Free Read: Kisses & Curses

Harlem, NY

“You have mail.”

Vivienne’s head came up so fast her purple-rimmed spectacles slipped down her nose. Impatiently, she pushed them back into place. Seeing the large manila envelope in her older sister’s outstretched hand, a conspiratorial smile titled her lips. She turned off the rotary drill and set it aside before hurrying across her tiny workroom.

“I don’t understand why you’re so excited, Viv. Whatever you produce from this little adventure of yours, you’ll do something to sabotage it like you do everything else. The minute your Phoenix rises, you go and shoot it down faster than Dick Cheney can say, pull.”

Vivienne rolled her eyes heavenward. “Charlotte, I’m in too good of a mood to get into it with you today. Five times already this week is enough, don’t you think?”

Her half-sister had always had it in for her since the day she was born. Vivienne couldn’t help it they didn’t have the same deadbeat dad. Or that their mother had doted on her as a child. They were both adults and parent less, still Charlotte couldn’t get over it. It’s one of the reasons why what was in the envelope was so important.

After taking the envelope from her sister, Vivienne turned it over and read the forwarding address. A tingle ran down her spine. This was the means by which she could leave the home she and her sister inherited after their mother’s death and shared out of necessity. Already tasting her future, she slipped her finger under the flap and split the package open.

“Well, someone has to talk sense into you,” Charlotte huffed, placing both her hands on her boyish hips. “I just don’t see how you can blow all of Mama’s insurance money on a piece of property you haven’t seen let alone bought in some online auction. Heck…” she paused to suck her chipped tooth, “you don’t even know if that pit still has anything left. Wasn’t the gold rush two hundred years ago?”

Vivienne glanced up at her sister and for the thousandth time wondered how both of them could have come from the same mother, a former professor at Columbia University. Maybe Charlotte inherited her ignorance and downright nastiness from her father who’d walked out on their mother before she was born. Albeit a rolling stone and a talented musician, he refused to have anything to do with Charlotte, even leaving her out of his will when he died of a heart attack seven years ago.

Shared genes aside, sometimes Vivienne felt only one of them had an ounce of sense, and it wasn’t Charlotte. “It’s not Mama’s money, Charlotte. As one of her beneficiaries, it’s legally my money. If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t use all of it, only five thousand.”

“The price alone proves you’ve wasted your money.” Her sister snorted. “If it was worth something then the owner wouldn’t have sold it so cheap.”

Vivienne fumbled through the documents, finally pulling out a paper resembling a certificate. “I had a certifiable valuation of the mineral potential of the claim done up by a professional geologist.” She scanned the document. “Both the open pit and the adjoining tunnel mine show traces of turquoise, silver, and even gold.”

“Traces? You’re traipsing two thousand miles across country for only traces? You you can find traces of gold and silver in my jewelry box.”

Vivienne threw her hands in the air. No wonder she’d never realized her full potential. It wasn’t for the lack of trying. And she never wanted a cheering squad but a pat on the back and a ‘job well, done Viv’ every now and then would’ve been nice. Unwilling to let her sister’s words put a damper on her plans, Vivienne decided to call it a draw. She slipped her arm through her sisters, entwining them.

“Just this one time, can’t you be excited for me?”

Charlotte wiggled her arm free. She’d never been the touchy-feely type. “I just don‟t want you to lose your shirt.”

“There’s no chance of that happening, and we both know it. Even if I don’t produce, I can always lease the property to someone else or sell what I find to other jewelers in the area. I’ve read you can’t throw a stick in Austin without hitting a jeweler who works with turquoise.”

Still unable to see any good in her plans, Charlotte pouted. “I still you’re flushing perfectly good money down the drain. Knowing you, you’ll go out west and whatever you find you’ll naturally make it into something beautiful, but then end up selling it on the streets for next to nothing. Like always. I just don’t understand you, Viv. The minute your elevator almost meets the top floor you hit the stop button.”

Vivienne pushed her dark hair back from her face. “Charlotte, I don’t need to be reminded how talented, yet utterly hopeless you think I am.” She paused to pinch her nose in frustration. She could feel a migraine coming on. “Why can’t you understand I don’t want the limelight or a mention in W Magazine? I‟m perfectly fine with my life as an obscure artist who makes a decent living creating handmade pieces. I don’t want a Fifth Avenue showroom or a license with Neiman Marcus. I don’t need either of those to make me feel better about myself. I just need—”

“The basic necessities and the time to do what I love,” Charlotte mimicked. She placed her hand over heart and pretended to swoon.

Vivienne knew her sister was jealous of her God-given talent and she even felt sorry for her. Still she couldn’t help but take it personally.

No longer willing to give misery company, Vivienne switched gears. “Since I know you have better stuff to do than straightening out my affairs, I better get back to work.” Vivienne tensed when her sister’s hand reached out, but as if suddenly remembering who she was, Charlotte drew her hand back and stuffed it in her back jean pocket.

“I’ll be upstairs fixing dinner. It should be ready around six.” Charlotte stood for several moments as if grappling with something to say. She finally let it go, then turned around and left. The time for what could have been had obviously passed.

Saddened by their relationship, or lack thereof, Vivienne sat down heavily. She dipped her hand inside the envelope and pulled out the title deed and mining patent claim, which accompanied the property. She scanned the documents for erroneous errors, but it wasn’t too long before she found herself worrying the side of her thumb in guilt. She’d shared the good news of her purchase with her sister, but she’d left out the most important detail. Not exactly a cuckold, she’d pressed the seller on the reasons behind the quick sale before signing the deed. After several roundabout conversations and an impending foreclosure, Harley Mather finally divulged the truth after countless back and forth phone conversations.

“That property has been in my family for more than one hundred and thirty-eight years,” he’d said. “Countless inspections have proved the property’s mineral rich, but it’s never been harvested nor sold off until now.”

“Why not,” she remembered asking, her interest piqued.

Mather sighed on the other end of the receiver. “No one really knows. My great-great uncle Riley “Pepper” Mather willed it that way down through the family. If you wanted to inherit the whole shebang, which once consisted of over a thousand acres of pure, grade-A Nevada property, you had to agree to pay the property taxes on the property, but not profit one red cent from it.”

“But if you’re selling it, won‟t that mean you‟re breaking the conditions of your inheritance?”

“At one time I could have leveraged the value of my other properties to keep from losing Worth Its Salt, but my gambling debts whittled away the majority of my holdings several years ago. Since I couldn’t pay the taxes, the property ended up being hindered with five thousand dollars in back taxes.”

“The exact amount of the sale,” she muttered. “Why didn’t you sell out to a large corporation?”

Vivienne heard him chuckle on the other end of the receiver. “I might be in debt, but I’m not going to sell my soul to a company who’d trash the environment and then leave their mess for others to clean up.”

“If you didn’t want to sell out to a large corporation, why not sell it to someone locally?”

When he took an inordinate amount of time to answer her question, the hairs on the back of Vivienne’s neck rose. Finally, he continued, “I didn’t have any takers.”

“You didn’t have any takers? But you’re selling fifty acres with two patented mines for only five thousand dollars.”

“It is a steal, I reckon, but I chalk my inability to sell to two things. Where you live, land is far and few between, but that isn’t the case out here where land is plentiful. This piece of property is out in the middle of nowhere, meaning there isn’t any access to utilities for at least four miles. If a person was planning on living on the property while working the open pit, they’ll have to dry camp it.”

A concrete rose, Vivienne shivered at the thought of camping. “And the second reason?”

“People round here are too superstitious to touch her.”

Vivienne could no more hold back her laugh than she could hide the fact she was a cynical New Yorker. “Too superstitious? You’re not about to tell me the property is haunted, are you?”

“Naw,” Mather drawled. “Nothing like that, but locals believe the mine is bad luck. Local legend claims a couple of the previous owners disappeared shortly after finding pay dirt.”

“You mean like disappeared off the face of the earth?”

“Yep, but of course, you have to remember this was back in the late 1800’s. And anyone could walk off into the sunset and never be heard of again. So, did I change your mind, little lady?”

“No,” Vivienne mumbled even though the cold hand of uneasiness wrapped itself around her common sense. “You forget I live in a city where rats are the size of a house cat. I’m not going to let a silly local legend frighten me away.”

Now, Vivienne wasn’t so sure. Still, she wouldn’t turn back the wheels already set in motion. If she did, her sister would be right and Vivienne didn’t look good in correctional orange.

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