Nikki, part 27

I take several deep breaths to clear my head as the smartly-dressed man looks at me with serious eyes. In all my life, I don’t think I’ve ever been as terrified as I am now…

“It’ll be okay,” dad whispers, squeezing my hand for support. I wish I shared your optimism, dad…

“Nicola Christine Thomas,” the man says, making me shiver with nerves. “You officially charged with one account of assault and battery. All relevant information is provided on the charge sheet I’ve given you, and the bail costs have been paid in full. Do you have any comments you wish to add at this time?”

“I- I’m meant to be getting married tomorrow…” I feebly moan.

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THREE DAYS EARLIER

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“This is so exciting!” Katie squeaks as she does a twirl in her strapless bridesmaid dress, the many layers and ruffles rustling noisily with every movement. “Even if I AM wearing pink…”

“Was there ever any question over which colour we’d be wearing?” Jacinta asks as she plays with the skirts of her dress. “It’s a girl-girl wedding, if you don’t like the colour pink, you’re going to be in for a LONG day!”

“Even our fathers are wearing pink shirts!” I giggle as I watch my four bridesmaids compare their elaborate gowns.

Looking at the four beautiful women, it’s almost impossible to believe that three of them used to be men… But it’s even harder to believe that less than a week from now, I will be a bride.

Six years ago, I was just an average teenaged boy- or at least, that’s what I pretended to be. I said the right things in front of what few friends I had, I behaved the way that was expected of me… But inside, the ‘real me’ felt trapped, imprisoned, desperate to be released and show the world the girl I always wanted to be. And then I met the girl who would change my life forever- and to whom I owe everything. My life, my body, my heart and my soul… Especially my heart and my soul.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t met Sarah. I definitely wouldn’t have nearly as many amazing friends as I do now. I’d barely have any friends at all, certainly no female friends. Would I have found a girlfriend? Maybe. But I’d be forever fighting the urge to dress up in her clothes, as I obviously wouldn’t have any of my own- as I would almost certainly still be known as ‘Nick’ and not ‘Nikki’. I would never have had the courage to come out to my parents without Sarah’s love and support. I’d never have started hormone therapy, I’d never have grown my hair, or started ballet, and I certainly wouldn’t be sat where I am right now with a pair of smooth, firm breasts growing out of my chest and a vagina between my legs. Some days I even struggle to remember what it's like to NOT have a vagina. My whole life is a dream come true… And four days from now, my dreams will literally come true.

Last night, as I have done thousands of times before, I dreamed of myself and my soul mate stood in a vast, elaborately decorated church, each wearing a pristine white wedding dress and professing our love for each other in front of our family and friends. The reality will be slightly different, of course- instead of a church, we’ll be getting married in the vast back garden of our friend Charlotte, and instead of a priest, it’s our friend Krystie who’ll be performing the ceremony (possibly from a seated position, owing to the fact that she’s 32 weeks pregnant). Our wedding will be no less special, though, because it doesn’t matter who is the one to declare us wife and wife, or what building it’ll be in- or whether it’ll be in a building at all. What matters is who’ll be at the wedding. Our family, our friends… And most importantly of all, the brown-haired girl in the adjacent suite to ours, who greets me with a long, loving kiss as we get ready to leave the bridal boutique.

“Everything’s fine, right?” Sarah asks.

“Everything’s PERFECT,” I say, giving my grinning fiancée another long kiss. “Almost can’t believe we’re really doing this…”

“Tell me about it,” Sarah says in a nervous, almost breathless voice. “Four days from now, we’ll be Mrs and Mrs Phillips-Thomas…”

“You- you’re not, you know, getting cold feet, are you?” I hesitantly ask.

“Never,” Sarah replies, surprising me with another kiss as the two of us, along with our bridesmaids (those not too busy with school or work), are led out to our waiting taxis.

“Do you- do you ever, you know…” I mumble. “Ever… Wonder what you’d be doing now, right now I mean, if we hadn’t met?”

“…I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t,” Sarah sighs. “Reckon I’d probably, I dunno, be at Oxford or Cambridge, studying medicine or law…”

“Thanks, way to make your fiancée feel better,” I tease, earning a gentle elbow in my ribs.

“You know as well as I do that I would also be MISERABLE,” Sarah says. “Whereas right now, I literally love every single aspect of my life. Literally every bit of it. Hell, I’m even on relatively good terms with the dragon, THAT was unthinkable a few years ago!”

“I can’t claim all the credit for that,” I snort.

“No, but you can definitely claim some of it,” Sarah says. “And you can claim a LOT of the credit for my happiness.”

“You can claim pretty much ALL the credit for mine,” I giggle as we exchange our fourth kiss in as many minutes.

Naturally, once we arrive back at our flat, our relatively innocent series of kisses quickly becomes a hot, passionate lovemaking session. As we lay on the sofa together, our naked bodies tingling and covered with a fine sheen of sweat, I muse on how there is nowhere in the world I would rather be, or anyone I would rather be with. It’s taken a while- almost six years- but I have finally earned the life I deserve to live.

Despite the summer heat, we stay cuddled together on the sofa for a full hour following the conclusion of our lovemaking session. Even though neither of us want to move even an inch, we’re both reluctantly forced to accept that sooner or later, we are going to have to move, so with loud sighs, we return to our bedroom to get dressed. I opt for a knee-length dress with black and white stripes that’s just tight enough at the hem to make my stride extra-feminine, while Sarah plumps for a short-sleeved grey bodysuit and a flared miniskirt with a floral pattern that she herself made a few weeks ago. Naturally, the bodysuit is clingy enough (especially in our non-air-conditioned flat) that I can’t resist wrapping my arms around my fiancée’s waist once she’s stretched it over her torso.

“Stop that!” Sarah giggles. “There’ll be enough time for that when we’re married. We can’t live on sex alone, you know?”

“Mmm… Pretty sure I can,” I sigh as I tighten my grip, forcing Sarah to try to wriggle out of my embrace.

“Yeah, well, our flat DOES need cleaning,” Sarah sighs. “Don’t want to put anything up on Instagram or YouTube with takeaway containers all over the place…”

“Ugh, guess you’re right,” I sigh, releasing my fiancée from my hug (but not before giving her a kiss on the cheek). “You hit 50 000 on Instagram yet?”

“Reckon I will be this time next week,” Sarah replies. “No prizes for guessing why, hehe!”

“Yeah,” I giggle as I grab a black bin bag from the kitchen and begin throwing away the various food containers that are littering our living room.

One thing I certainly never imagined when I was fourteen was that I wouldn’t be just a woman, but a famous woman as well- relatively speaking, of course. I’ve spent the last three years working around celebrities, and while they are still, technically speaking, my bosses, I’ve grown close enough to them to view them all as my friends- especially the 25 year old woman who’s been my mentor and will be my maid of honour in four days’ time. It was her wedding just a few weeks ago, and even though I’m not a ‘proper’ Angel, I was chosen as one of her bridesmaids, and as far as Jamie was concerned, I had as much right to be there as any of the other girls. I don’t know if it’s because we obviously have a lot in common- Jamie was the first transgendered friend I ever made, and with the obvious exception of her husband, the reverse applies too- but she has become the big sister I never had, but always wished I did. Even if she did mercilessly tease me for getting a little bit tipsy at her hen night…

The most noticeable effect of Jamie’s friendship, though- to anyone looking in from the outside, anyway- is definitely her willingness to ‘share her fame’. She- and the rest of the Angels, and Out of Heaven too- have enthusiastically promoted our wedding on their social media pages, to the extent that my YouTube, Twitter and Instagram accounts have all seen a surge of followers, with the latter two also becoming verified accounts. Sure, I barely do any modelling myself anymore (I still do more than I ever did as part of the ‘Teen Angels’, though), and my actual job can be really, really hard work at times, but it’s nice to know that there are thousands of people across the country who’ve got my back. I even have fans and friends from further afield, like Europe, or even America.

What’s most heartwarming, of course, is when I get correspondence from transgendered girls younger than me. Just as Jamie is my ‘mentor’, I’ve helped to ‘mentor’ many young T-girls who are at the start of their transitions. Seeing them begin their journeys toward the people they truly are inside always puts a smile on my face- but every time I speak to them, I’m reminded that the journey is not a smooth one- nor has it been for me. There will always be people who see me as an object of ridicule, who see me as some kind of freak, or abomination, or affront to god. I don’t pay any attention to any of these people, of course- I make a point of thinking far less of them than they think of me. Hell, I think far less of them than I think of the empty food containers I’m shoving into the bin. But they’ll never go away, no matter how hard I try, and what hurts the most is that it’s not just me who has to take the abuse.

Over the course of her second year, Sarah has become more and more involved in the university’s LGBT society, has made many friends (including more than a few transgendered friends), one of whom- the society’s president, a girl named Becky- has become such a good friend Sarah’s even asked her to be one of her bridesmaids. Sarah’s both attended and organised society events, and even gone on pride marches with them. Naturally, I’ve always accompanied her, and I’ve always been made to feel welcome by the other members of the society… But we haven’t always been made to feel welcome by members of the public. London might be one of the most diverse cities in the world, but that just means that there are plenty of people who would react negatively to the sight of two women walking down the street hand-in-hand- and who occasionally do react that way.

Dyke, scum, disgusting, sickening… I’ve heard all those words directed at me over the past few years, even from people who didn’t realise that I was transgendered. What hurts more, though, is that I’ve heard all those words directed at Sarah as well. She puts on a brave face, but I know the deep down inside, it hurts her, and sometimes, I actually wonder whether or not she sees being with me as being worth all the hassle. Every night I go to bed wrapped in her arms, I feel like pinching myself to make sure that it isn’t all a dream.

“Do you, Nicola Christine Thomas,” the minister asks as I stand before him in my pristine white wedding dress, “take this woman, Sarah Jennifer Phillips, to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

“I do,” I whisper.

“And do you, Sarah Jennifer Phillips,” the minister asks, “take this woman, who has always been and will always be a woman, Nicola Christine Thomas, to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

“I do,” Sarah whispers, leaning in toward me to give me a long, loving kiss as I close my eyes and feel my body start to melt away…

My eyes dart open and I find myself staring deep into the blue-grey orbs of my fiancée, whose lips are pressed firmly against my own. Naturally, I do my best to return the kiss, despite my tired state, before Sarah brushes a stray lock of hair away from her break and pulls her mouth back from mine.

“Morning babe,” Sarah whispers, giving me another gentle kiss on the end of my nose before getting out of bed and stretching her slender body.

“What time is it?” I moan.

“Just gone 7,” Sarah says. “We oughta get up and get ready...”

“Yeah,” I sigh, climbing out of bed and following Sarah to the bathroom, where we both climb underneath the hot cascading water.

After drying ourselves off, we perform our usual morning ‘ritual’ of brushing each other’s hair, before returning to our bedroom to get ready for the morning ahead. I have to let out a little giggle as Sarah and I simultaneously tie our extra-long hair back into tight ponytails with the exact same actions- Sarah is obviously the one who taught me to tie a ponytail in the first place. Of course, on a free day, I’d normally keep my hair loose, as the feel of my own soft hair falling in front of my face is one of those unquestionably feminine sensations that I just can’t get enough of- unlike my fiancée, who hates having hair in her face! Today, however, having hair in my face is not an option, as after we pull on our tight, scanty thongs, we both stretch skin-tight black tank leotards over our bodies.

With Sarah and her friends finished from university for the year, Krystie (well, her business partner Zoe, anyway) has moved the regular ‘Angel Family’ dance lesson back to Wednesday mornings, hence the leotards, and after covering up- Sarah in another homemade floaty skirt and me in a light sleeves summer dress- we grab our dance bags and head out to Sarah’s car, pulling up a few minutes later in the car park of the Krystie Fullerton School of Dance.

“I still sometimes pinch myself when I look in there and realise that all these women are my friends,” Sarah giggles.

“Yeah, I know a thing or two about dreams coming true,” I reply, earning a hug from my fiancée as we head into the already-packed dressing room. The second we step through the door, however, all the women present- regardless of their state of dress (or undress)- drop what they’re doing and start singing Wagner's Bridal Chorus, causing our cheeks to immediately turn red with embarrassment.

“Aww, girlies!” I squeak, nervously giggling as Sarah and I are wrapped in a tight group hug. Another thing that always warms my heart is how willing all the girls are to just accept that I have always been one of them, thinking nothing of walking around topless (and sometimes even bottomless) in front of me.

“Just three days until the big one!” Jamie teases, giving me a tighter hug than anyone else. “Can’t believe my ‘baby sister’ is really getting married…”

“What ‘baby sister’?” I retort. “I was sixteen when we first met. AND taller than you!”

“Still, though,” Jamie says as we each pull on a pair of pink tights over our leotards, “You’ve come SO far in the time I’ve known you, you’ve got a job, found your own place, become a true, independent woman- and an ‘anatomically correct’ one too! Can’t help but be a little proud… Even though I know I can only take a teeny, tiny bit of the credit, hehe!”

“You can take a BIT more than that,” I say. “You know, it was here- well, Krystie’s old place, anyway- where we met for the first time?”

“I remember,” Jamie says with a smug grin. “Think it was Krystie’s 21st, wasn’t it? The Nutcracker… God, I hadn’t even had SRS back then!”

“I’d only been out and on HRT for two months!” I giggled.

“But you were still as gorgeous and as girly as any of the women in this room,” Jamie laughs. “Do- do you ever, you know, regret it? HRT, I mean?”

“…No,” I reply. “Had to think a bit- I mean, the recovery period sucked. A lot. But in the end… I’ve not ‘lost’ anything. I feel so, so much more free with- heh. This might sound silly, but I don’t see SRS as having something removed, but something added. Like, before, it was like I was living without a vagina, and now…”

“I totally get where you’re coming from,” Jamie said softly.

“And the sex life?” I tease with a wink. “Let’s just say that’s every bit a ‘gain’ as well, hehe!”

“Atta girl,” Jamie giggles as we grab our dance bags and follow everyone through to the studio, where- after Krystie has performed her traditional ritual of tying my hair, Jamie’s hair, Stephanie’s hair and Jacinta’s hair into tight buns- the lesson begins.

About forty minutes into the lesson, though- just after we’ve all changed into our pointe shoes- Krystie calls the lesson to a halt, surprising me and Sarah- but oddly enough, the rest of the class don’t seem that shocked…

“Ladies,” Krystie announces as she slowly waddles toward the centre of the class. “As today- well, this whole week- is a very, VERY special occasion, I have invited a few guests to watch the end of today’s lesson.” My jaw drops, and so does Sarah’s, as the door to the reception area opens and my parents walk in, followed by my two year old sister in her tiny dancewear (her lesson is immediately after ours). Beverly walks in next, followed by her parents- Sarah’s grandparents- and my three living grandparents. Lastly, Sarah’s paternal grandmother slowly walks into the dance class, followed by her son- Sarah’s father- and his wife, all of whom have wide grins on their faces. Yes, even Diane, ‘the dragon’, seems genuinely pleased to be here today.

“What- what’s going on?” Sarah asks.

“Umm, you’re getting married on Saturday, that’s what’s going on!” Beverly laughs, making her daughter roll her eyes.

“What’s going on TODAY?” I clarify.

“Today,” Krystie says, “our two lovebirds are going to entertain us, and their families, for the remainder of the lesson!” I start to blush again, before letting out a playful moan as Zoe pulls a clothing rack from the storage room, on which are a pair of bright white tutus with long, flowing skirts that look eerily like wedding dresses.

“Go on,” Jamie says, giving me a gentle pull toward the changing room.

“And don’t forget your stage make-up too!” Krystie commands, making me and my fiancée roll our already pretty made-up eyes.

“Wait,” Charlotte says, leading Sarah away from me. “It’s bad luck for the bride to see the other bride in her wedding dress before the wedding!”

“Umm, I’m pretty sure whoever invented that superstition didn’t think about same-sex weddings,” I say.

“And our dresses are identical,” Sarah says. “So are those tutus.”

“No excuses,” Charlotte says, leading Sarah toward the empty storage room while Jamie grabs a tutu and all but drags me back toward the changing room, where I’m forced to exchange my pink tights for an opaque white pair, before retying my pointe shoes and stepping into the elaborate tutu, which my mentor excitedly laces shut.

“Krystie commissioned these tutus AGES ago, after you two first got engaged,” Jamie explains as she wraps a bib around my neck and begins enhancing my make-up. “Cost quite a bit too, at least £300 each.”

“Three hundred quid?” I ask. “Jeez… She really shouldn’t have gone to this much trouble, especially with her own wedding coming up, and her baby…”

“She wasn’t engaged OR pregnant when she commissioned them,” Jamie says. “And it’s not like we won’t get to use them again, like, for Zoe and her fiancée, or Jessica and Paige… And £600 isn’t THAT much, really, not with how much we’re earning nowadays. Our Amazon deal is a LOT more generous than the one we had with ITV, especially given how much they’re merchandising us!”

“Still though,” I say. “It’s- it’s like you’re treating us like we’re ‘real’ Angels.”

“That’s because you ARE ‘real’ Angels,” Jamie says softly. “Both of you. And I don’t mean because you used to be ‘Teen Angels’. I mean because when you strip away everything, all the celebrity, all the money, all the non-important crap… I am proud to call Nikki Thomas my friend.”

“When you say ‘strip away everything’,” I retort, “does that include our femininity?”

“Absolutely not,” Jamie says. “Because everything I mentioned- the fame, the fortune- is part of the disguise. Our femininity is what’s left when all of the disguise is gone.”

“Damn right,” I whisper with a wide grin on my face.

Fifteen minutes later, I elegantly glide back into the dance studio and am greeted by a rapturous round of applause, applause that only intensifies once Sarah emerges from her side of the studio dressed in her own elaborate tutu. For the next ten minutes, Sarah and I dance around the room, flawlessly performing the routine that Krystie had choreographed for us so many years ago. When we first performed the routine, Sarah and I had only been dancing en pointe for a few months, and our routine was riddled with errors here and there- a step in the wrong direction, an arm out of place, etc- but today, we are proper ballerinas, delighting the audience with our craft.

Needless to say, when I was fourteen, I’d never have imagined that I would’ve made such a graceful and elegant dancer- especially as I was so clumsy I often tripped over my own feet- but now, I am as feminine and graceful on the tips of my toes as any of the other women in the studio, many of whom have been dancing their whole lives. Ballet’s helped me on a day to day basis, too- gone is the slouchy, lazy teenaged boy, and in his place is a graceful, elegant teenaged girl. All of my body language from my head to my toes is entirely feminine- something I'd never have dreamed was possible six years ago. Every ballet lesson I attend will always be a reminder of how undeniably feminine I have become over that period of time, but it will also hold an extra special place in my heart- as it was the first activity Sarah and I did together as girl and girl.

We conclude our routine by dipping into perfect, mirrored ballerina’s curtseys, which earns us standing ovations from everyone present- even jenny, who immediately runs over to give me a cuddle!

“Aww,” I coo as I pick the two year old girl up and carry her back to our parents- who of course insist on taking loads of photos of me with the toddler in my arms! “You liked your big sister’s dance, then?”

“Yeah!” Jenny enthusiastically replies.

“Well, give it about ten years, then you’ll be doing a dance of your own!” I say, giving Jenny a gentle kiss on her temple before handing her back to my proud father.

“Absolutely beautiful,” dad says with real emotion in his voice. “Both of you. All three of you, heh! I’m a lucky guy, having three beautiful daughters.”

“Two of which you’ll have to share,” Robert- Sarah’s father- says, making my father chuckle. “But you’re not wrong. If Kerrie grows up to be half as smart as Sarah or half as mature as Nikki, or even a tenth as beautiful as either of them, she’ll be a lucky girl indeed!”

“Thanks, dad,” Sarah whispers, blinking a tear from her eye. “Dads plural, heh!”

“Thanks, dads!” I giggle.

“It’s a pity Kerrie couldn’t make it, actually,” Robert continues. “But we didn’t want to take her out of school, even if she is almost at the end of primary school now.”

“Is she eleven, then?” Dad asks.

"Ten," Robert replies with a proud grin. “Just got next year to go then off to secondary school. Though she is acing ALL of the tests she takes. She's in the school netball team, plays clarinet in the orchestra...”

“Ah, she’s her sister’s sister,” my father chuckles. “Nikki, of course, was never all that academic-“

“Okay, we’re sharing embarrassing childhood stories now,” I sigh loudly, making the two older men chuckle. “We’ll leave you two to it.”

“Kids, eh?” Dad shrugs. “We’ll see you at the dinner tonight if not before.”

“See you,” I say, leading Sarah back to the changing room to change back into our street clothes. Before we get ten feet, though, we’re intercepted by Katie and Lauren, both of whom are, of course, still wearing their leotards, and both of whom greet us with long, tight hugs.

“Girlie girlie girlie girlie!” Katie squeaks as she gives me body a tight squeeze.

“Careful of the costume!” I say, making Katie giggle even more.

“God- sorry, sorry!” Katie giggles. “This is just so exciting, though! Just 72 hours to go…”

“Are you going to do a countdown of every single hour leading up to our wedding?” I ask.

“Better yet, are you going to a count-UP of every hour AFTER our wedding?” Sarah asks, making the tall freckled girl blush.

“Shut up,” Katie mumbles with a giggle. “Not every day two of your best friends get married…”

“Not every day that it’s a double hen night, either! Lauren squeaks as she excitedly bounces up and down. “Even if it IS going to be on a day when the sun doesn’t set until after 9pm…”

“Here we were, thinking that you were hard-drinking, ultra-nocturnal students?” Katie asks with a playful pout.

“Oh, trust us, we have the ‘hard drinking’ thing DOWN!” Sarah giggles.

“As for the ‘student’ bit…” I grimace, eliciting a sympathetic smile from Katie. One of my biggest regrets from my life as Nikki was pushing her away when I needed help, rather than drawing her closer. Even though we’re still close friends- she’s one of my bridesmaids, after all- there’s a part of me that feels that she could (and probably should) been my absolute best friend. Well, apart from Sarah, of course!

“…You’re still cool,” Katie says with a giggle.

“Even though the wedding will be ‘students vs Angels’?” I ask.

“Students AND Angels,” Lauren corrects me. “We’ve had enough ‘versus’ for one lifetime! Time for, you know, peace and happiness. Time for you two to live happily ever after.”

“Hear hear!” Sarah cheers.

“On the topic of the guest list, though…” Lauren asks with a grimace. “And- and I’m only asking out of curiosity, but- but have you invited… You know who?”

“…Desperate Dannii?” I ask, making the two girls giggle awkwardly. “No. Don’t know whether or not she’d attend, and frankly, we don’t care.”

“Understandable, I guess,” Lauren sighs. “I mean- I guess there are times I miss her, she WAS my best friend for, like, six years…”

“Aww, but you’ve got a new, BETTER BFF now!” Katie giggles, giving the shorter, curvy girl a tight hug.

“Totally,” Lauren laughs. “FIVE BFFs, actually!” The four of us giggle as we’re joined by the other two members of our ‘gang’.

“Hey girlies!” The leotard-clad Jacinta squeaks as she gives gentle hugs to myself and Sarah, while Ophelia, still wearing her custom-made black leotard, stands behind her with an uncharacteristic smile on her face. “You two are just SO gorgeous…”

“Are you talking to us, or to the tutus?” I ask, making the tall T-girl blush.

“…Okay, BOTH!” Jacinta giggles. “Though they aren’t a patch on your ACTUAL wedding dresses, hehe!”

“Too right!” I laugh, before turning my attention to Lauren and Ophelia. “Thank you SO much for working on them for us, especially given how busy you’ve been at uni.”

“It was my pleasure,” Ophelia replies. “Thank you both so much for including both of us in your wedding parties. And for including both of us in your group from the start of our university careers.”

“A very wise person once told us that you can never have too many friends,” I say with a knowing smile.

“Our biggest thanks, though,” Sarah teases, “are for not including spine-crushing corsets in our wedding dresses!” I let out an involuntary giggle as Sarah’s teasing causes the purple-haired girl to blush.

“I suppose that different people have different tastes,” Ophelia says with a playful sigh that makes the six of us- Ophelia herself included- giggle. “Speaking of which, I must return to the changing room now. I feel somehow incomplete without my corset.”

“Me too,” Lauren says, earning quizzical stares from myself and Sarah.

“…Seriously?” I ask.

“Oh yeah,” Katie confirms. “She’s been making me lace her in every morning since about March.”

“Why would you need to wear a corset?” I ask the black-haired girl.

“Nikki, I’m short and fat,” Lauren sighs.

“You are not fat!” I protest. “You’ve got, what, a 26 inch waist? That’s narrower than mine!”

“And 38 inch hips,” Lauren retorts. “Which are much wider than yours.”

“Exactly,” I say. “I’m jealous of those too. Seriously, you have, like, the best body type of anyone in this room!”

“…Told you,” Katie shrugs.

“…I’m still wearing the corset,” Lauren says, earning another group giggle as the four women head off to get changed.

“We should probably get changed too,” Sarah says. “It is getting a little hot…”

“Only ‘cause you’re standing next to me,” I giggle, surprising Sarah with a quick kiss. Our intimate moment comes to an abrupt end, however, when we turn around and come face-to-face with six elderly men and women. After an awkward silence, Sarah and I breathe a sigh of relief when the senior citizens all break out into wide grins, greeting us with gentle hugs (from the women) and gentle handshakes (from the men).

“You were both very, very good,” Grandma Irene says with a proud smile.

“Very elegant, both of you,” Sarah’s grandfather says.

“Of course, they’ll be even more beautiful on Saturday, in their proper wedding dresses!” Sarah’s grandmother teases, making the two of us blush.

“Of course, in our day, the thought of two women even being able to get married was unheard of,” Grandpa Bill says, making our other grandparents fidget uncomfortably.

“…Well, that just goes to show how much things have improved since our day, doesn’t it?” Grandma Irene asks, beaming a warm smile at myself and my fiancée. “Nobody should be made to feel that they are less than human simply for falling in love with someone other people don’t approve of.”

“Nor should they be ridiculed for living their life in a way that other people don’t approve of,” Nana Jean says. “And who knows? A few years from now, we may be celebrating the arrival of our first great-grandchild…”

“Getting a bit ahead of ourselves!” I protest, making the grandparents all chuckle. “We’re still only twenty, we’re barely adults ourselves… Another reason people might think we shouldn’t get married.”

“Well know this,” Grandma Irene says, wiping a tear from her eye. “Those people are WRONG. The two of you deserve nothing but all the happiness in the world.”

“…Thanks,” I sniff, wiping away a tear of my own as Sarah and I exchange another round of hugs with the grandparents.

“…We REALLY should get changed,” I laugh, gesturing to the reception area where several young mothers are sat with their dancewear-clad toddlers on their laps. “Jenny will get angry if she doesn’t get to do her dancing, heh.”

“Like sister, like sister,” Grandpa Bill laughs as Sarah and I try to make our way to the changing room, though before we get all the way through reception, we’re stopped one more time by probably the two most important women in our lives.

“Beautiful, both of you,” my mother says as she gives a tight hug to me and my fiancée. “Is your dad already in there with your sister?”

“Yeah, think Krystie would’ve started yelling at us if we hadn’t cleared out of there when we did, heh!” I laugh.

“Well, just as long as she doesn’t try that on Saturday,” mum says with a devilish grin. “Never mess with the mother of the bride.”

“Mothers, plural, of the brides, plural,” Beverly says, exchanging a soft chuckle with my mother before giving long hugs to me and Sarah. “I am so, so proud of how far you’ve come. How far BOTH of you have come.”

“Thanks, mum,” Sarah sniffles.

“Thanks, Beverly,” I whisper. “I really couldn’t have done any of- well, this, without you.”

“I’m sure the girl you are- the real you- would have come out eventually,” Beverly says.

“Maybe,” I shrug. “But she wouldn’t be anywhere near as happy as I am now, if you hadn’t been so accepting as you were when you found out about ‘the real me’. So thank you, thank you for everything.”

“Absolutely,” mum agrees. “I know it sounds weird- a lot of mothers would probably be angry if they found out that another parent had been enabling their son to dress up as a girl. But frankly, I couldn’t be happier that that’s what happened.”

“I just did what I felt was best,” Beverly says, clearly embarrassed by the praise being heaped on her. “Because of, umm, my training…”

“Well thank you,” mum says. “Thank YOU, Beverly, not your training. But most of all… Thank you, Sarah. For always being there for my Nikki.”

“And thank you Nikki,” Beverly says. “For being the best daughter-in-law I could hope for.”

“Oh my god,” I sigh as I feels tears form in my eyes. “…We really should get out of these tutus, hehe!”

“And I need to get to work,” Beverly says with a chuckle as she and my mother bid us both farewell. With a long, heavy sigh, Sarah and I head into the changing room, where we finally peel off our costumes- which have become more than a little sticky in the summer heat!

“Ugh,” Sarah spits as she slides her tights off of her legs. “These things should be banned in summer!”

“You can be the one to tell Krystie and Zoe that!” I giggle. “Not that I disagree with you, of course… God, fancy that, me being glad to NOT be wearing tights!”

“That’s because it’s not what’s on the outside that makes you a girl,” Sarah giggles as she wraps her arms around my naked torso and gives me a long, tender kiss, before placing her palm on my chest. “It’s what’s in here.”

“Oh- in public, girls?” Krystie asks, causing Sarah and I to yelp and hastily cover ourselves up. “Quick reminder that there are, like, 3 year old kids in the next room? Your sister being one of them.”

“…Sorry,” I mumble.

“And stop being so coy,” Krystie snorts. “If you’re going to be naked anywhere, a changing room would surely be top of that list. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before. Even ‘on’ you, MISS Thomas!”

“You should’ve seen how coy she was immediately following her operation,” Sarah says with a smug grin.

“Oh- shut up,” I moan as I pull my leotard and my dress back on.

“Sometimes I wonder,” Krystie muses, “when you are Jamie are chatting privately, do you ever discuss your vaginas?”

“No more than the rest of you- sorry, the rest of US girls!” I defiantly retort, earning giggles from my fiancée and my friend.

“God, I can’t even imagine what that must be like, having THAT kind of surgery done…” Krystie sighs.

“Stung a bit at first,” I say.

“I don’t doubt it,” Krystie laughs. “I’m dreading when this one pops out… tempted to go for a C-section but I can’t really afford the scar, not when I want to get back into modelling after I’ve lost all the baby weight.”

“I dunno,” I muse as I lazily trace the faint outline of the V-shaped scar above my vagina through my dress. “Some scars just make you more beautiful…”

Naturally, after Sarah and I arrive home, we waste no time in freeing each other from our clothes and spending the rest of the morning wrapped in each other's arms...

“…Ever think that we need a hobby BESIDES sex?” Sarah asks after we get our breath back, making me giggle.

“We go out partying with our friends,” I shrug. “We’ve just come from a dance class… We HAVE lives.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Sarah says with a smirk.

“And besides,” I say with a grin. “I like sex better than any of those things!” Sarah giggles as we spend the rest of the morning and most of the early afternoon cuddled together on the sofa watching TV, not speaking, simply enjoying each other’s company.

Eventually, however, we’re forced to rise from out snuggle to get ready for tonight- our not-quite-rehearsal-dinner-but-close-enough meal with our families. After taking another shower (as it’s June, Sarah and I have got VERY sweaty- especially considering the things we were doing this morning!), we head into our bedroom to change into very posh, knee-length pencil dresses. My dress is very slender, cinching in my waist and showing off what few curves I’ve developed over the last few years (and making me envy Lauren all the more), and has cap sleeves and a square neckline. The whole dress is a deep mauve colour, as are the 4 inch heeled stiletto pumps I slip my feet into.

Sarah’s dress, of course, is more elaborate than mine. It’s strapless, the bodice (and attached peplum) made of a shimmering silver material while the skirt is made of a dark, almost jet black fabric, matching her heels. Naturally, both of our dresses are Sarah’s own creation, and both fit us like a glove. After fixing our hair (I straighten my hair as far as it will go and let it hang loose, whilst Sarah of course opts for an elaborate updo) and our make-up, both of us douse ourselves in liberal amounts of perfume, put on our most expensive jewellery, grab our handbags and head downstairs to where my father is waiting to pick us up in his taxi. As we slide onto the back seat, I actually breathe a sigh of relief when I see that dad has made an effort and put on a suit- even if there is one part of his look that I DON’T approve of…

“Are you seriously keeping that beard?” I ask before I’ve even finished fastening my seatbelt.

“I think it makes me look distinguished,” dad retorts.

“It’s going grey, while the rest of your hair isn’t,” I say. “Any greyer and you’ll start to look like Santa.”

“Oh leave him alone,” Sarah protests. “Your dad isn’t THAT overweight.”

“Thank you, daughter-in-law!” Dad chuckles. “And I figured as you’re making me wear a pink shirt at the wedding…”

“Don’t speak too soon, we very nearly actually asked our mothers to give us away,” I retort. “As Sarah’s Beverly’s only child, but you and Sarah’s dad have other daughters…”

“…It’s not actually THAT bad an idea,” dad concedes. “But there’ll be time enough to talk about it later. Tonight, we celebrate the two of you.”

“Thanks,” I whisper as we head toward the restaurant, where many of our family and friends have already assembled. Naturally, hugs are exchanged with everyone upon arrival, even if the hug with Sarah’s half-brother Karl is extremely awkward, considering what happened at Christmas! It’s certainly an improvement from when I first met the teenaged boy, though- back then, Sarah’s stepmother wouldn’t let me touch either of her children at all. Now, she’s actually smiling as I give a gentle hug to her ten year old daughter.

“Hi Kez!” I squeak, remembering Sarah’s instruction to use the young girl’s preferred nickname.

“Hi Nikki!” Kerrie squeaks. “Mum showed me the video of the dance that you and Sarah did today, it looked SO beautiful!”

“Thanks!” I giggle.

“And here I was, thinking that you were too grown-up for ballet?” Sarah teases her sister, who rolls her eyes in response.

“Well, if you do it, but you’re an adult,” Kerrie replies. “And if Jamie-Lee Burke does it too!” I gaze over at my maid of honour, who has a shy smile on her face- clearly, Kerrie’s more than a little obsessed with The Angels!

“…I’ll see about getting you an goody bag to take home,” I whisper to the ten year old girl, who squeaks excitedly as her parents lead her back to their seats.

“You’ve been in demand, then?” Sarah asks Jamie, who giggles and rolls her eyes.

“Just part of the job!” Jamie shrugs. “Your sister’s been pestering Stuart a lot more than me though, ever since I told her that he’s Out of Heaven’s producer.”

“Thanks for that, by the way,” Jamie’s husband says, making Sarah and I giggle as we take our seats at the head of the table.

“Everyone got their speeches all ready, then?” I ask as the restaurant’s waiters bring us our starters. “Don’t worry, Kez, we’re not going to expect you to speak in front of a whole room. Jamie will do a double-length speech for you!”

“Of course I will,” Jamie laughs, rolling her eyes at me. “Seriously, though, I’ve had a hard time cutting down what I plan on saying.”

“Hardly a new problem,” Stuart says, making everyone giggle as his wife gives him a playful elbow in the ribs.

“How many people are you expecting on Saturday?” Robert asks.

“About sixty in total,” Sarah replies. “Families, uni friends, colleagues, pretty much the entire extended Angel family…”

“Will anyone be attending from the company you'll be working with over the summer?” Diane asks.

“Umm… No,” Sarah replies, clearly uncomfortable with the question. “I haven’t started there yet, would’ve seemed a little, umm, awkward…”

“It might have been a good way to network, make contacts at the company,” Diane suggests. “Get yourself set up with a job for after you graduate, maybe.”

“I’m 99% sure I’m going to be doing a Masters after I graduate,” Sarah replies.

“And how about you, Nikki?” Diane asks making me internally curse. “Are you still a secretary for that little band?”

“Mum!” Kerrie protests. “Out of Heaven are more than just ‘that little band’, they’re the best band in the country!” I can’t help but grin smugly as Kerrie tells off her mother- you’re not winning this one, ‘dragon’…

“And I’m more of a ‘personal assistant’ than a ‘secretary’,” I say proudly. “I liaise with studios and other production companies, I accompany the girls on publicity tours…”

“My sister’s always talking about how Nikki practically runs the band, day-to-day, anyway,” Stuart says.

“God knows the Angels haven’t been the same without her!” Jamie says, giggling as I mouth a silent ‘thank you’ at her and her husband.

“And we’ll be REALLY busy with these tours the band’s doing in August and October,” I say. “Hard enough to be separated from Sarah for just one day, let alone five…”

“Aww,” mum sighs as Sarah and I link hands on the table.

“Though I’ll be jetting off across Europe next year too,” Sarah says. “Visiting fashion shows across the continent… Should be able to bring my best girl- sorry, my new WIFE with me on some of them, though!”

“Have you decided where you’ll be going on honeymoon yet?” Robert asks.

“We’re pretty sure it’ll be Spain,” Sarah says. “We’re not going until after the tour, so that Nikki can have a free week where she knows she won’t be needed at work.”

“Do people usually not go on honeymoon immediately after their weddings nowadays, then?” Diane asks. “We jetted off straight after the reception, if I recall.”

“We got married last month and we haven’t gone on our honeymoon yet,” Jamie shrugs. “We were tempted to wait even longer, until winter, as we’ve always wanted to visit South Africa.”

“But today isn’t about OUR honeymoon,” Stuart says, flashing a grin in our direction. “So I feel a toast is maybe in order?”

“Absolutely,” dad says, rising from his chair and causing myself and Sarah to blush. “To my beautiful daughter, and my equally beautiful future daughter-in-law. May your future together be filled with happiness and love. From ALL your friends and family.”

“Hear hear,” Robert concurs, trying not to grimace at Diane’s disapproving glare. “Sarah… I always knew that one day, you would find the one person who would make you as happy as… You can be.” Smooth, Robert, I think to myself as both Diane and Beverly regard the middle-aged man with an angry glare. “The love that you and Nikki have for each other is a pure and beautiful thing, and I hope that it lasts forever.”

“Hear hear!” Everyone concurs, causing Sarah and I to breathe a sigh of relief as the tension in the room starts to reduce- well, apart from Sarah’s half-brother’s occasional glances in Jamie’s direction. Better than him glancing in my direction, I guess…

“So,” Robert asks. “Are you and Nikki having separate hen nights, or one big one?”

“What’s a ‘hen night’?” Kerrie- who, despite being Sarah’s maid of honour, obviously hasn’t been invited on the hen night- asks, making the two of us awkwardly bite our lips.

“Seriously?” I whisper to my fiancée. “She’s ten, not four…”

“Remember who her mother is,” Sarah whispers back to me, making me sigh.

“It’s a- umm…” I mumble.

“It’s a special kind of party,” Jamie explains, flashing a sympathetic smile at myself and Sarah. “For, umm, for grown-up friends of the brides.”

“Aww,” Kerrie sighs. “So I can’t go to the party, then?”

“You… Probably wouldn’t have that much fun,” Sarah says, glancing nervously toward her stepmother, who still has a look of fury on her face despite our best efforts to diffuse the tension at the table.

“And we’re having just the one,” I say hastily, hoping that answering the question will cause the topic of conversation to move on. “Tomorrow night, rather than Friday, that way we can keep, you know, the ‘don’t see the bride before the wedding’ superstition alive, umm…”

“Makes sense,” Robert shrugs, before grimacing himself as an awkward silence falls over the table. “Umm… Anyone else want to make any speeches?”

“Sure,” mum says, rising from her chair and smoothing her dress- a gift from Sarah for her last birthday. “Just over twenty years ago, I gave birth to a happy and healthy baby. As I looked into their eyes for the first time, I thought I saw their entire future, what they would do, who they would be… Needless to say, some of my predictions were a little bit ‘out’, heh.”

“Thanks, mum,” I mumble, my cheeks reddening with embarrassment.

“But the way they chose to live their life,” mum continues, “is far less important than them living a happy, healthy and prosperous life. Over the last few years, Sarah has brought my Nikki more happiness than I could ever have hoped for, and it is with love and pride that I officially welcome her into the Thomas family.”

“Thanks, Sandra,” Sarah whispers, sniffing back a tear as the table once again toasts us.

“That raises an important question, actually,” Robert says. “What’ll happen to the old ‘Phillips’ name… I’m assuming the two of you are, you know, going double-barrelled?”

“We ARE both the exact same gender,” Sarah says, making me grin. “This is an equal marriage-“

“Not that heterosexual marriages are any less equal, of course!” Jamie interjects, making my fiancée giggle and blush.

“…Never said they were,” Sarah mumbles. “But yes, we’re going ‘Phillips-Thomas’ as our surname, one because it’s alphabetical, two because ‘Thomas-Phillips’ kinda sounds like a name in itself, heh.”

“Makes sense,” dad shrugs. “Good to know the ‘Thomas’ name will live on!”

“Assuming, of course, that Nikki and Sarah adopt a child,” Diane interjects, raising the tension once again. “And that that child is a boy. And of course, remains a boy throughout his whole life…”

“Think it’s my turn to make a speech,” Beverly says, earning a truly foul stare from Diane as she stands up, wine glass in hand. “Nikki, I’ve known you for almost six years, and I consider that to have been a true privilege. I can’t think of anybody who would make a more suitable partner for my daughter, or anyone I would rather welcome into my family.”

“Aww, Beverly…” I sniffle, tears starting to trickle down my cheeks. “Decision made. We are TOTALLY having mother of the bride speeches at the reception!”

“Totally!” Sarah giggles.

“Thanks for the advance warning, girls,” mum sighs as Sarah and I share a happy giggle. “I am, of course, going to think up EVERY embarrassing story from your life to include in my speech, like the time you drew all over the bathroom wall, or the time you were two and I caught you wearing- umm, my shoes…” I grimace as I stare down at the expensive high-heeled shoes currently attached to my feet- shoes that are unquestionably my property, but that some people still undoubtedly think I don’t have business wearing. A glance across the table shows that despite her best efforts (and to her credit, she IS trying), my future stepmother-in-law is one of those people…

“…Think we’ve run out of parents to make speeches,” Robert chuckles, breaking the awkward silence that’s fallen over the table.

“I could always say something if-“ Diane offers, causing mine and Sarah’s bodies to immediately freeze solid with tension.

“You’re okay, Diane!” I laugh.

“No thanks!” Sarah says at the same time as me, causing laughter from our parents- especially Sarah’s mother- while Diane somehow looks even more annoyed than before.

“…Think we need more wine,” Stuart laughs nervously as the meal continues late into the evening…

Thankfully, the meal doesn’t drag on for much longer, thanks to Robert and Diane needing to take the children back home to Milton Keynes for school tomorrow. It should go without saying that with ‘the dragon’ gone, the tension that had ruined the meal instantly vanishes! Still, though, the rest of us only stick around for another half hour before leaving ourselves, my parents giving Beverly a lift home whilst we get a lift home in the Angelmobile with Jamie and Stuart.

“That was… Horrific,” I sigh as I slump onto the back seat of the bright pink taxi.

“I’ve seen worse,” Stuart mumbles. “My own I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-a-rehearsal-dinner, for starters.”

“Excuse me?” Jamie protests. “OUR own horrific pre-wedding meal, thank you very much.”

“I stand corrected,” Stuart concedes.

“And in fairness, neither of us have a wicked stepmother,” Jamie says, making my fiancée snort with laughter. “God… You know, I’ve known your mum for almost six years. We both have, actually. Hard to believe your dad divorced her and went for THAT instead.”

“Thanks,” Sarah whispers, clearly still upset by the events of the meal. Not needing a second hint, I reach down beside me and give my fiancée’s hand a gentle squeeze, which immediately brings a smile back to her face.

“Aww,” Jamie sighs happily at our public display of affection. “I know I’ve said it a million times, but the two of you are just SO cute together… Almost hard to believe that, you know, this is it, that you’re finally getting married…”

“Don’t- don’t use the word ‘finally’,” I giggle. “Makes it sound like everything’s coming to an end… I don’t see this as an ending.”

“Me either,” Sarah says with a grin. “Our lives are only just beginning!”

“Don’t speak too soon,” Jamie says with a sly grin. “I guarantee that on Friday morning, after your hen night, you’ll swear your lives were ENDING, hehe!” the four of us laughed loudly as the taxi made its way through the tight streets of London to our respective homes. Naturally, once Sarah and I arrive home, we while away the rest of the evening in each other’s arms, stripping each other of our dresses and exploring our most intimate areas…

With no work, university or other commitments- well, until later in the evening, anyway- Sarah and I sleep in on Thursday morning, relaxing in each other’s arms in bed despite the summer heat. Eventually, though, we decide to move and head toward the shower, continuing our tradition of ‘saving water’ before drying each other off and brushing each other’s hair.

“…Hard to believe this is one of the last ever times we’ll have showered as a non-married couple,” I muse, making Sarah groan as she runs her hairbrush through my long brown hair.

“DON’T start,” my fiancée snorts, before giggling as I playfully stock my tongue out at her. “And don’t poke that thing out at me unless you intend to use it!”

“Don’t tempt me,” I retort, giggling as Sarah pokes her tongue out at me.

“You of all people should appreciate the fact that change is usually for the better,” Sarah reminds me, making me smile as I stare down at my naked, glistening body- especially my soft, smooth breasts.

“And it is,” I sigh happily. For as much as my body’s changed over the last few years, the part of it that I’m most focussed on is my left hand, and the diamond ring on my third finger… Which will get a ‘partner’ in just under 48 hours’ time.

I often describe Sarah as my lover, my fiancée, my future wife and even my soul mate, but in truth, she is far, far more than even that. Her mere presence makes me feel completely at ease. Even when we’re physically apart and we talk on the telephone, or even over Facebook, it’s like she’s right next to me. Sarah is never not in my thoughts, even when I’m asleep and dreaming. It’s a feeling that’s almost impossible to put into words, the feeling of utter joy and contentment that can be generated by just thinking about someone and knowing that they’re thinking about you… Or at the very least, hoping that they’re thinking about you. I think of myself and Sarah as two halves of the same soul, but however hard Sarah tries to prove to me that she feels the same way, there’s always a part of me that’s filled with doubt, a part of me that sometimes panics that she doesn’t feel as strongly about me as I feel about her…

Such ‘panic’ quickly vanishes, though, when we snuggle up together on the sofa to while away the morning and the afternoon watching TV and catching up on our social media accounts. With all ten Angels and all four members of Out of Heaven doing their best to promote the wedding, Sarah and I are receiving a LOT of media attention. Jonathan- the agency’s manager- has even asked if we’d be happy to give interviews before and after the wedding! However, as tempting as the offer is, we both agreed that we don’t want our wedding to be a media frenzy- we just want it to be a celebration of the love we have for each other.

Before that ‘celebration’, though, there’s one other ‘celebration’ the two of us must endure first, and just after 6pm, a knock comes from the door that makes each of us take a long, deep breath.

“Hey gir-“ I say as I open the door, only to be interrupted by the loud, excited yells of the six trench coat-clad women on our doorstep.

“Hen night! Hen night! Hen night!” Jamie, Katie, Jacinta, Stephanie, Lauren and Ophelia all yell, deafening me and my fiancée before forcing carrier bags into our hands and marching us through to our living room.

“Aw- seriously?” Sarah asks. “This early?”

“We all know how much you two drink!” Jamie giggles. “Want to get started early, hehe! But first things first… Costume time!”

“I dread to ask,” I say as I look at the pink-coloured garment inside the carrier bag. “…What, here? In the living room?”

“It’s your hen night,” Katie says smugly. “Got to humiliate you somehow, right?”

“What even ARE the costumes?” Sarah asks, before our jaws simultaneously drop as our friends remove their coats to reveal their costumes.

I don’t know what I’d been expecting, in truth. Lauren and Ophelia had designed the costumes, so we knew that there’d probably be a lot of cleavage and as little waist as possible. Sarah and I thought that we’d probably get some kind of tutu, or Angel-themed costume with a short petticoat skirt.

What we’ve got instead is a skin-tight baby pink leotard with a thong back that will expose basically all of our buttocks, on top of which is a ridiculously tight pink corset that doesn't look like it's going to leave any room for any internal organs. Underneath the leotard and the corset are neon pink fishnet stockings and clear platform stilettos that will boost my height to well over six feet tall and I’ll have difficulty walking in even when sober, let alone how drunk I’m inevitably going to get tonight.

“…Seriously?” Sarah asks as she examines her leotard with a look of horror on her face. “You two designed these?”

“You’re only going to have one hen night,” Lauren shrugs. “Want to make it as memorable as possible!”

“…Ophelia?” I ask the pale-skinned girl, whose hair has been dyed a bright fuchsia colour for the evening.

“Yes?” Ophelia replies with a look of innocence on her face. “You did want unique costumes for your hen night, did you not?”

“Now come on,” Jacinta urges as she removes the leotard, the corset and the stockings from my bag and shoves them in my hands. “The sooner you get it on, the sooner you can get comfortable.”

“And it IS surprisingly comfortable,” Stephanie giggles as she does a quick twirl in her costume. “Even for us pre-op girls.”

“So you, MISS Thomas, have no excuse!” Katie laughs. “Now come on! The sooner you can get it on, the sooner we can get WASTED!” Reluctantly, Sarah and I sigh, before squeezing our bodies into the leotards, cringing when we find out they're even tighter than we anticipated.

With our leotards in place (and not going anywhere thanks to Ophelia’s excruciatingly tight corsets), Sarah and I are led to our kitchen, where our shoes are fastened to our feet with long, ballerina-like ribbon, ensuring that we won’t be able to easily slip them off. Next is our make-up- thick fuchsia-coloured eyeshadow, ridiculously heavy fake eyelashes and several layers of neon pink lipstick- before two-inch long fuchsia-coloured nails are glued to our fingertips. Last, but not least, are the ‘unique’ aspects of mine and Sarah’s costumes- bright neon pink veils that are weaved into our hair, and bright pink sashes, each of which has ‘bride to be’ printed on the front.

“…God job my maid of honour isn’t going to be here tonight!” Sarah giggles as our friends each don sashes reading ‘bridesmaid’ or, in Jamie’s case, ‘maid of honour’. “Becky not with you guys?”

“She’ll be there a bit later on, got caught up with work,” Jacinta explains. “Trust me when I say that she’s NOT going to miss a proper Angel hen night, hehe!”

“Trust me when I say that no one in their right mind is going to miss a proper Angel hen night!” Katie squeaks excitedly as the eight of us head downstairs to our two waiting taxis. “And you have our guarantee that tonight, the only names on the guest list are 100% girly!”

“That includes the strippers!” Lauren giggles.

“Str- strippers?” Sarah asks nervously.

“Oh, stop panicking!” Jamie urges as she opens the bottle of champagne that she’d stashed in our taxi. “And they’re less ‘stripper’ and more ‘exotic dancer’. You have my guarantee that the only tits that will be seen in public are yours, just now!”

“And that’s the only ‘humiliation’ you’ll have to endure as well,” Katie says. “No being tied to a lamp post, or anything like that. Not tonight, anyway!”

“THAT makes me feel so much better,” I snort, quickly downing my champagne. “And it’s a good job I know how to pee in this thing…”

“We’ve made plenty of spares just in case,” Lauren teases as she refills my champagne glass.

“All you need to worry about,” Jamie giggles, “is drinking, drinking and having fun!”

“And if we know anything about you two,” Katie laughs, “it’s that you’ve got THAT down to a fine art!” Sarah and I force smiles onto our faces as our taxi carries us toward our destination for the night, but with every yard, our tension level increases. However, it’s hard to say whether this is due to anxiety or the tightness of our corsets…

When we arrive at our club for the night, however, our jaws drop as we realise that just like our costumes, no expense has been spared. We’ve had an entire area of the club roped off for our use which has been decorated in pink and fuchsia streamers, balloons, banners with two intertwined wedding rings on them, pink-coloured 'L' plates- you name it, it's in this club and in either a pink or a fuchsia colour. A large dancefloor area has been cleared for our use, at the end of which is a large podium with two floor-to-ceiling poles attached either side- one of which Katie immediately grabs the second she sees it and starts playfully gyrating around.

The most important ‘addition’ to the room, though, are the numerous girls- all of whom are dressed in identical costumes to myself and Sarah- making use of the dancefloor and the bar. All of them immediately stop what they’re doing the second we arrive, though, to serenade us with a very loud, very off-key version of Here Comes the Bride, which makes me and Sarah blush furiously as we’re ushered toward the bar for yet more champagne!

“Oh my god, this is SO amazing!” Sarah squeaks as we down our drinks.

“You’re welcome!” Charlotte giggles, running up to the two of us and giving us a tight hug each. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get the WHOLE club for the night…”

“Trust me, this is PERFECT!” I laugh as I look around at all of my friends, celebrity, stewardess and student alike, mingling and having fun. Before I can say another word, however, the familiar strains of Shania Twain’s ‘Man I Feel Like a Woman’ starts and I find a microphone shoved into my hand. I let out a long sigh, before a wide grin creeps cross my face. “Let’s go girls,” I coo into the microphone in a low, sultry voice. “Come on! I’m going out tonight, I’m feeling alright, gonna have a good time…” I just about manage to finish the entire song before my cheeks turn bright red and I’m drowned out by the cheering crowd.

“You really think we’d let you off, after that video you posted while you were in America?” Stephanie asks as she takes the microphone from me, before handing it to my terrified-looking fiancée. “There was more than one girl in that video…”

“Oh, no,” Sarah gasps, staring at the microphone like it was a venomous snake.

“Come on,” Kayla says, assisting Stephanie in dragging my fiancée onto the podium.

“We’ve already heard ‘Man I Feel Like a Woman’ once!” Sarah protests.

“That’s okay, we’ve got another song for you,” Stephanie laughs as the opening bars of I Kissed a Girl by Katy Perry play. Despite her embarrassment, Sarah sings the entire song, before I’m handed another microphone and ushered onto the podium for a duet performance of ‘You’re Just Too Good to be True’, by the end of which our cheeks are burning so much we grab the nearest drink and down it in one!

“You said no humiliation!” I hiss at Katie, who almost bends double with laughter.

“You’re not THAT bad a singer,” Katie retorts, before handing me another drink. “Now come on, drink up! We want to see you on the pole before the end of the night…”

“Oh- what?” I protest.

“You’re not that bad a dancer, either!” Katie giggles, before jumping up on the podium and resuming her gyrations around the shiny metal pole.

Naturally, as the evening wore on, I got more and more drunk, meaning that there was no avoiding the pole. Sarah and I ended up delighting our friends with a simultaneous performance, after which we needed yet more alcohol, which left us feeling very unsteady on our suicidally high heels!

“Careful!” Lauren laughs as she props myself and Sarah up, leading us to a nearby seat to take some of the weight off of our aching feet. “Beginning to regret the shoes now…”

“Nah, it’s just a bit of fun, isn’t it?” I laugh as I slump into the seat and immediately snuggle up next to Sarah’s equally inebriated form. “God knows if I’d have known about this costume when I was fourteen, and that I’d get to wear it on my very own hen night…”

“OUR very own hen night!” Sarah giggles as she gives my body a tight squeeze. “Thanks for all this, Lauren.”

“Heh, don’t thank me, it was a team effort!” Our black-haired friend laughs. “Ophelia did just as much work, Jamie and Charlotte paid for so much of it… Oh god.”

“…Forgot something?” Sarah asks with a drunken giggle. “Like maybe some skirts for these costumes?”

“No, not that,” Lauren says, her face turning white. “How- how did she know? Did someone post on Facebook or something?”

“How did who know?” I ask, looking over my shoulder to where Lauren is looking. What I see, however, causes my stomach to sink and my blood to boil. There, stood at the entrance to the club, is the unmistakable six foot tall frame of Danielle Samson.

“What. The. Fuck is she doing here?” Sarah hisses.

“Just ignore her,” Lauren says, forcing Sarah and I back into our seats. “I’ll get rid of her.” Defeated- and too drunk to stand up unassisted- I sink back into my chair and try to forget about our uninvited guest, but my anger levels rise again when Katie walks up to us with a look of utter shock on her face.

“Did- did you just see who just came through the door?” Our freckled friend asks. “The fucking nerve of some people…”

“Maybe- maybe it’s just a coincidence,” Sarah mumbles.

“All the nightclubs in London and she picks this one?” Katie snorts. “No, this is NO coincidence. Ugh, she’s coming over…” I feel my blood pressure increase as two pairs of high-heeled shoes click toward us and the familiar sounds of Lauren’s and Dannii’s voices get clearer and clearer.

“…NOT a good idea,” Lauren insists.

“Oh come on,” Dannii’s sickeningly sweet voice pleads, causing me to grind my teeth in frustration. “I just want to say hi to the happy couple…”

“After everything you’ve done?” Lauren hisses. “You should go. Now.”

“Yes you should!” I snap, standing up and trying to regain my balance as I stare into the blue eyes of the woman who for years pretended to be my friend, but has caused me more stress than any other person in my life. “Get fucked you stuck-up fucking tall lampshade!”

“’Lampshade’?” Dannii retorts with a cruel snort of high-pitched laughter. “Oh dear, has someone had a bit too much to drink?”

“What the fuck are you even doing here, Dannii?” Katie growls, unaware of or uncaring about the fact that everyone in our area of the club has stopped what they’re doing to watch our confrontation.

“I’m here to join in the hen night!” Dannii shrugs. “Nikki and Sarah are my friends too, right?”

“WRONG,” Sarah growls. “After everything you did to us, why should I call you a ‘friend’?”

“After everything ‘I’ did to ‘you’?” Dannii snorts. “You mean, like treating me like something you scraped off the bottom of your heel?”

“Oh- what?” I scoff.

“I go and get myself a better career opportunity,” Dannii spits, “and you treat me like I never even existed! And you have the gall to call me stuck-up? You, surrounded by all your celebrity fake friends and all your fake body…”

“FAKE BODY!?” I screech, my hands clenching into fists as I stagger around the side of the seating area and square up to the tall blonde woman. “Is this the same ‘fake body’ you spent years drooling over when we were at college?”

“One, YOU were at college, I actually had a proper job!” Dannii spits. “Two, you were a cute BOY. A boy who dressed up as a girl and pretended to be a girl, but you were still a boy!”

“Oh, you scabby, blonde cunt!” Sarah growls as I feel myself begin to literally shake with anger.

“Right, both of you,” Lauren says, clearly as angry as Sarah and I both are. “You’ve said your piece. Dannii, you should leave.”

“Why should I?” Dannii snorts. “It’s a free country, this club is open to the public, maybe I’ll stick around!”

“I’m fucking warning you…” I growl.

“Oh- what are you going to do, NICK?” Dannii scoffs.

“I- I’m sorry?” Jamie asks, obviously as enraged by Dannii’s attitude as I am. “Do you want to repeat that name?”

“Oh please,” Dannii spits.

“’Oh please’ what?” I ask. “I don’t know if your retarded blonde head has realised this, but I have boobs. I also have a vagina. Do you know what that makes me? A girl!”

“Girls don’t marry other girls, NICK!” Dannii spits. “If you’d got with me while you had the chance, you’d have seen that, and you’d have forgotten all about this ugly bitch-“ My temper boils over at this, and before I know what’s happening, I find myself swinging a punch that connects hard against Dannii’s jaw, knocking the tall girl to the ground. The momentum of the punch, combined with my heels and my alcohol intake, sees me topple over on top of Dannii.

The next few minutes pass by in a blur as my head begins to spin from a combination of alcohol and adrenaline. One second I’m on top of Dannii, throwing yet more punches as her supine form. The next, I’m being manhandled by a VERY strong pair of arms, being roughly shoved against a table, against a wall… The next second, I’m being roughly shoved into the back of a police car, and the one after that, I’m laid on my back, on my own, in a featureless cell…

“Ugh,” I spit as my eyes slowly open and are assaulted by the sunlight streaming through the barred windows. Despite my hangover, the memory of what happened last night quickly returns, and I let out a long groan of frustration as I find myself locked in a police cell, still wearing the ridiculous costume I was wearing last night…

Thankfully, my father arrives shortly after I wake up with a change of clothes for me, but even the comfort of a cotton t-shirt, a denim skirt and a pair of flats is little consolation as I find myself sat in front of a uniformed policeman being formally charged with the assault and battery of the woman who ruined my hen night.

“I- I’m meant to be getting married tomorrow…” I feebly moan after the policeman finishes writing up my charge sheet.

“Well obviously, we can’t stop you doing THAT,” the policeman says. “But you won’t be able to leave the country while you’re on bail as we'll need to confiscate your passport, and you will need to report to the police station once every week until your court hearing. Can you confirm that you understand these conditions as I’ve explained them?”

“Yes,” I whisper, wiping tears away from my eyes.

“You can pick up your handbag and the rest of your belongings from the front desk,” the police officer says with a soft, almost nervous voice. “I- I hope your wedding goes well, Miss Thomas.”

“Thanks,” I whisper hoarsely as dad leads me back toward the reception area of the police station, though I barely walk ten feet before I stumble and need to be propped up by the middle-aged man.

“Easy, easy,” dad whispers. “Still- still drunk from last night?”

“No,” I whisper, before breaking down in a flood of tears.

“Oh god,” dad whispers, wrapping me in a tight hug. “Let it out, it’s okay, it’s okay…”

“No, no it isn’t,” I sob. “I’ve messed up everything… Has- has Sarah called?”

“…No,” dad mumbles, making me cry even harder. “It- it was actually Jamie who called us last night, explaining the situation. How much- how much do you remember about what happened?”

“Hardly anything after Dannii arrived,” I sigh. “What- what did I do?”

“I’d- I’d better let Jamie explain,” dad says solemnly. “She’s waiting for us in the car.”

“She- she came to the police station?” I ask.

“She IS your maid of honour,” dad says with a chuckle, placing a supportive hand on my shoulders as he leads me out to his taxi where, as promised, my mentor is waiting for me on the back seat with a supportive smile on her face.

“Hey,” Jamie whispers softly. “How are you holding up?”

“Crap,” I moan, eliciting a light chuckle from the blonde woman. “What- what happened last night? Where’s Sarah?”

“Sarah went home to your flat shortly after you- well, after you left,” Jamie says. “I’ve tried calling her, so have Katie and Lauren, but she hasn’t got back to us yet. As for what happened… I think everyone there wanted to deck Dannii. It was Becca who actually checked in on Facebook, that’s how Dannii found where we were… You did- you did quite a bit of damage. Dannii’s said she’s pressing charges, she- she’s said she might sue as well…”

“Oh, goddddddddd…” I moan as fresh tears seep from my eyes.

“And that- that’s not the only bad news,” Jamie says with a grimace. “The fight was- it was, umm, kinda high-profile…”

“Oh for god’s sake!” I shriek, almost throwing a temper tantrum on the back seat of the car.

“Nikki!” Dad snaps, instantly calming my anger.

“…You’re not on the front pages, it’s nothing like that,” Jamie clarifies. “But- but it has kinda, you know, got negative publicity for the rest of us…”

“I don’t think I’m ever going to stop hating that woman,” I sigh. “I really don’t. Do let me guess- Joshua wants me to stop hanging around the Angels for a while?”

“…And Out of Heaven,” Jamie whispers, making me weep again. “Calm down! Read my lips- you have NOT been fired, and no matter what management say, the Angels are NOT going to just abandon you. You’ll just not be in any photos or videos or Instagram for a while, unimportant shit like that.”

“Photos including my wedding photos?” I sniffle.

“Well- you’ll need to ask Sarah about that,” Jamie whispers. “She- she was pretty shocked by what you did. Like I said, no one’s heard from her-“

“Take me there,” I mutter. “I want to see her now.”

“…Okay,” Jamie sighs. “But I’ve set up a meeting with our- with the Angels’ lawyer, you really don’t want to miss that. We can afford enough time for you to go home and, umm, change…”

“Right now there’s only one thing I want to wear,” I sigh, thinking about the extravagant white dress hanging in my wardrobe ready for tomorrow.

“Well for now I recommend a plain blouse and a pencil skirt,” Jamie says softly. “I- I’ll call Sarah again.” I nod, though this simple action causes my head to spin as we head back to my- to OUR flat. This time yesterday, I had everything I could’ve ever wanted- the best friends in the world, a job I loved, and the woman who I adored more than life itself… Now I’m suspended from work, which means I might not be able to continue living independently- especially if I’ve alienated the most important person in my life. All thanks to one moment of drunken stupidity. There is no way I am EVER drinking again.

At least I still have my femininity, there’s no way anyone can take THAT away from me. Assuming they don’t send me to a male prison, anyway…

“Sarah?” I ask in a state of near-panic as I open the door to our flat. It’s just as we left it last night, even down to the piles of clothes on the kitchen counter- a clear sign that my fiancée didn’t come home last night (she is obsessively tidy about putting clothes away in their proper place). “…Sarah?”

“Is- is she not here?” Jamie whispers from my front door, momentarily startling me.

“Don’t think so,” I sigh, hesitantly poking my head into our bedroom to find that the bed hadn’t been slept in last night. “…Shit.”

“Don’t. Panic,” Jamie advises me, placing a supportive hand on my back. “Go and get changed. I’ll call Janet to let her know we’ll be running a few minutes late.”

“Okay,” I sigh, before doing a double take at my mentor. “Wait- wait, we’re seeing YOUR lawyer!? I can’t afford that! Especially not if I-“

“Nikki!” Jamie urges me. “Calm. The fuck. Down! Take a few deep breaths. Okay?”

“I- I can’t breathe out money!” I plead as I feel off my clothes and pull on a fresh set of underwear, before fixing my make-up, brushing my hair and pulling on a light short-sleeved blouse and a plain black pencil skirt.

“Don’t worry about the money, I’ll pay for the lawyer,” Jamie shrugs.

“What?” I ask. “No- no, I can’t accept-“

“Yes, you can accept,” Jamie insists. “And yes, you WILL accept. Who do you think paid for your bail?”

“This- this is too much…” I moan.

“It's hardly anything, trust me,” my mentor explains. “And besides, I’m not footing the bill alone. Charlotte’s already said she’ll contribute, so have Hannah and Viks, and Steph and Kayla… You have a lot, a LOT of sisters, Nikki, and we all love you. If you could, you’d do the same for any of us in a heartbeat.”

“Well- okay…” I sigh as I slip my feet into a pair of low heels and follow my mentor back to my dad’s taxi.

“Even if my so-called ‘little’ sister is three inches taller than me barefoot!” Jamie playfully snorts as we sit back down on the back seat of the car. “I’ll keep trying Sarah while you’re talking to Janet. I’ll try her mum too, she’ll probably know where she is.”

“Thanks,” I whisper as the taxi ferries us toward the centre of the city, pulling up outside a very posh, very new-looking office building where Jamie introduces me to her solicitor, a middle-aged woman named Janet Bean.

I try to pay attention all throughout the meeting, but the only thing my mind will focus on is my fiancée, where she is, what she’s feeling… Janet’s mention of prison is enough to snap me back to reality, though I breathe a heavy sigh of relief when she explains that for a first-time offender, prison time is extremely unlikely for this type of offence- not least because in a politically-correct world, no judge is going to want to be seen as making an example out of a transgendered woman. Community service is almost certain, though, as is no overseas travel for a year, and I will have a criminal record, which will hurt any future job applications- not least the one that I already have.

After leaving the meeting, and remembering Janet’s guarantee that she’ll do all she can to minimise my sentence, there’s only one remaining thought that occupies my mind.

“So?” Jamie asks with a knowing smile. “What did she say?”

“Umm, I’ll probably just get community service,” I mumble. “Did- did Sarah call back?”

“…Not yet,” Jamie whispers, making my face fall. “Though it’s good you’re dressed smartly, you- I- I kinda got another call while you were with Janet. From… From Jonathan.”

“Ugh, god…” I moan.

“Just take a deep breath,” Jamie advises. “We don’t know for certain he’ll fire you. He’s a lot like Joshua, he knows the value of running a business like a family. And families don’t abandon each other. Well- no. One person did abandon the family, and that’s Dannii. There isn’t any way in hell he’ll take her side over yours.”

“Can- can you come in with me?” I plead in a very small, very scared-sounding voice. “When I see Jonathan, I mean?”

“Of course,” Jamie says, giving me a gentle, relaxing hug before we head back down to dad’s taxi.

A short while later, with my head still buzzing from everything that’s happened so far this morning, the taxi pulls up outside the offices of Heavenly Talent. The second I and my mentor walk through the door, my knees start to tremble as I look at the top of the stairs and see the tall, dark-skinned figure of Jonathan Benedict, the agency’s general manager, staring back at me. The solemn look on the young man’s face makes my stomach sink, and if it wasn’t for Jamie’s supportive hand on my shoulder, I’d probably have turned around and bolted out of the door when Jonathan motioned for us to follow him.

“Take a seat,” Jonathan says quietly as we shut his office door behind him. “Nikki… I- I ain’t going to sugar coat it. What you did last night was stupid and reckless, and it’s caused us a LOT of trouble.”

“I’m sorry,” I whisper, my bright red face pointed straight at the floor.

“I don’t think any of us can claim to be perfect,” Jonathan sighs. “Not even my uncle, heh. But as far as the media are concerned, any imperfection… Nikki, I- I’ve already fielded calls today from people, reporters, asking whether it’s appropriate for you to continue being the PA for Out of Heaven. And I’m forced to conclude that the answer is ‘no’.” Unable to speak, I break down in a flood of tears, and again, if it wasn’t for Jamie’s supportive hand on my back, I’d probably have collapsed to the floor in a sobbing heap.

“Let it out,” Jamie whispers. “Just let it out.”

“That’s it, then,” I sniffle. “I’ve lost everything, my job, I’m going to lose my flat… I’m going to lose Sarah…”

“NO!” Jamie snaps, momentarily shocking me out of my self-pity. “Look at me, and listen to me. I was there. I heard what that blonde bitch said. You are NOT losing anything on her account. If I have to employ you myself, pay you out of my own pocket, I will.”

“So will I,” Jonathan says, shocking me.

“Wh- what?” I ask. “But you said-“

“I said you can’t continue as PA for Out of Heaven,” Jonathan says. “That’s not the only job in this place. Heavenly Talent’s a big organisation and growing every day. We WILL find a job for you, even if we have to make it up. Even if I have to hire you as my own personal PA, pay you out of my wages, I will.”

“But- but you’ve got a three month old baby to support,” I sniffle.

“And I’ve got a twenty year old sister who needs my help,” Jonathan says with a warm grin. “If you want to hear this from my uncle I’ll happily get him on the phone. Nikki, you’re a part of this family. We don’t turn our back on family. Ever.”

“I- I love you guys so much,” I say, breaking down in a flood of tears.

“And besides,” Jonathan says, “I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of discrimination. So does my uncle. Video of what happened has already hit YouTube. Along with what Dannii was saying to you before- well, you know…”

“Ah,” I say.

“There are a lot of people who wanted you to stick one on her for them,” Jonathan chuckles. “Obviously, we can’t condone this, as you know, but believe me when I say you’ve got a lot of fans. Unofficially, two of them are sat in this office right now. Officially… I’m sure you understand.”

“Ugh, yeah,” I spit. “Being grown-up sucks.”

“Oh, it sucks balls,” Jonathan says, before grimacing. “Eesh, sorry… Know ‘balls’ is kinda a sensitive subject for the two of you…”

“You’re forgiven,” Jamie giggles.

“Thank god you didn’t say that in public,” I joke, making my mentor giggle and my boss grimace with embarrassment.

“…Okay, touché,” Jonathan sighs. “I’ll- I’ll be in touch, Nikki. You just enjoy tomorrow, and try not to panic. I swear on my daughter’s life that after you’re married, you will have a job, and you will have your flat. We’ll get through this together, Nikki. All of us.”

“Thanks,” I whisper, wiping a tear from my eye before shaking Jonathan’s hand and leaving the office with my mentor in tow. Before we get to the bottom of the stairs, though, my tension rises yet again at the unexpected sight of a familiar figure in the reception area.

“…Lauren?” Jamie asks, as puzzled as I am by the black-haired girl’s presence. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, um, hey Jamie, hey Nikki,” Lauren mumbles, clearly surprised to see the both of us- and clearly would prefer it if we weren’t here. “I, um, I’m just um, got a meeting with Jonathan… he’s got a bit of modelling work for me over the summer, that’s all.”

“Probably the work I’ve lost,” I sigh, making Lauren grimace.

“You- you’re fired then?” Lauren asks, looking almost like she herself is about to start crying.

“More like ‘demoted’,” I sigh. “I’m not working with Out of Heaven anymore, or in any job that gets me publicity myself… Lauren, have- have you heard from Sarah this morning? I’ve tried calling her, but she’s not answering-“

“She’s-“ Lauren says, before grimacing. “I- I think she’s at Di Marco's....”

“What- what’s she doing there?” I ask. “She isn’t due to start work experience until next month?”

“Yeah,” Lauren says, fidgeting nervously and staring at her shoes. “Nikki, umm… They may- they may have seen Sarah in the video of you- of you and Dannii…”

“Oh god,” I gasp, doubling over as though I’d been punched in the stomach. “Oh god, oh god no…”

“Easy, careful,” Jamie whispers as she and Lauren gently lower me into one of the chairs in the reception area.

“I’ve screwed everything up!” I wail as I burst into yet another flood of tears. “First my life, now Sarah’s…”

“You don’t know that for sure!” Lauren reassures me.

“But I do!” I sob. “Sarah’s been looking forward to working there for forever, and now I’ve screwed her career up just like I did mine…”

“CALM. DOWN!” Jamie says, grabbing my head and looking deep into my tear-streaked eyes. “Take a deep breath. And stop focussing on the worst case scenario! Lauren, who told you this, was it Sarah herself?”

“Umm, it was her mum,” Lauren says. “Think she slept there last night.”

“Then that’s where she’ll be either now, or when she gets back from her meeting. So that’s where we’re going to go now. Right, Nikki?”

“R-right,” I say between anguished sobs, but right now, the thought of seeing Sarah is even scarier than not seeing her again. My stupidity has cost her one of the best career opportunities she’ll ever have- I don’t want to imagine how much she must hate me right now. I don’t want to see the anger in her blue eyes get turned in my direction- as much as I might deserve it right now. One thing’s for certain- the way I feel right now, I certainly wouldn’t want to marry me tomorrow…

My whole body trembles with fear as dad’s taxi pulls up outside Sarah’s mother’s house, and the presence of a little yellow Mini on the driveway tells me that my fiancée is inside the building. I fiddle with my engagement ring as I get out of the taxi as I can’t help but wonder whether this’ll be the last day my finger has a ring on it…

Even though I still have a key for Sarah’s mother’s house, I ring the doorbell, not wanting to barge in somewhere where I might not be wanted. Despite her extremely open minded attitude, Beverly is still very much upper-middle class, and there’s no doubt she’ll have disapproved of what happened last night…

“Oh,” Beverly says as she opens the door, a look of shock on her face. “He- hello, Nikki. Jamie.”

“Hi,” I say, trying not to gasp with fear. “Is- is Sarah in?”

“She’s in her room,” Beverly says stoically, standing aside to let me and my mentor into her home.

“Is- does- does she want to talk to me?” I whisper nervously.

“You’ll need to ask her that,” Beverly mumbles, leading Jamie into the house’s kitchen and leaving me to climb the stairs alone.

I cling to the banister for support as every step closer to Sarah’s bedroom makes my legs tremble more and more. I was just as nervous as I am now the first time I climbed these stairs, though back then, I had no idea what the future would hold. I never imagined that mine and Sarah’s dressing-up game would become my whole life- or that Sarah herself would become my whole life…

I take a deep breath, before running my fingers through my hair, adjusting the cleavage of my blouse and straightening my skirt, ensuring that my look is flawless before presenting myself to my soul mate. With my hands trembling with nerves, I gently knock on Sarah’s bedroom door.

“Come in,” Sarah says softly.

“H- hi, Sarah,” I whisper as I open the door. What feels like an eternity passes as the two of us simply stare at each other. Sarah’s dressed in a plain lilac summer dress, her long brown hair is, of course, scraped back into a tight ponytail, and her beautiful teardrop-shaped face is devoid of make-up. And yet, she has never looked more beautiful than she does right now.

“Nikki…” Sarah whispers, slowly lifting her obviously exhausted body off her bed. Another eternity passes as we look into each other’s eyes, before we both break down into a flood of tears at the same time and fling ourselves into each other’s arms, embracing each other tighter than we ever have before.

“I’m sorry,” I sob as Sarah’s arms wrap around me in a vice-like grip. “I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry-“

“Don’t you dare be sorry,” Sarah sniffles. “Don’t ever feel you need to apologise to me, Nikki. I love you. I adore you no matter what. I- I’m just so glad you’re okay…”

“But- but Di Marco's?” I ask. “And-“

“Hush,” Sarah whispers, placing her finger on my lips as we sit down on the edge of her bed. “There’ll be other work experience opportunities. But there’s only one you. And I wouldn’t trade you for a million Di Marco's. A BILLION, even.”

“Oh- oh my god, Sarah…” I whisper. “I- I don’t know what to say…”

“Three words will be enough for me,” my fiancée whispers, linking her fingers with mine.

“I love you,” I say without hesitation, the tension melting out of my body as Sarah and I share a soft, tender kiss. “…But I’m still a total screw-up…”

“That just makes me love you more,” Sarah whispers with a giggle.

“So… If I WASN’T a screw-up?” I ask, making my fiancée giggle again.

“Then I’d just love you even more,” Sarah says. “Nikki, when they- when they told me that you spent last night in a police cell, I- I wept. I cried harder than I’d ever cried before. Do you know why?”

“…Because you were engaged to a felon?” I ask.

“Because I wasn’t there with you,” Sarah says. “You don’t know this, but I- I always cry myself to sleep whenever I’m in bed without you.”

“Sa- Sarah…” I whisper, tears forming in the corners of my eyes.

“So you made a mistake,” Sarah sighs. “God knows I’ve made a few before. Never been arrested, of course, but- but that doesn’t matter. And to be honest, I’d probably have belted that tall bitch if you hadn’t…”

“Heh,” I giggle. “…I’m not proud of this, but it DID feel good…”

“I- I hate violence, you know that,” Sarah sighs. “But you know what? You saying that, it- it just makes me love you even more.”

“…Basically, I could say anything, and it’d make you love me even more?” I ask, grinning as Sarah bashfully giggles.

“Probably,” Sarah shrugs.

“Okay…” I say. “I’d… Rather our bedroom was painted lilac than pink.”

“That just makes me love you even more,” Sarah shrugs, barely suppressing a giggle.

“While we were in America,” I say, biting my lip to keep from giggling myself, “I may have spent a bit more on our credit card than I told you about…”

“That just makes me love you even more,” Sarah giggles. “As long as you pay it off, of course.”

“That raises a point,” I sigh. “I may have either lost my job or got a much lower-paying one…”

“That just makes me love you even more,” Sarah insists.

“Really?” I ask. “Because I’m probably not going to be earning as much-“

“Nikki!” Sarah giggles. “I’m not marrying you for your money, for god’s sake. There is literally nothing you could say or do that will make me love you any less. NOTHING.”

“Not even if I told you…” I say with a playful grin on my face. “That I like wearing women’s clothes?” I smile as Sarah almost doubles over in a fit of loud giggles.

“Now you KNOW how I feel about that!” Sarah giggles, gently stroking the smooth fabric of my skirt. “Even if that skirt WAS bought from a store…”

“I was meeting with my lawyer,” I sighed. “Wanted the most ‘boring’ skirt I owned…”

“Hope everything’s okay?” Sarah asks. “With the lawyer, I mean… If- if you go to prison-“

“I’m not going to prison,” I say softly. “My lawyer’s all but guaranteed that. Heh, if I did, I’d probably give anything to be able to wear a skirt like this…”

“As long as you don’t wear it tomorrow!” Sarah giggles, giving the hem of the skirt a quick tug that causes me to shriek with surprise. With a petulant pout, I tug the hem back to where it was, which prompts a tug of war with my skirt’s hem that only ends when I give a powerful tug that almost pulls Sarah clean off the bed. With her body resting against mine, Sarah stares deep into my eyes, a look of near-wonder on her face- and it takes me a few seconds to realise why.

“This- this is where it started,” I say with a chuckle. “And how it started…”

“Except back then, it was a pair of tights and not a skirt,” Sarah laughs. “And this is how it started…” I close my eyes as Sarah presses her lips against mine, and all of a sudden, I am once again a nervous fourteen year old boy, sitting in a girl’s bedroom for the first time, wearing a girl’s outfit for the first time and praying that the most wonderful experience of my life didn’t have to end. The only difference is that now, this most wonderful experience will never end.

“It started with a kiss,” I giggle. “Never thought it would come to this…”

“I never doubted it,” Sarah whispers, unbuttoning my blouse and slowly easing my skirt off my hips...

Half an hour later, with our bodies tingling and covered in a fine sheen of sweat- and not from the heat outside- the two of us walk down to the kitchen hand-in-hand to find my mentor and Sarah’s mother deep in conversation. The talk abruptly ends when we make our presence known- and much to my relief, both Jamie and Beverly grin widely when they see that our fingers are interlinked.

“You two had a good talk, then?” Beverly asks, ignoring Jamie’s giggle at her use of the word ‘talk’.

“We… Cleared the air,” Sarah says. “We said the only thing that we needed to say.”

“Which was?” Beverly asks.

“That we love each other,” I reply.

“And we want to marry each other,” Sarah says, squeezing my hand even tighter. “As soon as possible.”

“I’m glad,” Beverly says softly, easing my tension.

“Even if it means your daughter’s going to be marrying a criminal?” I ask, grimacing as Sarah gives my shin a light kick.

“We all make mistakes,” Beverly says. “Yours just happened to be a bigger one than most. And criminal or not, I’d still rather have you as a daughter-in-law than anyone else.”

“Tell them what you told me…” Jamie says, making the older woman sigh.

“…And I never liked that Dannii girl anyway,” Beverly concedes. “Always thought she was a bad influence, so stuck-up, so superficial… Going by what Jamie told me, there’s a part of me that’s surprised you didn’t assault her earlier than you did.”

“Trust me when I say that the more time passes, the less public opinion is on her side,” Jamie says with a giggle. “Think she might be looking for work soon too… Difference is, she WON’T find any at Heavenly Talent!”

“You’re lucky to be living in 2017,” Beverly says. “To be able to be recognised unquestionably and legally as the gender you want, to be able to marry someone of the same gender and have that marriage be legally equal to a heterosexual marriage, to have thousands of people online immediately jump to your support…”

“Believe me, I know just how lucky I am,” I say. “I guess… I guess girls like us will never have it 100% the way we want.”

“That’s for certain,” Jamie sighs. “All the more reason we need to stick together, right?”

“Damn right,” I giggle, lazily tracing the outline of the special tattoo I have on my left shoulder- the tattoo consisting of a transgender pride symbol with the Roman Numeral ‘IX’ in the centre, an identical one to the one on Jamie’s shoulder blade, and Jacinta’s shoulder, and Jamie’s husband’s bicep… “’The Fellowship of the’- well, I dunno. Fellowship of Angels?”

“As long as I’m allowed to join this ‘fellowship’,” Sarah giggles. “Not sure about ‘Fellowship of Angels’, though.”

“How about ‘Order of the Halo’?” Beverly suggests. “Has an ‘Angel’ theme to it, and sounds like one of those old secret society things…”

“…I like it,” Jamie says with a wide grin. “Obviously, I’ll have to run it by the other girls, but… Yeah.”

“The Order of the Halo!” I playfully cheer, earning giggles from the other three women in the room.

“No Danniis allowed!” Sarah laughs.

“Well, that’s settled, then,” Beverly explains. “Now the two of you need to get ready!”

“Get ready?” Sarah asks.

“To get married, of course!” Jamie laughs. “Less than 24 hours to go, so come on! Hop to it!” I squeak with laughter as Jamie forcefully separates me from my fiancée and all but frogmarches me out of the front door. “Beverly, I’ll send Lauren and Ophelia round in a bit. Make sure bride number 2 doesn’t go anywhere!”

“Will do!” Beverly laughs as Sarah rolls her eyes.

“Why am I bride number 2?” Sarah protests.

“Shut up and eat your lunch,” Beverly says, making me and Jamie giggle as we get into Stuart’s car- the transman having driven over to pick the two of us up after dad had to head to work.

“All sorted, then?” Stuart asks, making me smile as the sleeve of his t-shirt rides up to give a view of the ‘Fellowship’ tattoo on his arm.

“Of course,” Jamie says smugly. “Now drive, drive!”

“Yes, ma’am!” Stuart chuckles.

“…Dare I ask what you and Beverly were talking about?” I laugh.

“Believe it or not, we were mostly talking about Dannii,” Jamie says with a snort of laughter. “Beverly wasn’t joking when she said she couldn’t stand her.”

“My parents weren’t exactly fans either,” I laugh.

“You know,” Jamie says, “Sarah never, ever hung out with Dannii. As friends, I mean. Lauren, obviously as they used to own a business together. Ophelia, yeah, Katie, yeah, even Jacinta. But never Dannii.”

“Maybe that’s why the whole ‘Teen Angels’ thing never took off,” Stuart muses. “It should’ve just been the four of you all along.”

“Maybe,” I shrug. “All that matters is that’s what it is now. And all of the REAL ‘Teen Angels’ will be bridesmaids tomorrow!”

“All of the ‘real Teen Angels’ are also 20 or 21,” Stuart reminds me. “Hardly ‘teen’ anymore!”

“Really, Mr 27 year old?” Jamie snorts.

“Really, Mrs 25 year old!” Stuart retorts, making his wife giggle.

“Maybe we’ll make the Order of the Halo an ‘adults only’ club,” Jamie shrugs.

“…What’s ‘the Order of the Halo’?” Stuart asks, making the two of us giggle as we head back to Jamie & Stuart’s vast home, where I spend the rest of the evening in the company of my bridesmaids, musing on my last night of ‘freedom’.

Not that I see getting married as losing any ‘freedom’. Quite the opposite, in fact. Beverly was right when she said that I was lucky to have been born when I was, to have the legal freedom to be who I want to be and to love who I want to love. I never felt less ‘free’ than when I was ‘Nick’, the fourteen year old boy obsessed with being a girl but who thought that he’d always be trapped, imprisoned inside a body that didn’t belong to me. Then I met Sarah, and I had my first taste of true ‘freedom’. Then Beverly helped me to experience more ‘freedom’. As did Dr Williamson. And my parents. And Katie and Lauren. And Jamie and the rest of the Angels. Even my grandparents eventually came round to give me the ‘freedom’ I craved. And sure, I’ve had some setbacks. I’ve had people insult me, ridicule me both online and to my face. But through it all, I’ve had the love and support of the people who matter the most, and the one person who matters more than anyone.

As I sleep, I find myself for the umpteenth time stood in a brightly-decorate church, wearing a pristine white wedding dress, about to exchange my vows with my soul mate. This particular version of this dream is special, however- as when I wake up, the dream will finally come true.

Indeed, mere minutes after I wake up on Jamie’s sofa bed, I’m dragged into Jamie’s bedroom, where my make-up is applied to a near professional level by my bridesmaids (all of whom are already wearing their dresses) and my hair is pinned high above my head. After my nails have been repainted and had a chance to dry, I am finally allowed to step into the elaborate strapless white dress that I’ve dreamed about so, so many times over the past few years. It’s only as the veil is pinned to my hair and I’m handed my bouquet that I realise that this, finally, is it. My dream, everything I’ve wanted for the past six years, is finally coming true. I’ve long since wondered how I’d feel when this day finally arrived, whether I’d feel happy, sad, nervous or that the whole thing is just one giant anti-climax- but my main emotion is excitement. Not just for the wedding, but for the rest of eternity that I’ll spend with my soul mate…

“Beautiful,” dad whispers, almost weeping himself as I sweep into the room accompanied by my bridesmaids.

“Oh- oh, Nikki…” Mum sobs, coming over to give me a tight hug. “I- I can’t believe the day’s finally here…”

“I know!” I squeak. “It hardly feels real…”

“Well trust me, it IS real,” Jamie says. “Are we all ready?”

“I think so,” dad says, making sure Jenny’s flower girl dress is on properly before taking my hand… And passing it to my mother.

“D- dad?” I ask.

“I’ve talked with Robert about this,” dad says. “It seems only right that we men take a back seat on this one. Besides, I’ll get to give Jenny away, won’t I?”

“Oh- oh god, dad…” I sob as I exchange a long, tight hug with the middle-aged man.

“Careful of your dress!” Jamie hisses. “There’ll be plenty of time for hugs later. You’ve got the rest of your lives, after all…”

“R-right,” I whisper, gently taking my mother’s arm as we lead our bridal party around to the back garden of the vast house. With every step, my nerves jangle more and more, and by the time the opening bars of Wagner's Bridal Chorus, my knees are quivering with nerves.

“Good luck,” mum whispers, before slowly leading me up the aisle.

I have a wide grin on my face as I walk through the assembled throng of friends and family. Everyone important is here- all of my friends, all of the Angels and Out of Heaven, even some of the girls from Soixante-Trois are in attendance. Most importantly, though, the three seats on the row behind the front one are occupied by my three living grandparents, all of whom have proud smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes as I make my way to where Krystie is stood at the front.

Even though I know it’s bad form, as I walk up the aisle I turn my head to get a glimpse of the other bride, who looks more beautiful than she ever has before in her matching white strapless dress and veil. Surrounding her are her university friends and her family- even her aunt and uncle, who I’ve only met myself a couple of times. Sarah and I both slyly giggle as we catch each other peeking, before we reach the front of the aisle and our mothers place our hands into each other’s.

“Dearly beloved,” Krystie- our minister for the day- announces. “We are gathered here today to celebrate the love of these two young women, and to join them together in the bond of matrimony. I have had the privilege of knowing Nikki and Sarah for four years, and I know that the love between them is a beautiful, pure form of love, a love that completes the soul, and I am very, very proud to be able to call both women friends, and to be able to be the one to join these two women together forever.” I suppress a giggle as the crowd erupts into a loud, happy ‘aww’.

“The couple have prepared their own vows,” Krystie says, before standing back and allowing Sarah and I to look deep into each other’s eyes.

“Nikki,” Sarah says in a voice barely louder than a whisper. “You are my first love, my last love, my only love. You complete my life in a way I never thought was possible. You light up my entire soul with a simple smile. I promise that I will always love you, be true to you and support you, through the good times, and especially through the bad times. Not just for the rest of my life, but for the rest of eternity.”

“Sarah,” I whisper, blinking tears from my eyes at the beauty of her words. “Everything I am and everything I aspire to be is only possible because of your love. You are my love, and my whole life. We are two halves of the same soul. For the rest of eternity, I promise that you will be the first thing I think of when I wake up, the last thing I think of when I go to sleep, and the only person allowed in my heart.” With both of our eyes moist with tears- much like the rest of the crowd- we turn to face Krystie again.

“Do you, Nicola Christine Thomas,” Krystie asks, making my heart race as I realise that at long last, this is it. “Take this woman, Sarah Jennifer Phillips, to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

“I do,” I whisper as I slide a thin gold band onto Sarah’s ring finger.

“And do you, Sarah Jennifer Phillips,” Krystie asks, “take this woman, Nicola Christine Thomas, to be your lawfully wedded wife?” I smile as there isn’t a single murmur from the crowd at Krystie’s use of the word woman- for that is precisely what I am, and always have been, 100%.

“I do,” Sarah whispers, sliding a plain gold ring onto my left ring finger.

“Then by the power invested in me by the Universal Life Church,” Krystie announces, “I now pronounce you wife and wife. You may kiss!” Sarah and I don’t need to be told twice, and as the entire crowd stands up and cheers, we lean in toward each other and share a long, deep kiss. It’s far from the first time we’ve kissed each other, but as it’s our first kiss as a married couple, it’s just as special, if not more so, and I savour every last atom of Sarah’s taste before our lips part and we gaze deep into each other’s eyes.

“We did it, then!” I giggle.

“We really did!” Sarah says, almost gasping with excitement. “So, how do you feel, MRS Phillips-Thomas?”

“How do I feel?” I reply.

How DO I feel? Better than I’ve ever been in my entire life. I’m wearing the most beautiful dress in the world. I’m married to the most beautiful girl in the world. And after six years of struggling, my mind, body and soul are all finally exactly the way they should be. All my life, I wanted to be a woman. And now, there is no question whatsoever that that is what I am. My name is MRS Nicola Christine Phillips-Thomas. And I feel…

“…Perfect,” I say. “So… What do we do now?”

“You really need to ask?” Sarah giggles, grabbing my hand. “We live happily ever after, of course!”

“Of course,” I laugh. “Girl love forever!” I scream with laughter as my wife and I run down the aisle, hand-in-hand toward our future. “Girl life forever!”

----------

SOME TIME LATER

----------

“Can’t believe you’re watching it AGAIN,” Sarah laughs as I watch a video on my phone- the video of my wedding day, the day that should have been the happiest day of my life- and would have been, if it wasn’t for the fact that every single day since than has been happier than the last.

“And why wouldn’t I watch it?” I retort. “Especially today, of all days…”

“…Very true!” Sarah giggles, sitting down next to me on the bed and snuggling close to my body to get a better view. “God, those dresses were SO gorgeous…”

“So were we,” I giggle. “So ARE we!” I smile as I exchange a soft, tender kiss with my wife. “Hard to believe that 36 hours earlier, I was passed out in a police cell…”

“Hehe!” Sarah giggles at the memory. “Still, it all worked out in the end, didn’t it?”

“You can say that again!” I laugh as I think about the events following our wedding.

As Jamie’s lawyer promised, I managed to avoid jail for my assault on Dannii- I barely got any punishment, actually, just 120 hours of scrubbing graffiti off of walls. The video evidence showing bigotry and provocation convinced the judge to be lenient toward me. It also convinced Spencer and Hall not to support Dannii’s lawsuit, which got quietly dropped. As did Dannii herself nine months after our wedding, when she was, ironically enough, arrested for possession of a class B drug and sentenced to six months in prison. She didn’t do too badly for herself afterward, though- after all, there’s a lot of money to be had as a porn star with a reputation for having no boundaries!

Sarah and I eventually went on honeymoon the year after our wedding, after Sarah graduated from university- with a first, naturally. Immediately after the wedding, Sarah started a period of work experience. Not with Di Marco's, of course, but with an even more prestigious fashion house, thanks to Jonathan’s uncle pulling some strings as a ‘wedding present’. One year after graduating, Sarah earned her Masters’ degree in fashion design and started work full-time for the same company, gaining experience and skills and a reputation as one of the most talented designers in the whole of Europe. After seven years of working there, Sarah- along with Lauren and Ophelia- set up their own fashion label, which has quickly grown into one of the most prestigious ones in the world. I always smile every summer when the trio are inundated with application forms from university students, hopeful to spend a summer break doing work experience for my wife!

As for me… After a few weeks of ‘unofficial honeymoon’, I found a new role within the agency… As the Angels’ PA. Though this was in a much more ‘behind the scenes’ capacity than before, usually staying in the office and liaising with production companies and magazines than going out with the Angels to photoshoots and so forth. This did, however, enable me to learn a lot about the day-to-day operation of Heavenly Talent, meaning that after eight years, I was promoted to deputy manager of the entire office. At this present time, I’m in charge of over a hundred models- many of whom have been my friends for years.

Of course, work isn’t the only thing that’s been occupying our time in the last few years…

“Eek!” I gasp as the sound from the video is abruptly replaced by the sound my phone’s ringtone.

“…You GIRL,” Sarah teases as we share an intimate giggle before I answer the phone and am greeted by the smiling face of a young woman with long brown hair.

“Hi Emily!” I say happily. “What’s up?”

“Hey,” the 18 year old girl replies. “Sorry for calling you on holiday, but Auntie Jamie was just round, she wants you to give her a call about Auntie Krystie’s birthday next month? She was kinda pushy about it…”

“I know what she wants, I’ll call her in a bit,” I say.

“And you, young lady,” Sarah says firmly, “should still be in bed, or out with your friends! Take it from someone who knows, you’re only eighteen once!”

“Yes, yes, I know,” Emily sighs like the petulant teenager that she is. “Jan, Han and Kara are coming over in a bit, we’re heading to the beach, want to get our tans nice and brown for uni! Of course, we won’t get as tanned as you two…”

“Okay, enough of your cheek,” I say as the teenager has a good-natured giggle at our expense.

“You take care, okay?” Sarah says.

“Will do,” Emily says with a grin. “See you soon, mum and mum!” I giggle again as our adopted daughter ends the call and we return to watching our wedding video.

"We did such a good job with her," I sigh.

"YOU did such a good job!" Sarah giggles. "Changing nappies, taking her to dance lessons... I was always too busy with work. Kinda wish I'd been there more when she was younger, you know?"

"WE raised her," I insist. "Together. And besides, she's studying fashion design at uni just like her mum, isn't she? You'll have years of working together."

"Oh, she'll love me being her boss," Sarah snorts.

"Well, that's something neither of you will have to worry about for a few years, anyway," I say, sighing happily as the video ends and I slowly lift my aging body off the bed.

"Mmm..." Sarah giggles as I remove my modest, knee-length dress to reveal the snug one-piece swimsuit underneath. "You know, you're just as sexy at 45 as you were at 20?"

"I'll have to take your word for it," I reply, before giggling excitedly as Sarah removes her skirt and top to reveal her own bikini. Even after twenty-five years of married life (and my cooking), Sarah is still the exact same dress size she was when she was eighteen, and just as beautiful, especially when she smiles. I truly, truly am the luckiest woman in the world.

"Happy silver wedding anniversary," Sarah whispers, giving me a long, tender kiss on my lips.

"Here's to twenty-five more," I giggle as I link fingers with my wife and head out onto our balcony, overlooking the smooth sand of the Spanish beach where the other holidaymakers are enjoying the sunset.

"Girl love forever," Sarah and I both whisper as we hold each other close, never wanting to let the other go...



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