Tater Tots

Summer Fun Writing Contest User Entry

I lean against the wall in a cube room with bubblegum-flavored gum in my mouth.

The smart board or as she would like to be called Rob is moving her pixel mouth. I don’t understand how she thinks it’s useful to animate her lips if the sounds come out of an audio, not through her nonexistent throat.

“Lora Blacke, you have volunteered to star on our brand-new television show with its main goal to turn a former enemy of your past into your lover. According to your horrible, terrible, concerning, and disturbing records, it is apparent that you only participated in this in order to get five hundred thousand dollars,” Rob’s two square eyes and thin lips disappear. Then the screen shows my files.

It is a feasting sight to behold.

A huge red letter D is labeled on the corner of every file; it stands for dangerous. Rob is a little dramatic with that letter since I have not committed any serious crimes. Or even crimes at all.

The files lay out the description of me by people from school and my jobs that I have been fired from.
Selfish. Full of herself. Will do anything to get money. Heartless. Reckless about who she hurt.

The last one she read is obviously from her ridiculous family. They always cry when they find out about the fights she got into in school and the countless reports of bullying. It’s a good thing that they disowned her because she doesn’t have to listen to their wheezy sobs.

“As you can see what chaotic words they used to describe you, I feel that this will be your last hope of redeeming yourself and see that love’s worth more than money,” Rob appears again. She adds eyebrows to emphasize how concerned she is.

I spit out the gum on the steel floor.

This show’s goal is to make me choose either five hundred thousand dollars and make sure that I never see my former enemy again or have a new love interest without any kind of money. It’s a hilarious joke.

I will always choose five hundred thousand dollars. No matter the cost.

“Blacke, that is not quite polite of you to spoil the room,” Rob comments as I approach her.

I am willing to get into this television show only because I have watched the previous episodes. The group of trials, composed of three “significant” qualities in a relationship, is too easy to get through without bonding with my enemy. What makes me more convinced that the whole place is located on a tropical island where I can drink unlimited pina coladas.

So this whole contest is a free vacation.

I tap my fingers on the board, sending Rob to raise her eyebrow.

“Are you aware that I do not have sensory nerves?”

Like I care about that. “The fools failed to get the money on the previous episodes but I have studied your every move. I have memorized the trials like the back of my hand. And whoever is my enemy will hate me so much because that’s how good I am,” I step on the gum and squish it, “So watch me go get that bag.”

Rob merely blinks. More of making her square eyes to a rectangle shape. “Okay, bye.”

What? I scrunch my nose in confusion. “Are you kicking me out? Wow, are you really threatened by me?”

She forms a pixel small hand, adorable if she weren’t Rob, and waves to me. “Nope, in fact, it starts now.”

Before I can ask what is going on, a gust of wind takes me down.

I am in the air.

Above me is the cube room that turns to be an airplane the whole time, Rob tosses me like garbage. Without a freaking parachute.

The light blue sky opens up before my eyes. A few clouds peer at me as I plummet to my death. I can’t even look at the sun because it’s too bright. I force myself to face downward and to my horror, the island is right below me.

I do the only thing I can. I scream at the top of my lungs, hoping I will call a stray helicopter over.

But no one comes. And I am staring right at my death.

Why isn’t this in the previous episodes? I am certain that I don’t remember a scene of the competitors screaming to their deaths.

Maybe, it’s because they are dead. I tell myself in Rob’s robotic voice. It’s surprisingly soothing in her voice.

Suddenly, I feel a pull of my shirt collar and I look up to see a drone. It leads me to the island steadily and darts away as I land on my shoes in soft sand. I am blinded by anger to break Rob for scaring me so it has taken me too long to notice the beautiful view.

The clear turquoise ocean with gentle waves, the cute fish swimming underwater, the warm sand as I take my shoes off, and of course, freaking palm trees. They are breathtaking.

The admiration is short-lived as I set my eyes to a figure standing in front of me. Her back is turned on me. My heart drops when I see the golden streak in her curly, dark brown hair. As she spins around to me, her dark skin glows under the sun along with her amber eyes.

It’s Zozem Dali.

My enemy since our very first fight in middle school over a tater tot.

I will never forget how that fight has ignited a boiling pot of hatred inside me every time I see her in school. Every time we get into a fight. Every time she spits cruel words at me. She has made my life difficult throughout school.

“Nope, I’m not doing this,” I insist while terror shapes her face.

Just as if she is watching, Rob appears as a hologram in an incoming drone. Her mouth opens and an audio recording of my voice comes out.

Watch me go get that bag. It repeats and repeats until I wave my hands in the air with defeat.
“Ruthless Rob,” I murmur under my breath and go toward my foe with a fake grin, “I guess congratulations are in order for five hundred thousand dollars, huh?”

Zozem narrows her eyes. “You don’t deserve my congratulations.”
———————————————————————————————————————
My stomach is full of pina coladas as I wait in the middle of the sand next to Zozem. The whole day has been us sulking around in silence until Rob orders us to go to this exact location. I assume it’s time for the first trial.

A drone appears out of nowhere and Rob’s face pops in.

“Teamwork, every relationship needs it to work out. For our first trial,” another drone latch a pair of fluffy pink handcuffs on my hand to Zozem’s, “Together, you must catch my kitty, Junior Rob, and bring it to the red button there.”

The red button stands tall between the sand and the grass.

It’s not what I expected but, still, it’s pretty easy. It just gets easier as I spot a little, white kitty circling the red button.

“There!” I shout, trying to run but I am pulled back by Zozem’s frozen posture.

“Where?” she asks, squinting her eyes.

I groan in exasperation and point to the red button only to realize that the kitty has disappeared.

For the next hour, we trudge through the whole island. The crowded palm trees, a white marble house that I find out that I have to sleep with Zozem in the same bed, and then the trimmed grass around it. No kitty in sight.

“If you had followed me, we would have caught him,” I shoot her a glare.

Zozem shrugs. “I didn’t trust you and who broke my trust?”

“I broke your trust because you are mad that I’m better than you, is that it?” I frown and tug at her but she stays still.

“What now?”

She gives me a smirk. “I found the kitty. And, no, Lora, I’m always better than you.”

The kitty is in a palm tree, sinking its claw through the trunk. The small issue is that we have to go through a wide stream of water in order to catch him. It’s nothing too challenging until Zozem stops abruptly at the stream.

“I don’t like water.”

“Too bad,” I say and pull her to it but Zozem is stronger than I thought.

She takes a step back. “No, we will wait until he moves somewhere else. I’m not getting in that water,” I swear I caught a hint of fear in her eyes.

But it doesn’t matter. I’m going to get that kitty. So with some struggle, I finally force her into the water. To my surprise, she doesn’t yell, splash me with water, or throw a tantrum. Instead, she goes solid and lets me do the whole work.

The task is so simple. On the way back, Zozem has gone radio silence. Not that it bothers me. I hold my head in pride as I have the kitty in my arms while slamming the red button.

“You have completed trial one however teamwork isn’t successful. Therefore, the second trial will be a bit difficult,” Rob announces through the red button, “Enjoy the rest of your stay until I call you.”

The handcuffs make a click sound and it falls onto the sand.

I pump my fist into the air and turn to Zozem to brag how I did the whole thing. But I hesitate as I see her paraylzed face.

She slowly looks at me and deadpans. “You haven’t changed.”

———————————————————————————————————————
I despise how her words got in my head. I blame it for the lack of sleep overnight while she sleeps like a baby. It’s not fair that I am the one who gets to suffer but she doesn’t.

“You snore,” I lie as I hear her coming into the kitchen.

She doesn’t reply and grabs an apple. I think of another insult that will make her say at least one word but something inside me stops when I see her under the sunlight. She is wearing silk white pajamas and opening a book, she takes a bite of her apple.

She looks unbothered and somehow peaceful.

Zozem’s a different woman the last time I saw her. I have remembered her as the girl who laughed at my worn out shoes and tripped me almost everyday. But now, she’s not that girl anymore. I suddenly realize what I was doing and shake my head.

As if on cue, Rob calls us over to the same location once again. We have five minutes to get changed and I manage to get ready first. I walk over to the sand. In the distance, there are two chairs with a table.

A tablet sits in the middle of the table. It’s an interesting trial but less interesting when Zozem takes longer to arrive.
I roll my eyes at her as she joins in.

“Welcome to the second trial. In a relationship, you need to get to know each other well so you can understand each other better. What’s better than finding out about each other’s darkest secret?”

I try to protest but the drone flies off. A beep sound captures our attention to the tablet and a picture of an ocean appears on the screen. I think nothing of it until I see Zozem straightening her shoulders and widening her eyes.
Rob’s voice is from the tablet. “This is a clue to Dali’s darkest secret. It’s up to Dali to decide if she’s comfortable enough to tell you what it is. If she refuses, the whole show ends. Same goes to you, Blacke.”

I fold my arms and scowl. If any secret is related to the ocean, it can’t be bad. The darkest secret possible has to be Zozem’s exaggerated fear of it. That will explain why she’s furious about the stream.

Zozem clenches her jaw and meets my eyes. My heart skips a beat for some reason; it’s perhaps the genuine shame in her face. Or she’s annoying to look at enough to make me nearly have a heart attack.

“Is it, uh, your fear of the ocean?” I ask and she shakes her head, “What about the sharks? Creatures? Your belief in

mermaids? Death?”

This continues for a good several minutes until I give up.

I slap on the table lightly. “Just get it over with and tell me.”

She takes a deep breath and drops her head to the table. “I’m not comfortable with you but I will be when I surround myself with money. And telling you will be just telling it to a wall.”

The last sentence echoes through my head. Does she really think that low of me? That I don’t care about it?

“I got stuck in a riptide during a family vacation. My older sister saw me and didn’t hesitate to rescue me,” Zozem clears her throat obviously to avoid it cracking, “But she ended up being stuck and I was too scared so I abandoned her to get help. Only that it’s too late and she’s gone. To somewhere in the ocean, buried in the sand or eaten off by fish.”
I blink, speechless. How she states it so smoothly like it’s not a big deal. Like my opinion or my sympathy do not matter to her. Still I manage to blur out an apology. “Wow, I’m sorry about that. That had to be horrible.”

She laughs. Right in my face.

“Don’t pretend, Lora.”

I suck in the insides of my cheeks. “Why will I be pretending? It’s a traumatic event for you and I forced you into the water. That’s screwed up on my part so I’m sorry. If you just had told–”

“Told you? Do you really believe that you will listen to me and not go into the water?” Zozem scoffs in disbelief and leans back, the arrogance back on her face, “It doesn’t matter because you are too self-absorbed to accept your mistake for once.”

Not that word. Not the same word that my family uses against me. Acting as if I never care about them but myself. I’m not like that.

My hand clenches into a fist. “Whatever, I don’t care. Believe in whatever you want to make yourself feel better.”
She chuckles and opens her mouth only to get interrupted by Rob.

“Blacke’s turn,” the tablet beeps.

My fist loosen in horror as I see what’s in the picture. It’s two friends hugging each other. To know that kind of secret, Rob has searched the deepest corners of my history. Because not even my family knows about it.
“Friends?” Zozem breaks into laughter that makes me sick to my stomach.

Money. It’s all worth it in the end because all this is in the past. Focus on the money. I remind myself and restore my relaxed pose.

I can’t bear to listen to her assumptions about the picture. It will only make this worse. So with a cool voice, I shrug. “Oh, that’s old news. I lost my best friend to a hazing event that went wrong.”

Zozem’s smirk vanishes. I have been relieved how I didn’t break down but the tablet beeps again, urging me to continue.

Ruthless Rob, I will tear you apart when I’m out of this island. I glare at the tablet and swallow my pride. It seems like Rob wants me to elaborate how it affects me the way water now affects Zozem. I try to keep my face straight as my last memory of him flashes in my mind.

“Um, I guess that’s why I get into fights and stuff. I’m just tired of bullies thinking that they can get everything in their way so I teach them a lesson. Apparently, it’s not a quality my family wants me to have nor my co-workers.”
Zozem is dumbfounded. She doesn’t say a word, not after Rob declares the second trial completed. Not after they go back to the house. Not until they lay in the bed together.

It’s the lowest whisper I have ever heard.

“You taught me a lesson, didn’t you? That I shouldn’t force people below my level to give me tater tots.”

I can only nod. It’s the reason why I have tackled her in that cafeteria because Zozem had been doing it for weeks and weeks. I never meant for things to get so heated that we become rivals of each other. I never meant to feel such hatred for her.

Without warning, Zozem traces my bare arm with her cold hand. I feel her slow and soft breath in my ear.

“You know, before you embarrassed me in the whole cafeteria, I always admired how brave you were. How fearless you were when you stood up against racist teachers. Against the dress code. So when you did that to me, I just got pissed off and the rest’s history.”

No.

That’s the first thing in my head as soon as I feel a drop of empathy for her. For my number one enemy in the whole world. In the whole universe.

I don’t say anything back and I feel her stirring then silence falls in the room.
———————————————————————————————————————
For two freaking weeks, Rob hasn’t called us yet for the third trial. Obviously, she realizes that we, as a couple, are no good. Even though–it’s hard to admit this–Zozem and I hit it off pretty well.

We are sitting outside on white chairs with sunglasses and enormous hats. She’s talking about how pineapple tastes so good on pizza while eating a slice of it.

I have no choice but to suffer watching her devour the worst mixture in history. I may love pina coladas and pineapple juice but I will never ever put them on pizza. Only manics do that so it makes sense for Zozem.

“Just take a bite,” she says, shoving the slice into my face.

I pretend to gag in disgust. “Never, they taste horrible. Over my freaking grave, I swear to God.”

She laughs. And I hate how it makes me smile. “How do you know that it tastes horrible if you haven’t tasted it? I knew you are a picky person,” she says in the last sentence as if she’s proud of it.

“What’s wrong with being picky?” I raise my eyebrow. “Better safe than sorry. I don’t want my taste buds to be traumatized forever.”

Then I hear a loud beep.

A drone hovers above our heads and her unpleasant face appears in the hologram. “Well, well, you seem to be enjoying yourselves, aren’t you all?” Rob says and wags her long, rectangle eyebrows. That is more than enough to set off the awkward tension.

Zozem and I exchange glances and chuckle nervously.

“It’s time for the third trial. The key about relationships is trust. So, Blacke, follow that drone,” another drone lowers from the sky and makes a scratchy beeping noise.

I get up and the drone drops an athletic grey jumpsuit. It’s strange but I don’t say anything and put it over my bikini. Looking over my shoulder as I follow the drone, I spot Zozem using the same jumpsuit. She gives me a reassuring smile.

A new steel building in the sand is out of the blue. I have never seen it before and enter a door, letting the drone swoop into the room first. I realize it’s not a room but stairs that lead us to a small room with a huge window.

The window opens up to a much bigger room and I tense up as I notice the holes all over on the walls of that room. Holes never mean anything good. In front of me, there is a red button, nothing else. Only the red button and a room composed of steel with a glass window.

The drone beeps, bumping into the window gently.

I turn my head to the window and my heart drops. Zozem is in the middle of the room, her arms cradled around her torso.

This is not like the previous episodes. Realization dawns on me that they are fake episodes and attract attention from the audience, making the real people unprepared for what’s to come.

I have to give that win to Ruthless Rob. She’s smart.

From somewhere in the room, I hear her robotic voice. “Blacke, you have a choice. Five hundred thousand dollars or her.”

I have forgotten about the money. I keep my cool while inside, I’m freaking out at how I forgot what I exactly came here for. Before I can reply, I hear clicks. I jerk my head to the holes and to my horror, they stir and suddenly, water gushes out from everywhere.

No. No. No. My hands tremble as Zozem closes her eyes tightly. She’s terrified, I can tell by how her legs shake and she’s holding herself as if her life depends on it.

“Press the red button if you choose her.”

I stare at the red button and back to Zozem. This isn’t fair; of course it’s a freaking rush decision with pressure.

How is this trust?

“Or get the five hundred thousand dollars,” Zozem opens her eyes and pivots her glance at the window right at me, “And never see her again.”

This will be my last memory of her. Just like my last memory of my best friend dying in that hospital with crowded doctors trying to save him. A question crosses my mind, one that I will never have thought to ask myself.
Is it worth five hundred thousand dollars?

Water’s at her legs now. She looks away from the window and I watch the water slowly reach her chest. Then it stops there and across the window, the wall opens up to the tropical ocean and sends all the water out.

I blink in shock.

My hand has clicked the red button.
———————————————————————————————————————
“You chose me.”

Zozem says as she crashes in my arms, quivering from the water.

“Rob asked for my permission to do this challenge,” she whispers while I stroke her cheeks, “Take the five hundred thousands dollars right before and leave or do this challenge and let you choose.”

I let out an appalled laugh. “You trusted me.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she smiles, “I did.”

No one has trusted me the way she did. With my history, she still believes that I’ll choose her after money. I don’t care that tears fall down my cheeks from joy because I now understand what Rob meant by love’s worth more than money.
Money never has given me the feeling of butterflies, smiles every time I see her in the room, and most of all, the knowledge that I have someone who understands me well.

Someone who loves me for who I am.

If it isn’t for the tater tot, we will not be in this place.

A grin spreads across my lips. “Do you want to get out of here and get tater tots?”

Author: Zora

Just a young writer looking to take the mistakes I've made to aid the next generation.

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