Chapter 5

Ned peered at her, amazed that she brought that up. He tried not to smirk.

"You must have known I had a crush on you," Elly said. "I couldn't hide it for anything."

"Is that why you let me paint your ass?"

"Of course," she replied. "It was the most daring thing I ever did."

She noticed that many of his old models were still on the dusty display case in the corner of the room, although the model bench was long gone. Then she saw that Ned was staring blankly at nothing.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm not sure," Ned admitted.

"What happened to you?" She asked. "You tell me so I don't have to try to decipher other people's gossip."

"I fell into a deep depression," Ned said. "I became overwhelmed by my responsibilities and underwhelmed by the Army's mental health support system. Eventually, I just couldn't take it anymore."

"You didn't do anything to yourself, did you?"

"No," he said. "But after the helicopter crash I started to struggle. Everything became more difficult. I was stuck in a malaise. I didn't care anymore. I was failing in my performance. I couldn't function. I was just riding out my contract."

"Did it get better once you got out?"

"Not really," Ned sighed. "I'm still stressed. Anxious. Sad. I thought if I came back here and started over I'd find some satisfaction and purpose and meaning."

"But you haven't?"

"Well," he said, looking at her finally. "It really is nice seeing you again."

She blushed slightly. "I messed up my life," she told him.

"Me too," Ned replied.

Elly sighed but then she glanced at the display case. She stood from the couch and went over to the display case, rummaging through a box of supplies. She returned after a few minutes holding a couple of bottles of model paint and a brush.

"Here," she said. "Therapy."

"Therapy?" Ned asked with confusion.

Elly went to the door and locked it from the inside before walking to the couch where she pulled her dress off over her head and tossed it aside. Then she pulled down her panties to the floor and she knelt on the couch with her back to him, her bare backside plain for him to see.

"Paint my ass," she requested.

Ned grinned and without complaint, protest or discussion, he fell to his knees and went to work, placing the smiling sun on her left cheek and the winking moon on her right.

"Is this model behavior?" Elly wanted to know.

"It's therapy," Ned decided. "We should do this more often."

Elly glanced over her shoulder and smiled at him. "I'll even let you help me wash it off this time," she giggled.