Stephanie, part 16

I let out several shrieks of laughter as the loud music pulses inside my head, mixing with the alcohol and the hot, sweaty atmosphere of the nightclub to create a strong sense of euphoria. This euphoria is, of course, helped by the short, tight black dress I’ve squeezed my fledgling curves into, the thick make-up on my face and the extra-high heeled shoes attached to my feet!

I’m no stranger to loud music and crowded situations, of course- but it makes a nice change to be in the crowd for once, rather than stood above it, especially as the crowd is full of tall, handsome young men… And one exceptionally beautiful petite young woman.

It’s been just under two months since the first kiss between myself and Kayla, and in that time, our relationship has grown stronger- but at a very, very slow rate. Emotionally, we’re ‘there’- we talk freely with each other about everything. Our feelings, our hopes and our desires- well… Maybe not that last one, as physically, our relationship has barely got beyond square one. We frequently cuddle up together on the sofa, we kiss each other good night every time we go to bed- before going to sleep in separate beds. We’ve not yet shared a bed, even two months on, and beyond the occasional hand up each other's tops, we’ve not made any sexual ‘exploration’ at all- not that I could, even if I wanted to, thanks to the oestrogen that’s been flooding my body for the last year and a bit.

It’s hardly a secret that Kayla’s only ever been in relationships with men, and as such, has certain ‘expectations’. Then again, I’ve only ever been in relationships with men- well, A relationship with A man, who was just as ‘anatomically reversed’ as I am. Then again, I never slept with Kurt, either…

This uncertainty isn’t exactly helping our relationship, but at the same time, we know that we can’t risk taking things any faster for fear of damaging our friendship, which is far more valuable to the both of us than any physical desires (my ‘desires’ being another thing diminished by the oestrogen). Therefore, we’re taking it slow, and apart from those who already know about our relationship (our families, Nikki, Sarah, Natalie and Dr Phillips), we’re also keeping it quiet for now- a ruse that’s hopefully being maintained by the sight of me dancing with a tall, sexy guy while Kayla does the same thing in another part of the club.

The two of us stay out extra-late tonight for two very important reasons- first, we chose a REALLY good nightclub, and second, tonight is Friday the 22nd of December- or, more accurately, it’s the early hours of the morning of Saturday the 23rd of December- and tonight is our last chance to party before Christmas!

“Ahh!” Adeola cries as we leave the club just after 2am to be greeted by a VERY cold blast of winter air. “Why didn’t I wear tights tonight?”

“Because you have long, sexy legs that deserve to be shown off!” Marco- Addie’s boyfriend- says, wrapping his arms around the dark-skinned girl in an attempt to keep her warm.

“No good being ‘sexy’ if they freeze solid and snap off at the hip, innit?” Adeola protests, shivering as she climbs into a waiting cab with her boyfriend and Becca and her fiancé.”

“Well I AM wearing tights,” Kayla announces, gesturing to her short, shiny legs, “and I’m still freezing!”

“Having 0.01% body fat will do that,” Nikki teases as we (accompanied by Nikki’s wife, of course) climb into our cab and huddle together on the back seat for warmth.

“Oh- shut up,” Kayla retorts, before giggling as the cab pulls away. “I SO can’t wait for my bed…”

“And is- is it still, you know… ‘Your’ bed?” Sarah asks hesitantly, making my eyes widen.

“Shh!” I hiss. “Careless talk costs careers!”

“Oh relax,” Nikki sighs. “These cabs are soundproof, I should know, my dad drives one. Driver can’t hear what we’re saying.”

“Though if you don’t want to talk, that’s okay,” Sarah says. “Probably not the right time or place-“

“-Or the right blood alcohol level for it!” Nikki interrupted, making her wife drunkenly giggle.

“But we’ll still be here if you need to chat,” Sarah says with a warm smile. “Though this is your flat…”

“Yep!” Kayla says with an obviously forced smile. “See you tomorrow- or tonight, hehe! At the gift exchange, okay?”

“Like we’d miss that!” Nikki giggled. “See you later, Staylagator!”

“Until tomorrow, Snikkihollow!” I reply, making the married couple giggle excitedly as their cab pulls away.

Naturally, once we enter our flat, the first thing we do is switch on the central heating. The second thing we do is kick off our torturously high-heeled shoes, and the third thing we do is give each other a long, deep kiss.

“Mmm,” Kayla moans happily as our tongues slide over each other. “…You really taste of booze, hehe!”

“Not my fault you’re teetotal!” I retort, before leaning in for another kiss.

“Let’s- let’s get some sleep,” Kayla says, gently placing her hand on my chest and giving me a soft, gentle kiss before heading into her bedroom. However, her bedroom door is thin enough to let me hear the long, drawn-out sigh she lets out once her door is closed- something I repeat after closing my bedroom door behind me. She’s clearly frustrated, and if I’m honest, so am I.

I’ve got no problem with never having had sex as a man. My life as ‘Steve’ is in the past, where it belongs. It- and I do mean ‘it’- isn’t coming back. I consider my relationship with Kayla to be a lesbian one, and she says she does too- but I can’t help but wonder whether or not, deep down, she truly means it, whether she’s truly adjusted her ‘expectations’. Hell, some couples even go years without ever having sex, and if I’m honest with myself, that prospect doesn’t bother me a great deal- but it might bother Kayla, and that’s the tricky part. A relationship is a partnership, we’re both equals, we both have ‘needs’ that the other must satisfy. Kayla definitely satisfies my ‘emotional needs’, but I can’t say for certain that I satisfy her needs- and that’s what makes me concerned for the long-term future of our relationship.

In the short-term, however, I’m satisfied that things are going okay, especially with one of our favourite times of the year fast approaching. Despite my hangover, I have a smile on my face when the cold winter sun shines through my curtains, waking me from my slumber. My smile widens when I open my bedroom door and am greeted by the high-pitched sound of Super Mario’s voice.

“Starting early, then?” I ask, trying to disguise the pain in my head as I pour a hot, sweet mug of coffee.

“I’m going to get this Power Moon even if it kills me,” Kayla replies, a look of pure determination on her face. However, it’s what’s on her body that interests me the most.

In stark contrast to her ‘high fashion’ tiny clubbing dress from last night, Kayla is dressed in a very warm-looking pair of pyjamas with a pink floral pattern on them, and on her feet, instead of the torturous stilettos of last night, are a pair of very warm-looking fleece lined booties. Kayla’s hair is messy and unwashed, and her face is make-up free… And yet she looks just as beautiful as she did last night when she was dolled up to the nines. I let out a small giggle as I grab our ‘snuggle blanket’ from the side of the sofa and wrap it around my own nightie-clad body, before crashing on the sofa next to Kayla and letting wrap the rest of the blanket around her.

“Mmm…” I moan contentedly. “Cozy…”

“Yeah,” Kayla giggles. “You’d probably be cozier if you weren’t hungover. And don’t argue, I can still smell it!”

“Girls just wanna have fu-un…” I sing, making Kayla giggle. “That counts as a private concert, by the way, so you owe me £200.” I giggle as Kayla rolls her eyes, before pausing the game and giving me a soft kiss on my lips.

“That counts as a meet and greet, by the way, so you owe ME £300!” The tiny blonde girl teases, making me giggle.

“Tell me where you got your pyjamas and we’ll call it quits,” I retort, gently stroking the extra-soft fabric covering Kayla’s arms.

“Yeah… Sadly they don’t do them in adult sizes, heh,” my girlfriend sighs, making me smile sympathetically. Kayla’s always been self-conscious about her height, and how youthful she looks… Maybe this is another reason why there’s so much anxiety in our relationship?

“Still cute, though,” I say, making Kayla giggle.

“Thanks!” Kayla squeaks. “I’m not wearing it to the gift exchange, though!”

“Meh,” I reply. “Their loss, my gain. Have you wrapped all your gifts?”

“Yep,” Kayla sighs. “One of the things that sucks the most about keeping ‘us’ secret, we can’t save time and money on gift wrapping!”

“But on the plus side,” I retort, “we get to spend twice as much time shopping for gifts?”

“…We’ll do that anyway when we tell everyone,” Kayla giggles as I bite my lip.

“Yeah,” I say hesitantly. “About that…”

“Ugh,” Kayla spits. “Really- really not the time. REALLY not the time, what with Christmas in two days, and besides, we’ll be spending it mostly with family… Probably not going to so much as see another ‘halo wearer’ until the New Year.”

“At which point we’re going to be up to our eyeballs either touring or working on our third album,” I retort, making the tiny blonde girl sigh.

“…Probably,” Kayla concedes. “But this thing needs to be done carefully. You of all people should know that.”

“I of all people should know why you don’t keep secrets in the first place!” I say, before taking a deep breath. “We’ve had this discussion hundreds of times, we’re not going to do either of us any good having it again. ESPECIALLY at this time of year.”

“True,” Kayla says, before letting out a loud cheer as she finally clears the level she was stuck on. “Ugh, finally!”

“Ahh,” I giggle. “You know, sometimes I worry that I’ve, you know, ‘ruined’ you? Like, with videogames and pizza…”

“That’d only be true if gaming and pizza are ‘boy things’,” Kayla retorts. “Want to know how I know they’re not?”

“Go on,” I say.

“You play videogames and eat pizza,” Kayla says with a giggle, before smiling as I lean in for a kiss- though I can’t help but wonder whether or not the kiss is what Kayla was angling for, whether she’s able to see ‘Steph the best friend’ and ‘Steph the girlfriend’ as the same person. “If anything,” my girlfriend continues, “stuff like videogames and pizza have improved me, rather than the other way round. Made me, you know, a more ‘rounded’ person.”

“I would say ‘pizza usually has that effect’,” I say as I gently rub Kayla’s flat belly. “But for you… I’m not convinced, hehe!”

“Yeah,” Kayla laughs cautiously, before wriggling in her seat and causing me to hastily withdraw my hand from her stomach. “Doesn’t mean that I don’t still love more ‘traditional’ girl stuff, you know.”

“Yeah- remember this is me you’re talking to?” I say, making the blonde girl giggle. “Both in ‘knowing that you love that stuff’ and ‘really loving it myself’. And while we’re talking about ‘traditionally girly stuff’, I’m the one wearing a nightie and you’re the one in, like, ‘trouser pyjamas’…”

“That I’m going to swap for a pair of tights, a stretchy bodysuit and a long pencil skirt when we head out,” Kayla retorts. “Oh, and heels, of course!”

“Duh,” I giggle. “Though for me it’ll be a tight sweater, opaque tights and a knee-length leather skirt. Oh, and a pair of knee-high boots, of course!”

“Duh!” Kayla retorts with an excited giggle. “Ahh… You know, I’ve always really wondered, you know? Why it is that men wear trousers and women wear skirts, when logically, shouldn’t it be the other way round?”

“What, to give men more ‘room’?” I reply. “Thought the same thing myself. Yes, before you say it, it IS obvious that I’d have those thoughts.”

“I wasn’t going to say anything,” Kayla mock-protests.

“Nah, but I don’t blame you for thinking it,” I say. “I actually like, you know, having these conversations, being able to talk openly about gender-related stuff…”

“Me too,” Kayla says, cuddling her tiny body closer to mine. “So why DO men wear trousers and women wear skirts?”

“I dunno,” I shrug. “Social thing, maybe? I mean, skirts are less, you know, ‘convenient’, so women have to wear them to ‘know their place’?”

“I heard a saying recently, though,” Kayla retorts. “’A skirt is a symbol of strength’. Think Nikki told me that one. And she IS right.”

“Says the woman wearing a pair of trousers,” I say, gently stroking Kayla’s thigh. “God, these pyjamas are SO soft! You sure they don’t make them in adult sizes?”

“’Fraid so,” Kayla sighs. “And you’d be okay with wearing a pair of trousers to bed?”

“I’m okay wearing trousers full stop,” I reply. “Provided they’re pink, or made of a soft fabric, or have ‘women’s’ on the label…”

“Wish I’d known that before buying all your presents!” Kayla teases. “So… Are you saying you WOULDN’T be comfortable wearing a man’s skirt?”

“’Men’s skirts’ being…?” I ask.

“I dunno,” Kayla shrugs. “A kilt, maybe?”

“…’Kilt’, no, ‘tartan skirt’, yes,” I say, making Kayla giggle. “Think I’ve got one, actually- a tartan skirt, that is, not a kilt. Think I got it for Christmas two years ago from, umm…”

“One of the former members of our ‘family’?” Kayla asks with a sigh. “I was thinking about how much the family had grown when doing all the gift wrapping, forgot that sometimes it shrinks, too.”

“It’s weird,” I sigh. “It’s been, like, over a year since the quote-unquote ‘war’ and I haven’t so much as spoken to her, but I still kinda miss her, you know?”

“Yeah- I used to live with her, remember?” Kayla retorts.

“So did I,” I say. “Oh well. She made her bed, she can sleep in it.” I bite my lip as I realise that ‘sleeping in one’s own bed’ is still a sensitive topic for me and Kayla- but the blonde girl doesn’t seem to have noticed. Though I’m not sure whether to be relieved or frustrated by that fact…

“It’s really gratifying that Constellation haven’t released an album yet,” Kayla says with a smirk. “And from what Jon tells me, they’ll be on, like, half the pre-recorded Christmas shows that we are.”

“Thought it was pretty funny that we did the Strictly results show when they didn’t,” I chuckle. “Even though TWO of their members were on the show this year.”

“Hehe,” Kayla giggles. “Jon also says he’s 99% certain someone from Heavenly Talent will be on next year, which means us or the Angels, and there have already been two Angels on the show…”

“Too late to call dibs?” I ask.

“Maybe,” Kayla replies with a smug smile. “Though it’s more like it’s too early to call ANYTHING, it’s, like, nine months to the next series!”

“Nine months too long!” I giggle. “Ahh… We’re gonna have to get dressed eventually, aren’t we?”

“Can’t keep you out of a 100% gorgeous, 100% girly skirt forever!” Kayla giggles, unwrapping herself from the blanket. “And speaking of dibs- dibs on first use of the shower!”

“Go right ahead,” I say with a grin as I pick up Kayla’s discarded Switch controller, before spending the next half an hour gaming.

My gaming session, naturally, comes to an end when Kayla steps out of her bedroom and does a twirl in her outfit for the day, almost making me drool. Her bodysuit clings to every part of her torso, and the open back shows an enticing amount of skin, her skirt hugs her curves beautifully and her shiny black tights make her legs glisten in the light. Under ordinary circumstances, I’d be desperate to pull on such an outfit myself, and even though I’m making a mental note to buy Kayla’s entire outfit in my size, my main thought is how beautiful Kayla looks in her clothes- especially with her wavy blonde bob framing her lightly made-up face.

“Hot stuff!” I say, making Kayla giggle bashfully. “Seriously. And you need to tell me where you got that bodysuit!”

“Or maybe you need to wait two more days?” Kayla retorts with a wink. “Come on, your turn now!” I giggle as I turn off the Switch, before heading into the shower and letting the hot water cascade over my body. My curvy, soft skinned feminine body with firm B-cup breasts- though one that still has an 'unwanted guest' hanging between its legs. Then again, said 'unwanted guest' hasn't 'made his presence known' in months now, and never will again- though a part of me almost wishes that 'he' would, if only to set Kayla's mind at ease...

Once I’ve blow-dried my extra-long brown hair and tied it into a ponytail (which almost reaches down to my waistline), I take a razor and make sure I am utterly hairless below my eyebrows- before turning my attention to my eyebrows, tweezing them into a perfect slender, feminine shape. My make-up is next- a plain foundation (anything darker or shinier would look ridiculous in December), followed by a smoky eyeshadow, thick mascara and eyeliner, and a matte red lipstick.

After returning to my room, I pull on my plain black bra and thong, followed by a pair of light black tights, and I can’t help but muse at how, two years ago, every item in my underwear was almost like a feat of engineering. My underpants were designed with special ‘pouches’ to keep me flat, my bras were padded and I even wore special foundation garments to hold my waist in and give my hips extra ‘definition’. Nowadays, the underwear I wear is identical to what any other woman would wear- and that fact never fails to excite me.

Naturally, I’m also excited when I step into my favourite slender, knee-length leather skirt and when I pull on my clingy burgundy-coloured turtleneck sweater, and especially excited when I zip my lower legs into a pair of pleather knee-high boots with a chunky 4” platform heel. I used to only save boots (especially ones as girly and sexy as these) for special occasions, but over the last few months (and after the nickname ‘Steffieboots’ became public), they’ve become seen as an integral part of my ‘look’, and, well, I am a celebrity, I’ve got to keep up appearances when out in public!

“Sexy…” Kayla sings as I emerge from my bedroom and do a twirl for her. “Everything about her’s so sexy…”

“Hehe!” I giggle as I all but skip toward the sofa and sit down, keeping my nylon-covered knees pressed tightly together. “You- you mean that, I take it?”

“Duh!” Kayla retorts, giggling as she gives me a long, deep kiss, while I gently stroke the exposed skin on her back. “…We should probably get going soon.”

“…To the gift exchange, I assume?” I say, giggling as the tiny girl gives me a playful shove.

“You know people are always there early,” Kayla says. “Kinda like watching my table growing over the course of the afternoon…”

“Huh,” I reply. “I always like going late and seeing a huge pile already there waiting for me…” I bite my lip as Kayla stares at me with a confused look on her face, before breaking down in a fit of giggle.

“I take two steps forward-“ Kayla sings.

“And I take two steps back,” I sing along.

“We come together ‘cause opposites attract!” The two of us sing together, before we both collapse into each other’s arms in a fit of giggles.

“Ahh,” Kayla chuckles. “One thing’s for sure, I’m never going to get THIS from a boy, hehe!”

“Damn straight,” I say with a smug smile, before opening an app on my phone and summoning a taxi to our flat.

Just over half an hour later, Kayla and I- and our large, heavy sacks of presents- are bouncing with excitement as we step through the front door of the vast London home of Charlotte Hartley & her family- which, as we’re reminded when we see the hostess herself, will soon be growing!

“Hi, yummy mummy to be!” Kayla giggles as she rushes over to Charlotte and exchanges a quick hug with her, before gently resting her hand on the 26 year old woman’s abdomen. “How many months is it now?”

“4 down, 5 to go!” Charlotte giggles. “Though they might bring them out early, as they’re, well, ‘them’, hehe!”

“So cool,” I whisper, instinctively reaching to place my hand on top of Kayla’s, before pausing and allowing her to withdraw hand before placing mine onto Charlotte’s abdomen. “You know the genders yet?”

“No, not for another month,” Charlotte sighs. “Really, REALLY got my fingers crossed for two girls.”

“Well, duh!” Kayla giggles. “Any chance ‘daddy’ can come and give us a hand with our present bags? Nearly ripped my arm off carrying it from the taxi…”

“Keith! Mikey!” Charlotte yells, her grin growing in smugness as the two tall young men come jogging toward us with a playful spring in their step.

“Yes, ma’am!” Mikey says with a mock salute that makes the pregnant woman giggle and roll her eyes.

“Care to put those muscles to good use and help Steph and Kayla with their bags?” Charlotte asks with a pleading, feminine pout.

“Ah, how could I ever say no?” Keith giggles, grabbing Kayla’s bag while Mikey grabs mine.

“Wow!” Mikey chuckles as he lifts the sack. “This is almost as heavy as I am! I love it. Hope there’s one in here for me?”

“Naturally,” I say with a coy smile, which fades as my memory of Mikey’s present come back to me. “Actually… Think I got you and Krystie a joint present this year… Sorry.”

“…Meh, same difference,” Mikey says, his voice indicating that he would’ve shrugged it off if his arms weren’t being weighed down with several dozen Christmas presents. “That’s been happening a lot, actually, me and Krystie seem to be getting mostly couple’s presents this year.” The tall, long-haired man gestures toward one of the tables at the side of the vast function room- which, on closer examination, is revealed to be two smaller tables that have been pushed together, one of them bearing the name ‘Mikey Dawson’ while the other table’s nameplate reads ‘Krystie Fullerton’, and several presents have been strategically placed so that they’re straddling the gap between the tables. My eyes, however, are more drawn to the table next to Krystie’s, which bears the nameplate ‘Maria Dawson’- and has twice as many presents as her parents combined!

“Naturally, I didn’t forget Maria either!” I giggle.

“NO ONE forgets Maria!” Mikey says with the proud smile of a new father. “Think me and Krys have got about four times as many presents as are in that pile. Then again, it IS her first Christmas.”

“I’m guessing her presents include a toy guitar and a dress-up tutu?” I ask, referring to the baby’s parents’ professions.

“Good quote-unquote guess,” Mikey giggles. “Think everyone’s gone all out this year on the new arrivals. I know there’s someone in particular who’s happy about that…” I follow Mikey’s eyes to a corner of the room, where three very unexpected figures are stood- my eldest brother, his partner and their baby daughter, my namesake. “Don’t worry,” Mikey assures me. “We made sure that the nameplates say ‘Stephanie’ and ‘Stephi’ so as to avoid confusion. You can also tell your pile as it’ll be about three times smaller than your niece’s, heh!”

“Good job I didn’t bring my gifts for Stephi,” I retort. “We’d probably have filled the entire room!”

“Glad to hear it!” Mikey chuckles. “Want me to deal out your presents for you, if you, you know, want to talk to Tom?”

“Please,” I say, leaving the long-haired man to his task as I head over to where the family are stood, dishing out presents of their own.

“Oh, hello!” Amanda giggles as she sees me approach. “Say hi to your Aunt Steph, Stephi!”

“Hey, cutie!” I giggle as the seven month old girl gurgles in her mother’s arms, before sharing quick, awkward hugs with both of her parents. “I’ve got to admit, I never thought I’d see the two- well, the three of you at one of these, heh!”

“Just ‘cause she isn’t one yet, doesn’t mean she can’t get to know her future best friends better,” Tom replies with a smirk. “And Danny called last week, said that she was going to get loads of presents from the others, so… Yeah. Almost makes me feel, you know, ‘inadequate’…”

“Ugh, this again,” Amanda sighs.

“Umm…?” I mumble.

“Tom feels ‘less of a man’ because his rich, famous friends have bought more presents for his daughter than he has,” Amanda explains as my brother lets out a long, tired sigh.

“Hope when he says that, he’s not including his rich, famous sister,” I say, placing my hands on my hips and pouting deeply.

“It’s different if you’re party of the family,” Tom says quietly. “So you and Kayla are both fi-“

“Shh!” I hiss, silencing my brother, who lets out a long, tired sigh.

“Still not told anyone else, then?” Tom asks with an accusing stare.

“We will when the time is right,” I reply. “When we’re sure we know where we’re going with the relationship, then we’ll tell everyone. It’s not really as simple as you’re making out, not when you’ve got a hundred reporters ready and willing to make you headline news at the drop of a hat.”

“Oh I get that,” Tom says. “But I’m not talking about going public, I just mean telling your friends. And many of them know just what a pain being public interest can be, right?”

“When we’re ready,” I say.

“Fine, fine,” Tom says, holding his hands up in mock-surrender. “You’re both adults, I guess, I’m not going to tell you how to live your lives, I’ve got my own Steph for that.” Despite myself, I giggle when Amanda gives my brother a playful punch in his arm. “We’ve not got your presents here- yours or Kayla’s- we’ll drop them round on Christmas Day itself, okay?”

“Sure- we’ll drop yours around at the same time,” I say, before leaning in to give my brother a quick, awkward hug, followed by a slightly less awkward, slightly longer hug for my future sister-in-law. I let out a long sigh as I head toward the bar to get myself a drink, only to groan when I discover the identity of the barman.

“Hello to you too, sis,” Danny says with a smug grin.

“Seriously?” I sigh.

“I know,” Danny chuckles. “As if I’m not going to be busy enough tonight at the pub, what with it being the last Saturday before Christmas…”

“Poor you,” I snort as my brother pours me a glass of white wine. “Rachel at work, then?”

“Yep,” Danny replies. “I got here early. Nearly got here before Charlotte herself, heh. Dished out all our presents early. Including yours and Kayla’s- we’re going to Rachel’s parents’ place on Christmas morning so I dunno if we’ll see each other.”

“Thanks,” I whisper. “We- we’ll drop off our presents to you at some point.”

“If only there was a big get-together just before Christmas where people could exchange presents, eh?” Danny teases.

“Shut up,” I snort. “Haven’t even found my table yet, heh.”

“It’s just around the corner,” Danny says. “Where the beige sofa usually is.”

“Thanks,” I say, taking my drink and heading away from the bar.

“Seriously?” Danny says with a smug grin. “We might not see each other before Christmas and no hug for me? Tom got one…” I sigh as I lean over the bar and give my brother a gentle hug- though a much less awkward one than I shared with my oldest brother. “Amanda got one, too…”

“Yeah, but Rachel isn’t here, is she?” I retort.

“I’ll pass it on to her,” Danny says, keeping his arms open. I let out a long sigh and roll my eyes, but I lean in for another hug, before hastily grabbing my wine and heading to our table, where Mikey is waiting for me with an empty sack.

“All done!” The long-haired musician says with a goofy grin.

“Hope you didn’t throw any of them,” I tease. “Stuart’s been telling me how much you’ve been getting into American Football since we saw that match at Twickenham…”

“Skol!” Mikey cheers. “And no, I was as gentle as a- well, as a gentleman, heh!”

“I’ll take your word for it,” I say with a grin as Mikey jogs off to greet the latest arrival to the exchange. I’m only granted a few seconds of respite, however, before I’m approached by another couple of my friends.

“Merry Christmas!” The familiar refined American accent of Jessica Tyler says as she and her fiancée exchange tight, feminine hugs with me.

“Merry Christmas!” I giggle. “Or should I say ‘Happy Holidays’?”

“No you shouldn’t!” Jessica giggles. “Hated that enough when I was actually living in America, hehe!”

“Speaking of, are you flying out tomorrow?” I ask.

“We wish,” Paige snorts in her thick Glaswegian accent.

“Been scheduled on flights all over the hol- all over the Christmas period,” Jessica sighs. “Today’s the last day we both have free until after the New Year.”

“Ugh, that sucks,” I sigh.

“Meh, someone’s got to serve the Christmas commuters their drinks,” Jessica shrugs.

“Even though we don’t even get time and a half for it,” Paige spits. “Still, no’ mind. There’ll be other holiday seasons. And we’ll just have tae open our pressies tonight, hehe!”

“Especially as most of our presents are ‘joint’!” Jessica laughs. “Speaking of- and speaking of the States- do you know if the presents we sent to Minnesota got there safe?”

“Umm… Think Nikki was dealing with that, you’ll need to ask her,” I reply. “Should be okay, though, she sent it in plenty of time.”

“Ooh, and speaking of couples of presents…” Paige teases, pointing to my table- or rather, to where my table has been pushed next to Kayla’s, and the presents that are straddling both tables in a very familiar way. “Is love in the air as well as the cold?”

“No comment,” I say with a smirk that the Scottish girl will hopefully take as me simply teasing them. Fortunately, before they can reply, we’re interrupted by someone whose arrival would have sent a shiver down my spine mere months ago, but right now, I’m actually happy to see.

“Hello, fellow fellowship members!” Jamie giggles as she turns around and shows off the tattoo on her shoulder blade that Jessica and I also have on our bodies. “And yes, that includes you Paige, you’re as much a member of this family as any of us.”

“Thanks,” Paige says with a giggle. “Reckon we might be getting tattoos of our own soon anyway, hehe!”

“Okay…” Jamie replies. “You just- you just go ahead and be enigmatic, then, hehe!”

“Can do,” Paige giggles as she links fingers with her fiancée and heads off toward their growing pile of presents.

“You’ve done well this year, then,” Jamie teases as she stares at my present pile.

“I’ve got no complaints,” I reply with a smug grin. “My pile’s kinda pathetic compared to the OTHER ‘Stephanie Abbott’, though! Though I guess you’d know a thing or two about that…” The blonde woman giggles excitedly as I point across the room to the modest pile of gifts on her table- and the vast pile of gifts on the table whose nameplate reads ‘Olivia Milton’!

“Yep!” Jamie says, clapping her hands together excitedly. “I’ve been talking to Krystie and Viks about it, we’re all really excited about our first Christmas as parents, hehe!”

“Even though Olivia is TOTALLY overshadowing you?” I tease.

“Good!” Jamie chuckles. “Ahh… You’ll understand when you have kids of your own.”

“…Kinda more ‘if’ than ‘when’,” I mumble.

“Aww, don’t be like that…” Jamie sighs. “You- you had sperm frozen, right?”

“Some, yeah,” I shrug. “Kinda need to find an egg to put it in, though.”

“Trust me, all you need to do is ask and you’ll get, like, a dozen volunteers,” Jamie says with a warm smile. “I know it’s easy for me to say, but if I had any eggs, and, you know, somewhere to put them…”

“Thanks,” I say with a warm smile, as I know that Jamie almost certainly genuinely meant what she said.

“One thing about being a family, though,” Jamie says while pointing across the room, where our friend Ricky is carefully placing a present on the join between her and her husband’s table. “You do kinda miss getting your own presents, heh.”

“I guess,” I shrug, before internally grimacing as Jamie glances at my table- or rather, the join between mine and Kayla’s tables.

“Ooh, looks like you won’t need to guess much longer,” Jamie teases, gently fingering the label of one of the gifts that reads ‘to Stephanie and Kayla’. “Guess as you’re living together, it’s easier for people to do gifts this way, heh.”

“Umm, yeah…” I say, before my cheeks start to redden as my girlfriend approaches us, fresh from delivering all of her presents.

“There you are,” Kayla says with an accusing stare. “If only I had a big, strong young man helping ME dish out all my presents, I’d probably have been done ages ago too…”

“Umm, Kayla?” Jamie sighs, gesturing around the room. “We’re not exactly short of big, strong young men, hehe! Basically, you can just take your pick!” Thanks for wording it like THAT, I think to myself.

“…It’s okay,” Kayla says with a giggle, letting us both know that she was only teasing us. “I actually prefer giving out all the presents myself, it’s, you know, the personal touch, that sort of thing?”

“Yeah, I think I get what you mean,” Jamie says with a smile. “I’ll stick with the ‘strong young man’ method if you don’t mind!”

“Speaking of, where is he?” Kayla asks.

“Being a good dad,” Jamie replies. “Well, hopefully, anyway, hehe! Seriously though, he’s in the kitchen, feeding Olivia… Did you want to speak to him or something?”

“Umm, no,” Kayla says. “Just- the band kinda- kinda got him a special present, that’s all. For all the help he gave us rehearsing for the tours…”

“’Him’ and not ‘us’?” Jamie asked with a mock pout, which quickly gave way to a giggle. “It’s okay, you spend all day working with him, I guess. Lucky I’m not the jealous type, heh!”

“Yeah,” I laugh nervously.

“Though it looks like we’re not the only ‘us’ in here who are getting presents…” Jamie teases, showing the ‘to Steph and Kayla’ label to my girlfriend- whose eyes go as wide as dinner plates.

“Who- who did-“ Kayla stammers, startling Jamie and making my anxiety levels rise.

“Umm… Deep breaths?” Jamie responds with a confused giggle. “It’s from Nat and Zoe, probably something for your flat, I dunno. Just be thankful that you’re not getting yet ANOTHER leotard from Zoe this year, heh!”

“Yeah, heh,” Kayla replies, taking a deep breath to calm herself down. “Actually stuff like that would be welcome, we had a clear out of clutter last month when we were putting up our Christmas decorations…”

“Wish I’d known THAT a few weeks ago,” Jamie teases. “Ooh, actually, Steph, that reminds me- did you get a present this year for Laura and Ashley?”

“Yep,” I reply. “Dropped them at their parents last week. Well- got Nikki to, hehe! Janet and Ellie too. And Alexa and Jenny. This has been an expensive Christmas, hehe!”

“’Tis better to give than to receive,” Jamie shrugs, bringing a smile to mine and my girlfriend’s faces.

Those smiles stay on our faces for the rest of the exchange, even as- in keeping with tradition- me, Kayla, Becca and Adeola are ushered to the front of the room to sing a medley of popular Christmas songs. My nerves start to rattle a little when Kayla and I are all but forced to do a duet, but the song at least is ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ rather than something more suggestive, like ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’- Becca does the honours with that particular one, making sure to show off her sparkling engagement ring throughout the entire song!

Kayla and I- and our ridiculously huge pile of presents- choose to leave the party shortly after our ‘set’ ends and ‘The Celestials’ take over onstage, with Stuart and Mikey doing a very passable guitar duet of Mike Oldfield’s ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ as we climb into our taxi.

“Ahh,” Kayla sighs, letting out a VERY loud sigh of relief as she slumps onto the back seat of the car.

“That bad, eh?” I tease.

“God, when we were talking to Jamie…” Kayla sighs. “Genuinely thought we were going to be, you know, outed. And if anyone has form when it comes to ‘outing’ people…”

“Welcome to the last three years of my life,” I chuckle. “But- but, you know, seriously… Would it hurt to tell her? I mean, Nat already knows, so does Zoe most likely, what with that gift they’ve got us, and Nikki and Sarah know…”

“When- when I’m- when WE’RE a bit more, you know, ‘sure’…” Kayla mumbles.

“You know she will be PISSED off if she finds out we’ve been leaving her in the dark,” I say.

“Her problem,” Kayla says, before resting her head on my shoulder. “Can we not talk about Jamie, please? Kinda ruins the mood, heh.”

“Can we talk about her daughter instead?” I ask with a sly grin. “And then segue to my niece? I trust you’ve got her a boatload of presents, I mean, it is her first Christmas, after all?”

“Well- duh,” Kayla giggles. “SO looking forward to spending Christmas day with your family, and yes, both ‘Stephanie Abbott’s are the reason why, hehe! Kinda wish I had nephews or nieces of my own…”

“Stephi’s as good as, right?” I ask.

“’Course,” Kayla shrugs. “Gonna get an early night when I get in, reckon you should too, got an early morning tomorrow to get down to Southampton.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I say, trying to relax as I slide an arm around Kayla’s tiny waist.

I ‘obey instructions’ when we arrive home just after 7pm, only staying up long enough to watch some TV (including the all-important Strictly grand final) before scrubbing away my make-up, changing into my nightie and climbing into bed… My own bed, in my own bedroom, by myself yet again.

However, I’m not alone the following morning, when I’m woken up by the familiar feel of a gentle breath of air on my earlobe.

“Mmph,” I grunt as I slowly open my eyes, before smiling tiredly at the sight of my pyjama-clad girlfriend hovering over me. “What is it with you and Sunday mornings, anyway?”

“Merry Christmas Eve!” Kayla giggles, giving me a quick kiss. “Get up and get dressed, taxi’ll be here in a few minutes!”

“Dibs on the shower!” I say, making the tiny blonde girl playfully groan with frustration as I head through to the bathroom.

Unlike yesterday’s look, which had to be immaculate (the gift giving is surprisingly ‘public’- there were even paparazzi camped outside Charlotte’s house), I opt for a more subdued look today. I still wear a full face of make-up, but it’s subtle, subdued, highlighting my features rather than dominating them. My long hair is tied back into a ponytail, and my attire consists of a very non-descript long-sleeved bodysuit, a pair of dark black tights and a very short butt-hugging skirt, the sight of which makes my girlfriend playfully wolf whistle after I step out of my bedroom and do a slow twirl.

“Hubba hubba!” Kayla cheers.

“I look about as plain as it’s possible to get,” I argue as I adjust the hem of my skirt.

“Mmm,” Kayla shrugs. “Still cute, though!” I giggle as the tiny blonde girl gives me a playful kiss on my lips, before disappearing into the bathroom herself. Twenty minutes later, Kayla confidently strides into the living room wearing a tight red turtleneck sweater and a pair of tight black jeans.

“Very sexy!” I say, making my girlfriend giggle bashfully.

“’Very grown-up’ is the idea,” Kayla says as she slips her feet into a pair of ankle boots with a chunky 4” heel. “You know my parents, they go back and forth between seeing me as another adult or ‘their little girl’… Kinda prefer them to settle on option one as soon as possible.”

“So the pink pyjamas are staying at home, then?” I tease, laughing as Kayla replies with a playful shove.

“Just ‘cause it’s on the coast, it doesn’t mean Southampton’s gonna be any warmer,” Kayla says, before a grimace and a look of almost terror spreads across her face. “Though my parents will be expecting me to keep warm some- some other way, you know…?”

“…Hot water bottle?” I ask, before my eyes widen as I cotton on to what she means. “…Oh.”

“Yep,” Kayla says.

“Well- it’s probably best it happens sooner rather than later, right?” I ask. “God knows we’ve been ducking this issue so much, right?”

“You’re making it sound like a flu jab, or getting a tooth filled,” Kayla retorts. “But I guess- I guess you’re right, I mean, it SHOULD be something we’re both excited about, right?”

“Well- well it’s okay to be nervous, I guess,” I say. “I mean, we- the two of us- you- you know it’s the, um, the furthest-“

“I know,” Kayla says softly as she links her fingers with mine. “It’s okay to be nervous as long as we’re not scared, right?”

“Yeah,” I whisper.

“And- and you definitely, you know…” Kayla mumbles. “You- you ‘want’ a woman’s body, right? By which I mean-“

“Yes, yes I do,” I say, leaning in to give my girlfriend a slow, deep kiss. “And- and do you ‘want’ a woman’s body?”

“…I want Stephanie’s body,” Kayla replies, making me sigh.

“That’s not what I asked,” I mumble.

“Yes, yes it is,” Kayla says, making me smile even as another question flashes into my brain.

“Even if I had a vagina between my legs?” I ask, frowning as Kayla pauses.

“If it was your vagina, then yes,” Kayla says- though this answer is far from comforting.

“I see,” I mumble.

“Steph,” Kayla sighs, gently taking my chin in her hand. “I fancy YOU, okay? Gender doesn’t come into it. We’ve grown closer over the last few years, and now you’re the one I want to be with.”

“…Gender kinda DOES come into it with me,” I mumble.

“Does it, though?” Kayla asks. “How many women have YOU dated before?” I open my mouth to reply, but I have no words- as Kayla is correct in what she says. Before her, I’d never even really fancied any women. Then again, before Stuart and Kurt, it’s not like I’d really fancied any men, either…

“…So you’re happy being LGBT, then?” I ask.

“Don’t really see what labels have to do with it,” Kayla replies. “I’m a woman in a relationship with another woman. If that makes me ‘L’, whatever. If it makes me ‘B’ ‘cause I’ve dated men before, also whatever. Might even prefer sex with a woman to sex with a man. God knows you smell a lot better than any of my previous boyfriends, hehe!”

“And what if- what if I just don’t like sex?” I ask.

“Trust me, you will,” Kayla says with a smile, giving me a gentle kiss as a car’s horn sounds outside. “Think that’s our taxi.”

“Okay, then,” I say, slipping my feet into a pair of cute flats (with no ‘appearances’ to keep up, I can leave ‘Steffieboots’ behind for one day), grabbing the travel suitcase I packed last night and following my girlfriend down to our taxi.

A short while later, we’re getting onto a train at Waterloo Station, and a short while- and several selfie requests- later, we’re getting into a taxi at Southampton station, which whisks us to the posh suburban home of Kayla’s parents.

“Hellooooo!” Kayla calls as she opens the front door. Almost immediately, the two of us are wrapped in tight hugs from Kayla’s parents, both of whom have wide, genuine grins on their faces.

“Merry Christmas Kayla!” Kayla’s mother cheers. “Merry Christmas, Steph!”

“Thanks, Charlene!” I giggle as I return the middle-aged woman’s hug. “Thanks for having me on Christmas Eve.”

“Least we could do,” Kayla’s father says with a smile. “Especially now that you and Kayla are, umm…” I grimace as the festive nature of the greeting immediately vanishes.

“…What Gary means,” Kayla’s mother says, “is thank you for letting us come to Christmas dinner tomorrow!”

“You’d- you’d kinda need to thank my parents for that,” I chuckle. “And thanks in advance for giving us a lift up to London tomorrow…”

“Enough thanks!” Gary chuckles, lightening the mood inside the house. “This is Christmas, not Thanksgiving! And this is Britain, not America! We don’t even DO Thanksgiving!”

“Some shops in London, that’s more literal than you might think!” Kayla laughs as we drop our bags in the hallway and crash on the sofa.

“Well- welcome back to civilisation for the time being!” Gary says with a hearty laugh. “I saw some photos of the two of you at the big gift-giving party at your friend’s house.”

“Yep!” Kayla giggles. “Not quite as, well, ‘loud’ as the usual Saturday parties, heh.”

“Probably because of, you know, kids,” I shrug. “Like, my niece was there…”

“Hope you’re spoiling her rotten this Christmas!” Charlene chuckles.

“And that goes for both of you!” Gary interjects. “It’s her first Christmas, isn’t it?”

“Yep!” I say. “And yes, I’ve probably spent more on her than on anyone else, heh! Well, apart from, umm, Kayla…”

“Umm, same here,” Kayla says in a voice barely louder than a mumble.

“Good to hear it,” Caroline says with a smirk, which fades as an awkward silence fills the room. “I’ve, umm, I’ve got your room ready…”

“Thanks,” Kayla mumbles, which only serves to trigger an even more awkward silence. “We, umm, we brought presents with us…”

“Glad to hear that!” Caroline laughs. “Worried tomorrow morning might be a bit, umm, dull, heh. We’ve got gifts for both of you too, obviously… A few- a few of them are for the both of you, is that okay?” Kayla and I exchange a brief look, one that says ‘oh god, not here as well’, before smiling politely and nodding.

“That’ll be fine,” I say, barely suppressing a giggle.

“…Go on, what’s the joke?” Gary asks.

“Nothing, honestly,” Kayla says, before sighing. “…We’ve got a few more ‘both of us’ presents waiting at home, some from the people who already know about us…”

“Only been going out two months and you’re already like a married couple, eh?” Gary teases, making both of us blush as we gently slide an arm around each other’s waist. “How- how many of your friends do actually know about you, then?”

“Not counting family and partners of family… Umm, four,” I mumble.

“…Two couples,” Kayla interjects in a mumble even quieter than mine.

“I get not going public yet,” Charlene says. “But you could surely tell your friends about this? I mean, many of them are celebrities too, so-“

“We-“ Kayla says, interrupting her mother. “We don’t want- umm… Any fuss…”

“We- we want to make sure we know where we are in the relationship before telling everyone,” I say.

“You’ve had two months, how much longer do you need?” Gary asks, before being silenced by a stern stare from his wife.

“You know it isn’t that easy, Gary,” Charlene says. “What with all the two have been through over the last two years. Though I am surprised that you feel you can tell some of your friends but not others.”

“The ones we’ve told are in- well, they’re kinda like us,” Kayla explains. “A transgendered girl going out with a cisgendered girl…” It actually takes me a few seconds to realise that Kayla’s right about this- Nikki and Sarah and Natalie and Zoe could easily fit into the same ‘category’ as me and Kayla, even if the ‘state’ of Nikki’s and Natalie’s transitions are very different from my own- namely, post-op and ‘not taking any steps to physically transition’ respectively. Then again, their relationships are at very different ‘states’ too, with one couple being married and the other engaged…

“They do help out a lot,” I say. “With, umm, advice…”

“And if we tell more people,” Kayla says, “we run the risk of it going public before we’re ready, it only takes one person, you know?”

“It’s your lives,” Gary says. “You’re both adults…”

“Even though we do still have a sense of responsibility toward you,” Charlene interjects. “You’re still our daughter, no matter how old you get, or how rich, or how famous…”

“Thanks,” Kayla whispers.

“And that goes for you too, Steph,” Gary says. “As long as you and Kayla are together, you’re a part of this family too.”

“As long as you and Kayla are FRIENDS, you’re part of this family,” Charlene says, forcing me to bite my lip to prevent tears from flowing from my eyes.

“Thank you,” I whisper in a hoarse, emotional voice.

“Well then,” Gary says. “If you’re part of the family, that means we ought to share a few family traditions with you! And we like our traditions, especially at Christmas, don’t we, Kayla?”

“Depends which ones,” my girlfriend replies with a concerned look on her face.

“This one?” Gary asks, holding up a DVD copy of The Polar Express. A wide grin immediately spreads across my girlfriend’s face, and ten minutes later, the four of are watching the modern classic with eager eyes, marvelling at the graphics, singing along to all the songs and, yes, sniffing back a tear or two when the kid asks Santa for one of the bells from his sleigh.

Other movies follow as morning turns into afternoon and evening, including the Muppet Christmas Carol and Nativity (the Martin Freeman film), all of which Kayla and I sing along to, much to the obvious delight of my girlfriend’s parents!

“Ahh,” Gary laughs as the credits of Elf roll and Kayla and I- having stood up to sing the credits song as a duet- take a bow. “Hope you’re not counting this as one of our Christmas presents, I reckon some people would give their right arm for a private concert from half of Out of Heaven!”

“No, this one’s free,” Kayla says with a smug grin.

“If anything, it’s as much a present for me as it was for you,” I say, giggling as I straighten my skirt and sit back down next to Kayla. “Just being able to have fun singing like this…”

“You- you never got the chance when you were younger?” Charlene asks.

“…Never actually thought of it that way,” I muse. “I was more thinking about work, usually when we’re singing we’re given really strict instructions, lines, tones we have to stick to.”

“We can never really cut back and just sing for fun,” Kayla says. “Not like I used to, anyway!”

“Ah, I remember that first Christmas play you were in when you were at school,” Charlene says, making my girlfriend’s cheeks start to redden.

“Oh?” I ask. “This sounds like a story…”

“That’s the thing, it actually wasn’t,” Gary chuckles. “She got up on stage, sang her part, then stepped off. She wasn’t even in any special costume, just a smart dress- well, smart for a six year old, anyway. But we knew even then that she had a real talent.”

“She’d always sing along to every movie we watched, just like you two did just now,” Charlene says with a happy sigh. “When she was in school, she’d hang around with a group of girls and pretend that they were Girls Aloud, making up dance routines…”

“Okay, we are officially in ‘really embarrassing’ territory now,” Kayla says. “Do we have any more DVDs? Or do you have Amazon Prime?”

“Oh, relax,” Gary teases his daughter. “I’ll be sure to ask Pete and Sam tomorrow if they have any embarrassing stories about when Stephanie was a- a girl…” Naturally, an awkward silence fills the room at this faux pas- and it’s obvious that I’m going to have to be the one to break the silence.

“I’ll, um, I’ll warn them,” I mumble, cringing at my feeble effort to make the situation less awkward.

“Steph, I’m sorry, I-“ Gary sighs.

“Honestly, don’t worry about it,” I say.

“I mean, it- it’s just so easy to forget,” Gary says.

“That is kinda the idea!” I say, smiling as I earn a chuckle from the embarrassed older man.

“I guess,” Gary laughs. “Umm, think I have another DVD around here somewhere…” Kayla and I both grin as Gary searches his shelves for another Christmas DVD, eventually settling on the Santa Clause, but it’s obvious from the look that she gives me that she is utterly mortified by her parent’s faux pas- more so than any of my other friends would be, come to think of it.

Kayla’s mood seems to recover throughout the rest of the evening as we relax in the living room and eat a delicious meal of roast ham and home-made potato salad. Eventually, though, evening turns to night, and after Gary shares a very cute story of how Kayla once stayed up all night waiting for Santa, the four of us head to bed. As we’re getting ready for bed, however, Kayla stops trying to hide her frustration at her parents.

“Ugh, can’t believe my dad,” Kayla sighs as she nonchalantly removes her turtleneck and jeans, standing in front of me in just her black bra and thong. “Nice reminder of why I only very rarely come home…”

“Nah, he’s alright,” I shrug as I step out of my tight skirt. “Not like I don’t have my own embarrassing parents, heh, and I’ll trade your dad for Danny any day of the week! And, you know, it’s actually kinda a compliment when someone, you know, ‘forgets’…”

“I guess,” Kayla shrugs as she turns her back and removes her underwear, giving me an unrestricted view of her petite, naked body- or at the very least, the back of it. “I just- I just want to, you know, get some sleep…” I bite my lip at Kayla’s mention of the word ‘sleep’- it’s not the only thing we were planning to do in bed tonight…

“…T- together?” I ask, making Kayla pause. “In the same bed? Because, you know, we were going to use this trip to- to-“

“I- I’m really not in the mood,” Kayla sighs. “I- I’m sorry, Steph.”

“Be- because of your dad?” I ask, confused by Kayla’s sudden reluctance.

“Umm…” Kayla mumbles.

“Kayla, what- what’s wrong?” I ask, gently placing my hands on Kayla’s shoulders and recoiling with shock when that simple action makes the tiny girl jump with shock. “Oh my god… Really, are- are you alright? Have I done something?”

“No,” Kayla says, turning around with a wide smile on her face. “I- I’m fine.” As if to prove her point, Kayla rises onto her tip toes and gives me a long, deep kiss, penetrating my mouth with her tongue and sending tiny lightning bolts of electricity through my lips with her touch. Without breaking the kiss, she reaches down and unfastens the snap crotch of my bodysuit, slowly raising it over my head as we fall onto her bed...

As I lay on my back in Kayla’s bed, my whole body tingling and covered in patches of fine sweat, I try to process what just happened. It feels almost unreal, but the fact is that I, at the age of 21 years and 11 months, am finally no longer a virgin. I just shared myself with a woman I adore in the most intimate way possible… And yet the whole thing left me feeling deeply unsatisfied. We were passionate, but almost reluctantly so. At times it felt like I was kissing my sister, and there were several times when Kayla had difficulty even touching me. For all her talk of being happy to be in a same-gender relationship as long as I’m the one she’s in the relationship with, Kayla seemed to almost be having second thoughts. One thing’s definitely for certain- we now need to talk a lot more than we did half an hour ago.

“Hey,” I whisper to my tired girlfriend. “You still awake?”

“Mmph,” Kayla grumbles into her pillow, which naturally does nothing to set my mind at ease.

“…That a yes?” I hesitantly ask.

“Yes,” Kayla sighs. “Steph, I- I’ve never really been good at pillow talk…”

“Still, though,” I say. “We should talk…”

“Can’t it wait until morning?” Kayla moans.

“Tomorrow’s Christmas Day,” I retort. “That, and we’ll be spending all day either with your parents or with mine… And I, you know, want to talk when everything’s, like, fresh in my mind…”

“…So talk then,” Kayla shrugs.

“Okay then,” I say, slightly taken aback by Kayla’s uncharacteristic bluntness. “You- you didn’t enjoy that, did you?”

“What makes you say that?” Kayla retorts.

“You acting like I’ve just pissed in your corn flakes,” I say, frowning as this doesn’t even elicit a smile from my girlfriend. “Kayla, I- I’ve never seen you so stressed out, so anxious… I want to know what’s wrong, what I can do to make things better.”

“What, as my girlfriend or my best friend?” Kayla asks.

“I thought I was both,” I retort.

“…You are,” Kayla sighs. “You- you want the truth?”

“Ironic as it is, yes please,” I say.

“You…” Kayla says, before letting out a long sigh. “You’re a lot- a lot more girly than I was expecting.”

“What tipped you off?” I ask. “Was it the long hair, the lack of muscles, the breasts, maybe?”

“I- I dunno,” Kayla sighs. “I dunno what I was expecting. Maybe I thought that it’d just be, you know, normal only with a few differences…”

“…You were expecting ‘Steve’?” I ask. “I know you’re one of the people who have met, you know, ‘him’…”

“No,” Kayla insists. “I entered this relationship with ‘Stephanie’, not ‘Steve’. And even I sometimes, you know, ‘forget’, but- but I- ugh, I dunno. I really don’t know how to put this into words, I’m sorry, Steph, I- ugh.”

“You still consider yourself to be straight, don’t you?” I ask.

“…Maybe from a sexual point of view?” Kayla replies uncertainly. “But it’s not like any of the guys I had sex with were, you know, ‘earth rocking’…”

“Sex- sex isn’t everything though, right?” I ask, biting my lip as my girlfriend pauses before answering.

“Well- no, it doesn’t have to be,” Kayla says. “Was- was it- ugh, can’t believe I’m going to ask this… Was it good for you, Steph?”

“Couldn’t have worded that differently?” I ask, smirking as I earn a genuine giggle from the tiny blonde girl.

“Truthfully,” Kayla insists. “No more lies!”

“Couldn’t have worded THAT differently either?” I snort, before taking a deep breath. “Honestly? I didn’t enjoy it as much as I was expecting. Then again… I didn’t know what to expect.”

“And obviously I didn’t have any, you know, ‘indicator’ of how things were going…” Kayla sighs.

“’Indicator’?” I ask. “So, what, you flick it one way and it makes that nipple light up or something?” I have to suppress a giggle as Kayla lets out a loud snort of laughter.

“That would make it more fun,” Kayla giggles. “Okay… I guess that, you know, the ‘S’ word… It isn’t- it isn’t what I was hoping for. And I’m not, you know, in a rush to do it again…”

“So- so are we-“ I ask, before relaxing as Kayla silences me with a long, gentle kiss.

“Sex ISN’T everything,” Kayla says. “And I- I like being with you, Steph. I like being your girlfriend. And- and I think I love you, Steph.”

“I think I love you too,” I reply, leaning in to give Kayla another kiss, not a passionate, steamy kiss, but a soft, loving kiss. Love, after all, is far, far greater than lust. I smile as I wrap my arms around Kayla’s body in a tight, loving cuddle, which elicits a happy giggle from the tiny girl.

“This is perfect,” Kayla says sleepily. “Merry Christmas, Steph.”

“Merry Christmas, Kayla,” I whisper as we slowly fall asleep in each other’s arms.

Naturally, we wake up in the same position early the following morning, but we both get up shortly after waking- not because we don’t want to stay in each other’s arms, but because today is the 25th of December, and we both have a very busy day ahead of us! After both of us have showered (separately), we return to Kayla’s room where we get ready for the day- with both of us again thinking nothing of stripping totally naked in front of each other.

“You know,” I muse as I pull on a comfortable short grey t-shirt dress, followed by a pair of shiny black tights, “that really was one of the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had.”

“Me too,” Kayla replies with a smile as she applies her make-up. “And I think it was the cuddling more than the sex. I’ve always had, you know, ‘problems’ when it came to sleeping in the same bed as a guy… But with you, it- it just felt natural, you know? Comfortable, that sort of thing…”

“Yeah,” I say with a smile. “Definitely won’t be the last time we do THAT, then?”

“Oh- definitely!” Kayla giggles, finishing her make-up and giving me a long kiss. “Merry Christmas, Steph!”

“Merry Christmas, Kayla!” I reply, waiting for my girlfriend to finish dressing in her trademark look of a tight top and a smart pencil skirt before linking my fingers with her and walking downstairs, where we find Gary and Charlene are already awake and laying out our many presents on the sofas in the room.

“Merry Christmas!” Charlene says with a giggle, exchanging hugs with both of us. “So, did- did you two, umm, get a good night’s sleep?”

“…The best,” Kayla replies with a smile.

“Glad to hear it,” Gary says, exchanging quick hugs with both of us before practically forcing us toward our present pile. “Now get opening! Not got long before we need to be on the road. Unless you want to call your parents and tell them we’ll be late, Steph?”

“Pass,” I giggle as I grab a present from the top of my ‘pile’ and tear into the brightly-coloured wrapping paper.

Even though the only presents Kayla and I have here are from Kayla’s parents, we still have plenty to unwrap, including clothes, a couple of DVDs each (including, predictably, my own personal copy of the Polar Express) and a couple of books each. The majority of our presents, though, are ornaments and decorations for our flat, and are labelled as being for both of us- and yet, unlike two days ago, this doesn’t bother us in the slightest. If anything, receiving ‘couples gifts’ actually makes us MORE excited.

After all of our gifts are opened, we load them, followed by ourselves, into Gary and Charlene’s car, and before long we’re heading north on the M3 toward my hometown. Excitement levels inside the car remain high even as we drive through the surprisingly crowded London streets, and before too long we’re pulling up outside the modest suburban house that belongs to my parents.

“Merry Christmas!” My father says with a wide grin as he opens the front door before I even have the chance to get my keys out of my handbag.

“Thanks!” I giggle as I exchange a hug with both of my parents, before heading inside and sharing an awkward hug with my brother, a slightly less awkward hug with my future sister-in-law and a very loving gentle cuddle with my tiny niece.

“Ah, grandchildren,” Gary chuckles as he and his wife follow me and Kayla- who immediately looks embarrassed by her father- into the living room. “Your first?”

“Yep!” dad says with a wide, proud grin.

“Our first Christmas as grandparents, too,” mum interjects. “Probably the only reason we were both able to get today off, heh! Not easy when you both work in a hospital, people don’t simply stop having accidents and illnesses just because it’s Christmas Day.”

“If anything, it’s the opposite, I could tell you a few horror stories!” dad chuckles, before directing me and Kayla to our present pile- which, naturally, pales in comparison to my niece’s! “Go on, you lot, now that everyone’s here, get stuck in!” Naturally, we don’t need to be told twice, and we- along with Tom and Amanda (and technically Stephi) tear into our presents.

Once again, our presents consist mainly of clothes, the occasional bit of jewellery and trinkets for our flat- with all of the latter category coming from presents intended for both myself and Kayla. After all of the presents have been opened (with Stephi’s pile being by far the last to clear), thanks have been exchanged and wrapping paper stuffed into a large refuse sack, Tom and I head into the kitchen to prepare dinner for our families (having been ‘volunteered’ by our parents)- and my brother almost immediately seizes the opportunity to speak to me privately.

“So how’s it going with you and Kayla, then?” Tom asks in his typically blunt manner. “You seem pretty happy today…”

“It’s okay,” I shrug. “Got no complaints.”

“When I said ‘you look happy’,” Tom clarifies, “I mean ‘you look a lot surer about the relationship than you were two days ago’. You know what I’m going to ask next, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I say with a long sigh.

“And?” Tom asks.

“And we’ll tell everyone when we’re both ready,” I say. “I can’t go blabbing about it behind Kayla’s back, that’d do way more harm than good!”

“Oh, definitely,” Tom says. “Even if that was the way I found out. And mum, and dad, and Danny, and at least two of your friends…”

“Funny way of agreeing with me,” I mumble as I check our oven to see how our extra-large turkey is coming.

“I’m just pointing out the obvious,” Tom retorts. “’Cause god knows you need that from time to time. If you want to tell everyone, great. If it’s Kayla that doesn’t, you may want to ask her why.”

Naturally, Tom’s words resonate in my mind and keep me distracted throughout the rest of Christmas Day. Kayla’s parents leave shortly after dinner (and the Queen’s speech) and Tom, Amanda and Stephi depart just after the Strictly Christmas special, leaving just me, Kayla and my parents in the house- which makes me focus even more on what Tom said.

"So, you two staying the night?" Mum asks, snapping me out of my 'trance'.

"Hmm?" I reply.

"Are you two going to stay over tonight?" Mum asks. "Because it's already late, you don't want to be out in the dark and both your father and I have had a drink tonight..."

"Umm..." I say, looking at Kayla- who looks as uneasy at the prospect as I feel.

"We- we'll get a taxi back, it's okay," Kayla says.

"On Christmas night?" Mum replies. "That'll cost a fortune..."

"We have presents at our place that we haven't opened yet, anyway," I say. "Like, umm, presents to each other..."

"...Oh," mum says. "Well- well at least let me call your brother to see if he can pick you up. He said he'd be dropping in later this evening anyway..."

"Thanks," I reply as Kayla smiles sympathetically at me. The blonde girl opens her mouth as if to speak, but quickly closes it again, presumably unwilling to talk in front of my mother. However, that does come as some kind of relief, though- she needs to talk to me just as much as I need to talk to her.

Danny and Rachel arrive a short while later, and after presents (and hugs) are exchanged with them, we hitch a lift with them back to our flat, arriving just after 10pm and immediately crashing onto our sofa with heavy sighs.

"Ah, that is so much better," Kayla chuckles as she kicks off her high-heeled shoes. "Still got a huge pile of presents each, heh! Want to open them tonight or just get to bed now?"

"...Will that be the same bed again?" I ask.

"It- it can be, I guess," Kayla shrugs, making me frown.

"Way to make a girl feel wanted..." I mumble, frowning as Kayla lets out an overdramatic groan.

"Look, Steph, I- I'm really tired," Kayla moans.

"So you don't want to have sex," I say. "That's okay. But do- do you want to at least, you know, cuddle? You said last night you loved it..."

"And I did," Kayla says, the smile returning to her face. "But I- ugh. I just want to sleep in my own bed, you know?"

"Alone in your own bed?" I ask, letting out a long sigh. "It's okay. I know how that feels." And I definitely know how it feels to take a step forward, only to take two steps back...

"I'm sorry, Steph," Kayla whispers.

"It's okay," I shrug. "Before you go to bed, though, you may as well open this." Kayla smiles as I hand her my gift to her- a small, rectangular box.

"Okay then," Kayla says as she examines the gift. "Jewellery, I'm guessing?" I smile as Kayla carefully rips off the wrapping paper and opens the box, revealing a bracelet with six jewels on it. "Okay... It's cute, I guess!"

"Read the card," I say.

"Okay..." Kayla says, reading the enclosed card. "'Decode the bracelet to find the secret message'. Jewellery AND a puzzle?"

"Start with the blue gem," I advise, a wide grin on my face as I reach into one of the drawers of our coffee table.

"Okay," Kayla says, matching each gemstone. "S... T... A... Y... L... A again. St- Stayla?"

"Just like this one," I say, slipping a matching bracelet onto my wrist.

"Oh my god, that's so cute!" Kayla says, slipping on her own bracelet and leaning in to give me a gentle kiss. "Thank you so much."

"Thank YOU," I say, returning my girlfriend's kiss.

"And I like how you did it in code," Kayla says. "So that, you know, if anyone asks, we can just say they're, like, 'BFF bracelets', right?"

"...Yeah," I say, my heart starting to sink again. "Still don't want to tell ANYONE, then? 'Cause I'd have thought last night would make you a lot more 'sure' about the relationship..."

"I- I still have a few things I need to work out, Kayla sighs as she fiddles with her new bracelet."

"'You' or 'we'?" I ask.

"We," Kayla replies instantly. "But we will get there soon, Steph. I promise."

"...Okay," I say, though I'm far from convinced by Kayla's words. Hopefully she'll have got me a mind reading device for Christmas, as that seems to be the only way I'll work out what it is she REALLY wants from this relationship...

"And..." Kayla says with a grin, reaching to her side and passing me my present from her. From the feel of it, it's definitely clothes...

"Okay," I say, ripping open the wrapping paper to discover that Kayla's bought me a dress- though this one is obviously a bespoke dress, knee-length and very form-fitting, and made of a very delicate purple fabric with an unusual pattern stitched into it.

"It's beautiful," I say. Even if it is a lot less 'personal' than my gift...

"Do you like the pattern?" Kayla asks.

"I- I can't quite make it out," I say, squinting at the dress.

"Try looking at it under the light," Kayla says, and to my surprise, the thread in the stitching seems to glow- and clearly spells out the letters 'K' and 'S' in pink and red respectively, but intertwined so that you would only be able to see it if you knew what you were looking for.

"It- it's beautiful," I say, thanking Kayla with a long, deep kiss.

"I commissioned it from Sarah months ago," Kayla says. "Originally it was just going to have the 'S', but after we got together- and because Sarah already knows, obviously- I asked her to, you know, add the 'K' too..."

"It really is brilliant," I say with a genuine grin. "Thank you so, so much."

"Anything," Kayla says with a grin, "for my lover."

"...Still want an early night?" I ask.

"Definitely," Kayla says with a grin. "But- but cuddling only, okay?"

"Sure," I say with a smile. "Your bed or mine?"

"...Yours," Kayla replies. "Whenever we want to, you know, 'cuddle', we alternate beds, okay?"

"Sounds great," I say, kissing my girlfriend one more time before leading her to my room, where within minutes, we're scrubbed clean of make-up, changed into our pyjamas and tucked up together in bed, our bodies keeping each other warm as we gently drift off to sleep.

Even now, though, as I'm at the most content I've felt in this relationship, I can't help but wonder if Kayla and I truly want the same thing. She says she's happy without sex (or with very limited amounts of it), but is she really? And then there's her reluctance to tell our friends, and the 'secret' nature of our gifts to each other... In many ways, Kayla still seems much more like my best friend than my girlfriend. Life was much simpler when that was the case. Maybe that's the way it should've stayed...

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