Jonathan Petty gets home on a Saturday afternoon, the sun filtering through the leaves and dappling on the driveway as he pulls his car up in front of his house. The air is humid, but it's normal for the South. He's missed it, honestly. He's missed everything about Jameson.
His mother is out the door before Jonathan can even get his suitcase out, her brown hair put up in a perfect bun, a smile spread across her face.
"Oh, Jonathan, look at you!" She cries, pulling him in for a hug.
"Hello, Mama." He says, wrapping his arms around her and inhaling the sweet smell of sugar and books and home. His mother pulls back and studies him carefully.
"Have you been eating? I knew you'd be studying too hard." She fusses and Jonathan smiles.
"I'm sure he's fine, Anne." A voice booms from behind Jonathan and he turns to see his father.
"Dad!" He exclaims, practically throws himself at his father. The preacher chuckles, hugs his son back.
"I've missed you, Jon." He says quietly as Jonathan pulls away.
"I've missed you too, Dad." Mr. Petty picks up Jonathan's suitcase as his mother ushers them inside. Jonathan is hit with a sense of nostalgic happiness as soon as he steps over the threshold of his home. He's so thankful to be back with his family again.
"Lottie's at a book-club meeting but she'll be back soon. She's so excited that you're home, Jon!" Mrs. Petty says as she sets out a plate of snickerdoodles. "Eat up, you must be hungry!"
Jonathan obeys without a second thought, saying a quick prayer to thank God for the food in front of him, and then digging in. Mr. Petty leans against the counter and snags a cookie himself when the back door swings open and a dark-haired girl of about fifteen comes barreling in.
"JONATHAN!" Lottie shrieks, launching herself at her brother. Jonathan catches her deftly, glad that he's been working out. "I've missed you so much! I couldn't wait to get out of book club and then Mrs. Statham let us go early because she knew you were coming home!"
"Awww, I missed you too, Lot." Jonathan says, ruffling her hair. Lottie pulls back and glares at him good-naturedly. "What are you reading in book club?" Lottie grabs a cookie and sits down beside Jonathan.
"'1984' by George Orwell." She makes a face. "I hate it."
"It's not that bad. I enjoyed it. It shows how government wants to have so much power that they-"
"Spy on the people, thus ridding them of freedom and controlling them through fear. 'Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.' I know." Lottie sighs. "I still don't like it, it's freaky. I've been avoiding the TV all week."
Jonathan laughs and ruffles her hair again.
"I ran into Harley Greening on my way to book club." Lottie says conversationally and immediately their parents stiffen. Jonathan looks between them, confused, and Mrs. Petty gives him a, "we'll talk later," look. "She's so pale! Like, does she even go outside? But she asked about you, Jon."
"Oh?" Jonathan shifts in his seat.
"Yeah. She heard that you're on your way to becoming a doctor and she asked if you'd be willing to take a patient." Lottie grabs another cookie. "Apparently her mother is really ill."
"I don't have a license to practice." Jonathan begins and Lottie cuts him off.
"I told her that, and she said she knows, she just needs you to take a look at her. She said she thinks that her mother's dying and she doesn't know what to do." Jonathan looks hesitatingly at his mother, who nods.
"I have the Greenings' phone number right here." Mrs. Petty says. Apparently whatever happened isn't enough to stop his mother's neighborly instinct, Jonathan thinks as his mother pulls out her address book and finds the number. "Call them and see what Harley says."
She turns away as Jonathan writes down the number, but he doesn't miss the whispered, "Lord knows that girl needs help."
"Hi, you've reached the Greening residence, this is Harley." A voice answers when Jonathan calls.
"Hey, Harley, it's Jonathan Petty." Jonathan flips a pen between his fingers as he sits at his desk in his old room.
"Oh, Jonathan! Hi, thanks for calling. Lottie told you about our conversation I'm guessing?"
"Yes, she did. How's your mother?" Jonathan winces as soon as he says it. "Sorry, that was insensitive. Obviously if you think she's dying-"
"She's a bundle of rainbows and unicorns!" Harley says brightly and then lets out a breathy laugh. "Sorry. Default sarcasm. She's not...I don't know. She's been like this for maybe a year now?"
"A year?!" Jonathan exclaims, sitting upright. "Why didn't you get help?"
"Well, the people in Jameson aren't too charitably inclined towards me." Harley says. "Can you help? Please? I'll pay you whatever you want, I just...I need answers."
"Yeah. Of- of course. I can come tomorrow morning at 9, if you want." He says.
"That'll be great! Do you have our address?" Harley asks.
"My mom has it." Jonathan scribbles down the appointment.
"That's awesome. Thanks so much, Jonathan." Harley says.
"You're welcome...see you tomorrow." Jonathan says and then Harley hangs up. Jonathan sits back and stares up at the ceiling. After five minutes, his mother comes into the room.
"How'd it go?" She asks, sitting on his bed.
"What happened?" He says, instead of answering. Mrs. Petty sighs. "With Harley, I mean. She was always so sweet, why did she say the people in this town don't like her?"
"Harley needs prayers, Jon." Mrs. Petty says slowly. "Her father's death was hard on her, though I think she had issues before that. She...tried to kill herself two years ago."
"Oh," Is all Jonathan can say. The room is silent for a few minutes before Mrs. Petty speaks again.
"She attempted to drown herself. Someone pulled her out, but he got there almost too late. Everyone thinks she's a witch now. She was down there for five minutes." Jonathan stares at his mother in shock.
"No..." Mrs. Petty nods. "Five minutes? No."
"Yes...but the point is, she's still not over it. Your father tried speaking with her, tried to tell her that God still loves her and is here for her, but she didn't want to hear it." Jonathan nods slowly.
"My roommate is studying psychology...apparently that's a sign of suicidal ideation. A hopeless feeling, I guess." He says. Mrs. Petty leans over and pats his knee.
"Your father thinks she's wicked. I'm inclined to agree that something is wrong. But we can't turn down a neighbor in need. I'm proud of you, Jon." Mrs. Petty says and Jonathan gets up and hugs her.