Someone Somewhere Is Made For You

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#32 He wants to take the blame

Ella.

My whole body started to tremble as I started to lose hope.

What should I do now? How can I help Michael?

Michael seemed to have figured out the situation when the police officers came. It looked like he had anticipated this situation.

He even told me to be strong and trust him.

His words rang in my ears.

“Cinderella, you said you wanted to protect me, now is the time, be strong, don’t give up.”

That’s right; Michael would find a way to be here. He would definitely come. I should trust him this time.

I took deep breathes and got up. My body felt like I had just completed a marathon, but I forced myself to move.

I am going to trust his words. I am going to face this until the last moment.

..............................

“What do you mean? Alex would take his place? Why?”

Everyone looked at me in shock.

“Something urgent came up; he wanted us to start without him.”

“That means he won’t reach back in time,” Angela looked at me. “What’s going on?”

“I trust him, He will definitely come. He asked me to tell Alex to take control of the group.”

Everyone suddenly looked nervous and confused.

Alex clapped his hands twice.

“Okay guys, I don’t understand what’s happening, but since we don’t have time, we will go according to the plan, Angela will start the presentation, Gokul will continue.”

“But what if senior Michael won’t reach back for the discussion? It will be the most difficult part.”

“I believe he is a responsible person, he won’t abandon his team in a crucial time. And if he cannot make it, I will take his place, since he asked me to,” Alex looked around. “Unless there is someone here who could think of another alternative or think of someone else for the Q/A session.”

Nobody moved. Everyone wanted to present the topic because they were sure that Michael would have their back, now that the most difficult part is open, everyone looked scared to take it without any preparation.

“Then let’s go,” Alex commanded. “And don’t worry, ours would be the best team, I believe no other group would have managed to get a dictator as Michael,” he said and a few people smiled as if agreeing.

“Then let’s win this tech-fest!” Alex shouted and everyone repeated.

As we walked to our area on the stage, I could see why Michael asked Alex to take over. He seemed to have the leadership potential and ease with managing the team.

That’s right; Michael knew that Alex could do it. So I should trust him in this too... he would somehow find a way to come back before the program gets over.

The auditorium was divided into four parts and the students from each college were seated facing each other leaving a circle stage at the centre, where the judges are currently positioned. None of the professors from any college was allowed inside.

The people presenting the project; Angela, Gokul and Alex were seated at the front while the others took the seat behind them.

As soon as we were seated, Alex turned to us.

“Let me go and sign in Michael’s name so that he could have a chance if he ever comes back,” he said and everyone nodded.

He looked rather bothered as he came back.

“Is everything okay?” Gokul asked him.

“Um, they agreed to sign Michael on one condition,” Alex looked around. “If he cannot make it before the third session starts, we would get penalty points,” he said while everyone frowned.

My phone started to vibrate and I disconnected Mama’s call and looked at my team members.

“He will come here on time,” I said firmly. “He told me that he would come back, so let’s trust him on this and go ahead.”

I said in a voice that was filled with confidence. Everyone nodded and looked slightly relieved.

Soon the presentation started and the three judges at the centre of the stage looked at the students.

“We will start with our hosting college,” he said and Angela got up.

“Wait, I don’t want the program to be the same old way.” The second judge came forward and said. “Let’s do something different this time.”

Everyone looked at him.

“Let’s switch the people to do the presentation,” he said and there was a collective gasp of protest from all the students.

The judge laughed.

“If I am right, the students present here are supposed to be the best ones in the country, so let’s do this,” he said and turned to our side.

“Okay, that sounds exciting,” One of the judges said and looked at us. “Then write down your names, let’s select the person to present the project by drawing a lot from each college.”

All the groups did as we were told. A staff took the four boxes from each college and placed it on the desk on the stage. The Judge who had asked to change the rule came forward and picked up a paper from our box.

I was suddenly filled with a sense of Déjà Vu. For some reason, I kind of felt that something is really wrong.

I watched as he opened the paper and said the name aloud.

“Cinderella Adams,” he looked directly at us.

Our team gasped in surprise.

“Ella,” Vipin nudged me as everyone else looked at me in silence.

“Ah...” I got up slowly.

He selected the weakest member of our group. It was hard for me to believe it as a coincidence.

“We have done this before in the class,” Alex looked at me. “I have seen you working hard, Ella, I am sure that you can do well,” he encouraged me.

I slowly walked to the stage.

Michael.

I sat in the questioning room silently. They had taken away my phone the moment we were inside the jeep and didn’t allow me to call anyone.

When I said I cannot talk to them without a lawyer’s presence, they said they have to see about it.

Thus I am sitting inside this room in silence. It was already 10 and I am sure that the project presentation would be started by now.

Nobody bothered to come inside or talk to me for the last 20 or so minutes and I am guessing that they want to trap me here on the day of my project presentation.

I really wish Cinderella’s Mama is not involved in this. But I am not stupid, my intuition kept on telling me otherwise. I know that Roopak won’t dare go against me without any strong backup.

His company is already sinking, so he won’t get out of this easily. The story would be different if he gets help from Cinderella’s Mama.

I hope she won’t try to make a deal with Cinderella because of me. I hope she won’t threaten Cinderella with me.

I looked at the watch again.

Ella.

All of us gathered in our allocated team room on the first break.

My presentation was over and it was okay. But I could see that the judges were not impressed.

The only positive thing was that the students selected by the lot from other colleges looked as weak, if not more.

It looks like Michael was right. They only had three main people while the rest of the group seemed to have come to cheer them on.

I looked at my team members. Everyone looked tensed and I felt guilty.

“What are we going to do now? If senior Michael cannot come back on time, we are doomed,” Shreya said.

“How can they rearrange the order suddenly?”

“Since Angela hadn’t presented, let’s give her Michael’s slot,” Alex said and everyone looked at him in surprise.

“Angela is better prepared, I admit that,” he said.

My phone vibrated and lightning went through my heart as I looked at the phone.

“Excuse me, I need...restroom...” I tried to slip away.

“Ella, be back in 10 minutes,” Alex called out and I nodded.

I attended the call as soon as I reached an empty class.

“So what have you decided?” Mama asked me without any preamble. “Michael wouldn’t get out of the station if you continue to ignore me.”

“Mama, don’t...don’t do this,” I said slowly. “It’s not just Michael, my team has 12 members in total, and all of them will be affected by this.”

“This is what I want to remind you, Ella, You are ruining everyone in your group.”

“Mama...I am begging you, please...please don’t do this-”

“So you haven’t understood the gravity of the situation yet?” Mama asked me from the other end. “With one word from me, I can disqualify your whole group. I will make sure that you cannot win this competition whatever you do.”

My heart skipped a beat. I was suddenly reminded of the past, how she had influenced my teachers.

“The...the judge...you made him change the course of the presentation!?” I asked her incredulously. “You...made me do the presentation!?”

Things started to fit and my heart started to beat wildly.

“I heard Michael worked hard for the last 6 months on this project, Ella, do you want to be the reason for it to fail?”

“Mama! You can’t do this to me! You...you are...targeting me!”

“I swear that I won’t touch him if you back down now, I too don’t want to play dirty like this, but I know that this is the only way you would listen to me.”

I suddenly understand that she wouldn’t give up. She would go to any extent; she would do anything to make me give up on Michael.

“The program would be restarting in 10 minutes, if you refuse to give up, I can only ask the judge to make you continue with the presentation. Now, you don’t want to ruin all your team members too.”

She disconnected the call and I took deep breathes to calm myself.

I bit my lips and leaned to the wall. My confidence level starting to drop.

I remembered how hard everyone worked for this.

The sound of someone opening the door reached me and I turned around to see an angry Angela standing there.

“Is it your Mama?”

She looked furious as she looked at me accusingly. I looked down, unable to meet her eyes.

“Did your Mama block Senior Michael from coming here?” she asked me again. Her voice was dangerous and low.

My vision started to blur and that was all the answer she wanted.

“You bloody bitch!” she dashed to me and slapped me hard. “You bloody bitch! It’s because of you! I knew it! I warned you and you didn’t listen to me!”

I didn’t try to defend as I felt that I deserved it. And more than the pain, I was getting hurt by her words, for all of it was the truth.

“You are going to ruin everyone. I knew it the moment you joined the team, people are going to suffer because of you. You are bad luck, Cinderella; you knew your Mama and still chose to do this! Selfish bitch!” Angela was screaming at me now while I stood there, rooted to the spot.

“Stop acting like a damn victim and solve this now or I am going to make you regret this the rest of your life!”

“What’s going on here?” Shreya opened the door and come inside and a few others followed.

“Do you know why we are going through this mess? It’s because of her! Her Mama caused all of this and she is going to ruin all of us!” Angela pointed at me.

The room engulfed in silence for a moment. I could feel all of them looking at me.

I know that I cannot ruin them. But I trust Michael; I thought he would definitely come back.

“Is it true, Ella?” Shreya asked me.

“Mich...ael... will...come-” I stopped as Angela fixed me with her deathly glare.

“If we lose the competition because of you, I will kill you, Cinderella, I won’t care even if I have to go to jail.”

“What’s going on here?” Alex, Vipin and the rest of the team members came inside the room. “Why are you...bullying her?”

Meera grabbed my hand and pushed me to the centre of the room.

“We are in this mess because of her,” she said. “Her Mama blocked Senior Michael from coming here.”

“What!?” Vipin sounded shocked.

“I don’t...understand...” Gokul said.

“Ella, what’s going on? Explain the situation to me,” Alex asked me for an explanation and I wiped my eyes and looked up slowly.

Since this is a problem created by me, I know that I have to take responsibility.

“Mama...she...took Michael away...she influenced...the...judge...as well,” I said while everyone looked at me with accusing eyes.

“I...didn’t hide it...intentionally, but...Michael said...he said he would be here...for his-”

“Then where is he, Cinderella?” Angela shouted at me.

“I...won't let you fail...this competition because of me,” I said. “I was...going to wait...for Michael until the last moment before...calling my Mama.”

What I told them was the truth. I wanted to fight for us till the last second before admitting defeat.

“Then call her now!" Angela said deadly. “Call her now and tell her that you will do whatever is that she wanted you to do.”

We only had two more minutes before the program starts for the second round. If Michael starts now, he could reach before the third session.

“Please...give me two minutes, I...want to wait for Micha..el-” I stopped in shock as I felt myself get pushed to the wall.

“Hey!” Alex said and Vipin took a step forward while everyone else watched in shock.

But Angela was holding me to the wall and she looked into my eyes with pure hatred.

“You still want to wait for him!?”

“We...have two more minutes-”

I didn’t complete the sentence and braced myself for the pain as Angela raised her hand at me again.

But it never connected to my cheek as somebody had already separated her from me.

“Senior Michael!”

Everyone in the room looked surprised and relieved. I looked at him in disbelief as he took my trembling hand and turned to the rest of the team.

“What’s going on here?” his voice came out cold, his eyes were filled with anger.

“Senior...Mich...ael,” Angela looked at him in shock.

"I want everyone to take your position on the auditorium now; we would discuss what happened here once the competition is over.”

“Senior Michael-” Alex started.

“Take everyone out of here, Alex,” Michael cut across him and he nodded.

So everyone walked out of there while Michael turned to me.

“I am sorry, I am late,” he whispered. His voice gentle and soft.

I wiped my eyes and shook my head.

He took out his handkerchief and started to wipe my eyes and cheek. Once he was satisfied, he touched my cheek gently. I bit my lips to stop myself from crying.

The next thing I know, I was enveloped in a warm hug.

“Thank you for trusting me. Let’s talk after the program is over,” Michael said and I nodded gratefully as I would have lost it if I stayed there alone with him.

Salena Adams.

I waited.

The ticking of each second felt deafening to me.

Ella has only one more minute to make a decision.

I touched my temple on either side. My headache was severe. Ella’s pleading voice just hurt me as much as it angered me.

But I find no other way to stop her. I want to protect her, no matter what.

Sara opened the door.

“Ma’am!” She looked frantic and I was alert.

“What is it?” I looked up.

“That...guy...” she said slowly. “He got released from the custody.”

“What!?”

“Looks like this guy had some powerful connections, the CEO of the Golden security solutions sent his chief secretary for him.”

“That’s...that’s impossible! He is just a student!”

“Yeah, that’s why we didn’t use much power to get him. I thought it would be easy to lock him up.” Sara said. “And it was not just him,” she said slowly. “The Chief of the Cybersecurity station also got involved. Looks like Michael have the right connections.”

“He is just a part-timer!” I exclaimed. “This guy is more dangerous than I thought!”

“We still have one person on our side,” Sara said. “I am sure he would take care of the competition and teach him a lesson.”

Michael.

“We would continue with the second session,” The judges started. “The same person will continue the presentation,” he added.

I looked at Cinderella; I know that she is not in a good state to do a presentation. And I knew that the competition wouldn’t be fair anyway.

So I decided to take a chance, I got up from my place and everyone turned to me.

“Yes?” One of the judges asked me.

“Sir, I would like to know why we are changing the rules of the competition like this,” I said while everyone looked at me in shock. “We have been given clear instructions before and it clearly stated that the three sessions would be dealt by three people.”

“That’s right,” the captain of the other group agreed. “Can we stick with the rules?” He asked and the other two captains nodded.

“Why? Are you unhappy with the method?” The judge turned to me as I was still standing in front of everyone.

“My team prepared for this for the last 6 months, I want the competition to be fair and right.”

“What do you mean by that? Are you doubting us?” Another judge asked, looking angry.

“I don’t mean any disrespect, sir, but I just heard that the competition is rigged.”

The room filled with collective gasps as everyone looked at me incredulously, as if I had gone mad.

Even I know that speaking up might land us in trouble. Moreover, in the worst scenario, I would be regarded as a whistleblower.

“Do you know what you are talking about?” The third judge asked me after a moment. “This is an inter-college competition. If you accuse the judges without any evidence, do you know what the consequence would be?” He asked me dangerously.

“I have evidence,” I said firmly. “And as a team leader, it’s my duty to protect my team, so I hope you understand it.”

“You have evidence? Then give us the evidence,” The judge said. “If you are bluffing, I will disqualify your whole team,” he added sternly.

My heart started to beat wildly. I took a deep breath. I turned to my team members all of whom were looking at me in shock.

“Okay,” I said.

“Then give us the evidence, boy,” One judge said and I pointed to the four boxes that were still on the main desk. “That is the evidence,” I said. “I want to check the name that was taken out of it.”

“You meant to say that we were targeting you on purpose!” One of the judges asked me.

“Please check the name that was taken out,” I said slowly.

“Open it and show it to him,” someone said and one of the helping staff pulled out the paper from the selected lots and turned around a piece of paper.

"Cinderella Adams,” he read and a flash of lightning went through my heart. My whole team gasped in shock and I closed my eyes for a moment.

“What now? Do you have something to say?” The judges looked angry. “How are you going to compensate this now?”

That’s no way...no, we already know that Salena Adams was targeting us intentionally, the chance for the lot to have Cinderella’s name was very less.

I opened my eyes and looked at them.

“I would like to check the other names in the box,” I said.

“Are you out of your mind, boy?” the first judge turned to me in anger.

“Haven’t you had enough?”

“This is it, let’s stop it here.”

“As I said, my team and I would back down from this competition if I am wrong.”

“Very well, let the boy clears his doubts then, he will deal with the consequences once the program is over,” the first judge said.

“We can’t allow people to question us! We are here as guests, they can’t insult us like this!”

“There is no way we would allow it.” The third judge looked adamant.

“Then my team and I wouldn’t participate anymore,” I said sternly.

The second judge looked at the group around me.

“Is that what you want?” he asked. “Do you want to get disqualified after the hard work you put in?” he asked.

Someone got up on my right side.

“He is our team leader, if he walks out of the competition, we would follow him out,” Angela said.

“If our team leader thinks that the competition is rigged, we believe him,” Alex said. “He put his everything to this project, so we know that he won’t make a false accusation.”

And the next thing I know, all the members of my team were on their feet.

“If senior Michael is wrong, we are ready to get disqualified.”

The judges looked shocked at the turn of events.

“Then let’s do this,” the first one walked to the box of names while the second one stopped him.

“Are you really going to let them question us!?”

“This has never happened in my time as a professor, this is ridiculous and absurd!” The third one said.

Someone opened the door to the auditorium and Abraham sir walked inside with three other professors from the other colleges.

“Professor Abraham!” The first judge said. “It’s a good thing you are here; your students think the competition is set-up,”

“Then I guess there is only one way to know,” Professor Abraham said firmly. “Let’s open the rest of the names,” he looked at the judges.

“But that is-”

“That’s the only way to know the truth. Since my students are willing to take responsibility if they are wrong, I suggest we see the names in the box without wasting any more time,” Professor Abraham said, and then turned to the other staff with him. “I know that all of you want a fair competition, so I ask you about your opinion on this matter.”

“We brought our kids here so that we would have an honest and fair competition, I agree with Professor Abraham.”

So everyone turned to the judges and they sighed.

“Let’s open it then,” The first judge said and walked to the box.

“I don’t agree to this!” the second one looked angry.

“I guess this is the easiest way to solve this problem now,” the third one sighed.

All the staff including Abraham sir came to the stage and waited near as the first judge unfolded the first name from the box.

“Cinderella Adams,” he said and the whole auditorium breaks into the conversation.

He opened the second name, “Cinderella Adams.”

Other staff took out each lot and started to open.

“Cinderella Adams...”

“Cinderella Adams,”

The students became silent as the name repeated over and over again.

“We have a whole box with the name Cinderella Adams, that’s 12 names, whoever switched the lots with the real name wanted Cinderella to be selected for the presentation,” Abraham sir turned to look at the stunned people. “Do you still want to disqualify my students?” he asked bitterly.

..........................

Ella.

I sat in the far corner of the room. All of us were gathered in the team room near the auditorium.

The competition was cancelled and the discussion went on with the staff members.

“How did you know that-” Shreya started.

“Before that, would anyone care to explain what happened at the break time?” Michael looked at them. “Why did you single out Cinderella and attacked her?”

Everyone turned silent as Michael looked at them. I was ashamed of myself and looked down.

If anything, I deserved it.

But I know that I cannot stop Michael from doing this. It’s not because we are in a relationship, Michael always had the sense of justice that he doesn’t hesitate to speak up if he thinks someone is wrong...just like what happened today at the competition as well.

“We didn’t attack her, it was Angela-”

“I think staying silently and watching someone getting attacked is as good as attacking her directly.”

“That’s because her Mama blocked you and-”

“Don’t give me that bullshit, Meera; even if I was away, I gave clear instructions for Alex to take over!”

“It’s not the same!”

“What’s not the same?” He looked angrier as he looked at the guy who spoke up. “I warned you before that there might be last minute variables. I told you not to think the competition to be fair; I trained you to be the best! So tell me, if I got sick and couldn’t make it here, what would you have done?”

Everyone turned silent at his words.

“As the second in command, what did you do to solve the situation, Alex?” Michael’s angry gaze turned to Alex.

“I didn’t know about it and when I reached the room-”

“You didn’t know what your team members were doing?”

“It’s true, Alex and I reached here late and we were too shocked to react-” Vipin stopped as Michael gave him a furious look.

“Why are you taking Cinderella’s side? Is it because you are her boyfriend?” Gokul turned to Michael. “Then what about now? What about our competition? What about our hard work?”

“Cinderella is a victim just like all of you here! And if you think I am taking her side because I am her boyf-”

“We don’t,” Angela got up and faced him. “Everyone in this room knows that. People here know that you won’t be blinded by the personal feelings,” Angela said and nobody disagreed, even Gokul looked away. “But it is the truth that everything that happened today was because of Cinderella.”

“She didn’t have any control over what happened-”

“She knew about her Mama! She caused all of this. I warned her multiple times, I warned you too, Cinderella ruins whoever is closer to her, she is-”

“Enough, Angela!” Michael’s voice rose for a moment and tears prickled my eyes.

“You cannot deny that she caused this mess!”

“Then you should blame me as well, Angela, because it was I, who met her Mama against her wish,” Michael said. “So going by your logic, it was because of me that all of this happened.”

My heart trembled and silent tears started flow down my face.

“You still want to defend her after all of this?!” Gokul shouted. “We wouldn’t have been in this mess if we didn’t have her inside the group!”

“We can’t blame anyone for this,” Alex said slowly. “Nobody expected this to happen; nobody knew that her Mama would use this to threaten them.”

“Cinderella knew her Mama, she-”

“This is not because of her, Angela; this is caused by me-”

“Stop...” I said and got to my feet. I dragged myself to the middle of the room.

“I...I don’t have words...to...apologize...I am sincerely truly sorry...because of me-”

“Keep your sincerity to yourself, Cinderella, and do a favour to everyone by staying away from people!” Angela shouted at me. “Just disappear out of our lives!”

“I won’t let you talk to her like this Angela, you were over the top when you attacked her as well,” Michael said and took my trembling hands and faced the team members.

“As your team leader, I promise everyone in this room that I would find a way around this problem,” he said firmly. “But as her boyfriend, I won’t tolerate it if anyone uses this to abuse her.”

“What are you going to do now? The competition is cancelled and everything is over,” Gokul said.

“I will do everything to arrange this event once more.”

“The semester is already over, with the scandal that happened today, do you think it will be easy to do it?” Vipin asked.

“No, it wouldn’t be easy, but it wouldn’t be impossible either,” Michael said firmly. “And if you want to blame Cinderella, blame me as well, because I am involved in this matter as deep as she is and I give you my word that I will surely make it up to you.”

My whole body started to shake as I heard him take the blame and I fought back the sobs and willed myself to stay strong.

“I am sorry...” the sound that came out sounded strange to my own ears. “I...I am sorry that...you had to...suffer because of me...I...I admit that...what happened today was my fault...I...I take full responsibility and... As Angela wanted, I...I will discontinue the course here.”

“Cinderella!” Michael turned to me in shock as everyone stayed silent.

“This...this is...the only thing I could...do now...I am truly...sorry.”

And with that, I pushed away from Michael and ran out of the room with what little dignity I had, if I had anything at all...

-------------------------

Q: Will Ella drop out?

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