Laura, part 19

"My power flurries through the air into the ground," I sing as I dramatically glide across the stage, my ice blue dress flowing around me with every step I take.

"My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I'm never going back, the past is in the past..."

"Let it go, let it go," I sing, my lungs feeling like they're going to break under the strain.
"And I'll rise like the break of dawn,
Let it go, let it go,
That perfect girl is gone.
Here I stand,
In the light of day,

Let the storm rage on…” I sing, before turning to the audience with a cold smirk on my face. “The cold never bothered me anyway…” I turn my back to the audience and slam the elaborately-painted door behind me as the stage lights lower, but I allow myself a proud grin as Mrs. Ingram (the play’s director) comes up to me with a wide smile on her face.

“Bravo, Laura!” Mrs. Ingram says. “Take a breather, grab a glass of water and get ready for the fight scene against Hans and the guards.”

“Right,” I say, before giggling as Suriya- in her Anna costume- gives me a gentle hug en route to the stage.

“Well done, ‘sis’!” Suriya giggles.

“Thanks, ‘sis’!” I squeak in reply, before frowning as I see, out of the corner of my eye, Phil Brooks walking past in his ‘Hans’ costume.

“You’re doing fine,” Suriya whispers, before heading to the wings as the stage is prepared for the next scene.

And in truth, I AM doing fine. The round of applause I was given after my rendition of ‘Let It Go’ is proof of that. The facts are that I’m one of the leads in the school play, I have the best friends in the world, an amazing family, a cute boyfriend, I’m popular at school, I’m good-looking, I’m walking all of my GCSEs and I’m even earning my own money from not one but two part-time jobs, both of which could lead to promising careers. I’m even on full oestrogen and have been for three weeks, which is making my body more and more feminine with every passing day. Not bad for a girl who, on her first day at school, was pointed and laughed at and treated like a circus freak.

And yet, I still feel anxious. My counsellor tells me that this is understandable- I’m a few months away from leaving school for the last time, after all, which will be the biggest change in my life to date- possibly even bigger than the other obvious change. My acting in front of a crowd brings with it the expected amount of stage fright, as will my next ballet recital, and literally everybody ever has had anxiety about exams, regardless of how well they’re doing at school. Logically, I know this to be true, and yet I can’t help but feel that there’s something else, something I can’t put my finger on- and the sight of my arsehole ex-boyfriend just makes it worse. Which only makes matters worse when I step back out on stage for my next scene directly opposite the boy I once thought I loved.

Thankfully, both of us are mature enough that the scene- and the rest of the play, for the matter- goes without a hitch, and at the end of the play, I return to the stage for my curtain call… And try not to grimace as Phil grabs my hand for our bow. I focus on the standing ovation we have all very much earned, rather than the person gripping my hand- a task made easier when my current boyfriend comes onstage to present me with a bouquet of flowers. I and the rest of the cast stand onstage for several minutes, soaking up the adulation, before heading backstage and breathing a collective sigh of relief.

“Bravo!” Mrs. Ingram says with a wide, proud smile on her face. “Absolutely brilliant, all of you! We’re just going to get some photos for the school newsletter, then I’m sure you’re all dying to get out of your costumes, heh!” I smile and nod, though in truth, my dress is so gorgeous- it’s an exact replica of Elsa’s ice blue dress from the film, right down to the slit up one side- that I could definitely live with wearing it for a little longer!

Eventually, though, our publicity responsibilities are done and I’m released to head back to the changing room. Despite me being one of the lead actresses, though, my changing room is still the cold, lonely store room where all the costumes are kept. Suriya and Harriet are obviously okay with me changing with them, as are their parents, but there are multiple other girls in the play, and not all are from our school, meaning that I’m isolated from my cast mates once again. However, there is a silver lining to this cloud…

“All clear?” Kain whispers as he enters the store room just over a minute after I do.

“No reason why anyone else should be in here,” I shrug. “Some will probably say you shouldn’t, either.” I smile coyly as Kain slowly shuts the door behind him, a nervous, excited grin on his lips.

“Whatever,” Kain shrugs, before approaching me and giving me a long, deep kiss, his tongue exploring parts of my mouth even my own tongue can’t reach, and his hands slowly encircling my narrow waist before-

“Am I interrupting anything?” Suriya- who has changed back into her street clothes- says from the doorway, making both Kain and I yelp with surprise.

“Nope. Nothing,” Kain says hastily. “I was- I was, umm…”

“Licking the back of Laura’s throat by the looks of it,” Suriya says with an accusing stare, before breaking into a fit of giggles. “It’s okay. I’m not going to tell anyone, hehe! I’m just here to unzip Laura out of her dress. Which you are NOT invited to stick around for!”

“Spoilsport,” I say, before giggling as the petite Indian girl replies by sticking her tongue out at me. “I’ll see you later babe, okay?”

“Okay,” Kain says, giving me another hasty kiss before practically tripping over himself in his rush to get out of the room.

“Unzip me, then,” I sigh, holding my tightly-wound braid out of the way so that Suriya can free me from my tight costume.

“Half expected it to be already unzipped,” Suriya mumbles, making me roll my eyes.

“Oh- give me a break,” I snort in reply. “It wouldn’t happen if I was allowed in the proper changing room, is it? Maybe this is a good reason why I should be…”

“You’re kind-of preaching to the choir, remember?” Suriya asks. “And I like snogging boys as much as you, I just take a little more care about it. And I’d have thought you’d be a little more careful after the ‘Scott’ incident-“

“Yes, thank you ‘mum’,” I sigh. “What’s taking so long, anyway? Don’t tell me the zip’s stuck…”

“Think the dress is just a little too tight,” Suriya says, making my stomach start to churn. “There- that’s got it.”

“Thanks,” I say, breathing a sigh of relief (and to try to shake off my nauseous feeling) as I step out of my unzipped dress and pull on the tight top, black tights and denim miniskirt I wore to the play. “And for the record, the ‘Scott thing’ was different, Scott was older than me, and you saw that Kain wasn’t copping a feel-“

“Hey, I’m on your side!” Suriya protests. “If it was up to me I’d let you and Kain fuck like rabbits in here. But it’s not, and I’d rather not have to act alongside another Elsa on Thursday! As you know that WOULD have happened if it’d been a teacher who caught you.”

“Well I didn’t get caught, did I?” I reply with a smug smile, before untying my braid and letting my long, platinum blonde hair cascade over my shoulders.

“This time,” Suriya says.

“…Okay,” I say with a shrug. “Maybe you’re not my mum so much as your sister!”

“Oh- you are so dead for that!” Suriya protests, before giggling as we both leave the ‘changing room’ and meet up with our families- though my cheeks immediately start to burn with embarrassment as mum, Sean and both my grandmothers approach me with wide, proud smiles on their faces.

“You absolute star!” Mum says, giving me a gentle, motherly hug even as I squirm.

“Mum…” I moan.

“Oh now, how can you be embarrassed when you were just up on stage?” Grandma Clarke chastises before leaning in for her own hug. “Where you were absolutely brilliant. Both of you were.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Clarke!” Suriya giggles.

“Can’t wait for Thursday’s performance!” Sean says, making me roll my eyes and giggle as he leads us out to the cark park, where I bid farewell to my ‘Anna’ with a tight hug before getting into mum’s car (my grandmothers drive themselves home) and letting out a long sigh of relief.

“That tired, eh?” Sean asks.

“Umm, yeah!” I reply.

“Just remember you still have homework to do when you get home,” mum reminds me, chuckling as I roll my eyes. “Oh, to be sixteen again, heh. On that point, I notice you didn’t talk with Kain on your way out of the school, normally the two of you can’t keep away from each other…”

“I- umm, I ran into him backstage,” I mumble. “Said goodbye to him then…”

“Both fully clothed, I hope?” Mum asks, making me scrunch up my nose in disgust.

“Mum!” I protest. “Yes, we were both fully clothed. I know the law, I know the rules, I’m not going to sneak around and do anything illegal, am I?”

“I definitely hope not,” mum says in a low, quiet voice as our car heads back toward our home.

As mum predicted, the rest of the evening is spent doing homework and chatting with my friends online (all of whom were also watching or acting in the play), before ending the evening with a shorter but more ‘intimate’ chat with my boyfriend which, along with the memory of today’s kiss, leaves my whole body tingling as I change into my nightie and climb into bed.

The ‘tingles’ are gone when I wake up the following morning, but soon return when I shower, blow-dry my hair and tie it into a high ponytail before pulling on a plain pink thong, followed by a lacy white bra and the thick black tights, stiff straight skirt and crisp white blouse that make up my school uniform. Compared to the dress I wore onstage last night, of course, the uniform is about as dull and drab as it gets. My Elsa dress is unique, I’m the only girl that’ll ever get to wear it, whereas hundreds of girls at my school alone wear this uniform- but that’s the whole point. I am just an ordinary girl every time I wear this uniform- even if I would much rather be wearing my Elsa dress!

Of course, it helps that out of the hundreds of girls who wear the same uniform I do, six are my very best friends, and all of them greet me with a tight group hug when I arrive at school the following day!

“All hail Queen Elsa!” Nicole cheers as I giggle with embarrassment. “You were SO cool last night!”

“Both of you were!” Ashley squeaks. “SO cool…”

“Thanks, girlies!” I squeak excitedly. “Can’t wait until Thursday…”

“Even if means seeing ‘you know who’ again?” Harriet asks, immediately lowering my mood- and everyone else’s mood too.

“…Whatever,” I shrug, making the other girls giggle. “Besides, he IS the bad guy, isn’t he?”

“Damn right!” Nicole giggles as I adjust the waistband of my skirt. “And at least ‘you know who’ won’t be at drama club this afternoon, hehe!”

“I knew I liked the lunchtime club a lot more than the after-school one,” I say with a giggle. “And can we please not talk about ‘him’ again for the rest of the day? We all have boyfriends that are actually good now, don’t we?”

“Those of us who don’t think that boys suck, anyway!” Harriet says with a smug grin, one that only widens as Mia gives her a firm pat on her backside as she heads off to her form session.

“…You and Mia, then?” Suriya asks as we sit down at our regular form desks (with me making sure to briefly link fingers with my boyfriend as I walk past his desk, of course!).

“Yeah, I thought you two were, like, in some kind of love triangle with Ashley?” Nicole asks.

“Triangles have three sides, don’t they?” Harriet shrugs. “Me and Mia aren’t ACTUALLY going out, but, you know…” Suriya, Nicole and I all giggle as Harriet gives us a cheeky wink, before settling down as Mr. Sheldon arrives to start the school day.

The first two lessons of the day progress as usual, and as the day goes on and I settle back into the routine of being an ordinary schoolgirl, it’s almost like I didn’t spend last night being the star of a play- but the memory of that night will take a long time to fade. As, sadly, will the memory of having Phil Brooks holding onto my hand at the end of the play…

“Hey girlies!” Suriya (who was in my last class) and I squeak as we take our seats at our regular table. “Sooo… What are we gossiping about today?”

“Somebody has become obsessed with The German Angels,” Megan explains with a grin. “Ever since their show began on Amazon…”

“I’m doing German at GCSE,” Ashley mumbles. “I watch the show for homework.” Naturally, this causes the other six of us to start giggling uncontrollably- shortly followed by Ashley herself!

“And…?” Suriya asks.

“…And for entertainment,” Ashley confesses. “And for fashion and make-up tips. And all nine of them are SERIOUSLY sexy, hehe!” I smile warmly as Ashley giggles again after her confession- after the whole ‘love triangle’ thing I’d worried that she’d been a bit down, but Ashley’s smile is I need to see to confirm that she’s feeling alright.

“I’ll stick with the English Angels for now,” Nicole says with a grin.

“Only six of whom are actually English,” Suriya reminds us.

“But all of whom are cool!” Megan giggles as I relax and immerse myself in talk of celebrities, fashion and, best of all, last night’s play- and NO talk of boys. Though I do ruin this ‘order’ slightly by linking fingers again with Kain when I pass him in the corridor en route to my next lesson!

As with my first two lessons of the day, I’m sat at my desk as just a plain, ordinary schoolgirl rather than the queen of Arendelle that I feel like inside. Once the bell rings to signal the start of lunch, however, my ‘transformation’ begins. I elegantly rise from my chair and sweep out of the classroom with a dismissive flick of my hair, before striding through the halls like a supermodel before arriving at my destination.

“All hail Queen Laura!” Mrs. Ingram says as I open the door to the school hall, making me blush while she and my cast mates all give me a loud round of applause.

“Oh, don’t feel so embarrassed,” Suriya giggles, coming over to give me a tight hug. “They gave me a standing ovation too, hehe!”

“You deserved it,” I giggle.

“Everybody in this room deserves it,” Mrs. Ingram says with a proud grin. “Last night’s performance was probably the best I’ve ever seen in my time in this school and you should all be very, very proud of yourselves. But there’s another performance on Thursday, and we need to rehearse. There are a few bits that we could all do with brushing up on- even if you’re royalty!” Suriya and I both giggle as we get our scripts out of our bags and find a private part of the hall to rehearse. Before we get there, however, my jaw drops at the sight of a VERY unexpected person walking toward us.

“K- Kain?” I ask as Suriya starts giggling uncontrollably.

“Hey babe,” Kain says nervously. “There- umm, no one from the basketball team was playing at lunch, so I thought… Yeah. Do- do you want help rehearsing?”

“That’d be great,” I reply with a girlish giggle, resisting the urge to jump into the tall boy’s arms and suckle the back of his throat.

“I’ll just sit here being a third wheel, then,” Suriya shrugs. “Remind me again which of Elsa and Anna has not one but TWO love interests over the course of the film?”

“Just means Elsa needs one then, doesn’t it?” I ask, giggling as I embarrass Kain by cuddling his arm against my chest- and giggling harder as he almost immediately needs to sit down! “Maybe a tall, handsome prince from the kingdom of ‘basketbelle’…”

“Is the basketball team REALLY not practising this lunchtime?” Suriya asks, giggling as Kain blushes and I sigh happily and tighten my hug. “It’s okay. I won’t tell anyone. And I know Laura won’t either, hehe!”

“Too right,” I say, before releasing Kain’s arm following a loud cough and stern stare from our teacher! “Umm, think we’d better get rehearsing…”It doesn’t take long for my smile to return, though, when Kain and I both realise that he’s sat between me and Mrs. Ingram, and she can’t see that Kain’s placed his hand on my nylon-covered thigh…

“Are you here to help us rehearse, or help yourself to your girlfriend?” Suriya asks, making my boyfriend giggle bashfully.

“Sorry,” Kain giggles, but before he can move his hand, I firmly clamp it to my leg and shoot him a look that he correctly interprets to mean ‘don’t you dare remove it’.

“…Fine,” Suriya giggles. “Remind me to guilt Tommy into rehearsing with us sometime.”

“Will do,” Kain says, making me giggle as he gives my thigh another squeeze. “Which role am I playing again?”

“You’re a troll,” I reply, smiling as I lean my head against Kain’s shoulder as he starts to speak.

“Pity this couldn’t be a dress rehearsal,” my boyfriend says, making Suriya giggle.

“Why, like dressing up as a troll?” The petite Indian girl asks.

“I think- I HOPE- Kain’s thinking about seeing me in my gorgeous blue dress, right?” I ask, playfully fluttering my eyelashes at my boyfriend.

“Yes, of course,” Kain chuckles, making me squeak with excitement. “Especially see how tight it- ow!”

“Keep your mind on the play!” Suriya says, making my boyfriend sigh as he rubs his sore shin and begins reading his line, even as I try to ignore his comment about the tightness of the dress.

Fortunately, the presence of Kain’s hand on my leg throughout the lunchtime rehearsal session keeps me in a VERY good mood, and while Mrs. Ingram isn’t looking, I steal a kiss from him before heading with Suriya to my final lesson of the day.

“Sooo…” The tiny Indian girl teases. “Should I get myself measured for a bridesmaid’s dress?”

“Oh- shut up,” I retort as I adjust the waistband of my skirt. “So I like him, whatever.”

“And you can barely keep your hands off of each other,” Suriya says with a sly grin. “I’m amazed his hand didn’t disappear under your skirt…”

“…He’d kinda be surprised if it did,” I say, making Suriya grimace.

“Would he, though?” My friend asks. “It’s been five years. You’re not ‘the transgendered girl’ anymore, Laura. You’re ‘the girl who just happens to be transgendered’. Sure, Kain doesn’t fancy you BECAUSE of that, but, you know? You are DAMNED sexy! You’ve got the legs, the boobs, the curves… So what if there’s ‘something else’?”

“…Yeah,” I say with a giggle as I stare down at the two soft mounds protruding from my chest. “You really think people have got used to it? It’d be typical, just as I’m about to leave the school…”

“Probably,” Suriya shrugs. “And even if they haven’t, your friends and your boyfriend have, and that’s what matters, right? I genuinely forgot for a second there that you weren’t ‘like me’. Not helped by the fact that you’re going to be wearing a leotard tonight that’s ‘completely smooth’, hehe!”

“Yep!” I say with a smug grin.

“How can that be comfortable, anyway?” Suriya asks. “I know I’ve asked you this before, but, like- you spend half your life in a leotard when you weren’t, you know, ‘built’ for it…”

“It’s more comfortable than you might think,” I say with a grin. “Everything’s ‘tucked away’, and god knows I’ve had practice at THAT, and what helps the most is that I know I look GOOD in it!”

“It really shows off your body, hehe!” Suriya giggles as we take our seats in our final class of the day. For better or worse… I think to myself.

As Suriya predicted, after the school day ends and after I’ve eaten dinner at home, I head up to my bedroom where I tie my long blonde hair into a tight bun, before swapping my school uniform for a pair of softy, silky pink tights, a pair of soft canvas ballet slippers and my favourite black tank leotard. As I stretch the clingy garment over my body, I’m reminded of my earlier talk with Suriya, how I wasn’t exactly ‘built’ with leotards in mind. However, it isn’t the bottom part of the leotard where I feel uncomfortable, but the waistline. The stretchy garment clings tightly to every part of my body, and although I know that's what it's supposed to do- it clings to every other girl's body, after all- every time I feel it stretch over me, it's like it's taunting me, telling me that I'll never be as petite as I want to be. I have to remind myself that four years ago, I actually craved these feelings...

My anxieties don’t affect my dancing, however, and if anything, the sight of my long, slender legs balancing en pointe actually gives me pride in my dancer’s body, but once the lesson is over and I remove my pointe shoes, my body worries return- and I don’t just mean my bruised, aching toes.

“So, girlies,” Nicole asks with a smug grin. “What’s everyone doing for the big day tomorrow?”

“Those of us who have someone to celebrate with, anyway,” Ashley pouts, before giggling as Megan and Suriya give her a tight, friendly hug.

“What’s to-“ I ask, before my eyes go wide with realisation. “Oh- oh! Valentine’s Day! God, I’d almost forgotten…”

“Really?” Mia asks with a smirk. “You, miss- sorry, MRS ‘6’ 2” captain of the basketball team’?”

“And miss ‘two part time jobs and a leading role in the school play’,” I remind the raven-haired girl. “We haven’t actually planned anything? Guess it’s because it’s on a Wednesday this year, I dunno. Got my counsellor’s meeting tomorrow as well… I’ll- I’ll Facebook him tonight, sort something out.”

“…That’s Laura sorted, then!” Nicole giggles. “Me, I’ll be snuggled up on a sofa with a nice, tall young man, hehe!”

“Different sofa, different boy, same idea,” Megan says with a giggle. “Think George is going all out to spoil me this year…”

“I may have heard something similar,” Ashley- who is in the same form as Megan’s boyfriend- says with a smug grin. “I know it’s bad to say this, but I think George is just surprised he’s got a girlfriend at all, heh.”

“Umm, hello?” Megan asks, gesturing to her extra-tall frame. “Dancing hippo here? Minor miracle any boy would ever look at ME…” I bite my lip as I gaze down at my slender, feminine torso- Megan’s not exactly fat, far from it and but she is large-framed- and a lot more so than me. All of a sudden, I feel VERY selfish for my recent worries…

“Shut. Up,” Harriet chastises my oldest friend. “You are NOT a ‘dancing hippo’, you are a gorgeous, sexy, girly girl and George is right to spoil you and treat you like a gorgeous princess because that’s exactly what you are.”

“We ALL are,” Mia says confidently. “And as for my V-Day plans…” I suppress a giggle as Mia and Harriet suddenly stand up and give each other a very deep, very loud kiss! I briefly glance across at Ashley during the kiss, to make sure that she's alright, but if anything, she's giggling louder than anyone!

“Hey!” Miss Fullerton says, rolling her eyes as she approaches the public display of affection. “Be a bit more discreet, please? Mademoiselle Renou could probably hear that from the south of France!”

“Sorry, Miss Fullerton,” Harriet and Mia say simultaneously in exaggerated, child-like voices- though to our teacher’s credit, all this does is make her laugh.

“…Next time I hear you talk like that, I’m putting you in the 5 year olds’ class,” the tall blonde teacher teases. “Next time I hear you snog like that- you don’t even want to know what I’m going to do! But you’re not the only person who should watch their tongue… Isn’t that right, Miss Cartman?”

“Wh- what, me?” Megan protests. “What did I say?”

“Something about being- and I quote- a ‘dancing hippo’?” Miss Fullerton asks as my BFF’s cheeks start to redden. “I may be blowing my own trumpet here but I always thought I was a good teacher, certainly good enough to turn an already elegant and graceful girl into more than a ‘dancing hippo’, right?”

“Sorry,” Megan mumbles, her eyes fixed on the floor.

“Oh, Megan…” Miss Fullerton sighs, sitting down next to the bespectacled girl. “Okay, so you’re taller than most girls. You’re not skinny as a rake. Doesn’t stop you from being a ballerina. Know how I know?”

“Go on,” Megan asks.

“Because you ARE a ballerina,” Miss Fullerton insists. “You’ve put in the time and the hard work. So what if your body’s a bit different from other people’s?”

“There are two other people sat in this room who could say the same thing,” Ashley says, which really causes Megan’s cheeks to redden- and mine, too. “Our bodies are even more different, but we’re still wearing the same leotards, tights and pointe shoes, aren’t we?”

“Hell yeah, you are!” Suriya giggles.

“You ALL are,” Miss Fullerton says with a proud smile. “And Megan? Don’t ever let anyone tell you any different. ESPECIALLY not yourself.”

“I won’t,” Megan says with a grin, before pulling her tracksuit bottoms and hoodie back on and untying her tight bun.

I allow myself a weak smile as I pull on the short denim skirt and pink dance school hoodie I wore to the studio, but I can’t help but feel slightly guilty as I head out into the car park- guilt that only intensifies when Megan approaches me and Ashley with a very apologetic look on her face.

“Hey you two,” Megan says quietly. “I- I feel I kinda owe you both an apology for what I said in there… Self-pity isn’t cool, heh.”

“Oh- I’ll definitely agree with you there,” Ashley says, giving the tall girl a tight hug. “But you don’t need to apologise, you really don’t.”

“If anything,” I say with a heavy sigh, “I should be apologising to you. I’ve kinda been a bit, you know, ‘self-pity’ lately…”

“You- bu- oh,” Megan says, her face falling as she realises what I mean by ‘self-pity’. Megan was the one who wanted to come with me in the ambulance when my eating disorder caused me to pass out in the middle of class, and even though she hasn’t talked about it since, I know that deep down, she was very traumatised by the event.

“Yeah,” I whisper.

“What’s- have I missed something?” Ashley asks, before her eyes go wide with realisation. “Oh, the, umm- yeah…”

“Yeah,” I whisper as my cheeks start to burn.

“Have you told your mum about this?” Megan asks. “Or- or your counsellor?”

“I- I can’t tell my mum, she’d go mental!” I moan. “You know how weird she is about it…”

“It’s not the sort of thing you should keep to yourself,” Megan says. “If you’re feeling this way, you need to do something about it. And I DON’T mean starve yourself or take diet pills.”

“I know, I know,” I sigh.

“What triggered this, anyway?” Ashley asks. “You don’t look like you’ve gained any weight, if anything, your waist looks smaller than ever.”

“Thanks,” I say with a snort of laughter. “It- ugh, I dunno. Maybe when we were in rehearsals with Phil… I- I talked to him over Facebook. He- he called me a ‘fat transvestite’…”

“Ugh,” Megan spits, a look of pure disgust creeping across her face. “Did you tell your counsellor about this?”

“What can she do?” I protest. “She can’t sew Phil’s lips closed…”

“No, but she can tell you how to deal with bullying like that,” Ashley says softly. “We go to the same counsellor, remember? We- we talked a LOT after the whole ‘Sam Reid’ incident…”

“Yeah,” I whisper, my cheeks continuing to flush even as mum approaches from her car.

“You three going to gossip all night?” Mum asks, smirking as I roll my eyes.

“See you two tomorrow,” I say as I take a couple of deep breaths to clear my head before sliding onto the passenger seat of mum’s car.

“What were you three talking about?” Mum asks.

“Oh- umm, just the usual stuff,” I mumble, sighing as I’m immediately caught out in my lie.

“Laura…” Mum says sternly. “I saw the looks on your faces, that wasn’t any ordinary gossip, Megan looked as white as a sheet!”

“…It’s cold,” I shrug.

“What’s going on?” Mum asks firmly. “What is it you’re not telling me? Are you in trouble at school? Have- have you and Kain done something you shouldn’t have?” I let out a loud sigh and roll my eyes, which only deepens mum’s frown- then again, if her first instinct is to think the worst of me…

“Nothing, honestly,” I say. There’s no point in worrying her unnecessarily about my ‘problems’ anyway. “We- we were talking about tomorrow.”

“Wednesday?” Mum asks, before realising. “Oh, right, Valentine’s day! Knew there was a reason we asked Lily’s grandparents to babysit instead of you. I take it you’ll be seeing Kain in the evening?”

“Yep,” I reply. “Though… We- we kinda haven’t made any plans yet…”

“Hence the stress, I suppose,” mum says, though she looks far from convinced. “Get on Facebook when you get home and arrange something with him.”

“Thanks, mum!” I say with a forced smile. I’ll talk to Dr Williamson tomorrow about my weight worries- she’ll be able to offer more help than mum can, anyway.

When I get home, I follow mum’s advice and get straight onto Facebook, messaging Kain and (in between exchanging several hundred ‘kissing’ emojis) arranging a date at Kain’s house tomorrow night- albeit one chaperoned by Kain’s mother. As we get ready to end our conversation, however, Kain sends a message that gives me pause.

‘Were you at ballet tonight?’ My boyfriend asks, making me giggle.

‘Yep!’ I reply with a ‘grinning’ emoji. ‘So don’t be surprised if you spend tomorrow giving me foot rubs lol!’

‘It’s okay, you have sexy feet,’ Kain replies with a ‘winking’ emoji. ‘Still wearing your ballet uniform?’

‘Yep!’ I reply, before rolling my eyes. ‘Let me guess- picture, right?’ I grin widely as Kain’s response is a picture of himself in his basketball uniform, which- being just a pair of shorts and a tank top- greatly shows off his firm, lean muscles. I instantly strip off my skirt and my hoodie and take a selfie in my full-length mirror, but before I send it, I pause.

For a quick selfie, it’s not a bad picture- the lighting’s good and my whole body’s in shot- but that’s the problem. My WHOLE body is in shot, giving me the chance to examine it thoroughly for the first time in a while. My hips are wider than I remember, my backside’s larger… Sure, Ashley is right when she says that my waist is narrower than before, noticeably narrow in fact, but still, my body is far from how I would want it to be…

I spend the next five minutes taking and re-taking selfies in my bedroom mirror, but no matter what I try, none of them look as good as I would want them to be. Eventually, and with my boyfriend growing impatient, I send over the best of the bunch, a picture of me with one hand on my hip and my opposite leg raised onto tiptoes like an elegant ballerina. Of course, even this flawed picture gets a reply from Kain consisting of an emoji with bulging love hearts in place of eyes.

‘Can’t wait to see what you’re wearing tomorrow,’ Kain types.

‘Maybe I’ll wear my uniform?’ I reply with a ‘winking’ emoji.

‘You’ll still be the sexiest girl ever,’ my boyfriend retorts with a ‘kissing’ emoji.

Several more ‘kissing’ emojis are exchanged before I eventually change out of my dancewear and into my plain cotton nightie, and each one I receive builds my confidence more and more, but inside, I still feel the familiar pang of self-doubt. Consciously, I know that Kain means every word when he says that I’m the sexiest girl who ever lived. He’s always had a crush on me, and that crush only seems to have got bigger since we started going out. Often, when we kiss, I can feel a tell-tale bulge that tells me that he's struggling to control ‘himself’, and he wasn’t still only fifteen, I’m certain we’d have acted on those impulses by now.

And Kain isn’t even the only boy in school who fancies me. When I started school, four and a half years ago, the stares I got from the boys in my year were ones of confusion, shock, horror and disgust. How dare I- a BOY, just like them- parade around school in a skirt? Nowadays, though, the looks I get from the boys are ones of desire and lust. There are still plenty of transphobes at school, of course, but as the boys grew up with me- and the changes to my body made it clear that I was NOT one of them- the vast majority of them became increasingly comfortable seeing me as a girl. However, there are a few whose stares, laughter and pointed fingers always remind me that I’m not like the other girls in my year. Sometimes I wonder what it must be like for Kain, whether or not he receives the same level of bullying I did for being the boyfriend of a transgendered girl. I know Ashley’s best (male) friend George often gets harassed for his association with Ashley- as does Ashley herself- and they aren’t even going out.

I am definitely VERY grateful that I have such a wonderful boyfriend in Kain- especially considering my recent interactions with Phil bloody Brooks. I know That Kain likes me for who I am- ‘squishy bits’ and all. I just wish I could like me for who I am…

When I wake up the next morning, though, I do my best to put any self-pitying thoughts out of my mind as I pull on my trusty uniform, tie my hair back into its usual high ponytail and head down to my mum’s car.

“So, then,” mum asks as I sit down in the passenger seat and straighten my short grey skirt. “What are the plans for tonight, then?”

“What’s happening tonight?” Lily asks from the back seat of the car.

“It’s the best day of the year for girls who have boyfriends!” I reply with an excited giggle. “You’ll understand when you’re a little older.”

“Oh, Valentine’s Day?” Lily asks.

“Yep,” mum replies. “That’s why you’re spending tonight at your grandparents’ house. Question is, what’s my other daughter doing tonight?”

“I spo-“ I begin, before being immediately interrupted.

“Note I said ‘doing’ rather than ‘sleeping’ as said daughter and her boyfriend are still legally children,” mum says with a semi-serious stare.

“Yes, yes, yes,” I sigh. “Kain’s expecting me about 6-ish, we’ll be eating at his house. And before you ask, as you inevitably will, yes, his mum will be in the house too.”

“Good,” mum says. “So you’ll be eating there?” I bite my lip before responding- I hope it’s just my imagination that mum seemed to put an emphasis on the word ‘eating’…

“Yes, we’re getting a take-out,” I reply. “Probably Chinese, we both like Chinese…”

“Okay,” mum says. “Hope you’ll have enough time to get ready after your meeting with Dr Williamson.”

“Isn’t Laura normally home before 4:30 when she sees her?” Lily asks. “That’s, like, an hour and a half, isn’t it?”

“Exactly,” mum says with a smug smile as I roll my eyes. “That’ll barely be enough time to do one of her hairs…”

Fortunately, I only have to endure mum’s ‘sense of humour’ until I arrive at the entrance to my school, where I’m greeted by my six best friends- though instead of the usual giggles and hugs, today I’m greeted by concerned looks- and I immediately figure out both why this is the case and who’s to blame.

“Hi Laura,” Megan says quietly, before letting out a soft sigh.

“Did- ugh, you told them, didn’t you?” I spit.

“Yes, she told us!” Suriya says, looking like she’s close to tears. “Told us to be ready for you passing out at ballet again!”

“Ugh, that- that’s not going to happen!” I sigh. “Honestly. Tell someone something in confidence…”

“What were we meant to do?” Ashley asks. “Watch you mess yourself up again?”

“I told you that privately,” I snarl. “How would you have felt if me and Suriya had told everyone about the real you back when we were the only people who knew?”

“Probably angry at first,” Ashley concedes.

“Exactly,” I say.

“But I’d ultimately have been happier,” Ashley says, making me roll my eyes. “I’m serious. I only got here, wearing this, because I trusted all of you, that you all had my back. So trust us. Please.”

“I knew what you were going through,” I say. “None of you kno-“ I pause before finishing my sentence as I realise just how inaccurate it is. All of my friends know exactly what it’s like to feel singled out for being who they are- Megan for her size, Harriet and Mia for their sexual orientation, Suriya and her sister for their ethnicity, Nicole for her Asperger’s and Ashley- nobody knows what I’m going through better than Ashley. “…I’m sorry.”

“Apology accepted,” Nicole says as she leads me and the other girls in a long, tight group hug.

“Apology not necessary in the first place!” Suriya says with a giggle.

“Thanks,” I say, sniffing back a tear that’s suddenly appeared in the corner of my eye. “But I really, really don’t want to talk about this, okay? If I need help, I- I promise I’ll ask for it. But I’m okay for now.”

“Just as long as you DO ask,” Megan says firmly. “You can never have too many friends, remember? And we’re not just here to, you know, have fun with. We’re here if you NEED us too.”

“Thanks,” I sniffle, tears now freely flowing from my eyes. “But seriously, topic change, please?”

“Can do!” Suriya giggles.

“We’ve got better things to talk about at break anyway,” Nicole says with a devilish grin.

“The photos from Jamie-Lee Burke’s daughter’s birthday party yesterday?” Ashley asks with a mock-innocent pout.

“…Got to admit, they were REALLY cute,” Megan giggles. “But tonight will be even cuter, hehe!”

“Hell yeah it will!” I say with a confident smirk as I and my friends head to our form rooms, where, as always, I link fingers with my boyfriend before sitting down at my usual desk.

The first two lessons of the day pass uneventfully, and despite the ‘confrontation’ at the start of the day, I feel my excitement levels rising as I approach my regular table for break- even if it seems a little emptier than usual.

“Hey girlies!” I squeak, sweeping my short skirt beneath me as I sit down. “Where are Harriet and Mia?” I frown with confusion as my question elicits girlish giggles from everyone else at the table. “…What’s happened?”

“If rumours are to be believed,” Nicole says, “they’re in detention.”

“For kissing in class!” Megan giggles. “Obviously, as head girl, I can’t condone such disgraceful behaviour.”

“But as their friend…?” Ashley asks.

“…Go team Harria!” Megan cheers, making the rest of us giggle loudly. “Ah… No prizes for guessing what they’re going to be doing tonight, hehe!” I smile sympathetically as I glance over at Ashley- the third ‘side’ in the recent love triangle- to make sure that she’s okay with this, but her continuing smile tells me that she’s got no problem with the idea of ‘Harria’- and obviously, neither does anyone else sat at the table, least of all me. Even though both girls have flat-out bullied me in the past, I now consider them both to be close friends.

"I don't know that I could ever go out with a girl," Suriya says. "Umm, no offence, Ashley."

"For what?" Ashley replies. "For saying 'no thanks' to lesbianism or because we actually used to go out?"

"...Both," Suriya says with an embarrassed giggle. "Ahh... Happy that I'm going out with a REAL boy now, hehe!"

"DEFINITELY no offence taken there!" My fellow transgendered girl giggles as she plays with her shoulder-length hair. "And I'll be okay, you know, 'skipping' V-Day this year. I'm babysitting tonight anyway..."

"Isn't it Cassie's ballet class tonight?" Nicole asks. "I would NOT want to be the one to tell her she's not dancing tonight..."

"It's tomorrow night, thank god," Ashley replies. "My parents were crapping themselves when Miss Fullerton reworked the timetable, hehe!"

"I'm just glad our classes didn't move!" I say with a giggle. "Would NOT have been happy if it'd clashed with tonight..."

"Or if the play had!" Suriya teases.

"Oh yes!" Megan giggles. "Going to be wearing your Elsa dress tonight?"

"If only!" I reply with a giggle. "Nah, going to wear that sparkly blue one I got for Christmas from Nikki and her wife."

"Ooh," Nicole coos. "Is that the one where if the skirt was any shorter, it'd technically be a top?"

"Umm, yeah!" I reply, triggering a mass giggle. "Thinking of pairing it with a pair of black tights and those black heels I got in the Boxing Day sales."

"The ones with the four inch heels that you promised to let me borrow at some point?" Ashley asks with a pout.

"The same," I say with a smug smile. "Hey, Kain's almost six inches taller than me, it'll be easier for us to snog this way."

"And it will be just, you know, snogging, right?" Megan asks, making me groan with frustration.

"Ugh, yes, MUM," I say, before frowning. "...Sorry. But you don't give Harriet and Mia such a hard time about this, and one of them's sixteen while the other's fifteen..."

"Oh- I will, don't worry about that," Megan says. "And yes, I will practise what I preach and not jump on George until he's sixteen too. Even though I'd probably end up flattening him..." I bite my lip as the mood at the table suddenly drops- and even though it was Megan whose words caused the change in mood, I can't help but feel partially responsible, the way I've felt the last few days.

"Are we, or are we not all gorgeous, girly girls with amazing bodies that would make any BOY drown in his own drool?" I ask.

"Hell yeah we are!" Nicole cheers. "ALL of us are. Even if SOME of us would rather boys didn't look OR touch!"

"Oh, boys can look all they want," Ashley says with a grin. "Kinda hard to keep attention away when you've only got a thin layer of nylon covering your legs..." I giggle as Ashley conspicuously plays with her opaque black tights.

"You could, you know, always wear trousers..." Suriya cautiously teases.

"Uh- ew!" Ashley replies, triggering a mass giggle.

"That's my girl," I say with a proud smile.

"You know it'll be even harder to hide your body in your gymnastics leotard, right?" Nicole asks, lowering the mood at the table again as we all realise that what Nicole said doesn't just apply to Ashley...

"...Whatever," I shrug. "They're supposed to be a tight. And I know I look GOOD in a leotard. Honestly... HONESTLY. I know I look good." Well, I say I know I look good, anyway...

"Damn right you do!" Megan says with a warm smile.

However, after the next lesson, I still find myself feeling self-conscious as I strip off my blouse, my skirt and my tights and step into my long-sleeved team leotard- not least because I know the eyes of all my friends are on me as I do so.

"You can stop staring," I sigh. "I'm fine. HONESTLY. How many times do I have to say it?"

"You can say it as many times as you want," Ashley says quietly. "But what Nicole said is true. These things really don't give any place to, you know, 'hide'..." I frown as Ashley walks closer to me with a concerned look on her face- though oddly, it's not me that she's concerned about. "And just between you and me? You're not the only one who's worried..." I follow Ashley's eye line to the corner of our 'private changing room', where two other younger girls are stretching their leotards over their much smaller bodies.

"What, Bryony?" I ask. "What's she got to feel self-conscious about?"

"Uh- she's in Year 7, barely knows anyone in her year yet and kinda has a best friend who makes all her decisions for her," Ashley replies. "She's flat out told me she wouldn't be in this club if Sabrina wasn't."

"She's not THAT bad," I shrug. "She's actually pretty good at the rhythmic stuff, wouldn't be surprised if she makes a team next year. And one other thing- she isn't fat! She's practically skin and bones..."

"That's another reason why I'm worried," Ashley whispers, making me frown.

"...And so am I, right?" I mumble.

"I'd hope not," Ashley says, making my cheeks flush with embarrassment. "The others all hope that too." I frown as I finish adjusting my leotard and stare at my reflection in one of the toilet's mirrors. I certainly have more meat on my bones than either of the younger girls in our group. More than Suriya as well, for that matter. But I'm skinnier than Nicole, and I'm skinnier (and, paradoxically, curvier) than Ashley too. I DO have a girl's body, and that's never more obvious than when I'm wearing what I'm wearing now. Nicole's right- there's nowhere to 'hide' when wearing a leotard. But it's not like I have anything to 'hide' that I'm not proud of- and that isn't already safely 'tucked away', anyway...

Fortunately, no more comments are made throughout the gymnastics session- in fact, I'm complimented on my form by Miss Edwards- though I am glad to be pulling on my uniform again once the session comes to an end, and even more glad once the bell rings to signify the end of the school day. However, my relief soon makes way for nerves, thanks to the two 'dates' I have lined up for me. The second one is one I'm definitely looking forward to- the first one, not so much.

"Hi Laura!" Dr Williamson says as I plop myself down on the sofa opposite her. "Good day at school?"

"Yep!" I say. "Well, not bad, it's getting close to exam time so... Yeah."

"Ugh, I can definitely sympathise with you there!" My counsellor says with a quiet chuckle. "I hated exams when I was at school. I did usually get straight 'A's, but that didn't mean that I actually liked any of it, the revising... It all paid off in the end, though."

"Yeah, I know," I say with a smile.

"Though I imagine it's more what happened on Monday and what will be happening tomorrow that you're more interested in," Dr Williamson says with a smile.

"Oh, the- the play?" I ask. "Yeah, kinda, heh."

"How did it go on Monday?" Dr Williamson asks. "I already have your signature on some forms, should I be asking for a signed photo?"

"...It's a little early for THAT," I mumble as my cheeks start to flush. Every second spent talking about the play is a second spent not talking about my latest 'wobble' about my weight- and I'm not sure whether that's a good or bad thing, whether I should be relieved or frustrated.

"Laura, are you- is everything okay?" Dr Williamson asks. "Was there a problem with the play?"

"No, none at all," I reply, before letting out a pained sigh. "Well... One. Sort of. Kinda."

"Go on," my counsellor asked.

"My dress, my costume..." I say, before biting my lip as I feel tears form in the corners of my eyes. "It- it felt a little tight at times..."

"You've been having problems with your body image again," Dr Williamson says softly, smiling as I nod and my cheeks turn bright red. "It's okay, Laura. We both knew your bulimia wasn't just going to go away overnight. Have- have you been, you know, taking 'steps'-"

"No, absolutely not!" I say, before letting out a long sigh. "I haven't. I promise. I- I've thought about it, though. Sometimes thought about it a lot..."

"I hope- I hope I'm not the first person you're talking to about this," Dr Williamson says quietly. "I hope you're not just bottling this up, Laura. Have you told your mum?" I frown and blush even more as I shake my head.

"I don't want to worry her," I mumble.

"That's part of what mums are for," Dr Williamson says softly. "You should tell her. If you're only in the 'worrying' stage then we can do something about it. Before things go too far."

"What if telling her makes me stress out and- well, you know..." I mumble.

"I have a feeling it won't," Dr Williamson says softly. "Have you told any of your friends? I know how close you are to them, and I do remember being a sixteen year old girl and there are some things-"

"They- they kinda, umm, figured it out..." I mumble. "I can tell the way they look at me..."

"They're concerned for you, Laura," Dr Williamson says. "As good friends should be."

"Has- has Ashley said anything about me?" I ask. "In her sessions? I mean, I know about confidentiality, but if it's about me then-"

"Ashley hasn't said anything," Dr Williamson says. "And I won't be saying anything to her about this or anything to do with you. What happens in these sessions is between you and me alone, you know that. One thing I will say though, Laura... It is possible that your body may have changed over the last three months."

"So- so I HAVE been getting fatter!?" I moan.

"No, not fatter," Dr Williamson says. "But don't forget, you have been taking an increased dose of oestrogen since your sixteenth birthday. This dosage is designed to transform your body into a woman's body at a fairly accelerated rate. Maybe the rate is TOO accelerated."

"So- so you're taking me off oestrogen?" I ask, my mind racing as I start to panic. "But- but I-"

"I'm not taking you off of it," Dr Williamson says. "Take deep breaths, Laura, working yourself up like this isn't going to do you any good."

"O- okay," I say, trying to calm myself down.

"Taking you off of oestrogen would only do more harm than good, I'm more convinced of that with every passing day," Dr Williamson says. "But I have to be conscious of the issues you've raised today. I can't simply ignore them and carry on like nothing's happened, Laura. So I am- temporarily- reducing your dosage. And it is only temporary, I promise you. Just so you can 'catch up' with your body a bit."

"Okay," I say, letting out a pained moan.

"I know this isn't what you wanted to hear, Laura," Dr Williamson says. "But we all have setbacks. And I am pleased that you brought this to my attention before it became a major problem again. You're not the same timid little girl I first met five years ago, or even the same hot-headed teenager. You're becoming a mature, intelligent young woman. You should be proud in what you've achieved."

"...Thanks," I mumble- though I'm far from convinced.

Naturally, Dr Williamson spends the next forty minutes trying to convince me that despite my mistakes, I've had many, many successes as well- my fledgling acting & modelling careers, my exams, the play- especially the play. However, it's a tactic I've known Dr Williamson to use many times in the past- emphasising my 'wins' to disguise the fact that I've just had a major 'loss'. Two of them, in fact- my concerns over my weight, and now losing the oestrogen I'd yearned for for so long. Dr Williamson reassures me that my dosage will still be higher than the 'child's dosage I'd been taken since I was fourteen, but the fact still remains that it'll be lower than the dosage I was taking right up until today.

I have to trust that the counsellor is doing the right thing, and that she only has my best interests at heart. After all, she's never done anything to harm me in the past- which is more than can be said for me- but as I get ready to leave the office, I still somehow feel worse than I did when I entered. However, Dr Williamson manages to sneak in one question before I leave- a question that almost immediately returns the smile to my face.

"So, Laura," my counsellor asks. "Any plans for tonight?"

"T- tonight?" I ask.

"With that young man you're always talking about?" Dr Williamson asks with a sly grin. "For Valentine's Day?"

"Oh- oh!" I reply. "Yeah, we- we're having a private date at his house, yeah..."

"Sounds lovely," Dr Williamson says with a genuine smile. "I won't hold you up any longer, then- though if you do need to 'talk' after it, we can arrange a telephone session for later in the week?"

"I won't need to 'talk'," I reply. "We won't be doing anything, Kain's still only fifteen..."

"But he's in your year at school," Dr Williamson retorts. "Which means he won't be for long. Laura... It's only natural to want, well, 'more'. Sometimes I think the legal age of sixteen is a completely arbitrary cut-off point, for some people it could be younger, for some people, it should be much, much older... But sixteen IS the legal limit, and when you're both sixteen, I think we should have a talk before you, well, 'do' anything."

"Isn't this the kind of 'talk' I should be having with my mum?" I ask, making my counsellor sigh.

"Ordinarily, yes," Dr Williamson says. "But there are additional thing you should know, Laura, misconceptions that you might have heard, that sort of thing... We will talk about this, but some other time. I don't want to keep you from your young man any longer!" I smile as I leave the door, but I still allow myself a little eye roll as I head back toward mum's car. And yet, I know that Dr Williamson is right- it's not like I could have sex like a regular girl, like I know Priya and Nicole already have. Even if I have an idea of how it would 'mechanically' work, it's still a big step- and some guidance might not be a bad thing.

The guidance won't be needed tonight, though that doesn't mean I'm not going to make as much effort as possible to make Kain's eyes bug out of his skull with desire. I will confess, though, that the effort I'm about to go to is as much for my benefit as it is for his- especially after my 'double failure' today.

Fortunately, when I enter my bedroom, my mood is bolstered by the pleasant sight of my step-sister sitting cross-legged on my bed in her primary school uniform, having clearly been waiting for my return.

"Hi Lily!" I say with a grin. "Sorry, can't help you with your homework tonight, I-"

"Yes, I know you have a date!" The 11 year old girl replies. "You've been going on about it for days! Though that IS why I'm here, to help you if you want?"

"...Actually, that WOULD be nice," I say with a giggle. "Can you go and tidy up my make-up table and plug in my curling iron?"

"Sure!" Lily replies, jumping off my bed and tidying up while I strip down to my bra and thong. "Which lipsticks do you want- yow!"

"What?" I ask. "Gonna need to get used to seeing other girls in their underwear when you go to secondary school, you'll be changing together, after all."

"Doesn't mean I need to get used to seeing you in them," Lily says, before frowning and biting her lip. "Umm... Sorry, I didn't mean that because you- well, you know..."

"It's okay," I whisper. "You know I have to change by myself most of the time anyway, heh."

"Yeah," Lily says. "Bryony and Sabrina from ballet say they change with you for gymnastics club, though?"

"Probably because Bryony's sister's also 'like me'," I say. "And Sabrina's sister... Eh, it's complicated. The way I see it is 'we're all girls getting changed together despite what anyone else says'."

"Works for me," Lily shrugs. "Which lipsticks are you wearing tonight? Gonna blend them like you showed me a few months ago?"

"No, tonight is not a night I want to be experimenting!" I reply. "Tonight needs to be PERFECT. I want Kain to think of absolutely nothing apart from me for about the next month, hehe!"

"You could always lift your dress and show him your pants going up your bum," Lily replies. "Are they even comfortable, anyway?"

"You'd be surprised," I reply as I sit down and pick out a foundation and concealer for tonight. "But you won't be for the next few years, I wouldn't recommend asking mum to buy you a thong until you're at least fourteen!"

"What about dad?" Lily asks.

"...I wouldn't ask him ever, hehe!" I reply. "Dunno why it is, but parents are MUCH more protective of girls than boys."

"Is- is that part of the reason you- you know?" Lily asks, and I'm forced to pause to think. I know that boys can just as easily suffer from the body image issues that I do, and I'm forced to wonder whether or not mum would be just as panicky if it had been 'Leon' who fainted that day instead of 'Laura'... And I'm forced to concede that knowing her, she probably would have been.

"...Not really," I say, covering my face in the glossy powder and moving on to my thickest eye liner. "And I guess it depends on the parents."

"I guess," Lily shrugs. "I'm glad my dad's going to marry your mum."

"I am too," I say with a smile, knowing better than to bring up the topic of Lily's biological mother- which is a sensitive topic for the young girl. "Can you fish out my Angel brand false eyelashes? Second drawer on the left. Think I've still got a new pair in there somewhere..."

"On it," Lily replies as I move onto my eyeshadow- a glittery one in gold and mauve that will go perfect with the dress I'm wearing tonight. Naturally, with me wanting to get my look perfect, the application process takes almost twenty minutes, by which point my stepsister is starting to fidget with boredom.

"Won't be much longer," I say with a smile as I take the false eyelashes she's been dutifully holding for the last quarter of an hour and tease them onto my own lashes. "Another thing you'll learn in a few years is that getting ready for a date is sometimes as fun as the date itself, hehe!"

"Depends on the boy?" Lily asks.

"I guess," I shrug. "Pass me the Revlon lipstick, please?" I smile as Lily hands me the burgundy-coloured tube and I carefully apply it to my lips, taking care not to smear it or get any on my teeth. Tonight needs to be nothing short of PERFECT. However, I do allow myself a smile as I see my 'face' start to take shape. My friend Jessica, who I did the magazine shoot with last year, has occasionally spoken about how she likes keeping her lipstick until last so that it can be the thing to tie a look together, and she's not wrong.

With my make-up done, I take a bottle of deep red nail polish from my dresser and carefully coat each of my fingernails with it. I'll have to remove the polish before school tomorrow, of course (and especially before the play) but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy wearing it tonight! As Lily helps me dry the nails, I check on my curling iron, and decide that it's hot enough for what I have planned. I carefully wrap my long blonde hair around the hot instrument one lock at a time, until all of my hair has the necessary 'wave' to it, before tying it back and into an elaborate updo.

"You look beautiful," Lily says with an awestruck voice. "Can you show me how to do that with my hair sometime?"

"Sure!" I giggle, before reaching into my tights drawer for a translucent black pair, slowly easing them up my legs and taking care not to put any snags in them with my long fingernails.

With my underwear in place, I reach into my wardrobe for the dress I intend to wear tonight. As I hold it against my body, however, I pause. All of a sudden, the memory of everything that I've said over the past few days- and everything that's been said to me- comes flooding back. This dress IS going to be almost skin-tight once it's on my body. It will show off every curve, every crease, every lump, every imperfection... I have to question whether or not Kain will look at me in this dress and decide he'd rather not go out with me. And I have to question whether I'D want to be associated with me if I wear this dress...

"What's up?" Lily asks, snapping me out of my 'trance'. "Something wrong with the dress? Can I have it if you don't want it?"

"Umm, uh-" I stammer, before taking a deep breath. "No, the- the dress is perfect. I think..."

"Going to try it on to see?" Lily asks. I take another deep breath and nod, before unzipping the dress and slowly stepping into it, one leg at a time. "Want me to zip you up?"

"Please," I say, sucking my stomach in as Lily zips the dress shut. Once it's securely attached to my body, I take several more deep breaths to brace myself before turning to face my full-length mirror.

"Wow," Lily and I breathe at the same time as I come face to face with my reflection. There's only one conclusion I can draw from the sight of my reflection, one that Lily happily voices for me.

"You look amazing," Lily says. And despite the occasional wrinkle in my dress, despite the occasional 'lumpy' area... I'm forced to concede that she's right.

I'll never be 100% happy with the way I look. But then again, what girl does? Even the famous supermodels are airbrushed whenever they appear in magazines. Even Jamie-Lee Burke has had cosmetic surgery (beyond her SRS, of course). As much as I love my BFF, I'm forced to admit that she looks more masculine than I ever have, and yet she's never gone to the 'extremes' that I have to change the way I look, and she has a boyfriend who clearly adores her... Just as I have. And I know for a fact that when Kain sees me like this, he'll remember it for the rest of his life. It'll be the image he thinks about when he wakes up and the last thing he thinks about when he goes to bed- and that should be enough for me. It IS enough for me.

"Thanks," I say with a wide, genuine grin, before crouching down and picking my shoes out of my wardrobe. "Hey... Wanna try these on? Just for a second or two? I promise I won't tell mum or your dad..."

"Wh- really?" Lily asks as I hold the beautiful high-heels in front of her. The 11 year old girl giggles as I nod, before gingerly slipping her feet into the shoes. They're four sizes too big for her, of course, so she has trouble moving, but before long, she's strutting around my bedroom, making me giggle as she poses with one hand on her hip, the other making a 'peace' sign and her mouth pulled into the biggest model's pout I've ever seen!

"We'll make a runway model out of you yet!" I say, making my stepsister giggle as she steps out of the shoes and allows me to slip my feet into them. They fit my feet like a glove, of course, and despite the 4" heel, I have no difficulty walking elegantly in them, but it does put an idea in my head. "Hey, Lily... How tall are you again? 4' 10"?"

"Umm... 4' 8", I think," the young girl replies. "Why?"

"When you get a little taller, and you want to borrow any of my clothes, all you need to do is ask," I say with a smile.

"Wh- really?" Lily squeaks, giggling as I nod. "Oh my god, thank you so much Laura!"

"Hey, we're sisters, aren't we?" I reply. "And it's clothes and shoes only, no make-up, underwear or dancewear, okay?" I smile as my stepsister nods and immediately heads over to my wardrobe to stare at the clothing collection within, while I slip on my favourite silver bracelet and a pair of dangly earrings.

"I'll have to eat fewer cakes, your clothes are so small..." Lily sighs, making me frown. "Some of them might even fit me now, heh!"

"...Maybe," I mumble. Even 11 year old Lily can see what I apparently couldn't. "Tell you what, Friday, after ballet, we'll have a look through them, see if there are any I can live without, okay?"

"Okay!" Lily giggles as she opens my bedroom door for me. "That dress isn't going to be one of them though, is it?"

"HELL no!" I reply, giggling as I reach the bottom of the stairs, where mum and Sean's jaws drop as they see me, even though they're both dressed very smartly themselves.

"Wow," mum says, before coming over and 'inspecting' me. "Just- wow. You are a truly beautiful young woman, Laura."

"Kain had better appreciate the effort you went to!" Sean chuckles. "Even if you have decided that you don't need to cover ANY of your legs..."

"I'll make sure he does," I say with a smile. "Thanks for letting me nick a lift..."

"Oh, just part of the joys of having a grown-up child," mum laughs as she gets her phone out of her handbag. "I've GOT to get a photo of this!"

"Don't send it to Kain!" I protest. "Or post it somewhere he can see it-"

"Yes, yes, I know, I've been a sixteen year old girl before," mum says as she takes my pictures. "I'm just sending this to your grandmothers, that's all."

"Thanks," I say with a grin as the doorbell rings.

"Ah- that'll be grandma and grandpa here to look after the other gorgeous girl!" Sean chuckles, opening the door to let his parents in.

"Hi son!" Sean's father says with a grin. "Hello Michelle! Hi Laura- guess you're going out on a hot date too, then?"

"Yep!" I reply with a grin. Sean's parents, of course, know 'the truth' about me, but they're just as easy-going about it as Sean himself.

"Well you three have fun," Sean's mother says, giving all three of us a hug before sitting down on the sofa with Lily. "And you, young lady, had better not stay out too late!"

"Way ahead of you, Pat!" Mum laughs as she leads me and Sean out to the car.

A short while later, I'm dropped off outside Kain's house, where despite the cold, I spend several minutes outside the front door fussing with my appearance, making sure my dress is straight, my tights are wrinkle-free, my hair is perfect... It takes the bite of the cold February air to remind me of what I learned earlier- I'll never be 100% satisfied with my appearance, but 99% is more than enough, and should be more than enough for Kain...

"Oh, hello Laura!" Kain's mother says as she opens the door. "You look- you look nice tonight."

"Thanks," I reply as I'm led through to the living room, where I smirk as my boyfriend's jaw drops open and his eyes widen in shock.

"Umm- hi, Laura!" Kain says, stumbling as he gets up to greet me. "You- you look- you-"

"Thanks," I whisper, before giving the handsome young man a kiss on his lips that almost knocks him over!

"Come on," Mrs. Dawson says, clearly eager not to let the kiss last any longer. "Don't want dinner to get cold..."

"Thanks," I whisper as I'm led to my seat at the dinner table, which Kain gentlemanly holds out for me.

Naturally, with Kain's mother present, we don't get much opportunity to flirt and zero opportunity to have any physical contact with each other (apart from a brief game of footsie under the table). The older woman successfully dominates the dinner conversation, asking questions about the play and about my dancing, which is frustrating, but almost relieving in a way- I can tell from the way that Kain looks at me throughout the dinner that he wouldn't want to do much talking anyway!

Eventually, though, the dinner comes to an end, and I sit back in my chair, trying to ignore the sudden (and very unwelcome) bloated feeling in my stomach. Despite my discomfort, I'm encouraged by the fact that Kain hasn't taken his eyes off of me all evening, and is obviously as eager as I am for his mother to give us some privacy, judging by the occasional frustrated glance he gives toward his mother.

"...I'll clear the plates, then," Kain's mother says with a heavy sigh, removing the crockery and heading to the kitchen, causing both Kain and I to breathe a long sigh of relief.

"Thought she'd never leave," my boyfriend mumbles as we reach across the table and link fingers with each other. "You look really, really amazing tonight, Laura. You seriously do."

"Thanks," I reply with an excited grin.

"I- I'm sorry we're having our first Valentine's Day date at my house," Kain mumbles. "It wasn't what I had planned, I-"

"Hey," I say with a smile. "It was great, okay? Not like either of us could afford to go somewhere fancy anyway."

"Yeah, but, you know," Kain says. "I could've tried harder..."

"You did great, Kain," I say reassuringly. "Honestly, you did. Tonight- tonight's been perfect."

"Thanks," Kain whispers. "I, umm, I got you a gift..."

"Oh?" I ask, before following my boyfriend as he rises from his chair and heads to one of the cupboards in his living room.

"It's just- it's just a thing, really," Kain mumbles, handing me a small, carefully-wrapped package. I waste no time in removing the paper, opening it to find a small bracelet inside. It's obviously something Kain's made himself, probably even at school- it's a very plain metal chain with four wooden Scrabble tiles attached to the outside- a K and a D (for Kain Dawson) and an L and a W (for Laura White).

"It's great," I say with a smile.

"You're just saying that," Kain sighs.

"No- really, I'm not," I say, slipping the bracelet onto my wrist. And I genuinely do like the bracelet- it clearly took him a lot of time to make, and a lot of thought went into it too. So what if it only cost a few pence in actual money? Kain's heart is in the gift, and that's what's important. "I love it. Kinda wish I'd got you something now, heh..."

"You didn't need to," Kain says. "I- I'm just really lucky to even have a girlfriend like you, heh."

"Nah, trust me, I'M the lucky one," I say. "Not many boys would, you know, even look at me because of 'what' I am."

"I've told you before," Kain says. "Most of the boys in our year would give their right arm to go out with you. Especially if they could see you in that dress!"

"Really?" I ask, taking a deep breath before asking my next question. "It's not, you know... Tight? Or, you know-"

"You look perfect," Kain says, giving me a long kiss on my lips to help drive his point home. Tentatively, his hands move across my body, starting on my stomach, gently caressing it almost like he's trying to prove that I'm not even a gram overweight. Kain's hands quickly move onto my hips, sending lightning bolts of excitement through my body, before linking together behind my back, pulling my body closer to his as I wrap my arms around his neck.

The kiss feels like it lasts a lifetime, and at the same time, feels like just a couple of seconds. As I press my body into Kain's, I feel his 'obvious excitement' start to press into my thigh, and if it wasn't for a cough from Kain's mother, we'd probably have stayed in the embrace all night.

"Sorry for disturbing you," Mrs. Dawson says (even though she's very obviously not sorry). "Kain, have you giving Laura her gift?"

"He has," I say, showing off my new bracelet with a smile. "It's beautiful."

"Kain spent hours working on that," Mrs. Dawson says, making her son sigh and roll his eyes.

"Mum..." Kain moans in an embarrassed tone.

"Honestly, I love it," I say with a smile.

"I'm glad," Mrs. Dawson says with a genuine smile of her own. "Well, it's getting late now, I'd better get you home, you both have school tomorrow." Naturally, this elicits a moan from both Kain and I, though this obviously does nothing to change the older woman's mind.

"I'll see you tomorrow," I whisper, before giving another long, lingering kiss to my boyfriend. However, the kiss inevitably comes to an end, and I can't help but let out a disappointed sigh as I follow Kain's mother out to her car.

"Thanks for the dinner," I say as I elegantly slide onto the passenger seat. "And for the lift home."

"You're welcome," Mrs. Dawson says stoically. "Kain really does like you a lot, you know."

"I like him a lot too," I reply.

"Good," Mrs. Dawson says, making me fidget uncomfortably. It's not like I've never spoken to the woman before, but we've never really had a chance for a one-on-one talk. I'm beginning to suspect that this was for the best- and I'm dreading the reason why...

"Seriously, I DO like him a lot," I reiterate. "He's sweet, he's funny..."

"He's also a lot more vulnerable than he seems," Mrs. Dawson says. "And he gets very attached easily, and that means it's much more easy for him to get hurt."

"Oh- really?" I ask hesitantly. "No, really, you don't have to worry THERE. Most boys see me as 'damaged goods' anyway..."

"Really?" Mrs. Dawson asks with a tired sigh. "The captain of the cheerleading team who's also the lead in the school play and, if what Kain says is true, is doing paid modelling work?"

"The transgendered girl with the eating disorder?" I retort, silencing the older woman. "Kain sees past all that, doesn't even acknowledge it. THAT'S why I like him so much."

"...It's 2018," Mrs. Dawson says. "I'd hope he does look past all of that. I'd have hoped everyone does."

"Yeah, I'd have hoped that too," I sigh. "Doesn't mean everyone will." I bite my lip as an awkward silence fills the car. "So, umm, thanks. Again."

"For what?" Mrs. Dawson asks.

"For seeing past the 'transgendered' thing," I say. "And the, umm, 'other' thing..."

"You're welcome," Kain's mother replies with a genuine smile that lifts my confidence as we arrive back home.

Naturally, the kiss lingers on my mind for the rest of the night as I remove my make-up and nail polish and change into more comfortable clothes, though Kain's mother's words linger as well. She clearly thought that I thought I was too good for her son- which means there's a chance she thinks that I AM too good for Kain, when in fact, the larger part of me wonders of Kain's too good for me. He clearly fancies me a lot, which I can tell from more than just his words. Even in a tight dress that shows off any imperfection, he was practically drooling at me all throughout dinner. This can only mean one of two things- either than Kain likes my imperfections, or that I have fewer than I think I do. Certainly, he's demonstrated time and again that he doesn't care about my 'main' imperfection, as have my friends. If anything, the only imperfection my friends care about is the fact that I feel I have imperfections at all. Not one of them would even blink if I put on any weight. But if I started to lose weight, or worry about my weight... The events of the last couple of days have shown just how amazing my friends are. As long as I have their support, I know I don't need to worry about anything. And I know I'll ALWAYS have their support.

This is proved the following day when I arrive at school and all of my friends greet me with the usual group hug, followed by endless gossip about last night's dates, most of which ends up being about the picture of me in my dress that I eventually posted to Facebook- and all of it is complimentary, telling me how good I looked in the dress. Even my 'wider circle of friends' get in on the act- when we're changing for Cheer club, Melissa (from the year below me) actually asks if I've lost weight, and while the question worries Suriya and Ashley, it only serves to bring a smile to my face.

My smile lasts right the way through to the end of the evening, when I and the rest of the cast of the play are taking our curtain call after yet another successful performance. My dress feels just as tight as it did on Monday, but I don't care for several very good reasons- in the audience if a fifteen year old boy who's probably drowning in his own drool just looking at me, and also in the audience and on stage alongside me are the best friends I've ever had, all of whom will happily tell me how good I look in the dress.

As I'm heading back to my 'private changing room' to get changed, though, I'm reminded that not everyone I encounter is going to be on my side.

"It was a good performance, again," the rage-inducing voice of Phil Brooks says as he passes me in the corridor. "Will you be alright getting out of that dress? It looks a little tight on you..." I open my mouth to retort- which would have consisted of a very blunt 'fuck off', before seeing something out of the corner of my eye that makes me pause.

"You want to repeat that?" I ask. "Or are you implying something else?"

"Well, you know, that dress doesn't really fit you," Phil shrugs. "It's too small, or you're probably too big-"

"PHILIP JEFFREY BROOKS!" The unmistakable sound of Phil's older sister (not to mention bona fide Angel) Victoria yells, instantly silencing the sixteen year old boy and making his eyes go wider than dinner plates. "Why, exactly, are you commenting on Laura's weight when you know it's bothered her in the past?"

"It- I- it-" Phil stammers, before scampering off toward the boys' changing room.

"We are having words when we get home!" Victoria yells, before turning to me and sighing. "Sorry about that, Laura. Has- has he been saying much about- well, you know?"

"...He won't be anymore, that's the important thing," I giggle.

"I'll make sure of it," Victoria says with a warm smile. "And sorry if I brought up, you know, a sensitive topic... Believe me, I've been there."

"What, you?" I ask with a snort of laughter. "Really?"

"Seriously," Victoria says with a sympathetic smile. "I'm a size 12-14 woman hanging out with mostly size 8 supermodels, don't forget. Joshua- my boss- says he doesn't want me to lose any weight, but sometimes I can't help but feel inadequate..."

"But- but you're, like, famous," I say. "You've got over a million followers on Instagram, a husband, a daughter..."

"I could have fifty million followers, it wouldn't matter," Victoria says softly. "I think every girl goes through this at some point, Laura. Don't ever feel that you're alone, because you're not. I, umm, I'm going to need to get back to my family pretty quickly, but if you ever want to talk- even though you and Phil aren't going out anymore, and I can hardly blame you THERE, but- if you ever need to talk about this, I'm only a Facebook message away. I know Jamie's been wishing that you'd open up to her a bit more too."

"...Really?" I ask.

"I've got two younger brothers and always wanted a younger sister, really," Victoria chuckles. "Any time of day. Don't be offended if I don't reply instantly, just know that I WILL reply if you need me. And Phil WILL regret saying those things!"

"Thanks," I say with a giggle. "I'll, umm, I'll talk to you soon!"

"You'd better!" Victoria chuckles as she heads back to meet up with the rest of her family, while I grin happily. So what if one person wants to knock me down? I've got a hundred people who'll help me stand up again, even people I didn't know about. Sometimes I do love being me.



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