Charlotte, part 24

“Which hospital is she in?” I ask as I get into Stuart’s car and fasten my seatbelt.

“Queen Charlotte's,” Stuart says, before a wide smile spreads across his face. “So… Did- did they, you know, say anything? About the kid?”

“You’re the one who Mikey texted,” I retort, before my eyes go wide as I realise what- or rather, who- Stuart’s referring to. “Oh, oh you- you meant-“

“Yeah,” Stuart nervously giggles. “Nearly put the baby seat in the car before setting off, I’m getting so practised at it…”

“Good work, dad,” I say with a giggle. “God, I’m so nervous… Don’t know whether it’s for me or for Krys, heh. Does- does that make me, you know, a bad friend if I’m more nervous for my own kid?”

“Nah,” Stuart says with the warm smile that I love so much. “Just makes you a great mum, that’s all!”

“Hehe!” I giggle, trying not to fidget excitedly as we head toward the place where the newest member of our family was entering the world…

We both breathe a sigh of relief as we enter the hospital and immediately spot the petite figure of Mary stood next to the tall, muscular frame of her husband.

“We have got the right hospital, then,” I mumble, making Stuart giggle as we greet our friends with hugs (or a firm handshake in the boys’ case).

“How is she?” Stuart asks. “Is Mikey with her?”

“Yep,” Dan says with a chuckle. “Needed about four hairnets for his hair and his beard, heh.”

“More importantly, Krystie IS fine, BOYS,” Mary says, rolling her eyes at the two men. “Her contractions are four minutes apart. Reckon the baby’ll be here in the next 24 hours.”

“Krystie must be SO relieved,” I say, making the blonde Irishwoman giggle.

“Oh, trust me, she is,” Mary laughs. “Wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already picked out matching school uniforms for my Tasha and her daughter, heh.”

“They… Might not be the only ones wearing matching uniforms in a few years’ time…” Stuart says with a sly grin.

“Oh- you- you two?” Mary asks, her eyes lighting up with excitement. “You’ve heard back from the agency? Why didn’t you tell us sooner?”

“We literally only found out as we were heading out the door!” I squeak excitedly. “Going in for a meeting on Thursday afternoon… God, I am SO nervous- about both kids, hehe!”

“At this rate we’re going to have to buy ‘brand new mummy’ card in bulk, hehe!” Mary giggles.

“What- don’t tell me you-“ I gasp.

“NO, N. O!” Mary laughs. “Two’s more than enough for us.”

“Well, three, given that the four of us are going to be godparents,” Dan says with a laugh that earns him a cuddle from his wife. “Our current two are with my parents, we plan on staying here for the duration.”

“Same here,” I say, before my eyes go wide. “That reminds me, did- did you lock the front door?”

“Everything’s locked up, don’t worry,” Stuart says, making our friends giggle at my paranoia.

“Of course,” Mary giggles. “First full day as homeowners… We were going to come down later today but of course Krystie has to be the centre of attention, heh.”

“We’ll be down later in the week,” Dan says. “Assuming you two don’t have your hands full, of course. Which you will. You WILL.”

“Sure, I’m not going to argue there,” Mary says with a snort of laughter. “Not as busy as Krystie and Mikey but even if you adopt a 2 year old, HOO boy. You sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for?”

“We’re sure,” Stuart says with a confident nod. “Just because it’ll be difficult doesn’t mean it won’t be worth doing.”

“Damn right,” Mary says, a wide grin creeping across her face. “And speaking of, here come two girls who DON’T seem to have got that yet…”

“Hey!” Hannah says in a breathless voice as she and Alice come running up to us. “Any news?”

“Nothing yet,” Mary says.

“Ah, it’s so exciting, though!” Alice squeaks in her north-eastern accent. “A fourth Angel about to become a yummy mummy…”

“And a fifth!” Mary says, pointing at me and making me blush.

“Wha- you too?” Hannah asks, squeaking excitedly and giving me a tight hug when I nod. “Oh my god oh my god oh my god! When do you get to bring her home?”

“We’ve got the final meeting on Thursday,” I say breathlessly. “If all goes well, maybe even the same day. The agency say the sooner the child’s settled in their new home, the better…”

“So awesome!” Alice giggles, giving me a tight hug as well. “A proper ‘Angels: The Next Generation’!”

“Not until they’re a little older, they’re not!” Mary laughs. “My kids at least are going to actually get to be kids before they become celebrities.”

“Yeah, think Kristina-Leigh will disagree with you after a few years,” Dan laughs.

“Not if she knows what’s good for her,” Mary says, before grinning once again as two more of our friends arrive.

“Hi!” Kelly says as she and Abbey-Gayle arrive and exchange hugs with the four of us already here. “Any news?”

“About Krystie? Not yet,” Mary says. “About Jamie, though…” I blush as I once again explain the situation to my two new friends, both of whom react with as much excitement as Mary herself had minutes earlier.

As does Viks when she arrives a short while later, and Malaika when she arrives just after that, having come straight from the airport to the hospital without even dropping off her suitcases first (she’d spent the whole weekend in Kenya with her family as it was her birthday yesterday). Even Malaika, probably the shyest, quietest and most reserved member of the Angels, squeaks excitedly and wraps me in a tight hug when she finds out my news.

The most excited squeak and the tightest hug, though, is saved for the last member of the Angels to arrive at the hospital- namely, my BFF.

“Oh my god!” Charlotte practically screams as I tell her the good news. “Jam- you- you’re going to be a mummy!”

“I know!” I squeak, before sharing the tightest hug yet with my BFF. “And you, obviously, are going to be godmummy!” Naturally, this earns another excited squeak and yet another ridiculously tight hug. “Of course, this assumes that we WILL pass the final meeting-“

“Oh- like you’d fail it!” Hannah snorts, interrupting me. “Any kid would want you and Stu as their parents.”

“Hell, I’D want you as my parents!” Abbey-Gayle says with a cheeky giggle.

“Hell,” Charlotte says with a warm grin. “I think of several times over the last six years when you WERE my mother.”

“Right back at you,” I giggle, before leaning in for yet another hug- which quickly becomes a group hug of all nine Angels.

Afternoon quickly turns into evening as we wait for more news of Krystie, none of us daring to leave until we hear news about our ‘sister’ and our new ‘niece’. It’s not long before we’re joined by more members of our ‘extended family’- the first of whom is someone I haven’t always got along with in the past.

“Hi everyone!” Stephanie says, her voice nervously quivering as she sees me sat with the rest of the group. “Is- is there any news yet?”

“Not yet,” I mumble. “Take a seat.”

“Thanks,” Stephanie says quietly as she sits down a few seats away from me. “Umm, Kay- Kayla will be along in a bit, she just needed to, umm, use the toilet…” I nod, before grimacing at the awkward silence that suddenly fills the waiting area. Stephanie and I have never seen eye to eye, but we’ve always tried to be civil- well, aside from the time we got into an actual fight in front of everyone, anyway…

“I heard your tour was a huge success,” Alice says, desperately trying to defuse the tension in the room.

“Yeah,” Stephanie laughs. “The Southampton date was really good, Kayla in her hometown…” I smile politely as Stephanie has a well-earned boast about her recent series of concerts, which Kayla- her flatmate- joins in with when she arrives. It isn’t long, though, before the topic of conversation shifts back to babies- which of course, doesn’t just mean Krystie’s baby.

“…She’s not the only one who’ll be bringing home a bundle of joy, is she, Jamie?” Charlotte teases, making me blush (and desperately try not to frown) as the two girls turn to face me with excited looks on their face.

“Really?” Kayla squeaks, a wide grin on her youthful face.

“…We’ll find out on Thursday!” I shrug, earning excited giggles from both girls. “I, umm, need to use the ladies’…”

I try to keep my cheeks from flushing as I head to the nearest toilet to relieve myself, all the while remembering my ‘incident’ with Stephanie from last year. As much as I may claim to be mature, and ready to be a mother, the truth is that I still get over emotional at times, I still react poorly to some situations… But then again, so does everyone at times. Loads of people become mothers every day, whether they’re ready or not. Charlotte herself- my own pseudo-‘mother’ on more than one occasion- was barely ready when she gave birth to Keith Junior, but she’s grown into one of the best mothers I know. As I hear the pee tinkle into the bowl, though, it’s a reminder that unlike Charlotte and most of the other women in the waiting area, I don’t have the option of simply getting myself ‘knocked up’. I might have a vagina between my legs, and it may have been there for three years now, but there’s nothing ‘inside’. I can picture a baby coming out of my vagina in my mind as much as I want, but the truth is, it’ll never happen- and no child I ever raise will even have the same DNA as me.

After pulling up my thong and my tights and straightening my skirt, I head out to wash my hands and fix my make-up, only to find an unexpected figure waiting for me next to the sinks.

“Umm, hi,” Stephanie says nervously.

“Hi,” I say.

“Umm, congratulations on the baby!” Stephanie says with a nervous giggle.

“Thanks,” I reply. “Kinda, you know, really nervous about it…”

“I imagine,” Stephanie chuckles. “You- you been, you know, thinking about kids long?”

“A while,” I shrug. “Really started when Charlotte’s kid was born, then when Krys got pregnant… Yeah. Kinda sent the hormones into overdrive, heh.”

“Yeah,” Stephanie says, avoiding my gaze at the mention of hormones- which has long since been a sticky subject for her, despite her having been on oestrogen for over ten months now.

“You- you ever thought about, you know, kids?” I ask. “I mean, I know you’re, like, twenty…”

“Twenty-one,” Stephanie corrects me, making me grimace. “And not really… I’d- I’d kinda make a messed-up mother, heh. And no one would let me adopt anyway, having spent time in a mental hospital…”

“How about your own children?” I ask the brown-haired woman, bringing a look of confusion to her face.

“Umm…” Stephanie says cautiously. “I’ve- I’ve kinda, you know… Got the same ‘problem’ as you- heh, when Mary said you were expecting a child, there was a moment I actually thought you were pregnant, before I, you know, ‘remembered’…”

“Yeah, I wish,” I say with a snort of laughter. “…And you know, I actually DO wish that, at times…”

“Think every girl does at some point,” Stephanie whispers. “Never mind what they, you know, ‘have’…”

“And I really wish I used what I ‘had’ before,” I sigh, earning another confused look from Stephanie. “To save sperm, I mean. Have- have you done that?”

“Umm, Joshua offered to pay to have some frozen and I thought ‘why not’,” the young singer shrugs. “Not really thought about it since, you know?”

“You won’t regret it,” I say with a smile that gets reflected by my one-time enemy. “And I LOVE that top, by the way!”

“Thanks!” Stephanie giggles as she shows off the top, which is black, has long-sleeves and cutaway shoulders. “It’s actually a bodysuit, I could link you to the web store if you want?”

“Please,” I say, smirking as Steph gets her phone out of her handbag and fires off a message to me. “Speaking of babies, how’s that cute little niece of yours?”

“She’s doing fine,” Steph says with a happy smile. “Tom- my brother, little Stephi’s dad- has REALLY changed since becoming a dad. Never would’ve thought the old Tom would like shopping for baby clothes. Or shopping at ALL.”

“Being a parent changes people for the better,” I muse as we head back to the waiting area, and it’s clear from the look on Stephanie’s face that she’s hoping that being a parent will change me for the better- especially in how I interact with her.

When we arrive back at the waiting area, we find that we’ve been joined by a few additional faces- Adeola and her boyfriend are here, as are Becca and her fiancé (who is obviously also Krystie’s brother). Judging by the way Becca is fawning over her brother, it’s clear that she’s been told about our good news- and despite our conversation yesterday, she’d rather celebrate with him than with me. But that’s okay, they ARE blood relatives, after all, and when Becca sees me, she does at least give me a quick congratulatory hug.

Becca and the rest of her band entertain us for the next half hour with behind-the-scenes tales of the summer tour, only stopping due to surprise- a surprise shared by everyone else present- at the next set of arrivals to the waiting area.

“Hello!” Helena says in her refined German accent as she leads the other four girls from the continent into the waiting area. “Are we too late for the baby?”

“Nope!” Mary says. “Last we heard, she’s still in labour… Sure, you five are here and you haven’t even met Krystie yet!”

“She is our English cousin,” Helena shrugs. “We will not leave when she needs us.”

“You came all the way from Berlin just to offer support?” Alice asks.

“Actually we stayed in London a couple of extra days,” Claudia- one of the younger members of Himmlische Schönheiten- explains. “None of us have been to London before so we stayed behind to do some sightseeing, then we heard the news, so we came right here.”

“Well- take a seat, I guess!” Mary chuckles, gesturing to the diminishing free seats in the waiting area.

“And then maybe Mrs Milton can tell you her good news as well…” Hannah says with a grin, making me blush as I once again explain the adoption process, this time to my continental friends who all listen in intently- especially Melissa.

“That seems so amazing,” Melissa says. “You become ‘mommy’…”

“You can too, right?” I ask. “Germany is just as free a country as Britain, right?”

“Uhh, ja, I can, um, ‘adopt’,” Melissa says. “But I also have, umm, some… sperma taken.” Melissa wiggling her arm like an eel is all I need to see to know what she means.

“I didn’t do that,” I sigh. “Biggest mistake of my life.”

“Emilie has already said I can, umm…” Melissa says, before blushing a bright red colour.

“’Put a bun in my oven’,” the athletic dark-haired girl interjects with a giggle that only deepens the shade of my fellow T-girl’s cheeks. “I don’t mind, I’ve told Melissa that’s what friends are for, after all.”

“Too right!” Charlotte says with a warm smile that reminds me that had I saved sperm of my own, she would’ve made the exact same offer to me.

“I suppose it is too early to talk about ‘Junior Angel Miss World’?” Marie- one of the older members of Himmlische Schönheiten- says, earning playful boos from the mothers in the room.

“Not until they’re 21 at the very earliest!” Mary snorts.

“Seriously?” Hannah teases. “Mrs Carter, were you or were you not one of the runners-up of Miss Northern Ireland 2008, at the tender age of seventeen?”

“Shut up,” Mary retorts, earning good-natured laughs from everyone present.

“And Viks, you are NOT to tell your father-in-law about the whole ‘Angel Miss World’ idea,” I say. “I’m going to be busy enough the next few months, heh!”

“What makes you think he hasn’t already got the ball rolling on it?” Viks asks with a smug grin. “I, for one, have already been brushing up on my violin…”

“I remember when the thought of doing ANYTHING even remotely resembling modelling or performing gave you a cold sweat,” I remind the brown-haired girl, who giggles coyly.

“…Really don’t know why I was so nervous,” Viks shrugs. “Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.”

“Too right!” Hannah giggles, giving her BFF a tight hug.

“Easy to say when you will probably win ‘Angel Miss World’!” Emilie teases Hannah, who giggles and rolls her eyes.

“Trust me,” Hannah says, gesturing to all the women in the room. “That’s FAR from a done deal, hehe!”

“Angels forever!” Alice playfully cheers.

“Himmlische Schönheiten!” Our five German friends cheer, earning giggles from everyone present in the waiting room.

As the evening draws on, more people join our ‘vigil’- Krystie’s business partner Zoe and her fiancée Natalie, along with their colleagues (and my friends) Jessica and Paige, who immediately hit it off with our German friends thanks to speaking the language themselves (and it turns out that Jessica and Melissa actually have a mutual friend who lives in Berlin). Shortly after 8:30pm, the last members of our ‘family’ arrive with apologetic looks on their faces.

“And what time do you call this, young lady?” I ask my protégé, who simply blushes in response.

“It was my fault,” Sarah- Nikki’s wife- sighs. “We were in Milton Keynes all day with my dad and my brother and sister.”

“And, umm, I kinda had, you know, ‘other commitments’,” Nikki mumbles, earning a quiet nod from me. Nikki’s wedding a couple of months ago- or more specifically, her hen night- didn’t go without incident, leaving Nikki with a community service sentence that I, for one, felt was extremely harsh, especially given how badly she was provoked.

“It’s okay, you’re here now,” I whisper, leading the newlyweds and their friends to the waiting room’s free seats, before remembering that our newest friends haven’t yet been introduced to them. “Ah, of course! Sarah, Katie, Lauren, Jacinta, Ophelia, I’d like you to meet Helena, Marie, Emilie, Claudia and Melissa, five ninths of Germany’s newest- and hottest- modelling group!” I grin and giggle as the five English girls greet the five German girls and immediately start chatting like old friends.

Evening soon turns into night, and the energy in the room begins to dissipate as we grow more and more tired. However, this doesn’t stop us from forging new friendships and reinforcing old ones. Eventually, we all start to nod off in our chairs, myself included- but we’re all immediately awake and alert just after 2:30am when a very tired, dishevelled-looking Mikey enters the waiting area with a wide grin on his bearded face.

“Everyone,” the tall man says in his distinctive midlands accent, “it is with infinite pleasure that I would like to announce the birth of Maria Helen Dawson just over half an hour ago, weighing eight pounds and an ounce. That’s just over three and a half kilograms for our friends from the continent. Mother and daughter are both doing fine and resting now. They’ll definitely be up for some visitors tomorrow, though!”

“Congratulations!” Dan says with a happy giggle as he shakes the new father’s hand.

“When can we see her?” Mary asks. “Both ‘her’s, hehe!”

“Like I said, tomorrow morning,” Mikey chuckles. “Go on, get some sleep. God knows I need some, heh.”

“Wuss!” Charlotte playfully scolds the tall man, who simply giggles tiredly in response.

“I’ll text you all when she’s awake and ready to receive visitors,” Mikey says. “Go on! Go! Get some rest! And thank you, really thank you all for being here. It means SO much to Krystie. To both of us. Heh, to all three of us!” The assembled crowd all smile and nod, before heading back to the car park.

“Four down, one to go?” Stuart whispers to me, stifling a yawn as we get into his car.

“Four down, six to go, if you’re talking about the Angels,” I say.

“I was actually talking about the girls born in this school year,” Stuart says, before letting out another, louder yawn. “Oh, god’s sake, sorry…”

“It’s almost 3am, you’re allowed to yawn,” I giggle. “Want me to drive?”

“Please,” Stuart says as we jump out of his car and swap seats. “But yes, I mean this whole ‘next generation of Angels’ thing. You’ve got Natasha, Destiny, Stephi and now Maria…”

“Let’s- let’s not count our chickens before they’re hatched,” I say. “Literally in this case. Our kid might be older than a year, they might be- ugh, I dunno. We might not even get a kid at all… And they might also be a boy.”

“…Not sure I like you ranking ‘having a son’ as a worse than ‘having no kid at all’…” Stuart mumbles.

“That’s not what I mean, that’s not it at all,” I sigh. “I’d LOVE to have a son. I really would.”

“You’d just love to have a daughter more?” Stuart asks, making me sigh tiredly.

“For what it’s worth,” I say, “if Mary, Viks and Krystie’s kids were all boys, I would rather have a boy than a girl. I just- I just want our kid to have the best friends in the world from day one. The same way that neither of us did.”

“You know,” Stuart muses, “even if we take home a boy, that’s not going to stop him from being best friends with the girls. I mean… It wouldn’t even stop quote-unquote him from being one of the girls, even.”

“Yeah, we HAVE talked about this before,” I chuckle. “We’ll let our child find their own path through life. And their own gender, too.”

“And try not to get too jealous if they actually are born into the gender they want to live in,” Stuart says, making me laugh. “Is this the right way home?”

“Sure,” I say, before frowning as I realise that the route I’m taking is actually the right way to our old home- to Charlotte’s home. “…Whoops…”

“…Yeah,” Stuart grimaces. “I thought this didn’t look like the route we took… To be fair, like you said, it IS three in the morning, heh.”

“There is a part of me that just wants to keep going toward Charlotte’s,” I confess. “Head back to when life was simpler…”

“Even if it meant heading to a time before you had SRS?” Stuart asks. “Before- before you met me?”

“…No,” I sigh.

“I’ve always thought that life’s full of responsibilities and rewards,” Stuart says. “We have the responsibility of an adult life, credit card bills, MOTs, tax… But the reward of being free to choose what paths we want to take, and more importantly, who we want to take them with. And, of course, for both of us… We have the responsibilities of dilating and maintaining my implant, but, well, the rewards are obvious, heh."

“I like that,” I say with a grin. “So, like, we have the responsibility of maintaining our own home, but the reward of being able to rock up after 3am without worrying about waking anyone up?”

“Exactly,” Stuart says.

“So what would a child be?” I ask, momentarily silencing my husband.

“…Both,” Stuart eventually answers. “A great responsibility, but also a great reward. Maybe even THE greatest reward possible.”

“Yeah,” I whisper. “I- I love you so, so much.”

“I love you too,” Stuart whispers, leaning in to give me a kiss on my cheek as we head back to our new home.

When I wake up the following morning, I find myself in an unfamiliar bed, wearing an unfamiliar nightgown, but as my eyes open, everything suddenly comes back to me. I smile as I look to my bedside to see my husband slumped in a chair, having obviously slept there all night.

“Hey,” I say quietly, waking Stuart from his slumber. “Hey, wake up!”

“Mmph?” Stuart moans as he slowly opens his eyes. “J- Jamie?”

“Good morning, dad!” I giggle, gesturing toward the small cot at the end of my hospital bed, where our hours-old daughter is quietly gurgling.

“Morning, mum!” Stuart laughs, before gently retrieving the tiny infant from the cot and handing her to me. “Still, you know, umm…”

“Sore?” I ask. “A little. You putting the baby into my belly was more fun than her coming out, hehe!”

“But- but was it, you know, worth it?” Stuart asks.

“Worth every second,” I whisper as I stare at the infant girl’s tiny face…

I snort with confusion as my eyes open and I find myself in bed at home, my husband cuddled up next to me, gently snoring in the darkness of our bedroom. For a brief moment, I panic, wondering what’s happened, where our daughter has gone… Before remembering that we don’t have a daughter. Not yet, anyway… Though as optimistic as I am about tomorrow’s meeting, I’m still forced to shed a single tear at the thought that I might never get to experience motherhood.

Of course, ‘proper’ motherhood- including pregnancy and natural childbirth- will never happen for me no matter how hard I wish. I’ll never get to experience what Mary, Charlotte, Viks and now Krystie all have, the joy of bringing a life into the world. And there will always be people who argue that not only should I not experience that, but I shouldn’t be allowed to raise a child at all- or even be allowed around children, all because I dared to change my gender. And as much as I try to dismiss such ‘people’ as fossils, people whose attitudes have no place in the 21st century, there’s a part of me that wonders if I could ever give a child the motherly love every child deserves. For the first nineteen and a half years of my life, I was a boy. That’s all I was, and all I knew how to be. Sure, I can learn how to apply make-up, which clothes to wear, how to dance like a ballerina, how to walk and talk- and thanks to surgery, even make love- as a girl. But motherhood isn’t something you can learn quite as easily… And it might be something I can’t learn at all.

Despite my anxiety, I’m that tired that I quickly fall asleep again, and when I wake up for the second time, it’s broad daylight outside and, much to my surprise, I find myself alone in my bed.

“Mmph…” I tiredly moan. “Stu? Stu, you in the shower?”

“Just got out,” my husband yells from our en-suite. “Should still be plenty of hot water.”

“Thanks,” I mumble. “Heard anything from Mikey?”

“Not yet,” Stuart says. “I Googled the visiting hours and we won’t be allowed in until after 1pm anyway, so reckon we should head up then.”

“Definitely,” I say with a grin, before swinging my smooth (but tired) legs out of bed and padding to our shower- stopping to give my husband a kiss on the cheek en route, of course!

Once I’ve showered, dried my body and blow-dried and brushed my hair, I dress for the day in a comfortable white bodysuit, a very slouchy (but very soft) grey knee-length t-shirt dress and a pair of opaque black tights. Naturally, the outfit earns me a LOT of cuddles from my husband while I’m getting dressed, though the cuddles quickly stop when I continue staring into my wardrobe.

“…Exactly how many clothes do you need to wear in one day?” Stuart asks with a loud sigh. “One load of washing and you’re going to have muscles like Dan!”

“Oh- shut up,” I moan. “Just thinking about what I’ll wear tomorrow… Need to get the look EXACTLY right, it needs to be perfect.”

“Okay, two things,” Stuart sighs. “First, you ALWAYS look perfect to me.”

“Thank you,” I say with a smug grin as my husband encircles my waist from behind and gives me a long, soft kiss on my cheek. “…And secondly?”

“Second, you’ll never be 100% satisfied with how you look, you unashamed GIRL,” Stuart teases, making me roll my eyes.

“BOY,” I retort, earning a laugh and another kiss from the gorgeous brown-haired man. “Aren’t you meant to be at work today?”

“Joshua’s given me the rest of the week off,” Stuart says smugly. “Given us all the rest of the week off, thank you, Krystie!”

“Those of us who don’t already have jobs booked,” I sigh. “Gonna be a job getting back in time for the meeting tomorrow. Just hope I can stay focussed throughout the shoot…”

“You’re a professional, you’ll be fine,” Stuart says with yet another kiss. “Amazed you still do regular modelling jobs, what with being this now world-famous celebrity…”

“If the companies can afford us, then we show off their stuff,” I shrug. “The company I’m modelling for tomorrow is one of these REALLY left-wing ones that wants to show how ‘progressive’ they are, they asked for me specifically, off I go.”

“…Better that than being blacklisted, I guess,” Stuart says.

“Oh, that’s a no-brainer,” I say. “Donald Trump or Jeremy Corbyn? I know who I’d choose. Heh, I know who I DID choose. Still though, sometimes… Sometimes I wish I wasn’t, you know, defined by my ‘gimmick’.”

“It’s not a ‘gimmick’,” Stuart retorts. “It’s a ‘unique selling point’. And-“

“Yes, yes, I know,” I sigh. “I’m an inspiration to T-girls across the world.”

“Are- are you okay, Jamie?” Stuart asks with obvious concern in his voice. “You’re kinda, you know, sounding a little down…”

“Ugh, I’m sorry…” I sigh. “I- I just, you know… Kinda had a dream last night.”

“A- a bad dream?” Stuart asks.

“A WONDERFUL dream,” I say. “I was in hospital-“

“Not how most of my ‘wonderful’ dreams start…” Stuart says, earning an elbow in his ribs.

“Let me finish,” I growl. “I was in hospital, and… And I’d just given birth.”

“…Ah,” Stuart says.

“I literally- right now, I literally would like nothing more than for you to take your penis, stick it into my vagina, ejaculate sperm and inseminate an egg,” I say with a long, sad sigh. “Then, nine months later-“

“Yeah, I’m familiar with the mechanics of how it works,” Stuart says. “And I’d love that too, I really would. And not just because of the whole, you know, ‘first bit’.”

“I… I’m just not sure I’m going to be a good mother,” I sigh, sniffing back a tear as Stuart tightens his embrace of me.

“You’ll be an AMAZING mother,” Stuart says. “You honestly, truly will.”

“What if the baby hates me?” I sniffle. “What if I never bond with it?”

“Shh,” Stuart whispers soothingly. “Do you know how many prospective mothers have asked these same questions?” My husband smiles as I shake my head. “ALL of them. Literally all. Mikey swore me to secrecy- and come to think of it, Krystie probably swore him to secrecy, but she was having the exact same panic in the last month. Now she’s given birth, and you just KNOW that that little girl is going to think that her mum is the most wonderful person in the whole world. And so will ours.”

“…You’ve always been better with kids than I have,” I mumble. “You- you would’ve made a better mum than I would. Umm, I mean-“

“I know what you mean,” Stuart whispers. “And I utterly, 100% disagree. I may have had- had, past tense- the right equipment, but I don’t have- in fact, I’ve never had the right mindset to be mother. You know why?”

“Because you never had the right mindset to be a woman,” I reply.

“Precisely,” Stuart says. “You, on the other hand, tick EVERY box to be a woman, and to be a mother. A great mother, in fact.”

“My DNA being XY doesn’t matter, then?” I ask.

“Not even slightly,” Stuart says with a smug giggle. “…You know, you could always return the compliment, say that I’ll be a great dad…”

“Oh- now that is a no brainer!” I laugh. “You are SO great with kids, especially young ones, ANY kid would be lucky to have you as a dad.”

“Yeah…” Stuart sighs. “But am I only great with kids because of some, you know, ‘lingering maternal instinct’?”

“Stop it,” I say. “You are a 100% hunky, masculine beefcake, no matter what anyone says.”

“…Self-doubt’s annoying, isn’t it?” Stuart asks, giggling as I give him another elbow in his ribs. “Come on, still got LOADS of unboxing to do…”

“Yes, sir,” I playfully salute as my husband unwraps his arms from around my waist and points me toward the nearest full box or clothes.

A few hours later, after a quick lunch (and, naturally, a change of outfit to a designer skirt and top), Stuart and I get into his car and head back to the hospital, where we’re not surprised to find a whole gaggle of expensive cars in the car park- all of which we recognise as belonging to our friends.

“Think Maria might be the first new-born to be ticket-only entrance,” Stuart says, making me giggle.

“Well, fortunately, as godparents we should have a season ticket,” I retort, earning a warm grin from my husband. “Speaking of…”

“…Yes?” Stuart asks.

“I know that neither of us are, you know, ‘really’ Christian,” I say. “But- but have you, you know, thought about, like…”

“Having our child christened?” Stuart asks. “A bit… I’m guessing you- you’d want Charlotte as godmother?”

“She’s not just top of the list, she IS the list,” I say. “Frankly, it’s embarrassing that you and I have, like, half a dozen godchildren each, but she doesn’t have any… Kinda the main reason I’d want to have her christened.”

“Or ‘him’,” Stuart reminds me.

“Or ‘him’,” I sigh. “Who’d you pick?”

“Mikey as godfather, obviously,” Stuart says. “A couple of years ago, it MIGHT have been Keith, but… Yeah.”

“Yeah,” I whisper. No prizes for guessing why Keith got ‘relegated’… “And- and if you had to pick a godmother?”

“Becca or Emma,” Stuart shrugs. “Probably Becca, simply because we’re closer. What- what if you, you know, had to pick a godfather?”

“…I’m not sure,” I say, grimacing as Stuart immediately sees through my lie. “I’ve never, umm, thought about it…”

“Yeah, you kinda have,” my husband sighs. “If you weren’t sure you’d be tossing up between two names, or you’d say ‘probably so and so’. Your… You’d choose Keith, wouldn’t you?”

“Not if you don’t approve,” I sigh. “Joshua would be just as good-“

“Keith it is,” Stuart says with a grin as we head into the hospital to find the owners of the cars in the car park all clustered together.

“Hey you two!” Mary says with a giggle, greeting me and my husband with tight hugs. “Took your time…”

“Sorry, unpacking…” I mumble, earning a sympathetic smile from the Irishwoman.

“Yeah, Krystie herself did a lot of that herself last night,” Mary giggles. “Or maybe she was the package, I dunno. Either way, she wanted all four of us godparents to be there so we can all meet her for the first time, you know?”

“’Her’ meaning Maria?” Stuart asks.

“Who else?” Mary giggles. “Come on, she’s this way…” I giggle excitedly as I follow Mary and the boys down the corridor to the private room, and the instant I step inside, I feel tears form in my eyes as I see my friend laid in her bed, cradling a tiny, beautiful baby girl in her arms. The scene is a perfect image of blissful family life- and absolutely identical to my dream last night, right down to the father of the child sat at the bedside looking half-asleep.

“Oh my god,” I sob, earning a giggle from the new mother as she smiles tiredly at me.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much what I said!” Krystie tiredly croaks. “Guys, girls, I’d like you to meet Maria Helen Dawson. Maria, say hi to your godparents!” The four of us- even the boys- all giggle as Maria gurgles obliviously in her mother’s arms.

“She’s SO adorable,” I sigh.

“Just you wait until she’s three,” Mary teases. “You are SERIOUSLY gonna have your hands full, heh!”

“What, obsessed with dancing and dressing up?” Krystie asks with a snort of laughter. “Think I can handle that…”

“Oh, just you wait,” Mary says with a smug, knowing grin. “Both of you!” I bite my lip as Krystie looks at me with a look of confusion on her face, before the penny drops and she lets out a long sigh.

“…You’ve adopted a kid?” The new mother asks.

“…Got a meeting with the adoption panel tomorrow,” I sigh, earning an excited giggle from Krystie.

“Always stealing my thunder,” Krystie teases.

“It’s not like that, honest…” I sigh.

“I know, I know,” Krystie says reassuringly. “Just make sure you bring home a girl so I can teach her to dance in a few years’ time!”

“Any reason you couldn’t teach a boy to dance?” Stuart asks, causing the room to pause and contemplate his question.

“…Nope,” Krystie says with a grin. “Absolutely no reason at all, hehe!”

“You’d be happy if you had a son who became a dancer, then?” Dan asks.

“Are you saying you’d be UNhappy?” Stuart retorts, and I immediately lean into my husband to reward him with a long, tight hug.

“Pick your answer carefully,” I caution Dan, who simply sighs and shakes his head.

“Of course not,” the tall, muscular man says. “As long as they’re healthy and happy.”

“Though that being said,” Krystie says, “our kids are now a ‘fab four’… Just waiting on number five, hehe!”

“Not a ‘fab four’ while you’re still in here,” Mary snorts, earning an eye roll from her BFF. “When you getting out?”

“Tomorrow afternoon, all being well,” Krystie replies. “Let me guess- that’s when your meeting is?”

“Good guess,” I sigh. “We’ll be out of there as soon as we can, I swear-“

“Hey,” Krystie says soothingly. “Take it from one parent to another, your kid takes priority of your time. Seriously.”

“We’ll have the ‘welcome to the family’ party when we’re ALL able to attend it,” Mikey says softly.

“Where history can repeat itself and your kid can overshadow mine!” Krystie teases, giggling as I stick my tongue out in response. “Ahh… Think she’s getting a little restless with everyone being around…”

“We’ll go,” Mary whispers. “Let you get some rest… Maria!”

“See you guys soon,” Krystie whispers, fidgeting in her bed to try to get comfortable as the four of us leave.

“…Maria is SO cute,” I sigh happily.

“She’s adorable,” Dan says, nodding in agreement. “She’s going to be a frickin’ giant, too, what with her mum being 5’ 8” and her dad 6’ 3”…”

“Lucky her,” the 5’ 3” Mary spits, before letting out a giggle. “Still, it’s good to know the twenty years from now, the ‘Angels’ brand will be in good hands.”

“Definitely,” I say with a grin. “We should probably head home now, need to finish off our unpacking… Maybe pick up some, you know, nappies on the way home…” My final comment earns a tight hug from Mary, which makes me giggle excitedly.

“Good luck for tomorrow,” Mary whispers, before giving me another hug.

“Thanks,” I whisper, before breaking the hug and heading back to my husband’s car.

“You know,” Stuart says, “there really isn’t anything stopping us from, say, picking up some nappies on the way home, or dropping into Mothercare and picking up, say, some clothes…”

“…Let’s wait until tomorrow,” I say with a giggle. “We’ve already got so much… I just- I just want it to be, you know, ‘finalised’ first. Ugh, this is going to be the longest 24 hours of my life…”

“I know the feeling,” Stuart sighs. “You know, there IS something that’ll make it pass faster…” I roll my eyes as Stuart starts the car and drives us back home.

“Don’t even need to ask, do I?” I sigh, before a playful grin creeps across my scarlet lips. “Typical BOY…”

“Really?” Stuart snorts. “Seriously tell me that you don’t want to, you know, ‘try to conceive anyway’? When we get a kid, we might not get THAT much time by ourselves…” I stare at my husband with a wicked, lustful look in my eyes, and when he meets my gaze, a wide grin creeps across his face as well…

Naturally, within minutes of us arriving back home, the two of us are naked and wrapped in each other's arms, passionately embracing as we head up the stairs to our bedroom. I gently massage Stuart's penis with my slender fingers as he traces his finger between my breasts, using the beads of sweat to lubricate his fingers before teasing my clitoris, sending lightning bolts of pleasure throughout my entire body. As Stuart's erect penis enters my vagina, I feel the same spark of electricity I get every time we make love, and I can't help but yell at the top of my lungs as he slowly, methodically thrusts within me, bringing me to an explosive orgasm that leaves my entire body feeling like I've been plugged into the mains.

As I collapse back onto the bed, my soft, smooth skin slick with sweat, I can’t help but wonder what it’s like for Stuart, and the 'opposite path' he took when compared to my own. Neither of us had 'conventional' sex as our birth genders. I never had the experience of penetrating anyone, and although Stuart and I had a lot of oral sex before his SRS, he had never himself been penetrated. Sometimes I wonder what it must be like for a man- but every time I do, I find myself feeling thankful that medical technology has evolved enough to allow me to feel what it's like to make love as a woman. Being 'taken' feels so, so right... And I wouldn't exchange the feelings it provides for anything.

We spend the rest of the day finally finishing our unpacking and getting our house exactly as we want it, not just for both of us, but for the potential all three of us. Naturally, we end the day with another passionate lovemaking session, but afterwards, I feel a sense of utter contentment as my husband wraps me in his slender, but still strong arms, and I fall asleep with my head leaning against his chest, listening to his powerful heartbeat…

Thankfully, my sleep is dream-free, and despite my anxiety about the coming meeting, the sex has ‘relaxed’ me that much that I sleep right the way through until my alarm wakes me at 8am. However, once I’m awake, the nerves quickly return, and as I shower, it dawns on me that today could very well be the day that my whole life changes… Yet again.

“At least I’ll have some warning this time,” I muse as I blow-dry my hair, before applying a light layer of make-up (as I’m at a modelling job today, it’ll be done professionally later), pulling on a comfortable cotton bra and thong set and sitting down heavily on the bed, giggling as my husband is startled awake.

“Morning, sexy,” I coo, leaning in to give Stuart a gentle kiss on his lips.

“Morning, babe,” Stuart half-grunts. “What- what time is it?”

“Almost 9am,” I giggle. “Think we REALLY tested our stamina last night, heh.”

“Well, could be the last night we have our house to ourselves, had to make the most of it,” Stuart chuckles, before sliding out of bed and heading to the shower. “What time’s Nikki getting here?”

“About twenty minutes,” I say.

“Are- are you okay?” Stuart asks from under the hot running water. “You sound REALLY nervous…”

“…That’s because I am,” I sigh. “What- what if they turn us down? Worse yet, what if they accept us?”

“How many times?” Stuart asks, not needing to say any more words to ease my anxiety as I remember that this is a worry I’ve had countless times over the past few weeks- but one that will never go away, no matter how hard I try to calm myself down.

“Yes, yes, I know,” I eventually sigh. “I’d better get dressed, got to go straight to the meeting from the photoshoot so better get dressed…”

“You mean you’ve actually decided what you’re going to wear?” Stuart asks, making me roll my eyes.

“Stick to music, as you suck at comedy,” I retort, which only makes my husband laugh even louder.

“How about that lilac suit of yours?” Stuart asks, making me frown in disgust.

“Ew,” I spit. “Maybe if I was 45…”

“Okay, I’ll stick to music as I suck at fashion, then,” Stuart retorts, making me giggle as I select a very sleek black suit with a pencil skirt that comes to just above my knee, along with a soft, smooth white satin blouse and a pair of matching high-heeled pumps. As I’m modelling underwear today, I go bare-legged, but I stuff a new pair of nude-coloured tights into my handbag for the meeting. Next I put on my most expensive, favourite jewellery, including the sapphire earrings Charlotte bought me for my first-ever Christmas as Jamie, and the necklace Charlotte got my three years later the one featuring the jewel made out of locks of hair from both of my parents. I complete my look by slipping on my expensive, designer sunglasses, before grabbing my handbag and pulling a pose for my husband as he steps out of the en-suite.

“Well?” I ask with a practised pout.

“If I didn’t know any better, I could swear you were a model,” Stuart teases, and hard as I try to frown, I can’t help but giggle as Stuart leans in to give me a kiss.

“Nikki will be giving me a lift from the shoot,” I say as I hear a car peep its horn outside. “Speaking of…”

“I’ll pick you up,” Stuart whispers, giving me another kiss before I’m able to leave the bedroom. “We should go together. I’ll text Nikki, let her know.”

“…Thanks,” I whisper. “I’ll see you there… Dad.”

“See you there… Mum,” Stuart whispers, giving me one more kiss before I leave the house and head toward my protégé’s car, taking several deep breaths to calm my nerves before elegantly sliding onto the passenger seat.

“Hey boss!” Nikki playfully teases me. “…How you feeling?”

“Nervous,” I giggle. “Last time I was this giggle was before my SRS, heh.”

“Really?” Nikki asks, playfully waggling her expertly-manicured left hand- and the rings on her third finger- at me. “Speaking as one married woman to another?”

“…Okay, maybe the THIRD most nervous day of my life, hehe!” I giggle.

“Even more than moving?” Nikki asks.

“WAY more,” I reply. “That was just a house, this is a whole other person, a person I’m going to be responsible for, a person I’m going to need to devote all my life to, to love, to mentor-“

“You’ve got THAT down to a fine art,” Nikki says with a warm smile. “Honestly, you WILL be fine… Maybe once you and the baby are settled in, I could maybe come and see your house?”

“Wha- oh god, you haven’t seen it yet…” I mumble, blushing with embarrassment.

“It’s okay,” Nikki shrugs. “You’ve had a busy few days, we all have.”

“And they’re only going to get even busier,” I muse as we head toward the studio where I’ll be spending the entire morning.

Today’s modelling job is underwear and lingerie for a new, fairly exclusive online store- and it’s eerily similar to the second ever modelling job I did, before ‘Jamie-Lee Burke’ was even a thing. A plethora of corsets, basques and teddies cover my body as I pose for the camera, my professionally made-up face not betraying any of the nerves that I feel about the meeting that grows closer with every passing minute.

That being said, though, with every photo that’s taken of me, there’s one lingering thought at the back of my mind- ‘what if my child sees these photos when they’re older?’. I know that if I ever saw photos of my mother dressed in the things I’m wearing this morning, it would have thoroughly scrambled my brain… Could I do that to a child? On top of being adopted, being the child of a celebrity… Being the child of two transgendered people…

Normally, it comes as a relief when a modelling job ends, but today, I could happily stay in front of the cameras all day, if only to put off the inevitable meeting for one more second. Even though my legs (well, my thighs) are once again covered by the skirt I wore to the studio, I feel more exposed than ever. ‘Jamie-Lee the model’, my public persona, is a mask- and the adoption panel aren’t interested in masks. And any potential child of mine certainly won’t be interested in a mask. They’ll only want to know the real Jamie-Lee… Even though a lot of the time, I barely know her myself.

As promised, Stuart arrives at the studio to pick me up, dressed in his own smartest suit, but even when alone with him, I feel my ‘mask’ start to return.

“Hey babe,” Stuart says, sharing a kiss with me before setting off toward the adoption agency’s office. “Good shoot?”

“Meh, same as always,” I shrug. “Pull on the clothes, get photographed, lather, rinse, repeat…”

“…I’m pretty sure I’ve been punched for saying the same thing in the past,” Stuart says, making me giggle.

“Probably,” I sigh.

“Nervous, then?” My husband asks.

“Petrified,” I whisper. “Th- thanks for picking me up.”

“Like I was ever NOT going to!” Stuart chuckles. “And yes, I’m nervous too…”

“Good,” I say, before sighing. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-“

“It’s okay,” Stuart whispers. “I know what you DID mean… It’s like, today is the official end of the last trace of childhood, you know? We’ve got to be 100% responsible, grown-up adults from now on…”

“Does that mean no more gaming sessions?” I ask my husband, who rolls his eyes in response.

“Only if it means no more shopping or clubbing sessions for you,” Stuart says, making me giggle.

“Touché,” I chuckle, before remembering my earlier anxieties. “Though- though it’s going to be difficult doing what I did this morning, knowing that our child will inevitably see photos of me in my underwear…”

“I’m not the right person to advise you there,” Stuart sighs. “But you and I both know plenty of people who are.”

“…The other Angels,” I sigh.

“Right,” Stuart says. “Viks in particular, think she had two pubescent brothers when her modelling career took off. Hell, so did Krystie when she did her topless shoots!”

“Doesn’t mean it’s going to be any less awkward,” I retort. “And we both have enough ‘awkward’ waiting for us as it is…”

“I choose to focus on the ‘us’ part of that,” my husband says with a warm smile. “No matter what we’ve got waiting for us, we’ll face it together. The good times AND the bad.”

“’Team Milton’ for the win!” I cheer, making my husband giggle as we head deeper into the centre of London.

Mere minutes later, we park outside the offices of the Central London Adoption Agency, and I take several deep breaths to calm myself before stepping out of Stuart’s car, trying to steady myself on my heels, which all of a sudden feel VERY high. As we enter the small office, we’re greeted by a smiling receptionist, and even though I know they don’t house the kids in this place, I can’t help but hear the quiet laugh of a baby somewhere in the background.

“Mr Milton, Mrs Milton,” the receptionist says the instant we walk through the door, sending the usual tingle of excitement through my body every time I’m addressed as ‘Mrs Milton’. “The panel will be ready for you in a couple of minutes, please take a seat while you wait.”

“Thanks,” I reply, smoothing my skirt underneath me and keeping my knees pressed tightly together as I sit down on one of the reception’s comfortable chairs. “REALLY scared now…”

“You’ll be fine,” Stuart says, gently squeezing my hand for support. “WE will be fine. ‘Team Milton’ for the win!”

“All three of us,” I whisper with a giggle.

A short while later, Stuart and I take deep breaths as a door at the side of reception opens, and the two of us are called through for the meeting we’ve been so anxious about over the last few weeks. It’s not like we haven’t met the panel- the exact same members of the panel- before. The first time we met them, we were expecting it to be like an interrogation, the kind you see on cop shows or movies where they shine a bright light in the suspect’s eyes to try to ‘sweat the truth’ out of them. Instead, we had a calm, friendly discussion with the panel members about our motivations for wanting to adopt, the type of care we’d be able to provide and our existing (albeit limited) experience with children. What was by far the most encouraging thing about the first meeting was that the fact that Stuart and I are transgendered was only mentioned once, and even that was in the context of the magazine article that me, Stuart and a few of our friends did a few months ago. It was like they saw us as just an ordinary, newly-married couple… Which, of course, is precisely what we are.

“Stuart, Jamie, so good to meet you again,” Stacey- the head of the adoption panel- says as we shake hands with her and her two colleagues Brian and Peter.

“Likewise,” Stuart says as we sit down opposite the panel.

“We’re sorry about the lack of notice in bringing you in here,” Brian says, “but once we match a baby to a family we find it’s best to get the process rolling as fast as possible.”

“So- so can we take the baby home today?” I ask, earning smiles from the panel.

“Not today, we still have some paperwork to finish off,” Stacey says. “But certainly you could take her home as early as tomorrow if you wanted.”

“That’d be great- wait, you- you mean we’ve been accepted?” I ask. “We’re definitely going to be parents?”

“You meet all of our criteria,” Peter explains. “You’re obviously dedicated to raising the child, you both have a healthy income so there are no worries there, the pictures you’ve shown us of your new nursery are the kind you’d use in adoption brochure!”

“But- but this meeting-“ Stuart stammers.

“Just a formality to get things in order before finalising the adoption process,” Stacey explains. “We’re sorry if it seems like we’re springing it on you, but we did tell you earlier in the year that you had been accepted.”

“…That is true,” Stuart concedes, trying his hardest not to blush. “So- so we’ll be- we’ll be getting a girl?”

“Yes,” Stacey says with a warm smile.

“Perfect,” Stuart whispers, giving my hand a gentle squeeze as he looks me in the eyes and beams a wide, happy smile.

“Would you like to meet her?” Stacey asks, making both my and my husband’s jaw drop.

“She- she’s HERE!?” I squeak as my heart suddenly starts to race.

“Of course,” Brian says, smiling warmly at my surprise. “We’ve brought her along to meet you and get to know you, to get used to your faces before moving in with you.”

“Oh… Wow…” I breathe. “What- I- I want to know all about her!”

“Of course!” Stacey replies, giggling at my enthusiasm. “Her name is Jenna-Rae, she was born on the 13th of February this year and has been with us for a couple of months. We think she will be absolutely perfect with you.”

“Jenna-Rae?” Stuart asks, his disdain for the hyphenated name clear on his face.

“Her biological mother- who, for obvious reasons, we can’t share details of- has given her permission for you to change the name if you wish,” Stacey says with a smile. “She’s young enough that she hasn’t become accustomed to the use of her name yet, though we obviously would ask that you have a name chosen when you fill in the forms.”

“Of course, we’ll have the name for you by tomorrow at the latest,” Stuart says with a confident smile.

“So can- can we see her NOW?” I ask, fidgeting in my seat in my desperation to meet the baby girl who will become my daughter.

All of the fear and anxiety that filled my body earlier has vanished, and instead, I’m filled with excitement as I picture the coming few days and what they’ll bring. Bringing our daughter into our home for the first time, settling her down to sleep in her crib for the first time, changing her nappy for the first time- well, maybe not THAT experience- then later in her life as she meets her cousins for the first time, has her first birthday, her first Christmas, taking her first step, saying her first word, attending her first dance class, her first day at school…

My nerves start to jangle once again as Stacey nods and leads me and my husband down the corridor to a small room, and when she opens the door, my heart melts at the sight that greets me.

There, sat on the knee of a young woman who barely looks older than me, is a beautiful, grinning baby girl. On her body is a tiny pink dress and striped tights, and on her head is a loose mop of short chocolate brown hair. Tears immediately start to form in my eyes at the sight of the baby girl, as the mere notion that someone- professionals, no less- could entrust me with her care might be the greatest compliment I have ever been given.

“Hi!” The woman gently bouncing the baby on her knee says. “You must be mum and dad!”

“Yes,” I say nervously, wiping the tears from my eyes as I gingerly approach the girl.

“I’ll leave the three of you alone for a bit, get to know each other,” handing the baby toward me and smiling as I involuntarily recoil. “…Don’t worry, you’re far from the first mother to have had that reaction. But it’s okay, she won’t bite, I promise!”

“O-okay,” I say, trying to stop my hands from trembling as I take the baby girl in my arms. Despite the change in ‘scenery’, the tiny girl doesn’t bat an eyelid as I cradle her, gently rocking her back and forth.

“Take your time,” Stacey whispers, leading her team out of the room. “We’ll be outside if you need us.” I smile as the door closes behind the older woman, leaving the three of us alone in the small room.

“He- hello,” I nervously say to the baby girl, who simply giggles in response. “Aren’t you just the most beautiful thing ever… I- I’m your- your new mummy!” My heart melts as the baby girls looks deep into my eyes, smiling as I grin at her. “This is just so perfect…”

“It is,” Stuart whispers, giggling nervously as I hand our new daughter to him. Naturally, however, both Stuart and the baby girl are instantly at ease once she’s in his strong arms. It’s plainly obvious to anyone who might be watching that no matter how he was born, Stuart was destined to be a father… Just as I was destined to become a mother.

“Now…” Stuart coos to the giggling girl. “What ARE we going to call you?”

“Not ‘Jenna-Rae’, then?” I ask my husband, giggling as he playfully shakes his head. “Didn’t think so.”

“She didn’t even blink when you said that name so she obviously hasn’t associated it as her own yet,” Stuart says. “…Pick one.”

“…You pick one,” I retort. “You’re the one who hates ‘Jenna-Rae’. You come up with something better.”

“If you insist,” Stuart shrugs. “How about Rebecca?”

“Hilarious!” I retort, making Stuart- and, even better, our new daughter- laugh. “And no ‘Emma’ either.”

“And DEFINITELY not ‘Claire’,” Stuart says, earning a sympathetic smile from me. “Gah, why didn’t we discuss this earlier? Not like we didn’t have months to think about it…”

“There- there is one name,” I say hesitantly as memories of the past few months come rushing back to me. “Though feel free to say no…”

“What is it?” Stuart asks.

“It’s- it’s your dead middle name,” I sigh. “Middle deadname, whatever.”

“…Olivia?” Stuart asks.

“I know, I know,” I sigh. “You don’t need it ‘rubbing in’, constantly reminded of who you’re not. We’ll think of-“

“I love it,” Stuart whispers. “It- it was actually my grandmother’s name, that’s why I was given it. My paternal- my father’s mother’s name. I know he’ll love it. Reckon she would too. Olivia Milton… Has a nice ring to it.”

“You- you REALLY don’t mind?” I ask.

“Really,” Stuart says softly. “If it’s the name you want… Then that’s what the name will be.”

“…Thank you,” I whisper, sniffing back a tear. “I love you so much…”

“I love you too,” Stuart whispers. “My TWO perfect girls, hehe!”

“Heh,” I chuckle as for the first time ever in my real life, I gaze into the tiny face of my daughter Olivia.

“She’ll need a middle name, you know,” Stuart says, making me giggle.

“You can choose that one,” I say, prompting a snort of laughter from my husband.

“Oh please,” Stuart scoffs. “As if there was ever any doubt what her middle name would be?” I grin as Stuart continues rocking the baby- our daughter, Olivia- in his arms. He’s right- there was only ever one name I could honour my daughter by giving her.

We spend the next 45 minutes with Olivia, playing with her, giving her a feed (under the strict instruction of the woman who’d been caring for her, of course) and getting to know all about what she likes and dislikes. However, Stuart and I are both well aware that 45 minutes is hardly enough time to even scratch the surface. Baby or not, Olivia is a whole human being in her own right, and it’s going to take a lifetime to truly know her- and I for one can’t wait to get started! So much so, in fact, that when the time comes to hand her back to her care worker, tears immediately start streaming down my face.

“That’s also a perfectly natural reaction,” the care worker says as she sits our daughter back down on her knee. “But don’t worry, soon you’ll never have to give her back!”

“Trust me, when she’s my age I’ll have trouble giving her to anyone else,” I say, earning chuckles from everyone.

“Have you had the chance to think of a name yet?” Stacey asks. “If you have, then we can get all the forms finished off today so you can take her home tomorrow.”

“We’ve got a name,” Stuart says, smiling as he links his fingers with me. “A full name, middle name and all.” I smile as Stacey nods and leads us back to the office where we’d met earlier, where we finish filling in the forms that will officially make Olivia our daughter forever…

After what feels like an encyclopaedia’s worth of paperwork, Stuart and I leave the office with wide smiles on our faces, smiles that only grow even wider when we bid farewell to Olivia with gentle kisses on her tiny forehead. Once again, I feel my heart break at the thought of being separated from the little girl, but that’s soon replaced by excitement at the prospect of becoming a full-time mother, which I will be in less than 24 hours’ time.

“…Take it we’re going shopping for toys and baby clothes on the way home?” Stuart asks as we get back in his car.

“Hell yes we’re going shopping for toys and baby clothes!” I laugh. “I almost can’t believe it’s real…”

“Oh, you’ll know it’ll be real the first time you change her nappy,” Stuart laughs.

“Bring it on,” I say with a grin. “Can’t wait to show off Olivia to everyone, to the girls, to our parents… To Charlotte…”

“She will be SERIOUSLY jealous that we have a girl,” Stuart sighs.

“Meh, she can always make one herself,” I say, before letting out a long sigh. “But you’re not wrong… Are- are you okay that we, you know, have a daughter?”

“Are you kidding?” Stuart replies with a wide, goofy grin. “I doubt I’ll be able to sleep tonight, I’m so excited…”

“I know the feeling,” I say, getting out my phone to check my messages and sighing at the first one on the screen.

“Who’s called?” My husband asks.

“Mikey,” I say. “Quick reminder we’re not the only ones bringing a child home tomorrow. Well, today, in their case. Think by now they’ll actually already be home.”

“We can drop in on them on the way home,” Stuart shrugs. “We won’t be buying anything perishable today, right?”

“Right,” I reply.

“And besides,” Stuart says with a sly grin, “You just know that Krystie will be ECSTATIC at the thought of the ‘fab five’- Olivia, Maria, Stephi, Natasha and Destiny.”

“Very true!” I giggle. “I take it we’re also signing Olivia up for Krystie’s toddler class when we see her?”

“Hell yeah we’re signing Olivia up for Krystie’s toddler class!” Stuart says, making us both laugh as we spend the rest of the afternoon browsing seemingly every baby shop in London.

After the shops close, and with a boot full of toys and tiny dresses, Stuart and I head to Krystie and Mikey’s home, which is naturally abuzz with excitement- excitement that only grows when we share our own good news. Fortunately, Krystie herself is the more excited for us than anyone, and practically forces us to sign the application form for Olivia for her ballet class- not that we take much forcing! Naturally, she grins (and actually has to wipe away a tear) when she sees the middle name we gave our daughter.

With the boot of our car still full of baby-related goodies, we’re not able to stay at Krystie’s for long, which makes both of us feel a little guilty despite Krystie’s reassurances (we ARE little Maria’s godparents, after all). Our guilt soon disappears, however, when we arrive back home and begin filling our nursery- or, as it is now known, Olivia’s bedroom- with all the toys and clothes we bought today. As the room takes shape, I feel more and more excited- even more than I did for our own bedroom. It’s almost like our family and our house are becoming complete at the same time- all that’s needed now is Olivia herself.

Less than ten minutes after packing everything away in Olivia’s room- and before we’ve even had the chance to eat dinner- a knock comes from our front door, surprising me and my husband.

“…Is she early?” Stuart asks. “Thought they were bringing Olivia round tomorrow…”

“I’ll check,” I say, opening the door and gasping in surprise at the identity of the person on the doorstep. “Be- Beverly? What are you doing here?”

“Hello, Jamie!” The woman who’s been my (and Stuart’s) counsellor for six years says with a grin. “Can I come in?”

“Umm, sure,” I say, leading the middle-aged woman into the living room, where she greets both of us with a gentle hug.

“I heard on the grapevine that two of my favourite clients over the last few years had just become parents,” Beverly says with a warm smile. “So I thought I’d drop in to see how you were doing.”

“We’re only parents in the legal sense right now,” Stuart explains. “Don’t get to actually bring our daughter home until tomorrow. And that’s a bit low, using your daughter to spy on us, isn’t it?”

“Daughter-in-law, actually,” Beverly says with a smug grin. “She texted me with the good news, suggested I might drop round to see how you’re both doing… Don’t worry, I won’t charge for this ‘session’, heh.”

“Well, we definitely appreciate the gesture,” Stuart says with a warm smile.

“Definitely,” I concur. “This is your first time here as well, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Beverly says. “I definitely like the place, very homely… A great place to raise a child.”

“Have you, you know, ‘had’ many transgendered patients who’ve become parents?” Stuart asks.

“Obviously I can’t go into details,” Beverly says. “All I’ll say is that you’re not the first transgendered parents there have been, not by a long shot. In my experience it’s slightly more common for people to become parents before transitioning, though.”

“Though of course, there’ll always be people who say that transgendered people should never be parents no matter what,” Stuart sighs.

“Well, they’ll just have to learn to deal with it,” Beverly shrugs. “And I know you’ll both be great parents. You’ve both matured a lot in the time I’ve known you, you work so well as a couple and you’ll both obviously have a lot of room in your hearts for the child.”

“Thanks,” I whisper. “We’ll happily take any, you know, ‘regular’ parenting tips you might have, heh.”

“Apart from how to keep your child from partying too hard, as you don’t seem to have mastered that yet,” Stuart teases, making our counsellor shake her head and chuckle.

“In fairness, neither did my own mother,” Beverly says with a sly grin. “When I was Sarah’s age… Yeah, there are a few stories THERE. Then again, when I was Sarah’s age, I wasn’t living independently, let alone married. Scary to think that she’ll be 21 in a few months, seems like just yesterday when I was bringing her home for the first time.”

“Ahh, I don’t want to think about THAT just yet, we haven’t even got her home yet!” I chuckle.

“Sorry, sorry,” Beverly laughs. “But you WILL find that the time absolutely flies over the next few years. Of course, if you ever need any advice, or just someone to talk to, I’ll only ever be a phone call away.”

“Just like you’ve always been there over the last six years,” I say with a grin, before chuckling and exchanging a quick hug with the older woman. “Thank you, thank you so much for everything you’ve done for me.”

“Especially your testimony for the adoption panel,” Stuart says.

“Just part of the job,” Beverly says.

“No, you’ve gone WAY above and beyond the call of duty,” I say. “You’ve been more than just a counsellor, you’ve been a friend, a confidante, even a surrogate mother when I needed you. THANK. YOU.”

“You’re. Welcome!” Beverly laughs as we spend the rest of the evening relaxing in our home, chatting about parenthood, before bidding Beverly a fond farewell and heading to bed, where Stuart and I try our hardest to get to sleep despite our obvious excitement about tomorrow.

“Mum!” Olivia protests as I give her yet another hug. “The taxi’s not going to wait forever!”

“They wait long enough for me to give you another hug,” I say, tightening my grip on the squirming eighteen year old.

“I’m not sure I can,” Olivia moans, before giggling and wriggling free of my hug.

“Just remember that this will ALWAYS be your home,” I say, making the brown-haired girl smile and wipe a tear from her eye.

“I will,” Olivia sniffles. “I’ll see you later, mum.”

“See you, daughter,” I whisper as we exchange another tight hug. “I love you…”

“I love you too, mum…” Olivia sniffles as I feel her embrace tighten around my body…

“Hey,” Stuart whispers in my ear, shattering the illusion of the dream and bringing me crashing back to reality. “Hey, wake up… Big day today.”

“Mmph,” I tiredly moan as I open my eyes. “…Yeah, hehe! What time are they getting here?”

“Any time after 10:30,” Stuart says. “I’ve sent a text to the godparents, the grandparents and the aunts and uncles, they’ll be here later in the day.”

“Thanks babe,” I say, exchanging a kiss with my husband. “God, I hope Olivia doesn’t get stressed with so many people being around…”

“Our living room’s big enough,” Stuart shrugs. “Heh, worrying about our daughter and she hasn’t even arrived yet? You’ll be an AMAZING mum.”

“…Thanks,” I whisper, exchanging another kiss with Stuart before watching with a sigh as he heads toward our en-suite.

After showering myself, I get dressed in a very casual long-sleeved black bodysuit and a slender ankle-length grey skirt, before heading downstairs to find Stuart hard at work ensuring that all the baby-proofing we had added to our kitchen works properly. I let out a quiet giggle as Stuart gives one of our cupboards a firm yank, but fails to dislodge the safety catches we have in place.

“You show that cupboard who’s boss!” I tease, giggling as my husband rolls his eyes.

“Yes, it’s the boss,” Stuart says with a snort of laughter. “As long as Olivia isn’t stronger than me…”

“Nah, no chance of that!” I giggle as I sneak up behind Stuart and give his fledgling abs a firm grope. “Mmm… Muscles!”

“Stop it,” Stuart says, before giggling. “Okay, don’t stop it, just not in front of Olivia. Deal?”

“Damn right it’s a deal,” I giggle. “Ahh… SO excited about today!” Almost as if on cue, a knock comes from our front door, and I feel my heart almost leap into my throat in anticipation.

“I’ll go,” Stuart says, clearly as anxious as I am.

“WE’LL go,” I say, linking my fingers with my husband’s to stop my hands from trembling.

When I open the door, I’m briefly disappointed to find that it’s not the care worker on the other side of the door with our new daughter- however, the people on the other side of the door are almost as good.

“Hey Jay!” Charlotte squeaks, giving me a hug with one arm whilst holding onto her two year old son’s hand with the other. “Sorry we’re early… I just really, REALLY wanted to be here to meet my new goddaughter!”

“Oh- you know you’re welcome here anytime and for as long as you want!” I giggle, returning my BFF’s hug. “All three of you, hehe!”

“Thanks,” Keith (senior) says with a grin as he takes his son’s hand and follows Stuart into the living room.

“Soo…” Charlotte giggles. “What’s she like? I want to hear ALL about her, you were at Krystie’s so little last night we barely got the chance to chat! Is she cute? Does she have blonde hair?”

“Slow down, slow down!” I giggle. “Come on up to the nursery, we’ll leave the BOYS to their thing!” Charlotte giggles and squeaks excitedly as she follows me up the stairs to Olivia’s bedroom, where we sit down together on the toy box (which, after yesterday, is brim-filled with soft toys and dolls).

“Okay,” I say, taking a deep breath. “One question at a time.”

“Is she cute?” Charlotte immediately asks.

“Duh!” I reply, earning another half-giggle half-squeak from my BFF.

“What colour’s her hair?” Charlotte asks.

“Brown,” I say, trying not to sigh. “Just like her dad’s, though. And yes, by ‘dad’ I of course mean my hunk of a husband!”

“So cool!” Charlotte squeaks. “And the big one… What’s her name?”

“…Olivia,” I say, earning a happy sigh from Charlotte. “It’s a name I’ve always loved, it was Stuart- it was Stuart’s grandmother’s name…”

“Any middle names?” Charlotte asks. “Or is she going middle name free like her mum? And yes, by mum I mean YOU, MRS Milton!”

“Oh, she has a middle name,” I say with a knowing grin. “You’ll find that out soon enough. Assuming you ever come down from this caffeine buzz, anyway!”

“Haven’t drank a single drop of coffee this morning!” Charlotte says with her trademark smug grin. “Not. A. Drop.”

“Charlotte Hartley NOT drinking coffee first thing in the morning?” I ask. “What kind of miracle is this?”

“The same ‘miracle’ that causes two lines to appear on a stick when you pee on it…” Charlotte teases, making my jaw drop.

“Wha- you- really!?” I squeak.

“Uh-huh!” Charlotte nods, bouncing up and down with excitement. “Literally just found out this morning, Keith’s the only other person I’ve told, I wanted you to be the next, Mrs Godmother!”

“Oh my god thank you so much!” I squeak, giving Charlotte another long, tight hug.

"Oh please," my pregnant BFF giggles, "as if I was going to choose anyone else?"

"Even though I'm already godmother to your first child?" I ask.

"Jamie," Charlotte sighs, a wide grin on her face. "If I have TEN kids, I'd want you to be godmother to all of them. I've said it before and I'll say it again: you're not just my friend. You're not just my BFF, even. You're my sister. And you always will be."

"...Thank you," I mumble, tears trickling down my cheeks as I lean in for yet another hug.

"Heh," Charlotte chuckles. "If I'd only known all those years ago that a boy would be the best girl friend I'd ever have..."

"If only I'd known all those years ago," I say, making my 'sister' grin.

"If- if you'd known what your life would be like now," Charlotte hesitantly asks. "Would you have, you know, transitioned earlier?"

"In a heartbeat," I say. "Literally no hesitation at all. This is who I was always destined to be. You- you gave me a life I never could have dreamed of. I truly do owe everything to you."

"And yet," Charlotte giggles. "If I'd asked you, those six and half years ago, to do what you did for me, you'd probably have said 'no'."

"Well," I shrug, "that just goes to show that BOYS need to stop being such macho idiots and open their minds to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, being a girl can be a million times better than being a boy ever is!"

"Damn right!" Charlotte laughs. "...Heh, I've already missed these little chats of ours, you know?"

"Me too," I sigh. "But that doesn't mean they've ended for good, right? So we've grown up. Doesn't mean we have to grow apart."

"Never," Charlotte says, leaning in for yet another hug, before I shudder with nerves as a knock comes from our front door.

"Speaking of growing up," I whisper. "This is it... The ultimate 'growing up' moment."

"Good luck," Charlotte whispers, giving my hand a supportive squeeze as I head downstairs to rendezvous with my husband.

Together, Stuart and I open the door to be greeted by the same care worker we met yesterday, who's carrying a baby's car seat that contains the single most precious thing in the entire universe.

"Say hello to your new home, Olivia!" The care worker says, allowing me to take the infant girl out of the seat and cradle her in my arms.

"Oh wow," Charlotte gasps as she sees me cuddle my daughter for the first time. "You weren't kidding, she really is cute..."

"I told you," I whisper, gazing deep into Olivia's brown eyes. "Welcome home, Olivia... You're going to love this place. Not just because of where it is, but because of who comes here... Say hi to Auntie Charlotte and Uncle Keith!"

"She is seriously cute," Keith says with a grin, before giving his son a playful nudge. "Say hi to your new cousin, son!" The adults in the room all sigh happily as Keith junior anxiously waves at the baby, before we all sit down as the care worker explains how the transition- a word that causes Stuart and I to share a private chuckle- will take place, how Olivia will gradually spend more and more time at the house until she's permanently left in our care (though will still be regularly visited by the care worker to make sure everything's going smoothly).

I try to pay attention to what's being said, but the presence of my daughter in my arms is a distraction unlike any other. Even when the dreaded first nappy change rolls around a few minutes into the discussion, I not only carry that out willingly, but with a smile on my face.

Naturally, Olivia is the centre of attention when her godparents, grandparents, aunts and uncles drop round shortly afterward, with my father in particular having a hard time putting her down- not least thanks to the very uncharacteristic 'this is what the world's greatest grandad looks like' t-shirt he's for some reason decided to wear today.

Once everyone is assembled, and with Olivia obviously getting tired and agitated due to the sheer amount of (deserved) attention she's getting, Stuart and I quiet everyone down, before heading to the front of the room to make an announcement.

"Everyone, we have something we'd like to say," I announce, gently rocking Olivia in my arms to try to calm her down.

"By now, you've all had a chance to meet the newest member of our family," Stuart says. "And it is OUR family. Everyone in this room is either a legal relative, a godparent or partner of a godparent to our new daughter. All of you will play an important part in Olivia's life, especially the four people we've chosen as godparents."

"Even though Stuart and I aren't particularly religious," I continue, "we have decided to have Olivia Christened, as a nod to our parents. However, before we do so, we wish to conduct an informal 'naming ceremony' today, in front of all of you." I smile nervously as I hand the restless infant to her father, who cradles her in his arms.

"We have named you Olivia," Stuart says to our daughter, "in honour of your great-grandmother, a woman who you will never know, but without whom, you would not be in this room right now, surrounded by love on all sides. She was a strong, independent woman, who lived through great hardship, through war and poverty, but who emerged from it as a woman who would not allow herself to be dictated to by anyone. Your mother wears her ring on her hand, I keep her memory in my heart, and you will forever bear her name." I take a deep breath as Stuart gingerly hands Olivia back to me.

"For your middle name," I say quietly. "We have chosen a name that has come to symbolise a friendship that runs deeper than most blood. A name that will forever be the name that brought new life into a stagnant existence, and a name that proved that anything is possible if you truly believe, and if you have the right friends. Because if there is one lesson to take away from life, it's that you can never have too many friends." I gaze at my BFF, who is on the verge of tears as I finish my address.

"Your middle name," I whisper to my daughter. "Will be..."

"Charlotte."

----------
ELEVEN YEARS LATER
----------

"Proud mum, then?" Krystie asks me with a smug grin as I stare at my eleven year old daughter. Her long brown hair is tied into a severe bun, and she has a wide, happy grin on her freckled face. Her torso is covered by a black tank leotard, her legs are encased in soft pink tights, and on her feet, for the first time ever, are a pair of shiny satin pointe shoes.

"You can talk!" I retort, pointing to the barre next to Olivia, where the tall, thin and blonde Maria Dawson is stood, also en pointe for the very first time. Off to one side, Natasha Carter, Destiny (or as she prefers to be called, Dezzie) Benedict and Stephi Abbott are also trying on their very own pointe shoes. It would make sense that the five of them would 'graduate' onto pointe shoes at the same time- they've been inseparable for their whole lives... Just as I've been with my Angels.

Over the course of the last decade, things have changed in my life. Our reality show ended for good, I began to take on more behind-the-scenes responsibilities at the agency and despite my best efforts, my body steadily moved away from 'youthful' to 'middle-aged'. It's hard to believe that I'll be 37 a few weeks from now- or, as Charlotte prefers to describe herself, '35+2'.

Some things, however, will never change. My love for my friends is as strong as it ever was. Members of the Angels came and went, but all of us have remained friends forever. All of us still living in London certainly helps- but what undoubtedly helps the most is that as I mentioned earlier, our children are all as close as we were all those years ago. And next week, our 'fab five' all start the same secondary school together- something that is truly making me feel old.

Olivia has become such an independent young woman that it's almost frightening. I can still remember the first time she came home, when was just six months old. She seemed so dependent, so vulnerable... But that soon changed. In the blink of an eye, she was walking, talking, and soon afterward, dancing. She has the same love for dancing as her mother, and the same love for music as her father- who was, of course, only too happy to nurture that love.

Stuart himself has truly been my rock the last few years. Our love for each other only grew with Olivia's presence in our lives, and I truly can't imagine going a single day without his strong, loving presence next to me, supporting me and loving me with every inch of his being, just as I love him.

The other person whose support I truly depended on over the last decade was my BFF. Despite living apart, Charlotte and I grew closer than ever, united by the bond of motherhood. Eight and a half months after announcing her pregnancy, Charlotte got her wish and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. However, as always, it was a case of 'be careful what you wish for', as mere minutes after giving birth... Charlotte have birth to ANOTHER, identical baby girl. The twins, now ten, see me and Stuart as their aunt and uncle just as much as their older brother does- or rather, as much as their older brother would, if he, like a typical thirteen year old boy, wasn't too busy playing videogames or hanging out with his girlfriend (who, naturally, is Kristina-Leigh Carter). The fact that Charlotte named the twins 'Jamie' and 'Lee' certainly helps- and, naturally, made me bawl my eyes out for hours when she broke the news of the names to me.

"But mummmm..." I hear one of the twins plead, bringing a smug smile to my face.

"No, Lee!" Charlotte admonishes her daughter. "You know what Auntie Krystie said, no pointe shoes until you're eleven! You'll get your turn next year, I promise. Provided you both keep up with your lessons!"

"Yes, mum," the other twin mumbles as my BFF approaches us, her daughters trailing behind her. Naturally, despite the fact that we're both in our mid-thirties, we greet each other with the same tight, loving hugs we've been greeting each other with for the past seventeen years of knowing each other.

"Hey Jay!" Charlotte giggles. "So... Proud mum, then?"

"Already been there!" Krystie giggles. "And yes. We BOTH are, hehe!"

"And you have every right to be, both of you," Charlotte says with a warm grin. "Hard to believe it's been eleven years for both of you... Where HAS the time gone?"

"Into those little treasures," Krystie says. "I know me and Mikey didn't work out, but she was worth all the arguments, all the fallings out..."

"I'd crawl through hell for my kids," Charlotte sighs happily. "Just- just don't tell them that, hehe. In fact... I'd crawl through hell for any of you girls too. Happily would, in fact."

"Right back at you," I giggle, exchanging another hug with my BFF, which quickly turns into a group hug with Krystie and Mary (who's just finished paying for Natasha's pointe shoes).

"What was the hug in aid of?" Mary asks, earning giggles from the three of us.

"Does it need to be in aid of anything?" I ask, causing yet more giggles.

"Sure, I don't care what your DNA says, there's no way you were EVER anything other than 100% girl!" Mary teases.

"Why thank you, Mrs Carter!" I retort, before giggling as Olivia comes rushing over to me with a pair of brand-new pointe shoes in her hands.

"Mum," my daughter says, "Madame Renou-Briggs says these are the right ones for me, can you come and pay for them, please?"

"Of course," I say, placing a gentle hand on my daughter's back as she leads me to the till, where my credit card is put to use. Fortunately, I know my daughter well enough to know that she WILL dedicate herself to her dancing, and that the pointe shoes we bought today WILL be used extensively over the coming few weeks.

"What time's Cassie Moore getting here?" Olivia asks, making me roll my eyes at the mention of the rising star of the ballet world.

"She'll be here later," I reply. "We won't leave without giving you a chance to say hi, I promise."

"You might want to tell him that, then," Olivia says, pointing to a back corner of the store where my husband is sat with the other male relatives of the girls.

"Don't worry, I will," I say with a grin. "Go on, go talk to your friends."

"Thanks, mum," Olivia says, moving to rush off only to be stopped by my hand on her shoulder.

"First, though..." I say, opening my arms. "Come on, I DID pay for your pointes..."

"...Okay," Olivia sighs, before grinning as we exchange a loving hug. "Thanks mum. You're the best!"

"I know," I say with a smug grin as Olivia rushes back to compare her new footwear with her friends whilst I head toward the 'male' corner of the shop.

"Hey," Stuart says, greeting me with a gentle kiss as I sit down next to him.

"He's getting restless, then?" I ask my husband.

"A bit," Stuart shrugs. "To be fair, I kinda am too... Knew one of us should've picked Cassie up and given her a lift to the store."

"Ever been in the same car as Cassie Moore?" I retort. "She'd have exhausted you before we reached the end of our driveway. It's okay, she'll be here in a bit." I smile as I hear a familiar, tiny voice call out to me.

"Mum..." The young voice calls.

"Yes, Mark?" I ask the seven year old boy.

"I'm bored..." Our adoptive son moans, earning sighs from both myself and his father.

"We won't be long," I say soothingly. "We're just waiting for your sister's mentor Cassie to arrive, then we can go and do what you want, okay?"

"Well- okay," Mark mumbles. "Can we have lunch at McDonalds today, please?"

"Sure thing," Stuart says with a warm smile that pacifies our son, before sitting back in his chair and stretching his legs.

"Scars hurting again?" I ask my husband, who simply sighs in response.

"...They'll be fine," Stuart sighs. "Sometimes I do kinda wonder whether or not they're all worth it, though." I smile sympathetically as I stare down at my legs, which are covered by translucent tights and a smart black pencil skirt, knowing that underneath the clothes is also a vagina that I was not born with, and only have thanks to 21st century medicine. However, it's something I can't imagine living without, and don't want to live without- much like my husband, my children or my friends.

"Yeah," I whisper as I sit back and enjoy the feeling of the shared love of our 'extended family'. "It was worth every second."



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