Do I even matter?

"Even I can make out the tense, anxious yearning in those eyes. My eyes. But I wonder if he can.”
“You ready?”
I look up, biting my lip distractedly as my eyes meet his, and I look away almost immediately, my breath whooshing out in a faint sigh.
Spending an hour alone with the guy who you’ve been hopelessly in love with since fourth grade is not and never will be—not even remotely—a good idea.
Yet I respond, “Yeah. Where to?”
He shrugs. “I thought we could do the shoot by the Physics hall.”
Too nervous to say anything, we leave the empty classroom following through flights of stairs to the ground floor. I slip off my backpack and pretend not to watch him as he paces the length of the corridor, searching for better camera angles and shadow gradients that only he can see.
Then he turns around. “Could you sit by the windows?”
“Sure.” I try to walk normally, even as my heart jumps at the sound of his footsteps escorting me. I take my position by the window. He observes for a few seconds; his stare open and direct, at me.
“Could you let out your hair?”
I wordlessly undo my braids.
He exhales and cocks his head to the side, squinting at me in a way that instantly makes me feel unbelievably self-conscious. “Can you sit cross-legged … and maybe look slightly down and to your right?”
I comply, sitting on the floor, cross-legged, glancing down over my right knee.
There is snap-click of the shutter, followed by the whir of the Polaroid camera cautiously spitting out its product. I hold still, marvelling at the fact that this boy—the one I’ve been staring at longingly since I was nine years old, the one I’ve had to muster up courage just to talk to—has just taken a picture of me, an everlasting memory of mine. But I also wonder ruefully whether twenty years from now he’ll still have that picture, and if he’ll look back on it and ever realise that it’s the face of a girl who secretly loved him.
“It’s good,” he finally says, and I can tell from the low, relaxed tone of his voice he’s telling the truth. “I’ll probably only need a couple more, and then we’ll be done.”
I swallow. “Okay.”
He asks me to rest my head against the window now, stretch my legs out, and pull my hair over one shoulder —never asking me to look anywhere but down to my right. Every time.
With my back pressed against the warm glass, I speculate if he’ll use one of these portraits in his portfolio. It’s unlikely—I know —I’m the last of a dozen girls he’s photographed today. Perhaps his last choice. But I want it to happen so badly that I cannot fathom it’s not happening.
As the camera clicks and whirs again, my mind wanders back to when he had asked me to model for him. I count back the days in my head; it was the first time we had exchanged so much as a word in months. His request had given me butterflies. I had smiled and affirmed as casually as I could.
This morning again I had come wearing the “comfortable, nondescript” outfit he had asked me to. Just for him! And now, what now? Do I even matter?
“Are we done?” I inquire, hoping he has photographed his final shot of me, so I can grab my backpack and run and never look back. His eyes are fixed on the Polaroids, but he looks at me and says, “Almost. Just one more.”
I know he’ll next say, “Sit down, let your hair fall and look towards down to the right.”
He does, but adds to it, “Keep your face tilted like that, but look up, look at me.”
A sudden hot flush flares up at the back of my neck, and I can feel it infusing into my cheeks, but I pull it down, inwardly kicking myself for reacting.
“Sure.” I turn my face in the usual direction, and then glance up at him.
“Is this okay?”
“Yeah. Just like that.” He pauses, looking at me. I feel my heart thudding hollowly against my ribs, the hot flush rising up into my cheeks again. He lifts the viewfinder to his eye and takes the shot. Click, whir, and the camera deposits a sepia-toned Polaroid into his waiting hand.
His eyes linger on the picture long enough to send skittering sparks of uncertainty across my skin, but he finally nods.
“Perfect,” he says.
I feel a mixture of relief and disappointment settle like a tidal wave. I get onto my feet and do my hair. “So..uhh. I was wondering... Am I free to go?”
He nods. “Yeah. Oh, wait … do you want to see the pictures?”
My body feels oddly weightless as I walk to his side. He gets down on his knees and spreads out a dozen or so Polaroids on the floor, forcing me to kneel next to him. And as I look at them, I feel a strange sensation bubble. My throat goes dry. The pictures are good, better in ways I hadn’t even expected. But my eyes are not visible in any of them.
Then he lays the last one on the floor and my heart almost stops. In the photo I’m sitting, shoulders up, the sun setting over the pine trees behind me, hair curled around my face, my eyes, my conspicuously meaningful eyes, stand out in sharp relief, looking directly into the camera. Even I can make out the tense, anxious yearning in those eyes. But I wonder if he can
I leap to my feet abruptly, smoothing out the front of my dust-smudged sweater with trembling hands, looking anywhere but at him. “Wow, great, I mean they’re all really great. I have to go, but, um, good luck with your, with your portfolio.”
“Yeah,” he exhales. “Thanks for doing this.”
I begin to walk away as quickly as I can without breaking into a run; my breathing is sharp and angry, silently screaming at myself for being stupid, so stupid. Suddenly I stop in the middle of the hallway, even my shoes squeak against the floor. And before I can change my mind, I turn and ask him, “Why did you invite me to do this?”
“I …” he trails off and exhales, and suddenly my insides turn into lead. He holds out the Polaroids in his hand. “I wanted to show emotion.”
I stare at him. A cold, chilling thought slowly creeps over. “So you knew that I...”
He nods, slowly. “Yeah.”
“Since when?”
“Since always.”... “But umm I wasn’t. I was never sure.”
I swallow, “Are you sure now?”
This time he does not look away. “Yeah.”
I feel sick and dizzy and light-headed, and I don’t know if I should cry.
“You knew?” I bite my lips, laugh, smile; the words sound bitter and ironic echoing along the empty hall. “So you just thought, ‘Hey I’ll use all of that, that crazy, pent-up emotion for my photography portfolio,’ didn’t you?”
“No.” His gaze is open and unflinching. “It was the other way around.”
“What, what is that supposed to mean?”
He shakes his head. “I wanted to know for sure.” He smiles gently. “And now I do.”
We stare at each other. I’m breathless. He’s waiting. Then, in a single, instantaneous second, the realisation hits me like a double stroke of lightning, like an entire world is falling in place.
So I do matter to him.
He reaches and kisses me. I wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him back. The Polaroid photos drop from his hands and flutter around my feet. 
- Nirajan Nepal

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