Read Red, White & Royal Blue Online

Authors: Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue (11 page)

Dec 8, 2019, 8:53 PM

yo there’s a bond marathon on and did you know your dad was a total babe
HRH Prince Dickhead
I BEG YOU TO NOT

Even before Alex’s parents split, they both had a habit of calling him by the other’s last name when he exhibited particular traits. They still do. When he runs his mouth off to the press, his mom calls him into her office and says, “Get your shit together, Diaz.” When his hard-headedness gets him stuck, his dad texts him, “Let it go, Claremont.”

Alex’s mother sighs as she sets her copy of the
Post
down on her desk, open to an inside page article:
SENATOR OSCAR DIAZ RETURNS TO DC FOR HOLIDAYS WITH EX-WIFE PRESIDENT CLAREMONT
. It’s almost weird how much it isn’t weird anymore. His dad is flying in from California for Christmas, and it’s fine, but it’s also in the
Post.

She’s doing the thing she always does when she’s about to spend time with his father: pursing her lips and twitching two fingers of her right hand.

“You know,” Alex says from where he’s kicked back on an Oval Office couch with a book, “somebody can go get you a cigarette.”

“Hush, Diaz.”

She’s had the Lincoln Bedroom prepared for his dad, and she keeps changing her mind, having housekeeping undecorate and redecorate. Leo, for his part, is unfazed and mollifies her with compliments between fits of tinsel. Alex doesn’t think anyone but Leo could ever stay married to his mother. His father certainly couldn’t.

June is in a state, the perpetual mediator. His family is pretty much the only situation where Alex prefers to sit back and let it all unfold, occasionally poking when it’s necessary or interesting, but June takes personal responsibility for making sure nobody breaks any more priceless White House antiques like last year.

His dad finally arrives in a flurry of Secret Service agents, his beard impeccably groomed and his suit impeccably tailored. For all June’s anxious preparations, she almost breaks an antique vase herself catapulting into his arms. They disappear immediately to the chocolate shop on the ground floor, the sound of Oscar raving about June’s latest blog post for
The Atlantic
fading around the corner. Alex and his mother share a look. Their family is so predictable sometimes.

The next day, Oscar gives Alex the follow-me-and-don’t-tell-your-mother look and pulls him out to the Truman Balcony.

“Merry fuckin’ Christmas, mijo,” his dad says, grinning, and Alex laughs and lets himself be hauled into a one-armed hug. He smells the same as ever, salty and smoky and like well-treated leather. His mom used to complain that she felt like she lived in a cigar bar.

“Merry Christmas, Pa,” Alex says back.

He drags a chair close to the railing, putting his shiny boots up. Oscar Diaz loves a view.

Alex considers the sprawling, snowy lawn in front of them,
the sure line of the Washington Monument stretching up, the jagged French mansard roofs of the Eisenhower Building to the west, the same one Truman hated. His dad pulls a cigar from his pocket, clipping it and lighting up in the careful ritual he’s done for years. He takes a puff and passes it over.

“It ever make you laugh to think how much this pisses assholes off?” he says, gesturing to encompass the whole scene: two Mexican men putting their feet up on the railing where heads of state eat croissants.

“Constantly.”

Oscar does laugh, then, enjoying his brazenness. He is an adrenaline junkie—mountain climbing, cave diving, pissing off Alex’s mother. Flirting with death, basically. It’s the flip side of the way he approaches work, which is methodical and precise, or the way he approaches parenting, which is laid-back and indulgent.

It’s nice, now, to see him more than he ever did in high school, since Oscar spends most of his year in DC. During the busiest congressional sessions, they’ll convene Los Bastardos—weekly beers in Oscar’s office after hours, just him, Alex, and Rafael Luna, talking shit. And it’s nice that proximity has forced his parents through the era of mutually assured destruction to now, where they have one Christmas instead of two.

As the days go by, Alex catches himself remembering sometimes, just for a second, how much he misses having everyone under one roof.

His dad was always the cook of the family. Alex’s childhood was perfumed with simmering peppers and onions and stew meat in a cast iron pot for caldillo, fresh masa waiting on the butcher block. He remembers his mom swearing and laugh
ing when she opened the oven for her guilty-pleasure pizza bagels only to find all the pots and pans stored there, or when she’d go for the tub of butter in the fridge and find it filled with homemade salsa verde. There used to be a lot of laughter in that kitchen, a lot of good food and loud music and parades of cousins and homework done at the table.

Except eventually there was a lot of yelling, followed by a lot of quiet, and soon Alex and June were teenagers and both their parents were in Congress, and Alex was student body president and lacrosse cocaptain and prom king and valedictorian, and, very intentionally, it stopped being a thing he had time to think about.

Still, his dad’s been in the Residence for three days without incident, and one day Alex catches him in the kitchens with two of the cooks, laughing and dumping peppers into a pot. It’s just, you know, sometimes he thinks it might be nice if it could be like this more often.

Zahra’s heading to New Orleans to see her family for Christmas, only at the president’s insistence, and only because her sister had a baby and Amy threatened to stab her if she didn’t deliver the onesie she knitted. Which means Christmas dinner is happening on Christmas Eve so Zahra won’t miss it. For all her late nights cursing their names, Zahra is family.

“Merry Christmas, Z!” Alex tells her cheerfully in the hall outside the family dining room. For holiday flare, she’s wearing a sensible red turtleneck; Alex is wearing a sweater covered in bright green tinsel. He smiles and presses a button on the inside of the sleeve, and “O Christmas Tree” plays from a speaker near his armpit.

“I can’t wait to not see you for two days,” she says, but there’s real affection in her voice.

This year’s dinner is small, since his dad’s parents are on vacation, so the table is set for six in glittering white and gold. The conversation is pleasant enough that Alex almost forgets it’s not always like this.

Until it shifts to the election.

“I was thinking,” Oscar says, carefully cutting his filet, “this time, I can campaign with you.”

At the other end of the table, Ellen puts her fork down. “You can what?”

“You know.” He shrugs, chewing. “Hit the trail, do some speeches. Be a surrogate.”

“You can’t be serious.”

Oscar puts down his own fork and knife now on the cloth-covered table, a soft thump of
oh, shit.
Alex glances across the table at June.

“You really think it’s such a bad idea?” Oscar says.

“Oscar, we went through all of this last time,” Ellen tells him. Her tone is instantly clipped. “People don’t like women, but they like mothers and wives. They like
families.
The last thing we need to do is remind them that I’m divorced by parading my ex-husband around.”

He laughs a little grimly. “So, you’ll pretend he’s their dad then, eh?”

“Oscar,” Leo speaks up, “you know I’d never—”

“You’re missing the
point,
” Ellen interrupts.

“It could help your approval ratings,” he says. “Mine are quite high, El. Higher than yours ever were in the House.”

“Here we go,” Alex says to Leo next to him, whose face remains pleasantly neutral.

“We’ve done
studies,
Oscar! Okay?” Ellen’s voice has risen in volume and pitch, her palms planted flat on the table. “The
data shows, I track worse with undecided voters when they’re reminded of the divorce!”

“People know you’re divorced!”

“Alex’s numbers are high!” she shouts, and Alex and June both wince. “June’s numbers are high!”

“They’re not
numbers
!”

“Fuck off, I know that,” she spits, “I never said they were!”

“You think sometimes you use them like they are?”

“How
dare
you, when you don’t seem to have any problem trotting them out every time you’re up for reelection!” she says, slicing one hand through the air beside her. “Maybe if they were just Claremonts, you wouldn’t have so much luck. It’d sure as hell be less confusing—it’s the name everybody knows them by anyway!”

“Nobody’s taking any of our names!” June jumps in, her voice high.

“June,”
Ellen says.

Their dad pushes on. “I’m trying to help you, Ellen!”

“I don’t need your help to win an election, Oscar!” she says, hitting the table so hard with her open palm that the dishes rattle. “I didn’t need it when I was in Congress, and I didn’t need it to become president the first time, and I don’t need it now!”

“You need to get serious about what you’re up against! You think the other side is going to play fair this time? Eight years of Obama, and now you? They’re angry, Ellen, and Richards is out for blood! You need to be ready!”

“I will be! You think I don’t have a team on all this shit already? I’m the President of the United fucking States! I don’t need you to come here and—and—”

“Mansplain?” Zahra offers.

“Mansplain!” Ellen shouts, jabbing a finger across the table at Oscar, eyes wide. “This presidential race to me!”

Oscar throws his napkin down. “You’re still so
fucking
stubborn!”

“Fuck you!”

“Mom!” June says sharply.

“Jesus Christ, are you kidding me?” Alex hears himself shout before he even consciously decides to say it. “Can we not be civil for one fucking meal? It’s
Christmas,
for fuck’s sake. Aren’t y’all supposed to be running the country? Get your shit together.”

He pushes his chair back and stalks out of the dining room, knowing he’s being a dramatic asshole and not really caring. He slams his bedroom door behind him, and his stupid sweater plays a few depressingly off-key notes when he yanks it off and throws it at the wall.

It’s not that he doesn’t lose his temper often, it’s just … he doesn’t usually lose it with his family. Mostly because he doesn’t usually
deal
with his family.

He digs an old lacrosse T-shirt out of his dresser, and when he turns and catches his reflection in the mirror by the closet, he’s right back in his teens, caring too much about his parents and helpless to change his situation. Except now he doesn’t have any AP classes to enroll in as a distraction.

His hand twitches for his phone. His brain is a two-passenger minimum ride as far as he’s concerned—alone and busy or thinking with company.

But Nora’s doing Hanukkah in Vermont, and he doesn’t want to annoy her, and his best friend from high school, Liam, has barely spoken to him since he moved to DC.

Which leaves …

“What could I possibly have done to have brought this upon myself now?” says Henry’s voice, low and sleepy. It sounds like “Good King Wenceslas” is playing in the background

“Hey, um, sorry. I know it’s late, and it’s Christmas Eve and everything. You probably have, like, family stuff, I’m just realizing. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. Wow, this is why I don’t have friends. I’m a dick. Sorry, man. I’ll, uh, I’ll just—”

“Alex, Christ,” Henry interrupts. “It’s fine. It’s half two here, everyone’s gone to bed. Except Bea. Say hi, Bea.”

“Hi, Alex!” says a clear, giggly voice on the other end of the line. “Henry’s got his candy-cane jim-jams on—”

“That’s quite enough,” Henry’s voice comes back through, and there’s a muffled sound like maybe a pillow has been shoved in Bea’s direction. “What’s happening, then?”

“Sorry,” Alex blurts out, “I know this is weird, and you’re with your sister and everything, and, like, argh. I kind of didn’t have anyone else to call who would be awake? And I know we’re, uh, not really friends, and we don’t really talk about this stuff, but my dad came in for Christmas, and he and my mom are like fucking tiger sharks fighting over a baby seal when you put them in the same room together for more than an hour, and they got in this huge fight, and it shouldn’t
matter,
because they’re already divorced and everything, and I don’t know why I lost my shit, but I wish they could give it a rest for
once
so we could have one single normal holiday, you know?”

There’s a long pause before Henry says, “Hang on.
Bea, can I have a minute? Hush. Yes, you can take the biscuits.
All right, I’m listening.”

Alex exhales, wondering faintly what the hell he’s doing, but plows onward.

Telling Henry about the divorce—those weird, tumultuous years, the day he came home from a Boy Scout camp-out to discover his dad’s things moved out, the nights of Helados ice cream—doesn’t feel as uncomfortable as it probably should. He’s never bothered to filter himself with Henry, at first because he honestly didn’t care what Henry thought, and now because it’s how they are. Maybe it should be different, bitching about his course load versus spilling his guts about this. It isn’t.

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