Stephanie, part 14

As the bars of the final song of the night play, my bandmates and I take a step back from the edge of the stage and dip into a long curtsey. The entire crowd- all twenty thousand plus of them- all leap to their feet, screaming their approval of our concert just as they’ve done for every concert we’ve played over the last two and a half years. And just like all those previous concerts, I feel my skin tingling with goosebumps at the reaction of the people who’ve come to see us today. A quick glance to my left and right reveals that my friends all feel the same way, especially my flatmate- though there is another reason she might be nervous, today of all days.

“Thank you Southampton!” I yell into my microphone. “We love you all! But… There’s one more song we need to sing today-“

“Oh- oh no, don’t you dare!” Kayla says into her microphone.

“-And I’m going to need ALL of you to help us sing it!” I continue, smiling smugly as my tiny blonde friend cringes.

“On three,” Becca orders with a smug grin. “One, two, three…”

“Happy birthday to you,” the three of us- and twenty thousand in the stadium’s seats- sing. “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Kayla, happy birthday to you!”

“Oh my god, thank you so much!” Kayla yells to her hometown crowd, her cheeks growing even redder as they begin chanting her name, followed by the band’s name in a hockey-style chant. Becca and I hoist Kayla onto our shoulders and Adeola raises one of her arms into the air as we retreat backstage, soaking up the adoration of the crowd with every step we take.

“That was AWESOME,” Adeola chuckles tiredly as we shut our dressing room door behind us. “Even better than the one we did here in July!”

“Kinda wish the three of us had a hometown other than London,” Becca muses as the hometown birthday girl playfully rolls her eyes. “Oh come on K, you have to admit, we ALWAYS get a great reception in Southampton, and it’s all thanks to you!”

“Didn’t know your family was THAT big,” I tease, giggling as Kayla hurls a make-up remover pad at me. “And besides, we do get a great crowd in London, don’t we?”

“That’s ‘cause everything’s great in London,” Adeola says, letting out a long sigh as she eases out of the tight red and white striped shorts and crop top and fishnet tights that made up tonight’s costume. “Oh, GOD that’s better, hehe!”

“Gonna meet the fans in just a thong with your tits hanging out, then?” Becca teases her BFF, also earning a make-up remover pad in the face.

“Ugh, just gimme a sec,” Adeola sighs, taking several deep breaths to relax. “Spent the last two years in the public eye, think I deserve a few minutes of ‘me time’.”

“Could be worse,” Kayla muses as she swaps her costume for one of her trademark long-sleeved tops and pencil skirts. “You could’ve spent your entire adult life in the public eye. Not that I’d swap this for anything, hehe!”

“And it could be even worse than that,” I sigh. “You could’ve spent your entire FEMALE life in the public eye.” I bite my scarlet-coloured lip as my confession causes an awkward silence to fill the room.

“…Group hug?” Adeola suggests.

“Not until you put a top on!” I caution, which makes the tall, dark-skinned girl rise from her chair and approach me, Becca and Kayla with outstretched arms- something she’s only dissuaded from when she gets an entire bag of make-up remover pads thrown at her!

“Admit it, though,” Adeola says with a smug grin. “You wouldn’t swap this for anything either, would you?”

“Never in a million years,” I say with a grin of my own as I strip off my costume, pull on my underwear (including a pair of shiny black tights) and change into a clingy grey long-sleeved bodysuit, a stretchy black miniskirt- both of which beautifully hug my fledgling curves- and, of course, a pair of black knee-high boots. My body’s certainly changed a lot since I joined Out of Heaven- and it’s far from the only thing about me that’s changed.

Ever since my last ‘incident’ five months ago, ‘Steve’ has ceased to be a part of my life- even a fond memory. I’ve continued my regular meeting with Dr Phillips, and she’s become increasingly convinced that my clinging on to ‘Steve’ was a case of my initial venture into womanhood being too fast and going ‘too deep’. She’s certain I should have transitioned more gradually, and that if I hadn’t joined that band, I’d have chosen to transition eventually… And I’m certain of that too, for several very good reasons- not least the physical changes that have happened to my body.

I’ve been taking oestrogen now for a year and I have really started to see the changes. My skin is softer and smoother than it’s ever been, my waist has narrowed, my hips and backside have widened slightly (not enough so that I don’t have to buy a whole new wardrobe, fortunately) and there have been a couple of ‘obvious changes’ to my chest (currently between an A and a B cup, to be precise). But the most significant thing about my physical changes is that the more I change… The more comfortable I feel in my life.

At first I thought that this was simply my discomfort at being the ‘odd one out’ easing- whenever I was onstage with the girls before I was always conscious of being the only one with ‘a little extra something’. As my body changes from male to female, that discomfort will obviously ease, but even when I’m not onstage, I feel more comfortable. When I’m having out at one of the Heavenly Talent parties, or even with my family or gaming with Kayla, or even when I’m all by myself, I feel more ‘me’ than I ever did before hormones.

Of course, it helps that I finally have the support of ALL my friends and family. Ever since the birth of my namesake, Tom and I have grown closer than ever, and we regularly meet up for coffee after work. Tom and his fiancée even came to one of Charlotte Hartley’s parties over the summer- though it was one of the daytime ones where all the children could attend too. It should go without saying that every time I see little Stephi, I spoil her rotten- after wiping several tears from my eyes at Tom’s beautiful gesture of naming her after me! Tom’s acceptance of me has also meant that he and Danny are now closer than they had been recently, which also makes my parents happy, especially as Tom’s fiancée Amanda and Danny’s partner Rachel have grown closer as well- both to each other and to the rest of the family. This is, however, responsible for the only remaining area of stress in my life- the fact that my brothers are both in stable, long-term relationships, while I’m still as single as I ever was.

Of course, as a rich celebrity- and despite my ‘status’- I could in theory have my pick of any guy I want. Or any willing girl, obviously- even though my eye is more drawn to men than to women. That being said, though, my ‘type’ definitely seems to be ‘feminine guys’- but as I haven’t been on so much as a coffee date since May, it’s more accurate to say that I don’t have a ‘type’ at all. Dr Phillips seems to think that this is a good thing, that it’s an added complication I don’t need in my life, but I still feel a little anxious every time I see my brothers with their partners, or Becca with her fiancée, or Adeola with her boyfriend… Or any time Kayla goes out on a date with anyone.

For some reason, Kayla going on a date is more of an anxiety trigger for me than anything (or anyone) else. Maybe it's because I know that eventually, she'll be snuggled on the sofa next to me once again, leading to me once again wondering whether or not the guys she goes out with are the people she REALLY wants to go out with. It doesn't help my anxieties that none of these dates have ever amounted to anything- Kayla hasn’t even so much as hung a bra on her bedroom doorknob in the last few months. Sometimes I’m as worried for her as I am anxious about myself- especially if she’s wanting something that might not be good for her. Or I'm wanting something that might not be good for either of us...

However, love lives aside, both of us are more than happy with our lives as they stand, especially with our career going from strength to strength. Our PA has told us that we’ve even had fans come over from America for today’s concert, leading to Joshua enquiring about the possibility of a launch over there, and we’ve apparently very popular in Japan, meaning that the four of us may spend the next few months, if not years, jetting all around the world, singing to packed crowds. For all my anxieties, my life really is a dream come true- and I can tell that all of my friends feel the same way, especially my tiny blonde BFF, who giggles excitedly as we open the backstage door and are immediately confronted by dozens of over-excited fans.

After over an hour of autographs and selfies (including the American girls who flew over to see us, happily), the four of us get back in our tour coach, ready to head to our next destination- even though said destination is only a few miles down the road.

“Three down, one to go!” Becca cheers as she crashes onto her carefully-decorated bunk. “And finally, I can slip THIS back on my finger…” Kayla, Addie and I all coo as Becca slips her sparkling engagement ring back onto her left hand, just driving home my own anxiety about my single status.

“Reckon we’ll ever do another one in Scotland?” Adeola asks. “I mean, sure, we ain’t had Lauren in over a year now, but still, you know?”

“Preferably not in winter!” I say, earning giggles from the other girls. “Besides, today should be all about celebrating the southern girl, shouldn’t it?”

“…No,” Kayla mumbles, before shrieking with laughter as we all ambush her with a group hug.

“Happy birthday, miss no-longer-a-teenager!” Becca squeaks, earning another shriek of laughter from the tiny girl.

“Stop it, really!” Kayla giggles. “…Okay, don’t stop it- never let it be said that I don’t LOVE being the centre of attention!” Kayla shrieks again as our group hug tightens. “Just maybe not the centre of a crush, hehe!”

“Sorry, sorry!” Adeola giggles as we release the tiny girl and sit back down on our bunks. “God, I can’t believe I’ve never been to your parents’ before, you know?”

“In fairness, I’ve only been to your parents’ as your dad- well, you know what I mean- is my manager,” Kayla retorts.

“Yeah, but still, though,” Adeola says.

“I think what Addie’s trying to say is ‘we ought to be closer than sisters, being in the same band together’,” Becca says.

“Pretty much, yeah,” Adeola chuckles.

“…Sleepover tonight, then?” I say, giggling as Kayla rolls her eyes.

“Oh go on,” Becca says. “Your parents’ house is big enough, isn’t it?”

“Buckingham Palace wouldn’t be big enough for the four of us!” Kayla retorts. “…Okay, I’ll ask my parents when we get there.”

“Yay!” Becca, Adeola and I all cheer, our giggles growing louder as Kayla cringes more and more.

Mere minutes later, the bus pulls up outside Kayla’s parents’ modest, middle-class house, and as the four of us disembark, Kayla immediately cringes again when she sees her parents standing in the doorway holding a banner reading ‘Happy Birthday to the Best Daughter Ever!’

“Oh- mum!” Kayla protests. “Do you want to embarrass me any more?”

“Huh,” Kayla’s mother says with a fake huff. “Maybe this banner is wrong and it isn’t our daughter’s birthday today, as she’s clearly still a teenager!”

“…Thanks,” Kayla says, blushing as me, Becca and Adeola have a good-natured giggle at her expense.

“Come on, come on in out of the cold,” Kayla’s father says to the four of us, ushering us into the house where we discover that the living room is filled almost floor to ceiling with brightly-wrapped presents.

“Oh- oh my god,” Kayla gasps at the sight of the gifts. “This is too much, I mean- I earn more money than you, for god’s sake…”

“A lot of these are from your friends in London,” Kayla’s father explains. “Your friend, the one teaching you the guitar, dropped them down earlier in his van.”

“Oh my god,” Kayla repeats, sitting down in the only spot on the sofa that isn’t covered with gifts.

“You really think we wouldn’t spoil you?” Becca says with a smug grin.

“Sisters have got to go it for themselves, you know?” Adeola giggles.

“I have the two best families in the world!” Kayla squeaks, jumping up from the sofa to give me, Becca and Adeola a tight hug each.

“THREE best families,” Kayla’s mum says with a smile. “A lot of these are from your fans too.”

“Wh- what!?” Kayla squeaks.

“A lot of fans brought gifts and cards that they dropped off at the concert,” Kayla’s father explains. “They’re probably just silly little things, but-“

“This is AMAZING,” Kayla laughs.

“YOU are amazing,” Mrs. Ford says, giving her daughter a tight hug. “You’ve worked so hard for all this fame and fortune, you deserve it. All you girls do.”

“And you were all great at tonight’s concert!” Mr. Ford chuckles, making all four of us ‘sisters’ blush. “Now come on, get opening or you’ll still be opening them on your 21st!” Kayla squeaks excitedly as she starts tearing open her cards and her presents.

Hours later- just before 1am, in fact- all the presents have been opened, several photos have been posted to Instagram of Kayla showing off her gifts and thanking her fans, and the six of us are utterly exhausted after a long, hard day.

“Obviously you three can stay here tonight,” Kayla’s mother says as she serves me and my bandmates with very welcome mugs of hot chocolate. “Gary can make up the spare beds and the sofas for you.”

“Thanks,” Adeola half-says and half-yawns. “Sorry, normally we have a bit more energy than this, hehe!”

“As long as you save it for the stage and your fans, that’s what matters,” Mr. Ford says, before leaning in to give his reluctant daughter another tight hug. “And that goes double for you, not-so-young-any-more woman! I will admit, when you first told us that you’d joined a band, I didn’t know what to think!”

“Ooh, now THIS sounds like a story I want to hear!” I giggle, earning a foul stare from the tiny girl.

“Suffice to say, any doubts we had vanished a long time ago,” Mr. Ford. “I am so, so, so proud of you, my beautiful, talented and perfect daughter.”

“Thanks, dad,” Kayla sniffles.

“Almost makes up for the fact that we won’t be seeing any grandchildren anytime soon!” Kayla’s mother says, earning a cringe not just from her daughter, but from the rest of the women in the room too- myself included.

“Now go on,” Mr. Ford urges. “Get yourself to bed. Still got a lot of hard work ahead of you!”

“Yes, sir!” Kayla giggles, giving all of us in the room a tight hug each before heading upstairs to her bedroom- though I can’t help but notice that the hug she gives me seems to last longer than any of the others, even the ones she gives her parents…

“If you three want to freshen up, you can use the downstairs toilet, or our en-suite,” Mrs. Ford offers.

“Oh, we- we’re fine, thanks,” Becca says. “We took our make-up off after the concert.”

“We’ve got to be back in London by noon tomorrow,” Adeola explains. “More publicity for the tour, never mind the fact that London sold out weeks ago, heh!”

“We’ll let you get some rest, then,” Mrs. Ford says, before showing upstairs.

After a quick trip to the toilet to relieve myself, I head toward the spare room, where I’ll be spending the night, but on my way there, I pass by Kayla’s bedroom door. After briefly hesitating, I gently knock on the door.

“Kayla?” I whisper. “You still awake?”

“Mmph,” Kayla moans from inside the room. “Come in, Steph.” I gently open the door and step into the room- waking Kayla up is never a good idea, even if she has only been in bed for a few minutes.

“Are- are you feeling okay?” I ask, squinting in the darkness of the room. “You seemed kinda overwhelmed earlier, that’s all…”

“I- I’m fine, honestly,” Kayla says. “Go to bed, Steph.”

“Yes, mum,” I tease, making out just enough of my friend’s face in the gloom to realise she’s sticking her tongue out at me. “And by the way, it’s not a proper sleepover party if we all sleep in separate rooms!”

“Good!” Kayla laughs, hurling her spare pillow at me just as I close her bedroom door.

I wake up the following morning just after dawn and am briefly confused when I realised I’m not in my bedroom at home or in my bunk on the tour bus. However, my confusion quickly disappears when I realise I’m in a room I’ve slept in before on more than one occasion. After washing my face and taking my oestrogen tablet, I pull on the clothes I was wearing yesterday before heading downstairs to find that the rest of the household is already awake.

“Ugh, FINALLY,” Becca teases, giggling as I stick my tongue out at her.

“You could’ve woken me, you know,” I say. “I’m not like Kayla.”

“Oh- shut up, you!” the blonde girl snorts.

“She still has trouble getting up in the morning?” Mr. Ford asks, chuckling as his daughter starts blushing.

“I’m up now, aren’t I?” Kayla asks.

“Maybe someone’s just eager to get back to London,” Mrs. Ford says.

“It’s not THAT,” Kayla protests. “It- ugh, I dunno. Maybe I’m used to getting up early on Wednesdays because it’s ballet morning, even though we’re not going today.”

“Even though it was only moved back to Wednesday a month ago?” Adeola asks.

“Not helping!” Kayla snorts. “Ugh, I dunno.”

“You’re probably just coming down after the high of the concert,” Mr. Ford suggests. “I mean, last time you played in Southampton, you were back on your bus afterwards, this is the first time you’ve done a concert and come straight home, that HAS to be a culture shock, right?”

“Yeah… Yeah, I’m sure that’s it,” Kayla whispers, an obviously forced smile on her face.

“Speakin’ of the bus…” Adeola says with a sigh. “Reckon you’ve got about ten minutes to grab breakfast before we’ve got to get back on the road, Steph.”

“…Will that thing fit through a drive-through?” I ask, earning giggles from the other five people at the table.

In the end, I settle for a very quick piece of toast, before my bandmates and I are bundled back onto our tour bus, ready for the final leg of our trip.

“Try not to leave it three months before coming home next time,” Mrs. Ford says, giving her wriggling daughter an extra-long hug. “And you ARE allowed to come for reasons other than work! That applies to you three as well.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Ford,” Becca says with a genuine smile.

“Time to get this show back on the road, I guess!” Kayla giggles, giving her parents one last hug each before getting back on the bus, where she collapses onto her bunk with a long, heavy sigh.

“That bad, eh?” Becca teases. “Would’ve thought you’d have loved being back at home, in your own bed…”

“My ‘own bed’ is in London,” Kayla chuckles. “…I dunno. My parents can be a bit ‘much’ at times, you know?”

“My uncle’s a bleedin’ human loudhailer!” Adeola retorts, earning giggles from the rest of us. “But I think I know what you mean. Maybe we should get Stu to write a song about embarrassing parents?”

“What, sing about something our fans REALLY care about?” I ask, giggling as the other girls hurl their pillows at me.

“Stu says the third album will be aimed at an older audience,” Becca says. “The fans who are growing up with out of Heaven, heh! Besides, doubt our dad would appreciate being called ‘embarrassing’. Even if it was painful watching him try to dance to 'Warrior Angels'!”

“He’s sixty-eight and got an arthritic knee, reckon it was more painful for him!” Adeola chuckles, leading to what has become one of the band’s trademarks over the last few months- a loud, but always good-natured argument between the two BFFs that Kayla and I happily lay back and watch as the bus heads back towards London.

A short while later, the bus pulls up outside mine and Kayla’s posh flat, and after several trips to unload all of my BFF’s birthday presents, the two of us collapse heavily onto our sofa, both obviously glad to finally be home.

“Ugh… I SO missed this place,” Kayla sighs as she sinks into the sofa’s plush cushions. “Don’t mind me, think I’m just going to sit here and melt for a bit…”

“Yeah, well a taxi’s picking us up to take us to an interview in an hour’s time, so try to un-melt before then, okay?” I chuckle.

“No promises,” Kayla chuckles, switching on the television as I start to unpack my many suitcases. “Steph…”

“Kayla…?” I ask.

“Do you- do you ever miss, you know, being ‘at home’?” My best friend asks. “I mean, living at home with your parents, with your ‘real’ family…”

“…Sometimes,” I shrug. “My mum sometimes gets on at me to move back, heh. Guess that’s what comes with being the youngest, always seen as the baby of the family.”

“And with being the only girl?” Kayla asks, before biting her lip as she realises what she just said. “Umm, what I mean, umm, well-“

“That doesn’t make things any easier,” I whisper. “My old room at home… It was ‘Steve’s room.”

“Ehh… Let’s drop this topic, okay?” Kayla asks.

“No, it’s okay,” I say reassuringly. “Dr Phillips says that talking about things like this is good for me.”

“Heh, might be good for me, too,” Kayla chuckles.

“Yeah, but you’re not as messed up as I am,” I laugh, earning a sympathetic smile from my friend.

“You’re not ‘messed up’,” Kayla sighs. “Or if you are, we all are. This will sound weird, but- I really didn’t feel comfortable at home, you know? Like the Kayla who left that house two years ago isn’t the same Kayla who went back there two days ago.”

“Can’t imagine what THAT feels like,” I retort, earning another sigh from my friend.

“Okay, touché,” Kayla concedes. “But- but, you know? I actually feel far more at home here than I do in my parents’ house. I feel far more at home with you and the other girls, the Angels, than I do with my own parents, for god’s sake.”

“Ahh… The Heavenly Talent ‘extended family’,” I chuckle. “I think I kinda get where you’re coming from.”

“You’ve felt that way too?” Kayla asks.

“Sometimes,” I confess. “’Cause I’m sure my family still see ‘Steve’ when they look at me… But no one in the HT family ever knew ‘Steve’, so as I become more and more ‘Steph’, it’s like I sometimes feel closer to them than to mum and dad, or even Danny. And especially Tom, heh.”

“…I knew ‘Steve’,” Kayla shrugs.

“…Maybe,” I concede. “But you met ‘Steph’ first.”

“Did I?” Kayla asks. “Always thought ‘they’ were the same person.”

“Yes, yes, OKAY,” I say, making the tiny girl giggle. “And for what it’s worth, yes, it was supremely weird at first, going to work as ‘Steph-‘ as, umm, as a girl, but then going home and living as a boy. I am so, so glad I finally chose one, heh. The RIGHT one, hehe!”

“I’m glad too,” Kayla says softly.

“And maybe I’m being too hard on my family,” I muse. “Even if they do see ‘Steve’ when they look at me it’s only because they had nineteen years of ‘Steve’. And they all love ‘Steph’.”

“Especially the little girl who’s got your name,” Kayla says. “Who will NEVER know ‘Steve’.”

“Very true,” I say. “Kinda a weird thought, really. Tom says having my name will make her the coolest kid in school, but- you know? She’s going to go through life being named after a transsexual. THAT can’t be fun.”

“Well, she won’t start secondary school until what, 2028?” Kayla says. “A lot can change in eleven years.”

“Hope so,” I mumble.

“And besides,” Kayla says, “I’ve heard there have been a few ‘Jamie-Lee’s been registered over the last few years.”

“Ugh, maybe I’m NOT closer to the HT crew than I am to my blood relations, then,” I sigh.

“Oh- what?” Kayla moans. “I thought you and Jamie were friends now?”

“We’re civil,” I shrug. “Can be in the same room as each other without clawing each other’s eyes out. ‘Friends’ might be pushing it a little.”

“Well she’s bound to be more level-headed now that she’s a mum, right?” Kayla asks. “I’ve heard that she- Jamie’s daughter, that is- and little Stephi are already friends.”

“They’re both only a few months old,” I retort. “They barely even know the other one’s there.”

“Still, would you rather they were best friends, or had the same relationship as you and Jamie?” Kayla asks.

“Well- best friends, obviously,” I say.

“And would you rather you and Jamie were best friends or- well, what you are now?” Kayla asks.

“…Best friends,” I say with a long, tired sigh. “Though to be honest? I’m more than happy with the best friend I already have.”

“Aww!” Kayla coos, rising from her seat to give me a long, tight hug. “I love my best friend too, hehe!” yeah… Really need THIS confusion now, I think to myself.

“So… We’re the new Charlotte and Jamie, then?” I ask.

“Mm,” Kayla shrugs. “They were both only children too, and while you’re not, you don’t have, like, any sisters.”

“Don’t my brothers’ partners count?” I ask.

“Nah, too old,” Kayla laughs. “Kinda like Nikki and her sister, I mean, there’s an eighteen year age gap there- and I know Nikki adores the little girl, but do you reckon they’ll ever be REALLY close?”

“I dunno, me and Tom were pretty close and he’s ten years older than me,” I shrug, before looking quizzically at my friend. “…So, then, umm, are we more ‘Nikki and Sarah’ then ‘Jamie and Charlotte’, then?”

“Shut up,” Kayla mumbles, giggling and giving me a playful elbow in my ribs. That’s not a ‘no’, I think to myself. “Oh- wait, I’ve had an idea, you mentioning Snikki- why don’t we have a games night tonight?”

“Sure,” I shrug, trying to ease my frustration at Kayla’s non-committal answer. “Been a while since the last one, although we are still TECHNICALLY on tour…”

“Eh, whatever,” Kayla snorts. “Will be good, help us blow off some steam and catch up with what’s been happening since we were away. I’ll call Nikki, see if she can round up whoever’s free tonight.”

“Cool,” I say, sighing at Kayla’s blunt deflection of the question. “Meantime, I REALLY need to get changed for the interview. I mean, I’ve worn this outfit- in public- two days in a row now, right?”

“…You total GIRL,” Kayla teases, making me giggle as I head into my bedroom to change into a lighter pair of tights and a fashionable long-sleeved, short-legged red playsuit that I once saw on a fashion website and decided I needed to buy- way back in 2014, when my legal name was still ‘Steve’ and not ‘Stephanie’. Maybe Kayla WAS right about ‘Steve’ and ‘Steph’ being the same person after all. Obviously, my look is completed with another pair of high-heeled knee-high boots that Kayla rolls her eyes at when she emerges from her bedroom wearing another smart pencil skirt and top combo.

“You know, your shins aren’t THAT bad to look at,” the tiny girl teases.

“Nor are your knees,” I giggle, pointing at the hem of Kayla’s skirt. “Besides, I am ‘Steffieboots’, aren’t I?”

“Thought you hated that nickname?” Kayla asks.

“There are worse nicknames to have,” I muse. “God knows I’ve earned a few online.”

“From people who aren’t important?” Kayla asks.

“SO unimportant,” I giggle. “Whereas ‘Steffieboots’ was invented by Addie, who IS kinda important, hehe! So, the boots stay ON.”

“Glad to hear it,” Kayla giggles. “Boots are sex-y, hehe!” An awkward silence fills the room as we both consider what my BFF just said. “Umm, anyway…”

“Yeah,” I say, suddenly feeling VERY self-conscious in my boots. “Did- did you call Snikki? Umm, Nikki, I mean?”

“Umm, yeah, she’s gonna grab a few people after she does her community service, meet us here at about seven,” Kayla mumbles. “Steph, about-“

“…Yes?” I ask as Kayla suddenly pauses mid-sentence.

“Oh- it’s nothing,” the blonde girl says with a giggle. “Come on, don’t want to keep our adoring public waiting!”

“Umm… This interview IS pre-recorded and not live, you know?” I ask. “Pretty sure they could wait if they needed to?” I giggle as this earns me a playful elbow in my abdomen (my ribs being a little too high for Kayla in my heels and my natural six inch height advantage), but inside, I really, really wish she would just end her indecision. If Kayla does have a thing for me, then I can act on it, see where it goes, and if she definitely doesn’t, then I can move on and stop being so hung up on her. We’d still be friends- best friends, even, and maybe even better friends than we are now if I didn’t have the whole ‘what if?’ question looming in the back of my mind. I’d be a little disappointed, of course, but at least I’d have an answer. If only she’d just stop dropping these damned hints…

The interview goes great, of course- the four of us answer all the questions put to us and do our best to promote both the tour and the massive haul of merchandise that will be released supporting it (especially with Christmas only two months away), and thankfully, the interviewer avoids asking any personal questions to me, either about my transition of my (lack of) relationship status This means that when we arrive home, Kayla and I are both happy and relaxed- and obviously, deliberately avoiding any discussion of what we were talking about earlier.

“That was easier than I was expecting,” Kayla muses as she rummages in our fridge for something to eat.

“Or we’ve become a lot better at interviews than we used to be!” I giggle. “You still imagine the interviewers in their underwear?”

“Meh, depends on who it is,” Kayla shrugs. “Gethin Jones- yes, for obvious reasons. Piers Morgan- no, also for obvious reasons! If it’s someone like Steve Jones, sometimes I picture them in MY underwear, hehe! Uhh- umm, no offence intend-“

“None taken,” I giggle. “Kinda done the same thing myself at times, heh.”

“Probably doesn’t help that much when it’s Jamie you’re talking to, I’d imagine,” Kayla says, making me groan loudly. “…Problem? Didn’t realise I was now banned from merely saying her name…”

“No, it’s just now I remember where I saw this playsuit before,” I sigh, gesturing to the soft garment covering my torso. “Was one of her blog posts ages ago, 2013 maybe, before she was an ‘Angel’.”

“Aww, you followed her blog?” Kayla teases.

“Well- yeah,” I chuckle. “She went from being a shorter than average boy to being a glamorous supermodel. Kinda struck a chord, you know?”

“And yet, you hate her,” Kayla says. “They say ‘never meet your heroes’…”

“Weirdest thing is thinking that there are girls out there who feel the same way about me,” I snort. “Even after everything I’ve done, heh. Reckon Jamie-bloody-Lee-bloody-Burke doesn’t feel that way though.”

“I dunno, reckon she could always learn a thing or two from you,” Kayla shrugs, disappearing into her room and emerging a few minutes later in a very comfortable-looking, very slouchy pink and grey hoodie and a pair of tight black leggings.

“You’d never see her dressed like THAT, for example,” I giggle, heading into my room and emerging in a similar slouchy outfit.

“Even when walking around Lidl with her baby?” Kayla asks.

“Oh please, like she even knows what Lidl is,” I giggle. “You- you ever talked to her much?”

“Jamie?” Kayla replies. “A little. Probably even less than you have, though I’ve, well, shouted less than you have, heh.” I let out a long sigh at Kayla’s joke- ever since our actual fight last year, it’s become a joke among our ‘extended family’ that me and Jamie hate each other, and while that’s not technically true- not anymore, anyway- it’s still one ‘blemish’ on my character that I’d be more than happy to finally wipe clean.

“I- I really feel like I should, you know, bury the hatchet,” I say hesitantly. “And no, not in her skull, before you say it!”

“After you were just making fun of her?” Kayla teases.

“Well think about it,” I say. “I’m reconciled with Tom, the truth is entirely out in the open about me, there are no more- no more lies, heh. Me and Jamie, our animosity… It’s really the only ‘thing’ I have left, you know? The only thing holding me back…”

“Well, that and your shocking love life,” Kayla teases, giggling as I give her a playful shove.

“Look who’s talking!” I snort. “Reckon Jamie’ll be round tonight?”

“Doubt it, she’s not much of a gamer,” Kayla shrugs. “I can always text Nikki though, get her to pick her up…”

“…Nah, probably best if we talk in private anyway,” I say. “Finally clear the air, find some common ground, clear this tension between us.”

“I thought you were having joint sessions with your counsellor with her?” Kayla says. “Aren’t they helping?”

“A bit,” I say. “It’s the fact that we still need them that’s the problem. And there are things I can’t really say in front of Beverly, you know?”

“Well, we’re having that meeting with Joshua tomorrow,” Kayla shrugs. “Jamie will probably be around too, you can always catch her then if you want?”

“Sounds like a plan,” I say with a grin. “First things first, though… Are the Switches fully charged up?”

“You need to ask?” Kayla giggles, grabbing her Nintendo from its cradle and turning it on. “Up for some ARMS?”

“Seriously?” I snort as I grab my own Switch and turn it on. “After we were literally just talking about Jamie?”

“Ehh… fair enough,” Kayla giggles, before we both load up Mario Kart and while away the next hour racing around the Mushroom Kingdom hurling shells, banana skins and friendly insults at each other.

After our gaming session ends 6-5 to me, Kayla and I eat a quick takeaway dinner, before changing into smarter clothes- we can’t exactly entertain guests wearing leggings, after all- and getting some refreshments ready for tonight. Shortly after 7:30pm, our doorbell rings, and the two of us grin as we open the front door to be greeted by the smiling face of our producer Stuart, our boss Jonathan and their friends Dan and Paul.

“’Ello!” Stuart says with a chuckle. “We were told this was where the beer and videogames were, right?”

“Right through here,” Kayla says, gesturing to our living room and our bulging beer cooler. “And no, we don’t have Rock Band 4!”

“Poor you, having to play a REAL videogame for once!” Dan teases the transman as the four men each grab a beer and crash on our sofa.

“Any of you caught any of our concerts yet?” I ask.

“Nah, can’t get away from work,” Paul sighs. “We’ll be there on Friday though.”

“What about you two?” Kayla says, staring at Stuart and Jonathan with a smug grin on her face. “Given that our band IS your work…”

“It’s not my ONLY work!” Jonathan retorts between mouthfuls of beer. “Absolutely snowed under at the agency now, what with your tour and the Italian Angels launching next month.”

“Got a new baby,” Stuart says, his smile even smugger than Kayla’s.

“Then why the hell are you here playing videogames and not at home with her?” I ask, chuckling as the 27 year old man’s smile quickly vanishes.

“…She’s out with Jamie and her mother,” Stuart mumbles. “She, umm, sends her regards, by the way- Jamie, that is.”

“Given that your daughter’s eight months old and I’ve never even met Jamie’s mother, I did guess,” I retort, smirking as Stuart’s friend all laugh at him.

“Viks sends her regards too, by the way,” Jonathan says.

“Ditto Mary and the girls,” Dan says. “And before you say anything, Kristina-Leigh is three now and basically won’t shut up no matter what I try!”

“D’aww,” I say, making the boys all laugh.

“Paul of course doesn’t have any regards to pass on, being that he’s single… AGAIN,” Dan says, laughing as his best friend rolls his eyes and sighs. “Know any single women who’d be interested in a 6’ 1” fitness instructor?”

“With an awesome singing voice,” Stuart interjects.

“Shut up,” Paul mumbles, his cheeks growing increasingly red.

“So what do you say, girls?” Dan asks, framing his friend’s face before Paul angrily swats his hands away. “One 26 year old male, parts barely used…”

“BOYS,” Kayla and I simultaneously say, eliciting roars of laughter from the four young men.

“And your OTHER plan won’t work either!” Kayla snorts, glaring at our producer.

“…What plan?” Stuart protests.

“Getting your band to open for us,” Kayla says. “That’s why you mentioned Paul’s singing voice, right? Just give it up already, your band doesn’t even have a name!”

“We’ve narrowed it down to two,” Jonathan says. “The Celestials or The Clarences, both on an ‘Angel’ theme.”

“Uh-huh,” I say dismissively. “You’re still not opening for us.”

“Or playing Rock Band 4 tonight!” Dan jokes, causing everyone to laugh at the frustrated transman as our doorbell rings again. I giggle immediately as I open it and am greeted with four young women, all of whom I’ve come to know intimately over the last two and a half years.

“Hi Steph!” Nikki squeaks, giggling as we greet each other with air kisses. “Sorry I’m a bit late, had to repay yet another bit of society’s debt to me for decking Dannii…”

“Do you not mean your debt to society?” Zoe- who is standing behind Nikki and her wife- interjects.

“…Never met Dannii, did you?” Sarah retorts, eliciting giggles from all of us as I let the women into the flat. “I did invite Jacinta and Ophelia along, but they’re still down in Brighton until tomorrow. I also dropped a text to Jexy, but didn't hear back from them- hope you didn't mind me inviting them?”

“’Jexy’?” I ask. “Oh, the American girls? Yeah, the more the merrier, hehe! Pity you didn't hear back, I really wanted to meet them.”

“They’ll be around a few more days,” Sarah says with a smile. “I’ll get Nikki to set something up.” I smile, which turns into a wide grin when I see the identity of the last girl to enter the apartment.

“Hi Steph!” Natalie says in her thick northern twang, before giving me a tight hug. “Loved the concert yesterday, know that Jess and Paige did as well. They’d be here, but, you know, work…”

“S’okay,” I shrug, before giggling as the Mancunian woman playful fans herself with her left hand- and the ostentatious diamond ring on her third finger.

“Is it warm in here?” Natalie asks, before giggling as I roll my eyes.

“Yes yes yes,” I snort. “You’re not the first woman to get engaged. Or the first transgendered woman.”

“Or the first bigendered woman who was born male but prefers to live her life as a woman despite not taking hormones and who was proposed to by her now-fiancée?” Natalie says with an excited giggle.

“…It’s a big world,” I shrug.

“How you coping, anyway?” Natalie asks. “Almost a year on hormones, right?”

“Yeah, kinda,” I mumble. “Kinda feel bad in a way, I mean, you’re the only one of us now not, you know, ‘chemical’…”

“You have to do what you have to do,” Natalie says, grabbing a beer from the cooler and taking a long, deep swig from it. “What’s right for someone else isn’t going to be right for everyone else, what’s right for me isn’t necessarily going to be right for you.” Some people could stand to learn that lesson, I think to myself. “And besides, we’ve had a few new starts at the airline, one of whom isn’t ‘chemical’ yet. Young girl called Sophie, reckon you’d like her. Trying to get her along to Zoe’s Sunday morning ballet lessons but she’s not given in to the allure of a leotard and a pair of tights just yet, hehe!”

“Is it even possible to resist that ‘allure’?” I ask, earning giggles from my friend as she sits down and grabs an unattended game controller.

Minutes later, the doorbell rings again, announcing the arrival of our final carload of partygoers- all of whom have wide smiles on their face as I open the door.

“Hey there, superstar!” The tall, blonde figure of Hannah Dexter squeaks as she gives me a tight hug.

“Says the girl who won Strictly!” I laugh.

“Ehh, that was AGES ago,” Hannah giggles.

“…It was two years,” I retort. “Technically less than that, in fact.”

“Exactly,” Hannah shrugs. “In show business, that might as well be a millennium! Gotta accept that I’m 25 now, gotta stand aside for the younger superstars… Speaking of, you know our ‘junior’ Angels Abbey-Gayle and Alice, right?”

“We’ve met,” I say, exchanging giggles and hugs with the tall Jamaican girl and the red-headed northern woman.

“We brought along our guys if that’s okay, yeah?” Abbey-Gayle asks as two tall, young men approach and give me gentle, tentative hugs.

“Hi, I- I’m Reuben, Reuben Hartley,” Abbey-Gayle’s boyfriend says nervously.

“Keith’s brother, right?” I ask. “And… Laura White’s brother, right?” I ask of the tall, blond-haired man holding Alice’s hand.

“Yep, Ricky White,” the young man replies. “Laura’s talked to you before about me, then?”

“Only good things,” I shrug.

“Huh,” Ricky replies. “Doesn’t sound like her…” I giggle as Alice glares at her boyfriend and gives him a very hard-sounding elbow in his ribs.

“You behave!” Alice admonishes, pointing to our cooler. “Grab a beer, sit down and shut up!” Us two girls giggle as Ricky grins, before doing as he’s told.

“…Got him well-trained, then?” I ask, making Alice giggle as we head to the refreshments.

“He knows who wears the trousers,” Alice giggles. “It the same person who wears the skirt, hehe!”

“Wonder how that’d work with Snikki,” I muse. “I mean, with them BOTH wearing ‘the skirt’ in the relationship.”

“Presume it’s just, you know, a true partnership,” Alice shrugs. “I mean, they clearly adore each other. They’re only twenty and they’re already married, for starters!”

“Yeah, true,” I half-chuckle, half-sigh.

“…Getting a bit sick of being single?” Alice asks.

“Female intuition?” I ask.

“Most BOYS would notice that,” Alice laughs. “Then again, most BOYS think that every woman in the world is gagging for them, heh.”

“Proving that 99% of boys suck,” I say, earning a cheer from Alice.

“You said it, sister!” The northern woman laughs. “Though that does leave the 1% that doesn’t suck… How about Mr. Kennedy there, for starters?”

“Who, Paul?” I ask, speaking quietly so that the boys don’t hear. “…I guess, I mean, he’s okay looking…”

“He’s CUTE,” Alice says. “He’s tall, he’s fit- VERY fit, he’s a fitness instructor for god’s sake- he’s sensitive, and he just spent the last umpteen months dating a transgendered girl so you’ll have no problem there. Not that you would with any of the boys, to be fair to them, they’ve all got their heads screwed on properly when it comes to THAT.”

“Especially Kurt, my ex,” I sigh.

“Yeah, I heard that you two were dating before Kelly got her hands on him,” Alice says sympathetically. “If you want to get your hands on Paul, you might also want to act quick, you know?” I follow Alice’s gaze to the sofa where Paul is sat to discover that he’s been joined by Hannah, who is cuddling up VERY close to him.

“…Thought they didn’t want to be, you know, ‘paired spares’?” I ask.

“They also don’t want to be single their whole lives,” Alice says. “Think they’ve got one of those pacts, you know? ‘If we’re still single when we’re thirty’, that sort of thing. Now he’s 26, she’s 25 and the only original Angel who isn’t either married or engaged with a kid.”

“Great,” I chuckle. “Makes me and Kayla the only single people in this room, heh.”

“…Didn’t realise you were interested in her!” Alice teases, making me roll my eyes. How could she so precisely hit THAT pressure point, for god’s sake?

“Shut up,” I mumble.

“Ah,” Alice giggles. “So what would your couples name be, hmm? Kephanie? Stayla?”

“Stayla!” Sarah interjects, making me cringe. “Oh get over yourself, how long have you called us ‘Snikki’?”

“Oh- be quiet,” Kayla mumbles, giving Sarah a playful (but still firm-looking) shove as her cheeks start to redden. “We’re not even a proper couple…”

“So you’re an improper couple?” Alice teases as our ‘argument’ starts to attract additional unwanted attention.

“Apart from me and Paul, you ARE the only single ones here,” Hannah says. “And you already live together…”

“Oh Stayla, you’ve got me on my knees…” Stuart sings, laughing as I go over and punch him in the ribs.

"Hardly our fault there are more girls than BOYS here tonight!" I growl, which only makes Stuart's laughter even louder.

“And is this any way to treat your hosts?” Kayla pouts. “Just for that, I’m picking the next game. It’s going to be ARMS. And I am going to kick seven shades of shit out of ALL of your asses!” Kayla’s confrontational attitude earns an ‘ooh’ from the rest of the partygoers, but it thankfully brings an end to the ‘Stayla’ argument as we spend the next hour drinking, laughing and beating up our electronic avatars.

The party lasts until just after 11pm, when everyone heads home, leaving me and Kayla alone in our (very messy!) apartment.

“Ugh,” I moan as I collapse on the sofa, surrounded by empty beer cans, takeaway containers and Pringles tubes. “I am SO not cleaning this up tonight.”

“Well don’t look at me,” Kayla snorts. “You’re the taller, stronger half of ‘Stayla’, aren’t you?”

“Oh- shut up,” I snort, making Kayla laugh as I hurl a Pringle at her. “’Staler’ is something everyone working in entertainment wants to be called…”

“Ah, they’re just having a bit of fun,” Kayla chuckles. “Shows we really are part of the ‘family’, heh.”

“I guess,” I shrug. “Just hope they don’t want to wait too long for, like, nieces and nephews, heh.”

“I only just turned twenty,” Kayla snorts. “Trust me, they’d better not hold their breath! Just thank god my parents aren’t in the ‘must have grandkids’ stage yet.”

“Thank god my parents already have a grandkid, heh,” I chuckle. “Let’s- let’s just go to bed and worry about this tomorrow.”

“Now THAT’s a plan I can get behind,” Kayla grins. “Shotgun bathroom!”

“Dammit!” I moan as the giggling girl disappears into our bathroom. “Then I call dibs on Paul Kennedy!”

“Dammit!” Kayla yells from inside the bathroom as I let out a loud, smug laugh. “Also- no Instagram photos until the flat’s tidied up tomorrow. Don’t want our fans seeing the filth we live in!”

“Don’t want Joshua seeing it!” I laugh. “He might be fooled into thinking that we’re two young women in our early twenties, heh.”

“First thing tomorrow, we look on the internet for a cleaner,” Kayla giggles before allowing me into the bathroom to wash away the day.

When I emerge from the bathroom, my friend is already in her own bed, obviously either asleep or about to fall asleep, and with a loud sigh, I head into my own room and climb into bed, quickly falling into a deep, dreamless slumber.

I wince as my phone’s alarm wakes me the following morning- I hadn’t drank that much during the party, but it was enough to make me ‘wobbly’, which is always enough to make me ’regretful’ the following morning. Despite Kayla’s dislike of mornings, when I emerge from my room I’m unsurprised to find that she’s already awake and in the bathroom- as a teetotaller, she doesn’t have the ‘problems’ that the rest of us have.

“Good morning, sunshine!” Kayla says with a giggle as she emerges from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her hair and another wrapped around her narrow torso.

“Stop rubbing it in,” I snort. “I’m not even THAT hungover.”

“Yeah, you didn’t drink THAT much,” Kayla says as I strip off my nightie and jump underneath the shower. “Snikki will be in a LOT of pain this morning though, hehe!”

“Ah, they will never, ever learn,” I giggle. “Reckon we should give them a wakeup call?”

“Way ahead of you,” Kayla laughs. “Here’s how it went down- literally. Ring ring! Groan. Thud. Sound of a phone being picked up off of carpet. ‘Fuck off Stayla’. Click.”

“Ugh, that ‘Stayla’ thing’s gonna stick, isn’t it?” I moan.

“Meh,” Kayla shrugs. “Like I said, it’s just a bit of fun. Harmless really, isn’t it?”

“…I guess,” I mumble. It certainly wouldn’t be harmless if it were real, I think to myself.

I try to put all ‘Stayla’ thoughts- and thoughts of any other potential partners- out of my head as I dry my body and my hair, before picking out my outfit for the day. As we’re meeting with Joshua today, we have to keep up appearances, which means a smart skirt suit, so after applying my full face of make-up and pulling on a sexy lace bra, thong and a pair of light-coloured tights, I reach into my wardrobe for a very sexy, very form-fitting short red pencil skirt with matching jacket and high-heeled stiletto pumps. I close my eyes as I zip myself into the skirt, doing my best to savour every sensation the clingy garment provides. The more feminine my body becomes, the better my clothes fit, and the more I love every aspect of being girlish both inside and out.

Naturally, my smart look gets a wolf whistle of approval from Kayla as I step out of my bedroom and do a twirl for her, a gesture I reciprocate as my BFF does a twirl in her baby pink skirt suit with its (naturally) longer than knee length pencil skirt.

“Very smart, very grown up!” I say, laughing as Kayla rolls her eyes.

“Whatever,” Kayla chuckles. “Come on, don’t want to keep our taxi waiting. Or the inevitable paparazzi, heh. And before you ask, no we are NOT going out there holding hands!”

“I never said anything,” I protest as we head downstairs, fight our way through the gaggle of photographers and reporters that Kayla predicted and climb into our waiting taxi, which whisks us away toward the head office of Heavenly Talent. There, we meet up with our two other bandmates, who are, of course, as smartly dressed as the two of us.

“Hi girls!” Adeola giggles, greeting me and Kayla with a hug each. “Looked like a great party last night!”

“Yep!” I giggle.

“And where, pray tell, were the two of you?” Kayla pouts, tapping her stiletto-shod foot.

“Had plans with the boys,” Becca shrugs. “Hadn’t seen Riley in AGES, you know?”

“Ditto Marco,” Adeola says. “Yeah, yeah, I know, ‘sisters before misters’.”

“They’re not allowed to claim ‘sisters before misters’ when they had the ARSEHOLE-IN-CHIEF at their party!” Becca says with a smug grin, startling everyone in the reception area- in particular, her brother, who had just stepped out of the studio area.

“Bite me,” Stuart retorts, earning giggles from all four of us.

“In fact, I counted six guys at your party last night, didn’t I?” Adeola teases.

“Five of whom are married, engaged or in a long-term relationship,” I retort. “’Angel parties’ aren’t really, you know, known for their drunken debauchery, are they?”

“Doesn’t make them any less fun,” Becca says with a smile. “If monogamy doesn’t suit you, you’re obviously not doing it right.”

"Or you're not doing it with the right person," Adeola says with a nod.

"Or you're not doing it at all," I sigh, which earns sympathetic sighs and hugs from all three of my bandmates.

"Dunno why I'm hugging you, given that you just called dibs on Paul Kennedy!" Kayla snorts.

"Ooh!" Adeola teases, making me blush. "You like a bit of blonde beefcake, do you?"

"...Maybe," I mumble.

"Well if you do, get in quick," Becca advises. "Heard that Hannah might be lining him up for himself."

"My heavenly singers!" A familiar deep, booming voice calls from the top of the stairs, interrupting me before I can retort. "Come, come! We have much to talk about!"

"Which means that this conversation we're having now?" I say to my bandmates. "Over."

"Yes, ma'am!" Becca giggles as we slowly make our way up the stairs in our high-heeled shoes.

Naturally, the meeting is as exciting as meetings about things like attendance figures, crowd engagement and merchandise plugging tend to be, meaning that I leave the office ninety minutes later feeling like I'm about to fall asleep standing up. As I descend the stairs, though, I see a sight that causes me to be immediately alert again- because in the past, it would've put me straight on the defensive. Today, however, it's a sight I'm very happy to see.

"Hey gorgeous!" Stuart says as he lifts his infant daughter out of the stroller being pushed by his wife. "And also, hey, gorgeous, hehe!" I bristle slightly as Stuart gives Jamie a long kiss on her lips- even though I got over my crush on him a long time ago, it still makes me feel funny every time I see him kiss another woman. "You have a good time with your grandma?"

"She was an absolute angel, pun intended!" Jamie giggles. "Even if her father WAS playing videogames all night..."

"Blame those two," Stuart nods towards myself and Kayla as we head toward the happy family.

"It's our fault you played videogames at our house instead of playing them at your own house?" Kayla retorts.

"Oh, snap!" I giggle, making my former nemesis giggle as her husband blushes furiously.

"...Still blaming you two," Stuart snorts. "Come on, Olivia, let's get you something yummy to eat, eh?" I grin as Stuart takes his daughter into one of the side rooms, leaving me and Kayla alone with his wife.

"...She is REALLY cute," I say, earning a smile from the proud mother.

"The absolute cutest," Jamie says. "You- you two been, umm, talking about the tour?"

"More 'listening' than 'talking'," Kayla says. "When I've been able to keep my eyes open, heh. About to head home now."

"Uh-huh," Jamie nods. "I'm, umm, I'm here 'cause Nikki called, said she wanted to see me at the office..."

"She's conscious again, then?" I ask, making Jamie giggle.

"She didn't seem that way when I called her earlier this morning," Kayla says, eliciting a loud laugh from the blonde transwoman.

"Ah, she'll grow up eventually," Jamie giggles. "Impressive she can get THAT drunk just playing videogames though, heh."

"I, umm," Kayla mumbles, briefly locking eyes with me as the conversation pauses yet again. "I'm, umm, going to get a drink..." Jamie's frown at being left alone with me speaks volumes, but I don't let that deter me- this is something I NEED to do, after all.

"Can- can we, you know," I mumble, "go and find somewhere private to, maybe, talk?"

"Sure," Jamie mumbles, leading me to an unoccupied office, where we both sit down, elegantly crossing one nylon-covered leg over the other.

"Jamie," I say.

"Steph-" Jamie interrupts, before giggling. "No, you wanted to talk, you go first."

"No, it's okay," I say, which only serves to make us both sigh, giggle and roll our eyes.

"No, seriously," Jamie says firmly. "Seriously, Steph. There must be a reason you wanted to talk to me in private."

"...I hate that we even NEED to talk in private," I say. "I hate that we got into a fight last year, that everyone thinks we should be friends and yet we're not... I hate everything about, you know, this animosity between us."

"Yeah, I know how you feel," Jamie sighs. "And I hold my hands up, I've got to take some of the blame for that. Okay, okay, most if not all."

"You know I'd never had a fight with anyone before?" I ask. "As 'Steve' or 'Stephanie'."

"Yeah..." Jamie grimaces. "Can't QUITE claim the same..."

"Ah, your- when you, umm, fell out with Charlotte?" I whisper. "What was that, four years ago?"

"Over four years ago," Jamie laughs. "Before the Angels were even a thing. Hell, I don't think I'd even met Viks at that point. Part of me thought I'd never ever speak to Charlotte again."

"But now you're as close as sisters?" I ask.

"Closer," Jamie chuckles. "Okay, helps that neither of us ever had any siblings, but, you know..."

"Tell me about it," I chuckle. "Can't choose your siblings."

"But you CAN choose who you want to be friends with," Jamie whispers with a genuine smile.

"I know," I sigh. "And I know you've been trying, what with the meetings with Beverly and all that, but still there- there's a part of me that thinks- that thinks that you'll NEVER be able to trust me. Or that you'll never see me as a 'real' transwoman because of how I was, at the start of my transition and all that..."

"Trust is earned," Jamie says. "And- and you HAVE earned it, Steph. I was lucky at first, I could transition away from the public eye, I was always 'this girl hanging around with Charlotte', nobody cared who I was until I was outed before I was ready."

"But you handled things WAY better than I would've when you were," I say.

"I'd been transitioning for over two years AND I'd had my tits done," Jamie snorts. "And I lived with an expert at dealing with the media. You didn't quite have that support. And you should've, because it should've been me."

"Don't blame yourself," I say. "Maybe I just didn't meet up to expectations."

"Maybe I shouldn't have had expectations in the first place," Jamie sighs. "God knows I'm learning that every day since Olivia came into my life. I keep asking myself things like 'what if Olivia doesn't like dance?' or 'what if Olivia never makes any friends?'. Or worst of all, 'what if Olivia never loves me?'." I bite my lips as Jamie wipes a lone tear from the corner of her eye.

"...And do you have any answers for those questions?" I ask.

"Just one," Jamie says. "And that's that I'll love her no matter what choices she makes. Like a mother should. Or, say, a big sister should. Or a so-called mentor should..."

"It's never too late to start," I whisper.

"And it's never too late to start telling the truth," Jamie sighs. "And you have. And that's all I could ask of you. And as for 'being a real transwoman'..."

"I've taken the oestrogen today, I promise," I chuckle.

"Oh I don't even doubt you for a second there," Jamie says, before letting out another, longer sigh. "...Can I tell you a secret? Something only a few people know?"

"Umm, sure," I say.

"I started transitioning in April 2011, as you know," Jamie says. "Prior to March 2011, I- I'd never even thought about wearing women's clothing before."

"You- you did- what?" I ask, barely able to comprehend the information I'd just heard.

"Honestly," Jamie sighs. "I- well, what happened was... Charlotte noted how 'James' looked a little like her, we- we kinda met up, she thought it'd be a bit of fun, and six years later, here I am, wife, mother and proud owner of a vagina for several years now."

"W- WOW," I say, trying to process the information.

Jamie-Lee Burke, the same woman who made my life miserable for months about my transition, wouldn't have transitioned herself if not for a chance encounter, and she has the gall to accuse ME of being deceitful? I feel my anger start to boil within me as I remember all the accusations she made, all the judgemental stares I received from her for so long... There's only one appropriate response to a revelation like this.

"...Okay," I shrug, forcing a (hopefully) genuine-looking smile on my face.

"Thanks," Jamie laughs, breathing a sigh of relief. "God, dunno why I was so nervous, like I was expecting another fight or something, heh."

"Life's too short to hold a grudge," I say.

"And it's too short to pass up opportunities that are literally dropped in your lap," Jamie says with a smile. "Even if you end up with a lap that looks a LOT different, hehe!"

"So... You're saying 'always take opportunities'?" I ask.

"You always regret the things you DIDN'T do," Jamie says with a smile. "Though I think you already know that one, heh!"

"Kinda, yeah!" I giggle, before standing up, straightening my skirt and letting out a long sigh. "Thanks for the chat, Jamie. I guess we'll probably never be close friends-"

"Never say never," Jamie says, standing up and giving me a gentle hug. "You can never have too many friends. EVER."

"Where have I heard that before?" I retort, giggling as Jamie playfully sticks her tongue out at me.

The two of us are still giggling as we emerge back into the reception area where Kayla and Stuart (and, obviously, Olivia) are waiting for us, along with a couple of young women I recognise and a couple I don't recognise.

"Ah, good morning, sunshine!" I say to Nikki, who is clearly very miserable and hungover behind her oversized designer sunglasses.

"Not so loud, please," Nikki moans, before forcing a smile back onto her face. "Steph, Jamie, got a couple of friends I'd like to introduce you to. This is Alexa Quinn and Jenny Thompson, and they've come-"

"Ah, yes!" I interrupt, immediately recognising the names- and from more than one place. "Our fans from America! I was hoping I'd get the chance to meet you!"

"Oh my god, thank you!" Alexa says as Jamie and I exchange hugs with her and her partner. "Jenny and I are such huge fans of yours!"

"Thanks!" I say, giggling in the practised manner I've adopted when speaking to fans. "I'm kinda a huge fan of yours too- well, that video you tweeted at me in March, anyway!"

"Oh my god, you remember that?" Jenny asks, clearly mortified by the memory- and given how drunk she (and Alexa, and Nikki and Sarah) appeared to be in the video in the question, her mortification is more than justified!

"Hard to forget it," I giggle. "Especially as I play it every time Mrs. Phillips-Thomas- EITHER Mrs. Phillips-Thomas gets too big for their boots, hehe!"

"I really wish I hadn't shown you how to do that," Sarah- clearly as hungover her wife- snorts as our new friends giggle nervously.

"Too late for that now," I laugh. "I really can't believe you came all the way from America to see us, though! I didn't think anybody had heard of us over there!"

"We found you on YouTube a few months ago," Alexa explains. "And, well- umm..."

"What Lex is trying to say is that you've been a big inspiration to her," Jenny says, her teasing causing her partner's cheeks to redden.

"...Because you're transgender, and I'm transgender too," Alexa mumbles.

"Oh my god, I'd have had no idea!" I squeak, causing Alexa to giggle happily. This is, of course, a lie- Nikki had explained the situation to me when she returned from her holiday to America- but sometimes a little white lie can make people happy, not angry.

"So you're kinda of like an 'American Snikki'?" Kayla asks, making me giggle as both halves of Snikki cringe at the use of their nickname."

"Or they're the 'British Jexy'!" Jenny teases.

"We can't be, we're both brunette and one of you is blonde," Sarah quickly retorts. "Which would technically make you 'American Stayla'!" Kayla and I both roll our eyes at Sarah's retort, even though it causes our guests' jaws to drop.

"Are- are you two-" Alexa asks, pointing at myself and Kayla.

"What- what, us?" Kayla snorts. "Umm... Think 'Snikki' might have been pulling your leg there!" Ugh, I think to myself. Give a 'yes' or a 'no' already...

"...Shall we go somewhere else, maybe get a coffee or some lunch?" I ask.

"Sounds perfect," Alexa says, grinning uncontrollably as the six of us, accompanied by Jamie, Stuart and Olivia, head out of the office and toward a nearby posh coffee shop.

"So," Nikki teases our American guests, "has it been worth all the jet lag?"

"Are you kidding?" Jenny asks. "If we hadn't come over, we'd have regretted it for the rest of our lives!"

"Well, like I was just saying," Jamie says with a smile, "you only ever regret the things you DIDN'T do!"

The following evening, I have a confident smile on my heavily made-up face, a tight red fringed leotard on my body and a pair of fishnet tights and high-heeled shoes on my feet as I strut out onstage alongside my similarly-dressed bandmates.

"Hello London!" Becca yells to the over ten thousand screaming fans packed into Wembley Arena. The four of us take our positions on stage and exchange a smile with each other as we take our positions, ready for our first song of the night.

"Ooh, baby do you know what that's worth?" The four of us sing in perfect harmony. "Ooh, Heaven is a place on Earth! They say in Heaven, love comes first, we'll make Heaven a place on Earth! Ooh, Heaven is a place on Earth!"

Three and a half hours later, with the concert, a meet and greet session and a quick debrief under our belts, Kayla and I return home, secure in the knowledge that all of our fans went home happy, our bank balances have swelled considerably and we have the next week and a half off work.

"I will NEVER get tired of that," Kayla giggles. "Walking out on stage, performing for thousands..."

"I know what you mean," I sigh as I slip off the knee-high boots I changed into for the meet and greet and crash heavily onto our sofa. "It never gets old, you know? I thought after a while, something like that would become commonplace..."

"What, like wearing a pair of sexy knee-high boots?" Kayla teases.

"'Commonplace' doesn't mean 'boring'," I retort.

"I know, I know," Kayla says, sitting down next to me and tucking her legs underneath her bottom. "And I know this won't last forever. Kinda why I started when I was seventeen, heh!"

"Tick everything on your bucket list off before you hit thirty?" I ask.

"Meh, then I'll just start another one," Kayla says. "A lot of things left in the world I haven't done. And like Jamie says, you only ever regret the things you didn't do."

"Very true," I say, before taking a deep breath. You only regret the things you didn't do. The things you DIDN'T do...

Almost in slow-motion, I find myself leaning forward, taking Kayla by surprise as I close my eyes and gently press my lips into hers. When she doesn't pull back or cry out in surprise, I take that as a sign to continue the kiss, though when I open my eyes, they meet those of my friend's, who has a look of utter shock on her face. I slowly break the kiss and lean back, my heart beating faster as Kayla's jaw drops.

"..K- Kayla?" I tentatively ask.

"St- Steph?" Kayla whispers, her eyes not blinking and her body frozen in shock.


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