Mother and Daughter, part 3

Janet tried her hardest, but she couldn't prevent herself from breathing a sigh of relief as she pressed her employee pass against the scanner, officially ending another week of monotonous work. As Janet quickly discovered, though, she wasn't the only one feeling relieved.

"At. Last!" Rebecca- one of Janet's colleagues, a woman in her early thirties- giggled as she and a handful of her colleagues walked alongside Janet to the vast supermarket's locker room. "Dunno about you ladies, but I am in a mood to unwind!"

"I'll drink to that!" One of the other women in the group giggled. "Preferably literally, hehe!"

"I would definitely say yes to a few drinks in the Crown before heading home!" Rebecca said, before taking a deep, noticeable breath. "J- Janet, do- do you want to, you know...?"

"Umm... Sure!" Janet said with a smile that she tried to make look as genuine as possible. "Just need to, umm, send a text first..."

"Oh," Rebecca said, not even trying to hide her feeling of awkwardness. "To- to your, umm, 'foster child'?"

"...That's as good a way of describing her as any, I suppose," Janet shrugged. "'Little pain in the arse' is another one, heh." Janet's chuckle quickly faded as she looked around the locker room and noticed that all of the other women were pointedly averting their gaze. You thought I meant that literally, didn't you? Janet thought to herself with a heavy sigh. "Umm..."

"So..." Rebecca said. "You- you coming?" Janet paused to think about her answer to her colleague's question. On the one hand, she did want to get to know her colleagues better- she did have to spend all week working with them, after all- but on the other hand, she knew it be one of the most awkward things she'd ever do...

"...Sure," Janet shrugged, composing a text message to Ellie before tossing her phone back in her handbag, pulling on her coat and forcing a smile onto her made-up face. Janet reasoned that if things got too awkward, she could always make excuses after a couple of drinks and leave, but she wanted to fit in, to integrate with the rest of her colleagues, and maybe even make some new friends.

"Where are we heading again?" Denise- a colleague whom Janet had barely spoken to previously- asked. "The Crown?"

"Yeah," Rebecca replied.

"Don't think I've been there before," Denise mused.

"Me either," Janet interjected.

"Oh- you'll like it," Rebecca said. "It's very 'old fashioned' inside, but friendly enough. It's also very tolerant too, so you won't have any problems, Janet."

"...Glad to hear it," Janet said, wondering whether or not she'd end up having to make excuses BEFORE having a couple of drinks...

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"...That was quick," Ellie said, pausing her game of Mario Kart as Janet walked through the front door of their flat. "From your text I thought you'd be out for hours."

"Yep, so did I," Janet sighed, flopping heavily onto her sofa. "Only stayed for one drink, then I made my excuses..."

"Don't need to guess what you were talking about, do I?" Ellie snorted.

"It- it's more what they were deliberately NOT talking about," Janet sighed. "We talked about work, talked about Strictly, the X Factor..."

"Sounds okay so far..." Ellie said. "Getting kinda jealous if anything."

"And then whenever I opened my mouth, I basically killed the conversation," Janet said with a long, drawn-out sigh. "Like everyone felt awkward just listening to my voice. Or even LOOKING at me. And no prizes for guessing why."

"...It's not THAT deep," Ellie mumbled. "It's- it's very, you know, convincing?"

"It's still coming out of this mouth, this face," Janet said. "Which is attached to a body that everyone knows has something else attached."

"Ugh," Ellie spat.

"So then they changed the topic of the conversation, and I was left feeling like a total piece of shit just for voicing my opinion. Thought this was just a one-off, like maybe I'd made one faux pas, but it happened every. Single. Time."

"Janet- why did you even go out with them, then?" Ellie asked. "If they were just going to be awkward with you?"

"That's just it," Janet moaned. "They weren't awkward at work. Well, okay, they were, but not to that extent. It's- it's like they just invited me out to make me feel crappy about myself."

"...Maybe they did?" Ellie asked in an awkward, nervous voice.

"What do you mean?" Janet asked.

"Janet, I- Ellie stammered. "I've had, you know, my fair share of bullying..."

"These are women in their mid-thirties I'm talking about," Janet retorted. "Hardly teenagers."

"That doesn't mean that they can't be bullies," Ellie whispered. "And it doesn't mean that you should feel that you were the one doing something wrong."

"...Which one of us is supposed to be 'the mother' again?" Janet asked, making Ellie snort with laughter. "Nah, they probably just need time to, you know, adjust..."

"You've worked there for over a month and gone into work every day wearing a blouse and a skirt," Ellie retorted. "How much more adjustment do they need? Maybe they don't want to 'adjust'."

"I- I probably just came on too strong," Janet insisted. "If I talk to them one on one, I'm sure we can work through any problems. It's the work's Christmas party next week, that'll be the perfect opportunity to get everything out in the open."

"If you insist," Ellie shrugged, before returning to her game.

The weekend came and went with Janet trying her hardest to relax and put the awkwardness of the pub visit out of her mind, but Ellie's words resonated with her, especially when Ellie's friends made their traditional Saturday morning visit to the tiny flat.

Unlike Rebecca and her colleagues, Kacey and Monique had no problem accepting Ellie as one of their own, and even accepted Janet herself as 'one of them' without a second thought, just as they had done since their first meeting in the supermarket weeks earlier. Janet had heard stories while growing up, and while raising her own children, about how teenagers could be cruel, could find sadistic pleasure in inflicting suffering on people who didn't conform to their standards, but as she observed the three girls, she realised that that simply wasn't true- either that, or as the saying went, there were exceptions to every rule. Janet didn't doubt that there were teenagers at Ellie's college who treated her in the same way Janet herself had been treated- but she hoped for Ellie's sake that they at least kept to themselves. What was most important was that Ellie had genuine friends- which was more than could be said for Janet.

However, as Janet reminded herself, there were always exceptions to every rule. Rebecca and her cronies could easily be the 'exceptions' at her workplace, the immature ones when everyone else were mature, sensible adults who had no qualms about working and interacting with a transgendered person.

As she tried to reconcile those thoughts, though, Janet was reminded of two problems- firstly, that Rebecca's posse were the only ones who worked the same shifts as her, and as a transgendered woman, Janet herself was a very major 'exception'.

Janet tried to keep to herself and focus on her work on the Monday and the Tuesday, but as she was collecting her things and getting ready to leave on the second day, Janet was surprised when she saw Rebecca approach her- and the younger woman clearly had something on her mind.

"Hey..." Rebecca said hesitantly, instantly putting Janet on the defensive. "You- you got a minute?"

"...I guess," Janet shrugged. "What can I do for you?"

"I just- I just wanted to, you know..." Rebecca mumbled. "About- about Friday, me and the girls, we- we were wondering whether or not we might have, you know, crossed a line..."

"Apology accepted," Janet said with a stoic expression, which only relaxed when Rebecca smiled and began to blush.

"That's fair," the younger woman sighed. "It's just- it's just I've never even MET a- a-"

"'Transgendered woman' is the term you're looking for," Janet said.

"-And we kinda don't, you know, know how to act around you," Rebecca said.

"Act how you normally would," Janet shrugged. "Unless you spend all day, every day badmouthing transgendered people, you're probably not going to offend me too badly."

"Oh- believe me, I have NO problem with transgendered people!" Rebecca said in a voice that Janet had a hard time being convinced by. "In fact, I've got a niece who's a big fan of this girl band, you know, the one with the transgendered singer?" Janet smirked to herself as she made a mental note to ask Stephanie for yet another goody bag of merchandise.

"I know the ones," Janet said with a smug grin.

"And I sometimes watch the Angels," Rebecca continued. "You know, when it's on... But, you know, it's different, when, you know..."

"When it's stood in front of you and not on a screen?" Janet asked.

"Uh-huh," Rebecca mumbled.

"If it helps," Janet said, her body language starting to relax, "when you're thinking of 'transgendered women', try focussing on the 'women' part more than the 'transgendered' part. That IS the whole point. I'm not trying to be a drag queen, or a female impersonator or anything like that. I want to be a woman. The more ordinary, the better, in fact."

"I guess," Rebecca shrugged. "But, you know, for the first forty years of your life, wasn't that, like, different?"

"Not when it came to wanting to be a woman," Janet replied as she straightened her work skirt and pulled on her warm winter coat.

"I think I get it," Rebecca mumbled as she adjusted her tights and pulled on her own winter coat, causing Janet to muse on how the younger woman was dressed identically to her in their matching uniforms.

"Happy to help," Janet said.

"...That's Asda, not Tesco," Rebecca said, causing both women to giggle happily. "Will- will you be going to the party tomorrow?"

"Yeah," Janet said, her face now sporting an optimistic smile. "Yeah, I'll be there." Janet and Rebecca shared one final giggle as they headed toward their homes, and when Janet walked through the front door, it was almost as though her enthusiasm had preceded her into the room.

"You're looking happy," Ellie commented, barely looking up from her phone.

"Spoke to my so-called 'bully' after my shift finished," Janet said. "We talked it out, discussed things like adults."

"Okay..." Ellie said.

"It was just a few misconceptions, that's all," Janet shrugged. "I set her straight, we shared a few laughs, everything's fine now."

"Glad to hear it," Ellie said- though her tone of voice made it obvious that she was still feeling very cautious about the situation.

"I'm actually REALLY looking forward to the party now, hehe!" Janet giggled. "God... Don't need to tell you how stressful it can be, when you start transitioning, you have to present yourself to the world, getting judged by everyone..."

"Yeah, I do know that," Ellie replied.

"But after a while, people just get used to it, don't they?" Janet asked. "It's like the old saying: tell someone a lie often enough and they'll believe it's the truth. Only in our case, it's the truth we have to keep telling them before they'll believe it. If that makes any sense, anyway."

"A little," Ellie said with a smile. "And it IS good to see you being happy."

"It has been a while," Janet sighed. "It's the whole debate about, you know, it not being enough to merely survive, but you've got to live, haven't you?"

"Not really following you," Ellie replied.

"Well, I mean, I can EXIST as a woman," Janet replied. "But just staying in this flat all day wearing a skirt... It isn't 'living', is it? Holing myself away from the world... Sure, I could say 'I am a woman', but where's the point if I don't have anyone to say it to?"

"...Okay, think I'm following you now," Ellie said. "You want a friend, basically?"

"Not that I don't count you as a friend," Janet retorted. "Or Kacey and Monique for that matter. But I would kinda like some friends my own age, if that makes any sense."

"Yeah, yeah it kinda does," Ellie replied with a sympathetic smile. "Dunno whether it's comforting to learn that adults have the same hang-ups as teenagers or whether I should be scared that I'm gonna be a screw-up my whole life, heh."

"You're not a screw-up," Janet reassured the young woman. "You've been dealt a bad hand and you're making the most of it, that's all."

"So are you," Ellie reminded the older woman, who replied with a smile. "More important than that, though?"

"...Yes?" Janet asked.

"What are you going to wear to the party tomorrow?" Ellie asked, bringing a smile to Janet's face that stayed that for the rest of the day.

Janet's smile was still present the following day, even when she returned home from work to find Ellie, Kacey and Monique waiting for her with grins on their faces and hair straighteners, make-up brushes and bottles of nail polish in their hands.

"...Umm, come on in, I guess," Janet chuckled as she slipped off her low-heeled court shoes and prepared to sit down on the sofa, only to be stopped by the three young women. "Okay, what's happening?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Monique replied with a giggle.

"Should it be?" Janet retorted.

"YES," Ellie said firmly. "You've got a party tonight-"

"-And we're gonna help you get ready for it!" Kacey giggled as Janet was frog marched into the bathroom and a cape was wrapped around her neck.

Janet's protests, which were feeble to begin with, ended moments later as the three teenagers set about transforming her from a plain-looking forty-something into a truly glamorous woman.

When Janet strode into the party a short while later, there were two emotions tugging at her- a feeling of nerves, but a much greater feeling of confidence. The girls had done an amazing job, and it showed in the smile on the middle-aged woman's face- a face that had been enhanced to its fullest with seemingly every make-up product that Janet owned. Subtle eyeshadow, thick mascara, a matte foundation and scarlet lipstick was a far cry from what she usually wore, but Ellie had blended them to create a look that was subtle, yet sexy, and definitely feminine. Her fingernails had been coated with a deep red colour that made Janet feel awkward at first, as she rarely wore polish on her fingernails, but even she had to admit that the colour looked good on her. Janet's hair had been given a playful wave that took almost ten years off of her, but that was only where her look started.

Once her make-up was complete, Janet changed into her tightest, most figure-shaping corselette that had pulled and pushed her in ways she didn't know was possible. A pair of barely-black tights with a firm control top followed, before Janet was all but poured into her dress for the night. It was black, long-sleeved, had a low-cut front and a knee-length skirt with a lace hem that was modest, but at the same time fun and flirty- especially when paired with the three inch stiletto heels on her feet.

Janet felt more beautiful than she had ever done in her entire life, and had never felt more comfortable and confident in her ability to pass as a woman, and yet she still felt nervous. Whilst it was far from the first time she'd worn a dress in public- and wasn't even the first time she'd worn that particular dress in public- it was the first time that 'Janet' had shown up in such a large crowd, especially as she knew that every eye that was on her that night would be judging her and trying to make their own decisions about her...

"Janet!" Kelly- Janet's manager- said, greeting the middle-aged woman with a hug and air kisses. "So glad you could make it!"

"Thanks!" Janet giggled nervously. "Wasn't sure I'd come for a while, heh."

"Oh no, really?" Kelly asked. "Why not, is everything okay at home?"

"Yeah, kinda..." Janet grimaced. "It- it's nothing. I'm here now, and I'm here to have FUN!"

"Yeah!" Kelly giggled. "Come on, I'll get you a drink, introduce you to a few of the other girls."

"Sure," Janet said. "Is- is Rebecca here? From our shift?"

"Hmm?" Kelly asked. "Oh, Becky Earl? Think she's around here somewhere, yeah." Janet smiled and nodded, but paused before deciding whether to follow Kelly to potentially meet new friends, or go in search of Rebecca. Janet was convinced that Rebecca's apology the previous day had been genuine, but there was still a nagging doubt at the back of her mind, and she knew that if she didn't address it quickly, it would bug her throughout the whole night.

However, Janet's main reason for attending the party was to have fun and make new friends, and she wasn't about to pass up the opportunity that Kelly had presented her, especially as she trusted Kelly enough to know that the people she would introduce to Janet weren't likely to be as intolerant as Becky had been.

"Girls, I'd like you to meet Janet," Kelly said as she led Janet to the table where two younger women were sat. "Janet, this is Shannon, and this is Meredith."

"Hi," Shannon- the younger of the two women- said with a cautious smile.

"Nice to meet you!" Meredith said, smiling warmly as Janet elegantly sat down next to her. "I was hoping we'd get to meet, actually."

"Umm, thanks," Janet replied. "I, umm, I think, anyway!"

"Oh- no, I didn't mean that in a bad way," Meredith clarified. "I mean, yes, I'd heard that a transgendered woman had started working for the store, but I didn't mean I wanted to, you know, go and 'look at the freak'- not that I think you're a freak-"

"Mer," Shannon interrupted, making the older woman giggle.

"Oh- sorry, sorry," Meredith said, taking a deep breath to calm herself. "I kinda talk too much when I'm nervous, heh!"

"You don't say," Janet said, making all the women at the table giggle- something that came as a relief to the transwoman.

"I mean, I have, like, loads of questions," Meredith said. "Like, I follow Jamie-Lee Burke's blog, and Kelly Watson's and Stephanie Abbott's Instagram pages, but you're- you're, like..."

"The first 'real' transgendered person you ever met?" Janet asked.

"I didn't want to put it QUITE like that," Meredith mumbled.

"It's okay," Janet shrugged. "I'm the first 'real' transgendered person I met too, technically."

"Oh- cool, heh!" Meredith giggled.

"How long have you been- umm, working...?" Shannon asked, grimacing more with each word that passed her lips.

"Just a few weeks," Janet replied, trying not to frown as an awkward silence fell over the table.

"I'll- I'll get us some drinks," Kelly announced. "You three can, umm, get acquainted..." Janet's smile faltered as the silence became increasingly awkward with the departure of the manager.

"...If you wanted to ask 'how long have I been transitioning'," Janet said quietly, but confidently, "the answer is 'almost eleven months'."

"Oh- okay," Shannon mumbled.

"And no, I don't mind answering questions, as long as they aren't TOO personal," Janet said.

"'Personal'," Meredith said, "like asking, like, if you've..." Janet tried again to maintain her smile as Meredith mimed a pair of scissors with her fingers.

"...I'm still a long way off that," Janet said. "I haven't even started hormone replacement therapy yet."

"My aunt was on that once," Meredith said. "Though she, umm, she was, you know, born a woman..."

"You're meant to have experience of living as the opposite gender before they start you on that," Janet explained. "Ideally on a full-time basis. Normally the process is fairly simple once you've demonstrated that you're fully committed to it, but if you've had, umm, 'problems'..."

"I have- I have kinda heard rumours," Shannon mumbled.

"About me being in a nuthouse?" Janet sighed. "Yeah... Though in the end, I did get the help I needed. And, yes, made a new friend, heh."

"Yeah, THAT must have been cool!" Meredith giggled. "Oh- not the, umm, where you met where you did, but I mean, like-"

"I get it, honestly," Janet said. "Really, you don't need to feel like you need to walk on eggshells around me. I think of myself as just an ordinary woman. I'd like to be seen that way too."

"That can probably be arranged," Shannon said with a warm smile, eliciting a genuine, relaxed giggle from Janet.

The middle-aged transwoman found herself relaxing more with every minute that passed of the party, helped not just by the alcohol she consumed but also by Meredith's continued excitement and Shannon's attitude relaxing with every word that she and Janet exchanged. By the time Janet got up to get her friends a round of drinks, she had almost forgotten about the last time she'd socialised with colleagues, about Rebecca and her friends.

As Janet approached the bar, however, her ears picked up the familiar sound of Rebecca's Essex accent, and despite her better instincts, she found herself eavesdropping on the conversation- especially when she heard her name mentioned.

"...Janet," Rebecca said, clearly unaware or uncaring that the transwoman herself was listening. "I mean- it is just SAD. IT thinks that it can just swan around in a dress, and when someone points out the reality to her, it's somehow 'discrimination'? Give me a break."

"'Reality'?" One of Rebecca's friends asked.

"'Reality'," Rebecca explained. "It. Is. A. Man. End of. It'll always be a man. Even if it has the operation, it'll just be a man who cut his dick off."

"It is stupid that we have to treat it like any other woman," another of Rebecca's friends scoffed as Janet felt tears welling in her eyes. "I mean- it doesn't even look remotely like a woman!"

"If I was shopping at a supermarket and saw it behind the till, I'd just abandon my trolley and go to a different shop," yet another of Rebecca's friends said.

"Still, I've 'apologised' now," Rebecca said. "Hopefully that means I won't have to deal with its stubbly face again!" Janet bit her lip to keep herself from crying as she stroked her smooth, hairless cheek, before heading toward the bar, where she was mercifully unable to hear the continuing conversation at Rebecca's table- though she had no doubt that she was the cause of the cackle of laughter that rose from the women.

"If you don't want to see my face again, you bitch, that can be arranged," Janet whispered, before sighing and shaking his head. "No- no." Janet was determined never again to think the thoughts that had ended up with her taking a prolonged stay in a psychiatric hospital. And she was especially determined not to waste any stress or any tears on a disgrace to humanity like Rebecca. And yet, as feminine as she'd felt when she walked into the party, Janet had suddenly felt very self-conscious. She knew that everyone there knew who she was. She knew they knew WHAT she was, and she knew that every single one of them were judging her. Sure, some of them were doing it in a relatively friendly way, like Meredith or Shannon, but in all likelihood, the vast majority of the people at the party were just like Rebecca and her friends.

Janet didn't even try to hide her frown as she returned to her table with her and her new friends' drinks, instantly lowering the mood of the three women.

"Janet?" Kelly asked, a look of concern plastered over her face. "Is- is everything okay?"

"Umm... Yeah," Janet lied. "I just- I just think I have a bit of a headache, that's all. Might call it a night in a bit."

"You've barely been here half an hour," Shannon retorted.

"And didn't you want to speak to Becky Earl?" Kelly asked.

"No," Janet replied in a hasty voice that made her grimace. "No, I, um, it'll be fine. I'll just have this drink and head off, if you don't mind."

"It's a free country," Kelly shrugged. "But if something's happened, if someone's said something-"

"I'm fine, honestly," Janet said. "Just- just feeling my, um, age, that's all."

"If you're sure..." Meredith asked, her sudden concern a sharp contrast to her prior demeanour.

"I am," Janet said quietly. "I had fun, honestly! It was a pleasure to meet the two of you. Hope we get to see each other again soon!"

"I hope so too," Meredith said softly. "Do you- do you want me to get you a taxi? I've got an app on my phone, and I keep forgetting I've got it, so I-"

"Please," Janet said quietly, smiling at her new friends as secretly, her insides continued to churn.

A short while later, Janet walked through the front door of her flat and grimaced as she heard a loud sigh rise from her teenaged flat mate.

"Seriously?" Ellie moaned. "Again!?"

"I'm 42," Janet protested. "I'm going to be out ALL night."

"How long were you there, five seconds?" Ellie asked.

"I- I'd rather not talk about it," Janet mumbled. "I've got an early morning tomorrow, so have you..."

"After all the effort of this evening?" Ellie asked.

"Well I'm sorry your evening was wasted," Janet spat.

"I meant your effort," Ellie said. "I could give people makeovers all day, I love doing it, but I meant, like, you really worked yourself up to going to the party and, like, it was all for, umm, nothing..."

"I- I'm sorry," Janet whispered.

"S'okay," Ellie shrugged.

"I- I'm going to get some sleep now," Janet whispered. "Thanks for helping this evening."

"S'okay," Ellie repeated. "And- and Janet? Please talk to someone tomorrow." Janet blinked back tears as she nodded, before shutting her bedroom door behind her and quietly weeping.

Janet eventually made it to bed and woke up at her usual time the following morning, but the sight of her deep red fingernails brought back memories of the previous night's events- and the words that was said by the woman she'd thought could've been her friend. Janet debated with herself over whether or not to scrub the polish away and go into work 'au naturale'- not even wearing any make-up at all- and for a brief moment, Janet even wondered whether or not to go into work at all or whether to call in sick. She certainly didn't feel up to dealing with members of the public- especially ones who would sneer at her- and she felt even less like dealing with her colleagues.

However, Janet 's sense of obligation took over and snapped her out of her funk. She’d been hired to do a job, and she wasn't going to skip out on it because she was feeling miserable. Her sense of pride took hold, too- if she were to skip make-up, it would be conceding defeat to Rebecca and her cronies. And Janet liked wearing make-up. She liked the nail polish she had on her hands as well. She liked the foundation garments she wore to work, she liked her blouses, her skirts and her shoes, and she was damned if she was going to let anyone tell her what she could or couldn't wear to work.

Moreover, as a 'parent', she had to set an example for her 'daughter' to follow- even if said 'daughter' was more concerned for Janet's well-being than Janet herself was.

The 42 year old transwoman strode into work on her heeled shoes with a determined look in her made-up eyes and a sense of purpose buoying her up. She was a woman, and she wasn't going to let anyone else tell her otherwise. Before she could reach her usual checkout, she was intercepted by her manager, who had a look of concern etched onto her face.

"Hey Janet," Kelly said softly. "Are- are you feeling better? After last night, I mean."

"I'm fine," Janet semi-lied. "Just had a headache, that's all."

"Well- okay," Kelly mumbled. "If you want to lie to me, that's okay, but I'm not sure you should be lying to yourself."

"I'm not lying," Janet said. "Okay... Okay, maybe I am. A little. But I'm- I'm fine, I honestly am..."

"Janet," Kelly sighed. "Tell me what happened. What REALLY happened."

"I don't want to get anyone into trouble," Janet mumbled.

"If these people did nothing wrong, then they won't be in trouble," Kelly retorted. "If you think they'll be in trouble, then obviously they DID do something wrong, and that behaviour needs correcting. The same goes for you, Janet. Not that I'm saying that you did anything wrong- we've only known each other a few weeks, but I think I'm a good enough judge of character to know an honest woman when I see her."

"...Thanks," Janet said.

"I also know a woman when I see her," Kelly said. "And I'm guessing that other people's failure to do so is part of the problem, right?"

"...Right," Janet sighed.

"Becky Earl, right?" Kelly asked, sighing as Janet nodded, barely keeping tears from flowing freely from her eyes. "I am not prepared to tolerate this. Not from one of my employees."

"It wasn't even on work time," Janet pleaded.

"Doesn't matter," Kelly said. "She's shown that she's incapable of working alongside you, if what she says is moving you to tears."

"Maybe I just need to grow up," Janet mumbled.

"No, just- just no!" Kelly snapped, taking a deep breath to calm herself. "I apologise for raising my voice, Janet, but I- I get so frustrated at times."

"Sorry," Janet mumbled.

"Don't apologise," Kelly said. "Just don't. Don't apologise to me for being yourself. Don't apologise to anyone, least of all Becky Earl! SHE should be the one in here apologising! You don't act like that. Not on my watch."

"You don't even know what she said," Janet said.

"I know what effect it had on you," Kelly said softly. "If she said 'I'm not sure I like that Janet person' you wouldn't be in the state you're in now."

"...She called me 'it'," Janet mumbled.

"I don't need to know any more than that," Kelly said. "That alone is crossing a line. Janet- take the day off. I'll deal with Becky."

"Oh- no, I don't want to be a burden," Janet said.

"Honestly, it's fine," Kelly replied.

"Where- where I worked before, I kinda had an unblemished sick record..." Janet said, making Kelly giggle and roll her eyes.

"Take the afternoon off, then," Kelly said. "I'll call it 'manager's discretionary leave' or something. And I'm not willing to negotiate further."

"Deal," Janet said, smiling as she shook her manager's hand before heading down to her usual register.

Janet tried to focus on her work to distract her from the stress of the previous night's activities, but she needed to compose herself when three very familiar figures stopped by her checkout- all of whom had looks of concern etched onto their faces.

"Hey," Monique said softly as she paid for her purchases. "Ellie- Ellie kinda told us that you were kind, you know, upset last night... Are- are you, you know, okay?"

"I'll be fine," Janet reassured the dark-skinned girl. "Honestly, you girls don't need to worry about me."

"Why not?" Kacey asked. "You're our friend, if there's something we can do-"

"If there was, I would ask," Janet said, blinking back tears and suddenly finding that she was thankful for Kelly's offer of a half day. "Really, I'll be fine. Oh, but I'll be home earlier than usual today. Scored myself the afternoon off, heh."

"Good," Ellie said, smiling sympathetically at the older woman. "Take care of yourself, okay?"

"Pretty sure as legal guardian, I should be saying that to you!" Janet retorted, making Ellie giggle and roll her eyes. "You three have fun at college, okay?"

"Will do!" Monique said with a grin as she walked away.

"...She really is hurting, isn't she?" Kacey asked her blonde friend as she left the supermarket.

"Yeah, I think so," Ellie replied. "It's so frustrating, you know? Janet's done so much for me, I wish there was more I could do for her..."

"Well- it's not like there's a lot you CAN do," Monique said with a heavy sigh. "You've got no job, no income and you're, like, actually dependent on the person you want to help."

"...Thanks, that helps," Ellie snorted.

"Well I don't know!" Monique protested. "Make her a nice meal or something. Clean the flat, maybe."

"I do both those things anyway," Ellie replied.

"Ah!" Kacey- who had been engrossed in her phone- suddenly exclaimed. "I've got it!"

"Got what?" Ellie asked, before squinting as Kacey handed her her phone. "What's this, Janet's Facebook page?"

"Look at the top," Kacey said, pointing to a piece of information on the page- information that made the blonde girl grin widely.

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"Thanks for seeing me at such short notice," Janet said as she slipped off her coat and elegantly lowered herself onto her counsellor's soft, comfortable chair.

"That's perfectly fine, Janet," Dr Healy replied. "It's been too long since we talked face to face anyway."

"And after the last few days, I could definitely use a little 'face time'," Janet sighed.

"That doesn't sound good," Dr Healy said with a quiet, sympathetic voice. "Take your time if you need."

"...It's work," Janet said, letting out a long, heavy sigh. "Not customers this time- things seem to have almost settled down there, it- it's my colleagues."

"Go on," Dr Healy said.

"I went out for drinks with a few of them on Friday," Janet explained. "Well, I say 'drinks', it took all of one drink for things to get awkward, and it was obvious that I was the reason why, and they wanted me to know that I was the reason why."

"When you say it was obvious that they wanted you to know that, what do you mean exactly?" Dr Healy asked.

"The way they acted around me," Janet said. "Like they were constantly treading on eggshells. Yes, I've got that before, and if that was it, I could brush it off, but then last night, we had the work Christmas party."

"And did you speak to your colleagues again?" Dr Healy asked.

"More like they spoke about me," Janet sighed. "Behind my back. Using the pronoun 'it'."

"You don't need to say any more if you don't want to," Dr Healy said softly. "Their attitude is plain from that alone."

"It's obvious they just see me as something for them to make fun of," Janet spat. "Some THING."

"Did you tell your manager about this?" Dr Healy asked.

"...I didn't want to," Janet mumbled. "But- but my manager sussed it out anyway, and- and-" Janet's words degenerated into an incoherent blur as tears began to flow freely from her eyes.

"Take your time," Dr Healy said softly, offering the distressed woman a box of tissues, which were quickly used.

"Every time I think I've taken a step forward," Janet sighed. "I was so excited about the party as well. It was my first proper 'event' as a woman. I was dolled up to the nines- Ellie helped me with my hair, my make-up, I was wearing my best dress, my best shoes, and I felt- I felt like I belonged, like I truly belonged for the first time ever. I even made two ACTUAL friends as the party, too- three if you count my manager."

"That's definitely a positive you shouldn't ignore," Dr Healy said. "Tell me about these friends."

"Well, the first is Meredith, I guess," Janet said. "She talks at about a hundred words per second, but she's friendly enough. Actually seems interested in what I have to say, genuinely seems like she wants to be my friend. The other one's Shannon, she's younger, mid-twenties maybe, seems to be quite shy, almost apprehensive around me at first, but as we talked, she seemed to ease up a little."

"As did you, by the sounds of things," Dr Healy said.

"Yeah, right up until I found out I was everyone's favourite verbal punching bag," Janet spat.

"But up until then, I could tell that you were enjoying yourself," Dr Healy said. "The enthusiasm with which you talked about your new friends is proof of that."

"It's just a miracle that anyone actually, genuinely wants to be friends with me," Janet sighed.

"Maybe not as miraculous as you might think," Dr Healy said in a soft voice that made Janet smile. "If you don't mind, I want to go back to your manager's reaction to what was said."

"She wasn't happy," Janet said. "Ballistic, even. But I- I didn't want to cause any trouble."

"Why not?" Dr Healy asked. "It seems that they're willing to cause trouble for you."

"I don't want to make things any worse for me there," Janet said.

"Unlikely to happen with your manager on your side," Dr Healy advised. "Janet, you ARE allowed to think about yourself, about your own well-being. You are allowed to make it a priority, even with your newfound responsibility for Ellie."

"I know, but- ugh, I don't know," Janet sighed. "I just wish this could be easier."

"I wish I could tell you that eventually, it'll be a walk in the park," Dr Healy said. "But it is a long road. Sometimes it'll be uphill, like the party, sometimes things will be easier. There are ways to make things easier for yourself- spending more time with Meredith and Shannon, especially outside of work. I AM pleased that you're building up more of a social life."

"'John' was out most Friday nights," Janet explained. "With work friends, talking about football, our- our families..." Janet trailed off as another tear flowed from her eye at the thought of the family she hadn't seen in months.

"Hopefully, I can make things a little easier for you," Dr Healy said, withdrawing a slip of paper from her desk. "I've been reviewing your case a lot, and your reaction to the events of the last few days has convinced me that it's about time I gave you this."

"What- what is it?" Janet asked.

"A prescription for anti-androgens and oestrogen," Dr Healy explained as Janet's eyes widened. "You've shown a true commitment to your female life. You were upset by the events of the party, certainly- you have every right to be- but you didn't give in to any dark thoughts and worked through them maturely. I really do think you're ready for this, Janet. We're going to try you for six weeks at first, and then, if things work out well, we'll make it a permanent thing."

"Oh my god," Janet whispered. "Thank you, thank you so much!"

"You're very welcome!" Dr Healy giggled. "Now, I want to hear a little more about these new friends of yours." With a renewed sense of optimism, Janet obliged, regaling the counsellor with stories of her encounter with Shannon and Meredith- stories that lasted longer than the encounter itself.

Janet left the meeting with a smile on her face, helped in no small part by the prescription in her handbag. As she arrived home, however, Ellie's presence caused her smile to waver. Janet knew how important hormones were to Ellie- just as important as they were to Janet herself- and the last thing she wanted was to make it seem like she was rubbing Ellie's nose in her success.

"Hey," the teenaged girl said as Janet dropped her handbag on the sideboard and headed into the kitchen to make a drink. "How did it go with your counsellor?"

"Not bad," Janet replied, biting her lip. Ellie would undoubtedly want to know details, and she'd definitely want to know about the hormones as well- and Janet knew that if she kept it from Ellie, the teenaged girl would inevitably find out anyway and just get upset about being lied to. Then again, if Ellie knew that there was oestrogen in the household, there was always the risk she would try to sneak some away for herself...

"Wow, as good as that, eh?" Ellie asked, frowning as Janet let out a long sigh. "Janet? What- what's up?"

"I need to tell you something," Janet said in a quiet voice.

"What's wrong?" Ellie asked, feeling herself begin to panic as Janet's unusual behaviour.

"I- at the counsellor's," Janet began, taking a deep breath and deciding that it was better to get straight to the point rather than to beat about the bush any longer. "...I was prescribed oestrogen. I'm going to be beginning HRT within a few days."

"You- but- that's great!" Ellie said, a wide, genuine grin spreading across her face.

"You're really okay with this?" Janet asked.

"Why wouldn't I be?" Ellie shrugged. "If you're worried that I'm jealous, I'm not. I mean, I'll get my HRT soon enough, won't I?"

"Damn right you will!" Janet giggled, before leaning down and giving Ellie a gentle hug.

"We should have a party to celebrate," Ellie said with a knowing smile.

"No, I- I'm not really a party person," Janet sighed. "Especially after last night."

"There aren't ANY circumstances you'd consider having a party to celebrate?" Ellie asked.

"...What are you getting at?" Janet asked cautiously.

"Oh- nothing, nothing," Ellie said, her body language giving away her obvious lie. "What's for dinner? Can we at least get takeout to celebrate?"

"Now THAT we can do!" Janet chuckled, grabbing her aging smartphone and opening up an app.

That night, the two women ate with gusto and slept heavily, both wanting to attack the final day of the week head-on so that they could enjoy their weekend.

As Janet headed into work on Friday, though, she was again intercepted by a familiar face- but unlike the previous day, the chance encounter put a wide smile on Janet's face.

"...Meredith?" The 42 year old transwoman asked. "What- what are you doing here? I thought you worked evenings?"

"Yeah, I kinda thought so too!" Meredith said. "I've wanted to work mornings for a while now, you know, so that you can work and THEN go home rather than the other way around... Kelly called me yesterday, said that I could swap shifts I want so, well, here I am!" Janet giggled at her friend's explanation of events, before her jaw dropped as she saw another familiar face enter the room.

"Umm, hi," Shannon said with a shy, awkward wave as she removed her coat and pinned her name badge to her blouse.

"And, you know, so has Shannon!" Meredith said with an awkward giggle.

"...I have a feeling I really owe Kelly one," Janet said, before engaging in a group hug with her two newest friends. "And I have a feeling I might know who you've swapped shifts with, heh. Probably best if I DON'T shop here in the evenings anymore!"

"That probably goes for all of us," Meredith said with a grin. "Though I get that, like, we don't have, you know, 'parental responsibilities', but Becky does, so that might be kinda awkward..."

"Do- do you think she knows she's being, umm, punished?" Shannon asked.

"I hope so," Janet said in a dark voice. "I hope she learns from this as well."

"Doubt it," Shannon mumbled.

"She is a bit, well..." Meredith said, her voice trailing off as she bit her lip, clearly not wanting to fall into the same behaviour that earned Becky her 'punishment'. "But the important thing is, the three of us are now all working together! Like, the three musketeers, if we were, you know, French and, umm, male..." Janet bit her lip as she saw Meredith start to blush over her faux pas- but even though she'd known the woman for less than 36 hours, she felt that she knew her well enough to know that she meant no offence.

"The three Tescoteers?" Janet suggested, earning an excited giggle from Meredith and an uncharacteristic grin from Shannon.

"The three Tescoteers!" Shannon said with a quiet cheer, before following her friends down to their registers.

Janet went through the morning with a smile on her face, which only widened when Ellie and her 'musketeers' made their traditional purchase. However, Janet's smile faded slightly when she returned to the locker room at the end of her shift and noticed the awkward looks on her friends' faces.

"...What's up?" Janet asked. "I thought day one of the 'Tescoteers' went well..."

"Oh- it did..." Shannon mumbled.

"You- you seemed kinda, you know, friendly with those girls who went through your register," Meredith said. "The ones who were obviously on their way to college, I mean, yes, you get regulars in this place, I've had a few myself who I always liked to chat to for a while- shocking as they may seem, I know! But, like, you seemed to, you know, be 'familiar' with them?"

"We've- we've kinda heard, you know..." Shannon said in a quiet, nervous voice.

"Heard that I'm living with a 16 year old transgendered girl?" Janet asked, frowning as her friends both nodded. "...It's true. She was kicked out by her parents, we both have a mutual friend, she asked me to help out... It's a fairly long story but that's basically the gist of it. And yes, I know that most people looking in from the outside would see the potential for foul play. Most uneducated people, anyway." Janet frowned as she silently cursed herself for insulting her two new friends, regardless of the implication that they'd made toward her.

"Oh, we- we didn't want to imply anything," Meredith said. "I mean, it's actually kinda sweet when you think about it, taking in a homeless kid and being like a pseudo-mum to them. It's kinda, you know, like..."

"Harry Potter?" Shannon asked.

"...Hetty Wainthropp Investigates," Meredith said, before her cheeks began to flush.

"I've been called much worse," Janet said with a giggle. "And Ellie's sixteen, almost seventeen, she can take care of herself."

"I'm curious to know who this 'mutual friend' is," Meredith said. "Though, you know, you don't HAVE to tell me if you don't want to, I mean, you know, it's your life, and privacy, and-"

"It's Stephanie Abbott," Janet said with a smug smile as her new friends stopped dead in their tracks.

"Oh. My. God!" Shannon squeaked, her eyes as wide as dinner plates. "THE Stephanie Abbott?"

"Seriously?" Janet asked. "All the rumours you've heard about me, and that one isn't one of them?"

"Well, you know, we're- sorry, we WERE on different shifts," Meredith explained. "And we don't really hear THAT much, and- THE Stephanie Abbott?"

"She- she was meant to have been in a psych hospital a while back," Shannon said, her excitement not dissipating. "Is- is that-"

"NOW it's getting into 'long story' territory," Janet said. "...I could always, you know, tell you over a few drinks if you'd like?"

"Uh- yeah!" Shannon said with an excited giggle.

"I'll get my coat!" Meredith said, making Janet giggle excitedly as she headed to the nearest pub with her new friends. Unlike the previous two times she'd been out with her friends, Janet felt nothing but optimism about her future friendship with the two women. They'd been honest and open with Janet, and she had returned the favour, resulting in a connection that Janet had never experienced before as a woman, and rarely even experienced as a man. When the three women left the pub, they agreed that the trip would become a regular Friday night occurrence- but much to Janet's surprise, the next time she'd meet with them would be much sooner than that.

Two days after her first shift with Meredith and Shannon, on a cold Sunday morning, Janet woke up as usual and got up, ready to prepare breakfast, when she noticed that something was different about the living room. She'd decorated it for Christmas- which was only two weeks hence- but on that morning, the decorations seemed to have doubled, and much to Janet's dismay, there were several gift-wrapped boxes waiting for her on her sofa.

"...Happy birthday, Janet!" Ellie cheered as she emerged from the kitchen holding an elaborate cupcake, into which two candles had been pushed- one in the shape of a '4' and the other in the shape of a '3'. Janet sighed, before giggling and blowing out the candles, which earned her a gentle hug from the teenaged girl.

"Thanks," Janet said with a chuckle. "How did you find out?"

"How does anyone find out anything?" Ellie shrugged. "Facebook. And don't argue that it's too much of an expense. After what you've done for me, it's worth it. Not get opening! The others will be here in a bit."

"What- others?" Janet asked as Ellie's grin grew wider.

A short while later, Janet was back in the fancy dress she'd worn to the Christmas party, and had had her hair and make-up once again expertly applied by the girls. The only difference was that this time, Janet herself was the centre of attention, there were only five others in the flat, and they were all genuinely fond of her.

Janet giggled as Meredith and Shannon got to know Ellie, Kacey and Monique, and sighed happily at the presents she'd received from her friends- make-up, vouchers for a spa day, everything 'John' had never got but always wanted. And yet, as happy as Janet felt, there was a large part of her that was empty on the inside- it was the first birthday she'd spent away from her family, away from her children, and Janet would've happily traded every present she'd received just to spend time with them again- all apart from the hormone pills that she'd swallowed earlier that day...



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