Laura, part 16

“Ahh…” I sigh happily as I slide my sweat-stained pink tights off my smooth, glistening legs. “That feels SO much better…”

“Ugh, I hear you,” Ashley sighs as she does likewise. “Never thought I’d EVER get sick of wearing tights…”

“Oh trust me,” I giggle, “come October, you will be BEGGING to be allowed to wear them!”

“What else is new?” Mia teases the blonde girl, who blushes as she covers her spaghetti-strapped leotard with a loose summer dress.

“Come on,” Suri urges as she unties her severe ballerina’s bun and lets her long black hair cascade over her shoulders. “Don’t want to keep daddy waiting.”

“Sure,” I say, hastily untying my bun into a loose, blonde ponytail and pulling on the short, flared denim skirt that I’d worn to class. “Still weird, not having to squash up on the back seat of your dad’s car…”

“Yeah,” Suri sighs sadly as we slide into Mr. Malik’s people carrier. “Still, Priya was never into ballet as the rest of us, and she’s got college to look forward to, and her part-time job now…”

“It was Priya who got us in the class in the first place!” Nicole giggles, before letting out a sad sigh. “Well, you and Priya, anyway. Can’t believe that a year from now, we’ll all have left school too… Kinda wish things didn’t have to change.”

“I dunno,” I muse as I adjust the top of my leotard, staring at the two soft mounds contained within. “Some changes ARE good…”

It’s a good job that I’m comfortable with change, as a lot has changed over the last six months, things that make Priya leaving school (and ballet class) seem like nothing.

Probably the most significant change came in March, when mum and I moved house for the first time since I was a toddler. I adjusted quickly to the change of location, of course- it wasn’t THAT far from where we used to live (certainly close enough that I didn’t have to move school, thank god), and I definitely love having a larger bedroom (and much larger wardrobe space, hehe!). What DID take getting used to, however, was waking up each morning and being greeted not just by mum, but by Sean and Lily as well.

In April, whilst the four of us were out at a restaurant celebrating Sean’s birthday, he shocked everyone by getting down on one knee and proposing to my mum. Unsurprisingly, mum said yes, and shortly afterward, the four of us all moved in together. The wedding won’t be for at least another year, though mum has said she wants it to be before I’m eighteen for two reasons- firstly, it’ll be before I go away for university (assuming I leave London), and secondly, as I’m mum’s maid of honour, I WON’T be able to drink alcohol on the hen night! Lily is obviously excited by the wedding as well (especially as she’ll also be a bridesmaid), but my brother… Well, it’s safe to say he isn’t. He’s never got along with Sean, which is a shame as Sean’s been far more of a father to me than my ‘actual’ father ever has. It’s not a case of Ricky hoping that mum will get back with Robert, as he hates him almost as much as I do, but it’s still causing a rift in our new family… Which will only get worse when we all gather tomorrow to celebrate Ricky’s 24th birthday.

A celebration to which Ricky will apparently be bringing a date (who we’re all eager to meet)… But I, of course, won’t. Ever since my ‘thing’ with Scott, I’ve been kinda off boys. Well, not ‘off’ them as such- I still fancy boys, of course- but I’ve not been nearly as eager to hook up with a guy as I was just after my fifteenth birthday. It ‘helps’ that most of my free time is dominated with studying for my GCSEs. And ballet class (especially as Miss Fullerton says she may advance me and Suri into her elite class). And gymnastics, and cheerleading, and most excitingly of all, my acting. I’ve consistently impressed my drama teachers with my performances in school plays, and they’ve said that they’ll write letters of recommendation for me to talent agencies if I want, which may lead to work in commercials, or even on a proper TV show. I’ve even done some modelling work in the last few months, modelling dancewear for a company Miss Fullerton’s associated with.

Of course, whilst all this has resulted in me having less time for boys, it’s resulted in them having a LOT more time for me. Sometimes I laugh that four years ago, when I started school, I was seen as a ‘freak’ or a ‘loser’ and bullied by what seemed like everyone outside my close circle of friends. Now, at the end of year 10, I turn the heads of a LOT of the boys in both my year and the year above. Of course, it helps that I have long, slender legs, a mercifully narrow waist and, of course, my B-cup breasts, whereas back in years 7 and 8, I really was (physically speaking, anyway) just a boy wearing a skirt. I sometimes wonder, though, whether Scott's lie about the two of us is helping or hindering this. As with all school rumours, it fizzled out after just a few weeks (helped by the fact that it was in the run-up to Christmas, which kinda dominated everyone's thoughts), and nowadays the most persistent rumour is one I'm only too willing to encourage- the 'fact' that I'm about to become a national celebrity, all thanks to a photoshoot Ashley and I did a few months ago with a group of celebrities, including Jamie-Lee from the Angels and Stephanie from Out of Heaven.

Naturally, this fame only resulted in me becoming even more popular with the boys at school and elsewhere. At the photoshoot, I met a 17 year old transman named Ian who clearly had the hots for me. Well, I say 'met', in actuality I've known him for a while, as he used to attend my ballet class as a girl named Kayleigh-Ann- but he is much, MUCH cuter as a guy! He may not have had the courage to ask me out, but that hasn't stopped many of the boys from school. Kain in particular has ‘persisted’, and even asked me out a few times in the last few months. He’s such a sweet boy that I very, very nearly said yes more than once! Whenever I think about my ‘appeal’ to boys, though, I actually find myself feeling sorry for Ashley, having to go through the rest of school as a girl but having already started puberty as a boy… But the confidence she gets from her skirt, not to mention how much happier she seems now that she can be the REAL her. Just like I’ve been the REAL me for the last four years. Well, apart from those few days three years ago, anyway…

Sometimes, though, I wonder what Robert- I refuse to call him ‘dad’- would think if he saw me kissing a boy. I can picture him now, sat in his prison cell, his face getting ever redder as he imagines me with my mouth wrapped around a boy’s tongue- or may even another part of his anatomy. After all, my sixteenth birthday is only five months away…

As I arrive back home, though, I remember that even if I was sixteen, I’d still have to ‘behave’ myself if I brought a boy home- not least because of who greets me when I enter the living room.

“Hi Laura!” Lily says as she sits cross-legged on the floor, playing on Sean’s Xbox. “How was ballet?”

“It was cool,” I say, dramatically flopping onto the sofa just as mum comes through from the kitchen.

“Oh that’s right, you just sit there whilst we wait on you hand and foot,” mum sighs.

“When my feet look like this?” I ask, kicking off my flat to show mum the bruises and welts caused by an hour of dancing en pointe. “Still want to get pointe shoes, Lily?”

“…Maybe,” Lily replies, before returning to her game.

“As for you, Darcey Bussell,” mum says, “you’ve got homework to do, AND you need to wrap your brother’s presents for tomorrow!”

“Yes, mum,” I sigh, before heading upstairs to, as advised, finish what little homework I have left, before wrapping up Ricky’s presents of a t-shirt and a CD of one of his favourite bands (as I rely on mum for pocket money, I can’t exactly splash out on him).

Of course, the rest of the evening is spent chatting with my friends on Facebook and Snapchat. Even though we go over the same topics we’ve gone over hundreds of times before- fashion, celebrities, dance, school and, of course, boys- I’m still just as engrossed in the chat as I was the first time I sat down to gossip with the other girls.

The following morning, I groan loudly as my alarm wakes me from a dreamless slumber. It’s already bright and sunny outside despite it only being 7am, and downstairs, I can hear the sound of people moving around. In past years, I used to dread my brother’s birthday, as he’d always insist I waited on him hand and foot and treat him like a king. He never demanded this of mum, of course- and never even dared to act entitled around grandma- but I was always the favourite toy he got to play with on his birthday. When my birthday rolled around, of course, he was usually away somewhere with the Army. At least nowadays, we don’t live together anymore, meaning I’ll only have to put up with him for a few hours tonight before he heads back to his Army base in Yorkshire.

And beforehand, I have a full day of school to get through, which I prepare for by following my usual ritual of getting washed, applying what little make-up I can get away with at school, brushing my hair and tying it into a high ponytail and pulling on my uniform. After zipping up my grey knee-length skirt, I can’t help but let out a little giggle as I pull on my tiny black flats over my bare feet. As it’s June, we no longer have to wear tights with skirts, which is an immense relief for all the girls in the school. On June 1st this year, I and the other girls- which for the first time, included Ashley- took part in an unofficial school ritual where we went into school wearing our tights, only to strip them all off and throw them in the bin before the start of the first lesson. It’s weird to think that this time next year, I’ll have already started my study leave, meaning I won’t get to perform that ritual ever again…

“Morning, eventually!” Sean teases as I sit down at the kitchen table, crossing one leg tightly over the other.

“I’m not THAT late up,” I retort, before taking a deep breath. “…Ricky rung yet?”

“Not yet,” mum whispers. “You know him, he’ll probably text about ten minutes before he arrives, heh.”

“Yeah,” I chuckle, before sighing as Sean gives his daughter’s hand a supportive squeeze.

“It’ll only be for one night,” Sean says to the 10 year old girl. “Then he’ll go back to his army base in the north.”

“I know,” Lily sighs as I feel a pang of guilt flow my body. Whilst Ricky isn’t a fan of our new stepfather, he does like our new stepsister… But the feeling isn’t mutual. All the teasing, all the practical jokes, all the mental anguish I endured as a child is now being directed straight at Lily. I still take my fair share of it as well, of course, but now that I’m older than I was when Ricky lived with us full time, I can usually give as good as I get. Lily, however, is still young, and every time she overreacts to Ricky’s teasing, I feel sad for Lily, angry at my brother… And guilty that it at least isn’t happening to me anymore, and moreover, that it would’ve happened to me regardless of whether I was a boy or a girl.

Obviously, I always defend Lily against Ricky’s teasing, like an older sibling SHOULD. However, that’s going to be especially difficult tonight- Ricky’s never been afraid to play the ‘it’s my birthday’ card in the past to get away with some utterly evil behaviour, and there’s no reason he’s going to stop now…

“Come on, eat up,” mum says. “Don’t want to be late. Either of you!”

“Yes, mum,” I sigh as I wolf down the remainder of my breakfast. “Can you, umm…”

“Yes, I’ll text you when I hear from your brother,” mum says. “Now come on, move!” I playfully roll my eyes as I finish the rest of my breakfast, before following mum out to her car. A short while later, I’m being greeted by my six (remaining) friends at the school gate- all of whom are, of course, dressed identically to me in their knee-length skirts and bare legs.

“Hey girlies!” I squeak as usual as I exchange hugs with the other girls, before the seven of us head to our respective form groups.

After an intense first two lessons (with our GCSE exams less than twelve months away, we’re working harder than ever in our classes), I head outside for our first break of the day. As it’s summer, pupils are allowed to spend breaktimes playing a relaxing on the playing fields, so rather than head to our usual table, I head to the tree at the perimeter of the playing field that the seven of us have claimed as ‘our tree’. As always, I have a smile on my face when I sit down next to my friends and I feel the soft grass tickle the backs of my bare, smooth legs.

“Hey Laura!” Mia says with a giggle. “How was Maths?”

“Ugh, boring as always,” I sigh, prompting giggles from all of my friends. “So… What’s the topic for today?”

“How Constellation are total wannabes,” Mia replies, making me giggle.

“Ugh, I don’t even know why they’re still bothering,” Suriya snorts.

“Yeah,” Megan laughs. “It’s, like, The Grand Tour and Joey’s Top Gear all over again.” I have to suppress a giggle as the rest of us all stare at the tall girl with looks of disapproval in our eyes. “…What? So I like The Grand Tour, big deal.”

“Clarkson’s a misogynist, homophobic ape,” Harriet- ever the feminist- spits. “They all are.”

“That’s half the fun!” Megan protests, making me giggle.

“So what have Constellation been up to now?” I ask in an effort to diffuse the tension.

“It was Dannii Samson’s birthday yesterday,” Mia explains. “She threw herself this big, fancy party with loads of celebrities, and it is OBVIOUS that they all HATE her.”

“Hehe!” Suriya giggles as Mia shows us the photos on her phone of the party.

“Ugh,” I sigh as I’m given an unwelcome reminder of what- or rather, who- is waiting for me when I get home tonight. “Everything’s bloody ‘birthdays’ today…”

“Umm, Laura?” Nicole asks with a giggle. “Something wrong?”

“No,” I sigh as I run my fingers through my long blonde hair. “Maybe. I dunno. It- it’s my brother’s birthday today, which means I’m going to have to put up with him all evening…”

“Ugh,” Ashley spits. “And I say that as someone who’s met your brother.”

“Didn’t he- wasn’t he the one who, umm…” Mia mumbles.

“Rescued me from my dad?” I reply. “Yeah, yeah he was. And he hasn’t let me forget ever since.”

“…It was kinda a big deal, though,” Harriet says.

“Oh, I know, and I get that, really,” I say. “It’s just- gah, I dunno. When I was four, we went to the beach, and- ugh, I can’t believe I’m telling you all this…”

“Go on…” Suriya urges as my cheeks start to redden.

“We went to the beach,” I sigh. “And- and I went in a paddling pool. I mean, it really was a paddling pool, barely six inches deep, but- but I slipped, went face-first into the pool, and before I could pick myself up, Ricky had jumped in and hauled me out of the pool.”

“Aww, that’s so sweet!” Nicole sighed, making me snort derisively.

“What wasn’t sweet was the fact that he kept boasting about it for literally years afterward,” I spat. “Literally brought it up every time he had a girl around and he was trying to impress her.”

“Ooh, six inches of water, SO impressive!” Harriet snorts sarcastically.

“The way he tells it you’d think it was fifty feet deep and full of sharks,” I snort. “But he’s always been like that… And I DO owe him my life. Ugh, and I guess it’ll only be for one evening, then he’ll head back up north with his Army buddies for the next month or so.”

“And tomorrow night,” Suriya squeaks excitedly, “you get to be a hot, spicy Latina!”

“Oh yes, the extra dancing lessons,” Ashley giggles with a twinge of jealousy in her voice. “So… When do we get to see you strutting your stuff?”

“When we’re a little better at it!” I giggle. “We’ve only been going a few months… It IS really, REALLY fun, though!”

“We’ve been learning Argentine Tango all month,” Suriya squeaks. “Like they do on Strictly, with all the leg flicking...”

“So cool,” Nicole sighs. “Wish my parents would let me go, but they’ll barely let me do ballet anymore, ever since my ankle…”

“I’ll dance with you,” Mia shrugs, making Nicole giggle as she hauled her to her feet and entertained us for the rest of break by pretending to Argentine Tango with her- which unsurprisingly excites many of the younger boys watching, and more importantly, takes my mind off of tonight’s ‘birthday party’.

Eventually, the bell rings to signify the start of the next lesson, and just over an hour later, it rings again to signify the lesson’s end and the start of lunch. As today is Wednesday, rather than head to our tree to relax, I instead head to my ‘private changing room’, where I meet up with Nicole, Suriya and Ashley, all of whom are in the process of stripping off their uniforms and pulling on their stretchy gymnastics leotards. As it’s summer, competitions are over for the year, meaning that we had to hand back the gorgeous long-sleeved leotards we were issued at the start of the year, which means that we all change into plain red tank leotards instead. Not that we’re complaining, of course- our own leotards breathe MUCH better than the team ones. They’re just as tight and feminine as the team ones, though, which definitely brings a big smile to mine and Ashley’s faces!

“It still sucks that they won’t let you into competitions,” I say to my fellow transgendered girl as I re-tie my hair with a sparkling red scrunchie. “If Miss Edwards reckons you’re good enough for the club…”

“Meh, I’ll live,” Ashley shrugs. “Still feel kinda self-conscious, you know, in the team…”

“Well you SHOULDN’T,” Suriya says. “You’re as much a girl as the rest of us.”

“Take it from someone who knows,” I say as I pull a feminine pose in my leotard, which earns playful wolf whistles from the other girls.

“You’re as much a gorgeous, girly, gymnastics girl as the rest of us!” Nicole cheers, pulling a pose of her own.

“Thanks, girlies!” Ashley giggles with a happy sigh. “Sometimes I kinda need to hear that, you know…”

“Oh trust me, I know,” I chuckle. “Sometimes I wonder whether or not I do all the girliest things possible just to, you know, ‘prove something’.”

“I do all the same girly things as you, what’s my excuse?” Suriya retorts, making me and Ashley giggle.

“…Point taken,” I laugh. “That’s something my- sorry, OUR counsellor’s said a lot as well.”

“Yeah, Dr Williamson’s said that to me too,” Ashley sighs. “Reminds me that enjoying feminine activities just reinforces the fact that I want to be a girl rather than the other way round.”

“Umm, excuse me?” Nicole asks. “’Want to be’ a girl? Looks to me from where I’m standing that you already ARE a girl! Both of you!”

“Girl life forever!” Ashley and I cheer, making Nicole and Suri cheer as we head up to the vast gymnasium.

Half an hour later, with our bodies slick with sweat following a strenuous practice session, the four of us return to our ‘private changing room’ to change ahead of our final lesson of the day. Ordinarily, we’d leave our leotards on underneath our uniforms, but with it being VERY hot outside, the leotards have become a bit too sweaty to still be considered comfortable, so off they come- leading to sighs of relief from all four of us!

“Just one more lesson to go, then it’s the big birthday party!” Ashley teases, earning a playful shove as we walk toward our next lessons.

“Shut up,” I mumble, before sighing as I see a familiar tall figure in the corridor ahead of us.

“Maybe if you took Kain to the party, it’d shut your brother up a bit?” Ashley asks, making me groan and roll my eyes.

“For the last time, he is NOT my boyfriend,” I growl, momentarily silencing the 14 year old girl.

“…Nor was I,” Ashley says. “Didn’t stop you from-“

“Goodbye, Ashley!” I sigh, bidding the younger girl farewell with an extravagant wave. “See you tomorrow!” I let out another sigh as Ashley mirrors my wave, before heading to her next lesson with a giggle.

Naturally, I’m not able to concentrate nearly as well in my final lesson as I was in the first few lessons of the day, and by the time the bell rings to signify the end of the school day, I’m downright anxious about tonight. I try to relax by listening to music on my phone (Out of Heaven, naturally) as I head down to mum’s car, but even that doesn’t help much.

“Good day?” Mum asks as I elegantly slide onto the passenger seat of her car.

“Not bad,” I shrug. “Heard from-“

“Your brother will be coming round just after 5pm,” mum says, interrupting my question before I have the chance to finish it. “You don’t need to look THAT upset, your grandmother will be there too, you know she won’t let Ricky get away with picking on you. Either of you. Birthday or not.”

“Yeah, but he’ll be trying to impress his new girlfriend,” I retort.

“Well let’s just hope she’s a girl who doesn’t fall for his childish stunts,” mum says.

“No offence intended by ‘childish’, Lily,” I say to the ten year old girl on the back seat. “You’re a lot more mature than Ricky is most of the time.”

“Yeah, I know,” Lily replies, making me and my mum giggle as we head back toward our new home.

Once we arrive home, I head straight up to my bedroom to change out of my uniform and into the outfit I picked out last night. The dress I chose is a very simple lilac sundress with narrow shoulder straps, a flared knee-length skirt and a neckline just low enough to hint at cleavage without actually showing any. After fixing my make-up (but not enhancing it- grandma is coming around too, after all) I open the drawers of my dresser and stares happily at the vast selection of accessories within. I eventually settle for a thin, dark purple belt that complements my dress and a selection of multi-coloured bangles and bracelets on each arm. My gold studs come out of my ears to be replaced by larger, more elaborate gold hoops, I wrap a delicate gold chain around my neck, and my ponytail comes undone, letting my platinum blonde hair cascade over my shoulders. Finally, I repaint my toenails a delicate purple colour (to match my dress), before slipping my feet into a pair of cute open-toed sandals with a chunky 2 inch heel. I pose with one hand on my hip as I take a photograph of myself in my mirror for my Instagram account (2500 followers and counting!) before heading downstairs to be greeted by smiles of approval from the rest of my family.

“Very grown up,” Sean says with a proud grin.

“Very pretty!” Lily giggles.

“Aww, thanks!” I giggle as I do a twirl in my dress. “You look very pretty too, Lily!”

“I know,” Lily says with a nervous giggle as she fidgets in her own party dress.

“You both look very beautiful,” mum says with a smile, before Lily and I both fidget as the doorbell rings.

“You haven’t given him his own key yet, then?” I ask.

“Don’t you start,” mum snorts as she gets up to answer the door. “I’m going to have enough from him tonight…” I force a smile on my face as mum opens the front door and exchanges a kiss with her oldest child. “Happy birthday!”

“Thanks,” Ricky says in his usual laid-back manner, before turning to look at me. “You’re making mum answer the door for you, then?”

“Happy birthday, Rick,” I sigh, deliberately ignoring my brother’s question.

“Where’s your lady friend?” Mum asks. “Thought you were bringing her tonight?”

“She’s just parking the car,” Ricky says as he makes himself comfortable on the sofa, wedging himself between me and Lily and making us both feel instantly uncomfortable. At least he knows better than to try to force a hug on me…

“…Wait, SHE drove?” Mum asks. “YOU actually let a woman drive YOU?”

“What’s weird about that?” Lily asks. “What’s wrong with women driving?”

“Good question,” I say, turning to my brother and smirking as a look of discomfort comes over his face. “Rick?”

“Umm, nothing,” Ricky says, squirming slightly in his seat. “Nothing at all…” A genuine grin starts to creep over my face- Ricky’s largest fault is easily his male pride, his insistence on being what he considers to be ‘chivalrous’. If a woman has driven him, rather than the other way round…

“Sprained your ankle or something?” I tease my brother, who squirms yet again. “Who is this mystery woman, anyway?” Before Ricky can answer me, we’re interrupted by Ricky’s new girlfriend making her presence known outside

“Hi, sorry I’m late,” a female voice yells from outside the front door in a north-eastern accent that sounds strangely familiar. “I HATE parking in London. Oh, hi! You must be Michelle. I’m-“

“Alice. Devry?” I ask, my jaw dropping at the sight of the tall red-haired woman.

“Hi!” The red-haired woman says, grinning as Ricky stands up, wraps his arm around the famous model and gives her a gentle kiss. “You must be Laura! We’ve actually met before at one of Krystie’s shows, dunno if you remember me or not.”

“Yeah,” I say, still in a state of shock. “Yeah, I kinda do…”

“Told you,” Ricky says with a smug grin. “You owe me a tenner. This is my future stepfather Sean, and the little one is my future stepsister Lily. Try not to sit on her, I know she’s small but-“ Ricky giggles as Alice gives him a playful elbow in the ribs, silencing him in a way I’ve never seen anyone do before.

“It’s nice to meet you all,” Alice says as she sits down in one of the spare seats we’ve brought into the living room. Much to my surprise, Ricky then sits down next to her, having apparently abandoned his plan of tormenting me and Lily. As relieved as this makes me, though, it doesn’t make up for the shock of seeing my brother with his arm wrapped around a bona fide Angel.

“How- how the h-“ I ask, before being interrupted by my mother.

“So, how did the two of you meet?” Mum asks.

“Can’t I open my presents first?” Ricky protests, giggling as he earns yet another elbow from his girlfriend.

“Your grandmother isn’t here yet!” Alice chastises my brother, and while he responds with a giggle, I can’t help but notice that his protest HAS abruptly stopped…

“Oh, I like you!” Mum says, making the red-haired woman giggle as she straightens her short designer skirt.

“I did a photoshoot up in North Yorkshire, where Ricky's based,” Alice explains. “On his base, like, a publicity thing for the Angels and the Army, 'cause I'm from just up the road from his base. We got chatting- Ricky mentioned that Laura studies at Krystie's school, so we had something in common right away, and well, long story short, Ricky asked me out and, well, I thought ‘why not’?”

“But- but you could be going out with, like, a footballer, or a singer,” I say.

“Oh thanks, sis,” Ricky snorts.

“Why would I want a footballer or a singer?” Alice shrugs. “Just ‘cause I’m famous doesn’t mean I’m too good for someone, you know, ‘normal’…”

“’Normal’, thanks,” Ricky teases.

“That was meant as a compliment, ya moron!” Alice laughs in her thick Teesside accent.

“It does raise a question, though,” Sean says. “How are you making it work long-distance? I mean, I assume you’re now based in London, and Ricky lives up north-“

“Oh, I quit the Army,” Ricky says, nearly making me and mum choke on our drinks.

“You- you WHAT?” Mum asks.

“I quit,” Ricky shrugs. “I’m officially no longer a soldier.”

“Are- are you serious?” Mum asks, rolling her eyes in shock as my brother nods. “What are you doing with yourself now?”

“Mooching off of Alice,” Ricky says, giggling as yet another elbow finds its way into his ribs.

“No he isn’t,” Alice says. “Tell them, go on!” Ricky lets out a quiet chuckle, before taking a deep breath.

“I’m going to university in September,” Ricky explains. “I’ve been accepted onto a degree course at a college in London.”

“Oh, Ricky!” Mum says, her frustration immediately replaced by a look of pride. “What will you be studying?”

“It’s a teacher training course,” Ricky says. “Going to be teaching PE.”

“Not at my school, I hope,” I say with a chuckle.

“Well you shouldn’t worry about that, because I’d only be teaching boy’s PE,” Ricky clarifies. “Football, rugby, basketball, that sort of thing. This week I’ve been helping with track & field.”

“Fair enough,” I shrug.

“And you haven’t noticed me so far this week,” Ricky says, making me nearly choke on my drink.

“Wh- wh- what?” I ask, coughing twice and making Ricky laugh even more at my expense.

“I’ve been on work experience at your school since Monday,” Ricky explains. “Don’t worry, I’m only there until Friday. What? It was my old school too, obviously I’d pick there to do my work experience. You were really good at your gymnastics club today, by the way.”

“You- you saw me in my leotard!?” I hiss, before a knock comes from the front door that only slightly calms me down.

“That’ll be your grandmother!” Mum says, clearly as grateful for the distraction as I am, not that it helps to calm my scrambled mind. My brother is dating one of my favourite celebrities, someone whose social media I follow religiously, and I didn’t know it? Even worse, he’s been in my school all week, and I didn’t realise? Sure, it’s a big school, but still…

“Happy birthday young man!” Grandma says as she exchanges a hug with the much taller Ricky. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your young lady?”

“Umm, of course,” Ricky says, his bravado noticeably dented by grandma’s arrival. “Grandma, this is Alice, Alice, this is my grandmother.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Alice,” grandma says, before sitting down on the sofa next to me and Lily (Lily having scooched next to me to make room for the elderly woman).

“Likewise, Mrs. Clarke!” Alice says, clearly impressing grandma with her knowledge of her name.

“That’s a lovely accent,” grandma says. “What part of the world are you from, Alice?”

“Stockton-On-Tees,” Alice says with a proud grin. “Up in the north-east. Next to Middlesbrough, only smaller and better!”

“Can I open my presents now, please?” Ricky asks, earning a stern stare from grandma.

“After we’ve eaten, young man,” grandma says, making Ricky wither back into his seat as Alice, Lily and I giggle at his expense- though I’m still in a state of shock that he, of all people, is dating an Angel.

Frustratingly, Ricky and Alice stick around long after we’ve eaten dinner (and Ricky has opened his presents), and are still around even after Sean has put Lily to bed, the poor girl looking exhausted due to Ricky’s teasing. Grandma’s (and Alice’s presence) helped to soothe Ricky’s need for mischief at the start, but as the evening wore on, he started pushing to see how much he could get away with (his tales of applying for university winning a lot of points with grandma)- and with Lily getting increasingly tired, it didn’t take long for him to make her VERY wound up. Much to my mother’s inevitable irritation, the first thing Sean does upon returning to the living room is confront his future stepson about his behaviour.

“You know,” Sean sighs, “you could be a lot more sensitive in the way you treat your stepsister.”

“What?” Ricky protests. “I was just teasing, it’s harmless!”

“Lily was nearly in tears,” Sean protests.

“But she didn’t cry, though,” Ricky shrugs. “I used to tease Laura all the time, she was fine with it.”

“Umm, no I wasn’t?” I retort. “You pushed me to tears and way, way past tears loads of times!”

“Yeah, but you were a boy back then, and that was what was REALLY making you upset,” Ricky counters, making me clench my hands into fists as a wave of anger washes over me, an anger I only feel in the presence of my brother.

“Do NOT use that as an excuse!” I growl.

“Richard! Laura!” Grandma snaps, instantly silencing both of us. “I am sorry that you have to witness this, Alice.”

“Aye, I’ve got an older brother, I know what it’s like,” Alice sighs. “I WILL have words with him when we get home, Laura.”

“Thanks,” I whisper.

“You’ll have to get used to the teasing anyway,” Ricky says. “It’s just how boys are.”

“Yeah, I know about male ego,” I snort.

“Umm…” Sean grimaces. “There’s- there’s a big difference between teasing and what Scott did.”

“…Who’s ‘Scott’?” Ricky asks, making me screw my face up in frustration.

“Good question,” grandma asks, which makes me groan.

“He’s- he’s an ex-boyfriend,” I sigh. “Thankfully an ‘ex’.”

“What, was he ugly?” Ricky asks, visibly trying not to wince at the stares his comment earns from his girlfriend and our grandmother.

“No,” I retort. “He was fit, actually. REALLY fit. And obviously okay with being with a transgendered girlfriend… Ugh. We- we broke up because he kinda- kinda-“ I hesitate as I glance sideways at grandma- of all the people to be talking about sex in front of, she’d be bottom of the list, even below Lily…

“He spread a rumour about Laura,” mum says in a dark voice. “About, well, ‘him and Laura’.” Ricky’s eyes go wide as I feel my cheeks start to redden.

“…Oh,” Ricky says. “I see.”

“I’m older now than you were when- well, when…” I feebly retort.

“Was it just a rumour?” Ricky asks.

“Yes, honestly, it was!” I retort in a desperate voice as I glance up at grandma’s disapproving stare. All of a sudden, I feel VERY young and VERY small…

“I HATE slut-shaming,” Alice hisses. “Umm, not that I’m implying that you’re, umm, you know…”

“I know,” I whisper. “Kinda why I’ve steered clear of boys for the last few months, heh.”

“Sensible girl,” grandma says, some of the pride returning to her face. “Especially after all you’ve gone through the last few years…” I bite my lip to try to keep myself from crying- it’s obvious that grandma’s referring to my struggle with bulimia, even if she can’t say the words themselves.

“And besides,” Alice says hesitantly, breaking the silence, “surely you can have your pick of the boys, right? I mean, you’re one of Krystie’s top dancers, you’re on the school’s gymnastics team, you’re obviously VERY beautiful…”

“Thanks,” I mumble. “I… I also kinda don’t have what others girl, you know, have… Some boys just can’t look past ‘that’, heh.”

“Boys your age shouldn’t be looking at ‘that’ at all!” Grandma states firmly, clearly as uncomfortable as I am with the topic of conversation. “No matter what ‘that’ is…”

“Laura WILL be sixteen this time next year,” Ricky shrugs. “Last time I checked, that WAS the age of consent…”

“Well perhaps it shouldn’t be,” grandma says, her offended tone of voice effectively bringing the conversation to a screeching halt.

Unsurprisingly, this also means that the ‘party’ itself comes to a screeching halt a short while later, with Ricky and Alice heading off first, before grandma bids us all farewell- and for the first time ever, her farewell to me doesn’t include our usual hug. Once I’m alone with mum and Sean, I let a long-brewing groan of pure frustration.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” mum says, sitting down next to me and giving me a gentle hug. “It’s over now.”

“But it isn’t, though,” I moan. “Ricky now works at my school, for god’s sake! You know he’s going to make a point of running into me as much as he can the next two days…”

“He hasn’t for the last three days,” Sean shrugs.

“Probably because he wanted to ‘save’ it for today,” I sigh. “Bet that was my REAL birthday present to him.”

“Don’t be so harsh!” Mum chastises. “It’s good that he wants to do something else with his life. He wouldn’t have quit the Army and signed up for a university course- which as you well know, is VERY expensive- if he just wanted to play a prank on you.

“Besides,” Sean says, “like he said, he’ll only be doing boys’ PE, you’ll barely even see him.”

“I- I’m going to bed,” I sigh. “Got to be up early tomorrow for, umm, for school…”

“G’night,” mum says quietly as I take off my shoes and pad up the stairs to my bedroom.

A short while later, my face is scrubbed clean of make-up and my body is clad only in the extra-long light blue t-shirt that makes up my summer nightwear. Before I switch off my nightlight, though, I grab my tablet computer from my nightstand and open up the Angels’ app, browsing to the page of the woman who was in my house mere hours earlier. On none of her blog posts or Instagram photos is there any hint that she might be dating my brother, or any other man- then again, given her job, she might want to appear ‘available’…

After closing the Angels’ app, I open up my brother’s Facebook page, but that has even fewer clues on it- he only updates it at most a few times a year. He hasn’t even put his leaving the Army on there- then again, he never put his being in the Army on there in the first place. Frustrated and flustered by the lack of information about my brother, I get ready to switch off my tablet and try to get to sleep, but before I do, I check to see if anyone is online and on chat- and thankfully, one person is still awake, the person who obviously doesn’t need to be up for school tomorrow.

‘Hi Priya,’ I type. ‘Got a sec?’

‘Sure Laura,’ Priya types. ‘You’re up late, aren’t you?’

‘You’re technically not a prefect anymore, you can’t tell me off,’ I reply with a ‘sticking out tongue’ emoji- before giggling hard as Priya replies with a very un-Priya-like ‘middle finger’ emoji.

‘What’s up, Laura?’ Priya asks. ‘Suri told me that it was your brother’s birthday today, I’m guessing you need some sympathy?’

‘I need a new brain, lol,’ I reply. ‘That party was A-W-K-W-A-R-D. And I found out two things that are totally mind = blown.’

‘Go on…’ Priya asks.

‘Brace yourself as these are big,’ I type.

‘Bracing…’ Priya replies.

‘My brother’s doing work experience at our school,’ I type, before groaning as Priya’s only reply is a ‘laughing’ emoji. ‘It’s not funny! How would you feel if your brother started working at our school?’

‘I’d be fine with it, I don’t go there anymore,’ Priya types with a ‘sticking out tongue’ emoji that makes me roll my eyes. ‘What’s he doing at school?’

‘That’s what I’ wondering!’ I reply.

‘No,’ Priya types. ‘I mean what job is he doing?’

‘Oh, teaching boy’s PE, that’s what he says anyway,’ I reply.

‘Right, so you won’t see him, then?’ Priya asks.

‘I guess not,’ I type. ‘Though he is living in London now.’

‘Not good,’ Priya types. ‘Does he have friends in London? A girlfriend? Something that means you won’t see him as often?’

‘That’s the other thing,’ I type, briefly looking for a ‘sighing’ emoji before just sending the message anyway. ‘He’s going out with Alice Devry.’

‘What?’ Priya types, clearly as shocked as I was when I learned the news. ‘Alice Devry? THE Alice Devry?’

‘Yep,’ I type.

‘OMGWTF?’ Priya types.

‘Yep, that was my reaction,’ I type. ‘She did a publicity shoot at his base, he volunteered for it, asked her out, and now they’re in a relationship.’

‘Wow,’ Priya types.

‘Yep,’ I type. ‘Never knew Ricky even liked the Angels.’

‘Jeez,’ Priya types. ‘Do you want me to keep this to myself or can I tell Suri?’

‘She’ll find out eventually,’ I type. ‘I’m just amazed I found out by Ricky telling me rather than reading it on Alice’s blog or something. Keep expecting to wake up, think this is a bad dream or something.’

‘’Fraid not’, Priya types.

‘Ugh, I so don’t want to go to school tomorrow,’ I type. ‘It’s cheer club, I know Ricky will make a point of coming along to watch…’

‘His celebrity girlfriend approves of him watching 14-16 year old girls in skimpy cheerleader costumes?’ Priya types.

‘One, it’s a uniform, not a costume,’ I retort. ‘And 2, he’ll only come along to try to distract me. Thank god I’m always at the base of the pyramid, lol.’

‘I’ll tell Suri to wear a crash helmet tomorrow,’ Priya types with another ‘sticking out tongue’ emoji that makes me roll my eyes. ‘Try to get some sleep, Laura. Maybe you’ll feel better in the morning.’

‘I doubt it,’ I type with a long sigh. ‘Night, Priya.’

‘Night Laura!’ Priya types with a ‘smiling’ emoji before logging out of Facebook. I follow suit a few seconds later and roll over onto my side, desperately trying to will myself to sleep despite the fact that it’s been one of the most mental days of my life…

I must have eventually dozed off at some point as I’m woken up by the sound of my alarm going off, though it takes several more minutes for me to become fully, properly awake following my restless night. After showering (including shaving away a few stray leg hairs- especially important in bare leg season), I apply my ‘school level’ make-up, pull on my uniform and tie my hair into its usual high ponytail before heading downstairs, where mum is waiting with a sweet-smelling cup of coffee in her hands.

“Figured you might not have slept much last night,” mum says as she hands me the dark-coloured beverage, which I eagerly drink.

“Thanks mum,” I whisper. “It wasn’t a bad dream, then?”

“Why is Ricky going out with a celebrity a bad dream?” Lily asks.

“I think Laura’s more worried about her brother working in her school,” Sean explains.

“I really want to talk to Dr Williamson about it,” I sigh. “But we had to move the appointment to Monday, and by then, Ricky won’t be in school anymore so it’ll be kinda pointless…”

“You could always give her a call,” mum shrugs.

“Not got time,” I sigh. “Not with Latin dancing tonight and ballet tomorrow. I suppose it won’t be TOO bad, I won’t see him in any classes… I really, really don’t want to go to cheer club today, though…”

“Pull a sickie if you want,” Sean says. “But you were the one who said that if you missed any classes, it meant that you wouldn’t be in the running for club captain next year.”

“It’ll just be two more days,” mum says. “And you’ll be busy this evening and tomorrow dancing, like you said.”

“That just leaves every other evening from now until forever when he can randomly drop round, now he’s living in London,” I say, offering a sympathetic smile as Lily groans.

“All the more reason to focus on your schoolwork,” mum advises as I finish my coffee. “Your brother can’t argue that you’ll need your space to study, especially as he’ll be studying hard himself come September. And speaking of studying, you two grab your bags before you’re late for school!”

“Yes mum,” I sigh as Lily and I grab my bags and follow mum out to her car.

A short while later, I’m greeted as always at the school gate by my six friends. Today, however, there is only one topic of conversation on their lips.

“Oh. My. God!” Suri squeaks. “Priya told me last night about your brother and- Oh. My. God!”

“How is that even possible?” Ashley asks. “I thought- I thought that celebrities, you know, only date other celebrities?”

“I wish,” I snort. “They met at his camp when she did a publicity shoot for the Army, and- ugh, I guess my brother isn’t THAT bad looking…”

“Thanks!” A familiar male voice shouts from behind me, and instantly I wish that the ground would just open up and swallow me whole.

“What are- oh, just pi-“ I retort.

“Swearing at a teacher?” Ricky chuckles. “You want to spend the rest of your life in detention?”

“You’re work experience, you can’t give out detentions,” I say.

“No, but I have friends in high places,” Ricky laughs.

“Come on, Laura,” Harriet says, moving to stand between me and Ricky. “The BOY isn’t worth it!” I have to giggle at the sight of my ginger-haired friend standing up to my brother despite the ten inch height difference. My giggles intensify when Ricky actually backs down and heads to his first class of the day- though the laugh he gives as he goes tells me that it’s going to be a long two days.

Fortunately, I’m able to forget about my stresses when I reach form and sit around my usual table with Nicole, Suri and Harriet. However, my relaxation is only allowed to last a few seconds, my tension increasing yet again when I overhear a conversation on a nearby table.

“…Is a total knob,” one of the boys snorts. “You can tell he used to be in the Army.”

“He was a total prat at basketball practice,” another boy says, his voice piquing my interest- as the voice happens to belong to none other than Kain Dawson. “It was like he was playing keep away with anyone shorter than him…”

“Hey,” I say at the boys’ desk, silencing their conversation. “Who- who’s this you’re talking about?”

“Umm, there’s a new student teacher in PE,” Kain explains. “Guy called ‘Mr. White’. He- he’s not related to you, is he?”

“He’s my brother,” I say with a long, tired sigh. “And you’re right, he IS a total knob and a total prat. And much worse.”

“Yeah,” Kain laughs. “He’s almost as bad as my big brother. At least he’s never come into school, heh.”

“At least I’m a girl so I don’t have to put up with him in lessons,” I say, grinning as the boys on Kain’s table laugh, all of them clearly agreeing with my statement about my gender. “If he keeps acting like a prat, let me know.”

“Umm, what exactly can YOU do?” One of the other boys asks. “Tell your mum on him?”

“Maybe not,” I shrug. “But I can tell my grandma on him. And THAT will terrify him, hehe!” I giggle as the boys all laugh at my joke, before turning back to my friends as Mr. Sheldon arrives to start our form session.

The first three lessons pass smoothly- no prizes for guessing what everyone was talking about under the tree during break- but when the bell rings to signify the start of lunch, I suddenly feel my stomach start to churn. My nerves must be obvious, as while I change into my cheerleading uniform alongside Nicole, Suri and Mia, my three friends all have looks of concern on their faces.

“Why are you so worried, Laura?” Nicole asks as she straightened her short pleated skirt. “All our ‘actual’ cheers are done for the year, we’re only practising…”

“I think it’s more about who might be watching today,” Mia says, smiling sympathetically as I nod. “Well don’t worry about HIM. You’re talented, gorgeous and most importantly of all, GIRLY. So go out there with your head held high, okay?”

“…Okay, I guess,” I sigh as I retie my hair using the red and white scrunchie all cheerleaders are required to wear.

“Don’t ‘guess’,” Suri says. “He’s bullied you his whole life. Show him that it isn’t going to happen anymore!”

“You’re right,” I say, taking a deep breath as I straighten my skirt, lace up my trainers, grab my pom-poms and follow my friends out to the playing field where we’re due to practise.

Inevitably, though, we barely take a few steps outside when we’re ‘greeted’ by the smug, smiling face of my brother. I immediately feel myself start to shrink behind my friends, but before I’m made to feel four years old again- or even a day younger than I actually am- my friends once again leap to my defense.

“Eww!” Mia sneers at my brother. “Stop staring at my legs, pervert!”

“Yeah,” Nicole says. “Get off on staring at underage girls in cheerleader uniforms, do you?” A smug grin creeps across my face as Ricky’s grin fades, he rolls his eyes and walks away without saying a word.

“…Thanks,” I whisper as we head toward the field to begin our practice.

“Hey, that’s what sisters are for, right?” Mia asks, making me giggle.

Thankfully, Mia and Nicole’s ‘threat’ keeps Ricky away from the playing field throughout cheer practice, which goes without a hitch. After the three of us have changed back into our regular school uniforms, though, I moan with frustration when I exit my ‘private changing room’ and immediately meet the gaze of my brother, who is stood at the opposite end of the school’s vast entrance hall with one of the teachers that he’s shadowing.

“Ugh,” I spit. “There is NO escape…”

“Come on, Laura,” Suri says. I nod and prepare to follow my friends to our final class of the day, when I pause as I notice Ricky talking to another student, a student roughly the same height as him… And much to my surprise, the student just so happens to be Kain.

“Wait,” I whisper, hanging around while Ricky and Kain finish their conversation before walking toward the tall boy- who, as always, looks utterly tongue-tied at the sight of me. If Ricky wants to irritate me at school, well, two can play at that game… And there’s something that I KNOW will wind him up far more than he can wind me up…

“Oh, umm, hi Laura,” Kain mumbles, his cheeks reddening as I approach.

“Hey Kain!” I say in an overly cheerful voice, making sure everyone in the entrance hall- especially my brother- can see the wide grin in my face. “Sooo… What did ‘the moron’ want to talk to you about?”

“Oh, umm, I’ve got PE next,” Kain explains. “Umm, basketball, and your- your brother knows I’m on the team, so he just wanted to chat about it… I, umm, I should go, need to get changed…”

“Sure,” I say, playfully tossing my hair to one side and giggling girlishly as I walk away with a bounce in my step. A quick glance back at Ricky- and the stern expression on his face- lets me know that I won this ‘round’ hands down!

“You tease!” Nicole chastises me as we head to our next class. “You know Kain really, REALLY likes you, right?”

“I know,” I shrug.

“So- so you’re just going to lead him on?” Suri asks.

“I’m not ‘leading him on’,” I say. “I- I’m just flirting a bit, that’s all. And so what if I am leading him on? Maybe I like Kain. He’s tall, he’s cute…”

“His acne has REALLY cleared up the last few months,” Nicole teases.

“Exactly,” I shrug. “He’s athletic, he’s not, like, a macho jerk-“

“-Like your brother?” Mia asks.

“…Exactly,” I sigh. “Okay, maybe I’m just trying to piss my brother off. Tell me that he doesn’t deserve it?”

“Nah, I’m with you on this one,” Suri giggles. “Wonder how he’d react if you kissed Kain?”

“Maybe we’ll find out?” I tease as we head to our lessons.

Just over an hour later, the bell rings to signify that the school day is at an end, and I have a smirk on my face as I gather my books together and head down to the car park. When I reach the car park, though, my smile fades when I see a familiar tall young man waiting for me with a frown on his face.

“H- hi, Laura,” Kain mumbles, intercepting me before I can reach mum’s car. “I, umm…”

“Wh- what’s up?” I ask, confused by Kain’s attitude, which is even more reserved than usual.

“I, umm, I should go, it-“ Kain mumbles.

“Kain, wait,” I say. “You didn’t wait around for me just to say ‘I should go’, what’s happened? Is it my brother?”

“He, umm,” Kain says with a grimace as he glances over to the school’s side entrance, where my brother is stood watching the children leave- but every so often, he glances over at me and Kain with a VERY angry look on his face.

“Actually no, don’t tell me, I can guess,” I spit. “I’m so, so sorry, Kain…”

“It’s okay,” Kain mumbles, before turning to walk away. Before he can take a step, though, I reach out and grab his hand, stopping him. “…Laura?”

“Hey,” I say softly. “D’you- d’you, you know, wanna- wanna hang out sometime?” I grin as the tall boy’s jaw drops and his eyes light up. If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost think that Kain had been handed a winning lottery ticket- which, in a kind of way, he has.

“Oh, um, sure!” Kain breathlessly replies. “Do you, umm, I mean, when, umm, I’ll message you! I’ll message you when we’re, umm, both free, okay? If that’s, umm, okay with you, I mean- umm…” I giggle as Kain babbles in response, before rising onto my tiptoes to give him a long, soft kiss on his cheek, which almost makes his faint- and almost makes my brother’s face turn purple with rage!

Stunned by the kiss, Kain stares off into the distance for a good long while, before seemingly returning to reality and looking deep into my eyes with a lopsided grin on his face. Slowly, he leans in toward me, and I instinctively start to pull back, before a little voice in the back of my head reminds me that Kain IS a good looking young man, there ARE plenty of girls in the school who fancy him, but I’m the one he really wants…

I smile- more for Kain’s benefit than Ricky’s, if I’m honest- as I lean in toward Kain and press my lips against his, feeling little lightning bolts leaping between our mouths with every tiny contact. My knees begin to quiver as the pressure on my lips increases and Kain gently tickles my mouth with his tongue, leaving me almost gasping with excitement, and buzzing with energy when Kain pulls back from the kiss.

“I’ll, um, I’ll see you tomorrow!” I say with a nervous giggle.

“Buh-bub-umm, bye, Laura!” Kain babbles as we walk to our respective parents’ cars with wide grins on our faces.

“…ANOTHER new boyfriend?” Mum asks as I sit down on the passenger seat of her car. “You know the rules, Laura…”

“…What do you mean by ‘another’?” I retort. “It’s been months since Scott, I like Kain, he likes me, I don’t see what the big deal is. I’m fifteen, you know? Fifteen year old girls do sometimes have boyfriends?”

“Yes,” mum sighs, clearly unhappy with my explanation. “But- never mind. Fasten your seatbelt.”

“Already done,” I say with a smug smile as the car pulls out of the car park.

Shortly after we arrive home, however, my smile fades when mum all but drags me into the kitchen- and it’s clear from her facial expression that she’s not interested in a casual chat.

“Okay, listen carefully,” mum sighs. “You will NOT be alone in this house with that boy at any time. If we go out and leave you alone in the home, he will NOT be allowed to come round here.”

“God’s sake, mum!” I protest. “So we kissed a couple of times, doesn’t mean I’m going to jump straight into bed with him! Besides, Kain’s birthday’s at the start of April, he’s younger than I am so I couldn’t ‘do’ anything even if I wanted-“

“Enough,” mum sighs. “…Okay, I remember being your age. I remember fancying boys. But it’s a little bit disturbing- and I’m not just speaking as your mother- that you’re not even sixteen yet and this is, what, your third boyfriend?”

“…Fourth if you count Ashley,” I mumble. “Which I don’t, for the record, I-“

“Three it is,” mum concedes. “…Even when you’re both sixteen, the rules still stand.”

“What?” I protest. “For god’s sake, mum! It’s not like I can pregnant, is it?”

“No, but you can catch an STD,” mum says, silencing me. “Or hurt yourself some other way… Laura, I know I’m not going to stop you forever. Sooner or later, you WILL find a way to- well…”

“Have sex?” I ask.

“…Not until you’re emotionally ready for it,” mum says firmly.

“If you had your way, I’d still be a virgin when I was fifty,” I spit.

“Better a virgin at fifty than not a virgin at fifteen,” mum retorts. “Okay, I’ve said all I want to say. Except for this- if I DO find that you and whatever his name is-“

“Kain,” I interrupt. “His name is Kain.”

“If I find out that you and HIM have been sneaking around behind my back,” mum says with a barely-concealed growl, “I may have to rope your grandmother in for babysitting duty again!” I bite my lip and remain silent- I know that this is not an idle threat. “Or maybe even your brother.” This follow-up, though, does make me chuckle, much to mum’s surprise. “What’s so funny?”

“Pretty sure that seeing me snogging a guy would me more of a punishment for him than for me,” I snort. “Especially if you saw how purple he turned when he saw me kissing Kain!”

“L-Laura,” mum says, her anger suddenly giving way for very deep concern. “You- you aren’t just going out with this boy to anger your brother, are you? Because I did NOT raise you to use people like that, and if I find-“

“No, no I didn’t,” I sigh. “Kain’s cute, and he thinks I’m cute, and it’s been, like, six months since the whole ‘Scott incident’ and I- I kinda want a boyfriend, you know? Fed up of being single. And it’s not like I can have my pick of ANY boy in the school… Kinda a miracle than even one boy fancies me…” I feel a pang of guilt in my chest as mum sighs at my speech- I always feel a little bad playing the ‘transgendered card’, but it’s not like what I’m saying is untrue, after all…

“…You know I’ll want to meet him,” mum says. “And this time, I’LL see him out.”

“Fine,” I sigh. “I’ll talk to him on Facebook, see when he’s free.”

“Good,” mum says in a voice barely louder than a mumble. “Now go upstairs and get changed, we’re paying enough for this second dance class of yours, you don’t want to miss it…” I grin as I head upstairs, where I strip off my uniform and pull on the plain black leggings and tank top that make up my ‘uniform’ for my other dance class- a Latin dancing class that Suri and I signed up for a few months ago.

After a quick dinner, we head to the class, where I spend the evening cha-cha-chaing and salsaing with several young men, working up a sweat- both from the activity and the young men's bodies! Before we leave, though, my petite Indian friend looks at me with a look of concern on her face.

“…I saw ‘the kiss’,” Suri says quietly as we pack away our heeled dancing shoes and slip our designer trainers back onto our feet.

“Yeah, it was a good one!” I giggle. “If I’d know how good a kisser he was, I might have started snogging him earlier!”

“I’m just worried that-“ Suri says, before being interrupted by a groan from me.

“Oh- why do you need to ‘worry’ at all?” I ask. “I’m cute, he’s cute, everyone’s cute! We live in Cute Britain, in the London Borough of Cute!”

“Jeez, okay, sorry I asked!” Suri snaps.

“Yeah, so am I,” I retort, before sighing. “Suri… I- I’m sorry, okay? Yeah, maybe I’m not head over heels for Kain like he is for me, but- but maybe I’m just fed up of being single, you know? And besides, Kain isn’t like Scott, Kain’s a lot sweeter, less up himself.”

“It’s not Kain who’s worrying me,” Suri says, making me groan again.

“Read my lips,” I sigh. “I am not- I repeat, NOT- dating Kain just to get at my brother, okay? He won’t even BE in school next week…”

“…Well, okay, I guess,” Suri says, before the smile final returns to her pretty face. “As long as you remember that is sisters before misters!”

“Always!” I giggle, exchanging a quick hug with the petite girl before heading back to her father’s people carrier.

After arriving back home, I let out a long sigh as I strip off my sweaty dancewear and change into a comfortable long t-shirt, ready for bed (even though it’s still relatively early), before switching on my tablet computer and curling up on my bed, whiling away the evening browsing my friends’ latest Facebook updates. I’m not online for long, though, when I receive a notification that makes me giggle excitedly.

‘Please confirm that you are in a relationship with Kain Dawson,’ the notification reads. He’s moving fast, I think to myself. Nonetheless, I click ‘confirm’, which automatically adds the news to my own wall. Within seconds, my post gets several likes, as well as the inevitable comments saying ‘OMG’ or similar. There’s one reaction, though, that doesn’t make me smile- a notification of a new private message from my brother. I shudder as I open up the chat window, knowing immediately that whatever Ricky’s typed, I won’t like it…

‘You shouldn’t start a relationship yet,’ Ricky types, making me roll my eyes. ‘Not while there are still rumours about you in school.’

‘What rumours?’ I reply. ‘It was six months ago. Unless you mean rumours about me being transgendered. If that’s what it is, then OMG! My life is ruined by these rumours!’ I add several ‘eye rolling’ emojis to the end of my message to make sure Ricky understands exactly where he can stick his advice.

‘I hear a lot at your school,’ Ricky types. ‘A lot of the kids reckon you’ll spread for anyone. That’s NOT a reputation you need and getting a boyfriend now will only make people think it’s true.’

‘I’ve been single for six months,’ I retort. ‘Everyone knows that. And if I’m in a relationship that just means I’m not spreading for ANYONE. Only Kain.’ I mull over adding a smiling emoji at the end of my message, but eventually send it ‘unadorned’.

‘Exactly, you’ll be dragging Kain down with you,’ Ricky types. ‘He’s a good kid and doesn’t need that sort of shit.’

‘Such a good kid that you threatened him after PE?’ I retort.

‘I didn’t threaten him,’ Ricky replies almost instantly. ‘I explained to him that you have a habit of attracting trouble and he’d be biting off more than he can chew.’

‘If he wants to ‘chew’ me, that’s his business,’ I type with a ‘sticking out tongue’ emoji.

‘This isn’t some game,’ Ricky types, the irritation clear in his words. ‘You’ve got another year at school, you don’t want to go through it being known as the school bike. You’ve got it bad enough as it is.’

‘What do you mean ‘I’ve got it bad enough as it is’?’ I reply.

‘You know full well what I mean,’ Ricky replies.

‘I want you to say it,’ I reply, typing with one hand while another clenches into a fist.

‘You’re opening yourself up to being bullied by being transgendered,’ Ricky types, making me growl with anger. ‘Whether it’s right or not is irrelevant, it’s just a plain fact that that’s how it is.’

‘People need to get over themselves,’ I type, cringing the second I send the message at how naïve I’ve managed to make myself sound.

‘Yes well that’s obviously not going to happen overnight, is it?’ Ricky types. ‘I’ve been made aware of what happened with those arsewipes earlier in the year who bullied you and your friend Ashley. I’m not saying they didn’t get what they deserved, because they did, and I’m not saying that everyone is going to be as twattish as them, but you have to be prepared for the possibility that everyone could be.’

‘And are you one of those people?’ I ask.

‘I’m insulted that you need to ask,’ Ricky types. ‘Obviously you’re not interested in good advice. I don’t want to sit back and watch you fuck your life up, but if you’d rather I do that, then fine.’

‘Good,’ I reply petulantly, my anger levels almost reaching boiling point at Ricky’s smug, superior attitude. ‘Ttyl, bro.’

‘Ttyl, sis,’ Ricky types before leaving me in peace. I take several deep breaths to calm myself down as I try to put Ricky’s ‘advice’ to the back of my mind, before checking the list of people who are currently online. A smile instantly spreads across my face when I see whose name is on top of the list.

‘Hey boo,’ I type, ending my message with a ‘winking’ and a ‘kissing’ emoji.

‘Hey babe,’ Kain responds with a ‘kissing’ emoji of his own that makes me giggle girlishly. ‘What you up to right now?’

‘Just laid on my bed,’ I reply. ‘Been Latin dancing all evening.’

‘Cool!’ Kain types. ‘Like they do on Strictly?’

‘Yep!’ I type with a ‘giggling’ emoji. ‘Been wiggling my hips and my bum all evening…’ I giggle out loud as Kain replies with a ‘drooling’ emoji.

‘Sounds fun,’ Kain types. ‘I’ve just been playing FIFA all evening, lol.’

‘Sounds relaxing,’ I type. ‘God I could use some relaxing now, just chatted with my brother online.’ I punctuate my message with an ‘angry’ emoji that earns a ‘laughing’ emoji from Kain.

‘Sorry, didn’t mean to laugh,’ Kain types with a ‘blushing’ emoji that makes me giggle.

‘It’s okay,’ I type. ‘It is kinda funny…’

‘Yeah,’ Kain replies, his ‘smiling’ emoji making me giggle even more.

‘Does everyone really think he’s a knob?’ I type. ‘At school, I mean.’

‘YES,’ Kain replies, making me shriek with laughter at his use of capitals. ‘He literally swaggers around the school like he owns it, treats everyone on the team like prisoners.’

‘Welcome to the first fifteen years of my life,’ I type with an ‘eye rolling’ emoji. ‘Got any good examples?’ I giggle out loud as Kain and I spend the next forty-five minutes discussing how much of a knob my brother is, before ending our conversation by exchanging countless ‘kissing’ emojis.

It’s so nice to have a boyfriend who isn’t afraid to express his feelings, even if it is in emoji form. And sure, I might have initially only cared about winding Ricky up, but Kain IS a really, really nice guy (which is a hell of a rarity at my school), and he IS really, really cute… I have a very good feeling about this relationship.

This feeling is reinforced the following morning when I head into school and, after greeting my friends with our usual hugs, I head into form with my arms wrapped around Kain’s long, muscular arm- and given that my boobs are pressing against his arm, it’s clear that he’s VERY happy with this arrangement too! Of course, not everyone in the class approves of the ‘arrangement’, but what’s most disappointing is that the most sneers are coming from another table of girls. When I see which girl is leading the sneers, though, I let out an involuntary sigh of frustration- just like I’ve had boyfriends before, Kain’s had girlfriends before, one of whom just so happens to be in our form…

“Got a problem with us, Madison?” I ask the black-haired girl, who just sneers at me in much the same way she’s done behind my back for the past four years.

“Yeah,” Madison replies. “I never realised that Kain was gay! I’m glad I dumped him when I did.”

“Erm, I dumped YOU,” Kain retorts.

“Yeah,” Madison sneers. “’Cause you’re GAY!” Kain and I roll our eyes as all of the girls on Madison’s table giggle at our expense. Before I open my mouth to respond, however, an unexpected- but very welcome- presence makes itself known in the argument.

“And what’s wrong with being gay?” Harriet asks, her arm folded. “Not that Kain or Laura are, are they?”

“Well- well, it ain’t right, is it?” Madison mumbles, clearly intimidated by the ginger girl, who has developed a reputation for being one of the toughest girls in school ever since her assault of Sam Reid.

“Want to say that to my face?” Harriet asks, clearly aware of and playing on her reputation. “Didn’t think so.”

“…You’re kinda scary,” Kain mumbles as we sit back down at our respective tables.

“Thank you,” Harriet says with a smug grin.

“I hope your dad escapes from prison and kidnaps you again!” Madison yells, causing my cheeks to redden with anger as Harriet silences the black-haired girl with an angry glare.

“Just ignore the stupid little girl, Laura,” Harriet sneers, before letting out a long sigh. “She- ugh. She was kinda, in year seven…”

“I get it,” I whisper, remembering back to the time when Harriet herself would treat me in much the same way as Madison- and often even worse. No doubt, during year seven, the two of them were friends, ‘allied’ against me…

“How can anyone say that about your dad?” Nicole spits.

“I’d rather no one said ANYTHING about my so-called ‘dad’,” I mumble, taking several deep breaths to calm myself. “Good OR bad.”

“…Sorry,” Nicole mumbles.

“How can anyone still be prejudiced against gay people?” Suriya snorts. “Sometimes I kinda wish that I was gay… You know it’s still illegal in India, right? I mean, how can anyone help the way they’re born?”

“Exactly,” Harriet says. “Same goes for being transgendered. Even though Laura is FAR too cute to be wasted on a boy, hehe!”

“Aww,” I giggle as my cheeks redden with embarrassment rather than anger. “…You’ve always got Ashley…”

“Who is as much as girl as Laura, and therefore as much as girl as any of us!” Suri says.

“Really,” Nicole teases. “What’s stopping you, Harriet?”

“...Maybe once her boobs have grown a bit,” Harriet giggles as Mr. Sheldon arrives to begin our form session, during which Madison and her cronies are thankfully quiet.

The threat of a Harriet beat down keeps Madison- and any other potential ‘commentators’- away throughout the whole day, during which Kain and I spend a lot of time exchanges glances- and, when we can get away with it, cuddles and even the occasional kiss! Of course, at break and lunch, Kain spends his time playing basketball with his all-male group of friends, though as I spend all of my time sat on the grass with my all-female group gossiping about boys, fashion and dancing, I’m not really in a position to complain!

By the time the bell rings to signal the end of the day- and the week- I’m on a high I haven’t felt in a long, long time, and even Ricky’s presence in the car park, stood where he was yesterday, can’t wipe the smile off of my face. I’m so happy that I barely even notice when a pair of masculine arms encircle my waist from behind…

“Aiiiiieeeee!” I shriek, my heart racing as I’m lifted off the ground, just as I was three years ago. Tears flow freely from my eyes as I desperately thrash and kick against my abductor’s grip, scratching his hands with my long fingernails until he drops me, wincing in pain and staring at me with a look of utter disbelief on his face.

“L- Laura?” Kain mumbles, cradling his bleeding hands. “What-“

“Don’t touch me!” I shriek, cowering behind the rear bumper of the nearest car as my legs give way and I sink to my knees, scratching my smooth skin against the hard tarmac.

“What the hell are you doing?” The familiar voice of my brother yells as he approaches- and it actually takes me a second to realise that he’s not yelling at me, but at Kain.

“I- I was just-“ the teenager mumbles.

“Go on, get out of here!” Ricky barks. “Get lost! NOW!” Faced with a look of utter fury, Kain quickly scurries away, not looking back once as I cower behind the car.

“R- Rick-“ I sob.

“It’s okay, Laura,” Ricky says, his face immediately softening as he helps me onto my feet. “I’ll take you home. Go and sit in my car.”

“Uh- uh-huh,” I say, before grimacing as I feel a warm liquid slowly trickle down my thigh. “I- I, um, I think I’ve wet myself…”

“There’s a towel in the boot, put that on the passenger seat before you sit down,” Ricky whispers, untucking my blouse from my skirt and letting it hang loose in an attempt to disguise any ‘patches’ that might appear. I follow my brother’s instructions and sit down on the passenger seat of his Vauxhall Astra, taking several deep breaths to calm myself before bursting into a flood of tears. Every time I think I’m making progress, every time I think I’m growing up, something always happens to set me right back to square one. Kain probably thought he was being cute, or romantic, and now he’ll probably never even look at me again, and it’s all my fault. No- it’s not my fault, there’s only one person to blame…

“FUCK ROBERT WHITE!” I screech as I almost literally spasm with anger. “FUCK HIM TO HELL!” I shriek with terror once again as I hear a gentle knock come from the window right next to my head.

“…Feel better for that?” Ricky asks, smiling as I nod. “I’ve talked to mum, she’ll expect you home in a bit. Think me and you need to have a talk first.”

“I am seriously not in the mood for talking,” I moan as Ricky sits down in the driver’s seat. “God… I’m never going to live this down…”

“Ah, good to see you’re fifteen again and not five,” Ricky chuckles. “Haven’t see you this worked up since I rescued you from that swimming pool, heh.”

“Piss off,” I moan.

“Is that any way to speak to the person who rescued you yet again?” Ricky retorts.

“’Rescued’ me?” I snort. “What, from my boyfriend?”

“Yeah, you’re going to want to rethink the whole ‘boyfriend’ thing if he doesn’t know enough to not grab you from behind like that,” Ricky says bluntly.

I remain silent during the drive home, both out of frustration at my brother’s smug attitude and out of the sheer embarrassment of having acted like a terrified infant. Naturally, once I arrive back home, I immediately change out of my stained school skirt and thong and into a looser, more comfortable summer skirt. I try to compose myself as I untie my hair and exchange my blouse for a light-coloured tank top, but the second I return to the living room and set eyes on my family, I burst into tears yet again and have to be comforted by my mother.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” mum whispers softly. “Let it out, let it all out…”

“Lily, go and get ready for ballet,” Sean says softly.

“But I-“ Lily protests.

“Give us some privacy,” Sean whispers, before joining mum and Ricky in escorting me to the sofa.

“I’m okay, I’m okay,” I whisper, before sniffling and bursting into yet another flood of tears.

“No, you’re not,” mum says softly. “God, Laura… Ricky- he, umm, told us what happened.”

“I- I’m sorry,” I blub.

“No!” Mum says firmly. “Don’t you dare be sorry! It’s that piece of shit who calls himself your father that should be sorry for doing this to you!”

“I hope he burns in hell,” I growl, earning a chuckle from mum and Sean. “God… I really, really liked Kain too…”

“I’m sure if you give him the chance to apologise,” Sean shrugs. “Explain the situation…”

“Everybody in school knows what happened with me and da- with me and Robert,” I spit. “Kain’s been in my form right from the start…”

“He’s also a teenage boy,” Sean says softly. “You know as well as I do that they’re all idiots.”

“…Sean’s right,” Ricky says, earning stares of confusion from everyone in the room.

“…Seriously?” I ask. “You, of all people? I thought you were going to pull Kain’s head off…”

“Like I said last night,” Ricky says, “Kain’s a good kid. He screwed up. Everyone does from time to time. Even me, on very rare occasions.”

“…He thought you were a knob,” I say, making mum and Sean snort with laughter. “All the boys at school did.”

“Just means I’m doing my job properly then,” Ricky shrugs, utterly unfazed by the insult. “Have a chat with him on Facebook after your dance lesson, clear the air. Unless you were only kissing him just to wind me up, that is.”

“…Okay, I’ll message him when I get home,” I sigh. “I should probably get ready for class, heh.”

“Are you sure you’re up for dancing tonight?” Sean asks. “You were very shaken, you don’t want to spend all night spinning around, getting dizzy…”

“Ballerinas don’t get dizzy,” I say with a smug grin. “Besides, I have to keep up attendance if I want to get in the elite class, and get into recitals… I’ll be fine.”

“I’ll make you something light for dinner, something you can easily digest,” mum says as I head upstairs, a wide, happy grin on my face.

“Thanks, everyone,” I whisper to my three family members, before giggling and returning to the living room to give all them a kiss on their cheek.

“Thanks, mum,” I whisper as I kiss my mother.

“Thanks, bro,” I say as I kiss Ricky, who winces as my lips make contact with his cheek.

“Thanks… Dad,” I say, blinking tears out of my eyes as I give Sean his kiss.

A short while later- after a meal that was thankfully as small as mum promised- Lily and I walk through the front door of the Krystie Fullerton School of Dance, having first bid farewell to our father with a tight hug each. After sending the leotard-clad ten year old off to mingle with the rest of her class, I sit down in one of the comfortable chairs at the side of the room, a couple of seats along from the very swollen belly of the school’s owner.

“Hi Laura!” Miss Fullerton says with a grin as I sit down and straighten my pink dance tights. “Your family’s been busy this week then, I take it?”

“Ugh, I’m guessing you mean my brother?” I reply. “And yes, yes he has…”

“Yeah, THAT was a surprise when Alice showed him off to the rest of the girls,” Miss Fullerton says with a tired laugh. “Nearly went into labour then and there, heh!”

“Huh?” I ask. “Oh- god, the Alice thing…”

“Don’t tell me he’s been up to his other old tricks again?” Miss Fullerton asks.

“Only spending an entire weekend at my school on work experience,” I snort, making the tall blonde woman grimace.

“That sounds horrific,” Miss Fullerton grimaces. “My older sister’s a teacher, thank god I’d left school by the time she graduated!”

“He’s teaching PE to boys, so thankfully I didn’t encounter him in a lesson,” I say with an exasperated laugh. “And it’s hardly the worst thing to have happened at school this week…”

“Oh- god, Laura…” Miss Fullerton moans. “Please tell me you’re not being bullied again…”

“Nothing I can’t handle,” I whisper. “I- I kinda got a new boyfriend this week…”

“And- and he’s the worst thing that happened?” Miss Fullerton asks. “He sounds like a keeper…”

“Oh- don’t get me wrong,” I reply. “He’s tall, he’s sensitive, he’s funny and he’s REALLY fit… And today, he decided to give me a big, tight hug… from behind.”

“Eesh,” Miss Fullerton grimaces. “Obviously not THAT sensitive, then…”

“He’s a fifteen year old boy,” I shrug, making my teacher laugh.

“Yeah, I know a thing or two about those,” Miss Fullerton laughs. “Try having two younger brothers, THAT will teach you a thing or two about insensitivity!”

“…I’ll stick one younger sister, thanks!” I giggle.

“Good decision,” Miss Fullerton giggles as we watch Lily warm up for her class with the rest of the identically-dressed girls. “She’s really come on a lot the last few months, you know? Reckon you’re, like, her inspiration to improve.”

“Aww,” I sigh happily. “Isn’t that what big sisters are supposed to be?” Kinda like big brothers are supposed to be too… I think to myself.

"It's how I always tried to be," Miss Fullerton says softly. "Both to my brothers and to my, you know, 'sisters'. Gotta be fun, but protective at the same time... Speaking of which, are you sure you'll be okay to dance tonight? I can only imagine what that panic attack must've been like..."

"I'll be fine," I whisper. "Wouldn't be wearing a leotard if I wasn't!"

"Other than the fact that they're comfy and girly?" Miss Fullerton teases. "I'll let Mademoiselle Renou know you're feeling under the weather, see if she can go easy on you. Though as this IS Mademoiselle Renou we're talking about, I'm not making any promises!"

"...Understood," I say with a nod that makes the older woman laugh.

After half an hour filled with homework and occasional chat, I head to the school's changing room to stretch my clingy pink tights over my leotard, tie my hair back into the regulation severe bun and fasten my soft ballet slippers to my feet. By the time I finish getting ready by fixing the last few bobby pins in my hair, my friends have all started to arrive- and all of them have looks of extreme concern on their face.

"Are- are you okay, Laura?" Ashley- who is the first to arrive- asks. "We- well, I heard what happened, with you and Kain, and you weren't answer Facebook-"

"I'm fine," I sigh, interrupting the 14 year old girl.

"Are you sure?" Nicole asks. "People were REALLY concerned, and I don't just mean the six of us..."

"Really," I say softly, before my eyes dart around the room to make sure no one outside of my 'group' is listening. "Did, umm, did anyone... Did anyone see... My, umm, 'accident'?"

"'Accident’?” Ashley asks, making me breathe a sigh of relief- if anyone had scene, the entire school would've hard by now.

"...Never mind," I say, shaking my head. "Not important."

"So what are you going to do about Kain?" Megan asks, making me pause. "If you think about it, now you've got an excuse to dump him..."

"Why would I want to do that?" I retort. "Why does everyone think I'm only going out with Kain to get at my brother?"

"You, umm, you did say no to him a LOT," Megan reminds me.

"So maybe it was time I finally said 'yes'," I say, though secretly, I give Megan's suggestion serious consideration. Kain's relentless persistence has been a SERIOUS turn-off in the past, and part of me gave in just to shut him up... And as much as I hate to admit it, a part of me did agree to go out with him just to spite my brother. But there's another part of me who thinks that he's a fit, sweet, sensitive boy... But a boy insensitive enough not to realise that pretending to abduct me would be the worst idea ever. If I stay with him, the same thing could happen again, but if I dump him, especially after what happened with Scott, I could end up looking like a slut to everyone at school...

"...Enough talk of BOYS!" I snort, earning a playful cheer from Harriet. "We're here to dance, aren't we?"

"Hell yeah!" Ashley cheers, straightening her tights as we head through to the dance studio to begin our lesson.

An hour of dancing later, though, and I'm still no closer to answering my question than I was before. After arriving back home, I waste no time in stripping down to just my leotard, before grabbing my tablet computer and logging into Facebook, where I unsurprisingly have several messages waiting for me. Most of the messages are the girls asking me how I am- messages they mentioned they'd sent before ballet- but one makes my heart beat faster at the mere sight of the sender's name.

'Hey,' Kain's message reads. 'I am so so so so so so sorry about this afternoon, I completely forgot about you and your dad. I'm an idiot, and I'll understand if you didn't want to be my girlfriend anymore.' Wow, I think. Could I be any more let off the hook?

'Hey,' I reply, dithering for several minutes as I decide what to type next. My options are limitless- I could lay into him, I could ask for a break, whether it's permanent, temporary of temporary-that-becomes-permanent, I could mess with his feelings... Or I could forgive him. It WAS a genuine mistake, after all, and god knows I've made a few of my own in the past... And I'm not going to get a boyfriend as into me anytime soon. Everybody deserves a second chance...

'It's okay,' I eventually type. 'No real harm was done. Just as long as you never ever do that again.'

'I won't, I promise,' Kain types, leading to an awkward pause in the conversation. 'So what have you been doing all evening? Hope I didn't ruin what you were planning.' I roll my eyes- I guess continuing on as though nothing's happened is better than dwelling on it too much...

'No, just been at ballet,' I type, before giggling as I take a selfie of my leotard-clad body in my mirror and sending it to Kain, whose 'drooling' emoji tells me that he's still just as into me as he was 24 hours ago! 'This is look but don't touch, btw,' I type, sighing at Kain's 'embarrassed' emoji response.

'I won't, I promise,' Kain types. 'If I have to apologise for that forever, I will, I promise.'

'Like I said, no real harm was done,' I type. 'It's still a little hard for me to have physical contact with anyone, kinda why I started Latin dancing, to try to get used to it. Guess I have a lot to learn!'

'Not as much as me,' Kain types with a frowning emoji- though my response of a 'kissing' emoji quickly turns his frown upside down!

'Maybe we can learn together?' I ask, earning another grinning emoji from Kain- and another awkward pause in the conversation as Kain takes ages to type his next message.

'Are you doing anything tomorrow?' Kain types. 'Want to get a coffee?'

'Are you asking me on a date?' I reply, giggling at my teasing of the young man. 'Because the answer is yes.'

'Cool!' Kain types. 'You free at lunch?'

'Earlier suits me better,' I type. 'Around 10am. I usually hang out with my friends at the weekend.'

'Me too,' Kain types. '10am works for me. Costa near school?'

'See you there!' I type, giggling with excitement at the relationship renewed.

"Good news and bad news," I say as I walk down stairs, having covered my leotard with a short denim skirt. "The good news is that Kain and I are still boyfriend and girlfriend."

"...And the bad news?" Sean asks.

"Someone's going to have to chaperone a date tomorrow," I say with a smug grin. "Your rules, mum."

"They were," mum sighs. "But it was your idea that they patch things up, Ricky."

"Got plans with Alice," Ricky shrugs.

"At 10am?" I ask, making my brother sigh and roll his eyes.

Naturally, the date goes perfectly despite Ricky's reluctant presence. My choice of a short summer dress, 4" cork wedges and make-up to make me look a LOT older goes over extremely well with Kain- and his conscious decision to keep his hands to himself goes over extremely well with me. Well, until our extra long goodbye kiss, anyway!

...And even better than the date was the post-date discussion with my friends, all of whom are happy that I've chosen to stay with Kain. The happiest person of all, though, is me. The last week has been insane, to put it mildly- but I've come out of it in a better place than I've been for a very long time. I have a boyfriend who I know genuinely likes me for who I am. I have the best friends a girl could ever hope for. I have the best family ever- including, for the very first time, a proper father, and a little sister I would do anything for. And even though he is the biggest knob in the world, I have my big brother back in my life. And maybe even a celebrity sister-in-law if things work out!

And a few months from now, I'll turn sixteen, and I'll finally be allowed to take a full dose of oestrogen. I'll finally be a woman, and not just a girl. And while I won't be in any rush to lose my virginity immediately, I'll at least have a boyfriend who I know will wait for me. As he's almost six months younger than me, though, the question is whether or not I'll be willing and able to wait for him...



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