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Trigger

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Toni weaved between swarms of adolescents as a black leather off-the-shoulder bag bobbed against his side. He ran a hand over the brown curls at the nape of his neck in a feeble attempt to tame his hair. A small grunt of annoyance whistled between his lips as he ducked through the doorway into his final period mathematics class.

His friend, David, was leaning back in his chair while he exercised his fingers with a BlackBerry. Toni slipped off his bag, gave it a swift kick under his desk, and then yanked out a similar phone from the front pocket of his jeans. He scrolled through a series of menu screens and punched a few random buttons for good measure.

David, at last, gave a curt nod without glancing from his phone. Toni couldn’t be bothered to do more than mirror the motion. However, a barely perceptible grimace dragged down Toni’s lips as he caught sight of David’s new diamond studs. What a stupid rich boy.

Mr. Wiles began his lecture, and Toni discreetly slipped in his ear buds. He gripped his blue ballpoint so roughly that his hands turned ghost white. His print was dark and heavy, albeit neat. Toni focused only on the rock music blasting against his ears. He could feel the sounds vibrate like his pulsing heart. The sensations numbed his thoughts. Music was his drug.

Halfway through class, Mr. Wiles announced a five-minute break. Toni was vehemently displeased with this decision. He didn’t want to be forced to make small talk with the Barbie and
Ken dolls. Even the idea made his stomach curl into unruly knots. Still, he pulled out one of his ear buds so that he could join in the conversations around him.

“You should get a tattoo,” Sarah was saying to David, her boyfriend. The brown-haired, green-eyed girl leaned forward to press her palm flat against David’s chest. “Right here,” she added with a flirty giggle.

“Yeah, sounds like a plan,” Toni agreed with a quick smile. He leaned toward Sarah and asked, “where should I get mine?” He gave her a wink, and David, in turn, elbowed Toni in the ribs.

“Get your own girlfriend,” David said, his tone laced with annoyance. It was a fact that Toni was a magnet with his emerald eyes, agile frame, and soft curling hair.

“Anytime,” Toni replied, and he plastered on a grin.

“Seriously, why don’t you have a girlfriend?” Sarah asked suddenly, her voice critical rather than sympathetic.

Toni bit his tongue for a lack of words. God, he hated questions. People were always watching, asking, poking, and prodding. He felt like an animal behind bars at a zoo, with visitors waiting for him to say and do miraculous things when all he wanted was to go back to the jungle where he could be himself. He could practically feel manacles biting into his ankles.

“What, the old man won’t let you date?” David chortled before Toni had the chance to wrap his tongue around a socially acceptable response.

Heat blazed into Toni’s cheeks as his hands fisted beneath his desk. He couldn’t stand it when David talked about them. They weren’t even his parents. Hell, he was their pet more than anything: Your bag looks ratty, dear. Let us buy you a pretty leather one. Trim your hair, dear. You look like a bum. Yeah, right. At least his real mother had loved him. Not like the father who had run like a scared little boy as soon as his mother had died. He shouldn’t be in this school, with these people, under the leash and collar of strangers who only know how to keep up appearances and write a cheque.

Yet, there he was in the lap of luxury. A leather jacket hung off his loose frame, designer jeans coiled around his legs, and black Ray Bans rested over the bridge of his freckled nose. He was perfect, so he gave the perfect answer: “the old man has nothing to say about it.”

“You’re badass,” Sarah said with flickered eyelashes.

“Yeah, whatever,” David grunted as he crossed his arms over his chest and turned to face the board at the front of the room.

“Break time’s over,” Mr. Wiles announced, as if on cue.

Thank God. Toni shoved his ear buds in to kill the voices around him. Then he began to take notes once more. He could already feel his thoughts crowding. He imagined a series of balloons smacking against one another within his mind. One was eventually going to pop.

Toni started doodling on his paper to pass the time. He always drew stories with stick-people. He never meant to create any kind of plot, but he seemed to know the characters, their relations, and their lives. The woman wore a halo, the man had a forked tail, and the boy was incredibly small. Sometimes the woman was holding the boy; at others she was in the top far corner of the page. On Toni’s worst days, two additional figures would spill onto the sheet, and they would be large and overpowering and threatening. Toni hated those people, but not nearly as much as he wanted to hate the man with the tail peeking out from behind his back.



With a very tight grip, Toni was doodling when his pen pierced the thin paper and tore it into sections. Frightened, Toni glanced frantically around him to see if anyone had noticed. Luckily, no one had. Embarrassed, Toni closed his notebook and cranked up his music to a painful level. His fingers were trembling so much that he decided to curl his hands into tight balls inside his jacket pockets. He tried to focus on the music, the hammering thrum of the drums being beaten over and over.

The bell didn’t ring early enough. Toni gave David a playful slap on the back, threw a smile over to Sarah, and headed toward his escape. Neither of his so-called friends bothered to chase after him, though he did receive several exclamations from the girls he passed in the long, spindly hallways. He couldn’t help but roll his eyes under the shield of his shades. What a world. The more he thought about life, the more disgusted he became. They were all petty actors. Even he.

He slipped out the front doors and into spitting rain. Toni refused to put up his leather hood. He hated leather. Rather, he pulled his notebook from his bag as he walked toward the direction of his bus. It was a long ride, so he liked to draw. The scraps from his doodle spilled out and he plucked them from the spring grass. Placing the pieces on top of his book, he startled at the sight of the singular image that had not been torn into an unrecognizable picture: it was the woman with the halo, and the boy clutched to her chest. Toni swallowed a gulp of air and shuddered as a foreboding feeling wrapped around him like a sopping towel. Shaking, he glanced up to see his bus, the first one in the line-up. The bus wasn’t the only thing Toni saw. He stood stalk still as he clutched the torn paper section in his palm, and his eyes locked on the man with the imagined fork tail. Toni was robbed of his breath. The man was tall and middle-aged and everything Toni remembered, but he wasn’t his father. He was a stranger looking at him from across the road, his hand laced through a little girl’s. She wore a long yellow raincoat and was pressed against his side. Toni could hear the man murmuring to the child. She giggled in response, a small hand clapped to her mouth. He was the man who had abandoned Toni. The girl swung her arm together with the man’s, only he was no longer paying her close attention. Even with the rain beating down, Toni knew his father was peering at him through the haze. A small, choked sound resonated in the back of the boy’s throat.

The world froze. Toni stared. The stranger stared back. Thunder exploded around them like the drums in Toni’s music. The man ripped his gaze from his son to adjust the hood of the girl’s coat. Toni’s father tightened a hand around the child’s once more and turned. The boy watched his bus gun forward, while his heart thudded. He spared a glance at the section of paper still fisted within his palm. It was thin and soggy. He knew that his father was only paces away.

Toni threw his body in front of the vehicle without a sound.




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