Charlotte, part 22

I take a deep breath as I pin the translucent white veil to my elaborately-styled hair, before draping it over my immaculately made-up face. I fidget a bit in my dress, causing the voluminous strapless creation to rustle, especially as I adjust the low-cut sweetheart neckline. I nervously tap my feet in my low-heeled shoes (Low-heeled as my fiancé is only a couple of inches taller than me), before a call from the next room tell me that it is, at long last, showtime. I grab the bouquet of flowers from the nearby table and step out of my small annex with a wide grin on my face.

“Here comes the bride!” Charlotte squeaks excitedly as she- and all of my other bridesmaids- take picture after picture of me with their phones.

“Eee!” I giggle, playfully hiding my face before posing for the photographs.

“I think we don’t need to make any adjustments at all,” the dress fitter says as she examines me. “Everything looks perfect. Even for a model, you look after your body really well, Miss Burke!”

“Thanks!” I giggle.

“Enjoy that while it lasts, MISS BURKE!” Hannah teases me as I head into the annex to change back into my regular clothes. “Soon it’ll be Mrs Milton…” I try not to blush as Charlotte, Mary and Viks wave their left hands- and their gold wedding rings- at me, but excitement gets the better of me and I giggle uncontrollably as I step out of my wedding dress.

48 hours from now, I am officially going to become Mrs Stuart Milton. I will be a married woman, I will tied down, I will be ‘the old ball and chain’… And, like most women in my position, I don’t know whether to be nervous, excited or just downright terrified. Of course, most women in my position don’t have the added stress of a camera crew tracking every step of the lead-up to their wedding… And most women aren’t likely to have lived the first nineteen and a half years of their life as a man.

It’s been over six years since I left ‘James’ in the past and embraced life as ‘Jamie-Lee’. It’s been over three years since I took the ‘ultimate step’ and had my SRS, and during that time I’ve had no regrets about my decision, especially since I’ve been supported all the way by my amazing friends, my loving family and my utterly perfect fiancé.

And yet, as the clock ticks down to my nuptials, I find myself thinking about ‘James’ more and more. If, in March 2011, you’d told ‘James’ that ‘he’ would be clambering in and out of a wedding dress, that ‘he’ would be getting ready to marry the man of ‘his’ dreams, that ‘he’ would be a role model for girls across the country and one of the most public faces of Britain’s LGBT community, ‘he’ would hardly have believed you. And yet, here I am today, pulling on a pair of sheer black tights, a tight leather miniskirt and a tight grey top that shows off a LOT of cleavage.

I often remind myself that this IS my real life- the life I was always destined to lead, the best outcome I could possibly have hoped for. I AM happy being a celebrity. I DO want to marry Stuart and live ‘happily ever after’ with him. And I am far, far happier as a woman than I ever was as a man. I’ve worked hard to make this life for myself… And yet I wouldn’t have any of it if not for the happy coincidence that I- as a boy- happened to look almost identical to a rich young woman who needed to use a body double for a few days. My whole life is ‘in the right place at the right time’ taken to new extremes.

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve had these thoughts- far from it, in fact. They were particularly strong in the weeks leading up to my SRS- for obvious reasons- but my impending wedding is bringing them back with a vengeance- and even making me start to question whether or not I ever wanted any of this life.

The video camera that gets pointed in my face the second I step out of the changing room doesn’t help my indecision.

These are selfish thoughts, of course- thousands, if not millions of girls across the country (if not the world) would kill for the life I lead. Hundreds of thousands of boys would give anything for this life. And most importantly, the man I’m going to marry used to be a girl named ‘Claire’ who worked ‘her’ absolute hardest, and underwent even more invasive surgeries than I did, to escape the life that I’ve embraced. So I put a wide smile on my face- because I do have a LOT to smile about, not least the gaggle of young women who greet me as I step out of the annex and follow me out of the bridal boutique.

“You are going to be THE most beautiful bride EVER!” Alice gushes in her thick north-eastern accent.

“Um, excuse me?” Mary retorts, pulling her deepest pout- a look that Charlotte and Viks both quickly copy.

“…Joint most beautiful bride, then!” Alice giggles.

“Better,” Charlotte says with a smug grin. “Not that you’re wrong, of course- the soon to be MRS Milton will be utterly and perfectly GORGEOUS, hehe!”

“Are you definitely taking Stuart’s name, then?” Hannah asks.

“Well it’s not like ‘Burke’ is even really my real surname,” I reply. “I only chose it because I didn’t like how ‘Jamie-Lee Travis’ sounded. ‘Jamie-Lee Travis’- apart from sounding like an old 70s DJ, sounds- it kinda sounds ordinary, you know?”

“Whereas ‘Jamie-Lee Burke’ is EXACTLY the kind of name a superstar should have!” Hannah giggles.

“Though it should be pointed out,” Viks interjects, “the only reason we think ‘Jamie-Lee Burke’ is the kind of name a superstar would have… Is because of Jamie-Lee Burke herself!”

“…Stop it,” I mumble as I both blush and suppress a fit of giggles.

“No. Way,” Mary says firmly. “This weekend 100% belongs to you!”

“Yeah,” Abbey-Gayle says with a smug grin. “There might be ten of us, yeah, but you’re, like, the ORIGINAL Angel!”

“Stop it!” I giggle as I’m suddenly wrapped in tight hugs from all sides. “…Okay then, DON’T stop it, hehe!” I shriek with laughter as the other girls take their cue and wrap me in a tight group hug that I only wriggle free of several minutes later. One thing’s for certain- ‘real life’ or not, these girls are all very much my real friends, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

After a quick (but loud and energetic) lunch, I head back home with my BFF, where- after saying hi to my godson, of course- I head up to my bedroom to get ready for tonight’s pre-wedding activities. However, as I set foot in my room, I’m forced to giggle excitedly when I see my fiancé laid out on my bed, stark naked… And clearly 'ready' for some ‘post-wedding activities’.

Twenty minutes later, with my body glistening with sweat and my most sensitive areas tingling, I slide off the bed, giggling as Stuart feebly paws at me in an attempt to stop me from getting dressed- and there’s a very big part of me that hopes he succeeds. However, we both have places to be and people to see, so in the end, the only reward Stuart gets for his efforts is me throwing his underwear at his face.

“Get dressed!” I order my fiancé. “Don’t want to keep my parents waiting. And we REALLY don’t want to keep YOUR parents waiting, hehe!”

“Yes, yes, I know,” Stuart laughs as he slides his boxer shorts up his legs whilst I enhance my make-up, slide on a brand-new G-string and clip a strapless bra around my chest. “Almost can’t believe it… 48 hours from now, we’ll be husband and wife. Joined together forever.”

“I know, right?” I reply. “I’ve got to admit… When I was younger, I never thought I’d ever be a bride.”

“I never thought I’d be a groom, heh,” Stuart chuckles. “Never thought I’d get married at all, especially not after I started transitioning…”

“There’s someone out there for everyone,” I whisper as I withdraw a slender, knee-length dark blue cocktail dress from my wardrobe and slowly ease it up my lithe body. “I’m so lucky I found you.”

“Trust me, I’M the lucky one,” Stuart chuckled. “There’s got to be a million men in the country who’d give anything to be engaged to you.”

“And a million others who want to burn me as a witch or a heathen or something,” I snort.

“Well, they don’t deserve ANY woman,” Stuart says. “Either that or they’re in denial. Probably serious denial. And there aren’t many superhot women who’d give a short, skinny guy with an artificial cock the time of day.”

“Their loss,” I say confidently as I lean in to give Stuart a gentle kiss. “My gain!”

“Is your aunt going to be there tonight?” Stuart asks. “I know she’ll be at the wedding…”

“She’ll be there,” I sigh as I pull on a pair of strappy low-heeled shoes (mindful of Stuart complaining about his lack of height). “Not the one who lives in Australia, obviously, but yes, Aunt Sally will be there. Speaking of ‘witches’…”

“She’s not THAT bad, is she?” Stuart asks. “I mean, you’ve been getting on better recently, haven’t you?”

“Recently, yeah,” I say. “I’m not expecting any REAL trouble, but… It’s kinda hard to forget someone calling the police on you for sending a Facebook message to their daughter.”

“That would take some forgiving, yeah,” Stuart sighs, lacing up his smart black shoes as I pick out my favourite pair of sapphire earrings to wear to the restaurant. “My grandma… She never went THAT far. Wouldn’t have put it past her, though.” I sigh sadly as I sit down next to my fiancé and give him a tight cuddle- neither of us have had the best of luck with our extended families.

“…You’re creasing my shirt,” Stuart mumbles, making both of us giggle. “We should probably get going, don’t want to be late for our own meal, do we?”

“We could always be ‘fashionably late’,” I retort.

“We’ve just been ‘fashionably late’,” Stuart says, giving me a kiss and helping me to my feet. “Though we could always be ‘fashionably late’ when we get back-“

“We are NOT calling it that!” I giggle as I grab my handbag and follow my fiancé down to the waiting Angelmobile, which whisks us (along with Charlotte and Keith) off to the posh restaurant Stuart’s parents have reserved for tonight.

Even despite my celebrity status (which sees some paparazzi camped outside the restaurant as Stuart and I arrive) and my £2500 dress, I still feel slightly out of place- and the stare the doorman gives me as I enter the restaurant reminds me why.

“Even here,” I whisper to my fiancé as I try to keep a smile on my face. “Between us we’ve been transitioning for seventeen years. Seventeen years!”

“Take a deep breath,” Stuart whispers, giving my hand a supportive squeeze. “There’ll be small-minded people all over the place, even after we’ve been transitioning for SEVENTY years. There’s nothing we can do about them. But there’s nothing they can do about us. Especially when they’re going to spend all night serving us!”

“You’re right,” I say, the smile returning to my face.

My smile widens as the four of us arrive at our vast table, where mine & Stuart’s parents are already sat, along with Stuart’s sisters and their partners, Mikey (Stuart’s best man) and his fiancée Krystie, my aunt Sally and her two daughters Nina and Annalise- the latter of whom is clearly awestruck to be in the presence of so many celebrities when she herself is only fifteen years old.

"Hello, Jamie!" Dad says with a grin, before his grin grows even wider as he greets his future son-in-law with a firm handshake. "Hello Stuart! Hope the traffic wasn't too bad?"

"Same as usual," Stuart shrugs. "More traffic getting from the car into the restaurant, heh." I force a smile on my face as, once again, dad treats Stuart like he's more a member of the family than I am.

“Hi everyone!” I say with as happy a squeak as I can manage as Stuart and I are seated at the head of the table. “Just two days to go now!”

“Not that you’re getting nervous, or anything?” Dad asks, making me roll my eyes.

“Mark!” My mother admonishes as dad chuckles even louder.

“…Maybe a little nervous,” I confess with a giggle.

“What bride wouldn’t be?” Mum asks. “I know I was before my wedding.”

“Even though you were marrying me?” Dad asks, almost making me choke on my wine.

“Let’s not go THERE,” I interrupt, making the whole table chuckle.

“It’s okay,” dad says softly. “I know I was more than a little nervous myself. Heh, I’m even nervous about THIS wedding. Getting to walk my daughter down the aisle… Something I never thought I’d get to do until a few years ago.” An awkward silence falls over the table as everyone is reminded of my ‘status’, and I try my hardest to think of a way to break the silence.

“I-“ I begin, before being immediately interrupted.

“It really is a privilege,” Raymond- Stuart’s father- says with a proud smile.

“…You’re not walking the groom down the aisle, dad,” Stuart says, earning snorts of laughter from our two fathers but looks of extreme discomfort from everyone else- even Annalise, who is looking less and less star struck and more and more like she would rather be anywhere else right now.

“No, that’s my job,” Mikey says, thankfully lightening the mood at the table. “Can give you a piggyback if you want.”

“If you want me ripping your ponytail off, sure,” Stuart retorts.

“…I was thinking of going ‘loose’ for the wedding,” Mikey says, making my eyes go wide.

“What!?” Charlotte, Krystie and I simultaneously yell- prompting the three of us to burst into fits of giggles.

“Don’t make me laugh, for god’s sake!” Krystie giggles. “I’ve got a pirouetting baby in here who keeps kicking all of my internal organs!”

“Another girl,” Charlotte sighs dreamily.

“Like there was ever any doubt,” Krystie giggles. “What with all the girl rays…”

“Oh- am I EVER going to be allowed to forget that?” Riley- Krystie’s brother and Stuart’s sister’s fiancé- complains.

“I would have thought the answer to that was obvious,” Krystie says smugly, prompting yet more giggles.

“Hey, Nina,” I say, attracting the attention of my 19 year old cousin. “How was your first year at Oxford?”

“It was great!” Nina giggles. “SERIOUSLY hard work, though.”

“Glad to hear it, considering how much it cost!” Aunt Sally laughs. “Jamie, didn’t you graduate last year? It was the Open University, wasn’t it?”

“Umm, yeah,” I say, making a conscious effort not to take Aunt Sally’s comment as a dig at my academic career. “Putting it to good use too, I’m in the office at least twice a week, helping Jonathan run things…”

“So… Are you his secretary?” Aunt Sally asks- and even she grimaces at the awkward silence she causes.

“More like ‘deputy manager’,” I mumble.

“Not that either of you will be doing any work for the next couple of weeks, though!” Dad chuckles. “Mr and Mrs Honeymooner…”

“Heh, we wish,” Stuart sighs. “Work commitments… We’ve got two weeks away booked in July, though.”

“Anywhere nice?” Aunt Sally asks. “Your friend Mary went to Dubai, didn’t she?”

“Umm, yeah,” I reply. “Obviously, though, umm…”

“…Not really an option for us,” Stuart mumbles. “In fact there weren’t really a lot of, umm, ‘options’…”

“And that’s putting it mildly,” I sigh. “We wanted somewhere hot, so it had to be the northern hemisphere- which is a pity, as we’d have loved to go to Australia again.”

“Most African countries were out, as was the Middle East, for obvious reasons,” Stuart says. “Thailand was a little- a little, you know, ‘close to the bone’…”

“America was the obvious choice,” I continue, “but Stuart vetoed that, at least whilst orange man is in charge.”

“It’s his sidekick who irritates me more,” Stuart says. “Anyone who advocates quote-unquote conversion ‘therapy’ has no business determining how other people live their lives.”

“So, our only real option was Europe,” I sigh. “We’re going to the South of France, maybe as far as Genoa… Stuart’s always wanted to go to Monte Carlo.”

“Making it all the more annoying that we’re not going this month,” Stuart chuckles.

“That still sounds lovely,” Stuart’s mother says. “You’ll see the sights, get a nice tan…”

“It IS nice,” Krystie says. “Pun intended- my, umm, my business partner’s from Nice, she’s invited me down to stay at her parents’ house a couple of times…”

“It’ll be the turn of you two next,” Aunt Sally says to my pregnant friend and her long-haired fiancé. “Have you got anywhere nice picked out?”

“Umm…” Krystie grimaces, conscious that she’s suddenly stealing our ‘spotlight’. “Well, umm, we’re getting married in November, but we’ll have the little one by then, so…”

“Ah, so you’ll have a different type of ‘restriction’,” Aunt Sally says, making my blood start to boil. There’s a part of me that actually wishes that she’s just be openly discriminatory toward myself and Stuart, rather than this passive-aggressive behaviour.

“Two of our other friends are getting married before Krystie and Mikey, anyway,” I blurt. “Nikki, who’s a T-girl like me, is marrying her fiancée Sarah next month.” I allow myself a smug grin as Aunt Sally visibly deflates. “It’s SO great that they have the FREEDOM to do this, to live their lives the way they want and marry who they want.”

“Definitely!” Nina says. “A friend of mine at uni has a sister who just married another woman. I saw the pictures- the wedding was SO gorgeous. Though, um, obviously yours will be even better!”

“Thanks,” I say with an exasperated chuckle, smiling as I feel Stuart’s strong hand grip mine supportively.

“It’s going to be a long night,” Stuart whispers to me, prompting yet another exasperated chuckle.

Stuart’s prediction was, of course, correct, and by the time the meal ended, I am so exhausted that I can barely stand up. I breathe a long, loud sigh of relief as I plop down next to my fiancé on the back seat of the Angelmobile, whilst Charlotte and her husband sit down opposite.

“Thank GOD that’s over,” I moan. “My bloody aunt…”

“I thought you two were getting on well now?” Keith asks.

“Compared to where we were, that WAS us getting on well,” I chuckle. “She’s not openly insulting us, but it’s obvious that she doesn’t approve…”

“And sadly, with some people, that’s the best we can hope for,” Stuart sighs. “God knows, if my grandmother was there tonight…”

“Did you even bother inviting her to the wedding?” Charlotte asks.

“We did, yeah,” Stuart sighs. “Didn’t hear anything back… Half-tempted to underline the ‘mister’ and ‘miss’ part of the ‘you are cordially invited to Mr Stuart Milton and Miss Jamie-Lee Burke’s wedding’ but felt that might have been rubbing it in a bit, heh.”

“Some people need it rubbed in,” Keith whispers.

“You know,” I mumble, “outside of family, neither of us are inviting anyone who knew either ‘James’ or ‘Claire’. Well, apart from you and Ellen, obviously.”

“I thought that ‘James’ didn’t have that many friends?” Keith asks, earning a stern stare from his wife.

“No, you’re right, ‘he’ didn’t,” I sigh.

“Nor did ‘Claire’, really,” Stuart chuckles. “Call me soft but anybody who says that ‘Claire’ is who I ‘really’ am oughta look at my life now. You guys are much better friends than any I ever had at school- much more ‘real’ friends anyway.”

“Nah, you’re not soft,” Keith sighs. “I hardly speak to anyone from school. Or anyone outside work or, you know, the extended Angel family.”

“…I left school when I was fourteen,” Charlotte shrugs. “Can barely remember anyone I went with.”

“Think it might be more a ‘growing up’ thing than a ‘transgendered’ thing,” Stuart muses. “A bit like getting married, if you think about it.”

“Yeah,” I whisper as I relax into my fiancé’s arms.

“Another ‘grown up’ thing is, of course, the stag night…” Keith says with a wicked grin, making both Charlotte and myself roll our eyes.

“Get him back in one piece or you’re going to find yourself in pieces,” I caution the tall man, who throws his hands up in mock offence.

“Hey, Mikey’s the best man, threaten him!” Keith protests.

“Trust me, I have,” I say with a giggle.

“And besides,” Keith continues, “I’d have thought Stuart would be more concerned about what Charlie’s going to do to you on your hen night…”

“Excuse me!” Charlotte says with even more mock offence than her husband had just shown. “I’ll have you know that our hen night will be a sophisticated and civilised affair, and not the type of drunken debauchery you two idiots will get up to!”

“…Really?” I ask, trying not to giggle as Charlotte winks at me.

24 hours later, I discover that the answer to my question is a very definite ‘no’ as I find myself dressed in a very skimpy ‘Angel’ costume (of course), which includes a net miniskirt, fishnet stockings, a tight corset, a pair of extra-high stiletto heels and, naturally, a large pair of wings, a halo, and a sapphire blue sash that bears the phrase ‘bride to be’. I’m surrounded by all my friends- all of whom are also dressed as ‘slutty angels’- several gallons of alcohol (a lot of which has already found its way into my tummy), and, best of all, several tall, muscle-bound men who started the evening in various different costumes but are now gyrating around wearing little more than thongs as all the women- single or otherwise- watch with great interest. And I must admit- I'm more than a little 'interested' myself!

Everything about the party is damned near perfect- just how I always imagined my hen night to be- well, from the point where me having a hen night became a possibility, anyway. It took some negotiating to get the nightclub to agree to put on a private party, but a few 'encouraging' words from Jonathan (and the promise that we Angels would return here several times in the future for publicity purposes) soon changed the owners' mind. I wonder if Jonathan would be so proud of his negotiating skills if he saw the way his wife was dancing with one of the strippers, though!

Naturally, I've also done more than my fair share of dancing, too- as well as posed for hundreds of photographs with all my guests and had a couple of turns gyrating around the poles the club installed especially for the night! A part of me wonders what Stuart would think if he saw what his future wife was getting up to- and a part of me is wondering what he himself is getting up to on his stag night.

There's even a tiny, tiny part of me that wishes I was with Stuart on his stag night...

“LOVE this party!” Kelly giggles as she staggers up to me, uneasy on her feet due to a combination of alcohol and the fact that her SRS was just two months ago.

“Glad you approve!” I giggle. “Are you sure you should even be here, though? I remember two months after my SRS, I was-“

“I am NOT letting a little thing like my vagina still being a bit sore get in the way of my first proper Angel hen night!” Kelly says with a loud whoop. “It was bad enough I had to sit out the pool party this morning…”

“Woooo!” A clearly very drunk Nikki cheers as she stumbles over to us on her extra-high heels. “Bride to be! Bride to be!”

“Jeez, Nikki, how much have you had?” I ask as the twenty year old leans on me and Kelly to keep herself upright.

“Just a few,” Nikki slurs, before hiccupping and bursting into a fit of giggles.

“Just a LOT,” I sigh. “Come on, sit down and enjoy the show…”

“I don’t want a penis,” Nikki moans as she tries to avoid staring at the stripper's enormous bulge. “Where’s Sarah…?”

“I’ll go and get her,” Kelly says softly as I sit down and try to keep my protégé from passing out.

“God, Nikki,” I sigh as the young woman starts to look more and more unwell. “God knows what you’ll be like on YOUR hen night, hehe!”

“I am sober,” Nikki moans, though her body language clearly says otherwise.

“No, you’re not,” I giggle. “Though I am planning on getting HAMMERED on your hen night. Then YOU can prop ME up, hehe!”

“…Sorry if I’m too drunk,” Nikki mumbles.

“Oh- you’re twenty, for Christ’s sake,” I say. “You get as drunk as you want!” As I speak, though, Nikki’s cheeks start to bulge and her forehead suddenly sports a fine sheen of sweat. “…Though I think you’ve had enough now. Come on!” I hastily rise from my seat- feeling pretty unsteady myself thanks to my own heels and alcohol consumption- and drag the ailing Nikki to the ladies’ toilets, where she throws up into one of the bowls in a VERY unladylike manner.

“Hey,” Kelly says, startling me and making me jump. “…Sorry.”

“’S’okay,” I shrug. “Did you find Sarah?” As if on cue, a loud retching sound from the cubicle next to Nikki’s.

“…Found her,” Kelly shrugs. “I’ve told Krystie to call a taxi for them, she’ll be in here to take over ‘mom’ duties in a bit.”

“She needs the practice,” I say, making my oriental friend giggle as Nikki and Sarah simultaneously throw up again. “Poor kids…”

“…They brought it on themselves,” Kelly giggles. “Think it’s kinda cute, though, we went near one of the strippers on the way in here and Sarah was desperately trying not to look at, you know, ‘it’, like, she was trying to keep herself ‘clean’ for Nikki…”

“Nikki did the same thing,” I giggle. “You know, they’ve been together since secondary school? Think they met in year 10, she helped Nikki to come out, helped her to transition…”

“Aww, that is SO cute,” Kelly coos as we touch up our make-up in the mirrors, accompanied by the sound of our friends’ stomachs emptying. “So, reckon their hen night will be a big school reunion-type deal?”

“I dunno,” I say. “Nikki doesn’t talk about her school days much. Neither does Sarah, actually.” Like someone else not far from here, I think to myself. I wonder if Nikki’s ever have the same thoughts that I’ve been having lately…

“Can’t say I blame them,” Kelly shrugs. “I went to a really posh school, I don’t keep in touch with anyone there, not even on Facebook. Half of them have probably never even heard of Facebook, hehe!”

“This may sound selfish,” I say with a grimace, “but there’s a part of me that’s actually glad you said that. I mean, like, it’s my hen night, but the oldest friend out there is Charlotte and I’ve only known her, like, six years?”

“Glad to be of service,” Kelly giggled, before leading me back out into the nightclub, where I pushed my nerves and anxieties to the back of my mind and smiled for the many cameras that had been sent along to document the night, not just those belonging to our production crew but those in our friends’ phones too. I laugh and I smile as I drink and party the night away (including, at one point, getting up on stage to dance with one of the strippers again), trying desperately to forget about my anxieties and nerves about tomorrow- not to mention all the days after tomorrow…

I grunt and try to shake the tiredness out of my head as my alarm wakes me up. After letting out a loud yawn, I stretch my tired muscles, but instantly, I’m struck by the feeling that something is wrong. The first thing I’m aware of is the smell- like a cross between men’s deodorant and stale sweat… And flatulence. Lots and lots of flatulence. And the feel of dry, scratchy hair against my rough cotton pillow, and on my face…

“What the hell!?” I exclaim as I wake up and look around the unfamiliar room- undoubtedly a boy’s room, filled with posters of cars, and clothes thrown into a messy pile in the corner. I reach out a hand to find my beside table, only to be greeted by a shock- my arm is covered in fine, wispy hairs, and my expensive burgundy-coloured manicure is gone, my unpolished nails now looking like they’ve been gnawed to bits by a dog!

“No, no, no,” I whisper as I get to my feet and stare at myself in the mirror. There, looking back at me, is a short, skinny young man, with a flat chest, hair on his legs, and most disturbingly of all, a penis hanging down between his legs.

“James?” A woman’s voice calls from downstairs. “Are you up yet? It’s a big day today. James? James?” I try not to panic as I feel myself uncontrollably shake with fear. Everything I’ve worked for, everything I’ve accomplished over the last six years, all the people I’ve met, all my friends, my fiancé, my soul mate… None of it was real…

“Jamie?” A soft, familiar voice whispers. “Jamie? Come on Jamie, wake up!” I open my eyes with a gasp to find myself staring into the eyes of… Myself. It actually takes my foggy, aching brain several seconds to realise that the face I’m looking at is that of my BFF- and that the last six years WERE, thankfully, real. Charlotte, my friends, my fiancé- my fiancé!

“What- what time is it?” I gasp as I strip off my covers, breathing a sigh of relief at the sight of my two soft, perky breasts and the top of my labia poking out from between my legs.

“Time you were getting up, MISS bride to be!” Charlotte- my maid of honour- giggles. “Any time you want to stop being naked is also fine with me.”

“Sorry,” I mumble, covering my body with a sheet as Charlotte leads me to my shower.

“Your parents are already downstairs, so are the rest of the bridal party,” Charlotte says. “Even those who overdid it last night!”

“I know the feeling,” I moan, letting the hot water of my shower wash away my throbbing hangover.

“I’ll do your hair and make-up once you’re dried,” Charlotte announces. “Been practising for this for WEEKS, hehe!”

“I’ll try not to disappoint!” I reply.

“Oh trust me,” Charlotte giggles. “Your hair is SO amazing, so gorgeous and thick, it NEVER disappoints!”

“Hehe!” I reply as I’m once again gripped by nerves. Despite the doubts put into my head over the last few days, not least by last night’s dream- no, last night’s nightmare- I know for certain that my life is 100% real. Regardless of how I was born, I am a beautiful, successful young woman… And today, I’m going to marry the man of my dreams. Today is my wedding day… And that fact is almost as terrifying as my nightmare.

By the time I leave the shower, with a towel wrapped around my chest and another wrapped around my hair, I’m practically hyperventilating, but fortunately, Charlotte is on hand to take charge- just as she did six years ago, when I was only just learning how to be ‘Jamie’.

“Sit down, shut up, and let your maid of honour do all the hard work!” Charlotte teases, throwing me my bridal lingerie- a strapless bra, a tight white thong, a garter belt and transparent white stockings- which I don before sitting down at my dressing table and letting my BFF work her magic.

“Still can’t believe this is actually happening,” I whisper as my make-up is applied to a near-professional level. “And I don’t just mean that I’m getting married, I mean all of this- all of ‘Jamie-Lee’s life. Sometimes it feels like a dream…”

“Well the good news,” Charlotte giggles, “is that you DON’T have to wake up, hehe! But I do know what you mean… Sometimes I wonder where I’d be if it wasn’t for you.”

“Still rich and famous, probably,” I say, making Charlotte snort with laughter.

“Maybe,” my BFF shrugs. “But I probably wouldn’t be a mother. Almost certainly wouldn’t be a wife, or have Keith in my life… And I DEFINITELY wouldn’t have all the amazing friends I have!” Charlotte’s words resonate with me as I realise that, like me, she barely keeps in touch with anyone from her childhood. In fact, as both of her parents have passed away, she doesn’t have any link to her old life…

“I bet your life would be closer to the life you live now than mine would be if I hadn’t met you,” I say, making Charlotte giggle.

“Probably, hehe!” My BFF chuckles as she moves onto my hair, styling it into a more elaborate updo than I have ever previously worn.

“I would probably still have a penis, for starters,” I muse, making Charlotte pause.

“Well,” Charlotte sighs. “It’s a good job we did meet then, isn’t it?”

“DEFINITELY,” I giggle.

“And for the record, I reckon you wouldn’t still have a penis,” Charlotte says.

“…Really?” I ask.

“Really,” my BFF replies. “Is the fact that I’m sat here fixing your hair and make-up not a clue that you were always a girl, deep down inside?”

“I guess,” I shrug. “I just- I just wish I’d figured it out for myself earlier, that’s all.”

“You’re not the only person who wishes that,” a familiar voice announces from my doorway.

“Mum,” I whisper, tears forming in the corners of my eyes.

“Don’t cry, for god’s sake!” Mum admonishes. “Don’t want to ruin your make-up, not today of all days…” I giggle excitedly as my mother joins my BFF in fussing with my hair.

“Is everyone else here?” I ask.

“Yes, everyone’s here!” Mum says with a loud sigh. “Stop panicking! Today will be the magical, beautiful, perfect day that you want. That you DESERVE. By the end of the day, you WILL be MRS Jamie-Lee Milton!” Despite my mum’s admonishment, I still need to wipe a tear away from my eye- not least because I can tell from her voice that my mum is crying too!

“Get your robe on,” Charlotte orders after touching up my nail polish. “We’ll get you a little breakfast, then get in your dress. Sorry- our dresses, hehe!”

“Assuming you can eat anything,” mum teases. “And I don’t just mean because of your nerves, I can smell your breath from here, young lady!”

“…Sorry,” I mumble as I pull on a short satin dressing gown and follow my mum and my BFF down to the kitchen, where all of my other bridesmaids- Mary, Hannah, Viks, Kelly and Nikki- are waiting, along with numerous other friends.

“Here comes the bride!” Hannah squeaks as the bridesmaids all jump up and wrap me in a tight group hug.

“Mind her hair, for god’s sake!” Charlotte hisses, breaking up the ‘scrum’.

“Did I hear someone say ‘here comes a bride’?” A very familiar male voice asks, and once again, I’m forced to blink back tears as my father gives me a long, loving hug- the kind I never received when I was a child, and for a very long time, thought I would never ever receive.

“Here comes the breakfast!” Viks announces, sitting me down and pushing a very small bowl of cereal under my nose- but even this will be a struggle to swallow.

“Here comes the brew!” Alice- who isn’t a bridesmaid but is part of the ‘extended bridal party’- giggles as she shoves a mug of hot, sweet tea under my nose.

“Are you going to say ‘here comes the’ before EVERYTHING today?” I moan as I try to choke down my tiny breakfast.

“Ooh,” everyone retorts, making my cheeks redden.

“Here comes the blush!” Mary giggles, only furthering my embarrassment.

“Shut up,” I mumble.

“Here comes the bread!” Nikki laughs as she places a full toast rack on the table in front of me.

“Oh- you!” I say to my twenty year old protégé. “You are SO getting tortured on your wedding morning! I’m surprised you’re even conscious, the amount you drank last night…” I feel a half-smug, half-guilty feeling start to replace my nerves as Nikki begins blushing, clearly remembering her ‘behaviour’ last night.

“…Sorry,” Nikki mumbles as she delicately nibbles at a piece of toast.

“Aww,” I sigh, giving the young woman a gentle hug. “You know I love you really…”

“Yeah, I know,” Nikki giggles. “And besides, I do kinda owe you. I mean, you ARE going first, you know?”

“What do you mean, ‘going first’?” I ask.

“Well,” Nikki explains, “we’ll have a target to aim for for our wedding next month, hehe!”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Mary laughs. “Your wedding will be one of a kind as it is. And we all know why- no BOYS!”

“Speaking of,” dad says quietly, “I, um, heard from Stuart’s father just a minute ago. They’re ahead of schedule, they’ll be here in a bit.”

“What!?” Charlotte screeches, startling my father. “We- we’re hardly ready! The caterers aren’t here yet, they haven’t finished setting up outside…”

“Calm down, Charlotte!” My mother says with a laugh. “We’ll make sure everything’s ready in time, won’t we, Mark?”

“Of course,” dad says with a proud grin, before turning to Charlotte. “You focus on the MOST important part of the wedding!” I blush yet again as dad gives me a firm pat on the shoulder, before letting Charlotte lead me- and the rest of my bridesmaids- back to my bedroom to finish getting me ready for the day ahead.

“Okay,” I say, taking several deep breaths as I’m sat at my dresser and my make-up is touched up once again. “I am properly SHITTING myself now.”

“Welcome to life as a bride,” Mary chuckles as the rack of mauve bridesmaids’ dresses is brought into the room and the other women all begin stripping off. “Enjoy it while it lasts, Jamie- fingers crossed, this will be the only wedding that you ever have.”

“Text from Sarah,” Nikki announces as she holds her strapless dress against her body. “She’s on her way with her mother.”

“It was so cool of Beverly to agree to perform the ceremony,” Kelly- who, like my fiancé and myself, has been helped with her transition by Sarah’s mother- sighs.

“Well, technically, Stuart and I would never have met if it wasn’t for her,” I say with a smile. “So it seemed only appropriate somehow. And neither of us are really ‘churchy’… Not like any church would’ve agreed to marry us anyway, heh.”

“Oh, I dunno,” Viks muses as Hannah zips her into her dress. “It IS a heterosexual wedding, regardless of how you look at it, right? I mean, one man, one woman?”

“…I get where you’re coming from, I really do,” I say with a sympathetic smile. “But you know why your average church would turn their noses up at us.” I giggle excitedly as my pristine white dress is removed from its protective cover and held out for me to step into. “Most churches wouldn’t approve of me wearing this, for starters!” My hands start to shake and my legs tremble as I’m zipped into the dress and the transparent veil is pinned to my elaborate hair.

“Their loss,” Charlotte says, actually sniffing back a tear of her own. “As you are THE most beautiful bride of all time!” I giggle nervously as I slip my feet into the expensive white shoes that have been set out for me, before taking the bouquet of flowers from Nikki’s hands.

“I- I think I’m ready,” I say with a gasp as I start to hyperventilate.

“Okay, okay, sit down, sit down,” Viks says, suddenly taking charge and leading me to the edge of my bed, where I gingerly sit down in my voluminous dress. “Nikki, go and get Jamie’s parents, Charlotte, get a glass of water. Jamie- look at me. It’s okay to be nervous. Believe me: I’ve been there. So have Mary and Charlotte, and I’ll bet good money that everyone else in this room will feel the exact same thing on their wedding day too.”

“Uh- uh-huh,” I mumble, my entire body trembling with nerves.

“Though I’ll admit, not every bride is quite as ‘public’ as we are, hehe!” Viks giggles, making me smile despite my nerves. “Especially not you, for the reasons that everyone knows. And yes, there’ll be some detractors. Hell, I got some after my wedding, simply because I married a black guy. The opinions of anyone who criticises either of us for our weddings aren’t worth shit.”

“I know,” I whisper.

“So here’s what’ll happen,” Viks says confidently. “You’re going to go downstairs. You’re going to say your vows. You’re going to eat some cake, upload photos to Instagram that will get hundreds of thousands of likes, and spend the night in the arms of the man of your dreams.” Not last night’s dream, I self-pityingly think to myself.

“Jamie…” Mum whispers, blinking back tears before rushing over to give me a hug- a hug I eagerly reciprocate. “You look beautiful. Truly, truly beautiful.”

“And nervous as hell,” Viks whispers, making mum sigh as she takes off her hat and sits down next to me.

“We’ll give you some privacy,” Hannah says, leaving me alone in my bedroom with my mother.

“…Even the great Jamie-Lee Burke gets pre-wedding jitters, eh?” Mum teases, making me smile.

“Hardly ‘great’,” I snort.

“Your millions- literally millions- of fans would probably disagree with you there,” mum chuckles.

“There are millions more who’d hate me just for wearing this dress,” I mumble.

“NO!” Mum says firmly, startling me. “No thoughts like that, especially not on your wedding day! No matter how you were born, you ARE a beautiful young woman- a beautiful BRIDE. I think so, your friends think so, your fans think so, and most importantly of all, your future husband thinks so.”

“I know,” I moan. “It’s just- it’s just that sometimes, you know, I- I feel kinda… Kinda like a fraud.”

“I don’t see why,” mum says. “You’ve wanted this your whole life, haven’t you?”

“That’s just it,” I sigh. “I- I haven’t. Before 2011, I- I’d never even thought about wearing women’s clothes before, much less actually becoming a fully-fledged woman.”

“But- but what you said-“ Mum stammers.

“Just a story,” I whisper, my cheeks burning with shame. “It was Charlotte, she- she- umm, you know, kinda, like, how we look similar to each other?”

“I’ve never seen that, but go on,” mum says, making me giggle.

“She, um, she approached me,” I say, figuring that mum doesn’t need to know the WHOLE truth. “To kinda, like, fill in for her, for, um, work purposes when she was ill… The life she showed me, it- it was so much better than what I had that I just couldn’t turn my back on it.”

“…Sounds to me like deep down, this is what you always wanted all along,” mum says, giving my hand a supportive squeeze.

“That’s what I tell myself,” I whisper.

“Maybe that’s because it’s true,” mum says. “You were never happy as a child. Maybe that’s because you were bullied at school, or because your father and I could’ve been better parents-“

“Oh- don’t blame yourself,” I interrupt.

“No, we know, we really do know that we could’ve done better,” mum sighs. “Even if it was just giving you a brother or a sister. Not that you could possibly have been closer than you are with the amazing family you have now!”

“…Maybe Charlotte and I ARE twins after all, heh,” I say, making mum giggle.

“You’re definitely sisters,” mum says. “And you are definitely Jamie-Lee Burke, not ‘James Travis’. For starters, I feel that I know Jamie-Lee a lot better than I ever knew ‘James’. Maybe that’s because ‘James’ was never real.”

“Maybe,” I say.

“All I know is that ‘Jamie-Lee’ leads a much better life than ‘James’ ever could have,” mum says. “You have friends who love you, a family who loves you, and most importantly of all, a man who worships the ground you walk on. And that’s the most important thing for today. Do you love Stuart?”

“…With all my heart,” I whisper, wiping a tear away from my eye.

“Then go and marry him,” mum says, putting her hat back on and letting my bridesmaids back into the room, along with my father, who also blinks back tears when he sees me in my dress.

“Wow,” dad gasps as he sees me in my dress.

“I bet you never thought you’d be doing this twenty-five years ago!” I giggle.

“Maybe not,” dad confesses. “But whatever I’ve felt in the past, whatever I’ve said… I’m glad I am doing this today. Everyone’s ready downstairs, Jamie. Stuart and his best man are here. We’re just waiting on you. Are- are you ready?”

“…Let’s get married,” I whisper, making all of my bridesmaids cheer.

“Still got that glass of water if you want it,” Nikki whispers, offering me the drink that I take a hearty sip from.

“Thanks,” I say, before giving the twenty year old woman a long, loving hug. “And thank you for- for being you. For being the best little sister anyone could hope for!”

“Aww…” Nikki sobs, sniffing back a tear of her own.

“And thank you,” I say, exchanging a hug with Kelly, “for reminding me that there’s nothing more important that friends and family.”

“Oh my god,” the black-haired woman sniffles as she returns my hug.

“Thank you,” I whisper to Viks as I give her her hug, “for always being the voice of reason I REALLY needed, hehe!”

“Always,” Viks whispers, her voice full of emotion.

“Thank you,” I say as I exchange a hug with Hannah, “for always bringing me down to Earth when I need it!”

“Hehe!” Hannah excitedly giggles as she gives me a tight squeeze.

“Thank you,” I whisper to Mary as I give her her hug, “for being my family- all four of you!”

“I’ll be sure to pass it on to Dan, Kristina-Leigh and Natasha!” Mary says with a giggle.

“Got one for me?” Krystie- who, with her swollen belly, is wearing a smart suit rather than a bridesmaid’s dress- says, making me laugh and blink back yet more tears.

“Of course!” I laugh, giving the tall woman a gentle hug. “Thank you for always being there for me- for everyone, in fact. If anyone’s most suited to motherhood, it’s you.”

“Aww,” Krystie sighs. “…You’d better get down there quick, think Stuart might be about to wet himself…”

“Sure, you give that fiancé of yours a kick for sending a pregnant woman upstairs to pass on a message!” Mary says, making her BFF giggle.

“Don’t make me laugh, I’LL wet myself!” Krystie laughs. “But we ARE a little behind time, people are getting anxious…”

“We’ll be right there,” I say. “But first…” I have a wide smile on my face as I approach my maid of honour, before wrapping her in the longest, tightest hug I’ve given throughout the whole of today. “Thank you for everything. Literally every single positive in my life is all thanks to you. I love you, Charlotte.”

“I love you, Jamie,” Charlotte whispers, returning my hug. “But I’m not the one you’re going to marry. We don’t want to keep him waiting, do we?”

“…We’ve both waited long enough,” I whisper, gently holding onto dad’s arm and leading my bridesmaids around the side of the vast house.

I have to suppress a gasp when I see the back garden- or rather, what used to be the back garden- for the first time. The workers Charlotte drafted in to decorate the garden for the wedding have done an AMAZING job. Everywhere seems to be decorated with intertwined pink & blue streamers- even the backs of the chairs on which the guests are sat. A temporary fountain has been installed, the bowl of which is filled with rose petals. In front of the fountain is a beautiful wooden arch, which has roses threaded throughout, and in front of the arch is Beverly, in her smart suit… And my fiancé and his best man.

“Come on, sweetie,” Dan says as he leads his & Mary’s older daughter toward me in her tiny dress, before handing her a tiny basket filled with rose petals. “You know what you’re doing right? Just like we practised at home.” I smile and let out a happy sigh as Kristina-Leigh nods, before throwing a handful of the petals on the ground where we are, making everyone giggle.

“Mummy will be just behind you,” Dan whispers, giving his daughter a kiss on her forehead before standing up and looking at me. “You ready?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I say with a nervous chuckle as Dan returns to his seat and nods toward Becca, who is sat behind a brilliant white grand piano.

Seconds later, the familiar strains of the Bridal Chorus fill the garden and all the guests rise from their seats, turning to face me as I slowly walk down the aisle over the petals scattered by my goddaughter. Each step causes my nerves to grow bigger and bigger, until the point where I’m practically hyperventilating again… And then I look up, and my eyes meet those of my fiancé, and all of a sudden, everything feels right. This IS who I was meant to be. Stuart IS the man I’m meant to be with. There is nowhere I would rather be right now, than in this place, surrounded by all my family and friends, ready to marry the man I adore.

“We’re doing this, then!” I whisper with a giggle as I reach the arch, and dad gently places my hand into that of my fiancé.

“Yep!” Stuart whispers, clearly as terrified as I am right now.

“Dearly beloved,” Dr Phillips announces, causing my knees to quiver. “We are gathered here today to witness the joining in matrimony of this man and this woman. Stuart, Jamie, I have known you both for many years now. I have been your counsellor, and I always will be your friend, and it is a privilege to be the one to finally join you together in marriage. You are both young, but you are both intelligent, mature and responsible people, and I know that you will not enter into this lightly- because I know that you both truly love and care for each other." I smile as the audience lets out a collective 'aww'- along with the sound of a lot of tears being sniffed back.

“The couple have prepared their own vows,” Beverly says, causing my heart to beat faster again as I try to remember the words I’ve rehearsed so many times over the past few weeks.

“Jamie,” Stuart says in a voice barely louder than a whisper. “I didn’t know it at the time, but the day I met you was the happiest day of my life. And on every day after that, I just felt happier and happier to know you, and to love you. When I was younger, I knew that I was ‘incomplete’. I thought I knew what I needed to make my life better… But you are the only thing that makes my life perfect. I love you, Jamie-Lee Burke, more than I ever loved anyone or anything, and I promise that for as long as I live, you will be the other half of my soul.” Despite my best efforts, tears trickle down my cheek as Stuart declares his love for me in front of our family and friends, and it takes me several seconds and several deep breaths to compose myself before reciting my vows.

“Stuart,” I say, my voice hoarse with emotion. “Ever since I met you, my life has got better and better. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I’d be lucky enough to share my life with a man as smart, as sensitive… And as beautiful as you. It is a privilege to know you, and an honour to love you. There is no force in the universe stronger than our love, and I promise that for as long as I live, you will be the other half of my soul.” A small giggle leaves my lips as I see Stuart desperately try to wipe a tear away from his eye without everyone seeing- but as virtually everyone else in attendance is tearing up too, he needn’t have bothered!

“Repeat after me,” Beverly says softly. “With this ring, I thee wed.”

“With this ring, I thee wed,” my fiancé says, repeating the words of our counsellor and slipping a delicate gold band onto the ring finger on my left hand.

“With this ring, I thee wed,” I whisper, repeating Beverly’s words whilst sliding a simple gold ring onto Stuart’s finger.

“By the power vested in me by the Universal Life Church,” Beverly announces as my legs turn to jelly and tears flow freely from my eyes, “I now pronounce you husband and wife. …Yes, you may kiss.” I giggle loudly and wrap my arms around the neck of my new husband, giving him a long, loving kiss as the entire crowd applaud and cheer.

“We really did it, then!” Stuart laughs.

“We did,” I say in a near-gasp, before giggling as the familiar strains of the Wedding March begin playing on Becca’s piano. Moments later, with streamers and confetti bombarding us on both sides, Stuart and I walk back down the aisle hand-in-hand as husband and wife.

A few minutes later, I find myself sat at a very elaborate desk that has been erected to the side of the garden, on which is the most technically important part of the day- our marriage certificate. Beverly signs it first, followed by our two witnesses, Joshua (who had to be involved in the day somehow) and our friend Jacinta. Stuart signs his name next, and finally, it’s my turn. As I pick up the pen, I briefly pause. I’d only chosen the name ‘Jamie-Lee Burke’ as a crude feminisation of my birth name and ‘Burke’ came from a hasty glance at a rack of music CDs. It never truly felt like ‘my’ name, and yet, over the last six years, it became more of a real name than ‘James Travis’ ever was… But now, I have a truly real ‘real’ name. I smile as I sign the name ‘Jamie-Lee Milton’, my smile widening as Stuart sees the name and gives my bare shoulder a gentle, loving squeeze.

Next comes the usual avalanche of photographs featuring seemingly every combination of every guest at the wedding, but with me and/or Stuart at the centre of each one, obviously. Once the photographs have been taken, Stuart and I are helped up onto a table (which is, thankfully, sturdy enough to bear both of our weight), where I turn my back to the crowd whilst all the single women gather behind me.

“Ready?” I ask, giggling at the excited squeals of the women. “One, two, three!” On three, I hurl my bouquet over my head, before carefully turning around to find that it landed straight in the outstretched hands of Hannah Dexter, who- despite her cumbersome bridesmaid’s dress- is bouncing up and down excitedly, much to the chagrin of the handsome young man she brought as her plus one!

“My turn!” Stuart eagerly announces, before gently reaching up my dress and removing the lacy white garter from my thigh, twirling it in his fingers before flinging it over his shoulder, where it lands on the chest of a very surprised-looking Danny Abbott!

Finally, the time comes for us to properly start the wedding reception- and as I step into Charlotte’s vast function room, I once again gasp at the transformation. The room has seen a lot of party decoration in the past, of course- the most recent one was just eight days ago when the room was transformed into a fashion catwalk for our friend Lauren’s birthday- but today’s decorations are just breath-taking.

The entire room has been repainted- not just decorated, but actually repainted- a soft pink colour, and the wooden floor has been covered in thin rugs with delicate heart patterns sewn onto them. The sofas that usually dot the sides of the room have been removed, replaced by very formal-looking dining tables, and at the end of room is a large, raised dancefloor, which Stuart and I shall be gracing later in the evening. For now, though, Stuart and I are ushered to the head table, along with our parents, Stuart’s best man and my maid of honour, where a very rich, delicious-smelling meal is served to us by the army of helpers that Charlotte’s recruited for the day.

One the meal is eaten and Stuart and I cut our ridiculously large, ridiculously extravagant cake, we head to our present table, which is embarrassingly huge!

The presents range from the usual, such as food mixers, microwaves and so forth, to the thoughtful, such as Alice's bulging scrapbook filled with photos of me and Stuart together that she gathered from Facebook and online articles, to the imaginative, like Abbey-Gayle's gift basket of spices and ingredients (a Jamaican tradition, apparently), and finally to the bizarre, such as Eilish's 'lucky horseshoe'.

After all the presents are opened, Stuart and I pose for yet more photographs, before returning to our seats for what will inevitably prove to be the most embarrassing part of today.

“Thank you for coming today, everyone,” dad says as he stands and addresses the room. “I look out at this room and the first thing I think is how happy I am that my daughter- and my new son-in-law, of course- have so many wonderful friends. As I’m sure you’re aware, Jamie’s early life… Wasn’t exactly a happy one. ‘James’ was not an outgoing child. He wasn’t the kind to come running up to you to tell you about his latest adventure, or how his day went at school… And in hindsight, it’s now easy to see why. At the same time, Susan and I could have tried harder as parents.”

“Dad,” I whisper, my cheeks growing redder and redder.

“No, it’s not an unfair thing to say,” dad continues with a sigh. “Jamie’s mother and I… Never really got on well with children, and sadly, that extended to our own child. If we could turn back time and do it all differently, then we definitely would- and the first thing we would do is help and encourage our son to become the beautiful and successful woman that you see today. The second thing we would do is encourage any parents who have transgendered children to give them the unconditional love and support they would if they weren’t transgendered. Because regardless of whether or not she’s my son or my daughter, Jamie is still my child, and I love her just as much now as I did on that wonderful morning in September, 26 years ago-“

“Twenty-FIVE years ago,” I interject, earning giggles from everyone in the crowd.

“-That wonderful morning in September 1991,” dad continues, “When Susan and I were blessed with the greatest gift anyone could hope to receive, a gift so valuable you can’t assign a monetary value to it. A gift that I hope Stuart and Jamie will be blessed with soon, as the one thing I know with absolute certainty is that they will make amazing parents- and any child, regardless of whether or not they’re biologically related, would be lucky to be raised by two such wonderful people.”

“No pressure, Mark,” Stuart quips, earning giggles from the crowd.

“So I would like to propose a toast,” dad announces. “To two of the most amazing, mature and, most importantly, happy people I know. To Stuart and Jamie!”

“Stuart and Jamie!” The crowd toasts as Stuart and I blush.

“You next, mate,” Mikey says, all but pushing Stuart out of his chair.

“Oh- okay then,” Stuart says with a nervous chuckle. “Okay, so, um, hi everyone! And, I guess, sorry everyone. I’m sorry to have to be the one to take one of the most beautiful and amazing women the world has ever known off the market. I have known this amazing woman for over four years, and I am thankful every single second of those days. When I was a child- as my sisters will no doubt happily confirm- I didn’t really join in with a lot of their games. For obvious reasons. One of the few games I would join in with, though, was when my sisters would sit around and plan their dream weddings. I don’t remember many of the details- and I don’t need to either, because I’ve just had my dream wedding. Not because of the location, or the décor, or the clothes, or even the cake- but because of all of you sharing it with me, and most importantly of all, because of the amazing woman I can now call my wife. A lot of guys I know think of this ring on my left hand as being a symbol of being chained down. No one I know whose wives are here say that, obviously, but I view this ring as the ultimate symbol of victory, greater than any Olympic gold medal. We’ve both had to go through a lot to earn the lives we’ve wanted our whole lives. I think we deserve our ‘happy ending’. And Jamie- there isn’t anyone I would rather share my happy ending with. A toast- to Jamie-Lee Milton, the most wonderful woman in the world.”

“To Jamie!” The room toasts as my cheeks burn bright red.

“Normally,” Charlotte announces with a smug grin, “the order of speeches at a wedding goes ‘father of the bride, groom, best man’. However, this is 2017, and if we girls have learned anything over the last six years, it’s that it’s OUR time, hehe! Therefore, without further ado, allow me to present the bride: MRS Jamie-Lee Milton!” Even though I knew that I’d be giving a speech today- and I obviously have no problem with public speaking- I still blush even redder as I stand up to address the assembled guests, my dress rustling as I smooth it out.

“Hi everyone!” I say with a nervous giggle. “Thank you all for coming today, it really means a lot to both of us that we have so many amazing friends and family members. It’s especially meaningful as, as I’m sure you can imagine, not everybody in our lives has always been so willing to accept us for who we are.” I take a deep breath, but instead of continuing my prepared speech, recent events, recent feelings prompt me to deviate a little. “It’s a little telling that there isn’t anybody here, apart from family, who knew ‘James’ or ‘Claire’. Sometimes I wonder whether or not ‘James’ was real, or whether or not ‘Jamie-Lee’ is even real… But what I do know is that the love I feel for all of you is very, very real, and the love I have received from all of you over the last six years means more to me than you’ll ever know. And I am so, so privileged to be able to share that love with a man who- despite his attempts to convince you that he’s a macho idiot- is one of the most sensitive, caring and warm-hearted people I have ever had the good fortune to know. Stuart Milton, any woman, regardless of how they were born, would be lucky to have you in their lives as a friend, let alone a soul mate. Raymond, Catherine- thank you for giving the world such an amazing person, and thank you for allowing me into your family. Even if I do plan on being known professionally as ‘Jamie-lee Burke’- merchandising cost, you know…”

“I have taught her well!” Joshua booms from the crowd, making everyone giggle.

“A toast,” I say, silencing the laughter in the room. “To Stuart Raymond Milton- for making me the luckiest girl in the world.”

“To Stuart!” The room toasts as I sit down, smooth my dress and take a deep breath.

“Beautiful,” Stuart whispers in my ear, making me smile. “Your speech was lovely too.” I giggle at the gentle teasing of my husband- god, that’ll take some getting used to, ‘my husband’…

“My turn now,” Mikey says as he lifts his 6’ 3” frame off his chair, grabs his phone (on which he has presumably written down some notes) and takes a deep breath. “I thought I’d start by saying that when Stu and I were at university together, I somehow always knew he’d end up marrying the girl of his dreams. I didn’t know, however, that that girl would be a national celebrity with somewhere in the region of a million followers on Instagram and Twitter. A million on EACH, not combined. Followers such as ‘kez_princess_xx’, who tweets ‘OMG would kill to be at Jamie-Lee Burke’s wedding today bet she looks so beautiful’. Or ‘kt_fahey_9t6’ who tweets ‘can’t wait for photos of the wedding of the century’, or ‘lydia_harris_thfc’ who tweets- well, I’m sure you guess by now.” I grin at Mikey’s joke, even as my curiosity is piqued by one of the name’s he mentioned.

“My point,” Mikey continues, “is simple: Stuart isn’t anywhere near as rich or famous as his new wife.”

“Thanks mate,” my husband sighs as the crowd laughs at his expense.

“You’re very welcome, mate,” Mikey says with a smug grin. “But that’s okay that he’s not as famous, or as rich, or as good-looking, or as talented, or as tall.”

“I object to that last one, she’s wearing heels,” Stuart quips, eliciting a laugh even from the man currently roasting him.

“…Sorry, I was thinking of MY future wife,” Mikey continues, making everyone laugh again as Stuart rolls his eyes. “But one place where Stuart has a huge, HUGE size advantage is in the size of his… Heart.” I giggle and sigh happily- I doubt I was the only one to expect Mikey to say something completely different. “Stu’s not always been lucky in love. But anyone with half a brain can tell that in Jamie, Stuart’s found a real soul mate, and vice versa. I can’t think of any two people I’d be happier to call my friends… or godparents to my daughter.”

“Oh my god,” I gasp as Mikey beams a wide grin at me.

“Yes, he cleared it with me first,” Krystie- who is, of course, Mikey’s fiancée- yells from the crowd, earning yet more laughs.

“I know who the REAL boss is at home,” Mikey chuckles. “Just as Stuart and his pitiful number of social media followers inevitably will.”

“Still got more than you mate,” Stuart laughs.

“But I think we’ve already established that it’s not the size of someone’s fame that matters, or even the number of friends they have,” Mikey says, “but the size of the love they have for their friends. I’m not ashamed to say that I love this man. Well, usually, anyway. After I moved to London a few years ago, he was the first to reach out to me, and I wouldn’t have lasted a second without his help. So, Stuart- here’s to you. And here’s to your amazing wife. May you have many happy decades together. To Stuart and Jamie!”

“Stuart and Jamie!” The crowd toasts.

“Thank god that’s over,” Stuart laughs as I lean across him to speak to Mikey.

“It wasn’t THAT bad,” I say. “Mikey, were- were those tweets real?”

“Sure,” the long-haired best man replies. “Can forward them to you if you want. You’ve even got your own hashtag, #jamieleewedding.”

“I’ll check them out later,” I say with a grin. “Just that one of the names you mentioned sounded a bit familiar, that’s all.”

“You probably see the same fans a lot,” Stuart shrugs. “Becca and her band tend to notice the same names cropping up time after time.”

“Eh, true, I suppose,” I shrug. “And Mikey? Thank you.”

“…Okay,” Mikey replies. “For what, exactly?”

“You know,” I say with a knowing grin that my husband shares, having figured out the same thing about his best man’s speech- at no point during the speech did he make any reference whatsoever to our transgendered status. To him, we are just a man and a woman- which is how it should be.

“And last, but not least,” Charlotte says with a giggle as she rises from her seat. “Though… I wouldn’t call myself ‘most’, either. I’m going to have a hard time saying something about my two amazing friends that hasn’t already been said, so I’m going to keep it brief. I had, it’s safe to say, a privileged upbringing. I’ve lived in this mansion since I was very young, I’ve had my career practically handed to me on a plate, and I never wanted for anything… Except friends. I call Jamie my BFF not because it’s a cool label to apply, but because it’s the truth. I can open up to her in a way I never could to anyone, not even my family. I never had a biological sister… But in Jamie, I have someone much, much closer. The six years that I've known her have been six of the happiest of my life. Jamie didn't replace my family- Jamie IS my family. And, much to my surprise, in Stuart, I also have the brother I always wanted. A moron at times, sure- but that just makes him like any other man. And in fairness, it’s not like Jamie’s always been ‘Miss Sensible’. Or rather, ‘Mrs Sensible’, as she’s now NOT known. They truly are perfect for each other, and it’s only fitting that they have had the perfect wedding. I’d like to thank the caterers, the decorators and all the people we brought in to make this day the magical spectacle my friends deserved, but most of all, I want to thank of all you- not just for coming today, but for being our family when we needed one the most. So here’s my final toast- to family!”

“To family!” Everyone toasts as I sit back in my cumbersome dress and try to breathe a sigh of relief now that the speeches are done.

“That’s enough talking,” Charlotte announces with a smug grin. “Now it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for!” I let out a tired giggle as my brief relaxation is brought to an abrupt end by my husband taking my hand and leading me to the temporary dance floor, where the room’s lights are dimmed apart from a single spotlight, which shines on the two of us. I smile as Stuart gently takes my waist in his right hand whilst taking my right hand in his left. Moments later, at the side of the room, Mikey begins strumming a beautiful piece of music on his acoustic guitar, whilst Becca accompanies him on her piano. The music was especially written by Mikey and Becca as our ‘first dance’ song, and it is every bit as perfect as the rest of our wedding has been. I have a wide grin on my face as Stuart slowly leads me around the floor, before ending by leaning me back into a low dip and giving me a long, loving kiss as we’re lit up by the flashes of our friends’ camera phones.

“May I, son?” Dad asks as he approaches the two of us. “Umm, by son, I of course, umm, mean Stu-“

“By all means,” Stuart whispers, stepping aside and allowing my father to dance with me as more ‘normal’ wedding music begins playing.

“I knew what you meant by ‘son’,” I whisper with a grin as I dance with my father for the first time as his daughter. “And let’s be honest, you get on better with Stuart than you ever did with ‘James’.”

“Perhaps,” dad shrugs. “But I like to think I get on with Jamie-Lee best of all!” I giggle as dad gives me a playful twirl, before I’m handed over to Stuart’s elderly father to dance with, and then Mikey, and then the rest of the male members of the wedding party. My nerves start to increase, though, when the time comes for me to dance with Keith.

“Hey,” my one-time lover whispers as he gently takes a hold of my body. “Great wedding.”

“Yeah,” I reply. “Still reckon you should’ve been best man…”

“Think we both know why I’m not,” Keith says with a sigh. “Besides, your- your husband, umm, he’s known Mikey a lot longer than he’s known me…”

“Yeah, that’s true,” I whisper as I muse on how very, very close Keith came to being the first man I danced with today, rather than the tenth. But as good-looking as he is, he can’t understand me, he can’t love me like Stuart can… And I’ll never love him the same way I love my husband.

“I, umm, I shouldn’t tell you this,” Keith mumbles. “But me- me and Charlie, we’re- we’re kinda trying, again, you know…”

“For another baby?” I ask.

“Yeah,” Keith whispers. “She’s desperate for a daughter, and I’d kinda like one too, you know, one boy, one girl, that sort of thing.”

“Trust me, I get it,” I whisper.

“Oh- you guys have nothing to worry about with the adoption agency,” Keith says with a grin. “Though it’s just if we have a second, it’d kinda get cramped here… I know Charlotte doesn’t want to say anything, but-“

“Message understood,” I sigh. “All good things must come to an end…”

“Not ALL good things,” Keith says with a chuckle. “Like love. Love never ends, and it’s the best thing in the world.”

“Very true,” I giggle, before rolling my eyes as Stuart takes over from Keith as my dance partner.

“Get your own,” Stuart says, playfully waving his wedding ring in Keith’s face.

“I have,” Keith retorts, waving his own ring in my husband’s face. “You two have fun.”

“We can guarantee that,” I giggle as Stuart’s hands once again find their way onto my body.

“We’ll probably want to get going soon,” Stuart whispers to me. “It’s already night, we want to enjoy what passes for our honeymoon while we can…”

“Just a little longer,” I whisper. “I want to enjoy this for as long as I can. It has been a perfect, perfect day…”

“It has,” Stuart whispers. “I’m so glad we didn’t get married in Vegas!”

“Heh,” I laugh as I lean my tired body against my husband’s small, but strong frame. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.” Stuart smiles as we dance away the rest of the night, before our highly-decorated stretch limo arrives, signalling that it’s time for us to take our leave- though not before making the limo driver wait an extra fifteen minutes as we give everyone present a hug on our way to the car!

Eventually, Stuart and I slide onto the plush back seat of the limousine- clutching our complimentary glasses of champagne in our hands- and we’re driven away from our friends and family, waving to them through the back window for as long as we’re able to see them. Eventually, though, the mansion disappears out of sight, and Stuart and I can, at long last, relax back into our seats.

“…We really did it, then,” Stuart says in an almost disbelieving voice.

“We really did,” I laugh. “…Mr Burke!”

“…I’ll let you off this one time as we’re married,” Stuart says, causing me to laugh and nearly snort my drink out of my nose. “But seriously, I did notice you sign the certificate as ‘Jamie-Lee Milton’… Thanks.”

“That’s what my name is now,” I shrug. “Not all brides take their husband’s surnames, sure. But I wanted to. Okay, so the Angels are all about being independent, strong women, and out of the four of us who’ve got married, all four of us have taken our husband’s surname, but- but it doesn’t make us, you know, weak to want to do that? And besides… It makes me feel more like a ‘normal’ girl.”

“You ARE a normal girl,” Stuart says, gently squeezing my hand.

“You’re only saying that because you’re my husband,” I retort, making Stuart giggle. “And you wouldn’t say that if you’d ever seen my original ‘equipment’.”

“You mean like the numerous times you saw my original ‘equipment’?” Stuart asks, forcing me to concede his point. “And besides, you’re the most ‘normal’ of all the Angels.”

“…Seriously?” I retort with a snort of laughter.

“Think about it,” Stuart says. “Out of the six original Angels, you’re, what? Third oldest, joint third tallest, your parents are better off than Hannah’s, Mary’s and Krystie’s but not as well-off as Charlotte’s or Viks’s…”

“Does any of that make me a ‘normal’ girl, though?” I ask.

“Does having a ‘non-standard’ vagina make you an abnormal girl?” Stuart asks, making me giggle, before answering him with a kiss that he is only too happy to reciprocate.

A short while later, we arrive at the posh five star hotel that we booked for the night, and after checking in- and fighting our way through a small horde of paparazzi- we’re escorted to our honeymoon suite, where we both gasp at the sight that awaits us.

A trail of rose petals leads us from the door to our bed, on which are the letters 'S' and 'J', surrounded by a love heart- all of which is written in rose petals. A bottle of champagne is sat at the foot of the bed in an ice bucket, along with two glasses, a very expensive-looking box of chocolate truffles and a plate of fresh, succulent strawberries. In the bathroom is an array of scented candles, along with another bottle of champagne and a selection of sweet-smelling bath salts to accompany the enormous bath, which Stuart and I make good use of after freeing each other from our clothes and our underwear, before my new husband wraps us both in our complementary plush bath robes and carries me through to the bedroom, where we explore each other in the most intimate way possible...

"Today has been perfect," I whisper as I lay back in the bed, the smooth satin sheets sliding over my slick, sweat-sheened skin.

"YOU are perfect," Stuart whispers, giving me one long kiss, followed by another, and another, until once again, our bodies come together in the heat of passion...

The following morning, I experience a moment of panic when I wake up in an unfamiliar bed, before yesterday’s memories come flooding back to me- the dress, the ceremony, the reception- my husband…

“Stu?” I ask, confused when I check the bed, only to find myself alone. “Stu? Where are you?”

“Who’s ‘Stuart’, James?” A feminine voice calls from the en-suite, causing me to panic- a panic that only increases when I throw back the covers to discover my legs are covered in tiny hairs, and there's an abnormal 'growth' on my crotch...

“Ahh!” I yell, waking up and immediately breathing a sigh of relief when I find that my body is snuggled up next to my husband's naked, sleeping form.

“Mmph,” Stuart moans, his sleep clearly disturbed by my sudden awakening. “Jamie? What time is it?”

“…It’s still dark,” I reply as I try to catch my breath. “Go back to sleep.”

“Mmph,” Stuart moans, before rolling back over and looking me in the eye. “Did- did you just have a bad dream?”

“…It’s not important,” I mumble, before forcing a smile on my face and a kiss on my husband’s lips. “Get back to sleep! Now!”

“Only if you’re sure that you’ll get back to sleep,” Stuart says, wrapping his arms around me as I sigh. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want-“

“I was ‘James’,” I whisper, rolling over in Stuart’s embrace so that I don’t have to look him in the eye. “I had the dream last night as well, but I thought it was just pre-wedding nerves, same as anyone else, but- ugh, I dunno. Six years of only looking forward, and now this…”

“Do- do you think it might be related to what we were talking about the other day?” Stuart asks. “I mean, ‘James’ and ‘Claire’s school days? Memories of the past, that sort of thing?”

“…It’s our wedding night,” I say, rolling over and wrapping my arms around Stuart’s firm, slender body. “We shouldn’t be discussing our dreams, we should be having fun!”

“If it’s bothering you, then it’s bothering me,” Stuart says softly. “That how marriages work, isn’t it? Not all sex, sex, sex-”

“Get back to sleep,” I interrupt, kissing Stuart before letting out a gentle sigh. “We can talk in the morning.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Stuart says, chuckling happily as I snuggle into his warm embrace.

Thankfully, my sleep for the rest of the night is dreamless- though I don’t get a great deal of it, and when I wake up again, Stuart is still fast asleep despite it already being daylight outside. He soon wakes up when the smell of our delicious continental breakfast reaches his nostrils, and after filling our bellies and showering- together, naturally- the two of us get dressed and get ready to check out- though I can’t help but take one long, final look at my wedding dress before zipping it into its garment bag.

“It’ll always be a reminder of a perfect day,” Stuart whispers, encircling my waist from behind and giving my neck a gentle nuzzle. “And it’ll always look better on you than on ‘James’, heh! Did you- did you have any more dreams last night?”

“Nope,” I say with a grin. “God, I still don’t know where last night’s came from, though. I’m snuggled up in bed next you, the male body I should be dreaming about certainly isn’t my own! Do- do you sometimes dream about, you know, ‘Claire’?”

“…I had done in the past,” Stuart confesses. “Not since my SRS, though. And yes, they were always REALLY disturbing dreams, like- like I was trapped in ‘Claire’s body, like it was a prison…”

“Which, in a way, it kinda was,” I whisper, smiling as Stuart nods. “Well we’re both now free. And no, that is NOT your cue to make a ‘ball and chain’ joke!”

“Wouldn’t dream of it!” My husband laughs, giving me a soft kiss on my cheek before grabbing his light summer jacket and checking his phone. “Huh, couple of missed calls from Mikey… Bet he’s got more tweets for us to listen to, heh.”

“More likely he’s reminding us to pick up a copy of the Sunday Globe,” I muse, reminding my husband of the photoshoot we participated in last month with a few of our friends (yes, even Stuart got in front of the camera).

“You know your parents will have already bought ten copies,” Stuart chuckles. “Never mind the fact that they spent all day yesterday getting photographed by a national magazine and filmed for an internationally-broadcast reality TV show…”

“True,” I say, musing on how much more interest my parents pay to ‘Jamie-Lee’s life than to ‘James’s. If ‘James’ had got married, I’d probably have had to bribe dad just to come along… Assuming ‘James’ had been able to con anyone into marrying ‘him’ in the first place, of course.

“We’ll swing by WH Smith on the way home,” Stuart says as I straighten my short mauve dress and, much to my husband’s chagrin, slipping my feet into a pair of matching high-heeled peep-toe pumps. As I reach for my handbag, though, I pause, contemplating the still-unusual sight of the gold band on my ring finger.

“…Jamie?” My husband asks, making me smirk.

“It’s weird,” I say quietly. “It’s only just starting to sink in that I’m actually properly married. I mean, I didn’t think I’d feel any different, like, Mary and Viks said after their weddings that it totally changed their life. Charlotte did too, but I thought- I thought, you know, that it wouldn’t make me love you anymore, and we were already living together anyway…”

“I know how you feel,” Stuart whispers, coming over to give me another hug and another kiss. “It’s weird- and I don’t mean anything insulting by this- but I kinda… I kinda think of my parents, you know? I mean, they’ve been married for thirty years. They’re, like, ‘established’. REALLY established. Even though mum tells me that everyone thought they wouldn’t last six months, what with the massive age difference between them.”

“No doubt people will say the same thing about us because of our ‘obvious reasons’,” I snort. “But we’ve proved them wrong. I actually feel like a proper grown-up, you know? Probably for the first time ever.”

“A grown-up who’s having a ‘Marie Antoinette’ themed costume party for her friend’s birthday on Friday?” Stuart asks, laughing as I stick my tongue out at him.

“You can stop complaining, you’re not the one who’ll have to wear a corset,” I retort, making Stuart laugh even louder.

“Come on, we should probably check out,” My husband chuckles. “God knows how much we’d get charged if we’re overdue…” I smile and sigh as a group of hotel porters come to collect our luggage, before taking one last look at the honeymoon suite. Even though we weren’t in it for very long, it was still a memorable night- for better or for worse. But as we leave, it symbolises that the ‘wedding time’ has ended- and now our ‘proper’ married life can finally begin.

…However, as we make our way through the hotel’s posh reception area, we’re greeted by an unexpected sight that hints that the ‘wedding’ might not be over just yet.

“How’s day two of married life?” Mikey- who is still wearing his best man suit- asks with a chuckle, before giving both of us gentle hugs.

“Fuck are you doing here?” Stuart asks with a grin.

“Charming way to greet your best man,” Mikey snorts. “I’m here to take you home! I figured you wouldn’t want your dress getting creased, so I’ve brought my van and you can hang it up in the back.”

“Going from a limousine to a van,” I muse. “Day two of married life in a nutshell!”

“Ah, you married a comedian, Stu,” Mikey retorts, laughing as I playfully pout at him. “Had the chance to read any of those tweets I emailed you yet?”

“I thought you were a music teacher, not a social media guru?” I ask.

“I was also best man,” Mikey says. “Best men are supposed to pass on apologies from people who aren’t able to make it to the wedding. In your case, that’s about 100 000 people.”

“We didn’t invite 100 000 people,” I retort.

“Believe me, you could’ve if you wanted to and had the space,” Mikey says with a warm grin as he helps me and Stuart into the passenger seats of his van.

“Assuming we didn’t mind being harassed by fans all day,” Stuart laughs as something clicks in my brain.

“Harass,” I whisper. “Harris? Mikey, one of those tweets you read yesterday, during your speech, it- it was from a woman called Lydia Harris, right?”

“Think so,” Mikey says. “Why, do you know her?”

“I think so,” I whisper. “Even though if she’s who I think she is, she’s never met ‘Jamie-Lee’ or vice versa.”

“A- a school friend?” Stuart asks. “Really?”

“Do you still have the tweet on your phone?” I ask.

“No, but I can find it easily enough when we get home,” Mikey replies as he drives us back to Charlotte’s mansion. “Were you and her friends at school then?”

“Hardly,” I snort. “For ‘obvious reasons’. That’s probably why I had that dream last night, I heard the name but didn’t know why I knew it until now… We weren’t exactly ‘friends’. Lydia was one of the popular girls at school, think- think ‘Dannii Samson’, only even more stuck up her own backside.”

“Yikes,” Mikey says with a shudder. “And you WEREN’T one of the popular girls, I take it?”

“…I wasn’t even one of the girls,” I mumble, making Mikey grimace and groan in embarrassment.

“God… Sorry,” Mikey mumbles. “If you want to look her up now on your phone, I think her twitter handle had ‘spurs’ in it or something.”

“’lydia_harris_thfc’,” Stuart says, handing me his phone, which already has the twitter timeline loaded on it.

“…You two really are soul mates!” Mikey says with a giggle as I stare intently at the profile picture on the screen. ‘Harris’ is a common enough surname, but I can instantly tell that this Lydia Harris is the exact same girl who I last saw nine years ago at school.

However, the memory of the last time I saw the face is not a pleasant one. Lydia and her gang- and ‘gang’ really is an appropriate word for them- took immense delight in inflicting misery on anyone who they thought was beneath them- and that was basically everyone. The crowd I ran with at secondary school (or rather, the crowd I was forced to run with) were all boyfriends with Lydia’s gang, with the notable exception of yours truly. The mere idea that I might go out with one of the girls would result in fits of laughter from all of the girls- and they would bring the idea up a lot, purely so that they could get a good laugh at my expense. God only knows how they’d have responded if someone suggested that I actually become one of the girls…

“She still lives in London,” I muse as I scroll down her profile, looking for the tweet that Mikey mentioned.

“Maybe we should arrange to meet up with her and her husband,” Stuart shrugs, sending shivers down my spine.

“I’d rather bathe in acid,” I spit. “Here’s the tweet- ‘wish I could see Jamie-Lee Burke in her wedding dress in the flesh’. So she could laugh at it, no doubt…”

“…No one was laughing yesterday, Jamie,” Stuart whispers, gently squeezing my hand as he reclaims his phone. “Everyone at the wedding was there to love you, not make fun of you.”

“So was everyone on your social media,” Mikey says softly. “You haven’t got a million twitter followers because they want to take the piss, you know. And Lydia IS one of your followers.”

“And think of it this way,” Stuart says. “Her profile doesn’t say anything about a job, or a career. She’s got… 300 followers. Her photos show she lives in a small house, maybe even a box flat with her kids. If we met with her- and it would be US, not YOU- she isn’t going to be the one who has the last laugh. Obviously, though, if you’d rather not-“

“No, if it’ll get you off my back,” I sigh.

“Umm… We’re married now,” Stuart reminds me. “I’m pretty much ‘on your back’ for life. But seriously, if you don’t want to-“

“No, it’s okay,” I say, a smile creeping across my face. “I kinda like the idea of ‘getting the last laugh’…”

“Just as long as you don’t rub your success in her face,” Mikey cautions. “Kinda got a public profile to maintain and all that…”

“I know, I know,” I say as I get my own phone out and browse back to Lydia’s twitter profile, clicking ‘follow’- which should hopefully get her attention!

A short while later, Mikey’s van pulls onto Charlotte’s driveway, where he and Keith unload our luggage.

“Welcome home, bride and groom!” Charlotte giggles while cradling her two year old son in her arms. “The wedding was amazing, wasn’t it, Keithy?” Stuart and I both giggle happily as our godson enthusiastically nods his approval. “It’ll take AGES to tidy up the function room…”

“I assume when you say ‘it’ll take ages’, you actually mean ‘it had better take less than five days’?” I ask.

“You know me so well,” Charlotte giggles as she leads myself and my new husband into the living room, where she sets Keith junior down before bringing through a tray of much-needed coffees.

“Did we miss much last night after we left?” Stuart asks.

“Just your wife’s cousins- huh, I suppose YOUR new cousins, now- pestering everyone for selfies,” Charlotte giggles. “Especially YOUR sister-in-law and her band, Jamie!”

“Ooh, Becca’s going to LOVE officially being related to me,” I say with a chuckle.

“After she gets hitched herself, she’ll be the only person who can claim to have two Angels in her family!” Charlotte giggles. “And she isn’t even a blood relation of either.”

“Enough talk of my baby sister getting hitched, thanks,” Stuart grumbles.

“What ‘baby’? She’s 22,” Charlotte snorts. “If memory serves, that’s how old your new wife was when you two got together…”

“Yes, yes, yes,” Stuart moans as Charlotte and I both giggle. “Charlotte… Do- do you ever keep in touch with people you knew from school? I mean, I know you were home-schooled from 14-“

“It- it’s not THAT important,” I interrupt, prompting a confused look from my BFF.

“Umm, Jamie?” Charlotte asks. “Did something happen or something?”

“I- I got a tweet from someone I knew from school,” I sigh. “During the wedding.”

“Oh, how cool!” Charlotte sighs.

“Trust me, it isn’t,” I moan. “Stu and Mikey reckon I should meet up with her to say hi and catch up, and it sounds like a good idea in theory, but-“

“But you don’t want to come across as a snob?” Charlotte asks with a sympathetic smile. “Like you’re rubbing your success in her face?”

“Especially as at school, she was on the top ‘rung’ and ‘James’ was very much on the bottom one,” I sigh. “But it’s been something I’ve thought about a LOT lately, especially now that I’m ‘Mrs Milton’ instead of ‘Miss Burke’…”

“When you were ‘Mr Travis’ instead of either ‘Miss Burke’ or ‘Mrs Milton’?” Charlotte asks, smiling as I nod. “I guess it’s understandable, I mean, this is probably the biggest change to your life since- well, the biggest change to your life.”

“I’m only just starting to realise HOW big,” I chuckle.

“Yeah, at least you had months to prepare for it,” Charlotte retorts with a snort of laughter. “As for your friend… It couldn’t hurt just to grab a coffee at some point during the week. Drop her a Facebook message, see how she’s doing… Just make sure you don’t ‘rub it in’, hehe! And take Stuart along too.”

“Why, so I can rub it in her face that I’m married to the guy of my dreams?” I ask, earning a kiss from my husband and a happy ‘aww’ from my BFF.

“No,” Charlotte says, flashing a very smug grin as she retrieves a magazine from the fireside magazine rack- on the front of which is a picture of myself and Stuart holding hands.

“…How do the two of you not die of embarrassment every single day?” Stuart asks, his cheeks reddening at the sight of him as a ‘cover boy’.

“You’re wearing a suit,” Charlotte snorts derisively. “Try getting in front of the camera in a swimsuit, THEN you can complain.”

“Though you do look REALLY cute in the suit,” I say, snuggling close to Stuart’s cringing form. “’Suit’, not ‘swimsuit’, hehe!”

“That said though,” Charlotte says, “Nikki looks like a natural in her swimsuit. Why Jon doesn’t get her more modelling work I don’t know. And this American girl, the stewardess? GORGEOUS.”

“I’ll pass that on next time I’m flying to Europe,” I giggle.

“Which is where the two of you should be flying to now,” Charlotte says. “Good job Joshua and Jon appreciate what a good worker you are. You BOTH are.”

“I make a point of reminding Jon every time I see him,” Stuart says with a well-earned smug grin. “But I think we’re both looking forward to just relaxing all day today.”

“Days where you do nothing but relax are also known as breaks,” Charlotte says. “Or sometimes ‘holidays’, or- if you’ve recently got married- ‘honeymoons’.”

“Yeah, well, we can wait until July,” I sigh.

“Well I can’t!” Charlotte announces, grabbing her phone and quickly composing a series of messages. “If you can’t go on honeymoon today, then the honeymoon will come to you!”

“You don’t have to, really,” I protest.

“Nonsense,” Charlotte says with a dismissive wave. “If it makes you feel any better, this will be as much for Nikki, Jacinta and Steph as it is for you, to celebrate yet another step on their successful modelling careers! Just a pity the others are too young or too far away to come too…”

“…Fine,” I say with a giggle. “But me and Stuart aren’t lifting a finger today. Deal?”

“Heck yeah it’s a deal!” Stuart laughs.

“Make that I’M the one not lifting a finger,” I giggle. “You, on the other hand, can wait on me hand and foot!”

“…I can’t really respond to that while Keith junior’s in the room,” Stuart says with a sly grin. “You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, yeah I do,” I say, giggling before licking my lips, an action that causes Stuart to grin excitedly.

“Yes, well that can wait,” Charlotte announces. “For now, we are having a pool party! So get upstairs and get changed into your swimming costumes. One at a time!” Stuart and I giggle as we both rise at the same time, before my husband sits back down, sending me off to our bedroom with a gentle pat on my backside.

Before I change into my favourite bikini, however, I make a point of checking my phone to see whether I’ve received an notification from Lydia, whether it’s a tweet or a direct message, and unsurprisingly, I haven’t. After changing- and taking a selfie for my Instagram account- I open up my twitter app and compose a new message to Lydia.

‘Hey,’ I type (and delete and retype several times). ‘Thanks for your tweet, wasn’t expecting to hear from you, long time no see!’ I pause before typing the next few words, rolling my eyes as my fingertips seem to rebel and force me to put extra effort into every character I type. ‘We should catch up properly some time, do you want to get a coffee some day?’ I hesitate before pushing the ‘send’ button- once I’ve sent it, I can’t un-send it- but Mikey, Stuart and Charlotte’s arguments are compelling. Lydia wouldn’t follow me on social media if all she was interested in was making fun of me, and the fact that she tweeted about my wedding shows that she follows me closely enough to retain information about when it was. And if she does want to make fun of me, it’d 1 against 2, as I’d have Stuart with me. Or 1 against 11, if you include the other Angels. Or 1 against 40-odd, if you include all my close friends and family. Or 1 against a million, if you include my social media followers…

After taking a deep breath, I tap ‘send’ before throwing my phone back onto my bed, where it will hopefully remain out of sight and out of mind as I relax by the pool with my friends.

Even though it’s a Sunday afternoon (and the majority of attendees are girls), the party is still raucous, with myself and Stuart ending up in the pool very quickly- and our underwater kiss getting a lot of cheers from our friends! Eventually, though, the party settles down, and I let out a long, happy sigh as I ease my glistening body onto a sun lounger, grinning as my protégé lays her swimsuit-clad body onto the lounger next to mine mere seconds later.

“Couldn’t persuade them to give you the flag-coloured swimsuit?” I tease Nikki, who giggle in response.

“It doesn’t have cutaway panels, and I need to top up my tan,” the twenty year old woman replies. “Did you enjoy your quote-unquote ‘honeymoon’?”

“It was AMAZING,” I sigh happily.

“How was the honeymoon besides the sex?” Nikki asks, giggling as I stick my tongue out at her.

“Also amazing,” I say. “As will yours be. Is it sinking in yet?”

“Is what sinking in?” Nikki asks as she smears sunscreen over her shiny, hairless legs.

“That in just over a month’s time, you’ll be MRS Nikki Thomas-Phillips or MRS Nikki Phillips-Thomas?” I ask.

“A bit,” Nikki shrugs. “Though, I mean, Sarah and I already live together, we already have a joint bank account and it’s not, like, a ‘churchy’ wedding- is it really going to be that different?”

“Trust me, you’ll know the difference,” I say with a knowing smile. “Speaking of ‘difference’, have you worked out who’ll be giving what speeches at your reception?”

“Umm…” Nikki replies. “Think so. Sarah’s made her sister the maid of honour and I think she’s only eleven, ten or eleven, so she won’t be pressured into giving a speech, but you obviously can if you’d like. I know Beverly will be doing ‘mother of one of the brides’ instead of Sarah’s father. It was kinda a toss-up to work out what would wind up Sarah’s stepmother the least. Though mum AND dad will be doing mine together.”

“Aww,” I coo. “Kinda wish I’d asked- well, forced- mum into giving a speech at my reception now.” I take a deep breath before asking my next, most important question. “…Is your- is your guest list finalised?”

“We’re getting married in a month, it was finalised AGES ago,” Nikki giggles. “Why, got anyone you want to bring along? Please tell me it’s not your cousin, I doubt I could live with her squeeing over everyone…”

“Heh, no,” I reply. “I just- I just wondered if anyone from your school days was going.”

“Not really,” Nikki sighs. “For obvious reasons, I don’t keep in touch with many people from school, and Sarah only transferred to the school in year 10 so she didn’t get the chance to make many friends. It’s pretty much biological family and the Heavenly Talent extended family for us!”

“Same way it was for mine,” I say with a chuckle. “Like you couldn’t be any more my protégé, hehe!”

“Learned from the best,” Nikki shrugs, before giggling as her fiancée climbed onto the same sun lounger as her and snuggled up next to her.

Nikki and Sarah certainly aren’t any less happy-or don’t seem less happy, anyway- for not keeping in touch with their school friends, although as the presence of Jacinta and her weird purple-haired friend reminds me, they- well, Sarah, anyway- do have the option of making plenty more ‘non-Angel’ friends. And you can never, never have too many friends. Too many genuine friends, anyway…

The ‘party’ eventually disperses just after 6:30pm, after Keith has treated us all to a barbecue dinner. After showering the smell of chlorine out of my hair, I head back through to my bedroom to pull on the dress I was wearing earlier, only to spot my phone from where I’d tossed it on my bed. My heart rate increases when I see that my newest (potential) friend has replied to my earlier message, and my hands actually start to tremble when I sit down to read the reply.

‘Hey Jamie,’ the message replies, calming my nerves slightly- she is at least using my real name and not ‘James’. ‘Never expected you to message me or even remember me lol! Would love to get a coffee some time. Am free all day when not picking daughter up from preschool so whenever you’re free is good for me.’

‘Cool!’ I reply, my nerves completely settled by the friendly tone of Lydia’s message. ‘Bit short notice but tomorrow’s the only day next week I’m not working, so want to meet up at noon?’

‘Sure!’ The reply comes through almost immediately, causing me to tense up again. ‘There’s a Costa near where I live, will that be okay?’

‘See you there!’ I type followed by a smiley, before letting out an involuntary giggle. The Lydia I knew from school certainly wouldn’t have been as friendly to me- or to anyone, for that matter. Then again, the ‘James’ she knew was a short, quiet loser who seemingly lived to be picked on, and ‘Jamie-Lee’ couldn’t be any more different… Tomorrow WILL be interesting.

Obviously- as he was pressuring me to arrange the meet-up- Stuart agrees to accompany me tomorrow, and as the two of us head to bed later in the night, I find myself feeling more and more tense about what is probably going to be just an ordinary chat over a cup of coffee- but then again, you never know. Lydia was by far one of the most popular girls at our school, and ‘James’ was at the very bottom of the social pecking order. My fortune couldn’t possibly have reversed any more dramatically- it’s just a question of whether or not Lydia will accept this, and accept me…

I am able to eventually get to sleep, though the fact that my sleep is dreamless is as troubling as my dreams themselves have been- it’s almost as if my subconscious doesn’t know how to react to the upcoming meeting…

As both Stuart and I aren’t working today, however, we are both able to sleep in, which means I am able to ‘relieve some tension’ before getting up, showering and choosing my outfit for the day. I want to appear feminine and fashionable- I am a public figure, after all- but I’m conscious that I don’t want to rub my fame and wealth in Lydia’s face, so I bypass my more expensive clothing in favour of a chic, long-sleeved grey bodysuit, a knee-length leather pencil skirt and a pair of low-heeled ankle booties, enough to show off some of the tan I gained yesterday! I enhance the tan on my face with a modest amount of make-up and I only wear a minimal amount of jewellery, just a pair of modest earrings and one of my favourite necklaces- though the ring I got on Saturday obviously takes pride of place!

“Ready?” I ask my husband as he finishes lacing his shoes.

“You don’t have to do this if you really don’t want to,” Stuart says, gently holding my hand in his.

“Seriously?” I ask. “After what you said yesterday?”

“It’s making you nervous,” Stuart says softly.

“So did the wedding,” I giggle, giving my husband a playful kiss on the lips. “That had a happy ending though, didn’t it?”

“Well- of course,” Stuart says, grinning as he leads me to his car.

A short while later, the two of us have wide, albeit slightly anxious grins on our faces as we step into the busy coffee shop where we’d agreed to meet my old acquaintance. If she was planning on ‘doing’ anything, a public place like this would be the worst place to choose… Or maybe the best place, depending on the reaction she wants to get to whatever she has in mind…

“Hi!” A familiar voice calls from across the shop, attracting the attention of me and my husband. “Jamie!” My smile grows wider- and more genuine- when I see the twenty-five year old woman waving to me with one hand whilst cradling an infant in her other arm. Even though she’s nine years older, she’s still very obviously the same girl I knew from school. The only real difference is that the sneer that 16 year old Lydia usually wore on her face has been replaced by a genuine, warm grin.

“Hi Lydia!” I say with a genuine, warm grin of my own. “REALLY long time no see, hehe!”

“Tell me about it!” Lydia laughs, putting my back up slightly- given how she always treated me at school, to treat me now like I’m an old friend is borderline offensive.

“Though it’s safe to say that both of us have changed since the last time we saw each other,” I laugh. “Me probably more than you, hehe!”

“Yeah, I’d say so!” Lydia says with a nervous laugh. “I’ve got to admit, I- I kinda struggled to believe it, you know, at first?”

“Well, it’s not like ‘James’ was ever, you know, the most masculine guy…” I say, before grimacing as I remember the masculine guy sat next to me. “Oh, and speaking of masculine guys, this on my right is my brand-new husband! Lydia Harris, meet Stuart Milton, Stuart, this is Lydia.”

“Nice to meet you,” Stuart says in a quiet voice as he gently shakes Lydia’s hand.

“So- so you’re, umm…” Lydia mumbles.

“Transgendered as well?” Stuart asks. “Yep. Started transitioning just over eleven years ago.”

“Now that I’ve introduced you to my family…” I say with a grin, making Lydia giggle tiredly.

“…This is Darcie-May,” Lydia says, forcing me to suppress a giggle as Stuart’s eyes widen (he has a serious- and under the circumstances, ironic- dislike of double-barrelled first names). “Darcie-May, say hi to Jamie-Lee and Stuart!”

“Hi there, sweetie!” I say, smiling as the baby girl giggles at me. “How old is she?”

“Eight months,” Lydia says with a proud grin. “I’ve got another, Emilia, who’s four and at playschool. You two are looking into adopting, aren’t you?”

“Umm, yeah,” I chuckle. “You really DO follow my blog, then!”

“More your YouTube than your written blog,” Lydia says. “I’m not the only one from school who does, you know? A lot of the girls from our year follow you.”

“Seriously?” I ask. “The shrimpy loser kid?”

“Who became a rich and famous model,” Lydia reminds me. “Don’t you speak to any of the others?”

“You’re the first person from school I’ve spoken to in nine years,” I say, making Lydia’s jaw drop.

“Really?” The blonde haired woman asks. “…Though I guess you probably don’t remember it fondly… Sorry about that.”

“It was hardly ALL your fault,” I sigh. “Speaking of, is- is Dean, you know, the father?”

“Of Emilia,” Lydia sighs. “Now HE was a loser. Got me pregnant then did a runner two months later. I haven’t had a penny off him in maintenance. Last I heard he was in prison. Hope he stays there and rots.”

“Can’t say I’m surprised,” I mumble, before turning to the understandably-confused Stuart. “Dean was the leader of that gang I told you about, the ones who basically used me as a drug mule in year 11.”

“Ugh, I feel SO bad about that,” Lydia spits. “Haven’t even touched weed since I was eighteen. Shouldn’t surprise you that Dean got banged up for dealing. Tom and Gavin too.”

“And Jason?” I ask of the final member of the ‘gang’.

“Oh, didn’t you hear?” Lydia asks. “Died of a heroin overdose when he was twenty.”

“Oh my god,” I gasp.

“Yep,” Lydia says with a sad sigh. “They thought they were so tough, so cool at school because they were the ones everyone feared… No one respects them anymore. Absolutely no one. You, on the other hand…”

“Really?” I ask. “Even despite the fact that, you know, I’ve ‘changed’ a lot?”

“The only people who care about that are the meatheads who are either in prison or six feet underground,” Lydia snorts. “I went to school with Jamie-Lee Burke. Not many people can claim that, you know.”

“Ah, so it’s my fame you’re after?” I tease with a sly grin that makes Lydia laugh nervously.

“Not JUST that,” Lydia laughs. “Though my sister IS nineteen and a huge fan, so if I got a selfie with you…”

“Yeah, think I can manage that,” I giggle. “God, I’ve got to tell you, I was REALLY nervous before today.”

“Why?” Lydia asks with a derisive snort of laughter. “You’re the famous Jamie-Lee Burke! Next to you, I’m no one.”

“Nine years ago, you were the popular Lydia Harris and I was the no one,” I retort.

“Yeah, at school,” Lydia snorts. “Which means absolutely nothing in the real world. That’s why you’re the millionaire and I’m barely scraping by week after week.”

“I got lucky,” I shrug.

“You didn’t buy in to the rubbish the meatheads were selling. Literally selling,” Lydia says. “Wish I’d been that smart. Now I’m a single mother who everyone looks at with disgust, whilst literally everyone loves you.”

“Hardly ‘literally everyone’!” I laugh. “The people who see me as a freak, an abomination, a crime against nature certainly don’t love me. You’ll eventually find someone to be with, settle down and have a long, happy life. I’ll never not be transgendered. I’ll never be a mother, either…”

“I read on your blog that you’re adopting, though?” Lydia asks, clearly taken aback by my tirade.

“We’ve signed up with an agency,” Stuart says. “Not found out yet if we’ve been accepted.”

“Oh, you two will SO be accepted,” Lydia gushes.

“Even though the mother was born a man and the father born a woman?” I ask.

“Pfft, whatever,” Lydia snorts. “So you changed your gender. Big deal.”

“In fairness, it IS a big deal to some people,” Stuart says softly.

“Then they need to get over themselves,” Lydia says, making me smile.

“You wouldn’t have said that nine years ago,” I say, making Lydia frown.

“I probably wouldn’t,” Lydia shrugs. “But like I said, sixteen year old me was an idiot. I’d rather have a transgendered friend than the morons I hung around with at school. Even if she didn’t have a million followers on twitter!”

“Heh,” I chuckle. “You know, I’m actually really glad we got back in touch? Kinda, like, getting some closure from my time at school…”

“If only we knew back then what we know now,” Lydia laughs.

“You don’t know the half of it,” I say with a sigh. “Hey, you have an older daughter, right? I don’t suppose she’d be interested in taking ballet lessons at one of London’s most prestigious schools? I know the owner, I may be able to get a hefty discount…”

An hour later, Lydia, Stuart and I- not forgetting Darcie-May, of course- are laughing and gossiping like we’d been friends our whole lives. All of my anxieties before this coffee morning had been groundless, as they so often are, and even though Lydia didn’t take up my offer of getting her daughter into Krystie’s school (though she’s hinted she might for Darcie-May) I know I’ll be seeing her again sooner rather than later. She’ll never replace Charlotte or the other girls, of course, but if there’s one truth in this world, it’s that you can never have too many friends.

“We should DEFINITELY do this again soon!” Lydia laughs as she and I exchange a gentle hug, whilst Stuart helps place Darcie-May back in her stroller. “I don’t suppose Angel parties are ever ‘bring-a-friend’, are they?”

“Sadly, no,” I giggle. “Viks has tried in the past, heh. But next birthday, it will be MY party, I’m the one who writes the invite list… Either way, I’ll totally keep in touch on Facebook.”

“Thanks,” Lydia laughs. “And keep a hold of him! He is GREAT with kids, I’ve never seen Darcie-May so comfortable around a man before…”

“He is a natural,” I sigh happily. “He’s got four godchildren, you know? Five once Krystie’s baby is born. And yet his grandmother refuses to even accept him as a man, claims it’s ‘an affront to god’. And he knows I’ve had plenty of that myself the last six years.”

“Well for what it’s worth, I think he would- no, he WILL make a great father,” Lydia says with a warm smile. “And you WILL make a great mother to any boy or girl lucky enough to be adopted by you.”

“Aww,” I sigh, sniffing back tears as I give Lydia another, tighter hug. "Well if we ever need any parenting advice, I'll know who to call!"

"The three Angels who are already parents?" Lydia retorts, making me giggle.

"...You can never have too many friends," I say softly as Stuart, having completed his task, gently takes my hand in his. "We'll see you soon."

"See you, Jamie-Lee!" Lydia says with a giggle as she and her daughter head back to their home.

"She was really nice," Stuart muses as we head back to our car.

"She was a total bitch at school," I say with a snort of laughter.

"I remember the comparison to Miss Samson, yeah," Stuart chuckles. "Nine years is a long time..."

"SIX years is a long time," I laugh as I muse on how at the start of 2011, I had no idea what laid ahead of me. But now, I'm a successful model, a university graduate, a wife... A woman... And I have the best family and friends in the world.

That night, as I sleep, I don't dream about 'James' or what his life may have been, instead I dream about my future, about my life with Stuart- and with a little girl named Olivia, who I'm dressing in a pair of pink tights and a tiny pink leotard, ready to take to her first ever dance class...

A person's past shouldn't define who they are. Just because Lydia was a bitch when she was sixteen, doesn't mean she can't be a kind and warm-hearted friend when she's twenty-five. Just because Charlotte was a stuck up snob when she was nineteen, doesn't mean that she can't be a motherly, sisterly, mature woman when she's twenty-six. And just because 'James' was a loser, it doesn't mean that Jamie-Lee can't be everything she always dreamed of being- a model, a celebrity, a wife, or even a mother. The more time you spend being ashamed of your past, the less time you spend living in the present, or looking forward to your future. People can change. Sometimes for the worse, but sometimes for the better. And everyone has it within themselves to become a better person.

And there's nothing wrong with growing up a bit either, doing grown-up things like looking for mortgages, or opening a joint bank account... As long as you remember how to have a little fun now and again, like Stuart and I intend to do on our honeymoon in the summer- or on our first wedding anniversary next year! Or our second, or our tenth, twentieth, twenty-fifth, fiftieth...

For now, though, I can relax in the knowledge that right now, my life is just about perfect, I've married the man of my dreams, I have the best family and friends in the world... And the following morning, I receive a letter that would change my life forever.

'Dear Miss Burke,' the letter- which was obviously sent out before my wedding- reads. 'We are pleased to inform you that you and your partner have been accepted to be potential adoptive parents...'



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