Soixante-Trois Airlines, part 9

Jessica smiled for the passengers as they disembarked the plane, stretching their tired muscles after the long flight from Madrid.

“Thank you for flying with Soixante-Trois Airlines,” Jessica gushed in her practised overly-saccharine ‘stewardess’s voice’. “Enjoy your stay in London!”

“I live here, you dumb valley girl,” one of the passengers snorted as he passed Jessica with a backward glance.

“That’s the west coast, you moron,” Jessica whispered under her breath, out of earshot of any of her passengers. After the last passenger disembarked, Jessica breathed a sigh of relief before heading back into the plane with her colleagues, only to frown again when she realised that whilst the passengers had all disembarked, there were still people other than the plane crew onboard.

“Don’t mind us,” the cameraman said as Jessica and her colleagues carried out their post-flight checks. “Just carry on as normal. Would anyone be willing to do a couple of interviews after you’ve disembarked?” Jessica continued her work and ignored the request, confident that one of her colleagues would ‘take the bullet’ for her.

“Jess?” Rachel asked, making the American girl silently curse. “I have to send off the debrief to head office in Paris so if you do the piece to camera, we can ride home together, right?”

“Sure!” Jessica said. Whilst Rachel was Jessica’s friend, she was also her supervisor, and it had been strongly implied to Jessica in the past that disagreeing with a superior in front of the camera crew would be seen very negatively by management.

Thirty minutes later, as her colleagues change from their uniforms back into their commuting attire, Jessica found herself sat in front of a camera in a roped-off part of Heathrow airport, still wearing the tight red pencil skirt, matching high heels and pillbox hat she’d worn on the flights to and from Spain.

“I’m so glad we’ve finally got the chance to talk,” the interviewer said as she set up her camera. “We’ve got loads of interview footage from Brits but none yet from any, you know, foreigners…”

“What about Annabelle?” Jessica asked.

“The other American girl?” The interviewer replied. “Can’t get a word out of her, even when we’re in the air. Okay, we’re just about ready. Can you just tell us a little about yourself to start, please?”

“Of course,” Jessica said. “My name is Jessica Tyler, I’m twenty-three years old and I’m originally from Baltimore, Maryland.”

“How long have you been working for Soixante-Trois Airlines?” The interviewer asked.

“One year, three months,” Jessica replied. “Before that I used to work for a local airline in the US.”

“How does it compare, working for Soixante-Trois instead of that airline?” The interviewer asked.

“It’s… It’s harder work,” Jessica said with a forced smile. “But it is fulfilling, and it’s such a thrill to visit all the exotic European destinations!”

“You were in Madrid today, is that right?” The interviewer asked, continuing after Jessica gave a confirming nod. “It must be enjoyable to get to visit such a warm city in the middle of November!”

“It’s definitely a perk of the job!” Jessica giggled.

“Can you tell us a little about yourself outside of work?” The interviewer asked, causing Jessica to bristle. “Any hobbies, I know you’re in a relationship with a fellow stewardess, could you tell us a little about the effect that has on your job and what effect working together has on your relationship?”

“I- I’d prefer not to comment there,” Jessica stuttered. “I’m not comfortable talking about that… And before you ask, I won’t be comfortable talking about my transition either. Please, please just ask me about work.”

“Well, okay,” the interviewer said. “But the people watching will want to know a little more about the people behind the uniforms, that’s all, so even just a little bit of information-“

“I’d prefer not to,” Jessica interrupted in as polite a manner as she could.

“Okay,” the interviewer said, clearly taken aback by Jessica’s reluctance. Fifteen minutes later, after the interview reached its natural conclusion, Jessica stepped away from the camera and headed to the locker room area, where Rachel was sat typing on her laptop.

“Done already?” The blonde supervisor asked Jessica as the American girl peeled off her tight uniform. “I was in there 45 minutes on Tuesday…”

“Did they ask you any personal questions on Tuesday?” Jessica asked.

“A few,” Rachel shrugged. “About my family, my older sisters… Nothing really intrusive. Why, what did they ask you?”

“About me and Paige,” Jessica sighed. “How our relationship affects our work and vice versa.”

“The answer there is surely ‘not at all either way’?” Rachel asked.

“It is,” Jessica said, “but I felt it was a bit TOO personal, so I took the fifth.”

“The fifth?” Rachel asked, confused. “Oh, um, that means ‘refused to answer’, right? Dunno why, it’s not THAT personal a question…”

“Yeah, well I’d prefer to live my private life in PRIVATE,” Jessica said firmly as she straightened her tan-coloured stockings and pulled on the slinky black dress she’d worn to work. “You’ll be happy to hear I took the fifth when they asked me about the uniform, too…”

“Really?” Rachel giggled. “This from the girl who wore the tightest possible corset and shortest possible strapless dress when we went out clubbing last Friday?”

“Don’t get me wrong, I love wearing the clothes,” Jessica said. “I love living as a woman way more than I ever did living as a man… But surely you have to admit that these uniforms ARE impractical?”

“They’re mandated by management,” Rachel said, before chuckling. “And DON’T call me Shirley.”

“Isn’t it bad luck or something for a stewardess to quote that film?” Jessica asked, making Rachel giggle even more. “Also, how many of the managers who imposed this uniform do you suppose have ever had to wear it and work in it?”

“Zero, probably,” Rachel sighed. “Hell, I agree with you, it’s just- ours is not to question why…”

“God, you’re just full of quotes today!” Jessica chuckled, making Rachel almost double over with giggles.

“Well quote me on this,” Rachel said with a wide grin. “Let’s go out tonight and get wasted!”

“You know,” Jessica giggled as she followed her supervisor out of the locker room, “you go out every Friday and you STILL haven’t run into any of the Angels… If you’re that desperate to be introduced to them, you could always just call up the agency and ask...”

“And look desperate? No thank you,” Rachel giggled. The two girls wasted no time in heading to the nearest tube station and getting the first underground train home, stepping through the front door just after 8:30pm. As Jessica entered the apartment’s living room, though, she was greeted with a long hug from her Scottish lover- though the look on Paige’s face made Jessica realise immediately that something was very, very wrong.

“P-Paige?” Jessica asked, shocked to see that Paige had recently been crying. “What is it?”

“Jess…” Paige sobbed, before hugging the American girl again.

“Th-there’s been an attack,” Anna-Jade whispered, her voice quivering with fear. “A terrorist attack.”

“What?” Jessica asked in a state of near-panic. “Where?”

“…Paris,” Paige whispered. The colour drained from Jessica’s face as she sat down next to Paige on the sofa and watched the images on the TV screen- images of places Jessica knew well in a city where she’d lived for over a year.

“They say there was an attack at the football game,” Anna-Jade whispered. “And at a theatre in town, too…” Without saying another word, Jessica reached into her handbag and pulled out her smartphone, quickly navigating to the telephone number of the apartment in which she used to live.

“Come on,” Jessica whispered. “Pick up…”

“Who are you calling?” Anna-Jade asked.

“Natalie,” Jessica whispered. “Well- the whole flat, really…” Jessica took a deep breath as the phone on the other end of the line was answered by an unfamiliar French voice.

“Bonsoir?” The feminine voice asked. “C’est Chloe…”

“Je suis Jessica Tyler,” Jessica replied. “Je vivais avec Natalie Zoé et Marie, je peux parler à l'un d'entre eux, s'il vous plaît?”

“Oh, Jessica, yes!” Chloe said, immediately switching from her native French tongue to flawless English. “All three are on flights right now, I’m here by myself… I take it you heard what’s been happening?”

“Are you safe, where you are?” Jessica asked.

“We’ve not heard anything around here, but I’m not leaving the apartment…” Chloe replied. “Natalie and Zoe are due back in less than half an hour but I don’t know if they’ll be allowed to leave the airport, Marie and Clara too…”

“They’ll be allowed to turn their phone on, surely?” Jessica asked.

“I- I think so,” Chloe stammered. “I- I should call them, I’ll let them know you called, Jessica.”

“Thanks,” Jessica whispered as Chloe clicked off her phone.

“Any news?” Paige asked.

“They’ll call me if they hear anything,” Jessica said as she turned her attention back to the horrifying images on the TV. “I- I can’t believe this is happening…”

“It’s like something from a nightmare,” Anna-Jade moaned. "I remember growing up, my parents used to tell me about The Troubles, but I always thought things like that were just a part of history..."

“I remember the London attacks from ten years ago like it was yesterday,” Paige sighed. “It was just a couple of days after my 11th birthday, I was still excited, London has just won the Olympic bid, then our head teacher comes into class and announces there’s a special assembly, and then we get the news broken to us. Of course, to us, London was some faraway place down south, but it was still terrifying…” Paige sighed sadly as Jessica held her tighter, whilst the television continued to broadcast the images none of the girls wanted to see.

Less than twenty minutes later, Jessica’s phone rang, startling the American girl and causing her to almost drop the phone in her scramble to answer it. Whilst Jessica recognised that the call was coming from a Paris number, she didn’t recognise the actual number itself, causing her to take a deep breath as she tapped the ‘answer’ button.

“He- hello?” Jessica asked.

“Jess?” A familiar Manchester accent responded.

“Nat, thank god,” Jessica breathed. “Where are you and Zoe? Are you okay?”

“We’re fine, we’re fine,” Natalie said. “We’re holed up at the airport, the company’s putting us up overnight, they don’t want us to travel, for obvious reasons…”

“As long as you’re both safe,” Jessica sighed.

“Okay, okay, keep your hair on, mum,” Natalie said, making Jessica chuckle. “Speaking of, me and Zoe need to call our parents, let them know we’re okay… I’ll talk to you soon, Jess. Assuming all returns to normal I think we might be on the same flight on Tuesday, so I’ll see you then, okay?”

“What?” Jessica asked with a chuckle. “You’re telling me they re-promoted you and you’re back on blue route?”

“As if they’d keep me down for long,” Natalie laughed. “I’ll get off now before my phone bill makes me do a month of overtime…”

“Sorry, sorry,” Jessica said. “Talk soon, Nat.”

“See you round, Jess,” Natalie said, before clicking off the phone.

“Thank god,” Paige sighed. “Doubt I’d have been able to sleep if we hadn’t heard…”

“I’m still not sure I will,” Rachel- who’d abandoned her plans for a night out the second she’d heard the news of the terrorist attack- sighed. “I should probably call my mum, even though she knows I live in London now she’ll be worried sick…”

“Same here,” Paige sighed as she and Rachel retreated to their bedrooms, leaving Jessica and Anna-Jade alone in the living room.

“You- you’re not going to call your parents?” Jessica asked her Irish friend.

“Hardly any point,” Anna-Jade sighed. “They made their opinion of me very clear earlier in the year. They know my number if they want to call me. How about you?”

“The same,” Jessica sighed. “Besides, it’s… Just after 4pm where they are, they’re probably still at work.” Anna-Jade nodded as she twirled her phone around in her hand, before shoving it back in her handbag. The two women turned their attention back to the television and were rejoined minutes later by Paige and Rachel, who joined Jessica and Anna-Jade in front of the television for the rest of the night before heading to bed just after 10:30pm.

“I really, really don’t want to go in tomorrow,” Paige moaned as she and Jessica snuggled together underneath the warm blankets.

“I kinda wish I was,” Jessica moaned. “Help me keep my mind off of things…”

“You know there’ll be cameras everywhere tomorrow,” Paige sighed. “Desperate to get our reaction to the news, ask us about friends in Paris…”

“Okay, then I’m glad I’m not going in,” Jessica said, making Paige snort with laughter. “So you’ve suddenly decided you don’t want to be a reality TV star after all?”

“Reality TV suddenly seems a lot less important than it did twelve hours ago,” Paige sighed. “You know, I got another one of our ‘things’ from Amazon last night… Doesn’t really seem appropriate to use it now, does it?”

“It’ll keep,” Jessica said. “Assuming it’s not edible body paint again?”

“No, nothing like THAT again,” Paige giggled as Jessica gave her a long kiss.

“Get some sleep,” Jessica whispered, clicking off the light and sighing as Paige’s body relaxed next to hers. Neither girl had managed to get to sleep, however, when Jessica’s phone rang yet again less than half an hour later. Jessica rubbed the fatigue out of her eyes before clicking on her nightlight and staring at the caller ID- this time, it was a number she immediately recognised.

“…Mom?” Jessica asked, still using her feminine voice despite the identity of the person to whom she was speaking.

“Jesse, oh thank god,” Mrs. Tyler sighed as she heard her oldest child’s voice. “Paris has been all over the news this afternoon, where are you? Are you safe? I’m sorry, I know it must be late where you are, but I had to call…”

“We’re fine,” Jessica replied. “We don’t even live in Paris anymore…”

“Wh-what?” Mrs. Tyler asked, an air of anger creeping into her voice. “When did this happen?”

“About three months ago,” Jessica replied. “The carline opened a hub in London, we got reassigned…”

“And you didn’t think to tell me?” Jessica’s mother shouted.

“The last time we spoke, you didn’t seem very interested in ‘Jessica’s life,” the American girl said in a cold voice.

“That doesn’t mean I don’t want you to be safe!” Mrs. Tyler wailed. “No matter what you, well, ‘choose’ for your life…”

“Well- I am safe,” Jessica said. “I have to go now, it’s late, I’m in bed… Give my love to Aaron and Hayley, and dad…”

“I will,” Mrs. Tyler. “I- I love you, Jesse…”

“Jessica,” the American girl replied. “My name is Jessica.”

“I- I love you, Je- Jess…” Mrs. Tyler said, trying but failing to call her child by her chosen name.

“I love you too, mom,” Jessica sighed. “I’ll let you go, don’t want to run up your bill too much.”

“Talk soon,” Mrs. Tyler said before hanging up the phone.

“Still in denial?” Paige asked as Jessica returned her phone to her nightstand.

“Ugh, I- I dunno,” Jessica moaned. “I’m utterly knackered, can we please get some sleep?”

“’Knackered’?” Paige giggled.

“You and your dialect must be rubbing off on me,” Jessica chuckled.

“You do know that ‘rubbing off’ has another meaning in my dialect, right?” Paige said with a smile.

“Yeah… Mine too,” Jessica giggled, giving her Scottish lover a long, deep kiss. “Get some sleep, beautiful.” Paige smiled and rested her head on her pillow, but her thoughts soon turned back to her friends in Paris, and the fear they must be feeling. Paige slept very little during the night, moaning as her alarm woke her at 6am for her morning flight to Berlin. After Paige showered, she padded back to her bedroom- where her American lover was still asleep- and touched up her nail polish before popping the top off of the small vials of pills she’d been prescribed nine months earlier.

“You’d better not be the reason I couldn’t sleep last night, you little bastards,” Paige grumbled, before taking one pill from each vial and swallowing it with a gulp of water. As Paige stared at her naked form in the mirror, she mused on how much she’d changed since she started hormone therapy nine months earlier. Her body had changed dramatically- her waist had narrowed to the point where her work-mandated corset barely needed to be tightened each morning, her hips and backside had widened and her breasts had a noticeable shape and size- somewhere between an A and a B cup- to them. Whilst she still wore a padded bra to give herself the necessary ‘shape’ at work, outside of work she now wore a bra as a necessity, rather than a fashion choice. Paige was also much, much happier in herself- the conflict that she’d felt all throughout her life no longer existed now that she was chemically female, the way she’d always felt she should be. Her parents had accepted her for who she wanted to be, as had her sisters, her employers and, most importantly, her lover. Paige just wished that Jessica could resolve her own conflict and accept herself for who she was…

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the pilot announced in his refined English accent, “we are currently cruising at a height of 28 000 feet, or 8 kilometres. Refreshments are now available from any of our beautiful and hard-working flight attendants, so please feel free to avail yourself of their services. We will be arriving in Berlin in just under ninety minutes. Thank you for your attention.”

Paige smiled as she straightened her tight blue skirt and rebalanced her blue pillbox hat, before pushing her refreshments trolley out into the aisle of the plane to the passenger who had summoned her.

“Ah,” the passenger- a blonde German man in his early thirties- said. “The pilot wasn’t wrong when he said beautiful and hard-working.”

“Thank you, sir,” Paige simpered in her sweetest possible voice. “What can I get for you?”

“Black coffee, two sugars, please,” the man replied. “In one of those cups with a lid, I don’t want it spilling all over my suit!”

“Certainly, sir,” Paige said, pouring the businessman his drink and expertly placing it on his tray table. “Will there be anything else, sir?”

“I would say ‘your phone number’ but I’m guessing that would be ‘no’?” The German man chuckled.

“I’m afraid I’m not allowed to fraternise with passengers, sir,” Paige replied, making her customer laugh even louder.

“How can you laugh at a time like this?” The passenger seated two seats behind the German man- a gruff Englishman in his fifties with a thick moustache- snorted. “Need I remind you that people lost their lives last night?”

“No, you don’t need to remind me,” the German man. “What happened in Paris was a tragedy, but life goes on.”

“Not for those 130 people, it doesn’t!” The Englishman snapped.

“Nor does it for the several hundred who die each day in Iraq and Syria,” the German man retorted, silencing the Englishman. “Forgive me if I’m wrong, but if we give in to fear, if we compromise, aren’t we letting the terrorists win? Take this young woman here, for example.” Paige bristled as her passenger gestured toward her slender body. “You know about the quote-unquote girls this airline hires. Something that ISIL sees as utterly-“

“Sirs, please, you’re disturbing the other passengers,” Paige whispered, silencing the two businessmen. With no other passengers needing refreshments, Paige retreated to the rear compartment of the plane, inadvertently scowling as she passed the camera that had been set up in the small work area.

“Hey, Annabelle,” Paige said to her American colleague.

“Hey, honey,” Annabelle replied, before returning to her work preparing fruit and sandwiches for the passengers. Realising that she wasn’t going to get any further conversation out of the blonde woman, Paige refilled the coffee machine on her trolley and also remained silent, determined not to give the camera people any useable footage from the flight.

“Ugh,” Zoe moaned as she and Natalie left Charles De Gaulle airport after their impromptu ‘sleepover’. “Can’t believe this has happened AGAIN…”

“The important thing is that we’re all safe,” Marie said, catching up to her sister and her lover. “We should call mama when we get home, let her know we’re back safe…”

“I should call my mum as well,” Natalie sighed as the three women- who were soon joined by their flat mate Clara- made their way to the nearest tram stop and headed back to their home as fast as they possibly could.

“Oh, dieu merci,” Chloe exclaimed as the four women walked through the front door of the flat, before giving her twin sister a tight hug.

“Stop panicking so much,” Clara laughed, slipping off her stiletto heels and sitting down on the sofa. “What’s for lunch?”

“Don’t tell me not to panic,” Chloe sighed, giving Clara a playful shove as the other three women dropped into their chairs. “Mum’s called three times this morning already, wanting to know when you’ll be back…”

“Okay, okay,” Clara said. “Let’s go to our room, we’ll call her from there…”

“I hope everyone from my class is okay,” Zoe mumbled. “They’d have just finished by 8pm…”

“The same class you haven’t taught in over a year?” Marie asked her younger sister.

“They sent me a card for my birthday last month,” Zoe shrugged. “And besides, I taught some of those girls for years…”

“You’ve come so far over the last few months,” Marie sighed. “Made so much progress since your warning at the New Year, don’t slip back now…”

“Wishing I was still a dance teacher isn’t ‘slipping backwards’,” Zoe angrily retorted.

“Ladies,” Natalie said, silencing the two sisters. “I’m sure your mother will also want to know that you’re home safe and sound.”

“…Fine,” Marie said, slipping off her shoes and heading into her bedroom with Zoe in tow. Left alone in the living room, Natalie untied her long brown hair and let it fall loosely around her face, before slipping off her own stiletto heels and pulling her phone out of her handbag. After lazily fiddling with the phone for a few seconds, she unlocked the screen and hit one of the numbers on her speed dial.

“Hello?” The middle-aged woman asked upon answering the phone.

“Hi mum,” Natalie said in her natural, masculine voice.

“Matthew!” Natalie’s mother gushed. “Are you back home yet?”

“Just got in a few minutes ago,” Natalie sighed. “Unsurprisingly, all flights have been cancelled today…”

“Well as long as you’re safe, that’s the important thing,” Mrs. Briggs said. “How’s your French girl?”

“Zoe?” Natalie asked. “She’s a bit rattled, but she’s okay. How are Ellen and Sasha?”

“They were worried,” Mrs. Briggs replied. “But happy to know that their big brother-slash-sister was okay. I’ll let them know you called, they’ve both gone to the Arndale to do their Christmas shopping today… At least I hope they’re Christmas shopping, you know teenage girls…”

“Better than most,” Natalie replied, making her mother snort with laughter. “Give them my love, I’ll try to get over sometime before Christmas. And yes, I’ll bring Zoe too!”

“Make sure you do,” Mrs. Briggs said. “I’ll let you get off, don’t want to complete drain your phone bill. I love you, Matthew. And yes, I love you too, Natalie.”

“Thanks,” Natalie said with a smile. “Love you too.” Natalie smiled as the line disconnected, before heading into her bedroom and changing into a comfortable pair of leggings and a t-shirt dress.

“Bonjour mama!” Marie and Zoe said simultaneously into Marie’s mobile phone.

“Marie!” the girls’ mother exclaimed. “Zoe! Are you both home? Are you both safe?”

“We’re both back, yes,” Marie answered. “Got home a few minutes ago, Natalie and Clara too.”

“Please tell me you’re not going out again tonight?” Mme Renou asked.

“No,” Zoe sighed. “But I’m on a flight to Warsaw first thing tomorrow morning, and Marie’s off to Dubai on Monday.”

“Ugh,” Mme Renou spat. “Can’t believe your company are still flying to the Middle East after what happened yesterday…”

“The UAE is hardly the same thing as Islamic State,” Marie retorted.

“It’s still much too far from France for my liking,” the girls’ mother said. “Though in saying that, sometimes I wish you HAD moved to London when you had the chance…”

“I’d be no safer in London than I am in Paris,” Zoe said.

“But you would be in Nice!” Mme Renou said. “Just- just make sure you both keep safe, please? Whatever country you fly to…”

“We will, mama,” Marie said.

“Our love to you and papa!” Zoe cooed, before Marie clicked off the phone. Sighing heavily, Zoe sprawled out on the bed and began stretching her limbs.

“Must you do that now?” Marie asked, grimacing at the sight of her younger sister stretching her leg at an almost 180 degree angle to normal.

“It helps me calm down,” Zoe retorted. “You should try it some time.”

“I prefer my hips to stay in their sockets, thank you very much,” Marie retorted, making the girls giggle as they tried to relax.

“And you? Stay outside,” Paige giggled to the camera that followed her and her colleagues through Heathrow airport to their tiny locker room. As soon as the door to the room was closed, Paige let out a long, tired sigh and slid into a nearby chair, before peeling off her uniform and watching as Annabelle elegantly unzipped her tight blue skirt.

“A-are you okay, Annabelle?” Paige asked the tall American girl.

“Sure, honey,” Annabelle replied, barely pausing as she unbuttoned her shiny black blouse.

“It- it’s just that you’ve been even quieter than normal today,” Paige said. “Have- have you spoken to your old housemates? In Paris, I mean…”

“Uh-huh,” Annabelle replied, before straightening her stockings and pulling on the slinky black dress she’d worn to the airport.

“Okay,” Paige said. “Well- If you need to talk, just do so. There’s nothing wrong with expressing your feelings, especially to friends, and I do consider us to be friends... You don’t lose anything by opening up.” Annabelle paused briefly, before turning her back to Paige.

“Can you zip me up please, honey?” Annabelle asked, holding her long blonde hair out of the way of her zip. Sighing, Paige zipped Annabelle into her form-fitting dress, before pulling on her own black pencil skirt and sleeveless blouse. Paige watched Annabelle as she started to leave the locker room, before gasping as she pause and turned around, flashing a wide, genuine smile.

“Thanks, Paige,” Annabelle said, before leaving the Scottish girl alone in the locker room.

“Guten abend!” Jessica laughed, greeting Paige with a long, deep kiss as she entered the apartment and slipped off her high-heeled shoes.

“Aye, ja, whatever,” Paige said as she crashed on the sofa, crossing one stockinged leg over the other. “Hi, Anna-Jade.”

“Hi Paige,” Anna-Jade replied. “Hiromi called while you were in the air, wanted you to know that her and the girls are back home…”

“Thanks,” Paige said. “It’s weird, you know? Something like yesterday happens, and people carry on as normal, but then again, as someone said today, they have to, otherwise it means that ‘they’ win…”

“You got that right,” Anna-Jade sighed. “Rachel’s gone to her parents’ for the weekend so it’s just the three of us tonight, anyone for takeout?”

“Damn right!” Paige said, the smile returning to her face. “Actually… Before we order, I just want to make a call, if I can.”

“Your folks?” Anna-Jade asked. “Sure, be my guest.”

“Not them,” Paige said. “Actually, I’d kinda like ALL of us to make the call… Jess! Can you come here a sec?”

“Sure,” Jessica said, sitting down next to Paige and giving the Scottish girl’s free hand a squeeze. “Who you calling?”

“Home,” Paige said. “Doesn’t seem fair that your phone is the only one getting international charges…”

“You don’t get international charges for calling Scotland from London though, do you?” Jessica asked.

“I’m not calling THAT home,” Paige said, switching on the speakerphone on her handset and placing it on the coffee table between the three women.

“Bonsoir?” The unmistakable soft voice of Zoe spoke from the phone.

“Hi Zoe!” Jessica, Paige and Anna-Jade all said simultaneously.

“Mes filles!” Zoe called excitedly. “Oh, sorry, sorry, been so long since I last spoke English… I’ll go and get Natalie and my sister!”

“Okay,” Jessica said, before turning and smiling at her Scottish lover.

“You’re welcome,” Paige said. “Been too long since the six of us last sat around and gossiped…”

“Hello!” Natalie yelled down the phone, startling the three London-based women and making them laugh.

“Bonsoir!” Marie giggled into the phone. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

“You owe it to the fact that we really miss you girls,” Paige said. “The six of us haven’t said around and gossiped since we moved to London… I missed that, and yesterday particularly made me think about all the great times I had in Paris…”

“Your fault for leaving,” Natalie retorted, making the girls all laugh. “Though it’s nice to be able to speak English in this apartment and not get four angry Frenchwomen shouting at me…”

“Speaking of, where are our replacements?” Anna-Jade asked. “The twins, you said?”

“Chloe and Clara, yeah,” Marie replied. “Gone to their parents’ for the night… They’re native Parisians so yesterday had them pretty rattled. Clara particularly, though she is of course hiding it. Reckons that the airline would be a target because of its ‘hiring policy’, I tried to explain that if that was the case, it’d already, well, you know…” All six girls nodded, leading to an awkward silence in the conversation.

“Ooh, Zoe,” Paige said, breaking the tension. “You’ll be happy to hear that Jessica and I are on the waiting list for a ballet adult beginner’s class!”

“Magnifique!” Zoe giggled. “Of course, your teacher won’t be as good as I am, even after a year working elsewhere…”

“Don’t encourage her, please,” Marie sighed, making her sister giggle even louder. “You girls working tomorrow?”

“Jess and Paige are, I’m not,” Anna-Jade replied.

“Same here,” Marie said. “Well, Zoe and Natalie are working, it’s my day off… Whose phone are we on?”

“Mine,” Paige replied.

“This call must me costing you a fortune,” Marie sighed. “What if- whenever the six of us are free in an evening, we all get on Skype and chat, just like the old times, okay?”

“Deal,” Jessica said. “Tell you what- I’ll go and get my laptop now!” All six girls giggled excitedly as Paige ended the call, only for the conversation to resume a few minutes later on Jessica’s and Marie’s laptops and last until late into the evening.

As the girls prepared for bed, their moods were significantly better than they had been earlier in the day. The gossip session had reminded them that no matter what, life did indeed go on, and there were things in the world that were worth looking forward to.

As Jessica gently lowered her delicate nightie over her head and threw back her bed sheets, ready for a good night’s sleep, she was startled by the sudden sound of her phone ringing.

“Is that Marie again?” Paige asked as she brushed her shoulder-length black hair.

“They’d surely be in bed now too,” Jessica sighed as she checked the caller ID on her phone. “It’s my mom again.”

“Say ‘hi’ from me,” Paige said, making Jessica giggle as she answered the phone.

“Hi mom,” The American girl said. “Yes, I’m still home and safe…”

“Yes, yes, I know,” Mrs. Tyler said. “It’s just… Last night was the first time we’d spoken in ages, and… I want us to speak more.”

“If by ‘more’ you mean ‘nightly’ then I hope dad got a raise,” Jessica laughed. “Last time I checked, international calls to Europe weren’t cheap…”

“I see your sense of humour didn’t change with your gender,” Mrs. Tyler said, making Jessica giggle.

“So… You accept that you now have TWO daughters?” Jessica asked with obvious hope in her voice.

“It- it’s not easy,” Mrs. Tyler said, making Jessica sigh. “What you’re doing- what you- what you ‘are’, it’s not normal.”

“Define ‘normal’,” Jessica retorted.

“Touché,” Mrs. Tyler conceded. “Anyway, I just- I just wanted to call to invite you and Paige over. For Christmas, I mean… If the two of you can get leave, even if it’s only for a couple of days, we’d love to see you again.”

“When you say ‘the two of us’-“ Jessica asked.

“I mean ‘Jessica and Paige’,” Mrs. Tyler clarified. “It’ll be easier to accept that I have another daughter if I can meet her face to face. Properly, I mean.”

“What’s she asking?” Paige asked, only to be shushed by her American lover.

“We’ll think about it,” Jessica replied. “Paige’s parents have also asked us to spend Christmas with them-“

“No they haven’t,” Paige interrupted, earning a stern glare from Jessica.

“We’ll get back to you soon,” Jessica said.

“Well don’t keep us hanging for too long,” Mrs. Tyler sighed. “It’s bad enough I won’t have my whole family with me for a second Thanksgiving in a row, I refuse to allow it to happen for two Christmases in a row!”

“We’ll let you know soon, I promise,” Jessica said. “I- I love you, mom.”

“I love you too… Jessica,” Mrs. Tyler said, before ending the call.

“Why’d you lie to your mum?” Paige asked as she climbed underneath the warm sheets. “I’d LOVE to spend Christmas in America, you know that, right?”

“Yeah, I know,” Jessica sighed as she climbed into bed and cuddled her body close to Paige’s. “It’s just… I don’t know if I can handle the stress of all of it, not yet, anyway.”

“Well- ugh,” Paige spat, before grabbing her own phone from her nightstand.

“What are you doing?” Jessica asked.

“Saving your arse,” Paige replied as she keyed a number into her phone.

“Hello?” The warm, gruff voice of Paige’s father said on the other end of Paige’s call.

“Hi dad!” Paige said with as much enthusiasm as her tired body could muster.

“Paige!” Mr. Robertson said with clear delight in his voice. “Why are you calling this late? Don’t you have to fly to some exotic European resort tomorrow?”

“Aye, Berlin again, the most exotic of them all,” Paige said, making her father chuckle. “We’ve just been speaking to Jessica’s parents… It’s about Christmas.” Jessica’s eyes widened and a smile crept on her face as she realised Paige’s plan- if the Robertsons found out about Jessica’s parents’ offer, they’d feel obliged to make a similar offer, and give Jessica an excuse to not go back to America for Christmas.

“Let me guess-“ Paige’s father said. “They want you to go over to America for Christmas? Sorry, ‘the holidays’?”

“Got it in one,” Paige said.

“Well that sounds amazing!” Mr. Robertson gushed, making Paige’s smile falter. “You’ve been going on about visiting America for years now, and your holiday there in February got cut short, so it’d be fantastic if you got to go again!”

“Well- okay then!” Paige giggled. “Talk soon, dad.”

“Well?” Jessica asked as Paige clicked off her phone.

“Well, you probably needn’t brush up on your Scots,” Paige said, making Jessica moan. “Oh come on, surely you want to go and see your parents again? From what I heard, your mum WAS ready to accept you as Jessica, right?”

“Sounded like there were a LOT of conditions attached,” Jessica moaned. “Come on, get some sleep babe, we can think about this tomorrow…”

“Sure thing, gorgeous,” Paige said, wrapping her arms around Jessica’s slender body and quickly falling into a deep sleep.

Alone in her bedroom, Anna-Jade stared at her phone with a desperate longing. Hearing Jessica speak to her parents had reignited the hope in her heart that maybe, just maybe, her parents would be willing to ‘forgive’ her. It had been over twelve months since Anna-Jade had started taking oestrogen, and in that time, she hadn’t exchanged a single word with her parents. For all they knew, she still lived in Paris. For all they knew, she could be dead…

Anna-Jade took a deep breath, before unlocking her phone and typing in the eleven digits that made up the telephone number of her family home. The Irish girl hesitated before pressing ‘call’- it was after 10:30pm, there was no guarantee that her parents would still be awake… And even less guarantee that they’d be willing to listen to what she had to say.

“Now or never,” Anna-Jade whispered, before pressing the ‘call’ button. The phone was answered on the third ring, causing Anna-Jade’s breath to catch in her mouth as she heard the voice she hadn’t heard in over a year.

“Hello?” Anna-Jade’s mother asked with an air of anger in her voice. “Who is this?”

“Hi mum,” the nervous Irishwoman replied. “It’s An-“ Anna-Jade paused, tears in her eyes, as she heard the unmistakable sound of a telephone being slammed down on the receiver. Anna-Jade’s mother hadn’t even allowed her to say four words, and hadn’t even dignified her with a response before rejecting her just as cruelly as she’d done so many months ago.

“You-“ Anna-Jade whispered between tearful sniffles. “You don’t fucking well deserve to call yourself a parent…” Anna-Jade rested her head on her pillow and sobbed herself to sleep, trying to remember that even if her biological family had rejected her, she had friends less than ten feet away who would always be her ‘true’ family.

Jessica grunted as Paige tightened her corset, tying the laces into a bow once her waist had been tightened to the regulation 26 inches.

“You know,” the Scottish girl informed her lover, “if you’d only take oestrogen, your waist would naturally narrow…”

“You know,” Jessica retorted, “if our uniform regulations weren’t written by a bunch of misogynistic pricks, I wouldn’t need a narrower waist?”

“We both knew the uniform regulations before signing up,” Paige sighed, before pulling on a smart sleeveless blouse and a tight black pencil skirt. “You have to admit, it WAS part of the appeal…”

“It was when I only thought I’d be working for the company for six months,” Jessica sighed, pulling on her own slinky pencil dress before coating her lips in her favourite blood-red lipstick.

“I agree the corsets are kinda impractical,” Paige sighed. “But let’s face it, all we do all day is serve drinks, I’ve done hundreds of flights, not a single emergency beyond having to mop up some clumsy moron’s crotch. When I was working at the pool I’d have at least one emergency each week…”

“If I get clumsy today, will you mop up MY crotch?” Jessica asked with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, making Paige giggle and give her a long, deep kiss.

“Come on,” Paige sighed. “These cities won’t fly to themselves…” Jessica smiled as she took Paige’s hand and followed her out of the small flat, soon arriving at Heathrow airport for her flight to Rome.

Several hours later, the girls returned from the flights, tired from the day’s efforts and from spending the whole day in their restrictive- yet highly feminine- clothing. Jessica had a wide smile on her face as she peeled her red skirt off of her nylon-covered legs, even though she knew she’d be pulling straight back on less than twelve hours later. Her smile faded, however, when she left the locker room to find a TV camera pointed straight at her face.

“Can you give us a few words please, Jessica?” The interviewer to whom Jessica had spoken two days earlier asked. “It’s been less than 48 hours since the attacks in Paris, how does it feel for things to get back to normal?” Jessica stared at the camera and suddenly felt a wave of panic wash over her, which slowly made way for a feeling of pure anger. Who the hell were these people to delve into Jessica’s personal, private feelings?

“I- I’m not willing to comment now,” Jessica muttered, brusquely pushing past the film crew in her desperation to return home. The tube ride home felt longer than ever for the American girl, but as she opened the front door and looked into the smiling face of her Scottish lover, all her anxieties vanished. Jessica surprised Paige with a long, deep kiss, but the Scottish girl soon reciprocated, and within seconds the two women had retreated to their bedroom and were eagerly undressing each other.

“So,” Jessica asked with a look of pure lust in her eyes, “what was this ‘thing’ you got from Amazon?” Paige smiled wickedly as the two women fell into bed, locked in each other’s arms…

Zoe sighed as she peeled off her tight black skirt and slinky black slip, exposing the sheer black tights and white bodysuit underneath. There wasn’t a single second during her flights between Paris and Warsaw when the Frenchwoman didn’t wish she was somewhere, anywhere else. Unlike Jessica and Paige, Zoe had zero problems with the uniform- her years of ballet had given her such good posture and such a slender frame that she barely noticed her mandatory corset, and the combination of the bodysuit and tights helped Zoe to pretend- even if it was just for a few seconds- that she was back in her dance studio, dealing with eager teenagers instead of on an aeroplane, dealing with obnoxious businessmen.

The only satisfaction Zoe got from her job was when one of the passengers would closely examine Zoe’s body to try to determine whether or not she, like 70% of Soixante-Trois Airlines’s staff, was transgendered. An internal smile always spread over Zoe’s face as she saw the suspicion in the passengers’ eyes- a suspicion she was always willing to ‘confirm’. There were rules written into the employee guidelines stating that all transgendered employees were to make every effort to be as feminine as possible so that it would be impossible for passengers to ‘read’ them. There were, however, no such rules that applied to cisgender employees- and that was a loophole Zoe exploited to the fullest. Zoe had been called before a supervisor- including her own sister- more than once after reports from passengers that she was acting in an overly masculine manner, and every time, Zoe pointed out the loophole that means that she would be exempt from punishment, even with the written warning still on her record. Zoe knew that it couldn’t last forever- nothing in her life ever did- but was determined to enjoy it while she could.

Zoe giggled as she walked through the front door of her apartment and saw Natalie and Clara sat on the sofa, their legs spread and their postures slouched in as un-feminine a manner as they could manage.

“Alright, love?” Natalie teased in a voice even deeper than her natural male voice.

“Stop that,” Zoe mumbled, blushing as she slipped off her stilettos and sat down on the sofa, keeping her knees elegantly pressed together.

“What?” Clara laughed. “The only girl who works for Soixante-Trois who actually wishes that she was transgendered…”

“I don’t ‘wish’ I was transgendered,” Zoe retorted. “I love being a girl. I just also love messing with people’s heads!”

“And she wonders why she never wins employee of the month,” Marie sighed as she sat down on her sofa, glass of wine in hand. Zoe sighed as her older sister slowly allowed her own legs to spread apart in the same manner as Natalie and Clara.

“It’s pretty impressive that I’m more effeminate than you, and I’ve never taken a microgram of oestrogen,” Natalie said, making Zoe groan and hurl a cushion at the Englishwoman.

“If you hate the job so much, why do you persist with it?” Clara asked.

“Because there’s nothing else that I’m good at that pays as well,” Zoe sighed. “It’s either ‘be miserable and eat’ or ‘do what I love and starve’.”

“What you love being ‘teaching ballet’, right?” Clara asked.

“Any form of dance, but mainly ballet, yes,” Zoe said. “Why?” Zoe rolled her eyes before giggling uncontrollably as the other three women simultaneously stripped off their dresses and the dark tights they were wearing, revealing the same baby pink tights and black leotards that made up Zoe’s work uniform for many years.

“I’ve even asked mama to send my old pointe shoes up from Nice,” Marie said smugly as she, Natalie and Clara lined up behind the sofa like ballet students at a barre. “Mademoiselle Renou? We are ready for our lesson now.”

“You quit ballet because you hated it,” Zoe reminded her sister.

“Yes,” Marie said as she tied her hair into a tight bun. “But you hate being a stewardess and you still do it, so I can put up with a little dancing every now and again…”

“Best big sister ever!” Zoe giggled, giving Marie a hug before changing into her own ballet uniform and leading the three women in a very informal, almost chaotic ‘lesson’.

As Monday morning dawned over London and Paris, life was slowly returning to normal, both for the employees of Soixante-Trois Airlines and the rest of the population of the two cities. For the second morning in a row, Jessica stood in the locker room at Heathrow airport and zipped up her tight red skirt, before slipping her feet into the pointed-toe red stilettos and balancing her matching pillbox hat on top of her ex-pertly-styled blonde hair. Jessica would soon be in an aeroplane high over Europe, but her mind was still distracted by her mother’s offer.

Following her ‘homecoming’ in February, Jessica had honestly believed that she’d burnt her bridges with her family forever. They hadn’t tolerated her choice to live her life as ‘Jessica’, and she had refused to compromise and return to life as ‘Jesse’, so she’d walked away. And yet, not a single day passed when she hadn’t thought about her parents, or her younger brother or sister. Aaron- Jessica’s brother- would turn eighteen in a matter of weeks, but Jessica hadn’t bought any presents for him as she felt that she would never be allowed to give them to him. The phone call from her mother had caught Jessica completely by surprise, and she was determined that she wouldn’t ruin her second chance in the same way as her coming out in February.

Jessica was able to control her anxieties on the flights to and from Rome and performed her duties with her usual professional attitude, but the second she disembarked the plane back at Heathrow Airport, she headed to an office that had been specially set aside for her use. After sitting down- taking extra care due to the tightness of her skirt- Jessica switched her mobile phone back on and dialled a number that had been provided for her shortly after she moved to London.

“Hello?” The person on the other end of the line- a kind-sounding middle aged woman- asked.

“Hi, is that Dr Finlay?” Jessica asked. “It’s Jessica, Jessica Tyler.”

“Ah yes, Jessica, right on time!” Dr Finlay said. “How was Italy?”

“Nice and warm,” Jessica giggled. “Thanks for agreeing to me calling so late…”

“Not a problem at all,” Dr Finlay replied. “I know you and your colleagues work strange hours, and your company pays me well for my time! I would begin by asking how you’re feeling, though I follow the news and I know you still have friends living in Paris… Are they all okay?”

“They’re fine, thanks,” Jessica said. “A little rattled, though.”

“And yourself?” Dr Finlay asked.

“…Also rattled,” Jessica sighed. “It’s not like London HASN’T been the victim of a terrorist attack in the past.”

“I can understand how you must be nervous too, given your choice of profession,” Dr Finlay said. “Feel free to refuse to answer if you feel this question is too personal, but do you have many memories of 9/11?”

“…Some,” Jessica said. “I was nine at the time, I remember the principal of my school coming into our class and telling us…” Jessica trailed off as she realised that her tale was very familiar to one she’d heard a few hours before.

“Jessica?” Dr Finlay asked.

“Sorry,” Jessica said. “It’s just- Paige told the exact same story about how she found out about the 7/7 bombings. Of all the things that bring us together, I’d kinda hoped that wouldn’t be on the list…”

“How is your relationship with Paige?” Dr Finlay asked.

“Same as always,” Jessica said with a smile. “No complaints, I’m perfectly happy with her. Though…”

“Go on,” Dr Finlay encouraged.

“On Friday night, just after we heard the news…”Jessica said hesitantly. “I got a call from my parents.”

“What did they have to say?” Dr Finlay asked.

“They just wanted assurance that I was okay,” Jessica sighed. “They didn’t know I’d moved to London, still thought I lived in Paris, they were worried sick…”

“So are you and your mother back on speaking terms?” Dr Finlay asked.

“I think so,” Jessica replied. “I hope so… They invited me and Paige over to Baltimore for Christmas. ‘Jessica’ and Paige, that is.”

“Do you want to go?” Dr Finlay asked.

“I…” Jessica said, before trailing off. “I don’t know. I think so, I mean- they’re my parents, I want to have a relationship with them, and I’d love to see my brother and sister, but I want to see them as Jessica… I don’t want to hide who I am.”

“And do your parents feel the same way?” The counsellor asked.

“…I hope so,” Jessica sighed. “I mean, they called me, they spoke to ‘Jessica’, they called me ‘Jessica’ down the phone… But when they see ‘Jessica’…”

“Obviously the decision has to be yours,” Dr Finlay advised. “But all I’ll say is that you shouldn’t waste an opportunity like this, as you never know when you’ll get another one.”

“…I know,” Jessica sighed.

Thirty minutes later, Jessica left the small office, tired from her day’s work and the conversation with her counsellor. The topic of Jessica’s transition had also been raised, but was immediately shut down by the American girl, who didn’t want to make any decisions about her transition until she’d had the chance to talk to her parents face to face one more time.

As Jessica rounded the corner to the locker room, she groaned when she saw the familiar sight of the interviewer and her camera crew waiting outside the room.

“No, thank you,” Jessica said, not even turning to look at the interviewer before entering the locker room and changing back into the smart blouse and pencil skirt she’d worn to the airport. Jessica rolled her eyes as she exited the locker room to discover that the camera crew were still there, despite there being no other flights due back for well over an hour.

“Still no,” Jessica sighed, before heading straight for the nearest tube stop and going home.

“Hey, gorgeous,” Paige said, greeting Jessica with a long kiss as the American girl stepped through the front door. “I’d watch out if I were you… Rachel’s kinda on the warpath.” Jessica sighed before entering the living room, where her English flat mate and supervisor was waiting with an upset look on her face.

“Jessica,” Rachel sighed as the American girl sat down on the sofa.

“We’re not at work,” Jessica retorted. “Whatever it is, tell me there.”

“It’s about the documentary,” Rachel said.

“Oh,” Jessica said. “Well, then don’t bother telling me at all!” Jessica snorted derisively as Rachel’s frown deepened.

“It’s bad enough you won’t let them film here,” Rachel sighed. “But by refusing to talk to them after flights you’re jeopardising not just your part in the show, but your friends’ as well.”

“Look- Rachel,” Jessica sighed. “I’m not going to put myself up on screen for people to point at and laugh. And don’t tell me that won’t happen, I’ve seen enough crap reality TV to know what the reaction would be. I’ll happily be in the background, give a few words here and there, but I’m not going to let them turn me into something you find in those crap supermarket magazines!”

“You’d still be just the same old Jessica,” Rachel said, barely controlling her anger. “They don’t want some over the top fancy celebrity, they want the real you! Just say what you feel, it doesn’t have to be a fight…”

“Thanks, but no thanks,” Jessica said, switching on the TV and silencing her flat mate. The air in the apartment remained tense for the rest of the evening, with Rachel and Jessica barely acknowledging each other’s existence before they both went to bed just after 10pm.

“You know,” Paige said as she removed her make-up, “picking a fight with our flat mate isn’t really my idea of a relaxing evening…”

“Sorry,” Jessica sighed. “I- I’m just so pissed with this whole ‘documentary’ thing… I’ve got enough going on in my life as it is.”

“Hope I’m not being counted in there,” Paige said, making Jessica giggle.

“No, no,” the American girl laughed. “Just my mom, my transitioning, now what’s happened in Paris…”

“It HAS been ages since our last holiday,” Paige said. “It’d be good to get away somewhere. Though on the topic of the second thing you said…” Jessica smile as Paige rattled her vial of oestrogen pills at her.

“I need to sort the first thing on that list before I think about that,” Jessica said, before groaning as Paige forced her phone into her hands.

“Then sort it now,” Paige said. “You know we’re going to go to America for Christmas anyway, right?”

“WRONG,” Jessica said, putting her phone down on her nightstand. “Can we just get some sleep, please?”

“We can do that other ‘bed thing’ that begins with S as well if you’d like?” Paige said, climbing into bed and cuddling herself close to Jessica. “I cleaned those ‘things’ we used last night while you were out…”

“…Maybe tomorrow,” Jessica said, giving Paige a long kiss on the lips. “I had a long day today. And my thong was REALLY uncomfortable this morning…”

Paige smiled as the alarm on Jessica’s phone went off, causing the American girl to slide her smooth, hairless body out of bed and pad to the shower to get ready for the day ahead. Paige relaxed back in bed as Jessica cleansed herself, before returning to the bedroom to get dressed.

“That’s right, you just relax,” Jessica sighed as she pulled on her black bra and thong. “I’ll just work for a living…”

“And you’ll be thinking of me tomorrow when it’s your turn to sleep in, right?” Paige giggled.

“You know I always think of you,” Jessica said, making Paige coo happily as the two young lovers shared a soft kiss. “Though today it’ll mostly be envy at you sleeping in, not having to wear a corset or stilettos all day…”

“Whereas I’ll be envious that you ARE wearing a corset and stilettos all day,” Paige chuckled. “You know you love it really…”

“Yes, yes, I do,” Jessica sighed. “And I love you too…” Paige giggled as Jessica leaned in for another kiss, before allowing the Scottish girl to lace her corset.

“Love you too,” Paige whispered, smiling happily as Jessica ritually applied her lipstick. “See you later, sexy!” Jessica giggled as she left her small bedroom, before her smile faded as she came across Rachel leaving her bedroom with Anna-Jade in tow.

“Morning, Rachel, morning, Anna-Jade,” Jessica said in a quiet, awkward voice.

“Hi Jessica,” Rachel said, her demeanour telling her that she was still upset with Jessica following the previous night’s argument.

“Hi Jess,” Anna-Jade said. “You doing Paris today?”

“Yeah,” Jessica said. “You?”

“Dublin,” Anna-Jade said with a smile. “Quote-unquote homecoming for me…”

“Anna-Jade…” Jessica whispered as the three women headed to the nearest tube stop. “Have- have you heard from your parents since Friday?”

“No,” the flame-haired woman moaned. “I tried calling them Saturday night, but they slammed the phone down before I’d said five words…”

“Wh- what kind of quote-unquote parent would do that to their child?” Jessica asked. “Especially after what happened on Friday night…”

“Useless parents, that’s who,” Anna-Jade spat.

“Have you tried going through an intermediary?” Jessica asked. “Like an aunt, an uncle, that sort of thing?”

“My whole family’s disowned me,” Anna-Jade sighed. “Don’t think there a single person in the whole of Northern Ireland who’ll stick up for me…”

“Have you tried asking the Angels?” Rachel said. “One of them’s from Northern Ireland…”

“What are they going to do?” Anna-Jade asked. “It’s not like she personally knows everyone in Northern Ireland. Hell, they don’t even know me…”

“Okay, just trying to help,” Rachel said, taken aback by Anna-Jade’s negative response to her suggestion.

“Do you have any friends in Ireland who you can reach out to?” Jessica asked.

“Not one,” Anna-Jade sighed. “Cut all ties when I moved to Paris… I mean, yes, I don’t regret my decision, I- I just couldn’t live life as Anthony for one second more, just- gah…”

“Believe me, I understand,” Jessica said in a soft, comforting voice. “Guess I’m one of the lucky ones, my parents reached out to me…”

“Don’t waste the opportunity,” Anna-Jade advised her American friend. “You never know when, or even if you’ll get another.” Jessica nodded, silently contemplating her decision en route to the airport.

“God, it doesn’t feel like three months,” Natalie sighed as she strode into the tiny locker room of Heathrow airport and gave Jessica a friendly, feminine hug. “Why has it taken this long for us to see each other again?”

“You know why,” Jessica said, making Natalie sigh and laugh as she made kissing faces at the English girl.

“It’s just good to be back in England again,” Natalie laughed. “Thought I’d be speaking French and Russian for the rest of my life…”

“Well, welcome home,” Jessica giggled. “On a more serious note, have you lost weight?”

“Yep!” Natalie giggled, doing a twirl for Jessica in her tight uniform. “Now got a natural 26 inch waist. Though I of course still wear the corset- need to attach the stockings to something, after all!”

“And still oestrogen-free?” Jessica asked.

“100% oestrogen-free,” Natalie boasted. “Question is… Can the same be said of you?”

“Yes,” Jessica sighed.

“Even though you’re serious about transitioning?” Natalie asked.

“I haven’t so much as touched a piece of male clothing in months,” Jessica said. “Got rid of the last of ‘Jesse’s clothes ages ago. I now own more body stockings than socks, heh.”

“Mmm, bet Paige is happy with that arrangement!” Natalie laughed.

“When she isn’t ‘borrowing’ the body stockings, anyway,” Jessica laughed.

“And she’s kept up her hormones since February?” Natalie asked.

“Every day for the last nine months,” Jessica sighed.

“You don’t sound too happy about that…” The Englishwoman said.

“It’s kinda made our sex life a little… Lop-sided,” Jessica said.

“Ah, because you, you know, ‘work’ and she doesn’t?” Natalie asked.

“Exactly that,” Jessica said. “I mean, yes, we both take our ‘turns’, but when I’m, you know, ‘the girl’, Paige needs, you know, ‘help’…”

“I’m pretty sure the cameras and microphones can’t hear us in here,” Natalie laughed, watching as Jessica wiggled into her uniform’s tight blue skirt.

“I’m not taking any chances,” Jessica moaned. “I’d prefer they couldn’t hear me at all…” Jessica and Natalie fell silent as the door to the locker room opened and Annabelle coolly strode in and began to change into her blue uniform.

“Afternoon, Daisy Duke,” Natalie said, making Jessica internally snigger.

“Hey, honeys,” Annabelle said, before turning back to her changing. With their private conversation no longer private, Jessica and Natalie remained silent as the two American women changed into their uniforms, before heading out to the waiting aeroplane to begin their pre-flight checks.

Less than two hours later, Jessica felt a twinge of nostalgia as she strode into the vast locker room of Charles De Gaulle airport for the first time in what felt to her like decades. It was just as she remembered it, right down to the pattern of dents in the locker doors. Only one thing was different- the name on the front of Jessica’s locker now read Denise.

“Bienvenue à la maison,” Natalie teased the American woman as she stripped off her blue uniform.

“Eh, there are times I still wish it was,” Jessica said, grunting as she sat down, the tightness of her skirt forcing her knees together.

“Oh come on,” Natalie giggled. “Surely you love London, the history, the new bits like the Shard… The lack of automatic weapons…”

“Nat…” Jessica whispered. “Did- did Friday really leave you that rattled?”

“…It’s just not something you ever expect to happen, not where you live,” Natalie sighed. “You think of Islamic terrorism as something only happens in the Middle East, then it comes here… Ugh, never mind. The more we talk about it, the more we make it ‘legitimate’. If we ignore it, hopefully it’ll go away…”

“Not 100% sure it works that way,” Jessica sighed. “But I’m more than happy to stop talking about it!” Natalie chuckled as she stepped into her sleek black dress and allowed Jessica to zip her shut.

“You got plans with Paige tonight?” Natalie asked.

“Meh, dinner and Netflix,” Jessica shrugged. “It’s Paige’s free day, she offered to cook…”

“Scottish cuisine, yum!” Natalie laughed. “Hope you’ve got an extra-tight corset in your wardrobe at home!”

“I’ll tell Paige you said that,” Jessica said, making Natalie laugh even louder. “How about you and Zoe?”

“Dinner, then my weekly ballet lesson,” Natalie said with a smug smile. “How d’you think I got my waist down to 26 inches? That woman is a godsend in rooms other than the bedroom!”

“Ahh, give my love to her when you see her,” Jessica sighed. “I really have missed the two of you, and Marie… And Elsa, come to think of it.”

“We’ve missed you too, the two of you and Anna-Jade,” Natalie said. “Me and Zoe have applied for a transfer to London again in the next hiring round, though given that that’s next week, I reckon we’d have heard by now if we were going to get it…”

“Well- we’ll always have the airspace between London and Paris!” Jessica laughed, giving Natalie a friendly hug as the Englishwoman departed. Jessica sighed as she watched Natalie go- she’d envied the dark-haired girl’s carefree, laid-back attitude since the day she’d met her, and even after she started co-habiting with Paige, she missed the nights when she and Natalie would lay awake in their single beds gossiping about nonsense. It was rare for Jessica to ever laugh herself to sleep, but Natalie had made her do that on many occasions, and whilst she loved Paige and thought of her as her soulmate, there were times when she thought of Natalie as an even better friend than the Scottish girl.

Jessica returned to the locker room and tidied up her uniform, straightening her skirt and hat and touching up her lipstick, before jumping with shock when she looked in the mirror and saw Annabelle sitting behind her, staring into space.

“Whoa, An-Annabelle?” Jessica asked. “How long have you been there?”

“Sorry if I startled you, honey,” Annabelle said, before resuming her silent, unfocussed stare.

“Were- were you listening to me and Natalie?” Jessica asked, sitting down next to Annabelle.

“Oh no, I wasn’t eavesdropping,” Annabelle said.

“You- you look upset,” Jessica said, her mind conflicted at the sight of Annabelle’s thousand-yard stare. On the one hand, Jessica had spent most of the past twelve months envying, disliking, and on occasion, even hating Annabelle. She was standoffish, aloof and rude… But the more Jessica got to know the Southern girl, the more she realised that what she perceived as aloofness was in fact a powerful case of shyness. Annabelle didn’t need to be an enemy to Jessica, she didn’t even need to be a rival… And if last Friday had taught Jessica anything, it was that the more friends you have and the closer you keep them, the better.

“I- I’m fine, really,” Annabelle said, though the quiver in her voice betrayed the fact that she was far from ‘fine’.

“Are you sure?” Jessica asked. “Because, you know, there’s nothing wrong with expressing your feelings, or opening up to a friend…” Annabelle chuckled as Jessica echoed Paige’s words to her from several days earlier.

“I- Ugh, it’s my parents…” Annabelle sighed.

“Go- go on,” Jessica said, slightly shocked at Annabelle’s sudden openness.

“They called me on Friday night,” Annabelle said. “It was the first time we’d spoken in over a year, since I’d moved to France…”

“My parents called me too,” Jessica whispered. “We hadn’t spoken since February… For me, it was a case of them rather having an alive transgendered child than a dead child.”

“Same for me,” Annabelle said. “I’ve always been the black sheep- got two older brothers, one younger sister, I always related more to her than to my brothers but my parents always tried to push me into being what they thought I should be, always tried to make me take up a sport… Didn’t matter which one, just so long as I was a jock.”

“My parents were happy to let me forge my own path,” Jessica replied. “I always loved travelling, languages, they encouraged me when I became a- male- flight attendant in the North-East. When I came out, they said they didn’t want me to ‘expose’ it to my younger brother and sister… But that was just BS.”

“How old are your brother and sister?” Annabelle asked.

“Seventeen and fifteen, respectively,” Jessica replied.

“I’m sure I knew ‘what’ I was when I was fifteen,” Annabelle mumbled. “Wore my first dress when I was thirteen, kissed my first guy at sixteen, went, you know, ‘all the way’ with a guy at eighteen…”

“When did your parents find out?” Jessica asked.

“…I think they always knew subconsciously,” Annabelle sighed. “They just didn’t want to accept it… I came out as gay after my first, you know, ‘time’… They actually recommended a ‘conversion therapy’ course for me, you know, ‘pray the gay away’…”

“Ugh,” Jessica spat.

“Yeah, that’s what I said,” Annabelle chuckled. “Thank god I was eighteen, they couldn’t force me to go… I introduced ‘Annabelle’ to them just before I moved to France… Then didn’t speak to them again until Friday night. The way they shouted at me, even brandished a cross at me the last time I saw them…” Jessica bit her lip as she saw a tear start to form in the corner of the normally-stoic girl’s eye.

“It’s okay, you don’t need to carry on if you don’t want to,” Jessica whispered. “We need to get going soon anyway, London awaits!” Jessica smiled as Annabelle giggled, wiping her solitary tear away with her long, slender finger.

“Thanks, Jessica,” Annabelle said.

“’Jessica’ and not ‘honey’?” Jessica asked, making Annabelle laugh out loud.

“Okay, okay,” Annabelle laughed. “Why’d it take us this long to talk, anyway?”

“Because you were so shy,” Jessica said, making the taller girl snort with laughter. “And I was envious of you…”

“Envious of little old me?” Annabelle asked.

“Well,” Jessica sighed. “You’re taller, you’re blonder, your eyes are bluer, you even sound more American than me, you actually have the guts to transition…”

“Which one of us came third in the beauty pageant again?” Annabelle asked, making Jessica snort with laughter. “And besides, I’m not transitioning, not really…”

“Wh- what do you mean?” Jessica asked. “I could’ve sworn I heard that you were taking oestrogen…”

“I was,” Annabelle said. “Took it for a month, but I- I was scared, I stopped taking it…”

“…I never even started in the first place,” Jessica mumbled. “Too scared as well… Paige has been on it for nine months, she’s loved every second of it…”

“Let me guess- supportive parents?” Annabelle asked.

“Best parents I’ve ever known,” Jessica sighed. “So weird, they’re from this tiny village in Western Scotland, you’d think they’d be all rural and old-fashioned…”

“Whereas we’re from big, modern metropolitan American cities,” Annabelle laughed.

“Well, we now live in a big, modern metropolitan English city,” Jessica sighed. “Time we were getting back to it…” Annabelle smiled as she followed her countrywoman back to the aeroplane, and they were soon back in the sky, touching down at London’s Heathrow airport later that evening.

“We’re going to have to catch dinner sometime,” Jessica said to Annabelle as the two women changed out of their uniform. “Get to know each other, ‘compare notes’…”

“I’d like that,” Annabelle said with a shy smile. “As long as Monsieur Lacroix ISN’T one of the things you want ‘notes’ about…”

“No, the less I think of ‘le connard’ the better!” Jessica said, making Annabelle giggle.

“I’ll catch you on Facebook sometime,” Annabelle said once she’d changed back into her smart pencil dress, before opening the door to the locker room and sighing. “Honey, you may want to take the back door out of this room…”

“There isn’t a back door,” Jessica said, before she also exited the locker room and sighed as a TV camera was pointed straight in her face. Stood next to the camera were the same interviewer who had been pestering Jessica all week, and stood next to her was Rachel, with a tired, disappointed look on her face.

“…No thank you,” Jessica said, pushing past the camera.

“Jessica- wait,” Rachel sighed. “Can- can I have a word in private, please?”

“See you later, honey,” Annabelle said, before smiling and rolling her eyes at her use of the familiar term. “See you, Jessica.”

“Bye, Annabelle,” Jessica said, before following Rachel into a nearby office.

“Jess-“ Rachel said, only to be immediately interrupted by her flat mate.

“You can’t order me to do that interview,” Jessica said firmly. “You said quite clearly that I can opt out of anything to do with the show up to and including not appearing in the show at all, and right now that’s looking like a really appealing idea.”

“Jessica!” Rachel snapped, silencing the American girl. “You’re right, I can’t force you to be on the show, but what I can do is ASK you. You know they want to pick a flat to film the home lives of the stewardesses, and you know how Paige, Anna-Jade and I have volunteered.”

“Yes,” Jessica said, “and I’d rather they didn’t film me at home. You knew that all along.”

“I’ll cut to the chase,” Rachel sighed. “The producers would rather it be our flat that gets recorded for the show. So would management, actually, what with us and the pageant… They want us to be the ‘faces’ of the show, and by extension, the company itself.”

“Too bad,” Jessica said bluntly.

“They’re willing to give you a raise,” Rachel said. “You’ll be earning them extra money, it’s only fair they share some of that with you.”

“Not interested,” Jessica said.

“If you’re not they’ll happily swap you out of the flat for someone who is interested,” Rachel said.

“You wouldn’t dare split up me and Paige,” Jessica said.

“Do you want to put that to the test?” Rachel asked. “This isn’t me speaking, Jess, it’s my superiors. They’re offering a carrot as well as a stick. I know which one I’d rather pick. What will it take to get you to take part?” Jessica opened her mouth to retort, but before she could speak, memories of the day she’d had came flooding back to her. Reuniting with old friends, making new friends… And potentially jeopardising her friendship with Rachel. With her family on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, friends were all that Jessica had…

“There is one thing…” Jessica said to the expectant Rachel.

Six days later, Jessica returned to her apartment with a smile on her face that she maintained despite the presence of a small TV camera in her home. Jessica giggled as Paige- seemingly oblivious to the camera- ran over to her and gave her a kiss, before leading her to the sofa.

“Can’t sit down, they’ll be here soon,” Jessica said with a tinge of excitement in her voice. “How’s dinner coming?”

“It’s fine,” Paige said. “Thought I’d treat them to some ‘Scottish cuisine’ after what you said last week…” Jessica giggled, before breathing excitedly as the doorbell rang.

“Hey Annabelle!” Jessica said to her countrywoman, before greeting her with air kisses and leading her into the living room.

“Hi Annabelle!” Anna-Jade said, straightening her posh knee-length dress as she also greeted the American woman with air kisses.

“Hey hon- Anna-Jade,” Annabelle said, giggling as she sat down next to the flame-haired girl on their sofa. “The food smells delicious…”

“You’re very welcome, Annabelle!” Paige giggled.

“She hasn’t tasted it yet!” Rachel laughed, making the Scottish girl roll her eyes. Jessica giggled at the scene, before taking a deep, nervous breath as the doorbell rang one last time.

“This is it,” Jessica said, opening the door to reveal the smiling, immaculately-made up faces of Natalie and Zoe. “Welcome to London, girls!”

“Thank you, thank you!” Zoe said, giggling excitedly as Jessica ushered her and her lover into the apartment’s small living room, which would double as a dining room for the night’s meal.

“I can’t believe we actually got chosen to move here,” Natalie said. “So cool that we’re all together again…”

“Marie was a bit broken up about it,” Zoe said to Jessica as she and her lover sat down. “But I’m twenty-one, I can’t live under my big sister’s shadow for my whole life.”

“But you like living under MY shadow, right?” Natalie asked, making Zoe giggle.

“Among other parts of you, yes,” Zoe replied.

“And this way, the two of you might get on the documentary as well,” Rachel said. “Pity you didn’t get to mentor anyone this time out, though.”

“Eh, Jess and Annabelle are better at mentoring than me anyway,” Natalie said, making Rachel laugh.

“When Jessica isn’t taking two weeks off over Christmas to jet off to America, anyway!” Rachel teased Jessica, who simply blushed in response.

“Nat can deputise for me then,” Jessica shrugged. “I’ve got a feeling my probie’s going to be seeing as much of her as she is of me, anyway…”

“More importantly,” Zoe said, “what about this ballet class you say you’ve signed up for?”

“YOU surely don’t need refresher classes, do you?” Anna-Jade asked you young Frenchwoman.

“No,” Zoe confirmed. “I was just wondering if they were hiring, that was all!”

“Concentrate on the job you’ve got, first!” Rachel said, making Zoe roll her eyes.

“Looks like I won’t be missing my big sister after all!” Zoe said, prompting a big laugh from everyone as Paige and Jessica emerged from the kitchen bearing piping-hot plates of rich, stodgy food that the seven women eagerly tucked into.

Even though her private life was being recorded for a TV show, even though she’d given interviews to the documentary makers in which she’d revealed personal information that she’d have otherwise never have dreamed of giving, Jessica was truly happy for the first time in a long while. Her ‘rivalry’ with Annabelle was at an end, all of her friends were now close by, and her relationship with her parents was finally on the mend. Her relationship with Paige was stronger than ever, and her life was almost complete… All that was missing was oestrogen- the first physical step en route to her dream of being a woman- but Jessica was prepared to wait until the New Year, after she’d visited her parents and was satisfied that oestrogen was what she truly wanted.

But for now, in her home, surrounded by the people she loved and the clothes that she’d dreamed about wearing for almost her entire childhood, Jessica was content, and ready for whatever challenges life would throw at her… And life wasn’t done throwing challenges at her just yet.

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