I let out a happy sigh as I wake up in my warm, cozy bed to discover that during the night, Kayla’s arms have wrapped themselves around my body- and mine have wrapped themselves around hers.
Both of us had an exhausting day yesterday. In the morning, we (and the other members of the band) were at our producer’s house, celebrating his 28th birthday. In the afternoon, we were at the o2 arena, rehearsing for our anniversary concert. In the evening, we were performing our anniversary concert, and after that, we were meeting with the fans outside the arena- which leads to the reason why Kayla and I are cuddled together so closely. For the last few days, the whole of the UK has been gripped by what the news have dubbed ‘the Beast From the East’, a weather front that has dropped temperatures to well below freezing and dumped several inches of snow on the whole country- which made singing and dancing in skimpy costumes in a vast, open arena very cold and uncomfortable!
And of course, as the tiniest of us, Kayla had it worst of all. Even with my arms wrapped around her, her thick, flannel pyjamas covering her body and my even thicker sheets and duvet covering both of us, she’s still shivering from the cold. This is the fifth night in a row that we’ve shared a bed, and the fifth night in a row my heart has been broken by her suffering in this weather.
…And also the fifth night in a row we’ve shared a bed while practically fully-dressed, and the fifth night in a row when neither of us have even thought about sex. Kayla says she’s okay with this, of course, but I’m still not fully convinced that she’s as happy as she says she is…
“Mmph,” Kayla moans, letting out a soft, tired sigh as her eyes slowly flutter open. “Morning, Steph…”
“Morning, Kayla,” I reply, exchanging a gentle kiss with the tiny girl before she snuggles even closer into my embrace. “You okay after yesterday?”
“Well I can feel my fingers again,” Kayla replies, making me giggle. “Ugh, can’t believe how cold it is still! I don’t want to have to get up…”
“Nah, me neither,” I sigh. “Got to get up eventually, though…”
“Do we really, though?” Kayla asks.
“…It IS one of our best friends’ birthday today,” I reply. “Her 21st, even. Think we’d kinda be noticed if we didn’t put in an appearance.”
“…Yeah, alright then,” Kayla moans, before unwrapping herself from my arms and heading to the bathroom. “Ugh, you need a thicker carpet, too. Preferably so thick that I can’t see my feet in it.”
“It won’t be winter forever,” I retort. “Maybe you should skip shaving your legs for a bit?”
“You know my response to THAT,” my girlfriend says, making me giggle as she sticks her tongue out at me before leaving the room. If it wasn’t for the physical side of things, right now, our relationship would be perfect.
I get up myself a short while later, once I’m sure that Kayla’s out of the bathroom, and grab a quick (and hot!) shower before dressing for the day in a pair of translucent tights, a comfortable dark red turtleneck and a pleather miniskirt I bought on the internet last months and have been itching to try on- especially as it will look great with the boots I plan on wearing today!
When I head through to the living room, I’m unsurprised to find Kayla snuggled up on the sofa under our big, thick quilt, though her face quickly lights up when she sees me, particularly my legs, enter the room and head through to the kitchen area.
“Hello Miss Abbott!” Kayla teases, making me blush. “Seriously, I LOVE that skirt.”
“Is it the skirt you love,” I ask,” or the sight of me wearing it?” I giggle as Kayla responds with a roll of her eyes and an overdramatic sigh.
“Both, of course,” the petite blonde girl says with a giggle. “Wanna hear some reviews of our show last night?”
“Only if they’re good,” I reply, earning another eye roll from Kayla.
“Out of Heaven showed again why they are one of Britain’s premier girl groups,” Kayla says, reading from her iPad. “The people who braved the cold were treated to the spectacle we've come to expect from the foursome, whose harmonies were as good as they've ever been.”
“Go on,” I say with a smug smile.
“That’s the man gist of the article,” Kayla says. “Wanna see some photos?”
“Hell yeah I do!” I say, giggling girlishly as Kayla hands me her tablet, on which are several photos of me and the other three girls in the skimpy Angel-themed costumes we wore last night. “SO gorgeous…”
“Aww, thanks!” Kayla says, giggling as I snuggle up next to her underneath our quilt. “You looked pretty damn good too, hehe!”
“Heh,” I chuckle. “Feeling a bit warmer now?”
“A little,” Kayla replies. “Was probably just tired after last night. And I’m REALLY looking forward to tonight’s party, hehe!”
“21st are always great,” I say. “Yours in October will be the best of all, though.”
“Ahh, stop making me over-excited!” My girlfriend teases, giving me a playful shove. “Just wish we could’ve done a few more shows, heh. Amazed last night even went ahead ‘cause of the snow.”
“Most of the people coming were from London anyway,” I shrug. “And three years of Out of Heaven is worth celebrating despite the cold, heh!”
“Damn right,” Kayla giggles. “God, I can still remember my first audition, you know? I knew I stood a chance, but I was just TERRIFIED when I eventually got in there.”
“I assure you that I was more scared,” I say, making Kayla smile sympathetically and snuggle her body closer to mine. “And not just because of the singing, heh.”
“Bet you never thought your life would end up this way this time three years ago?” Kayla asks.
“What, going out with one of the most famous singers in the country?” I ask, making my girlfriend giggle and roll her eyes.
“BEING one of the most famous singers in the country!” Kayla snorts, before rolling her eyes again as I pout. “…And yes, I didn’t think I’d be going out with one of the most famous singers in the country either!”
“I wouldn’t swap this for anything, though,” I say.
And despite all the troubles I’ve known, all the mental strain I’ve endured from not knowing who I really was, all the emotional strain of keeping my family in the dark, and even the physical strain of chemically transforming my body… I really wouldn’t swap this life for anything. Certainly not the life ‘Steve’ had- single, unemployed and no friends. Sure, I have a lot more responsibilities now- I often have to travel at a moment’s notice, spend days at a time away from home, perform on demand and keep up a very carefully-maintained public image- but it’s only hard work if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing. And I do genuinely love every part of my life- especially the part where I zip my lower legs into one of my favourite pairs of high-heeled boots before climbing into our waiting taxi!
A short while later- though longer than usual thanks to the London traffic being even worse in this weather- the taxi pulls up outside the familiar, welcoming offices of Heavenly Talent, where our boss is waiting for us with a wide grin on his face.
“My heavenly singers are all here!” Joshua booms with a hearty chuckle as Kayla and I exchange hugs with Becca and Adeola, who are similarly casually (and warmly!) attired. “Come, come to my office and we will discuss last night’s triumph!”
“Can do!” I say with an excited giggle.
“And thanks for relaxing the dress code today,” Kayla- who in lieu of our quilt, has wrapped herself in a thick purple turtleneck- says, earning another chuckle from our boss as we head up the stairs to his vast office.
The debrief lasts a mere 45 minutes and consists mainly of Joshua singing our praises for persevering despite the cold and his wish- like ours- that there had been a few more dates in the tour. It’s Joshua’s final nugget of information, however, that intrigues us the most.
“Before you go and enjoy your well-earned weekend,” Joshua says, “I thought you would be interested to know that I have heard a few positive murmurs from our friends in the United States of America!”
“A- America?” Becca gasps, her eyes widening. “Seriously!?”
“At the moment they are only murmurs,” Joshua says. “And you would be small fish in a big pond, at least at first. But I have heard from several interested parties who would love to hear more from Out of Heaven!”
“Oh my god this is so cool!” Adeola squeaks. “We’re going to America?”
“Not for several months at the very earliest!” Joshua laughs. “I love your enthusiasm, but you must calm yourselves down. When I hear more, then so will you. But I thought it would be fair to let you know that the wheels are in motion.”
“Even though two of us are gonna be singing in America later in the year anyway?” Adeola asks, casting a teasing glance in mine and Kayla’s direction.
“…We’re just doing it as a nice surprise for our friends,” Kayla sighs. “Like, a wedding gift, that sort of thing.”
“Though I’m sure Alexa and Jenny wouldn’t mind the whole band going over,” I shrug.
“And neither would I,” Joshua says. “Even if you are doing this concert for free! But it is important that you play at this wedding.”
“Because… It’s good publicity?” I ask.
“Because Alexa and Jenny are your friends!” Joshua replies with a loud chuckle. “There is nothing more important than friends and family. Now go and get ready for the party for another one of your friends! Just because ten thousand people don’t come to the o2 to see Nikki doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve the best party that money can buy.”
“I take it that goes double for Dessie?” Adeola asks with a cheeky glint in her eye.
“That goes a million times for the most beautiful baby girl in the world!” Joshua chuckles as he’s reminded of the upcoming birthday of his adoptive granddaughter. “And yes, you will all be there too! Expect an invitation in the post later this week.”
“Will do,” Becca says with a smile as she leads us out of the office. We don’t get far, however, before a call from our boss stops us.
“Stephanie, Kayla, a word please,” Joshua says. “I think you two know what this is about.”
“Yep,” I say as we sit back down. “And yes, everything is fine at home, no drama or anything.”
“And no, we don’t want to go public with this,” Kayla continues. “Not yet, anyway.”
“That’s right,” I say with a smile even as I find myself wishing that Kayla wouldn’t continually force me to hide our relationship. However, I know that confronting her about this doesn’t work, so I’m forced to keep my frustrations to myself and nod along with Kayla as we give Joshua our ‘progress update’. Once we leave the office, however, I let out a long sigh- and Kayla immediately knows the reason for the sigh.
“Yes, yes, I know,” the petite blonde girl says with a sigh of her own. “But we- we need to, first, you know- well, you do know that we need to be, like, delicate about this…”
“I know,” I say quietly. Despite her mangled words, Kayla’s meaning is obvious- she no doubt wants me to believe that she doesn’t want to go public with our relationship until she’s sure that it’ll be positively received by our fans. And yet, I can’t help but think that the real reason she doesn’t want to go public is because she still isn’t sure about us…
A quick lunch at a local fancy restaurant with Becca, Adeola and their partners follows our meeting, during which Kayla and I obviously keep out distance from each other (especially as we’re ambushed by paparazzi upon leaving the eatery), but when we get back home, we both immediately flop onto our sofa and snuggle together under our warm quilt, relaxing as our slender bodies finally come into contact with each other.
“Ahh, SO much better,” Kayla sighs as she rests her head against my shoulder. “You know, if we DO go to America, there’ll be even more press hounding us everywhere we go? Especially in New York or LA.”
“I know,” I sigh, mentally adding ‘all the more reason to go public now’ to the end of my response. “Looking forward to it?”
“What, becoming a superstar on both sides of the Atlantic? Umm, yes!” Kayla replies with a giggle.
“Well, obviously,” I giggle. “I meant the wedding though, the ‘private gig’ sort of thing.”
“Could be cool,” Kayla shrugs. “I mean, it’s not like we can do this for EVERY fan, but they came all the way to England to see us, right?”
“Yeah,” I reply. “And they’re, you know, kinda ‘part of the family’.”
“Ah, of course,” Kayla says with a look of realisation on her face. “’Cause Ale- Alexa? ‘Cause she’s transgendered, yeah, I get it. Kinda forgot about her. Heh, sometimes I even forget YOU’RE transgendered!”
“If only it was that easy for me,” I sigh, smiling as Kayla tightens her hug. “Especially with the costumes we wore last night!”
“They were a bit revealing, weren’t they?” Kayla giggled. “Not that I’d have wanted to wear anything else, heh!”
“Me either,” I say as I remember the feel of the clingy spandex leotard on my increasingly-feminine body- and the look of Kayla’s equally-tight costume on her petite body. The odd thing is, it’s the former that excites me more than the latter…
“Speaking of tight, revealing clothing,” Kayla says with a grin, “we have a party to get ready for, don’t we?”
“…In a bit,” I say, cuddling Kayla closer to me as she smiles and tries to wriggle out of my arms. “Can we relax first?”
“…Yeah, alright,” Kayla says, giving in and snuggling into my embrace.
A short while later, however, we’re forced to leave our cozy quilt cocoon as the afternoon turns into evening and we’re forced to get ready for the party (as sexy as my skirt is, it’s still a bit ‘casual’ for tonight’s events). Nikki hasn’t selected a particular theme for tonight’s party, so the unofficial ‘generic’ theme applies- gorgeous, glamorous and girly- all three of which I’m only too happy to oblige!
I start, as always, with my make-up, applying a glossy foundation followed by a very expensive pair of fake eyelashes, thick, dark eye-makeup and a light blush. The goal of my make-up is simple- make it even harder for Kayla to remember that I was ever anything other than 100% girl! It takes a good while- and several different shades of lipstick- before I’m satisfied with my look, but once I’m done, I move onto my hair, taking the curling iron I’d pre-heated and wrapping lock after lock of my long brown hair around it until it bounces with every turn of my head. After touching up my deep red nail polish, I move onto the next part of my look- and by far the most important part for tonight. I’ve long since decided which dress and shoes I’ll be wearing- a clingy, low-cut sleeveless black party dress and a very ambitious pair of 5” platform stilettos- but what I wear underneath is going to be a much harder choice. I have countless sets of underwear, verging from the boringly practical right the way to sizzling and sexy- and a quick glance at my hair and make-up tells me that the latter option is the better one.
I have to chuckle as I remember that when I first appeared on stage with Out of Heaven, my underwear was designed to give me extra shape 'up top' and conceal any 'shape' 'down below'. Sixteen months on hormones, however, has reversed the 'problem' that I used to have- my bras have gone from being padded and 'part of the illusion' to being day-to-day necessities- I actually have a bigger cup size than Kayla does. Likewise, my panties have gradually contained less and less lycra and spandex and more and more lace and soft cotton as the need to 'flatten' has gone away- nowadays all I need to do is 'tuck it away' first thing in the morning and I can forget about it for the rest of the day, rather than the constant 'adjustments' I had to do during the first few months of life as Stephanie. With this in mind, I opt for a very frivolous, very lacy bra and thong set I picked up for myself a few months ago. The set cost £80 and feels like it barely weighs an ounce, but once I've got it on, the soft fabric feels amazing against my skin- and I know it'll give Kayla a few naughty ideas. I hope it will, anyway...
The promise of 'naughty ideas' also prompts me to put away the pair of black tights I was going to wear tonight, and instead fish around in my underwear drawer for the garter belt that matches my lingerie, onto which I fasten a pair of dark, back-seamed stockings that make my legs feel incredible once they're on. I make sure to get a picture of myself posing in my lingerie (which will only be seen by two people- myself and Kayla) before carefully taking my dress off of its hanger.
Once my dress is on, I douse myself in a cloud of my sweetest-smelling perfume, a scent I know Kayla loves (and has herself, too) before clipping on my favourite earrings, fastening one of my fanciest silver necklaces around my neck and slipping my feet into my shoes, before realising that in these shoes, I’m going to be a full eleven inches taller than Kayla- which isn’t going to help her forget that I wasn’t born a girl. Reluctantly, I swap the shoes for a pair with a two inch heel (but which are no less sexy) before grabbing my handbag, covering up with a sheer black wrap and heading out into the hallway, where Kayla is ready and waiting for me- and has clearly taken as much care with her appearance as I have with mine.
“Wow,” Kayla and I simultaneously breathe as we catch a glimpse of each other. If anything, Kayla might be even more dressed up than I am- her usual blonde bob has been replaced by tight curls, her usually light make-up has got a lot thicker, with her preferred pink lipstick replaced by a blood red colour and her eyes even more defined than mine, her dress is just as short as mine and even tighter, showing off her slender figure and even creating a little cleavage, and on her feet are the same style (and height) of shoes I opted against, boosting her height to almost the same as me in stocking feet. Kayla’s often been mistaken for someone a lot younger than her twenty years- but looking at her tonight, there’s no danger of that happening. Just as there’s very little danger of anyone making any ‘assumptions’ about me…
“You look- wow!” I say, making Kayla giggle excitedly. “Is that a new dress?”
“Yep!” Kayla replies, showing off the clingy garment. “Did an endorsement for a company specialising in petite sizes. Is that also a new dress?”
“Yeah, though this one was off the rack,” I reply. “A rack in a very fancy shop that asked over £400 for the dress, but still, well, yep, hehe!”
“It is GORGEOUS,” Kayla says, before leaning in to give me a gentle kiss. “Just like the girl wearing it, hehe!” Mission accomplished, I think to myself as I return Kayla’s kiss and head down to the taxi hand-in-hand.
Naturally, however, when we arrive at Charlotte’s house, our hands are far apart from each other as we get out of the taxi. Even though Nikki isn’t technically a celebrity herself (despite her healthy Instagram following and her verified Twitter account) there’s still a small gaggle of paparazzi waiting for us- and not everyone who’ll be at the party knows about ‘Stayla’ yet. However, the birthday girl (and her wife) are in the small group that do know about us, and both have wide, happy grins on their faces as they greet us with tight hugs the second we walk through the front door.
“Happy birthday!” I squeak, making my fellow transwoman giggle excitedly. “Get anything good today?”
“Got EVERYTHING good today,” Nikki sighs happily.
“She has been totally spoiled today,” Sarah says as she wraps an arm around her blushing wife’s waist. “…Mostly by me, hehe!”
“SO cute,” Kayla sighs happily as I have to fight the urge to wrap my arm around her tiny waist. “We’ll leave our presents on the pile, hehe!”
“Thanks!” Nikki squeaks excitedly, before ushering us into the main room to join the already-bustling party. Naturally, Kayla and I quickly make our way to the bar, and equally naturally, I let out a groan when I see who’s stood behind it.
“Evening, girls!” Danny says with a chuckle. “Even if I didn’t need to look at my sister trying to stretch a handkerchief across herself.”
“Oh- shut up,” I snort. “Who’s watching the pub, then?”
“Me and Rachel aren’t the only people who work there, you know,” my brother retorts. “Everything okay with you two?”
“Yeah, sure,” I reply. “Same as always…” I bite my lip as I silently wish I’d worded my response a better way- a way that didn’t imply I was frustrated by the lack of progress in the relationship.
“We’re fine,” Kayla says in a clipped voice. “Obviously having to, you know, keep it quiet tonight…”
“Yeah, I get it,” Danny shrugs. “Pity really, as there are, like, about a dozen male models here from Heavenly Talent, guys who’ve worked with Nikki before, that sort of thing. Most of them wouldn’t say no to going out with someone from one of Britain’s biggest girl ba-“
“Not interested,” I interrupt.
“DEFINITELY not interested,” Kayla says with a smug grin.
“Their loss, I guess,” Danny shrugs as he hands us a glass of champagne each and we head to mingle with the crowd.
Kayla and I are quickly separated as we find ourselves mingling with different crowds, Kayla opting to hang out with Hannah Dexter and a couple of the other Angels, while I find myself gravitating toward Natalie and her new wife, who are sat with some of their former colleagues from Soixante-Trois Airlines.
“…Her that if she even thinks about making a bet with Stuart, she shall sleep on the sofa until the end of the season!” Zoe says, casting a smug look at her wife, who simply rolls her eyes in response.
“Even though City are definitely going to win?” Natalie asks, before grinning as I approach. “Oh, hi Steph! Take a seat, we’re just discussing how much money I could’ve extorted out of all the Chelsea fans in the room!”
“Ugh, football,” I spit, elegantly smoothing my tight dress beneath me as I sit down.
“THANK you,” Zoe says with a giggle. “Now we can talk about better things, like dresses and dancing?”
“If I can’t talk about football, you can’t talk about dancing,” Natalie says firmly.
“Can I really not?” Zoe asks, smirking as her wife rolls her eyes and sighs. “Do you not love all forms of dancing?”
“…Okay, we can talk about that!” Natalie replies with a girlish chuckle.
“How’s the Daft Punk ballet choreography going?” I ask the Frenchwoman, who lets out a long sigh in reply. “That bad, eh?”
“How is your third album coming?” Zoe retorts.
“Touché,” I say. “Months rather than weeks, then?”
“I do not mind,” Zoe shrugs. “Creating dancing is as fun as actual dancing!”
“Creating music isn’t quite as much fun,” I sigh. “Stuart’s constantly on at us to write songs for our next album, Kayla’s already written three but I’m really struggling to just get one done.”
“Trouble with the tune or the lyrics?” Jessica asks.
“Lyrics,” I reply. “Tune’s the easy part, believe it or not, but finding something I want to sing about, something I want to share with the rest of the world?” …Is actually very easy, I mentally continue. If only I had that option…
“I can think of something to sing about,” Natalie suggests, before grinning as several stern stares are fired her way. “…NOT football. The fact that me and you are sat here wearing sexy clothes and make-up is worth singing about, right?”
“Damn right it is!” Paige- Jessica’s fiancée- cheers in her thick Glaswegian accent.
“Hmm…” I say with a grin. “Think this song might have already been written by Shania Twain, hehe!” I giggle along with my four friends as party gets more and more energised.
Eventually, the two couples I’m sat with make their way onto the makeshift dancefloor, and I get up to try to find another group to mingle with, but as I glance over at the dancefloor, I see something that stops me in my tracks and makes my jaw drop.
There, with her back pressed against one of the male models Danny mentioned, is my girlfriend- and from the look on her face, it’s clear she’s having a REALLY good time. Logically, I know that Kayla’s probably only doing this to maintain the illusion that she’s still single, so that no one’s likely to ‘catch on’ about us, but it still makes my blood pressure rise to see her like this- and there’s always the lingering doubt in the back of my mind. After all, Kayla had never shown signs of being attracted to the same gender before going out with me, and our sex life is virtually non-existent- and while I can live without sex, I’m not sure whether or not the same can be said for her…
“Wine, now,” I say as I storm up to the bar.
“What’s the magic word?” Danny asks, before rolling his eyes as he sees the furious expression on my face. “Never mind, then. It’s not your party but you’ll cry if you want to?”
“Don’t,” I growl, before sighing and gesturing over my shoulder to the dancefloor.
“…Ah,” Danny says. “You know- you know it’s just harmless flirting, right? You’ve got to believe she doesn’t mean anything by it, it’s just a little fun, right?”
“And if you saw Rachel flirting with someone like that?” I retort.
“Me and Rachel aren’t forced to keep our relationship a secret,” Danny replies with a sympathetic smile. “Heh, no one could care less about what we get up to, and frankly, I prefer it that way. You chose to put yourself into the public eye, remember. You chose to start this relationship. You chose to- well, you know.”
“I’m pretty sure that last one chose me, rather than the other way round,” I sigh as I drink my wine. “Not that it’s helping matters between me and Kayla…”
“Trouble in the bedroom?” Danny asks, earning a withering stare from me.
“…Yeah, like I’m going to talk to my brother about THAT,” I reply, making Danny laugh as I grab my drink and head back into the bustle of the party, but as hard as I try, I can’t drag my eyes away from my girlfriend- and a plan quickly forms in my mind.
With a determined look on my face, I walk up to one of the other Heavenly Talent models attending the party, a guy I’ve met before called Shane and who I know is both single and a big fan of Out of Heaven, and whose face instantly lights up when he sees me approach.
“Hey Shane,” I say with a coy smile.
“H- hey Steph!” Shane replies with a nervous giggle. Being a girl can be SO much fun at times…
“Enjoying the party?” I ask, my grin widening as Shane grows more and more flustered by my unexpected presence.
“Yeah,” Shane chuckles. “It’s a great night, and, umm, Nikki’s a great girl, heh…”
“Yeah, she’s cool,” I say. “SO, umm… You- you seeing anyone right now?” Careful, Steph, I mentally caution myself. Don’t lead him on TOO much…
“Umm, not right now,” Shane replies. “Been a while since my last date, heh. Do- do you want to, umm…” I frown in confusion as Shane suddenly trails off and looks over my shoulder. “Umm… I think Kayla wants a word with you.” Really? I think to myself. Obviously this wo-
My train of thought immediately derails when I turn around and see Kayla staring at me with a look of pure fury in her pale green eyes. Clearly, however far I’ve gone is already too far in Kayla’s eyes… Which immediately makes me wonder why she thought that what she was doing was acceptable, while what I was doing wasn’t…
“…Excuse me,” I mumble to Shane, before following Kayla into the relative privacy of Charlotte’s kitchen. Before I have the chance to speak, Kayla immediately turns around to face me, her look of anger having not subsided one bit.
“What the hell were you doing?” Kayla hisses at me.
“Me!?” I reply. “What the hell were you doing, bumping and grinding against whatever his name was?”
“…I was just, you know, having fun…” Kayla replies, suddenly on the defensive.
“…So was I,” I mumble, leading to both of us letting out long, simultaneous sighs. “I- I’m sorry…”
“No, I’m sorry,” Kayla says. “I just- I just wanted to, you know, not attract any attention, to keep a ‘cover’, thought dancing with that guy would, you know, fool people…”
“It almost fooled me,” I said softly, before sighing as Kayla frowns and leans in to give me a long, tight hug. “Shall- shall we cut down the flirting, then?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Kayla sighs. “You’re the only person I want to be with, Steph. I mean it.”
“You’re the only person I want to be with too,” I say softly. “We can have fun without needing to, you know, try to fool anyone, right?”
“Yeah, course we can!” Kayla giggles. “So… Are you going to tell Shane or shall I?” My girlfriend’s giggles intensify as I stick my tongue out at her, before we both head back out into the party, relaxed after having cleared the air.
We stay at the party until well after midnight, having fun in a way that doesn’t involve rubbing body parts together- whether with each other or with anyone else. By the time we get home, however, I’m more than ready to do some ‘rubbing’, and as Kayla heads into the kitchen, I head into my bedroom and carefully slip off my dress, leaving me clad in only my shoes and my lingerie.
“I’m making a cup of tea Steph,” Kayla announces. “Do you want- whoa…” I smile seductively as I walk into the living room and my girlfriend’s eyes go wide.
“Tea’s good,” I purr, “but I can think of something I’d rather have…”
“Ob- obviously,” Kayla says, flinching slightly as I approach her.
“What’s up?” I ask, distracted by Kayla’s sudden reluctance.
“…Nothing,” Kayla says with a grin. “Absolutely nothing.” I grin as Kayla gives me a long, deep kiss and directs me to her bedroom, where she’s soon freed from her dress…
I wince as I wake up on Sunday morning with a splitting headache, a dry mouth and, worst of all, no one in bed next to me. We’re still in Kayla’s bed, and the crumpled sheets surrounding me tell me that we were definitely ‘active’… But, as always, our love-making wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped it would be. Whether it was because of me trying to force the issue after our mini-argument at the party, or because of my hormone-induced ‘issues’, I couldn’t say, but all I know is that last night, it felt like I had more fun getting ready to seduce Kayla than actually seducing her…
“Kayla?” I moan as I wrap my sheet around me and stumble out into the flat’s living area.
“I’m in the bathroom,” my girlfriend replies. “I’ve made coffee.”
“You are a lifesaver,” I say, making Kayla giggle as I head through to the kitchen to pour a cup of the delicious brew. “You got anything planned for today?”
“Nothing that involves going out,” Kayla replies. “You?”
“Might see if Tom and Amanda are available,” I reply.
“Ah,” Kayla giggles. “When you say ‘Tom and Amanda’, do you really mean someone who has the same name as you?”
“You know me so well,” I giggle as I think about my tiny namesake.
“Ah… Wish I had a little niece to cuddle and spoil,” Kayla sighs as she emerges from the bathroom dressed in just a plain long-sleeved bodysuit and a pair of tights. “Hell, wish I had a brother or a sister, heh.”
“Trust me, they’re overrated,” I retort, making my girlfriend giggle as she flops onto our sofa. “And you do have brothers and sisters. Becca and Adeola, for starters.”
“…But not you?” Kayla asks.
“It kinda makes what we did last night incest,” I reply, biting my lip as Kayla quietly chuckles and stares at the floor.
“Yeah…” Kayla says. “About that, we- we kinda, you know…”
“’Need to talk’?” I ask, smiling as Kayla nods. “It’s okay, I kinda need to as well. And just in the ‘talking’ sense, not the ‘we’re going to break up’ sense.”
“Oh- definitely,” Kayla says. “No way do I want to break up with you, Steph. I’m happier than I’ve been in any relationship I’ve been in so far.”
“Me too,” I say. “Even though I, like, have only one relationship to compare it to, heh.”
“I’ve not exactly hopped between boys either,” Kayla says, making me blush.
“Sorry,” I mumble.
“No, it’s okay…” Kayla sighs. “Steph, you do- you do understand why I want to keep the relationship quiet, right?”
“Yeah, I think so,” I reply.
“You should want privacy even more,” Kayla says. “Given how much attention you’ve had about- well, about ‘you’…”
“That’s why I’d prefer that we do speak about it openly,” I say. “Hiding who I was, lying about who I was always caused me so, so much more hassle than simply being who I was. Especially among friends.”
“I get that too,” Kayla sighs. “Steph, I- it’s important that you know that I’m not, you know, ‘ashamed’ of our relationship. If it was as easy as telling the world that we’re together, then I’d do it in a heartbeat, but- ugh, it’s never that easy, you know?”
“Yeah, I guess,” I say.
“The only way it’d be easier is if we left the band,” Kayla says. “And I’ll never do that. Never.”
“Not even if a better offer came along?” I ask.
“Not possible,” Kayla says, shaking her head and smiling. “Out of Heaven is THE best thing in the world. Nowhere I’d rather be.”
“And- and if you got a better offer than me?” I ask, biting my lip as my girlfriend pauses.
“…There’s no one I’d rather be with,” Kayla says with a warm smile that instantly makes my hangover diminish. “Steph, I- I love you. I really, really do.”
“I love you too,” I reply, sitting down next to my girlfriend and giving her a long, gentle kiss.
“And besides, if anyone’s going to get a better offer, it’s you, not me,” Kayla says with a quiet chuckle.
“Seriously?” I ask. “Who’d pick a transgendered girl over someone like you?”
“Shane, for starters?” Kayla replies, making me blush. “Steph, face facts, you are HOT.”
“Thanks,” I giggle, before an unwelcome thought suddenly pops into my mind- but a thought I need to act on nonetheless. “…Hot enough that even some previously-straight girls might want me?”
“Yeah…” Kayla mumbles, instantly catching on to what I mean. “Steph, it- ugh… No one’s really 100% ‘gay’ or ‘straight’, are they?”
“Well- I guess not,” I shrug.
“If you’re still worried that part of me sees you as a boy, don’t be,” Kayla says softly. “Especially after what you were wearing last night, hehe!”
“Thanks,” I giggle.
"I mean," Kayla continues, "'Steve' is a thing of the past for you, right? Then as far as I'm concerned, 'he's a thing of the past too."
"Yeah," I say- though I can tell from the look on Kayla's face that I've not fully convinced her.
“Sarah doesn’t love Nikki for her gender,” Kayla says. “She loves Nikki for Nikki, and it’s the same with me. Honestly. I mean, I’ve loved you as a friend for years, why can’t it grow into something more?” Ugh, so close, I think to myself at Kayla use of the dreaded phrase ‘love you as a friend’. There’s only one response to that…
“Even though, you know, the ‘physicalness’ isn’t, you know, what you’re used to?” I ask.
“Ugh, who cares about sex?” Kayla asks, which doesn’t exactly set my mind at ease- for all I know, I’ve turned her off it...
“Umm, quite a lot of people,” I reply, even though I know Kayla’s question was rhetorical.
“I was never really one of them,” Kayla says. “If anything, I prefer the whole, you know, ‘mechanics’ of sex with another woman then just having a guy grind away at you… You’ve seen- well, you know your way around there, trust me when I say that bigger is NOT better.”
“I guess,” I shrug. “And I am happy with where, you know, ‘we’ are. Am I wrong for wanting, like, a ‘happily ever after’ like Nikki and Sarah have?”
“No, of course not!” Kayla says, snuggling her body against my still sheet-clad form. “God knows I think every girl in the world wants that with their Prince or Princess Charming.”
“…I reckon I look better as a princess,” I say with a giggle.
“I KNOW you do!” Kayla teases. “So… 'Prince Charming' can take a hike, then?"
“Sounds like a plan to me,” I say, playfully shaking hands with my girlfriend before snuggling into the sofa with her.
“So…” Kayla teases. “Are you going to see your brother and his family just wearing a sheet?” Naturally, my girlfriend giggles as this comment earns her a playful flick from the end of my sheet!
When we eventually arrive at my brother’s house a few hours later, I have indeed exchanged my sheet for a tight black turtleneck, a tartan miniskirt and, of course, a pair of shiny knee-high boots! I have a smile on my face as my future sister-in-law answers her front door, which only widens when I see that her lower legs are covered by a pair of very warm-looking fleece lined boots- that I immediately make a mental note to buy when I get home!
“Hey Steph!” Amanda says, exchanging gentle hugs with me and my girlfriend. “Hey Kayla! Come on in, I’ve just put the kettle on and it’s still too cold out there!”
“Thanks,” Kayla says, shivering as we hang up our coats and head through to the living room, where I let out a chuckle at the sight of my brother playing with his infant daughter.
“Oh, hey Steph, hey Kayla!” Tom says. “Say hi to your aunties, Stephi!” Kayla and I both sigh happily as Tom gently waves little Stephi’s hand at the two of us- and naturally, we both eagerly wave back!
“So cute,” Kayla sighs as we sit down and Amanda hands us a warm mug of coffee each.
“Figured you’d need the coffee after last night’s party!” Amanda teases, making both of us blush.
“You saw the photos?” I ask.
“Danny took a few and sent them to me,” Tom explains. “Got to admit, it took ages for me to actually figure out which one you were, you were wearing that much make-up. Heh, three years ago it’d have been even harder for me to pick you out…”
“Yeah,” I say with a nervous chuckle. “You probably wouldn’t be saying that if you’d seen my make-up efforts three years ago, heh…”
“Yeah…” Tom grimaces, obviously remembering that three years ago, as far as he was concerned, I was still called ‘Steve’. “Umm…”
“How- how’s the wedding planning coming?” Kayla asks, thankfully stopping an awkward silence before it has the chance to start.
"It's coming well," Amanda replies. "Got my second dress fitting in a couple of weeks, I'm REALLY looking forward to it, hehe!"
“Sounds so beautiful,” I sigh happily. “Got your hen night planned yet?”
“Not yet,” Amanda replies, “and no, we’re not doing anything I saw last night! You might be 22 but I’m not anymore!”
“You’re only as young as you feel,” I say.
“Exactly,” Amanda retorts. “And for Tom’s sake it’s probably best if you don’t invite along any of those models I saw you two hanging out with last night!”
“Aww,” I say with a playful pout, before grimacing as I feel my girlfriend and my brother shooting very stern stares in my direction. “…What?”
“All well with you two, then?” Tom asks.
“Better than ever,” Kayla replies, giving my hand a tight squeeze. “We’re in a really good place with our relationship, aren’t we, Steph?”
“Yes,” I reply with a confident nod that obviously doesn’t convince my brother.
“That why you seemed to spend most of last night flirting with those models?” Tom asks, showing me a photo on his phone of me getting close to Shane- and from the angle the photo was taken, it looks like we’re getting a LOT closer than we actually did last night.
“…I will KILL him,” I hiss, before handing the phone back to Tom.
“Not I disapprove of killing Danny,” Tom says, “but why are the two of you flirting with random guys when you’re supposed to be in a relationship together?”
“We ARE in a relationship together,” Kayla retorts. “And we, you know, need to keep up appearances, that sort of thing…”
“And we’ve agreed we’re not going to do it anymore,” I say. “There are reasons to go to parties other than boys.”
“Glad to hear it,” Tom says. “Think I’ll get a proper party planner to do Stephi’s birthday, heh!”
“Ah, reminds me that we’ve got another one of those types of party to go to on Thursday,” I say. “Jon and Viks’s daughter’s birthday, another one of the ‘fab five’.”
“Think we might be able to show up for that one too, heh!" Tom says with a smile. "Stephi seemed to have a lot of fun at her friend Olivia's party.
"Stephi might be making friends with some expensive tastes, though..." I tease.
"She's worth it," Tom says without hesitation as Kayla, Amanda and I all sigh happily.
"Not like our friends are any, well, 'cheaper'," Kayla sighs. "Think between us we spent about £300 on Nikki's present."
"If you can't spoil your friends and family, what's the point of being rich?" I ask with a grin as my namesake is passed to me for a gentle cuddle- not the first, and most certainly not the last.
We stay at Tom and Amanda's for most of the afternoon, only leaving when Amanda puts Stephi down for her nap. Needless to say, simply being around Stephi has put a smile on mine and Kayla's faces.
"See?" I say as we climb into the taxi that takes us home. "You DO have a little niece you can spoil!"
"Two, if you count Destiny," Kayla says with a smug grin. "Three, if you count Olivia. Four, if you- well, you know."
"Yep," I say. "And I definitely would count them, hehe!" The two of us giggle as we head back home, where we spend the rest of the day watching TV and practising for our recording session tomorrow.
Both of us are up bright and early on Monday morning to head to the recording studio, where we find our other two bandmates waiting for us- and with looks of concern on their faces.
"Hey you two," I say as I grab a drink of water before heading into the studio. "Hope you weren't as mashed as I was yesterday morning, hehe!"
"I've had worse," Adeola shrugs. "Had worse guys, too."
"...Worse than who?" I ask, before rolling my eyes as I realise who Adeola's referring to. "Oh, you- you mean Shane, right?"
"He's a properly good looking guy," Adeola says. "Marco's known him a couple of years, says he's a decent guy too, you could a lot worse."
Though you already have done a lot better," Becca interjects in a low voice. "Your current GIRLfriend, for starters."
"Okay, feel I should speak up here," Kayla interrupts before I have the chance to respond. "It's not a crime to flirt, we were just having a little fun on Saturday night, neither of us meant anything by it."
"I hope so," Becca says softly. "And not just 'cause of what'd happen to the band if you two split up. But because of what'd happen to you two."
"...Thanks," I whisper. When I first met Becca, she was one of the most self-centred, spoiled people I knew, and even now she has her moments, but over time she's shown herself to be one of the best friends any girl could have- and not just because we're the same height and dress size!
"We're going to cut back on the parties we go to for the foreseeable future," Kayla explains. "Obviously we'll go to yours and Addie's, but might skip, like, Abbey-Gayle's and Kelly's. Until we're ready to go public, anyway."
"Any idea on when that's gonna be?" Becca asks.
"When we're sure it's not going to cause more problems than not," Kayla replies.
"Not telling people has kinda caused more problems than not for you in the past," Adeola reminds us. "And you know my uncle will be on top of any problems that you do have."
"When we're ready," Kayla says firmly, startling our bandmates with her sudden stern attitude. "We're not going to keep it a secret forever, we promise. Just- can we- can we just sing, please?"
"...It's what we're paid to do, I guess," Becca shrugs as she leads us into the recording studio. "Just- don't do anything stupid, please?"
"Trust me, I've had enough 'stupid things' for one lifetime," I say with a half-laugh, half-sigh. "This definitely ISN'T one of them. Nor is cutting back on the parties."
"Meh, nothing wrong with being a 'staying in' person," Adeola shrugs. "Jon and Viks barely go out anymore either- though they do kinda have a reason not to, hehe! And on that topic, I hope the 'no parties' thing DOESN'T mean you won't be coming to Destiny's party in Thursday?"
"Duh," I reply. "As long as we get a cuddle from the birthday girl?"
"Duh!" Adeola giggles as we get into position and the opening bars of our first song for today begin to play.
The recording session lasts until late afternoon, when Stuart realises that our voices are too tired for any more work of any quality and lets us all go home- though before we go, Kayla and I are stopped once again by our bandmates, whose concerned looks haven’t faded from this morning.
“Hey you two,” Becca says softly. “Sorry if we came on a big strong this morning. You’re both adults, you can make your own choices, etc. etc.”
“It’s okay,” I shrug. “Just shows you care, heh.”
“And we will be fine,” Kayla says, giving my hand a tight squeeze. “Honestly. You don’t need to worry about us.”
“Well- okay then,” Becca shrugs, before giggling and exchanging tight hugs with both of us. “Enjoy your day off, heh. See you at ballet on Wednesday?”
“We’ll be there,” I say with a smile.
“Got anything planned for tomorrow?” Adeola asks as she gives us tight farewell hugs.
“Might go to see my parents,” Kayla replies with a shrug. “Feels like ages since I last saw them.
“Isn’t it your mum’s birthday tomorrow?” I ask, panicking as I suddenly remember.
“No,” Kayla replies. “You got the dates the wrong way round, she’s 3rd of June, not 6th of March.”
“Panic over?” Adeola teases.
“Just a bit!” I giggle. “Ahh… See you Wednesday. AND Thursday, hehe!”
“See you,” Adeola giggles as we wave goodbye and head into our waiting taxi.
Kayla and I both let out a long sigh as we return to our flat, Kayla getting our mail out of our post box while I make us each a warm mug of rich hot chocolate- the perfect throat soother after a long day of singing.
“Is that new bodysuit I ordered off of Amazon in there?” I ask, only to be met by silence. “Kayla? You stuck in there again?” I giggle as a soft package- undoubtedly containing my new bodysuit- comes flying at me, followed by my girlfriend with a very confused look on her face. “…Kayla?”
“I’ve got- I’ve got a birthday invitation,” Kayla says in a quiet, almost scared voice. “I- I think you should read it to.” Kayla hands me the fancily decorated card, and I gasp as I read what’s on it.
Dear Kayla Ford, the card reads, you and a guest are warmly invited to celebrate the 21st birthday of Miss Lauren McTavish on Friday the 9th of March 2018, starting at 7:30pm at The Ballroom South Bank.
“…She has got some fucking nerve,” I whisper as I hand the card back to Kayla. “No contact from her for eighteen months, and now this?”
“Yeah, but-“ Kayla stammers. “Still, though, you know, she does- it means she wants to see us again, right?”
“Wants to see YOU again,” I say. “I don’t see my name on the invite, or another one in there for me.”
“Reckon she wants to try to lure me to Constellation again?” Kayla asks nervously.
“Wouldn’t be surprised,” I say. “Their show tanked in the ratings, they still haven’t released an album, from what Jonathan says Spencer and Hall’s share price is even down.”
“…Or maybe she just wants to catch up with us again and celebrate her birthday with her old friends?” Kayla asks.
“Are- are you seriously thinking of going!?” I ask. “Joshua will go ballistic if he finds out…”
“…We don’t need to tell him,” Kayla shrugs. “It’s our personal lives, we can do what we want, go where we please, right?”
“I think this might cross a line,” I say. “We could be seen as helping to promote the opposition, that sort of thing?”
“Okay, I get that,” Kayla sighs. “It’s just- I kinda miss her, you know? We were living together for a long time.”
“Yeah, and I lived with her before you did,” I remind my girlfriend. “And what she did eighteen months ago HURT.”
“I get that, I do,” Kayla sighs. “But you know what Jamie’s always saying, right?”
“…Yes,” I say with a tired moan as I remember the famous saying. “Lauren forgot is in 2016, though.”
“Well maybe it’s taken her this long to remember it,” Kayla says firmly.
“You’re going, aren’t you?” I ask bluntly.
“Probably,” Kayla sighs. “I’ve got to give her the benefit of the doubt, right?”
“I guess,” I shrug. “So much for ‘fewer parties’…”
“This is a one-off, it’s not every night,” Kayla says. “And you don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to, you know.”
“Well…” I say cautiously. “The invitation does say you can bring a ‘plus one’, right? And- and is there someone you’d rather go with?”
“Absolutely no one,” Kayla replies with a warm smile. “But it would mean us, you know, having to ‘keep up appearances’. And it’s a Constellation party, so, you know, someone else might be there…”
“Ugh, her,” I say as I remember the tall, blonde-haired model who nearly ruined some of my friends’ lives nine months ago- and whose defection to Constellation was the catalyst for Lauren leaving our band.
“I’m okay going alone, honestly,” Kayla says. “You- you do trust me, don’t you?”
“Oh- absolutely I trust you,” I reply. “Lauren, on the other hand… Guess I’ll just have to stay out of Dannii’s way if I do see her. Becca and Adeola will be pissed off that we didn’t even last a whole week on the ‘fewer parties’ thing.”
“They’ll be pissed off at us talking to Lauren,” Kayla sighs. “You knew what it was like before she left the band, how it was ‘us vs. them’. Much as I miss her… The band is better off without her.”
“And like you said, it’s a Constellation party, so it’s not like we can avoid being seen,” I remind my girlfriend.
“…We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Kayla says. “I DO want to see her again. Even if it for the last time, and just to, you know, clear the air…”
“Yeah, I get it,” I say. “Though ‘crossing bridges when you come to them’… A lot of the time there’s good reason to, you know, prepare to do that first.” Kayla remains silent as we sit down on our sofa with our warm drinks, and neither of us can take our eyes off of Lauren’s invitation, which is now propped up on our coffee table, almost like it has pride of place…
As we’re catching an early train tomorrow, we opt for an early night tonight- sleeping in our own beds as it’s finally starting to warm up- but no matter how hard I try, I struggle to get to sleep. I haven’t seen Lauren in eighteen months, and the last time I did, she was trying to coerce me into turning my back on Out of Heaven. And yet, I can’t help but remember the fun times we had when we lived together, times spent watching Netflix, hosting parties, talking about or families… Sometimes I wonder if, had Kayla joined Constellation instead of Lauren, I’d now be in a clandestine relationship with the Scottish girl instead…
The continued presence of the invitation on our coffee table makes the following morning very awkward as we get ready to head out, and the train ride to Southampton is conducted in near-silence- though the mood does lighten when the front door of Kayla’s parents’ posh house opens and we’re greeted with tight hugs from the older couple.
“Welcome home!” Kayla’s mother says with a happy chuckle. “To both of you! Now come on, come in out of the cold!”
“Thank you,” I say, shivering as I unzip my boots and ease my nylon-covered calves out of them. “Can’t believe how cold it’s been the last week!"
"Tell me about it!" Kayla's mother chuckles. "Can't believe how much snow we got!"
“Did you get it bad in London, then?” Kayla’s father asks.
“It was HORRIFIC,” Kayla replies with a chuckle. “Was a miracle our anniversary show still went ahead.”
“It didn’t look fun wearing costumes like those in an arena that big in this weather!” Kayla’s mother teases, laughing as her daughter rolls her eyes. “Then again, they rarely look fun to wear anyway…” I bite my lip as Kayla’s mother trails off, eyes looking at me as if to say ‘but I bet you have fun wearing the costumes’- an assumption that is very accurate…
“We are going to have some words with our costume designers,” Kayla says. “Though it could be worse, our friend Ophelia graduates from university this summer and they’ve threatened to put her on the costume design team. THAT will be unpleasant, heh!”
“Ophelia’s a big fan of corsets,” I say to Kayla’s confused parents. “The tighter, the better. And we kinda need our lungs to be their proper size in order to do our job!”
“Yeah, but if people only wanted to listen to your songs, they’d put on their iPods,” Kayla’s mother reminds me. “They go to your shows to see YOU, to say that they’ve seen Out of Heaven perform live. You’d kinda be letting the side down if you went out in jeans and a sweatshirt.”
“I guess,” Kayla shrugs. “One good thing about the costumes is that we occasionally get fans dressing up like us. I remember sharing a photo on Facebook of a bunch of girls having an Out of Heaven-themed sweet sixteen party last month.”
“I remember seeing that,” Kayla’s father chuckles. “Always knew when you grew up that you’d be a megastar, heh!”
“Thanks, dad,” Kayla says with a mock sigh, before letting out a happy giggle. “Honestly, though, I wouldn’t trade the last three years for anything, I really wouldn’t.”
“Unlike that other bandmate of yours?” Kayla’s mother asks, making me and my girlfriend shift uncomfortably in our seats. “The Scottish girl?”
“Yeah, about her…” I mumble.
“What?” Kayla’s mother protests. “I’m sure you’ve mentioned her in interviews you’ve done, right?”
“Not for a while,” Kayla replies. “Barely even spoke to her in the last eighteen months. And then, all of a sudden, I get an invitation to her birthday party this coming Friday.”
“…Oh,” Kayla’s mother says.
“Are you going to go?” Kayla’s father asks.
“I’m planning to,” Kayla sighs. “I mean, we were bandmates for ages, we were friends, even, I- I want to see her again.”
“But, of course, there’s an extra complication,” I say. “’Cause me and Kayla are still keeping things quiet, we don’t want to, you know, let slip…”
“And you’re worried that if the Scottish girl finds out, she’ll spill the beans?” Kayla’s father asks.
“Something like that,” Kayla sighs. “And if we try to, you know, ‘throw people off the scent’ like we did at the party on Saturday, that just causes problems for the people who DO know.”
“Me and Kayla more than anyone,” I say. “Damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”
“There is an obvious solution to this problem,” Kayla’s father says hesitantly.
“One that will cause more problems than we already have,” Kayla quickly retorts.
“Well- okay then,” Kayla’s father sighs. “Or, of course, you could just not go to the party. The Scottish girl made it clear what she thought about you when she left the band.”
“Yeah, but she did try to take both of us with her when she went,” Kayla says. “And she wouldn’t have invited us if she didn’t- gah, I don’t know! All I know is two phrases I hear a lot- ‘you can never have too many friends’ and ‘you only regret the things you don’t do’. And you never know, maybe she wants to rejoin Out of Heaven? God knows it’s not like her new band have been rolling in success.”
“Well- be careful,” Kayla’s mother says, obviously concerned for the both of us. “And try not to get your hopes up, okay?”
“Okay,” Kayla says as the topic of conversation thankfully shifts to something less stressful.
We stay at Kayla’s parents’ house until early evening, though Friday’s party stays on our mind all throughout the day and all throughout the train ride home, which passes in almost total silence as a result. By the time we arrive back at our flat, both Kayla and I are exhausted, and as we have work tomorrow, we opt for an early night- but the continued presence of Lauren’s invitation on our coffee table elicits a long, agitated sigh from me as my eyes pass over it.
“Kayla…” I say. “We- we should talk about this whole ‘Lauren’ thing.”
“We have,” my girlfriend reminds me as she heads into her bedroom to change.
“We need to talk more, then,” I retort. “It’s obviously stressing both of us out, and-“
“Steph, seriously,” Kayla says reassuringly. “It’s one night, then we’ll probably never even see Lauren again. We’ll go to the party, say hi to Lauren, have a couple of drinks, we’ll probably be home by 10pm.”
“Well- okay, I guess,” I say. “As long as it is just that. And we’re both keeping our hands off of any boys, right?”
“Duh!” Kayla replies with a giggle, setting my mind at ease. Kayla’s right- this whole Lauren thing really doesn’t need to be such a big deal. We’re just two women in our early twenties meeting up with a friend we haven’t seen for a long time. This shouldn’t be such a big deal… And yet, because of our job, and our public profile, I can’t help but feel that there’s no way it won’t be. Hell, merely receiving the invitation would be enough to make headlines in some of the less reputable newspapers- who would no doubt all be falling over themselves if they ever found out about me and Kayla…
For the third morning in a row, I roll out of bed earlier than my body would like, but for the third day in a row, I certainly don’t mind doing do. This is because after showering, I stretch a familiar comfortable pair of pink tights and a clingy black leotard over my body, before tying my long brown hair back into a severe ponytail, covering up with a clingy sweater dress, grabbing my dance bag and rendezvousing with my similarly-dressed girlfriend in our hallway.
“One of these days, we might get to sleep in without a hangover, heh,” I say, earning a giggle from Kayla as we head down to our waiting taxi.
“I don’t mind too much,” the petite blonde girl shrugs. “It’s the cold I hate more than the, you know, tiredness.”
“Yeah, I can kind tell by how much you love our sofa quilt,” I tease. “It’s worth it for this though, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, usually,” Kayla replies with a sigh. “Except we’re going to have to lie to even more people today about yet another thing.”
“Yeah, but-“ I say, biting my lip as Kayla shoots me a stern stare. “Well, you know, this is probably the one place we go to each week where we know that literally everybody present is a friend and is only interested in helping us. And, more importantly, it’s not like we’ve accepted Lauren’s invitation, right? Becca and Adeola can’t exactly have a go at us just for getting the invite.”
“Well- yeah,” Kayla replies, before frowning as though she suddenly remembers something. “Unless they’re filming today for the next season of the Angels.”
“…Ah shit, they are, aren’t they,” I moan.
“Like you said, this is one of the few occasions each week when there’s guaranteed to be a lot of Angels around,” Kayla reminds me. “Especially as I think Mary’s jetting off to Ireland for a couple of weeks at the weekend.”
“Never mind, then,” I sigh as our taxi heads through the busy streets of London.
A short while later, we pull up outside the front door of the Krystie Fullerton School of Dance where, as predicted, many of our friends have already arrived- along with a camera crew, who are waiting inside the main dance studio itself.
“So then,” I say with a devilish smile, “how do you suppose Zoe reacted to those cameras running all over her floor?”
“She reacted in a professional and courteous manner toward her guests,” the French dance teacher replied in a stern voice, smirking as I feel myself cringe following my ‘telling off’. “But not for the cameras… I am NOT happy. It will take a lot of time to clean up before the little children arrive for their class.”
“We would help, but we’re recording straight after class,” Kayla says.
“It is okay,” Zoe shrugs. “I would not want you to ruin your nails anyway. And that is what the men are for, hehe!” Kayla and I giggle as Zoe gestures to the small gaggle of husbands and boyfriends who are sat at the side of the dance studio, all clearly bored out of their heads already.
“Hey you two!” Becca says with a smile as she greets us with a tight hug each- a far cry from Monday’s cautious attitude. “How are your parents?”
“They’re fine,” Kayla shrugs. “Same as always, they got hit by all this snow too even down on the coast.”
“Thank god we’ve seen the last of it,” Adeola says. “You two lookin’ forward to the party, then?” My eyes go wide as my friend asks me this question- how could she possibly have heard about the party?
“P- party?” Kayla asks, clearly as anxious as I am.
“Yes…” Adeola says. “Destiny’s party, tomorrow? Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten already?”
“Or worse yet, forgotten to get her a present?” Becca teases.
“Oh- oh, right,” I say, trying (and failing) to sound calm about my faux pas. “Yep, we’ll be there!”
“AND we’re going to make sure she’s really, really spoiled, hehe!” Kayla giggles. “That’s what aunties are for, right?”
“Too right they are!” Adeola cheers as we head into the dance studio to begin our warm-ups.
An hour later, with our muscles tired and our feet aching, we return to the changing rooms, where the upcoming party- well, one of them, anyway- is already the hot topic of conversation.
“…Next year,” Krystie says in a mock teasing tone. “Next year, Mrs. Benedict, you WILL do the birthday dance on your daughter’s behalf!”
“Yes, yes, if you insist,” Viks sighs, before letting out a quiet giggle. “I’m amazed I got away with it this year, to be honest.”
“Somebody forgot to alter the tutu after her wife danced in it last week,” Zoe says accusingly, making everyone giggle as Sarah starts to blush.
“I’ve been busy, for god’s sake,” Sarah mumbles. “Got guests coming next week and a little thing called the final year of uni as well!”
“We’ll let you off this time,” Krystie says as Kayla and I sit down near the group and slowly ease our pointe shoes off of our aching toes. “…That was a LOUD sigh, Miss Abbott!” I feel my cheeks start to redden as several inquisitive pairs of eyes turn my way.
“…My toes hurt, okay?” I shrug. “Think my gel pad things are starting to wear out…”
“I’ll order you some more when I get back to my desk,” Krystie says. “Assuming you’re going to wear them at ballet class and not out at parties dancing with tall, sexy models…” Oh god, I think to myself. This again?
“…Don’t get excited,” I mumble, my cheeks reddening more as this elicits a loud ‘ooh’ from all of the other women- well, all of them who don’t know about me and Kayla, anyway.
“As long as you behave yourself tomorrow!” Viks playfully warns me, bringing a smile back to my face.
“Don’t worry, I will, I promise,” I giggle as I pull my dress back on and follow my bandmates to our waiting taxi, which quickly whisks us toward the head office of Heavenly Talent, and our waiting recording studio.
“Well, that was awkward,” Becca comments as she enters the recording studio and grabs a bottle of water. Instantly, I can feel Kayla tense up, and to a lesser extent, so do I- it’s obvious who Becca’s blaming for the awkwardness.
“…Sorry,” I mumble, frowning as my apology earns me a stern stare from my girlfriend.
“Nah, it’s not your fault, not really,” Becca concedes with a sigh.
“Think people are just too hung up on you two finding yourselves men,” Adeola says. “Like, if you’re in your early twenties, it’s a crime to be single, or summat.”
“Easy to say when most of them have rings on their fingers,” Kayla scoffs. “Umm, no offence intended to you, Becca.”
“None taken,” Becca says with a smug grin as she stares at the sparkly ring on her left hand. “Meh, they’ll get over it eventually. Though you know you could tell all of them and they’d only be supportive.”
“Yeah, but the more people know, the more likely it is to leak,” Kayla sighs. “Can- can we change the topic, please?”
“That’d be my recommendation,” Stuart says from his booth. “Gonna work on a few solo songs today, figured you’re due a break after this morning. Steph- you’re up, we’re doing ‘About Time’ first.” I nod as I step up to the microphone and prepare to sing the lyrics that have been engrained into my memory- though as each words passes my lips, I cringe more and more- ‘About Time’ is a song about a girl who has a male best friend, and her slow realisation that he’s her soul mate. Stuart says he chose the song for me as it suits the pitch of my voice (he wrote the music as well as the lyrics) but a part of me wonders if he had other reasons for giving me this song…
Thankfully, Stuart arranges the recording day so that Kayla and I are all done by lunchtime- much to our other bandmates’ chagrin, who have to stay until late afternoon- meaning that after a quick bite to eat with Becca and Adeola at the Angels’ official coffee shop, we’re free to head back home. Once we’re through the front door, we both let out long, frustrated sighs.
“…Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to tell a FEW more people,” Kayla concedes. “But it we tell, say, Mary, then she’ll tell Dan, and he’ll tell Paul Kennedy, and they’ll talk about it at their gym, and someone will overhear…”
“Nat and Zoe know,” I retort. “They’re discreet about it.”
“Because they’ve been in the same position we are,” Kayla reminds me. “We’ll tell them we want to keep the relationship private, and they’ll immediately want to know why. And it only takes one slip-up.”
“Yeah, I guess,” I sigh, even as my frustration levels rise- not just at the fact that Kayla still doesn’t want the world to know about us, but at the fact that she’s so determined to go to a party on Friday where one little slip would have an even more disastrous effect than telling a friend…
We spend the rest of the day catching up on our social media feeds- meaning virtually no chance to snuggle on the sofa together- watching Netflix and playing videogames, before heading to bed just after 11pm. Tomorrow’s party doesn’t start until noon, so we mercifully get the chance to sleep in on Thursday morning- albeit in separate beds.
When I eventually get up, I dress conservatively for the day- I am going to a one year old’s birthday party, after all. I opt for a warm, knitted turtleneck sweater and a flared knee-length skirt with a pair of flats instead of heels (or boots). As I emerge from my bedroom, I see that Kayla’s had the same idea, and is wearing a looser skirt and lower heels than her usual trademark look- though she looks no less beautiful than usual.
“Like the skirt!” I say, giggling as my girlfriend does a playful twirl before going back to making our breakfasts.
“Thanks, I like yours too!” Kayla giggles. “Figured the ‘sexy look’ wouldn’t be appropriate today, heh.”
“Great minds think alike,” I say with a smirk, before grimacing and biting my lip. “Question is, would it be for tomorrow’s party?”
“…Yeah, that is a question,” Kayla mumbles. “And it’s not like I can say ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’ as we’re pretty much there already.”
“I suppose it could wait until after Destiny’s party,” I shrug.
“…Have we swapped personalities overnight or something?” Kayla asks, rolling her eyes as I laugh so hard I almost shoot coffee out of my nose. “Ugh, I dunno. But you’re right, we should probably try to enjoy today. As much as we can enjoy a one year old girl’s party, heh.”
“I’m sure we’ll get a cuddle or two off of the birthday girl,” I say, making Kayla giggle as she sits down next to me with her warm meal.
Just over an hour later, our taxi pulls up outside the posh, modern house that belongs to the birthday girl’s mother and father- the former of whom greets us both with long, tight hugs as we walk through the front door.
“Hey you two!” Viks squeaks excitedly. “Ah… Thank you both for coming today. It really means a lot to her- well, to all of us to know that Destiny’s got so many loving aunties, heh!”
“It means a lot to us to have so many nieces!” Kayla replies with a happy smile.
“Has she been spoilt today, then?” I ask.
“Her parents both earn six figures a year and her granddad has a net worth of over fifty million pounds,” Viks replies. “Think you can guess the answer to that one, heh!”
“Well- good,” I say, before grinning as we enter the living room to see the birthday girl laughing uproariously as she sits on her father’s knee as the rest of the partygoers sigh happily. “Anyone this cute deserves to be spoilt, hehe!”
“Too right,” Jonathan chuckles as Destiny laughs even louder.
“There is nothing in the world greater than a baby girl’s laughter,” Joshua says with a proud smile. “Except when they are your granddaughter!”
“Couldn’t agree more,” an older man- who I assume is Viks’s father- agrees.
“Come on you two, I’ll get you both a drink,” Viks says, leading us through to the very expensive-looking kitchen. “It’ll have to be lemonade only, I’m afraid!”
“That’ll be fine!” I giggle as the three of us head into the otherwise-empty kitchen. “And you’re welcome for yesterday by the way, us distracting everyone from your dance- well, your lack of dance, heh!”
“Ah, thanks, yes,” Viks says with a chuckle. “Heh, even after five years of being an Angel, I- I dunno, I still feel self-conscious putting myself in the limelight like that. Joshua actually wanted to film today’s party, but I was able to talk him out of it. Well, apart from being filmed on everyone’s camera phones, heh. THAT I don’t mind too much!”
“Tom’s the same with Stephi,” I say. “Wants as memories of her as possible. Preferably ones that can be shared on Facebook, heh.”
“If you’re happy, you’ve got to share it,” Viks says. “Well, I guess you two might not…” My whole body immediately tenses up as Viks reveals her knowledge of our relationship- and at my side, I can feel Kayla’s blood pressure rise at the revelation.
“Who- who told you!?” Kayla hisses, taking the young mother by surprise with her suddenly hostile attitude.
“Umm- Jonathan did,” Viks hesitantly replies. “Joshua told him- ‘cause he’s the office manager, he told me but he made me promise not to tell anyone else, honestly. I haven’t even told Hannah.”
“Well- okay, I guess,” Kayla mumbles. “I suppose Jonathan should know, and you are his wife, it’s not fair to keep things from you…”
“You have my word that my lips are sealed,” Viks says. “I would’ve let you know earlier that I knew, but this is the first time the three of us have had any time to talk privately, so… Yeah.”
“Well- okay then,” Kayla sighs as we both start to de-stress. “God, wonder who else knows?”
“Wouldn’t surprise me if everyone did and are just humouring us,” I mumble.
“I doubt it,” Viks says. “You know Joshua, if he says he won’t tell anyone he means it.”
“Even though he told Jonathan?” I ask, frowning as Viks bites her lip.
“…Jonathan means it too,” the dark-haired woman replies. “If he breaks his promise, he has me to answer to, and he will NOT want that, believe me!”
“Yeah,” Kayla chuckles as we head back out into the party, forced smiles on our faces as we try to process what we were just told.
We only stick around at the party for a short while- Destiny quickly gets agitated by being surrounded by so many people- and are able to sneak a lift home from Hannah, which, unsurprisingly, passes in silence. Once we’re back in our flat, though, the silence soon breaks.
“Hope you realise that I was right about telling everyone,” Kayla says firmly as she heads to the kitchen to make a hot drink.
“You!?” I retort. “I hope you realise that I was right?”
“How the hell do you figure that?” Kayla hisses, clearly angry at being questioned. “We tell someone and they blab it someone else, who blabs it to someone else!”
“Both ‘someone else’s being friends,” I retort. “Who have kept our relationship secret and not told anyone in the press. Do you see paparazzi trying to kick down our door?”
“Well- no,” Kayla says. “But can you tell me for sure how many of our friends know about us?”
“Umm…” I say, before letting out a long sigh. “…No.”
“Exactly,” Kayla says, before letting out a sigh of her own. “And yes, I get that it’s as good a reason as any to tell the rest of our friends. I can trust, say, Viks or Hannah. But can you trust Alice or her boyfriend to keep quiet? Or Ella from Heavenly Talent?”
“…Not 100%,” I mumble. “Ugh… I hate to say it, but life would be a lot easier if me and you weren’t together.”
“But a lot less enjoyable,” Kayla says, before giving me a tight hug and a long kiss on my lips.
“Yeah,” I giggle as we sit down on the sofa together with our drinks, and I can’t help but giggle some more as I stare at the deep red nails on the hand clutching my drink, as well as the sheen of the tights covering my knees, the feel of my skirt floating over my legs, the feel of the soft growths on my chest… “It’s not the only thing that’s more difficult but more enjoyable, heh. And it was hard at first, but it was worth it to be able to sit here like this.”
“Really?” Kayla asks. “Even with all the hassle from the press, the, umm, the hospital visits…?”
“I got a happy ending,” I shrug. “If they were the only way to get to be who I am, then I would do it again. Of course, I know that it WASN’T the only way.”
“Yeah,” Kayla sighs. “Think I know where this is going…”
“Yep,” I say. “If I’d just been honest from the start, I could’ve avoided SO much hassle. Especially from Jamie.”
“I know, I know,” Kayla sighs.
“Everyone’s going to find out eventually,” I say. “We may as well make sure that they find out on our terms, rather than theirs?”
“That assumes that they need to know at all,” Kayla says, making me frown as I wonder what her alternatives are- whether she wants us to live in secret for our whole lives, or whether she doesn’t see the relationship as having a long-term future…
“Either way,” I sigh, “it does mean we’ve got a decision to make about tomorrow night…”
“Yeah,” Kayla says. “But we shouldn’t need to worry tomorrow. The only people whose tongues we have to watch are our own.”
“Watch that they don’t end up in each other’s mouths?” I ask, making my girlfriend giggle.
“That too,” Kayla says with a grin. “And like I said before, we’ll just drop in, say hello to Lauren, then leave before we attract too much attention. We’ll be in bed by 11pm, guaranteed.”
“Okay,” I whisper, though despite Kayla’s reassurances, I’m far from confident that it’ll be that simple…
The following evening, after another recording session (and a morning spent accompanying my parents to their first ever newspaper interview), Kayla and I head back home and immediately head to our bedrooms, where we set about getting ready for tonight’s party. As it’s guaranteed that there will be press there, we do need to keep up appearances, just as we had at Nikki’s party on Saturday, so my hair, jewellery and make-up get the same treatment as they did then, but as I open my underwear drawer, I pause. As fun as it was to wear the ‘special’ underwear I did on Saturday, I couldn’t really say that it accomplished what I wanted it to, so I instead opt for a plain (but still fairly sexy) black bra and thong and a pair of translucent black tights before reaching into my wardrobe for a slinky, low-cut deep red dress with long lacy sleeves and a very short skirt. It’s one I’ve worn before, but one of my favourites, and will go well with the pair of low heels I’ve picked to match it. As much as I love Kayla, sometimes I wish that she was a bit taller- I miss wearing high heels…
“Ready to go?” Kayla asks as I emerge from my bedroom and do a quick twirl for her in my dress. “You definitely look ready for it, hehe!”
“Thanks!” I squeak. “You look more than ready, hehe!” I giggle as Kayla does a twirl of her own, showing off her slinky black dress and her matching extra-high heels. “Are you ready to see you know who again, though?” This question unsurprisingly causes my girlfriend’s smile to vanish very quickly.
“That IS why we’re going,” Kayla reminds me. “And if we see the other ‘you know who’ then I promise we won’t stick around. Hell, even I don’t want to spend time around her, heh.”
“Thanks,” I say with a grin, before we both grab our designer handbags and head down to our waiting taxi.
A short while later, the taxi pulls up outside the very ostentatious imposing front entrance of the Ballroom South Bank, and despite my celebrity status, all of a sudden I feel very self-conscious, especially because of the gaggle of paparazzi outside the front entrance- a considerably larger amount than were at Nikki’s party, and more than most of the Angels get for their parties too. All of whom would no doubt be very interested in two members of Out of Heaven attending a Constellation party…
“Side entrance, please,” I say to the taxi driver before Kayla even has the chance to unfasten her seatbelt.
“…Probably a good idea,” Kayla concedes with a sigh. “No point going out looking for trouble…”
Fortunately, the side entrance isn’t being plagued by any of the photographers concentrated at the front, giving myself and Kayla the chance to slip in, after checking our names with the security guard first, of course- something else you don't usually get at Charlotte's house. Then again, at one of Charlotte's parties, everybody knows everybody else, and that definitely can't be said about this party.
"Oh- wow," Kayla breathes as we step out into the vast venue. It's the sort of venue you'd normally expect to be hosting a fancy awards ceremony rather than a birthday party, and everyone present is dressed in clothes and jewellery even Kayla and I would struggle to afford despite our wealth. For the first time in a very long time, I'm beginning to feel VERY out of place.
I take a while to scan the faces of the people present, looking for the person we've come here to see- and the person we're desperately trying to avoid. I quickly recognise Katya and Ciara, two of the 'core' members of Constellation, but they don't seem to recognise me- which at first I take as an insult, but quickly comes as a relief to me- they're two fewer people to blab to the world that Kayla and I are here.
Any hopes of remaining anonymous, however, are quickly dashed by a loud call from behind us, from a voice I hadn't heard in ages, and even now causes my spine to tense up.
"Oh my god," the unmistakable Scottish voice says in a shocked tone. "K- Kayla? You're here?"
"Umm, yep!" My girlfriend replies with a nervous wave as we both turn round, causing our former bandmate's jaw to drop further.
"St- Steph too!?" Lauren gasps, before slowly walking toward us and giving us both tight hugs. The reason for Lauren's slow gait becomes apparent when she gives me my hug and her height matches mine, when I know that barefoot, she's three inches shorter than me- and, having grown up on a farm, doesn't have a lot of love for heels. It's clear that she has a lot of love for me and Kayla, though- especially as one of the people she walked past to hug us was Saraya Hallett, one of her new bandmates, who barely acknowledged Lauren and simply isn't acknowledging either me or Kayla.
"Thanks for the invite," Kayla says. "I figured, you know, since you asked, it'd be rude not to say no..."
"Well I really do appreciate it," Lauren says. "It's been ages since I saw the two of you."
"Umm... Yeah," I say, grimacing at the awkward silence that Lauren's statement caused. "You, umm, you're looking great!"
"Thanks, heh!" Lauren replies. "Do, umm, do you have any drinks? It's an open bar, so help yourselves!"
"Thanks," I say as an older man in a suit approaches Lauren and whispers something to her, making her face fall.
"I'll catch up with you both in a bit, okay?" Lauren asks. "Duty calls first..."
"Sure," Kayla says, before we both let out long, heavy sighs as we head to the bar.
"Why do I get the feeling we're as 'caught up' as we're going to be?" I ask as we're handed complementary glasses of champagne.
"Yeah, tell me about it," Kayla sighs. "And who was that guy? An agent, maybe?"
"Probably," I shrug. "It's a good PR opportunity, after all."
"Jon wasn't bossing either of us around at our birthday parties," Kayla retorts. "If anything, he probably had more fun than we did."
"He had his drum kit set up at my party, I KNOW he had more fun than I did," I say, making my girlfriend snort with laughter.
"You know, it's funny," Kayla muses. "When I joined the band, I always dreamed of having this sort of big, fancy celebrity party. But now that I'm here... It doesn't really have the same appeal, you know? Even if it was my birthday, I'm not sure I'd want this. It's all so- all so fake."
"To be fair, the whole 'celebrity' thing doesn't exactly, you know, mix with 'reality' much," I retort.
"...Isn't 'the Angels' classified as 'reality TV'?" Kayla asks.
"Maybe in the very loosest sense of the word," I say, making the petite blonde girl snort with laughter again. "But their friendship is definitely real, even if the stuff that happens on-screen is, you know, 'manipulated'."
"Now that IS true," Kayla concedes. "As is ours, and me and you with Becca and Adeola. Given enough time." This time, it's my turn to snort with laughter.
"Yep," I giggle. "Thought it was the same with Lauren too."
"Guess we were mistaken," Kayla shrugs.
"I wouldn't be too sure," I say with a soft smile as the ginger girl approaches us with a wide grin on her face.
"Sorry about that," Lauren says in a quiet voice, almost like she's trying not to get caught talking to us. "Can- can we go somewhere private, please? I know there are a few side rooms somewhere..."
"Um, sure," I reply, making Lauren grin again as she leads us to a secluded part of the vast venue. Once we're alone, though, she lets out a long sigh, followed by an almost pained moan.
"Umm... Lauren?" Kayla asks. "Are- are you okay?"
"I will be once I get these fucking things off my feet," Lauren says, letting out a long sigh of relief as she kicks her skyscraper heels into a corner of the room. "Try being the only five foot three girl in a group where everyone else is five foot seven or taller!"
"Umm, try being the only five foot nothing girl in a similar group!" Kayla retorts.
"Okay then," Lauren says more firmly, "try being the only five foot three girl and forced to wear bastard heels everywhere you go!"
"...Spencer and Hall?" I ask, smiling sympathetically as Lauren nods.
"The price I pay for money," Lauren moans, flexing her obviously sore toes. "Anyway, never mind my feet, I'm guessing you're both wondering why you're here tonight?"
"It did kinda come out of the blue," Kayla says. "Eighteen months of nothing, then all of a sudden, you invite us to your big, fancy party?"
"You want to know the truth?" Lauren asks. "I'd much rather we were at Charlotte's now. Ugh, better yet, I wish I was back home on the farm."
"You going to see your family this weekend?" I ask.
"Not gonna see them this MONTH," Lauren moans. "Can't get the time off, and even if they came down here, I wouldn't get to spend any time with them."
"Oh- that sucks," Kayla sighs. "Are- are you regretting your decision, then?"
"More with every passing day," Lauren moans. "Leaving Out of Heaven was the worst mistake I ever made."
"Umm, okay," I say, taken aback by the Scottish girl's confession.
"Don't believe me?" Lauren asks with a sarcastic snort. "Don't blame you. I mean, I'm 21, I'm rich, famous, got my dream job, what more could a girl want?"
"Friends?" I ask. "Real friends? To be surrounded by family?"
"Got it in one," Lauren sighs. "I saw the picture you put on Instagram on Sunday, you and your niece. Haven't seen my little niece since last year. Didn't even get to see her at Christmas. I'd rather have a cuddle from her than more money I'll never be able to spend, heh."
"Why don't you talk to Joshua?" Kayla asks. "Tell him what you told me, I know he'll listen."
"My bridges are burned there," Lauren sighs with a shake of her head. "But then again, I thought they were burned with you two, and you're here, so... Ugh, never mind. Some things might be more important than money, but not how much it'd cost to break my contract. But- as long as we can be friends, right?"
"I guess," I shrug. "What's wrong with the friends you made in Constellation?"
"What friends?" Lauren snorts. "Colleagues, aye. But I probably got closer to Becca and Adeola that I have to any of them."
"Even Miss Samson?" I ask, frowning in confusion as Lauren snorts with laughter.
"That bitch?" Lauren scoffs. "Fat chance. First month I was with Constellation she barely acknowledged me, treated me like 'the new meat' even though she'd only joined a week before herself."
"Is that why we haven't seen her tonight?" Kayla asks.
"No, that's-" Lauren says, before catching herself. "Ehh... Never mind. I'll, umm, just get us some more drinks. You two don't go anywhere, there's a LOT more I want to catch up on!"
"We'll be here," I say with a smile as Lauren leaves the room, before turning to my girlfriend. "...What do you think?"
"I think she's sincere," Kayla says quietly. "I really do. I don't know how exactly we're going to work this out, but I really do think she regrets her decision to join Constellation."
"I do too," I say softly, taking advantage of our sudden privacy to share a cuddle and a quick kiss with Kayla... Only for the door to the room to suddenly open and our former bandmate to stare at us slack-jawed.
"What- what the fu- oh my-" Lauren stammers as we immediately break our kiss and start to blush like two schoolgirls caught smoking behind the bike sheds.
"Umm, uh-" Kayla babbles.
"You- you two!?" Lauren hisses, shutting the door behind her and returning to her seat. "What the- what fuck!?"
"It's not what it looks like," I stammer, before sighing. "...Okay, maybe it is." Hello, front page of every tabloid, I think to myself as I feel my stomach start to churn.
"So- so are you not really transgendered then, or something?" Lauren asks, instantly changing my mood from 'defensive' to 'angry'.
"What is THAT supposed to mean?" I growl.
"Well- umm, because you're kissing a girl..." Lauren mumbles, clearly taken aback by my sudden aggression. "And you dated guys before..."
"ONE guy," I retort. "And I don't, you know, 'label' myself. Other than as a girl. What, did eighteen months away from the Angels make you forget what being transgendered actually means?"
"Well, no, but- ugh, I dunno," Lauren sighs.
"We're in a same-gender relationship," Kayla says firmly, giving my hand a supportive squeeze. "We started as best friends, now it's become something more. Simple as that."
"Then how come I haven't heard anything about this?" Lauren asks. "You'd think that something like this would be big news?"
"...We're keeping it quiet," Kayla replies. "Private. Just between the two of us. We'll let people know when we're good and ready. And on that topic... please don't tell anyone?"
"Well- aye, of course not, if you don't want me to," Lauren says, and almost immediately, our tension levels drop. "How long has this been going on?"
"Since after our tour last October," Kayla replies.
"Since- October!?" Lauren gasps. "October!? And you've kept it a secret all this time?"
"We're careful about who we tell," I reply. "Well- we WERE, anyway. We really need you to promise that-"
"Honestly, I promise, okay?" Lauren says. "You don't need to worry about me running my mouth. Though, umm, it's not like, you know..."
"...Not like what?" I ask.
"Not like keeping secrets has done you any good in the past, Steph," Lauren says.
"I guess not," I whisper. "Though if your response is anything to go by, this is probably a secret I should keep. I get enough people questioning whether or not I'm a 'real girl' as it is."
"Yeah, sorry," Lauren mumbles. "That was a shitty thing for me to say. I mean, gender doesn't have anything to do with who you fancy, does it?"
"Nope," Kayla replies.
"Sometimes hormone therapy can cause your orientation to change, but it's very rare," I say. "Heh, even rarer for it to switch to the same gender as the one you're transitioning to, but I don't love Kayla for her gender, I love Kayla for Kayla."
"Same here," my girlfriend replies.
"Aww, that is SO cute," Lauren sighs. "Like, what's her name, Nikki and her wife, right?"
"Yep," I say.
"Really wish I'd been at that wedding," Lauren sighs. "But after what happened at the hen night, probably not a good idea for a member of Constellation to show up, heh."
"Where is that tall blonde bitch, anyway?" I ask. "Was dreading running into her today, almost didn't come..."
"Ah- umm, that's kinda a tricky one," Lauren grimaces. "I shouldn't really be telling you this, but let's call it a secret for a secret, okay?"
"What's happened?" Kayla asks.
"Dannii, she- she's kinda been suspended by Spencer and Hall," Lauren says with a smirk. "Turns out that at Saraya's birthday party a couple of weeks ago, she may- she may have had something in her handbag that she shouldn't. A LOT of something she shouldn't have had, so much that the police think she might have been selling it..."
"...Wow," Kayla breathes.
"Aye," Lauren says. "So the police have charged her with possession with intent to supply, the bosses are trying their best to keep it quiet but Dannii's protesting her innocence- god knows why- meaning it's gonna go to trial, and the first pre-trial hearing is a week on Monday, and there's no way it's gonna be kept quiet after THAT."
"Which drug did she have?" Kayla asks.
"Dunno which one specifically," Lauren says. "Remember I grew up on a farm? Only drugs I know are Tixylix and paracetamol. But I think they said it was class B. She could be looking at prison time."
"Poor her," I snort.
"Aye, that was everyone else's reaction too," Lauren says with a giggle. "No one in Constellation particularly liked her. Hell, no one in Constellation particularly likes each other." Almost as if to prove Lauren's point, the door to the private room suddenly opens and the brown-haired, non-smiling face of Saraya appears, obviously unhappy at having been sent on an errand that she sees as beneath her.
"Lauren," Saraya says in an impassionate voice, "the bosses want you out here for more photos."
"I'm on my way," Lauren replies in an equally impassionate voice as Kayla and I stand up and prepare to follow.
"Umm, hi," I say to Lauren's brown-haired bandmate as we walk past. "I'm, umm, I'm Steph Abbott, this is Kayla Ford, we're in Out of Heaven, it's, umm, nice to meet you!"
"Hi," Saraya says dismissively, before following Lauren back into the main body of the party. Sensing that we're not going to get any further time to talk to our friend, Kayla and I say a quick goodbye to the Scottish girl before leaving and hailing a taxi back to our flat- and when we arrive, there's only one thing on our minds.
"...Do you think she'll tell everyone about us?" Kayla asks as she kicks off her heels and puts the kettle on.
"I guess we'll find out soon enough," I sigh. "But you know, I- I actually do believe her. I believed everything she said. Did you see the way she was tonight? She was NOT happy."
"She really wasn't," Kayla muses. "Guess it just means we should be more thankful for the things we DO have, heh."
"I know I am," I say with a smile. "Reckon we'll see her again soon?"
"I hope so," Kayla replies. "Hopefully we can find a way to get Becca and Adeola to come along too, a 'proper' reunion."
"That'd really be nice," I say. "Ugh, they will NOT be happy if they find out about tonight."
"More like when they find out," Kayla sighs. "Lots of flashing camera phones there tonight..."
"Yeah, I know," I sigh. "But like you said, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
As it turns out, that bridge comes to us a lot sooner than expected, as my eyes flutter open on Saturday morning to the sound of my phone's ringtone, and I groan when I see the familiar number calling me.
"...Hi Joshua," I say, trying to sound bright and awake to disguise my tiredness- and my anxiety at being woken this early in the morning.
"Good morning Stephanie," our manager replies in a stern, but still friendly voice. "We need to talk today, your girlfriend as well. Be at the Heavenly Talent offices at 10:30. Ensure you are properly dressed."
"O- okay," I say, gulping as the phone call ends. Mere seconds later, my bedroom door opens and my girlfriend appears with a nervous look on her face.
"J- Joshua?" Kayla asks, sighing as I nod.
"That bridge got here fast," I moan as I get out of bed and make breakfast while Kayla heads to the bathroom first.
Just over an hour and a half later, the two of us arrive at the head office of Heavenly Talent, normally deserted at this point of the week but unsurprisingly busy today- unsurprising because of the imposing figure standing at the top of the stairs with a stern look in his eyes. Worse yet are the two young women stood behind him, both wearing much angrier looks than our boss. With a look, Joshua summons us to his office, and after climbing the stairs in our expensive stilettos and skirt suits, we take a seat in front of Joshua's desk, trying to ignore the angry glares that Becca and Adeola are shooting us.
"Thank you for coming at short notice," Joshua says in a quiet, reserved voice. "I'm sure you can figure out why I have asked to see you today."
"Yeah..." I grimace, turning to Kayla and hoping that she'll talk our way out of this.
"We- I mean, I got an invitation to her party in the post," Kayla explains. "She asked me to go, I didn't see that it'd be that big a deal?"
"Do you have the invitation?" Joshua asks, staring stoically as Kayla hands it over to him. "Hmm... I see."
"How- how did you find out?" I ask hesitantly.
"From the sidebar of shame," Joshua replies. "And not from my heavenly singers, which is what is worst!"
"We- we didn't think it'd be that big a deal," I say, grimacing as three pairs of angry eyes turn in my direction.
"Seriously?" Adeola asks. "Miss 'oh we're cutting back on parties' drops everything to go to the party of someone who abandoned us over a year ago?"
"It- it's just one party," I plead. "And she was really eager to see us again, she said herself that she wishes she hadn't joined Constellation..."
"Going to the party is not the issue here, keeping it from me is," Joshua says.
"I'd say that going to the party was an issue as well," Adeola snorts.
"You had to have known it'd make the sidebar?" Becca states as I feel smaller and smaller.
"Girls," Joshua says, instantly silencing the four of us. "But Becca is correct. If you had simply told me about the invitation I would not have forbidden you from attending the party. I do not like finding out these things like this!"
"Is- is there anything in the article about our relationship?" I ask, shrivelling yet again as Becca and Adeola's anger seems to intensify.
"No, why would there be?" Joshua asks, before sighing. "Please do not tell me you told Lauren..."
"She- she sort-of found out," Kayla mumbles.
"Oh great!" Becca sarcastically snorts. "We don't find out for months, one night with Lauren and you blab everything!"
"I said she found out!" Kayla protests. "By accident! We didn't mean to, she just walked in on us kissing and, well, conclusions were drawn."
"We wouldn't have told her if she hadn't found out, I swear," I say.
"Yeah, I believe you," Adeola snorts. "'Cause not telling people things seems to be your biggest skill."
"Girls!" Joshua snaps. "That is enough. No harm was done in the long run. But in future, anything regarding Constellation, you tell me before making any decisions. Understood?"
"...Understood," Kayla and I mumble simultaneously.
"The news that Lauren is unhappy with Constellation is interesting to me," Joshua says. "But I am still paying for Kelly's contract. Heh, I'm still paying for CHARLOTTE'S contract five years later! She made her decision and she must live with it. And the band is closer as a foursome than a fivesome."
"We were, anyway," Becca snorts, instantly shutting up following a stern stare from our manager.
"... Go and enjoy your weekend," Joshua sighs. "But think about what I have said. Attending a party is nothing. But lying about attending a party, sewing seeds of mistrust in your bandmates- that is not minor. Think about what I have said."
"We will," Kayla says with a sigh as we leave the office, our bandmates' stares burning holes in the backs of our heads.
Once again, keeping secrets has blown up in my face. If we'd told Joshua about the party, he wouldn't have had a problem. And yet, Becca and Adeola would probably still be angry. We're on speaking terms with Lauren again, but at the expense of our actual bandmates. Maybe sometimes, you can have too many friends?
The one good thing to come out of this week is that my relationship with Kayla is stronger than ever. We're in love, we're thinking on the same page and we're united on all fronts- well, all fronts bar one. Lauren's initial reaction to our relationship is a good enough reason for me to want to keep it quiet, and yet I know that when it comes out- and it is a case of 'when' rather than 'if'- it's going to be an even bigger nightmare than I've ever experienced. Being with Kayla is worth it- but that doesn't mean it's not still a pain. Sometimes it feels like nothing in life is easy...
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