Wes helped unload the van and Mrs. Perez - thrilled to see the lost boy after his fourteen year absence - insisted that he stay for a late lunch. Wes told his life story about what happened after leaving Hillsboro at sixteen and The Coach and his wife were thrilled to have him back in the fold having serving his country and - in some ways - rescuing Neldy.
But Wes didn't see a whole lot Neldy after moving day. She stopped by the store a few times but she took his advice to heart and worked on herself for the rest of the summer - seeing a counselor who specialized in domestic violence therapy as well as joining a woman's support group for survivors of domestic violence.
Wes noticed a steady positive change in Neldy each time he saw her. She was more relaxed, less skittish, more confident and independent, and much more at ease. Mrs. Perez insisted that Wes come over for Sunday dinner each week and in some ways it seemed like old times again sitting around the dining room table with the Perez family even if it was fourteen years later. Neldy and Wes were sort of following the same routine they shared during the time Wes lived with the family - trips to Red's Tastee Freeze for ice cream, walks along the Blue River, and evening conversations on the back porch.
But Wes wasn't sure if he and Neldy were back to their semi-quasi brother-sister role of fourteen years ago or if they were understanding and relatable fellow abuse survivors or – just possibly maybe – they were on the cusp of some sort of romantic undertaking. Neldy reported that Donald the abusive cop was already with somebody new and that made Wes wonder if he should step it up with Neldy in any way.
Wes enjoyed taking walks with Neldy along the Blue River. They usually hiked on Sunday mornings and then Wes would stay for afternoon dinner with the family. After following that routine for several weeks, Wes thought maybe it was time to expand their horizons a little bit and see a little bit more of Blue County, especially now that the summer was almost over.
"Did your Dad ever take you to Pointer's Peak?" Wes asked Neldy as they walked along the Blue River during their next Sunday walk.
"Pointer's Peak?" She asked blankly.
"There' a trail in West County Coach brought the football team to a couple of times to backpack and camp at," Wes explained. "There's a deserted tiny village that is now only chimneys and fireplaces and a cemetery. It's a beautiful place on a peak overlooking the valley. There used to be a schoolhouse for the small farming community but because of the remote mountainous location, the village was abandoned in the early 1900s and it was later turned into a State Forest. These days, hikers and snowmobilers access it and there's a small pond for fishing and swimming. It's pretty remote."
"Sounds neat," Neldy said.
"Wanna hike it?" Wes asked. "I'd love to see it again. It's really an awesome view up there."
"Would it be hard?" Neldy wondered.
"We'd have to walk a bit because the trail turns to dirt and then rocky as you climb the peak but it's doable," Wes said.
"Okay," Neldy agreed. "Do you think you could take some time off on Wednesday? We could do it then - my final fling before school starts on Thursday. Where did the summer go!?" She laughed.
Wes couldn't remember the last time he took some time off in the middle of the week. He was intrigued by the idea of spending some extra time beyond Sundays with Neldy so he readily agreed to the Wednesday hike even though it would mean asking Jim the retired former manager to come in and cover for him.
Wes was excited when he picked Neldy up on Wednesday morning. He had brought a long some subway sandwiches in a cooler for lunch along with some drinks.
Neldy looked great in jean cut off shorts and a tee shirt with heavy black walking shoes and white knee socks, her thick hair pulled back in a ponytail underneath a blue Boston Red Sox ball cap. She talked mostly about the start of the school year during the ride to the trail. She had spent all of the previous day at the school getting her room ready. Wes was a little nervous that he wouldn't be able to find the exact spot of the trail but it all came back to him as he drove down the country road in the state forest and he parked the car in a small dirt lot, relieved to see there were no other hikers around.
He led Neldy along the old stage coach trail that eventually thinned out to nothing more than a small dirt rut through the woods until they reached the rocky trial that led up to the top of the ledge. Neldy was amazed when they reached the grassy knoll at the top – there were indeed several old chimneys and stone fire places where homes once stood, along with an old cemetery and a small pond nestled among trees and brush. The view was breathtaking.
"Oh my God!" Neldy said as they explored the landscape and took in the view. "This is amazing."
"I've always remembered this spot," Wes said. "It's so peaceful and quiet. I thought about it often."
"Do you think anybody else will come?" Neldy asked.
"On a Wednesday? I doubt it."
"Man, I wish I knew about this place before," Neldy said. "Donald never would have found me up here. It would have been a great escape place."
When they were done taking in the sights, they took a seat on rocks by the pond and ate their picnic lunch enjoying the spectacular view. They had become sweaty from the hike up the ledge and it was a hot late summer day even on the elevated hill.
"We should take a quick dip to cool off before we leave," Neldy suggested. "I bet it would feel great."
"Probably," Wes agreed.
"Would you mind if I took my clothes off and went in?" She asked directly.
Wes tried not to react with shock or embarrassment although her request caught him off guard and he wasn't sure how he should respond although he was relieved that she felt comfortable enough around him to ask the question.
"Sure," he said. "Go ahead if you want."
Neldy stood and removed her clothes as if Wes wasn't even there. He tried not to stare but he couldn't help appreciating her beautiful breasts, bronze skin, and firm buttocks and thighs as well as her thick bush. She was completely exposed with no pretenses and Wes tried to pretend that she wasn't nude as she glanced around taking in the surrounding al natural.
"Are you feeling bold too?" Neldy asked glancing at him looking at her. "It's just the two of us."
He tried not to blush as he stood.
"I never thought of you as my brother, Wes," she let him know. "I had a crush on you from the start."
He slipped out of his cammie shorts and green Army tee shirt without stopping to think about it and he stood naked by her side, struck by how white and pale he looked compared to her golden skin.
"Let's take a dip," she smiled effortlessly.
"Okay," he agreed.
Neldy pranced toward the pond and Wes gladly followed. Once in the water, they splashed one another, free and happy. The water was cool, refreshing and so clear that they could see each other through the surface. All their years of abuse, sadness, and secrets were washed away by the magical pond water.
But they both knew they were vulnerable should any other hikers intrude upon their personal private paradise so they reluctantly left the pond after swimming for a while and made their way back to where they left their clothes. Before Wes could grab his stuff, he felt Neldy pressing her cool wet soft body against him and she gave him an earnest and honest kiss.
"Do you think this was supposed to happen?" She asked as she stared into his eyes, the pond water dripping from her hair and face.
"Yes," Wes answered knowingly.
She kissed him again. "I think we both did," she said with a smile.
"We'd better get dressed before someone comes," Wes said with a smirk as he kissed her back.
"Can we go back to your apartment?" She asked hopefully.
"Yes," he said with true happiness. "Who would have thought Pointer's Peak would have pointed the way for us?"
She squeezed his hand. "I love you, Wes," she told him. "I have from the beginning."
"I will never hurt you," he promised.
"I'm sorry you were hurt," she responded, kissing him one more time before finally breaking from the embrace to gather her clothes.