Ellie smiled as she woke up on her comfortable single bed. It had been one of the most turbulent weeks of her young life, if not THE most turbulent, but it had finally ended, and for once, Ellie had a reason to feel positive about her future, all thanks to one person- the woman who was, unsurprisingly, already awake when Ellie emerged from her room, glad only in a knee-length t-shirt.
"Good afternoon," Janet teased, chuckling as the teenager rolled her eyes. "Can't blame you for wanting a lie-in though, the week you've had. You've definitely earned it."
"Yeah," Ellie yawned, rubbing her tired eyes as she plopped onto the sofa. "What time is it?"
"Just gone 10:30am," Janet replied. "I've only been up an hour myself if I'm honest. There's water in the kettle if you want to make yourself some coffee.
"Thanks," Ellie mumbled. "And, you know, thanks again."
"You don't need to thank me every morning!" Janet said, chuckling as the teenager blushed. "So, how you planning on spending your hard-earned Saturday?"
"Just, umm, meeting some friends," Ellie replied. "You?"
"Still got, you know, stuff to do..." Janet replied. Ellie nodded quietly at the response- she knew that the 'stuff' Janet referred to was undoubtedly related to her, just as she knew how busy the 42 year old woman had been since Ellie moved in.
As Janet had promised, on the day that Ellie moved in, she filled out all the official paperwork to make everything 'official'. While Ellie was at college, Janet would be her legal guardian and receive the child benefit for her- a task made easy by Ellie's biological parents surrendering the benefit months earlier. Ellie's bank account was registered at her new address, and her college was made aware of the change too- which was when Ellie's new 'idyllic' life hit its first snag.
"...And so," Janet explained to the principal of Ellie's college, "I have agreed to act as Ellie's legal guardian whilst she studies here."
"I see," the principal- a very middle-class man in his mid-fifties- replied as he assessed the scene in front of him.
On his left was Ellie, a student he'd known since the start of September, dressed in her usual attire of a short skirt, translucent tights and a clingy black top that showed a little cleavage. On his right was Janet, who he's only met minutes earlier, dressed in a smart pencil skirt, opaque black tights and a turtleneck sweater that showed off her figure. However, the principal couldn't look past the knowledge that Janet's figure, much like Ellie's cleavage, was entirely artificial, and that anatomically, the two women sat at the desk were identical to him.
"Mister- umm, Mrs. Cole?" The principal asked, stammering as Janet's smile turned into a frown. "Ms. Cole. I'm not questioning your generosity in doing this for Ellie, not for one second, but do you- do you feel that it is, not to put too fine a point on it, appropriate?"
"I have a spare room, Ellie needs a roof over her head," Janet replied. "We were introduced by a mutual friend, I don't see that there's a problem."
"But- but there IS an age gap," the principal replied.
"Yes," Janet replied. "Hence why I'm claiming the child benefit for her rather than the other way round!" Ellie bit her lip to prevent herself from smirking- she knew exactly what the principal was getting at, and she was sure that Janet knew too, but was choosing to feign ignorance.
"But what I mean-" the principal said, before letting out a long sigh. "You have to think about how this looks from the outside looking in. A sixteen year old boy, who dresses as a girl, moves in with a forty-two year old man, who dresses as a woman. That will set off alarm bells with anyone."
"Except Ellie is NOT a boy, and I am NOT a man," Janet said firmly. "And I'm not sure I like what you're implying."
"This is the sort of thing that makes the papers," the principal said.
"Maybe in the 1980s," Janet retorted. "But we live in better times now. And let me just state, for the record, that I have never been accused of being a paedophile before, and if you accuse me again, THEN there will be a story for the papers!" Janet bit her lip at her half-lie- the principal was indeed the first person who insinuate that she was a paedophile, but only if you didn't count members of her own family.
"There is no need to make threats, mist- Ms. Cole," the principal replied.
"Then there will be no problem with me becoming Ellie's legal guardian," Janet said firmly. "And let me state something else for the record- a man who chooses to wear a dress is not a paedophile. A man who chooses to wear women's clothing full-time is not a paedophile. A man who transitions to become a woman is not a paedophile. Am I making myself clear?"
"Perfectly," the principal said. "But are you willing to tell that to the eight million people living in this city? Or the sixty million people living in this country?"
"If I have to, yes," Janet said, making Ellie beam with pride. "I only asked for this meeting as a courtesy to you, not to ask for permission. There is nothing you can do about me becoming Ellie's legal guardian. Unless, of course, you want to expel her. But I guarantee you THAT will be a story for the papers!"
"That won't be necessary," the principal mumbled, making the two women in the room smile smugly as he noted the details of the new living arrangements and had Ellie's record updated accordingly.
After leaving the college, the two women paid a visit to Janet's landlord to explain the situation. It was technically his flat that Ellie would be living in, so he did have to have a say in whether or not she could stay there, but Janet was sure than when he met the teenaged girl, he'd instantly like her. However, for the second time in as many hours, the two women's ambitions were to be thwarted.
"...Are you kidding me?" The dark-skinned man asked after Janet had explained the situation.
"Umm... No," Janet replied. "Ellie is a friend of a friend who has been made homeless, and I've offered her the spare room, which you said I could offer to a friend or family member if I so wished."
"I was thinking more about your own kids, if they wanted to stay with you," Janet's landlord retorted.
"Which you know isn't going to happen any time soon," Janet said coldly. "Is there any reason I can't allow Ellie to stay in the spare room?"
"Well- you know?" The landlord said with a strained voice. "It's gonna look a bit dodgy, isn't it? Two women who used to be men, one older, one younger..."
"Would it be dodgy if Ellie and I had been born female?" Janet asked.
"Which I was, as far as I'm concerned," Ellie interjected, bringing a look of shame to the dark-skinned man's face.
"I'm only saying what other people are gonna say," the landlord sighed. "Devil's advocate, that sort of thing... I don't want to end up getting in any trouble myself."
"What trouble would YOU get into?" Janet retorted. "Renting a flat to an acquaintance and allowing them to take a lodger? Where's the harm in that?"
"Do her parents know about this?" The landlord asked.
"My parents couldn't give a shit about me," Ellie spat. "They've got no right to complain about someone who actually cares." Janet bit her lip as Ellie briefly gazed at her with a look of genuine appreciation in her eyes.
"Of course if you say 'no', then Ellie will just have to find somewhere else," Janet said. "The homeless shelter she was just at wasn't very nice, but-"
"Okay, okay, fine," the landlord sighed. "But the same rules apply to her as they do all my tenants. No loud music, no pets, no repainting without my permission and absolutely no drugs of any kind including tobacco. Agreed?"
"Fine with me, I don't smoke anyway," Ellie shrugged.
"And if possible, I would like a reference," the landlord said.
"Now that I can do," Janet said, writing down a telephone number and passing it to the tall man. "Her name's Stephanie. Stephanie Abbott." Janet forced herself not to smirk as the landlord visibly made connections in his brain, connections that made his eyes go wide in shock.
"...THE Stephanie Abbott?" The dark-skinned man asked.
"You've heard of her, then?" Janet asked. "She was the mutual friend I was talking about."
"My 13 year old daughter's crazy for Out of Heaven," the landlord laughed. "She absolutely idolises the black one, Adeola I think her name is?"
"That's her," Janet said with a smug grin. "I can see if I can blag some merchandise for you if you'd like?" Janet's grin grew wider and was matched by the expression on Ellie's face as the landlord slowly nodded, before letting out a long sigh.
"Welcome aboard, Miss Blake," the landlord said, giving Ellie a firm handshake as the teenaged girl giggled. "Just hope I don't live to regret this..."
"So what time are you heading out?" Janet asked.
"Umm, probably after breakfast," Ellie replied. "Have- have you called Steph yet? About that merchandise, you know?"
"Ehh, not yet, don't want to pressure her," Janet said. "And I don't want to rely on her for everything, if you get what I mean. Don't want to piss her off so much she tells us to piss off."
"Yeah," Ellie whispered as she ate her breakfast in silence, before returning to the tiny room that she called her own and letting out a long sigh.
Janet was right- with how busy Stephanie was, it was nothing short of a miracle that she'd found the time to introduce the two of them and solve Ellie's housing woes. Ellie felt guilty at the mere thought of pestering the famous singer for further help. She knew Steph well enough to know that outwardly, she wouldn't have a problem with it, but on the inside, she'd have to be wondering how much more she'd end up having to do for the teenager, when if it wasn't for her, Ellie would likely be homeless. Ellie wondered if maybe she deserved to be homeless, whether or not she was truly worthy of the stroke of luck that had brought her to Stephanie's and subsequently Janet's attention.
As Ellie applied her typically heavy layer of make-up, she was also forced to concede that if it wasn't for her connection to Stephanie, she probably wouldn't even have any friends to go out and meet up with. She knew that if she was in Kacey & Monique's place, she probably wouldn't want to hang out with her if there wasn't anything she could potentially get her...
Ellie shook her head and chastised herself for her self-pity- undoubtedly one of her biggest faults- as she reached into her drawers for a clean pair of tights. She had been in a bad situation, sure, but she wasn't any more. She had not just a roof over her head, but a home, a place she could truly make her own. She had a friend and role model she could look up to in Janet, and regardless of why Kacey and Monique were her friends, the fact remained that they WERE friends. After the worst day of Ellie's life, when she'd been left alone and afraid, the duo had made an effort to include the blonde girl again in their group, and Ellie had made an effort to put her anxiety and self-pity aside and be the kind of friend that she'd always wanted while she was growing up. After all, as far as she was concerned, Ellie was just an average sixteen year old girl...
"Like it?" Ellie asked as she emerged from her bedroom and did a playful twirl for Janet in her extra-tight black miniskirt and purple turtleneck sweater.
"Very cute," Janet chuckled. "Very girly! Even if it's a bit more make-up than I'd wear. And I grew up in the eighties, heh!"
"I like make-up," Ellie shrugged. "It's not a crime, is it?"
"On the contrary, it should be a crime to NOT wear make-up when you're going out," Janet giggled. "And that applies to both genders too!" Janet smiled as the teenaged girl let out a genuine giggle. She'd noticed that Ellie typically didn't smile much, but when she did, her whole face lit up. Janet felt pity for Ellie- it was easy to guess why the teenager didn't smile much, but depression and misery were vicious circles that it was hard to break free from. Janet had already tried one method of 'breaking free' from her own depression that had thankfully failed, and she was determined never to try again, or to let anyone she cared about try either.
Janet was confident, though, that Ellie's friends were the perfect people to lift her out of her funk, and as the teenager left the flat, Janet's smile widened. Helping Ellie was the best therapy Janet had ever had, and every time Ellie felt happy was proof enough that Janet- not John, but Janet Cole- was making a positive contribution to the world. She just wished that there was more she could do- and that she'd had someone willing to help her through the low times...
"Hey girlie!" Monique said with a grin as Ellie approached the table where she and Kacey were already sat. "Got your usual!"
"You are an ANGEL," Ellie said, taking the hot drink from the dark-skinned girl and sitting in the chair that had been saved for her.
"And if anyone knows about Angels, right?" Kacey teased, sighing as Ellie began to blush.
"Shut up," Ellie mumbled.
"Ah, but it's still such an amazing story, you know?" Monique giggled. "The kind of thing they write movies about, like? You and the cashier, of all people! Both of you know Steph, she brings the two of you together..."
"What's she like, anyway?" Kacey asked. "I mean, like, when she's not sat behind a checkout? Is she strict?"
"She's okay," Ellie shrugged. "And it's not like she can bollock me or anything, she's not my mum, you know?"
"Meh, I guess," Kacey shrugged. "You still talking to Steph?"
"She's checked in a couple of times," Ellie shrugged. "She is kinda busy, you know? Still amazed that she had any time to help me after- well, you know..."
"Yeah," Kacey mumbled, frowning with guilt over the actions of her father. "He's said, you know, that he doesn't mind if you go round, like- like, for the day..."
"So he can rub it in my face that he was 'right'?" Ellie snorted, grimacing as her friend's frown deepened. The last thing she wanted was to alienate them further...
"...He probably would," Kacey conceded. "Doesn't feel even the tiniest bit guilty about chucking you out."
"Well I don't wanna spend all day outside, it's freezing!" Monique complained. "And it's not like we can go back to mine..."
"...Wanna come back to mine?" Ellie asked, forcing a sly smile onto her scarlet lips. "I mean, now that I have a place, like?"
"Umm, sure!" Kacey giggled. "Janet okay with that?"
"Eh, not like she's doing anything else today," Ellie shrugged. "It's just a couple of stops away on the tube, not far from college actually."
"Cool!" Monique giggled. "I'll get us some more drinks then we'll head right there? Freezing my arse off out here!"
"And you're sure Janet will be okay with this?" Kacey asked.
"Course she will," Ellie replied with a smug grin. Unlike your father, the blonde teenager thought to herself as she and her friends grabbed their coats and headed back to the nearest tube station.
Janet stretched her tired feet out on her coffee table as she examined the bottles of nail polish in front of her. As much as she liked Ellie and enjoyed having company, she was grateful to have a bit of time to herself- so much so that when she heard the front door open, she let out a low moan of frustration.
"Back so soon?" Janet asked, clearing away the nail polish and reaching for her socks.
"Yeah," Ellie replied. "It's kinda cold outside..."
"Eh, can't say I bla-" Janet froze as she saw two young women- both of whom she instantly recognised- walk into the flat alongside Ellie. "Umm, hello..."
"Umm, hi!" Monique said with a nervous wave. "Ellie said we could hang out here..."
"Did she?" Janet sighed. "Well- okay, I guess. Make yourselves at home. Want something to drink?"
"No, we- we brought our own drinks," Kacey said.
"Well- I'll make myself a drink, I guess," Janet said as she headed through to the kitchen, which was still close enough to the living room to hear her guests' conversation despite their talking in a low whisper.
"I thought you said she'd be okay?" Kacey asked. "She looks well pissed off..."
"Nah, she's okay, it was just a surprise, that's all," Ellie replied, making Janet roll her eyes.
"You didn't text her, then?" Kacey asked.
"It's not like you're moving in," Ellie replied. "Honestly, she's fine with it."
"Meh, okay then," Monique shrugged. "Glad we've got SOMEWHERE we can hang out where we're not getting shouted at. And before you say anything, yes, I know it's me and Kacey's parents who are in the wrong, not you! Unless, of course, Janet's a closet racist or something..."
"Okay then," Janet said loudly as she carried her mug of tea through from the kitchen. "Sorry about the mess, I'd have tidied up if I knew we were having guests." Janet allowed herself a smug grin as Ellie averted her gaze and scowled. "We haven't been properly introduced, have we? Unless we count you buying stuff at my supermarket, anyway!"
"No, heh," Kacey nervously chuckled. "I- I'm Kacey, Kacey Harris."
"Monique Daniels," the dark-skinned girl said with a half-hearted wave.
"And I'm Janet, Janet Cole," the 42 year old woman said with a smile. "And of course, we all know Ellie."
"Yeah," Kacey said with a chuckle, prompting an awkward silence that caused all four women to fidget uncomfortably.
"So, then," Janet said, barely suppressing a sigh. "You two studying music as well?"
"Umm, no, theatre studies," Kacey replied.
"Same here," Monique said.
"Ah, budding actresses, then?" Janet asked.
"Kinda more interested in the behind-the-scenes stuff," Kacey shrugged, still fidgeting uncomfortably in her seat. "Always wanted to be a director, there ain't, umm, enough women directors, you know?"
"Girl power!" Janet giggled as Ellie's cheeks started to flush with embarrassment. "Heh, you're probably too young to remember that!"
"A bit, yeah," Kacey said, leading to another awkward silence.
"So, then," Janet said, this time not suppressing her sigh. "Who are some of your favourite directors?"
The next ninety minutes passed by awkwardly as Janet tried to engage her much younger companions in conversation, only for each conversation to fizzle out just as quickly as it had started. Eventually, Kacey and Monique made their excuses, and were escorted to the door by their blonde friend.
"Ugh, sorry about that," Ellie whispered as her two friends put on their coats and shoes.
"Nah, what for?" Monique replied. "I reckon she's cool, you know? Like, 45 going on 15, that sort of thing?"
"She's trying to be, anyway," Kacey said. "Definitely cooler than my parents!"
"See you on Monday, okay?" Monique asked, giggling as she and Kacey exchanged gentle, girlish hugs with Ellie before leaving the flat and heading back to their respective homes. Janet frowned as Ellie sat down next to her on the sofa, still unable to return her gaze.
"...They seemed nice," Janet said, breaking the awkward silence that had once again filled the room.
"They're okay," Ellie shrugged.
"Mmm," Janet nodded. "Thanks for apologising for me, by the way, didn't get round to that while I was trying to make conversation..."
"Ugh, sorry," Ellie mumbled. "You weren't meant to hear that..."
"This living room's about the size of a phone box," Janet retorted. "Kinda hard NOT to hear things I'm not supposed to. But, I guess I've been 16 before, believe it or not, and I do remember bits of what it was like."
"Did you hang out with 40 year olds when you were sixteen?" Ellie asked, making Janet roll her eyes.
"No, I usually hung out with my friends in my room," Janet retorted. "And before you say anything, yes, I know that if this room is the size of a phone box, your room is the size of a shoe box, and I can't really expect you to entertain your friends in there. But you can't expect me to just up sticks and hole up in my room when your friends drop round. Especially without so much as a text warning me."
"...Sorry," Ellie mumbled again.
"No need to apologise, no harm was done in the long run," Janet said. "And I wasn't joking when I said that Kacey and Monique seemed nice. Notice how they didn't seem to have a problem with the idea of two transgendered women of very different ages living together?"
"They had time to get used to the idea," Ellie shrugged.
"Nah, it's more than that," Janet said softly. "Notice how they were the only people we've met together who haven't so much as batted an eyelid at the idea? Sometimes I think your generation's the ones with their heads screwed on the most."
"Maybe," Ellie shrugged. "Even if we do show up without texting first." Janet bit her tongue as Ellie sighed, before returning to her bedroom, where she stayed for the rest of the afternoon.
Once Ellie was out of sight, the 42 year old woman let out a long sigh. She was no stranger to teenagers, or to their need to rebel. When her son was fourteen, it was impossible to get him to do anything, regardless of how politely Janet asked. Housework went undone, his bedroom became a pig sty and his vocabulary seemed to consist only of incoherent grunts. When Janet's daughter turned thirteen, she seemed to change overnight from a sweet young girl, interested in dolls and ponies, into an independent young woman obsessed with fashion, make-up and celebrities. Both children eventually grew out of their 'phases'- Ethan gradually turned into a responsible, well-groomed young man- though how much of that was down to wanting to impress his first girlfriend and how much was down to Janet, the middle-aged woman couldn't say- while Lindsay turned her interest in imitating the likes of Taylor Swift into actually learning a musical instrument and taking singing lessons.
As Janet noted, though, in the ten months since she had last seen her children, all that could have changed. She didn't love her children any less than she had when she was 'John'- if anything, she loved them even more. And she certainly didn't love them any less for having gone through their 'phases', even though Janet was forced to concede that her own 'phase' had taken over her life. She may have been much more comfortable in her skin as 'Janet' than she had been as 'John', but she wasn't any happier with her children absent from her life, and she didn't want to force Ellie into a surrogate role she wouldn't be comfortable with, especially as others would rightly point out that such a relationship could quickly become 'inappropriate'.
Janet was Ellie's guardian, her friend, but definitely not her mother- but that didn't mean that Ellie didn't need the guiding hand of a parent, especially as she was undoubtedly hurting in the same way that Janet herself was.
Predictably, Ellie didn't emerge from her bedroom until early evening, when both women's stomachs had begun to rumble.
"Ready for dinner, then?" Janet asked, smirking as Ellie nodded. "I'll get started on it. Want anything in particular?"
"No, whatever will be okay," Ellie shrugged.
"Kacey- Kacey's parents are the ones you stayed with before coming to me, aren't they?" Janet asked.
"Yep," Ellie sighed. "Captain 'tough love and even tougher shit if you fail'."
"Yeah, I remember you describing what happened," Janet sighed. "And- and Monique's parents?"
"Actually kicked HER out when I showed up there for the first time," Ellie snorted.
"Ugh," Janet spat. "Disapproving of a friend is heinous of itself, but- but what kind of person would do that to their own child?"
"I dunno, try asking my parents," Ellie retorted, silencing the older woman.
"...You- do you have a counsellor you see about these things?" Janet asked.
"Just an NHS one," Ellie sighed. "Only see her every two weeks and she isn't much help."
"Well- well I'm not exactly trained," Janet said. "But any- any time you want to talk to me, you know where I am. And it's not like I don't know what you're going through."
"Yeah, I guess," Ellie sighed. "Do- do you want a hand in there? Making dinner, I mean?"
"That'd be great, thanks," Janet replied with a smile.
The rest of the weekend passed by with the two women maintaining a polite demeanour around the other, but keeping their distance from each other. Ellie seriously considered Janet's offer of a friendly ear, but decided not to strike up a conversation with the older woman. Ellie's problem wasn't that she didn't want to say anything, but that she didn't know what she wanted to say- and she certainly didn't want to make matters any more awkward than they already were by saying the wrong thing.
Eventually, Monday rolled around, and Janet and Ellie returned to work and college respectively- and the former had a wide grin on her face when she saw three familiar faces place their lunches on the end of her conveyor belt.
"Hi girls!" Janet said with a grin, which was mirrored by Kacey and Monique. "Another week, eh?"
"Eh, weekend wasn't gonna last forever," Monique shrugged.
"Much as we wish it would!" Kacey giggled. The third member of their trio, however, remained silent as she paid for her food.
"You remembered to lock the front door, right?" Janet asked Ellie, making the blonde girl blush with embarrassment.
"Yes," Ellie said with a heavy sigh.
"Good," Janet said, biting her lip as the rest of the transaction passed by in an awkward silence. The middle-aged woman gave a quiet wave to the teenaged girl as she left with her friends, before allowing herself a quiet sigh as she served her next customer. It seemed to Janet that every time she looked like she was going to get Ellie to open up to her, the teenager retreated further into her shell. Her instincts as a parent knew that this behaviour was just as common as Ellie's need to rebel against authority- but she also knew that in the long run, no good would come of it. Janet and Ellie NEEDED to talk- but Ellie had to make the first move.
However, as the week progressed, said 'move' was nowhere to be found. Each morning, Janet and Ellie would exchange their awkward greeting at Janet's checkout, and each evening, they would exchange awkward pleasantries at home before going about their own business, Janet watching television alone whilst Ellie retreated to her bedroom with her phone.
Eventually, Friday evening rolled around, signalling the start of the two women's second weekend together, and Janet quickly decided that if Ellie wasn't going to make the first move, she would.
"Hi Janet," Ellie mumbled as usual as she came through the front door of the flat, seeing the middle-aged woman sat in her usual spot on the sofa, still wearing her work blouse and skirt.
"Hi Ellie," Janet said in a serious tone of voice. "Can you sit down, please? We need to have a talk." Janet frowned as Ellie let out a disgusted-sounding grunt, followed by a long, pained sigh.
"...I'll go and pack my things, then," Ellie spat, causing Janet's face to screw up in confusion.
"No- no, that's not-" Janet stammered, before taking a deep breath. "I'm not kicking you out, Ellie, we- we really do just need to talk."
"Okay," Ellie said, dropping her bag in the middle of the floor and sitting down opposite Janet. "What do you want to talk about?"
"You," Janet said in her softest possible voice.
"Uhh- why?" Ellie asked.
"Because- and correct me if I'm wrong- I like to think that we're friends," Janet replied. "More than that, I have a responsibility to you. No, I'm not your mother, but that doesn't mean I don't give a shit, it doesn't mean that my responsibilities end by giving you a room and food."
"Why should you care?" Ellie asked. "It's not like you've not got your own problems."
"Everybody does," Janet said. "And yes, I've probably had more problems than most. But you can still share yours with mine if you want."
"I'm fine," Ellie shrugged.
"You're obviously not," Janet said. "Otherwise you wouldn't have assumed I was just going to kick you out on your arse. So people have treated you like shit, people who should know better. Doesn't mean everyone in the world is going to be a prat."
"I know," Ellie shrugged.
"So why assume that I was going to?" Janet asked.
"I dunno," Ellie shrugged.
"Ellie..." Janet sighed, leaning back in the chair with a frustrated sigh. "Drop the whole 'stereotypical teenager' thing, please? Had enough of that from my own kids. Don't tell me things are okay when they're obviously not and I can do something to help. And I want to help, I really do. We ARE friends, aren't we?"
"Sure," Ellie shrugged.
"Ringing endorsement," Janet sighed. "Ellie- what- what is it that you want?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Ellie snorted. "You of all people should know."
"So you want to be a woman," Janet sighed. "Yes, I do kinda know how that feels. But we can't go back in time or magically turn ourselves into women, so we do what we can. And sat here, all I can see when I look at you is a girl. You've got long blonde hair, make-up, you're wearing a short skirt, a tight top-"
"I've got a penis," Ellie spat.
"Yeah, 'cause I don't know what that's like," Janet said. "But here's the thing, Ellie. You don't have to keep that penis if you don't want to. Start transitioning, get your SRS on the NHS. I've read about girls getting them as young as 19. Think Jamie-Lee Burke was only 22 when she had her SRS."
"I'm not even on hormones yet," Ellie moaned.
"'Yet'," Janet said. "And neither am I. And trust me, Ellie, I need them a lot more than you do."
"Not really," Ellie mumbled.
"Umm, yes really," Janet said. "How tall are you? 5' 6"?"
"5' 7"," Ellie replied.
"I'm not far off six foot," Janet said. "What's your chest measurement?"
"34 inches," Ellie said.
"Forty," Janet retorted, pointing to herself. "And I bet, when we first met, you immediately realised I was transgendered, right? And don't say 'maybe' or 'I dunno'. Yes or no. Be truthful- I won't be offended."
"...Yes, I noticed," Ellie mumbled.
"I didn't notice you," Janet said. "When I was sixteen, I would've given anything, ANYTHING to have been able to pull on a skirt, wear make-up and hang out with girls the way you're doing."
"Even if it meant getting kicked out onto the streets?" Ellie asked, silencing the older woman.
"Well there's the big thing, isn't it?" Janet sighed. "You've been treated poorly. I'm not denying that. You deserve so, so much more than you have. But so do I. I was married for almost twenty years- longer than you've even been alive. I still love my wife. That hasn't changed just because I wear a skirt now, and my love for my kids will never, ever change, but the second I finally choose to be myself and they abandon me like I was nothing."
"...I'm sorry," Ellie mumbled.
"Why should you be sorry?" Janet asked. "You didn't do anything. To me or to anyone else. All you did was live your life the only way you know how, same as me. And I want to help you live that life. So do your friends."
"I guess," Ellie said.
"Don't guess," Janet said. "Know. You're not 'guessing' that you're a girl, are you? You know that you are."
"Yeah," Ellie said.
"And I know that too," Janet said softly. "About you AND me. So let me help you. I don't want to keep having to drag these admissions out of you. I want us to talk freely. Like you said, we ARE friends. And when I need help, I'd like it if I could get it from you."
"Why would you ever need help?" Ellie asked.
"In case I ever look longingly at a pill bottle again," Janet said, making the teenager's cheeks flush as she stared intently at her shoes.
"I'm sorry," Ellie mumbled again.
"So am I," Janet said. "Sorry I thought I couldn't live my life this way when I can. And so can you, Ellie. I'm going to do my damnedest to make sure that for the rest of your life, you are as girly as is humanly possible."
"Thanks," Ellie said with a genuine smile.
"So tell me," Janet said. "Who do you want? More than anything else. Don't think about, just say the first thing that comes to your head."
"I- I want to be a normal girl," Ellie confessed, chuckling as she got her 'confession' off her chest. "I want to hang out with friends, I want to have a boyfriend who treats me like a princess, I want- I want a family who loves me..." Janet sighed as the blonde girl broke down in a flood of tears, before leaning forward and giving her a long, comforting hug.
"I'm sorry," Janet whispered.
"No- no, thank you," Ellie sniffled, a smile spreading across her face. "Thank you for everything you've done... Another thing I want to be able to say that my best friend ISN'T 42 years old, heh. Umm, no offence..."
"Trust me, none taken," Janet chuckled. "But no matter what, I AM your friend. Any time you want to cry, my shoulder will be there to lean on."
"Thanks," Ellie whispered. "And any time, you know, you need, like, fashion or make-up tips-"
"Cheeky," Janet said, making the teenager giggle. "So, then... What've you got planned for tomorrow?"
"I dunno," Ellie shrugged. "Probably hanging out with Kacey and Monique... Can- can they-"
"Course they can," Janet shrugged. "All you have to do is ask."
"Yeah," Ellie chuckled as an idea sprang into Janet's head.
"Actually..." The middle-aged woman said with a smirk. "I might head out early tomorrow so if you head out and come back, I might be out myself."
"Okay," Ellie shrugged, not noticing as her flat mate’s smirk began to widen...
The following morning, Janet put her plan into action, heading out shortly after Ellie herself did and returning just under an hour later to be greeted by the sounds of excited teenage chatter.
"Hi girls," Janet said, momentarily silencing the conversation as she dropped a large shopping bag onto the sofa besides the three young women.
"...You been shopping?" Monique asked as Ellie tried her hardest not to feel embarrassed by her guardian's unexpected behaviour.
"Mm," Janet replied. "I figured I deserved to treat myself, so I, well did."
"Been clothes shopping, then?" Ellie asked.
"Not quite," Janet said with a wide, smug grin as she withdrew a tiny white plastic box from her bag.
"...A Wii?" Kacey asked.
"My budget doesn't exactly stretch to a PlayStation 4, but they have these in CeX cheap enough. Picked up an extra controller and a copy of Mario Kart, too. Assuming any of you are feeling brave enough, of course?" Janet bit her lip as she awaited the young women's response- they would either be enthusiastic, or they'd laugh her out of her own flat for daring to try to 'fit in'...
"...Bring it on!" Monique giggled, making Janet smile- and much to the middle-aged woman's relief, her young flat mate was sporting a wide grin as well.
An hour and a half later, all four women had wide grins on their faces as they switched off the console and relaxed back on the sofa, tired from the laughter they had exchanged from their gaming session. The widest smile of all belonged to Janet- and not just because she had won every single race she'd taken part in.
"Where did you learn to play like that?" Kacey asked as the middle-aged woman packed away the controllers.
"I went to university in 1992," Janet explained. "My parents bought me a Super Nintendo as a gift to take with me, so my whole first year was basically spent playing Mario Kart with my friends. Well, that and, well, other pastimes."
"Both of them were really cool," Monique said with a grin. "The, um, pastimes, I mean."
"...I thought so," Janet said with a smile.
"God, my parents would probably catch fire if they even touched a videogame," Kacey snorted. "You're pretty cool, you know?"
"What, for a middle aged transwoman?" Janet asked.
"Nah, in general, I mean," Kacey said.
"Yeah," Monique concurred. "I mean you're, like, not totally out of touch with the real world?"
"Thanks, I think," Janet chuckled. "...We gonna make this opinion unanimous?"
"...Yeah, alright then," Ellie mumbled, before sharing a giggle with her older friend.
Both Janet and Ellie felt totally at ease for the rest of the day, and the rest of the weekend, too. With the air cleared, they were finally able to speak to each other as friends, and Ellie swore she would not hesitate to come to Janet with any further problems that she might be having with her life, her transition or anything else that might be troubling her.
And yet, Ellie still felt guilty every time she relied on Janet's help, as she wished that there was more she could do for the older transwoman- after all, she was missing her family just as much as Ellie was missing hers...
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