Laura, part 18

I take a deep breath as I step out into the darkened studio. I can’t see the eyes of my teachers and my fellow students, but I know they’re watching. I don’t feel nervous, though- I feel confident, more confident than I’ve done in a very long time.

The fact that my slender body is wrapped in a voluminous tutu, my long, firm legs are encased in brilliant white tights and my feet are shod with shiny satin pointe shoes is a definite source of my confidence. The fact that my body is slender (well, apart from my widening hips and my C-cup breasts) is another major source of confidence. But the biggest source of confidence is today’s date. I was born on the 15th of November 2001, and today if the 14th of November 2017, meaning that tomorrow, my life is going to change in a very significant way.

Of course, in many ways, my life won’t change. I’ll still legally be a child, I’ll still get up and pull on the same uniform I wore to school today, I won’t be any taller, I won’t look any different… But I’ll feel different. There’s a whole host of things I can do tomorrow that I couldn’t do today- ride a moped, live independently, legally change my name... Most importantly, though, is that I’ll be able to take proper, full hormone replacement therapy… And I’ll legally be allowed to have sex.

Obviously I won't be able to have sex the way any 'normal' girl would, but that doesn't mean I won't be able to engage in some kind of sexual activity, and it most definitely doesn’t change the fact that I’ll legally be allowed to consent… Even though my current boyfriend won’t be sixteen himself for another five months. Fortunately, my counsellors say that oestrogen lowers a person’s sex drive- and I’m hoping that’s the case, as my current tiny dose of oestrogen isn’t doing anything to lessen the ‘urge’ I feel every time I look at Kain- or any other sexy young man, for that matter…

“C’est magnifique!” Mademoiselle Renou says, applauding along with the rest of the class as I finish my routine and dip into an elegant ballerina’s curtsey.

“So cool!” Nicole squeaks as she leads the rest of my friends into giving me a tight group hug- something that would’ve instilled panic in me a few years ago, after my experience with my ‘father’, but which I have now come to love.

“Very beautiful!” Mum- who was watching my class, along with Sean and Lily- says as she comes over and gives me a long, loving hug. “I can’t tell just how proud I am of you!”

“Mum!” I complain. “You don’t need to be so embarrassing…”

“Here I was thinking you turning thirteen was bad enough,” mum snorts as she releases her hug. “Then again, when you were thirteen, you were a LOT smaller! Hard to believe that was only three years ago…” I playfully sigh and roll my eyes- after almost sixteen years, I know that trying to get mum to stop embarrassing me would be wasted effort.

“Come on, we’d better get going,” Sean says. “Think your teacher will want her costume back too!”

“I shall,” Mademoiselle Renou says with a warm smile. “But I know that one of my most talented ballerinas will be wearing an even more beautiful tutu within a few months as soon as Miss Fullerton and I finish creating our next production!”

“A Daft Punk-themed ballet?” Sean asks with a grin. “Now THAT I must see!”

“I shall put you and your family down for tickets immediately!” Mademoiselle Renou says with a grin. “Now Laura, my tutu, s’il vous plait?”

“Oui, Mademoiselle Renou,” I reply with a giggle as I head into a quiet cupboard to exchange my tutu and tights for the pink tights and black leotard I wore to class- both of which, as always, fit me like a glove, and betray none of the ‘abnormalities’ that my body still possesses. After heading back to the main changing room to pull back on the warm pink hoodie and black denim skirt I wore to class- in between exchanging excited giggles with my friends, that is- I follow my family out to Sean’s car, where I’m barely in my seat five seconds before my mother starts embarrassing me again.

“I meant what I said, Laura,” mum says. “I am very, very proud of you.”

“Mum…” I moan as my cheeks redden.

“It’s just your family in the car now” Sean reminds me. “Can’t moan about being embarrassed in front of your friends! And for what it’s worth, I know I’ve only known you for a short period of time, and I can’t really claim any of the credit for your success, but I’m proud of you too, Laura.”

“Nah, you can claim SOME of the credit,” I say to my soon-to-be stepfather.

“…Now you’re making ME embarrassed,” Sean mumbles.

“Good,” I say, earning laughs from everyone in the car.

“I don’t get why it’s so embarrassing,” Lily says, making me smirk.

“Oh trust me,” I say to my soon-to-be stepsister, “you will, very, very soon! In fact, if I’ve got my maths right, you become a teenager around the same time I stop being one, right? An unbroken ‘streak’ of teenaged girls in your house…”

“Pass the Prozac,” Sean snorts.

“Well one thing’s for sure,” I say quietly. “You’re a much better job than the last person mum married.” I grimace as an awkward silence fills the car- everyone, even Lily, knows who I’m referring to, and exactly why I’m so critical of ‘him’.

“…I’d have to try very hard to do a worse job,” Sean says, trying futilely to lighten the mood. “Anyway, umm, now you’re sixteen, going to get off your arse and get a job?”

“Well let’s see,” I retort. “I’ve got acting once a week, with productions to rehearse for, ballet twice a week, with productions to rehearse for as well and the possibility of helping out with teaching there, Latin dancing once a week, meetings with my counsellor, drama, gymnastics AND cheerleading club at school and I’m a prefect as well. Oh- and stupid amounts of homework and coursework to do each night.”

“Exactly,” Sean says. “Got a couple of hours each Saturday you can spare to bring in some of your own money, right?”

“If you don’t mind me never doing any housework again, maybe,” I say.

“I’m not doing it for you,” Lily almost instantly chimes in.

“…And the teenage years start here,” Sean says with a loud, overdramatic sigh that brings laughter back to the car as we head through the crowded London streets.

Once we arrive back home, I try to busy my mind with the vast quantity of homework I still have to complete, but as hard as I try, I can’t shake off the overwhelming feeling of utter excitement about tomorrow. Five years ago, I fantasised about what my life would be like on my sixteenth birthday, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d be the person I am today- the WOMAN I am today.

When I was an eleven year old boy, I imagined that I’d grow up to be a sixteen year old boy. I’d be tall and slim like my brother (but better looking, obviously), probably on a sports team at school… And utterly miserable because I wouldn’t have any female friends, only stupid boys who were into things like football. My sixteenth birthday party would probably be spent eating pizza and playing videogames in a room that would, within minutes, stink of pure, unadulterated BOY. As would all of my clothes- especially the baggy jeans, t-shirt and trainers I’d inevitably be wearing. Megan and the other female friends I had would be at best distant acquaintances, and I most definitely wouldn’t have a girlfriend myself- I’d be too jealous of them to be able to form a proper relationship.

However, the way things have turned out, I’m still tall (well, for a girl) and slim, but I look nothing like my brother, thanks to years of anti-androgens, limited oestrogen, and most importantly of all, years of experience with make-up. I’m on a sports team at school, but it’s the gymnastics team (even if I won’t be in any competitions this year thanks to my aforementioned height), and I’m never happier than when I’m with my seven friends, all of whom are amazing and, most importantly, female. My sixteenth birthday celebration tomorrow (celebration, not party- the actual party will be on Saturday) will feature food that is sweet, delicate and entirely coloured in various shades of pink, and by the end of the evening, the smell filling the room will be a mixture of eight teenaged girls’ perfumes- one of the best smells there is. I most definitely will NOT be wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt- I’ll be wearing one of my fanciest dresses, a pair of light-coloured tights and shoes that have at least a 2 inch heel on them. And last, but definitely not least, my sexy boyfriend will be stood next to me with his arm around my narrow waist and his lips ready to kiss mine at a moment’s notice. There’s absolutely zero doubt in my mind which life I’d rather live.

Naturally, I don’t get much sleep when I eventually do go to bed, but I still need to be woken up by my alarm clock at 7am, ready for another day of school- even if today is far from ‘just another day’.

Sure enough, when I open the living room door, my jaw drops at the sight- and the sound- that greets me.

“Happy birthday!” The occupants of the room all yell, making me shriek with delight. In addition to mum, Sean and Lily, my brother is also here, as is my grandmother- my mother’s mother- who I approach first, and who I give a long, tight hug.

“Happy birthday, young lady!” Grandma chuckles. “And you are a ‘young lady’ now!”

“Thank you so much!” I excitedly squeak, before exchanging hugs with mum, Sean and Lily.

“Meh, happy birthday, I suppose,” Ricky says with a shrug, which earns himself a playful whack from our grandmother- something that earns a giggle from everyone assembled, even Ricky himself!

“Thanks,” I mumble, before giggling and giving my brother a tight hug of his own.

“You can open one present now,” mum says, handing me a brightly- coloured package, which obviously contains clothes, judging by the feel and weight. I waste no time in tearing the package open, gasping at what the package contains.

It’s a dress, unsurprisingly, but not just any dress. Unlike all of the other fancy dresses I own, this one is strapless, held up only by the tightness of the dress against my torso, and has a slender bodice and a flared knee-length skirt. The whole dress is a dark burgundy colour, and is by far the most grown-up dress I own. Never mind sixteen- if I wear this dress with the right heels (and obviously, the right hair and make-up), I could easily pass for EIGHTeen.

“It’s beautiful,” I whisper, leaning in to give my mum a tight hug. “Thank you so much!”

“A beautiful dress for a beautiful girl,” mum says, the rest of my family nodding approvingly. “But you’re still wearing your uniform to school today!”

“Meh, probably wouldn’t get away with this dress anyway,” I say with a giggle.

“Maybe you could wear it to your prom?” Lily says.

“Well, I COULD,” I reply, “but at occasions like that, a girl really needs to be seen in a dress she’s never been seen in before, so if I wear this tonight, then I’ll need a new dress for prom!”

“How about enjoying the dresses you do have first?” Grandma playfully chastises me, making me giggle and blush.

“I’m a sixteen year old girl,” I retort, musing on the fact that I’m not sure which part of that sentence makes me happier- ‘sixteen year old’ or ‘girl’.

“Say no more,” grandma chuckles, exchanging a glance with my mother that, much to my surprise, makes even her blush. “Now get ready for school, young lady! Work hard today and you’ll have earned tonight’s celebration!”

“Will do!” I squeak happily, literally skipping upstairs to change into the regulation white blouse, black tights, grey skirt and tiny black flats that make up my school uniform.

As a ‘birthday treat’, grandma gives me and Lily a lift to school. She also gives Ricky a lift to university, which takes away from the ‘treat’ side of it a little, but I’m still literally buzzing with excitement when I get to the school gate and my six friends are all waiting for me, all of them just as excited as I am.

“Happy birthday Laura!” The girls all squeak as they surround me in a tight group hug.

“Thanks, girlies!” I say in a voice that’s closer to a shriek than anything else. I giggle excitedly as Nicole retrieves a silver and pink sash from her bag that reads ‘birthday girl’, while Mia takes a glittery tiara out of her bag and ‘crowns’ me with it. I pose for several photos and selfies for the girls before removing the accessories (I highly doubt I’ll get away with wearing them in class) and heading to form with Harriet, Suriya and Nicole.

En route to form, however, the four of us run into the person I was most hoping to see- and judging by the smile on his face, it’s obvious that he’s remembered the importance of today as well.

“Hey Laura!” Kain says with a nervous chuckle. “Ha- happy birthday!”

“Aww, thanks babe!” I giggle, standing on tiptoes to give my tall boyfriend a long, soft kiss on his lips that turns his cheeks a deep red- and brings some colour to mine as well! “You coming round tonight?”

“Duh,” Kain says, making me giggle.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay going to a GIRL’s party?” Harriet asks, making Kain- who’s always been a little scared of the ginger girl- laugh nervously.

“…As long as that girl is Laura, then… Yeah?” Kain replies.

“Right answer,” Harriet says with a smug grin that makes my boyfriend cringe as the five of us take our seats, ready for the start of form.

I do my best to concentrate throughout the first two lessons of the day, but excitement about tonight does make me a little distracted- and it only gets worse at break when I arrive at my usual table and my sash and tiara are almost immediately placed back on me.

“So…?” Ashley asks as I sit down. “How does it feel, being sixteen?”

“Truthfully?” I reply. “It feels AWESOME. I’m not, you know, a ‘little girl’ anymore? I mean sure, I’m still wearing this uniform, I’m no taller than I was yesterday, my boobs aren’t any bigger… But, you know? I feel different, like?”

“Priya said the same thing last year,” Suriya says with a giggle. “Ugh, can’t believe I’ve got five months to wait!”

“Can’t believe I’ve got eighteen months!” Ashley retorts, sharing a giggle with the brown-skinned girl. “Ah, seriously though, Laura, happy birthday!"

“Thanks, girlie girlie!” I say, earning a squeak of happiness from my fellow transgendered girl.

“Funny you should say you’re not a ‘little girl’ anymore, though,” Megan says with a warm smile. “I remember when there was nothing else you’d rather be.”

“Well- yes, that IS true,” I reply. “But, you know? I’d rather be a woman than a girl?”

“Oh- definitely!” Harriet giggles. “But you’re still going to squeeze that hot bod of yours into a skin-tight leotard at lunch, right?”

“Duh,” I reply, making the whole table giggle yet again.

Sure enough, at lunchtime, I- along with Nicole, Suriya, Ashley and Sabrina- am stood in my ‘private changing room’, stretching my trust long-sleeved leotard over my body and tying my hair back with a sparkly red scrunchie. A part of me does wonder whether or not Harriet has a point, whether I am too old for activities like this, especially when I see Nicole’s sister getting changed into her leotard. Sabrina is twelve and tall for her age, but I’m still easily a head taller than her. Then again, just over six months from now, I’ll have set foot in this school for the last ever time. I may even have pulled on a gymnastics leotard for the last ever time. Just because I’m finally growing up, it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy being a girl- rather than a woman- while it lasts.

“Happy birthday, Laura!” Sabrina says with a happy grin.

“Aww, thanks girlie!” I reply, making both Sabrina and her older sister grin. “We’re really missing you at our table, you know?”

“Yeah, well, I want to make friends who AREN’T Nicole,” Sabrina replies.

“You’re friends with my sister,” Ashley retorts, making Sabrina bite her lip as she’s suddenly put on the spot. “Though to be fair, she’s desperate to make friends who aren’t me as well, heh.”

“As long as we can have your table when you all leave school,” Sabrina says, making us four ‘older girls’ giggle.

“That can be arranged,” Suriya giggles. “Are you and Bryony coming round tonight?”

“Yep!” Sabrina says with a grin. “We can be the ‘terrific ten’ instead of the ‘excellent eight’, hehe!”

“Hell yeah!” I cheer.

“Sabrina’s also going to be in drama club, too,” Nicole says with a proud grin. “We might be looking at the next Keira Knightley!”

“I thought we already were?” Suriya says, posing with her hands on her hips.

“Fine, then I’ll just have to be the next Daisy Ridley, I guess!” I say, placing my hands on my hips and posing with a deep, model-like pout.

“Ah, the best Elsa and Anna since the originals!” Ashley giggles as Suriya and I exchange a quick hug.

“Ah…” Nicole sighs happily. “I would be jealous, if you didn’t have to act with that jerk who’s playing Hans…”

“Ugh, don’t remind me,” I spit as I’m reminded of my- and Nicole’s- ex-boyfriend. “Almost wish I was playing Anna now, that way I get to punch him at the end!”

“I’ll do it for you,” Suriya giggles. “That’s what sisters are for, after all!”

“I always thought Phil was a jerk,” Sabrina says. “He always made fun of me and Damian whenever he came round. Maybe it’s because he’s the youngest in his family.”

“Nah, his sister’s cool,” Nicole says.

“Hi sister’s an Angel!” I laugh. “Of course she’s cool, she, like, defines cool!” The five of us all giggle as we join the rest of the gymnastics club, ready to head up to do our flips and falls.

Even despite my highly energetic lunch period, I’m still buzzing with energy throughout the final lesson of the day, and by the time I climb into mum’s car at the end of the day (having given Kain his traditional ‘kiss goodbye’, of course) I’m almost floating, I’m that excited about tonight.

“Good day, then?” Mum asks, making me giggle girlishly. “I’ll take that as a yes, heh.”

“Oh my god,” I reply, literally bouncing up and down in my seat. “I am SO excited about tonight!”

“Well, you should be,” mum chuckles. “You only turn sixteen once, and all that… God help me when you get to eighteen and twenty-one, I’m going to have a hard time topping tonight and what I’ve got planned for Saturday!”

“So awesome!” I say in a barely-coherent squeak.

“God, the last time you were this excited about a birthday was your twelfth,” mum laughs. “And that only seems like a few weeks ago, heh.”

“Well, my twelfth was kind of a big deal,” I remind my mother, before turning to face my stepsister, who has a confused look on her face. “My twelfth was my first ever birthday as a girl, Lily.”

“Oh, I see,” the ten year old girl replies.

“The fashion show you did,” mum laughs. “You know, I think I still have the DVD of that somewhere…”

“Oh- oh god, no,” I say, my eyes widening. “You are NOT showing that tonight, I’ll die of embarrassment!”

“Relax, I won’t,” mum laughs. “But only because your friends probably would as well. Besides, I’m saving that for when you get a little bit TOO big for your boots, heh!”

“You wouldn’t dare,” I say.

“You’ve known me now for sixteen years,” mum reminds me. “You know I would.” I let out a long groan as Lily giggles from the back seat, but excitement about tonight soon grips me again, especially when I arrive home to find the front door decorated with numerous balloons, all in different shades of pink, with two in particular standing out- one in the shape of a ‘1’ and the other in the shape of a ‘6’.

When I open the front door, I find that the entire hallway and living room have been similarly decorated, and in addition to balloons, there are streamers, banners, pink-coloured throws over the sofas in the room, on top of which is a massive pile of presents, and in the corner of the room is a huge, pink coloured cake with sixteen lit candles on the top. What’s most surprising, however, is the identity of the person who emerges from the kitchen to greet me.

“Happy birthday, Laura!” The elderly woman says with a smile on her face.

“G- grandma?” I ask. “Grandma White? Wh- what are you doing here?”

“Ask a silly question,” my grandmother chuckles. “It’s your sixteenth birthday, the most important one yet! Where else am I going to be?”

“It’s just- I haven’t seen you in-“ I giggle loudly, before giving the elderly woman a gentle hug. Ever since mum and Sean got together, I’d sort-of fallen out of contact with my ‘father’s side of the family, but obviously, they haven’t forgotten about me. However, this does put one anxious thought in my brain. “Does- does dad-“

“I saw him last month,” grandma explains. “I reminded him that your sixteenth was coming up… I’m sorry, Laura, he- he wouldn’t even hear me when I talked about you.”

“It’s okay,” I shrug. “If anything, I- I kinda prefer it that way.”

“Do NOT let it ruin tonight!” Grandma says firmly. “It’s your sixteenth birthday. It should be the happiest day of your life so far!”

“She’s right, Laura,” my other grandmother says. “So let’s see your smile, okay?”

“…Okay,” I say, giggling and making both of my grandmothers smile.

“Now then,” Grandma Clarke says, “are you really going to open your presents wearing your school uniform, or are you going to change into that beautiful new dress of yours?”

“Don’t really need to think about the answer to that, do I?” I excitedly squeak as my grandmothers both nod and gesture to the door leading to the stairs.

“And Laura?” Grandma Clarke asks before I head upstairs. “Wear as much make-up as you want.”

Naturally, once I reach my bedroom, I follow grandma’s advice, enhancing my facial features in the ways I’ve practised so often in the past. I even take the time to heat up my curling iron to add more bounce to my long blonde tresses, before turning my attention to my new dress, which is hanging up on my wardrobe door. I giggle as I strip down to my underwear, before taking the dress off its hanger- and spotting an immediate problem.

“Ugh,” I spit as I fiddle with my bra’s thin straps- straps that would be visible over the top of the dress once I’ve put it on. Almost in desperation, I reach into my underwear drawer, hoping to find to disguise the straps, when my fingers come into contact with the familiar feel of shiny wrapping paper. I giggle as I unwrap the package to find a flesh-coloured strapless bra in my size, which fits me like a glove once I’ve fastened it behind my back.

Not long later, my new dress is wrapped around my body, my best earrings are pushed through my lobes and my feet are in my highest heeled shoes. If it wasn’t a school night tomorrow, I’d probably have painted my nails as well, but that will just have to wait for my next birthday!

The increased commotion from downstairs is a dead giveaway that a lot of people have arrived while I’ve been getting ready, so once I’ve checked (and double checked, and triple checked) my appearance to make sure it’s flawless, I step out of my room and elegantly glide downstairs, giggling as my friends and family all yell ‘happy birthday’- in between gasping with awe at my dress, anyway!

“Happy birthday, my beautiful, brilliant daughter!” Mum says, giving me a gentle hug as I reach the bottom of the stairs. “Now come on, you’ve got a lot of presents to open!” I giggle excitedly as I exchange yet more hugs with my family and my friends (all of whom are dressed up for the occasion as well) in the hall, before heading into the living room where yet more people are waiting for me- including a few unexpected faces!

“Happy birthday, Laura!” The familiar voice of Nikki Thomas says as she gives me a gentle hug.

“Oh my god, what are you doing here?” I squeak.

“You need to ask?” Nikki giggles. “Not going to miss a day THIS important, hehe! And I brought along a few friends…” I gasp and have to physically restrain myself from bouncing up and down with excitement as I exchange hugs with (and, even more excitingly, receive presents from) Stephanie Abbott, Nikki’s friend Jacinta and, most excitingly of all, the one and only Jamie-Lee Milton!

“The ‘Fellowship’ always looks after its own,” Jamie says, giving me a sly wink as she gestures to her left shoulder blade, where I know she bears a very special tattoo. “Especially its younger sisters, hehe!"

"And you're only sixteen once," Stephanie says. "I know I'd have given anything for a day like this when I was sixteen. And as we've got the money and the influence to do this-"

"YOU might have the money and the influence," Jacinta interrupts, making me giggle excitedly. "But we want to do everything we can to make this day as special as possible."

"You're doing that just by being here!" I squeak.

"Heh," Jamie chuckles. "Ten years from now, I'll probably be the one begging you to come to my birthday party!"

"Probably two years from now in my case!" Jacinta says, causing all five of us girls to giggle excitedly.

“Stuart, Jessica and Ian also send their apologies,” Nikki explains. “Family, work and distance respectively.”

“Oh- believe me, this is MORE than amazing!” I giggle. “I am SO getting that tattoo when I turn eighteen, hehe!”

“Concentrate on turning sixteen first!” Mum says with a disapproving look, before handing me my first present from the pile, which I eagerly open.

It’s takes well over half an hour to open all my gifts- especially as I insist on thanking everyone with hugs- but by the end of it, I’m overwhelmed by the generosity that I’ve been shown by the people in my life. I have almost an entire wardrobe of new clothes, including a lot of ‘grown-up’ clothes like my new dress (and another from Nikki and her wife), several new pairs of shoes (most of which have a high heel), cosmetics, perfume, accessories (including a lot of Angel-themed accessories from Jamie and Stephanie), dancewear (including a jet black pair of pointe shoes from Miss Fullerton and Mademoiselle Renou) and two very special pieces of jewellery- the first, a dainty gold necklace from my mother that I fasten immediately, and the second is an obviously hand-made (but no less special) wooden bracelet from Kain, which earns him an extra tight hug and an extra-long kiss that gets me some disapproving stares from the older members of my family! I get a handful of ‘non-girly’ presents as well, including a PlayStation 4 from my brother, which excites Kain more than me- though Ricky did at least think to buy a game with ‘16’ on the cover, which he circled in his traditional fashion.

Eventually, the cake is cut, the celebrity guests (including Ricky’s girlfriend Alice) depart- following one last hug and a group selfie, of course- and I can finally try to relax and soak in all the love that I’ve been shown today. With my boyfriend helping my brother to set up my new PlayStation, the first person I gravitate toward is my oldest and best friend, who has hide a wide grin on her bespectacled face all evening.

“Happy birthday, girlie!” Megan giggles as we exchange a hug and sit down together, crossing one leg over the other in an identical manner. “And god, I don’t think you have ever been girlier!”

“Thank you,” I say with a smug grin. “That WAS intended as a compliment, right?”

“Duh,” Megan replies, making us both giggle yet again. “You’re probably the girliest girl in the room, heh. And probably the hottest, too! I know sometimes I even have trouble keeping George’s eyes off you…”

“Is this the same George Dixon who catches fire every time he touches anything girly?” I retort, making my best friend roll her eyes.

“You’d be surprised,” Megan says with a wink. “But seriously, Kain’s a lucky guy.”

“I know,” I say with another, smugger grin.

“In a way… I’m kinda jealous, you know?” Megan mumbles.

“Umm… Why, exactly?” I ask.

“Blonde, cute cheerleader with a supermodel body?” Megan snorts. “Every girl would be jealous, Laura. I reckon every girl IS jealous whether they want to admit it or not.”

“Yeah, this ‘supermodel body’ kinda has a ‘flaw’ to it,” I snort. “If anyone should be jealous, it’s me.”

“Yeah, well, they can correct your ‘flaw’,” Megan retorts. “They can’t correct my 6’ 2” wide-shouldered skeleton, can they?”

“You’ll always be a gorgeous, girly girl to me,” I say, leaning in to give my BFF a tight hug. “No matter what size or shape your body is, hehe!”

“Right back at you, girl!” Megan giggles. A few seconds later, the two of us are joined on the sofa by a face neither of us have seen since the weekend- but who is still, nonetheless, one of our best ever friends.

“Speaking of being jealous of you, Meg,” I tease.

“Oh- shut up,” Priya snorts as she wedges her slender 5’ 2” frame between our much taller bodies. “Might not be head girl but I’ll still always be older than both of you…”

“What a comeback!” Megan giggles.

“And thanks for coming tonight,” I say, giving a gentle hug to the Indian girl.

“Like I wouldn’t?” Priya snorts.

“You mean you’re not too busy will all the older, college girls?” Megan teases, earning an eye roll from our older friend.

“No friends I ever make will be as good as you two,” Priya giggles. “As good as you seven, hehe!”

“Don’t you mean ‘as good as us eight’?” I ask with a sly grin that my friends quickly emulate.

“X8 for life!” The three of us cheer, which attracts Nicole and Suriya, both of whom wedge themselves onto our sofa. While it’s not exactly comfortable being wedged onto a three-seat sofa with four other girls, there really is nowhere else I’d rather be right now- though a quick glance across the room reveals one other person I’d rather be ‘wedged in’ with…

“Hey!” Suriya giggles, snapping her fingers in front of my face. “Eyes off the meat!”

“What?” I shrug. “I. Like. Cute. Boys. Okay?”

“Sisters before misters,” Nicole says with a smug grin of her own. “Ah, this brings back memories, you know? Of your twelfth birthday, when it was just the five of us?”

“God, it was, wasn’t it?” I ask. “No Ashley, no Mia… No Harriet…”

“And no boys!” Priya says, giggling as my friends all cheer.

“And about eighteen inches less of height,” Megan says.

“Yeah,” I say with a tired expression on my face. “Because YOUR body’s changed the most in the last four years?” I stand up and pose with my hands on my beautifully curved hips as my friends all giggle excitedly.

“God, if you were any hotter, I’D want you, hehe!” Nicole laughs.

“…Take that as a compliment,” I giggle. “Where have the other three gone, anyway?”

“Speaking of ‘wanting girls’,” Suriya giggles. “Wouldn’t be surprised if two of them are tucked away somewhere.”

“Oh?” I ask.

“Well you know Harriet only likes girls,” Suriya explains. “So does Ashley, and Mia’s said she feels she’s bisexual… Wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a little inter-X8 romance going on…”

“As long as it isn’t an inter-X8 love triangle,” Priya snorts. “The LAST thing we need…”

“Meh, I’m hardly going to criticise anyone for being LGBT, am I?” I ask, earning giggles from my friends as I wedge myself back into the sofa. “Even if they should be here heaping praise on me rather than heaping, well…”

“Done,” Ricky suddenly announces, sliding the TV back into place and handing me a PlayStation controller. “You’re the birthday girl, you get first game!”

“Oh- I’m good, thanks,” I say.

“No, come on,” Ricky urges, making me roll my eyes. “I spend all this money…”

“Stop pestering your sister!” Grandma Clarke chastises my brother, who visibly cringes. “Just because you want the second game!”

“Oh- fine,” I sigh, grabbing the controller and wincing as my new bracelet clatters against its hard plastic shell- though this causes my eyes to lock with those of my boyfriend, who has a goofy, lopsided grin on his face as I play a few minutes of my new game (though I’d much rather continue looking at his face than at the screen).

I only play for a few minutes before handing the controller over- though, much to my brother’s chagrin, I hand it to Kain rather than to him! The ‘party’ itself dissipates a short while afterwards, with my grandparents leaving and giving lifts home to my friends. As luck would have it, the last person to leave is Kain, and with the house emptying fast, we soon find a secluded little corner, and seconds later, our tongues are in each other’s mouths. I moan happily as I wrap my arms around Kain's neck, and my whole body feels like it's about to melt as he gently places his hands on my hips. When he moves one hand up my back, so that it's touching the bare skin on my back, I feel like I'm literally floating... We’d probably be there all night, but for my mum interrupting us with a loud cough.

“I, umm, I’ll see you tomorrow,” Kain babbles as he heads toward the front door, while I try not to wither under my mother’s stern stare.

“We weren’t doing anything, only kissing,” I say, turning to show my mother my back. “See? Dress still zipped all the way up.”

“Fine,” mum says in a voice that tell me she SERIOUSLY disapproves of what Kain and I were doing.

“Oh- come on,” I plead. “We weren’t doing anything illegal, and when we’re both sixteen, you won’t be legally able to stop us from doing anything we want!”

“Oh believe me, I WILL be able to stop you,” mum threatens. “There are plenty of ways of doing that.”

“Are any of those ways fair?” I ask, defiantly crossing my arms.

“If they stop you from being hurt?” Mum retorts. “Then yes, yes they will be fair. Laura- ugh. You know I’m just trying to keep you safe, right?”

“How long have you known Kain?” I retort. “How many times has he been aggressive towards me? Or pushy? Or- and let’s face it, this IS what you’re worried about- how many times has he ever been even remotely like Robert White?”

“That doesn’t mean he won’t be in the future,” mum says.

“The same could be said of Sean,” I retort. “The same could be said of ANY man. And you’re not going to lock me in my room for the rest of my life. Sooner or later, I AM going to be physical with a boy. And you need to accept that it’s ‘sooner’ rather than ‘later’.”

“Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” mum growls. “And it definitely doesn’t mean I’m going to encourage it! Not like you need any encouragement, anyway…”

“I am not a slut!” I retort, barely keeping my anger in check. “Just because I snog one boy, it doesn’t mean I’m going to jump down the pants of every boy I see!”

“It- ugh,” mum says with a loud sigh. “I- I’m sorry, Laura, I didn’t mean to imply that. I know you really like Kain, you’ve made a promise to me that you’ll wait until you’re both of legal age, and I trust that you will.”

“…Thank you,” I mumble.

“I just look at you sometimes, and- it’s frustrating, as a mother,” mum explains. “You’re still my little girl, and seeing you dressed the way you do, showing off your legs, and your midriff…”

“I’m 5’ 9” and got a dancer’s body,” I retort. “I’m not going to hide it under a bin liner. Besides… You can’t deny I haven’t earned this body.”

“…Maybe not,” mum says.

“And it’s going to change a lot more when Dr Williamson gives me a full prescription for oestrogen next time I see her,” I say with a smug grin that makes my mother sigh.

“You know, I’d actually forgotten about that?” Mum sighs. “You’ve changed so much already. For the better, of course.”

“…Thanks,” I mumble again. “For- for everything, mum. I probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you…” I sniff back a tear as my mother and I exchange a gentle hug.

“Don’t ever say that,” mum whispers. “You ARE here. And you are a beautiful, talented young woman. You just maybe have a bit more growing up to do, that’s all.”

“I’m four inches taller than you, not counting my heels,” I retort, giggling as mum gives me a playful shove.

“Go on, get ready for bed,” mum orders. “Still a school day tomorrow, back to ‘normality’…”

“Yeah,” I sigh. “Lucky that my ‘normality’ isn’t all that bad, eh?”

“Go on,” mum says with a warm smile as I head up to my bedroom.

I let out a tired, happy sigh as I slowly (and carefully) ease myself out of my new dress and remove my heels, before sitting down at my dressing table and removing the thick make-up I wore tonight- with the exception of my lipstick, of course, most of which was ‘removed’ by Kain before he went home! As I stare at my plain, make-up free face, though, I muse on mum’s words, that I’m still a lot younger than I’d maybe like to admit. And worse yet, every time I look at ‘Laura’s face in the mirror, I can still see ‘Leon’s.

Okay, that should be obvious- it’s not like my face magically changed shape when I started wearing a skirt, after all- like Megan said, no amount of hormones or surgery can change my skeleton, which is and always will be fully, disgustingly male- even the bones in my face. It doesn’t stop me from being cute, of course- Kain is proof enough of that- but every time I look at myself in the mirror, I’m reminded that I’m ‘different’. Fortunately, the rest of my body- especially my torso- more than makes up for that. My ribcage may be male, but the muscles and skin (not to mention ‘other things’) on top of it are absolutely 100% female. The same can even be said of my face, actually- my skin is soft and smooth, I’ve never had to shave facial hair from it, and in all likelihood, I never will.

And there’s one thing that can’t be denied- tomorrow morning, when I wake up, my body will be covered in clothes that are undeniably female, my face will be covered by a (admittedly light) layer of make-up that is unquestionably female, and when I arrive at school, the only thing people will see is someone who is, without a shadow of a doubt, a girl. Whether they choose to accept it is their problem- all I can do is be the person who I really am, deep down inside. And HER name is Laura Jade White.

And it should go without saying that Laura Jade White gets greeted by a tight group hug from HER friends when SHE arrives at school- and it’s obvious from the grins on their faces that they’re still on a high from last night.

“Hey girlies!” I squeak happily. “Ah… Back to normal today, I guess…”

“If by ‘normal’ you mean ‘being a cool, sexy, sixteen year old girlie cheerleader’, then yes, back to normal!” Ashley says, making me giggle excitedly.

“Sixteen year and a day old, anyway,” Megan teases, making me actually squeak with excitement. “That number’s going to get really old really quickly…”

“Yep,” I say with a smug grin as me and my friends head to our respective forms. “By this time next year, ‘seventeen’ will be THE number, hehe!”

Fortunately, I’m able to calm down over the course of the form period and first lessons (helped by one of them being PE), and by first break the seven of us are virtually back to normal- although that ‘normal’ is still pretty excitable at the best of times, especially when we’re looking through the photos last night on our phones! By the time lunch rolls around, however, I’m excited again, not least because I get to change into the tight leotard and tiny skirt that makes up our school’s cheerleading uniform. This is probably the most special of all my ‘uniforms’, not because it’s the cutest (although it is) and not because my uniform has a ‘C’ for captain sewn onto the shoulders, but because of where I get to change into it.

I (and my friends, even though they’re technically not supposed to) change for PE and gymnastics club in one of the girls’ toilets at the teachers’ insistence so that the other students don’t ‘feel uncomfortable with my presence’. The school have explained that it’d be impractical to send permission slips to the parents of every student in the school, and besides, it’d only take one rejection to prevent me from being allowed access to the regular changing rooms. However, there are only thirteen girls in cheer club, two of whom (including me) are transgendered, so the teachers agreed that eleven permission slips wasn’t too big a hassle- and when all of them came back positive, I literally screamed with happiness- which I have to stop myself from doing as I walk into the girls’ changing rooms and begin stripping off my uniform. A quick glance at Ashley as she enters the changing room reveals that she’s almost squeaking with excitement too!

“Hey, Captain Laura!” Morgan- one of the other girls from our year in the cheer club- says with a grin. “Saw the photos from your party last night! It looked SO cool…”

“I can’t believe you actually got two Angels AND a member of Out of Heaven to go to your party!” Sabrina- Morgan’s best friend, not Nicole’s sister- laughs. “SO jealous.”

“In fairness, they only stuck around for about half an hour,” Nicole says, making me grimace at her usual bluntness.

“And I guess I did already know them beforehand,” I concede. “From the photoshoot, and, well, you know…”

“The ‘IX’ tattoo, yeah,” Sabrina says quietly. “But that dress you wore! OMG it was so cute!”

“I know!” I giggle. “I know that Kain REALLY like the fact that it had a low back, hehe!”

“Ooh,” the other girls all coo.

“So…” Morgan teases. “Have you, you know, had him yet? Now that you’re legal, like?”

“I’m legal, he isn’t,” I sigh. “After what happened with that arsehole Scott, I’m probably NEVER going to be left alone with a boy…”

“Ugh, that sucks,” Sabrina sighs. “Still, it doesn’t count as illegal if the girl’s over sixteen and the boy’s under sixteen, does it?”

“Pretty sure it does,” Suriya says quietly. “Pretty sure it’s sixteen regardless of either gender.”

“Oops, unlucky, Emily,” Morgan giggles at the red haired girl.

“Oh?” I ask, only furthering the blushing girl’s embarrassment.

“I thought you only liked girls, anyway?” Mia asks.

“I do,” Emily mumbles. “I- I thought that, you know, if nothing ‘went in’…”

“Yeah, trust me, it still counts,” I mumble as I again remember my ‘experience’ with Scott.

“…I’m not sure we should be talking about these things in front of the year 10s, hehe!” Morgan giggles, lightening the mood in the changing room.

“Even those who are fifteen tomorrow!” Allie- one of the year 10 girls- says as she gives a playful hug to Melissa (another one of the year 10 girls).

“Ah- out of the spotlight already, Laura,” Suriya teases, making me giggle and roll my eyes.

“Meh, I’ll just have to get back in it at drama tonight, won’t I?” I giggle as I fasten the laces on my sparkly trainers, tie my hair back with a glittery scrunchie and prepare to lead MY cheer team out to the playing field to rehearse our routines.

As we run through our moves, though, I can’t help but be distracted by the other girls around me. I now know for a fact that two of them- Nicole and Emily- are not virgins, and legally or otherwise, that number is only going to increase in the coming few months as more of my friends turn sixteen. I saw in my face last night that I was still a girl, and not yet a woman, and as clichéd as it sounds, I do want to be a woman- in as much as I want someone to ‘make me a woman’. Sure, five months isn’t a huge amount of time to wait for Kain to turn sixteen, but even then, he may feel that he isn’t ready, or even worse, we might not still be together by then… Gazing over at the glances that Ashley and Mia are exchanging, they may even end up losing their virginity before I do.

I try to put these thoughts out of my mind- as captain, I have a job to do, after all, and I know consciously that sex isn’t everything. And I know I don’t need to worry about Kain, the way he ogles me as I head back into the changing rooms is more than enough to tell me that he’s not going anywhere for a while!

PE and cheer practice leaves me too tired to be anxious for the rest of the school day, though I’m still a long way from being able to completely relax- later tonight is my Latin dancing class, but first is drama practice, which I head to immediately once the bell rings to signal the end of the ‘normal’ day.

“Hi, Elsa and Anna!” Mrs. Ingram says with a giggle as Suriya and I walk into the vast main hall. “We’ve still got about twenty minutes before the students from the other school arrive, but you can run through some lines now if you’d like?”

“Sure!” I say as Suriya and I get our scripts out of our bags and begin rehearsing our scenes together.

The hall soon fills up, though, first with the kids from the lower years of our school (who will be playing background roles in the play, much like I did in previous years) then with the students of our ‘sister school’- which, as always, puts me on edge, as one of the students (and even worse, one of the stars of the play) is none other than my ex-boyfriend Phil Brooks.

“Leads, gather round please,” Mrs. Ingram says, and I try not to wince as I find myself walking side by side with the boy I once thought I loved, but now can’t stand to be in the same room with.

Fortunately, Mrs. Ingram’s instructions are able to distract me from Phil’s presence, but before too long, we’re deep into rehearsal- and much to my irritation, today we’re rehearsing the only scene that my character shares with his. Naturally, as we rehearse, I feel my whole body start to tense up- especially as the eyes of everyone in the hall are on us.

“You have to tell them to let me go,” I say, trying my best to properly emote while at the same time trying not to give Phil the ‘wrong impression’.

“I will do what I can,” Phil replies, giggling bashfully as the other students all applaud.

“Very good,” Mrs. Ingram says, joining in the applause. “Phil, I want you to work more on seeming like you’re, if you get my meaning ‘in charge’. Hans’s plan has come to fruition and he’s feeling smug, smarmy even, that needs to come across.” Shouldn’t be difficult, I think to myself. Laura, in this scene Elsa is at her most vulnerable, so you need to play up her fear- she doesn’t know what Hans is capable of, how he’ll react.

“Yes, Mrs. Ingram,” Phil and I simultaneously reply- making him giggle and me wince.

“You two go and practise,” Mrs. Ingram says. “Suriya, Lane, I want you two to run through Anna’s first meeting with Kristoff.” I force a smile on my face as I follow Phil to the side of the room, though when I get there, I let out a long sigh- and the smile on my ex-boyfriend’s face does nothing to set me at ease.

“Hey,” Phil mumbles in a soft, gentle voice. “I, umm, I saw that it was your birthday yesterday, umm, happy birthday!”

“Thanks,” I reply stoically.

“Pretty cool of Jamie and Nikki to go round to your house,” Phil says. “Though I guess with that photoshoot you guy- girls did, you and Steph, and Jacinta…” Keep trying to impress me, I think to myself.

“And Ashley,” I say, smirking as Phil winces as he remembers the last encounter he had with my younger transgendered friend, which ended with him rolling on the floor in pain. In this very room, in fact…

“Umm, yeah,” Phil mumbles. “So, umm, you- you’re sixteen now, right?”

“Yep,” I reply.

“My birthday was last month, so so am I,” Phil says with a smirk. “Not seeing anyone at the moment though.”

“Not surprised,” I say, which, much to my surprise, actually earns a giggle from the tall young man.

“…Probably deserve that,” Phil sighs. “After the whole ‘you and Nicole’ thing, yeah. My sister, like, she knows loads of sixteen year old models through her work but won’t let me near any of them, heh.”

“She is as smart as everyone says, then,” I say.

“I always thought that you two should’ve been a lot closer as friends,” Phil says candidly. “I mean, she’s not transgendered, but she’s had, you know, issues with her body image in the past, and- and you ought to be a model, you know?” Oh, you total creep, I think to myself, remaining silent and glaring at the brown-haired boy. “Umm, I mean… You- you should, like, send a CV to Joshua or something. 'Cause, you know, you're tall and blonde... You look a little like Hannah Dexter, you know? And I've known her since I was, like, three...”

“Okay,” I shrug, trying to remain cool even though what Phil’s suggesting is something I’d be REALLY interested in.

“I’ve sent in a portfolio,” Phil says, piquing my interest despite my best efforts. “I’m actually, like, a proper male model now. I can, you know, put in a good word for you if you want?”

“And what would you want in return?” I ask.

“Nothing,” Phil shrugs. “Just, you know, it’d be cool to hang out from time to time, that’s all.”

“I HAVE a boyfriend,” I remind the brown haired boy.

“I know,” Phil says. “I say the photos on your Instagram. Is he sixteen yet?” I bite my lip rather than answer Phil’s question, as it’s obvious that he knows the answer and he knows that I know that he knows the answer.

“We should be rehearsing,” I say, opening my script and turning to the page with our scene.

Fortunately, the rehearsal comes to an end shortly afterward and I can put the thought of Philip Brooks far behind me. Or at least… I try to. Because as much as I hate to admit it, I am flattered that he seems genuinely interested- and more than a little guilty, especially when mum picks me and Suriya up from school and takes me straight to my Latin dancing class, where I’m greeted with a kiss from my current boyfriend before heading to get changed.

It took some arm twisting, but Suriya and I were eventually able to persuade our boyfriends to come to dance class with us on the promise that first, they wouldn’t be the only boys there, second, we wouldn’t tell anyone at school, and third- and I have to believe that this was the ‘deal clincher’- they’d get to spend an hour each week with their hands all over our bodies. Part of the reason I started taking Latin dancing class was to help me get over my anxiety about being touched by other people- after what happened with ‘my father’- and after what happened in the school car park in the summer, Kain was also more than a little anxious about touching me in an ‘unwelcome’ way. In this class, however, physical contact is mandatory, which makes both of us very pleased- especially Kain, when he sees me walk up to him in the dance studio wearing nothing but a pair of leggings, a skin-tight crop top and my high-heeled dancing shoes.

“Hey sexy,” I whisper as my boyfriend places one hand on my hip and I place one on the bare, muscular shoulder poking out from underneath his basketball singlet.

“Hey beautiful,” Kain whispers, and I try my best to suppress a giggle as the music starts and we begin our steps.

As always, I have fun during the lesson, and gratifyingly, so does Kain. Obviously, four years of ballet, gymnastics and cheerleading give me an edge over him when it comes to dancing ability, but he’s learning fast and putting his all into it as well. However, his real reason for enjoying dancing with me becomes apparent when I untie my hair, shake it loose and approach him for another kiss, which he is only too happy to oblige.

“Umm… Sorry,” Kain says, his cheeks reddening as I lean into him and am surprised by the feel of a firm bulge pressing into my thigh.

“Trust me, don’t apologise for that!” I giggle. “I’d be kinda offended if, you now, you didn’t, hehe!”

“Heh,” Kain giggles as he shuffles toward his father’s car, his hands in his pockets. Once he’s out of sight, though, I let out a long sigh- it’s going to be a LONG five months. If it was up to me, I’d have sex with Kain right here on the studio floor, but it’s not up to me, and the unfairness of the whole thing leaves me frowning as change back into my flats and climb into my mum’s car.

“Good lesson, girls?” Mum asks as we set off for home.

“Great as always, Mrs. White!” Suriya giggles. “Our teacher even thinks we might be able to enter some competitions soon.”

“Really?” Mum asks.

“Beginner level competitions,” I clarify. “Not, like, what you see on Strictly.”

“But we’d still get to wear the proper costumes!” Suriya says. “Not sure Owen would be happy walking around in an open shirt, though…”

“I know Kain wouldn’t, heh!” I chuckle- though a wave of guilt immediately washes over me as I wonder whether or not Phil would be happy wearing something like that…

When I arrive back home, I eat a quick dinner of cottage pie (I always have a ready meal on Thursdays due to getting home so late) before finishing off my homework and, before going to bed, switching on my iPad- and sighing when I see that one of my notifications is a new Facebook message from Phil.

‘Hey Laura,’ the message reads. ‘It was good to talk to you again today.’ Rather than dignify the message with a response, I go to delete it- but something makes me pause before I do so.

Sure, Phil was a complete jerk, but that was two years ago. Two years ago, I was a lot less mature than I am now- though I remember part of the reason we broke up was that I was also a lot less physically mature. At the age of sixteen, I could easily pass for eighteen, but when I was fourteen, I could easily pass for ten, and I know that Phil was embarrassed to be seen with me. There’d definitely be no such embarrassment now- and I know that Phil would never be embarrassed about being seen with a transgendered girl. He wouldn’t dare, considering who his sister’s friends are. And he IS sixteen, so if he 'bulged' like Kain did, there’d be literally nothing stopping us from ‘acting on it’…

‘Thanks,’ I type in reply, before closing the chat window. Before I switch off my iPad, however, my eyes flit over to the list of online users, and I’m reminded of something else Phil said when I see that one of the names online is ‘Nikki Phillips-Thomas’.

‘Hi Nikki,’ I type with a smiling emoji. ‘Thanks again for coming yesterday.’

‘Anything for my ‘little sister’,’ Nikki replies with a winking emoji. ‘Aren’t you up late for a school night?’ I giggle as I respond with a ‘sticking out tongue’ emoji, which earns a ‘grinning’ one in response.

‘Just about to head to bed,’ I reply. ‘Anyway it’s Friday tomorrow so whatever.’

‘Lol,’ Nikki types with a ‘winking’ emoji. ‘What can I do for you, Laura? You wouldn’t have messaged me this late if you didn’t want something.’

‘Am I that obvious?’ I reply with a ‘crying’ emoji, which earns a ‘hugging’ one in response. ‘I did actually want something, though.’

‘Shoot,’ Nikki types with a ‘smiling’ emoji.

‘You know people at Heavenly Talent, right?’ I ask.

‘I’ve worked there for three years, I kinda should!’ Nikki replies. ‘You looking for a job?’

‘Actually I kinda am,’ I type. ‘I’m 5’ 9”, I’ve got an athletic body, I reckon I’d be a great model. I’ve already done some work modelling dancewear for Miss Fullerton this summer.’

‘And you want to go pro?’ Nikki types. ‘I reckon you could be a great model, and obviously I’m going to recommend HT as the best agency in the world, but- and I don’t mean anything by this- they don’t really hire amateurs, not anymore.’

‘Oh,’ I type as I feel my body start to deflate.

‘I can put your name forward if you want,’ Nikki types, ‘but it’ll probably be rejected immediately due to lack of experience. Not that you should take that as a ‘permanent’ no- it took me three goes before I was hired and even then it was as part of a group.’

‘It’s okay,’ I type, biting my lip to keep myself from either crying or screaming with frustration.

‘What I can do is put some work your way to try to build up your portfolio,’ Nikki types with a ‘smiling’ emoji. ‘Sarah and her friends Lauren and Ophelia are always looking for models for their assignments and whenever they put something for sale on their website. It’ll be good experience and will get you a little extra pocket money too. And you’ll get to wear loads of beautiful dresses!’ Nikki’s winking emoji makes me giggle, but I can’t help but notice that her offer pales in comparison to Phil’s…

‘I’ll think about it,’ I type.

‘The offer will always be on the table if you want it,’ Nikki types. ‘Same goes for Ashley too, though she’d need permission from her parents, but as you’re sixteen, I don’t think you will anymore.’

‘Thanks,’ I type.

‘G2G now,’ Nikki types. ‘Got to let you get to bed, and me and Sarah have got a Skype chat with our friends in America in a bit. Ttyl!’ I reply with a ‘smiling’ emoji, but inside, I’m deeply disappointed at Nikki’s ‘offer’- the Heavenly Talent ‘family’ is extremely close-knit, as I know from what Phil said and the stories I’ve heard from Ricky’s girlfriend. I thought I was considered a part of this family, what with all the time I’ve been invited to ‘events’ like the Sunday Globe photoshoot, or to one of Miss Fullerton’s private ballet lessons, but obviously I’m not. But that doesn’t mean I can’t ‘jump to the front of the queue’. And after all, all Phil wants is to talk to me, to be friends again. Well, for now, anyway…

I keep my ‘dilemma’ to myself throughout Friday, which is thankfully quieter than the rest of the week with no lunchtime clubs or after-school clubs. As I go to leave school at the end of the day, though, I catch myself unconsciously hiking my skirt higher before meeting up with Kain for our traditional ‘goodbye kiss’- and his firm grab of my left buttock as I head to mum’s car does nothing to solve my dilemma.

“Big day tomorrow!” Mum says as I slide onto the passenger seat of her car. “Your big ‘sweet sixteen’, hehe!”

“Yep!” I say, trying my best to sound enthusiastic.

“Ah…” Mum sighs tiredly. “I know THAT voice… What’s wrong, Laura?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” I lie. “Just tired, you know? Been a long week…”

“Is everything okay with Kain?” Mum asks.

“Sure,” I shrug. “Would you prefer there to be a problem there?”

“No, no I wouldn’t,” mum responds, anger seeping into her voice. “You said yourself that Kain’s a decent boy, and he is, even if he is a bit… ‘Touchy’.”

“I have a body that boys like to touch,” I shrug. “And the only boy who isn’t going to be ‘touchy’ like that is one with no arms!”

“Well- yes, that is true,” mum concedes. “And I will admit, there are much worse options. That little shit who broke your heart two years ago, for starters.” God above, do you read minds? I think to myself, stealthily rolling my eyes.

“Yep,” I say. “Kain’s utterly devoted to me, so no danger there!”

“Just as long as you don’t take advantage of that devotion and break HIS heart,” mum says.

“As if I would,” I mumble as we head to Lily’s school to pick her up before heading home.

After a quick dinner, I head upstairs to strip off my school uniform for the last time this week before tying my hair back into a severe bun and changing into the pink tights and skin-tight black leotard that make up my ballet uniform. Naturally, I have a grin on my face as I greet my six fellow ballerinas at the dance studio, and I try my hardest as always (even if I do sometimes have to remember that I’m not salsaing tonight), and I offer a round of applause for Melissa as she performs her ‘birthday routine’ for the class. All throughout the evening, however, I’m distracted by the dilemma that faces me- and when I head into the changing rooms after the lesson, it becomes immediately apparent that I’m not going to get any rest from the dilemma.

“Hey Laura,” Nicole says cautiously as I sit down next to her. “Saw you talking to Phil last night…”

“Yep, unfortunately,” I sigh.

“’Cause you- you seemed to be talking a lot,” Nicole mumbles. “When Mrs. Ingram sent you off to talk to him…”

“Oh- seriously, we were only rehearsing, nothing more,” I say. “You don’t want him back, do you?”

“Eww, no way!” Nicole sneers. “He’s a creep! I just- I just, you know, hope you don’t want him back either…”

“Trust me, she doesn’t,” Suriya says with a giggle as she unties her jet black bun. “You obviously didn’t see Laura’s face while she was rehearsing with Phil. I thought she was going to skin him with her eyes alone!”

“…I definitely tried,” I say, exchanging a giggle with my two friends.

“And you should’ve seen her face when she was dancing with Kain at Latin class!” The Indian girl squeaks excitedly. “Though I’ll be honest, Kain’s face was a lot more excited… As was another part of his anatomy, hehe!”

“Oh, you two are SO going to be glued together when he turns sixteen!” Nicole teases as my cheeks start to redden.

“Can we change the topic, please?” I plead. “Everyone looking forward to tomorrow?”

“A day of pampering, girliness and fun?” Mia giggles. “Who ISN’T looking forward to it?”

“I know I am!” Ashley giggles, sighing as she removes her pointe shoes. “PLEASE tell me we’ll be getting pedicures tomorrow?”

“Mum says we’ll be getting pampered literally from our head to our toes,” I explain. “So yeah, I’d say we are!”

“Just as long as your lipstick doesn’t all get rubbed off on Kain’s mouth!” Harriet teases, making me roll my eyes.

“Better Kain’s mouth than any other part of his body!” Suriya says with a devilish wink.

“Better Kain’s mouth than anyone else’s mouth!” Nicole teases, giggling as I give her a playful shove.

The teasing continues unabated, and it actually comes as a relief when mum arrives to take me home, though my relief is short-lived when I switch on my iPad to find a notification from the last person I was hoping to see.

‘Hi Laura,’ the message- from Phil, obviously- reads. ‘You doing anything tonight?’

‘Was at ballet,’ I reply as I sit down cross-legged on my bed.

‘Cool,’ Phil immediately replies, making me cringe- I’m obviously not going to get out of this conversation quickly and politely, and I want to stay polite to Phil if I have any chance of taking him up on his Heavenly Talent offer…

‘You been up to much?’ I type.

‘Just finishing homework,’ Phil replies. ‘My sister’s asked me to babysit tonight as she’s going on a traditional Angels night out.’

‘Asked YOU to babysit?’ I reply with a devilish smirk. ‘Isn’t babysitting usually a ‘girl’ thing?’ I hesitate before sending the message, debating whether or not to add a ‘winking’ emoji- but in the end, I add the emoji, which earns a ‘laughing’ one from Phil in return.

‘It’s actually my parents who are babysitting,’ Phil types with an ‘embarrassed’ emoji. ‘I’m on nappy duty for a bit of extra pocket money.’

‘Elbow deep in shit?’ I type. ‘Serves you right!’ Fortunately, my ‘sticking out tongue’ emoji gets a ‘laughing’ one in reply.

‘I’m also on cuddle duty,’ Phil types, attaching a selfie of himself with the tiny giggling baby in his other arm.

‘Destiny is SO cute,’ I type. ‘How old is she?’

‘Eight months,’ Phil replies. ‘Viks is still a nervous wreck every time she leaves her lol.’

‘Where’s her dad, then?’ I ask.

‘Busy working,’ Phil replies. ‘Her dad’s the manager of Heavenly Talent! Told you I was connected.’ I roll my eyes at Phil’s ‘winking’ emoji, but I inadvertently end up letting out a giggle anyway.

‘Her dad is where she gets her skin colour from?’ I ask.

‘Yep,’ Phil replies. ‘Thought you knew the history of the Benedict family? I’m sure you met Jon while we were going out…’

‘That was a long time ago,’ I remind the sixteen year old boy. ‘Just took a while to put it together in my head. And her dark skin makes her even cuter!’

‘I think so too,’ Phil types with a ‘smiling’ emoji. ‘You say you just got back from ballet? Is Krystie back yet?’

‘Miss Fullerton?’ I ask with a ‘sticking out tongue’ emoji. ‘Think she’s back in January. Mademoiselle Renou’s been doing all the classes though she has some help sometimes.’

‘You know she’s engaged to a transgendered woman?’ Phil asks, making me roll my eyes again. If he’s trying to impress me, he’s not succeeding…

‘Yes, I’ve met Miss Briggs,’ I type. ‘She’s helped out a few times in class. Did YOU know that she’s never taken any female hormones, but is girly and gorgeous anyway?’

‘She can’t look too good in her leotard then,’ Phil retorts.

‘She’s not ‘obvious’ if that’s what you mean,’ I type.

‘I bet you look better,’ Phil types, making me giggle girlishly as I slip off my bed and head over to my mirror to take a selfie.

‘Judge for yourself,’ I type, attaching the selfie. Naturally, I’m almost buzzing with excitement when Phil’s reply is a ‘drooling’ emoji, but before I can type another message, a voice in the back of my head reminds me of a simple fact that I’d somehow forgotten- that I have a boyfriend, and that boyfriend most definitely is NOT Phil Brooks.

“Oh- oh shit,” I whisper aloud.

‘You’re looking hottttttttt!’ Phil types with a ‘sunglasses’ emoji that actually makes me groan.

‘Thanks,’ I type. ‘G2G now, long day tomorrow.’

‘Okay,’ Phil types. ‘Talk soon? I can still put in that word to Jon if you want.’

‘Sure,’ I type. ‘Bye!’

‘Ttyl!’ Phil types with a smiling emoji that makes me sigh as I log out of Facebook and switch off my iPad. I try to control my churning stomach as I lay back on my bed and silently curse myself over how easily I fell for Phil’s charms, how easily I was seduced- almost literally- by the sixteen year old boy.

But the fact remains, though, that he obviously likes me, he can ‘connect’ me to people who would give my dreams of being an actress a MASSIVE boost, he’s good-looking- he’s literally a male model, for god’s sake- he’s very self-confident, he’s gentle, as the picture of him with his niece proves… He’s, in many ways, ‘superior’ to my current boyfriend. And he’s already sixteen, so there’s nothing holding us back from being physical with each other- not even my ‘genetics’. And yet, if I did dump Kain, I know he’d never forgive me, nor would my friends, or my family… And I have to admit, I’d never be able to forgive myself either.

I put all thoughts of boys out of my mind- which takes a hell of a lot of doing at the best of times- as I climb into bed, getting an early night ahead of tomorrow’s festivities. Fortunately, when I wake up, my head is a lot clearer- and when I step outside my bedroom to see the landing lined with neon pink balloons, all my anxieties suddenly disappear.

“There’s the birthday girl!” Mum giggles as I walk downstairs, my cheeks starting to redden. “Well, birthday plus three days, anyway!”

“Wednesday was always the worst day of the week to have a birthday,” Sean chuckles. “Especially one like your sixteenth! Fortunately, this Saturday will more than make up for it, heh!”

“So get your breakfast down you quick,” mum says, shoving two slices of toast and a cup of sweet-smelling coffee under my nose. “Your brother will be arriving to take you to the salon in half an hour!”

“Okay, I- wait, Ricky’s taking me to the salon?” I ask.

“Yep,” mum says with a proud smile.

“…RICKY,” I repeat. “Is taking ME, to the SALON?”

“Told you,” Sean says with a smug grin, making me roll my eyes. “Ricky will be driving you, but technically the salon visit is on his girlfriend.”

“A- Alice?” I ask, as a light bulb suddenly switches on in my brain. Phil isn’t the only person with a family member- well, sort-of, anyway- who has an ‘in’ with Heavenly Talent…

“Yep!” Mum says proudly. “The salon’s owned by her boss, so we can get friend and family rates.”

“AND jump the queue on a Saturday!” Sean chuckles. “So go on, get dressed, something casual. We’ll bring your outfit to change into once they’ve done your hair and make-up.”

“Wait- I’m changing at the salon?” I ask. “Why, exactly?”

“You’ll see,” mum says with a smug grin. “Now go, on, get dressed!” I nod my head and do as mum says, pulling on a plain long-sleeved top, a pair of black tights and a denim miniskirt, before heading down to Sean’s car.

My jaw drops when we arrive at the beauty salon and I see exactly what mum and Sean- and Ricky and Alice, of course- have lined up for me today. Unlike the salons I’ve been to in the past, this one is like a palace, with lots of bright, shiny fittings and decorations lining the wall, and a marble-like floor- and, most importantly, photos of the Angels and Out of Heaven (and other Heavenly Talent acts) on each wall. All around me, my seven friends are already receiving manicures, pedicures and numerous other luxury beauty treatments, and I giggle nervously as I’m directed toward my plush chair and the grinning beautician who’s stood beside it.

“Hi!” The short girl- whose blonde hair contrasts sharply with her over-tanned skin- says with exaggerated enthusiasm. “I’m Georgie, and I’ll be working with you today!”

“Hi!” I say with a nervous giggle as I sit down and the beautician immediately starts washing my long blonde tresses.

“So, you’re the birthday girl, eh?” Georgie asks with a giggle.

“Well- three days ago, but yeah!” I chuckle. “This place looks SO amazing.”

“OMG it totally is!” Georgie squeaks, making me frown with confusion as she says the acronym out loud. “Like, I started working here in September after I finished college, which was just SO boring, but my boyfriend’s sister is one of the Angels, so she spoke to the manager, and now here I am!”

“You- you’re going out with one of the Angels’ brothers?” I ask, immediately wondering whether or not Phil is up to his old tricks.

“Uh- uh-huh,” Georgie says. “Krystie Fullerton’s little brother. Well, he’s not ‘little’, if you get what I mean, hehe!” Seriously? I think to myself. When you know I’m under eighteen?

“Right…” I say.

“’Cause he’s, like, six foot three,” Georgie clarifies, making me breathe a sigh of relief. THAT was something I did NOT want to chat about with a beautician, of all people…

“So, like, Marl- that’s his name, Marley- spoke to Krystie, who spoke to Josh Benedict, and, like, here I am?” Georgie continues.

“That easy?” I ask, genuinely interested in Georgie’s story.

“Uh- uh-huh,” Georgie says. “I mean, like, I’d LOVE to be a model, but, like, it’s SO much work, and, like, I’ve got this qualify-ation thingy so, like, I might as well use it, right?”

“Yeah,” I say. “Like, if you’ve got a connection to someone rich and famous, you use that too?”

“Uh- uh-huh!” Georgie giggles. Sweet, I think to myself. I can ask Alice, get my ‘in’ and I won’t ever have to talk to Phil bloody Brooks ever again…

After my hair is washed, shortened by a few inches (but not TOO many) and styled into a fashionable, flowing wave, I’m given a full pedicure followed by a manicure, with my long, tapered nails being reshaped and coated in a deep red polish. Last but not least is my make-up. My face is covered in a glossy foundation, and thick, heavy fake eyelashes are weaved into my real ones. Dark eyeliner comes next, followed by a glittery bronze eyeshadow and a very deep red lipstick that leaves me looking as girly and glamorous as any of the Angels and celebrities whose images adorn the wall of the salon. Georgie is just putting the finishing touches on my lips when one of the women from the pictures enters the salon and makes a beeline straight for me.

“Aww,” Alice giggles in her thick north-eastern accent. “You look SO gorgeous, hehe!”

“Thanks!” I giggle, trying my hardest not to get too emotional and therefore ruin my expensive make-up. “Thank you SO much for this, this is SO cool!”

“Ah, anything for my little sister, hehe!” Alice giggles. “And besides, I kinda get mates’ rates!”

“Do- do you two know each other?” Georgie asks.

“I should do,” Alice says. “I’ve been going out with her brother for the last six months!”

“OMG that is so cool!” Georgie squeaks. “Like, Alice can set you up with Josh Benedict too!”

“Yeah, if only it was THAT easy, heh,” Alice chuckles nervously as I feel my heart sink. “I mean, I can ASK, like, but- ehh… If you had a little more experience you’d be in a better position to, like, get a modelling contract- that is what you were talking about, right?”

“Umm, kinda,” I mumble.

“…Well it’s not like you can’t get the experience,” Alice shrugs. “When you get home I’ll fish out a few contacts for you, there’s loads of work for amateur models in London if you know where to look for it, and lucky for you, your big sister does, hehe! I know Nikki’s wife and her uni mates have been looking for models for their projects recently, maybe you could hook up with them?”

“Maybe,” I say, wondering whether or not the universe is desperate for me to get back together with Phil- and how truthful he was being about his 'in' with Heavenly Talent...

“But today,” Alice says with a giggle, “you can stop worrying about work, and start thinking about fun, hehe! So come on, we’ve cleared out the back room for you to get changed.”

“Why am I getting changed again?” I ask as I’m led to the storage room, where my friends are already stripping off their clothes and placing them in plastic bags that have been supplied for us. At Alice’s urging, I do the same, and much to my surprise, so does she, before reaching into a garment bag and producing a truly stunning-looking gold-coloured evening-style dress.

“That dress is GORGEOUS,” Megan gushes as Alice steps into it and I help zip it shut.

“Aye, it is,” Alice giggles. “Now look in your bags.” The eight of us do as we’re told, before all simultaneously gasping as we discover equally beautiful dresses in our garment bags, along with gorgeous (and somewhat painful-looking) high-heeled shoes and designer handbags to match each dress.

“Oh my god!” Nicole squeaks as she holds her dark red dress against her body. “Thank you so much!”

“Now just so you know,” Alice says, “these are rentals, just for today. I kinda nicked them from the Heavenly Talent offices and they will be expecting them back in one piece- the shoes too, I’m afraid. Well, apart from mine of course, heh!”

“Oh- okay,” Ashley mumbles.

“And apart from yours, birthday girl!” Alice giggles, giving me a tight hug as I inspect my new dress, my hands shaking with excitement.

The dress is made of a very soft, shimmering bronze-coloured fabric that feels amazing against my fingers and will no doubt feel even more incredible against my skin. The skirt is floor-length, but has a high slit up one side that will show off a lot of leg, and is low-cut enough to show off just the tiniest bit of cleavage, while the thin straps of the dress will show off virtually all of my smooth, slender arms once I’ve got it on- and naturally, I waste no time in doing just that, giggling as I’m also helped into my fancy high-heeled shoes that elevate me to almost the same height as Megan!

“Wow,” I breathe as I do a twirl in my new dress to the delight of my friends. “This is AMAZING. Thank you so, so much!”

“Don’t thank me just yet,” Alice says with a sly grin. “Amazing is just getting started, hehe! Now come on, don’t want to keep them waiting!”

“What- in these dresses?” Megan asks nervously.

“You didn’t get a makeover and a new dress just to hide away in a cupboard!” Alice laughs. “We’re gorgeous women, we’ve got to show the world that!” Nervously- thanks both to the height of my heels and stepping outside in such a ‘grown-up’ dress- I follow Alice back through the salon and out the front entrance, where, much to my shock and delight, two very fancy black limousines are waiting for us.

“Oh my god!” Priya exclaims. “It’s just like prom!”

“It’s LIKE prom,” Alice says as a smartly-dressed man jumps out of the limousine and holds the door open for us. “But it’s much, much better!” Trembling with excitement, I climb into the back seat of the limo and am soon joined by Megan, Ashley and finally Alice, who surprises the three of us by taking four champagne glasses and a glass bottle from the limo’s fridge.

“…You DO know we’re, like, not eighteen yet?” Megan asks. “Ashley’s not even FIFteen yet!”

“Thanks,” my fellow transgendered girl says to my blushing BFF.

“That’s why this is lemonade instead of champagne,” Alice giggles. “I’m going out with your brother, Laura, don’t want your mum pissed off at me, do I? I especially don’t want that from either of your grandmas!”

“…It’ll do,” I giggle, clinking my glass of fizzy drink with my friends as the limo moves away.

Unsurprisingly, the limo’s destination is my home, but what is surprising is the décor when we arrive- the balloons are streamers are back on the front gate, but leading up to it is a long, fancy red carpet, and the second I step onto the carpet, I’m ambushed by the flashbulbs of numerous ‘paparazzi’- though one of the camerawomen does look familiar.

“Come on, give us a pose!” Jacinta giggles as she takes her pictures, and I happily oblige, alternating between smiling and pouting as I place one hand on my hip and clutch my tiny handbag in the other.

Hundreds and hundreds of photos are taken of me as I coolly and (despite my extra-high heels) elegantly stride down the carpet, before arriving at a cardboard backdrop, similar to the ones you find at celebrity functions or award ceremonies, covered in the logos of various ‘sponsors’. These ‘sponsors’, though, are merely the logos of Heavenly Talent, the Angels, out of Heaven… And a specially designed logo featuring an ‘X’ and an ‘8’.

“Welcome to the sweetest sweet sixteen of all time!” Mum says, making me blush as she photographs me in front of the ‘sponsor board’.

“Thanks,” I mumble.

“Couldn’t think of anything more appropriate than a ‘celebrity’ theme for my superstar daughter!” Mum giggles. “Though you will have to thank your brother and his girlfriend as well!”

“Oh- believe me, I will!” I giggle as I turn to allow mum to photograph every angle of my beautiful dress- and, as I’m quickly reminded, my beautiful face!

Eventually, I step aside to make way for Alice and the rest of my ‘excellent eight’, as well as my family (including a very excited-looking Lily), and I’m about to head into my house when, much to my surprise, a third limo pulls up, and several very familiar, very smartly-dressed young men step out, each one looking increasingly uncomfortable as they’re photographed by the ‘paparazzi’. I bite my lip and giggle excitedly as one of the young men approaches me and gives me a soft, gentle kiss on my lips.

“Hey,” Kain whispers, seemingly ignoring my giggle that my heels have made me the same height as him!

“Hi,” I coo. “You look HOT!”

“Yeah, it is a bit warm,” Kain says, before chuckling with embarrassment. “…Thanks. You look REALLY beautiful, Laura.”

“Thanks,” I reply quietly, giving Kain another kiss- that the ‘paparazzi’ eagerly photograph- before linking my fingers with him and heading into our living room, which has been turned into an impromptu ‘reception room’ with tables filled with drinks and trays of finger food dotting the sides.

Naturally, I hang off of Kain for most of the ‘party’, even though I do make a point of mingling and speaking with everyone. Well, mostly the girls, and by ‘speaking’ I of course mean ‘comparing dresses’! Eventually, though, we’re ushered out of the room temporarily while the boys set up some chairs, and when we return, the ‘reception room’ has turned into a mini-cinema with rows of seats and a projector pointed at the front of the room. Obviously, I take a seat on the front row of chairs, alongside Kain and the rest of my family, while mum stands at the front- and even before she’s opened her mouth, I start to cringe, knowing what’s coming next.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” mum announces. “Sixteen years- and three days- ago, I gave birth to a beautiful little baby.”

“You gave this speech three days ago,” I moan, earning giggles from the crowd and a playful sigh from my mother.

“Not THIS one, I didn’t,” mum retorts, chuckling as I playfully roll my made-up eyes. “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, sixteen years ago I gave birth to a beautiful blue-eyed baby. If you’d told me then what she’d be like when she turned sixteen, well, for obvious reasons, I would have had my doubts.” THAT’S as subtle as you could make it? I think to myself. “However,” mum continues, “if you were to tell me that she would have such an amazing group of friends, and be such a talented, intelligent and- on rare occasion- mature young woman, then I would have considered my job as a mother to have been a success.”

“Definitely more successful than your first kid,” I say, giggling as I feel a hard kick in the back of my chair from my brother!

“So here’s to you, my brilliant daughter,” mum says. “Normally at this point, I’d show a slideshow of photos from throughout Laura’s life, but as I’m sure you can all appreciate, photos from when Laura was at primary school wouldn’t really be appropriate. But that’s okay, because I’ve had the chance to take several over the last four years!”

I immediately bury my face in my hands and squeal with embarrassment as photos of my younger self appear on the screen- photos of me after my first ballet class, the first photo taken of me in my secondary school uniform, photos of me in school plays, in gymnastics competitions, at dance recitals… And, worst of all, the photo taken of me in my dress before my first date at Phil’s house. Obviously mum forgot the context of THAT photo. What mum hasn’t forgotten, sadly, is the video of the fashion show she held for my twelfth birthday party, and squeals of embarrassment immediately come from Priya, Suriya, Nicole and Megan as images of their younger selves appear on the screen.

Fortunately, that ritual humiliation comes to an end shortly afterward, though once the video ends, I and my friends are ushered back out to the red carpet for yet more ritual humiliation, as we’re made to stroll up and down it whilst being photographed, just as we had been four years ago.

“Ah,” Alice giggles as I stroll down the runway and, once again, pose and pout for the cameras. “Reckon we’ve got a few future supermodels among us today, hehe!” Not without professional representation, I think to myself, but I keep a smile on my face as I watch my friends take their turn on the catwalk- especially Harriet, Mia and Ashley, who weren’t at my twelfth birthday party, but will definitely be at every single one of my parties from now on.

After one final group photo of the eight of us in our fancy dresses, my friends head into my bedroom and the bathroom to change back into their street clothes, before heading outside and waiting for their lifts home. Sadly, this also includes Kain- his suit may be more practical than our fancy dresses, and as it already belongs to him, he doesn’t need to change out of it, but he’s still picked up by his parents shortly after my friends leave. Obviously, I don’t let him leave without one final kiss- and as with at our Latin class, I can quite easily ‘feel’ how excited this makes him!

“See you Monday,” I whisper to the tall boy as I wrap my arms around his neck.

“See you,” Kain replies, giving me one more kiss before getting into his parents’ car, which I wave off before heading back into the suddenly very empty house.

“That was AMAZING,” I say as I dramatically flop onto the sofa, still wearing my fancy dress and heels. “Thank you all so, so much.”

“Ah, you’re very welcome,” Sean chuckles. “Gonna have a hard time topping this for Lily’s sweet sixteen. In 2023, heh!”

“And you can always thank us by changing back into your casual clothes and giving us a hand tidying up!” Mum says, making me chuckle and playfully roll my eyes.

“With these nails?” I ask, showing off my expensive manicure.

“You’ll have to take the polish off for school on Monday,” mum retorts. “Now come on, hop to it!”

“I note Ricky didn’t stick around to help clean up,” I scoff.

“Ricky doesn’t live here,” mum retorts. “You do. Chop chop!” I chuckle as I slip my heels off and jump off the sofa, before heading up to my bedroom to change out of my beautiful, expensive dress and back into the top and skirt I wore to the salon.

Before I head downstairs, I remember to plug in my iPad to charge it up, having nearly drained the battery last night, but as I do so, an unexpected notification pops up on the screen- ‘Phil Brooks has sent you a new message’. I let out a loud groan at the sight of the notification and put my iPad back on my dresser, but as I head downstairs, I grow increasingly curious as to what the message says. By the time I’ve finished helping mum, Sean and Lily tidy everything away, it’s taking all of my willpower not to sprint back upstairs and reply to Phil’s message- which makes me feel especially guilty when I do so, only to find the message has been bumped by other notifications, with one in particular drawing my attention.

‘Jacinta Hanley tagged you in a photo album’ is what the notification says, and when I unlock it, I sigh as I see a collection of photos from today of me on the red carpet, the most prominent picture being one of me and Kain kissing each other deeply. The one consolation is that Phil is friends with Jacinta too, so he’ll have access to the photos as well- and knowing the way he’s been the past few days, ever since we chatted at rehearsals, there’s no way he won’t have seen the pictures. I have s smug smirk on my face as I log into messenger and read the message that’s been left for me.

‘Hi Laura,’ Phil’s message reads. ‘Hope today goes well. I’ve talked to Viks and asked her if she can get you an interview with Heavenly Talent and she said it’s definitely possible if you’re still interested.’ I roll my eyes at the last part of the message- before even waiting for me to message him back, he’s pushed the one button he knows will get a reaction from me. Then again, with Nikki and Alice both denying me, he IS my only way in with Heavenly Talent… But then again, if it wasn’t for him putting the idea in my head, I probably wouldn’t be as obsessed as am I right now…

‘Hi Phil,’ I type. ‘Had a great day today. Seen the pictures?’ Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t take long for Phil’s reply to come through.

‘Yeah,’ the sixteen year old boy says. ‘You looked really hot today.’

‘Thanks,’ I reply, giggling out loud and immediately chastising myself for doing so.

‘The party was Alice’s idea, right?’ Phil asks.

‘Yep,’ I reply, smirking devilishly as I type my next message. Way to dig your own grave, Brooks… ‘You’re not the only one related to an Angel! And I talked to her about getting HT representation, she reckons I’d need more experience first.’

‘Alice isn’t as well connected as I am,’ Phil types.

“Ugh,” I groan aloud. “Is that bullshit I smell?”

‘She IS an Angel,’ I type.

‘My brother-in-law’s the manager of the agency,’ Phil retorts. ‘All I need to do is ask him.’ Despite my best efforts, I find myself again being tempted by his offer.

‘And YOU are really going to influence him?’ I ask.

‘I got myself a contract,’ Phil types.

‘And how much modelling work have you done?’ I ask. Now THIS is the big question…

‘I’ve done some,’ Phil types.

‘Do you have any links to any of the work you’ve done?’ I ask.

‘Not right now,’ Phil replies, making me roll my eyes.

‘It’s okay, I can wait while you find a link,’ I reply, hoping that my smugness isn’t too obvious.

‘Hang on,’ Phil types. I take a deep breath in the conversation, during which I lay back on my bed and silently groan at how easily I was taken in by Phil’s bullshit. He knows I want to be famous. He knows I idolise the Angels, and he had absolutely no problem playing on that for whatever reason. To get into my pants? I should be flattered, but instead, I’m revolted. Never mind five months, I’d rather wait five YEARS for Kain than jump straight into bed with a liar and a manipulator like Phil. Then again, if he HAS done genuine model work, and if he ISN’T lying…

I let out a long sigh as my iPad beeps to inform me of a new Facebook message, but when I check it, I see it isn’t from the wannabe Casanova- who is taking a VERY long time finding a picture to show to me- but from one of the young women who made my actual birthday three days ago so special.

‘Hi Laura!’ Nikki types with a ‘grinning’ emoji. ‘Saw the photos from today, you looked SO gorgeous! Sarah’s actually a little jealous as it’s her 21st in just over a week and she would’ve LOVED that theme. Never mind the fact that she’s been on plenty of red carpets before!’ I giggle at the ‘winking’ emoji Nikki adds to the end of her message.

‘Thanks!’ I reply. ‘Had such a great day today. And I won’t mind if Sarah wants to copy me.’ Fortunately, my own ‘winking’ emoji earns a ‘laughing’ on in response.

‘You can tell her that tomorrow, if you want,’ Nikki types, confusing me. ‘I’ve had a word with her and the other uni girls and they’d be happy to put some modelling work your way if you want. Obviously we can’t offer any underwear or swimwear work but they’ve got an armful of bespoke dresses that need someone to wear them if you’re interested.’

‘I’d love to!’ I type, barely containing my excitement. ‘What time do you want me to be there?’

‘Whenever’s convenient for you,’ Nikki types. ‘Just give me a shout and I’ll come and pick you up. Reckon the whole thing will take about 2 or 3 hours, will £40 be okay? It’s a lot higher than national minimum wage for a 16 year old.’ I giggle at Nikki’s joke, and her ‘sticking out tongue’ emoji, before replying.

‘Sounds great!’ I type. ‘Will noon be okay?’

‘I’ll let Sarah know now,’ Nikki types with a ‘happy’ emoji. I spend the next fifteen seconds literally buzzing with excitement, before being brought back down to Earth by Phil’s long-overdue reply to my request.

‘Here,’ Phil types, attaching a picture of him modelling a designer t-shirt in front of a white background. On closer examination, however, it’s very obvious that the background is in fact a bedsheet, and just visible underneath Phil is a patch of carpet, which looks suspiciously like the same carpet he has in his bedroom.

‘That’s the photo?’ I type.

‘Yep,’ Phil replies. ‘Did it for a new clothing firm a few months ago.’

‘When you were fifteen?’ I ask, sighing as I know just as well as Phil does that Heavenly Talent has a strict no under-16s policy.

‘I meant last month,’ Phil corrects himself, making me groan loudly. ‘So do you want to meet up tomorrow, maybe get a coffee, I can pass your details onto Jonathan?’

‘I’ll think about it,’ I type, before immediately composing another message. ‘I’ve thought about it. NO.’

‘I thought you wanted to be famous?’ Phil types. ‘I’m your best chance of that happening.’

‘You are so full of shit,’ I type with a smug smile on my face. ‘I’m unavailable tomorrow as I’ll be doing some actual paid modelling work, and not taking a selfie in front of a sheet in my bedroom!’

‘I AM a real model,’ Phil insists. ‘I CAN set up a meeting for you with the manager of Heavenly Talent.’

‘How many other girls have you conned by saying that?’ I type. ‘Do you even have a modelling contract with them?’

‘I have a contract with them,’ Phil types.

‘And how many actual modelling jobs have you done?’ I ask.

‘None yet,’ Phil types. His message contains a lot more words than those two, but I choose to ignore them, having learned all I need to.

‘Thought so,’ I type. ‘Goodbye, Phil.’

‘Suit yourself,’ Phil types. ‘Dunno why I’d want to go out with a fat transvestite anyway.’

‘Fuck you, cunt,’ I type before logging out of messenger and immediately blocking Phil from my account- something I should’ve done when I unfriended him two years ago. I lay back on my bed as I try to let my frustration and anger at the teenaged arsehole wash over me, but his final words stick in my mind.

‘Fat’. ‘Transvestite’. The two words that have haunted me the most over the last four years, words Phil knows hurt me far more than any swear word. The odd thing is, though, I don’t know which one hurts the most, as both of them are very obviously incorrect. When I look at my body in the mirror, the only ‘expanded’ bits are on my chest, and to a lesser extent, my hips and my bottom. My stomach is flat and taut, and I don’t own a single piece of clothing that has a size larger than ‘10’ (and even then those clothes feel baggy on me). I have a boyfriend who can barely control himself when he’s around me, and several others at school who clearly lust over me. Even Phil himself compared me to Hannah Dexter- who the lads’ mags usually put in the top 5 of their ‘world’s sexiest women’ lists- just a few days ago. I have no reason, none whatsoever, to believe that I am anything other than a fit and sexy young woman.

One thing’s for certain, though, is that I do suddenly feel a lot heavier and a lot less feminine than I have done in a very long time…

I try my hardest to put these thoughts out of my head for the rest of the evening, and especially the following day when Nikki’s car pulls up to take me to ‘my photoshoot’.

“Hey Laura!” Nikki giggles as I climb onto the back seat behind her wife.

“Hey,” I reply. “Thanks for, you know, letting me do this.”

“No, thank you!” Sarah- Nikki’s wife- giggles. “Not that I don’t already have a supremely girly and gorgeous model who usually begs me to let her wear my clothes, but she said that you were looking for a little extra work and, well, you’re 5’ 9”, as girly as it’s possible to get and you don’t have an ounce of fat anywhere on your body, so I’d be daft not to say ‘yes’!”

“Thanks,” I mumble, Sarah’s words resonating against what I was told last night. “Did- did you, you know, umm, talk to Phil Brooks?”

“Phil Brooks?” Nikki asks. “Viks’s creepy little brother?” Despite myself, I’m forced to let out a loud giggle at the unflattering- but very accurate- description.

“Don’t think I’ve ever spoken to him,” Sarah muses. “He’s the same age as you, right?”

“About a month older,” I say.

“Nope, pretty sure I’ve never really interacted with him,” Sarah says.

“Lucky you,” I snort, sighing as Sarah looks at me confusedly. “…Ex-boyfriend.”

“Say no more,” Sarah sighs. “You were a fan of the Teen Angels, weren’t you? Think I remember Nikki saying something about meeting you before?”

“We’ve met a few times before,” I reply. “Think the Sunday Globe thing was the last time. And yes, I liked the Teen Angels, and yes, I recognise you as well, heh. Though I do follow your Instagram too.”

“Ah, my sexy, famous wife!” Nikki giggles. “You’ll meet two other members of the Teen Angels today as well, Katie and Lauren.”

“The only other GOOD members,” Sarah snorts. “Trust me, you are NOT missing anything by not meeting Dannii bloody Samson!”

“Especially if the rumours are true,” Nikki clarifies. “But yeah, you’re definitely doing Sarah and the girls a favour, none of us are blonde, for starters, so we might be putting a bit more work your way soon as well!”

“Cool!” I squeak.

“It’s about time our ‘family’ had another ‘little sister’,” Nikki says, giving me a sense of great contentment. “Trust me when I say, Laura- your life is going to get a lot more fun from this point onward!”

I giggle happily at Nikki’s reassurance as the car heads back to her and her wife’s tiny flat where, as promised, I spent the afternoon trying on several gorgeous hand-made dresses while being photographed for Nikki’s wife’s website and her university dissertation. So I’m not a superstar now. Big deal. Most girls don’t become world-famous days after their sixteenth birthday anyway.

And I don’t have a sex life yet. Again- big deal. Most girls don’t lose their virginity on their sixteenth birthday. Okay, a lot of them lose it BEFORE their sixteenth birthday, but I’m not one of THOSE girls, and I’m NOT going to take advantage of my underage boyfriend, no matter how ‘ready’ he may be. He certainly likes the photos that are taken of me today, especially after Sarah insisted that I keep on his bracelet, which all of the older girls cooed over when I explained the story behind it. The more time I spend as Kain’s girlfriend, the more I realise I am lucky to be able to call myself that.

People like Phil Brooks can simply get the fuck out of my life. I have no space for them and no need for them. I have an amazing family, the best friends in the world, a cute boyfriend, great ‘mentor’-type people in Jamie, Nikki and Jacinta, I’m getting good grades in my GCSEs and I’m now even getting paid modelling work. Nikki’s right- my life WILL only get better from now on, especially as I’ll soon be in receipt of a full dose of oestrogen.

I just wish I could stop feeling so self-conscious about my body…

If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
32 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 17963 words long.