Chapter 15: The Road to Togetherness
Sid had returned to the United Kingdom a very dejected young man. He had just spent two blissful years with the one person he felt was going to be his perfect lifetime partner, his ideal girl. He had proposed marriage to her, and she had turned him down. Those are the basic facts of the case. However there was more to it than a bungled marriage proposal. Cassie had decided to terminate her relationship with him, and made him promise solemnly never to look for her. To this day, he was not a hundred percent sure that she really intended to abandon him, and he nursed a faint hope that she might, after realising what she had done, change her mind and try to make contact with him. He didn't know where she was, but he had indicated to her that he would probably return to his mother in Bristol.
Once he had returned home, his first priority was to get a job, as he would need to restore his finances and support his mother. He scanned the local papers, and after a while found something which looked like suitable employment for someone who considered himself to be quite an 'ordinary', unexciting person; the post of an administrative assistant in a government office. After an interview, he got the job. He didn't realise it at that time, but his choice of employer was a turn of fate which would eventually have positive life-changing results for him. The department he worked for was a new section of the Home Office. As he was a very junior clerk in the 'Human Resources' office, he was given very little information about how this section fitted in with the rest of the organisation.
He was still deeply depressed, and thoughts of his sweet Cassie were never far away from him. He had what seemed to be an unfillable Cassie-shaped void in his heart. To say he missed her would have been a gross understatement. For two years, she had been his inspiration and his life. Nowadays, he felt he was merely existing. What kept him going was the thought that, some day, Cassie might – just might break her pledge and come looking for him.
The other thing he did was to resume some of his old friendships. Tony and Michelle had gone to their separate universities and came back home to Bristol together whenever they could. They were still an item and were now engaged to be married. This, Sid felt was somewhat bittersweet, as they, after many setbacks, were now committed to each other, and would soon be married, while he had now lost his potential life partner, possibly for ever.
Tony, of course, being the person he was, tried to set him up with female friends of his, but none of these could ever come anywhere near replacing Cassie.
The months passed. Sid threw himself into his job, performing with great enthusiasm. His work was recognised by his managers, and he was beginning to be considered for promotion. Of course, his job served to occupy his mind, and reduced the recurring yearnings for his Cassie, at least while he was in the office.
Of course, being of an inquisitive nature, he did browse through the internal telephone directory, partly to see if he recognised the names of anyone he knew. Two things in it intrigued him. One was that some of the names had the abbreviation 'MoM' under the 'Department' heading. He wondered what this might mean. The other was a particular name in the 'MoM' department, which to him seemed to be more appropriate for a porn model. He spent time wondering what she might be like. That August, he was to find out.
To occupy his mind during lunchtimes, he had taken to walking around the immediate vicinity of his office, also browsing the shops in the nearby Cabot Square shopping centre. When he was there, he couldn't resist trying to look at the face of every blonde girl his age he passed in case, by chance, she might be Cassie.
One Friday lunchtime, the following August, he spent longer than he intended in Cabot Square. He was rushing back to the office, when he rounded a corner at speed, and collided head on with another pedestrian. She was a quite small but very pretty girl, with long ash blonde hair, large expressive ice blue eyes and a beautiful smile. Surprisingly, she didn't seem too upset, about the collision, but Sid did still apologise profusely as he helped her back to her feet. The sound of her voice, her smile and her gentle Irish brogue captivated him. As a result he felt even more guilty about his clumsiness than he would have, had she just sworn at him and walked off. When she gave him her name, he realised who she was; the young woman in the 'MoM' section with the suggestive name, Luna Lovegood. He felt he had to make amends in some way. He offered to buy her a coffee after work. She accepted his offer. As he watched her skipping along towards the shops, he felt a sense of wonder and euphoria he had not experienced for a very long time. He began to believe he had found a new friend who might just begin to relieve his deep depression.
After work that evening, Sid met Luna to buy her the coffee he had offered after their lunchtime accident. At the Cabot Circus Costa coffee shop, once they settled down, they got talking. They exchanged their stories and realised that they had a lot in common. They had both separated from the people they most loved. They both felt lonely. They were both wishing that they hadn't left their former partners. As the evening progressed, Sid and Luna felt more and more comfortable with each other. Initially, Sid didn't believe her when she said she was a witch, but he accepted this when she informed him that 'MoM' stood for 'Ministry of Magic', and that she was a junior liaison officer. This revelation didn't put him off. If anything, it increased his developing affection for her. After their coffees, they went up to Brandon Hill, then enjoyed some fast food at a slightly unusual burger bar. Sid commented that it wasn't a very romantic place for their first dinner together, but it would have to do.
By Saturday evening, they had found out so much about each other that they began to think of themselves as a couple. The more Sid interacted with Luna, the more he began to think of her as his girlfriend. Although a solid foundation was being laid for this new relationship, Sid still had frequent longings for his previous girlfriend Cassie, and it was obvious that Luna would never forget her Neville. They both accepted that their previous relationships could not be ignored, but they would have to make allowances for them.
As he felt that his new association with Luna was not yet secure, he kept it to himself for a couple of months, so he was on his own when Tony and Michelle invited him to an evening out just before they started their final year at university.
In late December, Tony and Michelle returned from their respective universities for the Christmas break. As they usually did when they came home, they invited Sid to a meal. When he accepted their invitation, he asked if he could bring a friend. A surprised Tony said he could, but didn't enquire about the friend.
Tony and Michelle were already seated in the restaurant when Sid walked in with a smiling Luna on his arm. Tony gasped, and Michelle just looked, open mouthed.
"Wow, Sid!" said an amazed Tony, "You've kept very quiet about her. When did you meet her?"
"I felt I had to be sure about her before I let anybody know." said Sid, "She's Luna Lovegood. I met her in August. She works in my office in the centre of Bristol."
"Well," said Tony, "I must congratulate you for finding a 'second Cassie' without my help."
"Tony!" said Michelle, reprimanding him, "Sid's perfectly capable of choosing his own friends. Anyway, Sid, how did you meet such a lovely person."
Luna blushed at being called 'lovely'.
"I don't expect you to believe this," said Sid, "But I literally bumped into her in the street."
"Yes," said Luna, grinning, "He came charging round a corner and knocked me over. He apologised, of course. I accepted his genuine apology. We got talking, and you could say 'the rest is history'."
Luna told them about her separation from Neville, her travels in search of fantastic creatures around the world, particularly in South-East Asia, and the reasons for her coming to Bristol. Her light, gentle voice, her lively expressive eyes, and her open, honest smile captivated Tony and Michelle. Tony later commented that Sid seemed to have really landed on his feet when he befriended Luna. The more time Sid spent with Luna, the more he realised that she was like Cassie in so many ways. On one or two occasions, he even called her 'Cass'. However, there was still a little corner of his heart that would always be devoted to his love for the real Cassie.
Meanwhile, in London, Cassie was merely existing in her role as a waitress in a small Hampstead café. She lived her life from day to day, trying not to betray her deep sadness at breaking up with the boy she felt would become her lifetime partner. At the café, there were two of the kitchen staff showing an interest in her. There was Yaniv, an Israeli ex-soldier, who only wanted her for sex. The other one was Jakob. His interest in her was more complicated. He worshipped her from a distance, because he felt she was beautiful, which she was, but he had no sexual interest in her. She befriended him, but after a while, realised he was absurdly possessive. These two relationships came to a head one evening, resulting in Yaniv beating up Jakob and leaving him unconscious and bleeding in the middle of the road, while Cassie walked away from both of them. She did have second thoughts, turned back and took the injured Jakob to A and E at the nearest hospital. As for Yaniv, he left the café the next day, and was never seen there again. The relationship between Cassie and Jakob became just that of work colleagues, rather than friends.
One of Cassie's favourite occupations at this time was people-watching. One sunny afternoon in August, she was sitting on her favourite bench at the top of Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath, when a tired looking young man came up from the direction of one of the Highgate ponds and asked her if he could share her seat. Feeling exceptionally lonely that afternoon, she was only too pleased to accommodate him. They exchanged names. He was Neville Longbottom. They started a conversation during which he commented that she was looking very melancholy and that there must be a reason for this. They told each other about their lives. Cassie found the young man's story about the girl he loved going abroad while he had to stay in London heartbreaking. He told her about the Ministry of Magic and about the witches and wizards living among the general population of the United Kingdom. He also commented that she was so perceptive that she might well have magical people in her family, if she went back a couple of generations. After their conversation on the park bench, they both went for a coffee. By the end of the evening, they regarded each other as friends. By December, they were a couple.
Cassie continued working in the café, but made it known to Jakob that she was now in a stable relationship with a wizard. He didn't altogether believe this, but had assumed that she must have formed a good friendship with someone quite special. It was obvious that she was happier almost from the moment that she had met Neville. She had a 'glow' about her. Her eyes were brighter and she was smiling a lot more. In fact, she was really happy, and her happiness was contagious. The whole atmosphere in the place was brighter during her shifts. For a few months, Pete's Café was a cheerful place. As a result, the custom increased considerably.
Sid and Luna in Bristol, and Neville and Cassie in London were both happy and apparently settled in their new relationships. The two couples were completely unaware of the existence of each other, and seemed to be heading towards being two pairs of potential lifetime partners. However, fate had a trump card to play. Early the following March, the wizarding partners were invited to a liaison conference to be held between the London and Bristol offices of the Ministry of Magic. It was to be held at a large country house called Highclere Castle, about halfway between London and Bristol. The wizarding delegates were strongly recommended to bring a companion. Naturally, Luna would bring Sid, and Neville would go to the conference with Cassie. The one situation both Neville and Luna were keen to avoid was meeting their former lovers with their new partners. They were very hesitant about accepting the invitation, but Cassie and Sid respectively persuaded them to accept. Cassie said that she had a 'good feeling' about the conference, and felt that nothing bad was going to happen there. At the beginning of April, Luna had a prophetic dream about in which she saw that Neville's partner would be Cassie. Cassie's 'good feeling' and Luna's prophetic dream were enough to persuade the two couples to go to the conference and accept whatever happened.
The weeks slowly passed. Eventually, in early May the delegates assembled at Highclere Castle for the Ministry of Magic Annual Liaison Conference. The two couples didn't actually meet each other until after the dinner on the first evening in a Newbury hotel. When they did, the atmosphere of sheer joy and elation was tangible. Sid and Cassie fell into each other's arms kissing and shedding tears of absolute joy as they realised just how much they had missed each other. Neville and Luna had a similar ecstatic and tearful reunion. Both Sid and Neville realised that they had now rediscovered their true ideal partners. As they left the hotel bar on the first evening of the conference Neville and Sid exchanged bedrooms, so that they could be with their old partners. The boys swapped, rather than the girls, because they were living out of their suitcases, while the girls had filled the hotel bedroom wardrobes.
At the conference, both couples acted on the motto 'Carpe Diem'. On the Thursday, there was a closed session for witch and wizard delegates only. The companions were offered some of the other activities offered at Highclere Castle. Sid and Cassie, now once again a couple, opted for a tour round the locations featured in Richsrd Adams's book 'Watership Down using four wheel drive vehicles. This ended with a picnic lunch with sparkling wine on Watership Down itself, before returning to Highclere Castle for the afternoon session. Cassie had indicated to Sid in the. hotel bedroom on their first evening together that if he asked her the same question he had asked in Phoenix, the answer would be 'Yes'. Just before the lunch on Watership Down, Sid proposed to his Cassie. This time she accepted. The sparkling wine went down very well.
Sid and Cassie weren't the only couple to commit themselves to each other that lunchtime at Highclere Castle. The morning closed session ended early, so Neville took Luna to a Grecian temple style folly in the grounds, and used a silencing charm to suppress the traffic noise from the nearby A34. He then conjured up the sound of two competing nightingales, and having created a suitably romantic atmosphere, proposed to Luna. She too accepted his proposal.
At last, after many 'bumps in the road', and not a few wrong turnings, Sid had, at last, committed himself to the one person he intended to be his lifetime companion, his ideal girl; his sweet and lovely Cassie. Now that their new wizarding friends Neville and Luna were now also engaged to be married, it was certain that the two couples would become a quartet of exceptionally close friends as they all knew each other so well.