Authors: Casey McQuiston
5. Any information found on HRH Prince Henry’s 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 it’s not people-hunting.
Alex is no stranger to NDAs, though, so he signs and initials. It’s 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 he’s 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 he’s 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, he’s feeling distinctly out of his element. Does his hair look awful from the plane?
It’s not like Henry is going to look much better after polo practice. He’ll 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 it’s supposed to be that way.
“I’m 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 inches of height Henry has on him right now. “You look … sober.”
“Only for you, Your Royal Highness,” he says with an elaborate mock-bow. He’s pleased to hear a little bit of ice in Henry’s voice, finally done pretending.
“You’re 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 Henry’s hand. The skin is soft, probably exfoliated and moisturized daily by some royal manicurist. There’s a royal photographer right on the other side of the fence, so he smiles winningly and says through his teeth, “Let’s get it over with.”
“I’d 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 Alex’s 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 you’re ready, the car is waiting.”
Henry turns to him and smiles again, eyes unreadable. “Shall we?”
There’s something vaguely familiar about the Kensington Palace guest quarters, even though he’s 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. He’s used to sleeping alongside ghosts, but that’s not it.
It strikes further 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 dad’s 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. He’d sneak out of his thrown-together bedroom in the middle of the night, stealing Helados from his dad’s freezer and standing barefoot in the kitchen eating straight from the quart, washed blue in the pool light.
That’s how it feels here, somehow—wide 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 notice—all that’s in the freezer is UK-brand packaged ice cream cones.
“What’s it like?” Nora’s voice says, tinny over his phone’s speaker. On the screen, her hair is up, and she’s poking at one of her dozens of window plants.
“Weird,” Alex says, pushing his glasses up his nose. “Everything looks like a museum. I don’t think I’m allowed to show you, though.”
“Ooh,” Nora says, wiggling her eyebrows. “So secretive. So fancy.”
“Please,” Alex says. “If anything, it’s creepy. I had to sign such a massive NDA that I’m convinced I’m gonna drop through a trapdoor into a torture dungeon any minute.”
“I bet he has a secret lovechild,” Nora says. “Or he’s gay. Or he has a secret gay lovechild.”
“It’s probably in case I see his equerry putting his batteries back in,” Alex says. “Anyway, this is boring. What’s going on with you? Your life is so much better than mine right now.”
“Well,” Nora says, “Nate Silver won’t 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 can’t leave me in DC to go back to MIT.”
“Haven’t 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 I’m gonna do is silently compile and process enough data to know exactly what’s gonna happen for the next twenty-five years. Then I’m 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.
He’s rumpled and half awake, shoulders slumping as he yawns. He’s 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 he’s said something of any meaning.
He crosses to the freezer and extracts the box of ice cream cones, showing Alex the name
across the front. “I was out. Knew they’d stocked you up.”
“Do you raid the kitchens of all your guests?” Alex asks.
“Only when I can’t sleep,” Henry says. “Which is always. Didn’t think you’d be awake.” He looks at Alex, deferring, and Alex realizes he’s 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 he’s kind of intrigued. He usually can’t 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 you’ll say tomorrow?”
“Yes,” Alex says, bristling immediately. This is why nothing about Henry has ever intrigued him before. “You’re not the only professional here.”
“I didn’t 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 Henry’s 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, Henry’s 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 isn’t 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 won’t keep you.”
As he leaves the kitchen, he pauses in the doorframe, considering.
“I didn’t 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 morning’s appalling breakfast spread—what kind of garbage country eats bland beans on white toast for breakfast? He can’t 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 doesn’t want or need to know.
The motorcade pulls up in front of the studio, and when the door slides open, there’s 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 on—the 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 he’s 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
are agonizingly British—a 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. It’s the last chance he’ll get to ignore Henry for the rest of the day.
Soon Henry is leading the way out with Alex close behind. Alex shakes Dottie’s 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 shouldn’t. 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 Henry’s 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. He’s wearing a blue sweater over a button-down, and his hair looks soft.
Whatever, fine. Henry is annoyingly attractive. That’s always been a thing, objectively. It’s 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, it’s gorgeous,” Alex says. “I’ve been here a few times since my mom got elected, and it’s 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, it’s always great to see this guy.”
He turns to Henry, extending his fist. Henry hesitates before stiffly bumping his own knuckles against Alex’s with the heavy air of an act of treason.
Alex’s 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.