Epilogue: Land of the Free:
For the next minute or so, I just kneeled there in front of Enrique Gonzalez' bleeding carcass. Waves of euphoria, satisfaction, and fatigue washed over me all at once, alongside a bit of anger that hadn't been released during the previous confrontation. I thought long and hard about what I'd been working towards. Gonzalez was finally out of office, and the United States was now a truly free country, which it was always meant to be. The act of recruiting my three closest friends and taking so many risks to get where I was now had not gone to waste.
Sure, there were some questionable things we'd all done along the way. Under any other circumstances, I would do anything but condone such acts, but this time was different. I felt like my actions had been... justified. Gonzalez had ended my mother's life and screwed over the lives of people who were dear to me, and now I had effectively put that son of a bitch in his place. Not an ounce of guilt came over me after all was said and done.
I was forcefully pulled out of my thoughts when the door to the Oval Office was kicked open. A man in at least his late fifties stormed in, accompanied by a pair of chestnut-haired S.W.A.T. officers. They all hurried over to where Tequila, Xavier and I were. I was about to stand up when one of them aimed his sniper rifle at me.
"Freeze!" he ordered. "Hold it right there!"
"At ease, officer," the old man said, prompting his cohort to back up a little.
"V-Vice President Carlin!" Xavier commented, his tone marred with shock.
"Mr. Carlin, we highly apologize!" Tequila chimed in. "We didn't want to... !"
The vice president put his hand up to silence her.
"That's enough out of you three. I've seen everything that happened here today, and I can say with utmost certainty that you have saved us all," Carlin said. "Effective immediately, I will take up Gonzalez' presidential duties, and I will make sure that everything is set right."
Within another half hour, Tequila and I were escorted out front, where we were shocked to see several police cars were parked. Countless officers were gathered on the White House lawn, and even a small crowd of spectators could be seen slightly further away.
"To the good people of this country!" Carlin shouted, stepping ahead of us. "I can now say that thanks to these brave heroes behind the 'Looks Don't Matter' movement, the United States of America has been restored to its former glory!"
At that, he took one of each of our hands and held them up for all to see. This gesture was met with an overwhelming applause from the crowd of onlookers, and even some of the policemen on the scene clapped along with them. He eventually let us go as the applause died down a little. I heard a few footsteps slowly approaching us from behind. Looking back, I saw Xavier being escorted outside by another officer, and an all too familiar body was draped limply across his arms, the blood dripping from its torso leaving a vermillion trail behind them. Tequila and I quickly rushed over as he laid the barely-breathing corpse onto the ground. I didn't hesitate to kneel down next to him.
Second weakly opened his eyes from underneath his cracked glasses and blinked a couple of times, before fixing his gaze on me.
"J-Jasper..." he mumbled, following a few coughs. "Did... did we... ?"
"Yes, we did. And no words can describe how grateful everyone is for our efforts," I replied, before letting out a sigh. "And we could not have accomplished this without you."
I watched as Second's body grew more limp and his breaths grew shallow. His eyes closed for a few seconds before opening again, only not quite as wide as before. I couldn't help but release a tear or two at the sight of the life leaving his body.
"I'm... really... glad... t-to hear that..." Second's voice trailed off as he smiled. "N-Now... America's... the land of... the... free... again..."
And with that, his breathing finally stopped. My best friend in the whole world died smiling right before my eyes. Now I had lost two people who meant a lot to me at the hands of the government. Hopefully it would be the last time this would happen. I felt a lump in my throat as I watched Xavier kneel down and use his fingers to gently shut his eyes.
"Rest in peace, my friend," he said somberly. "Your contributions were beyond exemplary. Thanks for everything."
Xavier stood back up and hung his head in mourning. Tequila leaned into my shoulder and cried softly. I put my arm around her and continued to stare woefully at Second's body until it was carried off by a pair of paramedics. It wasn't long until the rest of us were escorted to the police cars ourselves. We remained silent as we did so, tuning out the continuous cheering from the onlookers.
And so from that day forth, America was the land of the free again. A trait that never should've been removed from it in the first place. From now on, people could pursue whatever career they desired, and their salaries depended on job experience and performance, not the appearance of the worker.
As for my friends and I, things didn't start out so hot. The results of our cause were positive overall, but that didn't matter; at the end of the day, we'd still trespassed on government property, and committed physical assault and assassination. The new president gave us a pardon, which allowed us to avoid the death penalty, but we were still subject to six months of house-arrest each. And during that time, we weren't allowed to speak to each other at all. But once that ended, then things began to look up.
With Gonzalez' restrictive policies gone, I was finally able to become a microbiologist, and let me tell you, it was miles more fun than printing money from nine to five would ever be. As for Xavier, he began to mass-produce some of the gadgets he used during our infiltrations, in hopes of adding them to the country's military arsenal. Tequila's mother was also able to get her old job back, though she ultimately decided against it, for she had grown to enjoy life in retirement. As for Tequila herself, she had expressed concern that her involvement in our movement would hurt her career as an author, but she was quickly proven wrong. Once it got out that she was part of such an influential cause, all of her books quintupled in sales. She recently told me that she was considering writing a book about our movement, but I think I just might reserve that task for myself.
Second unfortunately didn't survive the raid on the White House, but to this day, a framed photograph of him hangs in the hallways of the very medical school he attended. Beneath it is a placard that commemorates him for his contributions to the movement that saved America. Looks as though he finally got the recognition he'd been so desperately craving his entire life.
An identical photograph was also hung up in Tequila's living room, which so happens to be my living room now too. The two of us were quick to start a real relationship after the movement ended. Here's to hoping we can make it! In addition to that photograph, I also have a framed copy of the newspaper clipping that details the triumphant success of the Looks Don't Matter movement. It's positioned right next to the same photo of my mom protesting, as well as the newspaper clipping that detailed her demise.
Currently, Tequila and I are walking through a cemetery up in Augusta, not far from where my stepdad lives. My mother's tombstone is not far from the entrance, but it's a bit harder to spot, given the considerably larger tombstones that surround it. I haven't brought flowers or anything physical with me, but in my view, words are the next best thing.
"Well, Mom? We did it. I made sure all your hard work meant something, and now America is saved. If it weren't for your bravery, I would've never decided to take a stand for what I believe in," I say, somewhat sadly. "Everyone in the media considers me the leader of the Looks Don't Matter movement, but I honestly think that honor goes to you, because you're the inspiration behind it. If only you were here to see the results of our cause."
Eventually I end my tirade and the two of us head back towards the entrance.
"I'm sure she'd be very proud of you if she were here today," Tequila says earnestly.
"You think so?" I ask.
"I know so," Tequila replies. "But enough dwelling on the past for now. Don't you have something to do that you've been putting off for months?"
"Er... I don't remember," I say.
"You said you were gonna get your stepdad acquainted with your real dad," Tequila explains.
"Oh... right," I reply. "Well I'd better get right on that before I forget again."
The two of us smile at each other once more before we finally leave the graveyard.
~ ~ ~ The End ~ ~ ~