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He brought the glass of whiskey and Coke to his lips, gulping down the last of it along with the undeserved guilt threatening to resurface. He eyed the reflecting light on the crystal glass, pondering the internal exchange for only a moment before holding the glass above his head and wiggling it in his fingers. "Hit me again, bar lady," he called, more than willing to continue stifling the emotion brewing inside him.
Shiloh approached him with an arched, deprecate brow, his intentions not lost on her. "Diesel, what have I told you about calling me 'bar lady'?" she asked as she snatched the glass from his outstretched hand and dumped the remaining ice.
"I don't know," he said as she grabbed the bottle of Jack by the neck and the Coke pump. "I couldn't hear you over the jukebox." He watched her fill the glass, entranced, as if his day hadn't been interesting enough.
"Don't you mean the breaking of your own heart?" she asked, then nudged the glass in his direction. It slid into his awaiting hand effortlessly and he shot her a half-hearted smirk.
"You're the only one breaking my heart here, Princess." He brought the glass to his lips for a quick sip.
"Why?" she asked as another customer waved at her. She nodded in recognition and reached behind her for a pint glass. "Because I won't pour you drinks for free when your girlfriend dumps your sorry ass?"
"Because you won't go kick her ass and defend my honor," Diesel said into his drink.
"'Defend your honor'?" she asked as he approached the tap and filled the glass, eyeing him curiously out the corner of her eye as his shoulders slumped. He seemed... uncharacteristically morose. Shiloh watched Diesel go through woman after woman over the six years she'd known him. She couldn't hold it against him; he was a very attractive man (she'd have to be blind not to admit that) and he was smart enough to use it to his advantage. At least, until her.
He treated her differently. She certainly lasted longer than most, but Shiloh wasn't sure if it was because he was treating her differently, or if that came naturally because she simply was different. Most of the time, regardless of who dumped who, Diesel would shrug it off. He was realistic enough, not one to dwell on the "what could have beens." She knew that if he were being honest with himself, he never planned on any of his relationships lasting long. They were flings to him, but not just to satiate mutual primal desires. He'd adjusted to the fact that everyone leaves, so he never attempted to make any emotional connection with any of them. Except, it seemed, to her.
Shiloh wasn't sure what was causing his dismal mood, but she couldn't directly ask. That never got them anywhere. As close as they were, neither of them—most especially Diesel—opened up often or easily. "Last time I checked, you don't ever need my help defending yourself, Mr. Big Bad Boxing Instructor," she joked and, to her relief, Diesel couldn't help but chuckle. "What did you do?"
"I didn't do anything," he started, only pausing while Shiloh traded off the customer's empty glass for the full one. "Apparently I did someone," he continued as she walked back over.
She curiously slowed in her approach, eyebrow raised. "'Apparently'?"
Shiloh laughed her way to the register, hoping to mask her shock. She thought he was cheating on her? With her?
Only in Shiloh's wildest dreams.
"Yeah, I did that, too," Diesel said as Shiloh fought the lustborne flush in her cheeks, thankful that she was facing the register and not him. "She didn't really appreciate it."
"You told her we're just friends, right?" she asked over her shoulder.
Diesel scoffed. "'Course, I did."
Drawing in a quick breath, Shiloh turned around and approached the bar in front of him. "And she didn't believe you?" she asked, despite risking stating the obvious, considering why he was there in the late afternoon drinking to forget. Diesel shook his head, not meeting her eyes. Instead, he stared deeply into the whiskey as he swirled it in his glass. She longed to reach out to hold him, but she opted to stretch her arms out along the bar to keep from doing so.
She knew their friendship would eventually strain his relationships once they became serious. Hell, it had all but sabotaged some of hers in the past, however few there were. Despite how much they shared with one another, she never told him that out of fear he'd push her away the way he did with everyone else. He would do anything to protect her, including but not limited to pushing her away for any reason he deemed to be to Shiloh's benefit. What he would fail to realize, as he often did, was that relationships weren't worth having if she had to choose between him and someone else which, unfortunately, she'd had to do more than once. It didn't bother her as much as it probably should've; she'd rather be without a lover than without Diesel. He was the only true friend she'd ever had, and she wouldn't give him up for anything.
Shiloh watched him bite back the guilt as he took another sip. She wasn't much good with explicit words of comfort, especially not with him, but she hoped she could lighten the mood. "Wow," she said. "That's kind of ironic."
Diesel raised his eyebrow. "Ironic?"
"Yeah. The most faithful guy I know gets accused of cheating with his best friend? Hell must be freezing over."
A ghost of a smirk appeared on his lips, but he shrugged and lifted the drink once more. "No one's immune to false accusation," he muttered before taking a sip.
Shiloh sighed and put a hand on her hip. "I'm sorry, Diesel."
"Sorry enough to give me free drinks?"
"Can't blame a guy for trying," he said, awarding her with one of his signature winks, and she couldn't help but smile seeing a glimpse of his usual self.
A shout erupted from one of the tables closest to the front door, interrupting the casual atmosphere of the pre-dinner rush. Shiloh's head snapped over in the direction of the disturbance, while Diesel looked on in excitement. A group of girls, most of whom were too drunk too early in the day, began to talk over each other.
"I smell a girl fight," Diesel said without bothering to hide the way he gaped at them with childlike wonder. "You better start making some popcorn."
Shiloh groaned and looked back at him, slightly pained. "Don't encourage them, Dee," she begged, but secretly thanked the girls for their outburst as she watched him sit up taller on his stool, eager to watch the drama unfold. Two other girls approached the middle of the bar and Shiloh took advantage of his distraction to meet them just as he started to rant about Rousey and Nunes.
"This is exciting," she heard him say before taking their order. Two cosmopolitans. Previously, she'd judged the Sex and the City favorite and the girls who ordered it, but after recently trying one for herself, she understood the mass favoritism. She'd never admit it to the likes of Diesel, though. She grabbed her shaker and began to quickly add all the ingredients, hoping to get back to Diesel before he realized she'd left him. She snuck a glance at him, but his eyes were still glued to the arguing girls as he spoke to no one in particular.
"As much as I respected Rousey," he continued as Shiloh walked over and shook the drink, "anyone who waits a whole year between fights and goes straight to take back their old title doesn't deserve the redemption." Shiloh reached above their heads for two martini glasses as he looked back at her. "Know what I mean?"
Shiloh paused her shaking and blinked at him. "Uh, yeah, sure."
"You weren't paying attention to me, were you?"
She gave the drink one last shake before making a show of setting down her glasses. "I kinda have a job to do."
"Yeah," he nodded, gesturing to himself as she poured the drinks. "Listen to me drown in self-pity."
"I'm a bartender, Diesel. Not a therapist."
Diesel lifted his glass by the base and wiggled it in the air. "And this is my liquid therapy," he quipped with a smirk before taking a drink. Shiloh chuckled and flipped open the condiment tray. "You can't tell me you're not practically a psychologist by now with all the sob stories coming through here on a daily basis."
She pulled out two curled orange peels, placing them carefully half-in-and-out of each glass.
"Mine most definitely included."
Shiloh chuckled and took the drinks back to the waiting customers. They handed her a credit card and she nodded, turning back to the register to start a new tab with a deep breath.
It hurt her to see Diesel that way. She knew deep down he'd be fine—he wasn't the type to spiral after something like a breakup—but she couldn't help feeling for him in the moment. She'd seen many of his moods; she'd seen him excited, content, high, angry, wary, and many other things, but never... whatever he was. It was killing her that she couldn't pinpoint what exactly was bothering him, and even more so that he wouldn't just tell her. Don't they tell each other everything?
Shiloh dropped the credit card in the cup with the rest of them and typed in their drinks. He always became visibly upset when someone questioned his loyalty, so she supposed that would make the most sense given the situation. But, he was emitting more sadness than anger, which made her second guess her knowledge of him. She didn't get the chance to ponder much further, as she felt fingers graze the back of her arm and heard Diesel say, "Hey, Shiloh, you got that popcorn?"
Her head snapped towards him, primarily shocked with the extent of his reach, but her eyes landed first on the girls in the corner, one of which had shoved another. Shiloh groaned as the two girls collided in a frenzy of hair and nails.
"Hey, take that shit outside!" she shouted, adrenaline kickstarting her heart rate before she bolted from behind the bar towards them. An attentive hush fell over the establishment as she reached the redhead first. She grabbed onto one of her arms and tried to pull her away, but the girl quickly—albeit unsteadily—turned and swung haphazardly in Shiloh's direction. Adrenaline shifting quickly into fury, Shiloh dodged the drunken fist with ease and threw a punch that landed square onto the redhead's jaw with a crack. A chorus of excited "oohs" rang throughout the bar and Shiloh, biting down newfound pride, gripped the girl hard by the bicep and dragged her towards the door. "Get the hell outta my bar!" she ordered as a bystander opened up the door for her. She pushed her mercilessly through it before turning to the rest of the group. "All of you, out!"
The group of girls quickly scampered through the door after their “friend,” and the people remaining in the bar cheered when the door slammed behind them. Shiloh turned back around to face a dozen grinning faces and matched theirs with her own, lifting her hand to high-five the man who opened the door for her before sauntering back to her rightful place behind the bar. While everyone's eyes were currently on her, she was self-consciously aware of the one coming from Diesel; his eyes held pure wonder, his mouth agape. Her cheeks burned.
"We've had a bit of a fly problem in here lately," she quipped as she walked back up to him. She was shocked her words came out coherently, what with the subsiding adrenaline and all. "You might wanna pick your jaw up off the floor before you catch some."
"Shiloh?" he asked, his dark eyes piercing her own adoringly.
Her heart leapt and, beside herself, she grinned. "Has anyone ever told you that you turn into a romantic when you're drunk?"
"I'm not drunk. I'm just lonely, and that was really hot."
She chuckled, trying to stifle the heat creeping into her neck, but braced her hands far apart on the bar and leaned toward him. "Well, if you’d go flirt with the blonde over in the corner who’s been checking you out for the last half hour instead of me, then you might get the rebound you came here for and the cure for said loneliness."
He shot her a look. "Who said I came here looking for a rebound?"
She glanced down at his now almost-empty glass. "The three whiskey Cokes I poured you."
"The whiskey speaks to you?" he asked, to which she shrugged. "I think you're the one who's drunk."
She scoffed light-heartedly. Despite having to deal with a fight so early in the evening, she was happy it seemed to jolt them back into their usual routine.
Diesel jerked his head toward the blonde. "Scale of one to ten?"
"I'd say a solid seven, but take a look for yourself," Shiloh said, suddenly very aware that her knuckles were throbbing. Diesel wiggled his eyebrows at her before making a grand show of looking over his shoulder at the woman in the corner. Shiloh rolled her eyes. "Oh, so subtle," she muttered, just loud enough for him to hear. He shot the woman a self-assured smirk and lifted his glass, to which she bashfully turned away and adjusted her hair.
Diesel turned back to Shiloh. "Eh," he said with a one shouldered shrug. "She's not my type."
Shiloh, eyebrows knitted together, stared at him. "'Not your type'?"
He shook his head. "Not my type."
"She's a girl. Since when is 'girl' not your type?"
"Since I’ve seen girl walk out of here with four other guys in the last three weeks." They shared a pregnant pause as the bar continued chattering around them, oblivious to their banter.
"I think you both come here too often," Shiloh broke the silence.
Diesel scoffed. "Don't I know it," he said before finishing off his drink and standing up. "I actually think I'm gonna head out. Blaze has me closing the garage tonight." He started reaching for his wallet in his back pocket, but Shiloh held up her hand to stop him.
"Don't worry about it," she told him, and he raised his eyebrow when she jerked her head towards the door. "I'll put 'em on their tabs."
Diesel's lips turned up into a grin. "Better be careful, Shiloh. Keep talking dirty to me like that, and it just might be love."
Shiloh laughed, her heart bursting in content. "Don't let the door hit you on the way out, asshole."
"I'm worried more about getting hit by the girls outside," he commented as he backed toward the door. Still facing her, he paused, his face twisted in conflict. "I mean, I wouldn't mind getting hit on, but—" Shiloh interrupted him by wadding up a towel and chucking it at him. He caught the towel easily and tossed it back with a smirk before he snapped his fingers and pointed one at her. "Don't pick anymore fights, Princess," he said before walking out the door.
Shiloh sighed, her eyes glued to the door even after it shut, and she raised her throbbing hand to her flushed cheek. She reached for the towel and dropped it in the bucket of water underneath the bar. What was happening to her? Since when was she one of those girls who swooned every time an attractive man made a pass at her? She snatched Diesel's empty glass and its coaster from the counter.
It wasn't just any man, she reminded herself, and she stared down into his glass. It was Diesel. And she'd grown increasingly aware of the way his presence made her feel as of late. The flirting was nothing new, and she knew he didn't mean anything by it, but she cursed the butterflies currently bouncing around her stomach for making her think otherwise. She dumped his glass and busied herself with wiping down the counter instead of worrying about it any longer. She wasn't sure what was happening with her, but maybe Diesel was right.
It might be love.