Knuckle Velvet, by Divyasri Krishnan

We oughta be proud to call ourselves the first proper Seedton gang, Yagga said, not like those three-teamers who skulked in the big K-Mart parking lot to smoke weed and catcall prepubescents, but a real Gang, capital G, the kind they’d make documentaries on.

“Documentaries?” I said.

“Preepoobessents?” Kimbo said.

Yagga looked between the two of us, sighed like a punctured balloon, and deflated back into the moth-eaten velvet loveseat he’d taken as his throne. “Jesus H. Christ,” he muttered, “you guys are a buncha losers.”

Kimbo, as was his way, bristled at that. We called him Kimbo after Kimbo Slice, but joking-like, since he was this seedling-thin white kid with pizza face, the temper of a pitbull, and about a sixteenth of an ounce of muscle backing it up.

“We can be a Gang, Yagga,” he said, “I’ll do it, I’ll be in your Gang.”

Yagga kept his head low, waiting. This was his way. He was the firecracker under our butts, the leader, Peter Pan with his tinsel crown and eyes like little chips of sea glass that made all the old ladies give him money and pastries. But when he wanted something from us, he withered. Like he was a green growing thing, and we were withholding his sun.

I was quiet now because I wasn’t sure how much I liked our chances as a gang, capital G or no. Being in a gang meant marking territory and roughhousing, as far as I knew. The three of us represented the full range of the BMI scale, Kimbo on one end, me on the other. We wouldn’t be much use in any fight. Wouldn’t last the week, much less get any documentaries, except maybe one of those unsolved murders shows.

Seedton, MA: Three local schoolboys found dead behind town K-Mart. Whodunnit?

But Yagga’s blonde mop was dangerously close to brushing his knees, and Kimbo had his mouth set, and I couldn’t be chicken now, not now.

“Okay,” I relented. And the way Yagga’s head snapped up, the fringe shaking from his forehead enough for me to catch the light of both his eyes, made a lot of the worries go away like that.

“Knew I could count on you, Reaper,” he said warmly. He jumped up like his butt was spring-loaded. “We’ll need a headquarters, a secret meeting time, passwords and stuff. But you boys don’t worry about anything, I’ll get it all set up.”

Kimbo screwed a finger into his ear contemplatively. “Can’t we just meet here?”

“Here?” Yagga looked around; under his scornful gaze, our little hideout seemed to sour. The stained skylight that filtered teakwood rays of sun suddenly seemed dirty, small. The blankets we’d thrown on the concrete for warmth looked threadbare. Even the loveseat seemed to lose some of its warmth.

“Listen,” he said almost placatingly, “this old place did us good. It was fun, but it’s quaint, worn down-like. You get me?”

“Quaint?” Kimbo asked.

Yagga waved a dismissive hand. “Old, I mean. You get? It’s time for us to move on.”

When Kimbo nodded, he smiled. Yagga smiled two ways. The first belonged to his parents’ son, braces-straight, the smile of a sixteen-year-old who knew words like “quaint” and “prepubescent”. The second was saved for us. It was crooked, hitched higher on the left, and left hidden the dimples old ladies loved so much. A good smile, full of light. The sight planted little pearls in our chests.

He turned to me. “What about you, Reaper?”

“Sure,” I said.

Another smile, bright as the last, which was Yagga’s way. Never doing anything by halves.

“Let’s shake on it, then,” he said, sticking out his hand like we’d seen his daddy do. Kimbo took it first, limply, though the kid was probably trying his best. Then it was my turn.

Yagga’s eyes went right into mine. He had a hard grip, already alchemizing some of his suburban softness into proper gang steel, but his skin was soft. My fingers slipping against knuckle velvet.

“You won’t regret it,” he said earnestly, quietly, just for me. “We’ll make it good. I swear, you and me together. You won’t regret it.”

I was sure, then, in the way you sometimes get flashes of the future kicked into your vision by a touch or a word, that I would. That somehow this would rot, whatever glistened like bared fruit or flesh between us. But his pearl was still rolling around inside me. Clinking against my ribs. And as soft as his hands were in mine, so were mine in his.

Divyasri Krishnan studies at Carnegie Mellon University. Her work is published or forthcoming in Muzzle Magazine, Rejection Letters, Arc Poetry, and elsewhere. She is a Best of the Net finalist, and she reads for the Adroit Journal. As yet, she cannot raise the dead.

<– Early Riser, by David Lee Zweifler

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