Soixante-Trois Airlines, part 19

“…Happy birthday Amy-lie,” the assembled crowd sang in their loud, alcohol-fuelled voices. “Happy birthday to you!” The crowd cheered as the two young women at the front of the room- both of whom worse bright sashes with the logo ‘birthday girl’ written on them- blew out the two candles on the large cake in front of them.

“Ah, thank you, thank you!” Amy giggled. “But you are NOT calling us that!”

“I have been called worse,” Amelie shrugged as she barely suppressed a giggle. “But you are right. We do not want people to think that we are a couple, do we?”

“Damn right you don’t,” Ellen giggled as she wrapped an arm around the French girl’s waist and gave her a long, deep kiss, much to the delight of almost everyone in the crowd.

“Meh, especially as I’d only be marrying you for your money,” Amy shrugged, making Amelie giggle again.

“Speech!” Natalie called from the crowd.

“Just because you want my tongue out of your sister’s mouth,” Amelie teased, before giving Ellen another longer, deeper kiss.

“I’ll start then,” Amy said. “While you two finish sucking each other’s tonsils. Twelve months ago- well, twelve months and a day a go- I was a lonely, miserable, short BOY. And then, one year ago today, I received a present that read ‘to our child on their 21st birthday, boy or girl’, and all of a sudden, my life changed. For the better. In every measurable way. The way it improved most, though, is that I get to spend my second birthday as Amy with some of the best friends I’ve ever made. And Anna-Jade, wherever you are.”

“Get fucked!” Anna-Jade replied with a barely-contained laugh, making the room giggle.

“But seriously, thank you all!” Amy giggled. “Birthday girl number two, you ready?”

“It is not my birthday until tomorrow,” Amelie shrugged, giggling before giving Ellen another long kiss.

“Start talking!” Natalie growled, making the assembled crowd all laugh.

“Oh, very well,” Amelie said with an overly dramatic sigh, which was immediately followed by a girlish giggle. “Like Amy, I have not had a birthday like this before, but for very different reasons. You may be thinking that on my birthdays before, I would have received everything I ever wanted. But that is not true. All I wanted was to be a normal girl, to celebrate with friends. Your friendship is the greatest gift that I have ever received. So merci, merci beaucoup.” Amelie smiled happily as the crowd let out a collective ‘aww’ and applauded her speech.

“The helicopter was a great present though, right?” Paige yelled, making the French teenager giggle and roll her eyes.

“It will be if I am ever allowed to fly it myself!” Amelie retorted as she and Amy began cutting the cake and handing out slices to everyone. “I am not lying when I say that this is the best birthday party I have ever had, though. As you will find out tomorrow, heh!”

“It can’t be THAT bad, surely?” Paige asked her former trainee.

“It might not have been if it was not also my father’s birthday this week,” Amelie sighed. “Part of the reason all of my birthdays have been terrible, my father always insisted on celebrating his with mine, and as my father is Antoine Masson…”

“Say no more,” Jessica sighed, having heard all about Amelie’s family troubles from her fiancée. “Did- did you never have, you know, your own friends at the party?”

“If by friends you are saying ‘people my age’, then yes,” Amelie replied. “If you are saying ‘people who are friendly’, then definitely no. As you will see tomorrow.”

“I’m getting the feeling we’re not going to get any more spoilers,” Paige said with a snort of laughter.

“All I will say is that you should not expect to have as much fun as you are having tonight,” Amelie said with a sympathetic smile. “I know I shall not.”

“Aww, ma amie,” Zoe said, giving her countrywoman a playful hug. “If it helps you, it is my sister’s birthday on Tuesday and I will not have a lot of fun at that either!”

“Another birthday for the pile-up!” Ellen giggles. “And Rachel and Nat two weeks ago… Guess some people really like screwing at the start of March, heh.”

“Obviously that is language you must not use tomorrow,” Amelie sighed. "And that is our parents who you are speaking of!"

“Yeah, I know,” Ellen moaned, playfully resting her head on her lover’s shoulder.

“Now I know why you didn’t invite Anna-Jade,” Jessica giggled. “Have you still not told ‘Fat Tony’ about the two of you?”

“He is still trying to set me up with eligible bachelors in London AND Paris,” Amelie spat. “I do not think he would ever accept this.”

“It’s so weird though, when you think about it,” Hayley sighed. “A man from one of the most liberal countries in the world, which decriminalised homosexuality in the EIGHTEENTH century, and who runs an airline that’s hailed by LGBT groups, is so bigoted?”

“He has said he would fire you all tomorrow if he could,” Amelie spat. “You know who is his business inspiration.”

“Ugh, do I ever, the orange faced bas-“ Paige began, before being interrupted by the entire room.

“Drink!” All of the women- even those not paying attention to the conversation- yelled, giggling at the Scottish woman rolled her eyes, took a drink from a nearby table and finished it in one go.

“One of these days you may actually learn!” Natalie giggled, before handing Paige yet another drink. “Just in case you haven’t.”

“There’s a real part of me, though, that really wishes I could go to this party just to see for myself,” Hayley sighed. “Fun or no fun, you know?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll give you a full report on Monday,” Natalie chuckled. “How about you, Soph? Wish you were going to the second biggest party of the weekend?”

“Hmm?” Sophie replied, surprised by the unexpected use of her name.

“Your mind wandered off there, then?” Natalie giggled.

“Umm- yeah, a little,” Sophie said, giggling as she listened to the conversation about the following day’s party.

In truth, Sophie’s mind had been intently focussed on what was being said, as it had been at all the previous parties she’d attended- including her own party the previous month to celebrate her passing probation.

As Abbey- her mentor and fellow supporter- had promised, the party had a ‘Manchester United’ theme, meaning that Sophie and all the other girls at the party (with two obvious exceptions) spent the evening wearing the famous red shirts covering their torsos… And short, flirty party dresses and high heels covering their legs- or rather, covering very little of the tops of their legs. Even though it was her own party, Sophie took the opportunity to observe and compile information for her and Rachel’s expose, even if all she could think about was how strange she looked in her combination of styles- and that she genuinely didn’t know whether she’d rather pull on trousers instead of her dress or just remove the shirt entirely. The fact that it was a woman’s replica shirt did nothing to ease her anxiety either.

The action of pulling on a cocktail dress, or fastening a bra, or applying make-up had become second nature to Sophie, as had speaking with a soft, feminine voice, walking with a sway to her hips or sitting with her legs crossed. As the party went on, Sophie found that she barely even noticed the fact that she was wearing nylons, or that her feet were perched on top of stiletto heels, or even that she had soft, heavy mounds hanging from her chest. In the four months since she’d started working for Soixante-Trois Airlines and compiling her evidence for her expose, Sophie hadn’t just learned to act like a woman, but she’d begun to truly think like a woman as well- which made her next ‘task’ all the harder.

“Ehh, I’d better be getting off now,” Sophie said, looking at the dainty black watch on her wrist- a post-probation gift from her friends. “Got an early start tomorrow…”

“Where you jetting off to this time?” Natalie asked.

“Nowhere,” Hayley answered for the blushing brown-haired woman. “Miss Connelly’s got the next three days off!”

“Ooh,” Natalie teased. “Driving anywhere nice, then? Or getting on the train?”

“Umm, just going to meet up with some friends,” Sophie mumbled.

“Friends… Of, umm, of ‘James’?” Natalie asked. You could say that, Sophie thought to herself.

“Meh, it’s rude to pry,” Amy shrugged. “And I know it’s my party and all but I should probably head off soon as well, promised my parents I’d be at their place early.”

“Ah, you fucking lightweight,” Anna-Jade teased, earning a giggle from the other red-haired girl.

“God, it must be fun when you two are on the same flight,” Rachel said with a chuckle. “Here, I’ll give the two of you a lift home. Probably left Danny by himself too long already, heh.”

“Cheers Rach,” Amy said, finishing her drink. “And thanks for hosting, Amelie, even if I am REALLY jealous of this flat!”

“You are welcome,” Amelie replied with a grin as she exchanged hugs with the three departing women. “Even if it is not MY flat…”

“Kinda feel bad about calling him ‘Fat Tony’ now,” Amy giggled.

“Trust in me, you should not be,” Amelie sighed. “Enjoy the rest of your birthday, Amy!”

“Thanks, girlie!” Amy said, making the Frenchwoman giggle.

“Good luck tomorrow,” Sophie whispered to Amelie. “Hope you’ll fill me on what happens?”

“You will get a total report,” Amelie said with a wink, giving Sophie another gentle hug as she and the other two Englishwomen departed.

“Thanks for the lift,” Amy said as she, Sophie and Rachel elegantly slid into the blonde woman’s car. “You didn’t drink much tonight, then?”

“I spend most of my life surrounded by booze, managing a bar,” Rachel shrugged. “And I drove here, don’t fancy leaving my car overnight, you know?”

“Worried it’ll get nicked?” Amy asked.

“In this part of London?” Rachel snorted. “More worried that it’ll get towed for not being posh enough to park here, heh.”

“What, a beamer, not posh enough?” Amy snorted.

“Take a look around,” Rachel sighed. “Count the number of Bentleys and Porsches you see.”

“…Okay, there’s more than a few,” Amy conceded. “It’s like Richard Hammond’s wet dream on this street.”

“Always thought I’d own one of those cars by the time I hit thirty,” Rachel mumbled, earning loud groans from her two friends.

“Still hung up on that, then?” Amy sighed. “Even despite that?” Despite herself, Rachel smirked as Amy gestured toward the sparkling diamond ring on her left hand, a gift from her new fiancé given the day before her thirtieth birthday.

“Oh believe me, I’d be WAY more depressed without this!” Rachel giggled. “Ah, you’re probably right, I dunno. I mean, my sisters are all mega-successful rich businesswomen and owned Porsches when they were thirty, kinda feel like I’ve got something to live up to, you know?”

“Ah, the advantages of being an only child!” Amy giggled, before grimacing as she glanced behind her at where Sophie was sat on the back seat. “Ehh… Sorry, Soph, didn’t mean-“

“It’s okay,” Sophie said with a smile. “You- You were referring to my parents, right?”

“Yeah,” Amy said softly. “Don’t worry ‘bout it, Soph. I’ve got a feeling things will start going well for you soon. Have you talked to your counsellor yet about reconciling?”

“…Here and there, we haven’t really discussed it in depth,” Sophie half-lied.

“Meh, plenty of pressure from my parents too,” Rachel shrugged, earning a silent ‘thank you’ from Sophie for changing the topic of conversation. “I mean, they SAY they’re proud of my achievements but you have to wonder whether or not ‘manager of a pub’ is THAT big a deal.”

“It’s a pub owned by a seriously rich guy,” Sophie shrugged. “You’ve made amazing contacts through your association with him.”

“And, let’s not forget, amazing friends too!” Amy cheered.

“Well- yeah, that’s definitely true!” Rachel giggled. “Doesn’t stop my parents from going on about grandchildren, though.”

“I mean, not many ordinary bar managers can claim to be friends with the likes of Charlotte Hartley, can they?” Amy asked in a hasty voice.

“Yep!” Rachel laughed. “Even if I have skipped their party in favour of yours. I’d definitely rather be at yours, though.”

“Aww, thanks!” Amy said with an excited giggle. “And if you’re talking about ‘achievements’, then it’ll surely be an achievement when you execute this ‘tutu project’ of yours, right? Might even get to buy that Porsche you always wanted, and without having to sell your soul to get it!”

“Well- here’s hoping!” Rachel giggled as she pulled up outside Sophie and Amy’s flat. “You two have fun tomorrow- take it neither of you will be at the ballet lesson?”

“No, reckon we’ll both be on the road by then,” Amy sighed. “And I know Hayley’s on a flight too.”

“Meh, well see you at the next one then,” Rachel shrugged. “Have fun tomorrow!”

“Oh, I doubt we’ll be having as much ‘fun’ as you!” Amy giggled. “Give our regards to ‘Fat Tony’!”

“Will do!” Rachel laughed as she pulled away, leaving the two younger women to head into their flat, where they were immediately greeted by a surprise.

“Hey Ames,” Sophie said as she reached for a brightly-coloured package that had been left on the coffee table, “did you forget to unwrap a present?”

“Ooh, I hope so!” Amy giggled as she kicked off her heels and skipped toward where the brown-haired girl was stood.

“Says it’s from ‘Jade’,” Sophie says, causing Amy’s enthusiasm to instantly vanish. “Secret girlfriend of yours?”

“Eh- heh, something like that,” Amy mumbled, all but snatching the gift out of Sophie’s hand and heading toward her bedroom. “I, umm, I- I should get an early night. Have fun at your- wherever you’re going, if I, umm, don’t see you tomorrow…”

“Yeah, night Amy,” Sophie whispered, confused by the ginger girl’s sudden change of attitude. Maybe Sophie wasn’t the only person living under her roof who harboured a secret… And whoever ‘Jade’ was, it was obviously sensitive to have such a serious effect on the usually bubbly Amy. Sophie had to remind herself to rein in her natural journalistic instincts to pry further- whatever ‘Jade’ was, it was unlikely to have anything to do with the airline and therefore irrelevant to the tutu project- and more to the point, Amy was her friend, and friends respected each other’s privacy. Still, it came as a source of comfort to Sophie to know that she wasn’t the only one harbouring a secret.

The following morning, Sophie was woken by the sound of her flat mates moving around, and briefly panicked, wondering whether or not she would be late for a flight, before remembering that she had three full days free from work- which also meant, for the first time since she started working for Soixante-Trois Airlines, that she had three full days free from ‘Sophie’.

“Bye Soph!” Hayley yelled as she left the flat. “Have fun at your- wherever you’re going!”

“Will do!” Sophie replied, before coughing twice in a token effort to shift the femininity from her voice.

When she was convinced she was alone in the flat, Sophie swung her hairless legs out of bed and padded toward the shower, staying under the hot, flowing water for over ten minutes as she let it wash away her tension. After drying herself off, Sophie returned to her room, where she took a bottle of nail polish remover and meticulously removed every trace of the red polish from her fingernails and toenails, before returning the bottle to her dressing table and staring at the cosmetics laid out in front of her.

She wouldn’t have to wear a single trace of make-up for three whole days. She wouldn’t even have to shave for three whole days, or style her hair, or wear earrings. As Sophie stared into her lingerie drawer, she sighed at the knowledge that none of the contents of the drawer would have any contact with her skin for the next 72 hours. Instead, Sophie pulled on a pair of comfortable boxer shorts and a pair of thick black socks, before stepping into a pair of loose-fitting dark blue jeans, a plain white t-shirt and a baggy dark blue sweater.

As James stared at his reflection in his mirror, he breathed a sigh of relief. At long last, he was himself again. So why, he asked himself, did he have a craving to reach into ‘Sophie’s underwear drawer and pull on one of ‘her’ thongs? Why did his chest feel wrong without a pair of breasts attached? And why did it feel unnatural to walk in a pair of flat men’s shoes?

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“Hi mum!” Amy said with a giggle as her mother opened the door and grinned widely at the sight of her only child.

“Hello, birthday girl!” Mrs. Harris said, giving the red haired woman a tight hug. “Steve! She’s here!”

“Hello, Amy!” Mr. Harris said, wrapping his daughter in a tight hug before ushering her into their plush living room. “So, how was the big, fancy party last night?”

“It was great!” Amy giggled as she sat down on the sofa and crossed one dark, nylon-covered leg over the other. “Lucky me, eh, being born a day- well, 2 years and a day- before a billionaire princess!”

“Lucky you having such amazing friends!” Mrs. Harris replied. “Especially ones who can help you on your journey.”

“Yeah, they have been REALLY supportive,” Amy chuckled. “Mum, last night I- I-“

“What is it?” Mr. Harris asked, concern spreading over his face.

“I- umm,” Amy mumbled. “I got- I got a present- a present from Jade.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Harris said, her face falling. “I didn’t even realise she knew where you lived.”

“I always make sure she’s got up to date contact details,” Amy said quietly.

“And- and was the gift-“ Mr. Harris asked. “Was it for- for ‘Amy’ or ‘Andy’?”

“…For ‘Amy’,” the ginger girl replied.

“Well- well that’s good, surely?” Mrs. Harris asked.

“It’s not like I’d completely burned my bridges,” Amy said with a snort of laughter.

“Are- are you going to see her?” Mr. Harris asked. “Whilst you’re in town, I mean.”

“I- I dunno,” Amy sighed. “I mean, obviously I want to, but- I don’t know that it won’t make things even MORE complicated.”

“Well- it’s up to you,” Mr. Harris said. “All I know is that you only have a limited number of days on this world, and you of all people should know that you only regret the things you DON’T do.”

----------

“Hi mum!” James said with a grin as his mother opened the door and smiled softly at the sight of her only child.

“Hello James!” Mrs. Connolly said, giving her son a gentle, awkward hug before leading him to the living room, where his father was sat reading the Sunday Times.

“Hi dad,” James said nervously, trying to control his breathing and, more importantly, his voice.

“Hi James,” Mr. Connolly said, putting down his newspaper and smiling at his son. “Still haven’t got your hair cut, then?”

“Umm, no,” James laughed, playfully brushing his growing brown hair behind his ears.

“Well, lucky your new job doesn’t have a dress code!” Mr. Connolly chuckled, nearly sending his son into hysterics. “How are things, anyway? Job still going well?”

“Yep!” James replied, barely suppressing a girlish giggle. “I, umm… Research for the story is- is coming along well. Better than ‘well’, in fact. Reckon I should have it out within a few months.”

“We look forward to reading it!” Mrs. Connolly said with a smile. I doubt it, James thought to himself. “Have you looked into what you’ll be doing once this story is finished? Going to stay freelance or going to try to get in on the ground floor with a newspaper?”

“Umm… Not thought that far ahead,” James replied. “Probably stay- stay freelance, I’ve kinda developed a test for, umm, investigative journalism…” And a taste for other things, James thought to himself.

“Well, as long as you’re doing something you love, and that pays the bills, that’s all we can ask for,” Mr. Connolly said with a grin.

“Well, that and a grandchild, eventually!” Mrs. Connolly chuckled. “Still single, I take it?”

“Work kind- kinda makes it hard there,” James said, cringing at the unintended innuendo in his words.

“There are no colleagues that you’ve taken a fancy to, then?” Mrs. Connolly asked.

“I doubt there would be, if he works freelance,” Mr. Connolly corrected his wife. “You’re only 23. Plenty of time to find the girl of your dreams, heh!”

“True,” James shrugged. “And I’ve been, you know, to a few parties… Was at one last night, in fact, a friend’s birthday.”

“Ooh, very nice!” Mrs. Connolly said with a grin. “Any girl take your eye?”

“Not really,” James replied. “There were only other- other, umm, boys there…”

“Ah,” Mr. Connolly said, before letting out a quiet chuckle. “Well, no danger of anything happening there, then!”

“Nope,” James said in a hasty, almost nervous voice.

“Either way, we’re sorry if you had to leave the party early on account of coming here,” Mrs. Connolly said softly.

“No, it’s okay,” James replied.

“Sure you wouldn’t rather be with your friends?” Mr. Connolly chuckled.

“No, honestly, I’m fine,” James half-lied. In truth, James would have loved nothing more than to have gone to Amelie’s party that evening, even if it meant wearing a dress, make-up and heels- things that James not only saw as not a burden, but things to be proud of being able to wear well. However, James was more than happy to not be where many of his friends were at that exact moment…

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“Is that really the best you can do?” Zoe said with a loud sigh, placing her hands on her hips as her ‘students’ attempted to pirouette across the room.

“Oh, give us a break,” Paige retorted as she straightened her leotard. “Maybe if I’d been doing this since I was 4…”

“I have been teaching you for months now,” Zoe sighed. “Could you please try learning?”

“You’re the one who’s put the lesson on a Sunday morning!” Abbey giggled. “Try rearranging for a time when everyone ISN’T hungover!”

“Excuses, excuses,” Natalie tutted as she effortlessly pirouetted across the floor en pointe, only to stumble after her third pirouette and land hard on her bottom. “Ow…”

“Serves you right for showing off!” Ellen shouted, giggling loudly as Natalie responded with an obscene hand gesture.

“Enjoy the fun while it lasts,” Amelie sighed, nervously picking at her tights. “Tonight will NOT be as fun.”

“Tonight is just one night,” Ellen said, linking fingers with her lover. “And I’ll be there, so will your friends.”

“I wish I could bring more friends,” Amelie mumbled. “I do not think you will not be good, but-“

“We know, we know,” Ellen cooed softly. “But that just means that we should have as much fun as we can now, right?”

“Damn right!” Zoe giggled.

“And on that note,” Rachel said with a smug grin, “Miss- sorry, Mademoiselle Renou, isn’t there a tradition concerning your students and their birthdays?”

“Why, yes there is, Miss Harrison,” Zoe replied, grinning smugly as she headed into the store room, only to return moment later with a clothes rack containing one thing- an extravagant, frivolous pink tutu.

“…I am supposed to wear that!?” Amelie asked incredulously.

“I did last Sunday,” Natalie replied. “Rach did the Wednesday before that.”

“And you’ll look a LOT better in it than they will!” Ellen giggled, giving her lover a kiss on her long, slender neck.

“So come on,” Paige said with a smug grin. “Get that leotard off!”

“In- in here!?” Amelie hissed. “Before everyone?”

“We’re all girls, aren’t we?” Rachel asked with a warm smile.

“Umm,” Amelie replied, her eyes darting between Paige, Natalie, Abbey and Rhianna, all of whom bit their lip uncomfortably.

“…I’ll go first, if it helps,” Ellen said, lowering the straps of her leotard and letting her breasts hang free.

“Agh!” Natalie shrieked, averting her eyes. “Do NOT need to see that!”

“Oh don’t be such a bloody wimp!” Ellen snorted. “Dressed like this, we’re sisters, aren’t we?”

“Still doesn’t mean I want to see THAT,” Natalie moaned.

“Fine,” Zoe said, removing her cardigan and lowering the straps of her own leotard. “I know for a fact that you like seeing THIS!”

“Well- yes,” Natalie said, sighing before lowering the straps of her leotard and holding her hands over her flat, 'unendowed' chest. One by one, the women in the room followed suit, eventually leaving Amelie as the only one whose chest was covered up.

“If you could hurry up, please,” Zoe asked. “It is NOT warm in here!” Amelie let out an embarrassed sigh, before sliding her tight leotard off of her body and stepping into the tutu that her countrywoman was holding open for her.

“If it helps,” Ellen said as she and the other women began rearranging their leotards, “your father would probably have a heart attack if he saw you like this!”

“Trust in me, he would not,” Amelie replied. “He would think that it was time I became more feminine.”

“And what’s wrong with being feminine?” Natalie asked, placing her hands on her hips.

“You can ask my father tonight when you see him,” Amelie replied. “That is if you want to be fired.”

“Worth remembering, I guess,” Natalie shrugged, before smiling as Zoe produced a sparkling silver tiara from a soft pouch.

“Ugh, as I am not treated like a princess enough,” Amelie spat, before sighing and lowering her head, allowing Zoe to ‘crown’ her.

“Every girl should be treated as a princess on her birthday,” Zoe said with a grin.

“As long as the ‘king’ agrees,” Amelie sighed heavily as she began her dance…

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“Wow,” Jessica breathed as she and her five friends strode out into the grand ballroom at the Montcalm hotel. Each woman’s hair and make-up was impeccable, they wore their most expensive dresses and shoes and their best jewellery, but they still felt criminally underdressed for such a venue.

“That’s what a net worth of five billion euros will get you,” Natalie whispered with a derisive snort.

“Bet a lot of the rich nobs here will be surprised when they realise you’re the stewardess they flew over with,” Paige teased her fiancée.

“They probably won’t be able to keep their hands off my ass here either,” Jessica mused, making her fiancée snort with laughter. “Fortunately, if any of them ask, we all have a reason to say no.”

“A bit like Henry VIII, right?” Natalie chuckled. “Engaged, engaged, gay, engaged, engaged, engaged.”

“Four of us also qualify as gay AND engaged!” Paige said, triggering a mass giggle among five of the women.

“Girls? Best behaviour please?” Ellen asked.

“YOU’RE telling US to be on our best behaviour?” Rachel asked with a giggle.

“This is important to Amelie,” Ellen replied. “That makes it important to me.”

“Okay, okay, we’ll be on our best behaviour,” Natalie assured her sister. “Where is the birthday girl, anyway?”

“They picked her up early,” Ellen explained. “Took her to see her father… Think her brothers and sisters are here too.”

“Ooh, we get to meet Eric, Junior and Ivanka?” Jessica asked.

“They’d better not-“ Paige muttered, before Ellen hastily clamped a hand over her mouth.

“Try to keep a lid on your inner commie, okay?” Ellen advised.

“Amelie’s probably more commie than any of us,” Paige retorted.

“Well- yes,” Ellen sighed. “But this is one night when we ALL need to be on our best behaviour. Okay?”

“Swot,” Natalie teased, before withering under a fierce glare from her sister.

“You really do love her, don’t you?” Jessica asked, earning a sweet smile from the younger woman.

“I honestly do,” Ellen sighed. “I dunno. Maybe Briggs girls are just destined to fall in love with French girls.”

“I will not complain,” Zoe said with a grin, before taking a deep breath as the main door to the room opened to reveal the tall, smiling figure of Antoine Masson, flanked by all five of his children. Ellen’s eyes briefly met Amelie’s as the Masson family approached a small stage that had been set up at the side of the room, before the twenty year old Frenchwoman was ushered into place behind her father.

“Madames et monsieurs,” Monsieur Masson announced. “Or I should say, ladies and gentlemen!” The 53 year old billionaire paused and soaked in the laughs of his audience. “Thank you all for coming tonight. I hope your flights from Paris were all acceptable!” The middle-aged man paused again as the crowd once again laughed on cue. “Tonight, we celebrate the life of a very special young woman. A woman who is headstrong, who is very intelligent and who has a fire in her belly. Much like me, when I was starting in this business! My beautiful Amelie, twenty years ago you were a gift from god. Bon anniversaire!”

“Bon anniversaire!” The crowd cheered as Amelie stepped up to the microphone, her long, expensive evening gown flowing around her legs with every step.

“Merci, mon pere,” Amelie said in a soft, demure voice.

“When you first told me that you wished to complete your year of work for me as a trolley dolly, I was not impressed at first!” Monsieur Masson said, earning a giggle from his daughter, laughs from the businessmen in the crowd and stern glares from the six women who had actually been flight attendants. “Then again, it could have been worse- it could have been one of my sons wishing to do this job!” Unbeknownst to the billionaire, the six women’s glares turned into angry scowls. “And I am sure many of your friends from Paris, the elite of that city would think less of you, but understand me, Amelie, I do not. You are doing honest work. I would not be where I am today without being willing to do honest work.” And your father’s legacy, the six women quietly thought to themselves. “You never fail to impress me in all you do, Amelie. You will always have my love, and my pride.”

“Merci,” Amelie whispered.

“And who knows?” Monsieur Masson continued. “After my meeting in July with President Trump and Madame Chao, perhaps you could be flying all the way to America? But hopefully with dignity!” Jessica squeezed her fiancée’s hand in an attempt to calm her down as she saw the Scottish girl begin to tremble with rage. “Amelie- thank you for the last twenty years. May there be many more!”

“Salut!” the assembled crowd cheered, before preparing to dissipate and mingle, only to be called back to attention by a cough from the twenty year old woman.

“May I speak to you all,” Amelie said into the microphone, bringing a look of confusion to her rich father’s face.

“You do not usually speak…” Monsieur Masson mumbled. “But if it is your wish, then please do…”

“Merci,” Amelie said, taking a deep breath to calm her nerves. “Thank you all for coming tonight. It means a lot to me that you are all here tonight. But I have an announcement I must say to you all.”

“Wh- what’s she doing?” Ellen whispered, confused by her lover’s unexpected actions.

“For the past eight months,” Amelie announced, “I have had a lover. We are living together, and we are very much in love.”

“Quoi!?” Monsieur Masson snapped. “Who is he?” Amelie gulped as her father’s stare changed from one of confusion to one of anger.

“HER name,” Amelie whispered, eliciting gasps of shock from the crowd. “Is Ellen Briggs. She is a colleague, another one of ‘trolley dollies’ as you did say. Ellen, s’il vous plait?” Her legs quivering with nerves, Ellen slowly stepped toward the front of the room, where Amelie linked her fingers with her and gave her a long, deep kiss, eliciting even louder gasps than before and making her father’s and brothers’ faces redden with anger.

“You- you- she-“ Monsieur Masson babbled, before grabbing the microphone. “This party is over! Everyone, go home!” Dutifully, the assembled guests began to disperse and head for the door, but one of the women hesitated on the way.

“Should- should I do something?” Natalie whispered. “She IS my sister…”

“Call her when you get home,” Rachel advised. “Got a feeling Monsieur Masson will have a LOT to say… Sophie’s going to LOVE this one…”

“What’s Sophie got to do with this?” Paige asked.

“Uh, she- never mind,” Rachel sighed. “Let’s just get out of here before we end up in the firing line!” As if on cue, the five women flinched as they heard a loud roar come from behind them.

“ALANA!” Monsieur Masson bellowed, hastening the exit of all the partygoers apart from his children, their partners and the stewardesses’ terrified-looking manager.

“Don’t know about you girls, but I preferred yesterday’s party,” Natalie whispered, earning nods of agreement. “Kinda feel I should stick around, wait for Ellen…”

“She will be with Amelie,” Zoe reassured her fiancée. “She will be fine.”

“Assuming Amelie will be fine,” Natalie whispered. “I swear, if he does anything, SAYS anything to Ellen, I don’t care how rich he is, I-“

“Let’s- let’s sleep on this,” Zoe said softly. “Let’s be calmer tomorrow. You are on a flight, no?”

“Just Dublin, a quick one,” Natalie replied. “Think Ellen’s off to Madrid though…”

“Yep, on my flight,” Jessica sighed. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on her for you. Know a thing or two about being a big sister, heh.”

“Thanks, Jess,” Natalie sighed. “And you’re right, I guess, Ellen IS an adult, this is a decision she made for herself… Just hope it doesn’t land her in more trouble than usual…”

Unsurprisingly, Natalie didn’t get much sleep that night, meaning that Zoe didn’t either, and much to their surprise, neither did Jessica, Paige or Rachel, all of them distracted by their worry for their young friends. Jessica and Natalie both breathed a sigh of relief the following morning when they walked into the small locker area at Heathrow Airport to find Ellen already dressed in her tight red uniform.

“Hey,” Natalie whispered, giving the tearful-looking girl a gentle, sisterly hug. “You- you okay?”

“Been better,” Ellen moaned.

“What- what happened last night?” Jessica asked as she removed her tight pencil dress and changed into her own red uniform.

“Masson went MENTAL,” Ellen sighed. “Seriously, properly nuclear mental.”

“Jeez…” Natalie sighed.

“In fairness,” Jessica said softly, “Amelie probably could’ve found a better time to tell her father…” The American woman winced as Ellen frowned at the criticism of her girlfriend, before letting out a long, tired sigh.

“…You’re probably right,” Ellen conceded. “I said the same thing to her last night, Amelie replied by saying that she didn’t want to tell him in private in case he found some way to sweep it under the rug, or worse yet, spl- split the two of us up…” Natalie leaned in for another hug as her sister began to slowly weep.

“Oh- oh god, Ellen…” Natalie moaned. “Are- are you two-“

“I don’t think so,” Ellen replied. “Yeah, I know, what an answer, right? Basically Masson threatened to completely cut Amelie off if she didn’t break up with me. Didn’t make any difference when he found out that I WASN’T transgendered. I’ve got a few stories to tell you THERE, heh. He probably would’ve cut her off too, if Amelie’s younger sister didn’t stand up for her.”

“How old is her younger sister, anyway?” Jessica asked.

“Seventeen, that’s the impressive bit,” Ellen giggled. “Think she and Amelie are full sisters too, rather than half-sisters, as they’re so alike.”

“So Masson backed down?” Natalie asked.

“…I think so,” Ellen sighed. “Amelie went home with him, but she was going to anyway… And I know that Masson had a LONG talk with Alana after we left.”

“Never a good sign,” Natalie sighed.

“I think you expected that you wouldn’t be put on the same flights as Amelie anymore,” Jessica asked, smiling sympathetically as the younger woman nodded.

“Wasn’t Amelie scheduled on a flight today?” Natalie asked.

“Yeah, Brussels,” Ellen replied.

“Which means she SHOULD be here…” Jessica mused. “I- I’m sure it’ll be fine. I’ll try to keep your mind off of things while we’re in the sky, okay?”

“Sure,” Ellen said with a weak smile. “Thanks, big sis!”

“You’re gonna get a slap,” Natalie grumbled, making her sister and her friend giggle as they finished donning their uniforms and headed toward their planes.

----------

While her friends were already airborne and heading away from London, Sophie stirred in her bed, moaning happily as she opened her eyes, before staring in confusion at the initially unfamiliar room she found herself in- before remembering that the room was very familiar to her- and for the next few days, she WASN’T Sophie.

“Ugh,” James moaned, laying back on his pillow and gently stroking the light layer of stubble that had grown on his face over the course of the previous 24 hours. Almost on instinct, James headed through to the shower to shave his face clean of stubble, before turning his razor to the rest of his body, removing any stray hairs that had grown on his limbs or his chest since the last time he’d checked. When James stepped out of the shower, he had absolutely no hair on his body below his eyebrows- and that fact made him feel oddly satisfied, even as he covered his body with a fresh pair of jeans and a clean sweatshirt.

“Morning, then!” James’s mother said with a chuckle as the young man came down the stairs and flopped into his spot on the sofa. “Have you really shaved two days in a row?”

“…My workplace kinda demands it,” James replied. “Good to, you know, get into the habit of it.”

“I thought you worked freelance?” Mrs. Connolly asked, making her son squirm. “Not that it matters, you do look much better clean-shaven.”

“Thanks,” James said. “And ‘freelance’ isn’t quite the same thing as ‘self-employed’, you know?”

“It’s your job, you know best,” James’s mother shrugged. “What do you have planned for today?”

“Probably just staying here,” James chuckled, patting the seat next to him. “Making the most of my time off, you know? Though I’ll probably do a little writing too…”

“On your latest story?” James’s mother asked, smiling as her son nodded. “Your dad will be proud that you’re working so hard at your job.” Probably not if he finds out what I’m writing about, James thought to himself.

“Thanks,” the brown-haired boy mumbled. “Umm, anything good on TV today?”

“Just the usual daytime shows,” James’s mother shrugged. “Think they’ve got that Hannah girl who won Strictly on This Morning this- well, this morning, heh.”

“Oh,” James, before a sudden wave of realisation washed over him. “Oh, is- isn’t she, you know, in that, like, modelling clique?” The one whose members- including Hannah herself- I’ve met more than once through my association with their dance teacher, James mentally continued his question.

“Yep, that’s her,” James’s mother replied. “Don’t tell me you’ve met her? Through work, maybe?” God, what are you, a mind reader? James thought to himself.

“…Nah, just know a few people who are fans, that’s all,” James said hesitantly. “Aren’t- aren’t they the group with, you know, a transsexual member?”

“I think so,” James’s mother replied with a confused look on her face. “Why are you so interested in them all of a sudden?”

“Oh- you’re the one who brought her up,” James reminded his mother. “It- it’s a bit weird, you know, isn’t it?”

“Oh it’s incredibly weird,” James’s mother snorted. “Waking up one day and deciding that you’re going to be a woman instead of a man… What kind of trauma must you go through to make THAT seem like an acceptable option?”

“Maybe merely being born male is traumatic enough for them?” James asked, making his mother pause for thought.

“…No, no, that can’t be right,” James’s mother said, shaking her head. “You are what you, and if you’re born a man, then that means you’re a man, simple as that. It doesn’t mean you can’t be depressed, but there are better ways to get over your depression then dressing up like a woman, surely?”

“I guess,” James shrugged, his heart sinking as he realised that he would never be able to confide in his parents about his experiences as ‘Sophie’. He’d known that they’d been conservatively minded, but had hoped that the examples of the likes of Jamie-Lee Burke and Stephanie Abbott would’ve been enough to open their mind. It was obvious from his mother’s words that that simply wouldn’t be the case.

James was so disappointed, in fact, that it took him a while to remember that unlike Amy, or Hayley, or any of her other friends and colleagues, he wasn’t ACTUALLY transgendered, and was only pretending to be for the purpose of her expose. And yet that still didn’t come as much of a comfort to the 23 year old man. And he still had people he could confide in, such as Rachel or Amelie, even if he had to pull on a dress, a leotard or a ridiculous costume to do so- none of which, much to James’s surprise, bothered him in the slightest.

“I think there’s an airline that only hires trannies, isn’t there?” James’s mother asked, causing the young man’s whole body to tense up. “I know I won’t be flying with THEM at any point in the future!” James forced out a laugh to disguise his sigh of relief- after the conversation he’d just had, the last thing he needed was to run into his parents on a flight…

----------

“Home, sweet Heathrow!” Natalie giggled as she returned to the locker room and eagerly stripped off her blazer, hat and shoes.

“Just glad it was an easy one today,” Rhianna said.

“Dublin’s always easy,” Carly said as she unfastened the gold buttons on her blazer. “Irish people are usually really laid back, especially about, well…”

“Girls?” Rhianna and Natalie asked simultaneously, making their petite blonde supervisor blush.

“Damn right!” Carly giggled.

“And thanks for leaving us in the lurch in one of the busiest months of the year, Nat,” Rhianna asked in her distinctive Scottish twang, making the Manchester native blush.

“Least I could do,” Natalie giggled.

“Have you got leave in December?” Carly asked.

“Zoe’s sister’s birthday tomorrow,” Natalie explained. “She’s 29- well, 29 tomorrow- so it’ll be her last one as an active stewardess, so we’re heading down to Nice to celebrate with the rest of her family.”

“So cool,” Rhianna sighed jealousy. “Wish I had a fiancé with family who lived on the Mediterranean coast…”

“Get yourself on more red route flights!” Carly teased, giggling as she untied her French plait and retied her long blonde hair into a smart ponytail. “Speaking of, are you going to wait for your sister?”

“Nah,” Natalie sighed as she was zipped into her tight black pencil dress. “We’ve arranged to meet up at Rachel’s pub, her and Amelie, assuming ‘the princess’ can get away from ‘the king’.”

“Another lover to be jealous of,” Rhianna said with a snort of laughter. “The daughter of a billionaire…”

“He’s got two others,” Natalie shrugged, before sighing as Carly rolled her eyes.

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” Carly snorted. “Like everything else I’ve pretended not to hear over the years…”

“Swot,” Natalie teased, before frowning as her supervisor’s mood didn’t improve. “Oh come on, Carly…”

“I’ll- I’ll leave you two it,” the petite supervisor said with a tired chuckle as she left the locker room.

“And I’ll leave you one to it,” Natalie said to her Scottish colleague, who giggled and waved as the Manchester native left the locker room, only to immediately discover her supervisor deep in conversation with her manager.

“Ah, Natalie,” Alana said with a stern look on her face. “Can you wait in the locker room, please? I’ll need to talk to you in a bit.”

“Umm… Sure,” Natalie said, returning to the locker room and gingerly taking a seat in her tight dress.

“Problem?” Rhianna asked, confused by Natalie’s sudden return.

“Eh, probably,” Natalie sighed. “Unless Alana wants to make me employee of the month.”

“Not likely,” Rhianna sighed. “Reckon it’ll have anything to do with last night?”

“Why would she need to talk to ME about that?” Natalie scoffed. “Amelie and Ellen are their own people. Ah, speaking of, better text her, tell her I might be running late…”

“When’s she getting in?” Rhianna asked.

“About 45 minutes,” Natalie shrugged. “We’ll probably end up going together.”

“With a £100 employee of the month voucher to spend while getting tanned in the south of France?” Rhianna teased.

“Piss off,” Natalie giggled, before waving after Rhianna as the Scottish girl left Natalie alone in the room.

Natalie waited for over an hour, during which several other crews came and went. The Mancunian girl began to suspect that she’d been forgotten about and was about and was about to go and check where her manager had got to, when another crew entered the locker room- a crew containing several very familiar faces.

“What are you still doing here?” Ellen asked her sister as she removed her red hat, blazer and shoes. “Thought we were going to meet at Rachel’s pub?”

“Yep, I thought that too,” Natalie sighed. “Alana practically jumped me as I left the locker room, said she wants to have a word with me, god knows why…”

“Oh,” Ellen said, her demeanour instantly darkening.

“…What?” Natalie asked her sister.

“You know what,” Ellen sighed. “God, I’m so sorry…”

“What- no… Surely not?” Natalie asked. “Because of last night?”

“This is his DAUGHTER we’re talking about,” Ellen sighed. “You know he’s gonna do anything he can to try to- well, you know…”

“No matter how illegal it might be?” Natalie asked, before taking a deep breath as the stewardesses’ manager poked her head around the door and stared sternly at the two sisters.

Five minutes later, after Ellen had changed into the smart top and pencil skirt she’d worn to work, the sisters found themselves sat in the office of their manager, who stared at them with a stern look on her face.

“Natalie, Ellen,” Alana said with a clipped voice. “I’ve asked to speak to you today as I’ve received several concerning reports about your behaviour whilst at work.” Have you really… Both girls thought to themselves. “Particularly you, Natalie.”

“…Me?” Natalie asked, before taking a deep breath to strengthen her resolve. “Do you have any examples? Any specific complaints?”

“You don’t need to know about that,” Alana said, which only further strengthened the 25 year old woman.

“Actually, I believe I do have that right,” Natalie replied- even though she didn't know this for certain.

“Actually, you don’t, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Alana replied. “You don’t have a trade union, Natalie, and you only work here at the pleasure of our owner and CEO. And should he become displeased…” Alana stared pointedly at Ellen, who squirmed in her seat. “…Then we may have to reconsider your status with the company.”

“If you need to punish someone, punish me,” Ellen said. “Leave Natalie out of this, she’s got nothing to do with what happened last night.”

“Ellen, don’t,“ Natalie whispered to her sister.

“We haven’t received any complaints about your performance, Ellen,” Alana explained.

“Then why am I even in here?” Ellen asked incredulously.

“As the two of you are sisters,” Alana explained, “you’re in the perfect position to offer additional help to Natalie, like coaching, or… Or other things you can do that might make life easier for her.”

“Oh, you bitch,” Ellen whispered, realisation dawning on her. “That’s the plan, isn’t it? You can’t punish me without angering Amelie, and you’re too afraid to do that, so you threaten Natalie instead. What, these complaints- that probably never existed in the first place- magically vanish if I break up with her? Then Amelie goes running heartbroken back to daddy, thinking the break-up is genuine?”

“Like I said,” Alana said, choosing to ignore Ellen’s insult. “You’re in a position to help out your sister a lot. Don’t waste this opportunity. You might not get another one.”

“…Fine,” Ellen growled, the anger not vanishing from her eyes.

“You two can go now,” Alana said dismissively. Keeping their jaws clenched shut so as to not say anything they might later regret, the two sisters stood up and left the office, before heading to the nearest tube station.

“…We’re telling Rachel about this, right?” Ellen asked quietly.

“Have you gone mental?” Natalie asked. “Of course we are.”

A short while later, the two sisters were sat at a private table at the pub managed by their thirty year old friend, who listened intently as the two sisters told her about the meeting they’d just come from.

“Oh, god…” Rachel sighed as Ellen finished the story. “Ellen, I- I’m so sorry to hear that…”

“Thanks,” Ellen whispered.”

“It’s not her job at stake, though,” Natalie snorted.

“Well, yes, but- and I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic, but- you can get another job, you know?” Rachel replied.

“I’ll never get another Amelie,” Ellen whispered. “Okay, yes, I know, there’s no guarantee we’ll still be together a year from now, but- but I really love her, you know? She’s funny, she’s sexy, she’s got this REALLY devious streak about her…”

“You two ARE made for each other,” Natalie said quietly.

“…What, really?” Ellen asked with a chuckle. “After the way you were when we first got together?”

“You were sneaking around behind my back,” Natalie said. “You’d never been interested in girls before, she was- well, richer than King bloody Midas and you had to have known that when it came out, it’d be a firestorm.”

“…Kinda,” Ellen mumbled.

“I was just being an older sibling,” Natalie said. “But you’re obviously in love with each other, she makes you happy, you make her happy, where’s the problem?”

“I think the problem is while you’ve accepted them, Amelie’s family haven’t,” Rachel said softly.

“What they’re doing can’t be legal, surely?” Ellen asked.

“Oh, it’s about as legal as going up to someone in the street and stabbing them,” Rachel snorted. “Problem is, they fire Natalie, she tries to sue for unfair dismissal, they spend millions on a lawyer, Natalie doesn’t.”

“Rock and a hard place,” Natalie sighed. “Unless you could hook me up with Josh Benedict’s lawyer?”

“He’s a got a big heart but I think some things are a bit of a stretch even for him,” Rachel sighed.

“Even though Nat’s engaged to one of his employees?” Ellen asked.

“Technically Zoe doesn’t work for him, she works for Krystie,” Natalie sighed. “Joshua’s invested in the dance school but doesn’t own it, unlike this pub.”

“Though that being said…” Rachel said, a twinkle coming to her eye. “Had an idea. Might need to make a phone call or two. You okay if I pop out for a bit?”

“Sure,” Ellen shrugged.

“Don’t go to too much trouble,” Natalie said. “Don’t like, call in favours you can’t afford, I’m still counting on this blowing over eventually. With Ellen and Amelie still together.”

“You may need to face reality here, Nat,” Rachel whispered, taking her phone out of her jeans pocket and heading behind the bar. The blonde Englishwoman had only been gone for seconds when three more young women entered the pub- one of whom immediately rushed over to give Natalie a long, tight hug.

“Ugh, that shitty place,” Zoe sighed, sniffing back a tear as she embraced her fiancée. “I am sorry I was not here earlier, class-“

“Don’t worry about it,” Natalie whispered, giving her fiancée a kiss as they, along with Jessica and Paige, sat down at the small table. “Might need you to start working overtime, heh.”

“Jessica said,” Zoe said in a quiet, dark voice.

“J- Jess?” Natalie asked.

“Got called into a meeting with Alana after we got back from Madrid,” the American woman explained. “She said that from now on, when we’re on flights together, I’m to give you extra scrutiny, make a note of every tiny infraction you make. She didn’t specifically say so but she hinted that she expected a report from every flight and that she expected at least one thing on every report.”

“Ah, shit,” Natalie sighed.

“I talked to Carly about this, and she’s heard the same thing,” Jessica said. “So you can guess all supervisors have had the same message. They probably all feel as uncomfortable with it as me and Carly did. She didn’t even know the reason behind it either.”

“Only positive is that we might see her wearing a tutu at some point in the near future,” Paige said. “Her and several other girls, too!”

“No offence,” Natalie sighed, “But I’d rather see me wearing the Soixante-Trois uniform than Carly wearing a tutu. Not that I don’t appreciate the support, but- but I really loved this job, you know? And not just because of the uniform, but- but it was always a dream job, you know? Getting paid to travel all around the world, see all manner of places, meet new people… And spend as much time as a woman as I wanted.”

“You can get that last one in any job,” Ellen reminded her sister.

“Not ANY job,” Natalie sighed.

“Well- we are on holiday for the next few days,” Zoe said. “We can use the opportunity to relax, no?”

“Ugh, don’t think I’m going to be much fun the next week, sorry,” Natalie sighed, earning another hug from her fiancée.

“Sulk if you must,” Zoe mumbled, before releasing the hug as Rachel returned to the table.

“Nat, have you got a second?” Rachel asked.

“Anything you need to say to me, the rest of the girls can hear too,” Natalie said.

“…I’d rather go somewhere quiet first,” Rachel said. “If you want to talk it through with the girls, then by all means, but I- I want to make sure you understand what I’m saying first.”

“Well- okay, then,” Natalie said, smoothing her dress as she rose from her seat and followed Rachel into the back room of the pub.

“What d’you suppose they’re talking about?” Paige asked.

“I dunno,” Jessica replied. “But knowing those two, it’s probably going to be something we’re going to hear about.”

“Us and the rest of the world,” Ellen chuckled as they waited for their friends’ return.

The following morning, Natalie strode into Heathrow airport with an air of determination surrounding her body. Her hair was tied back, away from her face, revealing its masculine shape, and her filed-down nails were devoid of colour. Her chest, underneath her loose-fitting sweatshirt, was flat, as was her unconstructed waist, her legs were covered in tight black leggings, thick socks and her favourite pair of trainers, and in her hand was her employee ID, which she used to let herself into the Soixante-Trois Airlines employee area. With her signature cheeky grin in place, Natalie knocked on the door of her manager’s office.

“Come in,” Alana said, before frowning at the sight that greeted her. “What do you think you’re doing, Natalie?”

“Matthew,” the 25 year old corrected his manager in his natural deep Manchester accent. “As of last night, anyway. Submitted the deed poll form and the money so I should get my new documents through soon. However, both ‘Natalie’ and ‘Matthew’ have one very important thing in common.”

“And what’s that?” Alana sighed.

“We’re not going to let ourselves be bullied by you, or by that billionaire whose arse you’ve got your tongue lodged so deep into,” Matthew said, leaning over Alana’s desk and talking straight into her face. “And we’re certainly not going to let you pick on our little sister either. So if you’re going to treat my family, and my job, and the damned near four years I gave this company, with such contempt, then you’re welcome to it.”

“So- what?” Alana snorted. “You’re going to just get another job, just like that, that won’t require a reference? Because you’re not exactly going to get a good one from me, are you?”

“I’ve already had two job offers,” Matthew said, his smug grin taking some of the wind out of his former manager’s sails. “One of them- believe it or not- in a management role! So pass this message on to Fat Tony- his daughter and my sister are a couple. Get used to it.”

“Your sister’s probably going to get fired and blackballed,” Alana retorted with a derisive snort. “Get used to THAT.”

“Oh- don’t tell me, I don’t work for you anymore,” Matthew giggled. “She, on the other hand, does.”

“Who, your pathetic little sis-“ Alana snorted, before panicking as she saw the identity of the uniformed woman stood in her doorway. “Am- Am- Am- Am- Amelie!?”

“You were saying, about the woman who I love?” The twenty year old Frenchwoman asked.

“I’m- I’m-“ Alana babbled.

“Stay away from Ellen,” Amelie threatened. “And stay away from me.”

“…Or what?” Alana asked, taking a deep breath to compose herself. “You can’t tell your father what I’ve done. He’s the one who told me to do this. You know he’ll never accept you and Ellen, a working-class English girl? It’s a miracle he hasn’t already disowned you.”

“It’s not just my father that you need to worry about,” Amelie said. “I have always wondered what would come if two of my father’s lawyers were to go against each other.”

“You’d sue your father?” Alana snorted.

“No,” Amelie replied. “I would sue you. For being bullying at work. And I have my best witness right here. I am sure a court would be interested to hear what she says.”

“…Okay, fine!” Alana moaned. “But your father-“

“I will deal with my father,” Amelie said confidently. “It is guaranteed that things will change around here quickly. Ellen and I shall remain lovers. He will accept it.”

“He will want results from me,” Alana said matter-of-factly. “He wants me to break the two of you up.”

“Where is that written in your job description?” Amelie asked. “Two of your employees are not just lovers but engaged and living together. If Jessica and Paige, why not Amelie and Ellen?”

“I will have to tell your father we had this conversation,” Alana said.

“Do that,” Amelie said. “Now if you will excuse me, I have a flight to catch.”

“And by happy coincidence,” Matthew interjected, “so do I. The Riviera is much more- well, if you’ll forgive the pun, nice- when you know you won’t be returning to work when you get home. Toodles!” Matthew and Amelie shared a smug grin as they left the manager’s office, before heading to their respective planes for their flights.

“It went well, then?” Zoe asked as she shared a kiss with her fiancé in the check-in queue.

“Couldn’t have gone better,” Matthew giggled.

“I still cannot believe you will be managing a coffee shop,” Zoe said with a snort of laughter.

“…Deputy manager,” Matthew mumbled, before letting out a giggle. “And being Josh Benedict’s on-call translator. Gonna be all the more essential now that they’ve launched the Italian Angel group.”

“But still no French group!” Zoe pouted.

“Find Big Josh half a dozen gorgeous Frenchwomen and see what he says,” Matthew shrugged.

“…Nah,” Zoe giggled. “I do not want competition!”

“Aww,” Matthew cooed, giving his fiancée another kiss. “Like I’d ever look at any other woman. Who else would love me even I do keep stealing their leotards?”

“What other man would happily become a ballerina?” Zoe asked. “Or share make-up and fashion?”

“More men than you might think,” Matthew said with a grin.

“I am more than happy with the man- and the woman- I already have!” Zoe giggled, giving her fiancée one more kiss as they headed toward their plane…

----------

“You are kidding me!?” Abbey asked, giggling as Amelie poured out glasses of wine for her friends.

“I am not,” Amelie said with a smug grin. “Walked in looking like no gender, spoke as ‘Matthew’ and looked as she wanted to push her ID up Alana’s arse.”

“Now THAT is the end of an era,” Anna-Jade sighed. “I’m the longest-serving employee of anyone here! Fuck me, I think I’m the longest-serving employee of anyone left.”

“End of an era in more than one way,” Paige sighed. “Reckon it’ll be all ‘Matthew’ from here on?”

“Absolutely not,” Amelie said confidently. “Our friend is ‘Natalie’. She loves being feminine as much as everyone here. We will see her in a dress before Christmas. It will be a surprise more if we see her in trousers before Christmas!”

“Nat’s always been different like that,” Ellen explained. “What she calls ‘bigendered’, happy as male OR female. But usually preferring ‘female’, heh.”

“And making a damned good looking female, too!” Anna-Jade giggled.

“God,” Hayley sighed as she leaned back into her seat. “Bet you’re regretting missing all the fun, Sophie!”

“…Yes,” Sophie confessed, a smirk creeping across her immaculately made-up face as she finished her wine and poured another glass for herself and her friends, elegantly bending at the waist and keeping her nylon-covered knees pressed tightly together as she expertly balanced on her high-heeled shoes. Sophie- who was genuinely kicking herself that she’d missed the excitement- made a mental note to speak to Natalie when she returned, getting her side of the story for her expose, but she also made a mental note to speak to Natalie about one other, very significant thing.

When James had returned to his flat earlier in the afternoon- finding it empty, with Amy still at her parents and Hayley on a flight- he tried to relax, knowing he didn’t have to become Sophie for several hours. However, every minute he spent in the flat as ‘James’ felt somehow ‘wrong’ to him, as though he didn’t belong in the flat- but he knew someone who did.

Half an hour later- long before Hayley was due back from her flight- Sophie strode out of her bedroom dressed in a comfortable denim skirt, warm black tights and a clingy grey top, her ‘shape’ enhanced by the padding on her chest and a tight elastic cincher around her waist. As she sat down on the sofa once again, Sophie felt far more comfortable than she had as ‘James’, but at the same time, she still felt out of place- just as she did at Amelie’s party. Visibly, there was no obvious problem- all ten of the women at the party were wearing little black dresses, light-coloured nylons, high-heeled shoes and plenty of make-up. But inside, Sophie still felt out of place… Until she heard about ‘Matthew’. She’d never heard the term ‘bigendered’ before, at least not when discussed in such great detail, and it resonated with her. Maybe ‘Sophie’ was an even bigger part of her life than she’d imagined, and like ‘Natalie’ was to ‘Matthew’, could be a regular, if not major part of ‘James’s life. If only she could be certain that her parents would accept ‘Sophie’…

One thing was certain to the eager young journalist, though- ‘Sophie’ wasn’t going anywhere for a long time. She told herself that this was to ensure that she didn’t miss any more potential ‘scoops’, but deep down inside, she was loving every second she could spend in her female life…



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