Red, WhiteBy: Casey McQuiston
For the weirdos & the dreamers
On the White House roof, tucked into a corner of the Promenade, there’s a bit of loose paneling right on the edge of the Solarium. If you tap it just right, you can peel it back enough to find a message etched underneath, with the tip of a key or maybe a stolen West Wing letter opener.
In the secret history of First Families—an insular gossip mill sworn to absolute discretion about most things on pain of death—there’s no definite answer for who wrote it. The one thing people seem certain of is that only a presidential son or daughter would have been daring enough to deface the White House. Some swear it was Jack Ford, with his Hendrix records and split-level room attached to the roof for late-night smoke breaks. Others say it was a young Luci Johnson, thick ribbon in her hair. But it doesn’t matter. The writing stays, a private mantra for those resourceful enough to find it.
Alex discovered it within his first week of living there. He’s never told anyone how.
RULE #1: DON’T GET CAUGHT
The East and West Bedrooms on the second floor are generally reserved for the First Family. They were first designated as one giant state bedroom for visits from the Marquis de Lafayette in the Monroe administration, but eventually they were split. Alex has the East, across from the Treaty Room, and June uses the West, next to the elevator.
Growing up in Texas, their rooms were arranged in the same configuration, on either side of the hallway. Back then, you could tell June’s ambition of the month by what covered the walls. At twelve, it was watercolor paintings. At fifteen, lunar calendars and charts of crystals. At sixteen, clippings from The Atlantic, a UT Austin pennant, Gloria Steinem, Zora Neale Hurston, and excerpts from the papers of Dolores Huerta.
His own room was forever the same, just steadily more stuffed with lacrosse trophies and piles of AP coursework. It’s all gathering dust in the house they still keep back home. On a chain around his neck, always hidden from view, he’s worn the key to that house since the day he left for DC.
Now, straight across the hall, June’s room is all bright white and soft pink and minty green, photographed by Vogue and famously inspired by old ’60s interior design periodicals she found in one of the White House sitting rooms. His own room was once Caroline Kennedy’s nursery and, later, warranting some sage burning from June, Nancy Reagan’s office. He’s left up the nature field illustrations in a neat symmetrical grid above the sofa, but painted over Sasha Obama’s pink walls with a deep blue.
Typically, the children of the president, at least for the past few decades, haven’t lived in the Residence beyond eighteen, but Alex started at Georgetown the January his mom was sworn in, and logistically, it made sense not to split their security or costs to whatever one-bedroom apartment he’d be living in. June came that fall, fresh out of UT. She’s never said it, but Alex knows she moved in to keep an eye on him. She knows better than anyone else how much he gets off on being this close to the action, and she’s bodily yanked him out of the West Wing on more than one occasion.
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.
“Hey,” says a voice at the door, and he looks up from his laptop to see June edging into his room, two iPhones and a stack of magazines tucked under one arm, and a plate in her hand. She closes the door behind her with her foot.
“What’d you steal today?” Alex asks, pushing the pile of papers on his bed out of her way.
“Assorted donuts,” June says as she climbs up. She’s wearing a pencil skirt with pointy pink flats, and he can already see next week’s fashion columns: a picture of her outfit today, a lead-in for some spon-con about flats for the professional gal on the go.