"Isn't it true that there is no such thing as a hard-shell taco?" Sophie asks in Jason's direction as their eyes follow a Taco Bell out the car window closest to the side he was slumped against.
"What do you mean? Of course, they exist. Have you never had a Doritos Locos Taco?" He says still staring out the window at what would now be the 94th palm tree they had passed since they began their drive down the Santa Monica Freeway.
"I know they exist. I just meant that it's not a part of authentic Mexican cuisine."
He stays silent for a moment. "Well, just because a certain aspect of a dish isn't traditional, it doesn't mean a contemporary version of it can't surpass the original." They lock eyes and he blinks at Sophie vacantly, indifferently waiting for her to break the silence. It's her turn to respond, but if she doesn't, well, he didn't have the energy to carry on the conversation anyway.
"Are you saying you prefer hard-shell tacos over soft-shell tacos?"
"Yeah." She maintains eye contact with him as she waits for his reasoning, but they only end up staring at each other for what becomes an undoubtedly weird length of time for two cousins to be doing so.
"Why?" she asks and finally blinks, breaking the silence and the staring contest.
He blinks. "They taste better," he says, taking it upon himself to end the discussion there as he turns his attention from the window to a game on his phone whose muted sounds of swords clashing, fighters grunting, and monsters roaring in some magical kingdom had provided ambient music for the past three hours. She's surprised he held off playing for so long, but after passing their one hundred and eleventh palm tree, he had probably humored himself with the real world enough. He most definitely preferred to immerse himself in that fantasy land, and while Sophie didn't agree with his preference, she could at least understand it: he was comfortable there. He was accomplished there. He was accepted there. And Sophie was glad he had a place where he could be all those things if not here, in reality.
She debates whether or not to ask him another question. Maybe she can ask him about how he's liking the California sun? Or where he stands on the classification of tomatoes as a fruit or vegetable? Or what his favorite thing to get at Taco Bell is? She decides to ask him all three to which he replies, "it's alright," "it's knowledge to know the tomato is a fruit but wisdom to not put it in a fruit salad," and "Crunchwrap Supreme."
They sit in silence for the rest of the car ride. Jason continues to play on his phone, occasionally glancing out the window to avoid motion sickness and to see if his opinion about palm trees has changed. It hasn't. Sophie zones out looking at the head of the leather seat in front of her with the outline of her uncle's head poking out the sides until fatigue takes over and she feels her eyelids drooping down. It takes a lot out of both of them, her thinking of so many different questions to ask and him thinking of so many deadpan answers to respond with. But even so, she knows a part of him is happy to feel like he is engaged in reality, to be a living, breathing person with insight and opinions that people actually care to listen to and want more of. And for those brief but precious moments that he does come to visit Sophie in the real world, she is always glad to have him there with her.