Authors: Casey McQuiston
June’s already on the chaise and sipping a beer. A stab of guilt immediately hits when he remembers her text.
“Shit, I’m an asshole,” he says.
“Mm-hmm, you are.”
“But, technically … I am having dinner with you?”
“Just bring me my pizza,” she says with a sigh. After Secret Service misread an olive-based shouting match in 2017 and almost put the Residence on lockdown, they now each get their own pizzas.
“Sure thing, Bug.” He finds June’s—margherita—and his—pepperoni and mushroom.
“Hi, Alex,” says a voice from somewhere behind the television as he settles in with his pizza.
“Hey, Leo,” he answers. His stepdad is fiddling with the wiring, probably rewiring it to do something that’d make more sense in an
comic, like he does with most electronics—eccentric millionaire inventor habits die hard. He’s about to ask for a dumbed-down explanation when his mother comes blazing in.
“Why did y’all let me run for president?” she says, tapping
too forcefully at her phone’s keyboard in little staccato stabs. She kicks off her heels into the corner, throwing her phone after them.
“Because we all knew better than to try to stop you,” Leo’s voice says. He peeks his bearded, bespectacled head out and adds, “And because the world would fall apart without you, my radiant orchid.”
His mother rolls her eyes but smiles. It’s always been like that with them, ever since they first met at a charity event when Alex was fourteen. She was the Speaker of the House, and he was a genius with a dozen patents and money to burn on women’s health initiatives. Now, she’s the president, and he’s sold his companies to spend his time fulfilling First Gentleman duties.
Ellen releases two inches of zipper on the back of her skirt, the sign she’s officially done for the day, and scoops up a slice.
“All right,” she says. She does a scrubbing gesture in the air in front of her face—president face off, mom face on. “Hi, babies.”
“’Lo,” Alex and June mumble in unison through mouthfuls of food.
Ellen sighs and looks over at Leo. “I did that, didn’t I? No goddamn manners. Like a couple of little opossums. This is why they say women can’t have it all.”
“They are masterpieces,” Leo says.
“One good thing, one bad thing,” she says. “Let’s do this.”
It’s her lifelong system for catching up on their days when she’s at her busiest. Alex grew up with a mother who was a sometimes baffling combination of intensely organized and committed to lines of emotional communication, like an overly invested life coach. When he got his first girlfriend, she made a PowerPoint presentation.
“Mmm.” June swallows a bite. “Good thing. Oh! Oh my God. Ronan Farrow tweeted about my essay for
and we totally engaged in witty Twitter repartee. Part one of my long game to force him to be my friend is underway.”
“Don’t act like this isn’t all part of your extra-long game of abusing your position to murder Woody Allen and make it look like an accident,” Alex says.
“He’s just so frail; it’d only take one good push—”
How many times
do I have to tell y’all not to discuss your murder plots in front of a sitting president?” their mother interrupts. “
” June says. “One bad thing would be, uh … well, Woody Allen’s still alive. Your turn, Alex.”
“Good thing,” Alex says, “I filibustered one of my professors into agreeing a question on our last exam was misleading so I would get full credit for my answer, which was correct.” He takes a swig of beer. “Bad thing—Mom, I saw the new art in the hall on the second floor, and I need to know why you allowed a George W. Bush terrier painting in our home.”
“It’s a bipartisan gesture,” Ellen says. “People find them endearing.”
“I have to walk past it whenever I go to my room,” Alex says. “Its beady little eyes follow me everywhere.”
Alex sighs. “Fine.”
Leo goes next—as usual, his bad thing is somehow also a good thing—and then Ellen’s up.
“Well, my UN ambassador fucked up his
and said something idiotic about Israel, and now I have to call Netanyahu and personally apologize. But the good thing is it’s two
in the morning in Tel Aviv, so I can put it off until tomorrow and have dinner with you two instead.”
Alex smiles at her. He’s still in awe, sometimes, of hearing her talk about presidential pains in the ass, even three years in. They lapse into idle conversation, little barbs and inside jokes, and these nights may be rare, but they’re still nice.
“So,” Ellen says, starting on another slice crust-first. “I ever tell you I used to hustle pool at my mom’s bar?”
June stops short, her beer halfway to her mouth. “You did what now?”
“Yep,” she tells them. Alex exchanges an incredulous look with June. “Momma managed this shitty bar when I was sixteen. The Tipsy Grackle. She’d let me come in after school and do my homework at the bar, had a bouncer friend make sure none of the old drunks hit on me. I got pretty good at pool after a few months and started betting the regulars I could beat them, except I’d play dumb. Hold the stick the wrong way, pretend to forget if I was stripes or solid. I’d lose one game, then take them double or nothing and get twice the payout.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Alex says, except he can totally picture it. She has always been scary-good at pool and even better at strategy.
“All true,” Leo says. “How do you think she learned to get what she wants from strung-out old white men? The most important skill of an effective politician.”
Alex’s mother accepts a kiss to the side of her square jaw from Leo as she passes by, like a queen gliding through a crowd of admirers. She sets her half-eaten slice down on a paper towel and selects a cue stick from the rack.
“Anyway,” she says. “The point is, you’re never too young to figure out your skills and use them to get shit accomplished.”
“Okay,” Alex says. He meets her eyes, and they swap appraising looks.
“Including…” she says thoughtfully, “a job on a presidential reelection campaign, maybe.”
June puts down her slice. “Mom, he’s not even out of college yet.”
“Uh, yeah, that’s the point,” Alex says impatiently. He’s been
for this offer. “No gaps in the resume.”
“It’s not only for Alex,” their mother says. “It’s for both of you.”
June’s expression changes from pinched apprehension to pinched dread. Alex makes a shooing motion in June’s direction. A mushroom flies off his pizza and hits the side of her nose. “Tell me, tell me, tell me.”
“I’ve been thinking,” Ellen says, “this time around, y’all—the ‘White House Trio.’” She puts it in air quotes, as if she didn’t sign off on the name herself. “Y’all shouldn’t only be faces. Y’all are more than that. You have skills. You’re smart. You’re talented. We could use y’all not only as surrogates, but as staffers.”
“Mom…” June starts.
“What positions?” Alex interjects.
She pauses, drifts back over to her slice of pizza. “Alex, you’re the family wonk,” she says, taking a bite. “We could have you running point on policy. This means a lot of research and a lot of writing.”
“Fuck yes,” Alex says. “Lemme romance the hell out of some focus groups. I’m in.”
“Alex—” June starts again, but their mom cuts her off.
“June, I’m thinking communications,” she goes on. “Since your degree is mass comm, I was thinking you can come handle some of the day-to-day liaising with media outlets, working on messaging, analyzing the audience—”
“Mom, I have a job,” she says.
“Oh, yeah. I mean, of course, sugar. But this could be full-time. Connections, upward mobility, real experience in the field doing some amazing work.”
“I, um…” June rips a piece of crust off her pizza. “Don’t remember ever saying I wanted to do anything like that. That’s, uh, kind of a big assumption to make, Mom. And you realize if I go into campaign communications now, I’m basically shutting down my chances of ever being a journalist, because, like, journalistic neutrality and everything. I can barely get anyone to let me write a column as it is.”
“Baby girl,” their mom says. She’s got that look on her face she gets when she’s saying something with a fifty-fifty chance of pissing you off. “You’re so talented, and I know you work hard, but at some point, you have to be realistic.”
supposed to mean?”
“I just mean … I don’t know if you’re happy,” she says, “and maybe it’s time to try something different. That’s all.”
“I’m not y’all,” June tells her. “This isn’t
“Juuuuune,” Alex says, tilting his head back to look at her upside down over the arm of his chair. “Just think about it? I’m doing it.” He looks back at their mom. “Are you offering a job to Nora too?”
She nods. “Mike is talking to her tomorrow about a position in analytics. If she takes it, she’ll start ASAP. You, mister, are not starting until after graduation.”
“Oh man, the White House Trio, riding into battle. This is awesome.” He looks over at Leo, who has abandoned his project with the TV and is now happily eating a slice of cheesy bread. “They offer you a job too, Leo?”
“No,” he says. “As usual, my duties as First Gentleman are to work on my tablescapes and look pretty.”
“Your tablescapes are really coming along, baby,” Ellen says, giving him a sarcastic little kiss. “I really liked the burlap placemats.”
“Can you believe the decorator thought velvet looked better?”
“Bless her heart.”
“I don’t like this,” June says to Alex while their mother is distracted talking about decorative pears. “Are you sure you want this job?”
“It’s gonna be fine, June,” he tells her. “Hey, if you wanna keep an eye on me, you can always take the offer too.”
She shakes him off, returning to her pizza with an unreadable expression. The next day there are three matching sticky notes on the whiteboard in Zahra’s office.
CAMPAIGN JOBS: ALEX-NORA-JUNE
, the board reads. The sticky notes under his and Nora’s names read
. Under June’s, in what is unmistakably her own handwriting,
Alex is taking notes in a policy lecture when he gets the first text.
This bloke looks like you.
There’s a picture attached, an image of a laptop screen paused on Chief Chirpa from
Return of the Jedi
: tiny, commanding, adorable, pissed off.
This is Henry, by the way.
He rolls his eyes, but adds the new contact to his phone: HRH Prince Dickhead. Poop emoji.
He’s honestly not planning to respond, but a week later he sees a headline on the cover of
PRINCE HENRY FLIES SOUTH FOR WINTER
—complete with a photo of Henry artistically posed on an Australian beach in a pair of sensible yet miniscule navy swim trunks, and he can’t stop himself.
you have a lot of moles,
he texts, along with a snap of the spread.
is that a result of the inbreeding?
Henry’s retort comes two days later by way of a screenshot of a
tweet that reads,
Is Alex Claremont-Diaz going to be a father?
The attached message says,
But we were ever so careful, dear,
which surprises a big enough laugh out of Alex that Zahra ejects him from her weekly debriefing with him and June.
So, it turns out Henry can be funny. Alex adds that to his mental file.
It also turns out Henry is fond of texting when he’s trapped in moments of royal monotony, like being shuttled to and from appearances, or sitting through meandering briefings on his family’s land holdings, or, once, begrudgingly and hilariously receiving a spray tan.
Alex wouldn’t say he
Henry, but he does enjoy the quick rhythm of arguments they fall into. He knows he talks too much, hopeless at moderating his feelings, which he usually hides under ten layers of charm, but he ultimately doesn’t care what Henry thinks of him, so he doesn’t bother. Instead, he’s as weird and manic as he wants to be, and Henry jabs back in sharp flashes of startling wit.
So, when he’s bored or stressed or between coffee refills, he’ll check for a text bubble popping up. Henry with a dig at some weird quote from his latest interview, Henry with a random thought about English beer versus American beer, a picture of Henry’s dog wearing a Slytherin scarf. (
i don’t know WHO you think you’re kidding, you hufflepuff-ass bitch,
Alex texts back, before Henry clarifies his dog, not him, is a Slytherin.)
He learns about Henry’s life through a weird osmosis of text messages and social media. It’s meticulously scheduled by
Shaan, with whom Alex is slightly obsessed, especially when Henry texts him things like,
Did I tell you Shaan has a motorbike?
Shaan is on the phone with Portugal.
It’s quickly becoming apparent the HRH Prince Henry Fact Sheet either omitted the most interesting stuff or was outright fabricated. Henry’s favorite food isn’t mutton pie but a cheap falafel stand ten minutes from the palace, and he’s spent most of his gap year thus far working on charities around the world, half of them owned by his best friend, Pez.
Alex learns Henry’s super into classical mythology and can rattle off the configurations of a few dozen constellations if you let him get going. Alex hears more about the tedious details of operating a sailboat than he would ever care to know and sends back nothing but:
Eight hours later. Henry hardly ever swears, but at least he doesn’t seem to mind Alex’s filthy fucking mouth.
Henry’s sister, Beatrice—she goes by Bea, Alex finds out—pops up often, since she lives in Kensington Palace as well. From what he gathers, the two of them are closer than either are to their brother. They compare notes on the trials and tribulations of having older sisters.
did bea force you into dresses as a child too?