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This Christmas
Chapter Ten


"I can't believe this. Absolutely CANNOT believe this."

Time to play innocent. "What?"

"You do realize that we're on an island in the fucking Bahamas, right? I mean, we have an entire beach outside our front door. Hell, we walk off the porch and practically into the ocean, and you want to go ice skating?!"

Okay, so it doesn't sound like the world's most brilliant idea. I'm a Backstreet Boy. What the hell do I care about being brilliant?

"Sure, why not? It's a cutesy tourist thing, and I've never gotten to play the cutesy tourist." I added a pout to make myself look convincing, but I doubt it had any effect whatsoever. Taylor--unlike the rest of the adolescent female population--is immune to my charms.

Sure enough, she merely arched a skeptical eyebrow at me. "You do realize that playing the cutesy tourist requires you to be cute, right?"


"So you don't think I'm cute. Is that it?"

She sighed heavily. "I am SO not answering that."

"Why not?"

"I don't feel like bruising any egos today, thanks."

"Well, there's a first..." I trailed off and resisted the urge to smack myself in the head. Note to self: when asking for a favor, it's usually good to be nice to the person from whom you're requesting the favor.

My mother taught me better than this. Really. And, somewhere in Florida, she'd be cringing if she knew that I was even mildly insulting Taylor. Luckily for my mother, Taylor doesn't need a defensive line. She protects herself well enough without any help at all. This, as you can imagine, is just dandy for me. Especially when she's giving me and the ice rink ahead a seriously skeptical look like the one she had on at that very moment.

"So, remind me of the logic in this again?"

"It'll be fun."

She groaned. "That's not logic, Age, that's a hypothesis. Besides, when you guess, you're rarely right. You're going to need a reason more substantial than 'it'll be fun' if you're serious about dragging my ass onto that ice when I could be tanning on the beach."

I smiled hopefully. "No one will recognize me here?"

She batted her eyelashes at me in surprise. "But, AJ, what if someone recognizes me?"


I rolled my eyes. So sue me. I know I'm supposed to be nice and patient, but even the sexiest of Backstreet Boys has to have some kind of breaking point.

"Quit being a smartass, okay? You'll have a good time."


Have I mentioned lately how IMPOSSIBLE the female population is? "Or I'll get you drunk as fuck and you won't have to remember any of this."

"Will I be right next to a humongous truck in a two-car garage?"

"No, but if you keep going at this rate, I will break both your legs." *

"But then how could I ice skate?"

I hate girls. Really. No guy should ever have to deal with anyone remotely as moody as women. It's suspicious enough that they can bleed for five days without dying, but the fact that they can change moods in under three seconds? That's bordering on exorcism.

Now THERE'S an idea. I could cast Taylor in the Exorcist sequel! That way, at least I can make money off of the fact that she can be impossible to handle.


Sigh. "What?"

"Are you pissed at me?"

What tipped you off? "No, Tails, I'm not pissed. I'm just...I really think we'll have fun, okay?"

She smiled softly. It used to be a rare thing, but she had been doing it a lot more of late. "Okay. I was just teasing."

I rolled my eyes and slung an easy arm around her shoulder. Don't ask why, but it's always easier for me to be physical. Especially with Taylor.

That's not a good thing, is it?

"I know, babe."

"Well, okay, maybe it wasn't just teasing..."

I looked up in surprise and, finally, it was my turn to arch a skeptical eyebrow. Ha-HA! Take that, oh ye mighty queen of cynicism!

She squirmed. "I'm not exactly the most coordinated person in the world, and I know you're a dancer and all, but I can't move around for the life of me on solid ground, let alone on skates. I just know I'm going to fall flat on my face and make a complete ass out of myself, and then I'll attract attention and we'll get mauled and I'll never be able to face the world again because I'll just be 'that chick with AJ who fell on her ass' and that's NOT a good reputation for a bartender from New York City to live with."

Aside from the fact that Taylor is ridiculously cute when she's nervous and rambling like an idiot, I should tell you that I love how she says that "we'll get mauled" and not "you'll get mauled". Sure, she's not a part of the whole Backstreet thing, but it's nice to have a little reassurance that she's not going to leave me to rot in the midst of a group of screaming girls, you know? Gotta love friendly support.


"I know I sound paranoid, okay? I just don't particularly enjoy looking like I'm retarded."


"And I swear, AJ, if I fall down a thousand times and people start laughing at me, I'll kick your ass all the way across the Caribbean Sea. Don't think I won't..."

Don't doubt that one for a second. "Taylor!"

Finally, my protests registered enough that she stopped rambling and looked innocently up at me.


"You're not retarded, okay? Contrary to popular belief, I'm not all too hot when it comes to ice skating either, but I think it could be fun for us to hang around and goof off for awhile. I have to be polished and put together all the time, and I get sick of it every now and then. Sometimes, I like to look retarded."

"You mean the video for 'Quit Playing Games' didn't satisfy your quota for the rest of eternity?"

I groaned aloud. See, when I first met Tails, she didn't know too much about the Backstreet boys. This was, initially, a beautiful thing. However, I talk about the group and our experiences so much that she eventually needed to be educated. Usually, I enjoy talking to the educated Taylor about my career.

I knew I was going to regret showing her those old videos, though. I just knew it. Funny how that wasn't enough to keep me from letting her see the term "beefcake" in its greatest known personification.

I should mention now that I still wonder if Kevin made that word up. It sounds too Kentucky to be universal slang.

"No more than 'Coyote Ugly' dignified your profession."

Score one for me! For once in my life, I've managed to make a witty retort that topped Taylor's.

"You're just jealous because, even after so many years as the Backstreet bartender, you still can't spin a bottle like those chicks could."

I give up. Officially. I'm never going to be as smart as Taylor. It's okay, though, because I will always be strong enough to pick her up when that mouth of hers gets to be too difficult to deal with. That thought in mind, I abandoned the notion of a retort, lifted her into the air, and began walking towards the entrance of the ice rink.

"What the hell?!"

I know Taylor's no vocalist, but if she were to train, I bet she could rival Mariah on those high notes. When she's pissed, she hits octaves known only to dogs and very small birds.

"I'm carrying you. No complaints--this way, you don't have to walk."

"This way, you might drop me. No offense, AJ, but you're kind of scrawny, and I'm not the smallest thing in the world."

No, you're beautiful just the way you are. Now, if you'd only quit insulting my lack of muscle capacity, we'd be cool...



"Shut up."

She complied long enough for me to buy us a pair of tickets and skates, but as soon as she was laced up and balanced against the railing that marked the rink's entrance, she started freaking out again.

"I'm going to fall flat on my ass."

I chuckled at the pure terror in her tone. "Join the club."

She shook her head at me, eyes wide. "No, you don't understand. My ass is going to be black and blue. We're talking worse than your CD cover. I won't have an ass anymore. It'll just be one, big bruise. It'll look like a two year old's splatter-paint project."

I laughed, because there wasn't anything else I could do in that situation. "Taylor, I adore you. I think you're a nut. However, I also think you're being melodramatic." And, with that, I wrapped my arm around her waist and shoved her out onto the ice with me.

She wasn't too bad, really. For someone who's lived in the northeast all her life, she's a horrible skater, but she managed to slide along for at least five or six feet before her feet flew out from under her and her butt connected with the ice.

I tried to stifle my laughter, but it was hopeless. She looked so funny sitting there and glaring at me that I couldn't help but giggle.


I looked up with a grin. "Ma'am?"

"What the hell was that for?"

"I figured you'd be better off if we just got it over with. Now that you've fallen, you can quit worrying about it."

"I see..."

I bit my lip to keep from smiling again. "Makes perfect sense, right?"

"I don't know about that," she began, slowly shaking her head. "It does hurt, though."

I winced. I was amused, yes, but I'm not a complete masochist. I could clearly see that the reaction was not going to be a good one. "I'm sorry?"

"No, you're not now," she countered, an evil smile gracing her lips, "but you will be."

Suddenly, I started to wish that I could skate. Instead of making a stealthy escape, though, I ended up crashing into the railing and trying to pull my way around the rink. I'm talented and resourceful like that, see. Fortunately, it took Taylor a few minutes to get up, so she didn't catch up with me as quickly as she could've.

Unfortunately, she eventually caught me. Well, caught isn't exactly the right word. More like she tackled me. We ended up in a tangle of limbs on the ice. Guess whose butt found the surface first?

Right. Mine. Anyone who says payback isn't a bitch is sadly, sadly mistaken. Either that, or they've never been ice skating before.

For those who are wondering, we spent the first half hour on the ice chasing each other around the rink and falling down, in that order. By our tenth collective spill, though, we both agreed that it was time we actually attempt to move without sliding around the edges of the rink, propelling ourselves forward with arm strength alone.

Oddly enough, Taylor let go of the railing first.

Allow me to explain the significance of this. When it comes to girls, I'm used to being the one to let go first. Hell, I'm used to being the one to do everything first. Maybe that's because I'm also used to dating head cases and hesitancy, but I'm usually the only one with courage enough to move forward. That's the way it works in my life, though--not just in relationships. When it came to the Boys, I was the first to let go of the group dynamic and try something solo. Sure it was a mini-tour for charity, but I was the only one who dared to deviate from the norm. I'm used to making the first step--the first tattoo, the first piercing, the first fight with the record company, the first to be honest about my fame-induced alcoholism.

Wow, it's deep in here.

Point is, with Taylor, I'm no longer the one blazing the trail. I think that's what I like about her. She moves forward without inhibitions, and I'm just sitting there watching her because I can't help but be transfixed.

I let go only seconds after she did, but I know by instinct that I never command the attention that she does. She's got a casual confidence, and I've got a manufactured arrogance that's rough around the edges and sexy enough to sell a record or two.

Hers is the more beautiful every damn time. When she looked back at me and smiled, I noticed immediately that she was the brightest thing in the room and wondered why the hell I always choose the most inconvenient moments to be sentimental.

"AJ? You coming?"

I smirked. "Not yet, sadly."

She rolled her eyes. "You're such a pervert. You do know there are kids here, right?"

"Had no clue, babe. I was too busy watching you."

Her eyes moved skyward again, but she was smiling that time. "Think you can tear your gaze away long enough to try and find your footing?"

Damn, double-meaning kills me. I'm always the only one to notice it, too.

"Sure thing, chick. Just give me a second to figure out which foot goes first."

She laughed. "Why don't you just follow me?"

I gladly obliged.

* joke taken from "Forgot About Dre"
lyrics and music by Dr. Dre and Eminem