Stephanie, part 11

“Is there any point in having a birthday party if the actual birthday girl herself isn’t going to be here?” Becca moans as she paces back and forth, nearly deafening everyone with the rustling of her petticoats underneath her knee-length pink dress.

“Oh, just give her time,” Adeola says. “She’ll get here eventually. It’s not her fault her family lives an hour and a half away and she’s their only child.”

“And besides,” I say quietly as I fidget in my pink stockings and extra-high pink stilettos, “you know how important the band is to her, especially since, well, you know…” My two bandmates both silently nod as they remember the events of last month- the events that threatened to tear our little ‘family’ apart at the seams.

It began with the announcement of a new modelling supergroup called ‘Constellation’ that were positioned as direct rivals to the Angels. Included in the supergroup were two singers, but the agency weren’t too worried about them- pop duos like them and five-piece groups like Out of Heaven aren’t typically compared to each other, after all.

…Then Lauren decided that she no longer wanted to be a member of Out of Heaven and signed up with constellation, and suddenly our five against two rivalry became a much less comfortable four against three, which threatened to be even more awkward when Lauren showed up on my doorstep and tried to recruit me into Constellation’s ranks. I refused, of course, but not before earning the full wrath of Jamie-Lee Burke. And when I say ‘full’ I mean ‘full’- we actually got into a physical fight in the offices of Heavenly Talent that left Jamie with several bruises and me with a cut lip. For a while, it looked as though neither of us would work again, but calmer minds ultimately prevailed, Jamie and I sat down and talked through our differences (something we still do once every fortnight, actually) and Out of Heaven remained as a foursome (albeit a foursome facing a lot of work to rerecord our album to exclude Lauren’s contributions).

And, more significantly from a personal point of view, I moved back into my old flat after Lauren moved out, meaning that I am now the flatmate of tonight’s birthday girl- who earns a loud cheer as she walks through the front door of Charlotte’s house in her voluminous pink dress, arm-in-arm with a handsome young man wearing a smart pink suit.

“Happy birthday!” Becca, Adeola and I all cheer as we greet Kayla with tight hugs.

“Thank you so much!” Kayla squeaks, bouncing up and down on her torturously high heels. “Girl, this sexy hunk of beef is Charles, Charles, these girls are- well, you know who these girls are, hehe!”

“Nice to meet you,” Charles says nervously as he greets Becca, Adeola and myself with air kisses- though I can’t help but notice that his greeting for me is VERY awkward, and it’s obvious why.

“So YOU’RE Charles,” Becca says smugly. “No wonder Kayla’s had such a wide smile on her face lately, hehe!”

“Shut up, you’ll make Riley jealous!” Adeola giggles as we lead the birthday girl and her new boyfriend into the main room of Charlotte’s house, where she’s greeted by a loud cheer and everyone singing ‘Happy Birthday’. After Kayla cuts a huge cake- which, like everything else at the party, is pink- and opens her many presents, I head to the bar whilst my bandmates all dance with their boyfriends.

Even though I’ve been living effectively full-time as a woman for almost two years, and 100% full-time for six months, the fact is that anatomically and chemically speaking, I am still a man, and everywhere I go, I’m faced with the same prejudice I received from Charles- especially since the truth about my transitioning was revealed during the ‘war’ with Constellation last month. Fortunately, my counsellor issued a statement that said that it was her who was withholding hormones, which effectively took any blame upon herself, and Joshua and his PR wizards acted quickly to limit any damage the revelation may cause, but it still left me wrapped in a ball of anxious terror for ages- an anxiety that still hasn’t fully gone. Fortunately, I’m not the only person to have been in this position, as I’m reminded when I’m greeted at the bar by two women who have quickly gone from being archenemies to being close friends.

“Hey Steph!” Nikki squeaks as she gives me a tight hug, causing the petticoats under our pink dresses to rustle loudly.

“Hi Steph,” Jamie says with a happy, almost tired grin as she also gives me a hug. Despite us supposedly being the same, I can’t help but feel out of place even when I’m with Jamie or Nikki, which isn’t helped by my special custom-made dress having a high collar, whilst their dresses are strapless, showing off cleavage that I simply don’t have- and it’s almost certain that they won’t be wearing tight control thongs under their dresses either, given that they no longer have anything to ‘control’.

“Hey girlies!” I say happily. “Not out there dancing with your fiancées? Sorry, I should say fiancé and fiancée, one with one ‘e’ and one with two, hehe!”

“In a bit,” Nikki replies. “Want to take some of the weight off my feet first.”

“Well if you will insist on wearing six inch stilettos despite being 5’ 8”,” Jamie teases the tall young woman.

“So sue me for being gorgeous and girly,” Nikki retorts, sticking her tongue out at Jamie. “How about you, Steph? Plenty of single guys here today…”

“Plenty of single GIRLS too!” Jamie giggles.

“…I’ll pass, for now,” I laugh. “Doubt any straight guy would want to touch me, anyway.”

“Don’t say that!” Nikki sighs. “Look at it this way- dressed like that, no gay guy would want to touch you either!” I sigh sadly as Nikki grimaces and Jamie giggles at her faux pas. “Umm, obviously by that I mean-“

“It’s okay,” I whisper. “Don’t really want to think about relationships anyway.”

“It still sucks that people are hung up on the hormone thing,” Jamie spits. “Especially since it’s not your fault. Still, you never know, by this time tomorrow…”

“True,” I sigh. “I just- I just wish my transition wasn’t so, you know, ‘public interest’. Then again, if I wasn’t ‘public interest’, I probably wouldn’t even have the opportunity to transition…”

“Nah, you’d have found your way onto the RIGHT side of the gender gap eventually!” Nikki laughs. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I think my fiancée wants to dance…” I smile as Nikki heads off to dance with her lover, though I almost instantly sigh once she’s gone.

“…Nervous about the whole hormone thing?” Jamie asks.

“A little,” I sigh. “And tired! Spent all month rerecording this damned album…”

“Yeah, I know, it’s my fiancé who’s producing the thing, remember?” Jamie laughs. “I’m sure it’ll all work out fine for you. ALL of it. It's not the hormones that makes the girl- it's the girl that makes the girl. In the meantime, this IS a party… Might as well enjoy yourself, right?”

“Yeah,” I laugh as I finish my drink and join in the throng of people dancing the night away.

Shortly after 11:30pm, I climb into the back of a waiting taxi with the birthday girl, both of us giggling as we try to arrange our elaborate gowns on the car’s cramped seats.

“Soo…” I tease, barely suppressing my drunken giggles. “Best. Birthday. Ever?”

“Gosh, I don’t know,” Kayla sighs. “Last year took some topping, but… Definitely top 2, yeah!” I giggle along with Kayla as the taxi takes us home, where we both breathe sighs of relief as we release each other from our extravagant outfits- though ‘costume’ would definitely be a more appropriate word than ‘outfit’ to describe these dresses!

“Would’ve thought you’d go home with Charles, get him to do this for you,” I tease Kayla as she pulls on a fluffy pink dressing gown and collapses onto the sofa whilst I head to the bathroom to wash away my thick make-up.

“Yeah…” Kayla says quietly, making me sigh.

“Kayla…” I groan. “Don’t tell me you’re chucking yet ANOTHER boyfriend?”

“Well… I dunno,” Kayla sighs. “I mean yes, he’s nice, he’s fit… I dunno if he’s right for me, though.”

“How can you be 100% sure?” I ask as I pull on a dressing gown of my own and sit down next to Kayla. “You’ve barely been going out two weeks.”

“Like I said, I DON’T KNOW,” Kayla groans, “It’s just- it’s just a feeling, you know? Some things are meant to be, some things aren’t... And this is, well, ‘aren’t’.”

“Well, don’t let it ruin what’s left of your birthday,” I say, giving the tiny girl a quick, friendly hug. “You’ve only got 364 days of teenage life left, might as well enjoy them!”

“Heh, I guess,” Kayla giggles. “Next time I go out, though, it’s going to be absolutely GIRLS ONLY!”

“Atta girl!” I giggle.

“And yes, obviously, that includes you,” Kayla says, making me grin. “You know, living with you for one month and already you’re, like, more girly than Lauren ever was.”

“She was a tomboy who grew up on a farm,” I laugh. “My brother’s more girly than she was!”

“I dunno,” Kayla mused. “She did like the whole costume and make-up side to our job, you know, getting dressed up for parties, for videos and tours… I actually missed her today, more than I thought I would.”

“Okay,” I say, helping the unsteady girl to her feet. “You sound and smell like you’ve had more than a little to drink, heh! In future, please try to remember that your alcohol tolerance sucks, okay?”

“My tolerance is fine,” Kayla protests as I help her to her bedroom, and while she can still more or less walk in a straight line, she’s obviously fading fast, and by the time I tuck her into her queen-sized bed (which seems to smother the tiny girl) she’s already half-asleep.

“Night, Kayla,” I whisper before turning out her light. “Happy birthday…”

“Night, mum,” Kayla mumbles as she rolls over in bed and starts gently snoring.

“Could be worse, she could’ve said ‘dad’,” I muse quietly to myself as I head to my own room and climb into my own bed and cuddle my soft, warm sheets around me to keep out the cold October air.

Even though I’ve only lived in the room for a month, I’ve quickly fallen in love with it and made it my own space. Lauren was very thorough when she moved out, taking virtually all of her belongings and leaving only a bed and some shelves, but all this did was made it easier to erase any trace of her from the room and make it all ‘Stephanie’- and unlike the last time I lived in this flat, the room is all ‘Stephanie’ without even the slightest trace of ‘Steve’ anywhere in it.

I started with the colour of the room- Lauren had painted it a light blue colour, which I obviously wasn’t going to keep. Rather than go overtly pink like Kayla’s room, I opted for a neutral cream colour with decorative hand-painted patterns around the middle of the room. My wardrobes- plural- obviously take pride of place, which a good half of one of them being given over to the various costumes I’ve worn on tour, in videos and to parties (with last night’s dress being the latest addition). I have a huge dressing table dominating one wall of the room, on the top of which is more make-up than the average drugstore, and the opposite wall is almost entirely filled with a collage of various photos of my life as Stephanie, photos of me with my band, my friends and my family… Well, some of my family, anyway.

Naturally, the day after I moved in, Danny showed up uninvited to help put together my furniture and help paint the room. Well I say ‘help’, he actually did most of the work whilst Kayla and I watched, offered pointers and made drinks. Dad showed up after finishing work to help paint the ceiling, and once the room was done, Kayla and I rewarded both the men by taking them out for dinner at a nearby fancy restaurant. However, all throughout the meal, there was only one thing on everyone’s mind- and that’s that my other brother wasn’t there.

Ever since the ‘full truth’ about me was revealed, Tom has been even more distant than usual, and I don’t know why. Maybe he was expecting me to give up my life as Stephanie once the world knew that I wasn’t taking hormones, or he was expecting some admission of wrongdoing on my part, and was frustrated that I didn’t go grovelling to him, begging for forgiveness. If this is the case, then he’ll be waiting a very, very long time. Thanks to my sessions with Dr Phillips and my reconciliation with Jamie and Nikki and their friends- not to mention the unconditional acceptance shown by Kayla, Becca and Adeola- I’m now more confident than ever that my life as Stephanie is the life I should be leading, the only life I need. They say whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger- well in my case, whatever doesn’t stop me only makes me girlier. Not that ‘Steve’ is dead, of course- he’s simply been vastly improved!

My eyes flutter open just after 9:30am, waking me from a dreamless sleep, and after showering away the light traces of a hangover, I pull on a padded bra and control thong before sitting down at my dresser and applying my make-up for the day. Even though we’re not actually at work today- the album having been finished last week following a lot of hasty rerecording- I still, as always, make the effort to be as feminine, as ‘Stephanie’ as I can be, so after my make-up is applied, I touch up my dark red nail polish, push a pair of my favourite earrings through my lobes and spritz myself with a cloud of sweet-smelling perfume. I let out a light giggle as I open my vast underwear drawer- I own more lingerie, and sexier lingerie, than most genetic women I know, even though I’m the only person who ever sees my body in it. Today, however, I reach past the various teddies and corsets I own and pull out a very plain pair of opaque black tights, stretching them over my legs and my hips before stepping into a short, flared black skirt and pulling a clingy burgundy-coloured turtleneck jumper over my head.

“Kayla?” I ask as I head out of my bedroom, whose door faces my flatmate’s bedroom door. “Kayla? You up yet? We’re meeting Becca and Adeola at twelve, come on!” The sound of a soft, quiet moan coming from the room tells me that whilst Kayla may be awake, she undoubtedly wishes that she wasn’t.

“Go away,” the tiny blonde girl groans as I enter her room.

“Kayla…” I coo as I sneak up beside her bed.

“Go away!” Kayla sobs, clearly in pain- though as that pain is very much self-inflicted, I’m not as sympathetic as I would normally be.

“HOW much did you drink last night?” I ask the tiny girl as she pulls her duvet over her head.

“Not that much,” Kayla moans, before letting out a long sigh. “…Can you get me some aspirin, please?”

“Sure,” I whisper as I head into the kitchen, smirking at Kayla’s overdramatic ‘suffering’.

As with all celebrities, we all have our public personas- Becca’s the posh girl, Adeola’s the working-class daughter of a self-made man who never lost touch with her roots, I’m the shy, private one (for obvious reasons) and Kayla’s the sweet, innocent one. Of course, in private, we can each be just as a big a diva as any of the others- Kayla more so than anyone. In the month since we started living together I’ve seen a side of her I was only vaguely aware of- everything in her life has to be exactly right, she has to always have the same brands, and if anything of hers breaks- or worse yet, she herself breaks something- the near-tantrum she throws can be astonishing. The surprising thing is, when she’s being demanding and diva-ish… She’s actually quite endearing, as I’m reminded when I hand her her aspirin and her usual sweet smile immediately returns to her face.

“Thanks,” Kayla whispers. “Can- can you give me some privacy, please? Kinda need to make a phone call…”

“…Really?” I ask. “You’re chucking him by phone?”

“Ugh,” Kayla moaned. “We had, like, THREE dates. And none of them were all that great… Privacy, please?”

“Sure,” I whisper as I leave Kayla to her phone call. It’s become something of a running joke among our friends- and a few of our fans- that Kayla and I have trouble finding a boyfriend that meets our standards (or in my case, keeping hold of him). It’s got to the point that Becca’s actually threatened to set Kayla and I up with each other if we remain single for any longer!

After her phone call ends, a stoic-faced Kayla heads to the shower before returning to her room, emerging twenty minutes later dressed in what is becoming her signature look of a clingy, long-sleeved top, a knee-length pencil skirt and high heels. Combined with tying her hair into an updo, it gives her a lot more height than her natural five foot nothing, even if the look does look a bit old for her. Then again, given how youthful she looks, there’s not many looks that don’t look too old for her.

“You okay?” I whisper to the tiny girl.

“Yeah,” Kayla sighs. “Come on, don’t want to keep her highness waiting, do we?”

I smile as I follow Kayla out of the flat, before hopping into a waiting taxi that takes us to a posh coffee shop that Becca picked out for our lunch. Unsurprisingly, she and Adeola are already present, greeting Kayla and myself with tight hugs as we approach their table.

“LOVE this place,” Kayla sighs happily as we sit down.

“LOVE that skirt!” Adeola giggles. “You have GOT to give me the website where you got it!”

“That can be arranged,” Kayla says with a smug grin. “Assuming we’re going to have any time for shopping, the next few weeks…”

“Two weeks roving the country promoting our album?” Adeola asks. “Bring it on!”

“And at least ONE of us will be making an important purchase today, right?” Becca asks as she looks in my direction, making me moan with frustration. “Oh, come on, it IS a big deal, isn’t it?”

“Well- yeah, I guess…” I sigh. “There’s no guarantee she’ll prescribe oestrogen, though…”

“Why wouldn’t she?” Adeola asks. “Sure, you keep to yourself a lot, but ‘Steve’s gone for good, hasn’t he?”

“Well- um, yes,” I reply.

“Steph…” Becca whispers. “You’re- you’re not having second thoughts, are you? I mean sure, the fans have all accepted ‘non-hormone Steph’, but- ugh. I’m not going to pretend to understand what it’s like for you, but my brother DOES understand, and he’s always said that when he started taking testosterone, it was like all the uncertainty in his life just vanished, like he suddenly felt like everything about him was just, well, ‘right’. Don’t you want the same thing?”

“Umm- uh-“ I stammer as I’m suddenly put on the spot.

“Leave her alone,” Kayla says quietly, shaming Becca and Adeola into silence as she gives me a comforting cuddle. “Whatever happens, we’ll all be friends, we’ll all be bandmates, right?”

“Well- yeah, of course,” Becca says as I take several deep breaths to calm myself down. “Sorry, Steph, I know this is a personal thing, I shouldn’t have-“

“It’s okay,” I shrug. “I guess if we learned anything over the past month, what affects one of us affects all the others, heh.”

“No,” Adeola says with a smug grin. “If we learned anything over the last month, it’s that we’re better TOGETHER. Like the name of our new album, what are we?”

“Stronger!” The four of us cheer as I try to mentally prepare myself for my appointment with Beverly.

As I step through the door of Beverly’s posh office, I feel my knees begin to tremble, even though I consciously know I have no reason to be nervous. Becca’s right- the fans HAVE all accepted me as a girl despite the fact that chemically, I’m still 100% male. It’s not like I NEED hormones… But it’s not like I can say with 100% certainty that I WANT them either.

For the past twenty months, I have lived my life first and foremost as a woman, and whilst at the first, that was skin-deep, over time, I’ve grown into the ‘role’. Being a woman comes naturally to me. I love being a girl… But I never really hated being a boy. Pulling on a comfortable pair of jeans never repulsed me. Having hair on my arms or my legs never made me feel uncomfortable. And being someone’s son, or brother… Nikki’s often talked about how, in the last few weeks before she started transitioning, every time she scrubbed away ‘Nikki’ to become ‘Nick’ again, it caused her such emotional distress that she would cry, sometimes for hours at a time. I’ve never felt that kind of distress, the kind of trauma. Sure, I may tick the box that says ‘female’ every time I fill in a form… But does that mean I have as much right as people like Nikki to call myself female? And worse yet, if I did take the hormones… Would it trivialise all the suffering she went through?

“Hello Stephanie!” Beverly says as I sit down, unconsciously smoothing my skirt and straightening my tights as I make myself comfortable. “Feeling nervous?”

“A little,” I confess.

“It’s to be expected,” Beverly says quietly. “It IS a big day… Stephanie, I know you’re not the type of person who likes a lot of waffle, so I’m going to cut straight to it.”

“Okay,” I say, trying to hide my disappointment- it’s clear that Beverly is going to withhold hormones for the time being. In a way, I’m almost relieved in addition to being disappointed- but crucially, I don’t feel as crushed as girls like Nikki undoubtedly would have been in my place.

“…I AM going to prescribe a course of oestrogen for you,” Beverly says, making my jaw drop. “Stephanie, over the past few months, you have demonstrated a conscious and unconscious desire to life the rest of your life as a woman. You fully self-identify as female, and despite your earlier ‘difficulties’, you don’t show any attachment to your former male life. This is more than enough to convince me that your desire to transition is genuine, and as such, I’m happy to start you on HRT. It’ll be a preliminary course to start with, just for six months, but unless there are any major disasters- and I can’t imagine there will be- I’m happy to make it permanent, and we can look toward surgery as well after two years.”

“…Wow,” I mouth, shocked by Beverly’s offer.

“Stephanie,” Beverly says with a smile, “you’ve come a long way from the terrified teenager I met last year. I will admit, there were times when I thought I’d never prescribe hormones, but you’ve grown up a lot in the last few months. So, well, congratulations!”

“Thanks,” I say, still too stunned even to stand up. “I, um, I thought I wouldn’t get them either. Today, I mean, I thought-“

“I can understand you being a little negative,” Beverly says, “especially given everything that’s happened to you the past few months. But you know that I wouldn’t even dream of prescribing hormone therapy if I didn’t think it was appropriate.”

“Yeah, you’ve made that VERY clear,” I say, making Beverly laugh as I remember the many times I abruptly demanded oestrogen from the middle-aged woman, only for her to decline my request equally abruptly.

“Stephanie…” Beverly whispers. “You do- you DO still want this, right?”

“…I guess,” I sigh, making Beverly frown. “I- I wish I knew for absolute certain. I’ve been so over the place these last few months that it’s just, you know, a lot to take in… And, well, two years ago… Two years ago I was just a guy, you know? A guy who occasionally wore women’s clothing for fun… Now I’m apparently- well, medically, anyway- a woman trapped in the body of a man?”

“You wouldn’t be the first and you certainly won’t be the last,” Beverly says with confidence. “You’re right that two years ago, you were a very different person. But that’s exactly my point- you’re a very different person NOW. You’ve grown, Stephanie. Both as a woman and as a person. It’s only right that you get the medical help you need to follow the path you’ve chosen.”

“…Okay, then,” I say with a nervous smile. “I guess… I guess this is it, then?”

“You make it sound almost like a death sentence!” Beverly laughs. “But there’s nothing to be afraid of, there really isn’t. As your body changes, you’ll likely find that you’ll be even more confident in yourself than you have been the last few months.”

“I see,” I reply as Beverly spends the rest of our session explaining the changes that will happen to my body once the oestrogen takes hold. It’s stuff I’m already aware of- breasts growing, hips widening, waist narrowing, skin growing softer and smoother… But it’s the mental changes that interest me the most. Beverly thinks that I’m already thinking and feeling like a woman, and oestrogen will just solidify this feeling- but deep down inside, I’m just as torn up as I always am, and this confusion only gets more pronounced when I leave the office with my prescription in my handbag.

When I arrive back at the flat, Kayla is already there, having changed from her smart skirt and top into a loose, casual shirt dress and translucent black tights and switched on the Xbox for an afternoon of gaming. I smile tiredly as I kick off my flats and sit down next to the tiny girl, tucking my nylon-covered legs underneath me in the same manner as Kayla as I grab a controller and join in her game.

“Hi Steph,” Kayla says sarcastically, making me sigh.

“Hi Kayla…” I mumble.

“…So?” Kayla asks as I try to immerse myself in our game. “Steph, everybody knows where you were today, everybody knows what you were doing… Did- did you get bad news? Is that why you’re being so quiet?”

“I- ugh,” I spit, making Kayla sigh sadly. “I got the prescription. Six months of oestrogen, starting immediately.”

“Oh my god!” Kayla squeaks, pausing the game to give me a tight hug. “This is so cool! Do you have the pills already? Oh my god, we should DEFINITELY have a party to cele-“

“Easy now!” I say, diffusing Kayla’s enthusiasm. “I- I haven’t got the pills yet, just, you know, the paper prescription-“

“But that’s still it, isn’t it?” Kayla asks. “You’re finally going to get to be a girl- well, you already ARE a girl of course, but you’ll- gah, you know what I mean. We should call Becca and Addie, let them know the good news!”

“Well- okay,” I sigh. “But ONLY them. I want... Gah. I just want SOME privacy, you know?”

“So private that you couldn’t even tell your best friend, and she had to pry it out of you?” Kayla asks, making me frown.

“…Sorry,” I mumble.

“S’okay,” Kayla giggles. “Steph… You don’t look as happy as I imagined you would be, I mean, you do still want oestrogen, right?”

“…I’m not 100% sure,” I say, making Kayla frown.

“Well I AM,” the tiny blonde girl replies. “You are not ‘Steve’, Steph. ‘He’ is gone, all that’s left is the girl you really are, and when you start taking those pills, you’ll realise that.”

“No going back,” I whisper.

“None at all,” Kayla says. “So leave the past where it belongs. All that matters is the future.”

“You’re right,” I whisper, though deep inside, I’m still questioning whether or not I truly want oestrogen- or even whether or I truly deserve it.

As Kayla promised, later that evening our flat plays host to a (mercifully small) party to celebrate my ‘achievement’. Becca and Adeola (and their boyfriends) show up first, of course, and both give me the same tight, excited hugs that Kayla did. Nikki and Sarah arrive next, which comes as a surprise, but the biggest surprises are the last two people to arrive- Jamie-Lee Burke and her fiancé Stuart.

“Oh my god, I am SO happy for you!” Jamie giggles, giving me a genuine, friendly hug that I never thought she was capable of giving- not to me, at the very least. “So… How d’you like the taste of them, hehe!”

“I haven’t got the pills yet!” I laugh. “Just the prescription, I’ll be picking the pills up tomorrow. And before you ask, no I do NOT consent to my first pill being filmed for your show!”

“Eh, suit yourself,” Jamie shrugs. “I didn’t want my SRS filmed either, though that is a LITTLE bit more sensitive than just taking a pill, hehe! Speaking of SRS…”

“Or NOT speaking of SRS, as it is WAY too early to even be thinking about it!” I retort, making Jamie giggle.

“…True enough,” Jamie says before grabbing a drink and snuggling up next to Stuart on the sofa.

“So cool,” Nikki sighs as she arrives to grab a drink. “Trust me, oestrogen will be the absolute BEST thing that will happen to you.”

“I guess,” I say. “Nikki… You’ve said, well, hinted in the past that, um, you know, being a boy… That it really, really hurt you, is that right?”

“…It’s right,” Nikki whispers. “Some days I literally couldn’t function, I was that obsessed with the next time I’d, well, ‘become Nikki’. Then, well, I became Nikki full-time, didn’t need to obsess anymore!”

“Well, not about THAT, anyway!” Sarah giggles as she approaches and takes Nikki off to another part of the room with their arm wrapped around each other’s slender waists.

The rest of the party follows in much the same fashion, with the girls quizzing me about my upcoming ‘change’ whilst the boys feign interest (even Stuart, who went through an almost identical- albeit reversed- change to mine). Everyone leaves just before 11pm with wide smiles on their faces, and I can tell that they are genuinely happy for me- I just wish I could show the same amount of enthusiasm.

My anxiety and nerves result in me getting very little sleep as I ponder the future ahead of me. There are only two possible outcomes- either I take the oestrogen or I don’t. If I don’t, I get to carry on the way I have been, living my life the way I want… But all the accusations of deception and lying that I worked so hard to overcome will return ten times worse than before- and may well cost me the job I love so much. But if I do take the pills, I WILL change, and not just physically… And I have to wonder if I’ll still truly be me.

I’m awake when my alarm rings at 8am, signifying the start of a day of work- though today will at least be an enjoyable one, and I have a smile on my face as I dress in a fashion long-sleeved minidress, patterned tights and high-heeled ankle booties. My make-up is, as ever, done to perfection and externally I am the very picture of femininity. Internally… I don’t have to worry about internally, at least not for the next few hours. As Kayla- who is, as always, dressed in her usual smart pencil skirt and top attire- and I head to our waiting taxi, I chuckle with relief that our regular ‘full group’ ballet lessons have been moved from Wednesdays to Thursdays- I’m so nervous today that if I attempted a pirouette, I’d probably vomit all over Krystie’s dancefloor.

“I am REALLY looking forward to today,” Kayla giggled. “I mean, I know we’re supposed to be here to promote the album, but it’s one of these things I always hoped I’d get to do when I signed up for the band, you know?”

“Oh, definitely,” I say with a smile. “Just wish it was my old college that we were going back to…” Kayla and I giggle as our taxi ferries us to our destination, which is a small further education college in the north-east of London. There, we meet up with Becca and Adeola, and all of us have wide grins on our face as we step out into a packed hall to be greeted by cheers and screams from the hundreds of teenagers.

After an a cappella performance of some of our songs- including one from our upcoming album- the four of us are split between groups of students, where we answer questions about our lives (though obviously, not too personal questions), give tips on singing and listen to some of the students (all of whom are studying music) sing. Naturally, we heap praise on all of the prospective singers- they are the ones who’ll be buying our album, after all.

Eventually, our time at the college is up, and the four of us get ready to head back to our respective homes, but before we’re able to leave, I’m called back by one of the college’s tutors, who is stood next to a VERY nervous-looking teenaged girl.

“Miss Abbott?” The tutor calls. “Miss Abbott, I’m sorry, but could I just have a minute of your time, please?”

“Sure,” I say, smiling at the nervous girl. “And it’s okay, I don’t mind being called ‘Stephanie’.” I REALLY don’t mind it, I think to myself.

“This is Ellie, Ellie Blake,” the tutor says as he gives the terrified girl a gentle pat on her shoulder. “She started on a music course here in September and is a big fan of yours… I think it would do her a lot of good if you were able to have a private chat with her, say, for five or ten minutes?”

“Sure!” I say, making the still terrified-looking Ellie grin as she fidgets, before we both follow the tutor into a small office to the side of the hall, where we’re left by ourselves.

“So…” I say, breaking the awkward silence in the small room. “How long have you been a fan?”

“Since I saw your first video on YouTube,” Ellie replies in a small, timid voice. “I- I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be sorry!” I laugh. “If anything I should be thanking you for being a fan!”

“Sorry,” Ellie mumbles, before grimacing. “I, um, I’m a big fan of, uhh… You in particular.”

“I’m flattered,” I giggle, before a look of concern passes over my face as Ellie’s face turns red and she looks like she’s about hyperventilate. “Ellie… Are- are you okay? Do you want me to get someone?”

“No,” Ellie whispers. “It’s- I- I-“

“Take your time,” I say softly.

“I- I- I’m a- I’m a transsexual,” Ellie says, laughing giddily as the nerves escape her body following her confession whilst I look on in shock.

If she does have male genetics, then Ellie is VERY feminine. She has a cute, teardrop-shaped face, her blonde hair is long and shiny, her waist is narrow and her legs are long and slender. In her thick make-up, tight khaki top (which is exposing one of her bra straps), ultra-short skirt and black tights, there’s no way anyone could mistake her for male. Then again, the same thing could in theory be said about me…

“How- how long have you been transitioning?” I ask the relieved young woman.

“Just a couple of months,” Ellie says, her demeanour much more relaxed now that her ‘secret’ is revealed. “Not even taking oestrogen yet… Kinda why I like you so much, heh. Proof that it’s not what you put in your blood that makes you a boy or a girl.” Yeah, about that… I think to myself.

“Do- do you want oestrogen, though?” I ask.

“…I kinda do, I kinda don’t,” Ellie grimaces. “I’m sorry, I know that must sound lame…”

“Trust me, it really doesn’t,” I laugh.

“But, you know, changing myself physically, it- it’s kinda scary, you know?” Ellie explains. “I just wish I’d just been born a girl, wish I could go back in time and somehow change me when I was a baby…”

“If only it was that easy,” I say with a supportive smile that makes Ellie sigh happily as she realises that she really isn’t alone. “Do- do you live with your parents?” I frown as Ellie shakes her head, tears forming in the corner of her heavily made-up eyes.

“They kicked me out when I told them,” Ellie whispers.

“Oh, I- I’m so sorry,” I say.

“I hate them,” Ellie sniffles with pure venom in her voice. “They didn’t even hear me out, made it clear that if I didn’t dump my boyfriend and go back to being a boy, they- they actually said they’d spit on me if they saw me in the street.”

“That’s just disgusting,” I sigh as I give the distraught girl a gentle hug. “People like that don’t deserve to call themselves parents.”

“It wouldn’t be so bad, but I split with my boyfriend a few weeks later,” Ellie moans. “So I had to move out of his parents’ house… I’ve been sofa surfing around friends’ houses ever since.”

“That’s terrible,” I breathe. “Just because you want to live your life the way you want…” I keep listening to Ellie’s story as a pang of guilt flares up inside me, reminding me of just how easy I’ve had it when compared to other transgendered people, especially when it comes to my relationship with my family. The important members of my family, anyway…

“It’s not too bad,” Ellie says, forcing a smile on her face. “I keep reminding myself that Jamie-Lee Burke was kicked out by her parents when she was sixteen, and now look at her, heh!”

“Yeah,” I say. “Do- do you have brothers or sisters, or uncles?”

“Only one brother, and he’s younger,” Ellie sighs. “It’s okay, you of all people shouldn’t have to worry about me! You’ll probably forget I even exist a few days from now…”

“Well, there’s an easy way to avoid THAT,” I say with a smug grin as I take my phone out of my handbag. “What was your surname again, Blake?”

“Yeah,” Ellie said, before frowning in confusion as her own phone bleeped. “Did- did you-“ Ellie gasps as she reads the notification on her phone’s screen, which undoubtedly goes something along the lines of ‘Stephanie Abbott sent you a friend request’.

“Message me anytime you need to talk,” I say with a warm grin. “I might not reply immediately but I will eventually, I promise.”

“Oh my god thank you so much!” Ellie squeaks semi-coherently.

“And you’ll get oestrogen soon, I know you will!” I say with a laugh.

“Thanks!” Ellie squeaks as we head back into the main body of the college, where she heads to her next class- but not before posing for a selfie with me!

As I head back home, the pang of guilt that I’d tried to push aside keeps growing as I think about Ellie, and how hard she’s had things simply because she wants to be a girl, whilst my desire to be a girl is half-hearted compared to hers… And I’ve had everything handed to me on a plate, which now includes the bottle of oestrogen pills that I collect from the pharmacy near my flat.

“Hey Steph!” Kayla shouts as I walk through the front door, pill bottle in hand. “What did that teacher want with you?”

“Uhh… Nothing really,” I half-lie. “Just wanted me to talk to one of the students one-to-one, that’s all.”

“Why did they specifically ask for you?” Kayla asks. “Was the student transgendered or something? …Ugh, sorry Steph, know how egotistical that must sound…”

“S’okay,” I shrug. “And actually… Yes, the student was actually transgendered, had been transitioning for two months, kicked out by their parents, the whole thing.”

“That’s awful!” Kayla sneers, opening her mouth to speak before thinking better of it. It’s obvious what she was going to say, though- that Ellie had been kicked out ‘just like me’, when, of course, I’d never been kicked out in the first place. “Did- did you, you know, give any advice?”

“What little advice I have,” I sigh. “I added her on Facebook, so she can get in touch any time.”

“Is she taking hormones as well?” Kayla asks, making me sigh.

“Not yet,” I answer, putting my own pill bottle down on the coffee table as Kayla gasps excitedly.

“Is- is that-“ Kayla giggles.

“Yep,” I sigh. “Month’s worth, then I go back for more.”

“So cool!” Kayla squeaks, looking at me expectantly. “…Well?”

“Give me a break, it’s been a long day,” I moan, grimacing as Kayla’s face immediately contorts into a frown.

“Steph…” the tiny girl growls.

“What?” I plead.

“You know what,” Kayla sighs. “You wouldn’t be given the pills unless the doctor thought you needed them.”

“It’s not that easy,” I sigh. “It’s never that easy…”

“But why?” Kayla asks. “There have been times when you’ve been desperate for oestrogen, and now that you have it, you’re just going to not take it?”

“Have you ever heard Nikki talk?” I ask. “About how she’d burst into tears because she was that desperate to be a girl? I never experienced that.”

“But you DID always dream about being a girl, right?” Kayla asks, making me nod. “And you’ve achieved your goal, MISS Abbott.”

“Exactly,” I say. “I’ve achieved my goal and I never even needed those pills. If I took them… I dunno. It’d just, you know, trivialise all those people like Nikki who were so desperate for them.”

“If you don’t take them,” Kayla retorts, “it’ll trivialise all the people like your student friend who HAVEN’T got them yet.”

“It…” I begin, before sighing and putting the pills back in my handbag, making Kayla groan with frustration. “Can we just drop this for now, please?”

“For now,” Kayla says in a dark voice as she switches on the television.

The two of us spend the rest of the evening gaming, updating our social media pages and preparing for the fortnight-long promotional blitz that’ll be starting next week, before we both head to bed shortly after 10:30pm. As always, though, I struggle to sleep. It’s almost as if I can hear the pill bottle calling to me from my handbag, along with a ‘voice’ I’d hoped I’d left in the past- the voice of ‘Steve’, reminding me just how much of a fraud I am…

Fortunately, when I wake up the following morning, I’m easily able to suppress my ‘fraudulent’ feelings when, after showering, I pull on a pair of baby pink tights and skin-tight black tank leotard, before tying my long brown hair back into a tight bun. Even under such a tight leotard, my control thong is doing its job, though I still pull on a floaty black skirt to cover myself up.

“Ready?” An identically-dressed Kayla ask.

“Of course,” I reply with a grin as we head down to the waiting taxi. “I’m actually kind excited by the idea of getting pointe shoes next month… Almost makes the last couple of years worth it, heh.”

“It’s a hell of a long time to practice just for one music video,” Kayla laughs. “Really hope what Krystie’s got in mind will be worth it, she says she’s tweaked the choreography like, a hundred times since she first laid it out. Sometimes gets some of her teenage students to dance it just to see what it looks like. Even more so since she had to rework it for four girls instead of five.”

“Yeah,” I laugh.

“Of course,” Kayla says cautiously, “pointe shoes are basically an exclusively female thing. Kinda like, umm, bras, or… You know… Oestrogen…”

“THAT is not something I want to talk about right now,” I say, making Kayla sigh frustratedly.

“Okay,” Kayla says, holding her hands up in mock-defeat. “But you will have to talk about it eventually, and sooner rather than later.”

“But not NOW,” I say.

“Fine,” Kayla huffs.

The rest of the taxi ride passes in silence, but both Kayla and I force smiles on our faces as we exit the car and walk through the front door of the Krystie Fullerton School of Dance, where many of our friends are already present, each dressed in the same skin-tight attire as Kayla and myself. One of the faces in the crowd stands out, however, and I excuse myself from Kayla before walking over to where the tall, slender woman is adjusting the long sleeves of her black leotard.

“Hi Steph!” The woman greets me with her cheeky Manchester accent.

“Hi Natalie,” I reply. “Not seen you here in a while…”

“Duty calls,” Natalie shrugs. “Spent t’ last three Thursday mornings flying back and forth between here and Germany.”

“So cool,” I giggle at the stewardess’s tale. “Wearing a tight blue skirt, seamed stockings and blue high heels, I take it?”

“Naturally,” Natalie says with a smug smile. “How’ve you been, Steph? Understand there was a bit of a ruckus last month?”

“Putting it mildly,” I laugh. “But it’s behind me now… Nat, um, do you- do you mind if I ask, like, a personal question?”

“Depends on how personal,” Natalie replies.

“Are- are you still not taking oestrogen?” I ask hesitantly.

“Nope,” Natalie replies. “I mean yep, erm, I mean, ‘yes I am not taking oestrogen’. Is that- is that, you know, clear?”

“Yeah,” I whisper. “You never- never wanted it?”

“Sometimes,” Natalie shrugs. “But I’m comfortable with who I am. I don’t need a doctor or some pills to tell me who or what I am.”

“I- I guess,” I say. “It’s just- it’s just that, well, I kinda- kinda got prescribed oestrogen on Tuesday…”

“Oh, congratulations!” Natalie says, giving me a gentle hug. “You’ll be throwing away your padded bras before you know it!”

“Yeah,” I laugh. “Assuming- umm, I mean, I haven’t, well, taken any yet…”

“…Ah,” Natalie says. “Is- is there a problem?”

“You might say that,” I sigh. “It’s just- I don’t know if, you know…”

“I’m the last person you should be asking,” Natalie says with a tired chuckle. “I’m not a doctor or a shrink, far from it, heh!”

“But- but you-“ I stammer.

“Yeah, I don’t take oestrogen,” Natalie says. “Because I’m comfortable with who I am, I’m happy, 100%, with my life. Can you say the same thing?”

“…Not really,” I mumble.

“Then it’s up to you to decide if oestrogen’s going to make you happy,” Natalie says, before giggling as she reaches into her dance bag for a pair of stiff, shiny pointe shoes, which she attaches to her feet before stretching one leg high into the air.

“Hey!” Zoe admonishes her lover as she walks past. “Soft shoes to begin!”

“Is that anyway to speak to a fairy princess?” Natalie pleads, pouting and fluttering her big, fake eyelashes at the Frenchwoman, who simple doubles over in a fit of giggles.

“Soft shoes!” Zoe orders between giggles as Natalie smiles and exchanges her pointe shoes for a pair of soft canvas ballet slippers.

“You really are comfortable, aren’t you?” I ask.

“Yeah,” Natalie sighs happily. “You will be too, Steph, oestrogen or no oestrogen, you WILL go to the ball!”

“…As a fairy princess?” I ask, making the northern girl laugh.

“Better that than Prince Charming!” Natalie replies as we head into the dance studio to begin our lesson.

Despite my earlier fears, I manage to get through the lesson without vomiting all over the floor. My anxieties haven’t vanished, of course, but for the hour I’m in the studio I am able to push them to one side by concentrating on my dancing, and on the gracefulness of Natalie as she dances, especially after she changes into her pointe shoes and daintily balances on the tips of her toes, absolutely indistinguishable from any of the other girls.

“You were really good out there,” I say to Natalie as we leave the studio, both of us untying our buns and letting our long, smooth brown hair hang free.

“Thanks!” Natalie giggles. “Of course, I AM shacked up with a ballet instructor…”

“Heh,” I laugh. “Zoe’s a lucky girl…”

“Thanks,” Natalie says smugly. “And I’m flattered, but also taken. And besides, I always thought you went for, you know, transgendered guys?”

“Oh, um, I didn’t mean-“ I stammer.

“S’okay,” Natalie smiles. “And yes, yes Zoe IS a lucky girl!”

“When you’re not stretching my leotards, anyway!” Zoe laughs as she sits in Natalie’s lap and gives her a kiss.

“Hang on,” Natalie complains. “’Stretching’? I’ll have you know we are the exact same size! Besides, you never complain when you wear any of MY leotards…”

“I never wear your leotards,” Zoe retorts, and already I’m smirking at Natalie’s inevitable comeback.

“Not that you know of,” Natalie says, making me giggle even as Zoe frowns.

“Ah, you two are cute,” I say, bringing the smile back to Zoe’s face. “No offence Zoe, but, um…”

“Why is she dating me instead of a ‘real man’?” Natalie asks, making me blush as I nod at the deeply personal question.

“Natalie IS a real man,” Zoe shrugs.

“AND a fairy princess,” Natalie says smugly, giving Zoe another kiss. “Saw a counsellor once who said I was something called ‘bigendered’, male and female at the same time. And it suits me fine.”

“Yeah,” I laugh as I remember back to well over a year ago when I was diagnosed as bigendered, back when ‘Steve’ was just another side of me, equal and opposite to ‘Stephanie’… Before ‘Steve’ became a liability that threatened my sanity and, from a certain point of view, my life.

A lot of things have changed since then, not least me. Now, Dr Phillips believes I’m no longer bigendered, but that I am beyond reasonable doubt a woman trapped in the body of a man. She’s so confident, in fact, that she’s willing to give me medicine that will chemically change me into a woman… I just wish I was as confident as she is.

With the rest of the day free, Kayla heads to Waterloo Station to go home to visit her parents, whilst I head back to my flat to relax. En route, however, I check my phone to find a voicemail from my mother, and it quickly becomes clear that the rest of my day will go a lot like Kayla’s. After changing from my dancewear into a smart black pencil skirt, black tights and red top, I hop in yet another taxi, and before long I’m being greeted with a hug by both my parents as I walk through their front door.

“Hello Steph!” Dad laughs as he gives me a tight, fatherly hug. “You’re looking well, still on that posh superstar diet, I take it?”

“Like the agency would EVER let me eat what I want!” I laugh. “And we’re doing a lot of dancing as well, Jonathan wants us to put out two music videos before the end of the year, so gotta keep in shape, heh!”

“Hi sis!” Danny laughs, emerging from the kitchen and briefly startling me.

“You- don’t do that, you arsehole!” I laugh as I give my brother a hug.

“Yeah, that’s not gonna happen,” Danny laughs. “So can we find out now why we were summoned around here?”

“Yes,” mum says with a grimace- it’s clearly not good news. “I- I had a call from your brother, he wanted to speak to us, all of us, today.”

“Tom,” I spit, making my parents sigh sadly.

“He IS still your brother,” mum admonishes me, making me blush with embarrassment.

“I know,” I say coldly. “I just wish he didn’t think that I was still his brother.”

“Well he asked to speak to the whole of the family, and that includes his sister, whether he likes it or not!” Mum says firmly. “But before he gets here, what’s been happening with you? We saw you on the local news programme yesterday teaching a load of kids in a local school and I was so proud!”

“We kind-of always hoped that one of you would be a teacher,” dad says. “Obviously, that was never going to be Danny here!”

“Yes yes, thank you father,” Danny snorts as dad chuckles at his expense. “I’ll have you know I’d be a great teacher. Kids love me and I, well, I don’t LOVE them, but, well, you know.”

“Don’t you actually have to know things in order to be able to teach them to other people?” I ask, making dad laugh and making Danny snort again.

“What is this, ‘pick on Danny day’?” My brother protests. “Keep this up, I might actually look forward to Tom getting here!”

“Wonders will never cease,” mum laughs as she hands warm mugs of tea to me and my brother.

“Rachel at work?” I ask my brother, who sighs and nods.

“Yep,” Danny replies. “Barcelona today, won’t be back until very late.”

"Now I do like that girl," mum laughs. "She's sensible and smart..."

"Yes, yes, 'everything I'm not'," Danny laughs. "But yeah, I really, really like her. So glad you were able to introduce us, Steph."

"I hardly 'introduced' you," I retort.

"Well, you know what I mean," Danny shrugs. "If it wasn't for you being a singer, and well, you know... Gaining a sister also got me a girlfriend, heh."

"Yeah, that's why I started transitioning in the first place," I say, making everyone laugh. The conversation continues for another twenty minutes, before a knock at the door silences the room and makes my heart beat faster.

Even though I know there's nothing Tom can do to me, nothing he can do to stop the 'growth' of Stephanie, every time I'm in his presence, I can't help but tense up, and today is no different. The one consolation is that Tom isn't alone- his new fiancée Amanda is stood next to him with a huge grin on her face, a grin that she passes on to me when she greets me with a tight hug as though we'd been sisters our whole life.

"Hi Stephanie," Tom says coldly after greeting the rest of the family.

"Hi Tom," I mumble.

"So, Tom," mum says, diffusing the tension in the room, "why have you called us all here?"

"Mum, dad..." Tom says, a wide, smug grin spreading across his face. "Or should I say, grandma and grandpa?"

"Grand- you- you're pregnant?" Mum gasps as dad's jaw drops.

"Yep!" Amanda squeaks happily, earning yet more hugs from the whole family. "Due around the start of May. We only found out on Tuesday."

"Fantastic news!" Dad laughs as he gives Tom a firm, hearty handshake.

"Awesome, mate!" Danny laughs. "Ahh, I'm gonna be an uncle!"

"And I'm gonna be an aunt!" I exclaim, causing Tom's smile to vanish.

"Yeah..." Tom mutters, clearing his throat.

"...We should do something to celebrate," dad says, breaking the awkward silence. "Maybe go out for a meal tonight?"

"We've actually got a table booked for this Saturday night," Tom says, making me scream internally.

"...Even though you know I can't come on Saturday night?" I spit. "It's the big Halloween party at Charlotte's place, there's no way I'd be allowed to miss that."

"Well it's up to you whether or not you want to come," Tom shrugs, even though he knows full well that it ISN'T up to me. "Danny, you and Rachel coming?"

"Umm, we wanted to go to that party as well," Danny says in a small, stoic voice. "Had our costumes picked out and everything."

"Seriously," I say, "I have money AND connections. I can get us in at a restaurant tonight."

"Oh sure, flaunt your money as well as everything else," Tom snorts, making Amanda look VERY uncomfortable.

"Thomas! Stephanie!" Mum snaps, immediately silencing me and my brother. "Stephanie, what would happen if you missed the party on Saturday?"

"I'd probably get REALLY told off on Monday," I reply. "The Halloween party's one of the biggest of the year, there'll be a lot of press there, I'll be expected to show my face."

"Tom, can you rearrange the booking at your restaurant?" Mum asks.

"I doubt it," Tom mumbles.

"Yes or no," mum insists.

"...Yes," Tom sighs. "I don't see why I should have to, though."

"Mate, you've known about this party for AGES," Danny says. "You knew when it was and that me, Rach and Steph were all looking forward to it."

"Honestly, it's not a big deal," Amanda says.

"It is-" Tom says, before sighing as mum stares sternly at him. "...Fine, we'll rearrange for Saturday after. Will that fit in with your busy social lives?"

"Got nothing planned," I mumble.

"That's settled, then!" Mum says as my anxiety begins to grow thanks to Tom's constant disapproving gaze. "We'll all wear our smartest clothes and have a nice time, isn't that right?"

"Yeah," Danny says.

"This is such good news," mum says, trying to move past the earlier awkwardness caused by my argument with Tom. "Our family just keeps growing!"

"Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?" dad asks, before cringing as all eyes in the room slowly turn in my direction.

"We honestly don't mind," Amanda replies. "Boy, girl... As long as they're healthy and happy, that's all that matters." I can tell from the frown on Tom's face that he does not agree with his fiancée, though I hold my tongue rather than make matters worse.

"That's all we ever hoped for," mum says with a proud grin. "Now we have three happy, successful children."

"I definitely never had any complaints growing up," Danny laughs.

"Except in the run-up to every Christmas and every birthday," dad retorts, making Danny chuckle. "I always did worry about you, you know, because of this so-called 'Middle Child Syndrome'..."

"Nah, you've got nothing to worry about," Danny shrugs. "Like you say: happy and successful!"

"Might we be hearing wedding bells for you and Rachel anytime soon?" Mum asks, making Danny blush.

"Give me a break," my brother laughs. "Only been dating a few months..." I wince as yet again, eyes begin turning in my direction. I'm the only single person in the room, and everyone in the room knows exactly why I'm the only single one. As I bite my lip in frustration, something inside me snaps- I'm fed up with being the elephant in the room.

"I have some news as well, actually," I say. "I spoke to my counsellor on Tuesday, and she's approved me to start hormone replacement therapy." Unlike Tom and Amanda's announcement, mine isn't met by cheers, but by shocked silence.

"Oh, um, well done, sis!" Danny says, giving me a hug that's far more awkward than usual.

"Umm, congratulations, Stephanie," dad mumbles.

"I always thought that you WEREN'T a real transsexual?" Tom asks.

"Thomas!" Mum snaps, silencing the entire room. "Stephanie, we're all very happy for your news... But is this what you really want?"

"...Yes," I half-lie. "Yes it is."

"...Then congratulations," mum says, giving me an awkward hug- it's clear that she knows I'm lying.

Tom, Amanda, Danny and I only stick around for another 45 minutes of awkward conversation, none of it concerning my hormone tablets. I take a separate taxi home, and let out a long scream of frustration once I step through the front door of the empty flat.

Everywhere I look, people are pushing me and pulling in all different directions. Kayla 100% wants me to fully transition. Tom clearly doesn't. Danny and my parents would rather not talk about the topic at all, and I... I wish I knew for certain.

Natalie's words were the most sensible I've heard so far. She doesn't need a doctor or pills to be comfortable with who she is, but the question is, do I? Because one thing's for certain, I'm not comfortable with who I am now. I place the bottle of tablets on the coffee table and stare at it, letting out a long, sad sigh as I do so. To the left of the bottle is one of our Xbox controllers, and to the right, one of my make-up compacts from where I left it this morning. It's so easy to see one as belonging to 'Steve' and one as belonging to 'Stephanie', but the truth is, there's no 'Steve' or 'Stephanie' anymore, there's just 'me'... And do the hormones have any place in the life of 'me'?

I try to distract myself for the rest of the evening by reading up on the publicity work we'll be doing in between taking photos for my Instagram account and playing on my Xbox, but once again, I struggle to sleep- yet again, it's as though I can hear the pill bottle calling me from the living room...

My alarm wakes me just after 9:30am, and I sigh as I shower and dress in a smart black pencil skirt and a clingy grey long-sleeved top, before slipping my feet into a pair of very expensive stiletto heels. Ever since Jonathan took over the full-time running of the agency following Joshua's heart attack, the dress code has eased from 'full suits' to 'suitable for an office but not ultra-formal', which is kind-of a relief, even if I do miss the opportunity to dress up as much as I did when meeting with Joshua. Before I leave for the agency, I take one last look at the pill bottle on my coffee table, before stuffing it into my handbag and jumping into the waiting taxi.

"Hey Steph!" Adeola squeaks, greeting me with a tight hug as I arrive at the agency. "Okay, seriously, those heels. Want!" I giggle as I playfully kick my back leg to give my dark-skinned colleague a better look at the shoes, before we both sit down at the side of the room.

"Is Becca gonna be here?" I ask.

"Her lessons finish at lunchtime today so she'll be here in a bit," Adeola says. "Just had a text from Kayla too, she's on the train and will be here soon. So it's just you and me for now!"

"Ehh... Could be worse," I say, making my friend and colleague giggle.

"So tell me," Adeola asks with a twinkle in her eyes. "The hormones...?"

"...Still not sure yet," I say, making Adeola sigh.

"What have you got to lose?" Adeola asks. "It's not like you'll ever be a boy again, is it? It's not like 'Steve' has anything to go back to, but 'Stephanie'... 'Stephanie' is a hot, young, rich successful, famous singer with the world at her feet."

"All of which I got WITHOUT hormones," I said, silencing the dark-skinned girl.

"Then why not make things easier for you?" Adeola asks. "Take the pills and you get girlier, innit?"

"Well, yes..." I mumble.

"You know," Adeola says in a quiet, sombre voice, "there were times growing up- especially when I was at that fucking boarding school- that I wished I'd been born white, that I didn't have to take the abuse that got flung at me by those small-brained arseholes."

"...I'm sorry," I mumble.

"Don't YOU be sorry, you've never called me- well, you know..." Adeola says. "But the point is, I'm glad I'm black. I'm PROUD I'm black."

"So- are you saying that I should be proud I'm transgendered?" I ask.

"You shouldn't be ashamed of it, that's for damned sure," Adeola says. "You should be who you want to be. And who you want to be is Stephanie, innit?"

"Well- yes, I guess," I reply.

"Don't guess," Adeola says. "Know."

"That easy, eh?" I ask sarcastically, making Adeola laugh.

"It is if you want it to be," the tall girl says as we're joined by Kayla, who we greet with tight hugs, and shortly afterward by Becca, who also gets hugs.

The four of us spend the next three hours being lectured by Jonathan about our upcoming publicity tour, including what to say, what NOT to say, how the tour will fit around Becca's studies, before we're sent on our way. Frustratingly, even though we have a lot of work ahead of us, it's Friday so there's a night out tonight AND it's the biggest party of the year tomorrow, there is only one topic of discussion as we head to our waiting taxi.

"So Steph," Becca giggles. "All hormoned up yet?"

"Ugggh," I moan, making the other girls frown. "Seriously, you girls, I love you loads, but could you PLEASE, well, you know?"

"'Keep our noses out'?" Becca asks. "If you insist."

"I do," I say.

"Fine," Becca shrugs. "Not like we're your friends or anything..."

"Ugh," I moan. "I- I'm sorry, I just- I just need time to, you know, work this through... Find out for myself what it is that I really need."

"Steph," Becca sighs, "I've known you long enough to know that when you say you're 'working something out', what you're actually doing is 'working yourself into a panic thinking about all the worst case scenarios'."

"That's not fair!" I protest.

"...It kinda is fair," Kayla says quietly, making me frown.

"You too?" I say to the tiny girl.

"Hey, don't pick on me all of a sudden!" Kayla retorts. "Steph... You always do this. You always worry yourself so much that you're literally incapable of making a decision... So let us help you!"

"When we say we're your friends," Adeola says, "that doesn't just mean we like hanging out with you or going to parties... It means we're there for you when you need us, you know?"

"Whenever you need us," Becca affirms.

"Thanks," I whisper, wiping a tear from the corner of my eye. "I really, really do appreciate it... But I HAVE to make this decision by myself."

"Hey, we're not going to force feed you the pills," Becca laughs. "But your decision will kinda affect us too, you know?"

"Yeah, I know," I sigh. "And I know what you'd rather I chose... Thanks, I really do appreciate what you're trying to do. But this isn't a decision I can rush."

"You've had three days already," Becca snorts. "What's stopping you from, you know, just taking it to see if you like it?"

"Because it WILL change me physically," I retort, silencing Becca. "And possibly mentally as well, I don't know. Maybe I should put off my decision until after the publicity-"

"No," Kayla says quietly, but loud enough to silence the car. "You're not putting it off, Steph. Because if you put it off until after the publicity tour, you'll then say 'I'll put it off until after Christmas'. Then 'I'll put it off until after the tour'. Then 'I'll put it off until after the third album'. We've known you long enough to know that you'll do anything to avoid making a decision."

"Didn't you have a bottle of pills on you when you did one?" Adeola asks. "And didn't you throw that bottle away without opening it?"

"Yes," I sigh. "But back then I was torn between being 'all Stephanie' or 'all Steve'. I've kinda, you know, compromised..."

"Really?" Adeola asks. "'Cause from where I'm sat, you look 'all Stephanie' to me."

"Me too," Kayla says.

"Me three," Becca concurs.

"There's a lot going on, you know, under the surface that you can't see," I whisper.

"Then let us in," Kayla says. "Let us help you."

"I- I really think I want to be alone tonight," I mumble to exasperated groans from my bandmates.

"Fine, fine!" Becca sighs. "You don't want our help, we can't force it on you. Kayla, you still coming out tonight?"

"...No," Kayla says, making me frown. "I feel like a night in, at least for tonight."

"Honestly, don't stay in on my behalf," I mumble.

"Who says I'm doing anything on your behalf?" Kayla spits. "I thought what we did now was 'do whatever the hell we want without any regard for what other people do or say', wasn't it?" I remain quiet, but my frown more than conveys my response to Kayla's question.

When we arrive back home, I head straight to my room, but not before making a show of putting my pill bottle on the coffee table where Kayla can see it. Once my bedroom door is shut behind me, I leap onto my bed and scream into my pillow, letting all of my anxieties flow out. How dare my friends! How dare they try to live my life for me!

'They're only trying to help,' I hear a voice in my head suddenly say. 'Steve'? I think to myself.

'No,' the voice says. 'Not 'Steve'. 'Steve' doesn't exist anymore, you made sure of that, remember?'

"S- Stephanie?" I whisper.

'Who else?' The voice answers.

"I shouldn't be listening," I whisper. "Doctor Morgan said voices are a sign of too much stress... I need to stop listening..."

'But you know I'm telling the truth,' 'Stephanie' persists. 'All your life you've watched videos of girl bands dancing on stage in sexy costumes, all your life you've seen girls walking around town wearing clothes, make-up, jewellery, hanging out with friends, going to clubs and parties... All your life you wishes that could be you. Well I have news for you, Stephanie: that IS you. What are you so scared of?'

"...Not really being one of them," I say. "I'll always be a fraud."

'You'll never be able to take a pill that will magically change you into a girl overnight,' 'Stephanie' says. 'But you can take a pill that'll gradually change parts of you, over time...' I frown as I grab my iPod and put my earphones in, playing my entire music library- a good chunk of which is, of course, out of Heaven- in an attempt to silence 'Stephanie'. I perform the breathing exercises and relaxation techniques I've learned from Dr Philips and during my time inside the psychiatric hospital, and by the time the music ends, 'Stephanie's voice is nowhere to be seen. What I said, however, still counts- if I'm hearing a voice, be it 'Stephanie' or 'Steve', it means I'm feeling far too much stress... And it's obvious what's causing the stress. The more I put off making the decision, the more anxious I get. If I make the decision, I eliminate all of the anxiety... if only I knew which decision to make.

I remain in my bedroom for the whole night, eventually getting to bed just after 10pm, though as always, I hardly sleep, and when I eventually get up at 9am, I feel almost hungover despite the fact that I didn't go out the previous night.

When I head through to the living room, I'm unsurprised to find that Kayla is already awake. What is surprising, however, is the sympathetic smile on her face, and the first words that come out of her mouth when she sees me.

"I'm sorry," Kayla says, walking over to me and giving me a long, tight hug. "We put you on the spot yesterday. It was wrong, I shouldn't have done it, and I apologise."

"Apology accepted," I whisper, returning Kayla's hug. "And I'm sorry too... Sorry I've been such a pain these last few days. I want- I really want to make my decision, to put this behind me."

"...I know," Kayla whispers. "Anything you need, just ask, or if you need nothing, if you want me to leave you alone, that's okay too-"

"What do you see?" I ask. "When you look at me. Don't say 'a girl' or 'a megastar'. Be honest. Be brutally honest. What do you think of when you think of me?"

"...I think you're delicate," Kayla eventually answers. "I think you're emotionally fragile. Though you do NOT use that as an excuse to throw away the hormones, okay?"

"Okay," I say. "And you're right... It's like, all I need is an excuse to get worked up over SOMETHING."

"Your parents, the lies about transitioning, and now hormones," Kayla sighs. "All of which would have been avoided if you'd just been open and honest from the start about who you were."

"And that's just it," I moan. "I DON'T know who I am. I don't even know WHAT I am."

"I can answer that," Kayla whispers. "WHO you are is Stephanie Abbott, superstar singer and most importantly of all, my BFF."

"Thanks," I whisper, giving Kayla- who truly is my BFF- another tight hug. "And WHAT I am...?"

"...A woman," Kayla says boldly. "And not just because of your hair, make-up or clothes. Or even because of your blood, but because of your soul. Men don't open up the way do."

"I shut everyone out last night," I mumble.

"And do you regret that decision?" Kayla asks.

"Pretty much as soon as I'd done it," I sigh.

"Exactly," Kayla says. "Deep down inside, you're a woman, Steph. You may think you were pretending at first, but maybe, for the first nineteen years of your life, you were just pretending to be a man, and now you are who you were meant to be all along."

"I was a pretty convincing man," I shrug.

"I wouldn't know," Kayla says with a knowing grin. "I never met 'Steve'."

"...You met him plenty of times," I retort.

"No," Kayla says, "I met a woman who was pretending to be a man. Just because your body was flooded with testosterone instead of oestrogen, doesn't mean that 'Steve' was the real you. It's not the hormones that make the man- it's the man that makes the man." I smile as Kayla paraphrases Jamie's words from almost a week ago.

"And the girl that makes the girl," I whisper. "I still don't think I NEED the hormones, though..."

"I don't NEED to be a singer," Kayla shrugs. "I don't NEED to be rich and famous. Nobody NEEDS anything. But I know my life simply wouldn't be complete without all of these things. And Steph, before you say anything... If your life was complete, would you be so stressed out right now?" I smile as Kayla finishes speaking- as always, her words have helped me beyond measure.

Two hours later, wearing a short, fashionable pleated skirt, a low-backed bodysuit and a pair of cute heels, I walk into Dr Phillips's office alongside Kayla, greeting the middle-aged woman with a limp, feminine handshake as we sit down.

"Hello Stephanie, hello Kayla," Beverly says.

"Hi," I say nervously. "Thanks for meeting with us on short notice, and on a Saturday too."

"As long as you don't make a habit of it," Beverly laughs. "I'm surprised you called me, actually, thought you'd be busy getting your costume ready for tonight. Sarah's been working on her and Nikki's costumes non-stop for a week!"

"Ours are pretty much finalised," Kayla says. "There's... not a lot of fabric on them."

"Halloween is kinda the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut, and no other girls can say anything about it," I say, making Kayla giggle even as Beverly frowns.

"I'll make sure to pick up a sack on the way home for Sarah, then," Beverly says. "Don't care that she's almost twenty and engaged, as far as I'm concerned she's still a little girl and always will be. But anyway, why did you need to speak to me with such urgency?"

"It's about these," I say, taking the bottle of oestrogen pills out of my handbag and rolling them around in my hand. "I kinda... Kinda haven't opened them yet."

"I had a feeling you might be hesitating," Beverly says. "But I reiterate what I said- I wouldn't have prescribed them to you if I didn't think you were ready for them, at least on a trial basis."

"I know," I say, before opening the bottle, taking out one of the pills and swallowing it whole. Beside me, I can almost feel Kayla's excitement reach breaking point.

"...I see," Beverly says with a proud smile. "If I may ask, what made you change your mind?"

"I didn't change my mind," I say. "I simply hadn't made up my mind yet. Now I have. I know who and what I am, and who and what I want to be."

"You won't see any immediate changes," Beverly says. "I'll repeat what I said on Tuesday- if you feel any emotional instability, stop taking the hormones immediately and call me, we'll likely need to change your dosage. You do, of course, understand that this is just the start of your journey, not the end, right?"

"Oh trust me, I'm very much aware of that," I laugh. "I've got a long way to go..."

"But you won't have to make this journey alone," Beverly says with a warm smile.

"Never alone," Kayla whispers, supportively squeezing my hand as we spend the next hour discussing the next steps of my transition.

Six hours later, I find myself in the middle of a tight group hug as Becca and Adeola learn of my decision, of which they obviously approve.

"Oh my god!" The two friends squeak excitedly.

"Easy, careful with the costume!" I plead, even though my costume- a 'ringmaster' costume consisting of a stretchy tuxedo-styled leotard, fishnet tights, a top hat and a ridiculously tight corset- is very unlikely to crease owing to how tight it is!

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Becca giggles, rearranging her own 'evil princess' dress as Adeola adjusts her own 'sexy ninja'-styled leotard. "But this is so cool!"

"YOU are so cool!" Adeola laughs, giving me another tight hug.

"Thanks," I giggle. "It's, like, a real weight off my mind... Enough to let me kick back and REALLY enjoy the party!"

"Yeah!" The other three girls cheer, though before we head into the bustling party room (the party, as always, being held at Charlotte's house), Kayla- who is dressed in a very skimpy 'blood stained' cheerleader's uniform- takes me to one side.

"I knew you'd make the right decision," Kayla says with a twinkle in her eyes. "No BOY would ever quote Mean Girls! So... Thank you."

"No, thank you," I whisper. "If it wasn't for our chat this morning... I'd probably be in a state of panic right now. Probably wouldn't be able to breathe even without this corset, heh! You really, really are my BFF."

"Yeah..." Kayla says quietly, before grinning. "Now come on, wanna see what costume Sarah came up with!" I giggle excitedly as I follow Kayla into the bustling party, where I spend the rest of the night dancing away what few worries I have left. Sure, it'll be a long road ahead of me, but with the support of my friends and (most of) my family, I'll be ready to knock down any obstacles that come my way. And if my decision helps to encourage girls like Ellie, then so much the better.

But for now, I've got the opportunity to relax and have a LOT of fun- which, like my chance to become the woman I was always destined to be, is an opportunity I intend to grab with both hands!



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