Jacinta, part 13

“This is DEFINITELY one of my favourite times of year, hehe!” I giggle as I paint a thin horizontal red stripe onto my friend’s cheek.

“What, autumn?” Sarah replies with a snort of laughter. “Everything getting colder, it raining constantly, going through, like, fifty pairs of tights every week?”

“…Okay, THAT isn’t much fun,” I concede as I carefully paint an orange stripe underneath Sarah’s red stripe. “I am, as you damn well know, referring to Freshers’ Week!”

“…Yeah, I know!” Sarah squeaks excitedly, trying not to fidget as I finish painting the rainbow flag on her cheek before grabbing three small pots of white, pink and light blue paint and painting the transgender pride flag on my cheeks. “Ahh… Kinda hard to believe, you know, this’ll be our last year here. Feels like it was only a few weeks ago that we started, heh!”

“Yeah,” I chuckle, even though I don’t exactly share my friend’s sentiment.

I can see why she’d think that way, though- she’s acing her course, she’s the secretary of the college’s LGBT society, active within the wider student union as well, has a sizeable trust fund heading her way in two months for her 21st birthday (in addition to the one she received on her 18th), has her own considerable social media following and, last but not least, is happily married. Meanwhile, over the last two years, I’ve just about scraped a 2:1 in my degree, I’ve risen to the high rank of ‘junior gopher’ in the LGBT society, I’m lucky if my bank balance has over £100 in it, I’ve just barely scraped 3500 followers on Instagram and, last but not least, I am still without my ‘Prince Charming’.

It’s been several months since I split from Simon, and I’ve been on dates since then- and been hit on by the occasional Cro-Magnon while out clubbing or with friends- but the ‘Princes’ have been decidedly ‘Un-Charming’. From the BOY who wore an Arsenal shirt on our first date to the one who spent the whole time talking about how much money he makes trading Pokémon cards on eBay, all of the men I’ve dated have been as lame as it’s possible to get, meaning the only thing I’ve been sharing my bed with over the last few months has been my laptop, and even then it’s only been while I was finishing off coursework.

Fortunately, while I’ve been alone in bed, I’ve never been alone anywhere else. Sure, the company isn’t cute and male, but my five best friends are much, much more than just ‘better than nothing’. Even though Sarah and Nikki are now married, they’re not shutting the rest of us out, if anything, they’re spending more time socialising with the rest of us. Admittedly, the fact that Nikki’s not able to travel internationally for the next few months might help a bit there. Katie and Lauren still can, though, and did go on holiday over the summer with their lumps of man flesh, but when they returned, they seemed to spend as much time as part of the ‘super six’ as they did with their boyfriends, even though we hadn’t yet gone back to university. Admittedly, the fact that we ‘super six’ are close friends with a group of national celebrities and regularly attend their private parties might help a bit there.

However, the most love and support I’ve received over the last few months has, of course, come from someone who has a passport, but chooses not to use it, is as close to the Angels as I am, but chooses not to capitalise on it, and is just as single as I am, but by choice. Over the summer, Ophelia and I grew closer than we’ve ever been- which is an impressive feat, considering that neither of us had any other friends while we were living in Brighton and we’re practically sisters as it is anyway. But we now spend virtually every free second together either watching TV, helping each other with coursework, on shopping trips… The only times we’re apart are when we’re in bed (and that’s only due to us staying in the same 2 bedroom flat we rented last year) or, like today, engaged in university activities. As Ophelia isn’t L, G, B or T- and neither are Katie or Lauren (and Nikki of course doesn’t attend university)- it’s just me and Sarah representing the ‘S6’ today- well, on this side of the booth, anyway! Though that’s not to say that I’m not representing my own ‘personal interests’- something that doesn’t go unnoticed by my friend.

“Hey!” Sarah says, snapping her fingers in front of my face after she finishes ‘decorating’ my face. “Earth to Jacinta! It’s show time… Unless, of course, you’d rather keep ogling the fit male freshers out of the corner of your eye?”

“I think you- and, to be fair, everybody else- knows the answer to THAT,” I reply, making my friend giggle as we head back to the front of our ‘booth’, where we’re already attracting a lot of attention.

We spend the next hour or so fielding questions about the LGBT society from eager eighteen year olds- many of which were the same questions Sarah and I had asked two years ago when we were on the other side of the table. Thanks to our outgoing and friendly approach to our task, we have several potential new members of the society ready to sign up, and both of us have very proud smiles on our faces as we meet up with our classmates- and, in one person’s case, wife- for lunch.

“Hey girlies!” Sarah squeaks as she sits down next to Nikki and I lower myself into the seat next to Ophelia.

“Hello, madame secretary!” Lauren teases, making Sarah roll her eyes and sigh in an overdramatic way.

“Stop that,” Sarah mumbles as she barely suppresses a giggle.

“What?” Lauren asks. “Not like I’m wrong, am I? You ARE a secretary, and your title- in French, anyway- IS ‘madame’!” The six of us all giggle excitedly as the two Mrs. Phillips-Thomases link their hands, showing off the delicate gold bands on their ring fingers.

“…Yeah, alright, don’t stop!” Sarah giggles excitedly.

“Bet that’s not the first time Nikki’s heard THAT today!” Katie says with a sly grin.

“Enough!” Nikki protests, though she noticeably doesn’t release her wife’s hand. “Got many newbies signed up to the society?”

“A few,” Sarah replies. “Really just, you know, nibbles at this point.”

“Any, you know…” Nikki asks hesitantly. “’Special’ girls? Like us?”

“You mean ‘extra-girly, awesomely angelic girls’?” I ask, pointing to myself and Nikki before sighing and shaking my head. “Not yet. That’s not to say we won’t do, though. You know that not all girls ‘like us’ are lucky enough to start transitioning in their teens.”

“Hoping to encourage a few girls ‘like you’ to ‘embrace the woman inside’ this year?” Lauren asks.

“Uh- hell yes I am!” I reply, earning a mass giggle from the girls.

“Jacinta kinda has other priorities first, though!” Sarah teases, making me blush. “Namely someone with the surname ‘Charming’ who just happens to be the son of a king…”

“You reckon you’ll find Prince Charming in the freshers?” Katie asks sceptically.

“…Well I haven’t found him in any other year, have I?” I sigh, making my friends frown. “…Sorry.”

“Nah, you’re okay,” Katie sighs. “Can hardly blame you or anyone else for wanting to cuddle up to a nice chunk of man flesh.”

“You two can cover each other’s ears,” Lauren says to Sarah and Nikki, making them giggle and roll their eyes.

“And if I’m going to find Prince Charming at uni, I’ve only got one year left to go…” I say, biting my lip as the mood at the table suddenly lowers.

“…I dunno about you girls, but I’m really not looking forward to the ‘real world’,” Lauren sighs.

“You spent the whole summer interning for one of the biggest fashion houses in London and loved every second of it,” Katie reminds her BFF.

“And you and Jacinta spent the summer interning for Heavenly bloody Talent!” Lauren retorts.

“Yes, exactly, your point?” Katie asks.

“I think I get it,” Nikki says softly. “It’s this-“ Nikki smiles sadly as she points to the six of us- “that you’ll miss, right? I know I did when I dropped out of college.”

“And with some of us staying on to do postgrad and some of us going into work,” Sarah sighs, “it might not be as easy for the six of us to meet up during the day, even if it is just for lunch.”

“Then we must enjoy this last year all the more,” Ophelia says firmly. “And we must make sure that for as long as we can, we make time for each other at least once every week, not including Friday or Saturday nights.”

“Hear hear!” Lauren cheers.

“And that still applies even if SOME people do spend all of the rest of their time hanging with- or hanging off- their ‘Prince Charming’!” Katie says, making me giggle and roll my eyes.

“Yes, yes, okay then,” I say. “But I agree- we are TOTALLY friends for life. Right?”

“Right!” The other girls all cheer, attracting funny looks from nearby tables before they realise just who it is making the noise and shrug it off.

Naturally, there are more cheers and more noise from the six of us before lunch comes to an end and Sarah and I return to our ‘booth’. We’re only in charge for about another half an hour, though, before David (the society’s vice-chairperson) arrives to take over from us (and, of course, demand the same cheek ‘art’ as Sarah), freeing us to have a look around the rest of the university’s societies’ booths. Or, rather, freeing me to look at the attractive young men looking at the rest of the university’s societies’ booths!

“Sooo…” Sarah teases, barely suppressing a giggle. “Any of these ‘princes’ look ‘charming’?”

“Depends on how you define ‘charming’,” I reply, making the shorter girl giggle. “I hope Nikki knows how lucky she is, having you.”

“I try to make sure she does on a regular basis, yes,” Sarah replies with a smirk. “Any reason in particular?”

“…I suppose the ‘lucky’ thing could apply to both of you,” I say, smiling as Sarah nods. “You two will never have to, you know, start another relationship again.”

“Huh,” Sarah muses. “Never really thought of it that way, I guess we wouldn’t do. Isn’t the start of a relationship the most exciting time, though?”

“It is and it isn’t,” I reply. “Yes, you’re excited about the potential the relationship can have, but you’re also worried that he might end up being, I dunno, a football hooligan, a nose-picker… Or a transphobe.”

“Ah, yeah,” Sarah grimaces.

“No sense in wondering if someone might be ‘Prince Charming’ if they refuse to acknowledge that you’re a princess,” I shrug.

“Have you talked to my mum about this?” Sarah asks.

“Yeah,” I sigh as I remember my infrequent visits to Sarah’s mother, who just happens to be a very highly qualified gender identity counsellor. “Not much she can do, not much she can tell me that I don’t already know after five years of desperation, heh.”

“She’s a smart woman,” Sarah shrugs. “Okay, it’s not like she’s a human Tinder, but relationships are a big part of what she does. I know Stuart and Jamie speak very highly of-“ I frown with confusion as my friend suddenly stops talking and gazes over to a far corner of the room.

“…Sarah?” I ask, startling her by snapping my fingers in front of her face. “Earth to Sarah?”

“Huh?” Sarah asks, shaking her head as she looks at me. “Look over at the corner of the room, near the doors to the computer lab.”

“Umm… Okay,” I say. “What am I looking for? You haven’t actually found me a hot guy, have you? Because I-“ I immediately stop talking and my jaw drops as I scan the far corner of the room and my eyes fall on what- or rather, who- Sarah was undoubtedly looking at.

How I didn’t immediately spot him is beyond me- though in fairness, he’s not the sort of guy I’d typically pay too much attention to. He’s tall- clearly over six feet- but extremely skinny, almost painfully so. He has very pronounced features- high cheekbones, a dimpled chin and an almost feminine jawline, but that’s not what stands out about him the most. The first thing I notice is his hair. It’s a silvery white, the same colour as fresh snow, and obviously not his natural hair colour (he barely looks eighteen years old).

The second thing I notice about the young man is his dress sense. Most of the boys here today are wearing very casual clothing, jeans, t-shirts, a few are wearing smarter designer shirts (we are a fashion college, after all). This boy, however, is dressed very differently. Smart black trousers, a high-collared shirt with an Ascot tie, a long-tailed jacket and shiny black shoes make him look like a character from a Charles Dickens novel, rather than a young man attending university in the 21st century. He stands out like a sore thumb… And immediately brings one other person to mind, undoubtedly the same person Sarah was thinking of when she spotted the distinctive young man.

When I arrived at college today, I took pride in the fact that I was virtually indistinguishable from any of the other girls in my tight turtleneck sweater, my short, clingy grey skirt, my shiny black tights and my low wedge shoes. Most of my friends have opted to ‘blend in’ too- Sarah in her clingy bodysuit and longer skirt, Katie in her trademark denim shorts and brown tights and Lauren in her low-cut top and knee-length denim skirt. One of my friends, however, has made the conscious effort to not blend in- and it shouldn’t be hard to guess who.

Today, Ophelia- with her fuchsia and gold-coloured hair- has come to university in a floor-length, figure hugging dark green dress with long lace sleeves and a low-cut bodice. On her legs are a pair of very intricately-patterned lace tights, on her feet are platform shoes with a 6” stiletto heel and, of course, around her waist is a corset that’s been laced excruciatingly tight. When combined with her extra-thick make-up and her inch-and-a-half long nails, Ophelia is easily the most individual person I or anyone else has ever seen… Until now.

“…We have GOT to introduce Ophelia to him,” I say, smirking as Sarah giggles and nods in agreement.

The two of us decide to play it casual with the snowy-haired fresher, not approaching directly but meandering in his general direction until we’re within a few feet of him. The first thing we notice is the young man’s smell- unlike most men, who go around in a fog of Lynx deodorant, this man smells fragrant, almost feminine, overpowering even mine & Sarah’s perfume. And again, this just reminds me of my BFF- one thing that can’t come across well in print is how someone smells. Possibly because she grew up in a house where the air is at best foul and at worst toxic, Ophelia has always doused herself in a cloud of very sweet-smelling, very distinctive perfume that can actually make people’s eyes water if they’re unaccustomed to the smell. Something tells me that this won’t be a problem for this young man, though…

“Umm- umm, excuse me?” I ask, attracting the attention of the white-haired young man, who gazes at me with a vaguely disinterested stare.

“Hmm?” The young man replies in a very obviously affected upper-class voice- another thing that reminds me of my BFF. “Yes, may I help you?”

“Hi…” I say nervously. “I- I’m Jacinta, Jacinta Hanley, this is my friend Sarah Phillips-Thomas, we- we’re, umm…”

“We’re on the committee of the college’s LGBT society,” Sarah explains.

“Oh,” the young man says. “Then I am afraid I must disappoint you. Whilst I will happily support and indeed encourage the rights of those who happen to be LGBT, I myself do not feel attraction toward people of the same gender, nor do I wish to change my gender.”

“Oh- that- that’s okay,” I stammer. “It’s just, umm…”

“Oh- my apologies,” the young man interrupts. “I have not properly introduced myself. My name is Telemachus Charlemagne Percival. I am enrolled on the history of fashion bachelor of arts course.” He just gets more and more perfect… I think to myself.

“It- it’s nice to meet you, Telemachus!” I say, shaking the man’s hand only to giggle when he gently kisses the back of my hand. “Son of- son of Odysseus, right?”

“You know your Greek mythology?” Telemachus asks.

“Well, I was kinda, you know, named after the leader of the Argonauts…” I mumble. “When I was born, like… My dad’s a bit of a mythology buff.”

“Oh, I see,” Telemachus says, his eyes widening as he gazes intently at my body. “So you are… You are a very beautiful woman, Jacinta.”

“Thanks,” I giggle as my cheeks start to flush- which comes to an abrupt end when I feel one of Sarah’s slender elbows jab into my ribs.

“There’s someone we’d like you to meet,” Sarah says, casting a brief, angry glare in my direction.

“Oh,” Telemachus says, his smile slowly falling. “My apologies, but I am not seeking a relationship at this time.”

“Oh,” I say, my face slowly falling. “Umm… Okay, then…”

“If you will excuse me,” Telemachus says politely. “I now need to register with the library. Good day, ladies.”

“Okay… Bye, then?” I say, waving as the white-haired boy leaves, only to yelp in pain as Sarah gives me another, sharper elbow in my ribs. “Ow! Again! What was that for?”

“Try to remember why we were talking to him in the first place?” Sarah sighs. “He was absolutely PERFECT and you were flirting with him!”

“I was not!” I protest. “…Okay, maybe a little, I can’t help it! I see a cute guy, I flirt with him, even if I am sizing him up for my best friend- which I hadn’t forgotten, thank you very much!”

“Well- he’s gone now,” Sarah sighs. “Should we tell Ophelia? Obviously not that we blew it, but-“

“We haven’t ‘blown it’, not by a long shot,” I say confidently.

“Umm… He’s gone,” Sarah points out.

“Oh, my dear, sweet Sarah,” I say with a playful sigh as my friend rolls her eyes. “Not got much experience at chasing boys, have you?”

“Funnily enough, no,” Sarah retorts, pointing at her flag-adorned cheek with the finger that bears her wedding ring.

“Well lucky for you, I have enough experience for both of us,” I say. “Probably enough experience for everyone in this room, heh. We just need to, you know, find a way to set them up.”

“…And we do know where he’ll be at any given time, because we know what year he’s in and what course he’s on,” Sarah says.

“Now you’re getting it!” I giggle. "Ah, they will be SO cute together..."

"Assuming, of course, that they'll even like each other," Sarah says. "You heard what Telemachus said, not seeking a relationship, and that's been Ophelia's default stance for the last 2 years..."

"How can they not like each other?" I ask. "I mean- come on!"

"I dunno," Sarah says. "Maybe they're a little TOO similar."

"Well all we can do is introduce them and let biology do its thing," I say. "I've known Ophelia for four years and been her BFF for that long too. I owe her this much."

"Okay, I guess," Sarah shrugs. “I guess there's no harm in introducing them, but… Should we tell her in advance? She’s not exactly the sort of person who’d want to be, you know, ‘set up’…”

“Exactly,” I say. “If we say ‘hey O, check this guy out’ she’ll run a mile. We need to make her think it’s her idea.”

“And Telemachus?” Sarah asks. “He’s so similar to Ophelia, he’ll probably see us setting him up and run a mile too.”

“Ah,” I say with a smug, knowing smile. “There’s one significant difference between the two of them.”

“…Which is?” Sarah asks.

“Telemachus is a BOY,” I answer. “Need I say more?”

“Nope!” Sarah giggles. “And as he’s a BOY, I feel I need to say: hands off.”

“Yes, yes,” I say with a playful sigh as we check out the rest of the university’s societies’ booths, before heading back to our respective homes.

When I arrive home, I’m unsurprised to find that Ophelia is already at home leafing through her course’s reading material, and despite myself, I let out a small giggle at how oblivious she is to the fact that she very nearly met her own ‘Prince Charming’ earlier today- and still might in a few days’ time.

“Good evening, Jacinta,” Ophelia says, barely tearing her attention away from her work. “I take it that you had a productive afternoon?”

“Hmm?” I ask as I head to the kitchen to prepare dinner. “Oh, umm, yeah, went great! Signed up a couple of new folks to the society made, umm, made a few, hehe, made a few new friends!”

“…What is his name?” Ophelia asks with a tired sigh.

“Not THAT kind of friend!” I reply. Not yet, anyway… I think to myself.

“I shall believe it when I DON’T see it,” Ophelia says, smirking as I roll my eyes. “What shall we eat tonight?”

“Spag bol work for you?” I ask my BFF, who nods in agreement. “Could light a few candles, make it a romantic night in…”

“There are still nine years before our pact needs to be enforced,” Ophelia retorts. “Even though I find it highly unlikely that you will remain unmarried by the time of your thirtieth birthday.”

“D’aww!” I coo. “Feeling, you know, a bit less optimistic about yourself, then?”

“I have no desire to be married, you know that,” Ophelia says bluntly.

“…Fair enough,” I shrug, opting to drop the topic rather than teasing my BFF further. She’s not stupid- I don’t want to drop TOO many hints, after all…

The topic of men stays off the table (as do any candles) for the duration of the dinner, and with both of us immersing ourselves in our books, there isn’t much opportunity to talk about anything for the rest of the night- though I do manage to sneak a few Facebook messages to Sarah, agreeing to talk tomorrow about our plan.

The following morning, I maintain my silence as Ophelia and I head into university for the first ‘proper’ day of the new academic year, though I struggle to completely disguise my excitement over the ‘plan’- as proved when Katie and I head to the computer labs after our first lecture of the year.

“Spill,” the freckled girl says with a loud, overdramatic sigh.

“Spill what?” I retort, feigning ignorance.

“For starters, what’s his name?” Katie asks, chuckling as I roll my eyes.

“’His’ name…” I say, before smirking. “ISN’T ‘The Future Husband of Jacinta Hanley’.”

“Which makes it all the more odd that you’re smiling about it,” Katie says. “Practically bouncing off the walls, even! So does this ‘not your future husband’ have a name, then?”

“If you must know,” I say, “his name is Telemachus Charlemagne Percival.”

“That’s… Wow,” Katie muses. “Either that’s a deed poll case or his parents need shooting.”

“Almost certainly deed poll,” I say, my grin widening. “Much like one Miss Ophelia Cassiopeia Love…”

“…Oh,” Katie says with a slow nod of her head. “You- you think this Telemachus guy and Ophelia…?”

“If anyone’s ideal for her, it’s him,” I shrug.

“Yeah, that’s just it,” Katie says quietly. “’If’. Ophelia’s probably the least boy-hungry person I know, I don’t even know that she isn’t asexual.”

“Tell that to our washing machine,” I retort. “And she’s always declared that she’s heterosexual, even if she’s never, you know, ‘looked’. Reckon she always thought that no ordinary boy would suit her.”

“And she’d be right,” Katie says. “I take it Telemachus isn’t exactly ‘ordinary’?”

“Ah- speak of the devil,” I say as I see a group of younger students head down the corridor toward us, one of whom is a very familiar, very smartly dressed young man with bright white hair.

“Good morning, Jacinta,” Telemachus says with a polite nod as he passes us.

“Good morning, Telemachus,” I reply as he and his classmates head to a nearby seminar room.

“…Okay, I’m sold,” Katie shrugs. “Does Ophelia know about him yet?”

“Nope,” I say. “Like you said, she’s so not hungry for boys that if we tried to set her up, she’d run a mile. I want it to be her idea. Or at least, for her to think it’s her idea.”

“Who else knows about this?” Katie asks as we sit down at our computers and start connecting our camera equipment.

“Just me and Sarah,” I reply.

“So you, Sarah and inevitably Nikki, then,” Katie says. “Okay. Got a plan yet to get them together?”

“Just the basics,” I say. “Get them in the same room as each other and let the inevitable happen.” I exchange a smile with my freckled friend as we get down to working on our course- though while sat at the computer, I also stealthily log on to the university’s intranet and download the timetable for Telemachus’s course- and immediately, an opportunity presents itself.

After what seems like an age slaving over our photos, Katie and I head to the familiar surroundings of the dining hall to meet our friends for lunch- though today, our ‘super six’ is down to just five.

“Hey girlies!” I say with a giggle. “No ‘other’ Mrs. Phillips-Thomas today?”

“No,” Sarah sighs. “She’s up in Birmingham all day today, might see her before bedtime, heh.”

“D’aww,” Katie teases. “So when are you having the operation to surgically join yourselves at the hip?”

“As long as the hips are joined facing each other,” Lauren says, nearly making me choke on my drink with laughter!

“Don’t tempt me,” Sarah giggles. “Ugh, need to distract myself from my terrible loneliness… Any of you decided whether you want to come to the American football game next month?”

“Meh, tempted,” Katie shrugs. “If only so you don’t completely forget about us and run off with your new Hollywood friends…”

“…They’re from Minnesota, it’s, like, nowhere near Hollywood!” Sarah retorts.

“Meh, still America,” Katie shrugs.

“Says the girl whose dream is to work in New York!” Lauren teases, making her BFF roll her eyes.

“I thought that you had lined up a job with Heavenly Talent for after you graduate?” Ophelia asks.

“It’s not exactly cast in stone,” Katie says, before glancing over to me and directing my attention to Ophelia, who is casually picking away at her meal. “Anyone… Anyone met any of the new freshers yet?”

“We signed a few up for the LGBT society yesterday,” Sarah says, before also catching on to what Katie’s implying. “Yeah… There- there were a few, umm, ‘interesting’ freshers we met yesterday…”

“What’s everyone planning on doing tomorrow?” I ask.

“Other than enjoying having our free day on a Wednesday, like it’s supposed to be?” Lauren asks. “I’ll probably go to ballet in the morning, might do some reading, a bit of designing later in the day.”

“I am planning on doing the same,” Ophelia says, making me smirk- that was very much the answer I wanted to hear. “I wish to try out the new leotard I designed over the summer.”

“The one with the halter neck and all the straps?” Katie asks. “Yeah, it looked cute. It’d work really well as a top too.”

“I’ll test it out there if you want, Ophelia!” Sarah says, making my BFF giggle.

“No, I shall be wearing it myself after our dance class,” Ophelia says smugly. “Along with my emerald fishtail skirt and mesh cover-up, in case you’re interested.”

“You should know by now that we’re always interested in your style,” Lauren says, making my BFF giggle again.

“Why you hiding your legs, though?” Katie asks. “The dresses you wore today and yesterday, tomorrow’s skirt…”

“Just because you believe an appropriate hemline is two inches below your crotch!” Lauren teases, pointing at Katie’s trademark tiny shorts.

“Why hide amazing pins?” The freckled girl shrugs. “Question goes to you, Miss Love.”

“I simply prefer the feeling of a longer skirt around my legs,” Ophelia says with a shrug.

“Between the skirt and the corset, you’re kinda, you know, Victorian in your look,” Sarah says hesitantly.

“Believe me, the clothing you don’t see is far from Victorian!” Ophelia retorts with a smug grin.

“Didn’t know you were that into, you know, the history of fashion,” Sarah continues. “Beyond what we’ve gone over on our course.”

“Yeah,” Lauren says. “Don’t recall us studying nineteenth century unmentionables before.”

“I am interested in all aspects of fashion,” Ophelia says. “The history of it is just one aspect.”

“I’ve always wanted to read up a bit about it too,” I say.

“Same here,” Sarah concurs, flashing me a stealthy smirk. “Particularly the Victorian era.”

“Oh god,” Katie moans. “Does this mean we’re going to have a costume party wearing a dress with a- a six inch waist, b- a sixTY inch hemline, and that c- weighs fifteen stone?”

“We are now,” I say with a smug grin as Katie rolls her eyes. “Want to do a bit of reading up on it first, you know, make sure the costumes are authentic… Anyone fancy hitting the library tomorrow afternoon?”

“Sure,” Sarah says as I glance over at Katie, who immediately cottons on to what I’m implying.

“Umm, I guess,” Katie shrugs. “See if there are any historically accurate dresses that aren’t the size and shape of a tank.”

“…You two?” I ask.

“Why not?” Lauren shrugs.

“If everyone else shall be there, then so shall I,” Ophelia says with a smile. So far, so good… I think to myself.

Naturally, coursework dominates the rest of the day, including the evening, though Ophelia does occasionally ask me for my opinion on a few design ideas she’s had for the Victorian-themed party we’re apparently going to have. On each occasion, I remind Ophelia that I’m not exactly the most qualified person to comment on fashion design, and that I’ll have to do more research of my own- and each time I say that, I hope that I don’t come across as too heavy-handed in my insistence on going to the library tomorrow.

Fortunately, Ophelia doesn’t suspect a thing- or at least, doesn’t appear to (she has a REALLY good poker face)- meaning that after the five of us leave our regular ballet class the following morning (having first bid goodbye to Nikki, who's been roped into organising a ballet-themed party for some friends of ours), we head straight to the university’s library. We do, however, stop along the way to get a drink- and to compliment Ophelia on her new leotard!

“That leo is HOT,” Lauren- who I’ve been assured is now in on ‘the plan’- says as she examines the criss-crossing straps of Ophelia’s latest creation. “How long did it take you to put it on?”

“I do not remember exactly,” Ophelia replies with a smug grin. “But I do know that it was time well spent.”

“Too right!” Katie giggles.

“Takes me AGES to get into halter necks usually,” Lauren sighs.

“Though I’m sure Michael agrees that that’s also time well spent,” Katie says, giggling as her BFF gives her a playful shove.

“There shall not be any halter necks at our Victorian party, however,” Ophelia says with a knowing smirk. “My research last night revealed that they unsurprisingly preferred higher collars.”

“Good job we’re not having the party in summer, then!” I giggle. “So then… Shall we head to the library, then, do a little research of our own?”

“Yes, let’s,” Ophelia says with a confident smile, leading the five of us out of the coffee shop and down the short road toward our university.

“…Has she sussed us?” Sarah whispers to me as we head to the library. “She seems, you know, ‘eager’…”

“She’s going to get to wrap us all in ridiculously tight corsets,” I retort. “You know what it’s like when you get a new idea for a design, surely? Especially if it’s a costume, right?”

“I guess,” Sarah shrugs, though she still doesn’t look convinced- and she’s making me wonder too now whether or not my ‘plan’ will succeed. If Ophelia walks out without even having the chance to meet Telemachus, I’ll never forgive myself…

After the five of us grab our books, we settle down at a table and begin discussing the authenticity of the costumes we (or rather, Ophelia, Lauren and Sarah) are about to design. If I’ve got my timing right, we should only have a few minutes to wait…

“…The hell is the point of a ‘bustle’ anyway?” Katie asks, showing her book to Lauren and Ophelia. “Did Victorian men like their women looking like they’ve got a tail or something?”

“Didn’t you and Nikki go to, like, an Angel party with a Victorian theme once?” Lauren asks Sarah, who shakes her head.

“That was Viks’s 21st,” Sarah explains. “Before we really got to know them. From what Viks says of that party, I kinda doubt we’ll be getting into another corset any time soon!”

“It’s bad enough you’re getting me back into one of them,” Katie says with a snort of laughter. “Any tips on how to wear one without passing out, O?”

“I will happily share my tips,” Ophelia says, “if you will tell me why you have REALLY brought me here.”

“Umm… To research clothes for the party,” I say.

“Maybe you are getting too much into the ‘Victorian’ theme,” Ophelia says with a stern look. “They could only research using books, but I did all the research I needed last night on the internet. So I ask again: why are we here?” I bite my lip, eliciting a sigh from my BFF. “I’m being set up, aren’t I?”

“No- no, not set up,” I say, checking the time on my phone. Just a few minutes…

“I have told you on many occasions,” Ophelia sighs. “I neither need nor desire a boyfriend or male companionship of any kind.”

“But- but you wouldn’t be opposed to it, right?” I ask.

“I see no reason to waste my time on something that may not even-“ Ophelia says, before suddenly stopping mid-sentence. As one, the five of us sat at our table turn to look at the familiar figure that has just approached our table.

“J- Jacinta,” Telemachus says, his voice uncharacteristically wavering. “Sarah, it is good to see you again. May I- may I be introduced to your friends?”

“Of course,” I say with a smug grin as Ophelia’s mouth starts to drop open. “This is Katie Henderson, this is Lauren Burnett,” I giggle as Telemachus greets both women with gentle kisses on the backs of their hands, “and this is my best friend, Ophelia Cassiopeia Love.”

“O- Ophelia,” Telemachus says, nervously approaching my BFF, who has stood up to greet the young man. “Daughter of Polonius. An angel in heaven, while others lie howling in hell.”

“Y- yes, heh,” Ophelia says with a breathless giggle.

“Oh- where are my manners?” I say, barely suppressing an excited giggle of my own. “Ladies, this is Telemachus Charlemagne Percival, he started studying fashion history here yesterday.”

“You’ve got, umm, great fashion sense, Telemachus!” Lauren says, clearly bemused by the sight of the young man with his bright white hair and old-fashioned dress sense.

“Thank you, Lauren,” Telemachus politely replies, before turning to face Ophelia again. With her contact lenses, it’s hard to tell, but I’m pretty sure her pupils have dilated just as much as Telemachus’s. “Ophelia, you are the- the most unique woman I have ever met.”

“You are the most unique man I have ever met,” Ophelia replies. “Did- did you design your clothes yourself?”

“My trousers and waistcoat were purchased from a local charity shop,” Telemachus explains. “I customised my shirt from two that I purchased from the internet. Your top is very elaborate, Ophelia, did you make it yourself?”

“I did,” Ophelia replies. “It is actually a leotard, I have just been at my- umm, dance… class…”

“We do ballet together,” Sarah explains. “As a group, once a week, every Wednesday morning…”

“Oh,” Telemachus says, before his smile widens even further. “There is nothing quite as elegant and sophisticated as ballet. I am sure you are a most wonderful ballerina, Ophelia. As are all of you, of course.”

“Th- thank you, hehe!” Ophelia giggles.

“And obviously a highly skilled fashion designer as well,” Telemachus says. “Not to mention a truly, uniquely beautiful woman.”

“Thank you,” Ophelia whispers, clearly enthralled by the young man. I have to suppress a giggle of my own as I exchange a fist bump with Sarah, whose grin is just as wide as my own.

“Would you like to continue this conversation in more comfortable surroundings?” Telemachus asks. “Perhaps, would you like to go for a drink of coffee?”

“That would be wonderful,” Ophelia replies, before grimacing as she gazes back at the four of us still sat around the table. However, her grimace quickly changes into a knowing smile.

“I would not wish to simply abandon my friends,” Ophelia says with an almost smug tone to her voice.

“Oh- we’ll be fine,” I say with a shrug that Ophelia undoubtedly instantly sees through.

“You two have fun!” Katie says, her grin just as smug as my BFF’s.

“I must return to my flat at…” Telemachus says, before forcing me to suppress yet another giggle as he withdraws a pocket watch from his waistcoat pocket. “5pm. But we have ample time before then.” My attempts to suppress any further giggles fail as Telemachus holds out his arm for Ophelia, an invitation she eagerly accepts.

“Ladies, if you will please excuse us,” Telemachus says with a polite nod.

“Oh- take your time, hehe!” Lauren giggles as the new couple walk away- though not before Ophelia turns back and mouths a silent ‘thank you’ to the four of us.

“…Mission accomplished!” Sarah says, sitting back with a very smug smile on her face- a smile that also currently plastered onto my face!

“Okay, I’ll admit, I was sceptical,” Lauren says. “But- yeah. Have there ever been two people as made for each other as those two?”

“Um- ahem?” Sarah asks, holding up her left hand- specifically, the rings on her third finger- for us to see. “I think you’ll find the answer to your question is ‘yes’.”

“Yeah, but does Nikki own a pocket watch?” Katie asks, making Sarah giggle and roll her eyes.

“I am so buying Michael one for his birthday,” Lauren announces. “Maybe a waistcoat too.”

“The whole ‘snooker player chic’ thing might be in this year, you never know…” Sarah says, making our black-haired friend roll her eyes. “You okay, Jacinta? Been a bit quiet since ‘Telephelia’ left…”

“Hmm?” I ask. “Umm, yeah, fine… Just- just, you know, I’ve known her for four years… I’m just happy that she’s finally, you know, got someone she likes.”

“And who obviously likes her!” Katie giggles. “Half expected him to drool down her cleavage, heh.”

“They’ll be saving that for tonight,” Lauren says with a smug grin, even as I feel a pang of guilt bite at me.

In my eagerness to set Ophelia up with what I assumed would be her ‘Prince Charming’, I’d failed to take one very significant thing into account- Ophelia has never had a proper boyfriend before, and (despite her fondness for our washing machine ) is technically still a virgin. And yet here I am, practically shoving her out the door with a guy I barely know, based on a few brief meeting with him? If anything happens to her, I know I’ll never forgive myself.

My friends are all much more confident about the relationship, of course, or at the very least, they appear to be- making friendly jokes about ‘Telephelia’ throughout the rest of the time we spend in the library. Eventually, though, 5pm rolls around, and the four of us get ready to head home. I switch my phone off of silent and check it to see if Ophelia has called or sent a message while I’ve been in the library, but much to my surprise there hasn’t been a peep from her since she left with Telemachus- and I immediately begin to fear the worst. Ophelia may have taught me not to judge a book by its cover, but there are reasons why books have covers…

I take a deep breath as I unlock my phone and hit Ophelia’s speed dial button, my tension only slightly lessening when she answers the phone within 2 rings.

“Good afternoon, Jacinta,” Ophelia says. Judging by the noise in the background, she’s obviously in a public place- maybe I was worrying about nothing after all…

“Oh- hi Ophelia,” I say, trying my best to sound as casual as possible. “The library’s closing now so we’re going to head home, just thought I’d let you know.”

“I am aware of the library’s closing time,” Ophelia retorts. “Telemachus and I are still speaking with each other.” Seriously? I think to myself. You’re not exactly the world’s most talkative person, O…

“Oh- umm, okay then,” I say. “Any idea when you’ll be home?”

“I will be home later,” Ophelia says. “I am very much enjoying Telemachus’s company.”

“Well- good, great!” I say. “I’m happy for you, Ophelia. Give me a call or a text when you’re on your way home, okay?”

“I shall, to put your mind at ease,” Ophelia says- and it might be my imagination, but it almost sounds like she’s giggling at me. “Though I always viewed you more as an older sister than a replacement mother.”

“Wh- hey!” I protest.

“You do not have any reason to be concerned for me, Jacinta,” Ophelia says. “And if you did, then you should not have introduced Telemachus and I in the first place. Though I am glad that you did. We shall speak when I return home, I promise you.”

“Where- where are you at the moment?” I ask.

“At a local dining establishment,” Ophelia replies. “Oh- I should have said, my apologies. You do not need to prepare an evening meal for me tonight.”

“Aww, your first proper date,” I say half-teasingly and half-tiredly. “Well- just give me a text when you’re on your way home, okay?”

“Of course,” Ophelia says. “Now if you will please excuse us.”

“Sure,” I say, smirking as Ophelia ends the call. I’ll happily admit that I shouldn’t have been so worried about Ophelia, and definitely shouldn’t have been so judgemental of Telemachus- god knows it’s not like I haven’t received the same kind of prejudice myself, and so has Ophelia. Possibly even more than I have, in fact. And here she is, finally meeting a kindred spirit. It’s obvious she’d want to spend as much time with him as possible- even if they will be at the same university together too…

I microwave myself a quick dinner when I get home and settle down in front of the TV, waiting for Ophelia’s call. I don’t want to start anything big like any coursework tonight as I know I won’t be able to give it my undivided attention- or any attention at all once Ophelia returns home!

…Whenever that will be, anyway, as 7pm quickly comes and goes, as does 8pm, and 9pm… By the time 10:30pm rolls around, my panic levels, which had subsided after my phone call to Ophelia, are higher than ever. My rational mind tells me that she'll still be with Telemachus, but every other part of me imagining various different possibilities- all of which end up with me never seeing or talking to my BFF again. I pick up my phone and get ready to call her again, but pause before I push the ‘call’ button. After all, like Ophelia implied, she is a grown woman, and she actually sounded irritated when I called her earlier. And the last thing I need is to give her an excuse to call me next time I’m out with a boy…

‘Hi O,’ I eventually type into a text message. ‘Can you let me know when you’ll be home please? Am going to bed now and don’t want to leave door unlocked.’ There, I think to myself. She can’t argue with that excuse for contacting her…

What she can do, however, is ignore the text, as I discover when 11pm rolls around and she still hasn’t replied to the text. I try to ignore my anxieties and convince myself that she’s okay, that she’s just lost track of time, but I lay awake in bed for virtually all of the night, only getting occasional, brief spells of fitful sleep. When the Sun’s rays start filtering through my window just before 7am, I decide to cut my losses and get out of bed, but en route to the kitchen I poke my head around Ophelia’s bedroom, sighing when I see that her bed clearly hasn’t been slept in tonight- and there’s no response to my text message either.

I eventually shower, get dressed in my preferred black tights/short skirt/tight top look and make myself a bowl of cereal for breakfast, which I lazily pick away at as I stare at my phone, willing it to ring. I’ve just about finished my breakfast and am about to put my shoes and coat on when the doorbell rings and I open the door to see my BFF stood there with her usual inscrutable look on her face.

“Ophelia,” I say, breathing a sigh of relief before grabbing my phone out of my pocket and waving it in her surprised face. “You do know what one of these things is, right?”

“It is a mobile telephone,” Ophelia shrugs. “You use it to make calls.”

“And send and receive texts,” I grumble, before letting out a long sigh. “Ophelia… I- I was really worried. You know that staying out all night isn’t exactly, you know, ‘in character’ for you?”

“I did nothing that you did not do when you were going out with Simon,” Ophelia retorts.

“Including texting me to let me know you won’t be home?” I ask, frowning as Ophelia sighs.

“I apologise, I shall text you next time,” my BFF says quietly.

“Thanks,” I mumble. “What- what were you talking about, anyway?”

“Our courses,” Ophelia replies. “Our lives, our families- Telemachus, like me, has siblings the same gender as him who scorn him for his choice of lifestyle.”

“Sounds like you had a lot to talk about,” I say.

“We could have talked for a hundred days and not run out of things to talk about,” Ophelia says, making me grin widely.

“Well- I’m glad you’ve found someone,” I say. “I’ve got to admit, I was beginning to think you’d be single forever…”

“I had suspected the same thing,” Ophelia confesses.

“So, you talked all night then?” I ask.

“Not quite,” Ophelia says. “We talked until about nine o’clock in the evening, then spent the rest of the evening making passionate love.”

“Meh, fair-- wait, what!?” I squeak.

“Until approximately one o’clock in the morning,” Ophelia says matter-of-factly as I try to process what I’m hearing. “Telemachus has great stamina, and he-“

“Thanks, I’ll pass on the details,” I say. “Well- glad to you’ve found someone who… Yeah.”

“And then, before we went to sleep, we became engaged to be married,” Ophelia says, almost causing me to trip as we walk down the stairs to the street.

“You- you wha- you- you!?” I stammer.

“Yes, Jacinta,” Ophelia says. “Telemachus and I are engaged. He has not bought me a ring yet, as there are no jewellers open at one o’clock in the morning, but we shall be marrying within the next four weeks.”

“It- I- it- what!?” I exclaim. “Engaged!? Are- seriously, are you kidding?”

“Why would I joke about that?” Ophelia asks.

“Umm- well- I dunno,” I sigh. “Please tell me though that you ARE joking?”

“I am not,” Ophelia says confidently.

“Ophelia- you’ve known the guy for a DAY,” I say. “Less than that, in fact! Twenty hours, tops, and you’re marrying him? Fucking him I can kinda maybe get, but- do you even know what marriage entails?”

“Jacinta,” Ophelia says in a tired voice. “How long have you spent searching for your ‘Prince Charming’?”

“Well, ages,” I reply. “But I’m not going to get hitched to the first guy I see, no matter how perfect I think he might be!”

“Why do you assume that Telemachus is the first man that I’ve ‘seen’?” Ophelia asks. “Why do you assume that I haven’t been searching for a ‘Prince Charming’ of my own?”

“Because you’ve, you know, not exactly made any ‘noise’ about it,” I mumble.

“I’ve not made any ‘noise’ about anything,” Ophelia retorts, before sighing and- much to my surprise- reverting to her natural accent. “J… You know as well as I do that it’s not easy to be yourself, to properly be yourself. I am who I am because this is who I want to be, this is who I really am. I admit, I’m luckier than you in one way- if you strip us both naked, I am in a body I feel comfortable in. But we’ve both faced a lot of… ‘Resistance’ to us simply being us. That’s why we’re such good friends.”

“That’s why we’re sisters,” I say.

“And that’s why I know that Telemachus is my soul mate,” Ophelia says. “Because he has faced the same resistance that we have. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would ever meet anyone like him, someone I just… Match so well. I’ll never meet anyone else quite like him. And he feels the same way. I get that you might think it’s fast. Compared to my sisters ‘getting married at all’ would be fast. But every part of me knows that this is just… Right. I told you I could talk to him for a hundred days and not run out of things to say. I wasn’t exaggerating, Jacinta.”

“Well- okay,” I say. “Will you be moving in together?”

“Probably,” Ophelia says, biting her lip nervously. “Actually, we- we were wondering if-“

“Yeah, alright,” I sigh. “Sure I wouldn’t be a third wheel, though?”

“Of course not,” Ophelia says softly. “Like you said, we’re sisters. And that will never change, no matter what- or who- comes along. I am in love with Telemachus. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still love you, Jacinta.”

“…Thanks,” I whisper, sniffing back a tear as we walk through the chilly streets of London toward our college.

Naturally, when we arrive at college, Ophelia tells the rest of the girls about the engagement, and naturally, their reactions aren’t a million miles away from mine.

“WHAT THE FU-“ Katie screeches, only stopping herself when her outburst attracts even more attention than the five of us usually do. “En- engaged!? You met the guy literally 24 hours ago!?”

“Please tell me you’re taking the piss,” Lauren says with a luck of true concern on her face.

“I am utterly sincere,” Ophelia says. “Telemachus and I shall be marrying within the next few weeks. You are all, of course, welcome to attend the ceremony.”

“Okay, thanks,” Sarah says, clearly as concerned as the other girls. “Isn’t- isn’t Telemachus a little young, though?”

“Really?” Katie asks, making Sarah roll her eyes.

“Let me rephrase,” Sarah says. “You’ve known each other for a day! Even me and Nikki were friends for weeks before we started officially going out with each other.”

“Were you and Nikki the only two people in the world who thought and felt the way you do?” Ophelia asks.

“Yes, yes we are,” Sarah insists.

“And did you know that from the instant you met Nikki?” Ophelia asks.

“…Okay, maybe not IMMEDIATELY,” Sarah concedes. “But- ugh. If you’re sure that Telemachus is ‘the one’, obviously we’ll all support you.”

“And we’ll obviously all come to the wedding,” Lauren says. “Maybe a bit short notice to get a dress ready, though…”

“I shall be making my own wedding dress,” Ophelia says with a proud smile. “Thank you all for your understanding. Believe me when I say that if I was not 100% certain that Telemachus and I were meant to be together, then we would not be doing this. And if I thought that this would hurt any of you, then I would not be doing this.”

“Hey, what are friends for, right?” Lauren says, making my BFF grin. “And I hope you’ve taught Telemachus lesson number one, right?”

“He follows Mrs. Milton on Instagram, he knows the lesson all too well,” Ophelia says with a wide grin.

“You can never have too many friends!” The five of us cheer as we head to our respective classes.

I try to take Ophelia’s words to heart, specifically her assurance that she’d effectively never choose Telemachus over our friendship, but as hard as I try not to, I still feel miserable as I sit down in the seminar room next to Katie. The concerned look on my friend’s freckled face tells me in no uncertain terms that I’m doing a very bad job of hiding my feelings.

“Hey,” Katie whispers. “How- how you holding up?”

“Who- me?” I reply. “I’m fine, really.”

“You don’t look it,” Katie says bluntly, frowning as I sigh.

“Thanks,” I say with a sarcastic snort.

“God- ugh, you know what I mean,” my friend says with a heavy sigh. “If Ophelia’s news shocked me god knows what it’ll have done to you. Are- is Telemachus, umm…”

“Moving in with us? Probably,” I sigh. “That’s one life ambition fulfilled, becoming a third wheel…”

“Jacinta…” Katie sighs. “How long have you been pining over ‘Prince Charming’ again? What were you going to do when you shacked up with him, stuff Ophelia in the loft?”

“It- ugh, I dunno,” I sigh. “This is just kinda sudden, you know? I mean, yes, I wanted Ophelia and Telemachus to get together, wanted to her to have a little bit of fun, and if he turned out to be her Prince Charming, well, great! I just- ugh, I just didn’t expect this to go so fast! And… And I’m worried that I’m going to end up alone.”

“DON’T,” Katie says firmly. “Do NOT say that, because you won’t. And stop feeling sorry for yourself too! You’re less fun this way.”

“Sorry,” I say with a tired roll of my eyes. “Didn’t get much sleep last night, Ophelia was- well, yeah, I’m sure you can guess.”

“I can use my imagination,” Katie says, before letting out a sigh of her own. “I’m sorry I snapped at you, Jacinta. God knows if Lauren and Michael eloped I’d probably be lost too. But- well- ugh. I’m a photographer, not a counsellor. But I know someone who knows someone who is.”

“Sarah’s mum?” I ask, smiling as Katie nods.

“I’m sure Sarah can get her to fit you in if you ask,” Katie says softly. “Just because we’re supporting Ophelia it doesn’t mean we’re not going to support you too. And that goes twice as much for her. You’re her BFF, but that means she’s yours too, with all the responsibilities that comes with that job!”

“Thanks,” I giggle, smiling as our teacher arrives to start the lesson.

After a quick stop off at the computer lab to edit some more photos, Katie and I head to the dining hall, where we’re forced to suppress a smirk when we see Nikki’s jaw drop as she’s informed of Ophelia’s news.

“You- what!?” Nikki squeaks.

“Ah, don’t be a hypocrite, miss ‘I got engaged at the age of eighteen’,” Lauren teases, making my fellow transwoman roll her eyes.

“I’d been going out with Sarah for slightly longer than a day, though,” Nikki retorts. “I get the whole ‘if you’re sure, why wait’ thing, but- can you REALLY be sure after 24 hours?”

“Yes,” Ophelia says bluntly, and I have to frown as I see that Nikki is far from convinced by Ophelia’s insistence- even though a part of me agrees with Nikki. However, Ophelia is my BFF. I should be the first to support her, just as she’s always supported me in the past. Even if I’m still not convinced myself that she’s making the right choice…

“Well I can’t wait to see what kind of wedding dress Ophelia’s going to come up with!” I say, and I feel my heart start to melt as Ophelia looks at me with a wide, happy grin on her face and a look of gratitude in her eyes.

“Oh- now that will be good!” Lauren giggles. “I’m guessing tightest corset and biggest, heaviest skirt, right?”

“Am I THAT predictable?” Ophelia asks with a mock sigh, before grimacing and letting out a small giggle. “…Okay, perhaps the events of the last 24 hours are enough proof that I can still surprise you from time to time.”

“Yeah, I’d say so!” Nikki chuckles.

“And, if I’m honest… Surprise myself as well,” Ophelia says, smiling as I give her a very gentle cuddle. “And I assure you again that my marital status will not have any effect on my friendship with you. With ANY of you.”

“Unlike the other married couple at the table,” Lauren says with an accusing stare, “who spent last night partying and didn’t invite us?”

“It wasn’t our party!” Sarah protests. “It was Rachel’s, we just tagged along.”

“And did a lot of the planning work,” Nikki says.

“And spent the entire evening getting pissed in dance uniforms?” Katie asks, making the married couple giggle like a pair of naughty schoolgirls.

“Jea-lous!” I say, which only intensifies the giggling.

“As am I,” Ophelia says. “Might I trouble you to plan the festivities for my wedding?” I grimace as Ophelia’s request brings a look of discomfort to Nikki and Sarah’s faces, though the look soon passes to be replaced again by supportive smiles.

“Sure!” Nikki giggles. “Though I’m not sure I’ll be able to do justice to something as important as ‘The Ophelia Love hen night’, hehe! Not at this short- umm, short notice, anyway…”

“I am sure that whatever you plan with be perfect,” Ophelia says softly.

“Can’t wait to hear what you’ve got planned for the honeymoon!” Katie says, and this time it’s my turn to frown- whilst Ophelia has no problem with the three of us living together, holidays will definitely be another matter, as will any honeymoon…

“We have not discussed that yet,” Ophelia says- and much to my surprise, now she’s starting to look uneasy as well. “We have only just started university for the year, and Telemachus is still settling in… You two did not go on honeymoon immediately, did you?”

“Still haven’t,” Nikki sighs. “Unless you count staycationing, anyway.”

“And it’s not like we didn’t get up to a lot of ‘traditional honeymoon activities’ over the summer, hehe!” Sarah giggles.

“And that’s enough of THAT,” Lauren says with an overdramatic shudder.

“Prude,” Sarah teases, sticking her tongue out at the black haired girl as the rest of us laugh and start to relax- though throughout the lunch period, a million thoughts run through my mind. Will Ophelia prefer spending her free time with Telemachus than with me? Will she eventually move out with him? Will she move to another part of the country entirely- maybe near his family? Will she have children and not include me in their lives?

As we leave the dining hall, I remember Katie’s words from earlier, and before heading back to our seminar room, I take Sarah to one side for a more private talk- though it’s clear from the look on her face that she knows what I’m going to say.

“Hey Sarah,” I say quietly, fidgeting as I try to figure out how to word my request. “Hey, I was- I was kinda wondering, you know…”

“Let me guess,” Sarah says with a sympathetic grin. “It’s actually my mum you want to talk to, right?”

“…Good quote-unquote ‘guess’,” I say, rolling my eyes as Sarah giggles at my expense.

“You know you can just call her yourself?” Sarah asks. “You ARE on her books as a client, okay, not a regular one, but still?”

“I know, I know, it’s just- ugh, no, I DON’T know,” I sigh. “This last 24 hours, it- it’s scrambled my brain, I barely know what I’m doing anymore…”

“I’ll text her, tell her to keep a slot free tonight to talk,” Sarah says with a grin.

“Bit short notice, isn’t it?” I ask.

“I kinda shot her a text last night,” Sarah says, before a deep grimace spreads across her face. “And, umm… Ophelia kinda- kinda told us she was hanging out with Telemachus again tonight, so…”

“I’m not on suicide watch now, am I?” I snort.

“No –no, of course not,” Sarah says softly. “It’s just- if it’s a shock to the system to me, god knows what it’s like for you, you know?”

“I get it,” I say. “And thanks.”

“Hey, friend in need, right?” Sarah giggles. “You still coming to the society meeting tonight?”

“First one of the year? Umm, yeah!” I say, making my friend giggle again. “See you there. And thanks. Again.”

“You’re welcome,” Sarah says, giving me a hug before we go to our respective classes. “Again!” I smile as I head back to my semester room- Ophelia may be the best friend that I’ll ever have, but not the only one, and I know my other friends will work their butts off to remind me of that every time they need to.

When I get the chance, I place a call to Sarah’s mother’s office, getting the appointment that’s been reserved for me, and for the first time ever, I leave university at the end of the day not accompanied by my BFF. Thoughts of what Ophelia is doing right this second flood my mind all throughout the short tube ride to Dr Phillips’s office, and by the time I’m taking a seat on one of her plush couches, my mind is a muddle- which is apparently very obvious from the look on my face.

“Sarah gave me the heads up about Ophelia,” Dr Phillips says as she grabs her notebook and sits down opposite me. “I’ve got a good idea of the facts of what’s happened.”

“You surely agree that it’s not normal, then?” I ask.

“You of all people should know that ‘normal’ is a very, very subjective term,” Dr Phillips says. “Is it normal for your eighteen year old daughter to get engaged to a transwoman? Some would say no. But I’m very glad it happened. Is it normal for people assigned male at birth to seek to emulate women and even chemically and surgically transform themselves to become women? Some would say no. But I don’t need to ask whether or not you’re glad that it’s an option. And is it normal for someone to get engaged to someone they’ve only known for 24 hours? You and I might say no. But Ophelia… You know, I’ve only met her a few times, but I don’t see it as completely out of character for her. She’s someone who’s always rejected ‘common’ rules.”

“Yeah,” I say quietly.

“If I was advising her, I would advise her to get to know this ‘Telemachus’ boy a bit better,” Dr Phillips says. “But she’s not the one sat on my sofa, you are. What’s important is how Ophelia’s decisions are affecting YOU. How do you feel about all this, Jacinta?”

“…Messed up,” I sigh. “Like I don’t know what to feel.”

“Go on,” Dr Phillips gently urges.

“I mean, I set Ophelia up with Telemachus, it was my idea for them to get together,” I say.

“What were you hoping would happen?” Dr Phillips asks.

“I- ugh, I dunno,” I sigh. “Ophelia would go out with him a bit, get to know him better, go on the occasional date…”

“And is this happening?” Dr Phillips asks.

“Well- yeah, I guess,” I sigh. “I suppose if they got together, I’d expect Ophelia to spend more time with him and less with me, but- but I always kinda expected her to come back to me at the end of the day, you know? I mean, you know I ‘love’ her, even though I don’t, you know, ‘love’ love her.”

“And the thought of having to share her with someone else is an unappealing one?” Dr Phillips asks.

“Am I selfish for thinking that?” I ask.

“Not at all,” Dr Phillips says with a supportive smile. “You have to remember that part of the reason you and Ophelia are so close is that she helped to catalyse your transition. It was her who first enabled ‘Jacinta’ to come out and greet the world, and it was you who enabled ‘Ophelia’ to break out of the shell of ‘Amanda’. That’s a special bond that’s very strong, and even though you have no romantic feelings for each other- unlike, say, my daughter and her wife- it’s still a very strong, co-dependent bond, especially as you have no siblings and Ophelia’s siblings- well, I don’t really need to say any more there. And, of course, the roles have been reversed lately-“

“-When I was dating Simon and leaving Ophelia by herself,” I sigh. “Yeah, I get that. But I wasn’t just going to shack up with him, run off without talking to Ophelia first…”

“You’re hurt that she hasn’t included you in her decision?” Dr Phillips asks.

“Am I selfish for thinking THAT?” I ask. “I mean, she IS an adult, she can make her own decisions…”

“But her decisions do affect you,” Dr Phillips says. “Both emotionally and in a practical sense, as you live together. It’s only natural to think of your own needs in circumstances like this. And it’s natural to feel jealous as well.”

“I’m not jealous,” I say, before letting out a low moan. “Okay, yes, I am… I mean- would anyone have guessed that Ophelia would get married before me?”

“I know I wouldn’t have,” Dr Phillips says. “Jacinta, I hope you do realise that these feelings aren’t exactly exclusive to transgendered girls, right?”

“Is that meant to make me feel better?” I ask.

“You can take that information however you want,” Dr Phillips says. “But I wonder whether part of you wonders whether or not as a transgendered girl, you’ll have to wait even longer to find your ‘Prince Charming’.”

“…Well I’m wondering that NOW,” I snort, before letting out a long sigh. “…Okay, yes, that’s something I think about a lot. And I don’t need you to reassure me that there’s nothing wrong in wanting someone to love me, right?”

“Absolutely,” Dr Phillips says. “It’s probably the most basic need for anyone- including Ophelia.”

“I know,” I sigh.

“And if the marriage doesn’t succeed, she’ll need her best friend- just as she was there for you after you broke up with Simon,” Dr Phillips advises.

“And I will be,” I say. “No offence, doc, but I don’t really feel any better about this.”

“It’s not like I can wave a magic wand and make everything better, you know that,” Dr Phillips advises. “All I can do is help you to see things from other perspectives, especially Ophelia’s.”

“I know,” I sigh. “And thanks.”

“And it has been a while since we last talked,” Dr Phillips says. “Just because you’re three years into your transition doesn’t mean that you don’t still need professional support. This Ophelia situation may be the major thing in your life right now but I’m sure it’s not the only thing you need to talk about. And I should know, having been a final year university student myself, heh!”

“Yeah,” I say as I relax back into my seat and detail the events of my life since my last meeting with the counsellor.

As always seems to happen, time flies while I talk to Sarah’s mother, and before I’m even halfway through baring my soul, our time together comes to an end- though not before Dr Phillips raises one topic that has slipped my mind in recent weeks.

“Before you go,” Dr Phillips says, “have you thought any more about whether you still want to go in for your SRS after you graduate?”

“My- god, I haven’t thought about that in a while…” I sigh as I stare down at my short, tight skirt- and the very male organ that still lies underneath it.

I know exactly why I haven’t thought about it in a while- because other than when I tuck it away in my thong first thing in the morning (or after every call of nature) it is very much a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Sure, I’d rather it wasn’t there- I’d rather it had never been there in the first place- but three years of oestrogen have caused it to shrink and shrivel so much that it barely registers anymore in a mental as well as a physical sense. The only time I became conscious- or rather, self-conscious- of it was when Simon and I were making love, and even though he said it didn’t bother him, it definitely bothered me.

“I can still look to getting you in at some point in the summer if you’d like,” Dr Phillips says. “The NHS waiting list is a little longer, admittedly, but it’s better to get your foot in the door now rather than have to wait even longer.”

“I know,” I say. “And I have talked about it a bit with Nikki… Obviously, she really recommends it, heh! The recovery does sound like a pain, though.”

“I don’t hear many good words about THAT,” Dr Phillips says with a smirk. “But I do hear a lot of good stuff said about it after you’ve recovered. Virtually everyone who’s had SRS done says that once it’s done, it’s like they’ve finally become the person they truly are inside- that they don’t need to ‘hide’ or ‘classify’ themselves anymore. And I’m sure the same would be true for you, Jacinta.”

“Yeah,” I say. “I- I do want to get uni out of the way first, though.”

“Understandable,” Dr Phillips says. “But if you need to talk about it- or anything else- you know my number.”

“Thanks,” I say, shaking the older woman’s hand as I leave her office and head home.

Obviously, I focus on hear advice during the short tube ride back to our flat. Dr Phillips is, of course, right in what she says about Ophelia and Telemachus- that the ultra-fast engagement is probably in keeping with her character, especially compared to the ‘relationships’ the rest of her family have traditionally been involved with- and I know that she is sincere when she talks about how important I and the rest of our friends are to her. However, I still can’t help but feel abandoned when I open the front door to our flat to find the whole place in darkness, and Ophelia nowhere to be found. A quick check of my phone reveals that as with last night, Ophelia hasn’t so much as sent me a text telling me when she’ll be home, leading to me collapsing onto the sofa with a low moan.

Despite Dr Phillips’s words, and despite the fact that I know I can call any of my other friends any time I want, I’ve never felt as alone as I feel right now, which leads to a long-forgotten feeling bubbling up inside me- the feeling of guilt. Guilt because I’m worrying about being alone when two years ago, I’m the one who was the ‘leaver’.

I let out a long sigh as I get my phone out of my bag and dial a number that I shamefully haven’t dialled in a long time, but that will hopefully ease my guilt and offer me the kind of help and advice Dr Phillips simply can’t give. I smile as the line is answered after three rings and I’m greeted by a very familiar man’s voice.

“Hello?” The older man asks.

“Hi dad!” I say, involuntarily grinning at the sound of my father’s voice.

“Who is this?” Dad asks, making me roll my eyes. “Why have you nicked my daughter’s phone?”

“This IS your daughter,” I sigh.

“Then why aren’t you out getting pissed with your friends?” dad asks.

“I’m saving that for later,” I say, smirking as dad chuckles at my answer. “Dad, I- I kinda need someone to talk to right now…”

“Oh, god,” dad moans. “What’s his name this time?”

“Hey!” I protest. “…Okay, it’s about A boy, but not one of mine for once.”

“Oh?” Dad asks. “Don’t tell me you’ve actually found someone that meets Ophelia’s high standards?”

“Yep,” I reply. “We set her up with someone yesterday and they really hit it off.”

“Really?” Dad asks. “Good for her! Feeling a little lonely, then?”

“…A bit,” I sigh. “Though that’s not the biggest problem.”

“Let me guess- you fancy him too?” Dad asks.

“No,” I say with a loud, overdramatic sigh. “I told you they met yesterday morning, right?”

“Right…” Dad replies.

“As of yesterday evening, they’re engaged,” I say. I brace myself for the inevitable exclamation of shock or dismay from my father, but much to my surprise, he just simply laughs. “This- this isn’t a joke, dad. I think they’re serious about this.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt it,” dad chuckles.

"Then- aren't you worried?" I ask. "I know you think of Ophelia as being like a daughter to you as well..."

"Not just 'like' a daughter," dad says. "And maybe I am a little worried. But you know what else I am? Supportive of Ophelia. Trusting in her judgement. She isn't going to just hook up with anyone, you know."

"Even though this is her first ever boyfriend?" I ask.

"How many guys has she encountered?" Dad retorts. "Jacinta... I think I know the problem. You're worried you'll be lone-"

"I'm not worried about that!" I protest. "Okay, I AM worried about that. But is that wrong?"

"Take it from someone who knows a thing or two about loss," dad says softly. "Things will settle back into a normal rhythm soon enough. And it's not like you'll have lost Ophelia as sister. Unless, of course, you choose to lose her."

"Why would I ever do that?" I snort.

"Jealousy, anger, jealousy, sulking- did I mention jealousy?" Dad says, making me groan down the phone.

"I'm not jealous," I say. "Okay, yes, I am."

"She's got someone when she never looked in the first place, while you're in the opposite situation," dad advises. "It's only natural to feel some jealousy, But don't, DO NOT let it affect your friendship with Ophelia. Boys come and go. Even spouses can. But what you two have is special, eternal even."

"So what- what am I supposed to do?" I ask.

"Obvious," dad says with an audible shrug. "Support her, be there for her like you've always been. Like she's always been there for you. That's what I'm going to do."

"Yeah, I guess," I sigh. "I- umm, I've got to go now, got to go to an LGBT society meeting..."

"Yeah, I'm heading out too," dad says. "Just with some friends."

"Oh- oh, okay," I say, my guilt slowly easing.

"I'll be sure to message Ophelia on Facebook tonight and give her my congratulations," dad says. "And see if I can score an invite to the wedding, heh!"

"Yeah," I chuckle. "See you, dad."

"Bye," dad says as he hangs up the phone.

Needless to say, I have even more to think about after this conversation than I did after the talk with Beverly, and as such, I barely pay attention all throughout the meeting as I wonder exactly how I should react going forward- and whether or not there was anything I should've done differently. Have I supported Ophelia enough? Will things ever be the same again? Or, like dad says, will things just go back to normal after the wedding- albeit a new normal, of course?

I ponder the answers to my questions all the way home, but my pondering ends when I enter our apartment to find the likely source of all my answers sat on our sofa, drinking a cup of tea like she didn't have a care in the world.

"Hello Jacinta," my BFF says as I walk through the door.

"Hi Ophelia," I say, before letting out a long sigh, sitting down next to the multi-coloured girl and wrapping her in a gentle hug.

"...That's long enough," Ophelia says, smirking as I release her. "And no, you may not enquire as to whether I have said that to Telemachus."

"Believe me, the thought REALLY hadn't crossed my mind," I say. "Half expected you to be out with him tonight again."

"Why would I?" Ophelia asks. "This is my home."

"Yeah, but-" I retort, before noticing a new adornment on Ophelia's left hand. "Can- can I see the ring, please?"

"Of course," Ophelia says, holding out her dainty hand for me to examine the ring- and it is a truly gorgeous ring, a blend of white gold and sapphires in an intricate, almost fractal-like pattern.

"It's beautiful," I whisper. "Must've cost Telemachus a fortune..."

"I paid for half of it," Ophelia says, making me open my mouth to protest before thinking better of it- sure, the groom is supposed to pay all of the cost of the engagement ring, but if there's one thing I've learned about Ophelia, it's that she rarely does anything that she's supposed to do.

"Still beautiful," I say, making my BFF smirk again.

"Jacinta," Ophelia says with a sigh of her own. "I do hope that this means that nothing will change between us."

"...I'm fairly sure it will," I sigh.

"Well I hope it won't anyway," Ophelia says bluntly. "You are still my best friend. That will never change even if Telemachus and I are married for a hundred years. I will be forever grateful to you and to the other girls for arranging our first meeting. But I will be much more grateful to whoever arranged the first meeting between the two of us. If I must say this a million times, then I shall, but just because Telemachus is my romantic partner, it does not mean that I love you any less, Jacinta."

"I know," I whisper. "And I love you too, Ophelia. I hope things don't change either."

However, over the course of the next two weeks, things did change. The routine of the flat changed as Telemachus spent more and more time here- and I increasingly felt like a third wheel, despite Ophelia (and, to his credit, Telemachus’s) efforts to assure me otherwise. We travelled to university as a trio, rather than a duo, I was relegated from my usual spot on the sofa to a chair of my own, and most significantly, the late-night chats that Ophelia and I used to have virtually stopped. Especially during the nights that Ophelia spent at Telemachus’s flat.

Nonetheless, I put a brave smile on my face on the morning of Saturday the 21st of October when I take my place behind Ophelia as she walks down the aisle of a small chapel in the Scottish village of Gretna Green, her hand resting in the crook of my father's arm. Ophelia is, of course, wearing a truly gorgeous dress in clean, pristine white- strapless, with a ridiculously tightly constricted waist and a poofed-out skirt with what looks like fifty petticoats swishing around her legs with every step. My own bridesmaid’s dress (another of Ophelia’s creations) is pretty spectacular as well- also strapless, but long, slender and elegant and in the same colour as Ophelia’s hair. The dress is truly beautiful, and four years ago, if you’d told me that I’d be wearing such a beautiful creation in public, in front of friends who accept me for the girl I truly am, I’d never have believed you. Today, however, it just serves to hammer home the fact that as with Sarah and Nikki’s wedding, I am once again the bridesmaid and not the bride (especially as I am the sole bridesmaid today)- and unlike that wedding, it won’t only be just for today.

Still, I do my best to put any such feelings to the back of my mind as Telemachus and Ophelia exchange their (unsurprisingly) elaborately-worded vows and share their first kiss as husband and wife. I am happy for Ophelia, of course, but a part of me still doesn’t believe that this is really happening- and a much larger part of me is wondering not just when it’ll be my turn, but if it’ll ever be my turn…

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