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how to have (normal) friends without fucking it up

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gamer voice: ‘triple A lawyer industry’
November 20, 2021, 12:42 PM

Abby
uhh…
[Attached Image] some guy’s doing a talk on investments
library’s off limits
unless you want to study to the riveting james johnson talk
about how saving a dollar a day leads to more retirement funds

Anthony
tell johnson with law school im lucky to have 1 dollar when i retire
anyway where’d y’all wanna go?

Abby
some place
quiet
comfy
where i can concentrate on the torts final
and not on my impostor syndrome

Anthony
rip my place is off limits
roommates havent stopped playing the latest elder scrolls skyrim 

Alex
we could study at my house

Anthony
we can do that?

Alex
sure why not

Abby
aren’t there like protocols or something?

Alex
nope
just NDAs

Anthony
yeah, i know, ig
you’re cool but idk the agents following you around...

Alex
y’all are forgetting i started in georgetown
when my mom was elected
at least it’s not like the white house
where they’ll bring the dogs out to sniff for weed
cash and the ppos will probably check you for stuff but yeah…
just don’t bring anything that would alert
the royal protectors of the 4th in line for the throne

Abby
lol

Anthony
okay :)
what time?

Alex
4:00?
we need to prepare NDAs for my partner as well

Anthony
sure!!
hey @abby, wanna meet up at the nearby sushi place for lunch?

——

Alex—or more accurately, his ass—knocks down his mug, spilling coffee across the table and his notebook. Shit. He snatches the notebook from the slow creep of the dark liquid threatening to drown his freshly tabbed notes. The carpet isn’t saved from the stale coffee as it drips over the edge. He runs to the kitchen, finding a thin roll of paper towels. It should be enough to clean up the mess. Granted,he should have gotten rid of the mug seven hours ago, but between summarizing another chapter or throwing his coffee mug in the dishwasher… Alex wants to feel like he's checking off an itemized list to success.

Step 1: Do the assigned readings before every class—maybe two classes or even three classes ahead. Step 2: Take notes and inevitably rewrite them. Step 3: Don't cram, but also cram because holy shit, the last test had a question he didn’t recall seeing the answer to in his tabbed and highlighted notebook, which was decorated with multi-colored sticky notes.

“Love, you haven't had solid food since last night,” says Henry from the hallway. “I was thinking we could take David out for a walk and grab falafel wraps.”

"Yes, hi, Hen, sweetheart, you are exactly who I need right now,” Alex says, meeting Henry at the living room entrance. In his plain white tee and sweatpants, he’s not much more presentable than Alex, but he somehow always finds a way to make messy look hot.

“Oh? I didn't think the prospect of falafel wraps could get you excited." The corner of Henry’s mouth tips up, showing a flash of teeth. “Not that I'm complaining. It’s about time you understood their delicious brilliance.”

“They’re always great and you’re always great, baby, but you know what would be better?” Alex takes his hands, pulling him inside the living room.

Henry raises his eyebrows in interest. “Go on.”

Alex puts on his most apologetic expression. “If we cleaned this place up before Abby and Anthony come over at four.”

Henry searches his face, the cogs in his head finding familiarity. Alex has only mentioned Abby and Anthony in passing, but enough that Henry would know them—or at least their group name.

“Your triple A lawyer industry group chat?”

“They’re not just a group chat. We’re friends. We hang out and uh….”

Henry crosses his arms, unconvinced.

“Okay, we’re more close acquaintances than anything,” Alex concedes. “But they haven’t acted weird about the whole ‘First Son’ thing.”

“I’m just surprised they didn’t refuse to speak to you after seeing the security detail,” Henry says. He almost sounds sincere, but Alex recognizes the smug quirk at the corner of his lips.

“Shut up.”

“Am I wrong?”

Alex sighs. “Anthony almost did until we had to do a small group assignment together and, well—he’s okay now, still weirded out about hanging out with the First Son and a ‘secret agent’ or something. But it’s fine, I think. And they haven’t said anything about the whole, you know—” Alex throws his hands up, a helpless gesture encompassing the… everything. “So. I don’t want to go through law school feeling like I didn’t go to law school.”

Georgetown was decidedly not the normal student experience, where his classes were steps to becoming the youngest person elected in Congress, where everyone was too dazed, too intimidated at having the FSOTUS sitting in their lecture rooms. The sparkle hadn’t faded in NYU. Dating the Prince of England is now part of the Alex Claremont-Diaz Charm Initiative. Suddenly, everyone acts like it’s okay to ask him invasive questions just because they read the emails. He didn’t ask for the whole fucking world to know their heartfelt confessions, their deepest secrets that were meant for dark rooms, not the center display on the world’s stage.

But….

Abby didn’t ask for an autograph or a selfie when she sat beside Alex in International Law. Abby didn’t flinch when she invited him to lunch with her best friend, Anthony. After the NDAs and the initial awkwardness of meeting up with a known person to scarf down ramen during late-night cram sessions at the library, they absorbed Alex into their inside jokes and their stories, carving out a space in their lives for him to fit.

Do they truly not know about Henry? Do people who spent the last two years working in Antarctica have time to read about the personal lives of the First Family? When Alex mentioned he had a boyfriend, Abby and Anthony were surprised, as if they were the only two people in the world who hadn't read their emails or watched Alex's speech at the Rose Garden.

“I think it’ll be fun. This is possibly the first time I’ve had anyone over—besides Pez and you, of course,” Henry says.

Alex snorts. “Then where’d you hook up with those dumb jocks from Oxford?”

“In Kensington, their residence, their flat, a hotel, not anywhere that could really count as ‘my place,’” he answers with a knowing smile. “And they weren’t only dumb jocks. In fact, you’re the only jock I’ve slept with who I’d say is passable.”

“Passable? That’s not what you said two nights ago!”

Henry laughs aloud, echoing throughout the brownstone, and Alex feels like that sound alone could reorganize his life and clean up his coffee stains.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t, so they tidy up the living room. Henry then convinces Alex to shower before they clean up the rest of the brownstone. It’s half past one when Alex finishes showering and puts on a button-up shirt and jeans. He’s putting away empty soda cans and takeout boxes in the kitchen when Henry returns with David and a plastic container.

“Food first,” Henry says, waving a falafel wrap in his face. Alex pouts and grumbles, but his stomach growls louder. He reluctantly accepts the falafel wrap, finding a seat at their granite island.

“Do you think they’ll mind?” Henry asks, a few bites into his own meal.

Alex chews on a large mouthful and swallows. “Mind what? That our kitchen’s a mess?”

“Do you think they’ll mind me? Like you said, they haven’t said anything about the—” He stops, searching for the right word. “The emails. So they might not know, or at least not care."

“Of course they know. The tabloids can’t shut the fuck up. Speaking of, apparently we’re breaking up over my secret baby from a past relationship.”

Henry chokes on a bite of falafel. “Wow.”

“Mhm.”

They eat in a comfortable silence for a while. Henry breaks it. “Didn't you say they spent the last two years documenting penguins in Antarctica? And they were surprised when you said you were bisexual and have a boyfriend?”

“Babe,” Alex says, reaching for his hand and twining their fingers together. "Henry. Sweetheart. Crown prince of my heart. Regardless of whether they know about you or not, you're fun and an absolute delight, which is one of the reasons why I moved in with you. That and 24/7 access to that hot piece of ass." Henry snorts. "Seriously, Anthony’s writing this queer romance book and Abby’s working for an LGBT art therapy org. You’ll love them and they’ll love you. And I’m ninety-five percent sure they’ve already googled me.”

“I trust you, love,” Henry says, quirking a grin. The way his accent curls around love melts Alex’s insides in the best possible way; he squeezes Henry’s hand to keep himself from sliding off the stool. It’ll be okay, he thinks. It’ll be absolutely fucking okay... after they throw away the garbage, mop the floors, and toss the three day-old dirty dishes in the dishwasher.

The doorbell rings at exactly 4:01.

Alex checks the living room. Mug-free, coffee stain-free, socks-free, and definitely free from things no one outside his and Henry’s bedroom should see. David's toys are inside his toy box; a cluster of tiny plastic cacti sits on the coffee table. (Henry insisted they liven up the place with a centerpiece, but the only decor they had was Bea's housewarming gift of fake plants—she didn’t trust them to keep the real ones alive). The guest bathroom is stocked with toilet paper, and Alex is sure they've taken out the trash. He’s checked three times.

He counts his breaths, tapping a steady rhythm on the linoleum, and turns the handle.

"Hey." Abby smiles, strands of platinum hair falling over her brown skin. She walks inside, squeezing through the doorway with her pink messenger bag. Anthony follows behind, mouth agape as he scans the brownstone. Dread bubbles inside Alex's gut. Shit. Their home isn't as ostentatious as the other places they’ve lived, but no one Alex's age owns a brownstone in Brooklyn. No one without a million dollars to their name or dating royalty—and Alex is both. He wavers to one side, opening and closing his clammy palms.

"Nice," Anthony says after a long, arduous moment. Alex lets out a slow exhale, steadying the thrum of his heart. "I know you're loaded and all, but I didn't expect this."

"Um… my boyfriend bought it,” Alex explains. Vague, but technically true. He waits for a reaction to boyfriend, but he doesn’t see the telltale recognition in their eyes. “He's out on a snack run, but he'll be back soon." He leads them across the hall and into the living room.

"Let me guess, he's shopping for like, passion fruit gelato and caviar—” Abby suddenly rushes across the room, her messenger bag swinging wildly from shoulder. "Puppy!"

David rolls onto his feet, wagging his tail.

"Can I pet him? Can I pet him? Please?" Abby asks excitedly.

"Yeah, of course," Alex laughs, and Abby runs her hands along David's snout, letting him sniff her. "Also, my boyfriend's actually at the bodega around the corner. With Cash."

"Didn't expect you to be so…." Anthony trails off, looking at Abby and then Alex. Alex's brain supplies what he wants to say—so chill, so nothing like the five-page Vanity Fair spread from two years ago.

"Homely, I guess," Anthony finishes, dropping his bag on a chair.

"Anyway, do you want anything? Coffee, water?" Alex heads into the kitchen, opening cupboards to find… nothing. No cups or mugs or anything that would hold their drink of choice. The dishwasher hums, letting the location of every fucking drinking vessel in this brownstone be known.

Alex peeks into the living room. “Uhh… so we don't have mugs or even cups right now. They're kinda all in the dishwasher, so would y'all be good with waiting for a bit? I'm gonna call my boyfriend and ask him to pick up, like, plastic cups."

Abby and Anthony share a look, a secret language Alex has yet to decipher. He tells himself he's a new shape entering their lives, a puzzle piece yet to fit—but as time goes, the corners will slot right in place with Anthony and Abby. That is, if Alex doesn’t fuck this up and scare off any prospects of befriending someone who's neither the child of a world leader or a rich, billionaire philanthropist.

"We'll be fine, I think. Not like we're at risk for dehydration," Abby says lightly. She has David lying on his back, scratching his belly. Anthony makes a noise of agreement, pulling out his and Abby's laptops from their bags.

Alex disappears into his room and dials Henry's phone number.

Henry answers after one ring. "I was just about to call you."

"Right, yeah, me too," Alex says. "Listen, we do not have cups right now."

"Cups? We have cups. They're in the dishwasher. We put them all in, right?" Henry replies. On the other end of the line, a muffled Cash yells, 'Tell him we're getting both the coconut one and the ‘arroz con leche' one.”

"Yeah, exactly, so we can’t use them right now.”

“Right now?” Henry asks.

Alex rolls his eyes. "Yep, they're in the living room. Abby really likes David."

"Everyone loves David. That is based on factual evidence."

"Yeah, but David isn't the owner of this house, welcoming non-millionaire law school students," Alex says, pacing around the room 300 times over. He peeks out into the living room again, finding Abby and Anthony exactly where he left them, surrounded by textbooks and two laptops.

"So…what do you need me to pick up? We're almost at the front of the line,”Henry says.

"Plastic cups. And other plastic utensils in case this happens again." A pause, and then Alex switches the subject. "Wait, what did you want from me earlier?"

"Oh, er… Helados ice cream selection. I wasn't familiar with the brand so I couldn't decide, but Cash helped me." There's murmuring in the background. "We got coconut and… arroz con leche?”

"Anything's good, baby," Alex answers, smiling.

"Alright. Plastic cups acquired,” Henry says. Alex breathes a sigh of relief. “I'll see you in a few minutes. Love you."

"Love you too, bye."

Alex hangs up and returns to the living room, finding a seat around the glass table between Anthony and Abby. “Sorry. Ready?”

He opens his highlighted, freshly tabbed, fortunately coffee stain-free notebook. Torts Law. Unintentional harm….

"Love, I'm back," Henry announces as the door swings closed.

Alex is talking through a case study when Henry walks in, carrying two bags filled with Helados, chips, and the coveted plastic cups. And at Anthony and Abby’s reactions, Alex swears to Santa Maria and beyond, his perception of the entire world and his life until this point comes crashing down.

"You're dating him?" Anthony exclaims as if no one has read their fucking emails. He scans the room again with the same agape expression as earlier. "Wait, the Prince of England bought this house?"

"I pet Prince Henry's dog?" Abby says, eyes wide. Across the room, Henry flushes, shrinking in place as if he wants the mahogany floor to swallow him up.

"Who else would be my boyfriend?" Alex says hotly.

"Okay, to be fair, I did have my suspicions when you said fourth in line to the throne, but I thought you were kidding—like, your boyfriend’s so rich, he's like Prince Henry of England or whatever," Abby says, gesturing between Alex and Henry as if that would fix the initial outburst. "I just didn't think he would be, you know, Prince Henry. Of England."

"But—but the emails and our… you know, transatlantic sex scandal that almost cost my mom her reelection? Those were all over the news last year."

"Did you forget that we were off the grid in Antarctica for all of last year?" Anthony says. "When we came back, President Clare—your mom was re-elected, so we just assumed business as normal."

"But you could have looked me up and—and seen 'in a relationship with Prince Henry' on my Wikipedia page." Alex flounders, gesturing with his hands helplessly. “And also, you know, the Waterloo Letters?”

“Why would anyone Google a friend?” Anthony says, without any ire or malice. He smiles. "First Son or not, I'd like to actually hear these things from you, not from some voiceless page on the internet."

“Yeah, and the Wikipedia articles don't even mention the coolest things about you. Like the fact that you have the cutest puppy!" Abby says, hugging David who barks happily.

They all laugh, awkward at first, but like the Rio Grande in the summer months, the tension recedes. Alex feels like Alex, and neither Abby nor Anthony care. To them, he's more than the glamorous FSOTUS, more than a letter leaked to the press and isn't that wonderful, to be comfortable in his own body? To be weird, unfiltered and have friends who won't run away from him or take unsolicited pictures in class.

"So, maybe we should go for a break?" Alex says, the thrill of new friendships pumping inside his heart.

"Er… does anyone want drinks?” Henry says, rummaging through one of the bags. “I got plastic cups." A pink flush spreads across his cheeks to the tips of his ears. "I also bought ice cream."

"Sure," Anthony grins, walking over to Henry. "Whatcha got?"

"Well, there's, er—coconut and arroz con leche..." Henry picks out two boxes of Helados ice cream.

"I'd like some too, please," Abby pipes up. She flashes a friendly smile. "Alex always talks about them as if they're created by God herself. So I want to try it out."

"Because they are," Alex says, the knots in his stomach slowly loosening. "You should see what they have over in jolly old England. Cornettos." He scoffs, faking a disgusted noise.

"Didn't hear any complaints last time you had them," Henry winks.

“Ugh, shut up,” Alex says, but he smiles, graciously grabbing an arroz con leche from Henry.

Abby and Anthony laugh and it's silly and dumb, but the good kind of silly. The kind that has Alex doubled over in bubbly laughter. Five years on—ten years later, when Alex recalls his time in law school, he wants to remember triple A and their inside jokes, of the space they carved out in their lives for him—and for Henry, too.

It’s 11:30 by the time they call it a night. Alex insists they could do one more chapter—and feasibly, they could—but Henry says no, insisting that Alex should at least get some sleep for the night. They say goodbye. Alex doesn’t even make it halfway up the stairs to their bedroom before his steps falter. He leans in too close to Henry and next thing he knows, Henry is carrying him the rest of the way up.

“Hey, we should do that again,” Alex mumbles into his pillow, his sleep deprived nights catching up to him.

“Maybe give me a day’s warning next time. Or at least give them a warning, because miraculously, there are at least two people in the world who don’t know every sordid detail of our lives.” Henry plants a kiss on his brow bone. “You should rest. Good night, love.”

“Night, love you.”