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Radio Silence

- Alice Oseman

I just sort of want to say something before we continue.

You probably think that Aled Last and I are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and I am a girl.

I just want to say -

We don't.

That's all.

"You're an idiot," said Mum, when I relayed to her the entire situation on Wednesday. "Not an unintelligent idiot, but a sort of naïve idiot who manages to fall into a difficult situation and then can't get out of it because she's too awkward."

"You just described my life."

Red, White & Royal Blue

- Casey McQuiston

Behind his bedroom door, he can sit and put Hall & Oates on the record player in the corner, and nobody hears him humming along like his dad to “Rich Girl.” He can wear the reading glasses he always insists he doesn’t need. He can make as many meticulous study guides with color-coded sticky notes as he wants. He’s not going to be the youngest elected congressman in modern history without earning it, but nobody needs to know how hard he’s kicking underwater. His sex-symbol stock would plummet.

“Is it possible you willfully forgot about the biggest international event of the year because you don’t want to see your arch nemesis?”

“June, I’m the son of the President of the United States. Prince Henry is a figurehead of the British Empire. You can’t just call him my ‘arch nemesis,’” Alex says. He chews thoughtfully and adds, “‘Arch nemesis’ implies he’s actually a rival to me on any level and not, you know, a stuck-up product of inbreeding who probably jerks off to photos of himself.”


Alex snorts. It’s insane to him that there are legions of people who follow the intensely dull dating lives of the royal siblings. He understands why people care where he puts his own tongue—at least he has personality.

Listen,” Alex tells her, “royal weddings are trash, the princes that have royal weddings are trash, the imperialism that allows princes to exist at all is trash. It’s trash turtles all the way down.”

“Is this your TED Talk?” June asks. “You do realize America is a genocidal empire too, right?”

“Yes, June, but at least we have the decency not to keep a monarchy around,” Alex says, throwing a pistachio at her.

It’s not even a rivalry. It’s a prickling, unsettling annoyance. It makes his palms sweat.

The tabloids—the world—decided to cast Alex as the American equivalent of Prince Henry from day one, since the White House Trio is the closest thing America has to royalty. It has never seemed fair. Alex’s image is all charisma and genius and smirking wit, thoughtful interviews and the cover of GQ at eighteen; Henry’s is placid smiles and gentle chivalry and generic charity appearances, a perfectly blank Prince Charming canvas. Henry’s role, Alex thinks, is much easier to play.

Maybe it is technically a rivalry. Whatever.

It’s not that Alex isn’t into love or can’t appreciate marriage. It’s just that Martha is a perfectly respectable daughter of nobility, and Philip is a prince. It’s as sexy as a business transaction. There’s no passion, no drama. Alex’s kind of love story is much more Shakespearean.

“Do either of y’all know what a viscount is?” June is saying, halfway through a cucumber sandwich. “I’ve met like, five of them, and I keep smiling politely as if I know what it means when they say it. Alex, you took comparative international governmental relational things. Whatever. What are they?”

“I think it’s that thing when a vampire creates an army of crazed sex waifs and starts his own ruling body,” he says.

“That sounds right,” Nora says. She’s folding her napkin into a complicated shape on the table, her shiny black manicure glinting in the chandelier light.

“I wish I were a viscount,” June says. “I could have my sex waifs deal with my emails.”

“Are sex waifs good with professional correspondence?” Alex asks.

Nora’s napkin has begun to resemble a bird. “I think it could be an interesting approach. Their emails would be all tragic and wanton.” She tries on a breathless, husky voice. “‘Oh, please, I beg you, take me—take me to lunch to discuss fabric samples, you beast!’”

“Could be weirdly effective,” Alex notes.

“Something is wrong with both of you,” June says gently.

And there Henry is, in the flesh, as classically handsome as ever in his tailored three-piece suit, all tousled sandy hair and high cheekbones and a soft, friendly mouth. He holds himself with innately impeccable posture, as if he emerged fully formed and upright out of some beautiful Buckingham Palace posy garden one day.

His eyes lock on Alex’s, and something like annoyance or adrenaline spikes in Alex’s chest. He hasn’t had a conversation with Henry in probably a year. His face is still infuriatingly symmetrical.

Henry deigns to give him a perfunctory nod, as if he’s any other random guest, not the person he beat to a Vogue editorial debut in their teens.

“Has he decided to finally shut me up by wooing my sister?”

“Aw, little buddy,” Nora says. She reaches over and pats his hand. “It’s cute how you think everything is about you.”

“It should be, honestly.”

“That’s the spirit.”

The most annoying thing of all is Alex knows Henry hates him too—he must, they’re naturally mutual antagonists—but he refuses to outright act like it. Alex is intimately aware politics involves a lot of making nice with people you loathe, but he wishes that once, just once, Henry would act like an actual human and not some polished little wind-up toy sold in a palace gift shop.

He’s too perfect. Alex wants to poke it.

He pushes aside the thought that maybe the wine is what gave him the nerve to stomp over to Henry in the first place and makes his eyes as coy and angelic as he knows how. “Am I offending you? Sorry I’m not obsessed with you like everyone else. I know that must be confusing for you.”

“Do you know what?” Henry says. “I think you are.”

Alex’s mouth drops open, while the corner of Henry’s turns smug and almost a little mean.

“Only a thought,” Henry says, tone polite. “Have you ever noticed I have never once approached you and have been exhaustively civil every time we’ve spoken? Yet here you are, seeking me out again.” He takes a sip of his champagne. “Simply an observation.”

“What? I’m not—” Alex stammers. “You’re the—”

“Have a lovely evening, Alex,” Henry says tersely, and turns to walk off.

It drives Alex nuts that Henry thinks he gets to have the last word, and without thinking, he reaches out and pulls Henry’s shoulder back.

And then Henry turns, suddenly, and almost does push Alex off him this time, and for a brief spark of a moment, Alex is impressed at the glint in his eyes, the abrupt burst of an actual personality.

“Sugar, I cannot express to you how much the press does not give a fuck about who started what,” Ellen says. “As your mother, I can appreciate that maybe this isn’t your fault, but as the president, all I want is to have the CIA fake your death and ride the dead-kid sympathy into a second term.”

“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.

“Favorite book?”

“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 . . . Great Expectations?”

Both Nora and Alex groan.

“Do you see what I mean now?” Alex says. “This dude is reading Charles Dickens . . . for pleasure.”

“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 Great Expectations 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.”

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.

“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.

“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.

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.

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.

The power is great, the attention fun, but the people—the people are everything. He has a bit of a caring-too-much problem about most things, including whether people can pay their medical bills, or marry whomever they love, or not get shot at school.

He sounds like he wants to punch Alex, which is probably the most Alex has ever liked him, so he follows the impulse and drives his elbow into Henry’s side, hard.

Henry lets out a muffled yelp, and the next thing Alex knows, he’s been yanked sideways by his shirt and Henry is halfway on top of him, pinning him down with one thigh. His head throbs where he’s clocked it against the linoleum floor, but he can feel his lips split into a smile.

“So you do have some fight in you,” Alex says. He bucks his hips, trying to shake Henry off, but he’s taller and stronger and has a fistful of Alex’s collar.

“Are you quite finished?” Henry says, sounding strangled. “Can you perhaps stop putting your sodding life in danger now?”

“Aw, you do care,” Alex says. “I’m learning all your hidden depths today, sweetheart.”

Henry exhales and slumps off him. “I cannot believe even mortal peril will not prevent you from being the way you are.”

The weirdest part, Alex thinks, is that what he said was true.

He keeps getting these little glimpses into things he never thought Henry was. A bit of a fighter, for one. Intelligent, interested in other people. It’s honestly disconcerting. He knows exactly what to say to each Democratic senator to make them dish about bills, exactly when Zahra’s running low on nicotine gum, exactly which look to give Nora for the rumor mill. Reading people is what he does.

He really doesn’t appreciate some inbred royal baby upending his system. But he did rather enjoy that fight.

“I don’t know. Doing what we do is fucking hard. But it’s harder for me. I’m the son of the first female president. And I’m not white like she is, can’t even pass for it. People will always come down harder on me. And you’re, you know, you, and you were born into all of this, and everyone thinks you’re Prince fucking Charming. You’re basically a living reminder I’ll always be compared to someone else, no matter what I do, even if I work twice as hard.”

Today’s lecture was on presidential sex scandals through history, and he texts Nora:

numbers on one of us getting involved in a sex scandal before the end of second term?

Her response comes within seconds:

94% probability of your dick becoming a recurring personality on face the nation. btw, have you seen this?

There’s a link attached: a blog post full of images, animated GIFs of himself and Henry on This Morning. The fist bump. Shared smiles that pass for genuine. Conspiratorial glances. Underneath are hundreds of comments about how handsome they are, how nice they look together.


one commenter writes,

make out already.

Alex laughs so hard he almost falls in a fountain.

Alex wouldn’t say he likes 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.

“You know,” Alex says. “You’re kind of surprising.”

Henry pauses. “In what way?”

“In that you’re not a totally boring asshole.”

“Wow,” Henry says with a laugh. “I’m honored.”

“I guess you have your depths.”

“You thought I was a dumb blond, didn’t you?”

“Not exactly, just, boring,” Alex says. “I mean, your dog is named David, which is pretty boring.”

“After Bowie.”

“I—” Alex’s head spins, recalibrating. “Are you serious? What the hell? Why not call him Bowie, then?”

“Bit on the nose, isn’t it?” Henry says. “A man should have some element of mystery.”

“Okay,” Alex says.

“Okay,” Henry agrees.

“Okay,” Alex says again. He’s suddenly very aware they’ve never spoken on the phone before, and so he’s never had to figure out how to hang up the phone with Henry before. He’s at a loss. But he’s still smiling. Cornbread is staring at him like he doesn’t get it. Me fuckin’ too, buddy.

“Okay,” Henry repeats. “So. Good night.”

“Cool,” Alex says lamely. “Good night.”

He hangs up and stares at the phone in his hand, as if it should explain the static electricity in the air around him.

He doesn’t realize he’s been talking for an hour until he finishes retelling what happened at dinner and Henry says, “It sounds like you did your best.”

Alex forgets what he was going to say next.

He just . . . Well, he gets told he’s great a lot. He just doesn’t often get told he’s good enough.

“Oh my God, Alex,” she says, lunging at him to yank him into a rough hug, “you made a friend!”

“I have friends! Get off me!”

“You made a friend!” She is literally giving him a noogie. “I’m so proud of you!”

“I’m gonna murder you, stop it,” he says, alligator-rolling out of her clutches. He lands on the floor. “He’s not my friend. He’s someone I like to antagonize all the time, and one time I talked to him about something real.”

“That’s a friend, Alex.”

Alex’s mouth starts and stops several silent sentences before he points to the door. “You can leave, June! Go to bed!”

“Nope. Tell me everything about your new best friend, who is a royal. That is so bougie of you. Who would have guessed it?” she says, peering over the edge of the bed at him. “Oh my God, this is like all those romantic comedies where the girl hires a male escort to pretend to be her wedding date and then falls in love with him for real.”

“That is not at all what this is like.”

It’s the first time Alex has seen Henry in person since the weekend in London and the hundreds of texts and weird in-jokes and late-night phone calls that came after, and it almost feels like meeting a new person. He knows more about Henry, understands him better, and he can appreciate the rarity of a genuine smile on the same famously beautiful face.

It’s a weird cognitive dissonance, Henry present and Henry past. That must be why something feels so restless and hot somewhere beneath his sternum. That and the whiskey.

“Did you seriously never go to an awkward middle school dance and watch a bunch of teenagers dry hump to this song?”

Henry is holding onto his champagne for dear life. “You absolutely must know I did not.”

More drinks—Henry starts drinking directly from a bottle of Moët & Chandon. Alex likes the look on Henry’s face, the sure curl of his hand around the neck of the bottle, the way his lips wrap around the mouth of it. Henry’s willingness to dance is directly proportionate to his proximity to Alex’s hands, and the amount of giddy warmth bubbling under Alex’s skin is directly proportionate to the cut of Henry’s mouth when he watches him with Nora. It’s an equation he is not nearly sober enough to parse.

It’s loud and messy and wonderful. Alex has always loved these parties, the sparkling joy of it all, the way champagne bubbles on his tongue and confetti sticks to his shoes. It’s a reminder that even though he stresses and stews in private rooms, there will always be a sea of people he can disappear into, that the world can be warm and welcoming and fill up the walls of this big, old house he lives in with something bright and infectiously alive.

But somewhere, beneath the liquor and the music, he can’t stop noticing that Henry has disappeared.

His knuckle brushes the back of Alex’s hand at their sides, a little zip of warmth in the cold night. Alex considers his face in profile, blinking through the booze, following the smooth line of his nose and the gentle dip at the center of his lower lip, each touched by moonlight. It’s freezing and Alex is only wearing his suit jacket, but his chest feels warmed from the inside with liquor and something heady his brain keeps stumbling over, trying to name. The garden is quiet except for the blood rushing in his ears.

“Christ, you are as thick as it gets,” he says, and he grabs Alex’s face in both hands and kisses him.

Alex is frozen, registering the press of Henry’s lips and the wool cuffs of his coat grazing his jaw. The world fuzzes out into static, and his brain is swimming hard to keep up, adding up the equation of teenage grudges and wedding cakes and two a.m. texts and not understanding the variable that got him here, except it’s . . . well, surprisingly, he really doesn’t mind. Like, at all.

In his head, he tries to cobble a list together in a panic, gets as far as, One, Henry’s lips are soft, and short-circuits.

He tests leaning into the kiss and is rewarded by Henry’s mouth sliding and opening against his, Henry’s tongue brushing against his, which is, wow. It’s nothing like kissing Nora earlier—nothing like kissing anyone he’s ever kissed in his life. It feels as steady and huge as the ground under their feet, as encompassing of every part of him, as likely to knock the wind out of his lungs. One of Henry’s hands pushes into his hair and grabs it at the root at the back of his head, and he hears himself make a sound that breaks the breathless silence, and—

Just as suddenly, Henry releases him roughly enough that he staggers backward, and Henry’s mumbling a curse and an apology, eyes wide, and he’s spinning on his heel, crunching off through the snow at double time. Before Alex can say or do anything, he’s disappeared around the corner.

“Oh,” Alex says finally, faintly, touching one hand to his lips. Then: “Shit.”

He starts his last semester, goes to class, sits with the social secretary to plan his graduation dinner, buries himself in highlighted annotations and supplemental readings.

But beneath it all, there’s the Prince of England kissing him under a linden tree in the garden, moonlight in his hair, and Alex’s insides feel positively molten, and he wants to throw himself down the presidential stairs.

He thinks, as he runs and runs and runs, the stupidest thing of all is that he’s straight.

Like, he’s pretty sure he’s straight.

He’s a son of Democrats. It’s something he’s always been around. So, he always assumed if he weren’t straight, he would just know, like how he knows that he loves cajeta on his ice cream or that he needs a tediously organized calendar to get anything done. He thought he was smart enough about his own identity that there weren’t any questions left.

They’re rounding the corner for their eighth lap now, and he’s starting to see some flaws in his logic. Straight people, he thinks, probably don’t spend this much time convincing themselves they’re straight.

But Alex is the golden boy. The heartthrob, the handsome rogue with a heart of gold. The guy who moves through life effortlessly, who makes everyone laugh. Highest approval ratings of the entire First Family. The whole point of him is that his appeal is as universal as possible.

Being . . . whatever he’s starting to suspect he might be, is definitely not universally appealing to voters. He has a hard enough time being half-Mexican.

He’s absolutely sure that guys who kissed the Prince of England and liked it don’t get elected to represent Texas.

But he thinks about Henry, and, oh.

He thinks about Henry, and something twists in his chest, like a stretch he’s been avoiding for too long.

He thinks about Henry’s voice low in his ear over the phone at three in the morning, and suddenly he has a name for what ignites in the pit of his stomach. Henry’s hands on him, his thumbs braced against his temples back in the garden, Henry’s hands other places, Henry’s mouth, what he might do with it if Alex let him. Henry’s broad shoulders and long legs and narrow waist, the place his jaw meets his neck and the place his neck meets his shoulder and the tendon that stretches the length between them, and the way it looks when Henry turns his head to shoot him a challenging glare, and his impossibly blue eyes—

He trips on a crack in the pavement and goes tumbling down, skinning his knee and ripping his earbuds out.

He needs a list. So: Things he knows right now.

One. He’s attracted to Henry.

Two. He wants to kiss Henry again.

Three. He has maybe wanted to kiss Henry for a while. As in, probably this whole time.

He ticks off another list in his head. Henry. Shaan. Liam. Han Solo. Rafael Luna and his loose collars.

Sidling up to his desk, he pulls out the binder his mother gave him: DEMOGRAPHIC ENGAGEMENT: WHO THEY ARE AND HOW TO REACH THEM. He drags his finger down to the LGBTQ+ tab and turns to the page he’s looking for, titled with mother’s typical flair.


He’s definitely not thinking about Henry.

He’s not thinking about Henry when he puts in twenty-three hours in his first week of work, or when he’s filling the rest of his hours with class and papers and going for long runs and drinking triple-shot coffees and poking around the Senate offices. He’s not thinking about Henry in the shower or at night, alone and wide awake in his bed.

Except for when he is. Which is always.

“Hey, so, uh,” Alex attempts as she takes a burrito break. “Remember when we dated?”

Nora swallows a massive bite and grins. “Why yes, I do, Alejandro.”

Alex forces a laugh. “So, knowing me as well as you do—”

“In the biblical sense.”

“Numbers on me being into dudes?”

That pulls Nora up short, before she cocks her head to the side and says, “Seventy-eight percent probability of latent bisexual tendencies. One hundred percent probability this is not a hypothetical question.”

“Yeah. So.” He coughs. “Weird thing happened. You know how Henry came to New Year’s? He kinda . . . kissed me?”

“Oh, no shit?” Nora says, nodding appreciatively. “Nice.”

Alex stares at her. “You’re not surprised?”

“I mean.” She shrugs. “He’s gay, and you’re hot, so.”

He sits up so quickly he almost drops his burrito on the floor. “Wait, wait—what makes you think he’s gay? Did he tell you he was?”

“No, I just . . . like, you know.” She gesticulates as if to describe her usual thought process. It’s as incomprehensible as her brain. “I observe patterns and data, and they form logical conclusions, and he’s just, gay. He’s always been gay.”

“I . . . what?”

“Dude. Have you met him? Isn’t he supposed to be your best friend or whatever? He’s gay. Like, Fire Island on the Fourth of July, gay. Did you really not know?”

Alex lifts his hands helplessly. “No?”

“Alex, I thought you were supposed to be smart.”

“Me too! How can he—how can he spring a kiss on me without even telling me he’s gay first?”

“I mean, like,” she attempts, “is it possible he assumed you knew?”

“But he goes on dates with girls all the time.”

“Yeah, because princes aren’t allowed to be gay,” Nora says as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “Why do you think they’re always photographed?”

Alex lets that sink in for half a second and remembers this is supposed to be about his gay panic, not Henry’s.

Yes, he was a good kisser, and there was tongue.”

“I fucking knew it,” she says. “Still waters, deep dicking.”

Stop,” he groans.

“Prince Henry is a biscuit,” Nora says, “let him sop you up.”

“I’m leaving.”

She throws her head back and cackles, and seriously, Alex has got to get more friends. “Did you like it, though?”

A pause.

“What, um,” he starts. “What do you think it would mean . . . if I did?”

“Well. Babe. You’ve been wanting him to dick you down forever, right?”

Alex almost chokes on his tongue. “What?

Nora looks at him. “Oh, shit. Did you not know that either? Shit. I didn’t mean to like, tell you.”

Alex suddenly feels intimidated at having her undivided attention.

“Let me lay out some observations for you,” she says. “You extrapolate. First, you’ve been, like, Draco Malfoy–level obsessed with Henry for years—do not interrupt me—and since the royal wedding, you’ve gotten his phone number and used it not to set up any appearances but instead to long-distance flirt with him all day every day. You’re constantly making big cow eyes at your phone, and if somebody asks you who you’re texting, you act like you got caught watching porn. You know his sleep schedule, he knows your sleep schedule, and you’re in a noticeably worse mood if you go a day without talking to him. You spent the entire New Year’s party straight-up ignoring the who’s who of hot people who want to fuck America’s most eligible bachelor to literally watch Henry stand next to the croquembouche. And he kissed you—with tongue!—and you liked it. So, objectively. What do you think it means?”

Alex stares. “I mean,” he says slowly. “I don’t . . . know.”

Nora frowns, visibly giving up, resumes eating her burrito, and returns her attention to the newsfeed on her laptop. “Okay.”

“No, okay, look,” Alex says. “I know like, objectively, on a fucking graphing calculator, it sounds like a huge embarrassing crush. But, ugh. I don’t know! He was my sworn enemy until a couple months ago, and then we were friends, I guess, and now he’s kissed me, and I don’t know what we . . . are.”

“Uh-huh,” Nora says, very much not listening. “Yep.”

“And, still,” he barrels on. “In terms of like, sexuality, what does that make me?”

Nora’s eyes snap back up to him. “Oh, like, I thought we were already there with you being bi and everything,” she says. “Sorry, are we not? Did I skip ahead again? My bad. Hello, would you like to come out to me? I’m listening. Hi.”

“I don’t know!” he half yells, miserably. “Am I? Do you think I’m bi?”

“I can’t tell you that, Alex!” she says. “That’s the whole point!”

“Shit,” he says, dropping his head back on the cushions. “I need someone to just tell me. How did you know you were?”

“I don’t know, man. I was in my junior year of high school, and I touched a boob. It wasn’t very profound. Nobody’s gonna write an Off-Broadway play about it.”

“Really helpful.”

The class is Ethical Issues in International Relations. He really has got to stop taking classes so painfully relevant to his life.

“What exactly are you asking me?”

“I mean, like, we messed around, but did it, like, mean something?”

“I don’t think I can answer that question for you,” Liam tells him. If he’s still anything like Alex remembers, he’s rubbing one hand on the underside of his jaw, raking through the stubble. He wonders faintly if, perhaps, his clear-as-day memory of Liam’s stubble has just answered his own question for him.

“Right,” he says. “You’re right.”

“Look, man,” Liam says. “I don’t know what kind of sexual crisis you’re having right now like, four years after it would have been useful, but, well. I’m not saying what we did in high school makes you gay or bi or whatever, but I can tell you I’m gay, and that even though I acted like what we were doing wasn’t gay back then, it super was.” He sighs. “Does that help, Alex? My Bloody Mary is here and I need to talk to it about this phone call.”

How dare Henry come into Alex’s house looking like the goddamn James Bond offspring that he is, drink red wine with the prime minister, and act like he didn’t slip Alex the tongue and ghost him for a month.

“You’re not going to kill him, are you?” she says.

“Probably not,” Alex tells her.

She opens the door just enough to let them through, and Alex hauls Henry into the Red Room with him.

“What on God’s earth are you doing?” Henry demands.

“Shut up, shut all the way up, oh my God,” Alex hisses, and if he weren’t already hell-bent on destroying Henry’s infuriating idiot face with his mouth right now, he would consider doing it with his fist. He’s focused on the burst of adrenaline carrying his feet over the antique rug, Henry’s tie wrapped around his fist, the flash in Henry’s eyes. He reaches the nearest wall, shoves Henry against it, and crushes their mouths together.

Henry’s too shocked to respond, mouth falling open slackly in a way that’s more surprise than invitation, and for a horrified moment Alex thinks he calculated all wrong, but then Henry’s kissing him back, and it’s everything. It feels as good as—better than—he remembered, and he can’t recall why they haven’t been doing this the whole time, why they’ve been running belligerent circles around each other for so long without doing anything about it.

In one frantic motion, Alex knocks the candelabra off the table next to them and pushes Henry onto it so he’s sitting with his back against—Alex looks up and almost breaks into deranged laughter—a portrait of Alexander Hamilton. Henry’s legs fall open readily and Alex crowds up between them, wrenching Henry’s head back into another searing kiss.

They’re really moving now, wrecking each other’s suits, Henry’s lip caught between Alex’s teeth, the portrait’s frame rattling against the wall when Henry’s head drops back and bangs into it. Alex is at his throat, and he’s somewhere between angry and giddy, caught up in the space between years of sworn hate and something else he’s begun to suspect has always been there. It’s white-hot, and he feels crazy with it, lit up from the inside.

Henry gives as good as he gets, hooking one knee around the back of Alex’s thigh for leverage, delicate royal sensibilities nowhere in the cut of his teeth. Alex has been learning for a while Henry isn’t what he thought, but it’s something else to feel it this close up, the quiet burn in him, the pent-up person under the perfect veneer who tries and pushes and wants.

“Okay, so,” Alex says. “Yeah. So here’s what we’re gonna do. You are gonna go be, like, five hundred feet away from me for the rest of the night, or else I am going to do something that I will deeply regret in front of a lot of very important people.”

“All right . . .”

“And then,” Alex says, and he grabs Henry’s tie again, close to the knot, and draws his mouth up to a breath away from Henry’s. He hears Henry swallow. He wants to follow the sound down his throat. “And then you are going to come to the East Bedroom on the second floor at eleven o’clock tonight, and I am going to do very bad things to you, and if you fucking ghost me again, I’m going to get you put on a fucking no-fly list. Got it?”

Henry bites down on a sound that tries to escape his mouth, and rasps, “Perfectly.”

It’s 10:48. He’s pacing.

He threw his jacket and tie over the back of the chair as soon as he returned to his room, and he’s got the first two buttons of his dress shirt undone. His hands are twisted up in his hair.

This is fine. It’s fine.

It’s definitely a terrible idea. But it’s fine.

He’s not sure if he should take anything else off. He’s unsure of the dress code for inviting your sworn - enemy - turned - fake - best - friend up to your room to have sex with you, especially when that room is in the White House, and especially when that person is a guy, and especially when that guy is the Prince of England.

He’s trying not to think too hard about what comes next. He may not have experience in practical application, but he’s done research. He has diagrams. He can do this.

He really, really wants to do this. That much he’s sure about.

He closes his eyes, grounds himself with his fingertips on the cool surface of his desk, the feathery little edges of papers there. His mind flashes to Henry, the smooth lines of his suit, the way his breath brushed Alex’s cheek when he kissed him. His stomach does some embarrassing acrobatics he plans to never tell anyone about, ever.

Henry, the prince. Henry, the boy in the garden. Henry, the boy in his bed.

He doesn’t, he reminds himself, even have feelings for the guy. Really.

Henry’s grin takes over his entire face, not his photograph grin, but one that is crinkly and unguarded and infectious. He hooks his fingertips behind Alex’s elbow, and Alex follows his lead, bare feet nudging between Henry’s dress shoes. Henry’s breath ghosts over Alex’s lips, their noses brushing, and when he finally connects, he’s smiling into it.

Henry shuts and locks the door behind them, sliding one hand up the nape of Alex’s neck, cradling it. There’s something different about the way he’s kissing now—it’s measured, deliberate. Soft. Alex isn’t sure why, or what to do with it.

He settles for pulling Henry in by the sway of his waist, pressing their bodies flush. He kisses back, but lets himself be kissed however Henry wants to kiss him, which right now is exactly how he would have expected Prince Charming to kiss in the first place: sweet and deep and like they’re standing at sunrise in the fucking moors. He can practically feel the wind in his hair. It’s ridiculous.

Alex moves to stand over him, looking down at that soft pink mouth. He feels himself standing at a very tall, very dangerous precipice, with no intention of backing away. Henry looks up at him, expectant, hungry.

“You were jealous,” Alex says. “You want me.”

Henry moves abruptly, heaving Alex off balance with both hands and down into his lap, eyes blazing, and he says in a low and deadly voice Alex has never heard from him before, “Yes, you preening arse, I’ve wanted you long enough that I won’t have you tease me for another fucking second.”

Turns out being on the receiving end of Henry’s royal authority is an extreme fucking turn-on. He thinks, as he’s hauled into a bruising kiss, that he’ll never forgive himself for it.

Alex climbs onto the bed, sliding back to prop himself up on his elbows by the pillows, watching as Henry kicks off his shoes and regains his bearings. He looks transformed in the lamplight, like a god of debauchery, painted gold with his hair all mussed up and his eyes heavy-lidded. Alex lets himself stare; the whipcord muscle under his skin, lean and long and lithe. The spot right at the dip of his waist below his ribs looks impossibly soft, and Alex might die if he can’t fit his hand into that little curve in the next five seconds.

In an instant of sudden, vivid clarity, he can’t believe he ever thought he was straight.

He feels Henry find the waistband of his pants, the button, the zipper, the elastic of his underwear, and then everything goes very hazy, very quickly.

He opens his eyes to see Henry bringing his hand demurely up to his elegant royal mouth to spit on it.

“Oh my fucking God,” Alex says, and Henry grins crookedly as he gets back to work. “Fuck.” His body is moving, his mouth spilling words. “I can’t believe—God, you are the most insufferable goddamn bastard on the face of the planet, do you know that—fuck—you’re infuriating, you’re the worst—you’re—”

“Do you ever stop talking?” Henry says. “Such a mouth on you.”

He’s maybe a little bit in awe of how Henry arches up off the mattress, at hearing his sweet, posh voice reciting a litany of profanities up to the ceiling. Alex is living for it, watching Henry come undone, letting him be whatever he needs to be while alone with Alex behind a locked door.

Henry’s hands are huge on his back, his jaw sharp and rough with a long day’s stubble, his shoulders broad enough to eclipse Alex when he rolls them over and pins Alex to the mattress. None of it feels anything like anything he’s felt before, but it’s just as good, maybe better.

Henry’s kissing him aggressively once more, confident in a way that’s rare from Henry. Messy earnestness and rough focus, not a dutiful prince but any other twenty-something boy enjoying himself doing something he likes, something he’s good at. And he is good at it. Alex makes a mental note to figure out which shadowy gay noble taught Henry all this and send the man a fruit basket.

The mattress shifts, and Henry moves up to the pillows, nuzzling his face into the hollow of Alex’s throat. Alex makes a vague noise of approval, and his arms fumble around Henry’s waist, but he’s helpless to do much else. He’s sure he used to know quite a lot of words, in more than one language, in fact, but he can’t seem to recall any of them.

“Hmm,” Henry hums, the tip of his nose catching on Alex’s. “If I had known this was all it took to shut you up, I’d have done it ages ago.”

With a feat of Herculean strength, he summons up two whole words: “Fuck you.”

Alex watches his small smile, the way it wrinkles the corners of his eyes, and very deliberately does not kiss it.

Part of his brain keeps getting stuck on how strange, and strangely wonderful, it is to see Henry like this, open and bare in every way. He leans across the pillow to Alex and presses a soft kiss to his mouth, and Alex feels fingertips brush over his jaw. The touch is so gentle he has to once again remind himself not to care too much.

Alex follows him to the door, watching him turn to hover there awkwardly.

“Well, er . . .” Henry attempts, looking down at his feet.

Alex rolls his eyes. “For fuck’s sake, man, you just had my dick in your mouth, you can kiss me good-night.”

Henry looks back up at him, his mouth open and incredulous, and he throws his head back and laughs, and it’s only him, the nerdy, neurotic, sweet, insomniac rich guy who constantly sends Alex photos of his dog, and something slots into place. He leans down and kisses him fiercely, and then he’s grinning and gone.

Henry on horseback is nothing new. Henry in full polo gear—the helmet, the polo sleeves capped right at the bulge of his biceps, the snug white pants tucked into tall leather boots, the intricately buckled leather knee padding, the leather gloves—is familiar. He has seen it before. Categorically, it should be boring. It should not provoke anything visceral, carnal, or bodice-ripping in nature in him at all.

But Henry urging his horse across the field with the power of his thighs, his ass bouncing hard in the saddle, the way the muscles in his arms stretch and flex when he swings, looking the way he does and wearing the things he’s wearing—it’s a lot.

He’s sweating. It’s February in Connecticut, and Alex is sweating under his coat.

He wants—God, after all the months ignoring it, he wants it again, now, right now.

The match ends after a circle-of-hell amount of time, and Alex feels like he’ll pass out or scream if he doesn’t get his hands on Henry soon, like the only thought possible in the universe is Henry’s body and Henry’s flushed face and every other molecule in existence is just an inconvenience.

It’s fast and dirty and Henry is swearing up a storm, which is still disarmingly sexy, but this time it’s punctuated by the occasional word of praise, and somehow that’s even hotter. Alex isn’t prepared for the way “that’s good” sounds in Henry’s rounded Buckingham vowels, or for how luxury leather feels when it strokes approvingly down his cheek, a gloved thumb brushing the corner of his mouth.

“I don’t suppose you’ll be anywhere near Kensington anytime soon?”

“That shithole?” he says with a wink. “Not if I can help it.”

“Oi,” Henry says. He’s grinning now. “That’s disrespect of the crown, that is. Insubordination. I’ve thrown men in the dungeons for less.”

Alex turns, walking backward toward the car, hands in the air. “Hey, don’t threaten me with a good time.”

He knows, objectively, he should pace himself. It’s only physical. But Perfect Stoic Prince Charming laughs when he comes, and texts Alex at weird hours of the night:

You’re a mad, spiteful, unmitigated demon, and I’m going to kiss you until you forget how to talk.

And Alex is kind of obsessed with it.

Henry pins his wrists to the mattress and swallows him down, and Alex is drunk and fucking transported, feeling every moment of twenty-two years and not a single day older, some kind of hedonistic youth of history. Birthday head from another country’s prince will do that.

There are a lot of days when Henry is happy to hear from him and quick to respond, a fast, cutting sense of humor, hungry for Alex’s company and the tangle of thoughts in Alex’s head. But sometimes, he’s taken over by a dark mood, an unusually acerbic wit, strange and vitrified. He’ll withdraw for hours or days, and Alex comes to understand this as grief time, little bouts of depression, or times of “too much.” Henry hates those days completely. Alex wishes he could help, but he doesn’t particularly mind. He’s just as attracted to Henry’s cloudy tempers, the way he comes back from them, and the millions of shades in between.

“Listen,” Henry is saying, heated, over the phone on a Thursday night. “I don’t give a damn what Joanne has to say, Remus John Lupin is gay as the day is long, and I won’t hear a word against it.”

“Okay,” Alex says. “For the record, I agree with you, but also, tell me more.”

He launches into a long-winded tirade, and Alex listens, amused and a little awed, as Henry works his way to his point: “I just think, as the prince of this bloody country, that when it comes to Britain’s positive cultural landmarks, it would be nice if we could not throw our own marginalized people under the proverbial bus. People sanitize Freddie Mercury or Elton John or Bowie, who was shagging Jagger up and down Oakley Street in the seventies, I might add. It’s just not the truth.”

“Ugh! Men!” she groans. “No emotional vocabulary. I can’t believe our ancestors survived centuries of wars and plagues and genocide just to wind up with your sorry ass.” She throws a pillow at him, and Alex scream-laughs as it hits him in the face. “You should try saying some of that stuff to him.”

“Stop trying to Jane Austen my life!” he yells back.

“Listen, it’s not my fault he’s a mysterious and retiring young royal and you’re the tempestuous ingénue that caught his eye, okay?”

“Oh, dear,” Henry says, peering down into his empty shot glass. “What’s in these? Vodka?”

“Yep,” Nora confirms, to which both Pez and Bea break out into fits of giggles.

“What?” Alex says.

“Oh, I haven’t had vodka since uni,” Henry says. “It tends to make me, erm. Well—”

“Flamboyant?” Pez offers. “Uninhibited? Randy?”

“Fun?” Bea suggests.

Excuse you, I am loads of fun all the time! I am a delight!”

“Hello, excuse me, can we get another round of these please?” Alex calls down the bar.

Bea screams, Henry laughs and throws up a V, and it all goes hazy and warm in the way Alex loves.

He looks at all of them. Pez, his broad smile and glowing joy, the way his white-blond hair flashes against smooth, dark skin. The curve of Bea’s waist and hip and her punk-rock grin as she sucks on the rind of a lime. Nora’s long legs, one of which is propped up on the table and crossed over one of Bea’s, her thigh bare where her dress has ridden up. And Henry, flushed and callow and lean, elegant and thrown wide open, his face always turned toward Alex, his mouth unguarded around a laugh, willing.

He turns to June and slurs, “Bisexuality is truly a rich and complex tapestry,” and she screams with laughter and shoves a napkin in his mouth.

Henry pushes a hand into his hair and gives it a little pull. “I shall just have to make it the best orgasm of your life. What can I do to make it good for you? Talk about American tax reform during the act? Have you got talking points?”

Alex looks up, and Henry is grinning at him. “I hate you.”

“Maybe some light lacrosse role-play?” He’s laughing now, arms coming up around Alex’s shoulders to squeeze him to his chest. “O captain, my captain.”

“You’re literally the worst,” Alex says, and undercuts it by leaning up to kiss him once more, gently, then deeply, long and slow and heated.

It’s incredible and baffling, the way Henry’s confidence comes in waves like this, how he struggles so much to get through the asking for what he wants and then readily takes it the moment he’s given permission, like at the bar, how the right push had him dancing and shouting as if he’d been waiting for someone to tell him he was allowed to do it.

He watches Henry lather up and shave, put pomade in his hair, put on his Burberry for the day, and he catches himself wishing he could watch it every day. He likes taking Henry apart, but there’s something incredibly intimate about sitting on the bed they wrecked the night before, the only one who watches him create Prince Henry of Wales for the day.

Through his throbbing hangover, he’s got a suspicion all these feelings are why he held off on fucking Henry for so long.

How is a man to get anything done knowing Alex Claremont-Diaz is out there on the loose? I am driven to distraction.

It’s all bloody useless because when I’m not thinking about your face, I’m thinking about your arse or your hands or your smart mouth. I suspect the latter is what got me into this predicament in the first place. Nobody’s ever got the nerve to be cheeky to a prince, except you. The moment you first called me a prick, my fate was sealed. O, fathers of my bloodline! O, ye kings of olde! Take this crown from me, bury me in my ancestral soil. If only you had known the mighty work of thine loins would be undone by a gay heir who likes it when American boys with chin dimples are mean to him.

Actually, remember those gay kings I mentioned? I feel that James I, who fell madly in love with a very fit and exceptionally dim knight at a titling match and immediately made him a gentleman of the bedchamber (a real title), would take mercy upon my particular plight.

I’ll be damned but I miss you.

Alex takes a breath. There’s this way Henry has of listening to the erratic stream of consciousness that pours out of Alex’s mouth and answering with the clearest, crystallized truth that Alex has been trying to arrive at all along. If Alex’s head is a storm, Henry is the place lightning hits ground.

“Oh, wonderful,” Zahra says. “I’m so glad you thought this through. Great. How long has this been happening?”

“Since, um. New Year’s,” Alex says.

New Year’s?” Zahra repeats, eyes wide. “This has been going on for seven months? That’s why you—Oh my God, I thought you were getting into international relations or something.”

“I mean, technically—”

“If you finish that sentence, I’m gonna spend tonight in jail.”

Alex winces. “Please don’t tell Mom.”

Seriously?” she practically yells. “You’re literally putting your dick in the leader of a foreign state, who is a man, at the biggest political event before the election, in a hotel full of reporters, in a city full of cameras, in a race close enough to fucking hinge on some bullshit like this, like a manifestation of my fucking stress dreams, and you’re asking me not to tell the president about it?”

Are you angling for a revolutionary soldier role-play scenario? I must inform you, any trace of King George III blood I have would curdle in my very veins and render me useless to you.

Or are you suggesting you’d rather exchange passionate letters by candlelight?

Should I tell you that when we’re apart, your body comes back to me in dreams? That when I sleep, I see you, the dip of your waist, the freckle above your hip, and when I wake up in the morning, it feels like I’ve just been with you, the phantom touch of your hand on the back of my neck fresh and not imagined? That I can feel your skin against mine, and it makes every bone in my body ache? That, for a few moments, I can hold my breath and be back there with you, in a dream, in a thousand rooms, nowhere at all?

They sit around the fire pit and play old Johnny Cash songs, Selena, Fleetwood Mac. Alex sits and listens to the cicadas and the water and his dad’s rough, ranger voice, and when his dad slumps off to bed, June’s songbird one. He feels wrapped up and warm, turning slowly under the moon.

He and Henry drift to a swing at the edge of the porch, and he curls into Henry’s side, buries his face in the collar of his shirt. Henry puts an arm around him, touches the hinge of Alex’s jaw with fingers that smell like smoke.

June plucks away at “Annie’s Song,” you fill up my senses like a night in a forest, and the breeze keeps moving to meet the highest branches of the trees, and the water keeps rising to meet the bulkheads, and Henry leans down to meet Alex’s mouth, and Alex is. Well, Alex is so in love he could die.

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 went wrong, he doesn’t know how he would 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 how 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?

“So, what, was this all never going to be anything real to you?”

And Henry snaps.

“You really are a complete idiot if you believe that,” Henry hisses, the note balled in his fist. “When have I ever, since the first instant I touched you, pretended to be anything less than in love with you? Are you so fucking self-absorbed as to think this is about you and whether or not I love you, rather than the fact I’m an heir to the fucking throne? You at least have the option to not choose a public life eventually, but I will live and die in these palaces and in this family, so don’t you dare come to me and question if I love you when it’s the thing that could bloody well ruin everything.”

Alex doesn’t speak, doesn’t move, doesn’t breathe, his feet rooted to the spot. Henry isn’t looking at him, but staring at a point on the mantel somewhere, tugging at his own hair in exasperation.

“It was never supposed to be an issue,” he goes on, his voice hoarse. “I thought I could have some part of you, and just never say it, and you’d never have to know, and one day you’d get tired of me and leave, because I’m—” He stops short, and one shaking hand moves through the air in front of him in a helpless sort of gesture at everything about himself. “I never thought I’d be standing here faced with a choice I can’t make, because I never . . . I never imagined you would love me back.”

“Well,” Alex says. “I do. And you can choose.”

“You know bloody well I can’t.”

“You can try,” Alex tells him, feeling as if it should be the simplest fucking truth in the world. “What do you want?”

“I want you—”

“Then fucking have me.”

“Don’t you bloody see? I’m not like you. I can’t afford to be reckless. I don’t have a family who will support me. I don’t go about shoving who I am in everyone’s faces and dreaming about a career in fucking politics, so I can be more scrutinized and picked apart by the entire godforsaken world. I can love you and want you and still not want that life. I’m allowed, all right, and it doesn’t make me a liar; it makes me a man with some infinitesimal shred of self-preservation, unlike you, and you don’t get to come here and call me a coward for it.”

“I’ll leave,” he says, and he turns back and leans in, “as soon as you tell me to leave.”


He’s in Henry’s face now. If he’s getting his heart broken tonight, he’s sure as hell going to make Henry have the guts to do it right. “Tell me you’re done with me. I’ll get back on the plane. That’s it. And you can live here in your tower and be miserable forever, write a whole book of sad fucking poems about it. Whatever. Just say it.”

“Fuck you,” Henry says, his voice breaking, and he gets a handful of Alex’s shirt collar, and Alex knows he’s going to love this stubborn shithead forever.

He realizes, suddenly, Henry’s crying.

He swallows.

That’s the thing: he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know if this is supposed to be some kind of consummation, or if it’s one last time. He doesn’t think he could go through with it if he knew it was the latter. But he doesn’t want to go home without having this.


He fucks Henry slow and deep, and if it’s the last time, they go down shivering and gasping and epic, all wet mouths and wet eyelashes, and Alex is a cliché on an ivory bedspread, and he hates himself but he’s so in love. He’s in stupid, unbearable love, and Henry loves him too, and at least for one night it matters, even if they both have to pretend to forget in the morning.

Henry comes with his face turned into Alex’s open palm, his bottom lip catching on the knob of his wrist, and Alex tries to memorize every detail down to how his lashes fan across his cheeks and the pink flush that spreads all the way up to his ears. He tells his too-fast brain: Don’t miss it this time. He’s too important.

“I’m not . . . good at saying these things like you are, but. I’ve always thought . . . ever since I knew about me, and even before, when I could sense I was different—and, after everything the past few years, all the mad things my head does—I’ve always thought of myself as a problem that deserved to stay hidden. Never quite trusted myself, or what I wanted. Before you, I was all right letting everything happen to me. I honestly have never thought I deserved to choose.” His hand moves, fingertips brushing a curl behind Alex’s ear. “But you treat me like I do.”

There’s something painfully hard in Alex’s throat, but he pushes past it. He reaches over and sets his mug down next to Henry’s on the nightstand.

“You do,” he says.

“I think I’m actually beginning to believe that,” Henry says. “And I don’t know how long it would have taken if I didn’t have you to believe for me.”

“And there’s nothing wrong with you,” Alex tells him. “I mean, aside from the fact that you’re occasionally an obtuse fucking asshole.”

When Alex was a kid, before anyone knew his name, he dreamed of love like it was a fairy tale, as if it would come sweeping into his life on the back of a dragon one day. When he got older, he learned about love as a strange thing that could fall apart no matter how badly you wanted it, a choice you make anyway. He never imagined it’d turn out he was right both times.

“It’s funny,” Henry says. “I always thought of the whole thing as the most unforgivable thing about me, but you act like it’s one of the best.”

“Oh, yeah,” Alex says. “The top list of reasons to love you goes brain, then dick, then imminent status as a revolutionary gay icon.”

“You are quite literally Queen Victoria’s worst nightmare.”

“And that’s why you love me.”

“My God, you’re right. All this time, I was just after the bloke who’d most infuriate my homophobic forebears.”

“Ah, and we can’t forget they were also racist.”

“Certainly not.” Henry nods seriously. “Next time we shall visit some of the George III pieces and see if they burst into flame.”

But the first time I saw you. Rio. I took that down to the gardens. I pressed it into the leaves of a silver maple and recited it to the Waterloo Vase. It didn’t fit in any rooms.

You were talking with Nora and June, happy and animated and fully alive, a person living in dimensions I couldn’t access, and so beautiful. Your hair was longer then. You weren’t even a president’s son yet, but you weren’t afraid. You had a yellow ipê-amarelo in your pocket.

I thought, this is the most incredible thing I have ever seen, and I had better keep it a safe distance away from me. I thought, if someone like that ever loved me, it would set me on fire.

And then I was a careless fool, and I fell in love with you anyway. When you rang me at truly shocking hours of the night, I loved you. When you kissed me in disgusting public toilets and pouted in hotel bars and made me happy in ways in which it had never even occurred to me that a mangled-up, locked-up person like me could be happy, I loved you.

And then, inexplicably, you had the absolute audacity to love me back. Can you believe it?

Sometimes, even now, I still can’t.

Sometimes I feel like a funny-looking rock in the middle of the most beautiful clear ocean when I read the kinds of things you write to me. You love so much bigger than yourself, bigger than everything. I can’t believe how lucky I am to even witness it—to be the one who gets to have it, and so much of it, is beyond luck and feels like fate.

It’s so hard for me to get out of my own head sometimes, but now I’m coming back to what I said to you the night in my room when it all started, and how I brushed you off when you offered to let me go after the DNC, how I used to try to act like it was nothing sometimes. I didn’t even know what you were offering to do to yourself. God, I want to fight everyone who’s ever hurt you, but it was me too, wasn’t it? All that time. I’m so sorry.

“It’s not fucking fair!” he goes on, his voice nearly breaking. “My shit ancestors walked around doing a thousand times worse than any of this, and nobody cared!”

Baby,” Alex says, moving his hand to Henry’s chin to bring him back down. “I know. I’m so sorry, babe. But it won’t be like this forever, okay? I promise.”

Henry closes his eyes and exhales through his nose. “I want to believe you. I do. But I’m so afraid I’ll never be allowed.”

Alex wants to go to war for this man, wants to get his hands on everything and everyone that ever hurt him, but for once, he’s trying to be the steady one. So he rubs the side of Henry’s neck gently until his eyes drift back open, and he smiles softly, tipping their foreheads together.

“Hey,” he says. “I’m not gonna let that happen. Listen, I’m telling you right now, I will physically fight your grandmother myself if I have to, okay? And, like, she’s old. I know I can take her.”

“I wouldn’t be so cocky,” Henry says with a small laugh. “She’s full of dark surprises.”

It’s all happened so quickly that now, knees curled up to his chin as they leave the ground, is the first time Alex is able to actually think about everything.

He’s not, he thinks, upset people know. He’s always been pretty unapologetic when it came to things like who he dates and what he’s into, although those were never anything like this. Still, the cocky shithead part of him is slightly pleased to finally have a claim on Henry. Yep, the prince? Most eligible bachelor in the world? British accent, face like a Greek god, legs for days? Mine.

But that’s only a tiny, tiny fraction of it. The rest is a knot of fear, anger, violation, humiliation, uncertainty, panic. There are the flaws everyone’s allowed to see—his big mouth, his mercurial temper, his searing impulses—and then there’s this. It’s like how he only wears his glasses when nobody’s around: Nobody’s supposed to see how much he needs.

He doesn’t care that people think about his body and write about his sex life, real or imagined. He cares that they know, in his own private words, what’s pumping out of his heart.

And Henry. God, Henry. Those emails—those letters—were the one place Henry could say what he was really thinking. There’s nothing that wasn’t laid out in there: Henry being gay, Bea going to rehab, the queen tacitly keeping Henry in the closet. Alex hasn’t been a good Catholic in a long time, but he knows confession is a sacrament. They were supposed to stay safe.


There’s another pause, Henry’s breath shaky over the receiver. “I’m not sorry,” he says. “That people know.”

Alex feels his heart climb up into his throat.

“Henry,” he attempts, “I . . .”


“I talked to my mom—”

“I know the timing isn’t ideal—”

“Would you—”

“I want—”

“Hang on,” Alex says. “Are we. Um. Are we both asking the same thing?”

“That depends. Were you going to ask me if I want to tell the truth?”

“Yeah,” Alex says, and he thinks his knuckles must be white around the phone. “Yeah, I was.”

“Then, yes.”

A breath, barely. “You want that?”

Henry takes a moment to respond, but his voice is level. “I don’t know if I would have chosen it yet, but it’s out there now, and . . . I won’t lie. Not about this. Not about you.”

Alex’s eyelashes are wet.

“I fucking love you.”

“I love you too.”

If Henry’s voice on the phone was a tether, his body is the gravity that makes it possible, his hand gripping the back of Alex’s neck a magnetic force, a permanent compass north.

“I’m sorry,” is what comes out of Alex’s mouth, miserably, earnestly, muffled against Henry’s throat. “It’s my fault. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Henry releases him, hands on his shoulders, jaw set. “Don’t you dare. I’m not sorry for a thing.”

Alex laughs again, incredulous, looking into the heavy circles under Henry’s eyes and the chewed-up bottom lip and, for the first time, seeing a man born to lead a nation.

“Do you understand?” she asks him, looking right into his eyes. “You need to understand this to be with Henry. He is the most loving, nurturing, selfless person you could hope to meet, but there is a sadness and a hurt in him that is tremendous, and you may very well never truly understand it, but you need to love it as much as you love the rest of him, because that’s him. That is him, part and parcel. And he is prepared to give it all to you, which is far more than I ever, in a thousand years, thought I would see him do.”

Alex sits, trying for a long moment to absorb it, and says, “I’ve never . . . I haven’t been through anything like that,” he says, voice rough. “But I’ve always felt it, in him. There’s this side of him that’s . . . unknowable.” He takes a breath. “But the thing is, jumping off cliffs is kinda my thing. That’s the choice. I love him, with all that, because of all that. On purpose. I love him on purpose.”

Bea smiles gently. “Then you’ll do fine.”

“Fuck off, Philip, I love him,” Henry says.

“Oh, you love him, do you?” It’s so patronizing that Alex’s hand twitches into a fist under the table. “What exactly do you intend to do, then, Henry? Hmm? Marry him? Make him the Duchess of Cambridge? The First Son of the United bloody States, fourth in line to be Queen of England?”

“I’ll fucking abdicate!” Henry says, voice rising. “I don’t care!”

“You wouldn’t dare,” Philip spits back.

“We have a great uncle who abdicated because he was a fucking Nazi, so it’d hardly be the worst reason anyone’s done it, would it?” Henry’s yelling now, and he’s out of his chair, hands shaking, towering over Philip, and Alex notices that he’s actually taller. “What are we even defending here, Philip? What kind of legacy? What kind of family, that says, we’ll take the murder, we’ll take the raping and pillaging and the colonizing, we’ll scrub it up nice and neat in a museum, but oh no, you’re a bloody poof? That’s beyond our sense of decorum! I’ve bloody well had it. I’ve sat about long enough letting you and Gran and the weight of the damned world keep me pinned, and I’m finished. I don’t care. You can take your legacy and your decorum and you can shove it up your fucking arse, Philip. I’m done.”

“Nobody’s saying you don’t deserve to be happy,” Philip cuts in. “First love makes everyone mad—it’s foolish to throw away your future because of one hormonal decision based on less than a year of your life when you were barely in your twenties.”

Henry looks Philip square in the face and says, “I’ve been gay as a maypole since the day I came out of Mum, Philip.”

In the corridor of Buckingham Palace, as soon as the door has shut behind them, they fall sideways into a tapestry on a wall, breathless and delirious and laughing, cheeks wet. Henry pulls Alex close and kisses him, whispers, “I love you I love you I love you,” and it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter if anyone sees.

“Fine,” he says. “Fine, yeah, I’m nervous about going back to Texas.”

He tosses both the blazers at the bed. Shit.

“I always felt like Texas claiming me as their son was, you know, kind of conditional.” He paces, rubbing the back of his neck. “The whole half-Mexican, all Democrat thing. There’s a very loud contingent there that does not like me and does not want me to represent them. And now, it’s just. Not being straight. Having a boyfriend. Having a gay sex scandal with a European prince. I don’t know anymore.”

He loves Texas—he believes in Texas. But he doesn’t know if Texas still loves him.

The crowd pushes him back into Henry’s chest, and after absolutely everything, all the emails and texts and months on the road and secret rendezvous and nights of wanting, the whole accidentally - falling - in - love - with - your - sworn - enemy - at - the - absolute - worst - possible - time thing, they made it. Alex said they would—he promised. Henry’s smiling so wide and bright that Alex thinks his heart’s going to break trying to hold the size of this entire moment, the completeness of it, a thousand years of history swelling inside his ribcage.

Austin feels different somehow, but it hasn’t changed, not really. Austin is dried flowers from a homecoming corsage in a bowl by the cordless phone, the washed-out bricks of the rec center where he tutored kids after school, a beer bummed off a stranger on the spill of the Barton Creek Greenbelt. The nopales, the hipster cold brews. It’s a weird, singular constant, the hook in his heart that’s kept tugging him back to earth his whole life.

Maybe it’s just that he’s different.

There are no fireworks out here, no music, no confetti. Just sleeping, single-family homes, TVs finally switched off. Just a house where Alex grew up, where he saw Henry’s picture in a magazine and felt a flicker of something, a start.

“Hey,” Alex says. Henry turns back to him, his eyes silver in the wash of the streetlight. “We won.”

Henry takes his hand, one corner of his mouth tugging gently upward. “Yeah. We won.”

Remarkably Bright Creatures

- Shelby Van Pelt

I can use tools. I can solve puzzles.

None of the other prisoners have such skills.

My neurons number half a billion, and they are distributed among my eight arms. On occasion, I have wondered whether I might have more intelligence in a single tentacle than a human does in its entire skull.

Smart cookie.

I am smart, but I am not a snack object dispensed from a packaged food machine.

What a preposterous thing to say.

Humans. For the most part, you are dull and blundering. But occasionally, you can be remarkably bright creatures.

The Revels

- Stacey Thomas

'You enjoyed that,' I discern once the carriage comes to a halt.

'Power is intoxicating,' he concedes, before instructing the carriage driver to unload our valises.

His eyes gleam when he looks over his shoulder, no doubt expecting a witty response, but the only thing I have to offer is the truth: 'Power is not something I have ever possessed.'

'Steal it,' Will urges. 'Just as I have had to.'

I am no witch, not in accordance with King James's Daemeonologie. I have not sold my soul to the Devil for powers. What I am has never openly been whispered of, yet it is enough that people would hang for it.

Reaching inside my pocket, I silence the corpse with a coin over his mouth.

'An obol for Charon,' Will remarks.

A bribe for the dead's silence, and now my own.

For all his youth, my brother met his death with a steadiness that surprises me. My failure to revive him haunts me, as does my relief. Only a with can revive the dead. Even the immortal Pollux was almost dragged into the underworld alongside his brother until he cut the strands between them. I do not fear being pulled down. My mother's curse has seen to it that I am more for the dead than the living. Besides, I cannot let my brother die twice. His song is a memory and I will not let time blunt its edge.

I am not the only one to stiffen when someone stands to make an accusation. We are waiting, with bated breath, to be told that we are not one of them. That we are witches.

The details change, yet the girl never does; she is either wanton or a mercenary whore, but never the victim.

For a moment I hesitate, though not from fear. I am reconciling the two versions of myself: the one who keeps to the shadows and the one who now steps forward into the light.

Rogue Protocol

- Martha Wells

Also, I missed ART, and I even missed Tapan, and Maro and Rami. If you had to take care of humans, it was better to take care of small soft ones who were nice to you and thought you were great because you kept preventing them from being murdered.

If there was one thing good about this situation, it was reinforcing how great my decisions to (a) hack my governor module and (b) escape were. Being a SecUnit sucked. I couldn't wait to get back to my wild rogue rampage of hitching rides on bot-piloted transports and watching my serials.

I was getting an idea. It was probably a bad idea. (When most of your training in tactical thinking comes from adventure shows, that does tend to happen.)

The Rules of Magic

- Alice Hoffman

They were not the sort to discuss their emotions, or even admit they had them, so Franny kept her insights to herself.

“I think we have a disorder. Maybe we should have read Dad’s book,” Vincent wondered. “We might have been more normal.”

Actually, Fanny had been reading it. She’d expected to find it preposterous, filled with crackpot theories about genetics. But as it turned out, A Stranger in the House was a love letter to Dr. Burke-Owens’s children, something none of them would have ever guessed. Certainly, Franny was shocked by her father’s warm, loving attitude.

They may be nothing like you, he had written, they may surprise you, they may even repel you when their behavior is out of control, when they climb out their windows and drink underage and break every rule, but you will love them in a way you had not thought possible before, no matter who they turn out to be.

He still had his same old Martin guitar he’d bought when he was fourteen, an instrument that seemed to feel and emote in a way that eluded him. He was inspired when he performed, his voice blessed with a soaring grace. And then he would stop and feel empty all over again, a hollow reed the wind blew through, another young man in a black jacket hanging out on the corner of MacDougal and Bleecker.

These were the times when children dreamed about nuclear testing and falling stars. There was an undercurrent of unrest, like a wave, racial division in the cities, the war halfway around the world blooming with blood. When Vincent walked through Washington Square Park he could hear the thoughts of the people he passed by, such a ragged outcry of emotion he sometimes thought he would go mad. He understood why Jet seemed not to care that she had lost her gift. It was awful to hear the voices of dead paupers buried in unmarked graves beneath the cement paths. All but forgotten, they cried out to anyone who might hear them. For them the world had been a veil of tears. The murdered, the abandoned, the ill, the ruined, victims and criminals alike all cried out to him. He wished he’d never had the sight. What had been a game when he was a boy had become an affliction. He had no desire to tap into other people’s pain, to know them better than they knew themselves.

William lifted his hand away to signal to the bartender for another round. In that instant something happened to Vincent. He realized he had a heart. It came as a great surprise to him. He sat back on the barstool, stunned. So this was it, and had been all along, the way a person felt when he was enraptured, when he didn’t care about anyone else in the room, or in the city for that matter. It had finally transpired, what he had seen in the mirror, the man he would fall in love with.

“Do you know your fate?” Vincent asked as they lay together, entwined.

“I know yours.” William laughed. “I told you when I met you.”

“To sing in Washington Square Park?”

William grinned. “To be mine.”

Her brother could be so irritating when he pretended to be dense. “You know you’re not supposed to do this,” Franny said.

“Be with a man?”

“Fall in love!” They both laughed, then Franny’s expression darkened. “Seriously, Vincent. The curse.”

“Oh, fuck it, Franny. Aren’t you sick of being ruled by the actions of people who are long dead? Maybe everyone is cursed. Maybe it’s the human condition. Maybe it’s what we want.”

Franny was truly worried. There was no one of whom she felt more protective. She thought of sitting beside his crib with a canister of salt, refusing to leave him after he’d been returned to them. She had seen a halo around him, the sign of a beautiful, but short, life. Franny had the salt with her now, but here he was with a grin on his face. And there was William Grant, watching them, concerned, clearly mad for her brother.

“Franny,” Vincent said. “Do not argue with me. Let me be who I am.”

As she threw her arms around him, she forgot about the salt and the rosemary and the curse and the ways fate could surprise you.

“Then I wish you happiness,” she said, for that was really all she’d ever wanted for him.

Oh, it was horrible. Franny was crying. She was mortified. She quickly buried her face in her hands. “I let him go and now he belongs to someone else. And it’s better for him that way.”

“You can love him if you want to,” Jet told Franny. The scar on her face bloomed in cold weather, turning the color of violets. “To hell with the curse. You don’t have to make the same mistakes all the other women in our family have made.”

“Why would I be any different?”

“You’ll be the one to outsmart it.”

“Unlikely,” Franny said sadly.

“You will,” Jet insisted. She didn’t have to have the sight to know this. “Wait and see.”

“Maria Owens did what she did for a reason. She was young and she thought damning anyone who loved us would protect us. But what she had with that terrible man wasn’t love. She didn’t understand that when you truly love someone and they love you in return, you ruin your lives together. That is not a curse, it’s what life is, my girl. We all come to ruin, we turn to dust, but whom we love is the thing that lasts.”

“Maybe I’m afraid of love,” Franny admitted. “It’s too powerful.”

The Rural Diaries

- Hilarie Burton Morgan

Love is like farm work. It requires consistency, and imagination. Your body will ache and you will be fatigued, but there is no greater reward than seeing the fruits of your labor.

I had spent the previous few years wandering, never really finding my place, but I wanted more. I wanted a family. I wanted a home that could be a refuge and a blank canvas that would allow me to daydream, to take risks, to try and fail and try again. I wanted to push myself every day. I wanted to make every moment intentional. Wake up intentionally. Work intentionally. Eat intentionally. And rest intentionally.

You have to have fun in the failures, especially when you’re reinventing yourself and trying new things. Your failures become your most memorable stories.

There is a moment of absolute freedom when you realize that the things that used to scare you have no power over you anymore.

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