Ophelia held both hands in a straight line beneath her chin and tilted her head slightly to the left. It was her thirteenth or fourteenth time running through her version of the new TikTok dance she was about to post. The lengthy rehearsal was necessary. Ophelia was an insane perfectionist about all things social media, from the dance moves to the fit.
And today’s fit was, indeed, fire.
She wore a pair of peach Forever 21 biker shorts hiked up to accentuate her waist and lift her butt, plus a silver tri-back sports bra that held everything in just right. Ophelia pictured the comments she was going to get and caught her breath. Calm down. One more time through the choreography and she’d be good to go.
Ophelia mouthed the words to “Sequin Baby” as she practiced in front of her iPhone which sat in silent appraisal on the dresser.
After a few false starts, she tapped the screen to begin the performance for real. This time she captured the fluid, flirty flow she’d been dreaming of since she and her friends in Mrs. Kennewick’s class cooed over the clip of two Baltimore girls doing the dance. It was a truly sickening routine, full of hip swivels, finger-pointing, rolled eyes, and a pair of peace-out signs at the end. Ophelia hadn’t let the others in on her intent—she wanted to be the first to nail it—but started practicing that very afternoon. The sequence took a week to master, but Ophelia knew the payoff would be worth it.
Finished. Uploading. Now the waiting.
Her friends were always first in the feed. She loved them.
2 cute you cutie
Rachelle was sweet.
You are the queen of these dances. I h8te you. Jus kidding, You da best.
Tina could sometimes be two-faced at school, but on TikTok she never failed to jump in with support. Solid, girl.
Some more hearts, a pair of nice compliments from these two nerdy girls who Ophelia knew sort of looked up to her.
Then four words made her heart stop.
Yo, I found you.
Andredrakefan23’s pic wasn’t menacing or anything. Just an older guy with a five o’clock shadow wearing a sweatshirt and a few thin gold chains. The kind of person Ophelia wouldn’t pay any attention to, except for one thing.
Andredrakefan23 was her father.
Sure, he looked different from the faded pictures Ophelia’s mom let her look at occasionally when she’d been drinking tequila and acting like a drunk TV parent. But it was him. The realization was so jarring that Ophelia didn’t even notice she’d been standing in the middle of her bedroom for five minutes while her phone dinged and chirped at her.
Her dad wasn’t supposed to be in touch, or more like, he hadn’t been in touch since Ophelia was too young to even remember the guy. So it was a strange experience seeing his eyes gleaming in that profile pic. (Which was such an obvious selfie, by the way. Old people were embarrassing.) Yet Ophelia saw herself in those eyes—their openness, their desire to be liked. It was amazing what you could get out of a blurry, cropped image.
Ding. Andredrakefan23 followed her. As a TikTok user since eighth grade, Ophelia had a decent hunch about what was going to happen next.
The DM zone was a scary place. All her friends had horror stories about assholes who sent them private messages—some clueless, some obscene, some downright scary. It was easy enough to block someone though. Ophelia did it all the time with scammers, kids she wanted to avoid from school, or obvious creeps. But what do you do when it’s your dad and you haven’t spoken to him in nearly ten years?
Ophelia plopped onto her bed and clutched her lucky BTS pillow. By the time she’d refreshed the screen, there it was, like a shoddily wrapped Christmas present: an actual communication from her father.
I could tell it was you. You’ve grown up so much. Great dance routine by the way. That was lit. Look, your Mom doesn’t know yet but I’m back in Philadelphia and really want to see you both. I don’t have her number. I was looking for—
The message cut off mid-sentence. Ophelia kept her eyes glued to the phone, as if by staring hard enough she could will her dad not to bail on her. It probably only took a minute for the next bubble to pop up, but it felt like an hour.
I couldn’t find your mom on here but you have that unique name we both wanted for you.
Relief. And truth. All her life, Ophelia’s mother told her how she and her dad didn’t want her to have a boring name, how she was named after the lady of the lake, and how dope that was. One time, her mom even showed her a famous painting of the original Ophelia by some British artist. It was kind of cool, for a picture of an old-timey white maiden lady.
Would you tell your mom that I wanna talk? My cell is (410) 294-6643. It’s been too long. I miss you both. All my love.
It was 5:30 pm and her mom would be home from her post office shift in an hour. Most evenings, she would microwave her and Ophelia some food, talk about work, and ask about school gossip. “Spill the tea, kid,” her mom would say, and Ophelia would oblige—granted a PG, parent-friendly version of events.
For twenty minutes Ophelia looked at her phone, reread her dad’s words, put on her favorite Migos song, returned to the message, played her favorite Rihanna song, hugged her pillow tight, maybe even cried a little. Finally, a finger tap.
Ari Rosenschein is a Seattle-based author who grew up bouncing between the Bay Area and Jerusalem, Israel. Coasting, his short story collection, was praised by Newfound Journal as “introducing us to new West Coast archetypes who follow the tradition of California Dreaming into the 21st century.” His young adult novel, Dr. Z and Matty Take Telegraph (Fire and Ice YA), arrives in the spring of 2024. Ari holds an MFA from Antioch Los Angeles, and his work appears in Noisey, Ariel Chart, PopMatters, Drunk Monkeys, and elsewhere. He lives with his wife and dogs and enjoys the woods, rain, and coffee of his region.