The Bystander Effect

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess named Regina, who lived in a castle far, far away from the people her mother watched over. She slept and dined and dressed lavishly, but this wasn’t enough. She wished to live in the world, not just observe it.

That is why, after much planning, she fled the castle.

Fully believing in her ability to master any task she put her mind to, she’d set out, bracing herself for the hard work that lay ahead. It turned out to be harder work than she could have possibly imagined. The language spoken by her peers was coarse, simplistic, and confusing. The music they enjoyed was discordant, and their food was flavorless. Education itself was merely rudimentary; she’d read most of the books on her syllabi before she had turned thirteen. After a week, she was beginning to wonder if her confidence in herself had been misplaced.

But she possessed enough tenacity to keep going. As a child, she’d acclimated to the customs of at least a dozen cultures–surely she could do so in the country in which she was born. Thus she accepted an invitation to a party taking place on fraternity row.

Upon entering the pertinent building, she wondered what the maximum occupancy for such a residence might be. This party most certainly exceeded it. With a sigh, she plunged into the throng, weaving through it with expert precision. Not a single reveler seemed to notice her, until a slight figure blocked her path, looked her up and down, and squealed, “Oh my gawd!”

The young woman’s hair had been bleached poorly; Regina didn’t have enough fingers to count the clumps of mousy brown roots. Yet her purse and shoes were Italian, her belt and watch were Swiss, and her skirt was French, so Regina approved of her.

“Oh my gawd you are so hot! And seriously, that dress! So hot!” She pointed at herself and announced, “Julie!”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Julie.”

“Are you rushing?” she asked. “Seriously, you should rush!”

“I’m moving quickly,” Regina replied, “but I’m in no hurry.”

“Seriously, you’re, like, so funny! And so hot! You would literally make an awesome Alpha Theta Beta!”

“That doesn’t actually spell anything,” Regina said, flinching from the verbal assault.

“It spells the hottest Greeks on campus!” Julie informed her.

“Perhaps these Greeks should take an anti-inflammatory,” Regina advised.

“Like. So. Funny!” Julie hugged her. Suddenly, her ears perked up and she swiveled her head, shouting, “Mackenzie! Don’t touch that one! I heard he gave Rochelle crabs!” She scurried off without a further word.

The exchange confused her, yet gave her hope. Perhaps forging a bond with these people would not be as difficult as she had imagined.

A deeper voice shouted over the music, “Hey! How’s it going!”

The first thing she saw was a threadbare T-shirt stretched over the torso of a tanned god. She stared, fighting to retain her dignity while every muscle in her body threatened to override it. Somehow, she curtailed her carnal instinct and set her gaze on his face. This didn’t help, either. His lips seduced her with their softness, and her fingers ached to twirl around his wavy hair. The tingle she felt would have been exciting had it not been so intrusive. “Very well,” she replied with a dry mouth, “and yourself?”

His eyes broke the spell of his pectorals by drifting down to her bust line. He pointed at himself. “Tad.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tad. My name is Regina.”

“How’s it going, Gina?”

“Regina.”

“Cool,” he said as he bobbed his head to the thick beat.

It didn’t take long for this to bore her, so she wandered away. After a few minutes, she found herself in the kitchen, where her acquaintance Julie danced awkwardly between two young white men who both wore khaki shorts, pastel polo shirts, and denim baseball caps. All three balanced a red plastic cup in his and her hands.

When Julie’s glazed attention settled on Regina, she let loose a weak squeal and hugged her again. “Gina!”

Something about her posture made her question Julie’s condition; she appeared to be more than merely intoxicated. “Are you well?”

“Why wouldn’t she be?” one of the men asked.

“How’s it going, Gina,” said the other.

“Regina.”

He pointed at himself. “Gavin.”

The other one chimed in. “Seth.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Regina replied, despite the fact that it wasn’t.

“Not feel good,” Julie told them, balancing herself on the nearest counter.

“Need someplace to lie down?” Seth asked.

She nodded almost imperceptibly.

Seth wrapped his arms around her waist. “I’ll take care of you.”

“My hero…”

Seth winked at Gavin. “Get Gina something to drink.”

Gavin grinned. “Cool.”

He followed Seth and returned a moment later with a fresh cup. She took it and studied his expression. It told her that the contents of her beverage would, in his mind, guarantee him something he could never earn with sheer charm.

She looked him in the eye and said, “Permitir que esses poucos momentos para passar sem você.”

He froze just long enough for her to exchange their drinks. When he resumed moving, he said, “Bottom’s up!”

She took a sip. This was not the first time she’d consumed alcohol, but it was her first American beer, and she was not impressed. It was simultaneously rancid and bland.

Gavin downed his in one gulp. She waited a few moments, and sure enough, an extra bit of intoxication consumed him. “Whoa,” he said.

“Do you need to lie down?” she asked him.

“I think so?” he replied.

“Splendid.” She turned and walked away, stifling a grin at the muffled thud of his unsteady body hitting linoleum. This could be considered only a partial triumph.

After plucking a brittle hair off of her blouse, she whispered, “Voltar ao corpo de onde você veio,” before blowing on it. Buoyed by the sexual energy of the crowd, it floated upstairs, leading her to a closed door. She didn’t bother knocking.

Her expectation was that she’d find Seth lying next to an unconscious Julie, groping her, at the very least. Her expectation, unfortunately, was met.

When Seth spotted Regina, he frowned. “Yo, where’s Gavin?”

“On the kitchen floor,” she told him. “What did you put in our beverages?”

“I don’t have to tell you anything,” he snarled, bolting to his feet.

“I beg to differ,” she replied coolly. “Two words from me, and you will defecate where you stand.”

“That’s a load of shit.”

“Technically,” she agreed, “it is.”

He stormed over to her. “Nobody–“

Entranhas, agravar-se,” she interrupted.

Something in his bowels rumbled, and he doubled over. “The fuck?”

“A warning,” she told him. Her eyes swept the room and landed on an orange prescription bottle resting on a nearby dresser. “Is this it?”

“Fuck you!”

She examined it and read the label. “Flunitrazepam? I don’t know what this is.”

“Why don’t you take some and find out?”

She rolled her eyes and sighed, “Entranhas, agravar-se.”

He leaned on the desk, once again struck by awkward discomfort.

“Leave,” she told him.

“I don’t think so.”

“Do you want me to repeat myself?”

He closed his eyes, weighed his options, and headed for the door. Opening it, he muttered, “Freak.”

She shook her head. “Why do I bother to interact with these people?” It was too late to correct that error, but it wasn’t too late to correct another. She stuck her head in the hallway and shouted, “Seth?”

He stopped walking.

“On second thought,” she told him, “Entranhas, esvaziar-se.”

His eyes widened in terror, and in moments, feces began to flow out of his shorts and over his bare knees.

Regina closed the door. “Julie?”

She stirred and mumbled.

“I’m relieved to have found you in time.”

Julie moved her head just a little. Regina took this to mean she agreed.

“I’m going to sit you up. Do you think you can assist me?”

Julie raised herself a few inches off before flopping backward, bouncing on the bed, and rolling onto the floor. “No,” she mumbled.

“Clearly.”

To be continued…

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