How to Be Bad Excerpt
How to Be Bad
Excerpt: Chapter 5
I’m not going to make it.
We still have a half hour of driving before we get to Carabelle, home of the world’s smallest police station, and I can barely breathe.
Vicks has… gas.
And it’s bad.
The two of them think it’s hilarious.
“Don’t you know it’s unlawful to pass wind in Florida, after five o’clock, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays?” Jesse asks.
Vicks laughs, her feet propped up against the dashboard. “But on Saturday it’s okay?”
I think I’m going to be sick.
“I am so not lying!” Jesse says. “That is an honest-to-goodness state law. I learned it when me and Mama were playing Balderdash.”
The smell returns in a second wave.
“You did it again!” Jesse shrieks, fanning the air.
“Silent but deadly,” Vicks says, not the least bit embarrassed.
If it was me, I’d have to move back to Canada. I try to breathe through my mouth. I cough.
“Poor Mel has to sit behind me,” Vicks says, shaking her head.
“No problem,” I say, almost choking.
She shrugs. “It’s not my fault. It was the hot dog. Al Roker had gas, too.”
“What, you’re psychically in tune with Al’s intestines?” Jesse asks.
“Me and Al Roker, you'd never know we had so much in common, would you? United by flatulence.”
Flatulence. I’m in a car discussing flatulence. My family would rather die then discuss flatulence. I would rather die than discuss flatulence.
Vicks turns to look at me. “How’d the dog go down with you? You’re looking green.”
“Mel had her hot dog without the dog,” Jesse says, when I’d just as soon she kept that bit of information to herself. I think she’s mad at me because I didn’t pay for the food. I should have paid for the food. The only reason I didn’t offer was because, well, I thought that maybe they wanted me around for more than just my wallet. I was hoping that perhaps it was the excuse for letting me come, but that secretly they wanted me along.
“What?” Vicks shrieks. “Without the dog?”
“Without the dog," Jesse explains "You missed it. You were discussing the finer points of relish.”
“What is wrong with you, woman?” Vicks cries. "I thought you were hungry."
My cheeks heat up. “I don’t like hot dogs.”
“And why not?”
“I heard they’re made from the leftover scraps of cows and pigs and stuff,” I mumble.
“Says who?” Vicks asks.
“Says my sister?”
“Is she a doctor?” Jesse asks.
“No, but I told you, she's always on a diet.” I instantly feel dumb for using my sister as an expert.
She’s just obsessed with food. And how much she and I eat of it. I sink into my seat. Am I ever going to know the right thing to say to these girls? To get them to like me?
“It’s a sad life when you can’t eat a hot dog,” Jesse says. “If a hot dog comes your way, you eat it.”
“Dude,” Vicks says. She cracks up.
“What?” Jesse says.
“Not to burst your bubble, but when have you ever eaten the hot dog?”
“Are you wigging? I ate my hot dog. Then she gets it. “Ohhh,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Very funny.”
“What about you, Mel?” Vicks asks me. “You ever eaten the hot dog?”
First they talk about gas and now…that. “You guys,” I say, my cheeks now on fire.
“Oh, come on. You look innocent but you’re secretly a badass, aren't you?”
“Not quite,” I say.
A third wave of wind sneaks through the car — Vicks most certainly did eat the hot dog — and I might really gag this time.
“Geez Louise, woman!” Jesse says. “For the last time: Stop pouting!”
Even with all the windows open, we’re being asphyxiated.
“Al Roker! You are my kin!” Vicks cries.
“Feet off the dashboard,” Jesse commands, swatting her legs. “Point that thing another direction!”
Vicks cackles. Jesse speeds up to escape the fumes, and I’m relieved when we exit onto a tiny street called A Avenue. Jesse follows it for a bit and eases to a stop in front of an empty phone booth. Jesse and I spill out of the car. Vicks steps out regally, like a queen.
Thank God, fresh air.
“This is it?” Jesse says, obviously disappointed. “The world’s smallest police station?”
Vicks gestures at a neatly lettered sign on the glass, which does indeed say “Police.” But other than that, it’s just a boring phone booth.
“Where are the police officers?” I ask.
“Police officer,” Jesse says. “It couldn’t fit more than one.”
“Maybe he’s off duty,” Vicks says.
“Maybe the whole town’s off duty,” Jesse says.
There’s no sign of life on the entire block, other than the deafening chirp of cicadas. There’s a convenience store across the street, its faded wooden sign hanging from a single nail. No one is inside.
We stare at the vacant phone booth.
Vicks looks sheepish. She shifts her weight and another wave of grossness squeaks out. Jesse takes a step away.
I can’t help but feel embarrassed for her.
“Seen enough?” Jesse says at last.
Miss Indigestion smacks her fist into her palm. "Now we go see Old Joe the Alligator,” she says.
“He's only half an hour away in Wakulla Springs, and he's got to be better than this." Jesse climbs back into the Opel, and Vicks folds her seat forward to let me in.
“Come on, come on,” Vicks says.
“So Old Joe…” I begin. I was kind of hoping that they might have forgotten about visiting the gator.
“Some jogger got eaten by a gator just last week,” Jesse says. She turns the ignition and puts the car in gear while Vicks scans the map. “In Pensacola. People say they’re getting braver.”
“Haven’t there been, like, three alligator-related deaths in the last month?” Vicks wonders aloud.
“Guys,” I say.
“The jogger lady’s friend saw it happen, but there was nothing she could do,” Jesse says. We pull onto the highway. “Chomp, and she was gone.”
“In Orlando, a gator carried off a three-year-old,” Vicks adds. “Now that is so sad.”
“Imagine seeing your one and only child be dragged off in the jaws of a gator,” Jesse says. “Not even having a body to put in the coffin.”
“Guys,” I plead.
They laugh, and Vicks turns up the music.
Old Joe here we come.
When we get there, the place Vicks wants to go is just a little museum. Not a natural habitat with night tours, which is what I had pictured. This is nothing but a small building with a "closed" sign on the front door, down the road from a Stop-N-Go and a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, also shut for the night. This town is even deader than Niceville; no, even deader than Carabelle, which I wouldn’t have thought possible. The street is dark except for our headlights.
“Oh, well," I say, trying not to sound too relieved. “We better get going anyway. It must be at least nine, and we still have a long way to go till we get to Miami, eh? We’re not supposed to be on the road after one a.m., right? Since we’re not eighteen? I think that’s the rule in Florida. I don’t want you guys getting into trouble.”
“Damn,” Vicks says ignoring me. “I really want to see Old Joe.”
“You can’t always get what you want,” Jesse says.
Vicks gets out of the Opel and strides to the museum. She tries the door. Locked. She disappears around the side, then fast-walks back into sight. “Hey, y’all,” she whispers. “Come here."
Jesse turns off the headlights, and darkness stretches around us. She climbs out of the car. I don’t want to, but I don’t want to sit here by myself either. I scurry after them.
“What’s the scoop?” Jesse asks her.
Vicks leads us to the back of the building and points up to a rear window no one bothered to shut. It’s the type that cranks outward instead of being raised; there’s maybe a four-inch gap between the pane and the sill. The screen inside is torn. It’s directly above the back entrance.
“Someone with small hands could reach through and jiggle the knob to the back door,” Vicks says.
I clasp my hands behind my back.
“If that small-handed person so desired,” Jesse says.
“I don’t think this such a good idea,” I say, my heart pounding.
“I’m thinking it is,” Vicks says.
I glance down the street. There is no one, absolutely no one, around. But what if we get caught? Arrested? What would people think?
That I’m a criminal? That I’m pathetic?
I would so lose my credit card privileges.
But if I don’t? What are Jesse and Vicks going to think? That I’m a wimp? That I’m no fun?
I wish I didn’t care what anybody thought.
“We’re not going to fool with anything,” Jesse says. “We just want to see Old Joe.”
“Old Joe needs us,” Vicks says earnestly. She presses her palm to her heart. “I can feel it.”
“Come on,” Jesse says. “Please?”
Vicks cups her hands below the window and nods, like, “See how easy?”
I close my eyes. I don’t want to be a wimp. I don’t want to be a wallet either.
I want to open the damn window. I place my sandaled foot in Vicks' hands, and she heaves me up. I teeter. Oh, no. I’m going to fall. I’m going to fall. I’m going to bust my head open and die.
Jesse grabs my waist and steadies me. “Whoa, soft shirt,” she says. “Like... super soft.”
“Um—” I say. “Thanks?”
“Can we focus here?” Vicks asks. “Do you have it?”
I worm my arm through the window, but I can’t find the doorknob. “No,” I say, my voice shaking. I touch something sticky. Was that a spider web? Oh, God.
“Now?” Vicks asks again.
Nooooooo, I want to yell, but I don’t.
I can’t do it. I just can’t.
“You can do it, Mel,” Jesse says, reading my mind.
I turn to her and she’s nodding, and I think, maybe I can. I stretch my fingers out and I feel it, hard and smooth.
That’s it! That’s it! I turn the lock, and we all hear the click. “Got it!”
Light and laughing and giddy with pride, I free my jelly arm from the window. The girls lower me down.
Vicks runs up the steps and opens the museum’s back door.
Jesse squeezes my shoulder.
I wonder if I’ve finally earned my seat.