A/N: Based on the song "Picture" by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow.

Also, nothing major has been changed, it was just some general editing. Again.


"Picture"

(Amanda Sparks)

Prying my keys from my jeans pocket I let myself into my apartment, the familiar smell breaking my heart with each breath. It still smelled like him.

I set my bag down on the kitchen counter and pulled a water bottle from the fridge. I stood there for just a minute trying to decide if I wanted to eat something, or watch something, or … something.

While I swallowed some nice, cold water I looked around the room, realizing how different everything looked. Not that I'd changed much in only a couple days but things just weren't where they usually were. The magazines were organized on the coffee table, whereas Tyler usually had them on the floor so he could eat or work. His hat wasn't sitting on the back of the chair and no one had touched the guitar in the corner since it'd been put back in its stand the other night. In surprise I realized there was something where it normally was. His zip-up hoodie was at the end of the couch. Tyler used to leave that there for me, so when I got cold I wouldn't have to get up to find a sweater.

I wasn't sure I could do this. Stay here alone.

I pulled my phone from my bag I'd set down and pushed send, knowing exactly whose the last number I'd called was.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Jan," I said unenthusiastically. "What time are you guys heading to Fat Cats?"

"Really? You're going to come?"

"Yeah," I said, staring at my counter so I wouldn't see anything else. "I can't sit here alone tonight."

"Good! You'll do better after a night out. I've been saying that for two days."

"I know."

"We're leaving in about an hour, so go shower; you're not coming in your work clothes."

I glanced down at my jeans and 'Walt's Bar' t-shirt and rubbed my finger over the barbecue sauce stain I'd gotten from being bumped by a patron.

"Who says I haven't changed already?" I asked with an attitude.

Jan snorted. "You haven't. Just find something sexy and we'll see you there. Maybe we'll find you a rebound guy. See you in a bit."

"See ya."

On my way to my room to change I threw my stained shirt in the laundry and wiggled out of my jeans. You'd think a job that required tight jeans would be somewhat indicative of the patrons who frequented the bar but it was surprisingly tame. Most nights anyway.

I grabbed my ripped blue jeans and a green tube top that had won guys' attention many evenings before and went to shower. I considered Jan's advice to find me a guy tonight and I really didn't know if I wanted that or not. I had a good case of loneliness and for the first time in my life it seemed there was only one man who was going to ease it, only he was the man I couldn't have.

I reached up for my shampoo and my hand came down with a blue bottle of men's body wash instead. The scent alone was enough that all I wanted to do was throw it.

How dare he leave crap here? Hadn't he hurt me enough? He had to remind me of him at every freaking turn?

Finally everything bubbled over.

I hurled the body wash into the trash, knocking the can over. Then – while I was still dripping – I went through the bathroom throwing everything I saw that was Tyler's in the garbage. His stupid razor and a braided bracelet, a small bottle of cologne. When the small room was devoid of anything belonging to Tyler I returned to my shower but my entire attitude had changed.

Tyler wasn't here anymore. I wasn't his anymore and I, sure as hell, wasn't about to sit here and feel sorry for myself because I missed him. I was going to a bar, I was going to get drunk and I was bringing home a man. Simple as that.

See how you like that, Mr. Commit-a-phobe.

Leaving my jeans behind I opted for a short skirt instead and got dressed, leaving me just enough time to throw on some eyeliner and mascara and head for the club.

I knew it was a Saturday night and the regular crowd would be decked out in glow necklaces and bracelets but I didn't take any. It had become quite the competition to see who could talk the men out of their glow-sticks. Jan was pretty good and I hadn't had any practice in almost a year, not since the night I met Tyler. Still, I was confident she'd lose tonight. I still had some moves.

Between traffic and having to stop for gas it took about forty minutes to drive to Fat Cats. I recognized Jan's truck and remembered she was bringing Sylvie, and Alicia. I bit back a smile knowing the four of us tended to stir up trouble when we got together. Hopefully tonight would be the same. I needed some wild times.

"Mandy! Over here!"

I turned toward the familiar voice and grinned at the girls waiting for me.

"OW!" Silvie cat-called. "Nice skirt, Mand."

"Someone's picking up some man tonight," Jay, the waiter said, when he brought us some drinks. He'd been here every Saturday night for the last three years and knew us all pretty well. He handed me a beer without ever asking my order and he got it right.

"Damn right," Jan said, with a grin.

Jay leaned in and winked as he walked back to the bar. A sure sign I'd be spending at least one dance with him.

"To Amanda," Alicia said, holding her martini up. "For finally leaving the house! Whoo!"

Each of us held up our drinks and took a swallow before one of my favorite songs came on. Glancing around I saw Matt, someone I was comfortable demanding a dance with so that's exactly what I did.

"Dance with me," I said, gripping his arm and pulling him into the crowd.

He happily ditched the girls at his table vying for his attention and pulled me close for a dance at the center of the floor.

The lights were on us and it was hot out there. The multitude of bodies didn't help the situation but no one seemed to care. If we went by the rule that you're touching who you're dancing with, I was currently dancing with two guys and a girl. It was packed tonight.

"Haven't seen you in awhile," Matt said loudly, his lips brushing my ear as he spoke. "You finally kicked him to the curb, huh?"

I smiled not actually answering him and Matt took it as a confirmation and that's exactly what I wanted.

Truthfully, it had been both of us kicking him to the curb with a little extra him. With all the passion Tyler packed it also fueled his temper and that fueled my temper.

Matt grabbed one arm and pulled it around his back so we were dancing closer. It seemed the entire room noticed the move and pressed in together making it impossible to dance with any space between all the bodies.

"It's about time. I'm a way better man than he is," Matt bragged. "Shouldn't you be with a man whose truck is only one color?"

I laughed, winning a smile from Matt. "Maybe. Maybe I like my man's truck a little worn."

"Worn would be some rust on the paint not some paint on the rust," Matt said.

"You know, Tyler would kill you if he heard you talking about his baby like that."

"Tyler's not here," he said, pulling me as close as I could get.

No, he wasn't.

I finished my dance with Matt, complete with endless flirting and open ended invitations I expertly sidestepped. Then I finished my drink and found someone else to dance with.

Of all my endeavors that night, I was never happier than when I was dancing with Jay during his break. He stole three dances, one of them a slow one.

Jay was one who'd always made me feel at ease in spite of his semi-wandering hands and eyes. He'd even helped me get drunken dates into my truck before when they were too big for me to do it alone. In the words of Alicia, 'he was a sweetheart'.

"So … is it finally my time of day or are you going home with Matt tonight?" he asked while we were slow dancing.

"It seems to me Matt already has plans for tonight," I said, tilting my head toward the table where Matt and the blonde in his lap were kissing.

"Then you're free," Jay supposed, a mischievous glint in his blue eyes.

"Are you sure you know what you're asking?" I wondered curiously.

"Let's face it, Mandy, I've been eyeing you for two years."

"Yeah? And why haven't you done anything about it before now?"

"You were always with somebody," he reasoned. "First it was that Dirk guy and then Ben. I thought Ben was pretty obnoxious, luckily you thought so, too. I didn't think Tyler was going to stick around as long as he did but now that he's gone I'm stepping in before you find someone else."

"Ahh," I said in understanding.

"You say the word, Amanda, and I'll be there," Jay said, giving me a subtle but affectionate squeeze.

I smiled ready to contemplate his offer but I my attention was grabbed by movement in the shadows near the door. I looked just in time to see one of Tyler's best friends staring at Jay and me.

Derrick glanced only momentarily before downing his drink and heading out the side door to the parking lot. The guilt that filled my heart knowing Tyler was about to find out where I was tonight was extreme.

"Amanda?" Jay prodded, reminding me I hadn't answered him.

I looked at him and tried to make up my mind. Did I or didn't I? Did I or didn't I?

But I couldn't. I knew exactly the look I would find on Tyler's face if I were there to witness Derrick and Tyler's imminent conversation and it didn't make me happy.

"Too soon?" Jay asked, understandingly, nodding before I'd even spoken

"Maybe."

"That's fine," he said easily. "It's still on the table."

I couldn't help my grin. What a sweetheart.

"Any chance I get with you is worth it," he said. My smile widened and he held up a hand and shook it. "No, no. No need to thank me."

"You're easily my favorite man here, Jay," I admitted cheerfully.

"We'll see if you think so when I'm off in an hour," he said with a wink.

Our dance ended and I returned to my table. My good mood faded as Jay returned to work and I considered my very unhappy ex who'd probably just found out I was out tonight. It really wasn't that Tyler would care that I was out; it was that he'd care what I was doing while I was out.

My heart fell a bit when I realized it would hurt even more if he didn't care. But I guess I'd never find out one way or the other.

I ordered another drink and sat quietly at the table, listening to the other girls talking. Alicia was still dancing with a man with a shaved head but Sylvie and Jan were talking animatedly about the necklaces they'd earned already. I'd forgotten all about the necklaces.

"Hey, Mopey," Sylvie said, throwing her empty straw paper at me to get my attention. "Since the other dwarves are at the mines and left you with us, what say you cheer up?"

"I know," I mumbled.

"Listen, hon, it'll get easier, you just have to get on with it," Jan said. "Look, Jay's all hot for you, see where it takes you."

"I don't know," I said honestly. "It feels kind of soon."

"Why? It's not like you want Tyler back," Sylvie said, as if that was completely unfathomable.

If I was going to be honest I wished I was back with Tyler already, but I wasn't going to admit that to her.

"You know Jay would want to be pretty serious," I covered for my actual feelings. "That's a lot to ask right now."

"At least he asked," Jan said dryly.

"I'd do liquid soap shots to walk out of here with Jay," Sylvie said, eyeing him behind the bar he was now tending.

Jan and I both raised our eyebrows at her and she blushed.

"What? He's hot."

"Who is?" Alicia asked as she reclaimed her seat at the table. She held her hand up and Jay sent her a fresh drink.

"The bartender," Sylvie said, fanning herself with a napkin.

"Mmm, Jay is yummy," Alicia agreed.

"Just do it," Jan said, nudging me. "He's a sweetie and you know it'll be fun."

"Yeah, do it," Sylvie agreed, despite her previous statements about wanting him for herself.

I looked at the bar again and watched Jay filling some drink orders. He was hot and I had a lot of fun with him. I'd probably already lost my chance to get Tyler back anyway.

At the end of the night I walked up to the bar and leaned over the counter, waiting for Jay to return with the bar nuts. When he did I was greeted with a surprised expression followed closely by a disarming smile.

"What can I get for you?" he asked knowingly.

"A ride home."

"What do you know," he said, wiping the bar down. "It seems we only have one left."

I left with Jay ten minutes later. We spoke easily all the way to my apartment. My car went home with Alicia so I wasn't worried about it but it was strange to arrive in his coupe instead of a truck.

I opened the door for us and invited Jay to make himself at home. I grabbed two beers from the fridge and kicked off my heels before joining him on the couch.

It wasn't long before he was leaning in for a soft kiss. My heart fluttered but it was more nerves than anything else. When he pulled away I had a prime view of the picture of Tyler and me standing by his truck. My heart clenched painfully seeing it.

Guiltily, I stretched and knocked it over.

Hearing a thud, Jay looked but saw nothing out of the ordinary. He then returned his attention to me.

"Your so beautiful, Amanda," he murmured in my ear.

I didn't know if I was leaning back to make it longer before he was able to kiss me again or if I really wanted him but I soon found out.

The farther back I leaned the more it smelled like Tyler. My eyes closed; comforted at the smell until I remembered who I was with. Jay was leaning in for another kiss while my head was resting on Tyler's hoodie.

I couldn't do this.

"Jay," I interrupted, putting my hand against his chest in case he didn't hear me.

"Hmm?"

"Jay," I said again, not wanting to actually explain it and embarrass myself entirely.

Jay pulled back and looked at me contemplatively and sighed.

"It is too soon."

I wanted to tell him to give me time or I was sorry but it wasn't true. I wasn't sorry and it didn't need time. I mean I was sorry I'd drug him here making him think he was going to have a grand ol' time but I wasn't sorry I didn't want him. Not to sound exceptionally pathetic, I was still very in love with Tyler. I wanted him back.

"Well …" Jay said hesitantly. "A kiss is better than what Matt got."

He stood and took his jacket. He gave me a quick nod and a tentative smile and left.

I locked the door when he drove away and crumpled to the floor.

The rest of my 'night out' was spent taking down every picture that had Tyler in it and wishing he hadn't been such a jerk. If only there was a way to take everything back. I swear I'd give anything.


(Tyler Redding )

"Tyler!"

"Stop yelling!" I yelled, making my own head spin. I glared at the doorway as

Derrick came through it. "What are you doing here? I thought you were going out tonight."

"I did. I went to Fat Cats and guess who I saw cuddling up to Jay Blake."

"Who?" Joe said, entering the conversation, just when I didn't want him to.

Derrick continued to stare at me and I felt my stomach turn. It couldn't possibly have been Amanda. We'd only broken up two days ago. There's no way she'd be out already.

The look on Derrick's face confirmed what I least wanted to think about.

"Are you sure?" Joe finally caught up.

"Yes, I'm sure!" Derrick said in irritation. "Who else hits the clubs on a Saturday night in a beater truck, wearing gator heels and a skirt?"

"She wore a skirt?" I asked, my throat going dry.

Amanda only had two skirts. The one she wore to church (which she hated and only wore it once a week for a reason) and the one she wore to go dancing, and unless she had a goal in mind that required said skirt she just wore jeans.

"What the hell?" Joe said, enraged. I agreed.

"I nearly choked to death when I saw her," Derrick said irritatedly. "They weren't dancing out in the middle with everyone either when I saw them, that prick had her out in the shadows slow dancing."

"Was she slow dancing back?" Joe asked accusingly, in that special way of his.

"Of course she was, idiot!" Derrick exclaimed. "And she wasn't stopping him from putting his hands all over her either."

"Would you shut up?" I yelled furiously.

"I thought you should know!" he yelled in his defense.

"You already told me! You don't have to go into detail!"

"Sorry," he said bitingly.

"Just get out," I said without waiting for a response. "Get the hell out. Take him with you," I demanded gesturing to Joe.

"Tyler," Derrick said warningly.

"I said get the hell out!" I yelled, throwing my Jack Daniels bottle against the door and watching it shatter, the liquid dripping down the door. They left and my revulsion and temper boiled over quickly. "Shit!"

How could she possibly have been all over Jay? A few days ago she was all over me! She'd wanted me to move in with her, now she was moving in on Jay?

The idea of my girl with anyone else made me sick and livid. I couldn't stand thinking about it. I hated that she'd done it. I hated that it had only been days, and I hated that I was still wearing the same thing I'd been wearing when I started drinking myself into the floor. She was my freaking girl!

… Only she wasn't.

Shit.

I got up and threw on a ball cap and ran across the street to the 7-eleven.

"No," Kirt said, when I put another case of beer and another bottle of whiskey on the counter.

"This isn't a bar and you're not a tender," I barked angrily. "There aren't any drink limits and I want some damn beer!"

"I think a case a day is enough," he argued stubbornly. "I'll not mention your whiskey consumption."

"Hey! I've had help, all right!" I yelled at him. "Just sell me the stupid drinks!"

"I'm going to need to see some I.D," he said, with a blank expression.

"You've seen my I.D. eight hundred times! You probably know my driver's license number! You know I don't have my freaking wallet!"

"No I.D., no alcohol," he said calmly.

"Damnit!" I yelled leaving the gas station and crossing the street.

Who was he? My mother? I didn't need a gas station attendant telling me I drank too much. That's what a girlfriend was for and I didn't have one of those for a reason.

Yeah, you're too stubborn to admit you're freaking collared and she's already found another guy to hold her.

My stomach turned violently and I threw up in Mrs. Rapburn's rose bushes, then I went inside for my wallet. With no more legitimate arguments from Kirt I was back on my couch in my disgusting pile of pizza boxes and empty cans in less than five minutes.

It only took an hour before I was out on the couch with my face in a pizza box. I couldn't forget about her and I was the one who didn't get attached to people. How could she want someone else already? She said I was her whole world not forty hours ago. Why couldn't I admit that she was mine, too? Why couldn't I admit I was collared? She owned me like a freaking dog, she knew she did. Why would she pull something like this?

Unless she's actually over me …

I needed another beer.

"You're a freak, Tyler," Derrick's voice invaded my dreamless, alcohol induced, sleep; making my two day hangover reach new heights.

"Get out," I mumbled into the couch cushion.

"Damn, Tyler," Derrick said mostly to himself.

He got a garbage bag and started throwing everything I was laying on away, starting with the empty beer cans.

"How much have you had, you loser?"

I didn't respond. I was starting to feel something again so I was trying to go back to sleep.

"Tyler!" Derrick shouted, shoving me.

"What?"

"Get off your ass and go talk to Amanda!" Derrick ordered. "You're a freaking drunk over some girl, just go get her back."

At that the numbness vanished completely and I remembered what Derrick had told me the night before. Amanda had been out with Jay. He'd been holding her. If he'd kissed her …

"Where are you going?" Derrick demanded.

"I'm out of beer," I explained, stumbling over the trash on the floor.

"You drank a damn case in one night?"

"No, I spilled most of it," I admitted. Plus, I'd shaken several up and thrown them from my bedroom window to watch them explode on the street.

"You're a freaking lush," Derrick said in disgust. He reached over and grabbed my shirt. "No more alcohol. You're going to have to be human for a day."

"I don't want to."

"I don't care," Derrick said. "We're going out. We'll get you a new tattoo or something while you're still incapable of feeling it."

"I don't want another tattoo," I insisted.

I wandered into the bathroom to shower, but forgot to undress first. I stripped my wet clothes off and got to work cleaning the two day sludge of sweat and beer of my skin.

I hated my shower. There was a reason I always showered at Amanda's house and it was because there was no water pressure here. It was like trying to get clean using a garden hose.

When I no longer looked like a homeless person I hit the town with Derrick. He decided he'd get another tattoo instead and was talking (loudly, I might add) about what he was going to get. The longer he talked to me the less I listened.

This was why smart people didn't get attached to other people. So when you're crazy girlfriend wants you to move in with her and you blow up, even though you want to live with her, and then you break up you don't get your heart broken.

Did I just think that? Heart broken? Oh my hell, I needed a drink.

"Let's hit Todd's," I suggested when I was dressed. "They're better at tats anyway and don't sit and gab the whole freaking time."

Derrick fell for my cunning ways and headed for the tattoo parlor where I'd gotten all of mine. Todd had done all but two of them and he was easily the best. I recommended him to everyone. Even Amanda.

When we got out of Derrick's jeep he walked to the door and I kept going down the sidewalk. Badger's was next door.

"Where do you think you're going?"

"I need a drink."

Derrick rolled his eyes and went into the parlor without me, all while muttering to himself about how I'd suggested Todd just to sneak off to drink and how stupid I was for trying to drink myself to death.

As usual, I ignored him and kept walking. I was bumped by an old lady who immediately began apologizing profusely while I tried to assure her it really wasn't a big deal.

While I was stopped on the sidewalk, I heard a sound I never thought I would find down here. A familiar voice I never thought I'd hear again, in fact.

My eyes scanned the street and found the offender across the street with Jan, who I'd known since high school. Amanda and Jan started crossing the street toward me. When Mandy looked up and saw me she stopped in the road. My chest constricted uncomfortably and I suddenly wanted that drink really badly.

"Hey," Jan said casually, pulling Amanda along with her so she wasn't stopped in traffic.

"Hi," I responded, trying not to look like a loser going to a bar at eleven a.m. after drinking for days.

"You're looking good," Jan said. "I haven't seen you clean shaven in probably two years."

"Yeah, its, uh … new," I said lamely.

In reality I couldn't focus enough to shave this morning without screwing up my goatee so now I got to start over.

"It's nice," Amanda said with almost no emotion.

I looked at her and noticed she was wearing her church skirt. She hated it because it didn't fit well and was really long, making church in the summer unbearably hot. I'd always thought she looked pretty hot in it, but being an ass, I never told her, and now I was paying for it.

"Tyler," Amanda said again, making me realize she'd been talking to me. Of course, zone out while the girl you love is talking. I really was an ass. "Are you getting another tat?"

"No, Derrick's in there," I said, turning a bit to point.

Her expression hardened, if only for a moment, and she wouldn't look at me anymore. My guess was she saw Derrick at Fat Cats last night and knew that I knew what had happened. Based on her reaction she felt guilty about something and that made me hopeful that she wasn't over me. That is, until I realized she could be feeling guilty about spending the night with Jay and that just made me wish for death.

Jan stared at me staring at Amanda and asked, "So how've you been?" Making Amanda's head come up, curious about my answer.

Really? She was going to ask me right now? In front of Amanda who may or may not have already replaced me with Jay?

"Okay, I guess," I responded before I could consider a better answer.

Jan smiled understandingly and Amanda just blinked at me.

Damn, she was beautiful.

"Well … we should go," Jan said, taking a step toward her car.

I moved aside to let them by and wished with everything I had that I would reach out and take Mandy's arm, and tell her I loved her and I was sorry.

Unfortunately, my brain was floating in its own filth and not connected to the rest of my body and Amanda walked away after a tentative, "See you."

While Derrick got another tattoo on his arm I kept with tradition and got drunk. I wasn't sopping as I had been the first night, but I still couldn't have driven home.

When we pulled into my cracked driveway I did the first smart thing I'd done all weekend. I went inside, closed the blinds in my room, and went to bed. I used my blanket for my pillow and Mandy's blanket to cover me and went to sleep. I just couldn't be conscious anymore.

After sleeping seventeen hours in a relatively uninterrupted coma I was ready for work Monday morning. My hangover was manageable and I think I made it through most of the day without anyone realizing I had one.

I got quite a bit done, but it could've been more if I hadn't been pre-occupied with the photos of Mandy and me on my desk. Knowing I'd screwed up more than I should be forgiven for—again—I turned them over so she'd stop looking at me. When that didn't work I locked them in my bottom drawer and got back to work.

My mood had improved just being out of the house, but it quickly returned when I opened my front door after work. The mess I'd made since Friday night was still festering where I'd left it. I changed and started throwing everything into the trash bag Derrick had started to clean with the other day. There was one thing I couldn't deny and that was that I really knew how to make a mess of things.

At eight o'clock the guys started showing up for poker. Derrick seemed surprised my house looked like a technical consultant lived there instead of a bum and I ignored him.

Yeah, yeah, he thinks I suck. Blah, blah, blah.

Tony, Joe, Derrick, Mason, and I started stuffing our faces with pizza and chips and the game started. I realized part of the way through that Mason was smoking and I almost told him to stop because Mandy despised the smell of smoke, but since she probably wouldn't be over anytime soon I kept my mouth shut.

A few hours in Derrick folded for the fourth time in a row and went into the kitchen to refill the chip bowl. No one was more surprised than I was when he returned with my phone.

"Here."

"What? I don't want it," I said in confusion.

"Nice," he said sarcastically. "Just take it."

"Fine, put it down," I requested, trying to take my turn first. I picked it up impatiently and said hello.

"Tyler?"

My brain stopped. Amanda wasn't supposed to be calling me.

"Yeah," I confirmed.

"Was that Derrick that answered?" she asked. She was wasting time.

"Yeah."

"I thought so, it sounded like him," she reasoned. "How is his new tattoo?"

"Mandy," I said, reminding her she'd called me for a reason and it wasn't small talk.

"Right, uh … I've been thinking and maybe I'm good living by myself for a while. I did just get a raise and I can afford it, so really it's not a big deal. I- I swear it'll be different, I just really … I just …"

Mandy couldn't finish her thought and although I was pretty sure what she wanted, it wasn't something I wanted to guess wrong on.

I folded on the best hand I'd had all night and went into the kitchen so our conversation would be more private.

"Calm down, Amanda," I said calmly. "Just talk to me."

"You want me to just spit it out?" she asked cautiously.

"Sure, just get it over with; it's obviously making you nervous."

"I want you to come home, Tyler."

"What?" I almost whispered. It was either freaking awesome or a rotten joke.

"I really miss you, Tyler, and I want you to come home," Amanda said emotionally. "I swear you don't have to move in or anything, I just want you around. I want to go back to the way it was."

I smiled for the first time in days and ran my hand through my hair. Suddenly everything seemed bright and worth effort. Amanda had a way of doing that to me.

"I would love to, Mandy, but we need to talk about some stuff," I said begrudgingly. "I can come over when the guys leave, but it's going to be late."

"Oh, I forgot. It's Monday, isn't it," she said unhappily.

I heard a faint sniff through the receiver and my heart ached.

"That's all right, Mandy, just give me half an hour and I'll be over."

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Yeah," I said easily.

"Okay," she said relieved.

"Great."

When I hung up I grabbed my jacket and keys and headed straight for the front door, leaving my friends at my house with my food, my only explanation being, "I'll be at Amanda's."

I couldn't drive fast enough. I knew I was going to have to admit some stuff and be honest about everything and that scared the shit out of me, but it had to be better than beer soaking every night. Besides, there wasn't anyone who'd be better for me than Amanda. My weekend in hell taught me that. Of course, my hell was run by Sam Adams and his friend Jack Daniels, but it was hell nonetheless.

Halfway to Amanda's apartment I got stuck in traffic behind a car accident. True to my impatient nature I called Amanda back, knowing I couldn't wait until I was with her to talk to her.

"Hello."

"It's me, Mandy. I'm stuck in traffic and I'll have a beard before I get there, but I am coming, just so you know."

"Okay, well, just be careful," she said calmly.

"Amanda, I know I'm an ass," I blurted out. "I shouldn't have said half of what I said and most of it wasn't even true, I just wigged out, thinking I'd be settling down soon and popping out babies and I don't want that yet."

"I don't want babies either, Tyler, I just thought that since we always stayed together anyway we might as well make it official," she explained. "Wait, what wasn't true?"

"Uh, almost everything," I admitted sheepishly. "I don't want to date anyone else, and I'm certain you're the girl for me, I just couldn't admit that."

"What? You're certain what?" she repeated in disbelief.

I sighed knowing this was going to happen a lot. She'd rarely heard me say romantic, sappy crap.

"I said you're the girl for me," I said again. "I'm not bored with you, I don't have goals you would keep me from, you're apartment isn't too small, and you're not clingy. I'm really sorry I said those things, but I was still trying to convince you—and me, actually—that I didn't need anyone and I was still the badass I was when I met you."

Amanda laughed and the guy in the car next to me glared at me for appearing to be smiling in his direction.

"You're still a badass, Tyler. You're just whipped."

"I'm not whipped, I'm collared," I protested. Okay, so that wasn't exactly true. "Fine, so I'm both."

"Are you being serious?" she asked. "Ty, you said you'd never be collared and laughed at anyone you knew who was."

"I'm still going to laugh at them I'll just be stuck in the same boat."

"Stuck?" she asked reprehensively.

I exhaled.

"You know I don't mean it, Mandy," I said impatiently. "I'll do better, I swear, but it's going to take time and you can't cry every time I say something stupid."

"Tyler."

"What? Jeez. I didn't mean that either," I sputtered.

"So you're coming back then?" she asked cautiously, hopefully.

"Yeah, I want to come home," I said. "Oh, there's one more thing I need to know."

"What?"

"What happened with Jay Blake?"

"Oh …"

My whole mood fell. Why did she sound like that?

"We danced a couple times and he flirted with me. I invited him home with me but I really couldn't do it, Tyler. It was horrible. I've never been so stupid in my life. He left and I felt so guilty. I'm really sorry, Tyler."

Ahh, sweet relief!

"You didn't do anything, Amanda; you don't need to feel guilty about it."

"Well, we kissed and it feels like I cheated on you somehow and it really makes me sick," she said, getting worked up.

While it was true her lips on Jay's made me want to puke again, they hadn't done anything else and it wasn't him she was calling at ten o'clock on a Monday night to see if he'd come over.

"Just don't kiss him anymore," I reasoned.

"It bugs you, doesn't it, Ty?" she asked presumptively.

Remembering my resolution to be honest about my feelings with her, I swallowed my pride and admitted something I'd never admitted before.

"Yeah, it bothers me. I like to think that your lips are just for me. That you're mine. I don't want to share you with some random bartender. Who knows where his mouth has been?"

"I'm really sorry, Tyler."

"I'm sorry, too," I said. "I know I'm stubborn and an idiot, but I don't want to break up, Amanda. I love you."

"I love you," she reciprocated. "Are you coming back home?"

"Yeah," I confirmed. "I'll probably be there in ten minutes, babe."

"Good, I'll see you then," she said, hanging up.

As I waited in traffic I put my head back and breathed, noting how refreshing it was to not have a broken heart. To not want whiskey in my hand just to drown my feelings out.

I was definitely collared. I would be Amanda's forever.

When I parked in her driveway behind her pickup the last of my burdens seemed to blow away in the breeze. Not quite sure what to do I knocked on the door, but it opened almost immediately.

"Hi baby," Amanda said unhappily.

She reached up and wiped a tear from her cheek and I took her in my arms.

"Hi." I stepped in and closed the door behind me, noting she was still in her work clothes. It really was like a regular Monday night. Except for me skipping poker.

I tossed my keys onto the couch and just held Amanda for a minute.

"That was a bad idea," she said into my shirt.

"Yeah, it was," I agreed, no contest. "Let's not do that again."

She smiled and went into the kitchen and my mouth watered knowing what was coming.

"Beer?" she asked, taking one out of the fridge for me before I ever had to answer.

"Thank you, Mand," I said gratefully, taking a swig.

Ahh, nothing like a cold beer to ease a hangover.

I took the guitar and played through some songs while Amanda changed. She returned in one of my shirts and knelt on the couch beside me.

"That was a big fight we had, Ty," she said regretfully. "That sucked and I'm not doing it again."

"Okay," I agreed.

Amanda pulled the long shirt up a little and straddled my lap, her arms settling around my neck.

"Let's make up for it?" she asked, nibbling on my ear.

That's all I needed. I'd trade sex for drunkenness any time.

I stood, keeping her in my arms long enough to kiss her and then happily followed her into the bedroom.

Our night together was so different that any of our nights had been before. I'd never thought I'd see Amanda from the point of view I had now. Knowing there were other men who wanted her, knowing she wasn't actually mine and could leave if I was a big enough jerk made every little thing seem more important. I'd never said so many sappy things while we were in bed before. She'd better believe I meant them because who knew how long this romantic stuff was going to last.

When we'd reached the part of the night when Mandy fell asleep on me on the couch I pulled a blanket over us and turned the TV to Ultimate Fighting. Holding her again I didn't know why I'd let her go in the first place. My stupid pride always got me in trouble and my temper always defended it. Well … not anymore. I wasn't screwing up again. I had what I wanted and I was keeping her. Period.

I noticed a few minutes later one of Mandy's pictures was on the floor so I reached down and set it back on the end table where it belonged so everything was just as it should be. We were together. I was home.