Smile, Hart. You're on Camera.
I shamelessly flash my signature grin to the audience, hoping somehow my compliance will cause this event to end swiftly. My hand waves robotically to the crowd before coming to rest at my side. My father initiates his address to the thousands of citizens at our feet. The overwhelmingly strong scents of my mother’s hairspray and layers of expensive Italian perfume are wafting over the elaborate dress she’s adorned. She gazes at my father with a sense of admiration that seems so real that I almost believe the charade for a moment. Her look wouldn’t be complete without her tightly upturned lips, and her hands all-too-delicately clasped in front of her. If I could roll my eyes without everyone noticing, I most certainly would.
“Not only have we completely repaired the homes from the last hurricane, but we also took the extra initiative and donated several thousand dollars in food to those affected. That’s how resilient our city is and how well we are functioning under President Gray’s administration.” My father’s voice booms out over the auditorium, and a thunder of cheers greets him back, which he receives gratefully with a contented nod.
After his speech closes, the security guards gesture for us to sit beside my father at a table. Dreadfully aware of the cost of my suit, I sit carefully, watching the MC as he begins to conduct a Q&A session with our city’s beloved leader. This is about the time in the morning where I usually begin to tune out these useless questions from the people and fall asleep in my chair. If hearing my father’s contrived speech didn’t feel like punishment enough, I’m certain that this panel will. One by one, different faces step forward to greet my father and query him, though the answers they await could be found by running a simple Internet search. By the time I look down at my white leather watch, I can see that forty-five minutes have already passed. The Q&A should be ending soon, along with my veritable torture.
“One last question! Please step up to the mic, sir,” the MC speaks charismatically to a man with a metallic card around his neck that reads, “PRESS.”
“Governor Kang, I’m sure you’re aware that the protests of the Crossed laws have been becoming more frequent in the past few years.” My ears perk up at the mention of the taboo subject, and I sit upright in my seat. “The citizens of our city are beginning to have concerns that these protesters will become violent. What will you do to stop them?”
A flash of something like panic reveals itself in my father’s aging eyes, but he recovers in an instant and leans towards the man. “Thus far, they have not been a threat, but if it becomes an issue, be assured that I will personally see to taking care of the problem.”
“Do you agree with the protesters, Governor Kang?” The man oversteps his right to the one-question limit, and the ghost of a smirk finds its way to my lips.
“My official position on the matter lines up with those of our lovely President Gray; I am in full support of the Crossed laws.” He smiles at the reporter, but his tone drips with venom. “Thank you for your questions, but the Q&A session has now ended.”
With that last remark, my father stands up and leads us off the stage. We wait silently as the tech team removes the clear microphones attached to our clothing. Not one word is spoken as Gray Guards form a protective wall around us, and we push past the congregation of citizens. We stride towards our limousine, waving at these strangers as if we are thankful for the lack of privacy. I briefly see several girls holding signs that say vaguely flattering things such as, “Marry me Hart!” and “Have my children Hart!” I shoot a wink towards them to keep up appearances, and their high-pitched screams meet my unwelcoming eardrums.
The very moment that we are seated on the premium seats of the limousine, my body slouches, and the feeling is so tranquil that it’s almost indescribable. My hands are already unbuttoning the black fasteners on my ivory blazer, which had been attempting to suffocate me all morning. Glancing away from my parents proves as unsuccessful as the reporters earlier trying to get a genuine answer out of their fabricated governor. My father’s charismatic smile turns downward into a scowl at my mother. She directs her attention to her manicured nails.
“Did you have to wear the pink dress, Hana? I told you that the blue pinstriped pencil skirt would have fit our image much better today.” My father’s low voice carries over to my mother, and she looks up at him from her fingertips.
“It would have given you too much satisfaction if I had, Luke.”
He sighs at her in frustration and then turns his eyes to me. “Thank you, Hart, for being the only one to comply with my requests.”
“Of course, Dad,” I reply without missing a beat, gritting my teeth at how weak I’ve become. “I hate to request this, but could you have the limousine driver drop me off at home? I’d like to change before heading to my two o’clock class.”
“Yes, consider it a reward for your impeccable behavior at the press conference.”
I muster up the strength to nod with gratitude, though it nearly kills me. Although I lost all traces of my dignity a long time ago, I still wince sporadically in these moments where it must appear that I enjoy the presence of the people who "raised" me. The remainder of the ride to our estate is filled with silence, that is, besides the occasional rude comment that my father throws flagrantly at my mother, who seems completely unfazed. By the time they drop me off, I am practically ready to run out of the limousine to the front doors of our home.
“Welcome home, sir. I’ve laid out a change of clothes for you in your room, packed your bag for Economics 101, and set the table for a quick lunch before you leave,” one of our maids greets me. I pass by her, walking briskly to the stairs. I don’t stop for anything these days, let alone the dread of exchanging pleasantries with my father’s staff.
“I’ll be down for my meal in twelve minutes, please have it fully prepared,” I call down from the top of the stairs to the faceless maid.
Multitasking is a must when your father is the governor and you’re being groomed to replace him. This is why I ask the virtual assistant installed in my room, Vara, to update me on headlines I missed this morning. As the tight ivory blazer slides down my arms, Vara tells me about another attack on the peaceful protesters of the Crossed laws. Five injured, and two dead. Two lives gone for opposing the law—a truly upsetting report to hear.
I begin to think on this subject of death: a topic that has bought a permanent place of residence in my mind as of late. It seems to me that we are all simply souls occupying mortal flesh while we spend time on earth, waiting for the imminent destruction of the outer vessel in which our spirits have been placed. Some, of course, believe in a higher being or cause for the explanation of our inner selves taking residence in these bodies. Others, like myself, can recognize that there is no reason for this scientific phenomenon other than the consciousness of our complex minds.
I’ve been told that eighteen years of age is too young to have such thoughts about the world and all that inhabit it, but I disagree. Though my thoughts run a mile a minute, each one is unique. I have trust in only the most correct things, the most logical. Some believe in religion, some in myth, and some in science. I personally stand to believe in reason; my mind is the only thing that has yet to let me down in any capacity.
Standing at six feet with dyed golden-blonde hair and dark brown eyes, it’s only rational to assume that I am above average in looks. My features are as prominent as my intellect. My skin has rarely flared up. I carefully avoid ingesting anything that might cause harm to my overt appearance, and the team of styling professionals I have on call are diligent with my skincare. Death is inevitable, and our only purpose on earth is to make living easier for generations to come, but that doesn’t mean I should treat my body badly while I’m occupying it. The general public watches my every move. I need to display a certain look to uphold my reputation.
Knowing how I appear to others comes in handy, too. Using common sense, I can see that as I am an attractive person, there will be opportunities to acquire the affections of a suitable partner. She must be as physically healthy as I am, as well as be able to engage in an intellectual conversation with me. She must be well-mannered, independent-thinking, and of Korean heritage, like myself. This way, when I am doomed to follow in the footsteps of my father, I will at least have an amiable wife whom the citizens can envy in their free time.
This train of thought fades as my focus is put to better use: listening to the celebrity portion of Vara’s news recap and lingering on one intriguing story in particular that I’ll have to remember for later. As she wraps up, each strand of my hair is carefully placed with my pure silver comb. The long-sleeved magenta shirt feels smooth on my skin, and the dark designer slacks slide on easily—at least my father’s staff has taste.
My stylist freshly dyed my hair again this morning, so my black roots don’t show through. Golden hair looks fantastic with my skin tone, according to my parents. It’s been this color ever since I can remember, and the public loves it. When I glance in the large mirror, I can’t help but feel that something is missing. I should check on the latest trends this week with the remaining few minutes I have.
“Vara,” I say, while staring at the screen installed into the upper right corner of my mirror. “What has been trending in fashion this week?”
“Top designers have been focused on small statement accessories in the past month,” Vara’s monotone voice speaks back, while displaying several images of notable people my age and their modest necklaces or handbags. Nothing sparks my interest until I see a photo of Stephen Gray, son of President Gray, wearing a sleek, silver bracelet.
If it’s good enough for the President’s son to wear, it must be more than suitable for the son of Governor Kang. Thankfully, I have just the item that will complete my ensemble. Decisively walking to my closet, I place my palm on the scanner and speak to Vara again.
“Please open drawer number fourteen, and unlock item two,” I say to the closet, and the system immediately complies as it recognizes my handprint and voice.
The drawer slides open and the silver cuff-like bracelet my father gave me long ago is displayed before me. Reaching in and picking up the accessory, I slide the band onto my wrist. The metallic sheen suits the clothes that were laid out for me. Now I’m prepared if the paparazzi decide to follow me to school again. It’s too bad my father gave it to me, or I would’ve thought to wear it sooner. After one last look in the mirror, I grab my clear backpack and head downstairs.
Racing down the winding staircase, I glance at my watch to see that it’s been exactly 10 minutes since I told the maid to prepare my food. The head seat of the large dining table invites me over, and a butler slides a satin napkin over my lap before presenting me with my exquisite lunch. Per my usual request, he plays Vivaldi through the house speakers. I dine on the bowl of perfectly-portioned lobster bisque, a typical meal for the only child of the prestigious governor of Geal, who is adored by all.
After patting the excess soup off my lips, I glance out of the large glass archway to see my driver waiting for me beside the door of my private car.
My only class of the day is Economics 101 with Professor Beck, and it is quite possibly one of the most mind-numbing classes known to man. My good friend, Ember, decided to take it with me though, and keeps me preoccupied for most of it with her antics. Having class with her during the week is one of the only things I look forward to nowadays.
“Already writing notes down before the class has even started? What a first-class student you are, Hart.” Ember smirks in my direction as she sits down comfortably at the desk next to mine.
“I have to write my thoughts down now before I forget them,” I glance in her direction, and she rolls her eyes at me for what must be the thousandth time.
“It sure seemed like you had a terrible memory when you got a 98 on the test last week.”
“Well, not all of us can simply get by based off their looks like you can.”
“Don’t be envious, Hart. It’s not a good color on you. That button-down though … that’s another story.” She winks at me with her long, royal blue-painted lashes.
I chuckle at her before turning to the professor and jotting down everything he has to say, although I can’t help but occasionally look in Ember’s direction as I take notes. Her short, deep sapphire-colored hair is perfectly cut to complement her features, and her skin is unblemished as far as the eye can see. She taps her nails, painted light yellow, on the desk as she listens to the lecture.
She and I are quite compatible—this is a known fact. Since I was a young boy, her family has worked closely with mine. We share the same beliefs, culture, and connections to the political world. She has this individualistic kind of attitude that I can appreciate in a girl my age. Not to mention her appearance is more than suitable, and her clothing style is elegant. I sometimes wonder if we would be good together as a couple, but I want to enjoy my youth first.
As the professor makes his closing remarks, ending with an easily forgettable pun about economics, Ember looks my way and motions for me to follow her out the door. I quickly pack up my things and throw my sunglasses on, ready to face the bright sun of Geal. Soon enough, Ember and I are carrying on with our routine habit of sitting across from one another at the bookstore on campus as we study after class. Campus is the one place where I feel close to normal. I try to soak this up for as long as possible with her before heading back to the life where I’m constantly scrutinized.
“So, how was your date with Blaise Park?” I close my book slightly and lean in, grateful that Vara keeps me updated on tabloid stories.
She stares at me with eyes wide. “I didn’t realize my personal life had to do with our economics homework.”
“I was just surprised you wouldn’t tell your alleged best friend,” I gesture to myself, and she looks almost sympathetic for a beat. “Did you keep it quiet because you’re embarrassed?”
“Why would I be embarrassed?” She takes a sip of coffee while keeping her eyes fixed on mine.
“Since he’s far from the best-looking son of a government official that you know,” I shrug at her, and she seems to almost spit out her hot drink.
She coughs slightly before collecting herself. “For your information, many people find Blaise to be charming.”
“Ah, so his dazzling wit won you over?” I lean back into my chair while she checks her nails.
“We aren’t dating, Kang,” she says, still examining her nails in the light while holding a mug in the other hand. “I had dinner with him to discuss logistics for a charitable event I’m holding later this month. You know I don’t partake in the dating scene.”
“Well, it’s reassuring to me that you haven’t started believing in romance,” I laugh a bit, relieved that she isn’t dating Blaise. It’d be unfortunate if I lost my most logical friend to the foolish notion that is “true love.”
She chuckles and places her coffee on the table. “The best we can ask for in life is a partner we are completely compatible with, and that definitely isn’t Blaise,” she states coolly.
“That is what I’m always trying to tell people! The serotonin levels in our brain rising is the explanation for the ‘love’ people feel. Lust can make people go insane, but what happens when that fades?”
The corners of her mouth turn upward. “That isn’t to say that attraction isn’t fun while it lasts, correct?”
“Of course not,” I wink at her and she gives me a flirtatious smile before returning to highlight sentences in her book.
By the time we say our goodbyes after studying hours, I feel exhausted and can’t wait to eat in the comfort of my own home before sleep. The thought of a nice hot bath also keeps my mind preoccupied the whole car ride, because before I know it I’m back in front of the large doors to my home.
“Welcome home, Mr. Kang. I’ve prepared your dinner, and I am at your disposal for the evening.” This maid has a different voice from the one I heard this morning.
“Will my parents be joining me for dinner?” I ask, already knowing the answer.
“No sir, they are currently attending a banquet downtown.”
I sigh in relief before heading to the dining room, while the heels of the maid click loudly against the marble floor behind me as she tries to keep up with my long strides.
“Turn the screen on to my usual channel then and draw a hot bath after thirty minutes have passed.”
Sitting down, I let the butler place the steak in front of me. After examining my food carefully, I eat it slowly while watching the news on the large screen set before me. “An informed mind is an optimal mind,” as Ember likes to say, and there is so much I must have missed in the last few hours. Just as I’m chewing on a delectable bite of sautéed spinach, the face of a Crossed man flashes on the screen and I flinch. He’s wanted in New York for escaping the Teorrain that the government placed him in. I wave my hand and the screen shuts off at my command. I don’t like to see their faces; it hurts me deeply for reasons I can’t understand.
I wasn’t alive when the laws were made all those years ago, but my father was. He was born in 2034, when there were no laws against the mixing of races. It seems crazy to think that he saw a time when it wasn’t a crime to be Crossed. There was only a short period in history when interracial couples could exist in America, and their children could freely walk any place they pleased.
Once 2043 rolled around, the government revoked their earlier passing of the law that once allowed persons of any race to procreate with another. The American government recognized that to preserve different cultures, they must not let them mix. There was a fear among those of many different cultural backgrounds that the number of multiracial children was becoming too great. They each feared a day would come when their blood would become so tainted with that of societies other than their own, that their traditions and customs would cease to exist.
Now the year is 2084, and not much has changed since that time except for the names of major cities. We still haven’t been able to cure the common cold, we fight about politics constantly, and TV is still filled with the same mindless sitcoms across thousands of streaming platforms.
The only real modifications are that our government has become more controlling, it’s commonly accepted that the FBI watches our every move with technology, and being with someone of another race is tremendously unlawful. Friendship is encouraged between cultures, and polite exchanges are supported. As long as you don’t step over the invisible boundary between friendship and romance with someone of another kind, you should have no reason to worry.
The last of the mixed-race people, or “the Crossed,” as we like to call them, are forced to live out their days in special towns built only for them. There are 15 circular fortifications with steel walls on the outskirts of numerous cities across the country, with enough people inside for each to be considered a small town. Even though the Crossed are separated from us by a barrier, they occasionally find ways to escape, and are punished severely when caught. I’ve seen my father deal with it firsthand. I’ve also seen how he avoids talking about what goes on inside the Teorrain at all costs. Our city, Geal, happens to possess a rather large Teorrain because of its size.
Thinking about the Crossed haunts the inner workings of my mind from time to time. It isn’t their fault they were born into this life, and the system often reminds me of the untouchables in India. I read about how they were treated poorly for so many years, and I can only hope that the Crossed live out a decent life behind the barriers, as my father claims they do. After all, the government did promise that they would be separate from us but treated equally. Logically, I do understand why the laws were placed. I occasionally question it all just to keep my mind alert. That’s why I’ve majored in journalism—it’s the best subject to study for someone like myself whose mind has a voracious appetite.
The days go by like this, with my thoughts scattered like paint on a blank canvas. Little by little the hours pass me by, and I have no surprises left in my life that I haven’t thought up. I’ve pondered each scenario that could happen to me, so I have no fear of the future. For now, I will enjoy the comfort of the steaming water in my bath, before spending my remaining waking moments trying to forget about the astonishingly human face on the news tonight.