When given the choice that night, Lemony fought the fire. When you stormed back into the lumber mill, punched him in the gut, and showed off your bruised knuckles from beating Esme’s face until you could escape, Lemony sided with you. Lemony sided with his sister, his family, the roots he’s been grafted back into so many times it hurts to see him fall again.
He apologized and felt, relief, probably. I don’t really know. I know he turned around and fought the same fire no one will believe Beatrice started, no matter how many times I tell anyone who will listen. I know he went on to have a happier life. He’s, engaged now, I think. I’m not sure. You know better than I do, and I figure this letter will find you through him, because I know his last address, but not yours.
It was a turning point, Kit. There are a lot of things about it that are true in the way your people tell it; there are a lot of things about the noble retelling that aren’t wrong, and aren’t flattering to you or your siblings, but those retellings leave so many things out. I’m sure no one talks, anymore, about how Jacques’ old chaperone treats the children of your organization, to this day. I’m sure no one even bothered to tell you. I’m sure no one told you that the eggs that used to be in the sugarbowl aren’t anymore, now it’s something more important.
I’m certain there are so many things you’ll never see about me, or about this organization. No, I don’t want your love back; I want you to see with eyes that are unshrouded with loyalty. I want you to see the way this organization will use you and abuse you and leave you on the shore of an island surrounded by uncertain beasts.
I want you to know, Kit.
I’ll leave you with this:
A dissatisfied and irresolute color fills the western sky. The great green forest that once stood around Lucky Smells Lumbermill now lays in blankets across the ground, gray marked with the salt and pepper of ash and soot. Somewhere, along the far horizon, a young man can see the rains coming in, but it’s too late for the smoldering thing before him that once made his family rich, a hundred years ago, that once protected and served his organization, until tonight.
He’s holding a commonplace book he recently had to replace open in his left hand as he writes one of the most abrupt and abbreviated reports he’s ever written on a fire. He wants to find his sister and his brother, but he’s not sure where to begin. And he knows he’s failed his mission tonight. He knows they have too. So as darkness closes in on him, he is lit by the ember of a cigarette that he burns in memory of this place. He watches the smoke rise into the dark night, and he feels his being wracked with the feeling of timber turned to charcoal, creaking under its own weight.
He asks himself a question he probably won’t stop asking himself until he dies; Is this the last fire? If not, when and where will the last one they can’t stop be?
Somewhere else, a young woman tends to her cuts, and plots her revenge. She is left out in the ash and she watches the rains come in, she watches her dress be ruined and she feels nothing but cold vengeance inside her. This vengeance will be enacted on the first person she can find to blame and she will be the only person who believes the truth of who set that fire.
Esme will go on to steal the sugar bowl. She will go on to burn almost as much of your world as any proper firestarter. But she will be too late. Too late to make sure you’re reborn from the ashes like a phoenix, or like the sad facsimile that is later raised on the bed of ashes where Lucky Smells’ emerald trees once stood.
Somewhere else still, a not-quite-arsonist steals into the night in a long black car. His gaunt fingers work over a glass of brandy once he reaches his parents’ home sometime in the very early morning, and he goes to bed.
He stays alone in that house for a few weeks and feels the slightest pang of loneliness when he realizes the first day home without Lemony that there are two coffee cups in the kitchen sink, still. But he tries not to think too long on it. He smashes the one that was Lemony’s favorite against the rock wall in the garden and retires to his bedroom for long, long days. He eventually finds his way into that tower, and decorates his house with his mother’s belongings, because the one person he ever convinced to really love him, or at least to accept the way his life works now, he did that convincing through his mother’s box of files.
He eventually visits the school he once attended a few weeks later, on a day when the clouds have made a patchwork of sun against the ground.
He sits on a bleacher in the sports field, crosses one leg over the other and feels the intermittent sun on his back. Olaf notices, at the far end of the patch of poorly kept grass, the honeysuckle has completely given way to the broad-leafed bushes it’s been waging a war against for the last decade. He listens to the small flock of sparrows flitting in and out of the bushes, and he resigns himself to never going back.
Olaf feels his mouth twist into a frown, and he stands, and for the last time before writing this, Olaf leaves Prufrock Preparatory. He starts the long black car that once belonged to his father.
And he drives for a long, long time.