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This Christmas
Chapter Four


Palms sweating, hands twisting funky-looking shirt into an even more funky-looking mess, and leg bouncing. Heart racing, teeth chattering. But I was fine. Really. Seriously, I was.

Nervous? Hell, no, I wasn't nervous. I mean, shit, it was just Taylor meeting the fellas. What in the HELL was there to be nervous about?

Listen carefully, and you'll hear me groaning. I don't know what the hell goes on in my mind half the time, but I was suddenly really worried about how the fellas would like Taylor and vice versa. I mean, Tay means a lot to me, and the fellas mean a lot to me, and...

Okay, so it still doesn't make sense. But I was worried. I wanted both groups to like each other. I wanted them to get along. I wanted Taylor to feel comfortable with the fellas like I do. I just wanted everything to go all right. But I knew that all of our nerves were on edge because of that fucking long tour, and I knew that one word would be liable to set everyone off. I didn't think that Taylor was incapable of keeping decent conversation by any means, but...sometimes, with the fellas, you never know what's going to set them off. You don't want to say the wrong thing, though, or you'll suddenly be face to face with Kevin's eyebrows, Nick's whining, Howie's silence, and Brian's pathetic attempts at NOT looking pissed.

"So you don't like *NSYNC, do you?"

Fuck. Where did THAT come from?

Wherever it came from, it got me a raised eyebrow and a look of major disbelief. "Actually, they're my favorite band. That JC sings like an angel. I mean, no offense, but you don't really hold a candle to Justin's gorgeous curlios either. And Larry? Hel-lo! Lovely green eyes, don't you think?"

Despite my agitation, I couldn't help snickering. "Um, Tay?"

"What? I'll have you know, you're interrupting my daydreams about *NSUCK."

Add that to the reasons that I'm best friends with this girl. "His name is Lance."

She winced. "Ugh. Lance. Larry. What-the-fuck-ever. It's the same thing to me. He's still the big, bad monument to super-sappy ballads and hair dye."

I mock frowned. "I thought that was me?"

She winked. "Nah, but you're a close second."

"Gee, thaaaaaanks..."

She rolled her eyes. "Look, Age, chill out. I'm not going to say anything stupid in front of the other three-fifths of your boy band, okay?"

I gritted my teeth together, trying to ignore the fact that Howie was laughing next to me. "We're not a boy band, Taylor. We're a..."

She interrupted me with a wave of her hand. "You're a male vocal group. I know, okay? Contrary to popular belief, I have read my share of interviews, and I know how anal the eyebrowed one is about terminology. I'm not going to fuck it up."

Howie laughed again. "Don't take it personally, Taylor. He's worried about the rest of us, not about you. Everyone's in a rather pissy mood."

She groaned. "So I've heard. I have a feeling that we should've stopped by my place to get Midol."

I dropped my face in my hands and prayed that they'd enjoy her sharp sense of humor, but Howie just giggled again. Howie giggles a lot. Sometimes, it can be somewhat endearing. Half the time, it's just really fucking annoying. Especially when I've been forced to listen to it nonstop for the past year...

"No, no need. Thanks for the thought, though. I'm sure they'll appreciate it."

No way in hell was I rolling my eyes again. Not...at...all...

"J, chill. Seriously. If you keep being nervous, then I'm going to be nervous, and then I really will fuck it all up."


I let go of my shirt and grabbed Taylor's hand for good measure. "Okay."

She arched an eyebrow at me again and tossed a lock of brown hair over her shoulder. "Get it?"

I nodded. "Got it." There went another gulp.

Taylor, however, smiled brightly. "Good!" That said, she turned to the cabby. "So, this hotel they're staying at...how awesome is it?"

"It's for the really fucking rich people," the cabby admitted, laughing a bit. He had an accent that I couldn't place, but one that Nick could surely imitate. Nick can imitate anyone, anywhere, and at any time. He kills us with his impromptu performances, and they're always really great at loosening the tension.

Well, okay. Almost always. Lately, Nicky had been too tired to imitate anyone but Sleepy of the Seven dwarfs. Of course, he's too tall to be a dwarf. And he can't be Sleeping Beauty, because, contrary to the fans' belief, he's not really that beautiful. He can be cute, but never beautiful. Maybe he could be Sleeping Ugly...

"Do I want to know what you're thinking about?"

I sighed. "Probably not."

Taylor shrugged. "Figures." She turned to Howie. "Are the elevators going to be glass and brass again?"

Howie laughed. "From what I know, they are. And, yes, the elevator attendants are assholes too."

Taylor grinned in anticipation. "God, it SO pays to be best friends with a Backstreet Boy. You guys hang out in all the coolest places."

See, that's another thing I love about Taylor. She says stuff like that all the time, but I know she's joking. I once offered to fly her out for a weekend that she was off work and school, and she flat out refused to come. Why, you ask? Because she didn't have the money to pay for a ticket, and she wouldn't let me do it for her.

Gotta love a girl with independence. She's the greatest. At that point, though, I was seriously hoping that the fellas shared in my opinions once they finally got the chance to meet her.

I was also seriously hoping that my serious hoping paid off, because we were pulling up to the hotel's back door before I knew it. There were minimal fans by the back door, but I stopped just the same. Taylor ran in the hotel while I was chatting with the fans, and none of them noticed her, thank God.

I know, I know. That sounded mean. Call me a prick, an asshole, whatever, but I want at least ONE part of my life to be private at all times. Taylor's usually that part. Well, more often than not.

I love the fact that Howie stayed a few minutes after I did so that I could follow Taylor over to the elevators and get a private moment with her. Being with Tay in the bar had been cool and all, but it brought back a shitload of memories, and we weren't alone enough to be AJ and Taylor instead of Backstreet Boy and bartender.

I like being Backstreet Boy and bartender well enough. Hell, I should like it--that's how we met. However, I LOVE being AJ and Taylor. There's something about the two of us that just...clicks. Really fucking well.

And that was when I made my decision. To hell with the others. She was my best friend, and it didn't matter what they thought. They'd love her because she rocked. Hell, half of Manhattan already loved her...what were a few more Backstreet Boys?

"You analyze things way too fucking much, have I told you that?"

I sighed. "Not in the past five minutes, no."

She winked at me. "Just wanted to make sure you didn't forget."

I had to hug her. It had been a long tour, a long flight, a long show, and an even fucking longer ride over here. I wanted my best friend. Suddenly, I didn't so much want to share her with the guys, but I figured that I didn't need to give them a stupid reason to get pissy again. After all, we were counting on Taylor's presence to cancel out the pissy factor.

"It takes Howie too damn long to find the elevator," I muttered, and Taylor laughed.

"Impatient much?"

I glanced briefly at her. "I'm really fucking tired, Tay. I want to fly off to the Bahamas with you and forget that AJ Backstreet ever fucking existed. The fact that I could even smile at those fans tonight is a miracle, and the fact that I'm about to actually sacrifice time being ME around you by showing you off to the guys is an even bigger miracle. I just want to have a life for the next week, you know?"

Taylor nodded, and her smile was replaced by that serious, endearing Taylor look that she had given me the night we met. It was the same look that had made me spill my heart and soul to her more times than I could count, and suddenly, she was the one pulling me in a hug.

"Yeah, dude, I know. Let God work his miracle, and then you'll get to have as much of a life as you want, okay? 'Cause you can be whoever the hell you want to be with me."

I was smiling again. Wow, miracles were popular that night. "Thanks."

She grinned in return. "Welks. Hey, look, it's Christmas!"

I turned in time to see Howie and his bodyguard walking towards us and shook my head. "Nah, Howie's not Christmas. Howie's even slower than Christmas. Hell, Howie's slower than my birthday and Christmas combined."

Marcus looked to Taylor with a knowing smile. "That's saying a lot, chick. Trust me."

Taylor gave my bodyguard a knowing look in return. "Yeah, no shit."

I squinted as Howie continued to amble over, stopping to talk to the bellboy for a moment. "Okay, you know what? Fuck it. Howie's slower than Kevin."

Taylor burst out laughing. "From what I've heard, THAT'S a high-quality insult."

Marcus nodded. "Well, you're about to find out just how much of one."

She glanced at me for a moment, and I felt the urge to smile again. Amazing, right? I was more fucking tired than I'd ever been in my life, and she made me want to smile.

Taylor kicks ass.

"I have a confession to make."

I quirked an eyebrow from behind my sunglasses. In seconds, there were no more sunglasses. Honestly, I was surprised that it had taken her that long to remove them. Taylor never liked my sunglasses because they hid my eyes. For some reason, Taylor always wanted to see my eyes.


She bit her lip. "I actually am kinda nervous." The second I opened my mouth, however, she kept going, and I knew that I was in for one of her famous rambling sessions. Only the infamous Heads could shut her up when she got on one of her kicks. "I mean, hell, Age, they're your best friends, and I just want to measure up, and they can't ALL be as kick-ass as you and Howie are, and I'm really worried that they're going to see the fact that I'm not a normal, proper lady and that'll be the end of things because a first impression goes really deep and I will have fucked everything up and..."

Marcus was already making faces behind her, and it was everything I could do not to laugh at him. Instead, I put an arm around Taylor and clamped her mouth shut. "Tay, the first time you met me, I was drunk off my ass and rambling about how much my life sucked in between shots of whiskey, okay? Now we're best friends. What does that tell you?"

She couldn't answer at that point, because my hand was still over her mouth. Howie, who had finally had the decency to arrive, was kind enough to point that out to me.

Yeah, thanks. Shut up and get on the elevator, Howard.

Taylor made a face at me as the metal doors closed, and I sighed. "It tells you that first impressions count for shit. Not only that, but the fellas already like you to a point because they know you mean so much to me. You shouldn't worry about being anyone but yourself, Tay, because you're a wonderful person and that always shines through the exterior."

Wow. I had no idea where in the hell that had come from, but I was pretty proud of myself. It actually sounded really good. And I hadn't been bullshitting her at all, which made it sound even better.

Marcus grunted behind me and ruined the moment. "Geez, Alex, you should write cards for Hallmark with that mouth."

Taylor shook her head and shrugged out of my grip. "Actually, I thought he'd be better with Jerry Springer's 'My Final Thoughts'."

The whole elevator was still laughing when the doors opened again. That had to be a good sign, right?

Right. Insert a gulp here. A gulp, and some clicking, and some arguing, and suddenly, you've got five Backstreet Boys and a bartender in the same hotel suite.

Thank God the bodyguards thought to leave us alone, or we might've been able to start our own soap opera.

I hope you're laughing, because I was way too freaking nervous to even blink, let alone actually introduce Taylor to the three guys with their mouths hanging open. Howie was grinning, but the others had obviously been in mid-conversation when we entered. I wasn't sure if it was a good thing or not that Taylor could make conversation stop.

I gulped, and her voice was in my ears before I could register another coherent thought.

"Well, either I'm staring at the rest of the Backstreet Boys, or I'm having that dream where I fall into the television again."

Did she really say that?

One look at Taylor's tight, open-minded smirk warned me that she had indeed said that. Shit.

"Definitely the dream," came another voice. "But look on the bright side. At least you didn't fall into an *NSUCK special, right?"

If anyone ever repeats the next sentence to me, I'll deny I said it. I'll deny ever thinking it. I'll even deny stringing it together. Of course, at that moment, it was the only thought that registered.

Thank God for Nick.

Taylor burst into her hearty, Taylor laughter at the joke and smiled winningly at him. "Oh, man, J, I think I've found my kindred spirit." She stuck a hand out to Nick. "You must be the prankster."

I cringed, but Nick laughed. "And you must be the bar chick from New York."

Taylor nodded. "Yeah, that's me. I'm Taylor."

He shook her hand kindly, smiling the poster smile. Amazingly enough, I think it was actually genuine.

Damn, Taylor rocks at working miracles.

"Nick. Listen, it's really cool to meet you. Anyone with the courage to spend a week alone with AJ already deserves oodles of respect in my book."

She laughed again and ruffled my hair. I did my best to look pissed off, which wasn't exactly difficult. I'd been pissed off since I last got her on the phone.

I really do love my job. Don't get me wrong...it makes me feel more alive, more worthy, and more full of purpose than anything that ever fucking existed. However, it also makes me feel more tired than the first guy to climb Mt. Everest.

"Well, you know...he can actually be a pretty decent guy when you take away his shades and his hair dye."

Nick winked at her. "Thanks for the tip...I'll try that the next time he's being a pain in the ass."

Before Nick could continue to be super cool and ease the tension some more, the almighty Kevin cleared his throat.

"Speaking of being a pain in the ass, AJ, were you planning on introducing the rest of us to the bar chick from New York?"

Kevin wasn't calling her a young lady. Fuck, he wasn't even calling her a lady. I didn't know whether to flip him off or beg him to like her.

"Yeah, Kev, I was just getting to that part."

Kev, shut the hell up and back off, you're making Taylor nervous. Suddenly, her hand was in mine, and I was squeezing it tightly.

"Kev, this is Taylor, AKA the bar chick from New York." Then I managed a sinister smile. "And, Taylor, this is Kevin, the Kentuckian who lost the race to the turtle AND the hare."

Brian was laughing with Nick, but Taylor only cracked a smile. "Nice to meet you, Kevin."

Kevin rolled his eyes in my direction. "Well, with an introduction like that, I'm just glad you aren't running for the door."

Howie stepped forward to save the day. "Remember, Kev, she's best friends with AJ. At this rate, nothing scares her."

Taylor chuckled. "Yeah, I'm pretty desensitized to Backstreet quirks at this point."

I have never been so glad to see Kevin smile in my entire life. I think that I would've jumped up and down had Brian not stepped forward.

"And, before Kevin attempts to stutter out another sentence, I'm Brian."

She smiled warmly at him. "Yeah, Age mentioned that you two were cousins."

I nearly died when Nick clamped a hand over Kevin's mouth and gave Taylor a strong look of warning. "We don't mention that around this one. It gives him another excuse to remind us of their relationship."

Brian only grinned. "I'm the Kentuckian that got all the speed genes," he informed her with a wink. She laughed and shook his hand.

"Nice to know that they went to a good cause."


Hear that? That was my jaw hitting the floor. Because Kevin immediately started protesting and laughing at the same time before he got annoyed and flung Nick away from him.

"Get the hell off of me, Carter," he growled, dusting himself off. When he was once again satisfied that his whole anal vibe hadn't been ruffled any, he smirked at Taylor. "Man, she's been here less than five minutes, and she's already teasing me."

"AJ was right," Brian chuckled. "I DO like this one."

"Speak for yourself," Kevin retorted, but he was grinning. I think the little people in China heard my sigh of relief.

Okay, maybe not the people in China. But the population of Canada definitely heard it. We KNOW that Nick heard it, because he was quick to wink at me.

"Aw, AJ's got Daddy's approval now."

I rolled my eyes. "Fuck off, Nick."

Taylor grinned knowingly. "Well, from what I read in Rolling Stone, Nick doesn't exactly have a problem with doing that."

Damn. Damn, damn, damn. I began contemplating whether or not to buy a tongue harness for Taylor. Lord knew that she needed it then. The Boys didn't know her that well yet, and I wasn't exactly sure how offended they would be by her humor. She's a lot like me, and I'm pretty notorious for getting on their nerves.

Shit, I was seriously hoping to God that Taylor didn't follow in my footsteps. It wasn't the first time, but...

Man, I can't ever cut a break, can I?

Nick turned about fifty different shades of pink, just like he always does when someone brings up that article. He tried to cover his blush with his hand, and failed. Just like he always does when someone brings up that article.

If I didn't have to listen to him moaning in the bathroom so much, I just might feel sorry for him.

No matter. He took a deep breath and groaned. "Man, I'm going to KILL Kevin for saying that...nobody ever fucking forgets around here..." he whined. Just like he always does when someone brings up that article.

Now would probably be a good time to mention that our little Nicky is a creature of habit. We laughed at his discomfort, just like we always do, and he groaned again.

"Dude, I'm serious. You'd better call Kristin and say your good-byes, because you're going to pay, man..."

Kevin's smile of triumph about lit up the room.

"If you really are loud enough that he knows information like that, don't you think he's paid enough?" Taylor countered.

Ouch. That wasn't even directed at me, and I still winced. That's how good Taylor is.

She says it comes from working it a bar. Personally, I think it comes from living with Heads.

Heads. Insert snickers.

Nick's face turned red again, and Kevin threw an arm around Taylor.

"Okay, Bri, I'll give it to ya. AJ was right." He grinned and shook his head. "I do like this one."

Nick rolled his eyes. "Death, Kevin. I'm serious, dude."

Howie fought back a smile. "Now, Nicky, let's not get violent."

Brian laughed. "No joke, Kaos. We don't want Kevin kicking your ass, okay?"

Nick was about to protest when Taylor stepped in again. This time, I thought to brace myself for the coming comment. After all, at that rate, who knew what was going to fly out of her mouth next?

"Besides, Nick, you have to deal with Kevin's eyebrows AND his lack of speed every day. I think that somehow evens things out."

Nick burst out with the hyena giggle, and Kevin shook his head while the others snickered at him. I let loose with another sigh of relief, and Taylor turned to wink at me, still smirking over her verbal victory. I returned the expression and shook my head, wondering why in the hell I had been worried to begin with.

Yeah, she was going to be fine with the guys. She was going to be a lot more than fine.

Now, I just had to get her on that plane, and I'd be a lot more than fine too.

Rolling Stone article mentioned is the one from November, 2002.