by Lucy Monroe
Release Date May 1, 2014
Release Date May 1, 2014
Aaliyah Amari tossed a handful of dirt onto her mother's casket and then walked away from the grave.
Hena Amari's lung cancer had hit fast and furious. The virulent disease had come as a complete shock since Hena had never smoked a day in her life. Her father and brothers had though and Hena had often told Liyah that the smell of cheroots brought back memories of her family.
A family who had cast her out for her disgrace.
Several members of the Amari family now surrounded the gravesite, but not one of them acknowledged the illegitimate daughter of the dead woman. Proof of the shame that had caused them to reject Hena for the last twenty-six years.
Her mom was the only Amari who had ever recognized Liyah as a member of that family. Her insistence on doing so as an unwed mother had dictated the terms of Hena's life.
To Liyah's knowledge the open casket funeral was the first time Hena's parents and siblings had seen her since Liyah's birth. Even the aunt and uncle Hena had come to live with in America had utterly rejected her.
Until her death.
There they stood on opposite side of the gravesite, their grief evidenced in tears Liyah refused to allow herself to shed. Not around these people.
Liyah found it obscene that they could pretend they cared about a woman they had hurt so deeply with their abandonment.
Hena's refusal to give Liyah up for someone else to raise had resulted in complete estrangement from the rest of the Amaris. She'd been given strict instructions from her patriarch grandfather not to return to Zeena Sahra and heap more shame on the family name.
His death when Liyah was nine had caused her mother deep grief, but hadn't altered the family's viewpoint on her welcome in the country of her birth.
Despite her mother's often stated wishes to the contrary, Liyah had never been to her mother's homeland. She planned to travel there one day though. She couldn't care less what the Amari family wanted.
If Liyah could take out a billboard sign and announce her arrival in Zeena Sahra and the fact she was Hena Amari's daughter, she would. Not that the trip was destined to happen any time soon.
Travel to the distant desert kingdom would cost money Liyah did not have.
Especially after her mother's final medical bills had depleted both Hena and Liyah's modest savings.
It had shocked and infuriated her that Hena's will had allowed for the Amaris to sweep in and take over the planning of the funeral and claim Hena's body for their family's burial plot. But she'd understood when it became clear they would pay for everything as well.
Her mother had been protecting Liyah, but not without a cost.
The Amaris had invited Hena's friends from The Chatsfield San Francisco to attend the funeral, but Liyah was only there because she'd read about the details in her mother's obituary.
An obituary that did not mention she was survived in death by a daughter. Only her parents and siblings had been listed.
Liyah refused to allow the Amari's continued denial of her existence to matter to her. Her mother was the only person who had harbored hope the Amari family would one day recognize Liyah's place in it.
If her mother had not specifically left Liyah the humble contents of the apartment they'd called home for as long as she could remember, no doubt they would have taken that over too.
But Liyah wasn't the quiet, unassuming woman her mother had been. When her grandfather had demanded a key to the apartment so her grandmother could come and choose Hena's burial clothing, Liyah had refused.
She'd asked one of the maids from The Chatsfield to deliver Hena's most treasured possession, the traditional Zeena Sahra wedding outfit she'd embroidered with her mother and grandmother but never gotten to wear.
Liyah was shocked that her grandfather had actually opted to allow his daughter to be buried in the clothing.
For the first and only time in her life, Liyah had seen Hena dressed in garb of her homeland, the ever present stress erased from her features. The lines etched by her pain in the final days thankfully gone as well.
Liyah held that image in her heart as she walked away from the gravesite, intending to go directly to the lawyer's office for a private reading of the will. Unwelcome at the Amari hosted gathering after the funeral, Liyah had no place else to be.
Two hours later, she was reeling in shock from what she'd learned. The San Francisco apartment she and her mother had shared was in fact owned by Hena's father.
Use of the apartment had apparently always been conditional on Hena never bringing Liyah to Zeena Sahra. Hena herself had been welcome, but she'd refused to leave her daughter behind and had never returned to place of her birth, had never again seen her own mother and father.
Liyah should not have been surprised at this show of her mother's backbone. Hena had raised her alone and without complaint, working hard to insure Liyah had the best life possible.
Only after a lifetime believing her mother had submitted to the will of her family voluntarily, Liyah had difficulty reconciling the strong-willed woman she was learning about with the soft-spoken one she had known.
And that almost succeeded where the Amari's rejection had not. Tears burned Liyah's eyes, tightening her throat, but she refused to let them fall.
"Mr. Amari has offered the same terms to you as to his daughter. So long as you do not travel to Zeena Sahra or attempt to identify with the Amari family, you may continue to live in the apartment rent free."
Liyah allowed no emotion to show on her face when she asked, "Are you my mother's lawyer, or my grandfather's?"
"I am on retainer to Mr. Ahmed Amari as well as other members of the Amari family. Naturally, Hena Amari came to me when she wanted her will written."
"I see." No wonder her grandfather had known the terms of the will allowing him to provide for the funeral and burial of his youngest daughter. "Is there anything else?"
"Mr. Amari would like an answer on the apartment issue today."
Liyah couldn't help notice that the lawyer had been careful never to refer to Hena as her mother, or Ahmed Amari as Liyah's grandfather.
"And if I refuse to give it? Is the offer withdrawn?" She already knew what her answer was going to be, but she balked at being pressed into an immediate answer.
"Not precisely. Mr. Amari has in fact instructed me to make a further offer to you. He will pay you twenty-five thousand dollars in addition to signing the apartment over to you if you adhere to either of two options."
The lawyer shuffled the documents on his desk. "The first option would be for you to sign the necessary paperwork allowing for an adult adoption of you by his brother and sister-in-law who make their home here in San Francisco."
"And the other?"
"For you to have your last name legally changed."
When Liyah said nothing, but allowed her expression to show the disdain she felt for this man and her grandfather's options, the lawyer cleared his throat again. "I am duty bound to inform you that you have seventy-two hours to make your decision, at which time should you refuse either option, you will be evicted from the apartment."
"I hope you are not attempting to intimidate me by implying I would be expected to vacate in three days' time."
"Mr. Amari would expect you to do so, yes."
"My grandfather's expectations have little to do with California's tenancy laws."
One Liyah's co-workers had dealt with a dishonest landlord the year before. She'd regaled anyone who would listen and some who would have preferred not to with her tale of woe and ultimate victory.
Liyah was now grateful she'd been one of the unwilling confidants.
Because she now knew that once she refused to comply with either option offered by the lawyer, she had a minimum of thirty days to vacate once served with an eviction notice and sixty if she wanted to push it. Because the apartment had been her residence for much longer than one year.
"Yes, well." The lawyer was careful not to say he disagreed with Liyah, though his tone implied she didn't know what she was talking about. "You have three days to give your answer."
"I don't need three minutes. Both options are obscene, as I'm sure my mother told you when offered the same thing."
The lawyer's slight flinch told Liyah her guess was correct, both in that her mother had been offered the same choices and that Hena had refused them.
"Unlike my grandfather and his ilk, I will not deny my mother." Putting on a well-used chilly front of dignity, Liyah stood. "You may inform my grandfather the answer is no. I will vacate the apartment sixty days from when I receive a legal and properly served eviction notice."
She walked out of the man's office without another word, leaving a flush-faced, sputtering lawyer in her wake.
Her pride had wanted her to tell him she'd move out immediately. That she didn't need anything from her Amari relatives even the use of her home, but practicality intervened as it so often had to in Liyah's life.
San Francisco real estate was a tight market. Finding an apartment she could afford to rent on her own in a decent neighborhood wasn't going to be easy, or quick.
Her days of paying off her student loan debt at accelerated rates were over.
Despite what she'd said, Liyah would move out as soon as she was able, but she wasn't leaving so much of a photograph of her mother for them to find.
They'd wanted nothing of Hena in her life, they would have nothing more of her in her death.
Liyah did what she'd always done and put on a cool façade as she left the building housing the law office, as if the rejection of the only family she'd known about did not hurt.
But later that night, she cried in the solitude of the apartment that no longer felt like a home without Hena's presence.
Her heart aching with grief and pain that wasn't likely to dull for a very long time, she couldn't help wondering what other shocks awaited her in the contents of the safe-deposit box her mother had left her.