Stephanie, part 2

"Come on, Steve!" My mum yells, waking me from a fitful sleep. "You don't want to be late on your first day at your new job, do you?"

"I'm awake!" I yell downstairs, sighing as I hear the front door slam shut, signifying that I'm alone in the house. I drag myself out of bed and pad to the bathroom, showering and shaving fully, removing any and all facial hair before shaving my arms, legs and chest clean of any stray body hair. I return to my bedroom and apply a full layer of make-up to my face: lipstick, eye shadow, the works. I brush my hair out to its fullest volume, before pulling on a comfortable black bra and panty set, stuffing the bra cups with my breast forms. After pulling an elasticated girdle around my (slim) waist, I pull on a pair of black tights, followed by a tight black miniskirt, a tight grey jumper and my favourite pair of sparkly black flats. After stuffing a change of clothes- a MALE change of clothes- into my backpack and slipping on a pair of silver rings, I grab my handbag and coat and breathe heavily as I leave the house.

"Okay, Stephanie Abbott," I say to myself. "You can do this." After a short tube ride, I find myself at the headquarters of Heavenly Talent, the famous talent agency who are now also my employers. The last time I was here was four days ago, when I was offered- and accepted- a role in Britain's newest girl band... Despite the fact that I'm a boy.

Don't get me wrong, it isn't like I'm being forced to be a girl against my will. I like being a girl. I LOVE being a girl... most of the time. And I'm good at being a girl, too- I discovered last Friday that over six hundred women aged between 16 and 24 auditioned for this role, some coming from as far afield as Ireland and the north of Scotland, and out of that six hundred, I was one of the three chosen. I should be ecstatically happy, like the other four women who are waiting for me in the recording studio... and yet I'm uneasy, even as they greet me like I'm an old friend.

"Hey, bandmate!" Becca- the unofficial 'lead singer'- says, giving me a tight hug as I enter the studio, a hug I happily reciprocate. "Glad you FINALL decided to join us!"

"Sorry," I sigh in my practised falsetto. "Flat mates hogging the bathroom AGAIN..."

"Ugh, just get your own place already!" Adeola- the unofficial 'other lead singer'- insists. "I'm sure my uncle will give you an advance of pay if you ask him..."

"Ladies, please?" Stuart- our main producer- commands. "We need to get rehearsing, we're already behind schedule as SOMEONE doesn't like working Mondays..."

"And miss ballet?" Becca retorts to Stuart- who also happens to be her older brother.

"From the top," Stuart says, laughing wearily at his younger sister's attitude. "One, two, three..." All five of us take a deep breath as the music begins.

"Ooh, baby, do you know what that's worth?" All five of us sing in near-perfect harmony. "Ooh heaven is a place on earth. They say in heaven love comes first. We'll make heaven a place on earth. Ooh heaven is a place on earth..." I control my breathing as the first verse begins, and myself, Adeola, Lauren and Kayla sing the backing vocals as Becca takes centre stage.

"When the night falls down," the dark-haired girl sings tunefully, "I wait for you, and you come around, and the world's alive, with the sound of kids, on the street outside..."

"When you walk into the room," Adeola sings in a rich, deep voice as Becca joins in the backing vocals. "You pull me close and we start to move, and we're spinning with the stars above, and you lift me up in a wave of love..."

"Ooh, baby, do you know what that's worth?" All five of us sing once again. "Ooh heaven is a place on earth. They say in heaven love comes first. We'll make heaven a place on earth. Ooh heaven is a place on earth..." I settle my jaw down as the chorus ends, and it's my turn to sing.

"When I feel alone," I sing, trying as hard as I can to match the standard that had been set for me by the other two girls. "I reach for you, and you bring me home, when I'm lost at sea, I hear your voice, and it carries me..." My 'part' over, I try not to breathe a sigh of relief as I rejoin the backing vocals.

"In this world we're just beginning," Lauren sings in a powerful voice, "To understand the miracle of living, Baby I'm not afraid no more, but I'm not afraid-" The room pauses as Lauren trips over the vocals of the song. "Shit... Sorry..." I can't help but feel sorry for the normally forceful Scottish girl as she cowers under withering gazes from our other three band-mates.

"Don't worry, that's kinda why we're rehearsing!" Stuart laughs. "From the top..." We all take a deep breath as the song restarts, and Becca, Adeola and I run through our parts perfectly one more time, before it comes to Lauren's part. I quickly glance over at the flame-haired girl, who is almost shaking with nerves, and I almost feel relieved- relief that I'm not the only one who's feeling nervous about the situation.

"In this world we're just beginning," Lauren sings in an even stronger voice than she had previously. "To understand the miracle of living, baby I was afraid before, but I'm not afraid anymore!" It's all I can do not to cheer loudly as Lauren grins, having sung her part perfectly. After the brief instrumental part of the song, Kayla steps up to her microphone, and when she opens her mouth, everyone in the room is nearly blown away.

"In this world we're just beginning," Kayla sings in a voice that sounds FAR too strong and powerful for her petite, 5' 0" frame. "To understand the miracle of living, baby I was afraid before, but I'm not afraid anymore!" After a final chorus, Stuart gives us the thumbs-up and we all take a breather and get a quick drink of water.

"Wow, Kayla!" I gush at the tiny girl, who grins bashfully in response to my compliment.

"Thanks," Kayla says in response.

"How do you fit lungs that strong into a body that small?" Lauren jokes, making myself and Kayla giggle as we return to our microphones.

"Okay," Stuart says. "Second take, this time I want Steph and Lauren doing verse 1, Adeola and Kayla doing verse 2, and Becca doing the final repeat. Ready? One, two, three..."

After two hours of singing- in which we all take a turn singing different parts of the song- the five of us are allowed an hour's break for lunch. Immediately as we arrive at the posh bistro Adeola has selected for our lunch, we all order tall, cool- but expensive- drinks to help soothe our sore throats.

"Okay," Becca announces after clearing her throat. "Dream job: yes. DAMNED hard work: also yes!" I giggle along with the other girls- it's far from my first day at a new job, but it's certainly been one of the most fun so far. The fact that I've been unconditionally accepted as 'one of the girls' certainly helps... Even though I know deep down that I shouldn't have been.

"No offence intended," Kayla says, "but is ballet, of all things, REALLY an excuse to skip a day's work?"

"You don't know our teacher," Adeola says smugly.

"But, as she's also our choreographer, you will!" Becca giggles. "She does a private lesson on Monday mornings that I worked my ass off to get into, and I'm not about to give it up now!"

"And besides, it was kinda my fault too," Lauren giggles nervously.

"Ohh yes," Becca says, again diverting attention back to her. "I wasn't going to say anything, but I HAVE read all of your application forms, and I DID notice something interesting about Wee Miss McTavish's details..."

"Yeah," Adeola giggles. "Are you gonna tell them or shall I?"

"Tell us what?" Kayla asks, clearly frustrated at being kept out of the loop.

"Ugh," Lauren moans, resting her head on the table. "It- it was my birthday yesterday, that's all..."

"No way!" Kayla squeaks. "Which one?"

"...Eighteenth," Lauren sighs, making the entire table cheer and applaud- myself a split second behind the other three.

"We've GOT to celebrate!" Becca insists.

"Seriously, I don't want any fuss," Lauren moans.

"No way, you only turn eighteen once!" Adeola laughs. "We are taking you OUT tonight! Steph and Kayla will come too, right girls?" I freeze as the dark-skinned girl puts me on the spot- obviously I can't stay out TOO late, especially not 'as Stephanie'... But I can't decline their invitation without seeming rude...

"Um, I'm still only seventeen," Kayla says apologetically. "Can't really get into any clubs..." I breathe an inward sigh of relief- I'm off the hook...

"Then we'll just take you out on YOUR eighteenth!" Adeola giggles. "Steph?" I desperately rack my brains, thinking of a way out... But none comes to mind.

"Um, sure!" I say happily.

"You feeling okay, Steph?" Adeola asks, suddenly concerned. "It's just you've been kinda quiet all through lunch..."

"I'm fine," I say defensively. "Just... A little overwhelmed, that's all." From the looks of my four bandmates, I can tell that my story isn't QUITE convincing enough...

"...And I'm still having hassle from my flat mates," I sigh.

"Oh- seriously, ask Uncle Joshua for an advance and get your own place!" Adeola laughs.

"Are they giving you hassle because you're- you know...?" Kayla asks cautiously.

"I dunno, maybe a little," I sigh.

"I thought you said they'd accepted you for who you are?" Becca probes, making me start to sweat under the sudden attention being paid to my personal life.

"Um, it's more 'tolerate' than 'accept'," I say, inwardly sighing with relief as my new friends accept my story without question.

"Believe me, I can understand that," Adeola says. "Doesn't matter how successful we'll be, there'll always be people who'll never be able to look past my skin."

"...Or my genetics," I say, sharing a chuckle with the dark-skinned girl.

"Oh, at LAST!" Becca sighs dramatically as she stares over my shoulder at a tall, attractive young man with light blonde hair and striking green eyes.

"Sorry I'm late," the young man says, before approaching our table and giving Becca a long, lingering kiss.

"Riley, these are the girls," Becca says. "Addie you already know, from left right you've got Lauren, Kayla and Steph. Girl, this is Riley, my bae. I shouldn't need to say it, but just in case: HANDS OFF." Riley and Becca both let out a sickeningly sweet giggle as the well over six foot tall man wraps his arms around Becca's slim waist.

"Your choreographer is also my sister," Riley explains. "The whole of Heavenly Talent is run basically on nepotism." Becca giggles at her boyfriend's joke as Adeola playfully rolls her eyes.

"I'll try not to take that personally," Adeola giggles.

"We've just learned that it was Lauren's birthday yesterday," Becca giggles to her boyfriend. "Reckon we should take her for her first night out in London?"

"Definitely," Riley laughs as Lauren moans into her coffee.

"Seriously, there's really no need..." Lauren insists

"No, no, no, you don't turn eighteen and move to London from the North Pole every day!" Becca laughs. "You got a clubbing dress?" I again inwardly breathe a sigh of relief as Lauren shakes her head.

"I'll lend you one, then," Becca shrugs. "We're more or less the same size..."

"Okay then," Lauren sighs, eliciting cheers from everyone at the table. After finishing our lunch, we head back to the studio- but not before I have a chance to talk to our 'lead singer'.

"Umm, Becca," I whisper to the dark-haired girl as we stroll through the cold February air. "I, um, I kinda don't have a clubbing dress either..."

"So... What?" Becca asks. "Do you want me to lend you one as well? I'm not exactly a charity, Steph!"

"No- never mind," I sigh.

"No- Steph..." Becca sighs. "When did you say you came out again?"

"About six weeks ago," I lie. "Just after the new year. I've not worked since, so..."

"I'll lend you a dress," Becca sighs. "But you're washing it AND I get to borrow any of your clothes any time I want, deal?"

"Deal!" I giggle- though Becca has made it abundantly clear how much of an imposition this is to her...

After another couple of hours of singing back at the studio, we're finally told to call it a day, much to our collective relief.

"That's day one over," Stuart laughs. "It can only get better from here. I've got a few notes I want you to take on board: Steph, I've noticed you come in a little early sometimes in the chorus- just keep an eye on that."

"Okay," I say, feeling a little embarrassed to have been singled out in this manner.

"Lauren, I've noticed your voice wavering from time to time," Stuart says. "We'll ignore the incident from the first run-through- it won't happen again." Lauren blushes slightly and nods, as Stuart moves onto our 'lead singers'.

"Addie- you're a little loud at times," Stuart says, making the tall girl frown before nodding. "Volume doesn't equal tunefulness. Becca..." Stuart takes a deep breath as he addresses his little sister- and everyone in the room can sense how awkward the atmosphere has become.

"Yes...?" Becca asks, clearly upset that her brother has anything other than blind praise for her.

"You're a little 'off' in some of the harmonies," Stuart grimaces. "Like you're trying to lead them too much." Becca nods her agreement, but her eyes show that inside, she is utterly livid.

"Kayla..." Stuart says, taking another deep breath. "...Wow. No notes, you just keep doing what you're doing!" I can't help but grin as Kayla giggles happily at the news- but my grin fades when I see that Becca's facial expression has somehow got even darker.

"It's all minor stuff, really," Stuart says with a smile. "Just keep working hard, I'm sure we'll get perfection sooner rather than later. Anyway... I understand you're having a night out tonight, to celebrate your first day as a band?"

"And Lauren's birthday too!" I say, making the flame-haired girl cringe.

"Oh, is it your birthday too, Lauren?" Stuart asks. Didn't Stuart know that was why Becca had suggested the night out? Or did she have one already planned?

"...It was my eighteenth yesterday," Lauren says, eliciting a surprised chuckle from our producer.

"Oh, well happy birthday!" Stuart laughs. "Good job we DIDN'T start you yesterday then! Well, enjoy yourselves, I'll see you back here tomorrow at 10am, assuming you're not all too hungover!" I giggle as the five of us are left to our own devices, and for the first time ever in this job, I actually start to forget about my troubles. For once, I actually believe that I AM Stephanie... and then I switch on my phone, and find three voicemails from my parents asking me to let them know how I'm getting on on my first day.

"Uhh," I splutter, startling my new friends. "I, um, I need to take this..."

"Sure, Steph," Becca says. "Riley's going to be giving me and Lauren a lift back to mine if you still need to borrow a dress for tonight..."

"Sure," I say, hurrying outside into the relative privacy of the service area behind the agency.

"Hi mum," I say into the phone in 'Steve's voice.

"Steve!" Mum says in a near-relieved voice. "Been trying to reach you all day..."

"Yeah, they, uh, don't let me have my phone switched on at work," I say. "I've just finished for the day, a few of my workmates have offered to take me out for a few drinks, you know, to celebrate..."

"As long as you're not too hungover for work tomorrow!" Mum warns me.

"It's my manager who's taking us out," I laugh. "It'll be fine. Just- don't wait up, okay?"

"Okay, okay," mum laughs. "See you tomorrow, I guess!"

"See you," I chuckle into the phone before clicking it off and heading back in to my bandmates.

"Soo..." Becca teases. "Who was so important you couldn't talk to them in front of your bandmates?"

"Umm," I stammer. "Just... Just someone about a flat... It won't be free for another month." Dammit, Steph- no, wait, Dammit, Steve, stop lying all the time...

"Ah, that sucks," Adeola sighs as we head outside into our respective transport home. "Well, see you tonight!"

"See you," I say as I slide into Becca's boyfriend's car. Riley quickly whisks the three of us back to Becca's house, which makes my jaw drop as I enter it- the place is almost a palace, with at least four bedrooms, a conservatory, a HUGE kitchen...

"Glad you two approve!" Becca giggles as she leads myself and Lauren up to her bedroom- which is at least three times the size of my tiny room, not counting her en-suite.

"Who is your dad, Alan Sugar?" Lauren asks.

"No, but he's worked with him in the past," Becca boasts. "Before he retired last month he was a manager at one of London's biggest investment firms. This isn't even our only house!"

"Jesus," I mouth as Becca flings open one of her wardrobes. It becomes immediately apparent that Becca's reluctance to lend me a dress isn't down to her having a limited wardrobe- she turfs out at least ten for my and Lauren to pick from, citing them as 'ones she hardly wears any more'. Obviously, she also picks out several dozen for herself to pick from, and disappears into her en-suite as Lauren casually disrobes in front of me.

"I'm having the short halter-neck one," Lauren says, taking the dress and changing into it. I try to subtly avert my eyes and Lauren casually unclips her bra and tosses it on Becca's floor next to my backpack, before tying the tiny dress around her neck.

"What are you being so squeamish about?" Lauren giggles. "They're just tits. ADULT tits now, so you've got nothing to worry about from Yewtree. AND you've got a pair yourself, haven't you?"

"Umm... Not really," I say, pulling down the neck of my jumper to show Lauren the falsies inside my bra.

"Ahh... Shit Steph," Lauren sighs. "Sorry, sometimes I forget... Just shows what a 'good job' you're doing, heh! I'm sure Becca's got a dress on here you can wear a bra underneath... This one!" Lauren giggles as she hands me a high-necked dress that I just about squeeze my girdle-enhanced figure into, before sitting down at Becca's dresser and applying more make-up to her face. I do the same after Lauren finishes- though as all I have is powder and lipstick, I stick out like a sore thumb next to the exquisitely made-up Lauren and Becca- something the older girl can't help but comment on.

"We're gonna need to get you that advance if only so you can get some proper make-up!" Becca teases as she leads Lauren and myself downstairs- both of us still wearing the flats we wore to work whilst Becca has, of course, changed into 5" stiletto heels.

"We're off out now daddy," Becca says, giving her elderly father a kiss on the cheek. "Don't wait up!"

"Don't be in too late!" Becca's father grumbles. "You've only just got this job, you don't want to lose it on your second day!"

"Oh please," Becca giggles. "They can't fire me- they wouldn't dare!"

"Well- just take care, okay?" Mr. Milton sighs as the three of us- along with Riley- get into our waiting taxi and head to a local nightclub, where we stay until just after 11pm. After leaving the club, the four of us (along with Adeola, who we met there) get into a taxi to get dropped at our respective homes. After we drop Adeola at her posh home, I start to give directions to the taxi driver when I remember a large problem- not only did I tell my new friends that I lived in a flat, rather than a house, I also can't be 100% sure that my parents aren't still awake... And my male clothes are still back in Becca's bedroom.

"Uhh, Becca?" I say cautiously.

"What now?" Becca asks with playful mock-exasperation.

"I, um, kinda left my bag at your place," I mumble.

"So?" Becca giggles. "I don't mind bringing it in tomorrow, is there something in there that you need?"

"Yeah, my house key," I say, thinking quickly and congratulating myself on my answer.

"Oh, you dumbass!" Becca playfully teases.

"Might as well pick my clothes up as well, can drop off our dresses too..." Lauren suggests.

"Oh, no, no no," Becca giggles. "STEPH still needs to get them cleaned!" I chuckle and roll my eyes as Becca gives directions to her house, where I change back into the clothes I was wearing earlier, before carefully folding Becca's dress and placing it on top of 'Steve's clothes in my backpack. As Lauren's hotel and my house are in opposite directions, I let Lauren get back in her taxi before calling for one of my own- but not before a quick chat with my 'lead singer'.

"Thanks for tonight," I say, trying my best to sound contrite. "I did really enjoy it."

"You sure?" Becca asks accusingly. "You seemed distracted a LOT..."

"It..." I giggle. "It was kinda, you know, 'Steph's first night out'." Much to my relief, Becca simply smirks in response.

"First of MANY," Becca says confidently. "And the first of many nights out for Out of Heaven!"

"Once we're ALL old enough, anyway," I giggle.

"What do you mean?" Becca asks as we head down to her large entrance hall. Ooh, you snide bitch... I think to myself.

"Um, Kayla?" I ask, making Becca playfully giggle and roll her eyes.

"Duh, silly me!" Becca giggles. "Hope she didn't feel TOO left out... She'll just have to get older quicker, won't she?"

"Not sure it works that way," I laugh as I get in my taxi. "See you tomorrow, Becca!"

"See ya, Steph!" Becca giggles. As the taxi pulls away from Becca's mansion, I let out a large sigh, happy that the day is FINALLY over. I've been 'Steph' for almost fifteen hours- by far the longest I've EVER spent as my 'alter ego'- and as much as I enjoy the whole experience of being a girl, my tolerance is wearing thin. I almost cry with relief when I see that all the lights are off at my house as the taxi pulls up outside- no need for an emergency detour to McDonalds and then yet ANOTHER taxi home. Once I'm safely in my bedroom, I FINALLY strip out of Stephanie's clothes and remove all my make-up, before collapsing on my bed in a plain white t-shirt and a pair of boxer shorts.

"What the hell am I doing?" I whisper to myself as I close my eyes and try to get to sleep. I've only been in this job one day- one solitary day- and already I'm mentally and physically exhausted from trying to keep up with the web of lies I've spun for myself. I'm lying to my parents, to my employers, to my bandmates- my friends... I'm even lying to myself in as much as I don't know WHAT the truth is. Am I Stephanie? Am I Steve? Am I both? Am I neither?

The sensible thing would be to come clean to my employers tomorrow, tell them that I'm not transitioning- well, not yet, anyway- and back out of the band now before it becomes too much of a hassle to replace me. I don't even get on with all of them, anyway, especially not her Royal Highness Becca... But I can't face a single day longer on the unemployment line, and the money, dear god the money is SO good...

My alarm clock wakes me at 8am, and I drag my tired body out bed, showering and shaving before pulling on my grey dressing down and heading downstairs, where my parents are already waiting for me.

"Morning, working man!" Mum beams. "Heard you get in last night, hope you're not TOO hungover!"

"Didn't drink that much," I laugh as a sweet-smelling cup of coffee is thrust under my face.

"Well get that down you anyway," dad laughs. "Going to be strange, you being the only one going into work today..."

"Stranger for me than for you," I retort, making both my parents chuckle.

"Seriously," dad says with a warm smile. "I AM proud of you. It's not easy, getting a job in this economy, no matter what Cameron or that dickhead Iain whathisface says, but I knew you'd manage it sooner rather than later."

"Thanks, dad," I say with a smile, whilst inwardly cursing. Looks like I've got no chance of leaving the house as Steph...

Ninety minutes later, I step out of the disabled toilet at a nearby McDonalds with a face full of make-up, translucent black tights on my legs underneath a tight black skirt and a tight red jumper cover my girdle and breast form- enhanced torso. Much to my irritation, I'm once again the last to arrive at the recording studio- though today I am at least on time.

"Ah, so you've come back for a second day, then?" Stuart teases as I grab my headphones and join my bandmates inside the recording booth.

"Hey Steph!" Becca says with a smug smile. "Got my dress cleaned yet?"

"When exactly am I supposed to have had time to do that?" I retort, making Adeola laugh heartily- clearly people don't stand up to Becca that often...

"And is that the same skirt as yesterday?" Becca asks, clearly not wanting to be shown up.

"I own more than one black skirt," I retort.

"Girls!" Stuart barks down his microphone. "Can we try to get some work done today, please?"

"Sorry," Becca and I simultaneously mumble into our microphones, before Stuart plays his music track and we spend the next two hours singing- in addition to 'Heaven is a Place on Earth' we also sing a couple of Girls Aloud tracks for practice, before Stuart lets us all out for lunch. The track list on our first album hasn't been decided yet, so Stuart says he'll have us sing as many cover versions as possible to see which ones suit us best, in addition to the new songs he's written for the band.

Before I grab my coat and prepare to follow the other girls to another posh eatery for lunch, my attention is drawn to a familiar face entering the recording studio- that of Jamie-Lee Burke, the woman who'd interviewed me for the spot in the band and, as is obvious from highly familiar the way she greets Stuart, our producer's lover. Not wanting to interrupt the couple, I follow my bandmates to lunch, wincing as they all order £8 cups of herbal tea and large, expensive sandwiches. I make the same order- not wanting to stand out from them- but these expensive lunches are quickly draining what little money I have left, and there's not a whole lot in my bank account either...

"So which song did you three audition with?" Adeola asks as we sit down with our lunches.

"Didn't you watch the recordings?" Lauren asks.

"Yeah, but there were, like, hundreds," Adeola says. "Can't expect us to remember them all!"

"Not even the three most important ones?" I joke, making the dark-skinned girl giggle.

"Hang on, I'll try to guess," Adeola jokes, turning her attention first to Lauren. "You... Will have sung a song by a Scottish band, right?"

"Aye, Texas," Lauren nods.

"Say What You Want?" Adeola asks, laughing happily as Lauren nods. Adeola turns her attention to Kayla, before Becca returns to the table from the restroom.

"This place was a GREAT pick," Becca congratulates Adeola. "Who recommended it to you again?"

"Hannah," Adeola says with a smile, having apparently forgotten about her 'game'. Talk immediately turns to where we'll go for lunch tomorrow, with Becca and Adeola dominating the conversation until the five of us return to the studio, where we only have another hour's singing before Stuart- at some prompting from his little sister- gives us the rest of the afternoon off. I breathe a sigh of intense relief- it means I can get home before either of my parents, meaning I can avoid another Mrs. Doubtfire-like trip to a disabled toilet. Before I can leave, however, my plans are suddenly thwarted.

"Hey Steph!" Jamie-Lee shouts as I grab my coat, ready to leave. Inwardly cursing, I force a wide smile onto my face.

"What's up?" I ask.

"Do you have a minute or two to chat?" Jamie-Lee asks. Ordinarily, the thought of a famous, successful woman like Jamie-Lee wanting to talk to ME would make me giddy with excitement- but now, with my 'window of opportunity' closing, it's more of a hassle than an opportunity.

"Umm," I say, trying to think of an excuse but ultimately drawing a blank. "Sure!" 5 or 10 minutes surely couldn't hurt...

"We haven't really had a chance to talk since your interview," Jamie-Lee says, leading me into a private office. "How are you settling in with the other girls?"

"Yeah, it's going good," I say.

"Really?" Jamie-Lee asks, instantly seeing through my lie. I let out a small giggle, prompting my 'interrogator' to chuckle as well.

"There is a LITTLE friction," I say.

"Let me guess: you failed to respect Becca's position as 'alpha girl'?" Jamie jokes, laughing harder as I nod. "That girl is so spoiled... Did you never have many female friends whilst growing up?"

"Not really," I say, relieved at being able to tell the truth about my past for once. "Not many friends of ANY description..."

"Believe me, I know how that feels," Jamie says. "Well... You've got friends now! Or at least you will when you FINALLY get around to making that Facebook profile!"

"Yeah, sadly my phone is just 'phone' and not 'camera, computer and everything all rolled into one'," I laugh, showing Jamie my old, half-knackered Nokia. "Can't really join Facebook without a face..." As if on cue, Jamie takes her own, brand-new iPhone out of her bag and snaps a photo of me.

"You do now!" Jamie giggles. "What your email address?" Crap! I think to myself. The only address I've got is 'Steve's...

"It's, umm..." I mumble, before taking a deep breath. "It's [email protected]..." Jamie sighs sadly as I tell her the email address, and I can't help but wince, wondering if this is my career over before it's even begun...

"Oh Steph," Jamie says. "Haven't you even changed your email address yet?"

"I only came out six weeks ago," I argue. "Spent most of the time since trying to get my life in some sort of order, find somewhere to live... Barely even got a wardrobe..."

"Yeah, Stu told me Becca was having a dig at you," Jamie says, before a wide grin creeps onto her face. "Now THAT I can do something about! Get your coat on Steph- we're going shopping!"

"I, um, I don't have any money..." I feebly argue.

"I'm buying, then!" Jamie says.

"I couldn't, really..." I continue, knowing I'm fighting a losing battle.

"I'LL take the receipts, then, and have payroll deduct it from the advance you'll get," Jamie says. So much for getting in before my parents...

"Sounds cool!" I say happily, making Jamie giggle as she pulls her own coat on over her designer dress, before leading me out to her shiny red Alfa Romeo. We spend the next two hours shopping, and for a time I allow myself to forget my 'situation' and enjoy being out- it IS my first-ever shopping trip as Stephanie, and I'm filling shopping bag after shopping bag with skirts, dresses, shoes, even some underwear and cosmetics... But as 5pm rolls around and the shops begin closing, I'm faced with the sudden realisation that I have absolutely no idea how I'm going to get all of my new clothes home- or where I'll store them once I've got them home.

"God, am I going to have any of this advance LEFT by the time I get it?" I joke as Jamie-Lee and I head back to her car.

"Hehe!" Jamie-Lee giggles. "You'll be fine... Can't really see you getting all of these bags in my car, though..."

"Kinda went overboard, didn't we?" I ask, making Jamie-Lee giggle harder.

"I've got it covered, don't worry," Jamie-Lee says, typing a message into her smartphone. "Asked a friend of mine- well, employee, really- to pick you up. She'll be here in a bit." Dammit! I can't go home the way I am... And I can't give them a fake address either as I put my real address on my application form and they're bound to notice if it doesn't match...

"Umm, I can get a taxi, it's really no bother," I say, trying my hardest to avoid sounding desperate.

"Why bother?" Jamie-Lee asks. "Our 'company taxi's already on its way!" I chuckle as I clutch the multiple shopping bags in my hand, knowing that I've lost this argument. "Also- and I don't mean anything nasty by this- but do- do you still shave your face?"

"Every morning, yeah," I reply. "Um, the hormones haven't really had a chance to kick in there yet..."

"They wouldn't do," Jamie-Lee says. "You'd need electrolysis or laser removal to fully get rid of it... Fortunately, I've already spoken to Joshua and he's willing to foot the bill for it, so I can book you in as early as next week if you'd like?"

"I dunno," I say, shocked by the thought of making permanent, irreversible alterations to my body. "Wouldn't- wouldn't that hurt?"

"Only in the very short term," Jamie-Lee says. "Honestly, it really is a benefit, you'd never ever have to shave again..." Truth be told, I DO hate shaving... And if the only permanent change is 'no facial hair', well, there can't be any harm in that, surely?

"Okay, sign me up!" I laugh, making Jamie-Lee giggle happily. Yet another thing I'd have to explain to my parents...

Fifteen minutes later, a Renault Clio, driven by a girl who barely looks eighteen, arrives to pick me up. After dumping my shopping bags on the back seat, I elegantly lower myself onto the passenger seat and greet the driver with a feminine handshake.

"Hi," I say to the dark-haired girl. "I'm Steph, Steph Abbott."

"Nikki Thomas," the girl says with a smile. "Glad to meet you- Jamie's been talking about you a lot!"

"Really?" I ask as we drive away. "We've only known each other for a few days..."

"I think she's just excited at the prospect of having ANOTHER protégé, heh," Nikki chuckles. "And I have to compliment you- you really can't, you know, 'tell'."

"Thanks," I say, still racking my brains over how to 'sneak around' my parents once I arrive home.

"Umm..." Nikki continues. "This is normally the point where you compliment ME, though I guess not saying anything is kinda a compliment in itself..."

"I don't follow," I mumble.

"Jamie having another protégé... As in 'an other' protégé?" Nikki giggles. "That other protégé being me?"

"You're transgendered too?" I ask with an air of surprise- Nikki's body shape is EXTREMELY feminine.

"I'll take THAT as a compliment!" Nikki laughs.

"Perfect," I whisper as an idea suddenly forms in my head. If I can get to know this Nikki girl a little better... Take her out for dinner, maybe a few drinks, then I can get back after my parents are both in bed- problem solved.

"Umm, not really," Nikki says. "I'm still pre-operative, I'd have given anything just to have been born as a girl... I'm sure you can appreciate that, right?"

"Yes, of course," I say. "Umm, this is going to sound odd, but I'd really like to, you know, 'compare notes'... Can't really talk to Jamie-Lee, you know, she's so famous, she's kinda intimidating..."

"Jamie's the least intimidating person in the world!" Nikki laughs. "I'm definitely happy to 'compare notes' though, I'll look you up on Facebook and add you when I get home."

"Umm, I don't have-" I begin.

"You don't have a Facebook, right," Nikki says, finishing my sentence for me. "Right, I remember Jamie saying..."

"Are- are you doing anything tonight?" I ask. "Maybe we could 'compare notes' over a few drinks..."

"Umm," Nikki says in an uncomfortable tone. "I, um, I have a 'significant other'..."

"Oh- um-" I stutter. "I, um, I wasn't asking you out, um, I just wanted, you know, 'as friends'..."

"Heh, okay," Nikki laughs. "Either way, my significant other is kinda the jealous type... If I told her I was blowing off dinner with her for another girl, it would NOT go down well..."

"...And I'd rather not be a third wheel," I say, inwardly cursing as my plan falls apart before it was ever realised.

"Maybe another time," Nikki says with a smile. "Think there'll be a big 'welcome to the Angels' party for you and the rest of the band on Saturday, Sarah and I will both be there so we'll chat then?"

"Sounds good!" I laugh as Nikki pulls up outside my house. Much to my irritation and panic, the living room light is on, and my parents are both clearly inside said room...

"See you Saturday!" Nikki laughs as she drives away, leaving me stood on my driveway, my heart racing and my mind a blur. Making sure my parents don't see me through the window, I sneak around the back of the house to the backdoor- and, much to my relief, both my parents are indeed in the living room. I open the back door- using my back door key- and before mum or dad can react, I seal myself- and my numerous bags- in the downstairs toilet.

"Desperate for a wee," I shout as I hastily undress myself in the cramped room.

"Thanks, really needed to know that," dad jokes. I manage to exchange my clothes in record time, though without a mirror in the room, I have to hazard a guess as to how much of my make-up I removed with my make-up removal kit. I wince as I stuff my new clothes (and their bags) into my bulging backpack, before heading into the living room, hiding as much of my face as possible with my hair.

"You been shopping?" Mum asks as she sees my bulging backpack. "Not spending your first pay packet before you've even got it, I hope..."

"Just a couple of things I've wanted for a while," I say as I make a beeline for the stairs. "Just, um, staff discount..."

"Can't blame you, I suppose," mum laughs. "Though I hope you're putting some aside for rent!"

"Yes, of course," I reply, before reaching my room and collapsing on my bed, taking several deep breaths to get my heart rate back to normal. I've got through day 2 'unscathed'- and god only knows how.

After putting away my- or rather, Stephanie's- new clothes- which, as predicted, have become horribly creased in the short trip from the downstairs toilet to my bedroom- I log onto my email, lingering on the photo Jamie-Lee took of me today. Even though I can tell it's me underneath the hair and the make-up, when I try to look at it objectively, I DO look passable... Saving the picture to my hard drive, I browse to Facebook and set up the new account as Stephanie, if only to stop people from pestering me. I add all my band-mates, as well as Stuart, Jamie-Lee and Nikki, before logging out and climbing into bed, even more exhausted than I was last night.

I almost cry with relief when I hear my parents shout goodbye to me as they close the front door, leaving me alone in the house. I don't need to be up for another half hour, but the second they leave, I jump out of bed and head into the bathroom, not wanting to waste any time in 'becoming Stephanie'. After shaving, I take my time applying my make-up, savouring every second as I remember why I started wearing make-up in the first place. I actually have a grin on my face as I pull on my bra, panties and girdle, and I almost giggle with happiness as I stretch my black tights over my legs, before pulling on an outfit I bought yesterday- a very cute grey pleated miniskirt and a tight red jumper, neither of which got TOO creased yesterday (and the pleats on the skirt would hide any creases anyway). Even though my parents are likely to still be out by the time I get home, I stuff my boy clothes and make-up remover into my backpack anyway- yesterday proved that I should expect the unexpected in this job- before slipping my feet into my favourite pair of flats and heading out the door.

"Hey!" Lauren says with a smile as I arrive at the recording studio.

"Are you the only one here?" I ask the ginger-haired girl.

"Aye," Lauren says. "Guess I'm used to early starts, back home I'd get up at 5:30 every morning to help my parents feed the sheep..."

"And I thought I was having a culture shock joining the band!" I joke, making Lauren giggle happily. "Still staying at the hotel?"

"Aye," Lauren sighs. "Got a place to move into next week, pity everywhere in London's so damned expensive..."

"It won't be when your royalty cheques start rolling in!" Jamie-Lee giggles as she approaches the two of us. "Steph, I've got the details of the laser removal place I told you about yesterday, if you tell your counsellor about it they'll write you a recommendation and we can get you booked in ASAP." Counsellor!? I don't have a counsellor...

"Umm..." I mumble, making Jamie-Lee sigh once again.

"Don't tell me you don't have a counsellor..." Jamie-Lee moans. "Who wrote your oestrogen prescription?"

"My former counsellor," I say. "We kinda had a falling out, I've not been to see them in a few weeks..."

"You must be almost out of HRT pills then," Jamie-Lee muses. "Tell you what, I'll get you booked in with my old counsellor. I still see her occasionally, I'll put in a good word, I'm sure the company can cover the expense."

"Oh- no, there's really no need," I plead. "I can find another one on the NHS..."

"You don't want to be waiting forever," Jamie says, immediately typing out an email. "Trust me when I say this woman is GOOD." I nod and force a smile onto my face, but inwardly, I'm panicking more than ever- lying to 'ordinary people' is one thing, but lying to someone who spends all day every day dealing with transgendered people? And they'll no doubt expect to see my prior medical records...

I take a moment to compose myself, deciding that this is a bridge I can cross when I come to it, before forcing another smile on my face as Becca and Adeola arrive at the studio together.

"Decided to show up on time today?" Becca jokes as we greet each other with a hug.

"Play nicely!" Jamie-Lee chuckles as we head into the recording studio, Kayla joining us less than five minutes later. Once again, we spend the whole morning singing, but when it comes to lunch, rather than head to a posh cafe as we've been doing all week, Jamie-Lee instead instructs us all to stay in the studio.

"'Fraid I'm going to have to ask you all to work through lunch," Jamie-Lee says with an almost excited voice. "The outfits we ordered for your promo shoots MAY have arrived today..." Becca and Adeola both squeak excitedly at the news, and I force out an excited gasp too, even though I've no idea what the outfits look like... And when I see them, my excitement only increases.

The outfits Jamie-Lee described are short, tight leotard dresses with matching knee-high platform boots. They're exactly the sort of outfit my younger self would have given his right arm to be able to wear, even for a second... And they're a reminder of one of the reasons WHY I accepted the job in the first place. The dresses are bespoke, tailored to fit perfectly (our measurements were taken on our first day of work) and are a different colour for each girl- Becca's is a sparkly, golden yellow, Adeola's is a dark, silvery grey, Lauren's is royal blue, Kayla's is hot pink and mine is a deep, almost sultry red. The five of us are handed our outfits (along with a pair of fishnet tights) and ordered to immediately change- and none of us need to be asked twice! Whilst the changing room we use is small, all five of us have more than enough space to change- and once again, I find myself almost bemused by how the four other women can casually disrobe in front of me. My own outfit is cut so as to hide my bra, but the others' aren't, so I find myself desperately trying not to pay any attention to my bandmates' breasts.

As much as I'm pretending to be a woman, I am still VERY attracted to women, and the four women I'm stood with in the changing rooms are extremely attractive... Making me thankful that the leotard part of my dress is extremely tight.

"Okay," Jamie-Lee says, handing us all capes that we tie around our necks. "Make-up next! And girls- you look HOT!" I find myself involuntarily giggling along with the other girls as we take turns having our make-up enhanced to near-ridiculous levels, with thick eyeshadow, bright lip gloss and fake eyelashes. I have a moment of panic, though, when the beautician produces a bottle of red nail polish and begins carefully coating each of my fingernails.

"Umm, is the polish necessary?" I ask the beautician. "I'm, um, not really a fan..."

"Oh come on," the beautician giggles. "Every girl loves getting their nails done, surely?" Ordinarily, I'd agree, but this is something I'll have a HELL of a time explaining to my parents when I get home...

"I'm just, um, kinda OCD about it..." I explain. "I kinda touch it up every 10 seconds when I've got it on, which is why I prefer going without any at all..."

"I'll take it off for you before the end of the day," the beautician giggles, and I try not to breathe a sigh of relief, allowing myself to enjoy my time in front of the camera as I- and the other girls- strike seemingly hundreds of different poses, both individually and in a group. Much to my surprise, the rest of the girls all breathe a sigh of relief as Paul- the cameraman- announces that he has all the shots he needs, and we can change out of our tight outfits and back into our everyday clothes.

"Why are you two so tired?" Kayla giggles as she strips out of her pink dress and pulls her denim shorts back on. "I thought you WERE models anyway..."

"Yeah," Adeola says. "And modelling's hard work! Unless you're Steph, of course..." I giggle at Adeola's teasing, but she's not wrong- as exhausted as I should be, it's like the costume has somehow 'revitalised' me, reminded me how exciting it is to be able to wear such feminine clothing- AND be paid very, very richly to do so...

"This must be kind-of a dream come true for you," Becca says as she pulls her short black skirt back on. "Bet you never thought when you were twelve that you'd be wearing something like THAT to work!"

"It IS a fantasy," I giggle. "I'm so glad I auditioned for this role..."

"I'm so glad my Uncle picked the right three girls!" Adeola chuckles. "Hey, how about we all head out for dinner? You know, because we missed lunch?"

"Sounds great!" Kayla beams, with Lauren also nodding her agreement before I can offer any counter-argument. Much to my surprise, however, it's Becca who speaks up next.

"Can't tonight," Becca says. "Hot date with my bae!"

"Then bring him along!" Adeola insists.

"It's not a 'hot' date if there are four other girls there, is it?" Becca snorts.

"Well... Okay," Adeola says, clearly taken aback by her friend's refusal. "Tomorrow night then?"

"Of course!" Becca giggles, giving Adeola a hug as she leaves. "See you all tomorrow!"

"Soo... Just the four of us then?" Lauren asks, making Adeola sigh sadly.

"Ehh... Maybe some other time," Adeola says, tying her long black hair back into a ponytail and grabbing her handbag. "See you tomorrow!"

"Does- does she actually have a character of her own?" Lauren asks, shocked by Adeola's sudden U-turn.

"Doesn't mean we three can't go out for dinner, right?" Kayla asks with a grin. I look down at my scarlet fingernails and grimace- as much as I've loved today... I really can't afford to drag it out any longer.

"...You two," I say, making Lauren and Kayla moan.

"Oh come on, Steph!" Kayla pleads. "Also, you're the only Londoner here, you HAVE to show us around the city!"

"Yeah, come on, please?" Lauren asks. "Don't want to have to eat in the hotel AGAIN..." I sigh inwardly, before forcing a smile onto my face- I don't want to let my new friends down, after all. I can't afford to- especially if Becca's going to get all 'alpha' on me again and if Adeola's going to be her 'sidekick'...

"Can you give me fifteen minutes?" I ask, making Lauren and Kayla both giggle excitedly. It doesn't take long to track down the beautician who'd earlier coated my nails in the red polish and persuade her to remove it all, before grabbing my backpack and returning to Lauren and Kayla, both of whom are eager to get going- which suits me fine.

"Ready to go, fellow 'Becca's sidekick'?" Lauren asks, making Kayla giggle an almost guilty-sounding laugh. I smile as I follow Lauren and Kayla to their chosen restaurant- as much as they wanted me to 'show them around London', in the time it took for me to get my nail polish removed they'd already had Google find them three restaurants nearby, all of which they liked the look of.

Dinner drags on until after 8pm, with Lauren and Kayla mostly gossiping about Becca and her attitude, despite my efforts to steer the conversation down less 'bitchy' routes. After bidding farewell to my bandmates, I find a McDonalds with a disabled toilet to change in, before heading back home, eventually passing through my front door just after 9pm.

"God above Steve, they'd better be giving you overtime!" dad sighs as I stagger through the front door.

"Please tell me you weren't out drinking with work colleagues AGAIN?" Mum asks.

"No," I sigh. "Well- one drink, but only one, I promise. I just- I've made some new friends, I want to get to know them better, that's all."

"Well, okay, if you're sure," mum says. Just don't stay out TOO late each night, you need to save your strength for your actual job!" You don't know how right you are... I think to myself, dad, however, chuckles to himself as mum and I talk.

"Share the joke," Mum says to dad, who simply laughs harder.

"Isn't it obvious what's happening?" Dad asks. "Young man, you should know by now that you can't hide ANYTHING from me, and I can read you like a book." I gulp- surely dad can't have figured out about Stephanie, can he?

"So, pray tell, what's going on?" Mum asks.

"When Steve says 'friend' he obviously means 'girlfriend'!" Dad laughs, making me sigh and shake my head. "So come on then son, what's her name?" I freeze as dad puts me on the spot- but I quickly realise what a golden opportunity this is. If I can persuade them that I have a girlfriend, it'll lead them further away from the truth...

"Rebecca," I say, inwardly wondering why THAT name was the first to spring to mind. "Her name's Rebecca." Mum and dad both grin happy grins and clap their hands at the new of my 'girlfriend'.

"Met through work?" Dad asks, to which I nod my head in response.

"Well don't let her keep you out too late either!" Mum laughs. "And bring her round to meet us at some point!" Yeah... That's probably not going to happen.

Mum and dad interrogate me about my 'girlfriend' for the next half hour, before I head to bed, utterly exhausted from the day's activities and facing a 7am start to get up, changed and out of the house before my parents get up themselves.

Once again, the following morning, I'm the second to arrive at work, after Lauren. My outfit is so plain- a clingy top, a short denim skirt and black tights- that it hardly feels like I'm dressed up at all, and I'm barely even aware of the full face of make-up I've got on. As I line up next to the other four girls in front of the microphones, everything feels... Normal. This could be my fatigue preventing me from getting excited, of course, but the more time I spend in this studio, the more 'real' Stephanie becomes... And the less real Steve becomes.

"Okay," Stuart announces, his voice betraying some of his own fatigue. "I know it's Friday, it's been a long week, but I still want to hear you doing your best today. That means you too, Becca."

"Bite me," Becca laughs at her older brother, who counts us in to our first song of the day- a cover of 'Eternal Flame' by the Bangles. As always, we take it in turns to sing parts of the verses.

"Say my name," I sing, trying my hardest as always to make my voice as feminine and powerful as possible. "Sun shines through the rain, A whole life so lonely, And then come and ease the pain, I don't want to lo-" All of a sudden, my voice cracks and a high-pitched croak slips out, ruining the recording. My cheeks turn a bright red as my bandmates stare at me, the disappointment etched on their faces

"Sorry..." I mumble in a very meek voice.

"Happens to everyone," Stuart assures me. "And it IS the end of a long week..." I'm pretty sure me singing in a voice that isn't my natural one has more to do with the error, though.

"Okay, from the top," Stuart says. "One, two three..."

"Close your eyes," Becca sings. "Give me your hand, darlin', Do you feel my heart beating? Do you understand? Do you feel the same? Am I only drea-" Becca pauses as I suddenly let out a loud sneeze, before burying my now beet-red face in my hands.

"Sorry, sorry, sorry," I groan.

"We'll take a break for some water after this next one," Stuart says, irritation beginning to seep into his voice. I take several deep breaths to calm myself as he resets the music for another run-through.

"From the top again," Stuart says. "One, two, three..."

"Close your eyes," Becca sings, shooting a withering stare in my direction. "Give me your hand, darlin', Do you feel my heart beating? Do you understand? Do you feel the same? Am I on-" Another loud sneeze reverberates through the recording studio, cutting Becca off mid-word, though this time, it's not me, but Adeola who ruined the recording. Still holding her hands in front of her mouth and almost in a state of shock, Adeola's eyes meets mine, and we both burst into an uncontrollable fit of giggles that lasts for several minutes and drags every other member of the band- Becca included- down with us.

"Girls!" Stuart snaps as we try to compose ourselves. "Can we try to get to the end of this song at least ONCE today, please?"

"Sorry, sorry," Adeola giggles, taking several deep breaths to compose herself as the rest of us follow suit.

"From the top," Stuart sighs. "One, two, three..."

"Close your eyes," Becca sings, her eyes betraying the fact that she is struggling to compose herself. "Give me your hand, darlin', Do you feel my heart beating? Do you understand? Do you feel the same? Am I-" Becca loses control, breaking down in a fit of giggles that quickly consumes the rest of us as well.

"Okay, we'll save Eternal Flame for next week," Stuart moans as he fiddles with his computer. "Take five. Grab some water, try not to drown whilst drinking it, please..."

"No promises," Becca laughs as we grab our drinks.

"Do you want some Benadryl in that?" Adeola teases me, causing me to nearly snort water out of my nose.

"You can talk!" I retort, making the dark-skinned girl laugh loudly.

"Where'd you all go for dinner last night?" Becca asks.

"Small, privately-run place a few streets away," Lauren replies.

"Do they do lunch?" Becca asks, making the Scottish girl smile a very genuine happy smile.

"Aye, I think they might," Lauren giggles as we head back to our microphones. Sure enough, at lunch I find myself back at the same restaurant where I'd eaten with Lauren & Kayla last night, only this time the two girls aren't nearly as willing to slag off Becca, and- the fact that she's sat next to me notwithstanding- I'm not as willing to slag her off either. I don't know if she had a private 'moment' last night with Jamie-Lee, Stuart or both, but for the first time this week, I'm actually beginning to warm to Becca as a friend.

That good will only improves once we arrive back at the recording studio to be greeted by yet another set of matching clothing- this time a pair of tight leggings and a monogrammed sports bra for our first choreography lesson at Krystie Fullerton's dance studio. Whilst Krystie herself is a classically-trained ballerina, and Becca and Adeola have years of dance experience, neither Lauren, Kayla nor myself have had ANY formal dance instruction for over a decade. Rather than teach us as a group, Krystie decides instead to pair us off to teach us some basic dance steps, so for the next ninety minutes, Krystie herself puts my body through its paces, whilst Becca 'instructs' Kayla and Adeola helps Lauren.

"God, that was KNACKERING," Lauren complains at the end of the lesson.

"You grey up on a farm, and you call an hour and a half of dance 'knackering'?" Becca playfully teases.

"You don't have to concentrate on every single muscle in your body when you're chasing after a sheep!" Lauren giggles.

"You've seriously never taken dance lessons before?" Adeola asks as she dishes out much-needed bottles of water.

"I took ballet up until I was eight," Lauren explains. "I was never any good at it, my parents couldn't really afford it, so that was that."

"Kayla?" Becca asks the tiny blonde girl, who shakes her head in response.

"Got sick of it when I was nine," Kayla shrugs. "Asked my parents if I could stop, so I stopped."

"Steph?" Adeola asks expectantly.

"First ever formal dance lesson of ANY kind," I sigh. "Doubt my parents would've approved, especially not if they saw me wearing anything like this..."

"Would they approve if they saw you wearing a pair of pink tights and a black leotard?" Becca asks with a wicked smile.

"I'm guessing no!" I laugh, making the other four girls giggle as well. "I'd look like an elephant if I attempted ballet..."

"Oh, I dunno," Krystie- who's obviously been eavesdropping- comments. "All three of you have got great potential, and I DO have space in my schedule to give you some remedial ballet lessons if you want..."

"Is ballet really going to help us with the sort of choreography we're going to be doing?" Lauren asks.

"It's the foundation for all forms of dance," Krystie retorts. "It teaches you form, posture... Get a good grounding in ballet and everything else will come to you easily. AND the lessons will of course be free. Well, free to YOU anyway, to the company..." The six of us all giggle as Krystie works her persuasive magic.

"Okay, sign me up!" Kayla giggles.

"Me too!" Lauren says, before every face in the room turns to look at me.

"Me three, I guess!" I laugh, causing cheers from all the assembled women. Where the hell am I going to hide and when will I be able to wash a ballet uniform, of all things...? I self-pityingly think to myself as Krystie draws up a draft timetable for myself, Lauren and Kayla that will see us undertake dance training on Monday and Wednesday mornings.

With the afternoon quickly turning into evening, Krystie sends the five of us on our way, and as I grab my backpack I breathe a sigh of relief that the week- as enjoyable as it's been- is over. Changing isn't even going to be a hassle today- the sports bra and leggings are easily hidden under 'Steve's clothes so I won't even need to remove them before going home. Before I'm able to leave the dance studio, however, my relief is quickly dashed.

"Girls," Becca announces. "It's the end of the very first week of Out of Heaven, which as we all know, is THE hottest girl band in the UK right now. But even more importantly than that, it's Friday night, and do you know what that means?"

"Girls' night out!" Adeola cheers. Crap crap crap crap CRAP! I think to myself, turning my face away from the girls and grimacing.

"AND it's Lauren's first official Friday night out as an adult," Becca laughs, giving the Scottish girl a playful hug. "Double celebration time!"

"I've still not got a clubbing dress," Lauren complains. "Not had the time to buy one!"

"And I've still only got your dress," I say to Becca, whose face falls slightly at the obstacles being put in her way.

"Then wear it again," Becca shrugs. "And don't worry about getting it cleaned- I'll sort that out." I force out a giggle, but getting the dress cleaned isn't going to be nearly as big a hassle as figuring out how to get home, change into it and get out without my parents noticing...

"...And I've still not got seven months' more age," Kayla sighs, lowering the mood of every woman in the room- every woman, that is, except me. Inwardly, I cheer at the 'exit' I've been provided by Kayla's young age. "You- you just go without me, I'll be fine."

"It doesn't seem right, though," I argue. "If we're celebrating the first week of the band then we should celebrate with the WHOLE band."

"We'll just celebrate Lauren's birthday, then!" Adeola laughs.

"We did that on Tuesday!" The flame-haired girl states. "Though a night out DOES sound good..."

"No-reason-night-out it is then!" Becca states firmly. "Steph, you still in?" I desperately try to rack my brains for an excuse, only to draw a blank.

"I'm... Not really feeling up to it," I say, inwardly grimacing at how lame I sound in front of my new friends. "Maybe next week."

"Eh, your loss," Becca shrugs. "I'll see you tomorrow though, right?"

"T- Tomorrow?" I ask.

"For the traditional girls' night IN," Becca says. "At Charlotte Hutchinson's place?" For god's sake! I think to myself. Am I ever going to get ANY time to myself?

"God, I've wanted to go to one of those for SO long," Lauren sighs. "Was meant to be moving my stuff down tomorrow, but I persuaded my brother to wait until Sunday to move just so I can go to that..."

"Same here," Kayla giggles. "Even booked a hotel room tomorrow night so I don't have to worry about missing the last train home!"

"Who's going to be there?" I ask, trying to sound eager rather than cautious.

"All of the Angels, all of the new 'Teen Angels' group too," Becca says. "This is kind-of your debut, heh!" If the Angels will be there then that means that Jamie-Lee will also be there, so there'll be at least ONE friendly face...

"Count me in!" I laugh, already forming a plan as to how to get there and home without my parents knowing about 'Stephanie' and my new friends knowing about 'Steve'.

"I've gotta go," Kayla says, pulling the denim skirt she was wearing earlier back on over her leggings. "Train leaves in a bit... Kinda wish I'd booked a hotel for tonight, heh."

"You can stay in my room tonight if you really want," Lauren offers.

"By myself, waiting for you to get back?" Kayla giggles.

"Ah, Steph'll keep you company, won't you, Steph?" Becca giggles. Inwardly, I can feel myself starting to implode from the stress, but I just about manage to force a smile on my face.

"Sure!" I say, making Kayla giggle and take her phone out of her bag.

"Just need to call home," the tiny blonde girl says. "Explain I may be a little late home... as in Sunday!"

"I need to make a call too," I say, trying my hardest not to sigh. Needless to say, my parents were concerned with my having yet another late night out, but accepted it when I explained that I wouldn't be working the following day. I end up staying with Kayla until well after 11pm- the time at which Lauren returns looking very much the worse for wear. I leave the two girls to their rest- despite their offer for me to stay over with them- and head home, thankful that the hotel had a disabled toilet in which I could change back to 'Steve'.

I don't get up the following day until after 11am, and even then it's only because my parents wake me up as they head out to work. I breathe a sigh of relief as I shave, before pulling on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, heading down to the sofa and collapsing on it with a loud sigh. Ironically, most days when I have the house to myself like this I'd immediately dive into my 'Stephanie' drawer and spend the day sampling all the feminine delights within, but right now, all I want to do is wear slouchy clothes and play on my Xbox until my thumbs seize up.

...And yet, an hour into my gaming session, all I can think about are my four new friends. Becca will undoubtedly be out with her boyfriend somewhere and Adeola will be with her family, but Lauren and Kayla will still probably be in their hotel room, or may have chosen to go out exploring London...

"Hi Lauren," I say into my phone in my 'Stephanie' voice.

"Hey Steph!" Lauren laughs. "You missed a GREAT night last night, it wasn't just Becca and Adeola, a lot of the Angels were there too, we got straight into the VIP area, got drinks on the house..."

"Sounds AWESOME," I say, interrupting Lauren before she has a chance to babble further. "Hey... I know this may sound weird, but are you and Kayla doing anything today?"

"Aye, we're doing a bit of sightseeing," Lauren says. "Be nice to see a part of London that ISN'T the inside of a recording studio!"

"Hehe!" I giggle girlishly. "Umm... Room for one more?"

"Of course!" Lauren laughs. "Haven't you seen all of London, though?"

"Have you SEEN how big it is?" I laugh. "Where d'you want to meet?"

"You know Speedy's cafe, North Gower Street?" Lauren asks. "Near Euston Station."

"Yep," I say happily. "See you in about an hour and a half?"

"That long?" Lauren asks.

"Like I said," I giggle. "See how big London is?"

"Okay," Lauren laughs. "See you in a bit!" I actually squeal with excitement as I click off the phone and head upstairs to change. Despite the lengthy tube ride ahead of me, I take my time applying my make-up and picking out my outfit- a cute long-sleeved brown minidress I bought on my shopping trip with Jamie-Lee. Paired with translucent tights and a pair of 2" heeled ankle booties, I look- and feel- like absolute feminine perfection, My parents wouldn't have been back before I left tonight anyway, so I leave them another note before hopping on a bus, soon finding myself outside the famous cafe in central London.

"Hey Steph!" Kayla squeaks happily, greeting me with a hug.

"Hey," I say happily. "Sorry I'm late, REALLY needed a lie-in today..."

"Oh, don't worry," Kayla laughs. "Miss 'I grew up on a farm and I'm used to early starts' here was still in bed at eleven this morning!"

"I was hungover," Lauren protests.

"You're Scottish," I tease the ginger-haired girl. "I thought you were immune to hangovers?"

"Oh- get to-" Lauren spits, before the three of all break down into fits of giggles. I spend the rest of the day strolling around central London with Lauren and Kayla- and regretting my decision to wear heels- before we tiredly head to Paddington Station, where we await our lift to our 'debut party'. As I go to get some money out of the ATM, however, I get the shock of my life.

"Current balance," I whisper, "£10 087.56? Lauren! Kayla!"

"What is it?" Kayla asks as the two girls rush over to where I'm stood, before their jaws also drop at the sight of my balance.

"Oh my god!" Kayla squeals. "Quick, get out your money, I want to check mine!" I quickly withdraw £100, marvelling at the feel of the thick wad of money and the knowledge that it's not even 1% of the money I possess. Further squeals of excitement from Kayla, and then Lauren, confirm that their bank balances have received similar boosts. It's only later, during the 'debut party' that the penny drops- I now finally have the financial independence I've wanted for so long... but I'm now bound to my new life as Stephanie. I can't exactly take the ten grand and run- Joshua Benedict will be expecting some return on his investment, and I intend to provide him with that return.

The party goes well- Jamie-Lee and Krystie are both there, as are Nikki and her partner and a load more girls I don't recognise. The five of us perform 'Heaven is a Place on Earth', much to the delight of the other partygoers, and by the time 11pm rolls around and it's time to leave, I find myself more and more desperate to stay in my new life.

"Hey Steph!" Jamie-Lee calls as I head to my taxi. "How'd you like your first 'official' party?"

"It was great!" I laugh tiredly. "Kinda wish I didn't have to go home..."

"Still having trouble with your flat mates?" Jamie-Lee asks, prompting a quizzical look from me. "You know, you said at your interview, you didn't get on with them, thought they were transphobic...?"

"Ugh, don't remind me," I sigh, though as mum and dad are probably already in bed, sneaking in today would be easier than ever...

"I MAY be able to help you out there," Jamie-Lee says with a sly smile. "Hey Lauren!"

"What's up?" A dark-haired girl- who I just about recognise from the party- says.

"Sorry, OTHER Lauren," Jamie-Lee giggles. "God, I'm going to need to start giving people nametags..."

"What's up?" Lauren- OUR Lauren- also says as she skips over to Jamie-Lee and myself.

"When are you moving into your new flat?" Jamie-Lee asks.

"Umm, Monday, after our first ballet class, why?" Lauren asks.

"It IS a two bedroom flat, right?" Jamie-Lee asks with a twinkle in her eye.

"Aye..." Lauren says, before the two women's eyes slowly turn in my direction...

The following morning, I take a deep breath before standing in front of both my parents- in 'Steve mode', obviously.

"Mum, dad..." I say nervously. "...I've been asked to move in with one of my work colleagues. To, um, help them with the rent." Mum and dad both nod, though they remain silent- I may not be the first of their children to move out, but I AM the last...

"When?" Mum asks with clear emotion in her voice.

"Tomorrow," I whisper, bringing tears to both hers and dad's eyes. I briefly consider changing my mind, but given how exhausting this week has been, how many near misses I've had... I really don't have any other choice.

"You're a grown man now," dad says. "We can't stop you from making your own decisions... But you'll ALWAYS have a home here with us."

"Your room will always be here waiting for you," mum says, giving me a tight hug. "Just like your brothers'."

"Thanks," I whisper. "And obviously I'll move back if this job doesn't work out..."

"Damn right you will!" Dad laughs. "But I'm confident in you, son. A year from now you'll probably be running the place!"

"Yeah, we'll see about that," I laugh.

I wake early the following morning- not to get into 'Stephanie mode', but rather to bid my parents farewell for what they're treating as the last ever time. After they leave, I change into the pink tights and black leotard that was supplied to me on Friday, though I'm barely able to concentrate throughout my first-ever ballet lesson. After the lesson, I return home to grab the large pink suitcase that contains my new life- all of 'Stephanie's clothes, some of 'Steve's clothes (to keep up appearances at home), my make-up toiletries, a few personal possessions like books and photos... With the exception of my Xbox, which I'm keeping at 'home', I'm amazed by how little I actually possess. Fortunately, mine & Lauren's flat is fully-furnished, and after we finish unpacking (me hiding 'Steve's clothes in a back drawer in my wardrobe), I crash onto the sofa with my new flat mate, truly able to relax for the first time in almost a week.

"God, this is so exciting!" Lauren laughs as she adjusts her own pink dance tights. "I've got my own place, got proper money for the first time in my life, got awesome friends, got my dream job... And oh yes, in a few months' time we're going to be rich and famous singers!"

"I know!" I squeak with a genuine smile as I realise that everything Lauren said applies to me as well. "This is SO cool... I can finally live somewhere I can be myself."

Well, somewhere I can be PART of myself, anyway, for as much as I'm enjoying being Stephanie... I already miss being Steve. I miss lounging on my sofa in a pair of shorts, playing on my Xbox, not having to care about my appearance... But at least now the madness of constantly having to switch between Stephanie and Steve is over for now. And who knows? I may enjoy being Stephanie 24/7- certainly I grew to love being Stephanie '12/7' toward the end of last week. All I know for certain is that now, I can relax.

"Hey, your phone's ringing," Lauren says, handing me my vibrating mobile. "Gonna answer it?" I look at the number on the screen and sigh- it's the number of my mum's mobile. I guess that all I know for certain is that I can ALMOST relax...



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