Stephanie, part 15

"Umm..." I mumble, not breaking eye contact with my friend for one moment.

“Steph?” Kayla repeats, obviously stunned by my unexpected action.

“I, umm,” I mumble as panic starts to grip my body. “I’m, umm, I’m going to, uh, head out for a bit, umm… I’m going to my parents’ house, yeah, I’m, umm, going to see my parents…”

“St- Steph, wait!” Kayla urges, staring in disbelief as I grab my coat and my handbag, slip my feet into a pair of flats and head out the front door, not looking back for a second.

As I walk down the streets of London, I feel a sense of panic I haven’t felt in ages… And a presence at the back of my mind I desperately try to ignore, to ‘dehumanise’ but not allowing it- not him, IT- a voice. So much for ‘you only regret the things you don’t do’- I may well have just screwed up both the best friendship I’ve ever had and the best job I’ve ever had- not to mention my entire life.

What was I thinking? I mean, sure, Kayla was giving me ‘signals’- but were they REALLY signals? Was she just being friendly, over-familiar? She’s an only child, did she just want a sister, like Jamie and Charlotte? Did she want the best friend she never had at school? Or maybe, just maybe, did she want the lover she’s struggled so hard to find, the person she could have a deep, intimate relationship with, as she certainly hasn’t found that with any of the men she dated so far?

…But would that mean that Kayla sees me as a man? She’s never shown any interest in any other women before, whereas I’ve always been (among my friends, at least) open about the possibility of dating all genders, even if I do tend toward men more than women. But if Kayla knew this, why would she confuse me by constantly flirting with me?

In my confused state, I find myself walking toward the nearest tube station as the one instinct I’d hoped to have shaken off starts to take hold. I know I shouldn’t run away, but a couple of days on my own, to clear my head- it can’t hurt, right? Just go to a hotel somewhere, clear my head, after all, I DO have the next week and a half free from any obligations…

My thoughts are suddenly interrupted by the sound of a car horn beeping behind me, which causes me to yelp with surprise and turn around to see the unexpected sight of my father sat in his car, gesturing for me to go over to him.

“What- what are you doing here?” I ask the middle-aged man.

“Kayla called, explained you said you were planning to come over, so I figured I’d come and pick you up,” dad says. “So get in.”

“Why- then why didn’t you go to the flat?” I ask as I resignedly slide onto the passenger seat and fasten my seatbelt.

“…Because from the tone of her voice, I know that you WEREN’T heading to our place,” dad sighs. “…What happened, Steph?”

“Me screwing everything up,” I moan. “As usual.”

“You’ve literally just sung in front of over ten thousand people,” dad retorts. “You should be on the kind of high I can only dream of. What on Earth could have happened to make you want to run away again?”

“I wasn’t going to run away,” I retort. “…Okay, maybe, but only for a few days!”

“Steph…” Dad sighs.

“Okay, okay,” I moan, before letting out a long, pained sigh. “I- I kinda- kinda, umm, kissed Kayla...”

“You- you did what!?” Dad asks, making me squirm and sink into seat.

“Yeah…” I grimace. “It was, you know, a kinda spur of the moment thing…”

“I- I didn’t even realise you liked Kayla,” dad says. “Didn’t even realise you liked GIRLS.”

“I never said I didn’t,” I shrug. “And you actually like the idea of me being ‘with’ a man?”

“No more than I like the idea of Tom and Danny being ‘with’ their partners,” dad says. “As long as you’re with someone who makes you happy, gender is- well, I won’t say ‘unimportant’, as it’s important to you, but-“

“I get what you mean,” I sigh. “But yeah, I’ve been having, you know, feelings about Kayla, and she’s been dropping hints…”

“Then why were you in the middle of doing a runner after kissing her?” Dad asks.

“Because she reacted like I’d just run over her cat,” I snort, making dad chuckle. “It’s not funny, dad! Might have just screwed up everything, I can hardly live with her now that I’ve done this, can I? Can hardly work with her either…”

“Don’t be like that,” dad says. “There’s no problem that can’t be worked out. And NOT by running away! Though looking back on it, I guess there WERE hints.”

“Am I that obvious?” I say.

“When you first started with the band, you said you’d met a girl who was taking up all your free time,” dad says.

“Yeah, and I said her name was Kayla,” I sigh.

“…Actually, you said her name was Becca,” dad says, making me frown in confusion. “Then a few weeks later, suddenly ‘Becca’ became ‘Kayla’.”

“Oh- oh god, I did, didn’t I?” I moan.

“Didn’t think anything of it at first,” dad shrugs. “When your brothers were nineteen they went through what seemed like a new girl every week, we had no idea to suspect that you were any different. But, of course, you WERE different, and the whole ‘Becca/Kayla’ thing got pushed to the back of my mind… But looking at it now, it does kind of make sense. Have- have you always had feelings for Kayla?”

“…I’m not going to discuss my love life with my dad,” I pout, earning a loud laugh from the middle-aged man.

“Fair enough,” dad says. “But you ARE going to need to discuss it with someone.”

“I know, I know,” I sigh. “But I don’t think I can face Kayla, not yet anyway.”

“I was thinking more your counsellor,” dad says.

“She doesn’t work weekends,” I say.

“Then make an appointment with her for Monday,” dad retorts, sighing as I roll my eyes. “In the meantime, you’re stuck with us.”

“Yay,” I sarcastically retort.

“And if you really think you can’t face Kayla again, remember this-“ dad says. “She called us about you after you bolted. She. Called. Us. Regardless of how strong your feelings are, she obviously cares about you a lot, even if it is just as a friend.”

“Or a colleague,” I say.

“Would a colleague have personally travelled to where you were sighted the last time you did a runner?” Dad asks, reminding me of the fact that last time I vanished from home, it was indeed Kayla who brought me back.

This thought dominates my mind as we arrive back at my parents’ home and I head straight up to my bedroom, crashing heavily on the bed. Kayla didn’t flat-out reject me, or react with disgust- but at the same time, she didn’t exactly appear happy about the situation either, and she certainly didn’t do anything to lead me on, either. Well, not AFTER I kissed her, anyway…

Before I get ready for bed, I go to check my phone, only to find that I’ve left it back at my- well, mine and Kayla’s flat. The same goes for my laptop and my iPad too, meaning I have no way to check my messages or my Facebook account (I don’t have my password memorised so I can’t log in on either of my parents’ computers). Naturally, this results in a restless night as I continually toss and turn, panicking about what my friend’s reaction might have been.

My anxiety is so bad, in fact, that I eventually get up just after half past six in the morning- startling the hell out of both of my parents.

“Stephanie, you do know it’s half past six in the MORNING, right?” Mum teases as I heavily slump into one of the kitchen chairs. “Normally, after a concert, you’re not up until mid-afternoon…”

“Ugh,” I spit. “You- did dad, umm, tell you about-“

“Yes,” mum interrupts, her voice immediately softening. “Steph… If it’s not one thing, it’s the other, isn’t it?”

“Sorry,” I mumble, blinking back tears as mum sits down next to me and gives me a tight hug.

“Don’t be sorry, don’t you dare be sorry!” Mum sighs. “All the stress you’ve had in your life, just once I’d hoped things would go smooth for you.”

“Eh, it’s my fault this time, though,” I moan. “Things were going so well…”

“Kayla must surely have dropped some hints for you to kiss her though, right?” Mum asks.

“Oh- barrels of hints,” I snort. “Maybe they just didn’t mean what I thought they mean. I just- I just wish I knew for sure what she was thinking, what she felt, what she wanted, even.”

“And yet you ran away before asking her,” mum says, making my cheeks redden.

“…Sorry,” I mumble again, earning another hug from my mother. “Glad my fans can’t see me now, heh. God knows what they’d think!”

“Well for what it’s worth,” mum says, “I’m your BIGGEST fan, and I still think you’re amazing!”

“You’re meant to, you’re my mum,” I retort.

“…I prefer that mouth when it’s singing, and NOT mouthing off!” Mum chastises, making me giggle. “Good to see you’re smiling again. But you NEED to talk to Kayla. Did she at least text you after you left the flat?”

“I, umm, I left my phone at the flat…” I mumble, earning a tired sigh from my mother.

“I’ll call work,” mum eventually says. “Try and switch onto a later shift. We’ll head round there this morning, grab your stuff, then you can have a good, long talk with Kayla and sort these things out!”

“Why would I need to grab my stuff if I’m going back to the flat anyway?” I ask.

“Because after what you nearly did last night,” mum replies, “there is no way I’m letting you out of my sight again! You can stay here for the next few nights. At home. Where you BELONG.”

“I’m 21,” I retort. “I’m an independent woman. A RICH, independent woman.”

“That doesn’t make you any less my baby,” mum replies. “No matter how rich or famous you are, you’ll always be my priority.”

“…Thanks,” I sniffle, giggling as mum gives me one last hug before pouring me a hot cup of coffee, which thankfully wakes me up a little following my sleepless night.

After a further cup of coffee and a filling breakfast of eggs and toast, I head up to my bedroom, where I can’t help but sigh. Three years ago, I used to fantasise about what it’d be like, the first time I brought a girl home and woke up in bed with her. Then again, I also used to fantasise a lot more about what it’d be like to wake up in that bed AS a girl, and that dream came true in a way I never expected. Who’s to say my other dreams can’t come true either? Well, I suppose Kayla herself could prevent, or at least delay, one of the dreams.

A comment from mum in the car en route to mine and Kayla’s flat, however, reminds me that that dream in particular may take on a very different ‘shape’ to what I was expecting.

“So, then,” mum says quietly. “You- you’re bisexual, then?”

“…Mum?” I ask. If I was uncomfortable discussing my love life with dad, this will inevitably end up being a hundred times worse…

“You went out with that nice Kurt boy for several months,” mum reminds me. “You’ve been on dates with other men, but you also have feelings for Kayla?”

“Well- I guess,” I shrug. “I mean, yes, I fancied Kurt a LOT, and I’ve fancied other, umm, men before… Guess I am bisexual, I dunno. With the whole ‘transgender’ thing, I’ve got enough labels and categories in my life already, heh.”

“Well, as long as you’re happy, that’s the important thing,” mum says.

“Assuming I actually know what’ll make me happy,” I chuckle. “God… Dunno why I’m so nervous about this…”

“In a way, it IS understandable, you being nervous,” mum says. “If you didn’t have genuine feelings for Kayla, then you wouldn’t be.”

“Well- yeah, I guess,” I sigh. “It’s her feelings toward me that I’m most nervous about…”

A short while later, our car pulls up outside my posh flat, and from reflex, I go to get my keys out, only to pause. If I barge into the flat like nothing happened, it might only serve to make things worse. Then again, it’s hard to see how it could be worse than me running in the opposite direction last night…

After a long, anxious pause, I knock on the front door of the flat, but after a minute’s wait, no answer comes from inside.

“Kayla’s not really a ‘morning person’,” I whisper to mum as I knock on the door again.

“Could- could she be out?” Mum asks.

“As this time of the morning?” I ask. “I doubt it…” Hesitantly, I reach for my key and unlock the front door, unsurprised to find that everything within the flat is switched off. “Kayla? You awake? You here?” I gently knock on my friend’s bedroom door, only to discover that it’s slightly ajar- and a quick peek around the door reveals that Kayla’s bed has been slept in, but isn’t occupied anymore.

“Steph,” mum called from the flat’s kitchen area.

“Just a sec,” I say, heading across the short hallway to my bedroom, where I pick up my phone from where I left it last night. Unsurprisingly, there are two missed calls on it from Kayla and one voicemail. I’m hoping that the reason she didn’t call more is that she must’ve heard my ringtone coming from my room, but there’s a part of me that still fears that she’s giving me the cold shoulder after walking out last night- the fact that she’s not here this morning kinda supports that idea. With trembling fingers, I tap the button to play Kayla’s message.

“Steph, wherever you are, please call me back when you get this message,” Kayla says, her voice a mixture of anger and tiredness. I blink twice as the message ends- is that it? No in-depth discussion or admission of feelings, either positive or negative? Then again, it’s not the sort of thing you’d put in a voicemail. I get ready to phone Kayla back, but pause before pressing ‘call’- it’s not the sort of thing that’s best done over the phone, either- we NEED to talk face-to-face. Unfortunately, Kayla’s face is currently absent, along with the rest of her…

“Finally!” Mum sighs as I head through to the kitchen, where she’s stood with a slip of paper in her hand. “It’s from Kayla. You should read it.” I let out a tired sigh, before taking the note from mum and silently reading it.

‘Steph,’ the note reads. ‘After what happened last night I need some time to myself to think. I’ve headed back to my parents’ for a bit. I’ll talk to you soon- assuming you haven’t run off again and are actually reading this note.’ I let out a long, frustrated sigh, not just at Kayla’s belief that I’ll do another runner, but at the fact that she isn’t even HINTING at how she felt about the kiss. Then again, a handwritten note would be just as bad as a voicemail in that regard…

“Are you- do you want to go to Southampton?” Mum asks.

“No point,” I groan. “because Kayla definitely wouldn’t have wanted to go either, she was only saying last week how London feels more like a ‘real’ home to her than Southampton, so for her to actually go back there, it- ugh, I dunno WHAT to think…”

“Wasn’t it her birthday party tonight, too?” Mum asks. “At your friend Charlotte’s house?”

“Nah, Kayla asked them not to bother this year,” I say. “And it’s Halloween on Tuesday anyway, that- ugh, that’ll be fun if Kayla’s not back by then. Heh, it’ll probably be ‘fun’ if she IS back by then.”

“Well either way, you need to talk to SOMEONE,” mum sighs. “And you’re definitely not staying here by yourself to mope! Can you talk to either of your other bandmates?”

“About THIS?” I snort. “Hardly. Can’t talk to Jamie, either, I mean, we’re getting on better now, but- can you even imagine what this would be like if everyone found out? If our fans found out? Or worst of all, if Joshua found out?”

“He’s very liberal-minded though, isn’t he?” Mum asks.

“Oh, extremely liberal-minded,” I say. “Especially as the country he comes from still imprisons people for being gay. He’d have no problem with me dating A girl, but THIS girl…”

“What about your friend Nikki?” Mum asks. “Isn’t she married to another woman?”

“She is,” I say, “but she’d feel obliged to tell Jamie or Joshua too.”

“Someone who doesn’t work for the agency, then,” mum says, clearly getting more and more frustrated by my angst.

“…I could try to talk to Natalie,” I shrug.

“Perfect,” mum says. “Going to call her?”

“I’ll get her on Facebook,” I say, sitting down on my sofa and grabbing my iPad. “I know she works awkward hours sometimes so need to make sure she’s up…”

“Good, you can do that at home,” mum says.

“…I AM at home,” I retort, gesturing to my living room.

“At your REAL home,” mum insists. “Grab your phone, your iPad and some clothes, and come on. We’re not letting you out of our sight until this is sorted and you’re not in any mood to run off again!”

“…Yes, mum,” I sigh, grabbing a small bag and filling it with clothes before following my mother back to her home, where I collapse heavily on the sofa. I check my iPad, only to find that my friend from Manchester isn’t logged into Facebook, leaving me frustrated and without anyone to talk to. Very few people are online, in fact, which is especially surprising for a Saturday morning- what’s unsurprising, though, is that Kayla is one of those who’s currently incommunicado. With no better options, I fire off a message to Natalie to contact me back when she’s available, before taking my Nintendo 3DS out of my bag and playing a few levels of Metroid, but even this doesn’t settle my nerves, as my usual gaming partner is, obviously, nowhere to be seen.

It’s a little after 1pm when Natalie finally messages me back, and the message notification from my iPad actually causes me to jump slightly- especially as, in my excitement, I briefly believe the message to be from Kayla. It’s almost disappointing when I read that the message is from my Mancunian friend instead- though it is a relief to finally be talking to SOMEONE.

‘Now then, Steph,’ Natalie’s message reads. ‘You were up early after last night! Everything okay, I hope?’

‘Not great,’ I type with a sigh. ‘Really could use someone to talk to right now.’

‘Always happy to lend an ear,’ Natalie replies. ‘What’s wrong with Kayla though? She still in bed? Heard she was a bit allergic to mornings.’

‘It’s Kayla that I need to talk about,’ I type, letting out a long sigh. ‘Can you keep a secret?’

‘Kept me and Zoe a secret for months while we were living with her sister,’ Natalie replies, making me smile.

‘That’s kinda what I was hoping you’d say,’ I type, before taking a deep breath. I type, delete and retype the next part of my message countless times before finally sending it. ‘Kayla and I kinda kissed last night.’

‘OMG,’ Natalie replied. ‘Didn’t realise you two had a thing for each other! And you want to keep this secret?’

‘I may have misled you there,’ I type, letting out a long groan. ‘It’s more that I kissed Kayla rather than we kissed each other.’

‘Ah,’ Natalie replies. ‘And what’s Kayla’s reaction to all this?’

‘Ironically, she’s done a runner back to her parents’ in Southampton,’ I type with a long sigh. ‘We kissed, I think we both panicked, I went back to my parents, she’s apparently gone to hers.’

‘So you haven’t spoken since the kiss?’ Natalie asks. ‘I know what my first piece of advice would be.’

‘Yes yes I know,’ I reply. ‘I want to do this face to face though.’

‘Understandable,’ Natalie types. ‘Honestly, it’s difficult to know what to advise here apart from ‘talk to her’. Obviously I’ll keep your secret but you’re not doing yourself or her any favours by staying in limbo like this. TALK TO HER.’

‘I will when she gets back from Southampton,’ I reply. ‘Or should I go down there to see her?’

‘It’d be a romantic gesture, but you don’t want to appear pushy,’ Natalie types. ‘if you’re now asking ‘should I pursue this?’ then my answer is, I’m afraid, ‘depends’. If it’s worth the risk to your friendship, then sure, but obviously you have your fans to think about as well.’

‘Some of whom already ship us lol,’ I reply.

‘If you’ve noticed that then Kayla must have too,’ Natalie types with a ‘winking’ emoji. ‘Honestly, I wish I could help more, but you know who you should talk to and when you should to her- as soon as possible. If you both want the same thing, then great! Go for it! Just don’t get caught snogging in the bogs at work.’

‘Can probably manage that,’ I reply, earning a ‘laughing’ emoji from Natalie in response.

‘One other thing I’ll say is that from what you’ve told me, keeping secrets hasn’t exactly worked out well for you in the past,’ Natalie types. ‘Just something to think about. G2G now, I only logged on to check for notifications but can chat later if you really need to.’

‘Thanks,’ I type. ‘Going anywhere nice?’

‘Heading to a local pub that'll have the City game on,' Natalie types. ‘Me, Zo, Jess and Paige have been entertaining our American friends all morning and I’m kinda hoping to twist their arm, we’re going to see the NFL at Twickenham tomorrow so I want to introduce them to some REAL football first! Room for one more if you want?’

‘Will pass, thanks,’ I type.’ But definitely talk later. Thanks for the talk.’

‘Anytime,’ Natalie replies, before logging off.

“Ugh, that was a waste of time,” I moan, earning a concerned sigh from my mother.

“Just shows that you WERE talking to the wrong person,” mum replies.

“I know, I know,” I moan, opening up Facebook again on my iPad to discover that Kayla still isn’t online.

“Have you called your counsellor yet?” Mum asks.

“I told you, she doesn’t work at weekends,” I sigh.

“You can at least arrange an appointment with her, you have her mobile number,” mum retorts. “She knows that you’re, umm…”

“’High maintenance’?” I ask. “Because I’ve been in the funny farm, or hear voices in my head?”

“You know that’s not what I meant,” mum sighs. “But it can’t hurt to call and ask, right? You’re friends with her daughter too, right?”

“I’ll call her, I’ll call Sarah,” I say, groaning as I lay back, full-length on the sofa. I hesitate before dialling Sarah’s number- she isn’t her mother’s secretary, after all- but ultimately, I NEED to talk to someone about this, and Beverly is by far the most qualified person. Well, apart from the person I need to talk to most, anyway…

“What’s up, Steph?” Sarah asks as she answers her phone. “Great concert last night by the way! Make sure to pass that on to Kayla as well.” God, even here, I think to myself.

“Yeah, umm…” I mumble. “Is- umm, do you- do you know, your mum?”

“We’ve met a few times, yeah,” Sarah laughs. “Why- what, umm, what’s up, Steph? Are you okay?”

“I know- she, umm, she doesn’t normally work Saturdays, does she?” I ask hesitantly.

“I’ll call her, let her know you need help,” Sarah says.

“Oh- don’t- I don’t want to be any trouble,” I stammer.

“Steph, you wouldn’t have called me if everything was okay,” Sarah says. “I’ll get her to call you, see what she can do.”

“…Thanks,” I sniff, blinking back a tear. “Honestly-“ Before I can say another word, the call ends, leaving me laid back on the sofa with a wide smile on my face. Regardless of what happens with Kayla- or the rest of the group, for that matter- at least I know that I’ll always have a group of true friends who’ll always be there for you. Whether or not that’ll include my best friend, though…

I spend the next ten minutes anxiously waiting for Beverly to call, gradually getting so wound up that when Beverly calls me, my phone slips out of my hands and clatters to the floor. Fortunately, the screen isn’t damaged (I’ve broken phones before due to my clumsiness) but with my shaking hands, it still takes me a few tries to connect my finger to the ‘answer call’ button.

“He- hello?” I nervously ask.

“Hi Steph,” Beverly says, her calm voice quickly soothing my nerves. “I just had a call from my daughter asking me to give you a call, she said you were pretty stressed out- what’s happened?”

“…It’s a big one,” I sigh. “I don’t want to be a burden on your ti-“

“It’s no burden, Stephanie,” Beverly assures me. “I’ve got nothing on today, was only going to watch a movie.”

“I- I kinda, umm…” I mumble, before taking yet another deep breath. “I kinda kissed Kayla last night.”

“I see,” Beverly whispers. “And she- she wasn’t expecting this, right?”

“I assume she wasn’t,” I sigh. “I mean, I- I kept seeing all these signs, or at least I thought I saw all these signs, anyway, thinking she was flirting…”

“How did Kayla react after the kiss?” Beverly asks.

“It’s more how I reacted,” I groan. “Immediately ran out of the apartment, if dad hadn’t picked me up on my way to the nearest tube station I- I may have-“

“Say no more,” Beverly whispers- she’s made no secret of how opposed she is to the idea of me doing another runner. “Where are you now? At your parents’ house?”

“Yeah,” I say. “Kayla’s gone to visit her parents in Southampton, I haven’t spoken to her since the kiss, she hasn’t been online on Facebook either-“

“This IS something best dealt with face to face instead of by text, or even over the telephone,” Beverly says. “First things first, though, what are YOUR feelings about the kiss?”

“I- I don’t know, really…” I meekly reply. “I mean, yes, I think she’s pretty, we get on REALLY well, we’re best friends, we’ve been living together for ages, I’ve thought about, well, this for ages…”

“Sometimes a best friend CAN be a good choice for a partner,” Beverly says. “A lot of people talk about ‘ruining friendships’, but if the friendship is strong enough to begin with, it can be made to work, provided you don’t rush things.”

“The most important thing is how Kayla feels, though,” I say.

“Hmm, I’d say your and her feelings are equally important,” Beverly says. “If you’re telling me that the kiss wasn’t a spur of the moment thing but something you’ve thought about for a long time, then you need to think about where you want to go next, whether or not you do want to cultivate a relationship with Kayla.”

“…I do tend to act first, think later, don’t I?” I mumble, my cheeks reddening.

“It’s a character trait you could do without,” Beverly says. “But you ARE only 21, and there are much worse character traits that you could have. It’s a cliché, sure, but it’s true when people say that you’re only young once, and you need to seize every opportunity that presents itself.”

“Yeah, ‘you only regret the things you don’t do’,” I snort. “Beginning to think that might not be THAT true.”

“Well some positives HAVE come out of this, and you need to focus on them,” Beverly says. “Your feelings for Kayla are out in the open and no longer bottled up. Okay, so you don’t know whether or not Kayla has any feelings for you, but there’s an easy way to find out, and you know what that is.”

“Yes, yes,” I sigh. “We need to talk, obviously. Kinda hard when I’m in London and she’s down on the coast, and like you said, texting or a phone call isn’t really an option here. Gonna be hard to actually get together to talk, heh.”

“Well you have plenty of friends,” Beverly advises. “Someone will be happy to act as a go-between for you and Kayla for the meantime. Who else knows about the kiss?”

“Just my parents,” I say. “Oh, and my friend Natalie, I kinda needed to talk to SOMEONE this morning. She’s not really a close friend of Kayla’s, though.”

“I’ll talk to Sarah,” Beverly says. “She volunteered me to call you- not that I mind, of course- she can be your go-between. I won’t tell her the details but I’ll explain that you and Kayla have fallen out, that you need to talk, and she needs to arrange it for the two of you.”

“Thanks,” I whisper. “God, why did I have to just act on my impulses? It’d have been easier if I’d just never kissed her…”

“Short term, maybe,” Beverly says. “But you know that bottling feelings up can only be damaging in the long run. Obviously, talking to Kayla would’ve been a better option that acting on your impulses, but what’s done is done, so we need to decide how we’re going to move forward from here.”

“And if we DO start a relationship,” I moan, “it’ll be a hell of a thing to explain to Joshua, or worse, to our fans…”

“One step at a time,” Beverly advises. “Top priority now is Kayla. I’ll get Sarah to text her, I know she and her American friends are going to the American Football game at Twickenham tomorrow, and I think they bulk-bought tickets, so I’ll get her to text Kayla on the pretense of offering her a spare ticket. We’ll see what she says.”

“…I’ll probably need a ticket too if she says yes,” I say, earning a laugh from my counsellor.

“That can probably be arranged,” Beverly chuckles. “Going out socially, being among friends would probably do you good after an episode like this, and as Charlotte’s not putting on a party tonight, the game is probably your best shot. I’ll call Sarah and get her to set everything up.”

“Thanks, Beverly,” I whisper.

“Don’t worry about it,” my counsellor replies. “Now what’s important for you is to relax and try not to let the panic overwhelm you. There’s no problem that can’t be resolved with the proper help.”

“I know,” I reply. “And there’s one good thing about all this, actually.”

“Oh?” Beverly asks.

“’It’ hasn’t put in an appearance,” I say with a confident grin, referring to the aspect of my psyche I used to call ‘Steve’.

“Good,” Beverly says. “And I know you’ll keep it that way. Talk soon, Stephanie.”

“Talk soon,” I whisper, ending the call and relaxing back onto my sofa. As always, my counsellor knew exactly the right thing to say to calm my nerves and ease my panic. There IS no problem that can’t be resolved. However, there’s no guarantee that I’ll like the eventual resolution…

After another half an hour of ‘relaxing’, I receive a text message from Sarah explaining that she texted Kayla about tomorrow’s NFL match but not heard anything back- but she also explained that I would be there, meaning that ready or not, tomorrow I’ll be going to watch an American Football match. Knowing my luck, this’ll be one of those American sports with a ‘kisscam’ at half time…

I spend the rest of the afternoon and evening trying to focus on Beverly’s advice and trying not to let my panic reaction overwhelm me. I’m NOT going through this alone. I have friends who will help me, and in a practical sense too- Sarah’s said she’ll text me the second she hears back from Kayla, for example. And yet, I still feel guilty that I’m once again keeping secrets from my friends. Sarah doesn’t know exactly why she’s acting as a go-between for me and Kayla, for all she knows, we’ve had a falling out, not- well, not the exact opposite of falling out. I’d just got my life to a point where I no longer have to lie or keep secrets from my friends, and I’m finally being accepted for who I am, and all of a sudden, I’m once again thrust into a situation where I’m facing the prospect of keeping yet more secrets- and again, it’s all my own doing.

My stress is only compounded a few hours later, after a quick dinner, when my phone rings again- and much to my chagrin, the caller ID shows it’s probably the person I least want to talk to right now.

“Hi Jamie!” I say with a very forced enthusiastic voice. “What’s up?”

“What’s up is a load of rich, famous women in their twenties having not had a night out yesterday or a traditional party tonight,” Jamie replies with a giggle. “So me and a few of the girls are hitting the town tonight. You in? Tell Kayla same goes for her too, it WAS her birthday on Tuesday, after all…”

“Ehh…” I grimace. “Kinda… Kinda still recovering from last night, sorry…”

“Nah, don’t worry about it,” Jamie says. “Figured you might be but thought I’d ask anyway. Kayla?”

“In- in Southampton!” I reply in maybe TOO hasty a voice. “Umm, visiting her parents… Gonna struggle to get back to London in time, heh.”

“Heh, probably!” Jamie giggles. “No worries, there’ll be other nights. Such as this Tuesday coming… I take it you WILL be there?”

“Oh- with bells on,” I giggle.

“So…” Jamie teases. “Coming as a jester, then? Or a sexy female Santa?”

“Not LITERAL bells,” I retort, smirking at the older woman’s good-natured giggling. “But yeah, I’ve got my costume picked out. Doubt it’ll match some of the others there, though- naming no names, of course.”

“No names that don’t begin with an ‘O’, anyway,” Jamie giggles. “And I do NOT mean my daughter, even though she will be the cutest baby to have ever worn a pumpkin costume, hehe! Though given recent events, I reckon the other ‘O’ might be a little preoccupied…” Wow, thanks for reminding me of THAT of all things, I think to myself.

“Speaking of Olivia,” I say, changing the topic as fast as I can, “who’s looking after her tonight? Stuart?”

“Yep,” Jamie says. “It’s a girl’s night tonight, then we’re looking after the kids tomorrow so the BOYS can go to the NFL game.”

“You- you’re not coming to that yourself, then?” I ask.

“Nah, not really my thing,” Jamie says. “I know our new American friends will be there but I’ve already arranged to hang out with them on Monday before they fly back. You’re invited to that too, if you want…”

“Sure, I can be there for that,” I say.

“Cool!” Jamie squeaks. “Got to go now, ‘night out faces’ don’t apply themselves, hehe! And DON’T spoil Strictly for me!”

“The two Scouse girls from Constellation top the leaderboard,” I retort, earning a playful groan from Jamie.

“Hardly a spoiler,” the blonde woman giggles. “Talk later, Steph.”

“See you, Jamie,” I reply, smiling as I end the call, but quickly frowning when I realise that Jamie- of all people- probably won’t be happy when she realises I’ve been keeping secrets from her once again.

Rather than risk being made to feel guilty by any more of my friends- and they are my friends, regardless of what secrets I may keep from them- I switch off my phone for the rest of the night and spend the evening rooted to the sofa watching Strictly and the X Factor (the latter show making me feel smug thanks to the knowledge that literally every contestant would give their right arm for my job). I head to bed just after 10pm- an unbelievably early night for a Saturday, but after my sleepless night last night, a much needed early night.

I’m woken on Sunday morning just after 9am by the sound of loud knocking on my front door, which is quickly answered by my mother.

“Steph!” Mum yells upstairs, making me sigh and cuddle my warm sheets closer to my slender body. “Nikki and Sarah are here!”

“Ugh,” I moan, before rolling out of bed and wrapping a warm dressing gown around my body.

“Hey Steph!” The married couple giggle simultaneously as I enter the living room and slump onto the sofa opposite them.

“Hey girls,” I say. “What you doing here this early, game isn’t until half past one, isn’t it?”

“You weren’t answering your phone,” Sarah replies, reminding me of my switched-off mobile. “And I don’t know your landline.”

“And why are you two even alive at 9am on a Sunday?” I tease, making the two twenty year old women blush. “Didn’t go out last night?”

“Nah, promised to show Jexy a bit more of London before the match,” Nikki says. “They’d be here too, but it’s kinda 3am their time and, well, I’m not going to be the one to wake them up, hehe!”

“Steph-“ Sarah says, but I interrupt her before she’s able to get off another word.

“Were they out last night?” I ask. “Jexy, I mean, with Jamie and the other girls?”

“Steph,” Sarah says firmly, “mum wouldn’t ask me to liaise between you and Kayla if there wasn’t something wrong. She said too that this was what YOU wanted.”

“…Yeah,” I sigh.

“She’s texted me to say that she won’t be at the game today,” Sarah says, “but she’ll be coming back to London tomorrow.”

“What happened between the two of you, anyway?” Nikki asks. “You fallen out? Over, umm, over a guy or something?”

“…Not quite,” I sigh.

“Then what HAS happened?” Sarah asks.

“It’s personal,” I say.

“We’re friends,” Sarah retorts.

“It’s complicated,” I argue.

“We’ve got plenty of time,” Nikki says, making me lean back in my seat and groan.

“I…” I say, taking a deep breath and letting it out as a long, pained sigh. “I- I kinda kissed Kayla. On Friday night, after the concert…”

“…Ah,” Nikki says. “Obviously, neither of us are going to judge THAT, heh!”

“Definitely not,” Sarah whispers, gently squeezing her wife’s hand. “I- I take it Kayla didn’t, you know, respond well, then?”

“More like I didn’t,” I chuckle. “Did a runner straight after the kiss, I- I, umm, came back here, Kayla went back to her folks’ in Southampton, we haven’t spoken since…”

“You don’t have, you know, feelings for her, then?” Nikki asks, obviously struggling to assimilate what I’m telling her.

“I do,” I mumble. “I think. I dunno! I mean, we’re best friends, I know I love her as a friend, but I kept thinking she was dropping hints… Ugh.”

“No wonder you two badly need to talk,” Sarah whispers.

“I need you two to promise me that you’ll keep this to yourselves,” I say, my hands starting to tremble. “Especially if Kayla and I don’t end up together.”

“Of course,” Nikki says, reaching across and gently squeezing my hands in an attempt to stop them from shaking. “Everything will be fine, Steph.”

“We’ll pick up Kayla when she gets back tomorrow,” Sarah says softly. “Drop her round here so you two can talk.”

“No-“ I say suddenly. “Our- drop her round to our flat, please. Better we talk there, where it’s home to BOTH of us.”

“Of course,” Nikki whispers, squeezing my hands once again.

“…I don’t care what the official merchandise says, you two are just as much angels as the other girls, hehe!” I giggle, making the married couple smile and blush.

“I wish,” Sarah giggles. “Still, you never know, this could be the start of something beautiful…”

“I wish!” I chuckle. “No guarantee that Kayla even likes girls. Or worse yet, she doesn’t like girls, but DOES like me…”

“Worked for me,” Sarah shrugs, making me frown in confusion. “I’m serious. Before I met Nikki, I didn’t know whether I liked boys, or I liked girls, or what I liked. And eventually, you know, I found out what it was that I liked.”

“…Girls?” I ask.

“Girl,” Sarah corrects me. “Singular, not plural, just one girl.”

“Girl love forever!” Nikki giggles, cuddling her wife close to her and pressing her hand against hers in an unusual way. “No reason that same can’t happen for ‘Stayla’, hehe!”

“Except me and Kayla have already had relationships before?” I retort. “And both fancied other guys- not girls, but GUYS. That’d make things a little complicated!”

“Doesn’t mean it won’t work,” Sarah shrugs. “Doesn’t mean you two aren’t perfect for each other. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least give it a go.”

“If you hadn’t ‘given it a go’ at the audition you wouldn’t be where you are now,” Nikki says. “And that WAS an improvement, wasn’t it?”

“…A huge one,” I chuckle.

“Either way, tomorrow, you’ll find out,” Sarah says. “And I know that either way, you and Kayla will still be friends.”

“Kinda obviously,” Nikki giggles, “me and Sarah DON’T believe in the whole ‘sex ruins friendships’ thing, hehe!”

“We spent most of the last year trying to set up Jacinta and Ophelia,” Sarah chuckles. “Then, well, ‘you know what’ happened.”

“Yeah,” I laugh. “What- what exactly happened there, anyway?”

“We’ll tell you on our way to pick up- sorry, WAKE up Jexy, hehe!” Nikki giggles.

“Another amazing couple who started from humble origins,” Sarah reminds me. “And they’ll be up and about in a few minutes, so go and get dressed, MISS Abbott!”

“Something suitable!” Nikki advises.

“…What’s ‘suitable’ for an American Football game in England?” I retort.

“You need to ask?” Sarah giggles.

“Something girly, sexy and gorgeous!” Nikki cheers, making me giggle as I disappear up to my bedroom.

Naturally, when I descend the stairs again just over half an hour later, my face is covered in a layer of thick (but still elegant) make-up include dark eyeshadow and dark red lipstick, my hair has been teased out to its fullest volume and is hanging loosely over my shoulders, my body is covered by a fashionable dark red long-sleeved bodysuit and a short, tight black miniskirt, and my legs are covered in shiny black tights and, of course, a pair of black knee-high boots.

“Is there something wrong with your shins that we don’t know about?” Sarah teases, giggling when I respond with a loud raspberry. “Just kidding. Girly? Tick. Sexy? Tick. Gorgeous? Tick!”

“Make me jealous, why don’t you?” Nikki pouts, before giggling herself as her wife gives her a gentle cuddle.

“You know you’ll always be girliest, sexiest and gorgeousest!” Sarah giggles. “Or are you saying that Steph ISN’T girly, sexy or gorgeous?”

“If anything, Steph’s TOO girly, sexy and gorgeous!” Nikki says, making me giggle and blush.

“Is that even possible?” Sarah asks.

“…No,” I say, earning excited giggles from my friends.

“Seriously though,” Sarah says, “I LOVE those boots. And you’ve got, like, a hundred pairs, right? So you won’t miss a pair if a friend, say, wanted to borrow them…?”

“Sure,” I shrug, making Sarah grin excitedly. “What size shoe are you?”

“Six,” Sarah says, making me sigh sadly.

“I’m a seven,” I say, earning a frown from my friend.

“That’s probably for the best,” Sarah says, gripping her wife’s hand. “Don’t want SOMEONE getting too jealous of me swapping clothes with someone who isn’t her!”

“…And I’m an eight,” Nikki says, pointing at her fashionable high-heeled shoes. “And for the record, I have no problem with you swapping clothes with my wife… As long as I get to join in too!”

“You even need to ask?” I reply, making the taller transwoman giggle happily. “…And thanks, both of you. I know what it is you’re doing.”

“…Which is?” Nikki asks.

“Keeping me company,” I reply. “Taking my mind off the whole ‘Kayla’ thing, making sure I don’t do another runner- which I won’t.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Sarah says, before chuckling and rolling her eyes. “Okay, maybe, yeah, a little bit.”

“Before today, I didn’t even know Sunday HAD a 9am, heh,” Nikki jokes. “Sarah got kinda worried when you weren’t answering your phone.”

“Maybe a bit more than ‘kinda’,” Sarah laughs. “And my mum kinda- well, she DID ask me to check in on you, see how you’re doing.”

“Though you do owe us both a lie-in!” Nikki teases, making me giggle and roll my eyes. “Probably wouldn’t have been here this morning if we’d been out last night!”

“’Probably’? Try ‘definitely’!” Sarah giggles.

“Don’t worry, I’ll find some way of making it up to both of you,” I say, wiping a tear from the corner of my eye. “I really, really am lucky to have friends like you two.”

“Well, you know what they say,” Nikki says with a smug grin. “You can-“

“I think the whole world knows that catchphrase by now!” I interrupt, making the married couple laugh excitedly. “Doesn’t make it any less true, though!” The three of us all have wide smiles on our faces as we leave the house and head toward the posh hotel where Alexa and Jenny are staying.

After waking up Alexa and Jenny (which is as scary a prospect as Nikki and Sarah hinted- though the American girls’ tempers soon settled when they saw that I was present) we grab a quick breakfast at an expensive local coffee shop before rounding up the rest of the ‘gridiron party’ and heading west to the vast stadium in Twickenham. As Jamie hinted last night, a lot of the party are boys, though some girls are present too- Hannah, Kelly, Malaika and Alice from the Angels all come along, as does Nikki & Sarah’s friend Jacinta and my friends (and favourite flight attendants) Jessica, Paige, Natalie and Zoe.

However, even though they’re technically outnumbered fourteen to twelve, the boys make more than enough noise to seem like they’re in the majority- especially all six members of ‘The Celestials’, who seem determined to pester me into auditioning them for opening for us at a future concert. The fact that none of them have brought along any instruments doesn’t seem to be deterring them one bit. The one respite from the musical barrage is that Paul Kennedy- the ‘band’s lead singer- isn’t joining in the teasing, though as he’s too distracted by Hannah’s presence on our rented bus, that’s not really that much of a comfort. Nor is the presence of both my brothers (both of whom are happily encouraging the ‘band’s antics), despite the fact that this is technically the first time all three of us have done something together since the start of my transition. Sure, the constant teasing and singing IS distracting me from my Kayla-related anxieties, as Nikki and Sarah promised, but all it does is replace one type of anxiety with another, especially when I glance to the back of the bus and am reminded of the identity of the final member of our ‘party’- Mister Kurt Vance.

Naturally, Kurt is sat next to Kelly, with whom he’s been going out a lot longer than he went out with me (a fact I can’t shake from my head no matter what I try), and who is now eight months post-op- a fully externally anatomical woman, unlike yours truly, which is something else I can’t shake from my head. And yet, as I watch Kurt and Kelly cuddling up together on the back seat, it’s not jealousy that occupies my mind, but rather whether or not I could have as loving a relationship with Kayla as I did with Kurt. However, even those thoughts bring me back to one inescapable dilemma- did I fancy Kurt so much because I saw him, as an FtM transsexual, as a woman, and if Kayla does fancy me, is it because she sees me, an MtF transsexual, as a man? Or, as Nikki and Sarah hinted, is the person more important than the gender? Kayla and I have more in common than Kurt and I did, and I know that can be said for Kayla and some of her ex-boyfriends as well. Is that enough, though? God, I wish she was here right now…

“Boo!” Danny yells, causing me to shriek with surprise as he sits down next to me.

“…Arsehole!” I growl, punching my brother hard in his arm as he breaks down in a fit of laughter.

“Oh come on,” Danny pleads. “Looked like you were in a trance, for god’s sake. Missing the other members of your ‘sub-gang’?” Yeah, you might say that bro, I think to myself.

“…Meh, we’re all friends on this bus, aren’t we?” I ask. “Impressed we got 26 of us to come along today.”

“Huh, you’re including everyone in this bus as part of the ‘extended gang’, then?” Danny asks, making me frown in confusion.

“Well… Sure,” I say. “I mean, Jenny and Alexa may live in America, but that doesn’t mean we should-“

“It’s… Not them I was talking about,” Danny says. “I was thinking more about the guy we BOTH call arsehole.”

“…Who, Tom?” I ask. “Well… Sure, I guess, right? He’s, you know, making an effort to fit in…”

“Big time,” Danny says, gesturing to where our brother is sat talking with Jonathan, Mikey, Dan, Keith and Stuart from the Celestials- no doubt swapping stories and tips about fatherhood. “He REALLY wants your namesake- our niece- to be part of that inner circle, you know?”

“He’s absolutely devoted to her,” I muse.

“Big time,” Danny chuckles. “He’s even postponed his wedding until she’s old enough to walk and be Amanda’s flower girl.”

“Yeah,” I sigh happily. “I- you know? I’m really glad he, like, ‘came around’ in the end.”

“Oh, me too,” Danny says. “Hadn’t been the same since, well, you know…”

“Since one of the three musketeers became the Queen of France?” I ask, making my brother snort with laughter.

“What, Out of Heaven playing Paris next year?” Danny retorts. “But yeah, it’s good to be able to talk to Tom again, hang out the way we used to. Even been on a few double dates with him and Amanda, me and Rachel.” Here it comes… “We’d be happy to make it triple dates if, well, you know…” Why does everything always come back to that? I think to myself.

“…Don’t hold your breath,” I mumble.

“Meh, you’re only 21,” Danny shrugs. “Plenty of time to find the person you want to be with. No angst about being thirty and unmarried or something like that.”

“Yeah,” I muse, before frowning as Danny stares at me expectantly. “…What?”

“…Know anyone who’s turning thirty in a few weeks?” Danny asks.

“Well you were born in 1989, so not you,” I say, before my eyes go wide in revelation. “Oh, Ra- Rachel was born in November ’87, wasn’t she?”

“Yep,” Danny says, his cheeky demeanour suddenly disappearing. “And, well, she’s been dropping a few hints, so I may have, well, bought her a ring…”

“Oh my god, Danny!” I squeak.

“I know she’s got all this angst about, well, bring ‘thirty and unmarried’,” Danny mumbles. “So I’m going to, you know, pop the question the day before her birthday. So she can at least say she was engaged when she turned thirty. Assuming she says yes, anyway!”

“I’m sure she will,” I whisper.

“Thanks, sis,” Danny says. “You know mum will start to lean on you to find someone though, right?”

“Can- can we change the subject, please?” I grimace.

“What?” Danny protests. “Something happen, Steph? You’re not usually this defensive about your love life. Or lack thereof, heh!”

“Arsehole,” I snort. “It-“ I pause before continuing, wondering whether or not to trust Danny with the current situation. I mean sure, he IS my brother, and my parents already know, but this bus is about as public a place as it’s possible to get, and Danny does kinda have a loose tongue, so it’d inevitably get spilled to the other guys, and from the guys to the other girls… Like Jamie…

“…It’s Kurt,” I say, gesturing to the back of the bus.

“Jesus, Steph,” Danny moans. “You’re STILL hung up on him?”

“He was my first proper boyfriend!” I retort. “We’d probably still be together today if I hadn’t- well, you know…”

“Yeah, well move on, for god’s sake,” Danny sighs. “Trust me, no point dwelling on the past. You can have your pick of any guy in the country. And don’t try to tell me ‘no one would date a transgendered girl’, because believe me, there are thousands if not millions of guys in the UK who WOULD happily date you despite being transgendered. Thousands of girls too, probably.” I feel my fingernails start to dig into my palms as Danny’s rant cuts closer and closer to the bone.

“Subject change, please?” I ask.

“…Fine,” Danny sighs, throwing up his hands in mock surrender. “…So, who you picking to win, the Vikings or the Browns?”

“Don’t think we’re allowed to not pick the Vikings,” I chuckle, gazing at the purple and white decorations on the bus. “Where are the Browns from again?”

“Cleveland,” Danny replies.

“…Okay, bit more help, please?” I ask. “American geography isn’t my chosen specialist subject.”

“Ohio,” Danny says, playfully rolling his eyes at my confusion. “Just south of the Great Lakes. Next to Pennsylvania. Good job you’re not touring the US anytime soon. Even better job you’re not driving the tour bus, heh!”

“Oh- shut up,” I feebly moan, my face contorting into a pout as the bus pulls into the stadium’s vast car park. Naturally, as we disembark, a group of paparazzi are waiting for us, making Danny very excited as he wraps his arm around me and smiles a big, fake grin for the cameras.

I half-pay attention to the game as we watch it from our (very good) seats- I’ve never been terribly interested in sports and have never even seen an American Football game before, so I actually need to have it explained to me at half time and after the game who actually won it. Nonetheless, the atmosphere within the stadium is electric, and helps to take my mind off of my anxieties, right up until I get back on the bus, check my phone… And find a text message waiting for me that almost causes me to drop my phone in shock.

‘Hi Steph,’ the message reads. ‘Will be back in London tomorrow. See you at the flat. Kayla.’

“Getting good comments on your Instagram posts then?” Danny asks, once again startling me as he sits down next to me.

“Umm, didn’t post anything from the game,” I mumble. “Just a bit, you know, tired…” Or anxious, same thing, I think to myself.

“Meh, been a big day,” Danny shrugs. “Know I’m definitely going to the next NFL game they hold in London, that game was awesome!”

“It was… Exciting!” I chuckle. “Definitely more of a spectacle than a Premier League game.”

“You been to any Premier League games before?” Danny asks, before suddenly remembering something. “Oh, wait, you went to Palace vs Southampton with Kayla last year, didn’t you?”

“Umm, yeah,” I mumble.

“Yeah, an NFL game at a stadium like Twickenham will make that seem like a kickabout in a local park,” Danny laughs. “Dunno how it’d compare to, like, an FA Cup Final though. Hey, Stu!”

“What?” Stuart shouts from the back of the bus.

“You went to the FA Cup final last year, didn’t you?” Danny asks, a mean twinkle appearing in his eyes. “How does an NFL game compare?”

“Infinitely better,” Stuart growls, earning laughter from all those sat around him.

“Is that because you DIDN’T make a bet this time?” Danny asks as the laughter in the bus intensifies.

“Fuck. Off,” Stuart retorts.

“For what it’s worth, I preferred the cup final!” Jonathan says, his quip followed by the sound of an elbow connecting with a set of ribs and yet more male laughter.

“Ah…” Danny chuckles. “Bet you’re glad you don’t have to put up with male egos anymore, eh?”

“What do you call what I’m doing now?” I snort, making my brother laugh. “And I’m in a band, remember? Male or female, celebrities and egos kinda go hand-in-hand.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Danny shrugs. “Lucky I’ve never had an ego, right?”

“Shut up,” I say with a snort of laughter that makes my brother almost double over in a fit of giggles.

Danny’s teasing- both of me and others on the bus- lasts until we arrival back at our parents’ house, and whilst the distractions are welcome (and very occasionally funny), my mind stays fixated on Kayla’s text message all the way home, to the point that when I step off the buzz, my knees are almost trembling. It’s a relief when I’m finally able to kick off my boots and stretch my tired and anxious body out on my parents’ sofa.

“Right then,” Danny says, sitting down next to me and making me groan. “Destiny 2?”

“Don’t you have a job?” I moan.

“Got the day off,” Danny shrugs. “One of the advantages of sleeping with the boss! Besides, mum and dad will be home soon and I haven’t seen them in over a week.”

“…Fine,” I moan as I switch on the Xbox I keep at my parents’ house.

“You know,” Danny says, “you could be happier to be spending time with me.”

“Ugh- really?” I moan, before sighing. “…Sorry. Just got a lot on my mind right now…”

“Not going to have to tie you to a chair to make sure you don’t do a runner, am I?” Danny asks.

“Piss off,” I snort. “I’m better. I don’t get those- well, ‘urges’ anymore.”

“And you of course don’t have a history of acting on ‘urges’,” Danny says, playfully flicking my long brown hair.

“That-“ I protest.

“Yes, yes, I know,” Danny says. “There’s a difference between being the person you always wanted to be and something destructive like running away. And I happily concede that you transitioning has only been constructive for you.” Well, mostly, I think to myself.

“Yeah,” I concede.

“So what, pray tell,” Danny asks, “is stressing out my millionaire celebrity sister?”

“I’m not QUITE a millionaire,” I snort. “And celebrities get stressed all the time. Hell, even Prince Harry went on record last year about suffering from depression. He’s a nice guy, incidentally.”

“He was also single for ages…” Danny teases, making me squirm in my seat as he once again lands squarely on my current pressure point. “…What, no retort about what all the toffs would say about a royal wedding with a transgendered bride?”

“Shut up,” I mumble as another look of realisation comes over my brother’s face.

“You- you ARE having boy trouble!” Danny exclaims.

“I told you, it’s seeing Kurt again,” I mumble as my cheeks start to redden.

“You didn’t have any contact with Kurt on the bus or at the game,” Danny retorts, “and he’s long since out of sight. This is someone else, it’s got to be.”

“Leave me alone,” I growl, before breathing a sigh of relief as the front door opens and two pairs of feet walk through it.

“Hello!” Mum calls. “Anyone home?”

“In the living room,” Danny replies as I continue to seethe. “Steph’s having boy trouble. Again.”

“You prick!” I growl, trying to compose myself as our parents enter the living room with concerned looks on their faces.

“You’re having boy trouble?” Mum asks. “So- so did you resolve whatever it was that was happening with Kayla, then?”

“…No,” I mumble as Danny stares at me with a look of confusion on his face.

“What’s this about Kayla?” My brother asks. “Have you two fallen out?”

“You mean you haven’t told your brother yet?” Dad asks.

“Told me what?” Danny pleads. “Are- no…”

“Yes…” I sigh.

“You… And Kayla!?” Danny exclaims. “I didn’t even know you were into-“

“Jeez, you knew me as a boy for nineteen years!” I retort. “Wouldn’t have picked me for being ‘into boys’ back then, would you?”

“Well- there were times…” Danny says, before letting out an angry ‘hey’ as I elbow him in his ribs. “What was that for? I wasn’t kidding, you know? You never were as, you know, interested in girls as me or Tom…”

“I’m seven years younger than you and ten years younger than him,” I retort. “That might have been why!”

“Danny’s not wrong, Steph,” dad says. “Compared to your brothers at the same age, you were, well, not as ‘preoccupied’ as they were.”

“Meaning you didn’t spend as much time wan-“ Danny begins.

“Daniel!” Mum interrupts with a growl. “Though however he wants to put it, he is right.”

“Like I said to you yesterday, maybe I’m bisexual,” I shrug. “Don’t see what business it is of everyone.”

“It’s our business when it’s causing you stress and anxiety,” dad says. “God knows you’ve had enough of both of those over the last couple of years. Though I suppose the fact that you’re slumped on our sofa playing your games shows it’s not affecting you TOO badly, heh.”

“I guess not,” I sigh. “…Though I’ll be seeing Kayla tomorrow, she’s coming home tomorrow morning… God…”

“Still trying to figure out what you’re going to say to her?” Dad asks.

“Still trying to figure out how to even look her in the eye,” I snort. “God, we had such a good thing going too…”

“But- but you and Kayla, though?” Danny asks. “Guess it’s lucky your fans are already LGBT-friendly, heh.”

“Oh- no,” I say. “I don’t want the fans to find out about this. Hell, I didn’t even want YOU to find out about this…”

“Yeah, this is the sort of thing you’re kinda gonna struggle to keep quiet,” Danny says.

“What, am I not entitled to a little privacy?” I snort.

“Danny’s got a point,” dad says. “You’re ENTITLED to privacy, sure, but whether or not you’ll get it when you- and Kayla, for that matter- have photographers following your every move…”

“Well- well regardless, this is something I want to keep to as few people as possible,” I say.

“Yeah, ‘cause keeping secrets has worked out so well for you in the past, hasn’t it?” Danny snorts, replying to my elbow in his ribs with an elbow of his own that makes my face contort with anger.

“Danny IS right,” mum says. “If you and Kayla are- well, going to be ‘you and Kayla’, keeping it a secret from your friends will be a disaster.”

“If I can find out by accident, anyone can,” Danny says softly, wisely choosing not to use his usual sarcastic tone of voice.

“…Suppose we don’t?” I ask. “Suppose we just decide to stay friends?”

“Then we’ll keep your secret, won’t we, Daniel?” Dad asks.

“…Okay,” Danny mumbles. “How- how did all this happen, anyway?”

“Ugh,” I spit, grabbing my game controller. “LONG story…”

After a quick dinner, and despite my parents’ protests, I leave the family home and head back to my own posh flat, shivering when I unlock the door to find the lights off and everything just where I left it yesterday. The feeling of coming into an effectively deserted home like this one is one I’ll never get used to- and the main reason why I never want to live alone. Of course, whether it’s a best friend or a partner I live with is still up in the air…

I try to relax for the rest of the night by watching TV- specifically, the Strictly Come Dancing results show- but with no one to distract me, my mind is occupied by Kayla’s text message. If she’s coming back, obviously she doesn’t want to just cut all ties with me- then again, she loves the band more than anything, and regardless of how she feels about me, I know that if the current situation resulted in me leaving the band, she’d NEVER forgive me. Or maybe, she’s only coming back to collect her stuff ahead of moving out- it’s not like either of us couldn’t afford our own place, after all. Or she’s coming back to tell me that maybe, just maybe, she actually wants a relationship with me. Or maybe she’s coming back to tell me that what happened on Friday simply didn’t happen. Or maybe- or maybe I’m working myself up into such a state that it’ll be a miracle if I don’t explode the second Kayla walks through the door.

Naturally, I don’t get much sleep, and when my alarm wakes me at7am, my head is still foggy from all my worrying the night before. I’d wanted to get an early morning so I could get a head start on the day, be extra prepared and ready for when Kayla returns, but as I shower, I find myself struggling to simply stay awake. After drying myself, I don’t even put on any make-up, instead tying my messy hair back into a ponytail and getting dressed in a very plain lilac hoodie and girly hipster jeans (though I do wear my usual underwear underneath- though nowadays wearing a bra is much more a 'need' rather than 'want' situation) thanks to twelve months of hormones. As I stare at my unbelievably drab reflection in the mirror, I’m forced to smile- even with a face free to make-up or any stray hair, I look unquestionably female. The problem is, though, when Kayla looks at this face, will she see the game girl she’s been best friends with for years- or the boy she’s been flirting with- or at the very least, the boy I think she may have been flirting with?

I examine my reflection more closely as I agonise over whether or not to put on some make-up, even a tiny amount, to disguise what others (but not myself) might perceive as ‘Steve’s face. I eventually decide to put on just a little bit of mascara and am heading back to my bedroom when the doorbell rings, causing me to freeze in place.

“Uh- uh- just a sec- just a second,” I nervously stammer, pausing as I decide what to do next. Obviously, this isn’t good enough for Kayla, as mere seconds later, I hear the door unlock- Kayla obviously using her own set of keys- and seconds later I’m staring into the face of the tiny twenty year old girl, which, like mine, is devoid of make-up. It looks like our ‘face to face’ will be just that- with nothing to hide behind, no ‘masks’.

“Hi Steph,” Kayla says in a hoarse voice, barely louder than a whisper.

“Hi Kayla,” I mumble, my heart racing and all of my limbs shaking uncontrollably. “Do- do you want- would you- some coffee?”

“Please,” Kayla says, slowly and deliberately walking to the sofa and sitting down in her usual spot- though she looks far from comfortable there.

The flat remains silent as I pour us both a cappuccino from our Tassimo machine, and as I sit down in my usual spot on our sofa, I can’t help but feel just as uncomfortable as Kayla looks.

“We- umm,” I mumble. “We need- we should talk.”

“Yeah, I’d say we should,” Kayla whispers. “Steph, about what-“

“I was just acting on impulse,” I blab. “I was on a high from the concert, it- it just kinda happened.” I stare at my friend, biting my lip as she remains silent, digesting my words. “Did- did it, you know, umm, did it happen?”

“…No sense pretending it didn’t,” Kayla mumbles. “Steph, I-“ I look on expectantly as Kayla pauses, only for her to let out a long, frustrated sigh.

“Kayla, do-“ I say hesitantly. “Do- do you regret the- the thin- the-“

“The kiss?” Kayla asks. “I- ugh. I dunno.” Okay, I think to myself. Not the response I was expecting…

“Do you- do you want-“ I stammer.

“Another?” Kayla asks, shaking her head frustratedly. “I really, truly don’t know. Maybe?”

“So- so you-“ I babble, taking a deep breath to compose myself. “Kayla, do you- do you have, you know, umm, feelings?”

“…I’d be lying if I said I definitely didn’t,” Kayla mumbles, sounding almost ashamed of the confession. “I, umm…”

“I’ve had- I’ve had, umm, feelings for you for a while,” I say. “I don’t- I don’t know what I really want…”

“Nor do I,” Kayla sighs. “I mean, we WOULD be good for each other, you know? We’re best friends, after all.”

“We have a lot in common,” I say. “Work, hobbies, we already live together, for god’s sake.”

“We have the same friends,” Kayla continues. “Literally, I don’t think I have a friend who isn’t already friends with you.”

“My parents love you,” I say. “So do my brothers.”

“My parents are fond of you too,” Kayla says. “But- ugh. I- I do love you, Steph. But I always thought-“

“…Yes?” I ask, my anxiety slowly being replaced by excitement at the possibilities unfolding in front of me.

“But I-“ Kayla stammers. “I always thought we were more ‘Charlotte and Jamie’ than ‘Nikki and Sarah’. Sisters, you know? Not, umm, not really lovers…”

“I- I kinda, umm… I kinda felt the same way,” I mumble. “At first. But- ugh. Like I said, I don’t know what I REALLY want. But I know- I know that I DO like you. And I- I think you like me too.”

“…Yeah,” Kayla whispers, nearly making my heart skip a beat.

“Was I- was I imagining it?” I ask. “All those times you seemed to be, umm, flirting with me? You know, cuddling up to me on the sofa…”

“I wanted-“ Kayla says, obviously struggling to find the right words. “I- I wanted to be close to you. I’ve never, you know, had someone like- like a best friend, or a sister, or someone, you know, like that…”

“…I haven’t really either,” I chuckle. “Not a best, well, female friend, anyway. Though- though that’s it, though…”

“What- what’s it’?” Kayla asks.

“You ARE my best friend,” I say. “If we- if we change our relationship, that- that might, you know, umm, change…”

“I know what you mean,” Kayla mumbles. “I don’t want to lose my best friend for something that might not even, umm, work…”

“And then there’s the reaction of the fans to think about,” I say.

“And the press!” Kayla snorts. “Can you imagine the field day that Fail Online would have if they find out?”

“And they WOULD find out,” I say. “Ugh, people have already accidentally found out that we kissed…”

“Who- who did you tell?” Kayla asks, obviously anxious about the idea of anyone else knowing.

“Just- just my parents, my brother,” I reply, before letting out a long sigh. “…Natalie, Nikki, Sarah might also know… And, umm, and Beverly…”

“Oh, GOD,” Kayla moans, burying her face in her hands.

“I’m sorry,” I meekly mumble.

“No, no, it’s okay, they’re all friends,” Kayla sighs. “And I suppose you WILL have needed someone to talk to… Better that than you holing up in a hotel somewhere in deepest darkest Wales or something, heh.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Believe me, I’ve been learning my lessons there, you know, opening up to people… God, Jamie’s reaction would be worst of all if she found out.”

“She doesn’t seem THAT bad,” Kayla says. “And she is very LGBT-friendly, I mean, she was maid of honour at Nikki’s wedding, not to mention being, umm, ‘T’ herself…”

“It’s more her being kept in the dark that she’ll have a problem with,” I sigh, before it suddenly dawns on me exactly what Kayla just said. “So- so you’re okay, then, with- with, umm…"

“…With what?” Kayla asks.

“With the idea of being, umm,” I stammer. “A- An ‘L’ couple?”

“…Sure,” Kayla says, though her hesitation hardly fills me with confidence.

“So- so you see me-“ I ask.

“As a woman,” Kayla says. “100%, Steph, I swear.”

“…Okay,” I whisper. “Because- because that would really have worried me-“

“Honestly, Steph,” Kayla says. “Even now, jeans, no make-up, all I see is a girl. All I’ll ever see is a girl, I promise.”

“Thanks,” I say with a smile. “Because- ugh, god, I’m all worked up about this, we’re not even an actual couple.”

“That’s true,” Kayla whispers, leading to an awkward pause.

“…Yet?” I ask. “I mean, umm, sure, there are a lot of reasons why we SHOULDN’T be together…”

“Oh- loads,” Kayla chuckles. “It’ll change EVERYTHING.”

“And- and there’s the physical aspect too,” I say. “I mean, twelve months on oestrogen, I’m not- well, I’m not, you know…”

“I can guess,” Kayla whispers. “And obviously, umm, it’s- it’s whether or not you’d be comfortable being, you know, ‘top’ in bed…”

“And our private lives would never be private ever again if it became public,” I say. “And if we keep it private, it’ll probably drive me round the bend, heh.”

“…Unless I was there to help you out every time you got stressed,” Kayla says softly. “Because, I mean, there are, like, plenty of reasons why we SHOULD be together.”

“Oh- for sure,” I say. “When we’re on the road together, we’ll be, you know, on the road ‘together’.”

“You’re sweet, sensitive, funny,” Kayla says. “Much more so than any BOY, that’s for sure.”

“We can share make-up tips,” I say. “Maybe not clothes, ‘cause, you know, the size difference…”

“You’re not THAT tall,” Kayla snorts, before smiling. “Certainly not too tall that anyone would mistake us for parent and child.”

“…Did that actually happen?” I ask, giggling as Kayla rolls her eyes.

“Made worse by the fact that we held hands everywhere we went,” the blonde girl snorts. “But there, that- that’s probably reason number 1 why we SHOULD get together.”

“What’s that?” I ask.

“You make me smile,” Kayla says with a warm grin of her own.

“…You make me smile too,” I say, smiling despite the flushed feeling in my cheeks. A tense silence fills the room as Kayla and I stare at each other, before leaning in toward each other, our lips slightly parted.

The moment our lips make contact with each other is unlike any feeling I’ve ever had. Sure, I’ve kissed people before, but this- this is different. Tiny lightning bolts of excitement jump between my mouth and Kayla’s as our lips slowly glide over each other, the pressure increasing with every passing second and forcing our mouths to part further, allowing our tongues to gently come into contact and tentatively explore each other. As the kiss continues, I feel my whole body start to melt into a happy, contented puddle of joy.

“O- okay,” I gasp as our mouths finally part.

“Yeah,” Kayla breathlessly giggles. “Umm, so, umm, oestrogen, then?”

“’Fraid so,” I say with a grimace as I follow Kayla's eyes to my still-flat crotch. "This- this isn't a problem, right? Because there are-"

"It's okay," Kayla says, though deep down, I can't help but wonder just how disappointed she is- and the fact that she brought it up at all brings my biggest concern back to the front of my mind.

"And- ugh," I sigh. "The fact that you mentioned it at all-"

"Was my mistake," Kayla interrupts. "I guess- argh, this'll sound crap..."

"No, go on," I whisper.

"I guess-" Kayla says, frowning and looking almost ashamed of herself, "I kinda see you- see you more as 'transwoman' than 'woman'. Ugh, I'm SO sorry, I don't know if that makes any sense..."

"A bit," I whisper. "I- I guess that how I always saw Kurt, in a way, more 'transman' than 'man', so I can hardly complain, heh. But that WAS a hetero relationship, I knew that from the start."

"And this will be a lesbian one," Kayla says with a smile, before leaning in to give me another long, soft kiss.

"So- so we- we're really doing this, then?" I whisper nervously.

"...You only regret the things you DIDN'T do," Kayla says with a confident smile. "If we don't, we'll both wonder for the rest of our lives."

"We would," I say, my heart fluttering as my girlfriend- my new girlfriend- smiles at me.

"Obviously, we shouldn't jump in feet first," Kayla says. "We'll go slow at first, take it a step at a time, make sure this is what we both REALLY want."

"Yeah," I whisper.

"And then, if things go well, we'll step it up a gear," Kayla says.

"Yeah!" I giggle excitedly.

"Obviously, we'll keep it private at first," Kayla says. "Just- just the two of us. Those who know we've kissed... We'll tell them we're still working things out between us."

"I dunno," I mumble. "Keeping secrets has never worked out well for me in the past, you know?"

"I know," Kayla whispers. "But we don't want to go too fast, feel all the pressure and crack apart... Because the absolute last thing I want to do is lose you as a friend. You're far too precious to me for that to happen."

"So- so no public displays, then?" I ask.

"HELL no," Kayla laughs. "Not for now, anyway. But behind closed doors..." Kayla punctuates her words with yet another kiss that turns my already relaxed body to jelly. "This really could be the start of something beautiful."

"I know it will be," I say, returning Kayla's kiss, before we spend the rest of the morning, afternoon and evening cuddled together on the sofa, not just enjoying but loving each other's company as we talk about our future together, and what it might bring.

So, I have my answer. And it's not just a good answer, but one better than I could ever have expected. Kayla and I are now a couple- maybe not an official couple, and not a physical one just yet, but a couple nonetheless. She wants to explore a relationship with me, and I want the same.

And yet, I can't help but worry. There ARE plenty of obstacles ahead of us. Our friends, our management, our fans... And then there's me and Kayla ourselves. We may compare ourselves to Nikki and Sarah, but it wasn't love at first sight for us, we have had other relationships, and as our first proper kiss shows, as my body gets more and more feminine, Kayla may decide that I'm not able to give her what she wants- and she may not be able to give me what I want.

But for now, all I want is someone to love, and someone who loves me back- and in Kayla, I have just that. There's no need to be pessimistic- any problem we encounter can be worked through, as long as we work through it together. And we will work through them. And no matter what, we WILL be together.

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