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Red, White and Royal Blue / , (by Casey McQuiston, 2019) -

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Red, White and Royal Blue / ,     (by Casey McQuiston, 2019) -

Red, White and Royal Blue / , (by Casey McQuiston, 2019) -

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Red, White and Royal Blue / , (by Casey McQuiston, 2019) -
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2019
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Casey McQuiston
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Ramon de Ocampo
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, ,
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upper_intermediate
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12:15:46
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128 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Red, White and Royal Blue / , :

.doc (Word) casey_mcquiston_-_red_white_and_royal_blue.doc [1.13 Mb] (c: 9) .
.pdf casey_mcquiston_-_red_white_and_royal_blue.pdf [1.58 Mb] (c: 10) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: Red, White and Royal Blue

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( , ).


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CHAPTER ONE On the White House roof, tucked into a corner of the Promenade, theres a bit of loose paneling right on the edge of the Solarium. If you tap it just right, you can peel it back enough to find a message etched underneath, with the tip of a key or maybe a stolen West Wing letter opener. In the secret history of First Familiesan insular gossip mill sworn to absolute discretion about most things on pain of deaththeres no definite answer for who wrote it. The one thing people seem certain of is that only a presidential son or daughter would have been daring enough to deface the White House. Some swear it was Jack Ford, with his Hendrix records and split-level room attached to the roof for late-night smoke breaks. Others say it was a young Luci Johnson, thick ribbon in her hair. But it doesnt matter. The writing stays, a private mantra for those resourceful enough to find it. Alex discovered it within his first week of living there. Hes never told anyone how. It says: RULE number1: DONT GET CAUGHT The East and West Bedrooms on the second floor are generally reserved for the First Family. They were first designated as one giant state bedroom for visits from the Marquis de Lafayette in the Monroe administration, but eventually they were split. Alex has the East, across from the Treaty Room, and June uses the West, next to the elevator. Growing up in Texas, their rooms were arranged in the same configuration, on either side of the hallway. Back then, you could tell Junes ambition of the month by what covered the walls. At twelve, it was watercolor paintings. At fifteen, lunar calendars and charts of crystals. At sixteen, clippings from The Atlantic, a UT Austin pennant, Gloria Steinem, Zora Neale Hurston, and excerpts from the papers of Dolores Huerta. His own room was forever the same, just steadily more stuffed with lacrosse trophies and piles of AP coursework. Its all gathering dust in the house they still keep back home. On a chain around his neck, always hidden from view, hes worn the key to that house since the day he left for DC. Now, straight across the hall, Junes room is all bright white and soft pink and minty green, photographed by Vogue and famously inspired by old 60s interior design periodicals she found in one of the White House sitting rooms. His own room was once Caroline Kennedys nursery and, later, warranting some sage burning from June, Nancy Reagans office. Hes left up the nature field illustrations in a neat symmetrical grid above the sofa, but painted over Sasha Obamas pink walls with a deep blue. Typically, the children of the president, at least for the past few decades, havent lived in the Residence beyond eighteen, but Alex started at Georgetown the January his mom was sworn in, and logistically, it made sense not to split their security or costs to whatever one-bedroom apartment hed be living in. June came that fall, fresh out of UT. Shes never said it, but Alex knows she moved in to keep an eye on him. She knows better than anyone else how much he gets off on being this close to the action, and shes bodily yanked him out of the West Wing on more than one occasion. Behind his bedroom door, he can sit and put Hall and Oates on the record player in the corner, and nobody hears him humming along like his dad to Rich Girl. He can wear the reading glasses he always insists he doesnt need. He can make as many meticulous study guides with color-coded sticky notes as he wants. Hes not going to be the youngest elected congressman in modern history without earning it, but nobody needs to know how hard hes kicking underwater. His sex-symbol stock would plummet. Hey, says a voice at the door, and he looks up from his laptop to see June edging into his room, two iPhones and a stack of magazines tucked under one arm, and a plate in her hand. She closes the door behind her with her foot. Whatd you steal today? Alex asks, pushing the pile of papers on his bed out of her way. Assorted donuts, June says as she climbs up. Shes wearing a pencil skirt with pointy pink flats, and he can already see next weeks fashion columns: a picture of her outfit today, a lead-in for some spon-con about flats for the professional gal on the go. He wonders what shes been up to all day. She mentioned a column for WaPo, or was it a photoshoot for her blog? Or both? He can never keep up. Shes dumped her stack of magazines out on the bedspread and is already busying herself with them. Doing your part to keep the great American gossip industry alive? Thats what my journalism degrees for, June says. Anything good this week? Alex asks, reaching for a donut. Lets see, June says. In Touch says Im . . . dating a French model? Are you? I wish. She flips a few pages. Ooh, and theyre saying you got your asshole bleached. That one is true, Alex says through a mouthful of chocolate with sprinkles. Thought so, June says without looking up. After riffling through most of the magazine, she shuffles it to the bottom of the stack and moves on to People. She flips through absentlyPeople only ever writes what their publicists tell them to write. Boring. Not much on us this week . . . oh, Im a crossword puzzle clue. Following their tabloid coverage is something of an idle hobby of hers, one that in turns amuses and annoys their mother, and hes narcissistic enough to let June read him the highlights. Theyre usually either complete fabrications or lines fed from their press team, but sometimes it comes in handy for heading off the odd, particularly nasty rumor. Given the choice, hed rather read one of the hundreds of glowing pieces of fan fiction about him on the internet, the up-to-eleven version of himself with devastating charm and unbelievable physical stamina, but June flat out refuses to read those aloud to him, no matter how much he tries to bribe her. Do Us Weekly, Alex says. Hmm . . . June digs it out of the stack. Oh, look, we made the cover this week. She flashes the glossy cover at him, which has a photo of the two of them inlaid in one corner, Junes hair pinned on top of her head and Alex looking slightly over served but still handsome, all jawline and dark curls. Below it in bold yellow letters, the headline reads: FIRST SIBLINGS WILD NYC NIGHT. Oh yeah, that was a wild night, Alex says, reclining back against the tall, leather headboard and pushing his glasses up his nose. Two whole keynote speakers. Nothing sexier than shrimp cocktails and an hour and a half of speeches on carbon emissions. It says here you had some kind of tryst with a mystery brunette, June reads. Though the First Daughter was whisked off by limousine to a star-studded party shortly after the gala, twenty-one-year-old heartthrob Alex was snapped sneaking into the W Hotel to meet a mystery brunette in the presidential suite and leaving around four a.m. Sources inside the hotel reported hearing amorous noises from the room all night, and rumors are swirling the brunette was none other than . . . Nora Holleran, the twenty-two-year-old granddaughter of Vice President Mike Holleran and third member of the White House Trio. Could it be the two are rekindling their romance? Yes! Alex crows, and June groans. Thats less than a month! You owe me fifty dollars, baby. Hold on. Was it Nora? Alex thinks back to the week before, showing up at Noras room with a bottle of champagne. Their thing on the campaign trail a million years ago was brief, mostly to get the inevitable over with. They were seventeen and eighteen and doomed from the start, both convinced they were the smartest person in any room. Alex has since conceded Nora is 100 percent smarter than him and definitely too smart to have ever dated him. Its not his fault the press wont let it go, though; that they love the idea of them together as if theyre modern-day Kennedys. So, if he and Nora occasionally get drunk in hotel rooms together watching The West Wing and making loud moaning noises at the wall for the benefit of nosy tabloids, he cant be blamed, really. Theyre simply turning an undesirable situation into their own personal entertainment. Scamming his sister is also a perk. Maybe, he says, dragging out the vowels. June swats him with the magazine like hes an especially obnoxious cockroach. Thats cheating, you dick! Bets a bet, Alex tells her. We said if there was a new rumor in a month, youd owe me fifty bucks. I take Venmo. Im not paying, June huffs. Im gonna kill her when we see her tomorrow. What are you wearing, by the way? For what? The wedding. Whose wedding? Uh, the royal wedding, June says. Of England. Its literally on every cover I just showed you. She holds Us Weekly up again, and this time Alex notices the main story in giant letters: PRINCE PHILIP SAYS I DO! Along with a photograph of an extremely nondescript British heir and his equally nondescript blond fianc?e smiling blandly. He drops his donut in a show of devastation. Thats this weekend? Alex, we leave in the morning, June tells him. Weve got two appearances before we even go to the ceremony. I cant believe Zahra hasnt climbed up your ass about this already. Shit, he groans. I know I had that written down. I got sidetracked. What, by conspiring with my best friend against me in the tabloids for fifty dollars? No, with my research paper, smartass, Alex says, gesturing dramatically at his piles of notes. Ive been working on it for Roman Political Thought all week. And I thought we agreed Nora is our best friend. That cant possibly be a real class youre taking, June says. Is it possible you willfully forgot about the biggest international event of the year because you dont want to see your arch nemesis? June, Im the son of the President of the United States. Prince Henry is a figurehead of the British Empire. You cant just call him my arch nemesis, Alex says. He chews thoughtfully and adds, Arch nemesis implies hes actually a rival to me on any level and not, you know, a stuck-up product of inbreeding who probably jerks off to photos of himself. Woof. Im just saying. Well, you dont have to like him, you just have to put on a happy face and not cause an international incident at his brothers wedding. Bug, when do I ever not put on a happy face? Alex says. He pulls a painfully fake grin, and June looks satisfyingly repulsed. Ugh. Anyway, you know what youre wearing, right? Yeah, I picked it out and had Zahra approve it last month. Im not an animal. Im still not sure about my dress, June says. She leans over and steals his laptop away from him, ignoring his noise of protest. Do you think the maroon or the one with the lace? Lace, obviously. Its England. And why are you trying to make me fail this class? he says, reaching for his laptop only to have his hand swatted away. Go curate your Instagram or something. Youre the worst. Shut up, Im trying to pick something to watch. Ew, you have Garden State on your watch list? Wow, hows film school in 2005 going? I hate you. Hmm, I know. Outside his window, the wind stirs up over the lawn, rustling the linden trees down in the garden. The record on the turntable in the corner has spun out into fuzzy silence. He rolls off the bed and flips it, resetting the needle, and the second side picks up on London Luck, and Love. If hes honest, private aviation doesnt really get old, not even three years into his mothers term. He doesnt get to travel this way a lot, but when he does, its hard not to let it go to his head. He was born in the hill country of Texas to the daughter of a single mother and the son of Mexican immigrants, all of them dirt-poorluxury travel is still a luxury. Fifteen years ago, when his mother first ran for the House, the Austin newspaper gave her a nickname: the Lometa Longshot. Shed escaped her tiny hometown in the shadow of Fort Hood, pulled night shifts at diners to put herself through law school, and was arguing discrimination cases before the Supreme Court by thirty. She was the last thing anybody expected to rise up out of Texas in the midst of the Iraq War: a strawberry-blond, whip-smart Democrat with high heels, an unapologetic drawl, and a little biracial family. So, its still surreal that Alex is cruising somewhere over the Atlantic, snacking on pistachios in a high-backed leather chair with his feet up. Nora is bent over the New York Times crossword opposite him, brown curls falling across her forehead. Beside her, the hulking Secret Service agent CassiusCash for shortholds his own copy in one giant hand, racing to finish it first. The cursor on Alexs Roman Political Thought paper blinks expectantly at him from his laptop, but something in him cant quite focus on school while theyre flying transatlantic. Amy, his mothers favorite Secret Service agent, a former Navy SEAL who is rumored around DC to have killed several men, sits across the aisle. Shes got a bulletproof titanium case of crafting supplies open on the couch next to her and is serenely embroidering flowers onto a napkin. Alex has seen her stab someone in the kneecap with a very similar embroidery needle. Which leaves June, next to him, leaning on one elbow with her nose buried in the issue of People shes inexplicably brought with them. She always chooses the most bizarre reading material for flights. Last time, it was a battered old Cantonese phrase book. Before that, Death Comes for the Archbishop. What are you reading in there now? Alex asks her. She flips the magazine around so he can see the double-page spread titled: ROYAL WEDDING MADNESS! Alex groans. This is definitely worse than Willa Cather. What? she says. I want to be prepared for my first-ever royal wedding. You went to prom, didnt you? Alex says. Just picture that, only in hell, and you have to be really nice about it. Can you believe they spent $75,000 just on the cake? Thats depressing. And apparently Prince Henry is going sans date to the wedding and everyone is freaking out about it. It says he was, she affects a comical English accent, rumored to be dating a Belgian heiress last month, but now followers of the princes dating life arent sure what to think. Alex snorts. Its insane to him that there are legions of people who follow the intensely dull dating lives of the royal siblings. He understands why people care where he puts his own tongueat least he has personality. Maybe the female population of Europe finally realized hes as compelling as a wet ball of yarn, Alex suggests. Nora puts down her crossword puzzle, having finished it first. Cassius glances over and swears. You gonna ask him to dance, then? Alex rolls his eyes, suddenly imagining twirling around a ballroom while Henry drones sweet nothings about croquet and fox hunting in his ear. The thought makes him want to gag. In his dreams. Aw, Nora says, youre blushing. Listen, Alex tells her, royal weddings are trash, the princes that have royal weddings are trash, the imperialism that allows princes to exist at all is trash. Its trash turtles all the way down. Is this your TED Talk? June asks. You do realize America is a genocidal empire too, right? Yes, June, but at least we have the decency not to keep a monarchy around, Alex says, throwing a pistachio at her. There are a few things about Alex and June that new White House hires are briefed on before they start. Junes peanut allergy. Alexs frequent middle-of-the-night requests for coffee. Junes college boyfriend, who broke up with her when he moved to California but is still the only person whose letters come to her directly. Alexs long-standing grudge against the youngest prince. Its not a grudge, really. Its not even a rivalry. Its a prickling, unsettling annoyance. It makes his palms sweat. The tabloidsthe worlddecided to cast Alex as the American equivalent of Prince Henry from day one, since the White House Trio is the closest thing America has to royalty. It has never seemed fair. Alexs image is all charisma and genius and smirking wit, thoughtful interviews and the cover of GQ at eighteen; Henrys is placid smiles and gentle chivalry and generic charity appearances, a perfectly blank Prince Charming canvas. Henrys role, Alex thinks, is much easier to play. Maybe it is technically a rivalry. Whatever. All right, MIT, he says, what are the numbers on this one? Nora grins. Hmm. She pretends to think hard about it. Risk assessment: FSOTUS failing to check himself before he wrecks himself will result in greater than five hundred civilian casualties. Ninety-eight percent probability of Prince Henry looking like a total dreamboat. Seventy-eight percent probability of Alex getting himself banned from the United Kingdom forever. Those are better odds than I expected, June observes. Alex laughs, and the plane soars on. * * * London is an absolute spectacle, crowds cramming the streets outside Buckingham Palace and all through the city, draped in Union Jacks and waving tiny flags over their heads. There are commemorative royal wedding souvenirs everywhere; Prince Philip and his brides face plastered on everything from chocolate bars to underwear. Alex almost cant believe this many people care so passionately about something so comprehensively dull. Hes sure there wont be this kind of turnout in front of the White House when he or June get married one day, nor would he even want it. The ceremony itself seems to last forever, but its at least sort of nice, in a way. Its not that Alex isnt into love or cant appreciate marriage. Its just that Martha is a perfectly respectable daughter of nobility, and Philip is a prince. Its as sexy as a business transaction. Theres no passion, no drama. Alexs kind of love story is much more Shakespearean. It feels like years before hes settled at a table between June and Nora inside a Buckingham Palace ballroom, and hes irritated enough to be a little reckless. Nora passes him a flute of champagne, and he takes it gladly. Do either of yall know what a viscount is? June is saying, halfway through a cucumber sandwich. Ive met like, five of them, and I keep smiling politely as if I know what it means when they say it. Alex, you took comparative international governmental relational things. Whatever. What are they? I think its that thing when a vampire creates an army of crazed sex waifs and starts his own ruling body, he says. That sounds right, Nora says. Shes folding her napkin into a complicated shape on the table, her shiny black manicure glinting in the chandelier light. I wish I were a viscount, June says. I could have my sex waifs deal with my emails. Are sex waifs good with professional correspondence? Alex asks. Noras napkin has begun to resemble a bird. I think it could be an interesting approach. Their emails would be all tragic and wanton. She tries on a breathless, husky voice. Oh, please, I beg you, take metake me to lunch to discuss fabric samples, you beast! Could be weirdly effective, Alex notes. Something is wrong with both of you, June says gently. Alex is opening his mouth to retort when a royal attendant materializes at their table like a dense and dour-looking ghost in a bad hairpiece. Miss Claremont-Diaz, says the man, who looks like his name is probably Reginald or Bartholomew or something. He bows, and miraculously his hairpiece doesnt fall off into Junes plate. Alex shares an incredulous glance with her behind his back. His Royal Highness Prince Henry wonders if you would do him the honor of accompanying him for a dance. Junes mouth freezes halfway open, caught on a soft vowel sound, and Nora breaks out into a shit-eating grin. Oh, shed love to, Nora volunteers. Shes been hoping hed ask all evening. I June starts and stops, her mouth smiling even as her eyes slice at Nora. Of course. That would be lovely. Excellent, Reginald-Bartholomew says, and he turns and gestures over his shoulder. And there Henry is, in the flesh, as classically handsome as ever in his tailored three-piece suit, all tousled sandy hair and high cheekbones and a soft, friendly mouth. He holds himself with innately impeccable posture, as if he emerged fully formed and upright out of some beautiful Buckingham Palace posy garden one day. His eyes lock on Alexs, and something like annoyance or adrenaline spikes in Alexs chest. He hasnt had a conversation with Henry in probably a year. His face is still infuriatingly symmetrical. Henry deigns to give him a perfunctory nod, as if hes any other random guest, not the person he beat to a Vogue editorial debut in their teens. Alex blinks, seethes, and watches Henry angle his stupid chiseled jaw toward June. Hello, June, Henry says, and he extends a gentlemanly hand to June, who is now blushing. Nora pretends to swoon. Do you know how to waltz? Im . . . sure I could pick it up, she says, and she takes his hand cautiously, like she thinks he might be pranking her, which Alex thinks is way too generous to Henrys sense of humor. Henry leads her off to the crowd of twirling nobles. So is that whats happening now? Alex says, glaring down at Noras napkin bird. Has he decided to finally shut me up by wooing my sister? Aw, little buddy, Nora says. She reaches over and pats his hand. Its cute how you think everything is about you. It should be, honestly. Thats the spirit. He glances up into the crowd, where June is being rotated around the floor by Henry. Shes got a neutral, polite smile on her face, and he keeps looking over her shoulder, which is even more annoying. June is amazing. The least Henry could do is pay attention to her. Do you think he actually likes her, though? Nora shrugs. Who knows? Royals are weird. Might be a courtesy, orOh, there it is. A royal photographer has swooped in and is snapping a shot of them dancing, one Alex knows will be sold to People next week. So, thats it, then? Using the First Daughter to start some idiotic dating rumor for attention? God forbid Philip gets to dominate the news cycle for one week. Hes kind of good at this, Nora remarks. Alex flags down a waiter and decides to spend the rest of the reception getting systematically drunk. Alex has never toldwill never tellanyone, but he saw Henry for the first time when he was twelve years old. He only ever reflects upon it when hes drunk. Hes sure he saw his face in the news before then, but that was the first time he really saw him. June had just turned fifteen and used part of her birthday money to buy an issue of a blindingly colorful teen magazine. Her love of trashy tabloids started early. In the center of the magazine were miniature posters you could rip out and stick up in your locker. If you were careful and pried up the staples with your fingernails, you could get them out without tearing them. One of them, right in the middle, was a picture of a boy. He had thick, tawny hair and big blue eyes, a warm smile, and a cricket bat over one shoulder. It must have been a candid, because there was a happy, sun-bright confidence to him that couldnt be posed. On the bottom corner of the page in pink and blue letters: PRINCE HENRY. Alex still doesnt really know what kept drawing him back, only that he would sneak into Junes room and find the page and touch his fingertips to the boys hair, as if he could somehow feel its texture if he imagined it hard enough. The more his parents climbed the political ranks, the more he started to reckon with the fact that soon the world would know who he was. Then, sometimes, hed think of the picture, and try to harness Prince Henrys easy confidence. (He also thought about prying up the staples with his fingers and taking the picture out and keeping it in his room, but he never did. His fingernails were too stubby; they werent made for it like Junes, like a girls.) But then came first time he met Henrythe first cool, detached words Henry said to himand Alex guessed he had it all wrong, that the pretty, flung-open boy from the picture wasnt real. The real Henry is beautiful, distant, boring, and closed. This person the tabloids keep comparing him to, who he compares himself to, thinks hes better than Alex and everyone like him. Alex cant believe he ever wanted to be anything like him. Alex keeps drinking, keeps alternating between thinking about it and forcing himself not to think about it, disappears into the crowd and dances with pretty European heiresses about it. Hes pirouetting away from one when he catches sight of a lone figure, hovering near the cake and the champagne fountain. Its Prince Henry yet again, glass in hand, watching Prince Philip and his bride spinning on the ballroom floor. He looks politely half-interested in that obnoxious way of his, like he has somewhere else to be. And Alex cant resist the urge to call his bluff. He picks his way through the crowd, grabbing a glass of wine off a passing tray and downing half of it. When you have one of these, Alex says, sidling up to him, you should do two champagne fountains instead of one. Really embarrassing to be at a wedding with only one champagne fountain. Alex, Henry says in that maddeningly posh accent. Up close, the waistcoat under his suit jacket is a lush gold and has about a million buttons on it. Its horrible. I wondered if Id have the pleasure. Looks like its your lucky day, Alex says, smiling. Truly a momentous occasion, Henry agrees. His own smile is bright white and immaculate, made to be printed on money. The most annoying thing of all is Alex knows Henry hates him toohe must, theyre naturally mutual antagonistsbut he refuses to outright act like it. Alex is intimately aware politics involves a lot of making nice with people you loathe, but he wishes that once, just once, Henry would act like an actual human and not some polished little wind-up toy sold in a palace gift shop. Hes too perfect. Alex wants to poke it. Do you ever get tired, Alex says, of pretending youre above all this? Henry turns and stares at him. Im sure I dont know what you mean. I mean, youre out here, getting the photographers to chase you, swanning around like you hate the attention, which you clearly dont since youre dancing with my sister, of all people, Alex says. You act like youre too important to be anywhere, ever. Doesnt that get exhausting? Im . . . a bit more complicated than that, Henry attempts. Ha. Oh, Henry says, narrowing his eyes. Youre drunk. Im just saying, Alex says, resting an overly friendly elbow on Henrys shoulder, which isnt as easy as hed like it to be since Henry has about four infuriating inches of height on him. You could try to act like youre having fun. Occasionally. Henry laughs ruefully. I believe perhaps you should consider switching to water, Alex. Should I? Alex says. He pushes aside the thought that maybe the wine is what gave him the nerve to stomp over to Henry in the first place and makes his eyes as coy and angelic as he knows how. Am I offending you? Sorry Im not obsessed with you like everyone else. I know that must be confusing for you. Do you know what? Henry says. I think you are. Alexs mouth drops open, while the corner of Henrys turns smug and almost a little mean. Only a thought, Henry says, tone polite. Have you ever noticed I have never once approached you and have been exhaustively civil every time weve spoken? Yet here you are, seeking me out again. He takes a sip of his champagne. Simply an observation. What? Im not Alex stammers. Youre the Have a lovely evening, Alex, Henry says tersely, and turns to walk off. It drives Alex nuts that Henry thinks he gets to have the last word, and without thinking, he reaches out and pulls Henrys shoulder back. And then Henry turns, suddenly, and almost does push Alex off him this time, and for a brief spark of a moment, Alex is impressed at the glint in his eyes, the abrupt burst of an actual personality. The next thing he knows, hes tripping over his own foot and stumbling backward into the table nearest him. He notices too late that the table is, to his horror, the one bearing the massive eight-tier wedding cake, and he grabs for Henrys arm to catch himself, but all this does is throw both of them off-balance and send them crashing together into the cake stand. He watches, as if in slow motion, as the cake leans, teeters, shudders, and finally tips. Theres absolutely nothing he can do to stop it. It comes crashing down onto the floor in an avalanche of white buttercream, some kind of sugary $75,000 nightmare. The room goes heart-stoppingly silent as momentum carries him and Henry through the fall and down, down onto the wreckage of the cake on the ornate carpet, Henrys sleeve still clutched in Alexs fist. Henrys glass of champagne has spilled all over both of them and shattered, and out of the corner of his eye, Alex can see a cut across the top of Henrys cheekbone beginning to bleed. For a second, all he can think as he stares up at the ceiling while covered in frosting and champagne is that at least Henrys dance with June wont be the biggest story to come out of the royal wedding. His next thought is that his mother is going to murder him in cold blood. Beside him, he hears Henry mutter slowly, Oh my fucking Christ. He registers dimly that its the first time hes ever heard the prince swear, before the flash from someones camera goes off. CHAPTER TWO With a resounding smack, Zahra slaps a stack of magazines down on the West Wing briefing room table. This is just what I saw on the way here this morning, she says. I dont think I need to remind you I live two blocks away. Alex stares down at the headlines in front of him. THE $75,000 STUMBLE BATTLE ROYAL: PRINCE HENRY AND FSOTUS COME TO BLOWS AT ROYAL WEDDING CAKEGATE: ALEX CLAREMONT-DIAZ SPARKS SECOND ENGLISH-AMERICAN WAR Each one is accompanied by a photo of himself and Henry flat on their backs in a pile of cake, Henrys ridiculous suit all askew and covered in smashed buttercream flowers, his wrist pinned in Alexs hand, a thin slice of red across Henrys cheek. Are you sure we shouldnt be in the Situation Room for this meeting? Alex attempts. Neither Zahra nor his mother, sitting across the table, seems to find it funny. The president gives him a withering look over the top of her reading glasses, and he clamps his mouth shut. Its not exactly that hes afraid of Zahra, his moms deputy chief of staff and right-hand woman. She has a spiky exterior, but Alex swears theres something soft in there somewhere. Hes more afraid of what his mother might do. They grew up made to talk about their feelings a lot, and then his mother became president, and life became less about feelings and more about international relations. Hes not sure which option spells a worse fate. Sources inside the royal reception report the two were seen arguing minutes before the . . . cake-tastrophe, Ellen reads out loud with utter disdain from her own copy of The Sun. Alex doesnt even try to guess how she got her hands on todays edition of a British tabloid. President Mom works in mysterious ways. But royal family insiders claim the First Sons feud with Henry has raged for years. A source tells The Sun that Henry and the First Son have been at odds ever since their first meeting at the Rio Olympics, and the animosity has only grownthese days, they cant even be in the same room with each other. It seems it was only a matter of time before Alex took the American approach: a violent altercation. I really dont think you can call tripping over a table a violent Alexander, Ellen says, her tone eerily calm. Shut up. He does. One cant help but wonder, Ellen reads on, if the bitterness between these two powerful sons has contributed to what many have called an icy and distant relationship between President Ellen Claremonts administration and the monarchy in recent years. She tosses the magazine aside, folding her arms on the table. Please, tell me another joke, Ellen says. I want so badly for you to explain to me how this is funny. Alex opens his mouth and closes it a couple of times. He started it, he says finally. I barely touched himhes the one who pushed me, and I only grabbed him to try and catch my balance, and Sugar, I cannot express to you how much the press does not give a fuck about who started what, Ellen says. As your mother, I can appreciate that maybe this isnt your fault, but as the president, all I want is to have the CIA fake your death and ride the dead-kid sympathy into a second term. Alex clenches his jaw. Hes used to doing things that piss his mothers staff offin his teens, he had a penchant for confronting his mothers colleagues with their voting discrepancies at friendly DC fundraisersand hes been in the tabloids for things more embarrassing than this. But never in quite such a cataclysmically, internationally terrible way. I dont have time to deal with this right now, so heres what were gonna do, Ellen says, pulling a folder out of her padfolio. Its filled with some official-looking documents punctuated with different colors of sticky tabs, and the first one says: AGREEMENT OF TERMS. Um, Alex says. You, she says, are going to make nice with Henry. Youre leaving Saturday and spending Sunday in England. Alex blinks. Is it too late to take the faking-my-death option? Zahra can brief you on the rest, Ellen goes on, ignoring him. I have about five hundred meetings right now. She gets up and heads for the door, stopping to kiss her hand and press it to the top of his head. Youre a dumbass. Love you. Then shes gone, heels clicking behind her down the hallway, and Zahra settles into her vacated chair with a look on her face like shed prefer arranging his death for real. Shes not technically the most powerful or important player in his mothers White House, but shes been working by Ellens side since Alex was five and Zahra was fresh out of Howard. Shes the only one trusted to wrangle the First Family. All right, heres the deal, she says. I was up all night conferencing with a bunch of uptight royal handlers and PR pricks and the princes fucking equerry to make this happen, so you are going to follow this plan to the letter and not fuck it up, got it? Alex still privately thinks this whole thing is completely ridiculous, but he nods. Zahra looks deeply unconvinced but presses on. First, the White House and the monarchy are going to release a joint statement saying what happened at the royal wedding was a complete accident and a misunderstanding Which it was. and that, despite rarely having time to see each other, you and Prince Henry have been close personal friends for the past several years. Were what? Look, Zahra says, taking a drag from her massive stainless steel thermos of coffee. Both sides need to come out of this looking good, and the only way to do that is to make it look like your little slap-fight at the wedding was some homoerotic frat bro mishap, okay? So, you can hate the heir to the throne all you want, write mean poems about him in your diary, but the minute you see a camera, you act like the sun shines out of his dick, and you make it convincing. Have you met Henry? Alex says. How am I supposed to do that? He has the personality of a cabbage. Are you really not understanding how much I dont care at all how you feel about this? Zahra says. This is whats happening so your stupid ass doesnt distract the entire country from your mothers reelection campaign. Do you want her to have to get up on the debate stage next year and explain to the world why her son is trying to destabilize Americas European relationships? Well, no, he doesnt. And he knows, in the back of his mind, that hes a better strategist than hes been about this, and that without this stupid grudge, he probably could have come up with this plan on his own. So Henrys your new best friend, Zahra continues. You will smile and nod and not piss off anyone while you and Henry spend the weekend doing charity appearances and talking to the press about how much you love each others company. If somebody asks about him, I want to hear you gush like hes your fucking prom date. She slides him a page of bulleted lists and tables of data so elaborately organized he could have made it himself. Its labeled: HRH PRINCE HENRY FACT SHEET. Youre going to memorize this so if anybody tries to catch you in a lie, you know what to say, she says. Under HOBBIES, it lists polo and competitive yachting. Alex is going to set himself on fire. Does he get one of these for me? Alex asks helplessly. Yep. And for the record, making it was one of the most depressing moments of my career. She slides another page over to him, this one detailing requirements for the weekend. Minimum two (2) social media posts per day highlighting England/visit thereof. One (1) on-air interview with ITV This Morning, lasting five (5) minutes, in accordance with determined narrative. Two (2) joint appearances with photographers present: one (1) private meeting, one (1) public charity appearance. Why do I have to go over there? Hes the one who pushed me into the stupid cakeshouldnt he have to come here and go on SNL with me or something? Because it was the royal wedding you ruined, and theyre the ones out seventy-five grand, Zahra says. Besides, were arranging his presence at a state dinner in a few months. Hes not any more excited about this than you are. Alex pinches the bridge of his nose where a stress headache is already percolating. I have class. Youll be back by Sunday night, DC time, Zahra tells him. You wont miss anything. So theres really no way Im getting out of this? Nope. Alex presses his lips together. He needs a list. When he was a kid, he used to hide pages and pages of loose leaf paper covered in messy, loopy handwriting under the worn denim cushion of the window seat in the house in Austin. Rambling treatises on the role of government in America with all the Gs written backward, paragraphs translated from English to Spanish, tables of his elementary school classmates strengths and weaknesses. And lists. Lots of lists. The lists help. So: Reasons this is a good idea. One. His mother needs good press. Two. Having a shitty record on foreign relations definitely wont help his career. Three. Free trip to Europe. Okay, he says, taking the file. Ill do it. But I wont have any fun. God, I hope not. * * * The White House Trio is, officially, the nickname for Alex, June, and Nora coined by People shortly before the inauguration. In actuality, it was carefully tested with focus groups by the White House press team and fed directly to People. Politicscalculating, even in hashtags. Before the Claremonts, the Kennedys and Clintons shielded the First Offspring from the press, giving them the privacy to go through awkward phases and organic childhood experiences and everything else. Sasha and Malia were hounded and picked apart by the press before they were out of high school. The White House Trio got ahead of the narrative before anyone could do the same. It was a bold new plan: three attractive, bright, charismatic, marketable millennialsAlex and Nora are, technically, just past the Gen Z threshold, but the press doesnt find that nearly as catchy. Catchiness sells, coolness sells. Obama was cool. The whole First Family could be cool too; celebrities in their own right. Its not ideal, his mother always says, but it works. Theyre the White House Trio, but here, in the music room on the third floor of the Residence, theyre just Alex and June and Nora, naturally glued together since they were teenagers stunting their growth with espresso in the primaries. Alex pushes them. June steadies them. Nora keeps them honest. They settle into their usual places: June, perched on her heels at the record collection, foraging for some Patsy Cline; Nora, cross-legged on the floor, uncorking a bottle of red wine; Alex, sitting upside down with his feet on the back of the couch, trying to figure out what hes going to do next. He flips the HRH PRINCE HENRY FACT SHEET over and squints at it. He can feel the blood rushing to his head. June and Nora are ignoring him, caught in a bubble of intimacy he can never quite penetrate. Their relationship is something enormous and incomprehensible to most people, including Alex on occasion. He knows them both down to their split ends and nasty habits, but theres a strange girl bond between them he cant, and knows he isnt supposed to, translate. I thought you were liking the WaPo gig? Nora says. With a dull pop, she pulls the cork out of the wine and takes a swig directly from the bottle. I was, June says. I mean, I am. But, its not much of a gig. Its like, one op-ed a month, and half my pitches get shot down for being too close to Moms platform, and even then, the press team has to read anything political before I turn it in. So its like, email in these fluff pieces, and know that on the other side of the screen people are doing the most important journalism of their careers, and be okay with that. So . . . you dont like it, then. June sighs. She finds the record shes looking for, slides it out of the sleeve. I dont know what else to do, is the thing. They wouldnt put you on a beat? Nora asks her. You kidding? They wouldnt even let me in the building, June says. She puts the record on and sets the needle. What would Reilly and Rebecca say? Nora tips her head and laughs. My parents would say to do what they did: ditch journalism, get really into essential oils, buy a cabin in the Vermont wilderness, and own six hundred LL Bean vests that all smell like patchouli. You left out the investing in Apple in the nineties and getting stupid-rich part, June reminds her. Details. June walks over and places her palm on the top of Noras head, deep in her nest of curls, and leans down to kiss the back of her own fingers. Ill figure something out. Nora hands over the bottle, and June takes a pull. Alex heaves a dramatic sigh. I cant believe I have to learn this garbage, Alex says. I just finished midterms. Look, youre the one who has to fight everything that moves, June says, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand, a move shed only do in front of the two of them. Including the British monarchy. So, I dont really feel bad for you. Anyway, he was totally fine when I danced with him. I dont get why you hate him so much. I think its amazing, Nora says. Sworn enemies forced to make peace to settle tensions between their countries? Theres something totally Shakespearean about it. Shakespearean in that hopefully Ill get stabbed to death, Alex says. This sheet says his favorite food is mutton pie. I literally cannot think of a more boring food. Hes like a cardboard cutout of a person. The sheet is filled with things Alex already knew, either from the royal siblings dominating the news cycle or hate-reading Henrys Wikipedia page. He knows about Henrys parentage, about his older siblings Philip and Beatrice, that he studied English literature at Oxford and plays classical piano. The rest is so trivial he cant imagine itll come up in an interview, but theres no way hell risk Henry being more prepared. Idea, Nora says. Lets make it a drinking game. Ooh, yes, June agrees. Drink every time Alex gets one right? Drink every time the answer makes you want to puke? Alex suggests. One drink for a correct answer, two drinks for a Prince Henry fact that is legitimately, objectively awful, Nora says. June has already dug two glasses out of the cabinet, and she hands them to Nora, who fills both and keeps the bottle for herself. Alex slides down from the couch to sit on the floor with her. Okay, she goes on, taking the sheet out of Alexs hands. Lets start easy. Parents. Go. Alex picks up his own glass, already pulling up a mental image of Henrys parents, Catherines shrewd blue eyes and Arthurs movie-star jaw. Mother: Princess Catherine, oldest daughter of Queen Mary, first princess to obtain a doctorateEnglish literature, he rattles off. Father: Arthur Fox, beloved English film and stage actor best known for his turn as James Bond in the eighties, deceased 2015. Yall drink. They do, and Nora passes the list to June. Okay, June says, scanning the list, apparently looking for something more challenging. Lets see. Dogs name? David, Alex says. Hes a beagle. I remember because, like, who does that? Who names a dog David? He sounds like a tax attorney. Like a dog tax attorney. Drink. Best friends name, age, and occupation? Nora asks. Best friend other than you, of course. Alex casually gives her the finger. Percy Okonjo. Goes by Pez or Pezza. Heir to Okonjo Industries, Nigerian company leading Africa in biomedical advancements. Twenty-two, lives in London, met Henry at Eton. Manages the Okonjo Foundation, a humanitarian nonprofit. Drink. Favorite book? Uh, Alex says. Um. Fuck. Uh. Whats the one Im sorry, Mr. Claremont-Diaz, that is incorrect, June says. Thank you for playing, but you lose. Come on, whats the answer? June peers down at the list. This says . . . Great Expectations? Both Nora and Alex groan. Do you see what I mean now? Alex says. This dude is reading Charles Dickens . . . for pleasure. Ill give you this one, Nora says. Two drinks! Well, I think June says as Nora glugs away. Guys, its kinda nice! I mean, its pretentious, but the themes of Great Expectations are all like, love is more important than status, and doing whats right beats money and power. Maybe he relates Alex makes a long, loud fart noise. Yall are such assholes! He seems really nice! Thats because you are a nerd, Alex says. You want to protect those of your own species. Its a natural instinct. I am helping you with this out of the goodness of my heart, June says. Im on deadline right now. Hey, what do you think Zahra put on my fact sheet? Hmm, Nora says, sucking her teeth. Favorite summer Olympic sport: rhythmic gymnastics Im not ashamed of that. Favorite brand of khakis: Gap. Listen, they look best on my ass. The J. Crew ones wrinkle all weird. And theyre not khakis, theyre chinos. Khakis are for white people. Allergies: dust, Tide laundry detergent, and shutting the fuck up. Age of first filibuster: nine, at SeaWorld San Antonio, trying to force an orca wrangler into early retirement for, quote, inhumane whale practices. I stood by it then, and I stand by it now. June throws her head back and laughs, loud and unguarded, and Nora rolls her eyes, and Alex is glad, at least, that hell have this to come back to when the nightmare is over. Alex expects Henrys handler to be some stout storybook Englishman with tails and a top hat, probably a walrus mustache, definitely scurrying to place a velvet footstool at Henrys carriage door. The person who awaits him and his security team on the tarmac is very much not that. Hes a tall thirty-something Indian man in an impeccably tailored suit, roguishly handsome with a neatly trimmed beard, a steaming cup of tea, and a shiny Union Jack on his lapel. Well, okay then. Agent Chen, the man says, extending his free hand to Amy. Hope the flight was smooth. Amy nods. As smooth as the third transatlantic flight in a week can be. The man half-smiles, commiserative. The Land Rover is for you and your team for the duration. Amy nods again, releasing his hand, and the man turns his attention to Alex. Mr. Claremont-Diaz, he says. Welcome back to England. Shaan Srivastava, Prince Henrys equerry. Alex takes his hand and shakes it, feeling a bit like hes in one of Henrys dads Bond movies. Behind him, an attendant unloads his luggage and carries it off in the direction of a sleek Aston Martin. Nice to meet you, Shaan. Not exactly how we thought wed be spending our weekend, is it? Im not as surprised at this turn of events as Id like to be, sir, Shaan says coolly, with an inscrutable smile. He pulls a small tablet from his jacket and pivots on his heel toward the waiting car. Alex stares at his back, speechless, before hastily refusing to be impressed by a grown man whose job is handling the princes schedule, no matter how cool he is or how long and smooth his strides are. He shakes his head a little and jogs to catch up, sliding into the backseat as Shaan checks the mirrors. Right, Shaan says. Youll be staying in the guest quarters at Kensington Palace. Tomorrow youll do the This Morning interview at nineweve arranged for a photo call at the studio. Then its children with cancer all afternoon and off you go back to the land of the free. Okay, Alex says. He very politely does not add, could be worse. For now, Shaan says, youre to come with me to chauffeur the prince from the stables. One of our photographers will be there to photograph the prince welcoming you to the country, so do try to look pleased to be here. Of course, there are stables the prince needs to be chauffeured from. He was briefly worried hed been wrong about what the weekend would look like, but this feels a lot more like it. If youll check the seat pocket in front of you, Shaan says as he reverses, there are a few papers for you to sign. Your lawyers have already approved them. He passes back an expensive-looking black fountain pen. NONDISCLOSURE AGREEMENT, the top of the first page reads. Alex flips through to the last pagethere are at least fifteen pages of textand a low whistle escapes his lips. This is . . . Alex says, a thing you do often? Standard protocol, Shaan says. The reputation of the royal family is too valuable to risk. The words Confidential Information, as used in this Agreement, shall include the following: 1. Such information as HRH Prince Henry or any member of the Royal Family may designate to the Guest as Confidential Information; 2. All proprietary and financial information regarding HRH Prince Henrys personal wealth and estate; 3. Any interior architectural details of Royal Residences including Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, etc., and personal effects found therein; 4. Any information regarding or involving HRH Prince Henrys personal or private life not previously released by official Royal documents, speeches, or approved biographers, including any personal or private relationship the Guest may have with HRH Prince Henry; 5. Any information found on HRH Prince Henrys personal electronic devices . . . This seems . . . excessive, like the kind of paperwork you get from some perverted millionaire who wants to hunt you for sport. He wonders what the most mind-numbingly wholesome public figure on earth could possibly have to hide. He hopes its not people-hunting. Alex is no stranger to NDAs, though, so he signs and initials. Its not like he would have divulged all the boring details of this trip to anyone anyway, except maybe June and Nora. They pull up to the stables after another fifteen minutes, his security close behind them. The royal stables are, of course, elaborate and well-kept and about a million miles from the old ranches hes seen out in the Texas panhandle. Shaan leads him out to the edge of the paddock, and Amy and her team regroup ten paces behind. Alex rests his elbows on the lacquered white fence boards, fighting back the sudden, absurd feeling hes underdressed for this. On any other day, his chinos and button-down would be fine for a casual photo op, but for the first time in a long time, hes feeling distinctly out of his element. Does his hair look awful from the plane? Its not like Henry is going to look much better after polo practice. Hell probably be sweaty and disgusting. As if on cue, Henry comes galloping around the bend on the back of a pristine white horse. He is definitely not sweaty or disgusting. He is, instead, bathed dramatically in a sweeping and resplendent sunset, wearing a crisp black jacket and riding pants tucked into tall leather boots, looking every inch an actual fairy-tale prince. He unhooks his helmet and takes it off with one gloved hand, and his hair underneath is just attractively tousled enough to look like its supposed to be that way. Im going to throw up on you, Alex says as soon as Henry is close enough to hear him. Hello, Alex, Henry says. Alex really resents the extra few feet of height Henry has on him right now. You look . . . sober. Only for you, Your Royal Highness, he says with an elaborate mock-bow. Hes pleased to hear a little bit of ice in Henrys voice, finally done pretending. Youre too kind, Henry says. He swings one long leg over and dismounts from his horse gracefully, removing his glove and extending a hand to Alex. A well-dressed stable hand basically springs up out of the ground to whisk the horse away by the reins. Alex has probably never hated anything more. This is idiotic, Alex says, grasping Henrys hand. The skin is soft, probably exfoliated and moisturized daily by some royal manicurist. Theres a royal photographer right on the other side of the fence, so he smiles winningly and says through his teeth, Lets get it over with. Id rather be waterboarded, Henry says, smiling back. The camera snaps nearby. His eyes are big and soft and blue, and he desperately needs to be punched in one of them. Your country could probably arrange that. Alex throws his head back and laughs handsomely, loud and false. Go fuck yourself. Hardly enough time, Henry says. He releases Alexs hand as Shaan returns. Your Highness, Shaan greets Henry with a nod. Alex makes a concentrated effort not to roll his eyes. The photographer should have what he needs, so if youre ready, the car is waiting. Henry turns to him and smiles again, eyes unreadable. Shall we? Theres something vaguely familiar about the Kensington Palace guest quarters, even though hes never been here before. Shaan had an attendant show him to his room, where his luggage awaited him on an ornately carved bed with spun gold bedding. Many of the rooms in the White House have a similar hauntedness, a sense of history that hangs like cobwebs no matter how pristine the rooms are kept. Hes used to sleeping alongside ghosts, but thats not it. It strikes farther back in his memory, around the time his parents split up. They were the kind of married lawyer couple who could barely order Chinese takeout without legally binding documents, so Alex spent the summer before seventh grade shuttled back and forth from home to their dads new place outside of Los Angeles until they could strike a long-term arrangement. It was a nice house in the valley, a clear blue swimming pool and a back wall of solid glass. He never slept well there. Hed sneak out of his thrown-together bedroom in the middle of the night, stealing Helados from his dads freezer and standing barefoot in the kitchen eating straight from the quart, washed blue in the pool light. Thats how it feels here, somehowwide awake at midnight in a strange place, duty bound to make it work. He wanders into the kitchen attached to his guest wing, where the ceilings are high and the countertops are shiny marble. He was allowed to submit a list to stock the kitchen, but apparently it was too hard to get Helados on short noticeall thats in the freezer is UK-brand packaged ice cream cones. Whats it like? Noras voice says, tinny over his phones speaker. On the screen, her hair is up, and shes poking at one of her dozens of window plants. Weird, Alex says, pushing his glasses up his nose. Everything looks like a museum. I dont think Im allowed to show you, though. Ooh, Nora says, wiggling her eyebrows. So secretive. So fancy. Please, Alex says. If anything, its creepy. I had to sign such a massive NDA that Im convinced Im gonna drop through a trapdoor into a torture dungeon any minute. I bet he has a secret lovechild, Nora says. Or hes gay. Or he has a secret gay lovechild. Its probably in case I see his equerry putting his batteries back in, Alex says. Anyway, this is boring. Whats going on with you? Your life is so much better than mine right now. Well, Nora says, Nate Silver wont stop blowing up my phone for another column. Bought some new curtains. Narrowed down the list of grad school concentrations to statistics or data science. Tell me those are both at GW, Alex says, hopping up to sit on one of the immaculate countertops, feet dangling. You cant leave me in DC to go back to MIT. Havent decided yet, but astonishingly, it will not be based on you, Nora tells him. Remember how we sometimes talk about things that are not about you? Yeah, weirdly. So is the plan to dethrone Nate Silver as reigning data czar of DC? Nora laughs. No, what Im gonna do is silently compile and process enough data to know exactly whats gonna happen for the next twenty-five years. Then Im gonna buy a house on the top of a very tall hill at the edge of the city and become an eccentric recluse and sit on my veranda. Watch it all unfold through a pair of binoculars. Alex starts to laugh, but cuts off when he hears rustling down the hall. Quiet footsteps approaching. Princess Beatrice lives in a different section of the palace, and so does Henry. The PPOs and his own security sleep on this floor, though, so maybe Hold on, Alex says, covering the speaker. A light flicks on in the hallway, and the person who comes padding into the kitchen is none other than Prince Henry. Hes rumpled and half awake, shoulders slumping as he yawns. Hes standing in front of Alex wearing not a suit, but a heather-gray T-shirt and plaid pajama bottoms. He has earbuds in, and his hair is a mess. His feet are bare. He looks, alarmingly, human. He freezes when his eyes fall on Alex perched on the countertop. Alex stares back at him. In his hand, Nora begins a muffled, Is that before Alex disconnects the call. Henry pulls out his earbuds, and his posture has ratcheted back up straight, but his face is still bleary and confused. Hello, he says, hoarse. Sorry. Er. I was just. Cornettos. He gestures vaguely toward the refrigerator, as if hes said something of any meaning. What? He crosses to the freezer and extracts the box of ice cream cones, showing Alex the name Cornetto across the front. I was out. Knew theyd stocked you up. Do you raid the kitchens of all your guests? Alex asks. Only when I cant sleep, Henry says. Which is always. Didnt think youd be awake. He looks at Alex, deferring, and Alex realizes hes waiting for permission to open the box and take one. Alex thinks about telling him no, just for the thrill of denying a prince something, but hes kind of intrigued. He usually cant sleep either. He nods. He waits for Henry to take a Cornetto and leave, but instead he looks back up at Alex. Have you practiced what youll say tomorrow? Yes, Alex says, bristling immediately. This is why nothing about Henry has ever intrigued him before. Youre not the only professional here. I didnt mean Henry falters. I only meant, do you think we should, er, rehearse? Do you need to? I thought it might help. Of course, he thinks that. Everything Henrys ever done publicly has probably been privately rehearsed in stuffy royal quarters like this one. Alex hops down off the counter, swiping his phone unlocked. Watch this. He lines up a shot: the box of Cornettos on the counter, Henrys hand braced on the marble next to it, his heavy signet ring visible along with a swath of pajamas. He opens up Instagram, slaps a filter on it. Nothing cures jet lag, Alex narrates in a monotone as he taps out a caption, like midnight ice cream with @PrinceHenry. Geotag Kensington Palace, and posted. He holds the phone for Henry to see as likes and comments immediately pour in. There are a lot of things worth overthinking, believe me. But this isnt one of them. Henry frowns at him over his ice cream. I suppose, he says, looking doubtful. Are you done? Alex asks. I was on a call. Henry blinks, then folds his arms over his chest, back on the defensive. Of course. I wont keep you. As he leaves the kitchen, he pauses in the doorframe, considering. I didnt know you wore glasses, he says finally. He leaves Alex standing there alone in the kitchen, the box of Cornettos sweating on the counter. The ride to the studio for the interview is bumpy but mercifully quick. Alex should probably blame some of his queasiness on nerves but chooses to blame it all on this mornings appalling breakfast spreadwhat kind of garbage country eats bland beans on white toast for breakfast? He cant decide if his Mexican blood or his Texan blood is more offended. Henry sits beside him, surrounded by a cloud of attendants and stylists. One adjusts his hair with a fine-toothed comb. One holds up a notepad of talking points. One tugs his collar straight. From the passenger seat, Shaan shakes a yellow pill out of a bottle and passes it back to Henry, who readily pops it into his mouth and swallows it dry. Alex decides he doesnt want or need to know. The motorcade pulls up in front of the studio, and when the door slides open, theres the promised photo line and barricaded royal worshippers. Henry turns and looks at him, a little grimace around his mouth and eyes. Prince goes first, then you, Shaan says to Alex, leaning in and touching his earpiece. Alex takes one breath, two, and turns it onthe megawatt smile, the All-American charm. Go ahead, Your Royal Highness, Alex says, winking as he puts on his sunglasses. Your subjects await. Henry clears his throat and unfolds himself, stepping out into the morning and waving genially at the crowd. Cameras flash, photographers shout. A blue-haired girl in the crowd lifts up a homemade poster that reads in big, glittery letters, GET IN ME, PRINCE HENRY! for about five seconds until a member of the security team shoves it into a nearby trash can. Alex steps out next, swaggering up beside Henry and throwing an arm over his shoulders. Act like you like me! Alex says cheerfully. Henry looks at him like hes trying to choose between a million choice words, before tipping his head to the side and offering up a well-rehearsed laugh, putting his arm around Alex too. There we go. The hosts of This Morning are agonizingly Britisha middle-aged woman named Dottie in a tea dress and a man called Stu who looks as if he spends weekends yelling at mice in his garden. Alex watches the introductions backstage as a makeup artist conceals a stress pimple on his forehead. So, this is happening. He tries to ignore Henry a few feet to his left, currently getting a final preening from a royal stylist. Its the last chance hell get to ignore Henry for the rest of the day. Soon Henry is leading the way out with Alex close behind. Alex shakes Dotties hand first, smiling his Politics Smile at her, the one that makes a lot of congresswomen and more than a few congressmen want to tell him things they shouldnt. She giggles and kisses him on the cheek. The audience claps and claps and claps. Henry sits on the prop couch next to him, perfect posture, and Alex smiles at him, making a show of looking comfortable in Henrys company. Which is harder than it should be, because the stage lights suddenly make him uncomfortably aware of how fresh and handsome Henry looks for the cameras. Hes wearing a blue sweater over a button-down, and his hair looks soft. Whatever, fine. Henry is annoyingly attractive. Thats always been a thing, objectively. Its fine. He realizes, almost a second too late, that Dottie is asking him a question. What do you think of jolly old England, then, Alex? Dottie says, clearly ribbing him. Alex forces a smile. You know, Dottie, its gorgeous, Alex says. Ive been here a few times since my mom got elected, and its always incredible to see the history here, and the beer selection. The audience laughs right on cue, and Alex shakes out his shoulders a little. And of course, its always great to see this guy. He turns to Henry, extending his fist. Henry hesitates before stiffly bumping his own knuckles against Alexs with the heavy air of an act of treason. Alexs whole reason for wanting to go into politics, when he knows so many past presidential sons and daughters have run away screaming the minute they turned eighteen, is he genuinely cares about people. The power is great, the attention fun, but the peoplethe people are everything. He has a bit of a caring-too-much problem about most things, including whether people can pay their medical bills, or marry whomever they love, or not get shot at school. Or, in this case, if kids with cancer have enough books to read at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. He and Henry and their collective hoard of security have taken over the floor, flustering nurses and shaking hands. Hes tryingreally tryingnot to let his hands clench into fists at his sides, but Henrys smiling robotically with a little bald boy plugged full of tubes for some bullshit photograph, and he wants to scream at this whole stupid country. But hes legally required to be here, so he focuses on the kids, instead. Most of them have no idea who he is, but Henry gamely introduces him as the presidents son, and soon theyre asking him about the White House and does he know Ariana Grande, and he laughs and indulges them. He unpacks books from the heavy boxes theyve brought, climbs up onto beds and reads out loud, a photographer trailing after him. He doesnt realize hes lost track of Henry until the patient hes visiting dozes off, and he recognizes the low rumble of Henrys voice on the other side of the curtain. A quick count of feet on the floorno photographers. Just Henry. Hmm. He steps quietly over to the chair against the wall, right at the edge of the curtain. If he sits at the right angle and cranes his head back, he can barely see. Henry is talking to a little girl with leukemia named Claudette, according to the board on her wall. Shes got dark skin thats turned sort of a pale gray and a bright orange scarf tied around her head, emblazoned with the Alliance Starbird. Instead of hovering awkwardly like Alex expected, Henry is kneeling at her side, smiling and holding her hand. . . . Star Wars fan, are you? Henry says in a low, warm voice Alex has never heard from him before, pointing at the insignia on her headscarf. Oh, its my absolute favorite, Claudette gushes. Id like to be just like Princess Leia when Im older because shes so tough and smart and strong, and she gets to kiss Han Solo. She blushes a little at having mentioned kissing in front of the prince but fiercely maintains eye contact. Alex finds himself craning his neck farther, watching for Henrys reaction. He definitely does not recall Star Wars on the fact sheet. You know what, Henry says, leaning in conspiratorially, I think youve got the right idea. Claudette giggles. Whos your favorite? Hmm, Henry says, making a show of thinking hard. I always liked Luke. Hes brave and good, and hes the strongest Jedi of them all. I think Luke is proof that it doesnt matter where you come from or who your family isyou can always be great if youre true to yourself. All right, Miss Claudette, a nurse says brightly as she comes around the curtain. Henry jumps, and Alex almost tips his chair over, caught in the act. He clears his throat as he stands, pointedly not looking at Henry. You two can go, its time for her meds. Miss Beth, Henry said we were mates now! Claudette practically wails. He can stay! Excuse you! Beth the nurse tuts. Thats no way to address the prince. Terribly sorry, Your Highness. No need to apologize, Henry tells her. Rebel commanders outrank royalty. He shoots Claudette a wink and a salute, and she positively melts. Im impressed, Alex says as they walk out into the hallway together. Henry cocks an eyebrow, and Alex adds, Not impressed, just surprised. At what? That you actually have, you know, feelings. Henry is beginning to smile when three things happen in rapid succession. The first: A shout echoes from the opposite end of the hall. The second: Theres a loud pop that sounds alarmingly like gunfire. The third: Cash grabs both Henry and Alex by the arms and shoves them through the nearest door. Stay down, Cash grunts as he slams the door behind them. In the abrupt darkness, Alex stumbles over a mop and one of Henrys legs, and they go crashing down together into a clattering pile of tin bedpans. Henry hits the floor first, facedown, and Alex lands in a heap on top of him. Oh God, Henry says, muffled and echoing slightly. Alex thinks hopefully that his face might be in a bedpan. You know, he says into Henrys hair, we have got to stop ending up like this. Do you mind? This is your fault! How is this possibly my fault? Henry hisses. Nobody ever tries to shoot me when Im doing presidential appearances, but the minute I go out with a fucking royal Will you shut up before you get us both killed? Nobodys going to kill us. Cash is blocking the door. Besides, its probably nothing. Then at least get off me. Stop telling me what to do! Youre not the prince of me! Bloody hell, Henry mutters, and he pushes hard off the ground and rolls, knocking Alex onto the floor. Alex finds himself wedged between Henrys side and a shelf of what smells like industrial-strength floor cleaner. Can you move over, Your Highness? Alex whispers, shoving his shoulder against Henrys. Id rather not be the little spoon. Believe me, Im trying, Henry replies. Theres no room. Outside, there are voices, hurried footstepsno signs of an all-clear. Well, Alex says. Guess we better make ourselves comfortable. Henry exhales tightly. Fantastic. Alex feels him shifting against his side, arms crossed over his chest in an attempt at his typical closed-off stance while lying on the floor with his feet in a mop bucket. For the record, Henry says, nobodys ever made an attempt on my life either. Well, congratulations, Alex says. Youve officially made it. Yes, this is exactly how I always dreamed it would be. Locked in a cupboard with your elbow inside my ribcage, Henry snipes. He sounds like he wants to punch Alex, which is probably the most Alex has ever liked him, so he follows the impulse and drives his elbow into Henrys side, hard. Henry lets out a muffled yelp, and the next thing Alex knows, hes been yanked sideways by his shirt and Henry is halfway on top of him, pinning him down with one thigh. His head throbs where hes clocked it against the linoleum floor, but he can feel his lips split into a smile. So you do have some fight in you, Alex says. He bucks his hips, trying to shake Henry off, but hes taller and stronger and has a fistful of Alexs collar. Are you quite finished? Henry says, sounding strangled. Can you perhaps stop putting your sodding life in danger now? Aw, you do care, Alex says. Im learning all your hidden depths today, sweetheart. Henry exhales and slumps off him. I cannot believe even mortal peril will not prevent you from being the way you are. The weirdest part, Alex thinks, is that what he said was true. He keeps getting these little glimpses into things he never thought Henry was. A bit of a fighter, for one. Intelligent, interested in other people. Its honestly disconcerting. He knows exactly what to say to each Democratic senator to make them dish about bills, exactly when Zahras running low on nicotine gum, exactly which look to give Nora for the rumor mill. Reading people is what he does. He really doesnt appreciate some inbred royal baby upending his system. But he did rather enjoy that fight. He lies there, waits. Listens to the shuffling of feet outside the door. Lets minutes go by. So, uh, he tries. Star Wars? He means it in a nonthreatening, offhanded way, but habit wins and it comes out accusatory. Yes, Alex, Henry says archly, believe it or not, the children of the crown dont only spend their childhood going to tea parties. I assumed it was mostly posture coaching and junior polo league. Henry takes a deeply unhappy pause. That . . . may have been part of it. So youre into pop culture, but you act like youre not, Alex says. Either youre not allowed to talk about it because its unseemly for the crown, or you choose not to talk about it because you want people to think youre cultured. Which one? Are you psychoanalyzing me? Henry asks. I dont think royal guests are allowed to do that. Im trying to understand why youre so committed to acting like someone youre not, considering you just told that little girl in there that greatness means being true to yourself. I dont know what youre talking about, and if I did, Im not sure thats any of your concern, Henry says, his voice strained at the edges. Really? Because Im pretty sure Im legally bound to pretend to be your best friend, and I dont know if youve thought this through yet, but thats not going to stop with this weekend, Alex tells him. Henrys fingers go tense against his forearm. If we do this and were never seen together again, people are gonna know were full of shit. Were stuck with each other, like it or not, so I have a right to be clued in about what your deal is before it sneaks up on me and bites me in the ass. Why dont we start . . . Henry says, turning his head to squint at him. This close Alex can just make out the silhouette of Henrys strong royal nose, . . . with you telling me why exactly you hate me so much? Do you really want to have that conversation? Maybe I do. Alex crosses his arms, recognizes it as a mirror to Henrys tic, and uncrosses them. Do you really not remember being a prick to me at the Olympics? Alex remembers it in vivid detail: himself at eighteen, dispatched to Rio with June and Nora, the campaigns delegation to the summer games, one weekend of photo ops and selling the next generation of global cooperation image. Alex spent most of it drinking caipirinhas and subsequently throwing caipirinhas up behind Olympic venues. And he remembers, down to the Union Jack on Henrys anorak, the first time they met. Henry sighs. Is that the time you threatened to push me into the Thames? No, Alex says. It was the time you were a condescending prick at the diving finals. You really dont remember? Remind me? Alex glares. I walked up to you to introduce myself, and you stared at me like I was the most offensive thing you had ever seen. Right after you shook my hand, you turned to Shaan and said, Can you get rid of him? A pause. Ah, Henry says. He clears his throat. I didnt realize youd heard that. I feel like youre missing the point, Alex says, which is that its a douchey thing to say either way. Thats . . . fair. Yeah, so. Thats all? Henry asks. Only the Olympics? I mean, that was the start. Henry pauses again. Im sensing an ellipsis. Its just . . . Alex says, and as hes on the floor of a supply closet, waiting out a security threat with the Prince of England at the end of a weekend that has felt like some very specific ongoing nightmare, censoring himself takes too much effort. I dont know. Doing what we do is fucking hard. But its harder for me. Im the son of the first female president. And Im not white like she is, cant even pass for it. People will always come down harder on me. And youre, you know, you, and you were born into all of this, and everyone thinks youre Prince fucking Charming. Youre basically a living reminder Ill always be compared to someone else, no matter what I do, even if I work twice as hard. Henry is quiet for a long while. Well, Henry says when he speaks at last. I cant very well do much about the rest. But I can tell you I was, in fact, a prick that day. Not that its any excuse, but my father had died fourteen months before, and I was still kind of a prick every day of my life at the time. And I am sorry. Henry twitches one hand at his side, and Alex falls momentarily silent. The cancer ward. Of course, Henry chose a cancer wardit was right there on the fact sheet. Father: Famed film star Arthur Fox, deceased 2015, pancreatic cancer. The funeral was televised. He goes back over the last twenty-four hours in his head: the sleeplessness, the pills, the tense little grimace Henry does in public that Alex has always read as aloofness. He knows a few things about this stuff. Its not like his parents divorce was a pleasant time for him, or like he runs himself ragged about grades for fun. Hes been aware for too long that most people dont navigate thoughts of whether theyll ever be good enough or if theyre disappointing the entire world. Hes never considered Henry might feel any of the same things. Henry clears his throat again, and something like panic catches Alex. He opens his mouth and says, Well, good to know youre not perfect. He can almost hear Henry roll his eyes, and hes thankful for it, the familiar comfort of antagonism. Theyre silent again, the dust of the conversation settling. Alex cant hear anything outside the door or any sirens on the street, but nobody has come to get them yet. Then, unprompted, Henry says into the stretching stillness, Return of the Jedi. A beat. What? To answer your question, Henry says. Yes, I do like Star Wars, and my favorite is Return of the Jedi. Oh, Alex says. Wow, youre wrong. Henry huffs out the tiniest, most poshly indignant puff of air. It smells minty. Alex resists the urge to throw another elbow. How can I be wrong about my own favorite? Its a personal truth. Its a personal truth that is wrong and bad. Which do you prefer, then? Please show me the error of my ways. Okay, Empire. Henry sniffs. So dark, though. Yeah, which is what makes it good, Alex says. Its the most thematically complex. Its got the Han and Leia kiss in it, you meet Yoda, Han is at the top of his game, fucking Lando Calrissian, and the best twist in cinematic history. What does Jedi have? Fuckin ewoks. Ewoks are iconic. Ewoks are stupid. But Endor. But Hoth. Theres a reason people always call the best, grittiest installment of a trilogy the Empire of the series. And I can appreciate that. But isnt there something to be valued in a happy ending as well? Spoken like a true Prince Charming. Im only saying, I like the resolution of Jedi. It ties everything up nicely. And the overall theme youre intended to take away from the films is hope and love and . . . er, you know, all that. Which is what Jedi leaves you with a sense of most of all. Henry coughs, and Alex is turning to look at him again when the door opens and Cashs giant silhouette reappears. False alarm, he says, breathing heavily. Some dumbass kids brought fireworks for their friend. He looks down at them, flat on their backs and blinking up in the sudden, harsh light of the hallway. This looks cozy. Yep, were really bonding, Alex says. He reaches a hand out and lets Cash haul him to his feet. Outside Kensington Palace, Alex takes Henrys phone out of his hand and swiftly opens a blank contact page before he can protest or sic a PPO on him for violating royal property. The car is waiting to take him back to the royals private airstrip. Here, Alex says. Thats my number. If were gonna keep this up, its going to get annoying to keep going through handlers. Just text me. Well figure it out. Henry stares at him, expression blankly bewildered, and Alex wonders how this guy has any friends. Right, Henry says finally. Thank you. No booty calls, Alex tells him, and Henry chokes on a laugh. CHAPTER THREE FROM AMERICA, WITH LOVE: HENRY AND ALEX FLAUNT FRIENDSHIP NEW BROMANCE ALERT? PICS OF FSOTUS AND PRINCE HENRY PHOTOS: ALEXS WEEKEND IN LONDON For the first time in a week, Alex isnt pissed off scrolling through his Google alerts. It helps theyve given People an exclusivea few generic quotes about how much Alex cherishes his friendship with Henry and their shared life experience as sons of world leaders. Alex thinks their main shared life experience is probably wishing they could set that quote adrift on the ocean between them and watch it drown. His mother doesnt want him fake-dead anymore, though, and hes stopped getting a thousand vitriolic Tweets an hour, so he counts it as a win. He dodges a starstruck freshman gawking at him and exits the hall onto the east side of campus, draining the last cold sip of his coffee. First class today was an elective hes taking out of a combination of morbid fascination and academic curiosity: The Press and the Presidency. Hes currently jet-lagged to all hell from trying to keep the press from ruining the presidency, and the irony isnt lost on him. Todays lecture was on presidential sex scandals through history, and he texts Nora: numbers on one of us getting involved in a sex scandal before the end of second term? Her response comes within seconds: 94% probability of your dick becoming a recurring personality on face the nation. btw, have you seen this? Theres a link attached: a blog post full of images, animated GIFs of himself and Henry on This Morning. The fist bump. Shared smiles that pass for genuine. Conspiratorial glances. Underneath are hundreds of comments about how handsome they are, how nice they look together. omfg, one commenter writes, make out already. Alex laughs so hard he almost falls in a fountain. * * * As usual, the day guard at the Dirksen Building glares at him as he slides through security. Shes certain he was the one who vandalized the sign outside one particular senators office to read BITCH MCCONNELL, but shell never prove it. Cash tags along for some of Alexs Senate recon missions so nobody panics when he disappears for a few hours. Today, Cash hangs back on a bench, catching up on his podcasts. Hes always been the most indulgent of Alexs antics. Alex has had the layout of the building memorized since his dad first got elected. Its where hes picked up his encyclopedic knowledge of policy and procedure, and where he spends more afternoons than hes supposed to, charming aides and trawling for gossip. His mom pretends to be annoyed but slyly asks for intel later. Since Senator Oscar Diaz is in California speaking at a rally for gun control today, he punches the button for the fifth floor instead. His favorite senator is Rafael Luna, an Independent from Colorado and the newest kid on the block at only thirty-nine. Alexs dad took him under his wing back when he was merely a promising attorney, and now hes the darling of national politics for A, winning a special election and a general in consecutive upsets for his Senate seat, and B, dominating The Hills 50 Most Beautiful. Alex spent summer 2018 in Denver on Lunas campaign, so they have their own dysfunctional relationship built on tropical-flavored Skittles from gas stations and all-nighters drafting press releases. He sometimes feels the ghost of carpal tunnel creeping back, a fond ache. He finds Luna in his office, horn-rimmed reading glasses doing nothing to detract from his usual appearance of a movie star who tripped and fell sideways into politics. Alex has always suspected the soulful brown eyes and perfectly groomed stubble and dramatic cheekbones won back any votes Luna lost by being both Latino and openly gay. The album playing low in the room is an old favorite Alex remembers from Denver: Muddy Waters. When Luna looks up and sees Alex in his doorway, he drops his pen on a haphazard pile of papers and leans back in his chair. Fuck you doing here, kid? he says, watching him like a cat. Alex reaches into his pocket and pulls out a packet of Skittles, and Lunas face immediately softens into a smile. Atta boy, he says, scooping the bag up as soon as Alex drops it on his blotter. He kicks the chair in front of the desk out for him. Alex sits, watching Luna rip open the packet with his teeth. Whatcha working on today? You already know more than youre supposed to about everything on this desk. Alex does knowthe same health care reform since last year, the one stalled out since they lost the Senate in midterms. Why are you really here? Hmm. Alex hooks a leg over one armrest of the chair. I resent the idea I cant come visit a dear family friend without ulterior motives. Bullshit. He clutches his chest. You wound me. You exhaust me. I enchant you. Ill call security. Fair enough. Instead, lets talk about your little European vacation, Luna says. He fixes Alex with shrewd eyes. Can I expect a joint Christmas present from you and the prince this year? Actually, Alex swerves, since Im here, I do have a question for you. Luna laughs, leaning back and lacing his hands together behind his head. Alex feels his face flash hot for half a second, a zip of good-banter adrenaline that means hes getting somewhere. Of course you do. I wondered if you had heard anything about Connor, Alex asks. We could really use an endorsement from another Independent senator. Do you think hes close to making one? He kicks his foot innocently where its dangling over the armrest, like hes asking something as innocuous as the weather. Stanley Connor, Delawares kooky and beloved old Independent with a social media team stacked with millennials, would be a big get down the line in a race projected to be this close, and they both know it. Luna sucks on a Skittle. Are you asking if hes close to endorsing, or if I know what strings need to be pulled to get him to endorse? Raf. Pal. Buddy. You know Id never ask you anything so unseemly. Luna sighs, swivels in his chair. Hes a free agent. Social issues would push him your way usually, but you know how he feels about your moms economic platform. You probably know his voting record better than I do, kid. He doesnt fall on one side of the aisle. He might go for something radically different on taxes. And as for something you know that I dont? He smirks. I know Richards is promising Independents a centrist platform with big shake-ups on non-social issues. And I know part of that platform might not line up with Connors position on healthcare. Somewhere to start, perhaps. Hypothetically, if I were going to engage with your scheming. And you dont think theres any point in chasing down leads on Republican candidates that arent Richards? Shit, Luna says, the set of his mouth turning grim. Chances of your mother facing off against a candidate whos not the fucking anointed messiah of right-wing populism and heir to the Richards family legacy? Highly fucking unlikely. Alex smiles. You complete me, Raf. Luna rolls his eyes again. Lets circle back to you, he says. Dont think I didnt notice you changing the subject. For the record, I won the office pool on how long itd take you to cause an international incident. Wow, I thought I could trust you, Alex gasps, mock-betrayed. Whats the deal there? Theres no deal, Alex says. Henry is . . . a person I know. And we did something stupid. I had to fix it. Its fine. Okay, okay, Luna says, holding up both hands. Hes a looker, huh? Alex pulls a face. Yeah, I mean, if youre into like, fairy-tale princes. Is anyone not? Im not, Alex says. Luna arches an eyebrow. Right. What? Just thinking about last summer, he says. I have this really vivid memory of you basically making a Prince Henry voodoo doll on your desk. I did not. Or was it a dartboard with a photo of his face on it? Alex swings his foot back over the armrest so he can plant both feet on the floor and fold his arms indignantly. I had a magazine with his face on it at my desk, once, because I was in it and he happened to be on the cover. You stared at it for an hour. Lies, Alex says. Slander. It was like you were trying to set him on fire with your mind. What is your point? I think its interesting, he says. How fast the times they are a-changin. Come on, Alex says. Its . . . politics. Uh-huh. Alex shakes his head, doglike, as if its going to disperse the topic from the room. Besides, I came here to talk about endorsements, not my embarrassing public relations nightmares. Ah, Luna says slyly, but I thought you were here to pay a family friend a visit? Of course. Thats what I meant. Alex, dont you have something else to do on a Friday afternoon? Youre twenty-one. You should be playing beer pong or getting ready for a party or something. I do all of those things, he lies. I just also do this. Come on. Im trying to give you some advice, from one old man to a much younger version of himself. Youre thirty-nine. My liver is ninety-three. Thats not my fault. Some late nights in Denver would beg to differ. Alex laughs. See, this is why were friends. Alex, you need other friends, Luna tells him. Friends who arent in Congress. I have friends! I have June and Nora. Yes, your sister and a girl who is also a supercomputer, Luna deadpans. You need to take some time for yourself before you burn out, kid. You need a bigger support system. Stop calling me kid, Alex says. Ay, Luna sighs. Are you done? I do have some actual work to do. Yeah, yeah, Alex says, gathering himself up from his chair. Hey, is Maxine in town? Waters? Luna asks, crooking his head. Shit, you really have a death wish, huh? As political legacies go, the Richards family is one of the most complex bits of history Alex has tried to unravel. On one of the Post-it notes stuck to his laptop hes written: KENNEDYS + BUSHES + BIZARRO MAFIA OLD MONEY SITH POWERS = RICHARDSES? Its pretty much the thesis of what hes dug up so far. Jeffrey Richards, the current and supposedly only frontrunner for his mothers opponent in the general, has been a senator for Utah nearly twenty years, which means plenty of voting history and legislation that his mothers team has already gone over. Alex is more interested in the things harder to sniff out. There are so many generations of Attorney General Richards and Federal Judge Richards, theyd be able to bury anything. His phone buzzes under a stack of files on his desk. A text from June: Dinner? I miss your face. He loves Junetruly, more than anything in the worldbut hes kind of in the zone. Hell respond when he hits a stopping point in like, thirty minutes. He glances at the video of a Richards interview pulled up in a tab, checking the mans face for nonverbal cues. Gray hairnatural, not a piece. Shiny white teeth, like a sharks. Heavy, Uncle Sam jaw. Great salesman, considering hes blatantly lying about a bill in the clip. Alex takes a note. Its an hour and a half later before another buzz pulls him out of a deep dive into Richardss uncles suspicious 1986 taxes. A text from his mother in the family group chat, a pizza emoji. He bookmarks his page and heads upstairs. Family dinners are rare but less over-the-top than everything else that happens in the White House. His mother sends someone to pick up pizzas, and they take over the game room on the third floor with paper plates and bottles of Shiner shipped in from Texas. Its always amusing to catch one of the burly suits speaking in code over their earpieces: Black Bear has requested extra banana peppers. Junes already on the chaise and sipping a beer. A stab of guilt immediately hits when he remembers her text. Shit, Im an asshole, he says. Mm-hmm, you are. But, technically . . . I am having dinner with you? Just bring me my pizza, she says with a sigh. After Secret Service misread an olive-based shouting match in 2017 and almost put the Residence on lockdown, they now each get their own pizzas. Sure thing, Bug. He finds Junesmargheritaand hispepperoni and mushroom. Hi, Alex, says a voice from somewhere behind the television as he settles in with his pizza. Hey, Leo, he answers. His stepdad is fiddling with the wiring, probably rewiring it to do something thatd make more sense in an Iron Man comic, like he does with most electronicseccentric millionaire inventor habits die hard. Hes about to ask for a dumbed-down explanation when his mother comes blazing in. Why did yall let me run for president? she says, tapping too forcefully at her phones keyboard in little staccato stabs. She kicks off her heels into the corner, throwing her phone after them. Because we all knew better than to try to stop you, Leos voice says. He peeks his bearded, bespectacled head out and adds, And because the world would fall apart without you, my radiant orchid. His mother rolls her eyes but smiles. Its always been like that with them, ever since they first met at a charity event when Alex was fourteen. She was the Speaker of the House, and he was a genius with a dozen patents and money to burn on womens health initiatives. Now, shes the president, and hes sold his companies to spend his time fulfilling First Gentleman duties. Ellen releases two inches of zipper on the back of her skirt, the sign shes officially done for the day, and scoops up a slice. All right, she says. She does a scrubbing gesture in the air in front of her facepresident face off, mom face on. Hi, babies. Lo, Alex and June mumble in unison through mouthfuls of food. Ellen sighs and looks over at Leo. I did that, didnt I? No goddamn manners. Like a couple of little opossums. This is why they say women cant have it all. They are masterpieces, Leo says. One good thing, one bad thing, she says. Lets do this. Its her lifelong system for catching up on their days when shes at her busiest. Alex grew up with a mother who was a sometimes baffling combination of intensely organized and committed to lines of emotional communication, like an overly invested life coach. When he got his first girlfriend, she made a PowerPoint presentation. Mmm. June swallows a bite. Good thing. Oh! Oh my God. Ronan Farrow tweeted about my essay for New York Magazine, and we totally engaged in witty Twitter repartee. Part one of my long game to force him to be my friend is underway. Dont act like this isnt all part of your extra-long game of abusing your position to murder Woody Allen and make it look like an accident, Alex says. Hes just so frail; itd only take one good push How many times do I have to tell yall not to discuss your murder plots in front of a sitting president? their mother interrupts. Plausible deniability. Come on. Anyway, June says. One bad thing would be, uh . . . well, Woody Allens still alive. Your turn, Alex. Good thing, Alex says, I filibustered one of my professors into agreeing a question on our last exam was misleading so I would get full credit for my answer, which was correct. He takes a swig of beer. Bad thingMom, I saw the new art in the hall on the second floor, and I need to know why you allowed a George W. Bush terrier painting in our home. Its a bipartisan gesture, Ellen says. People find them endearing. I have to walk past it whenever I go to my room, Alex says. Its beady little eyes follow me everywhere. Its staying. Alex sighs. Fine. Leo goes nextas usual, his bad thing is somehow also a good thingand then Ellens up. Well, my UN ambassador fucked up his one job and said something idiotic about Israel, and now I have to call Netanyahu and personally apologize. But the good thing is its two in the morning in Tel Aviv, so I can put it off until tomorrow and have dinner with you two instead. Alex smiles at her. Hes still in awe, sometimes, of hearing her talk about presidential pains in the ass, even three years in. They lapse into idle conversation, little barbs and inside jokes, and these nights may be rare, but theyre still nice. So, Ellen says, starting on another slice crust-first. I ever tell you I used to hustle pool at my moms bar? June stops short, her beer halfway to her mouth. You did what now? Yep, she tells them. Alex exchanges an incredulous look with June. Momma managed this shitty bar when I was sixteen. The Tipsy Grackle. Shed let me come in after school and do my homework at the bar, had a bouncer friend make sure none of the old drunks hit on me. I got pretty good at pool after a few months and started betting the regulars I could beat them, except Id play dumb. Pick up the wrong stick, pretend to forget if I was stripes or solid. Id lose one game, then take them double or nothing and get twice the payout. Youve got to be kidding me, Alex says, except he can totally picture it. She has always been scary-good at pool and even better at strategy. All true, Leo says. How do you think she learned to get what she wants from strung-out old white men? The most important skill of an effective politician. Alexs mother accepts a kiss to the side of her square jaw from Leo as she passes by, like a queen gliding through a crowd of admirers. She sets her half-eaten slice down on a paper towel and selects a cue stick from the rack. Anyway, she says. The point is, youre never too young to figure out your skills and use them to get shit accomplished. Okay, Alex says. He meets her eyes, and they swap appraising looks. Including . . . she says thoughtfully. A job on a presidential reelection campaign, maybe. June puts down her slice. Mom, hes not even out of college yet. Uh, yeah, thats the point, Alex says impatiently. Hes been waiting for this offer. No gaps in the resume. Its not only for Alex, their mother says. Its for both of you. Junes expression changes from pinched apprehension to pinched dread. Alex makes a shooing motion in Junes direction. A mushroom flies off his pizza and hits the side of her nose. Tell me, tell me, tell me. Ive been thinking, Ellen says, this time around, yallthe White House Trio. She puts it in air quotes, as if she didnt sign off on the name herself. Yall shouldnt only be faces. Yall are more than that. You have skills. Youre smart. Youre talented. We could use yall not only as surrogates, but as staffers. Mom . . . June starts. What positions? Alex interjects. She pauses, drifts back over to her slice of pizza. Alex, youre the family wonk, she says, taking a bite. We could have you running point on policy. This means a lot of research and a lot of writing. Fuck yes, Alex says. Lemme romance the hell out of some focus groups. Im in. Alex June starts again, but their mom cuts her off. June, Im thinking communications, she goes on. Since your degree is mass comm, I was thinking you can come handle some of the day-to-day liaising with media outlets, working on messaging, analyzing the audience Mom, I have a job, she says. Oh, yeah. I mean, of course, sugar. But this could be full-time. Connections, upward mobility, real experience in the field doing some amazing work. I, um . . . June rips a piece of crust off her pizza. Dont remember ever saying I wanted to do anything like that. Thats, uh, kind of a big assumption to make, Mom. And you realize if I go into campaign communications now, Im basically shutting down my chances of ever being a journalist, because like, journalistic neutrality and everything. I can barely get anyone to let me write a column as it is. Baby girl, their mom says. Shes got that look on her face she gets when shes saying something with a fifty-fifty chance of pissing you off. Youre so talented, and I know you work hard, but at some point, you have to be realistic. Whats that supposed to mean? I just mean . . . I dont know if youre happy, she says, and maybe its time to try something different. Thats all. Im not yall, June tells her. This isnt my thing. Juuuuune, Alex says, tilting his head back to look at her upside down over the arm of his chair. Just think about it? Im doing it. He looks back at their mom. Are you offering a job to Nora too? She nods. Mike is talking to her tomorrow about a position in analytics. If she takes it, shell start ASAP. You, mister, are not starting until after graduation. Oh man, the White House Trio, riding into battle. This is awesome. He looks over at Leo, who has abandoned his project with the TV and is now happily eating a slice of cheesy bread. They offer you a job too, Leo? No, he says. As usual, my duties as First Gentleman are to work on my tablescapes and look pretty. Your tablescapes are really coming along, baby, Ellen says, giving him a sarcastic little kiss. I really liked the burlap placemats. Can you believe the decorator thought velvet looked better? Bless her heart. I dont like this, June says to Alex while their mother is distracted talking about decorative pears. Are you sure you want this job? Its gonna be fine, June, he tells her. Hey, if you wanna keep an eye on me, you can always take the offer too. She shakes him off, returning to her pizza with an unreadable expression. The next day there are three matching sticky notes on the whiteboard in Zahras office. CAMPAIGN JOBS: ALEX-NORA-JUNE, the board reads. The sticky notes under his and Noras names read YES. Under Junes, in what is unmistakably her own handwriting, NO. Alex is taking notes in a policy lecture when he gets the first text. This bloke looks like you. Theres a picture attached, an image of a laptop screen paused on Chief Chirpa from Return of the Jedi: tiny, commanding, adorable, pissed off. This is Henry, by the way. He rolls his eyes, but adds the new contact to his phone: HRH Prince Dickhead. Poop emoji. Hes honestly not planning to respond, but a week later he sees a headline on the cover of PeoplePRINCE HENRY FLIES SOUTH FOR WINTERcomplete with a photo of Henry artistically posed on an Australian beach in a pair of sensible yet miniscule navy swim trunks, and he cant stop himself. you have a lot of moles, he texts, along with a snap of the spread. is that a result of the inbreeding? Henrys retort comes two days later by way of a screenshot of a Daily Mail tweet that reads, Is Alex Claremont-Diaz going to be a father? The attached message says, But we were ever so careful, dear, which surprises a big enough laugh out of Alex that Zahra ejects him from her weekly debriefing with him and June. So, it turns out Henry can be funny. Alex adds that to his mental file. It also turns out Henry is fond of texting when hes trapped in moments of royal monotony, like being shuttled to and from appearances, or sitting through meandering briefings on his familys land holdings, or, once, begrudgingly and hilariously receiving a spray tan. Alex wouldnt say he likes Henry, but he does enjoy the quick rhythm of arguments they fall into. He knows he talks too much, hopeless at moderating his feelings, which he usually hides under ten layers of charm, but he ultimately doesnt care what Henry thinks of him, so he doesnt bother. Instead, hes as weird and manic as he wants to be, and Henry jabs back in sharp flashes of startling wit. So, when hes bored or stressed or between coffee refills, hell check for a text bubble popping up. Henry with a dig at some weird quote from his latest interview, Henry with a random thought about English beer versus American beer, a picture of Henrys dog wearing a Slytherin scarf. (i dont know WHO you think youre kidding, you hufflepuff-ass bitch, Alex texts back, before Henry clarifies his dog, not him, is a Slytherin.) He learns about Henrys life through a weird osmosis of text messages and social media. Its meticulously scheduled by Shaan, with whom Alex remains slightly obsessed, especially when Henry texts him things like, Did I tell you Shaan has a motorbike? or Shaan is on the phone with Portugal. Its quickly becoming apparent the HRH Prince Henry Fact Sheet either omitted the most interesting stuff or was outright fabricated. Henrys favorite food isnt mutton pie but a cheap falafel stand ten minutes from the palace, and hes spent most of his gap year thus far working on charities around the world, half of them owned by his best friend, Pez. Alex learns Henrys super into classical mythology and can rattle off the configurations of a few dozen constellations if you let him get going. Alex hears more about the tedious details of operating a sailboat than he would ever care to know and sends back nothing but: cool. Eight hours later. Henry hardly ever swears, but at least he doesnt seem to mind Alexs filthy fucking mouth. Henrys sister Beatriceshe goes by Bea, Alex finds outpops up often, since she lives in Kensington Palace as well. From what he gathers, the two of them are closer than either are to their brother. They compare notes on the trials and tribulations of having older sisters. did bea force you into dresses as a child too? Has June also got a fondness for sneaking your leftover curry out of the refrigerator in the dead of night like a Dickensian street urchin? More common are cameos by Pez, a man who cuts such an intriguing and bizarre figure that Alex wonders how someone like him ever became best friends with someone like Henry, who can drone on about Lord Byron until you threaten to block his number. Hes always either doing something insaneBASE jumping in Malaysia, eating plantains with someone who might be Jay-Z, showing up to lunch wearing a studded, hot-pink Gucci jacketor launching a new nonprofit. Its kind of incredible. He realizes that hes shared June and Nora too, when Henry remembers Junes Secret Service codename is Bluebonnet or jokes about how eerie Noras photographic memory is. Its weird, considering how fiercely protective he is of them, he never even noticed until Henrys Twitter exchange with June about their mutual love of the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie goes viral. Thats not your emails-from-Zahra face, Nora says, nosing her way over his shoulder. He elbows her away. You keep doing that stupid smile every time you look at your phone. Who are you texting? I dont know what youre talking about, and literally no one, Alex tells her. From the screen in his hand, Henrys message reads, In worlds most boring meeting with Philip. Dont let the papers print lies about me after Ive garroted myself with my tie. Wait, she says, reaching for his phone again, are you watching videos of Justin Trudeau speaking French again? Thats not a thing I do! That is a thing I have caught you doing at least twice since you met him at the state dinner last year, so yeah, it is, she says. Alex flips her off. Wait, oh my God, is it fan fiction about yourself? And you didnt invite me? Who do they have you boning now? Did you read the one I sent you with Macron? I died. If you dont stop, Im gonna call Taylor Swift and tell her you changed your mind and want to go to her Fourth of July party after all. That is not a proportionate response. Later that night, once hes alone at his desk, he replies: was it a meeting about which of your cousins have to marry each other to take back casterly rock? Ha. It was about royal finances. Ill be hearing Philips voice saying the words return on investment in my nightmares for the rest of time. Alex rolls his eyes and sends back, the harrowing struggle of managing the empires blood money. Henrys response comes a minute later. That was actually the crux of the meetingIve tried to refuse my share of the crowns money. Dad left us each more than enough, and Id rather cover my expenses with that than the spoils of, you know, centuries of genocide. Philip thinks Im being ridiculous. Alex scans the message twice to make sure hes read it correctly. i am low-key impressed. He stares at the screen, at his own message, for a few seconds too long, suddenly afraid it was a stupid thing to say. He shakes his head, puts the phone down. Locks it. Changes his mind, picks it up again. Unlocks it. Sees the little typing bubble on Henrys side of the conversation. Puts the phone down. Looks away. Looks back. One does not foster a lifelong love of Star Wars without knowing an empire isnt a good thing. He would really appreciate it if Henry would stop proving him wrong. HRH Prince Dickhead OCT 30, 2019, 1:07 PM i hate that tie HRH Prince Dickhead What tie? the one in that instagram you just posted HRH Prince Dickhead Whats wrong with it? Its only grey. exactly. try patterns sometime, and stop frowning at your phone like i know youre doing rn HRH Prince Dickhead Patterns are considered a statement. Royals arent supposed to make statements with what we wear. do it for the gram HRH Prince Dickhead You are the thistle in the tender and sensitive arse crack of my life. thanks! NOV 17, 2019, 11:04 AM HRH Prince Dickhead Ive just received a 5-kilo parcel of Ellen Claremont campaign buttons with your face on them. Is this your idea of a prank? just trying to brighten up that wardrobe, sunshine HRH Prince Dickhead I hope this gross miscarriage of campaign funds is worth it to you. My security thought it was a bomb. Shaan almost called in the sniffer dogs. oh, definitely worth it. even more worth it now. tell shaan i say hi and i miss that sweet sweet ass xoxoxo HRH Prince Dickhead I will not. CHAPTER FOUR Its public knowledge. Its not my problem you just found out, his mother is saying, pacing double time down a West Wing corridor. You mean to tell me, Alex half shouts, jogging to keep up, every Thanksgiving, those stupid turkeys have been staying in a luxury suite at the Willard on the taxpayer dime? Yes, Alex, they do Gross government waste! and there are two forty-pound turkeys named Cornbread and Stuffing in a motorcade on Pennsylvania Avenue right now. There is no time to reallocate the turkeys. Without missing a beat, he blurts out, Bring them to the house. Where? Are you hiding a turkey habitat up your ass, son? Where, in our historically protected house, am I going to put a couple of turkeys until I pardon them tomorrow? Put them in my room. I dont care. She outright laughs. No. How is it different from a hotel room? Put the turkeys in my room, Mom. Im not putting the turkeys in your room. Put the turkeys in my room. No. Put them in my room, put them in my room, put them in my room That night, as Alex stares into the cold, pitiless eyes of a prehistoric beast of prey, he has a few regrets. THEY KNOW, he texts Henry. THEY KNOW I HAVE ROBBED THEM OF FIVE-STAR ACCOMMODATIONS TO SIT IN A CAGE IN MY ROOM, AND THE MINUTE I TURN MY BACK THEY ARE GOING TO FEAST ON MY FLESH. Cornbread stares emptily back at him from inside a huge crate next to Alexs couch. A farm vet comes by once every few hours to check on them. Alex keeps asking if she can detect a lust for blood. From the en suite, Stuffing releases another ominous gobble. Alex was going to get things accomplished tonight. He really was. Before he learned of exorbitant turkey expenditures from CNN, he was watching the highlights of last nights Republican primary debate. He was going to finish an outline for an exam, study the demographic engagement binder he convinced his mother to give him for the campaign job. Instead, he is in a prison of his own creation, sworn to babysit these turkeys until the pardoning ceremony, and is just now realizing his deep-seated fear of large birds. He considers finding a couch to sleep on, but what if these demons from hell break out of their cages and murder each other during the night when hes supposed to be watching them? BREAKING: BOTH TURKEYS FOUND DEAD IN BEDROOM OF FSOTUS, TURKEY PARDON CANCELED IN DISGRACE, FSOTUS A SATANIC TURKEY RITUAL KILLER. Please send photos, is Henrys idea of a comforting response. He drops onto the edge of his bed. Hes grown accustomed to texting with Henry almost every day; the time difference doesnt matter, since theyre both awake at all ungodly hours of the day and night. Henry will send a snap from a seven a.m. polo practice and promptly receive one of Alex at two a.m., glasses on and coffee in hand, in bed with a pile of notes. Alex doesnt know why Henry never responds to his selfies from bed. His selfies from bed are always hilarious. He snaps a shot of Cornbread and presses send, flinching when the bird flaps at him threateningly. I think hes cute, Henry responds. thats because you cant hear all the menacing gobbling. Yes, famously the most sinister of all animal sounds, the gobble. You know what, you little shit, Alex says the second the call connects, you can hear it for yourself and then tell me how you would handle this Alex? Henrys voice sounds scratchy and bewildered across the line. Have you really rung me at three oclock in the morning to make me listen to a turkey? Yes, obviously, Alex says. He glances at Cornbread and cringes. Jesus Christ, its like they can see into your soul. Cornbread knows my sins, Henry. Cornbread knows what I have done, and he is here to make me atone. He hears a rustling over the phone, and he pictures Henry in his heather-gray pajamas, rolling over in bed and maybe switching on a lamp. Lets hear the cursed gobble, then. Okay, brace yourself, he says, and he switches to speaker and gravely holds out the phone. Nothing. Ten long seconds of nothing. Truly harrowing, Henrys voice says tinnily over the speaker. Itokay, this is not representative, Alex says hotly. Theyve been gobbling all fucking night, I swear. Sure they were, Henry says, mock-gently. No, hang on, Alex says. Im gonna . . . Im gonna get one to gobble. He hops off the bed and edges up to Cornbreads cage, feeling very much like he is taking his life into his own hands and also very much like he has a point to prove, which is an intersection at which he finds himself often. Um, he says. How do you get a turkey to gobble? Try gobbling, Henry says, and see if he gobbles back. Alex blinks. Are you serious? We hunt loads of wild turkeys in the spring, Henry says sagely. The trick is to get into the mind of the turkey. How the hell do I do that? So, Henry instructs. Do as I say. You have to get quite close to the turkey, like, physically. Carefully, still cradling the phone close, Alex leans toward the wire bars. Okay. Make eye contact with the turkey. Do you have it? Alex follows Henrys instructions in his ear, planting his feet and bending his knees so hes at Cornbreads eye level, a chill running down his spine when his own eyes lock on the beady, black little murder eyes. Yeah. Right, now hold it, Henry says. Connect with the turkey, earn the turkeys trust . . . befriend the turkey . . . Okay . . . Buy a summer home in Majorca with the turkey . . . Oh, I fucking hate you! Alex shouts as Henry laughs at his own idiotic prank, and his indignant flailing startles a loud gobble out of Cornbread, which in turn startles a very unmanly scream out of Alex. Goddammit! Did you hear that? Sorry, what? Henry says. Ive been stricken deaf. Youre such a dick, Alex says. Have you ever even been turkey hunting? Alex, you cant even hunt them in Britain. Alex returns to his bed and face-plants into a pillow. I hope Cornbread does kill me. No, all right, I did hear it, and it was . . . proper frightening, Henry says. So, I understand. Wheres June for all this? Shes having some kind of girls night with Nora, and when I texted them for backup, they sent back, he reads out in a monotone, hahahahahahahaha good luck with that, and then a turkey emoji and a poop emoji. Thats fair, Henry says. Alex can picture him nodding solemnly. So what are you going to do now? Are you going to stay up all night with them? I dont know! I guess! I dont know what else to do! You couldnt just go sleep somewhere else? Arent there a thousand rooms in that house? Okay, but, uh, what if they escape? Ive seen Jurassic Park. Did you know birds are directly descended from raptors? Thats a scientific fact. Raptors in my bedroom, Henry. And you want me to go to sleep like theyre not gonna bust out of their enclosures and take over the island the minute I close my eyes? Okay. Maybe your white ass. Im really going to have you offed, Henry tells him. Youll never see it coming. Our assassins are trained in discretion. They will come in the night, and it will look like a humiliating accident. Autoerotic asphyxiation? Toilet heart attack. Jesus. Youve been warned. I thought youd kill me in a more personal way. Silk pillow over my face, slow and gentle suffocation. Just you and me. Sensual. Ha. Well. Henry coughs. Anyway, Alex says, climbing fully up onto the bed now. It doesnt matter because one of these goddamn turkeys is gonna kill me first. I really dont thinkOh, hello there. Theres rustling over the phone, the crinkling of a wrapper, and some heavy snuffling that sounds distinctly doglike. Whoza good lad, then? David says hello. Hi, David. HeOi! Not for you, Mr. Wobbles! Those are mine! More rustling, a distant, offended meow. No, Mr. Wobbles, you bastard! What in the fuck is a Mr. Wobbles? My sisters idiot cat, Henry tells him. The thing weighs a ton and is still trying to steal my Jaffa Cakes. He and David are mates. What are you even doing right now? What am I doing? I was trying to sleep. Okay, but youre eating Jabba Cakes, so. Jaffa Cakes, my God, Henry says. Im having my entire life haunted by a deranged American Neanderthal and a pair of turkeys, apparently. And? Henry heaves another almighty sigh. Hes always sighing when Alex is involved. Its amazing he has any air left. And . . . dont laugh. Oh, yay, Alex says readily. I was watching Great British Bake Off. Cute. Not embarrassing, though. What else? I, er, might be . . . wearing one of those peely face masks, he says in a rush. Oh my God, I knew it! Instant regret. I knew you had one of those crazy expensive Scandinavian skin care regimens. Do you have that, like, eye cream with diamonds in it? No! Henry pouts, and Alex has to press the back of his hand against his lips to stifle his laugh. Look, I have an appearance tomorrow, all right? I didnt know Id be scrutinized. Im not scrutinizing. We all gotta keep those pores in check, Alex says. So you like Bake Off, huh? Its just so soothing, Henry says. Everythings all pastel-colored and the music is so relaxing and everyones so lovely to one another. And you learn so much about different types of biscuits, Alex. So much. When the world seems awful, such as when youre trapped in a Great Turkey Calamity, you can put it on and vanish into biscuit land. American cooking competition shows are nothing like that. Theyre all sweaty and, like, dramatic death music and intense camera cuts, Alex says. Bake Off makes Chopped look like the fucking Manson tapes. I feel like this explains loads about our differences, Henry says, and Alex gives a small laugh. You know, Alex says. Youre kind of surprising. Henry pauses. In what way? In that youre not a totally boring asshole. Wow, Henry says with a laugh. Im honored. I guess you have your depths. You thought I was a dumb blond, didnt you? Not exactly, just, boring, Alex says. I mean, your dog is named David, which is pretty boring. After Bowie. I Alexs head spins, recalibrating. Are you serious? What the hell? Why not call him Bowie, then? Bit on the nose, isnt it? Henry says. A man should have some element of mystery. I guess, Alex says. Then, because he cant stop it in time, lets out a tremendous yawn. Hes been up since seven for a run before class. If these turkeys dont end him, exhaustion will. Alex, Henry says firmly. What? The turkeys are not going to Jurassic Park you, he says. Youre not the bloke from Seinfeld. Youre Jeff Goldblum. Go to sleep. Alex bites down a smile that feels bigger than the sentence has truly earned. You go to sleep. I will, Henry says, and Alex thinks he hears the weird smile returned in Henrys voice, and honestly, this night is really, really weird, as soon as you get off the phone, wont I? Okay, Alex says, but like, what if they gobble again? Go sleep in Junes room, you numpty. Okay, Alex says. Okay, Henry agrees. Okay, Alex says again. Hes suddenly very aware theyve never spoken on the phone before, and so hes never had to figure out how to hang up the phone with Henry before. Hes at a loss. But hes still smiling. Cornbread is staring at him like he doesnt get it. Me fuckin too, buddy. Okay, Henry repeats. So. Good night. Cool, Alex says lamely. Good night. He hangs up and stares at the phone in his hand, as if it should explain the static electricity in the air around him. He shakes it off, gathers up his pillow and a bundle of clothes, and crosses the hall to Junes room, climbing up into her tall bed. But he cant stop thinking theres some end left loose. He takes his phone back out. i sent pics of turkeys so i deserve pics of your animals too. A minute and a half later: Henry, in a massive, palatial, hideous bed of white and gold linens, his face looking slightly pink and recently scrubbed, with a beagles head on one side of his pillow and an obese Siamese cat curled up on the other around a Jaffa Cake wrapper. Hes got faint circles under his eyes, but his face is soft and amused, one hand resting above his head on the pillow while the other holds up the phone for the selfie. This is what I must endure, he says, followed by, Good night, honestly. HRH Prince Dickhead DEC 8, 2019, 8:53 PM yo theres a bond marathon on and did you know your dad was a total babe HRH Prince Dickhead I BEG YOU TO NOT * * * Even before Alexs parents split, they both had a habit of calling him by the others last name when he exhibited particular traits. They still do. When he runs his mouth off to the press, his mom calls him into her office and says, Get your shit together, Diaz. When his hard-headedness gets him stuck, his dad texts him, Let it go, Claremont. Alexs mother sighs as she sets her copy of the Post down on her desk, open to an inside page article: SENATOR OSCAR DIAZ RETURNS TO DC FOR HOLIDAYS WITH EX-WIFE PRESIDENT CLAREMONT. Its almost weird how much it isnt weird anymore. His dad is flying in from California for Christmas, and its fine, but its also in the Post. Shes doing the thing she always does when shes about to spend time with his father: pursing her lips and twitching two fingers of her right hand. You know, Alex says from where hes kicked back on an Oval Office couch with a book, somebody can go get you a cigarette. Hush, Diaz. Shes had the Lincoln Bedroom prepared for his dad, and she keeps changing her mind, having housekeeping undecorate and redecorate. Leo, for his part, is unfazed and mollifies her with compliments between fits of tinsel. Alex doesnt think anyone but Leo could ever stay married to his mother. His father certainly couldnt. June is in a state, the perpetual mediator. His family is pretty much the only situation where Alex prefers to sit back and let it all unfold, occasionally poking when its necessary or interesting, but June takes personal responsibility for making sure nobody breaks any more priceless White House antiques like last year. His dad finally arrives in a flurry of Secret Service agents, his beard impeccably groomed and his suit impeccably tailored. For all Junes anxious preparations, she almost breaks an antique vase herself catapulting into his arms. They disappear immediately to the chocolate shop on the ground floor, the sound of Oscar raving about Junes latest blog post for The Atlantic fading around the corner. Alex and his mother share a look. Their family is so predictable sometimes. The next day, he gives Alex the follow - me - and - dont - tell - your - mother look and pulls him out to the Truman Balcony. Merry fuckin Christmas, mijo, his dad says, grinning, and Alex laughs and lets himself be hauled into a one-armed hug. He smells the same as ever, salty and smoky and like well-treated leather. His mom used to complain that she felt like she lived in a cigar bar. Merry Christmas, Pa, Alex says back. He drags a chair close to the railing, putting his shiny boots up. Oscar Diaz loves a view. Alex considers the sprawling, snowy lawn in front of them, the sure line of the Washington Monument stretching up, the jagged French mansard roofs of the Eisenhower Building to the west, the same one Truman hated. His dad pulls a cigar from his pocket, clipping it and lighting up in the careful ritual hes done for years. He takes a puff and passes it over. It ever make you laugh to think how much this pisses assholes off? he says, gesturing to encompass the whole scene: two Mexican men putting their feet up on the railing where heads of state eat croissants. Constantly. Oscar does laugh, then, enjoying his brazenness. His dad is an adrenaline junkiemountain climbing, cave diving, pissing off Alexs mother. Flirting with death, basically. Its the flipside of the way he approaches work, which is methodical and precise, or the way he approaches parenting, which is laid-back and indulgent. Its nice, now, to see him more than he ever did in high school, since Oscar spends most of his year in DC. During the busiest congressional sessions, theyll convene Los Bastardosweekly beers in Oscars office after hours, just him, Alex, and Rafael Luna, talking shit. And its nice that proximity has forced his parents through the era of mutually assured destruction to now, where they have one Christmas instead of two. As the days go by, Alex catches himself remembering sometimes, just for a second, how much he misses having everyone under one roof. His dad was always the cook of the family. Alexs childhood was perfumed with simmering peppers and onions and stew meat in a cast iron pot for caldillo, fresh masa waiting on the butcher block. He remembers his mom swearing and laughing when she opened the oven for her guilty-pleasure pizza bagels only to find all the pots and pans stored there, or when shed go for the tub of butter in the fridge and find it filled with homemade salsa verde. There used to be a lot of laughter in that kitchen, a lot of good food and loud music and parades of cousins and homework done at the table. Except eventually there was a lot of yelling, followed by a lot of quiet, and soon Alex and June were teenagers and both their parents were in Congress, and Alex was student body president and lacrosse co-captain and prom king and valedictorian, and, very intentionally, it stopped being a thing he had time to think about. Still, his dads been in the Residence for three days without incident, and one day Alex catches him in the kitchens with two of the cooks, laughing and dumping peppers into a pot. Its just, you know, sometimes he thinks it might be nice if it could be like this more often. Zahras heading to New Orleans to see her family for Christmas, only at the presidents insistence, and only because her sister had a baby and Amy threatened to stab her if she didnt deliver the onesie she knitted. Which means Christmas dinner is happening on Christmas Eve so Zahra wont miss it. For all her late nights cursing their names, Zahra is family. Merry Christmas, Z! Alex tells her cheerfully in the hall outside the family dining room. For holiday flare, shes wearing a sensible red turtleneck; Alex is wearing a sweater covered in bright green tinsel. He smiles and presses a button on the inside of the sleeve, and O Christmas Tree plays from a speaker near his armpit. I cant wait to not see you for two days, she says, but theres real affection in her voice. This years dinner is small, since his dads parents are on vacation, so the table is set for six in glittering white and gold. The conversation is pleasant enough that Alex almost forgets its not always like this. Until it shifts to the election. I was thinking, Oscar says, carefully cutting his filet, this time, I can campaign with you. At the other end of the table, Ellen puts her fork down. You can what? You know. He shrugs, chewing. Hit the trails, do some speeches. Be a surrogate. You cant be serious. Oscar puts down his own fork and knife now on the cloth-covered table, a soft thump of oh, shit. Alex glances across the table at June. You really think its such a bad idea? Oscar says. Oscar, we went through all of this last time, Ellen tells him. Her tone is instantly clipped. People dont like women, but they like mothers and wives. They like families. The last thing we need to do is remind them that Im divorced by parading my ex-husband around. He laughs a little grimly. So, youll pretend hes their dad then, eh? Oscar, Leo speaks up, you know Id never Youre missing the point, Ellen interrupts. It could help your approval ratings, he says. Mine are quite high, El. Higher than yours ever were in the House. Here we go, Alex says to Leo next to him, whose face remains pleasantly neutral. Weve done studies, Oscar! Okay? Ellens voice has risen in volume and pitch, her palms planted flat on the table. The data shows, I track worse with undecided voters when theyre reminded of the divorce! People know youre divorced! Alexs numbers are high! she shouts, and Alex and June both wince. Junes numbers are high! Theyre not numbers! Fuck off, I know that, she spits, I never said they were! You think sometimes you use them like they are? How dare you, when you dont seem to have any problem trotting them out every time youre up for reelection! she says, slicing one hand through the air beside her. Maybe if they were just Claremonts, you wouldnt have so much luck. Itd sure as hell be less confusingits the name everybody knows them by anyway! Nobodys taking any of our names! June jumps in, her voice high. June, Ellen says. Their dad pushes on. Im trying to help you, Ellen! I dont need your help to win an election, Oscar! she says, hitting the table so hard with her open palm that the dishes rattle. I didnt need it when I was in Congress, and I didnt need it to become president the first time, and I dont need it now! You need to get serious about what youre up against! You think the other side is going to play fair this time? Eight years of Obama, and now you? Theyre angry, Ellen, and Richards is out for blood! You need to be ready! I will be! You think I dont have a team on all this shit already? Im the President of the United fucking States! I dont need you to come here andand Mansplain? Zahra offers. Mansplain! Ellen shouts, jabbing a finger across the table at Oscar, eyes wide. This presidential race to me! Oscar throws his napkin down. Youre still so fucking stubborn! Fuck you! Mom! June says sharply. Jesus Christ, are you kidding me? Alex hears himself shout before he even consciously decides to say it. Can we not be civil for one fucking meal? Its Christmas, for fucks sake. Arent yall supposed to be running the country? Get your shit together. He pushes his chair back and stalks out of the dining room, knowing hes being a dramatic asshole and not really caring. He slams his bedroom door behind him, and his stupid sweater plays a few depressingly off-key notes when he yanks it off and throws it at the wall. Its not that he doesnt lose his temper often, its just . . . he doesnt usually lose it with his family. Mostly because he doesnt usually deal with his family. He digs an old lacrosse T-shirt out of his dresser, and when he turns and catches his reflection in the mirror by the closet, hes right back in his teens, caring too much about his parents and helpless to change his situation. Except now he doesnt have any AP classes to enroll in as a distraction. His hand twitches for his phone. His brain is a two-passenger minimum ride as far as hes concernedalone and busy or thinking with company. But Noras doing Hanukkah in Vermont, and he doesnt want to annoy her, and his best friend from high school, Liam, has barely spoken to him since he moved to DC. Which leaves . . . What could I possibly have done to have brought this upon myself now? says Henrys voice, low and sleepy. It sounds like Good King Wenceslas is playing in the background Hey, um, sorry. I know its late, and its Christmas Eve and everything. You probably have, like, family stuff, Im just realizing. I dont know why I didnt think of it before. Wow, this is why I dont have friends. Im a dick. Sorry, man. Ill, uh, Ill just Alex, Christ, Henry interrupts. Its fine. Its half three here, everyones gone to bed. Except Bea. Say hi, Bea. Hi, Alex! says a clear, giggly voice on the other end of the line. Henrys got his candy-cane jim-jams on Thats quite enough, Henrys voice comes back through, and theres a muffled sound like maybe a pillow has been shoved in Beas direction. Whats happening, then? Sorry, Alex blurts out, I know this is weird, and youre with your sister and everything, and like, argh. I kind of didnt have anyone else to call who would be awake? And I know were, uh, not really friends, and we dont really talk about this stuff, but my dad came in for Christmas, and he and my mom are like fucking tiger sharks fighting over a baby seal when you put them in the same room together for more than an hour, and they got in this huge fight, and it shouldnt matter, because theyre already divorced and everything, and I dont know why I lost my shit, but I wish they could give it a rest for once so we could have one single normal holiday, you know? Theres a long pause before Henry says, Hang on. Bea, can I have a minute? Hush. Yes, you can take the biscuits. All right, Im listening. Alex exhales, wondering faintly what the hell hes doing, but plows onward. Telling Henry about the divorcethose weird, tumultuous years, the day he came home from a Boy Scout camp-out to discover his dads things moved out, the nights of Helados ice creamdoesnt feel as uncomfortable as it probably should. Hes never bothered to filter himself with Henry, at first because he honestly didnt care what Henry thought, and now because its how they are. Maybe it should be different, bitching about his course load versus spilling his guts about this. It isnt. He doesnt realize hes been talking for an hour until he finishes retelling what happened at dinner and Henry says, It sounds like you did your best. Alex forgets what he was going to say next. He just . . . Well, he gets told hes great a lot. He just doesnt often get told hes good enough. Before he can think of a response, theres a soft triple knock on the doorJune. Ahokay, thanks, man, I gotta go, Alex says, his voice low as June eases the door open. Alex Seriously, um. Thank you, Alex says. He really does not want to explain this to June. Merry Christmas. Night. He hangs up and tosses the phone aside as June settles down on the bed. Shes wearing her pink bathrobe, and her hair is wet from the shower. Hey, she says. You okay? Yeah, Im fine, he says. Sorry, I dont know whats up with me. I didnt mean to lose it. Ive been . . . I dont know. Ive been kind of . . . off . . . lately. Its okay, she says. She tosses her hair over her shoulder, flicking droplets of water onto him. I was a total basket case for the last six months of college. I would lose it at anybody. You know, you dont have to do everything all the time. Its fine. Im fine, he tells her automatically. June tilts an unconvinced look at him, and he kicks at one of her knees with his bare foot. So, how did things go after I left? Did they finish cleaning up the blood yet? June sighs, kicking him back. Somehow it shifted to the topic of how they were a political power couple before the divorce and how good those times were, Mom apologized, and it was whiskey and nostalgia hour until everybody went to bed. She sniffs. Anyway, you were right. You dont think I was out of line? Nah. Though . . . I kind of agree with what Dad was saying. Mom can be . . . you know . . . Mom. Well, thats what got her where she is now. You dont think its ever a problem? Alex shrugs. I think shes a good mom. Yeah, to you, June says. Theres no accusation behind it, just observation. The effectiveness of her nurturing kind of depends on what you need from her. Or what you can do for her. I mean, I get what shes saying, though, Alex hedges. Sometimes it still sucks that Dad decided to pack up and move just to run for the seat in California. Yeah, but, I mean, how is that different from the stuff Moms done? Its all politics. Im just saying, he has a point about how Mom pushes us without always giving us the other Mom stuff. Alex is opening his mouth to answer when Junes phone buzzes from her robe pocket. Oh. Hmm, she says when she slides it out to eye the screen. What? Nothing, uh. She thumbs open the message. Merry Christmas text. From Evan. Evan . . . as in ex-boyfriend Evan, in California? Yall still text? Junes biting her lip now, her expression a little distant as she types out a response. Yeah, sometimes. Cool, Alex says. I always liked him. Yeah. Me too, June says softly. She locks her phone and drops it on the bed, blinking a couple times as if to reset. Anyway, whatd Nora say when you told her? Hmm? On the phone? she asks him. I figured it was her, you never talk to anyone else about this crap. Oh, Alex says. He feels inexplicable, traitorous warmth flash up the back of his neck. Oh, um, no. Actually, this is gonna sound weird, but,evs I was talking to Henry? Junes eyebrows shoot up, and Alex instinctively scans the room for cover. Really. Listen, I know, but we kind of weirdly have stuff in common and, I guess, similar weird emotional baggage and neuroses, and for some reason I felt like he would get it. Oh my God, Alex, she says, lunging at him to yank him into a rough hug, you made a friend! I have friends! Get off me! You made a friend! She is literally giving him a noogie. Im so proud of you! Im gonna murder you, stop it, he says, alligator-rolling out of her clutches. He lands on the floor. Hes not my friend. Hes someone I like to antagonize all the time, and one time I talked to him about something real. Thats a friend, Alex. Alexs mouth starts and stops several silent sentences before he points to the door. You can leave, June! Go to bed! Nope. Tell me everything about your new best friend, who is a royal. That is so bougie of you. Who would have guessed it? she says, peering over the edge of the bed at him. Oh my God, this is like all those romantic comedies where the girl hires a male escort to pretend to be her wedding date and then falls in love with him for real. That is not at all what this is like. The staff has barely finished packing up the Christmas trees when it starts. Theres the dance floor to set up, menu to finalize, Snapchat filter to approve. Alex spends the entire 26th holed up in the Social Secretarys office with June, going over the waivers theyve gotten for everyone to sign after a daughter of a Real Housewife fell down the rotunda stairs last year; Alex remains impressed that she didnt spill her margarita. Its time once more for the Legendary Balls-Out Bananas White House Trio New Years Eve party. Technically, the title is the Young America New Years Eve Gala, or as at least one late-night host calls it, the Millennial Correspondents Dinner. Every year, Alex, June, and Nora fill up the second-floor ballroom with three hundred or so of their friends, vague celebrity acquaintances, former hookups, potential political connections, and otherwise notable twenty-somethings. The party is, officially, a fundraiser, and it generates so much money for charity and so much good PR for the First Family that even his mom approves of it. Um, excuse me, Alex is saying from a first-floor conference table, one hand full of confetti samplesdo they want a metallic color palette or a more subdued navy and gold?while staring at a copy of the finalized guest list. June and Nora are stuffing their faces with cake samples. Who put Henry on here? Nora says through a mouthful of chocolate cake, Wasnt me. June? Look, you should have invited him yourself! June says, by way of admission. Its really nice youre making friends who arent us. Sometimes when you get too isolated, you start to go a little crazy. Remember last year when Nora and I were both out of the country for a week, and you almost got a tattoo? I still think we should have let him get a tramp stamp. It wasnt going to be a tramp stamp, Alex says hotly. You were in on this, werent you? You know I love chaos, Nora tells him serenely. I have friends that arent yall, Alex says. Who, Alex? June says. Literally who? People! he says defensively. People from class! Liam! Please. We all know you havent talked to Liam in a year, June says. You need friends. And I know you like Henry. Shut up, Alex says. He brushes a finger under his collar and finds his skin damp. Do they always have to crank the heat up this high when its snowing outside? This is interesting, Nora observes. No, its not, Alex snaps. Fine, he can come. But if he doesnt know anybody else, Im not babysitting him all night. I gave him a plus-one, June says. Who is he bringing? Alex asks immediately, reflexively. Involuntarily. Just wondering. Pez, she says. Shes giving him a weird look he cant parse, and he decides to chalk it up to June being confusing and strange. She often works in mysterious ways, organizes and orchestrates things he never sees coming until all the threads come together. So, Henry is coming, he guesses, confirmed when he checks Instagram the day of the party and sees a post from Pez of him and Henry on a private jet. Pezs hair has been dyed pastel pink for the occasion, and beside him, Henry is smiling in a soft-looking gray sweatshirt, his socked feet up on the windowsill. He actually looks well-rested for once. USA bound! Pezs caption reads. numberYoungAmericaGala2019 Alex smiles despite himself and texts Henry. ATTN: will be wearing a burgundy velvet suit tonight. please do not attempt to steal my shine. you will fail and i will be embarrassed for you. Henry texts back seconds later. Wouldnt dream of it. From there everything speeds up, and a hairstylist is wrangling him into the Cosmetology Room, and he gets to watch the girls transform into their camera-ready selves. Noras short curls are swept to one side with a silver pin shaped to match the sharp geometric lines on the bodice of her black dress; Junes gown is a plunging Zac Posen number in a shade of midnight blue that perfectly complements the navy-and-gold color palette they chose. The guests start arriving around eight, and the liquor starts flowing, and Alex orders a middle-shelf whiskey to get things going. Theres live music, a pop act that owed June a personal favor, and theyre covering American Girl right now, so Alex grabs Junes hand and spins her onto the dance floor. First arrivals are always the first-time political types: a small gaggle of White House interns, an event planner for Center for American Progress, the daughter of a first-term senator with a punk rock-looking girlfriend who Alex makes a mental note to introduce himself to later. Then, the wave of politically strategic invites chosen by the press team, and lastly, the fashionably lateminor to mid-range pop stars, teen soap actors, children of major celebrities. Hes just wondering when Henrys going to make his appearance, when June appears at his side and yells, Incoming! Alexs gaze is met by a bright burst of color that turns out to be Pezs bomber jacket, which is a shiny silk thing in such an elaborate, colorful floral print that Alex almost has to squint. The colors fade slightly, though, when his eyes slide to the right. Its the first time Alex has seen Henry in person since the weekend in London and the hundreds of texts and weird in-jokes and late-night phone calls that came after, and it almost feels like meeting a new person. He knows more about Henry, understands him better, and he can appreciate the rarity of a genuine smile on the same famously beautiful face. Its a weird cognitive dissonance, Henry present and Henry past. That must be why something feels so restless and hot somewhere beneath his sternum. That and the whiskey. Henrys wearing a simple dark blue suit, but hes opted for a bright coppery-mustard tie in a narrow cut. He spots Alex, and his smile broadens, giving Pezs arm a tug. Nice tie, Alex says as soon as Henry is close enough to hear over the crowd. Thought I might be escorted off the premises for anything less exciting, Henry says, and his voice is somehow different than Alex remembers. Like very expensive velvet, something moneyed and lush and fluid all at once. And who is this? June asks from Alexs side, interrupting his train of thought. Ah yes, youve not officially met, have you? Henry says. June, Alex, this is my best mate, Percy Okonjo. Pez, like the sweets, Pez says cheerfully, extending his hand to Alex. Several of his fingernails are painted blue. When he redirects his attention to June, his eyes grow brighter, his grin spreading. Please do smack me if this is out of line, but you are the most exquisite woman I have ever seen in my life, and I would like to procure for you the most lavish drink in this establishment if you will let me. Uh, Alex says. Youre a charmer, June says, smiling indulgently. And you are a goddess. He watches them disappear into the crowd, Pez a blazing streak of color, already spinning June in a pirouette as they go. Henrys smile has gone sheepish and reserved, and Alex understands their friendship at last. Henry doesnt want the spotlight, and Pez naturally absorbs what Henry deflects. That man has been begging me to introduce him to your sister since the wedding, Henry says. Seriously? Weve probably just saved him a tremendous amount of money. He was going to start pricing skywriters soon. Alex tosses his head back and laughs, and Henry watches, still grinning. June and Nora had a point. He does, against all odds, really like this person. Well, come on, Alex says. Im already two whiskeys in. Youve got some catching up to do. More than one conversation drops out as Alex and Henry pass, mouths hanging open over entremets. Alex tries to imagine what they must look like: the prince and the First Son, the two leading heartthrobs of their respective countries, shoulder to shoulder on their way to the bar. Its intimidating and thrilling, living up to that kind of rich, untouchable fantasy. Thats what people see, but none of them know about the Great Turkey Calamity. Only Alex and Henry do. He scores the first round and the crowd swallows them up. Alex is surprised how pleased he is by the physical presence of Henry next to him. He doesnt even mind having to look up at him anymore. He introduces Henry to some White House interns and laughs as they blush and stutter, and Henrys face goes pleasantly neutral, an expression Alex used to mistake as unimpressed but can now read for what it is: carefully concealed bemusement. Theres dancing, and mingling, and a speech by June about the immigration fund theyre supporting with their donations tonight, and Alex ducks out of an aggressive come-on by a girl from the new Spider-Man movies and into a haphazard conga line, and Henry actually seems to have fun. June finds them at some point and steals Henry away to gab at the bar. Alex watches them from afar, wondering what they could possibly be talking about that has June nearly falling off her barstool laughing, until the crowd overtakes him again. After a while, the band breaks and a DJ takes over with a mix of early 2000s hip-hop, all the greatest hits of songs that came out when Alex was a child and were somehow still in rotation at dances in his teens. Thats when Henry finds him, like a man lost at sea. You dont dance? he says, watching Henry, who is very visibly trying to figure out what to do with to do with his hands. Its endearing. Wow, Alex is drunk. No, I do, Henry says. Its just, the family-mandated ballroom dancing lessons didnt exactly cover this? Cmon, its like, in the hips. You have to loosen up. He reaches down and puts both hands on Henrys hips, and Henry instantly tenses under the touch. Thats the opposite of what I said. Alex, I dont Here, Alex says, moving his own hips, watch me. With a grave gulp of champagne, Henry says, I am. The song crossfades into another buh-duh dum-dum-dum, dum-duh-dum duh-duh-dum Shut up, Alex yells, cutting off whatever else Henry was saying, shut your dumb face, this is my shit! He throws his hands up in the air as Henry stares at him blankly, and around them, people start cheering too, hundreds of shoulders shimmying to the shouty, Lil Jon-flavored nostalgia of Get Low. Did you seriously never go to an awkward middle school dance and watch a bunch of teenagers dry hump to this song? Henry is holding onto his champagne for dear life. You absolutely must know I did not. Alex flails one arm out and snatches Nora from a nearby huddle, where shes been flirting with Spider-Man girl. Nora! Nora! Henry has never watched a bunch of teenagers dry hump to this song! What? Please tell me nobody is going to dry hump me, Henry says. Oh my God, Henry, Alex yells, seizing Henry by one lapel as the music pounds on, you have to dance. You have to dance. You need to understand this formative American coming-of-age experience. Nora grabs Alex, pulling him away from Henry and spinning him around, her hands on his waist, and starts grinding with abandon. Alex whoops and Nora cackles and the crowd jumps around and Henry just gawks at them. Did that man just say sweat drop down my balls? Its funNora against his back, sweat on his brow, bodies pushing in around him. To one side, a podcast producer and that guy from Stranger Things are hitting the Kid n Play, and to the other, Pez is literally bending over to the front and touching his toes as instructed. Henrys face is shocked and confused, and its hilarious. Alex accepts a shot off a passing tray and drinks to the strange spark in his gut at the way Henry watches them. Alex pouts his lips and shakes his ass, and with extreme trepidation, Henry starts bopping his head a little. Fuck it up, vato! Alex yells, and Henry laughs despite himself. He even gives his hips a little shake. I thought you werent going to babysit him all night, June stage-whispers in his ear as she twirls by. I thought you were too busy for guys, Alex replies, nodding significantly at Pez in the periphery. She winks at him and disappears. From there, its a series of crowd-pleasers until midnight, the lights and music blasting at full capacity. Confetti, somehow blasting into the air. Did they arrange for confetti cannons? More drinksHenry starts drinking directly from a bottle of Mo?t and Chandon. Alex likes the look on Henrys face, the sure curl of his hand around the neck of the bottle, the way his lips wrap around the mouth of it. Henrys willingness to dance is directly proportionate to his proximity to Alexs hands, and the amount of giddy warmth bubbling under Alexs skin is directly proportionate to the cut of Henrys mouth when he watches him with Nora. Its an equation he is not nearly sober enough to parse. They all huddle up at 11:59 for the countdown, eyes blurry and arms around one another. Nora screams three, two, one right in his ear and slings her arm around his neck as he yells his approval and kisses her sloppily, laughing through it. Theyve done this every year, both of them perpetually single and affectionately drunk and happy to make everyone else intrigued and jealous. Noras mouth is warm and tastes horrifying, like Peach Schnapps, and she bites his lip and messes up his hair for good measure. When he opens his eyes, Henrys looking back at him, expression unreadable. He feels his own smile grow wider, and Henry turns away and toward the bottle of champagne clutched in his fist, from which he takes a hearty swig before disappearing into the crowd. Alex loses track of things after that, because hes very, very drunk and the music is very, very loud and there are very, very many hands on him, carrying him through the tangle of dancing bodies and passing him more drinks. Nora bobs by on the back of some hot rookie NFL running back. Its loud and messy and wonderful. Alex has always loved these parties, the sparkling joy of it all, the way champagne bubbles on his tongue and confetti sticks to his shoes. Its a reminder that even though he stresses and stews in private rooms, there will always be a sea of people he can disappear into, that the world can be warm and welcoming and fill up the walls of this big, old house he lives in with something bright and infectiously alive. But somewhere, beneath the liquor and the music, he cant stop noticing that Henry has disappeared. He checks the bathrooms, the buffet, the quiet corners of the ballroom, but hes nowhere. He tries asking Pez, shouting Henrys name at him over the noise, but Pez just smiles and shrugs and steals a snapback off a passing yacht kid. Hes . . . worried isnt exactly the word. Bothered. Curious. He was having fun watching everything he did play out on Henrys face. He keeps looking, until he trips over his own feet by one of the big windows in the hallway. Hes pulling himself up when he glances outside, down into the garden. There, under a tree in the snow, exhaling little puffs of steam, is a tall, lean, broad-shouldered figure that can only be Henry. He slips out onto the portico without really thinking about it, and the instant the door closes behind him, the music snuffs out into silence, and its just him and Henry and the garden. Hes got the hazy tunnel vision of a drunk person when they lock eyes on a goal. He follows it down the stairs and onto the snowy lawn. Henry stands quietly, hands in his pockets, contemplating the sky, and hed almost look sober if not for the wobbly lean to the left hes doing. Stupid English dignity, even in the face of champagne. Alex wants to push his royal face into a shrub. Alex trips over a bench, and the sound catches Henrys attention. When he turns, the moonlight catches on him, and his face looks softened in half shadows, inviting in a way Alex cant quite work out. Whatre you doing out here? Alex says, trudging up to stand next to him under the tree. Henry squints. Up close, his eyes go a little crossed, focused somewhere between himself and Alexs nose. Not so dignified after all. Looking for Orion, Henry says. Alex huffs a laugh, looking up to the sky. Nothing but fat winter clouds. You must be really bored with the commoners to come out here and stare at the clouds. m not bored, Henry mumbles. What are you doing out here? Doesnt Americas golden boy have some swooning crowds to beguile? Says Prince fucking Charming, Alex answers, smirking. Henry pulls a very unprincely face up at the clouds. Hardly. His knuckle brushes the back of Alexs hand at their sides, a little zip of warmth in the cold night. Alex considers his face in profile, blinking through the booze, following the smooth line of his nose and the gentle dip at the center of his lower lip, each touched by moonlight. Its freezing and Alex is only wearing his suit jacket, but his chest feels warmed from the inside with liquor and something heady his brain keeps stumbling over, trying to name. The garden is quiet except for the blood rushing in his ears. You didnt really answer my question, though, Alex notes. Henry groans, rubbing a hand across his face. You cant ever leave well enough alone, can you? He leans his head back. It thumps gently against the trunk of the tree. Sometimes it gets a bit . . . much. Alex keeps looking at him. Usually, theres something about the set of Henrys mouth that betrays a bit of friendliness, but sometimes, like right now, his mouth pinches in the corner instead, pins his guard resolutely in place. Alex shifts, almost involuntarily, leaning back against the tree too. He nudges their shoulders together and catches that corner of Henrys mouth twitching, sees something move featherlight across his face. These thingsbig events, letting other people feed on his own energyare rarely too much for Alex. Hes not sure how Henry feels, but some part of his brain that is likely soaked in tequila thinks maybe it would be helpful if Henry could take what he can handle, and Alex could handle the rest. Maybe he can absorb some of the much from the place where their shoulders are pressed together. A muscle in Henrys jaw moves, and something soft, almost like a smile, tugs at his lips. Dyou ever wonder, he says slowly, what its like to be some anonymous person out in the world? Alex frowns. What do you mean? Just, you know, Henry says. If your mum werent the president and you were just a normal bloke living a normal life, what things might be like? What youd be doing instead? Ah, Alex says, considering. He stretches one arm out in front of him, makes a dismissive gesture with a flick of his wrist. Well, I mean, obviously Id be a model. Ive been on the cover of Teen Vogue twice. These genetics transcend all circumstance. Henry rolls his eyes again. What about you? Henry shakes his head ruefully. Id be a writer. Alex gives a little laugh. He thinks he already knew this about Henry, somehow, but its still kind of disarming. Cant you do that? Not exactly seen as a worthwhile pursuit for a man in line for the throne , scribbling verses about quarter-life angst, Henry says dryly. Besides, the traditional family career track is military, so thats about it, isnt it? Henry bites his lip, waits a beat, and opens his mouth again. Id date more, probably, as well. Alex cant help but laugh again. Right, because its so hard to get a date when youre a prince. Henry cuts his eyes back down to Alex. Youd be surprised. How? Youre not exactly lacking for options. Henry keeps looking at him, holding his gaze for two seconds too long. The options Id like . . . he says, dragging the words out. They dont quite seem to be options at all. Alex blinks. What? Im saying that I have . . . people . . . who interest me, Henry says, turning his body toward Alex now, speaking with a fumbling pointedness, as if it means something. But I shouldnt pursue them. At least not in my position. Are they too drunk to communicate in English? He wonders distantly if Henry knows any Spanish. I dont know what the hell youre talking about, Alex says. You dont? No. You really dont? I really, really dont. Henrys whole face grimaces in frustration, his eyes casting skyward like theyre searching for help from an uncaring universe. Christ, you are as thick as it gets, he says, and he grabs Alexs face in both hands and kisses him. Alex is frozen, registering the press of Henrys lips and the wool cuffs of his coat grazing his jaw. The world fuzzes out into static, and his brain is swimming hard to keep up, adding up the equation of teenage grudges and wedding cakes and two a.m. texts and not understanding the variable that got him here, except its . . . well, surprisingly, he really doesnt mind. Like, at all. In his head, he tries to cobble a list together in a panic, gets as far as, One, Henrys lips are soft, and short-circuits. He tests leaning into the kiss and is rewarded by Henrys mouth sliding and opening against his, Henrys tongue brushing against his, which is, wow. Its nothing like kissing Nora earliernothing like kissing anyone hes ever kissed in his life. It feels as steady and huge as the ground under their feet, as encompassing of every part of him, as likely to knock the wind out of his lungs. One of Henrys hands pushes into his hair and grabs it at the root at the back of his head, and he hears himself make a sound that breaks the breathless silence, and Just as suddenly, Henry releases him roughly enough that he staggers backward, and Henrys mumbling a curse and an apology, eyes wide, and hes spinning on his heel, crunching off through the snow at double time. Before Alex can say or do anything, hes disappeared around the corner. Oh, Alex says finally, faintly, touching one hand to his lips. Then: Shit. CHAPTER FIVE So, the thing about the kiss is, Alex absolutely cannot stop thinking about it. Hes tried. Henry and Pez and their bodyguards were long gone by the time Alex made it back inside. Not even a drunken stupor or the next mornings pounding hangover can scrub the image from his brain. He tries listening in on his moms meetings, but they cant hold his attention, and Zahra bans him from the West Wing. He studies every bill trickling through Congress and considers making rounds to sweet-talk senators, but cant muster the enthusiasm. Not even starting a rumor with Nora sounds enticing. He starts his last semester, goes to class, sits with the social secretary to plan his graduation dinner, buries himself in highlighted annotations and supplemental readings. But beneath it all, theres the Prince of England kissing him under a linden tree in the garden, moonlight in his hair, and Alexs insides feel positively molten, and he wants to throw himself down the presidential stairs. He hasnt told anyone, not even Nora or June. He has no idea what hed even say if he did. Is he even technically allowed to tell anyone, since he signed an NDA? Was this why he had to sign it? Is this something Henry always had in mind? Does that mean Henry has feelings for him? Why would Henry have acted like a tedious prick for so long if he liked him? Henrys not offering any insights, or anything at all. He hasnt answered a single one of Alexs texts or calls. Okay, thats it, June says on a Wednesday afternoon, stomping out of her room and into the sitting room by their shared hallway. Shes in her workout clothes with her hair tied up. Alex hastily shoves his phone back into his pocket. I dont know what your problem is, but I have been trying to write for two hours and I cant do it when I can hear you pacing. She throws a baseball cap at him. Im going for a run, and youre coming with me. Cash accompanies them to the Reflecting Pool, where June kicks the back of Alexs knee to get him going, and Alex grunts and swears and picks up the pace. He feels like a dog that has to be taken on walks to get his energy out. Especially when June says, Youre like a dog that has to be taken on walks to get his energy out. I hate you sometimes, he tells her, and he shoves his earbuds in and cranks up Kid Cudi. He thinks, as he runs and runs and runs, the stupidest thing of all is that hes straight. Like, hes pretty sure hes straight. He can pinpoint moments throughout his life when he thought to himself, See, this means I cant possibly be into guys. Like when he was in middle school and he kissed a girl for the first time, and he didnt think about a guy when it was happening, just that her hair was soft and it felt nice. Or when he was a sophomore in high school and one of his friends came out as gay, and he couldnt imagine ever doing anything like that. Or his senior year, when he got drunk and made out with Liam in his twin bed for an hour, and he didnt have a sexual crisis about itthat had to mean he was straight, right? Because if he were into guys, it would have felt scary to be with one, but it wasnt. That was just how horny teenage best friends were sometimes, like when they would get off at the same time watching porn in Liams bedroom . . . or that one time Liam reached over to finish him off, and Alex didnt stop him. He glances over at June, at the suspicious quirk of her lips. Can she hear what hes thinking? Does she know, somehow? June always knows things. He doubles his pace, if only to get the expression on her mouth out of his periphery. On their fifth lap, he thinks back over his hormonal teens and remembers thinking about girls in the shower, but he also remembers fantasizing about a boys hands on him, about hard jawlines and broad shoulders. He remembers pulling his eyes off a teammate in the locker room a couple times, but that was, like, an objective thing. How was he supposed to know back then if he wanted to look like other guys, or if he wanted other guys? Or if his horny teenage urges actually even meant anything? Hes a son of Democrats. Its something hes always been around. So, he always assumed if he werent straight, he would just know, like how he knows that he loves cajeta on his ice cream or that he needs a tediously organized calendar to get anything done. He thought he was smart enough about his own identity that there werent any questions left. Theyre rounding the corner for their eighth lap now, and hes starting to see some flaws in his logic. Straight people, he thinks, probably dont spend this much time convincing themselves theyre straight. Theres another reason he never cared to examine things beyond the basic benchmark of being attracted to women. Hes been in the public eye since his mom became the favored 2016 nominee, the White House Trio the administrations door to the teen and twenty-something demographic almost as long. All three of themhimself, June, and Norahave their roles. Nora is the cool brainy one, the one who makes inappropriate jokes on Twitter about whatever sci-fi show everyones watching, a bar trivia team ringer. Shes not straightshes never been straightbut to her, its an incidental part of who she is. She doesnt worry about going public with it; feelings dont consume her the way his do. He looks at Juneahead of him now, caramel highlights in her swinging ponytail catching the midday sunand he knows her place too. The intrepid Washington Post columnist, the fashion trendsetter everyone wants to have at their wine-and-cheese night. But Alex is the golden boy. The heartthrob, the handsome rogue with a heart of gold. The guy who moves through life effortlessly, who makes everyone laugh. Highest approval ratings of the entire First Family. The whole point of him is that his appeal is as universal as possible. Being . . . whatever hes starting to suspect he might be, is definitely not universally appealing to voters. He has a hard enough time being half-Mexican. He wants his mom to keep her approval ratings up without having to manage a complication from her own family. He wants to be the youngest congressman in US history. Hes absolutely sure that guys who kissed the Prince of England and liked it dont get elected to represent Texas. But he thinks about Henry, and, oh. He thinks about Henry, and something twists in his chest, like a stretch hes been avoiding for too long. He thinks about Henrys voice low in his ear over the phone at three in the morning, and suddenly he has a name for what ignites in the pit of his stomach. Henrys hands on him, his thumbs braced against his temples back in the garden, Henrys hands other places, Henrys mouth, what he might do with it if Alex let him. Henrys broad shoulders and long legs and narrow waist, the place his jaw meets his neck and the place his neck meets his shoulder and the tendon that stretches the length between them, and the way it looks when Henry turns his head to shoot him a challenging glare, and his impossibly blue eyes He trips on a crack in the pavement and goes tumbling down, skinning his knee and ripping his earbuds out. Dude, what the hell? Junes voice cuts through the ringing in his ears. Shes standing over him, hands on her knees, brow furrowed, and panting. Your brain could not be more clearly in another solar system. Are you gonna tell me or what? He takes her hand and lets her pull him and his bloody knee up. Its fine. Im fine. June sighs, shooting him another look before finally dropping it. Once hes limped back home behind her, she disappears to shower and he stems the bleeding with a Captain America Band-Aid from his bathroom cabinet. He needs a list. So: Things he knows right now. One. Hes attracted to Henry. Two. He wants to kiss Henry again. Three. He has maybe wanted to kiss Henry for a while. As in, probably this whole time. He ticks off another list in his head. Henry. Shaan. Liam. Han Solo. Rafael Luna and his loose collars. Sidling up to his desk, he pulls out the binder his mother gave him: DEMOGRAPHIC ENGAGEMENT: WHO THEY ARE AND HOW TO REACH THEM. He drags his finger down to the LGBTQ+ tab and turns to the page hes looking for, titled with mothers typical flair. THE B ISNT SILENT: A CRASH COURSE ON BISEXUAL AMERICANS I wanna start now, Alex says as he slams into the Treaty Room. His mother lowers her glasses to the tip of her nose, eyeing him over a pile of papers. Start what? Getting your ass beat for barging in here while Im working? The job, he says. The campaign job. I dont wanna wait until I graduate. I already read all the materials you gave me. Twice. I have time. I can start now. She narrows her eyes at him. You got a bug up your butt? No, I just . . . One of his knees is bouncing impatiently. He forces it to stop. Im ready. I got less than one semester left. How much more could I possibly need to know to do this? Put me in, Coach. Which is how he finds himself out of breath on a Monday afternoon after class, following a staffer whos managed to surpass even him in the caffeination department, on a breakneck tour of the campaign offices. He gets a badge with his name and photo on it, a desk in a shared cubicle, and a WASPy cubicle mate from Boston named Hunter with an extremely punchable face. Alex is handed a folder of data from the latest focus groups and told to start drafting policy ideas for the end of the following week, and WASPy Hunter asks him five hundred questions about his mom. Alex very professionally does not punch him. He just gets to work. Hes definitely not thinking about Henry. Hes not thinking about Henry when he puts in twenty-three hours in his first week of work, or when hes filling the rest of his hours with class and papers and going for long runs and drinking triple-shot coffees and poking around the Senate offices. Hes not thinking about Henry in the shower or at night, alone and wide awake in his bed. Except for when he is. Which is always. This usually works. He doesnt understand why its not working. When hes in the campaign offices, he keeps gravitating over to the big, busy whiteboards of the polling section, where Nora sits every day enshrined in graphs and spreadsheets. Shes made easy friends with her coworkers, since competence translates directly to popularity in the campaign social culture, and nobodys better at numbers than her. Hes not jealous, exactly. Hes popular in his own department, constantly cornered at the Keurig for second opinions on peoples drafts and invited to after-work drinks he never has time for. At least four staffers of various genders have hit on him, and WASPy Hunter wont stop trying to convince him to come to his improv shows. He smiles handsomely over his coffee and makes sarcastic jokes and the Alex Claremont-Diaz Charm Initiative is as effective as ever. But Nora makes friends, and Alex ends up with acquaintances who think they know him because theyve read his profile in New York Magazine, and perfectly fine people with perfectly fine bodies who want to take him home from the bar. None of it is satisfyingit never has been, not really, but it never mattered as much as it does now that theres the sharp counterpoint of Henry, who knows him. Henry whos seen him in glasses and tolerates him at his most annoying and still kissed him like he wanted him, singularly, not the idea of him. So it goes, and Henry is there, in his head and his lecture notes and his cubicle, every single stupid day, no matter how many shots of espresso he puts in his coffee. Nora would be the obvious choice for help, if not for the fact that shes neck deep in polling numbers. When she gets into her work like this, its like trying to have a meaningful conversation with a high-speed computer that loves Chipotle and makes fun of what youre wearing. But shes his best friend, and shes sort of vaguely bisexual. She never datesno time or desirebut if she did, she says itd be an even split of the intern pool. Shes as knowledgeable about the topic as she is about everything else. Hello, she says from the floor as he drops a bag of burritos and a second bag of chips with guacamole on the coffee table. You might have to put guacamole directly into my mouth with a spoon because I need both hands for the next forty-eight hours. Noras grandparents, the Veep and Second Lady, live at the Naval Observatory, and her parents live just outside of Montpelier, but shes had the same airy one-bedroom in Columbia Heights since she transferred from MIT to GW. Its full of books and plants she tends to with complex spreadsheets of watering schedules. Tonight, shes sitting on her living room floor in a glowing circle of screens like some kind of Capitol Hill s?ance. To her left, her campaign laptop is open to an indecipherable page of data and bar graphs. To her right, her personal computer is running three news aggregators at the same time. In front of her, the TV is broadcasting CNNs Republican primary coverage, while the tablet in her lap is playing an old episode of Drag Race. Shes holding her iPhone in her hand, and Alex hears the little whoosh of an email sending before she looks up at him. Barbacoa? she says hopefully. Ive met you before today, so, obviously. Theres my future husband. She leans over to pull a burrito out of the bag, rips off the foil, and shoves it into her mouth. Im not going to have a marriage of convenience with you if youre always embarrassing me with the way you eat burritos, Alex says, watching her chew. A black bean falls out of her mouth and lands on one of her keyboards. Arent you from Texas? she says through her mouthful. Ive seen you shotgun a bottle of barbecue sauce. Watch yourself or Im gonna marry June instead. This might be his opening into the conversation. Hey, you know how youre always joking about dating June? Well, like, what if I dated a guy? Not that he wants to date Henry. At all. Ever. But just, like, hypothetically. Nora goes off on a data nerd tangent for the next twenty minutes about her updated take on whatever the fuck the BoyerMoore majority vote algorithm is and variables and how it can be used in whatever work shes doing for the campaign, or something. Honestly, Alexs concentration is drifting in and out. Hes just working on summoning up courage until she talks herself into submission. Hey, so, uh, Alex attempts as she takes a burrito break. Remember when we dated? Nora swallows a massive bite and grins. Why yes, I do, Alejandro. Alex forces a laugh. So, knowing me as well as you do In the biblical sense. Numbers on me being into dudes? That pulls Nora up short, before she cocks her head to the side and says, Seventy-eight percent probability of latent bisexual tendencies. One hundred percent probability this is not a hypothetical question. Yeah. So. He coughs. Weird thing happened. You know how Henry came to New Years? He kinda . . . kissed me? Oh, no shit? Nora says, nodding appreciatively. Nice. Alex stares at her. Youre not surprised? I mean. She shrugs. Hes gay, and youre hot, so. He sits up so quickly he almost drops his burrito on the floor. Wait, waitwhat makes you think hes gay? Did he tell you he was? No, I just . . . like, you know. She gesticulates as if to describe her usual thought process. Its as incomprehensible as her brain. I observe patterns and data, and they form logical conclusions, and hes just, gay. Hes always been gay. I . . . what? Dude. Have you met him? Isnt he supposed to be your best friend or whatever? Hes gay. Like, Fire Island on the Fourth of July, gay. Did you really not know? Alex lifts his hands helplessly. No? Alex, I thought you were supposed to be smart. Me too! How can hehow can he spring a kiss on me without even telling me hes gay first? I mean, like, she attempts, is it possible he assumed you knew? But he goes on dates with girls all the time. Yeah, because princes arent allowed to be gay, Nora says as if its the most obvious thing in the world. Why do you think theyre always photographed? Alex lets that sink in for half a second and remembers this is supposed to be about his gay panic, not Henrys. Okay, so. Wait. Jesus. Can we go back to the part where he kissed me? Ooh, yes, Nora says. She licks a glob of guacamole off the screen of her phone. Happily. Was he a good kisser? Was there tongue? Did you like it? Never mind, Alex says instantly. Forget I asked. Since when are you a prude? Nora demands. Last year you made me listen to every nasty detail about going down on Amber Forrester from Junes internship. Do not, he says, hiding his face behind the crook of his elbow. Then, spill. I seriously hope you die, he says. Yes, he was a good kisser, and there was tongue. I fucking knew it, she says. Still waters, deep dicking. Stop, he groans. Prince Henry is a biscuit, Nora says, let him sop you up. Im leaving. She throws her head back and cackles, and seriously, Alex has got to get more friends. Did you like it, though? A pause. What, um, he starts. What do you think it would mean . . . if I did? Well. Babe. Youve been wanting him to dick you down forever, right? Alex almost chokes on his tongue. What? Nora looks at him. Oh, shit. Did you not know that either? Shit. I didnt mean to like, tell you. Is it time for this conversation? I . . . maybe? he says. Um. What? She puts her burrito down on the coffee table and shakes her fingers out like she does when shes about to write a complicated code. Alex suddenly feels intimidated at having her undivided attention. Let me lay out some observations for you, she says. You extrapolate. First, youve been, like, Draco Malfoylevel obsessed with Henry for yearsdo not interrupt meand since the royal wedding, youve gotten his phone number and used it not to set up any appearances but instead to long-distance flirt with him all day every day. Youre constantly making big cow eyes at your phone, and if somebody asks you who youre texting, you act like you got caught watching porn. You know his sleep schedule, he knows your sleep schedule, and youre in a noticeably worse mood if you go a day without talking to him. You spent the entire New Years party straight-up ignoring the whos who of hot people who want to fuck Americas most eligible bachelor to literally watch Henry stand next to the croquembouche. And he kissed youwith tongue!and you liked it. So, objectively. What do you think it means? Alex stares. I mean, he says slowly. I dont . . . know. Nora frowns, visibly giving up, resumes eating her burrito, and returns her attention to the newsfeed on her laptop. Okay. No, okay, look, Alex says. I know like, objectively, on a fucking graphing calculator, it sounds like a huge embarrassing crush. But, ugh. I dont know! He was my sworn enemy until a couple months ago, and then we were friends, I guess, and now hes kissed me, and I dont know what we . . . are. Uh-huh, Nora says, very much not listening. Yep. And, still, he barrels on. In terms of like, sexuality, what does that make me? Noras eyes snap back up to him. Oh, like, I thought we were already there with you being bi and everything, she says. Sorry, are we not? Did I skip ahead again? My bad. Hello, would you like to come out to me? Im listening. Hi. I dont know! he half yells, miserably. Am I? Do you think Im bi? I cant tell you that, Alex! she says. Thats the whole point! Shit, he says, dropping his head back on the cushions. I need someone to just tell me. How did you know you were? I dont know, man. I was in my junior year of high school, and I touched a boob. It wasnt very profound. Nobodys gonna write an Off-Broadway play about it. Really helpful. Yup, she says, chewing thoughtfully on a chip. So, what are you gonna do? I have no idea, Alex says. Hes totally ghosted me, so I guess it was awful or a stupid drunk mistake he regrets or Alex, she says. He likes you. Hes freaking out. Youre gonna have to decide how you feel about him and do something about it. Hes not in a position to do anything else. Alex has no idea what else to say about any of it. Noras eyes drift back to one of her screens, where Anderson Cooper is unpacking the latest coverage of the Republican presidential hopefuls. Any chance someone other than Richards gets the nomination? Alex sighs. Nope. Not according to anybody Ive talked to. Its almost cute how hard the others are still trying, she says, and they lapse into silence. Alex is late, again. His class is reviewing for the first exam today, and hes late because he lost track of time going over his speech for the campaign event hes doing in fucking Nebraska this weekend, of all godforsaken places. Its Thursday, and hes hauling ass straight from work to the lecture hall, and his exam is next Tuesday, and hes going to fail because hes missing the review. The class is Ethical Issues in International Relations. He really has got to stop taking classes so painfully relevant to his life. He gets through the review in a haze of half-distracted shorthand and books it back toward the Residence. Hes pissed, honestly. Pissed at everything; a crawling, directionless bad mood thats carrying him up the stairs toward the East and West Bedrooms. He throws his bag down at the door of his room and kicks his shoes into the hallway, watching them bounce crookedly across the ugly antique rug. Well, good afternoon to you too, honey biscuit, Junes voice says. When Alex glances up, shes in her room across the hall, perched on a pastel-pink wingback chair. You look like shit. Thanks, asshole. He recognizes the stack of magazines in her lap as her weekly tabloid roundup, and hes decided he doesnt want to know when she chucks one at him. New People for you, she says. Youre on page fifteen. Oh, and your BFFs on page thirty-one. He casually extends her the finger over his shoulder and retreats into his room, slumping down onto the couch by the door with the magazine. Since he has it, he might as well. Page fifteen is a picture of him the press team took two weeks ago, a nice, neat little package on him helping the Smithsonian with an exhibit about his moms historic presidential campaign. Hes explaining the story behind a CLAREMONT FOR CONGRESS 04 yard sign, and theres a brief write-up alongside it about how dedicated he is to the family legacy, blah-blah-blah. He turns to page thirty-one and almost swears out loud. The headline: WHO IS PRINCE HENRYS MYSTERY BLONDE? Three photos: the first, Henry out at a cafe in London, smiling over coffees at some anonymously pretty blond woman; the second, Henry, slightly out of focus, holding her hand as they duck behind the cafe; the third, Henry, halfway obscured by a shrub, kissing the corner of her mouth. What the fuck? Theres a short article accompanying the photos that gives the girls name, Emily something, an actress, and Alex was generally pissed before, but now hes very singularly pissed, his entire shitty mood funneled down to the point on the page where Henrys lips touch somebodys skin thats not his. Who the fuck does Henry think he is? How fuckinghow entitled, how aloof, how selfish do you have to be, to spend months becoming someones friend, let them show you all their weird gross weak parts, kiss them, make them question everything, ignore them for weeks, and go out with someone else and put it in the press? Everyone whos ever had a publicist knows the only way anything gets into People is if you want the world to know. He throws the magazine down and lunges to his feet, pacing. Fuck Henry. He should never have trusted the silver spoon little shit. He should have listened to his gut. He inhales, exhales. The thing is. The thing. Is. He doesnt know if, beyond the initial rush of anger, he actually believes Henry would do this. If he takes the Henry he saw in a teen magazine when he was twelve, the Henry who was so cold to him at the Olympics, the Henry who slowly came unraveled to him over months, and the Henry who kissed him in the shadow of the White House, and he adds them up, he doesnt get this. Alex has a tactical brain. A politicians brain. It works fast, and it works in many, many directions at once. And right now, hes thinking through a puzzle. Hes not always good at thinking: What if you were him? How would your life be? What would you have to do? Instead, hes thinking: How do these pieces slot together? He thinks about what Nora said: Why do you think theyre always photographed? And he thinks about Henrys guardedness, the way he carries himself with a careful separation from the world around him, the tension at the corner of his mouth. Then he thinks: If there was a prince, and he was gay, and he kissed someone, and maybe it mattered, that prince might have to run a little bit of interference. And in one great mercurial swing, Alex is not just angry anymore. Hes sad too. He paces back over to the door and slides his phone out of his messenger bag, thumbs open his messages. He doesnt know which impulse to follow and wrestle into words that he can say to someone and make something, anything, happen. Faintly, under it all, it occurs to him: This is all a very not-straight way to react to seeing your male frenemy kissing someone else in a magazine. A little laugh startles out of him, and he walks over to his bed and sits on the edge of it, considering. He considers texting Nora, asking her if he can come over to finally have some big epiphany. He considers calling Rafael Luna and meeting him for beers and asking to hear all about his first gay sexual exploits as an REI-wearing teenage antifascist. And he considers going downstairs and asking Amy about her transition and her wife and how she knew she was different. But in the moment, it feels right to go back to the source, to ask someone whos seen whatever is in his eyes when a boy touches him. Henrys out of the question. Which leaves one person. Hello? says the voice over the phone. Its been at least a year since they last talked, but Liams Texas drawl is unmistakable and warm in Alexs eardrum. He clears his throat. Uh, hey, Liam. Its Alex. I know, Liam says, desert-dry. How, um, how have you been? A pause. The sound of quiet talking in the background, dishes. You wanna tell me why youre really calling, Alex? Oh, he starts and stops, tries again. This might sound weird. But, um. Back in high school, did we have, like, a thing? Did I miss that? Theres a clattering sound on the other side of the phone, like a fork being dropped on a plate. Are you seriously calling me right now to talk about this? Im at lunch with my boyfriend. Oh. He didnt know Liam had a boyfriend. Sorry. The sound goes muffled, and when Liam speaks again, its to someone else. Its Alex. Yeah, him. I dont know, babe. His voice comes back clear again. What exactly are you asking me? I mean, like, we messed around, but did it, like, mean something? I dont think I can answer that question for you, Liam tells him. If hes still anything like Alex remembers, hes rubbing one hand on the underside of his jaw, raking through the stubble. He wonders faintly if, perhaps, his clear-as-day memory of Liams stubble has just answered his own question for him. Right, he says. Youre right. Look, man, Liam says. I dont know what kind of sexual crisis youre having right now like, four years after it would have been useful, but, well. Im not saying what we did in high school makes you gay or bi or whatever, but I can tell you Im gay, and that even though I acted like what we were doing wasnt gay back then, it super was. He sighs. Does that help, Alex? My Bloody Mary is here and I need to talk to it about this phone call. Um, yeah, Alex says. I think so. Thanks. Youre welcome. Liam sounds so long-suffering and tired that Alex thinks about all those times back in high school, the way Liam used to look at him, the silence between them since, and feels obligated to add, And, um. Im sorry? Jesus Christ, Liam groans, and hangs up. CHAPTER SIX Henry cant avoid him forever. Theres one part of the post-royal wedding arrangement left to fulfill: Henrys presence at a state dinner at the end of January. England has a relatively new prime minister, and Ellen wants to meet him. Henrys coming too, staying in the Residence as a courtesy. Alex smooths out the lapels on his tux and hovers close to June and Nora as the guests roll in, waiting at the north entrance near the photo line. Hes aware that hes rocking anxiously on his heels but cant seem to stop. Nora smirks but says nothing. Shes keeping it quiet. Hes still not ready to tell June. Telling his sister is irreversible, and he cant do that until hes figured out what exactly this is. Henry enters stage right. His suit is black, smooth, elegant. Perfect. Alex wants to rip it off. His face is reserved, then downright ashen when he sees Alex in the entrance hall. His footsteps stutter, as if hes thinking of making a run for it. Alex is not above a flying tackle. Instead, he keeps walking up the steps, and All right, photos, Zahra hisses over Alexs shoulder. Oh, Henry says, like an idiot. Alex hates how much he likes the way that one stupid vowel curls in his accent. Hes not even into British accents. Hes into Henrys British accent. Hey, Alex says under his breath. Fake smile, handshake, cameras flashing. Cool to see youre not dead or anything. Er, Henry says, adding to the list of vowel sounds he has to show for himself. It is, unfortunately, also sexy. After all these weeks, the bar is low. We need to talk, Alex says, but Zahra is physically shoving them into a friendly formation, and there are more photos until Alex is being shepherded off with the girls to the State Dining Room while Henry is hauled into photo ops with the prime minister. The entertainment for the night is a British indie rocker who looks like a root vegetable and is popular with people in Alexs demographic for reasons he cant even begin to understand. Henry is seated with the prime minister, and Alex sits and chews his food like its personally wronged him and watches Henry from across the room, seething. Every so often, Henry will look up, catch Alexs eye, go pink around the ears, and return to his rice pilaf as if its the most fascinating dish on the planet. How dare Henry come into Alexs house looking like the goddamn James Bond offspring that he is, drink red wine with the prime minister, and act like he didnt slip Alex the tongue and ghost him for a month. Nora, he says, leaning over to her while June is off chatting with an actress from Doctor Who. The night is starting to wind down, and Alex is over it. Can you get Henry away from his table? She slants a look at him. Is this a diabolical scheme of seduction? she asks. If so, yes. Sure, yes, that, he says, and he gets up and heads for the back wall of the room, where the Secret Service is stationed. Amy, he hisses, grabbing her by the wrist. She makes a quick, aborted movement, clearly fighting a hardwired takedown reflex. I need your help. Wheres the threat? she says immediately. No, no, Jesus. Alex swallows. Not like that. I need to get Prince Henry alone. She blinks. I dont follow. I need to talk to him in private. I can accompany you outside if you need to speak with him, but Ill have to get it approved with his security first. No, Alex says. He scrubs a hand across his face, glancing back over his shoulder to confirm Henrys where he left him, being aggressively talked at by Nora. I need him alone. The slightest of expressions crosses over Amys face. The best I can do is the Red Room. You take him any farther and its a no-go. He looks over his shoulder again at the tall doors across the State Dining Room. The Red Room is empty on the other side, awaiting the after-dinner cocktails. How long can I have? he says. Five min I can make that work. He turns on his heel and stalks over to the ornamental display of chocolates, where Nora has apparently lured Henry with the promise of profiteroles. He plants himself between them. Hi, he says. Nora smiles. Henrys mouth drops open. Sorry to interrupt. Important, um. International. Relations. Stuff. And he seizes Henry by the elbow and yanks him bodily away. Do you mind? Henry has the nerve to say. Shut your face, Alex says, briskly leading him away from the tables, where people are too busy mingling and listening to the music to notice Alex frog-marching the heir to the throne out of the dining room. They reach the doors, and Amy is there. She hesitates, hand on the knob. Youre not going to kill him, are you? she says. Probably not, Alex tells her. She opens the door just enough to let them through, and Alex hauls Henry into the Red Room with him. What on Gods earth are you doing? Henry demands. Shut up, shut all the way up, oh my God, Alex hisses, and if he werent already hell-bent on destroying Henrys infuriating idiot face with his mouth right now, he would consider doing it with his fist. Hes focused on the burst of adrenaline carrying his feet over the antique rug, Henrys tie wrapped around his fist, the flash in Henrys eyes. He reaches the nearest wall, shoves Henry against it, and crushes their mouths together. Henrys too shocked to respond, mouth falling open slackly in a way thats more surprise than invitation, and for a horrified moment Alex thinks he calculated all wrong, but then Henrys kissing him back, and its everything. It feels as good asbetter thanhe remembered, and he cant recall why they havent been doing this the whole time, why theyve been running belligerent circles around each other for so long without doing anything about it. Wait, Henry says, breaking off. He pulls back to look at Alex, wild-eyed, mouth a vivid red, and Alex could fucking scream if he werent worried dignitaries in the next room might hear him. Should we What? I mean, er, should we, I dunno, slow down? Henry says, cringing so hard at himself that one eye closes. Go for dinner first, or Alex is actually going to kill him. We just had dinner. Right. I meantI just thought Stop thinking. Yes. Gladly. In one frantic motion, Alex knocks the candelabra off the table next to them and pushes Henry onto it so hes sitting with his back againstAlex looks up and almost breaks into deranged laughtera portrait of Alexander Hamilton. Henrys legs fall open readily and Alex crowds up between them, wrenching Henrys head back into another searing kiss. Theyre really moving now, wrecking each others suits, Henrys lip caught between Alexs teeth, the portraits frame rattling against the wall when Henrys head drops back and bangs into it. Alex is at his throat, and hes somewhere between angry and giddy, caught up in the space between years of sworn hate and something else hes begun to suspect has always been there. Its white-hot, and he feels crazy with it, lit up from the inside. Henry gives as good as he gets, hooking one knee around the back of Alexs thigh for leverage, delicate royal sensibilities nowhere in the cut of his teeth. Alex has been learning for a while Henry isnt what he thought, but its something else to feel it this close up, the quiet burn in him, the pent-up person under the perfect veneer who tries and pushes and wants. He drops a hand onto Henrys thigh, feeling the electrical pulse there, the smooth fabric over hard muscle. He pushes up, up, and Henrys hand slams down over his, digging his nails in. Times up! comes Amys voice through a crack in the doors. They freeze, Alex falling back onto his heels. They can both hear it now, the sounds of bodies moving too close for comfort, wrapping up the night. Henrys hips give one tiny push up into him, involuntary, surprised, and Alex swears. Im going to die, Henry says helplessly. Im going to kill you, Alex tells him. Yes, you are, Henry agrees. Alex takes an unsteady step backward. People are gonna be coming in here soon, Alex says, reaching down and trying not to fall on his face as he scoops up the candelabra and shoves it back onto the table. Henry is standing now, looking wobbly, his shirt untucked and his hair a mess. Alex reaches up in a panic and starts patting it back into place. Fuck, you lookfuck. Henry fumbles with his shirt tail, eyes wide, and starts humming God Save the Queen under his breath. What are you doing? Christ, Im trying to make ithe gestures inelegantly at the front of his pantsgo away. Alex very pointedly does not look down. Okay, so, Alex says. Yeah. So heres what were gonna do. You are gonna go be, like, five hundred feet away from me for the rest of the night, or else I am going to do something that I will deeply regret in front of a lot of very important people. All right . . . And then, Alex says, and he grabs Henrys tie again, close to the knot, and draws his mouth up to a breath away from Henrys. He hears Henry swallow. He wants to follow the sound down his throat. And then you are going to come to the East Bedroom on the second floor at eleven oclock tonight, and I am going to do very bad things to you, and if you fucking ghost me again, Im going to get you put on a fucking no-fly list. Got it? Henry bites down on a sound that tries to escape his mouth, and rasps, Perfectly. Alex is. Well, Alex is probably losing his mind. Its 10:48. Hes pacing. He threw his jacket and tie over the back of the chair as soon as he returned to his room, and hes got the first two buttons of his dress shirt undone. His hands are twisted up in his hair. This is fine. Its fine. Its definitely a terrible idea. But its fine. Hes not sure if he should take anything else off. Hes unsure of the dress code for inviting your sworn - enemy - turned - fake - best - friend up to your room to have sex with you, especially when that room is in the White House, and especially when that person is a guy, and especially when that guy is the Prince of England. The room is dimly lita single lamp, in the corner by the couch, washing the deep blues of the walls neutral. Hes moved all his campaign files from the bed to the desk and straightened out the bedspread. He looks at the ancient fireplace, the carved details of the mantel almost as old as the country itself, and it may not be Kensington Palace, but it looks all right. God, if any ghosts of Founding Fathers are hanging around the White House tonight, they must really be suffering. Hes trying not to think too hard about what comes next. He may not have experience in practical application, but hes done research. He has diagrams. He can do this. He really, really wants to do this. That much hes sure about. He closes his eyes, grounds himself with his fingertips on the cool surface of his desk, the feathery little edges of papers there. His mind flashes to Henry, the smooth lines of his suit, the way his breath brushed Alexs cheek when he kissed him. His stomach does some embarrassing acrobatics he plans to never tell anyone about, ever. Henry, the prince. Henry, the boy in the garden. Henry, the boy in his bed. He doesnt, he reminds himself, even have feelings for the guy. Really. Theres a knock on the door. Alex checks his phone: 10:54. He opens the door. Alex stands there and exhales slowly, eyes on Henry. Hes not sure hes ever let himself just look. Henry is tall and gorgeous, half royalty, half movie star, red wine lingering on his lips. Hes left his jacket and tie behind, and the sleeves of his shirt are pushed up to his elbows. He looks nervous around the corners of his eyes, but he smiles at Alex with one side of his pink mouth and says, Sorry Im early. Alex bites his lip. Find your way here okay? There was a very helpful Secret Service agent, Henry says. I think her name was Amy? Alex smiles fully now. Get in here. Henrys grin takes over his entire face, not his photograph grin, but one that is crinkly and unguarded and infectious. He hooks his fingertips behind Alexs elbow, and Alex follows his lead, bare feet nudging between Henrys dress shoes. Henrys breath ghosts over Alexs lips, their noses brushing, and when he finally connects, hes smiling into it. Henry shuts and locks the door behind them, sliding one hand up the nape of Alexs neck, cradling it. Theres something different about the way hes kissing nowits measured, deliberate. Soft. Alex isnt sure why, or what to do with it. He settles for pulling Henry in by the sway of his waist, pressing their bodies flush. He kisses back, but lets himself be kissed however Henry wants to kiss him, which right now is exactly how he would have expected Prince Charming to kiss in the first place: sweet and deep and like theyre standing at sunrise in the fucking moors. He can practically feel the wind in his hair. Its ridiculous. Henry breaks off and says, How do you want to do this? And Alex remembers, suddenly, this is not a sunrise-in-the-moors type of situation. He grabs Henry by his loosened collar, pushes a little, and says, Get on the couch. Henrys breath hitches and he complies. Alex moves to stand over him, looking down at that soft pink mouth. He feels himself standing at a very tall, very dangerous precipice, with no intention of backing away. Henry looks up at him, expectant, hungry. Youve been dodging me for weeks, Alex says, widening his stance so his knees bracket Henrys. He leans down and braces one hand against the back of the couch, the other grazing over the vulnerable dip of Henrys throat. You went out with a girl. Im gay, Henry tells him flatly. One of his broad palms flattens over Alexs hip, and Alex inhales sharply, either at the touch or at hearing Henry finally say it out loud. Not something wise to pursue as a member of the royal family. And I wasnt sure you werent going to murder me for kissing you. Then whyd you do it? Alex asks him. He leans into Henrys neck, dragging his lips over the sensitive skin just behind his ear. He thinks Henry might be holding his breath. Because II hoped you wouldnt. Murder me. I had . . . suspicions you might want me too, Henry says. He hisses a little when Alex bites down lightly on the side of his neck. Or I thought, until I saw you with Nora, and then I was . . . jealous . . . and I was drunk and an idiot who got sick of waiting for the answer to present itself. You were jealous, Alex says. You want me. Henry moves abruptly, heaving Alex off balance with both hands and down into his lap, eyes blazing, and he says in a low and deadly voice Alex has never heard from him before, Yes, you preening arse, Ive wanted you long enough that I wont have you tease me for another fucking second. Turns out being on the receiving end of Henrys royal authority is an extreme fucking turn-on. He thinks, as hes hauled into a bruising kiss, that hell never forgive himself for it. So, like, fuck the moors. Henry gets a grip on Alexs hips and pulls him close, so Alex is properly straddling his lap, and he kisses hard now, more like he had in the Red Room, with teeth. It shouldnt work so perfectlyit makes absolutely no sensebut it does. Theres something about the two of them, the way they ignite at different temperatures, Alexs frenetic energy and Henrys aching sureness. He grinds down into Henrys lap, grunting as hes met with Henry already half-hard under him, and Henrys curse in response is buried in Alexs mouth. The kisses turn messy, then, urgent and graceless, and Alex gets lost in the drag and slide and press of Henrys lips, the sweet liquor of it. He pushes his hands into Henrys hair, and its as soft as he always imagined when he would trace the photo of Henry in Junes magazine, lush and thick under his fingers. Henry melts at the touch, wraps his arms around Alexs waist and holds him there. Alex isnt going anywhere. He kisses Henry until it feels like he cant breathe, until it feels like hes going to forget both of their names and titles, until theyre only two people tangled up in a dark room making a brilliant, epic, unstoppable mistake. He manages to get the next two buttons on his shirt undone before Henry grabs it by the tails and pulls it off over his head and makes quick work of his own. Alex tries not to be in awe of the simple agility of his hands, tries not to think about classical piano or how swift and smooth years of polo have trained Henry to be. Hang on, Henry says, and Alex is already groaning in protest, but Henry pulls back and rests his fingertips on Alexs lips to shush him. I want His voice starts and stops, and hes looking like hes resolving not to cringe at himself again. He gathers himself, stroking a finger up to Alexs cheek before jutting his chin out defiantly. I want you on the bed. Alex goes fully silent and still, looking into Henrys eyes and the question there: Are you going to stop this now that its real? Well, come on, Your Highness, Alex says, shifting his weight to give Henry a last tease before he stands. Youre a dick, Henry says, but he follows, smiling. Alex climbs onto the bed, sliding back to prop himself up on his elbows by the pillows, watching as Henry kicks off his shoes and regains his bearings. He looks transformed in the lamplight, like a god of debauchery, painted gold with his hair all mussed up and his eyes heavy-lidded. Alex lets himself stare; the whipcord muscle under his skin, lean and long and lithe. The spot right at the dip of his waist below his ribs looks impossibly soft, and Alex might die if he cant fit his hand into that little curve in the next five seconds. In an instant of sudden, vivid clarity, he cant believe he ever thought he was straight. Quit stalling, Alex says, pointedly interrupting the moment. Bossy, Henry says, and he complies. Henrys body settles over him with a warm, steady weight, one of his thighs sliding between Alexs legs and his hands bracing on the pillows, and Alex feels the points of contact like a static shock at his shoulders, his hips, the center of his chest. One of Henrys hands slides up his stomach and stops, having encountered the old silver key on the chain resting over his sternum. Whats this? Alex huffs impatiently. The key to my moms house in Texas, he says, winding a hand back into Henrys hair. I started wearing it when I moved here. I guess I thought it would remind me of where I came from or somethingdid I or did I not tell you to quit stalling? Henry looks up into his eyes, speechless, and Alex tugs him down into another all-consuming kiss, and Henry bears down on him fully, pressing him into the bed. Alexs other hand finds that dip of Henrys waist, and he swallows a sound at how devastating it feels under his palm. Hes never been kissed like this, as if the feeling could swallow him up whole, Henrys body grinding down and covering every inch of his. He moves his mouth from Henrys to the side of his neck, the spot below his ear, kisses and kisses it, and bares his teeth. Alex knows itll probably leave a mark, which is against rule number one of clandestine hookups for political offspringand probably royals too. He doesnt care. He feels Henry find the waistband of his pants, the button, the zipper, the elastic of his underwear, and then everything goes very hazy, very quickly. He opens his eyes to see Henry bringing his hand demurely up to his elegant royal mouth to spit on it. Oh my fucking God, Alex says, and Henry grins crookedly as he gets back to work. Fuck. His body is moving, his mouth spilling words. I cant believeGod, you are the most insufferable goddamn bastard on the face of the planet, do you know thatfuckyoure infuriating, youre the worstyoure Do you ever stop talking? Henry says. Such a mouth on you. And when Alex looks again, he finds Henry watching him raptly, eyes bright and smiling. He keeps eye contact and his rhythm at the same time, and Alex was wrong before, Henrys going to be the one to kill him, not the other way around. Wait, Alex says, clenching his fist in the bedspread, and Henry immediately stills. I mean, yes, obviously, oh my God, but like, if you keep doing that Im gonnaAlexs breath catchesits, thats justthats not allowed before I get to see you naked. Henry tilts his head and smirks. All right. Alex flips them over, kicking off his pants until only his underwear is left slung low on his hips, and he climbs up the length of Henrys body, watching his face grow anxious, eager. Hi, he says, when he reaches Henrys eye level. Hello, Henry says back. Im gonna take your pants off now, Alex tells him. Yes, good, carry on. Alex does, and one of Henrys hands slides down, leveraging one of Alexs thighs up so their bodies meet again right at the hard crux between them, and they both groan. Alex thinks, dizzily, that its been nearly five years of foreplay, and enough is enough. He moves his lips down to Henrys chest, and he feels under his mouth the beat Henrys heart skips at the realization of what Alex intends. His own heartbeat is probably falling out of rhythm too. Hes in so far over his head, but thats goodthats pretty much his comfort zone. He kisses Henrys solar plexus, his stomach, the stretch of skin above his waistband. Ive, uh, Alex begins. Ive never actually done this before. Alex, Henry says, reaching down to stroke at Alexs hair, you dont have to, Im No, I want to, Alex says, tugging at Henrys waistband. I just need you to tell me if its awful. Henry is speechless again, looking as if he cant believe his fucking luck. Okay. Of course. Alex pictures Henry barefoot in a Kensington Palace kitchen and the little sliver of vulnerability he got to see so early on, and he thrills at Henry now, in his bed, spread out and naked and wanting. This cant be really happening after everything, but miraculously, it is. If hes going by the way Henrys body responds, by the way Henrys hand sweeps up into his hair and clutches onto a fistful of curls, he guesses he does okay for a first try. He looks up the length of Henrys body and is met with burning eye contact, a red lip caught between white teeth. Henry drops his head back on the pillow and groans something that sounds like fucking eyelashes. Hes maybe a little bit in awe of how Henry arches up off the mattress, at hearing his sweet, posh voice reciting a litany of profanities up to the ceiling. Alex is living for it, watching Henry come undone, letting him be whatever he needs to be while alone with Alex behind a locked door. Hes surprised to find himself hauled up to Henrys mouth and kissed hungrily. Hes been with girls who didnt like to be kissed afterward and girls that didnt mind it, but Henry revels in it, based on the deep and comprehensive way hes kissing him. It occurs to him to make a comment about narcissism, but instead Not awful? Alex says between kisses, resting his head on the pillow next to Henrys to catch his breath. Definitely adequate, Henry answers, grinning, and he scoops Alex up against his chest greedily as if hes trying to touch all of him at once. Henrys hands are huge on his back, his jaw sharp and rough with a long days stubble, his shoulders broad enough to eclipse Alex when he rolls them over and pins Alex to the mattress. None of it feels anything like anything hes felt before, but its just as good, maybe better. Henrys kissing him aggressively once more, confident in a way thats rare from Henry. Messy earnestness and rough focus, not a dutiful prince but any other twenty-something boy enjoying himself doing something he likes, something hes good at. And he is good at it. Alex makes a mental note to figure out which shadowy gay noble taught Henry all this and send the man a fruit basket. Henry returns the favor happily, hungrily, and Alex doesnt know or care what sounds or words come out of his mouth. He thinks one of them is sweetheart and another is motherfucker and some of it might be in Spanish. Henry is one talented bastard, a man of many hidden gifts, Alex muses half-hysterically. A true prodigy. God Save the Queen. When hes done, he presses a sticky kiss in the crease of Alexs leg where hed slung it over his shoulder, managing to come off polite, and Alex wants to drag Henry up by the hair, but his body is boneless and wrecked. Hes blissed out, dead. Ascended to the next plane, merely a pair of eyes floating through a dopamine haze. The mattress shifts, and Henry moves up to the pillows, nuzzling his face into the hollow of Alexs throat. Alex makes a vague noise of approval, and his arms fumble around Henrys waist, but hes helpless to do much else. Hes sure he used to know quite a lot of words, in more than one language, in fact, but he cant seem to recall any of them. Hmm, Henry hums, the tip of his nose catching on Alexs. If I had known this was all it took to shut you up, Id have done it ages ago. With a feat of Herculean strength, he summons up two whole words: Fuck you. Distantly, through a slowly clearing fog, through a messy kiss, Alex cant help but marvel at the knowledge that hes crossed some kind of Rubicon, here in this room thats almost as old as the country its in, like Washington crossing the Delaware. He laughs into Henrys mouth, instantly caught up in his own dramatic mental portrait of the two them painted in oils, young icons of their nations, naked and shining wet in the lamplight. He wishes Henry could see it, wonders if hed find the image as funny. Henry rolls over onto his back. Alexs body wants to follow and tuck into his side, but he stays where he is, watching from a few safe inches away. He can see a muscle in Henrys jaw flexing. Hey, he says. He pokes Henry in the arm. Dont freak out. Im not freaking out, he says, enunciating the words. Alex wriggles an inch closer in the sheets. It was fun, Alex says. I had fun. You had fun, right? Definitely, he says, in a tone that sends a lazy spark up Alexs spine. Okay, cool. So, we can do this again, anytime you want, Alex says, dragging the back of his knuckles down Henrys shoulder. And you know this doesnt like, change anything between us, right? Were still . . . whatever we were before, just, you know. With blowjobs. Henry covers his eyes with one hand. Right. So, Alex says, changing tracks by stretching languidly, I guess I should tell you, Im bisexual. Good to know, Henry says. His eyes flicker down to Alexs hip, where its bared above the sheet, and he says as much to Alex as to himself, I am very, very gay. Alex watches his small smile, the way it wrinkles the corners of his eyes, and very deliberately does not kiss it. Part of his brain keeps getting stuck on how strange, and strangely wonderful, it is to see Henry like this, open and bare in every way. He leans across the pillow to Alex and presses a soft kiss to his mouth, and Alex feels fingertips brush over his jaw. The touch is so gentle he has to once again remind himself not to care too much. Hey, Alex tells him, sliding his mouth closer to Henrys ear, youre welcome to stay as long as you want, but I should warn you its probably in both of our best interests if you go back to your room before morning. Unless you want the PPOs to lock the Residence down and come requisition you from my boudoir. Ah, Henry says. He pulls away from Alex and rolls back over, looking up to the ceiling again like a man seeking penance from a wrathful god. Youre right. You can stay for another round, if you want to, Alex offers. Henry coughs, scrubs a hand through his hair. I rather think IdId better get back to my room. Alex watches him fish his boxers from the foot of the bed and start pulling them back on, sitting up and shaking out his shoulders. Its for the best this way, he tells himself; nobody will get any wrong ideas about what exactly this arrangement is. Theyre not going to spoon all night or wake up in each others arms or eat breakfast together. Mutually satisfying sexual experiences do not a relationship make. Even if he did want that, there are a million reasons why this will never, ever be possible. Alex follows him to the door, watching him turn to hover there awkwardly. Well, er . . . Henry attempts, looking down at his feet. Alex rolls his eyes. For fucks sake, man, you just had my dick in your mouth, you can kiss me good-night. Henry looks back up at him, his mouth open and incredulous, and he throws his head back and laughs, and its only him, the nerdy, neurotic, sweet, insomniac rich guy who constantly sends Alex photos of his dog, and something slots into place. He leans down and kisses him fiercely, and then hes grinning and gone. Youre doing what? Its sooner than either of them expectedonly two weeks since the state dinner, two weeks of wanting Henry back under him as soon as possible and saying everything short of that in their texts. June keeps looking at him like shes going to throw his phone in the Potomac. An invitation-only charity polo match this weekend, Henry says over the phone. Its in . . . He pauses, probably referring back to whatever itinerary Shaan has given him. Greenwich, Connecticut? Its $10,000 a seat, but I can have you added to the list. Alex almost fumbles his coffee all over the south entryway. Amy glares at him. Jesus fuck. That is obscene, what are you raising money for, monocles for babies? He covers the mouthpiece of the phone with his hand. Wheres Zahra? I need to clear my schedule for this weekend. He uncovers the phone. Look, I guess Ill try to make it, but Im really busy right now. Im sorry, Zahra said youre bailing on the fundraiser this weekend because youre going to a polo match in Connecticut? June asks from his bedroom doorway that night, almost startling another cup of coffee out of his hands. Listen, Alex tells her, Im trying to keep up a geopolitical public relations ruse here. Dude, people are writing fan fiction about yall Yeah, Nora sent me that. I think you can give it a rest. The crown wants me to be there! he lies quickly. She seems unconvinced and leaves him with a parting look hed probably be concerned about if he cared more about things that arent Henrys mouth right now. Which is how he ends up in his J. Crew best on a Saturday at the Greenwich Polo Club, wondering what the hell hes gotten himself into. The woman in front of him is wearing a hat with an entire taxidermied pigeon on it. High school lacrosse did not prepare him for this kind of sporting event. Henry on horseback is nothing new. Henry in full polo gearthe helmet, the polo sleeves capped right at the bulge of his biceps, the snug white pants tucked into tall leather boots, the intricately buckled leather knee padding, the leather glovesis familiar. He has seen it before. Categorically, it should be boring. It should not provoke anything visceral, carnal, or bodice-ripping in nature in him at all. But Henry urging his horse across the field with the power of his thighs, his ass bouncing hard in the saddle, the way the muscles in his arms stretch and flex when he swings, looking the way he does and wearing the things hes wearingits a lot. Hes sweating. Its February in Connecticut, and Alex is sweating under his coat. Worst of all, Henry is good. Alex doesnt pretend to care about the rules of the game, but his primary turn-on has always been competence. Its too easy to look at Henrys boots digging into the stirrups for leverage and conjure up a memory of bare calves underneath, bare feet planted just as firmly on the mattress. Henrys thighs open the same way, but with Alex between them. Sweat dripping down Henrys brow onto his throat. Just, uh . . . well, just like that. He wantsGod, after all the months ignoring it, he wants it again, now, right now. The match ends after a circle-of-hell amount of time, and Alex feels like hell pass out or scream if he doesnt get his hands on Henry soon, like the only thought possible in the universe is Henrys body and Henrys flushed face and every other molecule in existence is just an inconvenience. I dont like that look, Amy says when they reach the bottom of the stands, peering into his eyes. You look . . . sweaty. Im gonna go, uh, Alex says. Say hi to Henry. Amys mouth settles into a grim line. Please dont elaborate. Yeah, I know, Alex says. Plausible deniability. I dont know what you could possibly mean. Sure. He rakes a hand through his hair. Yep. Enjoy your summit with the English delegation, she tells him flatly, and Alex sends up a vague prayer of thanks for staff NDAs. He legs it toward the stables, limbs already buzzing with the steady knowledge of Henrys body getting incrementally closer to his. Long, lean legs, grass stains on pristine, tight pants, why does this sport have to be so completely repulsive while Henry looks so damn good doing it Oh shit He barely stops himself from running headfirst into Henry in the flesh, who has rounded the corner of the stables. Oh, hello. They stand there staring at each other, fifteen days removed from Henry swearing at the ceiling of Alexs bedroom and unsure how to proceed. Henry is still in his full polo regalia, gloves and all, and Alex cant decide if he is pleased or wants to brain him with a polo stick. Polo bat? Polo club? Polo . . . mallet? This sport is a travesty. Henry breaks the silence by adding, I was coming to find you, actually. Yeah, hi, here I am. Here you are. Alex glances over his shoulder. Theres, uh. Cameras. Three oclock. Right, Henry says, straightening his shoulders. His hair is messy and slightly damp, color still high in his cheeks from exertion. Hes going to look like goddamn Apollo in the photos when they go to press. Alex smiles, knowing theyll sell. Hey, isnt there, uh, a thing? Alex says. You needed to. Uh. Show me? Henry looks at him, glances at the dozens of millionaires and socialites milling around, and back at him. Now? It was a four - and - a - half - hour car ride up here, and I have to go back to DC in an hour, so I dont know when else youre expecting to show it to me. Henry takes a beat, his eyes flickering to the cameras again before he switches on a stage smile and a laugh, cuffing Alex on the shoulder. Ah, yes. Right. This way. He turns on his boot heel and leads the way around the back of the stables, veering right into a doorway, and Alex follows. Its a small, windowless room attached to the stables, fragrant with leather polish and stained wood from floor to ceiling, the walls lined with heavy saddles, riding crops, bridles, and reins. What in the rich - white - people - sex - dungeon hell? Alex wonders aloud as Henry crosses behind him. He whips a thick leather strap off a hook on the wall, and Alex almost blacks out. What? Henry says offhandedly, bypassing him to bind the doors shut. He turns around, sweet-faced and unbelievable. Its called a tack room. Alex drops his coat and takes three swift steps toward him. I dont actually care, he says, and grabs Henry by the stupid collar of his stupid polo and kisses his stupid mouth. Its a good kiss, solid and hot, and Alex cant decide where to put his hands because he wants to put them everywhere at once. Ugh, he groans in exasperation, shoving Henry backward by the shoulders and making a disgusted show of looking him up and down. You look ridiculous. Should I He steps back and puts a foot up on a nearby bench, moving to undo his kneepads. What? No, of course not, keep them on, Alex says. Henry freezes, standing there all artistically posed with his thighs apart and one knee up, the fabric straining. Oh my God, what are you doing? I cant even look at you. Henry frowns. No, Jesus, I just meantIm so mad at you. Henry gingerly puts his boot back on the floor. Alex wants to die. Just, come here. Fuck. Im quite confused. Me fucking too, Alex says, profoundly suffering for something he must have done in a previous life. Listen, I dont know why, but this whole thinghe gestures at Henrys entire physical presenceis . . . really doing it for me, so, I just need to. Without any further ceremony, he drops to his knees and starts undoing Henrys belt, tugging at the fastenings of his pants. Oh, God, Henry says. Yeah, Alex agrees, and he gets Henrys boxers down. Oh, God, Henry repeats, this time with feeling. Its all still so new to Alex, but its not difficult to follow through on whats been playing out in elaborate detail in his head for the past hour. When he looks up, Henrys face is flushed and transfixed, his lips parted. It almost hurts to look at himthe athletes focus, all the dressings of aristocracy laid wide open for him. Hes watching Alex, eyes blown dark and hazy, and Alex is watching him right back, every nerve in both bodies narrowed down to a single point. Its fast and dirty and Henry is swearing up a storm, which is still disarmingly sexy, but this time its punctuated by the occasional word of praise, and somehow thats even hotter. Alex isnt prepared for the way thats good sounds in Henrys rounded Buckingham vowels, or for how luxury leather feels when it strokes approvingly down his cheek, a gloved thumb brushing the corner of his mouth. As soon as Henrys finished, hes got Alex on the bench and is putting his kneepads to use. Im still fucking mad at you, Alex says, destroyed, slumped forward with his forehead resting on Henrys shoulder. Of course you are, Henry says vaguely. Alex completely undermines his point by pulling Henry into a deep and lingering kiss, and another, and they kiss for an amount of time he decides not to count or think about. They sneak out quietly, and Henry touches Alexs shoulder at the gate near where his SUV waits, presses his palm into the wool of his coat and the knot of muscle. I dont suppose youll be anywhere near Kensington anytime soon? That shithole? he says with a wink. Not if I can help it. Oi, Henry says. Hes grinning now. Thats disrespect of the crown, that is. Insubordination. Ive thrown men in the dungeons for less. Alex turns, walking backward toward the car, hands in the air. Hey, dont threaten me with a good time.
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  • Toy Story /   (Disney, 2012)    Toy Story /
  • Thumbelina /  (Disney, 2014)    Thumbelina /
  • Peter Pan Comes to London /      (Disney, 2011)    Peter Pan Comes to London /
  • Sycamore Row /   (by John Grisham, 2013) -   Sycamore Row /
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