Soixante-Trois Airlines, part 14

“Happy birthday dear Rachel…” The assembled crowd sang as the birthday girl cringed behind her voluminous blonde hair, “happy birthday to you… To you… To you… To you to you to you… To you… To you… To you to you to you!” Rachel giggled at the crowd’s use of the tune of Cyndi Lauper’s hit ‘Girl Just Wanna Have Fun’ to extend her embarrassment further, before brushing her hair out of her face and blowing out the 29 candles that had been placed on her cake- which was, of course, shaped exactly like the hat she and all her friends wore as part of their uniform.

“Oh my god, thank you all so much!” Rachel squeaked.

“Speech!” Natalie yelled, laughing as Rachel replied with a stern glare and a middle finger.

“Oh, alright then…” Rachel laughed. “Thank you all so much for coming, it really means a lot to know that I have such great friends- no, such a great FAMILY.”

“I think that’s my cue for the next song,” Stuart- the party’s DJ- said with a chuckle, making everyone present cheer as the opening bars of Sister Sledge’s ‘We are Family’ filled the room.

“Happy birthday, babe,” Danny- Rachel’s boyfriend- said, giving her a long kiss as he led her to one of the many sofas in the vast room. “Hope you like the party… Kinda had to pull a few strings, owe a few favours to get Charlotte to lend us her house for the night, especially as there was another party here two days ago.”

“It’s perfect,” Rachel giggled, returning her boyfriend’s kiss. “Even if I am wearing the most ridiculous costume of all time.” Danny giggled as Rachel gestured to her slender body, which was wrapped in a pair of shiny nude tights, leg warmers, trainers, a ridiculously tight black leotard and a ridiculously baggy grey sweater. Her face was made-up with bright, multi-coloured make-up, her usual gold studs had been replaced by huge, tacky plastic earrings and her hair had been primped so much it stuck out several inches from her head in a perfect recreation of a 1980s hairstyle.

“I think you look hot,” Danny said with a grin. “Besides, every other girl in the room is wearing the same thing, right?” Rachel smiled as she glanced round the room at all her friends- Jessica, Paige, Natalie, Zoe, Anna-Jade, Annabelle, Abbey and many more- all of whom were wearing the same tights, the same leotard and the same ridiculous cosmetics as her.

“…I guess,” Rachel sighed. “God knows it’s no worse than what I usually wear to work, heh.”

“That’s the… Spirit? I guess?” Danny giggled. “Babe… What’s up? It’s your birthday, enjoy being the centre of attention!”

“It’s the last birthday of my twenties,” Rachel snorted. “365 days from now, I’ll be thirty. THIRTY. I don’t wanna be thirty!”

“Rachel…” Danny laughed. “Okay, your driving licence says ‘twenty-nine’ but trust me, you look, like, nineteen. Especially in that make-up and that leotard!”

“Yeah…” Rachel sighed. “But you don’t know the employee rules for Soixante-Trois. ‘Thirty’ also means ‘no longer a stewardess’.”

“They can’t do that, surely?” Danny asked. “That’s discrimination of age, and besides, you’re the face of the Sky Angels, aren’t you?”

“The show that got dropped like a bad smell?” Rachel snorted. “That only showed three out of the six shows that were filmed?”

“O… Kay…” Danny grimaced. “But you’re still one of the most experienced stewardesses of them all, they can’t just fire you for turning thirty, can they?”

“Oh, they won’t fire me,” Rachel says. “Usually we get reassigned to different roles, either in management or the front desk… And god knows THAT won’t happen either. Still, at least when I go, it means that there’ll be a supervisor position up for grabs, and I know that’ll go into deserving hands.”

“I dunno,” Danny sighed as he stared across the room to where a blonde American woman and a raven-haired Scottish woman were dancing with each other. “Reckon there might be some competition for the role.”

“I hope not,” Rachel sighed. “That’s the last thing they need right now…”

Jessica had a wide grin on her bright red lips as she danced with her lover, giggling as their leotard-clad bodies came into contact with each other. After eleven months on oestrogen, she filled out her leotard well- her hips and backside were considerably shapelier than they were when she helped to celebrate Rachel’s 28th birthday, and her breasts had even started to grow to somewhere between an A and a B cup. Jessica still wore a padded bra to give her extra shape whilst at work, of course, but even without it, her body convincingly passed for female… But was still nowhere near as convincing as Paige’s body.

Paige’s body had been under the influence of oestrogen for twenty-one months, and from the outside, it was impossible to tell that it had ever not been. Paige didn’t need to wear a padded bra at work. She didn’t even need to wear a corset to give her the hourglass shape that the company demanded from its employees. Her skin was soft and smooth, her legs were long and slender, and her face- which had always had a feminine shape- just completed the ‘illusion’. The only concession Paige made to her old life was the cache sex she wore underneath her leotard- though she had already investigated having the surgery to render that unnecessary. The only things stopping Paige from going ahead and booking the surgery was the possibility that she might be promoted by the company- and the effect it would have on her relationship.

True to their word, neither Jessica nor Paige had discussed marriage, or even getting engaged, in the six months since Jessica’s disastrous first proposal in New York. Both women carried on with their relationship as though nothing had happened, though the strain it was causing was obvious- not just to Jessica and Paige, but to their friends as well. As much as they tried to put on brave faces in public, Jessica and Paige knew that their relationship was hanging by a thread- and they knew that everyone else knew as well.

“Ugh,” Natalie spat as she snuggled up to Zoe on one of the room’s many sofas. “Breaks my heart…”

“Aww,” Zoe cooed. “They’ll be okay. They fell in love at first sight, did they not? That’s powerful. More powerful than anything. And I should know!” Natalie giggled wickedly as Zoe gently stroked the stretchy material of her costume. “…Are you wearing my leotard AGAIN?”

“…And here I was thinking this was a partnership,” Natalie pouted with mock-offence, before giggling and giving Zoe a long, soft kiss. “Besides, you own about a hundred, you can spare one, right?”

“This is the fifth one this month,” Zoe snorted. “And you don’t know what YOU’LL be getting tomorrow, Miss Nearly Birthday Girl!” Natalie giggled yet again as Zoe reciprocated her kiss. “I am surprised that you didn’t want a big, fancy party of your own…”

“They did actually offer me one,” Natalie said. “Was going to have a ‘Manchester’ theme. So pictures of Coronation Street, lots of Oasis playing… And a huge mural featuring the likes of Alex Ferguson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney…”

“Ugh,” Zoe spat. “Well, apart from Cantona, of course.”

“They’d actually designed it, too,” Natalie laughed. “Were about to send it to the printers and everything.”

“So you thought,” Zoe giggled, “’I’ll have a proper Manchester-themed birthday… By going home to Manchester’?”

“You know me so well,” Natalie laughed, giving Zoe a long, slow kiss as the party continued to heave in front of them.

By 11pm, the party had all but dissipated as the women returned to their homes ahead of a full day at work, or a full day of travelling.

“Goddd,” Paige giggled as she peeled the skin-tight leotard from her glistening body. “Never thought I’d ever NOT like a pair of tights, heh! Think my legs have suffocated…”

“They look healthy to me,” Jessica cooed, making Paige giggle even harder before throwing the sweat-stained hose at the American girl. “And it could be worse, Rachel originally wanted a ‘Pride and Prejudice’ theme for her party instead of ‘eighties’, so you could’ve been stood here for an hour removing about fifty underskirts and a hundred corsets.”

“Are there any girl costumes that don’t involve leotards, tights or corsets?” Paige asked.

“I hope not,” Jessica replied, earning the loudest giggle yet from her Scottish lover. “God, the last two years I can’t even begin to count the number of different costume parties I’ve been to. Before I started for the company, only dressing up I’d ever do was Halloween… And even then I never wore the costumes I REALLY wanted. I was always a zombie, or a mummy, whilst all the girls in my class dressed up as witches or cats or [s**t] like that.”

“I never even dressed up for Halloween,” Paige sighed. “20 years as a man and all I have from that life are regrets. But I’m now 27 months as a woman, 21 on oestrogen, and zero regrets. You?”

“Well-“ Jessica began, hesitating as she recalled the one regret she had about her life as a woman- her actions on top of the Empire State Building over six months earlier. “…No. No regrets.” Paige smiled as she and Jessica shared a long, deep kiss before collapsing into bed together, though she could immediately tell that Jessica was lying, and she knew exactly what the American girl was thinking of as well.

As she tried to get to sleep, Paige found her imagining- not for the first time- how different her life would be if she had accepted Jessica’s proposal. The tension would be gone from her relationship, but in its place would be a different type of tension.

Paige unquestioningly adored Jessica. She was in love with her in a way she never thought possible, but even despite this, Paige never thought that Jessica was perfect. The American girl had a level of obsession that Paige couldn’t imagine, and often couldn’t tolerate. For Jessica, everything had to be perfect all the time. She had set routines for doing EVERYTHING, which drove Paige just as mad as her own disorganised way of life drove Jessica. Paige loved chaos and noise- her idea of a perfect night out is hitting as many clubs as possible and drinking until she could barely stand, whilst Jessica much preferred to stay in, snuggle up on the sofa with a single bottle of wine and her Netflix account. Paige had been born in a quiet town near Loch Lomond, whilst Jessica had grown up in a big, sprawling American city, and the Scottish girl had always thought that they’d both been born into each other’s lives by mistake.

…And yet, Paige still adored every single part of Jessica. During Rachel’s party, ‘Opposites Attract’ by Paula Abdul had played, and Paige mused on how appropriate it was for their relationship. If she had accepted Jessica’s proposal, she knew that she’d be forced to spend every free moment going over every nanosecond of the ceremony in meticulous detail, from the accent of the person performing the ceremony to the exact number of beads on their wedding dresses- possibly even the exact number of atoms in the beads. It would’ve driven Paige mad… But wouldn’t have stopped her from loving Jessica. If anything, she’d have loved the American girl even more- if such a thing was possible.

Jessica blinked twice as she woke up to shake the tiredness out of her eyes and to focus on Paige’s slumbering face for as long as she can, before she too was woken by the loud alarm clock. The peaceful look on Paige’s face only lasted mere seconds, however, before her nose twitched and her smile was replaced by a tired, frustrated frown.

“Morning, beautiful,” Jessica whispered, kissing Paige on her lips.

“Morning, sexy,” Paige giggled. “You take the shower first- I don’t fly until later.”

“Oh, aye!” Jessica said in an unconvincing Scottish accent. “Happy St Andrews Day, bonny lass!”

“Don’t- really, just don’t,” Paige giggled. “Burns’ Night was bad enough, heh!”

“You’ve got to be looking forward to Glasgow today, though?” Jessica asked. “Will you be seeing your parents while you’re there, or your sisters?”

“Sadly no, and thank god, no, in that order,” Paige giggled. “Kinda wish I was going to Malaga with you…”

“I wish that too,” Jessica whispered. “I’ll, um, I’ll go shower-“

“Yeah,” Paige whispered as Jessica headed into the apartment’s small bathroom, where she let out a long, tired sigh.

When she’d first been told that the daily lives of her and her colleagues would be recorded for a reality TV show, Jessica had been horrified. All her life, she had hated merely watching shows such as Jersey Shore, The Only Way is Essex or The Angels, and suddenly become the potential star of one made the American girl’s blood run cold. However, she tolerated the intrusion of the cameras into her life, and by the end of filming, she had even grown to enjoy it, all because of one thing- Paige.

Unlike Jessica, Paige couldn’t get enough reality TV. She could easily name all the ‘stars’ of each show in the order in which they joined, and even owned some of the shows’ merchandise. And whilst Jessica might not have loved the shows, she did love Paige, and she did love Paige’s infectious enthusiasm for the filming. Once filming had ended, Paige- and many of the other girls- spent the months leading up to the broadcast in a state of near-frenzy about their brush with fame. Jessica, however, was only mildly amused, and in many ways was hoping that she wouldn’t appear on-screen- though all that changed on the day of her 24th birthday, when Paige rejected her proposal.

All of a sudden, the reality show had gone from a source of mild amusement to Jessica, to the potential solution to all her relationship problems. If the show had shown her and Paige in a loving relationship with each other, it’d show the world- and more importantly, themselves- that they were destined to be together. But that didn’t happen. In fact, not only were Jessica and Paige’s relationship not featured- despite them both being interviewed about it- but neither girl appeared in the episodes at all beyond a ten second soundbite each at the start of an episode. Jessica held out hope that the three remaining episodes of the show- which had been pre-empted- would contain the missing scenes, but as time wore on and the episodes proved to be less and less likely to be broadcast, Jessica’s hope diminished, and with it, her belief that she could repair her relationship to where it had been before the proposal.

Jessica resolved to do the only thing she could do- to love Paige, and make sure that the Scottish girl knew just how much she loved her.

“Ready?” Paige asked as she stood before Jessica in her form-fitting, knee-length black dress.

“Always,” Jessica said confidently, before leaning in to give Paige a long, deep kiss, making the Scottish girl moan with pleasure as she gently caressed her growing breasts.

At the airport, both girls paid close attention to each other as they changed into their uniforms- red for Jessica, blue for Paige- and both wished that they could just have had that one morning in bed together, free of stress or worry. However, both girls had work to do, and no matter how much of a struggle it would be, they had to push their relationship worries to the back of their mind as they set about serving the passengers who were flying with Soixante-Trois Airlines.

“Bon anniversaire…” Zoe whispered in the sleeping Natalie’s ear, making the northern girl smile as she slowly woke up. “Annabelle and Abbey have already gone out, the flat is all ours and our train to Manchester isn’t for another hour…”

“Yeah…” Natalie said dreamily. “…But we should probably get up. If I have less than twenty minutes to get ready, I’ll have to go up as ‘Matthew’, and today is NATALIE’s birthday!”

“Damn right,” Zoe giggled, giving her lover a kiss before skipping toward their shower.

An hour later, the two women were stood in the main concourse of London Euston Station, both dressed in warm sweaters, short, tight skirts, thick black tights and warm, padded ankle booties. Zoe giggled as Natalie firmly pressed her slender fingers into the French girl’s buttocks, before reciprocating the action and making Natalie giggle. The two women’s laughter only grew louder and more self-confident as passers-by regarded their public displays of affection with dark, disapproving stares.

“D’you reckon they’d be any happier if I told them I had a penis?” Natalie asked, making Zoe snort with laughter.

“Only one way to know for sure,” Zoe replied, making Natalie laugh. “I’m really looking forward to seeing your parents again. Will your sisters be there too?”

“Hopefully,” Natalie answered. “And no, they haven’t signed up for ballet class yet. Their brother is more of a ballerina than they are, heh.”

“Their SISTER,” Zoe corrected the Mancunian woman.

“Most of the time, anyway,” Natalie shrugged as the two women boarded their train. “And ‘Matthew’ isn’t THAT bad, is he?”

“Bits of him,” Zoe giggled as she gave Natalie’s thigh a gentle squeeze. “Dieu… I don’t know how you do it, Natalie.”

“How I do… What?” Natalie asked. “Pull on tights? You’re a ballet teacher, I’d have thought that was the first thing-“

“You know what I mean,” Zoe sighed. “You see girls like Jessica, Paige and Abbey, the way they feel and stress about their girl lives, but you- you-“

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Natalie said, letting out a tired laugh. “And I do feel for them, I really do. They’re my friends. Heh, they are like sisters to me, all of them. Yes, even Rachel. She’s the bossy older sister I’m glad I never had!”

“Remind me of that,” Zoe snorted, remembering her childhood with her bossy older sister. “But what I’m- ugh, this is a bad question, especially for your birthday…”

“No, you can ask me anything, you know that,” Natalie said softly.

“…Do you think you’ll always be Natalie?” Zoe asked. “Because I know I’ve asked this before, but you always changed the subject, and- I mean, I love you, I love Natalie, but I love Matthew… I love YOU, Natalie AND Matthew.”

“I don’t know,” Natalie said, interrupting her lover. “I genuinely don’t. I’m just taking it one day at a time, that’s all.”

“Does the same apply to us, to me and you?” Zoe asked. “Because I think about us a lot, where we’re going…”

“No…” Natalie whispered, giving her lover a gentle cuddle. “Me and you… You are the single most perfect woman in the world. You laugh at my jokes, we love the same things, you’ve been a dancer for almost twenty years so physically, you can’t get any hotter, and that accent...”

“Merci,” Zoe giggled.

“…And most importantly,” Natalie said, “You don’t mind the fact that your boyfriend spends all of his or her time dressed in the same clothing as you. Except when I steal your leotards, obviously.”

“You ARE the most perfect lover ever,” Zoe laughed. “When I used to be a dancer- an actual dancer, not just a teacher- I saw one of the male dancers. You would think he would be sensitive, cultured, that he would, ugh, what’s the word… Appreciate his woman. But he was like a rugby player.”

“I’ve played rugby before,” Natalie shrugged.

“You’re 1.7 metres and the body of a toothpick,” Zoe retorted. “Which is much better. All women should have a man who she can share his make-up and who steals her leotards, hehe!” Natalie giggled and gave her lover a soft kiss as the train left the station, ferrying them toward the north…

“Thank you for flying with Soixante-Trois Airlines!” Rachel said as the passengers disembarked. “Enjoy your stay, we hope to see you again soon!” The second the final passenger left the plane, Rachel returned to the interior of the plane and let out a long, tired sigh.

“You okay?” Paige asked as she began the task of clearing the plane, ready for its next flight.

“I think I overdid the cake last night,” Rachel moaned as she took several deep breaths. “Or overdid this damned corset this morning…”

“Why didn’t you just take the week off?” Paige asked. “I hate working either side of my birthday.”

“Not that easy for supervisors,” Rachel sighed. “Only one of us can be off at a time, and I didn’t get in fast enough.”

“Well, at least you’ll know for next time…” Paige said, trailing off as she realised that for Rachel, there wouldn’t be a ‘next time’. “…Ah.”

“Yes, ‘ah’,” Rachel sighed. “That’s also why I need to work as many hours as possible, need to suck up as hard as I can to management to get a plumb assignment. Knowing them they’ll be just as happy to have me scrubbing the [f**king] toilets.”

“Or worse yet, alphabetising Jacques Lacroix’s jockstraps or something,” Paige snorted, making Rachel shudder at the thought.

“Think I need to shower after that thought,” Rachel laughed. “Though at least he IS keeping his distance after the tutu project, heh. Anyway, why are we wasting time talking about that turd? It’s St Andrews Day and you’re a Scottish girl in Scotland, go and relax, see if you can meet up with your parents or something, we’re not due to head back to London for several hours.”

“Ehh… I’ll be seeing my parents at Christmas, anyway,” Paige replied. “Besides, all they’d want to talk about is- well, you know…”

“All the more reason to go and talk to them, I’d have thought,” Rachel retorted.

“Seriously, not right now,” Paige sighed.

“Not ever?” Rachel asked, making the Scottish girl sigh loudly.

“The future… I don’t want to think about it. I just want to focus on right now, you know?” Paige replied.

“Yeah,” Rachel mumbled. “I know that feeling. And then, before you know it, you’re twenty-nine and having to face all the tough decisions you put off earlier in your life.” Paige remained silent as Rachel signed off on the flight, before following her and the rest of the cabin crew to the small employee lounge at Glasgow Airport, where she tried her hardest to avoid thinking about the many issues that were plaguing her life…

“Happy birthday!” Natalie yelled, startling her mother as she opened her door.

“Get- you daft little sod,” Natalie’s mother snorted in her thick Manchester accent, giving her daughter a playful whack with the magazine she was holding. “And happy birthday. Come on in, your sisters are both here. Both took the day off especially to see you. Both of you.”

“Thank you, Madame Briggs,” Zoe said shyly as she followed Natalie into the small terraced house.

After dropping off their overnight bags, Natalie and Zoe headed into the cramped living room, where Zoe couldn’t help but giggle as Natalie practically launched herself at her two younger sisters, wrapping both of them in tight hugs. Even though she’d met them before, Zoe always marvelled at how much the two young women resembled Natalie, especially when none of them looked like Natalie’s older brother. What entertained Zoe the most, though, was that both of Natalie’s sisters wore dangly, ostentatious earrings in their lobes- just like their sister.

“Like them?” Ellen- the older of Natalie’s two sisters- said, playfully tossing her hair around to give Natalie a better view of her earrings. “I was going to give them to you for your birthday, but I figured I owed myself a treat for putting up with you for all these years!”

“Shocked and appalled,” Natalie said, holding her hand to her chest in mock-offence before bursting out in a loud fit of laughter. “Seriously though, presents, now.”

“Keep your knickers on,” Ellen teased her older sister.

“It won’t be as much as the last few years as this one STILL hasn’t got a job,” Mrs. Briggs said, making Ellen cringe with embarrassment.

“I’ve got interviews lined up,” Ellen mumbled. “Reckon I’ll have something within the next… Oh, three months?”

“Ah, so I’ll get crap Christmas presents too?” Natalie asked, giggling as her mother gave her a playful slap on the back of the head.

“Not my fault I’ve got a massive student debt, blame the bloody Tories for that,” Ellen snorted.

“And no politics when we have guests!” Mrs. Briggs chastised her daughter. “You should’ve thought about getting a career BEFORE starting your degree, not after you graduated!”

“Yes, mum,” Ellen sighed as her sisters giggled.

“This must have been a fun house when you were all growing up!” Zoe said, barely suppressing a giggle of her own.

“Try ‘madhouse’,” Mrs. Briggs snorted. “Still, I suppose in a way it helped… We were so used to it that when Matthew came down the stairs in a dress and asked to be called ‘Natalie’ we barely even blinked.”

“You’ve got to admit,” Natalie said with a smug grin, “’Natalie’ is a much better daughter than ‘Matthew’ was a son.”

“’Matthew’ wasn’t THAT bad,” Mrs. Briggs said as she went into kitchen to prepare drinks for the four young women. “Okay, he was a little shit most of the time, but he was MY little shit.”

“And I always will be,” Natalie said with a smug smile that made even her mother snort with laughter. “Now seriously, come on, presents!”

“We’re not going to wait for dad or Greg, then?” Sasha- Natalie’s youngest sister- asked in a quiet, timid voice.

“I’ll open their presents when they get here,” Natalie said with a laugh. “Come on… we carted them all the way from London…”

“Giving us all the wrapping paper to deal with?” Mrs. Briggs asked. “Consider THAT one of your presents by itself! …Go on, then.” Natalie giggled excitedly as Zoe and her sisters handed her several piles of gifts that she eagerly unwrapped.

Once she had finished unwrapping, Natalie let out a long, satisfied sigh, before staring happily at the large pile of presents to her right. In addition to the usual clothes and make-up sets, she also (despite what Ellen had earlier said) received several pairs of earrings, along with other jewellery including a silver bracelet and a slender choker. However, ‘Matthew’ had also received gifts for ‘his’ birthday, including men’s clothes and toiletries, and several football DVDs- and Natalie was as grateful for these gifts as she was for her earrings. Natalie’s favourite gifts were a pair of Manchester City football shirts- one a men’s shirt with ‘M Briggs 24’ on the back, the other a women’s shirt in a near-identical size with ‘N Briggs 24’ on the back.

“We told the sports shop we were buying them for twins,” Sasha said smugly. “Which, in a way, I guess we were!”

“I’m bigendered, not schizophrenic!” Natalie laughed, making her youngest sister blush. “I am really, really grateful, though. Not just for the gifts, but for all of you. Thank you all so, so much.”

“How long can you stay up here?” Ellen asked.

“Only tonight,” Natalie sighed. “I’ve got the whole week off work but Zoe could only get tonight.”

“I did tell Natalie she could stay up here without me,” Zoe said in a quiet, embarrassed voice.

“Noooo,” Mrs. Briggs replied. “That’s just not right, you’re a couple, you should go everywhere together!”

“Where do you work, Zoe?” Sasha asked. “I know Natalie told me you don’t work for your airline anymore…”

“I left work there almost a year ago!” Zoe giggled. “I teach advanced ballet, like I did before I started working for Soixante-Trois.”

“Didn’t you see the photo on my Facebook of me in a tutu and pointe shoes?” Natalie asked her sister, who blushed yet again. “Probably never going to dance on stage, but it’s something off the bucket list, at least.”

“Have you put on any shows, Zoe?” Mrs. Briggs asked.

“From our school?” Zoe replied. “A few. The usual, like Swan Lake and Cinderella, but Krystie and I have choreographed our own one from the beginning that we call ‘La Soixante-Troisieme Papillon’ that we’re actually performing next week.”

“…Sixty-third butterfly?” Ellen asked, earning a smile from the Frenchwoman.

“Ooh, vous parlez français?” Zoe asked. “La plupart des filles de ma classe ne savent pas ce que cela signifie papillon!”

“Je ne suis pas couramment, mais je reçois par,” Ellen replied. “Mais j'ai un A à GCSE. Essayé d' aller à l'université.”

“My girls have always had a gift for languages,” Mrs. Briggs said with pride in her voice. “Part of the reason we’re a proud ‘remain’ household.”

“Ah-ah-ah,” Natalie said smugly. “What did we say about talking politics when we had guests?”

“…Go and take your bags upstairs, you little pest,” Mrs. Briggs laughed, making Natalie giggle even harder as she hauled hers and Zoe’s suitcases up to the room where they’d be staying for the night.

“Thank you for letting us stay,” Zoe said quietly after Natalie left.

“Like I said, you’re practically family!” Mrs. Briggs replied.

“And I don’t mind sleeping on the sofa for one night, I really don’t,” Ellen said with a mock sigh, before laughing as mother gave her a playful whack with a cushion.

“It’s just…” Zoe said with a grimace. “I know some families who would not accept having a transgendered child. Some of my students’ families, in fact.”

“Umm… Is Natalie REALLY transgendered?” Sasha asked quietly. “I mean, I remember reading about that singer who said she was taking hormones, but wasn’t, then was, and Natalie’s never, umm…”

“She’s changed her legal name to ‘Natalie’,” Zoe said. “She came here wearing a skirt, and make-up… She seems transgendered to me.”

“Whatever makes her happy, makes us happy,” Mrs. Briggs said firmly, letting Zoe know that she’d just been told all she needed to know.

“Of course,” Zoe said with a laugh. “But more importantly… The two of you never studied ballet?” Zoe giggled smugly as Ellen and Sasha blushed and the girls’ mother laughed, letting Zoe know that for all their differences, she was just as accepted as ‘Natalie’ was.

Paige let out a long sigh as she and Rachel opened the front door of their empty flat, before kicking off her heels and flopping heavily onto the sofa.

“One would almost think you didn’t love your homeland,” Rachel teased the black-haired girl. “And on St Andrew’s Day, too…”

“I’m just glad I didn’t come back to the smell of haggis cooking,” Paige retorted, making Rachel laugh. “It’s rank enough as it is without Jessica trying- and failing- to cook it.”

“Aww,” Rachel cooed as she headed to her bedroom to change from her dress into a comfortable pair of jeans and a sweater. “I kinda liked it back in January… And you have to admit, it WAS a nice gesture from her.”

“I guess,” Paige sighed.

“And was no different than your attempt to celebrate the fourth of July!” Rachel reminded the Scottish girl, who smiled at the memory.

“Aye, true,” Paige laughed. “You staying here tonight, then?” Paige and Rachel both laughed as a knock came from the apartment’s front door. “Guess that answers that question, then…” Rachel giggled as she skipped over the front door, where she exchanged a long kiss with her tired-looking boyfriend.

“Hey, stud!” Rachel giggled, giving Danny another kiss.

“Hey, babe!” The dark-haired young man replied. “Sorry, I would’ve been here earlier, but got caught up at work…”

“You’ve only been in the job a month,” Rachel snorted. “But you’re already complaining about it? Can I just remind you that this IS your dream job?”

“Technically,” Danny shrugged as he led Rachel out to his car.

“What ‘technically’?” Rachel teased. “What did you say to Jonathan again, ‘my dream job is sitting around in jeans all day updating Facebook’?”

“I should’ve specified MY Facebook,” Danny retorted. “Before he put me in charge of, like, fifty social media accounts. He’s even got me updating Pinterest, for crying out loud.”

“Let me know if you see any good brownie recipes,” Rachel teased.

“And besides,” Danny retorted, “all you’ve done for the last two months is complain about YOUR job!”

“I’ve been there five and a half years, I’m entitled,” Rachel moaned.

“True,” Danny replied. “But from what I understand, before we met, you were practically a management mouthpiece- uhh, no offence, um, love you?”

“Nah, I was,” Rachel sighed. “If I still was, maybe I wouldn’t hate it as much…”

“Jobs come and go, but friendships last forever?” Danny asked, grimacing as Rachel nodded. “On the flipside, though, you can’t eat friendships.”

“You sound like my mum,” Rachel snorted, making her boyfriend grimace yet again.

“I’ll, um, I’ll concentrate on the road,” Danny mumbled.

A couple of hours later, back at the girls’ apartment, Paige smiled as the front door opened and her American lover stepped through.

“Hi honey, you’re home!” Paige giggled in a phony American accent.

“Hey,” Jessica said in a tired voice, giving her lover a kiss before heading to the bedroom to get changed. “How was Glasgow?”

“Cold and wet, same as always,” Paige giggled. “Would’ve given anything to swap flights with you today.”

“You’re on for red flights next week, aren’t you?” Jessica asked. “Might even get a tan in December, heh.”

“’Tan’, aye,” Paige laughed, before letting out a long sigh as Jessica emerged from their bedroom wearing a short tartan dress and a Tam o' shanter.

“Didn’t think I wouldn’t do something, did you?” Jessica asked as she did a twirl in her dress.

“Kinda HOPED you wouldn’t,” Paige mumbled, earning a sigh and a frown from her American lover.

“Paige…” Jessica moaned.

“Seriously, have I even celebrated St Andrew’s Day the last two years?” Paige asked. “Burns Night was bad enough…”

“…I’m trying to make an effort, you know?” Jessica sighed. “I love you, and I love the fact that you’re Scottish, that it’s a part of you, and I- I just want to celebrate, well, YOU, you know?”

“It’s not that I’m not grateful,” Paige sighed. “It’s just- gah. It’s a bit too much, you know?”

“And your party on the fourth of July wasn’t?” Jessica asked, earning an angry stare from Paige.

“Let’s- let’s just get some sleep, we’ve both got work tomorrow,” Paige said, removing her make-up before changing into a pair of warm pink pyjamas and climbing into bed, where she rolled over and quickly fell asleep. Jessica followed the Scottish girl mere minutes later, and let out a long, exasperated sigh as she tried vainly to get comfortable.

As a child, Jessica had only ever received one piece of relationship advice from her parents- and that was to never go to bed on an argument. As Jessica stared at the back of Paige’s head in the gloom of their bedroom, she silently cursed at herself for ignoring that advice- and cursed at Paige too for forcing the situation to happen. It seemed to Jessica that every time she tried to make an extra effort, Paige just threw it back in her face, and in the six months since she rejected her proposal, Jessica found the Scottish girl more and more frustrating with every passing day. She still loved her, of course- but on occasion, she found herself not liking her.

When Jessica’s alarm woke her the following morning, Paige was already awake and in the shower, leaving Jessica to sigh loudly as she waited for her return.

“Hey,” Paige whispered as she returned to the bedroom, a towel wrapped around her chest and another wrapped around her jet-black hair.

“Hey,” Jessica whispered, before taking a deep breath. “Paige, I-“

“I want to go first,” Paige said, silencing the American girl and making her bite her lip in frustration. “I’m sorry I overreacted yesterday. It was a nice gesture, I just, I-“

“I’m sorry too,” Jessica mumbled. “I know I go overboard at times, but it- it’s just because I want to be part of your life. Actually… Ugh, this sounds selfish, but- but I want to be the most important part of your life, you know? Because that’s what you are to me.”

“You are,” Paige whispered, before removing both her towels and crawling into bed next to Jessica to give her a long, deep kiss, before exciting Jessica by slipping a hand under her nightdress...

“Thank you,” Jessica whispered, before grabbing Paige’s towels and heading toward the apartment’s small shower.

“Ah-ah,” Paige giggled, reaching into their shared wardrobe. “Before you go…” Jessica sighed as Paige- with a massive, excited grin on her face- retrieved two large pink boxes from the bottom of the wardrobe.

“Ah, December 1st, how could I forget?” Jessica laughed as Paige eagerly tore into her big pink package. "I never really had an Advent Calendar when I was younger... A few of my friends did, though. Guess if I had the promise of a piece of chocolate every morning, it'd have made getting up in December a little easier!"

“Aye,” Paige giggled. “Though I never had an advent calendar like THIS growing up! A different piece of make-up behind each door… Gonna be hard not to open it all at once, hehe!”

“And all branded with the images of ‘The Angels’ too,” Jessica laughed as she carefully opened her own package. “Still, if they want to give me a month’s supply of free make-up, I ain’t gonna complain.” Jessica smiled as she and Paige simultaneously opened the first window on their advent calendars, finding behind it a small eyeliner pencil. As Paige immediately started to apply the cosmetic, however, Jessica felt a twinge of sadness, which quickly moved through guilt before settling on frustration. Once again, Paige had avoided engaging in a mature, emotional conversation by focussing on something frivolous- in this case, the Advent Calendar, and once again, it left Jessica feeling deeply insecure about her relationship.

“Did you send one to Hayley in the end?” Paige asked.

“Hmm?” Jessica replied, having been lost in thought. “Oh, umm, yeah, cost a fortune to ship over to the States but it should be there already. Hope she likes it…”

“She’s a sixteen year old girl, she’ll like it,” Paige giggled. “Can’t wait to go over there again…” Both Paige and Jessica bit their lip as the painful memories of their last visit to America came to them.

“I’ll, umm, I’ll, umm, shower…” Jessica mumbled.

“Yeah,” Paige whispered, laying back on their bed and letting out a long, frustrated moan as Jessica left.

A short while later, Jessica (in her red uniform) and Paige (in her blue uniform) strode through the corridors of Heathrow Airport toward the planes that would take them to distant lands. Even though they would spend the day hundreds of miles apart, they were constantly together in their thoughts, and spent the day counting down the seconds until they could be together again.

Rachel moaned softly as she felt a gentle breeze in her face, waking her from her dreamless slumber.

“Mmm,” the blonde woman mumbled, before opening her eyes and letting out a long sigh. “…You arsehole.”

“What?” Danny pleaded as he stopped blowing on Rachel’s nose. “It’s hardly fair that you get to sleep in today, but I don’t…”

“You’re spending the morning taking photographs of women in skin-tight lycra,” Rachel retorted.

“One, you’re not one of them,” Danny retorted, making Rachel giggle. “Two, one of them is my sister, and three… I’d much rather take photos of you NOT wearing skin-tight lycra. Or anything else, for that matter.”

“I’ve told you a million times,” Rachel sighed. “I’m not having sexy photos of me on the internet. That’s a quick way to get really, REALLY fired.”

“…Even though you’ve spent the last few weeks moaning about your job?” Danny asked, grimacing as Rachel pulled the bedcovers over her head and let out a long, frustrated scream. “Umm, sorry…”

“No, you’ve got a point, ANNOYINGLY,” Rachel moaned. “If Zoe was back today I’d probably have gone with you this morning. She’s gonna love me pestering her for advice, given how much we’ve fallen out in the past…”

“That was professional,” Danny replied. “Never stopped you from being friends with her. And you can come along to ballet anyway if you want, I always feel self-conscious going into that place by myself…”

“Nah, I’d be the only ‘fly girl’ there,” Rachel sighed, before rolling over in bed. “You have fun though. Give my love to your sister.”

“…Can do,” Danny sighed, giving Rachel a gentle kiss before leaving her alone in his apartment.

The young blonde woman only stayed in bed another half hour, though, thanks to her boyfriend’s words resonating in her ears. She’d devoted her life to her career, sacrificed a social life, several friendships and even her relationship with her family to advance her career, and she found herself at the end of her twenties with virtually nothing to show for it- not even the career she’d devoted so much of her life to, all thanks to being on the wrong side of the phrase ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. If she’d turned in the ‘tutu project’ when she’d had the chance, she would be on a fast-track to management, possibly even an executive position. She’d have money and influence… But she’d be alone, hated by the women she’d come to regard as sisters- and to Rachel, that was far too high a price to pay.

“Ugh,” Rachel spat as she carefully stepped around the piles of dirty clothes on the bedroom floor. “Seriously, Danny, get a maid… Or better yet, BECOME one.” After a quick shower, Rachel grinned as she left her face totally make-up free, before dressing in a comfortable pair of leggings and a warm pink hoodie. The blonde woman had no doubt that her transgendered friends would be aghast at seeing her look so plain, so ordinary, but Rachel didn’t care- she dressed up so often for work that she felt she’d earned the right to be a total slob for one day. Before switching on the television, Rachel grabbed her phone and began to type into it.

“Mmph,” Natalie moaned as the sound of Prokofiev's 'Cinderella' filled her ears and woke her from her slumber. “Seriously? Who’s calling at this time?”

“Ignore it,” Zoe mumbled, pulling a pillow over her head.

“They’ve been ringing for almost twenty seconds,” Natalie sighed as the music continued to pierce her tired skull. “Whoever it is really wants to talk to you.”

“They’re not ringing, it’s a text,” Zoe mumbled, earning a confused stare from her lover. “Can you just get back to sleep, please?”

“…It’s almost 8:30,” Natalie sighed. “Should probably get up anyway, I do want to say goodbye to Sasha before we head back to London.”

“Okay,” Zoe said, snuggling into her sheets before moaning as Natalie forcefully pulled the sheets off her cold, naked body.

“WE want to say goodbye to Sasha before heading back to London,” Natalie said, giggling as Zoe sighed before getting dressed.

Twenty minutes later, both women were fully made-up, wearing ostentatious, dangly earrings and dressed in knee-length denim pencil skirts, thick black tights and warm turtleneck sweaters. With tired sighs, they dragged their suitcases (which were filled with Natalie’s birthday presents) downstairs, where Natalie smiled at the sight of her nineteen year old youngest sister sat on the sofa in her work uniform… And the sight of her twenty-one year old ‘middle’ sister sprawled out on the sofa, still asleep.

“Morning, Sasha!” Natalie bellowed, causing Ellen to slowly stir. “Sorry… Think I startled you more than I did Ellen, hehe!”

“Heh,” Sasha quietly giggled. “Are you- are you heading back to London now?”

“Yeah,” Natalie sighed. “Couldn’t go without saying goodbye, though. TO BOTH OF YOU!”

“Bye, Natalie,” Ellen mumbled into her thick duvet.

“Thanks for the Advent Calendar, by the way,” Sasha said with a shy grin.

“You are welcome,” Zoe giggled. “Though I know Natalie told me you don’t like the Angels, we thought you would like a make-up Advent Calendar anyway!”

“Yeah,” Sasha said, before nervously biting her lip. “Actually, to tell you the truth… I do love the Angels.”

“I knew it,” Ellen sighed into her pillow, making Sasha cringe.

“I’m sorry,” Sasha mumbled.

“Don’t apologise to her, for god’s sake!” Natalie laughed as she gave Ellen a playful shove. “Just means you have good taste in television. Especially if you watched our show as well!”

“Of course,” Sasha giggled. “I, um, I should get going, don’t want to be late.”

“Bye, Sasha,” Ellen mumbled, earning a shove from both of her sisters that nearly sent her tumbling off of the sofa.

“How’s your French, Sasha?” Zoe asked the teenaged girl, who blushed in response.

“…Got an A at GCSE, a B at A-Level, not enough to get into uni,” Sasha replied. “Why?”

“I think,” Natalie giggled, “that my lover thinks that a love of the Angels, skill in a second language and a solid work ethic work might make you the perfect flight attendant! Though you will be required to get your legs out more than once every four years.” Sasha blushed as Natalie gestured to the teenaged girl’s thick trousers and her own tight skirt.

“I… I dunno,” Sasha giggled. “I’ll, um I’ll see you at Christmas, okay?”

“Sure,” Natalie said, giving her sister a tight hug as she departed. “Any anytime you’re in London, you’re welcome to stay with us. As long as you wear a skirt or a dress!”

“Or a leotard!” Zoe giggled as she gave Sasha a quick hug.

After bidding farewell to Natalie’s mother and her still-sleeping sister, the two women got in a taxi to Manchester’s Piccadilly station, and were soon en route back to their home in the nation’s capital.

“…So NOW can you tell me who that text was from?” Natalie asked as Zoe played with her phone, a smug smile spreading across her face.

Several hours later, Rachel took a deep breath as she stepped through the front door of the Krystie Fullerton School of Dance, trying not to look too conspicuous as several teen and pre-teen girls filed past her, all of them dressed in the same pink tights and royal blue leotards. Seconds later, their two teachers followed, both of whom grinned as they saw Rachel waiting for her.

“Hey, Rach!” Krystie- Zoe’s boss- giggled as she headed into her office. “You head off, Zoe, I’ll finish up here.”

“You have the tutu ready for Priya’s birthday tomorrow?” Zoe asked.

“I’ll sort it, it’s fine,” Krystie said. “Just go, for god’s sake!”

“Well, fine, if it’s like that…” Zoe said, playfully sticking her tongue out at the tall blonde woman before heading with Rachel to her car. “I love your look, Rachel! A mix of ‘not trying’ and ‘not caring’!”

“Correct on both,” Rachel laughed as she gestured to the leggings and hoodie that she hadn’t changed out of since getting up. “Figured I’m owed a day of zero effort every now and again.”

“Absolutely!” Zoe giggled. “And you’ll say ‘who knows more about zero effort than Zoe’, correct?”

“Not at all,” Rachel replied. “More like ‘who knows more about doing a job they hate then Zoe’.”

“…Ah,” Zoe said. “Is it really THAT bad now?”

“When you were on your warning,” Rachel sighed, “management tried to do everything to force you out of the job. Giving you all grey route in summer, lots of black route in winter…”

“And it worked,” Zoe mumbled. “Even despite you and Alana trying to persuade me to stay. Is she doing the same to you?”

“No, but I reckon she will,” Rachel sighed. “I’ve been told ‘promotion is not an option’, and I’m thirty next year, which means no more customer-facing work for me… They can’t demote me so I reckon I’ll be the highest-paid toilet scrubber in England, heh.”

“Ageist assholes,” Zoe spat. “Marie's 28 in a couple of weeks, but she’s already looking at management. But she has always had her nose in assholes.”

“Charming,” Rachel said, making Zoe laugh. “Is it the job, though, or is it me?”

“Ah,” Zoe said. “What you really mean by that is ‘is it the job, or is Zoe lazy?’”

“…Maybe,” Rachel mumbled.

“It IS the job,” Zoe said. “I love every second of teaching dance. Not just, because I tell off girls who do not try hard enough!”

“Is that why that one girl had a bandage above her eye?” Rachel teased Zoe, who sighed sadly.

“Poor Ashley,” Zoe said quietly. “That is a longer story. But I love teaching dance because dance is my passion. What is your passion?”

“…Succeeding,” Rachel confessed. “It doesn’t really matter what I do, as long as I’m the best at it.”

“Ah, a very ‘Rachel’ answer!” Zoe teased. “But I am not the best dancer in the world, or even the best dance teacher. There is always someone better than me, or than you. What you do is more important than how well you do it.”

“If you say so,” Rachel sighed as she pulled up outside Zoe’s flat. “See you later, Zoe.” After bidding farewell to her French friend, Rachel headed back to her boyfriend’s apartment, finding it in total darkness. When she switched on the light, however, Rachel got the shock of her life when her boyfriend leapt up from the sofa, startling her with a loud yell.

“Wha-who-“ Rachel stammered, before screwing her face up in a look of pure fury directed at the laughing young man. “Fuck's sake, Danny! NOT funny!”

“What?” Danny pleaded. “You should’ve seen the look on your face!”

“Yes,” Rachel growled. “The look that said ‘oh my god is this a rapist or a robber and am I going to get killed’. Seriously, I should thump you for that!”

“Oh- okay, I’m sorry,” Danny sighed. “For what it’s worth, I did the same thing to Stephanie a few weeks ago, she didn’t see the funny side either…”

“Should’ve learned something from that,” Rachel snarled, giving Danny a firm punch in his ribs as she sat down on his sofa. “Wine. Now.”

“What do I look like, a stewardess?” Danny retorted, giggling as Rachel hurled a cushion at him. “For what it’s worth, you look really, really sexy dressed like that.”

“You’re not sweet-talking your way out of THIS one,” Rachel retorted.

“No, really, I mean it,” Danny said, returning with Rachel’s drink.

“I’m wearing my slobbiest clothes and zero make-up,” Rachel snorted. “If you’re going to compliment my appearance you literally could not have chosen a worse appearance to compliment.”

“No, I’ve chosen the best one to compliment,” Danny said. “Because this isn’t ‘Rachel the superstar’ or ‘Rachel the sexy stewardess’, this is ‘Rachel- just Rachel’ sat on my sofa right now. And I think you look beautiful. And besides, it’s not like I’m not a total slob myself…” Despite herself, Rachel smiled as she stroked the coarse stubble on her boyfriend’s cheek.

“…Arsehole,” Rachel giggled as Danny gently kissed her hand.

“Forgive me?” Danny pleaded with wide, puppy-dog eyes.

“Hmm…” Rachel mused. “I’ll let you know AFTER you sleep on this sofa for the night!”

“Deal,” Danny giggled, leaning in to give Rachel a gentle kiss before the two spent the rest of the night cuddling on the sofa- which, as promised, is where Danny remained until the following morning.

Jessica stretched her tired muscles as she stepped through the front door of her apartment, before kicking off her heels and dropping onto the sofa with a long sigh. Jessica was only seated for mere seconds, however, when she heard the bedroom door open behind her and caught a glimpse of Paige standing in the doorway, wearing nothing but a sheer black babydoll, a tiny thong and a lustful smile.

Without saying a single word, Jessica strode up to Paige and kissed her deeply, allowing the Scottish girl’s body to melt into her arms as they retreated into their bedroom together, where they spent the night in a passionate embrace only broken by the two girls nearly passing out through exhaustion.

As she woke up the following morning, Jessica let out a sigh of frustration as she discovered Paige’s sleeping form still cuddled up against her own. Once again, she had needed to have a long, serious talk about the relationship, about their feelings and their emotions, and once again, that talk had been dismissed in favour of yet another marathon lovemaking session. Obviously, it wasn’t that Jessica disliked having sex with Paige, but every time they avoided discussing their relationship, it just confirmed in Jessica’s mind that all they had was a physical relationship- a relationship that Jessica knew couldn’t last.

“Wake up,” Jessica giggling, gently shaking Paige until the dark-haired girl stirred.

“Mmm…” Paige dreamily moaned. “Do I have to? It’s our first day off together in ages…”

“So we shouldn’t waste it,” Jessica whispered.

“I wouldn’t call rubbing our naked bodies against each other ‘wasting’ anything,” Paige giggled, before letting out a long sigh. “But that’s not what you’re thinking of, is it?”

“We DO need to talk about our relationship,” Jessica whispered, taking Paige’s hands in her own.

“No we don’t,” Paige pleaded, before letting out another long sigh. “…Okay, maybe we do. But I’m not UNhappy, Jessica. I like us. I LOVE us, and I love you. Why can’t we be happy with what we’ve got right here?”

“I AM happy,” Jessica whispered, increasing her grip on Paige’s hands. “I love us, and I love you. But I want more. No, not just more- I want EVERYTHING. I want us to have everything, together.”

“I- I-“ Paige stammered, trying and failing to think of a response to what Jessica said. “Isn’t it enough for you that I love you, Jessica?” The American girl remained silent, biting her lip as she tried to think of a response to Paige’s question.

“That’s what I figured,” Paige sighed as she swung her legs out of bed and headed toward the shower. As the hot water cleansed her body, it was all Paige could do not to scream in frustration at her situation.

When she'd first got together with Jessica, it had been a step into the unknown- much like her decision to move to Paris to live and work as a woman, or the first time she'd ever dressed as a woman... Or even the first time she'd handled a pair of women's tights. Paige was an adventurer, someone desperately seeking something new, something different... And over time, Jessica had gone from being that new, different experience to being something known, something familiar... Something that didn't excite Paige as much as she used to.

And yet, Paige didn't stop loving Jessica. She COULDN'T stop loving her, even if she tried. Every time she flew to a different, exotic destination, it was Jessica she looked forward to returning to. Every time she made plans to go out, to go somewhere on holiday, they were never just for herself, they were for herself and Jessica... And every time Paige found herself looking at another woman- or even another man- she was filled with a sense of pure guilt, which almost made her resent her love for Jessica- and to a lesser extent, made her resent Jessica herself. Paige's life would've been so much easier if Jessica had never come into it... But it would've been so much emptier as well.

"You are one fucking messed up girl," Anna-Jade said softly as Paige confessed her stresses to her over the breakfast table.

"Thanks for the helpful advice," Paige snorted.

"If it's relationship advice you want, you've REALLY come to the wrong place," Anna-Jade laughed.

"...Thought you and Paul were doing okay?" Paige said, before laughing. "God, so weird to call another person 'Paul' knowing that I'll never be called that myself again..."

"Tell me about it," Anna-Jade laughed. "Sometimes I hear someone say 'Anthony' and it's all I can not to respond. And for the record, me and 'Mr. Kennedy' are doing okay. Doesn't help that I'm at work all week, but then again, he will be in January, all those people joining gyms for the New Year..."

"...So you've booked a holiday in February?" Paige asked, making the Irishwoman giggle.

"Got a week in Australia booked," Anna-Jade said with a smug smile. "Wanted somewhere far away from anywhere served by Soixante fucking Trois, heh!"

"Think you've done that, heh!" Paige giggled.

"Question is," Anna-Jade said, "when and where are you and Jessica going on your next holiday?" Anna-Jade smiled sadly as Paige dramatically dropped her head onto the table and let out a long, soft moan.

"Nowhere and never, probably," Paige sighed.

"Paige..." Anna-Jade whispered. "Do- do you want to split up with Jess?"

"No, of course not," Paige instantly replied. "I LOVE her. I just- I just wish- gah, I don't know what I wish... Ever since she proposed, everything's just gone weird between us, I wish I could just go back to the way things were, you know? Back when what we had was something-"

"Something new?" Anna-Jade interrupted. "Nothing stays new forever. Are you telling me you'd rather have a different sexual partner every year?"

"Bite me," Paige retorted, making the Irishwoman laugh.

"Like I said, I'm the last person to ask about relationship advice," Anna-Jade said. "All I will say is that you can't go on like this. But knowing you... You probably will."

"Thanks," Paige sarcastically moaned, before heading back to her bedroom to get dressed. When she arrived, she found Jessica already dressed and pulling on a coat and a pair of leather knee-high boots.

"Going somewhere?" The Scottish girl asked her American lover, trying to disguise the accusatory tone to her voice.

"Natalie texted," Jessica explained. "Said Zoe's going to be busy all day so wanted to know if we wanted to meet up for coffee."

"Okay..." Paige said hesitantly. "Gimme a sec to get ready, text me the place and we'll meet up."

"We could go together, you know," Jessica said, inwardly screaming at the awkwardness between herself and her lover.

"Nah, it's okay," Paige replied. "I was- I was just talking to Anna-Jade."

"Okay..." Jessica replied. "That's not unusual, you know, we DO live with her..."

"I mean, I- I was-" Paige stammered, before sighing. "Wondered if she was going to go for the supervisor role opening up in February."

"...Okay," Jessica mumbled, immediately seeing through Paige's lie. "I thought she'd booked in for her SRS next summer? Can't get promoted then take 3 months off sick, can you?"

"Well, it's her decision," Paige sighed as she pulled a bra, a thong and a pair of shiny black tights out of her underwear drawer. "Honestly, you get going, you know me, I'll be aged getting ready, heh."

"And miss watching you pull your tights on? Nuh-uh," Jessica retorted, making Paige giggle.

"You've seen me pull my tights on hundreds of times!" Paige laughed as she playfully flicked the hosiery in Jessica's face.

"Doesn't mean I love it any less than the first time I saw it," Jessica whispered, making Paige pause and take a deep breath. "I'll- I'll um, I'll get going, I'll text you-"

"Yeah, see you in a bit," Paige whispered, giving Jessica an awkward kiss as the American girl left.

After hearing Jessica bare her soul about the condition of her relationship with Paige, Natalie let out a long, frustrated sigh that attracted the attention of several nearby patrons in the packed coffee shop.

"Honestly, Jessica, 'fucked up' doesn't begin to cover it," Natalie sighed.

"Thanks," Jessica replied sarcastically. "Any advice? I mean, you've got the most stable relationship out of any of our friends... How do you do it?"

"I take one day at a time," Natalie shrugged.

"Tried that," Jessica sighed. "You just can't 'switch off' your anxiety, you know?"

"Your only other option is talking to Paige," Natalie said. "I mean REALLY talking, heart-to-heart."

"Tried that too," Jessica moaned. "I really, really can't afford to lose her. I just- I just wish I could travel back in time..."

"Back to when you proposed?" Natalie asked.

"Back to when we first met," Jessica sighed. "Hell, back to when I was born, maybe persuade the doctor who circumcised me to do a slightly more 'thorough' job..."

"Glad I'm not having the sausage sandwich," Natalie said, making Jessica snort with laughter. "Seriously, though, you can't go on like this. And I DO want to walk down the aisle behind you one day, wearing a maid of honour's dress..."

"Yeah, well you'll be waiting a while for that," Jessica sighed. "Besides, Hayley- my sister- would be my maid of honour."

"Thought she was only sixteen?" Natalie replied.

"By the time I eventually get married, she'll probably be thirty," Jessica moaned.

"For what it's worth..." Natalie grimaced, "I kinda know the feeling. I didn't want to tell you this- I didn't want to add to your burdens, like- but if it hadn't been for your proposal... I'd probably have popped the question to Zoe by now."

"Thanks," Jessica snorted.

"Sorry," Natalie mumbled. "But, you know, Zoe's even younger than Paige, ever since she quit work for the company she's been more eager to 'explore' as well... That, and she can contort her body into the shape of a pretzel, and there's no way I'm jeopardising being with THAT."

"Aww, so sweet!" Jessica giggled, making Natalie smile smugly. Their smiles were short-lived, however, as Paige approached their table, greeting her American lover with a kiss before sitting down.

"...Did I interrupt anything?" Paige asked, acutely aware of the awkwardness she brought to the table.

"Natalie was telling me her favourite flavour of pretzel," Jessica said, making the English girl giggle yet again as the topic of conversation moved away from Natalie & Zoe's relationship- and stayed as far away from Jessica & Paige's relationship as possible.

Rachel took a deep breath as she straightened the red pillbox hat atop her head, before gripping the armrests of her chair, ready for take-off.

"You uncomfortable, honey?" Annabelle whispered as Rachel fidgeted in her seat.

"Yes," Rachel sighed. "Basically every time I pull on this uniform... Had to lace my corset extra-tight today, think I overdid the birthday cake, heh."

"S'pose it couldn't help that we just went somewhere warm, too," Annabelle quipped.

"Oh trust me," Rachel snorted. "Malaga in winter is nothing compared to Abu Dhabi. Especially in summer, with those damned grey route uniforms... I swear I was wringing sweat out of my bodysuit every time I took it off."

"You know," Annabelle said softly, "I used to be sad that I couldn't do grey route, but the more I wear this uniform... The more I hate it, you know? I want to be a woman, not a Barbie doll..."

"To some people, they're the same thing," Rachel spat as the aeroplane thundered down the runway, bearing its crew and passengers back north toward London.

A short while later, the 'fasten seatbelts' light extinguished, and Rachel tried to breathe easily as she and Annabelle headed to the plane's cramped kitchen to prepare refreshments for their passengers.

"Do you want me to do all the heavy lifting, honey?" Annabelle asked, making her supervisor sigh.

"No, I've got be seen to be out there," Rachel replied, pointing to the gold buttons on her blazer and the brooch on her lapel that marked her as the most senior stewardess on the flight. "Guess you'll figure this out soon yourself, heh!"

"I dunno..." Annabelle said in a coy voice.

"Oh come on," Rachel teased. "You were made a mentor after three months, you've got to be in line for a supervisor role, right?"

"...Reckon I'll be jumping ahead in line if I do," Annabelle replied. "I got off to such a bad start with Jessica... Don't want to make it any worse."

"Jessica knows these positions are competed for fairly," Rachel.

"Just as long as the interview doesn't have a swimsuit round," Annabelle said, making Rachel groan.

"Trust me, they don't," the blonde Englishwoman laughed. "At least, they never used to... Antoine Masson, the man who portrays himself as 'progressive' and 'future-thinking' by offering transgendered women equal opportunities in his company... Before dressing them like this and encouraging them- sorry, encouraging US to demean ourselves in stupid beauty pageants." Rachel's train of thought was interrupted when the call light in the kitchen illuminated.

"You okay to get this?" Annabelle asked, making Rachel fidget as she tried to adjust her tight underwear.

"I got this," Rachel said with a smile as she pushed her drinks trolley into the aisle and toward the illuminated call light. "How may I help you, sir?"

"Just a cup of coffee, please, milk, no sugar," the passenger politely responded.

"Coming right up, sir," Rachel said in her sweetest possible voice, only realising after she'd finished talking that, due to her naturally soft voice, she was bordering on falsetto. After stealthily clearing her throat, she poured the passenger's drink and delicately placed it on his tray table, an act that caused her to fidget to try to lessen the 'bite' of her underwear on her waist.

"Is there anything else, sir?" Rachel asked as light turbulence caused her to be unsteady on her high heeled shoes.

"No..." The passenger said, closely examining Rachel's body. "You- you're not allowed to tell me whether or not you're, you know, one of those ladyboys, are you?" Rachel bit her lip to keep herself from grinning- in the past, she'd had to discipline Zoe for pretending that she was transgendered, and at the time, she'd never understood why Zoe would have done such a thing. Now, however...

"I'm sorry, sir," Rachel said in her sweetest, highest-pitched voice, "but I'm not allowed to answer personal questions whilst on duty." Rachel couldn't prevent herself from grinning as she bobbed a curtsey to the passenger, before returning to the kitchen and letting out a long, tired laugh.

"Something funny, honey?" Annabelle asked as Rachel tossed her hat onto a counter.

"Annabelle..." Rachel began. "Do you- do you, you know, get 'identified' all that often?"

"...Not as much as I used to," Annabelle replied. "Ever since I started hormones again six months ago, anyway..."

"Well I just got 'identified'," Rachel giggled, making Annabelle stare at her in confusion.

"Umm, honey..." The tall American girl mumbled. "You ARE a woman. I mean, you've always been a woman, since birth, right?"

"And THAT's what's funny," Rachel giggled, before pulling her hat back on and pulling a few 'fashion model' poses to the delight of Annabelle and the other two stewardesses who were serving the flight.

Despite herself, Rachel couldn't stop grinning all the way back to London, even after she was summoned into her manager's office and confronted by a deep frown from the older woman.

"Rachel..." Alana sighed. "Why, exactly, did you feel the need to pretend to be transgendered on the Malaga flight?"

"I didn't pretend anything," Rachel protested. "My corset was just a little tight, that's all. Now, if I didn't have to wear it, then-"

"You know why that's part of the uniform," Alana said firmly.

"Don't I ever," Rachel snorted. "Wonder if I ever get rich enough to start my own airline, I'd get away with filling it with six foot tall surfers with washboard abs, 3% body fat and wearing nothing but speedos..."

"Well I'll tell you this much," Alana scoffed. "You won't get that rich by having that attitude!"

"But I would if my attitude was that of a misogynistic pervert?" Rachel retorted, making Alana's jaw drop in shock. "Or by inheriting it all from my father... All along, I thought that Masson was France's answer to Richard Branson, now I see that he's actually France's answer to Donald Trump!"

"Get out," Alana growled, barely able to keep her temper in check. "I'll call you back in once I've decided what I'm going to do with you."

"I'll save you the bother," Rachel said, removing her hat and placing it on Alana's desk. "I, Rachel Elizabeth Harrison, quit."

"Fine," Alana spat. "Make sure to turn in your uniform before you leave."

"Oh trust me," Rachel laughed. "I don't ever want to even SEE this quote-unquote uniform again! But..."

"'But' what?" Alana asked.

"Before I go, I really want to know..." Rachel began. "Why ARE you so blind to what is obvious chauvinism? I mean, you did this job, you endured this uniform, the constant 'comments'... Why are you taking their side over ours?"

"I shouldn't have to take sides," Alana said. "We should all be on the side of the passenger, and of management. But if you must know, it's because I believe in this company, and I believe that it really is the best place in the world to work."

"...You're fucking one of the pilots, right?" Rachel asked, before groaning loudly. "No... Not Jacques, surely?" Rachel’s face fell as Alana bit her lip, her face a mixture of anger and embarrassment.

"Jacques Lacroix is a sensitive and gentle man," Alana said as Rachel buried her face in her hands. "He doesn't deserve any of the reputation that YOU have given him!" I know a video that'd change your mind, Rachel thought to herself.

"Goodbye, Alana," Rachel sighed as she returned to the locker area, where she methodically removed every trace of her make-up, before removing her corset and dropping it on the locker-room floor.

After changing back into the dress she wore to the airport- complete with a pair of flat shoes, rather than her heels- Rachel sent a series of text messages summoning all her friends to her flat, where she broke the news about her new employment situation.

"...Okay then," Natalie said, taking a deep breath. "And here I was thinking that 29 was too early for a mid-life crisis..."

"Am I wrong, though?" Rachel asked, smiling smugly as everyone present was forced to nod in agreement. "When I started for the company five years ago, we- sorry, THEY were no different than any other airline. There was a sense of family, even. But now... It's like we're some kind of harem to them."

"Hope you're not blaming this on us T-girls," Anna-Jade said cautiously. "I know the current dress code only came in to try to deter transgendered applicants..."

"A decision that shows how out of touch management really are," Rachel retorted.

"Hard to argue with that," Jessica sighed. "I still can't believe you quit, though..."

"Yeah," Natalie concurred. "If you're going to take down the management of the company- something I can totally get behind, by the way- you're going to have a hard time doing that from OUTSIDE the company. What are you going to do now, anyway? This close to Christmas, the job market's hardly booming."

"Can answer both questions at the same time," Rachel said with a smug grin. "Over five years I've accumulated enough dirt to give the company a LOT of headaches. I intend to do just that."

"The company we all still work for?" Paige retorted, making Rachel bite her lip. "I mean, I've got no love of the uniform or the shitty treatment, but I'd prefer it if management didn't have any more excuses to kick us, you know?"

"That's my point exactly, what you just said," Rachel said. "'You've got no love for the uniform'."

"Yeah..." Paige said. "It's a tight, impractical pain in the arse."

"Coming from someone who, like all but two people in this room, dreamed her whole life of being able to work in a uniform like that," Natalie said, catching onto Rachel's train of thought.

"Exactly," Rachel said with a smug grin. "Those two people you mentioned being the only two people to get sick of wearing the uniform and quit, and are also the only two people to have been female our entire lives."

"Now to be fair, I never had a problem with the uniform," Zoe said. "I mean, where I work now, I wear skin-tight lycra and a tiny skirt."

"Even grey route uniform?" Rachel asked, making Zoe sigh and nod.

"Yes, grey route uniform was horrible," Zoe replied.

"And being treated like a piece of meat by the passengers AND management?" Rachel asked.

"...You were the one who did that more than anyone else," Zoe retorted.

"And we all knew what we were signing up for," Jessica said. "Okay, for you, they changed the rules after you started, but still-"

"Did you really know what you were signing up for, though?" Rachel asked. "Okay, I can't understand what it's like to be transgendered. I won't pretend to. But stop me if I'm wrong: you all heard or read about Soixante-Trois and thought 'here's a company that will enable me to live and work as a woman'."

"...That was part of the appeal, aye," Paige conceded.

"Then you saw the dress code," Rachel continued, "and thought 'this is a dream come true', right?"

"It seemed a bit extreme," Abbey mumbled. "Then again, 'extreme' isn't always bad..."

"...Until you do it for up to twelve hours a day, right?" Rachel asked.

"...Okay," Abbey sighed. "I will admit I've got into the habit of 'un-corseting' the second I get home."

"Sometimes," Paige mumbled, "I do just like to chill on the sofa wearing a pair of leggings and a long t-shirt. I mean, I've been on hormones 21 months, as you can see." Paige pointed to the two small but growing mounds on her otherwise slender chest. "But some days I don't even want to wear a bra. Heh, if you'd told me I'd be saying that when I was sixteen..."

"That's because you've grown as a woman," Rachel said with a proud smile. "You don't need clothes to prove to the world that you're a woman. You already are one, at least in your brain."

"What about girls like Natalie?" Paige asked, making the Mancunian woman frown in confusion. "Girls who aren't, you know, 'chemical'?"

"Jess," Natalie asked, "What was I wearing the first time we met?"

"...A pair of leggings and a long t-shirt," Jessica said with a laugh.

"At one point, you actually called me a 'T-tomboy' if I recall correctly," Natalie said, lowering her voice to its natural male pitch by the end of her sentence.

"And I've been apologising about it ever since," Jessica sighed. "Okay, Rachel, whatever help you need, we'll provide it."

"Just tell me anything you see that proves my point," Rachel shrugs. "God knows all of us should already have enough dirt for a book each, heh."

"Isn't this all a bit immature, you know?" Abbey asked. "I mean, dishing dirt on the company like some kind of poor Loose Women parody?"

"I don't know about you," Natalie said, her voice raising back to her preferred feminine pitch, "but there's nothing 'loose' about me!"

"And besides," Anna-Jade interjected, "the company are the ones being immature. Person who designed the dress code was probably some fucking pervert who jacked off at the thought of transgendered girls dressing up like fucking Barbie."

"And probably played on your dreams when you were younger to lure you in," Rachel said. "But you're not some teenager desperate to pull on skirts and dance in front of mirrors like Britney Spears. You're all adults, you've grown as people as well as women. And it's about time you were treated as the grown-ups you are."

"Hear hear!" The women all cheered.

"So... Are we doing the tutu project again, then?" Annabelle asked, bringing smiles to the faces of the other seven women.

"Tutu Project 2017!" Rachel toasted.

"Tutu Project 2017!" The other women all cheered, clinking their full wine glasses together.

As they got ready for bed, Rachel's words resonated in both Jessica's and Paige's ears. When both women had started working for Soixante-Trois, they viewed it as a short-term form of wish fulfilment, rather than a chance at a career- a chance to live life the way they'd always dreamed. If someone had told either woman that they would still be working for Soixante-Trois over two years later, and would be deep into a course of hormone replacement therapy, neither of them would have believed it.

And yet, as she removed her earrings and brushed out her hair, Paige realised that what had been a fantasy was not just reality, but her only reality. What was once miraculous was now everyday- and she was okay with that. And as she climbed into bed with her American lover, she realised that she was okay with Jessica, too.

"You know," Paige said as she snuggled next to Jessica, "with Rachel quitting, it means there's two supervisor slots up for grabs in February..."

"...Thinking we could get a double promotion?" Jessica asked Paige, who giggled in response.

"No reason why not," Paige said. "We're two of the most professional in the whole airline, they'd be stupid not to at least consider us."

"...When did we become a couple who discussed our career in bed?" Jessica giggled as she gently played with Paige's hair.

"You heard Rachel," Paige shrugged. "We ARE adults, we ARE grown-ups... We don't pull on the uniform to get a thrill anymore, we do it to get paid."

"So how, exactly, do we get a 'thrill'?" Jessica asked, giggling as Paige wrapped her arms around her neck and pulled them both under the bedsheets...

Jessica fell asleep with a smile on her face, her lover in her arms and a fine sheen of sweat covering her whole body. But most importantly from her perspective, she fell asleep safe in the knowledge that while it may have its ups and downs, just like her career, her relationship with Paige was going to last a long, long time.

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