In the days that followed, our families met and became fast friends. Marc and I were inseparable. Even when I discovered that he was different, not the same as anyone else, special, I adored him with a passion and spent every possible moment at his side.
I was fiercely protective of him, and would move the earth to make him smile, when he was sad.
Not so much then, but, as the years passed, and we spent every summer together, I would fight anyone who made him sad, or tried to hurt him. There were a depressing number, over the years.
After the third or fourth year of meeting up every summer, our parents became so friendly - initially, they told me later, because of the relationship that had developed between Marc and me - that we started to spend other holidays together. Marc visited my home, and I went to him. It was one of those friendships that only grew stronger with separation.
When I was twelve, Mr Harmon was promoted in his job, and the family came to live, only a short bus journey, from my home. By then, Marc had a sister, Judith, who was four years old, and as pretty as he was, although very different. She had the same sunny personality and sweet smile, but she was bright and inquisitive, quick witted and talkative.
Marc was much quieter, tending to sit back and watch; waiting to be presented with things, rather than seeking them out. He barely spoke, and when he did it was usually single words or short, disjointed sentences. He made himself well understood, though.
By then, I had realised that Marc wasn't the same as everyone else, as anyone else. It wasn't just his beauty and his sweetness; it was more, much more. Strangely, it has never been an issue between us, and it was a huge shock to me the first time I heard someone make a derogatory comment to him.
I found in unbelievable that anyone would want to hurt Marc. He was so gentle and loving, but, one time we were at the beach and there was a group of boys, about my age. I was eleven and Marc was barely eight. We were walking through the arcade, hand in hand.
Our parents were next door in a bar and I think it was the first time I had been allowed to take him anywhere on our own.
The boys were gathered around one of the gaming machines, and they started nudging each other and giggling. Marc was, and is, very distinctive looking, with his baby blonde hair and vivid eyes, which are always wide with wonder at everything.
We were lost in the colours and sounds of the arcade, and Marc was bouncing with excitement. When the boys appeared in front of us, he grinned at them and reached out his hand to touch a colourful wristband worn by the nearest boy. The boy instantly snatched it back, causing Marc to frown.
“Are you two gay, or what?” one of the boys asked. I didn’t even know what gay was, not then.
“Yeah... you’re a couple of fags.”
“I...” I had no idea what they were talking about, but I knew danger when I saw it and I was seeing it, in the form of four large pre teens, with mean streaks a mile wide. If it had just been me I would probably have put up a fight. I was well built, even then, and have never run from confrontation. However, Marc was with me and the thought of him being hurt or scared was unbearable. So I just took his hand and walked away, down one of the aisles.
Unfortunately, the arcade was almost empty and there was no one there to help us.
“Hey freaks,” one of the boys called after us, and I felt Marc jerk. I stopped and looked at him. He had blood on his cheek. He had been looking back, curious about the boys, and not understanding at all why they were being unkind. He’d been hit by something one of them had thrown after us.
For a moment, Marc had stared at me, his eyes shocked, and then he had blinked hard, as the tears came, and he started to cry. Of course, the boys loved that, and it whipped them into even more of a frenzy.
“Aww, is the poor little baby crying?”
“Why don’t you take your boyfriend home to his mammy?”
For myself, I could have ignored them and walked away; but Marc was here. Marc was bleeding and crying, and I had to protect him at all costs. I carefully let go of Marc’s hand.
“Stay here,” I said gently, and guided him backwards, pressing him firmly against the machine.
He shook his head and gripped my arm. “Don’t leave me,” he said in a small scared voice, looking up into my face. I forced myself to smile and loosened his hand.
“Marc, it’s alright. I promised to take care of you, and I will. Just stay here and you’ll be fine.”
“Jamie, no. I’m afraid. Jamie, no.”
“It’s alright. I’ll take care of you.”
Marc shook his head.
“What’s the matter? Doesn’t your boyfriend want to play?”
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
“No, no, no,” Marc moaned, getting more and more frightened by the situation, the threat that was now almost palpable. “No Jamie, no. I want to go home. Home, Jamie, home.”
The boys had sidled closer, and they were staring at Marc, as if he was some kind of exotic bug.
“What’s wrong with him?”
“There’s nothing wrong with him,” I snapped. “Leave us alone.”
One of the boys put his hand into his pocket and took out another stone. He drew his hand back, but before he could throw I threw myself at him and caught him in the middle, knocking him to the floor. When he was flat on his back, I pummelled him until I heard Marc’s wail behind me.
I leaped to my feet, and grabbed the nearest boy by the back of his neck, flinging him against one of the machines. Marc was crouched on the floor, hugging himself, with his face half turned away. The boys were poking him and making derogatory remarks.
I don’t know what would have happened if the arcade attendant, probably alerted by the wail, hadn’t appeared and taken control of the situation. Seeing Marc and the state he was in he ordered the other boys out of the arcade and, with threats and curses, they left.
“Are you alright? Are you hurt?” He reached out his hand to Marc, but he shrank away and wailed again. I crouched down and reached out to stroke his hair. Slowly, he turned his head and showed a face streaked with blood and tears. I smiled at him and a hesitant smile came back.
“It’s alright now, Marc,” I said in a careful, even voice; the one I always used when he was frightened, or hurt. “It’s all gone away, and I’m here. I’ll take you back to your mam now. You know me, don’t you; you trust me?”
“Jamie,” he said flatly, his eyes still blank and hurt. I hated myself that I hadn’t protected him from that.
“Is he alright?”
“He’s... different. He gets upset. He trusts me.”
“Are your parents far away?”
“Are you sure?” He looked concerned. He was a nice guy.
“I’ll take care of him.”
“I’m sure you will. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“I’ll take care of him.”
I was a stubborn kid. He looked at Marc, who, by now, was smiling his sunny smile again and looking at me with adoring eyes. The man smiled and nodded and then left us alone.
I took Marc by the hand and led him back to our parents. All hell broke loose. Marc’s parents were very protective of him, and they were all for calling the police. After first, being cast in the role of villain for not taking care of him, once my mother pointed out that there were always going to be arseholes who didn’t understand Marc and that it wouldn’t be fair on him to keep him close all the time, I was suddenly a hero.
There were other times over the years when I fought to defend him, sometimes in more subtle ways as we grew older.