Authors: Casey McQuiston
“June, I’m the son of the President of the United States. Prince Henry is a figurehead of the British Empire. You can’t just call him my ‘archnemesis,’” Alex says. He returns to his donut, chewing thoughtfully, and adds, “‘Archnemesis’ implies he’s 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.”
“I’m just saying.”
“Well, you don’t have to like him, you just have to put on a happy face and not cause an international incident at his brother’s 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 you’re wearing, right?”
“Yeah, I picked it out and had Zahra approve it last month. I’m not an animal.”
“I’m 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. It’s 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. You’re the worst.”
“Shut up, I’m trying to pick something to watch. Ew, you have
on your watch list? Wow, how’s 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, & Love.”
If he’s honest, private aviation doesn’t really get old, not even three years into his mother’s term.
He doesn’t get to travel this way a lot, but when he does, it’s 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 poor—luxury 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. She’d 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, it’s 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 Cassius—Cash for short—holds his own copy in one giant hand, racing to finish it first. The cursor on Alex’s Roman Political Thought paper blinks expectantly at him from his laptop, but something in him can’t quite focus on school while they’re flying transatlantic.
Amy, his mother’s favorite Secret Service agent, a former Navy SEAL who is rumored around DC to have killed several men, sits across the aisle. She’s 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
she’s 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, didn’t 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?”
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 prince’s dating life aren’t sure what to think.’”
Alex snorts. It’s 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 tongue—at least
“Maybe the female population of Europe finally realized he’s 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, “you’re blushing.”
“Listen,” Alex tells her, “royal weddings are trash, the princes
who have royal weddings are trash, the imperialism that allows princes to exist at all is trash. It’s trash turtles all the way down.”
“Is this your TED Talk?” June asks. “You do realize America is a genocidal empire too, right?”
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. June’s peanut allergy. Alex’s frequent middle-of-the-night requests for coffee. June’s college boyfriend, who broke up with her when he moved to California but is still the only person whose letters come to her directly. Alex’s long-standing grudge against the youngest prince.
It’s not a grudge, really. It’s not even a rivalry. It’s a prickling, unsettling annoyance. It makes his palms sweat.
The tabloids—the world—decided 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. Alex’s image is all charisma and genius and smirking wit, thoughtful interviews and the cover of
at eighteen; Henry’s is placid smiles and gentle chivalry and generic charity appearances, a perfectly blank Prince Charming canvas. Henry’s 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 bride’s face plastered on everything from chocolate bars to underwear. Alex almost can’t believe this many people care so passionately about something so comprehensively dull. He’s sure there won’t 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 it’s at least sort of nice, in a way. It’s not that Alex isn’t into love or can’t appreciate marriage. It’s just that Martha is a perfectly respectable daughter of nobility, and Philip is a prince. It’s as sexy as a business transaction. There’s no passion, no drama. Alex’s kind of love story is much more Shakespearean.
It feels like years before he’s settled at a table between June and Nora inside a Buckingham Palace ballroom for the reception banquet, and he’s irritated enough to be a little reckless. Nora passes him a flute of champagne, and he takes it gladly.
“Do either of y’all know what a viscount is?” June is saying, halfway through a cucumber sandwich. “I’ve 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 it’s 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. She’s 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.
Nora’s 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 me—take 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 doesn’t fall off into June’s 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.”
June’s mouth freezes halfway open, caught on a soft vowel sound, and Nora breaks out into a shit-eating grin.
to,” Nora volunteers. “She’s been hoping he’d 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 Alex’s, and something like annoyance or adrenaline spikes in Alex’s chest. He hasn’t 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 he’s any other random guest, not the person he beat to a
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?”
“I’m … 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 Henry’s sense of humor. Henry leads her off to the crowd of twirling nobles.
“So is that what’s happening now?” Alex says, glaring down at Nora’s 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. “It’s cute how you think everything is about you.”
“It should be, honestly.”
“That’s the spirit.”
He glances up into the crowd, where June is being rotated around the floor by Henry. She’s 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, or—oh, there it is.”
A royal photographer has swooped in and is snapping a shot of them dancing, one Alex knows will be leaked to
next week. So, that’s 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.
“He’s 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 told—will never tell—anyone, but he saw Henry for the first time when he was twelve years old. He only ever reflects upon it when he’s drunk.
He’s sure he saw his face in the news before then, but that was the first time he really
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 couldn’t be posed. On the bottom corner of the page in pink and blue letters:
Alex still doesn’t really know what kept drawing him back, only that he would sneak into June’s room and find the page and touch his fingertips to the boy’s 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, he’d think of the picture, and try to harness Prince Henry’s easy confidence.