I gently lower myself into one of the sofas in Charlotte’s vast ‘main room’, taking the weight off my aching feet before slipping off my stiletto heels and massaging the soles of my feet.
“Don’t let Hannah ever catch you doing that,” Viks giggles as she sits down next to me. “Unless you plan on going on Strictly yourself next year…”
“If they’ll have me,” I say, making Viks giggle.
“Why are you over here, anyway, and not with Sarah?” Viks asks. “Still falling out over what you were talking about yesterday?”
“…Sort-of,” I sigh as I look across the room and deep into Sarah’s deep blue-grey eyes.
“Sarah Jennifer Phillips,” I’d asked as we laid in bed this morning. “Will you marry me?”
“Uhh,” Sarah moaned, panicking almost to the point of hyperventilation. “Ni-Nikki, I- I-“
“Just- ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” I whispered. “Preferably ‘yes’…”
“Nikki…” Sarah whispered. “The- the ring’s beautiful. But…”
“No,” I moaned, tears forming in my eyes. “Please, please no ‘but’s…”
“We ARE only eighteen,” Sarah sighed. “We’re still young, we’ve got all our lives ahead of us…”
“I want to spend that life with you,” I said, not lowering the ring. “You as much as said the exact same thing. Please…”
“I- I don’t know that I’m ready yet,” Sarah whispered.
“Then why do you even HAVE an engagement ring?” I wailed. “You don’t buy an engagement ring unless you plan on proposing. You don’t propose unless you plan on getting married…”
“…I bought it just after my birthday,” Sarah sighed. “Using some money from my trust fund… I was going to ask eventually, I swear I was…”
“What changed?” I asked, slowly lowering my own ring. “You can’t have returned it, I saw the inscription inside it…”
“I- I changed,” Sarah whispered.
“Did your feelings about me change?” I asked.
“No, never,” Sarah said. “But I was young then, foolish, immature…”
“…And now you’re more mature… You don’t want to marry me?” I asked, closing the ring box as bile started to rise in my throat.
“Now… I don’t know what I want,” Sarah sighed.
“But you do,” I retorted. “You said so yourself, you’re never going to go anywhere, and I want to commit to you, forever and ever.”
“We’re still only eighteen,” Sarah whispered. “Everyone else will say we’re too young.”
“It doesn’t matter what they think,” I pleaded. “It only matters what we think. I am never, ever going to stop loving you, Sarah. You said the same about me. Yes, we’re young. Yes, we’ve got the rest of our lives… So why not spend it together? You never said ‘no’, Sarah. So I’ll ask again: will you please marry me?”
“What do you mean, ‘sort-of’?” Viks asks. “Oh, never mind, tell me later. Here she comes…!” I smile as I stare up at the widescreen television that’s been placed at the end of the vast room. On it, the familiar logo of BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing spins into view, closely followed by the smiling, beautiful form of our friend Hannah and her professional dance partner Robin. The whole room watches enthralled as the tall man whips Hannah around the dancefloor in a beautiful quickstep, Hannah’s long, flowing dress sweeping around her with every step she takes. Everyone in the room gives Hannah a standing ovation at the end of the dance, and a second one when her score- 30 points out of a total possible 40- comes back.
“She is so cool,” I sigh happily.
“I know, I love her, I really do,” Viks sighs. “So what’s up with you and Sarah?” I take a deep breath before slipping my heels back on my sore feet.
“Excuse me,” I whisper to the confused dark-haired woman. With a shake in my step- from both nerves and my impractical shoes- I walk to the front of the room, in front of the big screen, and grab one of the nearby microphones.
“Hi everyone,” I say with a shaky voice, instantly grabbing the attention of all the partygoers. “Umm, sorry for interrupting Strictly, umm, Sarah- Sarah and I have something we need to tell you all.” Sarah stares at me with a stoic expression on her face as she reties her ponytail and joins me behind the microphone. The room watches on in silence as I take Sarah’s hands in mine, before gazing deeply into her eyes.
“Sarah,” I say with a shaky voice. “Ever since I met you four years ago, I have loved you more and more with every passing day. You complete me, mind, body and soul, and I will be forever yours.”
“Nikki,” Sarah whispers, barely loud enough for the crowd to hear. “Before I met you, I never thought I would be lucky enough to have someone in my life who brings me so much joy every hour of every day. You are truly my soul mate, I love you with every atom of my being, and I will be forever yours.”
“Sarah Jennifer Phillips,” I whisper as I slowly sink to my knees, eliciting shocked gasps from the crowd.
“Nicola Christine Thomas,” Sarah says, a wide grin spreading across her face as she joins me in kneeling.
“-Will you marry me?” We both ask simultaneously, prompting cheers from the crowd as we immediately jump up and hug each other tightly, tears streaming down both of our faces.
“Yes, obviously!” I say, making Sarah giggle uncontrollably.
“Yes!” Sarah squeaks at the same time as she tightens her grip on my body. The entire crowd goes wild, completely forgetting about the TV show on the screen behind me, as I take my ring out of my handbag for the last time and slowly slide it onto the third finger on Sarah’s left hand. Still shaking with nerves, Sarah reaches into her handbag and pulls out her ring, the same ring I first say so many months ago and haven’t seen since. Her hands are shaking so much that she nearly drops it on the floor, but is ultimately able to slide it onto my finger before kissing me again one more time.
“Oh my god oh my god!” Katie squeaks, launching herself at myself and Sarah in a tight hug. “You guys! This is so incredible!”
“At last!” Charlotte laughs as she approaches me and Sarah, giving us both long, tight hugs. Sarah and I giggle uncontrollably as literally every single person in the room- even ‘friends of friends’ that we barely know- come over to us and give us tight, friendly hugs and demands to see our rings- demands we both happily oblige! Last, but most definitely not least, is my mentor, who gives me a long, tight hug before comparing her own engagement ring to mine.
“This is so amazing,” Jamie sighs happily. “But you know you’re in a queue, right?”
“Yeah, and you’re third in it!” Viks interrupts, making Jamie and I laugh.
“Don’t worry, we’re not getting married immediately,” Sarah laughs. “We’ve talked it over, we’re going to wait until, at the earliest, I’ve graduated and Nikki’s had her SRS.”
“Sensible,” Jamie says. “So why get engaged immediately?”
“…Yes,” Sarah whispered, making my body shake with excitement. “Yes, I will marry you, Nikki.”
“You- you will?” I responded.
“Of course I will,” Sarah said, giving me a soft, gentle kiss. “I love you. Ultimately, I want us to get married and to spend the rest of our lives together.”
“’Ultimately’?” I asked, making Sarah chuckle.
“Oh my god, you are so insecure!” Sarah sighed with a smile on her face. “We ae still a bit young to get MARRIED, but you know what? We’re not too young to agree to get married. Which, if I’m right, is also known as ‘getting engaged’, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” I whispered, still trembling with excitement as Sarah smiled at me. “Why- why did you change your mind?”
“Who says I changed my mind?” Sarah said with a coy smile. “I needed to know that this was what I truly wanted, and what you truly wanted… And it is. I’ve told you in the past that I’m not straight, I’m not gay, I’m not a lesbian… I’m strictly ‘Nikkisexual’. After uni, or maybe earlier, say when we were both twenty, I’d probably- no, I’d definitely have proposed to you.”
“…I was kinda waiting for that,” I said, my cheeks starting to flush. “What girl doesn’t want to be proposed to be the ‘person’ of their dreams? Literally, the girl of my dreams.” Sarah giggled before getting out bed, making me stand as she dropped to one knee in front of me.
“Nicola Christine Thomas,” Sarah said in a quiet, serious voice, “will you please marry me?”
“Do you even need to ask?” I whispered as tears streamed down my face. “Yes, of course I will!” Sarah laughed as she stood up and we wrapped our arms around each other.
“You know,” Sarah whispered, “it is still only 6:15… Want to go back to bed and, umm, ‘consummate our engagement’?”
“You said it, fiancée!” I said as I got back in bed, making Sarah’s grin grow even wider.
“Too right, fiancée!” Sarah giggled as she gave me a long, deep kiss. “And that’s fiancée with TWO Es. You are going to be the most beautiful bride ever!”
“Second most beautiful bride ever,” I whispered as our bodies quickly became entwined.
“…Why wait?” Sarah asks, making Jamie giggle. “Besides, we’ve been going out for four years, you and Stuart were only going out eighteen months when you got engaged…”
“Touché, touché,” Jamie giggles. “Remember our deal though, Nikki- a bridesmaid for a bridesmaid!”
“We’re not- we’re not even going to start PLANNING the wedding until after my SRS,” I laugh. “That could be another two years… But okay, you can be my bridesmaid!” I laugh as Jamie giggles and gives me another excited hug.
“Any idea on who’s going to be your maid of honour?” Jamie probes, making me groan frustratedly.
“I just said, no planning yet!” I laugh. “We want to relax and enjoy being engaged first. God knows I’ve not been relaxing much lately…” I sigh happily as Sarah wraps her arm around my waist and pulls me in for a tight cuddle.
“Hopefully now the nightmares and the stress will go,” Sarah laughs. “Guess I need to pick bridesmaids too… Sorry Jamie, but you can’t be bridesmaid to BOTH of us!”
“Oh my god,” Jamie giggles. “Two brides, loads of bridesmaids, two flower girls and absolutely NO guys? This is going to be the girliest wedding ever!”
“I know!” I squeak excitedly. “Well, ‘womanliest’, as we’re both going to be in our twenties when we actually tie the knot!”
“Well long engagement or not, you two are SO having an engagement party!” Jamie laughs.
“You haven’t even had one yet!” Sarah complains. “I know, it’s not really your fault- or Stuart’s, I guess- but still…”
“We’ll just have an extra-large engagement party when Stu’s back on his feet,” Jamie shrugs. “I’ll call around caterers on Monday, get back to you. Just call it my treat!” I laugh tiredly as Jamie practically skips away and I lead my fiancée to one of the room’s many sofas.
“Think you just had your maid of honour chosen for you,” Sarah giggles as she rests her head on my shoulder.
“I dunno, it’s weird,” I laugh. “I always thought that when I got married, my best friend would be my maid of honour.”
“Same here,” Sarah says with a sly smirk. “I much prefer this arrangement, though- where I get to marry my best friend!” I giggle as I share yet another kiss with my new fiancée, which of course prompts half the room to snap us with their phones- which of course prompts Sarah and I to kiss yet again!
“Are you ready?” Sarah asked as I finished applying my make-up and straightened the black tights underneath my short grey skirt.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I sighed, linking hands with my brand-new fiancée and walking downstairs.
“Morning, you two!” Dad chuckled. “You’re looking happy this morning, even more than usual for a Saturday! Is uni THAT tiring, Sarah?”
“Yes,” Sarah said coyly. “But I may have other reasons to be happy!”
“Oh?” Dad asked. “Care to share why?” Sarah and I both giggled as the middle-aged man looked at us with confusion in his eyes.
“Well, we don’t want to give anything away just yet,” I said, making Sarah giggle harder. “You, on the other hand, will, a couple of years from now…” Dad’s eyes grew wide with shock as Sarah held up her hand, showing the beautiful ring that had took up residence on her third finger.
“You- you’re getting married!?” Dad asked incredulously. “Sandra! Get down here!”
“What is it?” mum tiredly asked as she walked down the stairs and took Jenny from dad’s arms.
“Take a look at Sarah’s left hand,” dad ordered, making me and my new fiancée giggle as mum’s eyes bulged just as wide as my dad’s had.
“You- you’re engaged!?” Mum squeaked, her tiredness instantly disappearing. “Are you sure this is what you both really want?”
“One hundred per cent,” I said.
“One TRILLION per cent,” Sarah chuckled.
“Then I’m so, so happy for you both,” mum said, handing Jenny back to dad and giving us both long, tight hugs.
“Thanks, ‘future mum-in-law’!” Sarah giggled.
“When Nikki was-“ mum began, before pausing and sighing. “When Nikki was, well, ‘Nick’, we’d always hoped that he- as SHE was back then- would find a woman who would make him- again, as SHE was back then- truly happy. Just because Nick became Nikki, it didn’t mean that hope for HER changed one bit. And I’m so, so glad it’s come to pass. So… Welcome to the family, I guess!” I sighed happily, tears welling in my eyes as my mum embraced her future daughter-in-law
“Still so amazing,” Jamie sighed as she saw Sarah and I out of her house at the end of the ‘party’. “We are going to be spending a LOT of time in bridal shops over the coming few months!”
“For your wedding only!” I giggle, before a familiar extra-tall blonde figure catches my eye. “Umm, excuse us…” Sarah grimaces as she follows my eye line, before nodding and following me over to the leggy girl as she gets in her boyfriend’s car.
“Hey Dannii,” I say.
“Hey girlies!” Dannii says with a forced-looking smile on her face. “Or should I say ‘girly fiancées’?”
“The second one’s better,” Sarah chuckles.
“We didn’t get to speak to you in there… Are you okay?” I ask.
“Sure,” Dannii shrugs. “Paul’s kinda in a hurry to get home, but I’ll see you on Wednesday at ballet, okay?”
“Sure,” I say as Dannii and her boyfriend drive away, before turning to my new fiancée. “…Sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry for,” Sarah says, squeezing my hand. “It’s not like you have any feelings for her, right?”
“None at all,” I say. “I just don’t like the thought that our engagement might make other people unhappy, that’s all…”
“THEIR problem,” Sarah says firmly. “Especially in Dannii’s case.”
“You’re right,” I say with a wide smile. “Especially after all she’s done.”
“We’ll still send her an invitation, of course,” Sarah says. “Sat somewhere at the back, near the fire extinguishers, maybe.” I giggle happily as Sarah drives us back to her home, where it takes us no time to head up to her bedroom to ‘consummate our engagement’ once again.
Sarah’s alarm clock wakes me from a dreamless sleep at 8:30am, and I sigh happily as Sarah stirs next to me, the beautiful ring on her left hand sparkling in the early morning sunlight as she switches off her alarm.
“Morning, fiancée,” I coo to Sarah, giving her a long kiss as she cuddles the bed sheets around the two of us.
“Morning, fiancée,” Sarah coos back. “24 hours of engagement- well, 26, technically- no regrets yet?”
“The only regret is that I didn’t ask you sooner,” I say, giving Sarah another kiss. “Not that the stress wasn’t worth it if it got me to right here, right now, but still…”
“The important thing is that we ARE right here, right now,” Sarah says, kissing me back. “Come on, get showered and dressed, we’ve got to break the news to my mum…” I nod and give Sarah yet another kiss before sliding out of bed and heading to Sarah’s shower. Once we’re both thoroughly cleaned, perfectly made-up and dressed in clean, loose dresses and shiny black tights, the two of us walk downstairs hand-in-hand to find Beverly already awake and waiting for us.
“Morning, girls!” Beverly says, giving me the same tingle of happiness I always get whenever anyone- no matter how well I know them- addresses me unambiguously as a girl. “Good night last night?”
“It was pretty good, yes,” Sarah says, smiling at me. “Mum… We have something we need to tell you.” I take a deep breath as Beverly looks at us stoically. She’s probably the most intelligent person I know, so I don’t doubt that she’s already figured out what our ‘news’ is- we wouldn’t be breaking up if we were holding hands and I lost the ability to impregnate Sarah a long, long time ago, which leaves two options- we’re moving in together, or we’re engaged. Or both…
“Nikki and I…” Sarah whispers. “We- we’re getting married.”
“I had a feeling that was what you were going to tell me,” Beverly says, getting up from her chair and giving us both quick hugs. “Obviously, I still think you’re both too young for this, but you are both adults and can make your own decisions… And I know you’ll both make each other so, so happy.”
“We’re not going to rush into getting married,” Sarah says. “Uni’s my first focus, but once that’s done, it won’t be long before we tie the knot.”
“And it’ll be after I’ve recovered from my SRS, too,” I say.
“But I wanted to make the commitment NOW,” Sarah says. “Well, the ‘commitment to commit’, anyway… I know some people say they’ll get ‘engaged to be engaged’ but that just seems pointless…”
“You don’t need to justify yourself to me!” Beverly chuckles. “If you want my blessing, then yes, you obviously have it. Who else have you told?”
“My parents,” I say.
“And our friends last night,” Sarah continues. “Nikki actually proposed yesterday morning but we had a sort-of ‘mutual proposal’ at Charlotte’s last night…”
“I wish I’d been there to see it,” Beverly sighs happily. “My only daughter get engaged to the girl of her dreams… I’m glad you’re both happy. Are you going to call your father to tell him?”
“Ooh, now that’s a treat I want to save for another time,” Sarah says with a wicked grin. “Really want to see the look on the dragon’s face when I break the news!”
“I want to see the look on her face when she finds out she’s going to have a transgendered stepdaughter-in-law!” I giggle. “Believe it or not, she STILL doesn’t know the quote-unquote ‘truth’ about me…”
“Just be careful not to antagonise her too much,” Beverly advises. “You don’t want her to sever all contact with you, I know your father will want to walk you down the aisle and your half-brother and sister will definitely want to be at the wedding.”
“We won’t push TOO hard,” I say, before mine & Sarah’s phone both beep with new text message alerts.
“Let me guess- ‘congratulations’?” Beverly asks with a chuckle.
“Yep,” I laugh. “Jamie and the rest of the girls inviting us out to lunch…”
“We should get changed!” Sarah giggles.
“You only just got dressed,” Beverly sighs, her chuckle growing louder. “But you go on, celebrate as much as you can! As long as it doesn’t interfere with your work or your uni, of course.”
“Of course,” Sarah giggles as she texts Jamie back to let her know we’ll be on our way, before leading me back upstairs to pick out an outfit for the meal.
“Pity Jacinta and Ophelia can’t make it to the meal,” Sarah muses as she swaps her dress and her tights for a slinkier, darker outfit.
“Where do they live again?” I ask.
“Brighton,” Sarah says. “So I guess it’s not too far, but public transport on a Sunday…”
“Yeah, it’s a shame,” I say. “If we get that party Jamie’s promising though, we are SO inviting them to that.”
“Really?” Sarah asks. “It wouldn’t make you too jealous to have them along?”
“Jacinta’s really nice,” I say. “I actually do want to get to know her better. And Ophelia, well… Yeah. But why would I be jealous when I can look at you and see this?” I gently stroke Sarah’s newest ring, making her giggle.
“If- if you hadn’t found the ring,” Sarah asks, “would you have bought one yourself?”
“…Eventually,” I say. “I don’t know when, maybe after you graduated. Finding the ring definitely ‘forced the issue’…”
“Knew I should’ve picked a better hiding place than buried in a pile of tights,” Sarah giggles as she enhances her make-up ahead of our meal.
“I’m glad you didn’t,” I say, kissing Sarah on her newly-reddened lips. After changing into a slinky, dark purple dress of my own, I follow Sarah down to her car, and we soon find ourselves in a very fancy London restaurant surrounded by virtually all of our friends.
“Every year,” Jamie toasts. “’Mad week’ just gets madder and madder. This year, we celebrate no fewer than SIX of our friends. To Jon, for making it through twenty-six years without dying or going mad- for the most part- to Mary, for twenty-five years or the exact same thing, and to Hannah, for twenty-three years of the same thing. To my amazing, awesome new fiancé Stuart, for- not entirely metaphorically- growing a pair.” I gaze over at the young man, who is still clearly under the weather (not to mention confined to a wheelchair) but happy following his operation, and smile at the revelation that for the first time ever, he has in his trousers that which I’ve wanted to be free from for the last eighteen and a half years.
“And last, but not least,” Jamie announces. “To Nikki and Sarah, who will both soon be blushing young brides!” Sarah and I both blush as everyone around the table raises their glasses and loudly cheers.
“So then,” Charlotte says to myself and Sarah. “Sounds like there’s a lot of bridesmaid spaces that need filling?”
“Give us a chance, we only got engaged yesterday!” Sarah laughs. “We’re not getting married for at least two years, we just want to sit back and enjoy being engaged first.”
“And it’s not like we can’t have, say, ten bridesmaids each,” I say, making Sarah nearly choke on her water.
“I think we just decided that it WON’T be a small ceremony,” Sarah says, making the whole table laugh as we celebrate through the afternoon and into the early hours of the evening. All throughout the lunch, though, I can’t help but observe that Sarah isn’t 100% happy- and when Katie and Lauren leave early (citing a need to work on their uni projects), it becomes immediately obvious why Sarah’s unhappy.
The smile gradually returns to Sarah’s face throughout the evening, and by the time we head to bed- Sarah having also worked on her project throughout the evening- she’s positively buzzing with energy, and we once again end the night in each other’s arms, covered in each other’s sweat, before falling into a deep, deep sleep.
Once again, Sarah’s alarm clock wakes me from a dreamless to sleep to find that my fiancée is already up and dressed for her day ahead.
“Morning, fiancée!” Sarah giggles, giving me a long, deep kiss. “Didn’t want to waste any time, I’ve got an early lecture, I hope you understand…”
“Sure,” I say, returning Sarah’s kiss. “See you at lunch?”
“You’d better!” Sarah giggles, before slipping her feet into a pair of boots very similar to the ones I wore last week, grabbing her handbag and heading out of the door- after giving me one more kiss, of course. As I’m not needed at work today I stay in bed until after 9am- listening to Beverly also leave the house- before getting up, showering and dressing in a very plain long-sleeved grey top, patterned black tights and a pleated dark grey miniskirt. After pulling on a comfortable pair of flats- my feet have taken enough punishment from heels and pointe shoes over the last week- I grab my handbag and head home on the tube, greeting mum and Jenny with long hugs as I walk through the front door.
“Hi Nikki,” mum says as she releases me and lets me cuddle my baby sister. “How did Beverly take the news?”
“She was happy for us,” I say. “She was kinda cautious, which is understandable I guess, I mean, Sarah IS her only child…”
“She should think of it as ‘gaining a daughter-in-law’, not ‘losing a daughter’,” mum says. “That’s certainly the way we’re looking at it!”
“First you lost a son, now you’re losing the same daughter,” I say with a chuckle.
“Noooo,” mum says firmly. “As I said, I’m not losing a child, I’m gaining a daughter-in-law! Besides, Sarah’s practically family already…”
“Wonder if you’ll say the same thing in twenty years when Jenny finds the love of her life,” I muse as I gently rock the giggling infant.
“As long as she finds a man- or woman- who makes her as happy as Sarah makes you, then we’ll be happy,” mum says. I laugh as a thought, prompted by Jamie’s fiancé’s presence at lunch yesterday, pops into my head.
“What if Jenny decides in sixteen years to become ‘Jonny’,” I ask. “And HE finds HIMself a man or woman?”
“If that’s her decision, then we’ll support her just as much as we supported you,” mum says. “Doubt that’ll happen, though, she absolutely ADORES everything girly. You know, every time I clean your room and take her in there with me, she can’t stop laughing? Reckon that when you get her in her flower girl dress, she’ll never take it off. You ARE making her flower girl, right?”
“Well, duh?” I reply, making mum giggle. “Can’t think of anyone better to be the THIRD most beautiful girl at the ceremony...”
“Speaking of,” mum says, getting out her phone. “Say cheese!”
“Ugh, why did I ever tell you about Instagram,” I sigh as mum takes a picture of me with my sister on my lap.
“Time for her feed,” mum laughs as she takes Jenny from me. “On the subject of food, I take it you’re going to meet with Sarah at lunch?”
“Yep!” I say happily. “Should probably get going, just need to send a few emails for work first.”
“Well, give my love to Sarah when you see her,” mum says, taking Jenny into the kitchen and leaving me alone with my iPad. I head out a short while later, again taking the tube to the London College of Fashion, where I find my fiancée sat at her usual lunch table with our old and new friends.
“Hey Nikkiancée!” Sarah squeaks, jumping up and giving me a tight hug.
“Hey Sarahancée!” I giggle, returning Sarah’s hug and giving her a kiss before sitting down next to her.
“Oh my god, you two are STILL so cute,” Katie gushes.
“I can’t believe you’re getting married!” Jacinta squeaks excitedly. “Show me the rings! Show me the rings!” Sarah and I both giggle as we hold out our left hands for Jacinta and Ophelia to inspect, making Jacinta sigh happily as Ophelia remains her usual aloof self.
“It’s still only just sinking in for me,” Sarah says. “But it’s back to reality today, I guess…”
“Don’t sound too disappointed, miss ‘I’ve been waiting my whole life to go to uni’!” Lauren teases Sarah, who giggles uncontrollably.
“I guess it’s just like the whole weekend was an adrenaline rush,” Sarah sighs. “I mean, I’m still the same old me, I’m just engaged to be married to the girl of my dreams!”
“Well, I’m sure we can keep the adrenaline levels up for you,” Katie giggles. “Though we will want something in return for this, say, a bridesmaid’s dress or two?”
“Oh my god,” I giggle as I bury my face in my palms.
“Ugh,” Sarah half-laughs, half-sighs. “Give us a chance, we only just got engaged. Get a bridesmaid’s dress now and it’ll be hanging in your closet for the next three years!”
“Gives me a chance to start working on designs, then!” Lauren says, making Sarah and myself both groan again.
“Why get engaged, then?” Katie asks. “I mean, if you’re not going to immediately jump into planning your wedding- which is, of course, the most fun part!”
“What, the wedding or the planning?” Sarah asks.
“Everything wedding-related!” Katie giggles. “That is the reason you got engaged, right?”
“Not exactly, not the main reason,” I say as I lean in closer to my fiancée. “The main reason I got engaged is called Sarah J. Phillips!”
“Aww, that is so, so sweet,” Jacinta sighs as Sarah and I share a kiss.
“I mean, yeah, when I was younger, I’d literally dream of being a bride,” I say. “But now that I’m a teeny-tiny bit older, I realise that I’d rather be a wife.”
“Though she’s settling for ‘fiancée’ for the next few years!” Sarah says, making me and the other girls giggle.
“So please,” I say. “Talk about something that isn’t a wedding, your coursework, your next student party, whatever!” The whole table giggles again as the other girls dutifully change the topic and start discussing the morning’s lectures, before leaving a short while later to return to their classes. I take the opportunity to head home, where I start to realise what Sarah said about the ‘adrenaline rush’- after the excitement of the weekend, the parties, telling our parents… Going back to work tomorrow will seem almost- for want of a better word- boring by comparison.
“Afternoon, future wife of my future daughter-in-law!” Dad chuckles as I walk through the front door and collapse on the sofa.
“Afternoon,” I say tiredly.
“Oh please, lunch wasn’t THAT tiring, was it?” Dad chuckles.
“No, that was the weekend,” I say, making dad chuckle.
“Right, well it’s Monday today and you’ve work tomorrow, so stop wilting!” My father orders.
“Oh, what is this?” I ask. “Give me a break…”
“I can see that look on your face,” dad says. “Even underneath the vast amount of make-up you always slap on it.”
“What look?” I ask.
“The look that says ‘I can never be satisfied’,” dad says.
“I AM satisfied,” I moan. “I got my ‘happy ending’, didn’t I? I got the girl, didn’t I?”
“Yes and yes,” dad replies. “And now you’ve got nothing to obsess over and it’s a completely foreign experience for you.”
“Oh- what the f- flip do you mean?” I ask, conscious of my baby sister playing on the living room floor.
“Let’s look back over your life,” dad says, sitting back with an almost smug look on his face. “Aged fourteen, you’d spend every weekend desperate to reach the weekend and see Sarah, Aged 15, you were obsessed with growing your hair and even more obsessed with Sarah. You were obsessive about getting to your sixteenth birthday- I’ll say no more about THAT one- you were obsessed over your exams, over coming out to us, over your body changing due to the hormones, you were stressed out about college, then about leaving college, you were obsessive over reaching your eighteenth birthday so you could propose, then you obsessed over proposing…”
“Point?” I ask.
“You’ve put all the stress, all the obsession, in the past where it belongs,” dad says. “You got your happy ending, you got the girl, so sit back and relax! Enjoy it a little.”
“I’m doing that exact thing,” I retort. “Sarah and I aren’t planning anything to do with the wedding for the foreseeable future, we’re just going to enjoy being engaged.”
“Your mouth says that,” dad says, “but I know you. A month from now you’ll have tried on a hundred different wedding dresses. Or you’ll obsess over something else, maybe your ‘final operation’…”
“So what if I do?” I ask. “It’s my life, I’ll live it at 100mph if I want…”
“…Living your life fast is fine,” dad advised, “as long as you don’t go face-first into a brick wall.”
“I haven’t so far, have I?” I ask.
“You’re still only eighteen,” dad says. “You’ve already done so much… It wouldn’t hurt you to slow down a little.”
“I’ve got sixteen years of life to make up for,” I say. “Life I spent as a gender I hated being.”
“Looking at you now,” dad says, “I’d have a hard time believing that you were ever a boy. And I saw you for every single day of those sixteen years. Trust me- you’re doing fine on that regard.”
“…Thanks,” I say as dad smiles at me. “Do- do you ever miss having a son?”
“Whenever I do,” dad says, “I always remind myself about the amazing daughter I gained. Don’t forget that before you were born, we would’ve been happy with a boy or a girl. We just wish you’d told us earlier so we didn’t have to spend so much money on clothes that never got worn!” I let out a long, happy giggle, before taking dad’s advice and relaxing back on the sofa, letting all my anxieties slip away. The more I think about it, the more I realise that dad’s right- I’ve been obsessing over the ring for so long it feels weird to not obsess over it. But where dad’s wrong is that the obsession wasn’t about the ring, it was about Sarah- and every question I needed her to answer has been answered with the answer I wanted to hear. In fact, every question I needed anyone to answer, about Sarah, my transition or anything else, has been answered with the answer I wanted to hear.
My fiancée returns home just after 4:30pm and immediately joins me on the sofa, cuddling up next to me and convincing me even further that I have nothing to worry or obsess about- unless you count ‘enjoying a happy life’ as an obsession.
“Good day at uni?” I ask Sarah, who responds by cuddling herself even closer to me.
“Just as amazing as always,” Sarah replies.
“Still on an ‘adrenaline crash’?” I ask, making my fiancée giggle.
“A bit,” Sarah laughs. “Once I got stuck into my work it got a little better, it’s like, you know, life goes on as normal, the only difference is that we’re engaged…”
“It IS a big difference,” I say. “A big change…”
“But a change for the better,” Sarah sighs happily.
“Do you have any work to do for tomorrow?” I ask Sarah, who smiles at me.
“A little,” my fiancée replies. “But it can wait for now.” I smile at Sarah as we relax back on the sofa and unwind watching TV. Sure enough, Sarah does do a little work before we head to bed, but unlike last week, she lets me help with every sentence she types, seeking my opinion before moving on, even though I have nothing productive to contribute.
The following morning, for the first time in a while, I wake first, showering, applying my make-up and pulling on my usual work ‘uniform’ all before Sarah even begins to stir. As her beautiful blue eyes slowly open, I crouch down next to her face and gently tease her nose with a soft kiss, making her moan happily.
“Morning, fiancée!” I whisper, making Sarah smile.
“Morning, fiancée!” Sarah whispers, before giving me a long, soft kiss. “Seeing what I mean by ‘adrenaline crash’ yet?”
“Truthfully, I was feeling it yesterday,” I giggle as I stand up and straighten my tights. “I mean, yes, I’m wearing the same old blouse, the same old skirt, the same old heels… But NOT the same old jewellery!” Sarah giggles as she stretches the tiredness out of her body and slowly slides out from underneath the covers, smiling as she pads toward the bathroom. After Sarah’s showered and dressed, we head down to my car together where we spend several minutes simply making out, both before we set off and as I drop her off outside her university campus. After fixing my understandably-smudged lipstick, I drive my car to my next destination- the posh suburban home of my ‘boss’ for the day.
“Hey, birthday girl!” I say to Mary as she slides onto the passenger seat of my car. “Did you have a good time in Belfast?”
“Good as always,” Mary says, before pulling my left hand off of my gearstick. “And look at you, Miss fiancée! Couldn’t have waited until I got back before popping the question?”
“It’s already on YouTube,” I shrug, making Mary laugh. “And in truth, I’d already waited so long… It really was starting to drive me crazy.”
“Well I’m glad everything worked out,” Mary says. “You and Sarah make such a cute couple… Have you set a date yet? Have you picked bridesmaids? I’ve got about twenty Pinterest boards full of bridal ideas, you’re welcome to any of them whenever you want…”
“Whoa, back up a little!” I giggle. “We only got engaged three days ago, we’re not planning on actually tying the knot for several years…”
“Have you at least picked out a church?” Mary asks.
“Know many churches that’ll happily marry two women to each other?” I ask, making Mary pause.
“Sure, that never even occurred to me,” Mary chuckles. “I don’t think of you and Sarah as a lesbian couple, I just think of you as ‘a couple’…”
“I mean yes,” I sigh. “I’d love to get married in a big, fancy church… But as long as Sarah’s there, I don’t really mind where I get married. Hell, Charlotte’s back yard would be more than fine, with Joshua or someone performing the ceremony…”
“Joshua wouldn’t,” Mary says. “He’s a devoted Anglican, he wouldn’t get one of those online ordinations… Krystie probably would, though. Stuart’s also an atheist, I think, so he wouldn’t object either…”
“As I said,” I laugh. “We’ve got plenty of time to think about this. Not getting married until I’ve had my SRS and Sarah’s graduated.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Mary laughs. “It’s just so exciting, first Viks, then Jamie, now you… Sure, your wedding’s going to have two brides in it! That means plenty of bridesmaid spaces up for grabs, right?”
“Please, can we change the subject?” I say, making Mary laugh.
“Come on,” the Irishwoman giggles. “Surely you love chatting about weddings and dresses and all things girly?”
“More than anything,” I sigh. “I just- I just can’t afford to get obsessed yet again…”
“Eh, it’s your wedding,” Mary shrugs. “Are you at least going to have a proper engagement party?”
“Now THAT I’m happy to talk about!” I say, making Mary giggle yet again as we head to her place of work for today, where we remain until long into the afternoon as Mary models dozens of bikinis and one-piece swimsuits (several of which she turns over to me at the end of the shoot). After dropping Mary off at her home, I head straight to Sarah’s house, arriving just after 3:30pm. Finding myself alone in the house, I break out my personal iPad and open up the Pinterest app, quickly finding Mary’s numerous wedding-related boards.
As I scroll through all the images, though, it quickly dawns on me just what a massive undertaking the wedding will be. In addition to the venue, the minister, the dresses, the bridesmaids, the bridesmaids’ dresses, I have to worry about the reception, the cake, the invitations, the place settings, the decorations of the reception venue, the flowers, my hair, my make-up, my nails, Sarah’s hair, Sarah’s make-up, Sarah’s nails… It slowly begins to dawn on me just why most eighteen year olds don’t immediately jump into getting married. Hell, I’m beginning to think that even with the three years we’ve given ourselves, we won’t have enough time to plan this wedding, especially with Sarah spending most of her free time on her studies…
“Hey, fiancée!” Sarah giggles as she returns from university and cuddles up next to me on the sofa. “Good day at work?”
“Yeah,” I sigh. “Long day, though…”
“Aww, poor you,” Sarah coos mockingly. “Having to hang out all day with supermodels, having to take home an armful of cute swimsuits…”
“…That I won’t get to wear for ages as it’s October,” I retort, making Sarah giggle. “Mary was excited about the engagement, obviously.”
“As she should be,” Sarah says. “What are you looking at on your iPad? Is that Pinterest?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Mary’s Pinterest, actually. She recommended I look at it for wedding ideas.”
“We have three years to worry about it!” Sarah laughs. “There’s no rush yet, surely?”
“…You’d have thought,” I sigh. “There- there’s so much to look into, so much to plan…”
“…All of which can wait!” Sarah insists. “It’s not like either of us are going anywhere. Just look at my left hand if you need any further proof. You- you still want to get married, right? Because if you’re having doubts now-“
“No doubts,” I say firmly. “I want to marry you. I want to BE married to you, and everything that entails…”
“…Including getting our own place?” Sarah asks, making me stand up from the sofa and stretch my body out to relieve the tension.
“…Okay,” I say. “We- we have moved too fast, haven’t we?”
“If you’re having second thoughts, it’s only natural,” Sarah whispers. “Even if we forget the wedding there’s so much we need to do, we still need to tell our grandparents, I need to tell my dad…”
“I’m not having second thoughts about loving you,” I say. “Not about wanting to marry you, I’ll ALWAYS be certain about that. It’s just…”
“You don’t need to say it,” Sarah says. “I know what you mean. It’s too much to think about right now, we’re in too deep…”
“I don’t want to cancel the engagement,” I say. “No way, not ever. I don’t want us to go backwards…”
“…But that doesn’t mean we have to keep pushing forwards,” Sarah says. “If we stretch out this metaphor a bit further… I like it where we are now. So how about this- for the next 365 days, we don’t do, say or even think a single thing about our wedding. We just stay where we are, in our comfort zone, and enjoy being together as fiancées. Deal?”
“Three hundred and sixty-SIX days,” I retort. “It’s a leap year next year.”
“366 days it is!” Sarah says as I return to the sofa and wrap myself around my fiancée, my father’s caution of not becoming ‘obsessed’ floating around my mind as I know the next 366 days may well be the longest year of my life…
Sarah and I spend the rest of the evening on the sofa, Sarah catching up with uni work whilst I catch up with Netflix. Beverly is understandably pleased to hear about our ‘wedding ban’ when she returns from work, calling our decision ‘very mature’- which for her is a very high compliment. As Sarah and I head to bed, our bodies entwined, all I can think about is how much I adore Sarah, and how there’s nowhere I’d rather be than in her arms.
“Do you, Nicola Christine Thomas,” the minister says boldly, “take this woman, Sarah Jennifer Phillips, to be your lawfully wedded wife?”
“I do,” I say, my voice trembling with nerves.
“And do you, Sarah Jennifer Phillips,” the minister says, turning to face Sarah. “Take this woman, Nicola Christine Thomas, to be your lawfully wedded wife?”
“I do,” Sarah whispers. “In 366 days’ time.” I stare at Sarah’s beautiful face as time seems to stand still, and I sigh heavily as I realise that nothing that’s happening is real.
“This is a dream!” I yell, causing the minister, the church, the congregation and Sarah herself to melt into nothingness as I slowly open my eyes to find myself in bed with my fiancée, our arms loosely wrapped around each other. I sigh heavily as I rest my head back on the pillow and try to get back to sleep, but the thin streams of sunlight poking through Sarah’s curtains tells me that I’ll be getting up in mere minutes anyway, even though Sarah’s not at university today and I won’t be at work until the afternoon.
Sure enough, Sarah’s alarm clock rings a mere half hour later, making Sarah scrunch up her face as she blinks herself back into consciousness.
“Morning, fiancée,” I whisper, giving Sarah a soft, quick kiss.
“Mmm, morning, fiancée,” Sarah tiredly sighs, returning my kiss.
“Time to get up,” I say. “Unless you’re planning on skipping ballet two weeks in a row and REALLY pissing off Krystie…”
“She wasn’t THAT annoyed,” Sarah says as she swings her smooth, bare legs out of bed and pads toward her shower. “Oh, and I spoke to Jacinta and Ophelia about it yesterday too.”
“Cool!” I reply. “What did they say?”
“Ophelia gave me a cryptic, random reply that I wasn’t sure was a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’,” Sarah shouts over the sound of roaring hot water.
“Fancy that,” I reply, making Sarah giggle. “And Jacinta?”
“She seems really up for it,” Sarah replies. “Especially when I told her she’d have to wear a leotard to class.”
“She’s only been transitioning a year,” I say. “Anything ultra-feminine like that’s bound to appeal to her.”
“Yeah, kinda reminds me of someone,” Sarah says, kissing me and giggling as I take her place under the shower.
“Reckon they’d be interested in coming along this morning?” I ask. “To observe, I mean. I’d really like to get to know the two of them better, especially Jacinta…”
“I would say ‘should I be jealous’ but I know for a fact that she only likes men,” Sarah retorts, making me giggle. “And I’m glad you want to be friends with my friends. It’ll make picking-“
“366 days!” I yell, silencing my fiancée.
“…Sorry,” Sarah mumbles in a quiet, meek voice. “I was going to say ‘It’ll make picking teams for the student union pub quiz easier’.”
“THAT’s the best you could come up with?” I ask as I step out of the shower with towels wrapped around my hair and my chest.
“Give me a break,” Sarah sighs. “I only just got up…” Sarah stares at me with a mock ‘hurt’ face, but all it causes me to do is break down in a fit of giggles, with my fiancée following suit mere seconds later. Once we’ve composed ourselves, and I’ve had a chance to blow-dry my hair, we get dressed for the day, slipping our soft, hairless legs into pink tights before stretching tight black leotards across our bodies. After applying a light layer of make-up and tying each other’s hair back into tight ponytails, we both pull on knee-length grey sweater dresses and black flats before heading down to Sarah’s car, saying goodbye to Sarah’s mother as we leave.
After a short drive, Sarah and I open the doors to Krystie’s dance studio and our cheeks immediately start to blush as we see all of our friends waiting for us inside with wide smiles on their faces. All the girls spontaneously burst into a round of applause once they see us, and eagerly show off the fact that they’re all wearing pink t-shirts over their leotards that are emblazoned with a red, glittery heart, the centre of which has a big, fancy ‘N’ and a big, fancy ‘S’.
“Here comes the brides…” Krystie playfully sings as Sarah and I strip off our dresses and tie our ballet slippers to our feet.
“Here come the shirts!” Jamie squeaks, handing both t-shirts that are identical to the ones the other girls are wearing.
“Seriously?” Sarah asks as she pulls the shirt on over her leotard. “You didn’t go this mental for your engagement…”
“That came out of the blue,” Jamie explains. “We’ve had these shirts in storage for almost two months!”
“Along with a couple of other things you’ll see at the end of the lesson…” Krystie teases, before ushering everyone into the dance studio, our t-shirts still firmly in place.
“Girls,” Krystie announces once the class is all lined up at the barre, “I’m sure you’ve all noticed a change in uniform for today… And I of course DON’T mean the t-shirts, I mean the sparkling rings two of our younger classmates are wearing today!” Sarah and I both blush as we hold up our left hands, showing off our engagement rings.
“Are we dancing today, or just cooing over people’s rings?” I ask, making everyone chuckle.
“I’d be happy to just coo over rings all day,” Katie says, making everyone giggle.
“No, no, let’s get this thing started,” Krystie chuckles, starting the music on her iPod as we begin our stretches and warm-ups. An hour later, after we’ve finished our pointe exercises, I start to head for the exit to get changed, only to be suddenly stopped by our teacher.
“Whoa, whoa whoa whoa,” Krystie giggles. “Not so fast, I’ve got a little surprise for you two…” Sarah and I watch, our cheeks once again flushed with embarrassment, as Krystie removes two beautiful, long white tutus from her storage closet and hands them to us, along with two sparkling silver tiaras. Within five minutes, Sarah and I have changed into the beautiful creations, and are dancing a brief routine choreographed by Krystie, ending with the two of us kneeling down next to each other, holding each other’s hands. Sarah and I both giggle before giving each other a quick kiss, much to the delight of the other girls.
“Three hundred and sixty-SEVEN days?” I ask Sarah, who simply sighs and giggles.
“Come on, let’s get changed,” Sarah sighs, leading me to the dressing room where I change back into my sweater dress.
“Aww, that was such a cute dance!” Jamie giggles as she joins myself and Sarah in the dressing room. “You know, I reckon Krystie wouldn’t object if you DO choose those tutus as your wedding dresses…”
“We would object!” Sarah says, making Jamie giggle even more.
“Okay, fair enough, fair enough,” Jamie laughs. “Oh, I’d thought we’d have your engagement party on Friday this week, that way Hannah can attend, is that okay with you?”
“Sure, but I’m at work with Viks all day Friday,” I say.
“I’m not going to expect you to help set up your own party!” Jamie giggles. “I’ll sort it all out, don’t worry. Though I trust you’ll have everything ready for tonight?”
“Of course, that IS part of what you pay me for!” I giggle.
“I’ll try to be there,” Sarah says. “Depends on uni work… Don’t really want to leave my new friends in the lurch by skipping off to a celebrity party, you know.”
“Well obviously bring them along on Friday,” Jamie shrugs. “It’s your party, you invite who you want!” Sarah giggles happily as she finishes changing back into her sweater dress, before pulling on her flats and giving me a long, slow kiss.
“I’ll see you later,” my fiancée says, before heading to her car and driving away with Katie and Lauren in tow.
“Need me to drop you home?” Jamie asks as she gets in her own car.
“Umm, no thanks,” I reply. “I’m not heading immediately home…”
Less than an hour later, I step through the front door of my counsellor’s office and am greeted with a wide smile when she sees the ring on my left hand.
“Nikki!” Dr Williamson says in a near-giggle. “That’s a very nice ring… I can tell we have a lot to talk about today, but I can already tell you look a lot happier than you did last week.”
“It’s like a massive weight’s been lifted from me,” I say as I sit down, smoothing my short dress over my thighs. “No more pussyfooting around the subject of the ring, it’s all out in the open, me and Sarah are engaged, at long last!”
“Well, congratulations, to both of you,” Dr Williamson says.
“One thing we’ve both noticed, though,” I say. “Is that we’re both on kind-of a ‘comedown’, you know, it’s like ‘we’re engaged now- what next?’ That sort of thing.”
“I get what you’re saying,” Dr Williamson says.
“All our friends are going bonkers, of course,” I sigh. “Throwing us engagement parties, talking about dresses and bridesmaids…”
“I would advise against rushing into actual marriage in the same way you rushed into getting engaged,” Dr Williamson advises.
“Oh, we’re way ahead of you,” I say. “We don’t want to get married until after my SRS and Sarah’s graduation. It’s just- now we’re engaged, it’s like we’re expected to talk about our wedding every second of every day.”
“It’s understandable that your friends are excited,” Dr Williamson says. “I’m guessing that you’re the first of your friends of your age group to get engaged?”
“Safe guess,” I reply, making my counsellor laugh.
“Yes, yes it is,” Dr Williamson chuckles. “But it will make your friends excited, that’s the point. The excitement will die down soon, but it’s up to you and Sarah to not let it get on top of you, to act maturely and not make any rash decisions.”
“Like eloping?” I ask, making Dr Williamson snort with laughter again.
“Yes, that would probably be top of the ‘most rash’ list,” the middle-aged woman confirms.
“We’ve actually set ourselves a sort-of ‘rule,” I say. “No wedding discussion for the next 366 days, just relaxing, sitting back being engaged… Dad says I have a kind-of ‘obsessive’ personality, I guess he’s not wrong…”
“That’s an overly simplified way of putting it,” Dr Williamson says. “But you do have a habit of clinging onto a thought, or a feeling tighter than is perhaps healthy. Part of the ‘comedown’ you described may be because you’ve finally ‘loosened your grip’ on the obsession over the ring.”
“Dad said the same thing,” I mumble.
“Smart man,” Dr Williamson chuckles. “But as I said, what’s important now is that you don’t jump into a new obsession or make any rash decisions.”
“…And I assume you’re able to help me there?” I ask.
“Of course,” Dr Williamson confirms. I smile as I get out my notebook and start jotting down the words of wisdom my counsellor supplies over the next hour. As I prepare to leave at the end of my session, however, I’m stopped by my counsellor, who has a serious look on her face.
“One last thing,” Dr Williamson says, her facial expression more awkward than I’ve ever seen her. “When you were discussing your wedding, you mentioned postponing it until after your SRS… I assume you are still committed to undergoing SRS?”
“Of course,” I say.
“It’s just that you’ve been fully transitioning for well over two years,” Dr Williamson continues. “That is the minimum amount of time we recommend people live full-time in their acquired gender before thinking about surgery. Technically, you could start the referral process for SRS whenever you’re ready.” I open my mouth to respond, but this news has taken me completely by shock. SRS was always a long-term goal of mine, but it always seemed more like a fantasy, an aspiration to try to reach toward… It never occurred to me before now that SRS is finally within- or at least, starting to come toward- my reach.
“Umm, but I’m only eighteen,” I feebly retort.
“That didn’t stop you from getting engaged,” Dr Williamson says. “You’ve shown over the past two years that you’re serious about living and working full-time as a woman, and that you’ve left your life as a boy completely in the past. Obviously, you’d need a second opinion, but I personally believe that you’d be a good candidate for SRS. Obviously, not everyone who transitions ultimately ends up having SRS, but-“
“This is something I need to think a little more about,” I say, cutting off my counsellor.
“Okay,” Dr Williamson says, clearly taken aback by my abruptness. “Well obviously there’s no rush, as you say, you ARE only eighteen, many people don’t undergo SRS until they’re in their thirties or forties- your friend Stuart, for example, was transitioning for nine years before undergoing SRS, and from what I gather he lives a full life as a man.”
“…Can we, um, issue a moratorium on my SRS as well, please?” I ask. “At least until I get a chance to look into it more myself… Say five months, until my birthday?”
“Of course,” Dr Williamson says. “But you’re welcome to break your ‘moratorium’ anytime you need to talk, and that includes by phone or email.”
“Thanks,” I say with a smile, before saying goodbye to the middle-aged woman who’s been a constant source of support over the last three years. After getting the tube back home, I drop off my dance bag and exchange my sweater dress and leotard for the short pencil skirt, white blouse and stiletto heels I’ve worn to work for the last year, before heading downstairs and being greeted by smiles from my mother and my sister.
“If you weren’t ‘back to reality’ yesterday, you certainly are today!” Mum giggles as I kiss her and Jenny goodbye. A short drive later, I find myself outside yet another dance studio, inside which is my boss for the day- a woman who is rapidly becoming a beloved national celebrity, but who still launches herself at me and wraps me in a tight hug the second she sees me poke my head around the studio door.
“Nikki Nikki Nikki!” Hannah squeaks as she bounces up and down, forcing me to also bounce with her. “Show me the ring! Quick!” I sigh as I hold out my left hand for Hannah and her dance partner Robin, both of whom coo happily.
“Stop fussing over me when you’re my employer,” I giggle, making the pair laugh. “Especially when it’s your birthday, too!”
“Yeah, but I’m not ENGAGED!” Hannah giggles. “Now that you’re here, want to dance with Robin?”
“Umm… Is that appropriate?” I ask, making Hannah and Robin pause briefly.
“I don’t see why not,” Robin says hesitantly, obviously as surprised by Hannah’s offer as I was.
“Yeah,” Hannah says. “I mean, you’ve got your certificate, and everything…”
“Oh, no, that’s not what I meant,” I say, chuckling as I realise what the two people mean. “I mean because, well, you’re my boss, and you need practice…”
“Thanks for your use of the word ‘need’!” Hannah giggles.
“We’re honestly doing fine, I don’t mind,” Robin chuckles. “She’s already palmed me off onto her other friends when they’ve been here, and you’re at least the right height!” I giggle as Robin offers me his hand, which I take and immediately twirled onto the dancefloor, clinging onto the handsome young man as he whirls me around the floor in a simple- but still technically brilliant- waltz.
“You’re going to need practice for the first dance at your reception, anyway!” Hannah giggles from the side of the room, making me sigh and roll my eyes. Even here I can’t escape from wedding planning…
After the dance, I wait at the side of the room for Hannah and Robin to finish practice for their salsa dance- and from what I can tell, they are every bit as good as Robin claimed. Once they’ve finished their practice, I drive the two of them back to Charlotte’s house for Hannah’s birthday party, which, unsurprisingly, has a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ theme. The six ‘main’ Angels- Charlotte, Jamie, Krystie, Mary, Viks and, of course, Hannah herself- all take it turns dancing with Robin as cameras record them for both their reality TV show and for the Strictly Come Dancing support show on BBC2.
I, however, remain on the side-lines with the other guests, watching in my relatively plain Sarah-made cocktail dress as the ‘real’ Angels get to have fun in their elaborate bespoke dance dresses. I’m not alone, of course- there are plenty of people for me to mingle with- but Katie and Lauren aren’t at the party, and Sarah only drops by briefly to say hi to Hannah and drop off our present to her (a bespoke dress, unsurprisingly) before giving me a kiss and heading back to her ‘coursework party’ with the other girls. And as fancy and flashy as this celebrity party is, as privileged as I- an eighteen year old girl- feel for being invited to the party… A part of me really wishes I was leaving with Sarah.
Nonetheless, I stay at the party until just past 11pm before heading home and collapsing straight into my bed, exhausted after a long day and needing to rest ahead of another very long day tomorrow. As always, after my alarm goes off, I wake up, shower, apply my make-up and change into my work clothes before saying goodbye to mum and Jenny and getting into my car. This morning I’m not working with an Angel, but have instead been ‘loaned’ to Out of Heaven, the girl band managed by the same agency as the Angels. Even though I’m not particularly close with any of the five girls, even they make repeated demands to see my ring, cooing over it even as I’m escorting them to their dressing room ahead of their photoshoot.
The photoshoot lasts until late into the afternoon, by which point all six of us are exhausted from the day’s efforts. Whilst a part of me envies the girls for their fame, and the fact that they’re in front of the camera whilst I’m off to one side, a larger part of me is grateful to have a job that I both enjoy and am skilled at- even as the girls continue to pester me about my ring as I drop them at their homes in the bright pink London cab owned by the agency. After dropping the last of the girls off, I return the cab to the agency and get back in my own car (which obviously wasn’t big enough to carry six people), which I drive straight to the now-very familiar car park of the London College of Fashion.
I only sit waiting in the car for ten minutes before my passenger door opens and Sarah- and her bulging bag of books- slides onto the seat next to me with a tired smile on her face.
“Hey, fiancée!” Sarah giggles, giving me a slow kiss before I drive us away. “Long day?”
“Yeah,” I sigh. “Still, for both of us it’s just one more day until the weekend!”
“And our engagement party!” Sarah squeaks happily. “And yes, I asked Jacinta and Ophelia, and they’re both really looking forward to it!”
“Whatever happened to ‘367 days’?” I ask.
“Three hundred and sixty-EIGHT days,” Sarah sighs. “And it’s celebrating our ‘engagement’, has nothing to do with the ‘W’ word, so it doesn’t count toward it!”
“368 days?” I ask. “Isn’t that supposed to be counting DOWN, not up?”
“Ugh,” Sarah spits. “Lauren spent the whole of lunch talking about bridesmaids’ dresses…”
“Maybe we should get a swear jar going,” I chuckle. “Only instead of foul language it can be any mention of the ‘W’ word…”
“Bit drastic,” Sarah giggles. “And I suppose it couldn’t hurt to do a LITTLE planning… Almost wish I’d never bought that ring now…”
“I know it sounds bad,” I whisper, “but I kind-of wish that too…”
“Whatever,” Sarah says dismissively. “The important thing is that we asked each other, we both said ‘yes’, so we ARE getting married… But when WE say we are.”
“Hell yeah!” I giggle as I drive us toward my home, which I arrive at to find two old, familiar cars parked on the street outside. I take several deep, nervous breaths before exiting the car and gripping the hand of the woman I love.
“Remember,” Sarah says firmly. “There was nothing they could do about the girl you are, there’s nothing they can do about this either.” I nod as I enter the house to find not just my sister and my parents, but all four of my grandparents as well. I greet both my grandmothers with hugs, but for both grandfathers the greeting is limited to just a handshake. In particular, Grandpa Steven- the one I argued with on the Jeremy Kyle Show last year- barely seems able to look at me.
"It's been a while since we were all sat in the same room," Grandpa Bill- my mother's father- remarks. "Jenny's christening, if I remember rightly..."
"And before that, it was May two years ago," Grandpa Steven says in a gruff voice, making me wince. "Why do I get the feeling we're going to get another bombshell?"
"Not a 'bombshell'," mum says, silencing her father-in-law. "Just good news. Great, great news."
"Nikki?" Dad says, focussing my grandparents' gazes on me. I take a deep breath and clear my hand.
"It's about me and Sarah," I say, unlinking my hand from Sarah's and showing off my new ring. "We- we're getting married." A brief pause fills the room, before Nanna Jean- my maternal grandmother- slowly rises from the sofa and comes over to me and Sarah, giving us both a tight, loving hug.
"Wonderful, wonderful news!" My grandmother beams. "Isn't it wonderful news, Bill?"
"Umm, yes, I suppose it is!" Grandpa Bill says, stuttering as his wife puts him on the spots. "But aren't you both a little young? You're only eighteen..."
"That still makes us adults," I retort. "And we've both had the rings a while... We're not going to rush into marriage itself, we're going to wait until after Sarah's graduated and I've- um, well, we're going to wait until Sarah's graduated, so 2018 or 2019..."
"We'll be almost eighty by then!" Nanna Jean chuckles. "Don't keep us waiting too long!"
"Mum?" Dad asks, staring pointedly at his own parents. "Dad? Is there something you'd like to say to Nikki and Sarah?"
"Umm," Grandpa Steven says, awkwardly rising from his sofa. "Umm, congratulations Nikki, congratulations Sarah..." I can't help but bristle slightly as my grandfather gives both of us an awkward hug, as does Grandma Irene, who remains silent.
"Well," mum says, breaking the awkward silence. "I don't know about anyone else, but I feel this news deserves to be celebrated! Anyone for champagne?"
"Absolutely!" Nanna Jean says with a wide grin. "None for your father though, he's driving!"
"Mum? Dad?" Dad asks his parents.
"Umm, well, we should..." Grandpa Steven mumbles.
"One glass won't hurt!" Grandma Irene says, forcing her husband back onto the sofa as Sarah and I giggle excitedly. "And that is a beautiful beautiful ring, Nikki! Sarah, that must have cost you a packet!"
"Your granddaughter’s marrying into money," Sarah shrugs, making everyone in the room chuckle.
"Just as long as she's marrying into love and happiness, that's enough for me!" Nanna Jean says as mum hands her- and everyone except my two grandfathers- a glass of cool, bubbly champagne.
My grandparents stay for the next hour and a half, regaling us with tales of their own weddings in the 1960s and my parents' wedding in the 1990s, before departing (taking the time to coo over Jenny first, of course) and leaving myself and Sarah on the sofa, worn out from the day but excited about tomorrow- particularly our party tomorrow evening!
I have a smile on my face as my alarm clock wakes me at 7:15am and I unwrap myself from around Sarah's body, pulling on my work clothes for the final time this week (and sighing at the ever-growing bundle of worn tights in my laundry basket) before heading down to my car hand-in-hand with the woman I'm going to marry.
"Meet you back here after dinner?" Sarah asks as she fastens her seatbelt and smoothes her short pleated skirt over her nylon-covered thighs.
"Yeah," I reply, before a thought hits me. "Actually... How about I meet you at Ophelia's flat?"
"Seriously?" Sarah asks. "You do know it's not very big, right?"
"I've barely seen any of the girlies all week," I say. "Reckon Katie and Lauren will be there too... Jamie's always telling me 'you can never have too many friends'."
"She IS a clever woman," Sarah chuckles. "Okay, I'll let Ophelia know we'll be 'invading' her flat tonight!"
"Cool!" I giggle as I drop Sarah off at her university, before picking Viks up for my final 'appointment' of the week.
After dropping the dark-haired woman back at her home (and comparing our engagement rings, naturally), I head back to my house to drop off my car and pick out a dress to wear to the party, before dad gives me a lift to Ophelia and Jacinta's modest flat, which I'm welcomed into like an old friend even though I've only met the two girls a handful of times.
"Hey Nikki!" Jacinta squeaks excitedly, giving me a tight hug the second I step through the door.
"Careful of the dress!" I laugh, making Jacinta giggle even harder.
"Oh my god, sorry!" The other transgendered girl laughs before leading me upstairs to her tiny bedroom. "This is so cool, I can't believe you invited me and Ophelia to your party!"
"Why wouldn't we?" I laugh. "It's OUR party, after all..."
"Yeah, but, like, you're sort-of famous," Jacinta says. "We're just students..."
"You're our FRIENDS," I say. "That's what matters most. And have you thought any more about ballet yet?"
"Oh, I SO want to do it," Jacinta laughs as she strips off her 'day' clothes, standing before me in just her underpants without a second thought. "I'd be like a hippo out there, though..."
"Take it from someone who has a lot of experience in this matter," I say. "You never know exactly what will happen until you take the plunge, and it's better to just do it and find out than spend months stressing over whether or not it's the right thing to do..."
"You- you're not just talking about ballet, are you?" Jacinta asks, squeezing herself into a tiny black cocktail dress.
"I'm not just talking about this, either," I reply, holding up my engagement ring. "I'm also talking about these..." I shiver a little as I remove my bra, before pouring myself into my own purple halter neck minidress. "And I can tell just by looking at you that taking THAT plunge worked out for the best!"
"Indeed it did!" Jacinta laughs. "Okay, I'll twist Ophelia's arm, she'll probably insist on wearing a gold brocade leotard or something..." I giggle as Jacinta and I finish applying our thick make-up, before heading downstairs to see the other four girls waiting for us, all of them as dolled up as Jacinta and I. I of course make a beeline for my fiancée, giving her a long, deep kiss- much to the delight of the other girls- before we all head out to our waiting taxi, which whisks us away to our party.
"Hey girlies!" Jamie squeaks excitedly as she ushers us into her and Charlotte's home- which has been decorated top to bottom with pink balloons, pink streamers (which Sarah and I have thrown at us the second we walk through the front door) and a massive banner with the word 'CONGRATULATIONS' written on it, next to a picture of two entwined gold rings.
"This is so amazing, thank you so much!" I gasp, giving my mentor a quick hug as she ushers the six of us into the main room, where we're once again bombarded with streamers and handed tall glasses of champagne.
"Speech!" One of the men shouts from the back of the room, making me and Sarah both giggle.
"Umm, thank you all for coming?" I say, making everyone laugh.
"Longer speech!" One of the other man shouts, making me and Sarah almost double over in laughter.
"Umm," Sarah giggles. "Thank you all so much, this is truly amazing... Twelve months ago I never thought I'd be standing here in the home of someone I've admired since I was a teenager- well, okay, a YOUNGER teenager- and I especially never thought I'd be celebrating getting engaged to the woman I love more than anything."
"The last twelve months have been the most amazing of my life too," I say. "Even if you guys did make it REALLY hard work at times!" I pause as I absorb some friendly, good-natured jeering, before continuing. "I am truly lucky to be able to call you my friends, but I am truly blessed to be able to say that Sarah Phillips is my fiancée. Without her, I would have nothing in my life. I'd probably be just a miserable, lonely boy with no direction, but instead, I'm a happy, hard-working WOMAN who's engaged to the girl of my dreams."
"Without Nikki," Sarah says, "I'd probably be stuck on a university course I hated, mingling with people I despised, always fantasising about the life I never had- the life I have right now, the amazing friends I have, and the amazing fiancée I have."
"Was that enough?" I ask, making the crowd cheer before Jamie and Charlotte lead them in giving us both three cheers.
"Seriously," Sarah says to the two hosts, "I can't thank you enough for this, you didn't have to do this for us, I mean, we're basically UNfamous..."
"Oh, whatever," Charlotte snorts. "I don't decide who my friends are based on how many inches they get in the tabloids, I decide my friends based on the type of people they are, and you two are DEFINITELY nicer than some so-called 'celebrities' I've had the misfortune to party with in the past! So are Katie and Lauren, and... I'm really looking forward to getting to know the girl with the turquoise hair and eighteen inch waist!"
"Same here!" I say, making Jamie and Charlotte giggle as the music restarts and the party gets into full swing. In truth, though, I wouldn't have minded where we held the party, or who held it, as long as I had Sarah by my side.
Even if Sarah had rejected my proposal, I'd have been able to live with it- eventually- as long as she remained my partner, and my soulmate. But as it is... I can't remember a time in my life when I've ever been happier. My fiancée, my job, my friends, my womanhood... When I first met Sarah four years ago, I couldn't have imagined, even in my wildest dreams, that my life would be the way it is now. Dad's wrong- I don't need a new obsession, and I won't end up accidentally getting one either. Even if I have to wait five years for my SRS or ten years before Sarah and I tie the know, I'll remain happy as long as I have everything that I have now.
I truly, truly am the luckiest woman alive.
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