Laura, part 15

"Aww..." Suriya coos, playfully leaning her head onto my shoulder. "SO pretty..."

"So GORGEOUS, more like!" Harriet giggles as she adjusts her tight black leotard. "Not that I'm interested, of course- I was talking about the tutu, not Priya!"

"I'll tell her you said that!" Suriya teases, sticking a tongue out at Harriet as the tutu-clad Priya finishes her minute-long solo routine and dips into a graceful ballerina's curtsey, earning a standing ovation from everyone in the dance studio, much like I did when I danced the same routine in the same tutu two and a half weeks ago.

The reason Priya is dancing in the tutu is also the same- well, almost. Two and a half weeks ago marked the fifteenth anniversary of my birth, and as is tradition, Miss Fullerton makes all 'birthday girls' dance a special routine in a special costume. Today is, obviously, Priya's birthday... But today she's turning SIXteen, rather than FIFteen, and there's a part of me that can't help but feel jealous of that fact.

However, today is a day for celebration, and it's not like Priya's birthday is the only reason I've had to celebrate over the past two weeks, as I'm reminded when Priya, I and five of my other friends leave the dance studio to find our eighth friend stood in the cold December air, wearing a smart knee-length dress, a pair of thick black tights and her favourite ballerina flats.

"Hey, MISS Moore!" I say with a giggle as I give Ashley a gentle cuddle. "Sucks so much that you couldn't watch THE dance..."

"Fortunately, you have about a hundred different videos to choose from!" Suriya laughs, teasing her sister as the four of us- Suriya, Priya, Ashley and myself- climb into Ashley's mother's car to be taken to the sisters' house. As I watch Ashley smooth her dress over her lap, I smile happily at the knowledge that she is FINALLY being allowed to live the life she always wanted, with the support of her parents (even if her father is still reluctant to accept Ashley as his daughter). However, Ashley's success didn't come free, as I'm reminded when she fiddles with the bandage above her eye.

A week ago, Ashley walked into school wearing the same blouse, skirt and tights I had worn during my first three years of school. Unlike my first day, however, hers did not go smoothly at all. Whether it's because the kids in her year are all morons or because they're so used to 'boy Ashley', I couldn't say, but the poor girl was almost in tears by the end of her first day... And then on her second day, this Monday just gone, none other than Samantha Reid took it upon herself to bring a high-heeled shoe into school and smash it into Ashley's face, opening up a wound that she tells me will leave a noticeable scar for years to come.

Samantha didn't go unpunished for this, of course- she and her brother (who had beaten up Ashley's best male friend last Friday) have both been permanently excluded from the school, which is especially bad as they only started three months ago. Sam's parents were apparently livid about the situation... Though whether they were angry at the children's behaviour or angry at me and Ashley for 'provoking' them, I don't know. And frankly, I don't want to know. All I do know is that from now on, school should hopefully be a lot quieter and a lot safer for both myself and Ashley.

Sam also received extra 'punishment' from, of all people, Harriet. The second she attacked Ashley, Harriet was on her, pummelling Sam like a wild animal and causing a LOT more damage than Sam caused to Ashley. At one point, it looked like Harriet would expelled from school as well as Sam- though that was eventually reduced to a week-long suspension. However, that also included a week-long grounding from her mother, meaning that only seven of our 'excellent eight' are present when Priya opens her front door and is greeted by a loud cheer from her parents and her brother.

"Welcome home, my special princess!" Mr. Malik says, giving Priya a tight hug as the newly sixteen year old girl surveys the room, which has been decorated with balloons, streamers and a huge banner with the words 'happy birthday', the number '16' and some words in Bengali that I don't recognise.

"Oh my god!" Priya gasps, barely able to contain her emotions. "Thank you so much..."

"It's not every day that your princess turns sixteen!" Mr. Malik chuckles.

"It's not the last day that that'll happen, either!" Suriya says, earning a playful shove from her older sister. "Are our outfits ready for us?"

"Of course," Mr. Malik laughs. "Ready for all seven of you!" Suriya giggles as she and Priya lead us up to the older girl's bedroom, where there are seven folded lengths of fabric on her bed that I instantly recognise.

All seven of us giggle as we strip off our dancewear (or, in Ashley's case, her dress) and we help each other wrap ourselves the beautiful saris. My sari is made of a beautiful, shimmering purple fabric with gold embroidery, and shows off my fledgling curves magnificently once it's wrapped around my body and the end is draped over my left arm.

Priya's sari, of course, is the most beautiful of the lot- the fabric is gold and red and seems to sparkle with every step the sixteen year old takes. Once we're all dressed, Suriya sits her sister down in front of her dresser, wraps a cape around her and enhances her make-up, making her look like a true Bollywood star. Much to my surprise, Priya then removes a brown-coloured stud from her left nostril and replaces it with a bright gold stud.

"When- when did you get THAT done?" Nicole asks.

"Are you even allowed to have a nose piercing at school?" Megan asks.

"You are if it's culturally appropriate," Priya replies. "And nose piercings are common in India, and I'm Indian, so I figured 'why not'? As long as it's not conspicuous the school's okay with it."

"I'm getting mine done next summer!" Suriya giggles as she attaches an elaborate golden head-dress to her sister's hair, before taking a photo of her with her smartphone. "Rajakumari Priya!"

"India is SO cool," Nicole gushes as the rest of us also take pictures of Priya in her elaborate attire.

"It is!" Mia giggles as she dances around in her sari. "I've never worn anything this amazing before..."

"God, I remember the first time I wore a sari like this," I say. "Think it was my second week of year seven, just after I..." I don't finish the sentence, which would have ended with the words 'was assaulted', as I feel Ashley's presence behind me.

"I remember too," Megan said, defusing the tension. "Back when I WASN'T a giant!" My bespectacled best friend giggles as she does a twirl in her sari, showing off all 5' 10" of her slender body.

"Back when I wasn't even taking boy blockers," I say, shooting a sympathetic look at Ashley before playfully cupping my breasts.

"We've all changed a lot," Nicole muses. "But the important thing is that we're all friends, right?"

"Duh, of course!" Suriya giggles. "Now come on, don't want to keep daddy waiting!" The seven of us all giggle as we follow the birthday girl downstairs, where she earns another gentle hug and a kiss on her forehead from her father.

"My beautiful girl," Mr. Malik says, almost crying with pride. "No- from now on, I should say: my beautiful young woman." I feel another twinge of jealousy as a young man- who I recognise as Priya's boyfriend- gives the birthday girl a kiss on her cheek, before Mr. Malik leads him, Priya and Suriya and their brother to the head of the room where the proud father toasts the blushing birthday girl.

I barely pay any attention to what's being said, though, as my thoughts are focussed on Priya and her boyfriend, both of whom are now sixteen, which means that they can buy a lottery ticket, they can ride a moped, they can live away from home... And most importantly of all, they can both legally have sex.

I don't even know why I feel so jealous of Priya. I don't even have a boyfriend at this time, and I'm not the odd one out there as neither do Mia or Nicole. And yet, every time I look at Priya giggling with her boyfriend, I'm reminded that there are certain things denied to me, not just because of my age... But because Priya and I have VERY different things between our legs.

I suppose I shouldn't be so angsty- it's not like there aren't 'other ways' available to me, and once I turn eighteen, I can (and will) book my full sex change operation, which I'm told will make me a 'functional' woman, or so close that you can't tell the difference. And it's not like there aren't boys at school who fancy me, or who think I'm cute... Genetics aside, years of dancing, gymnastics and now cheerleading have given me an EXTREMELY hot body, even if I do say so myself! But if I do get a boyfriend, then legally, I won't be able to 'do' anything with him for another eleven and a half months- and that's assuming that he's the same age as or older than me.

The party guests (apart from the birthday girl and her sister, of course) all leave Priya's house just after 9:30pm, with myself and the rest of my friends allowed to wear our saris back home (they're effectively a 'goody bag' from the party). I smile as I pass a familiar car parked on the driveway outside my house- my mum won't be the only person waiting for me inside.

"Hi everyone!" I say as I walk into the living room and do an elegant twirl, showing off my sari to mum, her boyfriend and- most importantly- Lily, who (like her father) is staying over tonight.

"Beautiful!" Mum giggles as I pose like a fashion model.

"What kind of dress is THAT?" Lily gushes as she rushes over to stroke the delicate fabric.

"It'd called a sari," I say. "It's a special kind of dress from India, where Priya and her sister's family are from. I can show you how to put one on, if you'd like?"

"Maybe tomorrow," Sean laughs as he takes his reluctant daughter's hand. "Think you've stayed up too late already!"

"Aww," Lily pouts as her father leads her up the stairs to get ready for bed (Lily stays in Ricky's old room whenever she and her father stay over).

"Take it you had a good night, then?" Mum asks.

"The BEST," I gush. "You saw the Facebook pics, right?"

"Not yet, but I'll have a look before I go to bed," mum laughs, before brushing a long, stray hair away from my face. "You really are growing up fast, aren't you? Only seems like a minute since you were Lily's age..."

"...Yeah," I laugh. "We're the only people in the room and still you manage to embarrass me!"

"Oh- shut it, you," mum snorts, giving my hair a playful flick. "I don't need another Ricky, you know!"

"Sorry," I giggle. "I should probably get ready for bed, too."

"Just before you do," mum says, getting her phone out of her pocket, "I know your grandmothers will LOVE seeing you dressed like this!" I giggle as I pose for mum's photo, before heading to my room, where I carefully unwrap the sari from around me and place it in my wardrobe, before changing into a soft, long nightdress and climbing into bed.

I smile as I feel the strong pair of hands gently cup my face, before opening my mouth and allowing the stranger's tongue to probe deeply into mine, savouring the taste of his mouth as he probes further, deeper...

I awake with a quiet gasp and take several deep breaths as I lay still, trying to get rid of the tingling feeling that's filling my body.

"God damn it," I whisper as my heart rate slowly returns to normal. "That's all I need now, sexy dreams..." I sigh as I lay my head back down on my pillow to try to get back to sleep, but as hard as I try, I stay awake until the first slivers of sunlight poke between my curtains.

With a heavy sigh, I get out of bed and take a quick shower, before returning to my room and pulling on a bra, a thong and a pair of cute, patterned black tights, followed by a warm red turtleneck and a pleated black miniskirt. After putting on a little make-up (with it being Saturday, it'll get done more thoroughly later on by my friends) I head downstairs, where mum, Sean and Lily are already awake and eating breakfast.

"Call the press!" Sean laughs. "Teenaged girl awake before 9am on a Saturday in December!"

"Hysterical," I sarcastically retort, making Sean laugh even more.

"Do you want a lift to Priya and Suriya's, or is someone coming to pick you up?" Mum asks as she slides me my morning cup of coffee.

"I'm getting a lift with Ashley's mum," I reply.

"It's weird to think that just under a year from now, you'll be the one turning sixteen," mum muses. "I'll always wish that I'd had more time with my little girl when she was a little girl."

"...Yeah," I sigh. "I SHOULD tell you off for embarrassing me AGAIN, but... I do kinda agree with you, you know?"

"Good," mum says. "So hopefully, when you DO turn sixteen, you won't be in any rush to go out and buy a moped, or get your nose pierced..."

"Or any of the other 'things' sixteen year olds are legally allowed to do," Sean says quietly, trying not to provoke a reaction from his very young daughter.

"But the point is," I retort, "I will legally be allowed to do them. All of them, if I want."

"Oh great, I HAVE got another Ricky," mum sighs, snorting with laughter as I mime another sarcastic laugh at her. "Seriously, though, Laura, don't be in too much of a hurry to grow up, okay?"

"Okay," I say, though by the time I'm out of mum's sight and in the back of Ashley's mother's car, I've already hiked my skirt higher and teased my hair to add more volume to it.

"Hi Laura!" Ashley giggles, straightening her own knee-length denim skirt as she gets out to let me in her car.

"Hi, PRINCESS Ashley!" I reply, making the thirteen year old girl giggle happily.

"Rajakumari Ashley," Megan- who's sat on the back seat next to me- corrects.

"Ahh, of course!" I giggle. "So... Did you like your sari, Ashley?"

"I kept it on for the rest of the night," Ashley giggles. "Just a pity my sisters were all in bed when I got home, they'd have loved to have seen it, especially Cassie."

"She'd have loved it, yeah," I laugh.

"She'd probably believe she WAS an Indian princess, despite being white and blonde," Ashley laughs. "God knows I did, last night..."

"Well," I say, "like me, being white and blonde is the only 'princess thing' you DON'T have going for you, RAJKUMARI Ashley!" Megan, Ashley and I all giggle excitedly as the car pulls up outside the sisters' house, and when we enter, Priya, Suriya, Nicole and Mia are already deep in our traditional Saturday makeover session.

"Still no Harriet?" Ashley asks as she sits down, her knees pressed tightly together.

"Still grounded," Suriya sighs. "It was for a week, and that week started on Monday, so that's that."

"Sucks so much," Mia sighs as Priya uses her brand-new eyelash curlers on her. "I mean, if she HADN'T done what she did, Ashley would've..."

"If she was just defending Ashley, then maybe," Priya sighs, before handing Mia a mirror, making the pale-skinned girl grin widely.

"Awesome," Mia giggles, playfully batting her eyelids. "I know what I'm adding to my Christmas list, hehe!"

"Okay, Nicole, you next," Priya says, putting the mirror down and giving me a good view of her nostril, which still has its gold stud firmly in place.

"You're still 'going gold', then?" I ask, making the sixteen year old grin.

"It was a birthday present," Priya shrugs. "Want to get my use out of it."

"You know," Nicole says as Priya and Suriya fix her make-up, "I actually googled 'Indian nose piercings' when I got home. There were some really beautiful looks on there, especially with that chain thing they- sorry, you use."

"Ah, you mean this?" Suriya giggles as she holds out a dainty gold chain, on the end of which is a clip-on nose ring. "I've cleaned it, if you want to try it on? It's a clip-on, so it shouldn't hurt..."

"Ehh... HATE having things in my nose," Nicole grimaces. "Umm... Sorry..."

"S'okay," Suriya says, clipping the ring to her own nostril before weaving the other end of the chain to her hair. "This is just costume jewellery anyway."

"Yeah," Priya says, taking another chain from the small jewellery box on the kitchen table and affixing it in the same way as her sister. I can't help but giggle at the sight of Priya wearing her traditional- albeit fake- chain. Yesterday, in her sari, it wouldn't have looked out of place, but given that she's wearing shorts, tights and a turtleneck, it does look a little odd!

"Though in Hindu tradition," Priya continues, "brides wear them on the wedding night as a symbol of virginity, and when the groom removes it, it means, well, you know."

"Cool," I say as I'm handed another chain, which I happily affix to my face. "So it's a bit like lifting a bride's veil in England?"

"Or the bride wearing white?" Mia asks.

"A little," Suriya shrugs. "Like any English bride is a virgin on her wedding night, heh!"

"Not that we should be thinking about any of these things," Mia playfully giggles. "Well, those of us who AREN'T legally allowed, anyway..."

"Oh- shut up," Priya moans as she applies Nicole's eyeshadow.

"You know," Megan- who has also donned a nose chain- teases, "if you take that off, it'll symbolise that you're not a virgin, won't it?"

"No," Priya spits," it'll symbolise that I've got tired of wearing it, so just leave me alone, okay?"

"O- okay," Megan says, taken aback by Priya's sudden hostility.

"Ugh, I'm sorry, Megan," Priya sighs. "It- it's just, you know, private? Just because I'm the oldest, just because I'm now sixteen, doesn't mean I want to rush into being the first of us to lose their virginity..."

"You- you kinda wouldn't be, anyway..." Nicole mumbles, earning shocked gasps from all of us.

"Seriously!?" Megan squeaks at the mousey-haired girl, whose cheeks have turned bright red.

"It was over summer," Nicole mumbles. "We went on holiday, made friends with this family who had a son, I told him I was sixteen... Yeah."

"What- what was it like?" Suriya whispers, earning a shove from her sister. "What? I'm just curious, that's all..."

"Hurt like HELL," Nicole moans. "I am in NO rush to do it again."

"But do- do you regret, you know, doing it at all?" Mia asks.

"A little," Nicole shrugs. "But it's not like I can undo it, I guess..." The entire room falls quiet as we all silently nod- everyone else is clearly having as much trouble as I am digesting Nicole's story.

"...We should probably have told Ashley to cover her ears, hehe!" Suriya giggles, breaking the awkward silence.

"I'm always going to get teased for being the youngest, aren't I?" Ashley sighs as she takes Nicole's place in the make-up chair.

"It's only fair, you ARE the oldest of your sisters," Suriya giggles. "And better you than me!"

"Says the girl who was wearing thongs when she was thirteen," Priya teases her sister.

"Ahh..." Nicole laughs. "Now we DEFINITELY should've covered Ashley's ears there, don't want her getting in trouble with her parents, do we?"

"We put the idea in her head," Suriya retorts. "We don't want US getting in trouble with her parents!" I laugh along with the rest of the girls as we finish our makeover and settle into our usual weekend routine of gossiping, listening to (and dancing to) music and swapping fashion and make-up ideas, but all throughout the day, my attention is drawn to Nicole and how distant she seems.

It was clearly a big deal for her to reveal what she did to the rest of us, and while she does have a history of not being entirely truthful, it's obvious that she was being sincere when she told us her tale about her holiday, and the second I get home from Priya and Suriya's house, I head up to my bedroom to grab my tablet computer, logging onto Facebook and immediately composing a message to the girl whose revelation stunned the entire group.

'Hi Nicole,' I type.

'Hi Laura,' Nicole replies. 'I know what you're going to ask. Yes, I was telling the truth. Sorry if I made you think that it was Phil.'

'Eww,' I type as I'm reminded of my cheating ex-boyfriend.

'Lol,' Nicole replies. 'I'm not proud of what I did. I am done with boys!' I reply with a smiling emoji, before typing a longer message.

'What about when you turn 16?' I ask.

'Why are you so interested in sex all of a sudden?' Nicole asks, making my chest tighten with anxiety. 'I don't want to be nasty Laura but how would you even have sex with a guy anyway?'

'There are other ways,' I reply.

'Eww,' Nicole replies, making me giggle. 'TMI! Though you're not wrong, though technically if there's no penetration, it doesn't count as sex.'

'So it wouldn't be illegal for 15 year olds?' I reply.

'I dunno,' Nicole types. 'I don't think so. G2G now Laura, see you Monday!'

'See you!' I type with a smiling emoji, before opening up a chat window to another one of my friends.

'Hi Priya,' I type. 'Thanks for today, your house is always so cool!'

'Lol you've never Facebooked me to thank me before!' The Indian girl replies. 'What do you want... ?’

'Lol busted,' I type, earning a 'crying with laughter' emoji from my friend. 'You've said before that there are boys in your year who fancy me, right?'

'There are boys in EVERY year who fancy you,' Priya replies, bringing a smug smile to my face. 'Whyyyyyy?'

'I,' I type, before pausing and deleting the single letter I typed. 'Kinda fed up of being single. Want a nice boy to cuddle up to.'

''Nice boy' lmao,' Priya replies.

'You have a nice boyfriend,' I retort with a sticking-out tongue smiley. 'Not that I want HIM, of course.'

'What about that Kain kid in your form?' Priya asks. 'Suri says he has a real thing for you, he's tall, he does sports, right?'

'His hair's almost as long as mine and his face is covered in acne,' I reply.

'Earth to Laura: most teenaged boys have acne,' Priya replies. 'Mohan says it's something to do with testosterone or something. Most Y11 boys I set you up with will have spots. Even I have a few!'

'Few is okay, lots is bad,' I type. 'If you can't think of anyone that's okay.'

'There's one guy,' Priya types. 'Scott McIntosh, think he's on the school's football team.'

'Good start,' I type with a smiling emoji. 'He on your fb?'

'Yeah,' Priya replies as I browse to her profile and shoot off a friend request to Scott. 'Try to be careful though, make sure you don't come on TOO strong.'

'I'll be fine,' I reply with a smiling emoji. 'You heard any more about Thursday yet?'

'Yes, every second of every day from my sister!!!!' Priya replies with a 'frustrated' emoji. 'Honestly you'd think she was dancing the lead, not a two-minute solo.'

'It IS a big deal,' I reply.

'Comes from the other one of my friends to have a solo part!' Priya replies, making me giggle and reply with a winking emoji.

'Though I guess the two of you do want to be performers when you're older,' Priya types. 'I'm happy just being one of the background dancers.'

'And once the performance is done,' I type, 'Miss Fullerton has promised she'll get Ashley onto pointes and write a dance for all eight of us. Hope she can do that before you leave school in May. Gonna be weird not having you there.'

'I am NOT looking forward to being the only girl in college,' Priya replies. 'Well, not the only girl, but- you know what I mean.'

'Do I ever,' I reply with a smiling emoji that I'm hoping is coming across as sympathetic.

'Well you settled in and found a cool set of friends,' Priya types. 'So did Ashley. I'm sure I'll be okay. And we'll always be the excellent eight, right?'

'Always!' I type, followed by a string of emojis with wide, toothy grins.

'G2G,' Priya types. 'Dad wants a hand downstairs. Now I'm sixteen I actually have to earn my allowance, lol.'

'Ttyl,' I type, before switching off my tablet computer as Priya logs out. After watching Strictly and the X Factor, I head to bed, and am in no rush to wake up the following morning.

Eventually, though, I do drag my tired body out of bed to shower, before tying my hair back into a lazy braid and pulling on a comfortable, warm floral-patterned long-sleeved and long-legged jumpsuit that I got for my birthday three weeks ago. Even though, from the outside, the garment may look like trousers, the cut of the whole thing is so cute and feminine that I've been dying to wear it ever since I got it.

I spend the whole day doing homework, browsing the internet and generally relaxing, not thinking much about yesterday's discussions with Nicole and Priya, but just after finishing dinner, my phone beeps to inform me of a new notification- and when I read it, I nearly drop the phone in shock.

'Scott McIntosh has accepted your friend request,' the notification reads, making my heart start to beat faster. Mere seconds later, my phone beeps again to inform me of a new Facebook message.

'Hey Laura,' the message- which is, of course, from Scott- reads.

'Hey Scott,' I reply as I head up to my bedroom.

"Going somewhere?" Mum asks, making me roll my eyes.

"Just going to chat in private?" I reply, barely pausing my typing.

'Thx for the friend request,' Scott replies.

'Yw,' I reply with a smiling emoji, before waiting for Scott's next message.

'What u up to?' Scott types.

'Nothing much, homework,' I reply with a yawning emoji. 'U?'

'Same lol,' Scott replies. 'You're friends with Priya Malik right?'

'Yeah,' I reply. 'Her sister's in my form and we hang out a lot.'

'Yeah,' Scott types. 'Girls in my year talk about your gang a lot.'

'Good things, I hope?' I type.

'Not really,' Scott replies, making me frown. 'They all reckon you're snobs, which is stupid 'cause they're all snobs too. Think they're jealous.'

'Lol,' I type. 'Jealous of what?'

'Jealous of you being cuter than them when you weren't always a girl,' Scott types, making me giggle excitedly. I reply with a winking emoji, but after a few seconds I follow up with a 'kissing' emoji. Scott pauses before typing his next message, which makes me worry for a second that I'm being a little TOO forward.

'Lol,' Scott types with a smiling emoji. Obviously, a kiss is too much to hope for in return- he is a boy, after all. 'U got a bf?'

'Nope,' I reply with a 'sad' emoji, before carefully typing the next message. 'Think some boys are weird about me being trans. Losers.'

'Yeah,' Scott types, making me smile happily. 'You wanna hang out some time?'

'Sure,' I type with another kissing emoji as it suddenly dawns on me that as of right now, I do indeed have a boyfriend. 'Kinda busy a lot though, got ballet THREE times next week, and my counsellor too...'

'Is the counsellor for your trans thing?' Scott asks, making me bristle slightly- though 'trans thing' is hardly the worst way he could have worded it.

'Yeah,' I type. 'Had a lot to talk about the last few weeks.'

'Ryan fucking Reid, right?' Scott types, making me giggle.

'Everyone else thought he was a dickhead too?' I ask.

'Lol like we'd say it to his face,' Scott types, making me giggle even more. 'He was an arsehole, spent most classes baked off his head.'

'His sister was a cunt too,' I type.

'Lol,' Scott replies. 'Are girls supposed to say that word about other girls?'

'About Sam fucking Reid, yes,' I reply, earning a 'laughing' emoji from Scott.

'Lol,' Scott types. 'She's not as cute as you, either.' I reply with another 'kissing' emoji, which earns another smiling emoji from Scott.

'Thx,' I type.

'G2G mum's shouting,' Scott types. 'See you tomorrow Laura!'

'See you!' I reply with another kissing emoji, giggling happily as Scott logs out before heading back downstairs to a VERY stern stare from mum.

"Who were you talking to?" Mum asks stoically.

"My boyfriend," I reply with a smug grin that only gets wider as mum sighs with frustration.

"You have a boyfriend now?" Mum asks, sighing again as I nod. "Laura... We are going to have to have a talk at some point."

"Mum!" I protest. "This is, like, my first boyfriend since Phil, and he was over a year ago! And no, Ashley DOESN'T count for reasons that should be obvious."

"Just because everyone else has a boyfriend, doesn't mean you should fling yourself at the first boy that comes along," mum cautions, making me roll my eyes.

"No one's 'flinging' anything," I retort. "I think Scott's cute, he thinks I'm cute, what's the problem?"

"The 'problem' is obvious," mum says. "One of your friends just had a significant birthday that you haven't had yet and you're a big ball of teenage angst that wants to compensate for it."

"No I'm not," I retort.

"Laura," mum sighs, "you're being the most stereotypical teenager in the entire world right now. I get it. I've been there. You're fifteen, and you wish you were eighteen. First- enjoy having no responsibilities while it lasts, because it really won't last long. And second... It WILL happen."

"There are people out there who are determined to prevent 'it' from happening," I mumble, making mum sigh sadly.

"Their opinions don't count," mum says softly. "Especially the sperm donor who's currently rotting in prison."

"...Reckon he'd have a heart attack if he saw me now?" I ask, making mum giggle.

"If he didn't accept you for the beautiful young woman that you are, he deserves to," mum says, making me laugh happily.

I have a smile on my face as I head to bed, and it's still there when I get up the following morning and pull on the white blouse, opaque black tights and straight grey skirt that make up my school uniform. Naturally, with mum's disapproving stare burning a hole in the back of my head, I keep my skirt lowered to where it should be, but by the time I've greeted my friends at the school entrance, I've hiked it up to where it REALLY should be- especially as there's a very good chance I'll have a run-in with Scott at some point today!

"Hey girlies!" I squeak excitedly, giving each of my friends a quick hug.

"Someone seems happy today..." Suriya teases. "This wouldn't have anything to do with the hot year 11 boy my sister gave you the details of, would it?"

"...Maybe," I say with a smug grin, earning giggles and 'ooh's from my friends. Before any further questions can be asked, though, we're interrupted by one final figure approaching our group, whom we all greet with tight, happy hugs.

"Hey girlies," Harriet says with a tired laugh. “Guess who’s now officially ungrounded?”

“Yay!” Everyone cheers, myself included (even if I do feel a bit peeved that my good news has been pushed aside).

“Sooo…” Harriet says. “What have I missed? Apart from the most awesome birthday party yet, of course?”

“I wouldn’t call it THE most awesome,” Priya says bashfully.

“Oh, I don’t know…” Suriya giggles as she takes a sari out of her bag and hands it to the very excited Harriet. “RAJKUMARI Priya!”

“I don’t know that my party is more exciting than Laura having a new boyfriend,” Priya says smugly, making me blush even as I grin at the group’s attention turning back to me.

“Oooh,” Harriet squeaks. “Go on…”

“…His name’s Scott McIntosh, he’s in year 11 and he is HOT,” I say with a smug grin.

“He’s in year 11?” Harriet asks cautiously.

“Yes…” I reply. “Meaning we’re both fifteen… It’s not like I’m dating a college guy, hehe!”

“No, but-“ Harriet says, before sighing. “Snogged him yet?” I blush again as the group lets out another loud ‘ooh’ that threatens to get the attention of a nearby teacher.

“No,” I reply. “Not YET!” I have a wide, satisfied grin on my face as Suriya, Nicole, Harriet and I all head to form, where I’m probed about Scott right up until our form tutor arrives.

Throughout the first three lessons and first break period of the day, I’m constantly bombarded with questions about my new relationship, questions I’m barely able to answer myself thanks to how little I’ve spoken with my ‘new boyfriend’. All of that changes at lunch, however, when after just a few minutes of our usual chat, Priya points over my shoulder with a smug smile on her face, and I find myself looking up and straight into the smiling face of Scott McIntosh himself.

“H- hey, Laura,” Scott says nervously.

“Hey,” I reply with a breathless giggle. “Umm… Hi!”

“Hi,” Scott says as I examine his athletic body- despite being only fifteen, he is VERY fit- even under his uniform I can clearly tell that there are plenty of muscles on his 5’ 10” body. “You- you busy?”

“Just eating lunch,” I giggle in response.

“Cool,” Scott laughs, clearly uncomfortable about having eight pairs of female eyes trained on his body. “I, um, I like your hair.”

“Thanks,” I giggle as I toss my long blonde tresses from one side to the other.

“I, um, I’ll, uh, see you later,” Scott says, making me pout with disappointment. “My, um, friends are over there…” The second Scott leaves, my entire face goes reds as all of my friends let out a loud, high-pitched ‘oooh’ at my expense.

“He is H-A-W-T!” Nicole giggles as I subconsciously rub my nylon-covered thighs together.

“Just remember: sisters BEFORE misters!” Harriet says, before the entire table launches into a round of ‘Laura’s got a boyfriend’- a song that I’m only too happy to join in with!

Gossip about my ‘love life’ occupies the rest of lunch and the final lesson of the day, and by the time the school bell rings, I actually breathe a sigh of relief- though my relief is short-lived as when I head toward the main entrance of the school, I find a familiar tall, male figure waiting for me.

“Hey,” Scott says with a nervous giggle as I all but skip over to him.

“Hey,” I giggle in response. “You’ll be happy to hear my friends ‘approve’ of you, hehe!”

“Same here,” Scott says, making me smile warmly.

“Even because of the, ‘you know’?” I ask cautiously.

“You’re still a girl,” Scott shrugs. “You’re way more girl than boy, most of the boys in my year think that actually, it was only Ryan Reid who didn’t. And you’re, you know, cute.”

“I AM cute,” I say smugly. “And most of the girls in MY year think that you’re HOT!” I bite my lip as Scott nervously scratches his head, before slowly, hesitantly leaning in toward me. My heart beats faster as it’s obvious what he has in mind, and I find myself going up onto my tiptoes to meet Scott’s incoming lips.

The kiss only lasts for a few seconds before a ‘hey’ from a nearby teacher separates us, but it’s enough to make my heart race and my knees turn to jelly.

“Um, uh,” Scott says, breathing so fast he’s almost hyperventilating.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I half-say, half-pant, before heading to my mum’s car, where my best friend is already sat on the back seat.

“Hey Laura,” Megan says cautiously.

“Hi Megan!” I squeak excitedly. “Hi mum!”

“I take it that he was your boyfriend, then?” Mum asks with a voice full of disapproval.

“I don’t go around snogging ANYONE,” I retort, making mum snort with frustration. “Scott’s nice, he’s friendly, and he is HOT!”

“And in year 11!” Megan protests, earning an angry glare from me.

“He’s older than you?” Mum asks.

“Only a bit,” I shrug. “If I was three months older I’D be in year 11.”

“Still, though…” Mum says, the concern obvious in her voice as we head back to my home, where Megan and I head straight up to my bedroom to make a start on our homework.

“Admit it,” I say smugly as I sit cross-legged on my bed. “Scott IS hot. Maybe that could be his nickname, ‘Hot Scott’.”

“And maybe yours can be ‘Shallow Laura’,” Megan snorts.

“What- just- what is THAT supposed to mean?” I snarl. “I’m not ‘shallow’!”

“Laura,” Megan sighs. “You just threw yourself down the throat of a boy you’ve spoken to twice. Other people would use words worse than ‘shallow’.”

“It’s the fact that my best friend is using the word ‘shallow’ that hurts!” I protest. “So I fancy tall, hunky guys. Whatever!”

“And there’s the age difference,” Megan says, making me roll my eyes.

“There’s just as big an age difference between you and your boyfriend,” I retort.

“Yes,” Megan concedes, “but I’m the older one! Laura… I’m just looking out for you, you know? Don’t want to see you get hurt. AGAIN. You’ve already been through more than anyone should have to deal with.”

“Exactly,” I say. “So it’s about time I had something good in my life, you know?”

“You don’t know that Scott will be that,” Megan says, making me groan with frustration.

“Here’s what I know,” I say. “For the first time ever, a really, really hot guy has come up to me, said I’m ‘cute’ and kissed me. There’s no weirdness about me being trans, no pointing of fingers from his friends- but there is from my friends! You know… When I was 12, when I’d only just started being Laura… There were days when I wondered whether or not I’d EVER be accepted the way I am right now.”

“…I’ve never been called cute,” Megan mumbles. “I went from being ‘that short, fat girl’ to being ‘that tall, butch girl’.”

“…I wouldn’t say ‘butch’,” I mumble, the wind having been taken out of my sails. “You’ve got long hair, you wear skirts all the time…”

“I’m 5’ 10” and got broad shoulders,” Megan moans. “If you put the two of us together and asked a stranger ‘guess which girl’s transgendered’, 99 times out of 100 they’d go for me.”

“But people know you’re not transgendered,” I say in a voice barely louder than a mumble. “Everyone knows I am, and I’ll always have that hanging over me. So sue me if I’m going to enjoy having a boyfriend who thinks I’m cute. Besides, George thinks you’re hot.”

“George isn’t the star player of the school football team,” Megan says. “Then again, I’m not a cheerleader, I’m not on the school’s rhythmic gymnastics team, I’m not a prima ballerina…”

“Okay, okay, point taken,” I say. “Christ, Megan! I don’t get why you’re so insecure, you actually ARE a girl!”

“And so are you, Laura,” Megan says. “You’re probably more of a girl than I am.”

“Yeah, we both know that’s not true and never will be,” I sigh. “Can- can we just do our homework, please?”

“Fine,” Megan sighs, tossing me my maths exercise book. “I tried…” I frown as I finish off my homework with Megan, both from the offence she caused me and how guilty I feel, because Megan IS right… I’ve tried so hard to be a girl, immersed myself so deeply in femininity that sometimes I forget just how over the top I’ve gone… But when I think of the alternative- the alternative I was very nearly forced to live by my ‘father’- I can’t help but shudder.

I still give Megan a hug as I bid her farewell, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling terrible as I crash down on the sofa, shrinking under my mother’s withering gaze.

“…You and I clearly NEED to have a talk,” mum says, making me groan.

“Mum!” I protest. “I just kissed him, I’m not going to jump into bed with him…”

“Good, and not just because you’re still eleven months underage,” mum says. “I’m not sure I like the thought of you having a boyfriend, Laura.”

“…Seriously?” I retort. “You liked Phil…”

“You and Phil were a sweet, innocent young couple,” mum says. “I still have the photo of that dress you wore on your first date with him. You wouldn’t be seen dead in that dress now.”

“It was a kid’s dress,” I snort.

“Newsflash, Laura: you’re fifteen,” mum retorts. “You are still, technically, a kid.”

“I’m taller than you,” I feebly retort.

“And Megan’s taller than you,” mum says, “So are Ashley and his- sorry, her friend.”

“Your point?” I ask.

“Same point you’re making,” mum replies. “Whatever that is, because right now? I have no idea. My OTHER point is that you’ve basically flung yourself at a tall, clearly post-puberty boy who’s going to be filled with hormones, will take one look at you and have only one thing on his mind.”

“He’s also fifteen,” I shrug. “Not like he can do anything either.”

“That never stopped some teenaged boys I could name,” mum says in a dark voice. “I only want to keep you safe, Laura.”

“More like you want to wrap me in bubble wrap,” I snort.

“No,” mum says, clearly at the limit of her patience. “I want you to be safe AND happy. It is possible to find a middle ground, you know?”

“I know,” I mumble as mum lets out a long sigh.

“When you started transitioning,” mum says softly, “I genuinely did hope that you’d become a beautiful, popular young woman. I guess I also wished that you wouldn’t realise it as much as you do, heh.” I can’t help but smile as mum grins at me, and as much as I hate to admit it, she DOES have a point- again. If Scott does want ‘more’, there’s only so long he’ll be willing to wait… But then again, as Nicole said, if there's no penetration, then it's not technically sex...

The following morning, I arrive at the school gate with a smile on my face despite the concerned look on my so-called best friend’s face as she greets me with her usual hug. Naturally, yesterday’s kiss is the hot topic of conversation, both on the way to form and even after Harriet, Suriya, Nicole and I arrive at form.

“Stop being so coy!” Nicole probes as I blush. “You can at least tell us how good a kisser he is.”

“I could…” I say. “But I’d rather get a bit more ‘evidence’ first, hehe!” Our table- even Harriet, who of course has zero interest in boys- descends into a fit of giggles, a fit that only gets louder as a figure nervously approaches the four of us.

“Oh, hey Kain!” Suriya says as the spotty, straggly-haired boy walks up to us.

“H- hi,” Kain says nervously. “Umm, hi, Laura.”

“Hi, Kain,” I say with a smug grin as the nervous boy looks so scared that I’m afraid he’s about to wet himself. “What’s up?”

“I, um,” Kain says, fidgeting nervously. “I was just wondering if you, you know, fancied, umm, hanging out some time…” I bite my lip as the entire class- not just our table- let’s out a loud ‘ooh’ that makes the teenager’s whole face turn bright red.

“Aww,” I say, desperately not wanting to crush the poor kid’s heart whilst simultaneously loving the attention being paid to me. “Normally I’d love to, but I kinda already have a boyfriend, Kain.”

“Oh, um, okay,” Kain mumbles, slinking back to his desk with a look of utter heartbreak on his face.

“Poor Kain,” Nicole sighs. “You know, if he didn’t have so many spots he’d actually be kinda cute.”

“Meh, I guess,” I shrug. “But why would I want ‘kinda cute’ when I already have ‘smoking hot’?” Our table giggles yet again, before quickly shutting up as our form tutor arrives.

The first two lessons of the day go smoothly- well, when Nicole and Suriya aren’t teasing me about Scott, anyway- and by the time we get to break, it’s almost as if the group has moved on from me and Scott as their preferred gossip topic. As we’re heading to the girls’ toilets for my next lesson, however, who should emerge from the adjacent boy’s toilets but Scott himself, grinning widely as he sees his new girlfriend.

“Hey,” Scott says, his demeanour far more confident than it was when he approached me and my friends yesterday at lunch.

“Hey,” I giggle, leading to an awkward, nervous silence.

“You, um, you free at lunch?” Scott asks. “Or do you, you know, would you prefer to hang around with your friends-“

“It’s drama club at lunch,” I grimace. “Though, umm, if you want to watch-“

“Ehh, I’ll… I’ll think about it,” Scott says, leading to another awkward silence. With a wicked smile on my face, I lean into Scott and- after making sure there are no teachers around- give him a quick kiss, before playfully waving goodbye as I head into the girls’ toilets with my friends.

“Bet he’d be interested in watching you tomorrow lunchtime, when you’re wearing one of these,” Suriya says as she takes her stretchy gymnastics leotard out of her bag.

“Assuming that Laura doesn’t put on a ‘private show’ for him, of course!” Nicole giggles, before biting her own lip in embarrassment. “Umm, not that you should, of course, I-“

“Enough,” I sigh as I strip off my uniform and stretch my long-sleeved leotard over my body. “No ‘private shows’, we’ve only been going out a couple of days… Haven’t even technically gone ‘out’ yet.”

“Why are you being so shy all of a sudden?” Harriet laughs. “One second you’re jumping down his throat, the next you’re all ‘ooh we haven’t even gone out yet’…”

“We’re just, you know, hanging out?” I retort. “…Okay, and kissing. Hopefully kissing a LOT.” My grin widens as my friends all let out a loud ‘ooh’.

“Laura and Scott, sitting in a tree,” my three friends all sing as we head up to the gymnasium. “K-I-S-S-S-S-S-S-I-N-G!”

“The extra ‘S’s are for the extra-long, extra-deep songs!” Suriya explains, earning a playful shove as we warm up ahead of our lesson.

Despite what he said, Scott doesn’t show up during or after drama club, which leaves me disappointed for the final lesson of the day, though my disappointment is lessened slightly at the end of the school day, when I see him once again waiting for me at the exit of the school.

“Hey,” Scott says with a grin as he sees me approach.

“Hey again,” I say with an excited giggle.

“Yeah… Sorry I couldn’t see you at lunch,” Scott grimaces.

“S’okay,” I shrug.

“I kinda get nervous, you know, when I’m in a room with strangers…” Scott mumbles.

“Hey,” I giggle. “I said it was okay… Okay?”

“Okay,” Scott laughs, glancing out into the car park before leaning in to give me a long, deep kiss that puts yesterday’s to shame. By Suriya’s standards, this one has at least five ‘S’s, and makes my heart flutter even more as Scott’s left hand slowly starts to cup my right buttock…

“Hey!” A teacher yells from across the hall, snapping me and my boyfriend out of our trance-like state.

“I’ll, umm, see you tomorrow,” Scott says, his face plastered with a beautiful, lop-sided grin as he heads off toward the bike sheds.

“Yeah,” I giggle, waving after him before getting into my mum’s car, where I am yet again greeted by a disapproving stare.

“Good day, I take it?” Mum asks in a clipped voice.

“I enjoyed it,” I shrug.

“Yes, I could tell,” mum says in a voice that’s almost a growl.

“…So we kissed?” I protest. “Boyfriends and girlfriends do tend to do that, you know? Of ALL ages.”

“It’s not the kissing I object to,” mum snarls. “It’s the fact that he apparently can’t keep his hands off you!”

“So he gave my bum a squeeze,” I shrug. “I’m wearing a leotard, a pair of tights and a skirt, it’s a wonder he could feel anything through all that.”

“It’s still not right,” mum sighs. “Especially not at your age.”

“If you got to know Scott, I reckon you’d like him,” I say, frowning as a smug grin creeps across mum’s face.

“…Challenge accepted,” mum says. “Bring him round tomorrow, then I’ll see whether or not he’s what you say he is.” I cringe internally at the thought of Scott meeting with mum, especially as Sean and Lily will also be staying over tomorrow, but if it gets mum off my back…

“Deal,” I say stoically.

Mum and I both remain silent for the rest of the ride home and throughout a quick dinner, after which I head upstairs to exchange my school uniform for a comfortable (and, more importantly, skin-tight) pair of pink tights and a black spaghetti-strapped leotard, before tying my hair into a strict bun, grabbing my dance bag and heading downstairs to where Mia’s mother is ready and waiting to transport me to the Krystie Fullerton school of dance.

“Hey, man-eater!” Mia teases as I slide onto the backseat next to her and Harriet.

“Thanks, I needed that!” I sarcastically reply. “Already had my mum all over my back about the whole Scott ‘thing’…”

“You ARE going pretty fast with him,” Mia laughs. “Next thing you’ll be taking him home to meet your mum…” The black-haired girl sighs as I remain silent, my cheeks starting to flush.

“Never knew you were psychic, Mia,” Harriet giggles as she straightens her own pink dance tights.

“It goes with the black hair and the pale skin,” Mia giggles as my cheeks get redder. It’s a relief when we arrive at the dance studio a short while later, though the smug grins on Nicole and Suriya’s faces just cause my cheeks to flush again.

“Wonder how SCOTT would react if he saw his girlfriend dressed in skin-tight dancewear…” Suriya teases, giggling as I playfully shove her out of the way to get to a seat.

“The same way your boyfriend would react,” I retort.

“I dunno,” Suriya giggles. “My boyfriend probably wouldn’t grab a huge handful of my bum!”

“Don’t see why not,” Nicole shrugs. “It is a very, very nice bum.” I’m forced to giggle as Suriya playfully wiggles her leotard-clad backside, before tying her soft ballet slippers to her feet.

“We ALL have very nice bums,” Harriet giggles as she approaches us, also wiggling her backside. Within seconds, all seven of us- including Megan and Priya, who had previously remained silent whilst we were gossiping about Scott- are wiggling our backsides as we get ourselves ready for our class.

“New on BBC1 this December: Strictly Bum Dancing!” Priya giggles, before our ‘wiggling’ is stopped by a stern glare from Mademoiselle Renou.

“I do not remember THAT being one of the steps in Le Soixante-Troisieme Papillon,” The French dance teacher says sternly, making us all grimace as we’re ushered into the studio to begin our stretches.

After an hour and a half of rehearsing our roles for the upcoming performance- which leaves my feet in agony as most of my steps were en pointe- the seven of us return to the changing room, where I breathe a long, loud sigh of relief.

“Don’t see why you’re so nervous,” Priya says as she unties her bun and lets her long, black hair fall free. “You looked AWESOME out there.”

“Yeah,” Harriet says. “You were FLAWLESS!”

“Gorgeous, girly ballerina!” Nicole giggles, giving me a gentle hug.

“…I don’t think THAT’s why Laura’s nervous,” Mia says with a smug grin.

“I’m not ‘nervous’,” I protest.

“It’s okay if you are,” Priya says. “I was the first time I took my boyfriend home to meet my parents. Then again, we WERE going out longer than a few days…”

“You’re the one who set me up with Scott,” I snort.

“I expected you to get chatting with him before going straight to bum groping,” Priya says, making me groan with frustration.

“I’ve been single for over a year,” I retort. “Need to make up for lost time.”

“You’re still only fifteen,” Priya says. “You have nothing to make up time for.”

“Easy to say when you can lose your virginity whenever you want,” I snort, before my jaw drops as Priya gets a VERY guilty look on my face. “P- Priya?”

“Oh my god,” Suriya gasps as her sister slumps down onto a chair. “Pri?”

“…Sunday night,” Priya mumbles. “When I went over to Christian's.”

“I thought you were having dinner with him and his parents?” Suriya asks.

“We were,” Priya sighs. “But then his parents went out for a walk… Think they knew what was going to happen. God knows we both did.”

“And- and was it-“ Nicole hesitantly asks.

“I’d rather not talk about it,” Priya mumbles, before pulling her short denim shorts back on and leaving with her sister, which leaves the rest of us sat in a state of shock.

“…Okay then,” I say, pulling on a pink dance cardigan to cover up before heading out to Mia’s mother’s car for my lift home.

The second I get home, I head up to my bedroom, where I switch on my tablet computer and log into Facebook. Unsurprisingly, neither Priya nor her sister are online, but the other ‘deflowered’ member of our group is, so I waste no time in shooting off a message.

‘Hey Nicole,’ I type.

‘OMG can you believe Priya!?’ The mousey-haired girl replies, making me roll her eyes at her hypocrisy.

‘We had a hard time believing you,’ I reply, before feeling guilty as Nicole replies with a ‘frowning’ smiley.

‘Be honest, though,’ Nicole types. ‘You’d never have thought Priya, though…’

‘Lol, you’d have thought I would before Priya,’ I type, deliberately trying to elicit a reaction from my friend.

‘I dunno,’ Nicole types. ‘Guess it depends on what you call ‘sex’.’

‘If there’s no penetration, it doesn’t count, right?’ I ask.

‘Right,’ Nicole replies. ‘There’s nothing wrong with just messing around with a boy, having a little fun, as long you don’t, you know.’ I reply with a smiling emoji that nicely matches the actual smile I have on my face.

‘And ‘hand on bum’ is ‘fun’, right?’ I ask.

‘You tell me,’ Nicole replies with a winking emoji. ‘G2G, my little brother’s having another tantrum, mum needs my help with him.’

‘CU tomorrow,’ I type as Nicole logs out of Facebook. I prepare to logout myself, but before I can do, I notice a name on the ‘online’ list that brings a smile to my face, and before I can have second thoughts, I fire off another message.

‘Hey you,’ I type.

‘Hey me,’ Scott almost immediately responds, making me giggle excitedly. ‘How was ballet?’

‘Tiring, lol,’ I type, my heart fluttering at the fact that Scott remembered that I did ballet on Tuesday nights. ‘Got our big show on Thursday night. REALLY nervous, lol!’

‘Lol,’ Scott replies. ‘Can I come watch?’

‘Sold out ages ago,’ I reply with a frowning emoji. ‘And you want to come and watch a load of girls dancing?’ Scott responds to my winking emoji with a ‘sticking out tongue’ emoji of his own.

‘Want to see how much cuter you’d look in a tutu,’ Scott replies, earning another winking emoji.

‘Cuter than this?’ I ask, before taking a photo in my full-length mirror of me in my leotard.

‘Cuuuuuuuuuuute!’ Scott types, which earns a ‘blushing’ emoji from me.

‘Lol,’ I reply. ‘Come to ballet and you’ll see thirty other cute girls dressed like this!’

‘Pass,’ Scott replies with a ‘sticking out tongue’ emoji. ‘Seeing you in private will do me.’ I reply with a winking emoji, even as Scott’s mention of ‘seeing me in private’ causes a wave of nerves to wash over me. But like me, he’s only fifteen, he couldn’t have already, could he? And worse, I still have a question I need to ask Scott, and better sooner rather than later…

‘Wanna come over tomorrow?’ I type, before immediately composing a follow-up message. ‘Mum kinda wants to meet you, I’m the youngest to she’s REALLY overprotective lol.’ Though her being overprotective IS understandable when I have been taken away from her in the past, I think to myself as my nerves are replaced by guilt.

‘Sure,’ Scott types, making me giggle nervously. ‘Straight after school?’

‘Got my counsellor straight after school,’ I reply with a frowning smiley. ‘5:30pm good for you?’

‘Suits me,’ Scott types with a smiling emoji. ‘See you tomorrow!’

‘See you!’ I reply with several kissing emojis, before logging out with a wide, satisfied grin on my face.

After a quick snack (ballet is VERY draining), I finish off my homework for tomorrow before climbing into bed, my mind filled with thoughts of all the ‘fun’ I could potentially have with Scott- and worry that all my friends are losing their virginity, whilst there’s a very good chance I’m going to be left behind, unwanted and unloved, all because I’m not like the other girls. But Scott… Scott thinks I’m cute despite my being ‘different’. I don’t know if I’ll ever meet another boy again who’s as open-minded- and, just as importantly, as hot- as he is.

I wake up the following morning with butterflies in my stomach about tonight’s confrontation- with ‘confrontation’ inevitably being the most appropriate word for it- though I still manage to keep a smile on my face as I pull on my school uniform, my smile widening as I’m greeted by my seven friends at the school gate.

“Hey girlies!” I squeak excitedly, giving my friends a quick hug each before heading to form. “Hey Priya… Are- are you feeling better today?”

“A little,” the sixteen year old says with a happy sigh. “You know, I’m actually glad I got it off my chest, the last few days… It was more stressful NOT telling you guys.”

“…Not telling us what?” Ashley asks, making the rest of us- especially Priya- blush and try vainly to suppress fits of giggles. “Come on…”

“Sorry, Ashley,” Suriya giggles, giving the young girl a quick hug. “We’re not deliberately keeping you in the dark… It’s just, you know…”

“When you get some black tights on your legs, THEN we’ll tell you!” Mia laughs, making Ashley roll her eyes as she heads to her form.

“Ahh…” I sigh sadly as I watch the thirteen year old girl walk away. “Hate, you know, excluding her like that…”

“Meh, she’s only a year younger than us,” Nicole shrugs. “This time next year…”

“This time next year she’ll have her 11 year old sister with her, and so will you!” Mia reminds Nicole with a loud giggle. “And besides, it’s not like we exclude Ashley from other girl talks… She actually asked me about periods the other day, you know?”

“Umm… Why?” I ask. “It’s not like she’ll ever, you know, ‘bleed’… Kinda like me…”

“No,” Mia concedes, “but as I just said, she has a younger sister. Hell, she has THREE younger sisters, all of which will ‘bleed’ eventually and will need a big sister to help them the first time it happens. God knows I wish I had a big sister…”

“You’ll have to be there for your stepsister when it happens to her, Laura,” Harriet says, momentarily startling me.

“…Give me a break, she’s only nine!” I protest as Mia, Megan and Priya head to their respective forms. “There’s no guarantee mum and Sean will still be together when Lily, umm, you know…”

“Nah,” Nicole giggles. “You’ll always be her big sister!”

“And if nothing else,” Suriya teases as we enter our form room, “she’ll have the PERFECT teacher to help her find a hot, hunky guy!” I rolls my eyes and giggle as I sit down at my usual desk, though my smile does fade when I see Kain skulk into his normal chair, trying his hardest to avoid making eye contact with me.

The first three lessons of the day go quickly- I don’t even see Scott at break- and by the time lunchtime rolls around, I’m almost feeling relaxed about tonight’s ‘confrontation’. As Suriya, Nicole and I head toward the toilets to get changed for gymnastics club, however, I sigh and roll my eyes as for the second day in a row, the three of us run into my boyfriend coming out of the boys’ toilets.

“We need to stop meeting like this,” I giggle as Scott laugh nervously.

“Yeah…” Scott laughs. “I, um, just had PE… Football.”

“Just going to gymnastics club,” I laugh, gesturing to my school bag and the spangled leotard within it.

“Get a room!” Suriya teases, making myself and my boyfriend grimace.

“I’ll, um, I’ll let you get to club,” Scott says, letting me and my friends past.

“…’Get a room’!?” I hiss at Suriya as we arrive in our ‘private changing room’ and start changing into our leotards.

“Sorry, sorry,” Suriya grimaces. “But you two are so shy around each other, it’s just so cute!”

“You ARE cute,” Nicole says. “BOTH of you.”

“You know,” Suriya muses as she ties her long black hair back with a spangled scrunchie, “when you got with Scott, the rest of us in the group weren’t all convinced it was THAT good an idea.”

“Even though it was your sister who set us up?” I retort.

“You messaged her practically demanding a year 11 boy, what was she gonna do?” Suriya retorts as I snort with derision.

“Hardly ‘demanded’,” I say. “I just- gah, I dunno. You know how the boys in school are around me. When I asked Priya to set me up with a boy she knew that the most important thing was ‘must not be weird about me’.” I smile as Nicole and Suriya both nod with guilty expressions on their faces.

“All teenage boys are weird,” Suriya eventually says.

“True,” I say as I make sure my leotard is smooth, before following my friends up to the gymnasium. “But I’d rather that Scott was obsessed with football than obsessed with- well, you know.” Suriya and Nicole both nod silently as we begin our warm-ups.

Both girls are considered among the most attractive girls in our year (Ashley’s said on occasion that his male friends think that Suriya is THE most attractive) so neither of them would have trouble getting a boyfriend, even a year 11 boyfriend. I, on the other hand… Three years of boy blockers and twelve months of oestrogen has gone a long way toward hiding what some narrow-minded people would call ‘the truth’. And sure, I can go everywhere in short skirts, and spend an inordinate amount of time wearing skin-tight leotards underneath which everything is ‘tucked’ so as not to show through, and sure, I might have long blonde hair, long, slender legs, a narrow waist (though it could stand to be a little narrower) and even small (but growing) boobs. But everywhere I go, especially in school, I have this black cloud over my head that says ‘transgendered’, ‘used to be a boy’, ‘has a penis’. That sort of thing is impossible for some people to ignore, especially boys… But as I gently suckle on Scott’s lips for the third day in a row before getting in mum’s car, I’m glad there are SOME boys in the school who are better than knuckle-draggers like Ryan Reid.

“Your boyfriend looks nice, Laura,” Lily says as I slide onto the back seat of the car next to her.

“He is,” I say with a smug grin. “He’ll actually be coming over to have dinner with us later, so you’ll get to meet him!”

“Yay!” Lily cheers, making me giggle even as mum frowns.

“Don’t forget you’ve got your counsellor first,” mum says in a very cautionary tone of voice. “Lily, do you have homework to do whilst Laura’s speaking to Dr Williamson?”

“A bit,” Lily shrugs. “I can read my silent reading book.”

“Good girl,” mum says proudly. “Can’t remember the last time Laura even TOUCHED a book…”

“Mum!” I protest. “We’re reading Great Expectations for English Lit.”

“Yes,” mum retorts, “and you wouldn’t even have pretended that that book even existed if you weren’t forced to read it by the school.” Mum chuckles as I snort with frustration, and before long, our car pulls up outside the office that has been a sanctuary to me for the past three years.

“Hi Dr Williamson,” I say as I enter the room, lowering my school skirt to its ‘proper’ length (I always do that when I’m meeting Dr Williamson, for some reason) before sitting down and crossing one black-coloured leg over the other.

“Make sure you tell her about Scott,” mum says, making me roll my eyes before she leaves me alone with my counsellor. “And Priya’s birthday!”

“Yes, mum,” I sigh, before smiling as mum closes the door behind her.

“…Sounds like we have a lot to discuss this week!” Dr Williamson says with a sympathetic smile. “Do you have your food and mood journals?”

“Yep,” I say, handing the two small notebooks over to the middle-aged woman.

“I note you’re still falling out with your mother,” Dr Williamson says as she examines my journal entries.

“We’re not ‘falling out’,” I retort, trying hard to keep my voice respectful and polite. “It’s just- I dunno. She’s just so frustrating at times. She doesn’t want to face the fact that I AM growing up, whether she likes it or not.”

“’Growing’, yes, ‘grown’… Not quite,” Dr Williamson says. “There’s still a lot you have to learn, Laura. Your mum’s the best person to help teach you this.”

“I know,” I sigh. “I just- sometimes I wish I had an older sister, you know? I mean, there’s my brother, but he’s a meathead, a macho man, and he’s away with the army most of the time anyway. And now I’VE got to be the big sister…”

“Do you resent that?” Dr Williamson asks. “Part of growing up involves having responsibilities as well as privileges.”

“…No,” I say. “I love Lily, she’s really cool, and she accepted me for who I am without any problems. If I have to have a little sister, I’m glad it’s her.”

“I’m glad,” Dr Williamson says with a proud smile. “Things seem to be stabilising for you, Laura, and I’m seeing good progress in both of your journals as well. So… Who is ‘Scott’?”

“…My boyfriend,” I sigh. “Well, I SAY boyfriend, we only started seeing each other on Sunday, and even then, we only really talk on Facebook. We’ve kissed a lot, though.”

“How old is this boy?” Dr Williamson asks.

“Fifteen, same as me,” I reply.

“In your year at school?” My counsellor probes further.

“…The year above,” I mumble. “But like I said, he’s fifteen.”

“But he’ll be sixteen a lot sooner than you will?” Dr Williamson asks, smiling sympathetically as I nod. “Your mum mentioned that one of your friends had a birthday recently, was that also a sixteenth birthday?”

“Yes,” I sigh. “And yes, that got me thinking about ‘you know what’. Just found out a couple of days ago that two of my friends have already lost their virginity…”

“And that makes you feel anxious?” Dr Williamson asks, smiling again as I nod. “I don’t think there’s a single fifteen year old anywhere in the country who doesn’t feel that way at some point. Obviously I can quote the law at you, but I’m not going to patronise you by pretending that underage sex doesn’t happen. What I will say is that the law is there because virtually everybody under the age of sixteen simply isn’t capable of handling the emotional impact of sex. Many people over sixteen aren’t, either.”

“…It’s not like I’d get pregnant,” I mumble.

“Nor would a same-sex couple,” Dr Williamson says. “But the law says sixteen for them as well, and for the same reason. Laura… I know you. I’ve known you for three years, through the good times and the bad, and I can give you this advice with confidence- DO NOT engage in any sexual activity with your boyfriend. You may have been on oestrogen for over a year but your body is still adjusting to it. You still have a lot of maturing to do, both emotionally and physically, and if it were up to me, I’d prefer you not to have a boyfriend at all… But I recognise that it IS your choice. I take it Scott knows that you’re transgendered?”

“Yeah,” I say, trying not to take offence at Dr William’s ‘advice’. “He’s cool with it. A lot of the kids in my year and above are, actually.”

“That’s good,” Dr Williamson says. “Though your physical appearance likely has a lot to do with that. Teenage boys see an attractive young woman and typically only have one thing on their mind.”

“I know,” I say. “I’ll be good, I promise.” And besides, I think to myself, if there's no penetration, it's not really sex.

The rest of the session is spent discussing the usual topics of school, family, and I get a few tips about combatting stage fright ahead of my performance tomorrow. I leave the office feeling happy and confident as always, but by the time we arrive back home, I get a sudden shock when I realise that the clock reads 4:50pm- giving me virtually no time at all to prepare for Scott’s arrival.

“Oh my god oh my god oh my god,” I say, flapping my hands in a panic as I hurry upstairs to my bedroom.

“Oh for the love of god,” mum sighs. “Get a grip! You’ve got forty minutes, for crying out loud…”

“I know, I know, that’s the problem!” I breathe, ignoring Lily’s giggles before pulling open all the drawers on my dresser and sorting out my make-up.

Naturally, my make-up is thick, but still subtle- I opt for thick mascara, moderate eyeliner and a delicate metallic pink eyeshadow, followed by one of my favourite red lipsticks. Obviously, I’m not going to wear my school uniform for the meal, but I don’t want to be too ‘formal’- and yet, at the same time, I can’t simply show up in jeans and a sweatshirt, especially not when I’m wearing this much make-up…

I grin as I spot one of my favourite skirts in my wardrobe- it’s a knee-length, very slender black pencil skirt with a thin mesh hem. It’s very fashionable and very grown-up, and when coupled with a pair of light translucent tights, looks perfect on my lower body. On top, I opt for a clingy (but not skin-tight) long-sleeved khaki top that’s made out of a thick enough material to be both warm and not too ‘sexy’. As I’m at school tomorrow, I don’t paint my fingernails, but as I don’t have PE and/or gym club again this week, I apply a coat of bright red nail polish to my toenails before pulling on my tights.

“I’m ready,” I say as I coolly stride down the stairs, earning an excited look from Lily and concerned looks from Sean and my mum.

“You look… Very grown-up,” mum says, trying (and failing) to hide her disapproval.

“Thanks!” I giggle as I do a twirl, much to my mother’s chagrin. “You know, the modelling agency Miss Fullerton works for is always looking for-“

“No,” mum says firmly, making me sigh with frustration. “You need parental consent for that, and I’m not giving that until you’re sixteen at the very earliest!”

“It’s not like I’d be modelling underwear,” I pout. “Most models my age start out by modelling kid’s clothes, school uniform. It’d be no different than when they take my school photo.”

“Still no,” mum says, making me frown.

“…Can I be a model?” Lily asks, earning me a VERY angry stare from my mother than makes me wince. Fortunately, before either my mother of Lily’s father can answer, a knock comes from the front door that makes my heart skip a beat.

“…Go and answer it, then,” mum says with a tired, resigned smile. I giggle as I almost bounce over to the front door, grinning like a fool as I open it and stare into the face of my boyfriend.

“H-hi,” Scott says nervously.

“Hi,” I say giddily. “You- you look cool…” And Scott does- in his smart sweater and black jeans, he could easily pass for older, maybe even eighteen.

“Thanks,” Scott chuckles. “I, um, I biked over here…”

“Don’t leave him out in the cold for god’s sake!” Sean yells from the living room, making me cringe.

“Come in,” I whisper, giggling as Scott grips my hand before following me into the living room, where mum fixes Scott with a very firm stare.

“Everyone, this is Scott,” I say with a smug grin. “Scott, this is my mum, this is Sean, my sort-of stepfather, and this is Lily, my stepsister.”

“Hi everyone,” Scott says nervously before sitting down next to me, our hands still linked together.

“Hello,” Scott says in a small, quiet voice. “Umm… Dinner smells good.”

“It’s pork,” mum says stoically. “You’re not Jewish or Muslim, are you?”

“Umm, nope, Church of England,” Scott laughs.

“You go often?” Sean asks as every passing question makes me shrink more and more into my sofa.

“Uhh… Not really,” Scott says, cringing almost as much as I am as Sean fixes him with an angry stare. He’s never been THAT big into religion…

“…Relax!” Sean says, making both myself and my boyfriend breathe a sigh of relief. “You’ve come in here and haven’t sworn at us or thrown your weight around, so you’ve passed the first test, right Michelle?”

“For now,” mum says stoically. “I’ll go and check on the meal.” Another awkward silence fills the room after mum leaves.

“So, Scott,” Sean says, startling the nervous young man. “Which team d’you support?”

“Uhh… Chelsea,” Sean replies, earning a huge grin from Sean.

“Good man!” Sean laughs, making Scott laugh happily. "How d'you reckon David Luiz has got on since he's been back?"

“Ugh, football,” I say, playfully rolling my eyes to Lily who giggles and also rolls hers.

The meal lasts an hour and a half, by the end of which time Scott has almost completely relaxed, both around me and the rest of my family. Eventually, Scott announces that he needs to leave, and for the first time since he arrived, I frown as I see him to the door.

“I actually really enjoyed tonight,” Scott says as we retreat into the privacy of the hall. “Your parents are cool.”

“Sean’s not my father,” I correct. “…Though he’s MUCH better than my so-called real father, heh. And mum’s just so embarrassing… Half expected her to hook you up to a lie detector or something.”

“So she’s overprotective,” Scott shrugs. “Everyone at school knows what happened to you two years ago.”

“You are SO cool,” I laugh, before leaning in to give Scott a goodbye kiss. However, rather than a simple ‘peck’, this kiss lasts a lot longer, and I feel my knees begin to quiver as Scott’s tongue gently pushes past my painted lips and into my mouth, delicately sampling the taste of my own tongue as our fingers interlink.

The kiss lasts for what feels like an eternity, yet when it ends, I’m desperate for even a second more, so when Scott opens the front door, I immediately formulate a plan. I surprise Scott by placing my finger on his lips, silencing him, before opening and closing the front door. A wide grin creeps across Scott’s face as he realises what I have in mind.

“I’m just going to get changed,” I shout in the direction of the living room before heading upstairs with my boyfriend, our footsteps synchronised to hide the fact that he hasn’t left.

Once we arrive in my bedroom, I immediately launch myself at Scott, giving him another long, deep kiss, exploring his mouth with my tongue just as thoroughly as he'd explored mine. I'm so forceful, in fact, that the young man is momentarily taken aback.

"Umm, Laura," Scott whispers. "We- we aren't going to-"

"Nothing we aren't legally allowed to do," I reply with a giggle. "And besides, it's not legally 'sex' if nothing gets penetrated... So I'm up for a little 'fun' if you are...?" Much to my delight, Scott grind widely and gives me another kiss as we sit down on my bed together, my body tingling from the attention I'm getting from the attractive young man.

Tentatively, I reach a hand underneath Scott's sweater, smiling at the firmness of his abdomen and his chest muscles. I give his pecs a gentle squeeze as we continue kissing, which makes Scott shiver, though seconds later, it's my turn to shiver as Scott gently squeezes my nylon-covered thigh, nervously sliding his hand underneath my skirt (though he is still miles away from my crotch). As Scott slides one hand underneath my tight top, I decide to 'help him out' by removing the clingy garment, kneeling before him in my bed with only my bra to preserve my modesty. I help Scott to remove his sweater, and he shivers slightly in the cold, before shivering in the good way as I wrap my arms around his neck, pressing my lace-covered breasts into his bare chest as we kiss deeply yet again. I allow myself to become lost in his embrace, so lost, in fact, that I barely notice the sound of my bedroom door opening...

“LAURA!” Mum bellows as my bedroom door flies open, making me yelp and freeze in shock. “What the hell are you doing!?”

“Mum!” I gasp as I cover up my chest and scramble to put my top back on, whilst Scott hurriedly pulls his sweater back on and rushes out of the room.

“I, um, I should go,” Scott says, his face just as flushed as mine. “See you tomorrow, Laura!” My bottom lip begins to tremble with fear as my boyfriend abandons me to my mother’s angry stare.

“Umm, we weren’t doing anything, I swear,” I plead.

“Save it!” Mum snaps. “I don’t think I have ever been as disappointed in anyone as I am in you right now!”

“But mum-“ I say.

“Don’t you ‘but mum’ me!” Mum growls. “First you deceive me, then you bring a boy up to your room when I specifically warned you about this, and worst of all, you do this when Lily’s in the house and you’re meant to be setting a good example for her!”

“Mum-“ I babble.

“Consider yourself grounded for a week, Laura, and that’s just the start of it!” Mum snaps.

“That’s so unfair!” I retort, inwardly cringing as mum somehow becomes even angrier.

“I’ll happily ground you until the new year, if you’d prefer,” mum spits in my direction.

“We weren’t even having sex!” I say. “We were just having some fun-“

“You could ‘have fun’ with your top on!” Mum snaps. “As far as you’re concerned, anything that’s more than kissing is sex!”

“But- but it's not even sex at all if there's no penetration, not really!” I plead.

“Oh yes it is,” mum snorts. “Who told you that, anyway?”

“…Nicole,” I mumble.

“Someone even younger than you?” Mum asks, frowning as I meekly nod. “Good source of advice, then…”

“…I’m sorry,” I mumble.

“You’d better be,” mum spits. “You’ve really, really let me down, Laura. I thought I could trust you. Obviously I was wrong.” I blink back tears as mum leaves me in the darkness of my room, before my control fails me and I break down completely, wailing into my pillow and screaming with frustration.

I stay in my room for the whole of the rest of the night, completely alone except for when mum briefly returns to confiscate my phone and my tablet computer. Even then, I can’t bring myself to look my mother in the eye, keeping my face buried in my pillow as it gets more and more soaked with my tears.

How could I have been so stupid? What made me think I’d even get away with hiding Scott in my room? Was it even worth feeling as bad as I feel now, was it worth losing the respect of my mother, possibly forever? God only knows how grandma will react when mum tells her… Was I really THAT desperate to be a ‘big girl’ like Priya and Nicole?

Even after changing into my nightdress and climbing into bed, my emotions are so scrambled that I’m not able to get any sleep throughout the night. When I slink down to breakfast the following morning, I’m so ashamed that I’m not able to look anyone in the eye- especially not Lily, who’s eating her breakfast as though nothing happened. I grab my morning coffee and bowl of corn flakes and start eating in silence, though I barely have any appetite, and every bite I take makes me feel more and more sick…

“Big night tonight,” Sean says, breaking the awkward silence that had filled the room. “…The ballet recital?” Despite myself, I groan as I’m reminded that despite my misery, I’m going to have to force a smile onto my face tonight in front of hundreds of strangers.

“Aren’t you looking forward to dancing, Laura?” Lily asks me, making me cringe as mum fixes me with an angry stare.

“…It’s a long story,” I mumble as I choke down my cereal.

“I’d be really excited if it was me,” Lily says quietly. “Getting to wear a beautiful tutu, dancing in front of a huge crowd, getting a round of applause…”

“It’s also making me pretty nervous,” I half-lie. “I mean, what if I make a mistake? Like, a really, really big one…”

“…Nah,” Lily says, confidently shaking her head. “You’d never make a mistake, you’re awesome!” I grimace as I briefly lock eyes with my mum, whose look is a mixture of shame and ‘I told you so’.

“Will Scott be coming tonight?” Lily asks, making mum and I sigh simultaneously.

“He couldn’t get a ticket, it, um, sold out too fast,” I half-lie.

“Pity,” Lily says. “He seems really nice. Even if he is too obsessed with football.”

“No more obsessed than Laura is with gymnastics and dancing!” Sean- who obviously knows about my punishment- says, trying (and failing) to cheer both of us up.

“Yeah,” Lily laughs. “I’d like to be a gymnast when I’m older. AND a ballerina.”

“So basically,” Sean teases his daughter, “you want to be Laura when you’re older?”

“…Yeah,” Lily says with a smug grin. “That’d be cool.” I gaze over at mum again, expecting yet more shame, only to see sympathy in her eyes.

After dropping Lily off at primary school, though, I realise that what little sympathy mum has is vastly outweighed by her anger.

“Let’s get something straight,” mum says in the stern tone that nearly tore me apart last night. “The only reason you’re going to this recital tonight is because you’d let a lot of people down if you didn’t.”

“Yes, mum,” I mumble.

“I expect you to do your dance, then we’re heading straight home,” mum continues.

“Yes, mum,” I mumble.

“Obviously I can’t stop you from hanging out with your friends at school,” mum says. “But if I see you kissing that boy gain as you leave, that’ll be another week you’re grounded. Clear?”

“Yes, mum,” I mumble, sniffing back tears.

“Laura…” Mum sighs. “I’m not punishing you because I enjoy doing it. I want you to realise just how seriously you’ve messed up. If Lily had seen what you were doing last night-“

“Lily know how to knock,” I interrupt mum, grimacing as I immediately regret my petulance.

“DON’T- ugh,” mum spits. “You’re not getting it, are you?”

“Have you really forgotten what it was like to be a teenaged girl?” I ask, making mum sigh sadly.

“…I know it looks that way,” mum says. “But believe me when I say that if your grandmother had caught me doing what I caught you doing, I’d probably have been shipped off to a nunnery or something.”

“Those nuns would get a hell of a shock if I showed up there and they ever saw me naked,” I retort, eliciting an actual laugh from my mother.

“…Probably,” mum concedes as we pull up at my school gate. “Go on, have fun. It’s not like I can stop THAT, heh.”

“Thanks,” I whisper, sliding out of the car and tugging the hem of my skirt down to its ‘proper’ length. “Just one question…”

“Go on,” mum says.

“If Scott and I had both been sixteen…” I begin.

“Yes, you’d be punished as severely as you are now,” mum says. “It’s the fact that you deceived me that hurts the most, Laura. When you’re sixteen, and you have a boyfriend who’s also sixteen… If you both want privacy, ask and I’ll give it to you. If I think that you’re mature enough to be trusted alone with him, okay? You’ll have a chance to prove that over this next week.”

“I understand,” I whisper, before walking toward the school entrance, where my seven friends greet me with excited hugs- though their excitement fades when they see the sombre look on my face.

“Oh- Laura, what’s up?” Suriya asks. “Thought you’d be all excited about tonight… You’re not THAT nervous, are you?”

“Last night was the WORST night of my life,” I moan, earning more hugs from my friends. “Scott came round to meet my mum, and Sean and Lily… Ugh. Dis-as-ter.”

“They didn’t like him?” Priya asks.

“No, the actual meal went fine,” I say, before realising the severity of what I’m about to confess. “It’s just afterward, umm… I kinda… Kinda took Scott up to my bedroom…”

“Oh my god!” Megan gasps, her jaw dropping.

“You- you did- please tell me you didn’t…” Harriet whispers.

“We didn’t ‘do’ anything,” I say, my cheeks burning with shame. “We just had a bit of fun… Maybe with our tops off…”

“Oh god, Laura…” Nicole moans, giving me a tight hug as I sniff back tears. “Did Scott-“

“He didn’t do anything,” I say. “He was okay the whole way through, didn’t force anything… But then mum walked in-“

“Ugh,” Suriya sighs, taking over from Nicole on ‘hug duty’. “Grounded?”

“For a week,” I sigh. “And I’m lucky that it’s just that. Feel like I’ve let everyone down…”

“Laura…” Priya whispers, pointing to the side where a familiar tall, attractive young man is walking up to our group.

“S-Scott?” I ask, smiling at the sight of the boy I haven’t had any contact with since he ran off last night.

“H-hi, Laura,” Scott whispers.

“I am SO sorry about last night,” I babble. “I didn’t know that mum would walk in on us like that, I didn’t-“

“Please, let me speak,” Scott says, clearly nervous about what he has to say. “Laura, I- I don’t think we should be boyfriend and girlfriend anymore.”

“Wh-what!?” I squeak.

“Last- last night-“ Scott stammers. “It, um, I don’t, um, feel comfortable going out with you. Sorry, Laura.”

“But- but- are you serious?” I say as my chest feels like it’s about to be crushed.

“It’s not you, it’s me,” Scott babbles. “I’m not comfortable with a transgendered girl, um, bye, Laura.”

“You have precisely five second to get out of here with your balls intact,” Harriet snarls as she steps in front of me protectively. “Five. Four.” Knowing better than to stick around, Scott immediately slinks away as I feel bile start to rise in my throat. Harriet immediately takes charge and leads me to the nearest girls toilet- even though it’s one I’m not technically allowed in- where I empty my stomach into a toilet bowl.

“…Thanks,” I sob, before bawling my eyes out as Harriet gives me a tight hug.

“We- we should get to form,” Harriet whispers. “Are you okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” I whisper.

“Please tell me that’s the first time you’ve thrown up recently,” Harriet sighs. “And the ONLY time.”

“It is,” I say with a smile, even though the feeling of emptiness in my stomach feels just as good as it ever did…

“Sorry we’re late, Mr. Sheldon,” Harriet says as we walk into form, and are confronted by several staring pairs of eyes. “Laura was, um, sick…” I grimace as my classmates’ stares intensify- all of them are well aware of my earlier battle with bulimia.

“Oh dear,” Mr. Sheldon says. “Are you okay to be here today, Laura?”

“I should be fine,” I whisper as Harriet and I take our seats next to Nicole and Suriya.

In truth, though, I’m not fine, and for the first two lessons of the day, I barely keep it together, and by the time break rolls around, it’s a relief to be able to slump forward on our usual table and bawl my eyes out while my friends take turns comforting me. Just when I think things can’t get any worse, my crying is interrupted by the arrival of Priya, fresh from prefect duty- and the look on her face tells me that she does NOT have good news for me.

“H- hi, Laura,” the Indian girl whispers as she sits down. “I think you should know- not that I’m saying that I believe the rumour, or that I’m helping to spread it-“

“Just say it,” I sob.

“Scott, he-“ Priya says, before audibly gulping. “Scott’s saying… Scott’s saying that you and he, umm, ‘went all the way’ last night. That he, you know, took your virginity-“

“I WILL RIP HIS BALLS OFF!” Harriet screeches, startling the entire table. “That dirty bastard!” Whilst I’m just as angry as Harriet- and would be quite happy to see Scott lose his balls- all Priya’s news does is send my head back down onto the table as yet more tears flow from my eyes.

Somehow, I hold myself together for my third lesson of the day, though by the time lunch rolls around, I feel so weak that I can barely go on with anything, let alone the rest of the school day- especially as instead of relaxing during lunch and trying to compose myself, I’m going to have to pull on a skimpy cheerleader’s uniform and dance in front of loads of my fellow students.

“We’ll tell Miss Ellison that you’re unwell,” Mia says as we (along with Nicole and Suriya) change into our uniforms in our ‘private changing room’.

“The school already knows that you’ve been unwell today,” Nicole says. “It won’t matter if you miss one practice session.”

“No,” I whisper as I pull on the sparkly white tank top and tie my hair back using a multi-coloured scrunchie. “I can’t let myself be beaten like this. Besides, I want to be an actress when I’m older… Might as well get in practice now.”

“…Good luck,” Nicole whispers as the four of us head out into the cold winter air to join the rest of the cheerleading team. Rather than practise in a gymnasium or a classroom, cheer practice is always done out on the playing field where we’d normally cheer on our sports teams. The stated reason for this is so that the rest of the school can join in with the school spirit that we’re promoting, but many of the girls on the team (myself included) reckon it’s just because the male teachers enjoy staring at 14 to 16 year old girls in skimpy outfits.

Of course, it’s not just the teachers who enjoy doing that- Thursday cheer practice always sees a lot of the students coming along to watch, and whilst some, like the rest of our ‘gang’, are here to ‘cheer on the cheerleaders’, a lot undoubtedly come along just to ogle us. I’m unsurprised when I stare out at the crowd and see Suriya’s boyfriend paying close attention to the tiny Indian girl as she dances with the rest of us, but it doesn’t take long for me to realise that Scott will now NEVER come to watch me dance. In fact, a quick glance over at the nearby playing field shows him playing football with his friends, just as though nothing had ever happened…

“Eek!” I squeak as my distraction causes me to stumble mid-step, and I barely avoid falling flat on my backside in front of the whole school. “Sorry, sorry…”

“It’s okay,” Miss Ellison says. “That’s why we have these practice sessions, to work out any errors.”

“Laura’s not been well today,” Suriya hastily says, earning a stern stare from me. “She was sick earlier today.”

“Is this true, Laura?” Miss Ellison asks me, sighing as I nod. “Would you rather sit out the rest of the session? You don’t want to make yourself more ill…”

“I-“ I being replying, before gazing out into the crowd. Naturally, Priya, Harriet, Megan and Ashley are all stood nearby with concerned expressions on their faces, but just to the side of them is a face I’ve never noticed before- that of Kain, whose facial expression is just as concerned as those of my friends’.

“…I’ll be fine,” I whisper. “Just another ten minutes to go, anyway.”

“That’s the spirit!” Miss Ellison says with a warm smile, before I return to the line-up with the other girls and finish the practice session without another flaw.

It’s a relief when the school day finally ends and I’m able to put it behind me, leaving the building as fast as possible so as to avoid any potential run-in with my now ex-boyfriend (who, thankfully, is nowhere to be seen).

“Good day?” Mum asks stoically as I slump down hard onto her car’s passenger seat, not even bothering to smooth my skirt first.

“No,” I moan. “Scott dumped me.”

“Oh god,” mum gasps, the shame in her voice being replaced by genuine sympathy. “What happened?”

“I dunno,” I shrug, checking over my shoulder to make sure that Lily isn’t in the car. “Maybe he got frightened by my family or something.”

“Don’t push it,” mum snarls, before sighing. “…Are you still okay for tonight?”

“I’ll be okay,” I whisper. “Not the first time my heart’s been broken. Probably won’t be the last, either.”

“I am really, really sorry, Laura,” mum says softly. “You’re still grounded, of course.”

“Yeah, I figured,” I sigh. “I’m sorry too.”

“I believe you,” mum whispers, obviously close to tears herself. “So no more boys for a while, then?”

“HELL no!” I say, making mum giggle.

“Good,” mum says. “Behaviour aside, you’re far too precious to just throw yourself at the first boy who comes along. Never forget that, Laura.”

“I won’t,” I whisper as we head back home.

After a mercifully small dinner, we- along with Sean and Lily- immediately head to the small theatre that Miss Fullerton has hired for tonight’s performance, and it’s only as I’m ushered in the performer’s entrance that my nerves finally start to kick in.

“Laura, this way,” Miss Fullerton says, intercepting me before I’ve taken two steps inside the theatre. “Please tell me you’ve got your pointes with you…”

“As if I’d forget them,” I retort, making the tall dance teacher giggle. “God, I can’t believe how nervous I am…”

“Trust me, EVERYONE gets nervous every time they go on stage,” Miss Fullerton says, placing a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Hell, I’ve been the star of a reality TV show for the last three years, and even I get stage fright sometimes.”

“Thanks,” I whisper, “but I’ve been on stage before… This is different, it- it’s kinda personal.”

“Oh no, what’s happened?” Miss Fullerton asks.

“…I got dumped,” I say, making Miss Fullerton sigh sympathetically. “Just this morning, actually.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Miss Fullerton sighs. “Stupid BOY, can’t appreciate an awesome girlfriend when she’s literally right under his nose. Were you going out long?”

“Four days,” I say with a snort of laughter.

“…Christ, I AM getting old,” Miss Fullerton laughs as I arrive at the main dressing room, where the other soloists (including Suriya) greet me as they’re changing into their tutus.

“Hey Laura,” Suriya- who is already wearing her make-up and her tutu- says, giving me a gentle hug. “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay,” I say confidently. “I know this dance backwards, I’ll be okay.”

“I wasn’t asking about the dance,” Suriya says as I strip down to my underwear and pull on my pale orange coloured dance tights, before sitting down and allowing the theatre’s professional make-up artist to work on my face.

“…It’s getting better,” I whisper. “Slowly… God, what was I thinking? Just demanding some random year 11 boy like that… And I let myself get REALLY close to him as well. NEVER making that mistake again.”

“Good,” Suriya says softly. “Because you looked really, REALLY hurt today. I was actually worried for you. More worried than when you told us you got together with Scott, heh.”

“Thanks,” I whisper, giving Suriya a gentle hug before allowing her to lace my tutu closed. The costume really is gorgeous- unlike Suriya’s bell skirt, my tutu is stiff, sticking out several inches from my waist and is adorned with delicate patterned stitching all over. The production’s name is ‘Le Soixante-Troisieme Papillon’, which means ‘the sixty-third butterfly’, so I also have a pair of wings on my back that unfurl throughout my dance, as my solo is supposed to represent the emergence of the butterfly from her chrysalis. On my head is a delicate silver tiara, adorned with fake orange and black jewels- the colours of the eponymous butterfly.

“Gorgeous,” Suriya- whose own tutu is pretty amazing- says as she takes a photo of me with her phone.

“Stupid boys can’t appreciate awesome girlfriends whilst they’re right underneath their noses,” I say with a smug grin as I join the other soloists in the centre of the room ahead of an ‘inspection’ by our teachers.

“Beautiful, all of you!” Miss Fullerton says, happily clapping her hands as Mademoiselle Renou hands us all a small jewellery box each. “As this is the very first performance of the very first ballet that Mademoiselle Renou and I have written from scratch, we felt it was only appropriate to give you all a little gift, as a token of our gratitude for bringing Le Soixante-Troisieme Papillon to life.” I and the other girls open our boxes, and as one, we all gasp at what’s inside- a small pendant in the shape of a pointe shoe, with the phrase ‘ballerinas are the athletes of god’ inscribed on the side.

“It’s beautiful,” I whisper, before returning the dainty jewellery to its box.

“It is also true,” Mademoiselle Renou says with a smug grin. “Tonight, you are all true ballerinas, and that makes you greater than any ordinary person. You are immortal, and nobody may raise a hand or speak ill to an athlete of god.” Tell that to my mum… Or to my ex, I think to myself as I follow the other ballerinas to the stage wings. As we wait, Miss Fullerton and Mademoiselle Renou introduce themselves and the performance to the crowd- and the sound of the applause they get tells me that there are a LOT of people in audience.

“Oooooh boy,” Suriya says, nervously fanning herself with her hands as the first performers take their positions on stage. “This is it, this is it…”

“Do not be nervous!” Mademoiselle Renou chastises us. “You all passed auditions. If we did not think that you could not dance, we would not have given you the chance.”

“Mademoiselle Renou is right,” Miss Fullerton says. “We know you’ll all make us proud tonight.” If only mum could hear you, I self-pityingly think to myself as I try not to fidget in my tutu. “Laura, can I have a word?” My eyes go wide as Miss Fullerton singles me out and gestures to a small, private space away from the rest of the crowd.

“Umm, okay,” I say as I hesitantly follow the blonde woman. “Am- am I-“

“In trouble?” Miss Fullerton asks. “Hardly. I just thought I should tell you that there are a few press here tonight, mostly for me but I did overhear a few talking about the ‘transgendered ballerina’ in the show, so they may seek you out after the performance.”

“Heh, assuming mum will let me stick around after the performance,” I snort.

“Why wouldn’t she?” Miss Fullerton asks. “I know it’s a school night, but still…”

“Because I- I’m kinda grounded,” I sigh. “That so-called boyfriend I told you about? We… We kinda fooled about a little, last night. Mum walked in on us and kinda went nuclear.”

“Ugh, been there!” Miss Fullerton laughs. “I don’t need to know the details, especially as you’re underage, but trust me when I say you’re not the only girl to have been caught by her mum like that. Not even close.”

“…You?” I ask, gasping as the tall woman blushes and nods.

“I’d just turned fifteen, too,” Miss Fullerton says. “It was my sister who ratted me out to my mum, the fu- the swot…”

“…Was he worth it?” I ask, giggling as Miss Fullerton grins at me.

“SHE was,” the tall woman replies, making my jaw drops. “She was my best friend at school, but I’d always had the hots for her, and she fancied me too… One thing led to another and- well, not the person I’d imagined losing my virginity to, but… Yeah. In a way, I’m kinda glad I did. I learned a LOT. The most important thing I learned was ‘there are some things you can’t undo’.” And, I think to myself, that saying 'if there's no penetration then it's not sex' is apparently a load of crap.

“Yeah,” I whisper.

“Your mum will get over it,” Miss Fullerton says. “She’s probably in shock at the thought of her little girl turning into a young woman. Especially considering your past, heh. I know your mum, she’s pretty open-minded, but if you told her five years ago that her little boy would be bringing another boy home the day before dressing in a big, frilly tutu…”

“Like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly,” I say, making my teacher grin widely.

“Exactly,” Miss Fullerton says, before checking her watch and taking a deep breath. “Speaking of which, it’s just about time for you to get out there and do your thing!”

“I guess!” I breathe excitedly. “Thanks, Miss Fullerton.”

“After this talk? You can call me Krystie,” Miss Fullerton says. “Just don’t try taking first name privileges with Mademoiselle Renou!”

“Don’t worry, I don’t plan to!” I giggle, before taking a deep breath and stepping out on stage, bowing to the politely applauding audience (none of whom I can see due to the stage lights, thankfully) before heading to my starting position and waiting for the music to start. The memory of my stumble during cheer practice this afternoon weighs heavily in my mind as I prepare to dance, but Miss Fullerton’s and Mademoiselle Renou’s advice and encouragement resonates with me, and when the first bars of the music plays, I rise en pointe and prepare to dance.

My dance goes flawlessly. Every step I make was perfect, my body is making all the right shapes, right down to my fingertips, and in my face I convey the emotion of the butterfly emerging from its chrysalis- the excitement at growing up, becoming an adult- but also the fear at leaving behind a childhood that I only barely got the chance to experience. By the end of the dance, I’m almost in tears myself- and by the time I reach the backstage area, I AM in tears, tears that only get faster as Suriya (who has long since completed her solo dance) gives me a tight hug.

“You are beautiful,” Suriya says to me, trying to calm me down. “You are gorgeous, you are elegant, you are girly and you are AWESOME!”

“You are,” an unexpected voice says- the voice of my mother. Without thinking, I free myself from my friend’s embrace and rush toward my mother, allowing her to wrap me in a tight hug. “Okay, you’ve made a few mistakes. We all have. But I am so, so proud that I can say that you are my daughter.”

“Thank you,” I sniff, before giggling as mum fastens my new pendant around my neck.

“You’re still grounded, of course,” mum says, making me laugh and roll my eyes. “…But I think you deserve to have tonight.”

“Thanks,” I whisper, before Suriya leads me back to where the very proud Miss Fullerton and Mademoiselle Renou are waiting.

“Just one more solo, then the curtain call,” Miss Fullerton squeaks excitedly. “Soak it up, because you girls were AMAZING out there.”

“Beautiful angels,” Mademoiselle Renou gushes as the final bars of the music plays, and the entire audience roars with cheering and applause.

On cue, I and the other soloists follow Miss Fullerton and Mademoiselle Renou out onto the stage where we take our bows, before we’re joined by all the other dancers in the production, including our other six friends, all of whom had a part tonight, no matter how small. I feel almost embarrassed as I, like the other soloists, am handed a large bouquet of flowers, before we all have our photographs taken by Miss Fullerton’s photographer (a very friendly older girl named Katie) and by some press photographers.

I’m stood in my tutu and pointe shoes for another forty-five minutes as I’m photographed over and over, often posing en pointe for the camera despite the pain in my feet. I’m repeatedly praised by my friends and by my family- especially Lily, who now wants to be a professional ballerina! As the attention is lavished on me, one thought occupies my mind- ‘I wish that Scott was here’. It’s a thought that’s occupied my mind since before I stepped on stage, since before I even arrived at the theatre, in fact.

However, the meaning behind the thought has changed. As I arrived at the theatre my only thought was ‘I wish Scott was here, I miss him’. Now, the thought is ‘I wish Scott was here so he can see what he’s missing’. I AM gorgeous, and beautiful, and feminine, and elegant and graceful. All this despite having what some might consider the ultimate handicap- at least, the ultimate handicap when it comes to living life as a girl. If Scott REALLY dumped me for being transgendered, or if any boy ever rejects me for the way I was born, then it’s his loss- and he’ll be the biggest loser of them all.

I actually have tears in my eyes- again- as I remove my pointe shoes and my beautiful tutu and change back into the short black skirt I wore to the theatre, which feels almost like a baggy pair of jeans when compared to the gorgeous concoction I just danced in.

“Back to reality, eh?” Miss Fullerton asks, giggling as I nod. “Don’t worry, I have a feeling that’s not going to be the last tutu you ever dance in, hehe!”

“Yeah,” I laugh as I replace my dance tights with a pair of thick black tights. “Even if it is just playing dress-up with Lily, heh.”

“Oh, I see tutus and pointe shoes in her future too,” Miss Fullerton teases. “You take care of yourself, Laura. Don’t let any stupid BOY get you down!”

“Oh, I won’t,” I say smugly. “As far as I’m concerned, boys can form a line!”

“Atta girl!” Miss Fullerton says with a proud grin.

“Miss Fullerton…” I say cautiously. “That- that girl you told me about, that girl that…”

“…Yes?” Miss Fullerton replies.

“Do- do you still, you know,” I mumble. “Do you keep in touch with her?”

“I see her on Facebook every now and again,” Miss Fullerton shrugs. “She’s cool… But I have much, much better friends now!”

“The Angels,” I whisper with a smile.

“Like your little Angels,” Miss Fullerton says, giggling as I grimace. “Sorry, I know you don’t like that name… Though it is accurate.”

“Yeah, because we’re all super-famous and have our own reality TV show,” I snort.

“No, because you’re all true friends who’d do anything for each other,” Miss Fullerton retorts. “One thing I’ve learned over the last twenty-four years of life is that lovers come and go, and sure, you may eventually find ‘the one’… But when you find a girl who is a true friend, you cling onto them for dear life. And if you’re lucky enough to find as many as we both have… It doesn’t get any better than that, Laura.”

"You're right," I say with a happy, satisfied grin.

The following day, I go into school with my skirt hiked as high as I think I can get away with, not to attract any boys, but because I want to. And because last night, my legs carried me to a critically acclaimed ballet performance, and they deserve some attention!

Even for a Friday, the whole school day is relaxed. Last night's recital is the only topic of conversation at our table, to the extent that it's as if Scott (or any other boys, for that matter) never existed- and this is more than fine by me.

As much as it hurt, and as much as I suffered punishment from it, in a way I'm glad I went through what I went through with Scott. I've learned a lot over the last few days- to trust my mother's judgement over that of my friends, to value what I have... And that sometimes having what you want isn't as good as wanting what you have.

I'll find a boyfriend soon. I may even find 'the one', as Miss Fullerton puts it. But I don't need to hurry. I'm only fifteen, and I'm not going to be sixteen for another eleven months. Plenty of time to find someone who I really want to be with. And then, when we're both sixteen, and I feel the time is right... Well, that's a topic for another time.

And as I leave school for the final time this week, I'm reminded that not all teenage boys are the sex-obsessed, knuckle-dragging morons that they're supposed to be.

"Laura!" A familiar shy male voice calls as I head toward the school exit.

"Oh, hey Kain!" I say with a sympathetic smile. "Look, I, um, I'm sorry about earlier in the week, when I-"

"No, I knew you had a boyfriend, I was the dumb one," Kain sighs. "I just, um, I'm sorry about you and Scott."

"S'okay," I say with a grin. "Look, I, uh, I'm still not kinda ready, I'm afraid, I, um, I just want to be single for a while, if that's okay?"

"Oh, um, okay," Kain says, clearly disappointed.

"But when I'm ready, you'll be the first to know, okay?" I ask.

"Oh, um, okay!" Kain says, perking up as we reach the car park. Knowing full well that mum will be watching me like a hawk, I grin wickedly, before standing on my tiptoes (Kain's at least six inches taller than me) and giving the young man a gentle kiss on his cheek. I have a wide grin on my face as I get into my mum's car, even as she fixes me with an angry glare.

"What did I say about kissing boys?" Mum asks, keeping her temper in check so as not to upset Lily (who's sat on the back seat).

"You said 'don't kiss Scott'," I retort. "That's not Scott, that's Kain, a boy from my class, who is nothing like Scott. And no, he's not my boyfriend, I just think he's cool, that's all. And I kissed him on the cheek, not the lips, so it's not technically a kiss in the manner you were thinking of."

"...So you only use your mouth nowadays for kissing boys and being smart with me?" Mum asks.

"Not 'only'," I say. "Just, you know, 'mostly'." I try not to smirk as Lily giggles and mum sighs.

"Well fortunately, you have a nice, big weekend of chores to look forward to," mum says, wiping the smirk off my face. "Starting tonight, as your ballet class is taking the night off."

"Yes, mum," I sigh.

"Does that mean you'll be able to play with me all weekend?" Lily asks, bringing smiles to both my face and my mother's.

"That depends," I say with a knowing grin. "Would you like to dress up in a real Indian sari?"

Lily's enthusiastic reaction tells me all I need to know- and reminds me of how truly, truly blessed I am.

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