Sync or swim

Sync or swim

Part 16 of our dramatic serial

June 29, 2012
June 22, 2012
June 15, 2012
June 08, 2012
June 01, 2012
May 25, 2012
May 25, 2012
May 18, 2012
May 11, 2012
May 04, 2012

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Sync or swim_L
Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen/SCMP
They stood in silence, all eyes fixed on the laptop screen. But, despite the thousands of hits on their pre-launch video, no one was visiting the site now it had gone live.

Ethan had assumed it might take a while before someone felt secure, and brave, enough to create a "pain profile", as they called them. However, he had anticipated initial interest from the curious, looking to nose around and see what it was all about.

"Ten minutes," Jenny announced with almost bitter satisfaction.

Ethan looked at her and then across at the stony faces of Grandad and Sam. The scene was almost identical to the one in the recurring nightmare Ethan had been having over the past few weeks.

"Who's online at this time, anyway?" Sam asked, straining for optimism. Ethan looked at his watch - it was almost quarter past midnight.

"Most of Hong Kong, so I've heard," Grandad chipped in "helpfully". "I told you this wasn't ..."

"Beep." The traffic monitor's alert cut Grandad short.

The four of them looked at each other and then back at the screen.

"Beep." There was another. In sync with this electronic pulse, the hit count on the site was beginning to tick up: two ... three ... four ...

As Sam yelled, "We have lift off!", and punched the air, Jenny and Grandad's tension exploded into laughter. Ethan, however, just looked up at the ceiling and let out a huge sigh of relief.

They stayed up for another couple of hours, long enough to see not only the figure for visits to shamefacebook climb into the hundreds, but also the creation of the first profile.

Weighed down with remorse, a boy who had teased a girl about her acne was now desperate to apologise to her in the privacy of cyberspace.

With the location and time of the "offence" remaining hidden from anyone browsing the site, the boy clearly hoped his "victim" would now find her way to the profile he had set up, enter those unique keys and make contact with him.

While sorry was often the hardest word to say in person, success for shamefacebook would come when it began to bring together those who had inflicted emotional pain or offence with those who had been hurt.

As Ethan stretched out on the living room floor - his bed had been given over to Jenny, while Sam was already slumbering on the sofa - he did realise that the launch of the site was just a first step. But, but, but ... could his plan to save his family from financial ruin really be starting to come together?

On the way to school the next morning, however, Ethan was in a more melancholic mood. The fact that the time and effort required to get the site off the ground may well have cost him his chance with Maya did leave a rather bitter-sweet taste in his mouth.

As the pair made their way to the lockers, Sam saw that Ethan was scanning the corridor - and he knew who he was looking out for.

Yet any efforts Sam could have made to cheer his pal up were doomed the moment they spotted Gilbert Chan. If Ethan had given Maya every reason to loathe him, Gilbert had made any hopes of reconciliation far more difficult.

"So he's got a new friend?" Ethan asked, referring to the boy unpacking his bag as Chan leaned against the lockers talking at him.

Sam shrugged. "That's Kieran O'Shea. He started two weeks ago in 3B." Sam and Ethan stopped at their own lockers within earshot of the conversation.

As Gilbert paused for breath, Keiran asked, without looking up, "So, you're the one who posted the photo of Maya in the cinema?"

Gilbert laughed and nodded. "Pity you couldn't have been there."

"Oh, I was there," Kieran replied, finally turning to Gilbert. "But remind me - were you the one sitting holding your Mum's hand? Or the one hiding behind the seats during the scary bits?"

Sam and Ethan looked at each.

"And by the way," Kieran added, as he shut his locker and walked away, "that tweet - not funny, mate, not funny at all."

"Well, everyone else thought it was, didn't they?" said Gilbert, turning for confirmation, but finding only a seriously unamused Ethan and Sam staring him down.

As Gilbert headed off, head down, he muttered, "You don't have to pay for a sense of humour, Ethan, so why don't you get one, eh?"

Sam gripped his friend's arm.

"Don't worry," Ethan told him. "He's not the problem, I am."

Sam's smartphone beeped at the arrival of a text from Jenny. Beaming, he showed Ethan the text which read: "Kids all over school checking out shamefacebook!"

Quickly, Sam linked to their site. "And we've got our first match! It looks like the girl has forgiven that boy for joking about her spots."

Ethan forced a smiled.

"See," Sam continued, knowing that Maya would be at the end-of-term party that night, "there can be a way back - if you just grab the opportunity."

"Maya, don't say anything, just listen to me. I am truly sorry for upsetting you. And now ... I really want you to know what's been taking up all my time and why I didn't turn up for our date."

Outside the bathroom, Grandad again wondered what Ethan was doing in there. His hearing wasn't so good, but he could have sworn that his grandson was talking to himself.

Inside, Ethan looked in the mirror and smiled. The good news from the hospital was that Mum could be home in time for the Lunar New Year celebrations. Given that, and the fact he just knew he could trust Maya, meant Ethan was now ready to go out on a limb for her. "You see ..."

As Ethan waited on the corner of the street, he was certain she would have to walk down to get to the party. He felt a tap on his shoulder.

"Ethan?" It was Keiran. "I just wanted to ..."

Ethan was confused for a moment - until, that was, he spotted Maya walking towards them.

"I'm sorry, I can't talk right now," Ethan mumbled, before striding then running towards her.

As he got closer, he could see she'd done something different to her hair. She looked more stunning than ever - if that was possible.

"Maya, I'm really sorry. Just let me explain ..."

"Explain what?" There was a steel to her expression and in her voice.

"Why I was late. Why I didn't call."

"Are you talking about what happened a week ago? Who cares about that now, Ethan?"

"Are you ready?" a voice behind Ethan asked. Keiran, again - this time with a half-apologetic look on his face.

"Looking forward to it," Maya replied.

In a daze, Ethan looked from one to the other. "Are you going to the party?" he asked Maya.

"Nope - we're going to the party."

As she and Keiran walked off into the night, Ethan was left standing, adrift in a pool of street light in the otherwise deserted road.

To be continued next term

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