The mansion was old, yellow and pale stone with a huge wrap-around porch on its faux-Victorian façade set on a huge parcel of land draped in kudzu and Spanish moss. When Castiel and his mother walked up the driveway, hand in hand, he felt a little nervous about the people on the inside although he was trying to be brave for her sake. They gripped their suitcases and started walking up the gravel driveway, and it felt like they had been walking forever from the bus stop.
Castiel loved his mother dearly. She had done so much for him. He loved hearing the story of how she had been a maid to a very rich family when she first came over from Russia, but that one day she had opened her door to find him in a basket on her doorstep. She had chosen to take him in and treat him as her own, despite the fact that she lost her job for it. At least she got a reference, and she had taken Castiel around with her from house to house, wherever they let her bring her son.
And Castiel didn’t care how they had become a family. He would die for Mrs. Novak, and she for him. She did everything she could to keep him in clothing and food, despite the fact that they were in America and she had just gotten her citizenship and her English wasn’t that good. She worked hard jobs as a maid and even a construction worker once for a couple of months, and she made sure that Castiel attended the best schools that she could afford. They were often public schools, but she would yank him out of one and put him in another if she heard that they had a better program or more opportunities.
But this job was different than all the other ones. For one, the man who owned this house was almost never going to be home. That had been in the job description, and it was one thing that made the job so attractive to Castiel and his mother. They had plenty of problems, because she was beautiful and kind and rich men craved to own that. This family wasn’t hiring her for those reasons, though.
The Winchester Family had met his mother at a State Dinner, while his mother was working for Senator Crowley. Mrs. Winchester, call me Mary, dear, had spilled red wine on her white dress, and Castiel’s mother had helped her in the bathroom with soda water and a little mixture that Castiel had invented for just those purposes. The women got to talking, and Mrs. Novak tried to imitate the Southern accent that Mrs. Winchester had but it caused Castiel to laugh when she was telling the story, and Mrs. Winchester had mentioned that it would be nice to have a maid like Mrs. Novak. It got so lonely, with Mr. Winchester always away working for the newly formed CIA, and her boys were almost grown up and she knew she would be alone soon.
Senator Crowley had called Mrs. Novak to his office after the two women had met. Would she like to work for Mrs. Winchester? Her husband was really helping his country out, sorting out problems that World War II had caused, and it was such a sad thing for her to be alone with two half-grown boys in that house in Louisiana all by herself. Mrs. Novak would be ideal to go live with her as a companion, and Castiel and the Winchester boys would have a good time of it, he was sure.
The South had a little different climate than Castiel was used to. He could feel sweat making his one good white shirt cling to his body, and he wanted to rip it off and walk around in his undershirt. He desperately wanted to take off the suit jacket that his mother had so carefully pressed before they got on the train, and he knew that it was probably a lost cause after the bus ride.
He had been shocked to see so many black people when they arrived in New Orleans. Sure, there were some here and there in Boston, where they used to live, but he hadn’t been prepared to see them everywhere in the South. He had heard that there were race problems down South, and some of his classmates who had heard about his mother’s plan to move them to Louisiana had made some rude comments about him being surrounded by the Africans, who were all violent and uneducated.
He had seen a lot of stores in New Orleans with black shopkeepers, and even a few blacks walking around in suits and other business attire. He didn’t think that was a sign of poor education, but he wanted to see what that was about before he made a final judgement. So he was more than surprised when, after his mother had knocked on the door, a large black man opened it to admit them into the house.
“I’m Mrs. Novak,” his mother introduced herself, “and this is my son, Castiel.”
“Castiel?” the man said with a smile on his lips. “I’m Uriel.”
“Sir,” Castiel said, nodding his head a little. When in doubt, his mother always told him, respect and manners will get you through anything.
Uriel laughed at him. “Good to see a fellow angel,” Uriel said, making what Castiel was sure was a reference to their names.
“Yes sir,” Castiel said, and then he lowered his eyes to the floor. It was unfortunate that he was shy.
“Mrs. Winchester is expecting you. If you will just take a seat in the parlour, and I’ll see that you’re brought some refreshments.”
“Thank you,” Mrs. Novak said, and Castiel wanted to dance with happiness as he got to sit his suitcases down on the carpeted floors.
There were windows on three sides of the parlour, all opened to encourage the almost non-existent breeze. Castiel stared with wonder at the screens on the windows. Only the very rich could have screens that were that tightly woven, to keep the bugs out.
The parlour was decorated in knick knacks from all over the world. There was a silk tapestry in a nice frame in one corner, and two fireplaces made out of marble along one side of the wall. Hanging all around the room were strange crosses and symbols that Castiel didn’t recognize, although many of them seemed familiar to him for some reason. The room felt incredibly safe, and Castiel couldn’t figure out why.
The room also had a curtain drawn back over one end of it with a piano on the other end, and Mrs. Novak said that if there was a party they would hire musicians to come in and play behind it while everyone else mingled in the parlour. Castiel didn’t know why they would have to hide the musicians, but then Mrs. Novak told him that they were probably coloured, and it would be offensive to some of the guests if they were seen.
Castiel didn’t really like that idea; it sat in his stomach wrong. He didn’t say anything though, because this job was important to his mother.
Mrs. Winchester came into the room, and Castiel could instantly see why his mother had liked her. She was just as pretty as Mrs. Novak, they had the same long blond hair and bright green eyes, and she had the same air of kindness about her. She had been wearing gardening gloves and a broad rimed hat, but he could tell that she had been hot outside because her cheeks were flushed.
“I’m so sorry to keep y’all waiting,” Mrs. Winchester said. “I got lost in the roses, and I plumb forgot the time. I should have sent Dean around with the car to pick you up; I get so lost in my dreams though. Please forgive me for bein’ so ungracious,” she sounded like she really felt bad.
“It’s all right, Mrs. Winchester,” Mrs. Novak said. “It didn’t hurt my son or I to walk.”
“It could have though,” Mrs. Winchester said. “This sun is terrible for people who aren’t used to it. Would you like some water or sweet tea?”
“Water would be lovely,” Mrs. Novak said, and as soon as the words left her mouth Uriel came in with a tray.
“Uriel, thank you,” Mrs. Winchester said. “Please, sit with us so that I can introduce you. Mrs. Novak, this is Uriel Freeman. He helps us out when John is away doing his government work. John and Uriel fought in the war together.”
“Mary took my boy in while I was fighting,” Uriel told them. “She treats us like family.” Mrs. Winchester gave him a look at that comment. Castiel couldn’t interpret it at all.
“That was very kind,” Mrs. Novak said, and Castiel could tell she wasn’t sure how to react.
“Raphael is such a bright boy, he and my son Sam are thick as thieves,” Mary said. “Sometimes, I do worry about them a little,” she admitted.
“As long as they stay out of the bars, we can breathe easily,” Uriel said.
“I might as well say this bluntly,” Mary said, and she looked like she was mentally toughening herself up to confess a great secret. “I don’t hold with treating the coloureds any differently than my white staff. And you will hear rumors, and it is true that Uriel is my cousin. This is why most of society will not accept me into their homes, because I am not going to cater to their nonsense about treating Uriel differently. He will eat at the same table as me, and he will be treated with the same respect as me. I know that Senator Crowley mentioned to you that I was queer on this matter.”
“You treated me with respect, Mrs. Winchester, even though I was nothing but a maid,” Mrs. Novak responded. “I will treat your family the same.”
Mary nodded her head. “I had hoped that I made a good decision with you, Helen. Thank you.”
Castiel looked at Uriel a little differently. He had such dark skin, but he knew that there was no way that Mrs. Winchester was part black, so he must be part white. He wondered how that worked out.
“Now, the boys should be coming in soon. Dean and Raphael are going to be attending the new University of Lousisana at New Orleans. It will be the first racially integrated university in the South,” Mrs. Winchester said, proudly. “And Sam was tagging along because he hates the thought of his brother getting to do something before him.”
“I do not,” a very tall boy said, walking into the room by himself. He was wearing blue jeans and a white button up shirt, soaked with sweat and revealing a white cotton shirt with no sleeves underneath it. Castiel was jealous of his undershirt. “I just tag along to make sure that they don’t get thrown in jail, mama,” Sam said, kissing his mother’s forehead before sitting down and pouring himself a glass of sweet tea.
Sam had long brown hair that fell into eyes the exact same color as his mother’s. His skin was pale and clear, but Uriel frowned at him when he moved to put his feet on the coffee table. “You know better manners than that, boy.”
“Yes cousin Uriel,” Sam said, putting his feet down immediately.
“This is my son, Sam. Unfortunately, he is my polite boy,” Mrs. Winchester sighed as if she had fought a lot to teach her boys some respect. “Where are your brother and your cousin?”
“Dean and Raphael were talking to Harriet and Sue Ellen, they’ll be here in a few minutes.”
“Their father won’t like that,” Uriel said. “I told those boys to stay away from those girls.”
“They don’t mind that Raphael is black,” Sam said. “It’s just their daddy…”
“I’ll speak to the boys when they get home,” Mrs. Winchester said, worried. “Mr. Bowen is in the Klan, and we don’t need that kind of attention.”
“The Klan?” Castiel asked.
Mrs. Winchester sighed. “It’s one of the ugly spots about the South,” she said. “They are a group of men who don’t appreciate diversity.”
Sam grinned, pulling out a small sandwich on the plate that Uriel had brought in on the tray. “They’re a bunch of ignorant rednecks…”
“Watch your mouth, Sam,” Mrs. Winchester chided him. “Respect everyone.”
“Yes ma’am,” Sam said, but by the look on his face Castiel knew that Sam wasn’t going to change his ways.
“So Castiel, how old are you? When your mother said that she had a son, I didn’t picture you so tall.”
“I’m sixteen, ma’am,” Castiel said. He knew that Mrs. Winchester probably knew that his mother wasn’t old enough to have a son his age, but she seemed to take the information with good grace.
“Sixteen is a lovely age,” Mrs. Winchester said. “You’re a year older than Sam here, and a year younger than Dean and Raphael. I’m sure you’ll get along with the boys well.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Castiel said. He hated it when people paid attention to him, so he did his best to not squirm on the couch.
“What subject do you enjoy in school?” Mrs. Winchester asked him.
“Castiel is very good at math; he always receives top marks for it in school,” Mrs. Novak said, coming to his rescue.
“Math?” Sam asked. “I figured you for a poetry guy.”
Castiel wondered what that meant, but before he could say anything else two more boys entered the room. One was tall and black, and the other shorter with shining golden hair and Mrs. Winchester’s bright green eyes. “Mama,” the white boy said, coming in to kiss his mother’s cheek before sitting down next to Sam.
The black boy sat on Sam’s other side, and there was a fair amount of pushing between the two of them before they settled in. They were dressed almost exactly like Sam, and they all had the same grins on their faces.
“I don’t want you talking to those girls,” Mrs. Winchester said with absolutely no preparation at all.
“Tattle-tale,” the white boy, who Castiel assumed was Dean, whispered to Sam.
“You knew we were supposed to get straight home,” Sam shrugged as if he had done nothing wrong.
“Hi,” Dean said, holding his hand out to Castiel, “I’m Dean.”
“Castiel,” he said, introducing himself and shaking Dean’s hand, and then shaking Raphael’s hand as it was held out to him.
Dean smiled when he saw that Castiel had shaken Raphael’s hand with no prompting from anyone. “Good to meet you, Cas,” Dean said. Castiel could see a mischievous twinkle in his eyes when he shortened his name without permission.
Castiel said nothing, but sat back down and continued to stare at the carpet.
“So, do you like math then?” Sam asked, as if they had never been interrupted by his brother and cousin.
“It’s soothing,” Castiel said. “There’s always an answer.”
“There’s the poet I suspected,” Sam said, laughing a little.
Castiel didn’t think what he said was funny, so he looked at the younger Winchester, confusion on his face. He smiled when he saw that Raphael elbowed Sam in the gut over his reaction.
“You’ll have to forgive Sammy,” Dean said. “He’s always been a weirdo.”
“Dean,” Mrs. Winchester said, “don’t call your brother names.”
“Yes ma’am,” Dean said, winking at Castiel. Castiel felt his stomach drop down to the floor at that gesture, and he hoped that it wasn’t written on his face because he didn’t know what it meant.
“Now boys, why don’t you take Castiel’s suitcases to his room? Castiel can have the room next to yours, Dean. You’ll love it,” Mrs. Winchester turned to Mrs. Novak. “I just insisted that John update the house. We have four bathrooms that are indoors now.”
“Don’t know why you needed so many indoor bathrooms,” Uriel grumbled. He picked up Mrs. Novak’s suitcases like they didn’t weigh a thing, and he carried them to another part of the house.
“You don’t mind sharing a room next to mine, do you Mrs. Novak? I just think it will be so much more convenient for both of us, and it’ll keep us away from the boys’ side of the house.”
“That’s fine,” Mrs. Novak said.
“Where is your accent from, Mrs. Novak? It’s absolutely darling.”
“Russia, Mrs. Winchester. I came to get away from the war.”
“Mr. Winchester was in Russia for a time. He went during the summer, and he said it was a wonderful country.”
Castiel only worried a little, as the women moved away from them. He knew his mother had run away, like many musicians, because of the war. He hoped that Mrs. Winchester would accept his mother’s musical ability, because any time she was found out people looked at her strangely for being a woman and knowing how to play the piano and the violin the way that she did. They often called her a demon, or they said that she had sold her soul to the devil. In any case, it made his mother swear that she would never touch a musical instrument again each and every time it happened, but he would catch her looking longingly at them any time she saw them.
“You ready to cut the apron strings yet, boy?” Dean asked Castiel.
Castiel looked over at Dean, trying to figure out what he meant.
“C’mon, your mom is fine, let’s go see your room,” Dean said, and Raphael and Sam were already racing up the stairs with Castiel’s suitcases.
Castiel looked out the door where his mother had disappeared one more time, and then followed Dean up the stairs to the room that would be his. He had the sinking sensation that he would be following Dean around a lot, and he wondered why it felt like it was a bad thing.