Sync or swim

Sync or swim

Part 33 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 11, 2012
May 04, 2012
April 27, 2012

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Sync or swim_L
Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen/SCMP
Sam and Jenny stood in the corridor of St Jude's International School staring at the school fees invoice in disbelief.

"Man! Do Mum and Dad pay that much for us as well?" Jenny asked.

Her brother nodded. "But they can afford it. Whereas ..." he glanced over to a morose Ethan unpacking his books at his locker, "... now he's lost his scholarship, Ethan has to somehow find the money himself."

"So why isn't he doing something about it? Why is he still moping around over Little Miss Pouty Lips?"

Sam shrugged, then headed for Ethan; he didn't understand either.

"You do realise that when App n Clack launch their version of shamefacebook they're going to take most of our business?" Sam told him, handing back the invoice.

"Not if we come up with something new," Ethan muttered unconvincingly.

Behind them Jenny laughed bitterly. "And you think your guy, Yiu-hon, is going to do that?"

That night as he lay in bed, Ethan realised his friends were right.

Heartbroken or not, he had to sort something out. Unknown to his mum, the money he made from shamefacebook was all that was keeping the family afloat.

And they were also probably right about Yiu-hon. Deep down, Ethan knew he'd asked his childhood friend to help out with the site not because he was impressed with the basic coding skills Yiu-hon had picked up in prison, but because he felt sorry for him.

They had already been waiting in the cha chaan teng for 45 minutes when Jenny began to drum her spoon on her saucer.

"Remind me," she complained. "Why are we wasting our time sitting here?"

Sam winced. "Did you really think he'd come up with something?" he asked Ethan. But before he could reply, a flustered Yiu-hon burst through the door.

"Where have you been?" Ethan said quietly.

"The police station?" Jenny suggested.

Yiu-hon shrugged apologetically at Ethan. "Sorry, I was waiting for the compiler to finish. But let me show you what I've got."

As he switched on his laptop, Jenny and Sam's scepticism was palpable. "You haven't even started looking at the local mainland market, so ..." Yiu-hon clicked to bring up a screen featuring Chinese characters. "... I reckon you need a Guangdonghua version ..."

As he clicked again, Jenny rolled her eyes. Was that it?

"... and some attention-grabbing action," Yiu-hon continued.

Jenny fell silent, Sam gasped and even Ethan sat up, as a new screen appeared, featuring manga-style flash animation. "Wow."

Yiu-hon had added personalised avatars to their site, enabling users to "act out" the apologies shamefacebook specialised in.

Ten minutes later, as an enthusiastic Jenny discussed tweaks and enhancements with Yiu-hon, an equally excited Sam pulled Ethan to one side. "You were right about Yiu-hon," he gushed. "This changes everything."

But while Ethan did smile, his eyes told a different story.

"OK, not everything," Sam conceded. "But just because Maya isn't talking to you, doesn't mean it's all over."

"Sam, I turned up three hours late for the meal she'd cooked for my birthday and she slammed the door in my face."

Yet his pal was not giving up on the positive thinking. "Only after she gave you a cool new smartphone as a present."

"Because, as she put it, 'We're only going to communicate by text from now on'."

"She feels neglected, Ethan, and you've got to show her how much you care."

Sam grinned. "And I've had an idea how you can do that."

Once a much-lauded Yiu-hon had left to continue work on his concept, the trio reconvened at their table to iron out the details of Sam's plan to rescue Ethan's relationship.

"OK, so what sort of stuff does Maya like?" he asked a dubious Ethan. "I mean, really like."

Ethan reflected. "Well ... movies. All sorts of movies. It doesn't matter if they're about zombie invasions, zombie plagues, zombies in space ... Puh, she even likes rom-zoms."

"Wow, that's quite a range," Jenny mocked. "Is there any variety of undead she doesn't like?

"She hates Justin Bieber."

While Jenny laughed - the teen idol was the object of slobbering adoration of every other girl in her year - Sam thought for a moment before his face also lit up.

"I think we're onto something," he announced.

"I reckon we've got about five minutes before the police arrive," Ethan complained, still unsure as to how he had been talked into this.

"Plenty of time," Sam assured him as he plugged his guitar into his battery-powered amp. "Have you got the lyrics?"

Ethan fumbled in the pockets of his tight leather jacket before locating the sheet of paper in the back of his low-riding jeans. He nodded.

"Then let's do this," Sam urged, giving Ethan a shove that sent him out from their hiding place behind the wall in front of Maya's house, and into the open gateway.

A trickle of cold sweat ran down Ethan's face, cutting through the make-up that had turned his skin deathly white, his eyes into unseeing sockets and his mouth into a blood-oozing void.

As Sam strummed the opening chords of Boyfriend, Ethan didn't so much as break into song as shatter into screech. "If I was your boyfriend, I'd never let you go," he bayed. "I can take you places you ain't never been before ..."

Somewhere in the distance a dog began to howl and the instruction to "Shut up!" bellowed out from a neighbouring house.

Yet Ethan was committed now. As Sam nodded encouragingly, he ploughed on, growing in volume, if not confidence.

Maya's mother peered out of the window of her house, her hands over her ears. "Is that ...?"

Beside her, Maya nodded proudly despite her tears. "Yes ... it's a zombie Justin Bieber. I can't believe Ethan would do this for me."

Her mother looked at her for a moment and then shook her head. "You've got to tell him."

"I can't," Maya wailed, before breaking down and sobbing.

Yet as Ethan let rip the chorus, now accompanied not only by Sam's guitar work but also the sound of an approaching police siren, the front door finally opened.

Peering out from his hiding place, Sam gave his pal the thumbs up. "Ethan, it's working!"

As Maya raced down the path towards him, for the first time in almost a week, Ethan's face broke into a genuine, if somewhat eerie, smile.

"Maya ..." he began excitedly, before her words brought his world crashing down irrevocably around him.

"Ethan, it's over," she told him through her tears. "I'm going back to Britain at the end of term."

To be continued next week

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