Jimmy sat in the shelter that early morning waiting for the bus. Absent-mindedly, his finger slid over the surface of the bench with some pride. This had been his creation, or at least partly his. The new farm where they now lived had a long driveway and the driver refused to travel the extra half mile on the private road. They needed a place to sit and wait, especially on rainy days, so the bus shelter was one of the first improvements they built on the new property.
Jimmy had learned a lot about himself in the last six months. In his old life, he had treated his brother with contempt because he resented his very existence. Damien was the true son, and he could never be that. However, that was the old demon residing in his soul. After what they had both been through, and how close to death they came, Jimmy gained a new perspective on life. The thing he thought was the defining element of his character, the fact that his mom wasn't really his birth mother, hadn't been of any significance to anyone but him. His parents loved him, and now, so did his brother. From feeling isolated, alone, and having no family, Jimmy now had real parents and a brother, and more cousins than he ever imagined. Even though everyone now knew Jimmy was adopted, he was accepted without reservation and had nothing to prove to anybody. He had also come to the realization that his essence was defined by the people in his life, not by the blood relationship of those people to him. That no longer mattered. Had it ever mattered at all?
His "parents," for that's what they really were, were supportive when he revealed his homosexuality. He thought his father would be the biggest problem. He wasn't. They had discussed it often since he came out.
"The key to a successful life Jimmy, is not money, a big house, or even college degrees. It's finding someone to share your life," his dad had said. "I'm pretty sure the sex of that person doesn't matter one little bit. Though I've never deserved loyalty, your mother has stuck with me through the good and the bad times. That's what's most important in life Son."
Jimmy turned his head and looked about. The air was cold, but crisp and clean. The snow was melting in uneven patches, causing little wisps of fog to rise into the air. It would have been very quiet this early, if not for his brother and cousins.
Initially, the FBI hadn't suggested witness protection for the Sullivan family. But that changed when the real story leaked out. It was learned days later that the Colombians had a spy in the Bureau ranks who provided Angel Ramirez, the man behind "La Oscuridad," (the Dark) cartel, the real story of the events on the farm in Harrison County, South Carolina that Tuesday in August. When that became known, the FBI dropped the official cover story and a frantic reassessment of safety was undertaken. The Sullivan and the Bukland boys had caused the Colombian cartel to lose face by taking out four of their most elite hit-men and that had made them targets. Besides, there were a lot of Sullivans that could be targeted. So Uncle Jack, Aunt Kate and all the children had been dragged, kicking and screaming, into witness protection with the Bukland family.
That protective status might not last forever though. They might re-emerge one day in their original identities and return to the farm in South Carolina. Uncle Jonas and two hired hands were looking after the place for now.
The latest information the FBI had was a rumor that Ramirez had been killed by one of his lieutenants, and the new boss was making a fuck-up of everything he touched. Now the new man's head was also on the chopping block. Senior FBI Special Agent Sam Richmond was of the opinion that old vendettas would be forgotten as new leadership pursued different priorities. Perhaps he was right. The plan was to review the safety and potential risks of the Sullivans in six months. That didn't help Jimmy's family though. His dad had testified in the trial of the decade and the Giordano crime family had been decapitated and severely weakened. But what elements remained were still a significant threat. So for now, the story was that the two families had always lived close together and had been wiped out by a tornado, back east. They had decided to move to the West Coast, pool their resources, and buy a horse farm. After all, they had to break away from their old contacts and profession. Horses were about as different from chickens and alpacas as you could get.
It had been a fascinating experience so far. Both families were now involved in farming, but they all had a lot to learn about horses. Sue, Aunt Kate, and even his Mom had a leg up at first, because they had experience with the animals before. But males are competitive by nature and everyone tried to learn as much as possible, as quickly as they could. Damien had taken to it like a duck to water of course. That boy was a natural farmer when anything to do with animals was involved. And his beloved dogs, Peter, Paul, Mary, and Wendy, and a bunch of puppies had made the trek west as well.
What Luke and Stevie said all those months ago was true. Sue was still the most difficult to work with. She was bossy by nature, and now considered herself the resident expert about anything to do with horses and ponies. Besides, she was never happier than when she got to order the older boys around. Despite this, Jimmy liked her. She had a domineering nature, but she knew her stuff and had saved their animals when an unexpected winter storm set in. She was with the other boys at present, collecting what was left of the snow, in an effort to start a spur-of-the-moment snowball fight. Damien and the twins were in the thick of it of course.
Jimmy's relationship with Damien had improved out of all recognition. They were brothers now, not just people who lived under the same roof. It started when they discovered a mutual love and talent for Airsoft. Perhaps it was a subconscious attempt to relive "that day" on the Sullivan farm. When the two of them were in a fortified position, no one could take them down. But the bond between them had grown and blossomed ever since. Jimmy had become the brother he knew he could be. He was always the first to be the backup for Damien in any situation. He was also tutoring his brother in English, Math and Science, and Damien was showing the older boy many of his secret tricks with animals. They still had separate bedrooms even though the Buklands lived in the smaller house on the new farm. Both boys actually missed the companionship they had shared with all the others in the old bunkhouse. Still, it wasn't uncommon for one of them to slip into the other's bed late at night for a little brotherly bonding. Damian claimed to be bisexual. At least that was his latest position on the matter.
The twins were still the twins of course, and always inseparable. Jimmy had to admit he got along with Bill the best. They both loved history, even if they sometimes had a preference for different historical periods. But often their interests would intersect and they could carry on an argument, or just a friendly conversation, for hours at a time. Harry had discovered an enthusiasm for reading and was now trying to learn to write. He had started work on an historical novel that Bill and Jimmy were helping him with. And both boys still loved hunting and fishing, which they did whenever the opportunity arose.
Tom shouted out a warning about having to sit in wet clothes all day, but no one seemed to give it much mind. Jimmy smiled at that. He had never imagined he would want a big brother, but that is what Tom had become. His crush had died-down somewhat, but it was buried deeper now. They had never repeated the experience they shared in alpaca field number three, all those months ago. Tom still took on the role of chief protector, friend, and ally of the boys and was loved all the more for it. Jimmy might have pushed his sexual relationship with Tom further, but the older boy now had a girl-friend and was less interested in boy-on-boy action these days.
Junior shouted his own warning about a full-on snow-ball fight, which made Jimmy laugh. The now 15-year-old was still intense, but on the new farm, the boys weren't all sharing one big room and that seemed to mellow him out a good deal. The girlfriend probably helped too. He was captain of the town's JV football team and had fallen in love with one of the cheerleaders. A match made in heaven everyone said. Jimmy doubted it, but he was glad the guy was truly happy for once.
Then there was Luke and Stevie. At present Stevie was still regarded as the baby of the family, but that was changing fast. Jimmy had grown to love the little guy. He would go from person-to-person on the farm asking if they had time to play with him and both Damian and he were included in those invitations now. He had become the even littler brother he always wanted.
Jimmy watched Luke as he dodged a snowball by rolling through a small pile of snow. In spite of the 5-year age difference between them, he was probably closest to that boy. Since Jimmy had come out as openly gay to everyone, Luke had become his constant shadow. Ricky had been right about the kid. The boy was gay, but that was a secret only Jimmy knew at present. His little shadow seemed to have a crush on a different classmate every week and always sought his older cousin's advice on what to say and do.
Jimmy's thoughts drifted to the last member of their little group. Fred had had the hardest time of anyone adjusting to the move across the country. He was straight, but he had loved Ricky in that way only friends can. And then there was his relationship with Jimmy. As bad as that had started off, they had long since buried the hatchet. In a lot of ways, he was like Tom. Anyone who came into their circle of friends, was someone Fred would care for and fight to protect. Jimmy was more than happy to be in that circle now.
All the boys still managed to get together as a group to have "parties" from time to time, like they had at the old farm. But with Tom and Junior now dating, they happened with less frequency these days. Luke was still considered too young to attend, but he had pretty much figured out what was going on and was now inviting friends from his new school for sleepovers. Fred had scandalous tales to relate about some of those events.
Jimmy was now in the 8th grade and doing well. He found the academic standard well below private school in New York, but his Math and Science and English teachers had recognized his talent and were pushing hard to ensure he was exposed to the more challenging material. He had also started a tentative relationship with a 9th grader named Jason Bachelor. Unfortunately, Jason was still coming to terms with his sexual identity and the liaison was complicated at best. In the rural area where they now lived, openly gay boys were still as rare as hens' teeth. They had had sex, but even though Jason was older, Jimmy always found himself the teacher and the one who needed to take the lead.
His aunt and uncle had certainly done most of the heavy lifting when it came to setting up the new farm. However, there was one thing Jimmy discovered that his uncle and father had in common. They like to work hard. It was a trait that seemed common to both families. Meg had even taken a year off school to help set things up.
His parents had a bit of a harder time. His mother certainly had memories of being around horses, but old memories didn't translate into new realities. Jimmy thought she had found her stride though. His Dad had slipped more into the financial side of running the farm. His business acumen was strong and their training operations were already starting to be recognized far and wide. Another thing Jimmy had learned about his dad was that the man had a much stronger sense of family then he had ever realized. Now his dad was around the house all day and not off working 60 hours a week in an office in Manhattan, they were always doing those father-son things that dads are supposed to do.
Damien, Harry, and Junior were still receiving therapy for their role in the events at the Sullivan Farm that Tuesday in August all those many months ago. The FBI had brought in a highly regarded psychiatrist who had experience in such matters. Jimmy, Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan, and the other cousins had also started with a few sessions, but it was quickly concluded that none of them really demonstrated any lasting issues from the time.
The dogs had never harmed or even threatened another person and were spending their days in a sort of semi-retirement. There was much less work for them to do around the current farm, as fewer predators were keen to tackle a full-grown horse. However, both families still kept chickens around the "home place" for a steady supply of fresh eggs and poultry meat. So the faithful animals kept a steady eye on everything that happened and were always quick to raise the alarm if an unexpected visitor arrived. Wendy had just had a new litter of 6 puppies and Damien was busy finding new homes for them and seriously vetting each potential buyer.
The school bus crested the hill and there was a shout from Tom for everyone to grab their bags. Jimmy let the chaos swirl around him as his brother and cousins formed a rough line to board the vehicle. He ended up last in the cue behind Stevie. The little boy had snow in his hair from the snowball fight. Jimmy held him back just long enough to brush it away and comb his hair and got a broad smile for his trouble. He boarded the school bus at the tail end of his extended family. His life wasn't perfect, but for now, he was happy. Could anyone expect more?
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