Soixante-Trois Airlines, part 17

“Okay,” the brown-haired flight attendant whispered as they slipped on their fitted royal blue jacket, fastening the one single button at the front. “You can do this.”

“You ready?” The flight attendant’s mentor, a 22 year old blonde woman named Abbey, asked.

“Ready as I’ll ever be!” The brown haired flight attendant replied with a nervous giggle.

“You’ll be FINE,” Abbey replied. “Trust me, the job isn’t THAT hard. It’ll seem like you have a lot to learn, but if you’ve already got the qualifications- which you must have, otherwise you wouldn’t have been hired- then training will be a walk in the park.”

“I guess,” came the hesitant reply.

“And Sophie?” Abbey asked.

“Yes?” The brown-haired woman replied.

“You look girly and GORGEOUS,” Abbey giggled.

“…Thanks,” Sophie replied with a nervous giggle. I’ll try to take that as a compliment, the brown-haired woman thought to herself as she remembered the circumstances surrounding the beginning of her employment with Soixante-Trois Airlines.

----------

“Thanks for coming,” Rachel said, shaking hands with the short, slender young man as he entered her office. “I’ll be honest… I’m kinda surprised you did reply to my email.”

“You promised the story of a lifetime,” James replied. “How can any journalist worth their salt turn that down?”

“Even though it’s undercover reporting?” Rachel asked.

“I wouldn’t be the first undercover reporter in the history of the world,” James shrugged. “Even when you consider what the ‘cover’ is, heh.”

“And- and you’re SURE you’re okay with this?” Rachel asked. “I mean, I can always try to find an actual- sorry, poor choice of words, umm, a genetic fema-“

“Soixante-Trois Airlines has a worldwide reputation for hiring flight attendants who are transgendered women,” James said. “As they’re a French firm, they’re still subject to EU regulations, meaning they can’t turn down applicants on the grounds of birth gender. They clamped down on the uniform regulations as a result, which only backfired when it put genetic females off applying for the airline, and encouraged transgendered applicants even more.”

“You did your homework, I’m impressed,” Rachel said with a grin. “So you understand why in this case, having a transgendered woman would actually be LESS suspicious.”

“Who’ll notice another man pretending to be a woman, right?” James asked, frowning as Rachel grimaced.

“That’s…” Rachel said with gritted teeth. “That’s kinda… The first misconception you need to overcome. Take it from someone who’s worked around transgendered women for years now- there’s a very, very big distinction between ‘pretending to be a woman’ and ‘transgendered’.”

“Really?” James asked. “I mean, sure, I’ve heard of, like, The Angels and Out of Heaven, but I just, you know, always assumed that away from the cameras, the, you know, ‘mask’ dropped. Or something…”

“There is no ‘mask’,” Rachel explained. “All the transgendered girls I know… It was like them being male was them wearing a ‘mask’, and when they got to be who they really wanted to be, they were, I dunno, free.”

“I’ve got a LOT to learn,” James sighed. “You know, I’ve never even met a transgendered person before, now I’m going to have to pretend to be one…”

“It’s not too late to back out,” Rachel said. “Of course, that would mean another journalist gets to write the story of a lifetime…”

“No, no, I DEFINITELY want this,” James insisted. “If what you say is true about all the misogyny in the company, the nepotism, the poor treatment of employees… This could set me up for life. Wearing a skirt for a few months really is a small price to pay.”

“Oh trust me,” Rachel chuckled, “you might change your mind when you see what’s on the dress code besides the skirt!”

“Well- first things first,” Jamie sighed. “I haven’t even GOT the job yet…”

“Don’t worry, I can coach you there,” Rachel said. “I was a supervisor there for years, I know what they look for at the interviews.”

“It’s… It’s not the interview that I’ll need ‘coaching’ for,” James said with a grimace, earning a sympathetic smile from the older woman.

“Don’t worry about that either,” Rachel said. “I happen to know a thing or two about THAT too, hehe! The one thing is, though, you ARE going to need a, you know, ‘proper’ name.”

“A girl’s name, you mean?” James asked.

“Got it in one,” Rachel said with a giggle. “And no, you can’t have ‘Jamie’ or ‘Jamie-Lee’, that one’s taken!”

“I wouldn’t have chosen that anyway,” James said. “The further away from the ‘real me’ my cover is, the easier it’ll be to maintain.”

“Okay,” Rachel said. “How about… Sophie? With longer hair and make-up, you’d look like a ‘Sophie’.”

“Thanks,” James said with a snort of laughter. “…Okay, ‘Sophie’ it is. So… What first?”

“First we do something about that voice of yours,” Rachel said, her devilish smile widening as her plan began to take shape.

Over the next few weeks, James spent virtually every free moment being ‘coached’ by Rachel about all things feminine. He became an expert at applying make-up, at styling his hair femininely and on picking out the most fashionable clothes to wear. He learned how to carry himself like a woman, how to smile like a woman and how to soften his voice to sound convincingly feminine. James even spent all of his free time completing ‘homework’ set for him by Rachel- hidden away in his wardrobe were several bras, which he became adept at fastening and unfastening (as well as getting used to the weight of breast forms), and several pairs of high heels that James practised walking in until his feet grew sore.

Eventually, the day of James’s interview at the London office of Soixante-Trois Airlines arrived, but the night before, Rachel invited James to her office for one final ‘lesson’.

“Honestly, any more coaching and I’ll end up being the one who interviews them!” James said in his perfected ‘Sophie’ voice that Rachel insisted he use whenever they met.

“That IS the idea,” Rachel said with a giggle. “That’s always been how I’ve approached all of my job interviews. But it’s not just bosses you’ll be interacting with in your job.”

“Most of it will be with passengers, then?” James asked.

“A lot more than you think will be with other stewardesses,” Rachel said. “They’re the people who you’ll be getting the material for your story from. They’re the ones you’ll need to convince.”

“If this ‘tutu project’ you keep mentioning has so many members,” James asked, “then why do I even need to be ‘undercover’ around them?”

“Because most of them, like most Soixante-Trois employees, are also transgendered,” Rachel explained. “I’m sensitive that I need to tread on as few toes as possible. And the fewer people know about you, the less likely it is that any one will accidentally let it slip. Besides, it’s not like you’ll be doing this forever, right?”

“Well- I guess,” James said.

“Right, then!” Rachel said with a smile. “I’ve laid out a dress for you. I’ll let you get changed, then meet me downstairs, okay?”

“Oka- wait, what?” James asked, his body filling with panic dow- downstairs!? In the actual pub itself?”

“Yes…” Rachel said, before giggling. “James, you’re going to have to go out in public eventually. Do you really want Sophie’s first ‘exposure’ to the world to be a job interview?”

“Well- it’s not ideal…” James mumbled.

“It’s about as unideal as it’s possible to get,” Rachel snorted. “I’ve invited four of my friends for drinks here tonight. Three of them work for the airline, the fourth used to. I’ll tell them that you’re my cousin, you want to work for Soixante-Trois and have asked me for help. Don’t worry! They’re all friendly, three of them are transgendered too so won’t even blink if they ‘suss’ you.”

“Okay, I guess…” James said hesitantly as Rachel led him to the flat’s small kitchen.

“Don’t forget your nail polish and perfume,” Rachel advised. “Knock when you’re ready.”

“Okay then…” James said, taking a deep breath before taking a look at the feminine delights that had been laid out for him.

After stripping down naked, exposing his smooth, hairless body to the warm air of the kitchen, James slid the control thong up his legs, wincing as the thin rear rode between his buttocks while the pouch at the front uncomfortably flattened 'him'. James then clipped his padded bra behind his back, adjusting the straps so that his C-cup forms were positioned perfectly on his chest. next, James rolled a pair of translucent black tights up his legs, smoothing them until they were wrinkle-free, before sitting down to fix his make-up.

As he'd been instructed by Rachel, James began by smearing concealer over his closely shaved face, before applying a light layer of foundation. Mascara came next, followed by eyeliner and a light silver eyeshadow, before James finished his make-up with a liberal layer of scarlet lipstick. After applying a layer of dark red polish to his fingernails, James spritzed himself with perfume and fastened around his neck the dainty gold chain that Rachel had loaned him.

James licked his scarlet lips as he picked up the dress that had been left for him. It was a plain, sleeveless black dress with a high neck and a very slender, almost pencil-like knee-length black skirt. James suppressed a shudder as he stepped into the dress, before reaching behind his back to zip it shut and finishing his look by stepping into the pair of plain black 3" heeled pumps that had been left for him.

With his look complete, James closed his eyes, before opening them and staring at 'his' reflection in the mirror. 'He' was no longer James, the down-on-his luck, short, shrimpy journalist. 'She' was Sophie, a hot, 23 year old woman about to become a glamorous flight attendant who would literally have the whole world at her feet. Sophie was forced to admit that she looked cute. Very cute- maybe even hot. And the clothes weren't uncomfortable- far from it. In many ways, 'Sophie' felt more comfortable in her skin than 'James' ever did...

With tingles of nervousness and excitement running through her body, Sophie knocked on the door, trying not to blush as Rachel beamed a proud smile at her.

“Ah, Miss Connelly, you are going to knock them DEAD!” Rachel giggled. “Just need to do something with your hair first…” Sophie tried not to wince as Rachel brushed her short- for a girl- brown hair, transforming it from the usual scruffy, unstyled look into a cute feminine style with a short cowlick. “Ready now?” Will I ever be? Sophie thought to herself, before realising that Rachel was right. If she wanted this job, this ‘assignment’, she was never going to get it by hiding away in a kitchen.

“Let’s do this,” Sophie said, earning a cheer from Rachel as she led the nervous young woman down to the bustling bar area of the pub. Despite her weeks of practice, Sophie still felt unsteady in her high heeled shoes as she descended the stairs, and grimaced every time the hem of her tight dress pulled at her thighs. None of that compared to the nerves she felt, however, as she approached the table where four similarly-dressed women were deep in conversation.

“Ladies,” Rachel said with a proud voice, silencing the conversation. “I’d like you to meet my cousin Sophie. Soph’s got an interview tomorrow for a certain airline that the five of us know quite well, hehe! I thought I’d introduce you, let you get to know each other. Who knows, a few weeks from now, you’ll hopefully be working with each other!”

“Hi!” The four women said in unison as Sophie took a seat at the end of their booth, smoothing her dress beneath her in the manner she’d practised countless times before.

“Interviewing for Soixante-Trois?” One of the women- a dark-haired woman with long, dangly earrings and a thick Manchester accent- asked. “I probably shouldn’t tell you to run for your life, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea you’ve ever had!”

“Heh,” Sophie giggled nervously.

“So, why’d you want to work for the airline?” The blonde woman at the other end of the booth asked in a refined American accent.

“You’re no’ doing the interview yourself, you know!” the woman sat next to the American, who had jet black hair, pale skin and strikingly mismatched blue and green eyes, teased in a thick Glaswegian accent, eliciting a giggle from the blonde woman.

“I’m just curious,” the American girl said with a giggle, before extending her slender hand for Sophie to shake. “I’m Jessica, by the way. Jessica Tyler.”

“And soon to be Jessica Robertson-Tyler!” The Scottish girl giggled, also shaking Sophie’s hand. “I’m Paige, by the way, and I’m the lucky gal who put a ring on Jess!” Sophie giggled excitedly as Jessica and Paige showed off their sparkling engagement rings.

“Aww, congratulations!” Sophie said with a happy, girlish sigh.

“Thanks!” Jessica giggled as she exchanged a cuddle with her fiancée.

“Also thanks!” The northern woman said as she and the brown-haired woman sat next to her showed off their own engagement rings. “I’m Natalie, by the way, Natalie Briggs.”

“Zoe Renou,” the brown-haired woman who hadn’t yet spoken said in a refined French accent.

“And I’m Sophie, Sophie Connelly,” Sophie said, her nerves settling as the four women all smiled at her, clearly welcoming her to the ‘group’. “You all work for the airline, then?”

“Nearly all,” Zoe said with a smug grin. “I, to use your words, escaped two years ago.”

“Word to the wise,” Natalie interjected. “If you happen to find an incredibly cute colleague working for the same company as you, DON’T get caught snogging them in the toilets!”

“Especially by your cousin!” Zoe snorted.

“Wha- Rachel?” Sophie asked. “She- she grassed you up?” So much for this ‘tutu project’, Sophie thought to herself.

“She used to be really high up with management there,” Jessica explained. “De facto second in command of the London hub. Didn’t you know that?”

“Umm… No,” Sophie said. “I mean, I knew she was a supervisor, I just didn’t know she was THAT important.”

“Did she tell you why she left?” Natalie asked.

“…Disagreement with management?” Sophie asked.

“In a manner of speaking,” Paige said. “Refusal to shove her nose straight up management’s arse.”

“Don’t get us wrong,” Jessica said, trying her best to defuse the tension building at the table. “The airline can be a great place to work. It pays really well, you get to make new friends… But if you really want to progress to, say, a management level, then it really is a case of who you know and not what you know.”

“Easy to say for someone who HAS been promoted,” Natalie teased the American girl.

“Oh, please,” Jessica snorted. “After what happened in May there’s no way I’m ever getting another promotion. I’m lucky I kept the one I already have, heh. Absolutely 100% worth it, though!” Sophie smiled as Jessica and Paige linked fingers with each other, before a wave of recognition washed over the English girl’s face.

“Wait- wait a minute,” Sophie asked. “Are- are you two- the girls who got engaged at Heathrow?”

“Aye, that’s us!” Paige said with an embarrassed giggle.

“Oh my god, I remember watching that video!” Sophie enthused. “Well, me and about eight million others…”

“I think about four million of those were us!” Jessica giggled as she and her fiancée snuggled closer to each other. “Another million were probably our management wondering how to throw the book at us.”

“And then they decided that they wouldn’t dare,” Natalie laughed. “Two transgendered women proposing to each other? That’s a liberal fairy tale right there. And a political correctness time bomb if they even thought about disciplining either of you.”

“Neither of us were in uniform,” Paige shrugged. “We were just two commuters who happened to share our most romantic moment with the whole world.”

“You just know Antoine Masson would’ve turned purple when he saw that video,” Natalie laughed.

“Antoine Masson- owner of Soixante-Trois, right?” Sophie asked.

“…Someone’s done her homework!” Jessica said with a grin.

"It would be like working for Virgin Airlines and not knowing who Richard Branson is, though," Zoe interjected. "Though Masson is less Branson and much more Trump."

"If he didn't have the EU keeping him in check, he WOULD be Trump," Natalie spat.

"I reckon there's another reason," Jessica said. "Masson wants to expand to America. Bollocking the American 'golden girl' ain't going to help there."

"Look at you, using the word 'bollocking'!" Paige teased her blushing fiancée. "And given who's in the White House, I'd have thought bollocking you WOULD have endeared Masson..."

"He won't be in the White House forever," Jessica said with a smug grin. "And besides, when we were in the States earlier in the month, we DID get a lot of, you know, 'support'."

"...Aye, that's true!" Paige said, before letting out an embarrassed giggle. "...Think we might be putting Sophie off here, heh!"

"No, please, you carry on!" Sophie laughed. "So, umm... If you don't mind me asking about you- you two... You said you were-"

"Transgendered?" Paige asked. "Aye. I've been transitioning for two and a half years, Jessica for 20 months."

"No regrets?" Sophie asked.

"Just one," Paige whispered, gazing at the ring on her finger. "That everything I have in my life... I didn't get earlier."

"Yeah," Sophie said hesitantly, her heart starting to race as she examined the two women- and they were unmistakably women. Their bodies were slender, their skin was smooth and their entire demeanour just screamed 'girl' as loudly as they could. It was plainly obvious to Sophie that Rachel had been right- there was no 'mask' on either woman's face. They were exactly what they were- two young, happy women enjoying life to the fullest. And Sophie was going to have to pretend to be exactly like them.

"I've... Technically not started yet," Sophie said, earning sympathetic smiles from the other women at the table. "Assuming, umm, you count taking hormones as the start of-"

"Which you shouldn't have to if you don't want to," Natalie said confidently. "And I should know. It's what's in your heart that makes you a girl, not what's in your blood."

"Natalie there showing why she got an F for her GCSE biology," Paige teased.

"...I got an A, you cheeky cow," Natalie snorted. "Remind me again, which one of us has an IQ of 141?"

"And yet you waste it on Masson and his toy planes," Zoe teased her fiancée, who rolled her eyes in response.

"I'm happy living my life the way I want," Natalie retorted. "I'm 24, I've got a steady, well-paying job, the best friends in the world, the most beautiful fiancée in the world and- oh yes- I get to live my life as a woman whenever I want and for as long as I want, regardless of what my DNA says. I'd say I'm doing pretty well with my life."

"So you- you don't work for Soixante-Trois anymore?" Sophie asked Zoe, who smiled smugly and shook her head.

"14 months was enough for me," Zoe snorted. "I teach ballet now, here in London."

"Ah, cool," Sophie said.

"Zoe actually does a private class for us on Sunday mornings," Natalie said. "Those of us who aren't on a plane, anyway. Kinda a lifelong dream for girls- well, 'girls like us', getting to pull on a leotard and a pair of tights and be ballerinas for a short while..." If you say so, Sophie thought to herself.

"I can always save you a space if you want," Zoe offered.

"I'll- I'll pass, if it's all the same to you," Sophie said. "I- I really am just, you know, kinda- kinda new to everything..."

"Never lived full time as a girl before joining the company?" Jessica asked, smiling sympathetically as Sophie's eyes widened. "Don't worry, me and Paige were the same. It's a cliché, but working for the company opened up a whole world for us- the wonderful world of womanhood! Who knows, two years from now, we may be celebrating your anniversary of transitioning?" Umm, no, Sophie thought to herself. My blood is staying 100% hormone free, thank you very much.

"...Who knows?" Sophie laughed.

"Anyway, you've heard us prattle on long enough," Paige giggled. "We hardly know anything about you- well, beyond the 'thing that need go unsaid'."

"Well- there's not really much to tell..." Sophie half-lied. "I was born in London, an only child, I'm 23, I studied jo- umm, geography at university..." Smooth, Sophie sarcastically thought to herself.

"Ah, you're in the right job then!" Natalie laughed. "Still- still living with parents? Or is, umm, is that, you know, a- a 'sensitive' topic?"

"...They don't know about 'Sophie'," the brown-haired girl whispered, earning sympathetic sighs from the other girls at the table. "This really is a new thing for me..."

"Tell them sooner rather than later," Paige advised. "Take it from someone who knows."

"And if the worst should happen," Jessica said softly, "you'll always have this 'family' to lean on. But I've met Rachel's parents, and they seem decent enough, so yours should be too, right?"

"Why-" Sophie began, before remembering that as she was pretending to be Rachel's cousin, obviously their parents would be similar. "...Not, right?"

"Right!" The other four girls cheered.

"And I'll have a word with management on your behalf, WHEN you get the job," Natalie said with a smirk. "See if I can't get you into one of the shared houses. Trust me when I say that you are in for the most fun few months of your life!"

"The parties, for starters!" Paige giggled. "Even speaking as someone who's been to a Charlotte Hutchinson party, they are AWESOME!"

“You- you’ve been to one of those?” Sophie asked, blushing as the other four women all giggled at her expense.

“THAT got your attention!” Jessica said with a good-natured smile. “We don’t get invited ALL the time, and even then it’s because Mademoiselle Renou over there works for one of the Angels.”

“WITH one of the Angels,” Zoe corrected her American friend. “And Paige is right, our parties are just as good as theirs!”

“We’ll definitely make sure that your ‘welcome to the family’ party will be one to remember!” Natalie giggled, making Sophie blush yet again.

“Oh- you don’t have to on my behalf, really…” Sophie mumbled.

“Nah, of course we will!” Natalie laughed. “We’ll try to make it something personalised for you.”

“One of our friends, a Portuguese girl called Rosita, had a huge Doctor Who-themed party,” Jessica said with a grin. “Everyone went dressed as one of the companions, or a female version of one of the Doctors, there was even a TARDIS-shaped cake.”

“I haven’t even passed the interview yet!” Sophie chuckled. And at this rate, she thought to herself, hopefully I won’t…

“Think positive!” Paige urged. “What are your likes and dislikes?”

“Well…” Sophie mumbled. “I- I kinda like, umm, football…” And cover blown, the brown-haired girl thought to herself.

“Good girl,” Natalie chuckled. “What team do you support?”

“Umm, Man United,” Sophie replied, grimacing as Natalie’s smile turned into a deep frown.

“I take back what I said,” the northern girl grumbled as Jessica, Paige and even Zoe all had a giggle at her expense.

“Did- did I say something wrong?” Sophie asked.

“Yes,” Natalie bluntly replied.

“…Man City fan,” Paige explained, making Sophie involuntarily snort with laughter.

“Keep laughing, remember who actually played in the Champions League last season,” Natalie snorted.

“Remember who actually won something last season?” Sophie asked, smirking as Jessica, Paige and Zoe all giggled girlishly at their friend’s expense.

“…Okay, I officially don’t like you,” Natalie joked.

“Well we officially DO,” Jessica said with a warm grin. “I reckon you’re going to fit in just fine!”

“Thanks,” Sophie said, relaxing back into her seat with a smile on her face.

After an hour, Sophie made her excuses and returned to the upstairs living area of the pub, where she was soon joined by the pub’s manager, who wore a wide, proud smile on her face.

“So…” Rachel asked. “How’d you like the girls?”

“They were cool,” Sophie shrugged, sighing happily as she removed her heels. “Exhausting, though!”

“I guess, what with the whole ‘keeping the mask up’, though,” Rachel mused. “Reckon you passed the test, though!”

“I guess,” Sophie shrugged. “That’s not the test that counts, though…”

“No it isn’t,” Rachel agreed. “Well… In a way, it kinda is, like, they both count, you know?”

“More pressure, thanks,” Sophie sarcastically snorted, making the older woman roll her eyes.

“I didn’t mean it like THAT,” Rachel sighed. “Are- are you thinking of, you know, backing out? Because it’s cool if you are, this-“

“No, no I’m in all the way,” Sophie replied, before grimacing at her choice of words. “Ehh… You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, yeah I do,” Rachel chuckled, smiling as Sophie stretched her nylon-covered toes. “Bad news, though- you never really get used to heels.”

“I have no intention of doing,” Sophie retorted.

“And yet,” Rachel mused, “You haven’t immediately rushed into the kitchen to take your dress off. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you actually enjoy wearing a dress…”

“They- they’re just clothes, you know?” Sophie mumbled. “Bits of cloth cut into shapes, we’re just supposed to accept that women can only wear certain types of cloth and men can only wear different types. And it’s not like it’s totally uncomfortable, you know>”

“Even the hair, make-up and nail polish?” Rachel asked. “You’ll be expected to get your ears pierced too…”

“Whatever, I’ll live,” Sophie shrugged. “People put too much, you know, ‘value’ on what gender a person is anyway. Man, woman… At the end of the day, we’re all just people, aren’t we? And so what if it turns out that I DO enjoy wearing a dress?”

“Atta girl!” Rachel giggled. “Sorry- atta person, hehe!”

“Thanks,” Sophie chuckled.

“You want to go back to yours tonight or would you rather sleep on our sofa bed?” Rachel asked. “Either way, you’ll need an early night, big day tomorrow…”

“Actually I wouldn’t mind staying over, if that’s okay?” Sophie asked.

“Of course,” Rachel shrugged. “I’ll get Danny to make up the sofa bed for you. Didn’t feel like going home tonight, then?”

“Not as ‘Sophie’,” the brown-haired girl replied. “It’s… I dunno. Maybe I just want to keep my two lives separate, like, it’d be too weird to go back to my flat dressed as Sophie…”

“Even though you presumably had loads of ‘Sophie practice’ in that flat?” Rachel asked.

“Yeah, but-“ Sophie argued, before letting out a long sigh. “…You’re right, I DO need an early night.”

“Sure,” Rachel said with a sympathetic smile as she called for her live-in boyfriend to set up the sofa bed for their guest.

The following day, Sophie woke up, dressed in a pair of light black tights, a shimmering white blouse, a short black pencil skirt with matching jacket and stiletto heeled pumps and headed to the tall, intimidating office block that contained the London offices of Soixante-Trois Airlines. Rachel had told Sophie that if she wanted, she could attend the interview as ‘James’ and thanks to the anti-discrimination laws, it wouldn’t count against her. However, Sophie attended in all her feminine glory, answered the questions with the practised answers she had memorised, smiled at the right moments, had an attentive look on her face when necessary, nodded at the right times and asked the questions she’d been fed to impress the interviewers. By the end of the interview, Sophie was so into her ‘role’ that when she was told by her interviewers that she’d got the job, she needed to consciously remind herself that she was only doing the job to gain material for her exposé. What surprised Sophie more, though, was that she also needed to consciously remind herself that she was a man dressed as a woman, rather than a woman in the body of a man.

“So…?” Rachel asked as Sophie walked into her flat’s living room and slowly lowered herself onto the sofa.

“We have a go,” Sophie said, smiling nervously at Rachel’s excited cheer. “You are officially looking at the newest member of Soixante-Trois Airlines’s cabin crew.”

“Awesome!” Rachel squeaked, leaning in to congratulate Sophie with a gently, girlish hug. “Oh, this is going to be SO cool, me and you, we- well, okay, mostly YOU’RE going to do a LOT of good work the next few months!”

“Assuming I pass probation,” Sophie sighed. “And don’t completely freak out at the training, or interacting with customers… Or the uniform…”

“You yourself said, the uniform is just ‘bits of cloth cut into different shapes’,” Rachel retorted. “And you’ve worked in customer-facing jobs before. And the training isn’t anything to panic about. Just concentrate on getting yourself ingratiated with the company, then you can start getting material for the exposé.”

“Two full time jobs at once?” Sophie asked with a snort of laughter. “Shock to the system after so long unemployed, heh.”

“You’ll be fine,” Rachel said with a warm smile. “Just think of how much money we’ll be rolling in once we’ve published your inevitably juicy story!”

“And it’s not like the pay for the actual job is that bad either,” Sophie chuckled. “If anything I’m most nervous about, you know, being ‘found out’… Guess that sounds silly, I mean, a man dressed as a woman working for an airline notorious for having mostly transgendered stewardesses…”

“Honestly, you convinced the girls last night, you’ll be fine,” Rachel said softly. “Though if it helps, there will be ONE girl also working for the airline- well, in a manner of speaking- who you’ll be able to confide in, who’ll know about the ‘real’ reason you’re working there.” Rachel grinned widely as a knock came from her flat’s front door. “And as coincidence would have it, here she is now!” Sophie watched nervously as Rachel went to open the front door, returning a few seconds later with a young, slouchy-dressed woman with long, loose brown hair.

“Is this the person you were telling me about?” The woman asked Rachel in a refined French accent.

“Umm, hi,” Sophie said, nervously waving at the newcomer. “I’m, umm, Ja- umm, Sophie, Sophie Connelly. Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” the young woman replied, exchanging a loose, feminine handshake with Sophie. “I am Amelie. Amelie Masson.”

“Ma- Ma- Masson!?” Sophie stammered, her jaw dropping as Rachel let out a gentle giggle.

“Yes,” Rachel replied. “And no, that name is NOT a coincidence. You just shook the hand of the daughter of one of the richest men in Europe!”

“Ugh,” Amelie spat, rolling her eyes as Rachel’s speech. “Yes. My father is Antoine Masson, the owner of Soixante-Trois. And no, I am NOT proud of that fact.”

“But- but you work for the airline, right?” Sophie asked.

“Oui,” Amelie replied. “In exchange for my father paying my university costs, I, like all my brothers and sisters, work for one of his companies for a year. I chose the airline.”

“So- so you work, umm, in management?” Sophie asked. “Or as- as, like, a consultant, or-“

“I am not Ivanka,” Amelie spat. “I am cabin crew, the same as you. But that is only because my father refuses to allow me to learn to be a pilot.”

“You- you want to be a pilot?” Sophie asked.

“What, a woman cannot fly a plane?” Amelie retorted.

“Well- no, I mean,” Sophie stammered. “But- but you could literally be anything you wanted to be-“

“And I want to be a pilot,” Amelie interrupted. “I always have. But my father… He SAYS such work is beneath me. But I know the truth. He cannot believe that a woman could ever be a pilot, especially not for his company.”

“The airline doesn’t employ a single female pilot or co-pilot,” Rachel explained.

“How- how can he get away with this?” Sophie asked. “Surely the same EU laws that mean I can apply to be a stewardess mean-“

“My father does not care about EU laws, or equality,” Amelie spat. “He would not hire any transgendered stewardesses if they were not the majority of applicants.”

“And anytime anyone questions him about ‘equality’,” Rachel explained, “he just points as his transgendered staff and says ‘I’m the most liberal employer in the world’.”

“When he would fire you all tomorrow if he could,” Amelie snorted. “And replace all the stewardesses with Playboy Bunnies. Or worse.”

“Not sure I’d suit a Bunny costume,” Sophie mumbled.

“Only certain ‘sizes’ of women do, that’s the point,” Amelie snorted. “Hopefully this should tell you what kind of man my father is.”

“And why we need to show the world this,” Rachel continued.

“Well- okay, I’m beginning to understand,” Sophie said. “But can we really do anything?”

“You saw the reaction to United Airlines earlier in the year,” Rachel said. “When they threw that doctor off the plane. There’ll be a public outcry.”

“But I thought Soixante-Trois was mostly flown by businessmen?” Sophie asked. “The kind who’d sell their mothers to cozy up to people like your father?” Sophie allowed herself a light smirk as Amelie laughed at her joke.

“Those businessmen have their own profit margins to care about,” Amelie explained. “And if their patronage of Soixante-Trois were to cost them profits… In the end, all companies can trace their profits back to the spending patterns of the general public. One useful piece of information I DID learn from my father.”

“Though you’re not entirely wrong,” Rachel sighed. “Another reason for the exposé is to try to get the usual Soixante-Trois clientele to stop seeing us as mindless trolley dollies. How many companies do you know that hold an internal beauty pageant each year for its employees?”

“…Which you won two years ago,” Amelie reminded the blonde woman, who sighed and began to blush.

“I’d have won that even if I hadn’t entered, your father was so desperate to have a ‘face’ for the London hub,” Rachel snorted.

“I really hope this beauty pageant isn’t mandatory,” Sophie chuckled, earning smiles from the two women and sympathetic hugs as they sat down on either side of her.

“Do not worry,” Amelie said softly. “I will keep an eye on you, make sure everyone knows that you are look and not touch!”

“Careful, you’ll make Ellen jealous!” Rachel said, giggling as Amelie snorted in response.

“No offence is intended, but I only prefer girls who were ‘born with it’,” Amelie said. “Another thing my father does not like and also does not know. Not yet, anyway.”

“Every day, I feel like I’m going further and further down the rabbit hole…” Sophie sighed.

“As long as you- we don’t end up wearing a rabbit costume, then we shall be okay,” Amelie said with a giggle as she and Rachel began detailing their plan to the overwhelmed Sophie.

After almost two hours of constant talk about recording interactions with management, clandestine interviews with other staff and interactions with passengers, Sophie felt mentally exhausted. When Rachel suggested that they call it a day, Sophie breathed a long sigh of relief and prepared to head back to her flat, when she was suddenly stopped by Rachel.

“You- you sure you want to head back home?” Rachel asked.

“Definitely,” Sophie sighed. “I really need to relax, take it all in… I mean, I start in five days and I’ve got reading from the company to do as well as your plans…”

“Oh, I get it, I do,” Rachel said. “It’s just- well, let me put it this way. Nice legs!”

“Wha- oh!” Sophie exclaimed as she looked down at the nylon-covered legs poking out from underneath her short pencil skirt. “God, I’d completely forgotten…”

“Being dressed as the opposite gender is something you easily forget, then?” Rachel chuckled. “It’s okay, I’ll still got your- still got James’s clothes here if you want to change before going home. Though when you move into one of the company’s houses, you won’t have that luxury, you’ll probably have to be Sophie 24/7, you know.”

“Why can’t you stay living where you are now?” Amelie asked.

“My parents pay for most of my rent,” Sophie sighed. “I don’t want to rip them off when I starting earning my own money, and I can’t really afford to live there alone even on Soixante-Trois salary. Reckon they thought I’d be a high-flying journo for The Times by now, heh.”

“Give it six months,” Rachel said with a warm grin. “I’ll call Natalie tomorrow, see if we can get you into a spare room ASAP. Unless you want to spend more time as James, of course?”

Sophie paused as she considered Rachel’s offer. In all the fuss concerning her new job, and her planned exposé, she’d not had the time to stop and think about what exactly the next few months would entail. It wasn’t enough that she’d be pretending to be another person for the duration- she’d effectively be abandoning her old identity entirely.

Consciously, of course, James knew that this would be the case when he signed up with Rachel, but it was only now that the whole enormity of the situation was beginning to dawn on him. Such simple pleasures like crashing on the sofa in a t-shirt and a loose pair of shorts, or pigging out on takeaway curry, or even going for days without shaving or caring about his appearance would be things of the past. ‘Sophie’ would now be who he was on a full-time basis. ‘James’ would be relegated to at best an occasional treat… And Sophie found that she already missed her old identity. But at the same time, she knew that the more time she spent as ‘James’, the harder it would be for her to immerse herself in ‘Sophie’. And, as the previous 24 hours had proven, being ‘Sophie’ wasn’t all bad. She was good at being Sophie. And deep down, there was even a part of her that actually enjoyed being Sophie…

“…Got to go 24/7 at some point,” Sophie shrugged. “May as well be now!”

“Atta girl!” Rachel cheered, sharing a high five with the brown haired girl. “One things for sure, though- you ARE going to need a bigger wardrobe. And by ‘you’ I of course mean MISS Sophie Connelly, hehe!”

“I guess,” Sophie shrugged. “I’ve been getting bits and bobs here and there off of Amazon, but most of it, like this suit, is what you loaned me.”

“…And I’m kinda eager to get my clothes back, if you don’t mind,” Rachel said. “Fortunately, when you start for Soixante-Trois, you DO get a decently sized lump sum up front as a clothing and cosmetics budget.”

“I’ve not got it YET, though,” Sophie retorted.

“Then fortunately,” Amelie said with a wide grin, “you have a friend who happens to be the daughter of a billionaire!” Sophie giggled as she followed Rachel and Amelie out of the flat and to the nearest clothing store, where they spent several hours expanding Sophie’s wardrobe until it was indistinguishable from that of someone who had been a woman for their entire life.

Into Sophie's shopping bags went pairs of panties- equal amounts practical briefs and scantier thongs. Sophie bought several bras to match the panties, along with a couple of comfortable bodysuits for the winter months. Dozens of pairs of tights and stockings entered the shopping bags, and as per the uniform code, Sophie also found herself being laced into several waist cinchers to find one that fit properly- an experience that almost made the brown-haired girl quit on the spot. She even bought several items of swimwear and even nightwear, to ensure that her 'cover' would be preserved 24/7.

Sophie's regulation commuting attire was all bought in the shopping trip as well- she ended up with enough smart blouses, pencil skirts and pencil dresses to last her for months, as well as matching shoes- all of which had a 3 inch or higher heel. Several casual outfits entered the shopping bags too- loose, flowing skirts, girlish shorts and feminine-cut trousers and jeans, as well as tight-fitting t-shirts and turtleneck sweaters.

Sophie also ended up with what looked like a lifetime's supply of cosmetics, as well as accessories, nail polish and even some small items of jewellery for her to wear just to 'complete the disguise'.

After a quick dinner in an expensive restaurant selected by Amelie, the three women (and their vast quantity of shopping bags) returned to Rachel’s flat, where they were greeted by the blonde woman’s grinning partner.

“Hi girls!” Danny said, before giving Rachel a soft kiss on her lips. “Ah, I see you’ve been giving Amelie- sorry, old Antoine’s credit cards a good workout, then?”

“Piss off, Danny,” Amelie snorted, earning a chuckle from the dark-haired man.

“Off I shall piss,” Danny said, holding his hands up in mock surrender. “But before I do, Natalie called while you were out, said she wanted to speak to you and Sophie. I said you were out shopping, she said she knew better than to interrupt you while you were doing that, told me to tell you to call her when you got home.”

“Thanks babe,” Rachel said, giving Danny another kiss before letting him get back to the bar downstairs.

“Is- is that about the flat?” Sophie asked.

“Only one way to find out,” Rachel said, taking her phone out of her handbag. “I’ll put it on speaker so we can all hear.”

“Hi Rachel,” Natalie’s voice spoke from the phone. “Sophie with you?”

“I’m here,” Sophie said.

“Excellent,” Natalie said warmly. “Guess who’s no longer homeless?”

“You- you’ve got me into one of the company’s flats?” Sophie asked.

“Even better,” Natalie chuckled. “I got you into my old flat. There were spaces after me, Zoe and Abbey moved out, I pulled a few strings, in you go!”

“Oh- thank you so much!” Sophie giggled.

“Even better than that,” Natalie continued, “you’re technically sharing a bedroom with my sister, which means that you’ll effectively have the entire bedroom to yourself, as my sister spends most of her time now shacked up with Parisian Paris Hilton.”

“I heard that!” Amelie growled.

“Good,” Natalie retorted with a mean chuckle. “The room’s free so you can move in whenever you’re ready.”

“Th- thanks!” Sophie giggled. “Thank you so much… Guess- guess I’d better call my parents, then, and my landlord…”

“Plenty of time for that,” Rachel said. “Thanks, Nat!”

“No problem,” Natalie said, before ending the call.

“God,” Sophie sighed as she sat down on the sofa, keeping her knees pressed together in the way she’d practised countless times. “It- ugh, this’ll sound stupid, but it’s seeming more and more real, you know? Every step I take… God knows what I’ll be like on my first day…”

“You WILL be fine,” Rachel reassured the brown-haired woman. “Just think of the money and prestige you’ll get by the end of the project… Literally every new organisation in the country will be banging on your door!”

“I guess,” Sophie chuckled. “Just hope the other girls moving in will be okay…”

“I’m sure they’ll be cool,” Rachel said softly. “Though obviously, we won’t know for sure until you move in… And Nat DID say that the flat was free, so we can, you know, go anytime?”

“…Tomorrow?” Sophie asked, before letting out a sigh. “I’ll need to go back to my flat to pack my belongings- heh, and ‘James’s belongings too.”

“I know what you said last night about going back to your flat as ‘Sophie’,” Rachel said softly. “Do- do you want us to give you some privacy? You know, to change back into ‘James’?” Sophie paused and bit her lip as she pondered the blonde woman’s question. Being in ‘James’s home as ‘Sophie’ was what concerned her the most, but technically, it wasn’t going to be ‘James’s home anymore…

“I’ll be fine,” Sophie shrugged, earning smiles from the other two women. “It’ll be just one night. And I was never really attached to that place anyway, heh.”

“Atta girl!” Rachel cheered.

“I’ll call a taxi, get you and your new clothes home,” Amelie said. “Thank you again so much for this. My father has been ruling his company with an iron fist for too long. And I know it will not be any better when my brothers take over.”

“Why not take over the company yourself, then?” Sophie asked.

“I told you, I am not Ivanka,” Amelie spat. “All I want to be is a pilot. My sister, though- my younger sister, Francine, she is VERY clever. She would be ideal to take over the company when she’s older. But our father just sees her- just sees us both- as baby dolls, pretty faces to be admired and not respected for our skill.”

“Much like he sees virtually all of his female employees,” Rachel sighed.

“And his wives,” Amelie growled. “But you do not need to worry about his or my private lives. Just get the material you need. We will do the rest.”

“Can do,” Sophie chuckled. “And I’ll pay you back for all the clothes when I can, I prom-“

“There is no need!” Amelie laughed. “Billionaire’s daughter, remember? And besides, it is not like you will be wearing them a year from now, will you?”

“Well- I guess not, heh,” Sophie chuckled, though as she rubbed her nylon-covered legs together, she began to wonder whether or not ‘Sophie’ should be just a part-time thing…

As he laid in his bed for what would be the last time for at least several months, James tried in vain to take stock of his situation. Within hours, he would willingly abandon not just his identity, but also his gender. He was sleeping in his comfortable boxer shorts for the last time. He was using the words ‘he’, ‘his’ and ‘him’ for the last time. From tomorrow, ‘he’ would, too all intents and purposes, become a ‘she’… And the strangest thing was, James found himself growing more and more excited by the prospect.

The following morning, it wasn’t James that woke up in the plain, bare bedroom, but Sophie. From the second she woke up, she put herself in the mindset that she was going to face the day head-on and not dwell on the past, but look forward to the future- HER future- and the opportunities it will provide.

Sophie began the day by showering, ensuring that when she was done, she was not only clean, but entirely hairless below her eyebrows. After spraying on a very sweet-smelling feminine deodorant, Sophie pulled on one of her 'control' thongs, followed by a matching bra, into which she stuffed her breast forms. Sophie then brushed out her hair to the bob that she'd become accustomed to, and applied her make-up- a light layer of mascara and eye shadow, and a fruity-tasting lip gloss.

With it being a hot August morning, Sophie eschewed tights in favour of going bare-legged, and pulled on a comfortable pleated black miniskirt, followed by a very girly light-blue t-shirt and a pair of flip flops.

With her look immaculate and unmistakably feminine, Sophie grabbed the handbag she’d bought during the previous day’s shopping trip, and headed toward her front door, where two well-built men were waiting along with a large removals van.

“Hi guys,” Sophie said, biting her lip and trying not to grimace as the two men’s eyes were immediately drawn to her smooth, hairless legs.

“Hi, Miss Connelly, right?” The older of the two men asked.

“Yep!” Sophie nervously chuckled. “Everything’s packed up inside, do- do you want a hand?” Sophie tried her best not to feel embarrassed as the two men- both of whom were larger and stronger than ‘James’ ever was- shared a quiet laugh at her expense.

“Nah, think we’ll be alright love,” the older man said. “We’ve got your new address, just leave it with us and we’ll see you there in a bit.”

“Okay, um, thanks!” Sophie said with a grin as she headed to the nearest tube station.

As she walked through the packed London streets, Sophie tried her hardest to put the encounter with the men out of her head, but with every step she took, she realised just how much she hadn’t taken into account when she’d agreed to become female. Interacting with friendly young women that she’d been introduced to was one thing, but as Sophie was discovering, the wider world wasn’t made up of that type of person- and neither would the clientele she’d be dealing with as a stewardess. Sophie had seen plenty of photos of the stewardesses in the company’s brochure, and she could certainly see how their bodies in their tight skirts and sheer stockings would be extremely appealing. And in just a few days’ time, Sophie was going to be the one on the other end of the ‘appeal’- and that thought sent a shiver down her spine. Especially when she remembered the stories she’d been told about a co-pilot with a voracious ‘appetite’…

Sophie tried to put her nerves- and the stares she had received on her short journey to her new flat- out of her mind as she rang the doorbell and was greeted by the excited face of a young ginger-haired woman.

“Hi!” The redhead squeaked excitedly. “You must be Sophie, right?”

“Must be!” Sophie replied with a forced giggle.

“I’m Amy, Amy Harris,” the ginger-hair girl giggled. “Come on in, I’ll introduce you to the- well, I would say ‘others’, but it actually just ‘other’ at the moment… Got to say, I AM a bit jealous that you’re getting the solo bedroom, hehe!”

“…Sorry?” Sophie shrugged, making the ginger-haired girl giggle.

“No, you’re okay,” Amy said. “I’m just lucky that Hayley’s so easy to get along with, heh.”

“Wish the same could be said of her!” A woman with a soft northern accent called from the living room area, making Amy roll her eyes.

“Hayley Fisher, meet Sophie Connelly,” Amy said. “Sophie, meet Hayley, she’ll be starting with company on Monday as well.”

“Hi!” Sophie said, before nervously leaning in and sharing air kisses with the taller woman. Even though Hayley had long hair and was wearing a loose summer dress, her height- almost two inches taller than the 5’ 8” Sophie- her comparatively broad shoulders and, most noticeably, her Adam’s apple hinted that something was ‘different’ about Hayley. Though as Sophie made her observations, she couldn’t help but feel guilty about her prejudice, given that she was almost certainly giving off the same ‘signs’…

“Hi!” Hayley giggled as she led Sophie to the sofa, where both women sat down, one leg crossed over the other. “So, then…”

“Yeah!” Sophie nervously chuckled. “Umm… Yeah. The- the removal guys should be here in a bit, I, umm, haven’t got much stuff. My flat was, umm, furnished…”

“Less to unpack, I guess!” Hayley chuckled as Amy sat down in the chair opposite the sofa and rolled her eyes at the two awkward women.

“Hope the next few months aren’t going to be THIS awkward,” Amy sighed, making Hayley and Sophie blush. “So, Sophie, tell us a little about yourself?”

“Umm…” Sophie said, her torso tightening as she was once again put on the spot. “There- there’s not much to tell… I’m 23, an only child, graduated from uni two years ago but have only been doing the occasional job since then…”

“What did you study?” Amy asked, forcing Sophie to rack her brains as she tried to remember what she’d told Rachel’s friends.

“Umm… Geography,” Sophie replied. “Studying, umm, you know, countries…”

“Cool!” Hayley giggled. “I always wanted to go to uni, but my grades were never brilliant… Only just finished my A-levels, heh. Where did you go to university?”

“Leicester,” Sophie replied, making Hayley grin.

“No way!” The mousey-haired girl giggles. “I’m from Nottingham, just up the road from you, hehe! You originally from Leicester?”

“Umm, nope, actually born in London,” Sophie said with a proud grin.

“2-1 to the Southern girls,” Amy playfully cheered. “I’m from Sittingbourne, moved to London 9 months ago, started work for the airline in May.”

“Yeah, I just- I just moved down a few days ago myself,” Hayley said. “Were- were you living with your parents before moving in here?”

“Well- well, living in a flat my parents paid for,” Sophie said, grimacing at the inevitable question she would soon be asked.

“And how- how did your parents react when you, umm…” Hayley mumbled. “When you- when you told them that you were, you know, umm… Moving out?”

“I… I think we should address the so-called elephant in the room now,” Amy said quietly. “And that’s that when Hayley says ‘moving out’, she probably- probably means ‘coming out’…”

“…I didn’t tell them,” Sophie mumbled. “I- I don’t even know if this is- you know, ‘permanent’… I need to, umm…” Come on, Sophie thought to herself. Think, Soph- Jam- Sophie, think… “I need to know if this is what I really want.”

“Oh, trust me, been there, done that,” Hayley sighed. “I… I’ve only been transitioning for a month. Not even on hormones yet… it- ugh.”

“H- Hayley?” Sophie asked, frowning with concern as the tall girl wiped a tear from her eye.

“My- umm, my dad…” Hayley mumbled.

“You’ve- you’ve not talked about your dad,” Amy said quietly. “Hayley are- is everything okay? Did he- did he, you know, hurt you?”

“It was the opposite, heh,” Hayley sighed. “I mean, I’ve always felt, you know, feminine, at least on the inside, I always tried to sneak into my sister’s bedroom when she was away, try on her clothes… I used to think I was a weirdo at first, you know, then I started reading about transgender issues, started thinking that this might be, well, ‘me’… I had a plan, you know? After school was finished, I’d talk to my parents, explain how I felt…”

“What happened?” Amy asked.

“When I was fourteen, in the summer holidays, my dad, he-“ Hayley stammered, before letting out a long sigh. “…He announced to the whole family that HE no longer wanted to live life as a man, and that he was going to start transitioning.”

“Oh- oh my god!” Amy gasped.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much what I said,” Hayley sighed. “Of course, mum kicked him- her, sorry, kicked HER out of the house almost immediately, and my plans- everything I had planned just went straight down the shitter. I got depressed, I mean, REALLY depressed, and of course, my mum was only too happy to blame this on my dad, which only made me feel guilty for being trans, which made me even MORE depressed…”

“Does- does your mum know?” Sophie asked. “Does your dad, even?”

“Mum does,” Hayley whispered. “That’s why I’m not living in Nottingham anymore, heh. She practically ran me out of town, called me a disgrace, accused me of trying to corrupt my younger brother as well, even though he’s, like, seventeen, six foot two and a proper ‘alpha male’.”

“What did your brother say?” Sophie asked, before grimacing. “Eh, sorry, sorry, I’m prying, force of habit for a jo- umm, I mean, girl like me…”

“No, it’s okay, it’s good to talk,” Hayley sighed. “Reminds me, I need to talk to someone at the company, see if they can set me up with a counsellor down here. But to answer your other question, no, my dad doesn’t know. I haven’t even seen him- no, not him, HER, in five years… SHE may even be post-op now, I dunno.”

“God, I’m so sorry,” Amy sighed, reaching over to give the distraught Hayley’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Sometimes I feel guilty that my parents were so supportive, heh.”

“Wha- you mean- you’re, umm, you too?” Sophie asked, causing Amy to giggle and even bringing a smile back to Hayley’s face.

“Aww, thanks!” Amy giggled. “Guess it helps being a shrimpy 5’ 4”, hehe! But yes, I am very much ‘X and Y’… tried my best to fight it when I was a kid, I mean, being small, I was almost constantly picked on at school. Being a ginge didn’t help either. So I used to act out at school just to get all the meatheads to stop bullying me, I was a PROPER little arsehole in class most days… I was seriously deep in denial, heh.”

“What- what happened to make you, umm…” Sophie mumbled.

“When did I realise I was ‘Amy’ and not ‘Andy’?” The read-haired girl asked. “When I started FE college, started making newer, better friends… Umm, female friends…” Sophie frowned as Amy suddenly bit her lip and stared toward the corner of the room- signs she knew from her training as a journalist that meant that the ginger haired girl was either lying or withholding something, and something BIG.

“Anyway,” Amy continued, “flash forward to my 21st birthday and, well, my parents obviously knew something. Maybe they went through my browser history, maybe I’d subconsciously dropped hints, I dunno. But the first present I opened contained a knee-length black skirt.”

“Aww,” Hayley cooed.

“I know, right?” Amy said. “So there I am, crying like a baby as I open present after present, clothes, make-up, haircare products, you name it… Then my dad hands me my final gift, I open it and there’s a locket inside, and inside the locket there’s an inscription: ‘to our child on their 21st birthday. Bot or girl, we’ll always love you with all our heart’.”

“Oh my god, that is so amazing,” Sophie sighed, before gasping in surprise as she felt a single tear trickle down her cheek.

“It was even my parents who recommended I work for the airline,” Amy chuckled. “I’d never even heard of them, but they watched the reality show they put out on ITV2 a while back, said ‘hey Amy, you speak fluent French, why not apply to be a stewardess?’. And, well, here I am!”

“So cool,” Hayley sighed, making Amy grimace.

“Eesh, sorry…” The red-haired girl sighed. “Here I am, yacking on about how amazing my parents are, when you two…”

“S’okay,” Hayley shrugged.

“…I’m kinda more of a listener anyway,” Sophie chuckled.

“Yeah, ‘listening’ was never my best quality!” Amy giggled, before again biting her lip and staring toward a corner of the room. “Anyway, your removal men should be here soon! Not that I’M interested, of course…”

“…Shut up,” Hayley mumbled, blushing at her flat mate’s teasing.

“I think Hayley might want to know whether your removal men are CUUUTE!” Amy giggled as Hayley’s cheeks grew redder.

“…I wouldn’t know,” Sophie said with a smug grin. “I’m not interested either, hehe!” The three girls all shared a combined giggle, and before too long, they were helping Sophie unpack the boxes that the removal men had dropped off in the flat.

Sophie tried to suppress her embarrassment as her new friends opened each box of clothes and cooed happily at the brand-new dresses and skirts they carefully hung up in her wardrobe, though her embarrassment soon turned to anxiety when Amy opened her third box of clothes, only to discover ‘James’s jeans, shirts and t-shirts within.

“…Ah,” Sophie said, biting her lip and subconsciously averting her gaze in the same manner Amy had earlier. “Yeah, those…”

“Hey- Sophie, Sophie…” Hayley said soothingly. “It’s okay, okay?”

“Umm… Okay?” Sophie asked. “I mean, they- they’re-“

“You said yourself earlier, you’re not sure yet,” Amy said softly, leaning in to give Sophie a gentle hug- a gesture that the brown-haired girl happily reciprocated. “Don’t worry about it. Everyone transitions in their own way. We won’t say any more about it, okay, Hayley?”

“Of course!” Hayley said with a smile as she too gave Sophie a gentle hug. "And if we do end up meeting... I dunno. Simon? Sean?"

"...James," Sophie mumbled.

"'James'!?" Amy exclaimed, before grimacing. "Eesh, sorry, didn't mean it like that... It's just- you know? 'Sophie' is about as far from 'James' as it's possible to get..."

"That was- that was kinda the idea," Sophie sighed, earning yet another hug from the other two girls.

"Well whatever 'direction' you choose to go in, you'll have our support and our friendship," Amy said.

"Especially if you choose the RIGHT 'direction'!" Hayley giggled. "But, um, even if you do end up going the, um, 'wrong' way..."

"...Thanks," Sophie giggled. "I- I never, you know, had any 'real' friends before. I mean, friends I could, you know, open up to..."

"That's because BOYS suck at things like that," Amy explained. "Everyone, male or female, should have at least one true, proper female friend they can talk with whenever they need to."

"And lucky for you, you now have two!" Hayley chuckled.

"Even though we've only known each other for a few hours?" Sophie asked.

"A stranger's just a friend you haven't met," Amy said with a smug grin. "The wisdom of the great Marge Simpson, hehe!"

"And to quote another wise, gorgeous, girly and, most importantly of all, transgendered woman..." Hayley said with a smirk.

"You can never have too many friends!" Amy, Hayley and, much to her own surprise, Sophie all cheered simultaneously.

Over the rest of the evening, Sophie got to know more about her two new flat mates, and quickly grew to like both of them, and they grew to like her- especially when she unboxed the Nintendo Switch she’d brought to the flat and engaged them in a marathon session of Mario Kart.

However, as she was removing her make-up to get ready for bed, the image of 'James' reappearing in her mirror reminded Sophie that no matter how much she liked the two women, how attached to them she became, she was always going to be lying to their faces every time she spoke. And after she returned to her old life, her life as 'James', she'd probably lose all contact with them. And yet, in the few hours that she'd known Amy or Hayley, she'd grown closer to them than she'd done to any friend she'd ever had...

With a heavy sigh, Sophie knocked on the pub's back door, and forced a smile on her face as she was greeted by a tired-looking, dressing-gown clad Rachel.

"Oh, um, hi Sophie," Rachel said, blinking the tiredness out of her eyes. "Sorry I'm not dressed, one great thing about managing a pub is that you usually sleep in every day, heh."

"Ah..." Sophie grimaced. "Sorry- umm, sorry if I woke you..."

"Nah, needed to get up anyway," Rachel yawned. "What's up?"

"...I don't think I can do this," Sophie mumbled, earning a concerned look from Rachel. "The job. Pretending to- well, all of- all of THIS. It- it's too much."

"Have you been- umm, 'sussed'?" Rachel asked. "Have you told anyone about the tutu project?"

"No," Sophie shook her head.

"Did your flat mates, umm, I mean-" Rachel stammered.

"No," Sophie said. "They- they're great, they really are."

"No, I mean..." Rachel said, before sighing. "Are you having problems with the whole 'woman' thing?"

"...No," Sophie whispered, shaking her head. "If anything... That's the easiest part of this. Hell, it's 'Sophie' sitting here and not 'James'. Though that is because Hayley and Amy are having a sofa day today..."

"Then what exactly is the problem?" Rachel asked.

"I don't- I don't want to have to lie to them," Sophie sighed. "I don't want to tell them that I'm this 'ideal stewardess', and willing and eager to be a woman full-time when I- when I'm just pretending, you know? And I look at Hayley and Amy and- and what you say is right. They're both women. Not men pretending to be women. But just women, full stop. And I feel- I feel guilty."

"...Didn't you have these same anxieties after meeting Jess, Paige, Nat and Zoe?" Rachel asked.

"I don't have to live with them," Sophie retorted. "I can keep up the 'mask' for a dinner date. In what's supposed to be the comfort of my own home..."

"Sophie," Rachel sighed. "If you want to back out... That's okay. The project's been going on for a while now. It can wait a little while longer. I can find a journalism graduate who speaks a foreign language and has all the relevant certificates and who IS transitioning. Though obviously, that could take a while. It was nothing short of a minor miracle that I found you. But before you quit, remember that you earned this job. And I don't just mean my 'assignment', I mean the actual stewardess job itself. The bosses at Soixante-trois are VERY picky about who they hire, and believe it or not, they're ten times as picky for transgendered applicants, EU regulations be damned. If you hadn't convinced them that you were 100% committed to not only being a stewardess, but being a woman, they wouldn't have hired you. Simple as."

"Well- I guess..." Sophie mumbled.

"And it IS only for a few months," Rachel reassured the nervous woman. "Trust me, by then you'll have a TON of material for your exposé, heh!"

"If you say so," Sophie said.

"Ultimately, the decision's yours," Rachel said. "But before you decide, think about what it is YOU want. Do you want to be reporting on old ladies' hundredth birthdays for the rest of your life, or do you want to be the next Hunter S Thompson?"

"...The latter," Sophie sighed.

"He spent a year pretending to be a Hell's Angel," Rachel said, smiling smugly at Sophie's look of surprise. "Hey, I've done my homework too. I guarantee that you'll find this task a lot more pleasant than he did. But it will be difficult. But! But. I'm not going to ask you to do anything you think you simply can't do."

"Even though you yourself quit this job?" Sophie asked.

"Only you can tell what's going to be too much for you," Rachel said. "But if this is going to be too much, I need to know now so that I can set another plan in motion. Is this going to be too much?"

"I- I don't know," Sophie sighed. What Rachel was asking was difficult- but whether it was impossible was something Sophie simply couldn't say for certain.

Some parts of the task were easy. Wearing make-up and a skirt was nothing. Interacting with other women as a peer wasn't just easy, it was actually enjoyable... Right up until Sophie remembered that she couldn't do so without lying to her new friends' faces. Sophie COULD, in theory, have worked her way up the chain in a 'legitimate' way, became a junior editor, then a sub editor, then a deputy editor, then maybe even an editor... But doing that would take years, maybe even decades- and Sophie was sure that taking that road, she wouldn't make any friends as great as those she'd made in just a few days in her new life.

Then again, it was 'Sophie' they'd made friends with, and despite Hayley and Amy's reassurances, there was no telling whether or not they'd like 'James'- or whether or not they'd even forgive 'him' for his deception.

As Sophie struggled with her decision, she remembered the piece of advice her father told her about the day he'd proposed to his future wife- Sophie's mother. One simple sentence- 'you always regret the things you didn't do more than the things you did'. If Sophie didn't take the opportunity in front of her, she knew she'd regret it for the rest of her life.

"Let's do this," Sophie said, earning a smile from the blonde woman stood next to her.

"Alright then!" Abbey giggled, balancing her blue pillbox hat atop her head as Sophie made her final adjustments to the tight skirt and fitted jacket that made up her uniform. "Just remember lesson one- the customer is always right. ESPECIALLY if they're an obnoxious, sexist, pig-headed jerk!"

"...And management?" Sophie hesitantly asked.

"Ugh," Abbey spat. "I can tell you a few horror stories THERE!"

"I'd like to hear a few," Sophie said with a confident smile as she took her seat in the small classroom with her mentor the other new hires. Six months as a woman? Sophie thought to herself. This will totally be worth it. Maybe I'll even stick around for longer...



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