Ralph took a deep breath, running his large hands through the shaggy mane of hair on his head. It had been a long day, a ten hour shift. Ralph worked for a construction company demoing buildings. Most of his day consisted of breaking down walls or smashing apart old concrete with a sledgehammer. The work was tough and the pay wasn't the greatest but it was enough. His brother Felix, the company supervisor, had gotten him the job.
Ralph hadn't exactly been on the straight and narrow all his life. A lifetime of petty crimes and fights combined with a short temper had given Ralph the reputation as a bad guy. It wasn't until Vanellope was born that Ralph turned his life around. Vanellope's mother had died in childbirth, leaving Ralph to raise her on his own, which was no easy task.
Vanellope had been diagnosed with autism at age three, after being seemingly normal her first two years of life. The therapy and prescription costs alone forced Ralph to take up multiple odd jobs for the past 6 years. The construction work was the first stable job he'd ever held.
Ralph was on his way to pick up Vanellope from the sitter, a dour, uninteresting man named Bill. Bill was a volunteer who worked specifically with autistic children, and while he had a rather dry personality Ralph knew he cared. When Ralph reached the daycare where Bill worked, he hopped out of his small truck and opened the door.
Vanellope was waiting alone on a chair, running her toy car across her legs in a repeating back and forth motion. Ralph smiled when he saw her, but she didn't look up.
"Vanellope, it's me, daddy", Ralph kneeled putting a hand on her shoulder, "let's go home."
Vanellope nodded, but refused to make eye contact. Getting up she took Ralph's hand and walked back to the truck. The drive home was completely silent, save for the tiny squeaking of plastic wheels running across Vanellope's stockings. Ralph looked in the rear view mirror to look back at Vanellope in the back seat and frowned. She was picking pieces of candy out of her hair. Ralph could feel his temper rise; those little brats at Vanellope's school were always picking on her, pushing her in the mud and sticking things in her hair. It broke his heart to think that someone could be so cruel to Vanellope; it wasn't like she had a hard enough time making friends without those little cavities giving her even more social anxiety. But the school could never catch them in the act and they couldn't punish them based on Ralph's complaints alone.
By the time they got to their modest apartment, it was well into the evening. Ralph was exhausted but he needed to make Vanellope something to eat. He pulled some leftover pasta from the fridge and put it in the microwave, he toasted some bread and tossed some carrots on the plate for good measure. He had to make sure that none of the food touched, Vanellope was very picky about that.
They ate in silence, Vanellope's eyes roaming around the plate, never looking up at Ralph. Ralph sighed, he wanted more than anything to connect with his daughter, but he didn't know how. Dinners were always quiet affairs, and in these moments of silence Ralph would think. He always feared he was neglecting her, that he never spent enough time with her, and that she was lonely. Sometimes he would try and talk to her, but for the most part they never got passed small talk.
When Vanellope was finished, she pushed in her chair wordlessly and grabbed the toy car from the table and went to her room. She loved that little plastic car, taking it with her everywhere she went. It was a model of her favorite racing car, and boy did she love racing. Her room was filled with toy cars, posters, and racing clothing. Even her bed was a little race car. Ralph once gave her a small electric racing track for Christmas one year; he had never seen her smile so much.
Ralph put the dishes in the sink, deciding he was too tired to clean them. He walked down the hall and opened the door to Vanellope's room. There she was, wrapped up in her blankets like a little homeless lady, looking at the poster on her wall. Ralph smiled and took a step inside to say goodnight.
Ralph's heart sunk. He shut his eyes for a brief moment before slowly looking down. Lifting his feet he could see the crushed remains of Vanellope's favorite racecar. The plastic was snapped in several places and the two of the wheels had fallen off. Vanellope looked at the source of the noise, her eyes widening.
"Oh god, Vanellope, I'm so sorry." Ralph uttered, his face desperate.
Vanellope said nothing, slowly getting off her bed and walking towards the wreckage of her car. She knelt down and picked up the pieces, pushing them together in the vain hope that they'd stick. She looked up at Ralph and in a rare moment actually locked eyes with him. Ralph felt his heart break when he saw tears in them.
Then she screamed.
Wailing and crying she dropped the shattered pieces of her toy and lunged at Ralph, beating him with her hands. Ralph, too shocked to respond just stared at her as she hit him. Her small nine year old hands beating rapidly on his legs. She was screaming, almost painfully loud, compared to the complete silence that was present before. Her tears flowed freely down her cheeks, as if a dam of impassiveness had suddenly burst and a wave of emotion was set free.
Ralph tried his best to calm her down, his large hands easily stopping her child arms. But she thrashed in his grip, swinging her head back and forth, crying and screaming wordlessly. He whispered in her ear, trying to calm her but she wasn't listening.
"Shhhh, I'm sorry" he cooed, "I'm so sorry."
Ralph cried out when she slammed her head into his face. Tasting blood in his mouth he tried brushing her hair with his hand. She fought him for five whole minuets. Eventually her arms fell limp and her screams died down into sobs. She buried her head into his chest and wept. Ralph ran his hand up and down her back gently, he began to cry too.
Ralph wouldn't stop holding her until they both woke the next morning.