Stephanie, part 9

“Thank you all!” Becca yells into her microphone to the screaming crowd as we all wave happily. “Thank you all so, so much!”

“Thank you Glasgow!” I scream into my microphone, taking several deep breaths (despite my tight clothing) to rest my tired voice.

“We love you all!” Lauren yells into the microphone, her long, ginger hair pinned to her face with sweat thanks to our two hour long concert- our tenth in twelve days, and thankfully, our last for the time being.

The second we reach our plush backstage dressing room, I dramatically collapse onto the nearest sofa, and within seconds, all of my bandmates follow suit.

“I could sleep for a MONTH,” Adeola groans.

“Make that a year,” Kayla laughs.

“You can stop complaining,” I tease the tiny blonde girl. “Miss ‘This is my dream’!”

“You can ALL stop complaining,” Becca says, stripping off her costume (which, like the rest of the band’s, consists of a tight leotard dress with a laced in waist over dark fishnet tights and extra-high platform stilettos). “We did it, didn’t we? Ten cities, most of which were sold out… We are going to be literally SWIMMING in money!”

“Says the daughter of a millionaire!” Lauren retorts, making Becca laugh.

“Yeah, but this money will be all MINE,” Becca says. “Earned through my own hard graft…”

“OUR own hard graft,” Kayla says. “We each did our own fair share of the work.”

“…And you’ll each get your fair share of the money,” Adeola says. “Yes, yes, I know, ‘says the adopted daughter of a millionaire’. But my uncle promised an equal split five ways, and if there’s one thing he despises, it’s dishonesty.”

“In the meantime,” Becca says, “it’s still Saturday night…”

“Really?” Kayla asks. “When we’re all exhausted?”

“And in Glasgow, of all places?” Lauren asks.

“We’re still young,” Becca shrugs. “The bus goes when we say it does, not the other way round.”

“And aren’t you desperate to get back to Riley?” I tease, making the other brown-haired girl roll her eyes.

“You’re one to talk, Steph!” Becca retorts. “Or should I say, ‘the future Mrs. Vance’?” I wince and blush as the other four girls all let out a loud, high-pitched ‘ooh’ at my expense.

“…Go out if you want,” I laugh, exchanging my costume for a comfortable (but very stylish) long-sleeved black minidress. “I’m knackered, I’m heading back to the bus.”

“Same here,” Kayla says.

“Stephanie and Kurt, sitting in a tree,” the other three girls sing. “F-U-C-“ I close the dressing room door behind me and take a deep breath before following the tiny eighteen year old back to our tour bus, where I crash down on my bunk and let out a long, tired sigh.

“Well,” Kayla giggles as she climbs into her own bunk. “We did it. Two weeks on the road… I’ll be honest, Steph- I honestly didn’t think you’d be able to do it. Umm, no offence, of course.”

“None taken,” I sigh. “I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to di it either.” And I genuinely didn’t. In the week leading up to the tour, it was like there wasn’t an hour that went past that I didn’t want to take my career, wrap all my girl clothes around it and throw it in the nearest bin. The thought of the tour terrified me… But what was most scary wasn’t the thought of singing and dancing live in front of thousands of fans, but rather the thought that I’d be cut off from ‘Steve’ for the first time ever.

And yet, once I was on the tour, everything seemed… Fine. As though this was what I was meant to be, as if ‘Stephanie’ was who I was meant to be. With Steve out of sight, ‘he’ was also out of mind, and for the past twelve days, it was as though I was never anyone other than Stephanie… But now that the tour is finished and we’re on our way home, all I can think about is climbing onto my sofa in a pair of baggy jeans and playing on my Xbox until my thumbs fall off.

Well… That’s not strictly true, relaxing and gaming isn’t ALL I’m thinking about- I’m also thinking about a certain ginger-haired Canadian man who used to be a ginger-haired Canadian woman. Every night, after a concert, I’d text him to let him know how the concert went, and he’d text me back to tell me about his day, and I’d lay awake reading his texts and giggling at his little jokes, like a teenaged girl giggling at her first crush- which, but for a few months of age, is what I technically am. Or rather, what I technically was for the past two weeks, as when I text Kurt tonight, the usual ‘tingles’ I get throughout my (still 100% chemically male) body are worryingly absent.

“Don’t need to ask who you’re texting, do I?” Kayla teases as she fiddles with her own smartphone.

“Indeed you don’t,” I reply, making my friend giggle.

“Stephanie and Kurt, sitting in a tree,” Kayla sings, only shutting up when I hurl a make-up removal pad at her.

“Might as well take my make-up off now,” I sigh, grabbing my make-up bag and sitting down in front of the bus’s small dressing table. “Give my face the chance to breathe in some of this Scottish air…”

“You know,” Kayla says, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen ‘Stephanie’ without any make-up on. Not awake, anyway”

“What are you talking about?” I ask. “You see ‘Steve’ plenty.”

“Yes, but I’m not talking about ‘Steve’,” Kayla retorts. “And don’t say ‘where’s the difference’, you know for a fact that there IS a difference.”

“…Fine,” I sigh, wiping off the last of my make-up and crashing down on my bunk, iPad in hand.

Less than an hour later, the other three girls return to the bus, catching myself and Kayla by surprise.

“What- what are you doing back so early?” I ask.

“Chill out, we were just more tired than we thought,” Lauren chuckles.

“As we found out when Addie yawned and nearly swallowed the entire club!” Becca giggles, earning a playful shove from her BFF. “Steph… Why exactly have your eyes gone as wide as dinner plates? Like, is my dress tucked into my knickers or something?”

“Steph is panicking,” Kayla teases, “because this is probably the first time any of you have seen HER without HER make-up on!”

“…And?” Adeola shrugs. “And no, Becca, your dress is covering your arse. Well, just about, anyway!”

“I deserved that,” Becca sighs. “And so what if you’ve got no make-up on? It’s not like, if you take off your make-up, you magically transform back into ‘Steve’, is it?”

“Well- no,” I say. “I guess not…”

“You’re plenty girly enough without all that slap on your face!” Lauren laughs, sitting down next to me and giving me a quick hug. “Personally, I can’t wait to get mine off too, give me my make-up bag, would you?”

“Sure,” Kayla says, handing Lauren the small leather pouch. “Oh my god, we should all have a no make-up group selfie!”

“Hell yeah!” Adeola giggles, grabbing her make-up bag and sitting down in front of the dressing table, making Lauren sigh with frustration.

“That’s an awesome idea!” Becca laughs. “Like, ‘Out of Heaven laid bare after their tour’!”

“As long as our faces are the only things that we ‘bare’!” Adeola says, making everyone laugh- even me, despite my no make-up-induced anxiety. Sure enough, twenty minutes later, the five of us have changed into our thick pyjamas (nights on the bus were NOT warm) and are taking it in turns to take photos of the group in our ‘natural’ state. Special attention is paid to my pink ankle socks (which were a birthday present from Kayla) and Becca and Adeola’s tiger-themed onesies- both of which look so comfortable, especially in the cold Scottish night.

Eventually, the time comes for us to get to bed- we’re being driven home overnight in our tour bus rather than stay in a hotel and travel in the morning, with the exception of Lauren, who’s travelling up to the Highlands to spend a couple of days with her family and as such changes back into her street clothes (but leaves her face make-up free) before jumping into a waiting taxi.

When I wake up on Sunday morning, the first slivers of daylight are already poking through the bus’s curtains, and I can already tell from the noise outside the bus that we are back home in London.

“Ugh, man, this feels so much better to be home,” Adeola says, before grimacing as she sees that I’ve woken up. “Ah, sorry Steph, I didn’t mean anything by ‘man’…”

“It’s okay,” I shrug. “Besides, didn’t you say last night that you don’t consider me to be a man?”

“Yeah, I know I did, but-“ Adeola says, before I cut her off.

“The fact that you’re apologising when you don’t need to is enough, really,” I laugh.

“Ooh,” Becca coos as she slowly wakes from her slumber. “Has Miss Benedict put her foot in yet it again?”

“Oh- shut up!” Adeola giggles, grabbing a pillow from her bunk and hurling it at Becca, who responds by hurling her own pillow back at Adeola.

Within seconds, I’ve been dragged into the pillow fight, and after our antics wake Kayla, she eagerly joins in too, targeting me in particular with all of her swings. I forget all about my stresses and my anxieties as Becca and Adeola assault me with their pillows, eventually tearing one of them open and spraying feathers all over the bus.

“My heavenly singers!” A familiar African voice booms from the bus door, immediately stopping the fight and putting a look of pure terror on Adeola’s face. She, Becca, Kayla and myself stand up and dust ourselves off as much as possible, though Becca’s pillow explosion has left my hair and my pyjamas covered in feathers.

“He- hello Uncle Joshua,” Adeola says in the guiltiest voice I have ever heard anyone use. The tall girl cringes as her uncle surveys the carnage with a look of pure fury on his face. “I- I can explain, um, we, um-“

“Relax!” Joshua shouts, breaking down in a hearty fit of laughter. “Girls will be girls- I’m surprised the bus made it back from Scotland at all!” The four of us laugh along with our manager, though I can’t help but notice Becca wrap an arm around Adeola’s shoulders, almost as if the dark-skinned girl was about to pass out.

“Most important of all,” Joshua says in a calm voice, “is that all of you are back in one piece. And much, much richer! The tour was an absolute success. We sold lots of tickets, sold lots of merchandise, the newspapers gave you all great reviews and my phone has been ringing off the hook, wanting to know when I can send you back out on tour!”

“Not for a while, I hope,” I say, earning quizzical stares from my bandmates. “I- I mean, I’m exhausted…”

“I don’t doubt it!” Joshua chuckles. “That’s why I’m giving you all- including Lauren- the next two weeks off. You’ve more than earned it! Go home, go for a weekend away with your gentlemen friends, do whatever you want- just make sure you’re back at work on the 11th, as we have another album to record!”

“And make sure you’re all at Charlotte’s on Wednesday,” Becca orders.

“As if I’d miss my BFF’s 21st!” Adeola giggles, giving Becca a tight squeeze.

“Just make sure you relax and have fun!” Joshua laughs. “And don’t eat too many Easter eggs!”

“No promises,” Adeola retorts, earning a playful laugh from her uncle as he leaves the bus.

“…Does he always wear a full suit at half past seven in the morning?” Kayla asks. “Or even half past six, as the clocks went forward yesterday…”

“It’s Easter Sunday, he’s probably going to church,” Adeola shrugs. “I, on the other hand, am going to follow his quote-unquote order and go home, relax, and have fun.”

“And I,” Becca says with a smug grin, “am going to go to Riley’s home and spend, oh, the next six hours having a LOT of ‘fun’!”

“Kayla,” Adeola asks, “you heading back to Southampton today to see your folks?”

“Probably later on,” Kayla says. “Want to get unpacked first, have the chance to relax a bit…”

“Same here,” I say, briefly locking eyes with Kayla who subtly nods at my unspoken request. “Just, you know, ‘relax’…”

“When you say ‘relax’,” Adeola teases, “is that with or without covering your body in maple syrup?”

“Oh- shut up,” I sigh as I strip off my pyjamas and change into a cute pleated miniskirt, a tight black top, black tights and my favourite knee-high boots. “I don’t even know if Kurt’s free today.”

“He will be when he sees Steffieboots for the first time in two weeks!” Adeola laughs. “You have fun, Steph, and I mean ‘fun’ as well as, you know, ‘fun’. See you Wednesday!”

“Yeah, see you,” I say, giving Adeola and Becca tight hugs each as they get off the bus.

“God, I am actually going to miss this bus,” Kayla laughs as she gazes longingly at her bunk. “…But I missed my flat more, hehe! Come on- I’m guessing you want to come home with me because Kurt isn’t the only man you missed?”

“You guess right,” I sigh, following Kayla to a waiting taxi whilst our suitcases are loaded into a nearby van for delivery to our respective homes.

As she steps through the front door of her flat (the same flat that used to be my home), Kayla lets out a long, satisfied sigh and plops down onto the sofa, stretching the tiredness out of her short legs. I grin before taking off my boots and sitting down next to Kayla, who simply stares at me with a quizzical look on her face.

“Umm…” Kayla chuckles. “Wasn’t ‘Steve’ supposed to be joining us today?”

“Gimme a few minutes,” I laugh, sighing happily as I rub my nylon-covered feet together.

“…Or if you’d prefer to stay ‘Steph’ for the foreseeable future, that’s also more than okay!” Kayla says with a smug grin.

“Okay, okay, point taken,” I sigh, standing up and heading into the bathroom, where I carefully remove every item of clothing I’m wearing and scrub my face free of make-up and remove the nail polish from my finger- and toenails, leaving them colour-free for the first time in two weeks. Once I’m completely ‘natural’, I reach into the carrier bag Kayla and I stashed in the bathroom before we left for our tour (having known in advance that Lauren wouldn’t be coming back to London with us). Inside it is a pair of plain grey boxer shorts, a baggy striped sweater, a pair of thick black men’s socks and one of my favourite pairs of jeans.

With each item of ‘Steve’s clothes that I pull on, I feel the boy that I used to be come more and more to the surface, as though he was being freed from a prison, and once I’m fully dressed, I look in the mirror, and it’s as though ‘Stephanie’ never existed. I feel free, truly free in a way I never did when I was away on tour… And yet the sight of ‘Steve’ in the bathroom mirror still feels somehow wrong.

‘This can’t last’, the voice of ‘Stephanie’ says in my head. ‘This isn’t who you are. Not anymore. When are you going to accept that?’

‘I have as much right to exist as you do,’ ‘Steve’ replies. I take a deep breath, clearing my mind and silencing the internal conflict, before heading back into the living room where Kayla greets me with a sad smile.

“Hello again, ‘Steve’,” Kayla sighs. “Feeling better?”

“Yeah,” I say in my masculine voice. “I really, really do.” Kayla smiles and nods, though it’s clear that she’s as unconvinced as I am. We spend the rest of the morning gaming- Kayla having bought herself an Xbox AND a Nintendo after our many gaming sessions at my house- and after a quick lunch, I help Kayla with the tedious task of unpacking her suitcases, many of which contain various gifts and goodies we were given on the tour.

“I swear,” Kayla giggles as she massages her sore arms, “my wrist is going to take weeks to recover from all those autographs we signed!”

“You’d have thought that selfies would’ve meant that no one wants autographs anymore,” I laugh. “Fans can let their arms get tired, not ours…”

“Meh, whatever,” Kayla says. “The price of fame, heh!” I nod and open my mouth to speak, but am interrupted by the sound of Kayla’s front doorbell ringing.

“Umm… Did you order a pizza?” I ask.

“No,” Kayla says, scrunching up her nose with confusion as she heads toward the front door and peers through the spyhole. “Shit!” The tiny blonde girl whispers. “It’s Kurt!”

“Wh-what?” I ask. “How?”

“I don’t know, do I?” Kayla replies. “Did you tell him you were here?”

“…I may have put on Facebook that I was chilling with you for a bit…” I mumble, making Kayla roll her eyes.

“Well go and get changed,” the tiny girl orders. “Quick!” I nod and head into the bathroom, stripping off ‘Steve’s clothes without a second thought and pulling ‘Stephanie’s clothes back on, before applying my usual level of make-up and repainting my nails a deep red colour. Kayla answers the door, having obviously decided that she couldn’t stall any longer, and my panic levels begin to rise as I brush out my hair from its androgynous ‘Steve’ style to my trademark ‘Stephanie’ style.

“Oh, hey Kurt,” Kayla says. “Stephanie’s just in the bathroom, she should be out soon.”

“That’s okay,” Kurt says, his gentle Canadian accent making my heart flutter. “Must be the effect I have on her, heh!” I take a deep breath and spritz myself with my favourite perfume before flushing the toilet and exiting the bathroom, involuntarily grinning the second my eyes meet my boyfriend’s.

“Hey you,” I giggle, wrapping my arms around Kurt’s neck and giving him a slow kiss.

“Hey, me!” Kurt replies, making me giggle even louder. “I really missed you the last couple of weeks…”

“I missed you too,” I say, my voice still barely coherent through giggling.

“Don’t mind me,” Kayla laughs. “I’ll just stand here like a third wheel…”

“God, sorry, sorry,” Kurt laughs. “Just a bit excited to see my favourite girl again!”

“I can tell you’re BOTH excited,” Kayla giggles, watching me squirm as my underwear suddenly becomes VERY tight. “Want a cup of tea?”

“Please,” Kurt says as we head to the sofa, where we plop down together and stay for the rest of the evening with my body resting against his. By the time Kurt leaves just after 6:30pm, any and all thoughts of ‘Steve’ have been completely expunged from my brain- and I’m not the only one who realises that.

“So…” Kayla teases. “Still want more ‘Steve time’ before going back to your parents’ home?”

“Nope,” I reply. “Not a second. It’s like… Every second I’m with Kurt is an HOUR I’m comfortable being ‘Stephanie’…”

“GOOD,” Kayla laughs. “I know I’ve said this before loads of times, but the sooner you put ‘Steve’ behind you, the happier you’ll be.”

“…You’re right,” I say, eliciting a small gasp from Kayla. “It IS time I stopped pretending.”

“R-really?” Kayla asks.

“Really,” I say. “And it’s not just Kurt, it’s the tour, too… I’ve spent twenty years fantasising about being a woman, and now I am, fantasising about being a man again… It’s just ungrateful. It’s not fair on Kurt, it’s not fair on you and the band… And it’s not fair on me. If I never be a boy for the rest of my life- well, I can live with that.”

“Oh my god!” Kayla squeaks, giving me a tight hug. “So are you going to get hormones from your counsellor? Are you going to get surgery?”

“I need to talk it over with my counsellor first!” I chuckle. “She’s said she needs to be convinced that I genuinely want to transition before she’ll give me hormones so it might not happen immediately.”

“Well than I’ll just have to go with you to convince her, won’t I?” Kayla giggles. “This is gonna be so cool!”

“Yeah,” I laugh. “I’ll finally be able to stop lying…”

I have a smile on my face for the rest of the evening, which persists even as I return home and am ambushed by a tight bear hug the second I step through the front door.

“Welcome home, superstar sister!” Danny yells, making me yelp in terror as he threatens to squeeze the life out of me.

“Daniel!” Mum snaps. “Put your sister down!”

“What?” Danny protests as he releases me. “I’m just excited to see Steph, that’s all!”

“So are we,” dad chuckles, giving me a tight hug (though nowhere near as tight as Danny’s).

“We followed your tour on the internet,” mum says with obvious pride in her voice. “You were so brilliant! All five of you were. The websites and newspapers were giving you all great reviews.”

“Yeah, Joshua was really happy with it,” I say. “I reckon he’s going to send us on another tour before the end of the year.”

“Cool,” Danny chuckles. “I can expect an extra-special Christmas present from my extra-rich sister, then?”

“Oh- shut up,” I sigh. “And if you’ve eaten any of my Easter eggs…”

“As if I’d dare,” Danny laughs, leading me to the sofa where I find a small pile of the fancy confectionery.

“It’s not as many as you usually get,” mum says. “Now that you’re a superstar, you need to watch your waistline!”

“Yeah, I guess,” I laugh. My special diet is certainly a negative aspect of choosing to live full-time as a woman, but it’s a very small price to pay to be happy and successful.

“And it’s not as many as you usually get as I took one as payment for putting away all your clothes,” dad chuckles. “Like I didn’t already have a full time job, heh… Stephanie, love, when I was up there putting away your clothes, I- I found a drawer full of boy’s clothes, you know, ‘Steve’s clothes…” My eyes go wide and I’m gripped by a moment of panic as I realise that dad’s found my stash. 24 hours ago, this would’ve meant a full-blown meltdown at the possibility of never being Steve again, but now that I’ve come to terms with that…

“Huh, we must’ve missed a drawer when we were clearing out the room,” I shrug. “A more important question is, why were you snooping through my drawers?”

“Ooh,” Danny coos, earning a playful slap on the back of his head from our father.

“I told you she’d be unhappy,” mum says.

“Fine then, she can put her own stuff away in the future,” dad snorts. “And can arrive at the same time as her luggage next time, too!”

“Assuming she’s still living here after the next tour,” mum says. “With how rich you’re getting, you must surely be thinking about getting your own place again, right?”

“With this ‘Kurt’ guy we hear so much about but see so little of?” Danny teases, earning another slap on the head from me.

“When ARE we going to meet this boyfriend of yours?” Mum asks.

“Soon, I promise,” I sigh.

“Is there any reason we haven’t met him already?” Dad asks. Yes, I think to myself. Because I was just stringing him along, pretending to be his girlfriend to keep up the ‘illusion’ of Stephanie, but now I genuinely have feelings for him…

“You mean other than the fact that I’ve been on tour for a fortnight?” I reply after a brief pause, making everyone in the room laugh.

“Touché, touché,” dad laughs.

“What time’s dinner going to be ready?” Danny asks, clasping his hands behind his head as he sees our mother winding up to give him yet another slap on the back of the head.

“20 minutes,” mum says. “And thanks for volunteering to do the washing up, Danny!”

“Is Tom coming?” Danny asks, and immediately I feel my entire body tensing up as I remember that most of my life is now perfectly adapted to ‘Stephanie’… But there’s still one very important part of it that isn’t.

“Not today,” mum whispers. “He’s said he might drop round tomorrow or Tuesday.”

“Okay,” Danny says. “As long as he doesn’t plan on dropping round on Wednesday, Steph and I are kinda busy that day!”

“What do you mean, ‘Steph and I’?” I ask.

“Your friend’s birthday party?” Danny replies.

“I think Stephanie’s asking about the ‘and I’ part, not the ‘Steph’ part,” dad chuckles.

“It’s a beauty pageant, they need judges,” Danny shrugs, making me groan.

“It’s a PRETEND beauty pageant, we all know in advance Becca’s going to win,” I retort.

“Oh, let your brother have some fun,” mum says, bringing a scowl to my face and a smug grin to Danny’s. “I’d have thought you’d be pleased that Danny gets on well with your friends.”

“At what point during the two of us growing up together did you get the impression that we should spend MORE time hanging out?” I ask.

“At the point you became brother and sister instead of brother and brother,” dad says.

“And besides,” Danny asks. “What would you have preferred, me reacting like Tom did, or me reacting like I did?”

“…Reacting like you did,” I sigh. “…Jerk.”

“Exactly,” Danny says, his grin wider and smugger than ever. “Also, Stuart likes having me around as it means that he’s not the only guy who’s under six feet tall.”

“And you- you know there’s a reason that Stuart’s shorter than average for a man, right?” I ask.

“Same reason your boyfriend’s also short, right?” Danny asks, making my jaw drop. “Some people are born the wrong gender. We get told we have to get over it, so I have got over it. Tom will too. It’s just a matter of time. Now come on, I’m starving!”

“Yeah,” I laugh as I follow my family through to the kitchen for our rich Easter dinner.

Danny is, of course, right- I’d much rather have two brothers irritating than me than one brother refusing to acknowledge my existence. However, whilst Danny has always been the light-hearted, frivolous jerk I know (and love), Tom has always been more serious, more rigid in his views and his opinions, possibly because of his time in the army. When we were growing up, though, this meant that Tom was more protective of me, looking out for me more than Danny did. Hell, most of the time Tom was looking out for me against Danny, even though they were closer to each other than they were to me. And yet, thanks to ‘Stephanie’, I feel further away from Tom than I have at any point during my life.

As I climb into bed just after 11pm, I find that my desire to become Stephanie full-time- which was absolute just a few hours ago- is wavering, as I stare longingly at the drawer that used to contain the last traces of ‘Steve’…

My alarm goes off at 7:30am, and I have a mile-wide smile on my face as I switch it off and close my eyes, not making even the slightest effort to get out of my warm, cosy bed. Normally, Mondays mean ballet, but with it being a Bank Holiday, and Joshua giving the band two weeks off, I intend to use this time to relax as much as I possibly can. I ultimately slide out of bed just after 9:45am and take a long, cleansing shower before dressing for the day in a pair of black leggings, a very soft long-sleeved red top and a slouchy denim miniskirt. As I straighten my leggings, I can’t help but feel that as cosy and as casual as my clothes are, a pair of baggy jeans and a loose sweatshirt would still be more comfortable…

“Morning, superstar!” Mum says as I crash in my usual spot on the living room sofa. “Got anything planned for today?”

“The usual,” I say, grabbing my Xbox controller as mum rolls her eyes.

“All this fame and fortune…” mum laughs. “Would have thought that- and the more obvious change- would’ve helped you mature a bit. Obviously not, heh.”

“I’m still the same old me,” I say. “Like I’ve explained before, just because I like wearing skirts doesn’t mean I don’t like some of the stuff ‘Steve’ liked.”

“Yes, yes,” mum sighs. “Are you seeing any of your friends today?”

“We’ve just spent two weeks cooped up together on a bus,” I chuckle. “Think we need our own space for a bit. Besides, we’ll see each other on Wednesday. Today is going to be a day of pure, total relaxation.”

“And you wouldn’t prefer to relax, say, at a spa, or getting your nails done?” Mum asks.

“It’s a bank holiday, nowhere’s open,” I retort.

“You wouldn’t prefer to hang out with Kurt?” Mum asks, making me pause my game and think briefly.

“I don’t think he even likes videogames,” I say, smiling slyly as mum groans with frustration.

“Well, it’s your free time, I suppose,” mum laughs. “I’m heading out to work in a bit, help yourself to breakfast and lunch, your father will be back just after 3. I think he said he’d be bringing Danny with him… And Tom might be dropping round too.” I again pause my game as I try to digest this information, but I quickly resume playing- Tom’s used to seeing me playing on my Xbox, if he sees this when he drops round, maybe it’ll help him adapt more easily to ‘Stephanie’.

Sure enough, I spend all morning and most of the afternoon gaming, only pausing briefly to eat breakfast and lunch, and I’m still playing when the front door opens and my father walks through, accompanied by the younger of my two brothers.

“Oh cool, Halo!” Danny chuckles, picking up another game controller. “This the newest one?”

“Yep,” I say. “Want to jump in for some co-op?”

“Hi dad!” Dad says, making me roll my eyes.

“Hi dad,” I say as Danny joins me in my gaming session. “Good day at work?”

“Same as usual,” dad says. “Get the usual bank holiday callouts, you know the drill.”

“Is- is Tom with you?” I ask nervously.

“He’ll be round later,” dad says. “After dinner.”

“Okay,” I whisper.

“Do- do you want to text one of your friends, see if they want to drop round?” Danny asks. “Don’t want you being outnumbered 3-1 by guys, mum won’t be home until after midnight…”

“It’ll be fine,” I sigh. It’s not like I can call on anyone anyway- Kayla’s down in Southampton, Lauren’s still in Scotland, all my friends who ARE London based are busy with their families or boyfriends… The only person I could possibly call on is Kurt, and that only make the ‘outnumbering’ worse, even though I know he’d be on my side…

“I’m going to order takeout,” dad says. “You two okay splitting a pizza?”

“A better question would be,” Danny teases, “is Stephanie’s manager okay with her eating any amount of pizza?”

“You are SO dead,” I say, refocusing my attention on the game and putting several bullets straight in the head of Danny’s character.

I do eat a small amount of pizza when it arrives as a treat to myself, but my main evening meal is, as always, the nutritious dish laid out in the band’s dietician’s food plan. After dinner, I relax on the sofa, but my relaxation is replaced by nerves thirty short minutes later when a loud knock comes from the front door. I tremble with nerves as dad answers the door, and returns to the living room with the older of my two brothers, who stares at me with a completely blank expression on his face.

“Alright, mate?” Danny asks.

“Hi Danny,” Tom replies, sitting down in his usual chair opposite me and triggering an awkward pause.

“…Hi Steph!” Danny says, making Tom roll his eyes.

“Thomas…” Dad says in a stern voice.

“Okay, ‘hello Steph’,” Tom sighs.

“Hi Tom,” I say in the feminine voice that has become my normal, natural voice, but which makes my brother cringe.

“You been at work today?” Danny asks our brother.

“Nah, just hanging out with Amanda,” Tom replies.

“She didn’t feel like coming round?” Dad asks.

“And be outnumbered by us guys?” Tom asks.

“3-2’s hardly outnumbered,” Danny snorts.

“No, but 4-1 is,” Tom says, making Danny groan and me sigh.

“Tom, Tom, Tom,” Danny moans. “Face facts. ‘Steve’ no longer exists. You and I have a sister called ‘Stephanie’ or ‘Steph’.”

“When did you become so- so-“ Tom snorts.

“So… What?” Danny asks. “So tolerant? So understanding? So accepting?”

“So deluded,” Tom says.

“THOMAS!” Dad snaps.

“What!?” Tom pleads. “Look at quote-unquote her, she doesn’t even look like a woman!”

“She’s got long hair,” Danny retorts. “She’s wearing make-up, jewellery and a skirt. Looks womanly to me.”

“Tom,” dad says in a firm but calm voice. “People change their gender all the time. Your sister- SISTER- made the decision that she wasn’t able to live life as a man anymore. Not only is she living life as a woman, but she’s living a successful one.”

“She’s easily the highest earner of any of us,” Danny says. “Probably more than all three of us put together. And she wouldn’t be earning that money if she was still a man.”

“…Fine,” Tom sighs. “I can see I’m the minority here.”

“If by ‘minority’ you mean ‘person who can’t see a bloody fact when it hits them in the face’…” Danny spits.

“Daniel!” Dad snaps. “That’s enough. Tom, I think you owe your sister an apology.”

“…I’m sorry… Steph,” Tom says, though it’s clear from the tone of his voice and from his body language that his apology is far from sincere.

“Apology accepted,” I say, before dad quickly changes the topic. Tom loosens up a little before leaving two hours later, though as he leaves, the way he looks at me- and makes a point of NOT hugging me, despite me holding my arms out- tells me that I still have a long way to go before he’ll accept me as his sister.

As I head to bed, I’m even less certain than I was last night that I want to become ‘Stephanie’ on a permanent basis- though I am reassured by the fact that no matter what happens, I’ll always have the support of Danny and my parents. If only they didn’t have to go against another member of the family in order to support me…

I again take pleasure in switching off my alarm when it goes off at 7:30, though last night’s confrontation prevents me from getting any more sleep, and I eventually get up just after 8:15 anyway, taking care not to disturb mum as I shower and dress in a plain striped top, opaque black tights and the same skirt I wore yesterday.

I spend the next couple of hours catching up on my social media pages before mum gets up at 10am and heads downstairs for breakfast, giving me a quick hug as she heads into the kitchen.

“So,” mum asks. “How did it go last night, with Tom?”

“Horrifically bad,” I sigh, making mum groan.

“I didn’t raise that boy to be a bigot,” mum spits. “Nor did I raise him to abandon his family just because he doesn’t agree with their choices!”

“I think he WILL come round eventually,” I say. “It’s just- I dunno. You, dad and Danny came round so easily, it’s just frustrating that Tom, of all people…”

“He WILL come round,” mum says, giving me another hug. “I’ll make sure he does. Now, what are you going to do today? And don’t even think of touching your Xbox, it’s not good for you to be cooped up inside all day!”

“Nor is it good for me to spend all day being hounded by fans,” I sigh, before withering under my mother’s stare. “…I’ll see if any of my friends are free.”

“Maybe you should talk to that Jamie girl,” mum says. “You know, the one who’s your sort-of mentor? She could give you tips on how to deal with reluctant family members?”

“Maybe,” I say, though inwardly I shiver- the last thing I need right now is to have Jamie scrutinising every single thing I do. However, she and I aren’t the only transgendered members of our ‘extended family’, and I quickly open up Facebook and browse to the profile of another one of my friends, shooting them off a quick message. An hour later, I’m sat at a table with two other young women, both of whom have wide, genuine smiles on their faces.

“Thanks for agreeing to come to lunch,” I say to the young couple as they squeezes each other’s hand.

“Believe me, it’s OUR pleasure, hehe!” Sarah giggles.

“So…” Nikki teases. “How was the tour? It must have been SO awesome, having thousands of fans screaming your name everywhere you go!”

“THAT part was great,” I laugh. “I signed so many autographs…”

“Ugh, SO jealous,” Sarah laughs.

“What was it you wanted to talk about, Steph?” Nikki asks. “Your message sounded like you wanted to discuss something important…”

“It’s- it’s about the whole, you know, ‘you and me’ thing…” I say.

“You’ve been transitioning for well over a year,” Nikki laughs. “And you’re also older than I am… There can’t really be any advice I can give that you don’t already know, right?”

“You’d have thought,” I sigh. Normally, I’d feel guilty discussing my non-existent transition with someone as committed to her transition as Nikki is, but despite my confrontation with Tom, I’m still determined to make Stephanie a permanent part of my life- and I still consider both Nikki and Sarah to be close friends.

“It’s my brother,” I moan. “Not Danny, the one who sometimes comes to Saturday night and to our parties, but the other one, the older one, Tom… He’s completely resistant to my change, still sees me as a boy.”

“Ugh,” Nikki spits. “I’m sorry, Steph, I don’t mean to be nasty, but- ugh! Can’t stand closed-minded people.”

“So, do you- do you have any, you know, tips?” I ask.

“The only real advice I can give is to talk it through,” Nikki sighs.

“You- you see my mum, don’t you?” Sarah asks. “As your counsellor, I mean?”

“Who, Beverly?” I reply. “Yeah, seeing her tomorrow, actually, after ballet.”

“It might be worth seeing if you can take your brother along to that meeting as well,” Sarah says.

“Worked for your parents, didn’t it?” Nikki asks. As far as you know, I think to myself as I remember the lie I told regarding my ‘reconciliation’ with my parents.

“Either way, you’re not going to get anywhere just running away from the problem,” Sarah says. “But at the same time, try to be gentle, okay?”

“You’re right,” I say. “Both of you. I know he’ll be at work tomorrow when I’m seeing your mum… He should be free tonight, though. I’ll talk to him then, brother to sister.”

“Good luck,” Nikki whispers with a wide, supportive smile. “Now come on, tell us about this tour! Your bus looked SO awesome!”

“Your costumes, too!” Sarah giggles. “The fashion designer in me NEEDS to know what that fabric was that you wore in Birmingham!” I giggle as I try to answer the two teenagers’ questions about the tour, before leaving the café an hour later feeling slightly more confident about my relationship with my brother.

I head home to spend more time catching up with my fans on Facebook and Twitter (and, much to my mum’s chagrin, playing on my Xbox), and after a quick dinner, I announce to my dad (who had just returned from work) that I’m heading out.

“Steph…” Dad says as I grab my coat and head for the door. “Are- are you going to see Tom?”

“…Yes,” I sigh.

“He needs time, Steph,” dad says. “Give him some space, he will come round eventually, I promise! I’ll make him if he doesn’t!”

“That’s part of the problem,” I say. “I barely got a word in edgeways, didn’t get a chance to explain the situation yesterday… If I sit down with him one-on-one, I know I can reach him.”

“Well- okay,” dad sighs. “But I’m calling him after you’ve gone, letting him know you’re on your way round, okay?”

“Not like I can stop you,” I say. “I’ll be back soon.”

“Take care, Steph,” dad says as I head out of the door and into the waiting taxi. “And good luck!” I take several deep breaths to compose myself as the black cab weaves through the narrow streets of London, soon arriving at the modest flat that my oldest brother calls his own. After taking one final, calming breath, I knock on his door, and get the surprise of my life when the door is answered by a female face.

“Um, hello?” The woman- who looks about 30, the same age as Tom- asks. “Can I help you?”

“I’m here to see Tom, Tom Abbott,” I say. “This- this is his flat, right?”

“Tom!” The woman yells. “There’s a young woman here to see you?” I grimace as the penny drops- this woman is clearly Tom’s girlfriend, and I’ve inadvertently just got him in a LOT of trouble…

“Who- you,” Tom sighs as he sees me at his door. “Dad said you were on your way over. Well, come in, I guess. Ste- Stephanie, this is Amanda, Amanda, this is Stephanie… My sister.”

“I- I thought you said you had two brothers?” Amanda asks as she greets me with a light handshake.

“I DID,” Tom sighs. “’Stephanie’ used to be ‘Stephen’, and-“

“Oh my god, ‘Stephanie Abbott’?” Amanda suddenly exclaims, and a grin creeps across my face- it’s not hard to figure exactly where she’s heard the name ‘Stephanie Abbott’ before, even if she is a lot older than most of our fans.

“Yes, yes, that’s me,” I giggle.

“Tom, you never said you were the brother of a celebrity!” Amanda giggles. “I’m sorry, but I have a fourteen year old niece, and she is a huge fan of you and your group!”

“Cool!” I laugh. “If you let me know her name I’ll happily send you a goodie bag of signed merchandise, if you want?”

“Ah, that would put me in her good books forever if you could!” Amanda says.

“What are you doing here, Steph?” Tom asks, clearly irritated by the girlish enthusiasm of our conversation.

“I’m here to see you,” I say bluntly. “To talk to you, as let’s face it: last night didn’t go well.”

“No it didn’t,” Tom concedes. “Come on, come into the kitchen, we’ll talk.”

“I’ll give you two some privacy,” Amanda says, heading back to the living room whilst I sit down opposite Tom at his kitchen table.

“So… Really, Steve?” Tom asks.

“’Steph’,” I say. “Stephanie is legally my name."

“Just- what makes you want to be a woman?” Tom asks. “I get that it’s not a snap decision, it’s something you must have dealt with your whole life, but- you must be able to see it from my perspective, surely?”

“In a way,” I say. “But it’s my life, my decision. I don’t need your understanding, Tom, I just need your support… And your love.”

“Well- okay, yes,” Tom sighs. “You’ll always have THAT. And I suppose I can always hit you up for a loan, heh.”

“Of course,” I laugh. “Didn’t realise just how much I’d be earning when I applied.”

“Hang on, hang on,” Tom says, a look of confusion spreading across his face. “When, exactly, did you apply to be in the band?”

“Umm, last February,” I say. “Why, exactly?”

“And you started work… The start of March last year?” Tom asks.

“Yes…” I say.

“So last year,” Tom says. “Last May, my birthday… You were there dressed as a man.”

“Umm… I guess?” I ask. “I, uh, I hadn’t come out to mum and dad yet-“

“In fact,” Tom continues, “mum and dad said you didn’t move out until the middle of March. So how, exactly, did you manage to be a woman at work, but a man at home, hmm?”

“Because- by-“ I stammer, before lowering my head and sighing. “Because I hadn’t started transitioning when I applied for the role in the band. In fact… I still haven’t.”

“You WHAT!?” Tom yells.

“It’s my life, and I’ll live it however I want,” I say.

“Oh, I get that,” Tom says. “I’d just about come to terms with having a sister, but knowing that she- he- whatever, knowing that your whole life is built on a lie?”

“Keep your voice down!” I hiss. “Yes, it was a lie at first, but it’s genuine now! I am going to transition, I am going to be a woman full-time. This IS what I really want.”

“I’m sure you’ve convinced yourself of that, but you’ll have to work harder to convince me,” Tom snorts. “When did you decide this, anyway?”

“…Sunday,” I sigh, making Tom groan once again.

“God, Steph- Steve- I don’t care!” Tom snaps. “What, exactly, is the matter with you?”

“I- I don’t know,” I whimper. “I’d been unemployed for so long, I loved dressing up as a woman, I loved singing, I was good at it, it all seemed so right, like it was meant to be…”

“You’ve strung everyone along,” Tom spits. “Myself included. I bet this ‘boyfriend’ of yours doesn’t know the truth either, does he?”

“…No,” I sigh, blinking back tears.

“Whatever you call yourself,” Tom says, “whatever you are, or whatever you want to be, you need to take a good, long look at yourself. Because if this ever gets out, you are going to cause a LOT of chaos.”

“Please, please don’t tell…” I plead.

“No, of course I won’t,” Tom sighs. “Whatever you decide, I’ll support you. I’ll try, anyway- I’m going to hard a hard time, a really hard time believing you from now on.”

“I understand,” I whisper.

“Are you okay getting home?” Tom asks in a quiet voice.

“I’ll- I’ll get a taxi,” I say. “I’ll get the stuff to Amanda for her niece later in the week.”

“Yet more people you’re deceiving,” Tom says. “Your fans… For their sake, I hope the truth NEVER comes out.”

“Me too,” I whisper as I head out onto the street and wait for my Uber car to arrive and drop me back at home.

Once I’m home, I head up to my bedroom and strip off my clothes, reaching into my ‘Steve’ drawer and having a moment of panic when I discover that it’s empty, before remembering the events of two days ago. I lay down on my bed and slowly cry as the reality of Tom’s word hit home. I AM a liar, I AM a fraud, my- or rather, ‘Stephanie’s whole life has been built on deception. My current feelings regarding transitioning can’t change my actions over the past year. If my parents ever find out the truth, they’ll be livid, if Joshua ever finds out the truth, he’ll go ballistic, and if the fans…

And yet, when I got home today, all I could think about was stripping away ‘Stephanie’ and spending time as ‘Steve’ to try to ease my anxieties. Tom’s not alone- I’M going to have a hard time believing me from now on.

Despite getting an early night, I barely get any sleep, and when my alarm wakes me at 7:30am I groan loudly, knowing that today is the only day all week when I won’t be able to simply click it off and go back to sleep. After showering and applying my make-up, I reach into my top drawer and pull out a pair of soft, baby pink tights and a snug black tank leotard, stretching both garments over the foundation garments that are ‘enhancing’ my body before covering up with a long-sleeved grey top and a tight black miniskirt. Despite my anxieties, I have a smile on my face as I arrive at the vast dance studio just before 9am- the more I do ballet, the better I get at it, and the better I get at it, the more I enjoy it. It of course helps that being able to wear tights and a leotard in public (or at the very least, amongst peers) was a childhood dream of mine, though I’m questioning whether or not that dream was even genuine.

“Hey, birthday girl!” I giggle as I greet Becca- whose leotard has had a large, sequinned ‘21’ sewn onto the front- with a tight hug.

“Thanks!” Becca squeaks excitedly.

“Happy birthday!” The leotard-clad Lauren and Kayla giggle, also greeting Becca with tight hugs.

“So…” Lauren asks. “Get anything nice today?”

“A big, fat trust fund!” Becca laughs. “Even that isn’t as huge as I’d thought it would be, not compared to our pay cheques, anyway!”

“Get anything nice from Riley?” Kayla asks, prompting loud ‘ooh’s from all the girls- myself included.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Becca teases with a sly wink as we- and the other girls present- are ushered into the dance studio. As always, Becca and Adeola dance in the ‘main class’ with Krystie, whilst Lauren, Kayla and I receive specialist tuition from Zoe (who can work closer with us than usual as none of her friends are present this morning). At the end of the class, as has become a tradition, I watch with a smile on my face as Becca exchanges her leotard for a frilly pink tutu- the same one I myself wore two months ago- and dances a two-minute long routine in her pointe shoes as the assembled class applauds.

After the class, I pull my skirt and top back on and get ready to head out, though I can’t help but giggle at Becca’s seeming reluctance to take off the ostentatious tutu, much like my reluctance on my own birthday. If it was my birthday today, however, and I was wearing the tutu now, I’m not so sure I’d be so eager to keep wearing it instead of, say, a comfortable pair of jeans…

“Tell mum I said hi!” Sarah says as I pass her en route to my waiting taxi, which whisks me away to the office of Dr Beverly Phillips- Sarah’s mother and my counsellor.

“Hello Stephanie,” Beverly says as I sit down in one of her plush chairs. “I read the reviews of your tour on the internet, it looks like everything went well!”

“It did,” I laugh. “And then I came home…”

“Oh,” Beverly says, sensing the uncertainty in my voice. “And then things didn’t go quite as well, right?”

“Right,” I sigh. “I- I kinda had a falling out with Tom.”

“Your brother?” Beverly asks.

“Yeah,” I sigh. “I mean, Sunday morning, I get back, I change into ‘Steve’s clothes, but then Kurt- my boyfriend- calls, and suddenly, it’s like I never need to be Steve again. I actually made a mental note at that exact point to come and ask you for hormones today.”

“And then what happened?” Beverly asks. “With your brother, I mean.”

“I- I told him the truth,” I sigh. “He came around on Monday and barely acknowledged me, so I went to see him last night, he put two and two together, and… Gah. Bad things happened.”

“Go on,” Beverly says softly.

“He basically called me a liar, a fraud…” I say. “He said he wouldn’t tell anyone about what I’ve done, but… I feel like I AM a fraud. Like my feelings, my desires…”

“You’re wondering whether or not you genuinely want to transition?” Beverly asks. “Whether or not what you felt on Sunday was real?”

“Yes,” I whisper.

“Obviously, only you will be able to definitively answer that question,” Beverly says, making me sigh yet again. “I doubt it’s a coincidence that this desire suddenly came on after you spent time with Kurt.”

“Probably not,” I concede.

“And you’d just spent two weeks on the road, cut off from your life as ‘Steve’,” Beverly continues. “The first thing you do when you get home? You dress as ‘Steve’ again.”

“I genuinely, honestly want to be Stephanie full time,” I say, though even I can tell I sound far from convincing.

“I don’t doubt that you yourself believe that,” Beverly says.

“Tom said the same thing, and with the same subtext,” I sigh. “And I’ll be honest… I’m not as sure today as I was on Sunday.”

“You can understand, then, why I won’t prescribe you oestrogen today,” Beverly says. “Though you HAVE shown that you can spend a prolonged period of time as ‘Stephanie’ without the need to return to being ‘Steve’- from the tour- and that, as far as I’m concerned, is a step in the right direction.”

“So… I could be prescribed oestrogen at some point in the future?” I ask.

“Not the immediate future,” Beverly says. “Not until I’m certain that you’re certain. But I’m definitely not ruling it out. You need to work through this thing with Tom first. And more importantly, you need to work through this thing with ‘Steve’.”

“I know,” I sigh. “I just- I just don’t want to lie to everyone anymore.”

“Concentrate on not lying to yourself first,” Beverly advises. “Everyone else can wait.” I nod resignedly- Beverly is, of course, right, and as usual, I leave her office no closer to making a decision than I was before I entered her office. I am, however, re-energised by her promise of oestrogen (given the right circumstances, of course)- proof that my life doesn’t always have to be the confused mess that it’s been over the past year.

After a quiet lunch at home by myself, I catch a taxi to Charlotte’s house, which is, as always, the venue for tonight’s party, and as always, when I arrive, I’m greeted with a hug from my ‘mentor’.

“Hey Steph!” Jamie giggles, before handing me an armful of garment bags. “Here’s your ‘costumes’ for tonight… Hope you’re as good a runway model as you re a singer, hehe!”

“’Costumes’ plural?” I ask.

“Yep,” Jamie says. “Evening gown round, swimsuit round and, of course, the talent round! I assume you’ve been practising your singing?”

“I spend all bloody day practising my singing!” I say, making Jamie giggle. “For the swimsuit round, um, I assume it’s, you know, ‘padded’…”

“Oh, Steph…” Jamie sighs. “Fourteen months on oestrogen and STILL no, you know, ‘results’?”

“There are some ‘results’,” I retort. “Just not a lot, though…”

“Anytime you want the number of the surgeon who did my boobs, just ask,” Jamie says with a warm smile, a smile that I can’t help but feel contains an element of distrust.

“…I’ll think about it,” I say as I take my costumes up to one of Charlotte’s spare rooms, where Lauren and Kayla are already changing into their fancy evening gowns.

“They’ve really put in the effort this time,” Lauren says as she shows off the stitching on her elaborate, floor-length blue dress. “Three costumes each, and fancy bespoke ones too… I didn’t get this much effort or expense at my birthday party!”

“In fairness, it IS her 21st,” I say as I change into my dress, a high-necked, sleeveless red gown that’s very form-fitting and shows off what little curves I have- or rather, what little curves my foundation wear gives me.

“And it’s being paid for by her dad, who is a millionaire,” Kayla says, doing a quick twirl in her ankle-length strapless pink dress. “Now come on, make-up time!” Lauren giggles as Kayla wraps a cape around her neck and sets about transforming the tomboyish Scottish girl into a truly glamorous beauty queen, before wrapping the cape around my neck and giving my hair and face the same treatment. My eyebrows are reshaped to be as feminine as possible, my normally arrow-straight hair is curled into a very cute wavy style and tied into an elaborate updo, my eyelids are coloured with a dark copper eye shadow and my lips receive several different shades of blood-red lipstick.

After Kayla announces that she’s done, I stare in the mirror at my reflection, and while in the past I’ve been astonished at the transformation, today I feel… Almost nothing. Sure, I’m impressed by the tiny girl’s work, but the usual feeling of amazement that the beautiful woman staring at me is in fact me… Simply isn’t there. Instead, I just feel excited- both about the party, and about showing off my new look to all my friends.

“Six months at beauty college was worth it after all!” Kayla giggles as she fixes her own hair and make-up.

“I’d say so!” I laugh as I swish my long dress around my bare legs.

“Do we know who’s on the judging panel for today?” Lauren asks.

“I know my brother is,” I sigh, making the other two girls giggle.

“Danny?” Kayla asks. “Poor you… I’m pretty sure Joshua will be, as will Stuart. It’s not like it’s a ‘real’ beauty pageant anyway, it’s obvious Becca’s going to win.”

“Which is fair enough,” I say. “It IS her birthday, after all.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Kayla shrugs. “Come on, we’ve got to get downstairs, got to take our places backstage, hehe!” I giggle as I follow my bandmates down to the vast ‘main room’ of Charlotte’s house, where a runway has been set up alongside a Strictly Come Dancing-style desk with four chairs behind it.

“Why am I nervous?” I giggle as I head behind the curtain at the back of the runway, where almost a dozen other girls- all dressed in elaborate evening gowns- have gathered. “Just a few days ago we were doing this in front of, like, thousands of people!”

“Yeah, rub that in, why don’t you?” A short, dark-haired girl I recognise as one of Nikki’s friends says.

“Sorry,” I giggle. “But this IS my first beauty pageant… Never really considered myself much of a ‘beauty’, heh.”

“You’re as girly and gorgeous as anyone else back here,” Nikki says to murmurs of agreement. “No matter what anyone says, whether they’re fans, friends or family.”

“Absolutely!” Becca says as she steps between the curtains and is swamped by hugs from all present. “Don’t think for one second it means you have a chance of actually winning, though!”

“Yes, yes,” Adeola laughs. “Now come on everyone, brightest, whitest smiles!” I force my mouth into an obviously fake smile, just like all the other girls, and wait for our cue.

Within a few minutes, a loud, pulsing dance remix of ‘No More Lies’ starts playing, and I follow the other girls out onto the runway, striking a feminine pose with a hand on one hip and the other resting limply on the shoulder of the girl in front of me. As my eyes meet those of Danny (who’s taken his seat at the judges’ desk), my fake grin suddenly becomes very genuine, and only grows wider as he gives me a thumbs up and a wide, toothy grin of his own. I momentarily giggle at the absurdity of the situation- not much more than a year ago, I’d be sat next to Danny, admiring all the beautiful women on the stage... And my giggle suddenly fades, my smile once again becoming fake as I remember that it wouldn’t just be Danny I’d be sat alongside, it’d be Tom as well… And if he saw me now, I dread to think what his reaction would be.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Joshua booms from his seat next to Danny’s, “welcome to the first-ever All-Angel Heavenly Talent Beauty Pageant! Before you are twenty of the most beautiful women in the country, all of whom are competing for your votes tonight! So without further ado, please, bring on the girls!” I once again adopt my fake grin as ‘Here Come the Girls’ by the Sugababes starts playing and we beginning parading around the stage once again, before retreating backstage.

For the next hour, we take it in turns to strut our stuff alone on the stage, first in our evening gowns and then in our swimsuits (which in my case is a tight, bright red one-piece swimsuit with matching platform stilettos). Becca, of course, snaps photos of everything and everyone, especially of the band in our dresses and our swimsuits.

Finally, the time comes for the talent round. Obviously, I- and the rest of the band- opt to sing bits of our solo songs from our debut album, though some of the efforts of the other girls impress me more, particularly the rhythmic gymnastics display from the nearly four months pregnant Mary, and Krystie’s & Zoe’s ballet demonstrations. After I’ve finished singing my song, I stick around the stage to give my final ‘contribution’ to the night- my answer to the Q & A round. I feel my insides start to sink as my brother stands up with a wide, devilish grin on his face and a card in his hand.

“Seriously? YOU’RE asking me the question?” I ask, making the room laugh as Danny rolls his eyes.

“Just for that, I’m giving you a hard question,” Danny retorts, making everyone laugh again. “And your questions is… What is the best thing about being a girl?” You utter bastard, I think to myself as I keep my forced smile attached to my face. As the crowd stares at me expectantly, though, I realise that Danny is asking a very good question- one I’m not sure I know the answer to.

“The best thing about being a girl…” I say, “Is having so many awesome friends!” I giggle as the crowd cheers, clearly pleased with my answer. As I disappear backstage, however, my smile instantly evaporates.

“What an arseholish question!” Jamie spits. “I’m sorry about that, Steph. We only got Danny in because the judge we had lined up pulled out at the last minute.”

“It’s okay,” I sigh. “Had twenty years of being teased by him… And to tell the truth, I’d rather he teased me than denied my existence, just because I’m, well, dressed like this…”

“Too right,” Jamie giggles. “And you know something, Steph? I agree with your answer to that question 100%!” I also giggle as I give Jamie a quick hug- her constant suspicion of me over the last months has been a source of stress, so hopefully if- no, WHEN- I start transitioning for real, I’ll be able to put that behind us and truly become friends.

Half an hour later, after the final performance in the talent round, the twenty of us who took part in the pageant once again return to the stage, posing as before with fake smiles plastered all over our faces.

“Your votes have been tallied!” Joshua announces. “And we have a winner and two runners-up!” Runners-up? I think to myself. I never heard anything about voting for a runner-up…

“Second runner-up,” Joshua booms. “Is… Hannah Dexter!” Hannah squeaks excitedly as she bounces up and down, before standing beside Joshua.

“First runner-up,” Joshua says, “Is… Charlotte Hutchinson!” I grin as Charlotte goes through the same motions as Hannah before standing on the other side of Joshua. A part of me feels jealous of the two girls for being voted as runners-up by the crowd, but deep down inside, I knew I had no real chance of finishing anywhere near them in an actual vote.

“And the winner,” Joshua booms in his most jovial voice, “and Miss Heavenly Talent 2016, is…” Don’t keep us in suspense, I sarcastically think to myself. “…Rebecca Milton!”

“Oh my god!” Becca squeaks, giving everyone on the stage a hug each before running to the front and being crowned with a frivolous, bejewelled tiara and a wide golden sash which reads ‘Miss Heavenly Talent’ and ’21 today’. I giggle as Riley (Becca’s boyfriend) rushes onto the stage to give the birthday girl a large bouquet of flowers and a long, loving kiss, before leaving Becca to be photographed by everyone present as the rest of us slip backstage to change into slightly less ostentatious party dresses.

I’ve just about finished changing, when I’m surprised by a gentle punch on the back of my arm, and the baby pink polish on the fist’s fingernails give away the fact that it belongs to Kayla.

“Hey!” I say with mock hurt, “what the hell was that for?”

“For being sexy,” Kayla says with a smug grin. “And girly, and gorgeous…”

“Think you’re going to have to punch everyone in this room,” I say, making Kayla and Lauren- who’s just joined us backstage- giggle.

“True,” Kayla concedes. “But it’ll be you first! Or rather, you seventh!”

“What do you mean, ‘me seventh’?” I ask.

“Well, eighth, really,” Lauren says. “The final standings. Your brother showed us how many points everyone got- and if you don’t count Becca, you got the highest of all of us!”

“Wh- what?” I ask, my jaw dropping. “Seriously!?”

“Seriously, Miss ‘Beauty Queen’!” Kayla giggles. “You were actually ahead of two of the proper Angels as well.”

“The order- after Becca- was Charlotte,” Lauren says, scrunching up her nose as though she’s trying hard to remember, “then Hannah, Jamie, Krystie, Dannii- that really tall skinny girl- then Sarah, then you.”

“That’s mad!” I giggle. “I’m not a beauty queen, hell, I’m not even really a beauty…”

“Aww, don’t say that!” Kayla says, giving me a long, tight hug. “And not just because it’s my make-up job you’re putting down, hehe!”

“Hey girls,” Jamie teases as she approaches the three of us. “I take it you’ve told Miss Abbott the good news?”

“You mean ‘number eight’?” Lauren asks.

“Honestly, I demand a recount,” I say, making the girls laugh out loud.

“Why?” Jamie asks. “Want to bump Sarah off of seventh?” I laugh and roll my eyes as Jamie gives me a gentle hug. “Seriously, Steph, I know you’re embarrassed- even though you shouldn’t be, given the tour you just did! I know it’s kinda embarrassing, but just look at this as proof.”

“’Proof’?” I ask. “Of what, exactly?”

“Proof that you have loads of friends who utterly adore every bit of you,” Lauren says.

“And any time you’re having problems with anything,” Kayla says, “singing, dancing… Or family… We’ll always be here for you, right?”

“Hell yeah!” Jamie laughs. “ANY time.” I giggle happily as I follow the three women back to the main room, where we stay until just after 1am.

After getting a lift home with Danny, I head straight to bed (putting away my latest party costumes first, of course), where Kayla's words resonate in my ears. I've tried so hard to reconcile with Tom on my own terms, it never occurred to me that I could call on backup anytime I wanted. Lauren, Kayla and Jamie helped me when I came out to my parents, and they're a large part of why my coming out was such a success. Perhaps if I tried again with Tom, but with them on my side, I can make him see that Stephanie is who I want to be.

...And yet, as I wake up at 10am the following morning, all I want to do is pull on a pair of jeans and lounge around on my sofa all day. In the past, whenever I've had this urge, I've acted on it, and not just when I wanted to be 'Steve', but back when I was 'Steve' and wanted to be 'Stephanie'. Today, however, things are different. Today, I have a goal, a goal that was given to me yesterday by Beverly- the ability to transition, to take oestrogen and truly become Stephanie, the person I was always destined to be.

'You know you can't resist,' I hear 'Steve' whisper in my ear. 'Sooner or later, you'll break. Sooner or later, you'll pull on those jeans and put 'Stephanie' aside, even if it is just for a few hours.'

"No," I whisper aloud. "There's nothing 'Steve' can do that 'Stephanie' can't."

'How about eating what you want?' 'Steve' retorts. 'Lazing around all day, not caring about your appearance, playing videogames until your thumbs blister...'

"My food plan only contains delicious food," I whisper. "I'm still in bed at 10:30am. I can go without make-up- my friends AND my fans don't blink twice if I post a no make-up selfie, Saturday night proved that. And Kayla's now a bigger gamer than I am!" I lay awake for minutes, staring at the ceiling, waiting for 'Steve's inevitable retort, but much to my amazement, nothing comes- and my desire to pull on a pair of jeans and a scruffy t-shirt has totally vanished.

I giggle as I get out of bed and shower, before revelling in the feeling of sliding a clean control thong between my buttocks, followed by the rest of my foundation wear, a pair of glossy black tights and a knee-length grey sweater dress. I apply minimal make-up- just foundation and mascara, before heading downstairs and curling up on the sofa, Xbox controller in hand. Mum and dad are both at work, so I have the house to myself and can thus do whatever- and be whoever- I want. And right now, there's no one I want to be more than Stephanie.

Tonight, however, is different. Tonight, I can't afford to just wear a slouchy sweater dress and no make-up, as tonight's the night I've been looking forward to and dreading for days- the night my family finally meet Kurt. Just before my parents return home, I head upstairs and strip to my bra and thong, before enhancing my make-up almost to the level Kayla managed last night. I touch up my nail polish, spray on some of my favourite perfume and clip on my favourite jewellery, before stepping into a pair of translucent hold-up stockings and a slinky, knee-length purple dress. Even though we're eating at home rather than at a restaurant, I still slip my feet into a pair of expensive, 3" heeled pumps before heading downstairs to greet my parents as they return home.

"Wow, Steph!" Dad exclaims, his eyes almost bulging out of their sockets as he sees me stride into the living room. "Well, we'll have fun eating at home whilst you're out at your big fancy celebrity party..."

"Pete!" Mum chastises my father. "She's a rich young woman who lives wearing expensive clothes. God knows I'd have worn designer dresses every day when I was twenty, if I thought I could get away with it..."

"Thank you, mum!" I giggle.

"Doesn't mean you're not helping to get dinner ready, though!" Mum laughs, leading me into the kitchen where I spend the next fifteen minutes chopping vegetables (though I am given an apron to protect my dress, and am ordered out of the kitchen once cooking begins to avoid getting the smell of it on my clothes or in my hair).

Danny arrives shortly after the meal goes in the oven, prompting lots of jokes at his expense- jokes that he shrugs off in his trademark style as he starts filling our father in on the previous night's party.

"Ah yes," dad chuckles. "The beauty pageant. Must have been a dream come true for both of you, and for very different reasons, heh!"

"I definitely enjoyed it," Danny says with a smug grin. "Really glad that pilot guy dropped out and opened up a seat on the judging panel. And little Stephanie here... Top half! Even despite my attempts to rig the vote and stick her in last place." I blush with embarrassment, before hitting the laughing young man in the face with a nearby cushion.

"As beautiful as you are talented!" Dad chuckles with pride.

"AND I got a phone call from Charlotte Hutchinson this morning!" Danny beams, making me roll my eyes.

"Was she telling you off for the question you asked me last night?" I ask, making Danny shrug.

"Maybe," my brother says, bringing a smug smile to my face.

"What was it again," I say as Danny begins to cringe. "What's the best thing about being a girl?"

"What?" Danny pleads. "I was curious. Dad, back me up here?"

"I'm curious too," dad says. "Doesn't mean I'm going to spring it on Stephanie in a crowded room! I think you owe-"

"Yes, yes," Danny sighs. "I'm sorry I put you on the spot like that, Steph."

"Apology accepted," I say with my smuggest possible grin.

"But- but was your answer genuine?" Danny asks. "I mean, the best thing about being a girl is your friends, like, your 'sisterhood' or whatever you call it?"

"Don't tell me I'm going to get TWO daughters now," dad laughs.

"No, no," Danny laughs. "I'm quite happy having my name end in a 'y' rather than an 'i'."

"It is the best," I say, answering Danny's question, "but not by much, there's plenty of stuff that's almost as good- the clothes, obviously, the ability to be recognised for my beauty, the ability to display emotions freely... There are so many things 'Stephanie' can do that 'Steve' simply couldn't."

"And on the flipside, things 'Steve' could do that 'Stephanie' can't?" Danny asks.

"Nowhere near as many as you'd think," I say with a grin, a grin that only widens when I hear a knock at the door. "I think the 'guest of honour' has arrived..."

"I'll put on my scariest facial expression," Danny says, earning another cushion to the face. I pout my lips as I open the door, but my facial expression soon falls when it becomes apparent that it's not my boyfriend on the doorstep.

"Hello Ste- Steph," Tom says with a disapproving stare. "Can we come in?"

"Please," I say, ushering my brother and his girlfriend into the living room. "Hi Amanda, I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to put together that goody bag for your niece yet..."

"Oh, no rush," Amanda laughs. "They're not back at school for another couple of weeks. But I LOVE that dress! And those shoes! Designer, I take it?"

"£300 for the dress, £175 for the shoes," I giggle, doing a model-like turn for the thirty year old woman.

"Tom, I LOVE your shoes!" Danny says in a camp voice that earns stern stares from everyone in the room- not least Tom himself.

"Shut it," Tom snaps, stunning Danny into silence.

"Jeez... Okay, bruv," Danny says. "Family..."

"Stephanie was just telling us how she finished high at the beauty pageant she was in last night," dad says, easing the tension in the room. "For her friend's birthday."

"Yeah," I chuckle nervously. "Actually finished ahead of a few professional models..."

"And Joshua says he's thinking of making it an annual event," Danny says. "At a different time of the year to Becca’s birthday, to give everyone a chance to win. Well, unless Steph enters again, heh!" I smile nervously again, almost withering under Tom's stare, before a knock at the door makes me breathe a sigh of relief.

"FINALLY the guest of honour shows up," I say, opening the door again and sighing happily as I'm greeted by the smiling face of my boyfriend.

"Hey you," Kurt laughs.

"Hey, me," I giggle, giving Kurt a long, lazy kiss. "I've really missed you the last few days..."

"Yeah, I've missed me too," Kurt says, making me giggle as he wraps an arm around my waist (despite being shorter than I am in my heels).

"Mum, dad," I say as I lead Kurt into our living room. "Danny, Tom, Amanda... This is Kurt. Kurt this is- well, everyone, I guess!"

"Nice to meet you, son," dad says, giving Kurt a firm handshake. "You don't mind 'son', do you?"

"I waited 22 years for my family to say it to me," Kurt laughs. "Believe me, 'son' is more than fine!"

"That's a lovely accent you have, Kurt," mum says with a warm smile. "What part of America did you say you were from again?" I wince as mum asks her question, a wince that only gets worse as Danny sniggers under his breath.

"I'm, um, actually from Winnipeg," Kurt mumbles. "In, um, Canada..."

"Don't worry mum, I made the same mistake when I first met him," I laugh.

"It's an easy mistake to make if you're not familiar with the accent," Kurt laughs. "Must get it, like, twice a day over here. I'm surprised, um, that you're more interested in the Canada thing than in the, you know, 'other thing'..."

"Well, if you're comfortable talking about it..." Danny says, earning a stern stare from me.

"It's okay, I don't mind," Kurt laughs. It's clear from Tom's facial expression, however, that he DOES mind, and his mood only gets darker and darker as the evening goes on.

After the meal, we once again sit around the living room, discussing my work, Kurt's growing up in Canada and Danny's utter failure to hook up with any of my friends, and once again, Tom's mood utterly fails to lighten, to the point that when he excuses himself to get a drink from the kitchen, I follow him, determined to get to the bottom of his foul mood.

"So," I ask once I'm certain the door's closed. "How d'you like Kurt?"

"I like him fine," Tom says, not so much as looking in my direction as he speaks.

"Really?" I ask. "Because you've scowled your way throughout this entire evening!"

"It's not Kurt I have the problem with," Tom says, making my mouth start to tremble. "Oh, cut the act, 'Steve'. Especially as you're now dragging into it a guy who thinks he's going to get an actual girlfriend who's actually a girl!"

"I AM actually a girl!" I say.

"I'm sure that's what you believe," Tom sighs. "But I know you, Steph. I know that sooner or later, you'll have one of your flip-outs and go back to being Steve."

"Not anymore," I say. "I've changed permanently. I'm committed. This is who I am. This is who I want to be."

"For now," Tom retorts.

"Forever!" I say. "You can't judge me based on, what, the dozen or so times we've seen each other over the past year?"

"No, but I can judge you based on the last twenty years!" Tom snaps. "You're a LIAR, Steve! The saddest thing is, you're lying to yourself, and you don't even realise it. No- I take that back. The saddest thing is that you're lying to people who care about you, and THEY don't realise it."

"What can I do to persuade you?" I plead.

"...Tell the truth," Tom says bluntly. "To mum, dad, Danny... To your friends, to your employer. Tell them the truth about the past year. Then, if you want to be 'Stephanie', you can do so with a clean slate, and I'll support you."

"It'll destroy my career," I mumble.

"You should've thought about that before you lied to get that career," Tom spits.

"Oh- just- just no," I snort. "Don't give me that bullshit. I've kept 'Steve' secret from the press- the PRESS, for Christ's sake- for fourteen months. And now, 'Steve' no longer exists."

"But he did, and that's the point," Tom says, making me roll my eyes.

"Let's just agree to disagree, okay?" I ask as I lead Tom back to the living room, desperately trying not to think about how much I want to prove him right by stripping off my dress and climbing into a comfortable pair of jeans, even as Kurt wraps his arm around me...

Kurt, Danny, Tom and Amanda all leave just after 10pm, and I head to bed shortly afterward, frustrated by Tom's continued insistence that I'm not 'really' Stephanie. And yet... He does have a point. I HAVE been lying to everyone, and no amount of oestrogen I take in the future can change the past. However, if I can convince Tom that I'm certain about my future, then I won't need to worry about the past...

I spend most of Friday morning and afternoon on the living room sofa catching up with my fans on Twitter and Facebook, but I also find the time to send off a couple of extra messages, before skipping the traditional girls' night out in favour of an early night- and when I wake up the following morning, I'm glad I got the extra sleep as my hands are shaking with nerves, making it almost impossible to apply the thick layer of make-up I plan on wearing on my face, along with the nude tights, pleated knee-length black skirt and tight red top.

"Soo..." Kayla asks as the taxi picks her and Lauren up from their flat. "What exactly is the plan for today, again?"

"Simple," I say smugly. "We talk to Tom, make him see reason, I get my brother back, happily ever after."

"Is it really going to be that simple, though?" Lauren asks.

"...Probably not," I sigh. "But, you know, Tom is literally the only obstacle between me and- well, he's, like, the 'finish line'."

"Seems to me that you passed the 'finish line' months ago," Lauren says- and of course, from her perspective, I have- as far as she (and everyone except for Kayla and Tom) knows, I've been on oestrogen for over a year, living happily as Stephanie.

"Stephanie's entitled to have a 'complete' life, isn't she?" Kayla asks, making Lauren nod and concede the point.

"God knows if I'd fallen out with one of my brothers, I'd do what it takes to make it up to them," Lauren says.

"Even though HE's the one who needs to make it up to HER," Kayla says. Especially as Tom's price is far, far too high for me to pay...

After picking up Jamie, our taxi heads to the small London flat where Tom and his girlfriend reside, and I feel my hands begin to shake yet again as I knock on the door.

"Remember," my mentor says as she lays a calming hand on my shoulder. "We'll back you up. We'll be your family, no matter what happens." I nod as Tom opens the door, sighing when he sees that he's vastly outnumbered.

"...Come in," my brother says, leading the four of us to the living room. "Is this about what we discussed on Thursday night?"

"It is," I say. "I want- I want you to be my brother again. And I want to be your sister."

"You know my condition," Tom says bluntly.

"There shouldn't need to be a 'condition' for loving someone, especially when they're family!" Jamie pleads, bringing a smile to my face- maybe the woman I've spent the last few months disliking really IS my 'sister' after all.

"You have to face facts," Lauren says. "Stephanie has chosen to live her life- HER life- as a woman. Danny's accepted it, why can't you?"

"I would accept it if I thought that it was what THEY wanted," Tom retorts.

"Stephanie's been taking hormones to chemically change her body for over a year," Jamie says. "What more evidence do you need?"

"No she hasn't," Tom snorts, making my whole chest tighten. Please, please no...

"What- what do you mean?" Jamie asks. "Of course she has."

"She hasn't taken a single hormone pill," Tom says. "Have you ever seen a prescription for the treatment?"

"Well- no, but it's not like I wave mine around either," Jamie says. "But she's had other treatments, had her facial hair permanently removed..."

"Steve always hated shaving," Tom says as I look at him with sheer terror in my eyes. "I'm sorry to have to do this, Steve, but you obviously weren't going to tell them."

"Is- is this true?" Jamie asks, her look of concern quickly turning into a look of disgust.

"Well, um-" I stammer.

"Yes," Kayla whispers, making my heart sink and bringing tears to my eyes. "Yes, it's true." Kayla... I think to myself. How could you?

"How- what?" Lauren stutters. "What? Seriously, what!?"

"You- you're NOT transitioning?" Jamie asks.

"I AM committed to living life as Stephanie," I say in a quiet, feeble voice. "But- but I'm not on oestrogen, and I haven't been in all the time you've, um, known me..."

"So- so this last year, you've just been lying to my face!?" Jamie yells.

"To all our faces!?" Lauren spits, before turning to Kayla. "And you- you knew!?"

"I haven't known long," Kayla pleads.

"We're sorry to have wasted your time, Mr. Abbott," Jamie says as she stands up. "Clearly I need to have a talk with your si- with your sibling. A LONG talk."

"Thanks for stopping by," Tom says as I find myself unceremoniously ushered toward the door.

"We ARE going to have this talk, Steph- do I even call you 'Steph' or would 'Steve' be more appropriate?" Jamie asks.

"Jamie..." I say with a shaky voice. "I- I know you're angry..."

"'Angry' doesn't even begin to cover it!" Jamie snaps. "Do you know how many transgendered people there are in the UK, Steph? Some estimates put it at almost five hundred thousand. Half a million people, some of them even younger than you, and we've been promoting your story as an inspiration to let these young girls and boys know that their birth gender doesn't need to prevent them from achieving their dreams."

"And it hasn't," Kayla speaks up. "Steph's still the same woman who inspires those girls, she's still the same woman who came on tour with us. She's still the same woman who WILL commit to transitioning."

"I'm going to have a long talk with you as well, Kayla," Jamie says, silencing the tiny young girl.

"I- I'm sorry if I offended anyone," I mumble.

"If this gets out," Jamie says, "you will literally not be able to get a job anywhere in the entertainment industry. You'll be lucky if you can walk down the street without people hurling things at you."

"I- I hid it for fourteen months," I say. "The press don't know..."

"It's literally just us four and Steph's brother who knows," Kayla says. "And her counsellor, I think."

"Beverly too?" Jamie groans. "Well, doctor-patient confidentiality, I suppose... You three, just- just go home. Steph, we'll continue our chat there. I need to talk to Joshua first. And don't try to persuade me that he doesn't need to know, because he DOES."

"Is- is he going to fire me?" I blub.

"I don't know, Steph," Jamie sighs. "Just- just go home. I'll text you when we're on our way round." I nod and get into the first taxi that comes along, barely holding back tears as I try to make sense of what happened.

I never imagined that Tom would just drop me in it like it, never imagined that the life I've spent over a year crafting could just come crashing down in the space of just thirty seconds- but the more I think about it, the more I realise that my whole life has been under threat of that happening all along- the only miracle is that it didn't happen sooner.

"'Ere," the taxi driver says as he drops me off outside my house. "Aren't you that Stephanie girl from that girl band everyone's talking about?" I used to be... I self-pityingly think to myself.

"...No," I whisper. "You must have me mistaken for someone else."

"Oh," the cabbie says. "Pity, my daughter's a big fan of them. Says that someone at her college actually came out as transgender because they were inspired by that Stephanie girl. Not that I'm saying you look like a man, of course!"

"Heh," I chuckle as I pay the driver and head into my house, going straight up to my bedroom where I collapse on my bed and break down in floods of tears.

'I told you it wouldn't last', 'Steve' whispers in my ear. 'It was good while it lasted. Profitable, too. But now the time has come to admit to yourself that you were lying the whole time. You're not 'Stephanie', you never were, and you never will be.'

"It's not the end," I whisper. "I don't know for sure that Joshua's going to fire me..."

'Not just fire you,' 'Steve' says, 'but demand all his money back as well, all the money he invested into making you a star... All wasted. You've not only destroyed your own career, but Kayla's, Lauren's, Becca's and Adeola's as well.'

"That's not true!" I plead. "Joshua's a reasonable man, a kind man..."

'A man who detests being lied to,' Steve reminds me. 'You remember how he reacted when he found out the truth about your parents, god knows how he'll react to this...' I freeze in terror as I remember the telling-off I received when I confessed the truth about not being estranged from my parents. The telling-off I'll receive now...

My phone beeps to let me know I have a new text message, and I have to physically force myself to read it, I'm that scared by what it might say.

'I've spoken to Joshua,' the message- which, unsurprisingly, is from Jamie- reads. 'He's not happy at all but wants to talk to you. We're on our way now, will be there in half an hour.

"Oh god," I wail as I toss my phone back onto my pillow. I take several deep breaths to try to calm myself, but it doesn't work- nothing will work, nothing will help me avoid my fate- other than avoiding it completely.

I reach into my wardrobe for my largest travel suitcase and quickly fill it with a selection of underwear, casual clothes, shoes and virtually all of my cosmetics. After logging onto my internet banking and transferring £8000 into my current account, I drag my packed suitcase downstairs, where I see a black bin bag I thought was long since gone- a bag containing the last remnants of 'Steve', my last few masculine clothes that I thought dad had taken to a charity shop days ago.

I unzip my suitcase and prepare to stuff it full of the boyish clothes, but before I do so, I freeze. If I take so much as one of Steve's socks, I'd be admitting that Tom was right, admitting that I was never truly 'Stephanie' in the first place... I'd be admitting that I was nothing but a liar.

I retie the bin bag, securing all of its contents- every last bit of them- back inside, before zipping up my suitcase and grabbing a pen and a piece of paper from beside the house phone.

'Dear mum and dad,' I write. 'I'm sorry I left without saying goodbye, but things have happened that mean I have to leave for a while. I'll be in touch by email, but please don't come looking for me. Jamie and Joshua- my manager- will fill you in on what's happened, as will Tom. I'll be back soon. I promise. Love, Ste-' I pause as I look over at the bin bag that contains the last traces of the person I was for the first nineteen years of my life.

'Love, Stephanie,' I write, before heading out of the house and to the nearest tube station. Before long, I find myself at King's Cross Station, staring at the departures board. Virtually the whole country is available for me to escape to, places I've never been, places where the name 'Stephanie Abbott' carries little to no weight.

I'm distracted when my phone rings, and I grimace as I remember I'd set 'No More Lies' as my ringtone, which attracts the attention of several girls around me. After moving away from the crowd to get some privacy, I check the caller ID- and unsurprisingly, it's Jamie calling. I let the call go to voicemail, and delete the message that Jamie leaves without listening to it, before buying a train ticket for as far away as possible and getting onboard.

"So long, London," I whisper as the train pulls away from the platform. "So long... Steve."



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