Sync or swim

John Brennan

Part 32 of our serial

John Brennan |

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As Ethan sat patiently at his kitchen table, Sam paced the cramped room in exasperated fury and Jenny fought the urge to hit their host over the head with a saucepan. Yiu-hon, the subject of their differences, had long since departed.

"I'm sorry, but I'm with Jenny on this now," Sam fumed. "You have gone crazy. Giving him the laptop he's already tried to steal is bad enough, but ..."

"It's only a loan," Ethan cut in. "Until I buy Yiu-hon one of his own."

"What?" Jenny exploded.

"But," Sam continued, determined to finish, "what I can't believe is that you'd offer him a job."

"Yiu-hon took lots of IT courses in the Young Offenders Institute ...," Ethan began.

"Great. So he can get to level 10 of Angry Jail Birds?" Jenny demanded.

Ethan ignored this and ploughed on. "And he's carried on training. He's got a real talent for coding. When App n Clack launch their version of shamefacebook we'll be dead in the water unless we come up with something new. I reckon Yiu-hon might be able to help us."

Sam and Jenny looked less than convinced.

"If it gets out that we're working with an ex-convict then it's not just your place at school that's at risk," Jenny fulminated.

"Please," Ethan pleaded, "just give him a chance. At least until we see what he comes up with."

"Isn't the time you spend in jail supposed to be your punishment?" Maya asked Sam and Jenny, the next day at school. They stared at her in amazement - they'd taken for granted her support in their efforts to get Ethan to see sense. "Yiu-hon's sentence isn't supposed to continue after he's got out now, is it?" she concluded.

Ethan beamed at her. "That's exactly what I ... would have said, if I'd thought of it." She really was incredible, wasn't she?

Sam looked at the spellbound puppy-dog Ethan had become. "Watch out, Maya, I think he might be about to lick your face."

"He'd better not," Maya warned. "And he'd better not be busy on Friday night either."

Ethan's rapt gaze turned to a look of bewilderment.

Maya rolled her eyes. "It's your birthday."

What with school, and his work on the shamefacebook site, Ethan was busy all week.

He did find time, however, to buy a very grateful Yiu-hon a decent secondhand laptop and load it with software. While Ethan had to admit, if only to himself, that it was a long shot that Yiu-hon would come up with a brilliant new idea, at the moment he was the only shot they had.

Yet as the familiar worries about the future began to resurface, Ethan reminded himself of how lucky he was. Not only was his mum's health improving, but he also had loyal friends and a girlfriend like Maya. Though not usually a big fan of celebrations, he couldn't wait to see what this birthday would bring.

When her parents had announced they were going out for dinner on Friday, to discuss a reorganisation at work or something, Maya had seized on the opportunity to surprise Ethan.

However, now, as she gazed around a kitchen littered with pots, peelings, pools of oil, and all the other detritus of either a small explosion or a very shambolic attempt at preparing a meal, Maya feared she was more likely to poison the birthday boy.

Amidst the chaos, a small football-like object formed from ragged strips of wrapping paper and randomly affixed pieces of sticking tape, sat on top of the fridge.

While Maya wasn't the only one for whom the charm of Ethan's ancient mobile, with it's hour or so of battery life, had worn thin, she had now done something about this communications nightmare. Using the cash she had saved from her holiday job, she had bought him a shiny new smartphone.

After checking himself yet again in the bathroom mirror, Ethan was just getting ready to leave for their mysterious date, when his phone rang. It was Yiu-hon.

Ethan listened in horror as his old friend told him that his father had found the new laptop and taken it. Yiu-hon assumed he was going to try and sell it to fund his gambling addiction.

As Ethan raced to meet him, he texted Maya that he was going to be a little late. To his surprise her reply seemed to indicate she was very laid-back about this news.

In fact, Maya wasn't just laid-back, she was mightily relieved. At the start of her culinary adventure, Maya had shoo-ed their amah out of the kitchen, determined to prepare the meal with her own hands.

Well, it was supposed to be just her hands. But when she'd glanced in the mirror, Maya had been shocked to see flour in her hair and sauce all over her nose and chin - not exactly the glamorous look she'd been trying to achieve.

After Ethan had rendezvoused with Yiu-hon, they eventually tracked his father down to a street corner bar. Here he was on the brink of closing the deal to sell the laptop to a fellow gambler for half what Ethan had paid for it.

After he and Yiu-hon's pleading had got them nowhere, Ethan tried a different tack. He warned the would-be purchaser that the computer contained a tracking transmitter that would enable the police to find the machine wherever it went.

As the two adults dithered and argued about the veracity of his story, Ethan snatched back the laptop and the teenagers raced off before the men could react.

"I'll look after this until we can find you somewhere safe to work," Ethan told Yiu-hon once they were certain they weren't being followed.

Then, clutching the computer under his arm, Ethan headed off, already two hours late for his date.

When the meal was finally ready, and the immaculateness of her appearance restored, Maya tried to call Ethan. Her efforts, however, met with an all-too-familiar silence.

Eventually, though earlier than anticipated, her parents returned. They told her they had some news.

Ethan arrived at Maya's house breathless from his race through the streets. It was her mother, though, who answered the door, a downcast expression on her face.

"I'm sorry, Ethan, but Maya says she doesn't want to talk to you."

"I know we were supposed to see a film or something but I ..."

Her mother cut him short. "She cooked you a meal," she told him, but with no hint of recrimination in her voice.

"Oh, no," Ethan groaned. Maya had gone to all that trouble and once again he'd put his "responsibilities" before her.

Suddenly, a clearly-upset Maya pushed past her mother. As Ethan began to apologise, she thrust her gift into his hands. "We'll only be communicating by text from now on," was all she said, before slamming the door in his face.

Left alone on the dark, empty street, Ethan was unable to take in what had just happened.

To be continued next week