Bruce entered the small restaurant, the smell of tomato sauce and oregano immediately noticeable. Pleased, he smiled at the girl behind the counter, who smiled back. Her blond hair was in a ponytail, and she briskly wrote down an order as she held the telephone to her ear.
Bruce glanced around to find an empty table and found one by the front window. He took a seat, sighing slightly.
This place was more Dick’s style than his. His younger partner had scouted out the best pizza parlors in Gotham, Star City, and New York, he and Roy using them as their unofficial hang-outs. This place was not a teenage hang-out, because except for the starry-eyed teens in the corner, the other diners were adults.
At least the place wasn’t a chain. Zarettis’ was a family-owned pizza parlor, and the girl taking the order at the counter was probably the daughter of the owners. The smells coming from the kitchen were encouraging.
The tables were Formica-topped, easy to clean, and held chrome-topped shakers of Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. A chrome holder dispensed paper napkins, and a small red glass container inserted in netting held a single candle. There were no menus as the ordering was done at the counter.
Bruce noticed the healthy plants in pots in the window and hanging from the ceiling. A few pictures of Italy adorned the walls, and a jukebox was located at the far end of the room.
Typical, Clark. Why didn’t you suggest a diner?
He was more accustomed to five-star restaurants with large menus, sometimes written in French, and luxurious tablecloths, linen napkins, and cut-crystal candleholders and shining silverware. Waiters would approach discreetly and take his order, and a sommelier would present the wine list.
He felt a little uneasy, wondering if it was obvious that he didn’t belong in a place like this.
Bruce observed the hurrying pedestrians outside the window. The light outside was late afternoon sunlight, people leaving their jobs and eager to get home or to get ready for a date.
Bruce studied the menu on the boards set back and above the counter. Standard Italian fare, with ziti, spaghetti, meatballs, sausage, peppers, grinders of all kinds, side dishes of onion rings and French fries, fish plates, scallops, and a long list of pizzas.
Diana would love this place. Steve says she’s totally hooked on Man’s World pizza.
The tiny bell over the door jingled as a new customer entered, and an amused voice said, “See anything you like?”
Bruce turned his attention to the newcomer. “I think so.”
Clark grinned, his hands in his jacket pockets. It was his Metropolis Sharks jacket. He had one for the Monarchs, too. He wore jeans and sneakers and glanced at Bruce’s tan slacks, dark-blue turtleneck sweater, and polished loafers.
“Casual,” Clark said in approval, Bruce rolling his eyes.
“Well, you did stress that.”
Clark took his jacket off and revealed a light-blue T-shirt, accentuating his muscles.
“Well, a thousand-dollar suit wouldn’t fit in here.”
“Do I fit in here?”
Soft affection shone in blue eyes behind the glasses. “Of course.”
Bruce relaxed, not feeling quite so out-of-place. He smirked, “Well, what do you recommend?”
“Oh, they do it all well here, but the best pizza is the chicken-and-broccoli with tomato slices.”
“Well, that sounds all right.”
“Do you want to choose different toppings? We could get a pizza divided in half, or two different pizzas.”
“I’ll share. And the toppings sound fine to me.”
“Great. I’ll go order.” He stood and headed for the counter, then turned back. “Oh, a side order of onion rings or French fries?”
Bruce waved his hand. “Go for both. You’re paying, after all.”
Clark grinned and turned back, greeting the girl at the counter. “Hello, Gina.”
Clark chatted with Gina as he gave his order, and Bruce couldn’t help smiling. His friend was a person who drew people in, as Dick did, and charmed them effortlessly. Despite his bumbling cover, Clark had plenty of friends. Lois would smirk and call him ‘Smallville’ and tease him endlessly, but she was a fierce friend who would eviscerate anyone who hurt her Daily Planet partner. Diana loved him, all the JLA enjoyed his company, and Dick worshipped him.
He watched as Clark came back and sat down. “Should be about fifteen minutes.”
Clark looked very relaxed as he stretched his legs out. “So, how was your day?”
“Oh, the usual. The board meeting was interesting, but I still had to mediate between Carstairs and Mellon. Those two are like oil and water.” His eyes grew shadowed. “Clark, why did you choose this place?”
“Oh, you had me over for dinner at the Manor last week. I thought you might enjoy seeing how the other half lived.”
Clark nodded. “I come from Smallville, Bruce. Pizza and ice cream parlors and diners. No wine lists or maitre d’s.”
“Is all that a bad thing?”
“No, just different.”
Bruce traced a finger on the tabletop. “Do you think that five-star restaurants and pizza joints can come together?”
One of the customers went to the jukebox. The clink of a quarter started the song.
“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie/That’s amore.”*
Bruce’s eyes widened and Clark beamed.
“When the world seems to shine like you’ve had too much wine/That’s amore.”
Bruce blinked. Well, Dean Martin had a smooth, mellow voice.
“…like a gay tarantella.”
Clark’s eyes were sparkling. He was holding back laughter.
“When you dance down the street with a cloud at your feet/You’re in love.”
Clark leaned forward. “I can arrange that,” he said in a low voice.
Bruce burst out laughing and Clark joined him. Bruce grasped his old friend’s hand.
“Dino has spoken.” Bruce smirked.
& & & & & &
The pizza was good, just as Clark had promised, and so were the onion rings and French fries. There was fresh crusty bread and olive oil for dipping, and even a noisy family that came into the restaurant halfway during their meal didn’t bother Bruce.
He decided that a pizza parlor wasn’t such a bad place for a first date.
*"That’s Amore" was written by composer Harry Warren and lyricist Jack Brooks in 1952, and became a hit for singer Dean Martin in 1953.