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This Christmas
Chapter Six


Nudge. Nudge. Nudge-nudge.

My foggy brain grumbled at the constant annoyance, but the action did indeed register in my head, and despite my greatest desires, I couldn't ignore it. Kevin, definitely. Only Kevin would be that annoying.
Well, on second though, Nick might be that annoying, but not in the morning, and definitely not on purpose.
Well, sometimes not on purpose. Occasionally, he likes to grate on Kevin's nerves just for the hell of it. We usually egg him on. What can I say? It's funny to watch Kevin's face turn purple.

Nudge. Nudge-nudge-nudge.

I rolled away from the shoulder that was incessantly poking me and cleared my throat. "Quit it, Kevin."

Nudge. "Nope, not Kevin."

Even better. A persistent Taylor. I grunted for good measure. "I'm serious. I'm trying to sleep, here."

"Trust me, babe, there will be plenty of time for that later. You're going to want to get up and see this."

I rubbed my arm over my eyes, wondering why I had to get up so damn early on the first day of vacation. "See what? Did the damn plane crash? Because, you know, that would be just my luck..."

"You know, a part of me had been hoping that your mouth didn't move excessively until at least ten in the morning."

"Yeah, well..." I shrugged and moved closer to the window so I could see whatever she had been raving about. "You got it wrong. I don't start catering to the wishes of women until at least ten in the morning."

"Funny..." Taylor began, trailing off. "Here I thought you catered to the wishes of women up until ten in the morning."

I mock glared at her. "Not when they've let me sleep for any period of time."

She winked. "Then maybe next time I'll give you a reason to stay awake."

Note to self: do not allow any play-flirting with Taylor until at least ten in the morning. Serious brain damage can occur.

"Are you going to come see the view or not?"

Nag, nag, nag. "Yes, I'm coming."

"You know, you're slower than Kevin in the morning."

I arched an eyebrow pointedly. "Don't say something like that until you've seen Kevin in the morning, okay?"

She rolled her eyes. "View, Alex. We have a view."

And finally, the brain started working. Without coffee. You should be highly impressed. Turns out that us Backstreet Boys do have some brain power left after all.

"A view? You mean we're almost there?"

Another roll of the eyes. Yes, ladies and gents, I was batting a thousand that morning. "No, I just thought I'd wake you up so you'd quit snoring in my ear."

Sarcasm? Was that sarcasm? No, not from my sweet Taylor...

"Shut up. It's early."

"Maybe for you. I've been up for an hour, at least."

I twirled a finger in the air to show her just how impressed I was. "Whoop-dee-doo. What do you want? Some kind of reward?"

She nodded. "Yeah, actually. I'd like the blonde one tied to my bed when we get to the bungalow. Think that can be arranged?"

Ouch. Unfortunately for me, Taylor hadn't given up on the Nick joke. Well, on what I was hoping was the Nick joke. Because if it wasn't the Nick joke, and it turned out to be the Nick thing, I was in a whole hell of a lot of trouble.

No, scratch that. Nick was in a whole hell of a lot of trouble. Because, man, he gets all the girls, and I just wanted this one to myself. Not for anything but a hug and maybe a little bit of Christmas company, but Taylor was off-limits to the guys. I'd made up my mind.

"No. No Nick. I said I wanted two weeks away from that God-awful foursome, dammit, and I'm getting my two weeks."

Taylor let out a low whistle and gave me an appropriately surprised look. Okay, so sue me. I'm an asshole when you first wake me up.

"Can we say grumpy?"

"Can we say frustrated?"

"Can we say view?"

"Can we say tired?"

"Can we say..." Taylor groaned. "Good God, Age, this is just stupid. Get the hell over here and check out the beach we're about to land on."

And, finally the lady got my attention. Someone get her a prize. Or, better yet, a blow-up version of the blonde Backstreet Boy.

On second thought, don't do that. Nick is scary enough in real life. If you were to clone the guy with plastic, I'd probably start having nightmares (like they don't give me enough already), and a vacation is supposed to be relaxing, right?

Right. Beach. Out the window. Need to focus badly before Taylor decides to go all bar chick on me and kick my nonexistent ass into submission.

"Fine. I'll look. Now where is this beach that you interrupted my sleep for?"

Her finger hit the glass and I jumped about a foot in the air. "Shit, don't DO that to me!"

Her lips curled in amusement, but she didn't comment on my Tigger imitation. "Right there."

"Right..." Right. Just follow the finger.

Pause for a moment. Why the hell does everything I say have to sound sexual? Am I the only one that notices stuff like this? Does Taylor notice stuff like this? She'd mention it to me if she did, right?

Moving right along. Looking out the window. Following the finger, and...

Oh. My. Fucking. Gosh.

I would've thought something intelligent at this point except for the fact that I still couldn't form a coherent thought, so I just thought it over and over again.

Oh. My. Fucking. Gosh.

That was one hell of a beach.

Through the single pane of shatter-proof fiberglass, I could see pieces of golden sand surrounded by a bright blue-green sea. As the water chased the sand, I caught sight of a few white-capped waves offshore, and I had to smile. Even from ten thousand feet above, it looked like something right off of a damn tourist postcard.

"Picture perfect," I grinned.

"Your company or the scenery?" Taylor teased, batting her eyelashes with a winsome smile. I think it was the first time I'd ever seen her attempt to be girly. In all honesty, she was kind of scaring me. Until she laughed, that is. When she laughed, I laughed, and then I pulled her into a hug.


She peered up at me with arched eyebrows. "Wow, I'm impressed. You go from grumpy to flirty in five seconds flat. Is that some kind of world record?"

I chuckled. "Oh, baby...that's not the only world record..."

She winced. "Yeah, I take it back. I don't want to know."

A-ha! Opportunity strikes! "Oh, but of course you do! You woke me up, didn't you? And didn't you say you were bored? So how about some high-caliber conversation about the benefits of bunking with me?"

She faked a yawn. "You know, all of a sudden, I'm feeling kinda sleepy myself..."

Feigned innocence. Occasionally, I try to pull it off. It rarely works. "But haven't you been up for an hour? How can you be tired again?"

She shot me a look of disbelief. "Dealing with you can wear a girl out," she deadpanned.

In true asshole fashion, I puffed my chest out with pride and grinned my thousand-watt "poster boy" smile at her. "Damn straight!"

Upon catching the double entendre, poor Taylor covered her face with her hands and let out a large, loud groan. "Oh, God, I went and stroked the male ego."

I wiggled my eyebrows playfully at her. "You know, that's not all you can stroke..."

Opportunity had been seized, and the limit had been reached. Operation: Revenge was a smashing success, because she chose that moment to smack me. Hard.

"Oh, so you like it rough, do you?"

She grinned devilishly at me. "No, I like my boys young and horny. Where did you say I could find Nicky again?"

Okay, so I forgot to count on Taylor retaliating. She's usually pretty good at that. Sadly, I'm not. I tend to use all of my wit and creative energy in coming up with the initial attack.

"Shut up."

Her eyes danced delightedly as she curled up next to me. "Aw, did I hit a sore spot? Does AJ not like talking about Nicky and his admirable sex drive?"

Allow me to introduce the Surprised AJ. "WHAT?! What the hell do you know about Nick's sex drive?"

She laughed. Fucking loud and clear. I'd say I wasn't blushing, but it was too early for me to come up with a creative way to lie about it.

"Nothing, AJ. I hadn't even met the guy until last night. Don't dish if you can't deal, okay?"


"And don't do that pouting pop star thing, either. Contrary to popular belief, you guys aren't any sexier when you've got your bottom lip rolled out as thick as a mattress."

Dammit. I'd been had. "Fine. Be mean to me. See if I care."

"You shouldn't. You like it rough, remember?"

It was my turn to smack her, but because I'm a guy and she's a girl, I decided to stick my tongue out instead. "You suck, you know that?"

"No, but I know that you wish I did."

Well, kids, I'd certainly lit the logs that morning. Taylor was on fire, and we weren't anywhere close to landing.

It was high time for me to be the Pleading AJ.

"Can I call a halt to this lovely battle of verbal prowess and propose a truce?"

She stroked her chin lightly. "Depends. What's in it for me?"

I held my arms out teasingly. "You get a big, fat AJ pillow until we land."

She eyes my lap doubtfully. "That's not a big, fat AJ pillow. That's a slim, scrawny AJ pillow with bits of muscle here and there."

My eyes narrowed to a glare. "Oh, you just wait until we land, young lady. You are SO gonna get it..."

She arched a seductive eyebrow. "You gonna give it to me, Big Boy?"

Sigh. She wasn't backing down. I was going to have to do Nick's whining thing. I hate Nick's whining thing. Believe it or not, that simple little whining thing has been solely responsible for three-fourths of my headaches over the past ten years.

Of course, that was all the more reason to use it on Taylor. Payback's a bitch, and it was about to be my bitch.

"But Taylor..."

She covered her ears immediately. "Okay, okay! Waving the white flag! This is my surrender. Who do I hand the forms to? They're all signed, sealed, and ready to deliver...just PLEASE stop talking to me like I killed one of those steroid-enhanced rats that you call dogs."

On account of her admitted surrender, I decided to wrap her in a bear hug and ignore the fact that she had called my babies rats. Kind of.

"You love my dogs."

Taylor chuckled. "Oh, I love them all right, but they aren't dogs. Grams's Daley...now that's a dog."

My eyes were wide with horror, I'm sure. "Shit, Taylor! Daley's a Doberman! She's scary as all hell, and she could probably eat my pups for lunch!"

Taylor pretended to consider the proposal for a moment before shaking her head. "No, not lunch. Breakfast, maybe..."

The hug ended at that point so I could cover my ears. The Boys gave me enough nightmares without Taylor suggesting the image of my dogs being fed to her grandmother's monster of a pet.

"Stop! No more!"

Taylor's eyes twinkled dangerously. "Hey, did you know that Daley swallowed a lizard whole once?"


"No, but thanks for sharing. Now, the next time you get the urge to tell me something that utterly disgusting, keep in mind that I have my cable designed specially for the sole reason that I DON'T want to see the Discovery Channel. Ever."

"Really?" It was, God forbid, Taylor's turn to wiggle her eyebrows. "Oh, Age, I would've thought you'd be BIG fan of the Discovery Channel. After all, baby, we ain't nothin' but mammals..."

My thoughts at this point were as follows: Oh, God, I've created a monster.



"Do me a favor, would you?"

She leaned into me like I knew she would. "Anything, babe."

"At least PRETEND to be asleep so I can spend the rest of the flight in peace."

For a moment, her lower lip quivered and I began to worry that she was going to stumble into theatrics to further pursue the humorous tone of the morning. However, the frown was gone as soon as it had come, and she started to laugh.

"Sure thing, Age. After all, I've got two weeks on the beach to torment you, right?"

Gulp. Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea...


"Relax, babe. I promise that, under all the layers of fine lines, I really am sane."

It was debatable, yes, but at that particular point in the flight, it was also enough for me. It was also another delicious opportunity for revenge.

"Of course you are. But what if I'm not?"

She chuckled. "Oh, you are, AJ. Underneath it all, you're completely sane. You just need a woman to tame you."

Two words, boys and girls...dangerous ground. Taylor wasn't just treading on it, she was leaving little bitty Taylor footprints everywhere and digging holes every few minutes.

It was definitely going to be an interesting trip.

Before I could think of a way to retort, though, the pilot came on the intercom and scared the living daylights out of the both of us with a high-pitched screeching noise.

"Sorry about that, folks. This is your pilot speaking. I'd like to notify everyone on board that we'll be landing shortly. The current temperature is eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit, with sunny skies all around. We are now flying directly over the beach, so for those of you who want a sneak peak, now's your chance. Make sure those seats and tray tables are in their upright and locked positions, and turn off all electronic devices. Flight attendants, please prepare for landing."

Okay, so I guess we were landing sooner than I thought.

"How much would it suck to be hit in the head with a tray table during landing?"

In case you were wondering why that extra hour of sleep is important, take a look at Taylor. You don't ever want to be stuck sitting next to a guy like me, sleep-deprived and asking retarded questions like that.

"A lot?" Duh.

"No, seriously. Think about it. I mean, it annoys the hell out of me that they ALWAYS remind you to lock your seats and tray tables, but it makes sense. There's actual logic behind it."

What the hell?

See, this is when you employ the whole "smile and nod" theory.

Taylor frowned. "Why are you smiling at me like that?"

"Because I have no idea what the hell you're talking about!"

She sighed. "Don't you ever think about random stupid stuff like that?"

I shook my head. "In a word? No. I let Nick do it for me. The first time I saw Kevin smack him for being curious, I learned my lesson."

Taylor laughed. "You make him sound like the world's biggest asshole, you know."

"Who, Nick?" Please, please let it be Nick.

"No, Kevin. You make Nick sound like a sweetheart."

Well, shit.

"Kevin can be an asshole. A lot of times he is an asshole. Of course, we all know that he's only an asshole because he cares, so we let him get away with it."

"And you know that Nick's only a child because this crazy-ass job of yours forced him to grow up so fast, so you let him get away with it too, right?"

I hate it when she twists my words on me. Sadly, she was right that time. We all grew up too fast, so, in a way, it's kind of refreshing to see Nick goof off like a five-year-old. It makes us all feel a little bit younger again, and sometimes that's all you need.

Especially when you're on the road with someone as old as Kevin.

It's really too bad he wasn't there to hear that thought. I so would've shared it with him.

"AJ? Babe? You're zoning out on me again."

What? "Oh. Sorry. Didn't mean to." Cheesy grin. There is logic to our appearance in every teenybopper magazine known to man. We're cute little boys.

Nick would punch me in the gut if he ever heard me say that.

"Do I want to know what you were thinking about?"

I wiggled my eyebrows at her upon seeing her concerned expression. "Do you ever?"

She winced. "Never mind. I'm sorry I asked."

"Don't be. Be glad you thought to test the waters first."

Taylor rolled her eyes. "Yeah, you know me and my virgin ears..."

I grinned. "Oh, baby...I could tell you things that bar has never heard."

Taylor shot me a pointed look. "I'm sure you could. Sadly, I'm going to have to decline the offer. My sanity and I are kind of attached, and I like it that way."


"Dammit! I like my stomach just above the pelvis too. What in the hell was that?"

"We'll be approaching the terminal shortly. Please keep your seatbelts fastened until the sign has been turned off..."

Taylor groaned aloud. "Yeah, no shit! That last one would've sent me through the ceiling if not for the damn safety belt."

I winked at her, mentally apologizing to Howie for stealing his thunder. "Makes you glad that tray table is in its upright and locked position, right?"

She smirked at me. "I thought you didn't ever ponder the random workings of the world, McLean."

"I lied."

She sighed again, and I knew that the theatrics were about to begin. We were still waiting for the plane to "come to a complete stop", so Taylor was trying to get in her last minute drama.

"I don't know if we can be friends, then. I don't like it when people lie to me."

For some reason, I didn't think crooning Sheryl Crow to her would put a halt to the sudden display of femininity, so I decided to grovel instead.

"I'm sorry. It wasn't intended to harm. Can you ever forgive me?"

She half-smiled. "Depends. How far is the bungalow from the airport?"

I shrugged. "I dunno. Five, ten minutes. Not long."

Her eyes lit up at the thought of being at the beach within the next hour. "You are SO forgiven."

Before I could return her mega-watt smile, we were all thrown forward by the less-than-gentle stop of the plane on the runway. Taylor's hands shot forward to still herself, but as soon as she removed them, the tray table fell out from behind its lock.

Taylor rolled her eyes. "Dammit."

I grinned. Finally. "So much for the tray tables, huh?"

"Ladies and gentlemen, it's been a pleasure flying with you. Welcome to the Bahamas!"

I have never been so glad to get off a plane in my life. I was cool, calm, and collected during my exit, but the moment we stepped into the gate, I was like a little kid again. Beside me, Taylor actually bounced.

"We're going to the beach!"

The vacation had finally begun.