Read Red, White & Royal Blue Online

Authors: Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue (43 page)

Alex waits on the South Lawn, within view of the linden trees of the Kennedy Garden, where they first kissed. Marine One touches down in a cacophony of noise and wind and rotors, and Henry emerges in head-to-toe Burberry looking dramatic and windswept, like a dashing hero here to rip bodices and mend war-torn countries, and Alex has to laugh.

“What?” Henry shouts over the noise when he sees the look on Alex’s face.

“My life is cosmic joke and you’re not a real person,” Alex says, wheezing.

” Henry yells again.

“I said, you look great, baby!”

They sneak off to make out in a stairwell until Zahra finds them and drags Henry off to get camera-ready, and soon they’re being shuffled to the Diplomatic Reception Room, and it’s time.

It’s time.

It’s been one long, long year of learning Henry inside and out, learning himself, learning how much he still had to learn, and just like that, it’s time to walk out there and stand at a podium and confidently declare it all as fact.

He’s not afraid of anything he feels. He’s not afraid of saying it. He’s only afraid of what happens when he does.

Henry touches his hand, gently, two fingertips against his palm.

“Five minutes for the rest of our lives,” he says, laughing a grim little laugh.

Alex reaches for him in return, presses one thumb into the hollow of his collarbone, slipping right under the knot of his tie. The tie is purple silk, and Alex is counting his breaths.

“You are,” he says, “the absolute worst idea I’ve ever had.”

Henry’s mouth spreads into a slow smile, and Alex kisses it.

Good morning.
I am, and have been—first, last, and always—a child of America.
You raised me. I grew up in the pastures and hills of Texas, but I had been to thirty-four states before I learned how to drive. When I caught the stomach flu in the fifth grade, my mother sent a note to school written on the back of a holiday memo from Vice President Biden. Sorry, sir—we were in a rush, and it was the only paper she had on hand.
I spoke to you for the first time when I was eighteen, on the stage of the Democratic National Convention in
Philadelphia, when I introduced my mother as the nominee for president. You cheered for me. I was young and full of hope, and you let me embody the American dream: that a boy who grew up speaking two languages, whose family was blended and beautiful and enduring, could make a home for himself in the White House.
You pinned the flag to my lapel and said, “We’re rooting for you.” As I stand before you today, my hope is that I have not let you down.
Years ago, I met a prince. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, his country had raised him too.
The truth is, Henry and I have been together since the beginning of this year. The truth is, as many of you have read, we have both struggled every day with what this means for our families, our countries, and our futures. The truth is, we have both had to make compromises that cost us sleep at night in order to afford us enough time to share our relationship with the world on our own terms.
We were not afforded that liberty.
But the truth is, also, simply this: love is indomitable. America has always believed this. And so, I am not ashamed to stand here today where presidents have stood and say that I love him, the same
as Jack loved Jackie, the same as Lyndon loved Lady Bird. Every person who bears a legacy makes the choice of a partner with whom they will share it, whom the American people will hold beside them in hearts and memories and history books. America: He is my choice.
Like countless other Americans, I was afraid to say this out loud because of what the consequences might be. To you, specifically, I say: I see you. I am one of you. As long as I have a place in this White House, so will you. I am the First Son of the United States, and I’m bisexual. History will remember us.
If I can ask only one thing of the American people, it’s this: Please, do not let my actions influence your decision in November. The decision you will make this year is so much bigger than anything I could ever say or do, and it will determine the fate of this country for years to come. My mother, your president, is the warrior and the champion that each and every American deserves for four more years of growth, progress, and prosperity. Please, don’t let my actions send us backward. I ask the media not to focus on me or on Henry, but on the campaign, on policy, on the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans at stake in this election.
And finally, I hope America will remember that I am still the son you raised. My blood still runs from Lometa, Texas, and San Diego, California, and Mexico City. I still remember the sound of your voices from that stage in Philadelphia. I wake up every morning thinking of your hometowns, of the families I’ve met at rallies in Idaho and Oregon and South Carolina. I have never hoped to be anything other than what I was to you then, and what I am to you now—the First Son, yours in actions and words. And I hope when Inauguration Day comes again in January, I will continue to be.

The first twenty-four hours after the speech are a blur, but a few snapshots will stay with him for the rest of his life.

A picture: the morning after, a new crowd gathered on the Mall, the biggest yet. He stays in the Residence for safety, but he and Henry and June and Nora and all three of his parents sit in the living room on the second floor and watch the live stream on CNN. In the middle of the broadcast: Amy at the front of the cheering crowd wearing June’s yellow
T-shirt and a trans flag pin. Next to her: Cash, with Amy’s wife on his shoulders in what Alex can now tell is the jean jacket Amy was embroidering on the plane in the colors of the pansexual flag. He whoops so hard he spills his coffee on George Bush’s favorite rug.

A picture: Senator Jeffrey Richards’s stupid Sam the Eagle face on CNN, talking about his grave concern for President
Claremont’s ability to remain impartial on matters of traditional family values due to the acts her son engages in on the sacred grounds of the house our forefathers built. Followed by: Senator Oscar Diaz, responding via satellite, that President Claremont’s primary value is upholding the Constitution, and that the White House was built by slaves, not our forefathers.

A picture: the expression on Rafael Luna’s face when he looks up from his paperwork to see Alex standing in the doorway of his office.

“Why do you even have a staff?” Alex says. “Nobody has ever tried to stop me from walking straight in here.”

Luna has his reading glasses on, and he looks like he hasn’t shaved in weeks. He smiles, a little apprehensive.

After Alex decoded the message in the email, his mother called Luna directly and told him, no questions asked, she would grant him full protection from criminal charges if he helped her take Richards down. He knows his dad has been in touch too. Luna knows neither of his parents are holding a grudge. But this is the first time they’ve spoken.

“If you think I don’t tell every hire on their first day that you have a free pass,” he says, “you do not have an accurate sense of yourself.”

Alex grins, and he reaches into his pocket and produces a packet of Skittles, lobbing them underhand onto Luna’s desk.

Luna looks down at them.

The chair is next to his desk these days, and he pushes it out.

Alex hasn’t gotten a chance to thank him yet, and he doesn’t know where to start. He doesn’t even feel like it’s the first order of business. He watches Luna rip open the packet and dump the candy out onto his papers.

There’s a question hanging in the air, and they can both see it. Alex doesn’t want to ask. They just got Luna back. He’s afraid of losing him again to the answer. But he has to know.

“Did you know?” he finally says. “Before it happened, did you know what he was going to do?”

Luna takes his glasses off and sets them down grimly on his blotter.

“Alex, I know I … completely destroyed your faith in me, so I don’t blame you for asking me,” he says. He leans forward on his elbows, his eye contact hard and deliberate. “But I need you to know I would never, ever intentionally let something like that happen to you. Ever. I had no idea until it came out. Same as you.”

Alex releases a long breath.

“Okay,” he says. He watches Luna lean back, looks at the fine lines on his face, slightly heavier than they were before. “So, what happened?”

Luna sighs, a hoarse, tired sound in the back of his throat. It’s a sound that makes Alex think about what his dad told him at the lake, about how much of Luna is still hidden.

“So,” he says, “you know I interned for Richards?”

Alex blinks. “What?”

Luna barks a small, humorless laugh. “Yeah, you wouldn’t have heard. Richards made pretty damn sure to get rid of the evidence. But, yeah, 2000. I was nineteen. It was back when he was AG in Utah. One of my professors called in a favor.”

There were rumors, Luna explains, among the low-level staffers. Usually the female interns, but occasionally an especially pretty boy—a boy like him. Promises, from Richards: mentorship, connections, if “you’d just get a drink with me after work.” A strong implication that “no” was unacceptable.

“I had
back then,” Luna says. “No money, no family, no connections, no experience. I thought, ‘This is your only way to get your foot in the door. Maybe he means it.’”

Luna pauses, taking a breath. Alex’s stomach is twisting uncomfortably.

“He sent a car, made me meet him at a hotel, got me drunk. He wanted—he tried to—” Luna grimaces away from finishing the sentence. “Anyway, I got away. I remember I got home that night, and the guy I was renting a room with took one look at me and handed me a cigarette. That’s when I started smoking, by the way.”

He’s been looking down at the Skittles on his desk, sorting the reds from oranges, but here he looks up at Alex with a bitter, cutting smile.

“And I went back to work the next day like nothing happened. I made
small talk
with him in the
break room,
because I wanted it to be okay, and that’s what I hated myself the most for. So the next time he sent me an email, I walked into his office and told him that if he didn’t leave me alone, I’d take it to the paper. And that’s when he pulled out the file.

“He called it an ‘insurance policy.’ He knew stuff I did as a teenager, how I got kicked out by my parents and a youth shelter in Seattle. That I have family who are undocumented. He told me that if I ever said a word about what happened, not only would I never have a career in politics, but he would ruin my life. He’d ruin my
lives. So, I shut the fuck up.”

Luna’s eyes when they meet his again are ice cold, sharp. A window slammed shut.

“But I’ve never forgotten. I’d see him in the Senate chamber, and he’d look at me like I owed
something, because he hadn’t destroyed me when he could have. And I knew he
was going to do whatever shady shit it took to win the presidency, and I couldn’t let a fucking
be the most powerful man in the country if it was within my power to stop it.”

He turns now, a tiny shake of his shoulders like he’s dusting off a light snowfall, pivoting his chair to pluck up a few Skittles and pop them into his mouth, and he’s trying for casual but his hands aren’t steady.

He explains that the moment he decided was this summer, when he saw Richards on TV talking about the Youth Congress program. That he knew, with more access, he could find and leak evidence of abuse. Even if he was too old for Richards to want to fuck, he could play him. Convince him he didn’t believe Ellen would win, that he’d get the Hispanic and moderate vote in exchange for power.

“I fucking hated myself every minute of working with that campaign, but I spent the whole time looking for evidence. I was close. I was so focused, so zeroed in that, that I … I never noticed if there were whispers about you. I had no idea. But when everything came out … I knew. I just couldn’t prove it. But I had access to the servers. I don’t know much, but I’d been around the block enough in my teenage anarchist days to know people who know how to do a file dump. Don’t look at me like that. I’m not

Alex laughs, and Luna laughs too, and it’s a relief, like the air coming back in the room.

“Anyway, getting it straight to you and your mother was the fastest way to expose him, and I knew Nora could do that. And I … I knew you would understand.”

He pauses, sucking on a Skittle, and Alex decides to ask.

“Did my dad know?”

“About me going triple agent? No, nobody does. Half my
staff quit because they didn’t know. My sister hasn’t spoken to me in months.”

“No, about what Richards did to you?”

“Alex, your father is the only other person alive I’ve ever told any of this to,” he says. “Your father took it upon himself to help me when I wouldn’t let anyone else, and I’ll never stop being grateful to him. But he wanted me to come forward with what Richards did to me, and I … couldn’t. I said it was a risk I wasn’t willing to take with my own career, but truthfully, I didn’t think what happened to one gay Mexican kid twenty years ago would make a difference to his base. I didn’t think anyone would believe me.”

“I believe you,” Alex says readily. “I just wish you would have told me what you were doing. Or, like, anybody.”

“You would have tried to stop me,” Luna says. “You all would have.”

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