I straighten my short black pencil skirt and my clingy, translucent tights as I jump in the back of the pink London cab. I slip my stiletto heels off and stretch my tired toes, satisfied that a hard day’s work is complete.
“Don’t let those toes get too comfortable,” Viks teases as she gets in the driver’s seat. “Aren’t they going to be supporting your entire bodyweight later tonight?”
“Ugh, don’t remind me,” I mock-groan. “I mean, it’s not that I DON’T like ballet, it’s just- haven’t I worked hard enough today?”
“You love it really,” Viks teases. “Obviously more than you love driving…”
“Hey, I’ve passed my theory test, haven’t I?” I argue. “Okay, it was at the third attempt, but still…” Viks chuckles as she drives me back to my new home, where I collapse on the sofa, resting my poor feet. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but over the past few weeks it’s become increasingly tiring- especially as in addition to six models, I also have to help co-ordinate the camera crews filming them for the second season of their reality TV show.
The increased workload has essentially spelled the end of my own brief modelling career- after declining booking after booking due to my PA work, Steve and I eventually decided it would be best to part ways- I still write my column for Teen Globe and maintain my blog, but what little fame I have is limited to those two outlets. As hard as I work looking after the Angels, I'm nowhere near as famous as them, nor will I ever be...
As tiring as my life is, though, it’s always enjoyable- especially as all of the Angels have quickly become close friends of mine and Sarah’s. We’re included whenever they’re planning a party, or a night in- provided it’s appropriate for under-18s, of course- and we are both treated as ‘two of the girls’, which we’re both particularly happy about given that the group in which we were previously ‘two of the girls’ simply doesn’t exist anymore.
After the ‘New Angels’ fell apart I assume I’d happily move on, become an associate of the ‘Real’ Angels and live the rest of my life, but I find myself missing the other three girls more than ever… In particular, as ashamed as I am to admit it, I’m missing Dannii. Many of the girls I hang out with now are a lot of fun- bouncy, bubbly, that sort of thing- but none of them have the kind of subversive sense of humour that Dannii does, the ability to energise a room simply by walking by outside. Many of the girls who know her will describe Dannii as ‘full-on’, ‘exhausting to be around’, and whilst they ARE correct… I still miss her. I miss Katie too, with her endless optimism and formerly-open and friendly outlook on life, and whilst I still occasionally talk to Lauren (usually when she’s working with Sarah) we’ve drifted further and further apart… Lauren always declines out invitations to girls’ nights with the Angels, probably out of fear of offending Katie and Dannii the way we did, and Sarah’s mentioned that she’s grown distant from Lauren too, their relationship is now purely professional.
Fortunately, I’ll ALWAYS have Sarah. When we’re not at work or college, we spend literally every waking second together. It’s been three years since we became girlfriends, but I love her more with every passing day. It helps that my parents have grown increasingly fond of Sarah- Sarah even sees my dad as a surrogate father- and Beverly and I have always got on well. And, almost every night, I find myself dreaming about our dream wedding, standing in front of the minister wearing identical wedding dresses, leaning in together for our first kiss as wife and wife…
“Afternoon, ballerina!” Dad shouts as he comes through the front door, snapping me out of my daydream. “Have you eaten yet? Your class is in a couple of hours, isn’t it?”
“Uh, yeah,” I say. “And no, I’ve not eaten yet…”
“Well, you know the drill,” dad says smugly. “First one home makes dinner.” I playfully roll my eyes as I hop off the sofa and- after exchanging my work clothes for a comfortable knee-length denim skirt and pink t-shirt- set about cooking (well, microwaving) the evening meal. One unexpected side-effect of my job is that my parents increasingly see me as less their child, and more as another adult living in the house (even though I’m still a few months short of my eighteenth birthday). As much as I enjoy the additional freedoms that come with these responsibilities… A part of me is missing being a child. I’ve only been my parents’ daughter for 18 months, and whilst I’ll always treasure those months… They’re ending far too fast for my liking.
After dinner I head up to my bedroom to get ready for another recent change to my life that both dad and Viks hinted at earlier. After stripping down to just my thong, I roll a pair of soft pink tights up my legs, before pulling on a stretchy black tank leotard that supports my still-growing breasts. After tying my long brown hair back into a severe bun, I open my pink dance bag and briefly stare inside at the newest addition to my ballet gear- the shiny satin pointe shoes sat at the top of the bag. Sarah and I were ‘promoted’ onto pointe shoes last week by Krystie in a big, ceremonial day trip to her dancewear supplier where we tried on nearly twenty pairs each before settling on our ideal ‘size’. Krystie made a special fuss out of us as we were the first students of hers who she guided from their very first lesson up to the point (pun not intended) where we were ready for pointe shoes and her advanced class. After Katie and Dannii fell out with Sarah and myself, they also quit Krystie’s class out of spite (blaming the Angels for the falling out as much as they blame us), meaning that Krystie’s advanced class had two open spots, spots that Sarah was very eager to fill with the both of us.
I, however, wasn’t quite as eager. Not because of the discomfort it’d cause to my feet- Krystie gave myself and Sarah several exercises to ensure that our feet were ready and prepared for the strain of dancing en pointe- but because, even though I have Sarah there with me, all the other girls in the advanced class are leaps, bounds, pirouettes and fouettes ahead of me- Sarah included. Obviously, I can’t expect to just leap in and immediately be Darcey Bussell, but every lesson I attend, I get shades of college all over again… And it doesn’t help that my parents are eager for me to keep up my dancing (even offering to pay for part of the cost of the lessons) so that my unborn sister will have a place in Krystie’s class when she’s old enough.
After pulling my skirt back on, followed by a pair of cute flats, I head downstairs to find Sarah already waiting for me in her Mini.
“Hey, Nikkirina!” Sarah says, greeting me with a kiss and a long hug as I sit down in her car.
“Hey, Sarahrina!” I happily reply. “I really missed you today…”
“I missed you too,” Sarah says, gently squeezing my carefully-manicured hand. “Damned project’s taking me FOREVER… And Lauren’s not being any help either, just turns up, does the minimum amount of work then fucks off…”
“Is she still pulling her weight on the web shop?” I ask.
“Yes, but we hardly ever collaborate anymore,” Sarah sighs. “Remember when we’d stay up all night working on a massive, elaborate dress? Not any more…”
“It was your business to begin with,” I say. “If you don’t her working with you any more…”
“But that’s the point,” Sarah moans. “I DO want her working with me… the old Lauren, I mean…” I sigh and nod as we drive into the centre of the busy city- whenever Sarah’s upset, it upsets me and vice versa. Fortunately, Sarah perks up as we enter the dance studio to be greeted by our new classmates. My ‘status’ is hardly a secret but the other women- whose ages range from 15 all the way to late 30s- all treat me as though I were just ‘one of the girls’- though I do get a few whispers and sniggers whenever I kiss Sarah at the end of a lesson. What I do find funny, however, is how myself and Sarah are apparently preferable company to Dannii & Katie!
“Hey girls!” Krystie says to the entire class as we wait in the reception area in our skimpy leotards. “Come on in, it’s a cold night, let’s get warmed up!” Sarah and I smile happily as we file into the studio with the other women and take our place at the barre. After ninety minutes of dance (the last half hour of which is spent in our pointe shoes), we prepare to leave the class when Krystie summons us back to the barre, saying that she has an important announcement. I can tell by the look on Sarah’s face that she immediately knows what the ‘announcement’ will be.
“Girls,” Krystie says with a smug smile on her face. “As of midnight tonight, one of us in this room will no longer technically be a girl!” Krystie grimaces a little, and I start blushing with embarrassment as the eyes of the room slowly creep in my direction.
“Umm,” Krystie continued, realising her faux pas, “by which I mean, of course, that she’ll join the ranks of adult women, isn’t that right, Sarah?” Sarah and I exchange a brief giggle as Sarah takes my ‘embarrassment’ onto her own 17 years and 364 days-old shoulders. Sarah blushes a beautiful shade of red as the entire class- myself included- launch into an impromptu rendition of ‘Happy Birthday to You’ and Krystie presents her with a medium-sized pink cake with a tiny pair of marzipan pointe shoes on the top.
“Oh my god, thank you so much!” Sarah gushes, blushing even further as Krystie photographs her with her cake.
“Don’t expect this for every birthday,” Krystie giggles. “But it is your eighteenth tomorrow, it’s just about the most important birthday of them all! Got anything special planned?”
“You know I do, you’re coming to it!” Sarah laughs, making our dance teacher giggle even harder.
“I mean apart from Charlotte’s extravaganza on Friday,” Krystie laughs. “Doing anything special tomorrow night?”
“Ugh, just dinner with my family,” Sarah moans as she cuts the cake and hands out slices to the eager class. “I know, I shouldn’t moan, but sadly ‘family’ includes ‘dad’ and ‘dad’ means ‘stepmother’…”
“’Dad’ does means your younger brother and sister, though,” I remind my girlfriend, who nods in agreement.
“It will be good to see them again,” Sarah says between mouthfuls of cake, which doesn’t last long in a room full of hungry, tired ballerinas. On the way back to Sarah’s house in her car, I can’t help but feel sad about Sarah’s unhappiness with her relationship with her father- especially considering how close I am to mine.
“Are things REALLY that bad between you and your dad?” I ask gently.
“I really don’t want to talk about it,” Sarah sighs.
“Oh come on, you know you can talk to me about anything, right?” I say, making Sarah sigh again.
“It’s not dad that’s the problem,” Sarah explains. “It’s ‘the dragon’. You saw how she was at Father’s Day, if she had her way dad would completely disown me. I’m half expecting her to try to persuade him to do that tomorrow.”
“That’s just stupid,” I comment. “Just because you’re turning eighteen doesn’t make him any less your dad.”
“Try telling ‘the dragon’ that,” Sarah moans as we drive on into the night. After a lazy evening in front of the TV (during which Beverly eagerly wolfs down the last of the cake), Sarah and I retreat to bed, where after quickly freeing each other from our dancewear, we snuggle together in-between the thick, warm sheets.
“Last night as a minor,” I tease, giving Sarah a quick kiss on her lips. “Get some sleep, you’ll need it for tomorrow!” Sarah smiles and kisses me back as we press our naked bodies closer together, quickly falling into a deep sleep.
The following morning, after a sleep filled with dreams of wedding dresses, I wake before Sarah and gently untwine myself from the slumbering woman, taking care not to wake her. After pulling on a spare nightie and a dressing gown, I head downstairs to rendezvous with Beverly, who’s already hard at work cooking Sarah’s breakfast. Ten minutes later, the two of us loudly open Sarah’s door, waking her up and immediately putting an embarrassed smile on her face with our rendition of ‘Happy Birthday to You’ and our massive piles of presents.
“Happy birthday dear grown-up,” Beverly and I both sing with massive grins. “Happy birthday to you!”
“Oh my god!” Sarah gushes with tears forming in her eyes. “This is so amazing!”
“Just because you’re an adult now, it doesn’t mean I can’t spoil you!” All three of us laugh happily as Sarah tears open her presents. As Sarah loves making clothes so much, we’ve mostly given Sarah new fabrics in lieu of clothing- and a brand-new, state-of-the-art sewing machine with which to make her latest masterpieces! She also, of course, has vast quantities of cosmetics, DVDs, books, and a few pieces of ‘special’ underwear from yours truly that Sarah keeps to one side to open in secret! I save my ‘main present’ to Sarah for last- a delicate gold chain that I wrap around her neck, giving her a gentle kiss as I do so.
“It’s beautiful,” Sarah whispers as she fingers the delicate chain. “Thank you, I love you so much!”
“I love you too,” I whisper, giving Sarah another gentle kiss before a cough from Beverly separates our lips.
Even though it’s Sarah’s special day, it’s still a weekday, meaning that Sarah still has to go to college and I still have to go to work, so after showering, Sarah and I get dressed, me in my usual translucent tights, blouse, short pencil skirt and heels, Sarah in black tights, a long-sleeved purple top and a knee-length flared skirt she made last month that looks utterly gorgeous on her- and on me, on the rare occasion I’m allowed to borrow it!
After breakfast, Sarah drives me to the TV studio where I await my ‘boss’ for the day, who greets me with a big hug.
“Hey Nikki!” Charlotte says excitedly. “Big day today!”
“God, it’s not like it’s MY birthday or anything…” I giggle. “How are you doing, anyway?”
“I’m okay,” Charlotte sighs, rubbing her abdomen. “Morning sickness has FINALLY stopped, thank god. Still, at least it means I get to do loads of maternity-themed TV spots like this one!”
“Your dressing room’s all ready and waiting,” I say, leading the blonde woman to the plush red-themed room. “Good thing about it being a TV shoot today is that we don’t have to worry about accommodating our own cameras, heh.”
“YOU don’t have to worry about that, anyway!” Charlotte giggles as she shuts me out of her dressing room, changing into her carefully-pressed dress for her latest TV interview. As always, Charlotte’s interview goes smoothly, without even the slightest hitch- she’s such a professional and so calm in front of the cameras, sometimes it’s hard to believe that she’s only 23. After changing back into her ‘regular’ clothes, Charlotte approaches me with a sly grin on her face.
“Have you got everything on that list I gave you?” Charlotte asks.
“You ran over budget a little so I had to put in some of my own money,” I explain. “But yeah, I got everything!”
“Let me know how much you’re out and I’ll make it up to you,” Charlotte insists, opening up her purse.
“Seriously, it’s not much,” I say, trying to force Charlotte’s purse back into her handbag. “It’s no more than £100, tops.”
“Then let me give you £100!” Charlotte says, confused by my refusal of her offer.
“I’d prefer it if I made some kind of contribution,” I say. “I mean, I AM her girlfriend, it’d just feel wrong if I-“
“Say no more,” Charlotte giggles, putting her purse away. “See you tomorrow morning?”
“Of course!” I giggle. “Assuming I survive dinner with the ‘wicked stepmother’…” Charlotte chuckles as we part ways, her going to her home and me to mine, where I’m greeted by my heavily-pregnant mother.
“Hi mum,” I say as I come through the front door, before kneeling down next to her swollen belly. “Hi sis!”
“Hi Nikki,” mum says, before playfully wobbling her belly and mimicking a baby voice. “Hi big sister!”
“See you in two months’ time, sis!” I say, sitting down and easing my feet out of my heels.
“What time is Sarah’s mum picking you up?” Mum asks.
“Just after 6:30,” I sigh. “Can’t stay out late on account of Sarah’s brother and sister, they’ve got school tomorrow, I’ve got work, Sarah’s got college… Sarah says thanks for her presents, by the way.”
“Least we could do,” mum says with a warm smile. “Funny to think that two years ago, we didn’t have any daughters, now it feels like we have two with a third on the way!”
“Girls rule,” I say with a cheeky grin. After a light lunch, I head upstairs and change out of my work clothes into my dress for the night. It is, of course, a dress Sarah made- it’s calf-length, made of a shiny indigo satin-like material with hints of lilac throughout. It has long, see-through sleeves and a low neckline to expose just enough cleavage. I wear it with a dark pair of hold-up stockings and 4” heeled stiletto pumps. After curling my hair, fixing my make-up and repainting my long nails a deep, dark red, I put on my most expensive jewellery, spray on my best perfume, grab my handbag (containing yet another gift for Sarah, of course) and head downstairs to gasps of awe from both my parents.
“Wow,” dad says, giving me a gentle, fatherly hug. “You really, truly do look beautiful.”
“Thanks,” I say with a broad, scarlet grin.
“You honestly do,” mum gushes. “If this baby looks half as beautiful as her sister, she’ll be a very lucky girl indeed!” I can’t help but blush slightly at the praise being heaped on me, but luckily my blushes are spared mere minutes later by a knock on our front door.
“Wait here,” dad orders. I comply, standing still in the living room as he opens the door and ushers Sarah into the house. We both gasp as we see each other- as beautiful as I’ve tried to make myself tonight, I’m nothing compared to Sarah. Her long, brown hair has been tied into a high ponytail and allowed to cascade over her bare shoulders, and her make-up is as professional and immaculate as my own, but her dress…
“You look amazing,” I breathe. “I want that dress!” Sarah giggles as she twirls around, showing off her dress. It’s knee-length, crimson red and strapless, and has playful ruffles all over that seem to enhance Sarah’s fledgling curves. Her nails are painted a similar colour to the dress, and her heels- equal in height to my own- match the dress perfectly.
“I know what I’m getting you for YOUR eighteenth, then!” Sarah giggles, giving me a kiss as we head out to her mother’s car. “I would ask you to show off your dress but I’m kinda already familiar with it, hehe!” Sarah and I both laugh happily as Beverly drives us to the fancy restaurant she’s booked, but Sarah’s smile quickly disappears when she sees her ‘other’ family- including her stepmother- waiting outside the restaurant.
“Don’t let her get under your skin,” I say, gently squeezing Sarah’s hand. “You’re here to see Karl & Kerrie, not her.”
“And we’ll both be here,” Beverly says. “This is YOUR night. YOUR special day.”
“OUR special day,” Sarah says happily, returning my squeeze and giving me a long, deep kiss before we exit the car. I can’t help but smirk as I see both Sarah’s father & stepmother glare disapprovingly at the two of us, whilst Kerrie giggles happily and Karl looks VERY interested in the two of us as a couple. I can’t help but smile sadly as I look at the two young children in their party outfits- Karl looks very smart in his shirt, tie and trousers whilst Kerrie looks utterly ADORABLE in her little party dress. I remember back to when I was their age and forced to dress up smartly for a party, or a family meal or anything similar- every ‘event’ I’d attend, I’d have to wear a similar outfit to Karl’s, whilst I’d have given anything to be able to wear a dress like Kerrie’s. As I feel my long skirt swish around my nylon-covered legs, I’m reminded that sometimes dreams do actually come true.
Once all of us- including Sarah’s three surviving grandparents- are seated and our orders are taken, the attention immediately turns to the birthday girl.
“So, Sarah,” Robert- Sarah’s father- asks, “did you get anything nice?”
“I got EVERYTHING nice,” Sarah says happily, fingering the gold chain around her neck. “Mum got me a new sewing machine, Nikki got me this chain…”
“Isn’t that nice,” Diane- Sarah’s stepmother- says with a firm grin. “A girl spending so much money on her best friend…”
“Well, I DO love her…” I say smugly as Sarah and I exchange happy smiles.
“Yes dear,” Diane says condescendingly. “You love Sarah as a friend.” I bristle as the older woman demeans myself and Sarah. Obviously, if it were up to me, I’d verbally lay into her with everything I had, but with children present, not to mention Sarah’s grandparents, I need to be tactful. I just about prepare a retort and open my mouth to speak, when I’m interrupted by an unexpected source.
“Oh come on mum,” Karl moans. “They’re obviously lesbians, why can’t you just accept that?”
“Karl Robert Phillips!” Diane snaps. “Where did you learn that word?”
“What?” Karl protests. “It’s not like it’s a swear word, that's what Nikki and Sarah are, lesbians.”
“Thank you, Karl,” Sarah says to her brother before shooting a smug smile toward Diane. A brief silence fills the room before being broken by the question I was dreading.
“What’s a lesbian?” Kerrie asks, making both myself and Sarah grimace.
“It’s where-“ Karl begins, before being interrupted by his mother.
“A lesbian is a woman or a girl who is confused about what she wants,” Diane says, earning very dirty glares from myself and Sarah. “A woman who is going through a phase that WILL END SOON.”
“I’m not confused,” I say, linking my fingers with Sarah.
“Nor am I,” Sarah says with a sly grin, before leaning in and giving me a kiss.
“A lesbian is a woman who loves other women,” Karl says quickly, not allowing his mother to interrupt. “Most women love men, but sometimes you get women who love women instead, and that’s what Nikki and Sarah are.” I can’t help but giggle at how Karl- an 11 year old boy- is able to explain homosexuality more accurately and tactfully than his supposedly adult mother.
“Oh, okay,” Kerrie says, before going back to studying her menu.
“It’s a phase they’ll grow out of eventually,” Diane says, making me roll my eyes with frustration.
“No, I won’t,” I say firmly, earning a filthy stare from Sarah’s stepmother. “I LOVE Sarah, and I always will.”
“And I’ll ALWAYS love Nikki,” Sarah says, giving me another kiss.
“I won’t let you expose my children to this- this- this!” Diane hisses, earning disapproving stares from not just myself and Sarah, but Sarah’s grandparents as well.
“Really?” I ask smugly. “Seems like Karl’s got a much better understanding of the situation than you do…” Diane prepares an undoubtedly angry response to my argument, but is thankfully interrupted by the arrival of our starters. The food thankfully manages to cool the argument, and by the time Sarah is presented with her rich chocolate cake, everyone around the table is wearing a smile on their face.
“Make a wish!” Sarah’s grandmother says as Sarah leans in to blow out her candles. For a brief moment, Sarah’s eyes lock with mine, then she blows out all eighteen candles in a single breath, to the applause of everyone at the table.
“What did you wish for?” Kerrie asks excitedly.
“If I told you, it wouldn’t come true,” Sarah teases, before sitting back down next to me and giving me a quick kiss. After we’ve all had a slice of cake and our bellies are full almost to the point of bursting, Sarah’s father rises from his chair and gives Sarah a small pile of presents, that she eagerly unwraps- mostly things like clothes and DVDs, but he hands her her final gift separately from the rest. Sarah opens the small box and gasps at the sight of what’s inside.
“Dad,” Sarah whispers as she fingers the thin silver necklace. “It’s beautiful, thank you so much!”
“You’re very welcome,” Robert says, giving Sarah a long, fatherly hug. “Thank you for being such a great daughter over the last eighteen years!”
“Now let’s get that gold chain off your neck so you can wear it now!” Diane says smugly, looking pointedly in my direction as I bristle under her stare.
“Noo,” Sarah says. “Nikki got me this chain, I want to wear both!”
“Don’t be silly, you can’t wear gold AND silver!” Diane snorts. “Now get that chain off so your father can put your new necklace on you!”
“It’s Sarah’s birthday, she can wear whatever she wants,” Sarah’s grandfather (Beverly’s father) says firmly. Clearly desperate to avoid any further arguments, Robert complies and wraps the necklace around Sarah’s neck, before giving his daughter a quick kiss on her forehead. Sarah gently fingers both delicate chains, smiling smugly at the scowling Diane.
“I made you a bracelet too,” Kerrie says, jumping off her chair and tying the thin strap around Sarah’s wrist.
“Thank you, Kerrie!” Sarah says, giving her sister a quick hug. “It’s beautiful!”
“It is,” I gush at the delighted little girl. “You’re really talented!”
“Aww, thanks!” Kerrie says. “Would you like one too, Nikki?”
“You know what?” I ask, looking at Diane. “I think I would. But only if you’re happy to make one for me?” Kerrie giggles and nods her head happily, making both myself and Sarah smile at her youthful eagerness.
The meal only lasts another twenty minutes afterwards- Diane removes her family from the restaurant as fast as she can, barely giving Robert enough time to give Sarah one final hug before being dragged away, leaving myself and Sarah with Beverly and Sarah’s grandparents.
“I’ve no idea why he ever married that woman,” Sarah’s grandmother (Robert’s mother) sighs. “The only good things that ever came out of that marriage are Karl & Kerrie.” Knowing better than to argue with her ex-mother-in-law, Beverly simply nods.
“Still, that is a VERY beautiful necklace,” Beverly says as Sarah shows off the silver chain and the bright red jewel attached to it.
“It is,” Sarah sighs sadly. “So’s this,” Sarah says, holding up her crude, home-made bracelet.
“I know you love being a big sister,” Beverly says, giving Sarah a quick hug. “Sometimes I feel I should apologise that I never had any other children for you to play with when you were growing up… And now you ARE grown up…”
“And you’ll always be a cool big sister to my sister when she’s born,” I say. “Well, SECOND coolest big sister, anyway…” Sarah giggles as I join in the now-group hug.
“This has been the best birthday EVER,” Sarah muses happily. “Despite ‘the dragon’!” All of Sarah’s grandparents laugh at her insulting nickname for Diane as we polish off the last of the birthday cake and head home. Within an hour, Sarah and I are both snuggled together in her bed, warming each other’s body against the cold November night.
“Happy birthday, Miss Adult,” I whisper teasingly in Sarah’s ear. “I have one more present for you…” Sarah gasps with ecstasy as I pepper her body with kisses, gradually moving lower and lower...
The following morning, it’s Sarah’s turn to wake me up, gently shaking my still-tingling body awake just after 7:30am when her alarm clock goes off.
“Hey,” Sarah says softly. “Hey, wake up, kid!”
“Don’t call me kid, old woman,” I moan as I roll over and try to get back to sleep.
“Oh stop moaning,” Sarah says, standing up and stretching her naked body in front of me. “If you get up in the next ten seconds, I’ll let you take naked photos of me…”
Needless to say, when I leave the house an hour later, I have a smile on my face, my usual work clothes on my body and several photographs of Sarah’s naked body stored on my smartphone. Sarah drops me off at Charlotte’s posh mansion before heading off to college, her face still wearing last night’s smile.
“Yoo-hoo?” I call, opening the door with my key. “Anyone home?”
“Hey Nikki!” Jamie says, descending the stairs in her pink dressing gown and giving me a quick hug. “LOVE that pencil mini. How was the big night?”
“Titanic-sized car crash,” I chuckle. “Thanks mostly to the wicked stepmother. Who WON’T be at tonight’s party!”
“Hey Nikki!” Charlotte says as she leaves her kitchen and greets me with a tight hug. “God, I’m SO looking forward to tonight! Can you believe this is the first time I’ve ever actually organised an eighteenth birthday party?”
“It won’t be the last!” Jamie says, patting Charlotte’s tummy and making the pregnant girl blush.
“Girl rays!” I giggle, also patting Charlotte’s tummy. “Do we know who’ll be at the party tonight?”
“ALL the Angels will be there,” Charlotte says proudly. “So will Rebecca, Adeola, those boys who aren’t on babysitting duty…”
“Did- did you hear from Dannii?” I ask quietly. Charlotte simply shakes her head.
“Sarah specifically asked us not to invite her,” Jamie says quietly. “We’ve not heard back from any of your other friends either. On the plus side, at least there won’t be any TV cameras present…”
“Heh, Sarah would probably prefer it if there were,” I laugh, following the two women into Charlotte’s vast ball room to help the women set up for the party. The party is going to have a ‘fashion’ theme, though Sarah doesn’t know this yet- as far as she’s concerned it’ll just be a girls night with the Angels. What she also doesn’t know is that over the past few months, the Angels have been buying outfits from Sarah’s web store and will be wearing them at tonight’s party- and from what the girls are telling me, they may well invest some more money in Sarah’s clothes! I myself will be wearing the lilac strapless bodysuit and skirt Sarah made for me last year- though I feel a twinge of sadness as I stretch the clingy garment on over my tights and pull a petticoat on underneath my skirt. This is the same dress I wore during the first photoshoot of the ‘New Angels’- none of whom will be around today to see me wear it today.
“Wowzers!” Charlotte says as she sees me in the gorgeous creation. “Lucky you, having a girlfriend who makes you beautiful dresses for fun…”
“Lucky you, getting to wear beautiful clothes all day AND get paid for it!” I tease back, making the 23 year old woman giggle happily. “Speaking of which, we’re all set up and ready for the party, I’ve got my make-up on, Sarah’s going to be here in less than an hour, and you’re not dressed yet?”
“I’m planning on being fashionably late,” Charlotte protests.
“To an event at your own house?” I retort.
“What could be more fashionable than that?” Charlotte giggles. Despite her teasing, however, Charlotte is present in her original Sarah creation, as are all the Angels, when Sarah arrives just over ninety minutes later.
“What- this-“ Sarah stammers as she’s confronted with nine of her most memorable creations.
“Happy birthday- again- babe,” I say, wrapping my arms around Sarah’s neck and giving her a long, deep kiss.
“These are all my dresses!” Sarah exclaims, excitedly darting between the other nine women (myself included), examining the beautiful dresses we’re wearing. “Nikki, have you raided my stock room again?”
“No, nothing like that,” Hannah giggles. “Haven’t you noticed any payments from any STRANGE PayPal accounts lately?”
“I don’t think anything of it,” Sarah says. “Now that I come to think of it, there HAVE been a few shipments to PO boxes recently…”
"And was this GORGEOUS dress," Hannah asks, showing off her dress, a short, strapless garment in dark plum, "one of those shipments?"
"...Yes," Sarah says, blushing beautifully. "As were all the others. With one obvious exception, of course!" Sarah gives me another kiss and giggles as she plays with the fabric of my skirt.
"We've got your dress all ready and waiting for you upstairs," Charlotte says commandingly. "Let's get you ready!"
"What do you mean?" Sarah asks, taking off her coat to reveal her comparatively plain blue dress. "What's wrong with this one?"
"You'll see when we get upstairs," I say, taking Sarah's hand and skipping upstairs, closely followed by our host. When we arrive in Charlotte's bedroom, I open the closet door, and Sarah's jaw drops even further.
"Oh my god," Sarah gasps as I hold out the dress for her to examine. "Wh-where did you get this?"
"The fabric I got from your usual supplier," I say smugly. "The thread from a local shop, and the design from the head of one Miss Nicola Thomas!"
"It-it's beautiful," Sarah says. "You really made this all by yourself?"
"After about four or five attempts," I confess. "AND it took me nearly three months... Fortunately, you, Jamie and Charlotte are all pretty much the same size-"
"For now, anyway!" Charlotte giggles, interrupting me and pointing at her abdomen.
"-So I was able to fit it exactly," I continue. "Do you like it?"
"I LOVE it," Sarah says, eagerly stripping out of her blue dress and pulling the garment on. The new dress has a square neck and a fitted bodice that hugs Sarah's womanly curves tightly, and a knee-length flared skirt that swishes around Sarah's legs with every step she takes. It's in a dark, shiny grey colour and has a matching wide belt that Sarah eagerly fastens around her waist.
"Now," Charlotte says, draping a bib over Sarah's new dress, "we have to make sure your make-up matches your dress, right?"
"Oh my god," Sarah gasps. "I can't believe I'm going to be made up by Charlotte Hutchinson!"
"AND me," I say, recoating Sarah's fingernails with a shiny silver polish to match her dress. "This whole party was actually Charlotte's idea, I mentioned I was making you the dress, she's actually anonymously bought from your shop before, it just made sense."
"And my ego was nicely stroked when Nikki mentioned how much of a fan of me you were when you were younger," Charlotte explains. "And to be honest... I'm kinda a little jealous of how close Jamie and Nikki are, I always wanted a younger sister, someone who I could share fashion tips with..."
"Someone who you could make up for a party?" Sarah asks, making Charlotte giggle happily.
"I mean yes, I CAN do this for my daughter after she's born," Charlotte says, "but I want a little sister NOW."
"You do know that I'm eighteen, right?" Sarah asks. "Not exactly 'little' anymore?"
"Perfect," Charlotte says. "Someone I can go on girls’ nights with too!" The three of us giggle as we finish preparing Sarah for her party.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Charlotte announces proudly to the amassed crowd in her ballroom, "presenting 2014's newest debutante, Miss Sarah J Phillips!" The crowd applaud and gasp with awe as the transformed Sarah sweeps into the room in her dress, showing it off to the crowd. Before too long, Jamie's boyfriend has set up an expensive-looking camcorder and is filming all ten of us as we have a mock 'fashion show', showing off Sarah's creations. Charlotte goes first in her spaghetti-strapped knee-length red dress, followed by Jamie in her sparkling blue ankle-length dress, which is split so high it kinda gives away the fact that she's not wearing any underwear. Krystie is next, in a light pink maxi dress that swishes around her infinitely long legs with every step, followed by Mary in a long-sleeved, short-skirted emerald green dress that hugs her motherly curves.
As I stare as Krystie and Mary having fun on the catwalk, though, I can't help but be reminded of Dannii and Lauren. Dannii, like Krystie, is tall and skinny, whilst Lauren is shorter and curvier like Mary. As much as I like Krystie and Mary- no, as much as I LOVE them being my friends- it really should be Dannii and Lauren- and Katie- on the catwalk instead of them.
Hannah is next on the catwalk in her tiny, leg-baring dress, followed by Viks in a slinky black dress that, when paired with her dark tights and bicep-length black gloves, provides a beautiful contrast to her pale skin. Becca is next, in a strapless sunshine yellow dress, followed by Adeola- who's also only eighteen herself- in a long gold dress that goes perfectly with her dark skin. I'm up next, earning cheers from the women and wolf whistles from the men, before Sarah takes to the catwalk, staying up there for ages soaking up the adulation of our new friends. After all ten of us pose for a few group pictures, the men present help to dismantle the catwalk whilst I crash on one of the sofas with Sarah, Charlotte and Jamie.
"Seriously, I can't even BEGIN to thank you for this," Sarah babbles, still hyper from her time as a model. "I mean, if I'd known even a year ago that I'd be spending part of my eighteenth birthday at a party organised by Charlotte Hutchinson, I'd-"
"Sarah!" Charlotte interrupts, giggling excitedly. "You're my friend! Both of you are! Yeah, so you're not 'Angels', but I don't value friends based on whether or not they have a Wikipedia page. AND you've done so much for me these past two months since my break up from Keith, you've always been there for me... I sincerely hope that we always remain friends."
"I hope so too," Sarah says happily. "And trust me, you've done more for us than we have for you..."
"You still miss your college friends?" Jamie asks, making Sarah and I both nod sadly.
"Oh yes, the 'New Angels'," Charlotte says with a sad laugh. "We actually invited your business partner- Lauren, right? We actually invited her, but she declined her invitation."
"Probably doesn't want to offend Dannii," I muse, earning a stern stare from Sarah. "Or, um, or Katie."
"If I could turn back time and invite them along when we invited you two for that girls night, I would," Charlotte sighs. "One thing I've had to learn the hard way is that you can never have too many friends."
"Wouldn't thirteen girls be a little cramped, though?" I ask, making Charlotte roll her eyes.
"For my living room, yes," Charlotte replies. "But I don't use this huge room nearly as much as I should. AND it has a bar, behind which I do believe there's a bottle of champagne..."
"Stu!" Jamie calls with a smug grin on her face. "Riley! Mikey! Crack open the good stuff!"
"Are you sure you should be drinking in your 'condition'?" I ask our host, who simply rolls her eyes and giggles again.
"One glass won't kill the baby," Charlotte says. "And as you're underage, if I don't get any, YOU don't get any either!"
"Touche," I grin as one of the Angels' partners hands me a glass full of the sparkling drink. "To Sarah: The most beautiful woman in the world."
"To Sarah!" Jamie and Charlotte toast, clinking our glasses together.
The party disperses shortly after 10:30pm- Mary has to get home to her baby and several of the others (myself included) have to work tomorrow even despite it being a Saturday. Sarah and I spend the night at my house- Sarah refusing to remove the beautiful (and expensive) make-up Charlotte covered her face with, meaning my pillowcases are pretty heavily stained when I wake up the following morning at 8am! After I don my trademark blouse, pencil mini, translucent tights and heels, I bid farewell to Sarah with long, slow kiss before heading downstairs, where Jamie is all ready and waiting for me in her fancy car.
"Hey Nikki!" Jamie says as I slide onto the passenger seat of her Alfa Romeo. "Great party last night, I take it Sarah's still in bed?"
"Yeah," I say with a smile. "Don't think she's too hungover- that's not the most EITHER of us have drank, not by a long way. She was really, really grateful for what you and Charlotte did for her. For both of us, really."
"What Charlotte said goes double for me," Jamie says. "I hardly had any friends whilst growing up, so the more I make now, the happier I am!"
"I only really had Sarah as a friend whilst I was at school," I say. "Of course, back then, I wasn't the 'real me'. I was so happy when I made friends on my first day of college..."
"What Charlotte said about THAT also goes double for me," Jamie says sadly. "You know I was on your side with that... I should've argued harder to have Katie, Lauren and Dannii at that girls night."
"Well, no sense worrying about it now," I sigh.
"That's a very mature attitude for a seventeen year old!" Jamie teases. "And don't give up on old friends, even if you're not talking that much anymore. You never know what the future holds..."
After a morning of waiting on Jamie hand and foot whilst she's interviewed for a radio programme, I'm dropped back at my house, happy that I can finally start my weekend.
"Before I go," Jamie says, "I know you're expecting to be free on Monday after ballet but I might have something I need you for, so keep the day free, okay?"
"Sure, as long as I get to put whatever it is on my timesheet!" I say, making Jamie giggle.
"Just- keep it free, okay?" Jamie laughs as she drives away. Immediately as I enter my house, I'm assaulted by the sound of sewing machines running at full pelt, which brings a smile to my face- if there's more than one sewing machine going, that means that Lauren's here, and sure enough, as I enter my kitchen, the short, dark-haired girl is sat next to Sarah, concentrating hard on her latest masterpiece.
"Hi Lauren," I say, before sitting down next to the still fully made-up Sarah and giving her a long kiss. "Hey babe, what you working on?"
"You tell me, since you're such an expert on making dresses now!" Sarah teases, making me give her another kiss.
"I had a look at that dress," Lauren says. "It's actually really good, though the stitching's a little off in places."
"Thanks," I say with a proud smile. "High praise coming from an expert like you! We missed you at the party last night..."
"Yeah," Lauren sighs. "Dannii was having a girls night in at her place so I thought I should go to that instead." I wince a little at the clear accusatory tone of Lauren's voice- though her point is more than valid.
"Did you have fun?" I ask, trying to lighten the mood.
"It was okay," Lauren replies. "I think Dannii's getting pissed off with me for spending so much time with you guys, though."
"Well surely that's her problem?" I say, wincing yet more under Lauren's withering gaze.
"She's been my best friend for six years," Lauren says. "I'd prefer it if it stayed that way."
"Fair enough," I sigh. "Want anything to drink?"
"Diet coke, please," Sarah says as she carefully cuts a length of expensive-looking blue fabric.
"No thanks," Lauren says. "So, can I expect to see any photos from last night? You guys didn't put anything on Instagram..."
"I think Jamie uploaded some snaps," I say. "I know for a fact at least one more of the Angels did."
"Yeah, well I don't obsess over their media profiles anymore," Lauren says coldly.
"They're our friends," Sarah argues. "We're hardly 'obsessed'."
"Me, Dannii and Katie were your friends too," Lauren says. "Have you checked any of our Instagrams yet today?"
"What are we doing for lunch?" I ask loudly, futilely hoping to change the topic of conversation. For the next few hours until she leaves, Lauren makes sure the air in the house is as awkward as possible with talk of Katie, Dannii and the Angels. Uniquely for a teenaged girl, I'm actually glad when mum and dad return from an antenatal session- which Lauren takes as a cue to leave.
"God," I sigh as I collapse on the sofa with Sarah. "Is it ALWAYS like that with you two?"
"Don't take this the wrong way babe," Sarah says carefully. "But it's kinda worse when you're here. I dunno, maybe Dannii and Katie blame you more than me, it's hard to tell."
"Either way, it SUCKS," I sigh, before turning my attention to my parents. "Decided on a name yet?"
"For the two thousandth time, not yet!" Mum laughs, rubbing her swollen belly. "Though we HAVE decided on her godmother!"
"Oh, cool!" Sarah beams, instantly perking up. "Is it anyone I know?"
"You could say that," dad says with a proud grin. "I mean, you DO know yourself, right?" Both Sarah and I gasp with surprise as dad drops the unexpected bombshell.
"I- Muh- me?" Sarah asks, tears forming in her eyes. "Muh-me? You want me to be godmother?"
"We figured that since you were one of the most positive things in our first daughter's life," mum explains, "you could be one of the most positive things in our second daughter's life as well!"
"Oh my god!" Sarah bawls, crying openly and giving both of my parents bug hugs. "This is such an honour! Thank you both so much!"
"Whilst we're on the topic," dad says, releasing himself from Sarah's hug, "Sarah, what's your full name again?"
"Including middle names?" Sarah asks. "Sarah Jennifer Phillips, why?"
"What do you think about Jennifer as a name?" Dad asks mum, who nods, before smiling warmly at Sarah.
"No," Sarah says, her tears restarting. "No, this is too much!"
"We've struggled for months to think of a name," mum says. "If we didn't like the name, we wouldn't have chosen it! But I like it, Jennifer Cassandra Thomas... Has a nice ring to it!"
"This is so amazing," Sarah blubs, sitting down next to me and snuggling into my embrace. "Never mind all my other gifts, THIS is the best birthday present I've ever had!"
"Glad you approve," dad says with a grin. "As far as we're concerned, you're part of our family. Little Jenny's not going to be our second daughter so much as our THIRD."
"Thank you, both of you so much," Sarah says happily. "God knows you're much more of a dad than my so-called REAL dad is anyway."
"I would say you're as much a daughter as our real daughter, but that might sound a bit heartless given that our real daughter IS in the room..." Dad jokes, laughing as I hurl a cushion at him.
"'Real' daughter who isn't even a 'real' girl," I laugh, prompting a snort of derision from dad.
"You ARE a real girl," dad says. "How long have you been taking oestrogen, eighteen months? Frankly, I've forgotten what it was like to ever have a son." This time, it's my turn to tear up.
"Oh my god," I whisper.
"And to think," Sarah says, cuddling me close. "You were actually afraid to tell your parents about who you REALLY are..." I smile happily as I return Sarah's cuddle, and we stay on the sofa for the rest of the day. I don't even bother changing out of my work skirt- I don't want to do anything to disrupt the feelings of comfort and happiness I feel at that exact moment. As Sarah and I head to bed, my lover has a devilish grin on her face- and when we're both stripped and under the covers, it becomes apparent why...
I wake up on Sunday morning with a tingle in my body and a soreness in some of my tender areas, a 'good' soreness I'm reluctant to wash away. Once both Sarah and I are showered and dressed in very plain patterned knee-length dresses and black tights, we head down to the living room, all ready for a lazy day.
"Sooo," Sarah teases, stealthily stroking my thigh underneath my dress, "last night... Shall we be doing that again?"
"HELL yes," I giggle, giving Sarah a quick kiss. "I love you a little more every day... Speaking of 'day', what do you want to do today?"
"Right now?" Sarah asks. "I want to go straight back to bed..."
"Maybe tonight," I giggle as we collapse together on the sofa.
"In all seriousness, I've got work to catch up on," Sarah moans. "As cool as it was to have the Angels buy my stuff, it HAS cleared the store out a little..."
"Yeah, but you got oodles of money from that, right?" I ask.
"True," Sarah laughs. "Heh, guess I have to worry about taxes now as well as restocking the store... Better get my sewing machine ready, I guess."
"As long as it's just you and not Lauren 'Buzz Killington' as well," I sigh.
"Ugh," Sarah moans. "AND I kinda want to go and see Karl and Kerrie too at some point before Christmas..."
"Well you're an adult now," I tease, giving Sarah a playful squeeze. "Surely that means you can do whatever you want?"
"Heh, if only..." Sarah sighs. Sure enough, we spend the rest of the day at home, Sarah alternating between coursework and her latest masterpiece for her web store- though she does take some time out to work on a special dress for the baby girl who will soon be her goddaughter! Even though we haven't gone anywhere all day, we're still tired when we climb into bed at 10pm- though not too tired to get immediately to sleep, as Sarah proves when she drags us both under the covers...
I wake up on the Monday morning with the same tingle in my body as I had the previous day, and I can tell by the smile on Sarah's slumbering face that she feels the exact same way. After we shower and apply a full face of make-up, we excitedly reach into our closet and pull out our dance gear. Monday mornings have long since been the time of the Angels' traditional ballet lesson, and as Sarah and I are now fully-fledged advanced students- with pointe shoes and everything- we've been invited to join in, an invitation we were both happy to accept. Yes, I know I'll be the worst dancer there, as I am in the 'proper' advanced class, but at least there, I know I'll be with nine girls who are all my friends.
...And sure enough, when Sarah and I arrive, we're greeted with excited hugs from all the other girls. After we strip off our warm sweater dresses so that we're clad in only our leotards, our tights and our pointe shoes, Krystie gets the lesson started. Normally we wouldn't start in pointe shoes, but Sarah can only stick around for half an hour before having to head for college, so Krystie has shifted the timetable so that Sarah can join in the 'fun' of the pointe work. With all of my employers present at the lesson, though, I of course can stay for the whole morning, something my toes don't thank me for once the other girls disperse just after 10:30am.
"You looked SO good out there!" Krystie gushes as I remove my pointe shoes and pull my sweater dress and boots back on.
"Thanks, but I still feel so... Lumbering," I sigh. "I'll NEVER be as good as you or the other girls..."
"You've only been en pointe for a week," Krystie says. "And yes, we were only doing basic stuff, but you were keeping up well with the other girls. Don't forget, Jamie's not been dancing for much longer than you have..."
"Yeah, I guess," I sigh, before heading over to my 'mentor'. "Hey Jamie!"
"Hey Nikki!" Jamie says, giving me a quick hug before pulling her own knee-length sweater dress back on. "You looked great out there, a real natural en pointe."
"I FELT like an elephant," I sigh. "I guess you must know what it's like to feel like you're sticking out like a sore thumb..."
"Honestly, you don't stick out!" Jamie says, placing a comforting hand on my arm. "You're not even the tallest girl in here, and you're no larger than any of the others... You'll GET pointe, trust me."
"If you say so," I giggle. "Anyway, that's not what I wanted to talk to you about- do you still need me today?"
"Ohh yes," Jamie says, a wide grin creeping over her face. "I'm about 80% certain I will, anyway- can you get to the main office for 3:30pm?"
"Um, sure," I say. "Got nothing else planned for today!"
"Good," Jamie says. "Wear something office-appropriate. Sarah too." This catches me by surprise, and I stammer as I follow Jamie out to her car.
"Wait, what?" I ask. "Why would Sarah need to come along?"
"You'll see," Jamie says smugly. "Need a lift?"
"Please," I say, getting in Jamie's car. "Exactly what do you have planned?"
"You'll see," Jamie teases. All throughout the ride home, my attempts to probe her for information are thwarted, and even as I'm changing into my sleekest black skirt suit and my highest-heeled stilettos, I'm racking my brain over why Jamie would need to see both myself AND Sarah at the office...
When I arrive at the office, I'm unsurprised to see Sarah's Mini already there, but what I AM surprised by is that when I enter the reception area, she's not alone.
"Oh, hey Lauren," I say with surprise.
"Hey Nikki," Lauren says. "Any idea what we're doing here?"
"Umm, Jamie just said to meet her here," I say as I give Sarah a quick kiss.
"Yeah, got to admit, it was a bit of a surprise to get a phone call out of the blue from a national celebrity," Lauren muses.
"Even when said national celebrity is technically a friend of a friend?" I ask, making Lauren chuckle quietly. I open my mouth to speak again, only to be interrupted by an unexpected voice.
"You!?" Katie's distinctive London accent calls across the reception area. Looking around, I not only see Katie stood in the reception in her expensive suit, but Dannii as well, whose piercing glare is making me feel VERY uncomfortable. The two angry girls approach me, clearly to resume our argument from three months ago, when we're interrupted by yet another voice, this time from the stairs leading to one of the side offices.
"Girls," Jamie says with an air of smugness. "I see you're all here. Can you come on up, please?" The five of us all stand and climb the stairs to the office in silence. Once inside, we sit down in a very specific order- Katie and Dannii on one side of Lauren, myself and Sarah on the other.
"Good afternoon, ladies," the rich London accent of Jonathan- Joshua Benedict's nephew and a manager of his business- addresses us from across his desk. "Thank you all for agreeing to this meeting on such short notice." Jonathan pauses whilst Jamie and Viks- his partner- sit down next to him.
"I'm going to cut right to the chase," Jonathan says. "My company wants to market the five of you as a 'group', and I've been authorised to offer all of you professional representation by Joshua Benedict Talent." My jaw drops at this news, and looking around, I can see mine isn't the only one.
"I'm- I'm sorry?" Katie asks.
"For a while now," Jonathan continues, "my uncle has wanted to expand his company, especially to other markets, particularly younger consumers who might not be as familiar with the Angels. Nikki's exposure from Jeremy Kyle and in Teen Globe Magazine has opened doors, doors my uncle wants to step through."
"Um, I'm not a model though," Lauren says, clearly unsure about the offer.
"I'm not either," Sarah says. "I don't WANT to be a model either, I mean, I'm going to university in September, I want to make clothes..."
"Trust me, I know where you're coming from," Viks says.
"If Joshua wanted to slap five or six models together and call them a super group, he could have done that in the time it takes to make a phone call," Jamie explains. "Part of the reason the Angels have gone over so well is because we were all friends beforehand. That's a winning formula Joshua doesn't want to mess with."
"We're NOT friends, though," Dannii says, staring in my direction with eyes whose anger is noticeably fading with every second.
"But you WERE," Jamie argues. "You were BEST friends. A friendship like that is rare and special. Yes, sometimes you fall out- believe me, I know that better than anyone. I know the reason why you fell out- and believe me, I am truly sorry if I drove a wedge between the five of you. We ALL are."
"You're not the ones who should be apologising," Katie says, looking pointedly at myself and Sarah.
"If I could turn back time, I'd do things differently," I say, my voice wobbling under Katie and Dannii's withering stares. "I am really, really sorry for everything I said and did."
"As am I," Sarah says, grabbing my hand for support. "I apologise sincerely to all of you."
"Apology accepted," Dannii mumbles, staring sadly at our linked hands.
"Same here," Katie says. "Still doesn't change the fact that I'm not a model, I'm a photographer..."
"Firstly: yes, you ARE a model," Jamie laughs. "I've seen yours and Nikki's portfolios, you're both extremely professional. And second: Jonathan said he wanted to market you as a group, not as 'five models'."
"Don't forget that Mary and Jamie are both at uni themselves," Viks giggles. "Hell, Mary's juggling her Angels career, her studies AND a new-born baby."
"And it's not like we're asking you to go out doing promotional tours every weekend," Jonathan explains. "Everything we'll ask you to do will fit around your studies, or in Nikki's case, your work."
"Assuming you're still happy being our PA now that you're going to be rich and famous," Viks jokes, making her boyfriend chuckle and shake his head.
"It'll be low-key stuff first," Jonathan continues. "A few magazine shoots here, a couple of websites there, no TV work, not at first, not until we've 'tested the waters'. It WILL make you decent money eventually though, I can promise you that."
"What if all five of us are unavailable?" Viks asks.
"How often do you know all six of us to be in the same place at the same time?" Jamie jokes. "Apart from parties, of course!"
"I'm going to give you time to think about it," Jonathan says. "You'll also need your parents' permission to sign, of course, but we really do think we could make good money together."
"God, I dunno if my mum would go for it," Sarah sighs.
"Umm, she was okay with you modelling dresses for your website," I remind my girlfriend. "Also, you don't NEED your mum's permission any more..." Sarah gasps in shock as the other four of us giggle at her mistake.
"God," Sarah chuckles. "Spend my whole life waiting to turn eighteen, then I forget when I HAVE turned eighteen..." As the five of us laugh in the office, it's just like old times, before we fell out. I stare briefly at my 'mentor', who has a proud smile on her face- this was clearly her idea, her 'gift' to me and Sarah. Whilst the others may need time to think about it, my mind is made up immediately. I LOVE being a model, I LOVE being friends with these girls, and I LOVE being one of the girls.
"I'm in," I state confidently, widening Jamie's smile.
"Then so am I!" Sarah grins. Her grins fades, however, as we stare at the other three girls, who aren't quite as eager- and whom I'm afraid of offending yet again with my eagerness to be part of this 'other' group.
"It won't affect my studies?" Lauren asks.
"Not in any way," Jonathan says. "In fact, as part of the contract, we're happy to pay part of your tuition fees."
"How big a part?" Katie asks.
"Depends on how successful the group is," Jonathan replies. "We'll start at 25%, that's a figure that can only go up."
"Then I'm in," Katie says, smiling at me and Sarah for the first time in months.
"Me too," Lauren says warmly. "That just leaves you, Dannii..." The four of us all look at Dannii- the only one of us already signed to the company- who has been uncharacteristically quiet all meeting. It's painfully obvious that she's still uncomfortable being around myself and Sarah, and a quick glance back at my girlfriend gives away that she'd be quite happy if Dannii stepped away from the group forever. I breathe an inward sigh of relief, however, when a grin creeps across Dannii's face.
"New Angels for the win!" Dannii says, making all five of us cheer happily.
"Okay," Jonathan says with a chuckle. "Well obviously, we can't call you the 'New Angels', that'd imply that the 'original' Angels are being replace, which obviously ain't the case! How does 'Teen Angels' sound?" All five of smile at each other and nod our heads.
"Teen Angels for the win!" All five of us yell excitedly.
Less than an hour later, the eight of us- the 'Teen Angels', Jonathan, Viks and Jamie- are sat around a table in a local coffee shop, talking about our exciting future together.
"This is gonna be so cool!" Katie squeaks excitedly.
"Somebody needs to lay off the espresso," Lauren giggles happily. "I am SO glad the five of us are friends again. I will admit, a part of me was dreading college that first day- which is why I brought Dannii along- but meeting you three..."
"I know the feeling," I say happily. "I do kinda miss going to college with you guys..."
"You SHOULD have asked me for help if you were having that much trouble," Katie says softly.
"I know, I know," I sigh. "My own stupid pride... Maybe I should ask to have my oestrogen dosage upped, heh."
"I'll try not to take that personally," Jonathan jokes, earning a quick hug from his girlfriend.
"Most importantly," Dannii says, immediately commanding the attention of the table, "how are we going to celebrate becoming the official Teen Angels?"
"With a party, of course!" Katie giggles. I see Jamie start to open her mouth to speak, but she closes it before she says a word. I quickly suss out what she was about to say.
"Where should we hold it?" I ask. "Somewhere large enough for all of us, plus any guests we want to invite..." I look expectantly over at Jamie, who rolls her eyes and chuckles.
"Oh no," Jamie laughs. "I was partly to blame for you five fighting in the first place..."
"So..." Dannii teases. "Are you telling me we're NOT welcome at an Angel party AGAIN?"
"You'll be welcome at Angels parties from now until the end of time, I promise," Jamie giggles. "Right, Viks?"
"Yeah," Viks laughs. "AND nights out, when you're old enough!"
"It's just..." Jamie continues. "This party should be about YOU guys, not us."
"Then how about tomorrow night, my place?" Dannii asks smugly. "All Angels are also welcome to attend, of course..."
"I'll be there," Jamie says happily. "Pretty sure I can persuade most of the others to show up too, right Viks?"
"We'll be there," Viks giggles, cuddling Jonathan's arm.
After finishing our coffees, Sarah heads back to her home with Jonathan, whilst Jamie gives me a lift back to my house to change.
"Thank you so much for this," I sigh happily.
"Don't give me all the credit," Jamie says. "What Jonathan said was true: Joshua HAS been looking for other potential Angels groups, so don't expect to be the only ones. Also, expect to be compared to me a LOT, for obvious reasons..."
"I dunno," I say with a warm smile, "I'd take it as a compliment, being compared to you!"
"Aww!" Jamie coos. "I chose the right protégé!"
"I chose the right 'fairy godmother'!" I joke, making us both laugh hysterically.
After arriving home, and telling my parents about my new role (and listening to their inevitable concerns), I spend the rest of the night on Facebook chatting with the rest of the 'Teen Angels'. Dannii and Katie were both quick to re-add myself and Sarah, and whilst it's clear that we have been forgiven, it's going to take a while for us to truly be friends again.
...Something that's driven home when I arrive back at the studio the following day for our 'interview shoot'. Even though we were offered contracts rather than applied for them, the agency still has certain traditions to uphold, and the 'interview photoshoot' as conducted by one of the agency's photographers is one of them. Sarah and Lauren both have classes at college, and as Dannii's already signed to the agency, she doesn't need an interview shoot, meaning that for the first time since I left college, I'll be working alone with Katie.
"Hey Nikki," the stoic girl says as she enters the changing room and immediately starts stripping off.
"Hey Katie," I say as I exchange my plain knee-length denim skirt and turtleneck sweater for the black cocktail dress provided by the studio. "Looking forward to the party tonight?"
"Yeah," Katie says with a smile. "It'll be cool to actually be able to attend an Angel party."
"Yeah, they're pretty fun," I reply, leading to an awkward silence. "Katie... Are we okay?"
"Sure," Katie says with a smile.
"It's just... It doesn't feel like it," I say. "I mean, yes, we've got everything out in the open, I just- I just remember on the first day of college-"
"We're okay, okay?" Katie says with a forced-looking smile. "I mean, you've got me signed to Joshua Benedict, haven't you?" I giggle and nod- if I can't be friendly with Katie, at least for now, I can at least be civil, professional. God knows, that's an improvement on the last few months...
"AND I've got you into the Angels' Monday morning ballet lessons," I say with a cheeky grin. "You, Dannii and Lauren, if they want..."
"Oh my god!" Katie gasps. "Seriously?"
"Well, it wasn't 'me' as much as 'me, Jamie and Viks', but it was an easy sell," I say smugly, pulling on the studio's stilettos and retouching my make-up. "Krystie was actually really disappointed when you and Dannii left her class..." I wince a little inside as, ironically, I feel guilty for attempting to guilt-trip Katie.
"Yeah, well, it'd just have been awkward," Katie sighs. "Have you and Sarah got your pointes yet?"
"Last week," I say smugly, making Katie giggle and give me a quick, awkward hug.
"That's so cool!" Katie enthuses as she pulls on her own stiletto heels. "How are you finding it?"
"Hard going," I sigh. "Probably because it's still new for me and I'm WAY behind all the other students in terms of experience..."
"This time," Katie says firmly, "if you're struggling..."
"I WILL ask my friends for help," I sigh, earning another, slightly less awkward hug from Katie.
"Now come on," the mousy-haired girl says. "Our cameras await!"
After a full half-hour spent posing for and flirting with the camera- a task made easy by Paul, the photographer- I change back into my day clothes and get a lift home from Katie, who bids me farewell with one more hug, devoid of the awkwardness of the early morning and instead full of the loving friendship I'd come to depend on over the last school year. After a quick lunch and dinner, I head to my bedroom to change for the party. Dannii didn’t specify a theme, but I can't simply show up in a slouchy jean skirt, so I change into a two-tone dress that, for once, isn't one of Sarah or Lauren's creations. The skirt is black, around mid-thigh and clingy around my backside (so I keep my black tights on), whilst the top half is dark purple, has long sleeves and a mesh top that just shows off a hint of cleavage. After retouching my make-up yet again and repainting my fingernails a glossy black colour, I pull on my favourite pair of stilettos, grab my handbag and head downstairs to where Sarah has just pulled up in her Mini.
"Hey beautiful," I say, greeting my girlfriend with a long, slow kiss.
"Hey sexy," Sarah whispers- though in her own (handmade, obviously) swishy black dress, she certainly fills all the requirements for 'sexy' herself!
"Do we have to go to Dannii's party?" Sarah moans as we head out to her car.
"It'll just be for tonight," I say. "I'm sure before too long, all the parties will be at Charlotte's mansion."
"Assuming her baby won't mind, of course..." Sarah sighs. When we arrive at Dannii's house, the party is already in full swing- Katie and Lauren are already present, as are Jamie and Viks and their boyfriends, as promised, and Krystie's also shown up with her new boyfriend.
"Hey Snikki!" Dannii squeaks as we enter the pulsing living room. "Soo... When do we see the photos from your interview shoot?"
"Same time you see mine," Sarah says with an obvious forced smile.
"Ooh yes," Dannii says, unfettered by Sarah's hostility. "You and Lauren are wearing your own dresses tomorrow, aren't you?"
"Something that CAN'T be said of my girlfriend," Sarah says, giving me a playful elbow in my ribs. "What've you got to drink?"
"Right over there on the table," Dannii gestures.
"Remember you're driving!" I shout after Sarah as she makes her way to the refreshments, before turning my attention back to Dannii. "I take it you've heard the good news from Krystie?"
"That me and Katie are being added to the Monday morning 'Angel ballet' lessons? I have indeed!" Dannii giggles. "Now I just need to persuade Lauren to break out her old pointe shoes so we can ALL go..." I giggle happily as Dannii becomes her old, ebullient self once again.
"I'm glad we're friends again," I say softly.
"I really, really missed hanging out with you," Dannii says, stealthily placing a hand on my hip, a hand I immediately remove.
"Friends," I say loud enough so that only Dannii can hear. "But I missed hanging out with you too... Lunch at the old college tomorrow?"
"Of course!" Dannii giggles happily. "Hey, does this mean that we're both now full-time models?"
"Umm, I'm pretty sure I'm still a full-time PA for the Angels," I say. "The whole 'Teen Angels' thing is going to take a while to get off the ground, and I do kinda need an income..."
"Hmm, well, it's not like I needed the competition anyway!" Dannii laughs, before flouncing away to fawn over her new boyfriend.
"What were you talking about?" Sarah asks, returning to me with our drinks.
"Oh, just, um, stuff," I stammer. Sarah is clearly unconvinced, but simply shrugs, before grabbing my hand and leading me to a nearby sofa, where we spend the rest of the night drinking and gossiping with friends new, old and new again. We eventually head home to Sarah's house just after 11pm, earning ourselves some stern stares from Beverly as we creep into the house- it IS a school night, after all, and whilst Sarah's still sober, I'm a bit the worse for wear- before we crash into our bed, too tired for anything other than cuddling each other to sleep.
"Hey, wake up," Sarah says, gently prodding my hungover body.
"Unngh," I moan. "Wh- what time is it?"
"Almost 8am!" Sarah laughs. "Good job the Angels have got all their Christmas filming out of the way so you're not needed by them today..."
"Yeah," I moan, rubbing my tired head. "Have fun at college, babe."
"Before I go, Nikki..." Sarah says with a sad twinge to her voice.
"What is it?" I ask.
"Dannii..." Sarah says, visibly holding back tears. "Promise me, please promise me that you and her..."
"YOU'RE the only girl I love," I whisper. "The only girl I'll EVER love."
"Thanks," Sarah says, though I can tell she's still tense. "Because, because if you, if we ever... I don't think I'd be able to live. I literally don't think I could stay alive..." Despite my pounding head and the cold room, I jump out of bed and tightly embrace Sarah, holding her body close to mine until I feel the last of the tension leave her shivering body.
"I love YOU," I whisper. "You, only you, only ever you."
"I love you too," Sarah whispers back, before leaving me with a kiss. I collapse back into bed, but only remain there for another half hour before getting up and showering. Beverly's already left for work, leaving me alone in the house. After checking my phone for messages, I reach into my underwear drawer to get dressed, but in my hungover state, I accidentally open Sarah's drawer instead. I giggle at my mistake and go to shut the drawer, when my eyes are drawn to a small box in the back of the drawer, partially hidden underneath a pile of tights. It's small and square, and covered in a velvety fabric. When I open the box, however, I get the shock of my life.
Inside the box is a beautiful shiny gold ring with a diamond set into the top. Along the inside of the ring is a faint inscription that reads 'Nicola Christine Thomas, my soulmate, my everything'. I start to hyperventilate as I carefully replace the ring box underneath Sarah's tights. I laugh hysterically, glad that the house is empty. After my panic attack subsides, I take stock of the situation. For years, I've literally dreamed of marrying Sarah, of becoming wife and wife... And yet here she is, in possession of an engagement ring with- literally- my name on it. She can't propose to me without my parents' permission- not until my eighteenth birthday anyway- but she wouldn't own a ring such as that unless she intended to use it.
As much as I might like, even fancy Dannii, there's no way I could ever dream of doing anything with her now that I know Sarah's love for me is as great, if not greater than my own. She wants to marry me, to be with me forever... Just as I do her. I won't tell her I found the ring, of course, but I make a note on my phone to visit a jewellers as soon as possible to buy one of my own. My job has left me with a lot of disposable income, and I can't think of any better way of spending it. If Sarah's waiting for my eighteenth birthday, then I will too.
My birthday's three months- to the day- away, but now that I know what Sarah's planning, it may as well be three centuries. What I do know, however, is that on that day, regardless of what the law, Sarah's father and stepmother or Dannii think or say, I will be the happiest woman who ever lived.
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