Thunder rumbled in the distance, adding to the pitter-patter of the rain. The sounds of nature were drowned out by a violinist's solo blaring through a young man's ears. Luca tapped the slow, steady beat of "Lola's Theme" against a book of matches in his pocket. Old habits die hard. No amount of time at the institution could have separated him from those matches. Maybe they had become more of a constant reminder of his guilt rather than a simple bad habit…
Salida, Colorado had not changed in the past ten years. Memories flooded back to Luca who could no longer distinguish the rain from his tears. Part of him had hoped a family awaited him on their old street. But a new family occupied his home. So he stood under an ancient tree, a lonely figure sheltering himself from the storm. The violin died away, softly decrescendoing into silence. Anger replaced sorrow as he clutched the matches in his hands tightly. The matches, coupled with his love for flames, had been the cause of it all. A different kind of flame welled up inside him. Luca violently threw the book of matches to the ground.
A sudden change of heart caused the young man to quickly retrieve the book. Still angry at himself, he pocketed it and turned to return to his spot below the creaky branches of the tree. But a figure caught his eye suddenly. A small girl came into view, a bag strapped to her back. He concluded that she must have been a student on her way home from school. The storm gradually grew closer, and lightning flashed for a moment. The light was enough for him to get a good look at the girl's face.
His chocolate eyes widened in shock. "Lola?" he whispered in disbelief. She continued on her way. "Lola! Lola! I'm here! Big Brother is here!" He chased after her, eventually catching her in a tight embrace. Rain continued to fall, and the thunder rumbled across the sky. "I'm sorry…" Luca whimpered. "I'm so sorry, Lola…"
Bright green eyes stared at him inquisitively. They were not the brown color of his sister's. However, he clung to the hope that she was Lola. It just had to be her… Her face tilted slightly to the right, resembling a dog. "Um, hi? I'm sorry, but do I know you?"
"Lola, it's me! Luca! Your big brother!"
"But my name isn't Lola."
The young man's arms dropped to his sides, and he backed away from the girl. She was not Lola. Lola was dead. Anguish washed over him, written all over his face as he fell to his knees. Rain soaked him, his knees getting colder with every second on the freezing, wet ground.
The girl pushed Luca's bangs out of his face, making him look up at her. "You seem lost. Do you need a place to stay for the night? I'd feel bad making you stay out in this storm." The girl extended her hand, offering to help him up. "I'm Mia Hunter, by the way. What's your name?"
He was at a loss for words. She had offered to help him when she didn't even know him. But if he told her his name, would she recognize it and run? After all, he was the fire-starter who killed his own sister…
Luca took Mia's hand and pulled himself off the ground. He braced himself before speaking. "My name is Luca Ainsworth. And if you don't think I'd be a bother, I'd like to stay with you."
Silently, Mia studied him. He stood there, terrified, awaiting judgment. Would she know who he was? "C'mon. Mama might have hot cocoa waiting for us!" she exclaimed, pulling on his hand. He followed obediently, still amazed at how similar Mia and Lola were.
"Oh dear! You're both soaked to the bone!" A woman Luca assumed was Mia's mother ran through the trailer to grab two towels for Mia and him. "I'll make some more cocoa for your friend," she called over her shoulder as she made her way to the kitchen.
Luca wrapped his headphones around his iPod, having finally decided the tangled mess in his pocket needed to be addressed. It had been a gift from his doctor for making progress one session. The sounds of the violin on every track had relaxed him during his stay at the institution.
Mia's home was small and packed. Art projects lay unfinished on the floor and flower pots covered almost every inch of counter space. "Mama and I grow flowers," Mia explained. Walking over to a plant with long vines, she gently stroked one of the leaves with her finger. "This sweetie is older than I am. Mama and Papa took care of it until Papa got sick… After he died, I took over for him…" Her smile faded away, her eyes downcast.
A sudden crash of thunder and a bright flash of lightning caused the lights within the trailer to flicker off. Mia let out a blood-curdling scream. "Mama! The lights! Turn them back on! I hate the dark!"
Subconsciously, Luca's hand dove into his pocket. His fingers drummed on the book of matches. He couldn't use them. Not for anything. He would hurt the people that have been so kind to him.
"Sweetheart, please don't cry!" Mia's mother called. "I found the candles. I just need to find the matches."
Despite her mother's words, Mia continued to sob. Luca's fingers drummed faster against the matches. Should he use them? If it was the only way to repay Mia and her mother for the kindness they had shown him, he was certain he could control the fire. After all, fire is only as dangerous as you let it be.
Luca struck one of the matches against the book and held up the tiny flame. It illuminated the dark just enough to help him find Mia's mother. Taking a candle from the woman, he held his breath and lit the wick. A flame as small as the match's burned and refused to grow. A barely audible sigh of relief escaped his lips. Pushing Mia's vine plant a safe distance away, Luca set the candle on the counter and turned to Mia's mother to light another.
Once all the candles were lit and the living room was aglow, Luca smiled. It felt like eternity since the last time he smiled. He had done something good with fire for once instead of causing destruction. Mia, no longer aware of the storm raging outside, rushed toward him and threw her arms around him. She snuggled her face against his chest and whispered, "Thank you, Big Brother…"
For a long time, he had asked himself, "Are sins ever really forgiven?" Standing there with Mia's tiny arms holding him, Luca felt so many emotions wash over him. Happiness, hope, love… forgiveness. He returned the hug and let his tears fall freely.