Jacinta, part 12

“Here comes the bride!” Katie yells as the doors to the fancy living room open.

Despite my best efforts to remain calm and dignified, I bounce up and down with excitement as I enter the room. The fact that I'm wearing a gorgeous, floor-length strapless dress, exquisite silk lingerie underneath the dress (including silk stockings that generate feelings of ecstasy with every step) and high-heeled sandals doesn't help, nor does the fact that my long brown hair is tied into an elaborate updo, my face is covered in expensive make-up, my nails have been manicured to perfection and I have fancy gold earrings hanging from each lobe. I feel more beautiful than I've ever felt in my whole life, and I’m more nervous than I’ve been in a very long time… And I’m not even the bride.

“Wakey wakey!” Jamie- who, like me, Katie and Stephanie, is wearing a pink bridesmaid’s dress- giggles as she shakes the bride-to-be, waking her from her slumber.

“Uh- uhh…?” Nikki moans as she slowly opens her tired eyes.

“Rise and shine, MISS Thomas!” Jamie giggles. “Somebody’s getting married today!”

“And that somebody is you!” I say, bringing a tired smile to Nikki’s face as the covers are pulled off of her and she’s marched upstairs to Jamie’s bedroom to get ready for the day ahead. For a woman who’s getting married today, Nikki is admittedly a bit more subdued that I would be, though considering the events of the last 36 hours, that is kinda to be expected.

Two nights ago, Nikki and Sarah had their hen night, which- like everything else in their lives- they did together. Virtually every female friend they had attended, all dressed in one of the most indecent costumes I have ever seen, let alone worn (though it was REALLY fun to wear), lots of alcohol was consumed, lots of fun was had… And about halfway through the night, Sarah and Nikki’s old ‘friend’ Dannii showed up uninvited.

To cut a long story short, harsh words were exchanged, punches were thrown and Dannii was taken away in an ambulance with a nasty cut on her lip while Nikki spent the night in a police cell. The hen party dispersed shortly afterward, with the exception of me, Ophelia, Katie, Lauren and most importantly of all, Sarah, who decamped back to our flat to sleep off the hen night before taking Sarah back to her mother’s house the following morning. Despite the shocking events- which resulted in Sarah going almost catatonic when she saw Nikki being arrested- none of us were ever in any doubt that there would will be a wedding, and very little doubt that the wedding would be today.

Sure enough, bang on schedule, the four of us are busy preparing Nikki for her big day. I’m handling her make-up, while Katie carefully manicures Nikki’s nails and Jamie fixes her hair. For a woman as naturally beautiful as Nikki, the process doesn’t take long, and by the time we’re fastening Nikki into her elaborate white bridal gown, there isn’t a dry eye in the room- least of all the bride!

“Stop crying!” I urge the twenty year old bride, who nods and takes several deep breaths while fanning herself with her hands. “I can’t be fixing your make-up while you’re exchanging your vows!”

“Okay, okay,” Nikki whispers. “Thank- thank you, thank you all so much for today…”

“Like we wouldn’t go all out for today!” Jamie giggles. “Now come on. YOUR crowd is waiting!” I smile as I follow Nikki and Jamie down to the main area of the vast house, where Nikki’s clearly emotional parents are waiting for her. In a nice touch, Nikki’s dad allows her mum to walk her down the aisle, while her extremely cute 2 year old sister acts as flower girl.

Needless to say, the area that’s been set out for the wedding is truly beautiful. Pink is the main theme for the ceremony- in addition to our bridesmaid’s dresses, all the flowers are pink, the chairs are pink, the drapes are pink, and even all the men present are wearing pink shirts. The only thing that doesn’t have pink anywhere- apart from in their bouquets- are the two brides, both of whom are wearing strapless white gowns that Lauren and Ophelia slaved over for months in what little free time they had. All eyes are on the two brides as they reach the makeshift altar where the heavily-pregnant Krystie (the ‘minister’ for the day) is stood in a smart pink dress.

The ceremony itself is brief, but by the end of it, and despite my warning to Nikki, I can feel tears trickling down both of my cheeks at the sheer, unconditional love the two women have expressed for each other. Nikki is so feminine that I sometimes need reminding that she was once a boy named ‘Nick’, but Sarah knew ‘Nick’ from when they were both at school, and has seen every second of her transformation into the beautiful woman she’s marrying today, and has stood by her and loved her without reservation. Sarah’s often described herself as ‘Nikkisexual’- Nikki’s gender never mattered to her, only the person within, and her vows have proved this. It’s one of the most beautiful declarations of love I’ve ever seen… And yet I can’t help but feel a very, very large twinge of jealousy as the two women go through the process of legally becoming each other’s wife.

The fact that I’m wearing a bridesmaid’s dress, of all thing, just serves to hammer home how ‘single’ I feel. It’s the first time I’ve ever been a bridesmaid (though I did also act as a witness earlier in the year)- and the dress is admittedly VERY beautiful- but the phrase ‘always the bridesmaid and never the bride’ seems more relevant than ever. In the four months since I broke up with Simon, I’ve been out to clubs virtually every Friday, danced and flirted with plenty of guys and even been on a few dates, but I’m as single now as I was that cold Friday in February when I separated from him. I’ve found myself missing him a couple of times, but not as much as I thought I would- but I am very much missing having ‘a boyfriend’.

My friends have done their best to take my mind off it, of course, and between uni (which has just finished with me just scraping a 2:2 this year) and the wedding, I’ve certainly had plenty to keep me occupied, and there definitely isn’t a group of girls I’d rather spend my time with… But as much as I love them, they can’t ‘give’ me what a boy can.

“…I now pronounce you wife and wife,” Krystie says with a wide grin on her face. “You may kiss!” Naturally, Sarah and Nikki don’t need to be told twice, and exchange a long, loving kiss as I and everyone else present pelt them with heart-shaped confetti and streamers. The two newlyweds share a brief, private conversation before grabbing each other’s hands and running down the aisle under a blizzard of confetti from all sides. Their eight bridesmaids (including myself) follow shortly afterward and swarm the happy couple in a group hug that only breaks apart when the happy couple are ushered away to sign their marriage certificate.

Once the 'formalities' are over, another group hug takes place, though that one is even more short-lived when the photographer arrives and orders us to start posing for photos.

“Ahh,” I sigh happily as we bridesmaids watch the happy couple and their families get their pictures taken. “Today was SO beautiful…”

“It was,” Lauren sighs happily. “Did you have fun being the maid of honour, Kerrie?”

“It was fun,” Sarah’s 10 year old sister replies. “I really like this dress!”

“You get to keep it, you know?” Katie asks, giggling as Kerrie smiles smugly and nods. “Of course, it probably won’t fit you this time next year, heh.”

“Lucky you’ve got a sister who makes clothes for both a living AND a hobby!” Lauren giggles. “If you want a pink bridesmaid’s dress when you’re all grown up, of course…”

“I always thought that if I got married, my bridesmaids would wear pink,” Katie says. “Especially my maid of honour!”

“…I’m your best friend and you’ve got no sisters,” Lauren says with a sigh as the rest of us giggle.

“Thank you for accepting the job!” Katie says with a loud chortle.

“Don’t forget that I’d probably be making the dress,” Lauren retorts. “AND your wedding dress. Well, me and Ophelia, anyway. How narrow can your waist get again?”

“I do enjoy a challenge,” Ophelia- who’s dyed her hair a bright fuchsia colour for the occasion- says, earning a loud sigh from Katie.

“…Fine, no pink,” Katie sighs. “Not like I’ll be getting married anytime soon, anyway…”

“If by ‘soon’ you mean ‘weeks’, then maybe not,” Lauren says. “But I reckon I’ll be carrying a bouquet for you before you’re 25.”

“Chance’d be a fine thing,” Katie sighs. “Oh- looks like we’re up!”

“Best model smiles, everyone!” Jamie orders as I and the other bridesmaids pose for photographs with the two brides.

My smile, however, is very much forced, as everything Katie has said has resonated with me. Despite people saying that they’re too young to get married, Sarah and Nikki have been together for almost six years. Jamie and Stuart- the other couple whose wedding I participated in- were together for just over 3 years on and off before tying the knot, AND Jamie’s still only 25. If I want to get married before I’m 25, I only have 3 and a bit years left- and that amount is getting smaller with every passing second. I want my ‘Prince Charming’, but I don’t want to be in an old folks’ home when I meet him.

After what feels like a thousand photographs have been taken, I, the other bridesmaids and all the other women who were present at the wedding congregate in the back of the garden, while Sarah and Nikki climb onto a nearby table, bouquets in hand.

“This is my favourite part of every wedding!” The tall, blonde form of Hannah Dexter giggles in my ear as she, like every other woman- myself included- brace ourselves for what’s coming next.

“I’m hardly surprised, Miss 5’ 9”!” The petite form of Kayla Ford retorts, making the taller woman roar with laughter.

“5’ 10” and wearing heels,” I say smugly. “Watch and learn!”

“Ooh, those are fighting words, Miss Hanley!” Hannah says.

“We’re going to do this one at a time!” Nikki yells from her position atop the table. “Everybody ready?”

“Yes! Get on with it!” Hannah yells anxiously, making everyone giggle.

“Okay, on three!” Nikki yells. “One… Two… Three!” Nikki lets out a small grunt as she hurls her bouquet backward over her head. I watch it tumble over and over again, almost in slow-motion, as it flies into the gaggle of women… And straight into the outstretched hand of Ophelia Cassiopeia Love.

“Wh- what?” I ask as Ophelia shows off the bouquet with a smug look on her face. “Ophelia… You- you DO know what that implies, right?”

“It is a simple superstition,” Ophelia replies, though her smile betrays the fact that she obviously has some level of belief in the superstition.

“Here comes number two!” Sarah yells. “One, two… Three!” Again, the bouquet flies into the air, and again, several arms reach for it… And again, it ends up in the outstretched arm of my BFF, who giggles as she’s showered with boos from the other women.

“Oh- both!?” One of the women in the crowd groans.

“Maybe I shall marry twice?” Ophelia asks, her grin staying as wide as I’ve ever seen it while she poses for photographs with both bouquets.

Once the photographs are completed (and the bouquets are prized from Ophelia’s hands), we’re led into the vast main room of the house, where the happy couple open their vast pile of presents, before we’re served a delicious dinner and the numerous speeches are given. Fortunately, as a non-maid of honour bridesmaid, I’m not required to make a speech, but I hang on every word said by Jamie (who’s doing ‘maid of honour speech’ duties for both girls as Sarah’s sister is only ten), then from Nikki, Sarah and their parents. Once the speeches have been made, the cake (which is, naturally, pink) has been cut and served and the plates have been cleared, a makeshift dancefloor is set up in the garden, and our two friends share their first dance as a married couple. As happy as I am for Sarah and Nikki, my jealousy of them just grows with every practised step they take, though I’m quickly snapped out of it when I hear a familiar, but very unexpected voice speak.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” The unmistakable voice of Tom Randall asks.

“…What are you doing here?” I ask my old school friend.

“Well, I DO go to the same uni as Sarah,” Tom says. “I’m here with Jack, think you know him as he’s in the LGBT society?”

“Oh,” I say. “Didn’t realise you were, you know…”

“I’m here as a friend,” Tom explains, rolling his eyes at my implication. “He’s on the same course as me, a year below, he asked me to be a ‘plus one’ so he’s not here alone, I said ‘sure’.”

“So… Caitlin’s not here, then?” I ask hesitantly. “Are- are you still-“

“Still going out, yeah,” Tom says, making me bite my lip to keep myself from frowning. “Thought it best not to bring her today, after- well, you know.”

“Yeah, I should know,” I say, making Tom bite his lip to stop himself from frowning. Awkward… I think to myself. “Umm, is- is this your first same-sex wedding, then?”

“Yep,” Tom says. “You?”

“Yep,” I say. “First time as a bridesmaid as well, heh.”

“It suits you,” Tom says, making me scrunch up my face in confusion.

“…What, being a bridesmaid?” I reply.

“No, umm, the- the dress, I mean, you- you look good!” Tom stammers.

“Thanks,” I say, before inwardly breathing a sigh of relief as the music changes and we bridesmaids take to the dancefloor. “Umm, this- this is me, heh.” I smile as Tom waves, before finding my way to Katie, who’s acting as my ‘dance partner’ for this part of the wedding. As it’s a same-sex wedding and there are (obviously) no groomsmen, the bridesmaids are dancing with each other, meaning that I get to dance with Katie, while Jamie dances with Stephanie, Ophelia dances with Becky (the chairperson of our uni’s LGBT society, who’s one of Sarah’s bridesmaids) and Lauren dances with Sarah’s sister.

“Was- was that Tom I just saw you flirting with?” Katie asks with a sly grin.

“That was Tom you saw me TALKING with,” I reply.

“If you say so,” Katie says. “But I’ve known you almost two years, I know that look in your eyes…”

“What ‘look’?” I ask.

“The same look a starving man has on his face when he sees a cheeseburger,” Katie replies, making me roll my eyes.

“Okay, he’s good-looking, I guess,” I reply. “But he’s going out with someone else and has been for at least two years. Someone really transphobic, too…”

“Don’t need to ask why she’s not here too, then,” Katie sighs. “Oh well, plenty more fish in the sea, that sort of thing. Plenty more fish in THIS sea too, hehe! Any sexy guy caught your eye yet?”

“Like we haven’t been too busy today to stare at guys!” I retort, making the freckled girl giggle.

“Meh, touché, I guess,” Katie says. “And I guess we weren’t the one who caught BOTH bouquets…”

“If Ophelia pulls at this wedding and we don’t, then we KNOW we’re in trouble,” I say, earning more giggles as we finish our dance and the dancefloor begins to fill with people.

I take this as an excuse to sit back down at one of the tables and take the weight off my aching feet, though I’m only alone for a few seconds before I hear a loud rustling sound approach me from behind, almost like someone doing a commando crawl over a pile of scrunched-up newspaper.

“Hello, MRS Phillips-Thomas!” I say with a giggle. “Whichever Mrs. Phillips-Thomas you are, anyway, hehe!”

“The taller, younger one,” Nikki says with a smile as she sits down in the chair next to me, carefully arranging her skirts as she lowers herself into place.

“So…” I say. “Why are you here talking to me, rather than trying to make you and your wife merge into one being?”

“Well for starters, we already did that years ago,” Nikki replies with a cheeky grin. “Second, Sarah’s dancing with her brother right now, and there’s… Well, it’s kinda a long story. Third, my feet ache, and fourth, I wanted to check and see how one of my favourite bridesmaids was doing! I saw you sit down, and, you know, it looked like fun, so…?”

“I’m fine,” I say. “Had a lot of fun today, the ceremony was SO beautiful. It’s kinda weird to think, you know, that you’re, like, married.”

“YOU think it’s weird?” Nikki giggles. “I mean yes, me and Sarah have been living together for months already, but this, it- I dunno. It genuinely feels different, you know?”

“I wish I did know,” I mumble, making Nikki sigh sadly. “…Sorry.”

“No- no, it’s okay,” Nikki says. “What girl wouldn’t want to be Cinderella? Even if you’re looking for ‘Prince Charming’ and I’m more of a ‘Belle’ girl, hehe!”

“Yeah,” I say with a tired chuckle. “Doubt I’ll meet Prince Charming at THIS wedding though, heh!”

“You never know,” Nikki shrugs. “There ARE plenty of guys here today, including a few male models from Heavenly Talent…”

“Way to get my hopes up!” I retort, making the young bride giggle.

“Someday, your prince will come, Jacinderella!” Nikki says with a wide grin. “Now if you’ll excuse me, my ‘Princess Charming’ needs me!” I let out a quiet giggle as Nikki elegantly rises from her chair and returns to the dancefloor, where she greets her new wife with a tender kiss before sharing a slow dance. I take the opportunity to mingle with the crowd, and- for obvious reasons- it doesn’t take me long to locate the person I most want to talk to.

“Hi Ophelia!” I say as I sit down next to my BFF, who is slowly picking away at a slice of the wedding cake. “Cake and corset, can’t be comfortable, comprende compadre?”

“…Clever,” Ophelia says with a barely-suppressed giggle. “And if you must know, I am wearing my corset looser than usual today.”

“Because of the cake?” I ask.

“So as not to upstage the- either bride,” Ophelia says. “I understand that it is considered improper to draw attention away from the brides, and you must admit, I do have a habit of doing that wherever I am.”

“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” I say, making my BFF giggle. “Is that why you went for BOTH bouquets, then?”

“I was feeling competitive,” Ophelia says.

“And not, you know… Lonely?” I ask, making the colourful girl pause before she took her next bite of cake. “You said you knew the, you know, superstition…”

“The bouquet thing was just a bit of fun,” Ophelia says, though I can instantly tell (thanks to Ophelia referring to catching the bouquet as ‘the bouquet thing’) that there is more that she’s not letting on.

“Ophelia…” I say, which earns a sigh from my BFF. “You know you can tell me anything, right?”

“I am aware of that,” Ophelia says.

“So… What’s up?” I ask, earning another, louder sigh.

“You know that I have always taken pride in the fact that I am not like my sisters,” Ophelia explains.

“As would anyone, yes,” I say.

“I have always thought that I did not need anyone in order to be happy,” Ophelia says. “Not my family, not friends, not a partner. Family has been proved true. Friends, however… Hasn’t.”

“Ah,” I say. “So you’re wondering whether or not ‘partner’ will be the same?”

“The love that Nicola and Sarah have for each other is so great that they almost literally glow,” Ophelia says. “I have wondered whether or not I would ever feel that way about anyone… And I have wondered whether or not anyone might ever feel that way about me.”

“Oh, Ophelia…” I say, giving the upset-looking girl a gentle hug. “Never thought I of all people would be saying this, but- welcome to being a girl, heh.”

“Let’s face the truth,” Ophelia says. “You are far more of a ‘normal’ girl than I am.”

“And yet, we’re both dressed the same?” I retort, making Ophelia smile.

“Only because I helped to design the dresses,” Ophelia says.

“Still, though,” I say. “I know this may sound weird, but- but I never kinda, you know, thought of you as, like, ‘needy’.”

“Even despite my fondness for our washing machine?” Ophelia asks, smirking as the mental image causes me to shudder.

“Because of that, if anything,” I reply. “There’s a big difference between emotional needs and physical needs… Some people just view sex as a necessary evil when it comes to relationships, they’re only interested in the whole partnership side of things, some people just like the physical side of thing and just view the other person as a necessary evil. And some… Well, a lot of us want both.”

“My sisters’ only emotional needs are for sex and alcohol,” Ophelia snorts. “Which are not very emotional.”

“Not really, no,” I reply. “Then again, it’s not like I’d want to go without either for very long…”

“You are not obsessed with either,” Ophelia says.

“I’m kinda obsessed with sex,” I say.

“…So does that mean that your desire for a ‘Prince Charming’ is more to do with physical needs than emotional needs?” Ophelia asks, making me sigh.

“As I implied, it’s to do with both,” I say.

“But which is more important?” Ophelia asks.

“…One of them,” I sigh. “I’m sure I’ll figure out which one eventually.”

“Another question that might help is: what was the most important aspect of your transition?” Ophelia asks, making me pause. It’s a question I’ve been asked many times before by my counsellor, and one I’ve thought about a lot in the past. Am I more concerned about how I look, or how I feel? Am I more concerned about how I come across to strangers, or to people I know, or even to myself? In the end, there was only one answer I could think of.

“…All of it,” I reply with a smile. “Literally every last bit was vital.”

“So you want ‘Prince Charming’ to be perfect in every way?” Ophelia asks.

“I know I’m probably going to be waiting a while,” I sigh.

“As am I,” Ophelia says, earning another gentle hug from me. “Though I doubt I will ever find a partner I love romantically as much as I love you as a friend.”

“Aww,” I sigh, blinking back tears as I tighten my hug. “…We’ve still got that pact, haven’t we?”

“To marry each other if we should still be single when we are both thirty?” Ophelia asks. “It is looking very appealing. But only from an ‘emotional needs’ point of view and not a ‘physical’ needs one.”

“Good, I don’t want to have sex with you either,” I say, making Ophelia giggle as we continue to watch our newly-married friends dance.

The celebrations last until long after sunset, and as the summer solstice was three days ago, that means that by the time I finally climb into my taxi home, I’ve been in my bridesmaid’s dress for over sixteen hours- though I’m not exactly in a rush to remove the gorgeous gown!

“I am going to miss wearing this,” I say as I adjust my cleavage one last time.

“There is no reason that you can’t wear it as part of your everyday ensemble,” Ophelia says.

“Umm- yeah, there kinda is,” I reply.

“Not necessarily so,” Ophelia says. “In the 1940s, brides would often alter and reuse their wedding dresses in their everyday lives.”

“Really?” I ask.

“Really,” Ophelia replies. “Of course, that did coincide with World War II and rationing.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I say. “How do you know that, anyway?”

“Remind me again what topic I am studying at university?” Ophelia asks, making me giggle and roll my eyes.

“Okay, okay,” I say. “So… You going to alter and reuse your bridesmaid’s dress for everyday use?”

“Absolutely not,” Ophelia replies with a smirk. “I intend to treasure this dress for the rest of my life.”

“Me too,” I sigh happily.

We arrive home shortly afterward and Ophelia immediately changes out of her dress and heads to bed, while I stay awake a little longer, looking over the vast number of photos that have already been uploaded to Facebook. Naturally, the vast majority of the pictures are of Sarah and Nikki, though there are a few of the rest of the guests too, and some of the bridesmaids- and I have to grin at the fact that every picture of me looks like every picture of every bridesmaid ever taken at a wedding. Even though I’ve been transitioning for almost three years, I still have moments when I feel as though I stick out like a sore thumb, and I had several moments like that at the wedding, despite the fact that 2 of Nikki’s other 3 bridesmaids were also transgendered, and so, obviously, was the bride. I needn’t have felt that, of course- the wedding was probably the most trans-friendly place in the entire country, but it’s not until seeing the photos that I feel 100% confident that I had nothing to be worried about. Yesterday, I was girliness personified- the fact that everyone else was too doesn’t take anything away from that fact.

“Are you nervous?” Dad asks as I place my hand in the crook of his arm.

“A little,” I reply.

“There’s no need to be,” dad says softly. “Everything will go perfectly, just you wait and see.” I smile and nod as the door to the church opens and everyone inside stands and turns to face me in my crisp white wedding gown. Wagner's bridal chorus starts to blare from the church organ and I slowly walk down the aisle, smiling at everyone present, before looking up toward the altar, where Ophelia is waiting for me…

“Ah!” I yelp as I wake up with a start. Thanks to the champagne I drank yesterday, it takes me a while to regain my bearings and realise that I’m in my bedroom in my flat, and the church- and Ophelia standing at the altar- was just a dream. “Ugh, don’t tell me THAT’s going to be a regular thing now…” I let out a small moan of pain- again, thanks to the alcohol I consumed yesterday- before grabbing my phone and sighing at what it says on the screen- 5:47am. I’ve been asleep for less than four hours. Naturally, I find this frustrating, but what’s much more frustrating is that when I roll over, I’m alone in my bed. Right now, Sarah and Nikki are cuddled up in bed together, sharing their first night as a married couple. Lauren’s cuddled up next to her boyfriend, Jamie with her husband, Becky with her girlfriend, while I am, once again, alone. Sure, I’ve had a lot of fun ‘looking’, but that quickly stops being fun when you’re not ‘finding’.

I let out a sigh as I roll over and try to get back to sleep, though my dream (and the fact that it’s already broad daylight outside) means that it’s an almost impossible task, and with a heavy sigh, I roll out of bed just before 7:30am and head through to the shower. The hot water helps to wash away my stress initially, though thanks to my dream, I still flinch when I hear my BFF knock on the bathroom door.

“Sorry if I woke you up,” I yell.

“I have been awake for a while,” Ophelia replies. “Would you like me to make breakfast?” Like an old married couple… I think to myself with a roll of my eyes.

“Please,” I reply.

“And try not to use all the hot water!” Ophelia teases.

“Really?” I retort. “After what we were talking about yesterday, a cold shower will probably do you good!”

“I wonder what will happen if I turn on every tap in the kitchen?” Ophelia asks, causing me a brief moment of panic.

“Okay, okay!” I yell, rinsing the conditioner out of my hair and turning off the shower. “All yours!”

“After breakfast,” Ophelia says, smiling as I emerge from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around my torso and another wrapped around my long brown hair. “Are you planning on wearing that to lunch with our friends?”

“I’m not THAT desperate yet,” I reply, making Ophelia giggle. “When are we meeting up again?”

“Sarah said 12:30,” Ophelia answers. “It is such a shame that they couldn’t go on their honeymoon immediately.”

“I don’t think they would’ve even if Nikki hadn’t had her passport confiscated,” I say. “They want to share their happiness with us as much as possible.”

“You can never have too many friends,” Ophelia says with a smile. “They do genuinely believe that, yes.”

“Not sure whether or not I’d forego a honeymoon like that,” I muse. “On the one hand, yes, I’d want to spend time alone with ‘Prince Charming’, on a beach somewhere, watching the sun rise together… But at the same time- well, you know…”

“Umm, I’m not sure that I do…” Ophelia says, making me sigh.

“…I’d feel guilty leaving my maid of honour all alone by herself,” I say, making my fuchsia-haired BFF smirk.

“You should feel absolutely no guilt about that,” Ophelia says softly. “Do I not have many friends as well?”

“Well- yes, but-“ I try to argue.

“No buts,” Ophelia says with a smug grin. “And besides… There is always the possibility that you and I might go on honeymoon together!” Yeah, THAT’s a dream I’m looking forward to… I sarcastically think to myself.

“Somehow, I doubt it,” I retort.

“Your doubts would be more convincing if you and I were dressed in more than pyjamas and a towel,” Ophelia says, giggling as I roll my eyes, finish my breakfast and head to my room.

“Hint taken,” I say, intensifying my BFF’s giggle.

I emerge from my bedroom a short while later dressed in one of my favourite ‘summer ensembles’. Instead of a normal top, I’m wearing a blue, pink and white striped swimsuit that Ophelia ‘customised’ for me with a snap crotch to make it more like a bodysuit, but one made of a much cooler, more breathable fabric and which offers more than adequate ‘support’. On top of the swimsuit, I’m wearing a loose, short-sleeved blouse with a floral print, and my legs (well, a tiny bit of them anyway) are covered by a skin-tight black lycra miniskirt and a pair of cute skin-coloured flats.

Naturally, Ophelia’s look is very different from my own. Her usual dresses have been boxed up while the weather’s warm, but her summer apparel is no less ‘unique’. Her dress is ankle-length, has a high slit up one side and flared bell sleeves and appears to be made of a loose, see-through mesh material. Underneath the dress (or possibly even built into it, knowing Ophelia) is a tight black bodysuit and, of course, a tight-laced corset and a pair of stiletto-heeled sandals.

“…LOVE that dress,” I say to my BFF, who giggles and does a twirl, which causes the mesh skirt to billow outwards. “It’s a bit more… Daring than your usual summer clothes.”

“Why should I conceal a figure that I have worked hard to make look good?” Ophelia asks, before looking at my bare legs and smirking. “I see that you have had the same idea.”

“Might be another reason why I’ve got my legs out today,” I say with an embarrassed giggle. “And not just the heat, heh.”

“You wish for them to be seen, then?” Ophelia asks.

“Depends on what the eyes seeing them are attached to,” I reply. “Okay, yes… After yesterday, I- I’m kinda feeling ‘needy’. Emotionally AND physically. Almost tempted to give Simon a call…”

“Even though you are the one who ended the relationship?” Ophelia asks.

“Hence why I’m only #tempted’,” I say, before letting out a heavy sigh. “Come on, don’t want to keep the bride and bride waiting!” Ophelia smiles as she follows me out of our flat and to the nearby tube station.

A few minutes later, we walk through the front door of the posh coffee shop where we’ve arranged to meet our friends, and are immediately met with wolf whistles from a table of boys wearing football shirts. My first instinct is to roll my eyes and cringe at the unapologetically masculine behaviour, and I make sure that the boys see the look of utter disapproval on my face. On the inside, however, a part of me actually feels proud that they’re are paying this much attention to me. I highly doubt they’d be as interested in me if they saw me from the waist down, though…

“Hey girlies!” Sarah and Nikki say, giving us both hugs as we arrive.

“Hey you two!” I giggle. “So… How was your first 24 hours of married life?”

“Perfect,” Nikki replies, gazing dreamily at the new ring on her left hand. “Everything I- literally- dreamed of and more.”

“I’m just sorry that our first post-wedding outing is to a zoo,” Sarah spits, gazing over at the still-rowdy boys. “You should’ve heard them when we walked in holding hands.”

“If only they knew about me, eh?” Nikki asks with a devilish smirk.

“If only they knew about me,” I retort with a giggle. “Or realised that my swimsuit’s got the transgender pride flag colours on it!”

“Yeah… Doubt they’d ever get that reference, heh,” Nikki giggles. “Still though, proof that I’m with the RIGHT gender. For both myself and my soulmate, hehe!”

“So cute,” I sigh. “When are Katie and Lauren getting here? Should we text them to warn them?”

“Already done,” Sarah replies. “I did text you two as well but you only got here a few minutes after us so you probably haven’t been able to read it.”

“…Yep,” I say, giggling at the text of the message. “’More hair on their knuckles than we have on our heads combined’?”

“Am I wrong?” Sarah asks, giggling at our approving smiles. “Anyway, that’s enough of BOYS for today. Ophelia, you NEED to tell me how you made that dress! It looks just gorgeous, hehe!”

“Thank you,” Ophelia replies with a smug grin as she gestures to her see-through bell sleeves. “It was a design I had in mind last year and made over the winter. I would be happy to share the pattern with you, if you would like?”

“Please,” Sarah says. “I know someone who would look GORGEOUS in that.” Ophelia and I both giggle as Sarah’s new wife pouts and rests her head on her shoulder. “…Yes, as well as you. I’ve got plenty of mesh fabric left and I’m sure I can source a couple of black leotards easily enough.”

“Can you source three black leotards?” I ask with a pout.

“Get your own fashion designer,” Nikki says with a smug grin. “Oh, wait- you have!”

“I shall make you one when I have the materials and the time,” Ophelia says, making me giggle, before all four of our faces fall as volume of the boys’ table increases again.

“Hi Katie, Hi Lauren,” I say without even turning around.

“Hi girlies!” Katie says with a tired chuckle. “How’d you like our new backing band?”

“About as much as when they ‘backed’ us,” Sarah sighs. “Reckon we should get one drink here then head somewhere else for lunch.”

“Sounds good,” I say, before letting out a long sigh. “I’ll go and get them in.”

“You’re sure?” Sarah asks.

“I’m the largest of the six of us,” I explain. “Any of them try anything, my knee will hurt more when- well, I’m sure you know, hehe!”

“I’ll give you a hand,” Nikki says. “Second largest, heh. Everyone getting their usual, right?”

“Please,” Lauren says with a sigh as Nikki and I head to the counter- which, naturally, is just a few feet away from the rowdy boys.

“Hello ladies!” One of the boys yells, making me and Nikki blush- but not as much as the poor barista, who looks utterly sick of dealing with the apes.

“Hi girls,” the barista- whose nametag reads ‘Saffron’- says. “What can I get you?” I smile sympathetically as Nikki gives our order to the young women, before sighing loudly as another wolf whistle comes from the table immediately to our right.

“Why, exactly, are they still in here?” I ask quietly. “You’ve got to be losing customers because of them.”

“The six of us being some of them once we’ve had this drink,” Nikki sighs. “No offence.”

“None taken,” Saffron says with a tired smile. “They’re friends of the deputy manager and they’re going out for lunch so they should be gone in a few minutes anyway. I hope. I’m sorry if they’ve caused too much of a disturbance.”

“Trust me, YOU don’t need to apologise,” Nikki snorts. “Hell of a reality check after yesterday, heh!”

“Oh?” Saffron asks. “What happened yesterday?”

“Oh, just got married!” Nikki giggles, showing off her new ring.

“Oh my god, congratulations!” Saffron says. “Hey- wait, wait a second, are- are you Nikki Thomas?”

“Somebody’s got a fan…” I tease the blushing newlywed.

“…Technically, I’m now Nikki Phillips-Thomas,” Nikki replies with a shy (but still smug) smile.

“Oh my god, I thought I knew your face!” Saffron gushes. “I’m a HUGE fan of the Angels, and Out of Heaven…”

“You must be if you recognise their PA on sight, heh!” Nikki giggles.

“Well… It helps that you were on all of the Angels’ Instagram feeds last night, hehe!” Saffron giggles, making Nikki squeak with excitement.

“Ah, once again, always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” I say with mock tiredness that makes the barista laugh sympathetically.

“It’s… Jacinta, right?” Saffron asks, making me smile smugly and nod. “You both did that interview for the Sunday Globe, didn’t you? Thought I recognised the swimsuit as well, hehe!”

“Yep!” I giggle as I remember back to the time in April when I got to hang out with old friends and make new friends as well. “Got the tattoo to prove it as well!” I smile as I lower one of my swimsuit straps to show off the tattoo on my shoulder, before frowning as this one simple gesture gets a VERY loud reaction from the boys’ table.

“Take it all off!” One of the boys yells. I have to fight every instinct in my body not to reply with a middle finger, as while that will make my feelings clear, it’ll only make things worse with the macho morons. It’s a pity, too- some of them aren’t bad looking, but they’d definitely be 100% ‘physical needs’ and 0% ‘emotional needs’.

“Again, I am SO sorry,” Saffron says.

“And again, you have nothing to apologise about,” Nikki says with a smirk. “You know, Joshua’s been looking at opening an Angel-branded coffee shop, I’d love to see them try to get away with this shit when he’s in the building!”

“Or any of the boys,” I chuckle. “Reckon Joshua would be interested in a CV from an obviously talented barista?” I let out a small giggle as Saffron finishes our drinks and hands them to us on a tray.

“I- I dunno,” Saffron chuckles. “Enjoy your drinks!”

“We will,” I say with a smile as I grab the tray and head back to our table. Before we’ve even got six feet, however, I tense up as I feel a strong, hairy arm wrap itself around my shoulders.

“Sure you want to go back to them, sweetheart?” The knuckle-dragger to whom the arm belongs asks in a cocky voice, making my skin crawl even more than it’s already doing.

“Hold this,” I say, passing the tray to Nikki, who’s already forcefully shrugged off the arm that was placed around her shoulders. I force a smile on my face as I turn around to face the young man. Ugh, I think to myself. Why did he have to be so good looking?

“So?” The Neanderthal asks as he grabs my hips. “What do you say?”

“…No,” I say, before leaning forward and kneeing the tall man in the groin as hard as my slender thighs will allow.

Three things happen immediately afterward, two of which come as a huge surprise to me. The first, least surprising thing is that the ‘man’ doubles over in pain. The second thing that happens is that everyone else in the coffee shop- who are presumably as fed up of the boys as we are- gives me a round applause. The third, most surprising thing of all, is that the caveman’s friends all immediately burst out into fits of laughter, laughter than only intensifies as he returns to his table.

“Should we tell him what that flag stands for?” Nikki asks me. As tempting as it is to humiliate him further, the idea of outing myself to the whole café isn’t an appealing one- especially as the knuckle-dragger may decide that I’m not a ‘real’ woman and therefore fair game for retaliation.

“…He’s been humiliated enough today,” I say with a smug smirk as I leave the wannabe Casanova to the merciless teasing from his friends and head back to my table, where all four of my friends instantly check to see that I’m alright. The contrast between the two tables is striking- the ‘men’ only care about getting their laughs and don’t care who gets embarrassed or even hurt, just as long as it amuses them. The women, though, don’t care about the entertainment. Even though I know they applauded what I did with my knee (and I’m sure Katie even gave me a ‘woo’), and after all the teasing we’ve given each other over the years, all they care about is whether or not Nikki and I are fine. I am SO on the right side of the gender divide.

“We’re fine,” I assure my friends.

“Might need a shower when we get home,” Nikki snorts, making us all giggle. All of us, along with everyone else in the café, breathe a sigh of relief a few seconds later when a man- presumably the deputy manager Saffron was talking about- emerges from the back room and ushers the rowdy group of boys out of the coffee shop (and earning another round of applause in the process).

“Thank. God,” Lauren sighs loudly. “We still going somewhere else?”

“And risk running into them again?” Nikki snorts. “Happy here now. Plus the barista’s a fan, so, you know…”

“And not just of Miss- sorry, MRS Phillips-Thomas!” I say with a smug grin.

“Ooh, look who’s got her own fan club all of a sudden!” Katie teases. “Maybe we should be taking photos of each other when we do our work experience this summer?”

“I do kinda like the idea that two single, straight women will be spending their summer holidays taking photographs of beautiful women,” Nikki teases as she sips her elaborate chilled drink.

“Hey, if it leads to a permanent job after I graduate, I don’t care if they’re NAKED, hehe!” Katie giggles. “Still a bit peeved you didn’t ask me to do the photos yesterday.”

“You were in half of them!” Sarah retorts.

“Yeah, but- you know…” Katie mumbles, before giggling at our friend’s teasing. “We gonna order food, then?”

“I could eat lunch,” Ophelia says. “I shall order them, seeing as you bought the drinks.”

“I’ll give you a hand,” Sarah says. “You can give me a few pointers about that dress, hehe!”

“And you two can sit there and be waited on all afternoon,” Nikki teases Katie and Lauren, who respond with mock-offence.

“Shocked and appalled,” Lauren scoffs, before sighing as the front door of the coffee shop opens again. “Ugh, speaking of ‘appalled’…” I look behind me to the front door of the coffee shop, and my heart sinks when I see one of the group of boys re-entering the coffee shop- though it only takes me a second to realise that this boy is the one who emerged from the back room, the deputy manager that Saffron mentioned. Still, though, I can’t help but shudder as he approaches our table.

“Hi,” the deputy manager says in a voice much less obnoxious than his friends. “I hope my- my ‘acquaintances’ weren’t too disruptive just now.” No apology, I think to myself.

“We’ve had worse,” Nikki says. “We’ve had much better as well, though.”

“I am sorry that things were not as good as they could be today,” the young man says. Okay, I think to myself. It’s not an immediate apology, but it counts for something, I guess…

“If you could give us a discount on our lunches, we’ll forget about it,” Katie says with a devilish look in her eyes.

“…I’ll see what I can do,” the deputy manager says with a friendly smile. “I’m Lucas, by the way, Lucas Fielding.” I smile as the four of us introduce ourselves to the young man who, surprisingly, seems more interested in continuing to hang out with us than with his loud friends outside. Naturally, this immediately puts me on the defensive, and I can tell everyone else at the table feels this way.

“Think your friends are waiting for you,” Lauren says in a cold voice.

“They can wait,” Lucas shrugs as a charming smile spreads across his face and he gazes across at me. Despite myself, I feel my heart rate start to increase as he looks at me with very obvious interest in his eyes.

The most irritating thing by miles is that Lucas- and most of his friends, in fairness- aren’t bad-looking. They’re tall, muscular, they’re well-groomed and the caveman who wrapped his arm around me did actually smell nice- well, as nice as a boy can get when he’s spent hours in the company of other boys, anyway. If he was by himself, like Lucas is right now, I’d probably have been interested, as ashamed as that makes me feel. But the point is, it DOES make me feel ashamed. I’ve spent so long looking for ‘Prince Charming’ that I’m seeing potential candidates everywhere- even in someone like Lucas, who is clearly more ‘Gaston’ than ‘Charming’.

Obviously, when he’s with his friends, he’ll act differently than he does now, and I suppose I can’t blame him for that- I’m sure that when Simon and Lauren’s boyfriend hang out together, they’re different people than they would be around me or Lauren, and in a way, I suppose Lauren and I are different together than we would be around them, whether we’re consciously aware of it or not. The difference, of course, is what I’ve already observed- when Simon and Michael get together, they don’t act like the kind of Neanderthals that Lucas inevitably does when he’s with his friends, in much the same way that my friends don’t behave like, to use an example, Ophelia’s sisters. Who would inevitably have already got off with at least one of the cavemen if they’d been here today.

“I’m happy to, you know, make it up to in other ways as well,” Lucas says with a smirk as he addresses me specifically. “Saffron tells me that you got the worst of those idiots’ behaviour, right?”

“Yes,” I say confidently. “And no, no I don’t.”

“Don’t… What?” Lucas asks.

“Want to go out with you,” I say, making my friends snigger.

“That’s not what I was going to ask,” Lucas says defensively.

“Sure it’s not,” Katie says, giggling as Lucas’s cheeks start to turn red. “How about that discount, then?”

“I’ll, umm, I’ll go and sort it…” Lucas mumbles as he leaves the table, where the six of us (Sarah and Ophelia having caught the end of the conversation) burst into a fit of giggles.

“You go, girl!” Lauren cheers.

“Gotta admit,” Katie says, “part of me was worried you’d actually take him up on his offer…”

“Yeah,” Lauren agrees. “I mean, he’s not bad-looking…”

“No matter how much you polish a turd, it’s still a turd,” I say with a smug grin. “And I’m not THAT desperate.”

“Never said you were desperate at all,” Lauren insists.

“…Okay,” I sigh. “Maybe I AM a LITTLE desperate. And still missing Simon a bit. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to wolf down a Big Mac because I’m craving steaks. And… It’s kinda nice to know that a guy’s interested in you, you know? Saying ‘no’ can be just as fun as saying ‘yes’, hehe!”

“Hell yes it can!” Lauren giggles.

“Says the woman who’s been with her boyfriend how long?” Katie asks, giggling as the curvy girl responds with an unladylike raspberry.

“My boyfriend who’s way more evolved than those losers,” Lauren snorts.

“My wife who’s infinitely more perfect than anyone else!” Sarah interjects, making Nikki giggle as she gives her a tight hug.

“Ah, of course!” I giggle. “Sorry if I kinda overshadowed your not-quite-big-but-still-important day, heh.”

“YOU don’t need to apologise!” Nikki insists. “Just like Saffron didn’t. It’s not your fault that you’re a hot, sexy woman, is it?”

“…Maybe I should tell Saffron to tell him exactly ‘what’ he was flirting with when he gets back,” I reply, triggering another mass giggle. “And I guess it IS kinda my, you know, ‘fault’…”

“Trust me, it isn’t your ‘fault’,” Nikki says. “Fault means, you know, ‘blame’, and you deserve to be praised for being the hot, sexy woman you are!”

“Make your new wife jealous, why not?” Sarah pouts.

“Aww,” Nikki sighs, placating her wife with a gentle kiss. “You know you’re the only girl I love!”

“Make ME jealous, why not?” I ask, making Nikki blush. “I’m kidding… I’m happy for you two. I really am. Just because you’re married now, doesn’t mean I need to jump the first guy I see, right?”

“Absolutely,” Sarah says. “Same goes for you two as well!”

“I’m in no rush,” Katie says with a smug grin.

“I am not even moving at all,” Ophelia says with a smirk. “If I have a soul mate, I am sure that I will find him just as you two have found each other.”

“You have and you will,” Nikki says with a supportive smile. “You all will. Those of us that haven’t already, anyway!” Katie, Lauren, Ophelia and I all let out a happy sigh as the newlyweds exchange yet another loving kiss with each other. I don’t have anyone to kiss at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I never will, and it’s better to wait for the right man than settle for the wrong one. And I CAN wait. For now, anyway…

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