Mother and Daughter, part 8

"Miracles do happen, then?" Janet asked, making Ellie roll her eyes as she walked into the kitchen, her fluffy pink dressing gown wrapped around her to shield her from the morning autumn air.

"So I'm excited about today," Ellie shrugged. "Sue me. And besides, it's not like I shouldn't be eager to get back to college- it's not like my summer holidays have been anything to write home about."

"That's true," Janet said quietly as she gave Ellie her morning cup of coffee. The teenaged girl had found the time to have fun over the summer, but Janet knew it wasn't nearly as much as she should have had- and she knew why that was the case, too.

After the trial, Ellie had made a conscious effort to spend more time out of the flat and with her friends. She, Monique and Kacey made repeated trips to the beach over the summer, to places like Brighton or Eastbourne, where Ellie revelled in showing off her slender frame in a bikini or a cute one-piece swimsuit. Her HRT treatments had yet to make any significant physical changes to her body, but they had greatly boosted her confidence, and she felt increasingly happier with herself- right up until she started talking to a boy.

Throughout the summer, Ellie attracted the interest of countless boys, both on her visits to the coast and while out and about in London. Many of the boys remained attracted even when told (by Monique or Kacey) that Ellie was transgendered, and the blonde girl knew that all of those boys were ideal boyfriend material. They were all kind, friendly and funny... And within 30 seconds of talking to any of them, Ellie felt her entire body tense up, almost as though she was expecting to be assaulted. In Ellie’s eyes, every boy she spoke to, no matter how timid they initially appeared, was a potential attacker, and she genuinely wondered whether or not she’d ever be able to be intimate, or even alone with another member of the male gender ever again.

As tense as Ellie was made by her fear, her main feeling toward it was frustration- especially when compared to the many successes she’d enjoyed over the course of the summer.

At the start of August, Ellie had found herself a small, part-time job in an independent music store in the centre of London. There weren’t many hours each week, even over the summer holiday, and it was minimum wage only, but Ellie didn’t mind- it was still money that she could truly call her own, and moreover, she enjoyed the responsibility- though even with the protection of a counter, Ellie still felt uncomfortable whenever she served a male customer, especially the more attractive ones. That was nothing, however, compared to the anxiety Ellie felt one Saturday in August, when she saw the unwelcome face of Lindsay Cole walk into the shop.

The two girls didn’t exchange any words, and Lindsay only stayed in the shop for a few seconds, just long enough to shoot Ellie an evil stare and leave her feeling terrified as to who else might have known where she worked. Ellie may have had a restraining order against Ethan, but that didn’t apply to the rest of his family, and in Ellie’s mind, was just writing on a piece of paper- if Ethan wanted to breach the order and face the consequences, there was nothing Ellie could do to stop him.

Much to Ellie’s relief, though, the opposite seemed to be true- Ellie didn’t see any trace of him all throughout the summer holiday, and apart from the one incident at her shop, Ellie didn’t see any other member of the Cole family either- with the obvious exception of her legal guardian. Ellie knew that it must have torn Janet up on the inside to side with her against her family, and remained eternally grateful to the older woman. Ellie was especially appreciative of the advice Janet was able to give as her body slowly began to adapt to its new chemical makeup.

At first, Ellie had been frustrated by the minimal, almost non-existent effect the oestrogen was having on her body. Her measurements didn’t change, her breasts didn’t grow and, worst of all, she didn’t feel any more feminine than she had before. However, Ellie knew that Janet had experienced the same frustrations at the beginning of her HRT, and after ten months, her body seemed to grow more feminine with every passing day. Janet had always had more trouble ‘passing’ than Ellie had, but as the months wore on, she grew more and more convincing, to the extent that even her face seemed to be growing more and more feminine. Ellie was confident that her mind and body would soon begin to change under the influence of the medicine she was taking, and she was even more confident that no matter what, she’d always have Janet’s support, as well as the support of her friends, and of the only member of her family whom she knew still loved her.

Over the summer holidays, Ellie and Jack’s rendezvouses became more and more frequent. During one week in August, they met up on six days out of seven, and each time they spoke, both siblings listened intently to the other’s tales about their lives. It broke Ellie's heart when Jack was unable to 'escape' from their parents on the 23rd of August- his birthday- but she was over the moon when he spent practically all of the 25th, 26th and 27th with her (and she made sure that she spoiled him as far as her limited wages would go).

During each visit, Ellie was obviously interested in Jack’s tales of home and family- and how much the teenaged boy suspected their parents missed their eldest child- but Ellie was surprised by the interest Jack took in her life, in her friends, her studies and her transition. At times, it was almost like Jack was Ellie’s sister, rather than her brother, and this helped to make Jack the only man Ellie fully trusted.

However, Ellie would need to start trusting men again, or at least pretending to trust them, as there would be hundreds of young men at the college she would shortly be walking into. 12 months earlier, that thought had been a source of excitement, something to distract her from the nerves of going into an unknown place for the first ever time as a woman. On this particular Monday, however, Ellie felt little to no anxiety about presenting as a woman- everyone in her class had known her for a year and had for the most part had grown to accept her during that time. On the other hand, the thought of all the young men in the college, each one a potential attacker, filled Ellie with dread. Especially as she knew that whether she like it or not, she’d find herself attracted to several of them…

“Hey Ell!” Monique said with a wide grin as the blonde girl took her usual seat on the bus. “So that was summer then, eh?”

“I liked it,” Ellie shrugged. “And there’ll be another one next year.”

“When we’ll all FINALLY be eighteen!” Kacey said. “Can’t wait to go to Ibiza next summer!”

“Gonna be fun explaining my passport when we go!” Ellie said with a snort of genuine laughter.

“Whatever,” Monique said dismissively. “Just hope it’ll be a guy, that way he’ll spend more time checking you out than the passport, hehe!”

“Yeah,” Ellie giggled nervously.

“And if we fly Soixante-Trois, they wouldn’t even blink at the ‘M’ in your passport, would they?” Kacey asked.

“Like we could afford to fly Soixante-Trois!” Monique snorted.

“Don’t think they fly from London to Ibiza anyway,” Ellie shrugged. “Not that I’m an expert just because, well, you know.”

“Never said you were!” Kacey said with a smug grin. “Music, on the other hand…”

“Your bro starting college today?” Monique asked the blonde girl, who shook her head in response.”

“Starting Year 11 today,” Ellie replied. “Your brothers and sisters are all older than you, aren't they?"

"Yep," Kacey replied.

“Both my brothers left college a LONG time ago,” Monique said. “Thank god, heh!”

“I dunno,” Ellie shrugged. “Would kinda have liked to go to college with Jack. At least then I know there’d be a guy there who WON’T bottle me…”

“Oh- Ellie…” Kacey sighed. “I get, you know, the whole ‘not going to get over PTSD overnight’ thing, but still, you know?”

“You can’t assume that every boy’s gonna be a dick,” Monique said.

“Even the ones who assume that every girl doesn’t have a dick?” Ellie asked. “I’m gonna have, you know, surgery eventually. I mean, I’m already on HRT, a couple of years and I’ll be eligible, so I’ll have ‘nothing to hide’ then, right?”

“Okay, fine,” Monique said, holding her hands up in mock-surrender. “It’s your life, don’t let us tell you how to live it.”

“I thought you were feeling better about the whole thing anyway?” Kacey asked.

“I have bad days,” Ellie sighed. “Got a feeling today’s gonna be a REALLY bad day.”

“If you go in thinking it will, it probably will be,” Kacey snorted. “You never know, you might meet the guy of your dreams today?”

“And don’t say ‘guy from my nightmares’!” Monique ordered the blonde girl. “Lots of new guys starting today. Some of them are bound to be alright, yeah?” Ellie nodded, and logically, she knew that there was every chance she would meet an attractive young man who’d like her for who she was, ‘flaws’ and all- but she knew that finding out would mean she’d have to risk meeting another ‘Ethan’, and that was a risk Ellie was not willing to take.

Before heading into college, the three girls made their usual trip to the nearby supermarket where, as always, Janet was waiting for them with a wide grin on her face.

“Good morning!” Janet said in a teasing voice. “I’m gonna miss my favourite customers this time next year, heh!”

“I’ll try to get a job around here and drop in on my way to work, hehe!” Monique giggled in reply.

“Don’t fancy uni, then?” Janet asked.

“Nah, I like money too much,” Monique shrugged, earning a giggle from the older woman.

“Yeah, money is great,” Janet chuckled. “Don’t write off uni too quickly, though. It was one of the most fun experiences of my life, heh. First time I was able to, you know, really be ‘me’.” Janet smirked as she remembered back to the early nineties, when she attended university and when she began to explore being ‘Janet’ for the very first time.

“I’m still thinking of uni,” Kacey said. “Not decided yet. Depends on if I can stay in London, REALLY don’t want the cost of living away from home.”

“Or doing your own laundry?” Janet teased, smirking as the brown-haired girl blushed. “It’s a bit of a culture shock at first, but before long you realise that you’re effectively living alone with a lot of people the same age as you. THEN the fun begins!”

“Yeah, heh!” Kacey chuckled awkwardly as she and her friends headed out of the shop and toward the college.

Janet smirked as she watched the three girls leave the supermarket, before turning her attention to her next customer. As usual, Janet and Ellie hadn’t exchanged any words beyond a ‘hi’ each, the older woman knowing from experience that any teenaged girl didn't need her parent (or, in Janet's case, parental figure) doing anything to cause undue embarrassment.

Janet and Ellie had discussed the possibility of the younger woman starting university, and while the younger woman had said that she’d want to stay in London- to remain closer to Jack- Janet faced the probability that soon, she would once again be alone. The fact that Janet was on her own at work for the first time in months, due to her friends Meredith and Shannon both taking leave, just amplified her feelings of loneliness.

Even though it had been over a year since her coming out, Janet found that she missed her family more with every passing day. Ellie’s return to college made Janet think of her daughter, who would be starting further education college that week, and of her son, who should have been going to university, but who would instead be looking for a job, any job, and struggling to find an employer who’d hire a convicted criminal. And as much as she tried to convince herself that rationally, she wasn’t responsible for Ethan’s actions, she couldn’t help but feel responsible for the young man’s tainted future.

Later that afternoon, after a long day of getting reacquainted with her studies, Ellie broke her normal afternoon routine by waving goodbye to her two friends and heading in the opposite direction to them, away from her usual bus stop. A short while later, she walked into a small, clean office and sat down opposite her counsellor, smoothing her short skirt and crossing one leg over the other.

“Hello Ellie,” Dr Leach said with a warm smile. “Did you have a good day? It was your first day back at college, wasn’t it?”

“Yep!” Ellie replied with a tired chuckle.

“Ah, I know that feeling,” Dr Leach said with a chuckle of her own. “I used to dread September when I was your age. But after a few weeks, I was always glad to be back in the routine, seeing all my friends again.”

“I don’t mind college too much,” Ellie shrugged. “It’s a lot better than school, that’s for sure.”

“Because you can attend college as the person you really are?” Dr Leach asked.

“Well- that helps,” Ellie replied. “It’s more that I actually have friends at college. Sometimes I expect Monique and Kacey to, you know, get sick of me and go and be friends with someone else, but they never do.”

“Do both of their boyfriends go to the same college as you?” Dr Leach asked.

“No,” Ellie shrugged. “Kacey’s single, Monique’s boyfriend works in a pub. And of course, I’m still single…”

“Yes, you said during our last session that you weren’t looking at the moment, after what happened in May,” Dr Leach said.

“And that’s not going to change any time soon,” Ellie said.

“Well, obviously that’s your decision,” Dr Leach said. “What you went through, no one should have to experience, and while it’s understandable that you’d steer clear of boys for now, I hope it doesn’t mean that you’re planning on staying single for the rest of your life.”

“I might try dating a girl, see what that’s like,” Ellie shrugged.

“Nothing wrong with that,” Dr Leach said.

“Unless I get a TERF who takes one look in my pants and gives me a matching scar on the other side of my head,” Ellie snorts. “And I’m not planning on being single for the rest of my life, just until I get my SRS and it won’t be a ‘problem’ anymore.”

“Ah,” Dr Leach said, a concerned look spreading across her face. “That shouldn’t be a reason, at least not the main reason, for wanting SRS.”

“I know,” Ellie shrugged. “I’m just sick of things being, you know, ‘awkward’. Every boyfriend I’ve had, I’ve had to explain the situation to them, and every one of them could have reacted like Ethan did. If I get SRS, I won’t have to explain. I don’t mind waiting, even if it’s a couple of years.”

“What if it’s longer, say, five years?” Dr Leach asked, making Ellie pause. “You know we only refer people for SRS when we feel that a person is psychologically ready for it. For obvious reasons, I wouldn’t refer you now even if you had been on HRT for the prerequisite amount of time. Though I’m definitely not saying that you should jump into bed with someone in an attempt to prove that you’re ‘cured’, either.”

“Yeah, I wasn’t really planning to,” Ellie said in a defensive tone. “But, like, the ultimate goal is SRS, isn’t it?”

“The goal is to make sure you’re ready for it,” Dr Leach replied. “Yes, I wouldn’t have prescribed HRT if I didn’t think you were fully committed to the change, but you know as well as I do that SRS is another thing entirely.”

“I know,” Ellie mumbled. “I’m not, like, trying to get it any sooner, you know?”

“Maybe not consciously,” Dr Leach said softly.

“Well- maybe, I dunno,” Ellie sighed. “If I’d just been, you know, born a girl, none of this would be a problem. Surely they can just scan kids’ brains or something to see which gender they’re supposed to be and then raise them the way they should?”

“If only it was that easy,” Dr Leach said, smiling sympathetically. “But we will support you throughout your transition, and so will your friends, and so will Janet. And I’m sure if you go to university you’ll find a lot of support there, most universities have a dedicated LGBT support officer.”

“I know,” Ellie said. “I’ve still not made up my mind there yet.”

“There’s still time,” Dr Leach said. “Even if you don’t go next year, you can always go the year after. You’re still young- you don’t need to be rushing into things.”

“I suppose,” Ellie shrugged.

“The best thing you can do right now is try to enjoy your life,” Dr Leach advised. “College- which you’ve already said you enjoy- hanging out with your friends, and most of all, being able to be who you really are. The rest will come in time.”

“Thanks,” Ellie whispered as she relaxed back into her chair and continued to detail the events of her life since her last meeting with the counsellor.

Ellie left the office feeling no more confident than she felt when she entered it, but she did at least feel relieved to have got more of her anxieties off her chest. As always, Dr Leach had been an excellent listener, but her advice- to try to enjoy her life- would be easier said than done for Ellie.

After arriving home, Ellie shared a quick meal with Janet before retreating to her tiny, cramped bedroom and letting out a long, tired sigh. Ellie had hoped that returning to the normal routine of college life would help to settle her anxieties, but she still felt uneasy even when in the comfort of her own room. However, she knew from experience that sulking would only make matters worse, and as hard as it would be, she would try her best to focus on the few positives in her life- a task made easier later in the evening when her phone pinged to notify her of a new text message from her brother.

The following morning, Janet and Ellie got up at their usual times and got ready for work and school respectively, unconsciously settling back into their usual, comfortable routines. As usual, Ellie met with her friends on the bus, before buying their lunches from Janet’s supermarket and heading to their college for another day of learning.

Once she was in her class, Ellie wasted no time in immersing herself in her work. The attempt to distract herself from her stress was briefly successful, but as the morning wore on, Ellie found herself growing more and more uncomfortable with how crowded the room was, and feeling more self-conscious about the attention she was attracting from the boys on her course. The attention was nothing new, of course- a few of the boys had even asked Ellie out the previous year, despite the teasing they had ‘earned’ from some of their less open-minded classmates. Even though Ellie had rejected the boys’ advances, she’d always been flattered by the attention, and there was a part of her that wished that she would be shown the same ‘attention’ again- but there was a much larger part of her that just wanted to be left alone.

As Ellie stopped at a restroom en route to meeting her friends for lunch, though, she realised that it wasn’t just the boys in the college that she needed to worry about.

“No,” Ellie whispered as she stared at the brown-haired girl and her friend touching up their make-up. “Why her? Why here?”

“…Sure you want to dump him?” The brown-haired girl’s ginger-haired friend asked. “You were practically glues to him this summer!”

“Ugh, don’t remind me,” the unmistakable voice of Lindsay Cole sneered. “He is an absolute, total wanker. Last straw was when he got into that fight last week. I mean, who cares about which player signed for who?” So you’re NOT a fan of violence, then? Ellie thought to herself as she rolled her eyes, before taking a deep breath and trying to casually sneak behind the two girls.

“I don’t get that about boys,” Lindsay’s friend spat. “Why they need to, you know, hit any problem they can’t solve?”

“It’s ‘cause boys are morons,” Lindsay snorted. Some more than others, Ellie thought to herself.

“Gonna stay single for a while, then?” Lindsay’s friend asked. “Plenty of fit boys to choose from here…”

“Plenty of morons, too,” Lindsay scoffed. “They wouldn’t- no…” Ellie grimaced as Lindsay’s eyes locked with hers in the mirror and widened in shock, before contorting into a look of pure rage.

“Ah, shit,” Ellie whispered to herself as Lindsay span around, her facial expression somehow even angrier than it had been moments before.

“You…” Lindsay hissed. “PERVERT! GET OUT OF HERE! MAN! MAN IN THE GIRLS’ TOILETS!”

“Lindsay,” the angry girl’s ginger-haired friend said softly as she placed a hand on her shoulder.

“I’m not sharing a toilet with HIM!” Lindsay screeched. “If I turn my back he’ll probably rape me! RAPIST!”

“Ugh, no thank you!” Ellie sneered, internally grimacing as she realised she probably hadn’t made the situation any better.

“YOU LITTLE WHORE!” Lindsay howled, shoving Ellie and causing the blonde girl to stumble into a cubicle, where she fell to the floor in an undignified heap. “And stay down there where you belong!” Ellie shivered with rage and embarrassment as Lindsay spat in her face, and didn’t even notice when she was literally dragged away by her flame-haired friend.

As she laid on the toilet floor, time seemed to stop for Ellie. Running into Ethan at the party had been unlikely enough, but to run into Lindsay as well, at one of the very few places where she felt safest? Ellie began to genuinely wonder if the whole universe was playing a cruel practical joke on her, if she was destined to go through her whole life being assaulted and degraded simply for daring to be the person she always dreamed of being.

Ellie sighed as she wiped Lindsay’s saliva off her cheek and was unsurprised to discover that it had mingled with her tears. She slowly tried to stand up, only for her knees to buckle and send her crashing to the floor once again. More tears flowed freely from Ellie’s eyes, and they only flowed faster when she heard the toilet door open and three pairs of feet walk inside. Ellie braced herself for the worst as she saw the familiar orange hair of Lindsay’s friend loom into view, but relaxed when she saw that the girl’s expression wasn’t one of anger, but of genuine worry.

“Ell- it- it’s Ellie, right?” The ginger haired girl said softly as she offered her hand to Ellie to help her to her feet.

“Umm- uh-huh,” Ellie mumbled confusedly as she was escorted out of the toilet and to somewhere she could sit in private.

“I’m Jodie, Jodie Grant,” the ginger haired girl said softly. “This is my friend Keira, and you already know Danni, the first aider, right?”

“Umm, yeah,” Ellie mumbled, taking a deep breath to calm her nerves as the older dark-skinned girl sat down next to her.

“Hey, Jodie told me what happened,” Danni said softly. “Are you okay? Do you need me to call anyone?” Ellie opened her mouth to reply, only to close it again- the only person she could call was Janet, and Ellie really didn’t to be the one to tell her that both of her children had assaulted her.

“I- I’m okay,” Ellie whispered, before breaking down in another flood of tears.

“Yeah, no, you’re not,” Danni whispered. “Do you want me to call your foster carer?”

“And tell her what?” Ellie snorted. “That both of her kids hate me?”

“Oh my god, so it WAS you,” Jodie sighed, before frowning as the other three women looked at her expectantly. “Me and Lindsay knew there was A transgendered girl at college, but we never thought it’d be you, you know?”

“This can’t be a coincidence,” Ellie said darkly. “That whole fucking family’s going to stalk me until I die or they kill me.”

“There are colleges closer to where Lindsay lives, aren’t there?” Keira asked.

“None that do an archaeology course,” Jodie sighed. “Though she’s probably going to need to look for another new one now…”

“Yep,” Danni said firmly. “I am going to do everything I can to make sure she NEVER sets foot in this college again.”

“Oh- wait, no…” Ellie moaned as feelings of guilt welled up within her. In her mind, she had already cost one of Janet’s children their chance at higher education, and if she did that to a second, she didn’t know how she’d ever be able to look her guardian in the eye again.

“Ellie,” Danni said softly. “She can’t be allowed to get away with this. She assaulted you. She should be punished.”

“Yeah, but, you know, I-“ Ellie stammered.

“Do NOT say you had it coming,” Jodie said firmly. “Because you didn’t. You didn’t deserve what Lindsay’s brother did to you and you didn’t deserve this. I just don’t get why Lindsay’s such a homophobe, you know? She never was before her dad came out, she still listens to Out of Heaven, hell, we’ve even got tickets to see them next month!”

“Bet your friend Steph would have a thing or two to say about THAT if she found out about today!” Danni snorted.

“Ugh,” Ellie spat. The last thing she wanted was yet more attention being given to the assault, especially from her friend Stephanie. All she wanted was to be left alone, to be allowed to forget that it happened, and for it to never happen again- but she realised that the latter of those things was incompatible with the others. “Where- where’s Lindsay now?”

“Talking to the head of the college,” Jodie replied. “What it’s worth, she did NOT look pleased with herself after she left the toilet, like, after the anger went, she was all ‘OMG what did I just do?’ sort of thing.”

“Probably worried about what’s going to happen to her,” Ellie snorted. “But- but she shouldn’t be expelled…”

“I don’t see why not,” Danni scoffed as Jodie and Keira nodded in agreement. “But you shouldn’t worry about her, not at all. Get yourself home and into bed and forget all about today. I’ll talk to your tutor, explain you’re not well- I won’t explain why- and we’ll see how you are tomorrow, okay?”

“O- okay,” Ellie whispered as Jodie and Keira escorted her back to the reception area, where a taxi was called for her.

“You got many friends at this college?” Jodie asked in an attempt to distract Ellie.

“Umm, just two,” the blonde girl mumbled, before grimacing. “Shit, I was meant to meet them for lunch…”

“I’ll tell them you’re going home sick,” Keira said. “What are their names?”

“Umm, Kacey Harris and Monique Daniels,” Ellie replied. “Ugh- oh, god, I was meant to meet with them for lunch…”

“I know Kacey, she used to go to my old school,” Keira said. “I’ll let her know.”

“Umm- you went to my old school?” Ellie asked.

“Yeah, but, like, a year below,” Keira said. “I know Kacey ‘cause we were on the netball team together. I, umm, I never, you know, knew ‘you’, though…”

“You mean ‘Liam’?” Ellie snorted. “Good.”

“I- I’d kinda like to be friends with, you know, ‘Ellie’, if you’d like?” Keira mumbled, bringing a smile to the shaken blonde girl’s face.

“…That could be cool,” Ellie said. “If your parents don’t mind you having a transgendered friend?”

“Don’t see why not, they got my sister loads of Angels merchandise for her birthday a few months ago," Keira shrugged. "And you need more than three to be, like, 'Angels', right?"

"...I am NOT being called 'mini-Jamie'," Ellie protested, making her two new friends giggle. "Though I have met her. And she is really cool."

"I saw photos on her Instagram of her and her new daughter," Jodie said. "Funny thing is, Lindsay liked those photos too..."

"I, umm, I think the taxi's pulled up," Keira said softly. "You- you okay getting home?"

"I'll be fine," Ellie shrugged. "Thanks- thanks for this."

"That's what friends are for," Jodie said softly, before exchanging an awkward hug with the blonde girl. "I am going to talk to Lindsay when we go home, this is NOT the girl I knew at school."

"Yeah," Ellie mumbled, her insides growling as she was reminded of a phone call she needed to make before she got home. "Did- did you ever, you know, meet- meet Lindsay's, umm, dad?"

"...A couple of times," Jodie confessed. "Always thought he was nice. Never would have guessed he- well, you know..."

"Yeah, better than most people," Ellie sighed. "I- umm, talk tomorrow?"

"Sure," Jodie whispered, exchanging another hug with Ellie before allowing Keira to bid her farewell with a hug of her own.

A few minutes later, Ellie dropped onto the back seat of the black London taxi with a heavy sigh, and after telling the driver where she wanted to go, reached into her bag for her phone. Logically, Ellie knew she'd have to call Janet to tell her she was coming home early, but every time she tried to push the button to make the call, a wave of panic engulfed her. Janet wasn't stupid- she'd ask questions, and if Ellie lied, she'd see right through it, even if the lie was to spare her feelings.

Eventually, Ellie bit the bullet and pushed the button, and after just two rings, the call connected, causing the blonde girl to almost hyperventilate.

"Hi Ellie," Janet said with a confused tone to her voice. "Is something up?"

"Umm, yeah," Ellie mumbled. "I- I'm coming home early, I- I'm not feeling too well..."

"Oh, okay," Janet said. "Have you been sick?"

"No, just, umm, feeling a bit light-headed, a bit dizzy," Ellie replied.

"Well, if you don't feel well enough, you don't feel well enough," Janet replied, causing Ellie to breathe a sigh of relief as the expected grilling failed to materialise. "I'll have some hot chocolate waiting for you at home. Are Kacey or Monique with you?"

"Umm, no, they- they're at their own classes," Ellie replied.

"Fair enough," Janet said. "Get yourself home, see how you feel tomorrow." Ellie allowed herself a tired smile as she clicked off the phone call, and as she arrived home to her promised mug of hot chocolate.

Ellie spent the rest of the night on the sofa, fiddling with her phone and avoiding any questions Janet had about her 'illness'. However, she could tell just how worried the middle-aged woman was, and knew deep down that the worry was less to do with her 'illness', and more to do with the fact that she was keeping something from her.

The following morning, as usual, Janet was the first to wake up. As she walked from her bedroom to the kitchen to prepare breakfast, she paused outside Ellie's room, and let out a long sigh. She knew that the teenaged girl had been keeping something from her, but she couldn't figure out exactly what. Janet knew that Ellie wasn't sick in the sense that she had a virus, but she also knew that Ellie had struggled almost as much as she had with depression- and that that could be even more debilitating than any virus.

Ellie was keeping something from her, and she knew there had to be a good reason for that, but she also knew that she wouldn't be able to help Ellie as long as she was locking her out like that. And Janet truly did want to help Ellie, no matter what the problem was.

A short while later, Ellie emerged from her bedroom, and Janet forced a smile on her face as the younger woman went into the kitchen to prepare her breakfast.

"Morning!" Janet said with a grin. "Feeling better today, then?"

"Eh, a little," Ellie shrugged. "Should be up for college. I- I'll, umm, call you if I, you know..." Get knocked over by your daughter again, Ellie mentally completed her sentence.

"Sure," Janet said. "Are you- are you going to wear your new tartan skirt to college today? I know you've been dying to wear it for ages..."

"Probably," Ellie shrugged. "Umm..."

"I- umm, I need to head off now, work..." Janet mumbled. "Ellie, you- you know you can talk to me about anything, right? And I mean ANYTHING, no matter what the problem is. I don't see being your guardian as meaning just putting a roof over your head and keeping you fed, you know?"

"I know," Ellie mumbled back as she felt her cheeks began to burn.

"Okay..." Janet said. "Well, umm, think about it, and if you need to talk, umm, you know..."

"Sure," Ellie whispered as Janet left the flat, appreciative of the offer but still none the wiser as to how to tell Janet about what happened.

Ellie left the flat herself a few minutes later and made her way to her usual bus stop. As she got on the bus, she was greeted as always by her two closest friends- though both of them had very uncharacteristic looks of concern on their face.

"Hey Ell," Monique said softly. "We- we heard you went home sick yesterday, you okay?"

"...Yeah, fine," Ellie mumbled, her reddening cheeks betraying her lie.

"We- we also heard WHY you went home," Kacey said quietly.

"Oh- oh god," Ellie moaned. "Does- does anyone else know?"

"...Pretty much the whole college," Monique whispered.

"Oh god!" Ellie howled, startling many nearby passengers. "You know, I was actually looking forward to going back to college too? To getting away from all this shit with Janet's family?"

"I still can't believe she's going to the same college as you!" Kacey snorted. "I mean, creepy or what?"

"Apparently she likes archaeology and nowhere else does it," Ellie shrugged.

"Yeah, well that'd make sense, 'cause she thinks like an old fossil," Monique snorted. "Don't let her get to you, okay? Even if she is there today- which she shouldn't be- let us help, alright? Next time you need a piss, we all go."

"...Maybe I should wear a nappy instead?" Ellie scoffed, before frowning. "...Sorry. I do genuinely appreciate it, but, you know? Don't want to be treated like a 5 year old. I'm sick of being a victim."

"Hey, we're a team, aren't we?" Kacey asked. "We had your back with one Cole, we've got it with the other."

"If we're a team, then surely we need a team name, right?" Monique asked. "Something like, I dunno, EKM? Team KEM maybe?"

"Team Kacellmon?" Kacey suggested, making Ellie giggle.

"Sounds like a Pokémon," the blonde girl snorted.

"Alright then," Kacey said. "Let's see you do any better?"

"Team Monellcey?" Ellie suggested, before giggling and shaking her head. "I dunno."

"I've got it!" Monique giggled. "Take 'Kace', 'Ell', and 'Ique', rearrange a couple of letters... Team 'Classique'?"

"...I love it," Ellie said with a wide grin. "La classique, hehe!"

"La classique!" Kacey and Monique both cheered, grinning as the smile on their previously-stricken friend's face widened.

The girls were still smiling a few minutes later as they arrived at their regular supermarket, but as they went to pay for their lunches, the grins faded when they realised that their regular cashier was nowhere to be found.

"...Janet got the day off?" Monique asked.

"She didn't say anything to me," Ellie shrugged. "She left for work normal time..." Ellie frowned as she checked her phone for a missed call or a text, only to find nothing. "Nope. Must just be on a toilet break or something?"

"Before 9am?" Kacey asked. "Meh, I dunno. Come on, don't wanna be late."

"Yeah, don't wanna be late for everyone staring at us," Ellie sighed as she paid for her food and followed her friends the short distance toward their college.

As she walked in the college, Ellie mentally braced herself for the stares and the whispers that she had become accustomed to during her first few weeks at the establishment, but which she'd thought she'd put behind her. She'd worked hard to go from being 'that transgendered girl' to simply 'that blonde girl', and the actions of both Ethan and Lindsay had threatened to set her back to square one. However, she was determined that she would make the same progress she had the previous year, so if people were going to gossip about her, she was ready.

What she wasn't ready for, however, was the sight of Danni waiting for her in the entrance foyer- and Janet standing right next to her.

"Hey Ellie," Danni said softly. "We, umm, we- the head of the college, she, umm, wants to have a word with you, okay?"

"Umm, okay," Ellie said, exchanging a brief glance with Janet as they followed the dark-skinned girl toward the offices at the back of the building.

As they entered the head's office, both Janet and Ellie let out gentle gasps as they saw that not only was the head waiting for them there, but so was Lindsay, who was sporting a deep look of shame on her youthful face.

"Hello Janet, Ellie," the college's new principal, a woman in her mid-forties, said with a warm smile. "Thank you for coming at such short notice. I'm sure you're aware of the unfortunate incident that took place yesterday."

"Yes, I am now," Janet said, casting a stern glance at Ellie.

"It has left me in an unenviable position of trying to sort this out," the principal said. "Obviously, transphobia cannot be tolerated in this college, nor can any other kind of bigotry. But at the same time, I don't want to have to expel someone who's only been at the college for two days. This is why I've decided to compromise. Lindsay will remain in the college, but will be on a final warning. She also has something she wants to say. Lindsay?"

"I- I'm sorry I attacked you," Lindsay said in a hoarse, emotional voice as her cheeks turned bright red. "I acknowledge that my actions were based on prejudice, that I was entirely in the wrong and that I deserve to be punished for my actions."

"Apology accepted," Ellie mumbled, feeling her own cheeks start to flush as she felt her guardian's stare burn into her.

"Thank you, Lindsay," the principal said. "You can go now. And remember what I said."

"I will," Lindsay mumbled, grabbing her bags and making a point of not looking in either Janet or Ellie's direction as she scuttled out of the room.

"If you two want to talk, you can use my office," the principal said softly. "Ellie, your tutors know not to expect you until your second period."

"Thanks," Ellie whispered as the principal left her alone in the office with Janet, triggering an immediate awkward silence. "Janet- I, umm..."

"Why didn't you tell me it was Lindsay?" Janet asked in a hoarse voice, betraying her turbulent emotions.

"I- I didn't want to hurt you..." Ellie feebly mumbled.

"You had to have known I'd find out sooner or later," Janet said, before letting out a long sigh. "And YOU did nothing to hurt me. My daughter, on the other hand..."

"I swear I didn't know she'd be at this college," Ellie pleaded.

"Yes- well, obviously," Janet conceded. "You were here first, Ellie. And your friend Danni tells me she didn't know you went here, and I've got no reason to not believe her. Ugh, these coincidences won't stop happening, will they? Sometimes I think we're cursed..."

"Yeah," Ellie moaned. "Though I, umm, I did kinda make some new friends out of it."

"...Really?" Janet asked.

"Probably not something you want to hear right now, heh," Ellie mumbled.

"No- any good news, I'll take," Janet said. "Who are they?"

"You might know one of them," Ellie chuckled. "Jodie Grant? Started- umm, started college with, umm, Lindsay..."

"Yeah, I remember Jodie," Janet said with a smirk. "Nice girl. Very level-headed. Sometimes wondered whether or not Ethan would end up with her, heh."

"Doubt that'll happen now," Ellie sighed. "Don't think she's even friends with Lindsay anymore after yesterday."

"...It does break my heart to hear that," Janet said, making Ellie grimace. "But she is sixteen now, she's got to learn that actions have consequences. Though you'd have thought she'd have learned that from her brother."

"You talking about coincidences, that whole family must think the same thing about me," Ellie snorted. "And if I hadn't come on to Ethan-"

"No," Janet said firmly. "Do not, and I mean do NOT blame yourself. You did not deserve the consequences for your actions. Ethan and Lindsay did. I may have failed as their parent but I'm not going to fail with you, Ellie, I mean it. I will NOT let you go through life thinking you don't deserve to feel happy."

"...Thanks," Ellie whispered. "So, umm, you- you not at work today?"

"I have to get back there in a bit," Janet sighed. "Then I'm seeing Dr Healy later on today. God knows what she'll say about this, heh!"

"Yeah..." Ellie whispered, before allowing herself a sad smile as she and Janet walked back to the college's reception area, where they parted ways.

As Janet walked the short distance back to her place of work, she felt her stomach churning at the news she'd received about her youngest child. She knew her ex-wife was a lost cause, and suspected the same thing about Ethan, but had always held out hope that maybe, just maybe she and Lindsay could have had a mother and daughter relationship similar to the one she'd cultivated with Ellie. That hope now laid in tatters, and it was all Janet could do not to weep openly in the middle of the street.

After work, Janet met with her counsellor, where she shed several tears as she described her feelings of despair at the realisation that the last of her bridges to her old family had been burned. Dr Healy had tried to cheer Janet up, had tried to console her with the fact that, in Janet's own words, Lindsay had seemed genuinely remorseful for her actions, but it didn't stop Janet from crying herself to sleep that night.

The following morning at work, however, Janet got the surprise of her life. Ten minutes after Ellie, Monique and Kacey had paid for the lunches, three more girls stopped at her register. Janet managed to not gasp with shock when she recognised the first girl in the queue as her daughter's friend Jodie, but her jaw dropped when she realised that the girl at the back of the trio was none other than Lindsay herself.

Despite herself, Janet let out a smile as she rang up her daughter's lunch, and much to Janet's surprise, Lindsay smiled back- a sad, almost regretful smile, but a smile nonetheless, and one that made Janet think that maybe, just maybe, she could dare to hope...



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