“We don’t even know what that liquid is, Poppy,” he says, grimacing. “You could have contracted a disease.”
I throw my arms out to my sides. “I’m alive, aren’t I?”
His eyes narrow. “What else?”
“What else . . .”
“. . . do you like?” he clarifies. “Besides seeing any movie, alone, in the swamp theater.”
“You don’t believe me?” I say.
“It’s not that,” he answers. “I’m just fascinated. Scientifically curious.”
“Fine. Lemme think.” I look out the window just as we’re passing an exit with a P.F. Chang’s. “Chain restaurants. Love the familiarity. Love that they’re the same everywhere, and that a lot of them have bottomless breadsticks—ooh!” I interrupt myself as it dawns on me. The thing I hate. “Running! I hate running. I got a C in gym class in high school because I ‘forgot’ my gym clothes at home so often.”
The corner of Alex’s mouth curves discreetly, and my cheeks heat.
“Go ahead. Mock me for getting a C in gym. I can tell you’re dying to.”
“It’s not that,” he says.
His faint smile inches higher. “It’s just funny. I love running.”
“Seriously?” I cry. “You hate the very concept of cover songs yet love the feeling of your feet pounding against pavement and rattling your whole skeleton while your heart jackhammers in your chest and your lungs fight for breath?”
“If it’s any consolation,” he says quietly, his smile still mostly hidden in the corner of his mouth, “I hate when people call boats ‘she.’”
A laugh of surprise bursts out of me. “You know what,” I say, “I think I hate that too.”
“So it’s settled,” he says.
I nod. “It’s settled. The feminization of boats is hereby overturned.”
“Glad we got that taken care of,” he says.
“Yeah, it’s a load off. What should we eradicate next?”
“I have some ideas,” he says. “But tell me some of the other things you love.”
“Why, are you studying me?” I joke.
His ears tinge pink. “I’m fascinated to have met someone who’d wade through sewage to see a movie they’ve never heard of, so sue me.”
For the next two hours we trade our interests and disinterests like kids swapping baseball cards, all while my driving playlist cycles through on shuffle in the background. If there are any other saxophone-heavy songs, neither of us notices.
I tell him that I love watching videos of mismatched animal friendships.
He tells me he hates seeing both flip-flops and displays of affection in public. “Feet should be private,” he insists.
“You need help,” I tell him, but I can’t stop laughing, and even as he mines his strangely specific tastes for my amusement, that shade of humor keeps hiding in the corner of his mouth.
Like he knows he’s ridiculous.
Like he doesn’t mind at all that I’m delighted by his strangeness.
I admit that I hate both Linfield and khakis, because why not? We both already know the measure of things: we’re two people with no business spending any time together, let alone spending an extended amount of it crammed into a tiny car. We are two fundamentally incompatible people with absolutely no need to impress each other.
So I have no problem saying, “Khakis just make a person look like they’re both pantsless and void of a personality.”
“They’re durable, and they match everything,” Alex argues.
“You know, sometimes with clothes, it’s not a matter of whether something can be worn but whether it should be worn.”
Alex waves the thought away. “And as for Linfield,” he says, “what’s your problem with it? It’s a great place to grow up.”
This is a more complicated question with an answer I don’t feel like sharing, even with someone who’s going to drop me off in several hours and never think of me again.
“Linfield is the khakis of Midwestern cities,” I say.
“Comfortable,” he says, “durable.”
“Naked from the waist down.”
Alex tells me he hates themed parties. Leather cuff bracelets and pointy shoes with squared-off toes. When you show up somewhere and some friend or uncle makes the joke “They’ll let anyone in here!” When servers call him bud or boss or chief. Men who walk like they just got off a horse. Vests, on anyone, in any scenario. The moment when a group of people are taking pictures and someone says, “Should we do a silly one?”
“I love themed parties,” I tell him.
“Of course you do,” he says. “You’re good at them.”
I narrow my eyes at him, put my feet on the dashboard, then take them back down when I see the anxious creases at the corners of his mouth. “Are you stalking me, Alex?” I ask.
He shoots me a horrified look. “Why would you say something like that?”
His expression makes me cackle again. “Relax, I’m kidding. But how do you know I’m ‘good at’ themed parties? I’ve seen you at one party, and it was not themed.”
“It’s not about that,” he says. “You’re just . . . always sort of in costume.” He hurries to add, “I don’t mean in a bad way. You’re just always dressed pretty . . .”
“Amazing?” I supply.
“Confidently,” he says.