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John Brennan

Part 34 of our serial

John Brennan |

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A sudden screech of reverb from Sam's amp drowned out Maya's efforts to explain to Ethan why she was leaving.

Summoned by irate neighbours to halt the impromptu "serenade" outside her house, the policemen had bundled out of their van, and while one seized Sam's guitar, another had tackled a stunned Ethan. In the ensuing commotion, Maya's mother ushered her daughter back inside.

The message from the control room failed to mention that the singer causing apoplexy among the residents of the swanky Kowloon Tong avenue was dressed as some sort of teenage zombie.

So when the policemen saw Ethan - going, in fact, for undead-Justin-Bieber styling - they were happy to quickly pack the musicians off home before their own professional demeanour disintegrated into giggles.

In the back of the taxi, however, there was little chance of Ethan seeing the funny side. While a mightily relieved Sam had twisted around to watch the officers recede into the distance, Ethan sat staring past the driver, transfixed save for a slight tremor in his hands.

After he'd messed up so badly with her on his birthday, he had thought Maya might not want to see him again. But ..."Moving 6,000 miles away? Wow. There's not wanting to be with someone and there's not wanting to be with someone." Despite the strained look on Ethan's face, Jenny continued. "Was she worried you'd start stalking her or something?"

Ethan couldn't even summon up the energy for a response. Instead he turned to make his way to the water fountain, through the hordes of students arriving for the start of a new day at St Jude's.

Jenny, however, did react when she saw her brother, Sam, glowering at her. "Don't look at me like that," she barked. "It's tough love. And your 'Night of the Singing Dead' didn't exactly work too well, did it?"

Although this seemed to further infuriate Sam, she persisted. "The sooner he gets over Maya, the sooner he can start concentrating again on shamefacebook. And he needs to start concentrating."

"Apologise," Sam eventually hissed. "Now!"

The water Ethan splashed on his face did no more to rouse him than Jenny's comments. Maya had been off school, supposedly ill, for three days, and in that time he had barely slept.

Behind him, goaded by her brother, Jenny coughed. "Look, OK, I may have been a little insensitive, but ..."

"Maya!" Ethan exclaimed as he suddenly caught sight of his now ex-girlfriend heading towards the main building.

While his cry had heads turning all around, almost imperceptibly Maya picked up speed, her eyes resolutely fixed on a point in front of her.

"Aren't you going to go after her?" an incredulous Sam demanded. Ethan tried to summon up some resolve, but in the face of this latest snub, he had to admit he was beaten. He just couldn't face any more rejection. "Jenny's right, Maya couldn't have made it any clearer how she feels about me."

Barging into the, thankfully empty, toilet, Maya leant on a basin and began to sob. She had wanted to stay at home, but her mother had refused to sign yet another sick note, telling her at some point she had to get over her pride and explain to Ethan.

However, her mother was wrong. It wasn't pride that stopped her, it was her over-developed emotional survival instinct. Maya knew this was self-destructive - in protecting herself, she always pushed people away. But she had never, ever, felt as vulnerable as this before.

Over the next week, it seemed as if there was almost a magnetic field between Maya and Ethan, forcing them physically, and emotionally, apart.

Major internet firm App n Clack had launched its version of shamefacebook to a huge media fanfare. So this lunchtime, like every other lunchtime, Ethan sat at his laptop in his empty classroom, testing the potentially game-changing enhancements to the site that their new recruit Yiu-hon had come up with. Today, however, his work was interrupted by a phone call. It was Grandad. "What do you mean the cheque bounced?," Ethan asked, jolted to his feet. "Mum doesn't know, does she?" he continued, panic surging through him.

As he listened to Grandad's reply, he paced out into the corridor, leaving his open laptop behind.

Grandad's call had put the crisis Ethan was facing into sharp relief. Not only did he have to find the cash for his still seriously ill mother's physiotherapy bills, he now also had to pay for his own school fees. Once the father of his schoolmates - Gilbert and Charlotte Chan - discovered he had been unwittingly paying for Ethan's scholarship, the same Ethan whose grandfather had blocked his property development deal, he had ended his sponsorship.

But in the days following Grandad's worrying call, Ethan's faith in his childhood friend Yiu-hon proved well founded. With the help of Jenny's coding wizardry, Yiu-hon had come up with a cutting-edge new look for shamefacebook.

The site, designed to allow its users to make private, online, apologies to those they had wronged or offended, now featured animated and personalised virtual peace offerings that could be unwrapped on screen. The popularity of these new features, not only in Hong Kong, but also all over Guangzhou, was turning App n Clack's copycat version into a flop.

Celebrating his financial salvation with his colleagues in a restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui, Ethan snapped a photo on his smartphone of the laptop screen that logged their 100,000th registered user.

"I'm going to send this to Maya to show her I don't need her to be successful," he told his friends, all the time unaware they were being watched.The next day, however, Ethan cursed when he realised he had lost his phone, the one Maya had given him on his birthday. He reasoned that it had probably slipped from his pocket on the bus home the night before.

However, at that very moment, Gilbert and Charlotte Chan finally cracked the simple password on Ethan's phone.

Their father was determined to find out where the money had come from that enabled Ethan's grandad to outbid him for the ramshackle shop that stood between him and his billion-dollar deal. To that end, he had ordered his children to spy on their fellow student.

As they swiped through Ethan's photos, the twins gasped as they realised they had found what they had been looking for. Now the mysterious code they'd seen on Ethan's unguarded laptop made sense. To their amazement, the schoolmate they'd looked down on for so long was the brains behind shamefacebook!

To be continued next week