The waiting room was packed with people doing what we all do in waiting rooms: Waiting.
Some read. Some played with cell phones. Some engaged in not-so-private conversations the rest of us pretended not to hear.
Usually, when I wait, I read. But I forgot to bring a book. So instead of reading, I watched.
A woman rolled into the room in a wheelchair followed by a younger man who called her “mama.” When he took a seat, she rolled up and propped her feet on the chair beside him. And he didn’t seem to mind.
I tried to picture how my children might react if I ever did that publicly with them.
A few rows away, two middle-aged women were discussing various issues in a relationship.
“That fool ain’t never gonna do right by her,” said one.
“I know that’s the truth,” said the other, “but you can’t tell her nothin.’ She won’t listen.”
In the corner, two squirrelly boys were making a game of slapping each other on the arm. When the slaps turned to punches, their father folded his newspaper, took the boys in hand and said, “Let’s go wait outside for your mom.”
Across the room, a skinny little girl with smart brown eyes stood watching them, while her mother discussed something with an office assistant.
For a moment, I thought the child was going to follow the boys out to the parking lot.
“Caitlin!” Her mother’s voice roped her in. That’s when she noticed me noticing her.
“What do you have there?” I said, pointing to the Disney book Caitlin was holding.
She looked down, as if she’d forgotten. “A book,” she said.
“What it’s about?”
She scuffed the toe of her tennis shoe. “Princesses.”
“Can you read it?” I asked.
She giggled. “No, I’m only  three.” She held up two fingers, counted, then added a third.
“Would you like me to read it to you?”
She smiled, looked at her mom, got a nod.
“OK,” she said, climbing up  beside me, “if you have to.”
And so we read.
As books go, it was blissfully brief (one page each for the likes of Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Ariel, aka the Little Mermaid); short on plot (good women, bad choices); and heavy on illustration (fancy dresses, a lot of kissing and a whole lot of big hair.)
I read fast, got to the end and said, “Which is your favorite?”
Caitlin didn’t hesitate. “I like Ariel,” she said.
“What do you like about her?”
Pointing, she traced the outline of the mermaid’s glittering green tail.
“She’s sparkly.”
I nodded. “I like sparkly, too.”
For a moment, we sat quietly, admiring Ariel’s scales.
“I know another princess story,” I said. “Wanna hear it?”
Caitlin looked up at me.
“Once upon a time,” I began, “there was a beautiful princess named … Caitlin.”
Her eyes grew wide, then crinkled up in a grin.
“She was smart. And she was kind. And she was sparkly,” I said. “And she wasn’t afraid to share a book with a stranger.”
Just then, Caitlin’s mother turned to leave and Caitlin ran to join her. When her mother whispered in her ear, she came back, shy, but smiling, and said, “Thank you for reading to me.”
“My pleasure,” I said.
I didn’t get to tell her the end of her story, but I will tell it to you, and pray it comes true.
Princess Caitlin grew up and learned to read. She read for pleasure and she read for gain. She read to every child who came her way. And she never forgot to take along a book.
Yes, she lived happily ever.

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