Jacinta, part 7

“Okay then,” I say to myself as I stare at the mountain of paperwork in front of me. “One written assignment, one practical assignment and about two hundred photos, and roughly a week in which to do them. Easy.”

“Umm… They don’t have to be in until December,” Katie reminds me. “Unless you plan on spending all of next week working and all your free time AFTER next week partying? Because, you know, I can kinda get behind THAT, it’s just- you know? I’m probably going to be either drunk, hungover, or a little thing I like to call ‘drunkover’ for basically every second of this coming week!”

“The sooner it’s done, the sooner I can stop worrying about them,” I retort. “Besides, I’m going home this week, to see dad… He’s not exactly the biggest party animal in the world. Neither’s Ophelia, actually…”

“Oh, I dunno about THAT,” Katie giggles. “She’s had fun on all our nights out, hasn’t she?”

“Well- yeah…” I concede with a giggle. “Though I reckon- ugh, this’ll sound silly…”

“All the more reason to say it,” My freckled teases.

“…I know I have fun on our nights out because I’m with a gang of girls who I know like me for ME,” I mumble. “I’m 99% certain it’s the same for Ophelia too.”

“Aww…” Katie coos, ambushing me with a playful hug. “Well, for what it’s worth, the same DEFINITELY goes for me and Lauren. And Snikki too! I know Nikki is REALLY happy she’s got another friend like- umm, well, umm, you know…”

“Meh, you should know by now that I don’t mind you saying it out loud,” I shrug.

“…In fairness, I HAVE only known you for a month,” Katie says with a smirk.

“I know, it feels like so much longer…” I say, before biting my lip as I realise my faux pas. “Umm, I mean-“

“I know what you mean,” Katie giggles, giving me a gentle hug. “Come on, don’t want to keep Lauren, Sarah and Ophelia- Lausarelia?”

“…Keep working on that,” I say, making Katie giggle again.

“If I get the time during the weekend,” Katie says. “Between all the partying anyway, hehe!” I share yet another giggle with the excitable young woman before heading to the front entrance of our university, where as predicted, our three friends are waiting for us.

“FINALLY!” Lauren says with a deep pout as she, Sarah and Ophelia tap their feet at us.

“Sorry…” I grimace, before sighing as the three girls all start to snigger at us. “…Okay, NOT sorry then!”

“We only got here a few seconds ago anyway,” Sarah explains. “SO looking forward to this week off…”

“And I wonder why?” Katie teases as she playfully grabs Sarah’s left hand- and the shiny diamond ring on its third finger. “Typical, eh? Sarah spends all of reading week in bed with her fiancée, while I spend it trying to fight off my idiot little brothers…”

“I’m not spending ALL of it in bed with Nikki,” Sarah retorts.

“So… Sofa, then?” Lauren teases.

“Bathtub?” Katie asks.

“Kitchen table?” Ophelia asks, the smirk on her magenta-coloured lips telling me that she’s having just as good a time as I am.

“…Yes, probably and maybe, in that order,” Sarah says with a sly wink. “First, though, we are five sexy, hard-working young women, and it’s Friday night, so you know what that means?”

“Party!” The five of us all cheer, startling our nearby classmates as we head to the nearest tube station.

As we walk, I can’t help but take in the appearances of the four girls, how different- but how unapologetically feminine- all four of them are. From Katie are her denim shorts with tights, to Lauren and her knee-length denim pencil skirt, to Sarah and her homemade A-line dress, to Ophelia in her usual eccentric gown, all of them- even my usually shy BFF- exude the kind of confidence you only find in a truly beautiful woman. And, much to my surprise… So do I.

In my tight black miniskirt, shiny black tights and striped long-sleeve top that’s cut just low enough to expose a titillating amount of cleavage, I am attracting just as much male attention as the other four girls, even from guys who know ‘the truth’ about me. As flattered as I am by the attention, however, I actually find that the thing that matters to me the most is the way Katie, Lauren and Sarah have unconditionally accepted me as ‘just one of the girls’… And the way they’ve accepted Ophelia as well.

Even though we’ve only known each other for a few weeks, the five of us are already close enough that we spend a LOT of our free time with each other, both working on assignments and for, well, more ‘extracurricular activities’. We’ve gone out clubbing every Friday night since we’ve met- with tonight obviously being no exception- and Katie and Lauren have stayed overnight in our sofa bed on more than one occasion. Neither girl has hesitated in the slightest when it comes to, for example, getting changed in front of me, or even discussing intimate things such as ‘lady troubles’, parts of their anatomy that I simply don’t have (well, don’t have YET, anyway). Even better is the way they actually go out of their way to include not just myself, but Ophelia in these conversations as well.

Despite their initial reluctance- and Sarah’s initial remarks about her- our three friends seem to like Ophelia more and more every time they see her, and it’s easy to tell that the feeling is mutual. Sometimes I forget that Ophelia had even fewer friends than I did when we were growing up, and this is her first time being part of a real ‘gang’, and as such, she often gets VERY enthusiastic about our little get-togethers. Well, until she realises how excitable she’s getting, anyway! Sarah and Lauren have already exchanged a lot of their design ideas with Ophelia and received a lot of her ideas in return, and even started work on their own tight-lacing corsets!

Of course, the fact that Katie, Lauren and Sarah have their own amount of fame certainly helps! Tom wasn't the only person excited by the fact that the 'Teen Angels' were studying at their university, and their fame has definitely helped make the start of our university career very smooth. I had worried that my bring transgendered would cause friction at the college, but it's very much a 'safe space' for LGBT people- especially those with famous friends!

The five of us are very much a proper little ‘clique’, and I’m loving every last second of it, but there is a part of me that feels guilty when I remember that our ‘five’ is in fact a ‘six’. Unlike Katie and Lauren, Nikki and Sarah have never slept overnight in our flat, and Nikki herself has only been in the flat a few times. Hell, I’ve only ever spoken to her on a few occasions, and on those occasions, I’ve always felt a little guilty, feeling (however wrongly) that Nikki thinks I’m intruding on ‘her’ gang or even replacing her, even though consciously I know that it was Nikki’s choice not to go to university, and Sarah clearly adores Nikki with all her heart (the engagement rings they were are kinda a hint of this). The one source of relief is that Nikki is as eager to be my friend as I am to be hers.

And, of course, the more time I spend in London, the more I feel guilty about leaving my father all alone on the coast. With our ‘extracurricular activities’ on Friday nights, our part-time jobs and our friends always being up for fun on Saturdays (and most Sundays too), Ophelia and I haven’t actually been back to Brighton since dad dropped us off at our new flat a month ago. I’ve talked to him loads on the telephone and on Facebook, and I know that Ophelia has chatted to him on Facebook as well (my BFF now embracing the website she despised for years), but it’s not the same as seeing him face to face and spending time with him. Then again, when we go back to Brighton, I’ll feel guilty for Ophelia, who obviously has no family she wants to see down in Brighton but will go there anyway…

Everyone has told me over and over again that I shouldn’t feel guilty about supposedly ‘letting people down’, and that as it’s impossible to please everyone all the time, I shouldn’t even try- especially as there are people in the world who believe that I shouldn’t even have the right to live my life the way I want, the way I love. And while THOSE people can obviously take a running jump, I still feel that I should do more for the people who have done so much for me.

Fortunately, whenever I feel like that, dad always reminds me of one piece of advice I’ve taken to heart- that enjoying myself and having fun is more than enough ‘reward’ for him. And tonight, I intend to do just that!

After a very quick microwaved dinner, Ophelia and I head straight to our bedroom, where we strip down to our underwear and immediately set about transforming ourselves from 'cute college girls' to 'sexy goddesses'. Extra-thick and extra-dark eye make-up goes on my face, followed by shiny lip gloss and a light layer of fake tan. I tease my hair to its maximum volume, before slipping my legs into a pair of shiny nude tights and squeezing my torso into my shortest, tightest clubbing dress. Finally, I slip my feet into my highest pair of platform stilettos, before grabbing my handbag and gazing at my reflection in the mirror... Before looking at my BFF, whose attire makes me look like I'm wearing pyjamas.

Of course, Ophelia's 'base' is her extra-tight corset (an overbust one with a built-in bra), which she has fastened shiny striped stockings to. Her dress is no more 'eccentric' than mine, but her accessories and make-up certainly are. Her extra-high collar almost looks like she's wearing a corset around her throat, her arms are covered in bicep-long black velvet gloves and her heels are an eye-watering seven inches high. Naturally, her eye make-up is much thicker and darker than mine, her lips are coated in shiny blood red lipstick, and instead of fake tan, Ophelia has gone the opposite route, smearing her face with a shiny pale foundation that gives her an almost ethereal look.

Nonetheless, I have a very sly, very smug smile on my face as I head down to the waiting taxi where Katie and Lauren are waiting, both wearing as much make-up (and as little clothing) as I am.

“God- tall enough?” The 5’ 4” in stocking feet Lauren protests as I slide onto the back seat of the taxi. “What, are you planning on pulling a basketball player tonight?”

“Hey, it’s not my fault I have ‘bad genes’,” I retort, making Lauren bite her lip in a guilty manner. “Agh- sorry, sorry…”

“No, my fault,” the black-haired girl sighs.

“In fairness, Lauren is used to hanging out with a stupidly tall girl who still wears stupidly tall heels,” Katie says.

“’Stupid’ being the word there,” Lauren snorts.

“Ah yes…” I say. “Forgot our ‘super six’ was actually a ‘magnificent seven’. Reckon Dannii’ll be out tonight?”

“Ugh, doubt it,” Lauren sighs, before a smile creeps across her face. “Which just means more fun for the rest of us, hehe!”

“And besides, you both should know the real reason that Jacinta wears such high heels,” Ophelia says, flashing a brief grin at me.

“Because they’re sexy?” Lauren asks.

“Because they’re girly and gorgeous?” Katie asks with a smirk. “Especially THOSE ones, hehe!”

“Why thank you, Miss Henderson!” I giggle, playfully fiddling with my shoes to the delight of my friends. “May I be the first to say: your heels are DAMNED sexy too!” The four of us all giggle excitedly as our taxi heads to its next destination- Sarah’s house, to pick up her and her fiancée- before ferrying us into the centre of the city and to a very noisy, very crowded nightclub.

Once we step out of the taxi, however, I get a little surprise as Sarah and Nikki coolly stride past the long queue waiting to get in, instead striding straight up to the bouncer and showing him a small piece of paper. Seconds later, the six of us are ushered straight into the club by the bouncers, bypassing the queue entirely, and escorted to the fancy VIP area.

“What. The. Fuck!?” I exclaim, bouncing up and down excitedly. “I didn’t realise you were THIS famous!”

“Well…” Nikki says with a sly grin. “I’M not, but…” My jaw- and, much to my surprise, Ophelia’s jaw- drops further when seconds later, the six of us are joined by two women whose faces we know VERY well.

“Hey girls!” The smiling face of Viks Brooks- one of the ‘Angels’ that Ophelia and I idolise- squeaks excitedly, exchanging a hug with Nikki and Sarah as though they were old friends.

“Hey girlIES!” the equally excited face of Krystie Fullerton says, exchanging hugs with all six of us without a second thought.

“Oh my god!” I squeak as the tall blonde woman hugs me. “I am SUCH a huge fan of yours!”

“God, Jacinta!” Nikki laughs. “You HAVE met her before, you know? You signed up for her class? Well, the waiting list, anyway…”

“Which you two will be a little further up today,” Krystie says with a knowing wink.

“Nikki figured that you girls deserved a little treat, what with it being your first proper reading week,” Viks explains. “Heh, I remember my first reading week. Well, some of it. Well… Maybe a couple of hours of it, hehe!”

“So, we figured we’d come along, flash our… Celebrity status, hehe!” Krystie giggles. “And help get your ‘amnesia week’ off to a great start!”

“Oh my god, thank you all SO much!” I squeak.

“Many, many thanks to all of you!” Ophelia says, her own refined voice cracking with excitement.

“Well we’re not just here to be thanked,” Krystie says with a smug grin. “I’m 23, my boyfriend's busy with work, and I NEED to party!”

“Party!” The rest of us all cheer simultaneously as Nikki re-emerges with a tray full of expensive-looking cocktails, which naturally get drank within seconds, as does the second tray that Nikki brings up shortly afterwards.

The evening (and subsequent night) passes by in a haze of dancing and drinking. Naturally, I get more and more drunk with every passing minute, and when I wake up on Saturday morning, I’m not even remotely surprised to find that my head is in absolute agony. What is surprising, however, is that rather than being in my bed, I’m uncomfortably slumped in our shower cubicle with just a blanket to preserve my modesty.

“…Fuck,” I sigh as I wrap the blanket tighter around my shivering body and pad out into our living room, where the noise of the TV tells me that I’m not the only person awake in the flat.

“Ophelia?” I ask, before the scene in our living room brings a wide grin to my face and helps erase some of the pain of the hangover.

“Not so loud,” Sarah moans as she cuddles up next to her fiancée on our sofa bed, their hungover (and very obviously naked) bodies covered by a thick blanket.

“Sorry,” I whisper, grinning over to Ophelia who is, as always, hard at work in our kitchen area making coffee and toast for everyone.

“Who’s that?” Nikki mumbles, her face buried in Sarah’s neck. “Someone with a magical cure for hangovers?”

“Just me I’m afraid,” I reply as I sip my extra-sweet, extra-strong coffee. “Though if you have a ‘hangover fairy’ costume I’ll happily wear it, heh.”

“Ugh, we really shouldn’t have drank so much last night,” Sarah laughs. “Got a birthday party tonight to go to as well…”

“You’re only eighteen once,” I shrug. “Take it from someone the grand old age of nineteen, hehe!”

“If only we’d known you last year when we wanted booze,” Nikki giggles.

“We’d have learned our lesson early,” Sarah giggles. “And not woken up on your sofa bed, heh.”

“Better than where I woke up,” I moan as I try to stretch my stiff joints while still preserving some of my modesty. “Why DID I wake up in the shower, anyway?”

“Because I was sleeping on the bathroom floor,” Ophelia replies.

“…Why were either of us sleeping in the bathroom at all?” I ask, prompting giggles from the couple snuggled up on our sofa bed.

“Katie and Lauren are in your beds,” Sarah says. “We would’ve been but you only have singles. And obviously, fuck that.”

“As long as you didn’t fuck that on our sofa,” I retort. “My dad might have to sleep there in… Oh, shit!”

“Don’t worry, don’t worry, your sofa is still fuck-free,” Nikki says. “Both of us were FAR too wasted last night.”

“It’s not that,” I moan. “My dad’ll be here to pick us up in just a few…” My sentence is interrupted by the sound of our flat’s doorbell ringing, which makes my stomach tie itself in a knot. “…Minutes.”

“Come on, Jacinta,” dad yells from outside the flat. “I can hear you in there, open up, it’s bloody freezing out here!”

“She’ll be right there!” Sarah yells despite her hangover, earning a death glare from me. After taking two deep breaths to compose myself, I rearrange my sheet and open the door, earning a long, loud sigh from my father.

“Good to see you’ve drank all your student loan already,” dad comments, visibly wincing at my breath as he walks into the living room. “Hello Ophelia. Hello random naked couple sleeping in my daughter’s sofa bed.”

“Hi Mr. Hanley,” Sarah says with a smug grin that, much like my grimace, only intensifies as Katie and Lauren drag their sheet-clad bodies out of my bedroom.

“…Next time, I’ll call ahead,” dad mumbles. “Try to avoid ruining your orgy.”

“This isn’t an orgy,” I moan. “Dad, meet Nikki, Sarah, Katie and Lauren, girls, meet my dad.”

“Ah, so YOU’RE Katie,” dad says, holding out his hand for Katie to shake before realising that there’s no way she can do that while preserving her modesty. “I always imagined you being a bit…”

“…Taller?” Katie asks.

“Less naked,” dad says, making Katie blush as everyone has a giggle at her expense.

“It was a Friday night, you expect us to stay in and watch QI?” I snort.

“It’s, um, it’s nice to meet you Mr. Hanley,” Katie mumbles.

“Friends of Jacinta and Ophelia can call me ‘Mike’,” dad says with a warm smile.

“…Mike,” Katie giggles nervously, leading to an awkward silence in the room.

“You- you girls DO know that it’s half past ten, right?” Dad says, making all of us grimace.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around what day it is,” I sigh. “You- you all got a change of clothes with you?”

“We’ll be fine,” Sarah sighs. “Assuming my mum doesn’t kill me. Ugh, which will probably happen.”

“Good job I’m not due at work until 5pm,” Katie sighs.

“Good job I’ve booked the week off,” I say with a snort of laughter.

“…I can always come back later when you’re all a little less, well, corpse-like?” Dad says.

“That will not be necessary,” Ophelia says, earning angry stares from the rest of us that at first causes her to grimace, before a smug grin slowly creeps across her face. “Would you like a cup of coffee, Mike?”

“Not as much as these five!” Dad laughs. “Assuming by ‘cup’ you mean ‘IV drip’. Good to see you’re still the sensible one, Ophelia. With your, umm, turquoise hair and all.”

“Thank you, Mike,” Ophelia says smugly, before handing yet more cups of coffee to those of us still suffering.

“Seriously, though,” dad says, “As excited as most men would be to be stood in the middle of a bunch of naked eighteen year old girls, I think I probably had better let you all get dressed. I’ll swing back around in about 45 minutes. With a packet of mints as well.” As my father departs, the giggles of my friends cause my cheeks to flush with embarrassment.

“Aww…” Lauren giggles. “Don’t be TOO embarrassed, Jacinta. Your dad’s cool! God knows my dad would probably have had a fit if he saw me like this…”

“Yeah, mine too,” Sarah chuckles. “My stepmother’s head would probably explode, heh. So would my actual mother, come to think of it.”

“My mother would probably wonder why we aren’t all already drinking again,” Ophelia muses, before grimacing as an awkward silence falls over the room.

“…Haha, Jacinta’s dad recognised my name more than you two so-called ‘celebrities’,” Katie teases Sarah and Nikki, who respond by rolling their eyes at the freckled girl.

“Whatever,” Nikki snorts, before letting out a long sigh. “We probably should get dressed, don’t want another bollocking from Jacinta’s dad.”

“Knock yourself out,” I shrug.

“…Privacy?” Sarah protests, making the rest of us giggle as we leave the couple alone in the living room.

“Just remember,” I warn. “That sofa stays fuck free, alright?”

45 minutes later, as promised, dad returns in his car, and as promised, Katie, Lauren, Sarah and Nikki are gone, and Ophelia and I are fully washed, made-up and dressed, and ready for our trip back to the south coast.

“Everyone gone?” Dad asks as he pokes his head around the door. “You’ve not another naked woman stuffed in the airing closet, have you?”

“…Why would I be interested in naked women at all, anyway?” I retort.

“Touché,” dad mumbles. “All packed?”

“We have everything we need,” Ophelia says. “Though I will miss this place while we are away.”

“Nothing like having your own place,” dad says. “I remember my first shithole. I mean flat. Moved in just before I met your mother for the first time…” I bite my lip as an awkward silence once again fills the room.

“Anyway,” I say. “Let’s get going, sooner we leave, sooner we’re home…”

“Yeah,” dad mumbles. “I, umm, don’t suppose you’ve been following Albion this season, have you?”

“…On and off,” I reply. “Kinda got, you know, other things on my mind, heh.”

“Clothes, make-up, boys and alcohol?” Dad asks.

“…And uni work,” I say.

“Good,” dad says with a grin. “That’s always been my dream. Well, my big three dreams, anyway. You graduating from uni, you getting married, and Brighton getting promoted to the premier league.”

“I wouldn’t hold your breath on those last two just yet,” I say, making dad snort with laughter. “Especially not number two.”

"Oh, I dunno," dad says with a smirk as we lock the door behind us and get into his waiting car. "Albion ARE top of the league. But I take it you're still single, then?"

“Ugh, that’s putting it mildly,” I sigh. “I’ve been to parties, got chatting to guys… Plenty of hotness on display. More than a little cuteness too, but no, you know, ‘Prince Charming’.”

“You’ve been at it a month,” dad says softly. “Give it time.”

“Not many parents who would encourage their male-born child to find ‘Prince Charming’,” I muse.

“What was number two on my bucket list again?” Dad asks. “Your mother and I always wanted a girl, you know that. Someone I could eventually walk down the aisle on their wedding day… Of course, the original plan was a girl as well as you, but I’ll settle for what I have.”

“So…” I muse. “Your entire bucket list is just me and football? No, you know, climbing Kilimanjaro? Or seeing an eclipse? I know you’ve always talked about THAT in the past, how you missed the 1999 one…”

“No way I’m lugging my fat arse up a mountain at my age,” dad chuckles. “An eclipse would be cool but there aren’t any decent ones in Europe for ages. Jacinta… Don’t worry about my bucket list. Get your own one written and start working on it, okay? I’ve already crossed off the two biggest ones on my list anyway.”

“Which were?” I ask.

“Marry the girl of my dreams and become a father,” dad whispers, making me bite my lip as I feel tears form in the corners of my eyes.

“…Have you got any music in this thing?” I mumble as I reach for dad’s iPod, which he’s hooked up to the car’s stereo.

“Knock yourself out,” dad shrugs as I scroll through the albums available, before gasping in shock as I find the one album I would NEVER have expected my father to own.

“…Out. Of. Heaven?” I ask my father, who simply shrugs in response.

“I liked their music when I heard it on the radio,” the middle-aged man- who is as far from Out of Heaven’s intended audience as it’s possible to get- says. “Bought the album on iTunes, thought it was pretty good.”

“Is this the band that Sarah and Nikki are friends with?” Ophelia asks.

“Ah, so I’m going to have a famous daughter soon, am I?” Dad asks, chuckling as I blush. “That should help with ‘Prince Charming’…”

“Music time!” I say, grinning as the familiar opening bars of ‘No More Lies’ fill the car.

Before long- but after the album has had the time to play one and a half times- dad’s car is rolling along the familiar streets of my hometown, and shortly afterward, we’re pulling onto the driveway of the house- no, the HOME where I grew up. I try (and fail) to suppress yet more tears as the three of us walk into the living room and I see my mum’s urn sat in its usual place- the surest sign yet that I truly am home.

“Good to be home, isn’t it?” Dad asks with a chuckle as he sits down in his usual chair.

“Ugh, you have no idea,” I laugh as I collapse down on the sofa, while Ophelia elegantly sits down next to me. “As much as I love London, I HAVE missed this place.”

“I bet,” dad says softly. “You know what’d make it feel even more like home? Unpacking all your shit.” Ophelia and I look at each other stoically, before taking the hint and unpacking our bags, me placing all my clothes, make-up and books in my bedroom whilst Ophelia dumps her limited possessions beside the sofa where she'll sleep over the next week.

With us both finally settled in, the two of us head back down to the living room, where dad greets us with a warm, wide smile.

“MUCH better,” dad chuckles as Ophelia and I sit down again. “Right then, what’ve you both got planned for the week?”

“Umm, probably working on my assignments,” I shrug. “Might… Heh, I dunno really. Thinking about it, it’s not like I have any friends in Brighton I really want to catch up with.”

“The same applies for me,” Ophelia says with a tinge of sadness in her voice. “Especially not my so-called family.”

”…Well don’t rely on me to entertain you all this week,” dad says with a snort of laughter. “Some of us have REAL work to do.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” I sigh. “We might head out tonight, I guess, check out some of the clubs, see how they compare to London…”

“That’s an impressive commitment to the student lifestyle, considering you’re still drunk from last night,” dad chuckles.

“I’m not still drunk,” I moan. “…Maybe hungover. But still, you know?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” dad chuckles, before reaching down beside him and throwing me the TV remote control. “Go on, put on whatever you want. Think I might still have season 2 of the Angels on the Sky Plus box. Meanwhile, I shall be at Falmer Stadium, watching the best football team in the world batter Preston."

“Perfect,” I say with a grin as Ophelia and I relax back into the sofa and set ourselves up for a lazy afternoon.

After our binge-watching session ends and we eat a light dinner, Ophelia and I head up to my bedroom, where- just like last night- we spend almost an hour transforming ourselves with our hair volumisers, our make-up bags and, of course, our vast wardrobes. I have a smug smile on my face as I emerge from my bedroom looking and feeling just as sexy as I did last night in my tiny black dress and platform heels, but I can’t shake the feeling that tonight’s clubbing session feels somehow… Wrong. Almost like it won’t be a ‘proper’ night out, even though my elaborately-dressed best friend will be by my side every step of the way.

“Ready?” I ask the teal-haired girl, who adjusts her elaborate dress (and even more elaborate petticoats) before smiling at me and nodding.

“Let us do this,” Ophelia says with a chuckle, before following me down to our waiting taxi. I can’t help but notice, however, that she looks almost as hesitant as I feel tonight.

Naturally, we’re soon queuing up to enter a busy-sounding nightclub in the city centre (queuing as we obviously don’t have any celebrities with us today) and shortly after that, having fun dancing and drinking the night away. After just an hour and a half, though, my feet start to ache, and despite the alcohol running through my veins, and the considerable amount of attention Ophelia and I are getting from the male patrons of the club, I find myself feeling REALLY tired- and it’s obvious that Ophelia feels the same way.

“Perhaps we should sit down for a bit,” my teal-haired BFF says, leading us to a nearby table.

“You read my mind,” I chuckle, breathing a long sigh of relief as I take the way off of my tortured toes. “We’re having fun though, aren’t we?” I force a smile on my face, but it quickly fades when Ophelia replies with a simple sigh. “…No, me either. I don’t know what it is…”

“Which is odd, as you are usually the perceptive one,” Ophelia says. “It is less fun when it is two of us when compared to when it is six of us.”

“…Yeah, I feel the same,” I sigh. “I didn’t want to say it. Didn’t even want to THINK it, but- ugh. Kinda feel really guilty now…”

“Why would you feel guilty?” Ophelia asks.

“Because you’re my very best friend,” I say. “And I’m not having as much fun as I would be if Katie and the others were here.”

“Neither am I,” Ophelia shrugs. “Some activities are more fun with more people. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love you, Jacinta.”

“…Yeah, same here,” I sigh, grinning as I link my fingers with my BFF’s. “But we used to be able to fun when it was just the two of us, didn’t we?”

“Of course,” Ophelia replies. “It’s just that that fun usually didn’t take place inside a nightclub.” My lips turn upwards into a wide grin as I immediately cotton on to what my BFF means.

Less than 45 minutes later, the two of us are snuggling under separate blankets on our sofa, me dressed in my favourite red and pink onesie and Ophelia in her usual ‘pyjamas’ of thick woollen tights and a long-sleeved leotard with sewn-in mittens. In our hands are mugs of hot chocolate, on our TV is Bridget Jones's Diary… And in the living room doorway, much to my surprise, is my father, looking tired and more than a little bit irritated.

“Evening grandma, grandma,” dad teases. “Do you know what time it is?”

“It’s only 11:15pm,” I shrug.

“Exactly,” dad says. “So why are you in here instead of out there? I was still awake when you came in, for god’s sake.”

“We discussed it,” Ophelia explains, “and we both agreed that we would prefer to spend the rest of the evening in each other’s company rather than the company of strangers.”

“…You know,” dad sighs, “it’s a damned shame you’re both straight, you’d be perfect soul mates for each other. I’m not even kidding, either.”

“I do not have to be sexually attracted to Jacinta in order to love her,” Ophelia says, making me blush and smile.

“Right back at you, ‘sis’!” I reply, making the teal-haired girl giggle.

“Right, well, invite me to the wedding next time,” dad sighs, before heading back upstairs to his bed. “And remember what I said- don’t waste your whole holiday indoors.”

“…I really, really do love this, though,” I say as I snuggle deeper under my blanket.

“I know that you would prefer having a ‘Prince Charming’ to cuddle, though,” Ophelia says, making me sigh sadly.

“Maybe,” I mumble. “Okay, probably. Dunno how many guys would be happy to spend a Saturday night cuddled together on the sofa watching a chick flick, though.”

“The only one I ever met turned out to be a girl all along,” Ophelia says with a warm grin that makes me giggle.

“Every day that goes by, I’m more and more glad that I’m transitioning,” I say, giggling quietly as I play with my extra-long brown hair. “Why would anyone ever deny themselves a life like this?”

“I certainly would never dream of ever giving this up,” Ophelia says, but I can instantly tell from her hesitation that there’s something she isn’t telling me.

“…But?” I ask, making my BFF sigh.

“…Sometimes I wonder what my ‘Prince Charming’ would be like, too,” Ophelia confesses.

“Nothing wrong with that,” I say. “You’re a heterosexual girl, same as me. That means there’s a guy out there for you. Same as me. Hopefully. Maybe…”

“I doubt I would ever be able to love him as much as I love you, though,” Ophelia sighs. “No matter how well hung he is.” My BFF chuckles evilly as I almost choke on my hot chocolate. “Why the surprise? Do we girls not have ‘needs’?”

“Your ‘needs’ are things I don’t ‘need’ to know!” I snort, making Ophelia laugh even louder. “It’s bad enough some nights when you hang your bra on the bedroom doorknob, sounds like you’ve got a chainsaw in there…”

“As long as you don’t explain to your father that this is why I asked him to get us a washing machine for Christmas,” Ophelia says, laughing even louder as I again choke on my drink.

“Ugh, what happened to that shy 16 year old girl who wouldn’t talk unless forced?” I snort.

“You happened,” Ophelia says, causing me to bite my lip as I feel tears form in the corners of my eyes.

“…Shut up,” I mumble. “’Soul mate’.”

“The soul wants what the soul wants,” Ophelia shrugs.

“Maybe- maybe we should make a pact,” I mumble, staring at the emulsified marshmallows in my drink.

“What kind of pact?” Ophelia asks.

“If we’re still single by the time we’re thirty… We marry each other,” I say.

“If we’re still single by then we would effectively be common law wives anyway,” Ophelia retorts.

“Exactly,” I say. “So, how about it? New Year’s Day, 2027, two weeks after your birthday gives us enough time to get a marriage licence?”

“…Agreed,” Ophelia says. “If only to encourage BOTH of us to try to find ‘Prince Charming’. And it should go without saying that this 'marriage' will be entirely sexless!”

“I’ll drink to that!” I say, taking a big slurp of my hot chocolate that makes my BFF laugh out loud as we continue to watch our film.

The following morning, I wake up and am immediately (and pleasantly) surprised by the distinct lack of a hangover- and the fact that I still have a smile on my face after last night’s fun with Ophelia. After a quick shower, I apply a very light layer of make-up today before pulling on a comfortable bra, thong, a pair of thick black tights and my outfit for the day- a very plain grey pleated skirt and a clingy black top that shows off my fledgling figure.

Naturally, when I head downstairs, I find that Ophelia is wearing one of her trademark home-made dresses, elaborately patterned tights, extra-high stiletto heels and, of course, one of her tightest corsets. Her face is also covered in her usual thick, multi-coloured make-up and her long hair tied into complicated (and in some places, painful) looking braids.

“…You do know we’re staying in doing uni work today, right?” I ask my BFF.

“You do know ME, right?” Ophelia retorts, making me and my father giggle.

“Welcome to category four,” I laugh as I head into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee, where I’m swiftly joined by my father.

“She’s changed a lot in a very short space of time,” dad says quietly. “For the better, too.”

“Yeah,” I say with a grin. “I was worried she wasn’t going to fit in at uni- even OUR uni, a fashion school, for god’s sake- and our friends did take a while to get used to her, but- but I’m glad they did.”

“I can see how she can be an acquired taste,” dad chuckles. “But I’m glad she’s fitting in with Katie and the other girls. Hell, I’m glad YOU’RE fitting in.”

“Any reason I wouldn’t fit in with a gang of girls?” I ask.

“No GOOD reason,” dad replies with a smirk. “Katie and her gang kind of remind me of those three girls you used to hang out with in primary school, what were their names again?”

“Caitlin, Jessica and Noor,” I say with a smile.

“That’s them,” dad says. “God, whatever happened to them, eh?”

“Think Caitlin’s still in Brighton,” I reply. “Ran into her boyfriend in the first week of uni. He’s studying there, believe it or not!”

“Small world,” dad chuckles. “Maybe you should look her up while you’re down here? You’ve got the whole week, may as well put it to good use…”

“Eh… Maybe,” I shrug.

“Hey, your favourite celebrity’s always saying ‘you can never have too many friends’, isn’t she?” Dad asks.

“True…” I say. “But I’d rather go for quality over quantity.”

“Very wise,” dad says with a smile as I finish buttering my toast and head through to the living room. Before we go through the door, however, a thought suddenly pops into my mind.

“Oh, and dad?” I ask.

“…Yes?” My father replies.

“You know you’re getting us a washing machine for the flat for Christmas?” I ask

“Yes, I remember that, and so does my credit card,” dad replies.

“Can you make it something that’ll fit UNDER our kitchen counter, please?” I ask with a sly smirk.

With it being a dismal October Sunday, Ophelia and I spend the whole of our time today either relaxing, watching TV or working on our university coursework, with me and dad helping Ophelia with her written assignment every time her dyslexia threatens to get the better of her. For the time in as long as I can remember, I go the whole day without once setting foot outside my home, but I only realise this as I’m getting ready for bed late in the evening.

“Shall we go out somewhere tomorrow?” I ask my BFF as I pull on my warm, snuggly onesie.

“We may,” Ophelia says as she slides into her customary ‘pyjamas’. “However I still have a lot of work to do on my assignments, and I know you wanted to take photographs for your assignment tomorrow as well.”

“Well- true, yes,” I reply. “It’s just- you know? Just struck me that this is the first day in ages we haven’t been outside at any point. Hell, haven’t even gone into the GARDEN.”

“What reason did we have to go outside?” Ophelia asks. “The weather is unpleasant…”

“…And?” I ask, frowning as the teal-haired girl lets out a long sigh.

“…And we have no one to go out to see,” Ophelia says. “And your home is pleasant enough, isn’t it?”

“OUR home,” I say softly. “And yeah, I’ve missed the place, but it’s not like I spent all my time here when I lived here.”

“No, you spent a lot of it at my home,” Ophelia says. “Well, my mother’s home, anyway. And in London, you spend some time at Katie’s home, or at the university library, or socialising with the other girls. Or even at Charlotte Hutchinson’s house for a party.”

“…It’s Halloween on Saturday,” I muse. “We have SO got to get invitations to THAT party!”

“I am 100% in agreement with you,” Ophelia says with a smirk. “…Especially if we get to go with Lauren, Sarah, Katie and Nikki.”

“You thinking a group costume?” I ask, smiling as Ophelia nods. “…That would be really, REALLY cool! I’ve got to get onto them, see what they’re planning!”

“Tomorrow morning,” Ophelia says with a smile. “In the meantime, I am going to go to bed. Goodnight, Jacinta.”

“G’night, Ophelia!” I say, earning a giggle from my BFF has she heads back to her bed on our sofa.

I wake up early the following morning thanks to my eagerness to get on with both my uni work and planning for our upcoming Halloween party. Of course, neither me or Ophelia have even been invited to the Angels’ Halloween party yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed- and if Jamie-Lee believes her saying ‘you can never have too many friends’, well, you never know…

After showering and pulling on similar clothes to yesterday, I head downstairs and am unsurprised to find that dad and Ophelia are already awake- and I’m also unsurprised to find that Ophelia is excitedly sketching away in her notepad, only occasionally pausing to take a bite of her barely-touched breakfast.

“Ah, Halloween,” dad chuckles. “Because students don’t have enough reason to party, and fashion students don’t have enough reason to wear crazy clothing.”

“Get off our backs, it’s only once a year,” I retort.

“Though we will also be having a costume party for Sarah’s birthday in November,” Ophelia says.

“And yours in December,” I chuckle as I pour myself a cup of coffee. “And Katie’s in January.”

“Then yours in February,” Ophelia says.

“…Thank god March is free,” dad snorts, causing a memory to jump into my head.

“Ah, that’s right,” I say, snapping my fingers. “Nikki’s birthday’s in March, isn’t it?”

“March the third, I believe,” Ophelia says, both of us giggling as dad rolls his eyes.

“So are you two going to spend the whole day indoors again?” Dad asks. “You with your sketchbook and you with your camera?”

“That wasn’t the original plan,” I mumble. “I mean, you know, I do need to do some outdoor shoots for my project, you know?”

“…I know NOW,” dad says.

“Will you require me to model for you?” Ophelia asks, causing me to bite my lip.

“I will, actually…” I say, and the hesitation in my voice immediately makes my BFF close her eyes and sigh.

“What will you require me to model?” Ophelia asks with a tired voice.

Just under an hour later, the two of us are hard at work in a quiet part of the city, me with my camera and Ophelia in the outfit I picked out for her. It’s a look I’ve gone for myself on many occasions- a short, tight black skirt, almost opaque black tights, chunky platform shoes, a clingy low-cut black top and a loose denim jacket. Combined with modest make-up and a long, brown wig I’ve fixed to her head, my BFF looks just like any other 18 year old girl… And I can instantly tell just how much she HATES it.

“Make sure when you take your photographs that I don’t blend in with this wall,” Ophelia snorts as she leans back and pouts for my camera.

“Relax, you look hot,” I reassure my BFF.

“I look ordinary,” Ophelia spits. “These clothes suit you far more than they suit me.” I giggle and wipe a tear away from my eye as Ophelia pulls another pose for me.

“Heh, two years on and you don’t know just how much that means to me,” I mumble, making my BFF smile before she once again pouts for my camera.

“For some people, there is nothing wrong with being an ordinary girl,” Ophelia says. “Which is what you absolutely are, Jacinta.”

“Damn right,” I say. “Okay, got everything I want for this outfit.”

“PLEASE may I change into my corset and my dress now?” Ophelia asks.

“Just want one more outfit,” I say, trying not to giggle as my BFF whines at me. “The chunky sweater dress I brought along. Then you can change into your quote-very-unquote NORMAL clothes, I promise!”

“…I will have my revenge with your Halloween costume,” Ophelia mumbles as we head to the nearby public toilets we’ve been using as a changing room.

“’Revenge clothing’,” I muse. “Is that category 5 clothing, by any chance? Because whatever you come up with, I am SO making it category four!”

“Then I shall make it category FORTY,” Ophelia spits, taking the dress, a darker pair of tights and a pair of over the knee boots from me and heading into one of the cubicles while I take the opportunity to check and touch up my make-up.

As I’m removing and reapplying my eye make-up, however, I’m suddenly startled when the outside door of the toilets opens and I hear a loud shriek come from behind me.

“What the- what the fu-“ I stammer, turning around to see a woman in her mid-forties staring at me with a look of pure horror on her face.

“IT’S A MAN!” The woman screams, and all of my internal organs start to sink. “GET OUT OF HERE YOU SICK FREAK!”

“I. Am. A. Woman,” I reply, defiantly putting my hands on my hips. “I have as much right to be in here as you do!”

“Oh- my god-“ The woman gasps, looking past me to where I’ve put my make-up bag… And my camera. “Is- is that a-“

“A camera?” I ask. “I’m a photography student, so yes.”

“Are you filming women against their will!?” The woman howls. “You pervert! You monster! I’m calling the police!”

“What- what is happening?” Ophelia- who has changed into her dress and boots- asks as she emerges from her cubicle.

“Quick!” The woman yells, roughly grabbing my BFF by the arm and dragging her out of the toilets, almost causing her to stumble over on her heels. “Get out of here! This pervert wants to take photos of you!”

“This WOMAN is my best friend,” Ophelia growls, snatching her arm away from the obnoxious woman. “And SHE has been taking photos of me all week as SHE is a photography student!”

“You-“ The woman says, before letting out another long, exaggerated gasp. “You’re a man too! You trannies are everywhere!”

“You’d almost think this was the LGB and, yes, T capital of the UK!” I snort, but this isn’t enough to stop the woman from running out of the toilet, screaming down her phone for the police.

Sure enough, just over ten minutes later, a police car pulls up and two uniformed officers- both women, gratifyingly- get out and speak to the hysterical woman, who angrily gestures towards me and Ophelia. I brace myself as the officers approach us, but when one of the women rolls her eyes the second her back is turned to the moaning woman, I can tell that I’m probably not going to be in as much trouble as I think.

“Hello,” the shorter of the two policewomen says. “We’ve received a complaint that you were taking photographs in the ladies’ toilets, is that correct?”

“Umm… No,” I say, trying not to sound TOO defiant. “I’m a photography student, my friend and I have been taking a few fashion photos around the town. That’s all.”

“Okay,” the policewoman says. “Well, obviously, we’re going to need to take a look at the memory card, make sure everything’s above board. I’ll need your full name and address too, please.”

“Okay,” I say, inadvertently letting out a small sigh as I remove the memory card and hand it to the officers. “…Umm, not meaning to me, you know, umm, sarky or anything, but- is- is that, you know, it?”

“That was the complaint we received, we have to investigate it,” the taller policewoman says.

“But- but what about, umm,” I mumble.

“I’d be a bit of a hypocrite to arrest you for that,” the taller policewoman says with a laugh. “When she called she did mention something that wasn’t a criminal offence, so we’re going to ignore it.”

“Hy- hypocrite?” I ask, grinning as the tall officer nods. “So- so you-“

“Three years post-op this month,” the tall woman says with a grin. “You?”

“Fourteen months on HRT,” I say, smiling as the policewoman chuckles. “I’m only nineteen, so-“

“Ah, got your whole life ahead of you,” the transgendered policewoman laughs. “Well, I’m sure we won’t find anything on the memory card, we’ll take it back to the station, have a look at it, then call you to let you know when you can pick it up.”

“Thanks,” I say with a smile as the policewomen head back to their car. Before they take ten steps away from me, however, the same woman who harassed myself and Ophelia walks up to them with a look of pure fury on her face.

“Well?” The woman angrily demands. “Aren’t you going to arrest those perverts?”

“We’ve confiscated her camera’s memory card,” the shorter policewoman explains. “If we see evidence of a crime on there, we will investigate further.”

“But that THING followed me into the toilet and was perving over me!” The woman growls, and I can’t help but bite my lip in a mixture of anxiety and anticipation over what’s about to happen.

“The 999 call we received said that she was already inside when you arrived, is that not the case?” The taller policewoman asks.

“Well, umm, yes-“ the angry woman stammers. “But that thing’s a pervert! It doesn’t deserve to exist!” Ouch, I think to myself.

“I’m going to have to ask you to lower your voice,” the taller policewoman says. “You’re creating a disturbance.”

“THAT PAEDOPHILE IS THE ONE CAUSING THE DISTURBANCE!” The woman screams, pointing her finger directly at me as I clench my hands into fists. “WHY DON’T YOU DO YOUR FUCKING JOBS AND ARREST THAT THING!?” Despite my best efforts, I find myself opening my mouth, ready to yell a retort, when the most wonderful thing happens.

"That's enough," the shorter of the two policewomen says, getting out a pair of handcuffs and restraining the suddenly shocked-looking woman. "I'm arresting you for breach of the peace. You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Now come on and for god's sake, shut your mouth!" I allow myself a quiet chuckle as the crowd that had assembled all applaud as the bigoted woman- still screaming obscenities at both myself and the officers- is placed in the back of the police car and driven away, but once the car is out of sight, a wave of nausea flows over me.

“J- Jacinta?” Ophelia asks.

“I’ll be fine,” I gasp, before rushing back to the toilet and retching into one of the cubicle bowls.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Ophelia says, standing beside me until I’ve finished emptying my stomach. “We- we should go home, let Mike know what happened-“

“No- no,” I moan. “Don’t tell him, he’ll just worry.”

“He’s your dad, he’s supposed to worry,” Ophelia says softly. “…And so am I. At- at least let’s get you home, okay?”

“…Okay,” I sigh. “Can’t take any more pictures anyway without my memory card…”

“Good,” Ophelia whispers. “Then maybe I can finally change back into my PROPER clothes!”

Naturally, within fifteen minutes of our arriving back home, Ophelia has shed her wig and donned the patterned tights, elaborate dress and extra-tight corset that makes up her everyday ‘category 1’ clothes, and the two of us are sat on the sofa, watching TV. A short while later, I get a call from the police station telling me that I can go and collect my memory card, and when Ophelia and I return home, dad is in his usual chair engrossed in his favourite quiz show.

“Hi girls!” Dad says. “Good day?”

“It was okay,” I lie, grimacing as Ophelia immediately punishes me with an elbow in my ribs. “…Okay, it could’ve been better.”

“What happened?” Dad asks, making me sigh as it sit down before filling him in on the confrontation, with Ophelia providing details and defending me every step of the way.

“…And that’s where we’ve just come from, picking up my memory card,” I explain. “Obviously, there was nothing on it for them to charge me with, but still- ugh.”

“It- I can’t explain how angry this makes me,” dad sighs, making my cheeks flush.

“I’m sorry,” I mumble.

“Oh believe me, I’m not angry with you- the opposite, actually,” dad says reassuringly. “This is supposed to be 2015, the future. Hell, they had this whole thing last week about how Back to the Future 2 DIDN’T predict the future properly, the rise of smartphones… They sure as hell predicted that there’d still be arseholes in the future.”

"I suppose I'm always going to have to expect that this can happen at a moment's notice," I sigh.

"Doesn't mean you have to accept it," dad says. "Far from it. God, and this happening here of all places. Thought this was meant to be the most LGBT-friendly place in the country."

"Exactly," I say. "If it can happen here..."

"But it has never happened in London," Ophelia tells me. "The entire university is a safe space. There are numerous support mechanisms available to you there."

"...True," I say with a heavy sigh as I look over at dad, who's biting his lip. Clearly he's thinking the same thing I've been thinking all week- that maybe I belong there more than I belong here, regardless of how much this city is my home.

"Well, in any event, there was a happy ending, so to speak," dad sighs. "And you've got the rest of the week ahead of you. Just hope you won't use this as an excuse to shut yourself in again."

"Nah, I'll just go out and cross my legs the whole day," I snort, leading to an awkward pause in the room.

"...What's 'Back to the Future'?" Ophelia asks, earning puzzled looks from myself and my father.

"You- you've never seen Back to the Future?" I ask. "Seriously? Like, one of the best films EVER?"

"We did not watch many films in our house whilst I was growing up," Ophelia says, earning a sympathetic smile from myself and my father.

"Well, if ever there was an appropriate time for it," dad chuckles, heading to the bookcase and retrieving our boxset of the films. "Take it you girls have nowhere else you want to be?" Like London? I self-pityingly think to myself.

"I certainly don't," Ophelia says, making dad grin as he pops the disc in the DVD player.

"Excellent," my father chuckles. "Maybe now then, we can have a movie night where we can ALL enjoy the film."

Naturally, the first film is followed by parts 2 and 3, meaning that it's almost 11pm by the time the three of us head towards bed. As dad has to be up early for work tomorrow, we let him use the bathroom first.

"So," I tease my BFF as I clear away the DVDs and the takeout dinner we ate. "Did you enjoy the films?"

"They were very good," Ophelia says. "Really, I liked them. Very... Unique style. Especially in the 2015 scenes."

"If you like the style, I should show you Blade Runner one of these days," I chuckle. "Still can't believe you've never heard of the film before now."

"It is not the sort of thing my mother or my sisters would have enjoyed," Ophelia says, making me pause. "No swearing, no violence, no sex. You actually have to use your brain. Which my mother and my sisters don't have."

"...Fair enough," I whisper. "Are- are you still sure you don't want to see-"

"More than ever," Ophelia says. "They aren't my family, Jacinta. You are."

"Well- well I guess the choice is yours," I sigh.

"If only I could go back in time and persuade my mother not to waste her life," Ophelia muses. "Change the one thing that turned her into what she became..."

"Yeah," I whisper. "First time I saw the film was just after my mum died... I kept thinking about 'what if I could go back in time and warn her she'd become ill'... Then, of course, I kept thinking 'what if I could go back in time and arrange for me to be born a girl'. Or even go back in time to pluck up the courage to tell dad earlier than I did..."

"Well, we cannot change the past," Ophelia says.

"But we can change the future," I muse. "Try to make it a better one."

"I have certainly always tried," Ophelia says with a warm smile, before giving me a gentle (and very out of character) hug and heading down to her sofa bed to get settled in for the night.

Tuesday morning begins just as Monday had, with the three of us eating breakfast before dad heads to work and Ophelia and I settle in to do coursework. Less than two hours after dad leaves, however, he returns home, eliciting shocked looks from myself and my BFF.

"Umm..." I mumble as dad walks through the front door. "You been fired then, or something?"

"Nah, just told them I needed the day off," dad shrugs. "Besides, I'm expecting a delivery in a bit."

"Been overspending on Amazon again, then?" I ask, earning only a smug grin in response.

Sure enough, forty-five minutes later, our front doorbell rings, but despite being the one expecting the delivery, dad stays rooted to his chair.

"...I'll answer it, then?" I sigh, getting up and opening the front door... And getting the shock of my life.

"Hi Jacinta!" Katie, Lauren, Sarah and Nikki all cheer, before letting themselves into my house.

"Wh- what?" I stammer.

"Ah, looks like my delivery's arrived," dad says with a smug grin.

"Again, what?" I ask.

"We heard about what happened yesterday," Sarah explains.

"So, your dad sent us a message on Facebook," Katie continues. "When one of us is hurting, we ALL help out."

"...I'm not hurting THAT much," I mumble.

"No, but I know how much it must have hurt," Nikki says with a sympathetic smile. "It's something that'll never go away, sadly. All we can do is, you know, learn to rise above it."

"Any advice on how to do that?" I sigh.

"There's one trick I've learned," Nikki says with a devilish grin. "And that's to surround yourself with the most awesome friends you can find!"

"Friends who will ALWAYS accept you for who you are," Katie continues. "An awesome, 100%, girly GIRL!"

"...Thanks, you girls," I say with a giggle. "You didn't have to come all the way to Brighton for that, though."

"We wanted to," Lauren says. "I've never been to Brighton before, wanted to see the sights..."

"Though we may not be able to take it all in in one day, though," Katie says. "Hence why we've brought sleeping bags..." I laugh and roll my eyes at Katie's obvious implication.

"Dad, can my friends stay for a sleepover?" I ask, earning giggles from all of my friends- Ophelia included.

"Of course," dad says with a grin. "Come on, give me a hand in the kitchen, I'll get some snacks for you all."

"Thanks, Mike!" Katie giggles as she and the other girls make themselves at home.

"...Thanks, dad," I mumble quietly once my father and I are in the privacy of our kitchen.

"Hey, I figured you needed the kind of support I'm not really qualified to give," dad shrugs. "Besides... They're obviously as much family as I am."

"Hardly," I laugh. "I've only known them a few weeks..."

"And yet they hopped on a train with only a few hours' notice," dad says. "Jacinta... This place will always be your home, you know that. But it doesn't mean you can't call somewhere else your home, or your family. And it's obvious you fit in in London. You fit in REALLY well."

"...Haven't you liked having me back?" I ask, and I gasp in shock as dad responds by giving me a long hug.

"Of course I have," dad sighs. "I always love having you under this roof. But your life is in London now. It- it's where you belong. With those girls. They clearly care about you, Jacinta. And they always will, just as much as I do. Don't throw something like that away to cling onto something that can only take you so far."

"I know," I say with a chuckle. Dad's right- the more time I spend with my friends, the more time I spend in my new home, the happier I am. I love my hometown... But it'll also always be 'Jason's hometown. Caitlin, Jessica and Noor will always be 'Jason's friends. Katie and the other girls, and my home in London... That's 100% Jacinta's. It's the life I always wanted- and with my best friend at my side, I know I'll always have someone up in London with me who'll love me just as much as my dad does.

"If you want to head back to London early, I'll understand," dad says. "Don't worry about me. The guys from work have been inviting me down the pub, to quiz nights, to matches... I've had more of a life now than at any point in the last twenty years, heh!"

"Good," I whisper. "I- I probably will head back early, maybe tomorrow or Thursday..."

"Good," dad says, giving me another gentle hug. "And besides, you're more likely to find 'Prince Charming' in London!"

"...One thing at a time," I laugh as I return to the living room and my new 'extended family'.



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