Jacinta, part 9

“You know,” I muse as I grab my morning coffee and relax on the plush, soft sofa in my father’s living room, “it may have been in a student shithole, but I miss our old sofa, you know? The whole flat, even.”

“I know precisely what you mean,” Ophelia says, reclining as far back into the sofa as her extra-tight corset will allow. “But we shall return to London soon, and our new flat shall be even better than our previous one!”

“And even more of a shithole!” Dad laughs, making me and Ophelia chuckle, but deep inside, there’s a part of me that’s missing our flat- and our new home in London- a lot more than I care to admit.

Having successfully completed our first year of university (both of us getting good 2:1 grades), at the start of July Ophelia and I packed our bags and moved out of our flat for the last time, returning home to Brighton… And before long, both of us were homesick even though we were both back in what’s supposed to be our hometown! We’ve both been back to London multiple times since moving back ‘home’, mostly to visit Nikki (who’s recovering from her SRS) but also to hang out with the rest of our ‘gang’. And make one or two trips to the Ann Summers store there, of course. After months of pressure from our four friends, Ophelia and I have even started beginner ballet classes at the dance school of Krystie Fullerton the Angel- and to keep our places there, we need to show up at least once every three weeks, giving us another excuse to return to London. It’s got to the point that if it wasn’t for my dad, we probably wouldn’t have any excuses to return to Brighton…

Of course, one reason I DON’T have to return to London is a boyfriend. Ten months later, I am no closer to my ‘Prince Charming’ than I was when I started my life as Jacinta, despite countless parties, nights out with the girls (including attending a proper celebrity birthday party for one of the girls from Out of Heaven) and social gatherings at the university. Sure, I attract the attention of men- two years on oestrogen has given me a very desirable figure, and between ballet and a gym membership I make the most of (and Ophelia trying to wrap a corset around my waist every opportunity she gets) I am, to use a word that gets overused quite a lot but is appropriate in my case, very ‘fit’. Even despite a student diet that my dad joke (I think he’s joking anyway) should’ve put me into toxic shock months ago.

However, I am only twenty years old, so it’s not like I should be in any rush. But every time I remind myself of that, I also have to remind myself that Nikki is younger than me, already engaged and the proud owner of a brand-new vagina. And I’m forced to wonder whether or not there’s a reason I’ve been so unlucky in love- and whether or not I’m the one at fault.

It’s not like I don’t have time to relax and reflect on it, though. It’s the first of August today, and we’re not due back at university until the end of September- though we’ll be moving back to London a few weeks beforehand, and this time, when we go, we’ll be staying. Rather than a student flat, dad’s helping us to locate a small, affordable flat with a long-term tenancy, and while I know I shouldn’t feel guilty about leaving dad by himself- especially as this is a discussion we’ve had loads of times in the past and continue to have- I still feel bad every time I long for London, especially when I glance at the fireplace and I see the urn containing my mother’s ashes. I then wonder whether or not giving dad the opportunity to walk me down the aisle at my wedding would ease my guilt, which brings me right back to square one as I find myself longing for Prince Charming.

“Maybe when Brighton get promoted we can visit each other when they play the big London teams?” Dad suggests. “Always wanted to visit the Olympic Stadium, and you’ve now got friends who support Arsenal and Chelsea, right?”

“The new season hasn’t even begun yet and you’re still clinging to that pipe dream, eh?” I sigh.

“Watch it, you,” dad chuckles. “You know, I actually painted your bedroom with blue and white stripes BEFORE me and your mum found out what gender you were? Gender you were, umm, born as, anyway. But my point still stands.”

“…What exactly IS your point?” I ask, making Ophelia involuntarily snort with laughter.

“Have some pride in your hometown,” dad advises. “Just because London is where you belong, doesn’t mean you can’t fly the flag for Brighton while you’re there.”

“And no better way to ‘fly the flag’ than wearing the local team’s kit, eh?” I ask.

“Exactly,” dad says with a smug grin, which fades quickly when I fix him with a withering stare.

“I study at a FASHION college, for god’s sake,” I say, causing dad to emit a loud, pained groan that’s quickly followed by a chuckle.

“Touché,” dad says. “What have you two got planned for today, then?”

“Everything beginning with ‘B’,” I reply. “Bikini, beach, bathing in the sun…”

“Boys?” Dad asks with a concerned look on his face.

“Chance’d be a fine thing,” I snort.

“Well, you two make sure you take care,” dad says. “I know nothing’s likely to happen on a crowded beach, but- but take care anyway. By which I mean Ophelia- watch over her.”

“I shall as always, Mike,” my BFF says with a smug grin that only widens as I roll my eyes.

After another cup of coffee, Ophelia and I head up to my bedroom, where we change into our swimwear. Nine months of sharing a bedroom with Ophelia has sort-of desensitised the both of us to stripping naked in front of the other, but as always, I feel a weird tingle pass through my body as I lower my panties and pull on my bikini bottoms, knowing that Ophelia can see that we don't exactly 'match'- even though she doesn’t comment, of course. We do, however, almost 'match' when it comes to the top halves of our body, thanks to two years of oestrogen- and another tingle passes through my body when I realise that from some angles, my boobs are even bigger than Ophelia's. This, of course, doesn't stop me from pulling on a padded bikini top. What’s probably weirdest is that I get a bigger tingle when Ophelia removes her thong and begins strapping herself into her home-made one-piece swimsuit. Not a tingle of desire, of course, but the feeling you get when you know you are unconditionally loved- or, in my case, unconditionally accepted by one of the most important people in my life.

I cover up with a denim miniskirt and a pair of flip-flops, leaving my top half bare save for the sunscreen that Ophelia liberally applied to my skin. She, of course, covers up with a (of course) home-made poncho made of a sheer fabric the same colour as her swimsuit, attaches a wide-brimmed sun hat to her head and slips her feet into a pair of cork wedges with a 4” heel that look like they’ll be especially uncomfortable on sand!.

“We are going to OWN that beach,” I say as I pack a small basket with some essentials. “Especially you, Miss ‘my name literally is Love’!”

“I am happy to share ownership with you,” Ophelia says with a wide grin. “In fact, I would be happy for you to be the only owner.”

“Says a woman wearing a swimsuit so tight that you could probably see goosebumps through it,” I retort. “And extra thick make-up, and heels… Seriously, Ophelia.”

“…’Seriously’, what?” My BFF retorts.

“You’re nineteen, you’re sexy, and you’re about to head to a beach filled with sexy young men in one of the most sexually liberal cities in the country if not the world,” I retort. “Unless you’re happy to keep knackering our washing machine?”

“I wear these clothes because I want to wear them,” Ophelia retorts. “They are for me, not for anyone else and certainly not for anyone who happens to be male!”

“Yeah, but-“ I protest.

“I am being the woman I am,” Ophelia explains. “Just as you are.”

“… I AM trying to pick up guys, though,” I say. “And don’t say that THAT’s the woman I am!”

“It is certainly part of it, do not deny it,” Ophelia retorts.

“Well- okay, maybe,” I sigh. “But this isn’t about me. There’s no reason why you couldn’t, or shouldn’t hook up with a guy. I mean, I know the history with your family, but if you do it on your terms, right?”

“I think you will find my ‘terms’ will be the problem,” Ophelia says quietly. “For a man to be appealing enough for me to wish to be with him, he would need to be perfect.”

“Pretty sure there’s no such thing as ‘the perfect man’,” I snort. “Hell, finding ‘the adequate man’ is tough enough most of the time.”

“Precisely,” Ophelia says. “Should I encounter Mr. Perfect, then you have my word that I will not reject him as I would any other boy. But until then…”

“Yes, yes, message received and understood,” I say. “Still though, you COULD wear a bikini rather than that- I hesitate to call it a swimsuit, ‘harness’ would be closer to mark. ‘Torture device’ would be another one. What category is that, six or seven?”

“Category one AND category two,” Ophelia replies with a roll of her eyes. “It's not technically a uniform but fulfils a function, and is casual wear. And I COULD wear a bikini. Just as you COULD wear a one-piece swimsuit instead.”

“Not if I want to show off my abs, I don’t,” I retort, chuckling as Ophelia fixes me with a stare. “Okay. Okay! Touché, then. I just reckon that, you know, you’d make the perfect girlfriend for some guy.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not,” Ophelia says, smiling cryptically as she leads me down the stairs. “Now come along. The sun, the sea and the sand are waiting for us!” I giggle and roll my eyes as I follow Ophelia out of the house and to the nearest bus stop.

Before long, the two of us are relaxing on individual towels on the packed Brighton beach. Ophelia has propped herself up on her elbows and is reading a book on her Kindle, which was an ‘end of year’ present from dad, who knew of Ophelia’s struggles with literacy and loaded it with books that she could read to sort-of ‘practise’. When my BFF received the gift, she was so moved by its thoughtfulness that she was moved to tears- and I will confess, so was I.

Naturally, though, I’m not doing any reading myself, instead I’m laid out full-length on my towel, soaking up the Sun’s rays, and more importantly, soaking up the stares of the sexy young men on the beach! Each one that walks by puts a thousand different questions in my head. Is he ‘Prince Charming’? Does he maybe know ‘Prince Charming’? Would he have any issues in being with a transgendered girl? Is he even interested in girls at all? Is he interested in Ophelia, maybe?

Despite the numerous stares, and even a few ‘hi’s, Ophelia and I end the morning with as many potential ‘Prince Charming’s as we started it- namely, none. I try to hide my disappointment as we get lunch from a nearby food wagon, but as I’ve learned over the last few years, I can’t hide anything from my BFF.

“There is no need to be disappointed,” Ophelia says softly as we tuck into our burgers.

“Who said I was disappointed?” I ask. “…Okay, maybe a little. I dunno.”

“Are you not having fun?” Ophelia asks.

“I am, yeah,” I reply. “…Okay! Maybe I could be having MORE fun. Yes, before you ask, that sentence ends with ‘with a boy’.”

“There is still plenty of time,” Ophelia reassures me. “You never know what might be around the corner.”

“What, a group of boys is suddenly going to come over to offer to buy us ice cream?” I snort. “Nah… Give it another hour after lunch, then we’ll head home, if that’s okay with you?”

“Perfectly fine,” Ophelia says. “The heat and humidity is beginning to curl my hair, anyway…”

“If you didn’t coat it in bright turquoise dye, it’d probably hold up better to the heat,” I advise as we finish our meals and head back to the beach.

“Would you prefer a different colour?” Ophelia asks. “I’ve been thinking about purple for next year at university. Perhaps purple contact lenses as well…” I chuckle and roll my eyes at my BFF, even though I can’t tell whether or not she’s joking- her hair is something she takes VERY seriously. As is her make-up and her fashion sense, which I find out to my chagrin when Ophelia diverts to a nearby toilet, and after she’s done, takes almost fifteen minutes to reassemble her swimsuit!

“Is it actually possible to, you know, even swim in that thing?” I ask, making Ophelia giggle as we pick a new part of the beach on which to relax.

Naturally, the afternoon goes just as well as the morning did. I get stares, winks and giggles- and so does Ophelia, much to my amusement- but absolutely zero words of English are exchanged between us and any male member of the human race. We’re just about ready to pack away our things and head home when a group of people finally approach us- but much to my surprise (not to mention disappointment), the group are all female and slightly younger than myself and Ophelia.

“Excuse me?” The ‘leader’ of the group, a mousey-haired girl slightly taller than Ophelia, asks.

“Yes…?” I reply.

“Are- are you, umm…” The girl asks, making me sigh. Obviously I’m not as good at ‘tucking and taping’ as I thought… No wonder I’m going home ‘empty-handed’ today.

“I- I’m really not comfortable discussing that, sorry,” I mumble as I hastily fasten my skirt over my bikini bottoms. However, my response doesn’t offend the girls- if anything, it confuses them.

“No- umm,” the ‘lead’ girl replies. “I meant, are- are you Jacinta Hanley?”

“…Have we met?” I ask, confused by how this teenager might know my name.

“Well- no, umm,” the ‘lead’ girl mumbles.

“We- we follow your Instagram,” one of the other girls, a shorter girl who looks like she might be from India, says. “We were big fans of the Teen Angels, you see, and when they went to university and met you and Ophelia, well-“

“Ah,” I say as realisation dawns on me. “Yes, yes I’m Jacinta and that’s Ophelia over there.”

“Hello,” Ophelia nervously says, trying to hide her face with her hat.

“Oh my god,” the ‘lead’ teenager giggles breathlessly. “Can- can we get a selfie with you two, please?”

“…Sure, why not?” I laugh. “Ophelia?”

“Very well,” Ophelia mumbles, forcing a smile on her face as she and I pose with the girls for their selfie. Once the girls have left us alone, my BFF lets out a very long, loud sigh of relief, and it’s all I can do not to give her a hug.

“You knew this was a possibility,” I say softly. “When we became, well, ‘acquaintances of acquaintances’ with the Angels. And no offence, but-“

“But they probably recognised me before they recognised you?” Ophelia asks, frowning as I nod. “I would not doubt that for a minute.”

“So… Definitely purple next year, then?” I ask.

“Only because ‘invisible’ isn’t an option,” Ophelia scoffs.

“I feel it’s my duty as your BFF to point out that before you met me, you WERE invisible,” I say quietly, making the teal-haired girl pause.

“I was also left alone,” Ophelia retorts. “Nobody cared who I was. Apart from the people who truly mattered. By being who I truly am it exposes who everyone else is. Those who wish to reject me, and those who wish to accept me.”

“Seems to me like our ‘fans’ are all in that second category,” I say, making my BFF pause yet again. “They actually seemed genuinely thrilled to see us. Us! No Angels in sight, ‘teen’ or otherwise.”

“Poor them,” Ophelia says, making me chuckle. “However, you are right. If I wish to become an international fashion designer, I must learn to accept the fame that comes as part of that.”

“Atta girl!” I cheer, making my BFF roll her eyes. “Just remember me when you’re jetting off to Milan and New York, okay?”

“Always,” Ophelia says with a grin that warms my heart as we head back home.

Naturally, dad roared his head off laughing when we told him about our ‘encounter’ at the beach, actually asking for a selfie of his own (which may have embarrassed Ophelia more than the girls’ selfie!). Eventually, though, night draws in, and Ophelia and I both opt for an early night. As it’s a Monday night, there’s no point in heading out on the town, so just after 9:30pm, the two of us head up to my bedroom to get ready for bed.

With it being August, both Ophelia and I have opted for slightly lighter sleepwear than normal- though that doesn’t mean that Ophelia’s is any less elaborate. Whereas I opt for a pair of briefs and a comfortable crop top, Ophelia has crafted for herself a bodysuit made out of a breathable mesh fabric with corset-style laces at the back that she, naturally, pulls tight every night before she gets into bed. Though it could be worse- she actually wore her regular ‘pyjamas’ up until the start of June, when one day they caused her to badly overheat and gave her a fever. Though I still maintain that Ophelia was more upset about the sweat ruining her tights than by her actually being unwell.

I’m woken the following morning as usual at 8am by the sound of dad leaving the house to go work, which, as usual, prompts me to roll over and try to get back to sleep. However, I’m startled awake not five minutes later by the sound of my bedroom door opening… And my father rudely shaking my tired body until I swat at him to try to get him to stop.

“Mmph,” I moan as dad has a chuckle at my expense. “What the fuck are you doing back? Thought you were going to work?”

“Booked it off yesterday,” dad says. “How often do you come back to Brighton that you think I’m going to waste the chance to spend some time with you?”

“…Fair enough,” I say with a chuckle. “What do you want to do today, then?”

“Need to make a Tesco run,” dad announces, making my jaw drop. “Get up, get showered, we’re heading out at 9.”

“…THAT’s your idea of quality father-daughter time?” I ask, collapsing back onto my bed and letting out a loud groan.

“You used to love coming shopping with me in the school holidays,” dad retorts. “I remember a few summer holidays when I’d say I was going shopping and you’d jump at the chance of coming with me. Never any other time, but during the holidays, yes.”

“Yeah…” I grimace. “A lot of the time I was hoping we’d shopping for a new school uniform.”

“Ah, okay,” dad says.

“Which, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, means ‘I was hoping you’d buy me a girl’s uniform’,” I continue.

“Not THAT big a stretch of the imagination, no,” dad says, leading to an awkward silence. “…If you want, I could always buy you a girl’s uniform today?”

“Hilarious,” I snort. “Doubt you’d be able to get a girl’s uniform that’d fit me, anyway.”

“You don’t know until you try,” dad says with a grin. “Want me to drop you and Ophelia off at Uniform Direct after we hit Tesco? Reckon Ophelia would have a million designs in her head for a pleated skirt.”

“Pretty sure we’d get arrested if you do,” I snort. “You more than us.”

“Meh, offer’s on the table if you change your mind,” dad shrugs. “You’ve got 50 minutes before we leave, I realise that might not be enough time for you to get ready but-“ dad laughs as I hurl my pillow at him, silencing him (well, apart from his laughter, anyway).

“THIS is something I haven’t missed while I’ve been in London,” I say, which only intensifies my father’s laughter. “You’re having far too much fun…”

“You love it really,” dad chuckles, tossing my pillow back to me. “Breakfast will be ready in five minutes. Unless you prefer cold toast, anyway.”

“I’ll be right down,” I sigh as I lay back down, before allowing myself a quiet chuckle and swinging my tired legs out of my bed. As much as I hate to admit it, dad IS right- his teasing might be annoying (and slightly inappropriate for a father and his daughter) but I wouldn’t exchange it for the world for one important reason- it’s a clear sign that he’s loving having me back home.

Naturally, when I head downstairs, Ophelia is already awake and responding to dad’s teasing in her own bashful way, before turning to me with a smug look on her face.

“I understand that we will be getting new school uniforms today,” Ophelia says, making dad chuckle and me groan.

“I’m not wearing it in public if we are,” I retort. “I take it dad told you the whole story, then?”

“He did,” Ophelia said, before surprising me by sighing sadly.

“…O?” I ask. “You okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” Ophelia whispers.

“A contraction?” Dad notes. “’I’ll’ instead of ‘I will’? Now I’m concerned. If you want to get something off your chest, Ophelia, go right ahead- you know I won’t judge.”

“I…” Ophelia begins, before letting out a long sigh. “I never really had a new school uniform. Or any new clothes of any kind. I have three older sisters- all the clothes I wore when I was younger used to be theirs. Even my underwear.”

“Eugh,” I spit. “That- that’s awful!”

“You’ve met my mother,” Ophelia shrugs. “Can you imagine her spending money on anything other than cigarettes and alcohol for herself?”

“No offence, Ophelia,” dad says with a heavy sigh. “But it’s a wonder that you and your sisters were never taken into care.”

“I am free of that life now,” Ophelia says with obviously forced confidence. “There is no need to look back.”

“Maybe not,” dad says. “But now I DEFINITELY want to take the two of you shopping for a new uniform!”

“Umm, arrested?” I remind dad.

“Oh-whatever,” dad scoffs. “I’ll send the two of you in, you can say it’s for a fancy dress party or something.”

“…That actually would sound like a lot of fun,” Ophelia whispers with a smile.

“Thanks for agreeing to let us host it here, dad!” I say, making my father nearly choke on his coffee.

“Now wait-“ dad argues.

“The party was your idea,” I interrupt with a smug grin on my face. “And I promise it’ll only be people I know from uni, I’m not going to put it on Facebook and invite half of Brighton or something.”

“You’ll be inviting boys though, I take it?” Dad asks.

“Duh,” I retort, earning an involuntary snort of laughter from my BFF.

“They will only be boys whom myself and Jacinta approve of,” Ophelia says.

“And Katie and Lauren approve of too, given that they’ll be coming with them,” I say. “Shall we say Saturday?”

“What, first day of the new season?” Dad asks.

“Gives you a good reason to not be here,” I shrug. “Though I suppose if we hold it a bit later, it’d give Nikki more of a chance to recover, I’m not sure she’d be up for an hour long train ride…”

“We will just have to hold one for her when we return to London,” Ophelia says. “Besides, you would not want them to stop partying when it’s your turn to be ‘recovering’, would you?”

“Hell no,” I say with a chuckle, before biting my lip as dad grimaces. As supportive as he is, there are still some things he’s uncomfortable with, and the thought of me having SRS is clearly one of those things. “But’s that AGES from now, heh. Party first!”

“Shopping first!” Dad reminds me. “Get dressed first! Unless you want to pad around Tesco in pyjamas and a dressing gown?”

“And we are right back to the class of people that contains my mother again,” Ophelia says, grinning as she sips her coffee.

Naturally, I don’t want to be part of that ‘class’ either, so I head upstairs to shower, put on my make-up and change into a loose grey t-shirt and a very short butt-hugging miniskirt that shows off a lot of the tan I got yesterday, and which earns just as much attention as I got yesterday, especially from the male shoppers at the supermarket!

Obviously, a supermarket isn’t the best place to pick up a guy, especially when I’m with my dad, so any flirting is kept to the occasional glance and giggle, but even this earns eye rolls from my father and, unsurprisingly, my BFF. It’s also no surprise that my BFF, with her waist-length aquamarine hair, neon blue tights, spike-heeled stilettos, home-made summer dress and excruciatingly tight corset, is getting a LOT more attention than I ever could. However, unlike me, she doesn’t even acknowledge any of the stares she receives- even when some of them very clearly approve of her ‘eccentric beauty’.

The three of us have just about filled our trolley (apart from our ‘new uniforms’, which we’ll be getting elsewhere) and are heading to the checkout when the sight of me and my BFF attracts the attention of two more people- the two people in the world that we least wanted to run into.

“WHAT THE FUCK YOU DOIN’ ‘ERE!?” The coarse, barely-coherent voice of Ophelia’s ‘mother’ shrieks, stopping the three of us dead in our tracks and causing my BFF’s face to grow even paler than usual.

“…We are shopping,” Ophelia says in a meek voice.

“You look like a fuckin freak!” Ophelia’s mother spits. “And why you still hangin’ out with that fuckin’ tranny!?”

“Mum! Mum! He’s gonna rape me!” Candice- who is presumably the ‘mother’ of the crying child in her mother’s trolley- yells in the same incoherent voice as the older woman, attracting the attention of all the nearby shoppers and creating an awkward silence inside the shop. I feel my cheeks start to burn with embarrassment as Candice’s finger remains pointed squarely at my face, making sure the whole shop knows my secret. I actually say a silent prayer, hoping for the ground to open up and swallow me whole, when I suddenly feel a familiar hand gripping mine.

“No,” dad says firmly, taking mine and Ophelia’s hands in his. “You do NOT talk to these girls like that!”

“Who the fuck are you?” Ophelia’s mother spit. “His bum chum or summat?” I growl with anger as the middle-aged woman shares a laugh with her youngest daughter, both apparently blissfully unaware that no one else in the shop found that funny.

“I am Jacinta’s father,” dad says proudly. “And more of a parent to Ophelia than you’ve ever been!”

“Who fuck’s a feel ya?” Ophelia’s mother spits. “Her name’s Mandeh!”

“For the first eighteen years of my life, all I was to you was a source of child benefit!” Ophelia says, her usually soft voice angrier than I have ever earned it. Undeterred by what is an undeniable fact, Ophelia’s mother opens her mostly toothless mouth to retort when one of the store’s security guards approaches us with a look of concern on his face.

“Is there a problem here?” The guard- a tall man in his early fifties- asks.

“That MAN tried to rape me!” Candice squeals, pointing her finger back in my face.

“No SHE didn’t, you lying cow!” One of the crowd yells, forcing me and Ophelia to bite our lips to stop from laughing.

“DON’T YOU FUCKIN WELL TALK TO MY DAUGHTER LIKE THAT!” Ophelia’s mother bellows, seemingly uncaring about the fact that she’s upsetting her screaming grandchild.

“After the way you spoke to your daughter just now?” Dad retorts, making the angry woman splutter incoherent expletives as the crowd quietly applauds.

“He raped me!” Candice spits, her finger still pointed straight at my face. “Arrest him!”

“I thought you just said she TRIED to rape you?” The guard asks, making me smirk by extending the word ‘she’.

“Yeah, and then he did!” Candice babbles, blissfully unaware that she was caught out in her lie.

“Wait a minute,” the guard says with a smirk on his face. “I’m sure I know your face… Are you Theresa Lowe?”

“What about it?” Ophelia’s mother snorts.

“The same Theresa Lowe that was banned from this store last year for shoplifting?” The guard asks. Despite myself, I let out a snigger as Theresa and Candice grab their trolley and literally run toward the front entrance, almost knocking over several shoppers along the way.

“Security to front entrance, we’ve got a runner,” the guard says into his walkie-talkie, before turning to the three of us as the crowd mercifully returns to their shopping, their excitement over for today. “Sorry about that.”

“Not the first time it’s happened,” I sigh, making the guard smile sympathetically.

“Not the first time I’ve caught them in here after being banned, either,” the guard snorts.

“I must apologise for my former family,” Ophelia says, nervously extending a hand for the guard to shake. “I am Ophelia Cassiopeia Love. Formerly known as Mandy Lowe.”

“Now YOU can shop here anytime you want,” the guard chuckles as he shakes Ophelia’s hand. “If you want to press charges for harassment, I’m sure we can get you a copy of the CCTV footage. That’ll also help to prove that your sister was talking bollocks.”

“I- I would prefer to forget that this ever happened,” Ophelia whispers.

“Me too,” I mumble, earning a sigh from dad.

“If you don’t challenge this sort of behaviour, it’ll only happen again,” dad advises. “It shouldn’t, obviously, but it will. And it’s the baby I’m most concerned about. Being raised in that kind of household… Not everyone’s as strong-minded as you, Ophelia.”

“Yeah, poor kid,” the guard concurs with a heavy sigh. “Still, can’t force you to press charges, I suppose. I’ll have a word with a manager though and see if we can’t get you a gift card or something by way of apology.”

“That’d be brilliant, thanks,” dad says, shaking the security guard’s hand as he moves away and lets us head to the checkout. “Ugh, Ophelia… I am really sorry you went through that. You too, Jacinta.”

“Yeah, remind me again which one of us is your blood relative?” I ask, smirking as dad gives me a playful push. “I know what you mean though, that can’t have been pleasant for you, Ophelia.”

“No, but there was one part that was pleasant,” Ophelia says. “The same part that was also true- when you said that you have been more of a parent to me than she ever was.”

“Well, umm, yeah,” dad mumbles, clearly close to tears. Needlessly to say, tears are already freely flowing down my cheeks, despite the fact that we’re in one of the most public places possible!

“Is nineteen too old to be adopted?” I ask, making my BFF and my dad giggle despite their emotional state.

“Probably, sadly,” dad shrugs. “On a related topic, I’m probably never going to stop thinking about that poor kid. Does your sister know who the father is?”

“My sister does not know who HER father is,” Ophelia retorts. “Let alone the father of her child. And neither do I.”

“You do now,” dad says, placing a comforting hand on Ophelia’s shoulder that makes me burst into tears all over again! “Now come on, let’s get this paid for, then we can go home.”

“Do we have to go straight home?” Ophelia asks, her voice filled with disappointment.

“Is there somewhere you’d rather go?” Dad asks.

“Yes,” Ophelia bluntly replies. “I would rather go shopping for a new school uniform. With my father.” Needless to say, many tears are shed as we pay for our groceries, before dad gives Ophelia and I a lift down the road to the school uniform shop.

The two of us emerge from the shop about fifteen minutes later, each carrying a shopping bag containing a navy blue girl’s blazer, two plain white blouses, a pleated black skirt, three pairs of opaque school tights and a generic school tie. However, that’s not all our bags contain- when we mentioned to the sales clerk that we were buying for a fancy dress party, we were told that we were far from the first people to go into the shop for that reason- and weren’t even the first people that day. Within seconds, I’d added five pairs of girls' briefs and a short-sleeved plain black leotard to my purchase, while Ophelia had bought a long-sleeved black leotard and a plain black swimsuit- both of which will no doubt be heavily customised before they ever touch her body.

“Both skint, then?” Dad asks as Ophelia and I return home and drop our bulging bags in the living room.

“Eh, my loan will cover it,” I shrug.

“And I can claim that it is for my course,” Ophelia says with a grin that makes dad chuckle.

“…You’re both feeling better, then?” Dad asks, smiling as we both nod. “I’m glad. I’m glad you’re both rising above it, not letting what they said get you down because if it’d been me… I dunno. What they said made me really, really angry.”

“I don’t even know what they hoped to gain by confronting us,” I sigh.

“Especially as they made it clear that they would rather not have anything more to do with me,” Ophelia says softly.

“People like that live in their own little bubble,” dad says. “Like people who voted for Brexit or are thinking of voting for Donald Trump. They have this complex whereby whatever they say and do is always justified, always right, and are deliberately ignorant of what the rest of the world says. Especially the way other people feel! Most of them are just plain divorced from reality. I’d go so far as to call a lot of them walking violations of common sense. And they will never, ever accept that they’re wrong. What they wanted from the two of you was an apology, an acknowledgement that you’re ‘wrong’ and they’re ‘right’, because in their world, their opinions are the only ones that matter.”

“...Ever thought of running for parliament?” I ask my father, who responds, as always, by hurling a cushion at my face.

“If only,” dad snorts. “Still worried about that little girl- your niece, I suppose. Gonna have a few sleepless nights thinking about her future.”

“She might turn out to be like her aunt,” I shrug, making Ophelia grin.

“If she’s really, really lucky,” dad says, changing Ophelia’s grin to a nervous smile as she- and I- struggle to keep our emotions in check. “Umm, anyway, you’ve got the rest of the day free, gonna head back to the beach, then?”

“Nah, I’m kinda ‘beached out’ after yesterday,” I say. “Might hang out in the garden a bit if I need to top up my tan.”

“And I turn into a tomato if my skin is exposed to sunlight for too long,” Ophelia says.

“You could always see if your friends are free, invite them to the party,” dad suggests.

“You- you really don’t mind us having it here?” I ask.

“Nah, it’ll be fine,” dad says. “It’s not like you trash the place every weekend, I figure you’ve earned it. Especially after today.”

“Thanks,” I whisper.

“And besides,” dad continues. “You’ve shown that you’re a mature, responsible young woman… Ophelia.” This time, it’s my turn to hurl the cushion at dad’s head as all three of us giggle happily, putting the events of earlier today behind us as we look to the future and what it will bring.

What the future brings first- well, four days later, anyway- is our party, and with dad down the pub with his friends, Ophelia and I spend the afternoon getting ready for the party, which consists of about twenty minutes of laying out nibbles and plenty of alcohol, and about an hour and a half of getting our costumes ready. Naturally, both of us have gone for a ‘demure’ look with our make-up, limited eyeshadow and eyeliner but thick pink lipstick, and both of us have tied our hair into girlish pigtails. We’ve both also customised our ‘uniforms’ heavily. With Ophelia’s assistance, I cut the bottom six inches off my blouse and I’m wearing it knotted at the bottom, showing off my tanned, flat belly and giving a lot of assistance to my strongest push-up bra (so naturally, I have the top three buttons of the blouse open as well). I’ve rolled the top of my skirt over several times so it only barely covers the top of my thighs, and I’ve put several strategic, stylish holes in my tights. Despite the collection of high heeled shoes in my bedroom, I opt instead for a pair of lace-up school shoes- they’re more in keeping with the theme, after all, and in context, are no less sexy!

Ophelia, naturally, has gone in a different ‘direction’ with her costume. As she (predictably) has a corset wrapped around her torso, she hasn’t customised her blouse, but still has it unbuttoned enough to show cleavage (and, if you look closely enough, the top of her corset). Her skirt, however, is worn high on her painfully tiny waist, and has had a high slit cut into it to show off virtually all of both of her nylon-covered legs- apart from her feet, which naturally have spike-heeled stilettos attached to them regardless of tonight’s theme.

The two of us are still working on our look, gussying ourselves up and applying a little more lipstick and hairspray when the doorbell rings, and we open the front door to be confronted by the sight of a dozen young men and women, each dressed in their own interpretation of a school uniform.

“Please miss, can we come in?” Katie asks, fluttering her heavy, fake eyelashes pleadingly. “…That would’ve worked much better if one of you had actually been dressed as a teacher.”

“It’s our party, we’ll dress how we want!” I retort. “And god knows, we’ve had enough practise there over the last two years, heh!”

“Enough practise to become experts, hehe!” Lauren giggles, giving me and Ophelia a hug as she and Katie lead the crowd into the living room and the party properly begins.

“Honestly, Ophelia,” Katie says as she grabs a drink, “I’d have expected you at least to be, you know, all ‘naughty schoolteacher’?”

“Am I expected to be a dominatrix simply because I like wearing a corset?” Ophelia asks. “…And because I own a whip?” Lauren, Ophelia and I all giggle as Katie almost chokes on her drink.

“Don’t do that to me!” Katie moans, wiping beer away from her nose and off of her scandalously short pleated skirt. “After all the people I invited…”

“Ah, we’re sorry,” I say, giving the freckled girl a tight hug. “Nikki not up for tonight, then?”

“Nah, still on the mend,” Lauren sighs. “And of course, that means that Sarah’s glued to her side, hehe! Reckon we’ll never see the two of them apart again- well, outside work and university, anyway.”

“So we shall have to endure Sarah’s panic all throughout next year?” Ophelia asks with a smirk.

“Yep, and you’re both sharing the load!” Katie giggles. “They send their love, though. Especially after we told them about what happened on Tuesday.”

“That really sucked,” Lauren sighed. “Half want to meet your family now just to slap some sense into them.”

“They are immune to ‘sense’,” Ophelia spits. “But I am grateful for the offer.”

“And I guess it makes sense that you’re ‘pupils’ like us, given what you said on Tuesday as well,” Katie says. “You know- and I’m not sure I should be sharing this, but as it’s you two, it should be okay- the first time Nikki was, you know, ‘Nikki’ with Sarah, she was actually wearing her school uniform?”

“Aww, that’s so cute!” I sigh happily.

“Yes, and so are you two!” Lauren giggles.

“Oh Jacelia, you’re breaking my heart…” Katie sings, with Lauren quickly joining in the impromptu ‘duet’.

“I can live with being called ‘cute’,” I giggle. “Though I’d rather hear it from a deeper voice, if you get my meaning, hehe!”

“There are six boys here tonight, take your pick!” Katie giggles.

“FIVE boys,” Lauren says, grabbing her boyfriend’s hand as he walks past.

“Nice move, did that without even looking!” I giggle.

“Not that good,” Lauren giggles as she links her fingers with the tall young man’s. “I was going for his cock, hehe!”

“Which makes it an even bigger shock that she missed,” Michael says, earning eye rolls from all four of us girls.

“Now now Mr. Yates,” Katie chastises, draining her beer bottle. “For that, you can get us another beer. You can get ALL of us another beer!”

“And when you return, you’d better be carrying it in your HANDS!” I shout after Michael, who- like his girlfriend- giggles as he walks away.

“…He’s not wrong, though,” Lauren says with a smug smile. “Let’s just say I’ve never had cause for complain!”

“Even when you’re not wearing a skirt two sizes too small?” I ask, pointing to the ridiculously stretchy fabric covering the top of the black haired girl’s thighs.

“Especially when I’m not wearing it!” Lauren giggles as she takes her beer from Michael and slides her hand into his back pocket, whilst he grabs a generous feels of her curvy bottom.

“Still hung up on being single?” Katie asks as Lauren and Michael sit down together and Ophelia starts to mingle.

“Ever known a time when I’m not?” I sigh as I swig my beer. “And thanks for not being, you know, sensitive around me when you were describing Michael’s cock.”

“Eh, you’re fine,” Katie shrugs. “You’d have deserved it this time though, I mean- god above!”

“What?” I protest, before giggling as Katie gestures toward my chest.

“Are you sure you haven’t always been a girl?” Katie sighs. “They’re almost as big as Lauren’s…”

“Aww, thanks!” I giggle. “I think. I’m taking it as a compliment anyway!”

“Compliment and jealousy,” Katie laughs. “How, exactly?”

“Really good bra, this knot in my blouse… And lots of padding, hehe!” I reply, before doing a quick ‘jiggle’ that makes my classmate snort with laughter once again!

“Not regretting your transition, then?” Katie giggles.

“Not for one second,” I giggle, before ‘jiggling’ again. My second ‘jiggle’, however, is cut short when I see a reasonably good-looking young man stare straight at me with a bewildered look on his face. I let out a quiet yelp and hastily cover my chest with my blazer as my friend beside me almost wets herself laughing.

“Think you’ve pulled there!” Katie says between breathless giggles.

“God!” I hiss as my cheeks turn bright red. “Who is that guy, anyway? I recognise everyone else here from uni, but I’ve never even seen him before!”

“Michael’s friend, we were on the train together,” Katie explains. “…So, then? Gonna introduce yourself?”

“Umm, what?” I retort.

“You’re the hostess,” Katie shrugs, leaning back into her chair. “And you did just shake your tits at him. It’d be rude not to at least say hi.”

“I dunno…” I mumble, still keeping my chest covered with my blazer.

“Oh for god’s sake,” Katie sighs. “Just because Cinderella is hosting the ball, it doesn’t mean she can’t enjoy it too! Now off your arse, woman!” With a heavy sigh, I stand up and approach the brown-haired boy. He’s certainly not bad-looking (despite his glasses), he’s got a fit body, he’s slightly shorter than me, which is a bit of a negative but hardly a deal-breaker… I suppose there’s nothing stopping him from being ‘Prince Charming’, even if I did always think I’d recognise him at first sight…

“Umm, hi…” I say nervously, attracting the young man’s attention.

“Hi,” the bespectacled boy replies. “Umm… Nice tits?”

“Hehe, thanks…” I giggle nervously. “I’m, uh, I’m Jacinta, by the way. This is kinda my house- well, my dad’s house, but I live here…”

“Yeah, umm, Michael told me,” the young man says, obviously as nervous as I am. “I’m, umm, I’m Simon, Simon Clarke. I came down with Lauren and Michael, and, umm, Katie…”

“Yeah, Katie said,” I say. “So, umm, you’re not, you know, ‘with’ Katie, then?”

“Oh- nah…” Simon replies. “Not really my type…” Okay then, I think to myself, internally sighing. Another person ‘Jason’ might have had a chance with, but ‘Jacinta’ probably won’t…

“Fair enough,” I shrug. “So… What is your- your ‘type’?”

“Women taller than me,” Simon says, causing me to involuntarily smile. “Dark-haired women, really girly girls… Doesn’t matter to me whether or not they’re transgendered?” My smile widens with every word Simon says, and when he subtly slides a hand onto my hip, it’s all I can do not to jump on him right here in the living room. However, a voice inside my head reminds me that the party has only been going for less than ten minutes, and Simon isn’t the only boy here- even if he is looking cuter and cuter with every passing second…

“Let- let me get you a new drink,” I say, heading back to the refreshment table where, annoyingly, Katie is already waiting for me.

“So…” Katie teases. “First impressions?”

“He’s okay,” I shrug.

“Seriously?” Katie sighs. “’Okay’?”

“Are you and Lauren deliberately trying to set me up with him?” I ask.

“No,” Katie immediately replies. “Yes. Ugh… He’s been single a while, you’ve been single a while, why not?”

“…Good question,” I say with a smug grin as I grab a drink and take it to Simon, before leading him to a (barely) quieter corner of the room.

“Thanks,” Simon says, grinning as I wedge myself onto the chair next to him.

“Just so you know, we’re being set up,” I say, making the young man snort with laughter.

“I did wonder why Michael was so determined to get me along to this party,” Simon chuckles. “So- so do you, you know, live in Brighton?”

“Not full-time,” I say. “I’m at the same uni as Katie and Lauren. Same course as Katie, actually, that’s how we met.”

“Oh- like the way Lauren and Katie met Nikki?” Simon asks.

“You know Nikki?” I ask. “I AM impressed, hehe!”

“We’ve hung out a few times,” Simon says with a smug grin. “Even gone to an Angels party once. Well, okay, it was for Lauren’s birthday, but still, you know?”

“If it was this year I’ll have been at that one too,” I say. “Surprised I didn’t notice you there.”

“Who’d notice a 5’ 9” plain speccy guy?” Simon snorts, making me roll my eyes.

“Oh, play EVERY card, why don’t you?” I tease. “Come on strong, then play the shy, self-degrading type?”

“…Sorry,” Simon mumbles. “I can come on strong again, if you’d prefer?”

“I’d… Prefer the ‘real’ Simon,” I say, smiling as the young man slowly slides a hand onto my thigh and starts playing with one of the holes in my tights.

“They did say you were funny,” Simon says. “And that your flatmate was, well, ‘unusual’.”

“Ophelia’s definitely unique,” I giggle. “’Funny’? Really? That’s the way they described me?”

“I think they meant it as a compliment,” Simon says, continuing his ‘exploration’ of my leg. “And they’re right, you’re definitely, you know, ‘funny’… Definitely cute, too.”

“For a transgendered girl?” I ask.

“For ANY kind of girl,” Simon says with a smile as I involuntarily lick my lips…

Fifteen minutes later, the two of emerge from the upstairs bathroom, both covered in a fine sheen of sweat. I hastily reapply my lipstick and Simon smoothes his costume before we both head downstairs, praying that our absence wasn’t too obvious. Fortunately, we’re able to mingle back into the crowd seamlessly enough… Right up until I run into Ophelia, Katie and Lauren, all of whom have VERY wide grins on their faces.

“So…” Katie says with a grin. “Did you, you know, ‘hit it off’?”

“Or would a word other than ‘hit’ be more appropriate?” Ophelia asks, making me roll my eyes.

“You too?” I ask my BFF, who giggles bashfully.

“I am simply happy to see you happy,” Ophelia shrugs.

“We all are,” Lauren says with a grin. “Who knows? This could be the start of something big…”

“Fingers crossed,” I say with a smile as my eyes again meet Simon’s from across the room.

Naturally, Simon and I repeatedly gravitate toward each other throughout the rest of the night, regularly cozying up but not heading anywhere more private- not after the way my friends reacted, anyway. At around 1:30am, as the party guests start to disperse (and Ophelia, Katie, Lauren and Michael make themselves comfortable for the night), I catch Simon as he’s about to leave with the rest of the boys.

“Hey,” I say to the boy with the glasses, who involuntarily giggles as I approach. “You- you off, then?”

“Yeah,” Simon says. “A bunch of us are staying at a friend’s… Not that I know the guy, of course, but they said I could crash on his floor.”

“Oh,” I say disappointedly. “Do- would- would you prefer, you know, a bed to sleep in?” Simon’s subsequent smile is all the answer I need.

The following morning, I wake up with a smile on my face, a pair of slender arms wrapped around my body, and a tingling in my anus reminding me that last night was VERY good.

“Hey,” I whisper, shaking the shorter boy awake. When that fails, I reach underneath the sheets and shake a different part of his anatomy- and THAT gets his attention!

“Mmm,” Simon moans, before opening his eyes and smiling. “Morning!”

“Morning!” I giggle, continuing my 'massage'. “I had a LOT of fun last night.”

“You should’ve done, it was your party,” Simon chuckles.

“I wasn’t talking about the party,” I say, giving the young man a long, soft kiss.

“Nor was I,” Simon says, returning my kiss, which gradually gets deeper, and deeper, until once again, our two bodies become one.

“Okay then!” Simon pants as he lays back on my bed, clearly deeply satisfied from our 'workout'. “Definitely a lot of fun, heh.”

“Yep!” I giggle as I cozy up next to the young man.

“Almost wish I didn’t have to go back to London, now,” Simon sighs.

“…Who says you have to?” I ask. “It’s Sunday, do you usually work on Sundays?”

“Yeah, but I’ve booked today off,” Simon replies. “Jacinta, I- I had fun, but-“

“Ah, ‘but’, my favourite word of the English language,” I moan. “When spelt with one ‘T’, of course.”

“Yeah…” Simon says. “Don’t get me wrong, I REALLY enjoyed last night. And this morning. I- I’m just not, you know, a ‘physical’ guy.”

“I would have to disagree with you there,” I say, making Simon chuckle.

“What I mean,” Simon clarifies, “is that I- if I was going to have a girlfriend, I- I’d want it to be more than just the physical, you know? Michael once tried to set me up with Lauren’s best friend, a girl called Dannii, and- well, she was fit. REALLY fit, like, six feet tall and blonde, but-“

“Kinda making me feel inadequate,” I say, frowning and rolling over so my back is to the brown-haired boy.

“If you’d let me finish,” Simon sighs, reach over me to grab his glasses. “She had about as much depth as an episode of Teletubbies. I’m not looking for a quick fuck- fun as it was- I- I kinda want, you know, a proper girlfriend?” Unsurprisingly, this grabs my attention and I roll back over to face the young man, who I’m slowly beginning to realise is a lot more sensitive than he let on last night.

“…Okay,” I say. “And- and you think I’m that ‘proper girlfriend’?”

“I think you’re more than just a quick fuck, that’s for sure,” Simon says.

“Wow,” I reply. “And here I was thinking that what Katie said about my tits yesterday was the greatest compliment I’d ever be paid.”

“No- I’m serious,” Simon says. “You’re cute- beautiful even. You’ve got an amazing sense of humour, you’re already friends with my friend’s girlfriends, you’re smart, you’re great in bed… You’re, like, the perfect girlfriend.”

“Even despite my ‘flaw’?” I ask, trying to maintain a stoic facial expression. This will be the deal-maker of the deal-breaker…

“What ‘flaw’?” Simon asks, bringing a wide grin to my face. “I guess what I’m trying to say is- well, Jacinta- will you go out with me?”

“…Yes,” I say, giggling and giving Simon another kiss as we disappear beneath the sheets yet again…

Simon and I have wide grins on our faces as we slowly stroll downstairs, me in my dressing gown and Simon in the shirt and trousers he wore last night, but our grins instantly vanish when we enter the living room and five pairs of eyes turn in our direction- Ophelia’s, Katie’s, Lauren’s, Michael’s and, worst of all, my father’s.

“Morning!” Dad says, making me inwardly grimace.

“M- morning,” I mumble, leading to an awkward silence.

“…I’ll just refer to him as ‘him’, then?” Dad asks, making my friends smirk and me roll my eyes.

“Dad, Simon, Simon, dad,” I say by way of introduction.

“It’s, umm, nice to meet you, mister- mister-“ Simon stammers as he shakes dad’s hand.

“Hanley,” I whisper.

“Hanley,” dad says simultaneously, making me and Simon cringe. “Nice to meet you. Hope you washed your hands before coming downstairs.”

“Yes,” I growl, which only intensifies dad’s smirk.

“Oh to be young again,” dad chuckles as Simon and I collapse on the sofa together.

“Is there any coffee on the go?” I ask with a heavy sigh.

“I shall pour you a cup,” Ophelia- who, unsurprisingly, is already awake and dressed for the day- says as she heads to the kitchen.

“Your friends filled me in about the party,” dad explains. “Happy to see nothing missing or broken. Bit surprised to see something ADDED to the household, though.”

“Yeah, umm,” I mumble.

“We told your dad about THAT as well,” Katie chuckles. “Well, not EVERY detail, but-“

“But enough to know that hopefully you’ll stop stressing out about being single from now on,” dad says with a warm smile. “And I’m sure I’ll grow to like Simon. Assuming I don’t kill him first.”

“Would prefer it if you didn’t,” I say, smiling as Ophelia hands me and Simon a strong-smelling mug of coffee each.

"WE should be heading off soon, actually," Katie sighs. "Got a train to catch, and I've got work tomorrow..."

"Still doing freelance work for that modelling group of yours?" Dad asks.

"Yep," Katie says with a grin. "And yes, I've tried to get some sent Jacinta's way. Not easy though when she's based down here and all the work's in London."

"Eh, I'll be moving soon enough," I shrug.

"So it won't be a long distance relationship for long, either," Simon says, leading to an awkward silence in the room.

"Anyway," dad says in an overly loud voice. "I'll run the four of you to the station, you don't want to miss your train, after all..."

"There are four trains an hour to London," I remind my father.

"Yes, but you heard what Katie said, work tomorrow, etc. etc.," dad says, rising from his chair and clapping his hands. "Chop chop! Finish your coffee. Jacinta- we WILL talk when I get back."

"Righto," I sigh, following my friends- including my new boyfriend- to the door. "I'll see you soon Simon, okay?"

"Sure," Simon says with a nervous giggle as I bid him farewell with a kiss. I have a smile on my face as I watch him and my friends depart in dad's car, but my smile soon fades when I turn around to see a VERY serious expression on the face of my BFF.

"...What?" I ask.

"You are not wasting any time, then," Ophelia says stoically.

"Well- I guess not," I shrug. "So I got laid last night? Big deal. And a relationship's got to start somewhere, right? People hook up at parties all the time. And besides, Katie and Lauren brought him down SPECIFICALLY to hook him up with me."

"I was not criticising," Ophelia retorts. "In fact, I think he's actually rather sweet."

"Get your own," I say with a playful smirk.

"Ah, another thing I'm used to hearing," Ophelia says quietly.

"What- what exactly is THAT meant to mean?" I ask.

"My sister Sharon said the exact same thing the first time I met her first boyfriend," Ophelia says, making me roll my eyes. "Three weeks later, she was pregnant."

"Okay, first, I'm not exactly going to get pregnant, am I?" I retort. "Second- seriously? You're comparing me to one of your sisters?"

"...I apologise," Ophelia sighs. "I- I simply don't want to see you end up like one of them. All four of them were hungry for boys throughout their entire lives."

"Nothing wrong with a healthy libido," I shrug.

"You've met Candice, you know that there is nothing healthy about her libido," Ophelia retorts. "I do not want to see you get hurt the way they were. Repeatedly."

"I'm a big girl, I can take care of myself," I say. "Besides, I'm taller than Simon. He tries to hurt me, I'll sit on him." Fortunately for my nerves, this earns a genuine snort of laughter from my BFF.

"I just hope you are not letting yourself get carried away," Ophelia says. "How much do you know about him, anyway?"

"More than you probably think," I reply. "His middle name is Jeffrey, he has a younger brother and a younger sister and he works at a cinema in north-west London."

"And I assume there are no... 'Problems'?" Ophelia asks.

"Now THERE he is a Prince Charming!" I reply with a warm smile. "No problem at all. Even without SRS, heh."

"Another thing," Ophelia muses to herself. "I had wondered how much Nikki's recent operation had been preying on your mind."

"...I'm not jumping into bed with a guy just because I'm upset I wasn't born with a vagina," I say. "Ophelia, I get that you're trying to look out for me. But honestly, I'll be fine."

"If you're sure," Ophelia whispers.

"And no matter what," I say, "we will ALWAYS be sisters." Naturally, this puts a smile on Ophelia's face, and on mine too.

Naturally, when dad returns from dropping my friends at the railway station, the conversation I had with Ophelia is repeated almost verbatim, and I try to assure him that I'm not taking it THAT quickly, but dad isn't convinced- and has one argument that Ophelia couldn't make, and that I can't refute.

"Just because you've found someone, it doesn't mean your search is over," dad says.

"...Umm, what?" I ask.

"What I'm trying to say," dad clarifies, "is that you can't rely on Simon being the one. He seems like a nice guy, I'll grant you that. And maybe you have waited long enough. But I didn't decide that my first girlfriend was the girl I wanted to stay with forever. And you know what? I'm glad I didn't." I have to blink back tears- and so do dad and Ophelia- as my father gently strokes the urn that's been sat beside the fireplace for almost fifteen years.

"The relationship has just started," I say. "It's a bit early to be thinking of the next one."

"So you're sure Simon is 'Prince Charming', then?" Dad asks- and I have no response for him. "Well, there's no need to be too pessimistic, I guess. Like I said, he IS a nice guy, and when you're back in London, you'll be able to spend more time together and properly get to know each other. Just don't give him ALL of your heart, okay?"

Obviously, I'm going to follow dad's advice. Simon isn't anything like I imagined 'Prince Charming' to be, and I don't just mean physically. I pictured 'Prince Charmin' as being an alpha male, into sports and things like DIY, while Simon is more of a film buff, doesn't follow any sport and is actually a closet fan of the Angels. But on the other hand, that just gives us more to talk about. And Simon is sweet, friendly, gets on well with Ophelia and is GREAT in bed... So what if he's shorter than me and average looking? I mean, looks aren't everything- and I should know, as someone with a male facial structure, a male skeleton and some other male 'parts' I'll be happy to see the back of sooner rather than later. And unlike many men, Simon's not just said that he has no problem with it, but 'demonstrated' it as well.

When Ophelia and I move back to London at the end of September (into a two bedroom flat, thank god), Simon is there waiting for me, and we waste no time in 'christening' my new bed and picking up the relationship from where we left off. Okay, so Simon's not perfect. But as Ophelia and I established, no man is. It's about time I had a little happiness, and there's no harm in being optimistic about Simon.

Right?



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