Sync or swim

Sync or swim

Part 20 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
It was just an infinitesimal drop in the ocean of zeroes and ones that sloshed relentlessly back and forth across the internet, but that day one short sequence of electronic pulses represented the first HK$3,000 to flow into the shamefacebook bank account.

Ethan did feel ashamed of the fact he could see any positive aspect to the fire at his Grandad's shop. However, every time he recalled how Sam had told him Maya Robertson had been worrying about him, he couldn't help smiling.

Now, as he sat with his eyes fixed on the desk two rows in front of him, and on Maya's long, brown hair, he wondered if, despite his best efforts to mess things up, there was still chance that …

"Alright, Ethan, you take the next passage."

The teacher's voice snapped him out of his reverie, and sent his finger racing down the text that lay open in front of him.

"The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars ..." Miss Kaufman prompted.

"As daylight doth a lamp; ..." Ethan continued haltingly, " ... her eyes in heaven, Would through the airy region stream so bright, That birds would sing and think it were not night."

Now Ethan began to gain in confidence. "See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!"

Miss Kaufman smiled encouragingly. "Please, stand."

Ethan pushed back his chair. "O, that I were a glove upon that hand, That I might touch that ..."

However, as he got to his feet, a loud ripping sound stopped his recitation in its tracks.

In the deserted changing room, as he pulled on the tracksuit bottoms he usually wore only for games and PE, Ethan felt more out of place among the rich kids at Jude's International School than ever before. The gales of laughter that trailed his ignominious exit from the English Lit class still echoed in his head. However, he would have happily accepted even this latest humiliation if only Maya hadn't been present.

Inevitably, as he returned to his locker, the Chan twins and their cronies were waiting for him.

"Of course, whenever Ethan reads in class I split my sides laughing," Gilbert Chan mocked, "but usually my trousers stay intact."

Despite the exaggerated hoots of derision, as Ethan pulled the materials he needed for the next class from his locker, he was determined not to respond. However, a sly elbow from Gilbert sent his textbooks tumbling to the floor. Before he could react, Charlotte had crouched to scoop them up.

"Don't think we can risk you bending over again today, Ethan," she jeered.

Snatching back his books, Ethan shoved Gilbert out of the way. As Gilbert responded, seemingly out of nowhere, Kieran O'Shea appeared between them.

"Come on, Ethan, you don't want to get into more trouble by hitting someone else," he told him.

"What?" was the only response that a bemused Ethan could muster. He looked around, suddenly aware a crowd had gathered.

It was Sam's turn to intervene. "It's alright, Kieran, Ethan's friends can look after him now."

O'Shea nodded and led a reluctant Gilbert away.

"So it's true what he said about you being violent."

Ethan spun around to see who else was getting involved. "Maya ..." he protested. But with a shake of her head, she turned and pushed her way back through the throng.

"We've got our first 3,000 in the bank," Sam told him once the pack had dispersed. "Hits on the site are booming and new advertisers are contacting me every day ... Ethan, you can afford to have your new uniform tailor-made!"

Ethan looked at his smiling, well-intentioned pal for a moment and then headed for the stairs.

Because buying clothes wasn't what any shamefacebook profits were intended for - especially at the moment. Despite their best efforts, on her return from hospital, Mum had found some of the bills he and Grandad had put off paying.

Now with the cash finally flowing in, settling their debts had to take precedence over any personal needs as, in the face of her doctor's dire warnings, Mum was talking about going back to work.

That evening, his grandfather watched Ethan finish patching up his school trousers, then got to his feet and picked up a holdall.

"Where are you going?" Ethan asked.

"The police have stopped their patrols at the shop," he replied wearily.

Jenny was happily engrossed in some particularly taxing maths homework when her brother, Sam, barged into her room waving a sheath of papers.

"Can you get Ethan's grandad to sign these contracts on your way home from school tomorrow?"

Jenny clutched her head. "Oh, no. Did I miss the tragic accident in which you lost the use of your legs?"

He winced apologetically. "Sally just rang and ..."

"Don't tell me you two are back together again?"

Sam smiled then placed the paperwork on the table.

Shaking her head, Jenny returned to her equations.

Deciding he had nothing left to lose, and with a burning desire to right at least one injustice, Ethan caught up with Maya outside the gates at the end of school. "So you really think I hit Kieran?" he demanded.

"I saw the cuts and bruises for myself," she answered curtly.

"He hurt himself while kicking me up in the air during football training ... But ... oh, forget it. I don't care what you think anymore."

She looked at him askance.

"You don't?"

"Of course I do. But what does it matter ... you're going out with Kieran."

"Not anymore."

Ethan couldn't help the dumb smile that spread across his face.

"Thanks for the sympathy."

"And you thought I had a fight with Kieran because I was jealous?"

"What? I never said that."

"Like a duel with my rival?"

She began to shake her head in denial, then stopped and smiled.

"But you trust me now when I said I didn't hit him," he continued.

"About as much as you trust me when it comes to telling me what's going on in your life. You're always busy working on something top secret - when you're not standing me up on dates, that is."

"Sorry." Now Mum was out of danger - and the website was on its way to becoming a success - surely he could be more open with her. "And you're right, I do have to

trust ...

He was interrupted by a beep from his mobile phone. As he read the text from Jenny, his mouth fell open. "What! I've got to go ..."

"Ethan."

But he was already racing away up the road. As she watched him go - again - Maya decided, if he wasn't going to tell her what was going on, then, what was a girl to do?

To be continued next week

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