Janet took a deep breath to calm her nerves as she stepped through the rear entrance of the vast supermarket. When she was younger she never imagined that she'd be starting work as a lowly checkout operator at the age of 42. But then, she also never imagined that on her first day of work, she would pin to her chest a name badge that read 'Janet' instead of 'John'.
John Cole was born on the 11th of December 1973, and seemingly had everything he could ever want. Rich parents, a good education including a degree from the University of Hull, a wife, two adoring children... But deep down inside all John wanted, all he ever wanted, was to be a woman.
"During my university days," Janet explained to her manager as she got ready for her first day of work, "I'd dress up- for fun, you know? It was the early nineties, so there was lots of spandex everywhere, big, bright colours, leotards, cycling shorts, short skater dresses, that sort of thing. I'd go for a night out with a couple of accepting female friends, just for fun. Even hooked up with guys a couple of times. But I knew it was just a fantasy, something that could never last... But every time I had to put 'Janet' away, I'd always feel this pang of regret in my heart. Didn't know back then, of course, that what I was feeling was massive depression."
"I graduated in '95," Janet continued with a laugh. "God, 21 years, half my life ago... Met my wife my final year of uni, got married two years later, had a son in '99, a daughter in '01 and got on with my life. But it never went away, the urge, the NEED to 'be Janet'... Six years ago, I gave in, ordered some underwear, some make-up and a dress off of the internet, and it just- it just felt right. Felt like it was meant to be. I built up my stash, dressed more and more until eventually, I- I just couldn't face going back to life as 'John', going back to my dull job... January this year, I just came out, told my family everything... They turned their back on me without a second thought. Almost twenty years of marriage, gone. My son thinks I'm a freak, my daughter... I dunno."
"About four months ago, the depression got so bad, I- I took an overdose," Janet sniffled as her manager listened with a sympathetic ear. "I couldn't face life as 'John' and 'Janet's life was nothing short of a disaster, so I just popped open a bottle of pills and, well, you can probably figure out the rest. Next thing I know, I wake up in a hospital with a tube down my throat, and once I'm well enough to be discharged, I get sectioned, sent to a mental hospital... Where I run into the last person I was ever expecting to meet!" Janet chuckled with laughter as she recalled her month-long stay in residential psychiatric care- in particular, her dinner conversation during her fifteenth day.
"Seriously?" Janet's manager asked after hearing the story. "THE Stephanie Abbott?"
"Seriously," Janet giggled. "We stayed in touch, too."
"So how come you're working here, rather than some big fancy celebrity job?" The middle-aged manager asked.
"...Thanks for putting me on the spot," Janet giggled quietly.
"Sorry, sorry," Janet's manager laughed.
"I just want a proper job, you know?" Janet replied. "I want somewhere where I can make a fresh start as 'Janet', no pressure from anyone, I can just sit back, work hard and rebuild my life. Can't do that if I hang out with people who attract paparazzi like dung attracts flies."
"Sensible choice," Janet's manager laughed. "I'll be back with your name badge and smartcard in a bit. You just take several deep breaths, make sure you're ready."
"Thanks," Janet said, before taking a deep breath and staring at her reflection in the supermarket's locker room- the supermarket's WOMEN'S locker room.
Janet wasn't a beauty queen, but she never had any pretense of being so. She was tall- 5' 10" in sock feet, over six feet tall in the heeled court shoes she'd worn to work- and her wide shoulders and narrow hips gave away the fact that there was 'more to her than meets the eye', even if her body was covered in the regulation blue blouse, knee-length black skirt and opaque black tights that made up the supermarket's uniform.
Underneath her uniform, Janet had done her best to 'enhance' her body with a tight corselette that narrowed her waist and gave extra 'shape' to her chest and her backside, but it couldn't hide the shape of her skeleton, in much the same way that her full face of make-up and short brown bob couldn't hide the very masculine shape of her face, especially her jaw. Janet was convinced that she'd be 'found out' within minutes of her first day... But she would never have imagined who would have been the first to 'find her out'.
"Come on, Ellie!" Kacey moaned as the blonde girl slumbered on her sofa. "I wanna buy lunch before we go to college..."
"I'm cold..." Ellie moaned, before the sheet was pulled from her, leaving her shivering in the November air with just a long t-shirt to cover her body.
"Get dressed, that'll warm you up," Kacey retorted. "You know what my parents said, they're okay with you staying here as long as you're not permanently rooted to the sofa!"
"Yes, yes, okay, okay," Ellie sighed.
"And don't take TOO long with your make-up, okay?" Kacey urged, making Ellie groaned as she climbed the stairs to the small bedroom, where she stared at her face in the mirror.
16 years and nine months earlier, Ellie had been born to two loving parents who gave her everything she wanted and loved her unconditionally. Four months earlier, Ellie had learned that there was one condition to her parents' love- and that was that she continued to live her life the way she'd been born- as a boy named Liam.
All throughout her life, Ellie had been obsessed with all things feminine. Her best friends were always girls and her preferred toys and games were always feminine, much to her parents' chagrin, who assumed that she was 'going through a phase'. Immediately following the end of her GCSEs, Ellie- backed by two of her closest friends and the boy with whom she had formed a clandestine relationship- came out to her parents, and explained calmly that she wished to live her life the way she wanted- as a girl.
That day was the last time Ellie had had any contact with her parents.
As she covered her face with a thick layer of foundation, followed by equally thick mascara, eyeliner and pink eye shadow, Ellie wondered what her parents were doing right that second, whether or not they were thinking about her- or whether or not they ever thought about her.
After being kicked out of her parents' home, Ellie had moved in with her boyfriend, and despite putting on a brave face, she fell into a depression it took her weeks to recover from. With her boyfriend's help, she began to regularly see a counsellor who specialise in gender identity issues, and slowly, but surely, she began to feel better about herself... Only for her boyfriend to suddenly end their relationship, sending Ellie back to square one. If it hadn't been for the kindness and generosity of friends such as Kacey, Ellie honestly believed that she wouldn't have been able to face living, let alone be able to face studying at college.
And yet, she strode through the front door of the college on her first day with a nervous smile on her face, and a short skirt, a tight top and a pair of clingy black tights covering her body- the same clothes she slipped into after finishing her make-up. Her counsellor had yet to prescribe oestrogen to Ellie, as she first wanted to ensure that Ellie's suicidal thoughts were a thing of the past, but that didn't stop Ellie from feeling more secure in her femininity every time she stepped out in public dressed as the girl she knew she was deep down inside.
"Quick enough for you?" Ellie asked as she let her friend into her bathroom.
"Enough make-up for you?" Kacey retorted. "I get that you want to, you know, 'hide', but you know, Ellie, you really don't need to hide THAT much. The skirt does do a good job of screaming 'girl' at the world."
"Yeah, well I can always be 'louder'," Ellie sighed, earning a sympathetic smile from her friend.
"I won't take long," Kacey said softly.
"Sure," Ellie mumbled as she took her smartphone out of her handbag and began browsing through Facebook, stopping when she reached a post from the one person who she never expected would become one of her closest confidantes- the singer Stephanie Abbott.
Like Ellie, Stephanie was transgendered. Like Ellie, Stephanie loved music. And most of all, like Ellie, she'd endured severe emotional distress stemming from her transition. Mere weeks earlier, Stephanie and the rest of her band had visited Ellie's college, where the sixteen year old girl had had a chance to talk one on one with the twenty year old superstar- a talk Ellie had walked away from with Stephanie added to her Facebook friends list.
Stephanie had made it clear to Ellie that the young woman was welcome to message her anytime she needed to talk, but in the weeks since, Ellie hadn't been able to pluck up the necessary courage to type a single message- even as her personal situation got more and more desperate.
"Okay, done," Kacey said, snapping Ellie's attention away from her phone. "Let me guess, another update from your superstar best friend?"
"Hardly 'best friend'," Ellie mumbled as she put her phone away and followed Kacey out of the house and to the nearest bus stop.
"Yeah, well when I get to have a private chat with a celebrity, THEN I'll stop asking about it," Kacey snorted as she engrossed herself in her own smartphone.
Ellie sighed as she and Kacey waited for their bus, but deep down, she could easily understand her friend's frustration. She knew she was no fun to be around, not like 'Liam' had been, when 'he' and Kacey would spend long nights secretly texting each other, talking about boys, talking about the trips they would take, the fun they would have once 'Liam' had gone and 'Ellie' had taken her place... Yet in the five months since Ellie came out, she and Kacey had had less and less fun with every passing day, to the point where Ellie knew deep down that her friends barely tolerated her presence.
Some days Ellie wished that she'd never come out to her parents, that she could've continued living in secret, and yet, as she straightened her flimsy black tights, she knew deep down inside that there was no way she could give up the life she'd craved for so long. Sure, she could take off the skirt and put on a pair of trousers, but then she'd just be a girl wearing a pair of trousers. Even if she scrubbed away all her make-up, cut her hair short and pulled on boy's clothes, she'd still be a girl wearing boy's clothes, no make-up and with a short haircut.
Ellie was a girl. Of that she was certain, and she knew her friends felt the same way. She just wished that that was all she needed in her life to make her like herself...
"Hey girlies!" Monique- the second friend who had stood behind Ellie as she came out to her parents- giggled as she got on the bus and sat down in the seat behind Ellie and Kacey. Ellie smiled in response to her friend's arrival, even though she knew deep down that the dark-skinned girl was as fed up with her as Kacey was.
"Hey Mon," Kacey replied. "We're gonna stop off at Tesco on the way into college if that's okay?"
"Sure thing," Monique said as she got out her smartphone. "Going for anything specific?"
"Food!" Kacey snorted. "Kinda, you know..."
"Got another mouth to feed?" Ellie asked. "You can say it if that's what you were thinking."
"I wasn't thinking it, no," Kacey sighed. "Come on, Ellie, how many times do we have to go through this?"
"...Sorry," Ellie sighed. "I do appreciate everything you've done for me, I really do. It just sucks that you HAVE to do it at all..."
"A friend in need," Kacey shrugged.
"And you know I'd help out if my parents weren't, you know..." Monique said with a grimace.
"I know," Ellie whispered, remembering her first, disastrous meeting with her friend's parents as Ellie.
"What is this!?" Monique's father had yelled as he saw the boy he knew as Liam walk into the living room alongside his daughter.
"Dad," Monique said, her lower jaw trembling nervously. "This- this is Ellie, my, um, friend..."
"H- hi, Mr. Daniels," Ellie said, nervously waving and squirming in her short skirt, which had suddenly felt VERY inappropriate.
"Why have you brought that freak into my house?" Mr. Daniels snarled. "Did I raise you to hang around with men who get their kicks by wearing women's clothing?"
"Ellie isn't a man, not anymore," Monique said defiantly. "He- SHE is a girl, trapped in a man's body-"
"Get that thing out of my house!" Mr. Daniels growled, approaching the two girls with a look of pure fury on his face.
"Bu- but dad-" Monique stammered.
"You too!" The dark-skinned girl's father snapped. "And do not come back tonight! If I see that thing in my house ever again it will wish it had never been born!" Ellie yelped and looked on with terror as her friend's father swung a fist into his hand mere inches from the tip of her nose, causing her to stumble backward onto the floor. Without looking back, Ellie- accompanied by Monique and Kacey- bolted out of the house, and spent the next several hours crying her eyes out at the latest injustice that had befallen her...
"...I'm still sorry about that," Ellie mumbled.
"S'not your fault he's got his head stuck up his arse," Monique sighed. "And he has forgiven me, more or less. As long as he doesn't know we still hang out together, of course."
"Yeah, of course," Ellie sighed. "Let- let's just get some food, okay?"
"Okay," Monique and Kacey both whispered as the bus arrived at their stop.
Janet forced a smile on her face as yet another customer unloaded a trolley full of groceries onto her conveyor belt. She was only an hour into her shift but she was already feeling uncomfortable, which only got worse with every new customer she served. Every single person she'd served had looked at her in a different place- her face, her hair, her neck, her shoulders- but each had reacted with a mixture of surprise or shock, or in some cases, discomfort or even open disgust. One customer had even put his groceries back into his trolley, turned around and found a different cashier when he saw that Janet was about to handle his items. Every instinct in Janet's body was telling her to leap out of her seat and run away from the supermarket as fast as she could, and yet she knew that simply wasn't an option. The amount of benefits she'd received was a pittance, and she NEEDED to work even despite the stress that it was causing her. Sure, 'checkout operator' wasn't exactly anyone's dream job, especially compared to the comfortable office job that 'John' had held, but it was better than the nothing that she'd had before.
Janet's one source of comfort was that she at least felt comfortable, at home in the clothes she'd worn to work. Wearing the skirt, the blouse and the shoes just felt right to her, like her femininity was a security blanket that no amount of sneers or condescending looks could take away. Janet had walked into the supermarket as a woman, and no matter what happened over the course of the day, she would walk out as a woman. She may not have been a model or a beauty queen, but she was a woman. And for now, that was enough.
"...Use the self-checkouts," Janet heard a voice say at the end of her checkout.
"I hate those things," another voice- which, like the first, belonged to a teenaged girl- moaned. "'Unexpected item in the bagging area'. Yeah, I'll give it an unexpected item..."
"Hi girls!" Janet said with a fake enthusiastic voice as she scanned their items, which consisted of drinks, sandwiches and snacks. "Just picking up lunch?"
"Uh-huh," the dark-skinned girl- the group's leader- replied with a confused look on her face- the same look Janet had had to endure all morning. "Can we pay for these all separately?"
"Of course," Janet said. "Though... It IS my first day, the only way I know how to do that is to do them all as separate transactions, is that okay?"
"Sure," the dark-skinned girl shrugged, as did her two friends.
Janet kept a polite smile on her face as she scanned through the lunches of the first two girls, who tried their hardest not to look judgemental, but when it came time to scan through the final girl, Janet saw a different look in her eyes- not one of judgement, but one of confusion, and in some ways, one of relief too. There was something about the final girl that Janet couldn't put her finger on- and she could see that the girl was thinking the same thing about her, too.
"All done," Janet said, deliberately looking away from the blonde girl so as not to seem like she was staring too hard at her. "You- umm, you off to college?"
"Yep," the dark-skinned girl said with an obviously forced smile.
"Well, umm, you girls work hard!" Janet said with a forced smile of her own as the trio walked away- but she couldn't shake from her head the look in the eyes of the final blonde girl. Had she known her from somewhere? Was she one of her daughter's friends? The daughter of someone she knew from her previous work- or rather, her previous life? The identity of the girl was a dilemma that plagued Janet all throughout the remainder of her shift. Little did she know that the answer to her question would end up changing her life forever...
"Oh my god," Monique whispered as she walked away from the middle-aged woman's checkout. "Did you- did you see who was behind the till?"
"What about her?" Kacey asked. "Do you know her?"
"She is totally a- a-" Monique stammered, biting her lip as Ellie looked expectantly at her.
"A tranny?" Ellie asked.
"I didn't mean it in a bad way, like," Monique protested. "Just like, you know, you're, you know, not alone, kinda thing."
"Okay..." Ellie said, unconvinced by her friend's explanation.
"You must've noticed, surely?" Monique asked.
"She did, you know, look a LITTLE masculine," Ellie mumbled.
"But that doesn't mean she's any less, you know, a woman," Kacey said firmly, briefly bringing a smile back to her friend's face.
"'Course not," Monique said with a smile of her own. "Do you- do you reckon she, you know, 'knew' you?"
"Me?" Ellie asked. "Maybe. I dunno! It's not like we've got a 'sixth sense' or anything."
"Yeah, well, you're less 'obvious' than she is," Kacey said, sighing as Ellie's frown deepened. "Oh come on, that was supposed to be a compliment!"
"I know," Ellie shrugged. "I know... I'm- I'm sorry. Can we change the subject, PLEASE?"
"If you insist," Kacey sighed, holding her hands up in mock-surrender. "We on for Doctor Strange on Friday?"
"Hell yeah!" Monique cheered. "LOVE me a bit of Cumberbatch!"
"New season of Sherlock should be on in January too!" Kacey giggled as Ellie forced a smile on her face. Deep down, however, she couldn't shake the image of the cashier from her mind, and her emotions were a jumble.
On the one hand, Kacey had been right- Ellie did 'pass' far better than the cashier, and that something she could be happy about, but on the other hand, it filled Ellie with a deep sense of guilt. Her transition hadn't been smooth by any stretch of the imagination, but she could go into a supermarket wear make-up and a short skirt and the only attention she attracted was from young men checking her out. The cashier, on the other hand, would have to go through every second of her life facing the judgement, the scorn and even the anger of literally every person she met- even Ellie herself.
All throughout her day at college, Ellie found her mind wandering back to the older transwoman. She wondered how her family would have reacted to her coming out, whether it was any better or even worse than her own family reacted. She wondered whether or not the older woman had a family at all, whether she had been married, if she'd had any children, if any of the children had been her age, whether or not she'd always been a cashier- or whether or not she'd noticed about Ellie what Ellie had noticed about her.
Ellie was sure of only one thing- she NEEDED to see the cashier again, and if possible, to talk to her. However, as she tried to work out ways to engage the older woman in conversation, Ellie was forced to confront one awkward truth- she barely had any communication with the one transgendered friend she did have...
Janet let out a long sigh as she closed the door of her tiny two bedroom flat, kicked off her shoes and collapsed onto her cheap, but still comfortable sofa. It had been a long, frustrating day, and not one Janet wanted to repeat any time soon- even though she knew she'd have to do the whole thing again the following day. She'd have to face the same sneers, the same insults and the same abuse, and all she'd have to show for it at the end would be an empty flat with hardly any furniture and, worst of all, no family. Janet had a hard time counting her blessings when the only 'blessing' seemed to be 'not homeless'.
However, as she stretched her tired toes within her opaque black tights, Janet reminded herself that today was very much a case of 'mission accomplished'. She'd walked into the supermarket as a woman. She'd returned home as a woman. And no matter what the small-minded customers had said or done, they couldn't take that away from her. 'Not male' was a much greater cause for celebration than 'not homeless'.
Janet smiled as she made herself a cup of tea and waited for her mobile phone to ring. A few minutes later, it did so, and even though the number showed up on her screen as 'withheld', Janet immediately answered- it was a call she was expecting.
"Hi Doctor Healy," Janet said with a smile.
"Hello Janet," the doctor- Janet's gender identity counsellor- replied with an obvious smile of her own. "Do you have the time to talk right now?"
"I'm at home, cleared my schedule- such as it is- for the evening, I'm ready when you are!" Janet replied, earning a chuckle from the woman on the other end.
"Excellent," Dr Healy replied. "Have you been keeping up with your mood diary?"
"I have," Janet replied. "Obviously the big one today is 'nervous', and 'anxiety', some 'terror' too..."
"Ah, of course, today was the big day," Dr Healy replied. "It's only natural to be nervous before starting a new job, and in your circumstances, that's especially the case. How did it go today?"
"It had its ups and downs," Janet sighed. "I finished the whole shift without a meltdown, which is a positive."
"I'm hoping that's not the only positive!" Dr Healy chuckled. "What would you say was the biggest positive of the day, a single thing that made you smile, no matter how trivial?"
"...Probably meeting my supervisor," Janet replied. "She listened, she really took an interest... At one point I thought she was going to hit me up for Stephanie Abbott's autograph, heh."
"That's good," Dr Healy said. "You have friend, a confidant you can speak to, especially as she's also someone you can go to if you have any 'problems'."
"Yeah, I had more than a few of those too," Janet sighed. "Some people unloaded their trolley than saw me sat at the checkout and just loaded it straight back up again."
"I trust your managers understand that that is the customers' problem and not yours?" Dr Healy asked.
"Oh- definitely," Janet said. "But it still IS a problem. Probably always will be."
"But was every customer you dealt with like that?" Dr Healy asked.
"No, actually," Janet replied. "A lot of them were actually very friendly. Even got a 'you go girl' from a few, heh."
"Ah, that's good to hear!" Dr Healy said with a chuckle. "Every cheer you get is proof that you're where you belong, in the life you belong in. These customers will eventually become regulars, and each time they see you, it's because they saw your checkout and chose to go to it."
"Yeah, I never really had a 'regular cashier' whenever I bought groceries," Janet chuckled. "But I appreciate what you're saying, and I get what you mean. I think, heh."
"Basically, focus on the positives," Dr Healy said. "The first day in a new job is always the hardest. 8 hours can feel like 8 weeks, heh. But day two will be easier, and day three easier than that... Eventually, you won't even think about doing the job, and you won't even think about the people you deal with."
"That's the long term goal, I guess," Janet sighed. "Though I don't want to be working at bloody Tesco until I keel over... After my, well, 'episode', my old career isn't an option. Probably wouldn't have been very welcome if I'd gone into work in a skirt even if I hadn't been sectioned."
"Well there are plenty of other career options," Dr Healy advised.
"Maybe for someone half my age," Janet sighed. "The bottom rung isn't a pleasant place to be when you're 42, regardless of whether or not you're transgendered."
"But it's not impossible for you to get as good a job, or an even better job than the one you had before," Dr Healy stated. "You got this job. That shows that you're willing to work, and you can use it as a stepping stone. Don't think of yourself as being 42- think of yourself as being ONLY 42. I speak to a lot of men and women in your position who assume that because they're in their forties, or even their fifties or sixties, it means they've left it too late to transition, or live the life they always wanted. You're proof that that's simply not the case."
"...Thanks," Janet whispered.
"You've overcome a lot," Dr Healy said, "and achieved a lot of goals. Time to set yourself some more to achieve."
"Heh, kinda like the college girls," Janet mused. "I served a group of college girls this morning who were buying snacks. Couldn't have been more than 16 or 17, got their whole lives ahead of them..."
"As have you," Dr Healy reminded Janet. "I trust that if they're that young, they had no problem with you?"
"None," Janet said with a smile. "No obvious problem, anyway. One of them even seemed- nah, this'll sound silly..."
"No, go on," Dr Healy urged.
"It felt like- it felt like I kinda knew her, you know?" Janet said. "Like there was something about her... She'd obviously, you know, 'clocked' me, but I'm sure I saw her face somewhere before..."
"Working where you do, you must see thousands of faces each day," Dr Healy said. "Probably someone you thought you knew, maybe from your past, I don't know."
"...You're probably right," Janet said with a sigh. "You know, I actually am looking forward to tomorrow now?"
"Good," Dr Healy said. "You don't need to be afraid to be who you are, Janet."
"I won't be," Janet said with a confident grin as she relaxed into her sofa and sipped her tea, listening to what her counsellor had to say to her.
"Come on, wake-" Kacey urged, before letting out a startled squeak as her housemate suddenly sat bolt upright.
"I'm awake!" Ellie said, smirking briefly as she pulled a dramatic pose for her friend.
"You sound... Happy," Kacey mused. "Get much sleep?"
"A little," Ellie shrugged as she headed toward the bathroom to get ready for the day. "Can we stop off at Tesco on the way to college?"
"Umm... Sure, I guess," Kacey replied. "I was going to say the same thing... Only I want to go for food, and NOT to chat up one of the cashiers..."
"Ugh- first, I'm not 'chatting her up', for god's sake," Ellie snorted. "I just- I just need to, you know, see her again, that's all."
"I get it," Kacey said. "Will you actually say anything this time, though?"
"Yes," Ellie sighed. "I- I dunno... What exactly do I say, though? 'Hi, I'm Ellie, I was born with a dick as well'?"
"If you went a little lighter on the make-up it might help," Kacey said.
"What, to make it 'obvious'?" Ellie snorted.
"I didn't mean it like THAT," Kacey retorted. "But, you know, it might help you, you know, 'connect'..."
"Nuh-uh," Ellie replied. "It's my face, and if I want to cover it in make-up, I will."
"Suit yourself," Kacey shrugged. "If you take less than an hour to do that I'd be grateful, don't want to end up being late again..."
A short while later, Ellie emerged from the bathroom with her face made-up, her hair brushed into its usual loose style and a clingy long-sleeved top, a pair of translucent tights and a pair of tight black shorts covering her young, slim body. A short while later, the pair boarded their bus, where they met up with the third member of their 'trio', who instantly sussed that something was weighing on the blonde girl's mind.
"Hey girlies!" Monique giggled as she sat down on the seat behind Ellie and Kacey. "So... We stopping off at Tesco again, right?"
"Is it seriously THAT obvious?" Ellie sighed.
"You know she might not even work Tuesdays, right?" Monique asked.
"She's not going to only work one day a week, is she?" Ellie retorted. "If we keep going in, we'll see her again eventually..."
"So you ARE going to try to meet her!" Monique said with a smug tone of voice.
"Well- duh," Ellie replied, her own defiance quickly fading. "I need to, you know, meet her..."
"Which is understandable," Kacey said, silencing her dark-skinned friend. "For, you know, support..."
"I guess," Monique shrugged. "God, wouldn't it be awkward if, you know, she WASN'T transgendered?"
"Yeah, I- I'm pretty certain we don't have to worry about THAT," Kacey sighed as the bus drew ever closer to its stop, and Ellie grew increasingly nervous...
Janet let out a long sigh as she stared at the couple approach her checkout with a trolley full of groceries, only to immediately change their mind and find another till instead- even though that till had a long queue, whilst Janet's till had none.
"It's not like you're going to catch it," Janet mumbled under her breath as she stealthily adjusted her opaque black tights.
Janet's wait for a customer would be short-lived, though, as within minutes, a familiar group of three girls approached her checkout. Janet put on her sweetest smile as the three teenagers paid for their snacks, but her smile began to waver as the last of the three girls- the blonde girl who had intrigued her the previous day- hesitated while paying for her purchases. Sensing the teenager's nerves, Janet cleared her throat and tried to break the awkward silence.
"H- hello again," Janet said with a smile. "You were in here yesterday, weren't you?"
"Umm, yeah," the blonde girl mumbled. "Hi..."
"Hi," Janet said quietly. "Did- did you find everything you were looking for?"
"Umm, yeah," the girl repeated, her voice wavering in a way Janet was all too familiar with. "I, um, I need to go..."
"You have fun at college," Janet said softly. "See you tomorrow, maybe?"
"Umm, maybe," the blonde girl mumbled as she left the supermarket, leaving Janet to sigh heavily. The waver in the girl's voice was one Janet herself had experienced many times- each time when attempting to mask her natural deep voice with a higher pitched, more feminine tone. It was a skill she hadn't quite mastered yet, and by the sound of things, nor had the girl. Janet knew why the girl had somehow seemed 'familiar' to her- and also why the girl seemed so interested in her.
As the blonde girl rejoined her friends, Janet felt a twinge of envy- at 5' 7" and with a slender build, she passed a lot better than Janet could ever dream of, and obviously also had friends and a social life, and had her whole life ahead of her, filled with limitless possibilities. She may have had to have started all over again recently, but it was undoubtedly easier to do that at 16 or 17 than at 42.
Janet shook her head as she watched the girl depart, silently chastising herself for her envy and for prejudging the girl based on just two short meetings. Sure, the girl had friends, but that didn't mean that she had a happy home life- Janet reasoned that the girl's coming out could easily have gone as badly as her own. And while she had two friends who obviously accepted her, that wasn't to say that the other hundreds of students at her college did. And there were countless of other factors that could be conspiring to make her new female life a misery. After all, if a superstar like Stephanie Abbott needed to stay in a psychiatric hospital, then anyone could.
And yet, Janet couldn't help shake the feeling that even though she knew why the girl familiar, that she knew her somehow, that she'd seen her face some place before...
"We're coming in here tomorrow, aren't we?" Monique asked with a loud sigh as Ellie cringed. "How many words did you say to her, two, three?"
"I need to work up to it, you know," Ellie mumbled. "She probably didn't even realise, you know, about me..."
"With all the make-up you wear, I'm not surprised!" Monique snorted. "Though, you know, I get why you wear it, like..."
"...Topic change?" Kacey asked, sighing as Ellie nodded her head. "Okay then, who do you reckon's going out of Strictly this weekend?"
"If it ain't Ed Balls it's an in-fucking-justice," Monique scoffed. "Though Daisy's been in the bottom two twice now, like?"
"Reckon the BBC are getting at her 'cause her dad's doing the Voice on ITV?" Kacey asked.
"Dunno, maybe," Monique shrugged. "What you reckon, Ellie?"
"Huh?" Ellie mumbled, having been suddenly startled by the mention of her name. "Umm... Yeah. Ed's gotta go, right?"
"We won't make any jokes about you wanting to 'get rid of Balls'," Kacey said, smirking as Ellie let out a small giggle.
"GOOD," Ellie said as she and her friends left the supermarket- though she couldn't help but cast a glance behind her at the older transwoman as she left, wondering what, if anything, she would say to her the following day if they met again...
As usual, the day at college was long and tiring, and when Ellie returned to her friend's house, she hoped that she would be able to relax and wind down. The sight that greeted her, however, made Ellie fear that that wouldn't be possible for a very, very long time.
"Wh- what's happening?" Ellie screeched as she saw her friend's father carry two large bin liners out to his car- bin liners filled with her possessions.
"D- dad?" Kacey stammered, every bit as surprised as Ellie herself was.
"What's happening," Kacey's father explained, "is that your friend is going to find herself a new home!"
"Wh- what new home?" Ellie pleaded, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. "I've got nothing! Nowhere to go, no one to help... You were literally the only people willing to help out!"
"Yep," Mr. Harris replied. "And in return, you said you'd look for a place of your own and find a job. Have you done either of those things, or have you just been laid on our couch the whole time eating our food?"
"I- I've looked for a job, I swear I have," Ellie blubbed.
"'Looking' isn't the same thing as 'finding'," Mr. Harris scoffed. "If we'd just left you to it, you'd have still been on our sofa when you were forty. This way, you'll hopefully be a little more motivated to start doing things for yourself!"
"By throwing me out on the street?" Ellie screeched.
"I'm not 'throwing you out on the street'," Mr. Harris retorted. "There's a homeless shelter not far from here, I've had a word and they're going to give you a roof until you find your own place."
"A- a homeless shelter?" Kacey said, tears beginning to form in her own eyes. "Dad, you know what Ellie's been through, you can't-"
"I could always give her your room and take you to the homeless shelter," Mr. Harris interrupted, silencing his daughter before turning to the girl who had slept on his sofa for the previous few weeks. "Get in."
With her cheeks burning and tears trickling down her cheeks, Ellie shuffled to the passenger door and took a seat in the car. As she passed Kacey, she noticed that the brown-haired girl wasn't able to return her gaze, her face instead turned to the floor in shame- but Ellie also knew that Kacey could have done a lot more to defend her. Instead, she'd have her own bed and her own room in her own house with her own family, while Ellie's future had been thrown into chaos.
"Just so you know," Mr. Harris said as he reversed his car off of his driveway, "this has nothing to do with you being transgendered. I have no problem with my daughter having a transgendered friend, as long as they're actually a good influence and don't leech off of my hard-earned money!"
"Yeah, that's not really a comfort," Ellie snorted.
"...I could always drop you off here and let you walk to the homeless shelter if you'd prefer?" Mr. Harris asked, staring expectantly at the blonde girl.
"...Sorry," Ellie mumbled. "And thank you for the lift."
"Better," Mr. Harris said, taking a deep breath to calm himself as he drove the short distance to the homeless shelter.
No words were exchanged between the girl and the older man as he pulled up outside the shelter and placed her belongings on the kerb, though Ellie did wave at the car as it drove away- though once she was certain that her friend's father was no longer looking, her friendly waved turned into a middle-fingered salute.
"Fuck you," Ellie mouthed, before sighing as she picked up her belongings and headed into the shelter, shivering with fear as she approached the front desk.
The once source of comfort for Ellie was that she would be placed in the female dorm for her stay at the shelter- the manager of the place being unwilling to face a lawsuit- but even that comfort when she saw what laid inside the dorm. The only place she could store her belongings was an upright locker barely a quarter the size of the average wardrobe, her 'bed' was little more than a mattress with a plain white sheet lazily thrown over it, and worse yet, she had nowhere to charge her phone- which was already down to its last scrap of battery power.
As she tried to cram her meagre belongings into her even more meagre storage, Ellie found herself weeping openly. She'd heard stories about how, in the past, people would be imprisoned for being gay, or openly transgendered, and she knew that the same thing happened in some third world countries in the present day as well. Ellie never expected that it would happen to her, someone living in the world's fifth largest economy in 2016.
As Ellie laid on her mattress, she tried desperately to think of a way, any way to dig herself out of the hole she'd found herself in, but nothing came to mind. With tears in her eyes, Ellie wondered if anyone would miss her if she died tomorrow- her family certainly wouldn't, her friends would barely notice and there was no one else in her life who cared for her... Except maybe, maybe one person.
With no other options, she switched on her phone, praying that it would have enough battery and data allowance for what she needed, logged into Facebook and started typing a message.
'Hi Stephanie,' Ellie typed. 'I don't know if you remember me, but we met last month. I hate to have to come to you like this, but I have no one else to turn to, and I'm in desperate need of help...'
Janet let out a long sigh as she kicked off her shoes and relaxed onto her sofa after her second day as a supermarket cashier. As Dr Healy had all but promised, it had been smoother than the previous day, but there were still many moments that Janet would like to forget, customers who looked down their nose at her, customer who winced when she handled their groceries, customers who refused to even allow her anywhere near them.
But as with the day before, Janet got through the day. She entered the store as a woman, and as the skirt, blouse and make-up she wore attested, she left the store as a woman. The customers may have denied her their custom, but they would never be able to deny her her femininity.
However, for all that Janet had gained, she had lost so, so much more. Her old friends, her old life, and worst of all, her family. Janet sighed as she picked up her phone and, in what had become a twisted ritual for her, browsed to the two pages she had bookmarked on her web browser- the Facebook profiles of Ethan Cole and Lindsay Cole, her children. Janet sighed as she stared at the two teenagers' faces, knowing what would happen next.
As she typed in her email address and password, Janet silently cursed herself. She knew full well what the result would be, but she continued to torture herself anyway on the off chance that maybe, just maybe, the inevitable WOULDN'T happen.
However, as it had on the countless previous times, the inevitable message popped up on the phone's screen- 'you have been blocked from viewing this profile'. Janet let out a long, pained groan and threw her phone onto the sofa, silently weeping at the injustice of the world. She was about to switch her phone off completely when her phone pinged to inform her of a new message on Facebook messenger. Janet allowed herself to get her hopes up that it was one of her children contacting her, before chastising herself once again for being unrealistic.
When she read who the message was from and what it contained, though, she realised that her hopes could have been even less realistic...
Ellie kept her head held low as she walked out of the crowded college building. Her first full day of homelessness had started poorly, with her being unable to shower and barely getting enough time to wash her face and use the toilet, and no time to apply the make-up that she loved- or even to fish it out from the back of her overstuffed locker. With the homeless shelter being further from her college than Kacey's home, she'd been forced to take the tube instead of the bus, which was an experience that always stressed her out, and when she arrived at the college, Kacey and Monique tried their hardest to avoid her- though whether this was out of the shame of being associated with a homeless person, or shame at their inaction, Ellie couldn't say. The one saving grace of the day was that she'd been able to sneakily plug her phone in to charge during her class, and when she left the college, she switched the phone on- and a genuine smile crept across her face for the first time in several days when she discovered that her desperate plea had been answered.
'Meet me at the Costa near the Redbridge tube station at 4pm,' Stephanie had typed. 'Got someone I'd like you to meet.' Ellie took a deep breath to calm her nerves and stop her hands from shaking as she sent a reply confirming that she'd be at the coffee shop. She immediately set off toward her destination, almost running at times due to her anxiety and her eagerness to once again meet her famous friend- who, she noted, had done more to help her than her 'real' friends had.
Ellie arrived at the coffee shop ahead of time and ordered herself a drink while she waited, but her wait was short-lived, as a few minutes later, the confident, brown-haired figure of Stephanie Abbott breezed into the building with a wide grin on her face. Ellie giggled nervously as the famous singer approached her, though her nerves quickly changed to surprise when she saw who was accompanying her.
"Y- You!?" Ellie exclaimed.
"Thanks for meeting up like this," Stephanie said, greeting Janet with a gentle hug as they met outside the supermarket where she worked. "Job going well, then?"
"As well as can be expected for a 42 year old rugby player wearing a dress," Janet sighed, earning a loud groan from her famous friend.
"Ugh, how many times," Stephanie sighed. "You are gorgeous and girly, no matter your height, your build or your age. If you dedicate yourself to being the woman you want to be, then you ARE the woman you want to be, end of story."
"Easy to say when you're on hormones," Janet retorted, though her playful tone of voice earned a giggle from the singer.
"Yeah, well THEY were hard earned," Stephanie sighed. "And you will earn them too, Janet. I promise. Sooner rather than later, I'm willing to bet."
"Fingers crossed," Janet sighed as the two women headed to the taxi that Stephanie had booked." So, who's this girl you want me to meet?"
"Her name is Ellie Blake," Stephanie explained. "I met her last month when the band did an outreach thing at her college, we chatted briefly, I added her on Facebook, thought everything was okay. Last night, she messages me saying she's in a homeless shelter thinking of ending it all."
"Poor girl," Janet breathed.
"Obviously, I can't ignore THAT," Stephanie explained. "Then I remembered that you had a spare room, and- well, I don't want to be an imposition, but Kayla and I don't have a spare room, I wouldn't feel right dumping her onto my parents, and- and I, umm..."
"You thought I'd be lonely, all by myself in my flat?" Janet asked, smiling as Stephanie blushed and nodded. "Well... You'd kinda be right, heh. But I'm going to want to meet this girl first."
"Oh, I reckon you'll like her," Stephanie said with a smile. "She's a bit, you know, teenager-ish..."
"Raised two of them already, know what I'm doing," Janet said with a smile as the taxi arrived at the coffee shop and the two women entered the building. As she saw the identity of the person waiting for them, though, Janet's jaw dropped in shock.
"Y- you!?" The blonde girl who had stopped at Janet's checkout twice in two days exclaimed as she saw her approach.
"Y- you?" Janet replied.
"Wait- do- do you two know each other already?" Stephanie asked.
"Well- yes and no," Janet breathed as she sat down opposite the blonde girl. "She- she's come into my supermarket. Twice."
"Yeah," The blonde girl confirmed. "Coincidence, huh?"
"Nah," Stephanie shook her head. "I don't believe in coincidence. Obviously you were meant to meet."
"Are you sure?" The blonde girl asked.
"I remember my first audition for Out of Heaven," Stephanie retorted. "I was nervous as hell, when another girl sat down next to me, we got chatting and instantly became friends. Know who that girl was? Her name was Kayla Ford. And right now, she's not just my bandmate, not just my flat mate, but she's my best mate. Fate brought us together, I'm sure of it, and it's brought you two together too."
"I- I'm not so sure," the blonde girl said.
"Well I AM," Stephanie said firmly. "Janet Cole, meet Ellie Blake. Ellie, meet Janet." Stephanie watched apprehensively as the two women sized each other up, before the older of the two took a deep breath to speak.
"So- so you're Ellie, then?" Janet asked, chuckling in an attempt to clear her head.
"Uh- uh-huh," Ellie replied. "And- and you're Janet?"
"Yep," the middle-aged woman replied, extending a hand. "Nice to meet you, Ellie."
"Nice to meet you too," Ellie whispered, exchanging a limp handshake with the older woman. "So- so you are-"
"Yep," Janet said with a playful sigh. "As- as are you, right?"
"Uh-huh," Ellie mumbled, averting her gaze.
"Hey," Stephanie said firmly. "There's no need to be ashamed of who we- who WE- are. None at all. We are all girls, right?"
"'Girl' might be stretching it in my case," Janet chuckled.
"ALL of us," Stephanie insisted, grinning with determination as Janet nodded. "So let's look each other in the eye and talk, girl to girl. I'll go first, even though, well, you both know me. I'm Stephanie Abbott, but I was born as 'Stephen' Abbott. I'm twenty years old, and I've been fascinated with girly things my whole life. And, well, I joined a girl band, became rich and famous and nearly went round the bend as a result. But my friends, my family and my counsellors helped me out, and now I've been on HRT for a month and I have no intention of looking back."
Stephanie watched on like a proud parent as Janet and Ellie exchanged their stories, and the more they talked, the more at ease the two women became with each other, until they were eventually smiling at each other's anecdotes and even laughing at points.
"I can't imagine what it'd be like," Ellie sighed. "If my parents suddenly transitioned."
"I've often wondered what it'd be like to have a transgendered child," Janet replied. "Son or daughter. I'd like to think I'd be, you know, supportive, help them to understand themselves..."
"You'd be a lot better than my parents, then," Ellie sighed. "Actually... I reckon you'd be a good parent."
"'Mum' or 'dad'?" Janet asked, making the teenaged girl blush.
"Both," Ellie said. "Or either. I dunno." Ellie grimaced as her non-committal response created an awkward silence at the table
"So, then..." Stephanie said. "Janet, you have a spare room, and Ellie, you need a place to stay..."
"It's not a huge room," Janet sighed. "More of a glorified cupboard, really. But it's not too far from your college, and it would be YOUR room."
"It's more than anyone else has offered," Ellie said.
"And I'd need to clear it with my landlord," Janet continued. "Though he is a pretty easy-going guy. And I'd need to fill in paperwork, rearrange things like Child Benefit, get you registered..."
"Anything you want me to do there, I will," Ellie said.
"As will I," Stephanie said with a proud grin.
"And there's no guarantee that we won't-" Janet said, before chuckling. "That we won't get on each other's tits before too long, if you'll pardon the wording."
"It's exactly the way I'd have worded it," Ellie giggled. "So... Can I- can I get my stuff from the homeless shelter, then?"
"I don't see why not," Janet said, smiling as the blonde girl giggled excitedly for the first time in a very long time.
"You know," Stephanie mused as she and her friends finished their drinks, "I have a feeling that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship!"
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