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Tortilla Soup

Posted on 31 May 2022 @ 3:27pm by Lieutenant Isabel Castillo & Liam Knight

Episode: Our Path
Location: Taqueria los Cazadores, Bremerton, WA
Timeline: January 16, 2025

Isabel was nervous. She was nervous... and she didn't do nervous. That wasn't a thing. If there was ever anyone who was collected and in control of a situation, it was her, and yet...

She was nervous.

Several outfits lay strewn across her bed, pulled on, inspected in her mirror, and then discarded. It was cold and rainy and most of her going out clothes were better suited to warmer climes. She'd finally landed on a favorite pair of skinny jeans, black leather ankle boots and a bright blue sweater worn off one shoulder. Dark hair cascaded in loose ringlets over her shoulders and she shook it back, staring in the mirror for a second as if that might somehow stop her pacing.

She'd suggested 7:30 and then, in the morning as she reread the 7 word text from the night prior, realized she needed to make sure he was cleared to come onto base. A couple texts later and she had what he needed and had done the legwork to get him cleared. Still... she couldn't help wondering if the extra hoops might deter him.

She poked her phone where it sat on the edge of the sink in the bathroom, knowing there wouldn't be a text. It was another 7 minutes until he was supposed to be there anyway. She nudged it to bring up the lock screen all the same just for the phone to confirm that yes, it was in fact, only 7:23.

Liam sat in his truck, knee bouncing as he waited for the Marine guard to return with his ID. He had followed Isabel's instructions on where to go, but he was now wishing that he had left his house earlier if he would've known it would take this long for him to get into the base. He checked his watch again before looking up as the young man approached his window.

"Here you go sir, you're cleared to proceed," the Marine said handing his driver's license back before offering another card. "Please keep this visitor's pass on your person at all times." Liam accepted the pass with a nod as the Marine stepped back and waved him through. As Liam put his truck in gear, he pulled up his phone and re read Isabel's message on where to go. In a short while he was pulling up in front of what looked to him like apartment blocks. He sent a quick text to her has he shut off his truck and stepped out. He zipped up his Carhartt jacket before circling around to the front to wait. He wore a pair of jeans and a grey polo underneath his jacket. He'd showered and shaved at the gym before running home and changing then coming to the base. He felt his nerves start to eat at him as he waited, remembering their first meeting the night before.

It took a minute to get downstairs, but the moment that her phone's screen lit up with his text she snagged the jacket she had tossed over a chair, shoving her arms through the sleeves as she left the room, locking it behind her. She stepped out of the door of her building, coming down the walk, heeled boots clicking against the concrete as she went. Her face lit when she saw him and an unfamiliar wiggling sort of feeling twisted in her gut in a way that surprised her more than she anticipated.

She stopped just short of him, for an awkward moment unsure of how best to greet him. It had been an age since she'd been on a real first date. Should she hug him? Wave? Waving felt weird.

Liam had watched her come towards him and smiled. She looked radiant, her dark hair flowing down her shoulders. He felt his face get slightly hot as they both stood there awkwardly before he stepped forward and gave her a side hug. "Hey, you look stunning tonight," he said trying to defuse the awkwardness of the moment before stepping back. He then walked around to the passenger side as she followed him, "Hopefully I'm not too late. The guard at the gate took his time letting me in."

"Thanks," she said, offering him a warm smile as she followed him. "You're not late at all." He had, in fact, been almost painfully punctual, something she appreciated more than seemed reasonable. He pulled the door to the passenger side open for her and she hesitated, still kicking herself over how awkwardly she had greeted him. Tucking her bottom lip between her teeth she debated for only a fraction of a second before leaning in and pressing a quick kiss to his cheek. "You look nice yourself," she commented before pulling away and climbing up into the truck.

Her kiss had surprised him, but he felt his cheeks flush as he closed the door after her and crossed over to the driver side. Once inside, he fired the engine up and made sure the heater was on before he backed out of the space. "You're going to have to help me get out of here. I might've found my way in, but that doesn't mean I remember the route backwards," he said stealing a glance at her as he flashed her a smile. He found the main road and turned in the direction she pointed before chancing another glance. "Certainly is the perfect night for some tortilla soup isn't it," he said as he turned his wipers on to beat back the few flurries that had appeared.

"If by that you mean it is cold here in Washington," she said with a dry chuckle, "Yes... yes it is." She sighed then, crossing her arms and rubbing her hands against her thighs to warm them up. "It is seriously never this cold in San Antonio. Or if it is we all know the right answer is for everything to stop so we can all stay inside and be warm." She glanced over at him as he drove. It had really been nearly 24 hours ago that he'd been driving her to the shop in the tow truck and yet this felt different and in her eyes he looked different--like she was seeing him in a different light.

As they approached the gate, he slowed the truck as he rolled the window down. He started to hand the visitor pass to the Marine guard who accepted it and waved them through. Leaving the base entrance, he turned right and started heading towards the restaurant. "I can imagine it was a bit of a shock for you when you moved out here then," he said looking over at her with a wink, "The only thing I really know about Texas is it gets much hotter than it does here, and its drier."

"You should visit someday," she said, the comment out of her mouth before she had even considered the implications of it. "I mean, Texas is a good state to visit. If you ever decide to go look me up and I can give you pointers on what to see and where to eat. The barbeque alone is worth the trip." They lapsed into silence then, driving quietly for a few minutes before she spoke again. "So besides the tortilla soup, what's good at this place?"

He stole a glance over at her and gave her a slight smile. He had not been too bothered by the comment about visiting, but he thought it immensely cute that she had stumbled over herself in explanation. He gave an exaggerated thoughtful look, "Texas would be nice to visit. Someone told me about a fascinating souvenir shop across from the Alamo, but I can't remember who that was." He gave her a wink before signaling another turn. "And speaking of Cazadores, aside from tortilla soup, their carne asada is pretty good. Me and a few guys from work go their for lunch every now and again because they have a really good lunch deal," he said before glancing over at her. "$7.00 for a huge burrito with all the fixings plus rice and beans," he said. While it was true he had eaten there before, he had to chose sparingly when to partake. While delicious, the menu was not conducive to his fitness regime.

Small talk had never been Isabel's wheel house. She could do it. It was practically a requirement of working in the tourist industry. But it wasn't something she was particularly comfortable with. You could have an entire conversation in small talk and not actually learn a thing about the person you were talking to. She glanced across the seat to Liam, inspecting the side of his face for a moment before deciding on taking a chance. "You mentioned your relationship with your dad isn't great. Are you close with the rest of your family?"

He subconsciously gripped the steering wheel tighter at the mention of his father, but he caught himself and relaxed. He recalled the night before mentioning he and his dad weren't on the best of terms, so it was a fair question. Liam's relationship with his father was not good and practically non-existent, while his relationship with his mother was only slightly better. He sighed as he pulled up to a red light and watched the wipers go back and forth. "I'm an only child so no siblings to be close with. My relationship with my mom is a little better than my dad's, but not by much. We keep in touch occasionally, but they both weren't particularly thrilled with my career choice," he said glancing over at her watching him. He was struck again by her beauty there and he gave her a smile.

"They're both upset over your career choice?" she echoed back as a question. Her own parents were upset about her decision to join the Navy, but even in the strain of that choice they still had a solid relationship. Maybe it was just how her family worked, or maybe it was something to do with Hispanic families in general. They could be disappointed in your decision, but they wanted to be around for you to feel their disappointment. She caught his gaze for a moment, and felt a bustle of nervous energy ball up in her belly. She'd noticed he was handsome last night, but here, out of his work attire. She nibbled her lip, a bit of a nervous tic. "Do you think they'll ever get over it?" she asked.

Liam shrugged slightly as the light turned green. "I don't know, at this point It would be on them. But, I've done pretty well for myself," he said looking out ahead. It was true, his parent had not helped him in any way. Liam was where he was at in his life because he had worked to get himself there. While deep down he knew he wanted a better relationship with his mother, but his father had been a hard man to grow up with. There had not been much holding that fragile relationship together already. "My family comes from a long line of loggers on the Olympic peninsula. My dad was already a pretty hard man to get along with in the first place, but when I told him I didn't want to spend my life running up and down the sides of mountains choking trees," he said trailing off before looking over to her, "He didn't take to kindly to that."

She pressed her lips together as he spoke, oddly frustrated on his behalf. She didn't know his parents. She barely knew him. And yet the way he spoke about it made her want to comfort him--something she didn't know that he'd take kindly too. Or maybe she was projecting herself into what she thought she'd be like if the roles were reversed. His eyes had gone back to the road before she could say anything and she sighed, looking ahead out the wind shield at the flurries of snow. "That sounds... lonely..." she said finally. The words were out before she could stop them and she cringed inwardly. "I'm sorry, that sounded... worse... out loud than it did in my head." Dark eyes darted down to her hands where she fiddled awkwardly with the hem of her jacket for a moment.

He laughed slightly before giving her a reassuring look. "No worries, It was at first but I've gotten used to it. Just makes where I'm at all the more better," he said giving her a smile. He spotted the brightly colored sign of the restaurant on the right, so he turned off the road and pulled into the parking lot. After finding a space, he shut the engine off before grabbing a pair of gloves and pulling them on. He winked at her before pulling his collar up and stepping out, the cold wind stinging his face slightly. He felt bits of flurries landing on him as he walked around and pulled open her door for her to step out. As the walked towards the entrance, he took a chance and wrapped an arm around her pulling her close to him.

It wasn't a long walk to the door, but she grinned as he wrapped her with one of his arms, pulling her close. She adjusted slightly so she could snake an arm along his back at his waist, appreciative of the closeness. The thought ran through her head that she wouldn't mind terribly if he wanted to do the same thing without their jackets in the way.

Once they had been seated, he glanced through the menu before looking up at her. "So, still going for the tortilla soup? Or are you thinking of venturing out more," he said with an upraised eyebrow.

She'd settled into the seat across from him, coat removed and slung over the chair behind her. Truthfully she'd been distracted from the menu sneaking glances at him over the top of it. She wondered for a moment if he'd learned how to dress to his body type from his mother, or if it was a skill he'd picked up over time. The image she had of what a mechanic looked like off duty and how he was dressed didn't mesh in her head.

"Tortilla soup," she said with a chuckle, "and Birria Jalisco I think." Almost instinctively she pulled the corner of her lip between her teeth, taking him in more openly now. "Tortilla soup isn't really a whole dinner. Lunch maybe... but..." she shrugged. "I like food. What can I say?"

Liam laughed slightly, looking back down at the menu. "Nothing wrong with liking good food. I wasn't about to judge you based on your dinner choice," he said looking back and giving her a wink. He let his eyes linger for a moment longer, struck by how beautiful she looked. When she looked back at him, he winked before placing the menu down, "I think I'm going to get the carne asada, even though I said I would get the tortilla soup."

She grinned, catching his eyes lingering and carefully flipping her hair back over her shoulder. "You can have a bite of mine if you'd like," she said, returning his wink. The service was quick and orders were placed a few moments later, a dish of salsa and a basket of homemade chips, still warm, appeared between them. Isabel snagged one without hesitation, dipping a heap of the salsa onto the end and popping it into her mouth. She rolled her eyes exaggeratedly, an appreciative sound escaping her. "Thank God," she murmured. "I've been here 6 months and was starting to worry that I'd never find someplace with good salsa."

He smiled when she flipped her hair, revealing her bare shoulder. He took a sip from his drink before snagging a few chips of his own. After chewing, he gave her an upraised eyebrow, "Don't tell me you spent all your time in San Antonio and didn't learn a good salsa recipe?" He gave her a grin as she laughed slightly. There was something about Isabel that made Liam feel perfectly relaxed. He felt a few sparks as she laughed before he waited for her to answer him, the grin broadening as he did so.

"Oh... I know a good salsa recipe..." she commented, still chuckling. "It's not a questions of knowing a good salsa recipe. My Mami makes the best salsa in Texas... and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise." Her eyes flashed mischievously as she said it. She snagged another chip holding it delicately between two fingers and scooping with a practices motion getting just the right amount of salsa on the largest surface area of the chip and bringing it to her mouth without spilling a drop. "And so will any good Latina whose Mami's recipe is a carefully guarded family secret." She tried to be serious as she said it, but then couldn't help herself and laughed, bringing one hand up in front of her mouth just in case.

"What about you? Any secret family recipes or special dishes you are secretly world famous for?"

Liam took another dip of the salsa and chewed his chip while thinking. After washing it down with his drink, he looked back at her sheepishly. "You know, one thing about growing up around here is we aren't really known for our food," he said indicating the surrounding restaurant. He laughed slightly before continuing, "Personally, I have it on good authority that I make a mean Hamburger Helper."

That earned him a laugh, the movement making her wrinkle her nose and grin broadly as she did. "I see," she said, mock seriously, "Perhaps you should demonstrate this skill for me sometime?" Though her tone was amused her expression had softened slightly. They had barely been on this date for a minute and she already knew she wanted to see him again. Talking with him felt natural and easy, like she didn't need to think much beyond simply what came to her. And though she certainly noticed him appreciating the view she didn't feel like that was the only thing he appreciated and, in many ways, that was more attractive than anything else.

"Well, I would be honored," he said slightly bowing his head before looking back up at her. "Just promise you'll give me fair warning so I can clean my house? I'd hate you to see it in such dishevelment," he said giving her a slight smile at his joke. In all honesty, he was thrilled at the possibility of her seeing his home. He didn't want to push it, but there was something about her that made it seem right to want to see her again.

There was quiet then for a long moment broken only when their server delivered their food to the table. The smell of the soup hit her first and she knew immediately that this had been the right place to come. A nostalgic rush of homesickness ran through her and her eyes fluttered shut for just a moment as she inhaled the warm scent.

He looked down at his own food, the smells of spice and the cooked meat filled his nose. He looked up at Isabel and watched her in that moment. He could tell she was pleased by her choice in food, but there was something else there. He detected a small amount of sadness as he watched her close her eyes to breathe it in. He figured she was remembering her life back home, but he just watched her. He let a smile come over him as he waited for her to come back to the table.

She opened her eyes, glancing up at him sheepishly as she did. "Sorry," she murmured. "Tortilla soup is one of my Mami's specialties." She used the Spanish term as she said it and realized shortly after that she'd already used it twice. She often switched it to the more Anglo-acceptable phrase mama when speaking with someone who wasn't Hispanic, but hadn't really felt the need with Liam. A wiggle of recognition settled in her belly at the thought. Even in the 24 hours she'd known him she found it easy to simply be. He was watching her as those thoughts flashed across her face, eyes crinkling slightly as her gaze softened. "I don't often talk about my parents," she said. "I mean... not that I never do, but if you haven't grown up in a Hispanic household... it can just be easy for folks to make assumptions. So I usually stick to generalizations."

A shrug followed that claim and she dipped her spoon into the soup, using the bottom of the spoon's bowl to press the fixins of the soup down into the red broth before squeezing a slice of lime across it. "Is that weird?" she asked, slightly self conscious as she lifted the spoon to her mouth and popped it in, rolling her eyes appreciatively and flipping the spoon in her mouth, flipping it and drawing it out through her lips slowly to make sure she got all of the deliciousness.

Liam took a bite of his own food and chewed as he watched her. The food was delicious, but he chewed fast as he thought about her question. He shook his head in response, "I don't think so. Sometimes it can be easier to let people generalize, saves you from having to worry about saying too much." He smiled slightly before pointing with his fork at her, "I can see you're enjoying your soup there."

She grinned, propping her elbow on the table and gesturing back at him with her spoon. "Exactly what I was hoping it would be." She twirled her spoon absently in the air, eyes meeting his. Somehow, locking eyes with him like that was electric. Isabel's stomach flipped, a feeling of anticipation filling her that she hadn't felt in years. The silence in the moment drew long until finally she broke it, leaning back and flipping her spoon to offer it to Liam. "Want a bite?"

Liam smiled when their eyes met. He could lose himself in her eyes, and he nodded at her offer. Setting his own silverware down, he took the offered spoon and brought the soup to his mouth, trying his best not to spill any. He tasted the lime which mixed well with the spices. The warm soup filled his belly and he leaned back nodding as he continued to taste. "Very good, I'll have to remember the lime you added. It pairs well and gives it a zing," he said handing the spoon back to her.

For a moment she just stared at him and then, she burst into a quick, surprising, giggle. "Liam," she said, laughter edging along her voice, "have you never bothered with the lime they give you before?" His expression gave away his answer before he could even speak it and, shaking her head while she chuckled she continued. "If they give you a lime," she said sagely, "always use it."

And then she held her hand out to retrieve her spoon.



Liam held the door for her as they stepped back out into the cold. The snow had continued to come down while they had been inside, and he pulled her close as their footsteps crunched on the ground as the walked. His hand found hers and their fingers intertwined at the small of her back as they walked. "That was delicious," he said as he looked down at her, full of the good food and salsa.

His hand was warm in hers and a flurry of butterflies seemed to have taken up residence in her stomach, the feeling almost foreign to her. She felt like she was back in middle school waiting to see if her crush would answer her Do you like me? Yes / No note with a Yes. Isabel couldn't remember the last time a guy had made her feel like that. The walk to his truck wasn't far, but she found she didn't want it to end because she didn't want to have to give up his hand, or the solid warmth of him next to her.

"It was," she agreed, glancing up at him with a grin. "Maybe not just a lunch place then?" The question was a call back to their conversation in the truck on the way there when he'd described their monster burrito lunch special.

"Definitely not," he said as they reached his truck. He paused for a moment before looking down at her and their eyes met. He felt a smile growing on his lips as he used his arm to pull her close to him. He leaned down and kissed her softly, tasting both her and the soup as time seemed to slow. She leaned into him as they stood before he pulled back slightly. "Hmm, tastes like lime," he said with a slight laugh and grin.

She pursed her lips at him playfully with a bit of teasing in her tone though her eyes made it clear that she was more than happy to have been kissed. She shook her head, small grin on her lips as she did, before tipping up on her tiptoes to kiss him again. As a girl she'd never really understood why so many romantic comedies involved people standing outside in the cold kissing. Practical as ever she had complained more than once that they might enjoy the kissing more if they'd just go inside. Now, though, the why was obvious. The light snow seemed as if it dampened the sound around them, and though it was cold, she didn't notice. She was too busy noticing the softness of his lips, and the warmth of his breath, and the way he tasted. When she finally pulled away she gave him a soft sort of look. "Everything tastes better with lime," she said with a quiet chuckle.

He smiled broadly at her, relishing the taste of her on his lips. He reached out and opened the truck door and helped her up inside before closing it and flipping his keys in his hand. He climbed in the driver side, fired up the engine and turned the heater on. He put the truck in gear and pulled out before he reached over and took her hand in his again, not wanting to miss feeling her fingers intertwined with his. He chanced a look over at her and smiled before he pulled back out onto the road. "Will we be able to get back in the base faster since I have an officer with me here," he asked remembering the Marine guard at the gate.

She shot him a look and shook her head, chuckling as she did. "Unlikely," she said. "The security is there for a reason." She gave a little shrug at that, not meaning that statement to sound chiding, but if she was going to see him again... and she was hoping she would... he'd have to get used to the hoops required to come on base. "If it helps," she said, "I have to provide ID every time I return to base too."

They drove quietly for a few minutes then and in those few minutes Isa couldn't help feeling like the only thing that mattered in that truck was his hand holding hers. It was exciting and comfortable in a way she didn't expect, but then that had been the theme of the whole evening. It was something she'd have to think about later, when she was alone, and could pick over the night without missing any of it. Her hand looked small and delicate next to his and it occurred to her that she also couldn't remember the last time she'd felt delicate. It felt like she should say something, but everything she could think to say sounded insufficient in her head, so she stayed quiet and softly ran her thumb along the curve between his thumb and pointer finger.

He felt her light touch on his hand as he drove. He found the gesture quite soothing, and for the first time in a long time everything felt right. He focused on the moment, the two of them in his truck driving and holding hands. It just felt natural to him, like they'd done it so many times before. He looked over at her and smiled, he seemed to be doing that a lot this evening. He just enjoyed the moment, savoring it.

After clearing the base gate, they were soon pulling up in front of her building. He shut the engine off and turned to look at her in the seat. "This has been a wonderful evening Isabel," he said using her name for emphasis.

She caught her breath for a moment when he looked at her. Something in the quality of his eyes stopped her and made her hyper aware--of him, of the small space they were in, of their hands still joined between them on the seat. "It has been," she agreed with a genuine warmth. "I'd... love to do it again sometime... if you want to, of course." It was a risk, but one she felt ok taking. If he said no then she had read him terribly wrong to begin with and it was better to find that out now. But if she'd read him right there would be more opportunities to get to know him.

He smiled and looked down slightly. He could feel himself blushing before he looked back up and met her gaze. "I'd like that very much," he said before giving her an upraised eyebrow, "Besides, who else will fix your car for you?" He felt her squeeze his hand and roll her eyes in faux annoyance before she laughed at his joke.

"Oh, you know," she said with mock seriousness. "Probably one of the other mechanics at your shop." She popped her eyebrows up at him at that, but couldn't keep her face straight and grinned. Her heart, though, was pounding in her chest. She was drawn to him--the feeling almost magnetic and it simultaneously thrilled her and scared the shit out of her. She couldn't remember the last time she wanted to kiss someone like this.

Grinning along with her, he felt her pulling him towards her. He let himself lean over and kiss her softly as he felt her wrapping her arms around his neck. It got quiet in the truck then, the only sound was of the two of them breathing as they were locked together. After what felt like an eternity, they pulled back but stayed close together, foreheads pressed against each other.

After a moment of silence, breathing each other's air, Isabel's voice, quiet, filled the space. "I'm not sure I got that entirely right," she said, scooting closer. "Gonna have to try again." She kissed him again, this time one hand slid up into his hair while the other stayed wrapped around him, pressed to his shoulder. The idea... the suggestion that he come up... crossed her mind and when they pulled apart again she was half way to doing so before she stopped herself. She wanted to see him again and something told her he wasn't the one night stand type.

He could feel her fingers in his hair as his own hands wrapped around her waist pulling her closer. After they pulled apart again, they both grinned at each other. He knew he wanted to see her again. He felt a desire for her, but his want to see her again was overwhelming. "Well, I'd better let you go before those Marines come find me," he said sheepishly as he looked at her.

She nibbled at her lip. She didn't want to go. Wasn't ready for the night to end. But she knew she couldn't invite him up. She could still taste him on her lips, though, and made a spot decision. With a suggestive tilt of her head and a question on her face she offered up her suggestion. "Five more minutes?"

He watched her nibble her lip and thought it was incredibly cute. He had noticed her doing it when she was thinking, but he considered it a pleasant quirk. He nodded at her suggestion before whispering, "Works for me." He leaned back over and brought his lips to hers again as he felt her moving closer to him on the bench seat. As they kissed, he focused on the moment as the sounds of their breathing became louder in his ears. He wrapped his arm around her waist and brought his hand up to touch her hair as her own fingers found a strand of his own and twirled it. He kept his eyes closed as they continued, locked in embrace.

The moment stretched to five minutes, then ten, and then fifteen and with it a growing recognition that neither of them wanted to stop. Still, when she was sure she wouldn't be able to keep her hands off of him much longer, she pulled away. Her cheeks were flushed, lips swollen from kissing, and her hair was slightly mussed where his hands had been. She was breathless as she spoke. "I'll text you," she assured him. "Soon." In truth he'd have a text from her before he managed to get back off the base. Soon was hardly an accurate description. With a quick slide back across the seat she opened the door to the truck and stepped out, peering back up at him for only a moment. "Good night, Liam," she said, the goofiest of goofy grins spread across her face. And then she shut the door and hurried back to her building forcing herself not to look back as she went.

 

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