Do Not Disturb by A.R. Torre
Thank you for always being proud of me; you are the best father a girl could ever wish for. I am so lucky to have you.
IN MARATHON, FLORIDA, on mile two of the old Seven Mile Bridge, there is a tree. It has grown out of a crack on the pavement, starting out as a weed, then a stalk, and is now a teenage pine, standing five feet tall, with branches that extend out the width of a car. It squats on a barren strip of concrete that is the old bridge, pavement stretching for miles in both directions before dead-ending into air, sections of the bridge destroyed—years ago—in an attempt to forbid human weight to ever rest upon it again. Now the island of hot asphalt is home only to birds, rain, salt air, and this tree. It is an impossibility, this pine, growing in such an inhospitable place. No dirt or nutrients to pull from, stiff, unyielding concrete surrounding its roots. Yet it has grown. From a weed to a tree, its roots have pushed aside concrete, fed on nothing yet thrived regardless, surviving hurricanes, tornados, and droughts, springing branches and needles with uncontained gusto.
I saw the tree when I was fifteen, my head resting against a warm window, headphones on, music drowning out the incessant sounds of Summer and Trent. Our family had flown to Miami, then rented an SUV and driven down to Key West. The tree had caught my attention, my eyes sticking to it as the vehicle swept alongside it, our tires on the new bridge, my view interrupted seconds later as my father drove on. At the time, the tree fascinated me.
Now, it terrifies me.
It makes me realize that no matter how much I may starve my desires, may shield myself from triggers and pitfalls… it can survive. The blackness in my mind can live, can grow into something too big to control.
“Kiss me. Now.”
I REMEMBER FIRST-DATE jitters. My first date was with a boy named Josie. His name should have been the first tip-off. The second should have been his excellent sense of style, movie selection (Hairspray), and his propensity to wave his hands in the air excitedly when describing the latest season of America’s Next Top Model. But I was fifteen, na?ve, and spent the entire dinner tongue-tied and nervous, clasping and unclasping my hands underneath the Ruby Tuesday table while wondering what I’d do with my hands when he kissed me at the end of the date.
He didn’t kiss me. There was an awkward handshake before I fled inside my home, the rest of the night spent bawling into my pillow while I dissected every piece of the date and tried to figure out where I went wrong. Being born without a penis. That’s where I went wrong. If only I’d had a fairy godmother patting my shoulder consolingly while giggling into her fabulously embroidered handkerchief.
Now, eight years later, those first-date jitters are back. But they are of a completely different variety. I stare across the table at Jeremy, and wonder if I will make it through the date without trying to kill him.
The good news is, he is most definitely straight. Straight in an all-American beautiful way that makes Josie look like last week’s lunch meat. I focus on his features, a strong face housing thick lashes that frame deep brown eyes. Eyes that are watching me closely, a smile playing across the sexy mouth that hides a perfect set of pearly whites. A smile. He should not be smiling. I frown at him, which prompts a laugh from his side of the table.
“Stop scowling.” He reaches across and grabs my hand, capturing it before I can slide it under the table. “It only makes you sexier and…” He pauses, carefully examining the surface of my hand, his large palms dwarfing my smaller one. “I can’t have pissed you off already. We haven’t even ordered.”
Ordered. My villainous thoughts get distracted by the concept of restaurant food. I, since my one successful venture into the light, have started to tinker with the idea of grocery shopping. Stopping my food-by-mail program and entering the world of raw meat, fresh fruit, and local produce. Surely my nutrition is a worthy excuse to leave the apartment. I close my mind to that justification and look at the menu, gingerly touch the edge, flip it open, and stare at the possibilities.
All thoughts of death and mayhem disappear when I see the steaks, scattered among the images casually, as if it is no big deal to have a hunk of red, fresh meat—one that will be touched by the sizzle of the grill and nothing else. I swallow, worried that I will physically drool all over the laminated pages.
We are interrupted by a waitress, an exhausted stick of deep wrinkles and frizzy hair, who barely glances our direction as she pulls out her order pad. “What’ll you have?”
Jeremy looks at me. “Please, go ahead.”
My eyes dart across the page, indecision gnawing at my gut as I scan from one delicious entrée to the next. “I’ll have the filet, please.”
“Side?” she drawls.
“Baked potato, please. Loaded.” The thought of fresh sour cream and, ohmygod, real butter sends a shot of euphoria through me. Jeremy sends me an odd glance and I realize, my cheeks stretched tight, that I am beaming.
“Yes, please. With Ranch. And could I also get a side of broccoli?” My eyes trip and stall over the vegetable list. “And mushrooms,” I quickly add, her pen stalling as she glances my way. Her pen. It is cheap, a Bic whose end has been chewed down to a twisted, gnarled end of missing plastic. I wonder, my eyes catching on it, if—jabbed quickly enough—it would stab through the tanned skin of her neck. “And green beans.” Her mouth twists in a grimace of sorts. “Please,” I add. Please. Please let me stand over your body and watch you die. I’ll add a pretty please if you promise to bleed heavily.