“Raegan! You’re here! Yay!” Rachel yelled from behind the counter as the café door closed behind me. I nodded at Neely and he took my signal to relax and go sit somewhere. The café is a safe place. A huge smile took over my expression as I made my way over to the counter and Rachel turned around and leaned on it to get a good look at me.
“How are you dear?”
“I’m well, and you?” I answered her.
“I’m well. You look happy.” She said smiling at me, a motherly glow in her eyes. Just talking with her reminded me of why I’m so happy to have met her and to be working in her adorable establishment. She gives the best advice and I can always go to her when I need help or someone to talk to who has a little more wisdom and experience with life.
“That’s because I am happy.”
“How’s the honey?” She asked, referring to Niall.
“He’s lovely as ever.” I told her a blush creeping onto my cheeks. “How’s the hubby?”
“He’s lovely as ever.” She said, mocking me of course, her Irish accent strong. I rolled my eyes at her and started chuckling. “You ready to get to work?”
“Absolutely.” I told her.
“Lucy, would you get that gentleman over there anything he wants please? On the house.” Rachel instructed Lucy, pointing at Neely whose cheeks got a little pink.
“On the house is not necessary.” I told her, giving her a smile.
“Yes, but it's complimentary.” She said to me, pinching my cheeks. Her comeback made me roll my eyes and smile.
I walked around the counter and followed her to her office. You see, today is no ordinary day of work. Instead of doing my normal job in the café, I’m going to be helping Rachel with something completely different. A few weeks back, she let me in on a little secret. She is going to be opening another café in another part of the city. She wants to expand her business ventures basically. So, she asked me to help her re-do the menu, with a particular focus on the “healthy” section, as well as create healthy alternatives to the traditional items on the menu, including vegan and vegetarian options. This part of my job would count as an internship because I’ll be doing it the rest of the summer and half way into the semester. This means I get school credit for it, AND I still get paid. It is an ideal situation because this kind of work directly relates to what I want to do for my career.
“So, this is what I’m thinking so far….” She started pulling out different papers and recipes with supply lists, and the two of us got to work. One by one we started sorting through the recipes she’s created and different things she wants to order for the café. My job was to evaluate each and every item on how nutritional it is, how much it would cost to make the actual dish or sandwich, as well as where the most organic and “green” places as to where to buy all the ingredients. She had loads of different recipes, some more detailed and more narrow than others. Some of my favorites of the bunch were the butternut squash ravioli and the spinach flatbread pizza.
“Okay what about this one? It looks really yummy, and the bananas make it a little healthy, right?” I started chuckling at her question. Rachel has a killer sweet tooth. The recipe was for a peanut butter/Nutella banana sandwich with almonds and honey on sourdough bread.
“It’s not the most, unhealthy sandwich I’ve seen.” I laughed to myself. “The almonds provide protein, and the bananas have some good stuff in them. And the ingredients are not that expensive to buy.” I started rambling to her, reflecting back onto my nutrition expertise.
“So are you giving this one a yes?” She asked. I think she just was really fond of how yummy the sandwich sounds.
“Yes. This sandwich gets a yes, but we have to remember to advertise that it has nuts in it, for people who are allergic you know.” I explained to her.
“Right. Now how about this one?” She asked, handing me another recipe. It was for a grilled salmon salad.
“Well this one is really good because salmon is really healthy, and so is everything else in it. But it needs more color in it you know? Would you be okay with adding something like dried cranberries?" I asked her, trying to think of ways to make the salad a little more appetizing. “Maybe even some goat cheese or blueberries?”
“Oooh, good idea Yankee.” She said smiling at me. I rolled my eyes at her nickname. It’s amusing how she still calls me that, even though it’s almost been a year since she first offered me a job on the spot. In reality, it’s crazy to think of how long it’s been. Time flies, and sometimes I feel like I just left America yesterday.
The two of us continued working through the many ideas in front of us until each recipe was evaluated. It took us a couple of hours, but I didn’t mind because we just talked about other stuff a lot of the time. The subjects of school and boys and movies were all thoroughly covered in our silly discussions.
After we finished, we went back out to front of the house to be greeted by a commotion going on outside the door to the café. Through the window, I could see tons of young teenage girls surrounding the place, various items in hand accompanied by markers and pens. There were also some paparazzi surrounding the door, cameras just waiting to be used on taking pictures.
“Looks like you have some admirers.” Rachel said to me, chuckling at the end of her sentence and giving my shoulder a squeeze. My eyes grew wide as it dawned on me that these people were actually waiting for me. Some of them were holding magazines with pictures of me and Niall. Others had signs with my name on them, or large glossy photos of just me. My cheeks started heating up immediately, and I felt nervous. My hands were getting clammy just looking at the crowd. Many of the girls were waving and the paps had their cameras pointing towards the glass, trying to get a good shot of me. I looked over at Neely in the corner, pretending to read the paper. He quirked his eyebrows at me and mouthed some comforting words to me.
“Um Rachel, is it okay if I go out the back?” I asked nervously.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Lucy chimed in, interrupting as Rachel went to answer me. “There’s a tons of them by that door too. Maybe even more than out here.” She explained, pointing to the door. “Went to get some coffee beans and I got swamped.”
I looked back over at Neely who stood up and placed his hands on my shoulders, looking down at me with sympathy in his eyes, and protective instincts in the rest of his expression.
“Can we just stay in here until they go?” I asked him. This made him smile a bit.
“I don’t think so. They know you’re in here, and they will stay as long as it takes.” He explained to me. He was probably right.
“So what do we do?”
“This is what you do. First thing, put sunglasses on.”
“Check.” I said sliding my wayfarers back down to the bridge of my nose.
“When we walk out, feel free to sign a few things, but don’t get caught up in it, and don’t feel like you have to. Do not answer any questions the paps ask of you, and don’t pose for any pictures with them. You can do some with the fans if you want, but no posing for the professionals.”
“Okay, I think I can do it.” I peeked around Neely’s broad shoulders to find that the crowd had nearly doubled in the last few minutes. I took a big gulp out of nervousness. I have dealt with the paparazzi and fans before, but there were way more people out there than I’ve ever seen, all for waiting for me. It was hard to wrap my head around the thought because I’m not even famous. I am just a normal girl who happens to have tons of people staring at me waiting for me to leave this place and it is very bizarre. More and more girls have been following me around since we did the music video, it had practically gone viral when the guys retweeted it and such. But still, I’m no celebrity, just a normal girl.
“You ready kiddo?” Neely asked me looking down at into my fearful eyes. I locked my elbow with his and took a big gulp, trying to swallow my nervousness.
“Yep.” I told him weakly. “Thanks Rachel, I’ll see you soon.” I said a little louder to her.
“Good luck out there.” She responded with a smile.
I turned back around after giving her a little wave. Neely started making his way to the door and I followed along. The minute the café door swung open, girls yelling and screaming surrounded me. Cameras were flashing and I could hear the distinct click of the shutter sound coming from the iPhones and cameras.
“Raegan! Raegan! How are you and Niall?”
“Can you tell us when you’ll see him next?”
“Are you still together?”
“Have you chosen your body guard over Niall?”
The paparazzi continued to yell questions at me. Some of them were so ridiculous. Neely looked down at me as he led me through the crowd. I gave his arm a squeeze, like a silent thank you. I wouldn’t have made it through this crowd alone. We were almost through the waves of people, ready to jump in the car when I felt a tug at my bag, pulling me back. Then a pair of hands reached over and grabbed my shoulder, another reaching for my arms. Suddenly more and more hands were touching my shoulders and arms. I felt suffocated, like all my air was taken from me. Shouts, screaming and squeals were all I could hear.
“Step off ladies! Back up! Give her some air!” Neely’s voice rang through the air, comforting me. Hands started falling back, but the screaming continued. Requests for pictures and autographs filled the air, along with the continuous questions from the paps.
“Raegan, jump on.” I heard Neely instruct. I didn’t have to think twice to figure out what he meant. He squatted down and I hopped on his back. From then on Neely just plowed through the crowd as if no one was even there. Girls kept reaching and clawing at me as I slammed my eyes shut and gripped Neely harder. Breathing was difficult and I could feel a panic attack coming on. I’ve only had one real one in my life before, and it sucked. Imagine feeling completely hopeless and scared, unable to breathe while your heart races with fear. You can do nothing to stop it and it is terrifying, last time I had to go to the hospital.
“Quick Raegan, hop down.” Neely said through gritted teeth at me. I heard a car door open and I did as he told me. I jumped in the car and the door slammed behind me. My eyes grew wide in panicky horror as faces pressed against the tinted glass, trying to claw their way inside the vehicle. I scooted my butt over to behind the passenger seat only to be horrified at the people staring at me on that side too. They had us surrounded. My breathing grew shallow yet heavy at the same time, my body not getting oxygen. Tears starting streaming down my face and my hands were shaking. I heard the driver’s side door slam as I slid down in the back seat, trying to relax and talk myself down. Neely whipped his head around and looked at me in my shaken state. An expression of shock crossed his face.
“Raegan, look at me.” He started. I managed to focus on him as he spoke. My breathing continued to be shallow and raspy, and I was still crying. “You’re having a panic attack. Just try to breathe, okay? I’m going to get you out of here.” I nodded at him weakly, and he started the car. Before I could count to ten we were already flying out of the parking spot. Neely drove as fast as he could to his place, and we made it there in no time while also shaking off the paparazzi and fans. As we pulled in, I was in full-fledged panic attack mode. When we parked Neely crawled into the back seat and placed my head in his lap, making it so I was staring right up into his eyes. My heart was pounding in my chest as sweat dripped down my forehead. I was almost hyperventilating and I felt like I could puke. Thoughts of fear and anxiety raced through my mind. Neely started running his hand through my hair, something that immediately soothed me a little bit. He must have spoken to Niall about what to do in a situation like this, because Niall is the only one who knows that calms me down really well. It’s funny how well Niall knows how to care for me in different situations, enough that he can give explicit directions to those around me. I don’t think anyone has cared so much about me before.
“Just breathe Raegan. It’s okay. They’re all gone.” Neely started talking me down slowly. “I’m not going anywhere. We can just stay right here.” He continued in his soothing voice. My breathing started to slow, and I could feel my heart pounding a little less with each breath I took. Neely continued to talk me down from the craziness that was going on in my head. We just stayed in the car for probably about 45 minutes before I was back to normal.
My eyes started to flutter, my body exhausted from the panic attack. I opened my eyes and looked up at Neely. He chuckled a bit at, making me crack a smile.
“You ready for a nap kiddo?” He asked me.