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This Christmas
Chapter Sixteen


And this Christmas will be
A very special Christmas to me

I groaned--loudly, I'm sure--and rolled over in frustration. Instinctively, I knew it was way too early to be awake. If Taylor had decided to rouse me again, I was going to kick her ass. Seriously. I love her, but a guy's got to have his limits.

I opened one eye long enough to focus on the neon green numbers of the alarm clock and sighed heavily. 6:30 am. Someone was definitely going to die.

I rolled back over, expecting to find an empty bed, but smiled softly when my fingers brushed flannel.

For once, I was awake before Taylor.

I sat up against the pillows for a moment, pondering the situation. She looked pretty peaceful. Hair splayed out on the pillow, mouth open like a little girl, arms all curled up under her head. Before the trip, I'd never really seen Taylor sleep.
Recently, though, it'd become a favorite pastime. Made me feel kind of like a stalker, except for the fact that I was too in love to care.

Don't you dare "aww" at me, either, man. Save it for the sappy love songs. This stuff's too real for a soundtrack, you know?

So she looked peaceful. All perfect and childlike. I was also really tempted to mess with her like she was prone to messing with me in the mornings.

About that time, I finally remembered what day it was, and all caution flew out the window. Instead of attempting to be slow and sexual with the rousing session, I leapt out from between the covers and started jumping on the bed.

"Taylor! Taylor, it's Christmas! Get the hell up, girlfriend. We're opening presents!"

I knew when her eyes started twitching that she'd heard me.

"Taylor...come on, girl, you know you want to know what I got you..."

She slid her head under the pillow, taking her mess--and yes, mess is meant to be taken literally--with her.


I grinned when she groaned. Busted.

"Taylor! Santa came!"

She whacked me with the pillow and rolled over. I bit my lip to keep from laughing. For some reason, that reminded me of Santa's cookies, which were still sitting on the coffee table in the living room.

I quickly abandoned Operation: Wake Taylor and went to snatch said cookies before she woke up. After inhaling the three Chips Ahoy cookies, I grabbed the glass of milk and proceeded to chug it like no one has ever chugged before.

"You know that's for Santa, right?"

I nearly choked on my milk--Santa's milk...what-the-fuck-ever--but, luckily, I'd gotten more used to Taylor's abrupt entrances and didn't completely clog my windpipe. The girl needs to learn to warn people before she pulls that shit.

I spun around to tell her so, but the whole "just rolled out of bed" look caught me off-guard, so she spoke first.

Surprise, surprise.

"Merry Christmas, Alex."

I love the way Taylor's voice is just a little bit raspy in the mornings. She's always been a little rough around the edges but she's especially sexy in the morning. Even if she is wearing a giant red fleece shirt.

God, I love this girl.

"Merry Christmas, love."

She chuckled. "You haven't, by any chance, made coffee, have you?"

Enter frown. "It's Christmas! Who needs coffee on Christmas?"

Taylor groaned. "Not you, obviously..."

I arched an eyebrow skeptically. "Oh, come on. Don't front. You know you want to open presents just as badly as I do."

"Right now, babe, I'm just trying to get my eyes to focus so that I can actually SEE the presents."

My girl the drama queen. "Tired much?"

"Hon, you dragged me out of bed after only five hours of sleep. Need I say more?"

I know I was pouting. I couldn't help it. Nick's a fucking bad influence. "Sorry, I think? Didn't you ever get up at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning?"

Taylor, who was balancing on her toes in front of the coat closet in an attempt to retrieve more gifts, glanced over her shoulder. "Sure. When I was five."

"That's pathetic."

"You're pathetic."

I grinned. Payback time. About time I got my revenge for that stupid game of Jenga. "I love you too."

She stuck her tongue out at me, and the box she'd been tugging on fell on her head. I tried to stifle my laughter as she cringed, but I couldn't help it.

"Karma doesn't seem to like you this morning, hon."

She smiled demurely. "You'd better be glad I like you, McLean. If it weren't almost freaking seven o'clock in the morning, I'd kick your ass."

I feigned a look of surprise. "Taylor! So violent! And on Christmas, no less!"

She laughed, smacking me lightly with the smaller of the two boxes she had so carefully retrieved. "Happy holidays, psycho. Open your present."

"I don't know. I'm feeling kind of offended right now."

She rolled her eyes. "Right..."


"Too offended to unearth the surprises that lie inside? What if I promise to model them for you later?"

I tore through the paper like a maniac. What can I say? I'm a guy. I have hormones. Lots of them, in fact. Unfortunately, they don't take a vacation over the holidays.

Well, maybe that's a fortunate thing. Taylor's REALLY good at relaxing said hormones. Makes me wonder how much previous experience she has...

Right. Not thinking about that now.

She started laughing even before I pried the tissue paper open. When I got a chance to glance down, though, I had to join her.

By some miracle, Taylor had managed to find not one, but two South Park tee-shirts. One, labeled "Swiss Park," had the four boys decked out in suspenders and feathered hats. The second portrayed the four characters as dogs with the underlying phrase of "Oh my God, they fixed Kenny!" Amazingly enough, they were also the perfect size.

"So you'll model 'em later, huh?"

Taylor smirked knowingly at me. "Like 'em?"

I chuckled. "They're fucking perfect, Tails! Where did you find these?"

She shrugged nonchalantly, but I knew she was pleased with herself. "A little place in the city."

"You're going to have to take me with you next time."

She winked at me. "I was planning on it."

"Can I wear one now?"

Allow me to explain. I sleep naked. Completely naked. Unless, of course, Taylor's clothed, in which case I'll throw on a pair of boxers. Only on a cold day in hell will I sleep in a tee-shirt. They're too fucking constricting. As a result, I was half-naked in front of the Christmas tree.

Save the snickering for later, would ya?

"As long as you accept that it's coming off later."

She said it so matter-of-factly that I had to stifle a smile.

"Deal." I threw on the shirt with the dogs and gave Taylor an expectant grin. "Aren't you going to open your present?"

Well, fuck me if she didn't look surprised that I'd gotten her something.

Wait, hold up. On second thought, don't fuck me. That's Taylor's job, and she'd be really pissed if someone attempted to replace her.

I love my life.


"Yeah, Tails, present. Right here."

She unwrapped it eagerly. Sometimes, that girl is exactly like a child. She can trash talk like no one else, and she's got sexual innuendo down to a science, but there's this innocence about her when she's performing day-to-day tasks that makes her much more adolescent than adult. She makes me feel much younger than I am.

On days like today, that's an especially good thing.

"Holy shit, AJ."

I looked up in time to see the ridiculously wide grin on her face. "You like it?"

"Like it? LIKE it?! Dude, you're my fucking hero! This is fantastic!"

For those playing the home game, Taylor had just unwrapped my gift of the limited edition of the new Limp Bizkit CD. For once, Taylor's Fred Durst obsession had worked in my favor.

"I figured you'd enjoy it."

Taylor looked up with a smile. "If we didn't have more gifts to open, I'd make you watch the DVD with me right now."

"I know." I did, too. That's why I gave it to her first. If I'm lucky, she will have forgotten about it by the time we finish opening presents.

When I looked up, she was holding another gift out to me with a wide grin. "For you."

What did she give me, you ask? A Santa hat.

"Do I want to know where you got this?"

"The market. Right under your nose." Her self-satisfied smirk was blinding.


"Don't front, Santa. You know you love it."

Sadly, I did. I found it hilarious. I also had the perfect way in which to use the hat, but that would come later.

"I do."

She looked mildly surprised. "You do?"

"Yes, but not as much as you will." I handed her another box before she could inquire further. "Open."

"Yes, sir." She tore through the paper with the grace of a three-year-old, but when she got to the box, she frowned. "A bottle-opener? Hon, this is nice, but I've worked in a bar for almost four years now. I know how to open your average liquor bottle..."

I shook my head. "Hold up. There's meaning behind this one."

Her eyes widened in understanding. "Explanation required?" I nodded, thankful for her sudden dose of ESP. "Do your thing, dude."

I sighed heavily, searching for the words to make things come out correctly. None of us Boys are verbally gifted, but I like to make an effort occasionally. Especially when Taylor's around. Even more so when she's staring expectantly at me...

"Okay, so it's like this. Since embarking on this little adventure of ours, we've gotten a lot closer. Now, I know I've fucked up relationships in the past, but I really do trust you, Tails, and I really think this could work for us. I wanted to give
you something to let you know that I'm willing to start over for you. My track records sucks and--well, with all due respect, yours isn't kicking too much ass either--but we tend to bring out the best in each other. This past year was hard. I did a lot of stupid shit. To me, the bottle opener kind of symbolizes all of the stupid shit I've done. You were there to help me through all of it, and I guess I just wanted to show you that I trust you with it. If we're going to do this, Tay, we're going to do it right. I want us to start off clean, and if you're going to love me, then I want you to love all of me. I KNOW you love all of me. That thing...well, it kind of shows that I trust you with all of me. Even the bad parts. Because you and I...we're pretty good at getting through those together."

Lord, that was a mouthful.

I looked at her tentatively for the first time since we'd met, searching her face for a reaction. I caught her just in time to see a tear stroll down her cheek.

Well, shit.

"Tails...look, I'm sorry...I didn't mean to bring up bad memories..."

She smiled softly. "Oh, no...not that, Age. That was just really sweet. I'm a sucker for symbolism--hell, I wouldn't have majored in art history otherwise--and this is...this is really cool of you. I appreciate the honesty."

It is SO not fair that she can speak more coherently when she's in tears than I can when I'm perfectly fucking fine.

"Anytime. Hell, always. That's what I'd like. I want us to be honest with each other."

She smiled and curled into a ball on one side of the sofa. (I, on the other hand, was propped Indian-style on the floor.) "Me too."

"Are we all done for Christmas, then?"

She shook her head and pointed to a gift to her right. "Nope. That's yours."

We all know that I flipped out and told her that she shouldn't have bought me so much, so we'll just skip that and get to the part where I finally open the damn gift.

This is my favorite part anyway.

"Oh, Taylor..."

She cracked a small smile. "Do you know what it's for?"

I turned the pillow and teddy bear over in my hands and smiled. "I have an idea."

"Allow me." She made a big show of sitting up straight. "After receiving numerous calls around three am from the road in which you complained to extremes about being lonely, I determined that you have what I like to call 'Empty Arms Syndrome'. Now, I'll be the first to admit that we've solved the problem, but I can't promise that I'll always be there to fill those empty arms when you're out on the road. I know that the pillow and the little guy won't exactly replace me, but I was hoping that they'd make you feel a little less lonely and a bit safer. I wanted you to have something concrete to hold onto to remind you that someone loves you."

It was my turn to bite back tears. So sue me. I'm a sap. I blame it on all of the love songs I've had to sing over the years.

"Thanks, Tails."

I didn't have to say anything else. I knew she understood.

"This Christmas"
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