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Wild Cards

What would you do for the prize of a lifetime?

By Lilly CooperPublished 4 months ago 19 min read
Wild Cards
Photo by Tyler Raye on Unsplash

4... 3..... 2..... 1..... Deep breath.

She opened her eyes to see her Epic Gems Treasure Hunt partner guzzling water from his canteen while perched on his walking-stick-come-stick-chair.

Just my goddamned luck to be stuck with a city-slicker. She shook her head looking at the gravel under her feet. With a herculean effort, Tanya unclenched her jaw and shoved the urge to strangle him down as far as she could.

Just in time for Byron to fall hard on his butt as the single pointed leg of his walking-stick-chair slipped out from under him.

“Shit! Damn! God, that hurts!”

Tanya scooped up his almost empty canteen before it could empty completely and screwed the cap back on before offering a hand to him. “Are you OK?”

He slapped his dusty hand to her wrist, clasping her forearm as she wrapped her fingers around his. He grunted as she pulled him to his feet.

“Yeah, I don’t think anything major is broken. Just my pride.” He brushed the dirt and dust from his designer jeans and she handed his water back to him.

“You know, you should sip the water at intervals. If you drink too much too fast while exercising, you can make yourself sick. Especially if you aren’t used to this level of activity.”

He stooped to pick up his walking stick chair and between grunts, she could have sworn she heard him mumble ‘you sound just like my father.’

“I’ll be fine, I just needed to catch my breath.” Byron probably caught her rolling her eyes because he continued. “We are in the lead. The next closest team is ages behind us. We have time to spare.”

“A lead squandered is opportunity wasted. We could lose the lead quickly if we get too comfortable. I.... We have worked too hard to get lazy now.”

Tanya immediately regretted being so direct.

Her boyfriend had told her she was a closed book and hard to read. Byron on the other hand wore his heart on his sleeve. A hurt expression spread across his face, his shoulders drooped and he looked down at the ground, scuffing his expensive and new-looking hiking boots. The guy looked like he had hit the outdoors equipment store after his application to be a participant in the Treasure Hunt had been accepted. The store person must have seen him coming and really boosted his sales bonus that month. She wished she had that sort of money to waste.

“Yeah. Totally. You’re absolutely right. We should keep moving.” He stood straighter and put on a fragile looking smile. He gestured boarded with a graceful sweep of his arm. “Ladies first.”

The hiking trail they followed twisted and turned, switching back on itself as it snaked up the side of the tall hill. Tanya pulled herself up and over a boulder that the trail ran over before turning to help her team mate up.

“Man,’ he puffed, clearly not at a great fitness level, ‘they said all of this was for participants with a moderate fitness level. I don’t love their idea of ‘moderate.”

She chuckled. “It is the top end of moderate to be honest. You are doing just fine.”

“Oh, thank God for that. I thought I was just really shitty at this. Especially watching you. It’s like Superman or something. Leaping over obstructing boulders with a single bound!”

He laughed a little at his own joke. “So, you never answered my question.”

Tanya strode up the stone steps in front of her quickly and easily. She called back over her shoulder. “Which question was that?” She reached the top stair and turned to wait for Byron.

The stairs were steep and uneven, if it hadn’t been for the training she had done before coming out for the Hunt, she might have struggled with them too. She let him catch his breath somewhat before starting off up the path again, a little slower than before.

“Why are you here? A country girl from a quaint little farming town. Smart as. Fit. A million miles from home on a gorgeous Hawaiian Island paradise, chasing a prize of pretty pink diamonds. You couldn’t be more out of place if you were on the moon.”

He was right. Unlike the other competitors, she wore no brand name clothing, her boots were as well worn as her knapsack and her idea of make up was a good sunscreen. The limited jewellery she wore consisted of a leather cord tied with knots that allowed her to adjust it and a simple Celtic knot her Gran had given her just before she passed, a frayed bracelet made of braded red cotton and a pair of small hoop earrings. Her sunglasses were a cheap pair from the dollar store, not even a cheap knock off. Just cheap. She looked more or less like she had just stepped off the farm. Where as her partner looked like he had stepped out of a catalogue. Brand name clothes, all new equipment, gold jewellery. He looked like he would be more at home relaxing on one of the island’s pristine white beaches, or at the swim up bar in the hotel all the contestants were put up in. In truth, they all looked like they belonged there.

The fanciest buildings she had set foot in up until now was the university campus when she had toured when she was submitting her selections. The hotel was much more upmarket than that. She felt out of place and ill at ease. An obvious imposter. Behind her back, she knew some were pointing and sneering that she had no place here.

The trail lead out onto a flat outcropping of rock, rimmed with a safety railing. The view from the look out was like nothing else. Spellbinding and breath taking. Tanya stood at the rail drinking in the splendour of rolling ocean waves of the most beautiful blue-green hue, white capped crescents advancing on the pale sand of the beaches on either side. Huge storm clouds hunkered down across the horizon looking dark and ominous.

Byron lent on the rail beside her snapping pictures on his phone.

She sighed. No doubt he would post those to Instagram the second he got the chance. The things people missed because they viewed the world through their phone camera lens.

“I finished top of my class and applied to colleges. I had a list of universities and I applied to all of them, including one that my family can’t really afford. It’s was always my dream to go there though so I applied for a scholarship.” She turned and faced the hill side, leaning back against the rail. “They have the best teachers. It would give me the best opportunities on graduation. I never really believed they would accept my application. When the acceptance letter came through, I was thrilled! I’ve never been so excited in my life. Then reality hit. I didn’t get the scholarship.”

“Oh damn! Geez-us, Tan, that seriously sucks. Im so sorry.” He watched her, his expression as down cast as she felt. “That’s why you are here. A share of the prize would pay for your entire tuition!”

“Yeah, it would.” The Treasure Hunt had been a last ditch effort to raise the much needed tuition money. All or nothing, she thought. “I had to try. Win or lose. At least I know I did everything I could. What about you?”

“And you wind up stuck with a slow-ass partner like me. I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t sell yourself short! If it weren’t for you and your problem solving skills, we wouldn’t have gained the lead when we did!”

Byron blushed and looked down at his shoes. “Thanks Tan, I appreciate you saying that. Hey, let’s get a selfie! This is the perfect back ground!” He had already put his arm around her and held the phone up for the photo. She gave a little smile and he snapped the pic.

He checked the picture and frowned. “Mmmm, I think we can do better, let’s take another one.”

“Maybe we should keep moving...”

Sound from below interrupted her mid sentence. They both rushed to the side of the look out just in time to see the members of Team 6, sisters nicknamed The Beauties, scramble up the boulder. Once on top, one of them started wailing and pranced around shaking her hand squealing something about a nail.

“Shitshitshit!” Byron watched them fussing over the girl’s hand.

“No time for profanity, we gotta run!” Tanya grabbed his arm and yanked him towards where the trail picked up again.

She let go when he started following and set a cracking pace.

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” He called as he scrambled to try and keep up with her. “If I hadnt been taking photos!”

Without breaking stride or slowing, she called out over her shoulder. “Stop apologising! Save your breath, we're gunna need it!”

As long as she could hear him behind her, she didn’t slow the pace. Keeping her eyes ahead and focused on her goal, it took her a moment to realise the trail lead up one more flight of rough stairs before the top of the hill: their destination. Taking the steps as quickly as possible she slipped and slid on the loose gravel. It slowed her enough to catch a glimpse of the check point on the summit. Her heart thumped hard in her chest.

So close! I can do this!

Behind her, Byron had reached the bottom step. Two more and she would be there! By some miracle, she was going to get her dream!

She turned back to check on her teammate only to see him fall. Slipping on the gravel the same as she did, he lost his balance and fell hard on his knee. She didn’t even glance at the checkpoint. Taking the steps more carefully coming down, she reached Byron sprawled on the bottom step.

“Byron! Are you OK?”

He rolled over and winced. “Ah crap! I think I’ve busted my knee! Geez-us that hurts!” He held his knee with his bloodied and scrapped palms.

“Damn! Do you think you can stand?”

Tanya helped him to his feet, one arm wrapped around his waist and his arm over her shoulder.

“I don’t think I can walk.” His tone said everything. He sounded hopeless and an edge of panic crept in.

“It’s OK, we will go up together. Use your walking stick. We will take slowly.”

“But the Beauties...”

“Speak of the devil.” Tanya looked behind them as one of the identical twins rounded the corner in the trail with her bawling sister in tow.

“Quick, if we take up the entire path, they can’t pass us!” Her partner attempted to move into position to block their opponents.

She shook her head. “You are in no condition to move that quickly. And besides, it’s against the rules. We’d be disqualified.”

The sisters rushed up and passed the dejected pair. “Stop crying about your stupid nail Cortnee! Think about the pretty pink sparkles we are about to win!” Danee smirked at Tanya as she dragged her sister up the stairs. “There’s no prize for second place!” Her laughter trailed behind them.

She could feel Byron’s shoulders sag as the bitchy Beauties disappeared from view on the summit. Off to the check point.

“I’m sorry.” He mumbled.

She gave him a big smile, if slightly forced. “Stop apologising. You didn’t fall on purpose. Victory is never guaranteed. But we can be proud of what we have achieved. Come on, let’s go.”

It was slow going and it took climbing a couple of steps to learn to move together but they finally topped the summit and hobbled their way to the checkpoint tent.

“Congratulations!” Dale, the host of the Hunt, affectionately dubbed the Checkout Chick, greeted them with over-the-top enthusiasm at the Check Point. “You have reached the final Check point in second place!”

“Thanks Dale. Could we get Byron some medical attention please?”

“Oh! Ofcourse! Right this way!”

Tanya closed here eyes for a moment and gave a tight lipped smile. Why did Dale always have to sound like she was excited about everything? It just came across as fake.

She handed Byron off to first aider at the tent and groaned inwardly. From inside the tents she could hear one of the twins.

“I NEED it! This IS an EMERGENCY! My nail broke! How can I have Winners photos taken with this hideous stump? What sort of savage are you?!”

By Cem Sagisman on Unsplash

Tanya sat in the competitor’s seating with an empty chair beside her, reserved for Byron. She hoped he was OK. She had ask the organisers about him, but all they had said was that due to privacy reasons, they couldn’t give her any information. They had not exchanged numbers and even if they did, there was to be no contact with anyone before the end of the prize ceremony and interviews. A social media blackout for the Hunt participants meant she couldn’t contact him that way either.

She glanced down at the old model phone cradled in her palm. There would be so many messages and more than a few phones calls from her sister when she was permitted to take it off Airplane mode. She tapped it against her fingers again before looking nervously around the bright court yard again. The Beauties sat in the front, right in line with the lectern. Centre of attention. She knew they had earned it. They reached the Final Check point first. She didn’t feel they deserved it. They were awful to other people and had spent all of yesterday afternoon boasting to anyone who would listen about their win, how they had used every trick they could think of within the rules to undermine the other teams. But deserve didn’t come into it. They had won. End of story. As much as she would have loved to have the prize, she was happy with what she and Byron had achieved. Plus, the competition had amounted to an all expenses paid vacation in Hawaii! She would remember this forever. That was an amazing prize on its own.

A figure in dark jeans and a Ralph Lauren tee hobbled through the garden arch on crutches and made a slow, clumsy beeline for the seat beside her.

“Byron! I was starting to think you wernt going to make it! What happened? Is your leg OK? OK, so you are on crutches, so not ok-ok, but are you OK?”

He smiled happily. “Yeah, it’s OK. Bruised and battered but not broken. I’m a bit sad about that actually.” He flopped into the chair with a lack of grace and propped his crutches to the side.

“Why are you sad it’s not broken?”

“If it was broken, I might need surgery!”

“Um, OK. Interesting. Most people actively try to avoid surgery.” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Is this like Munchausen’s or something? Do we need to stage an intervention?”

He laughed and grinned. “Nooooo! But it’d leave a scar. Chicks dig scars, right?”

Tanya couldn’t help but laugh.

“You should laugh more. It suits you. Anyway. I wanted to say thanks. I know we didn’t win but I really enjoyed the last few days. And you were so patient with me. Even when I suspect you secretly wanted to kill me. I’m kinda glad they put us together as a team. Can I send you that selfie I took?” He held his phone up.

“Sure, once this thing is over and we can turn everything back on.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Here, put your number in and I’ll send it to you after.”

She punched her number in and handed it back to him. “Keep in touch OK?”

The microphone at the lectern squealed with feedback before Checkout Chick Dale cleared her throat.

“Alright, Ladies and Gentlemen! Let’s get started! First, I’d like to say well done to all the teams! A round of applause for our wonderful contestants!” Dale lead the applause and then waited for the noise to die down enough to be heard over the clapping. “Now, I’d like to hand over to our head judge, Colin Adams from Epic Jewellers, the Epic Gems Treasure Hunt sponsors for the announcement of our Victors!”

The audience applauded again as a garishly dressed young man strode forward to the lectern and adjusted the mic to accommodate for him being taller than Dale.

“Thank you, Ms. Taylor for that wonderful introduction.”

Byron leaned towards Tanya. “Why does a race have a judge, let alone multiple?”

“Mmm, possibly to make sure the rules were followed. The prize is fairly significant, so I guess they want to make sure no one cheats.”

“I’m so very excited to be here, on this beautiful Hawaiian Island! I couldn’t have wished for a better location for our Epic Gems Treasure Hunt! Thank you to the wonderful citizens for welcoming us to your amazing home!” More applause. “Now, we have a formality to complete before we present our Victors with their prize.” In the front row, the twins grabbed each other in sheer excitement. “As already reported, we had two disqualifications from the Hunt. Teams two and seven were disqualified on the first day. However, after reviewing information overnight, we have a late disqualification.”

Tanya heard Byron draw a sharp breath. “Ooo, I wonder who it is!”

She shrugged. “Not us! We followed the rules to the letter.”

He reached over and squeezed her fingers. “Thanks to you! You kept us on the straight and narrow.”

She squeezed his fingers back before he withdrew his hand.

“Team six, Cortnee and Danee Hoover, have been qualified....”

It was hard to hear the rest of what Colin was saying. Cortnee, or maybe it was Danee, let out a ear-splitting screech while the other twin appeared to have fainted in her chair. It was something about an illegal short cut.

Unaware of having done it, Tanya had grabbed Byron’s hand in a crushing grip.

“.... meaning Team 12, our Wild Card entrants, Tanya Greenacre and Byron Clem move from second place to first! Congratulations guys! Come accept your trophy!”

By Elias E on Unsplash

It had been an absolute blur after the announcement. Tanya sat on her bed at home, a million miles and what felt like hundreds of days away from one of the most incredible adventures of her life so far. Her half of the prize had opened the way to accept the offer from her dream university and she was just packing the last of her essentials before heading off with her parents to start her first year. The Hunt felt like it was a dream. The constant reminder, a ring on her finger with a perfect little cotton-candy pink diamond, the only one she kept from the prize. She had cashed all the others. It would still be tough. She needed to find a job when she was settled in and watch her spending, but she was used to that. Besides, her education was way more important than new clothes and other non-essentials. And Byron messaged her most days. What more could she ask for? She would never have predicted it at the start, but they had become firm friends.

She finished packing the bag and bounced down the stairs to her waiting parents. Helen, her mother, gave her a tight hug.

“Oh my darling girl! I’m so excited for you! You are going to do so many things in the city! Think of the art galleries and the architecture!”

Her father grunted. “Yes, Helen. She has thought about it. Alright ladies, let’s get this last few things into the car, we have a ways to go today.”

He opened the door to find a startled Courier Driver with his hand poised to knock on the door.

“Oh! Hi Mr. Greenacer! I have a parcel for Tanya.”

“Sure Thomas, I’ll give it to her.” Dave held his hand out to take the package.

Thomas shook his head. “I’m sorry Sir, I need her signature on the delivery slip.”

Helen raised her eye brow at her daughter as she stepped past to accept her delivery.

“I’m glad I caught you actually! I wanted to wish you luck! The whole town is talking about your grand adventure!”

Tanya smiled and took the parcel in one hand while signing with the other. “The Treasure Hunt was months ago Thomas. But thank you.”

“Oh, no. I mean going away to the big city for college! I swear, it’s the furthest any of us have gone for anything other than a vacation! We are all excited about your win, ofcourse, but a city college is so much bigger an adventure.” Thomas, an old school mate of Tanya’s, smiled wistfully. “I’m happy here and with my job, but I wish I could do the things you’ve done. Good luck 'n' take care, hey? Keep us updated! Maybe we will see you for Christmas holidays!”

Tanya waved and shut the door behind her.

“Well, better open it before we leave I suppose.” Dave looked a little prutubed by the delay. He hated being late, even if it was late only by his own schedule and expectations. “If it required a signature, it’s got to be important.”

“You are probably right.” Tanya ripped open the tab on the satchel and drew out a letter and a small box.

Opening the letter she read aloud:

Dear Tanya,

I know I’ve said thank you before, but I wanted to say it again.

I never told you why I entered the Hunt. I’ve always felt I'm a constant disappointment to my Dad. He is always so proud of my older brother and his collection of sports awards, medals and trophies. Me, on the other hand, I’m more academic. No where near as good as you, but I do alright. Waving a decent report card under his friends noses though is not the same as showing them shiny trophies and medals.

At least entering the Hunt, with the media coverage, it was something tangible.

Then we won! And you let me keep the trophy! So now Dad can’t just ignore what I did!

You showed me a level of patience and acceptance I didn’t really expect. Thank you.

I know this will come in handy while you are away at college. I don’t really need them, but I know you will make good use of them. I hope you don’t mind, I kept just one. A little something for a Mother’s Day present.

Friends forever!


Tanya frowned, slipping the letter back into the satchel before picking up the small box.

“What on earth is he talking about?” Helen moved a little closer to see as her daughter opened the box. “That poor boy, he is such a lovely person, I wish his dad appreciated that.”

The clip on the box lid was so tight, Tanya fumbled it as it gave way, spilling the contents across the table top.

Catching the sunlight streaming through the window, the pink diamonds sent tiny rainbows scattering across the wood surface.

Dall-e image

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About the Creator

Lilly Cooper

A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

I may be an amateur Author, but I love what I do!

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Comments (5)

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  • Donna Fox4 months ago

    Such a great story! Love the plot twist at the end! Actually love all the plot twists, so well written!

  • Omg Lily I could gush over this for a while!! Your characters were so believable!! I loved Byron ❤️ he seems like a good dude if not a little weak lol. This was excellent ☺️☺️ I subscribed

  • C. H. Richard4 months ago

    Very engaging story. I seriously felt like I was there on the race and then waiting to hear their win. Well done. Great story ❤️

  • Wowww, this was such an adventure! A very fun story! So glad Tanya got what she wanted and Byron is super sweet! Loved this story so much! You did an amazing job!

  • Denise E Lindquist4 months ago

    Good job!😊💕

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