directions to a Parisian cheese shop. Alex has to admit: Henry really has a solid handle on his personal brand. Later, Zahra texts him a screencap of a BuzzFeed article about his “best bromance ever” with Henry. It’s a mix of photos: the state dinner, a couple of shots of them grinning outside the stables in Greenwich, one picked up from a French girl’s Twitter of Alex leaning back in his chair at a tiny cafe table while Henry finishes off the bottle of red between them. Beneath it, Zahra has begrudgingly written: Good work, you little shit. He guesses this is how they’re going to do this—the world is going to keep thinking they’re best friends, and they’re going to keep playing the part. He knows, objectively, he should pace himself. It’s only physical. But Perfect Stoic Prince Charming laughs when he comes, and texts Alex at weird hours of the night: You’re a mad, spiteful, unmitigated demon, and I’m going to kiss you until you forget how to talk. And Alex is kind of obsessed with it.
Alex decides not to think too hard. Normally they’d only cross paths a few times a year; it takes creative schedule wrangling and a little sweettalking of their respective teams to see each other as often as their bodies demand. At least they’ve got a ruse of international public relations. Their birthdays, it turns out, are less than three weeks apart, which means, for most of March, Henry is twenty-three and Alex is twenty-one. (“I knew he was a goddamn Pisces,” June says). Alex happens to have a voter registration drive at NYU at the end of March, and when he texts Henry about it, he gets a brisk response fifteen minutes later: Have rescheduled visit to New York for nonprofit business to this weekend. Will be in the city ready to carry out birthday floggings &c. The photographers are readily visible when they meet in front of the Met, so they clasp each other’s hands and Alex says through his big on-camera smile, “I want you alone, now.” They’re more careful in the States, and they go up to the hotel room one at a time—Henry through the back flanked by two tall PPOs, and later, Alex with Cash, who grins and knows and says nothing. There’s a lot of champagne and kissing and buttercream from a birthday cupcake Henry’s inexplicably procured smeared around Alex’s mouth, Henry’s chest, Alex’s throat, between Henry’s hips. Henry pins his wrists to the mattress and swallows him down, and Alex is drunk and fucking transported, feeling every moment of twenty-two years and not a single day older, some kind of hedonistic youth of history. Birthday head from another country’s prince will do that. It’s the last time they see each other for weeks, and after a lot of teasing and maybe some begging, he convinces Henry to download Snapchat. Henry mostly sends tame, fully clothed thirst traps that make Alex sweat in his lectures: a mirror shot, mud-stained white polo pants, a sharp suit. On a Saturday, the C-SPAN stream on his phone gets interrupted by Henry on a sailboat, smiling into the camera with the sun bright on his bare shoulders, and Alex’s heart goes so fucking weird that he has to put his head in his hands for a full minute. (But, like. It’s fine. It’s not a whole thing.) Between it all, they talk about Alex’s campaign job, Henry’s nonprofit projects, both of their appearances. They talk about how Pez is now proclaiming himself fully in love with June and spends half his time with Henry rhapsodizing about her or begging him to ask Alex if she likes flowers
(yes) or exotic birds (to look at, not to own) or jewelry in the shape of her own face (no). There are a lot of days when Henry is happy to hear from him and quick to respond, a fast, cutting sense of humor, hungry for Alex’s company and the tangle of thoughts in Alex’s head. But sometimes, he’s taken over by a dark mood, an unusually acerbic wit, strange and vitrified. He’ll withdraw for hours or days, and Alex comes to understand this as grief time, little bouts of depression, or times of “too much.” Henry hates those days completely. Alex wishes he could help, but he doesn’t particularly mind. He’s just as attracted to Henry’s cloudy tempers, the way he comes back from them, and the millions of shades in between. He’s also learned that Henry’s placid demeanor is shattered with the right poking. He likes to bring up things he knows will get Henry going, including: “Listen,” Henry is saying, heated, over the phone on a Thursday night. “I don’t give a damn what Joanne has to say, Remus John Lupin is gay as the day is long, and I won’t hear a word against it.” “Okay,” Alex says. “For the record, I agree with you, but also, tell me more.” He launches into a long-winded tirade, and Alex listens, amused and a little awed, as Henry works his way to his point: “I just think, as the prince of this bloody country, that when it comes to Britain’s positive cultural landmarks, it would be nice if we could not throw our own marginalized people under the proverbial bus. People sanitize Freddie Mercury or Elton John or Bowie, who was shagging Jagger up and down Oakley Street in the seventies, I might add. It’s just not the truth.” It’s another thing Henry does—whipping out these analyses of what he reads or watches or listens to that confronts Alex with the fact that he has both a degree in English literature and a vested interest in the gay history of his family’s country. Alex has always known his gay American history—after all, his parents’ politics have been part of it—but it wasn’t until he figured himself out that he started to engage with it like Henry. He’s starting to understand what swelled in his chest the first time he read about Stonewall, why he ached over the SCOTUS decision in 2015. He starts catching up voraciously in his spare time: Walt Whitman, the Laws of Illinois 1961, The White Night Riot, Paris Is Burning. He’s pinned a photo over his desk at work, a man at a rally in the ’80s in a jacket that says across the back: IF I DIE OF AIDS—FORGET BURIAL—JUST DROP MY BODY ON THE STEPS OF THE F.D.A.
June’s eyes stick on it one day when she drops by the office to have lunch with him, giving him the same strange look she gave him over coffee the morning after Henry snuck into his room. But she doesn’t say anything, carries on through sushi about her latest project, pulling all her journals together into a memoir. Alex wonders if any of this stuff would make it into there. Maybe, if he tells her soon. He should tell her soon. It’s weird that the thing with Henry could make him understand this huge part of himself, but it does. When he sinks into thoughts of Henry’s hands, square knuckles and elegant fingers, he wonders how he never realized it before. When he sees Henry next at a gala in Berlin, and he feels that gravitational pull, chases it down in the back of a limo, and binds Henry’s wrists to a hotel bedpost with his own necktie, he knows himself better. When he shows up for a weekly briefing two days later, Zahra grabs his jaw with one hand and turns his head, peering closer at the side of his neck. “Is that a hickey?” Alex freezes. “I … um, no?” “Do I look stupid to you, Alex?” Zahra says. “Who is giving you hickeys, and why have you not gotten them to sign an NDA?” “Oh my God,” he says, because really, the last person Zahra needs to be concerned about leaking sordid details is Henry. “If I needed an NDA, you would know. Chill.” Zahra does not appreciate being told to chill. “Look at me,” she says. “I have known you since you were still leaving skid marks in your drawers. You think I don’t know when you’re lying to me?” She jabs a pointy, polished nail into his chest. “However you got that, it better be somebody off the approved list of girls you are allowed to be seen with during the election cycle, which I will email to you again as soon as you get out of my sight in case you have misplaced it.” “Jesus, okay.” “And to remind you,” she goes on, “I will chop my own tit off before I let you pull some idiotic stunt to cause your mother, our first female president, to be the first president to lose reelection since H fucking W. Do you understand me? I will lock you in your room for the next year if I have to, and you can take your finals by fucking smoke signal. I will staple your dick to the inside of your leg if that keeps it in your fucking pants.” She returns to her notes with smooth professionalism, as if she has not just threatened his life. Behind her, he can see June at her place at the table,
very clearly aware that he’s lying too.
“Do you have a last name?” Alex has never actually offered a greeting when calling Henry. “What?” The usual bemused, elongated, one-syllable response. “A last name,” Alex repeats. It’s late afternoon and stormy outside the Residence, and he’s on his back in the middle of the Solarium, catching up on drafts for work. “That thing I have two of. Do you use your dad’s? Henry Fox? That sounds fucking dope. Or does royalty outrank? Do you use your mom’s name, then?” He hears some shuffling over the phone and wonders if Henry’s in bed. They haven’t been able to see each other in a couple weeks, so his mind is quick to supply the image. “The official family name is Mountchristen-Windsor,” Henry says. “Hyphenate, like yours. So my full name is … Henry George Edward James Fox-Mountchristen-Windsor.” Alex gapes up at the ceiling. “Oh … my God.” “Truly.” “I thought Alexander Gabriel Claremont-Diaz was bad.” “Is that after someone?” “Alexander after the founding father, Gabriel after the patron saint of diplomats.” “That’s a bit on the nose.” “Yeah, I didn’t have a chance. My sister got Catalina June after the place and the Carter Cash, but I got all the self-fulfilling prophecies.” “I did get both of the gay kings,” Henry points out. “There’s a prophecy for you.” Alex laughs and kicks his files for the campaign away. He’s not coming back to them tonight. “Three last names is just mean.” Henry sighs. “In school, we all went by Wales. Philip is Lieutenant Windsor in the RAF now, though.” “Henry Wales, then? That’s not too bad.” “No, it’s not. Is this the reason you phoned?” “Maybe,” Alex says. “Call it historical curiosity.” Except the truth is closer to the slight drag in Henry’s voice and the half step of hesitation before he speaks that’s been there all week. “Speaking of historical curiosity,
here’s a fun fact: I’m sitting in the room Nancy Reagan was in when she found out Ronald Reagan got shot.” “Good Lord.” “And it’s also where ol’ Tricky Dick told his family he was gonna resign.” “I’m sorry—who or what is a Tricky Dick?” “Nixon! Listen, you’re undoing everything this country’s crusty forefathers fought for and deflowering the darling of the republic. You at least need to know basic American history.” “I hardly think deflowering is the word,” Henry deadpans. “These arrangements are supposed to be with virgin brides, you know. That certainly didn’t seem to be the case.” “Uh-huh, and I’m sure you picked up all those skills from books.” “Well, I did go to uni. It just wasn’t necessarily the reading that did it.” Alex hums in suggestive agreement and lets the rhythm of banter fall out. He looks across the room—the windows that were once only gauzy curtains on a sleeping room for Taft’s family on hot nights, the corner now stacked with Leo’s old comic book collectibles where Eisenhower used to play cards. The stuff underneath the surface. Alex has always sought those things out. “Hey,” he says. “You sound weird. You good?” Henry’s breath catches and he clears his throat. “I’m fine.” Alex doesn’t say anything, letting the silence stretch in a thin thread between them before he cuts it. “You know, this whole arrangement we have … you can tell me stuff. I tell you stuff all the time. Politics stuff and school stuff and nutso family stuff. I know I’m, like, not the paragon of normal human communication, but. You know.” Another pause. “I’m not … historically great at talking about things,” Henry says. “Well, I wasn’t historically great at blowjobs, but we all gotta learn and grow, sweetheart.” “Wasn’t?” “Hey,” Alex huffs. “Are you trying to say I’m still not good at them?” “No, no, I wouldn’t dream of it,” Henry says, and Alex can hear the small smile in his voice. “It was just the first one that was … Well. It was enthusiastic, at least.” “I don’t remember you complaining.”
“Yes, well, I’d only been fantasizing about it for ages.” “See, there’s a thing,” Alex points out. “You just told me that. You can tell me other stuff.” “It’s hardly the same.” He rolls over onto his stomach, considers, and very deliberately says, “Baby.” It’s become a thing: baby. He knows it’s become a thing. He’s slipped up and accidentally said it a few times, and each time, Henry positively melts and Alex pretends not to notice, but he’s not above playing dirty here. There’s a slow hiss of an exhale across the line, like air escaping through a crack in a window. “It’s, ah. It’s not the best time,” he says. “How did you put it? Nutso family stuff.” Alex purses his lips, bites down on his cheek. There it is. He’s wondered when Henry would finally start talking about the royal family. He makes oblique references to Philip being wound so tight as to double as an atomic clock, or to his grandmother’s disapproval, and he mentions Bea as often as Alex mentions June, but Alex knows there’s more to it than that. He couldn’t tell you when he started noticing, though, just like he doesn’t know when he started ticking off the days of Henry’s moods. “Ah,” he says. “I see.” “I don’t suppose you keep up with any British tabloids, do you?” “Not if I can help it.” Henry offers the bitterest of laughs. “Well, the Daily Mail has always had a bit of an affinity for airing our dirty laundry. They, er, they gave my sister this nickname years ago. ‘The Powder Princess.’” A ding of recognition. “Because of the…” “Yes, the cocaine, Alex.” “Okay, that does sound familiar.” Henry sighs. “Well, someone’s managed to bypass security to spray paint ‘Powder Princess’ on the side of her car.” “Shit,” Alex says. “And she’s not taking it well?” “Bea?” Henry laughs, a little more genuinely this time. “No, she doesn’t usually care about those things. She’s fine. More shaken up that someone got past security than anything. Gran had an entire PPO team sacked. But … I dunno.” He trails off, and Alex can guess.
“But you care. Because you want to protect her even though you’re the little brother.” “I … yes.” “I know the feeling. Last summer I almost punched a guy at Lollapalooza because he tried to grab June’s ass.” “But you didn’t?” “June had already dumped her milkshake on him,” Alex explains. He shrugs a little, knowing Henry can’t see it. “And then Amy Tased him. The smell of burnt strawberry milkshake on a sweaty frat guy is really something.” Henry laughs fully at that. “They never do need us, do they?” “Nope,” Alex agrees. “So you’re upset because the rumors aren’t true.” “Well … they are true, actually,” Henry says. Oh, Alex thinks. “Oh,” Alex says. He’s not sure how else to respond, reaching into his mental store of political platitudes and finding them all clinical and intolerable. Henry, with a little trepidation, presses on. “You know, Bea has only ever wanted to play music,” he starts. “Mum and Dad played too much Joni Mitchell for her growing up, I think. She wanted guitar lessons; Gran wanted violin since it was more proper. Bea was allowed to learn both, but she went to uni for classical violin. Anyway, her last year of uni, Dad died. It happened so … quickly. He just went.” Alex shuts his eyes. “Fuck.” “Yeah,” Henry says, voice rough. “We all went round the bend a bit. Philip just had to be the man of the family, and I was an arsehole, and Mum didn’t leave her rooms. Bea just stopped seeing the point in anything. I was starting uni when she finished, and Philip was deployed halfway round the globe, and she was out every single night with all the posh London hipsters, sneaking out to play guitar at secret shows and doing mountains of cocaine. The papers loved it.” “Jesus,” Alex hisses. “I’m sorry.” “It’s fine,” Henry says, steadiness rising in his voice as if he’s stuck out his chin in that stubborn way he does sometimes. Alex wishes he could see it. “In any event, the speculation and paparazzi photos and the goddamn nickname got to be too much, and Philip came home for a week, and he and
Gran literally put her in a car and had her driven to rehab and called it a wellness retreat to the press.” “Wait—sorry,” Alex says before he can stop himself. “Just. Where was your mom?” “Mum hasn’t been involved in much since Dad died,” Henry says on an exhale, then stops short. “Sorry. That’s not fair. It’s … the grief has been total for her. It was paralyzing. It is paralyzing. She was such a spitfire. I dunno. She still listens, and she tries, and she wants us to be happy. But I don’t know if she has it in her anymore to be a part of anyone’s happiness.” “That’s … horrible.” A pause, heavy. “Anyway, Bea went,” Henry goes on, “against her will, and didn’t think she had a problem at all, even though you could see her bloody ribs and she’d barely spoken to me in months, when we grew up inseparable. Checked herself out after six hours. I remember her calling me that night from a club, and I lost it. I was, what, eighteen? I drove there and she was sitting on the back steps, high as a kite, and I sat down next to her and cried and told her she wasn’t allowed to kill herself because Dad was gone and I was gay and I didn’t know what the hell to do, and that was how I came out to her. “The next day, she went back, and she’s been clean ever since, and neither of us has ever told anyone about that night. Until now, I suppose. And I’m not sure why I’ve said all this, I just, I’ve never really said any of it. I mean, Pez was there for most of it, so, and I—I don’t know.” He clears his throat. “Anyway, I don’t think I’ve ever said this many words out loud in a row in my entire life, so please feel free to put me out of my misery any time now.” “No, no,” Alex says, stumbling over his own tongue in a rush. “I’m glad you told me. Does it feel better at all to have said it?” Henry goes silent, and Alex wants so badly to see the shadows of expressions moving across his face, to be able to touch them with his fingertips. Alex hears a swallow across the line, and Henry says, “I suppose so. Thank you. For listening.” “Yeah, of course,” Alex tells him. “I mean, it’s good to have times when it’s not all about me, as tedious and exhausting as it may be.” That earns him a groan, and he bites back a smile when Henry says, “You are a wanker.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Alex says, and he takes the opportunity to ask a question he’s been wanting to ask for months. “So, um. Does anybody else know? About you?” “Bea’s the only one in the family I’ve told, though I’m sure the rest have suspected. I was always a bit different, never quite had the stiff upper lip. I think Dad knew and never cared. But Gran sat me down the day I finished my A levels and made it abundantly clear I was not to let anyone know about any deviant desires I might be beginning to harbor that might reflect poorly upon the crown, and there were appropriate channels to maintain appearances if necessary. So.” Alex’s stomach turns over. He pictures Henry, a teenager, back-broken with grief and told to keep it and the rest of him shut up tight. “What the fuck. Seriously?” “The wonders of the monarchy,” Henry says loftily. “God.” Alex scrubs a hand across his face. “I’ve had to fake some shit for my mom, but nobody’s ever outright told me to lie about who I am.” “I don’t think she sees it as lying. She sees it as doing what must be done.” “Sounds like bullshit.” Henry sighs. “Hardly any other options, are there?” There’s a long pause, and Alex is thinking about Henry in his palace, Henry and the years behind him, how he got here. He bites his lip. “Hey,” Alex says. “Tell me about your dad.” Another pause. “Sorry?” “I mean, if you don’t—if you want to. I was just thinking I don’t know much about him except that he was James Bond. What was he like?” Alex paces the Solarium and listens to Henry talk, stories about a man with Henry’s same sandy hair and strong, straight nose, someone Alex has met in shadows that pass through the way Henry speaks and moves and laughs. He hears about sneaking out of the palace and joyriding around the countryside, learning to sail, being propped up in director’s chairs. The man Henry remembers is both superhuman and heartbreakingly flesh and blood, a man who encompassed Henry’s entire childhood and charmed the world but was also simply a man. The way Henry talks about him is a physical feat, drifting up in the corners with fondness but sagging in the middle under the weight. He tells
Alex in a low voice how his parents met—Princess Catherine, dead set on being the first princess with a doctorate, mid-twenties and wading through Shakespeare. How she went to see Henry V at the RSC and Arthur was starring, how she pushed her way backstage and shook off her security to disappear into London with him and dance all night. How the Queen forbid it, but she married him anyway. He tells Alex about growing up in Kensington, how Bea sang and Philip clung to his grandmother, but they were happy, buttoned up in cashmere and knee socks and whisked through foreign countries in helicopters and shiny cars. A brass telescope from his father for his seventh birthday. How he realized by the time he was four that every person in the country knew his name, and how he told his mother he didn’t know if he wanted them to, and how she knelt down and told him she’d let nothing touch him, not ever. Alex starts talking too. Henry already hears nearly everything about Alex’s current life, but talking about how they grew up has always been some invisible line of demarcation. He talks about Travis County, making campaign posters with construction paper for fifth-grade student council, family trips to Surfside, running headlong into the waves. He talks about the big bay window in the house where he grew up, and Henry doesn’t tell him he’s crazy for all the things he used to write and hide under there. It starts to grow dark outside, a dull and soggy evening around the Residence, and Alex makes his way down to his room and his bed. He hears about the assortment of guys from Henry’s university days, all of them enamored with the idea of sleeping with a prince, almost all of them immediately alienated by the paperwork and secrecy and, occasionally, Henry’s dark moods about the paperwork and secrecy. “But of course, er,” Henry says, “nobody since … well, since you and I —” “No,” Alex says, faster than he expects, “me neither. Nobody else.” He hears words coming out of his mouth, ones he can’t believe he’s saying out loud. About Liam, about those nights, but also how he’d sneak pills out of Liam’s Adderall bottle when his grades were slipping and stay awake for two, three days at a time. About June, the unspoken knowledge that she only lives here to watch out for him, the quiet sense of guilt he carries when he can’t tear himself away. About how much some of the lies people tell about his mother hurt, the fear she’ll lose.
They talk for so long Alex has to plug his phone in to keep the battery from dying. He rolls onto his side and listens, trails the back of his hand across the pillow next to him and imagines Henry lying opposite in his own bed, two parentheses enclosing 3,700 miles. He looks at his chewed-up cuticles and imagines Henry there under his fingers, speaking into only inches of distance. He imagines the way Henry’s face would look in the bluish-gray dark. Maybe he would have a faint shadow of stubble on his jaw, waiting for a morning shave, or maybe the circles under his eyes would wash out in the low light. Somehow, this is the same person who had Alex so convinced he didn’t care about anything, who still has the rest of the world convinced he’s a mild, unfettered Prince Charming. It’s taken months to get here: the full realization of just how wrong he was. “I miss you,” Alex says before he can stop himself. He instantly regrets it, but Henry says, “I miss you too.”
“Hey, wait.” Alex rolls his chair back out of his cubicle. The woman from the afterhours cleaning crew stops, her hand on the handle of the coffeepot. “I know it looks disgusting, but would you mind leaving that? I was gonna finish it.” She gives him a dubious look but leaves the last burnt, sludgy vestiges of coffee where they are and rolls off with her cart. He peers down into his CLAREMONT FOR AMERICA mug and frowns at the almond milk that’s pooled in the middle. Why doesn’t this office keep normal milk around? This is why people from Texas hate Washington elites. Ruining the goddamn dairy industry. On his desk, there are three stacks of papers. He keeps staring at them, hoping if he recites them enough times in his head, he’ll figure out how to feel like he’s doing enough. One. The Gun File. A detailed index of every kind of insane gun Americans can own and state-by-state regulations, which he has to comb through for research on a new set of federal assault rifle policies. It’s got a giant smudge of pizza sauce on it because it makes him stress-eat. Two. The Trans-Pacific Partnership File, which he knows he needs to work on but has barely touched because it’s mind-numbingly boring. Three. The Texas File.
He’s not supposed to have this file. It wasn’t given to him by the policy chief of staff or anyone on the campaign. It’s not even about policy. It’s also more of a binder than a file. He guesses he should call it: The Texas Binder. The Texas Binder is his baby. He guards it jealously, stuffing it into his messenger bag to take home with him when he leaves the office and hiding it from WASPy Hunter. It contains a county map of Texas with complex voter demographic breakdowns, matched up with the populations of children of undocumented immigrants, unregistered voters who are legal residents, voting patterns over the last twenty years. He’s stuffed it with spreadsheets of data, voting records, projections he had Nora calculate for him. Back in 2016, when his mother squeezed out a victory in the general election, the bitterest sting was losing Texas. She was the first president since Nixon to win the presidency but lose her own state of residence. It wasn’t exactly a surprise, considering Texas had been polling red, but they were all secretly holding out for the Lometa Longshot to take it in the end. She didn’t. Alex keeps coming back to the numbers from 2016 and 2018 precinct by precinct, and he can’t shake this nagging feeling of hope. There’s something there, something shifting, he swears it. He doesn’t mean to be ungrateful for the policy job, it’s just … not what he thought it was going to be. It’s frustrating and slow-moving. He should stay focused, give it more time, but instead, he keeps coming back to the binder. He plucks a pencil out of WASPy Hunter’s Harvard pencil cup and starts sketching lines on the map of Texas for the millionth time, redrawing the districts old white men drew years ago to force votes their way. Alex has this spark at the base of his spine to do the most good he can, and when he sits here in his cubicle for hours a day and fidgets under all the minutiae, he doesn’t know if he is. But if he could only figure out a way to make Texas’ vote reflect its soul … he’s nowhere near qualified to singlehandedly dismantle Texas’ iron curtains of gerrymandering, but what if he— An incessant buzzing snaps him present, and he digs out his phone from the bottom of his bag. “Where are you?” June’s voice demands over the line. Fuck. He checks the time: 9:44. He was supposed to meet June for dinner over an hour ago.
“Shit, June, I’m so sorry,” he says, jumping up from his desk and shoving his things into his bag. “I got caught up at work—I, I completely forgot.” “I sent you like a million texts,” she says. She sounds like she’s visionboarding his funeral. “My phone was on silent,” he says helplessly, booking it for the elevator. “I’m seriously so sorry. I’m a complete jackass. I’m leaving now.” “Don’t worry about it,” she says. “I got mine to go. I’ll see you at home.” “Bug.” “I’m gonna need you to not call me that right now.” “June—” The call drops. When he gets back to the Residence, she’s sitting on her bed, eating pasta out of a plastic container, with Parks & Recreation playing on her tablet. She pointedly ignores him when he comes to her doorway. He’s reminded of when they were kids—around eight and eleven years old. He recalls standing next to her at the bathroom mirror, looking at the similarities between their faces: the same round tips of their noses, the same thick, unruly brows, the same square jaw inherited from their mother. He remembers studying her expression in the reflection as they brushed their teeth, the morning of the first day of school, their dad having braided June’s hair for her because their mom was in DC and couldn’t be there. He recognizes the same expression on her face now: carefully tuckedaway disappointment. “I’m sorry,” he tries again. “I honestly feel like complete and total shit. Please don’t be mad at me.” June keeps chewing, looking steadfastly at Leslie Knope chirping away. “We can do lunch tomorrow,” Alex says desperately. “I’ll pay.” “I don’t care about a stupid meal, Alex.” Alex sighs. “Then what do you want me to do?” “I want you not to be Mom,” June says, finally looking up at him. She closes her food container and gets up off her bed, pacing across the room. “Okay,” Alex says, raising both hands, “is that what’s happening right now?” “I—” She takes a deep breath. “No. I shouldn’t have said that.” “No, you obviously meant it,” Alex says. He drops his messenger bag and steps into the room. “Why don’t you say whatever it is you need to say?”
She turns to face him, arms folded, her spine braced against her dresser. “You really don’t see it? You never sleep, you’re always throwing yourself into something, you’re willing to let Mom use you for whatever she wants, the tabloids are always after you—” “June, I’ve always been this way,” he interrupts gently. “I’m gonna be a politician. You always knew that. I’m starting as soon as I graduate … in a month. This is how my life is gonna be, okay? I’m choosing it.” “Well, maybe it’s the wrong choice,” June says, biting her lip. He rocks back on his heels. “Where the hell is this coming from?” “Alex,” she says, “come on.” He doesn’t know what the hell she’s getting at. “You’ve always backed me up until now.” She flings one arm out emphatically enough to upset an entire potted cactus on her dresser and says, “Because until now you weren’t fucking the Prince of England!” That effectively snaps Alex’s mouth shut. He crosses to the sitting area in front of the fireplace, sinking down into an armchair. June watches him, cheeks bright scarlet. “Nora told you.” “What?” she says. “No. She wouldn’t do that. Although it kinda sucks you told her and not me.” She folds her arms again. “I’m sorry, I was trying to wait for you to tell me yourself, but, Jesus, Alex. How many times was I supposed to believe you were volunteering to take those international appearances we always found excuses to get out of? And, like, did you forget I’ve lived across the hall from you for almost my entire life?” Alex looks down at his shoes, June’s perfectly curated midcentury rug. “So you’re mad at me because of Henry?” June makes a strangled noise, and when he looks back up, she’s digging through the top drawer of her dresser. “Oh my God, how are you so smart and so dumb at the same time?” she says, pulling a magazine out from underneath her underwear. He’s about to tell her he’s not in the mood to look at her tabloids when she throws it at him. An ancient issue of J14, opened to a center page. The photograph of Henry, age thirteen. He glances up. “You knew?” “Of course I knew!” she says, flopping dramatically into the chair opposite him. “You were always leaving your greasy little fingerprints all
over it! Why do you always assume you can get away with things?” She releases a long-suffering sigh. “I never really … got what he was to you, until I got it. I thought you had a crush or something, or that I could help you make a friend, but, Alex. We meet so many people. I mean, thousands and thousands of people, and a lot of them are morons, and a lot of them are incredible, unique people, but I almost never meet somebody who’s a match for you. Do you know that?” She leans forward and touches his knee, pink fingernails on his navy chinos. “You have so much in you, it’s almost impossible to match it. But he’s your match, dumbass.” Alex stares at her, trying to process what she’s said. “I feel like this is your starry-eyed romantic thing projecting onto me,” is what he decides to say, and she immediately withdraws her hand from his leg and returns to glaring at him. “You know Evan didn’t break up with me?” she says. “I broke up with him. I was gonna go to California with him, live in the same time zone as Dad, get a job at the fucking Sacramento Bee or something. But I gave all that up to come here, because it was the right thing to do. I did what Dad did —I went where I was most needed, because it was my responsibility.” “And you regret it?” “No,” she says. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. But I—I wonder. Dad wonders, sometimes. Alex, you don’t have to wonder. You don’t have to be our parents. You can keep Henry, and figure the rest out.” Now she’s looking at him evenly, steadily. “Sometimes you have a fire under your ass for no good goddamn reason. You’re gonna burn out like this.” Alex leans back, thumbing the stitching on the armrest of the chair. “So, what?” he asks. “You want me to quit politics and go become a princess? That’s not very feminist of you.” “That’s not how feminism works,” she says, rolling her eyes. “And that’s not what I mean. I mean … I don’t know. Have you ever considered there might be more than one path to use what you have? Or to get where you want to be to make the most difference in the world?” “I’m not sure I’m following.” “Well.” She looks down at her cuticles. “It’s like the whole Sac Bee thing —it never actually would have worked out. It was a dream I had before Mom was president. The kind of journalism I wanted to do is the kind of journalism that being a First Daughter pretty much disqualifies you from. But the world is better with her where she is, and right now I’m looking for a
new dream that’s better too.” Her big brown Diaz eyes blink up at him. “So, I don’t know. Maybe there’s more than one dream for you, or more than one way to get there.” She gives a crooked shrug, tilting her head to look at him openly. June is often a mystery, a big ball of complex emotions and motivations, but her heart is honest and true. She’s very much what Alex holds in his memory as the sanctified idea of Southerness at its best: always generous and warm and sincere, work-strong and reliable, a light left on. She wants the best for him, plainly, in an unselfish and uncalculating way. She’s been trying to talk to him for a while, he realizes. He looks down at the magazine and feels the corner of his mouth tug upward. He can’t believe June kept it all these years. “He looks so different,” he says after a long minute, gazing down at the baby Henry on the page and his easy, unfledged sureness. “I mean, like, obviously. But the way he carries himself.” His fingertips brush the page in the same place they did when he was young, over the sun-gold hair, except now he knows its exact texture. It’s the first time he’s seen it since he learned where this version of Henry went. “It pisses me off sometimes, thinking about everything he’s been through. He’s a good person. He really cares, and he tries. He never deserved any of it.” June leans forward, looking at the picture too. “Have you ever told him that?” “We don’t really…” Alex coughs. “I don’t know. Talk like that?” June inhales deeply and makes an enormous fart noise with her mouth, shattering the serious mood, and Alex is so grateful for it that he melts onto the floor in a fit of hysterical laughter. “Ugh! Men!” she groans. “No emotional vocabulary. I can’t believe our ancestors survived centuries of wars and plagues and genocide just to wind up with your sorry ass.” She throws a pillow at him, and Alex scream-laughs as it hits him in the face. “You should try saying some of that stuff to him.” “Stop trying to Jane Austen my life!” he yells back. “Listen, it’s not my fault he’s a mysterious and retiring young royal and you’re the tempestuous ingénue that caught his eye, okay?” He laughs and tries to crawl away, even as she claws at his ankle and wallops another pillow at his head. He still feels guilty for blowing her off, but he thinks they’re okay now. He’ll do better. They fight for a spot on her big canopy bed, and she makes him spill what it’s like to be secretly hooking
up with a real-life prince. And so June knows; she knows about him and she hugs him and doesn’t care. He didn’t realize how terrified he was of her knowing until the fear is gone. She puts Parks back on and has the kitchen send up ice cream, and Alex thinks about how she said, “You don’t have to be our parents”—she’s never mentioned their dad in the same context as their mom like that before. He’s always known part of her resents their mom for the position they occupy in the world, for not having a normal life, for taking herself away from them. But he never really realized she felt the same sense of loss he does deep down about their dad, that it’s something she dealt with and moved past. That the stuff with their mom is something she’s still going through. He thinks she’s wrong about him, mostly—he doesn’t necessarily believe he has to choose between politics and this thing with Henry yet, or that he’s moving too fast in his career. But … there’s the Texas Binder, and the knowledge of other states like Texas and millions of other people who need someone to fight for them, and the feeling at the base of his spine, like there’s a lot of fight in him that could be honed down to a more productive point. There’s law school. Every time he looks at the Texas Binder, he knows it’s a big fat case for him to go take the damn LSAT like he knows both his parents wish he would instead of diving headfirst into politics. He’s always, always said no. He doesn’t wait for things. Doesn’t put in the time like that, do what he’s told. He’s never given much thought to options other than a crow’s path ahead of him. Maybe he should. “Is now a good time to point out Henry’s very hot, very rich best friend is basically in love with you?” Alex says to June. “He’s like some kind of billionaire, genius, manic-pixie-dream philanthropist. I feel like you would be into that.” “Please shut up,” she says, and she steals the ice cream back.
Once June knows, their circle of “knowing” is up to a tight seven. Before Henry, most of his romantic entanglements as FSOTUS were oneoff incidents that involved Cash or Amy confiscating phones before the act and pointing at the dotted line on the NDA on the way out—Amy with mechanical professionalism, Cash with the air of a cruise ship director. It was inevitable they be looped in.
And there’s Shaan, the only member of the royal staff who knows Henry is gay, excluding his therapist. Shaan ultimately doesn’t care about Henry’s sexual preferences as long as they’re not getting him into trouble. He’s a consummate professional parceled in immaculately tailored Tom Ford, ruffled by absolutely nothing, whose affection for his charge shows in the way he tends to him like a favorite houseplant. Shaan knows for the same reason Amy and Cash know: absolute necessity. Then Nora, who still looks smug every time the subject arises. And Bea, who found out when she walked in on one of their after-dark FaceTime sessions, leaving Henry capable of nothing but flustered British stammering and thousand-yard stares for the next day and a half. Pez seems to have been in on the secret all along. Alex imagines he demanded an explanation when Henry literally made them flee the country under the cover of night after putting his tongue in Alex’s mouth in the Kennedy Garden. It’s Pez who answers when Alex FaceTimes Henry at four a.m. DC time, expecting to catch Henry over his morning tea. Henry is holidaying in one of the family’s country homes while Alex suffocates under his last week of college. He doesn’t reflect on why his migraine demands soothing images of Henry looking cozy and picturesque, sipping tea by a lush green hillside. He just hits the buttons on the phone. “Alexander, babes,” Pez says when he picks up. “How lovely for you to give your auntie Pezza a ring on this magnificent Sunday morning.” He’s smiling from what looks like the passenger seat of a luxury car, wearing a cartoonishly large sunhat and a striped pashmina. “Hi, Pez,” Alex says, grinning back. “Where are y’all?” “We are out for a drive, taking in the scenery of Carmarthenshire,” Pez tells him. He tilts the phone over toward the driver’s seat. “Say good morning to your strumpet, Henry.” “Good morning, strumpet,” Henry says, glancing away from the road to wink at the camera. He’s looking fresh-faced and relaxed, all rolled-up sleeves and soft gray linen, and Alex feels calmer knowing somewhere in Wales, Henry got a decent night’s sleep. “What’s got you up at four in the morning this time?” “My fucking economics final,” Alex says, rolling over onto his side to squint at the screen. “My brain isn’t working anymore.”
“Can’t you get one of those Secret Service earpieces with Nora on the other end?” “I can take it for you,” Pez interjects, turning the camera back to himself. “I’m aces with money.” “Yes, yes, Pez, we know there’s nothing you can’t do,” says Henry’s voice off-camera. “No need to rub it in.” Alex laughs under his breath. From the angle Pez is holding the phone, he can see Wales rolling by though the car window, dramatic and plunging. “Hey, Henry, say the name of the house you’re staying at again.” Pez turns the camera to catch Henry in a half smile. “Llwynywermod.” “One more time.” “Llwynywermod.” Alex groans. “Jesus.” “I was hoping you two would start talking dirty,” Pez says. “Please, do go on.” “I don’t think you could keep up, Pez,” Alex tells him. “Oh really?” The picture returns to Pez. “What if I put my co—” “Pez,” comes the sound of Henry’s voice, and a hand with a signet ring on the smallest finger covers Pez’s mouth. “I beg of you. Alex, what part of ‘nothing he cannot do’ did you think was worth testing? Honestly, you are going to get us all killed.” “That’s the goal,” Alex says happily. “So what are y’all gonna do today?” Pez frees himself by licking Henry’s palm and continues talking. “Frolic naked in the hills, frighten the sheep, return to the house for the usual: tea, biscuits, casting ourselves upon the Thighmaster of love to moan about Claremont-Diaz siblings, which has become tragically one-sided since Henry took up with you. It used to be all bottles of cognac and shared malaise and ‘When will they notice us’—” “Don’t tell him that!” “—and now I just ask Henry, ‘What is your secret?’ And he says, ‘I insult Alex all the time and that seems to work.’” “I will turn this car around.” “That won’t work on June,” Alex says. “Let me get a pen—” It turns out they’re spending their holiday workshopping philanthropy projects. Henry’s been telling Alex for months about their plans to go
international, and now they’re talking three refugee programs around Western Europe, HIV clinics in Nairobi and Los Angeles, LGBT youth shelters in four different countries. It’s ambitious, but since Henry still staunchly covers all his own expenses with his inheritance from his father, his royal accounts are untouched. He’s determined to use them for nothing but this. Alex curls around his phone and his pillow as the sun comes up over DC. He’s always wanted to be a person with a legacy in this world. Henry is undoubtedly, determinedly that. It’s a little intoxicating. But it’s fine. He’s just a little sleep-deprived. All in all, finals come and go with much less fanfare than Alex imagined. It’s a week of cramming and presentations and the usual amount of allnighters, and it’s over. The whole college thing in general went by like that. He didn’t really have the experiences everyone else has, always isolated by fame or harangued by security. He never got a stamp on his forehead on his twentyfirst birthday at The Tombs, never jumped in Dalhgren Fountain. Sometimes it’s like he barely went to Georgetown, merely powered through a series of lectures that happened to be in the same geographical area. Anyway, he graduates, and the whole auditorium gives him a standing ovation, which is weird but kind of cool. A dozen of his classmates want to take a photo with him afterward. They all know him by name. He’s never spoken to any of them before. He smiles for their parents’ iPhones and wonders if he should have tried. Alex Claremont-Diaz graduates summa cum laude from Georgetown University with a bachelor’s degree in Government, his Google alerts read when he checks them from the back seat of the limo, before he’s even taken his cap and gown off. There’s a huge garden party at the White House, and Nora is there in a dress and blazer and a sly smile, pressing a kiss to the side of Alex’s jaw. “The last of the White House Trio finally graduates,” she says, grinning. “And he didn’t even have to bribe any professors with political or sexual favors to do it.” “I think some of them might finally manage to purge me from their nightmares soon,” Alex says. “Y’all do school weird,” June says, crying a little. There’s a mixed bag of political power players and family friends in attendance—including Rafael Luna, who falls under the heading of both.
Alex spots him looking tired but handsome by the ceviche, involved in animated conversation with Nora’s grandfather, the Veep. His dad is in from California, freshly tanned from a recent trek through Yosemite, grinning and proud. Zahra hands him a card that says, Good job doing what was expected of you, and nearly shoves him into the punch bowl when he tries to hug her. An hour in, his phone buzzes in his pocket, and June gives him a mild glare when he diverts his attention mid-sentence to check it. He’s ready to brush it off, but all around him iPhones and Blackberries are coming out in a flurry of movement. It’s WASPy Hunter: Jacinto just called a presser, word is he’s dropping out of the primary a.k.a. officially Claremont vs. Richards 2020. “Shit,” Alex says, turning his phone around to show June the message. “So much for the party.” She’s right—in a matter of seconds, half the tables are empty as campaign staffers and congresspeople leave their seats to huddle together over their phones. “This is a bit dramatic,” Nora observes, sucking an olive off the end of a toothpick. “We all knew he was gonna give Richards the nomination eventually. They probably got Jacinto in a windowless room and benchclamped his dick to the table until he said he’d concede.” Alex doesn’t hear whatever Nora says next because a rush of movement at the doors of the Palm Room near the edge of the garden catches his eye. It’s his dad, pulling Luna by the arm. They disappear into a side door, toward the housekeeper’s office. He leaves his champagne with the girls and weaves a circuitous path toward the Palm Room, pretending to check his phone. Then, after considering whether the scolding he’ll get from the dry-cleaning crew will be worth it, he ducks into the shrubbery. There’s a loose windowpane in the bottom of the third fixture of the south-facing wall of the housekeeper’s office. It’s popped out of its frame slightly, enough that its bulletproof, soundproof seal isn’t totally intact. It’s one of three windowpanes like this in the Residence. He found them during his first six months at the White House, before June graduated and Nora transferred, when he was alone, with nothing better to do than these little investigative projects around the grounds. He’s never told anyone about the loose panes; he always suspected they might come in handy one day.
He crouches down and creeps up toward the window, soil rolling into his loafers, hoping he guessed their destination right, until he finds the pane he’s looking for. He leans in, tries to get his ear as close to it as he can. Over the sound of the wind rustling the bushes around him, he can hear two low, tense voices. “… hell, Oscar,” says one voice, in Spanish. Luna. “Did you tell her? Does she know you’re asking me to do this?” “She’s too careful,” his father’s voice says. He’s speaking Spanish too— a precaution the two of them occasionally take when they’re concerned about being overheard. “Sometimes it’s best that she doesn’t know.” There’s the sound of a hissing exhale, weight shifting. “I’m not going behind her back to do something I don’t even want to do.” “You mean to tell me, after what Richards did to you, there’s not a part of you that wants to burn all his shit to the ground?” “Of course there is, Oscar, Jesus,” Luna says. “But you and I both know it’s not that fucking simple. It never is.” “Listen, Raf. I know you kept the files on everything. You don’t even have to make a statement. You could leak it to the press. How many other kids do you think since—” “Don’t.” “—and how many more—” “You don’t think she can win on her own, do you?” Luna cuts across him. “You still don’t have faith in her, after everything.” “It’s not about that. This time is different.” “Why don’t you leave me and something that happened twenty fucking years ago out of your unresolved feelings for your ex-wife and focus on winning this goddamn election, Oscar? I don’t—” Luna cuts himself off because there’s the sound of the doorknob turning, someone entering the offices. Oscar switches to clipped English, making an excuse about discussing a bill, then says to Luna, in Spanish, “Just think about it.” There are muffled sounds of Oscar and Luna clearing out of the office, and Alex sinks down onto his ass in the mulch, wondering what the hell he’s missing.
It starts with a fund-raiser, a silk suit and a big check, a nice whitetablecloth event. It starts, as it always does, with a text: Fund-raiser in LA
next weekend. Pez says he’s going to get us all matching embroidered kimonos. Put you down for a plus-two? He grabs lunch with his dad, who flat-out changes the subject every time Alex brings up Luna, and afterward heads to the gala, where Alex gets to properly meet Bea for the first time. She’s much shorter than Henry, shorter even than June, with Henry’s clever mouth but their mom’s brown hair and heart-shaped face. She’s wearing a motorcycle jacket over her cocktail dress and has a slight posture he recognizes from his own mother as a reformed chainsmoker. She smiles at Alex, wide and mischievous, and he gets her immediately: another rebel kid. It’s a lot of champagne and too many handshakes and a speech by Pez, charming as always, and as soon as it’s over, their collective security convenes at the exit and they’re off. Pez has, as promised, six matching silk kimonos waiting in the limo, each one embroidered across the back with a different riff on a name from a movie. Alex’s is a lurid teal and says HOE DAMERON. Henry’s lime-green one reads PRINCE BUTTERCUP. They end up somewhere in West Hollywood at a shitty, sparkling karaoke bar Pez somehow knows about, neon bright enough that it feels spontaneous even though Cash and the rest of their security have been checking it and warning people against taking photos for half an hour before they arrive. The bartender has immaculate pink lipstick and stubble poking through thick foundation, and they rapidly line up five shots and a soda with lime. “Oh, dear,” Henry says, peering down into his empty shot glass. “What’s in these? Vodka?” “Yep,” Nora confirms, to which both Pez and Bea break out into fits of giggles. “What?” Alex says. “Oh, I haven’t had vodka since uni,” Henry says. “It tends to make me, erm. Well—” “Flamboyant?” Pez offers. “Uninhibited? Randy?” “Fun?” Bea suggests. “Excuse you, I am loads of fun all the time! I am a delight!” “Hello, excuse me, can we get another round of these please?” Alex calls down the bar. Bea screams, Henry laughs and throws up a V, and it all goes hazy and warm in the way Alex loves. They all tumble into a round booth, and the
lights are low, and he and Henry are keeping a safe distance, but Alex can’t stop staring at how the special-effect beams keep hitting Henry’s cheekbones, hollowing his face out in blues and greens. He’s something else—half-drunk and grinning in a $2,000 suit and a kimono, and Alex can’t tear his eyes away. He waves over a beer. Once things get going, it’s impossible to tell how Bea is the one persuaded up to the stage first, but she unearths a plastic crown from the prop chest onstage and rips through a cover of “Call Me” by Blondie. They all wolf whistle and cheer, and the bar crowd finally realizes they’ve got two members of the royal family, a millionaire philanthropist, and the White House Trio crammed into one of the sticky booths in a rainbow of vivid silk. Three rounds of shots appear—one from a drunk bachelorette party, one from a herd of surly butch chicks at the bar, and one from a table of drag queens. They raise a toast, and Alex feels more welcomed than he ever has before, even at his family’s victory rallies. Pez gets up and launches into “So Emotional” by Whitney Houston in a shockingly flawless falsetto that has the whole club on their feet in a matter of moments, shouting their approval as he belts out the glory notes. Alex looks over in giddy awe at Henry, who laughs and shrugs. “I told you, there’s nothing he can’t do,” he shouts over the noise. June is watching the whole performance with her hands clapped to her face, her mouth hanging open, and she leans over to Nora and drunkenly yells, “Oh, no … he’s … so … hot…” “I know, babe,” Nora yells back. “I want to … put my fingers in his mouth…” she moans, sounding horrified. Nora cackles and nods appreciatively and says, “Can I help?” Bea, who has gone through five different lime and sodas so far, politely passes over a shot that’s been handed to her as Pez pulls June up on stage, and Alex throws it back. The burn makes his smile and his legs spread a little wider, and his phone is in his hand before he registers sliding it out of his pocket. He texts Henry under the table: wanna do something stupid? He watches Henry pull his own phone out, grin, and arch a brow over at him. What could be stupider than this? Henry’s mouth falls open into a very unflattering expression of drunken, bewildered arousal, like a hot halibut, at his reply several beats later. Alex
smiles and leans back into the booth, making a show of wrapping wet lips around the bottle of his beer. Henry looks like his entire life might be flashing before his eyes, and he says, an octave too high, “Right, well, I’ll just—nip to the loo!” And he’s off while the rest of the group is still caught up Pez and June’s performance. Alex gives it to the count of ten before slipping past Nora and following. He swaps a glance with Cash, who’s standing against one wall, gamely wearing a bright pink feather boa. He rolls his eyes but peels off to watch the door. Alex finds Henry leaning against the sink, arms folded. “Have I mentioned lately that you’re a demon?” “Yeah, yeah,” Alex says, double-checking the coast is clear before grabbing Henry by the belt and backing into a stall. “Tell me again later.” “You—you know this is still not convincing me to sing, don’t you?” Henry chokes out as Alex mouths along his throat. “You really think it’s a good idea to present me with a challenge, sweetheart?” Which is how, thirty minutes and two more rounds later, Henry is in front of a screaming crowd, absolutely butchering “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen while Nora sings backup and Bea throws glittery gold roses at his feet. His kimono is dangling off one shoulder so the embroidery across the back reads PRINCE BUTT. Alex does not know where the roses came from, and he can’t imagine asking would get him anywhere. He also wouldn’t be able to hear the answer because he’s been screaming at the top of his lungs for two minutes straight. “I wanna make a supersonic woman of youuu!” Henry shouts, lunging violently sideways, catching Nora by both arms. “Don’t stop me! Don’t stop me! Don’t stop me!” “Hey, hey, hey!” the entire bar yells back. Pez is practically on top of the table now, pounding the back of the booth with one hand and helping June up onto a chair with the other. “Don’t stop me! Don’t stop me!” Alex cups his hands around his mouth. “Ooh, ooh, ooh!” In a cacophony of shouting and kicking and pelvic-thrusting and flashing lights, the song blasts into the guitar solo, and there’s not a single person in the bar in their seat, not when a Prince of England is knee-sliding across the stage, playing passionate and somewhat erotic air guitar.
Nora has produced a bottle of champagne and starts spraying Henry with it, and Alex loses his mind laughing, climbs on top of his seat and wolf whistles. Bea is absolutely beside herself, tears streaming down her face, and Pez actually is on top of the table now, June dancing beside him, with a bright fuschia smear of lipstick in his platinum hair. Alex feels a tug on his arm—Bea, dragging him down to the stage. She grabs his hand and spins him in a ballerina twirl, and he puts one of her roses between his teeth, and they watch Henry and grin at each other through the noise. Alex feels somewhere, under the fifty layers of booze, something crystal clear radiating off her, a shared knowledge of how rare and wonderful this version of Henry is. Henry is yelling into the microphone again, stumbling to his feet, his suit and kimono stuck to him with champagne and sweat in a confusingly sexy mess. His eyes flick upward, hazy and hot, and unmistakably lock with Alex’s at the edge of the stage, smiling broad and messy. “I wanna make a supersonic man outta youuuuu!” By the end, there’s a standing ovation awaiting him, and Bea, with a steady hand and a devilish smile, ruffling his champagne-sticky hair. She steers him into the booth and Alex’s side, and he pulls her in after him, and the six of them fall together in a tangle of hoarse laughter and expensive shoes. He looks at all of them. Pez, his broad smile and glowing joy, the way his white-blond hair flashes against smooth, dark skin. The curve of Bea’s waist and hip and her punk-rock grin as she sucks on the rind of a lime. Nora’s long legs, one of which is propped up on the table and the other crossed over one of Bea’s, her thigh bare where her dress has ridden up. And Henry, flushed and callow and lean, elegant and thrown wide open, his face always turned toward Alex, his mouth unguarded around a laugh, willing. He turns to June and slurs, “Bisexuality is truly a rich and complex tapestry,” and she screams with laughter and shoves a napkin in his mouth. Alex doesn’t catch much of the next hour—the back of the limo, Nora and Henry jostling for a spot in his lap, an In-N-Out drive-thru and June screaming next to his ear, “Animal Style, did you hear me say Animal Style? Stop fucking laughing, Pez.” There’s the hotel, three suites booked for them on the very top floor, riding through the lobby on Cash’s impossibly broad back.
June keeps shushing them as they stumble to their rooms with hands full of grease-soaked burger bags, but she’s louder than any of them, so it’s a zero-sum game. Bea, perpetually the lone sober voice of the group, picks one of the suites at random and deposits June and Nora in the king-size bed and Pez in the empty bathtub. “I trust you two can handle yourselves?” she says to Alex and Henry in the hallway, a glimmer of mischief in her eyes as she hands them the third key. “I fully intend to put on a robe and investigate this french-fries-dippedin-milkshake thing Nora told me about.” “Yes, Beatrice, we shall behave in a manner befitting the crown,” Henry says. His eyes are slightly crossed. “Don’t be a tosser,” she says, and quickly kisses them both on the cheek before vanishing around the corner. Henry’s laughing into the curls at the nape of Alex’s neck by the time Alex is fumbling the door open, and they stumble together into the wall, and then toward the bed, clothes dropping in their wake. Henry smells like expensive cologne and champagne and a distinctly Henry smell that never goes away, clean and grassy, and his chest encompasses Alex’s back when he crowds up behind him at the edge of the bed, splaying his hands over his hips. “Supersonic man out of youuuu,” Alex mumbles low, craning his head back into Henry’s ear, and Henry laughs and kicks his knees out from under him. It’s a clumsy, sideways tumble into bed, both of them grabbing greedy handfuls of the other, Henry’s pants still dangling from one ankle, but it doesn’t matter because Henry’s eyes are fluttered shut and Alex is finally kissing him again. His hands start traveling south on instinct, sweet muscle memory of Henry’s body against his, until Henry reaches down to stop him. “Hold on, hold on,” Henry says. “I’m just realizing. All that earlier, and you haven’t gotten off yet tonight, have you?” He drops his head back on the pillow, regards him with narrowed eyes. “Well. That just shall not do.” “Hmm, yeah?” Alex says. He takes advantage of the moment to kiss the column of Henry’s throat, the hollow at his collarbone, the knot of his Adam’s apple. “What are you gonna do about it?” Henry pushes a hand into his hair and gives it a little pull. “I shall just have to make it the best orgasm of your life. What can I do to make it good
for you? Talk about American tax reform during the act? Have you got talking points?” Alex looks up, and Henry is grinning at him. “I hate you.” “Maybe some light lacrosse role-play?” He’s laughing now, arms coming up around Alex’s shoulders to squeeze him to his chest. “O captain, my captain.” “You’re literally the worst,” Alex says, and undercuts it by leaning up to kiss him once more, gently, then deeply, long and slow and heated. He feels Henry’s body shifting beneath his, opening up. “Hang on,” Henry says, breaking off breathlessly. “Wait.” Alex opens his eyes, and when he looks down, the expression on Henry’s face is a more familiar one: nervous, unsure. “I do actually. Er. Have an idea.” He slides a hand up Henry’s chest to the side of his jaw, ghosting over his cheek with one finger. “Hey,” he says, serious now. “I’m listening. For real.” Henry bites his lip, visibly searching for the right words, and apparently comes to a decision. “C’mere,” he says, surging up to kiss Alex, and he’s putting his whole body into it now, sliding his hands down to palm at Alex’s ass as he kisses him. Alex feels a sound tear itself from his throat, and he’s following Henry’s lead blindly now, kissing him deep into the mattress, riding a continuous wave of Henry’s body. He feels Henry’s thighs—those goddamn horseback-riding, polo-playing thighs—moving around him, soft, warm skin wrapping around his waist, heels pressing into his back. When Alex breaks off to look at him, the intention on Henry’s face is as plain as anything he’s ever read there. “You sure?” “I know we haven’t,” Henry says quietly. “But, er. I have, before, so, I can show you.” “I mean, I’m familiar with the mechanics,” Alex says, smirking a little, and he sees a corner of Henry’s mouth quirk up to mirror him. “But you want me to?” “Yeah,” he says. He pushes his hips up, and they both make some unflattering, involuntary noises. “Yes. Absolutely.” Henry’s shaving kit is on the nightstand, and he reaches over and fumbles blindly through it before finding what he’s looking for—a condom and a tiny bottle of lube.
Alex almost laughs at the sight. Travel-size lube. He’s had some experimental sex in his lifetime, but it never occurred to him to consider if such a thing existed, much less if Henry was jetting around with it alongside his dental floss. “This is new.” “Yes, well,” Henry says, and he takes one of Alex’s hands in his and brings it to his own mouth, kissing his fingertips. “We all must learn and grow, mustn’t we?” Alex rolls his eyes, ready to snark, except Henry sucks two fingers into his mouth, very effectively shutting him the hell up. It’s incredible and baffling, the way Henry’s confidence comes in waves like this, how he struggles so much to get through the asking for what he wants and then readily takes it the moment he’s given permission, like at the bar, how the right push had him dancing and shouting as if he’d been waiting for someone to tell him he was allowed to do it. They’re not as drunk as they were, but there’s enough alcohol in their systems, and it doesn’t feel as daunting as it would otherwise, the first time, even as his fingers start to find their way. Henry’s head falls back onto the pillows, and he closes his eyes and lets Alex take over. The thing about sex with Henry is, it’s never the same twice. Sometimes he moves easily, caught up in the rush, and other times he’s tense and taut and wants Alex to work him loose and take him apart. Sometimes nothing gets him off faster than being talked back to, but other times they both want him to use every inch of authority in his blood, not to let Alex get there until he’s told, until he begs. It’s unpredictable and it’s intoxicating and it’s fun, because Alex has never met a challenge he didn’t love, and he—well, Henry is a challenge, head to toe, beginning to end. Tonight, Henry’s silly and warm and ready, his body quick and smooth to give Alex what he’s looking for, laughing and incredulous at his own responsiveness to touch. Alex leans down to kiss him, and Henry murmurs into the corner of his mouth, “Ready when you are, love.” Alex takes a breath, holds it. He’s ready. He thinks he’s ready. Henry’s hand comes up to stroke along his jaw, his sweaty hairline, and Alex settles himself between his legs, lets Henry lace the fingers of his right hand with Alex’s left.
He’s watching Henry’s face—he can’t imagine looking at anything other than Henry’s face right now—and his expression goes so soft and his mouth so happy and astonished that Alex’s voice speaks without his permission, a hoarse “baby.” Henry nods, so small that someone who didn’t know all his tics might miss it, but Alex knows exactly what it means, so he leans down and sucks Henry’s earlobe between his lips and calls him baby again, and Henry says, “Yes,” and, “Please,” and tugs his hair at the root. Alex nips at Henry’s throat and palms at his hips and sinks into the whiteout bliss of being that impossibly close to him, of getting to share his body. Somehow it still amazes him that all this seems to be as unbelievably, singularly good for Henry as it is for him. Henry’s face should be illegal, the way it’s turned up toward him, flushed and undone. Alex feels his own lips spreading into a pleased smile, awed and proud. Afterward, he comes back into his own body in increments—his knees, still dug into the mattress and shaking; his stomach, slick and sticky; his hands, twisted up in Henry’s hair, stroking it gently. He feels like he’s stepped outside of himself and returned to find everything slightly rearranged. When he pulls his face back to look at Henry, the feeling comes back into his chest: an ache in answer to the curve of Henry’s top lip over white teeth. “Jesus Christ,” Alex says at last, and when he looks over at Henry again, he’s squinting at him impishly out of one eye, smirking. “Would you describe it as supersonic?” he says, and Alex groans and slaps him across the chest, and they both dissolve into messy laughter. They slide apart and make out and argue over who has to sleep in the wet spot until they pass out around four in the morning. Henry rolls Alex onto his side and burrows behind him until he’s covering him completely, his shoulders a brace for Alex’s shoulders, one of his thighs pressed on top of Alex’s thighs, his arms over Alex’s arms and his hands over Alex’s hands, nowhere left untouched. It’s the best Alex has slept in years. Their alarms go off three hours later for their flights home. They shower together. Henry’s mood turns dark and sour over morning coffee at the harsh reality of returning to London so soon, and Alex kisses him dumbly and promises to call and wishes there was more he could do. He watches Henry lather up and shave, put pomade in his hair, put on his Burberry for the day, and he catches himself wishing he could watch it every day. He likes taking Henry apart, but there’s something incredibly intimate
about sitting on the bed they wrecked the night before, the only one who watches him create Prince Henry of Wales for the day. Through his throbbing hangover, he’s got a suspicion all these feelings are why he held off on fucking Henry for so long. Also, he might puke. It’s probably unrelated. They meet the others in the hallway, Henry passing for hungover but handsome, and Alex just doing his best. Bea is looking well-rested, fresh, and very smug about it. June, Nora, and Pez all emerge disheveled from their suite looking like the cats that caught the canaries, but it’s impossible to tell who is a cat and who is a canary. Nora has a smudge of lipstick on the back of her neck. Alex doesn’t ask. Cash chuckles under his breath when he meets them at the elevators, a tray of six coffees balanced on one hand. Hangover tending isn’t part of his job description, but he’s a mother hen. “So this is the gang now, huh?” And through it all, Alex realizes with a start: He has friends now.

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