Nikki, part 26

“Aiiiieeee!” I shriek as I’m suddenly startled by several loud bangs, and my vision is dazzled by multiple flashes of light. For a moment I’m so dazed I almost forget where I am, before my vision and hearing return to normal and I stare, slack-jawed at the scene in front of me.

“Happy birthday!” Jamie squeaks, giving me a tight hug before leading me into the crowded main room of Charlotte’s house, where I’m greeted by yet more hugs, more bangs from party poppers (which cover my hair in streamers) and more flashes from the partygoers’ phones.

“Oh my god!” I sigh as I return everyone’s hugs. “Thank you all so much…”

“If anyone deserves it, it’s you,” Sarah- who’s been gripping my hand all the way into the party room- says with a proud smile.

I giggle in response as I look around the packed room- Jamie and her team of helpers have done an amazing job redecorating after yesterday’s party (especially as yesterday’s party was for a boy). The whole room is covered in pink streamers, the sofas around the side of the room have been covered in shiny pink throws and the top of the bar at the end of the room has been covered in hundreds of pink and white paper flowers. The whole room looks utterly gorgeous and girly- and as I catch a glimpse of myself in one of the mirror surrounding the room, I grin as I realise that I do as well.

Underneath a growing wig of streamers, my dark brown hair is long and voluminous. Unlike my fiancée, I like wearing my hair loose, and every time it cascades over my bare shoulders I feel a tingle of excitement shoot through my body. My shoulders, like the rest of my arms, are slender, lacking the muscle definition of the men in the room, and end in long, tapered burgundy fingernails. My legs are likewise long and slender, supporting the rest of my 5’ 8” frame on stiletto-heeled sandals that show off toenails that have been painted the same colour as my fingernails. Underneath my short, designer dress, my waist is narrow, my hips curved and my breasts soft and round, and my face has been made up to perfection. I am exactly the type of woman I used to fantasise about being when I was a teenager- not least because I stare at my reflection, I know that underneath my dress, I'm wearing a very scanty, very lacy thong, and underneath that is my very own vagina. Teenaged me often spent hours each night fantasising about being the person I am today- and sometimes I actually have to remind myself that I no longer have to fantasise…

And as the large balloons at the end of the room- one shaped in the number ‘2’ and the other in the number ‘0’ remind me, as of today, I am also no longer a teenager.

“Soo…” Jamie teases me as she hands Sarah and I a tall glass of champagne each. “How does it feel to officially be a twentysomething?”

“Yeah, because THAT’s the biggest change to my life of the last twelve months?” I retort, making Jamie and Sarah both snort with laughter. “Seriously though, it feels GOOD. Thank you SO much for this.”

“Hey, you may not be my PA anymore, but you’re still my protégé,” Jamie giggles. “Just wait until this time next year, your 21st!”

“…I think I’ll enjoy this one first!” I say, earning yet more snorts of laughter.

“Especially as someone else has their 21st before you!” Sarah reminds me.

“So what have you been doing today?” Jamie asks, and I force a smile onto my painted lips even as inside, I’m grimacing at the memory of earlier today.

“Happy birthday!” Mum and dad yelled, startling me as I opened the front door of my flat.

“Oh my god, thank you so much!” I squeaked, before exchanging hugs with my parents- a long, tight hug with my mum, and a shorter, slightly more awkward hug with my dad. The longest hug, of course, is reserved for my little sister, who stands with her arms outstretched at me before I pick her up for a cuddle.

“Ah, it’s going to weird, not having a teenaged daughter anymore,” dad chuckled. “For another eleven years, anyway!”

“We’ve got all your presents in the car,” mum said. “Had to keep them out of Jenny’s way, so she didn’t open them all before we got here. Not that she’d have been interested in what was inside them, of course.”

“Not for another eleven years, anyway!” Dad said with a tired laugh. “Where’s Sarah? Already at uni?”

“Yep,” I sighed. “You just missed her. Thought about guilting her into getting the day off, but she’s got exams coming up…”

“You’ll get the whole of the evening with her,” mum said. “And the whole of the weekend. In the meantime, you’ll have to settle for us, I’m afraid!”

“You’ll do,” I shrugged, earning a playful eye roll from mum as dad fetched my presents from the car.

Obviously, once I’d opened my presents (the usual array of clothes, make-up and all things feminine) I began to feel better, though that feeling didn’t last for long.

“Are you seeing your grandparents today?” Mum asked, making me bristle.

“…A bit later,” I mumbled.

“Oh come on,” dad sighed. “It won’t be THAT bad. This is what, your fourth birthday as a girl? As a, you know, ‘open’- not, bad choice of words…”

“I know what you mean,” I said as dad winced at his use of the word ‘open’. “And yes, it’s my fourth…"

“Well then surely it’ll be easier than one, two or three, right?” Mum asked. “And you’ll be here in your own flat when they visit, home turf… Do- do you want me to stick around for when they visit? Me and Jenny?”

“PLEASE,” I said with a heavy sigh. “God, I don’t know why I’m still so nervous about seeing them, I mean- it’s not like they can force me to do anything, right? I mean, I’m post-op. Decision made. Granddaughter or nothing. Maybe I’m just scared that they’ll eventually decide that ‘nothing’ is the better option…”

“Never,” mum insisted. “I won’t let them. And besides, it’s been three years since you sorted it all out on the Jeremy Kyle Show. Your grandparents aren’t idiots, they understand that this is something you need to do. ‘You don’t go in for major surgery if this is just a silly little whim’. Your Grandpa Bill’s exact words.”

“It wasn’t Grandpa Bill who I went on the Jeremy Kyle Show with, though,” I mumbled as dad looked away in shame.

Indeed, when Grandpa Bill and Grandma Jean visited later in the morning, they were full of smiles and their arms were full of gifts- though I couldn’t help but notice that their smiles widened whenever my sister was the centre of attention, rather than me. The visit was pleasant enough, and I was actually sad when I said goodbye to the elderly couple- not least because it meant that a short while later, a different elderly couple would arrive at my front door, and the meeting would inevitably be less pleasant.

Mum was right, of course, when she said that since we appeared on the Jeremy Kyle show, my relationship with my paternal grandparents has improved significantly. However, that didn’t stop Grandpa Steven from bristling when I opened the front door, as the sight of me in my tight top, short skirt and black tights obviously elicited the exact opposite feelings to what I felt when I caught a glimpse of myself in Charlotte’s mirror right now.

Grandpa Steven and Grandma Irene didn’t stay long, just long enough to drop off my (gender neutral) presents and fuss over Jenny a bit, before making their excuses and departing, leaving me feeling miserable that once again, they were unable to accept me for who I really am. Fortunately, lunch with Sarah and our friends at her university helped ease my stress- and it’s not like I have to deal with them every day, as I’m reminded when I look around the crowded party, where even the oldest person in attendance is only in their late twenties- and everyone here is 100% cool with the idea of a woman who was born as a boy.

“I’ve just, you know, been having fun, relaxing,” I half-lie in answer to my mentor’s question as we make our way back from the bar. “I’ve been REALLY looking forward to tonight, though!”

“Speech!” One of the men in the crowd yells, making me sigh and roll my eyes.

“The people have spoken, birthday girl!” Jamie shrugs as the room quietens to allow me to speak.

“…Thanks, everyone,” I say with a nervous laugh.

“Longer speech!” The same man from before yells, making the whole room laugh.

“Many thanks, everyone,” I say, earning more laughs. “I know I might not be an Angel, but you’ve always made me feel like I’m a part of this family, and that really is the greatest gift of all. So thank you all SO much.”

“Aww,” Jamie coos. “Thank YOU for being such a cool little sister!” I giggle as I exchange a quick hug with my ‘big sister’, but as my eyes meet Sarah’s, I mouth a silent ‘thank you’ to her- it goes without saying that without her, neither of us would be stood here now- and I wouldn’t be stood anywhere looking- and more importantly, feeling- the way I do now.

After more hugs with the assembled crowd, Sarah and I grab yet another glass of complimentary champagne and head to one of the room’s many pink-coloured sofas, lowering ourselves onto it with a long, loud sigh.

“You know,” Sarah says with a smug grin, “if you didn’t wear such high heels, your feet wouldn’t ache so much…”

“Thanks for the advice, MUM,” I say, making my fiancée giggle, “but I HAVE been a girl for four years, I do know a thing or two about heels…”

“Just four years?” Sarah retorts. “Funny, I could’ve sworn I gave you a tube of lipstick and dressed you in a sexy short skirt exactly FIVE years ago today…”

“And,” Jamie says as she pulls up a chair, “don’t you own a document that says that an undoubtedly beautiful baby girl named Nicola Thomas was born TWENTY years ago today?”

“…If only it was that easy,” I laugh.

“If it helps,” Stuart- Jamie’s fiancé- says as he slides onto the chair alongside my mentor, “it DOES get easier. Slowly, yes, but it does get easier. Take it from someone with ELEVEN years of experience. And a grandmother who still refuses to accept him. Fortunately, I’ve got an amazing ‘other’ family. And so do you, Nikki.”

“Thanks,” I whisper at the handsome young man.

“You know…” Jamie says with a grin, “my ‘first’ birthday- of the kind we’re talking about- was my twentieth. Me, Charlotte, Krys, Mary and a couple of our other friends dressed up as schoolgirls and spent most the night underneath this MASSIVE male stripper!”

“Thank god twenty year old Nikki is a bit more mature than twenty year old Jamie!” Stuart snorts, making his fiancée roll her eyes.

“Stuart, darling,” Jamie says in a mock-condescending voice, “Nikki’s gay. Any strippers would be female. Hence why there aren’t any.”

“Actually,” I say with a very smug grin on my lips, “I really only have eyes for one girl, and one girl only…”

“Hence why there aren’t any strippers!” Sarah repeats, making everyone- including Sarah herself- giggle excitedly.

“But there ARE presents,” Jamie says, grabbing my hand and yanking me back onto my tired feet. “Come on… And yes, even though this is also your first birthday as the proud owner of a vagina, I’ve made sure that all the presents are, well, ‘family-friendly’, hehe!”

“…Apart from the booze, right?” I ask.

“Unless you plan on opening it and downing it on the spot,” Stuart laughs. “I’ve seen how much the two of you drink…”

“We’re only twenty once,” I shrug as I stand in front of the modest- but still sizeable- present pile and get opening.

Naturally, there’s plenty of alcohol in the pile, as well as clothes, make-up, the odd bit of dance-related clothing and paraphernalia (from Krystie and her business partner Zoe, obviously) and, despite Jamie’s assurances, the odd ‘joke’ gift such as boxes of tampons. Hilariously, though, it’s the boys at the party who are most embarrassed at the sight of the tampons!

After several more hours of chatting, dancing and drinking, the party eventually dissipates just after 1am, at which point Jamie bundles the very inebriated Sarah and myself into the back of a black cab, which ferries us back to our tiny London flat.

“Hold still,” Sarah says, before turning to face me and gently easing her thumb and forefinger between my breasts. “This has been bugging me for HOURS…”

“Hey!” I complain. “Cold hands!”

“Oh hush,” Sarah pouts. “Is it really worse than having this tickle you?” I break out into a fit of drunken giggles as Sarah slowly withdraws a long pink streamer from between my breasts.

“You really had to do that in the taxi?” I pout, making Sarah giggle.

“Well I wasn’t going to do it at the party, in front of everyone,” Sarah laughs. “And if I’d waited until I got home, then I’d have to have removed it with my teeth, not my fingers…” Between giggles, I flash a devilish smile as I take the streamer from Sarah’s hands and slowly push it back between my breasts…

Less than an hour later, I take several deep breaths to try to clear my head of drunken fog and post-orgasmic haze. My birthday may not have started brilliantly, but the way it ended was nothing short of perfect- all thanks to the incredible woman snuggled against my side.

Of course, when I wake up the following morning, I’m greeted by a headache that leaves me almost shaking with pain- and the gentle moans coming from my right-hand side confirm that I’m not the only one who’s paying the price for last night.

“Mmph…” Sarah moans as she pulls the bedcovers over her head.

“Sarah…” I whisper gently, but even this much prompts more moans of pain from my fiancée.

“Let me die in peace, please…” Sarah grumbles. “God… Every weekend we seem to wake up with splitting headaches.”

“We certainly didn’t wake up this way after my fifteenth birthday!” I giggle as I wrap my arms around Sarah’s shivering body.

“Damn right we didn’t,” Sarah says with a pained laugh. “And I’m NOT talking about the hangover, hehe!” I laugh as I give Sarah a gentle kiss- though I do wince a little at the strong taste of alcohol on her breath!

“And I’m not just talking about this,” I say with a sigh as Sarah smiles sympathetically at me despite the pain she’s in. Without saying another word, Sarah reaches over me and into my bedside cabinet, removing a small leather pouch that makes me smile. The fifteen year old me would certainly never have dared to dream that he- as that is what I was back then, a ‘he’- would ever have had any use for the contents of the pouch.

And yet, as I push the stiff orange stent into my vagina while Sarah drags her tired body toward the shower, I muse on how much I’ve changed in such a short space of time- and how right it feels to do what I’m doing now, and be the person I am. Sure, my teenaged years may have been more carefree- as I’m reminded by the water bill waiting for me on my doorstep after I’ve showered and dressed- but I feel much more free now than I ever did as a kid, or even as a teenager. Responsibilities such as bills are a small price to pay- well, metaphorically speaking, anyway- to live the life I always dreamed of. And, as I’m reminded when my fiancée snuggles next to me on the sofa, I don’t have to take on these responsibilities by myself.

“Is that a new skirt?” Sarah asks as she strokes the stretchy black fabric covering my thighs.

“Yeah,” I reply. “Got it yesterday from Mary, figured I’d give it, you know, a ‘test drive’…”

“It’s from a really high-end label,” Sarah- who is, of course, an expert when it comes to fashion- breathes. “Must’ve cost at least £80.”

“She probably got it from an endorsement,” I shrug.

“Umm, no offence, Nikki,” Sarah says, “but you’re, like, six inches taller than her… Lucky us, having friends who can afford expensive gifts while raising two young children, eh?”

“I’m definitely okay with that,” I say, making Sarah snort with laughter. “Especially if it gets me sexy skirts like this one!”

“Not SO grown up, then!” Sarah giggles. “What time’s your mum picking us up?”

“Umm… About an hour from now,” I answer. “More than enough time for us to…?” I giggle as Sarah leans in close to me with a wicked smile on her face.

“To…” Sarah whispers, before leaning in and giving me a quick kiss. “…Clean the kitchen. Our worktops are FILTHY.” I let out a chuckle, though inwardly, I’m disappointed.

“Constantly rubbing my naked butt on it probably doesn’t help,” I say, making Sarah laugh as she tosses me a cloth and a bottle of Mr Muscle.

Forty-five minutes later, our kitchen is sparkling clean, and Sarah and I are stood on our doorstep in our coats and (mercifully) comfortable pairs of flats, waiting for my mother’s car to come and pick us up.

“Another thing that only grown-ups do,” Sarah whispers, making me grin.

“They also use the kitchen counter for ‘other’ things,” I retort.

“…Maybe when we get home,” Sarah giggles, giving me a kiss as my mother’s car pulls onto our street.

Half an hour later, the three of us- along with Jenny- have wide smiles on our faces as we walk into a posh, but still modern bridal boutique close to the centre of London. Katie and Lauren are already present, both of whom greet Sarah and me with tight hugs, and also present is the young Irishwoman who gave me the skirt I’m wearing now, along with her two year old daughter- whose eyes light up when she sees my sister walk into the area that’s been sectioned off for us.

“No, Kristina-Leigh!” Mary says as she tries to calm down her squirming toddler. “Sorry, ladies, she sees Jenny and immediately assumes she’s going to her B-A-L-L-E-T class today…”

“Sorry…” Mum grimaces as she sits down with the equally-squirming Jenny in her lap. “And thanks for spelling it out, Jenny’s only been going a couple of months but she goes mad whenever she hears the ‘b’ word, heh.”

“Got yourself another really girly girl, then?” Mary asks, making mum laugh nervously as I start fidgeting.

“Time will tell,” mum says, prompting an awkward silence that’s only broken when the boutique’s staff arrive with a pot of sweet-smelling coffee and a tray of mugs (and, of course, two bottles of juice for the toddlers).

“Umm, thanks for letting Kristina-Leigh be my flower girl,” Sarah says, breaking the silence. “My own sister will be twelve by the time of the wedding so she’d be a little too big…”

“Ah sure, you’re fine,” Mary shrugs. “You’re both practically aunts for Kristina-Leigh. And I’ll get to embarrass her with the video when she becomes a teenager!”

“Oh, I’ve already been saving up videos of Jenny in case she gets too big for her boots in eleven years’ time,” mum laughs. “Just a pity that wasn’t possible with Nick- Nikki. Umm, because videophones weren’t around back then, umm…”

“Do we- do we want to start looking at dresses for the little ones?” Sarah asks. “Now that everyone’s here…”

“Good idea!” Lauren laughs in a desperate attempt to diffuse the tension in the room. “Nikki, Sarah, remember the deal- you even LOOK at any bridal gowns and the two of you are walking up the aisle in onesies!” Sarah and I both giggle as we remember the terms of our deal with the dark-haired girl, who has insisted that she and Ophelia will design and make our wedding dresses for us.

However, the two of them won’t have the opportunity to make any of the other outfits for the day, meaning that for the next hour, we adults get to sit back and watch as Jenny and Kristina-Leigh model an endless array of flower girl dresses for us. Even though I know that at the wedding itself, all eyes will be on me- well, me and Sarah- I can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy as my mum fusses over my sister and helps her in and out of the beautiful, tiny gowns. So much for feeling more grown-up now that I’m twenty…

“I think the little ones are getting tired,” Mary says as her daughter begins to pout and squirm as her mother helps her out of her latest extravagant dress. “Hope you two are close to a decision…”

“We’re pretty sure we want to go with number four,” Sarah says as I nod in agreement. “Of course, no sense in getting them now, the girls will be twice as big by the time they finally get to wear them, heh.”

“Not that that would stop Jenny from wearing it every second of every day!” Mum laughs as Jenny dances around happily in her fancy dress, clearly nowhere near as ‘tired’ as her friend is. “Come on, Jenny, we need to put the dress back now.”

“No!” Jenny shouts with a happy giggle.

“No, Jenny, we need to give the dress back now,” mum insists, before sighing at the rest of us. “Sorry, this might take a while…”

“It’s okay,” Mary shrugs. “We should probably be going now anyway, before this one kicks up TOO much of a fuss, heh!”

“No problem, thanks for coming today!” Sarah laughs, bidding Mary farewell with a gentle hug.

“And thank you for this skirt!” I laugh as I do a playful twirl in the clingy garment.

“Knew you’d like it,” Mary says with a smug grin. “Goes well with those tights, and that top, too.”

“Fashion compliments from an Angel, high praise!” I laugh as I give Mary a goodbye hug. “Charlotte’s said there’s definitely no party tonight, then?”

“Yes, and you’re the reason why!” The Irishwoman retorts.

“I didn’t ask to be born on March 3rd,” I say with a smug grin. “If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s my mum’s!”

“Sandra! Your daughter’s being smart with me!” Mary shouts, making me roll my eyes as everyone else- mum included- giggles. “We’ll see you later, ‘girlies’!”

“See you, Mary,” I laugh as the Irishwoman and her crying daughter leave the boutique. “Mum? You need a hand in there?”

“I can undress my own daughter, thank you very much,” mum retorts, earning more giggles from my friends.

“We- we should probably get going too,” Katie says as she and Lauren give myself and my fiancée farewell hugs. “Coursework, you know…”

“Ugh, don’t I,” Sarah laughs. “See you two later. Drive safe.”

“…Productive day, I guess?” I shrug as Sarah and I sit down, trying not to grimace at the sound of Jenny kicking up a fuss as mum tries to remove her dress. “Mum? You sure you don’t want me to, you know, distract her or something?”

“We’ll be fine, just give us a second,” mum replies.

“Was Nikki like this when she was younger?” Sarah asks, giggling as I give her a playful (but still pretty firm) shove.

“We are SO breaking out your baby photos next time we go to see Beverly,” I grumble.

“Nick- Nikki- umm, she was always quiet as a child,” mum says. “Shy, reserved… Nothing like ‘adult Nikki’. I just wish we’d known WHY Nikki was so shy a bit earlier.”

“You prefer ‘adult Nikki’ then?” I ask.

“It’s not a case of ‘preferring’,” mum says. “You’re so much happier the way you are now. That’s what’s most important.”

“…Thanks,” I whisper as mum emerges from the changing room with Jenny in her arms, who looks VERY agitated to not be in her dress anymore- a feeling I can easily relate to.

“Did I hear your friend right when she said that you don’t have one of your traditional Saturday night parties tonight?” Mum asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “My birthday yesterday, Jamie’s fiancé’s the day before so they thought three was overkill or something.”

“Good!” Mum says with a grin as she vainly tries to calm my sister down. “Then you two can come over to our house for a proper dinner, for once!”

“…It does sound nice,” Sarah shrugs.

“Deal, then, I guess,” I say, making mum giggle before she exits the boutique.

Sarah and are only by ourselves for a few seconds, though, before we’re joined by the owner of the shop, a woman in her mid-thirties who has a wide, fake-looking smile on her face as she speaks to the two of us.

“Miss Thomas, Miss Phillips,” the woman says in an almost simpering voice. “I do hope you enjoyed your visit today. I’ve added your order to your account- is there anything else at all I can help you with today?”

“Umm, no…” Sarah says, clearly as uncomfortable as I am with the owner’s sucking up to us. "We'll be back for fittings closer to the actual wedding, of course."

"Of course, of course," the owner says. "Was Miss Burke not able to be here today?"

"Jamie?" I ask. "No... It was her fiancé’s birthday on Thursday, think she's gone somewhere with his family."

"I see," the owner says. "It's just that after what happened when she went bridal shopping last week..."

"I think she's got everything she needs, actually," I say, leaving the woman looking clearly dejected.

"Oh," the owner says, before hasting- and very obviously- coming up with a new plan. "Miss Thomas, I understand you have nearly forty thousand followers on Instagram, is- is that correct?" I let out a long sigh, before laughing and rolling my eyes.

"...Yes, I'll post an endorsement of your shop," I say, laughing again as the owner grins widely and escorts myself and Sarah to a suitable location just outside the store.

"Also a bride," Sarah interjects before I can take my selfie. "Thirty-one thousand followers, and I trust we'll get a discount for this endorsement?"

"15% off all purchases," the owner says, and I'm forced to bite my lip as I see my fiancée trying to decide whether or not to haggle.

"...Deal," Sarah eventually says, before the two of us take our selfies- one 'endorsement' photo each and one of us kissing underneath the shop's name. Whilst I'm obviously happy to be seen as a 'champion of LGBT love' in this way, I can't but feel awkward at the way our relationship is being used as a marketing ploy by the boutique, almost as though they're saying 'look at us, aren't we accepting'. Still, when the alternative is 'look at them, aren't they disgusting'- like Jamie had to endure last week- I'll take brown-nosing any day of the week.

After returning home for a very quick lunch, Sarah and I climb back into her car, and within minutes we're walking through the front door of my parents' house, where I'm forced to laugh as I see Jenny playing on the floor dressed in one of her princess dress-up dresses- clearly she's got a taste for wearing big, elaborate gowns.

"Like sister, like sister..." Sarah whispers, having clearly had the same thought as me.

"Hi, girls!" Dad says, greeting me and Sarah with an awkward hug each. "Take it you had fun at the dress shop?"

"Looks like Jenny had a little too much fun!" I laugh.

"So she loves wearing fancy dresses," dad shrugs. "So does her sister, and she turned out okay, didn't she?"

"Yeah," I say, blinking back a tear as dad reminds me just how amazing and accepting he's been over the past four years.

"Of course, if she's still that obsessed when she's twenty, then we might have a problem," dad laughs. "Problem with my credit card, I mean!"

"Meh," I shrug. "By then Sarah will be the owner of her own fashion label and I'll probably be the manager of one of her offices. We'll be RAKING it in."

"And her sister-in-law- and godmother- will make Jenny all the pretty dresses she wants," Sarah says with a warm grin. "Isn't that right, Jenny?" All three of us giggle as Jenny laughs and nods at Sarah's question.

"Aww, she is SO cute though," I sigh happily as Sarah and I sit down together.

"She is," dad sighs. "Dreading her becoming a teenager... By the time she's sixteen I'll be almost sixTY. And with my gut, I won't be kicking the stuffing out of any yobbo who breaks her heart..."

"...If only she had a big brother to do that?" I whisper, earning a sigh and a gentle hug from Sarah.

"No," dad whispers, shaking his head. "No, never... Two older sisters who pack her wardrobe with dresses is better than that. Better for BOTH my daughters. Heh, all three of my daughters!"

"Thanks, Chris," Sarah whispers, her voice filled with emotion.

"Nah, thank YOU," dad says. "You know, five years ago, if you'd told me that I'd be sat here with no son, but three daughters, I'd probably have looked at you like you were mad. Then panicked about what exactly was going to happen to my son."

"...It's not like I haven't panicked sometimes, heh," I say, making dad and Sarah giggle.

"No, no you haven't," dad says. "Because you've- let me put it this way. If you'd told me five years ago that my moody, listless fifteen year old so- fifteen year old CHILD, would become a lively, outgoing, popular and best of all, happy young ADULT, I'd have bitten your arm off. And I've got you to thank for that, Sarah. Despite the amount of alcohol you two drink!"

"Heh, you can take SOME of the credit, Chris," Sarah laughs.

"Yeah," I say. "I know I say it a lot, but it still isn't often enough- the way you've accepted me has made my life a thousand times better and a thousand times easier. I still talk to lots of kids who don't have parents as awesome as you."

"...Set me off now, why don't you?" Dad laughs as he wipes a tear from his eye. “But I suppose there aren’t many parents who’d go on Jeremy Kyle with their kid, heh.”

“You know… I actually watched that again the other week,” I mumble. “God knows why, it just made me upset again…”

“God…” Sarah sighs, giving me a gentle (and very welcome) cuddle. “WHY do you keep watching that? You’ve been on TV since then, we both have…”

“…Dad hasn’t,” I mumble.

“Dad doesn’t want to!” My father snorts. “I guarantee your granddad doesn’t either. And neither of us want to watch a clip of a TV show where you’re sat bawling your eyes out in front of a live audience.” I bite my lip as an awkward silence descends over the room- dad is, of course, correct. I’ve built many more happy memories in the three years since I appeared on that show, even some with the grandfather who’d rejected me. Why I always need to focus on the past is beyond me…

“We, um, we should start getting dinner ready,” I mumble. “Mum will be back from work soon…”

“Good idea,” Sarah whispers, following me into the kitchen and wordlessly helping me prepare our evening meal.

Mum arrives home a short while later, and the five of us settle down to eat dinner, our discussion focussing entirely on our dress shopping adventure today (with Jenny naturally being the centre of attention). Any talk of Jeremy Kyle, or granddad, or sadness of any kind is off the table as we eat our dinners, but after Sarah and I return home, I can’t help but grab my laptop and load up the video, yet again sighing and blinking back tears as I watch and rewatch the moment when granddad walks out onto the stage and turns his chair so that he has his back to me. The host’s angry reaction to this callous rejection only serves to make me feel worse, and I’m almost relieved when Sarah comes over and snaps my laptop shut- though I soon cringe at the angry look on her face.

“Stop. Obsessing,” Sarah orders.

“…You’re right,” I sigh. “Think every time I see granddad I can’t get that moment out of my head when he turned his back to me, even though he must have known he’d get booed.”

“He was probably told to do that by the show’s producers,” Sarah says. “You know what reality TV is like. And he wouldn’t have been there if he didn’t want to have some kind of relationship with you. So it’s not perfect. I barely even see my granddad, he lives so far away.”

“Okay, you’re right. AGAIN,” I say, smiling as Sarah gives me a gentle kiss.

“You’re like a dog with a bone in her mouth when you get like this,” Sarah laughs as she wraps her arms around my neck.

“Seriously?” I ask. “That’s the metaphor you’re using? ‘Bone in mouth’?”

“Technically, it’s a simile,” Sarah giggles. “And is there somewhere else you’d rather I put the ‘bone’?”

“I can think of one or two places,” I say with a giggle as I return Sarah’s kiss. “It IS still early-ish, this IS the first Saturday evening in ages when we haven’t been completely hammered, and neither of us have to get up early tomorrow…”

“Read my mind,” Sarah says, kissing me deeply and holding my body close to hers as we retreat to our bedroom…

I blink my eyes twice as the daylight outside slowly wakes me up. My arms are still wrapped around Sarah’s slender waist, and my body is still tingling from the marathon lovemaking session of last night. Despite the (admittedly self-induced) stress of yesterday, right now I feel more content than I have ever done in my entire life, and the happy sighs coming from my fiancée indicate that she feels the exact same way.

“Mmph…” Sarah softly moans as her eyes open. “Do we have to get up today?”

“Umm… No,” I say, making Sarah giggle and roll over to give me a long kiss.

“Good,” Sarah giggles, giving me another longer, deeper kiss. “God, I could get used to this, waking up WITHOUT a hangover and not having to get up… Especially as we have more, you know, ‘energy’, hehe!”

“’Energy’, eh?” I ask, before Sarah leans in for a third kiss, which proves to be the longest and the deepest of all…

Naturally, we don’t get out of bed until much later in the morning, and after showering (together, naturally) and dilating, I pull on a plain bra and thong, followed by a very plain, very slouchy (but still quite form-fitting) long sleeved, long-legged grey jumpsuit. I leave my face entirely make-up free and tie my hair back into a loose ponytail, before grabbing my iPad and collapsing onto the sofa, stretching out my entire body to get as comfortable as possible.

“Feet off the furniture,” Sarah laughs, before lifting my legs and sitting down, resting her laptop on my shins.

“…Am I a shelf now?” I ask.

“Better that than a plank,” Sarah retorts, making me stick my tongue out at her. “Got TONS of coursework still to do for my assignment.”

“You’re still acing a first though, surely?” I ask.

“Oh, by miles,” Sarah says. “My tutors have already said that my place on a Masters course is pretty much guaranteed already. Doesn’t mean I can slack off. And besides, I’m doing actual designing today, you know that’s my favourite bit.”

“Okay,” I shrug. “I’m just going to spend all day playing Candy Crush, because, you know, I have an actual job already.”

“That’s for the best,” Sarah says, “because if I need inspiration for my designs, what you’re wearing right now would be dead BOTTOM of the list!”

“The first time I wore this,” I retort, “you called it a ‘cuddle suit’ and spent all morning clinging to me.”

“Oh, it’s good to cuddle,” Sarah says. “But it’s SHOCKING to look at. But, you know, it’s your Sunday too. So you can either spend the day playing Candy Crush in the plainest onesie of all time, or…”

“…Or?” I ask, grinning as Sarah struggles to keep a straight face.

“Or…” Sarah teases. “I have two long-sleeved leotards, one evening gown, a strapless minidress and a calf-length pencil skirt that kinda need modelling…”

“And you tell me this AFTER my birthday?” I retort, making Sarah giggle as she leaps off the sofa to grab the items of clothing that she mentioned (and, of course, made).

Naturally- after applying a full face of make-up, of course- I spend most of the next two hours modelling the clothes for Sarah as she photographs me and experiments with adjustments to the clothes. Needless to say, it was hard to climb back into my very plain jumpsuit after wearing such beautiful clothing!

“Better?” Sarah asks as she carefully folds the leotards I was wearing and returns them to the drawer in our bedroom.

“You need to ask?” I retort, making my fiancée giggle.

“I just wish there was a way I could help you,” Sarah sighs. “With your work, I mean. And not just fetching snacks for Steph and her friends!”

“There’s more to being a PA than just fetching snacks,” I retort.

“Fetching drinks too?” Sarah asks, laughing as I hurl a pillow at her head. “Okay, I’m sorry, I’m sorry… Still reckon work like that is beneath you, though.”

“I’ve got that photoshoot coming up, with Jamie, Steph and the others,” I shrug. “Might get increased modelling work from that if I’m lucky.”

“As long as I always have first dibs on you,” Sarah says, giggling happily as I respond with a long, soft kiss.

“Always,” I whisper. “But, if you DO want to help me out…”

“Oh- seriously?” Sarah moans. “Again?”

“I’ve been busy,” I shrug. “Deadline isn’t for another couple of weeks anyway… Besides, it’d be appropriate to wait, you know, write my first column for a teen magazine when I’m not a teenager anymore…”

“Except I wrote most of the January one when I wasn’t a teenager either?” Sarah retorts, before chuckling. “It’s okay, I don’t mind. Really- what’s the topic for this month?”

“Getting older,” I say. “All the responsibilities that come with it, jobs, bills, insurance, that sort of thing.”

“Got it,” Sarah says. “I’m guessing you’re also going to include all the positive aspects of getting older, such as living independently with a super-sexy and super-smart fiancée?”

“Of course,” I reply. “Though I get the feeling that might get a bigger part of the column now…”

“Maybe,” Sarah says with a smug grin. “Though I take it you’ll also be mentioning the, um, operation too? Like, you can’t do THAT until you’re eighteen, right?”

“Yeah,” I whisper. “Thanks, Sarah.”

“Do you still get feedback from these columns?” Sarah asks. “Like, from readers?”

“Oh yeah,” I say. “Quite a lot of it, actually. There’s this thirteen year old girl called Ashley I’ve been messaging a lot, she only started transitioning a few months ago, and she- well, obviously I don’t want to, you know, break privacy, but let’s say I’ve helped her out a lot. Think she’s one of Krystie’s students, actually.”

“Huh,” Sarah says. “Maybe she’ll contact ME after the next article!” I stick my tongue out at Sarah as she returns to the living room, her laptop in hand, whilst I spend the rest of the evening going through my correspondence with my readers- many of which are, of course, birthday wishes!

Eventually, though, the time comes for me and Sarah to admit that our weekend has come to an end, especially with early starts for both of us tomorrow (Sarah for uni, me for work).

“You know,” Sarah muses as she peels off the short dress and clingy tights she’s been wearing all day, “you do do a lot of good work, with that column, and talking to those kids. Jamie and Steph might get more publicity, but you deserve a lot of praise too.”

“Aww, you would say that,” I giggle as I peel off my jumpsuit.

“I mean it,” Sarah says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if forty years from now, we’re celebrating the life of DAME Nicola Thomas…”

“’Dame’ Nicola Thomas-PHILLIPS,” I correct my fiancée, giving her slender neck a quick nuzzle. “Dame Sarah Thomas-Phillips!”

“’Dame’ Sarah Phillips-Thomas!” My fiancée corrects me. “Can- can I see that jumpsuit?” I have a quizzical look on my face as I hand the light grey garment to Sarah, before sighing as she immediately steps into its scoop neck and pulls it over her petite body, before folding her arms and staring at me with a blank look on her face.

“…It’s too big for you,” I say, making Sarah giggle.

“Maybe,” Sarah shrugs, an action which causes the jumpsuit to literally fall off her. “If it was a bit bigger, though…”

“Maybe during the winter months,” I giggle as I climb underneath the sheets and am immediately joined by my fiancée. “Whatever happened to that two-person bodystocking you made?”

“Ugh,” Sarah spits. “The stitching on that was SHOCKING. We tore it so badly getting out of it it was damaged beyond repair.”

“But if it was made of sturdier fabric, like say, cotton?” I say, making Sarah roll her eyes and giggle.

“Get some sleep!” Sarah chastises me. “I have enough ideas for clothes- and whatever the hell a two-person jumpsuit would be- as it is!”

“Yes, ma’am!” I giggle, giving Sarah a long kiss before wrapping my arms around her waist and quickly drifting off to sleep.

However, we’re only asleep for a few minutes before we’re both woken by the sound of our phones ringing simultaneously.

“…Who?” Sarah moans as she grabs her phone. “Nikki, it- it’s your mum.”

“Mum?” I grunt as I check my own phone to discover that my dad is calling me. “Mine- my dad’s calling my phone…” I frown as I slide my thumb across the phone’s screen to answer the call. “He-hello?”

“Nikki,” dad says in a hoarse, desperate-sounding voice. “You need to come now.”

“Come?” I grunt as Sarah answers her phone and starts speaking to my mum. “Come where?”

“The hospital, Nikki,” dad says. “It’s your granddad. He’s had a heart attack.”

Forty-five minutes later, Sarah and I- having changed into comfortable, practical jeans and sweatshirts- enter the waiting room of Charing Cross hospital, where my mum and my dad greet us both with long, tight hugs. I’m almost in shock when dad wraps me in his arms- whenever we’ve hugged in the past, it was always tentative, awkward. This hug feels like dad doesn’t ever want to let go…

“How- how is he?” I ask, blinking back tears as I see that dad has already shed tears of his own.

“He’s in intensive care,” dad whispers. “They- they say he’s got a blockage in his artery, they’re prepping him for emergency bypass surgery…”

“Oh god, dad…” I moan as I give my father another long, tight hug. “Is- is grandma-“

“She’s waiting with the doctors,” mum whispers. “Jenny’s with your other grandparents. The- the doctors will let us know if there’s any, um, news…”

“You- you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to,” dad sighs. “You’ve got work tomorrow, and uni…”

“I’m not going anywhere,” I whisper, before turning to face my fiancée. “You- you can go-“

“I’m not going anywhere,” Sarah echoes me as she links our fingers together.

“Thank you,” dad whispers. “Both of you. We, um, we should find a seat…” Sarah and I both nod as we follow my parents to a corner of the waiting room, where my mind starts racing.

When I was in hospital following my SRS, none of my grandparents came to visit me, despite having the time to do so, and a part of me always resented this, but now that grandpa’s unwell… Despite everything he’s said and done over the years- both in front of TV cameras and otherwise- there isn’t a single part of me that doesn’t want to be here for him, that doesn’t want to stay until I know for sure that he’s okay. After all, he IS family.

Despite my worry, I must have drifted off to sleep at some point as I suddenly become aware of a hand gently shaking my shoulder, waking me from a dreamless slumber. When I open my eyes, I find myself staring into the expressionless face of my father.

“D-dad?” I meekly moan. “What- what time-“

“Nick-Nikki,” dad mumbles. “The, um, your granddad- your granddad had another heart attack during the night, um, as he was waiting for his surgery, he- um, he…” All the colour drains from my face as dad shakes his head, before bursting into a flood of tears. Mere seconds later, I moan in pain as tears flow from my eyes and I allow my father to wrap me in a tight hug.

“I’m- I’m sorry-“ I mumbles between sobs as my tearful mum joins in our hug.

“No- no,” dad sobs. “It’s me, I- I shouldn’t be crying like this, I need to be strong- strong for mum, strong for you…”

“There’s no shame in crying, dad,” I sniffle.

“…Thank you,” dad whispers as he leans into mum, softly sobbing into her shoulder.

“Ni-Nikki?” Sarah whispers, having been woken by the commotion. “What’s happened? Is- is he-“ Sarah moans as I shake my head, before embracing me just as my mother had my father, allowing me to bawl my eyes out onto her shoulder…

It’s almost dawn by the time the four of us have composed ourselves, and all around us, the hospital staff are continuing on with their work, a stark reminder that no matter what, life goes on- even if right now, I find it impossible to comprehend how people can just get on with things as though nothing happened. Of course, consciously I know that none of the staff will have ever even met my grandfather, but still there’s a part of me that wants to get up and shout at them, wanting to know what’s wrong with them…

My emotions only get more scrambled when a shell-shocked Grandma Irene approaches us, accompanied by one of the doctors. Immediately, dad starts crying again, as do I, as we both greet the elderly woman with a gentle hug.

“Mum…” Dad sobs.

“I- I need to go- need to go home-“ Grandma blubs. “Need to start clearing-“

“We’ll deal with all of that, Irene,” mum says. “You- you shouldn’t be alone right now.”

“We’ll stay with you for as long as you need,” dad whispers. “Won’t we, Nikki?”

“Of- of course,” I sniffle.

“No- no, the two of you have work,” Grandma sobs. “You go, I’ll be-“

“We’re not going anywhere,” I say, making Grandma smile for what will undoubtedly have been the first time today.

“Thank you,” Grandma sobs. “But I- I don’t want to stay here, not- not this place…”

“We’ll take you back to ours,” dad offers. “Girls, can you-“

“We’ll follow you,” Sarah whispers, taking my hand and leading me out to her car. Once I’m sat in the passenger seat with my seatbelt fastened, though, I break down in tears yet again. Almost immediately, Sarah wraps me in a long, tight hug, allowing me to cry my eyes out onto her shoulder.

“Thank god I didn’t wear any make-up to the hospital, eh?” I sniffle as Sarah smiles sympathetically.

“Is- is this the first time, you know…” Sarah mumbles.

“Heh, I guess it kinda is,” I sigh. “All of my gra- all of my OTHER grandparents are still alive, I don’t have any aunts or uncles…”

“We were talking about growing up, becoming more mature,” Sarah says. “Loss is just another part of that. My grandpa died when I was eleven, he was my paternal grandfather too, and even though I didn’t know him that much- I think I only saw him five or six times after my mum and dad’s divorce- it was still hard knowing that he wasn’t going to be around anymore. Karl and Kerrie were too young really to know what was happening…”

“Like Jenny,” I whisper. “She’ll never have known her grandfather. Heh, just like she never knew her big brother…”

“Lucky for her she has a super-cool big sister,” Sarah whispers.

“And an ever cooler sister-in-law,” I say. “God, it’s almost 8am… I oughta call Jonathan, let him know I won’t be in today…”

“I’ll call my tutor when I get to your place,” Sarah says, making me frown in confusion.

“Umm, you don’t have to,” I say. “I mean, I know how much you love uni-“

“I’m not leaving you, Nikki,” Sarah says. “Not when you need me the most.”

“…Thank you,” I whisper as we head back toward my parents’ home, where yet more hugs are exchanged between mum, dad, grandma, Sarah and myself.

Over the course of the morning, we’re joined by other members of Grandpa Steven’s family, including his sister (and my great-aunt) Pauline, who immediately comforts grandma the second she walks through the door.

“Oh god, Irene…” Great-Aunt Pauline sobs as she comforts my grandmother.

“Hi, Auntie Pauline,” dad sniffles as he receives a hug from the elderly woman.

“God, Chris…” Great-Aunt Pauline sighs. “How long has it been since I last saw you, four, five years?”

“Six,” dad whispers as he glances nervously over at me. Six years ago, of course, ‘Nikki’ didn’t exist… “…A lot of things have changed since then.”

“I can see,” Great-Aunt Pauline says in a stoic voice as her gaze meets mine. “Hello, Nick-Nicola.”

“H-hi,” I reply, leaning in for what would inevitably have been an awkward hug, only for the elderly woman to abruptly pull back from me.

“It’s good to see you again,” Great-Aunt Pauline says, before sitting down on the opposite side of the room to me.

“Thank you for coming from so far away,” Grandma says, breaking the awkward silence in the room.

“He was my brother,” Great-Aunt Pauline shrugs. “I- I just wish I’d known he was unwell…”

“It was so sudden,” Grandma sniffles. “He seemed fine on Friday when we went to Nikki’s for her birthday.” I bite my lip as Great-Aunt Pauline bristles at the mere mention of my name.

“He- he did,” I mumble in agreement.

“On the way home,” Grandma continues, “he even talked about how excited he was about Nikki and Sarah’s wedding next year, how much he was looking forward to it… And how proud he was that Nikki had grown into a mature young adult.” I feel Sarah’s hand gently squeeze mine as fresh tears fall from my still-raw eyes.

“I- I see,” Great-Aunt Pauline mumbles, leading an awkward silence that is mercifully broken when my other grandparents arrive, carrying my infant sister in their arms. Understandably, Grandma Irene reaches for Jenny the second she sees her and gives the two year old girl the tenderest cuddle any grandchild has ever received.

As always seems to happen, Jenny’s presence diffuses all the tension in the room as my grandparents and great-aunt all take turns fussing over her, between telling stories about Grandpa Steven, about how he once nearly got into a fight with a musician called Keith Richards, or how he would often misbehave, both at school or at home, or how much he panicked when he learned that he was about to become a father- or how extremely proud he was the day he became a grandfather. Tears are shed by everyone present more than once- even from Jenny, who despite her young age, seems to know that something’s wrong, or rather that someone important is missing.

It’s almost 4pm when people start to head home, with dad accompanying Grandma Irene and Great-Aunt Pauline back to what is inevitably going to be an extremely empty house from now on. Despite our offers of help, Sarah and I are told we’ve done more than enough today and sent back home to relax- though with all that’s happened today, that’s easier said than done.

“Did- did you ever know your great-grandparents?” Sarah asks me as she drives us both back to our tiny flat.

“Umm… Nope,” I reply. “Dunno if any of them were alive when I was born. Why do you ask?”

“It- ugh, it’s nothing,” Sarah mumbles, before sighing as I stare at her. “Okay, it’s your great-aunt… I get the sense that she was actually offended that you’d be mourning for your granddad.”

“She’s just old, and old-fashioned,” I shrug. “She probably hasn’t- hadn’t seen grandpa in years herself… Last time she saw him was probably on Jeremy Kyle, heh. That probably wouldn’t put me in her good books…”

“Still family, though,” Sarah whispers, leading to an awkward silence that’s only broken by the sound of my phone vibrating within my handbag.

“Ugh, this has been going off all day,” I moan as I reach into my bag, before gasping when I see the top notification on my phone.

“What?” Sarah asks. “Who is it?”

“Alice,” I say.

“What, one of the new Angels?” Sarah asks. “What does she want?”

“’So sorry to hear about your loss’,” I read the message on my phone. “’If you need anything, let me know’. I- I’ve barely ever spoken to the girl… How did she even find out?”

“Jonathan probably told Out of Heaven, who told the Angels,” Sarah muses. “Is that the only message on there?”

“Hardly,” I snort. “All of Out of Heaven have texted me condolences, all of the Angels, even Stuart and some of the boys.”

“So cool,” Sarah whispers. “It’s not just your blood family who’s rallying around you.”

“Yeah,” I whisper. “Nothing from Katie or Lauren, though… Or Jacinta or Ophelia.”

“I think I know why,” Sarah says, pointing to the front door of our flat, where the four young women who comprise our closest ‘non-blood’ family are waiting.

Naturally, I’m greeted with tight hugs from all four girls- even the usually aloof Ophelia- as yet more tears flow from my eyes. All four girls stay at the flat until late into the evening, even though they all have university tomorrow, and by the time they leave (bidding me farewell with yet more tight hugs) I feel like the most loved woman in the entire world… Especially as the person most responsible for that feeling curls up next to me on our sofa.

“I know this must sound selfish,” Sarah sighs, “But I am fucking EXHAUSTED.”

“Selfish?” I retort. “After all you’ve done for me today, you deserve a week of me waiting on you hand and foot. Seriously, Sarah, I can’t even begin to thank you…”

“Nikki,” Sarah giggles. “You’d have done the same thing for me without even a second thought. Really that hard to believe I’d do the same for you?”

“Well- no, of course not,” I reply. “But-“

“No buts,” Sarah whispers. “You’re my soul mate, Nikki. Through the bad times and the good, I’ll happily go through them all as long as I can go with you.”

“Of course,” I whisper as we spend the rest of the evening cuddled together on the sofa, before ending the day cuddled together in our bed, as we have done countless times in the past.

I take several deep breaths to clear the fog from my brain and rub my eyes several times to try to bring my vision back to normal as the bright sunlight wakes me from my slumber. I stumble through my bedroom to the shower, where the hot water cascades over my body, before I’m suddenly gripped by a sense of sheer panic. After switching off the shower, I sprint back through to my bedroom, where Sarah is still laid, motionless, in our bed. However, I can instinctively tell that she’s not sleeping.

“Sarah?” I yell as I shake the cold, limp body, desperate for any sign of life. “Sarah!? Oh god, no… Please- please wake up! Sarah! Please!”

I let out a loud scream as I wake up, before taking several deep breaths to try to slow my racing heart.

“It was a dream,” I whisper. “It was a dream…” A quick glance down to my side reveals that Sarah is laid there sleeping peacefully, her soft, gentle breaths reassurance that in the morning, she’ll be the same, perfect, alive woman that she has been in all the time I’ve known her.

I lay back down on my pillow, and despite my heightened anxiety, I try to get back to sleep, letting the rhythm of Sarah’s breathing soothe me back to sleep. I’ve just about nodded off again when Sarah’s gentle breaths suddenly turn into panicked gasps, and her eyes shoot open, staring at me with a look of pure terror on her face.

“…Sarah?” I ask, before yelping with surprise as Sarah suddenly wraps me in a tight, almost bone crushing hug.

“Nikki,” Sarah whispers as she squeezes me tight. “Nikki, Nikki…”

“Did- did you just have a bad dream?” I ask, sighing as Sarah tearfully nods.

“I- I was coming home from uni,” Sarah explains. “And you were laid on the sofa, not moving…”

“…I just had the same dream,” I whisper. “Well, you were in bed, not on the sofa, but-“ I’m suddenly silenced as Sarah ambushes me with a long, deep kiss- not a passionate kiss, but a kiss that tells me just how glad my fiancée is to be in the same bed- or even the same life as me.

“Let’s get married,” Sarah says, momentarily confusing me.

“Umm, Sarah…” I say as I hold up my left hand. “We ARE getting married.”

“No,” Sarah says firmly. “I mean let’s get married NOW.”

“S-Sarah?” I ask. “Are- are you serious?”

“100% serious,” Sarah says. “I want us to be married as soon as possible. I want us to be able to celebrate our 50th, 60th, hell, even our 70th wedding anniversaries! So tomorrow, let’s skip work and uni, head up to Gretna Green, and get hitched.”

“…It’s not quite that easy, sadly,” I sigh. “Even in Gretna Green you need to submit forms and have a waiting period. Besides, I thought you always wanted to get married in a church?”

“Yeah, right,” Sarah snorts. “Know any churches that’ll marry a transgendered woman to a cisgendered woman? No? Didn’t think so.”

“But what about our families?” I ask, making Sarah’s face fall. “This IS why you’re suggesting this now, isn’t it? So we can get married in front of as many of our family members as possible?”

“…Your granddad dying, it- it kinda hammered it home a bit,” Sarah mumbles.

“And people will say we rushed into it,” I say. “Like they said we rushed into getting engaged-“

“They’re wrong,” Sarah says firmly. “We’re not rushing, because we know that we are both RIGHT. And I so, SO wish I’d proposed to you the second you turned eighteen. I love you, Nikki. I adore you, I want to be with you forever, I don’t ever, EVER want to let you go-“ This time, it’s my turn to silence Sarah with a long, loving kiss, which I only break when a plan pops into my mind.

“How about this summer?” I ask, making Sarah grin.

“We still need to find a venue,” Sarah says.

“Charlotte,” I shrug.

“And someone to perform the ceremony,” Sarah says.

“Charlotte again,” I chuckle. “It’s no hassle for someone to get ordained online to perform a ceremony like this.”

“I think Charlotte’s a fairly devout Christian,” Sarah says. “She might object to being ordained in some bullshit church… How about Stuart?”

“Ehh…” I grimace. “This’ll sound silly, but- but I’d really prefer it if it was a woman doing the ceremony. How about Krystie? I’ve seen a few atheist-y things on her Facebook.”

“Sounds perfect!” Sarah giggles. “I’ll tell Lauren and Ophelia to get a move on with the dresses.”

“We’ll call that boutique we were at to see if we can get the bridesmaid dresses earlier,” I say.

“I’ll even talk to Diane and explain the situation,” Sarah says with a smug grin.

“…Wow,” I mouth, making Sarah break down in a fit of giggles and tightly wrap her arms around me.

“I love you so much,” Sarah whispers in my ear as we lay back down in bed.

“I love you too,” I whisper back as we both close our eyes and slowly drift back off to sleep.

My emotions are mixed the following morning as I pull on the black tights, white blouse, short black skirt and black high heels that make up my regular work attire. On the one hand, I’m excited at the prospect of my brought-forward wedding, but on the other hand, I can’t stop thinking about Grandma, and how lonely she must be now. Yesterday morning, I felt like screaming at all the doctors and nurses for carrying on as though nothing happened, yet here I am, getting ready to do just that whilst my grandmother is undoubtedly sat alone at home, having lost everything that ever mattered to her.

My mixed emotions plague my thoughts long after I arrive at work, though fortunately, the four girls of Out of Heaven understand that I’m going to be ‘off my game’ for a while. However, at lunchtime, a text message from my fiancée lifts my spirits. Obviously, this is always the case, but the content of the message puts an extra-wide smile on my face.

'Will pick you up after work,' Sarah's message reads. 'We're having guests over tonight.'

Unsurprisingly, when Sarah arrives, the back seat of her car has Katie and Lauren- two of said 'guests'- sat on it, whilst immediately behind is another car containing Jacinta, Ophelia and Becky, the chairwoman of Sarah's university's LGBT society. The significance of the identities of these people isn't lost on me- all five women are bridesmaids to either myself or Sarah, and when we arrive home, we're soon joined by Jamie- my maid of honour- and Sarah's sister Kerrie over Skype.

"Ladies and girlies," Sarah says with a smug grin once we're all assembled. "I've called you all here today because Nikki and I have an announcement."

"Don't keep us in suspense," Katie cautions my fiancée, who simply giggles in response.

"It's about our wedding," I say. "It's not going to be the summer after we graduate after all."

"Oh," almost everyone says, with disappointment etched onto every face in the room.

"...It's going to be THIS summer instead!" Sarah says, earning cheers and hugs for both of us from everyone in the room.

"Oh my god!" Jamie squeaks. "This is so cool! Though when you say 'summer' you mean well after May, right?"

"Don't worry," I laugh. "We'll give people plenty of time to relax after yours and Stuart's wedding first!"

"Guess we'd better get a move on with your dresses, then!" Lauren giggles excitedly. "Right, Ophelia?"

"It should be a relatively simple task of bringing everything forward," Ophelia says in her trademark posh, aloof voice- though the very obvious grin on her face betrays her excitement at the prospect of both the wedding and making our dresses.

"So cool!" Jacinta giggles in an almost manic voice as she gives me a tight hug. "Why'd you change your mind?" I grimace and Jacinta's face falls as the room suddenly falls silent- clearly, everyone already knows why we changed our mind.

"N-Nikki, um, are you okay?" Jamie mumbles as we all sit back down again.

"...Yeah," I whisper. "I mean, he WAS 71, not a young man, and we'd never really got on all-" I don't know how I planned to end that sentence, but regardless, I don't get the chance to as I suddenly break down in a tidal wave of tears.

Immediately, I feel several pairs of arms wrap me in tight, loving hugs as my cheeks burn, both from the sting of my tears and the embarrassment of bawling like a baby in front of my friends.

"I- I'm sorry," I blub.

"You have absolutely nothing to be sorry about!" Sarah assures me as I continue to weep.

"I'M sorry," Jacinta says as she joins in the hug. "God, I can be so insensitive sometimes..."

"No- no, you're okay," I whisper as I wipe the tears from my eyes, only to suddenly start bawling once again. "Ugh, damn hormones..."

"They're just part of life as a woman," Jamie sighs, before getting her phone out of her bag. "Do you know what else is part of life as a woman? FRIENDS. Some might say that it's even the best part of it."

"I definitely think so too," Jacinta whispers with a wide grin. "And you know what they say about a friend in need, right?"

"Thank you," I sniffle. "Thank you all so much..."

"Hey, we're the ones who should be thanking you," Jacinta says as she gives me a tight hug.

"Definitely," Katie concurs. "And not just because thanks to you, we're friends with a bunch of celebrities, heh!"

"Aww," Jamie coos. "Celebrities, many of whom are on their way round here."

"My 'second family'," I say with a chuckle. "We- we're gonna be kinda packed in here... And we've not got much to eat. Or drink..."

"I'll get one of the girls to stop off at Tesco on the way up," Jamie says as she turns back to her phone. "Nikki, when you need us, all you need to do is ask, you know that. That goes for all of you. And I seriously can't wait for your wedding. It's been a long time coming, after all!"

"Thanks," I say softly as my emotions begin to return to normal. "I take it we WILL be having a hen night?"

"Is the Pope Catholic?" Jamie snorts, making the whole room cheer and giggle.

...A room that is soon filled with more young women (and even a couple of their boyfriends), all of whom make sure to pass on their condolences to me, even though they're already done so by text. Every second that our flat is filled with our friends, I feel more and more loved... And yet this only makes me feel more and more guilty that I can't share this 'family' with grandma, or even with dad. I know with absolute certainty that if dad were to die tomorrow, I'd be beyond devastated, so how he must feel right now...

Dad's given me so much support over the years, the least I can do is help him now, when he needs me the most. At the very least, he needs to know that the wedding has been brought forward, so when our 'guests' begin to disperse to go home for their dinners, I hastily grab Sarah and head out to my car, soon arriving at the home of my parents and my little sister. As I step through the front door, though, I immediately discover that there are more than the three people I was expecting inside the house.

"Oh, hello Nikki!" Grandma Irene says with a surprised voice as I walk into the living room. "Hello Sarah. Did you two have a good day?"

"Umm, yes, thank you Mrs Thomas," Sarah mumbles.

"Oh, hi girls!" Dad says with a look of surprise on his face. "We weren't expect you today, umm, I'm not sure we have enough to feed six..."

"Oh- oh we don't have to stay..." I mumble. "We- we just needed to, um, tell you something..."

"Nonsense, of course you two can stay," Grandma says. "You can order a takeaway on one of your fancy mobile phone apps, can't you? I'll pay, it can be my treat."

"Oh, you don't have-" I say, before I'm silences by a look from grandma, a look that a mixture of 'stern' and 'pleading'- almost as though I'd be doing HER a favour by letting her pay for the meal.

"Sounds great!" Dad says with a chuckle. "I'll let your mum know she doesn't have to cook."

"Actually," I say. "I, um, need to talk to mum. And you. And you, um, grandma, too, actually."

"Oh?" Grandma asks. "Is- is something wrong, Nikki?"

"No, nothing's wrong," I reply. "Everything- everything's fine. We just, um, we have some news."

"Okay..." Dad says. "Sandra! Nikki and Sarah are here!" Almost immediately, the door to the kitchen opens and mum emerges, carrying my two year old sister in her arms.

"Hi girls!" Mum says with a grin. "What are you doing here?"

"We- umm, we..." I mumble.

"We're bringing the wedding forward," Sarah says in a voice barely louder than a whisper. "We're getting married this summer, instead of next summer."

"Oh," dad says. "Well, umm, okay then, congratulations!"

"That sounds wonderful," Grandma says with a smile. "Though- though I hope you're not doing this because of, well, what happened..."

"We want to share our love as much as possible, for as long as possible," Sarah says. "If, you know, that makes sense..."

"Perfect sense," grandma says softly. "I hope you'll save a seat for an old lady?"

"Right on the front row," I whisper, wiping a tear from my eye.

"I am SO happy for the two of you," mum says with a happy sigh. "Heh, the two of you are all but married as it is anyway! Do you have an exact date in mind yet?"

"Not an exact date, no," Sarah says. "Probably July or August, during the summer holidays when everyone's off uni. Though knowing Lauren and Ophelia, they'll probably have finished our dresses long before then, heh."

"And do you know where you'll be having it yet?" Dad asks. "Given that I'll be expected to pay for half of it..."

"Umm, probably at Charlotte's, so there shouldn't be any cost," I say, letting out a nervous laugh. "We- we really only just decided on this this morning, you know? Haven't had a chance to go over the details yet, we just wanted to let you know so that we can celeb- uh..." My tongue trips over itself as my eyes meet Grandma's- obviously, she isn't going to be in a mood to celebrate for a while... "We just, umm, wanted to be with family today."

"Perfect," dad says with a grin. "Have you told your mother yet, Sarah? Or your dad?"

"Umm, not yet," Sarah laughs. "I told my sister, so dad probably knows, we'll probably head to mum's after leaving here."

"Well first," grandma says, "we should eat. AND celebrate the love the two of you have for each other. Whatever other people might say, the two of you are obviously made for each other, and the sooner you tie the knot, the better!"

"Thanks," I giggle as dad gets out his phone and orders our dinner.

Naturally, talk of the wedding dominates our dinner, even though grandpa's funeral is only a few days away- though a quick look at grandma's face tell me that she's only too aware of this fact, and that talking about something happier is something she really needs right now.

Of course, grandma spends the remainder of her time at my parents' house fussing over her youngest granddaughter, though given the love she showed me and Sarah and our decision to bring our wedding forward, I can easily forgive this.

As dad and I have tomorrow off work, we're assigned the task of doing the washing-up- though dad does at least concede that with my nails, I'd be better at drying than at the actual washing!

"You know, Nikki," dad muses as he hands me a clutch of forks to dry, "I really am happy for you. For both of you. And I don't just mean about the wedding, I mean about everything."

"I know," I whisper.

"I've never told you this before," dad mumbles, his cheeks starting to flush. "But when you first, um, came out, I- I was actually bullied at work."

"Oh- what?" I gasp. "Seriously?"

"Seriously," dad whispers. "Some of the other cabbies, they- well, they're cabbies. Some of them make Farage look like Jeremy Corbyn. Wouldn't stop laughing at me, calling me gay for having a transgendered child. Some even accused me of being a paedophile, or fooling around with you."

"That is just disgusting," I spit. "I hope you did something about it."

"Yeah," dad says. "I told them to fuck off and mind their own business."

"...And?" I ask.

"And off they fucked," dad says. "That's the thing about most bullies. Stand up to them and they back down. It's easy to insult someone behind their back. It's harder to do it when they're looking you in the eye and threatening to put you down."

"Umm, dad..." I grimace. "You- you're not exactly, you know, a bodybuilder..."

"Unless by 'build' you mean 'expand horizontally'," dad laughs as he pats his pot belly. "Don't need to be. Most of the people who were talking about me were in their late fifties and make me look like Mo Farah. They shut up soon enough. When we went on Jeremy Kyle, I think I actually earned the respect of some of them."

"I wish you'd told me earlier," I mumble.

"Why?" Dad retorts. "There's nothing you could've done. And don't say you could have toned down the whole 'girl thing', because A- you wouldn't, and B- I would never have let you."

"You're right," I say with a snort of laughter. "About both."

"I've said that going from having one son to having two daughters is a trade up," dad says. "But the truth is that going from having one son to having one daughter is also a trade up. I went to the wedding of one of my friends' daughters not long after your eighteenth birthday. She worked for the cab firm, so I got invited, etc. etc. What I never forgot was the look of utter pride and love on her father's face as he walked his daughter down the aisle. That's an experience I never thought I'd have while you were growing up. Now I'll get to do it in just a few months’ time. Hell, if Jenny gets married early enough I may even get to do it twice, though by the time she'll be your age I'll be past sixty, my knees will be going, my- my heart might-" I silence my emotional father with a long, tight hug, which he reciprocates, wrapping his arms around me and hugging me in a way I have never before experienced from him.

"I- I love you, dad," I sniffle into my father's shoulder.

"I love you too, daughter," dad says, before giving me a long, loving kiss on my forehead, just as I've seen him do to Jenny on countless occasions.

I have a happy, contented smile on my face as Sarah and I drive home (after dropping grandma at her place first, of course, and talking to Beverly). Once we get back to our flat, I immediately reach for my laptop and load up a video of Grandpa Steven from earlier in the year at Jenny's birthday. As I watch the old man play with my infant sister, I feel tears form in the corners of my eyes- but happy tears, as I remember the love that the man had for his family- and at the very end, the love that he had for me.

After the video ends, I find the video on my laptop labelled 'Me Dad Grandpa on Jeremy Kyle'... And I delete it. That's not the memory I want to have of my grandfather. I want to remember him as the man who was proud of the adult I had become, and who looked forward to coming to my wedding, and who loved EVERY member of his family.

That night, as I sleep, I find myself in a church, wearing a pristine white wedding dress, stood opposite an identically-dressed Sarah.

"I'm proud of you, Nikki," I hear- or rather, feel- a voice whisper in my ear- the voice of my grandfather.

"You may kiss the bride," the minister says as Sarah and I lean in to kiss each other, and I feel the love of everyone in my life, blood relative or otherwise, engulf me in a feeling of utter contentment...

My family won't be around forever. My remaining grandparents won't be around forever, nor will my parents, nor will my friends. As I take my little sister to her ballet class the following morning, I muse on how she'll probably never hold any memories of her grandfather, how I'll probably have to 'fill in the blanks' for her. I'll make sure that she knows that however he may have been towards me, he always adored her with all his heart. Because nothing is more important than family, whether they're blood related, as I'm reminded when I again have dinner with my parents and my grandmother, or not blood related, as I'm reminded when Sarah and I are called to a hospital late in the evening to celebrate the birth of Viks and Jonathan's daughter. And if Jenny asks about the big brother she never had, I'll make sure she knows that 'he' would've loved her just as much as I do.

I intend to treasure every second I have with every member of my family- but I especially intend to treasure every billionth of a second I spend with Sarah, who has stood by me over the past week in a way that proves that we're not just soul mates, but two halves of the exact same soul. And soon, sooner than I previously thought, we'll be bound together forever. And I can't wait for that day to come.



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