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This Christmas
Chapter Nine


I stared intently at my reflection in the full-length mirror, smoothing out the wrinkles in my little silk sundress. It would've been a little black dress--you know, the one each girl has tucked away in the depths of her closet--but I hadn't had the foresight to bring one. Somehow, I'd just never pictured AJ as the little black dress type.

I had no idea that, but our second night in paradise, he'd be trying to wine and dine me.

Wait, that sounds bad. AJ's not really the type to try to molest little girls, see. Not that I'm a little girl, but...despite his testosterone-induced image and his strange obsession with all things sexual, he's really not a bad guy. Sure, he's a bit horny compared to most men his age, but he's also a freaking teddy bear. The man prefers cuddling to sex. Need I say more?

Had it been anyone else, I'd be worried that the wining and dining was just motivation for a little sixty-nine action. Fortunately, I knew that, to AJ, sixty-nine was just the number on our bungalow door.

Well, maybe not, but I wasn't about to hop in bed with the boy. If there's one thing I've learned in my twenty-two years, it's that fucking with friends on a sexual level is a BAD idea.


Mind-fucking, on the other hand, is quite fun.

That in mind, I slid my feet into a pair of strappy sandals, spritzed on some perfume for our ritzy evening, and relinquished my bathroom rights.

"Dear God, I think hell finally froze over. You're finished getting dressed? Should I be watching the window for the world's first flying pigs?"

See? AJ can't be a horny little boy tonight. He's too busy being a smartass, and believe me when I say that the boy doesn't have enough brain power to manage both at once. God gave men two heads, yes, but he only gave them enough blood to run one at a time. *

Go freaking figure.

"Ha fucking ha. It's not my fault that it takes me a long time to look good, okay? Besides, you're the one who's been filling in your goatee with MY mascara for the past half-hour."

Oh, don't look so surprised. I can be mean too, you know.

"I should take offense to that, but you look good enough that I'm going to let the comment slide."

Finally, I grinned. AJ's famous for many reasons, and his compliments are definitely some of those reasons. If not all of those reasons, that is. The boy kisses ass better than Britney Spears sheds her clothing.

Impressive, right?

"Thanks, man. You don't look so bad yourself."

He feigned shock. "Are you saying that you won't be embarrassed to be seen with me tonight?"

"As long as you avoid singing any sappy love songs to minimal crowds of adoring pre-pubescent diners? Yes."

He narrowed his eyes at me as he straightened his specs. "You drive a tough bargain, man."

Have I mentioned how hot AJ looks in glasses? "I'm not a man."

"And thank God for that." With a grin, he bid farewell to the mirror and crooked his elbow. "Shall we go, then?"


And hour later, and I had come to the firm conclusion that dinner should NOT be that fun. Ever. After a short drive in a local taxi, we'd set up camp at a local seafood restaurant, and AJ had spent the remainder of the evening laughing at me. Why? Because I can't crack crab shells for shit.

"Look, just hand me the damn claw and let me do it for you."

I grinned cheekily at him and shook my head. "Nah. Where's the fun in that?"

"The fact that we get out of the restaurant before I have to go on tour again," he mumbled. Sure, AJ can be a grump when he wants to be, but I knew for a fact that he was hiding a smile. Deep down, my little idiosyncrasies amuse him. I know they do. If I were just a worthless little damsel in distress, he wouldn't have called me after that night in the bar. I'm sure of it.

"Admit it. You love me."

He rolled his eyes. "Right. And I'd love you even more if you'd hurry up and finish so we can order dessert already. Hell, Tails, did you see that cheesecake? Do you know what I'd do for cheesecake right now?"

I shrugged. "Oh, I don't know...harass me about my eating habits until kingdom come?"

He smiled, and I flinched, because with AJ, a smile that big in the middle of an argument--even if it is just a play fight--is never a good thing.

"Nope. Not at all. I actually had a surprise planned for this evening, but if you can't finish dinner, I guess I'll just have to cancel..."

Freaking jerk. He knew exactly how much I loved surprises. Loved, hated, whatever. At any rate, I went crazy with suspense. So crazy, in fact, that I choked on my crab claw and sent AJ into a fit of giggles. When I finally regained the ability to breathe, I hurled a napkin at him.

"Thanks for nothing, man. What if I'd actually been choking? I could've died while you were over there laughing."

He just giggled. "What a beautiful sound to sleep to."

"You are so full of shit."

"Not as full of shit as you're about to be."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that would be fear you hear. A plotting AJ is about as happy a mental image as Osama and Saddam walking down the runway in the latest Dior fashions, live from Iraq.

You get the picture.

He chuckled, which is never a good thing when I'm in range. It usually means I'm about to be the butt of a joke. Delightful, right? Wrong.

"Hello? All that crab you're eating? It doesn't leave your body in claw form, honey..."

I winced like a girly girl. "That's disgusting, Alex."

"Yeah, well, you asked. Far be it from me to deny you an answer."

I arched an eyebrow. Freaking smartass. "Far be it from you to let me eat in peace."

"No shit," he laughed. "I mean, where's the fun in that? I know they say silence is golden and all, but let me tell you--silence is SO overrated."

"Overrated, huh?" So it was a weak comeback, but whatever. Damn crab claws. Occupying my attention to the point that I set myself up for stupid sex jokes like the next one.

"Oh, hell, yeah. I'll show you just how overrated later..."

He so didn't. SO didn't.

Ah, but he did. "You are SUCH a pervert."

"Who, me?" And then he winked again. I really am going to have to start calling him Howie. "I'm innocent, baby."

I snorted. I mean, AJ innocent? What-the-fuck-ever. "Innocent my butt."

His grin rivaled that of the infamous Cheshire cat. "And what a cute butt it is..."



"What did I say about checking out my butt?"

And there he went with the freaking grin again. "That I should do it more often. You know, make sure you don't go out in anything that doesn't do it justice."

I abandoned the crab claw--FINALLY--for conversation. "For your information, there are VERY few things that don't do my ass justice."

AJ threw his arms up in surrender. "No objection here!"

Time for the infamous eye-roll, because only I would manage to become best friends with a goober. "You are such a retard."

"Yeah, well you're a dork."







I would've continued, but there were already stately old couples giving us the evil eye, so I decided to put AJ and Taylor the two-year-olds to bed for the evening. Being idiotic was fun, yes, but getting kicked out of the restaurant would not be. Instead, I lowered my head and leaned forward to wield off the gazes that our word war had attracted.

"Maturity comes in a whole new form, huh?"

AJ chuckled, which, if you haven't ever heard it, is a lovely sound. "Always, babe. I'm all about innovation."

"In more ways than one, right?" I returned, fighting back laughter. So sue me, man. Two can so play at this little flirting game of AJ's. He's a pretty kick-ass flirt, too.

"You have NO idea..." He glanced meaningfully up at me and smirked, and that was the end of it. See, the thing about AJ is that he always makes good on his flirting threats. Thank God.

Of course, we're just friends, so he's not required to make good on the flirting threats. Sad for me.

I watched his lips as he ran his tongue across them and decided that sad was quickly getting sadder.

God, I needed to get laid.

"So, you ready to split this joint?"

"Ready as I'll ever be," he shot back. "Let's get some ice cream first, though."
"No cheesecake?"
"Nah, I changed my mind.  We can get ice cream to go, but we've got to get some. Rumor has it that this place makes a mean mint chocolate chip."

That's the funny thing about AJ. He goes from being as sexy as fuck to being as girly as Mandy Moore. I love it. In fact, I love it too much to have hidden my smile.

"Okay, let's get some ice cream."
His grin lit up the room. "Awesome! I'll go see if they have gallons to go..."

And, just like that, he was up and away, in search of ice cream. He's such a freak. Don't tell, but I think AJ has a bigger ice cream fetish than I do. In another life, he was a seriously pregnant woman. Like, we're talking triplets or something. He just doesn't know it.

It's such a happy world inside my head...

About twenty minutes later, though, it was an even happier world in our little beachside bungalow. AJ's ice cream quest had proven fruitful, and the two of us were sitting on the bed with two spoons and a gallon of ice cream between us watching the end of Crossroads on cable.

"This is such a shitty movie."

I know, I know. Leave it to AJ to state the obvious, right? Wrong. Leave it to me. I'd been asking to change the channel for at least fifteen minutes, but AJ had insisted on watching the end of the movie. If I didn't know any better, I'd think he had a thing for Britney Spears. Fortunately, I know better. She seems sweet enough, but shit...anyone na´ve enough to make a movie this ridiculously stupid needs a few screws tightened up top.

"Of course it's a shitty movie. That's not the point, though."

Confusion, thy name is Taylor. "So what's the point?"

"You can make SO much fun of this movie, especially at the end, that it's almost worth watching."

I tore my gaze away from Britney's blonde locks long enough to frown at AJ. "You do realize that the key word there is 'almost', right?"

Like a bored five-year-old, he bopped me on the nose with his spoon. "Shut up and be entertained, okay? It's funny. See? Look. She's running back to him." He dropped his spoon in the carton and adopted a deep voice. "Change your mind, baby?"

"No," I shot back in falsetto. "I just realized that I left my bra on the edge of your bathtub after we had sex."

"Consolation sex," AJ corrected me with a smack. "He was making her feel better because her mommy called her a mistake."

"Her mommy called her a mistake? She obviously hadn't seen this script yet..."

He rolled his eyes and tossed an arm around my shoulders. "Tails, you're such a cynic."

"Am not." Really. Compared to Diana, I'm the world's sappiest romantic.

"Are too."

"Am not."

"Are too."



I glared. "I can't believe you think I'm dumb enough to fall for that."

He chuckled. "Well, hey, this movie actually grossed a profit, and if they can make money off of crap like this, then anything's possible."

"Hey, man, watch your wording. This is the same record company that makes money off pictures of your ugly face."

He shot a solid pop star pout in my direction. "I'm wounded. My ego is bleeding."

"As long as it's shrinking, we'll be all right."

"But what if it dies?"

I did him the honor of snorting in indignation. "AJ, not even the man who said 'anything's possible' would believe your ego capable of death."

"Ha fucking ha. Aren't you just little Ms. Cynical tonight?"

"No, but I am about to be pissed. You're gonna make me miss Britney's big finish."

"Now wouldn't that just be a crying shame?"

"Almost enough of one to make Justin Timberlake cry me a river," I answered with a smile, and AJ chuckled.

"Tails, you rock. You know that, right?"

"Not half as much as Britney rocks," I sighed. "Why can't my abs look like that?"

"Because you don't have crazy amounts of sex and then pretend you're a virgin? Because you don't make shitty-ass movies about three girls and a beat-up convertible? Hell if I know..."

I hate to admit it, but I laughed. "What's with hating on Britney? Aren't you the one who wanted to watch this movie?"

"Yeah, but..." He trailed off, frowning at me around another spoonful of mint chocolate chip. "What's with hating on you? You should know by now how incredibly fucking sexy you are."

This is why I love AJ even more now that he's sober. Drunk AJ could be sweet, but sober AJ gives the best compliments in the world.


He held up his arms in defense. "Honest, chick. I think you're fucking beautiful." At that point, Britney hit the bridge of the song, and we cringed in unison. "I also think that this song sucks and we need to turn the movie off."

"Good call."

He laughed. "Same call you've been making for the past half hour, right?"

"Maybe, but I'm not the type of girl to say 'I told you so'."

He rolled his eyes and swallowed another spoonful of ice cream. "You're so kind."

"Anytime, babe." And he is. A babe, I mean. I'm a firm believer that AJ's on television for a reason. The man is definitely one of the more beautiful people in the world. Inside and out.

And this is what the inside of a Hallmark card looks like. Fuck, when did I turn into such a sap?

"Are we going to watch more trashy television or is it time to hit the pillows?"

I grinned widely and snuggled up to AJ's chest, which was already warm from the heating in our bungalow. Scrawny as he is, he's great for cuddling. "Watch more trashy television. Let's find another crappy movie on cable."

And we did. Unfortunately, we fell asleep before we could find out how it ended, but it wasn't too much of a loss. By the time we finally hit the sack, the ice cream was gone, and that's all that matters.

* quotation borrowed from Robin Williams's LIVE ON BROADWAY.  If you haven't seen it, go now.  It's freaking hilarious.