The principal is calling out the graduates by first name alphabetically. I’m holding back my tears, waiting. “Abraham”, “Ajax”, “Allana”, and then, that most beautiful of names, “Annika”.
I force myself to remain quiet. I long to tell the world who you are, who I am. Instead, I pull down the wide brim of my designer hat to hide my face, and bask in the sight of you. “Congratulations, Annika Cacheon,” the principal beams. You thank him, then scan the audience until you spot the elegant woman in powder blue wiping her eyes. Your special smile is reserved for her.
I remember that smile. You were tiny, perfect. I felt plain and dowdy just holding you. I vowed that your life must be different than mine, beginning with your name. Annika. So much better than the frumpy Annie. Four letters became an invisible cord, binding you to me. When I whispered your name, your smile became my most treasured memory. That was the last time I saw you until today.
I only met Bella Cacheon once. I don’t see how she could recognize me. I was an uneducated, impoverished teenager. Now I’m a famous artist of considerable wealth and culture. I could give you the world now. But she gave you the happy, stable childhood I knew you deserved. And we made an agreement. You were never to know of me. Her husband helped forge the papers to make you theirs. Now, since his death, only the two of us know the truth.
Graduation is over. Families and friends are taking pictures, greeting each other. My plane to France leaves soon, my cab is waiting. I decide to take my last and only chance. As I move toward you, Bella steps between us and takes my hand.
Even after all this time, she knows me. Her eyes hold compassion and understanding but also a gentle warning. “Annie,” she murmurs. My name finally sounds beautiful, those first four letters a brave secret. I give your mother a heartfelt hug and run to catch my cab. I don’t look back.