Authors: Casey McQuiston
“Why do I have to go over there? He’s the one who pushed me into the stupid cake—shouldn’t he have to come here and go on
with me or something?”
“Because it was the
you ruined, and
the ones out seventy-five grand,” Zahra says. “Besides, we’re arranging his presence at a state dinner in a few months. He’s not any more excited about this than you are.”
Alex pinches the bridge of his nose where a stress headache is already percolating. “I have class.”
“You’ll be back by Sunday night, DC time,” Zahra tells him. “You won’t miss anything.”
“So there’s really no way I’m getting out of this?”
Alex presses his lips together. He needs a list.
When he was a kid, he used to hide pages and pages of loose leaf paper covered in messy, loopy handwriting under the worn denim cushion of the window seat in the house in Austin. Rambling treatises on the role of government in America with all the
s written backward, paragraphs translated from English to Spanish, tables of his elementary school classmates’ strengths and weaknesses. And lists. Lots of lists. The lists help.
So: Reasons this is a good idea.
One. His mother needs good press.
Two. Having a shitty record on foreign relations definitely won’t help his career.
Three. Free trip to Europe.
“Okay,” he says, taking the file. “I’ll do it. But I won’t have any fun.”
“God, I hope not.”
The White House Trio is, officially, the nickname for Alex, June, and Nora coined by
shortly before the inauguration. In actuality, it was carefully tested with focus groups by the White House press team and fed directly to
Politics—calculating, even in hashtags.
Before the Claremonts, the Kennedys and Clintons shielded the First Offspring from the press, giving them the privacy to go through awkward phases and organic childhood experiences and everything else. Sasha and Malia were hounded and picked apart by the press before they were out of high school. The White House Trio got ahead of the narrative before anyone could do the same.
It was a bold new plan: three attractive, bright, charismatic, marketable millennials—Alex and Nora are, technically, just past the Gen Z threshold, but the press doesn’t find that nearly as catchy. Catchiness sells, coolness sells. Obama was cool. The whole First Family could be cool too; celebrities in their own right.
It’s not ideal,
his mother always says,
but it works.
They’re the White House Trio, but here, in the music room on the third floor of the Residence, they’re just Alex and June and Nora, naturally glued together since they were teenagers stunting their growth with espresso in the primaries. Alex pushes them. June steadies them. Nora keeps them honest.
They settle into their usual places: June, perched on her heels at the record collection, foraging for some Patsy Cline; Nora, cross-legged on the floor, uncorking a bottle of red wine; Alex, sitting upside down with his feet on the back of the couch, trying to figure out what he’s going to do next.
He flips the
HRH PRINCE HENRY FACT SHEET
over and squints at it. He can feel the blood rushing to his head.
June and Nora are ignoring him, caught in a bubble of intimacy he can never quite penetrate. Their relationship is something enormous and incomprehensible to most people, including Alex on occasion. He knows them both down to their split ends and nasty habits, but there’s a strange girl bond between them he can’t, and knows he isn’t supposed to, translate.
“I thought you were liking the
gig?” Nora says. With a dull pop, she pulls the cork out of the wine and takes a swig directly from the bottle.
“I was,” June says. “I mean, I
But, it’s not much of a gig. It’s, like, one op-ed a month, and half my pitches get shot down for being too close to Mom’s platform, and even then, the press
team has to read anything political before I turn it in. So it’s like, email in these fluff pieces, and know that on the other side of the screen people are doing the most important journalism of their careers, and be okay with that.”
“So … you don’t like it, then.”
June sighs. She finds the record she’s looking for, slides it out of the sleeve. “I don’t know what else to
is the thing.”
“They wouldn’t put you on a beat?” Nora asks her.
“You kidding? They wouldn’t even let me in the building,” June says. She puts the record on and sets the needle. “What would Reilly and Rebecca say?”
Nora tips her head and laughs. “My parents would say to do what they did: ditch journalism, get really into essential oils, buy a cabin in the Vermont wilderness, and own six hundred LL Bean vests that all smell like patchouli.”
“You left out the investing in Apple in the nineties and getting stupid-rich part,” June reminds her.
June walks over and places her palm on the top of Nora’s head, deep in her nest of curls, and leans down to kiss the back of her own fingers. “I’ll figure something out.”
Nora hands over the bottle, and June takes a pull. Alex heaves a dramatic sigh.
“I can’t believe I have to learn this garbage,” Alex says. “I
“Look, you’re the one who has to fight everything that moves,” June says, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand, a move she’d only do in front of the two of them. “Including the British monarchy. So, I don’t really feel bad for you. Anyway, he was totally fine when I danced with him. I don’t get why you hate him so much.”
“I think it’s amazing,” Nora says. “Sworn enemies forced to make peace to settle tensions between their countries? There’s something totally Shakespearean about it.”
“Shakespearean in that hopefully I’ll get stabbed to death,” Alex says. “This sheet says his favorite food is mutton pie. I literally cannot think of a more boring food. He’s like a cardboard cutout of a person.”
The sheet is filled with things Alex already knew, either from the royal siblings dominating the news cycle or hate-reading Henry’s Wikipedia page. He knows about Henry’s parentage, about his older siblings Philip and Beatrice, that he studied English literature at Oxford and plays classical piano. The rest is so trivial he can’t imagine it’ll come up in an interview, but there’s no way he’ll risk Henry being more prepared.
“Idea,” Nora says. “Let’s make it a drinking game.”
“Ooh, yes,” June agrees. “Drink every time Alex gets one right?”
“Drink every time the answer makes you want to puke?” Alex suggests.
“One drink for a correct answer, two drinks for a Prince Henry fact that is legitimately, objectively awful,” Nora says. June has already dug two glasses out of the cabinet, and she hands them to Nora, who fills both and keeps the bottle for herself. Alex slides down from the couch to sit on the floor with her.
“Okay,” she goes on, taking the sheet out of Alex’s hands. “Let’s start easy. Parents. Go.”
Alex picks up his own glass, already pulling up a mental image of Henry’s parents, Catherine’s shrewd blue eyes and Arthur’s movie-star jaw.
“Mother: Princess Catherine, oldest daughter of Queen
Mary, first princess to obtain a doctorate—English literature,” he rattles off. “Father: Arthur Fox, beloved English film and stage actor best known for his turn as James Bond in the eighties, deceased 2015. Y’all drink.”
They do, and Nora passes the list to June.
“Okay,” June says, scanning the list, apparently looking for something more challenging. “Let’s see. Dog’s name?”
Alex says. “He’s a beagle. I remember because, like,
who does that
? Who names a dog
? He sounds like a tax attorney. Like a dog tax attorney. Drink.”
“Best friend’s name, age, and occupation?” Nora asks. “Best friend other than
Alex casually gives her the finger. “Percy Okonjo. Goes by Pez or Pezza. Heir to Okonjo Industries, Nigerian company leading Africa in biomedical advancements. Twenty-two, lives in London, met Henry at Eton. Manages the Okonjo Foundation, a humanitarian nonprofit. Drink.”
“Uh,” Alex says. “Um. Fuck. Uh. What’s the one—”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Claremont-Diaz, that is incorrect,” June says. “Thank you for playing, but you lose.”
“Come on, what’s the answer?”
June peers down at the list. “This says …
Both Nora and Alex groan.
“Do you see what I mean now?” Alex says. “This dude is reading Charles Dickens …
“I’ll give you this one,” Nora says. “Two drinks!”
“Well, I think—” June says as Nora glugs away. “Guys, it’s kinda nice! I mean, it’s pretentious, but the themes of
are all like, love is more important than status, and doing what’s right beats money and power. Maybe he relates—”
Alex makes a long, loud fart noise. “Y’all are such assholes! He seems really nice!”
“That’s because you are a nerd,” Alex says. “You want to protect those of your own species. It’s a natural instinct.”
“I am helping you with this out of the goodness of my heart,” June says. “I’m on
“Hey, what do you think Zahra put on my fact sheet?”
“Hmm,” Nora says, sucking her teeth. “Favorite summer Olympic sport: rhythmic gymnastics—”
“I’m not ashamed of that.”
“Favorite brand of khakis: Gap.”
“Listen, they look best on my ass. The J. Crew ones wrinkle all weird. And they’re not
Khakis are for
“Allergies: dust, Tide laundry detergent, and shutting the fuck up.”
“Age of first filibuster: nine, at SeaWorld San Antonio, trying to force an orca wrangler into early retirement for, quote, ‘inhumane whale practices.’”
“I stood by it then, and I stand by it now.”
June throws her head back and laughs, loud and unguarded, and Nora rolls her eyes, and Alex is glad, at least, that he’ll have this to come back to when the nightmare is over.
Alex expects Henry’s handler to be some stout storybook Englishman with tails and a top hat, probably a walrus mustache, definitely scurrying to place a velvet footstool at Henry’s carriage door.
The person who awaits him and his security team on the tarmac is very much not that. He’s a tall thirty-something
Indian man in an impeccably tailored suit, roguishly handsome with a neatly trimmed beard, a steaming cup of tea, and a shiny Union Jack on his lapel. Well, okay then.
“Agent Chen,” the man says, extending his free hand to Amy. “Hope the flight was smooth.”
Amy nods. “As smooth as the third transatlantic flight in a week can be.”
The man half-smiles, commiserative. “The Land Rover is for you and your team for the duration.”
Amy nods again, releasing his hand, and the man turns his attention to Alex.
“Mr. Claremont-Diaz,” he says. “Welcome back to England. Shaan Srivastava, Prince Henry’s equerry.”
Alex takes his hand and shakes it, feeling a bit like he’s in one of Henry’s dad’s Bond movies. Behind him, an attendant unloads his luggage and carries it off in the direction of a sleek Aston Martin.
“Nice to meet you, Shaan. Not exactly how we thought we’d be spending our weekend, is it?”
“I’m not as surprised at this turn of events as I’d like to be, sir,” Shaan says coolly, with an inscrutable smile.
He pulls a small tablet from his jacket and pivots on his heel toward the waiting car. Alex stares at his back, speechless, before hastily refusing to be impressed by a grown man whose job is handling the prince’s schedule, no matter how cool he is or how long and smooth his strides are. He shakes his head a little and jogs to catch up, sliding into the back seat as Shaan checks the mirrors.
“Right,” Shaan says. “You’ll be staying in the guest quarters at Kensington Palace. Tomorrow you’ll do the
interview at nine—we’ve arranged for a photo call at the
studio. Then it’s children with cancer all afternoon and off you go back to the land of the free.”
“Okay,” Alex says. He very politely does not add,
could be worse.
“For now,” Shaan says, “you’re to come with me to chauffeur the prince from the stables. One of our photographers will be there to photograph the prince welcoming you to the country, so do try to look pleased to be here.”
Of course, there are
the prince needs to be
from. He was briefly worried he’d been wrong about what the weekend would look like, but this feels a lot more like it.
“If you’ll check the seat pocket in front of you,” Shaan says as he reverses, “there are a few papers for you to sign. Your lawyers have already approved them.” He passes back an expensive-looking black fountain pen.
, the top of the first page reads. Alex flips through to the last page—there are at least fifteen pages of text—and a low whistle escapes his lips.
“This is…” Alex says, “a thing you do often?”
“Standard protocol,” Shaan says. “The reputation of the royal family is too valuable to risk.”
The words “Confidential Information,” as used in this Agreement, shall include the following:
1. Such information as HRH Prince Henry or any member of the Royal Family may designate to the Guest as “Confidential Information”;
2. All proprietary and financial information regarding HRH Prince Henry’s personal wealth and estate;
3. Any interior architectural details of Royal Residences including Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, etc., and personal effects found therein;
4. Any information regarding or involving HRH Prince Henry’s personal or private life not previously released by official Royal documents, speeches, or approved biographers, including any personal or private relationship the Guest may have with HRH Prince Henry;