Read Red, White & Royal Blue Online

Authors: Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue (44 page)

“I mean … Raf, it was a fucking crazy plan.”

“I know. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fix the damage I’ve done, but I honestly don’t care. I did what I had to do. There was no way in hell I was going to let Richards win. My whole life has been about fighting. I fought.”

Alex thinks it over. He can relate—it echoes the same deliberations he’s been having with himself. He thinks of something he hasn’t allowed himself to think about since all this started after London: his LSAT results, unopened and tucked away inside the desk in his bedroom. How do you do all the good you can do?

“I’m sorry, by the way,” Luna says. “For the things I said to you.” He doesn’t have to specify which things. “I was … fucked up.”

“It’s cool,” Alex tells him, and he means it. He forgave Luna before he ever walked into the office, but he appreciates the
apology. “I’m sorry too. But also, I hope you know that if you ever call me ‘kid’ again after all this, I am literally going to kick your ass.”

Luna laughs in earnest. “Listen, you’ve had your first big sex scandal. No more sitting at the kids’ table.”

Alex nods appreciatively, stretching in his chair and folding his hands behind his head. “Man, it fucking sucks it has to be like this, with Richards. Even if you expose him now, straight people always want the homophobic bastards to be closet cases so they can wash their hands of it. As if ninety-nine out of a hundred aren’t just regular old hateful bigots.”

“Yeah, especially since I think I’m the only male intern he ever took to a hotel. It’s the same as any fucking predator—it has nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with power.”

“Do you think you’ll say anything?” Alex says. “At this point?”

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot.” He leans in. “Most people have kind of already figured out that I’m the leak. And I think, sooner or later, someone is going to come to me with an allegation that is within the statute of limitations. Then we can open up a congressional investigation.
Big-time.
And
that
will make a difference.”

“I heard a ‘we’ in there,” Alex says.

“Well,” Luna says. “Me and someone else with law experience.”

“Is that a hint?”

“It’s a suggestion,” Luna says. “But I’m not gonna tell you what to do with your life. I’m busy trying to get my own shit together. Look at this.” He lifts his sleeve. “Nicotine patch, bitch.”

“No way,” Alex says. “Are you actually quitting for real?”

“I am a changed man, unburdened by the demons of my past,” Luna says solemnly, with a jerk-off hand gesture.

“You fucker, I’m proud of you.”

“Hola,” says a voice at the door of the office.

It’s his dad, in a T-shirt and jeans, a six-pack of beer in one hand.

“Oscar,” Luna says, grinning. “We were just talking about how I’ve decimated my reputation and killed my own political career.”

“Ay,” he says, dragging an extra chair over to the desk and passing out beers. “Sounds like a job for Los Bastardos.”

Alex cracks open his can. “We can also discuss how I might cost Mom the election because I’m a one-man bisexual wrecking ball who exposed the vulnerability of the White House private email server.”

“You think?” his dad says. “Nah. Come on. I don’t think this election is gonna hinge on an email server.”

Alex arches a brow. “You sure about that?”

“Listen, maybe if Richards had more time to sow those seeds of doubt, but I don’t think we’re there. Maybe if it were 2016. Maybe if this weren’t an America that already elected a woman to the highest office once. Maybe if I weren’t sitting in a room with the three assholes responsible for electing the first openly gay man to the Senate in US history.” Alex whoops and Luna inclines his head and raises his beer. “But, nah. Is it gonna be a pain in your mom’s ass for the second term? Shit, yeah. But she’ll handle it.”

“Look at you,” Luna says over his beer. “Answer for everything, eh?”

“Listen,” his dad says, “somebody on this damn campaign has to keep their fucking cool while everyone else catastrophizes. Everything’s gonna be fine. I believe that.”

“And what about me?” Alex says. “You think I got a chance in politics after going supernova in every paper in the world?”

“They got you,” Oscar says, shrugging. “It happens. Give it time. Try again.”

Alex laughs, but still, he reaches in and plucks up something deep down in his chest. Something shaped not like Claremont but Diaz—no better, no worse, just different.

Henry gets his own room in the White House while he’s in. The crown spared him for two nights before he returns to England for his own damage control tour. Once again, they’re lucky to have Catherine back in the game; Alex doubts the queen would have been so generous.

This particularly is what makes it a little funny that Henry’s room—the customary quarters for royal guests—is called the Queen’s Bedroom.

“It’s quite … aggressively pink, innit?” Henry mutters sleepily.

The room is, really, aggressively pink, done up in the Federal style with pink walls and rose-covered rugs and bedding, pink upholstery on everything from the chairs and settee in the sitting area to the canopy on the four-poster bed.

Henry’s agreed to sleep in the room rather than Alex’s “because I respect your mother,” as if every person who had a hand in raising Alex has not read in graphic detail the things they get up to when they share a bed. Alex has no such hang-ups and enjoys Henry’s half-hearted grumblings when he sneaks in from the East Bedroom right down the hall.

They’ve woken up half-naked and warm, tucked in tight while the first autumn chill creeps in under the lacy curtains. Humming low in his chest, Alex presses the length of his body
against Henry’s under the blankets, his back to Henry’s chest, the swell of his ass against—

“Argh, hello,” Henry mumbles, his hips hitching at the contact. Henry can’t see his face, but Alex smiles anyway.

“Morning,” Alex says. He gives his ass a little wiggle.

“Time’s it?”

“Seven thirty-two.”

“Plane in two hours.”

Alex makes a small sound in the back of his throat and turns over, finding Henry’s face soft and close, eyes only half-open. “You sure you don’t need me to come with you?”

Henry shakes his head without picking it up from the pillow, so his cheek squishes against it. It’s cute. “You’re not the one who slagged off the crown and your own family in the emails that everybody in the world has read. I’ve got to handle that on my own before you come back over.”

“That’s fair,” Alex says. “But soon?”

Henry’s mouth tugs into a smile. “Absolutely. You’ve got the royal suitor photos to take, the Christmas cards to sign … Oh, I wonder if they’ll have you do a line of skincare products like Martha—”

“Stop,” Alex groans, poking him in the ribs. “You’re enjoying this too much.”

“I’m enjoying it the perfect amount,” Henry says. “But, in all seriousness, it’s … frightening but a bit nice. To do this on my own. I’ve not gotten to do that much, well, ever.”

“Yeah,” Alex says. “I’m proud of you.”

“Ew,” Henry says in a flat American accent, and he laughs and Alex throws an elbow.

Henry’s pulling him and kissing him, sandy hair on a pink bedspread, long lashes and long legs and blue eyes, elegant
hands pinning his wrists to the mattress. It’s like everything he’s ever loved about Henry in a moment, in a laugh, in the way he shivers, in the confident roll of his spine, in happy, unfettered sex in the well-furnished eye of a storm.

Today, Henry goes back to London. Today, Alex goes back to the campaign trail. They have to figure out how to do this for real now, how to love each other in plain sight. Alex thinks they’re up for it.

 

FIFTEEN

nearly four weeks later

“Let me just get this hair, love.”

“Mum.”

“Soz, am I embarrassing you?” Catherine says, her glasses on the tip of her nose as she rearranges Henry’s thick hair. “You’ll thank me when you’ve not got a great cowlick in your official portrait.”

Alex has to admit, the royal photographer is being exceedingly patient about the whole thing, especially considering they waffled through three different locations—Kensington Gardens, a stuffy Buckingham Palace library, the courtyard of Hampton Court Palace—before they decided to screw it all for a bench in a locked-down Hyde Park.

(“Like a common vagrant?” Queen Mary asked.

“Shut up, Mum,” Catherine said.)

There’s a certain need for formal portraits now that Alex is officially in “courtship” with Henry. He tries not to think too hard about his face on chocolate bars and thongs in Buckingham gift shops. At least it’ll be next to Henry’s.

Some psychological math always goes into styling photos like these. The White House stylists have Alex in something he’d wear any day—brown leather loafers, slim-fit chinos in a soft tan, a loose-collared Ralph Lauren chambray—but in this context, it reads confident, roguish, decidedly American. Henry’s in a Burberry button-down tucked into dark jeans and a navy cardigan that the royal shoppers squabbled over in Harrods for hours. They want a picture of a perfect, dignified, British intellectual, a loved-up boyfriend with a bright future as an academic and philanthropist. They even staged a little pile of books on the bench next to him.

Alex looks over at Henry, who’s groaning and rolling his eyes under his mother’s preening, and smiles at how much closer this packaging is to the real, messy, complicated Henry. As close as any PR campaign is ever going to get.

They take about a hundred portraits just sitting on the bench next to each other and smiling, and part of Alex keeps stumbling over the disbelief he’s actually here, in the middle of Hyde Park, in front of God and everybody, holding Henry’s hand atop his own knee for the camera.

“If Alex from this time last year could see this,” Alex says, leaning into Henry’s ear.

“He’d say, ‘Oh, I’m in love with Henry? That must be why I’m such a berk to him all the time,’” Henry suggests.

“Hey!” Alex squawks, and Henry’s chuckling at his own joke and Alex’s indignation, one arm coming up around
Alex’s shoulders. Alex gives into it and laughs too, full and deep, and that’s the last hope for a serious tone for the day gone. The photographer finally calls it, and they’re set loose.

Catherine’s got a busy day, she says—three meetings before afternoon tea to discuss relocating into a royal residence more centrally located in London, since she’s begun taking up more duties than ever. Alex can see the glint in her eye—she’ll be gunning for the throne soon. He’s choosing not to say anything about it to Henry yet, but he’s curious to see how it all plays out. She kisses them both and leaves them with Henry’s PPOs.

It’s a short walk over the Long Water back to Kensington, and they meet Bea at the Orangery, where a dozen members of her event-planning team are scurrying around, setting up a stage. She’s tromping up and down rows of chairs on the lawn in a ponytail and rain boots, speaking very tersely on the phone about something called “cullen skink” and why on earth would she ever request cullen skink and even if she had in fact requested cullen skink in what universe would she ever need twenty bloody liters of cullen skink for anything, ever.

“What in the hell is a ‘cullen skink’?” Alex asks once she’s hung up.

“Smoked haddock chowder,” she says. “Enjoy your first royal dog show, Alex?”

“It wasn’t too bad,” Alex says, smirking.

“Mum is
beyond,
” Henry says. “She offered to
edit my manuscript
this morning. It’s like she’s trying to make up for five years of absentee parenting all at once. Which, of course, I love her very much, and I appreciate the effort, but, Christ.”

“She’s trying, H,” Bea says. “She’s been on the bench for a while. Let her warm up a bit.”

“I know,” Henry says with a sigh, but his eyes are fond. “How are things over here?”

“Oh, you know,” she says, waving her phone in the air. “Just the maiden voyage of my very controversial fund upon which all future endeavors will be judged, so, no pressure at all. I’m only slightly cross with you for not making it a Henry Foundation–Beatrice Fund double feature so I could unload half the stress onto you. All this fund-raising for sobriety is going to drive me to drink.” She pats Alex on the arm. “That’s drunk humor for you, Alex.”

Bea and Henry both had an October as busy as their mother’s. There were a lot of decisions to be made in that first week: Would they ignore the revelations about Bea in the emails (no), would Henry be forced to enlist after all (after days of deliberation, no), and, above all, how could all this be made into a positive? The solution had been one Bea and Henry came up with together, twin philanthropic efforts under their own names. Bea’s, a charity fund supporting addiction recovery programs all over the UK, and Henry’s, an LGBT rights foundation.

To their right, the lighting trusses are going up quickly over the stage where Bea will be playing an £8,000-a-ticket concert with a live band and celebrity guests tonight, her first solo fund-raiser.

“Man, I wish I could stay for the show,” Alex says.

Bea beams. “It’s a shame Henry here was too busy signing papers with Auntie Pezza all week to learn some sheet music or we could have fired our pianist.”

“Papers?” Alex says, cocking an eyebrow.

Henry shoots Bea a silencing glare. “Bea—”

“For the youth shelters,” she says.


Beatrice,
” Henry admonishes. “It was going to be a
surprise.

“Oh,” Bea says, busying herself with her phone. “Oops.”

Alex looks at Henry. “What’s going on?”

Henry sighs. “Well. We were going to wait to announce it—and to tell you, obviously—until after the election, so as not to step on your moment. But…” He puts his hands in his pockets, in that way he does when he’s feeling proud of something but trying not to act like it. “Mum and I agreed the foundation shouldn’t just be national, that there was work to be done all over the world, and I specifically wanted to focus on homeless queer youth. So, Pez signed all our Okonjo Foundation youth shelters over.” He bounces on his heels a little, visibly tamping down a broad smile. “You’re looking at the proud father of four worldwide soon-to-be shelters for disenfranchised queer teenagers.”

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