Monday, 6 March 2017

Paradise Lost Chap 3

"So, Noelle, are you going to play the Upton Game this year?" Tiffany asked as we kicked back in our cushy leather seats on the Lange family's private plane the next morning. Our chairs were arranged in a sort of conversation pit, so that we could all see one another. Toward the back were four more seats, lined up against the walls like in a regular plane, except they each were singles with tables at either arm. Only one was occupied. Noelle's father, whom I hadn't met yet, had been talking intensely into his cell phone ever since we arrived at the airport and hadn't even glanced our way. Noelle's mother was already in St. Barths and would be meeting our plane when we landed.
"I'm not sure you guys could handle the competition," Noelle said, arranging the skirt of her black
linen dress around her legs. She and Tiff both were already outfitted for the islands--Tiff in tan shorts,
a white short-sleeve shirt, and stacked espadrilles--while I was bundled up in a wool sweater and
jeans, my thick coat shoved into the overhead compartment. I was, thank God, a newly reminted
Billings Girl after yesterday's successful vote, but I certainly didn't look the part. I wondered exactly
how hot I'd be when I stepped off the plane.
Tiffany laughed at Noelle. "Look at the ego on this one!" She accepted a flute of champagne from the
flight attendant and curled up her long legs onto her seat. I passed on my glass. No alcohol for me.
Not for a while. "Gome on, Noelle! It's your first Dash-less Christmas in forever. You have to play."
My heart took a nosedive that, luckily, had nothing to do with the plane doing something funky.
"Okay, I'm confused," I said as the flight attendant deposited a tray of chocolate-covered strawberries
on the table between me and Tiffany. "A, what is the Upton Game? And B, Noelle . . . since when are
you Dash-less? I thought you guys got back together." Noelle took a long sip from her champagne
glass, and then placed it down on the table at her side. "Not anymore."
I attempted to swallow. "You broke up? What happened?" Noelle shot Tiffany a look, and Tiff
focused her gaze out the window. "Honestly? It seems that once you've seen your boyfriend hook up
with one of your best friends, it becomes rather hard to kiss him without thinking of where his lips
have been," Noelle answered. My face burned. I was the best friend. I had ruined Noelle's
relationship with Dash. For good. "Noelle--"
"So, the Upton Game!" Noelle said loudly, brightly, slapping her hands down on her lap.
She wasn't going to talk to me about Dash. I guess I could understand that. But I felt a sting in my chest
nonetheless. Our friendship had changed, and not in a good way.
"Yes, let's fill in Reed." Tiffany reached for a chocolate-covered strawberry and bit into it.
"Okay. Tiffany and I have been going down to St. Barths ever since we were in strollers." Noelle
paused for a moment, and I knew that she was thinking about how she hadn't been able to go last year
because of Thomas's trial. "And we're not the only ones. There's a whole group of us."
"Like Gage," I supplied. Unfortunately.
"Gage, Kiran, Paige, and Daniel Ryan, Weston Bright, the Hathaways--"
"Poppy Simon--"
"Of Simon International," Tiffany put in, passing the tray of strawberries to me. I selected one and
took a bite. Its flavors exploded in my mouth. Much better than the dry pretzels on my last flight. "Her
family owns this sick chain of hotels all over the world, including one on the island. We hang out
there a lot."
"Poppy is outrageous," Noelle added. "I'm interested to see what you think of her." She leaned back
and narrowed her eyes. "Who else... oh, Dash," she said through her teeth in a tone that forbade any
further questioning. "And, of course, Upton Giles." She shot Tiffany a sly look, and Tiffany swooned
dramatically. She fanned at her neck, opening her white collared shirt wide. "Oh, Upton Giles .. .,"
she sighed.
"You got that right."
Noelle leaned forward, and they clinked glasses.
"Who's Upton Giles?" I asked.
Noelle took a breath, swigged her champagne, and turned to us. "Upton Giles is the single hottest
male specimen ever to walk the earth."
Noelle was not one for over exaggeration. If she said the guy was drop-dead, he was drop-dead. I
immediately thought of Josh, who had yet to call me, text me, or e-mail me. I wondered if he knew I
was headed to St. Barths. He had to have heard it through Gage or
"Weston or someone, right? I pulled out my iPhone to quickly check for messages. There was nothing.
My heart twinged, and I put down the phone. Moving on, Reed, remember? You're moving on.
I looked at Noelle. "So . . . Upton Giles is the object of the Upton Game?"
"Exactly," Noelle replied.
Tiffany cleared her throat and shifted in her seat. "Every year, all the girls in the crew compete for
Upton's . . . affection," Tiffany explained.
"Back when we were twelve, it was all about who could get a peck on the cheek from Upton first,"
Noelle explained, slightly lowering her voice. "But now that we're older, things have gotten a bit
more intense."
"Basically, whoever hooks up with Upton first wins the Upton Game," Tiffany clarified, taking a sip
of champagne.
I nearly choked on a large bite of strawberry. "Omigod. Ew!" I said, covering my mouth.
"You guys all have hooked up with Upton? "
"Reed! Please! I don't think my father could quite hear you," Noelle admonished, swiveling in her seat
to check the back of the plane. But her father was still barking away on the phone. She settled in,
smoothing her long black skirt over her legs. '7 have not. Cheek peck back in the day? Yes. But for the
last few years I've been . . . otherwise occupied, guywise." Noelle and I avoided eye contact.
"But pretty much everyone else has hooked up with him," Tiffany added, swigging from her
champagne glass again.
I looked at Tiffany. As long as I had known her, she'd never had a serious boyfriend. In a weird way, I
had always thought she was sort of above the petty pursuit of guys. She usually had so much other
stuff going on. Her love of photography kept her well occupied--she always was shooting for classes,
for fun,' for the school paper, and sometimes even for magazines in New York City. She also was a
straight-A student and sang in the Easton Chorale. The thought of her with a guy was totally out of
"Even you?" I asked.
Tiffany blushed and shrugged. "We all have our weaknesses."
"Everyone except Taylor," Noelle amended. "She's been coming down for the last few Christmases as
Kiran's guest, and she's yet to win."
"Not for lack of trying," Tiffany added, rolling her eyes. Noelle laughed lightly, and I looked down at
my hands. It was going to be so odd seeing Taylor Bell and Kiran Hayes again after more than a year.
I hadn't spoken to Taylor in ages--not since the night she disappeared from Easton so mysteriously.
The last time I saw Kiran was the night she confessed that she had played a role in Thomas Pearson's
kidnapping. The kidnapping that had led to his murder. Even with all of that hanging over us, I
couldn't wait to see them. I suppose that time heals all wounds. Or absence makes the heart grow
fonder. I guess cliches are cliches for a reason.
"So, what do you think, Reed?" Noelle asked with a smirk. "Up for a little Upton?"
"Please," I said with a scoff. "I haven't even met the guy. Besides, I'm not really into players." Not
anymore, I added silently, thinking of Thomas.
"Believe me, when you see him, you'll be in," Tiffany said, toying with the hair at the nape of her
neck. She was still blushing. Whatever the allure this guy had, it was strong.
"So, what else do I need to know?" I asked, hoping to change the subject. "The Upton Game isn't all
you guys do down there, is it?"
Tiffany and Noelle pretended to have to think about it. "It's the only thing worth doing," Tiffany joked.
"Well, there is Casino Night," Noelle added.
"Ah, Casino Night," Tiffany added, quickly sucking a bit of chocolate from her finger as she adjusted
her position in her seat. "The Ryans throw it every year on the night after Christmas, and we all lose
tons of money."
"Sounds like fun," I said wryly. "I guess I won't be participating."
"Oh, we'll front you some green," Noelle said casually, like it wasn't even a question. "You have to
come. Whoever has the most chips at the end of the night wins all the money that's been spent at the
tables. We usually give it to charity, but if you win, you could keep it." My face burned. "Because I
am a charity case."
"I didn't mean it like that," Noelle said, rolling her eyes. "I just mean, it would be great if you won."
"They have everything," Tiffany said. "Craps, roulette, blackjack, poker--"
"Poker is the most competitive," Noelle put in. "Every year the girls try to beat the boys. It's like an
all-out war."
"Really? Poker's my game," I said. "I used to play with my brother and his friends."
"Nice. We have a ringer," Noelle said, lifting her glass.
"Omigod, can you teach me?" Tiffany asked, leaning forward in her seat and placing her feet on the
floor. "I totally suck."
"Sure," I said. "Do you think your dad keeps cards on the plane?" I asked Noelle. She was already out
of her seat. "Are you kidding? He and his cronies take this jet all over the world. How do you think
Daddy won the house in Majorca? He bluffed on a pair of sixes at fifty thousand feet."
Tiffany laughed as Noelle put her hand on my headrest. "Why don't you come with? I'll introduce
you." I bit my lip. Noelle's father was still on the phone and was obviously tense. Probably doing
some big business deal. Hardly seemed like a prime time for an intro, but who was I to judge?
"Okay." I unhooked my seat belt and followed Noelle toward the back of the plane. Her father
glanced over his shoulder, saw us coming, and blinked. I heard him say something into the phone
about calling back, and then he flipped it shut. He stood up as we approached and tugged on the
waistband of his perfectly cut trousers. He had shed his suit jacket and wore a crisp white shirt, darkblue
suspenders, and a dark-blue-and-red tie, which was still tightly knotted. He had to be at least six
foot four, with broad shoulders--definitely an athlete. His brown hair was cropped close to his head
in a military Caesar, and he did not look old enough to be Noelle's father. Hot uncle, maybe, but not
her father.
He looked at me for a long moment before smiling at Noelle, which gave me the uncomfortable
sensation that he felt I was in the way.
"Pumpkin," he said, giving Noelle a kiss.
"Daddy," she said. "You've been on the phone for so long; I haven't had a chance to introduce you to
my friend." Her tone was admonishing, and his reaction was chagrined. Was there no one Noelle
couldn't intimidate?
"Daddy, this is Reed Brennan. Reed, this is Wallace Lange," Noelle said proudly.
"Reed." He cleared his throat and nodded.
"Hello," I said. There was a long moment of silence. Noelle looked at her father as if she were
expecting him to say or do something.
I tried again. "Thank you so much for inviting me on vacation. It's incredibly generous of you."
"Oh, you're welcome." Then his phone vibrated on the table, and he glanced at it distractedly.
"Excuse me," he said gruffly, grabbing for the phone. "Hang on," he said into the receiver. He held the
phone to his chest and looked at Noelle. "I don't really have time for social hour right now, Noelle,"
he said pointedly.
Noelle rolled her eyes. "Do you have a deck of cards?"
"In the cabinet."
He sat down, turned away, and began talking into the phone. Noelle stared at him for a moment,
annoyed, before moving on.
"Sorry. He gets crabby when he's in business mode," she said, yanking open the cabinet. Inside were a
few decks of cards, a full set of poker chips, and a folded felt poker tabletop.
"Always be prepared," she said wryly. She pulled out the tabletop and chips and handed them over.
We were about to return to our seats when her phone beeped. She pulled it from the pocket of her
dress and rolled her eyes again.
My throat went dry. "He called?"
"No. Texted, the wuss," she said. "He wants to know if it's okay with me if he comes down this year. I
don't know why he would, since his parents are going to be in Europe with his aunt's family until
Um, maybe because he wants to be with you? I thought but didn't say. She quickly texted back, her
fingers flying over the touch screen.
"What are you writing back? "
"That he can do whatever he wants. I'm not his keeper." She finished her text and dropped her phone
back in her pocket.
"Noelle--," I began.
"Reed," she said firmly. "We are not talking about this anymore."
"But I have to ask you something," I said, clutching the poker tabletop to my chest. She clucked her
tongue impatiently. "What?"
"If you're still mad . .. why am I here?"
Noelle thought about it a moment, then smirked. "Let's just say you're lucky I don't have to kiss you."

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Terima kasih sebab sudi menerjah ke ruangan saya kali ini.
Anda diwajibkan untuk komen. Amaran keras!
*ceh tipu je HAHA =P*