The woman–her dad, her mom.
Miranda couldn’t help but think of her as a stranger, an alien–she kept shaking Miranda. The part of Miranda’s brain trying to stay calm cataloged the woman: hair similar, but slightly longer than Dad’s, the woman was almost the same height, maybe a little taller. Her eyes were exactly like Dad’s.
The alien woman screamed. “What did you do?”
“I … I–” Miranda couldn’t think.
“You don’t know what could happen. There are always ripples! You could have killed me, or yourself!” Dad/Mom was frantically looking around. “We have to check for damage.”
Then Cindy was there, pulling at Dad’s/Mom’s wrists. “Stop it.”
Shirley came from behind the desk. “Ma’am, please calm down!”
Dad/Mom let go of Miranda, looked out the front doors. “We need to check on Alice.”
She ran out the door.
Miranda’s head spun. She didn’t have time to even process how she felt about Dad being gone. Not gone, but… She took off after the woman. Outside, Mom was running down the road into town. The hospital gown fluttered behind her.
She realized something else about the woman. It wasn’t just that Dad had changed back. This woman was fourteen years younger. She’d somehow changed Dad back into Mom fourteen years ago.
The door opened again. It was probably Cindy. She didn’t stop to see. “Dad!”
Dad (Mom?) turned on her. “You stupid girl. Reality doesn’t work like a switch. Every time you change something, it creates an effect like dominoes, one change causes a million more.”
Dad stopped and put her face in her hands. She stood there like that. Cindy came up behind Miranda and put her hand on Miranda’s shoulder.
Dad dropped her hands. She checked her abdomen. “I don’t appear to be hurt anymore. We have to take care of Alice and then we need to get you out of town.” She looked around. “We need to normalize in a new environment.”
Dad continued down the street, there was a street again. Miranda ran after with Cindy in tow.
Cindy said, “Mr. … Mrs. McGee, can my dads and I go with you.”
Dad didn’t look back. “No.”
They walked for a block and Dad said, “I’m sorry. Miranda needs to be around real life things.”
Cindy stopped. “I’m real!”
Dad kept walking, “I’m sorry.”
Miranda took Cindy’s hand and kept following Dad. Ugh, Mom. She wanted to tell Cindy it was okay.
Nothing Dad said made sense. “Why are we getting Alice if we need to be around ‘real’ things?”
Dad’s shoulders slumped. “We’re not getting her. I just need to say goodbye.”
They walked in silence. Then Miranda said, “Are you in love with Alice.”
Dad said, “Not really. That’s not how it works, exactly.” He walked for a while. They were almost to the corner of Main Street. “The magic can’t make me love Alice, but in my head, she’s my wife. That’s the reality now.”
She looked back. “I know that doesn’t make any sense.” She shrugged. “Anyway, now that I’m changed back, I feel the reality fading.”
Miranda thought she was done, but Dad said, “I want to get there before it’s totally gone.”
That made even less sense than anything else. Miranda looked to Cindy for support, but she was staring at the ground, lost in her own thoughts. There didn’t seem to be anything to do but follow Dad.
Miranda looked at the horizon. The pink water tower was still there, but its surface shook with static, like a giant television.