Jacinta, part 8

“Urgh…”I groan as I’m awoken from a blissful slumber by a loud knocking on my front door. “Stop fucking banging…” I grab my phone to check the clock, only to roll my eyes when I discover that it’s gone 11am. Fortunately, today is Wednesday, meaning I’m not at uni today, but that also means that none of my friends are either, as I discover when Ophelia (who has obviously already been up for ages) opens the door.

“Helloooo!” Katie giggles loud enough for me to hear in my bedroom. “Flying solo today then, Ophelia?”

“If by ‘flying solo’ you mean ‘am I the only person awake in the apartment’, then yes,” my BFF replies, making me groan as I know what’s inevitably going to happen next.

Sure enough, twenty seconds later, Katie and Lauren burst into my bedroom, each bashing a saucepan with a ladle and sporting a wide, sadistic grin on their faces.

“Up and at ‘em!” The two young women each yell, their giggles only intensifying when I try to pull my sheets over my head.

“Ugh, leave me alone,” I pout. “I’m a uni student! I need my lie ins!”

“Huh, do you see any other uni students in this room, Miss Henderson?” Lauren asks.

“I believe I do, Miss Burnett!” Katie replies, before banging the saucepan next to my head yet again.

“Okay, okay! Fuck!” I yell, throwing back the sheets and pulling on a dressing gown over my long pink t-shirt. “I’m going to get you back for this, I swear.”

“Oh stop pouting,” Katie giggles. “And put on some clothes.”

“Oh- seriously?” I snort. “The way you two are dressed?”

“What’s wrong with the way we’re dressed?” Lauren pouts, placing her hands on her hips- which, like the rest of her (and Katie’s) legs, are encased in pink tights, while their torsos are covered in skin-tight black leotards with only flimsy see-through skirts to preserve their modesty.

“You look like you’re four,” I say, earning face gasps of shock from both girls.

“Well I never,” Lauren tuts. “And how, pray tell, are we supposed to look, having just come from a ballet class?”

“They have changing rooms there, don’t they?” I retort.

“I know what the problem is,” Katie giggles as she sits down on my bed and ties a pair of shiny satin dance shoes to her feet. “Jealousy that she can’t do this!” I roll my eyes as Katie stands up and- while grabbing onto my chest of drawers for balance- balances on the tips of her toes on one foot while stretching her other foot high above her head.

“…Never mind Jacinta, I’M jealous I can’t do that!” Lauren laughs. “Stupid curvy body…”

“Yeah, my body’s pretty ‘stupid’ too,” I say, instantly lowering the mood in the room.

“…To be fair, though, so was Nikki’s, and I think she can do a vertical split en pointe now too,” Katie says.

“Make me even MORE jealous,” Lauren giggles. “And make me jealous of a gorgeous, girly 5’ 10” goddess with plenty of her own curves too!” I blush at my friend’s teasing, but a smile creeps across my face as I head into the bathroom and the two women don’t let up on their playful compliments.

“And you’ve had a place held open for you at the ballet class for weeks now,” Katie reminds me. “You could be stretching your leg behind your head within weeks if you wanted…”

“Yeah, well ‘a space’ isn’t ‘two spaces’.” I reply, earning happy sighs from my friends.

“Oh Jacelia, you’re breaking my heart…” The two young women sing, making me roll my eyes as I jump under the shower and try to wash away my tiredness.

When I emerge, my friends have headed through to the flat’s tiny living room, leaving me free to get dressed in a plain grey hoodie, black tights and a knee-length black denim skirt, but the second I enter the living room, the teasing resumes.

“FINALLY,” Lauren says with a very loud, very fake-sounding sigh.

“Good AFTERNOON,” Katie giggles.

“It’s 11:48am, it’s not the afternoon,” I feebly retort as I crash onto my sofa. “And besides, aren’t students supposed to spend all day in bed?”

“I had always thought that that stereotype only applied to teenagers,” Ophelia says with a smug grin on her magenta-coloured lips.

“And I see three teenagers in this room,” Katie says, before giggling and picking up one of the birthday cards on the TV cabinet- one with a large ‘20’ on the front. “But Miss Hanley is not one of them!”

“…Fine,” I say, before letting out a giggle. “Okay, just let me get my laptop then we’ll get started.” The other girls smile as they dive into their coursework, while I think back to the events of my birthday eight days ago- and the many celebrations that happened in the weeks beforehand too.

First was Ophelia’s 19th birthday, a week before Christmas- which happily coincided with the end of our first semester of university, meaning that all the girls were more than in a mood to celebrate. Even though dad and I had tried to make her 18th birthday extra-special, it was nothing compared to her 19th for one very good reason- or rather, several very good reasons, each of whom donned their most elaborate make-up and tightest corsets and invaded our flat to treat the birthday girl like the princess she deserves to be. After the madness of that party, Ophelia (and I for that matter) were almost relieved to head back down to Brighton to spend Christmas with dad, but we were back in London for the New Year, and for Katie’s 19th a short while afterward. As good as those parties were from a personal perspective, though, the one held last Tuesday for my 20th was easily the best of the lot.

There was no special ‘theme’ or costume for the party- everyone simply came in their sexiest clothes- but for the duration of the night, I was treated like royalty. I received more gifts- and better gifts- than I ever had before, had far more attention lavished on me than I'm used to, and was even treated to an impromptu 'home makeover' from my friends in the morning, but the best thing about the party was definitely that I got to spend it with an amazing group of people who have quickly become true friends of mine. And also my dad, who came up for the party, stayed overnight and wouldn’t shut up about the untidy state of our flat.

One thing’s for certain, though- as much as we may tease each other (and it is a LOT), I know that in Katie and Lauren- and, for that matter, Nikki and Sarah- I have a group of friends I’ll always be close to, even if we do go our separate ways after university. Even though Ophelia and I are outsiders to this group, we’re just as much ‘members’ as the other girls, and slowly, but surely, we’re integrating into the famous ‘Angel family’ with the likes of Jamie-Lee Burke and others. Of course, as nice as the fame is, it’s the genuine friendship that’s more important, but getting my face on a few of the Angels’ Instagram posts certainly doesn’t hurt!

…But even despite all the parties, all the fame and all the friendship, there’s one thing I still don’t have in my life- the ever-elusive ‘Prince Charming’. I’ve been on date after date over the last few months, but none of them so much as ended in a, well, ‘fumble’, let alone any penetration, and certainly not anything long-term. The fact that most of my nights out are with the university’s LGBT society probably doesn’t help, either. Most of the men in the society are gay and believe they’re complimenting me when they say they’re not interested in me (and in a way, I suppose they are complimenting me), whilst I obviously have no interest in any of the women in the society (though a few of them have shown interest in me- which is also complimentary in a way!).

Fortunately, I’ll always have Ophelia in my life- who is of course still as single as I am- but it’s hard not to feel unloved and unwanted, especially considering what date is just around the corner…

“So…” Katie teases her blushing best friend. “Decided on your dress for Sunday yet?”

“Not yet,” Lauren mumbles.

“Maybe you should just skip the dress and have a private ‘dinner’ at home in just a teddy,” Katie teases, giggling as Lauren gives her a playful shove. “Retaliate all you want, I KNOW you’ve done that in the past with Michael!”

“Says the girl whose third date- and we all know what that means- with her current boyfriend just so happens to fall on the 14th of February?” Lauren retorts, making the freckled girl roll her eyes.

“So I’ve got needs?” Katie shrugs. “Been months since I split from Neil, there’s only so long you can run a washing machine for…”

“…And now you know why we don’t live together,” Lauren sighs.

“…Which make of washing machine do you prefer?” Ophelia asks, making both myself and Lauren cringe.

“Don’t tell me you’ve only had that one two months and you’ve already knackered it?” Lauren asks.

“It’s in surprisingly good condition,” I reply. “Given that very little of what Ophelia wears is actually machine-washable.

“I’ve gone through countless pairs of rubber gloves since Christmas,” Ophelia interjects, making the three of us cringe yet again.

“Hand washing things, I hope,” Katie chuckles.

“Emphasis on the word ‘things’,” I say, biting my lip as Ophelia rolls her eyes- while she’s almost as used to the teasing as I am, she is still the same shy young woman who spent the first part of her life being emotionally beaten down by her family, and sometimes I wonder whether or not I take the teasing TOO far…

“The same ‘things’ you have asked me to make for you on countless occasions?” Ophelia asks, making me roll my eyes (and breathe a quiet sigh of relief) as Katie and Lauren have a quick giggle at my expense.

“How many of them need washing, how many of them need cleaning, and how many of them need polishing?” Katie asks with a wicked grin on her freckled face.

“How many of them do you clean in the dishwasher?” Lauren asks, causing all of us- even Ophelia- to burst into a fit of giggles.

“Ah, knew she wasn’t so above it all,” Katie says, giggling even more as my BFF rolls her eyes. “Miss ‘Category four’…”

“I assure you that everything I am wearing today is category one,” Ophelia retorts. “Even the corset. And the nipple clamps.” I almost drop my laptop- as do Katie and Lauren- at Ophelia’s deadpan revelation, only to sigh and roll my eyes when a wide grin spreads across my BFF’s face.

“It’d be a bit rich for us to complain, given that we’re STILL wearing category two,” Lauren says, adjusting the neckline of her tight leotard.

“My undies on Sunday will DEFINITELY be category four, though!” Katie says with a twinkle in her eye, making me sigh as the conversation again returns to the topic I’d hoped to avoid. “…What’s up, Jacinta?”

“I- I think I know what the problem is,” Lauren mumbles. “All-, umm, you know, ‘all dressed up and nowhere to go’?”

“More like ‘all dressed up and no one to do’,” I sigh.

“Oh- Jacinta…” Katie sighs, leaning across to give me a hug. “You seriously don’t have anyone you can ask?”

“My dad,” I snort, making my friends roll their eyes. “Seriously. And- ugh, this’ll sound silly…”

“No, go on,” Katie urges.

“…I kinda want someone to ask me, you know?” I sigh. “Cinderella didn’t propose to Prince Charming, did she?”

“Normally I’d be all ‘girl power’ here, but under the circumstances I think you deserve a ‘pass’ on this one,” Katie says.

“Aren’t there plenty of guys in the LGBT society you go to?” Lauren asks.

“…GAY guys,” I say, sighing as Lauren blushes deeply at her faux pas.

“Sorry, sorry,” Lauren grimaces.

“Is- is that, you know, a, umm, a compliment?” Katie asks. “You know, the point where gay guys, umm, stop being attracted…”

“Gay guys stopped being attracted to me the second I put on lipstick and a skirt,” I chuckle. “And it kinda is, maybe when I’m in a ‘girl power’ mode, but when I’m in a ‘for god’s sake someone get me a man’ mode, not as much. And this time of year is worst of all.”

“There’s BOUND to be a guy out there for you somewhere,” Lauren says, before blushing again at her poor choice of words. “Okay. There are MILLIONS of guys who’d happily date you. You’re 5’ 10”, slender but curvy, you’ve got a really cute face-“

“And a great rack,” Katie interjects, earning a frown from her best friend. “What? She has.”

“Most of which isn’t flesh and blood,” I snort. “Well, not yet, anyway. Almost a year and a half on oestrogen and it’s getting there, though. I doubt THOSE are the parts of my anatomy guys would be fixated on, though.”

“I hope by that you mean they’ll be focussed on your great arse,” Katie says, before letting out a long sigh. “Jacinta- me and Lauren are going to get you a Valentine’s date.”

“We are?” Lauren asks, before smiling confidently. “That’s right, we are. For both of you, in fact.” My BFF- who has remained quiet as always throughout the discussion- suddenly looks up with a look of shock on her face.

“Umm, I- I don’t need a date, thanks,” Ophelia says, her affected posh accent slipping and her regular working-class Brighton accent poking through, meaning this must have REALLY shocked her…

“We’re not going to throw you into bed with a footballer or someone like that,” Katie says. “It’s funny, all your talk of washing machines and, well, ‘category four’, I’ve never seen you even look at a guy. Or a girl, if that’s what you’d prefer…”

“I do ‘prefer’ men,” Ophelia says. “But I- ugh.”

“I think we should drop this topic,” Lauren says softly, earning a silent ‘thank you’ from my BFF. “But you know, I reckon there IS someone out there for you too, Ophelia. Your own ‘Prince Charming’, you know?”

“He would have to considerably more than ‘charming’ to be my ‘prince’,” Ophelia says, her smile returning as the other girls- myself included- giggle at her joke.

“When you say ‘more’ do you mean length or width?” Katie asks, before grimacing and glancing in my direction. “Eesh, sorry Jacinta, I-“

“Seriously, don’t worry about it,” I chuckle. “Sometimes I even forget, heh.”

“Yeah, but-“ Katie argues.

“No buts!” I interrupt. “How about this: from now on, no more being oversensitive about things like penises or vaginas. We’re all friends in this room, and more importantly, we’re all girls. So if you want to make a dick joke, you go right ahead, because as far as everyone’s concerned, I don’t want one, and the sooner I lose it, the better, deal?”

“…Deal!” Katie says, grinning widely at my outburst.

“Deal!” Lauren giggles. “…On that topic, though, you know Nikki’s going, well, ‘inside’ in a few months, right?”

“…And jealous again,” I say. “Well, envious, anyway. Is ‘vagina envy’ a real thing?”

“Nikki’s booked in with one of the best surgeons in London, I’LL probably be envious of it,” Katie giggles. “And I’m not going to take that back, because if dick jokes are on the table, then so are hoohah jokes.”

“Though if everybody could please keep their genitals OFF the table, I’d be much happier,” Ophelia interjects, making the four of us giggle as we get down to work on our university projects.

Our friends- who are still inexplicably wearing their ballet leotards- depart early in the afternoon, and as they go, I feel a twinge of sadness, closely followed by a pang of jealousy at the thought of their upcoming Valentine’s dates. However, I know the girls well enough to know that their offer to get dates for myself and Ophelia is not an empty gesture, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they’d started looking for guys for us the second they left our flat. It’s obvious, however, that my BFF isn’t quite as comfortable with the idea as I am.

“Fancy a cup of tea?” I ask my BFF as she continues her sketching.

“Please,” Ophelia replies, not looking up from her work.

“You- you alright?” I ask my friend, who simply sighs in response.

“A better question would be whether or not you are alright,” Ophelia replies. “With all this talk of Valentine’s Day…”

“I’m fine, honestly,” I say. “I mean sure, I’m dateless, but I’m not the only one, am I? Plenty other people out there who’ll be single on Valentine’s Day, unwanted… Unloved…” I feel tears trickle down each cheek, and within seconds, my BFF has wrapped me in a tight hug as I quietly weep onto her shoulder.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Ophelia whispers as she holds me. “Let it out…”

“I mean five months, for fuck’s sake!” I wail. “Five months! You’d have thought that SOMEONE would have noticed me by now, said hi, maybe told me I was cute…”

“You ARE cute,” Ophelia insists.

“You’re straight, your opinion doesn’t count,” I retort, leading to an awkward pause that breaks when we both break down in a fit of uncontrollable giggles. “Ugh, damn hormones…”

“What you just said,” Ophelia says with a smirk, wiping a tear away from her own eye.

“Seriously, are you okay?” I ask Ophelia as we sit down next to each other on our sofa. “I know you’re not the most boy-hungry person in the world, heh. Or even on this sofa, come to think of it…”

“As with everything in my life, the situation is complicated,” Ophelia sighs. “You know the situation regarding my family. I am the only one of my sisters to have remained a virgin at the age of fourteen, and the only one to have not been a mother at the age of seventeen.”

“…Sounds to me like you’ve already ‘won’, then,” I say.

“Then why does it not feel that way?” Ophelia sighs. “For the first time in my life, I have a group of real friends, and all of them are either engaged, like Nikki and Sarah, in a long-term relationship like Lauren, or boy-hungry like Katie or-“

“Or me,” I interrupt. “I- I’m not going to apologise for having a sex drive…”

“Nor should you,” Ophelia says. “And it is not like I don’t appreciate that sex can be an enjoyable thing.”

“Our washing machine can attest to that,” I say, making my BFF roll her eyes.

“It’s the thought of, well…” Ophelia says hesitantly.

“Doing it with someone you don’t like?” I ask, sighing as Ophelia nods. “Nothing wrong with having some standards, everybody does.”

“Everybody apart from my mother and my sisters,” Ophelia snorts. “I- I don’t want to end up like them, that’s the problem.”

“Trust me, you won’t,” I say, giving my friend’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Like I said, you’ve already ‘won’. You are so unalike your sisters I still wonder whether or not you were adopted, heh.”

“I highly doubt anyone would have ever allowed Theresa Lowe to adopt a child,” Ophelia says, making me snort with laughter. “But thank you anyway.”

“And you yourself have said you wouldn’t rule out getting together with the right guy,” I say. “Provided he IS the right guy for you. And I’m sure you know that there’s only one way to find him- he’s not just going to drop into your lap…”

“Yes, yes,” Ophelia sighs. “Very well, if Katie and Lauren wish to find us Valentine’s dates, then I will allow them.”

“Excelle-“ I begin, only to be immediately cut off.

“But,” Ophelia says, raising one of her long, slender fingers. “But. They find dates for US. I am doing this for you, not for myself, so I shall only go on a ‘double date’ with you and the man they find for you.”

“Can’t think of a better way to spend a Valentine’s Day,” I say, making my BFF smirk. “Though if it does end up with my getting laid, you’re sleeping on the sofa, okay?”

“We have single beds and I wear a corset to sleep and have an extra-thick memory foam mattress,” Ophelia retorts, before gesturing to our (admittedly double-sized) sofa bed. “YOU’RE sleeping on the sofa.”

“…Okay, fine,” I say with mock protest, before bursting into a fit of giggles that my ‘sister’ happily shares with me.

We spend the rest of the evening watching TV and concentrating on our coursework, but as I head to bed, I can’t help but wonder what kind of guy Katie and Lauren will set me up with. Will he be tall or short? Will he be blonde or dark-haired? Might he even be ginger? And most importantly of all, will he be okay with the idea of dating a transgendered girl? I trust that Katie and Lauren wouldn’t knowingly set me up with a bigot, but there’s always the possibility that someone might lie to them in order to get close to me to ‘teach me a lesson’ or something ridiculous like that…

Fortunately, despite my anxiety (and, in fairness, excitement) about my potential impending date, I’m able to sleep through the night, and when my alarm wakes me and my BFF the following morning, I let out a tired yawn as I swing my slender, hairless legs out of bed… Before suppressing a giggle at the sight of Ophelia in the middle of her complicated morning routine.

I’ve often mused that my own morning routine- whilst far more intricate than ‘Jason’s ever was- is surprisingly straightforward for a girl. Pee, shower, blow-dry and brush hair (which I always wear loose to save extra time), apply make-up, pull on underwear and get dressed in the outfit I chose the night before. Even including the time it takes to make breakfast, eat breakfast and brush my teeth, some days I can be ready and out of the house in under half an hour.

Ophelia, on the other hand, requires a LOT more time than me. Her hair is even longer than mine, so like me, she ties it back to sleep- but rather than tie it into a loose ponytail, she styles it into an elaborate high bun atop her head, fixed in place with countless bobby pins, all of which she needs to remove before her hair can be washed. Removing her ‘pyjamas’ is also a performance- while I wear a very comfortable long vest and boy shorts set, in winter- which it is now- Ophelia sleeps in a pair of thick woollen tights and a long-sleeved skin-tight leotard with sewn-in mittens. Pulling on and removing these clothes takes long enough at the best of times, but Ophelia then wraps a tight corset around her waist that takes ten minutes to lace up and ten minutes to unlace every morning (Ophelia’s explained to me she can’t simply unclasp the corset as that risks damaging it). Ophelia then spends four times as long as I do in the shower- unsurprisingly, she’s become very obsessive about how she smells after growing up where she did- before applying a layer of pale make-up so thick that hardly any of the actual skin on her face shows through. Her underwear is also much more intricate than mine- a frivolously tiny lacy push-up bra and G-string set and a pair of intricately patterned suspender tights- and then comes the task of lacing her into her corset for the day, something I help her with as if I don’t, it can take her up to half an hour by herself. Buttoning her into her dress is a relatively straightforward task, but tying her petticoats around her waist isn’t, helping her fasten the numerous delicate clasps of her extra-high-heeled shoes isn’t either and helping her with her numerous accessories and jewellery CERTAINLY isn’t.

However, when the procedure is eventually complete, I always have a smile on my face- my BFF looks on the outside, as always, like the truly unique personality that she is on the inside. I, on the other hand, am happy just to look on the outside like the girl I am on the inside, in my very plain black tights, dark blue turtleneck and short pleated skirt.

“Ready?” I ask my teal-haired BFF.

“As always,” Ophelia replies with a smirk, before grabbing her elaborately-decorated handbag and her (obviously) vintage overcoat and following me out of the door and to the nearest tube station.

A short while later, Ophelia and I arrive at the front entrance of the London College of Fashion, where we’re greeted by our friends, including the one we didn’t see yesterday- whose absence hadn’t gone unnoticed.

“Morning, stranger!” I tease Sarah, who response with a half-sigh, half-giggle.

“Yes, yes, okay,” The brown-haired nineteen year old woman sighs, sounding more tired than usual, almost like she's in some kind of pain. “Sorry I couldn’t make it yesterday, I was too busy babysitting Nikki’s sister, need a little bit of extra pocket money.”

“And how much exactly was your trust fund again?” Lauren asks, earning an eye roll in response.

“Not enough to live off,” Sarah retorts. “Not enough to avoid having to take out the same stupidly big student loan as the rest of you.”

“Not enough to make Mr. Corbyn not see seem like a really, really good idea?” Katie teases, making me and Ophelia- both of us having voted Labour in last year’s election- smirk.

“When hell freezes over and he promises not to bankrupt our business, yes,” Sarah retorts. “Enough politics! This is the London College of FASHION, not the London College of Politics!”

“Is there a London College of Politics?” I ask.

“Never heard of student unions?” Lauren asks with a snort of laughter. “EVERY college is the college of politics!”

“But we love them anyway, right?” I ask, giggling as my friends all respond with an enthusiastic cheer, before we go our separate ways- Sarah, Lauren and Ophelia heading to their class while Katie accompanies me to ours.

After being introduced to our topic for the day, our class is broken up into groups to discuss the matter at hand, and fortunately, Katie and I are placed into the same work group, giving me the perfect opportunity to grill my friend about the promise she made yesterday.

“Soo…” I say as Katie and I pore over our reading material.

“So…?” Katie replies.

“I- I figure it might be a LITTLE short notice,” I say, “but last night, you did say you’d be trying to find dates for me and Ophelia…”

“Oh- yep, we’re working on it!” Katie says with a smug grin. “Trust in your fairy godmothers, we’ll get you someone.”

“Me AND Ophelia,” I say. “We’ve decided we want a double date on Valentine’s Day.”

“…Could be trickier,” Katie says. “Both finding a guy willing to double date on V Day and, well, finding a guy suitable for Ophelia.” I bite my lip at my friend’s response- whilst what she says is true- Ophelia herself would probably agree with it- she could at least have worded it differently. And it’s not just Ophelia that she’s implying something about…

“…Are you saying that I’m easy, then?” I retort, smirking as Katie sighs and shakes her head. “Do you even know what my type is?”

“Male?” Katie replies, making me roll my eyes. “With a working dick? And need I remind you, by your own words, I’m not supposed to feel bad about making jokes like that anymore?”

“…Fine, you’re not THAT far wrong,” I say, making the two of us almost bend double with giggles, which earns us both a stern stare from our tutor! “About both of us, actually.”

“Nothing wrong with NOT jumping onto the nearest available dick,” Katie shrugs. “Sometimes think there are things we could all learn from Ophelia. Well, apart from how to breathe when your lungs are crushed down to the size of golf balls, anyway.”

“Yeah,” I chuckle. “Thing is, though… I don’t, you know, want to leave Ophelia all by herself, you know? Especially on Valentine’s Day of all days. I know she wouldn’t have much of a problem of it, she’s not, well, as needy and desperate as I am, but, you know? We do this together or not at all.”

“D’aww,” Katie coos at my impassioned speech. “REALLY want to set you up with each other now…”

“Yeah, well, the lack of a working dick is kinda a turn-off,” I say, making Katie giggle yet again. “But, you know? Sisters, that sort of thing?”

“I get it, really I do,” Katie says. “So cool that you’ve got, like, a proper best of the best friend like that.”

“You’ve got Lauren,” I shrug.

“Yeah…” Katie says. “Only known her a couple of years, though, and we both had, you know, best friends from school. Lauren would probably still be closer to Dannii than me if Dannii hadn’t been, well… Yeah.”

“I still haven’t met her,” I say. “Not properly anyway. Get the feeling I’m not missing much.”

“You really aren’t,” Katie snorts. “Point I’m trying to make is that you and Ophelia really have something special, given how close you are. ‘Course, Nikki and Sarah ARE closer, but- well, yeah.”

“Kinda hard to get any ‘closer’ than ‘inside the other person’,” I say, causing another fit of giggles than earns me and Katie another stern stare from our tutor. “Think we should probably actually do some work now.”

“Probably,” Katie says. “And don’t worry about the V Day date. Your fairy godmothers have everything in hand!”

“Thanks,” I whisper with a smile as I turn back to my reading.

I try to immerse myself in my reading for the rest of the morning, but I’m only able to devote so much attention to my books before my mind again wanders to thoughts of Sunday, what my date will be like- by which I mean both the person I’ll be dating and the actual date itself- what we’ll be eating, where we’ll be going and, most importantly of all, what I’ll be wearing…

Naturally, my ‘distraction’ only increases when Katie and I head to lunch to discover not three, but four friends waiting for us- my fellow transgendered girl has arrived and is, much to everyone’s amusement, sat on her fiancée’s lap with her head resting on her shoulder.

“That looks comfortable,” Katie says with a sarcastic snort of laughter.

“It is,” Nikki purrs.

“Think she was talking to me babe,” Sarah replies, causing Nikki to pout- which, of course, results in a long, gentle kiss between the two women.

“Ahh, SO cute,” I sigh as Katie and I grab chairs for ourselves- and, much to Nikki’s dismay (and Sarah’s relief), one for our ‘guest’.

“I assume the two of you have planned something particular special for Valentine’s Day?” Ophelia asks, frowning in confusion as ‘Snikki’ reply with awkward giggles. “Have- have I said something inappropriate?”

“We- we’re not exactly big V-Day fans,” Sarah explains. “I always seem to get sick, or, well, ‘external factors’ always try to ruin it…”

“This year’s going to especially suck,” Nikki sighs, giving her fiancée an extra-tight cuddle.

“Yep,” Sarah sighs. “Guess who got a call from the hospital yesterday, telling her that she’s having her wisdom teeth out tomorrow?”

“Oh- seriously?” Lauren moans. “Kept that quiet. Um, pun NOT intended…”

“They’ve been giving me grief for weeks,” Sarah sighs. “Typical that they’d finally be dealt with now of all days.”

“Wow,” I whisper. “Suddenly don’t feel so bad about my own hideous V-Day history.”

“Or my non-existent history on that day,” Ophelia says softly.

“Fortunately, this year’s WILL be better,” Katie says. “You have our patented Henderson-Burnett guarantee!”

“What, you two getting dates for Jacelia for V-Day?” Sarah asks, perking up a little.

“That’s the plan!” Lauren giggles.

“Jacinta would NOT stop pestering me about it throughout the morning class…” Katie mock-sighs, giggling as I give her a playful shove.

“Fortunately, Ophelia was a little- well, okay, a LOT quieter about it,” Lauren teases.

“Hence why this is the first I’m hearing about it, then,” Sarah mumbles.

“My apologies,” Ophelia says quietly.

“Oh- I’m not having a go, honestly,” Sarah says. “Can’t all be as, well, ‘public’ about our love lives…” Sarah giggles as her fiancée wraps her arms around her and gives her a long kiss on her cheek.

“I don’t think ANYONE could be as public about their love lives,” Katie snorts, causing another kiss between ‘Snikki’ as the table giggles once again.

“We won’t expect the same from you, don’t worry,” Lauren reassures my BFF. “Obviously though, we’ll expect a post-mortem of the dates.”

“Hopefully not a ‘blow by blow’ description,” I say, making Lauren laugh so hard she almost chokes on her food.

“Not sure we should be talking like this in front of Ophelia,” Katie teases, making my BFF blush.

“I am fully aware what a blowjob is,” Ophelia says, before grinning widely as she greedily tucks into her sausage and mash.

“Why do I get the feeling there’s so much we DON’T know about you?” Lauren muses. “About either of you, for that matter.”

“I am sure that there is just as much that we do not know about you,” Ophelia replies, making the black-haired girl smile.

“Touché,” Lauren retorts. “Maybe we should make, I dunno, a resolution or something to get to know each other better?”

“Think you’re a month too late for that!” Nikki giggles.

“Nah, never too late to make new friends,” I say. “Or grow closer to the ones we already have. EXCEPT when it comes to intimate details of love lives! There are some things I simply do not need to know!”

“Agreed!” Katie giggles. “And like I said in class, don’t worry about the ‘big day’. Lauren and I will find you suitable guys, we promise.”

“And I know a few male models at Heavenly Talent,” Nikki interjects. “Can ask them if they’d want their contact details passed on.”

“Male models?” I ask. “Hell yes, please!”

“Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Jacinta ‘High Standards’ Hanley!” Katie teases, giggling as I give her a playful shove.

The rest of lunch passes by in a haze of giggles punctuated by very occasional eating- just like most of our lunches at university, especially when all six of us are present. After lunch, Katie and I spend the rest of the day in the library until the end of the uni day just after 3pm, but for me, the day isn’t over just yet, as after I bid farewell to my freckled friend, I head to the nearest tube stop and hop on a train that whisks me away to a small office in Islington. Once at the office, I take a seat in the waiting room, before being called through to the office of Dr Lisa Deakin- the gender identity counsellor I’ve been seeing ever since my relocation to London.

“Hi Jacinta!” The forty-year old woman says with a smile as I sit down on her comfortable sofa. “How have the last couple of weeks been?”

“Okay,” I say, taking a deep breath. “Uni’s going alright, dad seems happy, so does Ophelia.”

“Ah, we go over this every session,” Dr Deakin chuckles. “How are YOU feeling, Jacinta?”

“…I’m okay,” I confess, blushing slightly at having been ‘caught out’ and hoping futilely that I’m not ‘caught’ any further. “Really, I am. Okay, maybe not PERFECT…”

“Tell me what’s on your mind,” Dr Deakin says, making me internally sigh- I’ve never been the most ‘guarded’ person in the world, unlike Ophelia, and Dr Deakin IS a trained counsellor, so I basically have zero chance of hiding anything. Especially something like this…

“It- it’s Sunday,” I say. “This Sunday coming.”

“Ah, Valentine’s Day,” Dr Deakin says with a sympathetic smile. “Yeah, I remember being twenty and single and thinking that V-Day was NOT fun.”

“Seriously not fun,” I laugh. “Especially as all my friends have got plans, or boyfriends, or even fiancées, heh.”

“It’s important to remember that it IS only one day a year,” Dr Deakin advises. “On the 15th of February everyone will be back at work or university regardless of their relationship status.”

“I know,” I say. “And in fairness… My friends ARE setting me up with a guy for, well, Sunday…”

“Okay,” Dr Deakin said. “Obviously I’m not going to recommend you don’t go on a date, even though Valentine’s Day isn’t the date I’d pick for a FIRST date, but there’s no real harm in it, as long as you make sure that you don’t expect too much from it.”

“I know, I know,” I sigh. “I’m not expecting to get married by the summer or anything, heh. But I can at least be optimistic, right?”

“There’s a fine between optimism and overconfidence,” Dr Deakin reminds me. “As long as you’re realistic, there’s no need to be pessimistic. So tell me, what’s this young man like?”

“Umm…” I say hesitantly. “I haven’t- I haven’t actually met him yet…”

“Ah,” Dr Deakin says quietly. “Well, as I’ve just told you my usual policy about first dates on Valentine’s Day, you can probably guess how I feel about blind dates on Valentine’s Day.”

“Probably,” I say, trying to suppress a sigh.

“Jacinta,” Dr Deakin says, not even bothering to suppress her sigh. “Your transition is still at a delicate stage, even after eighteen months your body- and more importantly, your brain- is still adapting to the hormones that are changing it.”

“I know,” I mumble.

“And, of course, your body has barely had time to get over the flood of testosterone it had been subjected to,” Dr Deakin says. “There are reasons we have to tread very carefully when prescribing HRT to people as young as you.”

“You – you’re not going to-“ I stammer.

“No,” Dr Deakin says. “There’s no reason I can see to ever take you off HRT. Everything I’ve seen shows that this is 100% the correct course for you- umm, pun not intended, of course. But your emotions ARE still in turmoil, and what you’ve told me about your relationship anxieties… I want you to be cautious, Jacinta. Don’t go into this date expecting to be in a relationship on the 15th.”

“I won’t, I promise,” I say.

"I believe that you believe that," Dr Deakin says. "But one of the most common topics we cover in these sessions is your need for companionship- for want of a better way of putting it, your need for love."

"...Sometimes, maybe," I mumble.

"What concerns me the most is that you seem to be jumping into this date with both feet," Dr Deakin says. "It's not uncommon to feel a need to be with someone when you've been single for a while, but you ARE only twenty. Try not to forget that, Jacinta."

"I'm also the only single twenty year old I know," I retort.

"Then maybe you need to expand your circle of friends," Dr Deakin says bluntly. "Not that there's anything wrong with the friends you have, of course. Especially your transgendered friend Nikki- having someone you can relate to, someone with whom you can compare experiences is a definite positive."

"Experiences other than being single," I laugh. "She's one of the engaged ones, and she's only eighteen."

"She was lucky," Dr Deakin shrugs. "Even you know how unbelievably rare it is to be with someone at that age who you'll spend the rest of your life with. And even many engagements or marriages between people that young don't last long."

"Would that apply to any relationship I start, then?" I ask.

"Probably," Dr Deakin says, her tone growing blunter with every response to my questions. "Prince Charming isn't going to just fall out of the air, Jacinta. There's no reason to be pessimistic. But try not to let yourself get carried away in the moment- especially when you have so much in your life already. Your uni work, your friends..."

"I know," I say. "I- I guess it's just a bit of fun. And it IS only one day a year, heh."

"That's more like it," Dr Deakin says, prompting a smile from both of us.

Naturally, though, when I arrive home, my only thoughts are on the upcoming date, and while Dr Deakin's words of caution are ringing in my ears, it doesn't take long for me to start feeling optimistic again- especially when I hear the unmistakable sound of Ophelia’s sewing machine coming from our bedroom. She doesn’t have any outstanding practical projects, meaning that she’s making clothes for her own personal use, which she only does when there’s a special occasion coming up- and it doesn’t take a genius to jump to the end of this particular chain of logic.

“Hope you’re making a dress for me too for Sunday!” I yell, giggling as the sewing machine abruptly stops.

“…Remind me to inform Katie and Lauren that two of us already know each other EXTREMELY well,” Ophelia replies, making me giggle even louder. “And yes, yes I am making you a dress. Unfortunately I will have neither the time nor the materials to make either of us any lingerie, and certainly not any matching shoes.”

“Oh, I’m sure the dresses will be worth it!” I laugh. “What you want for dinner?”

“Just a sandwich, please,” Ophelia says as the noise of the sewing machine resumes. “I intend to work late on the dresses.”

“Don’t you have a written assignment to do as well?” I ask.

“I have time in which to complete that,” Ophelia replies.

“And a problem- that totally ISN’T your fault- that means you need to take extra time on it,” I retort, wincing as the sewing machine stops once again. “…I’ll get your sandwich. Be in there in a bit.”

Naturally, once I’ve made Ophelia her sandwich (which I make sure is very well-stuffed and garnished with greens so that she gets the proper nourishment), her sewing machine is going once again, and when I enter our bedroom, it’s not a surprise to find that it’s in full-on ‘workshop mode’, with swathes of fabric covering almost every surface. What’s most exciting, though, is the dress that’s hanging from my wardrobe door.

The dress is extremely short- coming to almost mid-thigh on the wearer- so low-cut that it’ll be a miracle if any of the wearer’s breasts remain in it for more than four seconds, and made of a stretchy dark purple fabric with royal blue thread throughout that will hug and accentuate the wearer’s curves beautifully. Easily the best thing about the dress, though, is that it’s designed for a taller girl- a girl of almost 5’ 10”- and a girl with a wider waist than Ophelia’s, and there’s only one girl I know who fits that description.

“This-“ I say as I gently stroke the soft, smooth fabric of the dress. “This is- Wow. Thank you so, SO much!”

“I was making it anyway, before I found out about the date,” Ophelia says with a smirk. “I thought it would be very… Exciting. For both yourself and your date!”

“Mission accomplished!” I say with an excited squeak. “Can- can I try it on now?”

“I am not happy with some of the stitching,” Ophelia says. “Perhaps tomorrow or Saturday. Of course, it will be completed long before Sunday evening!”

“SO amazing,” I whisper.

“As will my dress,” Ophelia says as she checks the stitching on the latest length of fabric she’d just sewn.

“You’re making a new dress for the date?” I ask. “Would’ve thought you’d alter an old one…”

“I will confess,” Ophelia says, “I am actually starting to look forward to the date, and the possibilities that it might bring.”

“Oh my god, really?” I squeak, biting my lip as my BFF’s blushing cheeks start to shine through her thick pale make-up.

“The main reason I am looking forward to the date is the opportunity to make a new dress,” Ophelia explains. “I have had several ideas in my mind that I have wanted to make a reality.”

“All dressed up and finally somewhere to go?” I tease.

“Something like that,” Ophelia whispers. “I never thought I would go on a proper ‘date’ like this, certainly not when I was younger.”

“There’s someone out there for everyone,” I shrug. “Every woman deserves romance, regardless of what they look like on the outside. And yes, that ‘outside’ comment applies to both of us, heh.”

“I was thinking more along the lines of what my family considers to be a ‘date’,” Ophelia says quietly.

“…Guessing there’s not much romance involved in THAT?” I mumble.

“You guess correctly,” Ophelia whispers, biting her lip as she continues her work.

“Well one thing’s for damned sure,” I say, gently sitting down next to my BFF. “Out of all the Lowe sisters, you’re the only one any of the guys from university would even look at!” As the words leave my mouth, I cringe at my inadvertent implication. “Ehh… Damned by faint praise… Sorry.”

“I know what you mean,” Ophelia says with a smile. “We ARE apparently psychically linked, aren’t we?”

“Do you know what I’m thinking right now?” I ask.

“I don’t need to read your mind to know THAT,” Ophelia retorts. “And I will have it finished and adjusted as soon as possible, I promise.”

“You’re the best,” I say with a giggle. “Now make sure you eat!”

“Yes, yes, I will,” Ophelia says, before a smug grin creeps across her face. “And yes, I am. One thing is for certain, though.”

“Oh?” I ask.

“With all the effort I am putting into our dresses,” Ophelia says, “the men will have a LOT to live up to!” I giggle as I leave my BFF to her work, which she continues until long after 9pm, only stopping when the time comes to begin her lengthy ‘getting ready for bed’ routine.

Naturally, with my date dress hanging on the wardrobe door mere inches away from my face, I don’t get much sleep, but when I wake up, I’m still buzzing with excitement about Sunday- especially as there’s only one weekday left before the big day, and Friday afternoons are always designated as ‘private study’ time anyway. Today, however, ‘private study’ is probably going to take on a slightly different meaning than the one our lecturers intended- and from the looks on Katie and Lauren’s faces when we arrive at university, it’s clear that they’re of the same mind as me and Ophelia.

“Hey girlies!” Katie squeaks, greeting me with a tight hug and Ophelia with a slightly gentler one. “Only two days to go to the big day… And to answer your inevitable question, yes, I may have heard from Miss Thomas that she may have found two EXTREMELY good looking guys for the two of you for Sunday…”

“Oh?” I ask, barely suppressing an excited giggle. “Do we get to see these hunks before flinging ourselves at them?”

“Depends on how quick you plan to fling yourself at them on Sunday,” Lauren says with a smug grin. “We’ve got pictures of them, don’t worry. Will show you during lunch. Or rather, after lunch…”

“What, you mean during the time when we’ll be hard at work in the library?” I ask, prompting all four of us- Ophelia included- to break down in a fit of giggles. “You had the same idea as us, then?”

“Need a new dress for the date,” Katie shrugs. “They don’t just appear out of thin air, do they?”

“You could always just wear thin air on the date…” Lauren teases, giggling as her BFF gives her a playful shove. “But yeah, same goes for me, need a new dress as I didn’t have the time to make one, what with all our assignments, heh.”

“Fortunately, I HAVE had the time,” Ophelia says with a smug grin, earning gasps of excitement from our friends.

“Oh, PLEASE tell me you have photos of them!” Lauren gasps. “Your other designs have been SO gorgeous…”

“Please tell me you’ve got enough spare fabric and time to make me one!” Katie giggles, making my BFF blush.

“Unfortunately, I have only had the time to make dresses for myself and Jacinta,” Ophelia says, biting her lip at the sighs of disappointment from our friends. “However I would be more than happy to make you dresses-“

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Lauren giggles. “Got Sarah to lean on if I want free clothes. Well, once she gets better, anyway…”

“Ah, she already in hospital?” I ask.

“Yeah,” Lauren sighs.

“We should do something to help cheer her up,” Ophelia says, making me grin- twelve months ago, she’d have been the last person to suggest that. “Such as a party, or some kind of gathering.”

“Yeah,” Katie says with a smile. “Yeah, that’d be nice. Well, once she feels a bit better anyway, I remember having my wisdoms out, that was NOT fun. She won’t be able to drink for weeks either…”

“Fortunately, though, we will on Sunday,” Lauren says, raising the mood once again. “Which brings me back to this afternoon- in addition to new dresses, we’ll also need new shoes…”

“Ah, my kryptonite,” Katie giggles.

“Ditto!” I giggle. “Kinda gonna need some, umm…” My voice trails off as I realise that what I’m about to suggest is intimate in every sense of the word- and despite our newfound ‘openness’, possibly even TOO intimate.

“…Go on,” Katie teases.

“I kinda…” I say, desperately trying to stop my cheeks from flushing. “Need new… Lingerie?” Despite my best efforts, my face turns redder than a tomato as my friend’s jaws drop and they look at me with a mixture of surprise and excitement on their faces.

“…Oh. My. God,” Katie gasps. “I- I haven’t been to Ann Summers in AGES!”

“I- umm, I mean, we- we’ve never been at all,” I mumble, my embarrassment fading.

“Oh my god, we are SO taking you there after lunch!” Lauren says, looking almost giddy with excitement herself. “Do- do you remember that time we took Snikki there last June?”

“What, just before Dannii’s birthday?” Katie asks. “Yes. THAT will take some forgetting, hehe!”

“Share the joke,” I say to my freckled friend, who gasps and blushes at her own overenthusiasm.

“Oh- sorry, sorry,” Katie says, flapping her hands excitedly. “It’s just- last time we went there with Nikki and Sarah, they-“

“They may have been a little bit shocked by what they found inside that shop,” Lauren says, barely suppressing a giggle. “Sarah because of her middle-class upbringing, Nikki- well, you know. You of all people should know, heh.”

“That didn’t stop them from spending a LOT of money in there though!” Katie says with a devilish twinkle in her eye. “So I hope you’ve saved plenty of your student loan, heh!”

“Oh- yeah, trust me!” I giggle. “Got a reasonable idea of what goes on in THAT shop, hehe!” I giggle. “Ophelia and I never went to the one in Brighton, though.”

“I…” Ophelia begins hesitantly. “That is to say, my family, including myself, even though I had nothing to do with the incident in question…”

“Go on…” Katie says, smirking at Ophelia’s obvious discomfort.

“Umm…” My BFF mumbles, clearly embarrassed by the story.

“Oh come on, you can’t leave us hanging like that!” Lauren protests- and despite my usual protective attitude toward my BFF, I’m as eager as Katie and Lauren for Ophelia to finish her story- leaving me feeling a little guilty…

“…Maybe finish this later?” I suggest, earning a silent ‘thank you’ from my BFF.

“No, I can finish the story now,” Ophelia says, taking as deep a breath as her torturously tight corset will allow. “My- my sisters were caught shoplifting from Ann Summers, my mother caused a scene when she went to collect them, and the whole family was banned as a result.”

“Yikes!” I involuntarily say, making my cheeks redden once again.

“You didn’t know about this?” Katie asks. “Maybe you’re not THAT close after all…”

“It is hardly something of which I am proud,” Ophelia mumbles.

“I- I’m sorry,” I sigh. “But I have to know- which sisters? It- it wasn’t Candice, was it?”

“No,” Ophelia whispers. “It was Kylie and Sharon.”

“Both older,” I explain to Katie and Lauren.

“Though they were 15 and 13 at the time,” Ophelia says, almost making Katie and I double over with laughter as we head toward our first class.

“God…” Katie says once we’re out of earshot of Lauren and Ophelia. “You- you know Nikki’s been on the Jeremy Kyle Show, right?”

“Yeah, I actually remember watching it,” I say. “And no, there’s no way you’d get Ophelia on that show in a million years!”

“I was about to say,” Katie says with a snort of laughter. “The rest of her family sounds like the only people in the country too lower-class even for Jeremy Kyle!”

“Having met Ophelia’s family,” I retort. “…You’re right. Thank god Ophelia’s the ‘white sheep’, heh!”

“More like ‘only sheep’,” Katie says. “In a family of, I dunno, crocodiles or something…”

“Not the best comparison,” I say. “Ophelia’s mother doesn’t have nearly enough teeth to be a crocodile!” The two of us giggle happily as we head toward our first- and only- class of the day.

After a very, very quick lunch, the four of us pack our books into our bags, grab our coats (it’s February- it’s not warm outside) and take the tube to the centre of London and its many, many clothing stores. Ophelia and I have been living in London for almost five months now, but we’ve never been on any ‘big’ shopping trips, just the occasional visit here or there to a new charity or second-hand store that my BFF has had her eyes on. Today, however, will be different, as evidenced by the excited grins on Katie & Lauren’s faces when they lead us into a small but very posh independent clothing store that neither Ophelia nor I have ever heard of.

“Now THIS is one of my favourite shops,” Katie says with a smug grin. “Maybe a bit pricier than the likes of Primark but the quality is GREAT, the designs are really cool and the owner-“

“Is standing right behind you,” an older woman’s voice says, making Katie smirk and roll her eyes.

“Girlies, meet Denise Du Pont,” Katie says, making me smirk with confusion- Denise’s accent is probably even stronger London than Katie’s. “Denise, you already know Lauren, I’d like you to meet Jacinta Hanley, who’s on the same course as me, and Ophelia Love, who’s on the same course as Lauren.”

“A pleasure,” Denise says, exchanging air kisses with me and my BFF. “So, let me guess- big dates on Sunday, new dresses needed?”

“Kinda obvious, right?” Katie giggles. “I still get my staff discount, right?”

“Don’t push it,” Denise retorts, before heading off to greet another customer who’s just entered the store.

“You’ve worked here before?” I ask as I peruse the racks of gorgeous dresses, smiling at the feel of the various different fabrics running through my fingers.

“Kinda,” Katie says. “I did some freelance work for Denise over the summer. Probably more valuable is that I kinda abused my connections a bit, sent a couple of the Angels her way, let her get publicity shots of them trying on dresses and shopping in here, that sort of thing. Now THAT won me a lot of brownie points, hehe!”

“Can imagine!” I giggle. “Ah, shouldn’t get TOO distracted by these dresses when I know I’ve got a gorgeous one waiting for me at home…”

“You’ll have a second date, won’t you?” Katie shrugs, a devilish grin creeping across her face. Rather than say anything in response, I grab a beautiful-looking strapless dress with a fitted bodice and a long, flowing skirt and head to the nearest changing room, emerging a few seconds later to wolf whistles from my friends.

“Aww, that fits you SO well,” Lauren sighs as I lift my hair to let the girls examine the back of the dress. “So lucky, being 5’ 10”…” I bite my lip, and from the sound- or lack of sound- of the awkward silence behind me, I’m probably not the only one…

“…Remembering WHY I’m 5’ 10”, anyway,” I mumble.

“…Just makes you a 5’ 10” GIRL,” Katie says smugly. “Now get that dress off, it’s my turn!” I giggle as I return to the changing rooms and exchange my dress for the skirt and top I wore to university, but my giggle fades when I see Lauren looking at a nearby rack of skirts with a guilty look on her face.

“Hey, umm, Lauren,” I mumble.

“Hey Jacinta,” Lauren whispers. “I- umm, sorry about, umm, you know…”

“Honestly, I’m the one who should be sorry,” I sigh. “Me saying ‘don’t be afraid to make jokes’ then saying ‘oh everyone knows I’m only 5’ 10” because I'm transgender’… Yeah. So don’t worry about it. Honestly. If I have to say this a thousand times.”

“Thanks,” Lauren says, giving me a quick hug.

“And for what it’s worth, I am TOTALLY jealous of your curves!” I say, making the black-haired girl giggle appreciatively. “Who wants to be a tall stick insect anyway?”

“You’d be surprised,” Lauren says with a derisive snort of laughter. “Tall and curvy, though, now THAT’s the perfect body!”

“Are you saying my body is perfect?” I ask, giggling as my friend starts to blush.

“I know I’d kill for it,” Lauren shrugs. “Regardless of, well, ‘add-ons’. Doesn’t make it any less girly or gorgeous. ESPECIALLY in that dress, hehe!”

“You should see the one Ophelia made for me!” I whisper with a wink.

“Well we’re not going to see anything while SOMEONE hogs the changing room!” Lauren says loudly, earning a loud sigh from inside the changing room.

“Ta-dah!” Katie beams a few moments later as she emerges from the changing room wearing a very daring long-sleeved dress made of translucent dark red fabric with a built-in black leotard underneath and a high slit up one side. “Worth the wait?”

“Now THAT is an ‘Angel’ dress, hehe!” I giggle as Katie does a twirl, causing the light, floaty skirt of the dress to billow around her legs.

“It’s also £110, sadly,” Katie sighs. “But it shows just how amazing Denise’s designs are.”

“Not that I’m jealous, or anything…” Lauren says with a mock pout- but behind her, I can see that my BFF’s pout might be more serious than Lauren’s.

“Seen anything you like the look of, Ophelia?” I ask, earning a typically enigmatic look in response.

“A few items have taken my interest,” My BFF replies. “Will you be buying that dress, Jacinta?”

“For £35? Probably!” I giggle as I gently examine the strapless gown I’m still holding in my arms. “…Though of course, your dress is the one I REALLY want.”

“Of course,” Ophelia says with an obviously forced smile that makes me sigh.

“I mean it,” I say. “No need to be, you know, jealous… I’m a twenty year old girl in a dress shop, obviously I’m going to be a little bit excited!”

“I am not jealous,” Ophelia says, before her face falls into a frown. “Okay. Maybe I AM jealous. But not of the thought that I might ‘lose’ you.”

“Then- then what’s up?” I ask.

“These designs,” Ophelia explains. “They are far ahead of my own. FAR ahead. I would not blame you for wanting to wear that dress instead…”

“No- no,” I say. “YOU’RE the designer whose clothes I like the most. The BEST. Denise- she’s a professional, you know? Been at this ages, by the time you’ve been designing for as long as she has, I’m sure you’ll be a million times better.”

“Perhaps,” Ophelia shrugs. “Even though Lauren and Sarah are also better than me too…”

“I wouldn’t sa-“ I begin, before being abruptly cut-off by an unexpected voice.

“Forgive me for eavesdropping,” Denise says, making me cringe as I realise that she’s likely heard every word I’ve said- many of which weren’t very complimentary of her…

“Umm, hi!” I say with an overenthusiastic smile. “I LOVE this dress! Where do I pay?”

“Just a second,” Denise says, before turning to Ophelia with a smile on her face. “Did you say that you were a designer yourself?”

“Yes…” Ophelia hesitantly replies. “This- this dress is one of my designs.” I start to smirk as Ophelia does a slow twirl in her home-made dress, showing off the intricate pleats sewn into the knee-length skirt. “As is the corset I am wearing underneath.”

“Very interesting,” Denise says. “So you make underwear too?”

“When I have the time,” Ophelia replies. “I find it is often more difficult than making regular clothing, because-“

“Because it needs to fit a lot more snugly,” Denise finishes my BFF’s sentence for her. “Unless you use a lycra material anyway, but then you don’t get as much flexibility with the design- pun unintended, heh.”

“Precisely,” Ophelia says, her lips quickly turning upward into a wide grin. “Especially a corset, which must be custom-measured to the wearer’s size.”

“I’ve never actually designed a corset before,” Denise says. “I’d be interested in any tips you might have. In fact… I’d be interested in seeing your portfolio.”

“I- I would be happy to show it, hehe!” Ophelia replies- and it should go without saying that her giggle was EXTREMELY uncharacteristic of her.

“You girls have Wednesday free from university, don’t you?” Denise asks. “Drop back next week, I’ll take a look. Who knows, I may even feature some of your designs in the shop!”

“R- really?” Ophelia asks.

“Don’t have time to design ALL of this by myself!” Denise giggles. “I feature independent designers all the time. Sold a dress that Lauren and her friend made only yesterday, in fact. Though that one in your arms is all mine, heh!”

“I- I’m flattered,” I giggle as I examine the dress once again.

“That’s why it’s slightly less expensive than the other items,” Denise says. “No commission. So if you’ve got your £28 on you, I can get that checked out now if you’d like.”

“But- but the tag says-“ I say.

“20% employee discount,” Denise shrugs, making me frown with confusion.

“But- but I don’t work here-“ I stammer.

“Let me show you something,” Denise says, leading me toward a side wall of her shop. “You’ve seen all the boards around the store, right? Of famous customers?”

“Yes…” I reply.

“Take a look at this one,” Denise says, showing me the board, which has a faint sky blue and pink border. “Recognise any faces?”

“Is- is that Nikki?” I ask as I look at a picture of a dark-haired girl wearing a very short, very tight dark mauve cocktail dress.

“It is indeed,” Denise says. “And the girl next to her is Steph Abbott, from Out of Heaven. Above her is Jamie-Lee Burke, to the side of her is a model called Kelly Watson who I reckon will be a very big deal before too long.” Needless to say, the significance of these names isn’t lost on me.

“…You overheard me talking to Lauren, too?” I mumble.

“I hear everything that goes on in this shop,” Denise says with a warm grin. “I’d love to see your picture on this board. Call it a ‘modelling job’, hence qualifying you for an employee discount!”

“…I dunno,” I mumble.

“Okay, okay, I know most models get paid more than £7 per job, heh!” Denise says. “And trust me, you are more than beautiful enough to go on this board.”

“I- I’m just not, you know, comfortable being… Singled out,” I grimace. “I mean, I- I just want to be a girl, you know? Without anything going in front of the word ‘girl’.”

“And that’s what you are,” Denise says. “I understand that you might be concerned that I’m singling out transgendered girls, but the truth is, I see myself more as promoting them. You, sorry. How many girls do you suppose are living the lives they want because of the example set by Jamie-Lee Burke, or by Steph Abbott? How many girls gained the courage to come forward?”

“…I dunno,” I shrug. “Bound to be a few, I guess.”

“And what if there were girls who live the life they always wanted to lead because they followed the example of Jacinta Hanley?” Denise asks, making me smile.

Half an hour later- after trying on countless more dresses, of course- the four of us walk out of the shop each carrying a fancy bag that contains an even fancier garment- even Ophelia, who found a maxi skirt she intends to alter and wear in summer. Naturally, even though all of us now have sizeable holes in our bank balances, we all have wide grins on our faces- and my grin is probably widest of all, thanks to the new friend I made and the new opportunity I never expected to have a mere sixty minutes ago. Naturally, I obliged Denise’s request for a photograph, and even got a couple of extra copies to take home with me (one of which I’m definitely planning to frame and send to my dad). As the four of us head to our next destination, there’s only one thing on my mind…

“So, Katie,” I ask my freckled friend. “Know any other small business owners in need of a girly and gorgeous 5’ 10” model?”

“…Maybe,” Katie teases.

“First, though, we NEED new shoes!” Lauren giggles with an almost ravenous look on her face.

“Ahh… We are SO a bunch of stereotypes,” Katie giggles. “You are right though, we DO need new shoes. This shop’s going to be a high street chain shop, I’m afraid, don’t know any independent shoe makers. What it DOES have, though, is two large floors filled with footwear of every imaginable type!”

“And despite your sickeningly sexy 5’ 10” frame,” Lauren says, “you are NOT going on that date wearing a heel lower than three inches!”

“And even then, you’ll still be shorter than the guy Nikki’s lined up for you!” Katie giggles.

“You’ll not get any argument from me!” I say in an excited squeak as we head toward our next destination. “About the shoes OR the guy!”

Naturally, the four of us spend the next hour trying on countless pairs of shoes before we eventually settle on the pairs that we’ll be wearing to our date. Whilst we don’t get the personal treatment we got at Denise’s shop, that doesn’t stop us from having fun- especially when Ophelia tries on a pair of extra=high platform shoes and we spend almost twenty minutes trying to outdo each other with increasingly high heel heights! I eventually settle on a pair of dark pumps with a 4” extra-narrow stiletto heel and a closed toe (due to the shortness of my dress, I’ll need to wear tights with it), though I also pick up a pair of cute ballet flats for everyday use and a pair of reduced-price thigh-high boots that almost seemed to be screaming at me to buy them from the second I laid eyes on them- and that I immediately change into once I’ve bought them!

“Well then,” Lauren says, taking a long, hard look at my leather-clad legs as we leave the shop. “You’re definitely dressed appropriately for the last stop on our shopping trip, hehe!”

“I am so excited about this!” I giggle. “It’s hard to believe that a shop like this even exists, hehe!”

“Oh- trust me, it exists,” Lauren says with a smug grin. “I’d prepare yourself, though- you might get a teeny little shock when you go in there for the first time!”

“…Bring it on,” I say with a smug grin of my own as we head to our final destination of the afternoon.

Naturally, Lauren was right, as when the four of us step through the front door of the store, my jaw drops at the sight of all the unashamedly sex, all the unashamedly feminine adornments covering each wall and the numerous racks dotted around the floor. From the usual knickers and bras to all the sex toys of various shapes and sizes to more lingerie of varieties I've never even seen before, the shop is a nirvana for anyone wanting to explore their femininity- especially their feminine sexuality.

“What did I promise you?” Katie asks.

“…I already LOVE this shop!” I giggle, before heading to a nearby rack of lacy teddies and examining the skimpy, delicate fabric. “Just a few years ago, I’d never even have DREAMED of wearing things like this…”

“Obviously, it’s not what you’d call ‘everyday’ wear,” Lauren says. “Well, for most people…” I follow my black-haired friend’s eye line to where my BFF is stood in front of a rack of corsets, closely examining the stitching on each garment.

“Hey,” I say softly as I approach my BFF, barely distracting her from her examination. “I- umm, you- you’re not getting, you know, jealous again, are you?”

“Should I be?” Ophelia asks, a smug grin creeping across her face. “Of corsets that are far inferior to my own creations?” I grin widely as Ophelia leaves the corsets and moves to a different rack of items- ‘items’ that make my eyes widen as she nonchalantly picks up a terrifying-looking dildo and begins reading the instructions on the back.

“Umm, Ophelia…” I mumble, biting my lip as Katie and Lauren stare at us with eyes as wide as dinner plates.

“Why must they write the instructions so small?” Ophelia asks with a loud sigh. “Could you read this paragraph please, Jacinta?”

“This- this is because of your dyslexia, right?” I ask, gingerly taking the dildo from my BFF and holding it in my fingertips. “This isn’t some kind of prank, is it?”

“There are words on there I simply do not recognise,” Ophelia explains. “It is not my fault I struggle with the written language…”

“…Fine,” I sigh, shuddering as I look at the paragraph Ophelia’s pointing to. “The 'Big Satisfaction' Vibrator. Now in a gorgeous glitter finish, this classic vibrator really is designed to satisfy. Now firmer for better sensations, the vibe comes with satisfying ridges and contours, with powerful multispeed vibrations controlled with a twist of the base. Big Satisfaction comes with a slightly curved, round tip for G-Spot satisfaction and he feels amazing with lots of lube. Similarly to our Rampant Rabbits, the external arm is perfectly positioned to target your clit for breathtaking dual stimulation.” I bit my lip to stop myself from frowning as my cheeks turn bright red- not helped by my friends staring straight at me.

“Why are you so self-conscious?” Katie asks. “I mean, you’re already IN the store, aren’t you?”

“And Ophelia isn’t embarrassed, are you?” Lauren asks my BFF, who simply grins widely in response.

“I believe I shall buy two,” Ophelia says, grabbing another dildo from the rack.

“And here I was thinking we were here to buy underwear,” I say.

“Lingerie,” Katie corrects me. “We’re here to buy lingerie. Bit of a difference between that and the kind of underwear you’re wearing now! Allow me to demonstrate…” My smile returns as Katie directs me back to the main body of the store, where again I’m almost assaulted by the sight of every type of lingerie in every direction I look.

“Don’t need to ask if anything’s taken your fancy, do I?” Lauren asks.

“More like EVERYTHING’s taken my fancy,” I giggle, taking an almost see-through baby doll off the shelf and examining the delicate lace on the front of it. “Pity you can’t, you know, try before you buy…”

“Especially the ‘things’ Ophelia’s buying!” Katie teases. “That being said, though, there’s no reason you can’t try them on at home…”

“Oh- trust me, that IS the plan, hehe!” I giggle.

“Have you- have you ever heard of an Ann Summers party?” Lauren asks.

“…This sounds like something that’s possibly illegal,” I retort, making my black-haired friend giggle.

“No, nothing illegal,” Lauren says. “Well, maybe in Saudi Arabia. Or Alabama, or somewhere like that.”

“Figured that much,” I reply. “Funny though, as I thought you and Katie were both straight…”

“Umm- no…” Lauren says with a chuckle. “An Ann Summers party isn’t, you know, an orgy or anything!”

“But- but it’s still women wearing lingerie around other women, right?” I ask.

“Kind of,” Lauren says. “It’s- it’s kinda like a live-action catalogue with models showing off the lingerie and taking orders, that sort of thing.”

“Ah,” I say. “Okay, I can DEFINITELY get behind that idea!”

“Dunno how popular they are nowadays but I definitely remember my aunt telling me she used to host them in the nineties,” Lauren says. “Couldn’t hurt to ask if you could host one, get a bit of extra pocket money whilst wearing sexy lingerie!”

“Yeah… Kinda sounds like my dream job, hehe!” I giggle.

“That’s the whole idea,” Lauren says. “Half tempted to ask for an application form myself, heh. AFTER I decide exactly which bra and thong set Michael will be removing on Sunday evening!”

“Same here!” I giggle. “Might need the extra income, actually, as if I stay in this shop any longer I may well go bankrupt!” My friend and I both giggle excitedly as we browse through the racks of lingerie, both of us overwhelmed- but in a good way- by the variety on offer.

Naturally, the four of us remain in the store until just before closing time, eventually leaving with shopping bags crammed with delicate, intimate items of clothing (I picked up a see-through chemise and a lacy bra and thong set)- as well as a few other, more ‘unmentionable’ items in Ophelia’s shopping bag! All four of us are buzzing with excitement after our afternoon of shopping, and that goes especially for me and my BFF- neither of us had experienced an afternoon like this when we were living in Brighton. Then again, neither of us had friends like Katie and Lauren when we were living in Brighton, friend who accept both of us for exactly who we are- young, individual women who just want to be accepted for who we are. Neither of us had friends who’d set us up on dates with willing young men, either…

“So, Ophelia,” Katie teases. “Thinking of applying for a store credit card?”

“No!” I exclaim in mock-terror, making my friends giggle. “Not sure the foundations of our flat could take it!”

“…I am considering it,” Ophelia says with a devilish grin as she reaches into her bag, pulls out a packet of AA batteries and starts playfully fiddling with them.

“Still wish you knew more about us?” I ask, making Katie laugh so much she actually starts coughing.

“No ta, I’m fine,” Katie replies, reaching into her coat and taking a puff on her asthma inhaler. “Think we’re about as intimate as we’re ever going to get!”

“Says the girl who’s shared a bed with me on more than one occasion,” Lauren says, making us all giggle again.

“Sofa bed and that’s only because Jacelia don’t have an inflatable mattress,” Katie retorts.

“I’m afraid I think we shall be a bit out of pocket for the next few weeks,” Ophelia says, her face still sporting the grin she’s had ever since she left the shop.

“Unless you host any Ann Summers parties, anyway,” Lauren teases.

“Ann Summers parties?” Ophelia asks, clearly interested by the idea.

“I’ll explain when we get home,” I say, earning yet more giggles from my friends as we head to our respective homes.

Naturally, once I get home, the adrenaline thins a little in my blood and I find myself needing to crash on the sofa for a good fifteen minutes before getting up, starting a quick dinner for me and Ophelia and putting away my many purchases. As I examine the delicate fabric of my new chemise, I can’t help but chuckle at the thought of all the fun I had this afternoon, and what it was all in aid of- making the right first impression for a man I’ve never met and might not even like- or worse yet, might not even find attractive. The one consolation is that as it’s Nikki who’s arranged the dates, they will at least be okay with the idea of being with a transgendered girl- but the truth remains that this afternoon, I had the most fun I’ve ever had in my life, and there were zero boys involved. Maybe I shouldn’t be focussing on ‘Prince Charming’ as hard as I am doing…

After dinner, Ophelia and I opt for an early night rather than the traditional Friday night out, due to a combination of tiredness from our shopping expedition and a need to be up early tomorrow to spend all of Saturday on the other side of retail customer service.

Obviously, spending all of Saturday at work manages to take my mind off of things, even though every time a good-looking guy who’s over six feet tall and under 25 years of age comes into the shop I keep wondering ‘is this the guy?’. Before wondering what he looks like naked. One thing’s for sure, though- Saturday afternoon isn’t nearly as fun as Friday afternoon, and it’s a massive relief when my manager comes to me and tells me that my shift is over and I can go home. Not least because that means it’s only one sleep- and zero obligations- between now and the big date. When I get home, it becomes obvious that Ophelia’s thinking the same thing- the sound of her sewing machine coming from our bedroom being probably the biggest clue.

“Still not finished it yet, then?” I yell over the noise of the sewing.

“Almost,” Ophelia replies. “I just finished yours, if you want to come and try it on.”

“You need to ask?” I ask, giggling excitedly and already removing my top and tight feminine work trousers as I enter the bedroom. My grin only widens when Ophelia holds the dress out for me to step into, and once I’m zipped into the form-fitting garment, my knees actually start to wobble, I’m that excited.

As I look at myself in the mirror, I realise that maybe, just maybe, Dr Deakin had a point when she said I already have so much going for me in my life. Merely standing here right now wearing this dress is undoubtedly a ‘win’. My legs may not be as long or slender as Katie’s ballerina’s legs, but they are still soft and feminine. My curves may not be as, well, curvy as Lauren’s, but they are still undoubtedly a pleasing shape, and definitely feminine. Sure, I may not be able to get ANY man I want, and I suppose I never will, but any man who doesn’t want a woman who looks like this is a man who doesn’t deserve a woman who looks like this.

My confidence only increases on the afternoon of Valentine’s Day itself as Katie and Lauren drop around to get ready for our dates together. My three friends help me wash and style my hair into a long, bouncy, voluminous style that cascades over my bare shoulders. My make-up is applied with millimetre precision, from my thick mascara and eyeliner to my dark, smoky eyeshadow and my dark red lipstick. My nails are filed, shaped, treated with numerous different lacquers and coated in a deep red polish. Although my jewellery collection is limited, I make the most of it nonetheless, putting in my most elegant dangly earrings, a dainty silver necklace and wrapping a thin gold chain around my wrist. I finish by dousing myself in a cloud of sweet-smelling perfume, completing the illusion- not that it is an illusion, of course- that I am a beautiful twenty year old woman who any man would give their right arm to be with.

Once I’m made-up, I head into the bedroom for some privacy before pulling on my laciest bra and thong, followed by a pair of dark, shiny suspender tights. Once I’m happy with my ‘shape’, I return to the temporary salon that is our living room, where my friends are waiting with my dress and my heels. Once my look is complete and I’m practically sealed into my dress, I pose for my friends as they take photos of me for their Instagram, just as I’d taken photos of Katie and Lauren in their asymmetrical knee-length dress and clingy strapless dress respectively.

“Ugh, SO gorgeous,” Katie says. “You are going to knock Joey dead, you seriously are!”

“Thanks!” I squeak. “Not like the same can’t be said of you two, hehe! Make sure you’re not sat on opposite sides of the table or you might find all the food sliding into your lap!”

“Why-“ Lauren asks, before her eyes go wide in realisation. “Oh. You mean THAT.”

“Aka ‘the perfect end to a perfect evening’, yes,” I giggle. “Or I could always call for a ban on dick jokes again, if you’d prefer…”

“…Nah,” Lauren says, before letting out an excited giggle. “Ah, three down, one to go!”

“Helped by the fact that SOMEONE won’t let us do her make-up for her!” Katie teases my BFF, who smirks in response as the freckled girl gets out her nail kit and starts working on her extra-long fingernails.

“You would attempt to make me look ‘normal’,” Ophelia says, earning mock pouts from our two friends.

“As if we would EVER do that to you!” Lauren protests, before giggling. “But I do kinda get your point, your look, it- it is a personal thing. Don’t want anyone messing with it, especially on a night like tonight!”

“But you’re okay messing with MY look?” I pout.

“Your ‘look’ is ‘sexy’,” Katie retorts. “We can do ‘sexy’. Doesn’t take a lot of effort for you, actually!” I giggle with appreciation at my friend’s unusual compliment as I join in with Ophelia’s manicure, before the four of us help to tie her nearly-waist length teal-coloured hair into an elaborate updo that takes us almost twenty minutes due to its intricate braids and waves. Eventually, Ophelia’s hair is done, and she heads into the bedroom to get dressed… And when she emerges, all of our jaws are on the floor.

Ophelia’s dress is a true work of art. It’s slit high up both sides, with every step exposing virtually all of her legs, which are covered in elaborately-patterned tights. The bodice is very fitted, tightly hugging Ophelia’s corseted waist, but has a small ‘window’ at the top that exposes a tiny bit of cleavage and a high collar that covers all of her slender neck. Ophelia’s shoulders are bare, as are her arms- normally, with a ‘formal’ dress, Ophelia would wear opera gloves, but it’s clear that she wants to show off her new paint job tonight!

“…Seriously, HOW have you remained single your whole life?” Katie asks as my BFF does a slow twirl on her 6” platform stilettos.

“Zero sex drive,” Ophelia retorts.

“Says the woman with two new battery-powered boyfriends!” Lauren retorts, making my BFF blush.

“Ah, like I said before, nothing wrong with standards,” Katie says as we all take out our phones to photograph my blushing BFF.

“Everyone ready, then?” Lauren asks.

“Damn right!” I giggle as the four of us all grab our designer handbags and head toward the front door of our flat. Before I reach the door, however, my phone beeps to notify me of a new message.

“Ugh,” I say, rolling my eyes. “I am SO putting this on silent for the duration of the da-“ Before I can finish the sentence, however, I read the message… And my heart immediately splits in too.

‘Hey Jacinta,’ the message- from Joey, the boy Nikki set me up with- reads. ‘Sorry but won’t be able to make it tonight, I’ve been feeling ill all day. Sorry.’

“Ja- Jacinta?” Katie asks as I bite my lip to prevent tears from falling from my eyes. “What’s up?”

“Fuck every man ever,” I spit, handing Katie my phone (which still has the message displayed on it) before kicking off my heels and slumping down onto our sofa.

“Oh my god,” Katie sighs, her voice a mixture of disappointment and disgust. “That- that total fuckwad!”

“Oh you have got to be kidding me,” Lauren spits. “I am SO tearing his skin off when I see him next…”

“Are- are you okay, Jacinta?” Katie asks, sitting down next to me.

“No,” I sigh. “I mean, I really am all dressed up and nowhere to go!” I frown as tears start to freely flow from my eyes, and Katie leans in to give me a gentle hug.

“It’s okay, it’s okay, let it out,” Katie whispers as Lauren joins us on the sofa.

“You- you two should get going,” I moan. “You actually have guys who want to see you. Because you actually ARE gi-“

“NO,” Lauren says firmly. “Look at yourself, Jacinta! You’re the sexiest, girliest girl in this flat. End. Of. Story. And if Joey can’t recognise it, if that’s what the problem is, then he doesn’t deserve to have any girl EVER again!”

“Thanks for trying to cheer me up,” I sniffle. “Doesn’t change the fact that it’s Valentine’s Day and I’m going to be sat here by myself, though.”

“No, you are not,” Ophelia says, taking Katie’s place next to me and giving me a very uncharacteristic hug. “I have cancelled my date.”

“Wh- you- why?” I ask.

“You really need to ask?” Katie says with a giggle as she gets her phone out of her handbag. “I’m going to cancel mine too.”

“Same here,” Lauren says, making my head spin with confusion.

“No- no, you shouldn’t, not for me…” I say. “I- I-“

“Need a friend much more than I need a shag,” Katie says.

“But- no, honestly,” I say. “I don’t want to be responsible for ruining your Valentine’s Days, really.” Katie and Lauren both pause with their phones in their hands as I stare at them with a pleading look in my eyes.

“…Only if you’re absolutely sure,” Katie says.

“I will take care of her,” Ophelia says softly. “You two go. We’ll talk tomorrow at university.”

“Well… Okay,” Lauren says, leaning in to give me a tight hug. “Take care of yourself, Jacinta. That offer of a skinning is definitely still on the table.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Katie whispers, leaning in for another gentle hug. “Get some sleep. Take care of yourself. And for the next week?”

“…Yes?” I ask, my tears finally slowing.

“Try to forget that the male gender even exists,” Katie says with a wink, making me giggle as she and her BFF silently leave me alone in the flat with my BFF.

“…You should go too,” I whisper.

“We both know that will not happen, so don’t even bother trying to persuade me,” Ophelia says.

“…Okay,” I say, letting out a long sigh as the two of us relax back onto the sofa. “Serves me right for getting so worked up about it, I suppose.”

“No,” Ophelia retorts. “It does NOT serve you right. You deserve to be happy, Jacinta. Everybody does.”

“Yeah, but- so do you,” I say. “You put so much work into that dress, I could tell you were really looking forward to the date, too…”

“Some things are more important,” Ophelia says bluntly.

“’Sisters before misters’?” I ask.

“My ‘real’ sisters never thought so,” Ophelia snorts. “Sharon and Kylie once got into an actual fight when one stole the boyfriend of the other. But then again… They weren’t nearly as ‘real’ as sisters as you are, Jacinta.”

“…Thanks,” I say, sniffing back yet more tears as Ophelia and I relax back into the sofa. “…We really going to spend the evening watching Countryfile in our best dresses?” Despite my misery, I’m forced to smile as the corners of Ophelia’s mouth slowly curl upwards…

Twenty-five minutes later, the two of us are back in the living room, but having shed our fancy dresses and scanty underwear in favour of a comfortable onesie (for me, obviously) and a slightly less comfortable leotard/right/corset ensemble (for Ophelia, obviously). Both of us are tucked up under a blanket on our sofa bed- in ‘bed mode’- sharing a tub of triple chocolate ice cream and watching random shows on Netflix. It’s not the way I expected to end this evening. It’s not the way I WANTED to end this evening, and certainly not the person I expected to end up in bed with. And yet, I can’t say I’m too unhappy to be where I am right now.

Dr Deakin was right about one thing- I was overenthusiastic about the prospect of ‘Prince Charming’. I always imagined that I’d have a boyfriend within weeks of starting university, but it’s been five months and I’m still single. The thing is, though, those five months have been, well, fun. A lot of fun. Just as the weekend in the lead up to the ‘date’ had been. I had more fun with Ophelia, Katie and Lauren than I ever imagined I could with other women. I even made a contact in the industry I want to go into when I graduate, not counting the extremely well-connected friend I already have in Nikki. I have had a lot, a LOT of wins since coming to London. Not having a boyfriend shouldn’t be as much of a concern… And yet, the thought of ‘Prince Charming’ is never far from my mind.

One thing’s for certain- finding ‘Prince Charming’ isn’t going to be straightforward. It’ll be an uphill battle, and as today’s proved, there’ll be a lot of bumps along the way. It’s not like I need to find ‘Prince Charming’… But I sure as hell want to find him.



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