"You've got this, Chetna," Poppy assured her employee cheerfully, brandishing a smile as she hung up her apron. "No, I'm fine, really. I just forgot I had to run an errand."
Poppy McGinley was not fine. Twenty minutes ago, a very angry wizard had taken issue with receiving toasted almond coffee when he'd ordered black and had shouted at Poppy for a full ten minutes. He had called her an unprofessional, immature, ignorant little brat and suggested that she find work better suited to her skills, like mopping floors at the Leaky Cauldron. And then he had thrown his coffee at her. Yes, in spite of the fact that Poppy had apologized repeatedly and offered not only to replace and refund his coffee, but to give him a coupon for a free coffee and pastry next visit, the man had thrown his coffee in her face.
She was trembling as she left the bakery, just barely holding herself together for her employee's benefit until she got out of sight, walking fast through the Oracle Mall. Her breathing was coming in fast, sporadic bursts now, chest tight, vision blurred. She paused to face a bare wall, putting both hands over her face and trying to talk herself down from the anxiety attack that was threatening to cripple her. She needed to get home. She needed to get a grip. But she couldn't disapparate when this was happening. She couldn't do anything but stand there and suffer.
It had been quite the morning for Healer Herrera. As much as he maintained his passion for working in the emergency unit for patients with magical-creature induced wounds, it would always be hard due to the fact that he would see his sister in every one of those patients. It was often hard for Galen to separate himself from these patients due to an overwhelming need to ensure that they would be okay. In one morning, he had seen fifteen new patients with a variety of afflictions, and he was more than ready to be transferred to another unit in the afternoon.
In order to soothe himself, he had made a promise to himself to get out of the hospital and take a trip over to The Flour Shoppe on his break. One of Galen’s issues was getting too attached and involved with his work, which meant he often spent his breaks holed up in his small office tucked away on the first floor of St. Mungo’s, pouring over the latest research while eating a hastily made corn beef sandwich from home. He appreciated the idea of separating oneself from work, but mostly only in theory—as much as he tried to do so, he more often than not fell into the rickety chair in his office when his break came around.
Today, however, was different. Two of the patients he had seen this morning were victims of an acromantula attack—the same sort of injury that almost killed his sister all those years ago. This was not the first time he had encountered such an injury, but it still felt like a knife in his heart as he worked diligently to magically extract the poison and bind the wounds. Images of his little sister’s scarred and mangled back would flash before his eyes as he tried to concentrate. He never told his sister when he had these patients, and wondered if he ever would.
Galen ran his hand through his dirty blonde hair after Apparating into the Oracle Mall, blinking his ice blue eyes to orient himself to his suddenly new surroundings. Almost immediately, he saw something slightly unusual. A girl with long red hair—around his age, maybe a bit younger—facing a wall with her hands in her face. Galen was usually a fairly “keep to your business” kind of guy, but something seemed off about this girl. Her chest was rising rapidly and she seemed panicked, yet shut down. It clicked in Galen’s brain after a few moments and he began to make his way over to the girl, darting through people who were walking hurriedly to their destinations. He had seen this countless times before in his little sister—an anxiety attack. At that, an anxiety attack in public…the worst kind.
He reached the girl within a few moments and stood a few feet away from her so as not to alarm her, leaning steadily against the same wall she faced blindly. He took a few deep breaths before speaking, encouraging some calm energy for himself and for the girl. Gently, he spoke.
“Hi there, it looks like you’re having some trouble breathing. I’m a Healer at St. Mungo’s, my name is Galen. I’d like to help you if you would be open to some assistance.” He took a few more deep, calming breaths, awaiting response while simultaneously calling up all of the information he knew about anxiety attacks in order to further help her.
Breathe, Poppy. Don't do this. Don't do it. Not here. Not now.
It wasn't technically a pep talk and it was doing absolutely no good whatsoever. Behind those forced thoughts, a thousand others were spinning behind her eyes, a barrage of thoughts she couldn't silence. She couldn't catch her breath, she couldn't control the tears that were starting to leak from her light blue eyes, and she couldn't stop the urge to want to lay down on the ground and disappear.
When a voice sounded nearby, she jumped. Her hands came down just a little, widened eyes peeking out at him in surprise. They were wet with tears, as were her cheeks when she lowered her hands a little more. Honestly, having an anxiety attack was more than bad enough - having an attractive guy witness it was worse. Poppy was not the kind of girl that behaved coolly in the company of attractive men even under calm and ordinary circumstances. For several minutes, she stared at him while her hand moved to clutch her chest involuntarily. She knew it wouldn't help, but she always felt like it might help if she clutched at herself a little.
"Okay." The word came out as a little breath, hardly a whisper. Her other hand, the one not clutching her chest, was now curling into the skirt of the dress she wore. A light cotton thing that reached just below the knees - modest, just the right style and length to go well with her apron. The texture was nice. She tried to focus on that but it wasn't helping. Sometimes it did. Now was not one of those times.
When the girl revealed her face, Galen recognized her immediately. Although he had never treated her personally, he had seen her chart come through St. Mungo’s on several occasions. He couldn’t quite remember her name, but he recognized her face from the photo in her file. So this wasn’t her first encounter with this kind of attack—good to note, he thought.
Galen gave the girl space to breathe and take him in, noticing her one hand go down to touch the fabric of her skirt—an excellent coping mechanism. Often using a texture could allow a patient to ground themselves, but it did not seem to be working for this girl. Galen was relieved when he received the whisper of her permission. As a medical professional, he recognized the importance of consent in these contexts. As a respectable man, he also recognized the importance of allowing space for autonomy and not seizing control in all situations.
“Okay, great, let’s see if we can get you more comfortable, eh?” he said cheerfully. His eyes darted over to the small seating area outside The Flour Shoppe. There were a few people there, but several empty chairs. “I’ll be right back, okay? Hold tight and keep breathing.”
He walked swiftly over to the small collection of tables and chairs and snagged one of the empty chairs. He brought it over to the girl and placed it near the wall, offering it to her to sit down.
“Sometimes giving our physical bodies permission to rest helps our minds calm down. Would you sit for me?” He gestured to the chair, making sure to give her space and continue to not crowd or overwhelm her.
Poppy McGinley was no stranger to anxiety attacks. She had been told that she may have a form of PTSD from her childhood and was strongly encouraged to seek therapy, but that felt too invasive. The idea of seeing a therapist gave her anxiety, so it felt sort of counter-intuitive to her. When her anxiety became this crippling, she usually called her brother and he would come help her through it - and if Bear wasn't available, she would go to St. Mungo's. She imagined she had seen this healer there a time or two, but never in the capacity of her healer.
"No, don't--" she had tried, rather weakly, to stop him from going toward her own bakery. She didn't want Chetna to see that she was having an episode. Galen managed to whisk away a chair without a bit of notice, though, so she refocused her anxieties on, well, her anxieties.
His voice was the most soothing tone she had ever heard. Poppy sank into the chair, not believing it would help but not having it within her to argue with him over it. She wanted to tell him that Bear would hold her hand and something wrap his hand around the back of her neck and force her to match his breathing, but that seemed intimate and he was too handsome for her to ever have the courage to suggest anything of that sort. So, feeling utterly helpless, she just stared at him, tears still streaming down her cheeks, while her chest constricted painfully. It was like someone was squeezing her heart in a tight fist. Or maybe an elephant had taken a repose by sitting on her chest.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, shaking her head a little. "I really should know how to control this by now." Useless. Utterly useless.
As the girl sat down in the chair, Galen crouched down next to her so as to be on a more equal level. He was grateful for the presence of the chairs, as he could remember the times when his little sister would have attacks and positively collapse at the intensity of them. Always better safe than sorry, and far better a chair than lowering her to sit on the ground in the busy Mall. As she began to emit some hushed words, Galen shook his head.
"Absolutely no worries, love. Your emotions are valid, and this is not always something that can be controlled. Now, let's try and focus on that breathing, eh?" he gave her reassuring smile, hoping to ensure her that his words were true and that he was not bothered by the situation at all. After his morning at the hospital, this was actually a bit of a relief. A natural Helper, Galen thrived on being able to help heal people. It always pained him when the progress must be slow, as it often was when dealing with wounds from magical creatures. But an anxiety attack--though scary and extremely trying for a patient--would always have a light at the end of the tunnel, and usually a rather short tunnel at that.
Galen reached out his hand. "May I take your hand? I am going to place it on my chest so that you can feel my breathing. I would like you to try and match it, but take your time. It can be hard to coax our breathing back down when we are in such an elevated state." He wanted to make sure it would be okay to touch her in this moment, as he knew often that touch could be an additional trigger for some anxiety patients. He also felt it was important to be very clear about his intentions so as to not alarm or overwhelm the girl. Galen looked at her softly, and waited patiently for her to decide. He understood that being in an anxiety state could often make it very hard for a patient to have any sort of autonomy, and wanted to make it clear that she had all the time and space she needed to make her decision.
If Galen had reached out to touch her while she was in this state, she might have panicked even further. She didn't have a wonderful track record with men and was predisposed to feel danger rather than comfort when they reached for her without warning. He seemed very well rehearsed to deal with someone like her, though, and Poppy appreciated - somewhere in the very back of her mind, under the pulsing grip of anxiety - that he waited for her to understand his intentions.
She very hesitantly gave him her hand. Her eyes dropped to their hands and she noted that his hand was huge. He made her feel small and she should have felt scared, but there was something inherently safe about him. And yet, that he made her feel safe only made her then feel more nervous. What business did she have to feel safe with a perfect stranger? She was questioning all of her senses, feeling attacked by her own intuitions. And, she realized after a moment, she was failing entirely to even pay attention to his breathing. Instead, she was giving herself the hiccups because she kept forgetting to breathe altogether.
"Oh dear," she exhaled the words shakily, shaking her head slightly at herself. Then, with some effort, she forced herself to focus on him. On his broad chest, his large hand that felt so warm, the steady rise and fall of his breaths, the comforting thud of his heart beating against her palm. In, out. In...out. It took several long moments, with quite a few advances that digressed back into ragged breaths, but she did eventually begin to match him steadily. The regulated breathing was the first step and she was doing far better now.
Her chest still felt unbearably tight and her thoughts were still somewhat racing, but she was improving and that was encouraging.
Galen accepted her hand in his and placed it gently on his chest, remaining firmly in his crouched position. He kept his hand over hers on his chest in order to keep it steady and focused where the rising and falling of his breaths were occurring. He focused on his breathing now, making sure it was steady and consistent so that she would have something reassuring to focus on to attempt to bring herself back down. She seemed to take a few minutes to be able to attempt to fall into the groove of his breathing, which he expected. He was sure it would be different if she was at least familiar with him, as he knew him being a stranger must add an additional weight to her shoulders. Galen was aware of the fact that his presence could also come off as being controlling in a sort of “white dominant male” sort of way, but felt in this situation that he would rather be judged as such than see her suffer without any sort of help. He figured the pros outweighed the cons, and was so glad to have been able to be there and offer her some assistance.
Within a few minutes, he could see that she was beginning to be able to match his breathing. Though she did take a while to reach this stage, he was genuinely impressed with her persistence through the process and her perseverance to reach a more settled state. He smiled encouragingly when her breaths faltered, hoping to relay the patience he had for her experience.
“Hey, you’re doing great,” he said cheerfully, patting her hand that rested on his chest lightly. “It takes a lot of focus and energy to bring yourself back from that, and I am really impressed,” he conveyed with sincerity. Now that she was beginning to come back to the present, he felt like some mild distraction might be helpful for her. “Could you tell me your name, love?”
This man was either an angel in disguise, walking around mere mortals, or he was the most incredibly kind and gentle man she had ever encountered. Everything he did was soothing, from his steady breaths to the tone of his voice and the way his eyes crinkled just slightly when he smiled. It was an unintentional anchor, thinking about this handsome stranger and wondering if he was real. Poppy didn't care - it was working.
"Poppy," she told him quietly. Now that she was beginning to have better control, she had the real presence of mind to be entirely embarrassed. Her cheeks were flushed and she had a very difficult time meeting his eyes. What must he think of her? "I own that bakery," she inclined her head very subtly toward the Flour Shoppe, where he had taken a chair. "A man attacked me over his coffee and I didn't want my employees to worry..."
In hindsight, trying to walk home or to St. Mungo's in such a state was pretty poor planning. Poppy had no rational thought during episodes such as these, though, and couldn't excuse herself at all. "Thank you," she then added weakly, lifting her timid gaze to his briefly.
Galen was so pleased to see the girl coming back down to a calm place. Although he had become quite good at appearing soothing and collected during these kinds of active rescues, there was always a piece deep inside that worried things would become worse and he would not be able to be an effective helper. He was sure if the situation called for it he could have use Side-Along Apparation to get her to St. Mungo's, but he was also aware of the potentially devastating effects Apparating could have on someone already struggling to obtain oxygen. He allowed that small piece of tension to leave him as he began to see that she was truly reaching a more settled state.
"Pleased to meet you, Poppy," Galen expressed, dipping his head slightly at the greeting. He squeezed her hand in lieu of a handshake, allowing her to keep it safely on his chest as long as she needed to in order to maintain her breathing. He twisted his head slightly to look back over at the bakery. "Ah yes! What a coincidence--I was just coming to treat myself to a little snack from your Shoppe," he smiled. "I'm usually terrible at actually leaving the hospital during my breaks, so I haven't been here much before. I can see there was a big reason I was meant to come here today." His eyes twinkled as his grin continued. It vanished, however, when she spoke of the attack.
"I'm so sorry you had to deal with that. He sounds like a real piece of work." His face hardened slightly. He had very little tolerance for people who did not respect others. In a world that already has so much pain, why would you want to add more? "No need to thank me, love. Like I said--there was a reason I was called to come here today, and I am very glad I was able to be a bit of help to you. How are you feeling now?" His head tilted slightly at the question as she met his gaze. He noticed the flush in her cheeks and how it enhanced the sweetness of her face and colour of her hair, but pushed those thoughts aside. She certainly was a beautiful creature, but that was not his focus at this moment.
If he had only taken his break a little earlier, he might have witnessed the entire ordeal with the angry customer. Poppy found it odd that he felt like fate had called him here - she tried not to feel like fate was a little late on its timing. She imagined that Galen's presence in the shop at the time of the outburst might have prevented an attack of any kind.
Then again, perhaps this all was for the better. Now she knew more of his nature, his patience. Had he been there to intercept the man's behavior, she would have only seen him as a bit intimidating.
It was when he asked how she was feeling that Poppy realized her hand was still on his chest. She pulled it away with a start, feeling like she'd been inappropriate to linger that way once she was calm enough to breathe on her own. "Better, thank you," she admitted, then took to smoothing her skirt against her lap absently, though there wasn't a wrinkle to be found. She was still anxious but now it was less an attack and more of the usual uncertainty of being around men. This was an anxiety that she could manage, though she did grow weary of it. It was a shame her savior wasn't an old dumpy witch instead of this handsome young wizard.
"Can I..." she began, utterly horrified that she was about to do this, but finding no way around the need to thank you more decently. "May I offer you free...anything you'd like at the bakery?" For as long as he damn well lived - she added that in her head, though.
Galen smiled when she said she was feeling better. This brought him a huge sense of relief for two reasons: one, of course, that she was able to feel more grounded and calm, and the other being that he had been able to provide effective care. The slight tension he had been feeling was now completely gone knowing that there was no longer a sense of emergency or the possibility of failure.
Having come to the conclusion that the anxiety attack was over, it was curious to Galen that she almost seemed to regress into some anxiety behavior such as smoothing her unwrinkled skirt. She had also yanked her hand away quite swiftly which took him by surprise. He wondered if something about him was causing this behavior, and entertained the idea of taking his leave. One thing that few knew about Galen is that he had his own struggles with anxiety, especially after sudden or emergency healing situations. He would often recount and reconsider the entire interaction, searching for what he could have done better and overanalyzing any potential mistakes. Especially with her reactions now right after the fact, it would be hard for Galen to resist these nagging thought cycles.
While her offer helped ease the onset of those thoughts, it still made him slightly uncomfortable. He was not one to accept things for free, especially in exchange for something like this—as a Healer, he truly felt it was his civic duty to be there for those in need, and being compensated felt unethical at best.
“No need for that,” he said, rising back to his feet. “I’d still love your opinion on what to order, though. You must know, what’s the best thing on the menu?” his reassuring grin returned to his face as he waited for her response.
Some of those who struggled with anxiety experienced moments or episodes of extreme anxiety amidst an otherwise relatively calm life. Poppy, however, was not one of those. She was anxious all the time. She was so used to the constant anxiety that it was easy to ignore most of the time and she didn't realize that she had tells that someone like Galen, trained in such things, would pick up on. There was always something knocking around in her mind, causing her to fret. At the moment, it was how handsome her rescuer was.
Poppy wasn't sure if she'd meant her offer as a date, but if she had, he thoroughly rejected her. She felt ridiculous. Of course, he didn't want anything from her. She was just another patient to him, and rightly so. Idiot girl.
"I think I'm supposed to say everything?" she offered him timidly. When one owned a business, weren't they to purport that everything they produced was excellent? Having a favorite item might imply that some items were subpar. Then, because she was desperate not to disappoint or annoy him, she added, "I like the apple pie coffee. And the kitchen sink cookies."
Galen let out a mirthful laugh at her statement. It was fair for her to say—and in his experience, everything he had gotten at The Flour Shoppe previously had been delicious. Everyone has to have a favorite though, and he was excited when she did offer hers. Both items were some that he had never had before, and he loved to try new things.
“Those both sound wonderful. Do you feel well enough to head back over?” Galen wanted to make absolutely sure that he did not pressure her to go back to the Shoppe before she was actually ready. He knew the importance of providing space for someone fresh out of an anxiety attack. For some, it was important to sit quietly while they reintegrated themselves back into the world, while others preferred to go ahead and get right back into it.
“If not,” he said gently, “I would love to keep you company. Would that be helpful?” he rested his hand on the backrest of the chair. Galen was also aware that his presence had the potential to be helpful or harmful in this situation, and he wanted to make sure he did not overstay his welcome. She definitely seemed to be a slightly delicate state at this point, and Galen wanted to support her in any way he was able.
She flushed a little when he laughed, smiling because she was glad to have amused him. She couldn't remember the last time she felt a pleasant fluttering of nerves. Did she have a crush? She silently berated herself for being so silly as to catch a crush for someone after knowing them a mere ten minutes. What kind of school girl nonsense was that?
"Um," she glanced back toward her shop, thinking of Chetna and how she would be confused that Poppy was back so soon - and how she might say something embarrassing, like ask if Galen was her date. "I think maybe...I don't think I should go back today," she said slowly. "I told Chetna I was done for the day...and I don't want to worry her." It was a half-truth. She didn't want to worry herself again by drawing Chetna's sweet concern.
Her brows lifted ever so slightly when he asked to stay with her a while. She had half-expected him to dash off and never be seen again. "I...yes. Yes, please," she said bashfully. She didn't need him to help her anymore, so the request was purely because he was handsome. She knew it was wrong, bless, but she rarely saw handsome men who were kind and warm and...
Teegan: For anyone not on the discord, the group thread has been started in the "Other Locations" board
May 23, 2018 2:17:56 GMT -5
Teegan: A year, a month, and three days since the last shout. Still love you all! Hope we could someday find some free time in our crazy lives to get back here. Love this place!
Jun 26, 2019 19:45:26 GMT -5