Sync or swim

Sync or swim

Part 19 of our 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
Ethan scooped up the last of the clothes that had collected on the floor of his room over the past few months like a layer of sediment, and jammed them into the bottom of the wardrobe.

It was fair to say that neither he nor Grandad were naturals when it came to housework, but yesterday they had spent hours happily dusting and scrubbing the flat in preparation for Mum's return.

And with the police making good on their promise to increase their patrols around Grandad's shop, there was now just one remaining cloud hanging over the Year Three student ...

As he collected the books for his first class, Ethan tried not to glance along the bank of lockers to where Kieran was deep in conversation. Needing no reminder of the fact he'd blown his own chances with Maya, Ethan didn't look back when he headed off for his meeting with Sam and Jenny.

Yet at that moment, if he had turned, he would have seen Maya throw up her arms in exasperation.

"OK, OK, you're sorry," she told Kieran. "But what part of 'Leave me alone' don't you understand?"

Although they had little time before the start of class, Ethan and Jenny were still waiting for Sam to end his call so they could talk about the shamefacebook site.

"Sally ... Sally ... Sam protested. However, the torrent of rage emanating from his mobile seemed to indicate his efforts at placating his girlfriend were falling on deaf ears.

"This has been going on for days," Jenny explained wearily to Ethan.

The flow of bile, and the call, suddenly ended. "What is wrong with girls?" Sam wondered, staring at his dead phone.

"Besides the fact that some of us like boys?" his sister asked.

"Man," Sam muttered to himself, "Where's the heart? Where is the heart?"

Jenny turned to Ethan. "Sally's dumped him."

"See, they've just got no sensitivity."

Ethan put a sympathetic hand on his best pal's shoulder. "She dump ... You're not going out any more?"

Sam nodded bitterly. "Just because I wanted to watch a football match."

"On her birthday," Jenny explained.

"Mate," he said, appealing to Ethan, "it was Arsenal-Swansea. And we lost, 2-3, to Swansea. I'm the one who's entitled to feel upset."

For a moment, Ethan and Jenny just stared at him.

"Yep," Jenny said, "we've just got no sensitivity."

"Anyway," said Sam, brightening, "the good news is we've already got 10 companies that want to advertise on the site. And I haven't checked today's e-mails yet."

Although more than 800 students attended St Jude's, at the end of that day not one came close to beating Ethan to the gates.

At the hospital, he found his mother already up and dressed and Grandad helping her pack her bag. Though thinner and weaker, Ethan was amazed at how well she looked.

The complications following her heart attack - most notably the clot that had made its way through her bloodstream to her brain - had left them fearing the worst. But as he watched her laugh and joke, Ethan saw the old sparkle back in her eyes.

As his mother's doctor dispensed both her medication and some final words of advice, Grandad led Ethan out into the corridor.

"She's been talking about going back to work," Grandad told him.

Ethan groaned. "Oh, man - she can't be serious."

"Don't worry," his grandfather said, his face splitting into a smile. "I told her there was no need because the online business from my shop was still booming."

Ethan stared at him for a moment. "But it doesn't exist, gung gung."

"I know. That's why you have to make a, erm ?a ?

"A website? Why?"

"She wants to look at it when we get home."

In the event, it had taken Ethan little more than a hour to knock together a plausible homepage for the fictitious online division of Grandad's paper offerings business. However, Ethan was finding it a greater and greater strain to maintain the web of lies needed to protect Mum from money worries.

On the other hand, while he'd worked he had heard Grandad keeping Mum happy and busy making decisions on decorations for the New Year holiday. And when his sister Sophie phoned from medical school in Australia, Ethan realised it did finally feel like they were a family again.

"Tai!" bellowed Mr Price the sports master, yanking Ethan from his reminiscences about the evening before. "You're a player, not a goalpost, so?move!"

Yet Ethan's heart wasn't in it, and the game soon left him behind. However, just as he began once more to relax, his legs were suddenly swept from under him. As he yelped in pain and surprise, his body arced upwards before descending on his assailant.

"What the ... " said a wincing Ethan as he lay clutching his leg.

"Look what Ethan's done, sir," said Gilbert Chan, who was instantly on the scene.

Ethan turned to see who had kicked him up in the air. It was Kieran - now sporting a bloody nose and bruised face courtesy of Ethan's crash landing.

Sam found Ethan gingerly testing the extent of his injuries. He nodded at his pal's wounded limb. "I just heard the good news."

Ethan stopped and stared at his friend in amazement. "What?"

"Seems Kieran is almost as worried about you as Maya is."

"You reckon he's ... Hold on - Maya's worried about me?"

Sam winced in apology. "Oops, I forgot to tell you. She saw how you were after the fire at your Grandad's shop and ?

"You forgot to tell me?"

"Ethan, it's not all about you. I had my own issues at the time. Sally, remember? Anyway, looks like it's game on again for you and Maya."

And, as the power of renewed hope worked its magic, the pain in Ethan's leg instantly vanished.

Kieran tried to hide his delight at finding Maya waiting for him outside the medical room.

"Is it true what they're saying?" she demanded, incredulous. "Ethan did this to you?"

Kieran pulled a face before "reluctantly" nodding. "But it's OK, I told Mr Price it was an accident."

As Maya struggled to absorb this information, he seized his chance. "Look, Maya, I shouldn't have got so insecure when you wanted to talk to Ethan last week. I'm sorry. And it won't happen again."

"Kieran, I told you ... I'm just not going to accept a boyfriend who is jealous and a bully."

"Well then, I suppose that counts me and ? he gestured at his battered face, "?Ethan out."

Astonished, she found herself having to accept his logic.

"But ... " he continued, "if I can forgive him, can't you forgive me?"

She looked at him, no longer so certain of her decision.

To be continued in two weeks

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