No smoke from strangers’ mouths dancing into our faces, no accidental grazing of sweat-doused backs with our shoulders, no voices drowned by bass. We were bored. Karen wore a crisscross blouse in moonlit seaweed that bared her skin more than embraced it. Me? Dressed in a hot-pink halter. We were both in too-high heels that made us look older than seventeen, wearing skirts that were mere slits of fabric. We called with limited minutes. “Come on. Come. Save us.” We wanted to sing and feel the echo of laughter in our chests and bones. To be taken away from this house party that was only a house.

A truck neared—a monster thwacking with hurried music. We walked outside to a rolled window, and the air that drifted out felt rude. Beer and the mixed musk of unlike colognes—orange blossom, oakmoss, then leather lasting. I waved to the boy in the bed of the truck; we knew about each other, but his voice was still a question mark. Hilda, our savior, jumped out of the truck’s cabin and kissed our cheeks while we stood on the sidewalk. “Let’s go,” she said. My eyes moved, but my legs didn’t budge. I saw laps on top of laps, thighs numbed by uneven weight, and breath and eyes the same sweet distance from each other. I counted six; with Karen and I there’d be eight—plus the cargo-bed rider. Their voices intertwined with the radio, the liquor already casting streams of loud elation in their veins.

Our bodies were the excuse. “Look at us,” we said. Yes, our skirts could lift due to a hip dip when swaying to beats, but attempting to get inside would be asking to bare ourselves. The cargo bed? That’s reserved for boys chugging beers, pineapples, pit sand, and roadkill. We were dressed for taxis and reggaetón. We thought the truck would lead us to others with rhythm who knew how to twirl us and wouldn’t lower their hands past our back dimples. We waved good-bye and went back inside to decide if going home to our beds was the only option left for the night.

Upstairs I played Snake on my Nokia phone on the faux dance floor that lacked bodies and a good tempo. The snake’s pixeled path in front of a green screen more compelling than mine that night. There was no internet then, no unlimited texts, and we counted our minutes like we would our precious baby teeth. Still, word got around quickly in a small town. Half an hour later we learned that, yes, no one died, but the haunts of what ifs and maybes arose. My face on the ground at a ghost angle. Rocks cut into my knee that revealed my patella. Halter-top ripped, end of the skirt up to my raw navel. One heel still on, the other in flight. One of my two fibulas sword-sharp outside of me. A white sheet on me before my mother arrived to identify the body.

Instead, Hilda crawled out of the truck with the wheels upright. The boy in the cargo bed was missing for some minutes—as if the sky had swallowed him in a gulp—until Hilda found him by the curve of dirt that gave way to the river. Concussions, blood, colliding temples, twisted limbs. Parents showed up at the clinic with their tongues in that harsh spot between sweet gratitude and flamed anger. I saw Hilda a couple of days later, in a neck brace and arm sling, a gash on her hand. She said what I never would: “Those miniskirts saved your lives.” I nodded, and we knew we’d all party again, in too-tight short skirts, once her wounds healed and her nightmares eased.

Victoria Buitron is a writer who hails from Ecuador and resides in Connecticut. She received an MFA in creative writing from Fairfield University. She is currently the competitions editor for Harbor Review. Her debut memoir-in-essays, A Body Across Two Hemispheres, was the 2021 Fairfield Book Prize winner. In 2023, she received the Artistic Excellence Award from the Connecticut Office of the Arts, which also receives funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.