Moonbin has been working at Pine Cove Department Store one city over since his freshmen year of high school. It’s part of a large shopping complex, and there’s one closer to his own high school, but Pine Cove is in a posher neighbourhood and the shoppers usually tip better and spend more. The perfume bar is usually his favourite counter to work, and his manager Jinwoo knows he’s good at it. There are some occasional more sensitive customers, but they’re farther and further between compared to any other department. Working the clothing sections is the worst because no one likes to be corrected on their size, and cosmetics is marginally better, but not by much. Scents are neutral, and invisible—the fact Moonbin’s got heightened olefactoury senses is just cheese on the burger.
Seeing four year olds run around in Ugg boots and sixteen year olds use Gucci totes as schoolbags took some getting used to, especially considering he has to pay his own phone bill and gets his hair cut from his mom, but it gets easier sophomore year when he meets Sanha.
Sanha is another, for lack of a better word, rich fuck, but at least he’s cute? Moonbin had spotted him wandering through the cosmetics aisle carelessly near Christmas one day, and was initially on high alert.
Men never just wander into the cosmetic aisle, as nice as it would be if they did. Men take tentative steps into the cosmetics department, like mice tip toeing through a den of voracious tabby cats, eyes sharp to anticipate anyone questioning their presence, shoulders high steps stiff like they’re trying to stamp the sole of their shoe into the glossy marble tile. They instinctively answer any and all inquiries, from “what’s your name” to “what are you looking for today?”, with “I’m not sure I’ve never been here before I’ve never put on makeup I’ve never sucked a dick” and Minhyuk who works at the Starbucks downstairs has confirmed that there are homeless people who come in for free coffee that tip better than these assholes.
Moonbin was so distracted by the scruffy freshmen that he accidentally bumped into a gentleman carrying coffee, what scents like a caramel macchiato to be precise, and after some misplaced center of gravity shenanigans he ended up with a large caramel stain on his trousers.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going!” The gentleman shrieked, shoving Moonbin in the shoulder, eyes fixed on the stain.
Moonbin tuned the gentleman out after that on reflex, because angry rich people say the darndest things, but he made sure to look sorry and downcast and bow a couple of times. He passed the time thinking nasty things about cream coloured suits, because everyone is allowed coping mechanisms, and hoped Jinwoo would get here soon. His manager’s better at vocalising under stress.
“Mr. Kang!” A voice too airy and prepubescent to be Jinwoo’s exclaimed, from right behind Moonbin’s ear, and when he turned his head to see who it was he caught the briefest whiff of baby powder.
“Excuse me?” The gentleman asked, as he glared the two of them down.
“I’m Yoon Sanha!” The previously suspicious and now less so kid replied, smile puerile but tone more devious. “I think you work with my dad, Doojoon?”
Nothing makes a rich man’s dick wilt faster than mere references to an even richer man, and with the connotations of the arm Sanha threw around Moonbin’s shoulders Cream Suited Ass ended up purchasing three pairs of the shoes Moonbin had been standing by, mentioned Moonbin’s name twice to the cashier to make sure he gets commission, and tipped him extra in cash on the way out.
“Your welcome.” Sanha greeted, patting the hand on the arm around Moonbin’s shoulder.
And that had been that.
Sanha imprints and starts to visit the mall daily after school. Moonbin’s suspicious at first even after the Cream Ass Incident, because what’s wrong with this kid that even other rich fucks don’t want to hang out with him, but it turns out that Sanha’s new to the neghbourhood and still being vetted. He’s not too much of a hassle, since weekday afternoons aren’t particularly busy for department stores anyway, and after they become friends Sanha starts making random purchases to gift to his chauffeur and forces extra bills into Moonbin’s pocket. There’s a morality struggle for a few days, in which Moonbin feels like he’s being paid to be this lonely kid’s friend, but after finding out that Sanha spends most of his allowance on Candy Crush levels and Naruto figurines Moonbin just keeps all the money in his savings account and doesn’t think about it. University isn’t going to pay for itself.
After Sanha’s birthday party, apparently a big deal at Rich Fuck Academy, he impresses the other students enough that they start befriending him and he stops coming around every day. Moonbin even misses the kid a little, since his coworkers aren’t nearly as amusing, but Sanha still comes at least once a week. It’s often enough that Sanha’s probably one of Moonbin’s closest friends, definitely his closest underclassmen, and he likes to think they know each other relatively well.
All of this evidence to the fact something is definitely going on with the kid.
“I think something’s wrong with Sanha.” Moonbin says, taking his break behind the Starbucks counter as Minhyuk runs around making peppermint mochas and pumpkin spice frappuccinos.
“Even more than usual?” Minhyuk pries, dumping three shots of espresso into a clear cup with one hand and shaking some iced tea concoction together with the other.
“He asked me to pick out a cologne for him today.” Moonbin explains, tossing Minhyuk two straws so he can put the drinks out.
“Maybe he’s growing up?” Minhyuk offers, catching the straws and calling out the names on the cup.
“He said it right before he left though, instead of when he showed up.” Moonbin continues, decides not to comment on the fact Minhyuk and Sanha are the same age, and saunters over to the display of pastries to see if he wants one. “If he mentioned it earlier then he could have bought one right there. It’s like he didn’t want me to ask questions.”
“Maybe he just forgot.” Minhyuk shrugs, throwing a towel over his shoulder and sitting on the counter when he sees the queue empty.
“No, I think something’s up.” Moonbin refutes, trying to picture how Sanha walked through the door today. He’d been smiling, as usual, rows of dumb teeth showing, as usual, and his leg had that frantic bounce it always does that makes his shoes squeak when he’s standing still and drives Jinwoo up the wall, as usual. The argument could be made that his hair had been neater, combed over a few times, instead of his usual shaggy bedhead. His tie had also been on straight, but that happens once every month or two so it may just be probability at work. “Something’s… different about him.”
“He’ll tell you when he’s ready.” Minhyuk accepts Moonbin’s determination. He picks up the lemonade carton he just used, shakes it to find it nearly empty, and drinks the rest instead of putting it back.
“Maybe. That kid can’t keep his mouth shut.” Moonbin nods. He picks out a Christmas tree shaped sugar cookie and bites the star off aggressively.
“Just give him time.” Minhyuk agrees.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Moonbin greets Sanha two days later, a bottle of Valentino V Pour Homme in his hands. It’s relatively sweet for a cologne, but with woodsy base notes, that should match Sanha’s natural scent well enough.
So Minhyuk’s a better person than him, big whoop.
“What are you talking about?” Sanha replies, reaching for the bottle with both hands. “Is this for me?”
“Spray it on your wrists, and then lightly tap it on the bottom of your neck. Don’t mash the skin together. If you like it by the time you leave then its yours.” Moonbin replies, holding the bottle out. “But also, what the fuck is wrong with you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sanha replies, but his bottom lip is jutting out more than usual, like when he tries to get Moonbin to sneak off and eat oysters in the food court with him. “It smells nice.” He continues, and sprays his t-shirt like he’s trying to piss Moonbin off.
“Don’t spray your clothes!” Moonbin corrects, grabbing the bottle back and walking to set it back on its shelf. “If you spray something inanimate you’re going to end up smelling only the top notes.”
“I don’t know what that means, but it still smells nice.” Sanha rolls his eyes, flipping his shirt collar up so he can sniff it. “Yup.”
“Why do you suddenly want a cologne?” Moonbin asks, glaring at a six year old boy being dragged through the jewelery department with Yeezy’s.
“Just because.” Sanha hums, skipping after Moonbin. “I’m growing up! I should learn how to adult.”
Moonbin pointedly looks down at Sanha’s one white and grey running sock and one black crew sock.
“No reason.” Sanha shrugs, flapping his arms about and spinning in circles to avoid Moonbin’s gaze. “Can’t a man want to smell nice?”
They banter as Moonbin makes his rounds through the departments, skipping through the clothing ones quickly so there’s a smaller chance he gets stopped there, and after a while the subject drifts to Spring Break plans and the subject of Sanha’s cologne is dropped.
Until they start trekking through the cosmetics counters and Sanha’s gaze lingers on a few cushion foundations; something dawns on Moonbin then, something he hadn’t considered before, given Sanha’s lingering scent of baby powder and braces and inability to dress himself. Now that he thinks about it, Sanha’s tie is straight again today.
“What’s their name.” Moonbin hisses, shoving Sanha down into a black folding chair near the Estee Lauder counter, giving the auntie working there a scare.
“What are you doing?!” Sanha squawks, legs somehow tangled up in the struggle. “Let me go!”
“Your crush kid, what’s their name.” Moonbin continues, releasing the pressure on Sanha’s shoulders but standing immediately in front of the chair so Sanha’s can’t get up. “Name.”
“It’s no one!”
“I don’t have a crush!”
“Moonbin my leg hurts!”
“Your hair’s ugly and your teeth are crooked and your legs are short!”
“It’s not like you would know who he is even if I told you.” Sanha mutters, lips extended, staring at Moonbin’s shoes.
“So you can tell me then, right?”
“You’re not allowed to look him up on Facebook.” Sanha threatens, finally meeting Moonbin’s eye. “Or friend him! Or look up his Twitter! Don’t do anything embarrassing!”
“I’m not going to steal the five year old you’re in love with.” Moonbin shifts his weight to his left leg as his right foot starts tapping, arms crossing.
“His name is Dongmin.” Sanha whispers. He then starts spinning around, making sure he doesn’t recognise anyone, before continuing. “He’s a year older but we have the same art elective and he plays the french horn in band.”
Moonbin immediately disapproves. A year older? That’s his age—the thought of dating Sanha makes his spin coil into itself. Sanha’s way too young to be dating Moonbin, way too young to be dating someone Moonbin’s age. And french horn? Could this rich fuck be any more of a rich fuck? French horns are trumpets that did a summer exchange in Paris and started adding “pomme de la” before the name of every fruit and vegetable name they said after they came back.
“So you want to smell nice for this kid?” Moonbin asks rhetorically.
“No, I was actually going… so I saw this list.” Sanha explains, pulling his phone out of his back pocket, fully seated on the folded chair now. Moonbin can tell the Estee lady wants to yell at them, but Moonbin has seniority and Sanha’s probably one fifth of their quarterly income, so she bites her lip and starts rearranging more lipsticks.
“What list?” Moonbin asks, eyes coming into focus as Sanha shoves a bright iPhone screen into his face.
“It was a Buzzfeed list!” Moonbin shrieks, throwing down the pizza crust he was chewing on moments earlier. He’d gone to Starbucks to rant to Minhyuk again, but this times their breaks had lined up and Minhyuk suggested they eat in the food court instead. “34 Gifts To Get You Out Of The Friendzone!”
“That sounds like a mess.” Minhyuk nods slowly, clearing his throat. “How was your day thou-”
“This is what happens when you raise children who don’t learn the value of money.” Moonbin lectures, angrily slurping his Coke before he slams that down on their table too. “They grow up fiscally irresponsible and buy each other things instead of communicating like normal people!”
“Sounds rough.” Minhyuk sighs. “What’d you tell him?”
“I told him that I couldn’t pick out a perfume for this Dongmin brat without smelling him.” Moonbin declares. “But apparently he actually liked the scent, because he bought it and promised to keep it for himself.”
“You’re good at that.”
“I am.” Moonbin lets himself preen a little. “But hopefully he gives up on that list, or the whole thing altogether. People your age are too young to be dating.”
“I don’t know.” Minhyuk replies, back straightening. “You’d be surprised.”
“I refuse to play cupid to his whims.” Moonbin decides, not sure what to make of the expression on Minhyuk’s face. “He can forget about me helping him with this nonsense.”
Next Wednesday Sanha walks up to Moonbin, smile sheepish, and pulls a plastic wrapped beanie.
“Huh?” Moonbin asks, looking back and forth between the crinkly hat and Sanha’s stilted grin.
“I stole it from his locker.” Sanha explains.
“I thought wrapping it would preserve the scent better.”
“You said people smell even on their scalp, right?”
Lord have mercy.
“Do you think you could pick one off this?” Sanha finishes, doing that thing where he widens his eyes and tilts his head and makes Moonbin simultaneously want to punch him and forget that he’s a lower middle class seamstress’s son being ordered around by people with socks worth more than his rent.
And the Grinch’s small heart grew-
“Fine! Fine, fine, fine.” Moonbin agrees, grabbing the hat and throwing the plastic wrap in Sanha’s face. “Just this once though!”
“What’d you pick out for him?” Minhyuk asks, but he’s less enthused than he usually is. They’re sitting in front of a burger joint in the food court this time, breaks magically lining up even though the six pm breaks are the most sought after and Minhyuk definitely doesn’t have the seniority to pull it.
“Terre d’Hermes.” Moonbin confesses. “Two citrus top notes, dominant cedar base notes. Very spring.”
“I’m sure it suits him.” Minhyuk picks at his fries.
“Hey, are you feeling alright?” Moonbin replies, concerned. “You look a little under the weather.”
“Huh?” Minhyuk asks, attention caught. “Oh, no, it’s nothing.”
“You should drink some tea, there’s a cold going around.” Moonbin advises. “Who am I going to rant to if you’re not here?”
“It’s really nothing.” Minhyuk grins, and Moonbin’s not sure but it seems genuine. “Thanks for noticing though!”
Sanha’s there again the next day, an unexpected two-fer, and he’s picking up and examining candles.
“They’re number twelve on the list!” Sanha whimpers when Moonbin tries to drag him off. “He’s going to burn them and the scent will remind him of me! Moonbin! I’m going to die alone! Lonely and alone! My cat farm’s going to eat me alive!”
“I’m sure your dad will set you up with some nice heiress before that happens.” Moonbin grunts; Sanha’s been harder to drag around since his growth spurt last month. “This is ridiculous! What does he think of you giving him all these things anyway?!”
“Um…” Sanha mutters. “He doesn’t know?”
“Wait, what?” Moonbin asks, standing upright again and making Sanha topple over with the unexpected dip in force. “What’d you do, ding dong ditch the cologne at his front door?”
“No, I’d have to do it as his gate, and that would never work. They probably have cameras.” Sanha rolls his eyes, like Moonbin’s being absurd. “I… snuck it into his locker? Before school started?”
“You’re doing this secret admirer style?” Moonbin repeats. What in tarnation. “Sanha. Are you out of your mind?”
“A lot of people like him even if you don’t.” Sanha huffs, still on the ground, knees up and arms crossed atop them. “It’s embarrassing! Everyone will know if I just ask him!”
“Sanha you’re being absurd- stop doing that lip thing! No, your eyes are not that big I fucking swear to Go-”
Moonbin helps him pick out a Diptyque candle in Verveine, that should shouldn’t clash too much with the cologne.
Sanha drags Moonbin to the Gifts & Novelty Items counter to help him pick out a fountain pen two days later, despite Moonbin’s unprofessionally loud protests and insistance that Dongmin won’t enjoy the gift unless he’s on the brink of retirement and about to lose sight in his right eye.
On Friday they pick out a pair of crew socks and cuff links, which makes absolutely no sense because their uniforms includes both pieces but Moonbin has long since realised his resistance is fruitless.
“I’m only doing this because you’re a kid.” Moonbin sighs. Sanha had somehow found his address and showed up in some fancy Cadillac at eight in the morning on a Saturday so Moonbin could help him pick out an instant camera.
“Yes Mr. Love Master.” Sanha snides, voice cracking since he isn’t used to being up this early either. “Guide me with your experience. Teach me your ways.”
Minhyuk snorts and spills a Venti Iced Latte in the making when Moonbin tells this story on Monday. Their breaks miss each other’s this time, but Moonbin picks up two smoothies on his way to the Starbucks counter. He probably makes more than any other retail employee in the building, with Sanha and Co’s lavish tipping, so it’d be selfish if he didn’t share the love. The Vitamin C seems to do Minhyuk good because he looks more or less back to his old self when Moonbin hands him the drink.
“Love Master.” Minhyuk laughs.
“Don’t mock me.” Moonbin glares, but it only makes Minhyuk laugh harder.
“If you were a love master… Sanha wouldn’t still be buying his way into someone’s heart.” Minhyuk replies, dropping a few rags over the spill so he can keep on working over them.
He’s not wrong.
Two weeks later, Sanha works up the courage, even without Moonbin’s prompting.
“He was… wearing it.” Sanha says, slower than he usually speaks, mouth not fully closing when he’s done, eyes glazed over and looking somewhere over Moonbin’s shoulder.
“Wearing what?” Moonbin prompts, when Sanha seems content to turn into a plant in the Estee Lauder lady’s chair. She really doesn’t like them.
“The watch we picked out.” Sanha continues, at the same pace. Moonbin remembers the watch; it was a simple NOMOS Tangomat Datum with a black leather band and silver details. Much plainer than he had thought someone as effusive as Sanha would pick, but apparently Dongmin has more demure tastes.
They seem like they’d be cute together, if Moonbin lets himself think about it, which he doesn’t.
“That’s a good sign.” Moonbin nods. At least the gifts are getting to the guy.
“I think I’m going to tell him.” Sanha decides, in that same breathy voice.
Moonbin opens his mouth, the characters for ‘about time’ forming in his throat, but he bites them back and nods stiffly instead.
“I’m going to tell him.” Sanha repeats, after a few more minutes of silence, sans the rustle of Moonbin sorting men’s crewneck shirts by colour.
“Tell me what happens.” Moonbin replies, voice soft in case he scares the brat off.
“I’ll… I have club again tomorrow, but I’ll be here on Thursday.” Sanha explains.
“You have a phone.” Moonbin rolls his eyes, unable to keep the bite out of his voice now that Sanha’s determined.
“I want to tell you in person.” Sanha replies, arm coming on Moonbin’s shoulder.
There’s something about the fact this is the moment Moonbin realises Sanha’s officially taller than him. Fucking brat.
“Love Master, your young grasshopper will report back on Thursday.” Sanha declares, giggling a little when Moonbin kicks at his shins in response, and bowing once before he skips out the door.
“They grow up so fast…” Moonbin mutters listlessly, not quite sure if he’s thinking or talking, while flicking little sesame seeds off the bagel in front of him and watching them scatter on the speckled floor.
“What was that?” Minhyuk asks, looking up from his croissant sandwich.
“Nothing.” Moonbin shakes his head. “Tell me about your day. I’m sick of talking about Sanha. You go to my high school right? How come I never see you around? What clubs are you in?”
Moonbin gets a phone call during his shift on Thursday, which he ignores without checking because that’s usually when his little brother calls to ask if they can eat McDonald’s for dinner. He does grab his phone to call when Jinwoo moves him to storeroom duty for the rest of his shift, and he’s in the back where customers can’t see him, but it’s not Wonbin’s number that shows up.
“Moooooooonbiiiin!” Sanha shrieks, and Moonbin doesn’t notice that he’s grinning. “I got a boyfriend before you you old man!”
“The student has defeated the master! In one vital blow of strength and dignity!” Sanha continues screaming, probably still at school because he has no sense of public decency. “This is anarchy! This is revolution! I have risen!”
Sanha doesn’t show up as much after that, now that he’s got both clubs and a boyfriend taking up his afternoons, and Minhyuk says he can tell Moonbin’s sulky but Moonbin’s pretty sure he’s lying. Moonbin’s happy for the kid, even if he’s way too young to be dating, and Sanha’s invited him to parties his classmates throw so Moonbin can finally meet this Dongmin but Moonbin’s got dinner to make and siblings to babysit and doesn’t vibe too well with the Pine Cove crowd anyway.
“But we get along!” Sanha protests, when Moonbin mentions feeling uncomfortable. “How about spring break? You should come to the beach with us! Bring a friend, okay? Everybody’s going to be covered with sand and shit, it’s fine!”
Moonbin ends up agreeing, and doesn’t mention the fact beach to Sanha probably means private villa resort while it means dingey blankets and hot dogs to Moonbin. It’s been a while, and he does want to meet Dongmin at some point if for no other reason than to scare him a little. They set the date for Saturday in two weeks, which gives Moonbin enough time to make sure his mom will be home to watch his younger brother, and when the day trip is just a week off Moonbin finds himself almost looking forward to it.
“Excuse me?” Moonbin hears, and instinctively turns his head to the customer, but it’s a high school kid with the rich fuck uniform on talking to Jinwoo. Moonbin’s at ease again, back slouching and he daydreams behind the cash register.
“What can I help you with today?” Jinwoo replies, and Moonbin doesn’t have to turn his head again to picture the practiced smile Jinwoo’s wearing.
“I’m looking for a perfume.” The boy replies, smiling as his fingers continuously interlace and release, and his foot shakes a little. “A floral one I think? For a woman in her mid 40’s; a house guest gift. I want to make a good impression.” He finishes, like that last part was supposed to be a secret.
“Moonbin is our resident perfume expert, he’ll have no trouble getting you sorted!” Jinwoo replies, motioning Moonbin to come over.
He’s really not looking forward to this; it’s hard to pick scents out for people that aren’t there, because there’s no telling how body chemistry will alter the scent and which notes come forward. There’s also a chance that the perfume could cause an allergy, which is another mess waiting to happen, but these annoyances pause when Moonbin reaches the student and notes that his scent is familiar. He smells of sweat, dry shampoo, but that’s not all.
He also smells like Terre d’Hermes, and going a little deeper, there’s the briefest hint of V Pour Homme, and maybe Moonbin’s delirious, but an even smaller hint of baby powder.
“This is terrible child rearing. What have I done?” Moonbin moans, leaning on the Starbucks pastry display again.
“I thought Sanha and his crush sorted everything out?” Minhyuk asks, piping whipped cream onto two strawberry frappuccinos.
“They sorted everything out too well! It worked!” Moonbin cries. “The Buzzfeed list worked! When they inevitably break out over who stole someone’s sandbox toy or whatever he’s going to remember that dumb ass list got him a boyfriend in the first place and try again!”
“Huh.” Minhyuk replies, standing up straight, drinks forgotten for a moment.
“What?” Moonbin replies, reaching for one of the cake pops.
“No, nope, nothing.” Minhyuk shakes his head, snapping out of the reverie and topping all the frappuccinos with clear lids. “Go on."
Moonbin takes work off the day before the beach trip so they can all drive up early and stay the night at Dongmin’s uncles fancy beach shack, and comes back on a Monday in high spirits. He’s expected to be greeted by a welcoming Jinwoo and petulant Myungjun, but instead the first thing he sees is a dark brown box, with a light blue bow, waiting for him in his cubby. There’s no note, no name, so he rips the bow off to read the side of the box.
Valentino Uomo it reads, in a crisp serif font.
They don’t carry this scent anymore, but Moonbin’s fragrance database is larger than his employer’s. Top notes of bergamont and myrtle, middle notes of hazelnut… and roasted coffee beans.