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This Christmas
Chapter Eleven


"No way."


"No FUCKING way." Okay, so they aren't the most ladylike of words, but give me a break. I'm competitive.

He sighed. "What?!"

Groan. "I'm sorry, AJ, because you know how much I hate to burst your precious Backstreet bubble and all, but `tragical' is not a word."

His face fell, and I almost laughed. Almost. "But...are you sure?"

"Yes." I have a college education. Unlike Max Martin, I can speak the English language.

"How sure?"

Enter frustration. "As sure as I am of..."--a pause while I fumbled for something to demonstrate with and...thank God for ice cream--"this spoon's existence."

He grinned. "Ah, but Tails...according to The Matrix, there is no spoon."

"You're such an asshole."

"But I'm a pretty one, right?"

If you only knew.

"Yes, AJ, you're a pretty one. It's a good thing, too, because you can't spell for shit."

"But it was in the song!"

"The song that was--say it with me--written by a group of Swedish producers."

"Your point?"

Insert a sigh here, would you? Not really a sigh of frustration, though. More a sigh because, no matter how ignorant AJ can be, he still comes across as innocent and cute and silly and attractive and...

Lord, I needed a boyfriend.

"You shouldn't be taking English tips from a bunch of foreigners! That's like you trying to teach a bunch of Spanish people how to speak Spanish. And, seeing as you only know a conversational minimum, that wouldn't be too productive."

He actually laughed. I was trying to make a serious point about AJ's lack of grammatical sense, and he was laughing at me.

"I love the way you get all riled up about this."

Riled up? Riled up?! Hello! This is our language! How are we supposed to communicate if no one ever uses it correctly?

"So glad my passion for grammar amuses you."

He bent down and removed the "a" and "l" with a chuckle. "That better?"


He bit his bottom lip to keep from smiling at me, and fuck if I didn't want to bite it for him.

Where the hell had that come from?

"Your turn."

Great. My turn to massacre the English language with my lack of sensible consonants while I attempt to figure out why I'm suddenly immensely attracted to the boy in front of me. Don't get me wrong. I know AJ's a sexy man. I've been friends with him long enough to have a general appreciation for the way he was created. However, I've also got enough common sense to know that he and I are friends. Good friends.

More could be fun, though...

No. Need a word. Moving away from thoughts of beautiful boy band members.

"Hey, AJ?"


"Do you and Nick ever get into arguments about who is prettier?"

He leveled an unamused glare in my direction. "I can't believe you just asked me that."

I chuckled and continued to examine my letters. "Why not? Because it's so obviously just a product of my jumbled little brain, or because it strikes an eerily veritable chord?"

"The latter," he joked in a feminine voice. "Don't tell, but Nicky and I are SO in competition. Like, all the time."

"I knew it!"

He rolled his eyes. "Yeah fucking right. We're lucky if Nick even combs his hair when there aren't any girls around." He shot me an expectant look. "Are you ever going to spell a word?"

I sighed and began building HUNGRY off of the "g" from "tragic". When I was finished, I looked up at AJ with a triumphant grin and began counting points. He groaned.

"You're such a loser."

I had to laugh at that. "Age, are you sure that you aren't the loser?"

"Give me a break. I started this game a whole college education behind, remember?"

"I just took all of the exams to prove it, and you're asking me if I remember?"

He grinned sheepishly. "Point taken."

I chuckled as I returned my attention to the Scrabble board. "You know what this means, don't you?"

"You mean other than the fact that you're going to gloat about your lead?"

"I don't gloat."

He rolled his eyes. "Right, and I don't fall victim to the collection of grammatical faux-pas that is the Backstreet set list."

I had to bit my lip to hide the smile that threatened to surface. He may be confused about the occasional song lyric, but AJ can string together a pretty amusing sentence when he puts his mind to it.

"It's your turn."

He arched an eyebrow in surprise. "You mean you aren't going to comment on my breath of literary genius?"

"Syntactical genius," I corrected. "And no. Your ego is large enough."

He wiggled his eyebrows as he stared down at his letter collection in deep concentration. "Not as large as some other, more important parts of me." He glanced up only long enough to wink at me before turning his attention back to the board.



"You're a nut."

He grinned. "Okay, but...if I have to be a nut, can I at least be a macadamia nut? Because those taste good. And I'm sure that I taste good."

At that point, ladies and gentlemen, I decided to ignore the sexual innuendo. Partially because it was getting old, and partially because...well, I wanted to stay sane. Badly.

"Fine. You can be a macadamia nut."

"Brilliant." With that, he arranged a group of letters on the board, forming SYMBOL from my "y". "Now, tell me what a smart little nut I am."

I rolled my eyes. Not because I wanted to--AJ's actually kind of cute when he's being a cocky popstar--but because I had to. If I don't show disapproval every now and then, his ego will grow out of control, and then I'll have to share closet space with it, and that would just be a disaster.

"You're a smart little nut."

He frowned. "Wait..."


"Since when am I little?"

That did it. "AJ!"

He smiled up at me innocently, but I could see the horns poking out from beneath his wiry crop of hair. That boy doesn't fool anybody. "What?"

"Man, quit it. You're starting to sound like a bad porno."

He shook his head. "Not possible. Pornography has no wit."

"You would know."

"No better than you, Miss Manhattan."

"Am I supposed to take offense to that, Backdoor Boy?"

He smirked at me, obviously amused by our speedy regression. Suddenly, we were name-calling like two toddlers.

AJ does strange things to me.

"No, Bartending Babe. You're supposed to take your turn and spell a word so we can get on with this fucking game."

"You sound annoyed."

He chuckled. "Taylor, we're playing a board game in which points are won solely by intellect. It's not too difficult to figure out who's going to end up winning this sucker. I say we call it a night when you run out of letters."

"What do you propose we do instead?" I asked noncommittally, trying to concoct a word with my remaining consonants. Not a very impressive lot, I assure you. Luck was hardly on my side that evening, and I was going to need a miracle to actually spell a word with more than three letters.

"Listen to the radio and dance around the room like idiots?" He laughed at himself. "Hell if I know. I just don't have the attention span for stuff like this. We're going on an hour, anyway. Can you honestly tell me that you aren't getting the least bit antsy?"

"I'm thinking."

And trying to continue thinking without pondering the connotations of the only word I seem to be able to spell. Dammit.

"Don't blow a fuse or anything."

I glanced up skeptically. "Isn't that what you usually say to Nick?"

The blush on his cheeks said enough. "Guilt as charged."

"That's an insult."

"You know, you're just getting quicker and quicker this evening..."

Screw the connotations. I was not letting him win this little word game of ours. I'm competitive, dammit, and I was going to win. Even if winning meant temporarily sacrificing my dignity. This is, of course, assuming that I hadn't previously sacrificed said dignity in AJ's presence, which is highly doubtful.

I suck.

Let me clarify that statement. I suck, but not in the way AJ wishes I sucked.

Tee hee.

My impish thought process ground to a halt when AJ burst out laughing. "You did NOT just do that."


"That's profanity!"

"It's also a verb. I'm well within my limits."

He shook his head in disbelief. "But...but...that is so wrong in SO many ways."

I arched a well-trained eyebrow, daring him to object to my word of choice. "How so?"

"Scrabble is such an innocent game, Tails."

"Your point?"

"You can't go around putting FUCK in the middle of the board!"

I smiled smugly. I couldn't help it, really. The whole thing was very satisfying. Innocent or not, the Scrabble board looked very happy with my favorite four-letter word in the middle.

"Oh, but I can. See, I just used all my letters."

He was still shaking his head. "That's so disturbing."

"This from the most profane Backstreet Boy..."

"But I wouldn't put fuck on a Scrabble board!"

I grinned. For some really bizarre reason, the entire situation was quickly becoming comical. "I would, and I'm glad I did, because now I win."

"You cheated. There's got to be some rule about profanity in the instructions."

"There's not."

"Well, there should be."

"But there isn't." Good God, we sounded like two teenagers bickering over shotgun rights.

"But...but it's so dirty sitting there next to nice, normal words like 'tragic'."

I grinned devilishly. "Aww, come on, AJ...just say it...FUCK."

It was his turn to roll his eyes in annoyance. "You're such a pain in the ass."

"But you love me anyway."

A smile surfaced, and I knew I had him. "Come on, let's ditch this game and go dance around the room to stupid Top 40 stations."

"Hey!" he cried. "I'll have you know that my career revolves around some of those stupid Top 40 stations!"

"Even more reason to listen," I teased over my shoulder as I ran into the bedroom and reached for the dial. I found a station immediately and turned the volume up as loud as it could go. "We can make fun of the stupid music."

"As long as it's not mine..."

Luckily, the song ended before I could start in on a rant about how brainless rap artists were poised to take over the world, and I was greeted by the opening chords of a song that I absolutely adored. Still do, in fact. So I turned to AJ, and, much to his chagrin, I sang.

"It's something that I can't quite explain...I'm so in love with you...Never take that away..."

And, because AJ is cool enough to pick up on my tangents, he picked up my cue and sang right back to me.

"And if I said a hundred times before...Expect a thousand more...Never take that away..." *

After that, we were lost. We were singing, serenading, and sashaying around the room like a pair of drunken fools. If there's anything I love about AJ, it's that, when I'm around him, I have the ability to really let go of my inhibitions and be me. He's free to the point of liberating everyone else, and he gives you the feeling that you can do anything in the world without looking stupid.

He gives me confidence. It's not necessarily confidence that I don't have without him, but confidence that I don't recognize until I'm with him. He makes people comfortable enough that they can recognize their own potential. He makes you confident enough that you can do things you wouldn't dare attempt otherwise.

And so I blame AJ for the confidence that allowed me to shove him onto the bed and kiss him senseless as soon as the song was over.

Maybe it was because sexual tension had been everpresent since we arrived at the bungalow. Maybe it was because I was just now realizing how well we fit together. Maybe it was just because I had the urge to kiss him right then. I don't know why I did it, exactly. I do know one thing, though.

It felt damn good.

* "Calling You"
lyrics and music by Blue October