Stephanie, part 6

“Hi mum,” I whisper hoarsely. “Hi dad. I- I’m Stephanie…” My legs shake harder and I almost collapse to the floor as, with a stoic expression on his face, dad slowly rises from his seat and walks toward me…

“…It’s nice to meet you, Stephanie,” dad says, embracing me in a fatherly hug.

“Umm,” I say, shocked by the sudden turn of events.

“Hello, daughter,” mum says, standing up and joining in the hug.

“Mum?” I ask in a small voice, confused by the unexpected outcome of my ‘coming out’.

“Did you really think we wouldn’t accept you for who you are?” Dad laughs. “I’ll admit, it came as a shock at first, but you’re a grown ma- a grown WOMAN.”

“After Dr Phillips called us on Friday,” mum explains, “we Googled her name, discovered that she was an expert on gender identity issues… With you living away, your long hair… It wasn’t hard to put two and two together.”

“And you- you don’t mind?” I whisper.

“Why would we mind?” Mum laughs. “It’s your life, you should live it the way you feel is best.”

“All that worry for nothing, eh?” Jamie asks, giving me a playful nudge.

“Now, are you going to introduce me to your friends?” Dad asks. “Dr Phillips says that you’re a singer, is that right?”

“Yeah,” I say, still struggling to believe just how well the meeting is going. “Um, our band’s name is ‘Out of Heaven’…”

“I’ve heard of them!” Mum says. “Think I saw an article in a magazine… I probably looked right at a photo of you without even realising that it was you!”

“You regularly buy magazines with teen girl bands in?” I ask, making everyone in the room laugh whilst mum gives me a playful shove.

“It was a newspaper magazine!” Mum laughs. “Pity that your sense of humour hasn’t changed with your gender… Isn’t that band meant to be a big deal?”

“I like to think so,” Kayla says. “I’m Kayla, Kayla Ford, nice to meet you.” My eyes go wide as Kayla introduces herself- my parents surely won’t think it’s a coincidence that she has the same name as my so-called ‘girlfriend’…

“Oh,” mum says. “So you’re-“

“-The friend I told you about during our calls, yes,” I say. “She’s also a member of the band. This is Lauren, Lauren McTavish, we’ve been living together for the last few months.”

“Well, Steve- Stephanie, sorry, did say that she was living with a colleague,” dad shrugs, shaking Kayla and Lauren’s hands.

“And this is Jamie-Lee Burke,” I say as Jamie rises from her seats and shakes my parents’ hands.

“Ooh, are you the same Jamie-Lee from that reality show?” Mum asks.

“If you mean The Angels, yes,” Jamie says with a proud smile. “I’ve been sort-of ‘mentoring’ Stephanie and the other girls over the past few months. You should be really proud of your daughter.” The sideways glance Jamie gives me as she praises me, however, tells me that she herself is NOT proud of me…

“I’m sure we will be,” mum says. “Hopefully she’ll trust us enough not to keep any secrets from us in the future…”

“So,” dad asks hesitantly. “Are you going, umm, ‘all the way’? Hormones, the old, umm, ‘snip snip’, that sort of thing?”

“Yep!” I lie, forcing a happy grin on my face. Well done, Steph, I think to myself. Think you killed mum’s expectations in ten seconds flat there…

“Either way, we have a LOT to catch up on,” mum says. “Thank you for bringing our daughter back to us, Dr Phillips- we’ll not take up any more of your time, I’m sure you have your own family to get back to.”

“It’s my pleasure,” Beverly says with a smile. “Always happy to bring families back together.”

“We’ll let you get on with it too,” Jamie says. “I’m sure you three have got a lot of catching up to do!”

“Thank you,” mum says, leading dad and myself out of the office. “I’m glad to see that Stephanie has such good friends and co-workers. Hopefully we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other in the future!” Just what I need… I think to myself.

“I know I shouldn’t say this,” dad says as we get in his car, “but this is probably the weirdest day of my life! Steve- Stephanie, sorry, that’s going to take a little getting used to! Stephanie…”

“’Steph’ will do if that makes it any easier,” I say.

“’Steph’,” dad says. “Why- why didn’t you tell us earlier? More to the point, why did you feel the need to, well, dress up as a boy every time you came home? That must have been really hard for you…” Yeah, but probably not for the reasons you’re imagining, I think to myself.

“I- I couldn’t stand the thought of losing contact with you two,” I say, relieved to finally say something truthful.

“I’m much more offended that you feel we’d reject you than by you choosing to live life as a woman,” dad says. “You’re our child, and that means we have a lifelong commitment to you regardless of what- or who- you choose to be. And believe me, there are a billion things you could have chosen to do that are worse than wearing make-up and a skirt!”

“Will Tom and Danny feel that way?” I ask.

“They’ll do as they’re told!” mum says firmly.

“I will admit,” Dad says, “When we were expecting you- heh, twenty years ago- we were actually hoping for a girl. I mean, we did already have two boys… We wouldn’t have chosen ‘Stephanie’ as your name, though.”

“What would you have chosen?” I ask.

“Alana,” mum says. “Ooh, this is so exciting! It’s almost like we have actually got a brand-new child!”

“And you- you don’t miss ‘Steve’?” I ask, nervously straightening my skirt.

“You’re still the same person, aren’t you?” Mum asks. “Well, same person who’s an up-and-coming megastar, anyway! I can’t wait to show you off to all my friends, tell everyone at the hospital…”

“Yeah, umm, about that…” I say. “When I applied for the band, I, um, I kinda… Kinda told the bosses that we were estranged…”

“What?” Dad asks, anger creeping into his voice for the first time since he was introduced to ‘Stephanie’.

“Was this- was this while you were still actually living at home with us?” Mum asks, sighing angrily when I nod. “Boy or girl, we didn’t raise you to be a liar. I hope you’ve set this straight with your managers? I wouldn’t want the whole world thinking that we were bad parents…”

“I have,” I say. “Jamie’s one of the ‘managers’ of the band, she knows the truth.” Part of it, anyway…

“Any other lies we should know about?” Dad asks, his anger slowly subsiding.

“No,” I say in a feeble voice. “Just- just that one…” Much to my relief, dad simply smiles.

“I’m sorry, I know this can’t have been easy for you,” dad says. “If I felt that I was forced to hide who I really was for twenty years I’d probably act irrationally as well.” Much to my surprise, a few seconds later, the three of us pull up outside my home- my parents’ home, the house where I grew up.

“What are we doing here?” I ask, watching with surprise as my parents get out of the car and immediately head up to my bedroom.

“Aha,” dad says as he opens my wardrobe and removes an armful of my clothes- ‘Steve’s clothes. “You won’t be wearing these anymore!” I freeze to the spot, watching aghast as my mum hands my dad a roll of black bin bags, and all of my male clothes slowly disappear into them. My old favourite jeans, jumpers, t-shirts… All gone in an instant.

“Well if you’re not going to wear them,” mum says, “might as well give them to someone who’ll want them, say, to Oxfam or somewhere like that.”

“I’ll take them in before work tomorrow evening,” dad explains, before I wince as he opens my ‘Stephanie drawer’, which contains various items of female underwear, skirts, tops, cosmetics…

“Heh,” dad chuckles as he carefully lays the drawer on my bed. “No need to get rid of these!” I force a smile on my face as mum starts sorting out the clothes, sorting them into their own drawers whilst taking some to iron.

“How long have you been dressing up behind our backs, anyway?” Mum asks. “Um, not that I’m angry about that in itself, of course.”

“…Since I was sixteen,” I say. “Part of my first pay cheque, I, um, kinda bought a skirt with it…”

“Just as long as you didn’t dress up in any of mine!” Mum laughs.

“Okay,” dad says. “That’s your clothes all gone… You won’t be needing any boy’s toiletries either, mind if I use your deodorant and shower gel?”

“Um, sure, I guess…” I say, still trying to wrap my head around what’s happening.

“Do you still need to shave?” Dad asks.

“Uh, yes, actually!” I say, before wondering when I became enthusiastic about shaving- the one male activity I hated the most. “I’m getting laser treatments on my face to remove facial hair…”

“…But they’ve not had a full effect yet,” dad says. “Okay, your shaving kit can stay for now. Was going to get you a new one for Christmas, guess that’ll have to be a Ladyshave or a waxing kit instead!”

“Yeah,” I whisper as dad starts gathering up all the sports-related ornaments and posters on my shelves and walls. Previously, I couldn’t have cared less about them, but now, I want more than anything to grab them out of dad’s hands so that I could have them just one second longer…

“I’ve called your brothers,” mum says, returning to my bedroom with a wide grin on her face.

“Wh-what?” I ask with terror in my voice.

“Don’t worry, I didn’t tell them outright,” mum says. “I know that’s something you’ll want to do yourself, so I’ve asked them to drop round tomorrow morning before work, around 8:30.”

“Umm, I have my ballet class tomorrow morning at around that time,” I say, making mum coo happily.

“Oh, you do ballet? How cute!” Mum giggles. “Well we’ve both got the morning off, so can we come and watch it with you?”

“Umm, sure, I guess,” I say. “I’m not really any good at it, though…”

“I thought all girl singers were great dancers?” Mum asks.

“Well-choreographed dancers who have several takes when filming their music video,” I say, laughing for the first time since dad set about systematically eradicating all traces of ‘Steve’ from the bedroom.

“Is your video on YouTube yet?” Mum asks, her voice rising with excitement as though she’d just remembered something.

“…It is,” I say, cringing as my parents suddenly drop what they’re doing and head downstairs, switching on the smart TV box and opening the YouTube app.

“What’s your band’s name again?” Mum asks. “‘Out of Heaven’, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” I sigh, plopping down on the sofa and burying my face in a cushion as mum almost instantly finds our ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ video. Five minutes later, after the music stops, I lift my face from the cushion, smiling at the looks of sheer pride on my parents’ faces.

“You are BRILLIANT!” Dad says, giving me a quick, playful hug.

“You really are talented,” mum says. “If we’d known you were this talented when you were younger we’d have got you professional singing lessons!”

“Thanks,” I laugh. “I’m just one of five girls in the band, though…”

“The BEST one in the band!” Dad laughs, before his eyes turn back to the entertainment unit. “There’s another thing you won’t need any more…” My eyes go wide as dad slowly starts reaching for my Xbox.

“No!” I yell, my voice briefly cracking back to ‘Steve’s voice. “Umm, I still like to play on it…”

“Yeah, but it is a bit ‘boyish’, isn’t it?” Dad asks. “And aren’t you going to be too busy to play games, what with your dance classes and your celebrity parties?”

“…Still, though,” I say.

“Huh, it’s your Xbox, I guess,” dad says as he sits back down. “I take it you still enjoy regular food, you don’t only eat at £200 a meal restaurants run by Heston Blumenthal or someone like that?”

“No, I still eat proper food,” I say.

“Good,” mum says. “I’ll get started on dinner. And then you can get on Facebook and tell the rest of your friends that you and your parents aren’t so much ‘reconciled’ as ‘never estranged in the first place’!”

“Will do,” I sigh as mum heads into the kitchen and starts preparing our evening meal. After we eat, I follow my ‘orders’, and fill all of my friends in on the development. Obviously, a lot of them are unhappy at being lied to, but the general consensus seems to be that they’re happy that my parents have accepted ‘Stephanie’. As I climb into bed- climbing into ‘Steve’s bed for the ever time as ‘Stephanie’- I can’t help but feel as though I’ve lost a large part of who I am. My parents’ home used to be my haven, a place where I could escape from ‘Stephanie’ and be ‘Steve’ again, even if just for a short while… Now, thanks to my lies, it looks like ‘Steve’ is gone for good.

I moan as faint sunlight streams onto my face, waking me from my slumber. As I open my eyes, I briefly panic- it takes me a few seconds to realise that the bedroom I’m in indeed belongs to me- or rather, belongs to ‘Steve’. After showering and shaving, I head back into my bedroom, where I have a moment of panic when I open my wardrobe to find it completely empty. Sighing, I reach into my wardrobe’s drawers and pull out a handful of cosmetics that I apply to my face, before pulling on a fresh bra and thong, followed by the girdle, top and skirt I was wearing yesterday.

“Morning, Steph!” Mum says with a smile as I pad downstairs, trying to enjoy the feeling of my skirt pulling on my legs with every step I take- a feeling that always sent tingles of excitement through my body in the past.

“Morning,” I say, clearing my throat so that none of ‘Steve’s voice can be heard. “What time are Tom and Danny getting here?”

“About ten minutes,” mum says. “I’ll talk to them first, then you can make an appearance- just like at your doctor’s yesterday, okay?”

“Okay,” I whisper as mum shoves a cup of hot coffee in front of me.

“Nervous?” Mum asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “Not as much as yesterday, but still…”

“Well as I said,” mum says. “If they don’t accept you for who you are, THEY’RE going to be the ones in trouble!” I giggle, but deep down, there’s a small, shameful part of me that almost wishes that Tom and/or Danny DO reject me. Every shred of acceptance ‘Stephanie’ receives feels like a rejection of ‘Steve’… And will make it harder and harder for me to ever be that boy again.

A short while later, I hear a knock at the front door, followed by the unmistakable sound of my brothers’ voices. I briefly make use of the downstairs toilet- chuckling at how, for the first time ever, I entered AND exited it dressed as ‘Stephanie’- before my mum calls me through into the living room. I take a deep breath to calm my nerves, and remind myself one last time that no matter what my brothers say, my parents will always support me- whether I like it or not.

“Hi Tom, Hi Danny,” I say as I step into the living room, flinching as my brothers stare at me, their eyes widened by shock.

“Say hello to your sister,” mum says to the two young men.

“Um, hi Stephanie,” Tom mumbles, clearly unable to even look at me.

“Hi Stephanie,” Danny says, blinking twice and taking a deep breath. “Okay, this is… This is new. Have- have you always been like this?”

“For as long as I can remember,” I say, sitting down with my knees pressed tightly together.

“And, um,” Danny continues. “Have you- have you taken it-“

“Daniel!” Mum snaps, silencing my brother.

“Sorry, sorry…” Danny says. “Well, ‘hi sis’, I guess!”

“Tom,” mum says to my eldest brother, who has remained silent. “Is there something you want to say to your sister?”

“Hi sis,” Tom mumbles, before getting up. “I have to go, I’m late for work…”

“See you later, bro,” Danny says as Tom hurries out of the living room. “Don’t mind him, Steve- Steph… Nearly did the same thing myself…”

“I’ll talk to Tom,” mum says. “I’m sure it’s just come as a shock to him, that’s all.”

“He’s not alone,” Danny laughs. “I’ve- I’ve got a million and a half questions…”

“I’m on Facebook,” I say. “As Stephanie, I mean. Feel free to ask whenever you want.”

“Believe me, I will,” Danny says. “Guess this explains why you skipped my birthday last week… I’ve got to get going to work too, I’ll um, I’ll see you around… Steph.” Awkwardly, Danny and I both stand up and walk toward each other, eventually sharing a very brief, uneasy hug before the young man follows our brother out of the door.

“Well, that went bloody awfully,” I moan, slumping back down in my chair.

“Now be fair,” mum says. “It is a lot for them to take in.”

“It was more for you and dad,” I retort.

“Very true,” mum says. “But I’m sure your brothers will come around. Now come on, you need to get ready, don’t want to be late for your dance lesson!” I force a chuckle past my lips as I head back upstairs to grab my handbag, before getting in mum’s car with her and directing her to the dance studio, where we meet up with dad, fresh from his night shift.

“How did it go with Tom and Danny?” Dad asks.

“…Not great,” I sigh. “Not a disaster, but I think I may need to keep my distance from them for a while.”

“Ah, that’s a shame,” dad sighs. “I’ll go round to their homes and crack a few heads, see if that might help.”

“You will NOT,” mum says, making dad chuckle nervously. “Let them come in their own time, they won’t reject their sister now that they know they have one. Now come on, I want to see you dance!” I force a smile on my face as I head into the dance studio and am greeted by Kayla and Lauren, the latter of whom hands me my dance bag. I take a deep breath before heading into the studio’s small changing rooms, where I strip off my skirt and top before rolling my soft pink tights up my leg and stepping into my tight black leotard, ensuring it’s smooth and wrinkle-free before tying my satin ballet slippers to my feet, tying my longish brown hair into a ponytail and heading back to the studio’s reception area, where my parents are deep in conversation with my dance teacher.

“Ah, here’s the ballerina!” Mum says, making me blush slightly.

“Bit of an exaggeration,” I mumble.

“Kinda like the way you ‘exaggerated’ about your relationship with your parents?” Krystie says in an accusatory tone, before giggling and giving me a playful hug. “It’s okay, it’s okay, I forgive you… God knows you’ve not exactly had it easy these past few months. Come on, let’s see if we can’t dance away some of your stress!” I smile as Krystie leads me into the dance studio where all of my other friends are waiting for me. After tying my hair into a ballerina’s bun (and doing the same for Jamie and Nikki, in a sort-of pre-lesson ritual), Krystie lines us up at the barre before addressing the class.

“Girls,” Krystie says with a wide grin. “Today is a VERY special day. It was special already, what with Miss Hutchinson’s return to the class-“ I, along with the rest of the class, turn and give a brief round of applause to Charlotte as she does a graceful curtsey.

“-But it became even more special when I arrived this morning,” Krystie continues, “And found those two lovely people waiting in my reception area. Ladies, say hello to Mr. and Mrs. Peter and Samantha Abbott, our Stephanie’s mum and dad!” I blush as mum and dad stand up and take their bows, before Krystie gets the lesson started. All throughout- and especially as Lauren, Kayla and I still receive extra-close tuition during the ‘lesson’- I feel my parents’ gazes burning a hole in the back of my neck. Of course, I know that their stares are ones of pride and love, but I still wither whenever I catch them looking over at me dancing.

I dread the end of the lesson, expecting Krystie to produce a massive tutu in which I’d be expected to dance, but much to my relief, when our hour ends, Krystie sends us on our way just as she has after every other lesson.

“I reckon if I told Tom about you dancing with fifteen attractive young women, he’d be a bit more interested!” Mum laughs as I head to the changing rooms to pull my skirt and my top back on.

“Two of them are actually transgendered, like me,” I say. “Jamie and Nikki, the girls who had their buns tied with me…” …And who would be ballistically angry if they ever found out the ‘real’ truth about me…

“Well, obviously, you’re more beautiful than either of them!” Mum laughs. “Do you have to go to the studio today?”

“Yeah,” I sigh. “There is sometimes actual work to do in my job!”

“Well, at least you know now that you can drop round any time wearing whatever you want,” mum says, giving me a long hug before getting in her car with dad and heading home.

“Aww,” Becca teases as she skips over to me. “Your parents seem SO nice… Can’t believe you’d ever think they’d reject you, especially as you’re the baby of the family- which, as we all know, is the most awesome sibling!” I giggle as the rest of the band also gather around me, giving my parents all the praise they deserve. Every word of praise they give to my parents had a double meaning, though- it tells me just how much they DON’T respect me for lying to them.

When the five of us arrive at the agency, Becca, Adeola, Kayla and Lauren head into the studio to get ready for the day’s recording session, but I’m intercepted before I can go in and directed up the stairs to the offices. I take a deep breath to try to steady my nerves as I knock on the door of the agency’s owner and am permitted to enter.

“Take a seat, Stephanie,” Joshua says in a voice much darker than his usual jolly, bombastic tone.

“I- I’m sorry I lied-“ I mumble in a feeble voice.

“As you should be!” Joshua booms, barely restraining his temper. “For the last five months you have lied to my face whilst taking my money!” My bottom lip starts to quiver as Joshua raises from his chair and stares out of his window, turning his back to me.

“I’m not sure what’s worse,” Joshua continues in a slightly calmer tone. “The fact that you lied or the fact that you felt you couldn’t trust me with the truth. Either way, I have severe concerns about your character.”

“Do- do you want me to leave the band?” I ask, blinking back tears.

“It’s a bit too late for that now!” Joshua snaps. “We’ve spent thousands of pounds on promotional material, the album is almost done… This is money that cannot be written off. And ultimately… Your lie was mostly harmless. It will be easy enough to pass this off to the press as a simple reconciliation. It’s your parents who you should be apologising to- THEY’RE the ones who will have to be contrite to the press.”

“I- I know,” I whisper.

“Frankly, if you were my daughter I’d be more upset at being made out to be a bigot,” Joshua sighs, finally sitting back down. “Go back downstairs! Start doing what I pay you to!”

“Can- can you forgive me for this?” I ask, wiping a lone tear from my cheek.

“Eventually,” Joshua concedes. “Now go and sing!” I blink back more tears as I leave Joshua’s office and head downstairs, but I know that everything Joshua said is true- and I brought it all on myself… And it still has the potential to get a lot worse.

My cheeks burn with embarrassment as I slink into the recording studio to be greeted by the blank stares of my band mates, and they only get redder as I pull on my headset and take my place at my microphone.

“Thank god the studio’s soundproof,” I mumble, making Adeola- of all people- wrap a supportive arm around my shoulder.

“Okay,” Stuart says once we’re all ready. “Not got much more to do, so the sooner we get done, the sooner you five can enjoy a well-earned break! Two, three, four…” The introduction to one of our songs- a slower, ballad-like song written my Stuart- begins, and I try to put my telling-off behind me as I focus my voice into doing the best possible job of the music that’s been put before me. Fortunately, I must’ve done a good enough job as Stuart lets the five of us go just after 2:30pm- though my heart skips a beat as I see Stuart head into Joshua’s office as I leave the agency.

“One thing I don’t get,” Lauren says as we (and Kayla) had back to our flat, “is how your parents knew that you had long hair? I mean, when I first met you, it was medium length- for obvious reasons, admittedly- but not noticeably long for a boy…”

“We, um, we skyped a few times,” I lie. “When I had no make-up on. Just seemed easier…”

“Hmm, okay,” Lauren says, though I can tell she doesn’t fully believe me- which given the events of the last few days, is understandable.

I breathe a sigh of relief when I arrive back at the apartment. There’s nothing I want to do more right now than crash on the sofa and watch Netflix for the rest of the day, but first I want to change out of the clingy dancewear I’m still wearing underneath my street clothes. When I reach for the door handle of my bedroom, however, I get an unexpected shock when Kayla reaches for the handle at the exact same time.

“Umm, I’m flattered, but don’t you have a boyfriend?” I ask, making Kayla smirk.

“Sorry,” Kayla laughs. “Just- when it was obvious you weren’t coming home last night, I kinda slept in your room rather than the sofa… Hope you don’t mind.”

“No, no, it’s fine,” I smile, opening the door and frowning with confusion at the sight of a lot of Kayla’s clothes piled up on the bed.

“Umm… How did you get all that in an overnight bag?” I ask.

“I, um, may have asked my mum to bring a case up from Southampton this morning,” Kayla mumbles.

“Oh, now be fair,” Lauren says after stripping out of her own dancewear. “Given how well it went with your parents, we thought you’d just naturally move back in with them.”

“And I do really, really need a place in London,” Kayla says. “Getting sick of a two hour commute each way…”

“Hi girls!” An unexpected female voice shouts from the kitchen, momentarily startling me. “How was work?”

“Oh, um, hi mum!” Kayla says. “Mum, this is Stephanie, the girl I told you about this morning!”

“Oh, hi Stephanie!” The middle-aged woman says, giving me a limp, feminine handshake.

“Hi, Mrs. Ford,” I say.

“It’s so good of you to let Kayla have your room,” Mrs. Ford says, giving her daughter a playful cuddle. “Okay, I’d have preferred that she waited until she was eighteen before moving out, but it’s better than her spending most of her life on a train!”

“Why weren’t you at ballet this morning?” I ask. “You could’ve met my parents…”

“Believe me, I wanted to be!” Mrs. Ford laughs. “But I needed to stay here, clean this place up- you can tell two teenagers live in this place, it’s an absolute sty! Apart from your room, actually, everything was very neat and tidy…” My eyes go wide as a moment of panic grips my body.

“Did- did you go through my drawers!?” I ask, my voice raising and startling the three other women.

“No, of course not!” Mrs. Ford laughs. “Just because I have a parental obligation to not respect Kayla’s privacy, doesn’t mean I can’t respect yours!” I breathe an internal sigh of relief and let out a small giggle- if she’s discovered my ‘Steve’ drawer, it’d have been seriously awkward…

“Umm, it’s going to take me a few days to get everything moved,” I say, wondering when exactly I agreed to get kicked out of my own home.

“We got time,” Lauren shrugs.

“In the meantime,” Mrs. Ford says, “I’ve had a look at your fridge and it is foul! Let me cook the three of you a PROPER meal for once…”

“That’d be nice,” I say as I crash on the sofa with Lauren and Kayla. After calling my parents- and actually having to remember to use my ‘Stephanie’ voice as they pick up the phone- we while away the rest of the evening watching Netflix, as I’d hoped, but as I head to bed, I can’t help but feel that my ‘independence’ will soon come to an end. I enjoyed having my own place- well, half of my own place, anyway- and being effectively forced to move back in with my parents, especially by the girl who let me stay at her own parents’ house just last week, is truly galling.

When I wake up the following morning, I go to enter the bathroom, only to find it locked for the first time since I moved in five months ago.

“Sorry!” Kayla yells from inside the bathroom. “I’ll be out in a second!” Just over ten minutes later, the tiny blonde girl emerges from the room, her hair and body wrapped in two towels- MY towels. Sighing, I get two spare towels from the airing cupboard and jump under the shower, shaving off what little facial hair I have and letting the hot water wash away some- but not all- of my stress. The telling-off Joshua gave me yesterday is still ringing in my ears, and it would be a perfect irony if I start to live life as a woman full-time only for my job- the whole reason I’m living as a woman full-time- to suddenly be in jeopardy.

After drying myself off and pulling on a fresh set of underwear, I apply my make-up for the day and dress in a tight red t-shirt and a short denim skirt, under which I pull on a thin pair of tights, despite the heat outside. Lauren and Kayla are both wearing almost new designer dresses to the studio, of course- both have very quickly settled into the lifestyle of a national celebrity and the appearances that need to be kept up as a result.

When we arrive at the studio, Becca and Adeola are already present, but surprisingly, Stuart is nowhere to be seen.

“My brother’s been talking to Joshua all morning,” Becca says as she gets herself a glass of water. “Some talk about an upcoming gig, I think.” I nod quietly as I get myself a drink, but as I sit down, I feel an unexpected presence also sit down next to me.

“Hey,” Adeola- the band member with whom I’ve probably interacted the least- says. “You okay?”

“Umm, yeah, thanks,” I say.

“Only I know you kinda copped a bollocking from Uncle Joshua yesterday,” Adeola continues. “Take it from someone who’s been on the receiving end of a lot of them, they ain’t fun!"

“I’ll live,” I say, making Adeola giggle.

“Why did you lie, anyway?” Adeola asks. “Not just to us, but to your parents?”

“…Because despite Jamie’s best efforts, the world really isn’t friendly toward people who believe that they’re a different gender to the one they were born into,” I sigh. “Especially when it’s their own flesh and blood…”

“Okay,” Adeola says firmly. “One: that ‘flesh and blood’ thing is a load of crap. Your parents proved that yesterday. And two… Take it from someone who knows, hiding away from discrimination only ever makes it worse.”

“No offence,” I say delicately, “but, umm, isn’t London one of the most multi-coloured cities in the world?”

“The city, yes,” Adeola retorts. “But don’t forget I was raised by my uncle and he wanted the absolute best for me, including the best school… After two years at the boarding school I went to I was literally begging Uncle Joshua just to send me to an inner-city school, ANY inner-city school.”

“Was- was it bad?” I ask.

“Woke up every morning with a banana beside my bed,” Adeola sighs. “Thought it was some sort of weird nutritional scheme at first, then I realised none of the other kids were getting them… Once went into class and found my chair filled with a stuffed monkey. PE class, every time we worked on climbing apparatus, I’d get Tarzan chants yelled at me.”

“That- that’s despicable,” I whisper. “Didn’t the teachers do anything about this?”

“The teachers were even worse,” Adeola spits. “First year I was there they spoke extra-slow to me as though I couldn’t even speak English, when it’s my first bloody language… Lunchtime was by far the worst, though. I’d keep my distance from the other kids but the dinner ladies would always find a way of leaving some little remark, ‘you can’t hide any more, this isn’t the jungle’, that sort of thing…”

“It’s amazing how they can get away with this,” I sigh. “This is supposed to be the 21st century, isn’t it? Why did your Uncle even tolerate this?”

“He didn’t!” Adeola laughs. “Second he learned about it he pulled me straight out of there, sent me to a local school instead… Yeah, I didn’t get the best GCSEs in the world but I at least didn’t end up hurling myself off a tall building…”

“And now you’re part of the hottest girl band in the UK!” I say, making Adeola giggle.

“WE’RE part of the hottest girl band in the UK!” The dark-skinned girl laughs.

“Soo,” Becca says, sitting down on the other side of Adeola. “What are we talking about today?”

“Our school days,” Adeola giggles. “Which I’m betting were a lot tougher than yours, Miss Eighteen-grand-a-year private school!” Becca blushes and giggles as her best friend teases her, though for once her bashfulness actually appears genuine and not an attempt to centre everyone’s attention on her.

“Well, depends on where Steph went to school, I guess!” Becca laughs.

“…Just my local comprehensive,” I say. “Parents aren’t poor but couldn’t exactly afford eighteen grand a year, especially not for three kids!”

“AND their kids’ university as well,” Adeola teases Becca. “Whenever you decide to go back to your studies, anyway!”

“Hey, I finished my second year, didn’t I?” Becca protests. “So I’m not quite as academic as my brother or my sister, whatever. Steph, either of your brothers go to uni?” I blink twice as Becca asks me this question- even though we’ve been bandmates for five months, we’re not exactly ‘friends’, and she’s never really shown any interest in my family before…

“Erm, nah,” I reply. “Tom join the Army when he was 18 but left after five years, Danny went straight to work when he was sixteen. My mum went to university though, I think.”

“She’s a nurse, isn’t she?” Becca asks.

“Yeah,” I say, still finding it hard to believe that Becca is this knowledgeable about my family.

“Either of your brothers single?” Becca asks with a cheeky grin. “Obviously not asking for myself, but for a friend…” I giggle as Becca places her hands on Adeola’s shoulders and playfully massages the tall girl.

“Ehh… I like Adeola too much to inflict that on her!” I say, making both girls laugh as Stuart returns to the studio, but the laughs subside as Joshua walks in behind Stuart with a serious expression on his face.

“Girls,” Stuart says, grabbing our attention and making me start to shake with nerves. This is it, I think to myself. Back to the unemployment line…

“My heavenly singers,” Joshua announces, the smile returning to his face. “How familiar are you with the aviation industry?”

“I know it involves planes,” Kayla says, making our manager laugh.

“Indeed it does!” Joshua booms. “It also involves airports, and pilots, and flight attendants… And big, big business!”

“Is this about sixty-three?” Adeola asks, earning quizzical stares from the rest of us.

“It’s good to see that education was worth every penny I paid for it!” Joshua says, giving his niece a playful hug even as she clearly didn’t want any reminders of her school days.

“Antoine Masson,” Joshua continues, “the founder of Soixante-Trois Airlines, is opening up a new hub in Heathrow. Next Monday he’s throwing a huge launch party for the press and he wants Britain’s biggest girl band to sing at the launch! I assume none of you have any objection to singing whilst dressed as air stewardesses?”

“As long as I don’t have to serve anyone any drinks!” Becca says, making Joshua laugh his booming laugh once again.

“No, no, only music to their ears!” Joshua laughs. “I’ve sent his tailors all your measurements, your costumes will be here on Friday.”

“They’ve sent along a list of songs they want you to perform at the opening,” Stuart explains. “Don’t worry, it’s all in English, no French. Mostly stuff like ‘Come Fly with Me’, but we’ll need to get rehearsing anyway so we’re going to push polishing off the album back for a week to concentrate on this.”

“Starting immediately!” Joshua booms, springing the five of us into action as we finish our drinks and grab our headphones. “Stephanie, may I have a word in private, please?”

“Umm, okay…” I say nervously, feeling my bandmates’ stares burning a hole in the back of my head as I follow our manager into a side room. “I promise I haven’t lied, I swear-“

“Stephanie!” Joshua says with his usual wide grin. “I am not going to bollock you today! Calm down!”

“Umm, okay,” I say, taking several deep breaths as Joshua and I sit down.

“I’m not sure if you know the story of Soixante-Trois Airlines,” Joshua says. “They’re a ‘boutique airline’, following old-fashioned principles- specifically, sixties principles. Which I why I personally love them so much! They only have female stewardesses, but some time ago the EU Supreme Court forced them to allow males to apply for these roles. Soixante-Trois agreed- as long as they followed the strictly female dress code.”

“So… What?” I ask, struggling as hard as I could to follow Joshua’s story. “They only hire transgendered stewardesses?”

“Not ‘only’,” Joshua says. “But mostly, yes. I wanted to make sure that you were comfortable with this before agreeing to the gig on Monday- I wouldn’t want to put you in a position that you would find awkward.” My jaw drops as Joshua makes his request- yesterday I was worried he would fire me, but today he’d be willing to turn down what sounds like a lucrative gig if I veto it?

“Umm, I’ve got no problems with it,” I say, making Joshua laugh out loud and give me a gentle pat on the back.

“Fantastic!” Joshua booms. “Now get back in the studio, you have practice to do!” I smile as I get up from the chair and all but swagger back into the studio, putting on my headphones with a smug smile that confuses Lauren and Kayla but brings genuine chuckles to Becca and Adeola’s mouths. We spend the next four hours running through the songs for the gig, perfecting our harmonies and working out any extra ‘twists’ we want to put on the songs to add our own unique character to them. Eventually, at 4pm, Stuart gives us permission to leave, though as I leave the studio, I find myself not walking out with Kayla and Lauren, but with Becca and Adeola instead.

“Eee, this’ll be so cool!” Becca squeaks. “Do you remember Valentine’s 2014? Flying back from Paris to Dublin on that airline?”

“I remember only being seventeen and my uncle not allowing me any booze,” Adeola giggles. “You ever flown with Soixante-Trois, Steph?”

“Funny you should mention that,” I say with fake enthusiasm. “…No I haven’t.” Becca and Adeola both giggle at my joke as the three of us head into the ladies’ toilets.

“I also remember you being involved with a guy during that trip<” Becca teases her best friend. “When oh when are you going to let me set you up with one of Riley’s friends?”

“When hell freezes over, of course,” Adeola retorts.

“They’re nice!” Becca pleads. “And you’ve been single long enough.”

“I’m only nineteen!” Adeola retorts. “Don’t want a relationship right now, besides, soon enough we’re gonna have every single man in the country kicking down our door to ask us out on a date!”

“Steph, then,” Becca says. “I’ve got several hunky guys who’d be right up your alley, just say the word…”

“The word is ‘no’, I’m afraid,” I reply. “The, um, oestrogen basically kills the sex drive.”

“Eh, yeah, I know that,” Becca laughs. “Well, I’ve observed it, anyway- when my brother started testosterone he turned into a real horny idiot…” Yeah, I DON’T need to be reminded of those feelings Becca, thank you very much… I think to myself.

“Besides,” I sigh. “Doubt they’d be too happy with, well, the contents of my pants…”

“If they object I’ll make sure the contents of THEIR pants are out of commission for the rest of their lives!” Becca laughs. “Do a proper ‘Ramsay Bolton’ on them…”

“You- you watch Thrones?” I ask.

“I love Game of Thrones!” Becca laughs. “Yeah, a lot of it is a bit unnecessary, but it really is an awesome show.” I smile at Becca as we finish touching up our make-up. “Anyway, back on-topic, there’s no one you ever, you know, wanted?”

“Well-“ I say, before sighing and lowering my head. “Promise you won’t tell anyone?”

“Go on…” Becca teases.

“When we first started…” I sigh. “I kinda- had a little- a little bit of a thing for- for- your brother…” Much to my dismay, Becca throws her head back and roars with thunderous laughter, with Adeola also doubling over in a fit of giggles.

“Oh come on, really?” I moan.

“I’m sorry!” Becca says between tears of laughter. “Oh, god, need to catch my breath…” Becca bursts into another laughing fit before finally composing herself.

“It isn’t even that funny really,” Adeola giggles. “God knows I’ve looked at him once or twice…”

“It’s not the thought of ‘you and Stuart’,” Becca says, “it’s the thought of ‘anyone and Stuart’!”

“Even though he’s in a long-term relationship with a famous model and media figure?” I ask.

“Ugh, don’t remind me,” Becca spits.

“Ooh, we’re back on this,” Adeola giggles as we leave the agency together. “I’ll be sure to open SEVERAL bottles of wine tonight! What you doing now, Steph?”

“Umm, probably heading home,” I say. “Which home, I’m not sure… Basically being forced out of the apartment and back into my parents’ home, fortunately mum and dad are okay with this but it’s such a pain, I only just got settled there…”

“Braveheart going solo, then, or getting the munchkin to move in with her?” Becca asks.

“Kayla’s moving in with Lauren,” I say, deliberately not using either of Becca’s demeaning nicknames. “I only really need to move clothes, my laptop and iPad, my cosmetics…”

“Eh, well you can do those anytime,” Becca says. “The three of us are going out tonight for a drink!” Despite myself, I find the corners of my mouth turning upwards. Even two weeks ago, the thought of going for a drink with Becca and Adeola would’ve filled me with a sense of dread, but after today… It’s like I’ve had two best friends all along and am only just starting to realise it.

I stay out with Becca and Adeola until just after 7pm- our 'drink' quickly turning into 'dinner'- during which I bond with the two girls much more than I've done over the last five months. I learn a lot more about their history, about how Adeola's parents both died when she was very young and she moved from Nigeria to England to be raised by her uncle, and I learn plenty about Becca's life, including how much she adores her new nephew and how she thinks that Jamie isn't even remotely good enough for her brother. I also open up about my past- now that I no longer have to lie about my relationship with my parents, I can open up in a way I couldn't before... Though I am obviously careful not to reveal anything about 'Steve's existence.

I eventually arrive back at the apartment to be greeted by concerned stares from both Lauren and Kayla.

"You were out late," Lauren says in an almost accusatory tone.

"Becca and Addie took me out for a drink," I shrug. "Then dinner."

"Since when do you hang out with Becca and Adeola?" Kayla asks.

"What?" I shrug again. "We've worked together for five months, kinda makes sense to grow closer to them." Especially as I'm growing further apart from the two of you, what with you kicking me out... I think to myself. "You might want to try it some time."

"Ugh, whatever," Lauren spits. "You say you've already eaten dinner? Good, then I don't have to get up and cook for you again..."

"You're welcome," I say, before heading into my bedroom and continuing to pack away my belongings. I pause before opening the drawer in my wardrobe that contains 'Steve's clothes- with my male clothes gone from my parents' house, they're the last remnants of my former life. It would so easy just to get rid of these as well, cut all ties with 'Steve' and live the rest of my life as 'Stephanie'. It's what I've always dreamed about, it's what's expected of me, not just by my family, but by my employers as well... And yet, I simply can't let go of my 'other life'. With a sigh, I pack the small collection of male clothes into an inner compartment of the suitcase, making sure they're sealed away from prying eyes, before returning to the living room, where I (and, of course, Lauren and Kayla) spend the rest of the evening watching TV in silence.

I groan as my alarm clock wakes me half an hour earlier than usual, though with three girls now living in the apartment- however temporarily- it's very much to my advantage to get into the bathroom first, which I achieve by mere minutes as I hear one of my 'friends' rattle the door handle as I shower. After exiting the shower with a towel wrapped around my torso and another wrapped around my hair- just as Kayla had yesterday- I return to my room to dress for the day. As it's Wednesday, it's also our second dance lesson of the week, so after donning my foundation garments I pull on a clean pair of baby pink tights and a short-sleeved black leotard, followed by a loose short-sleeved summer dress.

As always, I travel to the dance studio in a taxi alongside Lauren and Kayla, though the tension from last night is still very much present, meaning that the entire journey is conducted in silence. When we arrive at the studio, however, the three of us are shocked to see our two other bandmates present- and judging by the colour of their legs, they're clearly here to dance as well.

"Hi Steph!" Becca says, greeting me with a hug as though we were old friends. "Hi Lauren, Hi Kayla."

"What are you two doing here?" I ask, a genuine smile creeping onto my face.

"Well," Becca says smugly. "We figured that three teachers are better than one!"

"But you're not teachers," Lauren reminds the two girls.

"One teacher and two assistants, then," Adeola says. "Besides, it's not like we can get any practice for the launch party done without you three, so we figured we may as well do something useful with our time!"

"Your birthday's in January, isn't it?" Becca asks me, smiling when I nod. "It'd be SO cool if you could dance en pointe by then- and with our help, you just might make it!"

"Um, I dunno, I'm a singer, not a ballerina!" I giggle.

"Oh come on," Adeola laughs. "You saw how proud your parents were on Monday, I bet if you got up there in a tutu and pointe shoes they'd be in tears!" I'd probably be the one who cried... I think to myself as Becca and Adeola all but drag me into the studio, where, as promised, they help me with my steps and stretches. They also help Lauren and Kayla, but it's clear that they're only really interested in helping me- and as we leave the studio at the end of the lesson, I quickly learn that that was clear to Lauren and Kayla as well.

"How kind of your new best friends to show up," Lauren spits in my direction as we get changed.

"What?" I protest. "I didn't invite them, they just showed up of their own accord..."

"No, of course you didn't invite them," Kayla says sarcastically. "You just go out for dinner with them and all of a sudden they show up to our Wednesday lessons for the first time in five months..."

"Oh- what? Seriously?" I ask. "Aren't we all supposed to be members of the same band? Aren't we all supposed to get along?" This thankfully silences my two bandmates, though the silence does become awkward as the three of us- along with Becca and Adeola- head to the studio for practice.

Five hours later, with our throats tired from endless singing, the five of us leave the studio, and once again, Lauren and Kayla barely pay any attention to me whilst Becca and Adeola immediately start walking in step with me.

"Soo," Becca asks. "Any plans for tonight? I know a GREAT sushi bar nearby if you're up for dinner..."

"Eh, I'd love to," I reply. "But I'm kinda busy, got to see my counsellor- I already rearranged the meeting from this morning to fit in the extra practice, can't really brush her off again. Then I have to finish packing..."

"Oh, no worries," Becca says with a genuine smile. "Let me know when you're settled in, we should throw you a housewarming party!"

"What, for moving back in with my parents?" I ask.

"No shame in living with your parents!" Becca laughs. "Take it from someone who knows!"

"Take it from TWO people who know!" Adeola laughs. "My uncle legally adopted me when I was six, I still live with him, so it counts, right?"

"Of course it does!" Becca giggles, giving her BFF a playful hug. "Heh, maybe we should've called the band 'daddy's little girls'..."

"Umm, 'little'?" Adeola asks, pointing to her 5' 9" frame.

"Touché," Becca says. "We'll see you tomorrow, Steph- hope you enjoy your meeting!"

"Thanks," I say as I split away from Becca and Adeola and get in my waiting taxi. With our fame increasing- and especially since news of my reconciliation with my parents has become public- I've found myself relying more and more on taxis and less and less on public transport. Giving out autographs and posing for selfies is one thing, but fielding questions about my personal life is something I'd prefer not to do with random members of the public.

"Hi Steph!" Dr Phillips says as I walk into her office. "It's been three days, how are things going with your parents?"

"Perfect," I reply. "Better than perfect, in fact. I'm moving back in with them tomorrow, they've redecorated my room to make it more suitable for a girl, god rid of all my old boy's clothes, my boy's stuff..."

"How does that make you feel?" Dr Phillips asks. "I know you always thought of your room at home as a 'haven', a place you could go to escape your feminine life."

"Now that haven's gone," I sigh. "And I feel... Not so much 'trapped' as 'smothered', like I'm stuck as a girl with no way out, but... It's not, you know, necessarily a bad thing, not a nightmare, more a dream that I don't seem to be able to wake up from no matter how hard I try. And sometimes I DO try..."

"So you're saying that you'd be comfortable to live for the foreseeable future as a woman?" Dr Phillips asks.

"I've got no problems with it," I say. "But... I did bring some male clothes with me when I moved out of home, they survived the 'cull'. They're kind-of like an 'escape plan', silly as that sounds."

"It doesn't sound silly to me," Dr Phillips says. "I did note on Sunday that you told your parents that you intended to fully transition... I take it they're still unaware of the truth?"

"As far as they're concerned I'll be Stephanie until the day I die," I say. "In a way I kinda wish they did have a problem with it, then at least I'd have an excuse to back out of it all... I know that must make me sound selfish."

"It's your life," Dr Phillips says. "You're perfectly entitled to live it however you want."

"Even when it hurts others?" I moan. "I came out to my brothers on Monday. Tom- my oldest brother- didn't take it all that well..."

"I'm happy for him to come to a counselling session anytime," Dr Phillips says. "Even if it does mean I'll have to prolong your lie, but you'll have an easier time coming clean to your family if they're all comfortable with how- or rather, who- you currently are."

"Thanks," I say with a smile. "The one good thing to come out of all this is that I'm getting on better now with Becca and Adeola... Even if that is at the expense of my friendship with Lauren and Kayla. I think they felt betrayed by, you know, everything..."

"They stood by you on Sunday," Dr Phillips says. "I wouldn't be so hasty to simply throw away that friendship just because you're closer to the quote-unquote popular kids."

"I know," I sigh. "It's just- things feel completely different now, and I'm not sure whether or not it's better than it was."

"Everybody undergoes great upheavals over the course of their lives," Dr Phillips advises. "How we deal with change will help to shape the type of life we lead in the future."

"And whether or not that life will be as a man or as a woman?" I ask.

"Precisely," Dr Phillips confirms.

I leave the office an hour later, and as always, while I feel better for getting my problems off my chest, I'm no closer to finding the internal stability I crave.

"Hi Lauren, Hi Kayla," I say as I walk through the front door of my apartment for the final time as a resident.

"Hi Steph," Lauren says. "Are you all packed?" Nice to see you too... I think to myself.

"Yep," I say. "Dad's picking me up tomorrow morning, I'm dropping off my cases before heading to work. I am going to miss this place, though."

"Okay," Lauren says, dropping down next to Kayla on the sofa.

"Lauren," I sigh, sitting down opposite the two girls. "Can- can we talk this through? Whatever it is I've done to offend you, I am really, really sorry."

"It's not that," Lauren sighs. "It's just- ugh. I thought I knew you, Steph. Then the last five days happen and it's like everything I thought I knew was a lie. And... I'm kinda missing Scotland."

"Well, that's not really MY fault," I say.

"No," Lauren replies. "But look at it from my perspective: I have to literally tear myself away from my family, and a very, very short period of time later you tell me that you've been deliberately separating yourself from your family out of what, cowardice? And your mum and dad turn out- unsurprisingly- to be perfectly okay with who you are. Hard not to take that even slightly personally."

"But- but we are still friends, right?" I ask.

"Yes, of course," Lauren sighs. "Even if you and butt-bounce seem to be growing closer..."

"Trust me, that's all her, not me!" I say, making Lauren and Kayla both giggle happily. "It's probably this that I'll miss the most..."

"You can stay over anytime you want," Kayla offers. "As long as you don't mind the sofa bed, of course!" I giggle as Kayla heads into the kitchen to prepare dinner for the three of us, which we enjoy together as friends before heading to bed just after 9:30pm.

My alarm wakes me up at 7am- early enough to be out of the shower and dressed before either of my friends get up- and when I hear a familiar-sounding car engine pull up outside the apartment, I feel a twinge of sadness when I realise that this is it- I'm finally leaving the place I'd made my home over the last five months. Of course, I'm returning to the place that was my home for much, much longer, but part of my desire to live as Stephanie included earning my own independence, and now I'm being forced to surrender that.

"God, I wish I was still mad at you, this would make this easier," Lauren laughs, giving me a hug as dad hauls my suitcases down the stairs and into his car.

"Eh, you'll settle in with Kayla soon enough," I laugh. "And it's not like I'm leaving forever, you'll see me in literally less than one hour at work!"

"Yeah," Lauren concedes. "But there you'll be 'colleague Steph', not 'flatmate Steph'... Guess you're more familiar with changes than any of us though, heh."

"You can say that again," I giggle as Lauren releases me and I give Kayla a quick hug. "Take care of my old room, okay?"

"Sure thing," Kayla says with a smile, before she and Lauren wave me off as I get in dad's car and head home.

"It's going to be great, having you home," dad says. "You're going to love what we've done with your room!" I doubt it... I think to myself.

Sure enough, when we arrive at my new- and old- home, I'm led straight up to my bedroom, and my jaw drops in shock at the sight of it. Gone are my dull blue walls and endless shelves, replaced by warm pink walls with various stencils around the edges- flowers, ballerinas, all things feminine. My wardrobe has remained where it was, but has been repainted from white to a soft pink colour, and my plain, almost military single bed has been replaced by a slightly larger extravagant bed with warm wood detailing and soft pink sheets. Pride of place in my room, however, goes to my new dressing table, which already has various cosmetics and perfumes laid out on top of it. I blink back tears as I look on the room, though I'm unable to say whether they're tears of happiness or sadness.

"It's perfect," I say, smiling and giving my dad a quick hug. "Thank you so much!"

"Anything for my favourite daughter!" Dad laughs. "Just dump your cases for now, I'll drop you off at work and then we can unpack when you get home!"

"Umm," I say, realising that I DON'T want dad to find the male clothes hidden in my suitcase. "I'd, um, kinda prefer to unpack myself, just so I know where everything will be going."

"Huh, okay," dad shrugs. "Saves me from having to drown myself in girlishness, I guess! Come on, you don't want to be late..." I smile as I follow dad back down to the car, taking one last wistful look at my Xbox on the way out. Six months ago, I'd have pulled on a slouchy pair of jeans and a baggy sweatshirt and plopped myself down in front of it for a lazy day of gaming... But six months ago I was also an unemployed nobody who was plagued with thoughts of becoming a girl.

After work- during which Lauren and Becca still struggle to get along- I head straight home, turning down yet another dinner invitation from Becca on the (truthful) grounds that I need to unpack. By 6:30pm, I've almost finished unpacking when dad announces that he's leaving for his shift at work, leaving me alone in the house with just one last thing to unpack- my 'Steve' clothes. There aren't many clothes in the pile- just a pair of jeans, three t-shirts, two sweatshirts and some boxer shorts and socks- but to me they're just as valuable as my 'Stephanie' clothes were six months ago. After making sure that I'm alone in the house, I lay out a set of underwear, a t-shirt and the jeans on my bed, before sitting down at my new dressing table and carefully removing my make-up. After taking a deep breath, I unzip my patterned, knee-length dress and step out of it, leaving me in just my bra, girdle and panties, all of which I remove, dumping in the laundry basket in the bathroom.

After returning to my bedroom, I pull on the boxer shorts and breathe a sigh of relief at just how comfortable, how RIGHT it feels. I follow up with the thick black socks, pulling them over my feet and covering up my black-coloured toenails, before pulling on the jeans and the t-shirt and collapsing back on my new bed. Even though this room looks, feels and smells like it belongs to a girl, for this one, brief moment, I can be a boy again. I head downstairs and switch on my Xbox for what feels like the first time in years and sit back and relax, whiling away the night shooting digital aliens with equally digital guns, before heading back to my room and changing from 'Steve's clothes into one of 'Stephanie's nighties. Whenever I needed to clean 'Stephanie's clothes in the past, I'd wait until my parents were both out of the house for a prolonged period of time and wash them all at the same time- as I put my worn boxer shorts in a safe space at the back of my wardrobe, I muse on how I'm now going to have to do the same thing for 'Steve's clothes.

As I did on Monday, I have a brief moment of panic when my alarm wakes me up and I find myself in unfamiliar feminine surroundings, before slowly remembering that this room, this unashamedly female room, is in fact mine. I sigh as I drag myself out of bed and head into the shower, before returning to my room, sitting down in front of my dressing table and applying my make-up, before pulling on a clean padded bra, girdle and control thong, followed by a tight, stripey t-shirt and a short black skirt. The whole process of transforming myself into 'Stephanie' whilst in my family home still seems strange, almost wrong somehow- but no less exciting than when I first started dressing as 'Stephanie'.

"Morning, Steph!" Mum says with a smile. "I've been doing some reading up on your band, and these 'Angel' girls you hang out with, I understand Friday's the night you usually go out on the town, is that right?"

"Um, yeah, usually," I say, stunned at being bombarded with this information so soon after getting up.

"Well, I'll know not to wait up for you tonight then, girls will be girls!" Mum chuckles. "Just make sure that you're careful!"

"Umm, will do," I say as mum shoves a cup of coffee under my nose.

"I'm so glad that you're back where you belong," mum says. "And that you don't have to 'hide' anymore. I've already sent links to your video to everyone in the extended family, and explained to them that either they're happy for you and proud of your success, or they can get lost!"

"...Does 'extended family' include Tom?" I ask.

"I emailed him," mum says quietly. "I'm sure he'll be back soon. On the topic of your brothers, Danny called yesterday and asked- and you know him, I'm NOT making this up- if you could set him up with that Hannah girl you hang out with, the one the press reckon will be on Strictly this year."

"I'll ask her," I giggle. "He got tired of his last girlfriend quick, then!"

"He split from her over a month ago!" Mum says. "...I'm sure you'll be more in the loop now that you're back living at home. Now drink up, you don't want to be late for work!" I smile as I finish my breakfast, before mum drops me off outside the recording studio- making me feel a little guilty as I see a photographer in the distance taking a photo of me giving her a goodbye hug.

"Hey Steph!" Becca squeaks happily, giving me a hug before either or Lauren or Kayla have the chance to say hello. "Exciting day today, our costumes- sorry, 'uniforms'- have arrived!"

"Cool!" I say happily, following my friends into the studio, where as promised, I find five very formal-looking blue skirt suits hanging on a clothing rack. All five of us giggle excitedly as we change into our own bespoke uniforms (complete with matching high-heeled shoes), giggling even louder as we tie our hair back into the elaborate French pleats that are the trademark hairstyles of Soixante-Trois Airlines stewardesses, and by the time we don our iconic pillbox hats, we're almost bouncing up and down with excitement.

"Okay, okay," Stuart sighs from his control booth. "We'll call today a 'dress rehearsal' then..." The five of us smile as we take our place behind our microphones, infuriating Stuart by constantly adjusting our uniforms (especially our hats) as he prepares to play the music to which we'll be singing.

We're eventually given the rest of the day free at 1:30pm after a string of successful practice sessions, and after reluctantly changing out of our uniforms, Becca and Adeola once again swoop down on me, out of earshot of Lauren and Kayla.

"Hey Steph!" Becca laughs. "You look SO good in that uniform, if the worst should happen and the band doesn't succeed, I reckon you'd make a great stewardess!"

"Oh please," I snort. "As if that band isn't gonna succeed!" The roars of laughter from Becca and Adeola tell me that my joke went down especially well- and that they have truly accepted me as their friend.

"I take it you'll be coming out tonight?" Adeola asks.

"Of course," I say. "Parents work shifts so it'll be a nice change for me to be the one sneaking into the house at 2am!"

"Excellent!" Becca laughs. "Before that, though, I may have a reservation at a beauty salon not far from here... And I never said how many of my friends I'd be bringing along!"

"They wouldn't mind a group of us coming along?" I ask.

"Oh please," Becca snorts. "For a few publicity photos they'll probably give us all free makeovers!" I open my mouth to agree with Becca, though it suddenly dawns on me that when Becca says 'all', she of course means me, herself and Adeola- when the band is formed of five girls, not three.

"Hey, Lauren, Kayla!" I shout.

"Um, Steph?" Becca asks, confused by my actions.

"What's up?" Lauren asks, staring at Becca as I gesture to the dark-haired girl with my eyes.

"I, um," Becca stutters. "May have a reservation as a very exclusive beauty salon... And not mentioned just how many of the band will be coming..." I smile as Lauren and Kayla's jaws drop with excitement.

"That is so cool!" Lauren says, giving Becca- who up until recently, was her effective nemesis- a quick hug.

"Well don't thank me yet," Becca laughs. "You haven't seen how expensive it is yet..."

"Too rich for five teenaged megastars?" Kayla giggles, grabbing her handbag.

"Probably not," Becca says, obviously chagrined at her private beauty session being turned into a group session- and probably chagrined at being reminded that she's the only one of us who technically isn't a teenager anymore. A look back at Lauren and Kayla's smiling faces, however, tell me that I was right to 'betray' Becca in this instance- and it may even help to bring her and Adeola closer to Lauren and Kayla, though hopefully not at my expense, of course!

The beauty treatments the five of us get are as extensive as they are expensive- I get a (surprisingly painless) eyebrow wax, a full facial and a thorough exfoliating treatment that leaves my skin feeling as soft as the day I was born. My hair is thoroughly washed and styled into a fun wavy look, I have thick fake eyelashes professionally applied, and my finger- and toenails are recoloured a rich rusty red colour. All the changes feel amazing once they're complete, and get me a lot of attention as I go out on the town with Becca, Adeola and the other Angels- but as I arrive home and prepare for bed, it dawns on me just how permanent the changes are.

After a brief practice session the following day, I return home to find my parents at work, and the house is mine for the next three hours. I immediately strip off my dress and my underwear, pulling on a pair of boxer shorts and socks, followed by the jeans and the t-shirt I was wearing on Thursday. After I finish dressing, however, a quick glance in the mirror hammers home a truth I'd tried to avoid. When I looked in the mirror on Thursday, I saw an effeminate boy wearing boyish clothing, but now, with my professionally-applied makeover, feminine hair and dark red nails, I really can't see a boy anymore, but a girl pretending to be a boy. If I'd seen this face staring back at me six months ago- and known that my parents would fully approve of it- I'd probably have died of happiness, but now, all I can do is mourn for the boy that I once was.

Why can't I just be happy with who I am, and what I have?

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