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Cow Pies and Country Cousins

by Charles Well and Sam The Ham

Chapter 3

The Swimming Hole

After his mother drove away, Jimmy made his way back to the bunkhouse feeling much like a Prisoner of war. Damien ran off with the twins and the dogs in an excited group, no doubt keen to see everything there was to see on a farm. But 12-year-old Jimmy was still too upset to do anything himself. It was ridiculous leaving him here. His building had security. They could have just told him not to leave the building or the apartment. They didn't need to stick him in the middle of nowhere. He doubted whether the nearby town of River Falls even had a Wikipedia page. Well unless it said the place was a spot on the map in the middle of nowhere.

When he opened the door to the bunkhouse, Jimmy felt like he was hit with a wall of heat. Now that he was really here, he gave it a serious look. He guessed it was fairly neat, but there were a couple of signs that younger boys lived here. A Nerf dart was on the floor by one of the beds and there was a plastic cube against the far wall that looked like a toy box. He even saw a few board games on a shelf. Jimmy tried to remember the last time he had played a board game. Preschool, kindergarten perhaps? He really couldn't remember. Well when you lived in a cellular telephone dead zone, and the house had no Wi-Fi and there was only one computer in the joint, he guessed you had to make do. Was this what military school would be like? The bunkhouse looked like it belonged in the 1960s. Then he noticed something on the table that definitely didn't belong in that era. A bright red Nintendo DS (Dual Screen) was sitting there. Okay maybe they weren't dirt-poor, just poor. Hesitating for only a second, he walked over to it. Having lost everything, he had to entertain himself in a normal world, he figured why not. He opened it up and saw there was a Mario game inside. He wondered if they had any others around, but figured digging through their stuff might be going a little too far. The game had been left out in the open, so it seemed fair that anyone could play. Jimmy knew not to save over anyone's game and in the first bit of good luck today, there was still one free slot for a new player.

Starting up the game, he migrated over to the bed he had picked out earlier and started playing. He was pretty sure it was an older Mario game. Not that he was a big fan of the series, but it wasn't bad. Time began to slowly slip by as he made his way through different levels collecting coins and stomping on Goombas. Jimmy tried to just concentrate on the game, but every few minutes he found himself moving as he tried to find a slightly cooler spot. He was sweating just sitting here. How was he expected to live like this? He was just beginning to wonder if it was worth hopping in the shower to cool off when the door to the bunkhouse opened.

Fred, the twelve-year-old kid he'd spoken to earlier, walked in and glared over at him.

"You didn't play anyone's game, did you?"

Jimmy powered the handheld down.

"There was still a free slot. You can override it if you like." Sitting up on the bed Jimmy continued. "I would have asked, but I wasn't sure whose it was."

Fred waved a hand dismissively.

"It's all of ours. I thought you were with your brother."

Jimmy shrugged. He hadn't the slightest desire to go exploring or to play with dogs. Well, he had zero desire to be here, but that was beside the point. "Tired I guess. I didn't sleep much last night." Jimmy wasn't sure why he lied, but he was getting this awkward feeling for some reason.

"I can't sleep in the car either. Anyways, dinner is ready if you want any. I was supposed to look for you."

Jimmy nodded and smiled. He would learn later that, in the South, "dinner" meant lunch and "supper" meant dinner. But he still wasn't sure about his cousin. With what his aunt had told him, he would prefer to keep Fred on his good side if not under his thumb before long. He just needed to find a way to get an upper hand in this relationship. Of course, being divorced from his computer, his video game system and well, pretty much everything else, he wasn't sure how he could do that just yet.

"Sure, breakfast was pretty good," he said trying to give a compliment.

"Mom's a good cook. Now let's get there while there's some left." Fred said before turning to leave.

Lunch seemed to be a lighter meal. There was a little piece of chicken with some green beans and some mashed potatoes. Jimmy wondered if the chicken was one of theirs or if it came from the store. How much meat could you get from one chicken anyway? The thought made everything rather unappetizing. Still, it tasted pretty good. He just didn't want to think that maybe it had been alive this morning.

Damien had clearly gone native. He was seated between the two twins and was rambling on about the dogs and a couple of other things he had done. Jimmy was annoyed that his brother was so cheerful. The kid clearly didn't understand what a messed-up situation they were in. But for now, the Bukland boys had no choice but to go along with the hand their parents had dealt.

"Jimmy, did your cousins tell you about the swimming hole?" asked Uncle Jack, speaking loudly enough to be heard over the multiple conversations that we're going on.

All dialogue around the table ceased for a moment and Jimmy felt very much on the spot.

"Um... No Sir, they didn't."

"I thought he was with the twins. Like his brother was." Fred said speaking up, almost defensively.

"Damian was with us." One of the twins responded with equal caution.

Jimmy caught on that his cousins had probably been told to spend time with them. Hoping to score some points, he threw out a life-line in their defense.

"I was really tired. It was a long car ride from NY."

"I see. Well, it's sort of the local hangout spot for the boys. Used to go there myself," continued Uncle Jack ignoring the relieved looks from his sons around the table. "With the heat we've been having lately, that water must be real nice." The man was spearing some food with his fork, before cutting it carefully.

"It is, almost like bath water," Stevie, the 5-year-old boy announced proudly.

"What would you know about a bath?" Fred demanded with a snort.

A couple of the brothers chuckled, but their father ignored the comment and continued.

"The boys go out there most days during the summer."

"We're going today," Tom announced. "After lunch, unless you need anything dad?"

"We're all good. Y'all, just be back around the usual time." The man responded.

"There's a spot to go swimming?" Damian asked excitedly. "I love swimming. It'll be just like swimming in the Mediterranean. That was so much fun."

Jimmy doubted a swimming-hole around here would be anything like the Mediterranean. Something told him there wasn't going to be a sandy beach with lifeguards on duty, and expensive boutique stores along the board-walk like the French Riviera. Probably a pond for livestock. Maybe if they were lucky they wouldn't have to fight with a cow for a spot. Still, it wasn't a horrible idea. He needed to cool off. The heat here was just so oppressive and this kitchen where they ate lunch was the hottest place of all. Extra hot because of the oven and cook stove, he guessed.

"It does sound nice," he said playing along with his polite child persona for now. Impressing adults was always a winning strategy in Jimmy's book.

Of course, he didn't know if his mom had packed their swimsuits. So much of that was still a blur and as far as he could recall, the suitcases must have been packed while they slept.

"I'll be sure to prepare you boys some drinks and snacks. No need to be worried about sharing." Aunt Kate said smiling.

"Why can't I go?" 9-year-old Sue asked speaking up for the first time.

There was an awkward lull in conversation before Aunt Kate came to the rescue. "It's a boy thing, you know that. Besides, I'm taking you over to Ashley's. Didn't she just get that nice pool? What was it, three feet deep?"

"Four," the little girl corrected. "Yeah, I guess it's better. No fish pee in it." she smiled, "and you can bounce off the sides."

Jimmy guessed she was talking about one of those inflatable kiddy-pools. He briefly wondered if he could join her instead of his other cousins. Swimming in the Mediterranean had been nice, but a pool, even an inflatable one seemed preferable to a pond. He briefly wondered how some of his teachers would react to hearing 'it's a boy thing.' At least that thought brought a smile to his face. They really were unsophisticated these country people.

One of the twins finished their lunch. Jimmy watched as he stood up and then walked over to the garbage bin, scraped everything off before running his plate under the sink and then finally putting it in the dishwasher. Jimmy was used to having the plates just disappear, but figured it would be the easiest way to score points with the adults. Following the twin's example, he did likewise and noticed a little smile from his aunt as she spoke again.

"Why don't you go look to see if your mother packed a swimming suit," she said with a soft smile. "If not, I'm sure we could find an extra. There's always some hand-me-downs around."

"Bill, could you bring our suits in?" The other twin asked. He had carefully separated the chicken from the green beans and the mashed potatoes on his plate. He had organized the dish into three distinct compartments and he went around the triangle taking a morsel from each third, one at a time.

This must be Harry who spoke. But how he'd ever tell them apart, Jimmy would never know. They looked identical in every respect, even down to their clothing.

"Sure," the boy said heading for the door. Jimmy followed after him and was surprised when the twin was waiting just off the porch. "Race you to the bunkhouse?" The boy offered.

Jimmy looked towards the bunkhouse and then back at the boy, as if considering the issue. It wasn't more than 50 feet (15 meters) away.

"Sure, go!" he said jumping down the last step and hitting the ground running. Jimmy heard the other boy call out "cheater" from behind him. He ran as fast as he could and managed to keep his lead all the way to the bunkhouse, touching the outer wall a second before the other boy almost ran into him.

"I would have won if you didn't get that head start," Bill admonished.

Jimmy just shrugged.

"Yeah well, you didn't say there were any rules to the race."

"What are you, a lawyer?" the boy complained.

Jimmy shot the other boy a dirty look. "No, but my father is." He kept staring at the boy until the kid looked away.

"Sorry, I didn't mean anything by it," Bill said meekly.

That was a lie Jimmy thought, but now that he had put the boy on edge, he decided to slacken off a bit.

"I understand. But my dad's a very good lawyer and he makes a pile of money."

"Yeah, he must," the younger boy agreed quickly.

Except for Fred, Jimmy hadn't given the other boys much thought. The twins seem to be fairly close. This was the first time he had seen them separated. He supposed if he had one of them under his thumb, the other one would follow. Since he was still unsure about Fred, it may be worth having them as a backup.

"How do I tell you guys apart?" Jimmy asked seriously. "I mean you and Harry. You're twins and…"

Bill was glad for the change of subject. He was used to this question. He and his brother had been asked it a million times.

The boy smiled and said, "I have this small black box-shaped birthmark on the right side of my neck and Harry doesn't. See here?" Bill pulled his neck closer for Jimmy to examine. And yes, before you ask, we're the same down there," he said pointing towards his crotch. "About the same size and no hair yet, either of us."

Jimmy grinned. How did the kid know he'd been thinking that? Jimmy would learn later that, while the twins were physically identical, their expressions and natures revealed separate identities. Where Bill was determined and domineering, Harry was generally compliant, but totally reckless on occasion. They each carried themselves differently, and because of that, they were easy to tell apart once you got to know them.

The two boys walked into the bunkhouse together and it was Bill's turn for a question.

"Your brother said you lived in a big building. Can you see the Statue of Liberty from your place?"

"No, but we have a great view of Central Park. It's one of the best in the city. We live on the 12th floor."

"That's taller than any tree around here," Bill said as he headed towards the bathroom.

"I always wanted to see that statue. The biggest re-gift in history."

Jimmy found himself frowning as he reached his luggage. "What do you mean?"

Bill stopped in the doorway.

"The Statue of Liberty. It was originally designed to be erected at the Suez Canal. But the British, who ran the Canal in those days, said no. So it was offered to New York instead. A regift – get it?" The boy smiled, clearly thinking this was a new fact to the New York kid.

Instinctively Jimmy reach for his phone, so he could prove him wrong, but the accustomed spot in his pants pocket was empty. He smiled trying to appear a little condescending.

"I'm not sure I would describe it like that. Weren't you supposed to get some swim trunks?"

"Yeah, they're in here. Well sort of. Mom hung up a clothesline for us. It's right by the window in the bathroom, so we can stick our stuff out there right after we change. You just have to reach a bit," Bill explained as he disappeared into the bathroom, causing his voice to echo a little.

The kid kept right on talking, but Jimmy wasn't paying attention. He started taking an inventory of the contents of his suitcase. He hadn't looked inside so far. There were 4 books on his Summer Reading List for school, a bag with his toiletries (toothbrush, paste, comb, nail clippers etc.) a pair of sandals and another pair of trainers, maybe a half-dozen changes of clothing, socks, underwear, and his favorite fleece-lined outdoor jacket. That was it. Why his mom thought he'd need a jacket in South Carolina in the summer was beyond him. Then a scary alternative explanation popped into his mind. Surely, she didn't think he'd be here until… He stared down at the suitcase for a long moment.

Eventually, he pulled his thoughts back into focus. No swim suit. There was no way he was going to borrow one from his cousins. Who knows how many boys things were handed down through around here? Two maybe even three. They would no doubt be as old as him.

Bill came back into the room still talking.

"You have some packed or do you need to borrow something?" He said all too cheerfully.

Jimmy suddenly remembered something about the suitcase. Rifling the clothing out of the way he found the zip and undid it. It wasn't a secret compartment or anything like that, but the lining was removable, so it could be dried. Inside were his swimming trunks.

"Yeah, I have them here," he announced

"That's good. You could just as easily go in your underwear though. A couple boys do that. Sometimes even less. It's no big deal at the swimming hole. Only us guys ever go there," Bill explained as he started to undo his overalls.

Jimmy felt his cheek start to warm up a little. He had heard about skinny dipping of course, but even when changing for the pool back in New York, kids always went into one of the stalls. He couldn't imagine swimming naked. Some people did of course. Even adults did at that famous resort in the south of France close to where they had stayed a few days last summer. It had a strange name – Le Cap d'Agde, he remembered. According to some other American kids they met, you could walk 2 miles (3.22 km) along the beach and you'd be there. He had tried to convince Damien to go with him and check it out, but the little coward refused. He even threatened to tell on him, so Jimmy never got to see it.

From the corner of his eye, he could see Bill starting to pull his shirt off.

"I have to use the bathroom," Jimmy announced just as the other boy dropped his overalls into a puddle around his ankles. Bill was wearing tight and not so white underwear that had a hole on the side right where the waistband met the fabric. Clearly the kid intended to strip-off right in the middle of the bunkhouse, apparently unconcerned about who might come in.

Grabbing his swimsuit and other stuff, Jimmy walked quickly into the bathroom. It was an immense place. Much bigger than he had expected. There were three toilet stalls along the left-side as you walked in and three open urinals next to that. On the opposite side were five stainless-steel sinks for washing and teeth cleaning with a huge mirror all the way along. Tooth-brushes and paste in separate little plastic cups were in a neat row on a long shelf just below the mirror. Each kid obviously had their own different colored cup. Next to that was a large open window that stretched from the height of Jimmy's knees to almost the roof. He could see the clothes line outside that Bill had spoken of. All that was fine, but what really drew his attention lay at the back wall. Here was a large blue and white tiled open shower area with five shower roses a few feet apart. The boy was horrified. Did the Sullivan boys actually wash here? There would be no privacy at all. It reminded him of the facilities he'd seen in a prison movie he'd watched once. Those stories never ended well for the pretty white boy. You dropped your soap and the biggest, meanest, hairiest guy in the joint, always covered in tattoos, was ready to fuck the new "fresh meat." Jimmy shuddered at the prospect. He showered at school of course, but they had separate changing and shower stalls there. Here, basic decent privacy was obviously not an issue. Crude country people he imagined, never concerned themselves with such niceties. He would just have to shower after the others left the bunkhouse.

Jimmy kept his shirt on and changed as fast as he could. He was about to leave, when he remembered the excuse he had given Bill for coming into the bathroom. So he rushed over to one of the stalls and flushed the toilet. He could hear other people in the bunkhouse now, so he slid his bare feet into the sandals his mom had packed and put his shorts back on over the swim-suit.

Opening the bathroom door, Jimmy found the bunkhouse in total chaos. One of the twins, he was pretty sure it was Bill, was wearing a pair of red swimming trunks now and nothing else. He was yelling something to Damien who was looking through his own suitcase. The other twin was already naked and was sitting on one of the beds with a pair of green swimming trunks in his hand, seeming to be in no particular hurry to put them on. The two youngest Sullivan boys, Luke (7) and Stevie (5), if he remembered correctly, were wrestling on a bed still fully dressed. Even as he watched, the two tumbled onto the floor with a loud thud. Jimmy opened his mouth to ask if they were okay, but they were still going at it. The older one, Luke, started smack-talking as he pinned the younger one.

"Who's the boss?" Luke demanded.

Stevie squirmed a little before giving up. "You are."

"Who's going on the swing first?" the 7-year-old asked, loosening his grip a little.

"You can," replied the younger boy reluctantly.

The two youngsters were just starting to break apart when the door to the bunkhouse opened again allowing Junior to stroll in, already undoing his overalls.

"You two fighting again?" the boy yelled.

The brothers quickly separated and Luke responded, "Just wrestling."

Jimmy examined the older boy. According to Aunt Kate, Junior was 14-years-old. He shared the same general features of all the Sullivan kids. Curly black hair, olive complexion, tanned skin, brown eyes, strong facial features, and sturdy body shape without an ounce of extra fat so common in New York kids. Clearly, no one would ever doubt this lot were indeed brothers. But Jimmy noticed something hard about the eyes on this one. And Junior wasn't wearing a t-shirt under his overalls like the others. Already at 14, there was obvious upper body strength on the guy. Not a kid to be crossed, Jimmy concluded.

Junior didn't seem to care who was watching as he unclipped the metal fasteners on the suspenders of his bib-overalls and allowed gravity to let them slide to the floor. He stepped out of the pants and now dressed only in tighty-whities, started rummaging through one of the cupboards on the side wall. Yes, serious pecs on Junior. Jimmy shook his head and made his way to the front door.

Stepping outside his ears were assaulted by nothing. He could still hear noise from the bunkhouse, but other than that, the absence of normal city sounds was a little unnerving. Even in Central Park you would hear other people, vehicles, and car and truck horns in the distance. Then there were the sirens. There were always sirens – police, ambulance, fire-brigade, or whatever - 24/7. They never stopped, day or night – especially at night. Jimmy could almost sense his ears straining to hear those comforting sounds.

The engine that pierced his reverie came so suddenly that Jimmy nearly jumped out of his skin. It took a few seconds for the vehicle to come into view.

The strange machine was a dark green color and about the size of one of those new electric smart cars or even a little smaller. Fifteen-year-old Tom, the oldest Sullivan boy, was in the driver's seat. He parked the vehicle right in front of the bunkhouse. Seeing Jimmy standing there, the kid swung himself out of the cab and gave a little smile.

"You like?"

"Um, yes, it's a nice golf cart," Jimmy replied. He was pretty sure it wasn't a golf cart, but had no clue what this contraption would be called.

"Golf cart?" scoffed Tom. "This ain't no golf cart. You don't putter around on this thing cuz you're too lazy to walk a couple hundred yards. This is a UTV, a Polaris Ranger to be precise. This thing can pretty much go anywhere. It can cut through a stream or go through 6 inches (15.24 cm) of mud. It's closer to a Jeep then a golf cart," the older boy explained with a combination of pride and mild derision in his tongue. "We're taking it to the swimming hole."

Jimmy stared at the vehicle. In the back of his mind, he had imagined they were walking or maybe somebody was going to drive them. It looked like there was only enough room for two people in the cab, and he definitely wasn't going to be riding in the back. He wasn't even sure if the thing had seat belts.

"Don't you need a license to drive?" he asked.

The older boy shook his head, his mop of curly black hair moving back and forth slightly out of sync with the motion.

"Not really. This is the country kid. People learn to drive round these parts when they're tall enough for their feet to reach the pedals. Besides, we're not going anywhere near county roads. You want to ride with me, or with one of the others on the ATVs?"

"ATVs?" Jimmy asked questioningly. That sounded familiar, but he couldn't picture them immediately.

The older boy caught on. "They're about this tall," he explained using his hand to indicate the height. "And they have four wheels."

"I think I know what you mean," Jimmy answered smiling. He was pretty sure he'd seen them on the beach in Florida on a different vacation. The lifeguards had been using them. And they called them quad bikes in Santorini in the Greek Islands. But you had to be over 23 to drive them there.

"I'll ride with you," Jimmy answered.

"All right, if Junior tries to hop in the driver seat, tell him I've already called it," Tom said before walking past him and into the bunkhouse.

Jimmy decided he liked Tom better than Junior. The oldest Sullivan boy appeared to have a more welcoming, easy going manner. The same family physical features of course - the black hair, the brown eyes, olive complexion and deep tan. And unlike all the younger kids, Tom shared the obvious upper body strength and distinct biceps that Junior showed. Jimmy didn't doubt that farm work kept all the Sullivans fit and all the boys would look like this once advanced puberty had staked its claim. He knew first impressions could sometimes be wrong, but wondered whether Tom could be made an ally.

Alone now, Jimmy slowly approached the vehicle. He sort of expected it to be dirty, but it looked fairly clean, if not pristine. His dad had a BMW and his mother a Porsche. Owning cars in Manhattan was a sign of wealth, but they were not always practical. His dad drove the BMW when they had to go somewhere as a family, even if the subway would be faster. Looking into the cab Jimmy was relieved to see that there were indeed seat belts.

"Out of the way!" Fred yelled from behind him.

Jimmy looked around to see Fred coming out of the house carrying a huge cooler. There was also a blanket swung over his shoulder. He watched as his cousin walked up to the UTV and lifted his load up to the ledge that ran around the flat-bed. The cooler rested there precariously for a second, see-sawing back and forth until Fred lifted it again, and carefully placed it in the back.

"Mom always gives us too much," the boy explained, as he caught his breath. "It makes us popular though. Did you find a swim suit?"

"Yeah, mom packed it," Jimmy explained. "I have it on under my shorts."

"Good," Fred answered. "That'll make Mom happy. She was just about to start digging through stuff. Your brother has one too, right?"

"I didn't see. I guess so." Jimmy looked down at the cooler. It was certainly beat up and most of the white part had been stained by something. It was about the size he saw people taking on picnics in the park. Then the full impact of what the other guy had said hit him. It makes them popular? It had to be a joke. He couldn't imagine his cousins being the popular kids. However, like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, he wasn't in Kansas anymore, or New York in his case. He realized he needed to be very careful making assumptions in new circumstances. He was in the country, and no doubt, things were different here.

"You could be more helpful. I'll go see," Fred said with a little sigh.

Jimmy was taken aback, but didn't know what to say. He wasn't trying to be rude, but he'd been lost in his own thoughts, trying to make sense of this strange new world.

Just as his cousin reached the bunkhouse door, it opened and Tom and Junior walked out.

"We're going to head out a little ahead of time," Tom said as he passed his brother. "You keep an eye on the twins. They want to impress Damien, so don't let them show-off too much on the ATVs."

"Understood," Fred said as he passed them.

Jimmy gritted his teeth as he heard the comment about his brother. Clearly, staying in the bunkhouse all morning had been a mistake. Unlike the little twerp, he was having difficulty making the adjustment after being dropped off in the middle of bumfuck nowhere.

Oblivious, Tom gave him a little smile.

"Let's go."

Reluctantly Jimmy complied. There was something terribly wrong with having to unzip to get into a vehicle, but at least once inside, it felt like a regular car. But then Tom pushed the windshield down towards the hood, until it was sticking out at a 90-degree angle.

"I love feeling the wind in my face," the older boy said, as if that explained it.

Riding in the UTV was the most terrifying, but exhilarating experience in Jimmy's life. Even wearing a seat belt, he felt he was being tossed around like a load of laundry. If they were really following a path, he couldn't tell. It seemed every few seconds there was a bump that sent the vehicle into the air. More than a few of those times he felt like he was going to be thrown out if not for the seat belt. At other times they traveled sideways along uneven sections of ground, and Jimmy was convinced they would tip-over any second. How Junior was handling it riding in the back compartment with the cooler, he had no idea. At one point they hit a low-hanging branch that sent a bunch of leaves into the cab. This was nothing like a car at all. Finally, the ride ended. Jimmy's heart was pounding, and he felt out of breath. Strangest of all was a tingling sensation like the first time he had been on a roller coaster.

"I'm driving back," Junior complained before hopping off at the back and passing them.

"Yeah, over my dead body," Tom shot back.

Jimmy briefly wondered how long it would take to walk back to the Sullivan farm. It seemed preferable than going through that again.

They had parked in an area of open field that was probably as close to the swimming hole as you could drive. There were several mountain bikes, a dirt bike, and what he now recognized as an ATV abandoned haphazardly in the same area. The carpark Jimmy assumed. He could hear other boys yelling in the distance, and he was about to get out of the UTV when the older boy stopped him.

"Wait up a second Jimmy, we need to talk."

The 12-year-old paused and looked at Tom. The kid hadn't said much to him so far, but there was something in is tone that suggested listening wasn't optional.

"Yes, what is it?"

Tom looked towards the swimming hole after they heard a shout from some kids that were obviously already enjoying the water. He was silent for a few more seconds and Jimmy was starting to think that the older boy had forgotten what he was going to say. When he finally spoke, he sounded a little troubled.

"Last year in school we had to read this book. It was about this girl growing up in China under Mao Zedong. He was the leader of China for a long time." He paused and took a drink of water from a thermos. "He had this idea where every family should have somebody working on a farm. So they sent these city kids out to work in the country-side. Of course, the people on the farms were happy at first, thinking they were getting more workers. The thing is, the city kids were kind of useless and weren't good for anything. The whole experiment turned into a disaster and millions died."

Tom looked carefully at his cousin before continuing. "What I'm saying is we're not exactly expecting a lot from you and your brother. In fact, I'm hoping you won't make too much more work for us."

"Thanks," Jimmy muttered angrily. So he was useless? Well, it wasn't like he cared what Tom thought about him anyway.

"I'm not done," Tom said without raising his voice, but somehow causing Jimmy to freeze in place. "I don't know what's going on with you. We get no notice you're coming, we just woke up to the news we're having guests for who-knows-how-long. You're a complete stranger to us, but my parents tell me we're family. So we will make do. I figure whatever is going on, it's bad. I'm sure you're going through some stuff. You probably have a reason to be angry. That's fine. If you want to talk about it or don't that's fine too. I promise you anything you tell me will be kept in confidence. You are here though. I saw you in the bunkhouse. Figured you wanted some time to yourself. Your brother seems happy enough though."

When Jimmy didn't comment, Tom continued.

"I have this deal with my brothers. My parents know about it and they understand. If you mess up, come to me and I'll do what I can to mitigate it. I do my best to keep the peace."

Jimmy nodded. If the teen was going to say anything else, he was cut off by a small boy running up to them. The kid was African American, soaking wet, and he was wearing a pair of bright blue swimming trunks. Jimmy guessed he was 7 by his mismatching front teeth.

"Is Luke coming?" the little guy asked.

Tom smiled and answered in a lighter tone than the one he'd been using with Jimmy.

"He should only be a few minutes behind me Jay. How's your brother doing?"

The small boy smiled and said,

"Good, Doctor says he'll be fine by next week. But he hates being in the house all day. He never stops complaining about it. He has the Switch all the time though. I don't get to play it at all."

"Well, I'm sure he would much prefer to be swimming today." Tom answered.

"Yeah, that's what I told him too," Jay said before erupting into giggles. Then he seemed to notice Jimmy for the first time.

"Who are you?"

Jimmy had watched the encounter with amusement. Tom was going out of his way to be kind to the little kid. But Jimmy hadn't expected to be brought into the conversation.

"This is my cousin Jimmy. He and his brother are staying with us for a bit. But sorry Jay, his brother's older than you too. He's the same age as the twins,"Tom supplied, as if he had expected that question next.

The younger boy looked a little disappointed.

"Oh, okay. Well bye," Jay said before turning around and running back in the direction from where he came.

Jimmy waited a few seconds before the question that had been at the back of his mind, finally fully formed.

"Is he here alone?"

"Yeah, his brother hurt his foot. He tried to jump over an unlocked cow-gate. It went out from under him, and he landed badly, from what I hear. He is such a show-off."

Jimmy nodded. He had seen the gates they used in cattle pastures. They looked heavy.

"Isn't he kind of young to be by himself?"

The teen considered the question for a few seconds.

"He probably lives the closest to this place than any of us. They have a marked path to get here. Just like we do."

Jimmy hadn't noticed any path. Maybe he had seen some tracks at some point, but nothing he could follow.

"So his parents are okay with him hanging out here by himself?"

"Yeah, of course. This is the country. There are no 'bad men' 'round here," Tom joked. Besides, Jay doesn't have to ride his bike along the county road, and he's not exactly here by himself. There's always other guys here after 11:00AM in the summer."

"Okay," Jimmy said. His parents had only let him walk to school by himself at 9 and only then because he went in a group with other older kids from his building. His mom would have worried herself sick if he was out at age 7. Well, maybe not. She had dumped him here in the country alone, after all.

Tom slipped out of the cab of the UTV and pulled his shirt off revealing a muscular frame. The only time Jimmy ever saw people with their shirts off was either for swimming in the pool or changing for gym. All of his friends had a fairly similar look to them. An evident stomach with some fat showing when they bent over was pretty much the norm in New York. Tom's body was different. It was a type of body every teenage boy wanted, but few achieved. He had obvious upper body strength and well-defined muscles. There was some hair under the arm-pits, but not much. Jimmy's eyes looked down towards the teen legs as his cousin kicked off the sandals he was wearing. There was more hair there, short black curly hair. It took Jimmy a little more effort than usual to pull his eyes away.

"You're welcome to hang out with me for a while if you like. Your brother shouldn't be too far behind." Tom offered.

Jimmy looked away. "I'll be fine."

He wondered if maybe he should have taken Tom up on his offer. The oldest Sullivan boy was the only one trying to be nice, but as he looked off in the direction of the swimming hole, he decided he should make the effort to get his own little group together. He didn't want to be seen as a tag-a-long to his older cousin. He needed to start building his own reputation.

"Suit yourself," the older boy said as his bare feet crushed some well-worn grass. He headed off up a small rise.

Jimmy got out of the UTV and followed the older boy up the hill. At the top, he stopped and looked about. The swimming hole itself was surrounded by natural forest and lined by tall trees that made for a shaded, primitive feel. There were large boulders on the far side away from the trees where you could lie and dry off without a towel. On the near side there was a short beach, but rather than sand, it had been formed naturally by hundreds of thousands of small white-washed pebbles. The younger kids could wade happily in this part which only got deeper very slowly until you got about 25 feet (7.62 m) into the water. Then the bottom dropped away precipitously. It really was a hole in that deepest part – a sink-hole that had been there for as long as anyone in the collective memory of the people of Harrison County, South Carolina knew. The conventional wisdom said it was at least 30 feet (9.14 m) deep, but some maintained it was bottomless. There were two rope swings affixed high up on the trees. The first was actually made with metal chain and had a large circular iron ring attached to the end. The second swing was made from rope, but had a flat wooden board attached to its end. Jimmy watched boys choosing to sit or stand on the board for their turn at a death-defying leap into the dark depths of the sink-hole.

It truly was a beautiful spot. He wondered why it wasn't overrun with tourists. Perhaps because it was so damn difficult to get to with no roads and only tracks eked out from the surrounding forest by generations of boys making their way here on hot days. If it had been in a proper park, Jimmy imagined how it might look. There would be a nice little bridge spanning the middle of the pond where he would have enjoyed dropping stones into the water when he was younger. There would be a few picnic tables and benches here and there, never too far from concrete paths. Of course, the area he was in now would be made into a little clearing for BBQs. He briefly looked down at the grass and although it was beaten down from a lot of use, it was long and unkempt. Of course, none of the stuff he was used to seeing in a park was really there. Instead, it was just untamed nature and it left him a little uncomfortable.

Jimmy decided to direct his mind towards something more practical. If he was going to be here for a while, he would need to make some friends, and have allies and supporters. Of course, he was used to being the center of a group, which meant he would either have to take over one, or establish an entirely new network. But then he realized, he was missing his biggest asset – money. He had dropped his wallet, unopened, into his suitcase back at the bunkhouse when he got changed and hadn't given it a thought. He guessed he only had a bit over $100 in cash. Surviving on an allowance of a measly $500 per month wasn't easy, and Jimmy had repeatedly argued with his parents for more. He assumed his dad would continue to pay the pocket money into his bank account, and he could use his ATM card to get more cash. But how far away was the nearest ATM? He didn't even have his phone to check. And would there be anything to spend money on anyway? He hadn't seen a single store all day. Oh well, he'd need to rely on his other skills. He had done that before.

Jimmy looked over the boys around the swimming hole with a more calculating eye. There was one group of little kids. The boy he'd seen earlier, Jay, seemed to be part of that. Two of the boys were smashing sticks together, pretend sword fighting, while the rest were playing in the water with a basketball, taking turns to see how long they could float using it for buoyancy. He could easily take over a bunch of little kids, but that would do nothing to increase his street credibility. There was another group by one of the swings that looked like it had a couple kids closer to his age and a few older ones. That might be worth approaching, but both Tom and Junior had joined that group, and he didn't want to look like he was trying to sponge off them. The last group consisted of four boys splashing each other in the water. That would be the best target for now. If they were the losers in the community, he could abandon them later. He was just about to start walking over when something else caught his eye. There was one boy by himself. Jimmy hadn't noticed him at first because he was hanging out in the shade provided by some taller trees around the place. Jimmy changed course. He needed an informant, as they said on the cop shows on TV.

He made his way over to the boy. It was hot, but he hadn't removed his shirt or sandals like his cousin. It was hard to tell at a distance, but as he came closer, he noticed the kid was a bit bigger than him, and probably a year or two older. That was fine. It showed he wasn't afraid of approaching older guys. The solitary boy didn't move from his place on the towel as Jimmy walked over and gave him a little nod.

"Hi, said Jimmy in his friendliest tone. "It seems you picked a nice spot here in the shade. Can I join you a little?"

The boy had been staring into the water of the swimming hole, and hadn't noticed him approaching. He turned slightly towards Jimmy with a smile.

"Sure, have a seat if you like," the boy said patting part of the empty towel next to him.

Jimmy smiled in return, and sat down in the offered space. Unfortunately, a quick analysis led him to conclude, he probably wouldn't end up making friends with the kid. He had a bit of a stomach and boy breasts. Jimmy hated breasts on boys. This kid hadn't reached that point of being disgustingly overweight, but he could stand to lose a few pounds.

"Thanks, it's a hot day." The weather would be a safe enough subject to start on.

"Yeah, a lot like yesterday. I'm Jason. Haven't seen you around before. Visiting someone?"

Jimmy guessed new people showing up here was pretty rare.

"I'm visiting my cousins, the Sullivans." He tried to say the name in a neutral tone. Not knowing the family status, he wasn't sure if it would be a positive or negative. If he had been more confident of the local politics, he might have said, "Fred's cousin," but by using the last name it put a little distance between them. At least he hoped that's how it would be seen.

"Gotcha! So I guess I won't be picking on you then," Jason said with a little laugh.

Jimmy smiled politely though he started to get a sinking feeling.

"That's nice to hear, but why?"

"Your cousins are tight and there's a lot of them. If you pick a fight with one of them, you'll be outnumbered." Jason shook his head. "About a week ago we were here, and my brother and my little cousin were picking on Stevie. They had him crying. Didn't hit him or anything, they just called him a few names. I heard it about the same time the others did. Anyways, I saw Tom going over there and I started heading that way too. I'm not fond of my brother, or my cousin for that matter, but you know how it is." Jason gave an exaggerated shrug.

"We separated them, and I thought that was that, but Tom says he wants to talk to my brother and cousin. I was okay with that since I didn't think Tom would hit a little kid. Anyways, he starts talking to the two of them. He doesn't threaten to hurt them, he doesn't shout. He does start telling them what little shits they are though. How embarrassed their mothers would be if they heard what they had done.

I can't say he was wrong about that, but I was starting to feel a little bad for my kid-brother. He was starting to tear up. I wanted to tell Tom that was enough but, no one else around was paying any attention to us, and every one of your cousins had wandered over and stood behind Tom with their arms crossed. I felt like a sheep surrounded by a pack of wolves, I can tell you."

"Anyways, my brother and cousin apologized, and they're all friends now. But my brother never apologizes unless it's to my parents, or to me when I twist his arm behind his back."

"Really?" Jimmy was starting to regret not getting to know his cousins before approaching Jason.

"Well, I can't say I really know them that well. My brother and I are here visiting from New York."

"You live in New York City? That must be something."

Feeling on slightly firmer ground, Jimmy smiled. "Yes, we have a condo in Manhattan. Have you ever been there?"

"Yes, but only once. Actually, we went there about a month ago. My dad restores old furniture a bit, and he was driving it up to some dealer there." Jason shook his head, seemingly amused by the idea. "That was just there and back. New York is a big place with lots of noise. My dad promised next time, we'll visit the Natural History Museum. Maybe stay overnight someplace on the way back. You ever been there? To that museum I mean?"

"Yeah," Jimmy responded. My parents took me when I was little and I've been a few times on school trips. But you can't see it all in one day, I can promise you that. It's best visited by floors, and even then, there's a lot."

Jimmy remembered Jason's restoration comment. "Your dad restores stuff you said? Like antiques?"

Before Jason could reply, the two boys heard the sound of several engines coming closer. Jimmy turned to see what was happening. Four vehicles emerged from the woods in quick succession and parked haphazardly near the UTV. All the boys were wearing helmets though the two little kids who were seated in front of the drivers wore nothing else but that, and a pair of swimming trunks. Even from this distance though, Jimmy recognized Damien, or at least his shirt. It was one of the more expensive ones, the type you wore out to dinner. His mom had not packed anything comparable in his suitcase. It must have been packed by mistake.

"Well, that'll be the rest of your lot," Jason said slowly standing up to wave.

Jimmy took his leave from the older boy and made his way towards his brother.

Damien smiled when he saw him coming down the slope.

"Jimmy, did you hit that huge puddle? We went straight through it! Water went everywhere," he said with a wide grin.

"I can see that. You ruined your shirt. That's Emporio Armani and worth about $300. Mom's going to kill you!"

Damian looked down at the shirt he was wearing. Jimmy doubted he had even given it any thought.

"Oh. It's not ruined," Fred added, acting as peacemaker. He pulled off a jacket he was wearing and draped it over the ATV. "I took the brunt of it. Besides, it'll wash off."

"Who pays $300 for a shirt anyway?" asked one of the twins with a snicker. Jimmy looked for the birthmark. Yes, it was Bill.

"Yeah, I could get a bunch of new games for that," Harry, the other twin said.

"It's a dress shirt," Jimmy supplied and then realized that probably didn't mean much to them. "It must have been thrown into your case by accident."

It was beginning to dawn on Damien that he had made a mistake. "I'm sorry."

"I'm sure it will be fine. You can always say it's my fault," Fred said.

"Hey Jason, is Ricky around? He owes me a favor, I was hoping to collect."

Jason who had watched the exchange in silence came a little closer.

"He and your cousin Peter went into the woods. They've been a while. Should be back soon."

"His lucky day. Guess I'll go swimming first," Fred said receiving a little chuckle from everyone but the city boys.

Damien looked at the water. "It looks nice. Um... Does anything live in it?"

"Well yeah," Bill started. "There's some fish and snapping turtles."

"Yeah that's why you don't go skinny-dipping here. Not after well..." Harry said before he was cut off by his twin.

"We are not supposed to talk about that."

"Why not, they should know. They're family and Jason was here for it, so he knows."

"Still, we're not supposed to say."

"What happened?" Damian demanded sounding a little scared. Even Jimmy was listening attentively now.

Bill let out a long exhalation. "Guess you should know. Well, you see our brother went skinny-dipping here one time and the turtle thought his dick was a worm and bit it right off. That's how Sue became our sister."

The laughter that erupted from the group made Jimmy's cheeks go red. He belatedly remembered that Bill had mentioned they went skinny-dipping sometimes. Mentally he moved the twins from possible friends to enemies. They would be joining Damien under his thumb as soon as he could get something on them.

Damian started to laugh with the group. "You had me scared."

"Don't worry, there's no turtles around here. We make too much noise," Fred supplied. "Seriously though, if you ever see a black snake, make sure to get away from it. Especially if it's in the water. Those are water moccasins and we kill them on sight. We're not losing our swimming hole to them."

Jimmy looked over at his cousin. "You kill snakes?"

"Just the poisonous types and that's not a joke," Fred said smiling.

There were a few seconds of awkward silence before Bill spoke up. "Right well, there's the swing we were telling you about. See, it's not so scary. Come on Dib, it's fun."

Jimmy was surprised the twin had used the name his brother reserved for his best friends. Dib was an abbreviation for Damien Ignatius Bukland, his full name. It generally took the kid months before he trusted other boys enough to reveal his secret name.

Damien ran up the small hill with the twins. They stripped off their shorts, shirts, and shoes quickly. Then, without breaking stride, one of the twins grabbed the rope that had been hooked onto a tree and swung out over the water before dropping with a loud scream and a graceful splash. The wooden seat part had been taken off Jimmy noted.

It took Damien a little time to build up the courage before reaching for the rope himself. This was done with the aid of a long stick to drag the rope back to the river bank. The other twin gave him some last-minute advice. Jimmy was mildly surprised as his brother took a few steps back before jumping and letting the rope carry him over the water. For a second, Jimmy thought he was going to hold on and return to the land, but as Damien started to swing back, he fell, cannon-balling into the water before popping up like a cork.

"That does look like fun," Jimmy admitted. "I wouldn't mind trying it myself."

"Well come on then. It's not much fun just watching," Fred said pulling his own shirt off, revealing that his chest was just about as tanned as his arms. He was slightly wider in the shoulders than Jimmy, but not much. Jimmy was a swimmer and spend many hours in the pool practicing, and he was very proud of his body. Fred didn't have any armpit hair or anything along those lines, but there was something else about the kid he just couldn't put his finger on right then.

Jimmy walked over to the UTV and peeled his shirt off. He placed it in the cab, which seemed the safest place for it. He wished they had brought sun-screen because he knew he'd burn quickly in this heat. Most of the local boys were only dressed in either underwear briefs or speedo-like swimming trunks. Interestingly, no board-shorts here. But these kids had no doubt, been working on their tans for months. As he went to remove his sandals, he couldn't help but notice how pale his skin was compared to that of his cousin. The problem was, the pools Jimmy swam in back home in New York were either inside, or at least covered. The deep tan he had worked on in France last summer had long since disappeared over the New York winter.

Fred waited for him with Jason. As he walked back towards the two, he couldn't help but think there was something else strange with Fred. It was something Jimmy didn't figure out until he was standing in line waiting for his turn on one of the swings. As Fred was reaching for the rope, it hit him. The kid had a different body shape than most of his friends back at home. There wasn't that little roll of fat that mostly appeared when New York guys bent over. Fred's calf muscles were more defined too. The twins were the same, Jimmy noticed now he knew what to look for. It gave him an uneasy feeling. But he pushed those thoughts from his mind as he took his turn on the rope swing. It was fun, kind of like zip-lining, and the water was amazingly refreshing.

He tried out both swings a dozen times. However, the act of swimming to the shore and then climbing back up the muddy riverbank was becoming a little repetitive after a while, and he wanted to do something else. Saying he needed a break, Jimmy returned to the UTV and put on his sandals to protect his feet before climbing onto one of the big rocks that made up the edge on one of the sides of the swimming hole. They were in the sunlight and the huge rocks were warm beneath him. Jimmy was reluctant to think it, but this was actually kind of fun. From his little perch, he got a magnificent view of everything else going on.

He counted a total of 22 kids at the swimming hole at the time. If he excluded himself and his brother, his cousins still made up a sizable proportion of the group. It was clear, he was going to have to befriend his relatives. Of course, so far, his attempts had been less than a stellar success. In fact, by no stretch of the imagination could it be considered a good day. He'd never really been on the outside like this before, and he would need to change that.

The large group that Tom and Junior had joined had split up into a few smaller ones. A couple of them had migrated over to Tom's UTV and were sharing drinks from the cooler. It looked like water mostly. A football had appeared from somewhere. The impromptu game seemed a bit rough, especially since it involved kids of different ages. Jimmy thought of joining in. He could easily see he had better skills than many of those playing and that could improve his profile.

"Working on your tan?" Fred's voice came from behind him.

Jimmy jumped, startled as he was pulled from his thoughts.

"Just relaxing," he exclaimed.

Uninvited, Fred climbed up the rocks to sit next to him leaving a trail of wet footprints. Jason wasn't far behind. Jimmy guess they were friends. Given the story Jason had related to him, that was a bit surprising.

"Yeah well, how are you doing?" Fred asked.

"Fine, I guess. It's been unexpected." That was pretty much the most diplomatic way Jimmy could put it.

"Yeah, I bet," Fred agreed spreading himself out. "This is nice."

"How long are you staying with your cousins?" Jason asked finding a spot a little lower on one of the smaller rocks.

"Not long," Jimmy replied.

"A while," Fred said almost at the same time.

Jimmy wanted to punch the other boy. He scrambled to come up with a convincing lie.

"We're buying the neighboring condo. There's a lot of construction going on. It's really messy at the moment and Mom wanted us to get some fresh air."

"Construction," Jason mused. "Well I hope that goes well. A couple weeks ago my dad was redoing the upstairs bathroom at the O'Connors. Shouldn't have taken more than a few days, but he found one of their pipes was leaking. He had to tear out all the rotted wood and the water had attracted termites. It was just a real mess. All from just a little drip. My dad says people don't understand how much damage water can do. He likes to tell people that the Grand Canyon is essentially water damage."

"You said your dad did restoration work?" Jimmy said wanting to get back to a safer subject.

"He does. That's kind of a side job for him. Mostly he just fixes things he finds himself. Sometimes people will bring him stuff," Jason said with a shrug.

"You should see their house. They have some weird furniture. Like that captain's desk," Fred said leaning back and closing his eyes.

"What's a captain's desk?" Jimmy asked genuinely curious.

"It's just a little desk," said Jason. "They used them mostly on old sailing ships. They didn't have much space, so instead of the drawer pulling out, they have them on the side. I helped my dad fix it up. I do my homework on it now."

Jimmy wondered whether it might be worth seeing. "Maybe I could take a look sometime."

"Sure! Come around anytime. Do you like history?" Jason asked.

Jimmy had to consider his answer. He had an interest in antiques, and he always got excellent grades in school.

"I guess you could say that," he finally said.

"Oh, you and Bill should get along then," Fred said sitting up, "He's a history buff."

Jimmy made a mental note of that. Bill had surprised him before with that business about the Statue of Liberty. He hated having his status as smartest kid in the room challenged.

"There's Ricky," Jason suddenly commented. "What the hell took him so long?"

Jimmy looked around and saw a boy about their age, emerging from the woods. He had a shirt and swimming trunks on. Aside from his blond hair, which was a bit unusual in this group, he didn't seem very remarkable.

"I don't know, but I'm going to find out. He owes me," Fred said getting to his feet before jumping from the rocks and into the water.

His cousin had mentioned Ricky earlier. Curious, Jimmy started after him. But instead of jumping into the water, he simply hurried along the shore-line of the swimming hole. Despite the different route and being careful where he was putting his bare feet, he managed to arrive only a few seconds behind Fred. Even so, the two boys were already talking by the time he managed to catch up.

"I ended up taking a nap," Ricky said turning slightly as Jimmy walked closer. The boy had a pair of very thin lips and these curved upwards in a smile.

"Hello, you're new here."

Jimmy had hurried to catch up, but became a little flustered once Ricky spoke to him.

"Yeah, I'm visiting Fred and my other cousins," he explained.

The boy had very piercing blue eyes that Jimmy noticed quickly glared up and down his body.

"Well, that's nice. I'm Rick, but you can call me Ricky if you like." The boy's tone softened and sounded almost sleepy as he offered his hand with a little smile.

Instinctively, Jimmy reached out to take it.

"I'm James Bukland." He wasn't sure why he gave his formal Christian name, rather than his nickname, and even added his family name. It was the way he introduced himself to adults. But kids never shook hands and were not that formal. He felt like an idiot. And despite the handshake, there was something about Ricky that screamed 'odd' to Jimmy.

"Jason told me you went in with Nick. Where is he?" Fred asked.

"His mom called. That foal he supposed to raise is on its way."

So cell phones did work out here Jimmy thought to himself. He wondered if his mom had lied about the dead spot or whether the farm was just in a bad location.

"I thought it was supposed to come in a couple of weeks," Fred said sounding a little concerned.

"Well, babies come when babies come. I hope it comes out okay. He ran out of there so fast I didn't get a turn," Ricky said with some amusement.

"Speaking of that, I was going to call in that favor," Fred said turning slightly towards Jimmy. "Can you give us a few minutes? I'll introduce you around when we get back. You have some more cousins here."

"That's an understatement," Ricky said glancing over at Jimmy. "I'm not one of them by the way."

Jimmy nodded. He was a little put-off by Ricky. He kind of sounded different and it wasn't just the Southern accent his cousin had. It was like he was trying to imitate something. He wondered why the two needed privacy. It might be worth looking into.

"Tom said I could hang out with him for a bit anyway," Jimmy added as the other two boys walked off towards the woods.

Jimmy started walking towards the football game, but it was a ruse. He took about 20 steps before he turned his head slightly and watched as the boys disappeared among the trees. So he followed, hanging back as much as he dared to stay out of sight. Once in the trees himself, he noted that the ground surface became moist, almost squishy in places. It was covered in leaves, bark and plant stems in various stages of decomposition. That made shadowing the two much easier as he could move almost silently. But that hardly mattered, as neither Fred nor Ricky glanced his way. They were far too engaged in their own conversation. At one point Fred laughed, but he couldn't hear what was said. Jimmy still hadn't made up his mind about Fred, but it couldn't hurt having something on him.

His older cousins were another thing to consider. He wasn't sure about them yet either. He wanted to get the twins back for being so friendly with Dame. Maybe some of his older cousins could be helpful with that. And as for the youngest two Sullivan boys, Luke and Stevie, he didn't really consider them relevant to his plans.

"Here's a good spot," Fred announced.

Jimmy hadn't realized how close he was getting to them. Stopping, he crouched behind a tree. He now had a good view of the two boys about 10 feet (3.05 m) away.

"All right, now when was the last time you showered?" Ricky asked, kicking off his shoes before kneeling down on them.

"Hey, I went swimming!"

"That's not the same thing." Ricky said as he reached up and pulled Fred's shorts down in one quick movement.

Jimmy's eyes immediately went to his cousin's exposed crotch. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. He didn't have any frame of reference for what was unfolding before his eyes. Seeing other boys privates like this was something new – strange, but new.

Ricky moved the shaft of Fred's cock around, wiping it down, and Jimmy could see it getting harder. He was starting to feel embarrassed, but at the same time, he felt a tingling in his own crotch. There was a definite movement against the fabric of his swimming trunks. No, that couldn't be happening now. Not now. Fred was hard, and Jimmy was going the same way.

Then Ricky did something completely astounding. He put his mouth over the shaft of his cousin's cock. The New York boy couldn't believe it. He tore his eyes away and looked up into the trees. It was a mistake coming here. Pushing his hips back a little, he tried leaning against the tree, to change the angle. He could still feel his penis growing. This was worse than when it happened at school. At least there, he was sitting down and had a desk to hide behind. Jimmy squatted down. He tried angling his hips so that his own hard dick was pointing up towards his stomach and would be concealed by his shorts. Of course, the mesh part of his swimming suit was restraining the free movement of his boner.

He took another glance at the boys in front of him. Ricky was sliding up and down Fred's cock with what appeared to be a practiced, easy motion. Like one of the girls in some of those videos he had secretly watched on the internet. He could feel his erection start to strain against the fabric of the swim-trunks almost painfully now. He risked moving his hand, just enough to free his cock from the mesh. It didn't make it go down, but it wasn't as painful anymore.

Ricky continued bobbing his head up and down for what seemed like several minutes. His cousin simply stood there with one of his hands resting on his hips, and the other on the kid's head. Fred's butt was right out there in the open. Now that his own problem was concealed, Jimmy felt a little easier watching events unfold. Then about two minutes later, without warning, his cousin grabbed Ricky's head in both hands, thrust forward and then paused. Ricky seemed surprised and pulled off the erection as soon as he could free his head. The cock was already starting to shrink by then.

"Is a warning too hard for you to give," Ricky said accusingly, looking up at Fred.

"Sorry, you're too good for your own good," Fred responded with a smirk. "I didn't really mean to. I was trying to hold back. But in the end, I just couldn't."

Ricky slowly stood up and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. There was an obvious tent in his swimming trunks.

"I'm sorry," Fred repeated. "How about you show me how it's done? Giving a warning I mean."

It sounded like they were going to go at it again, Jimmy thought. Had he really seen Ricky give his cousin a blow job? Yes, he had, and now Fred had offered to do him back. And had Ricky swallowed all Fred's stuff? He must have. Jimmy had been making "stuff" for about 6 months now. All guys did when they got to a certain age he knew. Sperm it was called and they'd learned about it in health class at school. It was used for making babies. And Fred looked old enough to be making it too. Ricky had mentioned "a warning." Was Fred supposed to warn him when he was about to come? That must be it.

Jimmy knew all about blowjobs of course. What guy didn't? But he never expected to see one. Well, on the internet sex videos okay, but not in real life. Maybe when he was like, 30 and had a girlfriend, but not here, not now. There was a part of him that wanted to linger and watch. However, another deeper, more primordial part of his brain screamed at him to get out of there. He quietly slipped away.

Jimmy made his way back in the direction of the swimming hole in a daze, pondering what he'd seen. He still couldn't believe it. Was Fred gay? He must be. "Normal" kids he knew didn't do that. Jimmy had nothing against gays really, but they were asking for trouble if they did it in the open like that. Well, he consoled himself. That's something Fred wouldn't want gossiped about. He was sure of that. Great blackmail potential there. He knew Fred would be taking his orders from now on. He smiled at the prospect.

As he walked along the track back towards the noise of the kids on the rope swings, Jimmy was still feeling light-headed. But then he heard another sound that caught his attention. This time it was laughter, and it sounded distinctly like his brother. Thinking he must be closer to the swimming hole than he thought, he headed towards that new noise, only to come across another sight that stopped him in his tracks.

The twins and his brother were standing in a circle, butt naked and with their hands on each other's cocks. He made his way over towards them and realized they were all standing on the blanket he had seen Fred carrying earlier. What the hell was going on? How backwoods were his cousins? Were they all inbred queers who fucked anything that moved?

"What the hell are you doing?" Jimmy shouted feeling a little satisfaction as the three of them jumped. Dame was the only one who reached down to pull up his swim trunks though. He could feel his own problems start to recede as he came closer.

The twins just blinked at him before looking at each other. "What's your problem?" One of them turned and he saw the birthmark. Bill!

"We're just having a little fun," he said.

"Yeah," even to Jimmy's own ears, he sounded a bit too loud. "That isn't what it looks like to me." He was getting closer now and the twins seem to get the idea that they should cover up. "What are the two of you doing to my brother?"

Harry, the other twin, stared at him angrily and screamed back, "Nothing! It's none of your business."

Jimmy's mind still felt like it was in a fog. He was angry. But before he could think of what to say next, a voice called out.

"What's going on?" Fred, having heard the yelling, had come running. He was a few feet away from Jimmy and the others.

"What's all the shouting about?"

"Nothing," one of the twins answered.

Jimmy figured it was time to drop his bombshell.

"They had my brother naked, and they were…doing stuff to him."

Fred looked at the twins and waited for one of them to respond.

Harry finally succumbed to the stare.

"We all were. Doing it. Dib wanted to."

Fred took the whole scene in for a moment.

"Damien, is everything okay?" he asked. Did they force you into that?"

"No, I wanted to…," Damian answered in a quiet voice as he shifted from one foot to the other. "We were just having fun."

"He's done it before." One of the twins added.

There was a moment of silence before Damien smiled nervously.

"Well not like this exactly." Damian glanced over at his brother, who was hovering a few feet away.

"Um, I had this friend, I kind of did something with."

Jimmy's attention was peaked. It wasn't every day your kid-brother gave you more ammunition to use against him.

"You never told me that. What did you do?"

Damien looked between Jimmy and the twins. He seemed to be weighing the implications in his head.

"We just rubbed them together. We called it sword fighting. It was just for fun."

"Who did you do it with?" Jimmy demanded. His brother didn't have that many friends and he wondered when this might have happened.

"He is just a friend," Damian answered. He gave a pleading look to his brother to drop the subject.

Jimmy ran through the list of his brother's friends, but there were some blank spaces there.

"Tell me who it was." Jimmy raised his voice, and moved a little closer to his brother like a prosecutor demanding an answer from the accused on the witness stand.

He knew his brother was about to spill his guts, when Fred stepped between them.

"Calm down," he said angrily. "He was just messing around with a friend. It's no big deal." Fred looked over his shoulder.

"It was just for fun, right?"

Damien nodded.

"All right then, that's the end of it," Fred said, shooting his New York cousin a look that said to back off.

Jimmy gritted his teeth as he stepped back. He should have expected this reaction from his faggot cousin. He'd just been doing far worse things with another boy.

But all was not lost Jimmy thought. He could tell Junior or Tom. The older kids would be suitably shocked to hear about this. He was sure. Jimmy crossed his arms and leaned against a tree. It might be worth keeping this to himself for now. He could blow everything up right before he left. That'd be worth waiting for.

"Sword fighting sounds like fun," one of the twins piped up, trying to gloss over the awkward moment.

"Yeah maybe we can try it later," the other twin added, like nothing was wrong.

"It seems like everything's fine," said Ricky, his soft voice coming from behind Fred.

Jimmy glanced over his shoulder noticing the other boy for the first time in this little group. He was annoyed that no one else appeared upset. Did everyone know what went on in the woods? Did Fred suspect he had followed him?

Ricky step closer tilting his head and then slowly started to smile. For one brief terrifying second, Jimmy was absolutely certain the other boy knew. Jimmy felt his heart pounding, and he pushed himself away from the tree.

"Queers!" He shouted as he ran back to the safety of the other kids at the swimming hole.

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