Read Red, White & Royal Blue Online

Authors: Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue (45 page)

“Oh my God, you
bastard,
” Alex practically yells, lunging at Henry and throwing his arms around his neck. “That’s amazing. I
stupid
love you.
Wow.
” He yanks back suddenly, stricken. “Wait, oh my God, this means the one in Brooklyn too? Right?”

“Yes, it does.”

“Didn’t you tell me you wanted to be hands-on with the foundation?” Alex says, his pulse jumping. “Don’t you think maybe
direct supervision
might be helpful while it gets off the ground?”

“Alex,” Henry tells him, “I can’t
move
to New York.”

Bea looks up. “Why not?”

“Because I’m the prince of—” Henry looks over at her and gestures at the Orangery, at Kensington, sputtering. “
Here!

Bea shrugs, unmoved. “And? It doesn’t have to be permanent. You spent a month of your gap year talking to yaks in Mongolia, H. It’s hardly unprecedented.”

Henry moves his mouth a couple times, ever the skeptic, and swivels back to Alex. “Well, I’d still hardly see you, would I?” he reasons. “If you’re in DC for work all the time, beginning your meteoric rise to the political stratosphere?”

And this, Alex has to admit, is a point. A point that after the year he’s had, after everything, after the finally opened and perfectly passable LSAT scores sitting expectantly on his desk back home, feels less and less concrete every day.

He thinks about opening his mouth to say as much.

“Hello,” says a polished voice from behind them, and they all turn to see Philip, starched and well groomed, striding across the lawn.

Alex feels the slight flutter through the air of Henry’s spine automatically straightening beside him. Philip came to Kensington two weeks ago to apologize to both Henry and Bea for the years since their father’s death, the harsh words, the domineeringness, the intense scrutiny. For basically growing from an uptight people-pleaser into an abusive, self-righteous twat under the pressure of his position and the manipulation of the queen. “He’s fallen out with Gran,” Henry had told Alex over the phone. “That’s the only reason I actually believe anything he says.”

Yet, there’s blood that can’t be unshed. Alex wants to throw a punch every time he sees Philip’s stupid face, but it’s Henry’s family, not his, so he doesn’t get to make that call.

“Philip,” Bea says coolly. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

“Just had a meeting at Buckingham,” Philip says. The meaning hangs in the air between them: a meeting with the queen because he’s the only one still willing. “Wanted to come by to see if I could help with anything.” He looks down at Bea’s Wellington boots next to his shiny dress shoes in the grass. “You
know, you don’t have to be out here—we’ve got plenty of staff who can do the grunt work for you.”

“I know,” Bea says haughtily, every inch a princess. “I want to do it.”

“Right,” Philip says. “Of course. Well, er. Is there anything I can help with?”

“Not really, Philip.”

“All right.” Philip clears his throat. “Henry, Alex. Portraits go all right?”

Henry blinks, clearly startled Philip would ask. Alex has enough diplomatic instincts to keep his mouth shut.

“Yeah,” Henry says. “Er, yes. It was all right. A bit awkward, you know, just having to sit there for ages.”

“Oh, I remember,” Philip says. “When Mazzy and I did our first ones, I had this horrible rash on my arse from some idiotic poison-oak prank one of my uni friends had played on me that week, and it was all I could do to hold still and not rip my trousers off in the middle of Buckingham, much less try to take a nice photo. I thought she was going to murder me. Here’s hoping yours turn out better.”

He chuckles a little awkwardly, clearly trying to bond with them. Alex scratches his nose.

“Well, anyway, good luck, Bea.”

Philip walks off, hands in his pockets, and all three of them watch his retreating back until it starts to disappear behind the tall hedges.

Bea sighs. “D’you think I should have let him have a go at the cullen skink man for me?”

“Not yet,” Henry says. “Give him another six months. He hasn’t earned it yet.”

Blue or gray? Gray or blue?

Alex has never been so torn between two equally innocuous blazers in his entire life.

“This is stupid,” Nora says. “They’re both boring.”

“Will you please just help me pick?” Alex tells her. He holds up a hanger in each hand, ignoring her judgmental look from where she’s perched atop his dresser. The pictures from election night tomorrow, win or lose, will follow him for the rest of his life.

“Alex, seriously. I hate them both. You need something killer. This could be your fucking
swan song.

“Okay, let’s not—”

“Yes, okay, you’re right, if the projections hold, we’re fine,” she says, hopping down. “So, do you want to talk about why you’re choosing to punt so hard on this particular moment in your career as a risk-taking fashion plate?”

“Nope,” Alex says. He waves the hangers at her. “Blue or gray?”

“Okay, so.” She’s ignoring him. “I’ll say it, then. You’re nervous.”

He rolls his eyes. “Of course I’m nervous, Nora, it’s a presidential election and the president gave birth to me.”

“Try again.”

She’s giving him that look. The “I’ve already analyzed all the data on how much shit you’re full of” look. He releases a hiss of a sigh.

“Fine,” he says. “Fine, yeah, I’m nervous about going back to Texas.”

He tosses both the blazers at the bed. Shit.

“I always felt like Texas claiming me as their son was, you know, kind of conditional.” He paces, rubbing the back of his neck. “The whole half-Mexican, all Democrat thing. There’s
a very loud contingent there that does not like me and does not want me to represent them. And now, it’s just. Not being straight. Having a boyfriend. Having a
gay sex scandal
with a
European prince.
I don’t know anymore.”

He loves Texas—he
believes
in Texas. But he doesn’t know if Texas still loves him.

He’s paced all the way to the opposite side of the room from her, and she watches him and cocks her head to one side.

“So … you’re afraid of wearing anything too flashy for your first post-coming-out trip home, on account of Texans’ delicate hetero sensibilities?”

“Basically.”

She’s looking at him now more like he’s a very complex problem set. “Have you looked at our polling on you in Texas? Since September?”

Alex swallows.

“No. I, uh.” He scrubs his face with one hand. “The thought, like … stresses me out? Like, I keep meaning to go look at the numbers, and then I just. Shut down.”

Nora’s face softens, but she doesn’t move closer yet, giving him space. “Alex. You could have asked me. They’re … not bad.”

He bites his lip. “They’re not?”

“Alex, our base in Texas hasn’t shifted on you since September, at all. If anything, they like you more. And a lot of the undecideds are pissed Richards came after a Texas kid. You’re really fine.”

Oh.

Alex exhales a shaky breath, running one hand through his hair. He starts to pace back, away from the door, which he realizes he’s gravitated near as some fight-or-flight reflex.

“Okay.”

He sits down heavily on the bed.

Nora sits gingerly next to him, and when he looks at her, she’s got that sharpness to her eyes like she does when she’s practically reading his mind.

“Look. You know I’m not good at the whole, like, tactful emotional communication thing, but, uh, June’s not here, so. I’m gonna. Fuckin’. Give it a go.” She presses on. “I don’t think this is just about Texas. You were recently fucking traumatized in a big way, and now you’re scared of doing or saying the kind of stuff you actually like and want to because you don’t want to draw any more attention to yourself.”

Alex almost wants to laugh.

Nora is like Henry sometimes, in that she can cut right down to the truth of things, but Henry deals in heart and Nora deals in facts. It takes her razor’s edge, sometimes, to get him to pull his head out of his ass.

“Uh, well, yeah. That’s. Probably part of it,” he agrees. “I know I need to start rehabilitating my image if I want any chance in politics, but part of me is like … really? Right now? Why? It’s weird. My whole life, I was hanging on to this imaginary future person I was gonna be. Like, the plan—graduation, campaigns, staffer, Congress. That was it. Straight into the game. I was gonna be the person who could do that … who
wanted
that. And now here I am, and the person I’ve become is … not that person.”

Nora nudges their shoulders together. “But do you like him?”

Alex thinks; he’s different, for sure, maybe a little darker. More neurotic, but more honest. Sharper head, wilder heart. Someone who doesn’t always want to be married to work, but who has more reasons to fight than ever.

“Yeah,” he says finally. Firmly. “Yeah, I do.”

“Cool,” she says, and he looks over to see her grinning at him. “So do I. You’re Alex. In all this stupid shit, that’s all you ever needed to be.” She grabs his face in both hands and squishes it, and he groans but doesn’t push her off. “So, like. You want to throw out some contingency plans? You want me to run some projections?”

“Actually, uh,” Alex says, slightly muffled from how Nora’s still squishing his face between her hands. “Did I tell you that I kind of … snuck off and took the LSAT this summer?”

“Oh! Oh …
law school,
” she says, as simply as she said
dick you down
all those months ago, the simple answer to where he’s been unknowingly headed all along. She releases his face, shoving his shoulders instead, instantly excited. “That’s
it,
Alex. Wait—yes! I’m about to start applying for my master’s; we can do it together!”

“Yeah?” he says. “You think I can hack it?”

“Alex. Yes. Alex.” She’s on her knees on the bed now, bouncing up and down. “Alex, this is genius. Okay—listen. You go to law school, I go to grad school, June becomes a speechwriter-slash-author Rebecca Traister–Roxane Gay voice of a generation, I become the data scientist who saves the world, and you—”

“—become a badass civil rights attorney with an illustrious Captain America-esque career of curb-stomping discriminatory laws and fighting for the disenfranchised—”

“—and you and Henry become the world’s favorite geopolitical power couple—”

“—and by the time I’m Rafael Luna’s age—”

“—people are going to be
begging
you to run for Senate,” she finishes, breathless. “Yeah. So, like, a lot slower than planned. But.”

“Yeah,” Alex says, swallowing. “It sounds good.”

And there it is. He’s been teetering on the edge of letting go of this specific dream for months now, terrified of it, but the relief is startling, a mountain off his back.

He blinks in the face of it, thinks of June’s words, and has to laugh. “Fire under my ass for no good goddamn reason.”

Nora pulls a face. She recognizes the June-ism. “You are … passionate, to a fault. If June were here, she would say taking your time is going to help you figure out how best to use that. But I’m here, so, I’m gonna say: You are great at hustling, and at policy, and at leading and rallying people. You are so fucking smart that most people want to punch you. Those are all skills that will only improve over time. So, like, you are gonna crush it.”

She jumps to her feet and ducks into his closet, and he can hear hangers sliding around. “Most importantly,” she goes on, “you have become an icon of something, which is, like, a very big deal.”

She emerges with a hanger in her hand: a jacket he’s never worn out before, one she convinced him to buy online for an obscene price the night they got drunk and watched
The West Wing
in a hotel in New York and let the tabloids think they were screwing. It’s fucking
Gucci,
a midnight-blue bomber jacket with red, white, and blue stripes at the waistband and cuffs.

“I know it’s a lot, but”—she slaps the jacket against his chest—“you give people hope. So, get back out there and be Alex.”

He takes the jacket from her and tries it on, checks his reflection in the mirror. It’s perfect.

The moment is split with a half scream from the hallway outside of his bedroom, and he and Nora both run to the door.

It’s June, tumbling into Alex’s bedroom with her phone in one hand, jumping up and down, her hair bouncing on her shoulders. She’s clearly come straight from one of her runs to the newsstand because her other arm is laden with tabloids, but she dumps them unceremoniously on the floor.

“I got the book deal!” she shrieks, waving her phone in their faces. “I was checking my email and—the memoir—
I got the fucking deal!

Alex and Nora both scream too, and they haul her into a six-armed hug, whooping and laughing and stomping on one another’s feet and not caring. They all end up kicking off their shoes and jumping on the bed, and Nora FaceTimes Bea, who finds Henry and Pez in one of Henry’s rooms, and they all celebrate together. It feels complete, the gang, as Cash once called them. They’ve earned their own media nickname in the wake of everything: The Super Six. Alex doesn’t mind it.

Hours later, Nora and June fall asleep against Alex’s headboard, June’s head in Nora’s lap and Nora’s fingers in her hair, and Alex sneaks off to the en suite to brush his teeth. He nearly slips on something on the way back, and when he looks down, he has to do a double take. It’s an issue of
HELLO! US
from June’s abandoned stack of magazines, and the image dominating the cover is one of the shots from his and Henry’s portrait session.

He bends down to pick it up. It’s not one of the posed shots—it’s one he didn’t even realize had been taken, one he definitely didn’t think would be released. He should have given the photographer more credit. He managed to capture the moment right when Henry cracked a joke, a candid, genuine photo, completely caught up in each other, Henry’s arm around
him and his own hand reaching up to grasp for Henry’s on his shoulder.

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