Sync or swim
They'd been warned the improvement in Mum's condition might only be temporary. But the fact that her relapse had not only been so sudden and dramatic but had happened while he was visiting had left Ethan stunned.
He jumped up when Grandad re-entered the waiting room.
'Well?' Ethan demanded.
'All I could find out was she's still in the emergency room,' Grandad replied as he slumped down in a chair. He looked up at Ethan. 'What I don't understand is, if you were sitting beside her, how come you didn't notice anything sooner?'
Ethan looked at the floor.
'I suppose you were too busy with your computer. As usual.'
Grandad was half right. At first, Ethan had been caught up in his work but then only the emergency alarm had roused him from his day-dream about the lovely Maya Robertson. However, he wasn't going to mention that now.
Then something struck Ethan. 'So ... where were you this evening?'
'I had things to do in the shop.'
'But I tried ringing you there.'
Grandad tried to steer the conversation back to the present. 'Look, Sui-man, I know this wasn't your fault. It could have happened to your mother at any time.'
Ethan, however, was now like a dog with a bone. 'And you never miss visiting time. What sort of things did you have to do?'
'Are you questioning me?' Grandad demanded angrily.
But the gathering storm clouds disappeared with the arrival of the smiling nurse and the news that Mum was out of danger.
On a wooden bench in the courtyard of St Jude's International School, Ethan's best friend Sam and Sam's younger sister, Jenny, were arguing over an open laptop. Beside them, Ethan sat gazing into space.
Eventually, Jenny broke off to poke him. 'Earth to Ethan ... 'Wish you were here'.'
'Jenny,' Sam hissed.
'Ok, look, I'm sorry, but I thought his Mum was over the emergency.' She turned to Ethan. 'I know you're worried but we do have to make some design decisions. And we're going to need more hardware so we can back up regularly - especially while you're in space cadet mode.'
'Jenny!' Sam exploded.
'No, she's right,' Ethan said, seizing the laptop. 'So let's go.'
Maya had been chatting with friends when she spotted the unlikely trio huddled together. She was on her way over when Sam and Jenny saw her and fell silent. Taking the hint, Maya kept walking.
Ethan, meanwhile, continued to type and jabber until he realised no one was listening. Looking up he saw the object of his affections disappearing around a corner. 'Maya!' he called out instinctively.
'Don't worry, Ethan,' said Jenny, 'Miss Pouty Lips will get over it.'
Sam gave his sister a shut-it look but she was having none of it. 'Excuse me, but I thought we were supposed to keep all this secret. Oh, go on, tell me he just wants her for her programming skills.'
At the hospital that evening, Ethan and Grandad expressed their delight at the news that Mum's condition was now stable and agreed she was already looking much better.
And on the way home, Grandad quizzed Ethan about progress on the website and promised to meet him, Sam and Jenny to buy the hardware they needed.
At the flat, however, a message was waiting for them on the answering machine. Ethan's sister, Sophie, who had just started at medical school in Australia, had received Ethan's e-mail about Mum's relapse and was threatening to fly home.
This news was the final straw for Grandad, and the tension that lay beneath his surface calm erupted. 'What is wrong with you two! Why can't you understand that your future is the only reason your mother's ever had to keep going!'
Next day, Maya spotted Ethan, seemingly alone, at his locker: 'How's your Mum?' she asked.
'Fine,' Ethan muttered, all too aware of who was listening. 'Fine.'
The door two lockers away slammed shut revealing the odious Gilbert Chan. 'Hey, did you two ever go on that date?'
When his question was met with embarrassed silence, Gilbert smiled.
'Because my offer's still there, Maya. Call me crazy, but I'd actually prefer to go out with you than stay home optimising my computer's operating system.'
'And I'd prefer to cuddle up with a cockroach,' she replied.
Once Gilbert had left, grinning and undeterred, Maya turned and smiled at Ethan. 'So what are you doing? Don't tell me optimising your operating system.'
Oh, no, Ethan thought, don't ask me that, not after I've just made a fresh promise to Grandad to maintain secrecy. He said nothing.
'Because you're really maxed out on nerd-power getting Sam's little sister on board,' she continued.
Ethan's only response to Maya's floundering attempts to kick start a conversation was, 'Err ... got to go'.
With his head down, he started to shovel books into his bag.
'Not as much as I do,' said Maya, her face reddening. As she stormed off, she wondered what on earth was wrong with boys. How could they ask you out one minute and refuse to even talk to you the next?
Behind her, unheard, Ethan kicked the bank of lockers.
The owner of the Mong Kok computer store stood staring at Ethan, Sam and Jenny, while the hardware the teenagers needed lay on the counter between them.
'Do you think he's nodded off somewhere?' Jenny wondered.
'I can pay and you can give me the money later,' Sam told Ethan.
'No, it's ok,' Ethan replied. 'Grandad said he'd be here.'
Giving the owner an apologetic smile, Ethan took out his phone.
It wasn't until the fifth time Ethan called that Grandad heard his mobile ringing. Putting down the bucket and scrubbing brush he was holding, he made his way inside from the alley behind his shop.
The stacks of paper offerings, candles and incense sticks would have stood in total darkness if it wasn't for the flicker of candlelight and the pulsing glow from the phone lying on the counter.
'Gung gung, where have you been?' his grandson asked the moment he answered.
Wincing, Grandad remembered. 'Oh, Sui-man, sorry - we were supposed to get all that computer stuff, weren't we?'
'That's ok ... But what happened?'
'I must have fallen asleep. I'll see you at home later. OK?'
Back in the alley, Grandad was bending to pick up the scrubbing brush when a beam of light sliced through the gloom.
Mr Wong, who ran the neighbouring business, emerged clutching a torch.
'The electrician says the fuse box was smashed deliberately,' Wong told him.
Grandad squinted into the light. 'Deliberately?'
Mr Wong nodded then swung the torch around to illuminate the lurid red paint freshly sprayed on the wall. 'Get Out Now!' screamed the message, barely smudged by Grandad's efforts to erase it.
'And you still think it was just kids?' asked Mr Wong.
To be continued next week