Evie jolted awake when she heard her name called. The flickering light of the television disoriented her. She looked around the living room for Carlotta, her suitcase, or any sign her wife had returned home early. But all evidence pointed to the contrary.
When a knock at the door came soon after, she jumped instinctively. The baby kicked in response. "Simmer down, niño," she murmured, rubbing her rounded belly and pulling herself off the couch. Louder, she announced, "I'm coming, hold your horses."
She made a half-hearted attempt at looking out the peephole, but it was designed for a taller person, not her five-foot-nothing self. She caught a glimpse of dark hair. The chain was in place, so she unlocked the door and opened it.
"Hey, Evie." Carlotta's brother, Jimmy, stood on the porch, jacketless despite the chilly wind that slipped past him into the duplex. "You parked me in. Want me to move your SUV to the street while I run out?"
"Oh, sorry." Evie noticed the dark sky. "What time is it?"
"Ugh, I slept longer than I thought. Hang on, let me get the keys. You wanna come in?" Without waiting for a response, she nudged the door closed far enough to allow her to release the chain. Cold air blasted into the house, whipping Evie's long, dark hair across her face, as Jimmy let himself in.
"How you doing today?"
Evie shrugged. "Well enough. I'd be better if the niño let me sleep like a normal person, not passed out on the couch watching--" She squinted at the television. "Ugh, I don't even know what. So where are you off to, anyway?"
Evie's stomach responded for her. She knew without opening the fridge it was nearly bare, like it always was when Carlotta traveled for work. She grinned at Jimmy sheepishly. "How do you feel about a dinner buddy?"
"How's the niño feel about Chinese buffet?"
Evie nodded, picking up a thick woolen shawl and her keys. "I'll drive."
As they stepped out onto the porch, Jimmy took her arm protectively. "Be careful, there's a little bit of ice on the steps."
"Ice?" Evie rubbed her belly. "Apparently hell has frozen over."
Jimmy chuckled but kept his attention on the path.
When they reached the SUV, Evie paused and craned her neck. "What's on the roof?"
Jimmy peered at the roof and stiffened. "Fuckin' vandals," he muttered.
"What is it?"
He reached up and picked at something out of Evie's line of sight. "I think it's shaving cream. I'll clean it up for you tomorrow."
"What's it say?"
"Nothing. It's just crap."
Evie crossed her arms. "I'd like to know what slurs I'm sporting if I'm driving."
Jimmy pointedly looked across the street. Evie followed his gaze to the neighbor opposite them, who was out on his porch and fumbling one-handed at his mailbox while he stared at her and Jimmy.
Evie sighed and gave the neighbor a little wave. He returned the wave, but his expression remained unfriendly, tinged with alarm.
She opened her door and climbed into the driver's seat, unlocking the passenger side for Jimmy. When he sat down, his brow was furrowed.
"Is this about the graffiti or the neighbor?"
"It's about not wanting to be that weird Mexican family across the street. We're already strange enough without you and me fighting on the driveway. And graffiti on our cars? I'm sure that old man thinks I'm a gang banger now."
Evie sighed as she backed out of the driveway. "You know, the neighbors might not be so bad if we all get to know them."
"They aren't going to want to get to know us. When they figure out you and Carlotta aren't just roommates--"
"Jimmy, we're not the only married lesbian couple in Albuquerque, promise."
He shrugged. "Doesn't matter to some of these suburbanites. What are they going to think about the fact that I'm living downstairs, and she's my little sister? They don't want neighbors like us."
Evie nodded. "Yeah, okay. But this is where we're living now. Your little sister wants her son to live in the suburbs. We're not making you stay here."
Jimmy shot her a glare that she caught out of the corner of her eye. "Yeah, sure, but till I get something full time? I'm kind of at Carlotta's whim."
"Alright, fine." The light ahead of them turned red, and Evie looked at Jimmy after they stopped. "You going to tell me about what was on the roof, now?"
He shrugged and looked out the window. "It wasn't words. It just ... it reminded me of something from a long time ago."
He let out a long sigh. "Something weird," he said, drawing a circle in the dust on the dashboard, with a vertical line down the middle, and a horizontal line crossing it.
The light changed, illuminating Jimmy's drawing in green. Evie scoffed as she pulled into the intersection. "That's what's on my roof? A pecked cross?"
"Pecked cross. It's ... My dissertation was all about that--tracking the presence of pecked crosses throughout history."
"I thought you did comparative religions."
Evie sighed. "That is comparative religions. Multiple cultures, using the same symbol in their rituals. How did you miss that's what I study? It's all over the duplex."
"I dunno. I didn't remember seeing it before, until now."
Evie hazarded a quick glance at Jimmy. Even in the strange glow cast by the streetlights, he looked pale. "You okay?"
"I'm fine. Just hungry."
Evie frowned. Before she could speak again, her stomach growled. "Yeah, apparently your damn son is too."
"If you're going to curse that kid, talk to my sister. It was her damn idea. C'mon, let's just go eat."
"Fine. Talk while I drive. Tell me what you remembered."