Chapter 23

The moment we stood in shattered at the combination of my cell phone both ringing and buzzing in my pocket. The sound was loud in the night, and reminded me that we were in the parking lot of Rock Salt. How many people had seen us making out? Reality rushed back, and I unhooked my legs from his waist.

When I checked my phone, I saw there were two missed calls and five texts that I had somehow missed in the craziness of the night. The phone immediately began going off again, and Nell's face popped onto the screen. I murmured to Jake that I had to take the phone call. He nodded, his palms on the brick wall as though he was trying regain some composure. I couldn't blame him.

"Jo! Finally! Where are you?" Nell cried.

"I'm-" I cleared my throat, "I'm at Rock Salt. Keith's band was playing, so Jim and I came out to see them."

I heard a sniffle at the other end of the line.

"Are you okay?"

"My parents…Can I come over? Please?"

"Nell, what happened?" I was on alert now. I sensed Jake glancing over at me from his position at the wall. He turned to face me, but I moved away.

"Can I come over? I'll wait for you. I just don't…" she trailed off.

"Sure, of course. I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Thanks," she sighed.

I hit the end button on my phone and looked at Jake. There was concern in his blue eyes now where only moments ago there had been pure desire.

"Do you need a ride?" He offered.

"I don't know if that's a good idea."

He was quiet for a moment. "I'd like to give you a ride home. I understand if you are uncomfortable after what has happened between us, but it seems like there is an emergency. I don't want to make you uneasy around me, Jo. There's something here between us that we need to talk about, but whatever is going on is more important. I respect that."

"Thank you, Jake," I conceded. Something serious must have happened to Nell. I had to get to her now. Who knew how long it would take to get ahold of Jim? And what if he was with Todd? Instead, I shot him a quick text explaining that I had an emergency and got a ride home. I sent a silent prayer that the car ride would not be awkward.

When Jake pulled up to the house, Nell was already sitting on the stoop. A suitcase was behind her and she had large tote bag on her lap. She wasn't wearing any make-up, her eyes were red, and there were tear tracks down her cheeks. I rushed out of the car, opening the door before it fully stopped.

"Nell! What happened?!"

"Jo," she sobbed. "Oh, parents…they found out about Anthony."

I cursed.

"They kicked me out," she wailed as a fresh wave of tears hit her. "They...they said that...that they couldn't condone our relationship? What the hell does that even mean?! My dad said that if I insisted on dating Negro men, then I couldn't stay with them."

"What?" I had forgotten all about Jake. I thought he would have driven away, but he stood in front of us with a concern look on his face.

"Her parents are bigots," I spat at him. This situation was so fucked up, I was seething with hatred for Nell's parents.

"Can I stay with you? Please? I...I don't know what to do right now," Nell pleaded.

"Of course! Nell, you can stay here any time! Here's my key," I handed her my key ring. "Go inside and make yourself comfortable. I'll bring your stuff inside."

She gave me a weak smile, "Thanks, Jo. I'm sorry to interrupt…"

I glanced at Jake before telling her not to worry. She sniffed and got up, holding on tightly to her tote bag. When I was sure she was inside, I turned to Jake. He was watching me, his arms crossed in front of him.

"Is there anything I can do?" He asked.

"No. I've got it from here," I could feel the rage boiling in my stomach. "Thank you."

"What kind of person kicks their child out for dating someone they don't like? Anthony is a great guy."

I shook my head, "I don't know. When they first started dating, they made the relationship hell for the both of them. I know they were relieved when they broke up. I guess they were hoping it stuck. Ugh, I just want to go over there and shake them!"

"Does Anthony know about this?"

"I doubt it, and I wouldn't say anything just yet. Let Nell do that. Thank you, Jake, for the ride and everything. I should get inside."

He nodded, dropping his hands deep into his jean pockets. My gaze flickered down, thinking about earlier in the evening when my hand had been down the front of those jeans. I took a deep breath and turned around. I grabbed the handle of Nell's suitcase and made it to the door when Jake called after me.

"We're going to have to have a conversation about us one of these days, Jo. You can't run away from this forever."

Maybe not, I thought. But I can sure try.

Mom couldn't believe that Nell's parents would kick her out for something as small as dating a black guy. She called them and the conversation quickly escalated to a shouting match, at least on my mother's end. In the end, she told Nell that she could stay as long as she wanted or needed to. We set up an air mattress in my bedroom for her until we could figure something more permanent out.

That entire weekend Nell and I spent on the couch binge watching television shows and eating cupcakes that Melinda insisted on baking because she wanted to try some new recipes. I knew that she had baked a couple of the recipes before, but I also knew that she just wanted to do something for Nell. Nell's phone went off several times during the weekend. Once, when she was in the restroom, I peeked at it. There were several unanswered phone calls and text messages from Anthony. I really hoped she wasn't shutting him out because of this.

On Monday, I expected her to dress down a little bit. She had a rough weekend, after all, and why put herself through her usual routine? But no, instead she was dressed to kill in a sleeveless orange dress and white heels. At school, she acted as though nothing were wrong and things went on as normal. I admired her for that.

Jake and I exchanged a glance when I entered the classroom that day. He was looking mighty fine a polo shirt that hugged him in just the right places. Other girls in the class obviously thought so as well because more of them were asking for his assistance than usual. He paused by my desk once, asking how things were going. I gave the standard "fine" answer. Mindy had took up the majority of the tutoring session today, asking questions she already knew answers to but not wanting to give me any time for any real help. For once, I was actually okay with that because I spent my time worry about Nell and doodling in my notebook.

After school that day, I changed into running clothes. I needed a good run, and I was going to go to the park to do it. I was also going to drag Nell with me, whether she liked it or not. And she did not like it, but Melinda agreed to come with us. I also had an ulterior motive for bringing Nell to the track with us.

The guys were at the basketball court but Anthony wasn't there yet, if he was going to be there at all today. I managed to get Melinda and Nell into a jog, but they didn't make it very far before they started huffing and puffing.

"Why do people do this to themselves?!" Nell gasped.

"Not everyone can eat whatever they want and keep their figures," I responded.

"True, but why run?" Melinda asked. "I mean, there are so many other exercises you could do. Why run?"

I shook my head, smiling. They may not understand running, but at least they were trying.

Behind us, I could hear the footsteps of other runners on the track. They stopped abruptly, and one of them called Nell's name. We turned, and there stood Anthony and Jake. It didn't look like they had been playing ball yet. A slight sheen of sweat was on Anthony's forehead, but they was probably from the run.

"Nell, why aren't you answering my phone calls or texts?" He asked.

She opened and closed her mouth. She looked like a fish out of water for a moment.

"Ummm, we'll leave you guys alone," Melinda said, grabbing my arm.

"I'll join you," Jake said. He patted Anthony on the back before joining us. Instead of jogging, we walked around the track. Nell and Anthony found their way to a bench to talk. I tried really hard not to glance their way very often.

Melinda cleared her throat. "You know, I think I left my bottle of water in the car. I'll be back." She jogged towards the car, moving faster than she had when we were on the track together.

Silence spread between us as we curved the track. My feet gradually picked up speed. Next to me, I sensed Jake meeting my gait and before I knew it, we were racing around the track. No words between us, just air, just the ground beneath our feet. Sometimes he gained more speed and I would have to catch up with him, and sometimes it was the opposite. I didn't keep track of how many rotations we made around the track before we mutually slowed down.

"Nice run," he panted between labored breaths.

I nodded, breathing heavily on my own. I looked around me, scouting for my sister and Nell. Melinda was at the basketball court, talking to a boy at least a couple years older than her with light blonde hair. Nell and Anthony were on the bench they had escaped to, clutching each other tightly.

"I hope that means they made up."

Jake glanced in their direction, nodding in response. Before he could try talking about anything that I wasn't comfortable talking about, I headed in their direction.

Nell saw me first. Tears tracks were down her cheeks again, but she was smiling up at us. Anthony grinned big as well, standing up as we approached. He took me in his arms, crushing me to him in a bear hug.

"Thank you for bringing her here, Jo," he murmured in my hair.

"Of course," I replied.

Before Anthony let go of me, he whispered, "GIve him a chance." He returned to Nell, kissing her forehead softly. His dark skin next to hers in no way looked wrong. In fact, the two of them look perfect together. For the first time in the past few days, Nell looked peaceful.

A hand cupped my elbow from behind. I turned to see Jake, his skin glowing with the sweat from the run we just had. He seemed nervous which was not a trait I associated him with at all.

"Look, Jo, I know our relationship is sort of weird but - "

"Friday, at seven," I blurted.

He blinked, "What?"

" can pick me up Friday night, at seven."

He nodded, slowly. "Okay. Friday night. I'll see you then."

"Okay," I started to walk away, my heart racing in my chest. My brain was still trying to compute what I had just done. Did I really just arrange a date with Jake? Hadn't I been hurt enough this year? This had to be a set up for failure. I still had time to cancel, right? It was only Monday, after all.

"Did I hear what I think I heard?" Nell asked, rushing behind me.

"Why aren't you with Anthony right now?"

"We're going out later this week. Now, did I hear what I think I just heard? Are you going on a date with Jake?" We reached the car, and I could see Melinda's ears perk up at the combination of the words Jake and date in one sentence.

"I may have," I admitted. "God, I'm so stupid!"

"No!" The two shouted in unison.

"This is perfect," Nell continued. "We have got to get home and start figuring out your outfit! You are going to blow him away!"