It started with the caprese. You couldn't just order it. No. It had to be a certain style, a certain size, a half order. Gluten free. Was the balsamic from Italy? What region? And what about the basil? Locally grown? Full leaves or those pathetic little sprinkles? Then the wine. A house red wasn't good enough. You had to indulge in the whole indecent ritual of interrogation all over again, a fly hovering over the banquet table before finally lighting on the bottle. And that pretentious display masquerading as tasting - as if you really were a connoisseur! What is it you're afraid of? What consequence do you think will befall you if every last detail isn't just so? What cataclysmic global catastrophe could possibly result from the wrong kind of basil leaves. What if I were that bottle of wine or that caprese?
It started with the caprese. I like a good caprese. A GOOD caprese. Not some wannabe prepackaged, marinated in the store, cherry tomato, mozarella ball pretender. I want tomatoes thick as steak slabs, fresh from the garden, ripened in the sun, red and sweet and just this side of watermelons, with hunks of mozarella to match sliced off a round big as your head. And fat, wide basil leaves that say "Here is a salad!" The wrong olive oil or balsamic can ruin the whole thing, and then what's the point? You only get so many capreses in your lifetime. A bad caprese is a theft, a little death.
It started with the caprese. The two of them watching each other, the one biting a lip, the other desperately pressing his suit with the waiter, justifying, excusing, rationalizing, with a belligerence born of a need nobody else could fathom, maybe not even him. I wanted to rise above it. I wanted to be anywhere but there. I wanted to fend them both off and make room on the plate for myself. I didn't want to be the bridge, the mediator, the translator. I ordered a cocktail and marinated in my own juices.