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This Christmas
Chapter Thirteen


The morning after.

Normally, this is what we call Taylor's Thinking Time. This is when I sit awake in my bathrobe and watch the sun rise with a cup of coffee in my hands and a HUGE pounding in my skull. This is when I stare out the window and wonder what the hell I was thinking to bring a boy home and sleep with him. This is when I spend one hour mentally berating myself and another hour trying to tactfully remove Mr. Fuckable from my linens. This is when I shut the door behind him and call AJ to make sure that I'm still a human being, because I never, ever feel like one after a night of debauchery.

Normally, this is when I understand how dedicated Diana is to her education, because I can never, ever feel okay about meaningless sex.

Thank God this wasn't a normal morning after.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I was sitting in my bathrobe watching the sun rise with a cup of coffee for company, but I wasn't about to go kick another Mr. Fuckable out of my bed. Quite the opposite, actually. The Mr. Man currently asleep between the sheets? Yeah. We're keeping this one.


Any other morning after, forever would seem like one hell of a scary word. Now? It's nothing. In fact, it seems kinda short compared to the amount of time I'd like to spend with AJ. And if we happen to spend the majority of forever fucking each other senseless, you would SO not hear me complaining.

"What are you thinking about?"


AJ laughed then, the raspy, guttural laugh that you know comes straight from his stomach. I love AJ's laugh. Almost as much as I love his stomach. And some--you know--OTHER parts of his anatomy.

"Nice to know we're on the same page."

It was my turn to laugh. "Not exactly, hon...I seriously doubt you're thinking about your own genitalia."

AJ flinched. "I don't know if I should be disturbed or flattered."

"I'd stick with flattered, because we both know you're thinking about my breasts."

He laughed again, and I swear I could see the sun get a little bit brighter. "Guilty as charged."

"Now there's a surprise..."

I leaned my cheek warmly into his palm as he moved to sit behind me on the lawn chair, donning a bathrobe of his own.

"You know, that's kind of scary."

"What?" I wasn't exactly thinking rationally. I was too concerned with getting as close to AJ as possible.

"How well you know me. Isn't there a rule against that? You're almost as bad as the fans."

"Except that I've never tried to steal grass from your lawn."

He sighed, and I sank willingly into the empty spaces of his chest. "This is true."

"That, and you've told me everything I know. They've gained all their knowledge with the aid of arbitrary internet sources."

He shuddered and wrapped his arms more tightly around me. "Ugh. Internet. The world's creepiest invention."

"Worried that the world might actually find out what you look like at six in the morning?"

"Hey!" AJ protested, sitting up long enough to make me look at him. "I look damn good at six in the morning, thank you very much."

"No argument here," I chimed, leaning back into our previous, more comfortable position.

"There'd better not be, or I might have to deprive you of the wonderful breakfast I've been slaving over the stove with."

I turned around in surprise and arched a skeptical eyebrow. "You cooked?"

He frowned. "Somehow, I'd pictured you saying that with a bit more enthusiasm."

Sigh. "I'm sorry, baby, it's just...you never really struck me as the cooking type."

The frown quickly faded. "What can I say? You make me want to domesticate."

Okay, so this could definitely be a good thing. Especially in the future, when I'm exhausted and have absolutely no desire to whip something up for the significant other. "I'm honored. What'd you make?"

His smile rivaled the sun that was quickly coming into full view. "Eggs and toast."

Oh, Lordy. Ladies and gentlemen, the truth has been revealed. AJ's culinary experience is equal only to Britney Spears's singing ability.

One of these days, I will quit ragging on the Princess of Pop. Today isn't that day. Tomorrow isn't looking too good either.

I'll keep you posted.

"Sounds delicious."

Okay, so I'm entitled to a little white lie every now and then. Especially when AJ's being this cute. I couldn't dare run the risk of bursting his bubble.

We managed to get inside without too much of an ordeal--just a few short morning kisses--and I jumped up on the counter while he presented me with a plate of scrambled eggs and toast with jam. Surprisingly enough, he hadn't burned the toast.

"This is..." Pause for a swallow. Wonderful etiquette, Taylor. I'm sure Nana would be delighted. "Really good. Really good. I'm impressed." Because it was good. Maybe it was the self- satisfied smile on his face, but the whole morning was suddenly looking really good.

"Of course it's good," he piped up, puffing out his chest proudly. "I made it."

"You might want to deflate there, kiddo. The dunking contest I have scheduled for this morning is going to seriously wound that rock star ego of yours."

AJ frowned in confusion. Have I mentioned how cute his brow is when it's all furrowed? You can almost see smoke coming out of his ears. "Dunking contest?"

I smirked. "Don't think too hard, hon. You might strain something."

He opened his mouth, but closed it just as quickly and shook his head. "I'm not even going to try to think of a comeback. It's too damn early for verbal sparring."

"Does this mean that I win?"

"No. It means that I'm postponing. This afternoon, I'm gonna kick your ass."

"As long as you're stroking it later," I intoned with a wink. AJ choked on his coffee.

"Anyway...about this dunking contest..."

Normally, I would've given AJ a break--or not--but I was feeling particularly evil that morning. "Aw, did I wound the virgin ears?"

He pouted. "Yes."

I patted his wiry head, but laughed just the same. "AJ, no offense, but your virginity made a break for it before mine even thought to grab a suitcase."

He flinched. "I feel like that should be an insult, but I'm still not quite sure what you mean."

I stifled the giggle that threatened to surface. Sometimes it's fun to be the smartass.

"Would you rather we go over the details of the dunking contest?"

A grin surfaced immediately. "Does it involve you in a bathing suit?"

"And your pants around your ears," I shot back, "'cause if you spend the whole time watching me, you're going to be eating seaweed."

"Doubtful," he retorted. "But do explain the game. This is starting to sound like fun."

*      *      *      *      *

I came up sputtering. I'm not really a girly girl, but I'm not yet talented enough to breathe salt water. AJ tried to teach me. It didn't work. He didn't really seem to understand that I wasn't born with gills.

"I'm gonna kick your ass, McLean! That's cheating!"

"Nuh-uh! You said everything was a go. Nothing in the rules said that I couldn't drag you under water in the middle of a kiss."

"It doesn't involve pressure on my head. It wasn't a dunk. That's considered cheating."

He grinned impishly from a few feet away. As though distance is any guarantee of safety.

"There was pressure on my head. I figured that counted."

"You are a sick, sick man, McLean.  Besides, you figured wrong."

He chuckled. "Oh, now she's mad. What's the matter, Tay-tay? Gonna sing me the Kelly Clarkson song now?"

I rolled my eyes. "That's 'You Thought Wrong', moron. And, no, I'm not going to sing you any stupid pop songs. Stupid pop songs are YOUR territory."

He fell back into the water, clutching his chest in mock pain. "Oh! Taylor, my love! Thou dost wound me so!"

Wound him, I did not. Dunk him? That's another story entirely. But he SO deserved it.

Unfortunately for me, breathing salt water isn't really a problem for AJ, because he bounced back up in no time.

"Okay, you know what? I think I should be insulted. I'll have you know that you just ruined my Oscar-caliber Shakespeare performance."

"I'll tell you just where you can shove your Oscar-caliber Shakespeare performance..."

Did I mention that I'm competitive?

He lunged, but I was quicker. I swam around him and jumped on his back in an attempt to knock him off balance, but he grabbed my legs and started running through the surf instead.

"You can't dunk me...na na na na na na..."

I couldn't see for all the hair in my face, but I'm pretty sure he was sticking out his tongue. AJ's a brat like that.

"Try me."

"Already did," he shot back with what was, no doubt, his infamous smirk.

I let go of his neck and fell to the left, using my weight in a way that inevitably brought him down with me. He sputtered for a moment while I shoved my curls out of the way, and I took him down again as he stumbled to the surface.

When he broke the surface again, I was cheering.

"I SO pummeled your nonexistent butt, AJ!"

He groaned. "Yeah, well, you definitely killed what butt I do have. I think I left it at the bottom when I scraped that rock down there."

Normal people would immediately feel guilty. They'd cuddle the Backstreet Boy and apologize for bullying him, for knocking him out when he was down.

Normal people wouldn't win a dunking war with AJ. The boy plays dirty. The second I bent over to look at his butt, he shoved me under.

"Hey!" I hollered, once back above the water. "I was trying to be nice!"

"What's that they say about nice people finishing last?"

I rolled my eyes. I couldn't help it. "You're such an ass, AJ."

"But you love me anyway." A splash of salt water hit my face. "Admit it."

"I admit that you're about to feed with the bottom fish."

That's right, children. We really are that immature. Because the moment AJ made a move to hug and make up, I dunked him.

"And you wonder why I'm never nice to you," he muttered, shaking the water out of his ears. I shrugged.

"All's fair in love and war."

He pulled me around until my back was against his chest and lowered his mouth to the nape of my neck. "So if I did this," a pause while he pressed his lips right below my ear, making me weak in the knees, "and then this..."

Yup. You guessed it. The little shit actually shoved me under water.

"It would be perfectly fair?"

I snorted indignantly. "That's it. I'm calling a truce. This is fucking ridiculous. You can't use sexual prowess to lure me in if you're just going to dunk me under!"

He arched an eyebrow. "Methinks thou dost protest too much."

I wasn't having it, though. Sometimes his tendency to slip into Shakespearean mode is cute. This was NOT one of those times.

"You know, Shakespeare was gay."

The other eyebrow rose to meet the first. "You're telling me that, even after last night, you have doubts about my sexuality?"

Shit. When did AJ become witty?

"Aren't you supposed to be a dumbass?"

He shrugged. "What can I say? You make me want to be a better brain, baby."

"You know, if you put that to music, you might just have another Backstreet single."

It was cold. It was harsh. It was really fucking well-deserved.

He dunked me anyway. The sad thing, though, is that I enjoyed every minute of it.