There was a time in history where the United States of America was segregated. Not by race, not by gender, and not by sexuality... but by the color of one's hair and eyes. And it all began when a corrupt yet mysterious man named Enrique Gonzalez was elected as the 46th President of the United States, simultaneously becoming the first Mexican-American to take up that political position. He rigged the system, paid no heed to the people's freedom, and even committed murder on live TV. Yet sadly it seemed that nothing - not even the largest of grassroots rebellions - could overthrow him.
But that era ended seven years ago, all thanks to the four founding members of the "Looks Don't Matter" movement, of which I was one of. The other three were my closest friends. Xavier P. Cedric, a Nobel-winning scientific pioneer and one of the most brilliant minds of our time. Then there was bestselling author, Tequila Rodriguez. She was my girlfriend-turned wife, known for her silver tongue and writing skills so sharp that she often competed against herself in various categories for Newberry Awards. And last, but certainly not least, was my best friend by the name of Jay Lewis II, or "Second" as we preferred to call him. He was sadly the only member of the team who didn't live to see the successful end of the movement.
In time, an impressively detailed copper statue of all four of us was erected in the dead center of a small park in Phoenix, Arizona, and despite it having been six years since its completion, there was surprisingly little oxidation to be found on it. One day, nearing the seventh anniversary of Gonzalez' undoing, I sat down on a bench directly across from that statue. It was a tradition I'd made for myself: visiting this site every December, and taking the time to reflect on both the good and the bad of our movement. With a sigh, I directed my attention towards the statue of Second and thought long and hard about his passing.
"Well Second, I... I dunno what to say. I mean, our movement succeeded, and America's been better than ever since then, but... I can't help but notice that something feels off," I spoke to myself. "Like, you didn't really need to go, did you?"
I briefly paused as I looked back on the events leading up to Second's death, immediately remembering some of the more crucial details associated with it.
"Now I know what it was," I continued, following a sigh. "If only I had prioritized disarming that guy right after knocking him down, you'd probably still be with us. I-I should've kicked his gun away when I had the chance... but regardless, I hope you're doing okay up there, buddy. You have no idea how often the others and I think about you."
After a few more minutes of reminiscing, I briskly strolled back to the modern-styled home I shared with Tequila, which was located in a very hilly gated neighborhood. Looking at how nice the place was, you'd be surprised if I told you that we could afford it despite only having one major breadwinner in the household. Initially, after the "Looks Don't Matter" movement reached its conclusion, I'd taken up a job as a microbiologist in order to provide for us. It was the job I originally wanted at the time when Gonzalez was sworn in, but I was instead forced into an occupation that sucked, despite the fact that it literally printed money.
However, several calls from the media prompted me (as well as the other members of my team) to constantly come out and make public appearances that paid considerably less. Eventually, these grew so frequent that I quit my job and decided to work full time as an activist and public speaker. I expressed my concerns to Tequila, but she just brushed me off and said, "Jasper, I have enough money put away to where I can regularly shop at Whole Foods and get my bras and panties dry-cleaned each month. I think we'll be fine."
I locked myself in and passed through the living room, which I'd finally made my mark on. It was now littered with wedding and honeymoon photos, and pictures of both of our families. There was even a snapshot of Tequila in her skimpy black, gold, and vermilion cheerleader outfit from our college days. Even back then, I'd found her attractive as hell, but up until sometime after graduation, it had been purely physical.
I stopped to admire every photo for a moment, before continuing on into the kitchen. There, I was startled by the abundance of mail on the island. In addition to this week's pile of fan-mail for Tequila, there were also a few magazines, that month's credit card report, and a month-old newspaper with a rather intriguing headline. After reading a bit, I learned that wealthy business tycoon Mike Seymour had washed ashore in a lifeboat in Florida, barely alive after years of absence from the public eye. Shrugging in acknowledgement, I continued to search for my wife, quickly discovering that the glass door leading to the backyard was cracked.
Tequila was sunbathing beyond this door, dressed in a chili pepper red bikini with a paisley pattern (typically seen on bandanas), complete with a push-up top with the ruffled straps worn off her shoulders. Sipping an effervescent glass of blackberry limeade, she rested on a beach chair right by our pool, just out of range of the massive shadow cast by the orange tree. A pile of fan-mail was on her lap, and as she sorted through it, she spoke to a person on a tablet, propped up on the small table to her left. From what I could see, the person on the screen was a black woman about our age, with her hair styled into a curly undercut.
"Hey listen, so the reason I called you is because I just wanted to apologize about earlier," the woman said. "Y'know, from back when we was girls? I-I'm sorry for how I treated ya' back then. Little did I know you'd grow up to be such an inspiration for so many people out there."
"Eh, it's alright, Linda. That was then, this is now," Tequila replied nonchalantly. "I just hope you've learned by now not to judge a book by its cover."
"Well gee, how'd I not see that phrase coming from an author of all people?" Linda chuckled. "But regardless, I know it's bad form to wait several decades to apologize, but better late than never, right?"
"Couldn't have said it better myself," Tequila replied, her eyes returning to the mail on her lap.
I decided to wait until their discussion ended before stepping outside. Upon seeing me approach, Tequila got up and closed the gap between us, kissing me on both cheeks in typical Latina fashion.
"Good to see you back," she smiled. "Finally got your yearly dose of dwelling on the past?"
"Well if we didn't have a flight to New York City this afternoon, I'd have stayed longer," I replied.
"Oh yeah... uh, what for again?" Tequila cocked a red eyebrow.
"We were invited to a party in the penthouse at the Plaza Hotel. Y'know, to celebrate the seventh anniversary of the day Gonzalez was removed from office?" I explained.
"Oh... right. How could I seriously forget that when the media's been whacking me over the head with that fact?" Tequila chuckled as she adjusted her hiked-up swimsuit bottoms.
"Well if it makes you feel better, I nearly forgot myself," I chuckled as well. "But we've still got plenty of time to get ready, though."
Tequila simply nodded as she carried all of her now opened mail into the house.
That night, the party commenced right on schedule. Countless cultural elites showed up, as did the press. There were also guest appearances by several politicians, including all living former presidents, including Carlin, who had been vice president during the Gonzalez era, and had briefly taken over his duties before being voted out in 2036. When he was in office, however, he completely repealed Gonzalez' discriminatory policies while retaining most of the positive changes he managed to bring to the country. I even noticed several members of prominent activist groups from all areas of the political spectrum. I guess if there was one good thing to come out of the Gonzalez presidency, it's that he managed to unite a country long divided by partisan differences, solely by means of his own incompetence.
I was the only one on my team who got to deliver a speech, so I honestly didn't see much of a point in inviting the others. Then again, neither Tequila nor Xavier seemed to mind this very much. As I gave my speech, they simply stood behind me and smiled at the cameras and audience. All three of us proudly wore the baby blue T-shirts from our very first "Looks Don't Matter" rally, and in my case, I wore mine under a navy-blue sport coat with jeans - an outfit Tequila had warned me against wearing because it apparently screamed douche. After seven years and god knows how many trips through the washing machine, the American flags and slogans on the front were considerably faded. In Tequila's case, her shirt had also shrunken a bit over time, to the point where it couldn't even be pulled all the way down. Throughout the night, it would constantly ride up an inch or two.
After all the speeches were given, all the partygoers dispersed. Some immediately headed for the bar and/or refreshment table, others began to dance in the center of the room, and a small handful simply chatted along the edges. Among that handful was Xavier, now sporting a handlebar mustache and soul patch in the same shade of blonde as his mullet, casually speaking to a journalist with a glass of chardonnay in his hand. Part of me was slightly worried that he might accidentally spill it on the white lab-coat that nearly covered his T-shirt. I only need one hand to count the amount of times after graduation where he wasn't wearing that damn thing.
"Honestly, I still can't believe I've just come face-to-face with the very man who invented the nuclear bullet, the all-in-one washer and dryer, and the world's first hypoallergenic peanuts!" I heard the journalist say.
"Those are some of my less impressive achievements, if I'm being honest," Xavier replied, before turning his attention to Tequila and I. "Ah, well if it isn't you two. I know we didn't have much time to chat before the formalities, but how are you guys doing?"
"Things are going great," Tequila replied.
"Indeed," I added. "Also, I'm really liking the 'stache."
"Well one day I thought to myself, 'I sure love experimenting with a whole bunch of things, so why not experiment with my outward appearance?'" Xavier explained, eliciting shrugs from the both of us.
"Ah, good! They're unoccupied!" a male voice called out. It turned out to be another journalist, accompanied by a camerawoman. "I, uh, don't suppose you have time for a quick appearance on our segment?"
"No problem," I replied.
"Good, good. Ahem..." the journalist cleared his throat as the camera positioned itself. "Good evening, this is Duncan DeLisle, reporting to you live from the Plaza Hotel penthouse! I'm here now with Jasper Collins and Tequila Rodriguez, two members of the 'Looks Don't Matter' movement! So I'm sure everyone in America knows that you two are happily married, but I can't help but ask: are you all planning to have any children?"
As soon as he asked that, my tongue went on strike. All I could do was chuckle awkwardly for a few seconds until Tequila stepped forward.
"People ask us that all the time, but honestly I already have a son. His name is José Cuervo, and I'd prefer not to be without him for nine months," she explained as the reporter cracked up in response.
"Hahaha, well I can totally see where you're coming from!" he guffawed, before turning back to the camera. "Coming up next, be sure to tune in to tonight's second biggest story: the announcement of the Gonzalez Presidential Library!"
"Now whose dumb idea was that?" Tequila mumbled as the reporter stalked away.
Eventually, my friends and I conducted enough interviews to keep the media happy, leaving us to fully enjoy the party for once. While Xavier seemed content with standing around and getting chummy with everyone else, Tequila and I each consumed a few drinks and partnered up on the dance floor, dancing to tracks such as "Cuban Pete" by Desi Arnaz, and "Do That Conga" by Gloria Estefan. Neither of us were completely intoxicated, but we had enough alcohol in our systems to let us relax and not care about anyone who may be watching.
However, my immersion was abruptly shattered, as was the skylight above us, sending shards of glass down onto the dance floor. Shielding my wife, I ushered us off to the side, looking up in horror as a couple of black helicopters hovered above the building, their blinding spotlights aimed right at the partygoers.