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This Christmas
Chapter Five


I'm leaving on a jet plane
I don't know when I'll be back again

"You know, I'm really fucking glad that I'm not Nick."

Smile and nod. Avoid the look of complete and total confusion that is bound to surface. Mark it down to the fact that it's AJ and let it go.

Okay, so I'm not always so great at following directions. Even if they are my own.

"And, disregarding the fact that that was totally random, why are you really fucking glad that you're not Nick?"

AJ twisted in his seat to smirk at me. "Because he hates to fly, and if I were Nick, I'd be freaking out about whether or not the plane was going to crash."

I grimaced. "On that note, let me just say that I'm really fucking glad you aren't Nick as well."

He laughed. "Yeah, well...as it is, I'm just really fucking glad to be getting the hell out of this place."

I arched an eyebrow. "Age, you were only here for, like, four hours."

"Still! I'm off the tour, now, dammit. It's time for my vacation."

Vacation. Beach. Ocean. Island. I grinned at the thought. Sometimes it really, really, REALLY pays to be best friends with a Backstreet Boy.

Ugh, that sounded bad. I'm not friends with AJ for his money, believe me. Unlike most girls my age, I do have a shred of dignity where the spending of cash is concerned. If I make it, I'll spend it. If not, I've got brains enough to know that it's not mine to spend, and I won't let anyone else spend it for me. I mean, hell...the man makes himself miserable for nine months out of the year. Let him reap his rewards on his own, you know?

Okay, I've said my piece on money. Getting off the soapbox now.

"It is definitely time for a vacation."

"A vacation without the fellas, for once," AJ added with a grin. However, the grin left as soon as it had come, and he gave me the curious I'm-about-to-ask-you-a-really-serious-question-so-don't-go-all-ADD-on-me look. "Speaking of the fellas...what'd you think of them?"

A little, tiny, evil part of me immediately lit up. See, as the mischievous best friend, I do delight in any and all occasions to freak AJ out. Even if we are sitting on a plane, ready to go on a Christmas trip to the beach.

Insert evil, maniacal laugh here, would you?

For good measure, I turned my nose up. "I think they're a pack of arrogant, boyband pricks, and I can't believe you even had the audacity to introduce me to them, much less expect me to like them."

When AJ's in a good mood, this is the point in the conversation where he laughs and tells me just how funny I am or makes some sarcastic retort to make himself feel better about his ability to be witty. However, when AJ's half asleep and infinitely pissed off, this is the point where he stares at me with an expression halfway between confused and amazed.


I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. "Hell, yeah. I thought you said they were good-looking!"

His eyebrows rose and he gave me a sheepish look. "I lied? I guess?" He was silent for no more than three seconds before a concerned look spread across his face. "Tay, do you really hate them?"

"Yes," I insisted stubbornly, folding my arms across my chest. "They were horrible and crude and disrespectful and..." I stopped only because I had run out of bad adjectives to describe such an awesome group of guys. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. I had loved all of them, due to the people they were and the way that they obviously cared for AJ. Granted, I didn't really know them well--Diana would say that it's impossible to ever know anybody well--but the first impression had been...well, nice.

"I was completely appalled, AJ."

That didn't mean that I wasn't going to have a little fun with it by freaking AJ out. Besides, I think I made it look convincing, because the frown on AJ's face was still firmly in place.

"Aww, Tay...really?"

I couldn't hold it in any longer. You'd think that, being a bartender in one of the biggest cities in the world, I'd have a better game face, but you'd be seriously wrong.

"No, you dork! I thought they were awesome! I admit, I didn't think it would be possible for three more people as awesome as Howie to exist anywhere in the US, let alone in the Backstreet Boys, but I was thoroughly impressed with how down to earth your pretty boy brothers were."

I wasn't kidding, either. I'd had a ton of fun chatting with Nick, Kevin, and Brian, and considering the fact that I had wanted to crawl under a rock and sleep for a hundred years only hours earlier, having fun talking to them was quite a feat. The fact that they could be cordial and jetlagged all at once earned them brownie points as well, though. They really are multi-talented men. Who knew?

When I finally came back to earth, AJ was grinning widely at me. "Tay, I'm so glad that you liked them. You have no idea how much it means to me that all of my best friends get along."

I knew that look. It meant that AJ was coming in for a hug.

I swear, if it were any other guy, I would've slapped him across the face and told him to let me sleep. AJ's different, though. He gives hugs that are definitely worth staying up for.

That said, it's not too hard to understand why I was insanely happy when he finally pulled me against his scrawny six-pack in a bear hug.

"Aww, I feel so loved..."

AJ laughed into my hair, which I'm sure smelled of liquor and cigarettes. Erotic, no?

"You should, babe. You're my hero for today."

I laughed with him, breathing in the scent of AJ's favorite cologne. I swear, he's like a girl when it comes to his fashion. He takes a ridiculous amount of time getting dressed, and an even more ridiculous amount of time primping himself. Oh, and I get to share a bathroom with him for the next two weeks. Spectacular, right?

Not exactly. Of course, I love the guy too much to mind. I'm such a good best friend.

"Why am I your hero? Because I'm letting you strangle me without complaining?"

AJ winked at me. "Nah, I have fans for that."

I rolled my eyes. "You may have fans for that, 'J, but strangling them is my job."

"Aww, Tay, you know you love my fans..."

I gave him a pointed look. "Thankfully, I've never had to deal with screaming throngs of your followers, so I very well may love them for keeping their distance from me. I do, however, want to know why I'm your hero."

AJ sighed heavily. "Why do you need a reason?"

I pushed him lightly. "Because I need an ego boost after getting mauled by drunk guys all night. Humor me, will you?"

He chuckled. "Fine. You're my hero because you put me back in a decent mood tonight, and we're not even off the ground yet."

I grinned widely. "I knew it! I rock!"

AJ rolled his eyes in mock annoyance. He's cool like that. I get weird sometimes, but he's nice enough to play along. Unless he's pissed off, that is. Then I know enough to leave him alone and be a good, calm best friend.

Tonight, that wasn't an option.

"I wouldn't go that far, you know," AJ began. "You're cool, yes, but I'm still cooler."

I huffed. "Why's that? Because you've got more tattoos?"

He laughed. "Hardly. I'm on a plane headed for the Bahamas, chick. That makes me cooler than anyone."

I gave him a breadbox look. AJ can be a little retarded sometimes, but even though there's usually a point to it, you have to work the point out of him slowly.

Thank God he's not Kevin. We'd have been there all night.

"AJ, hon, in case you forgot, we're on the same plane."

"Maybe so," AJ agreed with a mischievous grin. "But you don't have a beautiful lady sitting next to you, do you?"

Even when he's dead tired and halfway to delirious, the boy can flirt mercilessly. I should be impressed, but I'm not.

"No, I have a drag queen sitting next to me. That makes me more unique."

I'm proud of the guy. It took AJ under ten seconds to figure out that I was referring to him.

"Taylor! I'm offended!"

I laughed at his horrible pained expression. "That was kind of the idea, Age..."

He folded his arms petulantly across his chest. Well, sulkingly, maybe. I doubt AJ knows words like "petulantly". "If I didn't know any better, Tails, I'd think you were trying to stain my spotless reputation."

If I'd been drinking anything, I would've choked. Seriously. Calling AJ's reputation spotless--in addition to being an insult to clean tablecloths everywhere--is akin to calling Michael Jackson a perfect father. It just doesn't match up.

"Spotless? You have GOT to be fucking kidding me. AJ, you're about as spotless as Cruella DeVille's coat in that God-awful Dalmatian movie."

He shook his head at me in amusement. Well, I think it was amusement. If it wasn't amusement, then AJ's not nearly as open-minded as I thought he was. "Only you could come up with that kind of analogy, Tails."

"Damn straight," I agreed haughtily. "That's why they send us to college, you know. To teach us how to create confusing analogies."

Okay, so it wasn't exactly a funny joke. The good thing about AJ is that he was too tired to tease me at that point, and so he let it go.

AJ chuckled. "You do realize that you would've tied Nick's brain in a knot by now, right?"

I gave AJ a predictable warning look. "You know, you really don't give the kid enough credit. He really is decently intelligent."

AJ grinned at me, the genuine AJ smile that I had been watching for all night. "I know. It's easy to tease him, though. He's a smart kid, but he trips himself up sometimes because his head moves a lot more quickly than his mouth."

I arched an eyebrow skeptically. "You'd think that'd be more of a problem for Kevin than for Nick."

"No," AJ countered with a twinkle in his eye. Yes, his brown eyes twinkle. He's kind of cute that way. It makes him look innocent, which I don't think he ever was to begin with. "Kevin thinks about as slowly as he talks."

I frowned deeply at the new knowledge. "You know, for some reason, that saddens me."

AJ shrugged. "Eh, cheer up. He's a really good singer, and that somehow makes up for it."

"He ought to be," I muttered. "You guys certainly get paid enough."

At that comment, AJ's twinkling eyes grew serious again, and I knew that I'd stepped onto semi-dangerous territory. Talking to AJ about his salary at the end of a long tour is never a good thing.

"The money isn't worth the sacrifice, Tails. The only reason we sing is because we love it. If I didn't love it, there's no way in hell I would've staying on that fucking tour. You know that."

Suddenly, my voice was soft as well. "Yeah, I do. I didn't mean it like that, Age."

He sighed and tossed a friendly, comfortable arm around my shoulder. "Yeah, I know. I'm just a little worn around the edges. That last trip around the world took a lot out of me."

"I believe it," I agreed, resting my head on his bony little shoulder. Not very comfortable, mind you, but very much like home. "You looked completely burned when you stopped by the bar tonight."

AJ's laugh was hollow and bitter, and I hated to hear it. It didn't go with his clothes or the smile I love so much. "Yeah, well, I really do need this vacation." He stopped to wink at me. "By the end of this, I'll be burned too, but not in the same way."

"Yeah, you'll be sunburned," I chuckled. "And you'll look like the lobster that escaped the stove with a few black marks along the arms."

AJ made a disgusted face at me, and I had to laugh. Let it never be said that AJ isn't animated. Actually, I remember thinking once that he'd make a really good cartoon character. He has a lot of different moods, a lot of different faces, and his head gets irregularly large now and then. When you think about it, he really does fit the bill.

Okay, moving away from the random thought process now...

"So, while we're on the topic of our vacation, do you mind giving me a few specifics on the postcard-perfect getaway one which we're about to partake?"

AJ gave me an odd look to let me know that I had sounded intelligent for the first time in the past hour, but the twinkle was back in his big, brown eyes and the frown had flipped upside down.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I may very well be the corniest bartender in New York City.

"Well, here's the deal: we've got a little bungalow to ourselves and a private part of the beach so that I can go unnoticed. It's this little 'escape from your life' celebrity hangout that Fred Durst was telling me about at the post Grammy party this year. Apparently, that's where Wes went when he left the band." He paused, and I knew he'd seen the pout on my face. "And, yes, I know you still can't believe that Wes Boreland is no longer a part of Limp Bizkit."

Before we go on, perhaps I should explain. See, I ADORE Limp Bizkit. Fred Durst is nothing less than a genius, and while I may be AJ's hero, Wes Boreland is my hero. That said, the fact that Fred recommended the place to AJ based on Wes's experience made the vacation all that much sweeter.

"I love Limp Bizkit."

Okay, so maybe that explanation of mine wasn't really necessary.

"I know, Tay." AJ sounded annoyed, but he was still smiling the AJ smile, so I knew he was more amused than pissed. Some may see this type of thing as a warning to shut up. I, on the other hand, saw it as a reason to continue. I mean, hey, if he wasn't pissed off yet, it gave me margin for error, right?

Just smile and nod and do us all a favor.

"Fred Durst is a genius."

AJ laughed, partially because I sounded ridiculous and partially because he's heard the whole Limp Bizkit tangent before. He's known me long enough to have heard it a few hundred times by now, actually.

What can I say? I tend to be a bit vocal about my musical preferences. Deep down, I know that AJ appreciates it.

"Usually, Tay, I'd argue with you just for the sake of pissing you off. However, now that we're on a plane to the Bahamas and I'm finally getting a chance to escape from the hell that is my life right now, I just might be inclined to agree with you."

I sighed heavily in disdain. "You're such a man."

AJ made a face in my direction. "This is true."

I gave him a pointed look. "It's not a good thing, Age."

He shrugged. "Sorry? Why am I 'such a man'?"

"Because you can never just outright admit that I'm right and you're wrong!" Okay, so that was a little far-fetched...but I love AJ to death. He's gullible to the point that, if you pretend you're angry, he'll spend forever trying to make it up to you. He tries to be this big, bad, tough boyband member, but he's really just a teddy bear in biker's clothing.

"Exactly how were you right?"

I grinned. "Fred Durst is a genius."

He gave me a warning look. "If I'm not mistaken, dear, Fred Durst is dating Britney Spears. That, in my mind, does not signify genius."

I frowned. Sometimes, AJ's more like a girl than a guy. The man gossips more than anyone I've ever met. "I thought she was dating that Timberlake guy from 'NSUCK?"

He shook his head sadly. "Nah, they broke it off. Artistic differences."

I smirked. "You mean he liked it nice and slow and she was more into the bondage thing?"

He groaned. "Probably..."

"Eh, it's all right. I'm sure Timberlake can find a replacement for her in the plethora of semi-clothed blondes littering the pop industry lately."

AJ rolled his eyes. "You know, as insightful as you are when it comes to the music industry, I really think we need to find another topic for discussion."

I laughed. "Okay, I've got an idea. Why don't you tell me if Nick has a girlfriend?"

It was, at long last, AJ's turn to smirk. Now, when he's with me, he doesn't get many chances to do it, so he was quite thrilled with himself at this point. "Shouldn't you be asking whether or not Nicky has a boyfriend?"

I shook my head at AJ, delivering the now-famous breadbox look again. "I'm not that gullible, dear. There's no way in hell that that boy is gay."

To say that AJ looked amused would be a drastic understatement. "Oh? And what makes you so sure, Taylor?"

"He can't dress worth shit!"

Okay, so I'm not exactly known for my ability to be tactful. I work in a bar. Cut me a fucking break here. I'm best friends with a Backstreet Boy. I'm learning to be nice.

Well, I'm best friends with the naughty one, so maybe not.

AJ was laughing, though, so I didn't worry too much about being mean. "You know, Taylor, he'd really kill you for saying that."

I rolled my eyes. "Just like he'd kill Kevin for bringing up that article, right?"

His laughter grew until he was hugging me. Talk about perfection. See, this is how AJ and I really are. We're fun and goofy and affectionate. He's about as much of a hardass as I am.

"He wouldn't ever say it, but I think he's secretly proud of that article. I think he thinks it gives him the appearance of being able to come back quickly."

I wiggled my eyebrows for AJ's benefit and my own amusement. "I'd love to test his theory."

He sighed in mock distress. "Well, I'm afraid that, for the next week and a half, you're going to get to test me instead."

I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. Pulling off a pout is difficult when you're fighting giggles, see. It kind of ruins the effect.

"Aww, but AJ...I want Nicky..."

He frowned. "Well, if you really want Nicky, I guess I can attempt to be a good substitute. I mean, we're about to take off, right?"

I frowned with him then, only because I knew exactly what he meant. Of course, before I had a chance to stop him, he had worked himself into what I assumed was Nick's traditional pre-take-off chant.

"It's going to crash, it's going to crash, it's going to crash, it's going to crash..."

My thoughts at that moment, ladies and gentlemen, were exactly as follows:

So now I get to listen to one semi-sane Backstreet Boy's imitation of the other, hysterical one. Super.

"Um, AJ?"

He paused long enough to grin at me. "Yeah?"

"I changed my mind."



He arched an eyebrow. "And how's that?"

"I want a different Backstreet Boy now."

He shook his head sadly. "No, you can't do that. Nick would be terribly offended that you wanted a refund."

I shrugged. "You can always tell him that I thought my best friend was a cooler travel companion..."

He tossed an arm around my shoulders easily. "Sounds good to me, babe. Now, I'll have to warn you--I get excited during take-off."

I laughed. "I don't think that'll be a problem, Age. Knowing you, I'm probably more excited than you are."

He gave me a serious look. "Taylor, trust me on this one. No one is more excited about this trip than I am, okay?"

"Except for me," I tossed back with a smirk, and he groaned.

"Okay, fine. Can we just be equally excited and call it a truce?"

I grinned. "Sure."

Equality. Hey, sounded good to me.

"Leaving On A Jet Plane"
lyrics and music by Peter, Paul, and Mary