Authors: Casey McQuiston
“I’m thinking about, after inauguration, like next year, taking you back out here, just the two of us. And we can sit under the moon and not stress about anything.”
“Oh,” Henry says. “That sounds nice, if unlikely.”
“Come on, think about it, babe. Next year. My mom’ll be in office again, and we won’t have to worry about winning any more elections. I’ll finally be able to breathe. Ugh, it’ll be amazing. I’ll cook migas in the mornings, and we’ll swim all day and never put clothes on and make out on the pier, and it won’t even matter if the neighbors see.”
“Well. It will matter, you know. It will always matter.”
He pulls back to find Henry’s face indecipherable.
“You know what I mean.”
Henry’s looking at him and looking at him, and Alex can’t shake the feeling Henry’s really seeing him for the first time. He realizes it’s probably the only time he’s ever invited love into a conversation with Henry on purpose, and it must be lying wide open on his face.
Something moves behind Henry’s eyes. “Where are you going with all this?”
Alex tries to figure out how the hell to funnel everything he needs to tell Henry into words.
“June says I have a fire under my ass for no good reason,” he says. “I don’t know. You know how they always say to take it one day at a time? I think I take it ten years in the future. Like when I was in high school, it was all: Well, my parents hate each other, and my sister is leaving for college, and sometimes I look at other guys in the shower, but if I keep looking directly ahead, that stuff can’t catch up to me. Or if I take this
class, or this internship, or this job. I used to think, if I pictured the person I wanted to be and took all the crazy anxiety in my brain and narrowed it down to that point, I could rewire it. Use it to power something else. It’s like I never learned how to just be where I am.” Alex takes a breath. “And where I am is here. With you. And I’m thinking maybe I should start trying to take it day by day. And just … feel what I feel.”
Henry doesn’t say anything.
“Sweetheart.” The water ripples quietly around him as he slides his hands up to hold Henry’s face in both palms, tracing his cheekbones with the wet pads of his thumbs.
The cicadas and the wind and the lake are probably still making sounds, somewhere, but it’s all faded into silence. Alex can’t hear anything but his heartbeat in his ears.
Abruptly Henry shifts, ducking beneath the surface and out of his arms before he can say anything else.
He pops back up near the pier, hair sticking to his forehead, and Alex turns around and stares at him, breathless at the loss. Henry spits out lake water and sends a splash in his direction, and Alex forces a laugh.
“Christ,” Henry says, slapping at a bug that’s landed on him, “what are these infernal creatures?”
“Mosquitos,” Alex supplies.
“They’re awful,” Henry says loftily. “I’m going to catch an exotic plague.”
“I’m … sorry?”
“I just mean to say, you know, Philip is the heir and I’m the spare, and if that nervy bastard has a heart attack at thirty-five and I’ve got malaria, whither the spare?”
Alex laughs weakly again, but he’s got a distinct feeling of something being pulled out of his hands right before he could
grasp it. Henry’s tone has gone light, clipped, superficial. His press voice.
“At any rate, I’m knackered,” Henry is saying now. And Alex watches helplessly as he turns and starts hauling himself out of the water and onto the dock, pulling his shorts back up shivering legs. “If it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll go to bed.”
Alex doesn’t know what to say, so he watches Henry walk the long line of the dock, disappearing into the darkness.
A ringing, scooped-out sensation starts behind his molars and rolls down his throat, into his chest, down to the pit of his stomach. Something’s wrong, and he knows it, but he’s too afraid to push back or ask. That, he realizes suddenly, is the danger of allowing love into this—the acknowledgment that if something goes wrong, he doesn’t know how he will stand it.
For the first time since Henry grabbed him and kissed him with so much certainty in the garden, the thought enters Alex’s mind: What if it was never his decision to make? What if he got so wrapped up in everything Henry is—the words he writes, the earnest heartsickness of him—he forgot to take into account that it’s just
he is, all the time, with everyone?
What if he’s done the thing he swore he would never do, the thing he hates, and fallen in love with a prince because it was a fantasy?
When he gets back to their room, Henry’s already in his bunk and silent, his back turned.
In the morning, Henry is gone.
Alex wakes up to find his bunk empty and made up, the pillow tucked neatly beneath the blanket. He practically throws the door off its hinges running out onto the patio, only to find
it empty as well. The yard is empty, the pier is empty. It’s like he was never even there.
He finds the note in the kitchen:
Had to go early for a family matter. Left with the PPOs. Didn’t want to wake you.
Thank you for everything.
It’s the last message Henry sends him.
He sends Henry five texts the first day. Two the second. By day three, none. He’s spent too much of his life talking, talking, talking not to know the signs when someone doesn’t want to hear him anymore.
He starts forcing himself to only check his phone once every two hours instead of once an hour, makes himself hang on by his fingernails until the minutes tick down. A few times, he gets wrapped up in obsessively reading press coverage of the campaign and realizes he hasn’t checked in hours, and every time he’s hit with a hiccupping, desperate hope that there will be something. There never is.
He thought he was reckless before, but he understands now—holding love off was the only thing keeping him from losing himself in this completely, and he’s gone, stupid, lovesick, a fucking disaster. No work to distract him. The
tripwire of “Things Only People in Love Say and Do” set off.
A Tuesday night, hiding on the roof of the Residence, pacing so many furious laps that the skin on the backs of his heels splits open and blood soaks into his loafers.
CLAREMONT FOR AMERICA
mug, returned in a carefully marked box from his desk at the campaign office, a concrete reminder of what this already cost him smashed in his bathroom sink.
The smell of Earl Grey curling up from the kitchens, and his throat going painfully tight.
Two and a half different dreams about sandy hair wrapped around his fingers.
A three-line email, an excerpt dug up from an archived letter, Hamilton to Laurens,
You should not have taken advantage of my sensibility to steal into my affections without my consent,
drafted and deleted.
On day five, Rafael Luna makes his fifth campaign stop as a surrogate, the Richards campaign’s token twofer minority. Alex hits a momentary emotional impasse: either destroy something or destroy himself. He ends up smashing his phone on the pavement outside the Capitol. The screen is replaced by the end of the day. It doesn’t make any messages from Henry magically appear.
On the morning of day seven, he’s digging in the back of his closet when he stumbles upon a bundle of teal silk—the stupid kimono Pez had made for him. He hasn’t taken it out since LA.
He’s about to shove it back into the corner when he feels something in the pocket. He finds a small folded square of paper. It’s stationery from their hotel that night, the night everything inside Alex rearranged. Henry’s cursive.
I wish there weren’t a wall.
He fumbles his phone out so fast he almost drops it on the floor and smashes it again. The search tells him Pyramus and Thisbe were lovers in a Greek myth, children of rival families, forbidden to be together. Their only way to speak to each other was through a thin crack in the wall built between them.
And that is, officially, too fucking much.
What he does next, he’s sure he’ll have no memory of doing, simply a white-noise gap of time that got him from point A to point B. He texts Cash,
what are you doing for the next 24 hours?
Then he unearths the emergency credit card from his wallet and buys two plane tickets, first class, nonstop. Boarding in two hours. Dulles International to Heathrow.
Zahra nearly refuses to secure a car after Alex “had the goddamn nerve” to call her from the runway at Dulles. It’s dark and pissing down rain when they land in London around nine in the evening, and he and Cash are both soaked the second they climb out of the car inside the back gates of Kensington.
Clearly, someone has radioed for Shaan, because he’s standing there at the door to Henry’s apartments in an impeccable gray peacoat, dry and unmoved under a black umbrella.
“Mr. Claremont-Diaz,” he says. “What a treat.”
Alex has not got the damn time. “Move, Shaan.”
“Ms. Bankston called ahead to warn me that you were on the
way,” he says. “As you might have guessed by the ease with which you were able to get through our gates. We thought it best to let you kick up a fuss somewhere more private.”
Shaan smiles, looking as if he might be genuinely enjoying watching two hapless Americans become slowly waterlogged. “You’re aware it’s quite late, and it’s well within my power to have security remove you. No member of the royal family has invited you into the palace.”
“Bullshit,” Alex bites out. “I need to see Henry.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that. The prince does not wish to be disturbed.”
“Goddammit—Henry!” He sidesteps Shaan and starts shouting up at Henry’s bedroom windows, where there’s a light on. Fat raindrops are pelting his eyeballs. “Henry, you motherfucker!”
“Alex—” says Cash’s nervous voice behind him.
“Henry, you piece of shit, get your ass down here!”
“You are making a scene,” Shaan says placidly.
“Yeah?” Alex says, still yelling. “How ’bout I just keep yelling and we see which of the papers show up first!” He turns back to the window and starts flailing his arms too. “Henry! Your Royal fucking Highness!”
Shaan touches a finger to his earpiece. “Team Bravo, we’ve got a situa—”
“For Christ’s sake, Alex, what are you doing?”
Alex freezes, his mouth open around another shout, and there’s Henry standing behind Shaan in the doorway, barefoot in worn-in sweats. Alex’s heart is going to fall out of his ass. Henry looks unimpressed.
He drops his arms. “Tell him to let me in.”
Henry sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. “It’s fine. He can come in.”
you,” he says, pointedly looking at Shaan, who does not seem to care at all if he dies of hypothermia. He sloshes into the palace, ditching his soaked shoes as Cash and Shaan disappear behind the door.
Henry, who led the way in, hasn’t even stopped to speak to him, and all Alex can do is follow him up the grand staircase toward his rooms.
“Really nice,” Alex yells after him, dripping as aggressively as he can manage along the way. He hopes he ruins a rug. “Fuckin’ ghost me for a week, make me stand in the rain like a brown John Cusack, and now you won’t even talk to me. I’m really just having a great time here. I can see why all y’all had to marry your fucking cousins.”
“I’d rather not do this where we might be overheard,” Henry says, taking a left on the landing.
Alex stomps up after him, following him into his bedroom. “Do what?” he says as Henry shuts the door behind them. “What are you gonna do, Henry?”
Henry turns to face him at last, and now that Alex’s eyes aren’t full of rainwater, he can see the skin under his eyes is papery and purple, rimmed pink at his eyelashes. There’s a tense set to his shoulders Alex hasn’t seen in months, not directed at him at least.
“I’m going to let you say what you need to say,” Henry says flatly, “so you can leave.”
Alex stares. “What, and then we’re over?”
Henry doesn’t answer him.
Something rises in Alex’s throat—anger, confusion, hurt, bile. Unforgivably, he feels like he might cry.
“Seriously?” he says, helpless and indignant. He’s still dripping. “What the
is going on? A week ago it was emails about how much you missed me and meeting my fucking
and that’s it? You thought you could fucking
? I can’t shut this off like you do, Henry.”
Henry paces over to the elaborately carved fireplace across the room and leans on the mantelpiece. “You think I don’t
as much as you?”
“You’re sure as hell acting like it.”
“I honestly haven’t got the time to explain to you all the ways you’re wrong—”
“Jesus, could you stop being an obtuse fucking asshole for, like, twenty seconds?”
“So glad you flew here to
I fucking love you, okay?
” Alex half yells, finally, irreversibly. Henry goes very still against the mantelpiece. Alex watches him swallow, watches the muscle that keeps twitching in his jaw, and feels like he might shake out of his skin. “Fuck, I swear. You don’t make it fucking easy. But I’m in love with you.”
cuts the silence: Henry has taken his signet ring off and set it down on the mantel. He holds his naked hand to his chest, kneading the palm, the flickering light from the fire painting his face in dramatic shadows. “Do you have any idea what that means?”