The story is mine and the characters are mine. Please do not use them without my permission.

9: Load Bearing

Kasia sighed as she sat down at the table, rubbing the once smooth surface. Her fingers drifted over scratches and nicks, feeling them more than seeing them as the apartment was covered in darkness. She could not remember where any of them came from, even the big ones that she was certain were her fault. Signs of wear and tear, but the table was still standing as strong as it always was. Stronger than I am, that's for damn sure .

She was back home for the third time in her life. It was supposed to be temporary, but only time would tell with that. Hard luck always loomed right behind her and pounced right after she got married. This is supposed to be a happy time. I'm supposed to be building a life, not taking steps back . Instead of building, it felt like things were collapsing around her and this could just be the start. It might be a domino effect and this was just the first to fall. Her stomach dropped at the thought of what could follow.

"Of course it would happen now," she said in a low voice, which she hoped would disappear into the darkness of the place. She did not want to chance anyone hearing her. She did not want to wake up the other three people in the apartment.

Each of those people believed in her in a different way and she felt like she let them down, Dalia especially. But, then again, Daddy, too. They often made her feel like she could pull the sun out of the sky if she put her mind to it. But, this proved that was very much not the case. She felt like such a disappointment yet again. Do I ever stop being a disappointment?

It felt like she had moments where she shined bright and then fizzled out. Despite what Daddy wanted her to believe or what Dalia told her, in the end, she was not that great. She could not provide either of them with the things they needed, no matter how hard she tried.

She grabbed one of the models on the table and moved its arm. It took a little force, moving like an action figure, like it was supposed, even though it was a very delicate model. For some reason, that brought a smile to her face. She should be so happy and yet her insides were ready to fall out. She wiggled the arm again and it came off in her hand. Her entire body flinched.

She sniffled as her stomach rolled. "No, no, no. You can't just break like that." As she tried to shove the arm back in the hole, a piece of the chest plate came off in her other hand. Now, her chest was tight and breathing hurt. She made a fist and the model crumbled in her grip. She heard a sob before she realized it was and it felt like it echoed through the room, bouncing right back to her, battering her shattered form further. She put her hand over her mouth, trying to quiet herself down. Then the light came on.

"Kay, you all right?" Daddy asked from across the room. He was in his pajamas, a t-shirt and basketball shorts, since it was the middle of the night and she had done exactly what she did not want to do. Because you're a failure .

Kasia turned her head and sniffled as she wiped her face, hoping to save face. She doubted it worked. Daddy sat down next to her and pulled his chair close enough for their knees to touch. He put a hand on her shoulder, gripping it just a little to let her know he was there and he cared. He was so great at that. I hope one day I'm as good a parent as he is, but for that to happen, I have to be able to provide for my family .

"Munchkin, what's wrong?" he asked, his voice as gentle as always.

She shook her head, still looking away. "It's nothing. Sorry I woke you up."

He patted her shoulder. "Don't be sorry. Be honest. You're hurting. Tell me why and let me help."

She sniffled once more and scrubbed her face with both hands, hoping to get rid of any distressed expression that might still be there. "I'm fine."

"No, try again." He shoved her a little and chuckled, trying to coax it out of her with a smile. For once, it did not work.

She took a deep breath, needing to ground herself. She needed to keep it together, at least until she was alone again. "It's okay, Daddy." She did not want to tell him her failure, not now when his satisfaction with her was at an all-time high. He had been so proud of her, especially at her wedding. He was the best man and he actually cheered when she and Dalia sealed their union with a kiss. It reminded her of when he used to watch her play.

"No, look at me," he said and then popped her lightly on the knee when she did not. He kept it up, knowing it was annoying.

"Daddy, stop!" She turned to grab his hand. Busted.

His face fell and she could only imagine how crushed she looked based on the broken look in his eyes. "Oh, Munchkin. What happened? I know you're not crying over the broken Gundam." He glanced over at the model, seeing the wrecked pieces laid out on the table. "Tell me what happened. Maybe together we can come up with a plan to fix it."

She sniffed and her heart crunched in on itself. "I should be happy right now, Daddy." And, honestly, she had been. Her wedding and honeymoon were some of the best times of her life. Both reminded her how much she loved Dalia and how much her father would support her through anything. She wanted to be someone worthy of both of them. They loved her so much. She wanted to deserve that love. And you never will because there's always failure just around the corner for you .

"And why aren't you? What happened? You just had a beautiful wedding and honeymoon." Very true and definitely the reasons why she should be happy.

She had only just gotten back from her honeymoon. She and Dalia had spent a week in Fiji. It was amazing. They had gone diving, where Dalia teased her about her swimming, but then cuddled with her on the beach and fed her fresh fruit. The view from their room right on the water was reason enough to not leave the room the whole time, but there was so much to do. It was a great follow up to a dream wedding, which had been small, but about a dozen people who truly cared about them, rooting for their love to go on. She would never forget the sound of Grandma actually cheering when she and Dalia were pronounced "married." But, the whole feeling was sent into burning flames when they got back from their honeymoon.

"What happened? You upset you're back here?" he asked with a laugh. "It's okay. Your house is almost done and you guys can continue being the newlywed couple I knew you are."

Kasia sighed, shoulders feeling like they weighed a ton. "There might not be a house." It hurt her throat to even speak the words. Her heart did that crunch thing again and her chest felt like it might collapse in on itself.

He frowned. "Why would there not be a house?"

She scratched her forehead. Might as well tell him. "I lost my job."

He did a double-take. "What? How? Why? You're so good at what you do."

"It wasn't something I did. The whole damn company folded. There was so much fraud going on and we didn't see it." How the hell could we not see it? None of us are stupid. How did we miss all the shady shit going on there? Right in front of us. She had never felt more stupid in her entire life, including the time she came out to Grandma before going to Daddy.

He offered her a soft smile and rubbed her knee. "Little Bit, you'll get another job. You know that."

It did not feel like it. This was such a crushing failure. Not just her unemployment, but the fact that this went on right in front of her face and she did not see it. This was a complete surprise and ripped her to shreds the second she figured out what the email was in reference to. The only reason she had been able to hold it together until everyone went to sleep was because everyone was there, being happy and proud. Now, she was a disappointment yet again.

"Who would want to hire me when they see this on my resume?" She sucked her teeth. She would be considered poison to other companies now.

He scoffed. "Well, did you get arrested for fraud?"

Her eyebrows bent in. "Obviously not." She would never do something that stupid in her life. She loved her job. She made good money. There was no reason for her to try to rip anyone off.

Of course, the people she worked for should have felt the same way. What if that good money I made was because they were ripping people off? Shit, what if I have to pay money back because of this? That was even worse than just being fired. There was no way she and Dalia would be able to afford a house if she had to pay money back. This might be one of the fastest marriages in history . Dalia should not have to put up with this and she would not fight it if Dalia wanted an annulment.

"Then you'll be okay. You know your stuff. You get things done. You put your dad through college and helped him get a career." He grinned at her.

She nodded. Usually, that would lift her spirits along with his expression, but she had other responsibilities now and she basically dropped the ball as soon as it was in her hands. Hit you right in the chest and you let it go off your foot . "But, how do I tell Dalia?"

"Just like you told me, but with less sighing. The pouting might get you some kisses, though. I know she thinks you're cute. She's not going to be upset or angry or disappointed with you. You didn't do this on purpose. Hell, you didn't have anything to do with it. I know how you are. You make things personal failures that aren't even about you. This isn't about you."

She pointed to herself, index finger jabbing at her chest. "I'm the one who doesn't have a job, so yeah, this is very much about me. It is a personal failure."

"It's not. You didn't get fired because you did a bad job. The company went under for doing dirt. That's completely different and doesn't say anything about you personally, as a human or an employee. And don't think you should've seen this coming. I'm sure all of the honest employees were blindsided with this. It wasn't just you."

Of course, he was right. She knew that. Coworkers had been texting her since the email went out. Plenty of them were just as in the dark as she was over what happened, but it still felt like it was on her, at least where her family was concerned. Maybe she did not want to tell Dalia because she felt she did not deserve the support. She failed her new family just as it started.

Her father took a deep breath. "Munchkin, one setback isn't the end of the world. You taught me that, a bunch of times. No one can move forward forever. Sometimes, you go back. Sometimes, you pause. And, sometimes, you take a side step. Any one of those can actually put you on a different path and take you in a new direction, which doesn't have to be bad. You know that."

Kasia took a deep breath and asked a question that plagued her subconscious. "You never think about what your life would've been without me?"

He shrugged. "Not really. I think about what our lives would've been like had I not been injured. I think about life without you in the sense that I feel sorry when I messed stuff up. I feel sorry I was never able to get you a proper mother. Sometimes, I feel sorry I couldn't provide more for you. From the second you were born, I always wanted to give you the world, give you everything I didn't have because my father was an asshole who didn't care. You deserved better. You deserved the world. So, that's how I think in terms of not having you. I think about how I fell short, not you. I also think about what I would've done without you after my stroke. Pretty sure I would've died."

"Daddy…" She never wanted to think of him dying. It was bad enough when he had the stroke. There was a moment that felt like an eternity when she thought the world went completely dark and silent because her father was gone. Thankfully, he was alive and got better after the stroke. "You wouldn't have…" She could not even finish the sentence.

He held up a hand. "Trust me. I know what I would've done, which was act like nothing happened. You saw that when I didn't even wait for you to get me out of the hospital. That wouldn't have helped. You being here helped. You made sure I did the right thing. I don't know if you remember, so let me remind you, you are awesome."

She put her hand over her mouth as another sob tried to escape her. Those words had carried her for so long after her mother abandoned them. Daddy said them so it must be true. That was how her brain processed anything he said and it took mountains of evidence to disprove when she was willing to listen to him. Right now, after he made his case, there was not enough evidence.

"I just want to provide for Dalia. Give her the world," Kasia said. Dalia gave her faith in people again. Her world felt lighter and brighter because Dalia was in it. She wanted to make sure Dalia felt the same because of her.

"She just wants you right now, Munchkin, and you'll be able to provide for her and yourself. That's just who you are. You'll get back out there and you'll take the world by storm once more. You know how to take care of business. You're responsible. You're hardworking and you're always looking to do your best. You take a breath and collect yourself and you'll get right back in order when you're ready. That's just how you are. You're awesome."

She smiled. "Thank you."

"That's why I'm here." He slapped her knee and stood up. He stepped over to her and hugged her. She clutched him and inhaled his scent. It grounded her. She would figure it out.

He rubbed the top of her head and smiled at her. She smiled back. He kissed the top of her head before bidding her goodnight. She said the same and he was gone. Thankfully, he turned the light back out. She stayed in her seat.

It was not the end of the world. She could handle things. I just need a minute . She had been through tough times before. Daddy was right as always. It was okay to pause, regroup. She had to process and then come up with a plan. I can do this .

"Kay, you all right out here?" Dalia's voice carried through the darkness.

Kasia's head shot up and watched her wife walk toward her. My wife . The very thought made her feel light, even as she felt heavy with disappointment. It's not your fault . "You were sleeping."

Dalia snorted and shook her head. "Without my body pillow? Not likely." She sat on Kasia's lap. Kasia's arms went around her waist automatically. Dalia kissed her cheek. "Are you all right?"

Kasia almost sighed, but she caught herself. "Moping a bit, but my dad gave me a good pep talk."

Dalia ran her hand through Kasia's braids and then scratched her scalp. It felt good. "Then I'm happy we're here for a couple of months until the house is ready. But, what do you need a pep talk for?"

Kasia blew out a breath, snorting. "Babe, remember I got real quiet for a minute after I checked my email?"

"Yeah, I tried to get you to talk about it, but you shrugged it off and made dinner?"

Kasia nodded. "Yeah, I needed to regroup. It worked." Well, it worked in the sense that she was able to hold off her breakdown until everyone was asleep.

"It did, except you're sitting out here in the dark needing a pep talk from your dad."

"You make a point."

"I know." She scratched Kasia's scalp again. "Now, tell me what happened."

Kasia nodded. "The email informed me not to bother coming back to work tomorrow. The police raided the place. I checked online to see all of this news about top execs being arrested. Tons of fraud going on. I contacted the police from a number in the email and told them I worked there and I just wanted to know when I could get my stuff. One of the investigators in charge said he wasn't sure when the office would be released and I need to go speak to them in person as soon as possible."

"Wow. That's a lot. What's the worst of it?"

"I lost my job and we're about to have a mortgage and you're going to let me get a puppy."

Dalia laughed. "Good try, but we agreed to wait a while and see. But, yes, we're about to have a mortgage. We have savings to get by for a bit. Do you plan on never working again?"

"You know damn well I'd never do that."

"Then what are you really worried about?"

Kasia frowned and admitted the truth. Dalia deserved to know. "Letting you down."

Dalia caressed her cheek and kissed the end of her nose. "And the only way you could do that is by completely changing who you are. I love you and I married you, not your job. I have faith that we can and will build a great future together. Maybe that future has a house in it, maybe it doesn't, but it does have us."

That brought a smile to Kasia's face. "You sure?" What did I do to deserve these people in my life?

"Oh, yeah. I have a lifetime worth of teasing to do with you and I need someone to make appointments for me. You know I'm not making a phone call." It was one of the things Dalia's sister handled for her before she got serious with Kasia. Dalia did not mind talking to people in person, but she would rather sit in a vat of acid than make a phone call. Kasia happily made any and all appointments for her. Kasia did not mind because it allowed her to make the appointments at times she was free and she could go with Dalia.

Kasia laughed. "That's true."

"Yeah, so even if you never work again, I still need you around, unless you're okay with me never going to the doctor again."

"No, you definitely need that."

"Yes, and I need you to make the appointment and maybe drive me there, so I can be melodramatic about it." Dalia put her hand to her forehead. She was often melodramatic when going to the doctor, always swearing she had some Victorian age illness. It was funny, for Kasia anyway.

Kasia hugged her. "I love your loopy ass."

"I know you do."

There was a moment of silence. "Did I wake you up when I got out of bed?"

"Of course you did. You're a living body pillow and I was draped on you like I was your damn shirt. I waited to see if you were going to come back. When I got up to come get you, I saw your dad talking to you and hung back."

"I can't tell you how happy I am that you respect my dad like that."

"You're happy I'm not an asshole. I really feel sorry for past-Kasia, who obviously encountered very horrible people and dated them."

"At least she didn't marry them."

Dalia smiled and kissed her. "No, she married the right woman. Somewhere along the line, she obviously got good taste." Dalia kissed her again.

"Yeah, she picked a good one."

"I know. And I know I picked a good one. That's why you're out here fretting over things beyond your control. You can't let me down unless you shut me out. And your burden is my burden. Share the load with me. That's part of being married."

"I will."

"Yeah, team sports and all that." Dalia did a very weak fist pump.

Kasia laughed. "You're awful."

"Well, not everyone played a sport growing up, so I can't do some great analogy for you."

"You don't have to. I don't even talk like that." Kasia yawned.

"Ready to go to sleep now?"

Kasia nodded as she gave into the weariness cutting into her bones. She was so drained. She had not been asleep before she came out here and Dalia knew that. Dalia knew her and married her anyway. She wanted to give Dalia the world for that.

"I still can't believe you're okay with living here until the house is done. Or that you're okay with the idea there might not be a house," Kasia said.

Dalia laughed. "You are so tired. You know I don't care. It was either here or with my sister and your dad doesn't make fun of us like she does. As far as there not being a house, we'll figure something out if things come to that, but not right this very second. Now, come on. Let's get you to bed." She stood up and then grabbed Kasia's hand. She groaned as she tried to pull Kasia to her feet.

For a second, Kasia sagged and made herself dead weight, causing more strain on Dalia. She chuckled and Dalia glared at her. That was enough to bring her to her feet. With a grunt, she stood and then yanked Dalia to her. Dalia did not resist, wrapping her arms around Kasia's waist. They hugged for what felt like forever. Kasia was so grateful to have Dalia in her life.

-8-8-8-8-

Next time: the end (there are some kids involved, but no puppy.)