“H-have a nice n-night,” the cashier said, handing him his bag.
“Yeah, thanks.” Sangwoo took the bag with barely a glance at the cashier. It was the same cashier as always, the scrawny kid with the sad, kicked puppy eyes that was usually covered in bruises. But barely a glance was still a glance and Sangwoo caught something a little different about the kid. Lipstick. The kid was wearing lipstick. The cashier was a guy, but oddly, it didn’t look out of place on him. He realized that he was staring too long when the kid started to blush. “Sorry. Have a good one,” Sangwoo said, heading out.
The incident was soon forgotten, at least until their next encounter. Sangwoo stopped into the convenience store after work to grab a few things for dinner. He headed up to the counter and recognized the kid again. This time, lipstick wasn’t the only makeup that he wore. The lipstick had been joined by a little bit of eyeshadow and a touch of blush on the cheeks. Or maybe that was a real blush. The kid was giving him a pretty fluttery look. The guy definitely wasn’t into girls, that was for sure. Sangwoo set his purchases on the counter and read the kid’s nametag, Yoon.
When Yoon reached out to take the cup ramen he’d selected, Sangwoo caught a flash of color on his nails. This kid was weird. It was definitely a guy. He was so scrawny, his Adam's apple was on prominent display, but here he was wearing makeup and getting manicures. It was weird, but it really didn’t affect Sangwoo’s night any. His old man used to yell all sorts of hate-filled slurs, but Sangwoo figured he had better things to do with his life than police other people’s sex lives. He had his own sex life after all. Besides, the kid rang him out as quick as he always did, so it wasn’t affecting his performance any. Yoon took his money, gave him change and handed him his bag with the same stuttered phrase he always issued. Sangwoo nodded at him and went on with his night, heading home to eat and sleep.
The next few times that Sangwoo popped in to grab some soju or a sports drink, he noticed that Yoon wasn’t there. He only noticed because it was some smelly fat guy checking him out. Like, literally checking him out. The old fatty was practically panting over him and he avoided the place for a good month before the convenience of it on his route home made him pop in again for some condoms. He noticed that Yoon was back on and grinned as he picked up his purchases and headed to the counter.
“Hey, you’ve been gone for a while,” Sangwoo said.
Yoon looked up, surprised, and Sangwoo noticed that something was different about him. The shape of his jaw was different. Yoon had clearly had a jawline reduction, taming the bone that used to jut out into the more pleasing V-shape that women favored. It made his face look a lot softer than it looked before. He also noted the dark thumb shaped bruise on Yoon’s jaw, despite an obvious attempt at covering it with makeup. So, the kid was still with whatever shitty sugar daddy was slapping him around. Not that it was any of his business.
“I h-had surgery,” Yoon said, a natural blush rising to his cheeks as he looked down to ring up Sangwoo’s things.
“Looks good,” Sangwoo said, giving him a winning smile.
Yoon looked up, shocked. Various emotions flickered over the kid’s face before they settled on a look like adoration. Sangwoo had clearly made the kid’s night. “Thank you,” Yoon whispered, looking back down and quickly finishing his scanning. He took Sangwoo’s money and bagged up his purchases before handing him his back.
“Thanks.” Sangwoo gave the kid a wave before he headed out.
He saw Yoon consistently for a few months. He had a front-row seat to Yoon’s slow transformation. It was like watching a snake slowly shed its skin. Yoon made a transition from polo shirts to blouses. Baggy jeans got tighter and Sangwoo noticed that his ass and thighs were the only places that Yoon had any meat on him. No wonder the kid was gay. All his assets were in that department. Though maybe gay wasn’t quite what the kid was as the tight pants turned to skirts. Ears were pierced. Little sparkly studs winked at Sangwoo from behind dark hair that was now long enough to brush the back of his shoulder blades.
Then the kid was gone again. Luckily, the old fat guy wasn’t there either. Some bored looking college kid was manning the register for a few weeks before Yoon reappeared with bandages around his neck.
“What happened?” Sangwoo asked, nodding to the bandages around his neck.
Yoon’s hand fluttered up to the bandages before falling away and taking the candy bar Sangwoo was buying. “A-another surgery,” Yoon said.
Sangwoo tilted his head. Surgery on the neck? He shrugged. “Get well soon then,” he said.
Yoon offered him his usual shy smile. “Thank you.”
Sangwoo was curious enough to look up plastic surgery for the neck. If Yoon was continuing to go for the girly look, he’d probably gotten his Adam's apple shaved down. He didn’t get a chance to confirm it because the military came knocking for his compulsive service. He wondered what would happen to the underfed slip of a boy at the convenience store, but it wasn’t really a thought that plagued him. He did his two years of service and totally didn’t glance around now and then looking for that weird boy. Really, he’d practically forgotten him by the time he got back to his regular life. He got a different job and started school again and life just didn’t take him past the old convenience store anymore.
Despite the convenience store not being on his way, he still found his feet taking him there a few months back into civilian life. He walked in and froze. Yoon was still there. But Yoon was no longer the fey scrawny boy he’d been before Sangwoo left. Yoon had breasts. They were quite sizeable, but then, even bee stings would be obvious on his skinny frame. Or maybe her frame now? Fuck, he wasn’t even sure what to think. And then Yoon looked up at him. His eyes widened in recognition.
“You’re back,” Yoon said shyly.
“Yeah. You’re pretty different,” Sangwoo said, heading to the counter, taking in the view. He’d been right about the Adam's apple thing. That knobby protrusion was gone, leaving a smooth creamy white throat. Yoon’s eyes were different. A double eyelid surgery was added to the list of surgeries Yoon had while he was away. His nose was still the same. “So, are you a she now?”
Yoon blushed and looked away.
“Ah, that was probably rude huh? Sorry. I feel like the military makes you a bit ruder after all that hanging out with the boys for two years,” Sangwoo said.
“It’s ok,” Yoon said softly.
“Well, let me get what I came for and I’ll get out of your hair. It looks nice long by the way,” Sangwoo said, smiling at him.
Yoon blushed again, his hand reaching up to fiddle with a lock of hair that had fallen over his shoulder. “Thank you.”
Sangwoo grabbed what he’d been after, but lurked around a corner watching Yoon for a minute. He was kind of fascinated by Yoon’s transformation. The kid was like a human butterfly, transforming from an awkward caterpillar into something else. Something a lot prettier. And that was weird to think of a boy as pretty. He finally shook himself out of his strange thoughts and took his items up to let Yoon ring him up.
His new schedule didn’t give him a lot of time to be traipsing out of his way to Yoon’s convenience store, but Sangwoo still made it a point to pop in every once in a while. Yoon didn’t seem to have any more surgeries in that time, but Sangwoo noticed that the bruises the kid often had were getting more and more visible and gruesome.
No makeup in the world could cover the hand-sized bruise on Yoon’s delicate face. The swelling looked painful. Sangwoo had long since thought himself incapable of empathy, but he felt pretty bad for the fragile thing. “Whatever money he’s giving you, it can’t be worth this,” Sangwoo said, openly staring at the bruise.
Yoon dropped his face down, letting his hair slide forward to cover his face. He mumbled something that Sangwoo couldn’t hear.
“Did you want me to hear that? Cause I can’t hear when you’re whispering to your boobs.”
Yoon’s shoulders hunched forwards. Sangwoo was distracted by the motion. He found himself thinking that burying his face in the crease of those fake breasts would probably be fun. He didn’t know what was under that skirt, but maybe he could work with it.
Yoon looked up, eyes all dewy with tears. “He doesn’t give me anything. Only hell.”
Huh. That wasn’t the answer Sangwoo was expecting, but he wasn’t exactly surprised by it. It was a rare visit where Yoon didn’t have some bruise or bandage visible. And the times that he didn’t have one, there was probably one hidden under his clothes. So, it was one of those shitty domestic situations. Those were the ones he hated the most. “Can’t you run away?”
“I tried.” Yoon set his bandaged wrists on the counter.
Sangwoo whistled. “You cut the wrong way if you wanted to die.”
“What?” Yoon looked up at him, confused.
Sangwoo picked up one of those delicate wrists. He’d never held a bird before, but he imagined that this was what one of those hollow boned creatures felt like. Infinitely breakable. He held Yoon’s wrist in his hand and ran the finger of his other hand along the obvious vein his wrist. “You have to cut down the vein to bleed out quickly. You release more blood than a little cut across. Unless you hit an artery. Then it will only take minutes to bleed out. But most people aren’t capable of slashing their own throat.” Sangwoo reached out, his hand hovering over that delicate throat.
Considering the obvious history of abuse this kid had, it was strange that he didn’t shy away from Sangwoo’s reach. In fact, he seemed to lean in, as if waiting for contact. What a weird guy. He set Yoon’s hand back on the counter gently. “You probably shouldn’t let strangers grab you like that. You’ll just end up with another dangerous predator.”
“You’re not a stranger,” Yoon said.
“Oh? Do you even know my name?” Sangwoo asked.
Yoon blushed and looked away. “O-Oh Sangwoo,” he said quietly.
Sangwoo’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “How did you know?”
“We went to college together for a semester,” Yoon explained.
“Huh. Well, knowing my name doesn’t mean you know a thing about me. I could be way more dangerous than what you have now,” Sangwoo said with a smirk.
“You’ve never treated me like I was disgusting,” Yoon said. “Even though I’m a freak, you smile and say nice things.”
Sangwoo shrugged. “It doesn’t cost me anything to be nice, even if you’re a little weird.”
“Still, I appreciate it,” Yoon said. “I’m always happy to see you.”
“Bet you’d be really happy to see me outside of work,” Sangwoo said.
Yoon’s eyes widened. “O-outside of work?”
“Not like a date or anything. Just for coffee. I’m kind of curious about you. You could tell me about yourself. Maybe I’ll tell you a bit about me too.” Sangwoo grinned at him. He wasn’t really sure why he was offering. He was already busy with school and work and his extra activities. Still, he was curious about Yoon. Having coffee with him once might satisfy that curiosity.
Yoon opened his mouth in surprise. No sound came out for a minute before he nodded quickly. “I...I would love that,” he said breathlessly.
Sangwoo chuckled at his eagerness and pulled out his phone. “What’s a good day for you? What’s the best way to contact you?”
They quickly exchanged schedules and contact information before Sangwoo headed home. He wasn’t sure what had possessed him to make the date. He tried to put it down to sheer curiosity, but it felt like there was something more. Something he didn’t want to acknowledge. He buried it as he went on with his week, telling himself he wasn’t looking forward to Thursday. But the week stretched out before him until Thursday arrived.