Amelie Rae Lanhoss
[A/N-My attempt at keeping within canon (for once) when it comes to my favorite characters dying off…it's also my first attempt at a Veronica Mars fic period (not to mention in third-person: I think there's way too much dialogue but, oh well) so here's to hoping I didn't screw up too badly! crosses fingers Dedicated, as always, in loving memory to K.M.L.
One-Shot: Graveside Meetings
On a relatively cool spring day in Neptune, California, a petite blonde college student made the trek up a small green hill to the local cemetery. It wasn't an unusual sight, considering the young blonde in question was Veronica Mars (a girl who made the trek more often than she cared to admit), but it was strange to see her bypass the usual graves and tombstones with familiar names in favor of one so new, grass had yet to overtake the freshly turned earth.
Veronica had been to the same cemetery many times before to stand at the graves of friends (such as Lilly Kane), uneasy allies (Felix Toombs), enemies (Cassidy Casablancas) and semi-respected authority figures (Cyrus O'Dell). Each one was easy to talk to (as those in death so often are) and to each one she made a promise (finding/catching murderers, moving on, never giving them control). As the wind whipped her hair around her, Veronica clutched a plate of peanut butter cookies uncertainly in one hand and chewed on the thumbnail of the other. Despite the fact that she'd known Sheriff Don Lamb for years (most of her life), she still had no idea which category to place him in or what to talk about. Anger and grief made for excellent promises of vengeance but without a mysterious crime to solve or a murderer to track down, Veronica stood at a loss. The crime was clean-cut, the murderer dead and no amount of sneaky investigating would force some sense out of this death. How, exactly, was she supposed to 'say good-bye' (a horrible euphemism if there ever was one) to someone who (influenced her, though she'd never confess to it) she talked to (albeit mockingly) and saw at least several times a week (if not daily) but (ultimately) knew so very little about?
"Veronica? V-Veronica Mars?"
She spun around to see a tall brunette a few years older than her standing a little ways off in a worn Balboa County Sheriff's Department sweatshirt over jeans and holding a small bouquet of yellow flowers. Nothing (besides the saddened eyes and sweatshirt) in particular looked very familiar about her. "Yes?" Veronica drew the word out in a question, wondering who the woman was and if she should recognize her. The woman quirked a smile and took another few steps forward.
"I thought it must be you – you look just like your picture."
"That's why it's called a picture."
The stranger smiled briefly again before tucking a lock of loose hair behind her ear. "Of course."
"I'm…sorry. Do I…know you from somewhere?"
As in, somewhere you would have a picture from.
"No," the woman took a final few steps before standing at Veronica's side next to the grave, "but I know you –" she let out a strained chuckle, "or at least, I feel like I do after all of the times Donnie talked about you."
Donnie? Don Lamb?
She continued to fuss over the yellow petals without realizing Veronica's shock at learning that Don Lamb, of all people, talked about her enough that someone felt like they knew her.
"All, um…bad, I'm sure."
"Not at all," the woman replied smiling, "though I'll admit that you certainly annoyed him at times. He loved you, y'know."
Veronica stared at the strange woman bending down to place flowers on a grave she wasn't sure she should have visited in the first place. Time ticked by (seconds feeling like long, stretched-out hours) as she grasped for something (anything) to say in response to the brunette's calm revelation.
"Yes…well…I'm…very lovable!" she finished with a forced laugh that sounded fake and nervous to her own ears.
"You were more like his baby sister than I ever was."
What the HELL!?
She straightened and turned, smiling sadly at Veronica.
"I'm sorry if this sounds rude or anything but, who are you?"
The woman laughed and held out her hand to shake Veronica's. "I'm Cara Andrews, Don's step-sister."
"I'm Veronica Mars," she answered, shaking the woman's (Lamb's step-sister) hand and trying to reconcile the man who refused to acknowledge her rape with the man Cara was depicting who allegedly loved her and saw her as a little sister.
"I know," the older woman laughed, "it's so nice to finally meet you. I actually know a lot about you, thanks to Donnie."
Well. How was she supposed to respond to that
"I'm…sorry. Are you sure Lamb wasn't talking about someone else? We weren't exactly what one would call…close friends."
Or any kind of friends, actually.
"Oh believe me, I know," Cara paused to glance down at the plate of cookies, "don't tell me you made his favorite peanut butter cookies."
"I…did, actually, but I didn't know they were his favorite." Veronica stood uncertainly, staring at the cookies.
Cara smiled down at the stunned-looking younger blonde before tugging the plate out of her fingers and placing it on the ground next to the flowers. "C'mon," she looped one of her arms through Veronica's and steered her towards a blue Explorer, "let's get a bite to eat for ourselves and reminisce. Didn't you use to work at some Star Wars coffee place?"
Reminisce? About LAMB!?
"Um, yeah," Veronica answered, sliding hesitantly into the SUV's passenger seat and pulling her ever-present messenger bag onto her lap, "Java the Hut, but it's not actually Star Wars themed or anything."
"No? Ah well, I imagine if it was, Donnie would've taken all of his meals there," Cara smiled across at Veronica before starting the engine.
"Lamb's – was – a Star Wars fan?"
Cara snorted as she pulled out of the cemetery parking lot, "my big brother? Total Trekkie, but then again he loved anything to do with space so Star Wars fell under that."
Veronica surprised herself by grinning, "I can picture him with Spock ears."
Both women laughed uproariously for the rest of the short drive.
"Thanks, Jen," Veronica told her former co-worker as she set two sandwiches on the small table and wished Veronica and her new-found companion an enjoyable meal. Though she fiddled with her napkin and utensils somewhat nervously before studying her dining partner for a moment and picking up her turkey club, Cara had no such qualms and immediately bit into her chicken salad sandwich.
"Mmmm, this is good."
Veronica chewed slowly as she watched her strange new acquaintance (Lamb had a step-sister! and a nice one too! how the hell had that happened?) eat her lunch and exclaim over how good everything tasted. The morning had been filled with revelations about her unknown…well; she guessed 'relationship' was the best word for it (even if it didn't quite fit), with Don Lamb. She glanced down at the scarred wood of the table before looking back up at Cara Andrews and setting her sandwich down.
"I'm sorry, I'm not usually so…blunt, but, Lamb and I weren't close at all, all we ever did was piss each other off –"
"Yet you still went to visit his grave," Cara interrupted, cocking her head to one side in a challenge for Veronica to explain why she'd done so. She squirmed.
How was she supposed to give an explanation for something she didn't completely understand herself? It didn't seem to matter the number of times she went to visit Don Lamb's grave; none of the visits ever gave her an answer. Was she supposed to tell this complete stranger that she kept going back without knowing what to say because it felt like he meant more to her than she knew in a way she couldn't quite pinpoint or explain to herself
She squirmed. "Yes, well," she tried desperately for a moment to come up with an explanation before hurrying on, "it still seems really strange that he would've talked about me to anyone in his family, much less said he cared about me."
He never acted like he cared.
The older woman smiled sadly and placed her sandwich back on her plate. "Veronica…my brother always was…well, to put it frankly, a complete asshole to anyone he cared about until he realized they weren't going anywhere. I know he was an utter jerk to you almost all the time and that shortly after your friend – Petunia or Rose or Daffodil or whatever flower her name was – was murdered he did something horrible that he was truly ashamed of – though he never told me exactly what it was, all I gathered came from a few drunken ramblings – he did care about you very much. Never doubt that he loved you."
Veronica sat in a stunned silence.
So many little, nerve-grating things seemed inconsequential.
"Let's see, I was six…so Donnie must've been fourteen when my father married his mom. My father…" Cara trailed off with a deadened look in her eyes. "Well, he wasn't the greatest father by far and definitely wouldn't have won any Parent of the Year awards. Lizzie – Donnie's mom – pretty much traded in one abusive husband for another."
Veronica shifted uncomfortably in her seat, not really wanting to be privy to Lamb family secrets.
"I was only six but being a child had never stopped my father from taking out his anger on me whenever he was drunk or just felt like it. Donnie was the only person who ever stood up for me or interfered. He wasn't perfect, my brother, but he always looked out for and watched over the people he cared about."
One of whom was supposedly her.
Veronica took a bite of her sandwich to avoid having to form a response.
"He came to a ton of my soccer games when I was 12."
"Really? A lot of them?" Cara looked surprised, "I thought he hated soccer, he was always more into baseball."
"I know," it felt strange for Veronica to say that about Don Lamb of all people, "my dad actually made practically the entire sheriff's department go. Lamb slept through most of them and always woke up as red as Elmo and grumbling about sunburns. All that summer, at the end of every game, he kept asking me if I'd rather switch to a sport he could actually stay awake for, like baseball."
Veronica grinned as Cara laughed. The older woman pushed away her empty plate and Veronica watched as her eyes lit up and she launched into a tale about Lamb attempting to coach a Little League team.
"Every week? But, isn't that in Arizona? And kind of…far?"
"It's a little over three hours to drive there and a good three more back, but Donnie does – did – it every Sunday night. Sunday dinners are a big deal in our family, everyone always comes, though Donnie did have the longest drive."
Veronica struggled to swallow both the last big bite of her dessert (a piece of the famous chocolate 'break-up cake') and the fact that Don Lamb had driven six hours every week just to eat a meal with his step-sister's family.
"I once got him to say I was smarter than him."
"Oh!" Cara's eyes lit up, "I remember! He was furious about that dollar bill trick for weeks!"
Both women grinned. Outside, intermittent gusts of wind continued to battle trees and make the temperature cooler but inside the emptying coffee shop, with newly-found camaraderie and friendship, two women who had never before met traded stories of a man who had cared for them both, in his own way.
"I'm actually in town today because Donnie's landlord has a new tenant lined up for his apartment. My husband, Tom, and his brother, Edward, are coming up in a couple of days to haul out all of the furniture and stuff but I'm going there today to get some personal things and see about boxing stuff up. Would you like to come with me?"
"Oh, um…sure." Even though Veronica had spent the last couple of hours talking and laughing with Cara (who had obviously loved her step-brother very much) about Lamb, she still hadn't expected any sort of invitation to actually see where he lived – had – lived.
"Great," Cara flashed a grin at the younger blonde, "let's see if we can flag your waitress friend down for a couple coffees to go and head over."
"Sure. Hey! Jen!"
"Now, I don't know how messy it is but I do know Donnie so, prepare yourself for the worst."
"Sure," Veronica said laughing as she watched Cara take a deep breath and turn the key.
Veronica followed Cara into the first-floor apartment as she unlocked and opened the door but immediately stood stock still. The last thing she had expected to see was not one but two pictures of her amidst a few other pictures of Cara, Lamb and the same group of people who looked like them and were obviously related somehow, on a shelf in the entryway. One picture (she didn't even remember it being taken) was of a twelve year old her in a grass-stained soccer uniform smiling up at a red-faced Lamb. The second (though she had no idea how he had gotten a copy) was the traditional graduation photo of her in her cap and gown, smiling and holding a diploma.
"Veronica?" Cara's voice sounded from further in the apartment and it was obvious that she'd only just realized Veronica wasn't following her anymore.
"There are pictures…of me out here," she called back.
"Oh, those? I know," Cara's head stuck out from behind a corner, "they've always been there."
"But…" somehow, listening to Cara's claims of how Lamb (Lamb!) thought of her as a little sister and actually seeing proof that, at the very least pictures of her, were a daily fixture in his life and he placed them among family pictures, were two different things. The pictures threw her for a loop.
"I don't even remember this one!"
Cara came to stand next to Veronica again and grinned.
"He was so proud of you that day, when your team won the championship. Just as proud as he was when you made that pep thingy, when you graduated high school, started at Hearst and when you worked with him, for a change, to catch those fake-casino robbers."
Cara glanced at Veronica's shocked face and laughed.
"Don't look so surprised! He did love you! Sometimes I wonder if…"
"If what?" It was Veronica's turn to glance up at the other woman who merely shook her head and smiled, albeit a little strangely.
"Never mind. Passing thought; you were his baby sister from the day he met you and he never stopped being proud of what you did or pushing you to do and be better," she wrinkled her nose laughingly; "I think he was proud of you when you outsmarted him, too, it was just a lot harder for him to admit afterwards."
It was Veronica's turn to smile.
"C'mon," Cara tugged her down the hallway and through a living room and into what was obviously Lamb's bedroom, "I'll box up the closet, you do the dresser drawers."
As awkward as she felt (in Lamb's bedroom!) Veronica still did as she was told and grabbed a box. She only took a moment to look at the three pictures on top of the dresser (one of Veronica laughing and sitting on Lamb-dressed-as-Santa's lap at the sheriff department's Christmas party the year before Lilly died, one of Cara and a man who must have been Tom and one of Lamb with three little boys who were probably his nephews climbing all over him) before opening the top drawer and stuffing his underwear in the box as fast as she could with as little blushing as possible.
"You have to come to Sunday dinner this weekend, Veronica. It'll mean so much to the rest of the family to finally meet you – promise you'll come?"
She only hesitated for a split-second before answering, "sure, Cara, I'll go."
Veronica waved after the woman in the blue SUV before crossing the cemetery parking lot and heading to her own car. She had already started the engine and buckled her seatbelt when she glanced up at the hill and sighed. The blonde bit her lip and unbuckled her seatbelt before turning off the car's engine again and getting back out. She faltered at the bottom of the hill (because, really, the sun was starting to set and she should be getting home to study for the two exams she had coming up) before starting to climb. She sat down next to the grave she'd stood by so many times already (most recently, this morning), nicked a peanut butter cookie from the green paper plate and smiled. With the sun going down behind her and a million things to say bouncing around her head, she started to talk.