Excerpt of the Week
A selection from The Ridge by Nick Hupton, Chapter 1:
Zach knew what he wanted. One more ace. Just one more and he would have a full house. “I need two,” he said looking up at Logan, who was dealing the cards. Leaning over the back of the bus seat, Logan handed him two cards. Zach grabbed them from his best friend, his round, dark eyes never leaving his own set. He strategically placed the two new cards in his hand. The back of the bus was bumpy and nearly everyone had dropped his cards at least once. Everyone except Zach. He was not about to reveal his hand before it was “winning time.”
Logan, Mitch, and Adam drew their cards. “Whatcha got?” Logan asked to no one in particular. Mitch and Adam glanced at Zach.
“You first,” Zach said, still staring at his own cards. “But don’t put ‘em on the seat again. They’ll slide off.”
Adam flipped his long black hair out of his eyes. He showed his cards first, holding them firmly in both hands.
“Beats mine,” Mitch said, his thin, Hmong eyes showing his disappointment. “Crappy pair of fours.” Mitch flipped his cards, revealing the weak hand.
Zach looked up at Logan, who had slumped down a bit, his cards hidden behind the tall seat. Slowly, the cards rose above the top of the slick vinyl. Logan flipped them over slowly. Three tens.
Zach slumped back in defeat. “Crap,” he said, staring at the towering, green pine trees whizzing by.
Logan grinned. They had played six games of poker on the bus ride and Zach had won every one of them.
As Logan reached down to grab his winnings of candy bars and Jolly Ranchers that had nestled up against the crease of the bus seat,
Zach grabbed his hand. “Hold on just a second,” he said. “You had three tens, right?”
Logan nodded, but said nothing.
“I must have forgotten the rules for a second, because a full house beats three of a kind, doesn’t it?” Zach flipped over his cards to reveal three eights and two aces. “Suckers! I’ll take these, thank you very much.” Zach grabbed the candy and threw it on the pile he had already accumulated in his backpack. “I believe that makes seven consecutive wins, doesn’t it?”
Zach hopped off his seat, giving high-fives to two giggling girls across the aisle. He didn’t stand as tall as Logan, but he wasn’t short either. He had a long, narrow mouth, which allowed him his famous “Zach smile.” His light freckles surrounding his rounded nose gave him a look of innocence and youth. The girls loved Zach’s freckles.
Logan rolled his eyes, a slight grin on his face. “All right, I’m done,” said Logan.
“But you haven’t even seen my victory dance yet,” Zach said, trying to stay balanced as he swayed his hips back and forth in the bus aisle.
“Zach Sutton, sit down!” Mrs. Lomeier yelled from the front of the bus.
“Whatever you say, Mrs. Lomeier!” Zach called back. When she turned her back to him, he laughed softly.
While dancing in the aisle, the jerkiness of the bus tossed him into other groups of kids, knocking his Twins baseball cap off of his head. He bent over, picked up his hat, and smoothed out the wrinkles. He felt naked without it, especially since he had lost “the bet” a week earlier.
Zach was a great baseball player. Even as an eighth grader, the Varsity coaches had scouted him on a few occasions. He was a shortstop and a pitcher. A rocket for an arm.
After practice, Zach, Logan, and three other players had been tossing the ball back and forth. Out of nowhere, Zach called out, “I bet all you fools I can throw twenty strikes in a row.”
Logan and the other players looked at each other. “What are the stakes?” Logan asked.
“I’ll tell you what,” Zach said. “You guys don’t even have to worry about it. If I don’t throw twenty in a row, I’ll buzz my head. If I do throw twenty in a row, we go to McDonald’s after school tomorrow and you guys buy. It’s a win-win for you. Deal?”
“Deal,” Logan said. “I can’t wait to see that bald head of yours.”
Logan got behind the plate, crouched down into a catcher’s position, and yelled, “All right. Throw ‘em in here baldy!”
Zach stood on the pitcher’s mound, staring into Logan’s glove. He breathed in deeply, calming his nerves. Another deep breath. And another.
He blocked out all distractions. The other players yelling at him, the traffic on the busy street adjacent to the baseball diamond, the cool spring breeze chilling his bare arms. Nothing mattered but the leather target in front of him.
He began his windup. Strike one. Strike two . . .
Zach threw nineteen strikes in a row.
It came down to the last pitch. Another deep breath. The windup. The ball zipped through the air. Zach watched as Logan’s glove moved slightly to his right. It missed the plate by about an inch. He made no argument. A bet was a bet.
Zach went to the barber the next day.
Click HERE to find out more about Zach's trip to and adventure in Minnesota's north woods.